Old Peasant Woman Praying by Paula Modersohn-Becker

Old Peasant Woman Praying by Paukla Modersohn-Becker (1905)

In My Daily Art Display of July 28th 2012, I looked at the life and works of the German Expressionist painter, Gabriele Münter and in my next two blogs I want to showcase the life and feature a couple of the works of art of another early German Expressionist artist, Paula Modersohn-Becker.  She may not be familiar to some of you but I am sure you will find her life story interesting, if a little sad, and her artwork unusual.

Paula Modersohn-Becker

Paula Becker was born in Friedrichstadt, a central district of Dresden in 1876.  She was born into a cultural middle-class family, the third of seven children.  Her father, who was the son of a Russian university professor, had been a government railroad official but had had to take early retirement on health grounds and her mother was the daughter of an aristocratic family.  When Paula was twelve years of age she and her family moved to Bremen.  In 1892, when she was sixteen years of age, she travelled to London to stay with one of her father’s sisters.   During her seven month stay in England she received her first drawing lessons.  Paula loved drawing and painting and wanted to become an artist but her father, mindful of the poor financial rewards of being an artist, insisted that first she must enrol on and complete a two-year teachers’ training course before he would allow her to follow her dream of becoming a painter and study at the Berlin School of Women Artists.  She attended the teachers’ training college in 1893 and completed the course two years later.  During this two year period she received drawing and painting lessons from the German painter and stage designer, Bernhardt Wiegandt.

Just a few miles north of Paula’s Bremen home was the small village of Worpswede, which is situated in the Teufelsmoor, a region of bog and moorland.  It was to play a large part in Paula’s life as it had become the home of an artistic community.  It all began in 1884 when Mimi Stolte, the daughter of a shopkeeper in Worpswede, whilst staying with her aunt in Düsseldorf, met Fritz Mackensen, a young art student at the city’s Art Academy and since he was virtually penniless, she took pity on him and invited him to Worpswede to spend the holidays with her family.  After that, he visited her on a number of occasions and liked the area so much that, in 1889, he made it his home and soon, along with his artist friends, Otto Modersohn and Hans am Ende, founded the artists’ colony of Worpswede.  Other artists, writers and poets soon descended on the small town and in 1895 the “Kunsthalle Bremen” exhibited works by artists from Worpswede for the first time.

In 1896 Paula Becker enrolled on a painting and drawing course run by the Verein der Berliner Künstlerinnen (Union of Berlin Female Artists) which offered art studies to women.  Following this she began a one-and-a half-year apprenticeship.    At first she concentrated on drawing lessons with portrait and nude studies and later she studied painting under the tutorship of the Swedish/German painter, Jeanna Bauck.  The following year, Paula Becker visited the artist colony at Worpswede for the first time and met the German painter, Fritz Mackensen, who became her art tutor.  In 1898 Paula left home and went to live in Worpswede and worked alongside the other artists.  During this period she completed many works depicting women and children of the farming community and for models she would use the local peasant women and their children as well as getting some of the old women from the local poor house to pose for her. She also completed some landscape works, which depicted the desolate and dark moors which surrounded the Worpswede area.  These moors were crossed by a number of canals used by barges for transporting locally harvested peat moss to Bremen.  The artist colony painters of Worpswede believed in and promoted a romanticized view of country life, which they believed was a powerful antidote to the revulsion they felt for urban industrialization. Paula however thought differently and rejected the sentimental approach of her fellow artists, believing that a basically realistic subject could better represent profound spiritual values.  Although there was a kind of peace and tranquillity at Worpswede she still hankered after the excitement of city life.  So after more than twelve months at Worpswede she decided to head for the art capital of the world – Paris.   She left Germany on December 31st 1899, the last day of the nineteenth century.

My Daily Art Display featured painting today is entitled Old Peasant Woman Praying which Paula Becker completed in 1905.  There is a kind of Primitivism to this painting similar to what we have seen in Gaugin’s works.  The woman has her large lumpish peasant hands crossed over her chest in a meditative prayer-like manner.  There is a religious feel to this work.  One cannot say for sure what is in the background.  Could it be the coping of a wall with a large leafed tree in the background or is it just a flower/leaf-patterned wall.  However note how the artist has interrupted the background with brightness around the head of the peasant, almost halo-like, giving her a kind of spirituality.   She has a weather-beaten face from the continuous hours spent outside working in the unforgiving sunlight.   The painting is of a lower-class peasant woman and yet it is not a condescending painting.  There is a certain dignity about this woman.  This was never just a peasant painting which was meant to entertain the elite.  This is quite different to the way Van Gogh depicted his peasants in The Potato Eaters (See My Daily Art Display February 7th 2012).   Paula has given her subject a modicum of respect and by doing so has created a beautiful work of art.

In my next blog I will tell you more about Paula Becker’s life, her marriage to Otto Modersohn and her untimely death and feature some more of her works of art.

The Outcast by Brian Hatton

The Outcast by Brian Hatton (1913)

Today I am concluding my look at the life of the Hereford artist Brian Hatton and featuring a couple more of his paintings.

In 1905 Brian Hatton was accepted into Trinity College Oxford where he remained for a year.  Hatton enjoyed travelling and in 1906 along with his uncle Charles Marr, he went to Holland where they visited Amsterdam and The Hague.  On returning from his trip abroad, Hatton went to Scotland where he enrolled at the Hospitalfields Art School in Arbroath and studied painting under George Harcourt, the Scottish portrait and figure painter.  This establishment is believed to be Scotland’s first school of fine art and the first art college in Britain.  It was founded by Patrick Allan-Fraser, a patron of the arts.   Allan-Fraser, who was the son of an Arbroath weaving merchant, had studied art in Edinburgh and was once president of the British Academy of Art in Rome.  He acquired the Hospitalfields estate through marriage and set about the remodelling of the buildings, converting the eighteenth-century barn into a gallery.  Allan-Fraser died in 1890 and having no heirs, bequeathed the building to the State for the promotion of Education in the Arts.   It was later renamed the Patrick Allan-Fraser School of Art.

In 1908 Hatton returned to England and went to live in Camden Place, London, where he and his cousin Geoffrey Vevers shared lodgings.  Whilst in London he attended an art school in South Kensington and spent time at the National Gallery copying paintings.  During 1908 Hatton was invited to join an archaeological expedition to Egypt, led by the English Egyptologist, Professor William Flinders Petrie and his wife.

Mother, July 27th 1909 by Brian Hatton

Brian and his party arrived back in England in May 1909.  Whilst he had been away his mother’s health had declined and she had been away from home staying with relations in Scotland.   In the July her doctors prescribed a rest cure and she went into a Shropshire nursing home in Church Stretton and for a time her health seemed to improve.  Sadly Brian’s mother’s health took a sudden turn for the worse and on July 27th 1909 she died.  This was a terrible blow to the Hatton family, especially to Brian.  His mother had, at an early age, recognised his artistic potential and nurtured it with great care.  There are numerous letters in the archives which show how his mother had been his closest confidant and friend.  His final tribute to his mother was a sketch he made of her as she lay at peace in her room, entitled Mother, July 27th 1909.

Following his mother’s death, and for the next twelve months, Brian immersed himself in his artistic work and carried out a number of portraiture commissions.  Eventually he craved a break from this type of work and decided to realise a dream he had been nurturing and planning for some time – a visit to Paris.  In November 1910 he decided to fulfil this dream and set off for the French capital, visiting the Louvre and working at the Parisian art school, Académie Julian.

At Académie Julian, Paris by Brian Hatton (1910-12)

It was whilst at this artistic school that he started the painting (above) entitled At the Académie Julian, Paris, which he completed back in England, two years later, in 1912.

After his brief sojourn in Paris, Brian returned to England and to his family home in Herford in time for Christmas. It was 1911 and the year that the new king, George V, was crowned king of England.  Brian made frequent trips to London and realised that to prosper artistically he needed to establish a studio in the capital and seek out a well-connected patron.  His dilemma was simple – to gain a wealthy London patron he needed to have a studio in the city but to be able to afford a London studio, he needed a wealthy patron !   In a letter to him from the English artist Briton Riviere,  who had been following Hatton’s progress from when he was a youngster, Riviere warned Hatton about the perils of London:

“…I feel that a move to London is almost inevitable for you as time went on and I hope that now you are strong enough in your own convictions and beliefs, to escape being drawn into any artistic extravagances and fashions of the day, which have been so much to the fore in these times…”

Despite the warning, Hatton left Hereford and with his Oxford University friend and fellow artist, Gerald Siordet set themselves up in The Bronze Door studio in South Kensington in January 1912.  Hatton received many commissions and soon he was so busy he found it difficult to spare time to return to Hereford and visit his father and siblings.  In 1913 he received a royal commission from Windsor Castle to make drawings of Princess Alice’s children, Prince Rupert and Princess May.   Princess Alice was the longest surviving grandchild of Queen Victoria.  The success of this commission led to many more from the “landed gentry”.

