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.
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.
Portraiture is an art form which goes back to ancient times and before the advent of photography it was the only way to chronicle the appearance of someone. However the way the sitter was portrayed by the artist afforded them the illusion of power, importance, virtue, beauty, wealth, taste, learning or other qualities of the sitter. Often it was the artist’s “duty” to depict the sitter in a flattering way, although some portraitists, like William Hogarth, refused to flatter, and would often have their works rejected by the person who had commissioned the portrait. The artist I am featuring in today’s blog was one of the leading portrait artists of the seventeenth century. He painted everything from miniatures to small scale royal portraits, portraying aristocracy, lawyers, gentry and merchants
Cornelius Johnson or Cornelis Janssens van Ceulen (Cologne) was born in October 1593 in London to a Flemish/German protestant family . He was baptised at the London Dutch Reform Church at Austin Friars much used by the Netherlandish community in London. His father was Cornelius Johnson who had been a religious refugee from Antwerp and his paternal grandfather had come from Cologne. His mother was Johanna le Grand. It was thought that Cornelius could have received his first artistic training, whilst in the Netherlands, from Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt. It is known that Cornelius had definitely returned to England by 1619 for it is recorded that he was a witness at the baptism of his nephew, Theodore Russell. During the 1620’s he lived and had his studio in the London parish of St Ann, Blackfriars, as did the other leading portraiture artist, Anthony van Dyck and the English father and son miniaturists, Isaac and Peter Oliver.
His earliest paintings date from 1619 and soon he had created a large number of portraits with his sitters coming from various upper levels of society. One of his early works was a portrait of Alathea Talbot, Countess of Arundel, a famous patron and art collector, and one of England’s first published female scientists. She was the third daughter of George Talbot, 7th Earl of Shrewsbury, K.G. and his step-sister Mary, daughter of Sir William Cavendish, who married in 1606 Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel. Johnson has depicted the countess wearing a red dress trimmed with lace with a white lace collar and a gold earring with a blackbird pendant in her right ear.
On July 16th 1622 at the Dutch Church in London, Cornelius married Elizabeth Beke, a lady from a migrant family based in Colchester. Their first son, James, was born on September 30th 1623 but died young. Another son, Cornelius Junior, was born in London in August 1634 and went on to follow in his father’s footsteps, and become a painter.
During the 1620’s his fame as an artist soon spread. Johnson’s most constant client was a lawyer, Thomas, 1st Baron Coventry of Aylesborough, a prominent English lawyer, politician and judge. He sat for Johnson on at least five different occasions during the 1620s and 1630s. This portrait, shows him with the bag of the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, and the mace of the Speaker.
Cornelius Johnson painted the portraits of many senior legal figures including Sir John Finch. Finch was Speaker between 1628–1629. On 10 March 1629, as Speaker, he tried to adjourn the House of Commons on the King’s command, following a disagreement between the King and Members of Parliament over King Charles I’s belief that by the royal prerogative he could govern without the advice and consent of Parliament. Civil War was creeping ever closer.
Another dignitary to sit for Johnson was Lady Margaret Hungerford, the daughter of a wealthy London alderman who had married Sir Edward Hungerford in 1621. Her husband owned vast tracts of land in England and were spent much of their time at Corsham House in Wiltshire and Farleigh Hungerford Castle in Somerset. We see the sitter wearing an orange patterned dress with a large white lace collar, a gold-and-black jewel necklace and an orange flower in her hair. In the top right-hand corner of the picture, there is a coat of arms. It is a sumptuous depiction of the details of the costly lace, her embroidered and spangled dress and silver braided ribbons, topped off with expensive jewellery. It must have taken Johnson many hours to perfect the depiction.
Cornelius Johnson collaborated with Daniel Mytens, a Dutch Golden Age portrait painter, in a full-length portrait of the monarch, Charles I, in 1631. Mytens had moved from the Netherlands to London in 1618 and had become one of James I and Charles I’s court painters. In the background is a view of Windsor Castle and at the king’s feet is his trusty King Charles spaniel.
In 1632 Johnson was appointed one of King Charles I’s court painters. The appointment was termed
“…his Majesty’s servant in ye quality of Picture Drawer to his Majesty…”
Around 1634 Daniel Mytens returned to the Netherlands where he worked and continued to paint but also was an art dealer in The Hague. This you may think gave Johnson the advantage as being the lead court painter but it was not to be as another artist came on to the scene. Of all the Stuart kings, Charles I was the most passionate collector of art as he viewed paintings as a way of endorsing the lofty view of the monarchy. Antwerp-born, Anthony van Dyke arrived in England in April 1632. It was not van Dyke’s first time in London as he had spent six months there at the end of 1620 before heading off to Italy. Although he was travelling around Italy Van Dyck remained constantly in touch with the courts of James I and Charles I’s and whilst travelling around Italy he helped King Charles’s agents in their search for paintings. He also sent to England some of his own works. In April 1632 van Dyck returned to London and immediately became a court favourite as well as being welcomed by king Charles who knighted him in July and set out that van Dyke should receive a pension of £200 a year The wording of the grant document referred to Van Dyke as principalle Paynterin ordinaryto their majesties. He was provided with a house on the River Thames at Blackfriars, then just outside the City of London, thus avoiding the monopoly of the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers. Van Dyke’s Blackfriars studio was frequently visited by the King and Queen and later a special causeway was built to ease their access from the river. Charles rarely sat for another painter while van Dyck lived.
The artistic trajectory of Cornelius Johnson was stalled.
In 1639 Johnson received a royal commission to paint the three young children of Charles I and his French princess wife Henrietta Maria. First was a portrait of Charles’ eldest son, Charles, who would later become Charles II. It depicts the nine year-old-boy as a boy soldier, which appears to be a powerful piece of propaganda. Charles I was executed in January 1649 at the climax of the English Civil War and the country became a de facto republic led by Oliver Cromwell. When Cromwell died in 1658, the English monarchy was restored and Charles II became monarch on his thirtieth birthday on May 29th 1660.
Cornelius Johnson painted the portrait of Charles I’s second son, James, when he was six-years-old. It was not until forty-six years later, in 1685, on the death of his brother, Charles II, that he became king of England.
The third 1639 royal portrait by Johnson was of the English princess, Mary, who was the eldest of Charles I’s children and the sister of Charles II and James I. She was eight years old at the time of the painting.
Two years later, in 1641, Mary who was just nine years of age was married to the future stadtholder of the Netherlands, fifteen-year-old William II of Orange. Eight days after her husband’s death in 1650, Mary gave birth to a son, William III of Orange, who later became King of England. After the restoration of the monarchy in England in 1660, Mary left the Netherlands to join in the celebrations in London, where she fell ill with smallpox and died, aged 29.
Johnson painted many portraits of children, either individually or in pairs, and consequently was much in demand with English and Scottish clients. An example of this genre was Johnson’s 1635 portrait entitled Robert, Lord Bruce, later 2nd Earl of Elgin and 1st Earl of Ailesbury. We see before us a fashionably dressed young sitter, Robert, Lord Bruce, who was the only child and heir of the Scottish nobleman Thomas Bruce, 1st Earl of Elgin. As a young child, Bruce received little formal education, but once he became a teenager, he travelled to Europe and was one of the first Scots to embark on the Grand Tour. By 1659, twenty-three-year-old Bruce had become an active royalist conspirator and was involved in plans for an uprising against the government, which led to his arrest.
