Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. Part 5 – Finances and portraiture.

Portrait of Jean-Baptiste Chardin by Maurice Quentin de La Tour (1760)

Over the last few blogs about the French artist Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, I have looked at his still-life works which he partly abandoned for financial and artistic reasons around 1733 to concentrate on genre paintings, which once engraved provided him an income from the prints. Chardin never abandoned one genre in order to take up another, but from around 1748 onwards he produced fewer genre scenes and reverted to his beloved still life work of his early career. The number of his genre paintings that he once exhibited regularly dwindled whilst there was an increase in his still life works which were shown at various exhibitions. For many, Chardin will be remembered for his figurative paintings and his portraiture and in this final blog on the artist I will look at some of these works.

Portrait of the Painter Joseph Aved (also known as The Philosopher) by Chardin (1734)

One of Chardin’s earliest portraits was one which he completed in 1734 and was exhibited at the 1937 Salon with the title A Chemist in His Laboratory. Several years later, in 1744, the painting was engraved by François Bernard Lépicié and given the title Le soufleur, which, according to the seventeenth century, Dictionnaire de l’Académie, is a person using chemistry to search for the philosopher’s stone. It is again exhibited at the Salon in 1753 with the title A Philosopher Reading. It is now more commonly known as Portrait of the Painter Joseph Aved.  Aved was a good friend of Chardin and had just been elected to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. He had assisted Chardin in drawing up the estate inventory of Chardin’s first wife, Marguerite Saintard and had been a witness at Chardin’s second marriage to Françoise-Marguerite Pouget in 1744. It was one of Chardin’s first attempts at portraiture.

Boy building a House of Cards sometimes referred to as The Son of M. Le Noir Amusing Himself by Making a House of Cards by Chardin (1737)

In 1737 Chardin completed three paintings which featured young boys, two of which were sons of friends of Chardin. His painting The House of Cards sometimes referred to as The Son of M. Le Noir Amusing Himself by Making a House of Cards featured the son of his friend Jean-Jacques Le Noir, a furniture dealer and cabinet maker and one of Chardin’s patrons. He had been a witness at Chardin’s second wedding and had bought several of his paintings. The painting shows Le Noir’s son enjoying himself making a house of cards. The original work can be found at the National Gallery in London but as with many of Chardin’s paintings he painted a number of versions of it. François Bernard, Lépicié created an engraving of the work and added the following caption underneath, which in a way adds a meaning to the depiction:

Dear child all on pleasure
We hold your fragile work in jest
But think on’t, which will be more sound
Our adult plans or castles by you built

The Young Draughtsman (also known as Le jeune dessinateur) by Chardin (1737)

The Young Draughtsman was also a painting Chardin completed in 1737. It was a subject Chardin had used before. Remember the 1734 painting I highlighted in the previous blog which showed a view from behind of a draughtsman at work, sitting on the floor, face hidden from view. In this painting we clearly see the face of the young man. It is a smooth youthful face which has a look of one lost in the joy of his work. There is a look of pleasure on his face, satisfied with what he has achieved so far. He concentrates on the task ahead as he holds the chalk stick which holds the sharpened chalk. He is relaxed. This scene also gives the viewers of the painting a feeling of relaxation, of serene equanimity and this was a forte of Chardin. Chardin once again has used a subtle set of colours. Milky whites, the black patch of the tricorn hat, the rose colour of the lips and cheek, and various blues for the furnishings and the piece of drawing paper on which the draughtsman has drawn the head of an old man.

Portrait of the Son of M. Godefroy, Jeweller, Watching a Top Spin (also known as Child with Top) by Chardin (1738)

Chardin completed another painting of a son of a friend around 1737. It was entitled Portrait of the Son of M. Godefroy, Jeweller, Watching a Top Spin. This work is housed in The Louvre since its purchase from the Godefroy family in 1907. The painting depicts nine-year-old Augustine-Gabriel Godefroy who would later become the controller-general of the French Navy. The young boy smiles and stares at the top as it spins atop of a chiffonier, a low cupboard. The top has been cleared of the quill pen, books and papers which have been pushed to one side to make room for the spinning top. One of the drawers of the chiffonier is partly open in which we can see a chalk holder, similar to the one in the previous work.

Portrait of a Child by Chardin (1777)

Chardin’s financial situation had improved since he married his second wife, the wealthy widow, Françoise-Marguerite Pouget in 1744. She brought with her a house in rue Princesse which was close to the house in rue du Four where the Chardin family had lived for many years, although they did not own it. Chardin’s new wife also brought to the marriage a sizeable amount of wealth, estimated at in excess of thirty-thousand livres in the form of annuities and cash. Chardin brought about eight thousand livres to the marriage accrued from his share of his first wife’s and his mother’s estates. Chardin’s financial situation was further improved when, in 1752 Chardin was granted a pension of 500 livres by Louis XV. This was the first gratuity Chardin received.

Portrait of a Young Girl, by Chardin (1777)

Chardin rarely travelled far from his Left Bank home, just occasionally making the short trips to Versailles and Fontainebleau. In 1757 he finally moved to a new residence as Louis XV had granted him a studio and living quarters in the Louvre, saving Chardin several hundred livres. This apartment, Studio no. 12, which was opposite the church of Saint-Thomas, was vacant following the death of the previous occupant, the goldsmith, François-Joseph Marteau.

