Alson Skinner Clark. Part 1.

Alson Skinner Clark

Alson Skinner Clark was an American Impressionist painter known for his landscape paintings and his murals, including at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles and the First Trust and Savings Bank in Pasadena.  He was also an ardent photographer.  He was born on March 25th 1876 in Chicago, Illinois, to Alson Ellis Clark and Sarah Clark.  He had two brothers, Mancel and Edwin and a sister, Mary Emily, who died when young.  His father was not always a wealthy man as he came from an impoverished background.  He had served in the Civil War, and then moved to Chicago where he established a highly successful commodities business at the Chicago Board of Trade.  From then, his wealth increased and he was able to provide a comfortable lifestyle for his wife and family.

The Black Race by Alson Skinner Clark (1902)

Alson showed an early interest in art and was proving to be a gifted young painter.  In an 1956 interview for The Archives of American Art, a collection of primary resources documenting the history of the visual arts in the United States, his wife recalled her late husband’s early “artistic talent” saying:

“… I think the desire to draw was always extant with Alson Skinner Clark. When he was nine or ten years old, it made itself manifest—and obnoxious as well—to the his church-going parents, for during the long Sunday sermons he surreptitiously recorded the bonnets and bald pates in front of him in the only place available at the time—the frontispiece and blank rear pages of the family hymnals…”

His family supported and encouraged him to continue with his art by enrolling him in Saturday classes at the Art Institute of Chicago when he was just eleven years old. 

Breton Village, Rochefort-en-terre by Alson Skinner Clark (1903)

One of the perks of being part of a wealthy family was the ability to travel and in 1889 the Alson Clark and his family set off on a two-year trip around the world. For Alson it was his first taste of European art and no doubt instilled in the young man a love of both travel and painting. Back in America, Alson graduated from high school, and for a short period at the end of 1895 enrolled as a full-time student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  The teaching of art at the Institute was based on the teachings at the French Academies and focused on drawing from casts and still-lifes before students were allowed to progress to drawing live models.  Alson was unhappy with the Institute’s system and after a quarrel with one of his teachers regarding the slow and arduous process of drawing from casts, Clark quit the Institute.

Despite his short but unhappy period at the Chicago Institute Alson was determined to carry on with his art and in 1896 moved to New York and studied under the tutelage of William Merritt Chase at the Art Students’ League of New York.  Despite being twenty-years-old, Alson’s mother would not let him live on his own in New York and so went with him bringing along his childhood friend Amelia Baker.  The three shared an apartment on Seventy-Seven Street and Columbus Avenue.  Alson’s mother Sarah justified this arrangement by saying:

“…For two years Mela [Amelia] and I have talked of spending a winter in New York, in Bohemian fashion, and have searched for a good reason for doing so, in vain till this time. Alson, however, came to the rescue in his desire to study art with a New York master, and made it seem a necessary thing to do…”

Early Nude by Alson Clark (1898)

When Chase opened his own school of art, Alson Clark, along with many other students, followed him.  Chase was a great influence on Alson, an influence which would remain with him for the years to come.   A painting completed by Alson, entitled Early Nude, which he completed in 1898 bears an inscription that Merritt Chase had also worked on the painting.

Mansion of Leroy de Chaumont near Watertown, New York by Alson Skinner Clark (1902)

For two summers Clark spent working en plein air at Merritt Chase’s school in Shinnecock, Long Island and it was the beginning of his love affair with plein air painting and his predisposition with the Impressionist style of painting.  In November 1898 Alson decided, like many other young aspiring artists, to leave America and travel to France to study at the famous French art academies.  The most popular art academy for visiting American artists was the Académie Julian.  However, the “rough and ready” Académie Julian was not for Alson, who commented that he found the working conditions “disgusting”.  Alson preferred to enrol at the newly opened Academia Carmen, which had been founded by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, where the business side of the school was handled by Whistler’s former model Carmen Rossi for whom, along with her musician husband, the school was named. Alson Clark was in awe of Whistler’s artistic talents and kept going to Whistler’s atelier on and off until it closed in 1901.  Alson would never to forget the teachings of Whistler.

Taking Paintings to the Salon, Paris, (c. 1905)

In March of 1899, Clark entered his first work in the Paris Salon. In a letter written the following month to his friend Amelia Baker, he described his experience:

“…Wednesday, Wilson and I went to the Salon to see the stuff carried in and all the awful things that went in—I never saw such a lot of bad painting. The wagons come up to the entrance and take their wads of pictures in and there are crowds of people watching the stuff enter. I have little hope that [my picture] will pass the jury but one can never tell as there is a great deal of “pull” in the Salon, and as I have not studied under any Frenchman I may be thrown out. I don’t care what happens although of course I would rather be in than out. Exhibitions are, after all, a farce…”

When his painting was rejected by the Salon jury, Clark feigned indifference stating:

“It doesn’t’ matter to me at all as I haven’t a reputation to make and there isn’t much honour in being in unless you get in squarely as only very few do.…”

The Violinist by Alson Clark (1901)

Despite his work being rejected by the jurists he never gave up trying to have one of his paintings was eventually accepted into a Salon exhibition for in 1901 his perseverance paid off with his painting, The Violinist being selected for that year’s Paris Salon exhibition.

Comfort Island Alexandria Bay, New York was built in 1883 by industrialist Alson E. Clark.

Whilst he had been living in America Alson Clark’s health was often very poor and was a frequent visitor to his doctor with stomach problems.  In 1901 whilst living in France he once again became ill and was advised he had to have his appendix removed.  In those days this was a serious operation and so he decided to return to America for the operation and set sail for New York on June 1st with surgery booked at a Chicago hospital that summer.  After the operation he recuperated at the family home on Comfort Island, one of the Thousand Islands in Alexandria Bay, New York.  Comfort Island, Alexandria Bay, New York was built in 1883 by his father Alson E. Clark and it is located on the St. Lawrence River in the Thousand Islands Region in what is known as Millionaire’s row.

Ile de la Cite, Paris by Alson Skinner Clark (c.1900)

In the Autumn of 1901 Alson rented a barn from the parents of his friend Amelia in Watertown a small, provincial city near Lake Ontario and the Canadian border and the closest city to Comfort Island.  This was the start of his career as a professional artist and the only one in Watertown. Now set up as a professional artist, he needed a model and he discovered that one of the local girls, Atta Medora McMullin, was willing to pose for him and her mother would act as her chaperone.  Soon love between artist and model blossomed but Alson had his doubts about being good husband material.  He wrote:

“…In the evening I would have liked to have seen Medora, but stayed home and wrote. I have no more business in marrying than the man in the moon for I am fickle and can’t help myself. It is a misfortune and not a fault.” Yet, just a few days later, he wrote, “In the afternoon she posed. I could not work as I wanted to tell her that I loved her but could not. We sat by the fire knowing each other’s minds…”

Landscape near Le Pouldu, France by Alson Skinner Clark (c.1900)

At the end of January 1902, Alson Clark professed his love to Medora and proposed marriage. She accepted.  Medora was to prove a very compassionate and supportive wife.  His first exhibition of his work was at Watertown and featured many paintings of Paris.  It was a success and he sold many works.  From there the exhibition moved to Chicago for Clark’s first major exhibition, at the Anderson Galleries.  Once again the exhibition was hailed as a great success and the Chicago Times declared:

“… Popular opinion has decided that it is a very promising display for a young artist…. Mr. Clark has a style of his own. It is suggestive of Japanese reminiscences, is refined and pleasantly frank…. The sentimental does not interfere with the boldness of using masses…”

From our Window, Paris by Alson Skinner Clark (1903)

Alson Skinner Clark and Atta Medora MacMullin wed on September 20th, 1902, and for their honeymoon they took a sea voyage to Europe on the S.S. Minnetonka.  On November 7th the couple moved into a Parisian apartment at 6, rue Victor Considérant.   Shortly after settling in, Alson’s friend, and fellow American artist, Frederick Carl Frieseke, moved in with them whilst waiting for the apartment above the Alsons to become available to rent.  Alson and Frieseke were good friends and Frieseke used to paint from the Clarks’ apartment balcony and would also occasionally use Medora as a model.  That winter Alson and Frederick painted continually so that they could build up a collection to put before the jurists at the Spring Salon.  They even split the cost of renting wagons to transport their work to the Salon.

Les Colliers (The Necklaces) by Alson Clark (1905)

Alson Clark continually acknowledged the debt he owed Whistler and wrote to him many times confirming such indebtedness.  In 1905 Alson completed a work entitled Les Colliers (the Necklaces) and the style of the work mirrored many of Whistler’s works.  It was simply Alson’s way of paying homage to Whistler’s portraiture.  In the painting we see the lady, modelled by Medora, dressed in a flowing gown with her back to us, standing beside an elegant mantlepiece.  In her hands she holds a pair of necklaces

The Coffee House by Alson Skinner Clark (1906)

One of Alson’s early industrial paintings is his atmospheric work entitled The Coffee House which he completed in 1906.  It is a depiction of Chicago on a cold winter day.  We see ice floating down the river which is overlooked by monstrous dark skyscrapers which are looming through the smoggy atmosphere.  As we look at the painting our eyes are drawn into the picture by the curved ironwork of the State Street Bridge, 

Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare, by Claude Monet (1877)

This is a typical depiction of urban realism and it is suggested that Alson may remember seeing such scenes depicted in Monet’s paintings such as his 1877 work, Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare, which highlight both the ephemeral nature of fog and smoke and the atmosphere’s effect upon the forms of the city.

………….to be continued.

Much of the information I used for this blog came from an article in CALIFORNIA ART CLUB NEWSLETTER entitled An American Impressionist by Deborah Epstein Solon Ph D.

Pierre Adolphe Valette

Self portrait by Pierre Adolphe Valette (1912)

I first came across the artist I am featuring in this blog through his famous English pupil, L.S.Lowry.  Today I want to explore the beautiful and very different paintings of the French artist Pierre Adolphe Valette.

Valette was born on October 13th 1876 in the family home on the rue de Roanne in the east-central French industrial town of Saint Etienne, some sixty kilometres south-west of the city of Lyon.  Saint-Etienne was a vibrant industrial centre similar to the English city of Manchester which would later become a home to Valette.  Valette’s father, Ferdinand, who was born close by in 1846, worked as an armourer at the firm of Claude Brondel and he and the family could be socially termed middle-class and were financially well-to-do.  In 1872, Adolphe’s father Ferdinand, when he was twenty-six, had married his wife, Madeleine, a dressmaker, an occupation she soon relinquished after marriage.

Pierre Adolphe Valette

Ferdinand and Madeleine had their first child, a son, Ferdinand Claude Marie in January 1873.  Their second child, Antoine Emile Edouard soon followed in September 1874 and the third child Pierre Adolphe, the subject of this blog, arrived in 1876.  The family was completed in June 1881 with the birth of their fourth child, and their only daughter, Marguerite Aglaée Nathalie. She was born with a slight mental and physical handicap and was looked after for forty-seven years by her mother.

