Abram Yefimovich Arkhipov and the Peredvizhniki.

In past blogs about Russian artists I talked about an artistic group known as the Peredvizhniki, often referred to as The Wanderers or The Itinerants and the artist I am looking at today was also a member of this group.  The Wanderers gave a voice to Russian art for the first time in the country’s history. Their art answered the people’s search for solutions to their country’s problems. Many of these artists completed works which were parodies of Russian life and were, through their depictions, critical political statements about the Russian ruling class.   Russian art critics had voiced their concern with regards the state of Russian art stating that it was devoid of any originality.  They wanted artists to focus more on native themes rather than concentrating on what they termed “cosmopolitan garb”. 

In 1863 a group of fourteen students, led by Ivan Kramskoi, who were studying at the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg found the rules of the Academy too limiting.  They also believed their tutors were too conservative and so decided to take a stand.  They believed art should be available to all people and, as many could not visit the grand city galleries, they would take their art to the people. They formed Артель художников, the Petersburg Cooperative of Artists (Artel of Artists).  The society resolutely maintained independence from Russian state support and took their art, which depicted the contemporary life of the people from Moscow and Saint Petersburg, to the provinces.  In 1870, this organization was succeeded by the Peredvizhniki.   The Wanderers established a new social artistry that depicted the lower classes and highlighted the issues surrounding social injustices. Of the aims of the Group, Kramskoi believed that their paintings should, as well as being beautiful, be both wise and educational.  Among the movements leading members were Ilya Repin, Ivan Shishkin, Konstantin Makovsky, Vasily Perov and Vasily Polenov.

Abram Arkhipov; Portrait by Ilya Repin

Today’s artist under the spotlight is Abram Yefimovich Arkhipov who was also a member of the group.  Abram was born Abram Efimov[ich] Pyrikov on August 15th 1862, the son of Efim Nikitich and Arina Fedorovna Pyrikovs.  He was raised in an impoverished household in the small and remote village of Yegorovo, in the Ryazan province, two hundred kilometres south-east of Moscow.  He would later adopt the surname “Arkhipov” in honour of his great-grandfather, Arkhip Rodionovich.

Winter by Abram Yefimovich Arkhipov

Abram showed an interest in art when he was a young boy at the village school.  However, the only artistic tuition Abram received whilst at home was from traveling icon painters, one of whom, Zaykov, who had connections with the Moscow School of Painting, which was formed by the 1865 merger of a private art college, established in Moscow in 1832 and the Palace School of Architecture, which had been established in 1749.  It was one of the largest educational institutions in Russia. Zaykov was impressed by the Abram’s artistic talent and encouraged him to enter the School. His parents were proud of him and offered him great encouragement to continue with his love art.  In 1877, despite being impoverished peasants they managed to collect enough money to send him to study at the School of Art, Sculpture and Architecture in Moscow.

 

Sunset over a Winter Landscape by Abram Yefimovich Arkhipov

Abram was accepted at the School in 1877 and he studied there for five years. Here he studied alongside future greats in Russian art such as Ryabushkin, Kasatkin and Nesterov and he was tutored by the leading painters of the time, Vasily Perov, Makovsky, Polenov and Savrasov.  Arkhipov left the Moscow School and in 1884 transferred to the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. Here he was academically successful and some of his paintings were selected for permanent storage at the Academy’s Museum. 

Village Iconographer by Abram Yefimovich Arkhipov

Something, however, was not right and Abram broke off his studies at the St Petersburg Academy and in 1887 returned to study at the Moscow School of Art, Sculpture and Architecture . The reason for his sudden departure from St Petersburg is not fully known but it is thought that he was discouraged by the Academy’s strict way of teaching art.  However, the reason could have been more mundane, and he simply had no financial means to continue his studies in St Petersburg.

Sick Woman by Abram Arkhipov (1885)

Arkhipov had completed a painting entitled Sick Woman in 1885 and two years later at the Moscow School’s student’s exhibition he exhibited it.  It depicts two women in a dark and dank interior.  The artist’s mother sits with her head dejectedly inclined, her eyes fixed at one point,  Next to her sitting on a straw-filled bed is her neighbour who had come to pay the sick woman a visit. She too has the same dimmed sorrowful look in her eyes The postures of the two women, with their tired, unhappy faces is a depiction of their humility, despondency and misery. The only uplifting aspect to this painting is the sunlight, emanating through the open door.  Maybe Arkhipov wanted to remind us that happiness and beauty do exist somewhere. It is a work that gives out both quiet sadness and an air of deep compassion for human suffering.  The painting proved to be a major breakthrough in Archipov’s life as the work was bought directly from the student exhibition by Pavel Tretyakov, the art collector and owner of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

On The River Volga by Abram Arkhipov (1889)

Once Abram had completed his studies, he decided to embark on a painting trip with some of his former students, along the River Volga.  From this journey he completed a number of paintings like his 1889 work, On the Volga. It proved to be a successful fusion of a genre scene and lyrical landscape.

Along the River Oka by Abram Arkhipov

A similar river scene which Arkhipov painted at that time was Along the River Oka. It depicts a barge floating along the river filled with weary peasants, who seem lost in thought. It should not just be taken on face value as a river scene as it is a story about impoverished people who are capable of enduring a great deal without losing their strength and resoluteness. It is both a declaration of the beauty of Russian nature, with its blue horizons, the spring flooding of its rivers, and its streams of sunlight. Arkhipov has used a subdued colour scheme which is in accord with the general mood of the painting. His artistic style has changed. Compared to the careful detail of his early works, his style has become more free, expansive and passionate.  Of the painting, the Russian art critic Vladamir Stasov wrote:

“…The whole picture is painted in sunlight and this can be felt in every patch of light and shade, and in the overall wonderful impressions among the people on the barge, the four women—idle, tired, despondent, sitting in silence on their bundles—are portrayed with magnificent realism…”

In the Evening by Abram Yefimovich Arkhipov

The work earned Arkhipov membership of the Society for Traveling Art Exhibitions in 1890.  He was now one of the Peredvizhniki.  It was the largest art association of the second half of the nineteenth century and their exhibitions were held in Russian cities such as Riga, Kiev, Kharkov, and Odessa. Its objectives was three-fold:

Delivery to the inhabitants of the provinces the possibility of contacts with Russian art

Development and love of the arts in society

Making it easier for artists to sell their works.

Radonitsa (Before the Church Service) by Abram Yefimovich Arkhipov (1892)

Many of Arkhipov’s paintings were juxtapositions of landscape and genre works such as his 1892 painting entitled Radonitsa or Waiting for Church in which we see a large group of peasants sitting on the floor outside a church waiting for the doors to open and the service begin, but this is not just any service, this is Radonitsa.  Radonitsa is a universal church day when relatives and friends of the deceased celebrate the commemoration of those who have died.  In the Russian Orthodox Church it is this commemoration of the departed which is observed on the second Tuesday of Easter.  The word derives from the Slavic word radost meaning joy and so it is not looked upon a s a mournful day but one of joyful remembrance.  It is the Christian belief that lies behind this joy, is the remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus and the joy and hope it brings to all.

The Ice is Gone by Abram Yefimovich Arkhipov (1895)

Another of Arkhipov’s paintings which is a mixture of genre and landscape is his 1895 work entitled The Ice is Gone.  The painting depicts the connection between nature and the peasants. In a way, it is like the previous work.  It is a celebration.  The celebration is because the Spring has finally arrived and the ice on the rivers has melted and once more the peasants can use the flowing rivers to their advantage.

Women Labourers at the Iron Foundry by Abram Yefimovich Arkhipov (1896)

Many of Arkhipov’s paintings depicted the harsh plight of female peasant workers and their brutal working environment.  One such work was his 1896 painting entitled Women Labourers at the Iron Foundry in which we see two women sitting outside the foundry in the relentless hot sun, trying to relax from their physical labour.  Black smoke rises against a backdrop of low, wooden workshops.

The plight of the female worker was again highlighted in two paintings by Akhipov entitled Washer Women which he completed 1899.  One hangs in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and one in the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg. They were based on a series of studies Abram made of life in the wash-house and are depicted in the muted colours associated with Realism paintings.  We see the bent backs of prematurely aged women, toiling amid the steam and heat of their workplace.

Washer Women by Abram Yefimovich Arkhipov (1899)

Washer Women by Abram Yefimovich Arkhipov (1899)

In one work he depicts many peasant women working to clean the village’s laundry. For an accurate portrayal, Abram visited many washhouses making sketches always keen to find figures which would enhance his final work.  Eventually he found his “perfect” model and rearranged the depiction around her.  She was an elderly woman whom we see on the left of the second work, sitting hunched over, totally exhausted. All the women look defeated and overcome by their physical efforts.  These two works by Arkhipov’s highlight the plight of woman who had to work in such harsh, almost inhuman conditions just to earn some money to feed their families.  Again, like his other Reailist paintings he has used muted colours, the works only lit up by the light coming in from the small window at the rear, which shows up the steam coming up from under their hands as they wash the clothing. Many of the details stay the same in both works, for example, their hair being tightly tied back and the same women appearing in the background of both paintings. The women are all hard at work in the upper painting, whereas the lower work focuses on the elderly woman talking a break.

Arkhipov’s paintings are brutally realistic and are important pieces in history revealing much about the conditions in the USSR during this time by showing the truth behind the closed doors of the washhouses. The opportunity for women to get better and less arduous jobs was just not available to them.

Northern Village by Abram Yefimovich Arkhipov (1902)
In the North by Abram Yefimovich Arkhipov !903)

In 1902 Arkhipov took the first of a number of trips to the White Sea and from the sketches he made during these journeys he produced two memorable landscape works. A Northern Village in 1902 and In the North in 1903.  They signalled a move away from Realism works and a move towards the landscape genre of paintings.

Around 1903 came the formation of the Union of Russian Artists which was the coming together of former Peredvizhniki members and those who had been part of the World of Art, an artistic movement inspired by an art magazine which served as its manifesto de facto, which was a major influence on the Russians who helped revolutionize European art during the first decade of the 20th century.  Arkhipov became one of its founding member in 1903.

Around 1903 came the formation of the Union of Russian Artists which was the coming together of former Peredvizhniki members and those who had been part of the World of Art. The Union of Russian Artists lasted until their exhibition in 1910 when due to a split between St. Petersburg and Moscow artists due to harsh words and denouncements of the paintings by various factions.  Arkhipov decided that he had had enough of the constant bickering and resigned.

The Visit (also known as On a Visit; A Festive Spring Day) by Abram Yefimovich Arkhipov (1915)

Following his resignation from the group he reverted to his favoured painting style, that of genre painting and the depiction of peasants. However, the muted coloured realist paintings soon gave way to a more colourful Impressionist style as seen by his 1915 work entitled The Visit (also known as On a Visit; A Festive Spring Day)

The Tea Party by Abram Yefimovich Arkhipov (1919)

Another highly colourful painting was his 1919 work entitled The Tea Party.

Around 1920, Arkhipov became interested in the genre of psychological portraiture.  Psychological portraiture is when an artist tries for something more than a simple physical representation of the sitter but tries to reflectand depice the character of the portrayed person. In essence the painter is endeavouring to capture a range of the sitter’s emotions in fractions of a second or for the finished work to tell us more about the personality of the person in a single image.

A Girl with a Jug by Abram Yefimovich Arkhipov (1927)

Arkhipov painted an unusual series of portraits of peasant women and girls from the Ryazan and Nizhny Novgorod regions. They are all dressed in bright national costumes. with embroidered  scarves and beads. Painted with broad lively strokes, the paintings are marked by their decorative nature and buoyant colours, with rich reds and pinks predominating. The most famous of his portraits is his 1927 painting entitled Girl with a Jug. It depicts a Russian woman dressed in an orange top, a bright red bottom, an apron with a bright pattern.  In her hands she holds a bright blue cup and a jug of milk.  The dark background, painted by the artist, sets off the girl.  Her figure is hidden from us by the wide sleeves and a skirt.  She smiles confidently as she looks out at us with an affectionate countenance.  The painting is a mass of colour and yet Arkhipov seems to also focus on the inner beauty of the woman which he believes is a window into the Russian soul, strong and yet truthful, open-minded, and generous.  In this colourful cycle of painting female peasants, Arkhipov has loosened the shackles of his gloomy realist depictions and his shown us a different side to his art.

Young Girl by Abram Yefimovich Arkhipov (1920)

In 1924 Arkhipov joined the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia, and in 1927, to mark his fortieth year as an artist, he was among the first artist who was awarded the title of *People’s Artist of the Russian Republic*.

Abram Yefimovich Arkhipov died in Moscow on September 25th, 1930 aged 68.

ArtCatto Gallery

Often when you visit small galleries which are staging a joint exhibition of paintings done by a small number of artists, you like some and are disappointed with others.  I was in Portugal last week and my visit coincided with an opening of a joint exhibition at a local gallery and I was fortunate to have received an invite which coincided with my short break away.

ArtCatto Gallery, Loulé, Algarve, Portugal

The exhibition was at the ArtCatto gallery in the heart of the Algarve town of Loulé.  ArtCatto was the brainchild of Gillian Catto, who after 30 years as the owner of an internationally recognised and respected gallery in London, decided to settle in the Algarve and she opened ArtCatto in 2011.  Gillian Catto developed a reputation, which is second to none. She was responsible for launching the careers of artists who have subsequently become household names, such as Jack Vettriano. His solo exhibition at her Gallery helped to create a global demand for his work, which skyrocketed in value virtually overnight.

The Girls by Shen Ming Chun

The gallery is divided into a number of small rooms, each featuring the work of one artist.    In one of these rooms there were six exquisite works of portraiture by the Chinese artist, Shen Ming Cun.  Shen was born in 1956 and graduated from the University Art College of Guangxi in China, where he is now a professor of European Art. He is highly respected as an official artist for the Chinese Government, and has exhibited in Hong Kong, Beijing, Singapore, New Zealand, and Britain.