Soap Bubbles (also known as Young Man Blowing Bubbles) by Chardin (1734)

Chardin continued to work for the Académie and in 1761 he is given the role of tapissier, the academician tasked with designing the arrangement of the pictures on the walls of the Salon. In Ryan Whyte’s 2013 essay Exhibiting Enlightenment: Chardin as tapissier, he commented:

“… Chardin’s efforts had merited an observation that he had treated the Salon as both a totality and a collection of parts, recognition that the effect of the Salon arrangement was based on a unified design, Chardin’s ‘beauty of the whole’ and mattered as much as the quality of the individual works therein…”

In a 1763 pamphlet regarding that year’s Salon the author commented on Chardin’s masterful lay-out of the paintings at the exhibition:

“…One has never arranged the different parts of this collection with more intelligence, as much for the beauty of the whole as for the particular benefit of each of the artworks that make it up…”

In essence the author of the pamphlet suggested that the Salon space was a work of art itself.

In 1763, the Marquis de Marigny, the general Manager of the King’s buildings, awarded Chardin 200 livres increase to his pension for taking charge of hanging the exhibits at the Salons. In 1765 he was unanimously elected associate member of the Académie des Sciences, Belles-Lettres et Arts of Rouen, but there is no evidence that he left Paris to accept the honour.

Self Portrait (also known as Portrait of Chardin Wearing Spectacles) by Chardin (1771)

If I was to ask you what paintings by Chardin you have seen or read about, high on that list would be his three pastel self-portraits. Chardin had to turn to pastels around 1771 when he had been taken seriously ill. The cause of his illness was put down to his use of lead-based pigments and binders he used for his oil painting. These had, over time, burnt his eyes and brought on a condition known as amaurosis, a paralysis of the eye leading to deteriorating sight. Coincidentally, Degas suffered from the same ailment and he too had to turn to pastel painting. Chardin’s first pastel self-portrait often referred to as Portrait of Chardin wearing Spectacles was exhibited at the 1771 Salon and is now, since 1839, part of The Louvre collection. People were surprised by the exhibit as many believed that Chardin was too ill to paint. They were also surprised by the fact that it was a work of self-portraiture, not a genre he was known for. In 1771, the art correspondent of L’Année litéraire wrote:

“…This is a genre in which no one has seen him work and which, at first attempt, he mastered to the highest degree…”

Denis Diderot, the French philosopher, art critic, and writer praised Chardin and this work, writing:

“…the same confident hand and the same eyes accustomed to seeing nature – seeing nature clearly, and unravelling the magic of its effects…”

The spectacles are delicately perched upon the bridge of his nose. Chardin was forced to wear spectacles due to his failing eyesight and the pair he wears in the painting were made in England. Chardin is depicted in three quarter view. He has turned towards us with his probing brown eyes. How he has depicted himself is symbolic of his trade as an artist. He wears an elaborately entwined blue and white cap, together with a colourful, geometric-patterned scarf which because it has been lit up appears silk-like. The depiction of the artist shows him to be both knowledgeable and astute and the way he has used various tones on the face has made him look almost life-like.  Marcel Proust summed up the self-portrait commenting on the ageing artist:

“…Above the outsized pair of glasses that have slipped to the end of his nose and are pinching it between two brand new lenses, are his tired eyes with the dulled pupils; the yes look as if they have seen a lot, laughed a lot, loved a lot, and are saying in tender, boastful fashion: ‘Yes, I’m old!’ Behind the glimmer of sweetness dulled by age they still sparkle. But the eyelids are worn out, like an ancient clasp, and rimmed with red…”

Self Portrait with Eyeshade by Chardin (1775)

In 1775 Chardin completed another pastel self-portrait which was exhibited at the 1775 Salon. It was entitled Portrait of Chardin wearing an Eyeshade which is housed at The Louvre. In the painting Chardin has carefully fashioned his costume with the same care he once used when he depicted arrangements of fruit and objects in his still life works. The visor which shades the light from his eyes has an attached dusky pink ribbon. He has a scarf knotted around his head and neck and once again he wears a pair of spectacles. Every detail has been well thought out by Chardin. After seeing the self-portrait in 1904, the then elderly sixty-five-year-old Cezanne wrote about the work to his young friend, the painter and art critic, Emile Bernard:

“…You remember the fine pastel by Chardin, equipped with a pair of spectacles and a visor providing a shade. He’s an artful fellow, this painter. Haven’t you noticed that by letting a light plane ride across the bridge of the nose the tone values present themselves better to the eye? Verify this fact and tell me if I am wrong…”

Self Portrait (also known as Portrait of Chardin at His Easel) by Chardin (1779)

The third pastel self-portrait by Chardin, Portrait of Chardin at His Easel was completed in late 1779 but did not enter The Louvre collection until 1966. There are the odd similarities with his 1771 self-portrait in as much as he looks out at us and wears the same turban but in this work, it is decorated with an stylish blue bow. In this work we see Chardin sat in front of his easel, on which is a frame covered with a sheet of blue paper. Our eyes are drawn to his hand, in which he holds a red pastel crayon. His face is half hidden in shadow and it noticeably thinner and his features have taken on a sunken and hollow look, even his eyes have become duller and he looks tired. In his demeanour, we can witness his failing health and in fact this self-portrait was only completed just a few months before Chardin died at 9am on Monday, December 6th 1779, aged 80. He was buried the next day at Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, at 2 Place du Louvre, Paris.

Chardin had become quite wealthy in his latter years but never quite achieved the great wealth of his contemporaries such as the Rococo painter François Boucher, Nicolas de Largillièrre or the Baroque painter Hyacinthe Rigaud. This is probably due to his moderate output which according to some critics was due to the slowness of his painting which Chardin said was due to his perfectionist attitude to all his works. Other said it was down to his laziness!