Saint-Etienne,  École de dessin, renamed École régionale des arts industriels in 1884,

Adolphe Valette was brought up in St Etienne and like all the locals had to put up with the cold, damp and smog of the industrial pollution of this industrialised town.  The first French railway had arrived at St Etienne with its horse-drawn wagons in 1832 and twelve years later steam locomotives took their place.  Adolphe was enrolled by his father at the Ecole Régionale des Arts Industriels where he studied engraving.  It was a school, which as the name suggests, stressed the interaction between industry and the arts.  His father had hoped that Adolphe would learn all about metal engraving which could be used in the armoury sector, such as the engraving on weapons.  His studies also encompassed history and anatomy.  Valette received art tuition at Ecole Régionale des Arts Industriels from Jean Dablin, who was later become the founder of the Société des Arts du Forez’ of which Valette would become a member.  Adolphe Valette was influenced by Dablin’s choice of subjects such as works featuring industrial landscapes and coal mines.

A Lady Reading by Pierre Adolphe Valette

It has not been documented as to why Valette decided to leave St Etienne and move to Lyon.  It maybe he had exhausted the subject matter for his paintings or that he wanted to establish himself as an artist in the city of Lyon.  He worked hard in Lyon.  He worked as an engraver during the day and spent the evenings painting.  He attended evening art classes in the city and from September 1895 he was a student at the Ecole Municipale de Dessin de la Guillotière.  Whilst there he received numerous accolades for his work, receiving a silver medal for figure drawing and in the academic year of 1895/6 he came top of the class.  The following year, in a sketching competition, he received first prize, a rappel de médaille de Vermeil.  His consistency of performing well at the college demonstrated Valette’s artistic talent

Still life with flowers by Pierre Adolphe Valette (1917)

More and more awards came Valette’s way during his period at the Lyon academy.  Valette eventually left Lyon and travelled to Bordeaux.  Nobody has given a reason for this move as surely for a blossoming artist, Paris would have been the logical destination.  The Paris art scene was booming with the acceptance of the Impressionist movement.  Artists like Monet, Pissarro, Degas and Morisot were all selling their works. 

Matinée d’hiver, place Pey Berland à Bordeaux by Alfred Smith (c.1893)

Although Bordeaux was away from the great Impressionist upheavals seen in the French capital there was an influx of Impressionism by way of Pierre Cazaubon and the British painter, Bordeaux-born, Alfred Smith, whose father was of Welsh origin and whose mother was from Bordeaux. This painting above by Smith may be termed gloomy while others assert that it is atmospheric but as you will see later, Valette must have admired the work as it would influence his many works depicting the city of Manchester. Smith painted a series of works focused on views of European cities with pedestrian plying their way down wide boulevards with depictions of local transport such as cabs and trains.  They were true chronicles of everyday city life and Pierre Valette would complete similar works of the northern English city of Manchester in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Open Air Class by Pierre Adolphe Valette (1906)

Valette settled down well in Bordeaux and managed to get a job as an engraver and a professional draughtsman.  He also enrolled at the Ecole Municipale des Beaux-Arts et des Arts Décoratif, a very prestigious academy.  As before he did well at the academy and gained many prizes for his drawings and paintings.  One of his tutors at the Academy was Paul-François Quinsac, a painter of the French School known as Academic art, a specialist in mythological and allegorical subjects, figures and landscapes.  He was also a fashionable portrait painter loved by the Bordeaux upper classes.  Valette was also tutored by Charles Braquehaye in the art of drawing from a live model.  Valette continued to do well at the Academy.  The Academy gave out a number of scholarships to its best students so that they could support themselves whilst studying.  One of the most important scholarships was the Poirson scholarship named after Auguste Poirson who funded the award and bequeathed his vast collection of paintings to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux. 

Paris by Adolphe Valette

In 1903 Valette was awarded the scholarship, worth 400 Francs.  The money was to fund a trip to Japan to study Japanese art and prints and how it interacted with French Impressionism.  The four hundred franc award was not quite enough to fund the study trip but the Poirson scholarship administrators were told that Valette would fund the shortfall.  Little is known as to what happened next, except to say that Valette left the Academy that year, 1903, and because he could not raise the extra money for the trip to Japan, the scholarship money was never handed over to Valette.  That must have hurt but he was still determined to seek wider horizons in his search for a way to improve his artistic skills.   One may have thought Paris would be his destination but instead, he decided to travel to England.  Why England? Maybe it was the fact that in 1904, England and France had just jointly signed the Entente Cordiale, a series of formal political agreements that negotiated peace between England and France and there was a burgeoning admiration between the well-to-do of each nation.  It was also true that many French artists, such as Monet and Pissarro, because of the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war, had travelled to England to study the works of Constable and Turner.

Plymouth Grove by Pierre Adolphe Valette (1909)

Having arrived in England in 1904 Valette enrolled on courses at the School of Art at Birkbeck College, London in April 1905.  However, his stay there was very short and he left the English capital and travelled north to Manchester.  It is thought that Valette went to Manchester with the intention to find work as an engraver and as an artist in a connection with this industrial north-west city.  Valette was not disappointed as he quickly found work at the Norbury, Natzio printing company and secured lodgings at Plymouth Grove in Victoria Park, Manchester.  The company was all about general and colour printing which at the time was ground-breaking technology.  The company specialised in posters and trade publicity.  Whilst there, Valette produced the company’s trade calendars which were exquisite and refined works, a sort of Japanese-style art.

Manchester Municipal School of Art

Besides working at the printing company, twenty-eight-year-old Valette enrolled as a student at the Manchester Municipal School of Art in 1905.  There were five hundred students enrolled at the school. Half attending day courses whilst the other half attended evening classes.  Valette, who had a full time job, enrolled in the life drawing and engraving evening classes.  The future famous English artist LS Lowry enrolled at the Manchester school the same year as Valette but he had to start in the preparatory classes whereas, because of his experience in art, Valette entered the higher classes of the school.

Portrait of John Henry Reynolds by Pierre Alphonse Valette (1919)

Valette proved himself to be an exceptional student, so much so that the head of the academy, Richard Glazier, suggested that Valette should apply for the post of Master of Painting and Drawing.  Glazier probably liked the idea of having a proven French artist on his staff as this would an international flavour to the academy.  Valette applied and in March 1906 he was awarded the post at annual salary of two hundred and twenty-five pounds.  One of Valette’s conditions when he accepted the post that he would be a “hands-on” tutor and would be able to paint alongside his students.  This was a French teaching style, painting by demonstration, and this was new to the United Kingdom. Valette’s knowledge of the French Impressionism movement and what was happening in the French studios allowed him to breathe fresh life into the teaching of art and, at the same time, circumvent the stuffy academic way of teaching the subject.  The director and secretary for the Manchester School of Art when Valette enrolled was John Henry Reynolds and in 1919 Valette completed a portrait of the man.

Drawing from Antiques class at Manchester Municipal School of Art

The famous English painter, L.S.Lowry, or to give him his full name, Laurence Stephen Lowry, enrolled in the evening classes at the Manchester Municipal School of Art in 1905 at the age of seventeen.  A few years on Lowry took part in the Drawing from Antiques course.  The School had a large hall containing many Renaissance classical statues of male and female nudes which gave the students the opportunity to learn and produce drawings of the classical poses.  Lowry produced a number of sketches which Valette appreciated and found the time to convince Lowry to continue with his art studies.  Lowry expressed great admiration for Valette, who taught him new techniques and showed him the potential of the urban landscape as a subject.  Of Valette Lowry described him as “a real teacher … a dedicated teacher”, and added:

“I cannot over-estimate the effect on me of the coming into this drab city of Adolphe Valette, full of French impressionists, aware of everything that was going on in Paris…”

Manchester Ship Canal by Adolphe Valette

What drew me to the artwork of Valette was his impressionist style paintings depicting urban scenes of Manchester often depicting its canals swathed in a smog-filled haze over the lights and dark ironwork of the industrial city.  His painting, His Manchester Ship Canal painting, depicted the barges on the canal and managed to capture the ever-changing effects of light, cloud and movement outdoors.

Albert Square, Manchester by Adolphe Valette (1910)

Valette’s 1910 painting entitled Albert Square is an atmospheric, smog-filled view of one of Manchester’s main squares.  We are viewing it from the southwest side and in the foreground we observe the dark figure of a man, wearing a cloth cap and knee-length coat.  He is plying his trade, pushing a handcart, his figure silhouetted against the wet cobbles. In the mid-ground we see a parked a hansom cab beneath the statue of Gladstone.  The horse feeds from a nose-bag as the driver manages to take a breather.  To the left of the scene, a group of figures congregate around a motorcar parked beneath the Albert Memorial and the statue of Oliver Heywood can be seen to the right.

India House, Manchester by Adolophe Valette (1912)

Valette’s 1912 painting, India House, depicts a secluded view, looking down the River Medlock in Manchester, as viewed from Oxford Bridge and looking in the direction of India House, the large office building which is situated on Whitworth Street. The upper part of the painting is a  framed view of an archway belonging to the railway viaduct spanning Oxford Road. At the centre of the work our eyes strain to see, through the haze, the materialising form of India House, with its numerous lit up windows reflected in the water below. On the left of the painting is what used to be the Refuge Assurance building which would later become the Palace Hotel.  On the river we can see two flat barges.

York Street leading to Charles Street, Manchester by Adolphe Valette (1913)

In 1913, Valette completed his painting entitled York Street leading to Charles Street, Manchester.  It is a typical Valette style work featuring a smog-ridden industrial scene, depicting York Street, Manchester, and looking towards an arched railway bridge spanning the street, over which we can see a steam train crossing.  In the right foreground we see two labourers shovelling a pile of coal on the road and to the right, a single motor car drives along the road to the left.  The pavements are full of people.  All around are tall blackened buildings each emitting tiny lights which struggle to penetrate the smoggy atmosphere.

Ferme Sanlaville, La Combe, Blace by Adolphe Valette

In 1920 Valette resigned from the Manchester Municipal School of Art owing to ill health but remained in Lancashire for eight more years, during which time he was involved in private art tuition.  In 1928 he returned to Paris, and later moved to Blacé en Beaujolais, where he painted portraits and country landscapes. He died there on April 18th, 1942, aged 65.

Although his work contained many colourful landscape scenes and a large number of beautifully crafted portraits.   I will always think of Pierre Adolphe Valette as the artist who depicted the smog-filled urban depictions of Manchester.

Arthur Hacker

Arthur Hacker

My featured artist today is the late Victorian painter Arthur Hacker.  He regularly exhibited his works at the Royal Academy, London and the New Gallery in Regents Street which closed as a gallery in 1910 and is now a fashion store.  His painting genres were many including works featuring contemporary drama, mythological and Biblical narratives, landscapes and still lifes.  Later he concentrated on portraiture which proved very lucrative.

Mr Charles Davies on The Traverser by Edward Hacker

Arthur Hacker was born on September 25th, 1858 in the North London district of St Pancras.  His father was Edward Hacker, a line engraver who specialised in animal and sporting prints. Edward Hacker worked for forty years for the Sporting Review. Having completed his normal schooling, eighteen-years-old, Arthur Hacker applied for and was accepted into the Royal Academy Schools in 1876 and after four years of artistic tuition graduated in 1880.  He then, like many artists of the time, travelled to Paris and trained in the atelier of Léon Bonnat. One of his fellow pupils at the Royal Academy Schools and at the atelier was Stanhope Forbes, the English artist who was a founding member of the influential Newlyn school of painters. Arthur was greatly influenced by French art, especially their plein air realism.

