Today I am delving into the life of the nineteenth century American painter Susan Waters. It is difficult to compartmentalise her artwork, some, however, have labelled her a folk portraitist. It is a mixture of portraiture which could be best described as quirky and animal paintings. Her art, especially her early portraiture, is certainly easily recognisable as you will see. I like its simplicity and although she will never be regarded as one of the American great artists, her depictions ooze a naiveté which is so endearing.
Susan Catherine Moore was born on May 18th 1823 in Binghamton, a small town in the Southern Tier of New York state on the border with Pennsylvania. She was one of two children, both daughters, of a cooper, Lark Moore, and his wife, Sally, who were Hicksite Quakers. As a young child Susan showed a talent for art.
Susan and her sister, Amelia, attended the fee-paying Boarding School for Females run by Quakers at the small Pennsylvania border town of Friendsville. The town had been founded in 1819 and the majority of early settlers were Quakers. At the age of fifteen, in order to afford to pay the fees for the school for her and her sister, Susan would paint copies for the Natural History course run by the school. Although the school had basic art education lessons, Susan is considered to be a self-taught painter.
On 27 June 1841, aged just eighteen, she married William C. Waters, a Friendsville Quaker and amateur artist, and he would encourage his young wife to develop her talent as a painter. She took up portraiture about 1843, when her husband became ill and was unable to support the family. She would travel around the outlying areas painting and selling portraits of the people and their children. One of Susan’s earliest recorded signed paintings is her 1843 work entitled The Downs Children of Cannonsville, New York. It depicts two children with a dog and a toy wagon in a landscape setting which includes a white house in the background. The boy on the left holds a riding crop.
In 1845, Susan completed a set of three paintings featuring the Kingman family. This signed and dated portrait of fifteen-year-old Helen M Kingman is one of the three works. The young girl is depicted seated in a stencilled chair, wearing a salmon pink dress, against a grey-walled backdrop. Note the potted plant on the windowsill, an accoutrement often seen in portraits of children.
Another in the series is a portrait of Lyman Kingman dressed in a black suit, holding sheets of paper. Behind him are shelves of books at right and drapery at upper left.
In the 1840s Susan specialized in portraits of children, and this 1845 painting, The Lincoln Children, is a depiction of three of the twelve children of Otis Lincoln, an innkeeper who was plying his trade in the small rural town of Binghamton in New York State. The three small girls are Laura Eugenie, aged nine, Sara, aged three, and Augusta, aged seven and they have been positioned in a pyramid. They are all wearing decorative dresses, adorned with eyelet and lace. One of the girls holds a peach, another a small branch in one hand and a pencil in the other while the third has a book open upon her knee. These trappings were added to the portrait to publicise the girls’ sweetness and their attentiveness whilst attending school. The fine-looking furnishings including an expensive floral-patterned carpet, the pretty plants on a stand in the right background, and the addition of the appealing puppy with its well-arranged stance coalesce and create a lovely image of domestic stability and cosiness and yet their intense expressions as they look out at us gives the painting a disconcerting openness.
The Waters’ life was complicated, flitting from one temporary home to another. They continued to reside in Friendsville for several years, but by May of 1852 they had moved to Bordentown, New Jersey. They built themselves a cottage in the Quaker community of Bordentown and although they did not settle there permanently at that time, they would return to their house in 1866.
The couple sold their Bordentown cottage and journeyed to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in 1855, returned to Friendsville four years later, and in 1866 finally resettled in Bordentown buying back their former home on Mary Street and it was here that they spent the rest of their lives. This was a base from which she taught art and produced over fifty of her later works, many of which were painting of animals in their natural settings, especially her favourite animals, sheep, and pastoral scenes. She was also an early photographer and produced many ambrotypes and daguerreotypes, which were early forms of photography. This made a lot of practical sense, as commissioned portraits were giving way to the more exciting medium of photography.
Many of the animals depicted were kept in Susan’s own yard.
Whilst residing in Bordentown Susan Waters painted animal and still life pictures in a style which was more mature and academic than her earlier efforts at portraiture. There was a greater sophistication with her depictions.
Susan also produced a number of excellent still-life paintings
and sometimes a combined still-life and animal depiction as in her work entitled The Marauders.
The artwork she produced and sold whilst living in Bordentown earned her recognition in her own lifetime. It was not just from within her local community but from outside and in 1876, Waters was honoured with an invitation to exhibit some of her paintings at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. It was the first official World’s Fair to be held in the United States. She submitted two of her animal paintings.
Susan Waters also became active in State politics when she became a member of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association, which was founded in 1867. It was in this year that Lucy Stone delivered a speech on “Women Suffrage in New Jersey” before the state legislature. This would have been a thrilling time to be involved with the movement, and Susan was elected recording secretary for the Association in 1871. She was also an Animal Rights activist.
After exhibiting successfully at the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, Susan discovered that her work was much sought after and it remained so for the rest of her life. Her husband died in 1893 and from then on Susan dedicated herself to her art. In 1899 she had to sell her home and go to a nursing home in Trenton New Jersey. On July 10th 1900 Susan Catherine Moore Waters passed away at the age of seventy-seven. Three days later she was buried alongside her beloved husband, William in the beautiful Bordentown cemetery. Of her character, her obituary noted:
“…as beautiful as her paintings … her talent she could not bequeath…”
The folks of Bordentown will remember Susan Waters as a lady of refinement, modest and unassuming. She was a lady of extraordinary ability, not just as a painter but as a writer and a speaker in the Society of Friends.
Portraiture is an art form which goes back to ancient times and before the advent of photography it was the only way to chronicle the appearance of someone. However the way the sitter was portrayed by the artist afforded them the illusion of power, importance, virtue, beauty, wealth, taste, learning or other qualities of the sitter. Often it was the artist’s “duty” to depict the sitter in a flattering way, although some portraitists, like William Hogarth, refused to flatter, and would often have their works rejected by the person who had commissioned the portrait. The artist I am featuring in today’s blog was one of the leading portrait artists of the seventeenth century. He painted everything from miniatures to small scale royal portraits, portraying aristocracy, lawyers, gentry and merchants
Cornelius Johnson or Cornelis Janssens van Ceulen (Cologne) was born in October 1593 in London to a Flemish/German protestant family . He was baptised at the London Dutch Reform Church at Austin Friars much used by the Netherlandish community in London. His father was Cornelius Johnson who had been a religious refugee from Antwerp and his paternal grandfather had come from Cologne. His mother was Johanna le Grand. It was thought that Cornelius could have received his first artistic training, whilst in the Netherlands, from Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt. It is known that Cornelius had definitely returned to England by 1619 for it is recorded that he was a witness at the baptism of his nephew, Theodore Russell. During the 1620’s he lived and had his studio in the London parish of St Ann, Blackfriars, as did the other leading portraiture artist, Anthony van Dyck and the English father and son miniaturists, Isaac and Peter Oliver.
His earliest paintings date from 1619 and soon he had created a large number of portraits with his sitters coming from various upper levels of society. One of his early works was a portrait of Alathea Talbot, Countess of Arundel, a famous patron and art collector, and one of England’s first published female scientists. She was the third daughter of George Talbot, 7th Earl of Shrewsbury, K.G. and his step-sister Mary, daughter of Sir William Cavendish, who married in 1606 Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel. Johnson has depicted the countess wearing a red dress trimmed with lace with a white lace collar and a gold earring with a blackbird pendant in her right ear.
On July 16th 1622 at the Dutch Church in London, Cornelius married Elizabeth Beke, a lady from a migrant family based in Colchester. Their first son, James, was born on September 30th 1623 but died young. Another son, Cornelius Junior, was born in London in August 1634 and went on to follow in his father’s footsteps, and become a painter.
During the 1620’s his fame as an artist soon spread. Johnson’s most constant client was a lawyer, Thomas, 1st Baron Coventry of Aylesborough, a prominent English lawyer, politician and judge. He sat for Johnson on at least five different occasions during the 1620s and 1630s. This portrait, shows him with the bag of the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, and the mace of the Speaker.
Cornelius Johnson painted the portraits of many senior legal figures including Sir John Finch. Finch was Speaker between 1628–1629. On 10 March 1629, as Speaker, he tried to adjourn the House of Commons on the King’s command, following a disagreement between the King and Members of Parliament over King Charles I’s belief that by the royal prerogative he could govern without the advice and consent of Parliament. Civil War was creeping ever closer.
Another dignitary to sit for Johnson was Lady Margaret Hungerford, the daughter of a wealthy London alderman who had married Sir Edward Hungerford in 1621. Her husband owned vast tracts of land in England and were spent much of their time at Corsham House in Wiltshire and Farleigh Hungerford Castle in Somerset. We see the sitter wearing an orange patterned dress with a large white lace collar, a gold-and-black jewel necklace and an orange flower in her hair. In the top right-hand corner of the picture, there is a coat of arms. It is a sumptuous depiction of the details of the costly lace, her embroidered and spangled dress and silver braided ribbons, topped off with expensive jewellery. It must have taken Johnson many hours to perfect the depiction.
Cornelius Johnson collaborated with Daniel Mytens, a Dutch Golden Age portrait painter, in a full-length portrait of the monarch, Charles I, in 1631. Mytens had moved from the Netherlands to London in 1618 and had become one of James I and Charles I’s court painters. In the background is a view of Windsor Castle and at the king’s feet is his trusty King Charles spaniel.
In 1632 Johnson was appointed one of King Charles I’s court painters. The appointment was termed
“…his Majesty’s servant in ye quality of Picture Drawer to his Majesty…”
Around 1634 Daniel Mytens returned to the Netherlands where he worked and continued to paint but also was an art dealer in The Hague. This you may think gave Johnson the advantage as being the lead court painter but it was not to be as another artist came on to the scene. Of all the Stuart kings, Charles I was the most passionate collector of art as he viewed paintings as a way of endorsing the lofty view of the monarchy. Antwerp-born, Anthony van Dyke arrived in England in April 1632. It was not van Dyke’s first time in London as he had spent six months there at the end of 1620 before heading off to Italy. Although he was travelling around Italy Van Dyck remained constantly in touch with the courts of James I and Charles I’s and whilst travelling around Italy he helped King Charles’s agents in their search for paintings. He also sent to England some of his own works. In April 1632 van Dyck returned to London and immediately became a court favourite as well as being welcomed by king Charles who knighted him in July and set out that van Dyke should receive a pension of £200 a year The wording of the grant document referred to Van Dyke as principalle Paynterin ordinaryto their majesties. He was provided with a house on the River Thames at Blackfriars, then just outside the City of London, thus avoiding the monopoly of the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers. Van Dyke’s Blackfriars studio was frequently visited by the King and Queen and later a special causeway was built to ease their access from the river. Charles rarely sat for another painter while van Dyck lived.