I cannot end this look at Chardin’s life without telling you about the fate of his family members. As I previously recounted, Chardin’s two daughters, one from each of his wives died when they were still very young, but he also had a son from his marriage to his first wife, Marguerite Saintard.   Jean-Pierre Chardin was born in November 1731. He too studied to become a painter and in August 1754, won the Académie’s first prize for a painting on a historical subject. In 1757 Chardin and his son fell out over Marguerite Saintard’s will, Jean-Pierre believing he was not being given what was rightly his. In the September of that year Jean-Pierre received a scholarship from the Académie to study at the French Academy in Rome. On his return to France by sea from Italy Jean-Pierre is kidnapped by English pirates off the coast of Genoa, but later released. In 1767, aged 36, Jean-Pierre travelled to Venice, part of the French Ambassador to Venice’s entourage. On July 7th 1772, forty-year-old  Jean-Pierre was found drowned in a Venice canal. It is believed that he suffered from severe bouts of depression and committed suicide.

In December 1780, a year after Chardin’s death, his second wife Françoise-Marguerite Pouget, left their apartment at The Louvre and moved to her cousin’s house in rue du Renard-Saint Sauveur,  where she died on May 15th 1781, aged 84.

Judith Leyster and Tulip madness

The Merry Company by Judith Leyster (1630)
The Merry Company by Judith Leyster (1630)

Of my featured artist today, the Dutch Golden Age writer and poet Theodorus Schrevelius wrote in his 1648 book about the history of Haarlem entitled Harlemias:

“…There also have been many experienced women in the field of painting who are still renowned in our time, and who could compete with men. Among them, one excels exceptionally, Judith Leyster, called “the true Leading star in art…” 

Judith Jans Leyster was born in Haarlem in July 1609.  She was the eighth child of Jan Willemsz Leyster who was a cloth maker and owner of a local brewery, which was called Ley-ster (guide or leading star).  It is thought that her initial artistic tuition came from Frans Pieter de Grebber.   De Grebber, a member of the local painters’ guild, Haarlem Guild of St Luke, was a landscape artist and portraitist, who also designed tapestries. The reason for this belief is that the chronicler of life in Haarlem at that time, Samuel Ampzing, mentioned Judith Leyster in his 1628 book about life in Haarlem, Beschrijvinge ende Lof der stad Haelem in Holland.  He commented that Leyster, then 19 years old, was a painter who had “good and keen insight”.   It was interesting to note that he also made the comment: “Who has ever seen paintings by a daughter?” which alluded to the fact that it was very unusual for a female to become a professional painter and furthermore, in 1633, she was one of only two females in the 17th century who had been accepted as a master in the Haarlem Guild of St Luke.  The first woman registered was Sara van Baabbergen, two years earlier.

It was around this time that Judith’s family left Haarlem and moved some forty kilometres to the southwest and went to live in Vreeland, a town close to the provincial capital Utrecht.  Utrecht in the 1620’s was the home of the group of artists known as the Utrecht Caravaggists.  These painters, such as Dirck van Baburen, Hendrick ter Brugghen, and Gerrit van Honthorst had spent time in Rome during the first two decades of the 17th century and, in the Italian capital, it was a time when Caravaggio’s art was exerting a tremendous influence on all who witnessed his works and by the early 1620s, his painterly style of chiaroscuro, was wowing the rest of Europe.   Whether Judith Leyster mixed with these painters or just picked up on their style is in doubt as the family stayed in the Utrecht area less than twelve months, moving to Amsterdam in the autumn of 1629 but two years later Judith returned to her home town of Haarlem.

It is known that she met Frans Hals when she was in Haarlem but although many of Leyster’s work resembled Hals’ work, both in style and genre, art historians are not in agreement as to whether she was ever actually Hals’ pupil or simply an admirer.  Leyster’s paintings were secular in nature and she never painted any religious works.   Although she is known to have painted a couple of portraits she was, in the main, a genre painter, recording on canvas the life of everyday people.  They were, generally speaking, joyous in their depiction and were extremely sought after by wealthy merchants.

Self Portrait by Judith Leyster (1835)
Self Portrait by Judith Leyster (1835)

Her famous self-portrait was completed around 1630 when she was twenty-one years of age and could well have been her entrance piece for the Haarlem Guild of St Luke’s.  In the work, she is at her easel, palette and an array of eighteen paint brushes in her left hand.  Her right arm is propped against the back of her chair and a brush, held in her right hand is poised ready to carry on painting the work we see on her easel.  She has turned towards us.  She is relaxed and seems to have broken off from painting to say something to whoever is in her studio.  The first things we notice are that the clothes she is wearing.  These would not be the ones she would wear when she was painting.  They are too good for such a messy job to be worn by somebody who is painting.  Her skilful depiction of her clothes allude to her social status and her depiction of them is a fine example of the up-to-date female fashion. Also consider, would a painter working on a painting really be clutching all eighteen of their brushes at the same time?   Of course not!   This is more a painting in which Judith Leyster is intent on promoting herself.  Through this self- portrait she is eager to reveal herself, her painterly skills and her social standing.  In this one painting she is advertising her ability to paint a merry genre scene as seen by the painting of the violin player on the easel.  This depiction of a musician was similar to the one depicted in her 1630 work entitled The Merry Company, which she completed around the same time as this self-portrait.  Of course this being a self-portrait it has also highlighted her ability as a portraitist.  It is interesting to note that when this painting was subjected to infrared photography it was found that the painting on the easel was Leyster’s own face and so one has to presume she originally intended that this painting would be a quirky “self-portrait within a self-portrait”, but presumably, Leyster on reflection, decided to have the painting on the easel represent another facet of her painterly skills – that of a genre painter.  This was her most successful and profitable painting genre with its scenes of merrymakers.  It was this type of work which was extremely popular with her clientele, who wanted to be reminded of the happy and enjoyable times of life.  Although Leyster was proficiently skilled as a portrait artist the art market was already crowded with popular portraitist and so, probably for economic reasons, she decided to concentrate on her genre paintings.