Beautiful Headdress by Shan Ming Cun

Shen Ming draws his inspiration from the ancient traditions, crafts and culture of the tribes of the Miao, Yao and Dong of the remote GuangXi region of China. There are large changes in China which is causing a massive strain on the ancient way of life in these small village communities and as the young people leave the villages to seek work in the large cities one has to wonder how long these cultures can survive.

Looking at You by Shen Ming Cun

Each tribe has a quite unique tradition in dress and adornment from the other. The young girls sew everything entirely by hand and their jewellery is crafted in the village.

Silver Necklace by Shen Ming Cun

Shen’s paintings have come to focus on capturing, distilling and representing the inimitable customs, dress and heritage of these minority tribes of Southern China. His empathy and admiration of these tribal people is well-defined in his paintings, which possess a lyrical beauty, dignity and grace. In fact, his paintings have been likened to a kind of visual poetry in their way they communicate to the viewer a variety of emotions and to entice the spectator into their worlds.

Pink Roses by Shen Ming Cun

Shen’s paintings capture the chromatic vibrancy of the costumes and ornate silver jewellery with a lightness and confidence that has undoubtedly led to his success. Their adornments are genuine symbols of the wealth, religion, ritual and national consciousness that shape their lives. It is truly remarkable to witness the intimate moments that he often portrays which provide an atmosphere of invitation and intrigue for the viewer.  Shen explains his inspirational art:

“…I have spent a long time researching the richly colourful cultural heritage of the Yao and Miao nationalities and the Dong minority of Southern China. Over the years I have lived amongst them and become friends with these beautiful people who radiate pure goodness and a simple love of life. Cultivating their ancestor’s achievements, they turn life into immortal art…”

Pedro Guimares

On entering another room I came across some fascinating works of art by Pedro Guimares.  Pedro Guimarães, born 1974 in Guimarães, Portugal. From an early age, Pedro was fascinated by art and design, resulting in an exhibition at the age of sixteen at the Youth Centre in Braga. The success and impact of that show confirmed his career as a professional artist and as a result he set up his studio in Guimarães to continue his practice.

All I Want by Pedro Guimares

In 2011 he moved to Cantabria, Spain, having the opportunity to exhibit his work there. Back in Portugal it was in Guimarães that he set up his atelier. There he devoted an increasingly greater amount of time to plastic arts until it finnaly became his exclusive activity. Since then, Pedro Guimarães participated in several individual and collective exhibitions in Portugal and abroad with an intense and always innovative artistic production.

Sky Dreamer by Pedro Guimares

Pedro Guimarães’s work is based on a conceptual language created by him, which he defines as:

“…the true transparent reaction of our consciousness with the synapses that make us unique and influence the direction of our concepts, associating colours and shapes…”

Untouchable. In loving memory of Queen Elizabeth II by Pedro Guimares

Enjoying a wide creative freedom, Pedro Guimarães uses various resources and materials. One of the strangest and probably the most time-consuming work was a portrait entitled Untouchable. In loving memory of Queen Elizabeth II.  For this work, Guimares used a technique which he terms “Untouchable” which gives the work a unique content, curious, and some might say disarming. Standing before the portrait you see nothing unusual but……….

Side-on view of Queen Elizabeth II portrait

………..stand to the side of the portrait and when you look again you realise the artwork comprises of numerous pins (180,000 pins) that forms the figure into a three-dimensional shape.  You only notice the pins when you view the work side-on.

The Three of Us by Pedro Guimares

The painting of his, maybe I should say the three paintings of his, which fascinated me was entitled The Three of Us.  I suppose the portrait(s) fall into the category of being a  Trompe L’oeil depiction. As I stood in front of this strange slatted painting I saw a depiction of Princess Diana. At first I could not fathom out the reason for the vertical slats.

The Three of us by Pedro Guimares

However when I moved to the left and viewed the painting at a 45 degree angle the image of Diane disappeared and as if by magic, the depiction of her son Harry came clearly into view………

The Three of Us by Pedro Guimares

……and when I moved to the right of the painting an image of William gradually appeared. Yes, I know it was just a work of trickery but it was very cleverly done.

Richard Gower

On entering the gallery, you were greeted by a wash of bright colours which extended along the walls of the passageways.  The paintings reminded me of some of the colourful seascapes I saw at the Joaquín Sorolla Museum in Madrid.  These artworks at the ArtCatto gallery were by the English artist Richard Gower.

Finding the Perfect Spot by Richard Gower

Richard Gower was born in West Yorkshire in 1962 and is a fine artist who is known for his contemporary oil paintings rendered in his characteristic impressionistic style.  At the age of seventeen, he studied at Batley College of Art and specialised in fine art and sculpture.  He is influenced by the great artists of the nineteenth and twentieth century such as Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Sickert, Francis Bacon. Richard’s determination to paint and learn everything he needed to learn motivated him to study the great impressionists. Richard’s fascination with the great painters pushed his own creativity and observations to develop and fine-tune his personal ‘Reflections’ style over the years. As a young man he travelled throughout Europe on his motorbike stopping of at various cities and towns always visiting galleries and exhibitions, whilst all the time honing his artistic skills and developing his passion for painting.

The Splash by Richard Gower

The semi-abstracted, figurative compositions we see in his beach scenes have both a real sense of joie de vie but also intrigue. As observers, we are asked to conjure up narratives about these anonymous characters who are enjoying a day at the seaside and who are immortalised on his canvases.

Day at the Beach by Richard Gower
The Promenade by Richard Gower

These seaside scenes by Gower would light up any room and bring with them the hankering to leave rainy and windswept climates and visit beautiful beaches and soak up the sun.

Mario Henrique with his portrait of Marilyn Munroe

Another room at the ArtCatto exhibition was dedicated to the artwork of Mario Henrique.   Mario Henrique is an artist based in Cascais, Portugal, who graduated in Design from Lisbon’s University of Fine Arts and started his career in online marketing and web development agencies.  Later on, as a creative director he recruited and led teams in Portugal, Spain and Brazil.

Somnium No. 1, Series X by Mario Henrique

Of his painting style Mario explains:

“…I try to be fast and spontaneous when I’m painting – that process should be reflected in the final piece. The observer should be able to infer the physicality of the painting process, when looking at the brush strokes and paint drippings…”

Mario Henrique at work in his studio

“…When I throw paint, I can do it with some premeditation – but I can never really predict where the paint will actually fall on the canvas. So, my approach to painting is – in part – based on chance, on small random accidents – it doesn’t rely exclusively on my persistence or my technique.

That’s why I don’t feel completely responsible for my paintings – in the sense that, although I can answer for my initial intentions, the final…”

Mariana by Mario Henrique

Mario Henrique is passionate about his work and has exhibited his work in Portugal, Brazil, Germany and the US. He says that he is forever intrigued by the subtleties and double meanings of people’s body language, expressions and looks, and he composes works centred around people. Mario uses his portraits to represent the impermanence of facial expressions and unpredictability of human movements, and paints abruptly and spontaneously in drippings and splashings.

Nebula No. 5, Series IV by Mario Henrique

Listed in various private collections across Europe, America and Asia, he has exhibited in galleries both locally and abroad, and was awarded an Honourable Mention for his participation in the Brasília Biennial of Contemporary Arts 2016. He was also featured in Saatchi Art’s Inside The Studio.

At the ArtCatto’s exhibition, there was also a selection of sculptures both with a modern style and a classical one.

Sculpture Flow by Paul Sibuet

Golden Flow by Paul Sibuet

Paul Sibuet, a French visual artist, was born in 1986.  He was trained in Design and Art and his work has been submitted at numerous competitions, in Tokyo and Paris. He has now broken free from the techniques he was taught by exploring his own perceptions of the object and volumes, and in so doing so he has created his own signature. He lives today in Lyon and exhibits in particular in Geneva, New York and Venice.

Spring by Anneke Bester
Emanate by Anneke Bester

At the rear of the gallery there is a narrow outdoor passage way which was lined by statuettes by Anneke Bester. Anneke Bester is a South African born artist who now considers New Zealand her home country. She not only exhibits in New Zealand but also regularly in Portugal and Dubai. Her body of work is a combination of one-off, delicately cast, bronze sculptures as well as editioned works. Anneke’s work focuses on celebrating Femininity in all its aspects. She sculpts gorgeous female forms in sensual poses. She develops the female energy of nature and depicts the female forms as daughters of mother earth in her most recent work.poses. She sees the female in its internal beauty and its core driving force that only a female sculptor can explore to its full extent.

If you are ever in the Algarve you should try and visit the ArtCatto gallery which lies on the town’s main street, across from the large Municipal Market Hall,

Dutch and Flemish Golden Age painters.

Like many others, I am a lover of the artwork of the Dutch Golden Age painters.  The Dutch Golden Age was a period in the history of the Netherlands, which spanned the era from 1588 and the birth of the Dutch Republic to 1672, Rampjaar (Disaster Year) which was the year of the outbreak of the Franco-Dutch War.  During this period, it was considered that Dutch trade, science, and art and the Dutch military were among the most acclaimed in Europe.  We all know about the lives and works of the famous artists of that era, such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen, Frans Hals and Judith Leyster to name but a few.  In my blog today I want to look at the lives and works of the lesser-known painters of that era.

Izaak van Oosten was a Flemish Baroque landscape and cabinet painter who worked out of Antwerp.  Izaak was born in Antwerp in December 1613 and was the son of an art dealer with the same name.  His father had become a master in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke in 1617. Very little is known about his upbringing or his early artistic training as there is no record of which master or masters he studied under.  Izaak became a master in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke in 1652.

Landscape with a Wagon and Travellers passing through a Village by Izaak van Oosten

There is something joyful about paintings depicting skaters on frozen rivers and lakes.  It is all before global warming and I am sure that now, many of the rivers and lakes retain their fluidity even in the depths of winter.  The painting I am showcasing is entitled Skaters on a Frozen Lake at the Edge of Town and it was painted by the Dutch Golden Age landscape painter Cornelis Beelt.  Cornelis Beelt was a Dutch Golden Age landscape painter who was  one of the chief figures in the Haarlem school of landscape painting, but was also well-known for his genre paintings of towns, markets and villages.  Beelt was born in Haarlem during the first decade of the seventeenth century.

Skaters on a Frozen Lake at the Edge of Town by Cornelis Beelt (c.1652)

The setting is a clear winter’s day and crowds of locals gather besides a country inn keen to enjoy the sport on the ice. Young and old, rich and poor are attracted to this pastime. In the foreground a group of well-dressed men and women stands on the ice and chat. An old lady with her hands in a fur muff sits in a splendid arreslee (sleigh which is drawn by a horse and which is decorated with a fine plumed harness. Close by young children propel themselves across the ice on small prikslees (sledges).

Beach of Shevingen by Cornelis Beelt

There is a strange thing about this painting which unfortunately is not visible from the attached picture. Beelt signed his painting in an unusual manner, one which he had also done on his painting Beach of Shevingen. He signed his name on the plank of wood in the foreground. However , at a later time, his signature was scrubbed out and replaced by the inscription J.V.Ostade f.1653 and this was judged to be an attempt by a less than honest art dealer to ascribe the work to a more famous name, Isaac van Ostade, so as to have a better chance of selling the painting, even though Ostade had died in 1649 !

The phrase ‘cabinet d’amateur’, in French, is an ancient term which referred to a room or part of a room in an art collector’s house where he or she displayed the paintings they had purchased.  These display areas were before the rise of public galleries.  Some where simple cabinets which contained their owner’s beloved works and some where floor to ceiling displays of their paintings.  The phrase cabinet d’amateur should not be viewed as that of an “amateur collector” but that of an “art lover”.  A German term for such a place is often referred to as a kunstkammer. In Italian it might be called a Gabinetto, Studiolo or Camerino.

Two collectors dining in a gallery surrounded by paintings and works of art, with two parrots in the foreground. by Frans Fancken the Younger

The painting connected with this term is one by the Flemish painter, Frans Francken the Younger and described as Two collectors dining in a gallery surrounded by paintings and works of art, with two parrots in the foreground. Frans Francken the Younger was the most famous of an Antwerp dynasty of painters; he trained with his father, Frans the Elder, and joined the Antwerp guild in 1605. He was a painter of religious and historical subjects as well as being the inventor of the genre – the cabinet painting.

On the right-hand side of the painting we see two men deep in discussion about a painting one of them is holding up but we do not know who is the owner of this kunstkammer.  The presence of a kunstkammer in one’s house was a sign of wealth, intelligence and social status.  In the main part of the painting, we see an ornate sideboard supported by classical caryatids.  A caryatid is the name given to a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head.  A light-pink fringed cloth covers the top shelf of the sideboard on which two large shells are placed either side of the painting, The Adoration of the Magi.   Richly decorated goblets and covered urns are displayed on two of the sideboard shelves. On the floor we see two parrots depicted sitting on a perch.  The import of exotic foreign birds testified to the owner’s wealth.   We see a large red velvet curtain falls from the ceiling which when released would act as a separator of the two rooms.  Everything in the room exudes the wealth of the owner which would have been the raison d’être for the owner of the cabinet d’amateur commissioning the work.

