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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruskin in his Turret Brantwood by William Collingwood

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

Brantwood as it looks today.

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

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

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

Kathleen by James Tissot

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

Quiet by James Tissot

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

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

W L Wylie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shrimpers Hauling to Windward by W.L. Wylie

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

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

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

A Walk in the Country by John Ritchie (1863)

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

Pensive by Sir George Clausen (1895)

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

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

Thomas Cooper Gotch. Part 1.

Self Portrait with Two Square Brushes by Thomas Gotch

My featured artist today is the British painter, Thomas Cooper Gotch.  Little has been written about Thomas Gotch and in a way, he appears to be the forgotten man.  Part of the reason for this is that he was an unassuming man who preferred to take a step back rather than be in the limelight.  Another possible reason was that he never associated himself with painting “schools” and it is hard to compartmentalise his painting style.  In the pre-1890’s, his works were mainly depictions of open spaces, subdued in colour and yet full of detail, but then later came his more symbolist-style works.  Gotch was unhappy in the way some of his contemporaries painted only what would sell, or as he put it, they painted down to the level of the market, and further derided them by saying that they grew rich as tradesmen but following that path, they lost as artists.  Having said that, Gotch was aware that he had to survive financially and took on painting commissions, especially portraiture ones.  Once he had earned the money from a portraiture commission, he was happy to return to his Newlyn home, Wheal Betsy, overlooking Mount’s Bay and relax by working on one of his charming landscapes featuring local views of his beloved Cornwall.

xxFamily

Thomas Cooper Gotch, with the fair hair, sits on his maternal grandmother’s knee whilst his older brother John Alfred Gotch stands by the side of his mother.  The father stands at the back of the family group.

To fully understand the person, we need to look at his family and his early life.  Thomas Cooper Gotch was born on December 10th, 1854 in the Mission House, Kettering, in rural Northamptonshire, a landlocked county located in the southern part of the East Midlands region.  His parents were John Henry Gotch and Mary Anne Gale Gotch. He was the fourth surviving son of the couple.  His father, John Henry, and his father’s two brothers, John Davis Gotch and Frederick William Gotch had inherited the family wealth when their father passed in 1852.  The three men had been bequeathed two businesses, a family shoe and boot establishment which was subsequently managed by John Davis Gotch and the J.C. Gotch and Sons bank, managed by his father, John Henry Gotch.  The artist’s father, John Henry was well suited to run a bank as he was an exceptionally talented mathematician.  His younger brother Frederick William played no part in the family businesses and instead became a renowned Hebrew scholar and later was elected President of the Baptist Union.

 

A Cottage in a Garden

A Cottage in a Garden by Thomas Gotch

All was going well for the family businesses until 1857 when a combination of events led to a financial disaster for the family.  Firstly, 1857 was the year of a financial panic in the United States which resulted in the declining international economy and over-expansion of the domestic economy.  Due to the advance of telecommunications at the time, it meant that the world economy was also more interconnected, which also made the Panic of 1857 the first worldwide economic crisis.  Secondly, and more connected with the Gotch bank, John Henry Gotch had been authorising a number of unsecured financial loans, a number of which were given to the Rev. Allan Macpherson, the curate of Rothwell, without due diligence and with the downturn of 1857 the bank collapsed as did the shoemaking business under the terms of unlimited liability.  The bankruptcy meant that the brothers had to sell their Mission House and auction off most of the furnishings as well as selling the adjoining shoe factory to pay off creditors.  John Henry Gotch sadly realised that authorising so many loans without investigating the circumstances of the borrowers was his fault.

Ruby

Ruby by Thomas Gotch

Perhaps poking fun at the prevalence of red-headed women in Pre-Raphaelite art, an acquaintance bet Gotch that he could not paint a red-haired subject with red cheeks in red clothes. This painting of Ruby Bone, a local girl who would have been little over two years old when she sat for the portrait, was the artist’s response. The warm oranges and reds of the sitter’s hair and clothes are balanced against the dull green-grey of the background and off-white of her dress and buttons.

After the financial collapse of the two businesses, John Henry Gotch, along with his wife and family were now homeless and had to rely on the kindness of relatives, including his wife’s brother’s family, the Hepburns, for somewhere to stay.  In 1858 they managed to rent a house in Ilford, Essex and this is where his wife gave birth to a daughter, Jessie.  It took John Davis Gotch until 1863 to have the bankruptcy discharged thanks in the main to money that he borrowed from the Hepburns.  He then set about to revive the family shoemaking business and invited John Henry to join him.

