Helen Allingham

Helen Allingham (c.1901)

When depicting life in rural England, artists had to decide whether their depictions would focus on the hard lives endured by the peasant workers or focus on the beautiful idyllic life folk had who managed to escape the industrialization of the cities.  The artist I am looking at today was of the second group of painters who wanted to cast her artistic spotlight on the beauty of rural life and was well known for her depictions of country cottages.  Let me introduce you to Helen Allingham.

Helen Allingham (c.1885)

Helen Mary Elizabeth Paterson was born into a well-to-do middle-class family on September 26th, 1848 in the small village of Swadlincote, near Burton on Trent in Derbyshire, England. She was the eldest of seven children born to Alexander Henry Paterson, a rural physician, and Mary Chance Herford, the daughter of a Manchester wine merchant. Within her first year of her life, the Patersons moved to Altrincham, Cheshire where Helen’s father set up a medical practice and the young family grew and prospered. It was during these years that young Helen’s interest and talent in art blossomed, inspired by her maternal grandmother, Sarah Smith Herford, a landscape painter and her aunt, Laura Herford, a professional and accomplished artist. 

The Little Emigrant by Laura Herford (1868)

One of Laura Herford’s most endearing paintings is her The Little Emigrant which she completed in 1868.  It depicts a young girl seated on the deck of a ship, with her head resting on her hands, her right arm on the ship’s railing. She has golden hair, wears a maroon dress with red and white striped neck scarf.  The work was painted by Laura after her visit to Auckland and Nelson.  The idea of the depiction is believed to be after Laura had listened to an account by a real emigrant to New Zealand on the siling ship, Lord Auckland, when as a child she remembered sitting for days and weeks on the seat that ran round the waist of the ship, under the high bulwarks, looking out over the wide, wide sea. She sat there dreaming of the homeland to which she would never return.

Laura Herford

In her twenties Laura Herford was heavily drawn into the argument of the recognition and training of female artists.   She signed the 1859 petition to admit women to the Royal Academy. She submitted several drawings to the Academy’s admissions tutors signed “L. Herford“. The use of initials masked her gender, leading to the assumption that she was a man.  She was admitted on the merits of these drawings and an offer was made to “L. Herford, Esq” and she took up her place at the Academy in 1860 !!!  She exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1861 to 1869 and also at the Suffolk Street Gallery and the British Institution.  Later, she invited her sister’s daughter, the painter Helen Paterson Allingham, to come live with her in London at the start of her career.

Helen’s mother, Mary was also an artist but gave it up when she married.  Helen’s father’s medical practice failed and the family moved out of the small rural community, which Mary never liked, and relocated to Altrincham, Mary’s hometown.  Her husband purchased another medical practice in the town.  The new practice thrived and soon the family could afford to have a house built in the countryside at Bowden.

Lessons by Helen Allingham

Helen Paterson attended the Unitarian boarding school, once attended by her mother and which had been founded by her grandmother, Sarah Smith Herford.  In May 1862, when Helen was aged thirteen, tragedy struck her family.  Her father battled to treat local victims during a severe diphtheria epidemic.  Dr. Paterson succumbed to the disease himself, along with Helen’s three-year-old sister Isabel.

Shortly after the death of the father, the young family moved to Edgbaston, Birmingham where their Paterson aunts helped house and feed them, but money was tight.   As time passed, Helen’s artistic talents grew and she enrolled in the Birmingham School of Design.  Here for fifteen shillings a term, she studied Drawing, Perspective, Practical Geometry and Painting, three times a week.  After three years of study, Helen won the School’s Special Prize, given to her for her outstanding anatomical studies.  The School was so impressed with her talent they advised her to apply to the Royal Academy Schools.

 

Spring on the Kentish Downs by Helen Allingham

At age seventeen, Helen secured a place in the Royal Female School of Art in London. A year later, in 1867, she was accepted into the prestigious Royal Academy Schools, a door first opened to women by Helen’s aunt Laura just a few years before.  The Royal Academy Schools boasted a number of highly thought of masters of the art world who visited and taught the students.  Helen Paterson was influenced the most by the lectures and tuition given by Frederick Walker, Sir Frederick Leighton, and Sir John Everett Millais, who was a co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The tuition at the Royal Academy was free, but Helen still needed money to pay for her accommodation and living expenses. With that in mind, she sought work with engraving firms, sketching figures and scenes in black & white, and in 1869 was commissioned by the Once A Week magazine, a weekly illustrated literary magazine to contribute four full-page illustrations. Her work was well received, and this led to more commissions by other periodicals and children’s books while she continued her schooling three days a week.

Beneath the Cherry Tree by Helen Allingham

In 1870, twenty-two-year-old Helen was hired as one of the founding staff members, and the only female, on The Graphic, a British high-quality weekly illustrated newspaper, first published in December 1869.  During the next three years, commissions to illustrate books and periodicals continued to pour in and by 1872 Helen decided to give up her schooling at the Academy and work as a commercial artist. Some of her most important commissions included illustrations for Thomas Harding’s fourth novel, Far From the Madding Crowd which was first published in 1874.

Two sudden and unexpected deaths in the early 1870’s greatly saddened Helen.  In October 1870 she was summoned from her lodgings by William De Morgan who was concerned that his fellow lodger at Fitzroy Square, Laura Herford, had not been seen that day.  He knew that Helen was a relative of Laura Herford and so when the two went back and entered Laura’s lodgings they found her lying dead in bed.  She had been suffering from constant toothache and be self-medicating with morphine and it was thought that she had died from an accidental overdose.  She was thirty-nine-years-old.

Louisa Paterson by Helen Allingham (1871)

One year later, in November 1871 Helen was summoned home.  On returning to the family in Cheshire she was told that her eighteen-year-old sister Louisa was dying of consumption.  There was little Helen could do but help the family at this sad time and sit with her sister and help her mother nurse her dying sister.  During the times Helen sat at her sister’s bedside she made several pencil sketches of Louisa and one small and emotional watercolour of her.

The Saucer of Milk by Helen Allingham

Now in London and because of her commissions, Helen’s circle of friends grew and she came into contact with prominent writers and artists.  One such friend was William Allingham, the editor of Fraser’s Magazine.  William Allingham was born on 19 March 19th 1824 in Ballyshannon, a small town in the south of County Donegal in Ulster in the north of Ireland, which is now in the Republic of Ireland. He was the son of the manager of a local bank who was of English descent.  When William was nineteen, he became a Customs officer, and he was stationed at different places in Northern Ireland until he was thirty-nine years old. Shortly after he obtained his appointment with the Customs, he made his first trip to London and after that first visit, made many more to the English capital.  He would submit many articles to London’s periodicals. He retired from the Civil Service in 1870 and moved to London and sub-editor of Fraser’s Magazine under J. A. Froude, whom he succeeded as editor in 1874.  It was also in 1874, on August 22nd, that Allingham and Helen Paterson were married after the briefest of engagements.  He was fifty and she was a month away from her twenty-sixth birthday. William Allingham had developed many good friends in London’s literary and artistic circles such as Thomas Carlyle, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, John Ruskin, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Portrait of William Allingham by Helen Allingham (1874)

A few months after their marriage, Helen Allingham painted a portrait of her husband.

Thomas Carlyle by Helen Allingham

The newly weds went to live in a house at Trafalgar Square, in the borough of Chelsea, close to William Allingham’s best friend, the Scottish essayist, historian and philosopher, Thomas Carlyle. Such was their close friendship that William had taken Helen to visit Carlyle before they married, just to make sure Carlyle approved of his choice of wife ! Helen and William became regular visitors to Thomas Carlyle’s home in London and after many preliminary sketches completed a painting of their good friend. Look at how Helen has incorporated all the details of the furnishings of Carlyle’s room.

The Interior of Thomas Carlyle’s Dining Room by Helen Allingham (1881)

Helen’s other paintings depicted the interior of Carlyle’s rooms at his residence in Cheyne Row London. It is said that such an accurate depiction of the room aided the National Trust when they came to the restoration of the room.

Married life suited Helen and she no longer had to go out to work.  She gave up her position at the Graphic and in a way she had been pleased to have worked at the journal for four years and it had allowed her to regularly send money to her mother.  Although working for the Graphic had been advantageous, Helen was pleased to be able to concentrate on her paintings, especially her watercolours and she did manage to do some freelance book illustrations for novels written by her friends, George Elliot, Thoams Hardy and Tennyson.

A Cottage with Sunflowers at Peaslake by Helen Allingham

In November 1875 Helen gave birth to her first child, a son, Gerald Carlyle named after her and her husband’s good friend. In February 1877 a second child, a daughter, Eva Margaret, was born. Her third child, a son, Henry William was born in 1882. He was the love of Helen’s life and she would often wear a locket with just his picture inside. In 1874 Helen Allingham had two of her watercolours, The Milkmaid and Wait for Me, exhibited at the Royal Academy and in 1875 she was put forward by the eminent watercolourist, Alfred Hunt, to become an Associate in the Royal Watercolour Society.  She was later to become the first woman to be admitted to full membership.

Harvest Moon by Helen Allingham (1879)

Her early work tended to feature large figures in a landscape, but later, influenced by their holidays in the country, her style shifted more to smaller figures with emphasis on the rural scene itself.  During the seven years the Allinghams lived in London, Helen exhibited more than a hundred watercolours, some depicting her own children as models.  During her early days, Helen produced rural depictions featuring large figures.  However, in her later paintings she focused on the inanimate and nature itself and any figures depicted were much smaller. 

