Portrait of Savonarola by Fra Bartolomeo

Portrait of Girolamo Savonarola by Fra Bartolomeo (c.1498)

Baccio della Porta was nicknamed as such due to his house being near the Porta (“Gate”) San Pier Gattolini.  He would be later known as Fra Bartolomeo.  He was born in Savignano di Prato, a town in Tuscany in 1472.  As a teenager he worked in the workshop of Cosimo Rosselli, the Florentine painter.  Besides being a gifted artist and one of the most accomplished painters of the Italian Renaissance, Fra Bartolomeo was a very religious man and it was said that he spent as many hours praying as he did painting.  The Renaissance scholar John Van Dyke even went further calling him a religionist, a person addicted to religion in other words, a religious zealot.

During his late twenties Fra Bartolomeo became a follower of Girolamo Savonarola the fierce and passionate Dominican friar, who vehemently preached against the moral corruption of much of the clergy at the time.  He arrived in Florence in 1481 having been sent there by his order in Bologna to “go out and preach”.  Initially his sermons were met with little enthusiasm but over time his following grew.  By 1491, Savonarola stood before massive crowds with a fiery and fervent enthusiasm. He spoke to the masses and what he told them quickly earned him massive influence over all who heard him.  By this time printing had been introduced in Florence  and Savonarola was one of the first figures to use printing to spread political and religious propaganda.  It was not just the common peasant but artists, writers and members of the aristocracy who listened to this great orator and was swayed by what he preached.   For many, he was a prophet and what he uttered were words which came directly from God.  Savonarola loathed some of the religious art of the time with its eroticized Virgin Marys and the smirking putti such as could be seen in the works of Raphael.    Savonarola was opposed to the humanist trend which had become popular.  He hated poetry, literature, perfume, non religious art or anything that was vaguely “fun”.  Savonarola once stated:

“They have built up a new Church after their own patter. Go to Rome and see! In the mansions of the great prelates there is no concern save for poetry and the oratorical art. Go thither and see!” 

He persuaded painters and their patrons to burn and destroy all artworks that did not conform to his strict code of morality. This edict was listened to by many and the result was that thousands of the greatest Florentine masterpieces ever created by some of the giants of renaissance art were tossed into his notorious Bonfire of the Vanities in February 1497.

In 1492 the death of two of the most powerful men of the time and sworn enemies of Savonarola died within three months of each other.  In April, Lorenzo de Medici, the ruler of Florence and once patron of Savonarola died and in July that same year came the death of Pope Innocent VIII.  This immediately caused a power vacuum and in 1494 after Charles VIII of France invaded Florence and overthrew the Medicis, Savonarola emerged as the new ruler of the city of Florence.  His rule was one of total morality and he criminalized gambling and the wearing of decadent clothing.  For him the epidemic of syphilis, which was a growing scourge on the country, was God’s way of punishing the sexual transgressors and he condemned homosexuals and adulterers to death.

At the beginning Savonarola had the majority of the populace on his side and he became even more powerful but slowly and surely the Florentine people tired of his religious zeal and his ever more puritanical laws.  His laws were also beginning to affect trade and the once prosperous Florence was having financial difficulties.  Things became worse for Savonarola who on May 13, 1497, was excommunicated by Pope Alexander VI and the next year, 1498, Pope Alexander demanded his arrest and execution.  A crowd attacked the Convent of San Marco and Savonarola was captured.  He was charged with heresy, uttering false prophecies and sedition.  He was tortured for several days but would never renounce his words.  He stood trial, was found guilty and hung from a high cross and burnt alive.  His era was over and shortly afterwards normal Florentine life returned with the artists and Florentine art once again flourishing.

Fra Bartolomeo painted Portrait of Savonarola just before the Dominican friar was executed in 1498.  The head and shoulder portrait of the hooded monk is painted against a black background.  His unwavering look is stern and one feels that this was a man who held views, the dilution of which he would not countenance.  The portrait lacks any human warmth and for that reason one must believe that it is not only a good physical likeness but one which encapsulates Savonarola’s mental state.  The Latin inscription on the panel below the portrait proves that the monk was considered to be a prophet:

Portrait of the prophet Jerome of Ferrara, sent by God.”

The twenty-six year old Baccio della Porta was greatly distressed by the execution of Savonarola and two years later in 1500 he gave up painting all together and took his monastic vows and assumed the name Fra Bartolomeo.  He moved into the convent of Saint Marco in Florence.  It was not until 1504, with the authorization of the prior, did he resume painting and he dedicated the rest of his life to painting religious studies.  By 1508, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo had all left the city of Florence and Fra Bartolomeo became the leading painter of Florence.

The Artist’s Studio by Johann Georg Platzer

The Artist's Studio by Johann Georg Platzer

My featured artist for My Daily Arty Display is the Austrian painter and draughtsman, Johann Georg Platzer, who was born in 1704 in St Paul in Eppan,  a small village in the South Tyrol, Austria.  He came from a family of painters and was tutored, when young, by his stepfather Josef Anton Kessler and then later by his uncle Christoph Platzer, who was the court painter in Passau. In 1724 at the age of twenty, he painted an altarpiece for the church of St Helena in Deutschnofen. Probably after 1726 he went to Vienna, where he enrolled at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste and became a friend of Franz Christoph Janneck, one of the leading lights of Austrian Rococo art.   Perhaps because of a stroke that impeded his work, he returned to St Michael in Eppan by 1755.  In 1761 Platzer died aged 57.