Judith Leyster's signature
Judith Leyster’s signature

Around 1629 she set up a studio on her own and started to add her own signature to her works.  Her signature or moniker was an unusual and clever play on her surname “Leyster”.  Lei-star in Dutch means “lode star” or “polestar” a star often used by sailors to navigate by and she was often referred to as a “leading star” in the art world, and so she used this play-on-words to create a special signature: a monogram of her initials with a shooting star.  She must have been successful at selling her works of art as soon she had employed three apprentices.  It is interesting to note that she had a falling out with Frans Hals who had “illegally” poached one of her apprentices and the whole matter ended up in court at which time Hals was made to apologise and make a payment to her for his action.

The Jolly Toper by Judith Leyster (1629)
The Jolly Toper by Judith Leyster (1629)

Judith Leyster completed many genre pieces in which she portrayed people as being happy with their lot in life.  Settings were often inside taverns but whereas with other Dutch artists who tended to portray the tavern dwellers with a moralistic tone around the evils of drink and the repercussions of becoming a heavy drinker, Leyster wanted to focus more on people enjoying themselves.  A good example of that was her 1630 painting which is in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum entitled The Jolly Toper or The Merry Drinker which is considered to be one of her finest works.

The Merry Drinker by Frans Hals (1628-30)
The Merry Drinker by Frans Hals (c.1628)

However with this painting came the assertion by many critics that she was merely a copier of Frans Hals style of painting, such as her choice of subjects and her brushwork.  Hals had completed his own painting The Merry Drinker in 1630 so I will leave you to decide whether there are more similarities between Leyster and Hal’s paintings other than the subject matter.

The Last Drop (The Gay Cavalier) by Judith Leyster (c.1639)
The Last Drop (The Gay Cavalier) by Judith Leyster (c.1639)

Although Leyster’s genre scenes would often focus on happiness and merriment with no moralistic judgement, she did occasionally focus on the darker side of life and a good example of this can be seen in her 1639 painting which is housed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, entitled The Last Drop (The Gay Cavalier).  It is a vanitas work, meaning it is a work of art which in some way symbolises the brevity of life.   In the work we see two men dressed in festive clothing having an enjoyable time drinking and smoking.  The fact that they are not just celebrating but are also dressed up for the occasion has led people to believe that this merriment is taking place on the Dutch holiday of  vastelaovend, which we know as Shrove Tuesday, the day before the start of Lent.  This was the day when people took advantage of the last day of merrymaking before the forty days of Lent abstinence and fasting.  However it is not just the two revellers that Leyster has depicted in the drinking scene, for between them we see a skeleton.  The skeleton holds an hour-glass in one bony hand and a skull and a lit candle in the other.  The candle both casts a shadow on the seated drinker but at the same time lights up the cavalier’s face.   The skull, burning candle and hour-glass are classic symbols of a vanitas painting which have the sobering effect of reminding us of the brevity of life and the inevitability of death.  There is no interaction between the drinkers and the skeleton which is probably an indication that as they have imbibed so much alcohol the thought of death never crosses their mind.  Look at the expression on the face of the cavalier dressed in red.  It is one of blankness and stupidity which we have often witnessed when we look into a face of a drunkard.  At that moment in time, he has no concern about his own mortality.   One final comment about this work is that it is a good example of how Leyster utilised a style of painting which was associated with the Italian painter Caravaggio and his Dutch followers, the Utrecht Caravaggists, whom Leyster would have seen earlier in her career.  It is known as tenebrism which is where the artist has depicted most of the figures engulfed in shadow but at the same time, have some of them dramatically illuminated by a shaft of light usually from an identifiable source, such as a candle as is the case in this painting, or from an unidentifiable source, off canvas.

A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and an Eel by Judith Leyster (c.1635)
A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and an Eel by Judith Leyster (c.1635)

On a lighter note I offer you another painting with a moral, but somewhat more humorous, which Judith Leyster completed around 1635 and is entitled A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and an Eel.  It is a visual joke with a moralising tale.  It is one of those paintings, typical of Dutch genre scenes, in which you have to look carefully at all who and what are depicted in the painting so as work out what is going on.  See if you can fathom it out.

The two main characters are a boy and a girl.  The boy has a cheeky smile on his face.  He has enticed the cat to join them by waving a wriggling eel which he now holds aloft, having grabbed the cat.   The little girl has now grabbed the tail of the cat, which in a state of shock and fear.  It is desperate to get away from the pair of young tormentors and has extended its claws and about to scratch the boy’s arm in an attempt to escape his clutches.  The young girl who has a face of an older woman, admonishingly wags her finger at us – so why is she so censorious?   It is believed that she is smugly warning us against foolish and mischievous behaviour alluding to the Dutch saying: ‘He who plays with cats gets scratched’.  In other words he who seeks trouble will find it. Although children are depicted in this moralising scene, it is more a warning to adults about their behaviour and many Dutch artists who painted genre scenes with a moral twist frequently used children to put over their moral message.

