When I was in London last week I made my first visit to the Unit London Gallery. The gallery is in the heart of London’s Mayfair at No.3 Hanover Square which is off Regent Street, very close to Oxford Street underground station. It is well known for representing some of the finest local and international talent, and provide an unhindered showcase for artists who operate outside of the mainstream art world and by so doing, has successfully launched and enhanced the careers of many influential contemporary artists.
The gallery was hosting two exhibitions and my blog today is all about one of those, which closed at the end of January. It was a large display of work by the Ugandan multi-disciplinary contemporary artist, Stacey Gillian Abe entitled Shrub-let of Old Ayivu. Like my previous blog featuring Kyu Hun Kim the artwork is best described as unusual but this does not detract from its beauty.
Bibiana’s Window, by Stacey Gillian Abe (2022)
The name of the exhibition is unusual but Stacey says it can be traced back to the clan is a descendant of. She explains:
“…Ayivu is one of the major clans of the Lugbara-speaking people from Arua in the West Nile region of Uganda. We are a tribe intersecting three countries that is Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Uganda. Our people are spread out within these countries, and I belong to the Ayivu clan in Uganda. Shrublet of Old Ayivu is a metaphoric term which alludes to growths that have originated for a long time from a place of great significance that eventually create the perfect conditions for shrub-lets to morph and branch out of the old ways to form new connections independent of their origin. The shrub-let is representative of this transportation from traditions, mindsets, norms and past lives, places to mention but a few…”
The Farmer’s Daughter by Stacey Gillian Abe (2022)
She goes on to say that the imagery of the plant life also extends to the colour of the models themselves. Jute is seen as a symbol of the Ayivu clan, and it is a motif that unites all of the work on display. She reveals that jute is a plant of many uses, so this totem recurring in the work is a symbol of possibilities and growth.
Stacey Gillian Abe was born in Kampala, Uganda, in 1991. From an early age she loved art. For her, it all started with painting and drawing in high school in 2008. In 2014, she graduated from Kyambogo University, Kampala, with a BA in Art and Industrial Design.
Forbes Africa Under 30
In 2018 Abe made it onto the 2018 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 list which is the definitive list of Africa’s most promising young change-makers. There are thirty “game-changers”, all under the age of 30, in each of the three sectors – business, technology and creative, a total of ninety young African people who were said to be challenging conventions and rewriting the rules for the next generation of entrepreneurs, creatives and tech gurus. Abe was placed in the “creative” group of thirty. Over six hundred candidates had been put forward and months were spent researching, verifying and investigating them.
Of herself, Abe describes herself as being reticent:
“…My passion started from the need to express myself more, I am not an introvert but a bit reserved…”.
Her way of expressing herself is through her art. She says that a huge part of her practice now revolves around highlighting complex situations as autobiographical documentations of past and continuous experiences.
Fatou by Gillian Stacey Abe (2022)
Unit London gallery describes the exhibition I went to see:
“…Stacey Gillian Abe’s first solo exhibition at their gallery as an exploration of memory, time and emotion. It focuses on the concept of shared memory, Abe’s latest body of work examines how memories have been passed down through her family’s lineage, alluding to the ways in which traditions are absorbed and transformed from generation to generation. These ideas are represented in the jute plant and flowers that are detailed in various paintings. A fibrous plant with multiple uses, jute is a totem for the Ayivu clan, one of the major clans in Arua in the West Nile Region of the artist’s native Uganda. The shrublet appears in sections of embroidery that decorate Abe’s paintings, becoming a motif that connects each canvas. Most importantly, Shrub-let of Old Ayivu questions how memory can be shared. With her paintings, Abe explores the transference of abstract memory, of subjects that are not easily explained visually. These notions do not simply materialise through composition or through the artist’s own subjectivity. Instead, they take shape within the space of the canvas itself, seemingly forming from the subject’s own consciousness. Each painting and each figure tell a different story, becoming part of a tapestry of interwoven threads…”
The Sitting I by Gillian Stacey Abe (2022)
The colour Abe uses for her figures is further explained by the gallery:
“…These ideas of generational memory link to Abe’s striking use of the colour indigo. Acutely aware of the colour’s presence in African history, the artist acknowledges its role in centuries-old textile traditions in West Africa. The rich dye was subsequently introduced to East Africa through the exchange of textiles, facilitating the East African slave trade or the Arab Slave Trade and the Indian Ocean Trade. Here, Abe references Catherine McKinley’s study Indigo: In Search of the Colour that Seduced the World (2011), which details that one length of indigo was equivalent to one human body. Through the Indian Ocean trade, Abe’s home country of Uganda also encountered trade routes from the coast to the mainland in the mid-1800s. Her village of Arua, positioned at the intersection of Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Uganda, saw many Congolese people from the surrounding areas abducted into the slave trade to work in silk production…”
What We Wanted by Gillian Stacey Abe
In Abe’s own words:
“…Indigo for a skin tone in my work signifies a tribe, a breed of black, a people that are not limited to social, economic, cultural, political or historical constraints…”
In the exhibition, Shrub-let of Old Ayivu, Abe also shows us her fascination with indigo via its connection to cloth and material. She is fascinated with the colour and this manifests itself as an exploration of the relationship between cloth and the body. Through embroidery and the cloth there is a strong visual element throughout Abe’s body of work, which allows her to revisit the traditional, historical and personal significance attached to fabric.
See you Later, Again. by Gillian Stacey Abe
During the last three years Abe has carried out wide-ranging research on the colour indigo. It is a colour that has been viewed as both very rich and very valuable, but in her mind also one that has fashioned narratives around the black body. She says that indigo is a dominant colour in her work and she utilises it as a skin tone for her subjects. In a strange way it allows the observer to behold the black body in a different light.
Too Much and Not the Mood by Gillian Stacey Abe
Like my previous blog featuring the work of Hun Kyu Kim, Abe’s work is one you either love or hate. I actually found the exhibition fascinating.
We are approaching a time when we have to expect very cold weather and for some of us the oncoming of snow. So as we are at the beginning of the Christmas month I thought I would treat you to some snowy scenes by one of the greatest exponent of such panoramas. Permit me to introduce the nineteenth century Scottish painter, Joseph Farquharson, whose snowy winter landscape paintings were featured on many Christmas cards.
Joseph Farquharson was born in Edinburgh on May 4th 1846. He was the son of Francis Farquharson, a doctor and laird of Finzean in Kincardineshire. Joseph’s brother Robert was a highly respected physician and local Member of Parliament. Joseph’s mother, Alison Mary Ainslie, was a celebrated beauty, one of the daughters of the lawyer Robert Ainslie, who was a close friend of the poet Robert Burns.
Road to Loch Maree by Joseph Farquharson
Joseph’s early days were spent in his father’s house in Northumberland Street Edinburgh, below the Queen Street Gardens. Later the family moved to Edinburgh’s Eaton Terrace and finally to the family estate at Finzean, in Aberdeenshire. Joseph was brought up in a strict family environment and was educated in Edinburgh. Although his father encouraged him to sketch and paint and even let him use his own set of paints, he only allowed his son to paint on Saturdays. Joseph developed his artistic skills and at the age of twelve, Francis Farquharson bought his son his first set of paints and a year later Joseph exhibited his first painting at the Royal Scottish Academy.
Joseph Farquharson’s first formal art training came in the 1860’s when he enrolled at the Trustees’ Academy in Edinburgh, the forerunner of the Edinburgh School of Art where his tutors included the landscape painter, Peter Graham R.A. who would be a constant influence on Farquharson and Graham’s style can be seen in many of Joseph’s works. Joseph then spent time at the Life School of the Royal Scottish Academy.
Day’s Dying Glow by Joseph Farquharson (1873)
Joseph Farquharson’s first exhibit at the Royal Academy, was in 1873 when his 1873 painting, Day’s Dying Glow, was on display.
Mrs Farquharson of Finzean (the artist’s stepmother) by Joseph Farquhardson(1871)
Farquharson followed the trend of other leading Scottish artists and concentrated on exhibiting his work in London rather than Edinburgh and Glasgow, as this was where the opportunity to sell their work was the greatest. Besides his Scottish landscape scenes, Joseph was also a a talented portrait painter and his first portrait to be exhibited was of his stepmother, Mary Ann Girdwood Farquharson, which he completed in 1871.
A Scottish Interior, the Box Bed by Joseph Farquharson (c.1874)
Joseph Farquharson produced a realist genre painting around 1874 entitled A Scottish Interior, the Box Bed which depicts a bed inside a cupboard and table and chair in a kitchen/bedroom/living room. The free-standing box or press bed developed into a very sophisticated piece of furniture, when cabinet-makers designed “secret” press beds disguised as wardrobes or sideboards, or hidden behind rows of bookshelves and drawers, even when there was no pressure on space, and no need to provide a mini-bedroom within a shared living area.
The Joyless Winter’s Day by Joseph Farquharson (1883)
However, Joseph Farquharson will be remembered for his bleak wintry landscapes often depicting sheep and the shepherd. One such painting can be seen in London’s Tate Britain, entitled The Joyless Winter’s Day which he completed in 1883. Despite blizzard conditions, Farquharson painted this en plein air although, he was in the relative comfort of his specially constructed mobile painting hut, which had the added benefit of a stove. This relative comfort enabled Farquharson to capture the remarkably realistic effects of a snow storm. Before you worry about the health of the sheep I have to tell you that those you see were made in plaster by a local sculptor
Sheep in a Snowstorm by Joseph Farquharson
Farquharson was famed for his Scottish snow scenes, and with the exception of 1914, he had a new painting exhibited at the Royal Academy every year between 1894 and 1925. . Farquharson combined a career as an artist with his inheritied responsibility as laird of the Finzean estate in Aberdeenshire, where many of his landscapes were painted.
The Stormy Blast by Joseph Farquharson (1898)
But it was not just about snow and blizzards.
The Winding Dee by Joseph Farquharson (1889)
Some of his landscape paintings depicted the beauty of the Highlands, such as his 1889 painting featuring the River Dee, which rises in the Cairngorms and flows through southern Aberdeenshire to reach the North Sea at Aberdeen.
Corn Stooks by Joseph Farquharson (1880)
Harvesting, Forest of Birse, Aberdeenshire (1900)
Some of his paintings depicted the agricultural times in rural communities during the summer months.
