In 1914, before Maxfield Parrish had completed the Florentine Fête murals, the Curtis Publishing company, through Edward Bok, decided to commission a monumental-sized mural at 15ft x 49ft (4.6 m × 14.9 m) which would be placed in the building lobby. For some unknown reason Bok decided not to give the commission to Parrish. Maybe it was because Parrish was still working on Bok’s previous 18-painting commission or maybe Bok was disappointed with Parrish at the length of time he was taking to complete that project. Whatever reason, Bok made the fateful decision to approach other muralists, but fate stepped in to thwart him.
Bok first went to London and met the American muralist, illustrator, and painter Edwin A. Abbey, who had based himself in London since 1883. Abbey was working on a project for the capitol building in Harrisburg, but Bok persuaded him to agree to the commission and was given free rein to paint anything he liked for the proposed Curtis Centre mural. Bok returned to America elated with the deal he had made with Abbey. However, the day after Abbey started work on the mural, he collapsed and died. Bok still preferring not to approach Parrish, tried to contact Howard Pyle who was making a name for himself as an educator and muralist. Pyle had been living in Italy with his family for a year. Bok had never met Pyle and on finally contacting Pyle’s home by telephone he was informed that fifty-eight-year-old Pyle had just died in Florence of a kidney infection. Still undeterred and disregarding fate, Bok approached a third artist, Louis Boutet de Monvel, a famous decorative master, and he agreed to carry out the project, Monvel was invited to Philadelphia to inspect the space at the Curtis building and discuss the project but almost immediately after arrangements were made, Monvel died in Paris.
Edward Bok was now feeling that his mural project was cursed. Finally, he put the commission out to tender and received back six submissions, all of which were rejected by a panel of judges. Bok’s final throw of the dice was his approach to Louis Comfort Tiffany, an American artist and designer who worked in the decorative arts and is best known for his work in stained glass, and who had once designed a glass mosaic curtain for the Mexico City’s Municipal Theatre. Bok had seen the work and remembered the look of favrile glass, the name given to a type of iridescent art glass which had been developed and patented by the artist. Bok finally contacted Parrish and asked him to come up with a sketch for Tiffany to use, despite the fact that Parrish had never worked with glass or mosaics. Parrish’s preliminary drawing was approved.
The collaborative project took six months of planning and thirty skilled workers were employed. Over one million pieces of glass were used to create the Dream Garden mural and the finished work was given a New York exhibition where it was viewed by over seven thousand people. People were thrilled with the finished work. It took six months for the mural to be disassembled in New York and then reassembled in Philadelphia. The mural which was now in the lobby of the Curtis Company building was admired by thousands and became a Philadelphia art treasure. All was well until July 1998 when it was announced that it was about to be removed and sold to an anonymous buyer by the Estate of developer and arts patron Jack Merriam. It was later discovered that the mystery buyer was the casino owner Steve Wynn, who planned to move it to Las Vegas. The beneficiaries of the estate were four non-profit education and arts institutions and Merriam’s widow, who died before the disposition of The Dream Garden was settled. Following a vociferous public outcry, the buyer decided not to pursue the purchase. To provide greater protection for the mural in the future, the Philadelphia Historical Commission designated the mural as the City’s first “historic object,” under an existing provision of the historic preservation ordinance. The Merriam estate appealed this designation and followed up by filing for a demolition permit. Appeals and counter-appeals followed for the next three years. Finally, in 2001, came a sweeping gesture of civic rescue, when the Pew Charitable Trusts agreed to provide $3,5 million to buy out the interest of the owner’s heirs, and the three remaining beneficiaries and turned the mural over to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with the understanding that it will remain in the lobby of the Curtis Building.
The sweet manufacturer, Ohio-born, Clarence A. Crane, commissioned Maxfield Parrish to create decorative labels for the Crane’s Chocolates Christmas gift boxes from 1916 to 1918. For the 1916 Christmas gift box of chocolates Parrish submitted the art print entitled Rubáiyát which was adapted from the poem by Omar Khayyam.
For the 1917 Christmas gift box, Mr. Crane suggested to Parrish that he should make Cleopatra the subject for the painting as he and the public had been delighted with Parrish’s depiction of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám that he painted for the previous year’s edition of the gift box. Parrish was pleased to go along with the suggestion and in a letter, he wrote to Mr. Crane:
“…Cleopatra is welcome here, or any lady of history of undoubted charm…Of course there are no end of subjects. All I care about is something that can hold color and be made effective…”
Mabel Harlakenden Churchill
Now all Parrish had to do was decide on a young model to pose as Cleopatra. Parrish asked his best friend, neighbour, and confidante, the American writer Winston Churchill if his wife, Mabel Harlakenden Churchill, would pose as Cleopatra. Parrish’s wife, Lydia, made the request and Mabel agreed to model for the painting. The painting was well received and according to Coy Ludwig’s 1973 book, Maxfield Parrish, it received an enthusiastic reception:
“…Cleopatra arrived in Cleveland on April 16, 1917, to an enthusiastic reception. The unusual design, with subjects in costumes reminiscent of silent-film exotica, combined several bare-chested oarsmen, a female attendant, and Cleopatra in a loose robe reclining on a bed of roses in a frame of frozen moonlight. The lapis lazuli blue water and the typical Parrish blue starlit sky were separated at the horizon by white mountains. Polka-dotted and checkered fabrics, used as the lap robes of the oarsmen and the headdress of the standing figure, were a favourite motif of the artist…”
The third Crane’s Christmas gift box of chocolates, produced in 1918, was adorned by Parrish’s print of an oil on panel painting entitled Garden of Allah. The Garden of Allah was the title of a 1904 novel by Robert Hichens and was one of the most popular novels of the early 20th century. So popular that it went through forty-four editions over the next 40 years. In this work we can see how Parrish was influenced by Pre-Raphaelite painters such as William Holman Hunt
These three candy boxes that Parrish produced for Crane were extremely successful for both Crane’s Chocolates and for Maxfield Parrish. The partnership between Crane and Parrish was mutually beneficial and proved a significant turning point in the illustrator’s career. From this point onwards, Maxfield Parrish declared that he would only accept commissions, like the one with Crane, which interested him artistically. Maxfield Parrish’s illustrations on the chocolate boxes proved so popular that the Crane company issued them as art prints, which could be ordered through a form enclosed in the gift boxes. In Coy Ludwig’s biography Maxfield Parrish he wrote:
“…Crane regarded the art prints as a means of building prestige for his firm and a moderately profitable service he might provide for his clients who wanted replicas of the candy-box illustrations suitable for framing…The demand for reproductions of Parrish’s decorations grew so great that Crane arranged for the House of Art, the New York fine arts publishing and distributing firm, to handle the marketing of the prints…Crane’s reproductions helped to create an unprecedented public demand for Parrish’s paintings in the art-print market and with it the assurance of continued financial security for the artist…”
Daybreak was an iconic painting completed by Maxfield Parrish in 1922. Parrish was commissioned to paint Daybreak by the art publishing firm House of Art in August 1920. The commission of Daybreak was motivated by the art-print successes of the three illustrations Maxfield Parrish had completed as decorations for Crane’s Chocolates Christmas gift boxes from 1916 to 1918. One example of this was his painting of Cleopatra which was the cover illustration of Crane’s Chocolates 1917 Christmas gift box, and it signified the artist’s successful incursion into commercial advertising.
Daybreak was Maxfield’s first work commissioned solely for reproduction as a colour lithograph print and became one of the most reproduced images in American history, according to the auction house, Christie’s catalogue, it was estimated that one of every four households in America had a copy of the work, making it a national sensation and cultural phenomenon.
Meanwhile, Maxfield was preoccupied with completing illustrations for Louise Sander’s book, Knave of Hearts and did not start to work on Daybreak until the summer of 1922. He had to placate Stephen Newman, the co-owner of House of Art, saying:
“… As to the ‘great painting,’ its beautiful white panel is always on the wall before me, and I am thinking great things into it. I have thought so many beautiful things into it that it ought to make a good print just as it is. Have patience…”
More and more illustration commissions came in to Maxfield and soon he was becoming financially sound. In 1898, with money earnt and financial help from his father, Maxfield and Lydia felt able to purchase some land atop a hill in Plainfield, New Hampshire, which overlooked Mount Ascutney. Here Maxfield built a one-room cabin. Lydia would often remain in Philadelphia to carry on teaching which also allowed Maxfield to carry on with his own work as well as planning and building a larger home for them. Maxfield and Lydia would stay with his parents at their large home, Northcote, whilst their new home was being built. Maxfield’s father and mother had moved to Cornish, New Hampshire in 1894 where there was a thriving artist’s colony founded by the American sculptor, Augustus St. Gaudens.
Maxfield and Lydia’s new home, known as The Oaks, was built on a large tract of land on an isolated hillside across the valley from his father’s home and close to the Vermont-New Hampshire border. It comprised of a guest house, studio, and 45 acres of hillside land and was so named because of the magnificent trees next to their home especially one giant old oak tree.
The Oaks was built around the trees and rocks on the hillside site. The largest white oak in Sullivan County, New Hampshire, stands near what was the front entrance of the house, and the ground floor was built on two levels to accommodate a large rock ledge.
Two years after Maxfield and Lydia had moved into their newly built home, he had a health scare. Lydia, whilst teaching at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, received an urgent telegram from her father-in-law telling her that Maxfield had been taken seriously ill and she should return home immediately. Lydia instantly left her school and took the train to Windsor. She would never return to her teaching position at Drexel nor would she carry on with the private students she had been tutoring. Maxfield Parrish was diagnosed as contracting tuberculosis which at the time was a deadly illness. Lydia stayed with her husband despite the disease being highly contagious. After being discharged from hospital, Lydia followed her husband to a Saranac Lake sanatorium in New York State where he underwent treatment and began his recuperation. The sanatorium treatment was expensive but financial help came to Maxfield through a cheque for five hundred dollars given to him by his best friend and neighbour, the American writer, Winston Churchill. Churchill who had also settled in the area in the same year as Maxfield in 1898, became great friends. The two were of a similar age, and Churchill had married the same year as Maxfield and Lydia. During the convalescent years between 1900 and 1901 Parrish painted at Saranac Lake, New York and at Hot Springs, Arizona,
Whilst convalescing at Saranac Lakes Parrish received a commission from Century Magazine to illustrate the Ray Stannard Baker series entitled Great South West and from the money Parrish received, he was able to afford to further convalesce in Castle Creek Hot Springs in Arizona during the winter of 1901-02. Maxfield and Lydia returned home to The Oaks in April 1902. The Spring and summer of 1902 up until 1904 was probably the happiest Lydia had ever been. No children as yet, she was able to devote time to cultivate the garden and time for her to paint, it was just as life should be for her.
Maxfield’s health had improved and he was now looking out for new commissions. In 1903 Maxfield accepted a commission from Century Magazine to illustrate Edith Wharton’s book Italian Villas and Their Gardens which they were going to serialise.
For him to complete this commission Maxfield decided to travel to Italy and photograph and then paint the different villas that Wharton would be writing about in her book. Days after his marriage he had “abandoned” his wife to go to Europe on his own but this time she accompanied him, and in a way, it made up for the honeymoon they had missed at the time of their wedding. It was a time when Maxfield and Lydia became very close. Sadly, for her, it was to be the only trip she would make with him.
All artists need models and many married male artists often use their young wives. Before Lydia Parrish gave birth to their first child in 1904, she was Maxfield’s model in a number of his works including the Scribner Magazine October 1900 cover.
She also modelled for Maxfield’s beautiful full-page drawing of Ann Powel, framed by a simple doorway, to accompany Annie Tynan’s piece in the 1900 Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, The Story of Ann Powel.