The artistic trajectory of Cornelius Johnson was stalled.
In 1639 Johnson received a royal commission to paint the three young children of Charles I and his French princess wife Henrietta Maria. First was a portrait of Charles’ eldest son, Charles, who would later become Charles II. It depicts the nine year-old-boy as a boy soldier, which appears to be a powerful piece of propaganda. Charles I was executed in January 1649 at the climax of the English Civil War and the country became a de facto republic led by Oliver Cromwell. When Cromwell died in 1658, the English monarchy was restored and Charles II became monarch on his thirtieth birthday on May 29th 1660.
Cornelius Johnson painted the portrait of Charles I’s second son, James, when he was six-years-old. It was not until forty-six years later, in 1685, on the death of his brother, Charles II, that he became king of England.
The third 1639 royal portrait by Johnson was of the English princess, Mary, who was the eldest of Charles I’s children and the sister of Charles II and James I. She was eight years old at the time of the painting.
Two years later, in 1641, Mary who was just nine years of age was married to the future stadtholder of the Netherlands, fifteen-year-old William II of Orange. Eight days after her husband’s death in 1650, Mary gave birth to a son, William III of Orange, who later became King of England. After the restoration of the monarchy in England in 1660, Mary left the Netherlands to join in the celebrations in London, where she fell ill with smallpox and died, aged 29.
Johnson painted many portraits of children, either individually or in pairs, and consequently was much in demand with English and Scottish clients. An example of this genre was Johnson’s 1635 portrait entitled Robert, Lord Bruce, later 2nd Earl of Elgin and 1st Earl of Ailesbury. We see before us a fashionably dressed young sitter, Robert, Lord Bruce, who was the only child and heir of the Scottish nobleman Thomas Bruce, 1st Earl of Elgin. As a young child, Bruce received little formal education, but once he became a teenager, he travelled to Europe and was one of the first Scots to embark on the Grand Tour. By 1659, twenty-three-year-old Bruce had become an active royalist conspirator and was involved in plans for an uprising against the government, which led to his arrest.
The portrait had been commissioned by the boy’s father, Thomas Bruce. One must believe that Thomas Bruce was pleased with the resulting portrait of his son as three years later, in 1638, he commissioned Johnson to paint a full-length portrait of himself.
The community that Cornelius Johnson lived among centred itself around the Austin Friars, the Dutch church in London. At the time of the late sixteenth century the Dutch community was the largest group of expatriates living in London and numbered around five thousand out of the total population of one hundred thousand at the time. About half of the Dutch residing in London were Protestants who had fled the Flemish Low Countries due to religious persecution. Others were skilled craftsman, including brewers, tile makers, weavers, artists, printers and engravers, who came to England for economic opportunities. Johnson was commissioned to paint portraits of many of these distinguished members of this Netherlandish community.
One such pair were Willem Thielen, the Minister of Austin Friars, and his wife Maria de Fraeye.
From left to right: Arthur Capel 1st Earl of Essex (1631-1683), his father Arthur Capel 1st Baron Capel (1604-1649), Henry Capel 2nd Baron Capel (1638-1896), Elizabeth, Lady Capel (died 1661), Charles Capel (died 1657), Elizabeth Countess of Carnarvon (1633-1678), and Mary Duchess of Beaufort.
It was around 1640 that Cornelius John received the commission to paint a large family group portrait of the 1st Baron Capel and his wife and their five surviving children. It is a depiction which celebrates fecundity, good health, good looks and stylish elegance. Lord Capel was a diehard Royalist. Appropriately, given the horticultural interests of the Capels, the family are pictured here posing in front of their formal garden at Little Hadham Hall in Hertfordshire. The baron’s wife is dressed modestly and somewhat behind the times. She is seen wearing a two-tiered cape trimmed with lace to conceal her bodice, but her daughters wear lace collars that were démodé for about five years.
The set-up for Cornelius Johnson’s depiction of the Capel Family was thought to have come from van Dyke’s 1632 depiction of Charles I and his family.
Anthony van Dyke died in 1641 and this should have added to the opportunities for Johnson whose work and reputation had been overshadowed by van Dyke. However, Johnson was not to have that boost in England because at the time of van Dyke’s death the political situation in England was fast deteriorating and by 1642 Charles I had fled from London. George Vertue, an English engraver and antiquary, whose notebooks on British art of the first half of the 18th century are a valuable source for the period, in October 1843 he wrote of Cornelius Johnson’s predicament:
“…being terrifyd with those apprehensions & the constant perswasions of his wife, the family emigrated to the Netherlands…”
In Alexander Finberg’s 1922 book A Chronological List of Portraits by Cornelius Johnson he talks about Johnson’s “pass”, parliamentary permission to travel and leave England. Finberg wrote:
“…Cornelius Johnson, Picture Drawer, shall have Mr Speaker’s Warrant to pass beyond the seas with Emmanuel Pass and George Hawkins and to carry with him such pictures and colours, bedding, household stuff, pewter and brass as belonged to himself…”
On October 27th 1643 Johnson left London and sailed to Middelbourg, Zeeland, a city in Southwest Netherlands. Middlebourg was part of the The United Provinces often referred to as Netherlands, or the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands.
Once residing in Middelbourg Johnson joined the painter’s guild, The Guild of St Luke. One of Johnson’s first commissions was a lucrative and prestigious one. It came from Apolonius Veth, who was the burgomaster of Middelbourg.
Apolonia Veth also commissioned Johnson to paint a portrait of his wife, Cornelia.
For a time, Cornelius Johnson and his family left Middelbourg and went to live in Amsterdam. Cornelius carried on with his portrait commissions but also took on multi-figure commissions. One such was his 1647 painting entitled The Hague Magistrates.
Another of Johnson’s multi-figured civic portraits was his 1650 painting entitled The Middelburg Archers’ Guild. One presumes the Guild commissioned Johnson for the painting. Johnson’s old client Apolonius Veth was Deacon of the Guild the year Johnson worked on the painting so, as he appears in the depiction, maybe he was the person who commissioned the work.
During 1652 Johnson relocated his family to Utrecht and resided in the high-status address of Herrenstraat. Portrait commissions kept rolling in from the elite families of Utrecht and Johnson was soon regarded as a leading portrait painter. Cornelius Johnson sometimes known as Cornelis Jonson van Ceulen died on August 5th 1661, aged 67 and the funeral service was held in the Regulierskerk in Utrecht
I am starting this second part of my blog talking about my favourite paintings in the Barber Institute collection by focusing on beauty in a work of portraiture. I suppose I have three portraits in mind when I think of extreme female beauty.
I fell in love with the woman featured in Gerald Brockhurst painting Jeunesse Dorée which is in the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Wirral, which I have seen many times.
My second true love is the portrait I saw when I was visited the Palazzo Abatellis in Palermo, Sicily. It was of the Virgin Mary and entitled Virgin Annunciate and the artist was Antonello da Messina.
My third beautiful portrait is in the collection of the Barber Institute and is entitled Portrait of Countess Golovina painted by the French painter Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun. Lebrun was born in 1755 during pre-revolutionary France. In 1789, aged thirty-four, she had to escape the Revolution and in 1795 she had settled in St Petersburg. It was whilst in Russia that she painted the beautifully crafted portrait of Varvara Nikolayevna Golovina who was the wife of Count Nikolai Golovin. Countess Golovina was an artist and memoirist who came from Russian nobility and was a close confidant of Empress Elizabeth. She was appointed a maid of honour at the court of Catherine the Great. In Vigée-Lebrun’s portrait the countess is dressed in a red shawl which is decorated with a gold border. She wears a deep gold headband. Her hair flows down her shoulders. She gazes directly towards us with a look of amazing openness. What is quite captivating about her pose is the way she has laid her arm across her body as her hand clasps her shawl to her body in a gesture that suggests she has been caught off-guard by the artist. It is a very intimate depiction of a beautiful woman.
Govert Flinck, the son of a cloth merchant, was born in Cleves in the Lower Rhine region. When he was fourteen he began to draw and paint and began his apprenticeship as a painter in Leewarden with the painter and Mennonite preacher Lambert Jacobsz. Whilst there he met the painter Jacob Adrianesz. Backer and the two artists travelled together to Amsterdam to continue their studies in Rembrandt’s studio where Flinck spent around three years and it was there that he collaborated with him for some years. During this time, he lived in the house of the art dealer Hendrick van Uylenburgh. In 1636 he opened his own studio. Rembrandt had never taken a commission to paint a portrait of a child but many of his pupils were pleased to fill the gap in the market for such a genre. One of the best was Govert Flinck who had gained in popularity in the mid 1630’s and at one time it was thought that he was more popular than his master. Flink, like Rembrandt, used a dark palette of browns and greys for this work. The identity of the boy is somewhat of a mystery but recently Flick’s eight-year-old nephew, David Leeuw, has been suggested as the sitter. He was the son of a wealthy businessman and avid art collector. The depiction has a low horizon line which gives prominence to the boy’s figure and theatrically silhouettes his head and body against the menacing sky.
Of all the Impressionist painters I think my favourite is Renoir. Renoir differed from his Impressionist colleagues as his works often featured figures whereas his contemporaries preferred to depict Impressionistic landscapes. In this painting entitled Young Woman Seated we see one of his favourite professional models posing for the work, so we are aware that this not a commissioned portrait. Renoir started this painting around the time of the Second Impressionist Exhibition in April 1876 and completed it in 1877, the year of the Third Impressionist Exhibition. Renoir was a major exhibitor at both these Paris exhibitions. In the work we see the model tilting her head and partially turns to face us but her eyes fail to meet ours. Renoir has depicted his model with her hand raised to her face which draws our eyes towards her mouth and cheeks which he has highlighted with subtle shades of pink and peach. Her clothing is a mass of superficial fabrics and depicted with delicate frothy curls which create a sense of femininity and sensuality.. Although the title of the work is a very general one the art market at the time gave it the title of La Pensée (Thought). On hearing this, Renoir cuttingly stated “my models have no thoughts”.
