Toyohara Kunichika

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai (1829-1832)

When I think about Japanese printmakers I think about the three eighteenth century masters of that genre.  There was Hokusai with his well known print The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

Rain Showers at Shōno.by Hiroshige

Then there was Hiroshige with his many prints, including one of my favourites, Rain Shower at Shōno.

Fukaku Shinobu Koi by Kitagawa Utamaro (c.1794)

The third of the great eighteenth century printmakers which I call to mind is Kitagawa Utamaro who was one of the most highly regarded designers of ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings, and is best known for his bijin ōkubie “large-headed pictures of beautiful women” of the 1790s. One of Utamaro’s most famous works being Fukaku Shinobu Koi which set an auction record of €745,000 in 2016. The woman depicted in the title of the print, Fukaku Shinobu Koi means deeply hidden love and the woman has blackened her teeth, a tradition known as ohaguro, the Japanese custom which normally signifies a married woman, but maybe she is not, as her eyebrows are unshaved which would also signify as her being married.  It could be that she is still young and only recently married.  In her hair she has an ornate kanzashi hairpin with a flower design on it.   This type of hairband was often associated with maiko (trainee geisha).  The young woman looks down and holds a kiseru tobacco pipe in her right hand.  Look at her countenance.   She stares off, her shoulders raised, eyes narrowed, and tiny lips pursed, as if in a deep, emotional mid-sigh.

The other day I had the opportunity to see a small exhibition of Japanese prints by Kunichika at the Lady Lever Gallery on Merseyside, He was the most celebrated print designer of the nineteenth century and so I am dedicating this blog to some of his prints as well as looking at the mystical and colourful world of life in Edo and the magic of Kabuki.  For the unitiated in Japanese life and culture let me start by talking about Edo, Ukiyo-e and Kabuki.

Bijin and a child among flowering sedges under a misty full moon in Ueno Park by Kunichika (1880)

Kyoto, which had been the historic capital of Japan, was replaced by Edo, a castle town centred around the Edo Castle.  Edo became the de facto capital of Japan from 1603 and the seat of the Tokugawa shogunate, the military government of Japan. The period ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate from 1603 to 1868 became known as the Edo period.  This Tokugawa military government brought in social segregation by underlining a hierarchal class system which positioned the warriors at the top, followed by farmers, craftsmen, and then merchants at the bottom. The rulers also organised and built walled areas in the cities where theatres, teahouses, and brothels were licensed and which came to be known as the “pleasure districts.”  For the Japanese people the Edo period was a relatively peaceful time domestically and the regime’s isolationist policy in relationship to the rest of the world, maintained peace in the country. From this was born an art form that reflected this Japanese lifestyle and which found a new audience amongst a rising Japanese middle class and this art known as Ukiyo-e, was born as an evolution of yamato-e, a previous style of painting. Ukiyo-e depended upon collaboration between four people. The artist, using ink on paper, drew the image that was then carved by a craftsman into a woodblock. A printer then applied pigment to the woodblock, and a publisher oversaw and coordinated the process and marketed the works.

Kunichika in 1897, aged 52.

The artist I am featuring today is Kunichika Toyaharo, who was born Yasohachi Oshima on June 30th, 1835 in the Kyobashi district of Edo, which nowadays days is known as Tokyo.

 His father, Ōshima Kyujū was the proprietor of a public bathhouse. His father was a poor businessman, and he lost the bathhouse sometime in Yasohachi’s childhood. The boy’s mother, Arakawa Oyae, was the daughter of a teahouse proprietor. At that time, commoners of a certain social standing could ask permission to alter the family name and so to distance themselves from the father’s failure, the family took the mother’s surname, and the boy became Arakawa Yasohachi.

Around the age of twelve, Kunichika became a student of the ukiyo-e master Chikanobu.      A year later he entered the studio of Utagawa Kunisada the most popular, prolific and commercially successful designer of ukiyo-e woodblock prints in 19th-century.  It was at this point in time that Yasohachi Oshima received his artist name – Kunichika. The name derives from the names of his two masters – Kunisada and Chikanobu.

Kunichika was reputed to be a rather bohemian artist. He married in 1861 and had one child with his wife – a daughter named Hana. Although there is no definitive account of their marriage, it is known that they broke up but it is not known who left whom.  What is known is that he was a philanderer and led a nomadic life very rarely staying in one place for any period of time.  It is said that he once actually bragged that he had moved one hundred and seven times during his life.  His heavy drinking habits and time spent in brothels is well documented by his contemporary artists, Kyosai Kawanabe and Kiyochika Kobayashi and reading between the lines Kunichika was probably an alcoholic with  loose morals who could not control his spending habits.

According to Kanichika’s biographer, Amy Reigle Newland in her 1999 book, Time present and time past: Images of a forgotten master: Toyohara Kunichika, 1835–1900, Kunichika got into trouble in 1862 when he made a “parody print” in response to a commission for a print illustrating a fight at a theatre. This angered the students who had been involved in the fracas. They ransacked Kunichika’s house and tried to enter Kunisada’s studio by force. His mentor revoked Kunichika’s right to use the name he had been given but relented later that year. Decades afterwards Kunichika described himself as greatly “humbled” by the experience.

Kunisada Memorial by Kunichika (1864)

To get an idea of Kunichika’s status in the studio of Kunisada when his mentor died in 1864, of all his apprentices, Kunichika was tasked with producing memorial prints of his late master, one of which was a diptych.

A Scene from Bancho Sarayashiki (The Dish Manor at Bancho) by Kunichika (1863)

Kunichika embraced modern subjects and his prints reflected the great social and political change which was taking place at the time in Japan. He will be best remembered for his depictions of the Kabuki theatre, and his prints encapsulated the drama and excitement of scenes from popular plays and famous actors.  Kabuki, which literally means the art of song and dance, is a world-renowned form of traditional Japanese performance art. It incorporates music, dance, and mime with elaborate costumes and theatre sets.  Kabuki dramas depict stories which came from regional myths and history.  Kabuki is a bizarre visual display which focuses more on looks than the story itself. The elements which go into the production, such as costumes, lighting, props, and set design compliment aspects of the actual performance such as song and dance. All are presented in grandiose fashion to create a single, spectacular show.

Mitate Chuya Niju-Yo Ji no Uchi” (Allusion to the Twenty-four Hours of the Day) by Kunichika Mitate Chuya Niju-Yo Ji no Uchi” (Allusion to the Twenty-four Hours of the Day). – Babysitting at 3 a.m.

Kunichika produced a set of twenty-four prints featuring each hour of the day.  This series is regarded as Kunichika’s finest, completed bijin series.  Bijin is a Japanese term which literally means “a beautiful person” and is synonymous with bijyo meaning “beautiful woman”.  The prints are a fascinating collection of beauties in different aspects of lives and full of intriguing word-puns and allusions. Th one above is set at 3 o’clock in the morning and we see a mother trying to get her baby to sleep.

Niwaka Festival at 9 p.m. – Scenes of the Twenty-four Hours by Kunichika
Courtesan at 10 p.m. – Scenes of the Twenty-four Hours by Kunichika

The prints are a fascinating collection of beauties in different aspects of lives. At 10 o’clock in the evening we see a courtesan waiting for her client.

Scenes of Famous Places Along the Tokaido Road Station 77: Tenryugawa, 1863 by Kunichika

Another interesting set of prints was completed in 1863 and us known as The Tokaido Road Processional series. The print above is one of a series of about one hundred and sixty woodblock prints the authorities commissioned seventeen of the leading ukiyo-e artists of the time  The series is a collaborative effort of the various print designers of the Utagawa School in one quite unique effort.   What is probably fascinating about the series is despite the differing ages and styles of the artists who contributed to this project, from twenty-four-year-old Tsukioka Yoshitosh to the Master himself, Kumisada, who was seventy-seven, there is a homogeneity about them and it is very difficult to distinguish between them.  Kunichika completed seven of this series

Utagawa Kuniyoshi triptych Xuande Leaping into the Gorge of Tan (1853)

Whilst Kunichika was still attending Kunisada’s Kameido studio he was also being influenced by Kunisada’s colleague and rival Kuniyoshi, in the way he has added the swirling motifs of the water taken directly from the Kuniyoshi triptych Xuande Leaping into the Gorge of Tan. In Kunichika’s 1863 print, Scenes of Famous Places Along the Tokaido Road Station 77: Tenryugawa, he depicts figures in a boat in the foreground set against the swirling waves of the seashore.

The background to the depictions is the journey made by Shogun Tokugawa lemchi, Japan’s military leader, who had travelled along the Tokaido Road from the military capital, Edo, (Tokyo) to the Emperor in the imperial capital, Kyoto, for a crisis meeting concerning foreign incursions into their country.  The road was an important and busy road used by samurai, officials and merchants during that time. Along the road, there were outposts, inns, temples and shrines at the service of weary travellers. The prints depict the Shogun’s entourage at various beauty spots on the Tokaido Road.

Onoe Kikugorō V, Ichikawa Danjūrō IX and Ichikawa Sadanji I
(in the play Matsu no sakae Chiyoda no shintoku)
by Toyohara Kunichika, 1878

Kunichika was a lover of Kabuki theatre and fascinated by the actors.  Many of his prints feature the leading actors of the time and snippets of the plays themselves. This woodblock triptych print from 1878 features the three greatest actors of the time, Onoe Kikugorō V playing the role of Kashiwabara Koheita, Ichikawa Danjūrō IX in the role of Tokugawa Ieyasu  and Ichikawa Sadanji I in the role of Kakuya Shichirōji in the play Matsu no sakae Chiyoda no shintoku, which was written by Kawatake Mokuami and staged at the Shintomi-za in June 1878. The play, a historical drama, was a portrayal of the life of first Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and was the first commercial production in the Shintomi-za.  The play ran for forty-two days, and attracted a total of forty-nine thousand theatre goers.

Ghost of Shinchunagon Taira no Tomomori by Kunichika (1867) 

Many of the kabuki plays were based on historical tales of the past and Kunichika captured one such story in his 1867 woodcut print entitled Ghost of Shinchunagon Taira no Tomomori.  The main character was played by the well-known kabuki actor Otani Tomoemon V.  He took on the character of the ghost of Taira no Tomomori, who committed suicide after his defeat at the Battle of Dan-no-ura by tying himself to an anchor and jumping into the sea. In the print, he is depicted with the anchor behind him, a rope entwined around it.  His face a pale blue to indicate that he is a ghost. His long, wet hair falls over his shoulders, and blood flows from wounds to his head and body. He wears a fine suit of armour with the butterfly crest of the Taira family on the chest plate. A terrific, expressive image with incredible fine detail in the hair.

The actor Ichikawa Sandanji as a Suikoden hero

Another of Kunichika’s prints featuring a “great” of the world of kabuki actors is of the actor Ichikawa Sandanji playing the role of a Suikoden hero.  Ichikawa Sadanji I belonged to the triumvirate of stars who dominated the Kabuki world during the Meiji era (1868-1912).  The two others “greats” were Ichikawa Danjûrô IX and Onoe Kikugorô V.

Making A Wish At The Shrine by Kunichika (1869)

My final offering of Kunichika’s woodblock prints is his 1869 work entitled Making A Wish At The Shrine. It is one print from the Tosei Sanju-ni So (Thirty-two Fashionable Physiognomies series), which was one of Kunichika’s major works. The series showcased typical Ukiyo-e beauties but their facial expressions and gestures were livelier and more personalized. These down-to-earth beauties were the harbinger of what became known as Meiji realism which became increasingly popular during the mid – late Meiji period. 

Lady Lever Gallery
Port Sunlight Village, Wirral CH62 5EQ
Kunichika: Japanese Prints
15 April – 4 September
The first exhibition held in a national gallery outside Japan to focus on one of the most important 19th century Japanese print makers.

Ralph Blakelock Part 2.

The sad ending and Beatrice Van Rensselaer Adams

During the 1880’s, Blakelock carried on painting.  He still derived pleasure from painting and showed his work at various exhibitions.  Often, unable to pay the rent, Blakelock was repeatedly forced to move his large family from home to home in northern New Jersey and Harlem including a period of time spent with his in-laws who lived in Brooklyn.  His wife, Cora, gave birth to more children. The seventh-born, Ruth, arrived in 1893, the same year that Blakestock exhibited some of his work at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  In 1897 Cora and Ralph’s eighth child, Allen, was born.  During his ongoing mental health issues brought on by the financial stress of not being able to feed his family, he fluctuated in and out of lucid periods, but he still managed to capture beautifully haunting scenes of moonlit skies, glades of leafless trees and multicoloured streaks of clouds.

The demands of housing and feeding his family continued to worsen his mental health.  In his 2003 biography of Blakelock, entitled The Unknown Night: The Genius and Madness of R. A. Blakelock, an American Painter, the author Glyn Vincent, described Blakelock’s eccentric behaviour at that time:

“…Mr. Blakelock began grandiosely adding price tags of millions of dollars to the backs of his paintings. He based his images on scratches in his enameled bathtub; started carrying around an antique dagger; and draped himself in embroidered sashes and belts with trimmings that his wife described as “long strings of beads and trinkets of all sorts…”

Moonlight by Ralph Blakelock (c.1899)

In 1899, on the day of the birth of his ninth child, Douglas, Ralph Blakelock was once again sectioned in a mental ward at the Long Island State Hospital at Flatbush. He was later transferred to Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital in June 1901, where he was treated for dementia praecox, which we know today as paranoid schizophrenia, leaving his wife and children destitute. Initially he was confined to a secluded ward but later was placed in an open ward where he had the freedom to move about the grounds and even visit the nearby village.  This was just the beginning of an increasingly unbelievable story.

1902 Auction catalogue for Lotos Club exhibition

There now follows a strange twist in Blakelock’s life. Almost as soon as Blakelock went into the Long Island State hospital, his works began to receive recognition from the critics especially after his one-man exhibition of his work at the New York Lotos Club in December 1900. Further exhibitions at the prestigious club followed including one held in September 1902 for Exhibition of paintings by Ralph Albert Blakelock, from the collection of Hon. Frederick S. Gibbs.

Moonlight Sonata by Ralph Blakelock (c.1892)

Within a few years Blakelock’s paintings that he had once sold for a pittance were being resold for several thousand dollars.  It is so ironic that the moment of his greatest triumph with his art came while he was sectioned at the Middletown hospital. On February 21st 1916, his painting, Brook by Moonlight sold at auction, part of the Catholina Lambert collection, for $20,000.  This, at the time, was a record amount ever paid at auction for a living American artist.   Later in 1916 he was finally elected to full membership at the National Academy of Design. 

The news of the record payment for his painting Brook by Moonlight was extensively covered in the media and it captured the imagination of a young New York woman, Beatrice Sadie Filbert Adams.  It is a story which has a hint of the Anna Sorokin/Anna Delvey story which has recently become famous through Netflix.   But who was Sadie Filbert Adams?

Mrs Van Rensselaer (c.1925)

Beatrice Sadie Filbert was born in 1884 in the town of Fishkill, sixty miles north of New York.  Her mother had been employed as a servant and Sadie never attended state schooling but was educated for a number of years at the home of her mother’s employer.  When she was sixteen, she and her older sister went to live in New York.  Two years later, in 1902, she married Louis Adams whom she described as a Chicago millionaire.  Louis actually had rich relatives but none of their wealth ever came to him and he was “a person of interest” to the Cincinnati police.  He went by a number of aliases as he plied his trade as a scam artist and swindler who had taken money from many unsuspecting and naive women.    It is thought that Sadie was complicit in many of his scams.  In October 1906, Louis Adams was convicted and jailed for his crimes and their two children were temporarily taken into care at an Albany orphanage.  Two months later the younger child, a daughter, died of diphtheria.    Sadie was heartbroken and managed to remove her son, Van Rensselaer, from the care facility.

Sadie or Mrs Van Rensselaer Adams, as she liked to be called, now gained money by writing begging letters to wealthy prominent people, mainly men and this soon led to a duplicitous lifestyle similar to that of her jailed husband. Two such wealthy philanthropists who gave her money to cover her living expenses as well as a loan whilst they pondered over how best to help her were Henry P Crowell of the Quaker Oats Company and Harold F McCormick of the International Harvester Company, the son of Cyrus Hall McCormick, an American inventor and businessman who founded the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, which later became part of the International Harvester Company in 1902.  McCormick was also treasurer of International Harvester subsidiary, Wisconsin Steel Company which leased mines including the Victoria Iron Mine of which Mrs Adams had an eighth share which it is believed she had acquired from her husband.  Wanting to see her prosper legitimately they arranged for her to embark on a three-year nurse-training course at the Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago.  She was not enthused by the nurse training and lasted just seven months before quitting, citing the ill health of her son as her reason for leaving.

Illustration in Tacoma Ledger newspaper Blakelock confined in an insane asylum

Sadie Adams left Chicago and returned to New York but still kept close to wealthy philanthropists.  Here she involved herself in fundraising for the women’s division of the endowment association of Lincoln Memorial University, Tennessee.  She would send out begging letters for financial contributions including ones to President Taft and President Woodrow Wilson.  In the Spring of 1916, she became aware of the extensive publicity surrounding Ralph Blakelock who was languishing in a mental institution.  One such article appeared in the Washington newspaper, the Tacoma Ledger, dated May 14th 1913 in which an imaginary illustration depicts Blakelock in his cell at the Middletown (New York) State Homeopathic Hospital

Mrs Van Rensselaer then began to involve herself with Blakelock’s friends and help organise an exhibition of his work and the money raised would go to achieving his release and provide for him and his family once released from the asylum. It was also a trust, which purported to help the poverty-stricken artist and his destitute family. She contacted a young newspaper reporter, Harrison Smith, who was working for the New York Tribune, and told him about Blakelock.  Smith then went to visit the artist at the mental hospital.  The young journalist found the artist to be lucid and yet rambling and reported that Blakelock was fantasising about an imagined “diamond of the Emperor of Brazil” which he said had been stolen from him.  The journalist believed that Blakelock’s claim to be a great artist was not being believed by the asylum authorities or staff and so arranged for the artist and the asylum director to visit Manhattan where a gallery was holding a retrospective of Blakelock’s work.  The rookie journalist was hailed for his major news story despite omitting the part in which Blakelock had told him that some of the paintings on show at the gallery were forgeries.  In an account given by Smith many years later he said that he had omitted Blakelock’s comments as he believed Blakelock’s sanity at the time was in question.

Front page of New York Evening Journal (September 18th 1916)

By now Adams had assumed absolute control of the Blakelock Fund, which was reputed to be $35K,  and in early September 1916, she, with the help from money she took from the Fund, managed to afford to move Blakelock from the Middletown Hospital to a bungalow studio at a private sanatorium in West Englewood, New Jersey.  Not only was the money used to facilitate the move it allowed her to lavishly furnish the place and bring in large canvases, paints and brushes so that Blakelock would continue to paint more masterpieces which she could sell.  The newspaper headlines at the time read:

Blakelock May Recover Genius.

(New York World, September 10th 1916)

Freed from Insane Asylum, Has Six Months’ Probation to Prove Sanity

(New York Times.  September 6th 1916)

Untitled – Moonlight with Figures by Ralph Blakelock (1916)

Adams realised that Blakelock could be her cash-cow and took on the sole control of his artistic output.  Adams maintained that it was all done for Blakelock’s benefit and she said in a gesture of his gratitude Blakelock painted a rough sketch on cardboard which he gave to her.  It was unsigned but on the reverse, Adams had written:

“…This picture was painted by Blakelock for me as a momento of my efforts in his behalf and the figures are supposed to represent he and I…”

In the depiction we see the couple standing in the moonlight, surrounded by woods and mountains, at a gateway which probably leads symbolically away from the Middletown Asylum.

The Vision of Life by Ralph Blakelock (c.1897)

Adams managed to limit visits to him from his family and even had his wife Cora sign a waiver of her right to contest the guardianship as Adams had told her it would be best for her husband to be under Adams’ guardianship.  Adams also promised Cora that funds would be released to her and her family to move to a more respectable residence and which would be fully furnished.  Cora never received this promised payment.  The family tried to visit Blakelock but Adams always blocked their requests and even moved Blakelock to a new, but secret, sanatorium so they even lost contact with him.  She even returned Blakelock to the Middletown Asylum when the money ran out or as a punishment.  By the Spring of 1919, Blakelock had become fearful of Adams and her wild physical tantrums and decide he would be safer at the Middletown facility.  However on July 2nd 1919, Adams managed to extricate him from that safety and back into her custody for the last time.  A month later, on August 9th 1919, seventy-one-year-old Blakelock was dead.  Cause of death was given as a stroke or heart attack.

Such a sad end to the life of an extremely talented artist.

For a full account of the relationship Sadie Filbert (Beatrice Van Rensselaer Adams) had with Blakesock you should try and read an excellent twelve page article written by Dorinda Evans, entitled Art and Deception: Ralph Blakelock and his Guardian which appeared in The American Art Journal (Volume 19, No.1 Winter 1987). I discovered the article at the JSTOR website. It is a fascinating read and supplied me with so much information for this blog.

Ralph Blakelock. Part 1.

The American Impressionist.

Ralph Blakelock

A blog I wrote some eleven years ago featured an artist who spent the last twenty years of his life in an asylum. He was Richard Dadd, the English Victorian painter.  Today I am looking at the life and works of an American painter, Ralph Albert Blakelock, a contemporary of Dadd, who was also incarcerated in an asylum during the last eighteen years of his life.

Woodland Cabin by Ralph Blakelock (1864)

The art of Ralph Albert Blakelock is termed as being of the Romanticism movement.  The Romantic movement, which emphasized emotion and imagination, emerged in response to the artistic disenchantment with the Enlightenment ideas of order and reason.  Blakelock was a painter known mainly for his landscape paintings related to the Tonalism movement.   Tonalism is, at times, used to describe American landscapes derived from the French Barbizon style, which accentuated mood and shadow.

Landscape by Ralph Blakelock (c.1865)

Ralph Blakelock was born on Christopher Street in New York City on October 15th, 1847.  He was the son of Ralph Albert and Caroline Blakelock. His father was an English immigrant carpenter, who would later serve as a police officer before becoming a homeopathic doctor. It was not Ralph’s father but his uncle James A. Johnson, a choirmaster who was to be Ralph’s cultural mentor. Ralph had connections with art through his uncle’s friendship with the great American landscape painters of the time, Frederic Church with and James Renwick Brevoort. Ralph had four brothers and four sisters. His father had hoped that Ralph would follow in his footsteps and study medicine and so it transpired that in 1864, seventeen-year-old Ralph began to study medicine at the Free Academy of New York.  However he gave up his studies at the academy after he had completed the third semester.

Hudson River Landscape by Ralph Blakelock (1867)

Blakelock ended his further education in 1866 and began to study art and paint landscapes full-time. To look for different landscapes to paint he made several sketching trips in upstate New York and New Hampshire. One of his first exhibition pieces was exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1868, when he exhibited a view of the White Mountains.

 Morning – near Devil’s Den, White Mountains by Ralph Blakelock (1868)

The voyage of discovery for Blakelock proved to be central to his artistic vision and was to be an influence on his work for the rest of his life. Such cross-country trips had become popular with artists such as Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran but their journeys were part of expeditions funded by the US government, unlike the one Blakelock undertook on his one-man adventure. He wanted to “go West” and explore more of his country and whilst doing so, sketch and paint what he saw. 

House by the Stream by Ralph Blakelock (1869)

In 1869, thanks to his father’s financial backing, Blakelock began the first of two lengthy journeys to the western territories of the United States. His extensive travelling was done using the train, stagecoach, and horseback, and his trip took him to the states of Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada, finally arriving on the west coast and California. After spending time in that state, he travelled south into Mexico. It is thought that he arrived back home by sea in 1871. The voyage of discovery for Blakelock proved to be central to his artistic vision and was to be an influence on his work for the rest of his life.

Cheyenne Encampment by Ralph Blakelock (1873)

A year later, in 1872, Blakelock embarked on a second western trip. Blakelock spent all his time sketching and painting and it was during this voyage of discovery that he became interested in one of his most lasting subjects for his work – the Native Americans. He painted tableaux of American Indian dancers, tented encampments and native Indian horseback riders Like artists who had journeyed west, there is no doubt that Blakelock was impressed by the vastness of the landscape. He spent time with various American Indian tribes and would often travel alone into the wilderness on horseback and spent time with tribes of the Great Sioux Nation.   It was a time when the Native Americans were still retaining many of their traditional practices despite the constant incursion on their lands by the white Americans from the East who were expanding  rapidly taking hold of the land belonging to the Native Indians.  Blakelock liked to depict Indian encampments in his paintings.  His paintings were not just about pretty scenes, they were a pictorial history of the time.  Mark Mitchell, the American writer and the Holcombe T. Green Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale University Art Gallery,  wrote in his 2008 article Radical Color: Blakelock in Context about Blakelock’s work during his travels West:  He wrote:

“…they were documents of his experience and observations, but with time they became documents of his memory, as well as the memory of the nation at large…”

Sunshine in the Woods by Ralph Blakelock (1876)

Once Blakelock returned to New York after his wanderings in the West he rented his own studio and exhibited his work at the National Academy as well as the Society of American Artists and the Brooklyn Art Association. Initially his paintings followed the Hudson River School style

Shanties in Harlem by Ralph Blakestock (1874)

Now back on the East Coast, Blakelock began to concentrate on depictions of the northern edges of the outer city (what is now 55th Street and Central Park), which had yet to be developed.  Here he focused on the shanties which were starting to appear.  One such painting was his 1874 work entitled Shanties in Harlem.

Portrait of Cora Bailey (Mrs. Ralph Blakelock) by Ralf Albert Blakelock

In 1877, Blakelock married Cora Rebecca Bailey and, soon after, the first of their nine children, Carl, was born.  It was probably at this time in Blakelock’s life that things started to go wrong.  Unfortunately for Blakelock the art critics did not look upon his work favourably and the public were reluctant to buy his paintings at the advertised price.  Coming into play was the dreaded balance of matching income with expenditure.  His income was decreasing as he was having to sell his work cheaply.  However, the increasing size of his family had to be housed and fed. He had to increase his rate of production of his paintings to boost his income.  In his book, The Unknown Night: The Madness and Genius of R. A. Blakelock, An American Painter, Glyn Vincent tells that Blakelock’s wife, Cora, in a letter to the art dealer, Robert Vose, who ran the Vose Gallery in Boston, wrote that her husband did just that.  She wrote:

“…His best work took a long time to complete and in the meantime he had to live. Pictures were painted to keep things going. He could paint a really good picture in less time than anyone else I ever saw…”

In 1880, his second child, Marian is born and in 1883, Blakelock moved into the prestigious Tenth Street Studio Building, in New York and had famous neighbours such as William Merritt Chase and Frederic Church. He took part in the 1884 Society of American Artists exhibition and this boosted his reputation with his work being hailed by the press as being among the best works on show.  Clarence Cook of the Tribune wrote:

“…it was the best work of his which we have seen, marked not only by rich coloring, but by the possession of a distinctive character…”

The year 1884 was the year of the birth of his third and fourth chiId, twins, Claire and Ralph and so it became a dire financial struggle and to support his new and rapidly growing family. Blakelock would sometimes take jobs as an art teacher and later would produce small paintings of birds, flowers, and landscapes on plaques at E. C. Meekers Art Novelty Shop in New Jersey while he and his family lived nearby in East Orange. 

A Waterfall, Moonlight by Ralph Blakelock (1886)

Despite the good press reviews of his work, Blakelock was still struggling financially.  One reason could be that to avoid paying dealers a commission for selling his work he sold his own paintings and although he saved money, he lost the power of marketing and advertising a dealer would have afforded him. In 1886, the popular journal, Harper’s Weekly, reviewing an exhibition at the National Academy of Design praised Blakelock’s painting entitled A Waterfall, Moonlight hailing it as the best landscape in the exhibition, and the art critic admitted that he was surprised to see the name of the artist having completed such a powerful landscape. The painting featured elements that are typical of Blakelock’s style, such as generalized and silhouetted forms, glowing moonlight, and thick paint.  The foliage that frames the edge of the canvas echoes the irregular contours of the tree so much that it gives the impression that the forms are almost able to interlock.

Brook by Moonlight by Ralph Blakelock (1891)

The year 1886 was also the year of the birth of Ralph’s fifth child, Mary, and, tragically, the year of the death of one of his twins, his two-year-old daughter Claire. In 1887 his sixth child, Louis was born. The financial stress on Blakelock continued to mount and cause him mental stress until March 1890, when it culminated in his first mental breakdown and he was taken by his brother to the Flatbush Insane Asylum.

Photograph of the Sherwood Building, Manhattan (c.1902)

Blakelock stayed in the asylum for a short time and on his release, a wealthy patron of his, the English-born textile firm owner, Catholina Lambert allowed Blakelock, his wife Cora, and their four children to come to his estate in Hawley, Pennsylvania, to convalesce. Having recuperated, he returned to New York, where Blakelock began working out of fellow artists’ studios and later president of the National Academy of Design, Harry Watrous’s studio in the Sherwood Building.  This building was at 58 West 57th Street, at the southeast corner with Sixth Avenue (Avenue of the Americas) in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. The building was constructed in 1879 as artists’ apartments. It was here that Blakelock painted his masterpiece Brook by Moonlight which is now part of the Toledo Museum of Art collection. Depicting moonlight, sunsets, and twilight were favourite depictions of Blakelock  It is said that they held a special attraction for Ralph Albert Blakelock for their poetic qualities and in this work he expressed his personal response to nature in this mysterious and haunting moonlit forest.

Sadly the life of Ralph Blakelock was going to take a turn for the worse…..

…….to be continued.

Susan Catherine Moore Waters

Today I am delving into the life of the nineteenth century American painter Susan Waters.  It is difficult to compartmentalise her artwork, some, however, have labelled her a folk portraitist.  It is a mixture of portraiture which could be best described as quirky and animal paintings.  Her art, especially her early portraiture, is certainly easily recognisable as you will see.  I like its simplicity and although she will never be regarded as one of the American great artists, her depictions ooze a naiveté which is so endearing.

Susan Catherine Moore was born on May 18th 1823 in Binghamton, a small town in the Southern Tier of New York state on the border with Pennsylvania.  She was one of two children, both daughters, of a cooper, Lark Moore, and his wife, Sally, who were Hicksite Quakers.  As a young child Susan showed a talent for art.

Two Children in an Interior Setting, One Child Holding a Grey Cat, the Other Holding a Piece of Melon by Susan Waters

Susan and her sister, Amelia, attended the fee-paying Boarding School for Females run by Quakers at the small Pennsylvania border town of Friendsville.  The town had been founded in 1819 and the majority of early settlers were Quakers.  At the age of fifteen, in order to afford to pay the fees for the school for her and her sister, Susan would paint copies for the Natural History course run by the school.  Although the school had basic art education lessons, Susan is considered to be a self-taught painter.

The Downs Children of Cannonsville, New York. by Susan Waters (1843)

On 27 June 1841, aged just eighteen, she married William C. Waters, a Friendsville Quaker and amateur artist, and he would encourage his young wife to develop her talent as a painter. She took up portraiture about 1843, when her husband became ill and was unable to support the family. She would travel around the outlying areas painting and selling portraits of the people and their children.  One of Susan’s earliest recorded signed paintings is her 1843 work entitled The Downs Children of Cannonsville, New York. It depicts two children with a dog and a toy wagon in a landscape setting which includes a white house in the background. The boy on the left holds a riding crop.

Helen M Kingman by Susan Waters (1845)

In 1845, Susan completed a set of three paintings featuring the Kingman family.  This signed and dated portrait of fifteen-year-old Helen M Kingman is one of the three works.  The young girl is depicted seated in a stencilled chair, wearing a salmon pink dress, against a grey-walled backdrop.  Note the potted plant on the windowsill, an accoutrement often seen in portraits of children.

Lyman Kingman by Sarah Waters (1845)

Another in the series is a portrait of Lyman Kingman dressed in a black suit, holding sheets of paper. Behind him are shelves of books at right and drapery at upper left.

The Lincoln Children by Susan Waters (1845)

In the 1840s Susan specialized in portraits of children, and this 1845 painting, The Lincoln Children, is a depiction of three of the twelve children of Otis Lincoln, an innkeeper who was plying his trade in the small rural town of Binghamton in New York State. The three small girls are Laura Eugenie, aged nine, Sara, aged three, and Augusta, aged seven and they have been positioned in a pyramid. They are all wearing decorative dresses, adorned with eyelet and lace. One of the girls holds a peach, another a small branch in one hand and a pencil in the other while the third has a book open upon her knee.  These trappings were added to the portrait to publicise the girls’ sweetness and their attentiveness whilst attending school. The fine-looking furnishings including an expensive floral-patterned carpet, the pretty plants on a stand in the right background, and the addition of the appealing puppy with its well-arranged stance coalesce and create a lovely image of domestic stability and cosiness and yet their intense expressions as they look out at us gives the painting a disconcerting openness.

Herding Sheep before the Storm by Susan Waters

The Waters’ life was complicated, flitting from one temporary home to another. They continued to reside in Friendsville for several years, but by May of 1852 they had moved to Bordentown, New Jersey. They built themselves a cottage in the Quaker community of Bordentown and although they did not settle there permanently at that time, they would return to their house in 1866.

Chicken and Raspberries by Susan Waters

The couple sold their Bordentown cottage and journeyed to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in 1855, returned to Friendsville four years later, and in 1866 finally resettled in Bordentown buying back their former home on Mary Street and it was here that they spent the rest of their lives. This was a base from which she taught art and produced over fifty of her later works, many of which were painting of animals in their natural settings, especially her favourite animals, sheep, and pastoral scenes. She was also an early photographer and produced many ambrotypes and daguerreotypes, which were early forms of photography. This made a lot of practical sense, as commissioned portraits were giving way to the more exciting medium of photography. 

Barnyard Animals by Susan Waters.

Many of the animals depicted were kept in Susan’s own yard.

Rooster with two Chickens in the Yard by Susan Waters.

Whilst residing in Bordentown Susan Waters painted animal and still life pictures in a style which was more mature and academic than her earlier efforts at portraiture.  There was a greater sophistication with her depictions.

A Cache of Raspberries by Susan Waters

Susan also produced a number of excellent still-life paintings

Still life with Grapes by Susan Waters

and sometimes a combined still-life and animal depiction as in her work entitled The Marauders.

The Marauder by Susan Waters

The artwork she produced and sold whilst living in Bordentown earned her recognition in her own lifetime.  It was not just from within her local community but from outside and in 1876, Waters was honoured with an invitation to exhibit some of her paintings at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. It was the first official World’s Fair to be held in the United States. She submitted two of her animal paintings.

Lighthouse on the Coast by Susan Waters

Susan Waters also became active in State politics when she became a member of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association, which was founded in 1867.  It was in this year that Lucy Stone delivered a speech on “Women Suffrage in New Jersey” before the state legislature.  This would have been a thrilling time to be involved with the movement, and Susan was elected recording secretary for the Association in 1871. She was also an Animal Rights activist.

Pasture scene with cows and distant mountains by Susan Waters

After exhibiting successfully at the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, Susan discovered that her work was much sought after and it remained so for the rest of her life.  Her husband died in 1893 and from then on Susan dedicated herself to her art.  In 1899 she had to sell her home and go to a nursing home in Trenton New Jersey.  On July 10th 1900 Susan Catherine Moore Waters passed away at the age of seventy-seven.  Three days later she was buried alongside her beloved husband, William in the beautiful Bordentown cemetery.  Of her character, her obituary noted:

“…as beautiful as her paintings … her talent she could not bequeath…”

The folks of Bordentown will remember Susan Waters as a lady of refinement, modest and unassuming.  She was a lady of extraordinary ability, not just as a painter but as a writer and a speaker in the Society of Friends.

Alson Skinner Clark. Part 2.

Although based in Paris, Alson and his wife, Medora travelled extensively.  They visited Normandy and further afield to regions of Italy and Spain, the Netherlands, the Dalmatian coast, and Canada.  They would often return to their folks on Comfort Island and Watertown.  Alson also visited New York to see art dealer William Macbeth, who owned the first gallery at that time to deal solely in American art, to see if he could interest the art dealer in some of his work.

The Rising Sun, Malaga by Alson Skinner Clark (1909)

Having spent some time painting in Spain, Alson organised an exhibition of his Spanish paintings at the O’Brien Art Galleries in Chicago in March 1910.  It was Chicago’s first art gallery and one of the oldest family owned and operated gallery in the United States. It opened in 1855 as a frame shop, offering a variety of services to both artists and collectors.  The exhibition of Alson’s work was a great success and seventeen of Alson’s thirty-eight canvases were sold immediately and his New York dealer, William Macbeth, agreed to exhibit the unsold canvases in his gallery.

Rooftops Seville by Alson Skinner Clark (1909)

 

On the Beach, Normandy by Alson Skinner Clark (1910)

Alson and Medora Clark returned to Paris in June 1910 and visited the Giverny Art Colony.   The colony had started in the 1880’s and by the time Alson arrived in 1910 American artists were major players in the colony.   The colony by 1910 was very popular and with the influx of more and more artists as well as tourists the cost of living there had risen sharply.  Although Alson enjoyed the camaraderie of the Americans at Giverny, Medora was less impressed with the cliquish nature of the group.  She once described it:

“…The more I reflect on the possibilities of Giverny as a place to go, the less I care for it. The petty jealousies…the fights, the spying on you by your neighbours all works up to the least attractive place…to spend a season. Then the similarity in all of the work. I have kept out of it…”

Luxembourg Gardens Pond, Paris by Alson Skinner Clark (1910)

Alson Clark’s exhibited his work at many venues such as The Art Institute of Chicago, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Paris Salon, and the National Academy of Design. He was always searching for new subjects to paint and the sale of his work through his New York and Chicago art dealers was making him financially secure.

Medora by Alson Skinner Clark (1917)

Having passed through the Panama Canal on a number of occasions I was fascinated by Alson Clark’s depictions of the building of the giant project. In the spring of 1913, Alson Clark, out of the blue, decided to visit the Panama Canal Zone where the construction on the vast and costly canal was nearing completion. Clark had made his mind up to somehow get himself involved in this exciting venture. He and his wife, Medora, boarded a steam ship and made the journey to Colon where they subsequently continued onto Ancon, on the Pacific side of the canal. Neither had letters of introduction nor any booked accommodation.  Fortunately for the couple both were procured.  Better still, the supreme commander of the project, Colonel George W. Goethals, gave Clark unprecedented access to the labour trains and construction sites.  Alson worked energetically despite the extreme heat in order to portray the excavations, the construction of the locks, and the railroad.

Alson Clark wrote to his mother about this time:

“…This is such a busy place for me I never get time to write more than a postal. We get off on the 6:40 train in the morning, getting up at five[1]thirty or so and get back at noon, leave for lunch and go off again at one-thirty, getting in at seven and after dinner go to bed…. In the afternoon at present, I go to the Culebra Cut where all the blasting has been going on and the slides, and I paint there. It is wonderful all over….”

Work Trains – Miraflores (Panama) by Alson Skinner Clark (1913)

For his painting Work Trains -Miraflores,  Alson Clark positioned himself on the western side of the Panama Canal where the construction of the Miraflores Locks was taking place.  It was here that when fully operational, ships could be lowered sixteen metres to sea level into the Bay of Panama, and the last step for ships crossing into the Pacific Ocean.  The depiction gives us a view looking down at the giant cavity which has been dug out to make the lock.  Down below we can just make out tiny figures working near trains which billow steam and smoke, which is testament to the monumental size and effort of this construction.

In the Lock, Miraflores by Alson Skinner Clark (1913)

The viewpoint for Clark’s painting, In the Lock, Miraflores, is from inside the centre of the lock. The depiction highlights the massive construction project which dwarf the many working figures which appear as tiny dots in the enormous industrial landscape. Alson Clark employed his impressionistic technique using a rich palette and bravura brush strokes to reveal bright light saturating the workplace. The lines of the train tracks, canal walls and cranes create a strong compositional design, which together emphasize the dramatic effect of the scene.

Pedro Miguel Locks, Panama by Alson Skinner Clark (1913)

The Pedro Miguel Locks contain a single set of parallel locks each containing a single chamber. All the present locks on the Panama Canal are operated by gravity. In the case of the Pedro Miguel Locks, fresh water from Gatun Lake and the Chagres River flows into the Culebra Cut. For southbound traffic, this water flows into the Pedro Locks. When the water flows out of the lock into Miraflores Lake, towards the Pacific Ocean, ships are lowered 31 feet. For northbound ships, they are raised 31 feet when water flows into the lock from the Culebra Cut until the level is equal with the Culebra Cut. Ships can then exit the lock. Thus, the entire system relies upon rainfall for its operation.

In the Cut, Contractors Hill by Alson Skinner Clark (1914)

Culebra Cut was the “special wonder” of the canal.  Here, men and machines labored to conquer the 8.75-mile stretch. Holes were drilled, filled with explosives and detonated to loosen the rock and rock-hard clay.  Steam shovels then excavated the spoil, placing it on railroad cars to be hauled to dump sites.

1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Diego, California

The Panama-Pacific International Exposition was a world’s fair held in San Francisco from February 20th to December 4th, 1915. Its stated purpose was to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal, but it was widely seen in the city as an opportunity to showcase its recovery from the 1906 earthquake.  Alson Clark was invited to hold a solo exhibition at the event, an honour bestowed on very few American artists at that time.  He was awarded a bronze medal. 

Frozen River, Jackson, New Hampshire by Alson Skinner Clark (1915)

The Clarks left Panama and decided to spend the summer of 1914 in France.  The holiday ended abruptly with the outbreak of the First World War and they rushed to get a sea passage back to America.  Once back in their homeland they accepted an invitation from Charles and Edith Bittinger to stay with them that winter in their New England home.  Charles was an American artist who explored the use of scientific techniques for artistic purposes. During World War I, he also played a prominent role in the development of naval camouflage. Alson was not put off by the extreme cold of New England and would go painting en plein air in snowshoes.

Charleston Houses (also known as St. Michael’s Alley) by Alson Skinner Clark (1917)

In January 1917, Alson and Medora agreed to join another couple on a short trip to Charleston. Clark had spent very little time in the southern states of America and was overcome by Charleston’s charm and history. He enjoyed the genteel Southern hospitality and undoubtedly would have stayed if not for a dramatic turn of events – The United States entered World War I.

Mission San Juan Capistrano by Alson Skinner Clark (1918)

Alson and Medora returned to Chicago in April 1917, and forty-one-year-old Clark enlisted in the US Navy.  He believed that his knowledge of the French language and his familiarity with the French countryside would make him an ideal candidate.  He was originally used as a translator and then in May 1918 he became a military photographer.  His task was to take aerial surveillance photographs which required him to hang over the side of an open plane !  Sadly this experience left him deaf in one ear and doctors advised him that once he returned to America, he should relocate a place which offered a warm climate and help his recuperation. This partial deafness took a toll on his mental health and he told his wife that he would not paint again

Mission San Gabriel by Alson Skinner Clark (1919)

However, once in California, his hearing steadily improved; he regained his spirits and resumed painting.   The couple settled in Southern California and the landscapes of this region offered Clark new and exciting possibilities for his art.  The region was dotted with romantic Spanish Colonial missions, and the proximity to Mexico offered a kind of pictorial exoticism.  Two of the couples’ favourite haunts were the Mission San Gabriel and Mission San Juan Capistrano.  Alson was charmed by the decaying architecture of the two structures.

Alson Clark’s mobile studio

In 1919, the couple decided to remain in California until it was safe to return to France.  They bought a small plot of land in Pasadena and put on it what they termed “a shack”.   Over time and with an increasing love of the Californian life they had a new home and studio built.  Alson, wanted to travel around the area to paint en plein air and so bought himself a truck which he converted into a mobile studio with built in easel and large umbrella to ward off the strong sunlight.

Montezuma’s Garden by Alson Skinner Clark (1922)

When Alson and Medora moved to Pasadena, Alson was reunited with fellow American Impressionist, Guy Rose, whom he had known when they were both at Giverny.  Rose had moved to California to teach at the newly opened Stickney School of the Fine Arts in Pasadena.  He had been director there since 1918 and asked Alson to join the faculty.  Unfortunately, in 1921 Rose suffered a debilitating stroke and Alson assumed directorship of the school.

Reverie (Medora on the Terrace) by Alson Skinner Clark (1920)

The year 1921 was also the year that Alson and Medora had their first child, Alson Junior.  Alson Senior had always lived and been allowed to paint in a quiet and serene atmosphere but with the arrival of Alson Junior all that changed and once again Alson was overwhelmed by the situation and would bemoan to Medora that his painting days were over !

Road to Cuernavaca by Alson Skinner Clark (1923)

Through the auspices of Earl Stendahl, a pioneering American art dealer known for promoting California Impressionism, Alson Clark was afforded his first solo exhibition at Stendahl’s California gallery.  It was an East Coast/West Coast collaboration with Clark’s paintings being shown concurrently at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC as well as at the Art Institute in Chicago.  In 1922, after long consideration, Alson and Medora decided to make Pasadena their permanent home and so, sold their Paris studio and had all their possessions shipped to California.

After the Shower, Cuernavaca by Alson Skinner Clark (1923)

During the next several years, Alson travelled widely throughout southern California, the South-West and Mexico, the latter being one of Alson’s favourite places to visit.  His favourite Mexican destination was the southern Mexican town of Cuernavaca where he said he was influenced by both architecture and the indigenous people.

Pasadena Theatre curtain by Alson Skinner Clark (1925)

In 1925 Alson Clark was approached with a commission to design and paint the enormous theatre curtain (measuring twenty by thirty-two feet) for the newly built Pasadena Playhouse. 

Small scale painting of theare curtain

This added another string to Alson’s bow – that of a muralist.  The commission for the theatre was well received and more commissions for murals rolled in including  a series of murals on the history of California for the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles, murals at the Pasadena First Trust and Savings Bank and eight mural-size paintings for a men’s club in Los Angeles. Between these lucrative projects, Alson continued to paint en plein air in the late 1920s, and his work appeared in numerous successful exhibitions with private dealers and museums throughout the country.

Rooftops, Paris by Alson Skinner Clark (1936)

During the 1930’s Alson received numerous commissions to decorate dining rooms and libraries of private homes and designing wallpaper and although that may seem he was “selling his soul” for money, one has to remember that the country was in the depths of the Great Depression.

In 1935 he decided to drive across the country with his family, a journey that lasted twelve months.  Throughout that period Alson would sketch and paint.  In 1936 Alson and Medora made their last visit to Paris.  He was fascinated and charmed by what he saw, just as he had been when living there as a student.  One of his paintings he completed during this final visit to the French capital was entitled Rooftops, Paris, which was a view from the window of their apartment. It is now part of the McNay Art Museum collection in San Antonio. It was a gift from Medora Clark.

In 1945, Alson Clark’s health began to deteriorate due to a heart condition which also meant he was not allowed to drive, which ended his plein air painting.    In 1948 he was laid low with pneumonia which caused him to give up painting until the following March.  However, On March 23rd, 1949, two days before his seventy-third birthday, and within days of his resumption of working in his Pasadena studio, he suffered a debilitating stroke and died.  He is buried at Mountain View Cemetery, Altadena, California. Medora died on November 30th 1962, aged 81 and is buried in the same cemetery.

Much of the information I used for this blog came from an article in CALIFORNIA ART CLUB NEWSLETTER entitled An American Impressionist by Deborah Epstein Solon Ph D.

Alson Skinner Clark. Part 1.

Alson Skinner Clark

Alson Skinner Clark was an American Impressionist painter known for his landscape paintings and his murals, including at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles and the First Trust and Savings Bank in Pasadena.  He was also an ardent photographer.  He was born on March 25th 1876 in Chicago, Illinois, to Alson Ellis Clark and Sarah Clark.  He had two brothers, Mancel and Edwin and a sister, Mary Emily, who died when young.  His father was not always a wealthy man as he came from an impoverished background.  He had served in the Civil War, and then moved to Chicago where he established a highly successful commodities business at the Chicago Board of Trade.  From then, his wealth increased and he was able to provide a comfortable lifestyle for his wife and family.

The Black Race by Alson Skinner Clark (1902)

Alson showed an early interest in art and was proving to be a gifted young painter.  In an 1956 interview for The Archives of American Art, a collection of primary resources documenting the history of the visual arts in the United States, his wife recalled her late husband’s early “artistic talent” saying:

“… I think the desire to draw was always extant with Alson Skinner Clark. When he was nine or ten years old, it made itself manifest—and obnoxious as well—to the his church-going parents, for during the long Sunday sermons he surreptitiously recorded the bonnets and bald pates in front of him in the only place available at the time—the frontispiece and blank rear pages of the family hymnals…”

His family supported and encouraged him to continue with his art by enrolling him in Saturday classes at the Art Institute of Chicago when he was just eleven years old. 

Breton Village, Rochefort-en-terre by Alson Skinner Clark (1903)

One of the perks of being part of a wealthy family was the ability to travel and in 1889 the Alson Clark and his family set off on a two-year trip around the world. For Alson it was his first taste of European art and no doubt instilled in the young man a love of both travel and painting. Back in America, Alson graduated from high school, and for a short period at the end of 1895 enrolled as a full-time student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  The teaching of art at the Institute was based on the teachings at the French Academies and focused on drawing from casts and still-lifes before students were allowed to progress to drawing live models.  Alson was unhappy with the Institute’s system and after a quarrel with one of his teachers regarding the slow and arduous process of drawing from casts, Clark quit the Institute.

Despite his short but unhappy period at the Chicago Institute Alson was determined to carry on with his art and in 1896 moved to New York and studied under the tutelage of William Merritt Chase at the Art Students’ League of New York.  Despite being twenty-years-old, Alson’s mother would not let him live on his own in New York and so went with him bringing along his childhood friend Amelia Baker.  The three shared an apartment on Seventy-Seven Street and Columbus Avenue.  Alson’s mother Sarah justified this arrangement by saying:

“…For two years Mela [Amelia] and I have talked of spending a winter in New York, in Bohemian fashion, and have searched for a good reason for doing so, in vain till this time. Alson, however, came to the rescue in his desire to study art with a New York master, and made it seem a necessary thing to do…”

Early Nude by Alson Clark (1898)

When Chase opened his own school of art, Alson Clark, along with many other students, followed him.  Chase was a great influence on Alson, an influence which would remain with him for the years to come.   A painting completed by Alson, entitled Early Nude, which he completed in 1898 bears an inscription that Merritt Chase had also worked on the painting.

Mansion of Leroy de Chaumont near Watertown, New York by Alson Skinner Clark (1902)

For two summers Clark spent working en plein air at Merritt Chase’s school in Shinnecock, Long Island and it was the beginning of his love affair with plein air painting and his predisposition with the Impressionist style of painting.  In November 1898 Alson decided, like many other young aspiring artists, to leave America and travel to France to study at the famous French art academies.  The most popular art academy for visiting American artists was the Académie Julian.  However, the “rough and ready” Académie Julian was not for Alson, who commented that he found the working conditions “disgusting”.  Alson preferred to enrol at the newly opened Academia Carmen, which had been founded by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, where the business side of the school was handled by Whistler’s former model Carmen Rossi for whom, along with her musician husband, the school was named. Alson Clark was in awe of Whistler’s artistic talents and kept going to Whistler’s atelier on and off until it closed in 1901.  Alson would never to forget the teachings of Whistler.

Taking Paintings to the Salon, Paris, (c. 1905)

In March of 1899, Clark entered his first work in the Paris Salon. In a letter written the following month to his friend Amelia Baker, he described his experience:

“…Wednesday, Wilson and I went to the Salon to see the stuff carried in and all the awful things that went in—I never saw such a lot of bad painting. The wagons come up to the entrance and take their wads of pictures in and there are crowds of people watching the stuff enter. I have little hope that [my picture] will pass the jury but one can never tell as there is a great deal of “pull” in the Salon, and as I have not studied under any Frenchman I may be thrown out. I don’t care what happens although of course I would rather be in than out. Exhibitions are, after all, a farce…”

When his painting was rejected by the Salon jury, Clark feigned indifference stating:

“It doesn’t’ matter to me at all as I haven’t a reputation to make and there isn’t much honour in being in unless you get in squarely as only very few do.…”

The Violinist by Alson Clark (1901)

Despite his work being rejected by the jurists he never gave up trying to have one of his paintings was eventually accepted into a Salon exhibition for in 1901 his perseverance paid off with his painting, The Violinist being selected for that year’s Paris Salon exhibition.

Comfort Island Alexandria Bay, New York was built in 1883 by industrialist Alson E. Clark.

Whilst he had been living in America Alson Clark’s health was often very poor and was a frequent visitor to his doctor with stomach problems.  In 1901 whilst living in France he once again became ill and was advised he had to have his appendix removed.  In those days this was a serious operation and so he decided to return to America for the operation and set sail for New York on June 1st with surgery booked at a Chicago hospital that summer.  After the operation he recuperated at the family home on Comfort Island, one of the Thousand Islands in Alexandria Bay, New York.  Comfort Island, Alexandria Bay, New York was built in 1883 by his father Alson E. Clark and it is located on the St. Lawrence River in the Thousand Islands Region in what is known as Millionaire’s row.

Ile de la Cite, Paris by Alson Skinner Clark (c.1900)

In the Autumn of 1901 Alson rented a barn from the parents of his friend Amelia in Watertown a small, provincial city near Lake Ontario and the Canadian border and the closest city to Comfort Island.  This was the start of his career as a professional artist and the only one in Watertown. Now set up as a professional artist, he needed a model and he discovered that one of the local girls, Atta Medora McMullin, was willing to pose for him and her mother would act as her chaperone.  Soon love between artist and model blossomed but Alson had his doubts about being good husband material.  He wrote:

“…In the evening I would have liked to have seen Medora, but stayed home and wrote. I have no more business in marrying than the man in the moon for I am fickle and can’t help myself. It is a misfortune and not a fault.” Yet, just a few days later, he wrote, “In the afternoon she posed. I could not work as I wanted to tell her that I loved her but could not. We sat by the fire knowing each other’s minds…”

Landscape near Le Pouldu, France by Alson Skinner Clark (c.1900)

At the end of January 1902, Alson Clark professed his love to Medora and proposed marriage. She accepted.  Medora was to prove a very compassionate and supportive wife.  His first exhibition of his work was at Watertown and featured many paintings of Paris.  It was a success and he sold many works.  From there the exhibition moved to Chicago for Clark’s first major exhibition, at the Anderson Galleries.  Once again the exhibition was hailed as a great success and the Chicago Times declared:

“… Popular opinion has decided that it is a very promising display for a young artist…. Mr. Clark has a style of his own. It is suggestive of Japanese reminiscences, is refined and pleasantly frank…. The sentimental does not interfere with the boldness of using masses…”

From our Window, Paris by Alson Skinner Clark (1903)

Alson Skinner Clark and Atta Medora MacMullin wed on September 20th, 1902, and for their honeymoon they took a sea voyage to Europe on the S.S. Minnetonka.  On November 7th the couple moved into a Parisian apartment at 6, rue Victor Considérant.   Shortly after settling in, Alson’s friend, and fellow American artist, Frederick Carl Frieseke, moved in with them whilst waiting for the apartment above the Alsons to become available to rent.  Alson and Frieseke were good friends and Frieseke used to paint from the Clarks’ apartment balcony and would also occasionally use Medora as a model.  That winter Alson and Frederick painted continually so that they could build up a collection to put before the jurists at the Spring Salon.  They even split the cost of renting wagons to transport their work to the Salon.

Les Colliers (The Necklaces) by Alson Clark (1905)

Alson Clark continually acknowledged the debt he owed Whistler and wrote to him many times confirming such indebtedness.  In 1905 Alson completed a work entitled Les Colliers (the Necklaces) and the style of the work mirrored many of Whistler’s works.  It was simply Alson’s way of paying homage to Whistler’s portraiture.  In the painting we see the lady, modelled by Medora, dressed in a flowing gown with her back to us, standing beside an elegant mantlepiece.  In her hands she holds a pair of necklaces

The Coffee House by Alson Skinner Clark (1906)

One of Alson’s early industrial paintings is his atmospheric work entitled The Coffee House which he completed in 1906.  It is a depiction of Chicago on a cold winter day.  We see ice floating down the river which is overlooked by monstrous dark skyscrapers which are looming through the smoggy atmosphere.  As we look at the painting our eyes are drawn into the picture by the curved ironwork of the State Street Bridge, 

Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare, by Claude Monet (1877)

This is a typical depiction of urban realism and it is suggested that Alson may remember seeing such scenes depicted in Monet’s paintings such as his 1877 work, Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare, which highlight both the ephemeral nature of fog and smoke and the atmosphere’s effect upon the forms of the city.

………….to be continued.

Much of the information I used for this blog came from an article in CALIFORNIA ART CLUB NEWSLETTER entitled An American Impressionist by Deborah Epstein Solon Ph D.

The Hayllar Family

Having recently looked at the Barnes School, the Williams family of English painters featuring a father and his six sons, I am today looking at another talented English family of painters featuring a father and his four daughters.  Let me introduce you to the Hayllars. 

James Hayllar, the patriarch.

James Hayllar, photograph by David Wylkie Wynfield (c.1860’s)

The patriarch of the Hayllar family was James Hayllar who was born in the West Sussex town of Chichester in 1829.  Despite parental opposition he decided to become an artist and, aged thirteen, enrolled at Cary’s Art School in 1842.  Francis Stephen Cary, a noted historical painter, who had once taught Rossetti and Millais, had become a pupil at Henry Sass’ Art Academy, and he, on the death of Henry Sass, took over the running of the academy in Bloomsbury and it then became known as Cary’s Art School.

An 1851 pencil and chalk portrait of Stephen Cary by James Hayllar is in London’s National Portrait Gallery.

Cimabue’s Madonna by Frederic Lord Leighton (1853-1855)

On completing his studies at Cary’s Art School, Hayllar travelled to Europe and made a tour of the continental countries.  In 1851, whilst in Rome he met Frederic Leighton.  It is believed that Hayllar appears as one of the figures in Leighton’s monumental (2m x 5m) masterpiece, Cimabue’s Madonna, which he worked on between 1853 and 1855.

Granville Sharp the abolitionist rescuing a slave from the hands of his master by James Hayllar (1864)

Granville Sharp, who was born in 1735, was a scholar who campaigned for social justice. In 1787, with his fellow Anglican Thomas Clarkson and a group of Quakers, Sharp founded the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Sharp supported the resettlement of British and Canadian slaves to Sierra Leone, but despite reports about its moral decline and the resurgence of slave trading in the colony, maintained the view that the project was worthwhile.  James Hayllar’s 1864 painting Granville Sharp the abolitionist rescuing a slave from the hands of his master, depicts an event which occurred in 1765 and is based on Sharp’s involvement with the Abolitionist movement. In 1765 Sharp met Jonathan Strong, a slave seeking treatment for injuries sustained at the hands of his owner. Sharp took up Strong’s case and secured his release from prison when he was arrested as an escaped slave. Following this success Sharp began to research the legal status of slaves in Britain and argued on behalf of a number of slaves in court, which is why the background of Hayllar’s painting has the legal setting.

Miss Lily’s Carriage stops the Way by James Hayllar (1866)

Hayllar exhibited his work at the Royal Academy focusing on literary and historical genre but by 1866 he changed tack and began a series of extremely well-liked genre studies of children and he completed a three painting series depicting a child attending a formal party. The first of these was Miss Lily’s Carriage stops the Way. In the first painting, Hayllar depicts a young child having her cloak adjusted before she makes an appearance at her first party.

Miss Lily’s First Flirtation by James Hayllar (1866)

In the second work, entitled The First Flirtation,  we see the same young girl, Lily, enjoying herself at the party as she makes the acquaintance of a young boy similar in age to herself.

The Return from the Ball by James Hayllar (1866)

In the third painting entitled The Return from the Ball, Lily is seen being carried from the party by her mother, although her eyes are still open as she rests her head on her mother’s shoulder and we can see that the evening party has tired her out.  She still manages to clutch her lace fan in her silk gloved hand.

Castle Priory Wallingford, home to artist James Hayllar and his daughters,

 The series was well received and his standing as an artist rose.  His name was put forward as an Associate of the Royal Academy by William Powell Frith and Eyre Crowe, but he missed being elected by one vote and being very despondent regarding the outcome, never tried again.  Having given up hope of becoming an Academician he distanced himself from the Academy circle and also distanced himself from the English capital and London life in general and moved from his St Pancras home and settled down in the rural part of Suffolk at Carlton Rookery near the town of Saxmundham and in 1875 moved to the county of Berkshire and the town of Wallingford where he rented Castle Priory, a large house on the banks of the Thames.

Rivals Drink by James Hayllar (1881)

James Hayllar had married Ellen Phoebe Cavell in 1855 and the couple went on to have nine children, five daughters, Jessica Ellen in 1858, Edith Parvin in 1860, Eugenie Grace in 1861, Alexandra Mary in 1862 and Beatrice Kate in 1864.  They also had four sons, their first-born child, William Ernest in 1855, Reginald James in 1857 and their two youngest children, Thomas and Algernon in 1866 and 1868. 

Forty Winks by James Hayllar

Both parents and children led an exceptionally happy family life and they often played host to visiting neighbours and cousins.  The days were filled with games of tennis as well as artistic endeavour. The house was to provide his family with inspiration for their paintings.

The Only Daughter by James Hayllar (1875)

They were a very close family and of course, at a certain age, they would leave home and it is thought that James Hayllar’s 1875 painting entitled The Only Daughter was a reminder to him of the sad day when he “lost” one of his daughters.  The painting depicts an only daughter standing between her beloved father and the man who was to be her future husband.  His role in the young lady’s life would be to take over the protective mantle, once the role of her father and this successional responsibility is made plain by placing his head between the portraits of past generations on the wall behind him.

Lunchtime by James Hayllar

Hayller lived at Castle Priory until the death of his wife in 1899.  He them went to live in Bournemouth where he stayed until his death in 1920, aged 91.

The daughters of James Hayllar.

Jessica Hayllar

The Lemonade Drink by Jessica Hayllar

Of the nine children James and Ellen had, five were daughters and it was the female members of the family that followed in the footsteps of their father. James Hayllar and his wife’s third-born child was their first daughter, Jessica.

Fresh from the Altar by Jessica Hayllar (1890)

Jessica Hayllar was born on September 16th 1858.  She studied under her father and began to exhibit her art in 1879 and at the Royal Academy from 1880 to 1915. In the early days, up until 1900, her work was mainly depictions of domestic scenes of everyday life at Castle Priory.  Her genre scenes were described as being ones which were full of genuine charm.  For her models she nearly always used members of her family.

The Hallway with Potted Palms by Jessica Hayler (1882)

In 1900 she was badly injured in a carriage accident and was partially paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. From that moment the subject of her paintings changed and she started to paint floral still life works which often featured azaleas.

A Double Pink Azalea by Jessica Hayllar

Jessica Hayllar lived with her parents throughout her life and never married.  When her father left Castle Priory and went to live in Bournemouth she went with him.  Following her father’s death in 1920, Jessica moved to Surrey to live with her younger sister Edith Hayllar MacKay.

A Sunny Corner by Jessica Hayllar (1909)

Jessica Hayllar died on November 7th 1940, aged 82.

Alexandra Mary Hayllar

Alexandra Mary Hayllar wedding day photo (1885)

In comparison to her four sisters, Alexandra Mary Hayllar was the least prolific, and unlike her sisters, she only exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1880 to 1885.  Her paintings were mainly still life works or genre pieces which featured children.

Lawn Tennis Season by Mary Hayllar (1881)

Despite her lesser output of work in comparison to that of her sisters, Mary was extremely gifted and like her sisters, she took pleasure in pictorially depicting the domestic life of the Berkshire countryside, as lived at her parents’ house, Castle Priory, Wallingford

The Tennis Party by Alexandra Mary Hayller (1907)

On July 1st 1885, at the age of twenty-two, she married Henry Wells in St Marys, Wallingford and this change of status coincided with her giving up painting and taking on the accepted role of supportive wife, keeper of the home and bringing up the children.  The couple had six children, two sons, Henry and Guy and four daughters, Dora, Muriel, Beatrice and Joyce.  All of the children at one time or another modelled for their aunts’ paintings.

Helping Gardener by Mary Hayllar (1884)
For a Good Boy by Mary Hayllar (1880)

Alexandra Mary Hayllar died in 1950, aged 87.

Edith Parvin Hayllar

Edith Hayllar (self portrait)

Edith Hayllar was the fourth child and second daughter of the British artist James Hayllar born in 1860.   As was the case for most English middle- and upper-class young ladies in Victorian times, art was an essential accomplishment and Edith, like her four sisters, adhered to the Victorian system of four to ten art classes a day by their father and this was to guarantee a proficiency in the basic art techniques such as proportion and perspective.   They would also be given instruction in modelling, etching, mezzotint, and engraving among other media.

In the Park by Edith Hayllar

Once their art lessons were completed, she and her sisters spend the rest of their time at home relaxing, partaking in outdoor sports such as tennis, plein air painting, and even some gardening. This relaxed lifestyle featured in the depiction seen in all the sisters’ paintings

Five o’clock Tea by Edith Hayllar

Of the five sisters, Jessica Hayllar and Edith Hayllar where the most well-known painters, and like their father, James, they specialised in genre painting.  It is thought that through the depictions in Edith’s paintings of women in domestic interiors with their families gave an insight into their lifestyle. The women in her genre works were observed running a well-organized households and clearly defined a woman’s role at any given time in their lives.  Edith had not taken on the role as a spokesperson for female independence and was content with the term “female dependency”

A Cozy Corner by Edith Hayllar (1887)

Edith works of art were shown almost every year from the 1880s–1890s at the Institute for Oil Painters and Dudley’s Gallery. In 1881 she had her first piece exhibited at the Royal Society of British Artists in London and then a year later, in 1882, another of her works was exhibited in the Royal Academy of Arts.

Summer Shower by Edith Hayllar (1883)

Maybe her best-known and best loved painting was her 1883 work entitled A Summer Shower, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy Exhibition.  It depicts a young man with a badminton racket courting a woman who is reclining in a chair next to him.  Through the window in the background, we can see the inclement weather has put a stop to all outdoor sporting activities.  One critic described the work as one of the most charming genre scenes of the nineteenth century.

Feeding the Swans by Edith Hayllar

In 1900, at the age of forty, Edith married Rev. Bruce MacKay and the couple moved to Sutton Courteney.  Marriage also signalled the end of her painting career as she devoted her life to looking after the family household. Edith died in 1948, aged 88.

(Beatrice) Kate Hayllar

A Corner of the Shelf by Kate Hayllar

(Beatrice) Kate Hayllar was born on September 1st 1864 at 15 Mecklenburgh Square, London.  She was the seventh child of James and Ellen Hayllar and the youngest of their five daughters.  She, like her other sisters, loved to paint and were tutored by their father.  Most of her ideas for her work derived from the happy life she experienced when the family lived at Castle Priory, a large Thames-side house, close to the small town of Wallingford, Oxfordshire.  The family resided there from 1875 and 1899.  The beautiful interior of Castle Priory, its domestic events held there, the extensive well-laid out gardens, and the nearby countryside inspired the sisters to paint and the flowers they grew became their favourite subjects.  Kate Hayllar focused her work on small and intensely observed flower and still life subjects, many of which she exhibited at the Royal Academy and Royal Society of British Artists.

Souvenirs of Japan by Kate Hayllar (1883)

When her mother died in 1899 she gave up painting and became a nurse. She moved to Bournemouth with her father and sister Jessica. Later she went to live with her sister Mary at Wallingford, Berkshire. 

Eugenie Grace Hayllar

Eugenie Grace Hayllar was born in St Etienne, Ardèche, Rhône-Alpes, France on  August 26th 1861. She was the fifth child of James Hayllar and Ellen Phoebe Cavell.  Eugenie Grace Hayllar married Robert Fletcher Leslie and the couple had two children, Harry and Charles, born in 1891 and 1893 respectively.  Eugenie passed away on March 2nd 1943 in Wallingford, Berkshire, England. Her husband had died the year before.

I was unable to find any paintings attributed to her but we know that like her sisters she was taught to paint by her father.

Pierre Adolphe Valette

Self portrait by Pierre Adolphe Valette (1912)

I first came across the artist I am featuring in this blog through his famous English pupil, L.S.Lowry.  Today I want to explore the beautiful and very different paintings of the French artist Pierre Adolphe Valette.

Valette was born on October 13th 1876 in the family home on the rue de Roanne in the east-central French industrial town of Saint Etienne, some sixty kilometres south-west of the city of Lyon.  Saint-Etienne was a vibrant industrial centre similar to the English city of Manchester which would later become a home to Valette.  Valette’s father, Ferdinand, who was born close by in 1846, worked as an armourer at the firm of Claude Brondel and he and the family could be socially termed middle-class and were financially well-to-do.  In 1872, Adolphe’s father Ferdinand, when he was twenty-six, had married his wife, Madeleine, a dressmaker, an occupation she soon relinquished after marriage.

Pierre Adolphe Valette

Ferdinand and Madeleine had their first child, a son, Ferdinand Claude Marie in January 1873.  Their second child, Antoine Emile Edouard soon followed in September 1874 and the third child Pierre Adolphe, the subject of this blog, arrived in 1876.  The family was completed in June 1881 with the birth of their fourth child, and their only daughter, Marguerite Aglaée Nathalie. She was born with a slight mental and physical handicap and was looked after for forty-seven years by her mother.

Saint-Etienne,  École de dessin, renamed École régionale des arts industriels in 1884,

Adolphe Valette was brought up in St Etienne and like all the locals had to put up with the cold, damp and smog of the industrial pollution of this industrialised town.  The first French railway had arrived at St Etienne with its horse-drawn wagons in 1832 and twelve years later steam locomotives took their place.  Adolphe was enrolled by his father at the Ecole Régionale des Arts Industriels where he studied engraving.  It was a school, which as the name suggests, stressed the interaction between industry and the arts.  His father had hoped that Adolphe would learn all about metal engraving which could be used in the armoury sector, such as the engraving on weapons.  His studies also encompassed history and anatomy.  Valette received art tuition at Ecole Régionale des Arts Industriels from Jean Dablin, who was later become the founder of the Société des Arts du Forez’ of which Valette would become a member.  Adolphe Valette was influenced by Dablin’s choice of subjects such as works featuring industrial landscapes and coal mines.

A Lady Reading by Pierre Adolphe Valette

It has not been documented as to why Valette decided to leave St Etienne and move to Lyon.  It maybe he had exhausted the subject matter for his paintings or that he wanted to establish himself as an artist in the city of Lyon.  He worked hard in Lyon.  He worked as an engraver during the day and spent the evenings painting.  He attended evening art classes in the city and from September 1895 he was a student at the Ecole Municipale de Dessin de la Guillotière.  Whilst there he received numerous accolades for his work, receiving a silver medal for figure drawing and in the academic year of 1895/6 he came top of the class.  The following year, in a sketching competition, he received first prize, a rappel de médaille de Vermeil.  His consistency of performing well at the college demonstrated Valette’s artistic talent

Still life with flowers by Pierre Adolphe Valette (1917)

More and more awards came Valette’s way during his period at the Lyon academy.  Valette eventually left Lyon and travelled to Bordeaux.  Nobody has given a reason for this move as surely for a blossoming artist, Paris would have been the logical destination.  The Paris art scene was booming with the acceptance of the Impressionist movement.  Artists like Monet, Pissarro, Degas and Morisot were all selling their works. 

Matinée d’hiver, place Pey Berland à Bordeaux by Alfred Smith (c.1893)

Although Bordeaux was away from the great Impressionist upheavals seen in the French capital there was an influx of Impressionism by way of Pierre Cazaubon and the British painter, Bordeaux-born, Alfred Smith, whose father was of Welsh origin and whose mother was from Bordeaux. This painting above by Smith may be termed gloomy while others assert that it is atmospheric but as you will see later, Valette must have admired the work as it would influence his many works depicting the city of Manchester. Smith painted a series of works focused on views of European cities with pedestrian plying their way down wide boulevards with depictions of local transport such as cabs and trains.  They were true chronicles of everyday city life and Pierre Valette would complete similar works of the northern English city of Manchester in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Open Air Class by Pierre Adolphe Valette (1906)

Valette settled down well in Bordeaux and managed to get a job as an engraver and a professional draughtsman.  He also enrolled at the Ecole Municipale des Beaux-Arts et des Arts Décoratif, a very prestigious academy.  As before he did well at the academy and gained many prizes for his drawings and paintings.  One of his tutors at the Academy was Paul-François Quinsac, a painter of the French School known as Academic art, a specialist in mythological and allegorical subjects, figures and landscapes.  He was also a fashionable portrait painter loved by the Bordeaux upper classes.  Valette was also tutored by Charles Braquehaye in the art of drawing from a live model.  Valette continued to do well at the Academy.  The Academy gave out a number of scholarships to its best students so that they could support themselves whilst studying.  One of the most important scholarships was the Poirson scholarship named after Auguste Poirson who funded the award and bequeathed his vast collection of paintings to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux. 

Paris by Adolphe Valette

In 1903 Valette was awarded the scholarship, worth 400 Francs.  The money was to fund a trip to Japan to study Japanese art and prints and how it interacted with French Impressionism.  The four hundred franc award was not quite enough to fund the study trip but the Poirson scholarship administrators were told that Valette would fund the shortfall.  Little is known as to what happened next, except to say that Valette left the Academy that year, 1903, and because he could not raise the extra money for the trip to Japan, the scholarship money was never handed over to Valette.  That must have hurt but he was still determined to seek wider horizons in his search for a way to improve his artistic skills.   One may have thought Paris would be his destination but instead, he decided to travel to England.  Why England? Maybe it was the fact that in 1904, England and France had just jointly signed the Entente Cordiale, a series of formal political agreements that negotiated peace between England and France and there was a burgeoning admiration between the well-to-do of each nation.  It was also true that many French artists, such as Monet and Pissarro, because of the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war, had travelled to England to study the works of Constable and Turner.

Plymouth Grove by Pierre Adolphe Valette (1909)

Having arrived in England in 1904 Valette enrolled on courses at the School of Art at Birkbeck College, London in April 1905.  However, his stay there was very short and he left the English capital and travelled north to Manchester.  It is thought that Valette went to Manchester with the intention to find work as an engraver and as an artist in a connection with this industrial north-west city.  Valette was not disappointed as he quickly found work at the Norbury, Natzio printing company and secured lodgings at Plymouth Grove in Victoria Park, Manchester.  The company was all about general and colour printing which at the time was ground-breaking technology.  The company specialised in posters and trade publicity.  Whilst there, Valette produced the company’s trade calendars which were exquisite and refined works, a sort of Japanese-style art.

Manchester Municipal School of Art

Besides working at the printing company, twenty-eight-year-old Valette enrolled as a student at the Manchester Municipal School of Art in 1905.  There were five hundred students enrolled at the school. Half attending day courses whilst the other half attended evening classes.  Valette, who had a full time job, enrolled in the life drawing and engraving evening classes.  The future famous English artist LS Lowry enrolled at the Manchester school the same year as Valette but he had to start in the preparatory classes whereas, because of his experience in art, Valette entered the higher classes of the school.

Portrait of John Henry Reynolds by Pierre Alphonse Valette (1919)

Valette proved himself to be an exceptional student, so much so that the head of the academy, Richard Glazier, suggested that Valette should apply for the post of Master of Painting and Drawing.  Glazier probably liked the idea of having a proven French artist on his staff as this would an international flavour to the academy.  Valette applied and in March 1906 he was awarded the post at annual salary of two hundred and twenty-five pounds.  One of Valette’s conditions when he accepted the post that he would be a “hands-on” tutor and would be able to paint alongside his students.  This was a French teaching style, painting by demonstration, and this was new to the United Kingdom. Valette’s knowledge of the French Impressionism movement and what was happening in the French studios allowed him to breathe fresh life into the teaching of art and, at the same time, circumvent the stuffy academic way of teaching the subject.  The director and secretary for the Manchester School of Art when Valette enrolled was John Henry Reynolds and in 1919 Valette completed a portrait of the man.

Drawing from Antiques class at Manchester Municipal School of Art

The famous English painter, L.S.Lowry, or to give him his full name, Laurence Stephen Lowry, enrolled in the evening classes at the Manchester Municipal School of Art in 1905 at the age of seventeen.  A few years on Lowry took part in the Drawing from Antiques course.  The School had a large hall containing many Renaissance classical statues of male and female nudes which gave the students the opportunity to learn and produce drawings of the classical poses.  Lowry produced a number of sketches which Valette appreciated and found the time to convince Lowry to continue with his art studies.  Lowry expressed great admiration for Valette, who taught him new techniques and showed him the potential of the urban landscape as a subject.  Of Valette Lowry described him as “a real teacher … a dedicated teacher”, and added:

“I cannot over-estimate the effect on me of the coming into this drab city of Adolphe Valette, full of French impressionists, aware of everything that was going on in Paris…”

Manchester Ship Canal by Adolphe Valette

What drew me to the artwork of Valette was his impressionist style paintings depicting urban scenes of Manchester often depicting its canals swathed in a smog-filled haze over the lights and dark ironwork of the industrial city.  His painting, His Manchester Ship Canal painting, depicted the barges on the canal and managed to capture the ever-changing effects of light, cloud and movement outdoors.

Albert Square, Manchester by Adolphe Valette (1910)

Valette’s 1910 painting entitled Albert Square is an atmospheric, smog-filled view of one of Manchester’s main squares.  We are viewing it from the southwest side and in the foreground we observe the dark figure of a man, wearing a cloth cap and knee-length coat.  He is plying his trade, pushing a handcart, his figure silhouetted against the wet cobbles. In the mid-ground we see a parked a hansom cab beneath the statue of Gladstone.  The horse feeds from a nose-bag as the driver manages to take a breather.  To the left of the scene, a group of figures congregate around a motorcar parked beneath the Albert Memorial and the statue of Oliver Heywood can be seen to the right.

India House, Manchester by Adolophe Valette (1912)

Valette’s 1912 painting, India House, depicts a secluded view, looking down the River Medlock in Manchester, as viewed from Oxford Bridge and looking in the direction of India House, the large office building which is situated on Whitworth Street. The upper part of the painting is a  framed view of an archway belonging to the railway viaduct spanning Oxford Road. At the centre of the work our eyes strain to see, through the haze, the materialising form of India House, with its numerous lit up windows reflected in the water below. On the left of the painting is what used to be the Refuge Assurance building which would later become the Palace Hotel.  On the river we can see two flat barges.

York Street leading to Charles Street, Manchester by Adolphe Valette (1913)

In 1913, Valette completed his painting entitled York Street leading to Charles Street, Manchester.  It is a typical Valette style work featuring a smog-ridden industrial scene, depicting York Street, Manchester, and looking towards an arched railway bridge spanning the street, over which we can see a steam train crossing.  In the right foreground we see two labourers shovelling a pile of coal on the road and to the right, a single motor car drives along the road to the left.  The pavements are full of people.  All around are tall blackened buildings each emitting tiny lights which struggle to penetrate the smoggy atmosphere.

Ferme Sanlaville, La Combe, Blace by Adolphe Valette

In 1920 Valette resigned from the Manchester Municipal School of Art owing to ill health but remained in Lancashire for eight more years, during which time he was involved in private art tuition.  In 1928 he returned to Paris, and later moved to Blacé en Beaujolais, where he painted portraits and country landscapes. He died there on April 18th, 1942, aged 65.

Although his work contained many colourful landscape scenes and a large number of beautifully crafted portraits.   I will always think of Pierre Adolphe Valette as the artist who depicted the smog-filled urban depictions of Manchester.

The Barnes School (Part 4)

The children

Sidney Richard Percy and Alfred Walter Williams

Sidney Richard Percy

Sidney Richard Percy Williams.

The fifth son of Edward and Ann Williams was Sidney Richard Percy Williams.  He was born on March 22nd 1822 in London.  His eldest brother, Edward Charles was fourteen years old when Sidney was born.  Once again, like his brothers before him, he was taught to paint by his father and he never received any formal training. 

 Llanberis, North Wales, by Sidney Richard Percy (1871)

His childhood years were spent in or near the artist’s quarter of Tottenham Court and Brunswick Square.  In 1846 he moved to his father’s house at 32 Castelnau in the London suburb of Barnes.  It was here that he lived and worked with his father and his older brothers in a communal artist setting within the large house which had a studio which the father and sons shared.  Although Castelnau is a built-up metropolitan area now, at the time of the William’s family living there, it was at the heart of a rural countryside area, close to the River Thames.  It was an area of marshland and windmills with many small farms, ploughed fields and countryside inns.  It was an ideal area for budding landscape painters such as the Williams family.

Llyn-y-Ddinas, North Walesby Sidney Richard Percy (1873)

Sidney signed his early works of art Sidney Williams but from the age of twenty he signed his name Sidney Percy so as to set himself aside from his brothers and their paintings.  His elder brothers Henry (Boddington) and Arthur (Gilbert) had also changed how they signed their work for the same reason.  From 1842, his work was exhibited at the Royal Academy, the British Institution, and the Suffolk Street Gallery of the Society of British Artists.  He also exhibited in many of the lesser-known Victorian art venues.

Rest on the Roadside by Sidney Richard Percy (1861)

Sidney was also an avid amateur photographer, and some of his paintings show figures based on photographs that he took of gypsies frequenting the area around Barnes and Wimbledon Commons.  One such painting is his 1861 work entitled Rest on the Roadside.

Left: Detail from the painting. Right: Photo by Sidney Richard Percy

Although the painting seems to be a simple en plein air depiction of the two gypsies, the photograph which is part of the Victoria and Albert Museum collection states on its website that it may have been staged, rather than taken in an actual countryside setting, and in fact the characters in the depiction are household servants dressed up to look like gypsies. Photographs still survive that Sidney took at home of various family members.  He also took pictures of views of fishing boats and old buildings, many of which he used for his paintings.

Sidney with his wife Charlotte and their first child, Gordon Fairlam Percy Williams (1858)

Edward Williams, the family patriarch died in 1855 and two years later,  Sidney married Emily Charlotte Fairlam, one of the younger children of a large family of seven, on June 10th, 1857 in the Barnes Parish Church. He signed his name as Sidney Richard Percy Williams on his marriage certificate although he was known to the public and appears in the census records and exhibition catalogues, as Sidney Richard Percy.

Mountain Pass by Sidney Richard Perry (1872)

Once Sidney had married he left the home he had shared with his family at 32 Castelnau and moved with his wife to Florence Villa on Inner Park Road in nearby Wimbledon, Surrey.  It was said to be a substantial house on an acre and half of land, with coach house and servants quarters.  He and Emily remained there for four years during which time his wife gave birth to their four children.   The first born child was Gordon Fairlam Percy Williams who was born on April 12th, 1858.  Their daughter Edith Maude Percy Williams came next on April 14th 1859 and their third child, another daughter, Amy Dora was born on October 6th 1860.   Sidney Percy’s art had been selling well and the family finances were extremely good.  Whether it was their newly-found wealth or the fact that their family was expanding, Sidney’s wife decided they needed to move to a larger home and so in 1863, the year that their fourth child, Herbert, was born, the family moved to Hill House in the village of Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire.

Hill House, Great Missenden, where Sidney Richard Percy lived from 1863 to around.1872, and where Herbert Sidney Percy was born.

Hill House was a large, three-storey building complete with cellar and servants quarters.  It was situated in a position which boasted beautiful views across the Misbourne Valley and was an ideal starting point for sketching and painting trips into the nearby countryside. Sidney did not restrict his painting forays to the nearby countryside as he travelled extensively throughout Britain, visiting Northern Wales, Devon, Yorkshire, the Lake District and Skye continually pictorially recording the beautiful landscapes.  He also travelled to Venice in 1865 along with his friend and neighbour, the watercolour artist, William Callow.  The painting trip was brought to an abrupt end in 1866 when war broke out between Prussia and Austria, and Sidney was compelled to return to Hill House and to concentrate his painting trips to North Wales in and around the villages of Llanbedr and Arthog.

Cattle and Sheep in a Scottish Highland Landscape by Sidney Richard Perry (1851)

There was a downturn in the popularity of landscape art with the buying public and landscape artists found it difficult to sell their paintings.  Sidney suffered from this downturn in the popularity of his work in the 1870’s and the family income waned to such an extent that he and his wife could no longer live in the lap of luxury at Hill House and had to downsize in 1873 for a more modest residence in Redhill, Surrey.  They remained there until 1879 when they made their final house move to Woodseat, Mulgrave Road, in the London borough of Sutton.

On the Thames, Medmenham by Sidney Richard Perry (1847)

Sidney suffered a horse riding accident in the 1880’s and badly injured his knee when he was thrown from his horse.  The injury proved to be so serious that he had to have his leg amputated.  Sidney Richard Percy Williams died at home on April 13th 1886, aged 64, due to complications from the operation.  Sidney’s finances had been excellent in the 1870’s but at the time of his death they had deteriorated so much that at the end of 1886, his widow was forced to auction off his remaining works to try and boost her meagre inheritance.  However, Emily had to be supported in her final years by her Quaker son-in-law Fred Reynolds, the husband of their daughter, Amy Dora.   Sidney’s widow Emily died in 1904.  Sidney Richard Perry and his wife Emily Charlotte are buried at the Beckenham Cemetery on Elmers End Road, which is located in the Beckenham parish on the outskirts of London.

Alfred Walter Williams

Alfred Walter Williams

Alfred Walter Williams and his identical twin, Charles, were born on July 18th 1824 in Southwark, London.  Sadly, the second twin died a few days after birth. Alfred was the sixth son of the painter Edward Williams and Ann Hildebrandt and a member of the Williams family of painters, who also had family connections to such famous artists as James Ward, R.A. and George Morland. Alfred, who like his older brothers, was taught by his father and being the youngest also received artistic tuition from his siblings.

The Rescue by Albert Walter Williams (1859)

Alfred’s first work to be accepted by the Royal Academy was in 1843 and following that breakthrough he regularly exhibited there until 1890.  Alfred also exhibited his work at the Society of British Artists’ exhibitions.  That illustrious society was renamed the Royal Society of British Artists in 1887.

 The Castle of Ischia, off the Coast of Naples, Italy by Alfred Walter Williams (1865)

Alfred with his family had moved into a large Surrey home at 32 Castelnau, Barnes in 1846.  It was a large residence with a spacious coach house which was converted into a studio for the whole family.  

Playing Football Outside the Gun Inn by Alfred Walter Williams (1844)

Alfred was very close to his brother Sidney Richard Percy.  Sidney married Emily Fairlam in 1857 and left the family home at Castelnau and moved to Florence Villa, Wimbledon with their children.  Alfred boarded with them for a couple of years.  In 1860 he rented accommodation from Mr and Mrs Fitzsimon in their Westgate Street home in Reigate.  In 1870 he was on the move again, this time he went to Mead Vale in the Surrey town of Redhill.

Off Hastings, Sunrise by Alfred Walter Williams (1885)

On August 13th 1888, sixty-four year-old Alfred married his housekeeper, Ann Hutchence, who had been widowed since her husband died in 1862.  Ann was ten years younger than Alfred and not only did Alfred gain a wife but he became stepfather to Ann’s two daughter, Rosie who was twenty-eight at the time her mother re-married and Ada who was two years younger.  There is no record of Alfred and Ann  having any children.

Cornfield with Reapers by Alfred Walter Williams (1864)

Alfred and his family remained in their Mead Vale home until 1895 when they moved to 40 Croydon Road in Reigate, which was close to his older brother Arthur Gilbert, who lived on Canterbury Road in West Croydon.  Alas, Arthur died that same year.

The River Mole, Bletchworth, Surrey by Alfred Walter Williams.

Alfred Walter Williams died on December 16th, 1905 in the Croydon area of South London.  His wife is thought to have died around 1921.  Alfred and his wife are both buried in the Mitcham Road Cemetery in Croydon, Surrey.

Welsh Hillside Farmers Dragging Bracken by Alfred Walter Williams

Alfred Walter Williams produced grand and romantic landscapes in the best tradition of the Williams family, which through their popularity became the most successful Victorian family of painters.

Most of the information I have found for these blogs about the Barnes School came from the excellent website of Mike Clark, entitled Genealogy of the Percy, Williams and Ward families.  If you would like to read an in-depth account of the Williams family, this is a must-read.

The Barnes School (Part 3)

The Children: George Augustus Williams and Arthur Gilbert Frederick Williams

George Augustus Williams

The third son of Edward and Ann Williams was George Augustus Williams who was born in London on May 4th 1814.  He was one of the more prolific landscape painters of the Williams family.  Again, like his brothers, the only artistic tuition he received was from his father.   His work is distinct from that of the other family members as he preferred to paint depictions of riverscapes of the Thames, moonlit landscapes, seascapes and views of Kent, Wales and elsewhere.  His work was characterized by moonlight and twilight winter scenes of villages and stables, often with horses and a light dusting of snow.

Barnes Common in Winter by George Augustus Williams

George was still young when he married Caroline Smith on February 19th 1834 at St. Pancras Church in Camden, London.   It was a double wedding, in which Caroline’s sister Charlotte Matilda Smith also married her fiancé Edward Joseph Brett.  By 1841 George and his wife had a family of three sons, Walter, Francis, and Frederick and a daughter, Caroline.  The 1841 census shows that George and Caroline were living with their family on London Street in St. Mary Islington in the central part of London, next door to his brother Edward Charles Williams.  The family moved around 1844 to Liverpool Street in the Bishopsgate District of London.

Windsor Castle from the Thames by George Augustus Williams

In 1846, the family had once again moved, this time to Barnes and lived in a house that had sight of the Thames, which was a favourite subject for Augustus Williams’ paintings.  His paintings were primarily exhibited at the Suffolk Street Gallery, the home of the Society of British Artists but he also exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1841 onwards, and at many other galleries.

Early Morning near Gravesend by George Augustus Williams

In 1846 George, Caroline and their family were living with his father at No. 32 Castelnau Villas in Barnes, which at that time was a rural area near the Thames River on the outskirts of London. George continued to live there until the death of his father in 1855.  He then moved his family a short distance to another house at No. 4 Castelnau Cottages.

Farmyard in Snow by George Augustus Williams

There is, however, somewhat of a mystery as to what happened to George’s wife Caroline as she seems to have disappeared from living at Castelnau Villas from any census records after 1851.  It is possible that she left her husband, although in Jan Reynolds 1975 book, The Williams Family of Painters, she said that she believed Caroline had died. 

A Snowy Evening near Nutfield, Kent by George Augustus Williams

George continued to give No. 32 Castelnau as his address in various documents until 1855, which is the year his father died. George then at some point soon after moved to another house on the same road, No. 4 Castelnau Cottages, which is very close to his late father’s house. We know for sure that he was in the new house by the time the U.K. Census for 1861 was taken. As I said before, nothing is known for sure about Caroline’s status or whereabouts during these years at the Castelnau houses, and she was definitely out George’s life by 1854 when he appears with a new wife and a new child.

A Break in the Clouds by George Augustus Williams

George’s fifth child Albert Williams was born on August 26, 1854. The mother of the child was George’s second wife, Jane Newman, and they were shown on birth and baptism records as Albert’s parents. However, there is no official record of the marriage between George and Jane.  Sadly, Jane died of tuberculosis on February 3rd, 1855 at the Castelnau Villas, less than five months after the birth of Albert. She was buried at the age of 27 on February 10th, 1855 in the Barnes parish, which indicates that she almost certainly is buried in the Old Barnes Cemetery.

The Trespassers by George Augustus Williams

Albert Williams was baptized on March 15, 1855 at the Barnes, St. Mary parish church, about three weeks after his mother’s burial. He died the next day on March 16 1855 in Castelnau, Barnes, and as his name appears in the burial register of the Barnes parish church, he is almost certainly buried with his parents in the Old Barnes Cemetery

The Thames at Shiplake by George Augustus Williams

In the 1861 U.K. census, George Augustus Williams now listed as a widow, was sharing a household with his daughter Caroline, who never married. George and Caroline were then joined around 1877 by George’s eight-year-old granddaughter, Maud Marion Williams, who was the daughter of George’s late son, Frederick Williams, and stayed with them for the rest of their lives.

A Fisherboy with his Dog Bringing Home the Catch by George Augustus Williams

George died on May 26th, 1901, aged 87, at his home at Castelnau Villas, having lived in the same neighbourhood for more than fifty years. He is buried in the Old Barnes Cemetery in the grave of his father, and near his brother Henry John Boddington.

Arthur Gilbert Frederick William

Arthur Gilbert Frederick Williams

Arthur Gilbert Frederick Williams was born on December 19th, 1819 at Newington Butts Road in Southeast London. He was the fourth of six sons of Edward Williams and his wife Anne Hildebrandt.  Again, like his brothers before him, he was initially tutored in art by his father but also by his older siblings.  He, like his brother Henry (Boddington) Williams, attempted to distinguish himself from the other members of his family by avoiding the use of his surname, and instead signing his works, Arthur Gilbert.  His works often focused on depictions of moonlit night scenes, and stark mountain landscapes uncluttered by trees or people.

Cader Idris from the River Mawr by Arthur Gilbert

When Arthur was twenty-three, he married his first wife Elizabeth Jane Williams on January 23rd, 1843 at St. Martin in the Fields in London. She was three years older than her husband.  Although both had the same surname, there is no indication that they were in any way related.  

On the Thames by Arthur Gilbert (1848)

Their daughter Kate was born later that year, on December 17th and the following year, 1844, Arthur was baptized with his daughter Kate on Sept. 9th at the Old St. Pancras Church, the same church where his parents had been married. Elizabeth died after contracting tuberculosis on August 29th, 1849, and she was buried on September 5th, 1849 in Hammersmith. Arthur was now left to look after his five-year-old daughter.  Five years later, Arthur married his second wife, Sarah on June 28th, 1854 at the Barnes parish church. Sarah, whose father was a lawyer, was ten years older than Arthur.  Arthur and Sarah had a son Horace Walter Gilbert who was born on April 6th 1855.

Llangollen by Arthur Gilbert (1880)

Arthur Gilbert lived at different homes in the London districts of Weybridge and Hammersmith, but he lived for seventeen years at Lonsdale Terrace in Barnes, close to his brothers at the Castelnau Villas.  Arthur and Sarah moved to Redhill, Surrey with their family in 1873, and the following year he was on the move again, this time to Surrey and a large house, De Tillens, in the town of Limpsfield, Surrey.  Arthur Gilbert Fredrick Williams died on April 21, 1895, aged 75, in Croydon, Surrey, near the home of his brother Alfred. It is believed that his wife, Sarah, died around the same time.  It is thought that Arthur and Sarah were buried at the Queen’s Road Cemetery in Croydon, which is located only a couple of miles from where Arthur Gilbert died.

Gilter’s Point, Tenby, by Moonlight, by Arthur Gilbert (c.1873)

Friends described Arthur as of a shy and retiring nature.  He was a devoted family man, but completely engaged in his work as a painter. He had an exceptional inherent flair for painting and was always fascinated with the beauty of the English countryside, which he was masterful when it came to transferring what he saw onto canvas in a crisp, colourful manner, whether it be the meadows, gently flowing rivers, verdant trees or the rustic farmsteads, and delightfully contrasted the lush greens with red-roofed barns and thatched cottages. Arthur Gilbert was equally proficient at painting farm workers, grazing sheep, horses at work and cattle idly drinking water in high Summer or in the glow of Autumn. He painted en plein air and lovingly transferred his love and kinship with the countryside into his artwork.

The Bell Inn by Arthur Gilbert (1844)

One example of this is his highly gifted 1844 work entitled The Bell Inn, Arthur Gilbert which depicts a rustic village inn, nestling under a canopy of trees, a wooden bridge crossing the shallow river, with sunlight illuminating the path.  We observe a man on horseback who has paused for a drink at the inn.  Another man fishes from the bridge, and a flock of sheep head for the fields, following a horse and cart. It is a tranquil depiction, the likes of which were popular with the public who wanted to remember the gentle serenity, peace and of a time long gone by.

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Most of the information I have found for these blogs about the Barnes School came from the excellent website of Mike Clark, entitled Genealogy of the Percy, Williams and Ward families.  If you would like to read an in-depth account of the Williams family, this is a must-read.