When I came across the words “Barnes School” in connection with art, I immediately thought it was referring to an artistic colony or a type of painting but I was wrong, albeit the name derived from the then rural town of Barnes, a district in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, where a talented artistic family had their painting studio. The name referred to a nineteenth century family of gifted Victorian landscape painters who pictorially depicted the British countryside. The head of this family of artists was Edward Williams. In this and the next three blogs I will be looking at the life and work of the talented patriarch and his six sons
Edward Williams was born some time in 1781 as baptismal records show him as being baptised on October 13th 1781 at St. Mary’s Church in the London borough of Lambeth. Edward was the son of Edward Williams, an engraver and Mary Ward. Mary came from a large artistic family. She was a sister of James Ward the well-known animal painter, and a sister of the equally well-known engraver, William Ward. Mary was also a sister-in-law of the talented figure painter George Morland, and a sister-in-law of Henry Chalon, another animal painter. The family history recounts that around 1793 Edward Williams’ mother left his father for another man, and their son Edward was sent to live with his maternal uncle, James Ward the painter. Ward was one of the outstanding artists of the day and was regarded as one of the great animal painters of his time. It is not recorded as to whether Ward ever gave his young nephew any artistic training but there is no doubt that Edward must have been influenced by his brief association with Ward.
After staying with Ward for a short period Edward Williams took up an apprenticeship with a carver and gilder named Thomas Hillier, who was not in any of the trade guilds but nonetheless had a shop on Silver Street, Golden Square, London. It was probable that Edward began his career carving and gilding picture frames, but it is also known that to support himself financially he painted and sold miniatures.
Edward married Ann Hildebrant, who was the daughter of Frederick and Sarah Hildebrant, on February 12th, 1806 at St. Pancras Church in London. Ann was twenty-five and Edward was a year younger. Although Edward Williams’ profession was as a carver and gilder he was amongst relatives who were all well-known painters and engravers, and consequently, as time passed, Edward re-invented himself as a painter.
His initial delving into the world of art was when he started to copy well known landscape paintings of the Dutch Baroque era of the 1600’s, such as those by Jacob Isaackszoon van Ruisdael and Meindert Hobbema.
Following this phase in his artistic career, he concentrated on copying works by contemporary landscape painters, such as his uncle, George Morland. Edward took the decision to become a landscape painter which was a risky choice as landscape art was, at the time, considered to be an inferior genre.
Edward Williams became known for his moonlight scenes. Edward Williams often shared art exhibition venues with his sons, causing some confusion with the public who had trouble telling one Williams painting from another. He is often called “Old Williams” to distinguish him from his oldest son, and he is referred to in some of the art journals of the time as “Moonight Williams”, as moonlit scenes of the Thames were one of his favourite subjects in his paintings
As he got older, for river scenes along the Thames.
Edward and his wife Ann Hildebrandt had married in February 1806 and went on to have eight children. The first-born was Edward Charles Williams who was born on July 10th 1807 and because he had been given the same name as his father, Edward Williams, his father became known in his later years as “Old Williams” to distinguish himself from his eldest son . Two more sons followed, Henry John Boddington Williams in October 1811, George Augustus Williams in May 1814. Then followed the Williams’ only daughter, Emily Anne Williams who was born in June 1816. Arthur Gilbert Frederick Williams arrived in December 1819 followed by Sidney Richard Percy Williams in March 1822. Identical twin boys Alfred Walter Williams and Charles Williams were the final additions to the Williams family in July 1824. Sadly, Charles Williams died shortly after birth.
Edward and his wife Ann lived in various residences, in what is now termed the West End of London, in Percy Street, Foley Street, and Charlotte Street. In 1827 the family moved to Cromer Street in the St Pancras area where they stayed for almost twenty years. By 1846 with the continuous sale of the father and sons’ paintings, the family’s finances had improved. Add to that fact the family had grown, they needed a larger residence and so moved to 32 Castelnau Villas, Barnes. Edward Williams spent his final years there with his wife Ann. She died, aged 71, and was buried on September 24th, 1851 at the Barnes Parish Church. Old Williams was overcome with the grief from the death of his wife and he died just four years later at the age of 74 on June 24th, 1855 at his Castelnau Villa house. He along with his wife now rest in the Old Barnes Cemetery. Sadly, the cemetery has been turned into a nature sanctuary by the city council and the graveyard has fallen into disrepair and is overgrown with bushes and vines.
……………..to be continued.
Most of the information I have found for these blogs about the Barnes School came from the excellent website of Mike Clark, entitled Genealogy of the Percy, Williams and Ward families. If you would like to read an in-depth account of the Williams family, this is a must-read.