The Cabinet of the Collector by Frans Francken the Younger (c.1617)

A similar painting by Frans Francken the Younger is in the Royal Collection entitled The Cabinet of the Collector which he completed around 1617. Amongst the paintings on view in the kunstkammer is a landscape by Joos de Momper,  a still life of an everyday table set for a meal; and a small, nocturnal Flight into Egypt. Other religious painting depicted are one featuring St Augustine who is trying to comprehend the idea of the Trinity and sees a baby struggling to pour the entire sea into a pool in the sand with a shell – both tasks being equally beyond the scope of man. The drawings, one framed and one in an open book are two studies for Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling and a preparatory drawing for Raphael’s Madonna della Perla which emphasise the intellectual side of painting.. There are also letters on the table, no doubt signifying an intelligent characteristic of the painting’s owner.  Also displayed are exotic weaponry which is a reminder of the importance of travel and trade and a handful of Roman coins and a bowl of modern ones, which were not anything to do with wealth but more likely a celebration of the achievements of great men.

For me, the most interesting part of the work is seen beneath the arch to the right.  In the background a church is demolished and nearby donkey-headed men with cudgels destroy a pile of objects associated with learning, science, the arts and sport. According to Karel van Mander, the sixteenth century Flemish poet, painter and art historian, a man with a donkey head is a symbol of Ignorance. The episodes depicted here recall two historical events: the Beeldenstorm, an outbreak of iconoclasm carried out by Protestants in 1566; and the ‘Spanish Fury’, the sack of Antwerp in 1576.

A Rhineland Landscape with a Hermit and Soldiers by Jan Griffier the Elder

Jan Griffier the Elder, who was born in Amsterdam around 1645, was a painter and printmaker, who produced views of Rhineland landscapes as well as spending time, around 1660, in England where he produced many landscape works featuring the English countryside.  One of his most beautiful landscapes is referred to as A Rhineland Landscape with a Hermit and Soldiers. The painting dramatically depicts a steep mountain landscape with a meandering river below which slowly flows through wooded crags which are surmounted by castles.  If we look to the left foreground, we can see a men loading barrels of wine onto a small boat.  The main figures in this painting are on the right-hand side.  We see a group of soldiers lying down, concealed among the ferns and flowers.  One of the group points down to the boat which is being loaded.  Are they planning to raid the operation?  Above them, sitting on a rock by a large oak tree in peaceful isolation, is a hermit, who is meditating.  It is an interesting painting with plenty to focus on, but what is it all about ?

Floral Still life Floral by Gaspar van den Hoecke

There is something that fascinates me about floral still life paintings.  I think it is just the effort and patience the artists must have put in to produce such beautiful works.  My next featured painting is a small (70 x 50cms) floral still life attributed to the Flemish Baroque painter, Gaspar van Hoecke, who was born in Antwerp around 1580.

Gaspar van den Hoecke was best known for his small religious cabinet pieces but during his early period around 1610 his work focused on still life floral paintings.  The vase of flowers sits on a wooden tabletop.  This dense grouping of flowers fills almost two thirds of the painting.  The profusion of flowers doesn’t allow the artist to depict twigs and leaves between individual flowers.  On the table we see a caterpillar of the swallow-tailed butterfly which is next to it.  Also on the table there is a silver medal with the head of Pope Pius V which had been created in 1571.   Just above it is a gold coin which is a rare example of a byzantine solidus made during the era of Anastasius, the Eastern Roman Emperor. 

Winter Landscape with a peasant walking through snow by Gysbrecht Leytens

The Flemish painter Gijsbrecht Leytens was born in Antwerp in 1586. As a teenager, he began his apprenticeship with Jacob Vrolijck.  In 1611 he joinied the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke as a master. In 1615 he became a member of the Olijftak, a chamber of rhetoric that dates back to the early 16th century in Antwerp, when it was a social drama society which drew its membership primarily from merchants and tradesmen and provided public entertainment at prestigious events.  Gijsbrecht was a captain in Antwerp’s Civic Guard between 1624 and 1628.  His work followed the style of 16th and 17th century Flemish and Dutch great landscape paintings, which had brought recognition to such masters as Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Hendrick Avercamp, Gillis Van Coninxloo, Joost de Momper and Denijs Van Alsloot.

Winter landscape with a woodsman and travelers by Gysbrecht Leytens

However, it was Gijsbrecht Leytens’ determined personal style that brought him to the public’s attention.   Many of his paintings were simply attributed to “The Master of the Winter Landscape” and only in the 1940’s attributed to him.  Leytens has an easily recognisable style not just because he focuses on snowy winter scenes but because of the way he depicts intricate and curious intertwining designs created by the bare branches and twigs which form a large part of his depictions.   He was described as a poet of the frost in the way he conveys the cold nakedness of the sun on a countryside caught in the ice. No-one before him, nor after him, either in Flanders or elsewhere, expressed this with such intensity. The fundamental and unique quality of his art also resides in the extreme refinement of the subtle colour harmonies apparent in his paintings at all times.

Old Man Reading a Letter by Willem van Mieris (1729)

The depiction of the reading of a letter has featured in many paintings over the years.  Such attention to what is written in the letter adds to the back-story of the artwork and often our imagination runs riot as we try to fathom out the sentiment expressed in the pages of the letter.  My next painting is one by the Dutch artist Willem van Mieris who was born in Leiden in the Northern Netherlands in June 1662.  His artistic tuition came from his father Frans van Mieris who was a genre painter.  Throughout his career Willem was successful and had the support of a number of patrons who constantly supplied him with commissions.  He was equally at home painting genre scenes and portraiture as well as being a skilled landscape painter, etcher, and draughtsman.  He was the active leader of, and once became dean of, the Leiden Guild of St. Luke in 1693. A year later, in 1694, he established a drawing academy in Leiden along with the painter Jacob Toorenvliet.

In this work we see an elderly gentleman seated  at a table in a darkened interior deep in concentration as he reads a handwritten document.  He wears an opulent-looking gown which is made of richly embroidered material and which is evocative of the fashion for Japanese dress at the time.  Upon his head is a hat made of rich blue velvet and lined with a extravagant swathe of fur.  In the dark background we can just make out shelves filled with books.  Couple that with the paraphernalia on the table, such as an inkwell, sealing wax and quill pen tells us that this a gentleman of great learning, maybe a lawyer.  Lawyers were often depicted in paintings reading documents and letters.

I hope this blog will encourage you to delve into the world of Dutch and Flemish painters where you will find so many talented artists.

John Downton

Self portrait by John Downton (c.1928)

My featured artist today is the lesser-known British painter John Downton who was born on March 27th, 1906 in the Kent town of Erith, some twenty kilometres south-east of London.  He was the youngest of three children of Albert Victor and Flora Edith Downton (née Mitchell).  John had two older sisters, Hilda and Mary both of whom had intended to study medicine but their plans were thwarted by family circumstances and health reasons.

At the age of four John attended the Erith Convent where he was a pupil for the next four years.  In 1914 he transferred to the Erith Grammar School.  It was around this time that John developed a love for music.  His father played the flute and the piano and was a prominent member of the local church choir.  John’s uncle, Hedley, gave John a violin and during the following years John became an important member of the school orchestra.  The other great love of the teenager was his desire to read, particularly books by ancient philosophers and other “serious” works of English literature.

Portrait of a Young Woman by John Downton (1929)

Apart from his music and books, John had an overriding passion for art and even built a summer house/studio in the family garden where he did his painting.  When he was seventeen the school entered his pencil sketch, Biplanes: A Study, into the Royal Drawing Society at the Guildhall, London and he was awarded a Silver Medal.  As a teenager he was fascinated by all things military and penned many sketches of war machines and yet, later in life he became a pacifist.

Woman at the Window by John Downton (1934)

In 1922, when he was sixteen years old, his mother noticed an advert in The Times which stated that a Professor Gaugot, who was a lecturer at the Sorbonne, was willing to teach an English boy to speak French and so young John Downton headed to Paris where he stayed with the Gaugot family.

Child with Roses by John Downton (1936)

A year later in 1923 John accompanied his two sisters to Italy where they visited Venice and the Northern Italian Lakes as well as the Swiss towns of Lucerne and Lugano.  This was the start of John’s love affair with travel.  His favourite destinations were Northern Italy and Switzerland.

Having completed his schooling John was accepted into Queen’s College, Cambridge.  Initially he took Part 1 of the English Tripos and in 1927 was placed into the Second Class but the following year he decided to abandon English and instead enrolled in the History of Art course and once completed, he received a First Class degree.  During his three years at the university John immersed himself in their musical activities.

Hilda Downton by John Downton (1929)

In the Autumn of 1928, having completed his three-year degree course, John Downton enrolled at the Slade School of Art which at the time was presided over by Henry Tonks, a British surgeon and later draughtsman and painter of figure subjects, chiefly interiors, and a caricaturist who was Slade Professor of Fine Art from 1918 to 1930.  John, like many of the Old Masters of the past, preferred the medium of tempera but the Slade tutors wanted him to change his favoured painting medium and embrace a more modern style of painting.  There was to be no common ground and so on May 21st 1929, John resigned.  In a forward to John Downton’s 1937 book, The Death of Art, an art critic and author wrote about Downton’s falling out of love with the Slade and the Academy’s thoughts on art.  He wrote:

“…A certain kind of rather drably coloured, sober urban realism was the style in favour.  Not for Downton though: he had pretty certainly made up his mind what he wanted to do and what sort of painter he wanted to be well before he arrived at the Slade and it has much more to do with the legacy of Piero della Francesca than that of Sickert and Cezanne…”

Downton’s art was a return to the art of the early Renaissance.

In 1930 John Downton and his sister set off on an European trip.  They based themselves in the Côte d’Azur town of Menton and from there they took day trips out to the Italian Riviera towns of Ventimiglia and Genoa.  Much longer trips were taken by the pair when they visited Milan and Lugano as well as his beloved Italian Lakes.

Portrait of a Young Lady by John Downton (1929)

Around 1930, John bought Park Cottage in the Kent village of Sundridge, some twenty miles, south-east of London.  He spent much of his time renovating the property and buying antique furniture at auction to furnish the rooms.  After two years living there, he realised it was too small for him and his artwork and so he moved out and rented the cottage to a fellow artist, Vincent New.

In April 1932 John Downton was awarded his M.A. and, as if to celebrate the successful completion of his studies, he took a trip to Tunis and returned via Naples, where he remained for a few months.  On arriving back to England John searched for a new home and eventually purchased a property with a north-facing conservatory in which he could paint.  The property was in Observatory Gardens, in the London borough of Kensington.

Frances Witts by John Downton (1935)

Around 1935, John Downton completed a poignant in memoriam portrait of his cousin Frances Witts.  She had died of pneumonia aged just twenty-six.  He used a family photograph for this work.

Portrait of a Lady in Yellow by Alesso Baldovinetti (1465)

Downton was influenced by profile portraits executed by Florentine painters such as Baldovinetti’s 1465 work entitled Portrait of a Lady in Yellow but art historians believe this portrait of his cousin was influenced by the Milanese painter, Ambrogio’ de Predis and his c.1490 work, Beatrice d’Este, which was once attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. 

Portrait of a Lady (Beatrice d’Este) by Ambrogio’ de Predis

Downton’s memorial portrait has a dark and rich tonal quality and he has based it on a conservative portrait of the past and has accomplished an image that is both solemn and inspiring.  The woman in Downton’s portrait, like the Italian females in the portraits mentioned earlier, includes a necklace with diminishing size of beads whilst her hair is similarly geometric but in Frances Witts’ case it is gathered at the sides rather than at the back of the head.

Nora Russell by John Downton (1936)

Between 1936 and 1940 John Downton exhibited work at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.  His two submissions in 1936, which were considered to be his masterpieces, were The Battle and and Nora Russell.  The latter painting was executed in egg tempera and, despite it being a simple depiction of a young schoolgirl, it is evocative in the way it reminds us of the spirit of Quattrocento female portraiture, that is to say, female portraiture in fifteenth-century Italy, which portrayed womanly perfection as established in Catholic doctrine, illustrating the special social roles that upper-class women fulfilled at the time.

The Battle by John Downton (1935)

The title, The Battle, the second of his submitted painting to the 1936 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, is to do with conflict but not a battlefield scene, as you may have expected.  It is all about the battle between modern industrialisation and the ideal of Renaissance humanism, which was a revival in the study of classical antiquity, at first in Italy and then spreading across Western Europe in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, a cultural legacy, literary legacy, and moral philosophy of classical antiquity.

Erasmus of Rotterdam by Hans Holbein the Younger (1523)

The figure and its stance in the painting is based upon Holbein’s 1523 work, Erasmus of Rotterdam.  Erasmus was the leading humanist at the time.  Both works accentuate the hands of the sitter.  In the Louvre collection there are studies of hands made by Holbein as preliminaries for his painting.  In Downton’s painting we see through the window an abstract depiction of a modern factory.

Joan Harris by John Downton (1937)

John Downton was always on the move and made many more house relocations and in August 1937 he took up residence in Cambridge.  That year he submitted his work entitled Joan Harris to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition where it was subsequently chosen to be shown in The Prominent Living Artists Exhibition which was staged at the Russell-Cotes Museum in Bournemouth.  Joan Harris was the daughter of John Downton’s Cambridge neighbour.  From a letter she wrote him during the sittings for the portrait we can gather that Downton completed more than just this one portrait of her.  She wrote:

“…I hope you will finish the picture soon; but if you ever want me to come and sit for you again, just let me know and I will come any time that I am able.

When you have finished the picture I hope I will be able to see it and if you get the first picture back in Cambridge I would like to see it, and I know Mummy and Daddy would love to see it as they never saw it when it was completed…”

Portrait of a Girl by John Downton (1938)

Downton’s 1938 submission to the RA Summer Show was Portrait of a Girl which unusually for Downton depicted the model against a landscape background giving the impression that it was a plein air portrait.  There is a definite resemblance to the style of one of my favourite portrait artists, Gerald Brockhurst.

Portrait of a Woman by John Downton (1955)

A strange looking portrait going under the title Portrait of a Woman was completed by John Downton in 1955. 

Edith Sitwell by Pavel Tchelitchew (1935)

It is thought that the depiction was loosely based on the Polish painter, Pavel Tchelitchew’s portrait of his good friend Edith Sitwell in 1935.