The portrait had been commissioned by the boy’s father, Thomas Bruce. One must believe that Thomas Bruce was pleased with the resulting portrait of his son as three years later, in 1638, he commissioned Johnson to paint a full-length portrait of himself.
The community that Cornelius Johnson lived among centred itself around the Austin Friars, the Dutch church in London. At the time of the late sixteenth century the Dutch community was the largest group of expatriates living in London and numbered around five thousand out of the total population of one hundred thousand at the time. About half of the Dutch residing in London were Protestants who had fled the Flemish Low Countries due to religious persecution. Others were skilled craftsman, including brewers, tile makers, weavers, artists, printers and engravers, who came to England for economic opportunities. Johnson was commissioned to paint portraits of many of these distinguished members of this Netherlandish community.
One such pair were Willem Thielen, the Minister of Austin Friars, and his wife Maria de Fraeye.
From left to right: Arthur Capel 1st Earl of Essex (1631-1683), his father Arthur Capel 1st Baron Capel (1604-1649), Henry Capel 2nd Baron Capel (1638-1896), Elizabeth, Lady Capel (died 1661), Charles Capel (died 1657), Elizabeth Countess of Carnarvon (1633-1678), and Mary Duchess of Beaufort.
It was around 1640 that Cornelius John received the commission to paint a large family group portrait of the 1st Baron Capel and his wife and their five surviving children. It is a depiction which celebrates fecundity, good health, good looks and stylish elegance. Lord Capel was a diehard Royalist. Appropriately, given the horticultural interests of the Capels, the family are pictured here posing in front of their formal garden at Little Hadham Hall in Hertfordshire. The baron’s wife is dressed modestly and somewhat behind the times. She is seen wearing a two-tiered cape trimmed with lace to conceal her bodice, but her daughters wear lace collars that were démodé for about five years.
The set-up for Cornelius Johnson’s depiction of the Capel Family was thought to have come from van Dyke’s 1632 depiction of Charles I and his family.
Anthony van Dyke died in 1641 and this should have added to the opportunities for Johnson whose work and reputation had been overshadowed by van Dyke. However, Johnson was not to have that boost in England because at the time of van Dyke’s death the political situation in England was fast deteriorating and by 1642 Charles I had fled from London. George Vertue, an English engraver and antiquary, whose notebooks on British art of the first half of the 18th century are a valuable source for the period, in October 1843 he wrote of Cornelius Johnson’s predicament:
“…being terrifyd with those apprehensions & the constant perswasions of his wife, the family emigrated to the Netherlands…”
In Alexander Finberg’s 1922 book A Chronological List of Portraits by Cornelius Johnson he talks about Johnson’s “pass”, parliamentary permission to travel and leave England. Finberg wrote:
“…Cornelius Johnson, Picture Drawer, shall have Mr Speaker’s Warrant to pass beyond the seas with Emmanuel Pass and George Hawkins and to carry with him such pictures and colours, bedding, household stuff, pewter and brass as belonged to himself…”
On October 27th 1643 Johnson left London and sailed to Middelbourg, Zeeland, a city in Southwest Netherlands. Middlebourg was part of the The United Provinces often referred to as Netherlands, or the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands.
Once residing in Middelbourg Johnson joined the painter’s guild, The Guild of St Luke. One of Johnson’s first commissions was a lucrative and prestigious one. It came from Apolonius Veth, who was the burgomaster of Middelbourg.
Apolonia Veth also commissioned Johnson to paint a portrait of his wife, Cornelia.
For a time, Cornelius Johnson and his family left Middelbourg and went to live in Amsterdam. Cornelius carried on with his portrait commissions but also took on multi-figure commissions. One such was his 1647 painting entitled The Hague Magistrates.
Another of Johnson’s multi-figured civic portraits was his 1650 painting entitled The Middelburg Archers’ Guild. One presumes the Guild commissioned Johnson for the painting. Johnson’s old client Apolonius Veth was Deacon of the Guild the year Johnson worked on the painting so, as he appears in the depiction, maybe he was the person who commissioned the work.
During 1652 Johnson relocated his family to Utrecht and resided in the high-status address of Herrenstraat. Portrait commissions kept rolling in from the elite families of Utrecht and Johnson was soon regarded as a leading portrait painter. Cornelius Johnson sometimes known as Cornelis Jonson van Ceulen died on August 5th 1661, aged 67 and the funeral service was held in the Regulierskerk in Utrecht
I suppose painters challenge us with trompe l’oeil aspect of their depictions partly as a joke, as in the case of M C Escher and partly as an outward show of their technical brilliance. Trompe l’oeil (trick of the eye) is often incorporated in still life paintings and in many facets of a still life work we can appreciate the expertise of the artist. The words still life derive from a Dutch word stilleven while the French prefer nature morte and Italian, natura morta meaning dead nature. Still life paintings are those which depict inanimate objects, whether they be such things as musical instruments, kitchen utensils and tableware as well as portrayal of dead animals, foliage or musical instruments etc. Often the inclusion of an inanimate object in a painting has a symbolic meaning whilst at other times it is simply art for art’s sake.
The term memento mori, a Latin phrase meaning ‘remember you must die’ is often a term used when describing certain types of still life works. Paintings, for example, which may include a portrait with a skull but other symbols commonly found are hour glasses or clocks, extinguished or guttering candles, fruit, and flowers. Closely related to the memento mori picture is the vanitas still life. I find the depiction of these inanimate objects fascinating and feel that they are completed by the most talented artists.
Unlike me, the French Academy of the seventeenth century did not agree. According to the French Academy their hierarchy of genres (or subject types) for art established in the seventeenth century, still life paintings were ranked at the bottom – fifth after history painting, portraiture, genre painting (scenes of everyday life) and landscape. It is thought that still life and landscape paintings were considered lowly because they did not involve human subject matter.
We know people buy portraiture to remember someone. People buy landscapes and seascapes for their beauty and often to remind themselves of places they loved to visit. Genre paintings were scenes of everyday life which often were also pictorial tales of morals and sometimes the realist genre paintings told of harsh times suffered by the less fortunate. But who would buy still life paintings? I suppose a beautiful flower arrangement depicted in a floral still life lights up a room but what about still life paintings which depict dead animals, food and expensive homeware? Buyers of such work may believe that the painting reflects their affluence or hunting prowess.
When you look through the list of sixteenth and seventeenth still life painters, very few women’s names appear and yet there are a few. The most obvious are the seventeenth century artists, Rachel Rausch with her floral still life works and Judith Leyster. Today I want to look at the life and works of the greatest female still life painters, Clara Peeters. She was by far the best-known female Flemish artist of this era and one of the few women artists who became a professional artist in seventeenth-century Europe, and she achieved that status despite constraints on women’s access to artistic training and membership in guilds.
Clara Peeters was born in Antwerp but when it comes to her date of birth there is some confusion. It is known that a Clara Peeters, the daughter of Jean (Jan) Peeters was baptized on May 15th 1594 in the Church of St. Walburga, Antwerp and other records indicate that Clara Peeters and Henric Joosen were married in the same church on May 31st 1639. So is that Clara Peeters the famous artist? Although she is a major figure in the history of European still life painting, almost nothing is known about Clara Peeters’s life with certainty. Early researchers confused her with other women bearing the same relatively common name, ranging from an Antwerp heiress to an Amsterdam prostitute. Also, we have to be wary of jumping to conclusions as Peeters was a very common name in Antwerp.
Another factor which casts doubt on the birthdate of 1594 as her paintings, which were dated 1607, would mean she completed them she was just thirteen years of age and that is extremely unlikely so the conclusion is Clara was born in the 1580’s.