When the West with Evening Glows by Joseph Farquharson (1901)
One of Farquharson’s greatest skills was his ability to depict scenes at sunrise and sunset as this can be seen in his beautiful 1901 painting entitled When the West with Evening Glows. It is a snowy winter landscape, and we look along a snow-covered path, which runs through fields, with groups of trees on either side, as seen in the mid ground of the painting. In foreground we see freshly-made footprints in the deep snow, with three crows having landed close to the footprints. The whole scene is illuminated by the warm glow of the rising sun from behind the hills in the background.
When the West with Evening Glows by Joseph Farquharson (1910)
The above 1910 painting is a slightly smaller version of the work which is owned by the Royal Academy. This version was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1910 and now hangs in the collection of the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. This painting was a commission Farquharson received from one of his patrons, who failed in his bid to buy the larger original version. Farquharson often copied his own paintings in order to satisfy his clients’ requests, or to provide an original for engravers tasked with the reproduction of a successful composition. It was such a popular painting with the public that thousands of prints of this work were sold. In his 1913 essay in the Christmas edition of the Art Annual, The Art of Joseph Farquharson, A.R.A, Archdeacon William Macdonald wrote about these popular works:
“…There is not one of Farquharson’s pastoral landscapes which is not treated from the contemplative or poetic point of view: the poetry of snow either in its suggestion of desolation, or of the endurance of peasantry life, or the exquisite beauty of rare tints in the sun or moon on deep snow surfaces and seen through leafless trees… and the varied voices with which Nature elevates us from the prosaic, the commonplace and the ugly in her countless moods…”
Market on the Nile by Joseph Farquharson (1893)
The Orange Seller by Joseph Farquharson (1893)
For the first four years of the 1880’s Farquharson spent the winters in Paris and studied with Carolus-Duran who installed in the minds of his students the importance of using the brush straight away and to think in terms of form and colour. In 1885 Farquharson went to North Africa. Among the works created during the subsequent 8 years were The Egyptian and On the Banks of the Nile opposite Cairo
On the Banks of the Nile opposite Cairo by Joseph Farquharson
Joseph Farquharson was elected Associate of the Royal Academy in July 1900, Royal Academician in February 1915 and finally, Senior Royal Academician in 1922.
Beneath the Snow Encumbered Branches by Joseph Farquharson (1901)
In addition to exhibiting over 200 works at the Royal Academy he showed seventy-three at the Royal Society of Arts and one hundred and eighty-one at the Fine Art Society. He also exhibited at the Royal College of Art and Tate Britain. The renowned artist-critic, Walter Sickert made Farquharson the subject of an essay comparing him favourably with Gustave Courbet. In it he extolled Farquharson’s tension and realism and criticized the pretension of his polar opposites, the Bloomsbury Group, who he wrote “fortunately does not run in the North of Scotland”. The remarkable realism of Farquharson’s work can be attributed to his desire to work en plein air. Farquharson painted so many scenes of cattle and sheep in snow he was nicknamed ‘Frozen Mutton Farquharson’
Farquharson inherited the title of Laird in 1918 after the death of his elder brother Robert. Joseph Farquharson died on April 15th 1935, three weeks before his eighty-ninth birthday..
The artist I am showcasing today is a lady who hailed from the American Deep South. Anne Wilson Goldthwaite was born into a genteel Montgomery, Alabama family on June 28th, 1869. She was a true daughter of the South and the oldest of four siblings. Her father was Richard Wallach Goldthwaite, who served as an artillery captain for the Confederacy during the Civil War and the son of Alabama senator George Goldthwaite.
Her family moved to Dallas,Texas when she was young and remained there for the majority of her childhood while her father looked for work. After her parents both died, in the early 1880s, she and her siblings were taken back to Alabama where they lived with different relations. Anne went to live with her aunt Molly Arrington and her aunt’s nine children. Her aunt presented her to society as a promising young debutante who was destined to become a southern belle. However this ended when her fiancé was killed in a duel.
As a teenager Anne liked to sketch and paint and soon developed into a talented artist, so much so, that in 1898, one of her uncles, Henry Goldthwaite, who was so impressed by her artistic talent, he offered to pay for her to have private art tuition. He offered to support her financially for up to ten years if she relocated to New York City to study art. Anne Goldthwaite accepted his offer and arrived in New York around 1898. She then enrolled at the National Academy of Design, where she studied etching with the German-born immigrant, Charles Mielatz and was tutored in painting by the Scottish-American painter and illustrator, Walter Shirlaw and American artist, Francis Coates Jones.
Young Mother by Anne Goldthwaite
She also spent one summer in Princeton, New Jersey, in the 1890’s, where she met then-professor Woodrow Wilson who had been appointed by Princeton to the Chair of Jurisprudence and Political Economy. Two decades later he would become the twenty-eighth President of the United States. He commissioned her to paint a portrait of his wife.
Young Nude Woman in a Hat by Anne Goldthwaite
In 1906, Anne Goldthwaite decided to travel to Paris to further her interest in the early modern painting styles of Fauvism and Cubism.
4 Rue de Chevreuse, Paris by Anne Goldthwaite(1908)
On her arrival in Paris Anne headed for the American Girls Art Club at 4 rue de Chevreuse, on the Left Bank. The property was built by the Duc de Chevreuse and back in the 18th century it was the Dagoty porcelain factory. Later, in 1834, it was turned into a Protestant school for boys called the Keller Institute. It was in the 1890’s that Elisabeth Mills Reid, a wealthy American philanthropist and wife of the American ambassador, had the idea to turn it into a residential club for American women artists in Paris. Anne Goldthwaite made this her base for the next six years. According to Mariea Caudill Dennison’s article in the Woman’s Art Journal (2005) entitled The American Girls’ Club in Paris: The Propriety and Imprudence of Art Students, 1890-1914, Anne viewed the Club as a “chateau that was not a club at all, but a glorified pension for American women art students. We paid little board and lived in the midst of luxury and romance”
One day, while she was at the Luxembourg Gardens sketching, she met American writer Gertrude Stein. After a long conversation, Stein invited Anne to visit her apartment, but Anne was somewhat wary due to Stein’s scruffy appearance but eventually she agreed. Goldthwaite recalls Stein describing her as
“…a large, dark woman…who looked something like an immense brown egg. She wore, wrapped tight around her, a brown kimono-like garment and a large flat black hat, and stood on feet covered with wide sandals…”
Gertrude Stein’s legendary Montparnasse apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus
Despite Anne having doubts about Gertrude Stein, she was impressed with what she saw in Stein’s apartment. A large collection of contemporary paintings hung on the walls. Little did Anne realise that this chance meeting with Gertrude Stein, the most influential pre-war and avant-garde person of the time, would provide her with an opportunity to join the art circle of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. In her memoirs, Goldthwaite wrote about he visit to Stein’s apartment:
“…Crossing a little pebbled court, we went into a beautiful large studio filled with antique Italian furniture. The walls were covered with the most remarkable pictures I had ever seen. I knew they must be pictures because they were framed and hanging on the walls […] There was what I know now was a head by Picasso, looking like a design made of the backbones of fish; “Le Joie de Vivre [sic] ” by Matisse; a small grey canvas by Cezanne, and a yellow nude on a peach-colored background, the feet hanging down as in an ascension […] This was my introduction to what we now call Modern Art, made some six days after my arrival in Paris. It was with surprise, later, that I saw American students who had been in Paris a long time, yet had not heard the names of Matisse, Picasso, et. al., and had never heard of l’Art Moderne, or if they had, thought it completely negligible …”
Anne was adamant that but for Gertrude Stein, Modernism would not have arrived in America. A page from her unpublished memoirs testifies to this belief. She wrote:
Page from the memoirs of Anne Goldthwaite
“Cones” refers to the Baltimore Cone sister, Dr Claribel and Etta Cone, who from 1898 to 1949 amassed a collection of primarily post-impressionist and modern French masterpieces.
Anne Goldthwaite later recalled her time in Paris and wrote:
“…Fate gave me several years in Paris at the most exciting time: during the great reconstruction from art to modern art…”
During her stay in Paris Anne moved from one atelier to another searching for a teacher that she could work with. Eventually, she joined a small group of young artists called Académie Moderne. This was a free art school in Paris, founded by Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant who also taught at the academy. The school attracted students from Europe and America. They also held an exhibition each spring and their work was periodically critiqued by the post-impressionist painter, Charles Guerin.
The House on the Hill by Anne Goldthwaite (1911)
According to an article in the American Art Annual published in 1911, Anne served as president of the American Woman’s Art Association (AWAA) which was based at the The American Girl’s Club, from 1910-1911.
Cottage in Alabama by Anne Goldthwaite (c.1920)
In 1913, the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, also known as the International Exhibition of Modern Art organised a grand art exhibition. It was the first large exhibition of modern art in America, and a shocking introduction of Modernism to an American audience. It was an exhibition that had been held in the vast spaces of U.S. National Guard armories. It was a three-city exhibition which started in New York City’s 69th Regiment Armory, on Lexington Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets, on February 17th and ran until March 15th. The exhibition then moved to the Art Institute of Chicago and finally arrived at The Copley Society of Art in Boston. The Armory exhibition, as it became known, was an important event in the history of American art for it introduced Americans, who were accustomed to realistic art, to the experimental styles of the European avant-garde, which included Fauvism and Cubism. The show acted as a catalyst for American artists, who wanted to become more independent and by so doing, create their own artistic language. Upon her return to America in 1913, Anne Goldthwaite exhibited two of her works at the New York Armory exhibition. One was entitled The Church on the Hill, now known as The House on the Hill which she had completed around 1911. The other painting was entitled Prince’s Feathers.
Rebecca by Anne Goldthwaite (c.1925)
Now back in America, Anne lived most of her adult years in New York but travelled south during the summer months to spend time with her family. She became a member of the Dixie Art Colony in Wetumpka, Alabama, which was thought to be one of the Deep South’s first art colonies. These summers she spent in and around Montgomery established Anne Goldthwaite as one of the South’s most important regional artists for the period. During this time she often depicted rural African Americans in their post-slavery contexts in oil paintings, watercolours, and etchings.
Women’s suffrage march on New York’s Fifth Ave. in 1915
Anne Goldthwaite’s politics were said to be progressive and she was a staunch supporter of women’s suffrage, serving on the organizing committee for the 1915 Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture by Women Artists for the Benefit of the Women’s Suffrage Campaign, open from September 27-October 18, 1915 at the Macbeth Gallery in New York which coincided with the Women’s Suffrage March held that year in New York during which it was said that 20,000 supporters attended.
