The Allure of Dieppe for the Great Artists

Dieppe

Dieppe is a coastal town in the Seine-Maritime department in the Normandy region of northern France.  It is a seaport on the English Channel at the mouth of the river Arques, which is famous for its scallops, and has a regular ferry service to Newhaven in England, Dieppe has a popular pebbled beach, a fifteenth century castle and the churches of Saint-Jacques and Saint-Remi.  In my blog today I am looking at the French town and its association with French and British artists who made the coastal town a favoured meeting place.  The cross-Channel connection between the artists of the two countries came about with the British contingent arriving in Dieppe from London by way of Brighton or Newhaven.  One of the earliest travellers on this route was the English marine and landscape painter, etcher, illustrator, author and a leading member of the Norwich School of painters, John Sell Cotman, who arrived in the French town in 1817. The crossing from Brighton had taken him forty-two hours.

Dieppe from the Heights to the East of the Port by John Sell Cotman (1923)

Cotman was born in Norwich, the son of a silk merchant and lace dealer.  He was educated at the Norwich Grammar School where he displayed an early talent for art. Although it was intended that he followed his father into the family business John was determined to achieve a career in art and moved to London in 1798, where he met artists such as J. M. W. Turner, Peter de Wint and Thomas Girtin, whose sketching club he joined.

The-Chateau of Dieppe and the Prison, Normandy, seen from the Beach by John Sell Cotman (1817)

Cotman travelled to Dieppe in 1817 and 1818. On his initial trip he arrived at the French port on June 20th and stayed five days at the Hotel de Londres.  On his second visit the following June, he just remained long enough to pass customs formalities, renew friendships and then set off inland.

East End of the Church of St Jacques at Dieppe, by John Sell Cotman (1819)

One interesting painting featuring a building in Dieppe by Cotman is his 1819 painting entitled East End of the Church of St Jacques at Dieppe.  The church was built in the late twelfth century to become a stage for the pilgrims of the way to Saint Jacques de Compostela.  The church is seen from a close angle.  Cotman’s viewpoint is in a confined street at the rear of the building and must have been challenging to try to sketch it.  Because of this difficulty, Cotman reduced the height of the structure in his depiction.   To the left we see the buttresses with an open square to the right, and a ramshackle lean-to building against the walls in front.  In the foreground two women are seen driving a donkey loaded with panniers of laundry.

East end of the Church of St Jacques at Dieppe today

Another English artist who visited Dieppe was Turner.

Dieppe Harbour by J.L.Turner (1826)

Joseph Mallord William Turner visited the French fishing port of Dieppe, in Normandy, on two occasions making preliminary sketches, before he completed his painting, The Harbor of Dieppe: Changement de Domicile​, at his London studio.  Although modernisation had come to Dieppe in the form of steamboats, Turner chose to exclude them from the depiction and instead focused on the vibrancy brought about by the  arrival of hundreds of people parading along the quayside which is glowing in the sunlight.  This bright golden tones of the depiction was criticised by journalists of the time considering them more appropriate to a southern climate. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy Exhibition and is now part of the Frick Collection in New York.

Changement de Domicile

The French subtitle Turner assigned the painting, Changement de Domicile meaning change of home address may refer to the couple in the right foreground, who we see loading or maybe, unloading household objects from a boat. Turner completed the painting in 1826, a year after exhibiting it in the Royal Academy, along with its companion piece Cologne: The Arrival of a Packet Boat: Evening, one set at dawn, the other at dusk. As with most of Turner’s paintings, the composition was drawn from sketches made in situ, dating back to his 1821 trip to France.

Chateau d’Arques by Turner
Chateau d’Arques by Turner

Turner completed a number of watercolour paintings featuring the Chateau d’Arques, which is situated seven kilometres south-east of Dieppe. It is a 12th-century castle in the commune of Arques-la-Bataille in the Seine-Maritime département of France.

L’Hotel Royal, Dieppe by Walter Sickert (1894)

Another artist who depicted the French coastal town in his paintings was the German-born English painter, Walter Sickert.  Sickert was fascinated with this popular Normandy resort and was a regular visitor for over forty years.  He was so much in love with the town that he lived there between 1898 and 1905.

Dieppe Harbour by Walter Sickert

Sickert’s first trip to the French coastal was shortly after he married Ellen Cobden and was with his new wife during their honeymoon in 1885.  His first depictions of Dieppe were of the harbour and beach scenes.

Le Pollet, Dieppe by Walter Sickert

For Sickert, the town of Dieppe became too popular with visitors during the summer months and so he steered clear of the bustling tourist streets and spent time amid the local fishing community which lay east of the harbour, which was known as known as Le Pollet, a district of Dieppe located in the valley, on the right bank of the mouth of the coastal river Arques which flows into the English Channel.

In Sickert’s House, Neuville by Harold Gilman (1907)

In 1899, soon after his separation from his first wife Ellen Cobden, Sickert settled with a local fisherwoman named Augustine Villain and her family in Neuville, a suburb just beyond Le Pollet. An artist friend of Sickert, Harold Gilman, and his family stayed in Sickert’s house at Neuville, outside Dieppe, from the summer of 1907 and whilst there, he took the opportunity to depict the interior of the house.

The Blind Sea Captain by Walter Sickert (1914)

The friendships Sickert developed whilst living in Neuville and Le Pollet were very different to the circle of friends he had made in the more up-market area west of the town. He even learnt to speak in the ancient dialect of the fishing community and many of his works depicted the local people of the area.

Pays de Caux by Richard Parkes Bonington (1823)

Cauchois is a prominent dialect of the Norman language. The Pays de Caux is one of the remaining strongholds of the Norman language.  One of the main towns of this large area is Dieppe.  The English Romantic landscape painter, Richard Parkes Bonington, had moved to France at the age of 14 and so, is often considered to be a French artist.  His landscapes were mostly of coastal scenes, with a low horizon and large sky, which highlighted the brilliant way he handled light and atmosphere.   In his painting, Pays de Caux: Twilight, we see before us a wide empty seascape at twilight, with some cliffs to the left, and with it being low tide we are able to see the flat beach which stretches into the distance.  The horizon is low, and the pale, cloudy sky almost overwhelms the painting.  In the central foreground there is a dark group of figures on the shore.

The Fish Market, Dieppe by Louis-Gabriel-Eugene Isabey (1845)

It was not just the works of English painters who featured life in Dieppe. The French painters also selected the town for their depictions. Louis-Gabriele-Eugène Isabey was among the first of the nineteenth-century French painters to be stimulated by Dieppe and the Normandy coast.  Although the title of this work suggests a fish market in Dieppe it is thought that Isabey was influenced more by the Dutch and Flemish still life paintings.  The painting illustrates Isabey’s competent use of shadows and darker tones, which results in a contrast with the more brightly lit areas, such as the fish stall.  It also creates an effect of distant space, framing the clifftop chateau which we can just about see in the background.

The Harbour of Dieppe by Charles-François Daubigny (1877)
The Port of Dieppe by Daubigny (1866)
Fishing Harbour Dieppe by Daubigny

The French painter, Charles-François Daubigny, also completed many depictions of Dieppe Harbour.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the city of Dieppe was a magnet for artists who wanted to depict its pebbled beaches, colourful harbour, and the many Renaissance château around and about. The great artists such as Turner, Delacroix, Daubigny, Pissarro, and Whistler all stayed for a time in the northern French town, which was a centre of transportation between Paris and London with it being positioned on the English Channel in Normandy.

Henry Clay Frick

The wealthy industrialist, financier and avid art collector, Henry Clay Frick, had bought paintings depicting views of Dieppe by Daubigny and Turner in 1904 and 1914, respectively which were then put on show in his New York Gallery. 

The Frick Collection, New York.

The Frick Gallery has now added a third, View of Dieppe Harbour, an 1873 watercolour and graphite drawing of the French city by the French painter, Antoine Vollon.  The Frick Collection received the work from the pre-eminent Vollon scholar, Dr. Carol Forman Tabler, in memory of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Alexander A. Forman III.

View of Dieppe Harbour by Antoine Vollon (1873)

This watercolour by Vollon depicts a panoramic view of the city from the southern side of the port’s inner harbour, looking north. At the centre, we see the Gothic church of St. Jacques. To the left we catch a glimpse of Dieppe’s white cliffs and the château rises in the distance.  This vantage point used by Vollon afforded him a view not of the usual scenic beaches and magnificent ships but instead we see rough-hewn buildings and small fishing boats. We see the masts of the tiny figures of the fishermen on the shore. The two women in the foreground wear the headdresses, billowing skirts, and clogs which were typical of female attire of the residents of Le Pollet.

Harbour Scene, Dieppe (Le Port de Dieppe) by Gaugin (1885)

Paul Gaugin completed his painting entitled Le Port de Dieppe in 1885.  It depicts choppy sea in the foreground, which he painted in pale greens, blues and yellows. Through the middle-ground we see a number of small sailing boats moored in the harbour.  There are buildings on the quayside, some of which are coloured pale yellow, blue or white.  In the background to the left is the church of Notre Dame des Greves.

L’Eglise de Varengeville à Contre-Jour by Monet (1882)

Monet completed his painting The Church at Varengeville, Grey Weather, (L’Eglise de Varengeville à Contre Jour) in 1882. Monet loved painting depictions of the sea and the cliffs and he knew that this subject matter was guaranteed to appeal to Parisian collectors. He often travelled to the Normandy coast in the north of France during the 1880s, painting rocky shorelines and breathtaking vistas in the popular tourist towns of Dieppe, Étretat, and Pourville. In nearby Varengeville-sur-Mer, five miles west of Dieppe, Monet came across this mariners’ church perched atop a steep cliff overlooking the English Channel. He set up his easel on a hillside opposite the church and painted three versions of this scene at various times of day and under different atmospheric conditions.  He was to use this system later with his depictions of his haystacks and Rouen Cathedral series of the 1890s.

The Shore, Pourville by James McNeil Whistler (1899)

Lying just west of Dieppe is a former fishing village, which became Pourville-sur-Mer in the early nineteenth century.  It was a popular resort in Normandy. The village attracted many talented artists, one of which was Claude Monet, who completed several landscapes paintings of the area. 

In the summer of 1899, James McNeil Whistler stayed with his ward, Rosalind Birnie-Philip, and her mother at the Pavillon Madeleine, Pourville-sur-Mer, whilst he was convalescing from a recurrent illness. Apart from brief excursions elsewhere, he remained from the end of July until 26th October. While he was there, he painted a series of nine small seascapes on panel, thinly brushed, and subdued but refined in colour.