In 1913 he was approached by a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters to see if he would like his name to be put forward in the November annual election to become a member of the Society.  This was a great honour and to further his cause he submitted some of his best paintings to their summer exhibition, one of which was entitled The Outcast, which is My Daily Art Display’s featured painting today.  For this work he had employed a model, Beatrice Stewart, who despite her haunting beauty was lame.  In this work Hatton has depicted her with strong features and a somewhat curious expression.  It is an expression of resignation to her fate combined with a rebellious air and yet there is also a somewhat poignant sadness in her expression.  The work received a “highly commended” award at the exhibition.

In 1914 commissions for his work had virtually dried up and Brian was facing financial problems.  The newspapers at the time were full of stories of an impending war with Germany and on July 28th, just a fortnight before his twenty-seventh birthday, war was declared.  Brian left London and returned home and in September enlisted as a trooper with the 1/1 Worcestershire Yeomanry cavalry regiment.  In October the troop was getting ready to ship out to France.   On November 5th his father received a letter from him with some surprising news:

Nov 5th 1914

My Dear Old Dad,

I have just got married to Biddy today by soldier’s licence.  I only decided to go through with it last night and got Biddy down to talk it over with her.  I suppose on the whole it is a very rash thing to have done…..”

He ended the letter rather sheepishly:

“…I hope when you have got over this little shock that you will give us your blessing.   We shall need all that we can get!   Yes, I know that I’m a silly young fool and all that.  But I am still your

loving son


Brian’s wife, Lydia Bidmead (Biddy), gave birth to their daughter, Mary Amelia,  on September 21st 1915, the same day as his father’s birthday.  Brian went home to Hereford to see his wife and daughter.  A month later he went to Devenport to embark the troop ship, Scotia, bound for Mudros on the Greek island of Lemnos, which had been a British base used for fighting in Gallipoli.     In his last letter to his grandmother he ended with a wistful remark, fully mindful of the dangers which lay ahead.  He wrote:

“…I shall be thankful to return with a sound right hand and eyesight…”

He and his regiment left Mudros and sailed for Egypt in December 1915.  Brian was now back in the country he had visited seven years earlier when he was part of the Flinders Petrie Archaeological Expedition.  On arrival he was trained as a signaller but found learning semaphore and the Morse code very difficult.  Mail to and from home was spasmodic and often letters went astray which he found very frustrating.  He had witnessed some military action but the imminent danger he and his colleagues were in seemed to have not fully hit home and there was even an element of enjoyment about the conflict.  In a postscript to his last letter home in April 1916 he commented:

“…To me, at the time, it all seems ridiculous – like a comic opera.  The men were all smoking and joking and nobody seemed in the least danger.  One only has to take reasonable precautions and lie down behind a few inches of sand hill to be quite safe from any bullet…”

On April 21st 1916 a party of combat engineers was sent to sink wells at Oghratina in the Sinai Desert and to protect them a detachment of Worcester Yeomanry from their base in Katia, of which Brian Hatton was one, was sent to protect them.  On Easter Sunday, April 23rd they came under heavy attack from a Turkish infantry regiment.  The British commanding officers asked for volunteers to ride back to their main garrison at Katia to fetch help.  Brian Hatton was one of the volunteers.  He rode off but was never seen again.   Months later his body was found.  The corpse was identified as that of Brian Hatton as in his wallet was a tiny photograph of Biddy and a postcard addressed to his wife.

I will bring this blog about Brian Hatton to a close with the words of Walter Shaw Sparrow, a British writer on art who wrote a book in 1926 entitled, Brian Hatton – a young painter of genius killed in the War and in it he talked about Hatton’s artistic ability:

“…Brian had the rarest of all things – true genius…”

He went on to describe Brian’s early years as:

“… a boy endowed with gifts of spirit so extraordinary that the first period of work from the age of ten, 1897, to that of nineteen, 1906, was a period not of rare promise only but also of wonderful achievement, showing not only maturity of Design, but maturity of Poetic Feeling, and a charm brimming with country life and English humour…”

The museum and art gallery in Hereford has a small permanent exhibition of Brian Hatton’s art work and I believe the drawings and paintings are often changed.  It is somewhat sad and disappointing that the display is so small and that there was no literature on hand about him considering he was the town’s famous son.   For a full and excellent account of his life through his letters you may like to get hold of Brian Hatton’s 1978 biography by Celia Davies entitled Brian Hatton – A biography of the artist (1887-1916).  I found the book of great help when I was piecing together Brian Hatton’s life.

Brian Hatton – Family portraits

Ailsa & Marjorie Hatton, with a Racquet
by Brian Hatton (1908)

Today I am going to start to look at the life of a young artist, born at the end of the nineteenth century who, like Frédéric Bazille, the featured artist in my last blog, had promised so much but whose life was cut short fighting for his country.

Brian Hatton, the son of Alfred and Amelia Hatton, was born in Whitecross, a suburb of Hereford, in August 1887.   His father, a keen sportsman, was involved in the leather business and was engaged in tanning and in the making of leather gloves.   Brian was the eldest of three children.  He had two sisters, Alisa Marr Hatton who was born in 1893 and Marjorie who was born in 1895, the same year that the family moved from Whitecross to Broomy Hill, another suburb of Hereford.   His siblings would feature in many of his paintings and it is these family portraits which I feature in My Daily Art Display blog today.    As a young child Brian showed a remarkable talent for drawing.   His parents, who were very proud of his artistic ability constantly encouraged and nurtured his talent. When Brian was just eight years old, he was awarded a Bronze medal for his exhibit at the Royal Drawing Society, an association founded in 1888, which promoted the teaching of drawing in schools.

Girl Seated In A Red Beret (Marjorie Hatton, The Artist’s Younger Sister)
by Brian Hatton

At the age of ten, Brian developed asthma and he was sent to Swansea where it was hoped that the sea air would help him recuperate.  During this time he lived with Doctor and Mrs Lancaster.  Whilst there, he used to spend a lot of time pony riding, visiting the beach and pier where he did much sketching.  Swansea, at the time was buzzing with activity, as it was preparing for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.   During 1898 he began lessons at the Swansea School of Art and was awarded the ‘Gold Star’ of the Royal Drawing Society. Following this award from the Society, the artist George Frederic Watts became a great admirer of Brian’s talent and began to take a keen interest in his development.

Alisa Marr Hatton (The Artist’s Older Sister)
by Brian Hatton

Brian Hatton continued to paint and entered his work in many exhibitions and continued winning medals.  In 1903, when he was sixteen years of age, he went down to Cornwall and spent some time in the Carbis Bay area, which was home to many English artists, such as Norman Garstin and Stanhope Forbes.  It offered Hatton a chance to study their work and let them see his portfolio.  Although they congratulated him on his portrayal of the sea and his other favourite subject, horses, they felt that he needed to better his landscape work.

Lydia May Hatton (The artist’s wife)
by Brian Hatton

My final offering today (above)  is an elegant pencil and wash drawing, which Brian Hatton completed in 1911.  It is a portrait of Lydia May Bidmead, who later became Mrs Brian Hatton.   Lydia May, known to her friends as Biddy, was a dancer, talented teacher and performer.   This pencil drawing brings out the sophisticated grace of his wife-to-be with its fine pencil lines and rosy watercolour capturing her elegant beauty. Lydia May Bidmead was married to Brian Hatton by soldier’s licence on 5th November 1914. Their daughter Mary was born the following year.

In my next blog I will conclude the life story of Brian Hatton and look at two of his works which I saw when I visited the Hereford Museum and Art Gallery last weekend.