Maxfield Parrish also used himself as a model for some of his paintings. One example of this is his 1905 illustration, Potpourri, which featured in Scribner’s Magazine in August 1905. The illustration depicts a nude boy picking flowers in the forest. The large sun is peeking through the foliage and typically of Parrish there are two columns and a large fountain or urn. It is reputed that Parrish attached a string to his camera and snapped the photo of himself to use as the model for the illustration. The illustration was drawn to illustrate a poem by H.C. Dwight and the line:
“…Ah, never in the world were there such roses as ones from that enchanted trellis hung…”
Lydia Parrish’s modelling days had come to an end in 1904 when she became pregnant with their first child, John Dilwyn, who was born that December. For the previous years, Lydia Parrish had been an equal partner with her husband. She would entertain his and her friends as well as prospective clients. She ably ran the household, managed the household finances, and oversaw the domestic help that had finally come to assist her after the birth of Dillwyn in December 1904. In 1905, she was expecting their second child, and was struggling to look after her first child as well as running the household for her husband, not to mention the lack of time she had for her own art and her writing. It was decided that Lydia needed more help and so, Maxfield and Lydia Parrish hired sixteen-year-old Susan Lewin who had been working at Maxfield Parrish’s father’s house, Northcote, since she was fourteen and was pleased at Stephen Parrish’s suggestion that she should help his son and daughter-in-law. She received a wage of a dollar a day plus board and lodgings. Sadly, life for Maxfield and Lydia would never be the same again !!!
Young Susan Lewin was born in the farm town of Harland Vermont on November 22nd 1889. She was one of six children of Elmer and Nellie Lewin and because of the household’s financial problems had to abandon school after only two years in order to become a wage earner. She was a tall and willowy young woman with thick cascading hair and an oval face with large expressive eyes and a classic profile. She first met Maxfield when she was working for his father at Northcote and his good looks and charm was not lost on her. She had just the romantic appearance which reminded Maxfield of the ladies depicted in the Pre-Raphaelite paintings, which he loved, and her good looks and charm was probably not lost on him!
The arrival of their first child caused problems for Maxfield as he was constantly being interrupted by noise whist trying to concentrate on his painting and so, had a builder, George Ruggles, build a fifteen-room studio, some forty feet across the lawn from the main house. The building comprised of three bedrooms, a kitchen, two painting rooms, two bathrooms, a dark room for his photography and rooms to store all his artistic paraphernalia which he used to construct his compositions. Here he could paint in peace. For his wife Lydia, her painting days were over. She had to look after their children and keep them from disturbing her husband! The relationship between Maxfield Parrish and Susan Lewin was symbiotic. She tended to him hand and foot. She was passive and obedient and always eager to please and was amenable to all his wishes. She was an excellent cook and a perfect servant to her master. Later her two sisters, Annie and Emily joined the household as extra help for Mrs Parrish.
In the early days of Sue Lewin’s stay at The Oaks she did receive a number of suitors but nothing became of them. However, one suitor, Kimball Daniels, also began courting Sue’s sister Annie and eventually in 2011 the two were married. He worked for the Parrish family tending their sheep and cows as well as harvesting the crops. Kimball was the model for Parrish’s 1905 painting, Harvest. We see him standing proudly on a hillock, scythe in hand. Tragically he was found dead from a broken neck on the property twenty months after his marriage.
Not only did Susan Lewin help Maxfield’s wife with childcare she also became a model for some of Maxfield’s paintings. The first painting for which the sixteen-year-old girl posed was entitled Land of Make-Believe. The painting depicts two figures in a verdant and enchanted garden. The taller figure on the right is based on a photograph of Susan Lewin in costume. She stands in a contrapposto pose among blooming climbing roses. The two figures are attired in medieval costume and this adds to the unreality of the scene. Maxfield Parrish’s idealized fantasy worlds he created in his painting, such as this one, appealed to the buying public. These works were simply pictorial escapism and his fantasy world helped them believe there were safe and gentle places which were so different from the world they currently lived in. Parrish’s illustration was used as the frontispiece to Rosamund Marriott Watson’s Make-Believe published in Scribner’s Magazine in August 1912. Marriott Watson’s poem reminisces about the care-free childhood world of “let’s pretend” filled with enchanted woods, castles, and witches.
In the 1995 book, Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective, by Laurence and Judy Cutler, they wrote about Maxfield’s delight at having Susan in the household:
“…When Susan bounded around The Oaks with babes in arms, Parrish watched her with fascination. He imagined her as his counterpart to Lord Leighton’s companion model, Dene. When he first asked her to model for him and that first pose resulted in the painting Land of Make-Believe, Parrish was so happy with the outcome that he began to use Susan as his constant model…”
In the Land of Make-Believe, look closely at the way Parrish has lit up this depiction. There is a double lighting effect. The figures in the foreground are illuminated by soft and delicate light, while if you study the cliffs in the background you can see that they glow luminously from the radiance of the setting sun giving the work a feeling of depth whilst the two enormous columns in the middle ground of the depiction anchor Maxfield’s painting as well as acting as a frame for both the foreground and background. The inclusion of monumental columns like these appear in one of his most famous works – the 1922 painting entitled Daybreak, which turned out to be one of the most replicated paintings in American history and will be discussed in the next part of this series.
By 1909 Parrish’s demands on Sue to model for his paintings were becoming increasingly intense. In 1909 she posed for a number of characters of his large-scale mural The Pied Piper which had been commissioned by the Palace Hotel in San Francisco for their Pied Piper bar and restaurant, a favoured spot of locals and visitors from around the world.
The Pied Piper, originally named The Happy Valley Bar, made its grand opening in 1909. Composed specifically for the re-opening after the 1906 earthquake, Maxfield Parrish created The Pied Piper of Hamelin painting, which still graces the hotel after over 100 years.
In 1910, Edward Bok, the director of Ladies Home Journal offered Maxfield a commission to paint eighteen panels for The Girls’ Dining Room at the Curtis Publishing building in Philadelphia, which was under construction at 6th and Walnut. Each painting would be placed between the windows which overlooked the street. Bok, because the company employed so many females, decided that they should have their own dining room on the top floor. It was a mammoth assignment and Bok wanted it completed within twelve months and agreed to pay Parrish $2000 per panel. Parrish completed the first piece, Florentine Fête Mural in July 1910 and he sent it to the building’s architect, Robert Seeler, for him to approve, writing:
“…The scene will be in white marble loggia: the foreground will be a series of wide steps extending across the entire picture leading up to three arches and supporting columns…It will be my aim to make it joyous, a little unreal, a good place to be in, a sort of happiness of youth…”
There are over a hundred figures in the panels of the murals and Maxfield had Sue Lewin to model for all but two of them. It was such a monumental project that both Maxfield and Sue moved out of the main residence at The Oaks and lived in his studio whilst Maxfield’s wife remained at the big house with the children. Maxfield Parrish was forty-six years of age when he completed the commission and it is interesting to read in Alma Gilbert’s 1990 book, The Make Believe World of Maxfield Parrish and Sue Lewin, the artist thought of himself as being much younger. She wrote:
“…Sue Lewin was the woman who ‘youthened’ Parrish’s spirit. The Florentine Fête panels are his tribute to that wish to remain young, as embodied by the beautiful young woman who so dominated his art and his thoughts during the midpoint of his life…”
Parrish completed all but one of the mural paintings by 1913 and the final one was finished in 1916.
……………………………….to be continued.
Much of the information for these Maxfield Parrish blogs comes from the excellent 1990 book by Alma Gilbert: The Make Believe World of Maxfield Parrish and Sue Lewin,
The year 1900 was a momentous one for Paris as it staged the Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Paris (World’s Fair) between April 15th and November 12th. The event was to be a grand celebration of the past century’s achievements and a look forward to the innovations of the new century. The planning had begun in 1892 and it had been fully budgeted by 1896. At this time Alphonse Mucha had already burst on to the Parisian art scene and in 1897 had held a highly successful one-man exhibition at the Galerie de la Bodinière followed by a major show at the Salon des Cent.
Everyone was excited by the forthcoming event and La Plume magazine, a French bi-monthly literary and artistic review, dedicated a special issue to the exhibition and Alphonse Mucha, whose illustration appeared on the cover of the January 1898 edition, and was a ‘hot’ topic within the city’s artistic circle.
Alphonse was inundated with commissions for projects appertaining to the World’s Fair from both local companies and the French government. Some were for posters advertising the event and also the installation of display stands and the design of exhibition halls, which provided him with an opportunity to work with a three-dimensional space.
Beside the peripheral commissions Mucha was tasked with painting the murals for the Pavilion of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was a region that had come under the control of Austria-Hungary in 1878 and was one of three pavilions exhibited by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. For Alphonse Mucha, this was a highly prestigious commission. Mucha transformed the pavilion into a commemoration of the history and the cultural diversity of Bosnia and Herzegovina which pleased the Austro-Hungarian leaders but Mucha would rather have highlighted the Slavic struggle against that vast nation. He could well have thought about that as he planned the murals for the pavilion and maybe he promised himself that in the near future he would tell the real story of the persecution and suffering of the Slav nation and the Slav people. His grand plan would not start until 1911 and it would take him fifteen years to complete. It would be known as The Slav Epic
Georges Fouquet, a prominent Parisian jeweller and jewellery designer had worked together with Alphonse Mucha on a number of jewellery pieces for Fouquet’s stand at the 1900 Exposition Universelle. After the 1900 Paris Exposition, Georges Fouquet who was best known for his Art Nouveau creations opened a new jewellery store at 6 rue Royale in Paris which was right across the street from the famous restaurant, Maxim’s. He approached Mucha to design all aspects of his shop, both exterior and interior, as well as the contents including the furniture, light fittings and show cases.
The centrepiece of the design was two peacocks, which were the traditional symbol of opulence. They were made of bronze and wood with coloured glass decoration. To one side of them was a shell-shaped fountain, with three gargoyles spouting water into basins, surrounding the statue of a nude woman. The shop opened in 1901, but, sadly for Georges, it was at a time when tastes were beginning to change, and the yearning to have Art Nouveau pieces was superseded by people wanting jewellery with more naturalistic patterns. Mucha’s shop designs remained in place until 1923 when it was replaced with more up-to-date fittings.
Realising that Mucha’s designs for the shop’s interior were of importance in art history, most of the original decoration were preserved. In 1941 Fouquet gave each piece of Mucha’s revolutionary design to the Musée Carnavalet for safekeeping. In 1989 the Musée Carnavalet completed the painstaking job of reconstructing the boutique. It remains one of the most spectacular examples of Art Nouveau decorative design. It is still on display at the museum.
Alphonse Mucha’s reputation as an artist was now established and he became one of the most popular and successful of Parisian artists. He became inundated with commissions for theatre posters, advertising posters, decorative panels, magazine covers, menus, postcards, calendars. He even started to provide designs for jewellery, cutlery, tableware, fabrics etc which were in so much demand that he conceived the idea of creating a handbook for craftsmen, which would offer all the necessary patterns for creating an Art Nouveau lifestyle. His book, Documents Décoratifs, a style book published in Paris in 1902, was by the Librairie Central des Beaux-Arts, and is an encyclopaedia of his decorative work. The Documents Décoratifs is comprised of 72 exquisite plates of elaborate designs for brooches and other pieces, with swirling arabesques and vegetal forms, with incrustations of enamel and coloured stones. It epitomized everything the Art Deco movement is remembered for: decor, women, flowers, natural forms, structures, jewellery. Alphonse also spent an increasing amount of his time teaching, first at the Académie Colarossi and later, with Whistler, at the Académie Carmen.
