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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruskin in his Turret Brantwood by William Collingwood

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

Brantwood as it looks today.

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

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

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

Kathleen by James Tissot

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

Quiet by James Tissot

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

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

W L Wylie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shrimpers Hauling to Windward by W.L. Wylie

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

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

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

A Walk in the Country by John Ritchie (1863)

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

Pensive by Sir George Clausen (1895)

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

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

Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket by James Whistler

Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket by Whistler (1874-7)

My featured painting today has the unusual title of Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket.   This oil on canvas painting was by the American-born artist, James Abbott McNeill Whistler in the 1870’s and now hangs in the Detroit Institute of Arts.  The artist believed strongly that there was a parallel between painting and music, and many of the titles of his paintings include the words “arrangements”, “harmonies” and “nocturnes” in their titles, highlighting the dominance of tonal harmony.   Another reason for these titles with a musical connotation was that one of Whistler’s patrons at the time was Fredrick Leyland, a wealthy Liverpool ship-owner and amateur musician, who loved the music of Chopin, and Whistler credited him, for his musically inspired titles.

This painting may not be his most famous painting but was one which was to become very controversial and has an interesting story attached to it – and you know how I like paintings with a story!

James Whistler was born in 1834 in Lowell, Massachusetts.  He was brought up by his mother, Anna Matilda McNeill and his father, George Washington Whistler who was an important railroad engineer.  Reports of Whistler’s childhood often concentrated on his unruly and disruptive nature and that his parents only way of calming him down was to allow him time to draw which seemed to soothe the young boy.  When he was almost eight years of age his father was contracted to work on a railroad in Russia and a year later, the rest of the family moved to St Petersburg.  When he was eleven years old Whistler was enrolled in the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg and it was there that his artistic talent flourished.  When he was thirteen Whistler and his mother visited London and stayed with relatives.  Whistler had by the age of fifteen decided that he wanted to become an artist and he wrote with some trepidation to his father telling him of his desire, saying:

“…I hope, dear father, you will not object to my choice….”

Sadly, his father died that year of cholera whilst still working on the Russian railroad and his wife had to return to America, to her hometown of Pomfret, Connecticut, with her sons.  His mother had wanted Whistler to become a minister in the church but she soon realised that this was not going to happen.  He eventually was admitted to the West Point Military Academy not because of academic qualifications nor because of his physical prowess but because of his name as his father had taught there and also some of his relatives had been former students.  However his lack of academic ability, his bucking of authority and his ill discipline forced his departure after just three years.

After a short time as a military draughtsman he decided to continue with his dream of becoming an artist.  He moved to Baltimore and with the help of a wealthy friend, Tom Winans, set himself up in a studio and started selling some of his paintings.  He made enough money to go to Paris to study art, and got himself a small studio in the Latin Quarter.  He was never to return to America.  Whistler remained in France until 1859 at which time he decided to move to London where he remained for the rest of his life.  Whistler died in London in 1903, aged 69.

So to today’s featured painting.   In 1874, whilst in London, Whistler started his painting entitled Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket, which depicted a firework display in the night sky of London.  This was the last of his series of London Nocturnes.  Whistler inspiration for this painting was his love of Japanese prints.   The painting was to prove controversial when it was completed in 1877 and was exhibited at the newly-opened Grosvenor Gallery in London founded by Sir Coutts Lindsay.   At this time one of the foremost art critics was the English art critic and social thinker, John Ruskin.  Ruskin was a wealthy and powerful man within the art world, who had come to prominence with his support for the works of Turner and later his backing for the Pre-Raphaelite Movement.  On seeing Whistler’s painting, Ruskin was horrified and, according to Ronald Anderson a co-author with Anne Koval of the Whistler biography James McNeill Whistler: Beyond the Myth, Ruskin wrote in his journal, Fors Clavigera in July 1877:

“…For Mr. Whistler’s own sake, no less than for the protection of the purchaser, Sir Coutts Lindsay ought not to have admitted works into the gallery in which the ill-educated conceit of the artist so nearly approached the aspect of wilful imposture. I have seen, and heard, much of cockney impudence before now; but never expected a coxcomb to ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face…”

Whistler when he heard of these comments was outraged and sued Ruskin accusing of libel and demanded £1000 plus legal costs in reparations.  This, to Whistler, was a matter of artistic pride.  This legal battle was a great risk for Whistler whose wealth had declined rapidly and was facing financial hardship but he believed he had been wronged by Ruskin and was determined to right the wrong.  Whistler believed that he and other artists must assert the primacy of artistic vision in other words Whistler believed that an artist should be allowed to create unfettered by the bonds of the critics.  This was a battle between “brush and pen”, the artist and the critic.  Whistler with ever-deteriorating finances hoped for a quick trial and a successful outcome but his hopes were dashed as the trial kept being postponed due to Ruskin’s bouts of mental illness.  The trial was eventually held, a year later in November 1878.  Reports of the trial commented on Whistler’s well-rehearsed answers to his counsel’s questions and he used the trial as a way to convey his artistic views.  At one point, Whistler was cross-examined about the time it took to complete the painting and the justification of the 200 guineas price tag.  Commenting on the two days it took him to complete the work he justified it by saying that the money was not for the actual two days of physical painting but it was payment for his lifetime of artistic knowledge.  Whistler had trouble in getting fellow artists to take his side publicly at the trial as they feared they would be besmirched by the sordid affair.  Ruskin’s counsel performed well and his arguments seemed to find favour with the jurors.  Ruskin himself was not in court due to his on-going illness but the Pre-Raphelite painter Edward Burne-Jones proved a very impressive witness for the Ruskin side.

The jury found in favour of Whistler but awarded him just one farthing in nominal damages and the court costs were split.  This financially ruined Whistler who had to sell his house, his works of art and the art he had collected.  A month after the trial Whistler wrote his account of the trial in a pamphlet entitled Whistler v Ruskin: Art and Art Critics which was sold at six pence per copy.  This proved highly successful and went through six editions.

After the trial Whistler’s hopes that there was no such thing as publicity and that the trial would enhance his standing as an artist proved fanciful as patrons steered clear of him for many years to come.   He did eventually get a commission to Venice from one of his supporters.  This helped him to start on the road of financial recovery and in fact led to, some would say, his best paintings, the “moonlights” such as Nocturne in Blue and Silver: The Lagoon, Venice.   For Ruskin, the trial brought him no glory and in many ways tarnished his image as a critic and almost certainly caused deterioration in his mental health.

So who really won this legal battle?  In some ways they both won and they both lost!