Platzer produced a great number of small paintings, mostly on copper. He was the most important master of the informal group portraits, known as conversation pieces in 18th-century Austria.  His cultivated embourgeoisé public was fascinated by the skilful manner, lively colours and countless details of his compositions. According to the principles of modesty and good manners, he chose his models and style to suit the subject-matter: for histories and allegories he took his models from antiquity, the Renaissance and Italian and Flemish Baroque art, as in Samson’s Revenge which hangs in the Belvedere in Vienna.   In his genre scenes and more so his conversation pieces, one can detect the inspiration of the French Rococo and the Netherlandish cabinet painters, while in his scenes of today’s featured painting, The Artist’s Studio, his academic knowledge is revealed.

My Daily Art Display is, as I have just said, The Artist’s Studio by Johann Georg Platzer .  This oil on copper painting shows the interior of an artist’s studio.  If we look at the painting we see the various stages in the production of a painting.   In an arched recess in the right background, behind the figure of the man grinding pigments, we can see a group of young students intently drawing the anatomy of an écorché, a figure drawn, painted, or sculpted showing the muscles of the body without skin.   Their silent work ethic provides a telling contrast with the outspoken and garrulous ways of the old art critic.  Above the heads of the students Platzer has introduced one of his own history paintings: The Samnites before Curius Dentatus.

In the centre foreground we are witnesses to the animated conversation which is taking place  between the old critic seated on a stool and the artist himself.  The artist, who has been at work on a freely-painted picture of a Bacchanale in the Venetian style, has interrupted his painting to listen to his elderly visitor, who gestures towards the picture on the easel, as though providing a critique of the painting, or maybe he is just talking about art in general because in his lap we see a book which may be a theoretical tome.  The inclusion of the book could well be Platzer’s condemnation of art critics by pointing out to us that the critic has probably gained all his artistic knowledge from books and has little or no practical experience of painting.

To the left of the artist and the critic stand an elegant and aristocratic couple wearing seventeenth-century costume, probably patrons of the artist.  While her husband strikes a swaggering pose reminiscent of a full-length portrait by Van Dyck, his wife, also wearing a Van Dyck dress, looks out of the picture, as though coolly appraising us, the viewers, with an air of scornful disdain.  The addition of paintings on the walls reminds one of the 17th century Flemish paintings which depicted collector’s picture galleries which of course alluded to their wealth.  In the middle of the back wall hangs a genre painting in the style of Teniers, an artist who was very popular with 18th-century collectors. If we look above the top left corner of the easel we can see a copy of Holbein’s Portrait of Erasmus.  To the left, by the window, there is an engraving after Van Dyck’s Portrait of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden pinned to the wall.  His costume reflects that of the elegantly dressed visitors below.   Just below the engraving, in an elaborate carved and gilded frame we can see a picture, which has a self-portrait of Platzer looking over the shoulder of a beautiful young woman as she offers a scrap of food to a parrot.  This double representation, male with female, is in the tradition of marital portraits, but strangely Platzer himself never married, so we can only wonder at his reasoning for the inclusion of this painting.  Could she be his favourite model or even his mistress?

Autumn by Jean-Baptiste Pillement

Autumn by Jean-Baptiste Pillement (1792)

On my journeys abroad I have always tried to visit the major public galleries, such as the Prado in Madrid, the Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York but I have never ever visited private galleries which I suppose could be termed “selling” galleries.  I have always thought I would feel slightly uncomfortable looking around the paintings knowing I had no intention of buying a work.  I did visit the Schiele Exhibition at the private Richard Nagy Gallery in London last week but that was advertised as an exhibition even though six of the paintings could have been bought by a viewer.  I was told the six on sale ranged between £280,000 and £3 million so that kind of put them out of my price range!  After leaving the gallery I was walking down Old Bond Street and happened upon another private gallery, Colnaghi, which according to the notice in the window had a small collection of Old Master Paintings.  I went in and asked if I could look around and they told me I could and I walked into their one main room which was probably about 20 metres square and hung on the walls were about twenty exquisite paintings.  I was the only person in the room and I could take my time to study these beautiful works of art.  The next time I return to London for a visit I will go to that Mayfair area and try and visit some of the other private galleries and see what other hidden gems are waiting to be discovered.

My featured artist today is Jean-Baptiste Pillement, the French artist, engraver and designer who was born in Lyon in 1728 and is best known for his Rococo style of painting and the engravings done after his drawings.  He was also well-known for his chinoiserie theme in many of his paintings and designs.  Chinoiserie being a French term for an artistic style which reflects Chinese influences.   His beautiful designs were used in porcelain and pottery as well as textile manufacture.  He became one of the most talented French landscape painters of the period.  His extensive travels throughout Europe gave him an opportunity to build a large portfolio of en plein-air drawings which he would later convert into beautiful landscape paintings.  Pillement was influenced by painters such as Francesco Zuccarelli, the great Italian Rococo painter, and Francois Boucher, the French painter and proponent of Rococo taste, who in the eighteenth century made pastoral paintings very popular.