I have always loved the works of the Pre-Raphaelite painters and was pleased to see one of Dante Rossetti’s works at the Barber Institute. It was his 1865 painting entitled The Blue Bower. Twelve years earlier, around 1853 Dante Rossetti and his colleagues, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, had gone their separate ways. Rossetti began to concentrate on depictions of medieval fantasy and focused on themes from the life and works of Dante Alighieri and from Malory’s legends of King Arthur, and his depictions were exclusively in watercolour. Around 1859 Rossetti’s artwork changed and he went back to oil painting and produced a series of idealized portraits of beautiful women often depicted at close range in glamorous settings. These women were depicted as being dominant and strong-willed females and often had a back story of the ruining of men. The woman who sat for Rossetti’s painting was Fanny Cornforth, who was born Sarah Cox. Cornforth met Rossetti in 1856 and became his model and mistress. Rossetti has enhanced her natural beauty. She has thick wavy hair and wears a loose luxurious gown, and her eyes are not cast down modestly as a geisha’s might be, but watchful. From every point of view, composition, colour and character, it is a fascinating and very beautiful work. The background has a blue cornflower pattern and actual cut cornflowers lie on the table in front of her. Also on the table is a small Japanese koto, a half-tube zither instrument, that she is playing albeit without showing any interest in what she is doing. The arrangement of the portrait offers the proposition that her role in his life was that of courtesan, mistress, the entertaining geisha, although her eyes are not cast down in a geisha-like modesty. At this point in time artists were captivated by all things Japanese, their culture, and the fashion for blue-and-white china, and Japanese ornaments.
In April 2011 I was in London and went to see the George Bellow’s exhibition at the National Gallery entitled An American Experiment: George Bellows and the Ashcan Painters. This small twelve painting exhibition, seven by Bellows, featured his work as a painter of urban scenes. . My favourite was his 1912 painting which the National Gallery actually owned, Men of the Docks.
So I was surprised to see a nude painting at the Barber Institute attributed to the American painter. It is only the second work by the artist to enter a British collection. Bellows is regarded as one of the greatest early 20th-century American painters who was much better known for his gritty urban and brutally realistic boxing scenes than for naked ladies. It is entitled Nude, Miss Bentham. Bellows painted this attractive nude in 1906 after completing his studies at the New York School of Art and when he had set up his own studio. Bellows was the outstanding American talent of his generation and a member of the group which was later known as the ‘Ashcan School’, a reference to their commitment to finding subject matter in the people and scenes offered up by the bustling modern city. It is a full-length work of a standing nude woman as viewed from behind. It was Bellow’s first attempt at depicting a nude and he never sold it. It was also the first nude painting to grace the walls of the Barber Institute. When he died in January 1925 it was found in his studio. The work was sold by his widow in 1985, to Andy Warhol. After Warhol died in 1987, it was sold to an anonymous private collector who in turn sold it in 2015, through the dealer Collisart, to the Barber Institute.
The Barber Institute director, Ms Kalinsky said of the purchase:
“…This is a thrilling departure for the Barber Institute and our first major purchase for some years. It fits in extremely well with the strengths of our gallery as a historical collection, but it takes us into new areas too. The painting is very American and very much of its time, strengthening and expanding our representation of early 20th-century art…”
Bellows painted it in a realistic but highly dramatic style against a dark background. The full-length oil depicts a model named by Bellows as Miss Bentham, painted in a realistic but highly dramatic style against a dark background. Notice how there is a reddish abrasion seen around the woman’s knees and feet, a sure sign that she has experienced hard physical work.
The Arts and Crafts Movement was a design movement which emerged from the Pre-Raphaelite circle with the founding of the design firm Morris and Co. in 1861 by William Morris. It was a design movement which aspired to enhance the quality of design and make it available to the widest possible audience. The term was not coined until 1887 and the Arts and Crafts Movement officially started when Morris and fellow artist, Edward Burne-Jones established a group that they called the Birmingham Set or Birmingham Group. They were an informal collective of painters and craftsmen who worked in Birmingham, England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. My featured artist today, Joseph Edward Southall, was one of the leaders of this group. He was probably the most important, if not the most celebrated artist of that group and was looked upon as among the most dedicated.
Joseph Edward Southall was born in Nottingham on August 23rd 1861, the son of a grocer, Joseph Sturge Southall, and his wife Elizabeth Maria Baker, both offsprings of distinguished Quaker families. Just a year after the birth of Joseph Southall his father died aged twenty-seven and Joseph and his mother had to go and live with his maternal grandmother in Edgbaston, a suburb of Birmingham
Joseph Southall’s education was to attend Quaker schools. He attended the Friends’ School at Ackworth and in 1872, at the age of eleven, transferred to the Friends’ School at Bootham, York, where he received his first tuition in art when he was taught watercolour painting by the English artist and educator, Edwin Moore. From the school at Bootham he went to a school in Scarborough while still carrying on with private lessons with Moore. On September 1st 1878, following on a few days after his seventeenth birthday, Joseph Southall completed his schooling and began an apprenticeship at the offices of the renowned Birmingham architectural partnership of Martin and Chamberlain. He remained with the firm for four years but continued his art studies at evening classes at the Birmingham School of Art. Both the architectural company and the School of Art were steeped in the spirit of John Ruskin and the Arts and Crafts movement. The architect John Henry Chamberlain was a founder and trustee of the Guild of St George, while the Principal of the School of Art, Edward R. Taylor, was a pioneer of Arts and Crafts education and a friend of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. It was also around this time that Joseph took to reading books written by Ruskin and William Morris, and what he gained from this would remain with him for the rest of his life.
Southall however felt unfulfilled with his architectural training. Southall left the architectural practice to pursue his studies in painting and carving. For him, architecture should embrace and craft disciplines such as painting and carving and with that in mind and having been inspired by his reading of Ruskin and Morris he decided to go on trips to Europe to broaden his artistic education. In 1882 he visited Bayeux, Rouen and Amiens in Northern France where he was enthralled by the ancient cities with their Gothic cathedrals. In 1883, now a free agent, he, accompanied by his mother, journeyed to Italy and spent thirteen weeks visiting Pisa, Florence, Siena, Orvieto, Rome, Bologna, Padua, Venice and Milan. It was during his stay in Italy that he fell in love with the works of the painters of the Italian Renaissance and the frescoes of the fifteenth century painter, Benozzo Gozzoli
Southall returned home with an overwhelming appreciation of the Italian Primitives and set his mind to study and practise the art of painting in tempera, a painting medium he had witnessed whilst in Italy. In an essay by Peyton Skipwith in the book of paintings, Joseph Southall: 1861-1944.Sixty works by Joseph Southall, 1861-1944, from the Fortunoff Collection, he quotes Southall’s recollection of his time in Italy:
“…the thrill of joy which I experienced when, without any knowledge of what I was about to see, I stepped inside the enchanting cloisters of the great Campo Santo of Pisa. There I found myself at 21 years of age face to face with a vast series of frescoes, so quiet and yet so gay, so reticent in manner and so lively in essence that words must ever fail to convey even the faintest expression of what I felt…”
After returning to England Southall began to experiment with the tempera medium whilst at the Birmingham School of Art. It was at the Birmingham School of Art that he met Arthur Gaskin, who became his closest friend. The School of Art was run by the enigmatic head, Edward R. Taylor who had made the Birmingham school one of the leading schools of art in Britain, and the foremost for the study of the crafts. One of Southall’s great work using tempera was his 1898 painting entitled Beauty Seeing the Image of her Home in the Fountain.
On his return to Birmingham Joseph Southall settled in the house of his uncle, George Baker, at 13 Charlotte Road, in the city suburb of Edgbaston and it would be here that he would remain for the rest of his life. George Baker was a charismatic man and a friend of John Ruskin. He was a staunch Quaker and a life-long admirer of John Ruskin’s Utopian ideals. Baker became a prominent member of Ruskin’s Guild of St George and succeeded him to become the second master of the Guild on Ruskin’s death in 1900. He also showed Ruskin some of his nephew’s 1883 Italian drawings. Ruskin was so taken by Southall’s architectural knowledge that in 1885 he gave Southall his first major commission. Ruskin wanted Joseph Southall to design a museum for the Guild of St George and have it built on Joseph’s uncle’s land near Bewdley, Worcestershire. To gather ideas for this project, Southall made a second trip to Italy in 1886, again visiting Pisa, Florence, Siena and Assisi, so as to do research into Ruskin’s commission. Unfortunately for Southall, the project was abandoned by Ruskin who reverted to his original plans to build a museum in Sheffield. Southall was very disappointed at the turn of events saying that his chance of becoming an architect vanished and he was destined to spend years of obscurity, followed by a little bitterness of soul. The years that followed this disappointment and his love of tempera began to wane. He was generally frustrated with the medium and eventually abandoned it leading him to favour painting with oils.
After a third visit to Italy in 1890, he once again became interested with the works by the Italian Primitives and slowly and once again experimented with the painting medium of tempera. His great influence now that he had returned to Birmingham, was his fellow Brummie artist, Sir Edward Burne-Jones.
It was he who congratulated Southall on his 1898 tempera painting Beauty Seeing the Image of her Home in the Fountain. It was also Burne-Jones who in 1897 sent Southall’s tempera self-portrait, Man with a Sable Brush, to the New Gallery, along with his own work. These paintings and others like them, confirmed Southall as one of the foremost British tempera painters and as such led to his participation in the exhibitions of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society and the exhibition of Modern Paintings in Tempera at Leighton House. The latter immediately preceded the foundation of the Tempera Society, of which Southall became one of the foremost members.
For a number of years Joseph Southall had been very close companions with his cousin Anna Elizabeth Baker, known as Bessie, who was two years older than Joseph. He completed a number of portraits of her including his 1887 portrait of her when she was twenty years of age.
Another early portrait of Anna was John Southall’s 1895 painting entitled Coral Necklace.
She also appeared in his 1898 painting Hortus Inclusus which means private garden. The setting is just such a garden with tall yew hedges in the background. It is a portrait of Southall’s wife-to-be although the wedding would not take place for another five years. It is an idyllic scene with Anna sitting on a bench in the garden with her cat by her side.