At a point in time when she was living in Amsterdam Clara Peeters produced one of her still life masterpieces in 1911. It was entitled Still Life with Fish, a Candle, Artichokes, Crab, and Prawns. Before us we see what looks like a wooden table upon which is a selection of seafood, such as boiled crabs and shrimp, several freshwater fish including two carp, a roach, several ide or orfe, and a northern pike. Behind the food there is a dark glass goblet, a brass candlestick with an unlit but partially burnt out candle, a Rhenish stoneware jug, a copper strainer with a brass colander in which are two artichokes.
Although you will not see it in the main picture if you were able to take a close look at the lid of the jug you would see a reflection/self portrait of Clara wearing a large headpiece. She, like a number of famous artists, included her own portrait in a number of her paintings.
Another painting in the Prado collection by Clara Peeters is her 1611 work entitled Still Life with a Sparrow Hawk, Fowl, Porcelain and Shells and is thought to have been in the Spanish royal collection. In this work we see a life-sized Eurasian sparrow hawk balanced on the edge of a wicker basket. Due to its large size we believe it to be the female of the species. Sparrow hawks would typically be used in the gardens surrounding a palace or a city, and not only by men but also by women and children learning the art of falconry. Lying lifeless in the basket is a large mallard, and a woodcock. At the left, with its head hanging from the table is a hen. A dead thrush lies on the table. The small red bird to the right is a common bullfinch. The bullfinch often appeared in Clara’s still life paintings and this could well be because of its vivid red colouring and in this work contrasts well with the green head of the mallard. Along the side of the wicker basket are a line of dead finches, hanging by their necks. One question you might ask yourself is why have one live bird depicted among so many dead ones. I think the reason is that the smaller dead birds could well be the prey of the living sparrow hawk. Again in this painting, as it was in the previous one, note how Clara has contrasted the soft feathered bodies of the birds with the harder and finer surfaces of the shells and porcelain dishes.
The several plates and bowls of white kraak porcelain are stacked on top of a blue and white kraak plate, an item which appeared in a number of Peeters’ paintings. In this painting the blue colour of this dish has faded and this is probably due to the cobalt-based pigment used. Kraak ware or Kraak porcelain is a type of Chinese export porcelain produced mainly in the late Ming Dynasty, in the Wanli reign. It was among the first Chinese export wares to arrive in Europe from the late sixteenth century via Portugal and Spain, and spread throughout the continent mainly through Habsburg networks. It often featured in Dutch Golden Age paintings of still life subjects which included foreign luxuries.
For the less squeamish but keeping to the subject of food I give you Clara Peeters’ 1621 painting entitled Table with Cloth, Salt Cellar, Gilt Standing Cup, Pie, Jug, Porcelain Plate with Olives and Cooked Fowl. There are no dead animals on this table, just simple and tasty fare. The arrangement of inanimate objects would appear random when in fact Peeters probably spent much time with the arrangement. Firstly, she would want what was placed on the table to look like an everyday table set for a feast. However, she would ensure that none of the objects blocked the view of another. The glass in the background containing the red wine is a fluted façon de Venise glass and was the type that was being manufactured in Antwerp by Italian glassblowers at the time. It is probable that the red wine had been imported from France, Italy or Spain. At the time of the painting much of food in the Dutch capital, such as wine, oil, salt, raisins and figs had come from Spain. In this painting we see these fruits, together with almonds and sugar candy, in a large wide bowl known as a bianchi di Faenza vessel, a type of earthenware made in Faenza, an Italian city in the province of Ravenna, in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries..
Look carefully at the gilt goblet and the pewter flagon. These are objects that appear in other of her still life paintings and also once again, she painted her self-portrait – three times in the raised parts of the goblet and four times in a vertical line on the pewter jug. This inclusion of herself portraits in some of her works is believed to be a form of a proclamation that she was a female painter and proud to be one in a profession dominated by men.
The Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels which she completed in 1615 is one of Clara Peeters’ best works and is part of the Mauritshuis collection. The depiction features a stone table top on which is a tin plate with three cheeses on it. Above the cheeses is a smaller plate of butter shavings. In the foreground, on the left there are two pretzels, next to which is a knife with a beautifully decorated silver handle, three almonds and a blue-white plate of Wan Li porcelain filled with dried figs, almonds and raisins. In the background we see a stoneware jar and a partially gilded lidded glass à la façon de Venise. On the right side of the table there is also a sandwich and two raisins. It is a meticulous depiction even down to small damages to some of the items and the hole in the cheese where a testing tube had been inserted. As with all her still life works she has a remarkable ability to depict textures. Look how she has depicted the crumbly nature of the dark green cheese and the softness of the shavings of butter as well as the reflective quality of the wine glass. Her colour palette consists mainly of delicately harmonised yellow and reddish-brown shades and by doing this she has added warmth to the depiction but it is contrasted by the cool blue and white bowl at the right foreground. The dark background and the way she has placed the objects in close proximity to each other offers a scene of intimacy.
Look at the knife in the foreground that overhangs the edge of the table. The blade has an Antwerp mark, but more of interest is the ornate handle, which is decorated with ornaments and figures that signify love and marriage. Although not clear in the picture, at the top a vignette of entangled hands with a burning heart and below it the allegorical figures of Faith and Temperance. This type of knife, along with a matching fork in a pouch, was given as a wedding cutlery as a gift at weddings. Even more interesting is the side of this bridal knife, on which Clara has put her name in the form of an engraved inscription, which is unusual as it is one of the few still lifes that she has signed her name in full, rather than her usual signature on her paintings “CLARA P”. Maybe the reason for the full name on the knife handle was because it was her own wedding gift. However, whether she ever married is still unknown.
Once again we see the added personal touch to this still life work for if you take a closer look you can uncover in the metal lid of the stone jug the reflection of a face with a white cap: this is Clara herself and as in other paintings by her this reflection appears to be a secondary “signature”. This incorporation of a self portrait in a painting soon caught on and many other artists followed suit.
Paintings depicting vases of flowers were very popular at the time. One of the leading exponents was Jan Breughel the Elder.
One of Clara Peeters’ floral still life paintings is in the Met Museum of New York. The painting depicts a luxurious bouquet of flowers in a roemer glass, which stands on a low stone shelf. The painting is awash with primary colours which make it stand out against a plain dark background. The bunch is a mix of late spring and early summer blooms and include roses, tulips, narcissi, carnations, and irises. We see that some of the flowers have shed their petals which now lie on the pitted ledge. Clara Peeters was an expert when it came to depicting reflective surfaces, an example of this is her depiction of the glass with its ornamented base and serrated foot. We see a butterfly perched on the stem of a fallen flower and in a way, this brings to life this still life work.
One has to presume that Clara Peeters’ choice of still life paintings is a result of the restrictions imposed on female artists. Female artists rarely followed an art education, certainly never being allowed to paint naked models, a must-do requirement if you wanted to become a history painter. On the other hand, everyday objects were within reach of female painters. Peeters’ still life artwork was in great demand with the buying public. Already in the first half of the 17th century there was work by her in collections in the Northern Netherlands as well as her still lifes in the royal collection in Madrid. As was explained at the beginning of this blog the date of her birth is not precisely known. It is the same for the date of her passing but it is presumed to be sometime after 1657.
The artist I am featuring today is an American, born in New York State and was considered to be one of the major artists of Buffalo’s first golden age in the mid 1800s. He is Thomas LeClear who is recognized for his beautifully crafted depiction of children.