When he was fifteen years old he moved to Paris and worked at the Gobelin factory which was a family run firm of dyers and manufacturers of tapestries.  Two years later he travelled to Spain to work as both a designer and painter and remained in the country for five years.  From there at the age of twenty-two he moved to Portugal and in 1754, aged twenty-six he travelled to London.  Whilst in England Pillement concentrated on landscape painting and soon he discovered a ready market for his quality works and the great English thespian, David Garrick became an avid collector of his work.

He left England in 1756 and journeyed around Europe.  He was employed as an artist at the Court of Marie Theresa and Francis I in Vienna.  In Warsaw he was commissioned to decorate the Royal Castle and the Ujazdowski Castle.  Wherever he went, whether it be St Petersburg, Milan or Rome he received lucrative commissions for his work and in Paris he worked for Marie Antoinette in the Petit Trianon.    In 1800 he returned to his birthplace, Lyon where he carried on painting, teaching at the local Academy and designing for the local silk industry.  Unfortunately for him the Rococo  genre was losing its popularity with the onset of the French Revolution and his commissions became less and less.  Due to his past association with matters royal, he was forced to seek refuge in the south of France, in the town of Pézenas. There he remained for ten years. It was during that time that he created some of his most admired works of art.  The last ten years of his life he spent in Lyon until his death in 1808, at the age of 80.

My Daily Art Display for today is a painting which I saw at the Colnaghi Gallery entitled  Autumn which Pillement completed in 1792.  This sun-drenched landscape has a feel of the 17th century Dutch Italianate paintings of Nicolaes Berchem and Jan Both and the French master of Arcadian landscape paintings, Claude Lorrain.  The romantic sensitivity of the painting probably emanates from his alpine travels and his contact with landscape painters such as Philippe de Loutherbourg.  Landscapes like this one by Pillement were very popular at the time, especially the sets of paintings showing the countryside during the different seasons.  Pillement painted a “companion” picture to go with today’s featured painting entitled Winter which was also present at the Colnaghi gallery.

The Art Student (Miss Josephine Nivison) by Robert Henri

The Art Student (Miss Josephine Nivison) by Robert Henri (1906)

Robert Henri, a leading figure of the Ashcan School in art, was born Robert Henri Cozad in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1865.  His father John Cozad was a real estate developer and founded the town of Cozaddale, Ohio and later when the family moved west, he founded the Dawson County town of Cozad in the state of Nebraska.  Robert had one brother, also named John, and was a distant cousin of Mary Cassatt, the much admired artist and printmaker.  In October 1882, Henri’s father became embroiled in a dispute with a rancher over the right to pasture cattle on land claimed by the family. When the dispute turned physical, Cozad shot Pearson fatally with a pistol. Cozad was eventually cleared of wrongdoing, but the mood of the town turned against him. He fled to Denver, Colorado, and the rest of the family followed shortly afterwards.  In order to disassociate themselves from the scandal, family members changed their names. The father became known as Richard Henry Lee, and his sons posed as adopted children under the names Frank Southern and Robert Earl Henri.  In 1883 the family moved again, first to New York City and then on to Atlantic City, New Jersey.

At the age of  twenty-one, Robert began studying art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in Philadelphia under the tutelage of  Robert Anschutz, the painter who also taught several well-known painters including Everett Shin, George Luks and George Bellows who along with Henri would become known as the Ashcan School.  Two years later in 1888 Robert Henri travelled to Paris and studied at the Académie Julian and later he was admitted to École des Beaux Arts.  It was during this time that he embraced Impressionism.

In 1891 he returned to America and settled down in Philadelphia and began teaching at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women.  He became friendly with a group of artists and newspaper illustrators and they, William Glackens, George Luks, Everett Shin and John French Sloan, became known in artistic circles as the Philadelphia Four.  In 1898 he married Linda Craige who was a student attending one of his private art classes, and they set off on a two-year long honeymoon/vacation in France.

In 1902 he started teaching at the New York School of Art and many “soon to be famous” artists were taught by him, including Joseph Stella, Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, George Bellows, Louis Fancher, Stuart Davis and Norman Raeburn.  Sadly in 1905 after a long period of poor health his wife Linda died.

A year later in 1906 Robert Henri was elected to the National Academy of Design which would later be known as The National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts but his tenure at this establishment was short lived for when works of art by his painter friends were rejected for the Academy’s 1907 exhibition, he resigned labelling the Academy as a “cemetery of art” and threatened to stage his own art exhibition.

He carried out his threat the next year, 1908, when he and his friends staged a landmark exhibition at the Macbeth Gallery in New York entitled The Eight after the eight artists who displayed their works).  Besides his own works and those of the Philadelphia Four who had moved from Philadelphia to be with Henri, the other exhibitors were Maurice Prendegast, Ernest Lawson and Arthur B Davies.  The exhibition was a sensation and these painters would soon become associated with the Ashcan School, which was a realist artistic movement and was best known for its portrayal scenes of daily life in the city of New York.  The name “Ashcan” was first used to describe the artistic movement some years later by the American cartoonist and writer, Art Young.