In June 1903 Joseph Southall and his long-time fiancé, Anna Elizabeth Baker were married. He was forty-two and she was forty-four. Their relationship started when they were both youths. Over time their relationship became more intimate and they eventually became engaged to be married. However, as they were cousins, this close kinship made the couple deliberately put off marriage until Anna was past child-bearing age. Probably my favourite portrait by Southall is the one which depicts he an Anna, eight years after they married. The setting is a beach, more than likely Southwold on the Suffolk coast, which is where they spent their honeymoon and returned their many times more. The title of the painting, The Agate, derives from Bessie seen in the depiction handing her husband an agate, a gemstone which can be found on the seashore in this area. This handing of the agate to her husband can be seen as a symbol of the couple’s collaboration, as we know that the agate gemstone is used by craftspeople to burnish the gilding on picture frames and Southall’s wife Anna, who was a talented craftswoman, would make the picture frames ready for her husband’s paintings.
Joseph Southall’s popularity and recognition as a great painter grew. He was at the height of his career during the latter years of the 1890’s until the start of World War I. His work was shown at numerous exhibitions, not just in Britain but in Europe and America and he was elected a member of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, the Art Workers Guild and the Union Internationale des Beaux-Arts et des Lettres. His major exhibition in England was held in 1907 at the Fine Art Society in London and three years later a major one-man exhibition was held at the Galeries Georges Petit in Paris. At the Paris exhibition Southall’s work was snapped up and following the event he received a number of lucrative commissions.
With the onset of war in 1014 Southall’s output as an artist waned. Southall being brought up a Quaker and followed their beliefs all his life had him take an anti-War stance at the onset of hostilities. Southall’s output as a painter declined considerably with the outbreak of World War I, as the pacifism inherent in his Quaker faith led him to devote his energies to anti-war campaigning. He abandoned his commitment to the Liberal Party and joined the Independent Labour Party, becoming Chairman of the Birmingham City Branch; the Party was the one left-wing body that always upheld its opposition to the war. Southall also chaired the Birmingham Auxiliary of the Peace Society and was a joint Vice-president of the Birmingham and District Passive Resistance League. His main artistic output during this period were anti-war cartoons printed in pamphlets and magazines, and art historians reckon they number among his most powerful works.
In the above cartoon we see depicted ‘all those who sit in the high places and cast the people into the pit’. A diplomat and a businessman push a blindfolded officer towards a precipice, whilst a fashionable society woman looks on and a cleric of the Established Church appears as the priest who ‘blessed our banners and bade speed to our swords’. Apart from Death, who gleefully accompanies this performance on his drum, only the diplomat sees what is happening; the others all have their eyes covered.
‘The Obliterator’ appeared in his anti-war pamphlet Fables and Illustrations opposite a mock sales promotion advertising the Obliterator’s record of leaving ‘nothing standing and nothing breathing’ while making ‘a clean sweep of civilisation’. Southall’s woodcuts and satirical fables were published when most of his wartime energies were consumed by pacifist activism in Birmingham and print caricature provided him a convenient alternative artistic output. The essence of his moral standpoint is an unshakable absolute conviction of conscience, clearly articulated in his fable ‘Inscription from Babylon’: although citizens ‘ought to be law-abiding’, in the final analysis, pacifism is justified by faith that ‘Divine law stood above human laws’ in the form of the the sixth Commandment: ‘Thou shalt not kill’
During the two decades of peace between the two world wars, Southall and his wife made regular trips to Europe, visiting France and Italy in the Spring and Autumn. Their European holidays were combined with their shorter summer holidays to their beloved Southwold on the Suffolk coast and Cornish breaks on the Fowey estuary, all of which gave Southall opportunities to paint the various places. At this time Southall’s favoured painting medium was watercolours. Many of these paintings were exhibited at the Alpine or Leicester Galleries in London and the Ruskin Galleries in Birmingham, as well as at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, the Royal Academy, and the Paris Salon.
Between holidays Southall spent time on lucrative commissions, painting portraits for wealthy patrons, who would often be from the Quaker community. One such work was his portrait of Sir Whitworth Wallace the first director of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery which opened in 1885.
At the 1930 Winter Exhibition at the Royal Academy, Southall exhibited his painting The Return. The painting depicts two women high up on the banks of a river, possibly the River Fowey, one seated on the grass in grey dress, with mustard coloured shoes and a blue hat with green bands. There is a red book on a rock beside her. The other woman stands. She wears a red hat, a salmon-coloured dress with white collar and cuffs. She waves a handkerchief and her white scarf also waves in the wind. On the still water below are sailing ships, casting long reflections on the water. On a small boat lower right, two figures appear to return the woman’s wave.
Many of the works at this exhibition focused on Southall’s Italian paintings, many done using tempera. So popular were paintings in that medium that the following Summer Exhibition 1n 1931 allotted one room for works using tempera. This was indeed a change of heart by the Academy Hanging Committee jurists who had scorned that painting medium and could not decide whether such works fell into a watercolour or oil classification.
Joseph and Bessie Southall made many trips to Italy and one of their favourite haunts was Venice which he depicted in a number of his works.
The couple made their last trip to Venice in the Spring of 1937 but later that year Southall was taken ill and had to undergo major surgery from which he never fully recovered. Doctors struggled to make a proper diagnosis of what was ailing Southall and he had to return to hospital on a number of occasions. Notwithstanding his poor health he still determinedly carried on painting. One of his last paintings was his memorial portrait in tempera of the Bradford MP, Frederick William Jowett who was a founder member of the Independent Labour Party. In the depiction we see a copy of the Independent Labour Party newspaper with a headline
“…IS THIS WHAT YOUR MEN FIGHT FOR?…”
Jowett had died in February 1944 and Southall had not quite finished it when he died nine months later. The work was then completed by Maxwell Armfield, before being presented to the City of Bradford.
Joseph Edward Southall died of heart failure at his home in Edgbaston in 1944, aged 83.
Sometimes when I am searching for a new artist to write about, I come across a painting which just sticks in the mind and I know I have to learn more about the painter who has delivered such a beautiful depiction. This blog is a prime example of this modus operandi.
Today I am looking at the life and times of the American painter, Anna Massey Lea Merritt who spent most of her life painting whilst living in Britain. Anna Massey Lea was born on September 13th 1844 in the city of Philadelphia. She counted among her ancestors Andrew Robeson, the first Chief Justice of Pennsylvania back in 1693. Anna was brought up in a wealthy Quaker environment and was the eldest of six children of Joseph Lea and Susanna Massey. Her affluent upbringing allowed her to attend politically progressive schools where she studied classics, languages, mathematics, and music with private tutors. As far as her artistic upbringing was concerned, she began to study drawing with the portrait painter, William Henry Furness, at the age of seven. Admission to the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts was probably not possible for her but later she studied anatomy at the newly founded Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia.
In 1867, when she was twenty-three, she and her family took a trip to Europe. continuing her art studies at the Louvre in Paris, in Rome, and in Dresden with the painter the German painter, Heinrich Hoffman, at the Academy of Art in Dresden. In 1870 Anna was living in Paris. She was at a boarding school living with her sister but that July the Franco-Prussian War broke out and the Prussian army was marching on the French capital. Fearing for their safety, she and her family were forced to abandon France and make their way to London. Rather than return to America with her family she persuaded her father to let her remain in London. He acquiesced and arranged for her to live with family friends. However, at their house there was no room for a studio but after searching for a suitable place she found one in the house where Henry Merritt lived. Later in her 1879 biography, Henry Merritt: Art Criticism and Romance, she wrote about the early days in the studio and her timidity towards Henry Merritt:
“…I soon heard that he was a restorer and a connoisseur, but with timidity natural in a woman living alone in a foreign country, I avoided every acquaintance which might seem to arise in an accidental manner. I shut myself into an ugly studio, with a window through which I could look neither on the earth nor into the sky, and produced ugly pictures with no truth in them…”
Once Anna had got over her initial shyness, she became quite close to Merritt and took advice from him with regards her paintings. She offered to pay him for his guidance but he refused stating his “rules”:
“… if I teach you, I must have the right to do it my own way. I must come when I like and scold you as much as I choose, and be altogether my own master if I am to be yours…”
And so he began to critique her work and was often quite blunt as Anna remembered:
“…So it was : how he scolded me ; how ruthlessly he rubbed out again and again the work of days, bidding me do it better ; what pains he took to make me appreciate true points of excellence ! When my work was dry, and had lain by awhile, he would sketch upon it in crayon, de- signing backgrounds or trying various effects of chiaroscuro. No one ever witnessed as I have done his fertility of invention, his refinement of colouring, his variety in touch. Often, he would work thus for a couple of hours, transforming my tame study of a model into a vision. The picture would go through a succession of different effects, any one of which could have satisfied a less imaginative mind. He would then throw down the chalks or the brushes, as the case might be, just give me time to study it, and wash off all he had done, bidding me make another design according to similar laws…”
Over time Anna’s relationship with Henry Merritt changed from Master and Pupil to a more intimate relationship. Around the winter of 1875 Henry’s health deteriorated and he developed a never-ending cough which he downplayed to Anna saying:
“…It would be impossible to cough so splendidly with weak lungs…..My cough is no better although I have practiced it continually…”
The cough didn’t get better, in fact, it worsened and he began to cough up blood which he tried to ignore using a coloured handkerchief to catch the phlegm and disguise any signs of blood. In the Spring of 1876 Anna was forced to leave London and travel to America as escort for her younger sister who had to return to the family. She told Henry that she did not want to leave him but it was her duty to the family but she promised to return in the Autumn.
Anna, once in America, now found herself having to pay for two studios – the one in America and the rent on her London studio and to afford this she had to find some commissions for her work. All the time Henry was writing to her telling her to concentrate on her art and look for work. The tone of his letters showed how he had become devoted to Anna. He would address his letters to:
“My dear little pupil”
In a letter from his Devonshire Street studio, dated May 8th 1876, he tried to ease Anna’s worries that during their enforced separation he would forget her and write words to boost her self-belief. He wrote:
“…You imagine that I shall forget you. Am I likely after all the trouble I have taken to make a painter of you ? Do we plant fruit trees in order to leave them when the blossoms that are to produce peaches and apples appear ? Some day you will learn to value your many precious gifts better than to surmise that anyone possessing understanding will fail to appreciate a talented girl. Those who have hearts—there are not many—will not fail to see that Anna M. Lea is also a generous girl. I saw it long ago, or I should hardly have taken the trouble to teach her to spread colours upon canvas…”
Their separation lasted until March 1877. It was a time when Anna was grieving for two close relatives who had died and it made her more conscious with regards life and death and that Henry was still ill and living alone in London. It also coincided with having completed a number of lucrative commissions so that she was in the financial position to buy a sea passage to England.