Thomas LeClear was born in the village of Candor, near Owego, in upstate New York on March 11th 1818. Even at a young age LeClear showed and interest and aptitude in painting. In Henry T. Tuckerman’s Book of the Artists, which was first published in 1867, he regaled how LeClear, at the tender age of twelve, completed a painting of Saint Matthew, which was so admired by his neighbours that they were willing to pay him two and a half dollars for copies. In 1832, at the age of thirteen, his family moved to Ontario, Canada, and a few years later LeClear became an itinerant portrait artist and decorative painter in upstate New York and travelling as far west as Green Bay, Wisconsin. In 1834 he went to Goodrich, a town on the shores of Lake Huron, where he took up a commission to decorate panels on a steamboat under the guidance of its owner. The finished paintings pleased the owner but were not what LeClear had wanted to paint as he had hoped to depict scenes from American history. LeClear left Goodrich and moved to Norfolk in the state of New York situated close to the St Lawrence Seaway. He remained there for two years carrying out portrait commissions and when the money from the sale of them dried up he would do any manual job that was on offer but slowly but surely his money was fast running out. He moved on to Green Bay but there was no work for him in that city so he decided to head south to New York
In 1839 LeClear moved to New York City. According to Tuckerman’s biography of LeClear. The young artist arrived in the city in a poor financial state but still had enough to open a studio at 1271 Broadway which he would later share with Albert Bierstadt. LeClear had said that the seven years of wandering, looking for work, were the darkest period of his life. He reportedly studied for several years with Henry Inman, an American portrait, genre, and landscape painter, who was at that time, reckoned to be one of the city’s leading artists. By 1847 , still a year short of his thirtieth birthday, LeClear had gained a reputation as a talented painter and had gained substantial recognition for his work. He began exhibiting at the National Academy of Design in 1845, and in the next few years several of his genre paintings were acquired by the American Art Union.
The year was 1847 and LeClear had arrived in Buffalo, New York. He reckoned, with Buffalo now a very busy commercial port, there would be many possibilities for a successful career. His calculations proved correct. In short order he became an important member of Buffalo’s art community and acquired many wealthy local patrons. He was a founding member of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy which later became the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. LeClear served on its board for many years. In addition to portraits, he also produced a substantial number of genre paintings. Many of the latter were street life scenes, in which children were featured in whimsical situations. In the early 1860s LeClear moved back to New York City. where he was elected to full membership in the National Academy of Design in 1863. Within a decade of his return to the city, he was believed to be one of the most prominent portrait painters on the East Coast.
In the spring of 1861, Ulysses S Grant looked unlikely to be remembered for his greatness. He had resigned his army captain’s commission in 1854, and was struggling to survive financially as a humble clerk. This was all to change with the outbreak of the Civil War. He reenlisted in the army, and soon worked his way up through the ranks becoming a general. By war’s end, he was commander of all Union land forces and, as the chief architect of the South’s defeat, had become one of the country’s heroes. His popularity led him to be elected as US President in 1868. Grant posed for this portrait shortly after he returned from a triumphant world tour following his presidency. Thomas LeClear painted two versions. This one was originally owned by Grant himself, while the second one became part of the White House collection.
President U.S. Grant was painted in a number of portraits by Thomas Le Clear, for whom the former president sat in New York in 1879, two years after the end of his presidency. The sitting led to three portraits, two of which are in the White House whilst the other hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution. This small bust portrait was not purchased by the government until the 20th century, and was produced by the painter in 1880.
Buffalo Newsboy was painted by LeClear in 1853 whilst living in Buffalo and twenty years after history’s first paperboy. The story goes that the publisher of The New York Sun had placed an advert for newspaper hawkers stipulating that only “steady men” should apply. A ten-year-old boy, Barney Flaherty, asked to be considered and he was hired on September 4th, 1833 which is why that date is national newsboy day. LeClear, who was a founding member and first superintendent of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, which would later become the Albright-Knox, and the institution has the work in its collection.
The most fascinating of Thomas LeClear’s works is his 1865 painting entitled Interior with Portraits. The painting was commissioned by Franklin Sidway, an American businessman and banker from Buffalo, New York and is currently held by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.
The setting for the painting is a studio in the famous New York artist building known as the 10th Street Studio Building. It was constructed in New York City in 1857 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. The painting depicts much of the trappings of the professional artist such as a sculpted bust, animal sculptures, prints and copies after the old masters. This was the home of an artist not a photographer. This was the home of an artist who revered the artists of the past and their works such as the Borghese Gladiator and the Venus de Milo, copies of which we see in the studio.
In the painting we see two young children standing side by side. These are Sidway’s siblings, James and Parnell, who are posing for a photograph in an artist’s studio. But all is not as it seems as both were dead when this painting was made. The young boy on the right, James Sidway, was a volunteer firefighter, and had died in 1865, aged twenty-five whilst attending a hotel blaze. The painting was commissioned by his brother shortly after James’ death. The girl in the painting, Parnell Sidway, was an adolescent when she died of illness in 1850. LeClear, having no live models for the portrait, has utilised family daguerreotypes to aid him. Daguerreotypes were photographs taken by an early photographic process employing an iodine-sensitized silvered plate and mercury vapour and were invented by Louis Daguerre, a French artist and photographer. Painting using photographs was very contentious at the time and many artists were suspicious of the practice and maybe there are references to those hostilities in the painting. It marked the arrival of a new technological form of virtual reality into the painter’s traditional territory. Artists everywhere felt threatened by this new photography. Many vowed never to use photographs as painting aids and would rather acclaim the very special qualities that they believed made painting superior to photography
The two children stand before a landscape painting which has become part of the photographic trickery. This fact alone must have incensed the like of the Hudson River painters and the Western landscapes painters whose works were so dominant in the public exhibition rooms at the time.
Look above the landscape painting and you will see an old patriarch looking disapprovingly over the scene. Is it a mere coincidence that his portrait is partly obscured by the backdrop? Is this hinting at the Masters are being relegated to the past by the advent of photography?
There is much to see in the work regarding the tension between painting versus photography. The children are surrounded by painted portraits, and the demonised photographer has his back to us obscuring his face. Does this symbolise his reluctance to be part of the photography/painting argument? Of course, early photography had its own problems especially when it involved long exposure time and it being necessary for the subjects remaining absolutely still during the long exposure. Children were a special challenge for photographers. They sometimes used braces and ties and other torturous to keep people from moving. Note in this painting how the girl holds onto her brother to stop him moving as a comment on the “keep still” factor.
In the doorway we see a dog is depicted just about to rush into the studio, again highlighting the problem with photography as opposed to painting. But what happens when the dog chooses just that moment to come in? Well, if you’re an artist, you would capture the moment of him in the doorway. However, if you’re a photographer, you would probably have to start over again.
Looking closely at the work of art we have another conundrum to solve. There are three chairs dotted around but none have a sitter. One, which is positioned in front of the easel, which holds a painting of a bearded man. This had presumably once been occupied by the artist. On another chair we see a lady’s hat, shawl, and purse and the third unoccupied chair with its walking stick and discarded newspaper must have once been occupied by a gentleman. But where are the three now? The answer is probably quite simple – they are all out here with us, the viewers. We are all standing side by side just outside the picture frame, watching the scene before us. So LeClear is now telling us that instead of there only being three people involved in the painting, there were actually six !
It is thought that by using this illusion he was paying homage to Velazquez’z painting Las Meninas, which if we look at the figures in the mirror, used the same stratagem.