Lois Mailou Jones was born in Boston, Massachusetts on November 3rd 1905. Her mother Carolyn ran a beauty parlour and made and designed hats. Her father, Thomas Vreeland Jones was a superintendent of a large office building, who attended night school to become a lawyer. At the age of forty he graduated from Suffolk Law School, the first African-American to earn such a degree from that school. He went on to become a lawyer. Whilst still a child her parents moved to a house on Martha’s Vineyard and it was here that Lois first came into contact with people who were to influence her future life.
As a child, Lois enjoyed drawing and painting and her parents encouraged her. She was given her first set of watercolours at the age of seven. She enjoyed her time at school and recalled:
“…The schools were not segregated and I had the good fortune to have my teachers interested in my talent and I received much encouragement,” she said. “My happiness was to go to Martha’s Vineyard as soon as school was out. It was a great joy to live with nature. Environment is so important to any artist…”
She attended the local primary school and in 1919 she was enrolled at the High School of Practical Arts in Boston. During her four years of studies there, she also attended evening classes at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts thanks to an annual scholarship she was awarded. She developed an interest in fashion and costume design and became an apprentice with Grace Ripley, an academic and costume designer. Lois Jones worked with Ripley after school and on Saturdays, where she would become familiar with exotic costumes and African masks which would later feature in her artwork. Her interest in African masks also led her to creating costume designs for the Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts, the first dance academy in the United States to produce a professional dance company.
Lois was only seventeen years old when she held her first solo exhibition in Martha’s Vineyard. Jones began experimenting with African mask influences during her time at the Ripley Studio. In 1923, at the age of eighteen, Lois attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where she studied, not art, but design. She was an outstanding student and she won the Susan Minot Lane Scholarship in Design. Whilst studying for her degree she also took evening classes at the Boston Normal Art School, a public college of visual and applied art in Boston.
Lois Jones began to search for something which would bring her recognition as an artist. Whilst searching she discovered the Harmon Foundation of New York, which had been established in 1921 by wealthy real-estate developer and philanthropist William E. Harmon. It was the first major foundation supporting African American creativity and ingenuity and held national competitions for black artists. Lois exhibited several of her works at these exhibitions and received several awards. It was through this foundation that she became interested in black America’s 20th century movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. During the summers of the 1920’s and 1930’s, Lois Jones spent much of her time in Harlem and this had the most reflective influence on her early development as an artist. During these visits, Jones was engrossed in the art and theories of the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance was an intellectual and cultural revival of African American music, dance, art, fashion, literature, theatre, politics. At the time, it was known as the “New Negro Movement”.
Throughout the early part of her life she continued to take the opportunity to study. In 1934, she attended classes at Columbia University where she studied different cultural masks and in 1945, she received a BA in art education from Howard University, a private, research university, graduating magna cum laude. Not long after Lois left college, she decided to take up the role as an educator. She applied for a teaching post at the Boston Museum School but the director rebuffed her application saying that she should apply for a job in the South where “her people” lived. This racially prejudiced opinion from a person of such stature must have shocked her. Not to be put off by such bigotry she continued to look for work and finally was accepted for a teaching post at Palmer Memorial Institute, a historically black prep school, in Sedalia, North Carolina. The Institute was founded by nineteen-year-old Charlotte Hawkins Brown, an African American educator in 1902 with the aim of teaching elementary and high school students in rural North Carolina. It was named after Brown’s benefactor and friend, Alice Freedman Palmer, and originally the Institute began in an old blacksmith shed. Whilst working as a prep schoolteacher, she taught the children folk dancing, piano playing and even coached a basketball team.
In 1930, Lois was offered and accepted a position at Howard University in Washington, D.C. by James Herring, who had founded the Art Department at Howard University and served as mentor to many artists and art historians. Lois Jones remained there, as professor of design and watercolour painting, until her retirement in 1977. Lois’ main ambition whilst at Howard University was to ensure her students were made ready for a competitive career in the arts and to aid this ambition she would arrange for established artists and designers to visit her classes and give talks, demonstrations and workshops. In doing this she became an ardent advocate for African-American art and artists.
In 1932 Lois Mailou Jones created a painting entitled The Ascent of Ethiopia. The painting is the pictorial story of the grim and challenging journey of African Americans who, through years of sacrifice and intolerable difficulties, have managed to create a legacy built on their trials and tribulations. It has been a constant fight for African Americans from the time they lived in Africa, the sea voyage to America and once there, how they have had to fight to attain their artistic and intellectual pinnacle. Lois Jones painting depicts this story by her use of certain elements of design and colour, and space. The works she created throughout her life tell the story of many different cultures. In this painting she chooses to represent her own culture. This work of art was Jones’ way of expressing intense and reflective respect for her race. When we study the painting the first thing our eyes focus on is the figure wearing a blue and black headdress in the right foreground. It takes up a quarter of the canvas. The figure looks to the left as it observes the other figures, who are carrying pots on their heads, and pointing skywards at a bright star. They are all ascending towards a city, comprised of two large buildings, at the top right of the painting.