Réunion de famille (Family Reunion) by Frédéric Bazille

Family Reunion by Frederic Bazille (1867-69)

Often when I am driving down a large highway and see that the traffic flow in the opposite direction has stopped resulting in a formidable two or three mile tailback and I go further on, past the hold-up, around a bend in the road, and see cars heading towards the stopped traffic, the drivers of which are completely oblivious to what is around the bend.  They are happily driving on.  Life for them is good.  Maybe they are heading home or heading for a destination they have been counting down time to reach.   They have great plans with regards what they will do when they reach their destination.   It is at times like these that I think about life and death and the way we, like the driver and passengers of the cars heading unwittingly towards the tail-back.  We are happily going about our business, completely unaware of what is about to happen to us in a few minutes, or a few hours, or a few days or a few months hence.

So why do I start my art blog in such a fashion?   The reason is that for my next two blogs I am featuring works by two young artists who had their whole lives ahead of them and who must have believed theirs was to be a successful and happy future and yet because of a conscious decision they both made, their lives would end suddenly in the theatre of war.  Today I am going to once again look at the life and works of the nineteenth century French painter Frédéric Bazille and in the following blog I want to introduce you to an artist, who you may not have come across before, the English Victorian painter Brian Hatton.

Jean Frédéric Bazille was born in Montpellier at 11, Grand’rue in 1841. His father was Gaston Bazille and his mother was Camille Victorine Bazille (née Viliars).  Gaston Bazille was a wine merchant, senator and president of the Agricultural Society of Herault.  He was the head of an affluent and cultured upper middle-class Protestant family.  He and his wife had three children, Suzanne the eldest, followed by Jean Frédéric and Claude Marc.  Whilst living in Montpellier, Bazille became acquainted with a friend of his father, a local art collector Alfred Bruyas.  Bruyas was also a close friend and patron of the artist Gustave Courbet and, over time, he had built up a sizeable art collection with works by Jean-François  Millet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Eugène Delacroix and of course, many by his friend Courbet.   Young Frédéric Bazille often had the chance to examine these precious works and was fascinated with and inspired by the collection.   This was to be the start of the young man’s love affair with art.  He began to paint and sketch but his father told him that if he wanted to continue with his art he had to agree to continue with his studies. He graduated from high school in Montpellier, where he obtained a degree in 1859, and as he would do anything to continue with his art, he went along with his father’s wishes and began his medical studies at the Faculty of Montpellier.

To continue with his medical studies, Bazille had to move to Paris and so in November 1862 he travelled to the capital.   Whilst in Paris, Bazille, unbeknown to his father, spent more time sketching and painting than getting on with his medical studies.    In late 1862, Bazille enrolled at the private art studio of Charles Gleyre, the Swiss historical painter.   Whilst at this atelier he met and became friends with fellow aspiring artists, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and James McNeil Whistler.   Monet and Renoir would become close friends of Bazille’s and they were to influence his artistic style and approach toward art, particularly through the practice of en-plein air painting and directly observing life and nature.  During this time, a frequent meeting place for these artistic friends was the Café Guerbois in Paris, where new ideas and theories were discussed passionately.    Bazille, unlike Monet, had no money problems.  He came from a well-off family and he would often pay for many a round of drinks.   Bazille also paid for studio rent and art supplies and always helped ease the financial worries of the likes of Monet by buying some of their paintings and by doing so ensured that his new-found friends would be saved from complete financial despair.

When Gleyre’s studio closed the following year Bazille decided to leave Paris and follow his friends whilst he waited on the results of his medical exams.  In 1863 he went and lived alongside Monet at Chailly and learnt the en plein air painting technique in the Forest of Fontainebleau.  In 1864, he found out that he had failed his medical exams, much to his father’s disappointment.   Bazille gave up any idea of entering the medical profession and, from this time on, he concentrated all his efforts on his painting.

France declared war on Prussia on 19 July 1870 but the other German states quickly joined on Prussia’s side and France was soon defeated.  In August 1870, at the age of 28, Frédéric Bazille, against the wishes and advice from his friends, enlisted in the Third Regiment of the Zouave.    Zouave was the title given to certain light infantry regiments in the French army which trained in Algeria.   One must remember that Bazille was a wealthy man and could, if he had so wanted, not have gone to war, for in those days, even if he had been drafted, he and his family could have paid for another person to substitute for him. However Bazille chose to serve his country.   Bazille died on November 28th 1870 at the Battle of Beaune-la-Rolande, near Orléans.  Bazille’s biographer, François Daulte wrote about the incident:
“... The company halted on the top of ridge overlooking Beaune. It was greeted with a hail of Prussian bullets. The first of the men advancing toward the town fell like flies …….. In the general chaos women and children were escaping from the town and running towards isolated farm buildings which would offer some protection …….. Bazille’s turn came and he charged, crying: “Don’t shoot! Women and children!” He was hit by two bullets to the arm and chest. He fell, face down in the earth, fifty metres from the château where Corot had painted one of his masterpieces…”

Bazille died on the battlefield just eight days before his twenty-ninth birthday.   His family was devastated and his father travelled to the battlefield a few days later to take his body back for burial at Montpellier.

My featured painting today is probably Frederic Bazille’s most famous work, entitled Réunion de famille also called Portraits de famille (Family Reunion also called Family Portraits) which he completed in 1867 and altered slightly two years later.  It is a large painting, measuring 152cms x 230cms.  The subject of the work is an extended family gathering at Bazille’s family’s country estate at Méric, near Montpellier during the summer of 1867.  The sun is shining brightly but the people are safeguarded from the harsh rays of the sun by the very large tree on the terrace, the foliage of which filters the sunlight, which allows the artist to cleverly depict the very sophisticated light and shadow effects against the subjects, their clothing and surroundings.  Look at the strong contrasts of the bright colours between that of the landscape and the sky in comparison to the shaded areas under the tree.  As the sunlight manages to filter through the leaves it manages to light up some of the pale clothing contrasting it against the darkness of the jackets, shawl and apron.  It illustrates how Bazille’s liked painting in the light of the South of France.

In this painting, Bazille has depicted various figures in a tableaux-type style.  Although there is a peaceful feeling about this depiction, it is just a group of figures.  There is a lack of interaction between the family members with all the figures stiffly-posed and all, except the father, looking towards us as if we were the photographer recording this family get-together.  The photographer aspect of this painting may not be as far-fetched as it seems as it is known that around about this time Frédéric’s brother Marc married Suzanne Tissié and it could well be that Frédéric was in some ways recording the family get-together a few days after this wedding.  There is an air of confidence about the demeanours of the people depicted, which probably came with their affluent status in society.  In the picture Bazille has included ten extended family members and he even added himself in the painting.  He is not in a prominent position.  He has squeezed himself into the far left of the painting, which may infer that he was somewhat reluctant to include himself.    Next to him stands his uncle by marriage, Gabriel des Hours-Farel.  Seated on a bench with their back to him is his mother, Camille, and father, Gaston, whilst at the table is his aunt, his mother’s sister, Élisa des Hours-Farel and her daughter Juliette Thérèse.     Standing by the trunk of the tree with their arms linked are Bazille’s cousin Thérèse Teulon-Valio, the married daughter of Gabriel and Élisa des Hours-Farel,  and her husband, Emile.  On the right of the painting, standing by the terrace wall is Marc Bazille, Frédéric’s brother with his wife of a few days, Suzanne Tissié and his sister Suzanne.    The Bazille and des Hours families used to spend every summer on the magnificent estate of Méric, in Castelnau-le-Lez, a village near Montpellier. The house and its grounds were slightly higher up, overlooking the village.

Two years later, after it was shown in the Salon, Bazille re-worked parts of the painting, replacing little dogs, which had been in the foreground, with a somewhat contrived still life made up of a furled umbrella, a straw hat and a bunch of flowers.

The painting was accepted by the French Salon of 1868, which slightly embarrassed Bazille as his friend Monet had failed to get any of his works accepted by the Salon jurists that year.  Bazille didn’t gloat much about his inclusion in the Salon, stating that his being chosen over Monet was “probably by mistake.”  Bazille’s is often now looked upon as a dilettante, an amateur who flirted with avant-gardism but lacked application and so remained a follower rather than a leader. However some of his contemporaries would disagree, Camille Pissaro described him as:  “one of the most gifted among us.”

Bazille produced many beautiful works of art during his short lifetime and who knows what he may have accomplished if he had not patriotically decided to fight for his country and sadly, within a year of painting today’s picture he was lying dead on a battlefield.