Two years after completing his portraits of the former president Ulysses S Grant, Thomas LeClear died of pleurisy in Rutherford Park, New Jersey on November 26th 1882 at the age of sixty-four. His wife Caroline had died thirteen years earlier when only forty-six-years of age.
The two lie together in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, Kings County, New York.
My artist today was born Marie-Joséphine Vallet and it was not until later in her life that she changed it to Jacqueline Marval. She was the second of eight children of her parents who were both teachers. Jacqueline Marval was Born in Quaix, near Grenoble, France on October 19th 1866. Her parents, wanting their daughter to follow in their footsteps, persuaded her to become an educator and by 1884 she had a teaching degree. However, teaching was not for her and she began to spend much of her time painting. In 1886, aged twenty, she married Albert Valentin, a travelling salesman. Their marriage did not prove a success despite Marval giving birth to a son. The end of the marriage came shortly after their six-month-old baby died and the couple divorced in 1891. Now that she had become a divorcee she had to earn money to survive and she took up a job in a clothing factory in which she made waistcoats, gilets and vests and soon due to her ability she became a very proficient tailor and embroiderer.
She lived briefly in her hometown of Grenoble, where in 1894, she met the painter François-Joseph Girot and she moved with him to Paris. A year later she left Girot and became enamoured with another artist, Jules Flandrin who had studied under Gustave Moreau at the École des Beaux-Arts. Vallet and Flandrin lived together in rue Campagne-Première in the Quartier du Montparnasse. It was through her relationship with Flandrin that Marval decided to become a professional artist. It was in 1900 when Vallet took on the pseudonym Jacqueline Marval, “Marval” being the composite of her first and last name “MARie VALlet.”
The Salon des Indépendents was created in 1884 in Paris by a group of young artists, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro and others who were tired of having their work judged by a bunch of tradition-bound academic artists wishing to be able to freely exhibit their works and free themselves from the influence of any jury. The Salon des Indépendants was a chance for them to show their work directly to the public. Despite having her first submissions rejected by the Salon des Indépendants in 1900, the following year she managed to have ten of her paintings under her new name, Jacqueline Marval accepted at the 1901 Salon des Indépendants. Ambroise Vollard bought ten paintings from her, including Odalisque au Guépard. The term odalisque means a chambermaid in a harem. Around this period Europe was captivated with the East, and it was termed Orientalism, which manifested itself in furniture, fashion, decorative arts and works of art. Odalisque au Guepard meaning Odalisque with Cheetah is actually a self-portrait by Marval. We see before us Marval’s Odalisque, a naked young woman with elegant hairdo lying on a balustraded balcony between a flowered foreground and foliated background. A double layer of fabric protects her exposed flesh from the hard yellow and blue tile floor. She leans on one elbow, whilst her other arm reaches out to stroke the cheetah. She faces forward, but does not acknowledge our presence and although naked she makes no effort to cover herself and the impression we have of her is one of impertinence, and self determination.
Things got even better for Jacqueline in 1902 when she had some of her paintings exhibited alongside those of Flandrin, Albert Marquet and Henri Matisse in Berthe Weill’s small gallery on rue Massé.
At the Salon des Indépendants in 1903, Jacqueline Marval submitted her painting entitled Les Odalisques. It is one of her masterpieces and presently hangs in the Musée de Grenoble. This painting depicts five women: three seated nude, one dressed and reclining on her elbow, and one standing, clothed and holding a tray. Les odalisques follows in the art historical tradition of large-scale orientalized bathing scenes, with a strong focus on the nude body and the interaction between figures. One has to admire the spirit of Marval who had the courage to paint herself as a prostitute five times on this canvas !
Berthe Weill had been born in Paris on November 20, 1865. She was the fifth of seven children and the elder of the two daughters born to Solomon Weill and his wife Jenny (née Levy). Because she was a Jew, Berthe Weill for her to become an art dealer through the back door similar to how many Jews had to enter many other occupations. During the 1880’s she began working for Salvador Meyer, an antiquarian, whose premises were located on rue Lafitte. During the long period working for Meyer she was able to train her eye and to learn first-hand about a variety of objects ranging from bric-a-brac that was rarely suitable for the finest town houses or châteaux to genuine antiques. In December 1901, just after her 36th birthday, she opened a gallery, Galerie B. Weill, which was dedicated solely to modern art. Why not use her full name for the gallery? The reason was simple.
Most art dealers were men and Berthe knew that her gallery was likely to fare better if collectors did not know initially that it was owned and operated by a female! Weill was also particularly interested in promoting female artists who were living in Paris. She had an impressive list of artists who had made their way through her gallery and submitted work for her to sell, including Raoul Dufy, André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Diego Rivera, Georges Braque, Kees van Dongen, Maurice Utrillo, Pablo Picasso and Jean Metzinger. However she never forgot the plight of female painters and gave the early exposure and sales of women painters such as Suzanne Valadon, Emilie Charmy and today’s artist, Jacqueline Marval.
There was, in 1905, a major event in twentieth century art, an exhibition at the Salon d’Autumne. It was an exhibition that opened in Paris, on October 15th, 1905, and which included paintings by Marval. It was said that the exhibition ‘shocked many who saw, and many more who did not’. It was at this exhibition that the art critic Louis Vauxcelles pointed to a quattrocento-like sculpture by created by Albert Marque in the middle of the gallery and exclaimed:
“…Donatello au milieu des fauves!…”
(Donatello among the wild beasts),
……..and the name fauves stuck. Fauve paintings are distinguished by a startling palette of saturated, unmixed colours and broad brushstrokes.
When Jacqueline Marval met Eugène Druet, little does she know how important this encounter will be in her career. Druet first owned the French Yacht Club, a small family café that he bought in 1893. The sculptor, Auguste Rodin, regularly frequented the café, and it was he who introduced Druet to art photography. Druet took many pictures of Rodin’s sculptures and soon acted as his official photographer. In 1903, on Rodin’s advice, Druet abandoned his café to open an art gallery at 114, Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré which later moved to the Rue Royale in 1908. In 1909, Jacqueline Marval exhibited for the first time at Galerie Druet and during the following years, she would exhibit at the gallery over fifty times often alongside other artists such as Georges Rouault, Roger de la Fresnaye and Henri Matisse.
In 1912 the Galerie Druet staged a solo exhibition of forty-four of Jacqueline’s paintings and it was well received. The celebrated poet and art critic, Guillaume Apollinaire, praised Jacqueline Marval writing in an article in the journal, Le Petit Bleu:
“…Mme. Marval has offered art-lovers an entirely different kind of treat. This artist has imagination, and a very personal talent. Abstraction is not her strong point, but she has a marvelous ability to reveal the poetic reality of her subjects. . . In her large canvas of odalisques, Mme. Marval has given the measure of her talent and has achieved a work of importance for modern painting. This strong and sensual work, freely painted and wholly personal in composition, line and coloring, deserves to survive…”
In 1913, Jacqueline Marval’s 1903 painting Odalisques au miroir was exhibited in the New York Armory Show, also known as the International Exhibition of Modern Art.
It was the first large exhibition of modern art in America, as well as one of the many exhibitions that have been held in the vast spaces of U.S. National Guard armories.