In May 1908 Henri married for a second time, this time to Marjorie Organ a twenty-two year old Irish immigrant.  Henri continued to paint and teach art  in various establishments and when he was sixty-four he was chosen, by the Arts Council of New York, as one of the top three living American artists.  A year later in 1929 Robert Henri died of cancer aged 65 and in 1931 the Metropolitan Museum of Art staged a Memorial exhibition of his work to honour this giant of American Art.

My Daily Art Display for today is a work by Robert Henri called The Art Student (Miss Josephine Nivison) which he completed in 1906 and was one of the paintings I saw at the National Gallery this week at their small exhibition entitled An American Experiment.   It is a life-sized oil on canvas painting (196cms x 98cms) and is quite dark.  The model for the painting was Josephine Nivison who studied with Robert Henri at the New York School of Art the previous year.  After Henri befriended her, she and some other students from his class travelled with him to Europe.  Miss Nivison later married another influential painter, Edward Hopper (see my blog Nighthawks on Jan 23rd) and she helped promote his work and acted as his model.

In the picture her body is undefined due to the all-encompassing heavy black artist’s smock she is wearing which reaches down to her feet.  We are just able to glimpse the white collar and the red patterned shoulder of her dress she wears under the smock.  Against a plain brown background, she clutches hold of her paintbrushes in her left hand as she looks out at us with a very determined expression.

This painting was one of only a few Robert Henri painted in 1906, the year after his wife’s death.

Portrait of Wally by Egon Schiele

Portrait of Wally by Egon Schiele

My Daily Art Display today is a continuation from yesterday’s life of Egon Schiele so if you have just landed on today’s page, it would be worthwhile for you to look at yesterday’s blog before reading today’s offering.

The story of Egon Schiele’s life in My Daily Art Display yesterday reached 1910 when the artist had reached twenty years of age and was living in Vienna.   He was the complete bohemian, an independent free spirit, and a great draughtsman with little or no care for anyone or anything outside his own close circle.  The following year, Schiele met the seventeen year old artist model, and at one time a model for Gustav Klimt, Valerie Neuzil, whom he nicknamed “Wally”.  He was immediately mesmerised by her youthful beauty and soon she moved in with him and became his lover as well as his model.  Schiele had fallen out of love with Vienna and he and his lover moved to Cesky Krumlov in Southern Bohemia, the birthplace of his mother.  His residency here did not last long as the residents were up in arms with his and his lover’s behaviour and his use of local teenage girls as his nude models.  Reluctantly he moved back to Austria and he and Valerie set up home in Neulengbach, a quiet village in the pastoral, tranquil countryside of Lower Austria, some twenty miles to the west of Vienna. 

This was a mistake on the part of Schiele because although Vienna tolerated his bohemian way of the life, this small village with its retired officers and elderly neighbours, who were always interested in their neighbours’ business, certainly did not.  Schiele’s studio had a small garden attached to it and this became home to many of the local children who sought escape from their mundane lives.  Schiele managed to persuade many of the young girls to pose for him, often naked so that he could indulge in the intimate figure drawings that had become an obsession to him since he lost his childhood interest of sketching trains.   His behaviour and his use of under-age girls as models fell foul of the authorities.  The final straw came when a thirteen year old girl, Tatjana van Mossig, daughter of a retired naval officer ran away from her home and sought refuge at the home of Schiele and his lover “Wally” and although she returned home “unharmed” after a week, her father accused Schiele of kidnapping.  He was arrested by the police on April 13th 1912, for seducing the girl below the age of consent.   The police, when they arrested Schiele, raided his workshop and confiscated many of his drawings which they termed as pornographic.   He came before the judiciary and was sentenced to twenty-four days in prison for exhibiting pornographic material – the original charge of seducing an underage girl having been dropped prior to his trial.  During his time of incarceration, he produced thirteen watercolour drawings that bear witness to his “sufferings”.

Once released it was obvious to Schiele that he had to move away from Neulengbach and he returned to Vienna where he rented a studio which he retained for the rest of his life.  By 1914 Schiele’s financial situation was dire even though he had good reviews for some of his exhibited works and had gained a couple of new patrons.   This same year his favourite sister Gertri marries his friend.  It was at this point that Schiele realises he needed a wife and although he still lived with his lover Valeri “Wally” Neuzil, he resolved to find a more “acceptable” partner.   He intensifies his relationship with two sisters, Adele and Edith Harms whom he had recently encountered and who lived with their middle-class bourgeois Protestant parents across from his studio.  A year later, in 1915 he decided, (in his wisdom?), to marry the more socially-accepted Edith, the younger of the sisters.  However he had not given up his relationship with “Wally” who had always remained faithful to him but was considered by him to be socially inferior in comparison to the Harms’ girls.  He asked her if she would remain his lover.   She was devastated by the turn of events and, not unexpectedly, she would not agree to Schiele’s strategy and she left him.  Schiele and Edith married on June 17th 1915 on the wedding anniversary of his parents. 

World War I intervened and Schiele was called-up to join the army.  He was stationed in Prague and fortunately for him the officers of his corps were so impressed with his artistic talents they allowed him to continue with his art whilst he was involved in non-combative work for the army.   Schiele was never involved in the fighting and managed to keep well away from the Russian Front.  In 1917 he was transferred to the Military Supply Depot in Vienna.  His duties were relatively light and he was able to carry on with his art and continued to regularly exhibit his works in the Austrian capital as well as Zurich, Prague and Dresden.