The Lady in Gold - A Portrait of Mrs. John Crooke

The Lady in Gold.  A Portrait of Mrs John Crooke by Thomas Gotch

The present picture dates from the turning-point in Gotch’s career since it was painted in Newlyn early in 1891 and exhibited at the Royal Academy that summer, shortly before he made the visit to Florence which had such a dramatic effect on his style. The sitter’s husband had already commissioned Gotch to paint a small watercolour portrait of her, which was exhibited at the New Gallery in 1890.

Thomas Cooper Gotch attended the Church of England boarding school, Foy’s Academy in West Brompton and, along with his brother Alfred, was looked after during long weekends and school holidays by Thomas and Mary Ann Hepburn.  By 1863 the family’s financial problems had eased and Thomas Gotch along with his parents and four siblings returned to live together in Kettering.  Thomas Gotch remained at the Foy’s boarding school until 1869, aged nine.  He returned to live with his family in Kettering and attended the Kettering Grammar School where he was given an “A” for effort but struggled. He left school in 1872 and in March 1873 he began working at his father’s boot and shoe business.

The Orchard

The Orchard by Thomas Gotch (1887)

Working in the shoe and boot industry was not what Tom wanted but on the other hand he did not know what he wanted!  He had a hankering for writing and submitted a few of his stories to a publisher to be edited but there is no record of what was thought of his literary efforts but what we do know is that he continued writing stories throughout his life.  So, what made Thomas Cooper Gotch take up painting?  He never recorded his decision to take up painting in any of his diaries or writings so there is a mystery about what first led him towards an artistic career.  It is known that his mother, Mary Anne, enjoyed sketching and her sister, Sarah Gale had married John Frederick Herring Snr., an animal painter, sign maker and coachman in Victorian England.  It was also at the insistence of his mother that Thomas always took his painting paraphernalia with him when he went off on holiday.  Whatever happened, Thomas Gotch decided to follow the artistic path of life and in May 1876, aged 21, he applied to attend Heatherley’s Art School, one of the oldest independent art schools in London, submitting the required specimens of his work.  Attending Heatherley’s was a steppingstone to entering other art schools.  Whilst at Heatherley’s Thomas Gotch had his work critiqued by well-known practicing artists.

Rosalind

Rosalind by Thomas Gotch

Buoyed by the praise he received from the lecturers at Heatherley’s, Thomas Gotch applied to the Academy Schools and was taken aback when he was refused entry. A second application was also rejected and Thomas began to believe the training he had been receiving at Heatherley’s was at fault and so, in October 1877, accompanied by his friend Edward Laurie, he travelled to Antwerp where they enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, where the Professor of Art was the Belgian painter and watercolourist, Charles Verlat.  It was not a happy time for Gotch who railed against the school’s endorsement of traditional subject matter and the use of a dark palette whilst he preferred brighter colours and a more decorative approach.  He commented on this to his long-standing friend and previous fellow Heatherley’s student, Jane Ross.  In his letter to her, he wrote:

“…Here we must do what we are told with as good as grace as we can and if we break the rules are reminded that we are only allowed in the school as a favour.  Each week, there is a fresh figure wheeled into the room and all who are drawing figures have obediently to draw that and nothing else…”

Clouds

Clouds by Thomas Gotch

At the end of February 1878, Thomas Gotch, having completed his painting and drawing examinations, decided to leave Antwerp.  He was disheartened by the experience and would have returned home but his brother Alfred joined him in the city and although he could not persuade his brother to stay at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, he did persuade him to carry on with his art and return to London and resume his artistic studies at Heatherleys.  Thomas returned to Heatherleys at the end of March 1878 and also enrolled as a private student with the English portrait painter, Samuel Lawrence.  Following a number of arguments with the family he realised that to be financially independent he would have to become a successful artist.  During the summer of 1878 he set himself the task of completing a number of landscape paintings.  He and his artist student friend, John Smith, rented a small house in the village of Goring-on-Thames and set about painting scenes of the surrounding countryside and various farmyard scenes.  Thomas Gotch was accepted into the Slade School of Fine Art in October 1878 where he remained for two years.  His love of literature encouraged him and some of his fellow art students to form a Shakespeare Reading Society at which they would read the plays. 