Many visitors and art critics were shocked by the Modern art on display with Kenyon Cox of Harper’s Weekly describing what he saw at the Armory Show:
“…it is not amusing, but appalling and disgusting. I was attributed saying that the human race was approaching madness. I never did, but if one tries to convince me that this is modern art and this is representative of our present, I will have to think it is…”
The Théâtre des Champs-Elysées is said to be one of the most beautiful concert halls in Paris. This historical edifice, which is considered by many as one of the first Art Déco ones, was the first concrete building of the architects Auguste and Gustave Perret. It was built in 1913 by a group of artists, Henry Van de Velde, the Perret brothers, Antoine Bourdelle, and Maurice Denis.
Jacqueline Marval was put in charge of completing eight panels for the building that will be the decor of the Foyer de la Danse. Marval chose as her theme, Daphnis et Chloé, an early 20th century ballet my Ravel, based upon a second century Greek tale. The subject of the opera was the trials and ordeals suffered by two young shepherds, who were young lovers. However there was also a hidden meaning for these depictions being placed in the Foyer de la Danse as it was here that many older men would gaze lecherously at the young, sometimes impoverished, dancers as they rehearsed.
It was to remind them that the paintings were a celebration of love between two young people. Paul Jamot, commented on this, writing in La Gazette des Beaux-Arts, First Semester, 1913:
“…since some elderly men who think money gives them rights and merits, come here as conquerors, those walls will let them know that nature only likes pairing youth with youth…”
Jacqueline’s reputation as a an artist grew year on year. During the 1920’s she and Flandrin made many visits to Biarritz and it was in this seaside resort that she found new inspiration for her paintings.
Her paintings included depictions of beaches, baigneuses and fisher folk and in a way they were recording that time when bathing in the sea had become a favoured pastime and that French seaside towns were proving ever more popular with the French population.
The swimming costumes she depicted provided us with and observation of the fashion of the time.
Jacqueline regularly exhibited her work at the various Paris Salons where she would attend and ensure she was well recognised.
She became well known as an artist and her flamboyance was often noted in the local press which covered the Salon exhibitions.
Often she would be asked to produce the posters, and illustrate the invitation cards and the catalogue covers for Parisian salons such as the Salon d’Automne.
Following a prolonged illness Jacqueline’s friend and French art critic René-Jean, took her to the L’Hôpital Bichât in Paris where she passed away on May 28th 1932, aged 65.
Mary Taylor Blood was born on May 13th, 1819. Her father was Reuben Blood, Jr. and her mother was Sally Taylor Blood and they lived in Sterling Massachusetts. Mary had two older brothers but was the eldest of four sisters. When she was still only a child, she was enrolled in Miss Thayer’s school, where she learned to paint with watercolours. Having shone as a potential artist she later moved to the Quaker’s Fryville Seminary in Bolton, Massachusetts. This school was established in 1823 by Thomas Fry, a local Quaker, as a co-educational preparatory school. It was here that she improved her skill as an artist and developed her early talent for sketching and painting.
Whilst still a teenager, the family moved to Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire and as fate would have it a young Universalist minister, Reverend Charles W. Mellen, arrived to act as pastor in the neighbouring towns. Reverend Mellen came from a family of farmers from nearby Phillipston and soon after, he and Mary met and the couple fell in love. In 1840 Mary and the Reverend Charles Mellen, married and went to live in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Mary and her husband relocated many times due to his pastoral work and in 1846 while living in the Massachusetts town of Foxborough, Mary gave birth to a daughter, Amanda. Sadly the baby only survived for forty-eight hours and the gravestone they erected at the site of the grave had the poignant inscription:
“…Our short-lived flower returned unto God…”
Even sadder was the fact that the couple never had any other children. Mary was fortunate that she had the support of her husband during these sad times and he was also very supportive with regards Mary’s artistic work.
Mary’s brother-in-law, William Grenville Roland Mellen, was also a Universalist minister and in the late 1840’s had his ministry in Cambridge Massachusetts and Mary and her husband made a number of visits to visit him in the city. Cambridge was a metropolitan suburb of Boston and at the time Boston was considered to be the New England’s centre of culture. In the city there was the Boston Athenaeum which is one of the oldest independent libraries in the United States. In the years 1872–1876, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts exhibited in the Athenaeum’s gallery space while waiting for construction of its own building to be completed and at that time it boasted the largest art collection in New England. One can be sure that Mary Mellen, whilst visiting her brother-in-law and his family, found time to visit the building and discover the artistic treasures it held. Some of the works on display which Mary would have seen were by the American painter and printmaker, Fitz Henry Lane.
Fitz Henry Lane was born in the fishing port of Gloucester, Massachusetts on December 18th,1804. He was actually born Nathaniel Rogers Lane but in 1831, when he was twenty-seven, he legally changed his first and middle names, becoming known as Fitz Henry Lane. He suffered various illnesses as a young child. The most severe was paralysis due to infantile polio and after this illness he had to use crutches. Lane learned the basic art techniques while in his teens and in 1832 he started work with a firm of lithographers in Gloucester. Later in 1832, he moved to Boston for formal training and enrolled as an apprentice with William S. Pendleton, who owned one of the city’s most important lithographic firm. Lane stayed working for Pendleton until 1837, during which time he produced many illustrations for sheet music and scenic views.
Whilst living in in Boston, Lane became aware of the artistic works of the English-born artist Robert Salmon, who was looked upon as the most accomplished marine painter in the area. Works of art by Salmon with their precisely detailed ships and sharply rendered effects of light and atmosphere had a pivotal influence on Lane’s early style. By 1840, Lane had produced his first oil paintings and soon he was listed in a Boston almanac as a “Marine Painter.” His works were first exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum in 1841 and, after 1845, his works were regularly shown there.
One of his very fine ship portrait is his 1853 painting entitled Clipper Ship Sweepstakes. The work is thought to be a pendant piece of his 1854 work entitled The “Golden State” Entering New York Harbor, The Golden State was another clipper ship owned by Chambers and Heiser who probably commissioned both works.
This large work, The Golden State entering New York Harbor, was some four feet wide, and is considered one of Lane’s masterpieces. The location in the depiction is not known, but it could well be the broad bay at the mouth of New York harbour. It is a blustery day with scudding clouds and a frothy chop in the very green water. The ship is flying a blue-and-white swallowtail pennant with a red tail—the house flag of Chambers and Heiser—on its foremast. An American flag flies off its stern.
However, although there is no evidence that Mary Blood Mellon was formally apprenticed to Fitz Henry Lane, his early years spent working in various lithography workshops would have impressed upon him the value of having an apprentice and the connection became an asset to both the master and the student. By the mid-1850s, it seems that Mary Mellen was working alongside Lane in his Gloucester studio, and the “coupling” was working well as it appears that Lane had given Mary free access to his drawings and on some occasions allowed her to make copies from his canvases. Her copies were so good and her stylistic faithfulness increased, such that, at a later time, even Lane himself appeared uncertain as to which was his when both were shown side by side.
A classic example of the this can be seen when you look at both their renditions of a scene entitled Owl’s Head, a coastal town in Knox County, Maine. Fitz Lane completed his painting (2) Owl’s Head, Penobscot, Maine in 1862. Lane painted Owl’s Head, (1), named for its distinctive profile, from the east, with the Camden Hills beyond. The land formations delicately mirrored in still water, the clear sky, and the pale, salmon colours of early morning emphasize the atmosphere rather than the topography of the site. On the back of the painting, an inscription in Lane’s handwriting establishes it as his own work: Owl’s Head–Penobscot Bay, by F.H. Lane, 1862.