The Atmore Post Office mural: The Letter Box, by Anne Goldthwaite, 1938
The Atmore, Alabama Post Office
The Great Depression hit America at the end of 1929 and lasted almost ten years. It was both a financial depression and a mental depression which affected many American citizens. The American government thought that cheering people up during these hard times was something they needed to achieve. It was part of the New Deal, a series of programs, public works projects, financial reforms, and regulations enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the United States between 1933 and 1939. One of the projects in the New Deal was the Public Works of Art Project which was developed to bring artist workers back into the job market and assure the American public that better financial times were on the way. The idea was to employ artists to beautify American government buildings. The mission of the post office murals was multifaceted – to boost morale in communities, employ artists by the thousands and create world-class art that was accessible to everyone. The murals revolved around local folklore, landscapes, industry and, unsurprisingly, mail delivery. They told the story of life across the United States.
Tuskegee Post Office mural: The Road to Tuskegee, by Anne Goldthwaite, 1937
Anne Goldthwaite had two of her murals accepted for Alabama post offices. One was in the town of Atmore, the other was in the town of Tuskegee. The Road to Tuskegee mural painted in 1937 by Anne Goldthwaite was restored and moved to the new Tuskegee post office in 1996.
Portrait of Frances Greene Nix by Anne Goldthwaite (c.1940)
Anne Goldthwaite executed a number of portrait commissions, one being that of Frances Nimmo Greene Nix, the Museum Director, Artist, Portrait Painter, and Writer. Frances was clerk, director, and curator of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and studied with Anne Goldthwaite.
Goldthwaite’s work is included in the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum, Whitney Museum, Montgomery Museum, Montgomery Alabama, Greenville County Museum of Art and History, Greenville, South Carolina. She was a member of the National Association of Women Artist, New York (Co-founder), Watercolor Society, Salons of America and the Society American Etchers/Brooklyn Society of Etchers. Goldthwaite began teaching at the Art Students League, where she was a very popular teacher until her death in 1944.
Anne Goldthwaite (1869-1944)
Anne Goldthwaite died in New York City on January 29th 1944, aged 74.
Like many others, I am a lover of the artwork of the Dutch Golden Age painters. The Dutch Golden Age was a period in the history of the Netherlands, which spanned the era from 1588 and the birth of the Dutch Republic to 1672, Rampjaar (Disaster Year) which was the year of the outbreak of the Franco-Dutch War. During this period, it was considered that Dutch trade, science, and art and the Dutch military were among the most acclaimed in Europe. We all know about the lives and works of the famous artists of that era, such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen, Frans Hals and Judith Leyster to name but a few. In my blog today I want to look at the lives and works of the lesser-known painters of that era.
Izaak van Oosten was a Flemish Baroque landscape and cabinet painter who worked out of Antwerp. Izaak was born in Antwerp in December 1613 and was the son of an art dealer with the same name. His father had become a master in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke in 1617. Very little is known about his upbringing or his early artistic training as there is no record of which master or masters he studied under. Izaak became a master in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke in 1652.
There is something joyful about paintings depicting skaters on frozen rivers and lakes. It is all before global warming and I am sure that now, many of the rivers and lakes retain their fluidity even in the depths of winter. The painting I am showcasing is entitled Skaters on a Frozen Lake at the Edge of Town and it was painted by the Dutch Golden Age landscape painter Cornelis Beelt. Cornelis Beelt was a Dutch Golden Age landscape painter who was one of the chief figures in the Haarlem school of landscape painting, but was also well-known for his genre paintings of towns, markets and villages. Beelt was born in Haarlem during the first decade of the seventeenth century.
The setting is a clear winter’s day and crowds of locals gather besides a country inn keen to enjoy the sport on the ice. Young and old, rich and poor are attracted to this pastime. In the foreground a group of well-dressed men and women stands on the ice and chat. An old lady with her hands in a fur muff sits in a splendid arreslee (sleigh which is drawn by a horse and which is decorated with a fine plumed harness. Close by young children propel themselves across the ice on small prikslees (sledges).
There is a strange thing about this painting which unfortunately is not visible from the attached picture. Beelt signed his painting in an unusual manner, one which he had also done on his painting Beach of Shevingen. He signed his name on the plank of wood in the foreground. However , at a later time, his signature was scrubbed out and replaced by the inscription J.V.Ostade f.1653 and this was judged to be an attempt by a less than honest art dealer to ascribe the work to a more famous name, Isaac van Ostade, so as to have a better chance of selling the painting, even though Ostade had died in 1649 !
The phrase ‘cabinet d’amateur’, in French, is an ancient term which referred to a room or part of a room in an art collector’s house where he or she displayed the paintings they had purchased. These display areas were before the rise of public galleries. Some where simple cabinets which contained their owner’s beloved works and some where floor to ceiling displays of their paintings. The phrase cabinet d’amateur should not be viewed as that of an “amateur collector” but that of an “art lover”. A German term for such a place is often referred to as a kunstkammer. In Italian it might be called a Gabinetto,Studiolo or Camerino.
The painting connected with this term is one by the Flemish painter, Frans Francken the Younger and described as Two collectors dining in a gallery surrounded by paintings and works of art, with two parrots in the foreground. Frans Francken the Younger was the most famous of an Antwerp dynasty of painters; he trained with his father, Frans the Elder, and joined the Antwerp guild in 1605. He was a painter of religious and historical subjects as well as being the inventor of the genre – the cabinet painting.
On the right-hand side of the painting we see two men deep in discussion about a painting one of them is holding up but we do not know who is the owner of this kunstkammer. The presence of a kunstkammer in one’s house was a sign of wealth, intelligence and social status. In the main part of the painting, we see an ornate sideboard supported by classical caryatids. A caryatid is the name given to a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head. A light-pink fringed cloth covers the top shelf of the sideboard on which two large shells are placed either side of the painting, The Adoration of the Magi. Richly decorated goblets and covered urns are displayed on two of the sideboard shelves. On the floor we see two parrots depicted sitting on a perch. The import of exotic foreign birds testified to the owner’s wealth. We see a large red velvet curtain falls from the ceiling which when released would act as a separator of the two rooms. Everything in the room exudes the wealth of the owner which would have been the raison d’être for the owner of the cabinet d’amateur commissioning the work.
A similar painting by Frans Francken the Younger is in the Royal Collection entitled The Cabinet of the Collector which he completed around 1617. Amongst the paintings on view in the kunstkammer is a landscape by Joos de Momper, a still life of an everyday table set for a meal; and a small, nocturnal Flight into Egypt. Other religious painting depicted are one featuring St Augustine who is trying to comprehend the idea of the Trinity and sees a baby struggling to pour the entire sea into a pool in the sand with a shell – both tasks being equally beyond the scope of man. The drawings, one framed and one in an open book are two studies for Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling and a preparatory drawing for Raphael’s Madonna della Perla which emphasise the intellectual side of painting.. There are also letters on the table, no doubt signifying an intelligent characteristic of the painting’s owner. Also displayed are exotic weaponry which is a reminder of the importance of travel and trade and a handful of Roman coins and a bowl of modern ones, which were not anything to do with wealth but more likely a celebration of the achievements of great men.
For me, the most interesting part of the work is seen beneath the arch to the right. In the background a church is demolished and nearby donkey-headed men with cudgels destroy a pile of objects associated with learning, science, the arts and sport. According to Karel van Mander, the sixteenth century Flemish poet, painter and art historian, a man with a donkey head is a symbol of Ignorance. The episodes depicted here recall two historical events: the Beeldenstorm, an outbreak of iconoclasm carried out by Protestants in 1566; and the ‘Spanish Fury’, the sack of Antwerp in 1576.
Jan Griffier the Elder, who was born in Amsterdam around 1645, was a painter and printmaker, who produced views of Rhineland landscapes as well as spending time, around 1660, in England where he produced many landscape works featuring the English countryside. One of his most beautiful landscapes is referred to as A Rhineland Landscape with a Hermit and Soldiers. The painting dramatically depicts a steep mountain landscape with a meandering river below which slowly flows through wooded crags which are surmounted by castles. If we look to the left foreground, we can see a men loading barrels of wine onto a small boat. The main figures in this painting are on the right-hand side. We see a group of soldiers lying down, concealed among the ferns and flowers. One of the group points down to the boat which is being loaded. Are they planning to raid the operation? Above them, sitting on a rock by a large oak tree in peaceful isolation, is a hermit, who is meditating. It is an interesting painting with plenty to focus on, but what is it all about ?
There is something that fascinates me about floral still life paintings. I think it is just the effort and patience the artists must have put in to produce such beautiful works. My next featured painting is a small (70 x 50cms) floral still life attributed to the Flemish Baroque painter, Gaspar van Hoecke, who was born in Antwerp around 1580.
Gaspar van den Hoecke was best known for his small religious cabinet pieces but during his early period around 1610 his work focused on still life floral paintings. The vase of flowers sits on a wooden tabletop. This dense grouping of flowers fills almost two thirds of the painting. The profusion of flowers doesn’t allow the artist to depict twigs and leaves between individual flowers. On the table we see a caterpillar of the swallow-tailed butterfly which is next to it. Also on the table there is a silver medal with the head of Pope Pius V which had been created in 1571. Just above it is a gold coin which is a rare example of a byzantine solidus made during the era of Anastasius, the Eastern Roman Emperor.
The Flemish painter Gijsbrecht Leytens was born in Antwerp in 1586. As a teenager, he began his apprenticeship with Jacob Vrolijck. In 1611 he joinied the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke as a master. In 1615 he became a member of the Olijftak, a chamber of rhetoric that dates back to the early 16th century in Antwerp, when it was a social drama society which drew its membership primarily from merchants and tradesmen and provided public entertainment at prestigious events. Gijsbrecht was a captain in Antwerp’s Civic Guard between 1624 and 1628. His work followed the style of 16th and 17th century Flemish and Dutch great landscape paintings, which had brought recognition to such masters as Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Hendrick Avercamp, Gillis Van Coninxloo, Joost de Momper and Denijs Van Alsloot.