In 1902, Alfonse Mucha accompanied his friend Auguste Rodin to Prague on the occasion of Rodin’s exhibition at Jan Kotera’s new Mánes Pavilion in Prague. A gala night was held at the National Theatre of Prague to welcome the renowned sculptor and it was here that Alphonse Mucha first met Marie Chytilová, an aspiring artist, who was studying at the School of Applied Arts in Prague and who admired the work of Mucha.
A year later whilst visiting Paris with her family, Marie solicited the help of her uncle, the eminent Czech art historian Dr. Karel Chytil, to arrange art classes with Mucha. Alphonse agreed and got Maria to also to take classes at the Académie Calarossi where he was teaching and they spent each of the remaining days of her month-long sojourn together. Love blossomed between the two despite an age difference of twenty-two years. However, despite the intense amour between Alphonse and Marie, he left her in Europe whilst he made his first trip to America thanks to letters of introduction, which he had received from Baroness Salomon de Rothschild. There must have been some great pull which made him abandon Marie and cross the Atlantic, and to find that reason we must go back to when he was painting his murals at the Paris World Fair for the Bosnia-Herzegovina pavilion and his promise to himself that he would one day complete a series of paintings which would illustrate the Slav fight for independence. He needed financial backing and where better to go to find funds – America.
Alphonse Mucha was by no means an unknown artist in America. In fact, he was a celebrity in the United States as his posters had been widely displayed during Sarah Bernhardt’s annual American tours since 1896. He stayed at a rented studio near Central Park and continued to paint as well as giving interviews and lectures. More importantly, he was able to contact Pan-Slavic organizations with regards to his money-raising idea to support his proposed Slavic Saga series of history paintings. At one of the Pan-Slavic banquets held in his honour he was introduced to Charles Richard Crane, a wealthy businessman and philanthropist, who was a passionate Slavophile. Crane was enthusiastic with Mucha’s vision for a series of monumental paintings depicting Slavic history, and he became Mucha’s most important patron.
Alphonse returned home to Paris in May 1904, to complete some commissions but in January 1905 he returned to America. During this visit he gives classes, known as the cours Mucha, at the New York School of Applied Design for Women, similar to those he held at Académie Colarossi. He was enjoying life in America and wrote to his folks back in Moravia:
“…You must have been very surprised by my decision to come to America, perhaps even amazed. But in fact, I had been preparing to come here for some time. It had become clear to me that that I would never have time to do the things I wanted to do if I did not get away from the treadmill of Paris, I would be constantly bound to publishers and their whims…in America, I don’t expect to find wealth, comfort, or fame for myself, only the opportunity to do some more useful work…”
On June 10th 1906, forty-five-year-old Alphonse Mucha, and twenty-three-year-old Marie Chytilová married shortly after his return to Prague from New York. Marie was everything Alphonse could have wanted. She was extremely attractive, she was well-educated and well-read, musical, a great lover of art, and from an old Czech family.
She was to become his muse and was incredibly supportive of his art. For their honeymoon, the couple travelled to the highlands of South Bohemia and stayed in the small village of Pec. Once the honeymoon was over the couple travelled to Chicago where Alphonse was given a post as teacher at the Art Institute
Alphonse painted a number of portraits of his wife. One such painting was entitled Portrait of Mucha’s wife, Maruška. Maruška is a diminutive of ‘Marie’.
In 1908 Alphonse also worked on a large decoration project, for the interior of the German Theatre of New York. He was commissioned to produce five large decorative panels, the stage curtain, and decorative elements for the foyer, the corridor, the staircase, and the auditorium. The three large allegorical murals would be depicted in the Art Nouveau style, and would represent Tragedy, Comedy and Truth. In his depiction, Tragedy, the female protagonist is modelled on the lead tragedienne of the Max Reinhardt Theatre, Miss Reichl.
In that same year, 1908, Charles Crane commissioned Mucha to make two separate portraits in a traditional Slavic style of his two daughters, Josephine, and Frances. The painting of Josephine, as the Slav goddess, Slavia, was to mark her marriage to Harold C. Bradley. The portrait was to be incorporated into the interior decoration of a new house that Crane was building for the newlyweds. It was looked upon by critics as his finest work in America.
In fact, ten years later, when Mucha was asked to design the Czechoslovak 100-koruna banknote he once again used her portrait as a model for Slavia.
On March 15th 1909, in New York, Alphonse and Marie hade their first child, a daughter, Jaroslava
That same year (1909) Alphonse was commissioned to design a poster depicting the highly paid prominent American actress, Maude Adams, in her role as Joan of Arc in a translation of Friedrich Schiller’s Die Jungfrau von Orleans (The Maid of Orleans). The play was staged on June 22nd for a crowd of around two thousand spectators in a one-night gala performance at Harvard University Stadium. The portrait served as a poster for the event and Alphonse was also responsible for designing the costumes and sets. The painting depicts the medieval heroine, Joan of Arc, gesturing in amazement at the apparition behind her, which was inspiring her to lead French troops into battle. The stylized floral patterns, swirling hair and garments, and flat, graphic quality of the composition was typical of Mucha’s work and he also designed the complementary frame.
In 1909 Alphonse Mucha leaves America satisfied that he had Charles Crane’s financial backing for his grand plan to paint a series of works outlining the Slav struggles. Alphonse rented a studio and apartment in Zbiroh Castle, a 12th century château in West Bohemia. He began by visiting the places he intended to depict in the cycle such as Russia, Poland, and the Balkans, including visits to the Orthodox monasteries of Mount Athos. He now spent all his free time studying all the books he could find with regards the history of the Slavs and also contacted specialists in the field, such as Ernest Denis who Alfonse meets in Paris in 1911. Ernest Denis was considered to be one of the most highly regarded 20th-century historians of the Slav world in France and who played a major role in the establishment of the Czechoslovak state in 1918. Alphonse’s dream of the Slav Saga series of paintings had now started. For anybody who might look upon Alphonse Mucha as an illustrator and a poster designer, the next three blogs will change that opinion…………………
The artist I am looking at today is a Czech painter, illustrator, and graphic artist, who spent the first part of his artistic life living in Paris during the Art Nouveau period and where he became best known for his stylized and decorative theatrical and advertising posters. This was all to change when, at the age of 43, he returned to his homeland of the Bohemia-Moravia region in Austria where he dedicated himself to completing a series of twenty monumental paintings, known as The Slav Epic, which pictorially portrayed the history of the Slavic people. I will talk about that great series in the later blogs but for today let me tell you about the early life of Alphonse Marie Mucha and his wonderful illustrative work.
Alphonse Maria Mucha was born on July 24th 1860 in the small town of Ivančice in the southern Moravia region, which is now the Czech Republic, but then was a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father Ondřej Mucha was an usher at the Ivančice courthouse and his mother Amálie was the daughter of a miller. Alphonse was the eldest of five children. He had three sisters, Anna, Andéla and Antoine and one brother, August. He also had two stepsisters from his father’s first marriage. Alphonse was gifted musically. He was an alto singer and also a talented violinist. He also enjoyed drawing.
One of his earliest works is entitled Crucifixion which he completed around the age of eight. It can be seen from the depiction that the young boy was influenced by the Catholic Church and its teachings. As a young boy he was inspired by the Catholic rituals and later in life he recalled attending church for the Easter celebrations:
“…I used to kneel for hours as an acolyte in front of Christ’s grave. It was in a dark alcove covered with flowers heavy with intoxicating fragrance and wax candles were burning quietly all round with a sort of sacred light which illuminated from below the martyred body of Christ, life-size, hanging from the wall in utmost sadness… How I loved to kneel there with my hands clasped in prayer. No-one in front of me, only the wooden Christ hanging from the wall, no-one who would see me shutting my eyes and thinking of God-knows-what and imagining that I am kneeling on the edge of a mysterious unknown figure…”
After primary school he was to move into secondary schooling but this had to be paid for and his parents just did not have the funds as they were already paying for the education of his two stepsisters. However, as he was such a good musician his music teacher arranged for him to meet to Pavel Křížkovský, the choirmaster of St Thomas’s Abbey in Brno, who was impressed with Alphonse. Alphonse’s family had hoped that through Křížkovský, their son would be able to become a member of the choir and with this would come a monastery scholarship which would pay for his secondary education. Unfortunately for Alphonse, Křížkovský was not able to admit him and get him funding as he had already attained sponsorship for another musician. However, Křížkovský arranged for twelve-year-old Alphonse to be interviewed by the deputy choirmaster of the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, Leoš Janáček, who admitted him as a cathedral chorister and funded his studies as a boarder at the Gymnázium Slovanské, the high school in Brno. Alas, nature took its course and eventually the teenager’s voice broke and he had to leave the choir but instead played the violin during the church services.
Although it was due to his musical talents that Alphonse was able to complete his schooling he still believed in a possible artistic future and he set about gaining employment as a theatrical scene designer. The next step for him was to gain some formal artistic tuition and so, in 1878, aged eighteen, he applied to enrol on a course at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, but was rejected. They harshly advised him to follow a different career path. In 1880, aged 19, he travelled to Vienna, which at the time was looked upon as the political and cultural capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Here Alphonse was taken on as an apprentice scenery painter for the Kautsky-Brioschi-Burghardt painting workshop, which produced stage scenery and theatre curtains, a company which made sets for Vienna theatres. Vienna to Alphonse was like a breath of fresh air and he enrolled at some of the city’s art classes..
Now living in this large city, Alphonse was able to visit art galleries and theatres, tickets to which were given to him by his employer. During his visit to the galleries, he came across the works of Hans Makart, the renowned 19th-century Austrian academic history painter, designer, decorator, who was famed for his monumental works of portraiture. Like many artists in the late nineteenth century, Alphonse began to experiment with photography as an aid to his artwork.
In 1881, just a year after he arrived in Vienna, fate once again stepped into Alphonse Mucha’s life when a fire destroyed the Ring Theatre, which was the main customer of the firm he worked for. Within the series of theatre fires in the 19th century, the catastrophe at the Ring Theatre in Vienna was the worst because of at least 450 fatalities. There are several crucial points, which led to a disaster in this extent: The fire was not reported immediately, the people in the theatre were not informed in time, the emergency lighting was not working, the architectural structure of the building made the way out long and complicated, and the theatre staff was unable to cope with this case of emergency.
Alphonse was now made redundant and had to decide whether to remain in Vienna or head back home to Ivančice. In the end, he did neither but took a train through Austria and into Moravia. By the time he arrived at Mikulov in southern Moravia his money had run out and he had to alight from the train. He needed somewhere to stay in the town but had no money. Fortunately, he was able to “pay” for his board and lodgings by sketching some portraits. His portraiture was seen by Count Eduard Khuen-Belasi, the local landowner and he was so impressed by the standard of Alphonse’s work that he commissioned him to paint murals for his Hrušovany Emmahof Castle near Hrušovany nad Jeviškou and his Gandegg Castle in the Tyrol, as well as reconstructing the Castle’s portraits and the decorative murals. So amazed with Alphonse’s work, the Count decided to sponsor Alphonse’s formal training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts for two years. Following the completion of his studies in 1887 the Count arranged for Alphonse to go and study in Paris at Académie Julian and Académie Colarossi.
The Count funded Mucha’s expenses until the end of 1889 at which time the flow of money stopped and it is thought that the Count wanted Alphonse to become independent and survive by his work alone. It was a blow to Alphonse who had for the last three years, no financial worries. He now had to balance his income against expenditure and learnt to survive on a diet of lentils and beans and began to eke out a living by providing illustrations for a variety of magazines and books. However, his hard work paid off and he was soon able to establish himself as a successful and reliable illustrator.