Girl Conducting by John Downton (1940)

In 1938, now living in Cambridge, Downton was having to cope with the rejection by Faber & Faber of his manuscript, The Death of Art, but which was published years later. In 1940 Downton submitted three paintings to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, Eve, A Girl Conducting, and A Child. His painting entitled Girl Conducting is all about his depiction of the girl’s hands and it is such a facet in many of his works. The finished product did not come easily for Downton, who made numerous sketches of hands until he had perfected them. Many of the depictions were influenced by Renaissance paintings. The three paintings Downton submitted to the RA that year were to be the last of his offerings to that establishment.

Woman in Flemish Head Dress by John Downton

So why did Downton stop exhibiting his work at the RA ? In the foreword to Downton’s book The Death of Art, which his sister, Hilda, finally had published in 1995, the writer and critic John Russell Taylor explained:

“…He seems to have felt himself marginalised in a world increasingly unsympathetic to everything he stood for. In 1939 he moved to Florence in an attempt to escape the materialist twentieth century, but then almost immediately had to return to Britain at the outbreak of war. The war itself was even more of an alienating factor, a total outrage to his dearly held pacifist principles. And a general feeling that the mainstream of British Art was moving further and further away from his own ideals, first into luxuriant Romanticism and then into freeform abstraction, caused him to withdraw altogether from exhibiting his own art after 1940…”

Bearded Profit by John Downton (1975)

Now back home in England with the war waging in Europe, John Downton received his conscript papers.  Downton had always been a pacifist and went before the Review Board to argue his case for not fighting.  The Board accepted that he was a genuine conscientious objector and so, in September 1940, he was put to work on a farm near Ludlow.  That same year his two sisters moved north to Pitlochry in Scotland and later Downton moved north to be with them and work on the land of the local farmer.

Portrait of a Woman by John Downton (1940)

When the war ended Downton moved south and took up residence in the Kent town of Sevenoaks.  He remained there for two years but then returned to Cambridge where he stayed until 1964 but when his lease ran out on the property he was renting in 1971 he moved back to Sevenoaks and rented a large ground floor flat with a cellar, close to where his sisters, Hilda and Mary were then living.  Mary became very ill with asthma in 1986 and died.   In December 1990 a water pipe burst in the cellar and caused a flood which partly destroyed some of his books and manuscripts he had stored in the room.  He struggled to save and move the heavy boxes of books and this exertion damaged his heart.  He was confined to hospital for two weeks and on discharge went to live with his sister, Hilda, who looked after him during his final days.  John Downton died on July 31st 1991, aged 85.

John never married but was in no way a recluse as his time was taken up with his painting and his love of music.  He had many friends who valued his company.  His sister, Hilda died in 2006, aged 104.

British Victorian Art and the Maas Gallery, London. Part 2.

My second blog continues to look at some of the Victorian paintings which were on show at the Maas Gallery in London.

The Last Song of the Girondins by Claude Andrew Calthrop (1868)

The first painting I am displaying in Part 2 is one by the English artist Claude Andrew Calthrop.  Calthrop was born in Deeping St Nicholas, near Spalding, Lincolnshire, on December 20th 1844, the youngest son of James Thompson Calthrop, a farmer and grazier, and his wife, Edna (née Knowles).  Calthrop attended the Merchant Taylors’ School, in the City of London, but, by 1861, had transferred to King’s College School. From there, he then studied art at Lambeth School of Art and the Royal Academy Schools, where in December 1864, he was awarded a silver medal for the best drawing from life and a gold medal and a scholarship for £50 for the best historical painting, a biblical one, depicting a subject from the Book of Job. He went on to exhibit at the Royal Society of British Artists and the Royal Academy.  At first, Claude Calthrop concentrated on history paintings depicting episodes of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. Later he changed to depictions of contemporary life, portraiture and genre scenes.

Today’s painting, Last Song of the Girondins, was completed and submitted by Calthrop to the Royal Academy exhibition in 1868.  It depicts a scene from the French Revolution and the Jacobins, an anti-Royalist grouping formed mainly of two prominent parliamentary factions, the Montagnards, lead by Robespierre and the Girondins lead by Jacques-Pierre Brissot.  The Montagnards referred to those who occupied the higher benches in both the Jacobin club and the national legislature. Those who sat on these high benches were generally more radical in their ideology and their policies, while those who sat further down were usually more moderate. The conflict between the Girondins and Montagnards came to a head in the spring of 1793. The catalyst for this was the trial of Louis XVI

Detail from The Last Song of the Girondins by Claude Andrew Calthrop

The two factions fell out and in 1793, the Girondins were charged with conspiring against the Republic by the Montagnards.  They were all immediately found guilty in a show trial, and just before midnight on the October 30th 1793, they were sentenced to death. The following morning, the twenty-one convicted men were taken by cart from the dungeons of the Conciergerie to the guillotine. Defiant to the end, the prisoners, led by Brissot, started to sing the Marseillaise and as each was beheaded, the sound of the song dwindled to silence, until the very last Girondin was executed.  The twenty-one died in a space of thirty-six minutes and this heralded in the Reign of Terror.

Of Calthrop’s painting, the art critic for Bell’s Weekly Messenger, described it as:

“…a more difficult scene to portray could scarcely have been chosen; but he has given individuality to each character, whilst he has managed the processional grouping with an ease which says much for his appropriate idea of detail. The manner, too, in which the general scheme is worked out by means of a happy blending of colour, is also appropriate. The handling is minute, without being laboured; and the tone, kept down, to represent the vault from which the prisoners are about to emerge, is as sober as the scene is sad. We shall expect, after such a specimen as this, to note Mr C Calthrop’s rise in his profession…”

Ruskin in his Turret Brantwood by William Collingwood

William Gershom Collingwood, a writer and artist, was born in Liverpool in 1854. He had always liked the Lake District and had accompanied his father there on sketching tours.   He received his early education at Liverpool College and at the age of eighteen went to University College, Oxford, where he first met John Ruskin. During the summer of 1873 Collingwood visited Ruskin at his Lake District house, Brantwood.  Ruskin had bought the somewhat dilapidated house in Coniston in August 1871.  Brantwood was Ruskin’s main home from 1872 until his death in 1900.  Ruskin oversaw many renovations to Brantwood including adding a turret to his bedroom which gave him a panoramic view of the lake

Brantwood as it looks today.

Later Collingwood was working at Brantwood with Ruskin and his associates. Ruskin was impressed with Collingwood’s draughtsmanship, and so he influenced Collingwood to study at the Slade School of Art between 1876 and 1878. Collingwood exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1880.  For many years Collingwood dedicated his life to helping Ruskin and lived at Branston, taking on the role as Ruskin’s personal assistant.   In 1883 Collingwood married Edith Mary Isaac and the couple lived close to Ruskin in the Lake District. Collingwood went on to edit many of Ruskin’s texts and published a biography of Ruskin in 1893.

Michelangelo Nursing his Dying Servant by Frederic, Lord Leighton (c.1862)

In this 1857 watercolour painting by Frederic, Lord Leighton, we have a depiction a young man supporting and comforting an older man.  It is a tender and compassionate scene.  The old man, a servant, is Urbino and the benevolent person with his arm around the old man’s shoulder is his master, Michelangelo.  Leighton has fashioned the depiction similar to many religious depictions of The Deposition, the cradling of the dead Christ after being brought down from the cross.  A number of years later Leighton completed a copy of the work in oils.

Kathleen by James Tissot

This is an unfinished watercolour portrait of Kathleen Newton by the French painter James Tissot.  She was his favourite model who also became his lover.  The story of artist and model is fascinating and I covered it in my blog, James Tissot and Kathleen Newton ten years ago.

Quiet by James Tissot

This watercolour is thought to be a preliminary sketch which Tissot used when he worked on his painting entitled Quiet. This was one of Tissot’s most famous pictures of Kathleen and it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1881.  Kathleen is depicted sitting on a bench in the garden at Tissot’s house in Grove End Road with one of her children and a pet dog.  The depiction of Kathleen in Quiet shows her in a similar pose as in the unfinished watercolour sketch. 

My next offerings were paintings by the prolific English Victorian painter William Lionel Wylie, an artist of maritime themes which he painted in both oils and watercolours.

W L Wylie

William Lionel Wyllie, better known as W.L.Wylie, who was born on July 5th 1851 at 67 Albany Street, Camden Town, London.  He was the elder of two sons of a prosperous minor-genre painter, French-born English William Morrison Wyllie, who at the time of the birth of his son, was living in London.  His younger brother Charles William Wylie was also a talented painter.  William Jnr. received a first-class artistic education, studying firstly at the Heatherley School of Fine Art, and then in 1866, when he was aged fifteen, at the Royal Academy Schools, where he studied under some of the great artists of the time like Edwin Landseer, John Everett Millais and Frederic Leighton.

Dawn After a Storm by W.L.Wylie (1869)

His artistic talent showed through with his 1869 painting entitled Dawn After a Storm which won him the Turner Gold Medal. He was just eighteen years old.

Landing the Catch, Portel Sands by W.L. Wylie (1875)

William Wylie submitted his painting Landing the Catch, Portel Sands, in 1875.  Wylie who had success at submitting his work to the Royal Academy’s Exhibitions the previous years was horrified and disillusioned  to have his work rejected by the Exhibition jurists.  It was the first time this had happened to him in seven years.  He swore that he would give up painting and go off to sea.

  His parents once had a summer home at Wimereux, a coastal town just north of Boulogne and just to the south was Portel Sands which is depicted in his painting.  This painting depicts fishermen landing their catch on the beach at low tide.  The scene is lit up by the blazing sun overhead.

Shrimpers Hauling to Windward by W.L. Wylie

Wylie’s painting entitled Shrimpers Hauling to Windward is a small work (58 x 71 cms) and is looked upon as one of Wylie’s masterpieces of maritime art.  It appeared at the Royal Academy in 1905.  It is a work full of movement, air, and light. It depicts a sea reach, which is the last bit of river before it meets the sea.  To the right we see the submerged mud bank. The last of the shrimper fleet heads towards land, hard on the starboard tack in the channel, battling against both wind and the current, whilst the leading boats have already made it to the inner harbour and protection against the elements. 

The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by W.L. Wylie

Wylie’s small painting featuring the Shrimpers which was shown at the Royal Academy in 1905, was overshadowed by another of Wyllie’s works, the monumental (148 x 272 cms) painting of Trafalgar on the centenary of the battle. The art press and critics alike stated that this large maritime depiction ‘stole the show’.

A Walk in the Country by John Ritchie (1863)

Little is known about the artist who created the painting above, simply entitled A Day in the Country.  The artist is John Ritchie and we know he is Scottish and was born around 1821.  The difficulty in unearthing facts about his life is strange as he did exhibit his work at such hallowed establishments as the Scottish Academy, Liverpool Academy and the Royal Academy in London.  He began to exhibit his work in 1840 when he was nineteen years old.  One of the artists who influenced Ritchie was John Brett (see earlier painting in Part 1).  His painting, A Day in the Country, was exhibited at the Liverpool Academy in 1863 and depicts a farmer taking a stroll on his land and checking on the forestry management with, in the middle-ground, some of his workers hauling away a felled tree. In the foreground we see the exposed roots of a large old oak tree.  Rabbits have nibbled at the roots and the bark and have burrowed under the sandy bank beneath the tree.  Besides checking on the tree-felling he is carrying a shotgun and is also hunting the rabbits that are damaging his trees.  To the left we see one of his men collecting the body of a rabbit his boss has killed.

Pensive by Sir George Clausen (1895)

The painting above is by George Clausen, an artist I have dedicated two blogs to back in 2015. This work is his beautiful and sensitive portrait of a young woman which he completed in 1895 and originally it was entitled Pensive but later was given the name Cinderella on the behest of David Croal Thomson, an Edinburgh-born art dealer and critic, who was based mainly in London, managing the London branch of the prestigious Goupil Gallery. Thomson advised Clausen that such a change of name would add a touch of romanticism to the work.  The painting was shown at the New Gallery in 1896 and the critic for the Pall Mall Gazette praised the work saying that Clausen had captured a creature exquisitely tender in nature.  The girl who modelled for the painting was Lizzie Deller a girl from Widdington, Essex.

Although the exhibition at the Maas Gallery has finished by the time you read these two blogs, I just wanted to remind you of the benefits one gets when you call in and look around these private “selling” galleries.

British Victorian Art and the Maas Gallery, London. Part 1.

Maas Gallery, Clifford Street, London.

In my next couple of blogs, I am going to delve into the world of Victoriana, and the British art of that period.  The Victorian era began in 1837 when the 18-year-old Alexandrina Victoria inherited the throne of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland as Queen Victoria.  It was a time of the start of the industrial revolution and a time when Britain was regarded as an industrial superpower.  It lasted for almost seventy-four years. On a recent visit to London, which I managed to make despite the train strikes, I decided to bypass the major galleries and visit a “selling” gallery in Mayfair which had a month-long exhibition of Victorian paintings.

The current owner of the gallery is Rupert Maas who was born in 1960, the same year the gallery was founded by his father.  His father died in 1996 and Rupert took over the running of the establishment.  The Gallery deals in Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite, Romantic and Modern British paintings, watercolours, drawings, reproductive engravings and sculpture, and the work of two or three living artists. Rupert, like his father before him, has arranged a number of important exhibitions at his Gallery, including Pre-Raphaelites and Romantics, Masters of British Illustration, John Ruskin and his Circle, Burne-Jones, Victorian Fairy Paintings, biennial exhibitions of Victorian Engravings and annual exhibitions of Victorian Paintings. So the day I visited the gallery it was staging a Victorian Pictures exhibition and I thought that in these blogs, I would highlight some of my favourites and look at some of the other paintings by those artists. 