In February 1918 Gustav Klimt dies and suddenly Egon Schiele is recognised as the leading Austrian artist.  His new status is confirmed by his sell-out exhibition at the Vienna Secession that March.  In June he is transferred to the Army Museum where he is given free rein to pursue his artistic activities.  He becomes financially better off and moves into a larger studio.  Sadly, the Spanish flu epidemic hit Europe, claiming the lives of twenty million people.  Vienna was eventually affected by this devastating epidemic and one of its victims was Schiele’s wife Edith who was six month pregnant.  Sadly, three days later on October 31st 1918, the 28 year-old artist, Egon Schiele, died.

The painting featured in My Daily Art Display is entitled Portrait of Wally and was completed in 1912.  It was bought in 1954 by Rudolf Leopold, a wealthy Austrian art collector, whose collection of more than 5000 works of art were bought by the Austrian government and became part of the collection of the Leopold Museum.  However when an exhibition of Schiele’s works including today’s painting was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1997, this painting was seized on the orders emanating from the New York County District Attorney.  The U.S. customs refused to let the work leave the country after Henry Bondi of Princeton, N.J., filed a claim that said his late aunt, Lea Bondi Jaray, was forced to sell the painting at a vastly reduced price to the Nazis before fleeing Vienna in 1939 to escape to London when Germany annexed Austria. 

Member of Leopold Museum staff with returned painting (2010)

The litigation brought by Henry Bondi lasted twelve years and was finally settled in 2010 when the Leopold Museum of Vienna agreed to pay 19 million US dollars to the estate of Lea Bondi Jaray who died in 1969 and her nephew Henry who brought the litigation had also passed away.

Woman with Homunculus by Egon Schiele

Woman with Homunculus by Egon Schiele (1910)

The best laid plans of mice and men….. etc etc.   I had intended to travel to London yesterday and visit a couple of art galleries including the Queens Gallery to see the Dutch Landscape exhibition but because of a certain visitor by the name of Mr Obama the Buckingham Palace Gallery was closed to the public.   However I did go to the National Gallery to see The American Experiment, a small exhibition of paintings by the Ashcan School of painters which was small but made for excellent viewing.   More about that later in the week.

Richard Nagy Gallery exhibition

As I had time on my hand I decided to visit the Richard Nagy private gallery in Old Bond Street and have a look at an Egon Schiele exhibition.  I am not sure what I expected to find at this display but the weekend newspapers gave it a “Must not miss” tag so I had high hopes.   They were not wrong.  It is a small but excellent exhibition and you should really try and visit it before it closes on  June 30th.  I remember when I visited Vienna at the end of last year; the three beloved artists of that country were Klimt, Kokoschka and Schiele.  This exhibition had more than forty paintings and drawings by Schiele which had not been previously seen together in a UK gallery and which of course is just the tip of his iceberg as he has more than four thousand works attributed to him. 

I intend to look at the life of Schiele over the next two days and see if I can offer you examples of his work, which are not likely to offend my readers.  I am not sure one can shy away from the word “pornographic” by clouding it with the word “art” but then it is a matter of opinion.  You will be able to look at his more risqué works on the internet and then decide for yourself.  It is up to each individual to decide when  art crosses the line from being erotic and sensual to becoming pornographic.

Egon Schiele was born in 1890 in the small Austrian town of Tulln, which lies on the River Danube, just outside Vienna.  He was the first and only surviving son of  Adolph and Marie Schiele.   His mother Marie came from Krumau (now Cesky Krumlov) in Bohemia and his father Adolph, an Austrian, was a station master for the State railways.  Schiele had two sisters, Melanie who was four years older than him and Gertrude who was four years his junior.   They all lived with their parents in an apartment above the Tulln train station which was also the place of work for their father.  Egon went to the local school and soon developed a love for art. His parents hoping he would be university-material enrolled him at the age of eleven as a boarder at the Krems Realgymnasium some twenty-five miles from their home.   Although his father had hoped he would use his artistic skills coupled with his seeming love of trains to become a railway engineer,  it was not to be.  His father lost patience with young Egon when he fell behind in his academic studies due to his fixation on art and at one point his father destroyed his sketch books.

In 1904 Adolph was taken ill having contracted syphilis.   He had to leave his job and that year he died.  It was a prolonged and painful death, with its sickness and eventual insanity and it affected Egon badly. Ten years later he wrote to a friend recalling this harrowing time.  In the letter he wrote:

“… I don’t know whether there is anyone else at all who remembers by noble father with such sadness.  I don’t know who else is able to understand why I visit those places where my father used to be and where I can feel the pain…….Why do I paint graves and many similar things?   Because this continues to live in me….”

Later, his sister, Melanie, would assert that her brother’s promiscuity was a challenge to the “Gods” to inflict him with the same disease which had killed his father.  The death of the main breadwinner caused the family financial hardship and Egon’s mother had to turn to Egon’s uncle, Leopold Czihaczek for help.  He eventually became joint guardian of the boy.