Her Daughter’s Legacy by Arthur Hacker

In 1881 he had his painting Her Daughter’s Legacy displayed at the Royal Academy and it received rave reviews.  An engraved version was used as an illustration for The Illustrated London News, on August 6th 1881.

A Heavy Burden by Arthur Hacker

Hacker completed a number of other paintings which depicted the harsh reality of peasant life.  One which particularly catches the eye is his painting, A Heavy Burden, in which we see a a man struggling to carry his sleeping son through fields whilst his daughter follows on behind clutching hold of a bunch of wildflowers in the folds of her apron, which she has managed to pick during their walk.

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Portrait of Arthur Hacker by Solomon J. Solomon (1884)

Once Hacker had completed his studies in Paris in 1884 he set off on a painting voyage of discovery through Spain and north Africa with his friend and fellow British painter, Solomon J. Solomon, who painted Hacker’s portrait when the two were in Tangiers.  This would be the first of many expeditions Hacker made to Africa.

By the Waters of Babylon by Arthur Hacker (1888)

In 1886, Arthur Hacker along with Stanhope Forbes and Philip Wilson Steer, joined The New English Art Club (NEAC).  It was founded in London as an exhibiting society by artists influenced by impressionism and whose work was rejected by the conservative Royal Academy and were looking for a new exhibition space.  Early members were James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Walter Sickert and Philip Steer. Others in the NEAC’s first show included Sir George Clausen, Stanhope Forbes and John Singer Sargent.

Pelagia and Philammon, 1887 by Arthur Hacker (1858-1919, United Kingdom) | Museum Quality Copies Arthur Hacker | ArtsDot.com
Pelagia and Philammon by Arthur Hacker (1887)

For most of us the name Charles Kingsley conjures up his famous children’s book, The Water Babies, which he published in 1863.  However, ten years earlier he published a novel entitled Hypatia which recounts the fictionalised account of the life of the female philosopher Hypatia. It was said to have been a favourite of Queen Victoria.  Also, within the tale is the young monk Philammon and his search for his sister Pelagia who has been living as a hermit in the desert.  In Hacker’s 1867 painting we see this poignant meeting of the siblings.  Pelagia is at the point of death, and Philammon administers the holy sacraments to her. Philammon is sitting by the body of his sister. A chalice can be seen by his side. In the background we see vultures aware of the oncoming death.

The Sea Maiden by Arthur Hacker (1897)

Another of Hacker’s paintings which featured a nude woman was his 1897 work entitled The Sea Maiden.

Arthur Hacker
Arthur Hacker, The Annunciation (1892)

Arthur Hacker also painted a number of religious works and one of his best known was his 1892 painting entitled The Annunciation which is now part of the Tate Britain collection.  The depiction presents the Biblical story of the Annunciation, as was recorded in the Gospel of James. In that particular account, Mary, while gathering water from a well, is visited by an angel, which she cannot see. It is said by some that it is Hacker’s most beautiful painting.

The angel tells Mary that she will have a baby and that he should be named Jesus. It is thought that during Hacker’s travels in Spain and North Africa he was influenced by the life amongst the native people and in this painting it could well be that the clothes we see Mary wearing replicates the Islamic dress Hacker will have seen during his travels.  The fabric enshrouds Mary almost makes her ghost-like.  Mary stands tall with such grace. she wears layers of soft, floating, light fabric. These robes lend her multiple identities. All at once she is a classical Grecian statue, a goddess, and a bride. She appears authoritative and ethereal, yet tragic and mournful.

In the work, the figure of Mary is both radiant and haunting and is framed in the centre of the painting.  Hovering behind Mary is an angel who has floated down from the sky.   Hacker has painted the angel so translucently that he almost disappears into the background.  In the angel’s hand the there is an offering of a lily. Historically, flowers are symbolic of the Virgin Mary’s and the lily’s’ white petals imply Mary’s chastity and the golden pollen of the flower symbolises her radiant soul.   On either side of her, Hacker has placed objects which help narrate the story. A large brown clay water jug is on the floor by her feet.  Behind her we see the twisted trunk and branches of an olive tree.

In front are steps and a low wall, which encircle the pool of water which she has come to, so as to fill her jug.  Mary seems detached from things around her.  She ignores them as she stares directly towards us, the viewer. Look how she looks out at us.  We are hypnotised by that penetrating stare.  Her eyes are dark and disconcerting and contrast with her small, white, veiled face.  She has a thoughtful and solemn countenance and her hands are resting against her heart.  She is now aware that something dramatic is taking place, something which will affect her life.

Infra-red photography shows that the painting originally included a woman wearing a headscarf sitting behind Mary.

The Temptation of Sir Percival by Arthur Hacker (1894)

One of Hacker’s well-known works is his Pre-Raphaelite-style painting The Temptation of Sir Percival. The 1894 painting depicts a scene from Thomas Malory’s 1480’s book Le Morte d’Arthur, recounting the story of King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table, including Sir Percival a knight of the Round Table who went on a quest to find the Holy Grail. During that mission, the devil in the form of a beautiful but predatory women tries but fails to seduce Sir Percival and get him drunk. Sir Percival however on looking at his sword he notices the handle and its shaft form a cross.  On seeing this, he crosses himself and the woman vanishes.

The Temptation of Sir Percival is now kept in the Leeds City Art Gallery collection.

Arthur Hacker RA, A Wet Night at Piccadilly Circus
A Wet Night at Piccadilly Circus by Arthur Hacker (1910)

Public taste in art changed around the 1890’s and their once-loved genre of historical subjects began to wane and this forced artists, of that genre, to think about diversifying.  Arthur Hacker had to change the subjects in his paintings but he was equal to the challenge.  One solution for Hacker was his decision to re-visit his earlier ideas which had still engaged public interest.  He once again experimented with misty, atmospheric depictions of the London streets, undoubtedly motivated by the work of the French Impressionists, and produced a wonderful painting, Wet Night, Piccadilly Circus which he completed in 1910 and submitted it as his diploma piece when he was promoted to the rank of Royal Academician.

Punting on the Thames by Arthur Hacker (1901)

For reasons of finance it was important for artists to judge the changing interests of the buyers of art.  They needed to know what could make them the most money.  Arthur Hacker, like John William Waterhouse, Frank Dicksee and others, decided that portraiture could be a wise financial strategy and they began to develop a flourishing portrait practice. Hacker carried out many portraiture commissions and amongst his sitters were politicians, army officers, high-ranking clergy, aldermen, headmasters, physicians and society women.

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Portrait of John Gordon Thomson by Arthur Hacker

An example of Arthur Hacker’s portraiture can be seen in his Portrait of John Gordon Thomson, who drew the central cartoons for Fun the Victorian weekly magazine a rival to the better-known Punch magazine.  Thomson was an artist who had his work exhibited at the Royal Academy and illustrated many books and magazines.

Sir Frank Short (1857–1945)
Sir Frank Short by Arthur Hacker (1918)

Another portrait by Arthur Hacker was his 1918 work depicting the British engraver Frank Short who was born at Wollaston, Worcestershire. He was the son of an engineer and trained to follow his father’s profession; his scientific background gave him a deep understanding of materials, and he made his own tools and invented new ones.

Portrait of the Artist’s Mother (Sophia Hacker) by Arthur Hacker (1907)

Another beautiful work of portraiture was his portrait of his mother in 1907. Albeit a very formal pose it still manages to remain both sophisticated and gentle in its depiction of the elderly lady.

Charlotte A. Ferguson of Largham, Donor of Victory Park
Charlotte A. Ferguson of Largham by Arthur Hacker

In 1902, Hacker built a new house at Heath End, Checkendon, Oxfordshire, and named it Hall Ingle.  He had commissioned a young architect Maxwell Ayrton to design the property and carried out the decorations himself. Arthur Hacker died in Kensington, London on November 12th 1919. He was sixty-one years old. He is buried in Brockwood Cemetery, Surrey.

The grave of Arthur Hacker

Frederick Frieseke. Part 2.

Frederick Frieseke

In the Spring of 1902, Frederick Frieseke was back in America after a five-year stint in France.  His reason for returning to his country was two-fold.  He wanted to take care of his American side of his career and probably more importantly he had come to be with his stepmother who was seriously ill.  Once on American soil he wanted to have some of his artwork exhibited at two prestigious exhibitions – the Art Institute of Chicago and then the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  Having exhibited in Paris at the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts and the Salon stood him in good stead.  Frederick held a series of meetings with William R. French, director of the Art Institute of Chicago, which resulted in a special exhibition of eight of his paintings, which were hung together in Chicago’s annual exhibition.

Gertrude, Girl with a Book by Frederick Frieseke (1902)

During the next seven months Frederick spent time in Owosso, transacted business in New York and Chicago, and was able to maintain his flow of drawings for Wanamaker, as well as visiting Sadie in New York. Frederick continued to paint whilst in Owosso and he employed a local young woman, Gertrude Hallowell to model for him. One such work was his painting, Gertrude, Girl with a Book, which he completed in 1902, featured Hallowell.

Woman Reading beside a Lamp by Frederick Frieseke (1902)

Another portrait featuring Hallowell was his painting entitled Femme lisant a cote d’line Inmpe (Woman Reading beside a Lamp) which he also completed that year.

The Green Sash (Medora Clark) by Frederick Frieseke (1904)

Frederick returned to Paris in November 1902 and moved into his new studio and apartment at 6, rue Victor Considerant, which was situated on the opposite side of the Place Denfert Rochereau. The rooms he rented were on the first floor above the apartment of the newly married Alson and Medora Clark, with whom he was to build up a great relationship with for the next few years.  The couple were pleased to provide Frederick with a kind of domestic permanency and friendship. The three often shared meals and spent evenings together. Medora soon became Frederick’s model and posed for his 1904 painting entitled The Green Sash.

Sleep by Frederick Frieseke (1903)

Fredeick Frieseke also engaged the services of a Parisian model, Jeanne Blazy, someone who had worked with the leading artists at the time.  For Frederick she was not just his model, she was also a great help to him taking over some of his domestic chores.  In a letter to Sadie Byers dated March 27th 1904, he wrote:

“…I’ve had a nice model. She’s as useful as anything in other things besides posing. Brings my things for luncheon and cooks them before she leaves, hunts up anything I wish and is always cheerful. Always late but works on as long as I wish. She has posed for Whistler and lots of the big men. Posed for MacMonnies’ statue in the Luxembourg…”

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Bacchante with Infant Faun by Frederick McMonnies

The bronze statue he wrote about was Bacchante with Infant Faun by the American sculptor William Frederick McMonnies’ 1894 work and it was Blazy’s talent of standing on one foot for a long time while balancing an infant on her arm, as she apparently did for MacMonnies’s Bacchante with Infant Faun.  It was exhibited at the 1893 Salon of the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts and later purchased for the Luxembourg Museum.  Frederick used Jeanne Blazy for his 1903 painting entitled Sleep.

Sadie O’Bryan and her family returned to Paris in October 1903 and took a small apartment at 206, boulevard Raspail.  Just around the corner was the Dome, the cafe-restaurant where the American artists were often to be found and Frederick lived a short ten- minute walk away.  Sadie’s father, Judge O’Bryan died suddenly on March 1st, 1904, following an operation for appendicitis. This meant that the family had to make a hasty return to America.  Frederick had been with the family around the time of Sadie’s father’s death and decided to return to America with them.  The family and Frederick left France on March 5th 1904 on the SS. Saint Paul and arrived in New York on March 13th and then travelled to Pittsburgh.