Akbar’s Adventure with the Elephant Hawa’i in 1561 by Basawan and Chetar Munti

Akbar’s Adventure with the Elephant Hawa’i in 1561
by Basawan and Chetar Munti (1590-95)

My Daily Art Display today features a famous 16th century painting from the Indian sub-continent.  The painting is an allegorical tale about an incident in the life of one of the greatest emperor’s in the history of the sub-continent, Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Akbar or Akbar the Great, who was the third Mughal Emperor.

Akbar was born around 1543. He was of Timurid descent; the son of Emperor Humayun and the grandson of the Mughal Emperor Zaheeruddin Muhammad Babur, the ruler who founded the Mughal dynasty in India.  As a child he was brought up by the army chief, Bairam, his mother and foster-mother.  His childhood was difficult as he had to endure a life of strict discipline.   Although he never learned to read or write, he was noted as being a very clever child.  In 1556, a nobleman named Hemu rebelled and declared himself ruler in Delhi. His forces were defeated by Bairam at the Second Battle of Panipat, and Hemu, dying from an arrow wound, was brought to the young Akbar.  Akbar, who was only thirteen years of age, was made to kill him with his sword to show he had legally won the crown.  Akbar was proclaimed the new emperor.

Early on in his reign as ruler Akbar showed signs of his future reforms by marrying a Rajput (Hindu) princess.  At the age of 18, Akbar was more and more frustrated by the strict control imposed on him by his mother, foster-mother and her son, Adham Khan.  In 1560, the young Akbar dismissed Bairam, ordering him to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. On his way there Bairam was murdered by an enemy, but in remembrance of him, Akbar made his son one of the chief nobles in his empire.  A more serious threat to Akbar came from his foster-mother and her son, Adham. When Akbar chose his new prime minister, Adham murdered him in the royal palace. He then tried to kill Akbar himself, but the emperor was stronger and threw Adham to the ground. Akbar ordered Adham to be thrown down the stairs to his death.

Akbar reigned until his death in 1605.  At the end of his reign the Mughal Empire covered most of northern and central India.  He is most appreciated for having a liberal outlook on all faiths and beliefs and during his era, culture and art reached a high-point compared to his predecessors.

 The opaque watercolour painting I am featuring today is entitled Akbar’s Adventure with the Elephant Hawa’i in 1561 and was collaboratively painted by two artists, Basawan and Chetar Munti between 1590 and 1595.  Basawan first drew the outline of the picture and his assistant, Chetar Munti, added the colour work later.     It is an excellent example of richly detailed Mughal paintings and depicts animals under the control of man. What we see before us is a depiction of an allegorical tale of Akbar.   This work was one of a hundred and sixteen miniatures that were made by almost fifty different artists to be included in an illustrated book of Akbar’s life, entitled Akbarnama (Book of Akbar), which chronicled his reign as the Munghal emperor.

Akbar had recounted his life to the writer and historian, Abu’l Fazl, who wrote the book.  The entry written by Fazl, which went alongside this picture,  was a story told to him by Akbar.   The ruler recounted what seemed a somewhat foolhardy and impetuous act of his but was based on his belief and trust in God.  For Akbar fervently believed that if God was not on his side he would have been killed.  The depicted scene celebrates Akbar’s bravery and masterfulness.  The painting portrays an episode in Akbar’s life when he pitted two elephants against each other.  The rampaging huge beasts, in full flight, are seen careering across and almost collapsing a pontoon bridge which rested and was supported by a flotilla of small boats.  It is a story of Akbar, portrayed as a brave young emperor, who has mounted the ferocious elephant known as Hawa’i and the two of them battle it out with another large and terrifying creature, the elephant, Ran Bagha.  Although being asked to stop this dangerous ride, Akbar ignores the warnings and continues with no care for his own personal safety.  The rogue elephant, Ran Bagha is finally defeated and is being chased off across a rickety pontoon bridge of boats, which straddles the River Jumna, towards Agra Fort by Akbar and Hawa’i.

It is a scene of total chaos.  We see the pontoon bridge almost collapsing under the weight of the two wildly charging elephants.  A man, with an unwound turban lying at his side, is seen prone on the ground having been trampled underfoot.  In the foreground we see men in the water desperately trying to steady the collapsing pontoon bridge.  On the other side of the bridge we catch a glimpse of fisherman in their boat frantically trying to get to the shore in the turbulent waters caused by the violent movement of the pontoon bridge.    The size of the figures in the distance help to give a depth to the painting, and the artists, through the use of his vibrant colours and two strong diagonal lines: the bridge and the shore, have effectively added energy to the painting.  I like the way in which the artist has spent time on the detail of all the characters in this painting.   The elephants are seen as being wild and charging but the evil one is defeated and forced to retreat whilst Akbar controls his animal and this portrayal symbolises Akbar’s perception of his rule: a steady power over an unruly populace.

After Akbar’s death in 1605, the Akbarnama manuscript remained in the library of his son, Jahangir and later Shah Jahan. Today, the illustrated manuscript of Akbarnama, with its 116 miniature paintings, is held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.   It was bought by the South Kensington Museum, which is now the V&A, in 1896 from Mrs Frances Clarke.  The manuscript was acquired by her husband upon his retirement from serving as Commissioner of Oudh,  Central India.  Later the paintings and illuminated frontispiece were removed from the volume and were mounted and framed for display.

The Forerunner by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

The Forerunner by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1920)

Today I am going to continue looking at the life of Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale and feature another of her paintings.   Whilst most of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood continued to be household names even though it was more than a century after their deaths, not all those who followed in their footsteps are as well recognised today as they were at the height of their fame.

When Eleanor was growing up she would have been aware of the art of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as there were still commemorative exhibitions and books being published about their work.   There is no doubt that even at that early age the publicity surrounding the art work of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood would have influenced Eleanor.   She was a painter, who continued the Pre-Raphaelite tradition, reworking romantic and moralising medieval subjects in naturalistic and often intense colour and elaborates detail.

In my last blog I had reached 1895 and Eleanor had just been accepted at the Royal Academy Schools in London having previously studied art at St John’s Wood School.   Whilst attending the Royal Academy School she met Byam Shaw and their friendship and working relationship endured for almost twenty-five years until his untimely death, aged forty-six in 1919.  Byam Shaw was a painter, decorator and illustrator, who was the same age as Eleanor, and had been born in Madras in 1872.   Byam was to become a big influence on her artistic work and like Eleanor he had been commissioned to do numerous pen and ink drawings and watercolours for books.

Whilst at the art school, Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale won a £40 prize in 1896 for her design for the decoration of a public building and, the following year, she made her debut with a black and white work in the RA’s exclusive Summer Exhibition.  Following this success she progressed to colour illustrative work and by the end of the century she was making a name for herself as a painter with oils which she began exhibiting at the Royal Academy and in my last blog I featured the first oil painting she had exhibited there, entitled The Pale Complexion of True Love.  In 1899 she received a commission for a number of watercolours from Charles Dowdeswell who with his brother, Charles, were art dealers who owned the Dowdeswell and Dowdeswell art gallery in New Bond Street, London.   She completed the commission in 1901 by producing forty-five watercolours and her work was shown at the Dowedswell gallery under the Shakespearean title Such Stuff as Dreams are Made of.  The press greeted the exhibition as a spectacular success and her work was immediately likened to that of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood painters of the 1850’s.  In the June 1901 issue of The Artist, her exhibition was reviewed:

“…Rarely, if ever has a woman painter made a great reputation as quickly and as thoroughly as Miss Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, whose series of watercolour drawings has, during last month, drawn the whole of artistic London to the Dowdeswell Galleries……She combines great technical skill with extremely felicitous, quaint imagination and rare poetic feeling…. [This exhibition] should be sufficient to secure her a leading position among the women artists of this country…”

All but two of her works were sold and with the money she received she acquired her own studio in Holland Park, in west London, which was the home of many artists.   This was to be her artistic base for the rest of her life.  She had been living at home with her sister Kate and her mother Sarah.  Her father had been killed in a climbing accident in the Alps in 1894.  In 1908 Eleanor, her mother and sister moved house and went to live in West Kensington where she would remain for the next thirty years.  Her mother died the following year.