Egon attended the School of Arts and Crafts in Vienna which was the old alma mater of Klimt.  Schiele excelled at this school, so much so, that in 1906, he transferred to Vienna’s Akademie der Bildenden Kunste, the more traditional route for aspiring artists.  It was around this time that he met and was mentored by Gustav Klimt who appreciated the young Schiele’s talent.  Klimt even bought some of Schiele’s works as well as swapping some of his own work with that of the young would-be painter.  Schiele owed a lot to Klimt who put him in touch with potential buyers and Schiele held his first exhibition at the age of 18.  A year later in 1909 he left the Academy disillusioned with its teaching style and artistic constraints.  He joined a group of like-minded painters to form the Neukunstgruppe, (New Art Group).

Although Schiele had benefited immensely from what he learnt and who he met at the Academy he had felt artistically constrained and once away from the establishment he began to delve into not just the human form but also human sexuality.  It was this aspect of his paintings and drawings which was to engender controversy.  His critics described some of his works which focused on death and sex as grotesque and pornographic.  His portraits, often of nudes were painted in a realist manner and that was what probably upset some of his detractors.  Schiele took part in the International Jagdausstellung in Vienna in 1910 and he showed his life-sized, seated female nude.  Allegedly when Emperor Franz Joseph saw it he turned away muttering “This is absolutely hideous”

The Egon Schiele painting I am featuring in My Daily Art Display was painted by him in 1910 and is entitled Woman With Homonculus.  A homunculus being a scale model of a human body and refers to the seated figure to the right of the woman which tries to cling to her.  This is undoubtedly an erotic painting of a woman with her back to us, wearing only a pair of black stockings.   She has twisted her upper torso around to look over her shoulder at us in a coquettish fashion.  The reddening with rouge of the tip of her left breast and nipple can just be seen and it is this “just be seen” look which tantalises the viewer.   It is most certainly a pose and a look of a seductress and I believe she is wondering what we make of her body –  but I am sure she already knows the answer.

Tomorrow I will complete the life story of Schiele and show you a few more of his paintings and sketches.

A Man aged 38 by Lucas van Leyden

A Man aged 38 by Lucas van Leyden

My Daily Art Display for today returns to portraiture.   The oil on canvas painting is entitled A Man aged 38 and is by the Dutch artist Lucas van Leyden.  Along with the likes of Gossaert and Massys he was looked upon as one of the most significant Netherlandish artist of the early sixteenth century.  According to the eminent Dutch painter and biographer of Netherlandish artists, Karel van Mander, Leyden was born around 1494 in Leiden, one of five children.  His father was the painter Huig Jacobsz.   Leyden is looked upon as a child art prodigy as at the age of nine he was already making engravings and three years later had sold his first painting, Legend of St Hubert.  He received artistic training from his father and also from Cornelis Engelbrechtsz, a leading artist of the day.  By 1508 he was, according to the biographer van Mander, “a master of repute as a copperplate engraver”.

Lucas Van Leyden portrait in silverpoint by Durer

In 1521, whilst in Antwerp, van Leyden met Albrecht Dürer, an artist who had influenced his work.   In Dürer’s diary kept during his travels in the Low Countries, he records that whilst at Antwerp he met Lucas, who asked him to dinner, and that he had accepted the invitation. He valued the art of Lucas at its true figure, and exchanged the Dutchman’s prints for eight florins’ worth of his own.  Dürer even drew a silverpoint portrait of the young Dutch artist (above).  Lucas returned to his home town of Leiden.  In 1526 he married Lysbeth van Bosschuysen, a young lady from one of the most influential and wealthiest families of the town.  In 1527 Lucas journeyed around the Netherlands, hosting dinners to the painters of the guilds of Middleburg, Ghent, Malines and Antwerp.    During his tour of the Netherlands he had Jan Mabuse (Gossaert) as a companion.   Van Leyden liked to imitate him in his style as well as in his love of rich costume.

After returning home, van Leyden took ill and remained unwell until his death in 1533, aged 39 years of age.  Van Leyden was convinced that an envious colleague, who was jealous of his success, had given him poison.   He left a wife, daughter Gretchen who days before his death had given birth to van Leyden’ first grandchild.

The majority of van Leyden’s work was engravings and etchings of which he completed almost one hundred and seventy between 1508 and 1530.  These circulated throughout Europe and because of this the young artist’s reputation grew steadily. However today I am not featuring one of his many engravings or etchings but his painted portrait of a young man which he completed around 1521 at around the time he met up with Albrecht Dürer.

 We see in front of us the bust-length figure of a clean-shaven man wearing a black coat and dark green gown clutching a piece of paper in his right hand.  Inscribed on the paper are the numbers “3” and “8” and it is believed that this refers to the age of this unknown sitter.  He looks lost in his own thoughts.  He is a picture of concentration.  The background is of a plain mid-green colour and is only interrupted by the dark shadow cast by the man’s head and his black cap.  This type of shadowing effect was often seen in sixteenth century portraiture.    Although the man is looking to our left we see his face in full.    Look carefully at his eyes.  I am fascinated by how we can see the reflection of a double-light window in his eyes as he stares out at the light.  This full light shining on the sitter allows us to see clearly every detail of the tone and colour his face.  One strange facial characteristic of the sitter is his extremely low-set eyebrows.   Art historians have discussed the face and lean towards the view that maybe van Leyden has by enlarging the eyes and the angles of the face made the sitter’s portrait more flattering.  Obviously the sitter has commissioned the portrait from the artist and is expecting both a truthful and flattering image, which of course is often at odds with one another!  Still, I am sure the sitter was pleased with the result.