In front of the buildings are two entertainers, one of whom is playing the piano whilst the other I think is preparing to sing as we see musical notes all around him. Behind these two big buildings there’s a big round yellow circular object protruding from the side, surrounded by two blue/turquoise concentric circles. It has a face, and someone on a bended knee appearing to be acting on top of it. The turquoise-coloured circle is bigger than the previous one and has a face coming out towards the inside. Further up there’s someone painting on top of the blue circle with the words art above enclosed within the blue circle. A symbolic palette and brush are painted within that same blue circle, the star in the top left corner has rays of squiggly blue, green, and black streaks that radiate diagonally. The star is inside of a yellow circle shining down on the people gesturing towards it, this picture reflects what Jones was trying to convey to her audience. The painting is a tale of transition, a long and tortuous voyage from the poverty of Ethiopia to America where African Americans, through hard work and dogged determination, became talented actors, artists and entertainers. It is also about cultural identity.
In 1937, Jones was awarded a fellowship to travel and study in Paris at the Académie Julian. That year, whilst in France, she produced more than forty works of art, including thirty watercolours, may of which were plein air renditions. Two of her paintings were accepted at the annual Salon de Printemps exhibition at the Société des Artists Français for her Parisian debut. What also pleased Lois during her twelve months stay was that unlike in America, she was fully accepted in society and that the colour of her skin mattered little. She managed to obtain an extension to her fellowship which allowed her to travel to Italy.
In 1938, she completed one of her best-known pieces, entitled Les Fétiches. It was and African inspired painting that now hangs in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Painted in a Modernist style it features five overlapping masks from different African tribes and conveys a mysterious spiritual dimension summoned by ritual dance. To the right of the main mask, we see what is known as a red religious’ fetish. The term “fetish” (fétiche in French) refers to an object believed to have supernatural powers, or in particular, a human-made object that has power over others. The masks and fetish appear to float in the mass of a black painted canvas. When in France, Lois would probably have seen many different African objects and masks at the Musée de l’Homme, an anthropology museum in Paris. In Les Fétiches, the Songye people’s masks and African Dan masks are visible.
In 1941, Lois Jones entered her painting Indian Shops Gay Head, Massachusetts, into the Corcoran Gallery’s annual competition which she had completed the previous year. For her the main problem with exhibiting her work at this prestigious exhibition was that the Corcoran Gallery prohibited African-American artists from entering their artworks themselves and only work from “white” artists was deemed acceptable. Jones asked Céline Marie Tabary, her friend and arts professor at Howard University who championed African-American art in 1940s Washington, D.C. to enter her painting so as to side-step the racist rule. This painting by Lois won the Robert Woods Bliss Award but she could not collect the award herself and she had to arrange for Tabary to mail the award to her. In 1994, the Corcoran Gallery of Art gave a public apology to Jones at the opening of the exhibition The World of Lois Mailou Jones, 50 years after Jones hid her identity.
In 1944 Lois Jones painted one of her most controversial and thought-provoking works. A philosophy professor at Howard University and founder of the Harlem Renaissance, Alain Locke, encouraged her to depict her heritage in her paintings and this led to her painting, Mob Victim (Meditation). She remembered how the painting came into being, saying that she had been walking along U Street Northwest in Washington, DC. when she saw a man walking along and she stopped him and asked if he would pose in her studio for her painting which would depict a lynching scene. The man told Lois that he had actually witnessed a lynching and mimicked the pose that the man held before being lynched and visually illustrated a contemplation of imminent death which was well understood by blacks during the 1940s. The image we see of the man whips up deep and powerful feelings as we observe the innocence of the black man who is calling into question the intolerable actions of society. Look at the questioning expression in the man’s eyes. It is a very emotional work which poses the simple question, why?
In 1953, at the age of forty seven, Lois finally married Haitian graphic artist Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noel.. They had been close friends for twenty years and he had influenced Lois by introducing her to the bright colours and bold patterns of Haitian art and she would immerse herself in the Haitian culture during their annual trips to her husband’s homeland. Jones’s style shifted again after she married She once said that the art of Africa is lived in the daily life of the people of Haiti.
In 1970 she visited Africa for the first time. She journeyed to eleven different countries on the African continent. The trip had been made possible with a grant from Howard University to keep a record of the various artists she met. She returned to the African continent in 1972, 1976 and 1977. In the painting a young woman looks out at us from under her partially closed eyelids. The girl’s face is surrounded by two types of masks: in profile, is a large Dan mask from Liberia or Côte d’Ivoire, and drawn within orange outlines are two Pende masks from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Masks were thought to be powerful ways of communicating with spirits; the Dan mask represents a specifically female spirit, and the blue and red twisting lines in the lower left corner are a pattern of the Edo, from Benin Kingdom, called “rope of the world” representing a person’s lifetime., The woman’s forehead and cheeks are painted white for her initiation celebration into womanhood and vivid diagonal red lines overlap at the bridge of her nose, which leaves her mouth and chin uncovered. Loïs Mailou Jones was captivated by this woman and created the portrait in 1972, entitled Ubi Girl from Tai region. The Tai region was part of Côte d’Ivoire, which Lois visited during her extended trip to Africa. The artist had a long-held dream of traveling to Africa since her twenties, and at the age of 65, she fulfilled her career-long ambition.