Frederick and Sadie were now apart once again.  She in Pittsburgh with her family and he in New Jersey.  They kept on with their correspondence and in one poignant letter he tried to console her.  He wrote:

“…Yesterday morning I went to see Foote, and he was surprised enough to see me. Got me onto the floor and jumped on my—what one should keep covered—and we had a nice day together. It was horribly hard for me to leave you the other night. And when I came back for my umbrella and found you crying —dear me—I most disgraced us all by putting my arms around you. Dearie, the first days of your getting home are going to be hard ones for you all…”

Le Thé au Jardin by Frederick Frieseke (1904)

Frederick Frieseke had associated with a group of Americans artists and their partners, including the Clarks, who frequented the residence of Grace Lee Hess, at her house in Moret-sur-Loing, some fifty kilometres southeast of Paris, beyond Barbizon and Fontainebleau.  It was here that Frederick and his friends celebrated the Fourth of July, and it was also here that Frederick executed his first large figure painting done plein air, Le Thé au Jardin (Tea in the Garden), featuring Grace Lee Hess and friends. This is a classic work in the Impressionist manner and a magnificent example of Frederick Carl Frieseke’s early style. His paintings completed between 1904 and 1919 epitomise his ambitious and important ventures into the world of Impressionism.  It was the first true en plein air work that Frieseke painted and Le Thé au Jardin marks the most noteworthy turning point in the artist’s career.

Frieseke had not only had Grace Lee Hess model for his large painting, Le Thé au Jardin but had also completed a portrait of her.  Their relationship blossomed and may have given Hess thoughts of romance but Frederick, and even though he liked to be spoiled by Hess, was wary of this turn of events.  It all came to a bitter end when Frederick announced his engagement to Sadie and in a letter to his betrothed, he talked about his rift with Grace Lee Hess:

“…It’s all over between Miss Hess and myself. She refuses to see me and insists that I’ve not acted honorably etc., which is very much too bad. And I’m sorry to lose her friendship but, well, I love Sadie very much and she loves me and while she may not be so keen at discovering my faults and correcting them—yet I think for that reason we will get along beautifully . . . and not quarrel as was the habit of Miss H and myself. At least I corrected the offenses and she did the quarrelling…”

Rest (Femme au Sofa) by Frederick Frieseke (1906)

Frederick Frieseke and Sadie O’Bryan were finally married on June 27th 1905.  In 1906 Frieseke completed a formal wedding portrait of his wife entitled Rest (Femme au sofa).  This work, which appeared at the Salon that year, marked a new direction of Frieseke’s work. It was the start of what was to be many of his domestic depictions that would occupy him for the rest of his life – the embellishment of his intimate relationship he had with his wife and family.

Hotel Baudy (now a restaurant)

Beginning in 1906 they began to escape the cold smoky atmosphere of Paris and spend the warmer months in Giverny, which at the time was a small rural village fifty miles west of Paris on the right bank of the Seine as it runs towards the sea.  At the time it was a well-established art colony which was popular with American artists who had crossed the Atlantic to further their artistic experience.  It was not just a community that solely painted.  It was a group of like-minded people who enjoyed socialising.  The men would take time off to fish. There was also numerous evenings where they would listen to or play music.  Days were often spent playing tennis at the courts of the nearby Hotel Baudy.  Models were brought in from Paris and posed nude in the protected gardens. Often the artists would pose for each other.  The Friesekes would often take tea with the Monets, who were neighbours and Monet and Sadie, who both loved gardening would spend hours deliberating on the proposed expansion of Monet’s garden, and the new bridge from which his water lily garden could be enjoyed.

…………………………………….to be continued.

Eugène Boudin. Part 2.

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       Sky, Setting Sun, Bushes in Foreground. by Eugène Boudin (ca. 1848-1853)

One of Boudin’s earlier paintings which featured his mastery of depicting skies is his work entitled Sky, Setting Sun, Bushes in Foreground which he completed in the early 1850’s. In this work, Boudin has gone for a very high frame and in fact, the sea does not appear in the composition. In this work and many similar ones, there is just the faint outline of a low horizon.  More often than not, the clouds are the main, sometimes the only motif. At times, the subject becomes so fine or abstract that Boudin specified its meaning on the back of the work.  His love of the paintings by the Dutch Masters made Boudin strive to achieve skies that he had seen in their works of art.  Between 1850 and 1870 Boudin completed many such depictions and a note in his personal diary refers to them:

“…To swim in the open sky. To achieve the tenderness of clouds. To suspend these masses in the distance, very far away in the grey mist, make the blue explode. I feel all this coming, dawning in my intentions. What joy and what torment! If the bottom were still, perhaps I would never reach these depths. Did they do better in the past? Did the Dutch achieve the poetry of clouds I seek? That tenderness of the sky which even extends to admiration, to worship: it is no exaggeration…”

On  January 14th,  1863,  Boudin married the 28-year-old Breton woman Marie-Anne Guédès in Le Havre and the couple set up home in Paris but would return to the Normandy coast in the summers.

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                        On the Beach at Trouville by Eugène Boudin (1863)

Boudin had started off his career painting seascapes, but he found his calling in the 1860’s depicting small beach scenes which he populated with affluent holidaymakers that had made the journey from Paris and outlying places.  These people spent summers sampling the health-giving benefits of sea bathing and the vibrant social life in the fast-emerging seaside resorts of Trouville and Deauville. Boudin created a few hundred examples of this type of painting, which enhanced his reputation.  He knew that genre was popular with the public once writing:

“…I shall do something else, but I shall always be a painter of beach scenes…”

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                                On the Beach, Dieppe by Eugène Boudin (1864)

An example of this type of work is his 1864 painting entitled On the Beach, Dieppe.   The setting is the beach of the Channel coastal town of Dieppe.

The changing skies of France’s Channel coast and the fashionable crowds on the resort beaches were Boudin’s lifelong subjects. These pictures were avidly collected, ensuring the artist’s success. In 1863 he commented:

“…They love my little ladies on the beach, and some people say that there’s a thread of gold to exploit there…”

On the Beach, Sunset MET DT1031.jpg

                                 On the Beach, Sunset by Eugène Boudin (1865)

Around 1865 Eugène Boudin spent time painting on the Normandy coast along with Monet, Courbet and Whistler.  It is around this time that Boudin began a series of depictions of fashionable beaches and this was to carry on for the whole of that decade.  In his 1865 painting, On the Beach, Sunset, we see the well-dressed upper-class holidaymakers who have gathered together to catch the final light of the day.  The seaside towns of Trouville and Deauville had not only their beautiful sandy beaches to inveigle tourists to their town but also had racetracks and casinos to satisfy those who liked the thrill of a wager. 

Princess Pauline Metternich (1836–1921) on the Beach MET DT4425.jpg

                    Princess Metternich on the Beach by Eugène Boudin (1867)

Visits by famous people to the Normandy beaches, such as Napoleon III’s wife, the Empress Eugénie also enhanced their reputation. Another dignitary to visit the Normandy beaches was Princess Metternich, the famous Austrian socialite, and wife of the Austrian ambassador to France and one of the most notable women at the court of Napoleon III.  She visited the seaside times on many occasions and was often accompanied by Princess Eugénie.  Her visit was captured by Boudin in his small 1867 painting entitled Princess Metternich on the Beach.  The Impressionistic style of the painting gives us little idea of the woman herself, which may be a relief to the Princess, as commentators of the time described her as small, very slight of build and as having “a turned-up nose, lips like a chamber pot and the pallor of a figure from a Venetian masque”.

Laundresses by Eugène Boudin

For a period of time in 1867 Boudin left the beaches of Normandy and the luxurious lifestyle of the visiting rich and depicted the less well-off peasants and their daily routines.  Boudin could clearly see and understand the difference in the lives of the various social classes.  Did this bother him?  In a letter to his friend Ferdinand Martin, on August 28th, 1867, he condemned the social class system, writing:

“…I have a confession to make. When I came back to the beach at Trouville it seemed nothing more than a frightful masquerade.  If you have passed one month among the people condemned to hard work in the fields, with black bread and water, and you then find that gang of golden parasites with such a triumphant air, you can’t help feeling a bit of pity.  Fortunately, dear friend, the Creator has spread a little of his splendid and warming light everywhere, and what I reproduce is not so much this world as the element that envelops it…”

…….and yet in a letter to the same friend, Ferdinand Martin, a year later (September 3rd. 1868), he justifies his depictions of the wealthy on the Normandy beaches, writing:

“…The peasants have their painters, Millet, Jaque, Breton; and that is a good thing.  Well and good: but between you and me, the bourgeois walking along the jetty towards the sunset, has just as much right to be caught on canvas, ‘to be brought to the light’.  They too are often resting after a day’s hard work, these people who come from their offices and from behind their desks.  There’s a serious and irrefutable argument…”

Antwerp, Boats on the Scheldt by Eugène Louis Boudin, High Museum of Art.jpg
Antwerp, Boats on the Scheldt by Eugène Boudin (1871)

The Franco-Prussian War broke out in July 1870 and the Prussian army invaded the French capital the following month.  Both Boudin and Monet fled the country with Monet going to London whilst Boudin went north to Belgium and the city of Antwerp.  Whilst in Antwerp Boudin completed a number of maritime paintings, one of which was his 1871 work entitled Antwerp, Boats on the Scheldt.

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Antwerp, The Escaut River by Eugène Boudin (c.1871)

Another work around the same time was The Escaut River in Antwerp.

Low Tide. Portrieux by Eugène Boudin (1873)

With the Franco-Prussian war ending in 1871 and the bloody Paris Commune, which followed in the Spring of that year, coming to an end, it was safe to return to France.

Portrieux, in the bay of St. Brieuc, Côtes du Nord, was a popular village with painters and Boudin visited it on several of his trips to Brittany between 1865 and 1897.  His 1873 painting Low Tide, Portrieux depicts vessels he would have seen during his visits.  In this painting Boudin has focused on the fishing vessels from Newfoundland, the Terre-Neuvas, becalmed at low tide, and several of his paintings centred on this subject matter.   Boudin, who was the son of a ship’s captain, and who had worked as a cabin boy on ships sailing along the Channel coast, was well able to recognise, and record, the individual characteristics of the vessels he came across in the ports he visited.

The Dock at Deauville (1891)

The Dock at Deauville by Eugène Boudin (1891)

One of Boudin’s paintings, The Dock of Deauville, which he completed in 1891, has a similar depiction, ships in a harbour.  This painting treats a common theme in Boudin’s later art, ships in harbours. For Boudin these paintings were all about tranquillity, harmony and the effect of natural light on subjects and, unlike other maritime painters, avoided depictions of busy dockside life and the arduous jobs carried out by dock workers.  In this work, one can see how he has combined lighter tones around the ships’ masts, often overlying the darker lines of the wood and rigging with white or grey tones as if to suggest the passing wind and ever-changing positions which were everyday aspects of nautical life.

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View of Antibes by Eugène Boudin (1893)

By the time the 1880’s came around Boudin had achieved widespread recognition as an accomplished painter and had finally achieved financial security once he had secured a contract with the art dealer Durand-Ruel.   Paul Durand-Ruel, who was a great supporter of Impressionism and the Impressionist artists. In 1883 he opened his new gallery on the Boulevard de la Madeleine in Paris with an exhibition of works by Boudin, comprising 150 paintings and other pastels and drawings.