View of Dieppe by Spencer Gore (1906)

Spencer Frederick Gore was a British painter of landscapes, music-hall scenes and interiors, usually with single figures. He was the first president of the Camden Town Group and was influenced by the Post-Impressionists.  He seems to have first visited Dieppe in 1904 whilst on a trip to the Normandy coast with Albert Rutherston and Walter Russell. Rutherston, who knew Walter Sickert through his elder brother, suggested that they visit him there, and thus two of the key figures of the Camden Town circle met for the first time. In 1906, the year of the painting, Walter Sickert lent Gore his house in Dieppe for the summer, and during this trip Gore produced a number of studies of the town. In his 1906 work entitled View of Dieppe which depicts a view overlooking the town, it can be seen that Gore was gradually exploring the broken brushstrokes and concentrated colour that he so much admired in the paintings of his friend Lucien Pissarro.

Beach Scene, Dieppe by Charles Conder (1895)

Charles Edward Conder, an English-born painter, lithographer and designer, was born in Tottenham, Middlesex in 1868. He emigrated to Australia and was a key figure in the Heidelberg School, arguably the beginning of a distinctively Australian tradition in Western art.

Dieppe by Charles Conder

He spent several years as a young child in India until the death of his mother in Bombay, when Charles was four/ He was then sent back to England and attended a number of schools including a boarding school at Eastbourne, which he attended from 1877.  He left school in 1883, at the age of fifteen and his father decided that his son should follow in his footsteps as a civil engineer.  The following year Charles Conder was sent to Sydney, Australia, where he worked for his uncle, a land surveyor for the New South Wales government. Charles hated the work although he enjoyed painting and sketching landscapes. In 1886, he left the job and became an artist for the “Illustrated Sydney News”.

Dieppe by Charles Conder

In 1890, he moved to Paris and studied at the Academie Julian, where he befriended several avant-garde artists. He spent the rest of his life in Europe, mainly Britain, but visiting France on many occasions.  In 1895, Conder came to Dieppe, attempting to socialise among the artistic.

I could go on and on but decided to stop here. It is places like Dieppe that inspire painters and I hope one day you too will find the perfect place to take out your easel and brushes and bring the place to life with your depictions.

The religious works of Andrea Mantegna

Bronze Bust of Mantegna attributed to Gian Marco Cavalli

The artist I am featuring today is the fifteenth century painter, Andrea Mantegna, who created many magnificent religious works.  Andrea Mantegna was born into a lower working-class family in late 1490 or early 1491 in Isola di Carturo a small village close to Padua which was then within the Republic of Venice.  His father, Biagio, was a carpenter.  When he was eleven years of age he started an apprenticeship with Francesco Squarcione, an Italian painter from Padua.   His school was very popular at the time and over a hundred painters passed through the school.  Padua, then, was looked upon as a great place to be if you were and aspiring artist and the likes of Uccello, Lippi and Donatello spent time in the city.  Mantegna, who was gifted with a precocious talent, stayed with his tutor for six years.

Although he gained a great reputation as an artist and was admired by many, he left Padua and spent most of his life in Verona, Mantua and Rome where he carried on with his paintings.  In 1460 he entered the service of Ludovico Il Gonzaga the Marquis of Mantua as his court artist.  This engagement earned Mantegna a great deal of money which was a sign of the high regard in which his work was held.  Whilst employed by Gonzaga he completed many fresco paintings of the Gonzaga family.

St Luke Polyptych by Andrea Montagne (1453-1454)

One of his early works was the St Luke polyptych which he completed as the altarpiece for a Benedictine Abbey of Santa Giustina in Padua.

Saint Justina

Santa Giustina (St. Justina) is depicted at the lower level of the altarpiece at the far right.   She is identified by the palm branch (a symbol of martyrdom) and the short sword in her breast which refers to her martyrdom in Padua in AD 303, during the persecutions of the Christians by the Roman Emperor Maximian.

Saint Luke (detail from Polyptych of St Luke by Mantegna)

In the central panel of the polyptych we see St. Luke depicted writing his gospel. Although many depictions of the saint feature an ox or calf, they are absent but in keeping faith with the fact this is an altarpiece for a Benedictine abbey, Mantegna has provided Luke him with a monk’s tonsure.

Man of Sorrows (detail from Polyptych of St Luke by Mantegna)

Above St. Luke, we see two saints either side of an image of the Man of Sorrows.  This is an iconic religious image that shows Christ, usually naked above the waist, with the wounds of his Passion prominently displayed on his hands and side.

St. Julian the Hospitaller (detail from Polyptych of St Luke by Mantegna)

The panel to the far right of that portrays St. Julian the Hospitaller, a Roman Catholic saint, depicted as a young nobleman. As in many depictions of this saint, he is holding a wrapped sword, held downward.  In his left hand he holds a palm branch symbolising martyrdom.

St. Prosdocimus (detail from Polyptych of St Luke by Mantegna)

To the left of St. Luke there is a portrait of St. Prosdocimus.  In one hand he holds the bishop’s crosier, which is an ecclesiastical ornament which is conferred on bishops at their consecration.

Other members of the deity depicted in the altarpiece are St. Jerome whose left hand points to his breast and his right holds a stone, which refers to the penances he endured to rid himself of shocking thoughts. We see him depicted in his usual red robes.  Two other figures in the lower tier are dressed in the brown Benedictine monk’s habits, each hold the martyrdom symbol of a palm branch.

Polyptych of Saint Zeno by Mantegna (1457-60)

Another beautiful altarpiece fashioned by Mantegna was a commission he received from the abbot of the Basilica of San Zeno, Gregorio Correr.

Central panel of the San Zeno polyptych

It comprises of three main painting above a predella comprising of three almost square scenes.  The central panel of the San Zeno Altarpiece depicts the Madonna holding her Child and surrounded by music-making angels.  She is seated on a marble throne decorated with Roman-inspired reliefs. Hanging across the top of the three main paintings are garlands that appear to be affixed to the top of them.

Left-hand panel depicting Saints Peter and Paul, St John the Evangelist and St Zeno.

To the left and right of this main panel there are portraits of eight saints.  The saints to be included in these two paintings was the choice of the commissioning abbot.  On the left are Peter, Paul, John the Evangelist and Zeno; on the right, Benedict, Lawrence, Gregory and John the Baptist.

Right-hand panel depicting Saints Benedict, Lawrence, Gregory and John the Baptist.
The predella

The three paintings of the predella depict biblical scenes. Presently, the three paintings on the predella are not the originals which were taken by Napoleon in 1797 along with the main picture which was restored to Verona in 1815. The original outer two predella paintings are now in Tours, Musée des Beaux-Arts and the centre one is in the Louvre. 

The Agony in the Garden

The left-hand panel depicts the Agony in the Garden.  The setting is Gethsemane and we see an angel floating high above with the cup that symbolizes the inexorable fate reserved for Christ. Beyond the dead tree Mantegna has attempt to depict Jerusalem in accurate detail. A winding road leads through a rural scene with unrepaired boundary walls to the main gate. The central temple towering over the rest of the buildings was modelled on the Omar Mosque, which in the Middle Ages was often taken for Solomon’s Temple.

The Crucifixion

The middle painting depicts the Crucifixion.  The setting is a cracked rocky plateau on Golgotha. The place of execution is marked by holes in the rock, that had already been used for other crosses. At the foot of Christ’s cross lies the skull of Adam, the first man. According to legend, Adam’s grave was at Calvary and was exposed by the earthquake when Christ died.

The Resurrection

The panel on the right of the predella depicts the Resurrection.  In the centre of this painting, the bright apparition of Christ stands out, emphasized by the darkness of the rocky grotto. The faces of the guards show a range of reactions to the miracle of the Resurrection, from a still sleepy figure gazing in front of him to a soldier rising to his feet in amazement.

The Uffizi Triptych by Andrea Mantegna (1460-1470)

The Adoration of the Magi  known as the Triptych of the Uffizi, is a tempera painting on wood by Andrea Mantegna, completed around 1460 and is now part of the Uffizi collection in Florence. One of the questions regarding this triptych is whether it is one!   The work is composed of three panels which only came together in 1827.  The fact that they then became encased in a nineteenth century ornate frame does not make them part of a triptych and some art historians doubt that Mantegna created them as a triptych or envisaged them to be set up as one in the way they are now arranged.  The three works were commissioned in the for Ludovico III Gonzaga’s private chapel in the Castle of St. George in Mantua.

Ascension of Christ (Detail of the Uffizi Triptych by Mantegna)

The left hand panel of the triptych, known as the Ascension panel, we see a number of saints, gazing upwards at Christ as he floats skywards surrounded by a mandorla of angels. Immediately below Christ stands Mary, who faces towards us in the lower section of the panting, slightly raised on a ledge of rock.

Adoration of the Magi (detail of the Uffizi Triptych by Mantegna)

The central panel of the triptych is the Adoration of the Magi. The three Magi symbolize both the three ages of man and also the three continents which were known at that time, Asia, Europe, and Africa. The adherents of different cultures among the followers of the kings are depicted realistically – they were familiar because of the activities of cosmopolitan Venice, a major trading centre and slave market. Once again we see the mandorla of angels around the Virgin Mary. Mandorla is an Italian word for almonds or almond shaped.   It is a term often used in Christian art when describing an aureole enclosing figures such as Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary

The Circumcision (detail of The Uffizi Triptych by Mantegna)

The panel on the right depicts the Circumcision of Christ on New Year’s Day, eight days after he was born as was written in the bible (Luke 2:21-24):

“… On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.  When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord  (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons…”

On the left of the painting we see Joseph carrying a wicker basket, in which are two pigeons.

St Sebastiano Church, Mantua

Mantegna moved with his family to Mantua at the behest of the Marquis Ludovico III Gonzaga of Mantua.  On many occasions Ludovico had tried to persuade the artist to enter his service.  Finally in 1460 Mantegna was appointed court artist where his salary was seventy-five lire a month, a very large sum of money in those days.  Mantegna was the first painter of any repute to be based in Mantua.  During Mantegna’s long stay in Mantua, he and his family lived near the San Sebastiano church dedicated to St. Sebastian.  Maybe this is what fascinated Mantegna with the saint as he went on to paint three versions of Saint Sebastian.

St. Sebastian by Mantegna (Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna) 1456=59

It has been suggested that the first painting by Mantegna depicting Saint Sebastian was completed around 1459 whilst he was still living in Padua.  A few years earlier many of the Padua citizens had been taken ill, many of whom died. Mantegna contracted the plague virus but he managed to recover from the deadly disease. Saint Sebastian received the widest veneration and was called especially in times of plague as an emergency helper.  It is thought that the portrait of the saint was commissioned by the Padua city elders to celebrate the end of the pestilence outbreak.  Mantegna completed the work in 1459, a year before he left the city for Mantua.. Sebastian is tied to the ruins of a Corinthian column, his body is pierced with numerous arrows.

