The nineteenth century Swiss painter, Paul Klee, once said of a woman’s beauty:
“…Beauty is as relative as light and dark. Thus, there exists no beautiful woman, none at all, because you are never certain that a still far more beautiful woman will not appear and completely shame the supposed beauty of the first…”
Maybe he, like today’s featured artist, was also always searching for the ultimate feminine beauty. Let me introduce you to the Victorian painter Albert Joseph Moore. In the first part of this blog I will look at Moore’s early life and his talented artistic family and in the next blog will look at his unique portrayal of beautiful women.
Albert Moore was born in York in September 1841. He came from an extremely large family. His father was originally employed by a firm in Birmingham to design japanned goods. He gave up his commercial work to concentrate on portraiture which was very popular with London dealers. The subjects of his portraiture featured people living in the northern counties. His landscape works featured scenes from the northern districts and as such were very popular with the locals. William Moore married Martha Jackson in 1812 and the couple had eight sons and a daughter. Later, in 1828, after his first wife’s death, William re-married. His second wife was Sarah Collingham, an amateur draughtswoman, who had a number of relatives involved in art. Sarah gave William a further six sons
So, between William’ Moore’s two wives, he fathered fourteen children, thirteen sons and one daughter. Albert Moore was the youngest of William and Sarah’s six sons. Many of Albert Moore’s brothers were artists.
Albert’s oldest step brother, was Edwin, who was a watercolourist and was interested in landscape work. He was twenty-nine years of age when Albert was born. He was employed as an art teacher and taught drawing, perspective and painting at the Quaker School in York . He also supplemented his income by offering private drawing classes at his home. In 1840 Edwin published a book, The Elementary Drawing Book which covered rules of perspective and was illustrated with sketches and geometrical diagrams.
Edwin’s brother William Moore jnr., who was born in 1817, was also a landscape painter and an art teacher. He, like Edwin, was taught art by his father and later in life assisted his father and tutored the younger siblings in drawing and painting
John Collingham Moore was the eldest son of William Moore by his second wife, Sarah, and was born at Gainsborough in March 1829. He initially received artistic training from his father and at the age of twenty-two studied in the schools of the Royal Academy. He was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy from 1853 to the year of his death in 1880.
His claim to fame as an artist was through his exquisite portraits of children and his watercolour paintings featuring landscape scenes of the Roman Campagna, the low-lying area surrounding Rome in the Lazio region of central Italy. He also favoured scenes around the area of Florence.
Henry Moore, born in 1831, was the third of the six sons of Sarah Collingham and William Moore and he was a talented marine and landscape artist and etcher.
Albert as a child was surrounded by artists and it was not surprising that from a very early age he took delight in drawing and painting. It is said that before he was able to write he had achieved a highly regarded expertise in drawing. He was surrounded by critics, his brothers, who were always willing to advise him how to improve his drawings. Even at an early age Albert Moore was self critical of his art and was somewhat of a perfectionist. He would never settle for second best and would often question his brothers’ views on art. To many he seemed to be inquisitive always willing to state his point of view on matters concerning his art. Many found this trait to be bordering on precociousness.
Albert went to Archbishop Holgate’s School in York and later St Peter’s School in the same city, which was under the direction of the Dean and Chapter of York Minster. But apart from this standard education he received regular art lessons from his father. In October 1851, when Albert was nine years old, his father died. His art tutoring continued, now with the help of his elder brother, John Collingham Moore. His mother, Albert, along with three of his brothers remained living in York until 1855, at which time they moved to London and took up residence in Phillimore Place, Kensington. On arrival in London Albert was enrolled at the Kensington Grammar School where he remained for just over two years. It was whilst attending this school that he had two of his watercolour drawings, A Goldfinch and A Woodcock, exhibited at the annual exhibition of the Royal Academy. Quite an achievement for one so young! In May 1858, aged sixteen, he was accepted into the Royal Academy schools.