My first pick is a painting, completed in 1900, entitled Sirens.  The artist was Sir James Jebusa Shannon.  Shannon, an American, was born in Auburn, New York in February 1862.  At the age of eight he and his parents relocated to Canada and in 1978, aged sixteen he went to London to study fine art.  He went on to win a gold medal for figure painting and gained recognition for his submissions to the Royal Academy.  He soon became recognised as one of the leading portrait painters in London. He was one of the first members of the New English Art Club, and became a founder member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.  In 1897 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy, and a Royal Academician in 1909

Sirens by Sir James Jebusa Shannon (1900)

Sirens was exhibited at Thomas Agnew & Sons, one of London’s leading art dealerships in 1900 where it was considered one of the most original of the contributions. It depicts nymph-like beings positioned in a charismatic way.  They are not simply modelling for an artist, but relishing a world of translucent waters, of beauty, both deep and impenetrable in which they live. The art critic of the Evening Standard wrote in the November 10th 1900 edition:

…The heads and shoulders of four young girls in the water – a piece full of movement, colour, and of charming life – is called by Mr. Shannon “Sirens”. The girls are delightful, and, in intention, absolutely innocent and harmless. Not even the most ridiculously cautious mariner, whoever hesitated about the passage of Southampton Water need be concerned to steer clear of sirens so benevolent and so bewitching. And yet, for all that, the piece is imaginative, and satisfactory entirely…”

The Stonebreaker by John Brett (1858)

Sometimes facts and information stick in your mind for years.  In this case it is the name of an artist.  Some fifty plus years ago I was inveigled into helping my daughter with an art project and the artist and painting she had to research was John Brett’s Realism work, The Stonebreaker.  The facts behind the work and the reason for painting it made me, from then on, become interested in what made an artist depict a certain subject and in a certain way.  So, I was surprised to see a painting by John Brett in the Maas gallery exhibition especially as it was completely a different genre to that of The Stonebreaker.  It was a seascape.

Sunset off Lundy Island by John Brett (1872)

The painting, Sunset off Lundy Island, is a sunset depiction of a yacht, a gaff ketch, sailing on choppy waters off the Isle of Lundy in the Bristol Channel.  He completed the work in 1872 although the idea for the painting went back five years earlier in September 1867 when Brett started to make a series of sketches.  The ketch we see battling the elements is heading in a south-east direction towards the safety of Appledore harbour which is more than twenty miles away.  The painting was a commission for Alfred Morrison, an English collector, known for his interest in works of art, autographs and manuscripts, who had built up a collection of Brett’s paintings.

Presentiments by Emily Mary Osborn (c.1859)

The title of the 1859 painting by Emily Mary Osborn is Presentiments.  A presentiment is an intuitive feeling about the future, especially one of foreboding.   The artist was the daughter of a curate of a parish in  West Tilbury on the Thames Estuary near the sea, which at the time, was surrounded by fishing communities.  She lived there up to the age of fourteen.   By the age of twenty-three and now living in London, she had her own studio.  She was exhibiting her work at the Royal Academy, one of which was this work which graced the walls of the Royal Academy Exhibition in 1859.   This painting is all about the perilous life of fishermen who have to go to sea to fish, Despite the gale blowing outside, the title of the painting forewarns us that the fisherman we see exiting his cottage is not coming back. Osborn was inspired by the Charles Kingsley’s poem, The Three Fishers:

Three fishers went sailing out into the West,

Out into the West as the sun went down;

Each thought on the woman who lov’d him the best;

And the children stood watching them out of the town;

For men must work, and women must weep,

And there’s little to earn, and many to keep,

Though the harbour bar be moaning.

Three wives sat up in the light-house tower,

And they trimm’d the lamps as the sun went down;

They look’d at the squall, and they look’d at the shower,

And the night wrack came rolling up ragged and brown!

But men must work, and women must weep,

Though storms be sudden, and waters deep,

And the harbour bar be moaning.

Three corpses lay out on the shining sands

In the morning gleam as the tide went down,

And the women are weeping and wringing their hands

For those who will never come back to the town;

For men must work, and women must weep,

And the sooner it’s over, the sooner to sleep—

And good-by to the bar and its moaning.

The painting depicts a fisherman’s family.  There is a look of poverty with their surroundings but despite the family members being poor they  are clean and well-dressed.  We see the fisherman’s son is seated on the floor playing with a toy boat. Look at the wife’s expression as she watches her husband depart.  It is an anxious look and although she has seen her husband depart every day to board his fishing boat, today is different.  She feels that something bad will happen and she is afraid. She has this terrible presentiment that her husband will not return.  Even the cat senses something as his fur is standing up and its back is hunched. It is a Realism genre painting.

The Old Mill at La Mortola by Sir Frank Dicksee (1925)

A wealthy English Quaker, Thomas Hanbury, who had made a fortune in buying property in Shanghai, bought and slowly restored the gardens of La Mortola,  the forty-four acre gardens close to the Italian town of Ventimiglia, on a promontory which juts out into the Ligurian Sea.  The painting above depicting the Old Mill at La Mortola was completed by seventy-two year old English artist Sir Frank Dicksee, who portrays the scene with quiet shadowy tones.  He had been appointed president of the Royal Academy in 1924, a position he held until his death in 1928.

Miss Ethel Brignall as a Mythological Figure by Ralph Peacock

The painter and illustrator Ralph Peacock was born in Wood Green, London on August 14th, 1868. His initial training was as a civil servant but his love was art and at the age of eighteen he enrolled in the twice-weekly evening art classes at the South Lambeth Art School.  The well-known Scottish painter John Pettie, who was considered to be one of the most successful painters in his days, saw some of Peacock’s work and advised him to consider take up painting professionally.  Peacock took Pettie’s advice and became one of the leading British portraitists of the Victorian era. The painting by Ralph Peacock, which was on show at the Maas gallery was his work entitled Miss Ethel Brignall as a Mythological Figure.

Ethel by Ralph Peacock (1897)

Ethel Brignall was the subject of Ralph Peacock’s 1897 painting, Ethel. Peacock painted this portrait the year the Tate Gallery was founded, and once on the walls of that gallery it became one of the most popular pictures of the 1900’s. Ethel Brignall was fourteen-years-old when she modelled for Peacock and in a letter she wrote in 1958 she recounted the experience:

“…I was 14 years old at the time…. I stayed with Ralph Peacock’s parents, Mr and Mrs Thomas Peacock, in the summer holiday while the picture was being painted…”

The Sisters by Ralph Peacock (1900)

Ralph Peacock’s involvement with the Brignall family culminated in a third family portrait. This time it was a double portrait of the two sisters, Edith and Ethel Brignall. The elder sister, Edith Brignall, is depicted reading from an open book. She married Ralph Peacock in 1901 and they lived with their two sons in Wimbledon. He eventually moved to Camden and died there on 17th January, 1946. The younger sister, Ethel Brignall, married Harold A. Titcomb, an American mining engineer, in 1908.  According to US Census records, in 1940 the couple were living on Orchard Street, Farmington, Maine, along with two sons and a daughter. She died in Farmington in October 1970, aged 88.

La Tristesse by Abraham Solomon (c.1847)

My last painting in this blog looking at British Victorian paintings, which were on display at London’s Maas Gallery, is one by Abraham Solomon.  Abraham Solomon was born in Bishopsgate London in May 1823.  He was the second son of Catherine and Meyer Solomon.  His father was a hat manufacturer and one of the first Jews to be admitted to the freedom of the city of London. Two members of the family, besides Abraham, also became artists. The painting is a half-length portrait of the Countess Eugénie de Teba, who would become the Empress of Napoleon III, when she married the Emperor in January 1853. Eugénie supported French opposition to a Prussian candidate for the vacant Spanish throne, in the argument that precipitated the Franco-German War of 1870. After the Battle of Sedan on September 1st 1870, Napoleon III was defeated and held prisoner by the Prussians.  On hearing of her husband’s capture and surrender she fiercely told one of his personal aides:

“…No! An Emperor does not capitulate! He is dead!…They are trying to hide it from me. Why didn’t he kill himself! Doesn’t he know he has dishonored himself?…”

In March 1871 Napoleon III, his wife Eugénie and their son Louis Napoleon plus a large entourage settled in a large property in Camden Place in Chiselhurst, London.  Napoleon III died in 1873 and her son Louis died six years later and Eugénie assumed the role of the grande dame in exile.

Solomon’s painting was completed around 1847, years before her marriage to Napoleon or his fall from power so the title of the painting La Tristesse (Sadness) could not be about Napoleon’s life but may instead be about her early life as she grew up into an impetuous and audacious young woman.  In her early twenties, she was rescued from drowning and twice attempted suicide after romantic disappointments.

……………………………….to be continued

Eva Gonzalès. The French Impressionist.

In today’s blog I am looking at the life and work of the nineteenth century French painter, Eva Gonzales.  Eva Gonzalès is one of the great women artists of the nineteenth century along with Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt and Marie Bracquemond.  She was associated with the Impressionist movement despite her not exhibiting any of her paintings at any of the eight Impressionist exhibitions.

Eva Gonzalès

Eva was born in Paris on April 19th 1849 into a middle-class family.  Her father was Emmanuel Gonzalès, who came from a bourgeois family of Spanish Monegasque origin.  He was a novelist and playwright and her mother was Marie-Céline Ragut, who was a musician and daughter of a Lyon industrialist. Eva had a younger sister, Jeanne Constance Philippe Gonzalès.  Both Eva and Jeanne were encouraged to study art.  Eva could not attend the most prestigious art school, Ecole des Beaux-Arts as, at the time, the school did not accept any women who wanted to study art.  However, coming from a wealthy family, it allowed her parents to buy the services of the top teachers  and after she left school in 1866 she began taking lessons at the women’s studio run by the French portrait and landscape painter and printmaker Charles Chaplin, who was connected to the state-funded French Academy. 

Le Thé by Eva Gonzalez (1865)

One of Eva’s early paintings was entitled Le Thé which she completed in 1865.

The Donkey Ride by Eva Gonzalès (1880)

In February 1869, following a long period of classical training Eva took the decision to enter the studio of Edouard Manet and become his pupil and improve and refine her art.  She admired Manet’s work despite all the controversy surrounding some of it.  Manet had a provocative, some would say, scandalous reputation. He was a major player in the avant-garde art scene. He had repeatedly challenged the art establishment, submitting bold and unconventional works such as his 1863 painting, Déjeuner sur l’herbe, depicting a scantily dressed bather, a nude woman sitting at a picnic with two fully clothed men. The Salon jurists rejected the work and so Manet decided to exhibit it at the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Rejected) which was a parallel exhibition to the official Salon, as an alternative exhibition in the Palais des Champs-Elysée. Manet completed another work that year, a nude painting, entitled Olympia, which was accepted by the Salon jurists in 1865 but the art critics and many of the public viewed the work as being shocking and scandalous when it was first unveiled at the Paris Salon.

Enfant de troupe (Soldier boy) by Eva Gonzales (1870)

Eva had been introduced to Manet in 1869 by Belgian painter Alfred Stevens and subsequently became his only pupil. She exhibited three works at the 1870 Salon, one of which was Enfant de troupe (Soldier boy).

Le Fifre (The fifer) by Edouard Manet (1866)

It was a positive artistic homage to her teacher’s Le Fifre (The fifer), which Manet had completed in 1866. Ironically, the Salon jurists rejected the work.

Portrait of Eva Gonzales by Edouard Manet (1870)

At the same (1870) Salon at which Eva had her painting, Enfant de troupe, exhibited, Manet ‘s portrait of her was also on show. The portrait was thought to have begun in February 1869 and involved numerous sittings, with the completion being around March 1870 and was shown at the Salon the same year. The portrait depicts Eva painting at her easel.  She is shown wearing an immaculate flowing white gown with transparent bodice, low-cut neckline and short sleeves and it brings to mind portraits by Goya who had influenced Manet and this Spanish-like appearance also reminds us of Eva’s Hispanic identity. The dress fills Manet’s masterpiece, with its brightness contrasting against the dark background making it almost an artificial light source. The one question the portrait brings to mind is whether we are looking at Gonzales the painter or Gonzales the artist’s model. If Manet wanted to highlight his pupil as an accomplished artist would she not have been posed in a painter’s smock standing, observing her painting and with brush on the canvas. Instead Gonzales is depicted in what would have been thought, at the time, as an immodest pose. A pose with so much bare skin that would have normally been modelled by a member of the lower-class hired sitter.

Manuscript

On the floor besides her we can see a half-rolled canvas carrying Manet’s signature.  This is a simple reminder to the viewer of his role as Eva’s teacher. .

La Loge by Renoir (1874)

Theatre auditoriums, and in particular the theatre boxes were popular places for the “society” people to mingle and exchange gossip and were popular depictions often chosen by the Impressionists. The most famous of these works is one by Renoir entitled La Loge (The Theatre Box) which was exhibited at the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874 and now is part of the London Coutauld’s collection.

Une loge aux Italiens by Eva Gonzales (1874)

Eva Gonzales completed a similar work entitled Une loge aux Italiens (A box at the Théâtre des Italiens), which she also completed in 1874.  She submitted this painting to the Salon jurists for inclusion in the 1874 Salon but it was rejected.   Eva Gonzalès then made some changes to the painting and, five years later, once again submitted it for inclusion at the 1879 Salon and this time it was accepted.  The critics loved the work. Gonzales was pleased to tell people that she had been a pupil and a good friend of Manet.  Manet’s influence on Gonzales can be clearly seen in this painting in the choice of a modern subject and the way Gonzales has juxtaposed light with dark, with the pale skin and light-coloured fabrics against a dark background.  Also, note the inclusion by Eva of the bouquet which rests on the edge of the box and its similarity to the bouquet held by the maid in his Olympia depiction.

