Anton Pieck

Anton Pieck

When one thinks of artists, one looks to the greats such as Veronese or Goya or Turner and some are maybe somewhat “sniffy” when graphic artists and illustrators are lumped together with such luminaries.  My artist today was reviled by serious art lovers for his artwork being petty kitsch. Still, friend and foe had to admit that he was an accomplished draftsman with a highly unique, instantly recognizable and barely imitated style. However, whether you love or hate his work my featured artist today is one of the great illustrators of his time and whose works have brought unbridled happiness to many.  For those who have never seen any of his works, let me introduce you to the Dutch graphic artist Anton Pieck.

Anton Pieck aged 1 year-old, on the left, next to his twin brother Henri Pieck

Anton Franciscus Pieck and his twin brother, Henri, were born in the Dutch town of Den Helder on April 19th, 1895.  He was the son of Henri Christiaan Pieck, who was a machinist in the Royal Dutch Navy, so he was often away from home for lengths of time. His wife was Stofffelina Petronella Neijts who gave birth to their first child, Coenraad, in 1891 but who died when he was just one year old.   Anton’s twin brother Henri Christiaan became a Dutch architect, painter and graphic artist but who would lead a different, more exciting and dangerous life than his brother Anton. As an adult Henri became active within the Dutch Communist Party, and was recruited as a spy for Soviet Russia. Henri’s artistic interests differed from those of Anton as his main love was modern art, whereas Anton loved old-fashioned illustrations and paintings . When the twins were six years old, they took drawing lessons from J. B. Mulders, who ran after-school art classes at their school. He recognized the talent of the twins and taught them the basics of perspective and proportion, and these lessons quickly bore fruit.  When he was ten, Anton won a prize at an exhibition for his still life watercolour depicting a brown pot on an old stove, and in recognition, among other things, he received five tubes of watercolour paints.  More awards followed during his teenage years.

River Spaarne and the Bakenesser Tower by Anton Pieck

In 1906, after Anton’s father retired, the family moved to live in The Hague. Anton and his brother, after finishing secondary school, enrolled on a drawing course in the evenings at the Royal Academy of Art. They later received training at the drawing institute Bik and Vaandrager.  When the brothers were aged fourteen, they obtained the first stage of their teaching certificate and 3 years later they completed their teaching certificates and were able to call themselves drawing teachers.  Anton went to teach at his old school, Bik and Vaandrager. Henri Pieck was considered the better artist of the twins and is allowed to go to the Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam. This was a personal blow to Anton who never came to terms with the fact that his twin brother was looked upon as the more skillful artist. One could almost say that Henri was looked upon as an artist whereas Anton was looked upon as a drawing teacher!

During the First World War the Netherlands remained neutral, but still many young Dutchmen were mobilized so as to be on standby in case their country became embroiled in the fighting.  Anton Pieck was one of those men and became a sergeant, however he spent most of his spare time sketching for his fellow recruits. A somewhat damning psychological army report on him in 1915 described Pieck as:

“…someone who looks more at the past than the future and will therefore never amount to anything…”

Not considered as “fighting material” and unlikely to be used for military duties, Pieck was sent back to The Hague, where he gave drawing lessons to other soldiers. This was pure heaven for Anton as for four evenings a week he would oversee two-hour sketching lessons.   Pieck was then able to spend all his time doing what he loved best.

A boat on the River Amstel near Ouderkerk with the house “Wester Amstel” by Anton Pieck

When Anton graduated from the Bik en Vaandrager Institute, they offered him the position as an art teacher which he accepted and held the position until 1920.  He then applied and was accepted as an art teacher at the newly established Kennemer Lyceum, a high school in the Haarlem suburb of Overeen.  He would continue to work there until his retirement in 1960 at the age of 65.  Throughout those years teaching students, he always made time for his own work.

Hofje van Loo with communal water pump by Anton Piecke. The Hofje (Courtyard) van Loo is a hofje on the Barrevoetstraat 7 in Haarlem

Teaching art was not his great love and he was never quite satisfied with his job and he couldn’t wait for his daily teaching duties to end so that he could dash home and continue drawing and painting. However, being employed as a teacher gave him financial stability and this in turn gave him the comfort of only choosing commissions which pleased him, rather than being forced to work on work he disliked. Whilst employed at the school as a teacher, Anton would also illustrate diplomas, bulletins, ex-libris bookplates, birth cards and other administrative documents for his school.

The River Spaarne with the Waag building designed by Lieven de Key at the end of the 16th century by Anton Pieck

In the 1920’s Anton Pieck published his first drawings. It was also around this time that Anton forged a close friendship with the Flemish novelist Felix Timmermans and it is said that Timmermans’ jovial attitude rubbed off on Pieck whom he advised to “lighten up” and be more spontaneous and follow his own spirit.

A recent edition of Felix Timmerman’s book.

For the 10th edition of Timmerman’s very successful book, Pallieter, published in 1921, Timmermans asked Pieck to provide the illustrations to go side-by-side with the text. Through correspondence, Timmermans indicated what he wanted to see on the illustrations. The book was described as an ‘ode to life’ written after a moral and physical crisis. Pallieter was warmly received as an antidote to the misery of World War I in occupied Belgium. For Pieck, this was just a start of his book illustration journey as he went on to illustrate about 350 books. 

In 1921 Pieck illustrated Felix Timmermans’ book Pallieter by the Flemish author Felix Timmermans.  As the book was set in Flanders Pieck decided to visit there to soak up the atmosphere in the various towns.  Above is an ink illustration from one of the chapters, A beautiful winter day in which the main character, Pallieter, goes out on a clear winter day and hears organ music. He heads towards the sound, but only sees two children playing with mud.

Anton Pieck’s way of announcing the birth of son Max Pieck sent to all the staff of the Kennemer Lyceum in 1928

In 1917, Anton Pieck met Jo van Poelvoorde, the sister of fellow soldier Hendrik van Poelvoorde. Jo was a teacher at the Royal Dutch Weaving School. Her first impressions of Anton were that he was friendly, but also taciturn and absent. Gradually he opened up more and became more talkative. Anton and Jo entered into a relationship and twenty-seven-year-old Anton Pieck married twenty-nine-year-old Josephina Johanna Lambertina (Jo) van Poelvoorde, on March 8th 1922 at The Hague. After the marriage the couple moved to Overveen. From their marriage three children were born, Elsa, Anneke and Max.

Harpenden Engeland by Anton Pieck

Throughout his life, Anton was an enthusiastic traveller and visited England, France, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Poland and Morocco during which he built up a collection of sketches.  He was a great lover of quaint buildings and had no interest in modern architecture.  For him, it was a joy to study nature as well as picturesque cities and villages. He was so in love with Belgium and England that he termed them “his second mother countries” as their towns had not been “ruined” by modernisation as had happened in his homeland The Netherlands.

The ruins of Brederode in Santpoort by Anton Pieck (c.1950)

Anton Pieck was a twentieth century man as he only lived his first five years in the nineteenth century.  Having said that, Pieck loved to look back with pleasure on what he considered to be a more appealing century – the nineteenth century.

The Warmoesstraat, Amsterdam by Anton Pieck

He had fallen in love with the Dickensian era and had completed many paintings, drawings, etchings and engravings depicting Dickensian scenes. He depicted gentlemen in high hats or ladies adorned in crinoline, people taking coach rides, watching a magic lantern show or listening to barrel organs or chamber concerts.  All such scenes gave him great pleasure and they all contributed to his artistic ideal. Anton Pieck was adamant that when it came to commissions, he would only accept those which allowed him to illustrate novels or short stories set in bygone days.

Greeting card of Winchester by Anton Pieck

What Pieck liked to depict were things which looked old or dilapidated.   Buildings and their interiors which were crooked and looked ramshackle and run-down.  For Anton, nothing was to look new or be built completely straight. Anton’s first visit to England appears to have been around 1937 when, on a voyage by ship to North Africa, he had managed to come ashore in Southampton and was able to made sketches of some of the old commercial buildings and to visit the city of Winchester where he sketched some of the old Tudor buildings and historic inns, one of which was turned into a greetings card.

Besides prints and greeting cards, calendars were produced each year with a selection of Anton Pieck’s drawings.

He would also produce a number of ex libris bookplates, a book owner’s identification label that was usually pasted to the inside front cover of a book. Above is one he created for his son, Max. 

Anton Pieck’s vision for De Efteling

Anton Pieck’s work over the years and his popularity with the Dutch people was probably in the minds of  the mayor of Loon op Zand, R.J. van der Heijden and filmmaker Peter Reijnders who had envisioned the building of a fantasy-themed amusement park, De Efteling, in Kaatsheuvel in the Dutch province of North Brabant in 1951, named after a 16th-century farm named Ersteling.  The men approached Anton Pieck to design the theme park but he initially refused but later changed his mind on the proviso that only original materials are used for building the houses, such as coloured roof tiles and old stones.  Anton then set about designing het Sprookjesbos, the fairy tale forest.

Anton Pieck at Efteling

Initially, the Fairy Tale Forest was designed and based upon ten different fairy tales, all of which were brought to life using original drawings by Pieck.  Added to Pieck’s designs were mechanics, lighting and sound effects designed by the Dutch filmmaker Peter Reijnders. The life-sized dioramas, shown together in an atmospheric forest, were a incredible success and in 1952, the first full year, Efteling was open, it had 240,000 visitors and since 1978, the park has grown in size and is now become one of the most popular theme parks in the world.

Frau Holle at Efteling

Pieck designed all the houses, buildings and the special animatronic inhabitants who were inhabitants of the fairy tale forest, such as Little Red Riding Hood at her grandma’s house, Sleeping Beauty’s castle, Frau Holle’s well and Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house.  Frau Holle, also known as Mother Hulda, is a German fairy tale character from the 1812 book, The Grimm Brothers’ Children’s and Household Tales (Grimms’ Fairy Tales). 

Frau Holle by Anton Pieck

Frau Holle is often depicted shaking out bed linen over an outside balcony then it begins to snow.  It is still a common expression in Hesse and Southern parts of the Netherlands and beyond to say “Hulda is making her bed” when it begins to snow.  Like many other tales collected by the Brothers Grimm, the story of Frau Holle was also a moral tale explaining that hard work is rewarded and laziness is punished.

Anton Pieck Museum

Anton Pieck retired from teaching in 1960.  He was made a Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau. Pieck died on November 24th 1987 at the age of 92. Three years before his death the Anton Pieck Museum House for Anton Pieck was opened in Hattem,  a municipality and a town in the eastern Netherlands.

Anton Pieck loved nature, the past and Dutch cityscapes. Sadly, during the course of the 20th century, large swathes of that old Netherlands he loved disappeared due to bombing during the war, the renovation and rejuvenation of the city centers from the 1960’s and the construction of the complicated road network. As a result, Anton became sad and depressed at what he witnessed during his latter years, saying in 1985:

“… Yes, I have known this country very well. What is still there now, I see as a mess of the past. That makes me sad, yes…”

Whatever you may think about the artistic style of Anton Pieck, one has to feel warmed by the depictions and undergo a desire to be back in olden days when life may have been simpler, or was it ?

Dutch and Flemish Golden Age painters.

Like many others, I am a lover of the artwork of the Dutch Golden Age painters.  The Dutch Golden Age was a period in the history of the Netherlands, which spanned the era from 1588 and the birth of the Dutch Republic to 1672, Rampjaar (Disaster Year) which was the year of the outbreak of the Franco-Dutch War.  During this period, it was considered that Dutch trade, science, and art and the Dutch military were among the most acclaimed in Europe.  We all know about the lives and works of the famous artists of that era, such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen, Frans Hals and Judith Leyster to name but a few.  In my blog today I want to look at the lives and works of the lesser-known painters of that era.

Izaak van Oosten was a Flemish Baroque landscape and cabinet painter who worked out of Antwerp.  Izaak was born in Antwerp in December 1613 and was the son of an art dealer with the same name.  His father had become a master in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke in 1617. Very little is known about his upbringing or his early artistic training as there is no record of which master or masters he studied under.  Izaak became a master in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke in 1652.

