Frigates by Johan Barthold Jongkind

Frigates by Johan Jongkind (1853)

My featured artist today is the nineteenth century Dutch painter and one who is considered to be the forerunner of Impressionism.  His name is Johan Barthold Jongkind.

Jongkind was born in 1819 in the small Dutch town of Lattrop in the Dutch province of Overijssel, close to the German border, although much of his early life was spent in the harbour town of Vlaardingen, which lies on the River Meuse, and where his father, Gerrit Adrianus Jonkind, was a local tax collector.  His father and mother, Wilhelmina, had ten children of which Johan was the eighth.  At the age of sixteen, once he had finished his education, he went to work as a junior clerk in a notary’s office.  A year later in 1836 his father died and Johan moved from Vlaardingen to The Hague where he enrolled at the Academy of Arts to study drawing under the tutelage of the director of Andreas Schelfhout, the Dutch Romantic painter, etcher and lithographer, who was renowned for his landscape works and who, by the end of his life, was looked upon as the leading Dutch landscape painter of the nineteenth century.

He spent almost nine years working at the Schelfhout’s studio training as a landscape painter and studying the great works of the Dutch Golden Age painters who plied their trade between the late sixteenth and mid to latter part of the seventeenth century, such as Jacob von Ruisdael, Meindert Hobbema and Aelbert Cuyp.  It was during this time that Jongkind developed the love of en plein air painting.  The early works of Jongkind depicted themes popular in the Netherlands at the time, harbour scenes with boats as well as canals , windmills and winter scenes featuring skaters on the frozen waterways.  His works grew in popularity and one of the admirers of his paintings was the leader of the French Romantic School, the landscape and seascape painter, Eugène Isabey.  Isabey had accompanied Alfred Emile de Nieuwkerke, who was the directeur des Beaux-Arts in Paris, to The Hague for the unveiling of the equestrian statue of William the Silent in front of the Paleis Noordeinde.  Isabey invites Jongkind to Paris to study in his studio and in 1846, with the financial support from the Prince of Orange, the young Dutch artist headed to the French capital where he remained for ten years.

Jongkind not only studied with Isabey but also with the French painter, François-Edouard Picot.   He also met many of the landscape painters of the Barbizon School with whom he often worked with and exhibited his works alongside theirs.  Despite his initial traditional training as a Dutch landscape artist, his painting technique evolved and soon his works took on a new range of colour and he became fascinated with the pictorial representation of light.  It was this interest in light which would become essential in the development of Impressionism.

When Jongkind had first arrived in Paris he discovered the river Seine and this became a new source of inspiration for his art. He also depicted many aspects of Paris life but preferred to concentrate on the industrial modernity and urban development of the capital rather than the touristy scenes of the crowded city.   His style is often likened to Naturalism, which is the representation of the world with a minimum of abstraction or stylistic distortion.  It is the depiction of realistic objects in a natural setting and is characterised by convincing effects of light and surface texture.

It was whilst in France that he fell in love with the Normandy and Brittany coast which he visited whilst on a painting and sketching trip with Isabey.  He would return to the area many times during his life and some of his best watercolour works incorporate the beautiful and strong lighting found along the Atlantic shoreline.  One of his great artistic successes came in 1850 when he exhibited his work View of Honfleur port at the Paris Salon exhibition.  It received great acclaim from the art critics.

For Jongkind, the streets of Paris were not paved with gold and he spent nine financially difficult years in Paris and had no choice but to live a bohemian existence. He had a number of his paintings rejected by the Salon jurists.  He put forward three of his paintings for inclusion at the 1855 World Exhibition but was disappointed at the lack of interest for his works.  He was now starting to feel dejected and depressed at the way his life was going.   In 1855 his mother died and the thirty-six year old artist returned to The Netherlands and set up home in Rotterdam and with this change of country came his change in painting style as he returned to a more traditional Dutch style of art which he had initially be trained in, during his early life.  Jongkind remained in Holland for five years but the sale of his paintings in his homeland were disappointing.   The only art he managed to sell was to a French art dealer and one of his first patrons, Pierre-Firmin Martin.   Martin’s gallery was on the rue Mogador and he routinely bought works from artists such as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Jean-FrançoisMillet, Theodore Rousseau, Constant Troyon, and Charles-François Daubigny.   Martin was such a great support figure for these artists that they called him Père or Father in English. Jongkind would send Père Martin a painting and in return he would receive a 100 franc note.  However Jongkind could not survive alone on this and as a result he found himself getting deeper and deeper in debt and so in 1860 he decided to return to Paris where he believed the sale of his works would improve and where his standing as a painter was much greater.  He said at the time:

“…It is Paris where I am recognized as a painter…”

However to return to Paris he needed money and he had none.  However through his Parisian friends led by Comte Doria and Père Martin they put on an auction of their works and managed to raise 6046 francs which was used to bring back their friend to Paris.