Was it sheer luck, or fate once again, that on December 26th 1894 Alphonse happened to be at Lemercier’s printing works, when Sarah Bernhardt, the star of the Parisian stage, called de Brunhoff, the printer’s agent, with an immediate demand for a new poster for her production of Gismonda. Unfortunately for Lemercier all his regular artists were on holiday and so in an act of desperation he approached Alphonse to produce the poster. The poster was of a long narrow format (216 x 74cms) and the subtle pastel colours and the ‘halo’ effect around the subject’s head were to remain features of Mucha’s posters throughout his life. It was a depiction which oozed both grandeur and solemnity and was in stark contrast to other garish street posters of the time. This Art Nouveau advertising poster was for the four-act comedy, Gismonda, by Victorien Sardou, which was being staged at the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris. Sarah Bernhardt was both director and actor. This poster by Mucha was produced to promote the new production which opened on January 4, 1895. Mucha portrayed Bernardt as an exotic Byzantine noblewoman wearing a splendid dress and an orchid headdress with a palm branch in her hand. This costume was worn in the last act, the climax of the comedy, in which she joined the Easter procession. The Gismonda poster which Alfonse Mucha created was a sensation and it was so popular with the Parisian public that collectors bribed bill stickers to obtain them or simply went out at night and, using razors, cut them down from the hoardings. Bernhardt was delighted with Mucha’s work and continued to use this poster for her American tour in 1896. She offered Mucha a five-year contract to produce stage and costume designs as well as posters.
This Champagne Ruinart poster is one of Mucha’s earliest commissions from the printer and lithographer Ferdinand Champenois and was included in the seminal Exposition d’Affiches Artistiques Françaises & Etrangères Moderns & Retrospectives held in Rheims in November 1896.
JOB cigarette papers poster by Alphonse Mucha (1897)
Alphonse Mucha’s success with the Sarah Bernhardt posters precipitated in many more commissions for advertising posters. He designed posters such as the one for JOB cigarette papers…
…and for Moët-Chandon champagne.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Alphonse Muhca continued to create posters for Ferdinand Champenois, who had his premises at 66 Boulvd. St. Michel, Paris. He signed an exclusive contract with the company to produce commercial and decorative posters. With Gismonda ‘le style Mucha’ was launched. Mucha was established as the preeminent exponent of Parisian Art Nouveau. This 1897 lithograph depicts a beautiful young girl in a sophisticated pink dress with red and blue embroidery. The girl wears pink and red flowers in her dark blonde hair and is surrounded by the heavy floral ornamentation and spirals characteristic of much of Alphonse Mucha’s work. Over the next decade Mucha illustrated posters and decorative panels, books, magazine covers, advertisements, theatre programmes, menu cards, calendars, and postcards many using Champenois as his printer.
Alphonse also designed a calendar which featured a woman’s head around which were the twelve signs of the zodiac in a halo-like disc. The rights for the illustration were sold on to Léon Deschamps, the editor of the arts review La Plume, who brought it out with great success as the magazine’s calendar for 1897. This was Mucha’s first work under his contract with the printer Champenois and was originally designed as an in-house calendar for the company. The majestic beauty of the woman is emphasised by her regal bearing and elaborate jewellery. It became one of Mucha’s most popular designs; at least nine variants of this lithograph are known, including this one which was printed without text to serve as a decorative panel. Between 1896 and 1904 Alphonse Mucha created over one hundred poster designs for Champenois. These prints were sold in various formats, ranging from expensive versions printed on Japanese paper or vellum, to less expensive versions which combined multiple images, to calendars and postcards.
His posters almost always depicted beautiful women in sumptuous settings with their hair generally curling in arabesque forms and filling the frame. In 1897 Alphonse produced a poster for the railway line between Paris and Monaco-Monte-Carlo but it neither showed a train nor any identifiable scene of Monaco or Monte-Carlo. It simply depicted a beautiful young woman in a dream-like pose, surrounded by whirling images of flowers, which implied the turning wheels of a train.
Alphone Mucha’s reputation as an illustrative artist grew and he was invited to exhibit his work in the Salon des Cent exhibition in 1896, and a year later he had a major retrospective in the same gallery exhibiting 448 works. The art magazine La Plume made a special edition devoted to his work, and his exhibition travelled to Vienna, Prague, Munich, Brussels, London, and New York, which boosted his international reputation.
In 1899 Alphonse entered into a collaboration with the jeweller Georges Fouquet to make a bracelet for Sarah Bernhardt in the form of a serpent, made of gold and enamel, similar to the costume jewellery Bernhardt wore in Medea.
The Cascade pendant designed for Fouquet by Mucha in 1900 is in the shape of a waterfall. It is composed of gold, enamel, opals, tiny diamonds, paillons, and a barocco or misshapen pearl.
The story of The Rose Girls could not be told without talking about the American illustrator and author, primarily of books for young people, Howard Pyle, who gave the The Rose Girls soubriquet to the three young ladies he was mentoring. He was a man of great talent and a patriotic missionary of Americanism and his illustrations were held in high esteem on both sides of the Atlantic..
Howard Pyle was born in Wilmington, Delaware on March 5th 1853. He was the son and eldest child of Quakers, William Pyle and Margaret Churchman Painter, an amateur artist. Pyle remembered his childhood, with fondness, as being an idyllic time that was centred around the family’s wonderful old stone house and its garden, which he remembered as being filled with profuse blooms and hidden wonders. Mainly thanks to his mother, Pyle developed a love of reading and like many children of his age he loved the tales of Daniel Defoe’s,such as Robinson Crusoe, the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and mystical stories from the Arabian Nights. all of which fired up his young imagination. He attended the Friend’s School in Wilmington followed by schooling at a small private institution. He was not a top student, and it was said that he wasted too much time daydreaming. His one love was art and he spent much of his free time drawing. He also developed a love of writing his own stories. Although it was the wish of Pyle’s parents that their son should attend college, Howard Pyle had other ideas about his future, which he saw as being a professional artist or writer. Knowing that their son was never going to go to university his parents, especially his mother, decided to encourage him to study art.
He studied for three years at the studio of Francis Van der Wielen in Philadelphia. Van der Wielen was a Dutch artist who in 1872 had taught sixteen-year-old Cecilia Beaux. Besides a few art lessons later at the Art Students League of New York, these three years tutoring by van der Wielen were Howard Pyle’s only formal training. Because of problems with his father’s leather business, Howard Pyle had to spend many years helping out in the family business. The artistic breakthrough for Howard Pyle came in 1876 when his mother sent an essay and sketches he had done while on holiday with his father on Chincoteague Island to Scribner’s Magazine. The editor accepted the article and illustrations and told Pyle they were so good that they were being published in the November issue of the magazine. Furthermore, the editor invited Howard Pyle to come to New York and work for the magazine as a writer and illustrator.
Howard Pyle was now living in New York city in a small rented room at 250 West 38th Street (between Seventh and Eighth Avenues) and it was not long before he sold his first painting to Harpers Weekly, a magazine that would continue to buy his work for many years in the future. The publisher of Harper’s Weekly had assembled an exceptional group of professionals who were knowledgeable about illustration and trained in the newest methods of printing, and the House of Harper became an informal training ground for the likes of Howard Pyle to learn every aspect of the publishing process. It was soon after settling in New York that Howard Pyle knew that he wanted to write and illustrate books for children. Pyle had both a wonderful imagination and he also was able to recollect stories from his childhood. He set about putting those memories on paper and at the same time illustrated his prose. He submitted many of his stories and illustrations to the St Nicholas magazine, a popular monthly American children’s magazine, founded by Scribner’s in 1873.
He drew upon his vivid childhood memories to contribute stories to the St. Nicholas magazine, and he read and studied many of the old folktales that he’d loved as a child, extending his reading to include less familiar tales from many nations. These folktales and the romances of his boyhood would become the central core of his work over his lifetime; and although he is primarily remembered today for his contributions to illustration, he was a writer of some skill. Indeed, he has been compared to Hans Christian Andersen in the way his unique voice and imagination shaped his traditional folklore and fantasy material.
According to Ian Schoenherr’s blog on Howard Pyle, one of the first magazine covers to feature an illustration by Howard Pyle is the May 1877 cover of St. Nicholas, Scribner’s Illustrated Magazine for Girls & Boys. Pyle actually only designed the long rectangular illustration which runs diagonally across the cover. In the magazine the publisher explained the illustration:
“…The beautiful tablet by Mr. Pyle, which adorns our cover this month, tells a true story in its own lively fashion. Its quaint costumes of successive centuries, showing how May-day rejoicings have been kept up from age to age, will send some of you a-Maying in encyclopedias and year-books, but it gives its real meaning at a glance – which is, that through all time people have welcomed the first coming of the spring. “Merrie May,” meaning pleasant May (for in old times “merry” simply meant pleasant), was as fresh and beautiful ages ago as it is to-day; and in one way or another the thought at the bottom of all the rejoicing is ever that of the old carol:
“A garland gay I’ve brought you here,
And at your door I stand;
It’s but a sprout, but it’s well budded out.
The work of our Lord’s hand.”
Howard Pyle remained in New York until 1879 at which time he returned home to Wilmington, by which time he had established a reputation as a leading writer and illustrator of children’s books.
The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire, published in 1883, is thought to have been Pyle’s first children’s book. He wrote, illustrated and designed the book himself. In all, he went on to do many more books for this audience including Pepper and Salt, The Wonder Clock and four volumes of the Legends of King Arthur.
He completed Legend and Stories of King Arthur in 1903. The book contains a compilation of various stories, adapted by Pyle, regarding the legendary King Arthur of Britain and select Knights of the Round Table. Pyle’s novel begins with King Arthur in his youth and continues through numerous tales of bravery, romance, battle, and knighthood.
Howard Pyle believed that book illustration was the fundamental basis from which to produce painters. His ideas with regards illustration were revolutionary and at odds with many of the beliefs of the day. Pyle was adamant that artists needed, to get beyond the stiff figures of the studio life class and let their figures and scenes come from the imagination rather than from a frozen pose.
For Pyle, the overall design of the book was of paramount importance and he helped his students learn how to incorporate their illustrations into the finished article. Pyle made it clear to his students that the role of the illustrator was to compliment and enhance the text in personal ways rather than merely mimic what the text expressed. Through his many books and his teaching, the influence of Howard Pyle on children’s literature is acknowledged by readers and artists to this day.
Pyle decided to do something about giving art students a firmer foundation in illustrative art by offering his services to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art as their Instructor of Illustration. His offer was politely refused and he was told that the Academy school was for painters and sculptors and was a school for the fine arts only. Pyle, having been rebuffed by the Academy, was not to be deterred and made the same offer to the Drexel Institute. His offer was promptly accepted and within a short time there began to appear in the magazines new names of illustrators who had been students of Pyle. Sensing that the Drexel Institute was the better option when it came to illustrative art, many of the Pennsylvania Academy students left and enrolled at the Drexel Institute. The director of the Pennsylvania Academy, Harrison Morris, realised he had been wrong to rebuff Pyle’s offer, and asked him to come and teach at the Academy and name his own salary. Pyle’s short reply was to the point:
“…He who will not when he may, when he will, he shall have nay…”
Howard Pyle commenced teaching at the Drexler Institute in October 1894. The catalogue of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts (1894-1895) announced:
“…A Course in Practical Illustration in Black and White, under the direction of Mr. Pyle. The course will begin with a series of lectures illustrated before the class by Mr. Pyle. The lectures will be followed by systematic lessons in Composition and Practical Illustration, including Technique, Drawing from the Costumed Model, the Elaboration of Groups, treatment of Historical and other subjects with reference to their use in Illustrations. The students’ work will be carefully examined and criticized by Mr. Pyle…”
Within Howard Pyle’s first class that October, there were thirty-nine students, including three young people destined to become outstanding leaders in the field of illustration: Maxfield Parrish, Jessie Willcox Smith, and Elizabeth Shippen Green. Three years later, in 1897, Violet Oakley joined the class.
………..to be continued.