……………………………………………..to be continued.

Double Nude Portrait by Sir Stanley Spencer

A few days ago I watched a television programme which looked at twentieth century British artists and My Daily Art Display today looks at one of the paintings which the programme highlighted.  It was a work of art by Sir Stanley Spencer, completed in 1937 and is entitled the Double Nude Portrait, sometimes known as Leg of Mutton Nude, for reasons we will look at later   I like this painting for its honesty but also because of the story behind it.  It is a story of three people: Spencer and his two wives.  In a way, it is a story about love, infatuation, lust and how bad decisions can change lives.

Stanley Spencer

Stanley Spencer was born in 1891 in Cookham, Berkshire, a small village on the River Thames, situated west of London.  Spencer loved Cookham and was to spend most of his life living in this idyllic spot.  He started his art studies at the age of seventeen when he attended the Slade School of Art, which was part of the University College, London, and where he remained for four years.  The First World War intervened and Spencer joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1915 and from there he transferred to the Berkshire Regiment the following year.  He witnessed the savage conflict in Macedonia but he physically survived the war although mentally scarred by the horrors he encountered whilst in active service.  Sadly, when he returned to Cookham after the war he learnt that his brother Sydney had been killed in the war three months earlier.

Hilda Carline

Whilst Stanley Spencer attended the Slade School of art he became friendly with a fellow student, Sydney Carline who was one of three children of the British painter and illustrator George Carline.  Sydney had two younger artistic siblings, a brother, Richard and a sister Hilda.  Although George Carline actively encouraged his two sons to become artists he never encouraged his daughter to follow the same path and she idled her time at home in Oxford.  Eventually when she was twenty-four her father arranged for her to go to a London art school in Hampstead, which was run by Percyval Tudor-Hart.  Such was her artistic progress that five years later, in 1918, aged twenty-nine, she also was admitted to the Slade School of Art.   It was around this time that Sydney met Hilda when he was invited to a Carline family meal in 1919.  Spencer was immediately smitten by the lovely Hilda and recalled that first meeting saying:

‘…As she came towards me … with the soup, I thought how extraordinary she looked … I could feel my true self in that extraordinary person….I felt she had the same mental attitude to things as I had. I saw myself in that extraordinary person. I saw life with her…..’

Within a few weeks of that first meeting Spencer wrote to Hilda asking to buy one of her paintings.  He wrote:

‘…there is something heavenly in it and the more I look at it, the more I love it..”.

There followed a quite tempestuous courtship, their relationship had its ups and downs and had to withstand many heated arguments.  Having said that, the couple spent a lot of time painting together and Spencer was very complimentary about her artistic talent.  Hilda Carline went on to exhibit many of her works at the Royal Academy and the New English Art Club, an artists’ society, a society which was founded in 1886 in reaction against the conservatism of the Royal Academy.

In 1925 Hilda Carline and Stanley Spencer married at Wangford in North Suffolk, a place which was well known to Hilda as during the First World War she was stationed there as a Land Girl.  By the end of the year Hilda had given birth to a baby girl, Shirin.  During the next few years the couple moved around southern England until January 1932, at which time Stanley could afford to buy Lindworth, a comfortable residence in the centre of Cookham, with its tennis court and large garden.  This was solely his choice as his wife would have preferred to live in central London to be close to the centre of the art world as well as being close to her widowed mother who still lived in Hampstead.  For Stanley, returning to Cookham gave him the chance to recapture the early inspirational ecstasies which he called Cookham-feelings.   Of this special feeling, and of his day in this idyllic setting, he once wrote:

“.. We swim and look at the bank over the rushes.  I swim right in the pathway of the sunlight.  I go home to breakfast thinking as I go of the beautiful wholeness of the day.  During the morning I am visited, and walk about being that visitation.  Now everything seems more definite and to put on a new meaning and freshness.  In the afternoon I set out my work and begin my picture.  I leave off at dusk, fully delighted with the spiritual labour I have done…”

So Stanley Spencer is delighted with his life and Hilda, his wife, is reasonably happy, so what could possibly go wrong with this idyllic lifestyle?   Sadly Stanley like many of us didn’t appreciate what he had.