The curators and conservators of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston compared paint application and the use of colour in the paintings by Mellen (1) and Lang (2). In general, they stated that Lane’s brushstrokes seem crisper, and he more precisely defines compositional elements such as the pine trees. They also concluded that Lane’s palette is also cooler than Mellen’s. Yet on careful examination, they agreed that these details can sometimes be too close to definitively separate the authorship and it could be entirely possible that, in studio tradition, Lane contributed to Mellen’s paintings, even if she signed them, and this complicates the issues of attribution even further.
Mary Mellen was said to have copied Lane’s style so that even he could not tell which was his own painting. In his 2006 book, Fitz H. Lane: An Artist’s Voyage through Nineteenth-Century America (2006), the author James A Craig wrote:
“…Mrs. Mellen is so faithful in the copies of her master that even an expert might take them for originals. Indeed, an anecdote is related of her, which will exemplify her power in this direction. She had just completed a copy of one of Mr. Lane’s pictures when he called at her residence to see it. The copy and the original were brought down from the studio together and the master, much to the amusement of those present, was unable to tell which was his own, and which was the pupil’s…”
This copying was not unusual in an artist-apprentice relationship. What confuses some art historians as to the attribution of a painting as it appears as though Mellen had a hand in completing parts of several Lane paintings, or may have even sketched certain landscape views that would have been difficult for Lane to access, given his lameness
There is only one known work signed by both Lane and Mellen, and this is their 1850’s work entitled Coast of Maine. Both Mellen and Lane signed the back of the canvas of the small tondo.
In August 1859 Mary Mellen and Fitz Henry Lane travelled together to to visit the Blood family residence in Sterling, Massachusetts, where they both created paintings of the Blood homestead with the two paintings depicting a different season.
It is thought that by 1861 the Mary Mellen and her husband were living in Dorchester, Massachusetts, which was only a short distance from Gloucester. Three years later, the couple moved again, this time to Taunton, Massachusetts, which was about forty miles south of Boston.
Mary Mellen suffered duel losses in the mid 1860’s. Fitz Henry Lane had been unwell throughout 1864 and 1865 and this culminated in a bad fall in August 1865, followed by a heart attack. He died in his home on Duncan’s Point on August 14th, 1865 and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery. One of Boston’s newspapers described his death as “a national loss,” however Lane’s reputation during his lifetime was mainly local and after his death he and his works were largely forgotten outside Gloucester. A year later Mary’s husband, Reverend Charles W. Mellen, died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of forty-eight. Following Lane’s death in 1865 and Charles Mellen’s death in 1866, Mary Mellen, now widowed and childless, moved to Connecticut to live with her widowed sister-in-law, Sophronia Haskell.
Mary Mellen carried on painting until her death on February 11th,1886, when she died of typhoid at the age of sixty-six in Sterling, Massachusetts. Her passing was noted in several newspapers with obituaries acclaiming her as “a woman of great acquirements and an artist of prominence. Her specialty was marine work and her pictures were very popular.” Her will, which she had made in 1882 stipulated to which niece and nephew each of her original paintings by Fitz Lane should go. She also insisted that Lane’s nephew Fitz Henry Winter should receive a painting by Fitz Lane, as well as a portrait of him that was in her collection. In recent years, art historians recognize Mary Blood Mellen as one of the most accomplished artists to work on Cape Ann in the years immediately preceding the Civil War.
Joseph Mallord William Turner’s painting The Sun Rising Through Vapour was described at the time as masterly, and his early reputation was founded on a series of dramatic seascapes that he regularly showed at the Royal Academy, the British Institution and in his own gallery until about 1810. The sun disperses the clouds and infuses sand and sea with a golden glow. In the foreground against a seascape with the setting sun which casts a golden light over the entire picture, we see a group of fishermen and women unloading their catch and laying it out on the beach for sale. In the distance we see a number of ships at anchor including a man-of-war and a dismasted hulk which was being used as a prison ship, which is a stark reminder that at the time Turner completed the work, France and England were still at war. Turner painted numerous marine subjects early in his career. As here, he sought to make his reputation by matching the Dutch masters of the 17th century. Throughout his life Turner was fascinated with including the sun in his paintings
A similar painting can be found in the National Gallery, London entitled The Sun Rising through Vapour. The setting is low tide in the early morning and fishermen unload their catch from a boat beached high and dry on the shore. Some of the people are partaking of a meal whilst others prepare the catch for sale. There is a noticeable contrast between the human activity on the shore with the stillness of the glassy sea which, like a mirror, reflects the hazy sunlight. The sun is just a pale yellow glow and has yet the power to burn off the sea mist which is alluded to with the word ‘vapour’ in the picture’s title.
My next offering is by the Italian painter, Jacopo dal Ponte, better known as Jacopo Bassano, named after, Bassano dal Grappa, a village northwest of Venice, where he was born in the first decade of the sixteenth century. He was probably first trained by his father, Francesco, before becoming an apprentice in Bonifazio Veronese’s large Venetian workshop. He was mainly active, throughout his long life, in Bassano, where he painted landscapes and genre scenes. In his painting, Adoration of the Magi sometimes known as the Adoration of the Kings he depicted the Three Kings, or Magi, carrying their gifts, as they approached the infant Christ. It’s a scene that has been caught countless times on canvas. Despite their status and wealth, they bow to Christ who they acclaim as the King of Kings. The setting, is the inside of a ruined classical building and has a symbolic meaning. The decaying building symbolises the decline of the pagan world and the old gods. They will be further ruined as a result of Christ’s divine mission. Look at the various aspects of this picture. Look how Bassano has painted the sumptuously extravagant robes and depicted a splendid collection of animals and servants. Look how the light comes through the decaying architecture and settles on the head of the baby Jesus. This is looked upon as being a light source emanating from God the Father.
I wrongly associated paintings solely depicting ballerinas with the French painter Edgar Degas but in fact he had another favourite theme for his work – horse racing. Horse racing was a popular pastime in the nineteenth century in France under Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III. Degas became fascinated by the sport while visiting friends in Normandy. During his lifetime, Degas created forty-five oils, twenty pastels, two hundred and fifty drawings, and seventeen sculptures related to horses. One such work featuring horse racing is in the Barber Institute collection, entitled Jockeys Before the Race. It is a painting, made using oil essence, gouache, and pastel, which he completed in 1879. It is an image of three jockeys on horseback readying themselves at the start of a race on a dull winter’s day with its watery sun. This very large work (107 x 73cms) was exhibited at the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition in 1879. There is a definite lack of symmetry about this work as the vertical starting post is placed two-thirds from the left-hand side. The warm red and pink colours of the jockey’s clothes on the left of the painting are balanced by the lighter white/blue colours of the clothes worn by the jockey, who sits astride his horse in the right foreground.
My next choice of painting is both unusual and yet strangely beautiful. It is a 1860 watercolour over pen and pencil, partly heightened with white and gold work by Caspar Nepomuk Scheuren, a German landscape painter and etcher. It is thought to have been commissioned as a prize in a lottery held by Kristiania Kunstforenings, Oslo, the oldest art gallery in Norway, which is why the Norwegian coat of arms is at the top centre of the work. It is an elicitation of a poem by the German nineteenth century poet, Ludwig Uhland which tells of a legendary magical castle, depicted in the centre of the painting, which reaches up towards the moonlit sky and down to the shimmering sea. On one side we see a king and queen and on the other, their musical daughter, who serenades passers-by with a tearful lament, whose premature death forms the focus of the poem’s lament. The castle and characters are surrounded by an architectural framework, in which the separate compartments serve to isolate episodes of the unfolding narrative. The tragic fate of all three characters is depicted at the bottom of the painting. In the centre the king and queen are seen dressed in mourning clothes. To the left we see the tomb of their daughter and to the right we see a depiction of their own tomb. Below is the poem which tells the sad story.