Albert Moore developed a deep love of nature and would often go into the countryside to paint. In 1857 he completed a wonderful painting, watercolour and gouache with gum Arabic, entitled Study of Ash Trunk, which is housed at Oxford’s Ashmoleon Museum.
He went on a painting exhibition to the Lake District in 1858 and from that journey he produced a landscape scene entitled Waterfall in the Lake District.
Albert completed his art course at the Royal Academy schools and started to look for a way of making money other than from the sale of his art work. He was offered a job as chief designer at a well known firm of stain glass makers but refused the offer on the grounds that it would take him away from his beloved art. He even turned down the chance in 1876 of becoming headmaster of the Birmingham School of Art as it would mean leaving London and again would take up too much of his time.
In 1861 Moore completed a painting with a biblical connotation. It was entitled The Mother of Sisera Looked out at a Window . This strange title of the painting comes from a passage from the Old Testament Book of Judges (5:28) and which was part of the Song of Deborah (Judges 5:2-31):
“…Out of the window she peered, the mother of Sisera wailed through the lattice: ‘Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the hoofbeats of his chariots?…”
Although we do not know the woman’s name, we know she is the mother of Sisera who was a Canaanite general and commander of the Canaanite army and was defeated by the forces of the Israelite tribes led by Barak and Deborah. According to legend, Sisera, whose army had been routed, fled alone arriving at the settlement of the Kenites, He was invited by a Kenite woman, named Jael, into her tent. Sisera accepted the invitation. He was given milk to drink and fell asleep. When Sisera had fallen asleep, Jael took a hammer and drove a “nail,” or tent-pin, into his temple. The story about Sisera’s mother appears to be based on the thoughts of Deborah who imagined how the mother of Sisera must have felt when her son had not arrived back home.
At the end of 1862 he went to Rome with his brother John Collingham Moore where he stayed for five months, and it was whilst staying in the Italian capital that he completed another biblical painting which is entitled Elijah’s Sacrifice This work is housed in the Bury Art Gallery & Museum. It was bought from Whitworth Wallis, a leading provincial curator in 1908 for £105. The sum was raised from bequests and council grants. The painting is based on the passage in the bible, 1 Kings 18 36:39:
“…At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again....then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!…”
The passage described the miraculous fire, called forth by the prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel. The prophets of Baal had earlier been challenged by Elijah for their god to conjure up fire to light the sacrificial pyre but nothing had happened. We see Elijah with his red turban and patterned robe. There is a symmetry about the figures who are placed at the rear of the fire pit. There is a clear differentiation between the praying Elijah on his knees and those in the centre and to the left. On the left of the group there is a naked priest of Baal shrinking back violently from the leaping flames which is in total contrast to the reverential posture of Elijah. Note the counterbalance of the followers of Elijah, to his right, who quietly kneel, hands clasped in prayer, to the followers and prophets of their god, Baal, on the left, who has let them down by not being able to bring fire to their sacrifice. In between the two groups are bowed figures who cannot believe what they have just witnessed.
In his 1894 biography of Moore, Albert Moore, his life and works, Alfred Lys Baldry, a contemporary and a pupil of Moore, said that the landscape background of the work was based on a desolate spot between Rome and Tivoli that Moore had sketched. This area was a favourite of landscape artists. Although the background is somewhat desolate, look at how much detail Moore has put into the vegetation in the foreground.
In the second part of this blog about Albert Moore I will give more details about his life and I will look at his portrayal of women for which he is best known.
Most of the information I have used in this and the next blog have come from two books, biographies of Albert Joseoph Moore. They are:
Albert Moore, his life and works, by Alfred Lys Baldry (1894)
Albert Moore by Robin Asleson (published by Phaidon)
There are two crayon and watercolour studies Albert Moore made for this painting which are now held at the Tate Museum in London. The first is a full length sketch of the kneeling Elijah
and the second comprises of two facial sketches of the prophet.
I started this blog talking about the beauty of women and in the next part of this blog I will look at Albert Moore’s portrayal of such beauty.