 Of the painting the English writer and art historian Sir Claude Phillips wrote:

 “…neither Dürer nor Holbein has painted anything more expressive than this still youthful dreamer of dreams, who but seems to look out at the spectator – in reality absorbed in the sad contemplation of his own soul….”

Portrait of a Young Man by Petrus Christus

Portrait of a Young Man by Petrus Christus (c.1460)

I suppose I lay myself open to criticism by the way I jump from one genre of painting to another or from one period to another but all I am trying to achieve is to offer you up as many art genres as possible and by so doing open up the world of art to you.   There are many web blogs which concentrate on one particular art genre and maybe when you have decided what particular type of painting you like you can then find a website or blog which solely concentrates on that genre.  However for me, my love of art is not centred on one particular genre.  I love being able to dip in and out of painting types and by doing so I am able to discover real gems.  Yesterday, I featured a twentieth-century American artist and his city landscape today I am going back in time to the fifteenth century and looking at a portrait by a Netherlandish painter.  My featured artist today is Petrus Christus and My Daily Art Display is his oil on oak painting entitled Portrait of a Young Man which he completed around 1460 and which now can be seen in the National Gallery of London.

Petrus Christus was born around 1410 in what is now known as Baarle-Hertog and lies on the Belgium side of the Belgium-Netherland’s border.  Little is known of his early life until 1444 when he was noted as being an active painter in the city of Bruges.  It is thought that earlier he could have been a student of Jan van Eyck and on van Eyck’s death in 1441, Christus took over his workshop and completed some of his master’s work, but this is purely speculation and has yet to be irrefutably proven.  One argument against this turn of events is that it is known that Christus did not receive his Bruges citizenship until 1444, which is three years after van Eyck’s death.  Had he been a pupil of, and working for, van Eyck at the time of his death in 1441, he would automatically have received his Bruges ‘citizenship then.  So the question of whether Christus was a pupil of, or a successor to, remains unanswered.  However, having said all that, the one thing which is certain is that as an artist he was influenced by the work of van Eyck and made many copies of his works and became van Eyck’s successor.

And so, to today’s painting.  We see in front of us a young man holding an open prayer book looking towards the right of the picture, which lends us to believe that this is probably the left hand part of a devotional diptych and that the missing right-hand part of the diptych may have been a picture of the Virgin Mary. 

The Veronica

Over the man’s left shoulder, we can see on the wall an illuminated parchment showing an image of a revered icon known as the veronica, and a prayer.  The words of the prayer Salve sancta facies, “Hail, Holy Face”, which was a prayer to the face of Christ imprinted miraculously on Veronica’s veil.  .   The veronica according to legend bears the likeness of the face of Jesus Christ and comes from the Latin word “vera” meaning ‘truth’ and “icon” meaning ‘image’ and therefore the Veil of Veronica, simply known as The Veronica was regarded in the Middle Ages as the true image of Jesus’ face.  These illuminated manuscripts were very popular at this time as indulgences could be gained by reciting the prayer whilst looking at the face of Christ.

Look how Christus has painstakingly painted the minute details of this illuminated parchment.  It is amazing.  See how he has illustrated the curling up of the bottom right hand corner of the parchment as it comes away from its wooden backing.  The parchment has been fixed to the wood with metal pins which have been pressed through a narrow red ribbon which acts as a colourful border to the sacred parchment. 

To the left of the picture we see a stone arch way which has been decorated with carved stone statuettes.  On the outer side we have two statuettes, one of a prophet and the other a sibyl or prophetess, who foretold of the coming of Christ.  On the inner side of the arch we have the stone sculpture of John the Baptist who also foretold the coming of Christ.  Below his carved figure there is an empty plinth and one wonders what statuette had been intended for that space.


The artists has skilfully illustrated the folds in the young man’s long red cloak with its fur trim and I particularly like the elaborate design of the money pouch with the metal purse bar which can be seen under the right arm of the figure.

This is a truly remarkable painting.

Blue Snow, The Battery by George Bellows

Blue Snow, The Battery by George Bellows (1910)

A few days ago I featured the art of Samuel Luke Fildes who in his early artistic days was a Social Realist painter.  His paintings and illustrations for The Graphic magazine dwelled on the plight of the poor in his native England and what they had to endure.  Today I am featuring an American artist of around the same era who wanted to paint pictures of real life in New York City.  He is George Wesley Bellows, the American realist painter.

George Bellows was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1882 and after passing through the various school years arrived at Ohio State University at the age of nineteen.  It was here that his sports prowess came to the fore and at one time it was thought that he may take up baseball professionally.  During his time at the university he funded himself by working as a commercial illustrator.  However Bellows had one aim in life and that was to become an artist, so much so, that he quit the university just before he was due to graduate and moved to New York to study art.