Sketch by Manet

One also has to remember that Manet made a pastel sketch of a similar depiction which may have influenced Gonzales when she made changes to her original painting. Look at the way Eva has depicted the two people in the painting.  There is a strange disinterest between the two figures.  On the right we have Henri Guérard, Eva’s husband. In 1879 Eva had married Guérard after a three-year courtship.  He was a graphic artist and Manet’s engraver.  The two people who often sat for Eva’s painting were her husband, Henri Guérard and her sister Jeanne, who after Eva died in 1883, at the age of 35, married Guerard and became the step-mother of her sister’s child.

Le Moineau (The Sparrow). by Eva Gonzaès (1870)

One of my favourite paintings by Eva Gonzalès was her early work entitled Le Moineau (The Sparrow).  The teenage model for this painting was the artist’s sister Jeanne.  Jeanne Gonzalès appeared in over twenty of Eva’s works.  It is a portrait of great elegance. It is a depiction of quiet introspection, and it illustrates the intimate connection that existed between Eva and Jeanne. Eva has focused on the graceful features of her favourite model, her younger sister Jeanne who was then in her teens, Eva’s portrait is a study on the interaction between light and shadow. She has focused the direct light on her sister’s bare back, and casts Jeanne’s face in soft shadow, which gives a somewhat air of inscrutability.  Jeanne is dressed in a swathe of transparent chiffon, seems lost in her own thoughts, as she gazes off into the distance.  Meanwhile, balanced on the edge of her hand, is the little sparrow.  It looks enquiringly up at her.  Eva has added touches of bright colour with the ears of corn that embellish her sister’s braided hair.

Morning Awakening by Eva Gonzales (1877)

Another painting by Eva Gonzales featuring her sister Jeanne is her 1877 work entitled Morning Awakening.  Eva Gonzales never completed a self portrait but featured her sister in many of her works.  Maybe she believed there was a familial resemblance.  This is a natural everyday depiction of her sister awakening in the morning.  This painting portrays a young woman, soon after she has awakened. Her facial expression is one of being distant, not quite fully aware of he surroundings. Eva has concentrated her depiction on the skin and black hair of the female which contrasts vividly with the white of the bedding and her bedclothes.  It is thought that Manet had advised Gonzales to depict her sister naked in bed but she refused the erotic suggestion and in all her works which featured Jeanne she was always depicted as a “pure” person.

Portrait of Jeanne Gonzales by Eva Gonzales (c.1872)

It is believed that Jeanne Gonzalès was a mirror-image of her sister, Eva, and in her paintings of her sister, Eva depicted Jeanne the way she wanted to imagine herself.  Around 1872 Eva completed a portrait of her sister, simply entitled Portrait de Jeanne Gonzalès.  It is an excellent and intimate portrayal of her sister.  Jeanne is adorned in a dress made of soft delicate fabric.  Here, Jeanne is pictured wearing an elegant pale pink and black dress, her brunette hair swept into an elaborate style and adorned with a pink ribbon and in her hand she holds an open fan.  The painting was completed soon after Eva Gonzalès had begun studying under Manet, and there are elements of Manet’s style in the depiction such as the soft brushstrokes, plain and simple background devoid of any items or colours which would detract from the sitter.  Jeanne also has the same inscrutable look of contemplation that are reminiscent of Manet’s attention-grabbing female portraits.  However, in this work Eva has implanted into this portrait of her sister a feeling of tenderness which is a telling reflection of the intimate kinship between the two women.

Nanny and Child by Eva Gonzalès (1878)

For my last choice of paintings by Gonzalès I have chosen another work by her which was probably influenced by one Manet’s famous works which he completed in 1873 entitled The Railway. Eva’s painting is entitled Nanny and Child which she completed whilst in Dieppe in 1878. In her work she depicts an interplay between a nanny and a child.  The Nanny looks out at us as she sits on a bench.  To her right her young charge, who has her back to us, is grasping at the lattice work of a fence.

Le Chemin de fer (The Train) by Edouard Manet (1874)

Manet’s painting was the last one featuring Victorine Meurent who was his favourite model and who had modelled for Manet for his infamous works, Olympia and the Déjeuner sur l’herbe. Le Chemin de fer (The Train) was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1874, and eighty years later donated to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1956 by Horace Havermeyer, the son of a prominent family from New York, of German origins, that owned significant sugar refining interests in the United States.  In Manet’s painting we once again see a Nanny and a young girl.  They are positioned by an iron fence near the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris. The daughter of Manet’s neighbour Alphonse Hirsch models the young girl.

The most obvious difference between the two works is space.  Eva Gonzalès has chosen to make her depiction full of open space whereas Manet’s work is somewhat claustrophobic in the way he has depicted the two figures hemmed in between the narrow foreground and the black metal railings.  Gonzalès has gone for an airier open-space depiction of a summer’s day with sunlight streaming through trees in the background.  Eva Gonzalès’ work is not just a copy of her Master’s painting.  It is a well considered and highly original response to the subject, which she has reimagined and turned into a work,  wholly new and unquestionably her own.

In 1879, after a three-year engagement, Eva married Henri Guérard, a graphic artist and Manet’s engraver.   The couple had a son named Jean Raymond who was born in April 1883, shortly before Eva received news of the death of Manet on April 30th 1883. A week after the death of her mentor, on May 6th 1883, Eva Gonzalès died of an embolism at the age of thirty-four.  Her death left her son to be raised by his father and her sister, Jeanne, who later became Guerard’s second wife.

The Allure of Dieppe for the Great Artists

Dieppe

Dieppe is a coastal town in the Seine-Maritime department in the Normandy region of northern France.  It is a seaport on the English Channel at the mouth of the river Arques, which is famous for its scallops, and has a regular ferry service to Newhaven in England, Dieppe has a popular pebbled beach, a fifteenth century castle and the churches of Saint-Jacques and Saint-Remi.  In my blog today I am looking at the French town and its association with French and British artists who made the coastal town a favoured meeting place.  The cross-Channel connection between the artists of the two countries came about with the British contingent arriving in Dieppe from London by way of Brighton or Newhaven.  One of the earliest travellers on this route was the English marine and landscape painter, etcher, illustrator, author and a leading member of the Norwich School of painters, John Sell Cotman, who arrived in the French town in 1817. The crossing from Brighton had taken him forty-two hours.

Dieppe from the Heights to the East of the Port by John Sell Cotman (1923)

Cotman was born in Norwich, the son of a silk merchant and lace dealer.  He was educated at the Norwich Grammar School where he displayed an early talent for art. Although it was intended that he followed his father into the family business John was determined to achieve a career in art and moved to London in 1798, where he met artists such as J. M. W. Turner, Peter de Wint and Thomas Girtin, whose sketching club he joined.

The-Chateau of Dieppe and the Prison, Normandy, seen from the Beach by John Sell Cotman (1817)

Cotman travelled to Dieppe in 1817 and 1818. On his initial trip he arrived at the French port on June 20th and stayed five days at the Hotel de Londres.  On his second visit the following June, he just remained long enough to pass customs formalities, renew friendships and then set off inland.

East End of the Church of St Jacques at Dieppe, by John Sell Cotman (1819)

One interesting painting featuring a building in Dieppe by Cotman is his 1819 painting entitled East End of the Church of St Jacques at Dieppe.  The church was built in the late twelfth century to become a stage for the pilgrims of the way to Saint Jacques de Compostela.  The church is seen from a close angle.  Cotman’s viewpoint is in a confined street at the rear of the building and must have been challenging to try to sketch it.  Because of this difficulty, Cotman reduced the height of the structure in his depiction.   To the left we see the buttresses with an open square to the right, and a ramshackle lean-to building against the walls in front.  In the foreground two women are seen driving a donkey loaded with panniers of laundry.

East end of the Church of St Jacques at Dieppe today

Another English artist who visited Dieppe was Turner.

Dieppe Harbour by J.L.Turner (1826)

Joseph Mallord William Turner visited the French fishing port of Dieppe, in Normandy, on two occasions making preliminary sketches, before he completed his painting, The Harbor of Dieppe: Changement de Domicile​, at his London studio.  Although modernisation had come to Dieppe in the form of steamboats, Turner chose to exclude them from the depiction and instead focused on the vibrancy brought about by the  arrival of hundreds of people parading along the quayside which is glowing in the sunlight.  This bright golden tones of the depiction was criticised by journalists of the time considering them more appropriate to a southern climate. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy Exhibition and is now part of the Frick Collection in New York.

Changement de Domicile

The French subtitle Turner assigned the painting, Changement de Domicile meaning change of home address may refer to the couple in the right foreground, who we see loading or maybe, unloading household objects from a boat. Turner completed the painting in 1826, a year after exhibiting it in the Royal Academy, along with its companion piece Cologne: The Arrival of a Packet Boat: Evening, one set at dawn, the other at dusk. As with most of Turner’s paintings, the composition was drawn from sketches made in situ, dating back to his 1821 trip to France.

Chateau d’Arques by Turner
Chateau d’Arques by Turner

Turner completed a number of watercolour paintings featuring the Chateau d’Arques, which is situated seven kilometres south-east of Dieppe. It is a 12th-century castle in the commune of Arques-la-Bataille in the Seine-Maritime département of France.

L’Hotel Royal, Dieppe by Walter Sickert (1894)

Another artist who depicted the French coastal town in his paintings was the German-born English painter, Walter Sickert.  Sickert was fascinated with this popular Normandy resort and was a regular visitor for over forty years.  He was so much in love with the town that he lived there between 1898 and 1905.

Dieppe Harbour by Walter Sickert

Sickert’s first trip to the French coastal was shortly after he married Ellen Cobden and was with his new wife during their honeymoon in 1885.  His first depictions of Dieppe were of the harbour and beach scenes.

Le Pollet, Dieppe by Walter Sickert

For Sickert, the town of Dieppe became too popular with visitors during the summer months and so he steered clear of the bustling tourist streets and spent time amid the local fishing community which lay east of the harbour, which was known as known as Le Pollet, a district of Dieppe located in the valley, on the right bank of the mouth of the coastal river Arques which flows into the English Channel.

In Sickert’s House, Neuville by Harold Gilman (1907)

In 1899, soon after his separation from his first wife Ellen Cobden, Sickert settled with a local fisherwoman named Augustine Villain and her family in Neuville, a suburb just beyond Le Pollet. An artist friend of Sickert, Harold Gilman, and his family stayed in Sickert’s house at Neuville, outside Dieppe, from the summer of 1907 and whilst there, he took the opportunity to depict the interior of the house.

The Blind Sea Captain by Walter Sickert (1914)

The friendships Sickert developed whilst living in Neuville and Le Pollet were very different to the circle of friends he had made in the more up-market area west of the town. He even learnt to speak in the ancient dialect of the fishing community and many of his works depicted the local people of the area.

Pays de Caux by Richard Parkes Bonington (1823)

Cauchois is a prominent dialect of the Norman language. The Pays de Caux is one of the remaining strongholds of the Norman language.  One of the main towns of this large area is Dieppe.  The English Romantic landscape painter, Richard Parkes Bonington, had moved to France at the age of 14 and so, is often considered to be a French artist.  His landscapes were mostly of coastal scenes, with a low horizon and large sky, which highlighted the brilliant way he handled light and atmosphere.   In his painting, Pays de Caux: Twilight, we see before us a wide empty seascape at twilight, with some cliffs to the left, and with it being low tide we are able to see the flat beach which stretches into the distance.  The horizon is low, and the pale, cloudy sky almost overwhelms the painting.  In the central foreground there is a dark group of figures on the shore.

The Fish Market, Dieppe by Louis-Gabriel-Eugene Isabey (1845)

It was not just the works of English painters who featured life in Dieppe. The French painters also selected the town for their depictions. Louis-Gabriele-Eugène Isabey was among the first of the nineteenth-century French painters to be stimulated by Dieppe and the Normandy coast.  Although the title of this work suggests a fish market in Dieppe it is thought that Isabey was influenced more by the Dutch and Flemish still life paintings.  The painting illustrates Isabey’s competent use of shadows and darker tones, which results in a contrast with the more brightly lit areas, such as the fish stall.  It also creates an effect of distant space, framing the clifftop chateau which we can just about see in the background.

The Harbour of Dieppe by Charles-François Daubigny (1877)
The Port of Dieppe by Daubigny (1866)
Fishing Harbour Dieppe by Daubigny

The French painter, Charles-François Daubigny, also completed many depictions of Dieppe Harbour.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the city of Dieppe was a magnet for artists who wanted to depict its pebbled beaches, colourful harbour, and the many Renaissance château around and about. The great artists such as Turner, Delacroix, Daubigny, Pissarro, and Whistler all stayed for a time in the northern French town, which was a centre of transportation between Paris and London with it being positioned on the English Channel in Normandy.

Henry Clay Frick

The wealthy industrialist, financier and avid art collector, Henry Clay Frick, had bought paintings depicting views of Dieppe by Daubigny and Turner in 1904 and 1914, respectively which were then put on show in his New York Gallery. 

The Frick Collection, New York.

The Frick Gallery has now added a third, View of Dieppe Harbour, an 1873 watercolour and graphite drawing of the French city by the French painter, Antoine Vollon.  The Frick Collection received the work from the pre-eminent Vollon scholar, Dr. Carol Forman Tabler, in memory of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Alexander A. Forman III.

View of Dieppe Harbour by Antoine Vollon (1873)

This watercolour by Vollon depicts a panoramic view of the city from the southern side of the port’s inner harbour, looking north. At the centre, we see the Gothic church of St. Jacques. To the left we catch a glimpse of Dieppe’s white cliffs and the château rises in the distance.  This vantage point used by Vollon afforded him a view not of the usual scenic beaches and magnificent ships but instead we see rough-hewn buildings and small fishing boats. We see the masts of the tiny figures of the fishermen on the shore. The two women in the foreground wear the headdresses, billowing skirts, and clogs which were typical of female attire of the residents of Le Pollet.