However, it was Gijsbrecht Leytens’ determined personal style that brought him to the public’s attention. Many of his paintings were simply attributed to “The Master of the Winter Landscape” and only in the 1940’s attributed to him. Leytens has an easily recognisable style not just because he focuses on snowy winter scenes but because of the way he depicts intricate and curious intertwining designs created by the bare branches and twigs which form a large part of his depictions. He was described as a poet of the frost in the way he conveys the cold nakedness of the sun on a countryside caught in the ice. No-one before him, nor after him, either in Flanders or elsewhere, expressed this with such intensity. The fundamental and unique quality of his art also resides in the extreme refinement of the subtle colour harmonies apparent in his paintings at all times.
The depiction of the reading of a letter has featured in many paintings over the years. Such attention to what is written in the letter adds to the back-story of the artwork and often our imagination runs riot as we try to fathom out the sentiment expressed in the pages of the letter. My next painting is one by the Dutch artist Willem van Mieris who was born in Leiden in the Northern Netherlands in June 1662. His artistic tuition came from his father Frans van Mieris who was a genre painter. Throughout his career Willem was successful and had the support of a number of patrons who constantly supplied him with commissions. He was equally at home painting genre scenes and portraiture as well as being a skilled landscape painter, etcher, and draughtsman. He was the active leader of, and once became dean of, the Leiden Guild of St. Luke in 1693. A year later, in 1694, he established a drawing academy in Leiden along with the painter Jacob Toorenvliet.
In this work we see an elderly gentleman seated at a table in a darkened interior deep in concentration as he reads a handwritten document. He wears an opulent-looking gown which is made of richly embroidered material and which is evocative of the fashion for Japanese dress at the time. Upon his head is a hat made of rich blue velvet and lined with a extravagant swathe of fur. In the dark background we can just make out shelves filled with books. Couple that with the paraphernalia on the table, such as an inkwell, sealing wax and quill pen tells us that this a gentleman of great learning, maybe a lawyer. Lawyers were often depicted in paintings reading documents and letters.
I hope this blog will encourage you to delve into the world of Dutch and Flemish painters where you will find so many talented artists.
Over recent months I seem to have concentrated on writing about artists who were practicing their trade during the Victorian period and the first couple of decades of the twentieth century. Yet, when I look back on my earliest blogs I seemed to have favoured the Dutch and Flemish painters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Today I am going to deviate again and look at the life and work of the fifteenth century Italian Renaissance painter Pinturicchio. I came across the artist and one of his major fresco commissions when I read the excellent blog io sto a casa, written by Jackie, an American teacher who lives with her Italian husband in Le Marche, Italy. She and her husband are lovers of art and often travel around the country visiting places of interest which hold artistic treasures. It was she who mentioned the artist Pinturicchio in one of her recent blogs.
Bernardino di Betto was born around 1454 in the Italian city of Perugia. He was also known by his nickname, Il Pinturicchio, meaning “little painter” because of his small stature. His parents were a family of artisans, his father being a cloth tanner. His early life seems to have been filled with unhappiness, compounded by the death of his father from the plague when Pinturicchio, was just a teenager. His first foray into the world of fine art came when the talented miniaturist, Giapeco Caporali opened a bottega (a workshop of a major artist in which other artists may participate in the execution of the projects or commissions of the major artist) close to Pinturicchio’s father’s house at Porta Sant’Angelo. Pinturicchio worked there for a time and would take a share of the profits of the work completed in the studio. In 1481 Pinturicchio joined the painters’ guild in Perugia. Perugia was at that time experiencing a great artistic fervour and the central Italian city was becoming a renowned hub for artistic activities of which Pinturicchio contributed. Once Pinturicchio had enrolled in the guild of Artists and Painters in Porta Sant’Angelo, Perugia, his output began to be recorded. He received many commissions and joint commissions for his fresco work.
Meanwhile, in Rome, the first phase of the work on the Sistine Chapel had been on-going. The fresco work had been carried out by some of the Italian Masters, such as Botticelli, Perugino, Ghirlandaio, Signorelli, Cosimo Rosselli and Pinturicchio. The first phase of this massive undertaking came to an end around 1482 and most of these Italian Masters returned to their home cities. This is with the exception of Pinturicchio who did not go home but instead remained in the city and set up a workshop. as he could take advantage of the opening left by the other great artists. He then chose a group of Italian painters who had collaborated with him at the papal chapel. His group contained artists from the many regions of the country who were willing to remain in Rome and work for him. Having set up this group and with many of the renowned artists having left the eternal city he was awarded his first commission in Rome by Nicolò Manno (Riccomanno) Angeli Bufalini, a consistorial lawyer and one-time bishop of Venafro, for his family chapel which was part of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Rome, which stands on the Capitalone hill. Pinturicchio’s frescos in the Bufalini Chapel depicted scenes from the life of Saint Bernardino of Siena and Saint Francis. The commission was to remember the reconciliation that took place between the Bufalini family and the Baglioni of Perugia, thanks to St. Bernardino.
Pinturicchio and his team set to work on the chapel around 1484. On the vaulted ceiling there are depictions of the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, each seated on a cloud, in front of a dark blue, star-studded background.
The chapel itself has a quadrangular base, with the vault and floor decorated with cosmatesque mosaics. The Cosmatesque style takes its name from the family of the Cosmati, which flourished in Rome during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and practiced the art of mosaic. The inside of the chapel comprises of three sides and the frescoes on the three walls are dedicated to the life and miracles of St. Bernardino of Siena, an Italian priest and Franciscan missionary, who was canonized as a saint in 1450, and who was very popular during the Renaissance. The frescos also featured two stories of St. Francis.
The back wall of the chapel, the altar wall, is decorated by a fresco entitled The Glory of Saint Bernardino. It is horizontally divided into two sections. The lower section depicts San Bernardino standing on a rock with outstretched arms. His right hand points up to Christ. In his left hand he holds an open book in which one can read:
PATER MANIFESTAVI NOMEN TVVM OMNIBVS
“Father, I have shown your name to everyone”,
Above him are two angels who are in the process of crowning him. Either side of him stand two saints,. On his right is St. Louis of Toulouse adorned in in his solemn episcopal robes and on his left stands Saint Anthony of Padua in a Franciscan habit.. In one of St Anthony’s hands he holds the flame symbolising his piety whilst in the other he holds a book symbolising his knowledge. The background of this lower section is a landscape with rocks, lakes and mountains, which extends the depth of the space. This scene is probably one Pinturicchio would have recalled from his homeland.
In the upper part of the fresco we see Christ in the act of blessing. His figure is encased in a mandorla. The term mandorla means an almond-shaped frame that surrounds the totality of an iconographic figure. Surrounding Christ are worshiping and music-making angels.
On entering the Bufalini Chapel, the wall to the left comprises of two scenes one atop the other, divided by a painted frieze. The upper part is a lunette, a half-moon shaped, or semi-circular, arch, which depicts St. Bernardino being penitent before the Porta Tufi in Siena and this fresco shows a young Bernardino’s first hermitage.
The fresco on the lower part of the left-hand wall is much more interesting. It depicts the Funeral of Saint Bernardino.
The fresco on the lower part of the left-hand wall is much more interesting. It depicts the Funeral of Saint Bernardino. The setting is a city scene with a chessboard-like pavement. It is painted using geometrical perspective, which enables the depiction of a three-dimensional form as a two-dimensional image which carefully looks like the scene as visualized by the human eye. The vanishing point is a building similar to one depicted in Perugino’s painting, Delivery of the Keys, although Pinturicchio has two buildings of different heights at the sides. On the left is a loggia, a covered exterior gallery or corridor, supported by piers decorated with fanciful gilded candelabra. On the right is a cubic building connected through a double loggia to the landscape and the bright sky in the background.
The foreground is dominated by the Saint Bernardino’s funeral. We see his body laid out on what is termed a catafalque, a decorated wooden framework supporting the coffin of a distinguished person during a funeral or while lying in state. Its presence increases the sense of spatial depth
All sorts of folk, friars, pilgrims and the “common” people approach the body to pay their respect. Look at the tall figure in the left foreground wearing the brown robe, with a fur-lined hood and gloves. He is Riccomanno Bufalini, the person who commissioned the frescoes.
The remaining characters we see standing around the coffin often portray a series of miracles attributed to Bernardino during his life. We see the once-blind man who was healed and given back his sight by the body of Bernardino, standing by the head of the coffin pointing to his eyes. There is the resurrection of someone possessed by the Devil, the healing of the stillborn baby of John and Margaret Basel, the healing of Lorenzo di Niccolo da Prato, wounded by a bull, and the pacification of the warring Umbrian Bufalini and Baglioni families.
The right wall of the Bufalini Chapel features a double mullioned window. Pinturicchio has implemented an illusionistic perspective, when he painted two imitation symmetrical windows, one depicting a blessing from God the Father and the other featured a peacock which was an early Christian symbol of immortality.
There is also a fresco featuring, on the left, a scene from the life of St. Bernardino of Siena in which we see him receiving the religious habit. It is set in an oblique perspective that exploits the decorated pillars with a grotesques arch. Finally, there is a small scene on the right featuring, in the background, a view of the Verna Sanctuary over a rocky peak which depicts St. Francis in the act of receiving the stigmata, in honour of the Franciscan foundation of the Aracoeli.
Under the real window is an illusory opening depicting five characters: among them is an aged friar, perhaps the convents prior, and a lay figure that resembles him, perhaps an administrator of the basilica.
In the next blog I will be looking at the frescoes by Pinturicchio on the walls of the Baglioni Chapel in Spello.
The artist I am looking at in my next series of blogs is the very popular late 19th and early 20th-century British painter, John William Waterhouse, who was best known for painting in the Pre-Raphaelite style, a style which became increasingly popular during the Pre-Raphaelite movement which began in 1848. Waterhouse was a man who, through his paintings, we can see was fascinated by unhappiness, magical worlds and the exciting perils brought about by love and beauty. He was captivated by female beauty and intrigued by the power the women held over men.
Waterhouse was born in Rome on April 6th 1849. The year 1849 was an important year in English art as it was the year that members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which included Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, were first causing a pandemonium in the London art scene. John William Waterhouse was the first-born child of William Waterhouse and his second wife Isabella Waterhouse (née McKenzie). Both his parents were artists who had exhibited at the Royal Academy and worked in Rome. Waterhouse was given the nickname of “Nino” by his parents. Nino was short for Giovannino or “little John” and this nickname would remain with him throughout his life. When he was five years old his parents left Italy and moved to the London, where they moved into a newly built house in South Kensington, which was near to the newly founded Victoria and Albert Museum. Three years after moving back to England, his mother died of tuberculosis at the age of 36, a disease which, seventeen years later, would take the lives of two of his younger brothers.