Her name as an artist was indelibly made after the Dowdeswell exhibition and numerous journals and newspapers wrote about her and her work.  In 1905, despite the large number of painting commissions she received, she decided to take up teaching art and, along with her old artistic friends Byam Shaw and Rex Vicat Cole, taught one day a week at the art school of King’s College for Women. By 1909 these three were looked upon and advertised as leading the art courses at the college.  However the following year Cole and Shaw were disillusioned with the teaching at the college and, along with Eleanor, they left.  They set up their own art school known as the Byam Shaw School of Art.  Shaw and Cole were the joint principals and Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale was in charge of the Watercolour and Composition sections.    In 2003, this school of drawing and painting was integrated with Central Saint Martins, but maintained its individual title and teaching approach.

Eleanor carried on with her work as an illustrator of books and was never short of commissions.  She was a hard and diligent worker.  Maybe she worked too hard as in the early 1920’s she was struck down with a long and unexplained illness which prevented her working and affected her eyesight.  It was this problem with her eyesight that made her concentrate on larger works rather than the finely detailed watercolours in which she had specialised.  The appearance of her works at various exhibitions started to decrease and it was during this time that she made a number of glass designs which were seen in churches around the country, and which no doubt mirrored the stained-glass work of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Burne-Jones.  One such window, which she designed in 1928, was for the Bristol church of All Saints’ Clifton commemorated the passing of her brother John in 1921.

Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale remained artistically active well into her sixties although she bemoaned the fact that in her mind, Pre-Raphaelitism was no longer wanted.  In 1938, aged sixty-six she suffered a stroke which put an end to her art.  She died seven years later in March 1945, aged 73.

For my featured painting today I have chosen a work by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale which I saw last week at the Lady Lever Museum exhibition of her work.  It was a painting which immediately caught my eye and I was curious to know what it was all about.  The work, which she completed in 1920, is entitled The Forerunner and has the subtitle:  Leonardo da Vinci showing a model of his flying machine to Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, and his Court.

The Forerunner title derives from a novel entitled The Romance of Leonardo Da Vinci: The Forerunner by Dmitry Merezhkovsky and was a fictional tale about the conflicted life of Leonardo da Vinci: genius on the one hand,  counterbalanced by the pagan world, in conflict with the fanatical religious climate in which he lived.

The painting is set in the court of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan and depicts Leonardo, the artist, theoretician, designer and scientist, demonstrating his model flying machine to his patrons Ludovico Sforza and his wife, Beatrice d’ Este.   In the painting, Beatrice d’ Este is seated on the left and appears totally indifferent to Leonardo’s presentation.  On the other side of Leonardo stands the Duke.  He seems bemused and somewhat sceptical of what Leonardo is showing him and what he is being told.   Leonardo had a troubled relationship with his patron Ludovico Sforza.   The Duke had rubbished many of Leonardo’s ideas and on occasions failed to pay Leonardo for his commissioned work.  There was also little love lost between Leonardo and the Duchess, Beatrice d’ Este, as she was angry with the artist for painting a portrait of her husband’s mistress, Cecilia Gallerani, a painting, which we know as Lady with an Ermine.  In this painting Fortescue-Brickdale has included Cecilia in the painting standing next to the seated duchess and to her left is the Duchess of Albano.  Positioned behind the seated duchess, in a hooded monk’s habit, is Girolamo Savanarola, a much feared Dominican friar and preacher who was known for his prophecies of civic glory and calls for Christian renewal. He denounced clerical corruption, despotic rule and the exploitation of the poor.  In a way his addition to the painting is a reminder of his and the Church’s antagonism towards scientific advancement.  Savonarola was to become very powerful in Florence after the fall of the Medici family in 1494.  For all those in the painting who doubted the wisdom of Leonardo’s new invention there was one avid believer.   In the centre of the painting, with his back to us, Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale has added the small figure of a boy who looks up at Leonardo, mesmerised by what the great man holds in his hands.  The boy is Ludovico’s son Cesare.

It is a sumptuous painting measuring just 60cms high and 122 cms long.  Brickdale’s interest in the subject reflects her enthusiasm for Renaissance art and her fascination with Leonardo da Vinci.   Another possible explanation for the choice of the theme of this painting could be due to Eleanor having personal connections with Charles Rolls the aviator and the fact that she had always shown an interest in aeroplane technology.

The painting was bought by Lord Leverhulme in 1920.  In the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool there is a preliminary watercolour study for ‘The Forerunner’ .

The Pale Complexion of True Love by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

The Pale Complexion of True Love
by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1898)

Today I want to look at the life of Pre-Raphaelite painter, Mary Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, who was born thirty-four years after the original seven English Pre-Raphaelites painters formed an artistic group, known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, whose aim it was to reject classicism and return to the vibrant colours and complex details of earlier Italian and Flemish art. But while the Brothers were starting to go their own way artistically and the Brotherhood was heading for extinction, their ideas were not.

When I visited the Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde at the Tate Britain a week ago I was struck by just the few paintings on display which had been painted by women.  There were a couple of watercolours by Dante Rossetti’s model and mistress, Elizabeth Siddall.  There were some early photographs taken by Julia Margaret Cameron and some embroidery by Jane Burden who later became Mrs Jane Morris, but little else from any other female Pre-Raphaelite painters.  So it was very pleasing to find that a local art gallery, not too far from me, The Lady Lever Gallery in Port Sunlight, Wirral had just put on a small exhibition of work by a feminine Pre-Raphaelite painter entitled A Pre- Raphaelite Journey which showcased the art of Mary Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale.  In my next couple of blogs I want to look at the life of this gifted female artist and feature some of her paintings.

Mary Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale was born in the prosperous London suburb of Upper Norwood, Surrey in 1872.   She was brought up in an affluent household which, besides the family, also housed four live-in servants and a governess.  Eleanor was the youngest of five children.  Her father Matthew was a Lincoln Inn’s barrister who had married Sarah Anna Lloyd, the daughter of a judge from Bristol.   At this juncture in Victorian England, parents expected their sons to prosper at school and go onto university, after which they would secure well paid, high status professions.  Daughters were not expected to achieve any great academic status but would harness all their efforts into securing a “good” marriage.  Mary Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale’s two brothers achieved all that was expected of them.  Both Charles and John Fortescue-Brickdale graduated from Oxford University, following which Charles, like his father became a lawyer and John followed a career in medicine.  Of the three daughters, Anne had died at the age of six leaving Eleanor and Kate to fulfill their parents’ plans of finding themselves “good” husbands.  However, unlike their brothers, they were not to realize their parent’s wishes as neither married.

The Fortescue-Brickdale family had tentative ties to the world of art with Eleanor’s father being a fellow Oxford university student of John Ruskin and later Eleanor’s brother Charles, who was an amateur artist, would attend Ruskin’s lectures at Oxford.  Eleanor had originally shown an interest in painting and drawing but merely as a pastime.  As she grew older, she began to take art more seriously and consider it as a possible future profession.  In 1889, aged seventeen, Eleanor enrolled at the Crystal Palace School of Art, Science and Literature.  It was not considered a prestigious art school and did not have any famous painters on the staff but it was close to where Eleanor lived and so was deemed fit for purpose.  The school was open to both boys and girls but the science classes were only for young men whilst the art classes were solely for young women.  The only mingling of the sexes occurred in the music classes.

In 1894, tragedy was to strike the Fortescue-Brickdale family with Eleanor’s father being killed whilst climbing in the Swiss Alps.  Eleanor having gained a basic knowledge of art and artistic techniques whilst at the Crystal Palace School of Art, realised that to become a professional artist she needed to attend a much more professionally run art establishment and in the mid 1890’s she enrolled at the St John’s Wood Art School.  The aim of this school was to train students for the Royal Academy Schools and it was very successful at this, as between 1880 and 1895, 250 out of 394 students admitted to the Royal Academy had come from St John’s Wood Art School and furthermore, of the 86 prizes awarded to students by the Royal Academy, 62 had been ex-pupils of St John’s Wood Art School.   To achieve entry to the Royal Academy Schools as a probationer one had to submit certain prescribed pieces of work.  If the submitted works were considered acceptable, the candidate then had to endure a three month probationary period before being allowed on to a full-time course.   In January 1895, on her third attempt to become a probationer, Eleanor was admitted.  Despite the initial problems of being accepted as a probationer, her work during her probationary period was looked upon as being so good that she was allowed to embark on a full-time course after just three weeks.