In mid-March 1877, Anna arrived in Liverpool and travelled down to London to see Henry. A small celebratory party followed. Of the evening Anna recalled what Henry said to her. In her 1879 biography of her husband, Henry Merritt: Art Criticism and Romance, she recalled his words:
“…Little Pupil we shall be married. I cannot part from you again. I am like a ship at the end of a long voyage, after ploughing the ocean for many a year, become covered with barnacles and all sorts of queer clinging weeds. But I do not see why I should give up our happiness for the sake of ungrateful people, who only think of what money they can get from me. We can still spare something for them, but in time perhaps you will have to defend me from them. You will be happy living in a cottage, as we soon shall, when I show you what a beautiful life it can be made. You are my only true friend, we must never be separated…”
On April 17th 1877 Anna and Henry married privately at St Pancras Church, London. She was thirty-three years old, he was fifty-five. It was a happy time for the couple. However Anna was ever conscious that her husband’s facial expression could not mask the pain he was in. On July 22nd, Henry’s fifty-fifth birthday they drove to Hampton Court and talked about their future plans and buying a small cottage in the country. Henry’s health took a turn for the worse and Anna recalls those last days with her husband:
“…Suffering became intense, but was never more nobly borne. His constant thought was for me. He feared my fatigue, he-feared my anxiety; but it was my great comfort that he could not spare me from him. No one else could be permitted to wait upon him, and for every trifling service he was so grateful, as though he did not expect to be tenderly nursed. ‘I have borne years of loneliness,’ he said, ‘ but happiness is too much for me.”
Henry Merritt died in July 10th 1877, shortly after his fifty-fifth birthday and he was buried in Woking and as she promised Henry, Anna had an elm tree planted above his grave. Anna had decided that she would give up painting when she married Henry but now, with him dead, her plans had to change and she survived financially by her portrait paintings and her depictions of Victorian subjects.
Now, I come to that painting I mentioned at the beginning of the blog. It is looked on as her great masterpiece. It is entitled Love Locked Out which she completed in 1889. This painting shows young Cupid, the god of desire, pressed against the door of a tomb. Anna painted it as a memorial to her husband. The thorny rose around the door frame symbolises the pain of bereavement and the persistence of love. Cupid has abandoned the world, his arrow and extinguished lamp lie on the ground with the autumn leaves. Anna described the depiction as Cupid attempting in vain to force open the door of a mausoleum, as ‘Love waiting for the door of death to open’ so that the ‘lonely pair’ might be once again reunited. In a way it symbolised her desperate effort to be with her husband in the next life. The work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1890 and is now part of the Tate Britain collection. She was the first woman artist to have a work acquired for the Tate collection.
In 1894 Anna Merritt completed another painting which depicted the two worlds – pre-death and after-death, The Watchers of the Straight Gate is Anna Merritts take on the transition between Earth and Heaven, between the living and the dead. The setting is just inside the gate to Heaven. The reddish marble columns were reminders to Anna of the columns at the National Gallery, where she sought special permission to bring her canvas so that she could paint them directly, rather than from memory. The artist has depicted two angels. One carries a scale on which to weigh the soul of who wishes to enter the kingdom of heaven. The other angel is seen holding a crown of wild roses with which to welcome accepted souls into glory. If we look between the gate we are offered a view of a verdant landscape transected by a path, which Anna described as depicting the ‘steep road descending to our village’ of Hurstbourne Tarrant in Dorset, where she was living at the time.
In 1890 Anna Merritt moved out of London and settled permanently in the Hampshire village of Hurstbourne Tarrant. It was her love of the rural village that made her put pen to paper years later and produce her 1902 book, A Hamlet in Old Hampshire.
In 1893 she received medals for two works at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, a mural in the Woman’s Building and the painting Eve Overcome by Remorse which she had finished six years earlier.
She then accepted the commission to paint murals for St. Martin’s Church in Surrey (1893-94).
Merritt was a member of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and carried out numerous portrait commissions, including her 1882 portrait of James Russell Lowell, the American Romantic poet and is now part of the Harvard University Portrait collection.
Often I have written about the obstacles put in front of aspiring female artists but strangely Anna Merritt was not convinced about this and in 1900, she wrote an amusing article in Lippincott’s Magazine entitled Letter to Artists in which she cited problems in domestic life as being the main problem for female painters. The article concluded:
“…Thechief obstacle to a woman’s success is that she can never have a wife. Just reflect what a wife does for an artist: Darns the stockings; keeps his house; writes his letters; visits for his benefit; wards off intruders; is personally suggestive of beautiful pictures; always an encouraging and partial critic. It is exceedingly difficult to be an artist without this time-saving help. A husband would be quite useless…”
Anna Lea Merritt died in Hurstbourne Tarrant, Hampshire on 5 April 1930, aged 85.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another of Hacker’s paintings which featured a nude woman was his 1897 work entitled The Sea Maiden.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bertha Wegmann . Photographed by Georg Emil Hansen (1891)
Bertha Wegmann was one of the first professional female Danish painters. Her work was very popular during her lifetime and she was much sought after as a portrait artist. Without doubt, she is one of the most noteworthy painters of the Danish Realism movement. Some art historians would have us believe that after the famous Danish portrait painter Peder Severin Krøyer, who died in 1909, Wegmann became the acknowledged leader of portrait painters in Denmark, among both genders. She went on to complete numerous portraits of the celebrities of her day along with many paintings of her family and friends. Although renowned for her portraiture she also painted landscapes, still life, and genre scenes.
Portrait of Marie Triepcke. by Bertha Wegmann (1885)
In 1885 Bertha completed a portrait of Kroyer’s wife, Marie Triepcke Krøyer Alfvén, more commonly known as Marie Krøyer, also, like her husband, a talented Danish painter. The portrait was entitled Portrait of Marie Triepcke.
Portrait of an Elderly Gentleman by Bertha Wegmann
Another Skagen painter, Vigo Johansen, was thought to be the model for Wegmann’s portrait, Portrait of an Elderly Gentleman.
Portrait of a Girl by Bertha Wegmann (1880)
Bertha Wegmann, who was of German ancestry, was born in the small village of Soglio, in south-east Switzerland on December 16th, 1846 to Eberhard Ludwig and Cathrine Wegmann. At the age of five the family moved to Denmark but sadly, five years after that move her mother died. As a child, Bertha showed an interest in drawing and her father, who was a merchant, and who was also an accomplished amateur painter, encouraged his daughter to paint. Because of schoolwork and having to help her father run the family home she had no time to enrol on an additional art course. In fact, it was not until she was nineteen years of age that she began her formal art studies.
Young Woman with a Child in the Garden by Bertha Wegmann
In 1867, aged twenty-one, funded by her father, she travelled to Munich and enrolled at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, with the intention of becoming a painter of historical subjects and whilst in Munich her tutors included Wilhelm Lindenschmit the Younger, the German history painter and the Austrian genre painter Eduard Kurzbauer. Although her artistic technique flourished rapidly, she, like many aspiring young artists, found herself discontented with the old-fashioned academic ambiance of the Munich academic establishments. It was a time of change in the art world with the arrival of the French Impressionists. In Italy, a group of Italian painters active in Tuscany in the second half of the nineteenth century had offered an alternative to the antiquated conventions taught by the Italian art academies and urged artists to carry out much of their painting en plein air so as to capture natural light, shade, and colour.
The Danish Artist Bertha Wegmann Painting a Portrait by Jeanna Bauck
It was whilst studying in Munich that Bertha Wegmann met fellow aspiring artist Jeanna Bauck. She was the daughter of a German-born composer and music critic Carl Wilhelm Bauck and a Swedish mother, Dorothea Fredrique. She was six years older than Wegmann. She had moved to Germany to study painting, first in Dresden and then in Munich. They immediately became great friends and for many years would share their home and studios in Munich and Paris. It was in their Munich studio, around 1879, that Jeanna completed a portrait of Bertha Wegmann entitled Den danska konstnären Bertha Wegmann målande ett porträtt, (The Danish Artist Bertha Wegmann Painting a Portrait). The setting was their studio and, at the side of which, was a window that allowed natural light to stream through and illuminate the room.
Målarinnan Jeanna Bauck by Bertha Wegmann (1881)
Bertha and Jeanna went together on painting trips including many journeys to Italy. In late 1880, Bertha and Jeanna moved to Paris and again shared a studio. Bertha Wegmann painted almost twenty portraits of her friend, the best known of which is her well-known portrait entitled, Målarinnan Jeanna Bauck which she completed in their Paris studio. In the painting we see a smiling Jeanna gazing out at us. She is sitting slightly forward, book in hand, with a smile on her face. Her friend has portrayed her with great honesty and charisma. In the portrait, Bertha has managed to effectively juxtapose the impression of an uninhibited, independent type of woman with the stylishness of the middle-class woman. Besides Jeanna we see the tools of her career such as brushes, a palette and painting rags. The book held in her hand symbolises her character as an intelligent woman. If we look closely through the window in the background we can just make out the rooftops of Paris.. Jeanna Bauck returned to Munich in 1882, where she founded a painting school for female artists. Later, around the turn of the century she also taught at the Verein der Berliner Künstlerinnen painting school, an influential organisation for female artists, which continuously offered drawing and painting courses in Berlin.
Bertha Wegmann exhibited at several Salons and received an “honourable mention” in her first Salon in 1880 and a gold medal in 1881. She left Paris in 1882 and returned to Copenhagen, where she was already renowned for the works she had sent home and had exhibited at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Artsin Copenhagen. In 1883 her submission for the annual exhibition at the Charlottenborg Palace was a portrait her sister, Anna, entitled Madam Anna Seekamp, the Artist’s Sister. For this painting the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts awarded her the Thorvaldsen Medal. The award was one of the highest honours conferred in the Danish art world and Bertha was only the second woman to win this accolade. The enchanting painting depicts her sister with her knitting in hand. Her facial expression is one of sweetness, even playfulness. In this work, Bertha has shown her mastery at conveying both likeness and complex human expressions.
