ArtCatto Gallery

Often when you visit small galleries which are staging a joint exhibition of paintings done by a small number of artists, you like some and are disappointed with others.  I was in Portugal last week and my visit coincided with an opening of a joint exhibition at a local gallery and I was fortunate to have received an invite which coincided with my short break away.

ArtCatto Gallery, Loulé, Algarve, Portugal

The exhibition was at the ArtCatto gallery in the heart of the Algarve town of Loulé.  ArtCatto was the brainchild of Gillian Catto, who after 30 years as the owner of an internationally recognised and respected gallery in London, decided to settle in the Algarve and she opened ArtCatto in 2011.  Gillian Catto developed a reputation, which is second to none. She was responsible for launching the careers of artists who have subsequently become household names, such as Jack Vettriano. His solo exhibition at her Gallery helped to create a global demand for his work, which skyrocketed in value virtually overnight.

The Girls by Shen Ming Chun

The gallery is divided into a number of small rooms, each featuring the work of one artist.    In one of these rooms there were six exquisite works of portraiture by the Chinese artist, Shen Ming Cun.  Shen was born in 1956 and graduated from the University Art College of Guangxi in China, where he is now a professor of European Art. He is highly respected as an official artist for the Chinese Government, and has exhibited in Hong Kong, Beijing, Singapore, New Zealand, and Britain.

Beautiful Headdress by Shan Ming Cun

Shen Ming draws his inspiration from the ancient traditions, crafts and culture of the tribes of the Miao, Yao and Dong of the remote GuangXi region of China. There are large changes in China which is causing a massive strain on the ancient way of life in these small village communities and as the young people leave the villages to seek work in the large cities one has to wonder how long these cultures can survive.

Looking at You by Shen Ming Cun

Each tribe has a quite unique tradition in dress and adornment from the other. The young girls sew everything entirely by hand and their jewellery is crafted in the village.

Silver Necklace by Shen Ming Cun

Shen’s paintings have come to focus on capturing, distilling and representing the inimitable customs, dress and heritage of these minority tribes of Southern China. His empathy and admiration of these tribal people is well-defined in his paintings, which possess a lyrical beauty, dignity and grace. In fact, his paintings have been likened to a kind of visual poetry in their way they communicate to the viewer a variety of emotions and to entice the spectator into their worlds.

Pink Roses by Shen Ming Cun

Shen’s paintings capture the chromatic vibrancy of the costumes and ornate silver jewellery with a lightness and confidence that has undoubtedly led to his success. Their adornments are genuine symbols of the wealth, religion, ritual and national consciousness that shape their lives. It is truly remarkable to witness the intimate moments that he often portrays which provide an atmosphere of invitation and intrigue for the viewer.  Shen explains his inspirational art:

“…I have spent a long time researching the richly colourful cultural heritage of the Yao and Miao nationalities and the Dong minority of Southern China. Over the years I have lived amongst them and become friends with these beautiful people who radiate pure goodness and a simple love of life. Cultivating their ancestor’s achievements, they turn life into immortal art…”

Pedro Guimares

On entering another room I came across some fascinating works of art by Pedro Guimares.  Pedro Guimarães, born 1974 in Guimarães, Portugal. From an early age, Pedro was fascinated by art and design, resulting in an exhibition at the age of sixteen at the Youth Centre in Braga. The success and impact of that show confirmed his career as a professional artist and as a result he set up his studio in Guimarães to continue his practice.

All I Want by Pedro Guimares

In 2011 he moved to Cantabria, Spain, having the opportunity to exhibit his work there. Back in Portugal it was in Guimarães that he set up his atelier. There he devoted an increasingly greater amount of time to plastic arts until it finnaly became his exclusive activity. Since then, Pedro Guimarães participated in several individual and collective exhibitions in Portugal and abroad with an intense and always innovative artistic production.

Sky Dreamer by Pedro Guimares

Pedro Guimarães’s work is based on a conceptual language created by him, which he defines as:

“…the true transparent reaction of our consciousness with the synapses that make us unique and influence the direction of our concepts, associating colours and shapes…”

Untouchable. In loving memory of Queen Elizabeth II by Pedro Guimares

Enjoying a wide creative freedom, Pedro Guimarães uses various resources and materials. One of the strangest and probably the most time-consuming work was a portrait entitled Untouchable. In loving memory of Queen Elizabeth II.  For this work, Guimares used a technique which he terms “Untouchable” which gives the work a unique content, curious, and some might say disarming. Standing before the portrait you see nothing unusual but……….

Side-on view of Queen Elizabeth II portrait

………..stand to the side of the portrait and when you look again you realise the artwork comprises of numerous pins (180,000 pins) that forms the figure into a three-dimensional shape.  You only notice the pins when you view the work side-on.

The Three of Us by Pedro Guimares

The painting of his, maybe I should say the three paintings of his, which fascinated me was entitled The Three of Us.  I suppose the portrait(s) fall into the category of being a  Trompe L’oeil depiction. As I stood in front of this strange slatted painting I saw a depiction of Princess Diana. At first I could not fathom out the reason for the vertical slats.

The Three of us by Pedro Guimares

However when I moved to the left and viewed the painting at a 45 degree angle the image of Diane disappeared and as if by magic, the depiction of her son Harry came clearly into view………

The Three of Us by Pedro Guimares

……and when I moved to the right of the painting an image of William gradually appeared. Yes, I know it was just a work of trickery but it was very cleverly done.

Richard Gower

On entering the gallery, you were greeted by a wash of bright colours which extended along the walls of the passageways.  The paintings reminded me of some of the colourful seascapes I saw at the Joaquín Sorolla Museum in Madrid.  These artworks at the ArtCatto gallery were by the English artist Richard Gower.

Finding the Perfect Spot by Richard Gower

Richard Gower was born in West Yorkshire in 1962 and is a fine artist who is known for his contemporary oil paintings rendered in his characteristic impressionistic style.  At the age of seventeen, he studied at Batley College of Art and specialised in fine art and sculpture.  He is influenced by the great artists of the nineteenth and twentieth century such as Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Sickert, Francis Bacon. Richard’s determination to paint and learn everything he needed to learn motivated him to study the great impressionists. Richard’s fascination with the great painters pushed his own creativity and observations to develop and fine-tune his personal ‘Reflections’ style over the years. As a young man he travelled throughout Europe on his motorbike stopping of at various cities and towns always visiting galleries and exhibitions, whilst all the time honing his artistic skills and developing his passion for painting.

The Splash by Richard Gower

The semi-abstracted, figurative compositions we see in his beach scenes have both a real sense of joie de vie but also intrigue. As observers, we are asked to conjure up narratives about these anonymous characters who are enjoying a day at the seaside and who are immortalised on his canvases.

Day at the Beach by Richard Gower
The Promenade by Richard Gower

These seaside scenes by Gower would light up any room and bring with them the hankering to leave rainy and windswept climates and visit beautiful beaches and soak up the sun.

Mario Henrique with his portrait of Marilyn Munroe

Another room at the ArtCatto exhibition was dedicated to the artwork of Mario Henrique.   Mario Henrique is an artist based in Cascais, Portugal, who graduated in Design from Lisbon’s University of Fine Arts and started his career in online marketing and web development agencies.  Later on, as a creative director he recruited and led teams in Portugal, Spain and Brazil.

Somnium No. 1, Series X by Mario Henrique

Of his painting style Mario explains:

“…I try to be fast and spontaneous when I’m painting – that process should be reflected in the final piece. The observer should be able to infer the physicality of the painting process, when looking at the brush strokes and paint drippings…”

Mario Henrique at work in his studio

“…When I throw paint, I can do it with some premeditation – but I can never really predict where the paint will actually fall on the canvas. So, my approach to painting is – in part – based on chance, on small random accidents – it doesn’t rely exclusively on my persistence or my technique.

That’s why I don’t feel completely responsible for my paintings – in the sense that, although I can answer for my initial intentions, the final…”

Mariana by Mario Henrique

Mario Henrique is passionate about his work and has exhibited his work in Portugal, Brazil, Germany and the US. He says that he is forever intrigued by the subtleties and double meanings of people’s body language, expressions and looks, and he composes works centred around people. Mario uses his portraits to represent the impermanence of facial expressions and unpredictability of human movements, and paints abruptly and spontaneously in drippings and splashings.

Nebula No. 5, Series IV by Mario Henrique

Listed in various private collections across Europe, America and Asia, he has exhibited in galleries both locally and abroad, and was awarded an Honourable Mention for his participation in the Brasília Biennial of Contemporary Arts 2016. He was also featured in Saatchi Art’s Inside The Studio.

At the ArtCatto’s exhibition, there was also a selection of sculptures both with a modern style and a classical one.

Sculpture Flow by Paul Sibuet

Golden Flow by Paul Sibuet

Paul Sibuet, a French visual artist, was born in 1986.  He was trained in Design and Art and his work has been submitted at numerous competitions, in Tokyo and Paris. He has now broken free from the techniques he was taught by exploring his own perceptions of the object and volumes, and in so doing so he has created his own signature. He lives today in Lyon and exhibits in particular in Geneva, New York and Venice.

Spring by Anneke Bester
Emanate by Anneke Bester

At the rear of the gallery there is a narrow outdoor passage way which was lined by statuettes by Anneke Bester. Anneke Bester is a South African born artist who now considers New Zealand her home country. She not only exhibits in New Zealand but also regularly in Portugal and Dubai. Her body of work is a combination of one-off, delicately cast, bronze sculptures as well as editioned works. Anneke’s work focuses on celebrating Femininity in all its aspects. She sculpts gorgeous female forms in sensual poses. She develops the female energy of nature and depicts the female forms as daughters of mother earth in her most recent work.poses. She sees the female in its internal beauty and its core driving force that only a female sculptor can explore to its full extent.

If you are ever in the Algarve you should try and visit the ArtCatto gallery which lies on the town’s main street, across from the large Municipal Market Hall,

British Victorian Art and the Maas Gallery, London. Part 2.

My second blog continues to look at some of the Victorian paintings which were on show at the Maas Gallery in London.

The Last Song of the Girondins by Claude Andrew Calthrop (1868)

The first painting I am displaying in Part 2 is one by the English artist Claude Andrew Calthrop.  Calthrop was born in Deeping St Nicholas, near Spalding, Lincolnshire, on December 20th 1844, the youngest son of James Thompson Calthrop, a farmer and grazier, and his wife, Edna (née Knowles).  Calthrop attended the Merchant Taylors’ School, in the City of London, but, by 1861, had transferred to King’s College School. From there, he then studied art at Lambeth School of Art and the Royal Academy Schools, where in December 1864, he was awarded a silver medal for the best drawing from life and a gold medal and a scholarship for £50 for the best historical painting, a biblical one, depicting a subject from the Book of Job. He went on to exhibit at the Royal Society of British Artists and the Royal Academy.  At first, Claude Calthrop concentrated on history paintings depicting episodes of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. Later he changed to depictions of contemporary life, portraiture and genre scenes.

Today’s painting, Last Song of the Girondins, was completed and submitted by Calthrop to the Royal Academy exhibition in 1868.  It depicts a scene from the French Revolution and the Jacobins, an anti-Royalist grouping formed mainly of two prominent parliamentary factions, the Montagnards, lead by Robespierre and the Girondins lead by Jacques-Pierre Brissot.  The Montagnards referred to those who occupied the higher benches in both the Jacobin club and the national legislature. Those who sat on these high benches were generally more radical in their ideology and their policies, while those who sat further down were usually more moderate. The conflict between the Girondins and Montagnards came to a head in the spring of 1793. The catalyst for this was the trial of Louis XVI

Detail from The Last Song of the Girondins by Claude Andrew Calthrop

The two factions fell out and in 1793, the Girondins were charged with conspiring against the Republic by the Montagnards.  They were all immediately found guilty in a show trial, and just before midnight on the October 30th 1793, they were sentenced to death. The following morning, the twenty-one convicted men were taken by cart from the dungeons of the Conciergerie to the guillotine. Defiant to the end, the prisoners, led by Brissot, started to sing the Marseillaise and as each was beheaded, the sound of the song dwindled to silence, until the very last Girondin was executed.  The twenty-one died in a space of thirty-six minutes and this heralded in the Reign of Terror.