Waterhouse’s father remarried in 1860 and at this time he, his new wife and his son lived in Leeds. Waterhouse attended the local school and despite his favourite subject being Roman history, he had hopes of becoming an engineer. By 1870 the family was once again living in London and his father was earning a living by painting portraits assisted by his son. In 1880, at the age of 21, Waterhouse entered the Royal Academy Schools as a probationer in sculpture. His probationary period just lasted for six months, after which he was admitted as a student but he had now begun to concentrate on painting rather than sculpting. It was around this time that he began to exhibit some of his work at the Dudley Gallery and the Society of British Artists.
One of Waterhouse’s early paintings was his 1882 work entitled Undine. Undine was the main character in the German novelist and playwright Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s 1811 classic fairy tale, Undine, in which he tells the story of this elemental water spirit, who marries a human in order to gain a soul. Undine’s hair and body shape replicate the vertical flume of water from the fountain we see behind her. This connection between women and water will be repeated many times in Waterhouse’s later works. The female, Undine, was also the one of the first of Waterhouse’s many young female figures.
During the 1870’s Waterhouse completed a number of Orientalist works. One of these works, which he completed in 1873, was his painting, The Unwelcome Companion: A Street Scene in Cairo. The painting was exhibited at the gallery of the Society of British Artists the following year. In 1951, the work was donated it to Towneley Art Gallery in Burnley. Waterhouse later depicted the same woman in the same dress in his work, Dancing Girl. At this time there was a great demand for paintings featuring Near Eastern images. The great French painter, Jean-Léon Gérôme had become a worldwide celebrity for his Orientalist works. Coincidentally, whilst Waterhouse was studying at the Royal Academy Schools in London, Gérôme was also in the city having taken refuge there during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and had been elected as an Honorary Foreign Academician at the Royal Academy and it is thought that the two artists could have met. The depiction of the woman featured in the painting is quite similar to the females we see in some of Gérôme’s painting featuring the women of Cairo. In this work the woman holds a tambourine and so we must conclude that she is a dancer but she is a mystery as we cannot tell what she is thinking. The architecture, as seen in Waterhouse’s depiction of the arch column we see in the background, derives from the Alhambra Palace in Granada. It is known that Waterhouse had not visited Spain but his family did live close to the South Kensington Museum which housed architectural models of the interior of the Spanish palace and it is here that he probably made sketches.
In 1874, Waterhouse had his first painting accepted for the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. The painting, entitled Sleep and his Half Brother Death refers to Greek mythology and the Greek gods Hypnos (sleep) and Thanatos (death) who were brothers. It is a painting which links sleep and death. Two young men are seen lying on a bed. As our eyes move from the foreground to the background we are moving from life to death. Hypnos in the foreground is bathed in light whereas his brother, Thanatos is enveloped in darkness and from the title of the painting we know that Hypnos represents sleep whereas Thanatos personifies death. Hypnos also can be seen clutching a bunch of poppies from which is derived laudanum and opium for inducing sleep and dreamlike states.
John Arthur Blaikie, a journalist gave a brief critique of this painting in The Magazine of Art in 1886, wrote :
“…The two figures recline side by side on a low couch, beyond which are the columns of a colonnade open to the night and touched with moonlight. The interior is lit by a lamp, whose light streams on the foremost figure, Sleep, whose head hangs in heavy stupor on his breast, and his right hand grasps some poppies. By his side lies Death in dusky shadow, with head thrown back, and the lines of the figure expressive of easeful lassitude. At his feet is an antique lyre, while immediately in the foreground is a low round table… The two figures are both young, and the beauty of youth belongs to one as much as to the other… the strange likeness and unlikeness of the recumbent figures…”
The reason why twenty-five-year-old Waterhouse decided to paint this disturbing scene was probably because it was shortly after his two younger brothers died of tuberculosis.
At the 1875 Royal Academy Exhibition Waterhouse submitted his work Miranda. This marked the first time he depicted a heroine from a Shakespeare play, a thing he would do on a number of occasions later in his life. Miranda was the daughter of Prospero in the play, The Tempest. She was banished to the Island along with her father at the age of three, and in the subsequent twelve years has lived with her father and their slave, Caliban, as her only company In the depiction we see the young women, seated gracefully on a rock, gazing out at a ship on the horizon which she hopes is bringing Ferdinand, her future lover and rescuer, to the land where she has been exiled. But then the storm comes……..
Miranda in Waterhouse’s painting is not dressed in Shakespearean costume but wears classical clothes replicated from ancient Greece sculpture. Cords cross between her breasts and encircle her waist with an overfold of rumpling fabric. The hairstyle Waterhouse has given his female is also of classical style with two bands of circling ribbon, the ends of which flutter in the strengthening winds of the approaching storm.
Forty-one years later, in 1916, a year before his death, Waterhouse once again depicts Miranda in a painting. Whereas the earlier painting has Miranda looking out at Ferdinand’s ship which is a mere dot on the horizon, this painting depicts a later part of the Shakespearean story. The storm or tempest has come and Ferdinand’s ship is much bigger and closer to the rocky shoreline where Miranda sits upon the rock. The ship is being battered by huge green and purple waves topped with white foam. The gale force winds whip through Miranda’s clothes and hair. In this work Miranda’s clothes are no longer of classical Greek style but now resemble clothes worn at the time of Shakespeare’s 1612 play. There is something much stronger about this latter Miranda with her fiery red hair loosened and flowing and the vivid colouring of her clothes which give her a much bolder aura than her earlier reflective and inhibited counterpart of 1875.
The third year Waterhouse had a painting accepted for the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition was 1876. His painting, entitled After the Dance, was given a favourable hanging position on the wall of the gallery, just above eye-level, often referred to as “on the line” as this was the level at which most observers could best see the works of art. To achieve this positioning was an acknowledgement that the hanging committee looked upon him as an up-and-coming talent. This is a work quite clearly influenced by the great Lawrence Alma-Tadema who also had a painting with the same title in that year’s exhibition, although his work depicted a voluptuous nude bacchante lying asleep after wild revelry. This large work (76 x 127cms) depicts a Roman interior, in which we see part of the atrium and a glimpse into the court beyond. The main figures are a young boy and a young girl, both dancers who are very tired after dancing and are both resting on cushions, the boy is sitting up, clutching a wilting flower, and the girl is drowsily stretched on the tessellated floor with a tambourine lying alongside her. In the left background we can see a group of adult minstrels seated on a marble bench.
One holds an aulos or tibia which was an ancient Greek double-piped wind instrument, while the other rests his arm upon his lyre. One has to question the mood of the painting. The title, After the Dance, suggests merriment and yet before us we see two exhausted children and as a backdrop there is a very dark painting depicting a funeral procession. The expression on the children’s faces is not one of joy and excitement but one of exhaustion and a hint of melancholy. Maybe Waterhouse wanted his painting to be a critical comment with regards child labour.
……….when I arrived at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Seville I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a special exhibition on marking the 400th anniversary of Seville’s great painter Bartolomé Estaban Murillo. It had opened in November 2018 and was still running. The city of Seville had been celebrating the 400th anniversary of his birth for the last twelve months and this exhibition, which ends in April, was the culmination of the celebrations.
Murillo came from a very large family, the youngest of fourteen children. His father was both a barber and a surgeon. His parents died when he was young and he went to live with a distant relative and artist, Juan del Castillo who started Murillo’s artistic education. He stayed with Castillo until 1639 when his mentor had to move to Cadiz. Now Murillo, aged twenty-two, had to fend for himself and scraped a living by selling some of his paintings. In 1643 he travelled to Madrid where he met Velazquez who was also from Seville and had now become a master of his craft. He took pity on Murillo and let him lodge in his house. Murillo stayed in Madrid for two years before returning to Seville. In 1648, at the age of thirty-one, Murillo married a wealthy lady of rank, Doña Beatriz de Cabrera y Sotomayor. Murillo died in 1682 aged 64. He lived a humble and pious life and was a brave man. On his death he left a son and daughter, his wife having died before him.
The Seville exhibition was a collection of fifty-five paintings by Murillo from museum collections around the world. The exhibition was divided into nine sections each providing a glimpse of the world through Murillo’s eyes. The sections were designated as Holy Childhood, A family of Nazareth, Glory on Earth, The Immaculate Conception, Compassion, Penitence, Storyteller, Genre painting and Portraiture. It was a journey through his religious works to the social realism of 17th century Seville, which has been described as a city of paupers and saints, of rascals and wealthy noblemen and merchants who, through their wealth, were able to have Murillo paint their portraits.
In the first section, there was the Prado-owned painting entitled The Good Shepherd, which Murillo completed in 1665. The scene has a rural setting along with classical allusions in the form of archaeological ruins which we can see in the left background. Jesus is portrayed as the boy who exudes an air of determination as he holds his shepherd’s crook in one hand whilst his left-hand lies across the back of the animal. There is a certain gentleness about the scene and the sheep, seen with the boy, represents the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), which is talked about in the scriptures. The depiction of the lamb as being obedient and submissive is all part of the divine plan.
One of Murillo’s paintings in the Family of Nazareth section was The Holy Family with Infant Saint John, which Murillo completed around 1670 and was loaned to the Seville gallery by Budapest Museum of Fine Arts. This was a pendant painting forming a pair with his work The Flight into Egypt, which was also on show. In the depiction, we see Saint Joseph, in the background, with his carpentry tools. In the foreground, we see the Christ Child and the young Saint John busily tying two sticks together to form a cross. Mary watches over the children as she busies herself sewing. A sense of depth has been added to the composition by the inclusion of a background of mountains and clouds.
In the third section, Glory on Earth we have the Murillo painting The Holy Family (The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities) which was loaned to the museum for this exhibition by London’s National Gallery. This work of art encapsulates the religious theory that Jesus is both God and man and thus belongs to both the Heavenly Trilogy of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit as well as belonging to the Earthly Trinity – the family from Nazareth as seen in the painting with Jesus’ closeness to his mother, the Virgin Mary and his father, her husband Saint Joseph.
Murillo completed many paintings featuring the Virgin Mary and many were on show at the exhibition. The Annunciation by Murillo, which he completed around 1660 and had been loaned out by the Prado, was a great example of this focus on the Mother of God.