After Bertha received the Thorvaldsen’s Medaille at Charlottenborg in 1883, she became the first woman to sit in the Academy’s Plenary Session. At the same time, she took part in many large official exhibitions throughout Scandinavia and Europe and at the Exposition Universelle of 1889 in Paris and 1900 and she also represented Denmark at several world’s fairs, including the famous World Columbian in Chicago in 1893 also known as the Chicago World’s Fair. In 1895 her work appeared at the landmark Kvindernes Udstilling fra Fortid og Nutid (the Women’s Exhibition from the Past and Present) held in Copenhagen. It was an art and culture exhibition for women from the Nordic countries.
In 1897 Bertha Wegmann became the first woman to hold a chair at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. From that year through to 1907, she was a member of the board for the “Tegne- og Kunstindustriskolen for Kvinder” (Drawing and Art Industrial School for Women). In 1892 she became one of the first women to receive the royal Ingenio et Arti medal. The award is given to artists (musicians, painters, actors and scientists) who have done extremely noteworthy work. It is a Danish medal awarded to prominent Danish and foreign scientists and artists.
On February 22nd 1926, after a very long life of constant artistic success, Bertha Wegmann died suddenly, aged 78, while working in her studio. She will be remembered as someone who achieved an unparalleled career at a time when it was especially difficult for a woman to forge any kind of independent life. She was both determined and hard-working, but she also had a calm and caring nature. She was a multifaceted person who forged trails, broke stereotypes and cracked so many of the glass ceilings of her time. She must also be remembered as a popular and loyal friend to many, a loving sister and a zealous champion of other artists, especially women artists.
Almost four years ago, when I was looking at the life of the French artist Balthus, I included some of his works of art featuring nude young girls. This was part of his main body of work but some of my readers were offended by their inclusion, so I believe it is necessary to alert readers of this edition of my blog that near the end of it I have reproduced paintings of young girls, in a state of undress, painted by today’s featured artist. Some may find them disturbing but it is art and it was the artist’s decision to have his children model for him in the state of undress.
Nowadays, remembering people and places is done by the media of photography. It is becoming ever simpler and more accessible with the advent of camera phones. For a lot of people taking a photograph of a friend or a “selfie” has become a daily ritual. It may seem trivial but it is an aide mémoire of a time past and, at times, to look back at ones we love is a potent reminder. If, however, we lived in the mid-nineteenth century, recording an event, a place or a loved one was far from easy, almost impossible. So, what could one do? The answer of course, was owning a portrait carried out by an artist. For that to happen, one had to be wealthy or be friends with an artist. For portrait artists, completing portrait commissions was a lucrative business and for many artists whose genre was not portraiture, they would often subsidise their income by carrying out the odd portrait commission. My artist today was a master of portraiture. He is most famous for his paintings of his three young daughters with his wife. Let me introduce you to the nineteenth century American painter William Sergeant Kendall.
William Sergeant Kendall was born on January 20th 1869 in Sputyen Duyvil, which is now a bustling upper middle-class neighbourhood of the Bronx in New York City. However, at the time when Kendall was born, prior to the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad passing through the town, it was a much quieter town. William Sergeant Kendall started painting when he was twelve-years-of age. There is nothing strange about that but what was strange that he signed all his work Sergeant Kendall, omitting his Christian name, William. Sergeant was his mother’s maiden name and had been given to her first-born child.
William’s parents must have seen their son’s love of painting as well as his burgeoning artistic talent, because two years later, in 1883, when he was fourteen years old they enrolled him at the Brooklyn Art Guild. A year later he attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. One of his tutors there was the prolific Realist painter, Thomas Eakins. Eakins was a controversial character who fell foul of the Academy board over the use of nude male models in mixed classes and was forced to resign in 1886. Kendall was greatly influenced by Eakins and in a letter to his mother and father in 1885 he wrote about Eakins:
“…Eakins came in today and criticized my work. He said my work ‘was not bad’ which as you know is good praise for him!..”
In 1886 William Kendall left the Academy in Philadelphia and went back to New York where he enrolled at the Art Student League, an art school which had been created twenty years earlier. Among his tutors were the American painter, Professor James Carroll Beckwith and Harry Siddons Mowbray who taught drawing at the Art Students League. Both of these tutors had come back to America to teach at the Art Student League having spent time in Paris honing their artistic skills. It could well be their tales of life in Paris, which many would say was then the centre of the Art World, which instilled a desire in Kendall to follow in their footsteps.
In 1888 Kendall and a fellow artist and friend, John Lambert, from his days at the Academy in Philadelphia, set off for Paris, where they worked at the atelier of Luc Olivier Merson. Kendall then enrolled at the Academie Julian and remained there for three years eventually passing the entrance exam to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
The Spanish painter Velazquez had always been one of Kendall’s favourite artists and in 1891 he travelled to Madrid in order to copy some of his works. He returned to Paris and like many other artists, left the bustling city every summer to find peace and beauty in rural Brittany which offered a beautiful countryside ideal for landscape painters and the southern Brittany coastal towns of Concarneau and Le Pouldu, which was favoured by many of the seascape painters. Rural life in Brittany could be hard and realising an income could be quite difficult for the young Breton women and so, for many of them, money could be made by modelling for the various visiting artists. Young girls in striking Breton costumes were one of the favoured genres of the Salon hanging juries at the time.
Kendall sent his painting The Little Water Carrier – Brittany and a Breton landscape to the National Academy of Design in New York City in 1890. However, the turning point for his artistic career came when one of his Breton paintings, St. Yves, Priez Pour Nous, was exhibited at the 1891 Paris Salon and was awarded an “honourable mention”. Saint Yves or Saint Ivo was born on 17th October 1253 at Kermartin, Brittany and was the patron saint of lawyers. St Ives was also hailed as the Advocate of the Poor and is the patron saint of abandoned children. Above is a wood engraving on paper by Henry Wolf of William Sergeant Kendall’s 1891 painting which is held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Another painting from Kendall’s time in Brittany was entitled Désirs (Desire) which he completed in 1892. For this painting Kendall used his favourite Breton models. Therese Le Goue and her sister. Kendall arranged for Therese to go to America and act as his parents’ housekeeper. It is said that whilst employed in that role she would wear her Breton costumes. This painting, which hung in Elizabeth Kendall Underwood’s family home, was gifted to the Smithsonian by her before her death. To have one’s work accepted by the Salon jurists was a great feat but to have it win an award was what every aspiring artist strived for. For Kendall, an American, his “honourable mention” resulted in many congratulatory letters from fellow Americans and he even received an offer of a post at the Cooper Union in New York, which had been established in 1859, and was among the nation’s oldest and most distinguished institutions of higher education. Kendall was tempted but on discussing his future with his former tutor, Luc Olivier Merson, he decided to remain in Paris for a further twelve months of studying.
Kendall did eventually cross the Atlantic and return to New York and he established himself in a studio in the University Building on Washington Square and took up the role as teacher at the Cooper Union, where he took a women’s class for the next three years. He also spent some of his time teaching at his own Alma Mater, The Art Students League. One of the students attending his classes was Margaret Weston Strickly. Strickly and Kendall became attached amorously and early in 1896 the couple married. Within a year their first child, Elizabeth was born, on Gerrish Island off the coast of Maine, where he and his wife had spent the summer painting. A second daughter, Beatrice, was born in 1902 and their third and last child, another daughter, Alison was born in 1907. William Kendall now had a wife and three beautiful daughters to model for him for many years to come.
In 1907 Kendall completed his painting entitled An Interlude which featured his wife and her daughter Elizabeth. Once again, the depiction of the two females is Kendall’s favoured pose – the child facing directly towards us while the mother’s face is in profile. Look at the child’s expression. It is a wide-eyed, somewhat troubled expression. We cannot see the facial expression of the mother, Margaret, as she has turned away from us. Should we read something into this depiction? The curtain has been drawn across the window and thus we conclude that it is night time. Is this a simple case of a mother reading her daughter a bedtime story? The title of this work is An Interlude which suggests an interval – but what kind of interval. Is it an interval from reading the book or is there more to the meaning of the painting’s title? When the painting was completed Margaret and William Kendall had been married eleven years. Margaret, who was six years younger than William, had been a twenty-year-old student of his at the Art Student League when the two, tutor and student, started a romantic relationship. Now in 1907, William Kendall’s relationship with one of his present Yale students, Christine Herter, was about to destroy his marriage. So maybe the painting’s title The Interlude, referred to the change in his life.
It all started back in the late 1880’s when Kendall and the artist Albert Herter became friends at the Art Students League. Albert came from a wealthy background. He was the son of Christian Herter, who with his half-brother Gustave formed Herter Brothers, a prominent New York interior design and furnishings firm. It was through this friendship that William Kendall received a number of family portrait commissions. During his time with the Herter family, William met Albert Herter’s thirteen-year-old niece, Christine, and because the young girl had shown an interest in painting, the family arranged for her to take private painting lessons with Kendall. A close bond between Kendall and his young pupil followed as besides their love of art they both enjoyed music and soon, despite the twenty-year age difference, a close friendship soon developed with Christine becoming a frequent caller at Kendall’s studio in New York and later to his home studio in Barrytown. When Kendall and his family moved further afield to Newport, Rhode Island, Christine followed and rented her own studio nearby. Their friendship grew and when she spent the summers away from him in Europe the two would correspond regularly.
In 1910 Kendall completed another mother and daughter painting. It is entitled The Critics. The painting is a depiction of his wife Margaret and their youngest child, Alison, who was three years old. Mother and daughter are carefully inspecting and considering the merits of a bust which Kendall had carved of Alison herself. The painting now belongs to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
His pastel painting, Mother and Child, is part of a series that Kendall did of his wife, Margaret, and their youngest daughter, Alison.
In 1913 Kendall took on the post as head of the department of Fine Arts at Yale University and the Kendall family moved to New Haven, Connecticut. During this period Kendall completed many pastel portraits of his colleagues.
He also completed a pastel portrait of the Breton artist, architect and French soldier, Jean-Julien Lemordant, who had lost his eyesight during the First World War. He received an award from Yale University for the valour and leadership he displayed in the trench warfare of World War I.
Besides Kendall’s mother and child paintings and ones featuring just his children, Kendall completed a series of nude or semi-nude paintings of his children using his middle child, Beatrice, then five-years-old, as model in 1907 for his painting Narcissa.
His youngest daughter, Alison, was the model for his painting entitled Crosslights in 1913. Kendall said he enjoyed the “mirror” format as it gave him a chance to paint two daughters instead of one.
Alison was again her father’s model for his painting A Statuette which he completed in 1915 when his daughter was eight-years-old.