Of Calthrop’s painting, the art critic for Bell’s Weekly Messenger, described it as:

“…a more difficult scene to portray could scarcely have been chosen; but he has given individuality to each character, whilst he has managed the processional grouping with an ease which says much for his appropriate idea of detail. The manner, too, in which the general scheme is worked out by means of a happy blending of colour, is also appropriate. The handling is minute, without being laboured; and the tone, kept down, to represent the vault from which the prisoners are about to emerge, is as sober as the scene is sad. We shall expect, after such a specimen as this, to note Mr C Calthrop’s rise in his profession…”

Ruskin in his Turret Brantwood by William Collingwood

William Gershom Collingwood, a writer and artist, was born in Liverpool in 1854. He had always liked the Lake District and had accompanied his father there on sketching tours.   He received his early education at Liverpool College and at the age of eighteen went to University College, Oxford, where he first met John Ruskin. During the summer of 1873 Collingwood visited Ruskin at his Lake District house, Brantwood.  Ruskin had bought the somewhat dilapidated house in Coniston in August 1871.  Brantwood was Ruskin’s main home from 1872 until his death in 1900.  Ruskin oversaw many renovations to Brantwood including adding a turret to his bedroom which gave him a panoramic view of the lake

Brantwood as it looks today.

Later Collingwood was working at Brantwood with Ruskin and his associates. Ruskin was impressed with Collingwood’s draughtsmanship, and so he influenced Collingwood to study at the Slade School of Art between 1876 and 1878. Collingwood exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1880.  For many years Collingwood dedicated his life to helping Ruskin and lived at Branston, taking on the role as Ruskin’s personal assistant.   In 1883 Collingwood married Edith Mary Isaac and the couple lived close to Ruskin in the Lake District. Collingwood went on to edit many of Ruskin’s texts and published a biography of Ruskin in 1893.

Michelangelo Nursing his Dying Servant by Frederic, Lord Leighton (c.1862)

In this 1857 watercolour painting by Frederic, Lord Leighton, we have a depiction a young man supporting and comforting an older man.  It is a tender and compassionate scene.  The old man, a servant, is Urbino and the benevolent person with his arm around the old man’s shoulder is his master, Michelangelo.  Leighton has fashioned the depiction similar to many religious depictions of The Deposition, the cradling of the dead Christ after being brought down from the cross.  A number of years later Leighton completed a copy of the work in oils.

Kathleen by James Tissot

This is an unfinished watercolour portrait of Kathleen Newton by the French painter James Tissot.  She was his favourite model who also became his lover.  The story of artist and model is fascinating and I covered it in my blog, James Tissot and Kathleen Newton ten years ago.

Quiet by James Tissot

This watercolour is thought to be a preliminary sketch which Tissot used when he worked on his painting entitled Quiet. This was one of Tissot’s most famous pictures of Kathleen and it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1881.  Kathleen is depicted sitting on a bench in the garden at Tissot’s house in Grove End Road with one of her children and a pet dog.  The depiction of Kathleen in Quiet shows her in a similar pose as in the unfinished watercolour sketch. 

My next offerings were paintings by the prolific English Victorian painter William Lionel Wylie, an artist of maritime themes which he painted in both oils and watercolours.

W L Wylie

William Lionel Wyllie, better known as W.L.Wylie, who was born on July 5th 1851 at 67 Albany Street, Camden Town, London.  He was the elder of two sons of a prosperous minor-genre painter, French-born English William Morrison Wyllie, who at the time of the birth of his son, was living in London.  His younger brother Charles William Wylie was also a talented painter.  William Jnr. received a first-class artistic education, studying firstly at the Heatherley School of Fine Art, and then in 1866, when he was aged fifteen, at the Royal Academy Schools, where he studied under some of the great artists of the time like Edwin Landseer, John Everett Millais and Frederic Leighton.

Dawn After a Storm by W.L.Wylie (1869)

His artistic talent showed through with his 1869 painting entitled Dawn After a Storm which won him the Turner Gold Medal. He was just eighteen years old.

Landing the Catch, Portel Sands by W.L. Wylie (1875)

William Wylie submitted his painting Landing the Catch, Portel Sands, in 1875.  Wylie who had success at submitting his work to the Royal Academy’s Exhibitions the previous years was horrified and disillusioned  to have his work rejected by the Exhibition jurists.  It was the first time this had happened to him in seven years.  He swore that he would give up painting and go off to sea.

  His parents once had a summer home at Wimereux, a coastal town just north of Boulogne and just to the south was Portel Sands which is depicted in his painting.  This painting depicts fishermen landing their catch on the beach at low tide.  The scene is lit up by the blazing sun overhead.

Shrimpers Hauling to Windward by W.L. Wylie

Wylie’s painting entitled Shrimpers Hauling to Windward is a small work (58 x 71 cms) and is looked upon as one of Wylie’s masterpieces of maritime art.  It appeared at the Royal Academy in 1905.  It is a work full of movement, air, and light. It depicts a sea reach, which is the last bit of river before it meets the sea.  To the right we see the submerged mud bank. The last of the shrimper fleet heads towards land, hard on the starboard tack in the channel, battling against both wind and the current, whilst the leading boats have already made it to the inner harbour and protection against the elements. 

The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by W.L. Wylie

Wylie’s small painting featuring the Shrimpers which was shown at the Royal Academy in 1905, was overshadowed by another of Wyllie’s works, the monumental (148 x 272 cms) painting of Trafalgar on the centenary of the battle. The art press and critics alike stated that this large maritime depiction ‘stole the show’.

A Walk in the Country by John Ritchie (1863)

Little is known about the artist who created the painting above, simply entitled A Day in the Country.  The artist is John Ritchie and we know he is Scottish and was born around 1821.  The difficulty in unearthing facts about his life is strange as he did exhibit his work at such hallowed establishments as the Scottish Academy, Liverpool Academy and the Royal Academy in London.  He began to exhibit his work in 1840 when he was nineteen years old.  One of the artists who influenced Ritchie was John Brett (see earlier painting in Part 1).  His painting, A Day in the Country, was exhibited at the Liverpool Academy in 1863 and depicts a farmer taking a stroll on his land and checking on the forestry management with, in the middle-ground, some of his workers hauling away a felled tree. In the foreground we see the exposed roots of a large old oak tree.  Rabbits have nibbled at the roots and the bark and have burrowed under the sandy bank beneath the tree.  Besides checking on the tree-felling he is carrying a shotgun and is also hunting the rabbits that are damaging his trees.  To the left we see one of his men collecting the body of a rabbit his boss has killed.

Pensive by Sir George Clausen (1895)

The painting above is by George Clausen, an artist I have dedicated two blogs to back in 2015. This work is his beautiful and sensitive portrait of a young woman which he completed in 1895 and originally it was entitled Pensive but later was given the name Cinderella on the behest of David Croal Thomson, an Edinburgh-born art dealer and critic, who was based mainly in London, managing the London branch of the prestigious Goupil Gallery. Thomson advised Clausen that such a change of name would add a touch of romanticism to the work.  The painting was shown at the New Gallery in 1896 and the critic for the Pall Mall Gazette praised the work saying that Clausen had captured a creature exquisitely tender in nature.  The girl who modelled for the painting was Lizzie Deller a girl from Widdington, Essex.

Although the exhibition at the Maas Gallery has finished by the time you read these two blogs, I just wanted to remind you of the benefits one gets when you call in and look around these private “selling” galleries.

British Victorian Art and the Maas Gallery, London. Part 1.

Maas Gallery, Clifford Street, London.

In my next couple of blogs, I am going to delve into the world of Victoriana, and the British art of that period.  The Victorian era began in 1837 when the 18-year-old Alexandrina Victoria inherited the throne of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland as Queen Victoria.  It was a time of the start of the industrial revolution and a time when Britain was regarded as an industrial superpower.  It lasted for almost seventy-four years. On a recent visit to London, which I managed to make despite the train strikes, I decided to bypass the major galleries and visit a “selling” gallery in Mayfair which had a month-long exhibition of Victorian paintings.

The current owner of the gallery is Rupert Maas who was born in 1960, the same year the gallery was founded by his father.  His father died in 1996 and Rupert took over the running of the establishment.  The Gallery deals in Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite, Romantic and Modern British paintings, watercolours, drawings, reproductive engravings and sculpture, and the work of two or three living artists. Rupert, like his father before him, has arranged a number of important exhibitions at his Gallery, including Pre-Raphaelites and Romantics, Masters of British Illustration, John Ruskin and his Circle, Burne-Jones, Victorian Fairy Paintings, biennial exhibitions of Victorian Engravings and annual exhibitions of Victorian Paintings. So the day I visited the gallery it was staging a Victorian Pictures exhibition and I thought that in these blogs, I would highlight some of my favourites and look at some of the other paintings by those artists. 

My first pick is a painting, completed in 1900, entitled Sirens.  The artist was Sir James Jebusa Shannon.  Shannon, an American, was born in Auburn, New York in February 1862.  At the age of eight he and his parents relocated to Canada and in 1978, aged sixteen he went to London to study fine art.  He went on to win a gold medal for figure painting and gained recognition for his submissions to the Royal Academy.  He soon became recognised as one of the leading portrait painters in London. He was one of the first members of the New English Art Club, and became a founder member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.  In 1897 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy, and a Royal Academician in 1909

Sirens by Sir James Jebusa Shannon (1900)

Sirens was exhibited at Thomas Agnew & Sons, one of London’s leading art dealerships in 1900 where it was considered one of the most original of the contributions. It depicts nymph-like beings positioned in a charismatic way.  They are not simply modelling for an artist, but relishing a world of translucent waters, of beauty, both deep and impenetrable in which they live. The art critic of the Evening Standard wrote in the November 10th 1900 edition:

…The heads and shoulders of four young girls in the water – a piece full of movement, colour, and of charming life – is called by Mr. Shannon “Sirens”. The girls are delightful, and, in intention, absolutely innocent and harmless. Not even the most ridiculously cautious mariner, whoever hesitated about the passage of Southampton Water need be concerned to steer clear of sirens so benevolent and so bewitching. And yet, for all that, the piece is imaginative, and satisfactory entirely…”

The Stonebreaker by John Brett (1858)

Sometimes facts and information stick in your mind for years.  In this case it is the name of an artist.  Some fifty plus years ago I was inveigled into helping my daughter with an art project and the artist and painting she had to research was John Brett’s Realism work, The Stonebreaker.  The facts behind the work and the reason for painting it made me, from then on, become interested in what made an artist depict a certain subject and in a certain way.  So, I was surprised to see a painting by John Brett in the Maas gallery exhibition especially as it was completely a different genre to that of The Stonebreaker.  It was a seascape.

Sunset off Lundy Island by John Brett (1872)

The painting, Sunset off Lundy Island, is a sunset depiction of a yacht, a gaff ketch, sailing on choppy waters off the Isle of Lundy in the Bristol Channel.  He completed the work in 1872 although the idea for the painting went back five years earlier in September 1867 when Brett started to make a series of sketches.  The ketch we see battling the elements is heading in a south-east direction towards the safety of Appledore harbour which is more than twenty miles away.  The painting was a commission for Alfred Morrison, an English collector, known for his interest in works of art, autographs and manuscripts, who had built up a collection of Brett’s paintings.

Presentiments by Emily Mary Osborn (c.1859)

The title of the 1859 painting by Emily Mary Osborn is Presentiments.  A presentiment is an intuitive feeling about the future, especially one of foreboding.   The artist was the daughter of a curate of a parish in  West Tilbury on the Thames Estuary near the sea, which at the time, was surrounded by fishing communities.  She lived there up to the age of fourteen.   By the age of twenty-three and now living in London, she had her own studio.  She was exhibiting her work at the Royal Academy, one of which was this work which graced the walls of the Royal Academy Exhibition in 1859.   This painting is all about the perilous life of fishermen who have to go to sea to fish, Despite the gale blowing outside, the title of the painting forewarns us that the fisherman we see exiting his cottage is not coming back. Osborn was inspired by the Charles Kingsley’s poem, The Three Fishers:

Three fishers went sailing out into the West,

Out into the West as the sun went down;

Each thought on the woman who lov’d him the best;

And the children stood watching them out of the town;

For men must work, and women must weep,

And there’s little to earn, and many to keep,

Though the harbour bar be moaning.