On February 5th 1881, after a short illness, Helen and William’ close friend, Thomas Carlyle died, aged 85.  His death came as a terrible shock to them and now that he was not a close neighbour any more, they felt no reason to stay in the English capital.  They decided to move into the country and settled in the small Surrey hamlet of Sandhills.  It was from this new base that Helen developed the love of depicting pretty cottages. Sandhills proved to be an idyllic and peaceful resting place for both Helen and William.  He was able to spend time writing poetry and Helen passed the hours painting watercolours depicting the rural areas around their home, the numerous pretty flower gardens, her children as they grew up and of course the “chocolate-box” country cottages which were all around where they lived.  As the boom of industrial development continued to threaten traditional rural life, Allingham’s paintings captured unblemished landscapes and historic cottage architecture in superb detail.  Helen was fervently concerned for the preservation of the English countryside and this love of hers was also held by the viewing public.  In 1886 Helen was invited by the Fine Arts Society to hold a one-woman exhibition with the title Surrey Cottages.

A Cottage near Brook, Witley, Surrey by Helen Allingham

Helen’s depiction of the old, thatched cottages was not just an act of sentimentality but it was to remind people of what life was like before the railways built their tracks through acres of beautiful land and with the arrival of the railways came the hordes of middle-class families into rural communities.  Some bought the cottages and refurbished them while others demolished them and built modern monstrosities.  For Helen, the task was to memorialise the beauty and tranquillity of rural life and the exquisiteness of the country cottage which she depicted with such accuracy. She would roam the countryside and paint en plein air the cottages which were marked for demolition.  She would add small figures to the scenes and sometimes would substitute thatch rooves to depictions of cottages which had been modernised with man-made materials but at the same time tried to avoid the idealistic depictions.

Irish Cottage by Helen Allingham (1891)

In 1888, Helen’s husband William became ill with persistent indigestion and the couple decided to move away from the countryside and return to London to be close to family friends.  They took up residence in Hampstead in a large home in Eldon Road.  William Allingham’s health continued to deteriorate and despite an operation in the Spring of 1889, he died that November, aged 65, leaving Helen, then forty-one, to support herself and three young children, aged fourteen, twelve, and seven.  In 1891 Helen and her children travelled to the Irish town of Ballyshannon where their father, William was born and laid to rest.  A monument had been erected in honour of their late father and Mary took the opportunity to visit some of his relations.  She also painted a number of watercolours of the landscape and the peasant cottages.

In 1890 the Royal Society of Watercolours opened their membership to women, and Helen had the honour of being the first elected into the Society.  Helen exhibited her scenic country watercolours every year in London and her depictions of rural cottage scenes grew in popularity.  In 1903 Helen collaborated with Marcus B. Huish for a book about English country life titled Happy England, which featured eighty colour plates of Helen’s watercolours.

In 1905 she and her brother, Arthur Paterson, collaborated to produce a  book entitled “The Homes of Tennyson” which contained twenty of her paintings.  More books followed including editing several books of her late husband’s poetry. Helen continued to paint and exhibit her work.  On September 28th, 1926, two days after her seventy-eighth birthday, Helen Allingham died of a acute peritonitis while visiting an old friend at Valewood House in Haslemere, just a few miles from her old country home in Sandhills.


Most of the information for this blog came from the

The religious works of Andrea Mantegna

Bronze Bust of Mantegna attributed to Gian Marco Cavalli

The artist I am featuring today is the fifteenth century painter, Andrea Mantegna, who created many magnificent religious works.  Andrea Mantegna was born into a lower working-class family in late 1490 or early 1491 in Isola di Carturo a small village close to Padua which was then within the Republic of Venice.  His father, Biagio, was a carpenter.  When he was eleven years of age he started an apprenticeship with Francesco Squarcione, an Italian painter from Padua.   His school was very popular at the time and over a hundred painters passed through the school.  Padua, then, was looked upon as a great place to be if you were and aspiring artist and the likes of Uccello, Lippi and Donatello spent time in the city.  Mantegna, who was gifted with a precocious talent, stayed with his tutor for six years.

Although he gained a great reputation as an artist and was admired by many, he left Padua and spent most of his life in Verona, Mantua and Rome where he carried on with his paintings.  In 1460 he entered the service of Ludovico Il Gonzaga the Marquis of Mantua as his court artist.  This engagement earned Mantegna a great deal of money which was a sign of the high regard in which his work was held.  Whilst employed by Gonzaga he completed many fresco paintings of the Gonzaga family.

St Luke Polyptych by Andrea Montagne (1453-1454)

One of his early works was the St Luke polyptych which he completed as the altarpiece for a Benedictine Abbey of Santa Giustina in Padua.

Saint Justina

Santa Giustina (St. Justina) is depicted at the lower level of the altarpiece at the far right.   She is identified by the palm branch (a symbol of martyrdom) and the short sword in her breast which refers to her martyrdom in Padua in AD 303, during the persecutions of the Christians by the Roman Emperor Maximian.

Saint Luke (detail from Polyptych of St Luke by Mantegna)

In the central panel of the polyptych we see St. Luke depicted writing his gospel. Although many depictions of the saint feature an ox or calf, they are absent but in keeping faith with the fact this is an altarpiece for a Benedictine abbey, Mantegna has provided Luke him with a monk’s tonsure.

Man of Sorrows (detail from Polyptych of St Luke by Mantegna)

Above St. Luke, we see two saints either side of an image of the Man of Sorrows.  This is an iconic religious image that shows Christ, usually naked above the waist, with the wounds of his Passion prominently displayed on his hands and side.

St. Julian the Hospitaller (detail from Polyptych of St Luke by Mantegna)

The panel to the far right of that portrays St. Julian the Hospitaller, a Roman Catholic saint, depicted as a young nobleman. As in many depictions of this saint, he is holding a wrapped sword, held downward.  In his left hand he holds a palm branch symbolising martyrdom.

St. Prosdocimus (detail from Polyptych of St Luke by Mantegna)

To the left of St. Luke there is a portrait of St. Prosdocimus.  In one hand he holds the bishop’s crosier, which is an ecclesiastical ornament which is conferred on bishops at their consecration.

Other members of the deity depicted in the altarpiece are St. Jerome whose left hand points to his breast and his right holds a stone, which refers to the penances he endured to rid himself of shocking thoughts. We see him depicted in his usual red robes.  Two other figures in the lower tier are dressed in the brown Benedictine monk’s habits, each hold the martyrdom symbol of a palm branch.

Polyptych of Saint Zeno by Mantegna (1457-60)

Another beautiful altarpiece fashioned by Mantegna was a commission he received from the abbot of the Basilica of San Zeno, Gregorio Correr.

Central panel of the San Zeno polyptych

It comprises of three main painting above a predella comprising of three almost square scenes.  The central panel of the San Zeno Altarpiece depicts the Madonna holding her Child and surrounded by music-making angels.  She is seated on a marble throne decorated with Roman-inspired reliefs. Hanging across the top of the three main paintings are garlands that appear to be affixed to the top of them.

Left-hand panel depicting Saints Peter and Paul, St John the Evangelist and St Zeno.

To the left and right of this main panel there are portraits of eight saints.  The saints to be included in these two paintings was the choice of the commissioning abbot.  On the left are Peter, Paul, John the Evangelist and Zeno; on the right, Benedict, Lawrence, Gregory and John the Baptist.

Right-hand panel depicting Saints Benedict, Lawrence, Gregory and John the Baptist.
The predella

The three paintings of the predella depict biblical scenes. Presently, the three paintings on the predella are not the originals which were taken by Napoleon in 1797 along with the main picture which was restored to Verona in 1815. The original outer two predella paintings are now in Tours, Musée des Beaux-Arts and the centre one is in the Louvre. 

The Agony in the Garden

The left-hand panel depicts the Agony in the Garden.  The setting is Gethsemane and we see an angel floating high above with the cup that symbolizes the inexorable fate reserved for Christ. Beyond the dead tree Mantegna has attempt to depict Jerusalem in accurate detail. A winding road leads through a rural scene with unrepaired boundary walls to the main gate. The central temple towering over the rest of the buildings was modelled on the Omar Mosque, which in the Middle Ages was often taken for Solomon’s Temple.

The Crucifixion

The middle painting depicts the Crucifixion.  The setting is a cracked rocky plateau on Golgotha. The place of execution is marked by holes in the rock, that had already been used for other crosses. At the foot of Christ’s cross lies the skull of Adam, the first man. According to legend, Adam’s grave was at Calvary and was exposed by the earthquake when Christ died.

The Resurrection

The panel on the right of the predella depicts the Resurrection.  In the centre of this painting, the bright apparition of Christ stands out, emphasized by the darkness of the rocky grotto. The faces of the guards show a range of reactions to the miracle of the Resurrection, from a still sleepy figure gazing in front of him to a soldier rising to his feet in amazement.

The Uffizi Triptych by Andrea Mantegna (1460-1470)

The Adoration of the Magi  known as the Triptych of the Uffizi, is a tempera painting on wood by Andrea Mantegna, completed around 1460 and is now part of the Uffizi collection in Florence. One of the questions regarding this triptych is whether it is one!   The work is composed of three panels which only came together in 1827.  The fact that they then became encased in a nineteenth century ornate frame does not make them part of a triptych and some art historians doubt that Mantegna created them as a triptych or envisaged them to be set up as one in the way they are now arranged.  The three works were commissioned in the for Ludovico III Gonzaga’s private chapel in the Castle of St. George in Mantua.

Ascension of Christ (Detail of the Uffizi Triptych by Mantegna)

The left hand panel of the triptych, known as the Ascension panel, we see a number of saints, gazing upwards at Christ as he floats skywards surrounded by a mandorla of angels. Immediately below Christ stands Mary, who faces towards us in the lower section of the panting, slightly raised on a ledge of rock.