Jones continued to produce beautiful works of art. On her 84th birthday in November 1989, Jones had a major heart attack which necessitated a triple bypass operation. On June 9th 1998, Jones died at the age of 92 at her home in Washington, DC and is buried on Martha’s Vineyard in the Oak Bluffs Cemetery.
Today I am looking at an American painter, Sanford Robinson Gifford, who was a leading member of the second generation of Hudson River School artists. The artwork of the Hudson River School captured the rugged beauty of the American landscape and celebrated and venerated the heady era of manifest destiny. In 1845, newspaper editor John O’Sullivan coined the term Manifest Destiny, which was the belief that white Americans were divinely ordained to settle the entire continent of North America. The second generation of Hudson River School painters set out from the New York area to explore more far-flung regions of America. Their painting documented the westward expansion and the “land grab” which underpinned the concept of Manifest Destiny. During the Civil War, their majestic images shown in their paintings of an unspoiled West provided hope for post-war reconciliation and the promise of expanses of wild country, full of promise and lands which were unscarred by battle.
Sanford Robinson Gifford was born in Greenfield, New York 0n July 10th 1823. He was the fourth of the eleven children of Quaker ironmaker Elihu Gifford and his wife Eliza Robinson Starbuck. Most of his childhood was spent in Hudson, New York, a town on the banks of the upper reaches of the Hudson River, across from the Catskill Mountains. Following normal schooling, Gifford entered Brown University in 1842. He left college after completing two years, and moved to New York City in 1845 to study art. He studied drawing, perspective and anatomy under the British watercolourist and drawing-master, John Rubens Smith, who in 1806 had emigrated from London to the USA and set up successful drawing schools in Boston, New York and Philadelphia. He also attended drawing classes at the National Academy of Design and studied the human figure in anatomy classes at the Crosby Street Medical College.
In 1846 Gifford visited the Berkshire Hills and the Catskill Mountains, sketching en plein air. He thoroughly enjoyed his sketching trips, once writing to a friend:
“…”These studies together with the great admiration I felt for the works of [Thomas] Cole developed a strong interest in landscape art, and opened my eyes to a keener perception and more intelligent enjoyment of nature. Having once enjoyed the absolute freedom of the landscape painters’ life I was unable to return to portrait painting…”
The American Art Union bought and exhibited some of Gifford’s first landscape paintings in 1847. In 1851 he was elected an associate, and in 1854 an academician, of the National Academy of Design. He must have taken great pleasure in his landscape depictions as from that time on he concentrated on the landscape genre, becoming one of the finest artists of the Hudson River School. Gifford loved the freedom of the outdoors and travelled extensively to sketch landscapes which he would use later for future paintings. On his trips he would often write to his father recording his experiences. These letters home would, he said, serve the double purpose of letter and journal, and be an economy of time. He also asked his father to number the letters sequentially and keep them all together.
In the summer of 1855 Gifford crossed the Atlantic and visited England, Scotland and Paris. He then spent the winter of 1855 completing paintings from the numerous sketches he had made.
In the Autumn of 1856, he travelled to Italy and rented a studio in Rome and, during that winter he painted pictures of the surrounding area including Lake Nemi which he visited in October 1856. In a letter he described the scene:
“…We were high up above the lake. On one side in the foreground were some picturesque houses and ruined walls—a tall dark cypress, rising out of a rich mass of foliage, cut strongly against the lake, distance, and sky…”
By capturing scenes at sunset, Gifford was able to record the subtle effects of atmosphere and light that would become his trademark. Gifford was a true Luminist, a member of the Luminism art movement associated with many American landscape painters of the 1850’s to 1870’s Their artwork was characterized by effects of light in landscapes, through using aerial perspective, and concealing visible brushstrokes. The landscape art of the Luminist emphasized serenity and calmness. It focused on reflective water and soft, hazy skies but as part of often melodramatic, magnificent, oversized landscapes as the artist intended to capture the immenseness as they viewed their subject on location. An example of this Lumanism is his 1866 painting entitled A Home in the Wilderness. Gifford’s view of Mount Hayes in New Hampshire records human intrusion into a remote landscape. On the left riverbank a log cabin stands amid a recently cleared patch of land with several tree stumps, while figures in its doorway greet a man who has arrived with a canoe of supplies.
