Today I am delving into the life of the nineteenth century American painter Susan Waters. It is difficult to compartmentalise her artwork, some, however, have labelled her a folk portraitist. It is a mixture of portraiture which could be best described as quirky and animal paintings. Her art, especially her early portraiture, is certainly easily recognisable as you will see. I like its simplicity and although she will never be regarded as one of the American great artists, her depictions ooze a naiveté which is so endearing.
Susan Catherine Moore was born on May 18th 1823 in Binghamton, a small town in the Southern Tier of New York state on the border with Pennsylvania. She was one of two children, both daughters, of a cooper, Lark Moore, and his wife, Sally, who were Hicksite Quakers. As a young child Susan showed a talent for art.
Susan and her sister, Amelia, attended the fee-paying Boarding School for Females run by Quakers at the small Pennsylvania border town of Friendsville. The town had been founded in 1819 and the majority of early settlers were Quakers. At the age of fifteen, in order to afford to pay the fees for the school for her and her sister, Susan would paint copies for the Natural History course run by the school. Although the school had basic art education lessons, Susan is considered to be a self-taught painter.
On 27 June 1841, aged just eighteen, she married William C. Waters, a Friendsville Quaker and amateur artist, and he would encourage his young wife to develop her talent as a painter. She took up portraiture about 1843, when her husband became ill and was unable to support the family. She would travel around the outlying areas painting and selling portraits of the people and their children. One of Susan’s earliest recorded signed paintings is her 1843 work entitled The Downs Children of Cannonsville, New York. It depicts two children with a dog and a toy wagon in a landscape setting which includes a white house in the background. The boy on the left holds a riding crop.
In 1845, Susan completed a set of three paintings featuring the Kingman family. This signed and dated portrait of fifteen-year-old Helen M Kingman is one of the three works. The young girl is depicted seated in a stencilled chair, wearing a salmon pink dress, against a grey-walled backdrop. Note the potted plant on the windowsill, an accoutrement often seen in portraits of children.
Another in the series is a portrait of Lyman Kingman dressed in a black suit, holding sheets of paper. Behind him are shelves of books at right and drapery at upper left.
In the 1840s Susan specialized in portraits of children, and this 1845 painting, The Lincoln Children, is a depiction of three of the twelve children of Otis Lincoln, an innkeeper who was plying his trade in the small rural town of Binghamton in New York State. The three small girls are Laura Eugenie, aged nine, Sara, aged three, and Augusta, aged seven and they have been positioned in a pyramid. They are all wearing decorative dresses, adorned with eyelet and lace. One of the girls holds a peach, another a small branch in one hand and a pencil in the other while the third has a book open upon her knee. These trappings were added to the portrait to publicise the girls’ sweetness and their attentiveness whilst attending school. The fine-looking furnishings including an expensive floral-patterned carpet, the pretty plants on a stand in the right background, and the addition of the appealing puppy with its well-arranged stance coalesce and create a lovely image of domestic stability and cosiness and yet their intense expressions as they look out at us gives the painting a disconcerting openness.
The Waters’ life was complicated, flitting from one temporary home to another. They continued to reside in Friendsville for several years, but by May of 1852 they had moved to Bordentown, New Jersey. They built themselves a cottage in the Quaker community of Bordentown and although they did not settle there permanently at that time, they would return to their house in 1866.
The couple sold their Bordentown cottage and journeyed to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in 1855, returned to Friendsville four years later, and in 1866 finally resettled in Bordentown buying back their former home on Mary Street and it was here that they spent the rest of their lives. This was a base from which she taught art and produced over fifty of her later works, many of which were painting of animals in their natural settings, especially her favourite animals, sheep, and pastoral scenes. She was also an early photographer and produced many ambrotypes and daguerreotypes, which were early forms of photography. This made a lot of practical sense, as commissioned portraits were giving way to the more exciting medium of photography.
Many of the animals depicted were kept in Susan’s own yard.
Whilst residing in Bordentown Susan Waters painted animal and still life pictures in a style which was more mature and academic than her earlier efforts at portraiture. There was a greater sophistication with her depictions.
Susan also produced a number of excellent still-life paintings
and sometimes a combined still-life and animal depiction as in her work entitled The Marauders.
The artwork she produced and sold whilst living in Bordentown earned her recognition in her own lifetime. It was not just from within her local community but from outside and in 1876, Waters was honoured with an invitation to exhibit some of her paintings at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. It was the first official World’s Fair to be held in the United States. She submitted two of her animal paintings.
Susan Waters also became active in State politics when she became a member of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association, which was founded in 1867. It was in this year that Lucy Stone delivered a speech on “Women Suffrage in New Jersey” before the state legislature. This would have been a thrilling time to be involved with the movement, and Susan was elected recording secretary for the Association in 1871. She was also an Animal Rights activist.
After exhibiting successfully at the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, Susan discovered that her work was much sought after and it remained so for the rest of her life. Her husband died in 1893 and from then on Susan dedicated herself to her art. In 1899 she had to sell her home and go to a nursing home in Trenton New Jersey. On July 10th 1900 Susan Catherine Moore Waters passed away at the age of seventy-seven. Three days later she was buried alongside her beloved husband, William in the beautiful Bordentown cemetery. Of her character, her obituary noted:
“…as beautiful as her paintings … her talent she could not bequeath…”
The folks of Bordentown will remember Susan Waters as a lady of refinement, modest and unassuming. She was a lady of extraordinary ability, not just as a painter but as a writer and a speaker in the Society of Friends.
As in life itself, snobbery pervades the arts. When asked what our taste in literature is, does one admit to liking romantic fiction or, do we, to save face, rattle on about our love for the novels of Chekhov and Dostoyevsky. When it comes to our love in classical music, do we avoid saying we like the Strauss’ waltzes and the 1812 overture and, talk about our passion for Mahler and Schönberg so as to gain kudos, and to bolster our image as a music savant. Our taste in art and artists can be the same. I remember a collector of pre-Raphaelite paintings being somewhat apologetic about his taste in art maybe thinking that his love should be more on the lines of the great Masters or the avant-garde artists such as Pollock, Picasso and Miró. I remember being on a ship and talking to a passenger who was a well-known port wine producer and he was drinking a glass of port with a cube of ice in it and I queried whether that was the accepted way to drink the wine and he just said that he always drinks what he likes and how he likes it, so maybe we should not be backward in coming forward and saying what we like without fear of condemnation by the elitists of this world.