Adoration of the Magi (detail of the Uffizi Triptych by Mantegna)

The central panel of the triptych is the Adoration of the Magi. The three Magi symbolize both the three ages of man and also the three continents which were known at that time, Asia, Europe, and Africa. The adherents of different cultures among the followers of the kings are depicted realistically – they were familiar because of the activities of cosmopolitan Venice, a major trading centre and slave market. Once again we see the mandorla of angels around the Virgin Mary. Mandorla is an Italian word for almonds or almond shaped.   It is a term often used in Christian art when describing an aureole enclosing figures such as Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary

The Circumcision (detail of The Uffizi Triptych by Mantegna)

The panel on the right depicts the Circumcision of Christ on New Year’s Day, eight days after he was born as was written in the bible (Luke 2:21-24):

“… On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.  When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord  (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons…”

On the left of the painting we see Joseph carrying a wicker basket, in which are two pigeons.

St Sebastiano Church, Mantua

Mantegna moved with his family to Mantua at the behest of the Marquis Ludovico III Gonzaga of Mantua.  On many occasions Ludovico had tried to persuade the artist to enter his service.  Finally in 1460 Mantegna was appointed court artist where his salary was seventy-five lire a month, a very large sum of money in those days.  Mantegna was the first painter of any repute to be based in Mantua.  During Mantegna’s long stay in Mantua, he and his family lived near the San Sebastiano church dedicated to St. Sebastian.  Maybe this is what fascinated Mantegna with the saint as he went on to paint three versions of Saint Sebastian.

St. Sebastian by Mantegna (Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna) 1456=59

It has been suggested that the first painting by Mantegna depicting Saint Sebastian was completed around 1459 whilst he was still living in Padua.  A few years earlier many of the Padua citizens had been taken ill, many of whom died. Mantegna contracted the plague virus but he managed to recover from the deadly disease. Saint Sebastian received the widest veneration and was called especially in times of plague as an emergency helper.  It is thought that the portrait of the saint was commissioned by the Padua city elders to celebrate the end of the pestilence outbreak.  Mantegna completed the work in 1459, a year before he left the city for Mantua.. Sebastian is tied to the ruins of a Corinthian column, his body is pierced with numerous arrows.

Rider in the cloud

Look at large white cloud at the top left of the painting. You should just be able to make out the figure of a man astride a horse. According to the Italian art historian Battisti, the theme refers to the Book of Revelation (19: 6-11):

“…Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war…”

The nude figure of the martyr, which resembles a stone sculpture, is placed in front of an antique architectural backdrop, which looks even more “authentic” due to the Greek signature (“the work of Andrea”) on the left edge of the pillar. This first version of Saint Sebastian can be found in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna.

Saint Sebastian by Mantegna (Louvre) (c. 1480)

Mantegna’s second version of his depiction of Saint Sebastian, which he completed around 1480, is now part of the Louvre collection in Paris.  The Louvre’s St. Sebastian was once part of the Altar of San Zeno in Verona. In the late 17th century-early 18th century it was recorded as being in the Sainte Chapelle of Aigueperse, in the Auvergne region of France.  Its presence there is related to the marriage of Clara Gonzaga on February 24th 1482, in Mantua, at the age of seventeen, to Gilbert of Bourbon-Montpensier, who in 1486 succeeded his father as Count of Montpensier and Dauphin of Auvergne.  It remained there for over four hundred years until it was acquired by the Louvre in 1910 part of the art and ancient book collector, Jules Maurice Audéoud’s legacy to the State.

The Archers (detail from the Louvre Saint Sebastian by Mantegna)

The picture depicts the saint with a well sculpted body, tied to the ruins of a Corinthian column and pierced by numerous arrows. We look at him from below which enhances our perception of the strength and power of his figure. Sebastian’s head and eyes are turned toward Heaven which is affirmation of his unwavering Christian beliefs whilst bearing the pain of martyrdom. At his feet are a pair of grim-faced archers.  Their inclusion is intended to create a contrast between the man of steadfast faith, and those who are only attracted by disrespectful and evil pleasures. It is thought that the man with the arrows is Mantegna himself.

Detail of the antique city in the background of the Louvre St. Sebastian by Mantegna

Look at the detail Mantegna has put into the background. The classical ruins are typical of Mantegna’s pictures. The cliff path, the gravel and the caves are references to the complications of trying to reach the Celestial Jerusalem, the fortified city depicted on the top of the mountain, at the right middle-ground of the painting, and described in Chapter 21 of John’s Book of Revelation:

“…Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband…”

Saint Sebastian by Mantegna (Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro, Venice) (c.1490)

Andrea Mantegna’s panel depicting Saint Sebastian, now in the Galleria Franchetti at the Ca’ d’Oro, is the last of his three paintings of Saint Sebastian.  This painting, like the previous two, focuses on Saint Sebastian’s martyrdom, in which he is executed by a firing squad of archers who plunged their arrows into his body.  Given that these arrows inflicted numerous wounds all over his body, Sebastian came to be invoked during times of the plague, due to the many body sores that it provoked.  The story goes that Sebastian miraculously survived the execution due to the strength of his faith. He, according to legend,  was rescued and healed by Saint Irene of Rome, who also became a popular subject for 17th-century artists. Shortly after his recovery he went to Emperor Diocletian to warn him about the fate of sinners, and as a result was clubbed to death.

Whereas the first two of Mantegna’s depictions of Saint Sebastian resemble each other in style and represent the saint in a setting of classical architectural ruins, with lush landscapes and blue sky filling the background, this third is more sombre and is in complete contrast with the Montagne’s earlier works featuring the martyred saint. In this version he is silhouetted against a neutral, shallow background, brown in colour.  Look at the facial expression in this version.  It makes viewers much more aware of the pain he is suffering. 

Candle

In the lower right corner, an inscription wrapped around a smoking extinguished candle reads

“…NIHIL NISI DIVINUM STABILE EST. CAETERA FUMUS…”

(Nothing is stable except the divine. The rest is smoke.)

The Lamentation of the Dead Christ by Mantegna (c.1480)

I cannot finish this blog about Mantegna without focusing on my favourite work of his, The Lamentation of the Dead Christ which was completed around 1490.  It is one of very few oil on canvas paintings of the period.  It is an almost monochromatic vision of Christ.  The painting has a limited amount of tonal colouring, mainly pink, grey and golden-brown.   The setting of the painting seems to be a morgue-like and claustrophobic space with its cold dark walls.  This poorly lit space intensifies the paleness of the body.  The forceful image is of the body of Christ laid out on a stark and granulated marble slab.  Mantegna has toyed with the rules of perspective making the head large, whereas if the rules of perspective had been adhered to then the head would be much smaller than the feet.  There is an intense foreshortening of the body which makes it appear heavy and enlarged.   

Christ’s suffering, before death, is plain to see.  Mantegna has given us an unusual vantage point.   It places the observer at the feet of the subject and by doing so, adds to one’s sense of empathy. It could almost be described as a gruesome sight.  The face of Christ is lined.  His head of wavy hair rests upon a pink satin pillow.  The wounds seen on the back of his hands are like torn paper, as is the horizontal cut in his side made by the spear. It is almost blasphemous, as here Christ has not risen from the dead and he is like us mortals.  In the foreground are the feet of Christ each with dried puncture marks made by the crucifixion nails.  Look at the skill in which Mantegna has painted the folds of the shroud.

The mourners (detail from The Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Mantegna)

At the left we have three mourners, Mary, Saint John and perhaps slightly hidden by the other two mourners, Mary Magdalene.  Their tear-stained faces are distorted in grief.  These contorted facial features derive from the masks of classical tragedy.  One cannot help but be moved by their expressions.

In terms of Classical art, Andrea Mantegna was one of the greatest of his time.

Ralph Blakelock Part 2.

The sad ending and Beatrice Van Rensselaer Adams

During the 1880’s, Blakelock carried on painting.  He still derived pleasure from painting and showed his work at various exhibitions.  Often, unable to pay the rent, Blakelock was repeatedly forced to move his large family from home to home in northern New Jersey and Harlem including a period of time spent with his in-laws who lived in Brooklyn.  His wife, Cora, gave birth to more children. The seventh-born, Ruth, arrived in 1893, the same year that Blakestock exhibited some of his work at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  In 1897 Cora and Ralph’s eighth child, Allen, was born.  During his ongoing mental health issues brought on by the financial stress of not being able to feed his family, he fluctuated in and out of lucid periods, but he still managed to capture beautifully haunting scenes of moonlit skies, glades of leafless trees and multicoloured streaks of clouds.

The demands of housing and feeding his family continued to worsen his mental health.  In his 2003 biography of Blakelock, entitled The Unknown Night: The Genius and Madness of R. A. Blakelock, an American Painter, the author Glyn Vincent, described Blakelock’s eccentric behaviour at that time:

“…Mr. Blakelock began grandiosely adding price tags of millions of dollars to the backs of his paintings. He based his images on scratches in his enameled bathtub; started carrying around an antique dagger; and draped himself in embroidered sashes and belts with trimmings that his wife described as “long strings of beads and trinkets of all sorts…”

Moonlight by Ralph Blakelock (c.1899)

In 1899, on the day of the birth of his ninth child, Douglas, Ralph Blakelock was once again sectioned in a mental ward at the Long Island State Hospital at Flatbush. He was later transferred to Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital in June 1901, where he was treated for dementia praecox, which we know today as paranoid schizophrenia, leaving his wife and children destitute. Initially he was confined to a secluded ward but later was placed in an open ward where he had the freedom to move about the grounds and even visit the nearby village.  This was just the beginning of an increasingly unbelievable story.

1902 Auction catalogue for Lotos Club exhibition

There now follows a strange twist in Blakelock’s life. Almost as soon as Blakelock went into the Long Island State hospital, his works began to receive recognition from the critics especially after his one-man exhibition of his work at the New York Lotos Club in December 1900. Further exhibitions at the prestigious club followed including one held in September 1902 for Exhibition of paintings by Ralph Albert Blakelock, from the collection of Hon. Frederick S. Gibbs.