He enrolled in the New York School of Art and became a student of Robert Henri.  It was through Henri that Bellows came into contact with a group of artists known as The Eight and later became paert of  The Ashcan School.  The Eight was a group of artists whose fame derives from, and for what they will always be remembered for, their one and only joint exhibition in 1908 at the Macbeth Gallery in New York.  The exhibition was a sensation and it is now looked upon as one of the most important events in the development of twentieth-century American art

The Aschcan School was a loose collection of realist painters associated with Robert Henri.  The term “Ashcan” was first used by Art Young the American socialist writer and cartoonist when he was writing about this art movement.  They were however unified with their desire to be truthful with their art and depict the city of New York and its working-class neighbourhoods as it was and not just an idealised and formal portrayal of these suburbs.  They wanted us to see life in the raw.  The scenes of the city painted by Bellows highlighted the crudity and disorder of life amongst the working class.  This was American Realism, and he and his fellow Ashcan artists believed that their art should be similar to journalism showing the city as it was, “warts and all”.  In a way this group, including Bellows was determined to rebel against American Impressionism which was so popular at the time.  Their art did not focus on light but in general their art was darker in tone and brought the seamier side of life to the fore with subjects such as prostitution, drunks and overcrowded tenements cluttered with lines of washing.  Bellows also painted pictures of boxing matches which with their dark and atmospheric backgrounds brought out the bloody savagery of the sport.  In some of their works they depicted the poor and their struggle with everyday life.  These were the equivalent to the English Social Realism genre of art of which Samuel Luke Fildes was a leading figure.

The painting of George Bellows I am featuring today is not one of his Social Realism paintings.   My featured painting of George Bellows is entitled Blue Snow, The Battery which he completed in 1910The setting for the painting is Battery Park which lies adjacent to the financial district of the city.  There is a breathtaking beauty about this work of art.  His imaginative and powerful use of blue energizes the scene of the southern tip of Manhattan.  Bellows painted a number of scenes with New York City under snowfall and as with my featured painting it is amazing how he has developed a strong sense of light and visual texture contrasting the white and blue of the snow and the dark grimy outline of the old buildings.  It is a beautiful strong composition which is normally housed at the Columbus Museum of Art.

Bellows went on to teach at the Art Institute of Chicago but spent half the year at the home he built in Woodstock, New York. He illustrated novels including a number for H G Wells.   In 1925, at the young age of 42 he died of peritonitis after failing to tend to a ruptured appendix.

I hope to see some of his art when I visit the National Gallery in London tomorrow where thay have a small exhibition of works by George Bellows and the Ashcan painters, entitled An American Experiment.

A Family Group by Bernardini Licinio

A Family Group by Bernardino Licinio (1524)

Bernardino Licinio was born in Venice around 1489 during the Italian High Renaissance.  It is thought that he could have trained as an artist in the workshop of Giovanni Bellini, the founder of the Venetian School of Painting.  Although being influenced by his “master”, Licinio soon developed his own down-to-earth style of realism painting.  When he had finished his artistic apprenticeship, Licinio set up his own workshop and produced a number of half length panels of the Virgin and Child, some altarpieces and group portraits one of which is featured in My Daily Art Display for today.  It is simply entitled A Family Group and was painted by Licinio in 1524.

In the painting we see nine members of a family.  It was once thought that it was an actual portrait of Licinio’s own family but there has been no documented evidence that he was ever married.  Licinio was famous for his group portraits and a few years after today’s painting he completed two similar works, namely, Arrigo Licinio and his Family (1535) and Portrait of a Sculptor with Five Apprentices(c. 1530) and all three are looked upon as his greatest works. 

Small-patterned Holbein carpet

 The members of the family are grouped around a table on which we see a Turkish table carpet, known as a small-patterned Holbein named after its characteristic geometric design.  These carpets are of Ottoman origin and so named because Hans Holbein used to often incorporate them into his paintings.  The “small pattern” terminology referred to the small size of the motifs.  These were expensive carpets and in paintings often symbolised wealth and in this case we are being subtly told that this family did not have any financial problems.

What I like about this family portrait is its realistic quality.  How many times have you wanted a family photograph taken with your children only to be thwarted by arguments between the young ones?  This is exactly what Licinio is recording in the painting.  The young boy in the elaborately painted striped hose, seated at the end of the table on the left, has just taken an apple from the bowl and of course this was the very one which his siblings had wanted.  Sounds familiar?   We can see the father, dressed in black, attempting to mediate in the argument.  His wife, in the gold and cream low-cut dress, is listening intently to his proposed solution. 

The determined child

My favourite character in the painting has to be the young girl standing in front of the table in the right foreground.  Look how she stands defiantly, arms akimbo, lips pouted as she demands justice.  Although she maybe the youngest of the siblings she demands to be heard. The one aspect of the painting which art critics have commented on is that there seems to be no face-to-face interaction between family members.  They fail to relate to each other. 

Seven Members of the Albani Family by Cariani

Compare this with, for example, Lotto’s 1547 family painting, Portrait of Giovanni della Volta with his Wife and Children, which has a similar bowl of fruit on a carpeted table but where there is an interaction between the family members or Giovanni Cariani’s Seven Members of the Albani Family (above) where everybody seems so animated.     Licinio’s family group seem to be just a collection of individuals who have no connection with each other.  The difference in style of the two portraits reminds me of two photographs a family photographer has taken.  In one he has instructed everybody to be still and look at the camera.  The result is a wooden photo, which often occurs in a formalised event where everybody has to stand still and look at the camera and not at each other.   In the other the photographer has let things develop naturally before he presses the camera button without warning.