Most of the information I used for this blog came from an excellent book by Alice A. Carter entitled The Red Rose Girls, An Uncommon Story of Art and Love.
On a more personal note, it is ten years to the day that I started My Daily Art Display blog and this is 830th “edition”. It started as a one-a-day blog but they were shorter blogs and I was finding I was putting too much pressure on myself to meet deadlines so I now do just one a week but have increased the number of words. I do enjoy writing them and hopefully will carry on a little while longer.
The third of the Red Rose Girls was Jessie Willcox Smith. She became one of the most prominent female illustrators in the United States, during the celebrated ‘Golden Age of Illustration‘. Jessie was the eldest of the trio, born in the Mount Airy neighbourhood of Philadelphia, on September 6th 1863, the youngest of four children. She was the youngest daughter of Charles Henry Smith, an investment broker, and Katherine DeWitt Willcox Smith. Her father’s profession as an “investment broker” is often questioned as although there was an investment brokerage called Charles H. Smith in Philadelphia there is no record of it being run by anybody from Jessie Smith’s family. In the 1880 city census, Jessie’s father’s occupation was detailed as a machinery salesman. Jessie’s family was a middle-class family who always managed to make ends meet. Her family originally came from New York and only moved to Philadelphia just prior to Jessie’s birth. Despite not being part of the elite Philadelphia society, her family could trace their routes back to an old New England lineage. Jessie, like her siblings, were instructed in the conventional social graces which were considered a necessity for progression in Victorian society. It should be noted that there were no artists within the family and so as a youngster, painting and drawing were not of great importance to her. Instead her enjoyment was gained from music and reading. Jessie attended the Quaker Friends Central School in Philadelphia and when she was sixteen, she was sent to Cincinnati, Ohio to live with her cousins and finish her education.
On completion of her education, instead of returning to the family in Philadelphia, she remained in Cincinnati to look for a job. Jessie had always been fond of children and managed to secure a position as a kindergarten teacher which would fulfil her need for money whilst doing a job she loved. However, the belief that all young children are angelic was soon dispelled and she found her charges obstreperous and ill-mannered and soon realised that teaching at a kindergarten was not for her. One of her friends was interested in art and soon she had managed to inveigle Jessie into the pastime and soon she showed a certain amount of promise as a budding artist. She remembered this change of direction writing:
“…I knew I wanted to do something with children but never thought of painting them, until an artist friend saw a sketch I had made and insisted I should stop teaching (at which I was an utter failure) and go to art school – which I did…”
Jessie Smith returned to Philadelphia to look for some artistic training and initially wanted to study sculpture. At the time there was a popular small table-top sculptures called Rogers Group which were relatively inexpensive, mass-produced figurines in the latter 19th which graced the parlours of homes in the United States. These figurines, often selling for as little as $15 a piece were affordable to the middle class. They were sculpted in more affordable plaster and painted the colour of putty to hide dust. She did try her hand at sculpture but soon realised it needed a certain talent, one which she was lacking. She wrote:
“…my career as a sculptor was brief for my clay had bubbles in it and burst when it was being fired. ‘Heavens’ I decided, ‘ being a sculptor is too expensive! I will be a painter…’ ”
However, Jessie realised that to become a painter she needed formal artistic training and it was difficult for that to happen for a woman in 1884. It was the age-old story. Men who wanted to train to become professional artists had academies and teachers to support them but for women, up until the 1850’s, there were few institutions which catered for women and anyway, it was generally thought to be totally ill-advised for a woman to contemplate or prepare for a professional career, art or otherwise. Life was mapped out for women. Acquire certain accomplishments which would attract a man, marry that man and give him children, and then be educated at home in the skills needed to look after one’s husband and children. For women of the middle and upper-class who were interested in art, then a private tutor could be hired but studying in mixed life-drawing classes was deemed unsuitable for women as was sketching nude statuary.
Despite this, twenty-one-year-old Jessie Willcox Smith, on October 2nd 1884, enrolled at The Philadelphia School of Design for Women, which was housed in a fashionable Philadelphia neighbourhood in an imposing mansion that had once been the home of actor, Edwin Forrest. The School had begun when Sarah Worthington King Peter, the wife of the British consul in Philadelphia, established an industrial arts school in her home in 1848 so as to teach a trade to women, who were without a means of supporting themselves. It was not in direct competition with the Pennsylvania Academy as its emphasis was on decorative pattern and ornament and until 1886 steered clear of controversial life-drawing classes. After a year at the School of Design, Jessie hankered for more than it could offer her. She wanted to study the techniques associated with Fine Art and so decided that she had to enrol at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
She managed to persuade her parents to fund her tuition and in 1885 she enrolled in the class of the brilliant but controversial painter, Thomas Eakins. Master and student were so different. Jessie Willcox Smith was a conservative and shy young woman whilst her tutor was brash, carefree and provocative and cared little for the Academy’s attempt to reign him in. Eakins represented an outrageous departure from the social norms which had structured Jessie Smith’s life. Many complaints had been levelled at Eakins and his teaching methods especially those regarding female students. The following year, 1886, forty-one-year-old Eakins was sacked by the Academy. It is interesting to note that although there is no doubt her artistic ability flourished under the tutelage of Eakins she viewed him with disdain, once confiding in a friend that she thought he was a “madman”. Jessie did attend Eakins’ life-drawing classes but of the life models used, once declared:
“…I always wished there were children in the life classes, the men and women were so flabby and fat…”
After Eakins was dismissed from the Academy, he held private classes at his studio and many of his former students attended them, but not Jessie. She presumably did not agree with Eakins’ way of teaching and decided to remain at the Academy and study under Thomas Anshutz and James B. Kelly, two of Eakins’ former students.
Jessie Willcox Smith graduated from the Academy in June 1888. She looked back on her time at the Academy with a certain amount of disappointment. Although her technique had improved, she had hoped to be part of an artistic community in which artistic collaboration would be present but instead she found dissention, scandal and in the wake of the Eakins’ scandal, institutionalized isolation. Jessie talked very little about her time at the Academy. It had been a turbulent time and she had hated conflict as it unnerved her and made her extremely distressed. This desperation to avoid any kind of conflict in her personal and professional life revealed itself in her idealistic and often blissful paintings. Jessie wanted to believe life was just a period of happiness.
In 1909 a book of verse entitled The Seven Ages of Childhood by Carolyn Wells with accompanying illustrations by Jessie Wilcox was published.
After graduation, Jessie became interested in illustration and in 1889 took a job with the advertising department of Ladies’ Home Journal, one of the leading American women’s magazines. In 1894, nearly six years after graduating, she learned that Howard Pyle, the noted illustrator, was starting a School of Illustration at the Drexel Institute and she was accepted into the inaugural class along with Violet Oakley and Elizabeth Shippen Green.
Her illustrations appeared on the covers of Good Housekeeping resulting in most people becoming familiar with her art. For over 15 years she painted the covers for one of America’s most popular magazines. Month after month, from December of 1917 through March of 1933, a new Jessie Willcox Smith image was on the newsstands and in countless homes.
The Red Rose Girls were finally together. In my next blog I will look at their time at the Drexel Institute with Howard Pyle and their life together.
……………………to be continued
Most of the information I used for this blog came from an excellent book by Alice A. Carter entitled The Red Rose Girls, An Uncommon Story of Art and Love.
The second of the Red Rose Girls I am featuring is Violet Oakley. Oakley was the youngest of the Red Rose Girls, almost three years younger than Elizabeth Shippen Green and eleven years younger than Jessie Wilcox Smith. During the American Renaissance mural movement of the late nineteenth-century it produced one of the great female muralists – Violet Oakley.
Pennsylvania State Capital murals by Violet Oakley
Violet is probably best known for her murals at the Pennsylvania State Capitol. The paintings, done by Oakley, show scenes in the state’s history including Washington in Philadelphia in 1787 when the Constitution was written and Lincoln giving his address in Gettysburg in 1863. Yet, these were only a part of her extraordinary output. Over half a century, Violet Oakley decked out the interiors of churches, schools, civic buildings, and private residences with murals and stained glass. She also illustrated books, magazines, and newspapers, and painted hundreds of portraits. Her Renaissance spirit of civic responsibility helped shape the culture of Philadelphia.
Violet Oakley was born in New York on June 10th 1874, the youngest of three daughters of Arthur and Cornelia Oakley (née Swain) who had married in 1866. Violet’s eldest sister was Cornelia, who sadly died of diphtheria at the age of six after a very short illness, and a middle-sister, Hester. She and her family were brought up in Bergen Heights, New Jersey. As a youngster showing a love for art, she was brought up in the perfect family environment. In later life she quipped that her own interest in art was “hereditary and chronic” and that she had been born with a paintbrush in her mouth instead of a silver spoon. At least twelve of her ancestors were artists. Her paternal grandfather was George Oakley who came to America from London. He was a talented artist and made many return trips to Europe to study and copy many of the major works of art and became an Associate of the National Academy of Design. Violet’s father, Arthur, was taught to paint by his father but his business interests precluded him from making art his profession. Violet’s maternal grandfather, William Swain was a successful portrait artist and his daughter, Violet’s mother, Cornelia set up her own painting studio but gave up her artistic ambitions when she married. Other of Violet’s aunts, Juliana, and Isabel, became successful painters.
Violet was not a healthy child growing up as she suffered from asthma and an over-riding shyness. Having lost her eldest child Violet’s mother over-cossetted Violet continually worrying about her ill health and fearing that she may lose her second child. Her surviving sister, Hester, attended Vassar and Violet had hoped to follow her sister but her parents, ever concerned with their daughter’s health, decided to home-school her. She spent a lot of her time copying paintings by the Old Masters, the prints of which had been brought home by her two grandfathers from their European vacations. It was not until 1894, when Violet was twenty years of age, that the family allowed her to leave home to study. She travelled with her father to New York city to attend classes at the Art Student’s league where she studied with Irving Wiles, who would become one of the most successful portrait painters in the United States, and who drew illustrations for magazines such as Harper’s and Scribner’s. Another of her tutors was Carroll Beckwith, an American portrait, genre, and landscape painter.
During the winter of 1895, the Oakley family travelled to France to visit relatives and both Hester and Violet decided to improve their artistic skills by enrolling at the Académie de Montparnasse where they studied at the atelier of the Symbolist painter, Edmond Aman-Jean. It was an all-female studio and the students were a mix of those females who wanted to become professional artists and dilettantes who were merely bored with everyday life. Violet fell into the former category whilst her older sister Hester, who had yet to decide whether to become an artist or writer, belonged to the latter and used the experience at the atelier to study people, many of whom she incorporated into her 1898 novel, As Having Nothing. The family’s European holiday was cut short when Violet’s father took ill. It is thought that he suffered a nervous breakdown brought on by the failure of many of his business ventures. Their father’s financial demise focused the minds of Hester and Violet in that they needed to earn money to support themselves and their family. Hester managed to write and sell her novels and Violet decided that her art had to become financially viable. Her family moved to Philadelphia to get medical advice for her father and so when Violet arrived in the city, she decided to enrol on two courses at the Pennsylvania Academy. One was with Cecilia Beaux whose course was entitled Drawing and Painting from Head and focused on portraiture. She also enrolled in the Day Life Drawing Class; a course run by Joseph de Camp. However, art tuition cost money, add to that cost of materials and the commute to and from the Academy and Violet had now encountered financial problems.