During the spring of 1857 whilst still in Rome, Gifford spent time with fellow American artists Worthington Whittredge, William H. Beard and Albert Bierstadt. Gifford and Bierstadt left Rome in May 1857 and set off on a walking tour of southern Italy. Gifford completed his European tour with visits to Innsbruck, Munich, Vienna, Prague, Dresden, Berlin and Paris, before returning to the United States at the end of the summer.
On his return Gifford rented studio Number 19 in the Tenth Street Studio Building in New York City. The Tenth Street Studio Building was constructed in New York City in 1857. It was situated at 51 West 10th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Manhattan and was the first modern facility designed solely to serve the needs of artists. It became the centre of the New York art world for the remainder of the 19th century. Gifford retained his studio until his death.
Over the next few years Gifford also made frequent summer trips to various north-eastern locales including the Catskills, the Adirondacks, the Green Mountains in Vermont, the White Mountains in New Hampshire, Maine and Nova Scotia.
The American Civil War broke out in April 1861 and Gifford enlisted in New York’s Seventh Regiment and marched to the defence of Washington. Several paintings resulted from this experience, including his 1864 work entitled Sunday Morning in the Camp of the Seventh Regiment, near Frederick, Maryland, in July 1863 ,
Another was his night scene entitled Night Bivouac of the Seventh Regiment New York at Arlington Heights, Virginia which he completed in 1861.
In 1868 Gifford once again travelled to Europe, and again visited the English and French capitals. Whilst in Paris he met with a fellow American Hudson River painter, Jervis McEntee and his wife. McEntee was a to some extent a lesser-known figure of the 19th-century American art world but apart from his paintings, McEntee’s journals are an enduring legacy, documenting the life of a New York painter during and after the Gilded Age. From Paris Gifford spent the summer visiting the Alps and Sicily before wintering in Rome.
Gifford was always stimulated by the awe-inspiring Italian landscape and his painting Galleries of the Stelvio, Lake Como exudes a moment of pure artistic beauty. Gifford’s used shades of pastel blues and pinks to capture the hazy quality of a warm Italian summer afternoon. Look how the juxtaposition of light and shadow draws attention to the natural curve of the rock cliff exploited by and altered by man’s hand. The curve in the wall gives one the feeling of motion through the road tunnel and to the side of the road we see a couple looking over at the boats below and the still waters of the beautiful lake. Almost if we are in the tunnel\ we begin to feel the coolness of the tunnel in comparison to the area around the lake which is exposed to the sun.
In 1869 Gifford set off on his travels once more. This time he journeyed to Egypt where he and some friends. He hired a boat and took a two-month voyage from Cairo down the Nile River to the first cataract . Although many American artists left their home shores, few ventured much further than the European Continent. Sanford Gifford was one of the very few who ventured further afield.
On March 4 he reached the village of Siout (Asyut), on the western bank of the Nile, and this was the starting point of a great caravan route running through the Libyan Desert to the Sudan. The town was well known for being picturesque and for its history, having been the capital of the thirteenth province of Upper Egypt during antiquity and the birthplace of Plotinus, the great Neoplatonic philosopher. Gifford was taken with the town and noted in his journal the reasons for depicting it in his painting. He wrote:
“…Looking westward, the town with its domes and minarets lay between us and the sun, bathed in a rich and beautiful atmosphere. Behind, on the right, were the yellow cliffs of the Libyan mts., running back into the tender grades of distance. Between us and the town were fields of grain, golden green with the transparent light. On the right was a tent with sheep and beautiful horses, the sunlight sparkling on a splendid white stallion. On the left the road ran in, with a fountain and figures of men and women and camels. The whole glowing and gleaming under the low sun…”
The painting, simply entitled Siout, Egypt, is one of Gifford’s finest works in which he depicted Egypt.
From Egypt, Gifford travelled to the Middle East with fellow artist, Alfred Craven, via the Suez Canal, where his itinerary included Syria, Jerusalem, Samaria, Damascus, Greece and Turkey. Gifford travelled to Constantinople in 1869 and he wrote about the time in his journal:
“…boats and costumes on the water on either side were all aglow with color, while through the purple haze of the distance flashed a thousand little golden lights from the windows of the Seraglio and the mosque of St. Sophia…”
Gifford final port of call was Venice which he reached in June 1869 and it was from here that he took a sea passage back to the United States at the beginning of September.
Sanford Gifford married Mary Cecilia Canfield in 1877, at age fifty-four.
I end this blog with my favourite painting by Gifford. It is his 1876 work entitled Autumn, a Wood Path. Gifford created several paintings depicting forest interiors, including this one set amid full autumnal blaze. The dense forest path is enclosed in a network of overarching trees which casts shadows on the rugged ground below, restricting sunlight to haphazard patches. A solitary hiker is visible in the distance.