Three wives sat up in the light-house tower,

And they trimm’d the lamps as the sun went down;

They look’d at the squall, and they look’d at the shower,

And the night wrack came rolling up ragged and brown!

But men must work, and women must weep,

Though storms be sudden, and waters deep,

And the harbour bar be moaning.

Three corpses lay out on the shining sands

In the morning gleam as the tide went down,

And the women are weeping and wringing their hands

For those who will never come back to the town;

For men must work, and women must weep,

And the sooner it’s over, the sooner to sleep—

And good-by to the bar and its moaning.

The painting depicts a fisherman’s family.  There is a look of poverty with their surroundings but despite the family members being poor they  are clean and well-dressed.  We see the fisherman’s son is seated on the floor playing with a toy boat. Look at the wife’s expression as she watches her husband depart.  It is an anxious look and although she has seen her husband depart every day to board his fishing boat, today is different.  She feels that something bad will happen and she is afraid. She has this terrible presentiment that her husband will not return.  Even the cat senses something as his fur is standing up and its back is hunched. It is a Realism genre painting.

The Old Mill at La Mortola by Sir Frank Dicksee (1925)

A wealthy English Quaker, Thomas Hanbury, who had made a fortune in buying property in Shanghai, bought and slowly restored the gardens of La Mortola,  the forty-four acre gardens close to the Italian town of Ventimiglia, on a promontory which juts out into the Ligurian Sea.  The painting above depicting the Old Mill at La Mortola was completed by seventy-two year old English artist Sir Frank Dicksee, who portrays the scene with quiet shadowy tones.  He had been appointed president of the Royal Academy in 1924, a position he held until his death in 1928.

Miss Ethel Brignall as a Mythological Figure by Ralph Peacock

The painter and illustrator Ralph Peacock was born in Wood Green, London on August 14th, 1868. His initial training was as a civil servant but his love was art and at the age of eighteen he enrolled in the twice-weekly evening art classes at the South Lambeth Art School.  The well-known Scottish painter John Pettie, who was considered to be one of the most successful painters in his days, saw some of Peacock’s work and advised him to consider take up painting professionally.  Peacock took Pettie’s advice and became one of the leading British portraitists of the Victorian era. The painting by Ralph Peacock, which was on show at the Maas gallery was his work entitled Miss Ethel Brignall as a Mythological Figure.

Ethel by Ralph Peacock (1897)

Ethel Brignall was the subject of Ralph Peacock’s 1897 painting, Ethel. Peacock painted this portrait the year the Tate Gallery was founded, and once on the walls of that gallery it became one of the most popular pictures of the 1900’s. Ethel Brignall was fourteen-years-old when she modelled for Peacock and in a letter she wrote in 1958 she recounted the experience:

“…I was 14 years old at the time…. I stayed with Ralph Peacock’s parents, Mr and Mrs Thomas Peacock, in the summer holiday while the picture was being painted…”

The Sisters by Ralph Peacock (1900)

Ralph Peacock’s involvement with the Brignall family culminated in a third family portrait. This time it was a double portrait of the two sisters, Edith and Ethel Brignall. The elder sister, Edith Brignall, is depicted reading from an open book. She married Ralph Peacock in 1901 and they lived with their two sons in Wimbledon. He eventually moved to Camden and died there on 17th January, 1946. The younger sister, Ethel Brignall, married Harold A. Titcomb, an American mining engineer, in 1908.  According to US Census records, in 1940 the couple were living on Orchard Street, Farmington, Maine, along with two sons and a daughter. She died in Farmington in October 1970, aged 88.

La Tristesse by Abraham Solomon (c.1847)

My last painting in this blog looking at British Victorian paintings, which were on display at London’s Maas Gallery, is one by Abraham Solomon.  Abraham Solomon was born in Bishopsgate London in May 1823.  He was the second son of Catherine and Meyer Solomon.  His father was a hat manufacturer and one of the first Jews to be admitted to the freedom of the city of London. Two members of the family, besides Abraham, also became artists. The painting is a half-length portrait of the Countess Eugénie de Teba, who would become the Empress of Napoleon III, when she married the Emperor in January 1853. Eugénie supported French opposition to a Prussian candidate for the vacant Spanish throne, in the argument that precipitated the Franco-German War of 1870. After the Battle of Sedan on September 1st 1870, Napoleon III was defeated and held prisoner by the Prussians.  On hearing of her husband’s capture and surrender she fiercely told one of his personal aides:

“…No! An Emperor does not capitulate! He is dead!…They are trying to hide it from me. Why didn’t he kill himself! Doesn’t he know he has dishonored himself?…”

In March 1871 Napoleon III, his wife Eugénie and their son Louis Napoleon plus a large entourage settled in a large property in Camden Place in Chiselhurst, London.  Napoleon III died in 1873 and her son Louis died six years later and Eugénie assumed the role of the grande dame in exile.

Solomon’s painting was completed around 1847, years before her marriage to Napoleon or his fall from power so the title of the painting La Tristesse (Sadness) could not be about Napoleon’s life but may instead be about her early life as she grew up into an impetuous and audacious young woman.  In her early twenties, she was rescued from drowning and twice attempted suicide after romantic disappointments.

……………………………….to be continued

Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Part 3.

The Sun Setting Through Vapour by Turner (c.1809)

Joseph Mallord William Turner’s painting The Sun Rising Through Vapour was described at the time as masterly, and his early reputation was founded on a series of dramatic seascapes that he regularly showed at the Royal Academy, the British Institution and in his own gallery until about 1810.  The sun disperses the clouds and infuses sand and sea with a golden glow. In the foreground against a seascape with the setting sun which casts a golden light over the entire picture, we see a group of fishermen and women unloading their catch and laying it out on the beach for sale.    In the distance we see a number of ships at anchor including a man-of-war and a dismasted hulk which was being used as a prison ship, which is a stark reminder that at the time Turner completed the work, France and England were still at war.  Turner painted numerous marine subjects early in his career. As here, he sought to make his reputation by matching the Dutch masters of the 17th century.  Throughout his life Turner was fascinated with including the sun in his paintings

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The Sun Rising through Vapour by Turner (1807-09). National Gallery London

A similar painting can be found in the National Gallery, London entitled The Sun Rising through Vapour. The setting is low tide in the early morning and fishermen unload their catch from a boat beached high and dry on the shore. Some of the people are partaking of a meal whilst others prepare the catch for sale. There is a noticeable contrast between the human activity on the shore with the stillness of the glassy sea which, like a mirror, reflects the hazy sunlight. The sun is just a pale yellow glow and has yet the power to burn off the sea mist which is alluded to with the word ‘vapour’ in the picture’s title.

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The Adoration of the Magi by Bassano (c.1556)

My next offering is by the Italian painter, Jacopo dal Ponte, better known as Jacopo Bassano, named after, Bassano dal Grappa, a village northwest of Venice, where he was born in the first decade of the sixteenth century.  He was probably first trained by his father, Francesco, before becoming an apprentice in Bonifazio Veronese’s large Venetian workshop. He was mainly active, throughout his long life, in Bassano, where he painted landscapes and genre scenes. In his painting, Adoration of the Magi sometimes known as the Adoration of the Kings he depicted the Three Kings, or Magi, carrying their gifts, as they approached the infant Christ. It’s a scene that has been caught countless times on canvas.  Despite their status and wealth, they bow to Christ who they acclaim as the King of Kings. The setting, is the inside of a ruined classical building and has a symbolic meaning.  The decaying building symbolises the decline of the pagan world and the old gods.  They will be further ruined as a result of Christ’s divine mission. Look at the various aspects of this picture.  Look how Bassano has painted the sumptuously extravagant robes and depicted a splendid collection of animals and servants. Look how the light comes through the decaying architecture and settles on the head of the baby Jesus.  This is looked upon as being a light source emanating from God the Father.

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Jockeys Before the Race by Edgar Degas (1879)

I wrongly associated paintings solely depicting ballerinas with the French painter Edgar Degas but in fact he had another favourite theme for his work – horse racing.  Horse racing was a popular pastime in the nineteenth century in  France under Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III. Degas became fascinated by the sport while visiting friends in Normandy. During his lifetime, Degas created forty-five oils, twenty pastels, two hundred and fifty drawings, and seventeen sculptures related to horses.  One such work featuring horse racing is in the Barber Institute collection, entitled Jockeys Before the Race.   It is a painting, made using oil essence, gouache, and pastel, which he completed in 1879.  It is an image of three jockeys on horseback readying themselves at the start of a race on a dull winter’s day with its watery sun. This very large work (107 x 73cms) was exhibited at the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition in 1879.  There is a definite lack of symmetry about this work as the vertical starting post is placed two-thirds from the left-hand side.  The warm red and pink colours of the jockey’s clothes on the left of the painting are balanced by the lighter white/blue colours of the clothes worn by the jockey, who sits astride his horse in the right foreground.

The Castle by the Sea
Castle by the Sea by Caspar Nepomuk Scheurer (1860)

My next choice of painting is both unusual and yet strangely beautiful.  It is a 1860 watercolour over pen and pencil, partly heightened with white and gold work by Caspar Nepomuk Scheuren, a German landscape painter and etcher.  It is thought to have been commissioned as a prize in a lottery held by Kristiania Kunstforenings, Oslo, the oldest art gallery in Norway, which is why the Norwegian coat of arms is at the top centre of the work.   It is an elicitation of a poem by the German nineteenth century poet, Ludwig Uhland which tells of a legendary magical castle, depicted in the centre of the painting, which reaches up towards the moonlit sky and down to the shimmering sea.   On one side we see a king and queen and on the other, their musical daughter, who serenades passers-by with a tearful lament, whose premature death forms the focus of the poem’s lament. The castle and characters are surrounded by an architectural framework, in which the separate compartments serve to isolate episodes of the unfolding narrative.  The tragic fate of all three characters is depicted at the bottom of the painting.  In the centre the king and queen are seen dressed in mourning clothes.  To the left we see the tomb of their daughter and to the right we see a depiction of their own tomb.  Below is the poem which tells the sad story.

The Castle By The Sea

By Johann Ludwig Uhland

‘Hast thou seen that lordly castle, 
That Castle by the Sea? 
Golden and red above it 
The clouds float gorgeously. 

‘And fain it would stoop downward 
To the mirrored wave below; 
And fain it would soar upward 
In the evening’s crimson glow.’ 

‘Well have I seen that castle, 
That Castle by the Sea, 
And the moon above it standing, 
And the mist rise solemnly.’ 

‘The winds and the waves of ocean, 
Had they a merry chime? 
Didst thou hear, from those lofty chambers, 
The harp and the minstrel’s rhyme?’ 

‘The winds and the waves of ocean, 
They rested quietly, 
But I heard on the gale a sound of wail, 
And tears came to mine eye.’ 

‘And sawest thou on the turrets 
The King and his royal bride? 
And the wave of their crimson mantles? 
And the golden crown of pride? 

‘Led they not forth, in rapture, 
A beauteous maiden there? 
Resplendent as the morning sun, 
Beaming with golden hair?’ 

‘Well saw I the ancient parents, 
Without the crown of pride; 
They were moving slow, in weeds of woe, 
No maiden was by their side!’

Huntsmen Halted by Aelbert Cuyp (1655)

One of my favourite Dutch painters and one who is regarded as one of the finest artists of the so-called “Golden Age” of Dutch painting, a period during and after the later part of the Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648) for Dutch independence is Aelbert Cuyp.  Cuyp was born and raised in the town of Dordrecht where he completed paintings for his patrons.  His notoriety as a great painter only came the late eighteenth century when British aristocratic collectors began to collect his pictures.  His works were admired for the way he combined his figures with his beautiful landscapes and the British aristocracy particularly liked his many depictions of equestrian and hunting themes.  Although Cuyp did not visit Italy himself, but he studied those Dutch artists who had been there and who had adopted the poetic light of the paintings by the French artist, Claude Lorrain.  In fact, Cuyp was dubbed the Dutch Claude.

In this work we see a party of hunters at rest under the shade of a large tree.  The huntsmen we see depicted are the three sons of Cornelis van Beveren, Cuyp’s wealthiest patron. De Beveren was the most powerful man in mid-seventeenth century Dordrecht.  On five occasions he had been appointed burgomaster of the town, representative to the Staaten-General and ambassador to England, as well as to France.  The van Beverens were not classed as aristocrats but undoubtedly prosperous members of the so-called “striving classes” – the nouveau riche.