It was her sister, Hester, who saved the day. Hester was continuing with writing her first novel and decided to enrol at the Drexel Institute where Howard Pyle, a writer and an illustrator was running an illustration class and Hester decided that he was just who she needed to teach her to become a novelist. Buoyed by this find, Hester rushed home to tell her sister of the opportunity and persuaded her to leave the Academy after just one term and enrol at the Institute. One could not just walk into to Howard Pyle’s course, one had to prove one’s worth and so Violet carefully organised her portfolio of work. Howard Pyle examined Violet Oakley’s portfolio and accepted her onto his course, agreeing to help her progress. Violet and Hester then set themselves up in a rented studio at 1523 Chestnut Street and their mother gave them some of the family’s furniture. The two young ladies may have been sisters but they were as different as chalk and cheese. Hester, the Vassar graduate, was outgoing, vivacious, and full of self-confidence whereas Violet was painfully shy and highly emotional and friends stated that she lacked a sense of humour.
That day in 1897 when Violet Oakley first walked into Howard Pyle’s illustration class she came face to face with the other two Red Rose Girls, Jessie Willcox Smith and Elizabeth Shippen Green ………………….
……………to be continued.
The information I used for my five blogs about the Red Rose Girls was mostly collected from the excellent book entitled The Red Rose Girls. An Uncommon Story of Art and Love by Alice A. Carter. I can highly recommend this biography. You will not be disappointed.
In my next series of blogs, I want to look at the lives of three talented women artists – Jessie Willcox Smith, Elizabeth Shippen Green and Violet Oakley. These three artists enchanted and fascinated early twentieth century Philadelphia with their brilliant careers and somewhat uncommon lifestyle. At one time the three women lived together in The Red Rose Inn, a picturesque estate in the affluent Philadelphia suburb of Villanova, a respected area known as the Main Line, an historical and social region of suburban Philadelphia, which was situated along the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s once prestigious Main Line. The three women were joined by their friend, Henrietta Cozens, who took on the responsibility of managing their communal household. Their mentor and tutor at the time was the famous American illustrator, Howard Pyle, who, because of their residence, nicknamed them The Red Rose Girls. The four women forged an intense and emotional bond and vowed to live together for the rest of their lives. They even adopted and acronymic surname, wanting to be known as the Cogs family – C for Cozens, O for Oakley, G for Green and S for Smith. In the following blogs, I want to delve into the life of these three women and look at their backgrounds, their works and how they fought their way through a male-orientated world of art. These three women were to become renowned for their illustrative work.
Red Rose Girls, Pictured left are Violet Oakley, Jesse Willcox Smith and Elizabeth Shippen Green (with Henrietta Cozens).
In my next series of five blogs, I want to look at the lives of three talented women artists – Jessie Willcox Smith, Elizabeth Shippen Green and Violet Oakley. These three artists enchanted and fascinated early twentieth century Philadelphia with their brilliant careers and somewhat uncommon lifestyle. At one time the three women lived together in The Red Rose Inn, a picturesque estate in the affluent Philadelphia suburb of Villanova, a respected area known as the Main Line, an historical and social region of suburban Philadelphia, which was situated along the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s once prestigious Main Line. The three women were joined by their friend, Henrietta Cozens, who took on the responsibility of managing their communal household. Their mentor and tutor at the time was the famous American illustrator, Howard Pyle, who, because of their residence, nicknamed them The Red Rose Girls. The four women forged an intense and emotional bond and vowed to live together for the rest of their lives. They even adopted and acronymic surname, wanting to be known as the Cogs family – C for Cozens, O for Oakley, G for Green and S for Smith. In the following blogs, I want to delve into the life of these three women and look at their backgrounds, their works and how they fought their way through a male-orientated world of art. The three women were to become renowned for their illustrative work.
Page from illuminated manuscript
Book illustrations can be traced back to the world of manuscript illuminations. An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript in which the text is accompanied with decoration as initials, borders known as marginalia, and miniature illustrations. The term illumination originally denoted the embellishment of the text of handwritten books with gold or, more rarely, silver, giving the impression that the page had been literally illuminated.
Biblia Pauperum or Bible of the Poor, woodcut illustrations with manuscript text
Fast forward to the 18th and 19th centuries and the literature of the Western World and the birth of what we now know as the novel, in the form of adult fiction.
‘Mr Winkle Returns under Extraordinary Circumstances’, etched illustration by Hablot Knight Browne for The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club by Charles Dickens
An example of this are the novels of Charles Dickens and the way in which he would collaborate with book illustrators. How it worked was Dickens would give the illustrator an outline of the story line before he wrote the text and he carefully scrutinised the drawings to ensure that they complemented his own ideas. In the case of Dickens, his favoured illustrator was Hablot Knight Browne who worked under the pen name “Phiz”.
By the end of the twentieth century, Elizabeth Shippen Green, was to become a leading American illustrator.
Elizabeth Shippen Green
Elisabeth “Bessie” Shippen Green was born into an old well-to-do Philadelphia family, on September 1st 1871. She was the third child of Jasper Green and Elizabeth Shippen Boude. Her eldest sister died when aged two and, Katherine, her middle sister, was born a year before Elizabeth. The family lived near the centre of Philadelphia at 1320 Spruce Street. Although not very wealthy, the Green family had impeccable “old Philadelphia” connections through both the Shippen and Green ancestors and as such Elizabeth was able to access the elite social circles throughout her life. It was this advantageous aspect of Elizabeth’s life that led her to become easy going and self-confident. Elizabeth’s parents were determined that their daughters had every possible social advantage in life and to ensure a good start to Elizabeth’s life journey she was sent to private Philadelphia schools. Initially she was enrolled at Miss Mary Hough’s School and later Miss Gordon’s School.
Jasper Green, Elizabeth’s father at the Red Rose Inn (1904). Elizabeth Shippen Boude, Elizabeth’s mother (1903)
Elizabeth’s father imbued in his daughter a love of art as he was an amateur artist who had studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and during the American Civil War, worked as an illustrator/correspondent for the Harper’s Weekly, an American political magazine based in New York City. It was said that during her early schooldays Elizabeth took pleasure in illustrating her school notebooks.
Portrait of the Artist’s Father, Jasper Green by Elizabeth Shippen Green (c.1900)
In October 1889, a month after that first publication of her work she enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She spent one year in the antique class, where she had to draw from plaster casts, and two years in the life class, working with live models. During that period her teachers included Thomas Anshutz, Thomas Eakins, and Robert Vonnoh. Elizabeth graduated from the Academy in 1893 and it was in that year that the Green family suffered a devastating loss. Elizabeth’s sister, Katherine died on September 1st 1893, aged twenty-three. This tragic death would haunt Elizabeth every year as it coincided with her birthday. Elizabeth had now suffered the tragic loss of both of her sisters and one can only imagine the devastation felt by her parents.
Paper Doll Book #2 watercolour and charcoal by Elizabeth Shippen Green (1906)
Once her schooling was completed, eighteen-year-old Elizabeth enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1888. For Elizabeth the Fine Arts path was not for her as she was interested in her father’s branch of art, that of illustration and, in her father, she had the best illustrations tutor possible. By the time she was seventeen years-old she had turned a corner of her bedroom into her studio and produced a series of drawings which she managed to sell to the Philadelphia Times and the first of these were printed by the newspaper on her eighteenth birthday. The drawings accompanied a short but charming rhyme about a child and her doll, entitled, Naughty Lady Jane. Although this was the only work of prose which she had published, the Philadelphia Times editors recognised her immense talent as an illustrator and in the September 8th 1889 edition of the Philadelphia Times the editor inserted this extended by-line:
“…You will see in another column today some very pretty verses called Naughty Lady Jane accompanied by six exquisite illustrations. They are the work of Miss Bessie S. Green of Philadelphia who is only eighteen years old. The lines are unpretending, of course, yet admirably suited to their purpose; but the illustrations show wonderful talent. Indeed, they would do credit to an artist much older and more experienced than Miss Green…”
Elizabeth (“Bessie”) must have been delighted to have her work published although the payment of 5o cents for a one-column drawing was hardly going to give her financial independence.
Philadelphia Public Ledger
Elizabeth continued working hard and would regularly submit her illustrations to the Philadelphia Public Ledger, a daily Philadelphia newspaper which was, at the time, owned by George William Childs and Anthony J. Drexel. Elizabeth received many assignments for fashion illustrations from the newspaper. In 1897, Elizabeth Shippen Green enrolled at the Drexel Institute which had been founded by Anthony J Drexel, a Philadelphia financier and philanthropist in 1891. He envisioned an institution of higher learning uniquely suited to the needs of a rapidly growing industrial society and of the young men and women seeking their place in it.
Enter Howard Pyle the leading American illustrator of the time and the two other Red Rose Girls…………………………
………………………………to be continued.
The information I used for my five blogs about the Red Rose Girls was mostly collected from the excellent book entitled The Red Rose Girls. An Uncommon Story of Art and Love by Alice A. Carter. I can highly recommend this biography. You will not be disappointed.
My featured artist today is the Victorian painter Mary Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, one of the most popular artists of her time. She is perhaps best remembered for reawakening the Pre-Raphaelite style of painting at the end of the 19th century as shown in her moral or medieval depictions with their vibrant and flamboyant colours. The Pre-Raphaelite group was founded in 1848 by John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti but by the time Eleanor went to art school in 1889, Pre-Raphaelite painting was led by a second generation of artists which included Edward Burne-Jones. Eleanor admired their work and carefully followed in their footsteps which helped keep the style alive until the start of the twentieth century. Eleanor was not simply a painter. She was also a designer, produced stained-glass windows and small-scale sculptures, illustrated books as well as completing numerous watercolour and oil paintings.
Mary Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale was born at the family home in the prosperous London suburb of Upper Norwood on January 25th, 1872. Her father Matthew Inglett Fortescue-Brickdale was a barrister of Lincoln’s Inn who married, Sarah Ann Lloyd, the daughter of Judge Edward John Lloyd QC, of the Bristol county court. Eleanor was the youngest of five children. She had two brothers, Charles, the eldest child, who was born in 1857, John Matthew and two sisters, Kate, and Ann. Ann died aged six, four years before Eleanor was born. The family financial circumstances were sound, and they employed four servants and a governess for Eleanor. As was the norm at that time, the parents were preoccupied with their sons’ future ensuring they had the best schooling and went on to a financially-sound profession whilst being ambivalent with regards their daughters’ future believing that the future happiness of their daughters was a good, kind, and wealthy husband!
Charles, an amateur artist who, attended Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford University, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a barrister focusing on land law and in 1900 was appointed Chief Registrar of HM Land Registry. He was famed for modernising the Land Registry system. John, who was two years older than Eleanor, went into medicine and became a physician in Bristol and contributed many articles for medical journals and co-authored a couple of medical books. Ironically, despite their parent’s plans, neither Kate nor Eleanor married. Little is known of Kate but of course we do know that Eleanor’s love of art was to contribute to her fame and financial stability.
One must presume Eleanor’s interest in art was fostered by her parents who looked upon the ability to paint and draw, as simply a hobby for females but one which would prove attractive to suitors. Another reason could be that her father had an interest in art and had John Ruskin as a fellow Oxford University student. Matthew Fortescue-Brickdale was involved in one of Ruskin’s art projects, the Arundel Society, which was founded to promote knowledge of the art works of the old Italian, Flemish, and other European Masters and to conserve and document works of art which were at risk of destruction. It is believed that her father’s love of art resulted in visits with his children to art galleries.
After completing her home schooling in 1889, seventeen-year-old Eleanor enrolled at the Crystal Palace School of Art, Science and Literature. It was not one of the most prestigious establishment but maybe it was chosen for Eleanor for its closeness to the family home. It was a mixed college, but the art classes were for female students only, the science for male students and the music was for both. Eleanor proved an able student and at the end of her first year, was awarded the annual scholarship for crayon drawing and watercolours and in 1892 she gained a silver medal for watercolour.
In 1894, tragedy struck the Fortescue-Brickdale household when Eleanor’s father, Matthew was killed whilst mountain climbing in the Alps.