Patricia Preece

Enter the third person in this story – Patricia Preece.  Patricia had, along with her artist friend and lesbian lover, Dorothy Hepworth, moved to the village of Cookham.  It was in 1929, when Patricia working in the local High Street café first met Stanley Spencer.   Stanley, Hilda and their daughter Shirin, who were visiting the village, came in to the café for lunch.  After a conversation about their love for art Spencer invited the two women to visit the Spencer-Carline house parties and picnics and where she was often courted by Hilda’s brother Richard Carline.  Spencer and Preece had, besides their art, another thing in common, their love of Cookham.  This was in complete contrast to Hilda’s feelings for the village, a situation which saddened her husband.

The relationship between Spencer and Hilda and Patricia Preece started off well, in fact for the first three years they were best of friends and in 1933 Stanley Spencer and Patricia went off together on an artistic assignment in Switzerland with Hilda’s blessing. Richard Carline’s devotion to Patricia ended when he belatedly realised the truth about her relationship with her live-in lover Dorothy.  Patricia now turned her attentions to Stanley Spencer, not for amorous reasons but for the reason of his extensive art world contacts which would help her and Dorothy with their artistic careers and also because she, who was comparatively poor, knew that Stanley was a wealthy man.  Patricia’s financial situation worsened when the knitwear business of the Hepworth family, from which Dorothy received great financial remuneration, went bankrupt.  By 1934, the life of the two women had reached crisis point, their Cookham home was about to be repossessed and they had no money to pay every-day bills.

From l to r.  Hepworth, Preece and Spencer
From l. to r. Hepworth, Preece and Spencer

Stanley Spencer rode to the women’s rescue by suggesting they came to live with Hilda and him.  Hilda was having none of her husband’s rescue plan.  She also became very concerned by her husband’s closer than ever relationship with Patricia.  She took comfort by leaving Cookham for periods of time along with her daughters, going to stay with her mother.  Her absence from the family home was all that Patricia needed to get closer to Stanley.  They would visit each other’s houses even though Patricia’s lover Dorothy was not best pleased with this blossoming relationship.  Stanley and Patricia sadly had different agendas.  For Patricia, Stanley Spencer’s money and contacts were of prime importance whereas for Spencer there was a sexual desire.

Hilda initially fought to save their marriage.   However, when her brother George became seriously ill towards the end of 1932, she went to London to be with him. By 1934, she knew that she could no longer stay with her husband and moved to London.  Spencer became more and more obsessed with the flirtatious Preece, and he showered her with gifts. She persuaded him to divorce his first wife and to sign his house over to her. Patricia Preece married Spencer in 1937 and they were supposed to go on honeymoon in Cornwall.  Preece and Dorothy  went on ahead and in fact Spencer never joined them, remaining in Cookham to finish a painting.  Hilda went to Cookham and, finding a warm welcome from Spencer, spent the night with him. Spencer proposed a ménage à trois with her and Patricia but Hilda would not accept being his mistress, having once been his wife. Preece was shocked by this turn of events and refused thereafter to have sexual relations with him.

Double Nude Portrait by Sir Stanley Spencer (1937)

So that is the story of the three people and now let us look at the painting which Spencer completed in 1937, the year of his second marriage.  It is a stark and explicit painting of the artist and his second wife Patricia Preece.  It was painted at a time when Spencer realised the mistake he had made leaving his first wife Hilda and marrying this femme fatale.  Look at the forlorn depiction he gave himself as he squats before his uncaring wife.  His skin tone is a dull grey.  We are not looking at a man of great virility.  Whereas artists in the past have portrayed themselves or their sitters as virile and glamorous, we see in front of us an unidealized vision of a man.  He stares down at the breasts of his wife but he is not aroused.  Look at his flaccid penis which presumably alludes to his lack of virility and the non-consummation of his marriage.  Look how Spencer has depicted Preece.  She lays there, legs apart with a vacant look on her face.  She does not look at Spencer.  She exudes an air of disinterest.  Spencer’s depiction of his wife acknowledges her rejection of him.  There is no eye contact.  The bodies are not touching.  There is a total disconnect between husband and wife.  You know the marriage is doomed.   There are two other interesting objects in the painting.  Firstly in the foreground we have a leg of mutton (hence the alternative title of the painting) and in the background we have a lit gas fire.  We can presume that the cold leg of mutton somehow symbolises the coldness of his wife as she lies in front of him and it is in contrast to the heat from the fire which is the only thing in the painting which is going to give warmth to the artist.