Landscape with a Wagon and Travellers passing through a Village by Izaak van Oosten

There is something joyful about paintings depicting skaters on frozen rivers and lakes.  It is all before global warming and I am sure that now, many of the rivers and lakes retain their fluidity even in the depths of winter.  The painting I am showcasing is entitled Skaters on a Frozen Lake at the Edge of Town and it was painted by the Dutch Golden Age landscape painter Cornelis Beelt.  Cornelis Beelt was a Dutch Golden Age landscape painter who was  one of the chief figures in the Haarlem school of landscape painting, but was also well-known for his genre paintings of towns, markets and villages.  Beelt was born in Haarlem during the first decade of the seventeenth century.

Skaters on a Frozen Lake at the Edge of Town by Cornelis Beelt (c.1652)

The setting is a clear winter’s day and crowds of locals gather besides a country inn keen to enjoy the sport on the ice. Young and old, rich and poor are attracted to this pastime. In the foreground a group of well-dressed men and women stands on the ice and chat. An old lady with her hands in a fur muff sits in a splendid arreslee (sleigh which is drawn by a horse and which is decorated with a fine plumed harness. Close by young children propel themselves across the ice on small prikslees (sledges).

Beach of Shevingen by Cornelis Beelt

There is a strange thing about this painting which unfortunately is not visible from the attached picture. Beelt signed his painting in an unusual manner, one which he had also done on his painting Beach of Shevingen. He signed his name on the plank of wood in the foreground. However , at a later time, his signature was scrubbed out and replaced by the inscription J.V.Ostade f.1653 and this was judged to be an attempt by a less than honest art dealer to ascribe the work to a more famous name, Isaac van Ostade, so as to have a better chance of selling the painting, even though Ostade had died in 1649 !

The phrase ‘cabinet d’amateur’, in French, is an ancient term which referred to a room or part of a room in an art collector’s house where he or she displayed the paintings they had purchased.  These display areas were before the rise of public galleries.  Some where simple cabinets which contained their owner’s beloved works and some where floor to ceiling displays of their paintings.  The phrase cabinet d’amateur should not be viewed as that of an “amateur collector” but that of an “art lover”.  A German term for such a place is often referred to as a kunstkammer. In Italian it might be called a Gabinetto, Studiolo or Camerino.

Two collectors dining in a gallery surrounded by paintings and works of art, with two parrots in the foreground. by Frans Fancken the Younger

The painting connected with this term is one by the Flemish painter, Frans Francken the Younger and described as Two collectors dining in a gallery surrounded by paintings and works of art, with two parrots in the foreground. Frans Francken the Younger was the most famous of an Antwerp dynasty of painters; he trained with his father, Frans the Elder, and joined the Antwerp guild in 1605. He was a painter of religious and historical subjects as well as being the inventor of the genre – the cabinet painting.

On the right-hand side of the painting we see two men deep in discussion about a painting one of them is holding up but we do not know who is the owner of this kunstkammer.  The presence of a kunstkammer in one’s house was a sign of wealth, intelligence and social status.  In the main part of the painting, we see an ornate sideboard supported by classical caryatids.  A caryatid is the name given to a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head.  A light-pink fringed cloth covers the top shelf of the sideboard on which two large shells are placed either side of the painting, The Adoration of the Magi.   Richly decorated goblets and covered urns are displayed on two of the sideboard shelves. On the floor we see two parrots depicted sitting on a perch.  The import of exotic foreign birds testified to the owner’s wealth.   We see a large red velvet curtain falls from the ceiling which when released would act as a separator of the two rooms.  Everything in the room exudes the wealth of the owner which would have been the raison d’être for the owner of the cabinet d’amateur commissioning the work.

The Cabinet of the Collector by Frans Francken the Younger (c.1617)

A similar painting by Frans Francken the Younger is in the Royal Collection entitled The Cabinet of the Collector which he completed around 1617. Amongst the paintings on view in the kunstkammer is a landscape by Joos de Momper,  a still life of an everyday table set for a meal; and a small, nocturnal Flight into Egypt. Other religious painting depicted are one featuring St Augustine who is trying to comprehend the idea of the Trinity and sees a baby struggling to pour the entire sea into a pool in the sand with a shell – both tasks being equally beyond the scope of man. The drawings, one framed and one in an open book are two studies for Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling and a preparatory drawing for Raphael’s Madonna della Perla which emphasise the intellectual side of painting.. There are also letters on the table, no doubt signifying an intelligent characteristic of the painting’s owner.  Also displayed are exotic weaponry which is a reminder of the importance of travel and trade and a handful of Roman coins and a bowl of modern ones, which were not anything to do with wealth but more likely a celebration of the achievements of great men.

For me, the most interesting part of the work is seen beneath the arch to the right.  In the background a church is demolished and nearby donkey-headed men with cudgels destroy a pile of objects associated with learning, science, the arts and sport. According to Karel van Mander, the sixteenth century Flemish poet, painter and art historian, a man with a donkey head is a symbol of Ignorance. The episodes depicted here recall two historical events: the Beeldenstorm, an outbreak of iconoclasm carried out by Protestants in 1566; and the ‘Spanish Fury’, the sack of Antwerp in 1576.

A Rhineland Landscape with a Hermit and Soldiers by Jan Griffier the Elder

Jan Griffier the Elder, who was born in Amsterdam around 1645, was a painter and printmaker, who produced views of Rhineland landscapes as well as spending time, around 1660, in England where he produced many landscape works featuring the English countryside.  One of his most beautiful landscapes is referred to as A Rhineland Landscape with a Hermit and Soldiers. The painting dramatically depicts a steep mountain landscape with a meandering river below which slowly flows through wooded crags which are surmounted by castles.  If we look to the left foreground, we can see a men loading barrels of wine onto a small boat.  The main figures in this painting are on the right-hand side.  We see a group of soldiers lying down, concealed among the ferns and flowers.  One of the group points down to the boat which is being loaded.  Are they planning to raid the operation?  Above them, sitting on a rock by a large oak tree in peaceful isolation, is a hermit, who is meditating.  It is an interesting painting with plenty to focus on, but what is it all about ?

Floral Still life Floral by Gaspar van den Hoecke

There is something that fascinates me about floral still life paintings.  I think it is just the effort and patience the artists must have put in to produce such beautiful works.  My next featured painting is a small (70 x 50cms) floral still life attributed to the Flemish Baroque painter, Gaspar van Hoecke, who was born in Antwerp around 1580.

Gaspar van den Hoecke was best known for his small religious cabinet pieces but during his early period around 1610 his work focused on still life floral paintings.  The vase of flowers sits on a wooden tabletop.  This dense grouping of flowers fills almost two thirds of the painting.  The profusion of flowers doesn’t allow the artist to depict twigs and leaves between individual flowers.  On the table we see a caterpillar of the swallow-tailed butterfly which is next to it.  Also on the table there is a silver medal with the head of Pope Pius V which had been created in 1571.   Just above it is a gold coin which is a rare example of a byzantine solidus made during the era of Anastasius, the Eastern Roman Emperor. 

Winter Landscape with a peasant walking through snow by Gysbrecht Leytens

The Flemish painter Gijsbrecht Leytens was born in Antwerp in 1586. As a teenager, he began his apprenticeship with Jacob Vrolijck.  In 1611 he joinied the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke as a master. In 1615 he became a member of the Olijftak, a chamber of rhetoric that dates back to the early 16th century in Antwerp, when it was a social drama society which drew its membership primarily from merchants and tradesmen and provided public entertainment at prestigious events.  Gijsbrecht was a captain in Antwerp’s Civic Guard between 1624 and 1628.  His work followed the style of 16th and 17th century Flemish and Dutch great landscape paintings, which had brought recognition to such masters as Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Hendrick Avercamp, Gillis Van Coninxloo, Joost de Momper and Denijs Van Alsloot.

Winter landscape with a woodsman and travelers by Gysbrecht Leytens

However, it was Gijsbrecht Leytens’ determined personal style that brought him to the public’s attention.   Many of his paintings were simply attributed to “The Master of the Winter Landscape” and only in the 1940’s attributed to him.  Leytens has an easily recognisable style not just because he focuses on snowy winter scenes but because of the way he depicts intricate and curious intertwining designs created by the bare branches and twigs which form a large part of his depictions.   He was described as a poet of the frost in the way he conveys the cold nakedness of the sun on a countryside caught in the ice. No-one before him, nor after him, either in Flanders or elsewhere, expressed this with such intensity. The fundamental and unique quality of his art also resides in the extreme refinement of the subtle colour harmonies apparent in his paintings at all times.

Old Man Reading a Letter by Willem van Mieris (1729)

The depiction of the reading of a letter has featured in many paintings over the years.  Such attention to what is written in the letter adds to the back-story of the artwork and often our imagination runs riot as we try to fathom out the sentiment expressed in the pages of the letter.  My next painting is one by the Dutch artist Willem van Mieris who was born in Leiden in the Northern Netherlands in June 1662.  His artistic tuition came from his father Frans van Mieris who was a genre painter.  Throughout his career Willem was successful and had the support of a number of patrons who constantly supplied him with commissions.  He was equally at home painting genre scenes and portraiture as well as being a skilled landscape painter, etcher, and draughtsman.  He was the active leader of, and once became dean of, the Leiden Guild of St. Luke in 1693. A year later, in 1694, he established a drawing academy in Leiden along with the painter Jacob Toorenvliet.

In this work we see an elderly gentleman seated  at a table in a darkened interior deep in concentration as he reads a handwritten document.  He wears an opulent-looking gown which is made of richly embroidered material and which is evocative of the fashion for Japanese dress at the time.  Upon his head is a hat made of rich blue velvet and lined with a extravagant swathe of fur.  In the dark background we can just make out shelves filled with books.  Couple that with the paraphernalia on the table, such as an inkwell, sealing wax and quill pen tells us that this a gentleman of great learning, maybe a lawyer.  Lawyers were often depicted in paintings reading documents and letters.

I hope this blog will encourage you to delve into the world of Dutch and Flemish painters where you will find so many talented artists.

George Hendrik Breitner – The Amsterdam Impressionist.

George Hendrik Breitner

The artist I am looking at today is George Hendrik Breitner, the nineteenth century Dutch painter, who was best known for his realistic depiction of Amsterdam street and harbour scenes.   He was also of great importance in what was later termed Amsterdam Impressionism.

Self portrait by George Breitner (1883)

George Hendrik Breitner was born in Rotterdam on September 12th, 1857.  He and his younger brother, Godfridus, were the children of Johan Wilhelm Heinrich Breitner and Marie Anne Henriette Gortmans.  His father worked in the grain business and George, after finishing primary school, joined the Palthe & Haentjes, grain company, as a clerk.  At the age of seventeen George went to the Delft Polytechnic School for vocational training.  George showed a great talent for drawing and in January 1876, aged eighteen, partly because of the intercession of the artist Charles Rochussen, his father agreed to have him enrolled on a four-year course at the Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten (Royal Academy of Art) in The Hague.  He was an exemplary student and won a number of awards including a second prize for composition and two years later took the first prize in a live model competition.  In October 1877 he obtained his teaching certificate and during 1878 and 1879 he taught art at the Leiden Art Society (Ars Aemula Naturae), originally the Leiden Guild of St. Luke.

The Dam, Amsterdam by George Breitner (1895)

In 1880 Breitner was expelled from the Art Academy for misconduct, his misdemeanour said to have been that he had destroyed the regulations-board.  Around that time, he shared lodgings of the Dutch landscape painter of the Hague School, Willem Marisat, at the Oud Rozenburg house in The Hague.  Marisat became Breitner’s friend and tutor. It was through Marisat that Breitner was accepted as a member of the Pulchri Studio, an important artist’s society in that city. 