Three years after his marriage, Gifford became ill while on a trip to Lake Superior and was brought back to New York where he was diagnosed as having contracted pneumonia following a bout of malarial fever. On August 29th, 1880, Gifford died in New York city, aged 57, and was buried at Hudson City Cemetery, Hudson, Columbia County, New York. His death was seen as a tragedy for American art. He was memorialized in 1880 by the publication of a series of addresses given at the Century Association and by a large retrospective exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1881. A compilation of a catalogue raisonné was published in 1881 and recorded that he had completed more than seven hundred paintings during his career.
The Rev. Dr. Bellows, who several times has officiated at the funerals of well-known American painters, delivered a touching and beautiful address in the Gifford mansion at Hudson. He spoke of Gifford’s love of his country, saying:
“…Patriotism, in the speaker’s opinion, was at one time a greater force in Gifford’s life than even love of Art; and his resolve to fight as a private soldier in the late war for the Union was greater in its influence upon the man, and in its possession of him, than even his devotion to his profession…”
My featured artist today is Charles Frederick Ulrich, the late nineteenth-century realist painter of portraits and genre scenes who spent much of his life as an expatriate in Europe. He was born on October 18th, 1858 in New York, the son of a German émigré photographer and painter, Friedrich Ulrich and his wife, Caroline Ulrich (née Hartje) . Following his ordinary schooling, he studied at the National Academy of Design in New York and it is thought that he spent some time studying at the Cooper Union School of Art. From there, in October 1875, at the age of seventeen he crossed the Atlantic and travelled to Munich where he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. Here he learnt all about how to capture the subtle effects of daylight and became influenced by seventeenth century Dutch genre paintings as well as the genre paintings by contemporary German artists. In 1879 one of his paintings was awarded a bronze medal. His primary instructors were the German landscape and genre painter, Ludwig von Löfftz and the German history painter, Wilhelm von Lindenschmit. He also became friends with the American painter, John Henry Twachtman, who was a fellow student in Löfftz’s class and joined the circle of American-born artists who associated with Frank Duveneck in Munich and the Bavarian town of Polling. The two artists travelled together to Polling, Germany, where an American artists’ colony had formed and they signed the guestbook sequentially in the spring of 1876.
Around 1882 Ulrich returned to New York and began exhibiting his work at the National Academy of Design. The next five years were highly productive, resulting in most of the artist’s best-known works.
His first painting to be exhibited at New York’s National Academy of Design was his 1882 work entitled The Wood Engraver. It was hailed a resounding success by the critics who considered the painting to be “his best.” A New York Times review of the National Academy exhibition described the painting as:
“…a picture of a woman at work before a window engraving a wood block. It is excellently painted both in figure and interior by Charles Frederick Ulrich…”
His painting, The Wood Engraver signified a peak period of his career, and later he would produce a series of works depicting workers. It was a subject for which he is best known for.
In 1883 he was elected an associate member of the National Academy. In 1884 Ulrich completed one of his most famous paintings entitled, In the Land of Promise—Castle Garden. Castle Clinton or Fort Clinton, previously known as Castle Garden, is a circular sandstone fort located in Battery Park, in Manhattan, New York City. Built from 1808 to 1811, it was the first American immigration station, where more than 8 million people arrived in the United States from 1855 to 1890. The painting depicts a scene in Castle Garden, and Ulrich has us concentrate on a young immigrant mother at the reception station. She is sitting on her trunk which probably contains all of her worldly possessions. She breastfeeds her baby as her daughter looks off to the left. Look behind the mother and daughter and you will see a bowler-hatted man tending to his ailing wife. Disease was rife in Castle Garden with cholera and smallpox being rampant in the crowded conditions, although it has to be said that in New York City itself, the conditions were no better. The centre was closed by the government due to cholera and smallpox epidemics and Castle Garden was replaced by another immigration resort that has become much more emblematic in collective memories, the small island of Ellis Island, where immigration services were active from 1892 to 1954
The painting, In the Land of Promise—Castle Garden, attracted the attention of Thomas B. Clarke, a lace and linen manufacturer who had become the country’s foremost collector of contemporary American art. Clarke was influential in numerous aspects of the New York art world, for he was treasurer of the National Society of Arts, chair of the Union League Club’s art committee, president of the New York School of Applied Design for Women, and a founding member of both the National Sculpture Society and the National Arts Club. Ulrich won the National Academy’s first Thomas B. Clarke Prize for Best American Figure Composition and as an expression of his gratitude, Ulrich painted the portrait of the collector.
