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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon. Part 2: 18th century gems.

Peacock and Hunting Trophies by Jan Weenix (1708)

The first 18th-century painting housed in the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian which I want to talk about is a still-life, entitled Peacock and Hunting Trophies, by Jan Weenix.  Jan Weenix or Joannis Weenix was thought to have been born in Amsterdam sometime between 1640 and 1649. The exact date is unknown but at the time of his marriage, in 1679, to Pieternella Backers, he gave his age as “around thirty”. The couple went on to have thirteen children. He received his education in art from his father, Jan Baptist Weenix and his cousin, Melchior d’Hondecoeter. The Weenix family lived in a castle outside Utrecht, but his father died young following a series of personal financial disasters that rendered him bankrupt. Jan Weenix was a member of the Utrecht guild of painters in 1664 and 1668. The subjects for his paintings were varied but we remember him best of all for his paintings of dead game and of hunting scenes. In this large oil on canvas painting (200 x 195 cms) we see various hunting trophies and a peacock framed by a landscape in the background. The main depiction in this work is the lifeless arrangement of the swan which imitated the widely used representation for such paintings. Behind the dead swan, we have a large urn decorated with bas-reliefs. Bas-relief being a French term from the Italian basso-relievo (“low relief”), which is a sculpture technique in which figures and/or other design elements are just barely more prominent than the overall flat background. The 3-D trompe l’oeil effect of the dead game “hanging over” steps was often used in this kind of depiction and adds to the beautifully crafted work. The painting dates back to the period 1702 to 1712 when Weenix had been commissioned to paint twelve works featuring hunting motifs for the Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm for his castle of Benberg. They were to illustrate the favourite pastime of the elites. It was all about social power for the hunting of certain species was a special privilege granted solely to the nobility.

The Embarkation for Cythera (Louvre version) by Antoine Watteau (1717)

The French term, fête galante, is used to describe a type of painting that first came to the fore with Antoine Watteau. They are representations in art of elegantly dressed groups of people at play in a rural or parklike setting. This painting genre began with Watteau’s famous painting, The Embarkation for the Island of Cythera which he submitted to the Academy as his reception piece in 1717. However, when Watteau applied to join the French academy there was no suitable category for this type of work and so, rather than reject his application which was described as characterising une fête galante, the academy simply created one!

Fête Galante by Nicolas Lancret (c.1780)

In the Founder’s Collection at the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon, there was a painting by Nicolas Lancret, entitled Fête Galante which he completed around 1730. Like most Fête Galante works it is small, measuring just 65 x 70 cms. The painting was once part of the Collection of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, an admirer of Watteau and Lancret and who had built up a collection of twenty-six of the latter’s works. The painting was acquired by Gulbenkian in 1930. Lancret had a habit of sketching individual figures and later incorporating them into his final work.

An example of this is the preliminary sketch of the reclining man, dressed in brown, we see at the bottom left of the Fête Galante painting. This sketch can be found at the Ackland Art Museum, which is part of the University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill.

Portrait of Tomas Germain and His Wife by Nicolas de Largillièrre (1736)

The 18th century works in the Founder’s Collection feature many portraits. One of my favourites was one by Nicolas de Largillièrre entitled Portrait of Tomas Germain and His Wife which he completed in 1736.  Largillière was a French-born and Antwerp-trained artist who spent time in London between 1665 and 1667, and again from 1675 until 1679 when he worked for the English artist Sir Peter Lely. However, in England, at the time, there was widespread anti-Roman Catholic sentiment and he, being a Catholic, decided to return to France and find work in Paris. He did return to England for a 12-month stay in 1688 having received a commission to paint portraits of King James II and his wife, Queen Mary of Modena. The two figures depicted in the painting above are King Louis XV of France’s famous goldsmith Thomas Germain inside his workshop at the Louvre along with Anne-Denise Gauchelet, his wife.

Candelabrum

Thomas Germain became known as The Prince of Rocaille. Rocaille was a French style of decoration, with a profusion of curves, counter-curves, undulations, and elements which were modeled on nature, and which played a part in furniture and interior decoration during the early reign of Louis XV of France and was prevalent between 1710 and 1750. It was the start of the French Baroque movement in furniture and design, and also signaled the beginning of the Rococo movement.  Germain was appointed sculpteur-orfèvre du Roi (sculptor-goldsmith to the king). Look carefully at the shelf in the right background. On it are several models, which were used as patterns for tableware pieces created by Germain, and later his son, François-Thomas Germain. Such tableware adorned many tables in the European and Russian royal courts. Germain is seen in the painting pointing proudly to the shelf and a very ornate silver candlestick with satyrs on its shaft. This model of a candelabrum would result in a series of identical pieces delivered in Lisbon in 1757 for the court of King Joseph I of Portugal, which was sent by his son François-Thomas Germain.