Les Brisants de la Mere du Nord (The Breakers of the North Sea) by William Mesdag

It was here that he met fellow member Hendrik Mesdag, a one-time banker but later an accomplished artist, whose forte was his maritime paintings, one of which, Les Brisants de la Mere du Nord (The Breakers of the North Sea), gained him the gold medal at the 1870 Paris Salon.  In 1880, Mesdag had been commissioned by a group of Belgian entrepreneurs to paint a panorama depicting a view over the village of Scheveningen which lay on the North Sea coast close to The Hague.  It was such a large project that Mesdag put together a team of artists including his wife Sientje, Theophile de Bock, Barend Blommers and twenty-three-year-old George Hendrik Breitner.  The finished work which measured 14 metres high and 120 metres around, was completed in 1881 and I talked about in my My Daly Art Display blog

Bridge with Rain and Wind by George Breitner (1887)

In 1882, Breitner made the acquaintance of another distinguished artist, Vincent van Gogh, and the two would often go on sketching trips around the poorer and seamier side of The Hague.  In a letter to his brother Theo in February 1882, Vincent wrote:

“…. At the moment I quite often go to draw with Breitner, a young painter who’s acquainted with Rochussen as I am with Mauve.  He draws very skilfully and very differently from me, and we often draw types together in the soup kitchen or the waiting room &c…”

Two Girls with Brown Can by George Breitner (1885)

For Breitner his models were the poorer working-class folk such as labourers and servant girls who plied their trade in the lower working-class areas of the city.  Breitner preferred these working-class models such as labourers, servant girls and people from the lower-class districts. Interest in the fate of the common people, which many artists felt in that period, was cultivated by the social conscience of French writers such as Émile Zola and the realism paintings of Gustave Courbet and Jean-François Millet.  Breitner believed that through his paintings he would create history. His desire to become famous for his realistic paintings of the poor can be seen in his letter he sent to his patron, the grain merchant, Adriaan Pieter van Stolk, dated March 28th 1882.  Breitner wrote:

“…Myself, I will paint the people on the street and in the houses, they built, life above all, I’ll try to be Le peintre du peuple or I’ll be better because I want to be. History I wanted to paint and I will too, but history in its most extensive sense. A market, a quay, a river, a gang of soldiers under a glowing sun or in the snow…”.

Distribution of Soup by George Breitner (1882)

In May 1884 Breitner left The Hague and travelled to Paris.  His stay in the French capital lasted only six months during which time he attended Atelier Cormon where he liked to depict the toiling workhorses or demolition scenes, using dark tones .  He completed a number of paintings featuring the streets of the city with its horse and cart transportation.   His desire to paint scenes of everyday life in the French capital was enhanced by his interest in and inspiration from the writings of Zola, Flaubert and especially Edmund and Jules de Goncourts with their book, Manette Salomon, being a favourite of Breitner. 

Labourers Pulling a Heavily Laden Cart on Jacob van
Lennepkade, Amsterdam by George Breitner (1900)

In the late 1880’s, Breitner’s new hometown, Amsterdam, was beginning to expand, new industries were shooting up and it was pulsating with life.  Breitner was afforded the ideal opportunity to record pictorially the changes.  Now living in the city, he took the opportunity to hone his artistic talents by enrolling for a short period at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts under the tutelage of August Allebé, an exponent of realism and impressionism.  Breitner’s cityscape paintings of that era, although maybe not topographically accurate, were emotional depictions, full of colour and movement.  His depiction of the common people was somewhat different as he used greys and browns to portray the hard and laborious tasks, they had to perform to earn a meagre wage.  His paintings were often both emotional and sensitive.

Construction Site in Amsterdam by George Breitner

Breitner’s 1902 painting, Construction Site in Amsterdam, highlights the building boom in Amsterdam.   He based the painting on a series of photographs he took of a construction site in the city. Although it may have been thought to be an en plein air work, the painting was in fact carefully created in his Prinseneiland studio. Through the use of his photographs and sketches, he was able to portray an ever-changing city.

A View of the Leidsegracht Amsterdam by Willem Witsen

One of the painters he liked at this time and whose work influenced him was the Dutch painter and photographer associated with the Amsterdam Impressionism movement, Willem Witsen, whose best works include serene views of Amsterdam, such as his depictions of the canal areas Herengracht and Leidsegracht.

Lying Naked by George Breitner (1889)

In the late 1880’s, beside his cityscape works, Breitner embarked on painting nudes.

The Red Kimono by George Breitner (1893)

In 1893, he completed a series of paintings featuring Japanese girls, a beloved theme of many painters in those days.  Japonism, which referred to the French term, japonisme, which denotes the assimilation of iconography or concepts of Japanese art into European art and design. Most of the Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists painters were influenced by this phenomenon.

Girl in White Kimono by George Breitner (1894)

Breitner was Inspired by Japanese prints he had seen between 1893 and 1896 and completed thirteen paintings featuring a girl in a kimono. In each the young woman assumes different positions and the kimono often are of different colours. In the above 1894 work, Girl in a White Kimono, what stands out the most in the depiction is the exquisitely embroidered, white silk kimono with red-trimmed sleeves and an orange sash. For this painting and many in the series, Breitner utilised the services of seventeen-year-old Geesje Kwak, a seamstress who was also one of his regular models.

De Gele Ruiters (The Yellow Riders) by George Breitner (1886)

In his earlier days during his time in The Hague, Breitner had been criticised in the media for his drawings and his attempts at Impressionism and even his patron had pressed him just to paint what the public wanted.  Breitner baulked at this advice and his relationship with van Stolk ended.  In the late 1880’s, then living in Amsterdam, there was a change in his fortune and with every passing month, he gained more and more recognition as a talented artist.  In 1886 Breitner completed one of his great masterpieces, De Gele Ruiters (The Yellow Riders).  It was a monumental work measuring 115 x 76 cms and featured the elite mounted artillery corps seen galloping down the sand dunes at breakneck speed. Breitner took full advantage of their black-and-red busbies and the gold braid on their uniforms, which adds to the vitality of the charge.

(Detail) De Gele Ruiters (The Yellow Riders) by George Breitner (1886)

We witness the sand being kicked up by the hooves of the horses at the front which clouds our view of the horsemen who follow and all we can make out of them are the flashes of black, yellow and red of the following troops.  In the October 16th 1886 edition of the Netherlands Spectator, the Dutch poet and art critic, Carel Vosmaer, wrote

“…But what a momentum and storm in the movement, what a feeling for the poetry of such a tingling, dusty, turbulent group!..”

In the same year Breitner was invited by the avant-garde Société des XX (Vingtistes) to show his work in Brussels.  More and more was written in the press about him and his work.  At the turn of the century, George Breitner was forty-two-years-old and at the high point in his artistic career.  So, what was he like as a person ?  In his biography of the artist, Breitner, by Arthur van Schendel, he quoted the description of the artist by people who knew him, writing:

“…often fierce and brusque in his performance, sometimes suddenly rigid and closed, living among bouts of passion and despondency and always possessed wholeheartedly for his art…”

The levelled building-site for Maison de la Bourse by George Breitner (1909)

In 1901 an exhibition of his work was held, a highly successful retrospective at Amsterdam’s Arti et Amicitiae, one of the largest clubs for artists and art lovers in the Netherlands.  At this time Breitner would use his photographs as a preparation for a painting.  He built up a collection of people and cityscapes form a historical document of life in the city of Amsterdam at the end of the 19th century and it was these which helped to document city life at the turn of the century.  These photographs and his cityscapes often appeared in historical publications.

On September 18th, that same year, 1901, George Hendrik Breitner married Maria Catharina Josephina Jordan in Amsterdam.  His wife was nine years younger than him.  The couple had no children. 

Portrait of Marie Breitner, wife of the artist by George Breitner

Breitner painted a portrait of his wife, which, in my eyes, seems less than flattering.

Portrait of Mrs Marie Breitner-Jordan by Willem Witsen

A more flattering portrait was done by Breitner’s friend Willem Witsen.

George Breitner by Willem Witsen

Witsen also completed a portrait of George Breitner.

In 1903 Breitner decided to move away from Amsterdam and relocate to Aerdenhout, a small town located in the dunes between Haarlem and the seaside town of Zandvoort, some twelve miles west of Amsterdam.  His decision to move away from the city was because his friend and fellow artist, Marius Bauer, had moved there and wanted Breitner to join him. However, Breitner missed Amsterdam and in 1906 he returned to the city.

Rokin with the Nieuwezijdskapel, Amsterdam. by George Breitner (1904)

In 1904 Breitner completed his work entitled Rokin with the Nieuwezijdskapel, Amsterdam.  The Rokin is a canal and major street in the centre of Amsterdam and is a recurring theme in Breitner’s works.  Breitner would spend much time in this area, sketching and photographing people and buildings.   The art gallery Van Wisselingh & Co. was found in this area as was his artist’s society Arti et Amicitiae which can be seen in the background.   The painting fetched 415,200 euros at Christie’s Amsterdam auction in April 2005.

Although Breitner was successful as an artist and enjoyed a great reputation during his life, he did encounter financial difficulties during his life and this led to the establishment of a support committee for him and his wife. On June 5, 1923, George Hendrik Breitner died of a heart attack, aged 65.  George Breitner is seen as one of the most important painters in the Netherlands at the end of the 19th century – but internationally he is less well known as an artist.

Melchior d’Hondecoeter

Melchior d’Hondecoeter

Having a grandfather, father, and brother-in-law, who are accomplished artists must be a great benefit when considering your future occupation. My featured artist had all three as role models and therefore there is no surprise that he too became a renowned artist. The artist I am talking about today is the seventeenth century Dutch painter, Melchior d’Hondecoeter, who was born in Utrecht around the early months of 1636. Hondecoeter was known for his bird studies and in particular for the realistic portrayal of these beautiful creatures. Initially he painted seascapes but around 1660 he concentrated on depictions featuring colourful and often exotic birds. The settings for his paintings were varied. Sometimes it was a farmyard, other times it would be a country park or the courtyard of a palatial residence. Nearly all the works had an interesting background, often lush landscapes enhanced by the odd architectural feature. This type of work was in great demand at the time and his paintings adorned the large rooms of wealthy Amsterdam merchants’ houses and some were even purchased by William III for his palaces. It is said that Hondecoeter kept his own poultry yard at his house, but he also made visits to the country residences of his patrons where he could study more exotic species and perfect settings.

Hunting Trophies by Melchior d’Hondecoeter (1682)

But first let me talk a little about his antecedents who were to play an important part in forming his life. His paternal grandfather was the painter, Gillis d’Hondecoeter who was born into a Protestant family in Antwerp around 1580. A year after his birth, the Northern Netherlands, renounced the rule of the King of Spain with the declaration of Independence, Acte van Verlatinghe (Act of Abjuration), and as a result, Antwerp became even more engaged in the rebellion against the rule of Habsburg Spain. Antwerp was laid siege by Catholic Spanish forces for twelve months and it is thought that around 1582 Gillis and his family had to flee the city and move the safer protestant town of Delft. It is recorded that Gillis married on September 22nd 1602. His bride was Maritgen (Mayken) Ghysbrechts van Heemskerk who had come from the Dutch municipality of Rhenen. At this time Gillis was already living in Utrecht. A year later the couple moved to Amsterdam and it was here that Gillis remained until his death in October 1638.

Baptism of the Moorish Chamberlain by Gillis d’Hondecoeter

One of Gillis d’Hondecoete best known paintings is The Baptism of the Moorish Chamberlain. It is a forest landscape work. The landscape is used as background, the trees serving as the wings of the setting. The depiction is based on a theme taken from the Acts of the Apostles (8: 26-40) which tells the story of Philip the Evangelist who converts and baptises the eunuch who was the chief treasurer to the Queen of Ethiopia. It all came about on the road, when Philip falls in with the Moorish chamberlain who was returning from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The story goes that Moor had been reading the Book of Isaiah in his carriage but does not understand the content. Philip offers to explain it to him and, using the Old Testament, he preaches the teaching of Christ. Arriving at a stream, the chamberlain requests to be baptised.

Hound with a Joint of Meat and a Cat Looking On by Jan Baptiste Weenix

Gillis and his wife went on to have nine children including Melchior’s father Gijsbert d’Hondecoeter and a daughter, Josintje d’Hondecoeter. Josintje married the painter Jan Baptiste Weenix in 1639. His father, Jan Weenix, was Melchior’s cousin and also a well-known artist. It is easy to understand that Melchior d’Hondecoete was brought up in an artistic household and as you will see much of his artwork was similar to that of his family.

Fowl on a Riverbank by Gijsbert d’ Hondecoeter (1651)

Gijsbert d’Hondecoeter, primarily a painter of barnyard fowl, became a member of the Guild of St. Luke in Utrecht in 1629. He initially taught his son Melchior but in 1653, when his son was in his late teens, he died and Melchior’s artistic tuition was taken over by his brother-in-law, Jan Baptist Weenix.