In the mid 1880’s, Charles Frederic Ulrich built up a standing that was largely based on his small-scale genre scenes. One of example of this was his 1882 painting entitled An Old Fireplace which was often referred to as A Granny. The setting for this painting is believed to be the Ephrata Cloister, a historic German Anabaptist hermitage located west of Philadelphia which was founded in 1732. Ulrich’s austere depiction of the interior reflects the long history of Ephrata and is reinforced by the sitter’s old age and plain and simple dress. It depicts life there as it was during his own time with its original hearth converted into a simple kitchen.
In the summer of 1884, Ulrich returned to Europe and journeyed through Belgium and Holland. He had made this trip with fellow American artists, William Merritt Chase and Robert Blum. Ulrich and Blum became great friends over the next three years. Whilst in the town of Haarlem in the Netherlands, Ulrich completed one of his best known works, The Village Printing Shop, Haarlem. The setting for the painting is a spartan workroom illuminated by the light coming through an open window. Ulrich depicts a boy who has paused during his work to allow himself to take a drink of water. He stares at the blank wall in front of him and we wonder what is he thinking. In the background we see two men operating a platen printing press. Look how Ulrich has enriched the work with his attention to detail such as the ornament on the cast-iron stove. Look at the clutter on the tabletop in front of the boy, where a bottle of water and a chipped second cup are casually placed amidst stacked blocks of type and other printing-related paraphernalia.
Ulrich left Europe and returned to New York in late 1884. He so enjoyed his time in Europe that he immediately started to plan another voyage to there the following year and this time he planned to remain for a longer period. It was not just his love of Europe that made him want to leave the shores of America but the lack of sales of his paintings. According to a critic of the era, his abrupt departure was due to his “proclaimed disgust at the sordidness of an unappreciative public, which refused to bankrupt itself in the purchase of over-priced pictures.”
Ulrich went back to Holland and then moved to Venice, where he established a home in 1886. It was here that he completed his painting, Glass Blowers of Murano which now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York. Ulrich depicts workers blowing glass, a craft which was revived in Venice during the late nineteenth century. The setting for the work is the city’s glassmaking centre on the island of Murano. Murano’s reputation as a centre for glassmaking was born when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and the destruction of the city’s mostly wooden buildings, ordered glassmakers to move their furnaces to Murano in 1291. Murano glass is still associated with Venetian glass. Ulrich’s was fascinated with artisan subjects which came at the time of the international Arts and Crafts movement, which valued old-fashioned handicraft rather than industrial production. Ulrich was awarded a substantial cash award in 1886 at the National Academy of Design’s second Prize Fund Exhibition. This indicated the degree to which an international taste had emerged in American art.
Although he maintained contact with Blum and Chase, organized exhibitions of American art in Munich in 1888 and 1892, and visited New York briefly in 1891, Ulrich remained in Europe. He exhibited at the London Royal Academy in 1889 and 1890, in Munich at the Glaspalast, and after 1893 at the Secession exhibitions. He contributed three works to the art display at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, but he focused mainly on showing his paintings widely in Europe. As a result, his work is now relatively little known in the United States. In 1897, in Munich, thirty-nine-year-old Ulrich married twenty-year-old Margarethe Oppenheim, the daughter of the banker, Hugo Oppenheim. The couple had one son, Charles Frederick Hugo Otto Ulrich, who was born on July 29th 1901.
In 1906, Ulrich’s name appears on the membership list of the Deutscher Künstlerbund, making him one of its earliest members. The aim of the Deutscher Künstlerbund (Association of German Artists) was to ensure the freedom of art, to offer a public forum for different artistic trends and to support young artists. These intentions were taken into account at annual exhibitions which took place in various German cities and sometimes in foreign countries.
Charles Frederic Ulrich died of pneumonia on May 15th 1908, aged 49.
In many of my blogs I have featured European artist who had ancestors who were part of the European Jewish community such as Marc Chagall, Chaim Soutine, Max Liebermann, Diego Rivera and Isaac and Joseph Israels. As I look down the list of Jewish painters it appears to be dominated by male artists. In this blog today I want to feature one of the great female Jewish painters, Sionah Tagger, who was one of the pioneers of Modernist painting in Israel.
Sionah Tagger was born in Jaffa, Israel on August 17th 1900. She was the eldest daughter of Shmuel and Sultana Tagger, who were members of the Ahuzat Bayit group, the founders of Tel Aviv. Their house where she was born was at 3 Rothschild Boulevard and was the first two-storey house in Tel Aviv. Her ancestors hailed from Spain and in the latter part of the fifteenth century they moved to Holland and then later they lived in Germany and Bulgaria. Sionah’s father Shmuel, when he was just an infant, left Bulgaria with his family and immigrated to Palestine in 1868. In 1890, when he was twenty-two-years old, he married Sultana, who was the daughter of a wealthy resident of the Old City in Jerusalem. The newly-weds moved to Nahalat Shiva, the third neighbourhood built outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem in the 1860s. Later, they moved to Jaffa, where Shmuel set up a business importing furniture and trading in leather. As a practicing Jew, Schmuel was involved in the founding of Jaffa’s central synagogue and of the Ohel Moed synagogue in Tel Aviv.