Eleanor managed to cover the costs of her first year at the Academy by selling some of her work which she used to work on before and after attending the Academy School.  Although this was a financially good option for her,  it made her days very long.  Two years later in 1897 she was awarded a prize for her design work and the recognition she received for this led to a number of commissions, including one from her brother Charles’ legal practice, and one for illustrating a book entitled A Cotswold Village, which was written by her brother-in-law, J Arthur Gibbs.  Soon she became one of the most visible female artists of her time.  One must remember that Eleanor was a single woman, had not gone to a public school instead had been home educated, did not go to university and so lacked the opportunity in later life to cultivate connections with ex students.  The one thing that was going for her was the sector of society in which she grew up.  Their neighbourhood family friends included well-to-do bankers and lawyers, landed families who had houses in town, all of which needed decorating and acquiring paintings to hang on their walls.  These were people with disposal incomes.  They were also readers of upper-class publications such as Country Life and The Ladies Field and Eleanor managed to find work at these magazines using her well-loved artistic design skills.  She contributed illustrations to these magazines for over ten years and from people seeing and admiring her work she began to build up a sizeable patronage

In 1898 she had her first major work of art entitled The Pale Complexion of True Love accepted for the Royal Academy Exhibition of that year.  This is my featured painting of the day.  The title of the work is taken from Act 3 Scene IV of Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy, As You Like It, when the elderly shepherd, Corin speaks of the shepherd, Silvius’ unrequited love for the shepherdess, Phebe:

“…If you will see a pageant truly play’d,
Between the pale complexion of true love
And the red glow of scorn and proud disdain,
Go hence a little and I shall conduct you,
If you will mark it…”

The first thing that strikes you with this painting is the sumptuous red of the lady’s gown.  It is interesting how the artist has used such a bright spectrum of colours.  To many people, the Pre-Raphaelite painters use of bright colours is too garish and lacks subtlety.  To others it is this vibrancy of colour which enhances the work.   I will let you decide which camp you find yourself in.

In my next blog I will continue the life story of Eleanor Fotrtescue-Brickdale and look at another of her paintings.

The Entry of Emperor Rudolf of Habsburg into Basle,1273 by Franz Pforr

The Entry of Emperor Rudolf of Habsburg into Basle, 1273 by Franz Pforr (1809)

In my last blog I looked at a painting by Johann Friedrich Overbeck entitled The Painter Franz Pforr, which was a friendship portrait he did of his good friend and fellow Nazarene, Franz Pforr.  Today I am switching my attention to Franz Pforr himself and looking at one of his most famous works.

Franz Pforr was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1788, a year before the birth of Friedrich Overbeck.  He came from an artistic background with his father, Johann Georg Pforr, who had started his working life as a miner but due to a serious accident in the mines turned his attention to art and originally worked as a porcelain painter before concentrating his efforts as a landscape artist and skilled painter of horses.  Franz Pforr’s uncle, Johann Heinrich Tischbein the Younger, a great friend of the writer Goethe, was part of the great Tischbein artistic dynasty and an art professor at the Kassel Academy of Art.

Franz Pforr received his initial art tuition from his father an uncle before, like Overbeck, attending the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna (Vienna Academy of Fine Arts) in 1805.  During the war between Austrian and France in 1805, Pforr volunteered as a guard in the Viennese militia.   The conflict affected the young artist’s health and he suffered a nervous breakdown, and would suffer from bouts of depression for the rest of his life.  It was probably during these mental upheavals that Pforr turned to religion using it as a crutch to see him through his mental torment.   In 1806 he returned to the Academy and resumed his academic studies and for a time saw himself as war artist, recording famous battles on canvas.

The Academy director at the time was Heinrich Füger who believed the art course should concentrate on the Neo-Classicisal style of painting.  Pforr, like Overbeck, was very disillusioned with the Academy’s artistic tuition and its lack of spirituality and so, in response to this, the two twenty year-old aspiring artists formed the Lucasbund, or Brotherhood of St. Luke (St Luke was the traditional patron saint of artists), deliberately recalling the guilds and the trade organizations of the late Middle Ages.   When Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops entered the city in 1809 the Academy was closed down.  The following year, 1810, along with Overbeck, Ludwig Vogel and Johann Hottinger, members of their Lucasbund, Franz Pforr moved to Rome and set up home at the deserted Sant’ Isidoro monastery.  They began to wear their hair long, and wore anachronistic medieval monk-like habits. The members of the group took vows of poverty and chastity almost as if they saw their group not simply as an artistic association but a religious one.   They still referred to themselves as the Brotherhood of Saint Luke but because of the way they look and acted most everyone else called them the “Nazarenes”.  The agenda of the Nazarenes was to reject the whole legacy of Baroque and Neoclassical art that was the dominating art of the day.  These young German artists sought inspiration in Italian painters of the early Renaissance, such as Raphael Sanzio as well as the German art of Albrecht Dürer who were to be their artistic benchmarks. Most of all they wanted their art to have a sense of spirituality.  They wanted it to be more honest, truthful, and sincere art similar to that of the late Middle Ages and Early Renaissance.  The subjects of their works of art were dominated by religious themes.

The Nazarenes disbanded in 1820 but for Franz Pforr his life with the group ended eight years earlier as he contracted tuberculosis and died in Albano Laziale, a suburb of Rome, in 1812.

The artwork of Franz Pforr calls to mind a sort of fairy-tale medievalism, awash with bright colours and picturesque details.  This can be seen in today’s featured painting by Pforr which he completed before he travelled to Rome, entitled The Entry of Emperor Rudolf of Habsburg into Basle, 1273.

This large medieval subject is consciously painted in a historical manner.  The subject of the painting is the entry into Basle of Rudolf of Habsburg and it is a pictorial tale of German pride and the country’s defiance of Napoleon Bonaparte.  Rudolf, who had inherited his father’s estates in the Alsace region, had also forcefully taken possession of the cities of Strasbourg and Basle and vast tracts of land in the western part of Switzerland.  It was in 1273, as he was laying siege to the Swiss city of Basle, that he heard that he had been elected to become the new German king by the prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire,.  He would be crowned Rudolph I in Aachen cathedral in October of that year.    If we look to the horseback rider just left of centre we can see the black double-headed Habsburg eagle emblazoned on the back of his gold-coloured jacket.  The inclusion of this Habsburg eagle was thought to be Franz Pforr’s idea of defiance against Napoleon Bonaparte, who had been at war with the Germans and had occupied Pforr’s home town, Frankfurt in 1805.   Pforr was also affected again by Napoleon Bonaparte in May 1809 for he was a student at the Vienna Academy when Napoleon entered and occupied the city and the art establishment was closed down.

Self portrait of Franz Pforr

Another interesting aspect of Pforr’s painting is the way he has included himself in the scene as part of Rudolph’s entourage.  We see him on horseback riding some way behind the king.  He is the young man, wearing a black beret, and has turned in the saddle and is looking his over his shoulder at something happening at the rear of the procession.  In Cordula Grewe’s 2009 book entitled Painting the Sacred in the Age of Romaniticism she writes about how the Nazarene artists would often identify with their subjects and by doing so somehow identify with their own situation.  She goes on to talk about the interpretation of Pforr’s inclusion of himself saying:

“…Pforr’s mixture reflects the Nazarenes’ general obsession with temporality, as it serves to fold biblical into post-biblical time and, further differentiating the play of temporalities, to forge a link between medieval past and actual present. Pforr’s self-portrait marks the intersection of these various time axes.  His horse carries him forward in Rudolf’s wake… on his way towards the procession’s final destination, the town’s medieval cathedral.   Yet, while Pforr’s body moves towards a moment of historical completion, his gaze disengages with this view into the glorified but lost past of perfect piety.  As the only figure looking backwards, he gazes towards the right, fixing his eyes upon a point beyond the picture frame.  Pforr looks into the future.  In him, the picture’s two central aspects converge: his gaze unites the insight into God’s order (typology) with an understanding of the moral lessons that can be learned from history (a history past and yet available through the archetype)…”

Before us we see flattened perspectives.  The figures in the painting, in some ways, look uncoordinated often with head and shoulders portrayed at impossible and unrealistic angles.  There is almost a child-like innocence about the painting.   It is indeed a colourful painting but the colours are of a slightly muted and weak nature as was the case in many of the Nazarene works of art.   There is not the vibrancy and brightness of the colours used by the artists of the English nineteenth century Pre-Raphaelite movement, which was greatly influenced by the art of the Nazarenes.

Der Maler Pforr (The Painter Franz Pforr) by Johann Friedrich Overbeck.