In my next blog I will look at some of the 19th century paintings which adorn the walls of the Founders Collection of the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian.

Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon. Part 1: 17th century gems.

In my last blog I looked at the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon and talked about its founder Calouste Gulbenkian. In my next couple of blogs, I want to talk about my favourite paintings I saw in the Founders Collection of the museum. I have to admit when I entered the building and followed the path you had to take it was all about ancient pieces of porcelain, furniture and jewellery – all good, but not what I was interested in, and I was starting to wonder if there were any paintings but I finally came across the rooms where they hung.

View from the Coast of Norway or A Stormy Sea Near the Coast by Jacob van Ruisdael

My first painting I want you to see is one by Jacob van Ruisdael. I have always loved the works by this seventeenth century Dutch painter especially his rural landscape paintings. The one on show at this gallery was a seascape entitled View from the Coast of Norway or sometimes referred to as  A Stormy Sea Near the Coast, which he completed around 1660. It was a painting that Gulbenkian acquired in 1914. I had not realised that Ruisdael had actually completed forty to fifty seascapes. Once again he has adhered to his successful formula of having two-thirds of the work occupied by the threatening sky and by doing so, he has added a palpable melodramatic energy to the work. In the mid-ground we see boats struggling against the force of nature as they are pounded by ferocious seas and bent over by gale-force winds. Oddly shaped rocks, which have been eroded by past storms, lie in wait and we cannot help but wonder about the fate of the boats. Ruisdael’s inclusion of the rocks further adds to the atmospheric ferocity of the depiction.

Dutch Landscape by Jan van der Heyden

Another painting by a seventeenth century Dutch artist which I liked was simply entitled Dutch Landscape, a work by Jan van der Heyden. Van der Heyden, the third of eight children, was born on March 5th 1637 in Gorinchem, a city and municipality in the western Netherlands. His father was by turns an oil mill owner, a grain merchant and a broker. The family moved to Amsterdam in 1646 and van der Heyden’s father acquired local citizenship. Jan van der Heyden himself would never acquire Amsterdam citizenship. Initially his painting genre was still-lifes but later this changed and he became known for his townscapes featuring groups of buildings. . Van der Heyden, although a talented artist, was better known in his own day as an inventor and engineer. One of his most famous accomplishments was that he designed and implemented a complex system of lighting for the streets of Amsterdam, which was utilised from 1669 until 1840 and which was also adopted by other Dutch cities and even used abroad.

Van Heyden would travel extensively in Flanders and Holland as well as the Rhineland towns of Germany close to the Dutch border constantly looking for inspiration for his cityscapes.  In his early seventeenth century work, Dutch Landscape, we see depicted the Dutch town of Zuylen which lies on the banks of the River Vecht, close to the city of Utrecht. One can see in this work, like many of his other cityscapes, that his main interest is not one of nature but on architecture and his painstakingly accurate way in which he depicts the facades of buildings, especially when we look at the Gothic church on the left of the painting. There is nothing flash about this depiction. It is not ablaze with colour. It is a simple yet sober interpretation of everyday life. It is thought that another artist executed the figures in the painting.

Portrait of San Andriedr. Hessix by Frans Hals

Among Gulbenkian’s seventeenth century paintings on show at the Founder’s Collection there were a number of portraits. I particularly liked Portrait of San Andriedr. Hessix by Frans Hals. It is an oil on canvas depiction of Sara Andriesdr (daughter of Andries) Hessix who was married to Michael Jansz. Van Middelhoven, a pastor from the city of Voorschoten, near Leiden, and another of Frans Hals’ sitters.

Michiel Jansz van Middelhoven, aged 64 in 1626, by Hals (confiscated during WWII and whereabouts unknown)

Both portraits formed a pair which were completed around 1626 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the couples wedding which took place on 1586. Unfortunately, the portrait of the pastor was confiscated by the Germans during World War II and has never been recovered. Frans Hals methodology regarding the portrait of the woman would be repeated in many of his works.

It is an accurate resemblance of the sixty-year-old woman. She has a serious expression on her face. There has been no attempt by the artist to “beautify” the lady. The way we see her, turned in three-quarters and against a plain dark background, is in the finest Dutch tradition of portraiture.