In the late 1630’s, a strange phenomenon occurred in the Netherlands, which had been brewing for a number of years.   It became known as Tulpenwoede (tulip madness) which saw the price of tulip bulbs rocketing.   It all began when some tulip contracts reached a level which was about 20 times the level of three months earlier.   In one particular case a rare tulip known as Semper Augustus, which had been valued at around 1,000 guilders per bulb  ten years earlier was fetching a price of 5,500 guilders per bulb in  January 1637.  This meant that one of these bulbs was worth the cost of a large Amsterdam house.  Many people, who watched the rising value of the tulip bulb, wanted part of the action.  People used their life savings and other assets were cashed in to get money to invest in these bulbs, all in the belief and expectation that the price of tulip bulbs would continue to rise and they would suddenly become rich.  Alas as we have all seen when a thing is too good to be true, it usually is, and by the end of February 1637 the price of a tulip bulb had crashed and many people lost their savings.

Tulip by Judith Leyster
Tulip by Judith Leyster
from her Tulip Book

However the rising value of the tulip bulb came as a boon to floral artists for if people could not afford the actual tulips for their gardens or pots the next best thing was to have a painting of them and even better still would be to have a book full of beautiful depictions of different tulips.   Judith Leyster realised that the public’s love of tulips could be advantageous for her and she produced her own book of tulips.

Flowers in a vase by Judith Leyster (1654)
Flowers in a vase by Judith Leyster (1654)

In 1636 Judith Leyster married Jan Miense Molenaer, another genre painter, and the two of them set up a joint studio and art dealing business.  They moved to Amsterdam as the opportunity to sell their works of art was better and there was also a greater stability in the art market.  Judith went on to have five children and the role of mother and housekeeper meant that her art output declined.  Until recently it was thought that her artistic output had all but ceased, that was until the run-up to a Judith Leyster retrospective at the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem a number of years ago when a beautiful floral still life which she painted in 1654 surfaced.  It had been hidden from public view in the collection of a private collector.

Judfith Leyster and her husband remained in Amsterdam for eleven years.  They then moved to Heemstede in the province of North Holland, where in 1660, at age 50, Leyster died.

Philosophy, a Self Portrait by Salvator Rosa

Philosophy, a Self-portrait by Salvator Rosa (c.1645)
Philosophy, a Self-portrait by Salvator Rosa (c.1645)

Today’s featured work is another self-portrait, this time by the 17th century Italian Baroque painter, poet and printmaker, Salvator Rosa.  Salvator Rosa was a man of many talents and possibly one of the most daring and inventive artists of the Italian 17th century.   Although in Britain, he is often best remembered for his unparalleled wild landscapes and mountain scenery, and it was just those scenes which Horace Walpole, the English art historian, antiquarian and politician so memorably wrote that what he witnessed during his 1739 journey crossing the Alps into Italy, some fifty years after Rosa’s death was so like the landscape works of the late artist:

“…Precipices, mountains, torrents, wolves, rumblings – Salvator Rosa…

But Rosa was not simply a landscape painter.  It was Rosa who invented a series of new types of painting – novel allegorical pictures, which were characterised by poignant and melancholy poetry; whimsical portraits of romantic and mysterious figures; grisly and shocking subjects, which demonstrated the more sinister side of 17th-century triumphalism. Many believe that no other artist has managed to create windswept landscapes of such expressive and emotional power, or figures of such brooding intensity as those depicted in the artwork of Salvator Rosa.

Salvator Rosa was born in 1615 in Arenella, a hill-top suburb of Naples.  His father, a land surveyor, Vito Antonio de Rosa, believed that his son would be well-served if he became a priest or a lawyer and with this in mind enrolled him into the convent run by the Somascan Fathers.  Although his father had mapped out his future life, young Salvator had his own ideas for his future and had shown a liking and a propensity for the arts and a love of sketching and painting.  His first formal artistic tuition was given to him by Francesco Francanzano, the artist who had married Salvator’s sister and then he studied at the Naples studio of the Baroque painter Aniello Falcone.  Falcone although having painted numerous religious works and frescos for Neapolitan churches, will be primarily remembered as the first specialist of battle paintings.  It was this painting genre that won him an international acclaim and he was dubbed L’ Oracolo delle Battaglie.  It was also this genre that inspired Salvator Rosa. Falcone’s battle paintings generally depicted war as a disorderly struggle between unknown soldiers, and by so doing, created a depiction which was described as ‘the battle scene without a hero’.

In 1632 when Salvator was seventeen years of age is father died and his mother and five siblings, without their husband and father’s financial support, became destitute.  Salvator continued to work for and be mentored by Falcone and helped him with his battle paintings.  It is believed that the Rome-based painter Giovanni Lanfranco saw some of Rosa’s work and suggested that he would be best served artistically if he moved to and based himself in the Italian capital.  Rosa took Lanfranco’s advice and moved to Rome in 1634 and stayed there for two years.  In 1636 Rosa returned to Naples and concentrated on landscape painting.  There was a romantic and haunting element to his landscape work, often populated by shepherds, soldiers, brigands, and mythological characters. In general his landscapes avoided the idyllic and pastoral calm countrysides depicted by the likes of Claude Lorrain and Paul Brill and the contrast between his work and theirs was often commented on.     Claude Lorrain and Paul Brill created brooding, melancholic fantasies, awash in ruins and brigands. By the eighteenth century, the contrasts between Rosa and artists such as Claude was much remarked upon.   The 18th century Scottish poet and playwright wrote about such differences in his 1748 poem, The Castle of Indolence.  He wrote:

“…Whate’er Lorraine light touched with softening hue

Or savage Rosa dashed, or learned Poussin drew…”

I featured one of Salvator Rosa’s landscape painting, River Landscape with Apollo and the Cumaean Sibyl in My Daily Art Display of May 10th 2012.