The three riders wear fashionable Hungarian hunting costume and are accompanied by an exotically dressed black servant, another sign of their wealth. Why Hungarian costumes?  The reason was probably because Hungarians were admired by the Dutch not only for their famed equestrian skills but also for their staunch support of the Protestant cause, which also reflected a newfound sense of Dutch national pride and independence from the Catholic Spanish rule. The depiction shows the hunting party has come to rest in a landscape bathed in a warm golden light more associated with southern Europe than Holland. The right to hunt had once been jealously guarded by royalty and aristocracy, and thus those who hunted were afforded a traditional mark of the very highest status.  However, in the region of Zuid Holland, which governed Dordrecht, regulations had been altered in 1623 expanding hunting privileges to owners of country estates and to citizens with an annual income of more than 100 guilders.

The Last of England by Ford Madox Brown (1855)

For my last offering I want to look at a painting which is part of the collection usually on display at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, but as I said at the start of Part One of this blog, the main Birmingham Museum is closed for renovations and this painting was then loaned out to the Barber Institute.   The Last of England was completed in 1855 by the leading Pre-Raphaelite artist Ford Madox Brown and is recognised as a masterpiece of Victorian painting. In the depiction we see a young family huddling together on an open boat as they say farewell to the shores of England and head off to find a better life and a fresh start in Australia.  This oval shape of the work which is almost circular, makes us concentrate our focus on the faces of the young couple, who have literally turned their backs on their homeland.   In the picture we see a father, mother and two children wrapped up well against the cold sea breezes as the ship leaves the familiar shores of their English homeland.   The picture, in some way, was inspired by the emigration to Australia of Maddox Brown’s friend, the sculptor Thomas Woolner in 1852.  It is ironic that although Maddox Brown started the painting the year Woolner departed from England, he had returned to England the following year, disillusioned by the false promises of wealth to be had from the gold rush.  This was some two years before Ford Madox Brown had completed the work.  Thousands of working-class and lower middle-class people, who were totally disillusioned with their life of poverty and slum-like dwellings of England, just packed up the few possessions they had and made this long and momentous journey to the other side of the world.  There were about fifty thousand free immigrants arriving each year in Australia.  The immigrants were following their dream and although they believed the “grass would be greener” for them in Australia, they would a little as to whether they had made the right decision.  Such worry and doubt was etched on the faces of the couple in the painting and in some ways we can empathise with them even though we know they had a free choice in the matter. 

In the background we can make out the white cliffs of England as they fade away in the distance.  This rock structure of white chalk is often depicted in paintings which highlight the coast of England.  In contrast to the white rock formation, we see a black steamship, with billowing black smoke coming from its funnel, heading for port.  The ship that the family is sailing on is surrounded by choppy green seas topped with white crests and this may in some way allude to the testing and difficult times ahead for our emigrants.  It is interesting to see in the foreground netting around the lifeboat deck, hanging on which are some of the ship’s fresh vegetable supplies.  We can see some cabbages and wonder how long they will remain fresh during this long, probably six-to-eight-week journey.  If we look behind “our family” we can see a small child wearing a pink bonnet, her right hand grasping the scarf warn by her mother, whilst she eats an apple held in her other hand.  Somebody, slightly hidden from view, can be seen smoking a long clay pipe but the characters that amuse me the most, and who are just visible in the background in this painting, are a pair of angry men arguing.  The man wearing the top hat has turned away and as he looks back at the departing coastline, waves his fist at it.   To this man, his departure from England is a thing of joy and for some reason he seems to be cursing the country he has just left behind.

The main characters in this painting are the father and mother and these are portraits of the artist himself and his second wife and beloved model Emma Hill.  The small fair-haired girl in the background eating the apple is their daughter Katty and the baby hidden from view is their son, Oliver.  The father is tightly wrapped up in his warm brown woollen coat.  His hat is being buffeted by the strong winds but see how there is a “safety string” from the hat attached to and wrapped around a button of his coat.  The sight of the father with his grim determined face says it all for me.  This is a journey into the unknown and probably he is still racked with doubt with regards his decision to remove his family from the safe environment of their home and whisking them off to a foreign land.  It still troubles him but he knows that he and his family cannot go back now and so his resolute look tells us that he is determined to see the venture through to its conclusion.  The look on the face of his wife is indicative that she too has concerns about their venture.  Her small, slim black leather gloved-hand tightly grasps her husband’s bare workman-like hand, the force of which wrinkles his skin.  It is, in a way, a sign that she supports him and it lets him know that fact.   Her other hand is holding the tiny fingers of the baby she cradles in her arm and which is hidden from view inside her warm woollen cape.  She is wearing a pink bonnet which is partly covered by the grey hood of her cape but we see the pink ribbons of her bonnet flying horizontally in the gale-force wind.   It is a touching picture of a family on the move.

This tense and challenging time for our emigrants was mirrored by the testing times felt by the artist himself.  Commenting on his frame of mind at the time of the painting, Maddox Brown said:

“…I am intensely miserable, very hard up and not a little mad…”

And it was at these times that he, himself, thought about emigrating to Australia.

That is my final blog about the works held in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts’ collection and if you ever visit Birmingham, England, I hope you will visit this excellent institution.

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Part Two. Portraiture.

I am starting this second part of my blog talking about my favourite paintings in the Barber Institute collection by focusing on beauty in a work of portraiture.  I suppose I have three portraits in mind when I think of extreme female beauty. 

Jeunesse Dorée by Gerald Brockhurst. Lady Lever Art Gallery.

I fell in love with the woman featured in Gerald Brockhurst painting Jeunesse Dorée which is in the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Wirral, which I have seen many times. 

Virgin Annunciate, 1474 - 1475 - Antonello da Messina
Virgin Annunciate by Antonello da Messina. Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo

My second true love is the portrait I saw when I was visited the Palazzo Abatellis in Palermo, Sicily.  It was of the Virgin Mary and entitled Virgin Annunciate and the artist was Antonello da Messina.

Portrait of Countess Golovina by Vigée-Lebrun

My third beautiful portrait is in the collection of the Barber Institute and is entitled Portrait of Countess Golovina painted by the French painter Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun.  Lebrun was born in 1755 during pre-revolutionary France.  In 1789, aged thirty-four, she had to escape the Revolution and in 1795 she had settled in St Petersburg.  It was whilst in Russia that she painted the beautifully crafted portrait of Varvara Nikolayevna Golovina who was the wife of Count Nikolai Golovin.  Countess Golovina was an artist and memoirist who came from Russian nobility and was a close confidant of Empress Elizabeth.  She was appointed a maid of honour at the court of Catherine the Great.  In Vigée-Lebrun’s portrait the countess is dressed in a red shawl which is decorated with a gold border.  She wears a deep gold headband.  Her hair flows down her shoulders.  She gazes directly towards us with a look of amazing openness.  What is quite captivating about her pose is the way she has laid her arm across her body as her hand clasps her shawl to her body in a gesture that suggests she has been caught off-guard by the artist.  It is a very intimate depiction of a beautiful woman.

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Portrait of a Boy by Govert Flinck (1640)

Govert Flinck, the son of a cloth merchant, was born in Cleves in the Lower Rhine region.  When he was fourteen he began to draw and paint and began his apprenticeship as a painter in Leewarden with the painter and Mennonite preacher Lambert Jacobsz.  Whilst there he met the painter Jacob Adrianesz. Backer and the two artists travelled together to Amsterdam to continue their studies in Rembrandt’s studio where Flinck spent around three years and it was there that he collaborated with him for some years. During this time, he lived in the house of the art dealer Hendrick van Uylenburgh. In 1636 he opened his own studio.  Rembrandt had never taken a commission to paint a portrait of a child but many of his pupils were pleased to fill the gap in the market for such a genre.  One of the best was Govert Flinck who had gained in popularity in the mid 1630’s and at one time it was thought that he was more popular than his master.  Flink, like Rembrandt, used a dark palette of browns and greys for this work.   The identity of the boy is somewhat of a mystery but recently Flick’s eight-year-old nephew, David Leeuw, has been suggested as the sitter.  He was the son of a wealthy businessman and avid art collector.  The depiction has a low horizon line which gives prominence to the boy’s figure and theatrically silhouettes his head and body against the menacing sky.

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Young Woman Seated by Renoir (c.1877)

Of all the Impressionist painters I think my favourite is Renoir.   Renoir differed from his Impressionist colleagues as his works often featured figures whereas his contemporaries preferred to depict Impressionistic landscapes.  In this painting entitled Young Woman Seated we see one of his favourite professional models posing for the work, so we are aware that this not a commissioned portrait.  Renoir started this painting around the time of the Second Impressionist Exhibition in April 1876 and completed it in 1877, the year of the Third Impressionist Exhibition.  Renoir was a major exhibitor at both these Paris exhibitions.  In the work we see the model tilting her head and partially turns to face us but her eyes fail to meet ours.  Renoir has depicted his model with her hand raised to her face which draws our eyes towards her mouth and cheeks which he has highlighted with subtle shades of pink and peach.  Her clothing is a mass of superficial fabrics and depicted with delicate frothy curls which create a sense of femininity and sensuality.. Although the title of the work is a very general one the art market at the time gave it the title of La Pensée (Thought).  On hearing this, Renoir cuttingly stated “my models have no thoughts”.

The Blue Bower by Dante Rossetti (1865)

I have always loved the works of the Pre-Raphaelite painters and was pleased to see one of Dante Rossetti’s works at the Barber Institute.  It was his 1865 painting entitled The Blue Bower.  Twelve years earlier, around 1853 Dante Rossetti and his colleagues, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, had gone their separate ways.  Rossetti began to concentrate on depictions of medieval fantasy and focused on themes from the life and works of Dante Alighieri and from Malory’s legends of King Arthur, and his depictions were exclusively in watercolour.  Around 1859 Rossetti’s artwork changed and he went back to oil painting and produced a series of idealized portraits of beautiful women often depicted at close range in glamorous settings.  These women were depicted as being dominant and strong-willed females and often had a back story of the ruining of men. The woman who sat for Rossetti’s painting was Fanny Cornforth, who was born Sarah Cox.  Cornforth met Rossetti in 1856 and became his model and mistress.  Rossetti has enhanced her natural beauty.  She has thick wavy hair and wears a loose luxurious gown, and her eyes are not cast down modestly as a geisha’s might be, but watchful. From every point of view, composition, colour and character, it is a fascinating and very beautiful work. The background has a blue cornflower pattern and actual cut cornflowers lie on the table in front of her.  Also on the table is a small Japanese koto, a half-tube zither instrument, that she is playing albeit without showing any interest in what she is doing.   The arrangement of the portrait offers the proposition that her role in his life was that of courtesan, mistress, the entertaining geisha, although her eyes are not cast down in a geisha-like modesty. At this point in time artists were captivated by all things Japanese, their culture, and the fashion for blue-and-white china, and Japanese ornaments.

Men of the Docks by George Bellows (1912). National Gallery London.

In April 2011 I was in London and went to see the George Bellow’s exhibition at the National Gallery entitled An American Experiment: George Bellows and the Ashcan Painters.  This small twelve painting exhibition, seven by Bellows, featured his work as a painter of urban scenes. . My favourite was his 1912 painting which the National Gallery actually owned, Men of the Docks.

Miss Bentham, by American realist George Bellows
Nude, Miss Bentham by George Bellows (1906)

So I was surprised to see a nude painting at the Barber Institute attributed to the American painter. It is only the second work by the artist to enter a British collection.  Bellows is regarded as one of the greatest early 20th-century American painters who was much better known for his gritty urban and brutally realistic boxing scenes than for naked ladies.  It is entitled Nude, Miss Bentham.  Bellows painted this attractive nude in 1906 after completing his studies at the New York School of Art and when he had set up his own studio.   Bellows was the outstanding American talent of his generation and a member of the group which was later known as the ‘Ashcan School’, a reference to their commitment to finding subject matter in the people and scenes offered up by the bustling modern city.  It is a full-length work of a standing nude woman as viewed from behind.  It was Bellow’s first attempt at depicting a nude and he never sold it.  It was also the first nude painting to grace the walls of the Barber Institute.  When he died in January 1925 it was found in his studio.  The work was sold by his widow in 1985, to Andy Warhol. After Warhol died in 1987, it was sold to an anonymous private collector who in turn sold it in 2015, through the dealer Collisart, to the Barber Institute.