Moonlight Sonata by Ralph Blakelock (c.1892)

Within a few years Blakelock’s paintings that he had once sold for a pittance were being resold for several thousand dollars.  It is so ironic that the moment of his greatest triumph with his art came while he was sectioned at the Middletown hospital. On February 21st 1916, his painting, Brook by Moonlight sold at auction, part of the Catholina Lambert collection, for $20,000.  This, at the time, was a record amount ever paid at auction for a living American artist.   Later in 1916 he was finally elected to full membership at the National Academy of Design. 

The news of the record payment for his painting Brook by Moonlight was extensively covered in the media and it captured the imagination of a young New York woman, Beatrice Sadie Filbert Adams.  It is a story which has a hint of the Anna Sorokin/Anna Delvey story which has recently become famous through Netflix.   But who was Sadie Filbert Adams?

Mrs Van Rensselaer (c.1925)

Beatrice Sadie Filbert was born in 1884 in the town of Fishkill, sixty miles north of New York.  Her mother had been employed as a servant and Sadie never attended state schooling but was educated for a number of years at the home of her mother’s employer.  When she was sixteen, she and her older sister went to live in New York.  Two years later, in 1902, she married Louis Adams whom she described as a Chicago millionaire.  Louis actually had rich relatives but none of their wealth ever came to him and he was “a person of interest” to the Cincinnati police.  He went by a number of aliases as he plied his trade as a scam artist and swindler who had taken money from many unsuspecting and naive women.    It is thought that Sadie was complicit in many of his scams.  In October 1906, Louis Adams was convicted and jailed for his crimes and their two children were temporarily taken into care at an Albany orphanage.  Two months later the younger child, a daughter, died of diphtheria.    Sadie was heartbroken and managed to remove her son, Van Rensselaer, from the care facility.

Sadie or Mrs Van Rensselaer Adams, as she liked to be called, now gained money by writing begging letters to wealthy prominent people, mainly men and this soon led to a duplicitous lifestyle similar to that of her jailed husband. Two such wealthy philanthropists who gave her money to cover her living expenses as well as a loan whilst they pondered over how best to help her were Henry P Crowell of the Quaker Oats Company and Harold F McCormick of the International Harvester Company, the son of Cyrus Hall McCormick, an American inventor and businessman who founded the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, which later became part of the International Harvester Company in 1902.  McCormick was also treasurer of International Harvester subsidiary, Wisconsin Steel Company which leased mines including the Victoria Iron Mine of which Mrs Adams had an eighth share which it is believed she had acquired from her husband.  Wanting to see her prosper legitimately they arranged for her to embark on a three-year nurse-training course at the Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago.  She was not enthused by the nurse training and lasted just seven months before quitting, citing the ill health of her son as her reason for leaving.

Illustration in Tacoma Ledger newspaper Blakelock confined in an insane asylum

Sadie Adams left Chicago and returned to New York but still kept close to wealthy philanthropists.  Here she involved herself in fundraising for the women’s division of the endowment association of Lincoln Memorial University, Tennessee.  She would send out begging letters for financial contributions including ones to President Taft and President Woodrow Wilson.  In the Spring of 1916, she became aware of the extensive publicity surrounding Ralph Blakelock who was languishing in a mental institution.  One such article appeared in the Washington newspaper, the Tacoma Ledger, dated May 14th 1913 in which an imaginary illustration depicts Blakelock in his cell at the Middletown (New York) State Homeopathic Hospital

Mrs Van Rensselaer then began to involve herself with Blakelock’s friends and help organise an exhibition of his work and the money raised would go to achieving his release and provide for him and his family once released from the asylum. It was also a trust, which purported to help the poverty-stricken artist and his destitute family. She contacted a young newspaper reporter, Harrison Smith, who was working for the New York Tribune, and told him about Blakelock.  Smith then went to visit the artist at the mental hospital.  The young journalist found the artist to be lucid and yet rambling and reported that Blakelock was fantasising about an imagined “diamond of the Emperor of Brazil” which he said had been stolen from him.  The journalist believed that Blakelock’s claim to be a great artist was not being believed by the asylum authorities or staff and so arranged for the artist and the asylum director to visit Manhattan where a gallery was holding a retrospective of Blakelock’s work.  The rookie journalist was hailed for his major news story despite omitting the part in which Blakelock had told him that some of the paintings on show at the gallery were forgeries.  In an account given by Smith many years later he said that he had omitted Blakelock’s comments as he believed Blakelock’s sanity at the time was in question.

Front page of New York Evening Journal (September 18th 1916)

By now Adams had assumed absolute control of the Blakelock Fund, which was reputed to be $35K,  and in early September 1916, she, with the help from money she took from the Fund, managed to afford to move Blakelock from the Middletown Hospital to a bungalow studio at a private sanatorium in West Englewood, New Jersey.  Not only was the money used to facilitate the move it allowed her to lavishly furnish the place and bring in large canvases, paints and brushes so that Blakelock would continue to paint more masterpieces which she could sell.  The newspaper headlines at the time read:

Blakelock May Recover Genius.

(New York World, September 10th 1916)

Freed from Insane Asylum, Has Six Months’ Probation to Prove Sanity

(New York Times.  September 6th 1916)

Untitled – Moonlight with Figures by Ralph Blakelock (1916)

Adams realised that Blakelock could be her cash-cow and took on the sole control of his artistic output.  Adams maintained that it was all done for Blakelock’s benefit and she said in a gesture of his gratitude Blakelock painted a rough sketch on cardboard which he gave to her.  It was unsigned but on the reverse, Adams had written:

“…This picture was painted by Blakelock for me as a momento of my efforts in his behalf and the figures are supposed to represent he and I…”

In the depiction we see the couple standing in the moonlight, surrounded by woods and mountains, at a gateway which probably leads symbolically away from the Middletown Asylum.

The Vision of Life by Ralph Blakelock (c.1897)

Adams managed to limit visits to him from his family and even had his wife Cora sign a waiver of her right to contest the guardianship as Adams had told her it would be best for her husband to be under Adams’ guardianship.  Adams also promised Cora that funds would be released to her and her family to move to a more respectable residence and which would be fully furnished.  Cora never received this promised payment.  The family tried to visit Blakelock but Adams always blocked their requests and even moved Blakelock to a new, but secret, sanatorium so they even lost contact with him.  She even returned Blakelock to the Middletown Asylum when the money ran out or as a punishment.  By the Spring of 1919, Blakelock had become fearful of Adams and her wild physical tantrums and decide he would be safer at the Middletown facility.  However on July 2nd 1919, Adams managed to extricate him from that safety and back into her custody for the last time.  A month later, on August 9th 1919, seventy-one-year-old Blakelock was dead.  Cause of death was given as a stroke or heart attack.

Such a sad end to the life of an extremely talented artist.

For a full account of the relationship Sadie Filbert (Beatrice Van Rensselaer Adams) had with Blakesock you should try and read an excellent twelve page article written by Dorinda Evans, entitled Art and Deception: Ralph Blakelock and his Guardian which appeared in The American Art Journal (Volume 19, No.1 Winter 1987). I discovered the article at the JSTOR website. It is a fascinating read and supplied me with so much information for this blog.

Susan Catherine Moore Waters

Today I am delving into the life of the nineteenth century American painter Susan Waters.  It is difficult to compartmentalise her artwork, some, however, have labelled her a folk portraitist.  It is a mixture of portraiture which could be best described as quirky and animal paintings.  Her art, especially her early portraiture, is certainly easily recognisable as you will see.  I like its simplicity and although she will never be regarded as one of the American great artists, her depictions ooze a naiveté which is so endearing.

Susan Catherine Moore was born on May 18th 1823 in Binghamton, a small town in the Southern Tier of New York state on the border with Pennsylvania.  She was one of two children, both daughters, of a cooper, Lark Moore, and his wife, Sally, who were Hicksite Quakers.  As a young child Susan showed a talent for art.

Two Children in an Interior Setting, One Child Holding a Grey Cat, the Other Holding a Piece of Melon by Susan Waters

Susan and her sister, Amelia, attended the fee-paying Boarding School for Females run by Quakers at the small Pennsylvania border town of Friendsville.  The town had been founded in 1819 and the majority of early settlers were Quakers.  At the age of fifteen, in order to afford to pay the fees for the school for her and her sister, Susan would paint copies for the Natural History course run by the school.  Although the school had basic art education lessons, Susan is considered to be a self-taught painter.

The Downs Children of Cannonsville, New York. by Susan Waters (1843)

On 27 June 1841, aged just eighteen, she married William C. Waters, a Friendsville Quaker and amateur artist, and he would encourage his young wife to develop her talent as a painter. She took up portraiture about 1843, when her husband became ill and was unable to support the family. She would travel around the outlying areas painting and selling portraits of the people and their children.  One of Susan’s earliest recorded signed paintings is her 1843 work entitled The Downs Children of Cannonsville, New York. It depicts two children with a dog and a toy wagon in a landscape setting which includes a white house in the background. The boy on the left holds a riding crop.

Helen M Kingman by Susan Waters (1845)

In 1845, Susan completed a set of three paintings featuring the Kingman family.  This signed and dated portrait of fifteen-year-old Helen M Kingman is one of the three works.  The young girl is depicted seated in a stencilled chair, wearing a salmon pink dress, against a grey-walled backdrop.  Note the potted plant on the windowsill, an accoutrement often seen in portraits of children.

Lyman Kingman by Sarah Waters (1845)

Another in the series is a portrait of Lyman Kingman dressed in a black suit, holding sheets of paper. Behind him are shelves of books at right and drapery at upper left.

The Lincoln Children by Susan Waters (1845)

In the 1840s Susan specialized in portraits of children, and this 1845 painting, The Lincoln Children, is a depiction of three of the twelve children of Otis Lincoln, an innkeeper who was plying his trade in the small rural town of Binghamton in New York State. The three small girls are Laura Eugenie, aged nine, Sara, aged three, and Augusta, aged seven and they have been positioned in a pyramid. They are all wearing decorative dresses, adorned with eyelet and lace. One of the girls holds a peach, another a small branch in one hand and a pencil in the other while the third has a book open upon her knee.  These trappings were added to the portrait to publicise the girls’ sweetness and their attentiveness whilst attending school. The fine-looking furnishings including an expensive floral-patterned carpet, the pretty plants on a stand in the right background, and the addition of the appealing puppy with its well-arranged stance coalesce and create a lovely image of domestic stability and cosiness and yet their intense expressions as they look out at us gives the painting a disconcerting openness.