Harbour Scene, Dieppe (Le Port de Dieppe) by Gaugin (1885)

Paul Gaugin completed his painting entitled Le Port de Dieppe in 1885.  It depicts choppy sea in the foreground, which he painted in pale greens, blues and yellows. Through the middle-ground we see a number of small sailing boats moored in the harbour.  There are buildings on the quayside, some of which are coloured pale yellow, blue or white.  In the background to the left is the church of Notre Dame des Greves.

L’Eglise de Varengeville à Contre-Jour by Monet (1882)

Monet completed his painting The Church at Varengeville, Grey Weather, (L’Eglise de Varengeville à Contre Jour) in 1882. Monet loved painting depictions of the sea and the cliffs and he knew that this subject matter was guaranteed to appeal to Parisian collectors. He often travelled to the Normandy coast in the north of France during the 1880s, painting rocky shorelines and breathtaking vistas in the popular tourist towns of Dieppe, Étretat, and Pourville. In nearby Varengeville-sur-Mer, five miles west of Dieppe, Monet came across this mariners’ church perched atop a steep cliff overlooking the English Channel. He set up his easel on a hillside opposite the church and painted three versions of this scene at various times of day and under different atmospheric conditions.  He was to use this system later with his depictions of his haystacks and Rouen Cathedral series of the 1890s.

The Shore, Pourville by James McNeil Whistler (1899)

Lying just west of Dieppe is a former fishing village, which became Pourville-sur-Mer in the early nineteenth century.  It was a popular resort in Normandy. The village attracted many talented artists, one of which was Claude Monet, who completed several landscapes paintings of the area. 

In the summer of 1899, James McNeil Whistler stayed with his ward, Rosalind Birnie-Philip, and her mother at the Pavillon Madeleine, Pourville-sur-Mer, whilst he was convalescing from a recurrent illness. Apart from brief excursions elsewhere, he remained from the end of July until 26th October. While he was there, he painted a series of nine small seascapes on panel, thinly brushed, and subdued but refined in colour.

View of Dieppe by Spencer Gore (1906)

Spencer Frederick Gore was a British painter of landscapes, music-hall scenes and interiors, usually with single figures. He was the first president of the Camden Town Group and was influenced by the Post-Impressionists.  He seems to have first visited Dieppe in 1904 whilst on a trip to the Normandy coast with Albert Rutherston and Walter Russell. Rutherston, who knew Walter Sickert through his elder brother, suggested that they visit him there, and thus two of the key figures of the Camden Town circle met for the first time. In 1906, the year of the painting, Walter Sickert lent Gore his house in Dieppe for the summer, and during this trip Gore produced a number of studies of the town. In his 1906 work entitled View of Dieppe which depicts a view overlooking the town, it can be seen that Gore was gradually exploring the broken brushstrokes and concentrated colour that he so much admired in the paintings of his friend Lucien Pissarro.

Beach Scene, Dieppe by Charles Conder (1895)

Charles Edward Conder, an English-born painter, lithographer and designer, was born in Tottenham, Middlesex in 1868. He emigrated to Australia and was a key figure in the Heidelberg School, arguably the beginning of a distinctively Australian tradition in Western art.

Dieppe by Charles Conder

He spent several years as a young child in India until the death of his mother in Bombay, when Charles was four/ He was then sent back to England and attended a number of schools including a boarding school at Eastbourne, which he attended from 1877.  He left school in 1883, at the age of fifteen and his father decided that his son should follow in his footsteps as a civil engineer.  The following year Charles Conder was sent to Sydney, Australia, where he worked for his uncle, a land surveyor for the New South Wales government. Charles hated the work although he enjoyed painting and sketching landscapes. In 1886, he left the job and became an artist for the “Illustrated Sydney News”.

Dieppe by Charles Conder

In 1890, he moved to Paris and studied at the Academie Julian, where he befriended several avant-garde artists. He spent the rest of his life in Europe, mainly Britain, but visiting France on many occasions.  In 1895, Conder came to Dieppe, attempting to socialise among the artistic.

I could go on and on but decided to stop here. It is places like Dieppe that inspire painters and I hope one day you too will find the perfect place to take out your easel and brushes and bring the place to life with your depictions.

Alfred Sisley Revisited

The villages of the Seine and its tributaries

Sisley went tirelessly in search of motifs along the Seine and its tributaries, he looked no further. He concentrated on views of village streets, or of interesting groups of buildings, he would be drawn to an old stone bridge, the kind of subject that had fascinated painters since Corot. In what many would dismiss as unprepossessing patches of gardens or meadows, landscapes on the outskirts of towns or along river banks, Sisley could often discover the most arresting colour or light effects.

Alfred Sisley by Renoir (1876)

In 1866, Sisley began a relationship with Eugenie Lesouezec and shortly thereafter the couple had two children: a son, Pierre, in 1867 and daughter, Jeanne in 1869.  Although they remained together until Eugenie’s death in 1898, they didn’t marry until August 5, 1897.  In 1870, the Franco-Prussian War began and this precipitated the failure of Sisley’s father’s silk business which ended in his father’s bankruptcy and the financial devastation hastened his death.   Sisley had relied heavily on his father’s financial support because of the low prices being offered for his artwork, and this revenue stream had come to an end.

Louveciennes, above Marly by Alfred Sisley (1873)

To manage his financial difficulties and to avoid the Prussian War, Sisley gave up his home in Paris and moved to the countryside and the town of Louveciennes, a village west of Paris.  It is said that during the summer of 1871, Sisley, Renoir and Pissarro had watched Paris burn during the Prussian siege of the capital city. In his painting Louveciennes, above Marly, Sisley has depicted the view from Louveciennes, down over the forest and the riverside town of Marly.

Louveciennes: View of the Sèvrees Road by Alfred Sisley (1873)

Another of Sisley’s works featuring Louveciennes is his 1873 painting entitled Louveciennes: View of the Sèvres Road. It is a classic example of a perspective road which we see narrowing into the distance. He used this technique in many of his works as it allowed him to give movement to his depiction while also giving a feeling of space.

The Avenue at Middleharnis Meindert Hobbema (1689}

It is thought that Sisley’s depiction may have been influenced by Meindert Hobbema’s 1689 landscape painting, The Avenue at Middleharnis, which he would have seen at the National Gallery when he visited London.

Place du Chenil à Marly, effet de neige by Alfred Sisley (1876)

Two years later, in October 1874, after his four-month summer holiday spent in London, Sisley and his family moved to 2 avenue de l’Abreuvoir in Marly-le-Roi, a commune in the Île-de-France region, in north-central France, located in the western suburbs of Paris, 18 kilometres from the centre of the French capital. The two following winters were especially harsh with temperatures below zero and frequent heavy snowfall. I particularly like Sisley’s 1876 painting entitled Place du Chenil at Marly, and the depiction of snow. There is an eerie stillness about the depiction of the town’s main square which since Sisley’s time has been renamed Place du Général-de-Gaulle. We see that a heavy snowfall has occurred and the town has been covered by a thick blanket of snow. Look at how Sisley has depicted the snow. It is not just coloured white but a subtle blending of blues, greens, creams and greys. There is nothing spectacular about the scene but it is just a timeless realistic rendition. Place du Chenil in Marly, Snow Effect is now located in Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen which is an art museum in Normandy, France. It was given to Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen by François Depeaux, a French art collector, industrialist and patron. He gave the painting to the museum in 1909, just over 100 years after the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen was built.

Postage stamp issued in 2009

Commemorative postage stamp issued by Republic of Guinea on October 1st 2009 depicted Sisley’s painting Place du Chenil à Marly, effet de neige.

Village by the Seine (Villeneuve-La-Garenne) by Alfred Sisley (1874)

The Villeneuve-la-Garenne painting depicts the village on the River Seine, a commune in the northern suburbs of Paris, which lies less than ten kilometres from centre of the French capital. In 1872 Alfred Sisley created his painting depicting the small village entitled Village by the Seine (Villeneuve-La-Garenne). After visiting the small village, Sisley was inspired by what he saw and was determined to produce a work so that he could share the beauty of the place.  The depiction oozes tranquillity.  The two trees in the foreground act as if they were theatre curtains on either side of a stage.  In this work Sisley has managed to encapsulate the beauty of nature.

The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne by Alfred Sisley (1872)

Sisley completed a number of paintings featuring the village and just to the left of the previous painting, but out of view, is the bridge which crosses the river at Villeneuve-La-Garenne and this was the subject of Sisley’s 1872 painting, The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne. The cast-iron suspension bridge resting on stone abutments was built in 1844 to connect what had until then been a fishing village and small port with the Paris neighbourhood of Saint-Denis, on the other side of the river. The building of the bridge and the bridge itself was symbolic of French modernity, and the structure was depicted in a number of Sisley’s paintings of the 1870s and early 1880s. Sisley made the depiction somewhat livelier by including figures of holidaymakers on the riverbank and in a boat which is passing under the bridge.  Look how Sisley’s brushstrokes communicate the fleeting effect of sunlight on the water.

The Seine at Suresnes by Alfred Sisley (1877)

About six miles up-river from Villeneuve-La-Garenne is the town of Suresnes, a commune in the western suburbs of Paris, Île-de-France. In 1877 Sisley completed his painting entitled The Seine at Suresnes.  It is a typical work of Impressionism with its swirling clouds dominating his depiction of the sky.  His intention was to capture a fast-changing scene due to the approaching storm.  Look how he has depicted the river, no longer bathed in sunlight, now dimmed by the heavy clouds overhead.  Unlike many of Sisley’s best loved works which focus on tranquillity, this is more about doom-laden skies and what was to come to pass.  The painting was sold to fellow artist, Gustave Caillebotte, and along with Gustave’s other paintings he had amassed, it was later left to the French nation.

Canal de Loing by Alfred Sisley (1892)

With the canals from Briare and Orléans completed respectively in the second half of the seventeenth century, merchants started complaining about the poor navigability of the river Loing. The Duc d’Orléans ordered a survey and designs for the navigational route which would be part river and part canal.  The waterway was completed in 1723.  The Loing Canal is used by working barges and was the subject of many Sisley’s depictions.  In this painting we see a winding path, which follows the curve of the canal, alongside of which are poplar trees.  Our eyes, once we have taken in the house, follow the curve of the road and canal into the distance.  The inclusion of the winding road was one of Sisley’s favourite themes in which it plays a part in the perspective of the painting.  This painting, The Loing Canal, was offered to the Musée du Luxembourg after the painter died in 1899.  It was part of a gift from Sisley’s friends which was organised by Monet.

A Road in Seine et Marne by Alfred Sisley (1878)

Seine et Marne is a department in the Île-de-France region of northern France named after the rivers Seine and Marne and is on the eastern edge of the Ile de France.  It was to be Sisley’s countryside during the last twenty years of his life.  In 1880 he had moved to Veneux-Nadon, close to Moret-sur-Loing.  It was a “forced” move as Sisley had been evicted from his house in Sèvres for not paying his rent.  As some of his work prior to 1880 depicted scenes of Veneux-Nadon, it is clear that he had visited the area on a number of occasions.  This was an agriculturally rich and tranquil countryside with its woods and tiny hamlets.  It was a perfect venue for Sisley’s landscape work and allowed him to relax away from the chaos of Paris.  It worked for him as he produced many serene and beautiful paintings.

The Meadow at Veneux-Nadon by Alfred Sisley (1881)

Sisley’s painting, The Meadow at Veneux-Nadon, depicts the slender poplars with their delicate leaves and it leads our gaze into the depth of the picture space and gives it stability in this wide summer landscape. Through a juxtaposition of shimmering fields of colour and a reduction of motifs, Alfred Sisley lends an iridescent vitality and tension to the seemingly monotonous theme. Sisley exhibited the painting at the Seventh Impressionist Exhibition in 1882, in which the group focused on landscapes.

Le Bois des Roches Veneux Nadon, by Alfred Sisley (1880)

In his work, Le Bois des Roches Veneux Nadon, we see a windswept scene of a forest at the water’s edge . To the left we see a small rowing boat struggling in choppy waters.

Snowy Weather at Veneux Nadon Alfred Sisley (1880)

This painting, Snowy Weather at Veneux Nadon, was completed during his first winter in Veneux- Narbon on the Loing in 1880. It is another of his snowscapes which this time is dominated by dark clouds with just a glimmer of the rising sun in the background. This was one of Sisley’s favourite depictions, often populated by workers heading for the mills, which were the village people’s primary source of employment. It is an atmospheric depiction of a cold early-morning scene and Sisley has used muted colours to ensure the contrast with the presence of the rising sun.

Veneux, August Afternoon by Alfred Sisley (1881)

Veneux, August Afternoon was painted by Alfred Sisley in 1881. Financially, it had not been a good year for him although he managed to afford to travel to the Isle of Wight in June. He had arranged for canvases to be sent to him on the island but they never arrived an he could not afford to pay for English canvases. When he arrived back in France in August he painted this work. It is a typical Sisley scene – quiet riverside setting with trees and picturesque sky. Our eyes are drawn to the creamy clouds in the upper left of the painting and then back down in a diagonal direction to the patch of sunlight we see falling on the pathway on the bottom right of the work.

Sailing Boats by Alfred Sisley (1885)

The painting Sailing Boats by Sisley depicts a scene of the boatyards at the riverside town of Saint-Mammès, sixty kilometres south-southeast of the French capital, at a point where the rivers Seine and Loing come together. Sisley has depicted a number of pleasure boats tied up next to a barge fitted with lifting gear. Sisley has used a familiar technique with the layout of his work – the subject is viewed head-on and the depiction is a series of wide horizontal bands, which, in this painting, is held together by the tall triangular shape of the lifting equipment. The scene is populated by a number of figures.