The Barber Institute director, Ms Kalinsky said of the purchase:

“…This is a thrilling departure for the Barber Institute and our first major purchase for some years. It fits in extremely well with the strengths of our gallery as a historical collection, but it takes us into new areas too. The painting is very American and very much of its time, strengthening and expanding our representation of early 20th-century art…”

Bellows painted it in a realistic but highly dramatic style against a dark background.  The full-length oil depicts a model named by Bellows as Miss Bentham, painted in a realistic but highly dramatic style against a dark background.   Notice how there is a reddish abrasion seen around the woman’s knees and feet, a sure sign that she has experienced hard physical work.

…………..to be continued.

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Part 1.

I had a short city break in Birmingham the other day when I had intended to visit some of the main art galleries.  Unfortunately, the main Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in the centre of the city was closed until late April, for essential electrical works and so I was able to concentrate my cultural journey on a visit to the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the centre of the Birmingham University Campus.  I had been here once before, five years ago and especially fell in love with two of the paintings.   The Barber Institute is a smaller gallery in comparison to the main one in the Birmingham centre and yet it is full of artistic treasures by the most famous artists.  In my next three blogs I will introduce you to and tell you about some of the wonderful paintings in their permanent collection, so as to tempt you to visit the museum.

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The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham, England.

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts is housed in one of Birmingham’s finest Art Deco buildings and was opened in 1939.  The architect tasked with designing the building was Robert Atkinson, one of Britain’s leading architects of the 1920s and ’30s. The building is laid out around the central music auditorium, surrounded by corridors. On the Ground floor these form offices and lecture halls for the Departments of Music and History of Art, as well as a dedicated Art History library. The galleries occupy the same space on the first floor, approached by a stunning travertine staircase directly opposite the entrance.

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Ramsau by Thomas Fearnley (1832)

The first painting I want to present to you is one of my all-time favourite landscape works.  The 1832 work, entitled Ramsau, is by Thomas Fearnley.  Fearnley was born in Norway, but studied abroad, often with his fellow countryman Johan Christian Dahl.  It was whilst working alongside Dahl that Fearnley developed the habit of painting directly en plein air.  Fearnley was travelling to Italy when he and his party stopped at the village of Ramsau, a small town located on the Königssee in the district of Berchtesgadener Land in Bavaria.  In the painting we can see the road winding and disappearing around a corner of the village before we catch a glimpse of it again as it heads off towards their destination, the snow-covered Alps and the beautiful snow-capped Hoher Göll, which straddles the border between the German state of Bavaria and the Austrian city of Salzburg.    It is such a beautifully tranquil scene.  In the middle ground of the depiction, we see a lone farmer collecting hay.  Such hard work was so important so as to have food for his animals during the harsh and bitterly cold winter, which was fast approaching.  This en plein air work would have taken Fearnley several sittings during the week-long stay, on each occasion adding another layer of colour.

The Wrath of Ahasuerus by Jan Steen (c.1670)

I have always loved the works of the Dutch Golden Age painter, Jan Steen, so I was pleased to see one of his works in the Barber Institute’s collection.  It was not one of his exuberant genre scenes but a Biblical painting.   It was his painting The Wrath of Ahasuerus which he completed around 1670.  The characters who appear in the painting come from the Old Testament Book of Esther.  The depiction before us is an episode in the life of the Persian king Ahasuerus and his Jewish wife Esther.  King Ahasuerus had sought a new wife after his queen, Vashti, had refused to obey him, and Esther, the adopted daughter of the Jew Mordecai, was chosen for her beauty.  The subject of the painting is from Esther vii, 1-7.  Haman, the king’s First Minister had issued a decree that all the Jews in Persia should be killed.  Esther, the wife of the king, held a banquet and at it she confessed that she was a Jew, and that she too was threatened by Haman.  So we see in the painting, on hearing what his wife had to say about Haman, her husband jumps up in a violent reaction to what he has just heard.  Ahaseurus explosive and exaggerated gesture, eyes bulging, red in the face, fists clenched, jumps up knocking over a vase and the peacock pie.  Haman, on the left, cowers away from the king’s fury. The peacock is a symbol of pride and is a reference to Haman’s fallen pride and his downfall.  The king ordered Haman to be hung.  This story of Esther’s triumph over the evil Haman was popular with the Dutch people who could see the similarity between her battle and their plight against the mighty, and in their eyes, the evil Spanish invaders and occupiers of their country, being a similar story.

Symphony in White, No. III
Symphony in White No. III by James McNeill Whistler (c.1867)

James McNeill Whistler completed Symphony in White No. 3 in 1867 and it is now part of the Barber Institute collection.  It was thought to have been originally entitled Two Little White Girls.   Two women are depicted in the painting.  One, sitting on a sofa, is Joanna Heffernan, Whistler’s mistress.  The other, resting on the floor in the cream/yellow dress, is Millie Jones, the wife of an actor friend.  Laying on the floor is an Oriental fan which is a reminder of the popular Japonisme cult of the time.  Japonisme was a French term that referred to the popularity and influence of Japanese art and design among a number of Western European artists in the nineteenth century.  Whistler had embarked on this painting in July 1865 and within a month, he had completed the preliminary sketches and by September he had completed the work and had signed and dated it. 

However, he was not happy with what he saw and began to rework it and Whistler was not finally satisfied with it until 1867 when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy. He painted over the final “5” in the original date, and replaced it with a “7”, to mark the changes it had undergone.   

Whistler chose the term ‘Symphony’ to highlight to visitors to the exhibition that it was purely a study in colour and the connection of two branches of the Arts, music and art..  It was the first of Whistler’s paintings to be exhibited with a musical title.  And so, why was it entitled “No. 3”? 

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Symphony in White. No 1. by Whistler. NGA Washington.

The reason behind this numerical conundrum was that Whistler’s 1863 painting was given the title White Girl but Paul Mantz, a French art historian and writer for the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, called it ‘Symphonie du blanc‘, and so it was later renamed Symphony in White. No. 1. 

Symphony in White No.2 by Whistler. Tate Britain.

In 1864 Whistler completed a second similar work entitled The Little White Girl, which later became known as Symphony in White. No. 2.  In their 1908 biography of Whistler, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, Elizabeth and Joseph Pennell, make the point that this may have been a factor that influenced Whistler in his choice of titles for the third in the series. 

Edgar Degas - Portrait de Mlle Eugénie Fiocre in the Ballet "La Source"
Portrait de Mlle Eugénie Fiocre in the Ballet “La Source” by Degas (1868). Brooklyn Museum.

The work was greatly admired by all who saw it.  It is thought that Deagas drew inspiration from Whistler’s painting when he worked on his painting, Portrait de Mlle Eugénie Fiocre in the Ballet “La Source”

However, there were some critics who were not altogether in love with the work.  Philip Hamerton, an English artist, art critic and author, writing for the Saturday Review on 1 June 1867, remarked:

“…In the “Symphony in White No. III.” by Mr. Whistler there are many dainty varieties of tint, but it is not precisely a symphony in white. One lady has a yellowish dress and brown hair and a bit of blue ribbon, the other has a red fan, and there are flowers and green leaves. There is a girl in white on a white sofa, but even this girl has reddish hair; and of course, there is the flesh colour of the complexions…”

Whistler was horrified by what had been written in the journal and wrote a letter to the editor but he would not print it.  However in Whistler’s own book, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, he reproduced the letter in which he had written:

“…How pleasing that such profound prattle should inevitably find its place in print!…Bon Dieu! did this wise person expect white hair and chalked faces ? And does he then, in his astounding consequence, believe that a symphony in F contains no other note, but shall be a continued repetition of F, F, F ? . . . Fool!…”

Two Peasants binding Faggots by Pieter Brueghel (c.1615)

For my last offering in Part One of my blog relating to my best-loved works in the collection of the Barber Institute I have reverted to one of my favourite painters, Pieter Brueghel the Younger.   He was the son of one of the greatest sixteenth century artists, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and the brother of Jan Breughel.  This amusing and fascinating painting entitled Two Peasants binding Faggots, was completed around 1615, and it was the type of work which was popular in the seventeenth century.  It was entitled Two Peasants binding Faggots. It is a depiction of peasants binding a bundle of stolen branches for firewood whilst their fellow accomplice is seen in the background cutting the branches of a tree.  The two peasants in the foreground glance around furtively and from that we gather that they are up to no good,  The larger of the two, on the left, is stout symbolising the sin of gluttony whilst his thinner and gaunt accomplice with a paler face and wearing a codpiece has a bandage around his head and it is thought that Brueghel has depicted this as it relates to the Flemish proverb “to have toothache behind the ears” meaning a malingerer. On the ground, next to the gaunt-looking man, is a pipe which is a traditional phallic symbol and represents the sin of lechery.

Bruegel Netherlandish Proverbs@0
Netherlandish Proverbs by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1525). Staatliche Museen Berlin.

The artist’s father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, had painted a large work, Netherlandish Proverbs, in 1559, which featured a large number of similar characters each representing various Netherlandish proverbs which today is part of the Staatliche Museen collection in Berlin.

…………….to be continued.

Manchester Art Gallery. Part 1. The Females.

Manchester Art Gallery

If you happen to visit Manchester, England, you will find two main art galleries, the Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth Gallery.  Last weekend I was in the city for a weekend break and decided to revisit the main Manchester Art Gallery.

The main part of the collection is derived from the Royal Manchester Institution which demonstrated a partiality for purchasing contemporary art and that predilection continued when it eventually became the City Art Gallery in 1883.  The retired Bradford-based textile businessman and philanthropist with a passionate love of art, Charles Rutherston, although not an artist himself, was both an art collector and a generous friend and patron to artists.  He had amassed a large collection of paintings which he bequeathed to the Gallery in 1925.  Between the two World Wars, the Gallery accumulated a large number of contemporary artworks.  Today the Manchester Art Gallery has an extensive collection of work by nineteenth-century British artists, particularly the Pre-Raphaelites.  In 1979, the European Old Masters collection was transformed by the Assheton Bennett bequest of almost a hundred paintings, mainly by seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish artists. Today the collection includes over 2,000 oil paintings, plus related studies and archival material, and there is a renewed focus on collecting contemporary art.  In the next three blogs I will be looking at some of  my favourites which were on view.

Study of Jane Morris

Chalk drawing of Jane Morris by Rossetti (1875)

In the Gallery, there are a number of paintings by the Pre-Raphaelite artists but the one I find the most haunting is Rossetti’s late work entitled Astarte Syriaca.  The story behind this work started back in 1875 with a chalk drawing Rossetti had made of Jane Morris, his lover.  Rossetti’s friend, Theodore Watts–Dunton, told Rossetti that the drawing could form the basis of a full-length Venus portrait.  After one of Rossetti’s patrons, Clarence Fry saw some of the preliminary sketches in August 1875, he commissioned Rossetti to complete the Venus painting.

Rossetti started working on the painting, Astarte Syriaca, sometimes known as Venus Astarte, in the Autumn of 1875 but abandoned it, unfinished in March 1876, saying that he was dissatisfied with it and he began work on the “second” Astarte.  Finally it was completed in December 1876 and framed at the end of January 1877 ready for his patron.  Jane Morris was the model for Venus (and May Morris, her sister, the attendant figure on the left)

Astarte Syriaca Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Astarte Syriacs by Dante Rossetti (1876)

The depiction is a full-length figure of a woman dressed in sea-green robes, gazing towards us, the viewer. Astarte Syriaca has long, thick. and wavy flowing hair that flows on her back.  She is pictured holding an ornate floral metal strap with her left hand under her chest. Her left hand seems to be holding a similar strap that rests around the hips area.  This is known as a traditional pudica pose.

Both her hands, the limbs, and her breast are large, and her lips seem to be full and pink. Astarte Syriaca portrait is one of Gabriel Rossetti’s iconic paintings that romantically evokes the marvellous power of women in the context of the European Symbolist Movement, the nascent pan. In the same breath, it signifies as a covert admonition of the patriarchal Victorian Christianity. It can as well be interpreted in various other ways.   The woman has one of her legs placed forward to look as if she is striding towards us.  Also in the painting we see two male figures placed symmetrically in the background.  Rossetti wrote a sonnet which was first published in 1877 and which accompanied the painting.