Rider in the cloud

Look at large white cloud at the top left of the painting. You should just be able to make out the figure of a man astride a horse. According to the Italian art historian Battisti, the theme refers to the Book of Revelation (19: 6-11):

“…Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war…”

The nude figure of the martyr, which resembles a stone sculpture, is placed in front of an antique architectural backdrop, which looks even more “authentic” due to the Greek signature (“the work of Andrea”) on the left edge of the pillar. This first version of Saint Sebastian can be found in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna.

Saint Sebastian by Mantegna (Louvre) (c. 1480)

Mantegna’s second version of his depiction of Saint Sebastian, which he completed around 1480, is now part of the Louvre collection in Paris.  The Louvre’s St. Sebastian was once part of the Altar of San Zeno in Verona. In the late 17th century-early 18th century it was recorded as being in the Sainte Chapelle of Aigueperse, in the Auvergne region of France.  Its presence there is related to the marriage of Clara Gonzaga on February 24th 1482, in Mantua, at the age of seventeen, to Gilbert of Bourbon-Montpensier, who in 1486 succeeded his father as Count of Montpensier and Dauphin of Auvergne.  It remained there for over four hundred years until it was acquired by the Louvre in 1910 part of the art and ancient book collector, Jules Maurice Audéoud’s legacy to the State.

The Archers (detail from the Louvre Saint Sebastian by Mantegna)

The picture depicts the saint with a well sculpted body, tied to the ruins of a Corinthian column and pierced by numerous arrows. We look at him from below which enhances our perception of the strength and power of his figure. Sebastian’s head and eyes are turned toward Heaven which is affirmation of his unwavering Christian beliefs whilst bearing the pain of martyrdom. At his feet are a pair of grim-faced archers.  Their inclusion is intended to create a contrast between the man of steadfast faith, and those who are only attracted by disrespectful and evil pleasures. It is thought that the man with the arrows is Mantegna himself.

Detail of the antique city in the background of the Louvre St. Sebastian by Mantegna

Look at the detail Mantegna has put into the background. The classical ruins are typical of Mantegna’s pictures. The cliff path, the gravel and the caves are references to the complications of trying to reach the Celestial Jerusalem, the fortified city depicted on the top of the mountain, at the right middle-ground of the painting, and described in Chapter 21 of John’s Book of Revelation:

“…Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband…”

Saint Sebastian by Mantegna (Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro, Venice) (c.1490)

Andrea Mantegna’s panel depicting Saint Sebastian, now in the Galleria Franchetti at the Ca’ d’Oro, is the last of his three paintings of Saint Sebastian.  This painting, like the previous two, focuses on Saint Sebastian’s martyrdom, in which he is executed by a firing squad of archers who plunged their arrows into his body.  Given that these arrows inflicted numerous wounds all over his body, Sebastian came to be invoked during times of the plague, due to the many body sores that it provoked.  The story goes that Sebastian miraculously survived the execution due to the strength of his faith. He, according to legend,  was rescued and healed by Saint Irene of Rome, who also became a popular subject for 17th-century artists. Shortly after his recovery he went to Emperor Diocletian to warn him about the fate of sinners, and as a result was clubbed to death.

Whereas the first two of Mantegna’s depictions of Saint Sebastian resemble each other in style and represent the saint in a setting of classical architectural ruins, with lush landscapes and blue sky filling the background, this third is more sombre and is in complete contrast with the Montagne’s earlier works featuring the martyred saint. In this version he is silhouetted against a neutral, shallow background, brown in colour.  Look at the facial expression in this version.  It makes viewers much more aware of the pain he is suffering. 

Candle

In the lower right corner, an inscription wrapped around a smoking extinguished candle reads

“…NIHIL NISI DIVINUM STABILE EST. CAETERA FUMUS…”

(Nothing is stable except the divine. The rest is smoke.)

The Lamentation of the Dead Christ by Mantegna (c.1480)

I cannot finish this blog about Mantegna without focusing on my favourite work of his, The Lamentation of the Dead Christ which was completed around 1490.  It is one of very few oil on canvas paintings of the period.  It is an almost monochromatic vision of Christ.  The painting has a limited amount of tonal colouring, mainly pink, grey and golden-brown.   The setting of the painting seems to be a morgue-like and claustrophobic space with its cold dark walls.  This poorly lit space intensifies the paleness of the body.  The forceful image is of the body of Christ laid out on a stark and granulated marble slab.  Mantegna has toyed with the rules of perspective making the head large, whereas if the rules of perspective had been adhered to then the head would be much smaller than the feet.  There is an intense foreshortening of the body which makes it appear heavy and enlarged.   

Christ’s suffering, before death, is plain to see.  Mantegna has given us an unusual vantage point.   It places the observer at the feet of the subject and by doing so, adds to one’s sense of empathy. It could almost be described as a gruesome sight.  The face of Christ is lined.  His head of wavy hair rests upon a pink satin pillow.  The wounds seen on the back of his hands are like torn paper, as is the horizontal cut in his side made by the spear. It is almost blasphemous, as here Christ has not risen from the dead and he is like us mortals.  In the foreground are the feet of Christ each with dried puncture marks made by the crucifixion nails.  Look at the skill in which Mantegna has painted the folds of the shroud.

The mourners (detail from The Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Mantegna)

At the left we have three mourners, Mary, Saint John and perhaps slightly hidden by the other two mourners, Mary Magdalene.  Their tear-stained faces are distorted in grief.  These contorted facial features derive from the masks of classical tragedy.  One cannot help but be moved by their expressions.

In terms of Classical art, Andrea Mantegna was one of the greatest of his time.

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.

The Barnes School (Part 2)

The Children (Part 1)

Edward Charles Williams and Henry John Boddington

Edward Charles Williams

Edward Charles Williams (1807-1881)

A year after Edward Williams and Ann Hilderbrandt married, she gave birth on July 10th 1807 to their first child, a boy, who was christened Edward Charles at St Mary’s Church in the St. Marylebone parish of Westminster.  When he was still a child Edward Charles was taught to paint by his father and in years to come their styles were so similar it was difficult to detect the artist of some of their works, especially their woodland scenes. 

The Old Roadside Inn by Edward Charles Williams (1859)

As neither father nor son consistently signed their works, it can be very difficult to ascertain which one painted a given canvas.  To complicate things even further Edward Charles Williams signed some of his paintings E Williams, which led to confusion with paintings by his father, and at other times he would sign his work C Williams. Like his father’s love of the work by the Dutch Golden Age landscape painters, his son was greatly influenced by those Dutch masters.

A Shady Lane by Edward Charles Williams (1856)

Edward Charles spent most of his life living around London and often his paintings depicted the countryside of the counties surrounding the capital such as Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Essex.  On December 11th 1839, when Edward was thirty-two, he married Mary Ann Challenger at the St Marylebone Church in Westminster.  

A Dutch Canal by Edward Charles Williams

In the early 1840’s he was living at 2, London Street which was close to the homes of two well-known Pre-Raphaelite artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt.  He exhibited his first work at the Royal Academy in 1840 entitled A Gypsy Encampment, Moon Rising.

The Travelling Organ Grinder by Edward Charles Williams

By 1854 he had moved to Hammersmith.  Edward and Ann’s marriage lasted until his wife’s death in 1857. The Barnes parish church Burial Register records her as being buried on March 13th 1857, a week after her death at the age of 49, and it is probable that she was laid to rest with other members of the family in the Old Barnes Cemetery. The couple were childless.  

Near Dorking, Surrey by Edward Charles Williams

Edward Charles Williams was the least prolific exhibitor of the Williams family as he had almost given up painting after the death of his first wife, Ann.. It was thought that her death led to him suffering a mental breakdown.  However, he did exhibit some of his work at all the major exhibition halls, including: The Royal Academy, British Institution, Royal Society of British Artists, Institute of Fine Arts and the National Institution.

Edwards’ first wife had been an invalid for many years and had required a live-in nurse.  The nurse was Sarah Susannah Horley, the daughter of a pawnbroker, William Horley.  A year after the death of Edward Charles’ wife, Ann, Sarah gave birth to his child, Alice.  Edward, Sarah and Alice lived together almost ten years before Edward and Ann were married on October 3rd 1868 at the St. Pancras Old Church in Camden, London. She was the thirty-years-old and Edward Charles was sixty-one. 

The Sportsman by Edward Charles Williams

Edward Charles Williams saw his fortunes decline in his later years but it was said that he died “in respectable poverty” on July 25th, 1881 in Shepherds Bush, London. He had just celebrated his seventy-fourth birthday a fortnight before his death.

A Summer Evening by Edward Charles Williams

Edward Chales Williams was buried in the Old Hammersmith (Margravine) Cemetery, only a couple of miles from his family home. Sarah, who had been born Feb. 26th, 1838 in the Finsbury district of London, outlived him by more than fifty years, and died on Feb. 10th, 1933 in Hammersmith. She is also buried at the Margravine Cemetery, in the same plot as her husband and their daughter.

Henry John Boddington

Edward Williams and Ann Hilderbrandt’s second-born child was a son, Henry John Williams.  He was born on October 14th 1811 in London.  Like his elder brother, Edward Charles, he was taught to paint by his father and he was also tutored by his older brother but other than that, he received no formal instruction.  On November 28th 1833, at the age of twenty-two, Henry married Clarissa (Clara) Eliza Boddington in the St. Pancras Church in Camden, London.  It was then that Henry decided to adopt his wife’s maiden name and was. from then on, known as Henry John Boddington so that his artwork was not confused with that of other members of his artistic family.  Henry and Clarissa had one child, Edwin Henry Boddington, who was born on October 14th 1836, and who would also become a well-known painter.

A Norfolk Hamlet by Henry John Boddington (1840)

For many years after marriage Henry struggled to make ends meet and the family lived in great poverty but despite this, he continued to believe in himself as a painter and by 1840 he had become a prosperous and well-respected artist. He then enjoyed considerable success as there was  an enthusiastic market amongst the emerging wealthy class, who were furnishing their grand city homes with scenes of the countryside that they had left behind, and wished to be reminded of.

Outside the Cottage by Henry John Boddington (1856)

Boddington had showed an early talent for painting and he quickly developed his own distinct style which was categorised by his treatment of blocked light as it seeped through an archway of trees. Like his brothers, Henry was known for his delightful depiction of trees, with their twisting branches and rich foliage set under glorious skies, with large white clouds illuminated from behind with a soft sunlight.