Portrait of an Old Man by Rembrandt (1645)

Another portrait which caught my eye was one by the Dutch Master, Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn. It was his 1645 painting entitled Portrait of an Old Man. The portrait which was once owned by Catherine the Great came into the possession of Gulbenkian in 1930. Nobody knows for certain the identity of the sitter although many theories abound. The man is dressed in expensive clothes but this does not necessarily indicate his wealth, occupation or social status as they could well be props belonging to the artist’s studio and simply used as a decorative effect. Rembrandt is known for his penchant for portraits of people in their old age and has appeared as an old man in a number of his self-portraits. It is a beautifully crafted work. Look at the skin texture of the man’s hands as he holds on to his walking cane. It is both a complex and emotional depiction. Rembrandt has concentrated on a palette of browns with the odd flash of gold and the painting is enhanced by the artist’s use of chiaroscuro. The light homes in on the man’s hands and face and in some way elicits a feeling of tragedy – the tragedy of ageing.

Portrait of a Man by Anthony van Dyck (1621)

My final look at the seventeenth century paintings I saw in the Founders Collection in the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian was another portrait painting, this time one by Anton van Dyck. The title given to this 1621 work was simply, Portrait of a Man and so like the previous painting we are unaware of the identity of the sitter. But maybe we do, as when it was purchased for Gulbenkian in 1923 at Christies, it had the title Portrait of Anton Triest.

He is mentioned in documents as being the Burgomaster of Ghent and is also referred to as Nicolas, but this theory is contested by many art historians. His social status has been set due to the absence of a sword which would suggest that the sitter in question is a member of the bourgeoisie.  The man sits on a leather chair with Spanish style nail-work which was often used by van Dyck in his early works.

In the next blog I will showcase some of my favourite 18th century paintings which can be discovered in the Founder’s Collection at Lisbon’s Museu Calouste Gulbenkian.

The Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon.

My eight-week holiday in the sun on the picturesque Algarve coast has come to an end and I have now returned to the gales and rain back home. Whilst away I had no real quiet time to concentrate on writing another blog on art but was full of ideas, which I can now work on.

A few months ago when I was in Moscow I was fortunate to visit the Tretyakov Museum and look at their wonderful collection. I started that series of blogs by talking about the founder of the Museum before looking at some of the works in the collection. Whilst in the Algarve I took a train up to Lisbon and spent three days in the capital. During that time I visited the large Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in the heart of the city. It was an incredible museum in a tranquil and beautiful setting in the heart of the Portugeuse capital.  So who is Calouste Gulbenkian?

Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian

Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian was a very wealthy businessman, art collector, and philanthropist of Armenian descent, who was born on March 23rd, 1869 in Üsküdar, or as we know it,  Scutari, a large and densely populated district on the Asian side of Istanbul.

Sarkis

Dirouhie

He was the eldest of three sons of Sarkis and Dirouhie Gulbenkian.  His father was an Armenian oil importer/exporter who was heavily involved in the oil industry. Sarkis’ wealth came from his ownership of several oil fields in the Caucasus around Baku.

Young Carnouste Gulbenkian commenced his education attending the local Aramyan-Uncuyan Armenian school. He then attended the Lycée Saint-Joseph a private high school located in Istanbul.   His father believed that his son’s ability to speak French fluently would be important in later life and so, in 1884, when Calouste was fifteen-years-old, his father had him attend the Ecole de Commerce in Marseille where he studied basic business skills, honed his ability to speak French and in the evenings began to learn English. On returning to Istanbul, Calouste continued his studies at the prestigious American Robert College and completed his studies with a diploma in engineering. Following his academic success, his father sent him to London and had him enrolled at the Kings College School to study petroleum engineering. Once again Calouste excelled and in 1887, at the age of eighteen, he earned himself an associateship of the Department of Applied Sciences an honour bestowed upon him for winning the second and third year prizes in physics and the third year prize in practical physics.

In December 1887 Calouste returned home to Istanbul.  In September 1888 he travelled to Eastern Europe and the Azerbaijan capital of Baku via Batumi and Tiblisi,  to learn about the Russian oil industry. Three years later in 1891, he published a book about his month-long journey of discovery entitled La Transcaucasie et la péninsule d’Apchéron; souvenirs de voyage (“Transcaucasia and the Absheron Peninsular – Memoirs of a Journey”) and parts of it appeared in the Revue des deux Mondes, the French language monthly literary, cultural and political affairs magazine.