ASTARTE SYRIACA

Mystery: lo! betwixt the sun and moon

Astarte of the Syrians: Venus Queen

⁠Ere Aphrodite was. In silver sheen

Her twofold girdle clasps the infinite boon

Of bliss whereof the heaven and earth commune:

⁠And from her neck’s inclining flower-stem lean

Love-freighted lips and absolute eyes that wean

The pulse of hearts to the spheres’ dominant tune.

Torch-bearing, her sweet ministers compel

⁠All thrones of light beyond the sky and sea

⁠The witnesses of Beauty’s face to be:

That face, of Love’s all-penetrative spell

Amulet, talisman, and oracle,—

⁠Betwixt the sun and moon a mystery.

Cinderella by Valentine Prinsep (1899)

The next painting featuring a female is simply entitled Cinderella.  The artist is Valentine Cameron Prinsep who was born in India on St Valentine’s Day 1838.  His father was a civil servant based in the country but who would return to England with his family when Valentine was five years old.  Valentine’s mother was a great art lover and would often hold parties at their Kensington home with artists and writers, including poets Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning and artists John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. Although his parents assumed their son would follow his father into the Indian Civil Service but having been stirred by the artistic company he kept, Valentine decided his future life should be as an artist too.  Prinsep never reached the status of a great artist although he had his successes.  He was influenced by Rossetti, Millais and Burne-Jones, and he painted initially in the Pre-Raphaelite style. He exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts for the first time in 1862, after travelling with Burne-Jones in Italy.

The painting, Cinderella, was completed in 1899 and is a work of great sentimentality.  The young girl rests against the stone wall of the kitchen.  It is a depiction of poverty.  The girl is barefooted and is wearing a dress which is ragged at the hem.  She raises the hem of the skirt to allow the warmth from the fire to caress her body.  Look at her posture and facial expression.  Is it a happy looking expression awaiting for the arrival of somebody she looks forward to seeing or is it one of trepidation at the thought of the impending arrival?  We all know the story of Cinderella so probably we also know the answer to the question.

Girl with Beret
Girl with a Beret by Lucian Freud (1951)

Girl with a Beret, the 1959 painting by Lucian Freud is a beautifully painted, close-up head and shoulders portrait of a young woman wearing a plain blue-grey jumper and beret. The girl has pale skin and shiny blue eyes, which stare off to the left in a self-absorbed manner. Her hair is parted to one side and she wears a small gold hoop earring in her left ear. The background colour is muted.  Freud liked his portraits to be of people he knew well and as such were people Lucien had a close personal relationship with and because of this, these portraits could be looked upon as being pictorial autobiographies.  The sitter for this portrait is the Irish actress, Helena Hughes who was twenty-three at the time.  Helena had been introduced to Freud by his lover Anne Dunn during one of his frequent visits to Dublin in the 1950s. In 1950, Helena Hughes had invited Freud to Paris where she was working on a stage production with Orson Welles. The portrait took more than one hundred and fifty sittings to complete and for this protracted length of time artist and model were together which led to an intensity of their relationship and in a way, this could be detected within the painting.

Sapho by Charles-August Mengin (1877)

The painting entitled Sapho was completed in 1877 by Charles-August Mengin, a French Academic painter and sculptor.  He was a pupil of Alexandre Cabanel and exhibited regularly at the Salon from 1876 to 1927.  Sappho was a Greek lyric poet born around 600 BC. Her poems considered love, desire and contemplation.  Many of her works were devoted to her female pupils who studied with her on the island of Lesbos. Legend had it that she threw herself into the sea from the cliff of Leucadia because Phaon, a young man from Mitylene, did not return her love.  In the painting we see Sapho depicted standing on the cliff edge in dark, in translucent robes, with her breasts exposed. Her left arm rests lightly at shoulder height, on a huge rock whilst her right hand holds her lyre down by her right side. Her face is partly put in the shade by her dark wavy hair, gauzy veil. Her dark eyes, which have shadows beneath them, stare down into the middle distance.  Her feet are bare. She wears gold hoop earrings, a gold bangle, and there is a gold tie or belt around her waist. The dark sky in the background, which is only broken by a sliver of light on the horizon adds to the feeling of impending doom.  Two grey birds fly in the sky behind.

And now for something different.  Gone is the exotic beauty of Sapho and Artiste Syriaca.  Gone is the everyday prettiness of the girl wearing her Beret.  It is now about the reality of mortality.

Mamma Mia Poveretta
Mama Mia Poveretta by Walter Sickert (c.1904)

Walter Sickert, a German-born English painter, made a series of visits to Venice, initially focusing on the city’s topography but it was during his last painting trip from the autumn of 1903 to the summer of 1904 that, due to inclement weather, he was forced indoors to his small studio at 940 Calle dei Frati, close to the Rialto, to paint and it was during that time he developed a distinctive approach to portraiture.  The models for many of the Venetian paintings are believed to have been prostitutes, whom Sickert might have known through being a client.  One of his models which he nicknamed La Giuseppina was his favourite and one day she arrived at the studio with her mother, the old lady who became known as mamma mia poveretta (my poor mother)

La Giuseppina
La Giuseppina by Walter Sickert (1904). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund

In the first decade of the twentieth century in Britain which was also the end of the reign of Queen Victoria, artists and designers began to try new things.  Artists were starting to create a new art for a modern era. Traditional ways of completing portraits, landscapes and interiors would be undertaken in new ways.  Gone was the romantic view of life and an acceptance that urban life was often a matter of hectic rushing around and there was definitely an air of brutality to it.  Life was becoming a challenge.  Walter Sickert’s 1904 painting entitled Mama Mia Poveretta is realist depiction of life.  It is a half-length frontal portrait of this gaunt, almost emaciated elderly Venetian woman who is nearing the end of a hard life.  She is wrapped in a dark shawl and wears a headscarf. She has turned her head slightly to the right, and her face is illuminated from the left and highlights the darkness around her eyes.

In my next blog I will look at work by some of the Pre-Raphaeliete artists which are on display at the Manchester Art Gallery.

………………………………..to be continued

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

See the source image

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Last week I treated myself to a day trip to Liverpool, a city which was some eight miles from my birthplace. I had not visited there for a number of years but decided that I should take the opportunity to visit one of their art galleries.  Although the Tate Liverpool is very popular with tourists, I much prefer the old established Walker Art Gallery.

Andrew Barclay Walker (1824-1893)

In 1873 Andrew Barclay Walker, a Liverpool brewer and alderman offered to present a gallery to Liverpool to commemorate his term as mayor. Although he was neither an art collector nor a patron of the arts, it was believed that Walker wanted to improve the public image of brewing and alcohol at a time when the temperance movement was popular and his donation of £20,000 towards the building of a new gallery would, he considered, counter the diatribe of the temperance folk.  The foundation stone was laid the following year and in 1877 the 15th Earl of Derby opened the Walker Art Gallery on September 6th.    

Due to Covid restrictions I had to obtain a time slot for my visit which just gave me enough time to visit the rooms housing their permanent collection.  Strangely, the rooms were almost empty and I felt as if I had the gallery to myself !  In this blog I want to take a look at some of my favourite painting in a hope that it may encourage you to pay a visit to this wonderful gallery.

Crazy Kate by William James Bishop

My first selection is a small and unobtrusive painting by the nineteenth century Manchester-born English artist William James Bishop entitled Crazy Kate. This strange title derives from a character in William Cowper’s 1785 blank verse (un-rhyming verse) poem, The Task. The verse tells of the fate of the young girl Kate, whom we see bare-footed in a ferocious storm, clutching a pin, which as the poem tells us, she prizes beyond food , clothes and comfort

Crazy Kate by William Cowper

There often wanders one whom better days

Saw better clad, in cloak of satin trimmed

With lace, and hat with splendid ribbon bound.

A serving-maid was she, and fell in love

With one who left her, went to sea, and died.

Her fancy followed him through foaming waves

To distant shores, and she would sit and weep

At what a sailor suffers; fancy too

(Delusive most where warmest wishes are)

Would oft anticipate his glad return

And dream of transports she was not to know.

She heard the doleful tidings of his death

And never smiled again. And now she roams

The dreary waste; there spends the livelong day,

And there, unless when Charity forbids,

The livelong night. A tattered apron hides,

Worn as a cloak, and hardly hides a gown

More tattered still; and both but ill conceal

A bosom heaved with never-ceasing sighs.

She begs an idle pin of all she meets,

And hoards them in her sleeve, but needful food,

Though pressed with hunger oft, or comelier clothes,

Though pinched with cold, asks never. Kate is crazed.

See the source image

Springtime in Eskdale by James McIntosh Patrick (1935)

The next painting is a landscape work by the Dundee-born artist, James McIntosh Patrick entitled Springtime in Eskdale which he completed in 1935. It is a work which I featured in my blog ten years ago and it was good to revisit this beautiful work. It is a detailed landscape painting of The Crooks in Eskdalemuir, Dumfriesshire which was the birthplace of the famous civil engineer and architect Thomas Telford.  This painting by Patrick was completed in 1934 and was to mark the centenary of Telford’s death.  In the middle ground we can see people visiting a cottage whilst further back we can just make out a farmer ploughing his land.  In the distance, we see a small river at the foot of a line of hills, which rises into the background.  The artist’s view of the scene is from a somewhat elevated position looking down at the farmland. The inclusion of a road in the foreground is a clever way in which the artist has encouraged us to follow it with our eyes and thus explore the middle ground and background.  One of the most well-defined aspects of the painting is the way he has painted the trees.  McIntosh Patrick was a great believer that they were one of nature’s greatest gifts to mankind and he would put a lot of effort into their depiction in order for us to be more appreciative of what Mother Nature has bestowed upon us.

Mill on the Alyn, Denbighshire

Mill on the Alyn, Denbighshire by John Edward Newton

Another landscape work which caught my eye was John Edward Newton’s painting Mill on the Alyn, Denbighshire.  John Edward Newton was a member of the Liverpool Academy, exhibiting at its galleries between 1856 and 1867 and at the Royal Academy in London between 1862 and 1887. Like other Liverpool School painters, he was highly influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites in their use of pure glazes over a white ground and meticulous attention to detail.   His tightly executed and highly accurate brushwork is part of a larger movement inspired by Ruskin’s call for ‘truth to nature’ originally exemplified in the Pre-Raphaelite Circle’s attention to detail and meticulous handling of ‘wet-on-wet’ painting techniques.

The Stonebreaker by John Brett (1858)

I came across this painting in the nineties when I was doing some research for my daughter with regards a number of paintings featuring stonebreakers.  Gustave Courbet and Henry Wallis had painted different versions based on the same subject.   John Brett was born in in 1831 and was a British artist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement.  However his masterpiece has always been considered to be his painting The Stonebreaker which he completed in 1858.  It is a work of two halves.  The setting is a beautiful landscape with its vast meadows and grove, indicating paradise and is captured with remarkable accuracy by Brett who was influenced by Ruskin’s adage that landscapes should be depicted with  ‘truth to nature’.  The foreground, in contrast, is enveloped in weeds, rocks and a dead tree. We observe a young boy accompanied by a little puppy which is playing away beside him. 

See the source image

The Stone Breakers by Gustave Courbet (1849). Destroyed during World War II

As was with Courbet’s painting, it portrays the poor but in a very different light.   Brett’s depiction does not have the same claustrophobic atmosphere of Courbet’s painting, nor does it contain the hopelessness of Henry Wallis’s 1857 version. 

See the source image

The Stonebreaker by Henry Wallis (1857). Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Despite it not being a sombre work depicting cruelty, it is a painting that can still be categorised as a Realist painting depicting the boy, although well dressed, having to undertake brutal and laborious work. Despite his playful pet he has no time to stop and play with it because he is working hard to earn his food.