Herding Sheep before the Storm by Susan Waters

The Waters’ life was complicated, flitting from one temporary home to another. They continued to reside in Friendsville for several years, but by May of 1852 they had moved to Bordentown, New Jersey. They built themselves a cottage in the Quaker community of Bordentown and although they did not settle there permanently at that time, they would return to their house in 1866.

Chicken and Raspberries by Susan Waters

The couple sold their Bordentown cottage and journeyed to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in 1855, returned to Friendsville four years later, and in 1866 finally resettled in Bordentown buying back their former home on Mary Street and it was here that they spent the rest of their lives. This was a base from which she taught art and produced over fifty of her later works, many of which were painting of animals in their natural settings, especially her favourite animals, sheep, and pastoral scenes. She was also an early photographer and produced many ambrotypes and daguerreotypes, which were early forms of photography. This made a lot of practical sense, as commissioned portraits were giving way to the more exciting medium of photography. 

Barnyard Animals by Susan Waters.

Many of the animals depicted were kept in Susan’s own yard.

Rooster with two Chickens in the Yard by Susan Waters.

Whilst residing in Bordentown Susan Waters painted animal and still life pictures in a style which was more mature and academic than her earlier efforts at portraiture.  There was a greater sophistication with her depictions.

A Cache of Raspberries by Susan Waters

Susan also produced a number of excellent still-life paintings

Still life with Grapes by Susan Waters

and sometimes a combined still-life and animal depiction as in her work entitled The Marauders.

The Marauder by Susan Waters

The artwork she produced and sold whilst living in Bordentown earned her recognition in her own lifetime.  It was not just from within her local community but from outside and in 1876, Waters was honoured with an invitation to exhibit some of her paintings at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. It was the first official World’s Fair to be held in the United States. She submitted two of her animal paintings.

Lighthouse on the Coast by Susan Waters

Susan Waters also became active in State politics when she became a member of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association, which was founded in 1867.  It was in this year that Lucy Stone delivered a speech on “Women Suffrage in New Jersey” before the state legislature.  This would have been a thrilling time to be involved with the movement, and Susan was elected recording secretary for the Association in 1871. She was also an Animal Rights activist.

Pasture scene with cows and distant mountains by Susan Waters

After exhibiting successfully at the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, Susan discovered that her work was much sought after and it remained so for the rest of her life.  Her husband died in 1893 and from then on Susan dedicated herself to her art.  In 1899 she had to sell her home and go to a nursing home in Trenton New Jersey.  On July 10th 1900 Susan Catherine Moore Waters passed away at the age of seventy-seven.  Three days later she was buried alongside her beloved husband, William in the beautiful Bordentown cemetery.  Of her character, her obituary noted:

“…as beautiful as her paintings … her talent she could not bequeath…”

The folks of Bordentown will remember Susan Waters as a lady of refinement, modest and unassuming.  She was a lady of extraordinary ability, not just as a painter but as a writer and a speaker in the Society of Friends.

Alson Skinner Clark. Part 2.

Although based in Paris, Alson and his wife, Medora travelled extensively.  They visited Normandy and further afield to regions of Italy and Spain, the Netherlands, the Dalmatian coast, and Canada.  They would often return to their folks on Comfort Island and Watertown.  Alson also visited New York to see art dealer William Macbeth, who owned the first gallery at that time to deal solely in American art, to see if he could interest the art dealer in some of his work.

The Rising Sun, Malaga by Alson Skinner Clark (1909)

Having spent some time painting in Spain, Alson organised an exhibition of his Spanish paintings at the O’Brien Art Galleries in Chicago in March 1910.  It was Chicago’s first art gallery and one of the oldest family owned and operated gallery in the United States. It opened in 1855 as a frame shop, offering a variety of services to both artists and collectors.  The exhibition of Alson’s work was a great success and seventeen of Alson’s thirty-eight canvases were sold immediately and his New York dealer, William Macbeth, agreed to exhibit the unsold canvases in his gallery.

Rooftops Seville by Alson Skinner Clark (1909)

 

On the Beach, Normandy by Alson Skinner Clark (1910)

Alson and Medora Clark returned to Paris in June 1910 and visited the Giverny Art Colony.   The colony had started in the 1880’s and by the time Alson arrived in 1910 American artists were major players in the colony.   The colony by 1910 was very popular and with the influx of more and more artists as well as tourists the cost of living there had risen sharply.  Although Alson enjoyed the camaraderie of the Americans at Giverny, Medora was less impressed with the cliquish nature of the group.  She once described it:

“…The more I reflect on the possibilities of Giverny as a place to go, the less I care for it. The petty jealousies…the fights, the spying on you by your neighbours all works up to the least attractive place…to spend a season. Then the similarity in all of the work. I have kept out of it…”

Luxembourg Gardens Pond, Paris by Alson Skinner Clark (1910)

Alson Clark’s exhibited his work at many venues such as The Art Institute of Chicago, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Paris Salon, and the National Academy of Design. He was always searching for new subjects to paint and the sale of his work through his New York and Chicago art dealers was making him financially secure.

Medora by Alson Skinner Clark (1917)

Having passed through the Panama Canal on a number of occasions I was fascinated by Alson Clark’s depictions of the building of the giant project. In the spring of 1913, Alson Clark, out of the blue, decided to visit the Panama Canal Zone where the construction on the vast and costly canal was nearing completion. Clark had made his mind up to somehow get himself involved in this exciting venture. He and his wife, Medora, boarded a steam ship and made the journey to Colon where they subsequently continued onto Ancon, on the Pacific side of the canal. Neither had letters of introduction nor any booked accommodation.  Fortunately for the couple both were procured.  Better still, the supreme commander of the project, Colonel George W. Goethals, gave Clark unprecedented access to the labour trains and construction sites.  Alson worked energetically despite the extreme heat in order to portray the excavations, the construction of the locks, and the railroad.

Alson Clark wrote to his mother about this time:

“…This is such a busy place for me I never get time to write more than a postal. We get off on the 6:40 train in the morning, getting up at five[1]thirty or so and get back at noon, leave for lunch and go off again at one-thirty, getting in at seven and after dinner go to bed…. In the afternoon at present, I go to the Culebra Cut where all the blasting has been going on and the slides, and I paint there. It is wonderful all over….”

Work Trains – Miraflores (Panama) by Alson Skinner Clark (1913)

For his painting Work Trains -Miraflores,  Alson Clark positioned himself on the western side of the Panama Canal where the construction of the Miraflores Locks was taking place.  It was here that when fully operational, ships could be lowered sixteen metres to sea level into the Bay of Panama, and the last step for ships crossing into the Pacific Ocean.  The depiction gives us a view looking down at the giant cavity which has been dug out to make the lock.  Down below we can just make out tiny figures working near trains which billow steam and smoke, which is testament to the monumental size and effort of this construction.

In the Lock, Miraflores by Alson Skinner Clark (1913)

The viewpoint for Clark’s painting, In the Lock, Miraflores, is from inside the centre of the lock. The depiction highlights the massive construction project which dwarf the many working figures which appear as tiny dots in the enormous industrial landscape. Alson Clark employed his impressionistic technique using a rich palette and bravura brush strokes to reveal bright light saturating the workplace. The lines of the train tracks, canal walls and cranes create a strong compositional design, which together emphasize the dramatic effect of the scene.

Pedro Miguel Locks, Panama by Alson Skinner Clark (1913)

The Pedro Miguel Locks contain a single set of parallel locks each containing a single chamber. All the present locks on the Panama Canal are operated by gravity. In the case of the Pedro Miguel Locks, fresh water from Gatun Lake and the Chagres River flows into the Culebra Cut. For southbound traffic, this water flows into the Pedro Locks. When the water flows out of the lock into Miraflores Lake, towards the Pacific Ocean, ships are lowered 31 feet. For northbound ships, they are raised 31 feet when water flows into the lock from the Culebra Cut until the level is equal with the Culebra Cut. Ships can then exit the lock. Thus, the entire system relies upon rainfall for its operation.

In the Cut, Contractors Hill by Alson Skinner Clark (1914)

Culebra Cut was the “special wonder” of the canal.  Here, men and machines labored to conquer the 8.75-mile stretch. Holes were drilled, filled with explosives and detonated to loosen the rock and rock-hard clay.  Steam shovels then excavated the spoil, placing it on railroad cars to be hauled to dump sites.

1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Diego, California

The Panama-Pacific International Exposition was a world’s fair held in San Francisco from February 20th to December 4th, 1915. Its stated purpose was to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal, but it was widely seen in the city as an opportunity to showcase its recovery from the 1906 earthquake.  Alson Clark was invited to hold a solo exhibition at the event, an honour bestowed on very few American artists at that time.  He was awarded a bronze medal. 

Frozen River, Jackson, New Hampshire by Alson Skinner Clark (1915)

The Clarks left Panama and decided to spend the summer of 1914 in France.  The holiday ended abruptly with the outbreak of the First World War and they rushed to get a sea passage back to America.  Once back in their homeland they accepted an invitation from Charles and Edith Bittinger to stay with them that winter in their New England home.  Charles was an American artist who explored the use of scientific techniques for artistic purposes. During World War I, he also played a prominent role in the development of naval camouflage. Alson was not put off by the extreme cold of New England and would go painting en plein air in snowshoes.