Around the mid 1890’s, wanting a more prestigious art school which offered tuition by well-known artists who would develop her talent, Eleanor enrolled at the St John’s Wood School. The art school had another important role. It was an established feeder school for students who wanted to enrol at the prestigious Royal Academy Schools. Proof of this comes from the statistic that in the first half of the 1890’s of the 394 students who were admitted to the RA Schools, 250 came from the St John’s Wood School. St John’s Wood School also offered life drawing classes with nude models to both its male and female students.
To achieve admission into the Royal Academy Schools, the candidate had to submit certain pieces of art and if they were found acceptable the candidate would become a probationer and then, if their work during the next three months was up to the standard required, they would become a full student and be allowed to start one of the courses. In the Magazine of Art, 25, 1902, an article appeared written by Marion Hepworth Dixon , Our rising Artists: Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale in which she wrote that it took Eleanor three attempts to get to become a probationer but once that was achieved in January 1895, she only remained as such for three weeks before becoming a full-student and starting an art course. In 1897 Eleanor was awarded a prize by the Royal Academy Schools for her work as a designer and promising decorative designer.
For any up-and-coming artist wanting to establish a reputation, social connections were of paramount importance to achieving commissions and acquiring a wealthy patron. Eleanor’s education had been different to many other aspiring painters. She had not attended school, her parents deciding on home schooling, she had not attended a university and now at the age of twenty-five remained unmarried, all of which resulted in her not having many outside connections which would have helped her through her artistic life and so, she had to rely on her family and friends for a helping hand.
Her first breakthrough came in the form of a “brotherly helping-hand”. Charles her eldest brother who was working at the Land Registry persuaded her to design a certificate of registration for his newly re-organised Land Registry office.
In the same year her brother Charles helped her once again. He had married Mabel Gibbs, whose brother James Gibbs an amateur cricketer who had played for the MCC, and a writer who, that year, had published a book, A Cotswold Village; or, country life and pursuits in Gloucestershire, and had Eleanor illustrate it with twenty pen and ink sketches of rural scenes. Later her reputation was further advanced when she provided pen and ink sketches for the illustrated version of Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.
Her reputation as a talented illustrator soon grew and her design work was in great demand from such popular journals as Country Life and The Ladies’ Field. Her “audience” were the wealthy landowners some of who became her patrons and would often call upon her to paint pictures of their family and stately homes.
In 1899 she completed her first major work of art entitled The Pale Complexion of True Love which was accepted for inclusion in that year’s Royal Academy Annual Exhibition. The title of the work is taken from Act 3 Scene IV of Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy, As You Like It, when the elderly shepherd, Corin speaks of the shepherd, Silvius’ unrequited love for the shepherdess, Phebe:
“…If you will see a pageant truly play’d, Between the pale complexion of true love And the red glow of scorn and proud disdain, Go hence a little and I shall conduct you, If you will mark it…”
The first thing that strikes you with this painting is the sumptuous red of the lady’s gown. It is interesting how the artist has used such a bright spectrum of colours. To many people, the Pre-Raphaelite painters use of bright colours was garish and lacked delicacy. To others it was this vibrancy of colour which heightened their work, but I will leave you to decide.
In 1899 Eleanor produced a painting, The Gift That is Better Than Rubies, a title derived from a passage in the Bible – Proverbs 8: 10-11.
“…Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold. For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it…”
In the summer of 1899, father and son art dealers, William and Walter Dowdeswell who ran a gallery in New Bond Street, London, commissioned Eleanor to produce a large number of watercolour paintings for their 1901 show which was entitled Such stuff as dreams are made of, a line from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. The depictions in these works covered subjects from the Bible, Shakespeare, Browning and Coleridge. One of her watercolour paintings on show at this exhibition was The Gilded Apple. It depicts a fairy tale princess being thrown a gilded apple. She leans back in an attempt to catch it and her crown tumbles from her head and is about to fall into a fishpond behind her. Meanwhile we see a cat ready to pounce on one of the fish in the pond. The commission had been so big that Eleanor had decided to acquire her own studio in Holland Park, and area populated by many artists. The show was a spectacular success and all the paintings were sold. In an article in the June edition of The Artist praise was heaped upon her:
“…Rarely, if ever, has a woman painter made a great reputation as quickly and thoroughly as Miss Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, whose series of watercolour drawings has, during the last month, drawn the whole of artistic London to the Dowdeswell Galleries…”
One of Eleanor’s best-known paintings is one she completed in 1905 and is entitled The Little Foot Page which is now part of the Walker Art Gallery collection in Liverpool. This painting illustrates lines from a 1765 ballad Child Waters sometimes known as Burd Helen, part of the collection of traditional folk ballads by Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. The ballad describes the loyalty of Ellen who is bearing the child of her heartless lover Child Waters. He insists Ellen serve him as a page. She is shown dressed in male clothing and just about to cut her long beautiful hair, so she can pass as a boy. Her dress and wimple can be seen, discarded in the foreground. The theme of a wronged woman was a familiar one in Victorian times. Look at the painstaking way the artist has depicted the foliage. Eleanor was a great believer of the adage, “truth to nature”, and this is highlighted in the painting.
I have always liked multi-figured paintings which have a story attached and so one of my favourite works by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale is one which she completed in 1905 and entitled Love and His Counterfeits. The painting was included in the artist’s second show at the Dowdeswell Gallery, in June 1905. How many times do we look at a “complicated” work of art and wonder what is going on? If only we could ask the artists. In this case Eleanor has put us out of our misery by supplying, in her words, the story behind the depiction which came with the work. She wrote:
“…When a girl’s soul awakens and she opens the door of her Heart’s Castle to receive Love, at first she will not recognise him. First, she will see Fear and think him to be Love. Fear, in craven armour of black, with no coat of arms or badge to mark his family. But by Fear, Love may come. Then she will see Romance, being now in love with ‘being in love’ – Romance, the Boy on a Bubble with a Castle of Dreams in his hand, and Birds and Roses about him. He leads Ambition, who shall stir the girl to think he is Love himself – Ambition, very hot and eager, riding upon Pegasus, the winged Horse. After them is Position, whom she may take for Love; but truly she is in love with Appearance, Prestige, Importance, Riches, Place, all his Train, and this is borne by a Cupid. Now she is stirred by Pity, thinking whom she pities she loves – Pity with the Cup of tears with three handles, that many may drink. Then she perceives Arts, a brave fellow who is but words and emptiness and a mask for love. Arts paints a wound upon him and sings that it is real. To Love he is not henchman, nor cousin, but enemy. Behind him goes Flattery with a mirror, so she is wooed by vain words. Then Gratitude comes with the smoke of memory, and she will think she isfaithless if she does not love one who has been kind. Now, at last, after her emotion, her assault by gifts, mirrors, riches, tears, dreams, phrases, memories, comes True Love, empty-handed, to take and win her Heart’s Castle…”
During the first part of the twentieth century Eleanor carried on with her book illustration. In 1909, Ernest Brown, of the Leicester Galleries, commissioned a series of twenty-eight watercolour illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, which she painted over two years. They were exhibited in the Dowdeswell Gallery in 1911, and twenty-four of them were published the next year in a deluxe edition of the first four Idylls. The book, Idylls of the King, was a cycle of twelve narrative poems by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, which retells the legend of King Arthur.
In the painting, above, The Rusty Knight (Yniol’s rusted arms), we see the knight Sir Geraint astride his horse, accompanied by Enid who walks alongside. He has borrowed a suit of armour from her father Yniol to challenge Enid’s other suitor on the tournament ground. Geraint is a flawed character and suffers from jealousy and at times mistrusted Enid. It could be that Eleanor felt for Enid and so mocked Geraint by depicting him, peeking 0ut his ill-fitting suit of armour whilst sat on an over-large horse.
Her 1911 painting, The Passing of Elaine, depicts another female character from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, which caught the imagination of Eleanor. She was Elaine, a naïve but affectionate young girl who falls in love with Lancelot, but he has no romantic feelings for her. When he tells her that their love can never be, she wishes for death. She orders a chariot bier to take her to the river and place her on a barge, clothed in black upon which she will make her final journey down the river to King Arthur’s Court in the castle at Camelot.
The works of art of Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale were not all book illustrations, neither were they all Pre-Raphaelite-type paintings. One of my favourite works by Fortescue-Brickdale is a portrait which she completed in 1913. It is a portrait of Winifred Roberts, a student at the Byam Shaw School of Art, where she taught. The portrait was a commission given to Eleanor by Winifred’s grandmother Rosalind Howard. Winifred wears a blue dress with lace trimming. She is sitting on a settee which is covered in a fabric produced by Morris and Company, a furnishings and decorative arts manufacturer and retailer founded by the artist and designer William Morris with friends from the Pre-Raphaelites.
In 1938, Brickdale’s career as an artist and illustrator was cut short when she suffered a stroke and was unable to paint for the last seven years of her life. Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale died in Surrey on March 10th, 1945 at the age of 73.
Eleanor was acknowledged as having revived the Pre-Raphaelite style of painting at the end of the 19th century and was considered ‘the last survivor of the late Pre-Raphaelite painters’. Her style of painting and her illustrative work had many admirers who baulked at the new modern art which was becoming more popular, what they wanted and what Eleanor gave them was aesthetically pleasing art which told stories.
I suppose everybody at some time or other has read or had read to them a children’s fable or fairy tale. As a child we would have been fascinated by these stories, but the enchantment was enhanced by the illustrations which were set alongside the printed stories. My blog today is about an artist who was the master of book illustrations which often sat alongside stories about enchanted woods and fairy princesses. Let me introduce you to John Albert Bauer, the Swedish painter and illustrator.
John Bauer’s father, Joseph Bauer, came to Sweden from Ebenhausen in Bavaria as a young orphaned teenager in 1863. He eventually settled down in Jönköping, which is situated at the southern end of Sweden’s second largest lake, Vättern, a lake, which would play a fateful part of his son, John’s life. In the early 1870’s Joseph married Emma Charlotta Wadell, whose parents belonged to a farming community in Rogberga, a rural area, eight kilometres south-east of Jönköping.
Joseph Bauer and his family lived in an apartment above their charcuterie shop in the bustling East Square in Jönköping. The family business was a very profitable venture, so much so that Joseph Bauer was able to afford to buy a summer residence, Villa Sjövik, which was built in 1881 and was situated on the west shore of the Rocksjö, a lake close to Jönköping. It was a rural location, surrounded by almost untouched nature. Looking back from the lake, forests could be seen straddling the mountains which bordered the city of Jönköping. Alas, Villa Sjövik was demolished in the 1960’s but in its place today, there is the JOHN BAUERSGATAN (John Bauers Park) bearing the artist’s name. It is now a small area of tranquillity in the middle of the bustling city and there is a sign marking the place where Villa Sjövik once lay.
John Bauer was born on June 4th, 1882. He was the third of four children having an elder brother and sister, Hjalmar and Anna and a younger brother Ernst. When John Bauer grew up he spent much time exploring the woods and the nearby fields. Nature to him was his friend. Villa Sjövik was a beautiful residence with a large verdant garden and leading from it was a long jetty which led to the lake which made for an ideal bathing spot. The Bauer family enjoyed their time at their summer residence, away from their town apartment, and after a time, they decided to live permanently at Villa Sjövik.
The Bauer family happiness ended abruptly in 1889 when John was seven years old. His sister Anna died suddenly at the tender age of thirteen and this death had an overwhelming effect on John and his family. Living in an apartment situated above their father’s charcuterie, he was always given to sketching and drawing. During his time at Villa Sjövik, he would spend time walking through the Småland forest, always with his sketchbook. It was probably during these teenage years that he began to draw images of the imaginary creatures which he believed inhabited the woods, such as forest trolls and it could be the time that his imaginary fairy-tale world evolved. Another reason for John’s fascination with the world of fairy tales came from the numerous stories he and his siblings were told by their maternal grandmother Johanna Ellqvist. In these recounted myths and legends, she would tell her grandchildren about superstitions and the powers and the secrets of nature which undoubtedly remained in John Bauer’s mind and would play such a big part of his artistic life.