See the source image

Isabella by John Everett Millais (1849)

I do love the painting Isabella by Millais but I will not go into great detail with regards this painting or the enthralling story behind the depiction as my blog in 2012 had an in-depth look at the work. However it is still one of my favourites and the story behind the depiction is fascinating. I do like the vivid colours of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

Henry Holiday - Dante and Beatrice - Google Art Project.jpg

Dante and Beatrice by Henry Holiday (1883)

Henry Holiday was a British historical genre and landscape painter, stained-glass designer, illustrator and sculptor. He was part of the Pre-Raphaelite school of art.  His 1883 painting, Dante and Beatrice is a painting that is considered to be Holiday’s most important work of art.  What we see is based on Dante’s 1294 autobiographical work La Vita Nuova which describes his love for Beatrice Portinari. Dante concealed his love by pretending to be attracted to other women. The painting depicts an incident when Beatrice, having heard gossip relating to this, refuses to speak to him. The event is shown as Beatrice and two other women walk past the Santa Trinita Bridge in Florence.   Beatrice wears a white dress and walks beside her friend Monna Vanna, with Beatrice’s maidservant lagging slightly behind.  Holiday was anxious that the painting should be historically accurate and in 1881 travelled to Florence to carry out research. He discovered that in the 13th century the Lungarno, the street on the north side of the River Arno between the Ponte Vecchio which can be seen in the background and the Ponte Santa Trinita, was paved with bricks and that there were shops in the area; these are shown in the painting. He also learnt that the Ponte Vecchio had been destroyed in a flood in 1235. It was being rebuilt between 1285 and 1290 and in the painting, it is shown covered in scaffolding. When he died in 1927, Holiday was described as “the last Pre-Raphaelite”.

Going to Market, 1860 - 1860 - John Lee

Going to the Market by John Ingle Lee (1860)

My next two choices are paintings by the Liverpool-born English artist John Ingle Lee.  Going to the Market was exhibited in 1860 at the Liverpool Academy under the title The Young Carriers. The fresh mountainous landscape and the children are possibly both intended to be Welsh. John Ingle Lee was born in 1839, the third son of Henry Boswell Lee and Emily Sarah Ingle. His father sold straw bonnets and the raw materials for their manufacture.

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George Henry Lee, Liverpool in its 1970’s prime

The family business developed into the famous Liverpool department store, George Henry Lee, which was founded in 1853.  By the late 1850s, as John Ingle Lee was starting his artistic career, his father retired from the retail trade, and passed the business to his sons George and Henry.  In 1874, the last of the Lee sons retired and control passed to Thomas Oakshott, who in 1887 became the first tradesman to become Lord Mayor of Liverpool, an appointment which added to the prestige of the enterprise.  Shortly after the end of the First World War, the Oakshott family sold the business to the American millionaire, Gordon Selfridge.   It was acquired in 1940 by the John Lewis Partnership.

Sweethearts and Wives

Sweethearts and Wives by John Ingle Lee (1860)

One of Ingle’s best-known works and one of the best-known Liverpool Pre-Raphaelite paintings was his painting entitled Sweethearts and Wives.  One can see by the way Lee has mastered the sharp-focus technique and the use of bright colour that he was influenced by the work of the Pre-Raphaelites. His depiction of soldiers or sailors parting from their families was commonplace in the Victorian era.  The men in the painting are from HMS Majestic, an ex-Crimea warship anchored in the River Mersey as part of the port defences.  Lee’s depiction has accurately recorded every detail including the view across the River Mersey towards Birkenhead and local landmarks such as St. Mary’s Church and Bidston Windmill stand out on the horizon.  Of the thirteen pictures he is recorded as having exhibited during his lifetime, only six are known today, of which this is the most ambitious.  The work of this Liverpool painter is rare and very few works by him are known.

Millie Smith Ford Madox Brown

Millie by Ford Madox Brown (1846)

It was in 1846 when twenty-five-year-old Ford Madox Brown painted my next selected painting. It is entitled Millie and is a portrait of Millie Smith, the daughter of Ford Madox Brown’s landlord at Southend where he stayed with his own small daughter, Emma Lucy on his return from Rome after the death of his first wife, Elizabeth Bromley. She died in Paris of consumption during their return journey from Italy.  The child’s head is almost “cartoonishly” big, her eyes even more so, as she gazes out at us.  She sits at a table with a formal pose.  In the foreground is the table, on top of which is a rose-coloured tablecloth which has been partly folded back.  Two small flowers rest abandoned on the uncovered part of the mahogany table.  Look at Millie’s facial expression.  She is not smiling as she scrutinizes us.  There is something mechanical about her pose as if she has received strict instructions as how she should obediently conduct herself.  Ford Madox Brown went on to paint many child portraits similar to this one.

See the source image

Kim Cattrall by Samira Addo (2018)

I will end my choices with a portrait by the young artist Samira Addo, who with over a thousand other artists entered a television art competition.  She won the Sky Portrait Artist of the Year competition in 2018 and the prize was a sum of money and a commission to paint the portrait of actress, Kim Cattrall.  I have selected this work, not because of its beauty, although I acknowledge the extraordinary talent shown by the artist, but because, in my opinion, of the poor choice of where it has been hung by the museum authorities.

The unveiling ceremony

The portrait is displayed in the 18th century room, alongside paintings by some of the most famous portrait artists in British history, including Thomas Gainsborough, Joseph Wright of Derby and Sir Joshua Reynolds and there lies the problem.  It is a contemporary work of art.  It is an accomplished portrait but it just should not have been hung in that room.  It is a very bright and colourful work of art, in stark contrast with the somewhat dark room itself and the other portrait paintings on the walls of the room which have the dark brown subdued colouring which we associate with older portraiture.  It just does not fit in with these other works.

If you ever visit Liverpool I believe you will not be disappointed in the works of art on show at the Walker Art Gallery, especially if you like Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon: 19th century gems – Part 2.

This is my last blog relating to Museu Calouste Gulbenkian and the paintings to be found in the Founder’ Collection and I have saved the best till last ! I wanted to take another look at the 19th century collection and choose some of my favourites and explore paintings in other museums which have a connection to those in the Lisbon museum.

The Reading by Henri Fantin-Latour (1870)

Henri Fantin-Latour  was a prolific artist and completed many works including a number of portraits. In his 1870 work, The Reading, we have a dual portrait of two women in a domestic setting, both seated and one of them is depicted reading. The theme of reading was the subject of several of his well-known works. The painting is an example of intimism, a French term applied to paintings and drawings of quiet domestic scenes. It is an every-day scene with a sense of sober realism. It also introduces the observer into his favourite themes, poetic and dreamlike domestic environment with vaguely melancholic undertones. The lady on the left is Victoria Dubourg, a fellow painter whom he met at the Louvre whilst she was copying old masters. She became his wife in 1875.

Charlotte Dubourg by Henri Fantin-Latour (1882)  Musée d’Orsay

Across from her, on the right of the depiction, is her sister Charlotte Dubourg.  Charlotte Dubourg featured in a number of Henri Fantin-Latour’s paintings. This frequent collaboration between artist and muse gave rise to the speculation that Fantin-Latour was fascinated by Charlotte’s mysterious beauty and that there was an unspoken understanding between Fantin-Latour and his sister-in-law, maybe even more!

Two Sisters by Henri Fantin-Latour (1859)

A similar double portrait in an interior setting can be seen at the St Louis Art Museum. This painting was entitled Two Sisters and Fantin-Latour completed the work in 1859 when he was just twenty-two years old. Once again, we have a depiction of two young women in the intimate setting of their home. This double portrait shows the two younger sisters of the painter; Marie reads on the right while Nathalie embroiders on the left. Once again, the interior painting is comprised of subdued grey and brown tones which is counterbalanced by the colourful yarns on the embroidery table. There is also seems to be a disconnect between the two sisters. Had the artist intentionally depicted it in that way ? Natalie, instead of concentrating on her embroidery, has an unsettled expression on her face. Something is troubling her. It could be that her brother, through his depiction of her expression, is hinting about her depressive illness which would soon confine her to a mental institution for the rest of her life.

Boy Blowing Bubbles by Edouard Manet (1867)

The definition of a Vanitas painting is one that contains a single item, but more frequently, collections of symbolic objects, which remind us of the inevitability of death as well as the transience and vanity of earthly achievements and pleasures. For many artists it was a way to encourage the viewer to consider their own mortality and atone for their transgressions. The next painting I am going to talk about is classified as a Vanitas work but does not have the usual skull or fluttering candle which are often associated with the passing of life in such works. What it does have is a large bubble which is being blown by a young boy. It is the fact that as beautiful as the bubble may appear it will soon burst and the beauty will be forgotten. The painting is entitled Boy Blowing Bubble and it was painted by the French artist, Édouard Manet in 1867. It is now in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, which acquired it via André Weil in New York November 1943.

Soap Bubbles by Thomas Couture (1859) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In 1850, Manet enrolled at the rue Laval studio of Thomas Couture and remained one of his students for six years. It could have been his tutor’s 1859 painting entitled Soap Bubbles which gave Manet the idea for this painting.

Portrait de Léon Leenhoff by Édouard Manet (1868).(Musée national, Stockholm)

The painting by Manet was one of a series which featured his illegitimate son Léon Koelin-Leenhoff. Suzanne Leenhoff, a Dutch-born pianist, had been employed as a music tutor for Édouard and his younger brothers Eugène and Gustave. Léon Koelin-Leenhoff was born on January 29th, 1852, the son of Suzanne Leenhoff.  His birth certificate stated Suzanne as his mother and “Koella” as his father. The man named as Koella has never been traced and it is widely believed that Édouard was the boy’s father whilst some even point the finger at Édouard’s father, Auguste, Suzanne’s employer. Léon Koelin-Leenhoff was baptised in 1855 and became known as Suzanne’s younger brother. Édouard’s father, Auguste, died in 1862 and in October 1863 Suzanne and Édouard married. Léon featured in a number of Manet’s paintings.

Boy Carrying a Sword by Édouard Manet (1861) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In 1861, Manet’s employed Suzanne’s nine year old son, Léon Leenhoff , for his painting Boy Carrying a Sword. He posed in a 17th-century Spanish infant costume, holding a full-sized sword and sword belt. The work can now be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Le déjeuner dans l’atelier (Luncheon in the Studio) by Édouard Manet (1868)

Six years later, in 1868, Léon Leenhoff, now sixteen years of age, appeared in Manet’s painting entitled Le déjeuner dans l’atelier (Luncheon in the Studio). In the summer of 1868 Manet travelled to Boulogne-sur-Mer for his summer vacation, where he worked on this painting. Luncheon in the Studio was staged in the dining room of Manet’s rented house. The title of the painting almost hides the fact that it is a portrait of Léon Koélla Leenhoff. Léon is clearly the main character as he stands “centre stage” in the foreground, leaning against the table. The depiction of Leon is quite interesting. Manet has depicted him as the modern type of dandy, whose self-image plays between arrogance and aloneness. Elegantly dressed in a velvet jacket, confident of his superiority, cool with an air of indifference, he stands with his back to the others. He even avoids eye contact with us and so has an air of aloofness. But is that a fair reading of his character? Maybe his blasé expression hides a hint of sadness.  Behind him we see an older man smoking, seated at the table enjoying a coffee and a digestif, and a woman preparing to serve hot drinks. At one time they were thought to have been Manet and his wife Suzanne but this assertion has since been overturned and the figures are now thought to have been servants. The painting is awash with still-life depictions, such as the weapons on the armchair on the left, a colourful pot of plants on the table in the background and the table with a plethora of food and tableware. The still-life accoutrements we see before us, in particular the partially peeled lemon and the placement of the knife over the table edge were reminiscent of Dutch still-life works of two centuries earlier. The painting is part of the Neue Pinakothek in Munich.

The Break-Up of the Ice by Claude Monet (1880)

There were a number of Monet paintings in the Founder’s Collection but one I especially liked was entitled The Break-up of the Ice.  France, like most of Europe suffered one of the coldest winters on record in the latter months of 1879.  Monet had been living in Vétheuil, a commune on the banks of the Seine, some sixty kilometres from the French capital from 1878 to 1881 along with his wife, Camille Doncieux and their two sons, Jean and Michel.  They also shared their house with their friends, the Hoschedé family. During that period Monet completed more than one hundred and fifty paintings of the area. The winter of 1879 was so severe that even Monet found working outdoors almost unbearable. However, in early December, a sudden rise in temperature caused the ice on the Seine to crack. Alice Hoschedé, the wife of Monet’s friends, who along with her children were living in Monet’s house, described the resulting thaw as terrifying, as half the melted snow slid down from the hills onto the village. It was at this time that Monet painted scene after scene as the ice floes broke on the river and one of these works was The Break-up of the Ice, which he completed in 1880. In this grim and dismal landscape we see the thawing of the ice on the River Seine in January 1880.