Der Maler Pforr (The Painter Franz Pforr)
by Johann Friedrich Overbeck.

On a number of occasions whilst talking about the life of a nineteenth century  artist I have recounted how they had been in Rome to further their artistic careers and had come across a group of German artists known as the Nazarenes.   Today I am featuring one of the leading members of this group, the German painter, Johann Friedrich Overbeck.

Overbeck was born in Lubeck in 1789.  He was brought up in a very religious and also a very wealthy household.  His ancestors for three generations had been Protestant pastors.  His parents were Elisabeth Lang and Christian Adolph Overbeck, who was a doctor of law, and who was also a Lubeck senator.  In 1814 he actually became the burgomaster (mayor)of his home town.  Johann Oberbeck’s early schooling was at the nearby grammar school where his uncle was the master.  Overbeck studied the classics and received artistic tuition whilst attending this school.  At the age of seventeen, having completed his schooling, Overbeck left his home town and went to Vienna where he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts, which at the time was run by German portraitist and historical painter, Heinrich Füger.

Overbeck had mixed emotions about the training he received at the Academy.   Although he received tuition in the technique of neoclassical art, he was disturbed by the themes of the paintings which had been chosen by his tutors.  Overbeck had been brought up in a strict religious household and he felt that at the Academy there was a total lack of religious spirituality in the subjects he was asked to paint.  In a letter to a friend he commented that he had fallen among a vulgar set and that every noble thought was suppressed within the academy and that he, losing all faith in humanity, had turned inward to his faith for inspiration.   In a letter to his father about the tuition, the nineteen year old Overbeck wrote:

“…You get to paint an excellent drape, draw a correct figure, learning perspective, architecture, everything short – and yet comes out not a real painter. Lack one thing … heart, soul and emotion …“

Later he wrote about his disappointment with the lack of spirituality in the artistic training at the Academy and how he envisaged his future plans:

“…Oh! I was full of it; my whole fancy was possessed by Madonnas and Christs, but nowhere could I find response…………..I will abide by the Bible; I elect it as my standing-point…”

Overbeck, with his strong religious beliefs, believed that at this time in Europe, Christian art was in decline, and it was this very belief which was to shape his future artistic career.  Overbeck continued at the Academie until 1809 but he constantly found it ever more difficult to accept the situation and became more vociferous in his condemnation of the artistic tuition offered by the establishment and soon the situation became irreconcilable.  Whilst at the Academie he became close friends with Franz Pforr and together with Ludwig Vogel, Joseph Wintergerst, Joseph Sutter and Konrad Hottinger, all of who were similarly disillusioned with the artistic teaching at the Academie, they decided to take matters into their own hands.   In June 1809 they formed an art association which they called the Brotherhood of St. Luke or Lukasbrüder.  The decision as to whether to remain at the Academy was taken out of Overbeck’s hands as in 1809 Vienna was occupied by French troops and the artistic establishment was closed down.  Later when it re-opened it could not take in “foreigners” and Overbeck and Pforr could not gain re-admission.  Four of the members of the Lukasbrüder, Overbeck, Pforr, Hottinger and Vogelthen decided to head to Rome and in June 1810 they set up home in the empty monastery of Sant’ Isidoro, which had just been dissolved by Napoleon Bonaparte .  It was to become the home of the newly formed artists’ colony.

This newly assembled art group lived and worked with new recruits in their deserted monastery home and because of the way they dressed similar to monks and because of their long flowing hair, they were known as the Nazarenes.   The group led a quasi-monastic lifestyle.  The ethos of the group was based on fraternity and a frugal lifestyle.   The principle of their art was that it should be both simple and sincere, which was at odds with the academic principles of their time. There was a sobriety in the way they chose colours for their paintings.  Overbeck and his group fervently believed that art was a divine mission.

Sadly two years after arriving at Sant’ Isidoro, Franz Pforr died of tuberculosis.  He was just twenty-four years of age.  My Daily Art Display today features a friendship portrait by Johann Overbeck of his fellow artist Franz Pforr, which he completed in 1810,  around the time the pair arrived in Rome.  The painting is entitled Der Maler Pforr (The Painter Franz Pforr).  The painting is housed in the Staatliche Museen of Berlin but is currently on display at the Tate Britain, London, as part of the Pre-Raphaelites Victorian Avant-Garde exhibition.

The Nazarene artists often painted quasi-devotional portraits of each other and in some of the paintings they would include what they considered would be their choice of an ideal wife for their friend and this is exactly what Overbeck has done for his friend Franz Pforr.  There was also a great deal of religious symbolism in these works.   Franz Pforr had been a very close friend of Overbeck since their days at the Vienna Academy and it was he who had encouraged Overbeck into studying the work of the German Masters, such as Hans Holbein, Albrecht Dürer and Lucas Cranach.  There is a typical German feel to this work by Overbeck and maybe in a way it was a testament to the help and guidance Pforr had offered him.

Before us we see a young-looking Franz Pforr, who is not wearing nineteenth century clothing but instead is dressed in a typical German costume of the late 16th century.  He is sitting at a gothic loggia and, through the opening behind him, we can see a typical German townscape with a tall-spired church.  Further back, behind the town there is what appears to be a coastal scene.  To the left of the painting we see a woman busily sewing as she reads text from a book.  She is the ideal wife whom Overbeck as “bequeathed” to his friend.  She is both dutiful as shown by her sewing and religious by the way she reads from what is probably some religious text or the Bible.  These are two characteristics, which no doubt both Overbeck and Pforr would look for in their “perfect” wives.  Add to this the vase of white lilies, which has become the flower of the Virgin and symbolises purity and you have the perfect woman !

The vine we see to the right of the sitter’s head is a Biblical symbol which is often used to express the relationship between God and his people.  The vine is looked upon as an emblem of Christ as the passage from John’s Gospel (John 15:verses 1 and 5)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener…… I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…”

The falcon, which is tethered to its perch and is therefore a domestic bird, is in religious symbolism a representation of a holy man or a non-believer who has been converted to the Christian faith.  Pforr has been portrayed with his left hand resting on the stone sill with the watchful cat at his elbow.   There is a look of satisfaction in his face and maybe that is to reflect the inner peace he has achieved through religion.

This is a beautiful painting and the first one I came across when I visited the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at the Tate Britain in London.  The exhibition lasts until January 13th 2013 and then moves to the National Gallery in Washington (February 17th – May 19th 2013).  If you like Pre-Raphaelite paintings then this exhibition is one you should not miss.

Petit Sphinx Ermite by Leonor Fini

Petit Sphinx Ermite by Leonor Fini (1948)

In a couple of recent blogs I looked at the life and works of two female artists who were possibly best known because of their partners.   I featured Frida Kahlo whose fame partly derived from her marriage to the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and I showcased the life and works of Gabriele Münter whose one-time partner was Wassily Kandinsky.   Today I want to introduce you to an artist who on her own merits would become the most celebrated female painter of her time.  Her name is Leonor Fini.

I would like to tell you that I have always been a lover of her work but sadly I have to admit that until last Monday I had never even heard of her.  It was purely by chance that I came across a painting of hers, which I am featuring today.  It was one of those paintings, which once viewed, was hard to forget.  I found it fascinating.  I was mesmerised by it and I had to return to stand in front of it a number of times.  It is housed in the Tate Modern in London and I was there primarily to see the Edvard Munch exhibition but thought that I would take the opportunity to look at some of the paintings in the permanent collection of the museum.  I think I have said before that I am not a lover of modern art and find a lot of it very hard to understand but I am constantly being told that I should “embrace all types of art” a suggestion I tend to ignore!    I had just sailed up the Thames on the Tate to Tate boat which transports you from the Tate Britain to the Tate Modern as I had been to the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at Tate Britain in the morning.  It was interesting to note the difference in the age group of the people attending the two Tate museums.  The Tate Modern certainly had a younger audience and maybe for the young there was an element of rebellion in the art on display there, in comparison with the more staid, more formal art work of the Tate Britain.