A Wooded Lane, Otford, Kent by Henry John Boddington

In Jan Reynolds’ 1975 book, The Williams Family of Painters, she writes about Henry Boddington’s painting style:

“…most characteristic effect is the appearance of a warm day, with the sun just out of the picture, giving a filmy, hazy atmosphere to the landscape, with deep blue shadows adding greater value to the opposing tone of yellow. The distant mountains are melting in vapory sunlight. The artist is a master of this effect…”

Henry Boddington liked to paint large canvases which allowed him to encapsulate the grandiose beauty of the English countryside. In an article in the 1865 Fine Arts Quarterly Review it noted that Boddington was:

“…an artist who, if he fell into mannerism, had yet during a hard working life, painted pictures not only large, but sometimes grand. His landscapes of mountains, lake and river had scenic breadth and power…”

Eel Traps on the Ouse by Henry John Boddington

The famous art critic John Ruskin praised his pictures for their honesty and true love of the countryside.  One such painting illustrates this quality.  It is his painting Eel Traps on the Ouse. This charming scene, which is set on the banks of the River Ouse, depicts a couple of children watching a man, as he skilfully creates a new eel pot from reeds, for his eel trap.

The Angler by Henry John Boddington

Henry had built up a reputation as being a talented painter of woodland and village scenes and in 1842, at the age of 31, he became a member of the Royal Society of British Artists. Many other artists had exhibited with the Society, but few had been accepted as a member, in fact Henry Boddington was the only member of his family to achieve this honour which carried with it definite status and responsibility.

Henry and his wife initially lived in the north central London district of Pentonville before moving to Hammersmith a western district of London.  Their final move was in 1854 when they relocated to the Surrey town of Barnes.  Many of his early paintings depicted the scenery of Surrey and the banks of the Thames.

Loch Ericht by Henry John Boddington (1857)

Henry first exhibited at the Royal Academy, London in 1837, and then from 1839 onwards one or two of his pictures were always on display.  As well as showing at the Academy, many of his works were exhibited at the Society of British Artists in Suffolk Street.  In 1842 Henry became a member of the Society of British Artists, and from then on exhibited an average of ten pictures a year until his death.

A Trout Stream, North Wales by Henry John Boddington

Henry travelled around Britain sketching and painting.  In 1843 he visited Devonshire, staying at Ashburton; in 1846 the English Lake District; and in 1847, for the first time, North Wales, which, especially the country around Betws-Y-Coed and Dolgellau, became his favourite place for his landscape work. Boddington also painted in Scotland, Yorkshire, and other parts of England, but strangely, he never travelled to the European continent.

A Path through the Woods by Henry John Boddington (1851)

A fellow member of the Royal Society of British Artists was John Frederick Herring, Sr, who, along with Landseer, had become one of the more eminent animal painters of mid-nineteenth century. He collaborated with Henry Boddington by painting horses and animals into Henry’s prepared landscape.

After suffering for several years from a progressive disease of the brain, thought to have been a brain tumour, which eventually robbed him of his sight, he died at his home in Barnes on 11 April 1865, aged 54. Henry Boddington was buried in the Old Barnes Cemetery, next to his father’s grave, under his given name of Williams. Following her husband’s death, his wife Clara adopted his name after his death, and became known as Clarissa Eliza Boddington-Williams. She died at the age of 92 of complications from a fall on March 21st, 1905 at Upper Holloway in London, some forty years after the passing of her husband.

………….to be continued.

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.

Lois Mailou Jones

Lois Jones, artist and teacher - NARA - 559227.jpg
Lois Mailou Jones

Lois Mailou Jones was born in Boston, Massachusetts on November 3rd 1905.  Her mother Carolyn ran a beauty parlour and made and designed hats.  Her father, Thomas Vreeland Jones was a superintendent of a large office building, who attended night school to become a lawyer.  At the age of forty he graduated from Suffolk Law School, the first African-American to earn such a degree from that school. He went on to become a lawyer.  Whilst still a child her parents moved to a house on Martha’s Vineyard and it was here that Lois first came into contact with people who were to influence her future life.

As a child, Lois enjoyed drawing and painting and her parents encouraged her.   She was given her first set of watercolours at the age of seven. She enjoyed her time at school and recalled:

“…The schools were not segregated and I had the good fortune to have my teachers interested in my talent and I received much encouragement,” she said. “My happiness was to go to Martha’s Vineyard as soon as school was out. It was a great joy to live with nature. Environment is so important to any artist…”

1937 or '38. (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Lois Mailou Jones (c.1938)

She attended the local primary school and in 1919 she was enrolled at the High School of Practical Arts in Boston. During her four years of studies there, she also attended evening classes at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts thanks to an annual scholarship she was awarded. She developed an interest in fashion and costume design and became an apprentice with Grace Ripley,  an academic and costume designer. Lois Jones worked with Ripley after school and on Saturdays, where she would become familiar with exotic costumes and African masks which would later feature in her artwork.  Her interest in African masks also led her to creating costume designs for the Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts, the first dance academy in the United States to produce a professional dance company.

Loïs Mailou Jones "Negro Student," 1934, charcoal on paper (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Negro Student by Loïs Mailou Jones (1934)

Lois was only seventeen years old when she held her first solo exhibition in Martha’s Vineyard. Jones began experimenting with African mask influences during her time at the Ripley Studio. In 1923, at the age of eighteen, Lois attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where she studied, not art, but design.  She was an outstanding student and she won the Susan Minot Lane Scholarship in Design. Whilst studying for her degree she also took evening classes at the Boston Normal Art School, a public college of visual and applied art in Boston.

Beneath a soft blue sky, a picturesque village nestles in a valley between a river in the extreme foreground and verdant mountains. Combining loose and discrete brushstrokes with a palette of greens and golds, the painting recalls Paul Cézanne’s late 19th-century landscapes.
Arreau, Hautes-Pyrénées by Lois Mailou Jones (1949)

Lois Jones began to search for something which would bring her recognition as an artist.  Whilst searching she discovered the Harmon Foundation of New York, which had been established in 1921 by wealthy real-estate developer and philanthropist William E. Harmon.  It was the first major foundation supporting African American creativity and ingenuity and held national competitions for black artists.  Lois exhibited several of her works at these exhibitions and received several awards.  It was through this foundation that she became interested in black America’s 20th century movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. During the summers of the 1920’s and 1930’s, Lois Jones spent much of her time in Harlem and this had the most reflective influence on her early development as an artist. During these visits, Jones was engrossed in the art and theories of the Harlem Renaissance.   The Harlem Renaissance was an intellectual and cultural revival of African American music, dance, art, fashion, literature, theatre, politics.  At the time, it was known as the “New Negro Movement”.

Loïs Mailou Jones "My Mother's Hats," 1943, oil on canvas. (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
My Mother’s Hats by Loïs Mailou Jones (1943)

Throughout the early part of her life she continued to take the opportunity to study.  In 1934, she attended classes at Columbia University where she studied different cultural masks and in 1945, she received a BA in art education from Howard University, a private, research university, graduating magna cum laude. Not long after Lois left college, she decided to take up the role as an educator.  She applied for a teaching post at the Boston Museum School but the director rebuffed her application saying that she should apply for a job in the South where “her people” lived.  This racially prejudiced opinion from a person of such stature must have shocked her.  Not to be put off by such bigotry she continued to look for work and finally was accepted for a teaching post at Palmer Memorial Institute, a historically black prep school, in Sedalia, North Carolina.  The Institute was founded by nineteen-year-old Charlotte Hawkins Brown, an African American educator in 1902 with the aim of teaching elementary and high school students in rural North Carolina.  It was named after Brown’s benefactor and friend, Alice Freedman Palmer, and originally the Institute began in an old blacksmith shed.  Whilst working as a prep schoolteacher, she taught the children folk dancing, piano playing and even coached a basketball team. 

Loïs Mailou Jones "Jeanne, Martiniquaise," 1938, oil on canvas (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts)
Jeanne, Martiniquaise, by Loïs Mailou Jones (1938)

In 1930, Lois was offered and accepted a position at Howard University in Washington, D.C. by James Herring, who had  founded the Art Department at Howard University and served as mentor to many artists and art historians. Lois Jones remained there, as professor of design and watercolour painting, until her retirement in 1977. Lois’ main ambition whilst at Howard University was to ensure her students were made ready for a competitive career in the arts and to aid this ambition she would arrange for established artists and designers to visit her classes and give talks, demonstrations and workshops.  In doing this she became an ardent advocate for African-American art and artists.

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The Ascent of Ethiopia.by Lois Mailou Jones (1932)

In 1932 Lois Mailou Jones created a painting entitled The Ascent of Ethiopia. The painting is the pictorial story of the grim and challenging journey of African Americans who, through years of sacrifice and intolerable difficulties, have managed to create a legacy built on their trials and tribulations. It has been a constant fight for African Americans from the time they lived in Africa, the sea voyage to America and once there, how they have had to fight to attain their artistic and intellectual pinnacle.  Lois Jones painting depicts this story by her use of certain elements of design and colour, and space. The works she created throughout her life tell the story of many different cultures. In this painting she chooses to represent her own culture. This work of art was Jones’ way of expressing intense and reflective respect for her race. When we study the painting the first thing our eyes focus on is the figure wearing a blue and black headdress in the right foreground.  It takes up a quarter of the canvas.  The figure looks to the left as it observes the other figures, who are carrying pots on their heads, and pointing skywards at a bright star.  They are all ascending towards a city, comprised of two large buildings, at the top right of the painting.

  In front of the buildings are two entertainers, one of whom is playing the piano whilst the other I think is preparing to sing as we see musical notes all around him. Behind these two big buildings there’s a big round yellow circular object protruding from the side, surrounded by two blue/turquoise concentric circles. It has a face, and someone on a bended knee appearing to be acting on top of it. The turquoise-coloured circle is bigger than the previous one and has a face coming out towards the inside. Further up there’s someone painting on top of the blue circle with the words art above enclosed within the blue circle. A symbolic palette and brush are painted within that same blue circle, the star in the top left corner has rays of squiggly blue, green, and black streaks that radiate diagonally. The star is inside of a yellow circle shining down on the people gesturing towards it, this picture reflects what Jones was trying to convey to her audience.  The painting is a tale of transition, a long and tortuous voyage from the poverty of Ethiopia to America where African Americans, through hard work and dogged determination, became talented actors, artists and entertainers.  It is also about cultural identity.