The Castle By The Sea
By Johann Ludwig Uhland
‘Hast thou seen that lordly castle, That Castle by the Sea? Golden and red above it The clouds float gorgeously.
‘And fain it would stoop downward To the mirrored wave below; And fain it would soar upward In the evening’s crimson glow.’
‘Well have I seen that castle, That Castle by the Sea, And the moon above it standing, And the mist rise solemnly.’
‘The winds and the waves of ocean, Had they a merry chime? Didst thou hear, from those lofty chambers, The harp and the minstrel’s rhyme?’
‘The winds and the waves of ocean, They rested quietly, But I heard on the gale a sound of wail, And tears came to mine eye.’
‘And sawest thou on the turrets The King and his royal bride? And the wave of their crimson mantles? And the golden crown of pride?
‘Led they not forth, in rapture, A beauteous maiden there? Resplendent as the morning sun, Beaming with golden hair?’
‘Well saw I the ancient parents, Without the crown of pride; They were moving slow, in weeds of woe, No maiden was by their side!’
One of my favourite Dutch painters and one who is regarded as one of the finest artists of the so-called “Golden Age” of Dutch painting, a period during and after the later part of the Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648) for Dutch independence is Aelbert Cuyp. Cuyp was born and raised in the town of Dordrecht where he completed paintings for his patrons. His notoriety as a great painter only came the late eighteenth century when British aristocratic collectors began to collect his pictures. His works were admired for the way he combined his figures with his beautiful landscapes and the British aristocracy particularly liked his many depictions of equestrian and hunting themes. Although Cuyp did not visit Italy himself, but he studied those Dutch artists who had been there and who had adopted the poetic light of the paintings by the French artist, Claude Lorrain. In fact, Cuyp was dubbed the Dutch Claude.
In this work we see a party of hunters at rest under the shade of a large tree. The huntsmen we see depicted are the three sons of Cornelis van Beveren, Cuyp’s wealthiest patron. De Beveren was the most powerful man in mid-seventeenth century Dordrecht. On five occasions he had been appointed burgomaster of the town, representative to the Staaten-General and ambassador to England, as well as to France. The van Beverens were not classed as aristocrats but undoubtedly prosperous members of the so-called “striving classes” – the nouveau riche.
The three riders wear fashionable Hungarian hunting costume and are accompanied by an exotically dressed black servant, another sign of their wealth. Why Hungarian costumes? The reason was probably because Hungarians were admired by the Dutch not only for their famed equestrian skills but also for their staunch support of the Protestant cause, which also reflected a newfound sense of Dutch national pride and independence from the Catholic Spanish rule. The depiction shows the hunting party has come to rest in a landscape bathed in a warm golden light more associated with southern Europe than Holland. The right to hunt had once been jealously guarded by royalty and aristocracy, and thus those who hunted were afforded a traditional mark of the very highest status. However, in the region of Zuid Holland, which governed Dordrecht, regulations had been altered in 1623 expanding hunting privileges to owners of country estates and to citizens with an annual income of more than 100 guilders.
For my last offering I want to look at a painting which is part of the collection usually on display at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, but as I said at the start of Part One of this blog, the main Birmingham Museum is closed for renovations and this painting was then loaned out to the Barber Institute. The Last of England was completed in 1855 by the leading Pre-Raphaelite artist Ford Madox Brown and is recognised as a masterpiece of Victorian painting. In the depiction we see a young family huddling together on an open boat as they say farewell to the shores of England and head off to find a better life and a fresh start in Australia. This oval shape of the work which is almost circular, makes us concentrate our focus on the faces of the young couple, who have literally turned their backs on their homeland. In the picture we see a father, mother and two children wrapped up well against the cold sea breezes as the ship leaves the familiar shores of their English homeland. The picture, in some way, was inspired by the emigration to Australia of Maddox Brown’s friend, the sculptor Thomas Woolner in 1852. It is ironic that although Maddox Brown started the painting the year Woolner departed from England, he had returned to England the following year, disillusioned by the false promises of wealth to be had from the gold rush. This was some two years before Ford Madox Brown had completed the work. Thousands of working-class and lower middle-class people, who were totally disillusioned with their life of poverty and slum-like dwellings of England, just packed up the few possessions they had and made this long and momentous journey to the other side of the world. There were about fifty thousand free immigrants arriving each year in Australia. The immigrants were following their dream and although they believed the “grass would be greener” for them in Australia, they would a little as to whether they had made the right decision. Such worry and doubt was etched on the faces of the couple in the painting and in some ways we can empathise with them even though we know they had a free choice in the matter.
In the background we can make out the white cliffs of England as they fade away in the distance. This rock structure of white chalk is often depicted in paintings which highlight the coast of England. In contrast to the white rock formation, we see a black steamship, with billowing black smoke coming from its funnel, heading for port. The ship that the family is sailing on is surrounded by choppy green seas topped with white crests and this may in some way allude to the testing and difficult times ahead for our emigrants. It is interesting to see in the foreground netting around the lifeboat deck, hanging on which are some of the ship’s fresh vegetable supplies. We can see some cabbages and wonder how long they will remain fresh during this long, probably six-to-eight-week journey. If we look behind “our family” we can see a small child wearing a pink bonnet, her right hand grasping the scarf warn by her mother, whilst she eats an apple held in her other hand. Somebody, slightly hidden from view, can be seen smoking a long clay pipe but the characters that amuse me the most, and who are just visible in the background in this painting, are a pair of angry men arguing. The man wearing the top hat has turned away and as he looks back at the departing coastline, waves his fist at it. To this man, his departure from England is a thing of joy and for some reason he seems to be cursing the country he has just left behind.
The main characters in this painting are the father and mother and these are portraits of the artist himself and his second wife and beloved model Emma Hill. The small fair-haired girl in the background eating the apple is their daughter Katty and the baby hidden from view is their son, Oliver. The father is tightly wrapped up in his warm brown woollen coat. His hat is being buffeted by the strong winds but see how there is a “safety string” from the hat attached to and wrapped around a button of his coat. The sight of the father with his grim determined face says it all for me. This is a journey into the unknown and probably he is still racked with doubt with regards his decision to remove his family from the safe environment of their home and whisking them off to a foreign land. It still troubles him but he knows that he and his family cannot go back now and so his resolute look tells us that he is determined to see the venture through to its conclusion. The look on the face of his wife is indicative that she too has concerns about their venture. Her small, slim black leather gloved-hand tightly grasps her husband’s bare workman-like hand, the force of which wrinkles his skin. It is, in a way, a sign that she supports him and it lets him know that fact. Her other hand is holding the tiny fingers of the baby she cradles in her arm and which is hidden from view inside her warm woollen cape. She is wearing a pink bonnet which is partly covered by the grey hood of her cape but we see the pink ribbons of her bonnet flying horizontally in the gale-force wind. It is a touching picture of a family on the move.
This tense and challenging time for our emigrants was mirrored by the testing times felt by the artist himself. Commenting on his frame of mind at the time of the painting, Maddox Brown said:
“…I am intensely miserable, very hard up and not a little mad…”
And it was at these times that he, himself, thought about emigrating to Australia.
That is my final blog about the works held in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts’ collection and if you ever visit Birmingham, England, I hope you will visit this excellent institution.