The Dulwich Gallery-owned work by Murillo entitled The Virgin and the Rosary was also on view. In this work we see the Virgin seated on a throne of clouds floating in the celestial sphere and unlike other versions of this work by the Seville painter, clouds and angels have now been added to become her throne and footstool.
One of my favourite pieces of religious art by Murillo, which was at the exhibition, was Mater Dolorosa an artwork, which was part of a private collection belonging to a Dutch family. Mater Dolorosa or Our Lady of Sorrows refers to the sorrows in the life of the Virgin Mary and is a key subject for what is termed Marian art in the Catholic Church. In 1939 when the painting was bought from the Amsterdam art dealership, de Boer, by a private Dutch buyer, there was some doubt as to whether this painting was by Murillo but the German art historian August Lieberman Mayer, who was one of the most prominent art historians of the early 20th century and the era’s leading specialist for 17th century Spanish painting, wrote to the new owner stating his belief that it had been painted by Murillo. In his letter dated July 12th, 1939, he wrote:
“…I deeply regret, that actually I cannot make a new edition of my book in „Klassiker der Kunst“, but I hope to publish another monography of Murillo in Spain“ The picture is, in my opinion, a very fine, well preserved, genuine and most characteristic work by B. Murillo, executed most probably about 1668, the period, I consider the best and most powerful of the master. I reserve me the right of the first publication of this important and impressive work..”
Despite Mayer’s opinion, many art scholars still question his attribution. August Mayer never did publish another work on the Spanish master. As a Jew, he was forced to leave his offices in Munich by the Nazis. He then fled to Paris in 1936 but was later arrested and was deported to Auschwitz in 1944 where he died.
I am not a great lover of religious art, probably not due to the quality of the work but more to do with the subject matter. I was therefore very pleased that after seven rooms of religious painting the final two rooms were devoted to Murillo’s genre paintings and his portraiture.
I especially liked Murillo’s painting A Peasant Boy Leaning on a Sill, which he completed around 1675. When London’s National Gallery acquired this work in 1826, it was the first Spanish painting to enter the museum’s collection. The National Gallery of London loaned this to the Museo de Bellas Artes for the Murillo exhibition. This striking depiction of a cheerful boy is related to Murillo’s depictions of street urchins in his larger canvases. We see the boy at a window, the implication being that there is a lot going on that we are not aware of and so we have to be satisfied with what we have before us. So what else is going on? What has been excluded from the depiction? What is the boy looking at? Some would have us believe that this work had a companion piece painted by Murillo, which was to be hung to the right of this one which would allow us to see what the boy was looking at.
That suggested pendant piece was Young Girl Lifting Her Veil, (which is privately owned and was not included at the Seville exhibition). However, many art historians cast doubt on the two paintings being pendant pieces but the fact is that they were painted around the same time, they are both half-length depictions and are of similar size. I have included the Young Girl Lifting her Veil and let you decide whether the two paintings hung side by side on a wall would add to your belief that they were pendant pieces. Was this beautiful girl the subject of the boy’s gaze? Some think that the boy’s demeanour has an air of mischief about it and his expression was not instilled with innocent sincerity, like that of the girl. I will leave you with one further clue. At the sale of the two works at the Peter Coxe London saleroom on March 20th, 1806 of paintings owned by the Marquess of Lansdowne, the catalogue described them as:
“…No.50. Murillo. A Laughing Boy – delicately treated in every part – one of those performances so rare to be met with, & in his best style of perfection.
No.51. Murillo. Portrait of a girl treated with the same tone of harmonious colouring, as the preceding Lot, to which it is a companion, in the same happy effect of management…”
The two paintings were sold at the auction to separate buyers.
The most bizarre painting at the exhibition, and one I particularly like, is Four Figures on a Step, which is owned by the Kimbell Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas. At first sight, I thought somebody had defaced the painting by adding a pair of thick black spectacles to the woman on the right.
Before us, we have four very different characters. In the central background, we have a young woman. Her face is somewhat distorted into a smile, even a knowing wink, as she raises her scarf over her head. What is the significance of the gesture? Art historians have hypothesised that it is a coquettish gesture whilst others say that that is reading too much into her manner stating that the depiction is a simple scene with a family scrutinising the goings-on in the street outside. However, the scene to many historians is to associate it with one of procurement. Procurement? They would have us believe that the older women with the thick dark glasses, resembles the character of a Celestina, an aged prostitute, madam, and procuress, of Spanish literature. The old procuress, Celestina, comes from the 1499 book La Celestina, which is considered to be one of the greatest works of all Spanish literature, a timeless story of love, morality, and tragedy by Fernando de Rojas. The Celestina is often represented as a crone wearing enormous glasses and a headscarf hence the belief that Murillo’s painting includes a procuress! So, if she is procuring, is she offering the man the pleasures of the young woman? More conservative historians point to the fact that on the contrary to the Celestina idea, the mature woman also resembles the bespectacled characters in Dutch and Flemish genre paintings, which Murillo would have seen.
The possible “procuress” is seen cradling the head of a young boy whose bottom is exposed by his torn breeches. In less liberal times Murillo’s depiction of the bare bottom had offended the public and had been over-painted for reasons of regaining a modicum of modesty but the painting now, after restoration, is seen as Murillo intended.
So the question I leave you with is this depiction simply a portrayal of the colourful characters to be found in the streets of Seville, or does the painting carry a reproachful, message, urging the viewers to avoid enticements of worldly decadences?
In the final room of the exhibition, we have Murillo’s portraiture. Murillo’s earliest dated portrait is a newly discovered canvas, which depicts Juan Arias de Saavedra y Ramírez de Arellano an aristocrat from Seville and one of Murillo’s patrons. The subject of the painting was a knight in the Order of Santiago as indicated by both the red cross on his left shoulder and the pendant with a scallop shell. The portrait is shown as being in a stone frame, which includes the sitter’s coat of arms. Murillo often used this stone-frame device in his bust-length portraiture. Also in the painting are two putti each holding a tablet. The one held by the putti on the left records the age of the sitter as twenty-nine while the one on the right has the date on which the portrait was painted – 1650. Below the portrait, there is a lengthy Latin inscription which is about Saavedra. Saavedra, it states, was a senior minister of the Holy Inquisition and is described in the inscription as a “profound connoisseur of the liberal arts, and of painting in particular”. The inscription also includes a passage by Murillo, which offers convincing proof of the connection between the artist and the nobleman with Murillo admitting his gratitude and sincere regard for Saavedra.
My last offering for this blog is another work of portraiture by Murillo, which was loaned to the Seville museum by the National Gallery of Ireland. The sitter is Josua van Belle. He was born in Rotterdam and became a Dutch shipping merchant who lived for a period in Cadiz and Seville, where this portrait was painted in 1670. Van Belle was a celebrated art collector and amongst his collection of paintings, was Johannes Vermeer’s Woman Writing a Letter, with her Maid, which also resides in the National Gallery of Ireland. This portrait is looked upon as one of Murillo’s finest.
The Museo de Bellas Artes’ exhibition was excellent, full of beautiful masterpieces by Murillo and you have until the last day of March to visit this Sevilla exhibition.
Tissot had stayed at the home of his friend, Thomas Bowles, when he arrived in England in June 1871, and remained his guest until 1872, at which time he went to live in a house in St John’s Wood, an area inhabited by a number of artists. A year later, with buoyant finances, he was on the move again, this time buying a house close by, in Grove End Road. His friends back home in France could not believe the change in Tissot’s fortunes. His good friend Degas wrote to him about his change of circumstances:
“…I hear you have bought a house. My mouth is still open…”
While others, probably jealous of his success in London were somewhat scathing. Edmond de Goncourt, a French writer, literary and art critic wrote mockingly in his journal, dated November 3rd 1874:
“… Tissot the plagiarist painter, was having the greatest of successes in England. Has this ingenious exploiter of English stupidity not come up with the idea of an ante-room to his studio perennially filled with iced champagne for his visitors, and around his studio a garden where one might observe at all times a footman occupied in dusting and polishing the leaves of the laurel bushes…”
Berthe Morisot and her husband visited Tissot in 1875 and following the meeting she wrote to her mother:
“…he is very well set up here and is turning out very pretty pictures. He sells them for 300,000 francs a time. So, what do you think of success in London? He was very kind; and complimented me on my work, though I doubt if he has actually seen any…”
In another letter to her sister she wrote:
“…Tissot……is living like a prince…..he is very kind, and most amiable, though a little common…..I paid him a great many compliments and truly deserved ones…”
One of Tissot’s paintings in 1874 is now looked upon as one of his most festive works and one of his finest works which he completed whilst living in England. Again, it followed on from other shipboard paintings which Tissot had become known for. The painting depicts men and women relaxing at an event thought to be the annual regatta at Cowes on the Isle of Wight. It is entitled The Ball on Shipboard and was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1874, but unpredictably it received an unfavourable reaction from some art critics. To them, there was no narrative, the colours were too garish and some even levelled the complaint that it was “simply vulgar”. John Ruskin described it as:
“…unhappy mere colour photographs of vulgar society…”
The art critic of the magazine Athenaeum said of it:
“…I can find no pretty women, but a set of showy rather than elegant costumes, some few graceful, but more ungraceful attitudes and not a lady in a score of female figures…”
How the critic came to that collusion now seems unfathomable and the supercilious and snobbish judgement he made is completely at odds with today’s views when the work is simply looked upon as the spirit of Victorian fashion and sophistication.
Another of Tissot’s works to be exhibited at the Royal Academy received stinging criticism and yet is now looked upon as one of his masterpieces. The painting is entitled London Visitors. The colours used are mainly grey and muted tones which are suggestive of a typical of a smoky city atmosphere of a London scene on a dull winter’s day. Depicted are a couple of stylishly dressed visitors to the capital standing underneath the portico of the newly constructed National Gallery in London, with the church of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields framed in the background. The couple are trying to decide where to head to next. The gentleman checks his guidebook, while his female companion uses her umbrella to point towards Trafalgar Square, which lies in front of them. Standing in the foreground is young boy. He is one of the so-called bluecoat boys, who were students of the charitable Christ’s Hospital School, who often acted as tour guides to visitors to the city.