Fair in Brittany by Eugène Boudin

In 1888 at an auction at Hôtel Drouot in Paris, a large auction house in Paris, known for fine art, antiques, and antiquities, which consisted of  sixteen halls hosting seventy independent auction firms, many of Boudin’s paintings were bought by avid collectors of his work. 

Venice: Santa Maria della Salute and the Dogana Seen from across the Grand Canal

Venice: Santa Maria della Salute and the Dogana seen from across the Grand Canal, by Eugène Boudin (1895)

In 1889, 1890, and 1891, more successful exhibitions were organized at Galerie Durand-Ruel, and in 1890 Boudin was elected a member of the Société des Beaux-Arts.  His paintings travelled across the Atlantic and were shown in exhibitions in Boston in 1890 and 1891.  He continued to exhibit at the Paris Salons until his death and received a third-place medal at the Paris Salon of 1881, and a gold medal at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris.  In 1892 Boudin was made a knight of the Légion d’honneur.  His wealth allowed him to travel and he visited Belgium, the Netherlands, and southern France, and from 1892 to 1895 made regular trips to Venice.

Villefranche

Villefranche by Eugène Boudin  (1892)

Boudin was now spending every winter in the south of France, returning to his beloved Normandy in the summer.  His wife died in 1889 and Boudin’s own health was in decline.  In 1898 Boudin must have realised he was dying as he decided to move back to his home in Deauville to die. 

Eugène Louis Boudin died on August 8th 1898 aged 74.  He was buried according to his wishes in the Saint-Vincent Cemetery in Montmartre, Paris.  Boudin was a very modest man  and once said:

“…I may well have had some small measure of influence on the movement that led painters to study actual daylight and express the changing aspects of the sky with the utmost sincerity…”

But I will leave the last words to Claude Monet who said of Boudin:

“…If I have become a painter, I owe it to Eugène Boudin…”

Eugène Boudin. Part 1.

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My featured artist today is the nineteenth century French painter Eugène Boudin.  He was one of the earliest en plein air painters and is credited with introducing plein air painting to Monet.  He was a marine painter and his depictions focused on seascapes and the Normandy shorelines.

Portrait of the Artist’s Father  by Eugène Boudin (1850)

Eugène Louis Boudin was born in the coastal town of Trouville in Normandy on July 12th 1824. Leonard-Sebastien Boudin,  Boudin’s father, was a harbour pilot, and at the age of ten, young Boudin worked as a cabin boy on a steamboat that sailed across the Seine estuary between Le Havre and Honfleur and during those days on the water the young boy must have witnessed the constant fluctuations of the colours of the sea and sky which were aspects so important to plein air artists.  Boudin’s father gave up his seagoing life when Eugène was about twelve years of age.  In 1835, Eugène moved with his family to Le Havre where his father established himself as stationer and frame-maker. Eugène began work the following year as an assistant in the shop before opening his own small framing shop which he co-owned. It was whilst running this shop that he first met artists who were working in the area and used his shop to exhibit their paintings.  The most well-known of these were the landscape painter, Constant Troyon, Jean-Francois Millet, the portraiture artist, Jean-Baptiste Isabey and the history painter, Thomas Couture.  Eugène would receive encouragement from these painters to abandon the world of commerce and take up painting.  In 1846, aged twenty-two, Eugène Boudin took their advice and gave up the stationery shop and began to paint full time.  He had sold his share of the business to buy himself out of military service and in 1847, he travelled to Paris and spent time travelling through the Flanders region.  Boudin was profoundly influenced by the Dutch 17th-century Masters and when he met the Dutch painter Johan Jongkind, who had already made his mark in French artistic circles, Boudin was advised by his new friend to paint en plein air.  Three years later, in 1850 he won a scholarship that allowed him to move to Paris.  However, he never forgot his roots and would return to Normandy to paint and later take many painting trips to Brittany.  

The Road from Trouville to Honfleur by Eugène Boudin (c.1852)

During that early period, Eugène painted rural landscapes, peasants, and still life works, but soon his love of the sea and the seaside progressively attracted his attention, and in 1862, he began to paint the crowds of fashionable tourists who had descended on the Normandy beaches.  Seaside resorts began to appear on the French Channel coast and in what was to become Belgium and the Netherlands in the late eighteenth century.  By the early nineteenth century the commercial sea-bathing habit was making an impact on Normandy. 

Fishermen by the Water by Eugène Boudin (1855)

Up until that time artists’ coastal scenes were rarely populated, and if they did include figures they were likely to be local fishermen. Boudin’s coastal scene paintings were adventurously modern in nature depicting smartly dressed holidaymakers engaging in leisure activities.

Elegant Women on the Beach by Eugène Boudin (1863)

His modus operandi was to sketch en plein air during the summer months and finish off the paintings in his studio during the winter months.  Boudin still respected the established tradition of outdoor painting.  His plein air sketches were merely studies rather than finished works and they had to be finalized in his studio utilizing the many sketches he had made as well as the meticulous notes he had recorded about atmospheric conditions and the time of day when the sketches had been made.  It was a painstaking operation as he once wrote in a letter to one of his students:

“… An impression is gained in an instant, but then it has to be condensed following the rules of art or rather your own feeling, and that is the most difficult thing – to finish a painting without spoiling anything…”

However, Boudin changed his methodology realising that there was an innate wrongness with his system of completing works indoors and so he would, from start to finish, complete his works en plein air.  This inherent immediacy of work painted outdoors allowed him to be aware of changing weather and light conditions.

The Beach at Villerville by Eugène Boudin (1864)

Claude Monet was born in Paris on November 14th 1840 and at the age of five moved with his family out of the French capital and went to live in Le Havre.  Monet was fourteen years younger than Boudin but it is said that around 1856, sixteen-year-old Monet met fellow artist Eugène Boudin, who then became his mentor and taught him to use oil paints. Boudin who befriended him also taught Monet the technique for outdoor painting.  This was to have a great influence on the young artist.  Up to the early meetings with Boudin, Monet had concentrated on his teenage caricatures but was persuaded by Boudin to focus all his time on landscape painting.  Monet recalled the time:

“…it was as if a veil had been torn from my eyes. I had understood, had grasped what painting could be. Boudin’s absorption of his work, and his independence, were enough to decide the entire future and development of my painting…”

Büyük Purolu Adam, 1855-1856 picture

Boudin helped Monet to love the bright hues and the play of light on water.  Monet remembered Boudin’s words of encouragement and later paid tribute to Boudin’s early influence:

“…Boudin without hesitation, came up to me, complimented me in his gentle voice and said ‘I always look at your sketches with pleasure, they are amusing, clever, bright.  You are gifted; one can see that at a glance.  But I hope you are not going to stop there.  It is all very well for a beginning, yet soon you will have had enough of caricaturing.  Study, learn to see and paint, draw, make landscapes.  The sea and the sky, the animals, the people and the trees are so beautiful, just as nature had made them, with their character, their genuineness, in the light, in the air, just as they are’…”

Laundresses by a Stream by Eugène Boudin

This would later become evident in Monet’s Impressionist paintings. Boudin offered Monet the chance to help him in his framing shop but the young man declined but later that summer he acquiesced.  The two remained lifelong friends and  it was probably through Monet that Boudin was asked to participate in the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874.  

In 1859 Boudin met Gustave Courbet who introduced him to the poet and art critic, Charles Baudelaire, who was the first critic to draw Boudin’s talents to public attention when he made his debut at the 1859 Paris Salon.

Deauville Harbour by Eugène Boudin

Boudin was to later join Monet and his young friends in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, but he never considered himself a revolutionary trend-setter unlike some of the other artists.  So now Boudin’s work featured at both the Imressionist’s First Exhibition as well as at the Paris Salon that year.  In a way Boudin had created a vital connection between the past and future trends of French art, and by so doing won the admiration of his contemporaries.  Boudin could have become a regular member of the Impressionists but chose not to.

   Boudin had mental issues in the form of bouts of melancholia and he always seemed to doubt his own ability.  He was introverted and never felt the need to bolster his reputation which may have been enhanced if he had decided to live in the French capital and regularly mix within the Paris art circle.  Boudin preferred to remain living in Normandy.

In a letter, from Paris, dated June 14th 1869, to family-friend Ferdinand Martin Boudin tells of his desire to return to Normandy:

“…I dare not think of the sun-drenched beaches and the stormy skies, and of the joy of painting them in the sea breezes…”

The paintings that Boudin made of the coast were consistent with the ideals of the depiction of light which became popular with the Impressionist movement and so we must realise that Boudin continued to be an influence with the group.  

Beach at Trouville by Eugène Boudin

Boudin was a master when it came to depicting skies.   Fellow artists, like Corot, praised that aspect of Boudin’s paintings and nicknamed him King of the Skies.  In 1859 the poet Charles Baudelaire rhapsodically described the skies in Boudin’s paintings, shown at the Salon, ‘prodigious spells of air and water’.

………..to be continued.

Ásgrímur Jónsson, the Icelandic Impressionist.

This is just a short mini-blog to look at a twentieth century Impressionist from Iceland, Ásgrímur Jónsson

                                                               Ásgrímur Jónsson

Ásgrímur Jónsson wasat the forefront of Icelandic art.  He was a pioneer of Icelandic visual art and the first Icelander to become a professional painter. Ásgrímur was born on March 4th, 1876, in Suðurkot, a small town thirty kilometres south west of Reykjavik.

                                       Autumn Sunlight, Öskjuhlíð by Ásgrímur Jónsson (1920)

In 1897 he left home and went to Copenhagen.  In 1900, aged twenty-four,  he enrolled on a three-year art course at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.  Once qualified, he toured a number of European countries before settling back down in Iceland in 1910.  On his journey home he visited Germany and the cities of Berlin and Weimar and it was during this period that he became influenced by the French Impressionists and the Post Impressionists, especially the landscape works of  the French painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.

                                          Hafnarfjörður Town by Ásgrímur Jónsson (1930)

Ásgrímur’s main painting genre was landscape art and especially that of his native Iceland and through his art many native artists would follow his lead.  His depictions of nature were fashioned by the romance of the nineteenth century.  He liked to focus his depictions on the changes of light and how it altered the view of the land.  He alternated between watercolours and oils but is best known for the former medium.

                           Mt. Strútur and Eiríksjökull Glacier, West Iceland by Ásgrímur Jónsson (1948)

He was a great believer in Naturalism in art – the broad movement in the nineteenth century which represented things closer to the way we see them.  However later his works were characterised by colourful expressionism.

                                           From a Folklore by Ásgrímur Jónsson (1957)

Ásgrímur also worked as a pioneer in the illustration of Icelandic legends and adventures.  He pictorially depicted Icelandic Folk Legends delving into the world of elves and trolls who lived in the semi-darkness of the old turf farmhouse and who would kidnap humans.  Tales of pastors haunting their wives-to-be, of witches flying to Satanic gatherings, of sheep-rustling and flying bulls.  A land where humans live inside hills, where witches flying on jawbones instead of broomsticks, and tales which rarely have happy endings.