Kendall also completed a painting of his eldest daughter Elisabeth under the title Psyche in 1909 when she was thirteen years old. At the time, the painting became famous and was reproduced on posters and plastered on the sides of streetcars. However, Elisabeth herself never cared for it.
Christine Herter, who had been studying in Paris, in the summer of 1914, returned home shortly after war was declared in Europe, and enrolled as a student at Yale fine-arts department, whilst continuing to work in Kendall’s studio, and sometimes modelled for him. Christine seemed to have been accepted as part of the family group and would spend part of her summer with them in their summer home in the Vermont town of Brattleboro on the Connecticut River.
In the Autumn of 1921 William and Margaret Kendall’s marriage collapsed and they were divorced and the following Spring William resigned from his post at Yale University’s Fine Art department. In June 1922 he sold his home in Newhaven and that summer he married his former pupil and lover, Christine Herter. William was fifty-three and Christine was thirty-two.
Because of the changing artistic taste of New Yorkers, who had now fallen in love with modern art, William Kendall decided to move away from the city and move five hundred miles south-west to Hot Springs, Virginia, a small isolated town close to the Allegheny Mountains. In 1823 the couple set about having a large residence built which they called Garth Newel, a Welsh phrase meaning “new hearth” or “new home. The property consisted of a three-story central block flanked by two, half-story wings. It also had stables in which they raised the Arabian horses they rode year-round. The couple lived there for the remainder of their lives. Their home gave them both a rural and isolated retreat with high-class sophistication.
William Kendall’s love of horse riding had its problems. In 1931, aged 62, he suffered serious head injuries after a riding accident and was laid-up for a month. Six years later, in 1937, he had another riding accident. It was a much more serious one and he was bedridden until the January of the following year. William Sergeant Kendall died, aged 69, on February 16th 1938 at his home in Hot Springs, Virginia. His widow Christine survived him for another forty-three years, dying on June 22nd 1981, aged 90. Following her husband’s death, Christine donated much of the property to the Girl Scouts of America to be used as a summer camp. The Girl Scouts found that it was too much to maintain, so she regained possession in 1969 and began to search for another use. Christine arranged for repairs to long-abandoned buildings, including the conversion of the indoor riding ring where the Arabian horses had once trained into a wonderful concert hall. On her death she bequeathed the property and a modest fund to the Garth Newel Music Centre Foundation.
The majority of information I used for this blog came from an excellent website (http://williamsergeantkendall.com/) whose author is Anne Underwood Enslow, William Kendall’s great-granddaughter and daughter of Kendall’s eldest daughter, Elisabeth.
The artist I am looking at today is the French-born painter, Elisabeth Chaplin. She was born in Fontainebleau, France on October 17th 1890. Her father was William Chaplin and her mother was the eminent sculptor and poet, Marguerite Bavier-Chaufour.
A further artistic connection was that of her uncle, Charles Joshua Chaplin, a French artist and printmaker who was known for his landscapes and portraiture. He worked in many mediums such as watercolours, pastels and oils and was probably best known for his portraits of beautiful young women. He became famous in the Paris of Napoleon III and was admired by Empress Eugenie for the delicate tones of his paintings. He became a member of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, and exhibited his paintings at the Salon de Paris.
The family, due to her father’s occupation, moved from France in 1900 and relocated to the Piemonte region of north-western Italy, a region which borders France. A few years later the family was on the move again. This time they went to live in Lagueglia, a coastal town on the Italian Riviera and it was around this time that Elisabeth, now a teenager, began to take an interest in painting and set about teaching herself to paint.
The family was soon on the move again and in 1905 finally went to live at Villa Rossi which was in the hills of Fiesole overlooking the Tuscan city of Florence. Living so close to Florence and being interested in painting Elisabeth would spend hours at the Uffizi Gallery copying the paintings of the Grand Masters. Elisabeth received no official training and maintained that the Grand Masters were her tutors and she, their pupil.
One of the first paintings she completed was a family portrait in 1906 entitled Ritratto di famiglia in esterno, (Outdoor Family Portrait). She was just sixteen years old and the painting earned her the gold medal from the Florentine Society of Fine Arts. Whilst in Florence, Elisabeth visited the studio of Francesco Giolio’s and met the painter Giovanni Fattori, who was a member of the Macchiaioli, a group of Italian artists who were active in Tuscany in the second half of the nineteenth century. They shied away from the antiquated conventions which were being taught by the Italian art academies. They were lovers of plein air painting so that they were able to capture natural light, shade, and colour. The Macchiaioli are often compared to the French Impressionists, but unlike their French contemporaries they didn’t complete their entire paintings en plein air, but instead would take back to their studios the sketches they had done outdoors and worked them up into a full painting. Elisabeth would have learnt a lot about art from Fattori.
In her early twenties, Elisabeth exhibited her work in all the major Italian exhibitions between 1910 and 1914. Her work was shown at the Società delle Belle Arti in 1910, and the Internazionale di Valle Giulia in Rome in 1911. In 1912 her work could be seen at the Promotrice Fiorentina, the Secessione Romana in 1913 and the Venice Biennale in 1914.
In 1916 she and her family moved to Rome, and it was here that she was able to immerse herself into the vibrant, international cultural climate and through her artwork was able to build on her reputation as an international painter. It was in the Italian capital that she met Paul-Albert Besnard, a French painter and printmaker who became one of her mentors. After a two year stay in Rome Elisabeth returned to her beloved Villa Il Treppiede.
It was around 1918 that Elisabeth Chaplin created what is now looked upon as one of her masterpieces. The painting was entitled Two Nudes or Double Self-portrait, and is one of few works which was not bought by the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Palazzo Pitti a few years before she died. Elisabeth depicts herself in a dual position, front and back, as she holds onto a red sheet that is tantalisingly falling off her naked body. It is a Symbolist-style work and any likeness to her disappears, giving way to Symbolist features that go beyond a solely naturalistic portrayal. It is a beautiful example of chiaroscuro with the light striking the figure from below. The colour palette she uses is vivid with reds and blues meeting and conflicting. There is a whiff of exoticism about her long, black hair and about the red sheet that looks like a Tahitian wraparound skirt, so much so that the Italian art critic and author of the 1994 book: Elisabeth Chaplin, Giuliano Serafini, stated that it was “an unwitting tribute to Gauguin, which remains one of her most fascinating and emblematic pictures, is the nude conveyed with such fullness of style and truth.” .
I think my favourite Elisabeth Chaplin work is one she painted in 1921 when she was living in Paris. Its title is Les Jeunes filles en jaune (Young girls in yellow). The painting depicts them dressed in yellow-coloured clothes and this derives from the many self-portraits Elisabeth did during her childhood. The two young girls are totally different. The redheaded girl on the left is seated. Her hair is unfettered. She stares out at us with such intensity. Cradled in her arms is a black cat, a creature that is often looked upon as being enigmatic and yet sometimes malign. The cat is a sacred icon that infuses mystery and thus this young girl represents disorder and turmoil. The other girl with her distant blue eyes is so different. There is an air of calm and graceful tranquillity about her. Her hair is neatly coiffed and she is seen touching a bunch of anemones, the embodiment of innocence. This duality is a connotation of Symbolism and we again see the duality with the reflection of the girl’s hand and the vase on the dark brown table.
In 1946, the Uffizi Gallery bought three of her paintings and asked to be given an early self-portrait by her. She agreed and donated her 1903 work entitled Self-portrait with a Green Umbrella and it now hangs in the Vasari Corridor. The most famous and the most respected collection of self-portraits in the world are to be found in the very long Vasari Corridor of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. (It has been closed for major renovations). The corridor is a long, raised passageway that connects Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria to Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the river Arno. The passageway was designed and built in 1564 by Giorgio Vasari and its function was to allow Cosimo de’ Medici and other Florentine elite to walk safely through the city, from the seat of power in Palazzo Vecchio to their private residence, Palazzo Pitti. It is a veritable tribute to art but more especially to those who have created it. Along the walls there are great self-portraits by the Masters, such as Rembrandt, Velazquez, Delacroix and Chagal. The first paintings were bought by the Medici family, and after the collection started, the family began to receive the paintings as donations from the painters themselves. However, what is noticeable about the collection is the small number of self-portraits by female artists. There are some such as Marietta Robusti, the talented daughter of Tintoretto, who died prematurely, Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun, who immortalized for posterity the image of Maria Antonietta and today’s artist whom I am writing about, Elisabeth Chaplin. One of her very first paintings.
Buoyed by the success of her work, in 1920 she had her paintings exhibited for the first time at that year’s Paris Salon. During the 1920s, she exhibited with Cezanne, Matisse, and Van Gogh and had her work was exhibited twice at Venice Biennale, in 1924 and 1926. Her work received great acclaim at the Salon, so much so that in 1922 she moved to Paris and remained in the French capital until the end of World War II. During her extended stay in Paris she spent time going to the Panthéon and the Hotel de Ville to study the work of the Symbolist painters, such as Puvis de Chavannes. Her acclaimed work brought her many commissions including producing large murals for the churches of Notre-Dame du Salut and Saint Esprit. In 1937 she was awarded the gold medal at the Exposition Internationale and a year later was given the Légion d’Honneur.
Elisabeth Chaplin died in Florence in 1982, aged 91. Most of her work including her family portraits, plus some plaster figures created by her poet and sculptor mother, Marguerite de Bavier-Chaffour, were donated to the Pitti Palace and have been on display there since 1974 in a room devoted entirely to her work. More than six hundred other works are in storage at the Palace.
My third look at portraiture exhibited at the Tretyakov Gallery features the work of Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy, the artist who was born into an impoverished lower middle social class family on June 8th 1837 in the village of Novaya Sotnya, near Ostrogozhsk, a town in south-west Russia. He was the third son of a town council clerk of the municipal duma. He attended the local school but, at the age of twelve, when is father died, he was unable to continue his education. During these early years Ivan showed a great interest in and a talent for drawing but lacked the support of family and friends to follow his dream of becoming an artist. Help finally came his way when he was employed by a visiting photographer who employed him to work as a colour correction artist. In October 1853, aged sixteen, Ivan left his native village and after much travelling arrived in St Petersburg.
Having already worked for a photographer back home he found a job with a well-known St Petersburg photographer, Andrey Denier. Ivan gained many friends whilst living in the city and many were amazed at the quality of his artwork and persuaded him to study art. In the Autumn of 1857, aged twenty, Ivan Kramskoy enrolled at the St Petersburg Academy of Arts.