Wedding photograph of Calouste Gulbenkian and Nevarte Essayan

Another Armenian oil baron and colleague of Calouste’s father was Ohannes Essayan who had five children, one of whom was a daughter, Nevarte.  Calouste and Nevarte became friends.  According to Jonathan Conlin’s biography, Mr Five Per Cent: The many lives of Calouste Gulbenkian, the world’s richest man, Calouste fell in love with Nevarte whilst the two were playing dominoes, one summer’s day in 1889, at her parents house in the Turkish town of Bursa. Calouste was twenty and Nevarte was a mere fourteen years old. Because of Nevarte’s young age the couple were continually being watched and chaperoned when they were together. Even the writing to each other was difficult lest the missives fell into the hands of Nevarte’s parents. To give an idea of how difficult things were between the two young people one only has to look at an old love letter to Calouste written by Nevarte. In it, she worries about their love being discovered. She wrote:

“…Forgive me, my friend, for not going to the garden today. Yesterday afternoon, Dad was looking at me in such a strange way that I feared he suspected something. He forbade me to go out with that girl, saying that she is too young to accompany me. So don’t expect to see me in the garden again. See you in B [uyuk] D [ere] – if my friend goes there. I think we’ll see each other at the latest in a month. Oh, my friend, I know it is useless to remind you of your promise, but, for God’s sake, don’t forget your vow not to reveal to anyone anything that happened between us […] Au revoir , your faithful friend . If I seem cold to you, if and when I go to B [uyuk] D [ere], please ignore it, it will be to mitigate any suspicions. Forgive me this doodle and love me. If you have anything to say to me, you can write it on a piece of paper and give it to this girl, she doesn’t know French. Destroy this paper. Cheers…”

Both Calouste and Nevarte’s parents believed Nevarte too young to marry and so the youngsters had to wait a further three years before they married.  In 1892 Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian married Nevarte Adèle Essayan in London. She was 17 and her husband 23. The couple went on to have a son, Nubar Sarkis, born in Istanbul in 1896 and their daughter, Rita Sirvate, was born in London in 1900.

1952 family portrait on the terrace.. Seated, Calouste Gulbenkian and his wife Nevarte. Standing, from left to right: Kevork and Rita Essayan (Gulbenkian’s son-in-law and daughter), Robert Gulbenkian (nephew), Mikhael Essayan (only grandson) and Nubar Gulbenkian (son) with his wife (1952)

Calouste Gulbenkian, despite his wealth and prestige was forced to move home due to wars and conflicts. In 1896 he and his family had to hastily flee the Ottoman Empire by steamship, during the Hamidian Massacres, which lasted almost three years, during the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the anti-Armenian sentiment in the country, which led to the persecution and killing of thousands of Armenians.  The Gulbenkian family landed in Alexandria, Egypt where they temporarily settled.  In later years, Calouste and his family spent time living in London and Paris. However, in April 1942, during the Second World War Gulbenkian who had been living in France, decided  to seek refuge in a neutral country. For Calouste, the choice lay between Switzerland and Portugal. Gulbenkian decided on Portugal because of its geographical situation for, if necessary, he could easily escape by sea to the United States. He also favoured Portugal as it had a favourable tax regime, a stable society and he believed he would be able to avoid the prying media in places such as London and Paris. He remained there until his death in 1955. Calouste felt the Portugeuse people were very welcoming he praised the country’s hospitality, which he said he had never felt the like anywhere else.

Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon

Gulbenkian had amassed a great fortune from his businesses in the oil industry. With his vast wealth Gulbenkian took pleasure in purchasing works of art whether it be paintings, furniture, porcelain, or jewellery, dating from antiquity to the 20th century, in total over six thousand items. He acquired his first painting in April 1899, an oil painting entitled Versailles by Giovanni Boldini.  His wide-ranging collection covers various periods and areas: Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Islamic and Oriental art, old coins and European painting and decorative arts. Although many works of art in Gulbenkian’s collection were once in many museum across the world, after his death, and following long-running discussions with the French Government and the National Gallery in Washington, the entire collection was brought to Portugal in 1960, where it was exhibited at the Palace of the Marquises of Pombal from 1965 to 1969. Then, on July 18th, 1956, a year after his death, the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, part of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, was opened in the Portugeuse capital. It had been specifically built to house his collection. Gulbenkian derived considerable pleasure from his collection, which he referred to as his “children”.

The Gulbenkian Museum

The Gulbenkian Museum is now looked upon as one of the best museums in Portugal. There are two buildings. One houses The Founder’s Collection which has works ranging from Antiquity to the early 20th century, including paintings by the great masters such as Rubens, Rembrandt, Turner, and Degas. The other building houses the Modern Collection which contains more than ten thousand works and is considered to be the most complete collection of modern and contemporary Portuguese art. Tour the museums and see how the Gulbenkian Museum can take you from Ancient Egypt to the present day across its two collections.

Gulbenkian Garden, Lisbon

The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum is set in one of the most emblematic modern gardens in central Lisbon, which is open all year round and offers visitors a great sense of tranquillity. When I visited there, hundreds of students were relaxing on the grass in the sunshine and being besieged by hungry ducks which had emerged from their large lake looking for tasty food that the young people were lunching upon.

In my next blogs I will look at some of the paintings which I saw when I visited the Gulbenkian Founder’s Collection.