                                                                  Troll painting by Ásgrímur Jónsson

Ásgrímur’s works on folklore themes were well received.  The art critics delighted in his depictions and that Iceland’s folktale heritage was being addressed, for the first time, by an Icelandic artist. Ásgrímur’s depictions of the appearance of elves and trolls also met with widespread approval from the public who believed he had succeeded in capturing the way that they imagined their folklore characters to be.  For Ásgrímur Jónsson it was all about the viewer’s own imagination when they looked at these folklore works and it was a reminder of the beauty of their land when they looked at his landscape paintings.  Today the folklore paintings form part of the unique cultural heritage conserved in the collections of the National Gallery of Iceland.

                        ÁSGRÍMUR JÓNSSON MUSEUM at BERGSTAÐASTRÆTI 74, 101 REYKJAVÍK

Ásgrímur Jónsson died on April 5th, 1958, aged 82.  The Ásgrímur Jónsson’s collection, which is today a department within the National Gallery of Iceland, originated in 1960 when a small gallery was opened in Ásgrímur’s studio and home, which he bequeathed to the Icelandic nation along with all of his works in his own possession upon his death. 

Lilla Cabot Perry. Part 2.

                                                 Portrait of Alice Frye Leach by Lilla Cabot Perry (c.1880)

It was in 1889 that Lilla Cabot Perry first encountered Claude Monet’s work at the prestigious Galerie Georges Petit in Paris which staged a Monet/Rodin collaboration exhibition (Claude Monet-Auguste Rodin, centenaire de l’exposition de 1889), that opened on June 21st.  It was also in that summer of 1889 that Lilla and her husband first met the great French painter.  According to an article written by Lilla, which appeared in the March 1927 edition of the American Magazine of Art, a young American sculptor who was living in Paris mentioned to her and her husband that he had a letter of introduction to meet Monet but he was very nervous and shy with going on his own to the great man’s house so asked the couple if they would accompany him on his visit.  Lilla and Thomas Perry were delighted to accept the invitation as they had greatly appreciated what they had seen at the Claude Monet-Auguste Rodin exhibition.

In the article Lilla recounts her first impressions of Monet.  She wrote:

“… The man himself with his rugged honesty, his disarming frankness, his warm and sensitive nature, was fully as impressive as his pictures and from this first visit dates a friendship which led us to spend ten summers at Giverny.  For some seasons, indeed, we had the house and garden next to his and he would sometimes stroll in and smoke his afternoon-luncheon cigarette in our garden before beginning on his afternoon work…”

The Impressionism style that Lilla encountered with the art of Monet was an epiphany moment for her. She immediately took to this style even though it was still rejected and scorned by the art world around her.  The way the Impressionists managed the colour and light was a great inspiration to her and during those summer days at Giverny she also worked with many American artists, who had found their way to the small French town to sample the joys of plein air painting in the rural surroundings, such as Theodore Robinson, John Breck, and Theodore Earl Butler.

                                               La Petite Angèle, II, by Lilla Cabot Perry (1889)

One of her painting during her time in Giverny was her 1889 work entitled La petite Angèle II.  It is impressionistic in style with its free form brushstrokes that capture the impression of light and colour.   Claude Monet, inspired Perry to work en plein air, and use impressionistic brushstrokes, soft colours, and poppy red. If you look through the window depicted in this work you should note the early stages of what would become Lilla’s love affair with the way the Impressionists treated landscape depictions.

Angela by Lilla Cabot Perry, 1891, High Museum of Art.jpg
                                                                  Angela by Lilla Cabot Perry, (1891)

A similar work by Lilla was entitled Angela.  It was a portrait of one of her favourite models in Giverny. The clearly defined figure posed in a freely brushed and light-filled setting typifies academic American Impressionism of the time.

A Little Girl in a Lane in Giverny - Lilla Cabot Perry Painting
                                            A Little Girl in a Lane in Giverny by Lilla Cabot Perry

In late 1889 Lilla Cabot Perry and her husband left Giverny and embarked on a tour of Belgium and the Netherlands.  In 1891 she returned to Boston with her family bringing home a painting by Monet and a number of landscapes works by John Breck.  Once back in Boston she began to spread the word of Impressionism especially the works of Monet.  However, like many art critics in France, Impressionism was not favoured by either the American critics or the buying public and Lilla had to begin with a hard-sell of his works.  She would exhibit his works at her home and give talks about him and the world of Impressionism to the Boston Art Students’ Association. 

                      Portrait of Baroness R by Lilla Cabot Perry, (1895)

Whether Bostonians accepted the merit of Monet’s work or not, the one thing for sure was that they appreciated the paintings of Lilla Cabot Perry, especially her portraiture.  Several of her paintings were exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago and were greeted with great acclaim.   In 1897 she exhibited work at the St Botolphs Club in Boston and the art critic of the Boston Evening Transcript wrote:

“…Mrs Perry is one of the most genuine, no-nonsense, natural painters that we known of………………Such work must be taken seriously…”

The Letter, 1893 - Lilla Cabot Perry
                                           The Letter (Alice Perry) by Lilla Cabot Perry (1893)

Lilla Perry’s artistic success in 1889 had made it possible for her to be one of the select few young artists to be admitted to Alfred Stevens’ class in Paris.  The works of Lilla Perry were often influenced by the time she spent with Stevens. A good example of this is her 1893 painting entitled The Letter [Alice Perry] and the way she has depicted the chair, especially the careful attention she has paid to  the colouration of the wood, and the way she has depicted her youngest daughter’s clothes in such detail.  It is a loving portrait of a nine-year-old daughter by her mother.

Black-and-white interior photograph of a light-skinned adult woman in profile with dark hair in a bun and a light-color dress. She stands in front of an easel and holds a palatte and brushes in her left hand. She rests her right hand on a painting of a light-skinned young girl.
                                                                       Lilla Cabot Perry at work (c.1890)
Lilla Cabot Perry, 1896 - Haystacks, Giverny.jpg
Haystacks, Giverny by Lilla Cabot Perry (1896)

In 1894, sheonce again exhibited her impressionism paintings at the St. Botolph Club in Boston together with other Impressionism artists, including Edmund Tarbell, Phillip Hale, Theodore Wendel, and the British-born painter Dawson-Watson. Three years later, and in the same gallery, Lilla held a solo exhibition.  On show were her Impressionist-style portraits and landscapes. 

Giverny Landscape, in Monet’s Garden by Lilla Cabot Perry (1897)

This proved to be a major turning point for Lilla Perry as it showed that her work was gaining the recognition of the American art world and that Impressionism was finally being acknowledged as a legitimate artistic expression. Lilla Perry was a devoted Impressionist painter and she loved the work of the Impressionists, especially the works of her friend Claude Monet.  Now back in America she took every opportunity to endorse French Impressionism and urged her friends to invest in their work.  She also gave many lectures and wrote essays for journals and magazines supporting this French art movement.

In a Japanese Garden by Lilla Cabot Perry (1901)

Between 1868 and 1872, Lilla’s husband, Thomas Perry, was a tutor in German at Harvard and from 1877 to 1881, he was an English instructor in English as well as being a lecturer in English literature from 1881 to 1882. Thomas Perry was offered a new challenge in 1897 when he was presented with the opportunity to take up a teaching position in Japan as an English professor at the Keio Gijuku University in Tokyo.  Lilla and her husband along with their three children left America and travelled to Japan.  Not only was this and exciting time for her husband it was also a stimulating time for Lilla and offered her new opportunities to paint.

In 1898, he became professor of English literature in the Keio University, in Tokyo, Japan.  The Perry family lived in Japan for three years and Lilla immersed herself in its artistic community.  Lilla Perry met Okakura Kakuzō, one of the Imperial Art School co-founders and became an honorary member of the Nippon Bijutsu-In Art Association, an artistic organization in Japan dedicated to a Japanese style painting known as Nihonga.

Portrait of a Young Girl with an Orange by Lilla Cabot Perry (1898-1901)

Such an involvement in the Japanese art and Asian art in general helped Lilla develop her unique style which fused western and eastern artistic traditions.

Child in Kimono by Lilla Cabot Perry (1898)

The result of this coming together of east and west can be seen in her Impressionist portraits.  

Lilla Cabot Perry, Mount Fuji with Gravestones, Harvard.jpg
Lilla Cabot Perry, Mount Fuji with Gravestones, 1898-1901

It was not just her portraiture that Lilla focused on during her three-year stay in Japan, she also completed a number of landscape works.  By far her most favoured subjects were ones depicting Mount Fuji.  Of about eighty paintings she completed whilst in Japan, thirty-five depicted the iconic mountain.

Open Air Concert by Lilla Cabot Perry (1890)

Lilla and her family left Japan for America in 1901 and settled back into their house in Boston.  Her three daughters were now all in their twenties and their mother had completed a number of paintings feature all of them or as individuals. In an early painting entitled Open Air Concert, which she completed in 1890, she depicts her three daughters in a garden setting with her eldest, Margaret, with her back to us, posed playing the violin.

The Trio, Tokyo, Japan by Lilla Cabot Perry (1901)

Almost ten years later Lilla’s three musically-talented daughters featured in her 1901 painting entitled The Trio, Tokyo, Japan (Alice, Edith and Margaret Perry).  In 1903 Lilla and Thomas Perry bought a farm in Hancock, New Hampshire.  She said she immediately fell in love with the area as it reminded her of Normandy, an area she knew well from her days at Giverny. 

Portrait of Mrs Joseph Clark Grew (Alice Perry) by Lilla Cabot Perry (1905)

Alice Perry, Lilla’s youngest daughter featured in her mother’s portrait entitled Portrait of Mrs. Joseph Clark Grew [Alice Perry].  Joseph Grew married Alice Perry on October 7th, 1905 and became her husband’s life partner and helper as promotions in the diplomatic service took them around the world.   The couple went on to have two daughters, Lilla Cabot in 1907 and Elizabeth Alice in 1912.  Lilla’s portrait of her daughter won her a bronze medal at the prestigious International Louisiana Purchase Exhibition in St. Louis.

Portrait of William Dean Howells by Lilla Cabot Perry (1912)

In the first decade of the twentieth century Lilla Cabot Perry divided her time between Boston and France but her health had started to deteriorate possibly due to all the travel she was doing but also because of financial problems.  Her inheritance had dwindled and she was the main source of the family income through the sale of her paintings.   The financial difficulties the family were experiencing meant that she had to spend a lot of her time completing portraiture commissions to make up for the money that her family was losing in investments.  She once declared that she had had to complete thirteen portraits in thirteen weeks, four sitters a day at two hours each.   It also rankled with her that she had to concentrate on portraiture as her Impressionistic landscapes were viewed as too experimental by her conservative patrons.  An example of her portraiture work around this time was her 1912 Portrait of William Dean Howells, the prolific American novelist, playwright and literary critic.

See the source image
Portrait of Edith Perry Ballantine and Edward Ballantine by Lilla Cabot Perry

In 1923 Lilla was struck down with diphtheria and at the same time she was struggling to support her middle daughter, Edith, who had suffered a mental breakdown and was admitted to a private mental health institution in Wellesley, Massachusetts.  Lilla spent two years convalescing in Charleston, South Carolina.

Lilla Perry, like many other nineteenth century painters, was unhappy with the new avant-garde trends in Modern art such as Fauvism led by Henri Matisse and André Derain and so in 1914 she, along with Edmund Tarbell, William Paxton and Frank Benson, helped form the ultra-conservative Guild of Boston Artists in order to oppose the art world’s avant-garde trends.  In 1920 Perry received a commemoration for giving six years of loyal service to the Guild.