Loïs Mailou Jones "Seventh Street Promenade," 1943, watercolor with graphite underdrawing on paper (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Seventh Street Promenade, by Loïs Mailou Jones (1943)

In 1937, Jones was awarded a fellowship to travel and study in Paris at the Académie Julian. That year, whilst in France, she produced more than forty works of art, including thirty watercolours, may of which were plein air renditions.   Two of her paintings were accepted at the annual Salon de Printemps exhibition at the Société des Artists Français for her Parisian debut.  What also pleased Lois during her twelve months stay was that unlike in America, she was fully accepted in society and that the colour of her skin mattered little.  She managed to obtain an extension to her fellowship which allowed her to travel to Italy.

Les Fétiches, by Lois Mailou Jones (1938)

In 1938, she completed one of her best-known pieces, entitled Les Fétiches.  It was and African inspired painting that now hangs in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  Painted in a Modernist style it features five overlapping masks from different African tribes and conveys a mysterious spiritual dimension summoned by ritual dance.  To the right of the main mask, we see what is known as a red religious’ fetish.   The term “fetish” (fétiche in French) refers to an object believed to have supernatural powers, or in particular, a human-made object that has power over others.  The masks and fetish appear to float in the mass of a black painted canvas.  When in France, Lois would probably have seen many different African objects and masks at the Musée de l’Homme, an anthropology museum in Paris.  In Les Fétiches, the Songye people’s masks and African Dan masks are visible.

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Indian Shops, Gay Head, Massachusetts, by Lois Mailou Jones (1940)

In 1941, Lois Jones entered her painting Indian Shops Gay Head, Massachusetts, into the Corcoran Gallery’s annual competition which she had completed the previous year.  For her the main problem with exhibiting her work at this prestigious exhibition was that the Corcoran Gallery prohibited African-American artists from entering their artworks themselves and only work from “white” artists was deemed acceptable.  Jones asked Céline Marie Tabary, her friend and arts professor at Howard University who championed African-American art in 1940s Washington, D.C. to enter her painting so as to side-step the racist rule. This painting by Lois won the Robert Woods Bliss Award but she could not collect the award herself and she had to arrange for Tabary to mail the award to her.   In 1994, the Corcoran Gallery of Art gave a public apology to Jones at the opening of the exhibition The World of Lois Mailou Jones, 50 years after Jones hid her identity.

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Mob Victim (Meditation) by Lois Mailou Jones (1944)

In 1944 Lois Jones painted one of her most controversial and thought-provoking works.  A philosophy professor at Howard University and founder of the Harlem Renaissance, Alain Locke, encouraged her to depict her heritage in her paintings and this led to her painting, Mob Victim (Meditation).  She remembered how the painting came into being, saying that she had been walking along U Street Northwest in Washington, DC. when she saw a man walking along and she stopped him and asked if he would pose in her studio for her painting which would depict a lynching scene.  The man told Lois that he had actually witnessed a lynching and mimicked the pose that the man held before being lynched and visually illustrated a contemplation of imminent death which was well understood by blacks during the 1940s.  The image we see of the man whips up deep and powerful feelings as we observe the innocence of the black man who is calling into question the intolerable actions of society.  Look at the questioning expression in the man’s eyes.  It is a very emotional work which poses the simple question, why?

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Wedding of Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noel and Lois Mailou Jones

In 1953, at the age of forty seven, Lois finally married Haitian graphic artist Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noel.. They had been close friends for twenty years and he had influenced Lois by introducing her to the bright colours and bold patterns of Haitian art and she would immerse herself in the Haitian culture during their annual trips to her husband’s homeland. Jones’s style shifted again after she married   She once said that the art of Africa is lived in the daily life of the people of Haiti.

Colorful painting by Lois Mailou Jones featuring a young African girl in face paint, with depictions of masks and decoration in the background
Ubi Girl from Tai region by Lois Mailou Jones (1972)

In 1970 she visited Africa for the first time.  She journeyed to eleven different countries on the African continent. The trip had been made possible with a grant from Howard University to keep a record of the various artists she met.   She returned to the African continent in 1972, 1976 and 1977. In the painting a young woman looks out at us from under her partially closed eyelids. The girl’s face is surrounded by two types of masks: in profile, is a large Dan mask from Liberia or Côte d’Ivoire, and drawn within orange outlines are two Pende masks from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Masks were thought to be powerful ways of communicating with spirits; the Dan mask represents a specifically female spirit, and the blue and red twisting lines in the lower left corner are a pattern of the Edo, from Benin Kingdom, called “rope of the world” representing a person’s lifetime.,   The woman’s forehead and cheeks are painted white for her initiation celebration into womanhood and vivid diagonal red lines overlap at the bridge of her nose, which leaves her mouth and chin uncovered. Loïs Mailou Jones was captivated by this woman and created the portrait in 1972, entitled Ubi Girl from Tai region.  The Tai region was part of Côte d’Ivoire, which Lois visited during her extended trip to Africa. The artist had a long-held dream of traveling to Africa since her twenties, and at the age of 65, she fulfilled her career-long ambition.

Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1998)

Jones continued to produce beautiful works of art.  On her 84th birthday in November 1989, Jones had a major heart attack which necessitated a triple bypass operation.  On June 9th 1998, Jones died at the age of 92 at her home in Washington, DC and is buried on Martha’s Vineyard in the Oak Bluffs Cemetery.

Sanford Robinson Gifford

Sanford Robinson Gifford by Eastman Johnson (1880)

Today I am looking at an American painter, Sanford Robinson Gifford, who was a leading member of the second generation of Hudson River School artists.  The artwork of the Hudson River School captured the rugged beauty of the American landscape and celebrated and venerated the heady era of manifest destiny.  In 1845, newspaper editor John O’Sullivan coined the term Manifest Destiny, which was the belief that white Americans were divinely ordained to settle the entire continent of North America.  The second generation of Hudson River School painters set out from the New York area to explore more far-flung regions of America. Their painting documented the westward expansion and the “land grab” which underpinned the concept of Manifest Destiny. During the Civil War, their majestic images shown in their paintings of an unspoiled West provided hope for post-war reconciliation and the promise of expanses of wild country, full of promise and lands which were unscarred by battle.

Head of a Man, with Various Studies by Staford Robinson Gifford (c.1850)

Sanford Robinson Gifford was born in Greenfield, New York 0n July 10th 1823.  He was the fourth of the eleven children of Quaker ironmaker Elihu Gifford and his wife Eliza Robinson Starbuck. Most of his childhood was spent in Hudson, New York, a town on the banks of the upper reaches of the Hudson River, across from the Catskill Mountains.  Following normal schooling, Gifford entered Brown University in 1842. He left college after completing two years, and moved to New York City in 1845 to study art. He studied drawing, perspective and anatomy under the British watercolourist and drawing-master, John Rubens Smith, who in 1806 had emigrated from London to the USA and set up successful drawing schools in Boston, New York and Philadelphia.  He also attended drawing classes at the National Academy of Design and studied the human figure in anatomy classes at the Crosby Street Medical College.

In 1846 Gifford visited the Berkshire Hills and the Catskill Mountains, sketching en plein air. He thoroughly enjoyed his sketching trips, once writing to a friend:

…”These studies together with the great admiration I felt for the works of [Thomas] Cole developed a strong interest in landscape art, and opened my eyes to a keener perception and more intelligent enjoyment of nature. Having once enjoyed the absolute freedom of the landscape painters’ life I was unable to return to portrait painting…”

The Artist Sketching at Mount Desert, Maine by Sanford Robinson Gifford

The American Art Union bought and exhibited some of Gifford’s first landscape paintings in 1847. In 1851 he was elected an associate, and in 1854 an academician, of the National Academy of Design.  He must have taken great pleasure in his landscape depictions as from that time on he concentrated on the landscape genre, becoming one of the finest artists of the Hudson River School. Gifford loved the freedom of the outdoors and travelled extensively to sketch landscapes which he would use later for future paintings.  On his trips he would often write to his father recording his experiences.  These letters home would, he said, serve the double purpose of letter and journal, and be an economy of time. He also asked his father to number the letters sequentially and keep them all together.

Study Of Windsor Castle by Sanford Robinson Gifford

In the summer of 1855 Gifford crossed the Atlantic and visited England, Scotland and Paris.  He then spent the winter of 1855 completing paintings from the numerous sketches he had made.

Lake Nemi by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1856)

In the Autumn of 1856, he travelled to Italy and rented a studio in Rome and, during that winter he painted pictures of the surrounding area including Lake Nemi which he visited in October 1856.  In a letter he described the scene:

“…We were high up above the lake. On one side in the foreground were some picturesque houses and ruined walls—a tall dark cypress, rising out of a rich mass of foliage, cut strongly against the lake, distance, and sky…”

A Home in the Wilderness by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1866)

By capturing scenes at sunset, Gifford was able to record the subtle effects of atmosphere and light that would become his trademark. Gifford was a true Luminist, a member of the Luminism art movement associated with many American landscape painters of the 1850’s to 1870’s  Their artwork was characterized by effects of light in landscapes, through using aerial perspective, and concealing visible brushstrokes. The landscape art of the Luminist emphasized serenity and calmness.  It focused on reflective water and soft, hazy skies but as part of often melodramatic, magnificent, oversized landscapes as the artist intended to capture the immenseness as they viewed their subject on location. An example of this Lumanism is his 1866 painting entitled A Home in the Wilderness. Gifford’s view of Mount Hayes in New Hampshire records human intrusion into a remote landscape. On the left riverbank a log cabin stands amid a recently cleared patch of land with several tree stumps, while figures in its doorway greet a man who has arrived with a canoe of supplies.

Lake Maggiore by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1859)

During the spring of 1857 whilst still in Rome, Gifford spent time with fellow American artists Worthington Whittredge, William H. Beard and Albert Bierstadt.  Gifford and Bierstadt left Rome in May 1857 and set off on a walking tour of southern Italy.  Gifford completed his European tour with visits to Innsbruck, Munich, Vienna, Prague, Dresden, Berlin and Paris, before returning to the United States at the end of the summer. 

Photograph of the 10th Street Studio Building, New York (1870)

On his return Gifford rented studio Number 19 in the Tenth Street Studio Building in New York City.  The Tenth Street Studio Building was constructed in New York City in 1857.  It was  situated at 51 West 10th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Manhattan and was the first modern facility designed solely to serve the needs of artists. It became the centre of the New York art world for the remainder of the 19th century.  Gifford retained his studio until his death.

Twilight in the Catskills by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1861)

 Over the next few years Gifford also made frequent summer trips to various north-eastern locales including the Catskills, the Adirondacks, the Green Mountains in Vermont, the White Mountains in New Hampshire, Maine and Nova Scotia.

Sanford Gifford in uniform (1861)

The American Civil War broke out in April 1861 and Gifford enlisted in New York’s Seventh Regiment and marched to the defence of Washington.  Several paintings resulted from this experience, including his 1864 work entitled Sunday Morning in the Camp of the Seventh Regiment, near Frederick, Maryland, in July 1863 ,

Sunday Morning in the Camp of the Seventh Regiment, near Frederick, Maryland, in July 1863
Night Bivouac of the Seventh Regiment New York at Arlington Heights, Virginia by Sanford Gifford (1861)

Another was his night scene entitled Night Bivouac of the Seventh Regiment New York at Arlington Heights, Virginia which he completed in 1861.

Near Palermo by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1874)

In 1868 Gifford once again travelled to Europe, and again visited the English and French capitals.  Whilst in Paris he met with a fellow American Hudson River painter, Jervis McEntee and his wife.  McEntee was a to some extent a lesser-known figure of the 19th-century American art world but apart from his paintings, McEntee’s journals are an enduring legacy, documenting the life of a New York painter during and after the Gilded Age.  From Paris Gifford spent the summer visiting the Alps and Sicily before wintering in Rome.

Galleries of the Stelvio, Lake Como by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1878)

Gifford was always stimulated by the awe-inspiring Italian landscape and his painting Galleries of the Stelvio, Lake Como exudes a moment of pure artistic beauty.   Gifford’s used shades of pastel blues and pinks to capture the hazy quality of a warm Italian summer afternoon. Look how the juxtaposition of light and shadow draws attention to the natural curve of the rock cliff exploited by and altered by man’s hand.  The curve in the wall gives one the feeling of motion through the road tunnel and to the side of the road we see a couple looking over at the boats below and the still waters of the beautiful lake.  Almost if we are in the tunnel\ we begin to feel the coolness of the tunnel in comparison to the area around the lake which is exposed to the sun.

Siout, Egypt by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1874)

In 1869 Gifford set off on his travels once more.  This time he journeyed to Egypt where he and some friends. He hired a boat and took a two-month  voyage from Cairo down the Nile River to the first cataract .  Although many American artists left their home shores, few ventured much further than the European Continent.  Sanford Gifford was one of the very few who ventured further afield.

On March 4 he reached the village of Siout (Asyut), on the western bank of the Nile, and this was the starting point of a great caravan route running through the Libyan Desert to the Sudan. The town was well known for being picturesque and for its history, having been the capital of the thirteenth province of Upper Egypt during antiquity and the birthplace of Plotinus, the great Neoplatonic philosopher. Gifford was taken with the town and noted in his journal the reasons for depicting it in his painting.  He wrote:

“…Looking westward, the town with its domes and minarets lay between us and the sun, bathed in a rich and beautiful atmosphere. Behind, on the right, were the yellow cliffs of the Libyan mts., running back into the tender grades of distance. Between us and the town were fields of grain, golden green with the transparent light. On the right was a tent with sheep and beautiful horses, the sunlight sparkling on a splendid white stallion. On the left the road ran in, with a fountain and figures of men and women and camels. The whole glowing and gleaming under the low sun…”

The painting, simply entitled Siout, Egypt, is one of Gifford’s finest works in which he depicted Egypt.

Constantinople from the Golden Horn by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1880)

From Egypt, Gifford travelled to the Middle East with fellow artist, Alfred Craven, via the Suez Canal, where his itinerary included Syria, Jerusalem, Samaria, Damascus, Greece and Turkey. Gifford travelled to Constantinople in 1869 and he wrote about the time in his journal:

“…boats and costumes on the water on either side were all aglow with color, while through the purple haze of the distance flashed a thousand little golden lights from the windows of the Seraglio and the mosque of St. Sophia…”

Gifford final port of call was Venice which he reached in June 1869 and it was from here that he took a sea passage back to the United States at the beginning of September.

Portrait of Mary Cecilia Gifford by Stanford Robinson Gifford (1878)

Sanford Gifford married Mary Cecilia Canfield in 1877, at age fifty-four.

Autumn, a Wood Path by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1876)

I end this blog with my favourite painting by Gifford. It is his 1876 work entitled Autumn, a Wood Path. Gifford created several paintings depicting forest interiors, including this one set amid full autumnal blaze. The dense forest path is enclosed in a network of overarching trees which casts shadows on the rugged ground below, restricting sunlight to haphazard patches. A solitary hiker is visible in the distance.

Three years after his marriage, Gifford became ill while on a trip to Lake Superior and was brought back to New York where he was diagnosed as having contracted pneumonia following a bout of malarial fever.  On August 29th, 1880, Gifford died in New York city, aged 57, and was buried at Hudson City Cemetery, Hudson, Columbia County, New York. His death was seen as a tragedy for American art. He was memorialized in 1880 by the publication of a series of addresses given at the Century Association and by a large retrospective exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1881.  A compilation of a catalogue raisonné was published in 1881 and recorded that he had completed more than seven hundred paintings during his career.

The Rev. Dr. Bellows, who several times has officiated at the funerals of well-known American painters, delivered a touching and beautiful address in the Gifford mansion at Hudson. He spoke of Gifford’s love of his country, saying:

“…Patriotism, in the speaker’s opinion, was at one time a greater force in Gifford’s life than even love of Art; and his resolve to fight as a private soldier in the late war for the Union was greater in its influence upon the man, and in its possession of him, than even his devotion to his profession…”

Clara Peeters – The Queen of Still Life paintings

I suppose painters challenge us with trompe l’oeil aspect of their depictions partly as a joke, as in the case of M C Escher and partly as an outward show of their technical brilliance. Trompe l’oeil (trick of the eye) is often incorporated in still life paintings and in many facets of a still life work we can appreciate the expertise of the artist.  The words still life derive from a Dutch word stilleven while the French prefer nature morte and Italian, natura morta meaning dead nature.  Still life paintings are those which depict inanimate objects, whether they be such things as musical instruments, kitchen utensils and tableware as well as portrayal of dead animals, foliage or musical instruments etc.  Often the inclusion of an inanimate object in a painting has a symbolic meaning whilst at other times it is simply art for art’s sake.

What Is Vanitas
Vanitas Still Life with a Skull and a Quill (1628) by Pieter Claesz

The term memento mori, a Latin phrase meaning ‘remember you must die’ is often a term used when describing certain types of still life works.  Paintings, for example, which may include a portrait with a skull but other symbols commonly found are hour glasses or clocks, extinguished or guttering candles, fruit, and flowers.  Closely related to the memento mori picture is the vanitas still life.  I find the depiction of these inanimate objects fascinating and feel that they are completed by the most talented artists. 

Basket of Flowers by Balthasar van der Ast (1622)

Unlike me, the French Academy of the seventeenth century did not agree.  According to the French Academy their hierarchy of genres (or subject types) for art established in the seventeenth century, still life paintings were ranked at the bottom – fifth after history painting, portraiture, genre painting (scenes of everyday life) and landscape. It is thought that still life and landscape paintings were considered lowly because they did not involve human subject matter.

Still Life with Jug, Berkemeyer and Smoking Utensils_Pieter Claesz_17th century
Still Life with Jug, Berkemeyer and Smoking Utensils by Pieter Claesz (1640)

We know people buy portraiture to remember someone.  People buy landscapes and seascapes for their beauty and often to remind themselves of places they loved to visit.  Genre paintings were scenes of everyday life which often were also pictorial tales of morals and sometimes the realist genre paintings told of harsh times suffered by the less fortunate.  But who would buy still life paintings?  I suppose a beautiful flower arrangement depicted in a floral still life lights up a room but what about still life paintings which depict dead animals, food and expensive homeware?  Buyers of such work may believe that the painting reflects their affluence or hunting prowess.

The spoils of the chase guarded by a dog by Jan Fyt (c.1630)

When you look through the list of sixteenth and seventeenth still life painters, very few women’s names appear and yet there are a few.  The most obvious are the seventeenth century artists, Rachel Rausch with her floral still life works and Judith Leyster.   Today I want to look at the life and works of the greatest female still life painters, Clara Peeters.  She was by far the best-known female Flemish artist of this era and one of the few women artists who became a professional artist in seventeenth-century Europe, and she achieved that status despite constraints on women’s access to artistic training and membership in guilds.

Still Life Self portrait by Clara Peeters (c.1610)

Clara Peeters was born in Antwerp but when it comes to her date of birth there is some confusion.  It is known that a Clara Peeters, the daughter of Jean (Jan) Peeters was baptized on May 15th 1594 in the Church of St. Walburga, Antwerp and other records indicate that Clara Peeters and Henric Joosen were married in the same church on May 31st 1639.  So is that Clara Peeters the famous artist?  Although she is a major figure in the history of European still life painting, almost nothing is known about Clara Peeters’s life with certainty. Early researchers confused her with other women bearing the same relatively common name, ranging from an Antwerp heiress to an Amsterdam prostitute.  Also, we have to be wary of jumping to conclusions as Peeters was a very common name in Antwerp.

Still Life by Clara Peeters (1607)

Another factor which casts doubt on the birthdate of 1594 as her paintings, which were dated 1607, would mean she completed them she was just thirteen years of age and that is extremely unlikely so the conclusion is Clara was born in the 1580’s.

Still Life with Fish, a Candle, Artichokes, Crab, and Prawns by Clara Peeters (1611)

At a point in time when she was living in Amsterdam Clara Peeters produced one of her still life masterpieces in 1911.  It was entitled Still Life with Fish, a Candle, Artichokes, Crab, and Prawns.  Before us we see what looks like a wooden table upon which is a selection of seafood, such as boiled crabs and shrimp, several freshwater fish including two carp, a roach, several ide or orfe, and a northern pike.  Behind the food there is a dark glass goblet, a brass candlestick with an unlit but partially burnt out candle, a Rhenish stoneware jug, a copper strainer with a brass colander in which are two artichokes. 

The reflected face

Although you will not see it in the main picture if you were able to take a close look at the lid of the jug you would see a reflection/self portrait of Clara wearing a large headpiece.  She, like a number of famous artists, included her own portrait in a number of her paintings.

Still Life with Sparrow Hawk, Fowl, Porcelain and Shells, zoomed in
Still life with Sparrow Hawk, Fowl, Porcelain and Shells by Clara Peeters (1611)

Another painting in the Prado collection by Clara Peeters is her 1611 work entitled Still Life with a Sparrow Hawk, Fowl, Porcelain and Shells and is thought to have been in the Spanish royal collection.  In this work we see a life-sized Eurasian sparrow hawk balanced on the edge of a wicker basket.  Due to its large size we believe it to be the female of the species.  Sparrow hawks would typically be used in the gardens surrounding a palace or a city, and not only by men but also by women and children learning the art of falconry.  Lying lifeless in the basket is a large mallard, and a woodcock.  At the left, with its head hanging from the table is a hen.  A dead thrush lies on the table.  The small red bird to the right is a common bullfinch.   The bullfinch often appeared in Clara’s still life paintings and this could well be because of its vivid red colouring and in this work contrasts well with the green head of the mallard.  Along the side of the wicker basket are a line of dead finches, hanging by their necks.    One question you might ask yourself is why have one live bird depicted among so many dead ones.  I think the reason is that the smaller dead birds could well be the prey of the living sparrow hawk.  Again in this painting, as it was in the previous one, note how Clara has contrasted the soft feathered bodies of the birds with the harder and finer surfaces of the shells and porcelain dishes.

Kraak bowl (c.1600)

The several plates and bowls of white kraak porcelain are stacked on top of a blue and white kraak plate, an item which appeared in a number of Peeters’ paintings.  In this painting the blue colour of this dish has faded and this is probably due to the cobalt-based pigment used.  Kraak ware or Kraak porcelain is a type of Chinese export porcelain produced mainly in the late Ming Dynasty, in the Wanli reign.   It was among the first Chinese export wares to arrive in Europe from the late sixteenth century via Portugal and Spain, and spread throughout the continent mainly through Habsburg networks.  It often featured in Dutch Golden Age paintings of still life subjects which included foreign luxuries.

Image result for still life with flowers, gilt goblet, almonds, dried fruits, sweets, biscuits, wine and a pewter flagon
Still life with flowers, a Silver Gilt Goblet, Dried Fruits, Sweetmeats, Bread Sticks, wine and a Pewter Flagon by Clara Peeters (1611)

For the less squeamish but keeping to the subject of food I give you Clara Peeters’ 1621 painting entitled Table with Cloth, Salt Cellar, Gilt Standing Cup, Pie, Jug, Porcelain Plate with Olives and Cooked Fowl.  There are no dead animals on this table, just simple and tasty fare.  The arrangement of inanimate objects would appear random when in fact Peeters probably spent much time with the arrangement.  Firstly, she would want what was placed on the table to look like an everyday table set for a feast.  However, she would ensure that none of the objects blocked the view of another. The glass in the background containing the red wine is a fluted façon de Venise glass and was the type that was being manufactured in Antwerp by Italian glassblowers at the time. It is probable that the red wine had been imported from France, Italy or Spain. At the time of the painting much of food in the Dutch capital, such as wine, oil, salt, raisins and figs had come from Spain.  In this painting we see these fruits, together with almonds and sugar candy, in a large wide bowl known as a bianchi di Faenza vessel, a type of earthenware made in Faenza, an Italian city in the province of Ravenna, in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries..

Reflections

Look carefully at the gilt goblet and the pewter flagon.  These are objects that appear in other of her still life paintings and also once again, she painted her self-portrait – three times in the raised parts of the goblet and four times in a vertical line on the pewter jug. This inclusion of herself portraits in some of her works is believed to be a form of a proclamation that she was a female painter and proud to be one in a profession dominated by men.

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Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels by Clara Peeters (1615)

The Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels which she completed in 1615 is one of Clara Peeters’ best works and is part of the Mauritshuis collection. The depiction features a stone table top on which is a tin plate with three cheeses on it.  Above the cheeses is a smaller plate of butter shavings. In the foreground, on the left there are two pretzels, next to which is a knife with a beautifully decorated silver handle, three almonds and a blue-white plate of Wan Li porcelain filled with dried figs, almonds and raisins.  In the background we see a stoneware jar and a partially gilded lidded glass à la façon de Venise.  On the right side of the table there is also a sandwich and two raisins.  It is a meticulous depiction even down to small damages to some of the items and the hole in the cheese where a testing tube had been inserted.  As with all her still life works she has a remarkable ability to depict textures.  Look how she has depicted the crumbly nature of the dark green cheese and the softness of the shavings of butter as well as the reflective quality of the wine glass.  Her colour palette consists mainly of delicately harmonised yellow and reddish-brown shades and by doing this she has added warmth to the depiction but it is contrasted by the cool blue and white bowl at the right foreground.  The dark background and the way she has placed the objects in close proximity to each other offers a scene of intimacy.

The ornate knife

Look at the knife in the foreground that overhangs the edge of the table. The blade has an Antwerp mark, but more of interest is the ornate handle, which is decorated with ornaments and figures that signify love and marriage.  Although not clear in the picture, at the top a vignette of entangled hands with a burning heart and below it the allegorical figures of Faith and Temperance.  This type of knife, along with a matching fork in a pouch, was given as a wedding cutlery as a gift at weddings.  Even more interesting is the side of this bridal knife, on which Clara has put her name in the form of an engraved inscription, which is unusual as it is one of the few still lifes that she has signed her name in full, rather than her usual signature on her paintings “CLARA P”.    Maybe the reason for the full name on the knife handle was because it was her own wedding gift. However, whether she ever married is still unknown. 

Face of Clara in the lid of the jug

Once again we see the added personal touch to this still life work for if you take a closer look you can uncover in the metal lid of the stone jug the reflection of a face with a white cap: this is Clara herself and as in other paintings by her this reflection appears to be a secondary “signature”.  This incorporation of a self portrait in a painting soon caught on and many other artists followed suit.

Florero (2)
Vase of Flowers by Jan Brueghel the Elder (Jan Velvet Brueghel), 1609

Paintings depicting vases of flowers were very popular at the time.  One of the leading exponents was Jan Breughel the Elder.

Bouquet of Flowers by Clara Peeters (c.1612)

One of Clara Peeters’ floral still life paintings is in the Met Museum of New York. The painting depicts a luxurious bouquet of flowers in a roemer glass, which stands on a low stone shelf. The painting is awash with primary colours which make it stand out against a plain dark background.  The bunch is a mix of late spring and early summer blooms and include roses, tulips, narcissi, carnations, and irises. We see that some of the flowers have shed their petals which now lie on the pitted ledge.  Clara Peeters was an expert when it came to depicting reflective surfaces, an example of this is her depiction of the glass with its ornamented base and serrated foot. We see a butterfly perched on the stem of a fallen flower and in a way, this brings to life this still life work.

One has to presume that Clara Peeters’ choice of still life paintings is a result of the restrictions imposed on female artists. Female artists rarely followed an art education, certainly never being allowed to paint naked models, a must-do requirement if you wanted to become a history painter.  On the other hand, everyday objects were within reach of female painters.  Peeters’ still life artwork was in great demand with the buying public.  Already in the first half of the 17th century there was work by her in collections in the Northern Netherlands as well as her still lifes in the royal collection in Madrid. As was explained at the beginning of this blog the date of her birth is not precisely known.  It is the same for the date of her passing but it is presumed to be sometime after 1657.

Bernardo Bellotto. Part 2.

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Detail of Self-portrait as Venetian ambassador

At the end of 1761 Bellotto returned to his home Dresden to find it had been devastated during the Prussian invasion.  Worse, was the fact that he found himself in great financial difficulty arising from the death of two of his major patrons, Augustus III, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland and Count Heinrich Bruhl, the prime minister of Saxony in 1763. 

View of the Kreuzkirche in Ruins by Bellotto (1765)

Their deaths and his financial situation made Bellotto melancholic and it was around this time that he painted the Kreuzkirche which now lay in ruins.  It had been partially destroyed during the Seven Year War, at a time when Bellotto had been forced to flee the city.  The painting is entitled View of the Kreuzkirche in Ruins and was completed by Bellotto in 1765.  The Kreuzkirche is the oldest church in Dresden and, during the conflict, was shelled by Prussian artillery.   The building was set ablaze and finally collapsed. The church tower, though damaged, remained standing.  Work commenced on the reconstruction the church and it was decided to preserve the original tower. Unfortunately, in June 1765, with the construction of the new church already under way, the greater part of the tower collapsed.  The painting is a good example of how Bellotto unique, capacity to capture the spirit of an event.  His depiction of the ruin  is an unusual one for it is not an ancient ruin as far as the artist was concerned.  It was a relatively new one as the destruction had only occurred five years earlier.   Bellotto had completed a work depicting the great church some years earlier (see painting in the previous blog).   However, in this work, we see the jagged remnants of the church rear up skywards.   The cleanliness of the once beautiful church has gone.  There is nothing clean about the church now.   The scene before us is just a mass of noise and dirt.  It is a chaotic scene which we find hard to believe that it could ever be put back to its former glory.   The Church, as the body of Christ, has been violated all over again and the civic wounds of the German city have been violently opened for all to see.  This is the price to be paid when once we set forth to war.  In the painting we see many of Dresden citizens.  Close to the ruins we can just make out craftsmen as they start their preparations to rebuild the once –beautiful edifice.  On the periphery we see men and women dressed in their best clothes staring at the ruin.  For them it was just a day out to visit the site where the destruction had taken place.  For them it was just blatant voyeurism.

Dresden, the Ruins of the Pirnaische Vorstadt by Bellotto (1763)

Another melancholic landscape Bellotto painted around this time was his bleak depiction of the town where he used to live, Pirna, destroyed by Prussian artillery fire.

In the mid 1760’s there was a revival of classical antiquity in art and Bellotto turned to painting idealised views featuring classical motifs that he had once drawn when living in Venice and Rome. In 1764 the Dresden Academy of Fine Art was founded by order of the Prince-Elector Frederick Christian and at that time, Christian Ludwig von Hagerdorn was the Academy’s general director of the Saxon Art Collections.  Hagerdorn disliked Bellotto and by-passed him when he applied to become a professor of the Academy.  It could be the fact that Bellotto could not speak German which rankled him or maybe it was Bellotto’s style of painting as Hagerdorn once wrote of Bellotto:

“…He loses no opportunity of bringing up the subject of his dreary art and his enormous family…”

Dresden from the Neustädter Bridgehead, by Bellotto (1765)

Franz Xavier who had taken on the role of the regency of the Electorate of Saxony together with his sister-in-law, the Dowager Electress Maria Antonia of Bavaria intervened and Bellotto was admitted to the Academy and granted a three-year teaching post and given the title of “associate member for perspective”.  Belloto’s reception piece was his 1765 painting, Dresden from the Neustädter Bridgehead.

Architectural Capriccio with a Self-Portrait in the costume of a Venetian Nobleman by Bellotto (1765)

Bellotto took part in the Academy’s first exhibition on March 5th 1765.  He submitted four of his works, one of which was his painting entitled Architectural Capriccio with a Self-Portrait in the costume of a Venetian Nobleman.  It is an idealised setting incorporating a number of famous Venetian buildings including the Marciana Library.  The gentleman in the foreground wearing the red robes and a heavily embroidered sash on his left shoulder of a Venetian procurator is thought to be a self-portrait.  Look closely at the pillar behind the dignitary and you will see a handbill.  On it is a quotation by the Roman poet Horace:

Pictoribus atque poetis

Quidlibet audendi semper fuit aequa postestas

which translates to:


Painters and poets have always shared an equal right to dare to do whatever they wanted.