Sionah Tagger had seven brothers and sisters – Asher, Baruch, Miriam, Shoshana, Hezkia, Shalom and Yosef. She was the oldest girl. Sionah attended a number of different schools in Jaffa, Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem including the School for Girls in Neve Tzedek, the Levinsky Teachers Seminar and the Alliance School in Jerusalem, before starting her first artistic education with Avraham Eisentein-Aldema, one of the early Israelie bohemians. From there she began evening classes at the Hatomer Cooperative Studio at the Gymnqsia Herzliya in Tel-Aviv, which had been founded by Yaacov Peremen. Yosef Constantinovsky (Constant) and Yitzhak Frenkel were the most important painting teachers at the studio. Both instilled in their students the spirit of Russian Futurist Cubism, which was based on French art.
From the age of twenty-one, Sionah enrolled on a course at the Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem, despite her former teachers being opposed to the Academic, Romantic style of the Bezalel School’s artistic training. Whether she had been swayed by the views of her previous art teachers, Sionah was one of the students who protested against Boris Shatz, the founder of the Belazel School and Abel Pann one of the principal lecturers for their conservative approach
Sionah first exhibited some of her works at the “First Artistic Exhibition” organized by Ferman at Gymnasia Herzliya in Tel Aviv. In the late 1923 with support from her family she travelled to Paris, where she stayed for two years, living in the Montparnasse district of the capital. She attended the newly opened academy of André Lhote which was situated close to the Montparnasse railway station. The academy of André Lhote was much sought after and attracted an unprecedented number of international students. During her time in Paris, she studied draughtsmanship, composition and painting and over time she became influenced by Cubism, the revolutionary new approach to representing reality. The movement was founded by artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque around 1907/8 but by the 1920’s when Sionah was in Paris she was attracted to the Fauvist works of André Derain. Although she returned home in 1925, she became the first female member of the Hebrew Arts Association. She revisited the Lhote Academy during her stay in Paris in 1930/31, as well attending the Académie de la Grande Chaumière.
After two years, Sionah returned to Israel and joined the local group of modern artists. They organised many exhibitions, some at the Ohel Theatre, at the Tower of David in Jerusalem. In 1931, Tagger held a solo exhibition at Gymnasia Herzliya in Tel Aviv, which was titled “Framed Portraits.” Sionah also participated in several exhibitions in Paris. On December 7th 1934 she gave birth to her son Avraham who would later become a member of the Knesset from 1977 to 1996 and for a time was the Minister of Agriculture. In 1938, Sionah exhibited her paintings in Cairo, at the Friedman-Goldenberg Gallery.
During World War II, four of her brothers joined the British army and in 1942, Sionah Tagger, who at the time had an eight-year-old son, volunteered for the British Army, serving in one of the British army’s ATS divisions where she served mainly in Egypt and in the Western Desert where they carried out administration work. They were later also trained as ambulance and delivery drivers. World War II was at its peak, and the Jewish population of Mandatory Palestine was in danger. In 1944, Sionah was released from the army and went back to Tel Aviv, where she held a large exhibition of her paintings in the lobby of Habima Theatre. The exhibition included 40 oil paintings, 30 watercolours and sketches depicting the experiences of female soldiers in the British army.
Although she had extended stays in Paris, she also journeyed around Germany, Italy and Spain but always returned to her Israeli homeland where she would paint local landscapes. In 1948 Tagger represented Israel in the Venice Biennale. In the Northern Israeli town of Safed there was an artist’s colony. The founding members of the Artists’ Colony settled in Safed shortly after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and they took over an abandoned mosque which they turned into an exhibition centre for their artists’ cooperative. This Artists’ Colony was very important in the development of Israeli art.
Sionah arrived in Safed in 1951 and bought a nineteenth-century church at the heart of the city’s Christian-Arab neighbourhood. A short time after she bought the building, Sionah related that a priest had come to the house to carry off the bell that had been located in the church’s bell tower. Thirty years after settling in Safed Sionah recalled early life in the Safed Colony:
“…The views and alleyways lured painters to Safed. In the evenings we would walk around the city and talk about art. After Castel came Isakov, Shemi, Frankel, Marzer, Holtzman, Amitai, Lerner, Zachs and myself. We had no electricity during the artist’s colony’s first days, and so we used oil lamps instead. Our parties were all illuminated by the light of an oil lamp, and each one of us would tend to it in turn. Water was also scarce, and so we would carry water in cans from the dormant spring located in the artists’ colony…”
Tagger held over 40 solo exhibitions, partly because she had to make her living from the sale of her works, and she participated in numerous group exhibitions in Israel and abroad. Sionah Tagger died on June 16th 1988, aged 87.