At the age of twenty-three Salvator returned to Rome and worked on commissions including an altarpiece for the bishop of Viterbo, a town to the north of the capital.  The bishop treated him as his protégé and Rosa received many commissions from the Catholic Church.  It was during his stay in Rome that Rosa further developed his multi-talented skills, not just as an artist but as a musician, a writer and a comic actor.  Rosa founded a company of actors in which he regularly participated. He wrote and would often take part in his own satirical plays.  The plays were often political in nature and often lampooned the wealthy and powerful, and it was his devilish satire which gained him the reputation of a rebel, pitting himself against these influential people. However these acidic satires made him some powerful enemies including Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the famous and powerful architect and who was at that time, the most powerful artist in Rome.   He, like Rosa, was also an amateur playwright and it was during the Carnival in 1639 that Rosa ridiculed Bernini’s plays and his stature as a playwright.  Eventually Rosa had made too many enemies in the Italian capital and decided it was just too dangerous to remain in the city.

He left Rome and travelled to Florence, where he remained  for the next eight years.  One of his most influential Florentine patrons was Cardinal Giancarlo de’ Medici, who was a great lover and supporter of the Arts.  Rosa worked for the Cardinal at his palace but was still allowed the freedom to spend time on his own landscape paintings and he would go off and spend the summers in the Tuscan countryside around Monterufoli and Barbiano.   It was whilst living in Florence that Rosa did some work for Giovanni Battista Ricciardi who was at the centre of the literary and theatrical life of Florence and Salvator soon became part of Carlo’s circle of friends. Rosa used his own house as a meeting place for local writers, musicians and artists and it became known as the Accademia dei Percossi, or Academy of the Stricken.

He left Florence in 1646 being unhappy with the ever increasing restrictions put on him and his artistic and literary work by the Medici court.  Initially, he went back to Naples where he remained for three years before returning to Rome once again in 1649 for it was here that he believed his writings and paintings would win him even greater fame.  However, one of Salvator Rosa’s problems was himself for he often had a tempestuous relationship with his patrons, frequently ignoring their demands. Another of his quirks was that he refused to paint on commission or to agree a price beforehand.  He frequently rejected interference from his patrons in his choice of subject.  In a book by Francis Haskell, a twentieth century art historian,  entitled, Patrons and Painters: Study in the Relations Between Italian Art and Society in the Age of the Baroque, Haskell quotes from a letter Rosa wrote to one of his patrons, Antonio Ruffo, explaining his thoughts on his art and commissions:

“…I do not paint to enrich myself but purely for my own satisfaction. I must allow myself to be carried away by the transports of enthusiasm and use my brushes only when I feel myself rapt…”

The 17th century Florentine art historian Filippo Baldinucci could not believe Rosa’s attitude to his patrons and wrote:

“…I can find few, in fact, I cannot find any, artists either before or after him or among his contemporaries, who can be said to have maintained the status of art as high as he did… No one could ever make him agree a fixed price before a picture was finished and he used to give a very interesting reason for this: he could not instruct his brush to produce paintings worth a particular sum but, when they were completed, he would appraise them on their merits and would then leave it to his friend’s judgment to take them or leave them….”

In his later years Rosa spent much time on satirical portraiture, history paintings and works of art featuring tales from mythology.   In 1672 he contracted dropsy and died six months later.  Whilst lying on his deathbed he married Lucrezia, his mistress of thirty years, who had borne him two sons. He died in March 1673 just a few months short of his fifty-eighth birthday.   From the absolute poverty he endured on the death of his father he had managed to accumulate a moderate fortune by the time of his death.

My featured painting today is a self-portrait by Salvator Rosa which he completed around 1645 whilst he was in Florence.  Rosa stands before us wearing a cap and gown symbolising a man of learning.  His giant-like figure is silhouetted against a turbulent sky, dark with the threat of a storm.  Rosa looks at us, tight-lipped.  His distinctive swarthy looks are easily recognisable from his other self-portraits.  His face is gaunt and yet animated.  He is brooding and like the weather depicted in the background, he looks as though a storm is also brewing within him. He looks somewhat angry.  His demeanour is challenging and rather scornful.   His dark hair is matted and his face is depicted with unshaven stubble.  The artist had obviously decided to portray himself as an “angry young man” intensely proud of his unshaven image.  His posture could possibly be likened to one of anti-establishment and could be compared to present day photographs we see of angry and sullen rock stars

His right hand rests on a stone tablet on which has been carved a Latin epigram:

“…Aut tace aut loquere meliora silentio..”

Which when translated reads:

“…Be quiet, unless your speech be better than silence…”

This epigram comes from the Ancient Greek historian and teacher, Dionysius of Halcarnassus.

The painting can be seen at the National Gallery in London.

Self Portraiture by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun

Over the next two blogs I want to introduce you to and look at the life of one of the finest 18th century French female portraitist, Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun.  In my initial blog about her I want to examine her early life and show you three of her self portraits and in the following blog I will conclude her life story and tell you about her friendship with Marie-Antoinette, her exile from the land of her birth and relate how I was once again unfaithful having been seduced by a new beauty !  Sounds interesting ?