Charleston Houses (also known as St. Michael’s Alley) by Alson Skinner Clark (1917)

In January 1917, Alson and Medora agreed to join another couple on a short trip to Charleston. Clark had spent very little time in the southern states of America and was overcome by Charleston’s charm and history. He enjoyed the genteel Southern hospitality and undoubtedly would have stayed if not for a dramatic turn of events – The United States entered World War I.

Mission San Juan Capistrano by Alson Skinner Clark (1918)

Alson and Medora returned to Chicago in April 1917, and forty-one-year-old Clark enlisted in the US Navy.  He believed that his knowledge of the French language and his familiarity with the French countryside would make him an ideal candidate.  He was originally used as a translator and then in May 1918 he became a military photographer.  His task was to take aerial surveillance photographs which required him to hang over the side of an open plane !  Sadly this experience left him deaf in one ear and doctors advised him that once he returned to America, he should relocate a place which offered a warm climate and help his recuperation. This partial deafness took a toll on his mental health and he told his wife that he would not paint again

Mission San Gabriel by Alson Skinner Clark (1919)

However, once in California, his hearing steadily improved; he regained his spirits and resumed painting.   The couple settled in Southern California and the landscapes of this region offered Clark new and exciting possibilities for his art.  The region was dotted with romantic Spanish Colonial missions, and the proximity to Mexico offered a kind of pictorial exoticism.  Two of the couples’ favourite haunts were the Mission San Gabriel and Mission San Juan Capistrano.  Alson was charmed by the decaying architecture of the two structures.

Alson Clark’s mobile studio

In 1919, the couple decided to remain in California until it was safe to return to France.  They bought a small plot of land in Pasadena and put on it what they termed “a shack”.   Over time and with an increasing love of the Californian life they had a new home and studio built.  Alson, wanted to travel around the area to paint en plein air and so bought himself a truck which he converted into a mobile studio with built in easel and large umbrella to ward off the strong sunlight.

Montezuma’s Garden by Alson Skinner Clark (1922)

When Alson and Medora moved to Pasadena, Alson was reunited with fellow American Impressionist, Guy Rose, whom he had known when they were both at Giverny.  Rose had moved to California to teach at the newly opened Stickney School of the Fine Arts in Pasadena.  He had been director there since 1918 and asked Alson to join the faculty.  Unfortunately, in 1921 Rose suffered a debilitating stroke and Alson assumed directorship of the school.

Reverie (Medora on the Terrace) by Alson Skinner Clark (1920)

The year 1921 was also the year that Alson and Medora had their first child, Alson Junior.  Alson Senior had always lived and been allowed to paint in a quiet and serene atmosphere but with the arrival of Alson Junior all that changed and once again Alson was overwhelmed by the situation and would bemoan to Medora that his painting days were over !

Road to Cuernavaca by Alson Skinner Clark (1923)

Through the auspices of Earl Stendahl, a pioneering American art dealer known for promoting California Impressionism, Alson Clark was afforded his first solo exhibition at Stendahl’s California gallery.  It was an East Coast/West Coast collaboration with Clark’s paintings being shown concurrently at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC as well as at the Art Institute in Chicago.  In 1922, after long consideration, Alson and Medora decided to make Pasadena their permanent home and so, sold their Paris studio and had all their possessions shipped to California.

After the Shower, Cuernavaca by Alson Skinner Clark (1923)

During the next several years, Alson travelled widely throughout southern California, the South-West and Mexico, the latter being one of Alson’s favourite places to visit.  His favourite Mexican destination was the southern Mexican town of Cuernavaca where he said he was influenced by both architecture and the indigenous people.

Pasadena Theatre curtain by Alson Skinner Clark (1925)

In 1925 Alson Clark was approached with a commission to design and paint the enormous theatre curtain (measuring twenty by thirty-two feet) for the newly built Pasadena Playhouse. 

Small scale painting of theare curtain

This added another string to Alson’s bow – that of a muralist.  The commission for the theatre was well received and more commissions for murals rolled in including  a series of murals on the history of California for the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles, murals at the Pasadena First Trust and Savings Bank and eight mural-size paintings for a men’s club in Los Angeles. Between these lucrative projects, Alson continued to paint en plein air in the late 1920s, and his work appeared in numerous successful exhibitions with private dealers and museums throughout the country.

Rooftops, Paris by Alson Skinner Clark (1936)

During the 1930’s Alson received numerous commissions to decorate dining rooms and libraries of private homes and designing wallpaper and although that may seem he was “selling his soul” for money, one has to remember that the country was in the depths of the Great Depression.

In 1935 he decided to drive across the country with his family, a journey that lasted twelve months.  Throughout that period Alson would sketch and paint.  In 1936 Alson and Medora made their last visit to Paris.  He was fascinated and charmed by what he saw, just as he had been when living there as a student.  One of his paintings he completed during this final visit to the French capital was entitled Rooftops, Paris, which was a view from the window of their apartment. It is now part of the McNay Art Museum collection in San Antonio. It was a gift from Medora Clark.

In 1945, Alson Clark’s health began to deteriorate due to a heart condition which also meant he was not allowed to drive, which ended his plein air painting.    In 1948 he was laid low with pneumonia which caused him to give up painting until the following March.  However, On March 23rd, 1949, two days before his seventy-third birthday, and within days of his resumption of working in his Pasadena studio, he suffered a debilitating stroke and died.  He is buried at Mountain View Cemetery, Altadena, California. Medora died on November 30th 1962, aged 81 and is buried in the same cemetery.

Much of the information I used for this blog came from an article in CALIFORNIA ART CLUB NEWSLETTER entitled An American Impressionist by Deborah Epstein Solon Ph D.

Alson Skinner Clark. Part 1.

Alson Skinner Clark

Alson Skinner Clark was an American Impressionist painter known for his landscape paintings and his murals, including at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles and the First Trust and Savings Bank in Pasadena.  He was also an ardent photographer.  He was born on March 25th 1876 in Chicago, Illinois, to Alson Ellis Clark and Sarah Clark.  He had two brothers, Mancel and Edwin and a sister, Mary Emily, who died when young.  His father was not always a wealthy man as he came from an impoverished background.  He had served in the Civil War, and then moved to Chicago where he established a highly successful commodities business at the Chicago Board of Trade.  From then, his wealth increased and he was able to provide a comfortable lifestyle for his wife and family.

The Black Race by Alson Skinner Clark (1902)

Alson showed an early interest in art and was proving to be a gifted young painter.  In an 1956 interview for The Archives of American Art, a collection of primary resources documenting the history of the visual arts in the United States, his wife recalled her late husband’s early “artistic talent” saying:

“… I think the desire to draw was always extant with Alson Skinner Clark. When he was nine or ten years old, it made itself manifest—and obnoxious as well—to the his church-going parents, for during the long Sunday sermons he surreptitiously recorded the bonnets and bald pates in front of him in the only place available at the time—the frontispiece and blank rear pages of the family hymnals…”

His family supported and encouraged him to continue with his art by enrolling him in Saturday classes at the Art Institute of Chicago when he was just eleven years old. 

Breton Village, Rochefort-en-terre by Alson Skinner Clark (1903)

One of the perks of being part of a wealthy family was the ability to travel and in 1889 the Alson Clark and his family set off on a two-year trip around the world. For Alson it was his first taste of European art and no doubt instilled in the young man a love of both travel and painting. Back in America, Alson graduated from high school, and for a short period at the end of 1895 enrolled as a full-time student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  The teaching of art at the Institute was based on the teachings at the French Academies and focused on drawing from casts and still-lifes before students were allowed to progress to drawing live models.  Alson was unhappy with the Institute’s system and after a quarrel with one of his teachers regarding the slow and arduous process of drawing from casts, Clark quit the Institute.

Despite his short but unhappy period at the Chicago Institute Alson was determined to carry on with his art and in 1896 moved to New York and studied under the tutelage of William Merritt Chase at the Art Students’ League of New York.  Despite being twenty-years-old, Alson’s mother would not let him live on his own in New York and so went with him bringing along his childhood friend Amelia Baker.  The three shared an apartment on Seventy-Seven Street and Columbus Avenue.  Alson’s mother Sarah justified this arrangement by saying:

“…For two years Mela [Amelia] and I have talked of spending a winter in New York, in Bohemian fashion, and have searched for a good reason for doing so, in vain till this time. Alson, however, came to the rescue in his desire to study art with a New York master, and made it seem a necessary thing to do…”

Early Nude by Alson Clark (1898)

When Chase opened his own school of art, Alson Clark, along with many other students, followed him.  Chase was a great influence on Alson, an influence which would remain with him for the years to come.   A painting completed by Alson, entitled Early Nude, which he completed in 1898 bears an inscription that Merritt Chase had also worked on the painting.

Mansion of Leroy de Chaumont near Watertown, New York by Alson Skinner Clark (1902)

For two summers Clark spent working en plein air at Merritt Chase’s school in Shinnecock, Long Island and it was the beginning of his love affair with plein air painting and his predisposition with the Impressionist style of painting.  In November 1898 Alson decided, like many other young aspiring artists, to leave America and travel to France to study at the famous French art academies.  The most popular art academy for visiting American artists was the Académie Julian.  However, the “rough and ready” Académie Julian was not for Alson, who commented that he found the working conditions “disgusting”.  Alson preferred to enrol at the newly opened Academia Carmen, which had been founded by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, where the business side of the school was handled by Whistler’s former model Carmen Rossi for whom, along with her musician husband, the school was named. Alson Clark was in awe of Whistler’s artistic talents and kept going to Whistler’s atelier on and off until it closed in 1901.  Alson would never to forget the teachings of Whistler.