Tissot’s exalted reputation as a portrait painter was further boosted with one of his most prestigious portrait commissions which he received in 1874. This painting is a royal portrait of the widowed Empress Eugénie and her son, Louis Napoleon, entitled The Empress Eugénie and the Prince Impérial in the Grounds at Camden Place, Chislehurst. The painting which is now housed in the Chateau de Compèigne in France is one of Tissot’s most remarkable portraits. It is a portrait of a once powerful family who were then living in reduced circumstances. It is a portrait laced with sympathy. The autumnal colours add to the pair’s mood of sad reflection and feeling of desolation. In it, we see the sorrowful figures of the Empress Eugenie and her son, the recently deceased Napoleon III’s heir. He is dressed in his British Royal Artillery uniform and is depicted supporting his mother as he looks towards us. Empress Eugénie was to suffer more tragedy for sadly her son was killed in 1879, five years after the painting was completed, while fighting in the Zulu War in South Africa.
It was 1875 when a new person entered James Tissot’s life. A person who would bring both joy and sadness to him. The person was Kathleen Newton (née Kelly), an Irish woman who would become his muse and later his lover.
Kathleen Irene Ashburnham Kelly was born in 1854 to Irish parents in Lahore, where her father, an officer in the British Indian army, was stationed. Kathleen’s father finally achieved the rank of chief adjutant and accountant officer in Agra and eventually retired around 1865 and left India and returned with his wife and daughters to live in London. Kathleen had been convent educated, but after her mother died she was sent to boarding school. When she was seventeen her father decided that she should marry. He arranged such a marriage with an older man, Isaac Newton who was a surgeon attached to the Indian Civil Service, and Kathleen was sent off in a steamer to meet her proposed husband, whom she had yet to set her eyes upon. For all intense and purposes, she was a mail-order bride.
Unusually her father had not arranged for a chaperone to travel with his teenage daughter and it was during this long sea passage that she fell in love with a fellow traveller, a Captain Palliser. She arrived in Lahore and on January 3rd 1871 Kathleen and Isaac Newton were married. Being somewhat naïve but one has to remember she was a pious convent girl, on the advice of a Catholic priest, she confessed to her husband about the on-board romance soon after their wedding ceremony and before the marriage was consummated. In a letter to her husband, which I am not sure would have helped her cause for forgiveness, she wrote:
“…I am going to speak to you as if I was standing before God. It is true that I have sinned once, and God knows how I love that one [Palliser] too deeply to sin with any other…”
He was horrified and unforgiving and in May 1871 initiated divorce proceedings. He was granted a decree nisi in December 1871 and a decree absolute in July 20th 1872. Kathleen returned to England and went to live with her sister and brother-in-law, Mary and Augustus Hervey who lived in Hill Road, St John’s Wood close to Tissot’s Grove End Road house. On the same day as the decree absolute ending Kathleen’s marriage was granted she gave birth to Palliser’s child, Muriel Mary Violet.
It is not known for sure how Kathleen Newton and James Tissot met or when, but the best guess is late 1875. What we do know is that Kathleen Newton gave birth to her second child, Cecil George in March 1876 and that Kathleen, plus Violet and Cecil George went to live in James Tissot’s house that same year. Opinions are divided and arguments put forward fore and against as to whether Cecil George was Tissot’s son. Kathleen gave her son the surname of Newton presumably so that he and his sister had the same last name ! All we do know is that Tissot’s household now included an Irish divorcee and her two illegitimate children and this did not sit well with the “rules” of respectable Victorian society. Although his close friendship with fellow artists remained as strong as ever his relationship with Kathleen found him barred from many high society gatherings. Tissot did not worry about this ostracising for he now sampled the joys of “family life” for the first time.
One of his earliest portraits of Kathleen Newton was a small (26 x 16cms) drypoint in black ink on cream laid Japan paper, which he completed in 1876. It was entitled Portrait of Mrs N..(Kathleen Newton) often referred to as La Frileuse (a woman shivering) which referred to the fact that Kathleen constantly felt the cold. It is regarded as his finest and most exquisite portrait of Kathleen. It must have been a true labour of love as we know he lost his heart to this Irish woman. The description in the William Weston London Gallery’s catalogue states:
“…It is a work of extreme delicacy yet great richness, of poetic quiet yet great emotion. Unlike the great majority of Tissot’s prints it is worked in pure drypoint, without the strength of underlying pure etching. The use of pure drypoint allowed him to combine extremely fine touches of line, in the drawing of her face for example, with tremendously rich textures in the burr and wiped ink tone in the fur collar or the hat. Kathleen Newton was the inspiration for some of Tissot’s very finest works…”
The fact that Tissot was living with Kathleen was not unusual as many wealthy men kept mistresses but they did not, like Tissot, parade them around openly and advertise their relationship. Tissot did not worry about what society thought about his relationship with Kathleen as he now sampled the joys of “family life” for the first time. Tissot’s open and very public display of his affair with Kathleen shocked the London society, a society which had once welcomed him with open arms. His choice was simple, embrace Victorian society’s protocol or be proud to be seen with Kathleen. For Tissot there was no question as to which course of action he would choose. Kathleen was the love of his life and he chose her over life amongst London society. James and Kathleen settled down to home life and were happy to mix with their many artistic friends who continued to support them. They never married and the reason for this could be their rigid Roman Catholic upbringing and beliefs. Tissot’s house and garden were spacious and Tissot and Kathleen along with her two children created a private world together and it is this private world which is the atmospheric background to many of Tissot’s compositions of this period including another drypoint, Le Croquet, which he completed around 1878.
One of the first painting in which Kathleen appears is the 1876 work by Tissot entitled A Passing Storm. The setting for this painting is a room overlooking Ramsgate harbour. Kathleen is depicted lying on a chaise longue in an elegant if somewhat provocative pose. In the background, seen standing on the balcony, we see her lover. His demeanour is puzzling. He stands there with his hands in his pockets looking rather impatient and uninterested in the lady. It is a scene of inhibited passion. Again, it is a narrative work which lets the viewers decide what is going on and what has been said between the two to end up at this juncture.
Another early work featuring Kathleen was one entitled Room Overlooking the Harbour. In this work the lady sits at a table having lunch. Across the table from her is an older man who is reading a newspaper.
It was during this period, the late 1870’s that Tissot began to use photographs to help with his depictions and a number of these photographs still survive to this day.
One such instance of this technique was Tissot’s painting En plein Soleil (In the Sunshine) which he completed in 1881. The depiction of Kathleen Newton is from a photograph of her sitting in the garden of his Grove End home. The setting for the painting is Tissot’s Grove End Road garden in St. John’s Wood. It is a group portrait, we see Kathleen Newton on the left depicted in the same pose as in the photograph. On the rug next to her is her daughter, Muriel Mary Violet. The other girl lying under the parasol is her niece Lillian Hervey. To the right is Kathleen’s sister, Mary Hervey, whom she lived with on her return from India, and is seen ruffling the hair of a young boy, Cecil George, Kathleen’s five-year-old son, who may also have been fathered by Tissot.
In 1878 Tissot used another photograph of Kathleen for his painting entitled Waiting for the Ferry. The photograph was once again taken in the garden of Tissot’s Grove End Road home. In it, we see Tissot and Kathleen along wither son Cecil George and her niece Lilian Hervey.
In the painting we see the young girl wearing a large hat with an equally large bow holding onto the wooden rail of the dock waiting for the arrival of the ferry. The woman, modelled by Kathleen, is depicted sitting in the same Windsor chair shown in the photograph. The woman is well wrapped up against the cold and doesn’t look well. In a number of his later works featuring Kathleen Newton, Tissot has depicted her as being unwell and convalescing which is rather sad, bearing in mind the onset of Kathleen’s own illness.
Another beautiful painting featuring Kathleen was his 1879 work Mrs Newton with a Parasol. This is looked upon as one of Tissot’s finest depictions of Kathleen. It has a hint of japonisme in its simplicity of design and the abstract colouring of the background. This is Tissot’s eulogy to feminine exquisiteness. This is Tissot’s homage to the woman he loved.
Tissot, by 1876, was financially secure through the sale of his paintings and he was happy with his life with Kathleen and her children. However, as we all know, life is not all plain sailing. In the latter part of the 1870’s Tissot’s paintings which he exhibited at various galleries were receiving a lot of criticism from the art critics. During the period, late 1879, through all of 1880, Tissot failed to exhibit any of his work at any of the leading London galleries. The critic were probably aware of the disdain shown by Tissot with regards Victorian morals and thought that criticising his work would be pay-back for his laissez-faire attitude to flaunting his private life in public. The art critic of the Spectator scathingly wrote:
“…This year he tries our patience somewhat hardly, for these ladies in hammocks, showing a very unnecessary amount of petticoat and stocking, are remarkable for little save a sort of luxurious indolence and insolence…”
The painting which the critic was lambasting was The Hammock which was set in Tissot’s own garden with its distinctive pool and cast-iron colonnade. In Victorian London having and maintaining such a large and decorative garden was very much a sign of affluence. The painting is all about lavishness, inactivity, and adoration. We see the lady, modelled by Kathleen, sitting back in her hammock, lazily reading her newspaper, There is a glimpse of a white petticoat which had upset the critics believing this would result in male viewers entertaining erotic thoughts !!! Although not discernible from the attached picture the book lying face down on the rug is probably French which alludes to the fact that Tissot had been sitting on the rug at the feet of his lover. Once again Tissot has included elements of japonisme in the painting. It was interesting to note that Tissot exhibited the work at the Grosvenor Gallery instead of the Royal Academy. The Grosvenor was the temple of the Aesthetic Movement and Tissot’s style of paintings were much more aligned to the philosophy of this gallery than the Royal Academy which was looked upon as an older, straight-laced institution which frowned at frivolity.
Another reason for Tissot not exhibiting any of his work during 1879 and 1880 was the declining health of Kathleen Newton who had contracted tuberculosis. In 1882 her health deteriorated rapidly with the onset of consumption. It was an illness that caused her great suffering and seeing his wife in so much pain was almost too much for Tissot to bear. Kathleen, aware that she was dying and saddened by sight of her distraught husband, decided to take matters into her own hands and took an overdose of laudanum. Kathleen Newton died in November 9th 1882, aged just 28. While her coffin stood in Grove End Road draped in purple velvet, Tissot prayed besides it for hours. Later, she was buried in plot in St Mary’s Cemetery, Kensal Green.
One week after the death of his beloved Kathleen, Tissot abandoned his London home at St John’s Wood, leaving behind his paints, brushes and unfinished canvases and never returned to it. The house was later bought by his painter friend Alma-Tadema. Tissot was inconsolable and never really recovered from Kathleen’s death. He left London for good and returned to his homeland, France.
..…..to be concluded.
Most of the information I am using comes from Christopher Wood’s 1986 biography of Tissot which is an excellent read, full of beautiful pictures.
In my last blog I looked at the lives of Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s two wives, Marie-Pauline Gressin-Dumoulin de Boisgirard and Laura Theresa Epps and how, in a way their two lives were intertwined. In this second part of the blog I am looking at Alma-Tadema’s Ladies but in this blog I am looking at the lives of his two daughters, Laurense and Anna Alma-Tadema.
In the painting above, entitled Miss Anna Alma-Tadema, which her father completed in 1883 we see fifteen year old Anna, standing at the door of the library at Townshend House. In her hand is a vase of carnations and she wears an Aesthetic dress probably made of Indian cotton, with a shell necklace. Look how the artist has mastered the depiction of the different textures of the various surfaces whether it be clothes or inanimate objects.
On September 24th, 1863, twenty-seven-year-old Laurens Alma-Tadema married a French lady, Marie-Pauline Gressin-Dumoulin de Boisgirard in Antwerp City Hall and the couple went on to have three children. Their first-born, a son, died aged six months of smallpox. The couple then went on to have two daughters, Laurense in August 1865 and Anna in 1867. Both children were born in Brussels.
Laurense, Anna, their father, and his sister Atje moved to London in 1870, a year after Marie-Pauline’s death. Lawrence Alma-Tadema re-married in 1871. His second wife, who was sixteen years younger than him, was Laura Epps the English daughter of a homeopathic doctor. Laurense and Anna were home-schooled by their father and step-mother.
In 1874 Lawrence Alma-Tadema painted one of his largest works, The Sculpture Gallery which measured 223 x 174cms. In this work, which depicts an Ancient Roman temple setting, he has included depictions of his two wives and two children as well as himself. We see his second wife Laura Theresa wearing a gold armlet in the centre of the work, and to the right of her are her two children Laurense and Anna. Lawrence Alma-Tadema is seated on the left and to his right, sitting upright hold a purple feather fan is thought to be a portrayal of his late wife, Marie-Pauline Gressin-Dumoulin de Boisgirard who died five years earlier.
Anna developed her father’s and step-mother’s love of art and by the age of seventeen had become a talented artist. She focused on painting the elaborate interiors of the family home, as well as portraits and flower paintings. Her gift as an artist can be seen in a set of watercolour and pen and ink depictions she completed in 1884 and 1885 of the family’s first London home, Townshend House close to Regents Park. The detail is truly amazing and these works were almost certainly due to the influence of her father. Her painting entitled Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s Study in Townshend House, London was completed by Anna in 1884. The interior of Townshend House was designed and furnished by her father. He managed to create a set of ornate and diverse interiors in a variety of styles ranging from traditional Dutch to Egyptian, Ancient Greek, Pompeiian, Byzantine, and Japanese based on his journeys. The setting in this work is the interior of a comfortable library. The intricate detail amazes me. At the back of the room we see a very comfortable couch made even more so with the addition of a fur covering. It is almost a day-bed to be used by a weary reader who has come to the library for some peace and quiet. The room is bright due to its dual aspect stained-glass windows and in the evening the candle-lights of the bronze chandelier, which Alma-Tadema designed, will illuminate the room. The room has many pieces of heavy Dutch oak furniture which probably reminded Anna’s father of his birthplace. On the ceiling to the left there seems to be a Japanese lantern or it could be an upturned parasol. The floor is covered by a tatami matting, which was used as a flooring material in traditional Japanese-style rooms. Hanging from the fireplace is a large palm leaf fan and on top of the fireplace mantle is a vase full of peacock feathers. Just take your time and look at everything that Anna has painstakingly depicted in this very busy room.
In a small (27 x 19cms) watercolour and ink painting The Drawing Room which Anna completed in 1885 we see another room in Townshend House. We are standing in the Gold Room and looking through the archway into the Columned Drawing Room albeit the columns themselves are hidden. In the work we see one of a suite of ornate drawing rooms in the family’s home. In this work take a close look and see how she has mastered light and the texture of the objects. Look at how she has depicted the full-length brocade curtain which seems to act as a room-divider. Look at the way she has illustrated the shiny surface of the floor lit by a light source emanating from an unseen window to the right. Anna exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1886 and exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, in 1893.
Finally, we have her work entitled The Gold Room which she completed in 1884. This watercolour depicts a view into the Gold Room which was named thus because its walls were overlaid with gold leaf. The centre of the painting is dominated by the large ornate piano which has inlays of ivory and tortoiseshell. On the right we see a sumptuous full-length curtain made of Chinese silk. If you look carefully at the window in the background you will see that the leading of it forms the family name, “Alma-Tadema”. We cannot but be amazed by the talent of this seventeen-year-old girl at how she has managed to create the rich and bright surfaces we see as well as the various textures of the objects. The inclusion of an antique bust on a pedestal was probably testament to her father’s interest in Roman and Greek history. The painting was shown at the 1885 Royal Academy exhibition and is housed at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City Missouri.
Another 1885 painting highlighted Anna’s ability to replicate detail onto canvas. It was her watercolour work entitled Eton College Chapel which she completed when she was just twenty years of age and was exhibited at the Royal Academy. Of Anna and her great artistic skill her father’s biographer, Helen Zimmerman, wrote in her 1902 biography, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema R.A., that she was:
“…a delicate, dainty artist who has inherited much of her father’s power for reproducing detail…”
In 1886, the family moved to a larger house, No. 17 Grove End Road, St. John’s Wood, London, which had previously been owned by the painter James Tissot. Anna’s father carried out major refurbishments to the house and had extra studios added so that all four in the family could paint! A room, thought to be on the upper floor in this house was the setting for Anna’s 1899 painting, The Closing Door. It is a beautiful painting, full of mystery and atmosphere. Once one has enjoyed the detail of the inanimate objects in the room our gaze goes to the central character of this work, the lady and soon our head is filled with questions. So what story is unfolding before us? Look at the woman – how is she feeling and why? I suppose we recognise that something has badly upset her. Look how she has roughly grasped the bead necklace and broken it. If you look carefully you can see beads on the carpet. Look at her facial expression –wretchedness, bewilderment, and fear are all recognisable. So, what has brought her to this state of bleak despondency. A lover’s tiff, a break-up of a relationship? All possible. Maybe if we look at some of the objects on the table we may get a clue. A small vase of anemones symbolising the death of a loved one for in Greek mythology, the anemone sprang from Aphrodite’s tears as she mourned the death of Adonis. In Victorian times, the anemone was looked upon as a symbol of dying love or departure of a loved one to the “point of no return”. So, has her “loved one” died or abandoned her? Next to the vase is a bottle of violet ink, the colour of which has associations with modesty and humility which probably tells us more about the lady herself. The final mystery associated with this painting is the door. Look closely at it and you will see fingers grasping it as if to close it. Is this another sign of somebody “leaving”? Or is this somebody about to enter which is causing the lady to be afraid? So many questions and only the artist knows the answers.
In 1902 Anna Alma-Tadema painted Girl in a Bonnet with Her Head on Blue Pillow It is a haunting painting with the girl seeming to stare at us as we observe the work but, on closer scrutiny, it is a blank stare. She shows little interest at what is going on her around her. Something is troubling her. She feels helpless and alone. Her hands are clasped tightly together in a pleading manner. What solace does she crave? We, the observers, want to help her but how? Is this simply about an unknown stranger or is this about the artist herself and her mood?
Following the death of her father in 1912, the value of his paintings fell drastically, and this loss of family revenue adversely affected the finances of his two daughters who lived their latter years in poverty. Anna Alma-Tadema, who never married, died in 1943, aged seventy-six.
Anna’s elder sister was born Laurense Alma-Tadema in August 1865 but she is always referred to as Laurence Alma-Tadema. For this portion of the blog there will be few paintings as Laurence, unlike her sister, father and step-mother was not an artist.
She was a novelist, playwright, short story writer, and poet. Her first novel, Love’s Martyr was published in 1886. She wrote in various genres during the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries.
She also submitted work to various periodicals such as The Yellow Book, a British quarterly literary periodical that was published in London from 1894 to 1897. She also edited a periodical. Many of her works were privately printed.
She left the family home and went to live in the Kent village of Wittersham in a cottage named The Fair Haven. She became an active member of the local community, and involved herself with music and plays. She even had a place built which could accommodate a hundred people and was to be used by the villagers to stage music concerts and plays and where the children of the village could be taught many local handicrafts. She named it the Hall of Happy Hours. In 1907 and 1908 she gave a series of readings in America on her literary work The Meaning of Happiness, which proved to be very well-liked by her American audiences.
She was an ardent activist and often spoke on the plight of the Polish people who were being displaced from their homes by the Austro-German troops in World War I. She was a close friend and ardent admirer of Jan Paderewski, the Polish concert pianist and composer, politician, and spokesman for Polish independence. Laurense was secretary of the Poland and the Polish Victims Relief Fund from 1915 to 1939 and her name appeared on many of their propaganda posters. On her book tour in America, she spoke on the plight of the divided Poland and asked her audience to support the Polish people’s cause.
Laurense died in a nursing home in London on March 12th 1940, aged seventy-five. Laurense like her sister Anna never married and one wonders whether either ever loved somebody and whether they missed “married bliss”. Laurense’s poem If One Ever Marries Me would make one believe at least she was resigned to a solitary life.
If no one ever marries me,—
And I don’t see why they should,
For nurse says I’m not pretty,
And I’m seldom very good—
If no one ever marries me
I shan’t mind very much;
I shall buy a squirrel in a cage,
And a little rabbit-hutch:
I shall have a cottage near a wood,
And a pony all my own,
And a little lamb quite clean and tame,
That I can take to town:
And when I’m getting really old,—
At twenty-eight or nine—
I shall buy a little orphan-girl
And bring her up as mine.
I visited the exhibition At Home in Antiquity which features many paintings by Lawrence Alma-Tadema. It is being held in London at the Leighton House Museum until October 29th. It is a “must-see” exhibition of Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s works as well as works by his daughter and second wife.