Self Portrait in a Straw Hat (age 22)
by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (1782)

Today’s artist was born Élisabeth-Louise Vigée in April 1755 on the rue Coquilliere in Paris, just six months before another baby girl was born in the palace of Emperors of Austria in Vienna, a priveleged child, who would become the queen of the French nation and also play a large part in Élisabeth’s life.  That Viennese baby was Marie-Antoinette.   But let me return to Élisabeth.  Élisabeth was the daughter of Louis Vigée, a portraitist and professor at the Academie de Saint Luc .  Her mother, Jeanne Maissin was a hairdresser by trade.  At the age of 3 months, she was sent to a small farm near Épernon, where she was looked after by relatives.  She stayed with them until she was six years old.  Following this, she attended the convent school, Couvent de la Trinite in the Faubourg Saint Antoine district of Paris, as a pensionnaire, (a boarder) where she remained until she was twelve years old.  It was here that she first displayed her young talent for drawing and painting.  In her memoirs she wrote about her time at the boarding school, her love of drawing and the trouble it often got her into but also the pleasure her father had in her interest in art.  She wrote:

“….During that time I scrawled on everything at all seasons; my copy-books, and even my schoolmates’, I decorated with marginal drawings of heads, some full-face, others in profile; on the walls of the dormitory I drew faces and landscapes with coloured chalks. So it may easily be imagined how often I was condemned to bread and water. I made use of my leisure moments outdoors in tracing any figures on the ground that happened to come into my head. At seven or eight, I remember, I made a picture by lamplight of a man with a beard, which I have kept until this very day. When my father saw it he went into transports of joy, exclaiming, “You will be a painter, child, if ever there was one!…”

On returning to live at home on a permanent basis, her father gave Élisabeth her first drawing lessons when she was allowed to attend his drawing classes which he gave to students in his studio.  Sadly his tuition did not last long as Louis Vigée died on May 9 1767 in his apartment on the rue de Clery.   To lose her father at the age of twelve was a traumatic experience for Élisabeth and she recalled the moment:

“…I had spent one happy year at home when my father fell ill. After two months of suffering all hope of  his recovery was  abandoned. When he felt his last moments approaching, he declared a wish to see my brother and myself. We went close to his bedside, weeping bitterly. His face was terribly altered; his eyes and his features, usually so full of animation, were quite without expression, for the pallor and the chill of death were already upon him. We took his icy hand and covered it with kisses and tears. He made a last effort and sat up to give us his blessing. “Be happy, my children,” was all he said. An hour later our poor father had ceased to live…”

Self Portrait with her Daughter (Maternal tenderness)
by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (1786)

Élizabeth’s father had, on his death, left the family penniless and his widow had to find ways of clearing their debts and pay for her son’s schooling and it is with that in mind that, in December of that same year, 1767, she married a wealthy jeweller, Jacques François Le Sevre and the family moved to an apartment on the rue Saint Honore facing the Palais Royal.    However any thoughts she had that her rich husband would solve the family’s financial problems were soon dashed as he turned out to be miserly with his money and just provided the bare minimum for his wife and her son.  Élisabeth, by this time, had been earning her own money from commissions but was made to hand it over to her step-father for him to use as he saw fit.

Élisabeth began taking drawing lessons with her friend Blaise Bocquet from the history painter and Academician, Gabriel Briard, who had a studio in the Louvre.  During her training she copied the paintings of the Old Masters at the Louvre and the Palais-Royal, which housed the magnificent Orléans art collection, and during this period she encountered the French artist, Claude Joseph Vernet.  He would often give her artistic advice and encourage her and more importantly introduced her to prospective important and wealthy patrons.  She also met the Abbé Arnault, of the French Academy.  She later described him as a man of strong imaginative gifts, with a passion for literature and the arts and recalled how his conversation enriched her with ideas.     It was the studying of the Old Masters’ paintings which furthered her knowledge of anatomy, perspective, and the other important aspects of history painting which she was not allowed to formally study, simply because of her gender.  She spent a great deal of time copying the heads in some of the pictures by Rubens, Rembrandt and Van Dyck, as well as several heads of girls in paintings by Jean-Baptiste Greuze.  She was a great admirer of Greuze’s portraiture because, from them, she learnt about his use of  the demi-tints when portraying flesh colouring.

By this time Élisabeth had decided that her future lay in her art and she would strive to become a successful painter.  However her choice of career was problematic simply because she was a female.  As a female, she was excluded from formal academic training and artistic competitions and this factor alone gave her a distinct disadvantage in comparison to the training afforded to her male contemporaries.  At this time in France, the most prestigious type of painting was history painting but to achieve a reputation as a great history painter one had to undergo an all-embracing formal artistic education into the likes of the technique of painting the nude male and how to best arrange figures within a painting for it to be accepted as an acceptable narrative work.  However for reasons of modesty, females were not allowed to paint nude males and so as this formal training was not yet available to aspiring female artists, they had to settle for painting portraits, landscapes and genre works.  She now decided to specialise in portraiture.

Self Portrait with Daughter (à la Grecque)
by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (1789)

In 1774, aged nineteen, Élizabeth applied to join the Academy of Saint Luke where her father had taught. She was accepted and that year she exhibited several of her works at their Salon.  Her portraiture and the way in which she depicted her sitters in a flattering manner was very popular and much in demand.  In 1775 she married a wealthy art dealer and amateur painter, Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun.  The marriage was a marriage of convenience orchestrated by her mother.  Five years later, the couple had their only child, Jeanne Julie Louise, born on February 12th 1780.  It was not a love match, but more of a mutually-beneficial pact that benefitted them both.  .  Her husband marketed her work and endorsed her artistic career while also profiting from her artistic output.  It worked well and the couple became quite affluent and lived a luxurious lifestyle, which allowed them to mix socially with the highest circles of society. Soon Élisabeth and her husband would hold fashionable soirées at their home.  Their guests included artists, writers, and important members of Parisian society.  In 1776 she finally managed to achieve her ultimate aim.  She secured her first royal commission when she was asked to paint a series of portraits of King Louis XVI’s brother, the Comte de Provence.  Before long she even caught the attention of the king and queen themselves and Élisabeth was summoned to the court in 1778 to paint her first portrait of the Marie Antoinette. Marie Antoinette had had her portrait painted by many artists but neither she nor her mother, Marie-Thérèse were ever fully satisfied with the results.  However, they both approved of Élisabeth’s depiction which, although it admirably conveys her royal status, it was actually much more simplified and natural than most of the earlier official portraits of the queen.  This portrait marked the start of a close relationship between Élisabeth and Marie-Antoinette.  This relationship greatly enhanced the reputation of the artist and led to many wealthy commissions. Louis XVI was equally impressed by her artistic work and in Wendy Slatkin’s book, Women Artists in History, she quotes Louis XVI’s comments about Élisabeth and her work:

“…I know nothing about painting, but you have made me love it…”

Élisabeth was a devoted royalist and idolized Marie Antoinette and the rest of the royal family.  It was however this close friendship with Marie-Antoinette which was to alter the course of her life.

Portrait of Susan Lumsden by Rubens

I have included three self portraits in this intial blog about the artist Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun.   The first one entitled Self Portrait with Straw Hat was completed in 1782 and is held in a Swiss private collection.  Élisabeth exhibited this work at the 1783 Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture (Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture), Paris.  Of this painting the artist wrote:

“…I was so delighted and inspired by Rubens’ Le Chapeau de Paille that I completed a self portrait whilst in Brussels in an effort to achieve the same effect.  I painted myself wearing a straw hat with a feather and a garland of wild flowers and holding a palette in one hand...”

For a more comprehensive look at Rubens’ Le Chapeau de Paille, also known as Portrait of Susanna Lunden go to My Daily Art Display of March 11th 2011.

Lady Hervey and her Daughter by Angelika Kauffmann

The second self portrait I have featured was completed by Élisabeth in 1786 and is entitled  Madame Vigée-Le Brun and Her Daughter, Jeanne-Lucie, known as Julie (1718–1819).  The painting is thought to have been inspired by a work by Angelika Kaufmann, entitled Lady Hervey and her Daughter which depicted Elizabeth Drummond, Lady Hervey and her daughter Elizabeth Catherine Caroline Hervey later to become The Honourable Mrs Charles Rose Ellis.  The work by Vigée Le Brun is one of maternal tenderness and is somewhat reminiscent of the sentimental pictures of Jean-Baptiste Greuze which Élisabeth had studied in her younger days.

The third portrait in this blog is entitled Madame Vigée-Le Brun et sa fille, Jeanne-Lucie-Louise, dite Julie (Madame Vigée-Le Brun and her daughter Jeanne-Lucie-Louise, known as Julie) and is often referred to as Self Portrait with Daughter (à la Grecque).  It is currently housed at the Louvre in Paris.

Self Portrait by Rosalba Carriera

My featured artist today is the Venetian portraitist Rosalba Carriera.  I have chosen her because I saw her painting whilst in Venice and I was greatly moved by it.  As I told you yesterday, when I discover a “new” artist I become intrigued and curious to know more about them and so now that I am back home I have delved through my books and have come up with a somewhat sad tale which I will now tell you.

Rosalba Carriera was born in Venice in 1675 and was one of three sisters, one of whom, Angela, was later to marry the great Venetian painter Giovanni Pellegrini.  Rosalba studied art under Giuseppe Diamantini, the notable Baroque painter and printmaker, during which time she would copy oil paintings.  Her own first successes came in 1700 with her tempera portrait miniatures which she painted on ivory.  In 1705 she was made accademico di merito by the Accademia di San Luca in Rome.  This was a great honour and was reserved for non-Roman artists.   Her work was so good that soon her fame spread throughout Europe. 

Here is another question for you.  What do you think the connection was between Rosalba and snuff?

By the 18th century, snuff had become the tobacco product of choice among the elite, prominent users included Napoleon, King George III and his wife Queen Charlotte and even Pope Benedict XIII.   The taking of snuff helped to distinguish the elite members of society from the common populace, which generally smoked its tobacco.   As snuff-taking became popular in Europe so did Rosalba’s commissions.  Why?    Rosalba Carriera was able to paint miniature portraits, often on ivory, which formed the lids of the snuff boxes.  Her talent for these delicately painted snuff-boxes was in great demand.  From that, she progressed to portrait painting but again on a small scale, usually about 30cms x 50 cms.  In 1706 she was invited to the court in Dusseldorf to carry out various commissions and following on from that she was besieged by the nobility of Europe who flocked to her studio in Venice for her to paint their portraits or  portraits of somebody from their family.    

And so to My Daily Art Display painting simply entitled, Self-portrait which she completed around 1746 when she was aged 71.  This was unlike many of her portraits she did of women of the nobility.  Those portraits were of good-looking women, dressed in sumptuous clothes.  Here we have before us a pale faced elderly woman.  She is not smiling and it appears that happiness has passed her by.  She looks tired, drained by her long and arduous life.  I wonder if , in general, we are lulled into believing that somebody who has the ability to paint beautiful things must be happy.  But maybe that is at the crux of her sadness, as it is at about this time that she began to lose  her sight and she must have realised that her ability to produce such beautiful works as she had once done, was rapidly coming to an end.  Can you imagine what she must have been thinking at this time in her life?  Can you imagine her torment when she realised her days of painting were coming to an end? 

Sadly, she became totally blind five years after completing this self portrait and this sent her spiralling into a deep depression and she died six years later in 1757, aged 82.