Taking Paintings to the Salon, Paris, (c. 1905)

In March of 1899, Clark entered his first work in the Paris Salon. In a letter written the following month to his friend Amelia Baker, he described his experience:

“…Wednesday, Wilson and I went to the Salon to see the stuff carried in and all the awful things that went in—I never saw such a lot of bad painting. The wagons come up to the entrance and take their wads of pictures in and there are crowds of people watching the stuff enter. I have little hope that [my picture] will pass the jury but one can never tell as there is a great deal of “pull” in the Salon, and as I have not studied under any Frenchman I may be thrown out. I don’t care what happens although of course I would rather be in than out. Exhibitions are, after all, a farce…”

When his painting was rejected by the Salon jury, Clark feigned indifference stating:

“It doesn’t’ matter to me at all as I haven’t a reputation to make and there isn’t much honour in being in unless you get in squarely as only very few do.…”

The Violinist by Alson Clark (1901)

Despite his work being rejected by the jurists he never gave up trying to have one of his paintings was eventually accepted into a Salon exhibition for in 1901 his perseverance paid off with his painting, The Violinist being selected for that year’s Paris Salon exhibition.

Comfort Island Alexandria Bay, New York was built in 1883 by industrialist Alson E. Clark.

Whilst he had been living in America Alson Clark’s health was often very poor and was a frequent visitor to his doctor with stomach problems.  In 1901 whilst living in France he once again became ill and was advised he had to have his appendix removed.  In those days this was a serious operation and so he decided to return to America for the operation and set sail for New York on June 1st with surgery booked at a Chicago hospital that summer.  After the operation he recuperated at the family home on Comfort Island, one of the Thousand Islands in Alexandria Bay, New York.  Comfort Island, Alexandria Bay, New York was built in 1883 by his father Alson E. Clark and it is located on the St. Lawrence River in the Thousand Islands Region in what is known as Millionaire’s row.

Ile de la Cite, Paris by Alson Skinner Clark (c.1900)

In the Autumn of 1901 Alson rented a barn from the parents of his friend Amelia in Watertown a small, provincial city near Lake Ontario and the Canadian border and the closest city to Comfort Island.  This was the start of his career as a professional artist and the only one in Watertown. Now set up as a professional artist, he needed a model and he discovered that one of the local girls, Atta Medora McMullin, was willing to pose for him and her mother would act as her chaperone.  Soon love between artist and model blossomed but Alson had his doubts about being good husband material.  He wrote:

“…In the evening I would have liked to have seen Medora, but stayed home and wrote. I have no more business in marrying than the man in the moon for I am fickle and can’t help myself. It is a misfortune and not a fault.” Yet, just a few days later, he wrote, “In the afternoon she posed. I could not work as I wanted to tell her that I loved her but could not. We sat by the fire knowing each other’s minds…”

Landscape near Le Pouldu, France by Alson Skinner Clark (c.1900)

At the end of January 1902, Alson Clark professed his love to Medora and proposed marriage. She accepted.  Medora was to prove a very compassionate and supportive wife.  His first exhibition of his work was at Watertown and featured many paintings of Paris.  It was a success and he sold many works.  From there the exhibition moved to Chicago for Clark’s first major exhibition, at the Anderson Galleries.  Once again the exhibition was hailed as a great success and the Chicago Times declared:

“… Popular opinion has decided that it is a very promising display for a young artist…. Mr. Clark has a style of his own. It is suggestive of Japanese reminiscences, is refined and pleasantly frank…. The sentimental does not interfere with the boldness of using masses…”

From our Window, Paris by Alson Skinner Clark (1903)

Alson Skinner Clark and Atta Medora MacMullin wed on September 20th, 1902, and for their honeymoon they took a sea voyage to Europe on the S.S. Minnetonka.  On November 7th the couple moved into a Parisian apartment at 6, rue Victor Considérant.   Shortly after settling in, Alson’s friend, and fellow American artist, Frederick Carl Frieseke, moved in with them whilst waiting for the apartment above the Alsons to become available to rent.  Alson and Frieseke were good friends and Frieseke used to paint from the Clarks’ apartment balcony and would also occasionally use Medora as a model.  That winter Alson and Frederick painted continually so that they could build up a collection to put before the jurists at the Spring Salon.  They even split the cost of renting wagons to transport their work to the Salon.

Les Colliers (The Necklaces) by Alson Clark (1905)

Alson Clark continually acknowledged the debt he owed Whistler and wrote to him many times confirming such indebtedness.  In 1905 Alson completed a work entitled Les Colliers (the Necklaces) and the style of the work mirrored many of Whistler’s works.  It was simply Alson’s way of paying homage to Whistler’s portraiture.  In the painting we see the lady, modelled by Medora, dressed in a flowing gown with her back to us, standing beside an elegant mantlepiece.  In her hands she holds a pair of necklaces

The Coffee House by Alson Skinner Clark (1906)

One of Alson’s early industrial paintings is his atmospheric work entitled The Coffee House which he completed in 1906.  It is a depiction of Chicago on a cold winter day.  We see ice floating down the river which is overlooked by monstrous dark skyscrapers which are looming through the smoggy atmosphere.  As we look at the painting our eyes are drawn into the picture by the curved ironwork of the State Street Bridge, 

Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare, by Claude Monet (1877)

This is a typical depiction of urban realism and it is suggested that Alson may remember seeing such scenes depicted in Monet’s paintings such as his 1877 work, Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare, which highlight both the ephemeral nature of fog and smoke and the atmosphere’s effect upon the forms of the city.

………….to be continued.

Much of the information I used for this blog came from an article in CALIFORNIA ART CLUB NEWSLETTER entitled An American Impressionist by Deborah Epstein Solon Ph D.

The Hayllar Family

Having recently looked at the Barnes School, the Williams family of English painters featuring a father and his six sons, I am today looking at another talented English family of painters featuring a father and his four daughters.  Let me introduce you to the Hayllars. 

James Hayllar, the patriarch.

James Hayllar, photograph by David Wylkie Wynfield (c.1860’s)

The patriarch of the Hayllar family was James Hayllar who was born in the West Sussex town of Chichester in 1829.  Despite parental opposition he decided to become an artist and, aged thirteen, enrolled at Cary’s Art School in 1842.  Francis Stephen Cary, a noted historical painter, who had once taught Rossetti and Millais, had become a pupil at Henry Sass’ Art Academy, and he, on the death of Henry Sass, took over the running of the academy in Bloomsbury and it then became known as Cary’s Art School.

An 1851 pencil and chalk portrait of Stephen Cary by James Hayllar is in London’s National Portrait Gallery.

Cimabue’s Madonna by Frederic Lord Leighton (1853-1855)

On completing his studies at Cary’s Art School, Hayllar travelled to Europe and made a tour of the continental countries.  In 1851, whilst in Rome he met Frederic Leighton.  It is believed that Hayllar appears as one of the figures in Leighton’s monumental (2m x 5m) masterpiece, Cimabue’s Madonna, which he worked on between 1853 and 1855.

Granville Sharp the abolitionist rescuing a slave from the hands of his master by James Hayllar (1864)

Granville Sharp, who was born in 1735, was a scholar who campaigned for social justice. In 1787, with his fellow Anglican Thomas Clarkson and a group of Quakers, Sharp founded the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Sharp supported the resettlement of British and Canadian slaves to Sierra Leone, but despite reports about its moral decline and the resurgence of slave trading in the colony, maintained the view that the project was worthwhile.  James Hayllar’s 1864 painting Granville Sharp the abolitionist rescuing a slave from the hands of his master, depicts an event which occurred in 1765 and is based on Sharp’s involvement with the Abolitionist movement. In 1765 Sharp met Jonathan Strong, a slave seeking treatment for injuries sustained at the hands of his owner. Sharp took up Strong’s case and secured his release from prison when he was arrested as an escaped slave. Following this success Sharp began to research the legal status of slaves in Britain and argued on behalf of a number of slaves in court, which is why the background of Hayllar’s painting has the legal setting.

Miss Lily’s Carriage stops the Way by James Hayllar (1866)

Hayllar exhibited his work at the Royal Academy focusing on literary and historical genre but by 1866 he changed tack and began a series of extremely well-liked genre studies of children and he completed a three painting series depicting a child attending a formal party. The first of these was Miss Lily’s Carriage stops the Way. In the first painting, Hayllar depicts a young child having her cloak adjusted before she makes an appearance at her first party.

Miss Lily’s First Flirtation by James Hayllar (1866)

In the second work, entitled The First Flirtation,  we see the same young girl, Lily, enjoying herself at the party as she makes the acquaintance of a young boy similar in age to herself.

The Return from the Ball by James Hayllar (1866)

In the third painting entitled The Return from the Ball, Lily is seen being carried from the party by her mother, although her eyes are still open as she rests her head on her mother’s shoulder and we can see that the evening party has tired her out.  She still manages to clutch her lace fan in her silk gloved hand.

Castle Priory Wallingford, home to artist James Hayllar and his daughters,

 The series was well received and his standing as an artist rose.  His name was put forward as an Associate of the Royal Academy by William Powell Frith and Eyre Crowe, but he missed being elected by one vote and being very despondent regarding the outcome, never tried again.  Having given up hope of becoming an Academician he distanced himself from the Academy circle and also distanced himself from the English capital and London life in general and moved from his St Pancras home and settled down in the rural part of Suffolk at Carlton Rookery near the town of Saxmundham and in 1875 moved to the county of Berkshire and the town of Wallingford where he rented Castle Priory, a large house on the banks of the Thames.

Rivals Drink by James Hayllar (1881)

James Hayllar had married Ellen Phoebe Cavell in 1855 and the couple went on to have nine children, five daughters, Jessica Ellen in 1858, Edith Parvin in 1860, Eugenie Grace in 1861, Alexandra Mary in 1862 and Beatrice Kate in 1864.  They also had four sons, their first-born child, William Ernest in 1855, Reginald James in 1857 and their two youngest children, Thomas and Algernon in 1866 and 1868. 

Forty Winks by James Hayllar

Both parents and children led an exceptionally happy family life and they often played host to visiting neighbours and cousins.  The days were filled with games of tennis as well as artistic endeavour. The house was to provide his family with inspiration for their paintings.