Would you say the painting is erotic?  Does it have the eroticism of a Schiele painting?  To me, the painting is sexual but not erotic.  It is an honest painting and tinged with sadness.  Should we be sad for the artist or should we simply look upon him as somebody who has rightly got his just deserts?  Could things get any worse for Spencer?  Well, actually the answer to that is yes.

Preece being a gold-digger and Spencer being besotted and somewhat foolish was persuaded to sign his house and financial affairs over to Preece who never left her lover Hepworth.  It is also thought that she had some leverage over Spencer and threatened to expose him and his erotic paintings unless he agreed to the financial terms.   There was no acceptance in the 1930’s for such sexual works.  Patricia  eventually evicted Spencer from the house, and would not grant him a divorce, but continued to receive payments from him. After he was knighted in 1959, she insisted on being styled Lady Spencer and claimed a pension as his widow. Spencer’s fear of being exposed by Preece over his erotic paintings made him keep today’s painting under his bed where it remained until he died.  Spencer lived to regret leaving his first wife and constantly wrote to her and occasionally visited her and their two children.

Sir Stanley Spencer died in 1959, aged 68.  Hilda Carline died in 1950 aged  61.  Patricia Preece died in 1966 aged 72.  Wendy Hepworth died in 1978, aged 80.

The Return from Inkerman by Elizabeth Thompson

The Return from Inkerman by Elizabeth Thompson (1877)

My Daily Art Display today is a war painting depicting the conclusion of the Battle of Inkerman and the British troops, or what was left of them marching back to camp.  The work of art was painted by Elizabeth Southerden Thompson, the British female painter, who had attained celebrity status with her history paintings, and especially those depicting military conflicts involving British troops.

She was born in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1846 and at the age of thirteen, when she and her family lived in Italy, began to receive art tuition.  In 1862 she travelled to London where she enrolled in the Female School of Art which along with the National School of Art coalesced into the Royal College of Art in 1869.    In 1869, with the family now living in Florence she enrolled in the Accademia di Belle Arti which was the top-rated academy for drawing in the whole of Europe.  Her favoured art genre at the outset of her painting career was that of religious art and it was not until she went to Paris at the age of twenty-eight that this was to change.   In Paris she came across the works of Jean-Louis Meissonier the French Classicist painter who was famed for his works of art depicting Napoleon and his armies and other military scenes.  She also saw works by the military painter Édouard Detaille, who had been a pupil of Meissonier.  She was so enthused with their military paintings that she decided that in future this was to be her choice of art genre.

In 1873 she completed a work entitled Missing which depicted two wounded French officers during the Franco-Prussian War and which was the first of her paintings to be accepted by the Royal Academy.  The following year she exhibited a painting which was to be one of her most popular and made her a nineteenth century celebrity.  It was entitled The Roll Call and it depicted a scene from the Crimean War in which we see a battalion of the Grenadier Guards, many of who were wounded and exhausted, gathered around for the roll call so as to ascertain who had and who had not survived the latest battle.  The painting was shown around the art capitals of Europe and in doing so her fame as an artist spread throughout the continent.

In 1877 she married a Tipperary man, Sir William Francis Butler, who was an officer in the British army and who rose in the ranks to finally become a lieutenant-general.  This army life of her husband afforded Elizabeth, now Lady Butler, the opportunity to travel with him throughout the British Empire.  The couple went on to have six children but the burden of motherhood did not prevent her from painting many more military scenes.

When her husband retired from the army in 1905 the couple retired to Bansha Castle in Tipperary.  Her husband died in 1910 but she remained at Bansha until she was seventy-six years of age at which time she went to live with her youngest daughter.  She died in 1933 just a month short of her eighty-seventh birthday.