Leonor Fini was born in Buenos Aires in August 1907.  Her father, Erminio, was an Argentinean of Italian descent and her mother, Malvina Braun Dubich, was a Trieste-born Italian with German and Slavic origins.  Her parents’ marriage was anything but happy and their turbulent partnership ended in divorce when Leonor was just one year old.  Her mother left her abusive husband and took Leonor back to Trieste to live with her grandparents.  Leonor’s father made a number of attempts to abduct his daughter and have her back with him in Argentina.  His wife, who received no protection from the local authorities and was so afraid that Leonor would be taken from her, decided to take the matter into her own hands and so for the next six years she dressed her daughter up as a boy whenever they ventured out the house.  Eventually Leonor’s father gave up his attempts to snatch her and went back home to Argentina and was never seen again.  Despite this traumatic early part of her life in Trieste, Fini grew up in a very cultivated, well-ordered household.  Having had to suffer the threat of being kidnapped during her early life, Leonor was to suffer another trauma during her early teens when she contracted an eye disease, which forced her to wear bandages on both of her eyes.   She was now locked into a prison of darkness in which she had no alternative but to develop an inner vision and during these long periods of darkness, she would visualise fantastic images, which in some ways would be later mirrored in her art.  It was with these strange images that she had conjured up in her mind during those days of enforced darkness that once her sight was restored she decided that she wanted to become an artist.

Leonor Fini

Leonor was a very determined and headstrong teenager and was expelled from several schools on account of her rebellious behaviour and her unwillingness to abide to school regulations. Like many teenagers she was very precocious and in a way this manifested in the creation of a persona of incredibly strong will and intense sensitivity.  She became an avid reader and it is said that by the end of her teenage years she had read all the works of Freud.   In a way she educated herself and this thirst for knowledge made her popular within the local artistic and literary circles.  Her interest in art was furthered by her visits to her uncle, a lawyer, where she spent many hours in his library rummaging through and reading his extensive collection of art books about the lives of artists and was especially enthralled by those of the artists of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Aubrey Beardsley and Gustav Klimt.  She also travelled widely in Italy and Europe visiting all the museums.  Once her decision had been made to become an artist and having no formal training, she taught herself anatomy by studying corpses in the Trieste mortuaries.  When she was seventeen years of age she had some of her artistic works shown at an art exhibition in Trieste and this led to her receiving portrait commissions from some leading dignitaries in Milan.  In 1929, aged just twenty-two years of age, she managed to stage a show of her work at the Galerie Barbaroux in Milan.  Seven years later she left Italy and went to live in Paris, a city Leonor would often referred to as “my real city”.

In 1936, in Paris, she staged her first one-woman exhibition of her work at the Galerie Bonjean, whose director was Christian Dior and the success of this brought her into contact with a number of Surrealist painters such as René Magritte, Paul Eluard, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Viktor Brauner and their de facto leader, André Breton.  It was around this time that she started to paint Surrealist images and began to be drawn close to this artistic movement.   However her youthful rebellious nature once again surfaced and she would not kowtow to the dictates of André Breton’s and intensely disliked his authoritarian leadership.   She sided with Dali’s view of Breton and his Surrealist theories.  Dali described Breton as having a typical petit bourgeois mentality.  However, despite this, she did exhibit with the Surrealist group.   The eminent American feminist writer and curator Whitney Chadwick wrote about Leonor’s early days in Paris:

“…In Paris she became a legend almost overnight. When one of the Surrealists saw a painting of hers in a Paris gallery in 1936 and sought out its creator, she arranged a rendezvous in a local cafe and arrived dressed in a cardinal’s scarlet robes, which she had purchased in a clothing store specializing in clerical vestments.   ‘I liked the sacrilegious nature of dressing as a priest, and the experience of being a woman and wearing the clothes of a man who would never know a woman’s body…”

Leonor’s dislike of Breton’s despite his redoubtable charisma was mirrored by his dislike of what he viewed as her often scandalous behaviour and pension for the company of homosexuals.  Breton was known to be fiercely homophobic.   Although she strongly denied she was a Surrealist she did align herself with the group and they welcomed her.  She made her first trip to New York in 1936, showing at the Julian Levy Gallery and in December of that year she participated in the famous “Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism” exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art

With the onset of the World War II looming, Leonor fled Paris with her close friend André Pieyre de Mandiargues, a French writer and an associate of the Surrealist set.   The two of them spent part of the summer of 1939 as guests of Max Ernst and Leonora Carrington in Ardèche, before they moved on to Arcachon, where Salvador and Gali Dali had their wartime refuge, the Villa Salesse.  From there the pair went to Monte Carlo.

The bottle for the perfume “Shocking”
designed by Leonor Fini

In the 1940’s, after World War II her career branched out and she began to design theatre sets and costumes for the theater, opera and ballet.  She also worked for Elsa Schiaparelli, the Italian fashion designer, and designed the bottle for the perfume Shocking, which was to become the top selling perfume for the House of Schiaparelli.  The bottle was in the shape of a woman’s torso, which was said to be inspired by Mae West’s tailor’s dummy and Dalí paintings of flower-sellers.   The packaging was also designed by Fini and was in shocking pink, which was one of Schiaparelli’s signature colours.

Leonor Fini had a number of lovers but was married only once.  Her husband was Federico Veneziani but the marriage was short lived and following her liaison with the Italian Count, Stanislao Lepri, she and her husband divorced in 1941.  Lepri, who was the Italian consul in Monaco where Leonor was living, abandoned his career shortly after meeting Fini and the two lived together.  With her encouragement, Lepri became a painter, and the couple moved to Rome shortly before the Allies liberated the city in 1943.  Several years later, they returned together to what had once been her home in the rue Payenne, Paris.  In 1952 she met the Polish writer Konstanty Jelenski, known as Kot Jelenski, in Paris soon after the war.   Kot joined Leonor and Lepri in their Paris apartment in 1952 and the three remained inseparable until their deaths.   In a way she managed to put into practice one of her more famous quotes:

“…Marriage never appealed to me, I have never lived with one person. Since I was 18, I’ve always preferred to live in a sort of community – A big house with my atelier and cats and friends, one with a man who was rather a lover and another who was rather a friend. And it has always worked…”

In the summer of 1954, Leonor, during her travels, discovered a haven of tranquility in Corsica.  It was a ruined monastery near Nonza. It was set in a wild landscape and she immediately felt at peace in this place and from then on she would return to it every summer to paint.  Leonor was, from an early age, a great lover of literature and reading and she illustrated more than 50 works by writers such as Charles Baudelaire, who was one of her favourite authors. In her later life, she continued to design sets and costumes for the theatre, opera, and film.    In early 1960, Leonor Fini moved to an apartment in Paris’ rue de La Vrillière, between the Palais Royal and the Place des Victoires.  She was rarely alone, always in the company of her friends and surrounded by her numerous Persian cats, (at one point she had 23 cats) which along with the sphinx, often featured in her paintings.  Fini adored cats, which were Egyptian symbols of dignity and power, and she identified herself with the sphinx, the mythological hybrid of lion and woman.  She divided her time between the apartment and her home in Saint-Dyé-sur-Loire, in Touraine, up until her death in January 1996.  Leonor Fini died at the age of 88 but one of her obituaries commented that it was impossible to imagine her being old.   It went on to say that she would always be, for those who admired her, the wild, raven-haired, ill-proportioned beauty who haunted her pictures.   The lethal yet irresistible sphinx, the vampire we would most like to visit us.   Her obituary in The Times paid homage to her beauty, the erotic quality of her art and mentioned her legion of lovers whose names “read like a roll call of the literary and artistic talents of that brilliant age.”

She continued to be friends with some of the best known writers, artists, and thinkers of her time while simultaneously being a bona fide cat lady. Throughout her artwork, Leonor always venerated the female form.  She would often show females as the dominant ones of a partnership, who were protecting their male lovers or in some instances, women loving other women. She depicted women exploring their own identity at a time when female identity, both physically and mentally, was being defined by men.

My Daily Art Display featured work today is the painting entitled Petit Sphinx Ermite, (Little Hermit Sphinx), which Leonor Fini completed in 1948. Fini adored cats, and she used the image of the Sphinx, the mythological hybrid of a lion and woman, partly as a self-portrait. She looked upon the Sphinx as a symbolic intermediary between the human and animal realms, and between the conscious and the uncharted areas of the mind and spirit.   The sphinx in this work is child-like domesticated creature, which we see sitting in front of its ramshackle home. At its feet we see a skull of a bird and more bizarrely above the sphinx’s head we see a creatures body hanging from the door lintel, which in a way adds a sense of violence to the scene.

Maybe having seen the painting you will understand why I kept coming back to it, trying to fathom what it was all about !!!   Her works of art are fascinating and I urge you to take a look at more of her paintings.