The St Petersburg Academy had, like most European Academies of art, a fixed way of teaching and pushed the long-established practice of depictions focusing on the Neoclassical tradition, as suitable subjects. However, many of the young aspiring painters were not interested in old fashioned historical and mythological subjects preferring to dwell on works of art, the depictions of which embraced social realism. The students were also critical of the social environment that caused the conditions which were depicted in their social realism paintings. It came to a head in 1863 when fourteen young artists, all studying at the St. Petersburg Academy of Art, rebelled against the choice of topic for the annual Gold Medal competition, “The Entrance of Odin into Valhalla”. Instead, the fourteen wanted to depict in their paintings the reality of contemporary Russian life, a Realist style similar to what had emerged in the art world in 19th century Europe and in protest, had refused to take part in the competition. The rebel students asked to be allowed to choose their own subjects but the Academy Council turned down their request, and so they left the Academy. It was such a sensitive issue with political connotations that the rebel artists were put under secret surveillance and the press was forbidden to mention them.
Ivan Kramskoi, who had already spent six years at the Academy, led this “group of fourteen” rebels. The protest was not just about what they had to paint but in the unjust conservatism of Russian society and the desire for democratic reforms which he believed could be furthered if artists developed a political responsibility through their art. His views were anathema to the Academy hierarchy and he soon became a figurehead for an increasing number of disillusioned artists who believed in his artistic and political philosophy.
The revolt of the fourteen, as it was termed, led to the formation of the Artel of Artists which was a cooperative association (artel). It was formed and organised by the art students who had been expelled from the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. because of the “revolt of fourteen”. Ivan Kramskoy and four other artists set up home and a workshop in an apartment in the apartment house of Gudkov on Vasilievsky Island. It was here that they formed a kind of commune with the common workshop. Almost every evening young people gathered in Kramskoi’s apartment.
In 1870, seven years after the establishment of the Artel for Artists, the group under the leadership of Kramskoy formed the Peredvizhniki (Передви́жники, mobile workers), often called The Wanderers or The Itinerants. This group of Russian realist artists formed an artists’ cooperative in protest of academic restrictions. They formulated plans to hold a series of “Itinerant Art Exhibitions” in provincial locations which could be funded without State assistance allowing them to choose what was being exhibited without State interference. It was also a chance for them to preach political reform. They decided that the subject of their paintings should showcase the achievements of Russian art to the common man and woman. They hoped to foster public understanding of art and at the same time develop new markets for the artists. The first of Peredvizhniki’s “Itinerant Art Exhibitions” was held in 1871, in Nizhny Novgorod and from then on, the group organized a series of shows across Russia. Running besides the exhibition of their paintings were artists’ lectures and talks on social and political reform.
Surprisingly, the St Petersburg Academy initially welcomed the Peredvizhniki and even allowed them to host their first exhibition 0n November 29th, 1871. In all there were forty-seven paintings exhibited which received favourable reviews from the art critics. Ten of the paintings were portraits establishing the role of portraiture within the group. Kramskoi put forward three portraits of fellow artists, one of which was a monochromatic one depicting Fedor Vasilev. Vasilev was a Russian landscape painter who brought to the Russian art scene the term “lyrical landscape”. Lyrical landscapes were those which exhibit a certain spiritual or emotional quality. It could be that the depiction is of a sensitive and expressive nature. It could also be that the landscape, as well as depicting a picturesque view, conveys a particularly reflective, ardent or tender feeling, conceivably associated with romanticism. Vasilev was one of the twenty founder members of the Peredvizhniki Association in 1870. In 1871, aged just twenty-one, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and so left St. Petersburg and travelled to Crimea, where he had hoped to find a cure for his illness. The plight of Fedor Vasilev touched the heart of many of his friends and contemporary artists. Kramskoy regularly contacted his friends asking them to help the ailing artist. The Society for Promotion of Artists sponsored his stay in the Crimea, but to meet his living costs he had to sell his paintings. He died in Yalta on October 6th, 1873 at the age of 23. A posthumous exhibition was held in Saint Petersburg and was an outstanding success with all his paintings being sold prior to the start of exhibition. Kramskoy’s portrait of Vassily avoided a mawkish depiction of a dying young man. Instead he depicts the young artist as a dapper young professional with an aura of dignity and professionalism wearing his attractively tailored three-piece suit and fob watch. Feodor Vassily reputation as a “boy genius” was well founded.
My next offering, in a way, is not actually a portrait, per se, but it is one of my favourite paintings by Kramskoy which hangs in the Tretyakov Gallery. It is entitled Christ in the Wilderness and was completed in 1872. It was first shown in 1872 at the Peredvizhniki exhibitions in St. Petersburg and later in many cities throughout the country. The haunting depiction is radical and, some may say, shocking. Kramskoy offers us an image of Christ that is very different from the usual sterile submissions of the past. In his depiction of the temptation of Jesus we can see his unbending realism. Jesus is seated on a boulder in a barren and dry wilderness. He is hunched over and has a dishevelled appearance. It depicts Christ sitting in a state of profound dejection and indecision, hands clasped due to tension not prayer. We see the suffering of Jesus as he endures life in the barren arid wilderness. He has his back to the rising sun as he sits hunched forward on a boulder. Mentally he looks anxious. Maybe he is contemplating the forty-day exile and whether he should or is able to continue despite all the temptations. Physically, he looks dishevelled. He looks tired and his face is gaunt and there can be no doubt that he is suffering. We can empathize with his hunger and thirst and through Kramskoy’s realist depiction we are able to sense Jesus’ loneliness during this period of haunting isolation. Leo Tolstoy described it as the best Christ he had ever seen.
The plays of William Shakespeare were very popular in Russia in the nineteenth-century with the first edition of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare being published in the 1860’s. The Russian actor who was most famous for his portrayal of the Shakespearean characters was Alexander Lensky who often appeared on the stage of the Maly Theatre in Moscow which had opened in 1806. The theatre would often not appoint a director for the plays giving the position to one of the main actors. Lensky would often assume the role of main actor and director. Kramskoy and Lensky became good friends and in 1883 the artist gave the actor some painting lessons. Maybe it was the number of hours spent teaching Lensky that gave Kramskoy the chance to study him at close quarters. In his portrait entitled The Actor Alexander Lenskyas Petruchio in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew we see the actor in the costume of Petruchio, with his leather gauntlet, heavy jewelled chain and white ruff, so arranged to form tiers of differing textures. Against this, we have the tousled hair and downcast eyes of the actor who is immersing himself in his theatrical role.
Fourteen years before Pavel Tretyakov commissioned Ilya Repin to paint portraits of Leo Tolstoy, he had approached Ivan Kramskoy with the same task once he realised that Kramskoy lived near Leo Tolstoy. Whether Tretyakov told Kramskoy that he had approached Tolstoy requesting him to be a sitter for a portrait on several occasions only to be refused, we will never know, but he did add that Kramskoy should use all his charm to persuade Tolstoy to acquiesce. Tolstoy did agree and artist and writer ended up becoming great friends. Tolstoy was working on his novel Anna Karenina at the same time Kramskoi was at the writer’s home painting his portrait. It is believed that Tolstoy ended up creating the character of Mikhailov, a Russian artist who paints Anna’s portrait in his book, and was based on Kramskoi’s personality. Kramskoy’s portrait is a dark and sombre depiction of the great man but one which Tretyakov liked and paid Kramskoy 5oo roubles for it in 1874.
The final portrait by Kramskoy, belonging to the Tretyakov Gallery, which I am going to show you, is one surrounded in mystery as to who is the beautiful sitter for the painting. The unknown female is seen leaning back on the leather seat. She is exquisitely and sophisticatedly dressed. She wears a dark blue velvet fur coat which is trimmed with silver fur and decorated with satin ribbons. She has an elegant hairstyle which is almost hidden by a stylish hat with a white ostrich feather. Her right hand is concealed inside a furry clutch whilst the other hand can be seen covered by a dark kid glove. On her wrist we can see her lustrous gold bracelet. This majestic beauty is composed and looks down upon us with a somewhat haughty expression. She is very aware of the power her beauty commands. The architectural landscape in the background occupies an important place in the painting, with its pink/brown colouring. It is the blurry outlines of the Anichkov Palace that we glimpse as it emerges out of the fog.
The 1883 work by Kramskoy is simply entitled Unknown. In all the papers and notes left by Kramskoy nothing sheds light as to the identity of the beautiful woman. The Kramskoy portrait appeared at the eleventh exhibition of the Peredvizhniki’s Association Itinerant Art Exhibitions in November 1883. Viewers were mystified by who the model was for this work. Speculation came fast and furiously that it could have been a member of minor royalty or an actress but Kramskoy would not reveal the model’s name. Could she just be Kramskoy’s idea of the fictional heroine in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina or Dostoevsky’s female character Nastasya Filippovna, in his novel Idiot. Another possible answer to the identity of the woman comes from a book written by Ilya Repin. In 1916 Repin worked on his book of reminiscences entitled Far and Near, with the assistance of Korney Chukovsky and in the book Repin tells of an incident which occurred in the workshop of the Artel of Artists group. He wrote:
“…One morning, on Sunday, I came to Kramskoy … From a troika-sleigh that arrived, a group of artel artists-artists with cold frost on fur coats fell into the house with a beautiful woman. I was just dumbfounded by this wondrous face, the height and all proportions of the black-eyed… In the general turmoil, chairs quickly boomed, easels moved, and the general hall quickly turned into a study class. They set the beauty on an elevation … I began to stare at the back of the artists … Finally, I got to Kramskoy. Here it is! That’s her! He was not afraid of the correct proportion of eyes with a face, she has small eyes, Tatar, but how many shine! And the end of the nose with nostrils is wider between the eyes, just like hers, and what a beauty! All this warmth, charm came only from him…”.
Dis Kramskoy remember that incident and make the lady the subject of his Unknown painting ? We will never know.
Ivan Kramskoy died at work 0n April 6th 1887 in St. Petersburg while standing at his easel. He was painting the Portrait of Doctor Rauchfus, which remained unfinished. He was forty-nine years of age.
In my final blog regarding the Tretyakov Gallery’s paintings I will talk about my favourite works housed by the Moscow institution, other than the portraits which I have looked at in the previous blogs.