So why this long introduction to today’s featured artist? The artist I am looking at today produces paintings which many would dismiss as “sugary” or “chocolate-boxy” and yet there is a wonderful beauty about his depictions. Let me welcome you to the world of the English painter of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, Arthur John Elsley. During the middle of the nineteenth century, genre paintings featuring happy family life became very popular in England. The newly wealthy middle class chose in particular those genre paintings that depicted scenes of beautifully dressed young children with their pets in playful settings and this is exactly what Arthur John Elsley gave them. The paintings proved so popular that many were reproduced as prints, and others were often used in calendars, adverts, books and magazines.
Elsley was born in London on November 20th 1860. He was one of six children of John Elsley and Emily Freer. His father plied his trade as a coachman but had to give up the job and retire with the onset of tuberculosis. John Elsley was also an amateur artist and had achieved a standard which allowed him to exhibit his work, A Group of Horses, at the British Institution Exhibition of 1845. This Institution had been founded in 1804 for promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom. Young Arthur Elsley, like his father, developed a love of art and on family trips to the Regent’s Park Zoo he would make sketches of the animals. In 1875, aged fourteen, Arthur Elsley enrolled at the South Kensington School of Art, which later became the Royal College of Art.
In 1876 Arthur Elsley was accepted into the Royal Academy Schools as a probationer. It was during his time here that he came under the influence of the historical and biblical painter, Edward Armitage, who was the Professor of Painting, Henry Bowler the Professor of Perspective and his professor of anatomy, John Marshall.
Two years later in 1878 Elsley submitted his first painting (A Portrait of an Old Pony) and had it accepted at that year’s Royal Academy Exhibition. The one setback he had to contend with at this time was a problem with his eyesight which was brought on when he contracted measles. He remained at the Academy Schools until 1882 and on leaving he began to receive portrait commissions especially for ones featuring children with dogs and horses. Many of his portrait commissions came from the Benett-Stanford family of politicians who lived at Preston Manor in Brighton. His first known published work was a line engraving entitled April Floods In Eastern Counties printed in the Young England magazine in 1885.
Elsley became friends with Solomon Joseph Solomon, a British painter, a member of the Royal Academy and founding member of the New English Art Club. He was also a friend of George Grenville Manton, and he and Elsley shared a studio in 1876. Manton specialised in portraiture but also painted genre subjects with Pre-Raphaelitesque subjects as well as large-scale religious works.
It was through Manton that Arthur Elsley met Frederick Morgan, who was an English portrait artist and painter of domestic and country scenes. He was well-known for his idyllic genre scenes of childhood. This was also the art genre favoured by Elsley and in 1889 he moved into Morgan’s studio, and the two came to an artistic arrangement in which Elsley would paint the animals in Morgan’s paintings as this was his forte and was proving problematic for Morgan.
In the summer of 1891 the Great Exhibition was held in London. It was to be the first in a series of World’s Fairs, and within it there was exhibitions of culture and industry. The Great Exhibition was organized by Henry Cole and Prince Albert, husband of the reigning monarch, Queen Victoria. At this exhibition Elsley was awarded a silver medal in for his painting The Bailiff’s Daughter of Islington.
The following year his painting entitled I’se Biggest was published, and it was so popular that it had to be re-engraved to cope with public demand. Elsley depicted a young girl comparing her height with that of a large St. Bernard dog. Terry Parker describes the depiction in his 1998 book, Golden Hours: Paintings of Arthur J Elsley, 1860-1952:
“…one of those simple and unaffected pictures which readily lend themselves to reproduction and has so much nature and so admirable a touch of humour in it that no doubt a great number of those who admire it at Burlington House will be delighted to have an opportunity of hanging a version of it upon their walls…”
The paintings of Elsley were so popular with the public that the Illustrated London News printed one of Elsley’s paintings, Grandfather’s Pet as their Christmas choice for 1893.
Arthur Elsley married his second cousin Emily Fusedale on November 11th 1893. Emily, who was ten years younger than Elsley, had worked for Arthur for over ten years modelling for his paintings. This role, as artist’s model, was passed down to their daughter, Marjorie, who was born in 1903 and who as a young child, would appear in many of Elsley’s paintings. After the marriage Elsley set himself up in a new studio and continued with his paintings depicting young children and animals in idyllic countryside settings.
With the death of the leading Victorian painter of this genre, Charles Burton Barber, in 1894, Elsley took up the mantle as the most revered painter of children and pets. The Illustrated London News, 25 January 1896, wrote:
“…Mr. Elsley appears more distinctly as a follower, though not an imitator, of Mr. Burton Barber, differing from him by allowing his children more than a pet at a time, and going beyond the limitations of a fox-terrier, or a collie. He has a keen sense of humour, especially in his treatment of puppies’ backs, which, as students of dog-life well know, are their most expressive features…”
The close relationship between Elsley and Morgan soured around the turn of the century when the latter accused Elsley of artistic plagiarism as he believed Elsley was using his ideas in his paintings.
The First World War broke out in 1914 and for its four-year duration Elsley contributed to the war effort by working on bomb-sights in a munition factory, which put a terrible strain on his already failing eyesight. Elsley’s output of paintings dwindled and he only managed to complete four during the first three years of the war, one of which was a portrait of his daughter, which, although he would not sell it, allowed it to be exhibited at the Royal Academy.
Marjorie Elsley featured in many of her father’s paintings and I particularly like the one entitled Never Mind which he completed in 1907. The St Bernard dog we see in the painting featured in many of Elsley’s works.
In his 1998 book, Golden Hours: Paintings of Arthur J Elsley, 1860-1952, Terry Parker, who interviewed Elsley’s only child and principal model, wrote:
“…Marjorie remembers that the St Bernard featured in Never Mind was owned by Miss Mumford, a nurse who lived at South Woodford ………..Elsley was the most popular ‘chocolate box’ artist of the late Victorian and Edwardian period. The appealing quality of his paintings were easily understood and presented a cosy, idealised world of happy, smiling children and their animals…”
In the years that followed, Elsley continued to paint mostly for pleasure and exhibited some of his works until 1927. His failing eyesight eventually curtailed his art work and by 1931 the only hobby he could still manage were his love of woodwork, metalwork and gardening.
Arthur John Elsley died at his home in Tunbridge Wells on 19 February 1952, at the age of 91. At the height of his career from 1878 to 1927, Elsley exhibited 52 works at the Royal Academy.
My last nine blogs focused on female artists and in many cases their fight for equality and so, for this blog, I thought I better give the men a chance. I have gone back to the end of the seventeenth century to look at the work of a distinguished French artist whose painting genre was looked upon by the Academies of Europe as the lowest genre in the hierarchies of figurative art.
The hierarchy in figurative art was established in the wake of the Italian Renaissance for works in 16th century Italy by the prodigious Italian Academies in Rome and Florence and they were later ratified by all the major European Academies, such as the French Académie de peinture et de sculpture, which was one of the leading Art establishments of the time. The hierarchical list, the top genre being the most important in the eyes of the Academicians, was:
History painting, including historically important, religious, mythological, or allegorical subjects
Genre painting or scenes of everyday life. Landscape and cityscape art
This hierarchical listing was based on a division between art that made a cerebral effort to render visible the universal essence of things and that which merely consisted of mechanical copying of particular appearances. Basically, the list meant that Idealism was honoured and more favoured than Realism.
Let me introduce you to the Master of animal and still life painting, the French artist Jean-Baptiste Oudry. Oudry was born in Paris on March 17th, 1686, the youngest of three brothers. His father was Jacques Oudry, a painter, art dealer, and from 1706, the director of the Académie de St-Luc art school, which was the only serious competition to the more prestigious and influential Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture. He was to give all his sons their initial art tuition. Jean-Baptiste’s mother was Nicole Oudry (née Papillon).
Jean-Baptiste Oudry began his artistic studies at the age of eighteen. In 1704, he first studied with the Marseilles-based Catalan-born French painter Michel Serre, a cousin of the portraitist Hyacinthe Rigaud. The following year Oudry began a five-year apprenticeship with the portrait painter, Nicolas de Largillierre whilst also enrolling in drawing classes at the Académie de St-Luc and the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in Paris. Largilliere set Oudry the task to copy the works of the Flemish and Dutch schools of the seventeenth century. Through the teachings of Largillierre Oudry began to perfect his sense of colour and enhance his skills as a painter of still life and portraiture, both genres in which his master had rightly built up his reputation. In 1708 Oudry submitted a now-lost bust-length painting of Saint Jerome as his reception piece and this gained him the status of Master in the Académie de St-Luc.
Jean-Baptiste Oudry began giving art tuition to some students, one of whom was Marie-Marguerite Froissé, the daughter of a miroitier (a mirror-maker) and in 17o8 master and student married. The couple went on to have thirteen children, one of who, Jacques Charles Oudry, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a painter.
After completing his apprenticeship, Oudry set up his own business and concentrated on portraiture commissions and still-life painting to earn money but times were hard so he tried to paint whatever was popular with the public. He wanted to create his own style of portraiture and not be seen as just copying the style of his former tutor, Nicolas de Largillierre, who was at the peak of his fame. Oudry’s clients were mostly of the modest bourgeoisie and the lesser nobility.
His financial predicament changed for the better in 1719 when thirty-three-year old Oudry was elected to membership of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (French Royal Academy) as a history painter with his reception work, Abundance with her Attributes. Although classed as a historical painting, look at the superbly painted surrounding array of fruits, vegetables, and animals. It was this talent for painting animals and still life objects that would make him famous. His main rival in this field of painting was Alexandre François Desportes, who at the start of the 18th century had been the principal painter of these genres in France.
In 1721 Oudry completed pendant paintings Dead Wolf and Dead Roe which can be seen at the Wallace Collection in London. These masterpieces were followed by several large hunt pictures, the most notable of which was his large 1723 painting (almost five metres wide) entitled Stag Hunt which was his breakthrough work. It can now be seen at the Stockholm Royal Palace.
It was around this time that Oudry reduced the number of portraiture commissions he accepted and concentrated on his still-life and hunting scenes which were beginning to become ever more popular. He even experimented with other genres such as landscapes and cityscapes as can be seen in his 1717 painting, Fire of the Petit Pont.
During the 1720s, Oudry’s paintings of animal and hunting scenes were looked upon as the best in France and through them he even managed to impress the French king, Louis XV. Royal patronage soon followed and from 1724 onwards, Oudry spent all his time creating royal commissions. Through his honoured royal patronage Oudry became the most visible artist at the Paris Salon of 1725 and the following March he was granted his own solo exhibition at the palace of Versailles. His exhibition was a great success and this along with his paintings at the Salon led to him being offered a position at the royal tapestry works at Beauvais in July 1726 where he became the painter of tapestry cartoons. In 1734 Oudry became director of the factory and shortly afterwards he employed François Boucher as factory painter and the collaboration between Oudry and Boucher was one of the reasons for the success of the Beauvais tapestry works in the eighteenth century. During this period Oudry’s painting output declined and it was this way until 1737.
However, his work was in such great demand that he opened his own workshop which produced copies of his works for sale to the public. Between 1722 and 1725, Jean-Baptiste Oudry concentrated on his still-life and hunting scenes and would exhibit his works at the annual open-air Exposition de la Jeunesse which was held on Corpus Christie in the Place Dauphine and on the adjoining Pont Neuf in Paris which was the only public venue available to him.
The Salon in Paris was the official exhibition of art sponsored by the French government. It originated in 1667 when Louis XIV sponsored an exhibit of the works of the members of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. The exhibitions, to begin with, were not annual events, in fact they were quite sporadic with only one exhibition being held between 1704 and 1737 but from 1737 they became annual events. The Salon’s original focus was the display of the work of recent graduates of the École des Beaux-Arts and exhibiting one’s work at the Salon de Paris was vital for any artist to achieve success in France. Having one’s work in the Salon was tantamount to achieving royal favour and in the early days, before the inception of art dealers, it was the only way an artist had to sell their works. The return to annual exhibitions could be one of the reasons why in 1737 Oudry returned to painting and every year after, he would exhibit his works at the Salon.
Through his friend, Jean-Baptiste Massé, a portrait-painter and miniaturist, Oudry was introduced to Henri-Camille Marquis de Beringhen, Premier Ecuyer du Roi (Master of the King’s Private Stables), and organiser of the royal hunt, and he played a part in launching Oudry’s artistic career at court. He arranged for Oudry to have a studio and lodgings for himself and his family in the Tuileries Palace, so that he could work on royal commissions.
Oudry’s hunting scenes were very much admired by Louis XV, and Oudry portrayed the king’s favourite royal hounds, Misse and Turlu, and painted scenes of the king riding to the hunt, which was the monarch’s sporting passion.
Occasionally, Oudry painted portraits, one of which was of the twenty-nine-year old, Marquis de Beringhen. Once again, this painting is part portraiture and part still-life with dead game, a living animal, and a landscape. It typifies Oudry’s method of painting: the stylish elegance of the rococo style is combined with a perceptive sense of observation. We see the marquis sitting upon a knoll at the base of a tree. He is splendidly dressed in his linen shirt, a pale grey hunting coat lined with teal-blue velvet and trimmed with silver braid and buttons, breeches, and thigh-length boots. We see strands of his powdered hair swept back and tied with a black silk ribbon. He holds aloft a red-legged partridge in his left hand and with his right hand he strokes his faithful pointer. To the left, behind the dog we see lying on the ground a powder horn, fowling piece, game, and a game bag. To the right of the marquis, in the distance, we can just make out two women talking on the terrace of a country house, which may be pure idealization and just included as a befitting noble setting that Oudry had devised for the Marquis de Beringhen. Oudry once again highlights his artistic techniques in the way he depicts the lace of Beringhen’s shirt and the silver embroidery on his coat, and in the feathers of the partridge and the fur of the hound.
Oudry soon broke Desportes’ royal monopoly and his work output grew. In 1725, the Paris Salon held an exhibition, the first since 1704, and Oudry submitted twelve pictures, including one entitled Grand Buffet but also known as Still Life with Monkey, Fruit and Flowers, which can be seen in the bottom right corner of the November 25th, 1725 edition of the French gazette and literary magazine Le Mecure de France.
In 1726 Oudry provided twenty-six paintings for an exhibition at Versailles. His other important acquaintance, Louis Fagon, the king’s Intendant des Finances, arranged for Oudry to become the painter to the royal tapestry works at Beauvais. This was to be the start of a new direction for Oudry who over the next decade designed a number of tapestry sets, including four pieces depicting Comedies of Molière, eight pieces based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses and four panels depicting Fables of La Fontaine.
Between 1729 and 1734, Jean-Baptiste Oudry produced a total of 276 beautiful and highly finished drawings, including a frontispiece, which illustrated tales from the famous 17th century work by Jean de La Fontaine, Les Fables choisies mises en vers (Selected Fables Rendered in Verse). Each of the scenes was drawn with the brush with black ink and grey wash, heightened with white gouache, on sheets of blue paper, with each image surrounded with a wide border brushed on the same sheet in a darker shade of blue, acting as a fictive mount. These drawings, all made during this five-year period have long been recognised as Oudry’s most famous works as a draughtsman.
In 1728 Oudry began on a royal commission Louis XV Stag Hunting in the Forest at Saint Germain-en-Laye. It was a massive painting, measuring 210 x 390cms. Louis XV was a keen and knowledgeable hunter who knew the name of every one of the dogs in the pack. This work was painted for the hunting pavilion in Marly, and again it is a combination of animal painting and landscape genres. Oudry depiction set in a clearing in the forest of Saint Germain, is the moment of the halloo, the cry or shout used to attract attention or to give encouragement to dogs in hunting.
Louis XV liked this work so much that, in 1733, he commissioned Oudry to produce three tapestry cartoons illustrating the hunts. The tapestries, woven under Oudry’s supervision at the Gobelins factory, were intended to decorate the king’s bedchamber and antechamber and the Council Chamber at the Château de Compiègne. In 1738, it was decided that the series should comprise nine cartoons; the last was completed by Oudry in 1746 and delivered to Gobelins. They made two sets of the tapestries. One set for the chateau at Compiègne and the other was sold to Philip, Duke of Parma, the King’s son-in-law.
In the 1720s and 1730s, Jean-Baptiste Oudry established himself as the preeminent painter in France of hunts, animals, still lifes, and landscapes. His Painted Menagerie focused on a set of eleven life-size portraits of exotic animals from the royal menagerie at Versailles, painted by Oudry between 1739 and 1752. The paintings ultimately went into the ducal collection in Schwerin, Germany. The most famous of these is the splendid portrait of Clara, an Indian rhinoceros who had become a celebrity in mid-eighteenth-century Europe. The Indian rhinoceros, who was born in Assam and had been named Clara, caused a sensation in Europe. A Dutch captain, Douwe Mout van der Meer, brought the three-year-old rhino in 1741. It was an animal that had never been seen before in Europe and he presented her at the Saint-Germain Fair in Paris, where she inspired many artists to undertake drawings and studies of her. Jean-Baptiste Oudry’s depiction of her is life size. The grand painting was shown at the Paris Salon in 1749 and acquired in 1750 by Duke Christian Ludwig II of Mecklenburg-Schwerin together with Oudry’s series of menagerie paintings. In all, there were approximately 57 drawings by him which ended up in the possession of the court in Schwerin.
Although Oudry is remembered for his animal and hunting scenes his idealized landscape work was of the highest quality. In 1750 the Dauphin, Louis, the elder son on Louis XV, commissioned Oudry to paint a picture of rural life which would highlight the bountiful and beauty of Ile-de-France and to promote the state’s progressive agricultural policy. Later the painting became known as The Farmhouse.
Oudry was not a very wealthy man but lived comfortably. Oudry lost some of his responsibilities when Louis Fagon, the king’s Intendant des Finances, was replaced by Daniel-Charles Trudaine. Oudry suffered two strokes in quick succession in 1755. The second left him paralysed and he died shortly thereafter in Beauvais on April 30th, 1755, aged 69. He was buried in the Church of Saint-Thomas in Beauvais. His son, Jacques-Charles Oudry, trained by his father, was also an accomplished painter.
Sentimentality in art was very popular during Victorian times. I have looked at many artists whose motifs often depicted “cute” little boys and cute little girls in pretty dresses.
Even the great artists, such as John Everett Millais, with his famous 1886 painting Bubbles, realised such paintings of young children were money-spinners. This painting shows a boy blowing bubbles with a pipe and a bowl of soap suds. The boy was Millais’ four-year-old grandson, Willie James. A. & F. Pears bought the painting from Millais in 1886.
Another motif which was popular at the time in Victorian England was small animals, especially dogs. Add to that motif a touch of pathos and the painting is sold! My artist today was a master of such depictions. Let me introduce you to Briton Rivière.
Briton Rivière was born in St Pancras, London on August 14th 1840. He was the youngest child and only son of William Rivière, who was the third of twelve children, and Anne Rivière (née Jarvis) whom he had married in 1830. Briton had three elder sisters, Marion born in 1833, Henrietta Fanny born in 1835 and Annette Louise born in 1837. Briton’s love of art probably came from his parents. His mother was a still-life painter and his father trained to be an artist at the Royal Academy when he was eighteen years old and two years later began to exhibit his work at the Academy.
William Rivière was appointed Master of the drawing academy at Cheltenham College in 1849, a town at which the family then lived. There he succeeded in establishing a drawing-school which was unique of its kind, and was hailed as the best school of art outside of London. Briton Rivière’s paternal uncle Henry Parsons Rivière was also a noted watercolourist, who had exhibited his paintings at the Royal Watercolour Society, London, and the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.
Much happened in his family life when Briton was thirteen years of age. In 1853 his eldest sister Marion married and a year later his sister Henrietta, then aged nineteen died in Brighton
Briton’s father resigned from Cheltenham College in 1859, and he, his wife and two children, Annette and Briton left Cheltenham and moved to Park Town, Oxford, where he convinced the University to initiate the study of art for undergraduates and he set up his own drawing school. His son Briton studied painting and drawing at the university. Briton Rivière had some of his works hung at the Royal Academy exhibitions from 1858 onwards but he had yet to make a breakthrough with his paintings. That all changed in 1869 when he exhibited his work, The Long Sleep. The painting pulled at the heartstrings of the viewers and was an immediate hit with Victorian art lovers. It was to be first of many which featured domestic animals and their owners intertwined with a sense of pathos. In this work we see and old man sitting in his chair besides the fire. His head lolls forward on to his chest. His clay pipe, which has slipped from his life-less fingers, lies broken on the stone floor. He is not asleep. He has died and his two faithful friends, his dogs, become agitated at his lack of movement. One jumps up to lick his face in the hope that this may awaken their master but, of course, to no avail.
In 1878 Rivière completed a work entitled Sympathy. In this work we see a young girl sitting on stairs, all alone except for her beloved pet. The story behind the painting is that she has been naughty and, as punishment, has been sent to sit on the “naughty step”. The only comfort she receives is from her beloved four-legged friend.
His work, Companions in Misfortune, similarly depicts a solitary human having only his animal friend as company and for many observers of the work, they can empathise with the man as in their lives they often only have the love of an animal to look forward to.
Rivière’s painting were not always sad depictions as he had the ability to inject humour into his depictions as we see in his 1882 painting Giants at Play. Rivière depicts three men at rest, enjoying themselves by playing with a tiny young bull-pup. They tantalise the dog by dragging a feather attached to a piece of string always just out of reach of the puppy. Just a harmless game or as some will have you believe it may have been the initial stage in the training that will prepare the dog for fighting and baiting
Another humorous painting was Rivière’s 1888 work entitled A Blockade Runner in which we see a cat escape across the top of a wall to escape the clutches of its four canine assailants.
In 1894, in total contrast to these works Rivière exhibited at the Royal Academy a completely different type of work with his painting Beyond Man’s Footsteps. The setting for the painting is the Arctic, a region where no human had ventured but through Rivière’s depiction the viewer was able to imagine what it was like to be in this bleak and remote region. The foreground is dark and shadowy which contrasts with the colourful beauty of the sky brought about by the setting sun in the background. Atop the overhanging rock we see a solitary polar bear looking out over its terrain. It is thought that Rivière based the depiction of the animal on sketches he made of a polar bear he saw in London’s Regent Park zoo. The depiction of Rivière’s Arctic, free of mankind, is awesome. The Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanitarian, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Fridtjof Nansen’s narrative of The First Crossing of Greenland was written and published in 1890 and it is believed that Rivière had read the translated version and based his painting on what he had read. One passage from the book described what Nansen had witnessed during his journey:
“…when the sun sank lowest, and set the heavens in a blaze … the wild beauty of the scene was raised to its highest’. At the foot of the ‘spires’ of huge, glittering icebergs, ‘there were marvellous effects and tints of blue, ranging to the deepest ultramarine … a floating fairy palace, built of sapphires, about the sides of which brooks ran and cascades fell … in fantastic forms…”
During the 1870’s Rivière began to exhibit Classical and Religious paintings. His depiction of this classic story of George and the Dragon is somewhat unusual. Normally Saint George would be portrayed astride his horse, lance in hand but in Rivière’s work we see the dragon’s conqueror lying on the ground, exhausted, close to his fallen adversary.
His painting Daniel in the Lion’s Den was based on the biblical story about Daniel which tells how Daniel is raised to high office by his royal master Darius the Mede, but jealous rivals trick Darius into issuing a decree which condemns Daniel to death. Hoping for Daniel’s deliverance, but unable to save him, the king has him cast into the pit of lions. At daybreak he hurries back, asking if God had saved his friend. In the Old Testament (Daniel 6:20-22) the story unfolds:
“…When he had come near the den to Daniel, he cried out with a troubled voice. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions?”
Then Daniel spoke to the king, “O king, live forever!
“My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths and they have not harmed me, in as much as I was found innocent before Him; and also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime…”
However, for most people the name Briton Rivière was synonymous with painting of animals and in an interview, he did for the Chums Boys Annual in August 1897 he explained how he mastered the drawing of both wild and domesticated animals:
“…I have always been a great lover of dogs but I have worked at them so much that I’ve grown tired of having them about me. However, you can never paint a dog unless you are fond of it. I never work from a dog without the assistance of a man who is well acquainted with animals….. Collies, I think, are the most restless dogs….greyhounds are also very restless, and so are fox terriers….. The only way to paint wild animals is to gradually accumulate a large number of studies and a great knowledge of the animal itself, before you can paint its picture…… I paint from dead animals as well as from live ones. I have had the body of a fine lioness in my studio….. I have done a great deal of work in the dissecting rooms at the Zoological Gardens from time to time…”
Early in his career, Rivière became an illustrator for the Punch magazine. Briton Rivière married Mary Alice Dobell in 1867. She too was a talented painter. The couple went on to have seven children, four sons, Hugh Goldwyn, Clive, Philip Lyle, and Bernard and three daughters, Millicent Alice, Evelyn, and Theodora. In 1878, when he was thirty-eight, Rivière was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Arts and three years later, a Royal Academician. He stood for election to become President of the Royal Academy but failed in his bid – the position being awarded to Edward John Poynter.
Briton Rivière died in London on April 20th 1920, aged seventy-nine.
My blog today stems from a visit I made to an art gallery in one of our major cities, Manchester. I have been to the two main galleries, the Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth Art Gallery, in the city before, but I had never been to the Salford Museum and Art Gallery. The Salford Museum and Art Gallery was the UK’s ‘first free public library’, which opened in January 1850, followed in November by a museum and art gallery. The building was a mansion house known as Lark Hill, which had been built in the 1790s and has given its name to our famous Lark Hill Place; a Victorian street within the museum.
I had originally thought of featuring five or six of my favourite paintings from the gallery but the more I looked at one of the works of art, the more I wanted to know about other works the artist had produced. The painting in question was Famine and the artist was the Victorian painter John Charles Dollman, who I had not heard of before. I was intrigued by both artist and the atmospheric painting and I needed to find out more. Dollman, during his lifetime, was a celebrated artist but since his death just over eight decades ago he has almost been forgotten, so let me introduce you to a very talented Victorian artist.
John Charles Dollman’s ancestors originated in France where their surname was spelled ‘Doleman’. Both Dollman’s grandfather and great-grandfather were prestigious hatters to the British royal family and it is believed that their work was well-liked by the courtiers. Dollman’s father, also John, and his wife Mary lived on the south coast of England, in the East Sussex coastal town of Hove where they had a bookstore and ran a stationery business. John Charles Dollman, their first son, was born on May 6th, 1851 one year after his sister, Selina, was born. Ten years after John entered the world the family had expanded by a further four children, with the addition of Thomas Frederick, Herbert Purvis, Gertrude Eleanor, and the six-month old baby, Kate Maria.
By the time John Dollman was a teenager his artistic talent had been recognised. Some of his early work featured animals and at one local exhibition the art critic of the Brighton Guardian commented on Dollman’s work:
“…Mr Dollman’s forte seems to be for animal drawing. The strong-looking limbs, the well-rounded forms, and the symmetry of the horses show them to be types of a thoroughly serviceable animal…”
Dollman studied art at both South Kensington and the Royal Academy Schools and soon gained a reputation as an animal painter and many at the time saw him as a natural successor to the renowned animal painter, Edwin Landseer. Many of Dollman’s works featured dogs and the plight of stray dogs. An early painting by Dollman completed in 1871, entitled The Dogs Refuge, was a classic example of this genre and is housed in the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.
Dogs had been companions to humans for tens of thousands of years but the acceptance of one as part of a family really only came about during Victorian times. With this sentimentality over the dog came the concern for the fate of abandoned animals roaming the streets and it was this concern that led to the foundation of homes for these canine waifs. In 1860, the Temporary Home for Lost and Starving Dogs opened its doors in Holloway. London which eventually moved south of the Thames and became the well-known Battersea Dogs Home. Paintings featuring abandoned dogs pulled at the heart strings of the Victorians and were in much demand. Another work featuring the plight of stray dogs is his painting Table d’Hote at a Dogs Home which was exhibited at the 1879 Royal Academy and is now housed at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.
Probably his most famous works was one which also featured animals. It was the atmospheric painting entitled A London Cab Stand which he completed in 1888 and is now housed at the London Museum. It is a depiction of a group of forlorn-looking horses tethered to their cabs standing in pouring rain awaiting their next fare. The work is often known as Les Miserables for obvious reasons. Dollman composed at least three variants of this picture.
Dollman was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy for over forty years from 1870 to 1912, and was elected a member of the Royal Watercolour Society. To subsidise his income from selling his art he worked as an illustrator for magazines in the 1880’s such as the British weekly illustrated newspaper, The Graphic. In some artistic quarters Dollman was referred to as a “black and white artist” which undoubtedly was based upon the amount of illustrations he did for newspapers and magazines.
As I said earlier this blog was brought about when I saw Dollman’s haunting oil painting entitled Famine, which he completed in 1904. It depicts a tall emaciated figure going forward through a wasteland whilst being surrounded by hungry wolves and ravens. It is a troubling work of art and one wonders what it is all about. Some believe it is all about starvation with its visualisation of death in the form of the grey shrouded man who is being surrounded by ravenous wolves. The artist, on the other hand, said he intended it to portray a famine of human spirit, or death of the soul after its neglect. One amusing story behind this painting is that Dollman went to the zoo to sketch wolves for use in the painting but was disappointed to find that they all seemed well fed and all of them were too healthy-looking, which did not fit in with the idea of the work!
Many of Dollman’s illustrations featured Viking mythology. His work conveys a powerful sense of drama. In 1908 Ethel Mary Wilmot-Buxton used eight of Dollman’s images in her book Told by the Northmen, and in the following year nine were reproduced in Hélène Adeline Guerber’s Myths of the Norsemen: From theEddas and Sagas. One of these illustrations which Dollman completed around 1908 was Frigga Spinning the Clouds. Frig, or the anglicised version of the name, Frigga, which translated means “beloved” was the wife of Odin, the chief of the gods and thus she was the highest ranking of Aesir goddesses.
There is a woman who weaves in the sky
See how She spins, see Her finger fly
She’s been before us from beginning to end
She is our mother, lover and friend
She is the weaver and we are the web
She is the needle and we are the thread.
From the poem Changing Woman by Adele Getty
Frigga was goddess of the clouds, and was usually depicted as wearing either snow-white or dark garments, which was dependent on her disposition. She was queen of the gods, and she alone had the privilege of sitting beside her husband, Odin, on the throne, Hliðskjálf, which in Norse mythology was the high seat of the god Odin allowing him to see into all realms. From that lofty throne it was said she too could look over all the world and see what was happening, and, according to the belief of our ancestors, she possessed the knowledge of the future. Although she often appeared seated beside her husband, she preferred to remain in her own palace, called Fensalir, where she assiduously worked her jewelled spinning wheel producing golden thread and weaving long webs of bright-coloured clouds. Fensalir was also where Frigga invited husbands and wives who had led virtuous lives on earth, so that they might enjoy each other’s companionship even after death, and never be called upon to part again.
Paintings since the days of the cave drawings have been a means for us to learn about the past. Paintings are often pictorial histories and without them the past would have been just our imagination gleaned from what we read but we lacked the graphic detail. If we look at the seventeenth century Dutch and Flemish genre paintings we get an idea what life was like for the peasant classes in those days. At the other end of the scale, in the eighteenth century paintings by the likes of Francois Boucher we get an idea of how the well-off lived in France. Whereas the paintings looking at life of the rich could well be more stylised versions of the truth with elaborate furnishings added to the picture to enhance the status of the sitters, the peasant paintings were more realistic and it is this realism in a painting that appeals to me. Add a story behind what we see before us as in narrative paintings then it is the icing on the cake.
Narrative art is art that tells a story. It may be a single moment in a continuing story, often based on history, mythology or the Bible or as a sequence of events unfolding over time, such as the set of six paintings entitled Marriage a’la Mode by William Hogarth. Narrative paintings were especially popular in the Victorian era and John Dollman produced a classic entitled The Immigrant’s Ship in 1884. In the painting, we see a young girl playing with a doll whilst her exhausted mother, who is almost drained of life, tries to get some rest as she leans her head on her husband’s shoulder. He stares blankly at the wooden deck of the ship as if he wonders what they have all got themselves into and what was their future. Unlike the wealthy man, who is sitting nearby with a top hat on his head, his family is living in very cramped quarters in the lower deck, a space which probably measured only a couple of square meters. Beggars cannot be choosers, and this family was almost at beggar-level having received an assisted passage so that they could make a new life for themselves in Australia. For people travelling on an assisted place this was no luxurious cruise. Such passengers had to provide their own bedding and eating utensils and were fed biscuits, gruel, potatoes and occasionally preserved meat.
Dollman captured a very poignant moment in history with his 1913 painting entitled A Very Gallant Gentleman which depicts Captain Laurence “Titus” Oates walking out to his death in the blizzard, on Captain Scott’s return journey from the South Pole, in March 1912. Oates had been suffering from severe frostbite which became so severe that he could hardly climb into his sleeping bag and the “killer”, gangrene, had set in. Oates realised his physical condition was now hampering his three other colleagues’ safe return and he pleaded with them to leave him behind, but they refused. The next day he awoke, and knew what he must do. He left his colleagues knowing that this may help them and uttered his immortal line:
“…I’m just going outside; I may be away some time…”
Captain Scott recorded in his diary that day that Oates had gone out into the blizzard never to be seen again. The final three members of the expedition party struggled on for a few more days before they too died before ever reaching safety.
John Charles Dollman died in London on December 11th 1934 aged 83. In his will he bequeathed a sum of ten thousand guineas to the Royal Academy to fund scholarships for promising young artists. Dollman was a most amazing and yet forgotten artist.
When I looked at works by Gabriel Metsu in a recent blog I featured a couple of scenes which depicted hunters. Scenes with hunters were very popular at the time especially with the upper classes and nobility as hunting was a pastime of the rich and so any painting which depicted the hunter alluded to wealth. Hunting in the eyes of the nobility was one of the last symbols of class distinction. It was not just the portrayal of the hunter and the hunt which was popular with the wealthy classes but also the portrayal of the hunted – the prey and the hunting dogs. Today I am featuring the works of the French painter and decorative designer who specialised in animal paintings. Alexandre-François Desportes.
Alexandre-François Desportes was born in Champigneulle, a small town fifty kilometres south of Reims, on February 24, 1661. His father was a farm labourer. When François was twelve years of age his father sent him to Paris to live with his uncle. Shortly after his arrival at his uncle’s home he took ill and was confined to bed. To while away his time his uncle gave him an engraving and told his nephew to try and copy it. François’ effort was so good that his uncle arranged for him to study art under the Flemish painter Nicasius Bernaerts. Bernaerts was an accomplished artist who had studied with Frans Snyders, the Flemish painter, famous for his depiction of animals and hunting scenes. Bernaerts carried on the painting tradition of Snyders and had worked at Gobelins, the Parisian tapestry manufacturers, where his cartoons of animals were often used as designs in their tapestries. He was to greatly influence the future work of François Desportes. Whilst studying under Bernaerts, Desportes was put to work copying Flemish paintings, particularly those depicting animals and hunting scenes. He was also encouraged to sketch flowers direct from nature and paint floral still-lifes. Desportes never found this period of his life very fulfilling as Bernaerts, who although only in his mid-fifties, was often ill and his health was further impaired by his alcoholism and very rarely offered practical advice or assistance to his students. Bernaerts died in 1678, aged 58. After the death of Bernaerts, Desportes continued his artistic training at the Académie Royale where he was able to learn about traditional classical drawing but was also able to continue with his favoured painting method – en plein air. Desportes had to fund his schooling, as well as buy food and pay for his lodgings, and to do this he earned money by designing stage scenery, gained portrait commissions and commissions to paint decorations in Paris hotels
During the 1680’s he assisted the French painter Claude Auran III in supplying paintings for Louis Joseph de Bourbon, Duc de Vendôme’s Chateau d’Anet. Artists survive on commissions and without commissions they struggle to make ends meet. France at the end of the seventeenth century struggled financially as it had been a century of costly wars. France and Spain clashed during the Franco – Spanish war (1635 – 1639) and again between 1683 and 1684 during the War of Reunions. The French and the Dutch clashed between 1672 and 1678 and France went into battle with most of its neighbours in the War of the Grand Alliance (1688-1697). Wars cost money – lots of money and in consequence, the French government had no money left for grand artistic endeavours, which meant that lesser known painters, who had yet to establish their reputation, struggled to make a living. Desportes did struggle but despite his financial hardship, Alexandre-François Desportes married Eléonore-Angélique Baudet. His wife was a linen and lace maker and through her occupation she was able to support her husband and allow him to search out commissions and carry on with his studies.
Desportes luck changed when in 1695 he received an invitation from the French ambassador to Poland to come to the court of the Polish king John III Sobieski who was also the Grand Duke of Lithuania. Desportes was commissioned to paint portraits of the king, his wife Maria Kasimiera and some of the palace courtiers. His stay at the royal court lasted less than a year as the Polish king died in June 1696. Desportes was summoned to return to France by Louis XIV. Desportes had spent a number of years painting portraits of wealthy people and he intended to carry on doing this when he returned to his homeland. However he soon found that the art establishment was awash with highly skilful portraitists and realised that it would be difficult to obtain portraiture commissions and so he decided to revert back to the training he received from Nicasius Bernaerts – the depiction of animals and still life painting and as a twist to this he would incorporate the two in his artistry. In August 1699 Desportes was received into the Académie Royale as an animal painter and his reception piece was Self Portrait as a Hunter. The painting, in which we see the thirty-eight year old artist seated in a landscape with his two hunting dogs and a large array of dead game, was a move away from the normal self-portrait as he has used the setting and what has been included in the work was a tribute to his own skill as a specialist animal painter as well as being a talented landscape artist. He was advertising his abilities!
Louis XIV had started to have his palace at Versailles built in 1664 and he decided to incorporate a menagerie within the palace’s park. The design of his menagerie was in line with other Baroque menageries of the time with its circular layout, in the centre of which was a magnificent pavilion. People were able to walk along the paths which surrounded this central building, and alongside them were the cages which housed the wild animals. The king had been very impressed with the animal paintings of Desportes and commissioned him to complete five works of art which depicted animals and hunting scenes for the menagerie pavilion. Desportes, like a present day method actor who immerses himself into his character, often went on hunting trips with Louis XIV so that he could realise the thrill of the hunt. During the hunt he would carry with him a small notebook in which he would make on-site sketches of the hunt “trophies” – the dead animals, which could then be used later for still-life depictions of the game that resulted from the day’s hunt, Louis XIV would then choose the best sketches and Desportes would go off and complete an oil on canvas painting of the king’s chosen subject. Four such paintings, Deer Kill, Boar Hunt, Wolf Hunt and Hounds Guarding a Dead Deer, still survive and are housed in the private Paris museum, Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature).
Louis XIV was so pleased with these paintings that in 1702, he commissioned Desportes to paint six works, portraying the portraits of the hunting dogs which were his personal favourites. In one such work entitled Bonne, Nonne and Ponne we see the king’s three favourite hunting dogs chasing and flushing out pheasants and partridges from the long grass. The king was so pleased with the work Desportes produced for him that he awarded him a pension and two years later he made Desportes a councillor of the Académie Royale.
Desportes reputation as an artist spread outside of France and soon he was in high demand. In 1712 he visited London and stayed for six months working on commissions. When Louis XIV died in 1715, Desportes carried on working for the Regent of France, Philippe, Duc d’Orleans, who was ruling for the infant Louis XV, the grandson of Louis XIV and over time provided many paintings for the royal residences at Versailles, Marly, Meudon, Compiègne and Choisy. It was not just hunting scenes that Desportes had mastered for he also spent time painting still-life works featuring the dead “trophies” brought back from the hunt cleverly arranged alongside floral displays or displays of vegetables lying on a table or even in landscape settings. Two such paintings, Dog, Dead Game and Fruit and Dog with Flowers and Dead Game completed in 1715, can be seen in the Wallace Collection in London.
These pendant pictures were commented on by the Revue Universelle des Arts in 1857 as being:
“…incontestably the finest which came from the brush of Desportes…”
The two works were bought by Captain Richard Seymour-Conway, the 4th Marquess of Hertford in 1857 for his country house, Château de Bagatelle, in France and at the time he commented on his acquisitions saying:
“… a little rubbish for the country…. beautiful of the sort and perfect for my shooting place…”
There is an interesting connection between the buyer of these paintings and where they are housed today for the purchaser of the paintings, Lord Hertford, also owned a house in London known as Manchester House, situated in Manchester Square. He was an avid art collector and built up a sizeable collection of European art. On his death in 1870, his illegitimate son, who had acted as his secretary, Sir Richard Wallace, inherited his father’s unentailed estates, and large collection of art in 1871. Wallace added to the collection himself, and in 1897, after his death, the works of art were donated to the nation by his widow. They are now housed in what was his London home, Hertford House, Manchester Square, London, and are part of the Wallace Collection.
Several of his still-life paintings which combined game with fruit or flower displays also featured some beautiful pieces of silverware which came from Louis XIV’s collection. One such painting is entitled Still Life with Silver and was completed around 1720. Before us is a buffet laid out with an array of objects in silver, porcelain, and semi-precious stone as an array of fruit. The gold and silver vessels are displayed on a tiered console table which is weighed down with fruit and flowers. The composition is monumental in scale, measuring 262cms x 187cms (almost 8ft x 6ft). This is what one might have seen as a centrepiece on the table if we had attended a royal banquet. At the centre we can see the dragon-handled tureen and vermeil salvers both of which are in the Régence style of 1715-23.
Alexandre-François Desportes died in April 1743, aged 82. He left a legacy of paintings and sketches as well as his cartoons which were used as designs for tapestries made up at the famous Parisian tapestry company, Gobelins. Many of his designs were also used at the Savonnerie company, the Parisian carpet factory at Chaillot, which manufactured the most prestigious European manufacturer of knotted-pile carpets.