Vetheuil in Winter by Monet (1879) Frick Collection, New York

It is one of a series of eighteen paintings by Monet at this location depicting the severity of the winter. His works were portrayals of the icy beauty of this wintry landscape. These paintings of ice floes chart Monet’s early fascination with capturing the same motif under differing conditions of light and at different times of day. Some, like the Lisbon painting, focused on the ferociousness of the weather and how it can devastate nature as depicted in the fallen trees, while others focused on the beauty of the winter landscape. Monet must have witnessed first-hand the devastation when the frozen Seine river thawed, dislodging large ice floes that inundated the countryside and damaged bridges The finished painting was almost certainly completed in Monet’s studio after having completed a number of plein-air sketches. Look at the simplicity of the depiction of the ice flows using a series of short brushstrokes.

The Break-up of the Ice (La Débâcle or Les Glaçons) by Claude Monet (1880) University of Michigan Museum of Art.

An example of a more peaceful winter landscape at the same spot was also completed in 1880 and was also entitled The Break-up of the Ice and this painting can be found at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. In this painting a sweeping winter river scene opens up from the foreground and sweeps away towards the left. Ice floes dot the river surface and snowy hills frame trees that stand along the riverbank in the middle distance. The palette of this painting is restricted to mauves, blues, greens, and whites.

Lady and Child asleep in a Punt under the Willows by John Singer Sargent (1887)

John Singer Sargent moved from Paris to London in the summer of 1885 as he was struggling to attract patrons, and so he turned to his friends and family for portrait commissions. Singer Sargent may have been introduced to the cousins Robert and Peter Harrison by Alma Strettell as she was a close friend of Sargent and, in 1877, he had illustrated her book, Spanish and Italian Folk Songs. Robert Harrison, a stockbroker and musical connoisseur had married Helen Smith, a daughter of a wealthy Tyneside businessman and politician and the couple went to live Shiplake Court, in the affluent London district of Henley-on-Thames. The Harrisons, like many of Sargent’s patrons, formed part of the high society of late Victorian Britain. Amongst the Gulbenkian’s Founder’s Collection there was an 1887 painting by John Singer Sargent entitled Lady and Child Asleep in a Punt under the Willows. In the summer of 1887 Sargent was invited by his friends Robert and Helen Harrison to spend the season at Shiplake Court. In the painting we see the sleepy figures of Helen Harrison and her son Cecil lying in a punt, under the shade of a willow tree. They are being gently lulled by the movement of a barge which had just passed by. This work is Impressionist in style. Sargent’s Impressionist period came about in the late 1880’s. The painting falls into the category dolce far niente which means the sweetness of doing nothing, a pleasant relaxation in carefree idleness which describes many of his works between 1887 and 1889.

A Backwater at Henley by John Singer Sargent (1880) Baltimore Museum of Art

Another similar work by Singer Sargent is his 1880 painting entitled A Backwater at Henley which is housed at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Les Bretonnes au Pardon by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret, (1887)

The last painting I am showcasing that hangs in the Founder’s Collection is Les Bretonnes au Pardon (Breton Women at a Pardon). It is a fine example of Naturalism in which subjects were connected with the minutely detailed description of urban and rural life. It was an art form which was very popular in the late 1880’s and this work achieved great success for the artist at the 1889 Salon. When I saw this work, I thought it was by Gaugin but in fact the artist, who painted it in 1887, was the French painter, Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret. It is a beautifully crafted depiction of a rural tradition, but what also fascinated me was, what is or was a Pardon? The depiction is termed ethnographic, meaning it is relating to the scientific description of peoples and cultures with their customs, habits, and mutual differences. 

The Pardon at Kergoat, portrayed by Jules Breton (1891) Musée des Beaux-Arts Quimper.                The pardon at the Chapel of Kergoat in Quéméneven was one of the most popular pardons because of the virtues of the waters from the nearby fountain. People came from all over Cornouaille, as shown by the presence of people from the Bigouden area. The artist, overawed by the number of beggars and the fervour of the pilgrims, conveys the movement of this procession as it goes around the monumental chapel.

The word “Pardon”, coming from the Latin verb perdonare, to forgive, and is a Breton form of pilgrimage and one of the most traditional expressions of popular Catholicism in Western Brittany.  It dates back to the conversion of the country by the Celtic monks, It is a penitential ceremony. A Pardon occurs on the feast of the patron saint of a church or chapel, at which an indulgence is granted. There are five distinct kinds of Pardons in Brittany: St. Yves at Tréguier – the Pardon of the poor; Our Lady of Rumengol – the Pardon of the singers; St. Jean-du-Doigt – the Pardon of fire; St. Ronan – the Pardon of the mountain; and St. Anne de la Palude – the Pardon of the sea and they all occur between Easter and Michaelmas, a period between March and October. Pilgrims arrive at these Breton Pardon ceremonies dressed in their best costumes which is probably why they make ideal subjects for artists. The day is spent in prayer and after a religious service a great procession takes place around the church. The Pardon in Brittany has practically remained unchanged for over two hundred years. The ceremony is not one focused on feasting or revelry but one focused on veneration where young and old connect with God and his saints in prayer. Brittany at the time was a favourite location for artists such as Paul Gaugain,
Léon Augustin Lhermitte, Jules Adolphe Aimé Louis Breton and Émile Bernard who were beguiled by the family rituals of the local peasants.

The Pardon in Brittany by Pascal Dragnan-Bouveret (1886) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

It is known that Dagnan-Bouveret used photographs he had taken at the ceremony in the Finistère town of Rumengol in 1886 as an aid to his finished works. He also used portraits he had made of some of his models.
Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret completed a number of paintings featuring “The Pardon” one of which, The Pardon in Brittany, which is a truly amazing, almost photrealistic depiction of the ceremony. This painting is housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  Before us we see penitents wearing traditional regional dress proceeding with an air of solemnity as they joylessly parade around a church. Some of the pilgrims go barefoot or kneel in an expression of remorse. What is quite interesting is that on the reverse of the canvas were drawings of his wife which the artist later used for the young woman in the foreground. When the picture was shown at the 1887 Salon and the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle, it was hailed a great success by art critics saying they were astounded by its meticulous details. This is almost certainly down to the artist’s use of photographs to help him with the work.

That was final look at the paintings of the Founder’s Collection at the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon.  If we ever have the travel restrictions lifted and you find yourself in the Portugeuse capital make sure you pay this museum a visit.  You will not be disappointed.

Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon: 19th century gems – Part 1.

Of all the paintings on view at the Founder’s Collection of the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon I think my favourites where the section featuring the 19th century works.

The Wreck of a Transport Ship by Turner (1810)

The first work I have chosen is by the English painter Joseph Mallord Turner and is entitled The Wreck of the Transport Ship which he completed around 1810. The painting is one of a series of large-scale depictions carried out by Turner in the first decade of the 19th century which were all about natural disasters at sea caused by storms. Shipwrecks and other disasters at sea were a popular theme in Romantic painting. They revealed the unrelenting and brutal forces of nature which were constant dangers to those who set off on a sea voyage. The inspiration for this work has been much debated. At one time it was thought that Turner painted the work the same year the vessel, Minotaur was wrecked in December 1810, as a result of a navigational error in a gale on the Haak Sands off the mouth of the Texel, with around 370 of her crew lost, including Captain Barrett. However, this idea was discounted when billing records showed the sale of the painting to Charles Pelham, 1st Earl of Yarborough, in April 1810, some several months before the sinking of the Minotaur.

The Shipwreck by Joseph Mallord Turner (1805) (Tate Britain, London)

The popular thought is that Turner was influenced by an earlier painting of his, The Shipwreck, which is part of the Tate Britain collection in London, and one he completed in 1805.

A Road at Ville d’Avray by Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1874)

Calouste Gulbenkian was an avid collector of works by Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot and the one I especially like is entitled A Road to Ville-d’Avray which he painted in 1874, the year before his death. In the work we see the road leading to the railway station at Ville d’Avray, a village in the western suburbs of Paris, located twelve kms from the centre of the French capital. It was a very small village where Corot spent long periods of his life at a summer house which was purchased by his parents in 1817. This small hamlet, as it was then, was one of the artist’s greatest sources of inspiration. Corot’s paintings of Ville d’Avray are thorough observation of nature. They are closely associated with plein air painting although sketches first made outdoors were then usually finished back in his studio utilising both his memory and his imagination. It is thought that Corot positioned the figures we see in the depiction, at the end, to act as a balancing mechanism for the finished work. Jean-Baptiste Corot died in Paris of a stomach disorder on February 22nd 1875, aged 78 and was buried at Paris’ Père Lachaise Cemetery.

The Bridge at Mantes by Corot (c.1870)

Another painting by Corot which I liked was his work entitled Bridge at Mantes which he completed around 1870. The outlying towns and villages of the French capital were one of Corot’s favourite subjects throughout his career and many depictions of them appear in many of his works. Mantes-la-Jolie was one of Corot’s favoured places to paint. The town is situated a few kilometres to the north-east of Paris and the depiction we see before us is as seen from the Île de Limay on the Seine. Corot painted many views which incorporated the old medieval bridge, Le pont de Mantes, and the Gothic cathedral. Corot had begun a series of works around the middle of the nineteenth century and completed the last one around 1870. This painting was one of his later works to feature the town. It is both a clear and natural looking depiction which Corot achieved by the use of monochrome shades and the way he reduced the use of colours. The painting shows soft fluent brushstrokes and this fluidity makes it seem as if the leaves on the trees are being moved by a gentle breeze and the painting displays a freshness that floods all of the senses. Corot’s art in this period is magical and as he himself declared, sensations captured in the open air are reproduced without ever losing sight of the importance of the first impression.

Winter by Jean-Francois Millet (c.1868)

I have always liked the rural realism paintings of Jean-François Millet such as The Gleaners, The Angelus and The Winnower and so to see something quite different from the French artist at the museum was of great interest. The painting was Winter which he painted around 1868. The depiction in the painting, Winter, is of grim harshness, and exudes an air of melancholia. We see before us a frozen wintry landscape which disappears into the distant horizon. The tiny figure of a man can be seen to the right of the haystack and the inclusion of the figure enforces a sense of loneliness in this bleak expanse of the frozen plain. It forces us to think about man’s relationship with nature and his ever-changing environment. This sense of cold desolation has been achieved by Millet through his constrained use of colours. Before us we see a vision of a grey, hostile, and unwelcoming world and it is this sombre intensity which dominates the entire surface of the canvas.

Haystacks Autumn by Jean-François Millet (c.1874) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

In 1868, the wealthy French industrialist Frédéric Hartmann had given Millet a twenty-five thousand francs commission to paint a series of four paintings depicting the seasons. A painting from that series, Haystacks: Autumn which Millet went on to paint in 1874 and which now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, bears a resemblance to his aforementioned Winter 

The Town of Thiers by Théodore Rousseau (1830)

Étienne Pierre Théodore Rousseau was just eighteen years old when he completed his 1830 painting entitled The Town of Thiers. He had visited the Central French Auvergne town in the summer of 1830 and during his stay completed many works depicting the commune. The depiction reveals the scene of a medieval town with its gathering of houses which ascend the steep slope that culminates in the Church of St. Jean, the towns highest point. The pale blues of the background signify the mountain range of the Puy-de-Dome. Rousseau’s biographer, Alfred Sensier, believed that the style used in the series of work Rousseau completed in this region were to forever become his own style.

The Fishermen by Constant Troyon (c.1850)

My last offering for this first look at the 19th century paintings is one by the Barbizon school artist, Constant Troyon. Troyon was born in Sèvres a southwestern suburb of Paris in 1810. The painting, The Fishermen, which he completed around 1850 was the integration of an imported pictorial style from the Dutch Golden Age. It was recorded that Troyon visited the Low Countries in 1847 and was influenced by the great Dutch artists, such as Albert Cuyp and Paulus Potter and such influence can be seen in this work in a group of animals seen on the plain somewhere in the region of Normandy. In the middle ground we see ancient oaks set against a cloud covered sky. It is a balance of Romanticism and Naturalism.

In my final blog about the paintings in the Founders Collection of the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian I will be looking at more of the nineteenth century paintings on display.