A Snowy Monday by Lilla Cabot Perry

During her time convalescing she discovered a new inventiveness for her landscape works, what she termed as “snowscapes.” These beautiful winter landscapes laden with snow became a craving 0f Lilla’s and she would go to extreme lengths to capture winter scenes en plein air, even bundling herself up in blankets and hot water bottles in order to capture the beauty of a 4 a.m. sunrise. One of her most famous “snowscapes” was her 1926 work entitled A Snowy Monday.

Lilla Perry by Frederick A Bosley (1931)

Her summer home in Hancock soon became her main residence and she and her husband Thomas settled into village life in the picturesque New Hampshire foothills.   Thomas Perry died of pneumonia on May 7th 1928, aged 83.  Lilla Cabot Perry continued to paint prolifically until her death on February 28th, 1933.   Lilla and Thomas Perrys’ ashes are buried at Pine Ridge Cemetery in Hancock.

Hilda Rix Nicholas. Part 2. Morocco and many family tragedies

Morocco, marketplace with pile of oranges by Hilda Rix Nichols painted during one of her two trips to Tangier

It would have been almost impossible to actually paint plein air in oils in the chaotic marketplaces, so Hilda resorted to completing many outdoor pencil and crayon sketches and then later fashioned a completed work when she returned to her hotel.  Her painting style had changed and was now more in line with the Post Impressionists.  An example of this is her work entitled Morocco Marketplace with the Pile of Oranges.  It is a good example of the changes that her style underwent in Morocco. Now she is painting with flowing brush strokes in thick slabs of impasto, a technique used in painting, where paint is laid on an area of the surface in very thick layers, usually thick enough that the brush or painting-knife strokes are visible. The scene is framed by buildings in the background and strewn across the foreground we see a large pile of oranges. The mountain women are wearing red striped skirts and bright haiks, the large pieces of cotton, silk, or wool cloth worn as an outer garment by some Moroccan women.   

                            Men in the Marketplace by Hilda Rix (1914)

In 1914 she completed her painting entitled Men in the Market Place, Tangier.   It is set during the late afternoon once all the shops had closed and in front of us are a group of men deep in conversation.  She has cleverly used a much-reduced palette of pale blues, creams, browns, and yellows.  We do not see the facial feature of the men as they are bathed in a dark grey shadow whilst the buildings behind them are bathed in late afternoon light.  Hilda wrote a letter home describing how she had to endure the strong sunlight coming from the low sun.  She wrote:

“…’The sun has sunken down in a daffodil bed – feeling he has well earned his rest. (But I have a bone to pick with him – he burnt my arms while sketching till they positively hurt – next time I’ll fool him & put gloves over them). The Moors have turned around from their haggling & marketing, gossiping & dreaming & murmuring to face the setting sun, their lips moving in prayer, their eyes beautiful to look upon – The pale yellow light giving a weird pallidness to the sheet of faces …”

                                                       Grande Marché, Tangier by Hilda Rix (1916)

Hilda completed a pastel drawing, Grand Marche, Tangier, which she later copied in oils.  When it was exhibited in her show at Paris’ Galerie J. Chaine and Simonson in 1912 it was much admired and was bought by the French government for the collection of the Musée du Luxembourg.  Centre stage in the depiction we see two women wearing red-and-white-striped cotton dresses or skirts, covered by white robes.  Their legs are bare and they wear red shoes and socks. One of them pulls her white robe tighter across her upper body. The other, who has her back turned to the viewer, is carrying something on her back, which could be her young child.  The art critics for the French edition of the New York Herald was impressed by Hilda Rix’s realist art, stating that in his opinion the figures in her compositions must surely have been sketched and later added to the finished work.  He further commented:

“…’This artist has the ability to make lifelike images in remarkable compositions bringing outstanding realism and accurate impressions that capture the ‘types’ to be found among the Moroccan people…”

Not everybody loved the painting as the art critic of The Sydney Morning Herald commented that:

“…the drawing and colour are eccentric, after the post-impressionist manner” and described the central figure as “grotesque in its want of finish…”

 Moroccan Market Scene by Hilda Rix Nicholas (crayon and pastel on paper)

The paintings which she did during her periods in North Africa led art historians to compartmentalise her as an Orientalist, a term which referred to the depiction of people or places in present-day Greece, Turkey, North Africa or the Middle East, by painters from the West.  In addition to displaying the results of her trip at the Salon, she also had her Tangier works exhibited in 1913 and 1914 at the Société des Peintres Orientalistes Français, an art society which staged not only Orientalist paintings, but also encouraged the travel of French artists in the Far East. Her work was illustrated in the Notre Gazette, reflecting her emerging status as an important artist, and there were many column inches in the French about her exhibitions.

                           Moroccan Loggia by Hilda Rix Nicholas (1912-1914)

Her colourful paintings featuring life in Morocco highlighted the powerful North African light and concentrated on the people and their colourful clothing and sometimes the local architecture.  It could be levied against her that many of her depictions were idealised versions of life in Morocco and steered clear of the more squalid aspects of the poverty that pervades the area and yet in Jeanette Hoorn’s 2012 biography, Hilda Rix Nicholas and Elsie Rix’s Moroccan Idyll : Art and Orientalism, she takes the opposite view, writing:

“…She did not seek out or embellish her pictures with the “orientalist” stereotypes that she had learned while growing up in Melbourne…In her writing and painting, she actively campaigned against what she saw as the fakery of “orientalism”. Her pastel drawings and oils strive to present an accurate account of the dress, manners and appearance of her subjects…”

Hoorn believed that Rix and her sister were, to a significant extent, counter-orientalist as they endeavoured to portray everyday life in Tangier as they found it, rather than presenting generalised views of the orient.  Rix adopted a counter-orientalist position in lectures and articles upon her return to Australia.   There were some that viewed her North African depictions as being somewhat abstract and flat and that could well be due to the influence Matisse had on her. 

                             Hilda Rix painting in Tangier market place (1914)

Matisse returned to Morocco in October of that year while it was two years later that Rix returned to North Africa, this time accompanied by her sister, who also sketched and wrote but whose main function was to be company for her sister and provide assistance and protection from enquiring bystanders while Hilda painted.  Hilda was surrounded by spectators as she sketched and painted and her audience would, on occasions, halt the flow of the traffic

                                         The Arab Sheep Market Tangier by Hilda Rix Nicholas (1914)

Another of her works from her second trip to Morocco was her 1914 painting entitled The Arab Sheep Market, Tangier.   The searing North African sunlight illuminates the whitewashed buildings and the textured garments worn by the shepherds.  Hilda Rix has used a striking palette of pinks, purples and oranges which is an acknowledgement of the Fauvism style of painting.  Sadly, a house fire claimed many works from her African series of paintings.

                                Grandmère by Hilda Rix Nicholas (1914)

Hilda and Elise returned to France in 1914. Around this time, whilst she was in her studio at Étaples, she completed a work entitled Grandmère.  It is a plein air work which shows an elderly peasant woman in a beautiful garden setting affording the work a luminously colourful background.  Many of Hilda’s paintings were bought by the French government, exhibited in the Salon and the Société des Peintres Orientalistes Français, and she was elected an Associate of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. 

                                           Hilda with her mother and sister during European trip.

Hilda still had studios in Paris and one for the summer months spent in Étaples.  The summer of 1914 she was at Étaples but the outbreak of World War I on July 28th 1914 resulted in Hilda, along with her sister Eliseand her mother evacuating to London.  If that upheaval was not enough, Hilda had to endure a number of family tragedies.  Her mother had been taken unwell during the Channel crossing and was admitted to hospital on arrival in England.  Although Hilda’s mother was not fully recovered, she left hospital and went to recuperate at a nursing home.  At the same time as the mother was extremely ill, Hilda’s sister Elise contracted typhoid and died on September 2nd 1914, aged 37.  Hilda kept the death of her sister a secret from her mother who she believed was too ill to receive such sad news.   Her mother slowly recovered and was later told of the death of her daughter.  For the next eighteen months Hilda Rix painted few paintings presumably because she spent all her time looking after her mother and was too tired to concentrate on her paintings.  She remembered the time saying:

“… I could scarcely put one foot in front of the other and walked like an old thing…”

 Finally, in March 1916 Hilda’s mother, Elizabeth died.

Hilda and Matson after the marriage

Enter onto the scene, Major George Matson Nicholas, a soldier from Melbourne.   George, usually referred to as Matson, was the eldest of six brothers.  Before he enlisted in the Australian army in April 1915, he had been a schoolteacher.  He fought at the Battle of Gallipoli and was wounded.  Once recovered he was sent to France where he was awarded a Distinguished Service Order at Pozieres, single-handedly capturing an enemy machine gun post.   His regiment was based in Étaples, and according to Hilda’s stories, he found her paintings which she had left behind when she had had to quickly abandon her Étaples studios.  Then, during his leave he travelled to London in pursuit of Hilda. They met in September 1916, love blossomed between the two, and on October 7th 1916 they married in St Saviour’s, Warwick Avenue in London.   

Major George Matson Nicholas charcoal and pastel drawing by Hilda Rix Nicholas drew this portrait of her new husband two days after their wedding on October 9th 1916

Two days after the wedding Hilda completed a sketch of her husband. Three days after the wedding Major George Matson Nicholas returned to the front and assumed command of the 24th Battalion,  He was shot and killed in action at the Normandy town of Flers on the Western Front on November 14th, aged 39.

                                           These Gave the World Away by Hilda Rix Nicholas, (1917)

Hilda was devastated and in a diary entry she wrote that she had lost the will to live.  In her grief Hilda Rix Nicholas painted morbid images, symbolic of death and sacrifice in war which contrast markedly with the light and life of her French and Moroccan works.  One such work was entitled These gave the world away which she completed in 1917.

                                               Central panel of Pro Humanitate by Hilda Rix Nicholas (1917)

Another of her war paintings was Pro Humanitate, the central panel of a triptych. It clearly depicts the futility of war and more personally for Hilda, the tragedy of her short marriage to Nicholas.  The work comprised of three panels.  The left-hand panel depicted an outdoor scene with a happy couple standing on top of a hill contemplating their future together; the central panel depicts a soldier husband giving his life for the cause of humanity.  Hilda Rix has depicted the soldier at the moment of his death with arms outstretched in a crucifixion pose.  The right-hand panel of the triptych portrays the heartbroken wife grieving and is watched over by the shadowy figure of her lost hero.  Rix Nicholas offered her triptych Pro Humanitate, which depicted Australian soldiers, to the  Australian War Memorial, which was building a collection of art commemorating the war, but it was rejected; the acquisitions committee described it as “of too intimate a character for inclusion in a public collection.

                                                           Desolation by Hilda Rix Nicholas (c.1917)

She painted a strange and moving painting around 1917 entitled Desolation.  This work depicts an emaciated woman crying.  She is shrouded in a black cloak and is squatted down staring at us.  The setting is a battle-scarred landscape which lacks any vegetation.   The National Gallery of Australia holds a charcoal drawing made as a study for the work.  In a review, the Arts correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote:

“…Desolation is almost gruesome in the grim delineation of the figure typifying all the widowed world in one lone woman. There she sits, lost in an awful reverie, over the stricken battlefield.  The work is an epitome of wasteful ruin …”

Sadly, both Desolation and Pro Humanitate were destroyed in a fire.