His initial schooling was at Jonkopings Hogre Allmana Laroverk, the Jönköping Public School of Higher Education and then from the age of ten to sixteen he attended the Jonkopings Tekniska Skola, the Jönköping Technical School. John’s passage through school was undistinguished. He was, at best, a mediocre student who lacked any interest in his studies and during lessons would often be lost in his daydreams and doodling on his books and composing caricatures of his teachers. However, one thing was certain, his ability to draw and his interest in art was undeniable. His interest in art was lost on his parents who were too occupied with their own life. They understood he did not like school and showed no interest in getting a job so were supportive when their sixteen-year-old son told them he wanted his future life to be centred around art.
At the age of sixteen John left home and moved to Stockholm to study art. Although his parents showed little interest in his artistic ambition they did support him financially, enabling him to pursue his future plans. It must have been a difficult time for the teenager as although he was immersed in his chosen life of art he must overcome his doubts about his own ability. At sixteen years of age Bauer was too young to enrol at the Stockholm’s Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts and so became a student at the Kaleb Ahltins school for painters for the next two years.
In 1900, aged 18, Bauer was accepted into the Swedish Academy of Fine Arts. He studied traditional illustrations and made drawings of plants, medieval costumes and croquis, which is the quick and sketchy drawing of a live model. There were Classical Art classes, classes which looked at anatomy, perspective, and he would also be expected to attend lectures on the History of Art. When he got home he would also be expected to complete drawing assignments. All of this was to serve him well in his later work. He did well at the Academy and in his 1991 biography of John Bauer, the author Gunnar Lundqvist quotes a comment of one of Bauer’s tutors, the noted historic painter, Gustaf Cederström, who had this to say about Bauer’s work:
“…His art is what I would call great art, in his almost miniaturized works he gives an impression of something much more powerful than many monumental artists can accomplice on acres of canvas. It is not size that matters but content…”
Whilst a student at the Academy he supplemented the money he received from his parents by working as an illustrator for various magazines. One of the greatest influences on him was the fellow illustrator Albert Engström, who was one of the most influential journalists in Sweden. He was a humourist and cartoonist with a great European reputation, and in America he was referred to as the “European Mark Twain”. John Bauer sold his first illustrations to the Söndags-Nisse, which was a light-hearted Swedish magazine. He continued to earn money with his illustrations for this journal and they even offered him a permanent job, which he turned down.
The far north of Sweden, Norway and Finland was the land of the Sami people but with the discovery of vast amounts of iron ore in that region much of their lands were taken over by large mining companies. In 1904 Carl Adam Victor Lundholm planned to publish a book, Lappland, det stora svenska framtidslandet (Lappland, the great Swedish land of the future) which was all about the beauty of this area known as Lapland and to focus on the native Sami people who lived in this wintry region. To make the book complete Lundholm wanted it to be illustrated. Established artists were commissioned. Bauer applied but as he was only young and inexperienced he was asked to prove his abilities by going to Skansen and sketch the Sami people.
Skansen was the first open-air museum and zoo in Sweden which is located on the island Djurgården in Stockholm. It had been in existence since October 1891 and revealed the way of life in the different parts of Sweden prior to the industrial era. This open-air museum atop the hill dominates the island and the site includes a full replica of an average 19th-century town, in which craftsmen in traditional dress such as tanners, shoemakers, silversmiths, bakers and glass-blowers demonstrate their skills in period surroundings. There is also an open-air zoo containing a wide range of Scandinavian animals including the bison, brown bear, moose, grey seal, lynx, otter, red fox, reindeer, wolf, and wolverine (as well as some non-Scandinavian animals because of their popularity). There are also farmsteads where rare breeds of farm animals can be seen.
Lundholm was pleased with what Bauer produced after his visits to Skansen and commissioned him to provide some of the book illustrations, and so in July 1904 Bauer travelled to Lappland, staying there a month, sketching, and photographing the area, its people, and their way of life. The book was eventually published in 1908 and eleven of Bauer’s watercolours graced the book. Bauer also turned many of his sketches and photographs into paintings.
A fellow first-year student of John Bauer was Ester Ellqvist. Ester was born in Ausås in southern Sweden on October 4th, 1880. She was the youngest of seven children of Karl Kristersson Ellqvist and Johanna Nilsdotter. Ester had three older brothers, Carl, Oscar, and Ernst and three older sisters, Selma, Hilda and Gerda. A couple of years after Esther was born, the Ellqvist family moved to Stockholm, where Esther went to the technical school and amongst other things learnt to draw perspective, which was one of the requirements for being admitted into Stockholm’s art academy. One of her sister, Gerda, became an art and needlework teacher, and two of her brothers, Oscar and Ernst made their living as photographers.
John and Ester never studied together as at that time males and females were not allowed to attend the same classes for the men and their artistic education was conducted differently. This was problematic for women such as Ester as although she had the artistic talent and the ambition to succeed she did not have the same opportunities as her fellow male students.
John and Ester began seriously courting around 1903 but it was not a close courtship as they were apart most of the time, and their courtship often just existed as an exchange of letters. But these letters were important as each told the other about their loves, their worries and their hopes for the future
For John, blonde-haired Ester was the personification of a beautiful fairy tale princess and she would be his great inspiration when he started to concentrate on his illustrations for fairy tale books. John and Ester were engaged in 1903, much to Bauer’s family dismay for they believed their son was too young to marry and had yet to establish himself as a professional artist or illustrator.
However, a year after the couple completed their Academy course they were married on December 18th, 1906. Whether it was just marriage jitters but before the wedding Ester was beginning to have doubts about her relationship with John and their future together. One must remember that the two had vastly different upbringings. Ester, except for her first couple of years, lived in the city of Stockholm and was used to all the things cities could offer. She was a lively vivacious person who had many friends and for her, life in the city was exciting and offered up many social events. John Bauer on the other hand was a solitary person who was brought up in a small town and spent much of his life alone or with his brothers wandering around the nearby forests of South Vätterbygden where he gained inspiration for his paintings. The other problem for the newly-weds was that Ester, like John, was an aspiring artist but now, after marriage, she was expected to give up her art and concentrate on her husband, their home, and the family.
The turning point in John Bauer’s artistic career came in 1907 when the publishers, Åhlén & Åkerlund, asked him, to provide illustrations for their newly launched Bland tomtar og troll, (Among Gnomes and Trolls) which was a popular Swedish annual which was full of folklore stories and fairy tales written by various authors. The first edition was published in 1907. Except for 1911 issue, Bauer’s illustrations appeared in the first nine publications. The reason that the 1911 edition of the annual did not contain his illustrations was due to Bauer and the publisher falling out about who owned the watercolours Bauer had given the publisher for the books. He wanted them, they refused saying his material belonged to them and so he declined to supply any material for the 1911 issue. The result was a disaster for the publisher as sales of that year’s annual slumped. The publisher caved in. Bauer was granted the copyright of his paintings which were all returned to him and he resumed producing paintings for their annuals and sales of the annual rose. Many of the illustrations would be of blonde-haired princesses for which Ester was his ideal muse.
One can imagine how excited Bauer was to produce the illustrations. As a child he would walk through the woods close to Villa Sjövik and daydream about the trolls and fairy princess he imagined lived in the woods and now he could convert his dreams into pictorial reality. His illustrations depicted the beauty of Swedish nature with its dense forests pierced by sunlight as it penetrated the gigantic tree canopy. There is a mysticism about his forest illustrations which may sound a chord to those who have ever explored the dark world of a forest.
Due to the restrictions of the technology available to his printers, the 1907to 1910 editions were produced in just two colours: black and yellow even though the watercolour paintings he had given the publisher were in full colour. Things changed with printing techniques in 1912, and the pictures could then be printed in three colours: black, yellow, and blue which were now closer to Bauer’s original paintings. In 1914, following his return from Italy, his illustrations started to be influenced by the Italian Renaissance. However, after eight years of supplying paintings for the annuals, Bauer had had enough and wanted to move on with his art and 1915 marked the last year he provided material for the annuals.
In 1931 a book was published which had extracts from the original volumes illustrated by John Bauer and the proceeds from its sales went to raise money for a memorial honouring Bauer. One of the most memorable illustrations from these annuals was his 1913 picture, Ännu sitter Tuvstarr kvar och ser ner i vattnet. (Still, Tuvstarr sits and gazes down into the water).
In Gunnar Lindqvist’s 1991 biography of John Bauer he states that in the Spring of 1908, John’s father financed his son and daughter-in-law’s trip to Southern Germany and Italy. John and his father Joseph had visited Germany in 1902. John and Ester’s journey lasted for almost two years during which they studied art, visiting museums and churches as well as sketching and painting. The couple visited Verona, Florence, and Siena. Whilst in Tuscany they spent two months in Volterra, a walled mountain top town of which its history dates to before the 7th century BC. They continued through Naples and Capri, constantly writing home to their families, telling them about all they had seen and done.
It was on their return to Sweden in 2010 that they first got sight of Villa Björkudden on the shores of Lake Bunn, a few miles south east of Gränna. They fell in love with the house and in 1914 they bought it. The following year in the autumn Ester gives birth to their first child, a boy named Bengt, but always referred to as Putte. The nickname may have derived from the Italian word putti, a figure in a work of art depicted as a chubby male child – a cherub! Bengt actually appeared in a painting by his father entitled The Root Trolls, which Bauer completed in 1917.
The marriage of John and Ester Bauer was failing. Ester saw herself and her life being taken away from her. She had wanted to be a portrait artist but instead she was simply a lonely housewife married to an artist. She believed she had nothing to show for herself. Again, another underlying cause for the unhappy marriage was Ester’s discontent about where she lived. Ester had always wanted the city life and John was content with his countryside home on the bank of Lake Brunn. They did return to Stockholm during the winter but that was never enough for Ester. Whether the decision to buy a new house, a permanent home in Stockholm was John’s attempt to save their marriage, we will never know but it sadly ended in the death of the family.
On October 1st, 1918 there occurred the worst train disaster in Swedish history caused by a landslide at Getå. Forty-two people died when the train de-railed due to the collapse of the track after the landslide. The train jumped the embankment, landing on the road below. The tragedy was well-publicized and it was to lead to a fateful decision by Bauer.
Seven weeks later, on November 19th, 1918 John, Ester and two-year-old Bengt had to go to Stockholm to their new home but because of all the media reports about the Getå train disaster John took the decision to take the ferry Per Brahe from Granna to Stockholm instead of going by train. The small steamer carried eight passengers and sixteen crew and was fully loaded with iron stoves, agricultural equipment, sewing machines and barrels of produce. All the cargo did not fit into the steamer’s hold and thus a significant portion had to be stored, unsecured, on deck, making the ship top-heavy. The weather was bad, and the ferry sailed into a raging storm. The violent rolling of the vessel in the big swell caused the deck cargo to shift, and some of it went overboard which destabilized the vessel. The ship foundered and capsized, sinking stern first, just 500 metres from its next port of call, Hastholmen.
All twenty-four people on board, including the Bauers, drowned. John Bauer was thirty-six, Ester, thirty-eight and their son Bengt was just three years old when they perished that night in Lake Vättern.
The Bauers were buried at the Östra cemetery in Jönköping.
Who knows what would have become of the Bauer family if they had not died on that fateful night. Would their marriage have survived? Would John Bauer change his artistic style? Would Ester start painting again? We will never know.
A film about the life of John and Ester Bauer was made in 2017 and can be downloaded free at: