Manchester Art Gallery. Part 1. The Females.

Manchester Art Gallery

If you happen to visit Manchester, England, you will find two main art galleries, the Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth Gallery.  Last weekend I was in the city for a weekend break and decided to revisit the main Manchester Art Gallery.

The main part of the collection is derived from the Royal Manchester Institution which demonstrated a partiality for purchasing contemporary art and that predilection continued when it eventually became the City Art Gallery in 1883.  The retired Bradford-based textile businessman and philanthropist with a passionate love of art, Charles Rutherston, although not an artist himself, was both an art collector and a generous friend and patron to artists.  He had amassed a large collection of paintings which he bequeathed to the Gallery in 1925.  Between the two World Wars, the Gallery accumulated a large number of contemporary artworks.  Today the Manchester Art Gallery has an extensive collection of work by nineteenth-century British artists, particularly the Pre-Raphaelites.  In 1979, the European Old Masters collection was transformed by the Assheton Bennett bequest of almost a hundred paintings, mainly by seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish artists. Today the collection includes over 2,000 oil paintings, plus related studies and archival material, and there is a renewed focus on collecting contemporary art.  In the next three blogs I will be looking at some of  my favourites which were on view.

Study of Jane Morris

Chalk drawing of Jane Morris by Rossetti (1875)

In the Gallery, there are a number of paintings by the Pre-Raphaelite artists but the one I find the most haunting is Rossetti’s late work entitled Astarte Syriaca.  The story behind this work started back in 1875 with a chalk drawing Rossetti had made of Jane Morris, his lover.  Rossetti’s friend, Theodore Watts–Dunton, told Rossetti that the drawing could form the basis of a full-length Venus portrait.  After one of Rossetti’s patrons, Clarence Fry saw some of the preliminary sketches in August 1875, he commissioned Rossetti to complete the Venus painting.

Rossetti started working on the painting, Astarte Syriaca, sometimes known as Venus Astarte, in the Autumn of 1875 but abandoned it, unfinished in March 1876, saying that he was dissatisfied with it and he began work on the “second” Astarte.  Finally it was completed in December 1876 and framed at the end of January 1877 ready for his patron.  Jane Morris was the model for Venus (and May Morris, her sister, the attendant figure on the left)

Astarte Syriaca Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Astarte Syriacs by Dante Rossetti (1876)

The depiction is a full-length figure of a woman dressed in sea-green robes, gazing towards us, the viewer. Astarte Syriaca has long, thick. and wavy flowing hair that flows on her back.  She is pictured holding an ornate floral metal strap with her left hand under her chest. Her left hand seems to be holding a similar strap that rests around the hips area.  This is known as a traditional pudica pose.

Both her hands, the limbs, and her breast are large, and her lips seem to be full and pink. Astarte Syriaca portrait is one of Gabriel Rossetti’s iconic paintings that romantically evokes the marvellous power of women in the context of the European Symbolist Movement, the nascent pan. In the same breath, it signifies as a covert admonition of the patriarchal Victorian Christianity. It can as well be interpreted in various other ways.   The woman has one of her legs placed forward to look as if she is striding towards us.  Also in the painting we see two male figures placed symmetrically in the background.  Rossetti wrote a sonnet which was first published in 1877 and which accompanied the painting.


Mystery: lo! betwixt the sun and moon

Astarte of the Syrians: Venus Queen

⁠Ere Aphrodite was. In silver sheen

Her twofold girdle clasps the infinite boon

Of bliss whereof the heaven and earth commune:

⁠And from her neck’s inclining flower-stem lean

Love-freighted lips and absolute eyes that wean

The pulse of hearts to the spheres’ dominant tune.

Torch-bearing, her sweet ministers compel

⁠All thrones of light beyond the sky and sea

⁠The witnesses of Beauty’s face to be:

That face, of Love’s all-penetrative spell

Amulet, talisman, and oracle,—

⁠Betwixt the sun and moon a mystery.

Cinderella by Valentine Prinsep (1899)

The next painting featuring a female is simply entitled Cinderella.  The artist is Valentine Cameron Prinsep who was born in India on St Valentine’s Day 1838.  His father was a civil servant based in the country but who would return to England with his family when Valentine was five years old.  Valentine’s mother was a great art lover and would often hold parties at their Kensington home with artists and writers, including poets Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning and artists John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. Although his parents assumed their son would follow his father into the Indian Civil Service but having been stirred by the artistic company he kept, Valentine decided his future life should be as an artist too.  Prinsep never reached the status of a great artist although he had his successes.  He was influenced by Rossetti, Millais and Burne-Jones, and he painted initially in the Pre-Raphaelite style. He exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts for the first time in 1862, after travelling with Burne-Jones in Italy.

The painting, Cinderella, was completed in 1899 and is a work of great sentimentality.  The young girl rests against the stone wall of the kitchen.  It is a depiction of poverty.  The girl is barefooted and is wearing a dress which is ragged at the hem.  She raises the hem of the skirt to allow the warmth from the fire to caress her body.  Look at her posture and facial expression.  Is it a happy looking expression awaiting for the arrival of somebody she looks forward to seeing or is it one of trepidation at the thought of the impending arrival?  We all know the story of Cinderella so probably we also know the answer to the question.

Girl with Beret
Girl with a Beret by Lucian Freud (1951)

Girl with a Beret, the 1959 painting by Lucian Freud is a beautifully painted, close-up head and shoulders portrait of a young woman wearing a plain blue-grey jumper and beret. The girl has pale skin and shiny blue eyes, which stare off to the left in a self-absorbed manner. Her hair is parted to one side and she wears a small gold hoop earring in her left ear. The background colour is muted.  Freud liked his portraits to be of people he knew well and as such were people Lucien had a close personal relationship with and because of this, these portraits could be looked upon as being pictorial autobiographies.  The sitter for this portrait is the Irish actress, Helena Hughes who was twenty-three at the time.  Helena had been introduced to Freud by his lover Anne Dunn during one of his frequent visits to Dublin in the 1950s. In 1950, Helena Hughes had invited Freud to Paris where she was working on a stage production with Orson Welles. The portrait took more than one hundred and fifty sittings to complete and for this protracted length of time artist and model were together which led to an intensity of their relationship and in a way, this could be detected within the painting.

Sapho by Charles-August Mengin (1877)

The painting entitled Sapho was completed in 1877 by Charles-August Mengin, a French Academic painter and sculptor.  He was a pupil of Alexandre Cabanel and exhibited regularly at the Salon from 1876 to 1927.  Sappho was a Greek lyric poet born around 600 BC. Her poems considered love, desire and contemplation.  Many of her works were devoted to her female pupils who studied with her on the island of Lesbos. Legend had it that she threw herself into the sea from the cliff of Leucadia because Phaon, a young man from Mitylene, did not return her love.  In the painting we see Sapho depicted standing on the cliff edge in dark, in translucent robes, with her breasts exposed. Her left arm rests lightly at shoulder height, on a huge rock whilst her right hand holds her lyre down by her right side. Her face is partly put in the shade by her dark wavy hair, gauzy veil. Her dark eyes, which have shadows beneath them, stare down into the middle distance.  Her feet are bare. She wears gold hoop earrings, a gold bangle, and there is a gold tie or belt around her waist. The dark sky in the background, which is only broken by a sliver of light on the horizon adds to the feeling of impending doom.  Two grey birds fly in the sky behind.

And now for something different.  Gone is the exotic beauty of Sapho and Artiste Syriaca.  Gone is the everyday prettiness of the girl wearing her Beret.  It is now about the reality of mortality.

Mamma Mia Poveretta
Mama Mia Poveretta by Walter Sickert (c.1904)

Walter Sickert, a German-born English painter, made a series of visits to Venice, initially focusing on the city’s topography but it was during his last painting trip from the autumn of 1903 to the summer of 1904 that, due to inclement weather, he was forced indoors to his small studio at 940 Calle dei Frati, close to the Rialto, to paint and it was during that time he developed a distinctive approach to portraiture.  The models for many of the Venetian paintings are believed to have been prostitutes, whom Sickert might have known through being a client.  One of his models which he nicknamed La Giuseppina was his favourite and one day she arrived at the studio with her mother, the old lady who became known as mamma mia poveretta (my poor mother)

La Giuseppina
La Giuseppina by Walter Sickert (1904). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund

In the first decade of the twentieth century in Britain which was also the end of the reign of Queen Victoria, artists and designers began to try new things.  Artists were starting to create a new art for a modern era. Traditional ways of completing portraits, landscapes and interiors would be undertaken in new ways.  Gone was the romantic view of life and an acceptance that urban life was often a matter of hectic rushing around and there was definitely an air of brutality to it.  Life was becoming a challenge.  Walter Sickert’s 1904 painting entitled Mama Mia Poveretta is realist depiction of life.  It is a half-length frontal portrait of this gaunt, almost emaciated elderly Venetian woman who is nearing the end of a hard life.  She is wrapped in a dark shawl and wears a headscarf. She has turned her head slightly to the right, and her face is illuminated from the left and highlights the darkness around her eyes.

In my next blog I will look at work by some of the Pre-Raphaeliete artists which are on display at the Manchester Art Gallery.

……………………………… be continued

Girl with a White Dog by Lucian Freud

Girl with a White Dog by Lucian Freud (1950-51)

A few days ago I visited my two children in London and went on a few gallery visits.  I had managed to get tickets for my daughter and myself for the David Hockney Exhibition at the Royal Academy which was really a great experience and one which everybody should try and get to.  I will feature a painting from the exhibition later this week.  The other exhibition I had wanted to see and which had just opened was an exhibition of Lucian Freud’s Portraits which was being held at the National Portrait Gallery.  Unfortunately I could not get a ticket for the days I was in the capital so I have booked to go next month.  Today I am going to look at one of my favourite paintings of his entitled Girl with a White Dog, which he completed in 1951.  First let me tell you a little about Lucian’s early life and that of the sitter for this painting, his first wife, Kathleen Garman and look back on the famous, or maybe I should say, infamous Garman sisters.

Lucian Freud, who is the grandson of Sigmund Freud, the pioneer of psychoanalysis, was born in Berlin in 1922.  His father, Ernst Freud, an Austrian Jew, was an architect and his mother Lucie (née Brach) was the daughter of a grain merchant.  On the rise to power of Adolf Hitler in Germany in 1933, Lucian and his parents moved to Britain and lived in a house in St John’s Wood, London.  During his school years, he attended Dartington Hall Boarding School in Totnes Devon.    This was, at the time, an unusual seat of education.  It was a very progressive establishment in which there was a minimum of formal classroom activity and the children learnt by involvement in estate activities. From there he attended the Bryanston Independent School in Dorset.

In 1939 he became a British national and that year he enrolled at the Central School of Art and Design, which fifty years later would merge with the St Martins School of Art and become, as we know it today, the Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, which is widely regarded as one of the leading Art and Design institutions in the world.  His stay at the college was only brief as he moved on to the Cedric Morris’ East Anglican School of Painting and Drawing in Dedham.  This was a far more radical establishment which gave free rein to its students.  The school was destroyed by fire and a new location for the school was established in Benton End on the outskirts of Hadleigh in the county of Sussex.

Lucian Freud served as a merchant seaman in an Atlantic convoy in 1941 before being invalided out of service in 1942.  From 1942 to 1943 he attended Goldsmiths, University of London, an establishment which specialises in the arts, humanities and social sciences.  At the age of 24, Freud began his European travels, painting in France and Greece.  Some of his early work had already been published in the Horizon arts magazine and in 1944 the Alex Reid & Lefevre Gallery in London staged the first solo exhibition of his paintings.

In 1948 Lucian married Kitty Garman, the subject of today’s featured painting.   Kitty was the second illegitimate child of the distinguished British sculptor, Jacob Epstein’s and his lover Kathleen Garman.  Jacob Epstein and his wife Margaret (née Dunlop) did not have any children of their own but they looked after a young girl, Peggy Jean, the product of Jacob Epstein’s earlier affair with Dorothy (Meum) Lindsell Stewart.  Margaret Epstein and the young girl lived across London with Jacob, while Kathleen Garman lived with her younger sister, Helen, in an unheated studio in Bloomsbury and her and Jacob’s infant son, Theo.    Margaret Epstein was aware of her husband’s affair with Kathleen Garman and despite her husband’s numerous previous affairs with women which never lasted, she felt threatened by Kathleen.  She realised that Kathleen was more than a lover, she was almost a  parallel wife. From the beginning, Mrs Epstein disliked her intensely, realising  that she would be her greatest rival.   It came to a head in 1923 when according to Cressida Connolly in her book The Rare and the Beautiful: The Lives of the Garmans:

“…Mrs Epstein took Kathleen into a room and locked the door before producing a pearl-handled pistol from under her capacious skirts… and shot her. The bullet hit Kathleen just to the right of her left shoulder blade, whereupon Mrs Epstein panicked and ran out of the room, leaving the bloodied Kathleen to stagger out into the street alone…”

Jacob Epstein visited Kathleen in hospital and paid her medical bills. The bullet wound to her shoulder left  a large scar and Kathleen Garman was never afterwards able to wear sleeve-less dresses. To protect the reputation of Jacob Epstein, Kathleen Garman refused to press charges against his wife.

Despite this incident and the pleadings of his wife, Epstein refused to give up Kathleen, who remained in her one-room London studio as Epstein’s lover and bore him three illegitimate children; a son, Theo, in 1924, and two daughters,  Kitty in 1926 and Esther in 1929.  Epstein had another affair with one of his students, Isabel Nicholas, and this resulted in the birth of a son Jackie in 1934.  Isabel gave up her son to the Epsteins and he was also looked after by Margaret Epstein.   Kathleen Garman never knew about Epstein’s parallel affair with Isabel or about the boy Jackie until several years later.

The cramped conditions of the studio Kathleen Garman was living in proved unsuitable for bringing up young children and Kitty was sent to live with her maternal grandmother, Margaret (née Magill), in Herefordshire.  Esther, the youngest daughter was later dispatched to a family friend.   Kitty Garman stayed on with her grandmother Margaret when the household moved to South Harting, Sussex, and only went back to live with her mother in London when she was in her late teens.  She then enrolled at the Central School of Arts and Crafts to study painting under Bernard Meninsky. According to Kitty, her mother was constantly critical of her artistic efforts. Kitty recalled her mother’s attitude:

 “…I think she wanted her daughters to excel, but she didn’t want us to succeed, because she had to be the queen.   I was frightened of her because of her temper and she did say searingly sarcastic things…”

In 1949, Epstein’s wife, Margaret fractured her skull in a fall on the steps of her home and died.  This allowed Kathleen Garman to move into Epstein’s home in Hyde Park Gate.

By the early 1950’s Kitty Garman’s marriage to Lucian was in trouble and it ended abruptly after the artist’s affair with the society girl and writer Lady Caroline Blackwood was exposed.        Kitty Garman’s marriage to Lucian Freud ended in divorce in 1952 and Lady Caroline Blackwood became his second wife in 1957.  Shortly after the ending of her marriage to Lucian, Kitty was at a party where she met Wynne Godley, and economist, whom she married in 1955.

Lucian Michael Freud died aged 89 on July 20th 2011.  His first wife and sitter for today’s painting, Kathleen (Kitty) Eleonara Wishart (née Godley, née Freud) died aged 74 on January 11th 2011.

Kitty Garman, a brunette, was by all accounts, hauntingly beautiful and the subject of many paintings.  My Daily Art Display featured painting today is entitled Girl with a White Dog which Lucian Freud commenced in 1950 and  completed in 1951.  When not lent out to external exhibitions this work of art resides at the Tate Britain Gallery, London.  This is the last of the series of portraits of his first wife, Kitty, which Freud had started at the end of the 1940’s.  Kitty had given birth to Lucian and her first child, Annie in 1948 and their second child Annabel was born in 1952, the year the painting was purchased by the Tate.

One can only marvel at the way Freud has handled the contrast of the fabrics and textures.  On the one hand we have the smooth white hairs of the dog and on the other hand we have the fuller texture of the yellow dressing gown, which contrasts also with the smoothness of the  striped silk bedspread on which she sits.    In the painting we see Kitty Garman sitting curled up on what looks like a low settee dressed in a dressing gown with its long plaited and tasselled tie.   Lying next to her, with its head in her lap, is one of a pair of white bull terriers the couple were given as a wedding present.  Look at the wonderful amount of detail Freud has put into his depiction of the dog.  He would often use animals in his compositions and often they would feature both pet and owner.

Kitty left hand hangs down and her fingers rest on the settee and on one of the fingers  we can see her wedding ring.   Her right hand is pressed against the bathrobe, cupping her left breast.  Her right arm is strategically placed under her right breast with her wrist adding to its uplift and fullness.  Her expression is difficult to translate.  She seems somewhat frightened and concerned about something.  Her eyes are large and staring.  In some ways we feel a little uncomfortable when we look at her.  Her brow is narrow which adds to her look of anxiety and sadness.  It could well be that Freud’s liaison with Caroline Blackwood at the time of this painting was taking a toll on Kitty.  Is her look one of calmness or one of desolation?  I will let you decide.