Poultry Yard by Melchior d’Hondecoeter

Arnold Houbraken, also a 17th century painter, but best known as a biographer of Dutch Golden Age painters, was told by Jan Weenix that Melchior was an extremely religious youth, continually absorbed in prayer, so much so that his mother and uncle wondered whether they should have him trained as a minister rather than as a painter. Melchior worked as an artist in Utrecht and became a member of the Confrerie Pictura and its head in October 1654

The Raven Robbed of the Feathers He Wore to Adorn Himself by Melchior d’Hondecoeter (1671)

Records show that in August 1658, twenty-two-year-old Melchior was working in The Hague and had become a member of the local Confrerie Pictura, an artist’s society which had been formed in 1656. Normally, it would have been expected that as a professional artist, Melchior would have become a member of the town’s well established association, The Guild of St Luke, but he decided on aligning himself with the Confreirie Pictura which had been set up by 48 dissatisfied painters who had left the local Guild. Melchior became chief of this painters’ fraternity in 1662.  In 1663, Melchior d’Hondecoeter married Susanne Tradel, a thirty-year-old woman from Amsterdam and the couple had two children, Jacob and Isabel, baptized in 1666 and 1668. The couple, as well as his sister-in-laws, lived on the street which ran alongside the Lauriergracht canal, which housed many artists and art dealers. It is believed that Hondecoeter spent much time in his garden or drinking in the tavern in the Jordaan, possibly being overwhelmed by the household of women. He later moved to Leliegracht which was close to his favoured drinking haunt on the Jordaan

A Pelican and Other Birds Near a Pool (The Floating Feather) by Melchior d’Hondecoeter (1680)

One of Melchior’s most famous works was his painting entitled A Pelican and Other Birds Near a Pool but is often referred to as The Floating Feather which he completed around 1680. The shortened title is because of the feather we see floating in the pond in the foreground. The work was commissioned by the Stadholder William III of Orange for his Het Loon Palace in Apledoorn. It must have been a great honour for Hondecoeter to receive such a commission from the country’s ruler. The painting depicts a pelican in the foreground, a cassowary behind it at the left, and a flamingo and a black crowned crane. In the foreground various water birds congregate in and around a basin, and a feather floats on the water’s surface. Paintings like this were admired by wealthy merchants of Amsterdam, and by William III, who had works by Melchior at three of his palaces. Hondecoeter’s murals and large paintings were ideal for merchants’ large country houses and the depiction of birds was very popular at the time.

The Menagerie by Melchior d’Hondecoeter.

Another painting which was bought by William III for his palace at Het Loo was his work entitled The Menagerie. It depicts two squirrel monkeys from Central America, two white sulphur-crested cockatoos from Australia, a grey parrot from Africa and a purple-naped lory, from Indonesia, on a chain at the lower left of the painting. In this painting, Hondecoeter combined these creatures and several other colourful exotic birds. The finished painting was given to William III and was hung above the door of the king’s private apartment.

A Pelican and other Exotic Birds in a Park by Melchior d’Hondecoeter (1655-1660)

Hondecoeter completed a similar depiction in his painting A Pelican and other exotic birds in a park, and in the birds we see before us, there are some similarities, such as: the birds on the water, the group of exotic birds, the pelican, and the famous floating feather. Other features are also similar, such as the background landscape and the Muscovy duck in the centre foreground. In this work, new species of birds have been added on the far side of the pool and a Moluccan cockatoo can be seen in the tree on the left. It is thought that Melchior completed this work sometime between 1655 and 1660.

A Park with Swan and Other Birds by Melchoir d’ Hondecoeter

The National Museum Wales has a painting by Melchior d’Hondecoete. It is entitled A Park with Swan and Other Birds. The setting is a country house park with fowl before a fountain and an ornamental terrace with statues and figures. In the depiction we see European birds as well as a peacock, a North American turkey and an African crowned crane in front of a fountain on an ornamental terrace The painting is one of six by the artist which once hung in the London home of Emily Charlotte, a daughter of Welsh landowner, industrialist and Liberal politician, C.R.M. Talbot of Margam Abbey and Penrice Castle. This type of painting was often used to decorate the country houses of wealthy Dutch patrons.

Dead Birds by Melchior d’Hondecoeter (mid 1660’s) Wallace Collection, London.

In 1692, his wife died and Melchior went to live in the house of his daughter Isabel on the Warmoesstraat, one of the oldest streets in the city. Melchior d’Hondecoete died, aged 59, in Amsterdam on April 3rd 1695, and was buried in the Westerkerk. He left his daughter with substantial debts.

The vanitas paintings of Evert Collier

Self-Portrait with a Vanitas Still-life by Evert Collier (1684)

For those of you who have been following my blog over the years, you will know of my love of Flemish and Dutch art. Many of you would be able to conjure up names of some of the great Netherlandish artists such as the Flemish painters Pieter Bruegel, Hieronymus Bosch, Hans Memling, Quentin Massys, and David Teniers or the Dutch painters such as Jacob Isaacksz van Ruisdael, Jan Steen, Johannes Vermeer, van Gogh and Rembrandt, to mention just a few. My other artistic love is paintings with symbolism and so in the blog today, I want to introduce you to a lesser known Dutch painter many of whose paintings were awash with a myriad of symbolic objects.

Self portrait by Evert Collier (1682)

My painter I am looking at today is the seventeenth century artist, Evert Collier, who is famous for his vanitas and trompe-l’œil still life works and today I will look at his vanitas paintings. Edwaert Colyer, a Dutch painter possibly of English descent, (who later anglicised his name to Edward Collier) was born in Breda in January 1642 and baptised Evert Calier. He trained in Haarlem and eventually became a member of the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke.

Portrait of Vincent Laurenz van der Vinne by Frans Hals (ca 1655}

One of the greatest influences on Collier was a fellow painter of the Haarlem Guild of St Luke, Vincent Laurensz. van der Vinne. Initially van de Vinne trained as a weaver but then decided to concentrate on painting and in his late teens.  He studied under Frans Hals, who actually painted his portrait around 1660, which is now housed at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.
The paintings of van der Vinne which survive today are mostly still lifes and genre scenes. They often include many aspects of trompe l’oeil and, in many instances, incorporate vanitas items.

Vanitas with a Royal Crown by Vincent Laurensz. van der Vinne (c.1649)

Vanitas paintings are subtle moralistic depictions which were very popular at the time and were those works of art which, through their symbols, depicted the impermanence of life, the pointlessness of pleasure and were meant to remind people that death is inevitable. In a way they were to counter the wealth and profligacy of many of the well-to-do citizens. The word vanitas comes from the Latin noun ’emptiness’, ‘futility’, or ‘worthlessness’, which was the traditional Christian view being that earthly goods and lavish pastimes are merely fleeting and worthless moments in the great scheme of life. Such prosperity was countered by the words of condemnation from the bible (Ecclesiastes 1:2):

“…Vanity of vanities”, says the Preacher, “vanity of vanities!
All is vanity.…”

Vanitas Still Life by Evert Collier

The first work by Collier I am showing is one simply entitled A Vanitas Still Life which was completed by him in 1689. Let us study the work and look at the amazing detail. Look at the way Collier has depicted the string of pearls and the other jewels spilling out of an open casket. Next to the casket we see a Nautilus cup, so called as it was a cup made from a carved and polished nautilus shell and then mounted by goldsmiths on a thin stem of gold or silver to add to the extravagance. In front of the Nautilus cup we see a skull, crowned with laurel. The skull lies on top of an upturned crown, below which we see closed bellows and the jewelled hilt of a sword. The hilt of the sword traps a note to the edge of the table. The Latin inscription on the note is a salutary warning:

NEMO ANTE MORTEM BEATUS DICI. POTEST
(No one can be called happy before death)

It is a warning about not calling anyone blessed or happy, beatus, before he’s experienced all that life has had to offer.

Lying on the table behind the open casket, although not very clear in the picture, is a smouldering taper, wound with ivy. To the right of the skull one can just make out an open book.

So, what does it all symbolise? In one word, our mortality. The presence of the skull is a memento mori or reminder of death and immediately defines the work as a vanitas still life. But there are more symbolism in this work other than the skull representing death.

Nautilus cup

It is the association of the skull and the items of extreme wealth, such as the gold-stemmed Nautilus cup, casket overflowing with precious jewels and the gold crown which together remind us that wealth and power are futile in the face of death, which harks back to the passage in the book of Ecclesiastes in the bible.

Crown, skull, bellows and sword hilt.

Look at the richness of colour in this work. The glimmering pearls, the black and red gemstones, and the pearly grey shimmer of the Nautilus cup, which is adorned by golden figures. The whites and the golds of the crown and jewelled-bedecked sword hilt glitter in the light and are picked up in the gilded tassels of the table cloth.

As one looks at the painting one is seduced by the riches before us but one cannot get over the sight of the skull, symbolising death and the expiring taper which symbolises the transience of life, all of which serve as a warning that we should not be beguiled by such earthly wealth. Even the bellows is symbolic as they are used to pump life into a dying fire but in the painting, the bellows lie closed and of no use.  The down-turned crown symbolises, which once represented power and kingship, has been symbolically overturned by death and even the bejewelled sword which once was an emblem of power and earthly might is rendered ineffectual by death.

But the painting is not all symbolising doom and gloom. There are also symbols of hope. The laurel wreath atop the skull and the open book present an encouraging note that fame achieved through learning can conquer death and this is corroborated by the note on the stone pillar:

FINIS CORONAT OPUS
(the end crowns the work)

which is a variant of the well-known Vanitas maxim:

Vita Brevis, ars longa
(Life is brief but art endures)

Vanitas still life by Evert Collier (1662)

Above is an early work by Collier, painted in 1662, during a period when he produced some of his best work. In this depiction he includes a candlestick, musical instruments, Dutch books, a writing set, an astrological and a terrestrial globe and an hourglass, all of which are on a table covered by a heavy ornate table covering. Once again these decorative and expensive objects indicate that wealth, knowledge and power are all earthly, temporary and ultimately meaningless. The tempus fugit theme is symbolised by the burning candle, pocket watch and hourglass which also represents the brevity of life; the violin with a broken string signifies the transient pleasure of music whilst the money bag denotes the worldly riches. The scholarly books and globes represent the vanity of learning, and the military flag denotes worldly power. On a piece of paper at far right one can once again read the words from Ecclesiastes:

Vanitas Vanitatu Et Omnia Vanitas
[Vanity of Vanities, All is Vanity]

The Vanitas work above by Collier is housed in the Denver Art Museum.  This one, although having a number of Vanitas symbols, does not have a skull.  Look at how Collier has given through this work the idea of it being 3-D when we know it is simply a 2-D painting.  Such “artistic trickery” is known as trompe d’oeil (trick of the eye).

Vanitas painting by Evert Collier (1703)

Collier moved to London in 1693, where he lived almost ten years. In 1702, Collier returned to Leiden, where he worked productively for four years. However, due to circumstances, the artist was forced again to move to London. There, in September 1708, Evert Collier died, aged 66 and was buried in the cemetery of the church of St James’s Piccadilly.

The Alma-Tadema Ladies. Part 1 – The Two Wives, Marie-Pauline Gressin-Dumoulin de Boisgirard and Laura Epps.

Laurens Alma-Tadema (1870)

In My Daily Art Display (June 21st, 2011) I wrote about the artist Lawrence Alma-Tadema and one of his paintings. My next two blogs are focusing on the some of the extraordinarily talented women in Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s life.  In Part 1,  I am looking at Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s two wives.

Pauline in Pompeii by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1863)

Laurens (Lawrence) Alma-Tadema was born in January 1836 in the small Dutch town of Dronrijp which lies in the province of Friesland. On September 24th 1863, at the age of twenty-seven he married a French lady, Marie-Pauline Gressin-Dumoulin de Boisgirard in Antwerp City Hall and the couple went on honeymoon to Italy and it was during that celebratory period that he visited Florence, Rome, Naples and Pompeii and became interested in the life during the days of ancient Greece and Rome and he acquired a life-long interest in classical archaeology and architecture and soon began to acquire a reputation as a painter of historical subjects, particularly of Greek and Roman antiquity.

My Studio (also known as The aesthetic viewn -Madame Dumoulin, Pauline and Laurense) by Laurens Alma-Tadema (1867)

The couple settled in Paris in 1864 and two years later the couple moved to Brussels, where their daughters were born. The couple had three children. A son, who died of smallpox at the age of six months, and two daughters, Laurense in August 1865, and Anna Alma in 1867. Marie-Pauline, who had health problems for several years finally succumbed to smallpox on May 28th 1869 at the young age of thirty-two. Laurens was devastated by the death of his young wife, which left him to bring up his two young daughters.  Marie-Pauline appeared in many of his paintings although he only painted her portrait three times, including an 1867 portrait entitled My Studio, a three-generational work featuring her mother Madam Dumoulin, herself and her daughter Laurense.

The Persistent Reader by Laura Alma-Tadema

Alma-Tadema became very depressed following the sudden death of his wife, and, for four months stopped painting. Concerned about her brother’s declining mental and physical health, his sister Atje came to live with him to help look after his children. Despite this assistance, the health of Laurens Alma-Tadema failed to improve  and so, on the advice of his art dealer friend Ernest Gambart, he travelled to England to seek further medical advice. It was in 1869, whilst in the English capital that he received an invite to visit the house of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown and it was there in that December that he first met  the impressionable and high-spirited seventeen-year-old, Laura Theresa Epps. It has been said that for Alma-Tadema, it was love at first sight, despite the seventeen-year age difference.

Portrait of Laura Theresa Epps (Lady Alma-Tadema) as a Child by John Brett (1860)

Laura was one of four children of Dr George Napoleon Epps, an English homeopathic practitioner and writer and his wife Charlotte. Laura had one brother, John, who became a surgeon and two sisters, Emily and Ellen who also later became painters. The Epps family was part of an artistic circle which included Dante Rossetti and his wife, Elizabeth Siddal, and Ford Madox Brown. The children of George and Charlotte Epps had the fortune of being brought up in a wealthy upper-middle class family and their parents were conscious of their role of ensuring their three daughters received the social skills which would bring about a “good” marriage.  One of those skills was the ability to paint. With that in mind all three daughters were tutored in the art of drawing, painting, as well as music. Their eldest daughter Emily received lessons from the Pre-Raphaelite painter, John Brett and the middle daughter Ellen was taught by Ford Madox Brown. Initially Laura was happy to concentrate all her teenage efforts on her music but later began to enjoy her art.

This is Our Corner (Portrait of Laurense and Anna Alma-Tadema) by Laurens Alma-Tadema

After Alma-Tadema’s visit to London, he returned to his family home in Antwerp but his stay there only lasted a few months before he took his two daughters and sister, Atje, back to London in September 1870 where he eventually became a British citizen. So why the sudden return to England? It was probably an amalgam of three reasons. Firstly, in July the Franco-Prussian War had started and there was no knowing how far that was going to spread. Secondly, Alma-Tadema’s paintings were selling well in London and it made sense to position himself close to the buyers of his works and thirdly he was in love with Laura Epps and wanted to pursue her romantically.  Alma-Tadema spoke of his decision:

“…”I lost my first wife, a French lady with whom I married in 1863, in 1869. Having always had a great predilection for London, the only place where, up till then my work had met with buyers, I decided to leave the continent and go to settle in England, where I have found a true home…”

On arrival in London he called on Laura. An insight into what happened at that meeting was given by Laura’s niece Sylvia Gosse:

“…The second time Alma-Tadema saw the young woman, he is said to have asked in his broken English: ‘Vy have I never seen any of your paintings? I know the work of both your sisters and dey are very goood [sic]!’ To which Laura replied, ‘You haven’t seen any because I haven’t done any! I am not a painter I am a musician.’ ‘I’m sure you be able to draw and paint,’ countered Alma-Tadema. ‘Vy not let me give you some lessons. I shall teach you how to paint…”

Laura agreed to be tutored by Alma-Tadema. The couple grew closer and, soon after, he asked her father for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Dr Epps was very unhappy with the liaison considering that Alma-Tadema was thirty-four and his youngest daughter was only eighteen years of age. Eventually he relented but with the proviso that they got to know each other better and didn’t rush headlong into a “fixed partnership”. Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Laura Therese Epps married in July 1871.

Self-portraits of Alma Tadema and Laura Epps, (1871)

To commemorate their wedding Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Laura each painted a self-portrait, and the two were united by a replica of a Roman frame and hidden behind walnut shutters painted with emblems. The portraits are encircled by an inscription in elongated capitals which is evocative of Pompeiian examples and the two portraits are enclosed by doors, painted on which are  two emblems – a Dutch tulip on Lawrence’s side, an English rose on Laura’s.

Satisfaction by Laura Therese Alma-Tadema (1893)

The family lived in London in Townshend House, near St. Regent’s Park. In 1886 the family moved to a larger house in Grove End Road, again close to Regents Park, which had been formerly owned by the French painter, James Tissot. Laura not only gained a husband, she also gained two step children,  Anna Alma, then aged four and Laurense, aged six.  She also took on the role of  a proficient hostess at the frequent soirées organised by her and her husband for their friends from the world of art and music. Lawrence Alma-Tadema and his wife became well known on the social circuit, associating with the wealthy upper middle-class society from which his major clients were drawn. She was often asked by her husband to model for his paintings and she also modelled for other artists such as the French sculptor, Jules Dalou and the French realist painter Jules Bastien-Lepage. Besides this work as an artist’s model she was also a very talented painter. She also carried out occasional work as an illustrator, particularly for the English Illustrated Magazine.

The Mirror by Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema (1872)

In the early years she painted some still life works including the masterful The Mirror in 1872 in which she skilfully depicts a table and the objects placed upon it and she also incorporated a circular mirror on the wall showing a reflection of the artist at work. Paintings with mirror images were popular at the time.

The Tea Party by Laura Therese Alma-Tadema

Laura Theresa also took time to paint portraits of her step-children. One such painting was entitled The Tea Party completed around 1873 and featuring Laurense, the elder daughter of Lawrence Alma-Tadema.

The Bible Lesson by Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema

Her artistic style was very like that of her husband’s but instead of depictions of the splendour of Roman bygone days she concentrated on depictions of Dutch interiors with their whitewashed walls and splendid antique oak furniture. They were somewhat idealised portrayals of Dutch life. The works would often include depictions of young mothers with their children both of whom were adorned in seventeenth costumes. Why depictions of life in the Netherlands? It could be that Laura developed a particular interest in this genre due to her husband’s and step-daughters’ origins, or it could have been that she was captivated by the Dutch paintings of the period. One example of this type of work is one entitled The Bible Lesson which also displays her love for Dutch painted tiles of that time.

At the Doorway by Laura Alma-Tadema (1898)

In 1873 Laura Alma-Tadema (later Lady Alma-Tadema) began to exhibit her work at the annual Royal Academy exhibitions. Buyers and critics alike praised her work especially in countries such as France where her work was shown at the annual Salon and she was one of only two British women artists to have work accepted for the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1878. Her artwork was very popular in Germany where she received many awards including the gold medal from the German government in 1896, when one of her best pictures was bought by Emperor Wilhelm II.

World of Dreams by Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema (1876)

In 1876 she completed World of Dreams. Again, we see the type of interior depiction (black and white chequered floor tiles) favoured by Dutch artists such as Vermeer with settings bathed in light streaming through a window and reflections in mirrors. In this painting Laura has portrayed a nurse or maybe a nanny or even a mother who has fallen asleep, possibly from a tiring day looking after the home and children. For comfort and inspiration she has turned to the large illustrated family Bible and the book of Amos but fatigue has won the battle.

In Good Hands by Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema

The Dutch artist Vermeer had a great influence on Laura Alma-Tadema, and she was much inspired by the depiction of interiors in his works, which can be seen in her painting In Good Hands. The painting came about when one Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s most faithful patrons, and art connoisseurs and Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Henry Marquand, commissioned Lawrence Alma-Tadema to decorate the Music Salon at his new home on Madison Avenue which would act as a focal point for New York Society. The painting by Alma-Tadema’s wife was one of the pictures purchased by Marquand and was hung in his house. The depiction is a domestic scene with a young girl keeping watch over her younger sibling who is sleeping in a large ornate four-poster bed along with his toy windmill. The girl is seen sewing and rests her feet on a foot warmer.

A Family Group by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1896)

An insight into the family life of Laura Alma-Tadema in 1871 can be seen in an 1896 portrait by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, entitled A Family Group, which depicts Laura, her two sisters Emily and Ellen, her brother John and Alma-Tadema himself in the background studying a painting mounted on an easel. The two emblems representing Alma-Tadema and his wife, the tulip and the rose, can be seen on the wooden frame.

On 15 August 1909 Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema’s died at the age of fifty-seven. Lawrence, her husband, was devastated and died three years later.
On her death a newspaper correspondent wrote:

“…Lady Alma-Tadema spent the months of June and July in a German cure, from which she returned a few days ago in a very weak state. She was advised to leave town immediately, and she entered an establishment in Hindhead. Here her malady suddenly took a critical turn on Friday last and she passed away painlessly after an unconsciousness of many hours on the night of Sunday…”


I hope to visit an exhibition next week which is currently on in London at the Leighton House Museum until October 29th entitled At Home in Antiquity which features many paintings by Lawrence Alma-Tadema.   Maybe some of his wife’s and daughter’s works will also be featured.

Charles Leickert. Part 3 – the middle and latter years.

View on the Ij with Amsterdam in the Background by Charles Leickert (1848)

…………………..In hindsight, Leickert’s decision to move away from The Hague in 1848 and base himself in Amsterdam was probably a brave decision but it paid off as the next twenty years are looked upon as his best period. The finely drawn details in his works and his use of the chiaroscuro technique was looked upon by the critics as masterful. One of the first paintings he did after his move to Amsterdam was View on the Ij with Amsterdam in the Background. The setting is a view from the grounds around the tollgate on the north shore of the IJmuiden, a body of water, formerly a bay, in the Dutch province of North Holland. It was a favourite place of artists, and the Amsterdam public were always willing to buy such depictions.

Winter op het IJ voor Amsterdam by Charles Leickert (1849)

Many artists depicted similar scenes and in fact Leickert completed several versions of this painting, including one with the same view but in a winter setting, entitled Winter op het IJ voor Amsterdam (Amsterdam in the Winter with the Setting Sun), which can be seen at the Rijksmuseum. It was painted from the same viewpoint at slightly different stages of sunset. Both paintings depict the same barn, house, and figure group to the left-hand side. However, the most notable difference is that the Rijksmuseum painting is set during winter and it depicts people skating on the frozen river. These two works are masterpieces in the way they depict a highly detailed analysis of light and colour, and the atmospheric fluctuations between the seasons and times of day. These were aspects of overriding importance to Leickert. Leickert left his mentor Schelfhout when he moved from The Hague to Amsterdam and began to be “his own man” as far as his artwork was concerned. An art critic at the 1850 Rotterdam exhibition which included Leickert’s winter variation of the painting commented on the work and Leickert’s newly-found independence:

“…Leickert has long managed to situate himself outside the school of Schelfhout – that is, to learn to observe with his own eyes. His view of Amsterdam in the Winter with the Setting Sun is one of those paintings at which one must gaze for a long time to recover, as it were all that is surprising and alluring about a sunset in December. The sky has a particularly divine effect, being harmoniously rendered and incontrovertibly one of the most handsome of the Exhibition…”

The “divine effect” mentioned by the critic alludes to the strong Romantic evening light depicted in the painting. In the work look how Leickert has the setting sun lighting up and colouring the sky in red, orange, and lilac tints. The setting of the painting was typical of Leickert. He often chose riverbank scenes which were full of human activity. He himself often lived in houses which were close to river or canal banks, such as the Rokin, in the centre of Amsterdam.

Fisherfolk on the Beach near Scheveningen by Charles Leickert

Having lived in both The Hague and Amsterdam he would have visited the coast on many occasions especially the fishing village of Scheveningen. Although Leickert will always be remembered for his cityscapes and landscapes he did paint coastal scenes. One such work was Fisherfolk on the beach near Scheveningen, the setting and type of depiction was very popular with artists.

Self portrait by Charles Leickert (1852)

We think of Leickert as a painter of enchanting scenes whether it be a riverscape, landscape or cityscape but the one facet of his talent is somewhat surprising – that of a portraitist, although he never contemplated this genre as a professional alternative to landscape painting. His 1852 Self Portrait was a triumph of tonal modulations used in the facial depiction. Look at how Leickert use of light on the skin and dark areas, as well as the clever way in which he shapes the background by the use of varying tones. What is Leickert trying to achieve with this portrait? What does he want us to take away after viewing the painting? Look at the way he is both well-groomed and well-dressed. Look at his facial expression – serious and somewhat imposing. What he has achieved with this depiction is a portrait of a professional and successful man, one who has gained success professionally as an artist and attained social acceptance. There is even a hint of elitism in his demeanour.

A Cappricio View of Utrecht by Charles Leickert

Leickert’s landscapes and cityscapes focused on life as it was and he rarely added to his depictions anything which signalled the changes that were taking place. He shied away from modernity. His paintings concentrated on picturesque towns and ageless, unspoilt landscapes. Such depictions had the wistful feeling of Romanticism.

At the ‘koek en zopie’ in a Panoramic Winter Landscape by Charles Leickert

I love his portrayal of the frontages of the old Dutch streets. I love how he instils in the viewer a sense of warm cosiness and contentment as we look at a winter scene with the refreshment stall on the ice. An example of this is his 1892 painting entitled At the ‘koek en zopie’ in a Panoramic Winter Landscape.

Numerous Skaters near a koek-en-zopie on a FrozenWaterway by a Mansion by Charles Leickert (1892)

Koek en zopie (cookies and hooch!) were refreshment stalls on the ice which sold cakes and biscuits as well as hot alcoholic drinks. The strange quirk of why these stalls were on the ice and not on the land was because if they had been positioned on the mainland there would have been a tax levied on their products. Nowadays these small stalls sell drinks such as split pea soup and hot chocolate. Another painting by Leickert which featured the koek en zopie was entitled Numerous Skaters near a koek-en-zopie on a Frozen Waterway by a Mansion.  On the frozen water, we see villagers engaged in their daily routines. For some, whom we see skating, it is leisure time whilst others in the depiction are using the ice to transport goods. A house with a snow-covered step gable can be seen on the right of the painting. This tall structure forms a vertical compositional element and is echoed in the two windmills and the mast of the small boat which appears to be stuck in the ice. Look at how Leickert has accurately depicted the ice with all the scratches in its surface made by the skaters and sleighs. Look at how Leickert has depicted the sky. It is masterful with variance of colours, different tones of pink, blue and grey added to which are the dark clouds. The warm colours for the sky contrasts and enhances the whiteness of the snow which emphasises the coldness of the winter day.

A Frozen Canal with a Peasants by Charles Leickert

In 1859, forty-three-year-old Leickert leaves Amsterdam and travels to Germany where he journeyed down the Rhine valley calling at Rudesheim and later Mainz where he stayed for some time – time enough to meet, fall in love with, and on September 29th, within the year of their first meeting, marry thirty-six-year-old, Apollonia Schneider. The couple returned to the Netherlands in 1861, settling for a year in Frederikstraat in The Hague before returning to Amsterdam, where his drawings and paintings drew the attention of King Willem III.

Winter Scene with Figures by Charles Leickert

Over time Leickert’s paintings became less popular as they were beginning to be looked upon as old fashioned and the new painters of The Hague and Amsterdam could command prices three-times as high as his were sold for. In 1887, Leickert, then seventy-one years of age decided to end his artistic career, left The Netherlands, and returned with his wife to Mainz, where twenty-eight years earlier, they had married.

Figures on the Ice Unloading a Sledge by Charles Leickert

Charles Leickert died in Mainz on December 5th, 1907, aged ninety-one. His obituary notice stated he was a widower with no children and it is believed that his wife Apollonia had died a few years earlier. Leickert was a prolific artist producing approximately seven hundred paintings, of which he only exhibited about eight-five.

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Most of the information for the three blogs on Charles Leickert came from excellent 1999 book entitled Charles Leickert 1816-1907: Painter of Dutch Landscape by Harry J Kraaij

 

The ter Borch family

Gerard ter Borch the Elder by Moses ter Borch (1660)

Today I am looking at a dynasty of Dutch artists – the ter Borch family.  The head of the family was Gerard ter Borch the Elder who was born in Zwolle in 1583.  At the age of eighteen he travelled to Italy and stayed in Rome and Naples for the next eleven years drawing and painting local landscapes.  On his return to his home town of Zwolle he married Anna Bufkens and five years later, in 1617, she gave birth to their son Gerard.

The Sacrifice of Abraham by Gerard ter Borch the Elder (1619)

During his final years in Italy and after his return to The Netherlands, many of the paintings by Gerard ter Borch the Elder featured scenes from the Bible, one of which was his 1619 painting entitled The Sacrifice of Abraham.

Head of a Girl by Gerard ter Borch the Elder (1628)

Gerard ter Borch the Elder was a talented draughtsman and this can be seen in his drawing, Head of a Girl, which he completed around 1628 and is thought to be a portrait of Sara, his daughter (by his second wife) who was four years old at the time.

Head of a Little Girl Wearing a Necklace by Gerard ter Borch the Elder (c. 1630)

Ter Borch the Elder, like many artists of the time used family members as their models and again we can see an example of this in another of his pen and ink drawings entitled Head of a Little Girl Wearing a Necklace.

Little Girl at a Table Holding a Slice of Melon by Gerard ter Borch the Elder (1630’s)

A third example of Ter Borch’s draughtsmanship is his 1630’s work entitled Little Girl at a Table Holding a Slice of Melon.  This small (12 x 9cms) drawing is done using black chalk, brown ink washes and black ink.  The brown wash is used to shade one side of the girl’s face and to cover the background. This wash reinforces the effect of light falling on her face and her clothing. The girl stares off to the right of the painting at something which is fascinating her. Other items of food lie in front of her. She is dressed simply, wearing a wide white collar over her dress.  Her hair is tied behind her head with a bow, but some loose strands have escaped and lie across her forehead.

In the late 1630’s Gerard ter Borch the Elder almost gave up his painting although he did oversee the artistic education of his children.

Self Portrait of Gerard ter Borch the Younger (1688)

The eldest of the Ter Borch children was Gerard ter Borch the Younger, the only child from his father’s first marriage to Anna Bufkens, and I suppose if I was to talk about a Dutch artist by the name of ter Borch you would probably assume that I was referring to Gerard ter Borch the Younger as he was probably the most accomplished member of this talented and prosperous Dutch artistic family.  He was born in Zwolle in 1617. His mother died when he was just four years old and was looked after by his father.  Gerard Junior proved to be a talented painter even before his teenage years. In 1632, he went to Amsterdam to study painting and two years later, when he was seventeen years old, he went to Haarlem to study with the painter and engraver Pieter de Molijn and there, he entered the Guild of St Luke of Haarlem the following year.

The Suitor’s Visit by Gerard ter Borch the Younger (1658)

In 1635 ter Borch the Younger travelled to London where he worked alongside his uncle, Robert van Voerst, the royal engraver of Charles I.  Many of his travels took him to Italy, France and Spain, the latter visit being an invitation to the Spanish royal court to produce a portrait of King Philip IV which gives you an idea as to how highly he was thought of as an artist.  Ter Borch received a knighthood and a gold chain and medal from the king of Spain for his artistic efforts.

The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster, 15 May 1648by Gerard ter Borch the Younger (1648)

Around 1646 Gerard Ter Borch the Younger was living in Münster, Westphalia, and it is here he completed one of his most famous paintings, The Swearing of the Oath of Ratification of the Treaty of Münster which can be seen in the National Gallery in London. The Treaty of Munster, which was signed in May 1648, was a momentous time in the history of The Netherlands as it finally recognised the country’s independence. This treaty and the treaty signed in Osnabruck ended the Thirty Years’ War between 1618 and 1648 in the Holy Roman Empire, and the Eighty Years’ War between 1568 and 1648 between Spain and the Dutch Republic, with Spain formally recognizing the independence of the Dutch Republic.

The oil on copper painting is set in the Ratskammer (council chamber) of the Town Hall of Münster and depicts the portraits of seventy-seven men. In the foreground, standing behind the table, dressed in black, we see the six Dutch delegates.  To the right of the table stand the two Spanish.  Both sets of men are ratifying the treaty simultaneously.  A Franciscan monk stands behind the Spaniards on the extreme right.  What appeals to me about this work is that Ter Borch has taken the liberty of including himself in the work on the far left, gazing out at us!!!!

In his earliest works, Ter Borch depicted barrack-room scenes whereas most of his later genre scenes, focused on the more refined elements of Dutch society.

An Officer Dictating a Letter by Gerard ter Borch the Younger (1658)

Gerard ter Borch the Younger was also a leading proponent of genre scenes often featuring depictions of soldiers at rest in their barracks or the local taverns.  These works were generally small and upright in format and typically depict two or three elegantly clad, full-length figures engaged in an activity such as letter writing or music making.  The depiction of letter writing was extremely popular.  The reason for this probably stems from the belief that letter writing was predominately a form of relaxation among the middle and upper classes and these social classes had expanded during this period which saw the Dutch economy prosper.  An example of this is his 1658 work Officer Dictating a Letter.  They are executed with great sensitivity of touch and show an interest in the psychology of the sitters.

Portrait of a Lady and a Girl by Caspar Netscher (1679)

Ter Borch also painted many small-scale, full-length portraits. His most important student was Caspar Netscher (Dutch, 1639 – 1684), who learned many of his master’s techniques for rendering luxurious textures and who painted, in addition to his original compositions, many signed copies of Ter Borch’s works.

The Concert, Singer and Theorbo Player by Gerard ter Borch the Younger (1657)

Later in the 1650’s he often depicted more genteel scenes featuring wealthy members of Dutch society.  One such painting was entitled The Concert: Singer and Theorbo Player which he completed around 1657 and can now be found in The Louvre.  The setting is a cosy and relaxed bourgeois interior. Hanging in the background we see a large luxuriant tapestry.  The table in the left foreground is covered by a sumptuous oriental carpet with its colourful, geometric design that appealed to northern painters and which signified the wealth of the household. The two young women in the painting are giving a musical performance.  The lady standing on the left is playing a theorbo, a plucked string instrument of the lute family.  Seated at the table is her companion who is following the score, her hand is raised as she beats the time presumably as she prepares to break into song.  On the right of the painting, and looking towards us, is a young servant who has brought the ladies a glass of beer on a tray.

A Maid Milking a Cow in a Barn by Gerard ter Borch the Younger (c.1654)

Another genre work from around 1654 by Gerard ter Borch the Younger was A Maid Milking Cows in a Barn.   In the barn, we see a young woman squatting down in the process of milking a brown and white spotted cow. Another cow stands close by, waiting its turn. This work is a classic example of the ability of the artist to expertly depict different textures.  Look at how he has portrayed the various objects dotted around the foreground of this work such as the jaggedly sculpted stool and the wooden basin which is filled with water.  Look too at the chipped ceramic crock pot, and the shiny metal hinges of the buckets. The painting is housed in the Getty Centre, Museum East Pavilion in Los Angeles

Jan van Duren by Gerard ter Borch (1667)

Gerard ter Borch the Younger also painted many small-scale, full-length portraits such as the pendant portraits he completed around 1667 of Jan van Duren, a member of the upper ruling class of the Dutch town of Deventer and his wife Margaretha van Haexbergen.  Van Duren is dressed in the opulent clothing one associated with an affluent regent and in the other work, his wife is equally well adorned.

Margaretha van Haexbergen by Gerard ter Borch the Younger (1667)

In both cases the background is bare which avoids anything that may have detracted from the subject/patron and in the same way, the settings are minimal with just a simple velvet covered table, atop of which is a hat, in one and a fringed velvet chair in the other.  The overall appearance of both portraits is one of simplicity, elegance, and dignity.

Gerbrand Pancras, Formerly Known as Hendrick Casimir II, Prince of Nassau-Dietz by Gerard ter Borch the Younger (1670)

Another of Gerard ter Borch’s portraits is one entitled Gerbrand Pancras, Formerly Known as Hendrick Casimir II, Prince of Nassau-Dietz which is housed mat the Manchester Art Gallery.  The three-quarter length, three-quarter right-side portrait is of a young man dressed in blue and silver clothes which are decorated with pink ribbon.  The man stands looking out at us, some would say condescendingly, with a silver-topped walking stick in his right hand whilst his left-hand rests on his hip. Lying to the side of him is a table, covered by a red cloth, on which is a black hat dressed with a white feather. The inscription states that he is 12 years old.

Anna Bufkens, the first wife of Gerard ter Borch the Elder and the mother of Gerard ter Borch the Younger died in 1621, aged 34.  Shortly after the death of his first wife, ter Borch the Elder re-married.  His second wife was twenty-two-year-old Geesken van Voerst.  The couple went on to have two daughters, Anna in 1622 and Sara in 1624.  It was around this time that Gerard Snr’s painting output declined although he would still afford his children artistic training.   He also assumed the position held by his aged father, Harmen, the Licencemaster of Zwolle, a position Gerard ter Borch the Elder would hold for about 40 years until his death.

The Milkmaid by Gesina ter Borch (1669)

Seven years later, in 1628, Gerard ter Borch the Elder’s second wife died aged just twenty-nine years of age.  Following shortly on from her death, forty-five-year-old Gerard married for a third time.  His third wife was twenty-one-year-old lady from Deventer, Wiesken Matthys.  There seems some doubt about how many children they had ranging from five to ten but I found that they had a daughter Gesina in 1631, a daughter Catharina in 1634, a son Harmen in 1638, a third daughter Jenneken in 1640 and a son Moses in 1645.  There was also talk about another son Mattijs but I cannot find a birth date for him.

Gesina ter Borch was born on November 15th, 1631 at the family home in Sassenstratt in the town of Zwolle, where she would live all her life.  She was the eldest child of Gerard ter Borch the Elder and his third wife, Wiesken Matthijs.  When her father died in 1662 and her brothers had left home, she lived in her parental home with her mother, sister Catharina and her late sister, Jenneken’s three children.  She never married.

Page from Gesina’s poetry album

Gesina became a great talent in the art of draughtsmanship and when she painted she favoured the medium of watercolours.  Her paintings which were mainly for her and her family’s pleasure and were usually small in size but vibrant in colour.  She had not received any formal artistic training except for the tuition afforded to her by her father who had also taught his sons, Gerard the Younger, Harmen and Moses.

Farmer’s wife and child in a landscape by Gesina ter Borch (1669)

Gesina over time collected her pen and ink and watercolour drawings as well as her poetry in three albums, Materi-Boeks, the first of which was begun in 1646 when she was just fifteen years of age.  Her art books were a combination of her art and her scrapbook.   She printed drawings of her family members, newspaper clippings, children’s and friends’ artwork, and many copies of her half-brother Gerard’s work and that of her brother Moses.

Moses ter Borch by Gerard ter Borch the Younger and Gesina ter Borch (1667)

The one painting she is probably best known for was her posthumous portrait of her youngest brother Moses ter Borch which is in the Rijksmuseum.  It was a collaborative work with her step brother Gerard ter Borch the Younger.  Moses, who was born in 1645 and died in 1667, aged twenty-two, during the storming of Fort Languard near Felixstowe in England. He had served in the Dutch navy which had been fighting against the English since 1664. It is a painting full of symbolism and meaning.  Time is alluded to by the inclusion of a pocket watch, death is symbolised by the skull, loyalty by the inclusion of a small lap dog looking lovingly at his master and eternity by the depiction of the ivy on the rocks. Moses ter Borch was buried in Harwich.

Moses ter Borch off the coast of Harwich by Gesina ter Borch (c.1667)

In the above collaborative portrait, one can tell that Gesina’s stepbrother Gerard probably was the greater of the two contributors to the work but a quite simplistic portrait of her brother and his death can be seen in her painting which was part of one of her albums.

Self portrait by Moses ter Borch (c.1661)

Moses himself was also an artist and when he was about sixteen years of age completed a self-portrait.

Self portrait, the so-called portrait of Jan Fabus by Moses ter Borch (1661)

He also completed many sketches, some were oil sketches like his very small (8 x 7cms) work with the strange title, Self Portrait, the so-called Portrait of Jan Fabus which he completed in 1661.

Sketch of soldiers by Harmen ter Borch (1650)

The final artist of the family was Harmen ter Borch.  He was the eldest son of Gerard ter Borch and his third wife, Wiesken Matthys and the sister of Gesina and Moses.  There are several his sketches in the Rijksmuseum including one depicting soldiers which he completed when he was just twelve years old.

Beestenconcert by Harmen ter Borch (1653)

Another, the Beestenconcert was completed in 1653 when he was fifteen years old.

The Broken Bridge by Harmen ter Borch (1655)

But probably my favourite is his colour sketch entitled The Broken Bridge which he painted in 1655 when he was seventeen years old

With such a number of artists in one family, one wonders whether family life was a very competitive environment.  Gerard ter Borch the Younger was by far the greatest of the family artists but it is good to remember that he had some talented siblings.

The Wilson and the Ferrieres Collection

The Wilson Cheltenham Museum and Art Gallery
The Wilson
Cheltenham Museum and Art Gallery

When I have to travel to meetings in the UK and have an overnight stay, I try and go to local art galleries and see what is on offer.   I am often somewhat disappointed with the collections.  I suppose I expect too much.  It is my own fault.  I should realise I am not going to find a hidden Uffizi or Prado in a provincial town as I am aware that building up an art collection is a costly affair in this day and age.  So, to my great surprise and pleasure, yesterday I discovered a real gem.  I was in Cheltenham for a meeting and had the afternoon free so decided to go and find their art gallery.   It is called The Wilson and it has a small but wonderful collection of paintings many of which are from an era I particularly love – seventeenth and nineteenth Dutch and Flemish works of art.  My blog today is all about the gallery and some of these paintings.

Baron Charles Conrad Adolphus du Bois de Ferrieres
Baron Charles Conrad Adolphus du Bois de Ferrieres

For a gallery to become established it obviously needs a collection of paintings and this almost always means it has to have a benefactor who has bequeathed the gallery a large number of works of art.  The regency spa town of Cheltenham and The Wilson had the second Baron de Ferrieres to thank for their foreign painting collection.  He died in Cheltenham in 1864 and left his large art collection to his son the third Baron, Charles Conrad Adolphus du Bois de Ferrieres, who in 1898 donated forty-three paintings and a sum of £1000 to the town of Cheltenham to set up a gallery to house the works of art, and so it was his generosity that today’s gallery began life and was able to house such a rich collection of work.

Trees, Castle and Skating Figures by Marinus Adrianus Koekkoek the Elder
Trees, Castle and Skating Figures by Marinus Adrianus Koekkoek the Elder

The first painting I am showcasing is entitled Trees, Castle and Skating Figures by Marinus Adrianus Koekkoek the Elder (1807-1868).  Marinus Adrianus Koekkoek the Elder was a 19th-century Dutch landscape painter who was born in Middelburg and was the son of the painter, Johannes Hermanus Koekkoek who gave him his early art lessons.  Marinus had two brothers, Barend Cornelis and Hermanus who were also artists.  Koekkoek was primarily based in Hilversum and Amsterdam, where he later died.

Fortified Building on the Banks of a Canal by Cornelis Springer
Fortified Building on the Banks of a Canal by Cornelis Springer

Fortified Building on the Banks of a Canal is another fine example from the Ferriers collection.  It was painted around 1850 by the Dutch landscape artist, Cornelis Springer who was born in Amsterdam in 1817.  Springer became a member of the Amsterdam painters collective Felix Meritis and won a gold medal for a painting of a church interior in 1847. He was the most skilled of the Dutch townscape painters in the nineteenth century.  He consistently strived for topographical accuracy in his townscapes and this he achieved by many hours studying the design plans of the original buildings.  His townscapes have a meticulous style with attention to light and atmospheric conditions.  In this work Springer has somewhat abandoned his normal detailed depiction of the buildings an sought to concentrate the light and atmosphere which makes the depiction more Romantic that topographically correct.

Dutch Street Scene by Adrianus Eversun
Dutch Street Scene by Adrianus Eversun

Adrianus Eversen was a pupil of our previous painter, Cornelis Springer and spent most of his life painting in Amsterdam.  He, like Springer, was known for his townscapes and street scenes.  However, unlike Springer most of his townscapes lacked topographical accuracy.  In his painting, Dutch Street Scene, which he completed in 1858, we see a row of buildings which the artist has depicted with architectural accuracy but the setting was probably just a figment of his imagination rather than a real street.  He completed many paints of this ilk which were simply entitled “Dutch street scenes”.

A fête champêtre was a popular form of entertainment in the 18th century, and took the form of a kind of garden party. This form of entertainment was especially prevalent at the French court where at Versailles large areas of the park were landscaped with follies, pavilions and temples to have the capacity for such revelries.

Fête Champêtre: Cavaliers and Women Round a Gaming Board by Joseph le Roy
Fête Champêtre: Cavaliers and Women Round a Gaming Board by Joseph le Roy

The term fête champêtre comes from the French expression for a “pastoral festival” or “country feast” and this may be construed as being a simplistic form of entertainment, but in the eighteenth century, a fête champêtre was usually a very graceful and stylish form of entertainment which would sometimes involve whole orchestras hidden from sight amongst the trees and participants would be in fancy dress.  Joseph Anne Jules Le Roy (1853-1922), the Parisian-born painter, was a specialist in military scenes and animals and in this painting of his we see those two themes.  In his painting, Fête Champêtre: Cavaliers and Women Round a Gaming Board we see depicted the fête champêtre in the grand manner with the people dressed in Flemish seventeenth century costumes.

Fête champêtre (Pastoral Gathering) by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1721)
Fête champêtre (Pastoral Gathering) by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1721)

This was different to the sumptuous costumes depicted by the French artist, Jean-Antoine Watteau’s in his 1721 painting, Fête champêtre (Pastoral Gathering). 

A Flemish Fair by of Isaac Claesz. Van Swanenburgh
A Flemish Fair by of Isaac Claesz. Van Swanenburgh

The next painting which is also part of the Ferrieres Collection comes from an earlier period.  This is thought to be a late sixteenth century work and is attributed to Isaac Claesz. Van Swanenburgh.  He was a Dutch Renaissance painter who was born in Leiden in 1537 and died in the same town in 1614.  The work, entitled A Flemish Fair, reminds me of works by one of my favourite artists, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who was a contemporary of Isaac Claesz. Van Swanenburgh.  The depiction of fairs in paintings was very popular in the last decade of the sixteenth century.

Ruins over the River Birchel at Zutphen by Everhardus Koster
Ruins over the River Birchel at Zutphen by Everhardus Koster

Everhardus Koster (1817-1892) was a Dutch painter who specialized in sea and river scenes.  He studied at Frankfurt-am-Main’s Stadelsches Kunstinstitut and would later become a member of the Amsterdam Academy and for twenty years was the director of Het Pavijoen in Haarlem, he served as Director of the various museums that were formerly housed in the Villa Welgelegen.  One of his paintings, Ruins over the River Birchel at Zutphen is part of the Ferrieres Collection.

Willem van Mieris (1662-1747) was the most successful genre painter of his generation and a leader of the painters of Leiden. He was a master of cabinet pieces. In this painting, A Hurdy-Gurdy Player Asleep in a Tavern, which is dated 1690, the setting is the interior of an inn.  Van Mieris has meticulously depicted the numerous details of the inn itself as well as the table laden with food.   Not only is this a genre painting but it is also an extremely talented example of a still life featuring a meal of herring and plaice, a bun of bread and the brown German stoneware jug on the table and let’s not forget the authentic portrayal of the hurdy-gurdy. So what is the painting all about?

A Hurdy-Gurdy Player Asleep in a Tavern by Willem van Mieris
A Hurdy-Gurdy Player Asleep in a Tavern by Willem van Mieris

Surrendering to the effects of alcohol he has imbibed, the old hurdy-gurdy player has fallen asleep with his instrument on his lap.  The sleeping musician, a simple beggar, is dressed in rags.  Behind him the female maidservant holds aloft a pouch of money which she may have just taken from the sleeping musician.  She is ecstatic.  Two other tavern revellers look on in the background.  Hurdy-gurdy players were a frequent theme in Dutch peasant painting. They were people who would liven up happy gatherings with the primitive and penetrating sound of their instrument.  Willem shared his liking of depicting lively tavern scenes such as this one with his father Frans van Mieris the Elder. Willem painted several hurdy-gurdy players set in an inn.

The Artist’s Wife, Evelyn, seated reading by Gerald Gardiner
The Artist’s Wife, Evelyn, seated reading by Gerald Gardiner

Besides the Dutch and Flemish paintings bequeathed to The Wilson there were some interesting works that the museum had acquired over time.   The Artist’s Wife, Evelyn, seated reading is a work by Gerald Gardiner.  Gardiner worked at the Cheltenham School of Art teaching drawing and painting from 1927 until his death in 1959.  It is a painting which exudes the quiet domestic atmosphere of life at home.  This work was painted at the Bisley home of Gerald and Evelyn Gardiner and is an example of the artist’s depiction of a night-time scene with his wife enjoying the company of her book, showing up the light, reflections and shadows which are cast by the gas lamp and fire as his wife reads.  It wonderfully encapsulates an atmosphere of domestic bliss and, for us, nostalgia as we see Evelyn reading a book by gas-light in front of the fire. Gardiner was particularly interested in painting night-time scenes and here he balances a powerful composition and the subtle effects of light. Gerald Gardiner was born in 1902. He studied at Beckenham School of Art and the Royal College of Art where he was awarded an Associateship with Distinction in 1926. In 1927 he was appointed second master at the Cheltenham School of Art, in charge of the drawing and painting department, later becoming Painting Master, where he worked until his death

Village Gossip by Stanley Spencer (c.1939)
Village Gossip by Stanley Spencer (c.1939)

Stanley Spencer was one of the most original artists of the modern age and it was good to see one of his works hanging in The Wilson.  Spencer’s paintings have special characteristics; we are urged to work out the story behind each painting and the work on show, Village Gossip is no exception.   It was painted around 1939 whilst he was on holiday in the Gloucestershire village of Leonard Stanley.  I will leave you to work out what you think is going on this painting.  Look at the body language of the woman on the right with her arms tightly folded across her chest.  Look at the accusing stance of the elderly man and woman on the left.  Even the small girl points towards the young man in an accusatory gesture. He bows his head in a somewhat remorseful manner.  What is he being accused of?

There were so many other excellent works of art on show at The Wilson and if ever you are in or around Cheltenham, I urge you to pay it a visit.

Hendrik Willem Mesdag. Part 3. Bomschuiten, Storms and Panorama Mesdag

Hendrik Willem Mesdag by Hendrik Johannes Haverman
Hendrik Willem Mesdag by Hendrik Johannes Haverman

Following his visit to the Frisian island of Nordeney in the summer of 1868, Hendrik Mesdag would dedicate the rest of artistic life to seascapes and maritime paintings.  He and his wife Sientje had moved back to The Hague in 1869, a town which was a short distance from the coastal district of Scheveningen which offered him the perfect situation for his seascape paintings.

Beached Bomschuiten by Moonlight by Hendrik Mesdag
Beached Bomschuiten by Moonlight by Hendrik Mesdag

Scheveningen, at the time of Mesdag, was a small fishing village which has since grown to become one of the most popular beach destinations of The Netherlands. In the 16th century the village of Scheveningen had less than 900 inhabitants whose livelihood was dependent on fishing.   In the 19th century the main fishery was focussed on the catch of the herring. These were the golden times for the Scheveningen’s fishing industry but by the end of the 19th century the fishery almost ended since few young folk of Scheveningen followed in their fathers’ footsteps in becoming fishermen.

The Scheveningen Fishing Fleet putting to Sea in Hevay Weather by Hendrik Mesdag
The Scheveningen Fishing Fleet putting to Sea in Hevay Weather by Hendrik Mesdag

One of the main features in Mesdag’s seascape depictions was the fishermen and their flat-bottomed boats known as bomschuiten on the beaches at Scheveningen.  When Mesdag went to live in The Hague, there was no harbour for the fishing boats and they would have to rest on the beach and the fishermen would simply pull them on and off the shore.  To get them into the sea for the next fishing trip was quite a complex and unusual affair which I saw explained in a write-up on the Gallery Rob Kattenburg website.

“…At about six feet from the water’s edge a heavy anchor is placed in the sea with a smaller anchor fixed to the same cable to prevent the large anchor from what is known as ‘crabbing’ – that is, sliding over the bottom – when the boat is being launched. At a short distance from the vessel an even smaller anchor is fixed to the cable. The youngest anchorman, with the anchor over his shoulder, walks into the sea up to his neck and then drops the anchor. Only after this has been done are the fishermen carried one by one by the so-called carriers or swimmers and set down on a ladder placed at the stern of the vessel. Then the carriers themselves climb on board. A complete crew numbered nine men. Then the anchor cable is wound round a primitive wooden windlass and the handspikes are inserted. Simultaneously with each rolling wave the crew strains to pull the cable in and thus draw the ship out to sea until they reach deep water. At some distance from the coast the sail is hoisted and the boat sets off for the fishing grounds…”

After the Storm of 1894 by Hendrik Mesdag (1894)
After the Storm of 1894 by Hendrik Mesdag (1894)

The low lying Dutch coastline was often battered by storms, one of the worst being in 1470 when it destroyed the church and half the houses.  The village was again hit by storms in 1570, 1775, 1825, 1860, 1881, and 1894, the latter being the most devastating.  At that time a safe harbour had yet to be built and as usual the fishing fleet of the flat-bottomed bomschuiten had been pulled up on the beach. They were devastated by the ferocity of the storm and most were smashed to pieces and this devastation was captured in Henrik Mesdag’s painting After the Storm 1894.  After this last storm, the villagers decided to build a harbour. Once the harbour had been constructed in 1904, more modern fishing boats replaced the bomschuiten.

Fishing Boats and Fisher-folk on the Beach of Scheveningen by Hendrik Mesdag (1872)
Fishing Boats and Fisher-folk on the Beach of Scheveningen by Hendrik Mesdag (1872)

The painting Hendrik Mesdag was probably best known for was his panorama painting which became known as Panorama Mesdag.  I remember when I travelled to Venice many years ago, and visited the Gallerie dell’Academia I came across the enormous painting by Veronese entitled The Feast in the House of Levi.  I could not believe how big it was – it measured 18ft high and 42ft in width.  However, this fades into insignificance if you compare it to the size of Hendrik Mesdag’s Panorama which is 46ft high and 394ft in circumference (14m x 120m).  Trust me, seeing is believing!

London Panorama by Robert Barker (1792)
London Panorama by Robert Barker (1792)

Panorama paintings had existed prior to Mesdag’s effort.  A panorama or panoramic painting is a massive work of art, which depicts a wide and all-encompassing view of a subject.  But what is a panorama? The word was coined by the Irish painter Robert Barker, the inventor of the visual panorama, by merging the Greek for pan, “all,” + orama, “that which is seen.” They could be depictions of a battle, historical event or a landscape and were very popular in the nineteenth century, a time before television or the cinema. The Irish artist, Robert Barker experimented with the idea of representing nature at a single glance.  Barker was born at Kells, County Meath, in 1739. He set himself up as an artist in Dublin but was never very successful and eventually left Ireland and settled in Edinburgh, where once again he set himself up as a painter of portraits and as a miniature painter. If not a great painter, Barker was certainly a great inventor and devised a mechanical system of perspective which he taught. One day when atop Calton Hill, one of Edinburgh’s main hills set right in the city centre he had the idea of a panorama painting of the city below and in 1787, helped by his twelve-year old son, Henry, he made drawings of a half-circle view from the hill and later in his studio completed his picture in water-colour and took it to London where sadly, it was not well received.  However, Barker believed in his project and completed a whole-circle view of Edinburgh twenty-five feet in diameter. He went on to exhibit the work in the Archer’s Hall at Holyrood and afterwards in the Assembly Rooms in George Street. Later in 1788 he exhibited the work in a large room in the Haymarket, London.  Barker went on to complete many more panorama paintings.

Panorama Mesdag with Sientje sitting under white parasol
Panorama Mesdag with Sientje sitting under white parasol

In Belgium panoramas became very popular and Hendrik Mesdag received a commission from a Belgian panorama society, Societé Anonyme du Panorama Maritime de la Haye to paint a maritime panorama.  They wanted the panorama, without borders, to be centred around the Seinpostduine, which at the time was the highest sand dune in Scheveningen and was in danger of being excavated to make room for a café-restaurant.

Panorama Mesdag - view of Scheveningen
Panorama Mesdag (detail) – view of Scheveningen

Mesdag accepted the commission believing it to be a great opportunity to depict his beloved picturesque coastal village of Scheveningen and so, he went about enlisting the help of a few artist friends from The Hague School.  He invited George Hendrik Breitner, a young art student from The Hague Academy, whose task it was to sketch the village of Scheveningen, Théophile de Bock, a friend of van Gogh, was tasked to paint the sky and the dunes and the small contribution of Bernard Blommers was the painting of a fisherwoman and her child who are looking out to sea.  Another contributor to this massive project was Mesdag’s wife Sientje, who he depicted in the painting sitting down with her easel under a white parasol.   Mesdag set to work on the panorama in March 1881 building a sixteen-cornered building on Zeestraat in The Hague.  It incorporated a 14-metre-high structure on which Mesdag could paint his work

panorama_mesdag_3
Panorama Mesdag (detail) showing Cavalry exercising the horses on Scheveningen Beach

Mesdag and his team of painters made numerous sketches of the town and the surrounding coast and slowly over the next four and a half months the panorama evolved.  Mesdag was well satisfied with the finished result.  He believed the painting gave an overwhelming impression of nature.  Many believe he was influenced by his training at the hands of Willem Roelofs who had stressed the importance of reality painting.  Roelofs had told Mesdag on many occasions to “paint reality and nothing but reality”.

Panorama Mesdag Gallery
Panorama Mesdag Gallery

The museum housing the panorama was opened to the public on August 1st 1881 but after five years it went bankrupt.  Mesdag, who was concerned as to the fate of his panoramic painting, bought the museum, and kept it open despite it losing money year on year.   Vincent van Gogh, an early visitor to Panorama Mesdag,  in a letter to his brother Theo, dated August 26th 1881, wrote about the panorama:

“…then I saw Mesdag’s panorama with him [Théophile de Bock], that’s a work for which one must have the utmost respect.  It put me in mind of what Bürger or Thoré, I think, said about Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson. That painting’s only fault is not to have any faults…”

Panorama Mesdag Viewing Gallery
Panorama Mesdag Viewing Gallery

I visited Panorama Mesdag at the beginning of December and it was truly an amazing experience.  You enter the building, past the obligatory shop and into two small rooms which house some of Mesdag and his wife’s paintings.  You then follow a corridor upwards through a dimly lit long passage which opens out to what looks a circular observation gallery surrounded by the enormous painting.  The observation gallery has a circular walk way with rails all around it which you can lean against as you scan the painting.  As you stand on the gallery platform, the painting is 14 metres away from you and between you and the painting is sand and various items of flotsam, abandoned fishing nets and marram grasses which make it seem that you are standing on top of a sand dune looking down to the sea on one side and the village on the opposite side.  This addition of sand and bits of driftwood make the whole experience more realistic.

The museum housing the panorama was opened to the public on August 1st 1881 but after five years it went bankrupt.  Mesdag, who was concerned as to the fate of his panoramic painting, bought the museum, and kept it open despite it losing money year on year.

In his later years Mesdag received many honours. In 1889, he was elected chairman of Pulchri Studio Painters’ Society, the society he joined twenty years earlier, and remained in that post until 1907. He received the royal distinction of Officer in the Order of Oranje-Nassau in 1894.  In February 1901 Mesdag is promoted to Commander of the Order of the Dutch Lion.

50th wedding anniversary of Hendrik Mesdag and Sientje Mesdag-van Houten in the Pulchri Studio
50th wedding anniversary of Hendrik Mesdag and Sientje Mesdag-van Houten in the Pulchri Studio (1906)

In March 1909 his beloved Sientje died, aged 74.  Two years later in 1911, Hendrik Mesdag was taken seriously ill and although he recovered, his health slowly deteriorated.  Hendrik Willem Mesdag died in The Hague in July 1915, aged 84.

I end with a quote from the author, Frederick W Morton who wrote an article in the May 1903 edition of the American art journal, Brush and Pencil .  He wrote about Mesdag’s seascapes:

“…Other artists have painted more witchery into their canvases, more tenseness and terror.  A Mesdag has not the glint of colour one finds in a Clays or the awful meaning one reads in Homer.  On the contrary, many of his canvases are rather heavy in tone and are works calculated to inspire quiet contemplation rather than to excite nervous.  But he is a great marine-painter because he thoroughly knows his subject – he has sat by it, brooded over it, studied it in its every phase – and by straightforward methods, without the trick of palette or adventitious accessories, has sought to make and has succeeded in making his canvases convey the same impression to the spectator that the ocean conveyed to him…”

It is very difficult to describe the Panorama Mesdag experience but if you go to YouTube and type in “panorama mesdag” there are a number of videos showing you this wonderful painting.