The Goose Girl by Alfred Sisley (1897)

Sisley’s favoured painting medium had always been oils but this late painting by him was a pastel. It is not known whether this pastel work was just a preliminary sketch that would later be used to complete the depiction in oils or whether Sisley was intrigued by the medium. Once again Sisley has used a winding path to give perspective to the depiction. The work is not simply a landscape but focuses on a girl looking after her flock of geese.

Alfred Sisley was born and spent most of his life in France, but retained British citizenship. In 1897, Sisley and his partner of over thirty years, Marie Eugénie Lescouezec, visited Britain and were finally married at the Cardiff Register Office on August 5th. On his return to France, in 1898, Sisley applied for French citizenship, but was refused. Later, a second application was made and on this occasion his application was supported by a police report, but Sisley became seriously ill and the process was halted. In October 1898 his wife died of cancer and four months later on January 29th 1899 Sisley died of throat cancer, aged 59. Sisley remained a British national until his death. He was buried with that of his wife at Moret-sur-Loing Cemetery.

Helen Allingham

Helen Allingham (c.1901)

When depicting life in rural England, artists had to decide whether their depictions would focus on the hard lives endured by the peasant workers or focus on the beautiful idyllic life folk had who managed to escape the industrialization of the cities.  The artist I am looking at today was of the second group of painters who wanted to cast her artistic spotlight on the beauty of rural life and was well known for her depictions of country cottages.  Let me introduce you to Helen Allingham.

Helen Allingham (c.1885)

Helen Mary Elizabeth Paterson was born into a well-to-do middle-class family on September 26th, 1848 in the small village of Swadlincote, near Burton on Trent in Derbyshire, England. She was the eldest of seven children born to Alexander Henry Paterson, a rural physician, and Mary Chance Herford, the daughter of a Manchester wine merchant. Within her first year of her life, the Patersons moved to Altrincham, Cheshire where Helen’s father set up a medical practice and the young family grew and prospered. It was during these years that young Helen’s interest and talent in art blossomed, inspired by her maternal grandmother, Sarah Smith Herford, a landscape painter and her aunt, Laura Herford, a professional and accomplished artist. 

The Little Emigrant by Laura Herford (1868)

One of Laura Herford’s most endearing paintings is her The Little Emigrant which she completed in 1868.  It depicts a young girl seated on the deck of a ship, with her head resting on her hands, her right arm on the ship’s railing. She has golden hair, wears a maroon dress with red and white striped neck scarf.  The work was painted by Laura after her visit to Auckland and Nelson.  The idea of the depiction is believed to be after Laura had listened to an account by a real emigrant to New Zealand on the siling ship, Lord Auckland, when as a child she remembered sitting for days and weeks on the seat that ran round the waist of the ship, under the high bulwarks, looking out over the wide, wide sea. She sat there dreaming of the homeland to which she would never return.

Laura Herford

In her twenties Laura Herford was heavily drawn into the argument of the recognition and training of female artists.   She signed the 1859 petition to admit women to the Royal Academy. She submitted several drawings to the Academy’s admissions tutors signed “L. Herford“. The use of initials masked her gender, leading to the assumption that she was a man.  She was admitted on the merits of these drawings and an offer was made to “L. Herford, Esq” and she took up her place at the Academy in 1860 !!!  She exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1861 to 1869 and also at the Suffolk Street Gallery and the British Institution.  Later, she invited her sister’s daughter, the painter Helen Paterson Allingham, to come live with her in London at the start of her career.

Helen’s mother, Mary was also an artist but gave it up when she married.  Helen’s father’s medical practice failed and the family moved out of the small rural community, which Mary never liked, and relocated to Altrincham, Mary’s hometown.  Her husband purchased another medical practice in the town.  The new practice thrived and soon the family could afford to have a house built in the countryside at Bowden.

Lessons by Helen Allingham

Helen Paterson attended the Unitarian boarding school, once attended by her mother and which had been founded by her grandmother, Sarah Smith Herford.  In May 1862, when Helen was aged thirteen, tragedy struck her family.  Her father battled to treat local victims during a severe diphtheria epidemic.  Dr. Paterson succumbed to the disease himself, along with Helen’s three-year-old sister Isabel.

Shortly after the death of the father, the young family moved to Edgbaston, Birmingham where their Paterson aunts helped house and feed them, but money was tight.   As time passed, Helen’s artistic talents grew and she enrolled in the Birmingham School of Design.  Here for fifteen shillings a term, she studied Drawing, Perspective, Practical Geometry and Painting, three times a week.  After three years of study, Helen won the School’s Special Prize, given to her for her outstanding anatomical studies.  The School was so impressed with her talent they advised her to apply to the Royal Academy Schools.

 

Spring on the Kentish Downs by Helen Allingham

At age seventeen, Helen secured a place in the Royal Female School of Art in London. A year later, in 1867, she was accepted into the prestigious Royal Academy Schools, a door first opened to women by Helen’s aunt Laura just a few years before.  The Royal Academy Schools boasted a number of highly thought of masters of the art world who visited and taught the students.  Helen Paterson was influenced the most by the lectures and tuition given by Frederick Walker, Sir Frederick Leighton, and Sir John Everett Millais, who was a co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The tuition at the Royal Academy was free, but Helen still needed money to pay for her accommodation and living expenses. With that in mind, she sought work with engraving firms, sketching figures and scenes in black & white, and in 1869 was commissioned by the Once A Week magazine, a weekly illustrated literary magazine to contribute four full-page illustrations. Her work was well received, and this led to more commissions by other periodicals and children’s books while she continued her schooling three days a week.

Beneath the Cherry Tree by Helen Allingham

In 1870, twenty-two-year-old Helen was hired as one of the founding staff members, and the only female, on The Graphic, a British high-quality weekly illustrated newspaper, first published in December 1869.  During the next three years, commissions to illustrate books and periodicals continued to pour in and by 1872 Helen decided to give up her schooling at the Academy and work as a commercial artist. Some of her most important commissions included illustrations for Thomas Harding’s fourth novel, Far From the Madding Crowd which was first published in 1874.

Two sudden and unexpected deaths in the early 1870’s greatly saddened Helen.  In October 1870 she was summoned from her lodgings by William De Morgan who was concerned that his fellow lodger at Fitzroy Square, Laura Herford, had not been seen that day.  He knew that Helen was a relative of Laura Herford and so when the two went back and entered Laura’s lodgings they found her lying dead in bed.  She had been suffering from constant toothache and be self-medicating with morphine and it was thought that she had died from an accidental overdose.  She was thirty-nine-years-old.

Louisa Paterson by Helen Allingham (1871)

One year later, in November 1871 Helen was summoned home.  On returning to the family in Cheshire she was told that her eighteen-year-old sister Louisa was dying of consumption.  There was little Helen could do but help the family at this sad time and sit with her sister and help her mother nurse her dying sister.  During the times Helen sat at her sister’s bedside she made several pencil sketches of Louisa and one small and emotional watercolour of her.

The Saucer of Milk by Helen Allingham

Now in London and because of her commissions, Helen’s circle of friends grew and she came into contact with prominent writers and artists.  One such friend was William Allingham, the editor of Fraser’s Magazine.  William Allingham was born on 19 March 19th 1824 in Ballyshannon, a small town in the south of County Donegal in Ulster in the north of Ireland, which is now in the Republic of Ireland. He was the son of the manager of a local bank who was of English descent.  When William was nineteen, he became a Customs officer, and he was stationed at different places in Northern Ireland until he was thirty-nine years old. Shortly after he obtained his appointment with the Customs, he made his first trip to London and after that first visit, made many more to the English capital.  He would submit many articles to London’s periodicals. He retired from the Civil Service in 1870 and moved to London and sub-editor of Fraser’s Magazine under J. A. Froude, whom he succeeded as editor in 1874.  It was also in 1874, on August 22nd, that Allingham and Helen Paterson were married after the briefest of engagements.  He was fifty and she was a month away from her twenty-sixth birthday. William Allingham had developed many good friends in London’s literary and artistic circles such as Thomas Carlyle, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, John Ruskin, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Portrait of William Allingham by Helen Allingham (1874)

A few months after their marriage, Helen Allingham painted a portrait of her husband.

Thomas Carlyle by Helen Allingham

The newly weds went to live in a house at Trafalgar Square, in the borough of Chelsea, close to William Allingham’s best friend, the Scottish essayist, historian and philosopher, Thomas Carlyle. Such was their close friendship that William had taken Helen to visit Carlyle before they married, just to make sure Carlyle approved of his choice of wife ! Helen and William became regular visitors to Thomas Carlyle’s home in London and after many preliminary sketches completed a painting of their good friend. Look at how Helen has incorporated all the details of the furnishings of Carlyle’s room.

The Interior of Thomas Carlyle’s Dining Room by Helen Allingham (1881)

Helen’s other paintings depicted the interior of Carlyle’s rooms at his residence in Cheyne Row London. It is said that such an accurate depiction of the room aided the National Trust when they came to the restoration of the room.

Married life suited Helen and she no longer had to go out to work.  She gave up her position at the Graphic and in a way she had been pleased to have worked at the journal for four years and it had allowed her to regularly send money to her mother.  Although working for the Graphic had been advantageous, Helen was pleased to be able to concentrate on her paintings, especially her watercolours and she did manage to do some freelance book illustrations for novels written by her friends, George Elliot, Thoams Hardy and Tennyson.

A Cottage with Sunflowers at Peaslake by Helen Allingham

In November 1875 Helen gave birth to her first child, a son, Gerald Carlyle named after her and her husband’s good friend. In February 1877 a second child, a daughter, Eva Margaret, was born. Her third child, a son, Henry William was born in 1882. He was the love of Helen’s life and she would often wear a locket with just his picture inside. In 1874 Helen Allingham had two of her watercolours, The Milkmaid and Wait for Me, exhibited at the Royal Academy and in 1875 she was put forward by the eminent watercolourist, Alfred Hunt, to become an Associate in the Royal Watercolour Society.  She was later to become the first woman to be admitted to full membership.

Harvest Moon by Helen Allingham (1879)

Her early work tended to feature large figures in a landscape, but later, influenced by their holidays in the country, her style shifted more to smaller figures with emphasis on the rural scene itself.  During the seven years the Allinghams lived in London, Helen exhibited more than a hundred watercolours, some depicting her own children as models.  During her early days, Helen produced rural depictions featuring large figures.  However, in her later paintings she focused on the inanimate and nature itself and any figures depicted were much smaller. 

On February 5th 1881, after a short illness, Helen and William’ close friend, Thomas Carlyle died, aged 85.  His death came as a terrible shock to them and now that he was not a close neighbour any more, they felt no reason to stay in the English capital.  They decided to move into the country and settled in the small Surrey hamlet of Sandhills.  It was from this new base that Helen developed the love of depicting pretty cottages. Sandhills proved to be an idyllic and peaceful resting place for both Helen and William.  He was able to spend time writing poetry and Helen passed the hours painting watercolours depicting the rural areas around their home, the numerous pretty flower gardens, her children as they grew up and of course the “chocolate-box” country cottages which were all around where they lived.  As the boom of industrial development continued to threaten traditional rural life, Allingham’s paintings captured unblemished landscapes and historic cottage architecture in superb detail.  Helen was fervently concerned for the preservation of the English countryside and this love of hers was also held by the viewing public.  In 1886 Helen was invited by the Fine Arts Society to hold a one-woman exhibition with the title Surrey Cottages.

A Cottage near Brook, Witley, Surrey by Helen Allingham

Helen’s depiction of the old, thatched cottages was not just an act of sentimentality but it was to remind people of what life was like before the railways built their tracks through acres of beautiful land and with the arrival of the railways came the hordes of middle-class families into rural communities.  Some bought the cottages and refurbished them while others demolished them and built modern monstrosities.  For Helen, the task was to memorialise the beauty and tranquillity of rural life and the exquisiteness of the country cottage which she depicted with such accuracy. She would roam the countryside and paint en plein air the cottages which were marked for demolition.  She would add small figures to the scenes and sometimes would substitute thatch rooves to depictions of cottages which had been modernised with man-made materials but at the same time tried to avoid the idealistic depictions.

Irish Cottage by Helen Allingham (1891)

In 1888, Helen’s husband William became ill with persistent indigestion and the couple decided to move away from the countryside and return to London to be close to family friends.  They took up residence in Hampstead in a large home in Eldon Road.  William Allingham’s health continued to deteriorate and despite an operation in the Spring of 1889, he died that November, aged 65, leaving Helen, then forty-one, to support herself and three young children, aged fourteen, twelve, and seven.  In 1891 Helen and her children travelled to the Irish town of Ballyshannon where their father, William was born and laid to rest.  A monument had been erected in honour of their late father and Mary took the opportunity to visit some of his relations.  She also painted a number of watercolours of the landscape and the peasant cottages.

In 1890 the Royal Society of Watercolours opened their membership to women, and Helen had the honour of being the first elected into the Society.  Helen exhibited her scenic country watercolours every year in London and her depictions of rural cottage scenes grew in popularity.  In 1903 Helen collaborated with Marcus B. Huish for a book about English country life titled Happy England, which featured eighty colour plates of Helen’s watercolours.

In 1905 she and her brother, Arthur Paterson, collaborated to produce a  book entitled “The Homes of Tennyson” which contained twenty of her paintings.  More books followed including editing several books of her late husband’s poetry. Helen continued to paint and exhibit her work.  On September 28th, 1926, two days after her seventy-eighth birthday, Helen Allingham died of a acute peritonitis while visiting an old friend at Valewood House in Haslemere, just a few miles from her old country home in Sandhills.


Most of the information for this blog came from the