Jongkind settles down in Montparnasse in Paris.  His friendship with the art dealer Père Martin continued and it was whilst attending one of his dinners that Jongkind was introduced to Joséphine Fesser-Borrhee, a Dutch lady who taught art at a home for Parisian girls.   This lady who was to shape the rest of Jongkind’s life was an interesting character.  She like him, was born in 1819.   She had been abandoned by her parents and brought up in a children’s home. Although known as Marie Borrhée she would later take the name of Joséphine.    At the age of twenty she arrived in Paris, where she was taught to draw, and later she went on to teach in a home for young girls.   Having had a very difficult childhood she was ideally placed to understand the temperament of her troubled friend, Jongkind,  who in many ways was something of an orphan himself.  Jongkind had immediately taken to Joséphine and shortly after their first meeting at the house of Père Martin; he wrote her a letter in which he commented:

“…When I saw you arrive, it was as if my mother and father were coming to fetch me!…”

She was married to Alexander Fesser with whom she had a son, Jules.   It was the Fesser family and especially Joséphine, who through their kind hospitality and friendship, enabled Jongkind to recover both his physical and mental health  and in doing so had a great impact on the quality of his artistic work.  Jonkind and Fesser would travel around France but on many occasions he would return to Normandy.  It was here in 1862 he met Claude Monet.  Monet once described Jongkind’s and his works of art and chided him for his long-standing inability to master the French language saying:

“….a good-hearted, shy man who butchered French and whose art was too new and too artistic to be, in 1862, appreciated to its true value…”

For the next years, the influence of the Normandy coast showed through Jongkind’s abundant production of etchings and paintings. In Normandy, Jongkind became a close friend of Monet a mixed with the likes of Corot, Diaz, Boudin, Sisley and many of the other great artists who used to gather at the Farm Saint-Simeon run by Mère Toutain.

Joséphine Fesser was to become Jongkind’s guardian angel and companion for life and although she remained married to her husband Alexandre she became Jongkind’s mistress.   She was a very caring person and brought a soothing stability and balance to his life. The sale of his art works grew and Jongkind, reputation as an artist, gained in popularity. The number of his commissions increased and with the rise in his art sales his finances improved and with that came a sort of mental calmness, free from worry, and his personality blossomed.   Through Joséphine,  Jongkind had discovered the Dauphiné region of south-east France.  He soon got himself into an annual routine of spending the summer months there and returning to Paris in the winter months.

The first exhibition of the Impressionists in the studio of the photographer Nadar was held in 1874 and although asked to exhibit some of his works, Jongkind declined as by this time in his life, due to his poor health and intemperance he had given up submitting his paintings to major art exhibitions.  Joséphine’s husband died in 1875 and after his death, Madame Fesser remained with Jongkind in Paris. During the late 1870’s when Jongkind was in his fifties his health started to deteriorate and he spent more time in the warmer climes and fresher air of the Dauphiné.

From 1878 until his death in 1891 Jongkind and Joséphine Fesse live in la Côte-Saint-André near Grenoble.  During the last year of his life Jongkind was beset with mental problems, suffering from bouts of depression and paranoia which led him back to alcohol dependence. His mood swings caused by the excess consumption of alcohol led him to be banned from most of the cultural and social activities of the town.  He died in Saint-Rambert hospital close to Grenoble on February 9th 1891 aged 71.  Joséphine Fesser outlived him by just a few months. They are both buried in the small cemetery of La Côte-Saint-André, on the outskirts of the town.

My featured work today by Johan Jongkind is entitled Frigates.  In the painting we see a seaside port which is an idealised view made up of many sites, which was a technique often used by many Dutch landscape painters.   It was completed in 1853, just a couple of years before he left Paris to return to The Netherlands.  The painting highlights his great ability to depict atmosphere and light effects.  Look how well he has depicted the reflections of the ships in the rippling water of the harbour.  Art historians believed that it was Jongkind’s  mastery of light in his works that was to influence the likes of the young Impressionist painter Claude Monet.

The painting is normally housed in the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts but is now part of the exhibition From Paris: a Taste for Impressionism, which is being held at the Royal Academy in London.   This wonderful exhibition of works by Monet, Manet, Sisley, Renoir and many others is on until September 23rd 2012

Author: jonathan5485

Just someone who is interested and loves art. I am neither an artist nor art historian but I am fascinated with the interpretaion and symbolism used in paintings and love to read about the life of the artists and their subjects.

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