The Only Daughter by James Hayllar (1875)

They were a very close family and of course, at a certain age, they would leave home and it is thought that James Hayllar’s 1875 painting entitled The Only Daughter was a reminder to him of the sad day when he “lost” one of his daughters.  The painting depicts an only daughter standing between her beloved father and the man who was to be her future husband.  His role in the young lady’s life would be to take over the protective mantle, once the role of her father and this successional responsibility is made plain by placing his head between the portraits of past generations on the wall behind him.

Lunchtime by James Hayllar

Hayller lived at Castle Priory until the death of his wife in 1899.  He them went to live in Bournemouth where he stayed until his death in 1920, aged 91.

The daughters of James Hayllar.

Jessica Hayllar

The Lemonade Drink by Jessica Hayllar

Of the nine children James and Ellen had, five were daughters and it was the female members of the family that followed in the footsteps of their father. James Hayllar and his wife’s third-born child was their first daughter, Jessica.

Fresh from the Altar by Jessica Hayllar (1890)

Jessica Hayllar was born on September 16th 1858.  She studied under her father and began to exhibit her art in 1879 and at the Royal Academy from 1880 to 1915. In the early days, up until 1900, her work was mainly depictions of domestic scenes of everyday life at Castle Priory.  Her genre scenes were described as being ones which were full of genuine charm.  For her models she nearly always used members of her family.

The Hallway with Potted Palms by Jessica Hayler (1882)

In 1900 she was badly injured in a carriage accident and was partially paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. From that moment the subject of her paintings changed and she started to paint floral still life works which often featured azaleas.

A Double Pink Azalea by Jessica Hayllar

Jessica Hayllar lived with her parents throughout her life and never married.  When her father left Castle Priory and went to live in Bournemouth she went with him.  Following her father’s death in 1920, Jessica moved to Surrey to live with her younger sister Edith Hayllar MacKay.

A Sunny Corner by Jessica Hayllar (1909)

Jessica Hayllar died on November 7th 1940, aged 82.

Alexandra Mary Hayllar

Alexandra Mary Hayllar wedding day photo (1885)

In comparison to her four sisters, Alexandra Mary Hayllar was the least prolific, and unlike her sisters, she only exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1880 to 1885.  Her paintings were mainly still life works or genre pieces which featured children.

Lawn Tennis Season by Mary Hayllar (1881)

Despite her lesser output of work in comparison to that of her sisters, Mary was extremely gifted and like her sisters, she took pleasure in pictorially depicting the domestic life of the Berkshire countryside, as lived at her parents’ house, Castle Priory, Wallingford

The Tennis Party by Alexandra Mary Hayller (1907)

On July 1st 1885, at the age of twenty-two, she married Henry Wells in St Marys, Wallingford and this change of status coincided with her giving up painting and taking on the accepted role of supportive wife, keeper of the home and bringing up the children.  The couple had six children, two sons, Henry and Guy and four daughters, Dora, Muriel, Beatrice and Joyce.  All of the children at one time or another modelled for their aunts’ paintings.

Helping Gardener by Mary Hayllar (1884)
For a Good Boy by Mary Hayllar (1880)

Alexandra Mary Hayllar died in 1950, aged 87.

Edith Parvin Hayllar

Edith Hayllar (self portrait)

Edith Hayllar was the fourth child and second daughter of the British artist James Hayllar born in 1860.   As was the case for most English middle- and upper-class young ladies in Victorian times, art was an essential accomplishment and Edith, like her four sisters, adhered to the Victorian system of four to ten art classes a day by their father and this was to guarantee a proficiency in the basic art techniques such as proportion and perspective.   They would also be given instruction in modelling, etching, mezzotint, and engraving among other media.

In the Park by Edith Hayllar

Once their art lessons were completed, she and her sisters spend the rest of their time at home relaxing, partaking in outdoor sports such as tennis, plein air painting, and even some gardening. This relaxed lifestyle featured in the depiction seen in all the sisters’ paintings

Five o’clock Tea by Edith Hayllar

Of the five sisters, Jessica Hayllar and Edith Hayllar where the most well-known painters, and like their father, James, they specialised in genre painting.  It is thought that through the depictions in Edith’s paintings of women in domestic interiors with their families gave an insight into their lifestyle. The women in her genre works were observed running a well-organized households and clearly defined a woman’s role at any given time in their lives.  Edith had not taken on the role as a spokesperson for female independence and was content with the term “female dependency”

A Cozy Corner by Edith Hayllar (1887)

Edith works of art were shown almost every year from the 1880s–1890s at the Institute for Oil Painters and Dudley’s Gallery. In 1881 she had her first piece exhibited at the Royal Society of British Artists in London and then a year later, in 1882, another of her works was exhibited in the Royal Academy of Arts.

Summer Shower by Edith Hayllar (1883)

Maybe her best-known and best loved painting was her 1883 work entitled A Summer Shower, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy Exhibition.  It depicts a young man with a badminton racket courting a woman who is reclining in a chair next to him.  Through the window in the background, we can see the inclement weather has put a stop to all outdoor sporting activities.  One critic described the work as one of the most charming genre scenes of the nineteenth century.

Feeding the Swans by Edith Hayllar

In 1900, at the age of forty, Edith married Rev. Bruce MacKay and the couple moved to Sutton Courteney.  Marriage also signalled the end of her painting career as she devoted her life to looking after the family household. Edith died in 1948, aged 88.

(Beatrice) Kate Hayllar

A Corner of the Shelf by Kate Hayllar

(Beatrice) Kate Hayllar was born on September 1st 1864 at 15 Mecklenburgh Square, London.  She was the seventh child of James and Ellen Hayllar and the youngest of their five daughters.  She, like her other sisters, loved to paint and were tutored by their father.  Most of her ideas for her work derived from the happy life she experienced when the family lived at Castle Priory, a large Thames-side house, close to the small town of Wallingford, Oxfordshire.  The family resided there from 1875 and 1899.  The beautiful interior of Castle Priory, its domestic events held there, the extensive well-laid out gardens, and the nearby countryside inspired the sisters to paint and the flowers they grew became their favourite subjects.  Kate Hayllar focused her work on small and intensely observed flower and still life subjects, many of which she exhibited at the Royal Academy and Royal Society of British Artists.

Souvenirs of Japan by Kate Hayllar (1883)

When her mother died in 1899 she gave up painting and became a nurse. She moved to Bournemouth with her father and sister Jessica. Later she went to live with her sister Mary at Wallingford, Berkshire. 

Eugenie Grace Hayllar

Eugenie Grace Hayllar was born in St Etienne, Ardèche, Rhône-Alpes, France on  August 26th 1861. She was the fifth child of James Hayllar and Ellen Phoebe Cavell.  Eugenie Grace Hayllar married Robert Fletcher Leslie and the couple had two children, Harry and Charles, born in 1891 and 1893 respectively.  Eugenie passed away on March 2nd 1943 in Wallingford, Berkshire, England. Her husband had died the year before.

I was unable to find any paintings attributed to her but we know that like her sisters she was taught to paint by her father.

The Barnes School

The Patriarch, Old Williams.

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 (1781-1855)

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.

A Cottage in a Wooded Landscape by Edward Williams

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.

River Landscape with Windsor Castle by Edward Williams

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. 

The Jewish Cemetery by van Ruisdael (c.1655)

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. 

The Old Watermill by George Morland (1790)

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.

River by Moonlight by Edward Williams

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

A View on the Banks of the Thames by Edward Williams

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.

Crossing the Stream, A Wayside Chat by Edward Williams

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

Lois Jones, artist and teacher - NARA - 559227.jpg
Lois Mailou Jones

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…”

1937 or '38. (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Lois Mailou Jones (c.1938)

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.

Loïs Mailou Jones "Negro Student," 1934, charcoal on paper (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Negro Student by Loïs Mailou Jones (1934)

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.

Beneath a soft blue sky, a picturesque village nestles in a valley between a river in the extreme foreground and verdant mountains. Combining loose and discrete brushstrokes with a palette of greens and golds, the painting recalls Paul Cézanne’s late 19th-century landscapes.
Arreau, Hautes-Pyrénées by Lois Mailou Jones (1949)

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”.

Loïs Mailou Jones "My Mother's Hats," 1943, oil on canvas. (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
My Mother’s Hats by Loïs Mailou Jones (1943)

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. 

Loïs Mailou Jones "Jeanne, Martiniquaise," 1938, oil on canvas (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts)
Jeanne, Martiniquaise, by Loïs Mailou Jones (1938)

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.

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The Ascent of Ethiopia.by Lois Mailou Jones (1932)

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.

Loïs Mailou Jones "Seventh Street Promenade," 1943, watercolor with graphite underdrawing on paper (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Seventh Street Promenade, by Loïs Mailou Jones (1943)

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.

Les Fétiches, by Lois Mailou Jones (1938)

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.

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Indian Shops, Gay Head, Massachusetts, by Lois Mailou Jones (1940)

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.

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Mob Victim (Meditation) by Lois Mailou Jones (1944)

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?

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Wedding of Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noel and Lois Mailou Jones

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.

Colorful painting by Lois Mailou Jones featuring a young African girl in face paint, with depictions of masks and decoration in the background
Ubi Girl from Tai region by Lois Mailou Jones (1972)

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.

Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1998)

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.

Charles Frederick Ulrich

Charles Frederic Ulrich (c. 1895)

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.

The Wood Engraver by Charles Frederick Ulrich (1882)

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…”

The Glass Engraver by Charles Frederick Ulrich (1883)

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 the Land of Promise, Castle Garden by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1884)

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

Portrait of Thomas B. Clarke, by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1884)

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.

An old fire-place / Granny by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1882)

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.

The Village Printing Shop, Haarlem, Holland by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1884)

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.

Glassblowers of Murano by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1886)

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.

Charles Frederick Hugo Otto Ulrich

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.

Waifs in an Orphanage by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1884)

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.