The featured painting today is entitled The Return from Inkerman by Elizabeth Thompson which she completed in 1877.  This was the final work of her quartet of paintings she did between 1874 and 1877 depicting scenes from the Crimean War.  The painting depicts a ragged column of exhausted soldiers trudging back to camp, many of who are wounded and are only just able to stand up.  Their commanding officer on horseback rides at the head of the column.  The men try to keep their heads held high as they pass fallen comrades who lie at the side of the road.  Their tattered uniforms remind us of the ferocity of the battle which has just concluded.  The battle took place on the heights of Inkerman where the Russians had mounted a counter-attack on the British forces.   The weather had been terrible during the battle with driving rain interspersed with thick fog making the commanding of the troops difficult for both sides.  This battle was one of many bloody encounters which occurred during the siege on the Russian town of Sebastopol in November 1854 and was part of the Crimean War campaign.  It was a ferocious battle and cost the lives of 2,500 British and 12,000 Russian troops.   In her painting the troops depicted are mainly from the Coldstream Guards and the 20th East Devonshire regiment.

While she never witnessed actual warfare, she was in Egypt for some years in the 1880’s with her husband and many of her pictures were drawn accurately using models in some cases, or observing soldiers on manoeuvres or practicing charges at Aldershot. To help with her paintings, the soldiers even re-enacted the battle in their original uniforms worn throughout the campaign.

There is a great sense of realism to this painting.  In it we see the men and their suffering.  However in some quarters this realism was too much to bear.  As would be the case now, the public did not want to be reminded of such sufferings on the battlefield.  For most of the public and the hierarchy of the Royal Academy they preferred more uplifting depictions of victorious battles and acts of heroism which would lift people’s spirits.  Many artists pandered to such wishes but as the French master of military paintings, Édouard Detaille, commented:

“…L’Angleterre n’a guère qu’un peintre militaire; c’est une femme…”

(England has only one military painter; and it is a woman)

However Elizabeth Thompson would not change her style and defended it in her 1922 autobiography, writing:

“…I never painted for the glory of war, but to portray its pathos and heroism…”

However she still had many supporters of her painting style.  Wilfred Meynell, the Victorian biographer, wrote in his book The Life and Work of Lady Butler:

“…Lady Butler has done for the soldier in Art what Mr. Rudyard Kipling has done for him in Literature – she has taken the individual, separated him, seen him close, and let the world see him…..”

The Daily Telegraph of the day wrote of Elizabeth Thompson’s great ability as a female military artist, writing:

“…Miss E. Thompson, a young lady scarcely heard of hitherto, with a modest, sober, unobtrusive painting, but replete with vigour, with judgement, with skill, with expression, and with pathos – such expression as we marvel at in Hogarth for its variety, such pathos as we recognize under the rough or stiff militarism of Horace Vernet – has shown her sisters which way they should go, and has approved herself the valiant compeer even of most famous and most experienced veterans of the line. To the unselect many, to the general public, Miss Thompson is as new as the Albert Memorial at Kensington; and it is for that reason that we hail her appearance with this honest, manly Crimean picture, as full of genius as it is of industry. We say that this sign is a wholesome one; because in every work of art-excellence executed by a woman, and commanding public acceptance and applause, we see a manacle knocked off a woman’s wrist, and a shackle hacked off her ankle. We see her enlarged from wasting upon fruitless objects the sympathies which should be developed for the advantage of humanity. We see her endowed with a vocation which can be cultivated in her own home, without the risk of submission to any galling tyranny or more galling patronage…”

The White Horse by John Constable

The White Horse by John Constable (1819)

If I was to ask you what was your idea of an English countryside I am sure a large number of you would think about the paintings of John Constable, such as his famous work, The Hay Wain.  Certainly when I conjure up in my mind the tranquillity of the countryside, I reflect on the beauty of the English country landscapes paintings of the English Romantic artist John Constable.  In fact the term “Constable Country” is often used to describe the loveliness of that part of the eastern England located on the Suffolk and Essex border.  It is a truly wonderful area with countryside which lends itself easily to paintings.   Like Thomas Gainsborough, Constable was influenced by Dutch artists such as Jacob van Ruisdael. The works of Rubens proved to be useful colouristic and compositional models. However, the realism and vitality of Constable’s work make it highly original.

John Constable was born in 1776 in the village of East Bergholt in the county of Suffolk.  Art historians tell us that he was not a naturally gifted artist and it took many years of hard work and his love of art to place him alongside Turner as one of the two greatest figures in the history of British landscape painting.   He always wanted to pursue an artist’s life and had to fend off pressure for him to become a clergyman.  Eventually after leaving Dedham Grammar School he trained for a career in the family business.   Whilst living at home he had many opportunities to sketch the Stour area and he met up with and became a close friend of Sir George Beaumont, an artist and collector, who would later establish the National Academy.  It was he who would once again awaken Constable’s love of painting and would later tutor him at the Academy.  