…………………………….to be continued.

Hilda Rix Nicholas. Part 1.

                          Hilda Rix Nicholas (circa 1910)

The other day, I was looking through a list of famous nineteenth and twentieth Australian artists.  The compiler of the list believed that the greatestAustralian painters were Sidney Nolan, Peter Booth, Arthur Boyd, John Brack, Tom Roberts, Russel Drysdale, Frederick McCubbin, and John Olsen. I had heard of a number of these but what surprised me about the list was that it contained no female artists and so I decided to focus this blog on one such painter.

                                   Henry Finch Rix

Emily Hilda Rix Nicholas was born on September 1st 1884, in the Australian city of Ballarat, some twenty-five miles north west of Melbourne.  Her father, Henry Finch Rix was born in Woolwich, Kent on January 12th  1848, and her mother, Elizabeth Sutton, was born in Manchester, England in 1853.  They had both emigrated as children with their families in the middle of the nineteenth century and the pair met and married in 1876. The couple had their first child, Elsie Bertha in 1877 and Hilda was born seven years later.  Henry Rix was a mathematics teacher, an amateur poet and talented sportsman.  He was a teacher at Bendigo, Ballarat and at Carlton. After a brief stint teaching in Ballarat, he was a mathematics master at Wesley College Melbourne for ten years between 1874 and 1884. He played for Carlton’s Australian Rules team and later became Inspector of Schools.  In the book, A History of State Education in Victoria, Henry Rix was described as:

“…Of the men who have labored and passed away since 1900, Mr. H. F. Rix deserves to be especially remembered. Working under the result system, he foresaw the new day and strove to make it possible. His enthusiasm, his industry, his initiative, his research, and his sympathy made him a great inspector and a leader in educational reforms…”

Henry’s wife, Elizabeth, as well as being an accomplished singer, helped run a successful music business in Ballarat.  She played an active part in the Austral Salon, a non-profit organization founded by a small group of women journalists in Melbourne in 1890 as a club for women writers. It then developed into a club whose aim was to introduce aspiring young musicians to an interested audience.  She was also a talented amateur painter and had her own studio in Melbourne’s Flinders Street.  Hilda and her sister Elsie being brought up in a musical household both learnt musical instruments and would perform at local shows.  Elsie, like her mother, had a beautiful voice and performed at the Austral Salon.  Hilda, as a small child, developed a love of drawing and painting and she and her sister would often design advertising posters for events at the Austral Salon.

                      Frederick McCubbin -Self-portrait, (1886)

Hilda attended Merton Hall High School, now Melbourne Girls Grammar School and although she was not an exceptional student she did excel in art under the tutelage of a Mr Mather. On leaving Merton Hall in 1902, eighteen-year-old Hilda enrolled on a three-year course at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School where one of her teachers was the foremost Australian Impressionist, Frederick McCubbin.  Notwithstanding his standing in the art world, Hilda was critical of McCubban’s teaching style which she referred to as being “vague persuasions”.  However her biographer John Pigot, in his 2000 book, Hilda Rix Nicholas: Her Life and Art, writes that the creativity of individuals rather than imitating the style of any one school of painting; he (McCubban) modelled the importance of nationalistic ideas and subjects that would become so prominent in her later painting and McCubban’s work emphasised the painting’s subject over technical considerations.

                                                 An early sketch by Rix Nichols

Hilda Rix’s work was so good that, although still a student, she had some of her drawings shown at annual exhibitions at the Victorian Artists’ Society and the Austral Salon.   To earn herself some money she worked as a professional illustrator submitting her work for inclusion in textbooks and periodicals.  Hilda was always with pencil and sketch pad and in her early days would persuade extended family members to sit for her whilst she sketched their portraits.  Studies in two sketchbooks from her early years in Melbourne are now held at the National Library of Australia and in 2012 one of Rix’s early sketchbooks survives and pages from it were reproduced in Karen Johnson’s book, In Search of Beauty: Hilda Rix Nicholas’ Sketchbook Art

                                         Poster for the Salon des Beaux Arts (1913) by Hilda Rix

For most would-be artists who lived away from Europe such as Americans and Australians the Holy Grail was to visit and study art in Paris and London.  Hilda’s father Henry decided to offer her a chance to sample the European art world and, in 1906, planned a family trip to England which, being as he was an educator, would also afford him the opportunity to study British education reforms.  All his plans came to nought as Henry died that year, on February 27th aged just fifty-eight.  His death at such a relatively young age precluded his widow from receiving a pension.  After many discussions the family managed to cobble together money from an inheritance, money earnt from their rental income from their home, and finally money Hilda and her mother raised by selling off their many works of art and  they were able to set sail for England early in 1907.

                             John Hassall in his studio, 1909

For Hilda, going to Europe to study art was only part of the solution to her improving her artistic skills, she needed to find a good teacher who was willing to tutor her.  Before she left Australia, she spoke to Arthur Streeton, the Australian landscape painter who was the leading member of the Heidelberg School, which was also referred to as Australian Impressionism.  He suggested that on arrival in London she contacted John Hassall, an English illustrator, who, in 1901, had opened his own New Art School and School of Poster Design in Kensington.  When Hassall looked at Hilda’s work he was impressed by its quality and agreed to mentor her.  She remained with him until the end of 1907 at which time, she, her mother and sister left England and travelled to Paris and rented an apartment in Montparnasse

                                                                 The Ferry by Emanuel Phillips Fox

In Paris Hilda made many friends who were involved in the art world, such as fellow Australian, Emanuel Phillips Fox.  Fox had arrived in Paris in 1896 and enrolled at the Académie Julian, where he gained first prize in his year for design.  The following year he trained at the École des Beaux-Arts where two of his tutors were William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Jean-Léon Gérôme, who were considered the greatest artists of their time. He returned to Australia in 1890 but returned to London after receiving a commission to paint a scene of the landing of Captain Cook in Australia, which had the strange caveat that he must paint the work abroad.

               The Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay 1770 (1902) by Emanuel Phillips Fox

The 1902  painting, The Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770,  depicts a wholly European perspective on the inauguration of relations between the British visitors and the local Aboriginal men of Botany Bay. In a post-Federation display of nationalistic projection, it shows Captain Cook stepping onto Australian land as part of a shore party, heroically interceding between the threatening local men who brandish spears and his own marines who aim to shoot them. 

                      Portrait of Ethel Carrick, c.1912. 

Hilda Rix also met Fox’s wife, Ethel, an English-born Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painter.

In Paris Hilda enrolled at the Académie Delécluse, operated by academic painter Auguste Joseph Delécluse.  It was an atelier-style art school which was very supportive of women artists, and, in fact, it allotted more space to women students than to men.  Men and women were trained separately, and it had two studios for women and only one for men.  It was an extremely popular place to learn, especially among English and American women artists. At the height of its popularity, it was one of the four best-known ateliers in Paris.  From this artistic establishment, Hilda moved to the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, where one of teachers was the Swiss-born illustrator Théophile Steinlen.  She also studied at Académie Colarossi. It was around this time that Henri Matisse had a studio in the French capital and, as was the case with other professional artists, he also sometimes attended Colarossi’s to gain access to their models which he could use, free of charge, for his work.  Matisse would also open the door of his studio to aspiring artists whom he would offer tuition and have them experiment with the techniques of Post Impressionism.  It could well be that this is where Hilda first met Matisse.

Retour de la chasse by Hilda Rix Nicholas, (1911)

Whilst living in Paris, the family would travel to Italy and other parts of France including Étaples, the fishing port in the Pas-de-Calais department in northern France which was so popular with artists.  In 1909 Hilda Rix met and became very friendly with a Dutch architecture student Wim Brat.  Their initial love ended when Hilda realised how her fiancé was a “mother’s boy” and was completely dominated by her, a woman who strongly disapproved of Hilda.  Inevitably, Hilda broke off the engagement.  Notwithstanding this personal setback, Hilda continued with her painting and exhibited her work at the 1911 Paris Salon.  The painting, Return of the Hunt, was completed by Hilda in 1911 and depicts a woman on horseback in chocolate brown leather gloves with a large hare slung over her back.

                                                                     Three friends by Hilda Rix (1912)

Hilda Rix, accompanied by her sister and mother, took up residence in the rural art colony of Étaples the summer of 1910.  Here she met Henry Ossawa Tanner, a well-established American artist in France, who was viewed as one of the leaders of the Étaples artists’ colony and a member of the art organization, the Société Artistique de Picardie.  It was not just France and Italy which seduced artists, many started to cross the Mediterranean to paint and sketch in North Africa.  Hilda Rix made two painting trips to the African continent.   The first was in January 1912 when she travelled with a group of artists, including Henry Ossawa Tanner, and his wife, who were visiting Morocco via Madrid, Cordoba, and finally Algeciras, they had hoped to take a boat to Tangiers but the weather was too bad, which forced the travellers to Gibraltar for what proved a rough crossing to the Moroccan port.

Morocco, marketplace with pile of oranges by Hilda Rix painted during one of her two trips to Tangier

Tanner being an African American and Rix being a female made them unconventional and exceptional travel and work companions on this journey.  They stayed in Tangier and the northern port town of Tétouan.  Matisse and Hilda Rix stayed in the Grand Hôtel Villa de France for most of February and March. They both painted views from the windows of their rooms at the hotel.   Both of them worked on portraits and would use the same models and utilised an unused room in the hotel which the owner allocated to them.  The room became a temporary studio space. 

                                                          Hamido sleeps by Hilda Rix Nicholas (1914)

An example of the similar portraiture was Hilda’s painting, Hamido Sleeps and Matisse’s work, Moroccan Amido.  In both cases the young model was a stable-hand at their Tangiers hotel.

Moroccan Amido by Matisse (1912)

In Matisse’s painting the young man stands easily and naturally, his slim long-legged form is emphasised by the narrow canvas format the artist has used.  In the painting, Matisse captures the dark skin, the bright white shirt, the pure colours of the waistcoat and short trousers.

                                               Through the arch to the sea by Hilda Rix Nichols (1914)

Hilda loved Tangier and spent hours sketching and painting in the open-air markets.  She wrote home about how she loved Tangier and its market, writing:

“…Picture me in this market-place – I spend nearly every day there for it fascinates me completely – have done 16 drawings and two oil things so far – Am feeling thoroughly at home now so am going to take out my big oil box – wanted to get used to people and things first – Oh how I do love it all! … Oh the sun is shining I must out to work…”

                                       Hilda Rix painting in Moroccan marketplace

Hilda Rix was fascinated by the buying and selling in the marketplace as well as the multitude of colours of the clothes worn by the people.  In a letter home, dated February 12th 1912, she wrote:

“…”See how most of them are covering their faces – They have mostly cream draperies & perhaps orange waistcoats and little tight mauve green trousers – (tight at ankle) – Some may be wonderfully dressed under[neath]…”.

In a postcard she sent home a week later she wrote:

“…’Picture me in this market-place – I spend nearly every day there for it fascinates me absolutely – Have done 16 drawings and two oil things so far – Am feeling thoroughly at home now so am going to take out my big oil box – wanted to get used to people and things first – Oh I do love it all! …”

…………………..to be continued.