When he was twenty three and after much pressurising of his father, he was allowed to leave the family business and follow his passion for art and he became a student at the Royal Academy Schools of London.  Also studying at that Academy was Turner, although they never became close associates. 

He exhibited his first paintings in 1802, but unlike Turner, Constable did not sell many of his works.  In fact during his lifetime he only sold twenty paintings and failed to gain the recognition achieved by Turner in Britain although that was not the case in France where his works were well received.  His paintings, especially his “six footers” greatly influenced the French artist Delacroix and the French Romantic Movement.  He also inspired the Barbizon School, which is the name given to a community of mid-19th-century painters who worked in and around the village of Barbizon in the forest of Fontainebleau, south-east of Paris.   They painted landscapes and scenes of rural life, occasionally working in the open air.  John Constable died in Hampstead, London in 1837, aged 60.

 My Daily Art Display for today is The White Horse which Constable completed in 1819 and is part of the Frick Collection in New York.  This was the first of Constable’s “six footer” exhibition canvases, a set of 6ft x 4ft landscape paintings he completed between 1818 and the mid 1830’s.   He started with sketching the scenes outdoors but because of the size of the finished paintings he had to come indoors to work on the finished product.  

The view in this work of art is from the south bank of the River Stour, looking back across the river just below Flatford. The barge on the left has taken on board the white horse and is about to set off to reach a spot downstream where the tow path resumes on the opposite bank. Cows can be seen wading in the shallow waters.   Just beyond the barge is a small island called ‘The Spong’. Willy Lott’s house, which is featured in Constable’s The Hay Wain, is just visible to the left centre in the middle distance. Following the exhibition of this work, Constable was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy.

If you liked today’s painting why not go and discover other  Constable’s  “six footers” such as, Salisbury Castle from the Meadows, 1831, Stratford Mill, 1820 and of course The Hay Wain, 1821.

His” six footer” painting entitled Hadleigh Castle, which he painted a year after his wife Maria died of tuberculosis, is a more sombre painting which probably reflects Constable’s mood at the time and who said of his late wife:

” I shall never feel again as I have felt.

The face of the world is totally changed to me.”

Take some time and ave a look at some of John Constable’s works and see if you have a favourite.

Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse

Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse (1903)

The story of Echo and Narcissus comes from Greek Mythology and tells the tale of Echo, a wood nymph’s love for a beautiful youth, Narcissus.  Sadly for Echo although many loved Narcissus, who enjoyed the attention, praise and envy, he, on the other hand, loved nobody considering all his “worshippers” to be unworthy of him.  After Echo had died of a broken heart, Narcissus continued to attract many nymphs all of whom he briefly entertained before scorning and refusing them.  The Gods were angered by his behaviour and cursed him and made it so there was only one whom he would love, someone who was not real and could never love him back.

One day whilst walking through the woods, Narcissus came upon a pool of water.  He looked in it and caught a glimpse of what he thought was a beautiful water spirit but in fact was his own reflection.  He bent to kiss the image which mimicked his actions.  He reached into the pool to touch the spirit but of course the image was destroyed.  When the water settled the image reappeared only to be destroyed again every time he touched the water’s surface.   Narcissus could only lay by the pool gazing in to the eyes of his beloved vision.

My Daily Art Display painting today is entitled Echo and Narcissus and is by the English pre-Raphelite painter John William Waterhouse.  The painting which can be found in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool was painted in 1903 and shows the unhappy Narcissus gazing at his own reflection in the pool whilst the unhappy rejected nymph Echo looks on.  Waterhouse was of a younger generation of pre-Raphaelites than Dante Rossetti and his subjects of doomed and unhappy love were prettier, less disturbing and more widely popular than theirs.

Have you a favourite painting which you would like to see on My Daily Art Display?  

If so, let me know and tell me why it is a favourite of yours and I will include it in a future offering.

Dante’s Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice by Rossetti

Dante's Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1871)

The poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born in London in 1828.   His father was an exiled Italian patriot and Dante scholar.  Torn between a lifetime concentrating on his poetry or a lifetime as a painter, he decided that painting was his first love although he never gave up his love of writing poetry.  In 1848 he co-founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais.  Maybe, because of his father, Dante Rossetti had a life-long interest in the Italian poet Dante Alighieri and today’s picture offering is Dante’s Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice which he painted in 1871 and which now hangs in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

The painting represents an episode from the Dante Alighieri poem La Vita Nuova (The New Life), a work made up of both verse and prose.  In this poem Dante Alighieri dreams that he is led by love to the death-bed of Beatrice Portinari, who was the object of his unfulfilled love.

This is Rossetti’s largest painting and with it he creates a visionary world using soft rich colours and complex symbols.  The two female attendants wear green, which is symbolic of hope.   The spring blossom held by the angel in red, who holds Dante’s hand, represents purity and the poppies strewn on the floor symbolise the sleep of dreams and death.   The model for Beatrice was Jane Morris, the wife of William Morris, whom Dante Rossetti had a long-term affair.  William Morris was an English textile designer, artist, and writer associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti abandoned Arthurian and Tennysonian subjects in his later works and concentrated on the subject closest to his heart – women.  He was a love poet and a love painter and there has been no greater worshipper of female beauty in English painting.

Have you a favourite painting which you would like to see on My Daily Art Display?  

If so, let me know and tell me why it is a favourite of yours and I will include it in a future offering.

Our English Coast by William Holman Hunt (1852)

Our English Coast by William Holman Hunt (1852)

William Holman Hunt was born in London in 1827.  He started off his working life as a clerk but moved away from the life of commerce and studied at the British Museum and National Gallery.  He, along with Dante Rossetti and John Millais, all members of the Royal Academy, formed the Pre-Raphelite Movement in 1848.  This newly formed group sort to reform art by emphasising the detailed observation of the natural world in a spirit of quasi-religious devotion to the truth.  They took on board the spiritual qualities of medieval art in opposition to the rationalism of the Renaissance personified by the likes of Raphael.  In 1854 Hunt went to the Holy Land to portray scenes from the life of Christ, aiming to achieve total historical and archaeological truth. He returned to Palestine in 1869 and again in 1873.   Hunt died in London in 1910, aged 83.

Today’s painting is Our English Coasts which Hunt painted in 1852 and was commissioned by Charles Maud.  This painting, which featured sheep, followed an earlier painting  of his which featured sheep in the background and was very well received, The Hireling Shepherds .  Hunt used the cliffs of Fairlight, east of Hastings, as the background for this work.  As with a lot of Pre-Raphelite work, there is an element of symbolism in their paintings.  Art historians believe that the use of the cliffs at Hastings, overlooking the English Channel, symbolised the fear of a possible French invasion of England.  The brilliance of the colours Hunt used made it the most remarkable of Hunt’s landscapes.

The painting can be found in the Tate Britain gallery, London.

The Bridge at Moret by Alfred Sisley (1893)

The Bridge at Moret by Alfred Sisley (1893)

Alfred Sisley, born in Paris to English parents in1839, was sometimes called the “Forgotten Impressionist”.  At the age of 18 his father, a silk trader, sent him to London to study business but life as a business man similar to that of his father was not for him and he soon moved back to Paris.  His family supported him in his ambition to become an artist and sent him to Gleyre’s studio where he met and worked alongside Monet and Renoir.  In 1867 he became a pupil of Corot and a number of Sisley’s works reflect that tutelage with the way in which he has a passionate interest in the sky which became a dominate facet of his paintings

He still rates as one of the greatest Impressionists who ever lived and was regarded as an exceptional en plein air (outdoor) landscape painter.  Landscape painting was his favourite genre and he rarely attempted portraits.  Similar to another great English landscape artist John Constable, Sisley liked just to concentrate on painting places he knew well such as the Seine and Thames valleys.

The painting on display to today is one of his later works, The Bridge at Moret, which he completed in 1893 and is now exhibited in the Musee d’Orsay.   Alfred Sisley died in Moret-sur-Loing at the age of 59,  just a few months after the death of his wife.   Moret-sur-Loing  is a small and charming historical town in the Seine-et-Marne department of north central France and which  was a source of inspiration for Monet, Renoir and Sisley.