One can only believe that Bellotto added this poster with the saying of Horace to remind people that it is correct to believe that anything is possible.

View of Warsaw from the Royal Palace by Bellotto (1773)

Bellotto was not happy at the Academy and found it harder and harder to work under Hagedorn and so, half way through his three year tenure he requested a leave of absence so that he could travel to St Petersburg. Russia at the time was ruled by Catherine the Great who was known for her support for foreign artists.  On his way to Saint Petersburg, however, Bellotto accepted an invitation in 1764 from Poland’s newly elected King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski to become one of his court painters in Warsaw. Poniatowski was an avid art collector who wanted to add to his collection. Bellotto wrote to the Dresden Academy asking for an extension to his leave of absence and once granted he summoned his wife and daughters to come and live in Warsaw. His wages as court painter managed to elevate him financially to his former status.

Ujazdów Castle, by Bellotto (“Canaletto”) about 1775

Bellotto started to work on his royal commission to provide a number of paintings depicting panoramic cityscapes of both Warsaw and Rome to be hung at the royal palace, the Ujazdów Castle, which was situated just outside the city and was, at that time, being refurbished.   The idea of having depictions of the two cities side by side was to infer that Warsaw was the “new Rome”.   He was allocated the large room on the ground floor of the castle for his large works.  However, the refurbishments met with financial problems and the work was eventually abandoned, and in 1777, Bellotto’s paintings were moved to the Royal Castle in Warsaw.   As Bellotto painted more views of Warsaw, they took the place of some of the paintings depicting Rome.  His paintings were hung in the antechamber outside the Throne Room and were visible to the ambassadors and other dignitaries who had come for an audience with the king.  The room became known as the Canaletto Room and Bellotto’s paintings today are still to be seen in that room.

Views of Warsaw from the Suburbs of Praga by Bellotto (1770)

In its place at the centre of the south wall of the antechamber is Bellotto’s masterpiece, View of Warsaw from the Suburb of Praga.

The artist at work

It is an all-encompassing panoramic view of Warsaw which also incorporates a self-portrait of the artist sitting at his easel in the far left foreground.

Miodowa Street by Bellotto (1777)

Bellotto remained in Warsaw for sixteen years and died suddenly from a stroke in the city on November 17th, 1780 at the age of 59.  He was buried in the Capuchin Church at Miodowa Street. The street was the subject of his 1777 painting and the church where he was buried can be seen in the left background emerging from behind the trees. Bellotto’s wife, Elisabetta, died five years later and their daughter Theresia Francisca left the city with her husband and hundreds of her father’s paintings and went to live in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Bellotto completed more than three hundred paintings, about a third of which were cityscapes which glorified some of the great capitals of Europe.  The paintings were highly original but always managed to meet with the social and political demands of his patrons.

Bernardo Bellotto. Part 1.

In this blog I am returning to an artist I talked about almost nine years ago.  My artist today is Bernardo Bellotto who was born in Venice on May 22nd 1722.  He was the third-born child of Lorenzo Antonio Bellotto and Fiorenza Domenica Canal, who was the eldest of three sisters of Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known to us as Canaletto.  Bellotto’s started his initial artistic training at the age of fourteen when he worked in his uncle’s workshop.  Two years later, at the age of sixteen, Bellotto became a member of the Fraglia dei Pittori (Venetian painters’ guild). Bellotto trained in Canaletto’s studio and would help him to satisfy the growing demand for Venetian scenes. Bellotto would later point out the family connection by signing some of his works ‘Bernardo Canaletto’ or ‘Bellotto de Canaletto’.

Rio dei Mendicanti and the Scuola di San Marco, 1738 - Bernardo Bellotto
Rio dei Mendicanti and the Scuola di San Marco by Bellotto (1738)

In around 1741, he and his uncle, Canaletto, took a trip along the Brenta canal to Dolo and Padua and during this time the two painters amassed a number of sketches which would be later transformed into completed oil paintings. On October 5th, 1741 a marriage contract was drawn up by Bellotto and his future father-in-law Giambattista Pizzorno, for permission for the artist to marry Elisabetta Pizzorno. On November 5th 1741, Bellotto married Elisabetta Pizzorno at Il Redentore church in Venice. A dowry of 850 ducats was agreed to be paid by the bride’s family to the groom at the time of marriage.  Their first child, Lorenzo, was born on October 15th, 1742. A further insight into Bellotto’s life around this time is a document submitted by his mother in which she declares that the family has been abandoned by her husband Lorenzo and that the only goods in her possession are those procured for her by Bernardo who, with his work, maintained her and his brother Pietro, both of them being resident in Bernardo’s home. The brother Pietro Bellotto, who was also an artist, also declared before the same notary to have learned the art of painting from Bernardo. In order to continue living with his brother and improve in his profession Pietro signs a pledge to give him one hundred and twenty ducats a year.

Arno in Florence, c.1742 - Bernardo Bellotto
Arno in Florence by Bellotto (1742)

In 1742 Bellotto set off on a painting trip and travelled extensively around the Northern Italian cities, stopping off at Florence and Lucca and during each stop he would complete a verduta of the place.   A verduta is a highly detailed, usually large-scale painting of a cityscape or some other vista.   These painting were very popular with the foreigners who travelled around Italy on their Grand Tour and wanted to bring home something to remind them of the places they had visited.

The Old Bridge over the River Po, Turin by Bellotto (1746)

Bellotto made a number of painting trips to Lombardy and during a stopover and around 1746 whilst in Turin he painted a view of the city. It was entitled The Old Bridge over the River Po, Turin and it was a commission he received from Charles Emmanuel, King of Sardinia and Duke of Saxony. If you look closely to the extreme left of the painting you will see an artist sitting before his easel which was presumably a reference to himself.   This and his other Turin depictions were large measuring 127 x 171cms and they were, as this was, sweeping panoramic views with such exquisite architectural detail of the brick tower and the bridge in the foreground. Look how well he has used light and colour to portray the reflections on still water and the hint with regards the moving currents. Bellotto eventually arrived in Rome where he studied study architectural and topographical painting and would remain in the Italian capital until 1743 at which time he journeyed back home to Venice.

Kreuzkirche by Bellotto (1747-56)

In May 1746 Bellotto’s uncle Canaletto left Venice for England where his paintings were in great demand.  A year later Bellotto also left Venice.  His destination was Germany and the city of Dresden where he hoped to forge a career and avail himself of some lucrative commissions.  His desire for commissions materialised within a year of his arrival as he became the court painter at the court of Friedrich August II, Elector of Saxony and soon Bellotto was the highest paid artist at the Saxon court.  The following decade was to be Bellotto’s most successful.

Dresden from the Left Bank of the Elbe, below the Fortifications by Bellotto (1748)

The city of Dresden and the outlying districts, such as the villages of Pirna, and Königstein with its magnificent Königstein hilltop fortress, all of which offered Bellotto the chance to paint beautiful cityscapes and rural landscapes. In all, Bellotto completed thirty different paintings for the Elector.  Fourteen depicting views of the city of Dresden and its wonderful buildings, eleven of Pirna and its surrounding rural landscapes and five of the magnificent Königstein fortress.

The Neumarkt from the Judenhof, Dresden by Bellotto (1748-9)

View of Pirma from the Sonnenstein Castle by Bellotto (1755)

The city of Dresden and the outlying districts, such as the villages of Pirna with the nearby Sonnenstein Castle, and Königstein with its magnificent Königstein hilltop fortress, all of which offered Bellotto the chance to paint beautiful cityscapes and rural landscapes. In all, Bellotto completed thirty different large scale paintings for the Elector, each between two and three metres wide.  Fourteen depicting views of the city of Dresden and its wonderful buildings, eleven of Pirna and its surrounding rural landscapes and five of the magnificent Königstein fortress. The finished works were to be hung in the royal painting gallery in the Stallhof, which forms part of the Royal Palace in Dresden. Bellotto’s depictions of the city of Dresden were remarkable for their topographical meticulousness, mathematical perspective and the way in which he portrayed the way the light played on the various architectural structures.  The way he handled the light was truly remarkable.

The Fortress of Königstein by Bellotto (1756-58)

This painting is part of the NGA Washington. This depiction by Bellotto of the Fortress of Königstein is one of five large canvases, commissioned by Augustus III in the spring of 1756 but never delivered, depicting the renovated medieval fortress in the countryside near Dresden. 

The Fortress of Königstein from the North by Bellotto (1756-58)

Bellotto having received the royal commission to complete thirty large scale paintings of Dresden, Pirna and Königstein was proceeding well with the commission.  The Elector’s commission had enabled Bellotto to live a life of luxury.  He had an seven reception rooms in his Dresden apartment which was awash with luxurious furnishings, Venetian mirrors and fine wallpapers and fabrics.  Life could not have been better.  What could possibly go wrong?  The answer to that question was the Seven Year War, which broke out involving all the main European “players”.  The Prussian army invaded Saxony and entered the city of Dresden and Augustus, the Elector of Saxony and Bellotto’s patron fled the city and barricaded himself in at the Königstein fortress for several months before escaping to Warsaw.  Bellotto left Dresden and his luxurious home and went to Pirna. 

The Fortress of Königstein: Courtyard with the Magdalenenburg by Bellotto (1756-58)

This view from the south of Königstein includes several buildings within the fortification: the southern end of the Brunnenhaus facing us to the left, the Georgenburg oblique behind it, and the Magdalenenburg in the foreground

Dominican Church, Vienna by Bellotto

In 1758 Bellotto and his sixteen-year-old son obtained passports to travel to Bayreuth from where he completed an onward journey to Vienna.

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Schloss Hof by Bellotto

Shortly after his arrival in Vienna, Bellotto received a couple of private painting commissions.  One was from Prince of Liechenstein and one from Wenzel Anton, the Prince of Kaunitz who was also chancellor to Empress Maria Theresa.  Not only were they lucrative commissions it gave Bellotto a chance to receive a thirteen painting commission from the Empress herself.  The commission tasked the artist to complete six depictions of the city of Vienna and seven much larger panoramic views of Schönbraun and Schloss Hof imperial palaces and their gardens.

The Dominican Church in Vienna by Bellotto (1758)

For the two years Bellotto was in Vienna with his son he worked non-stop producing paintings for the Empress’ commission and other commissions for members of her court. This phenomenal output can also be put down to the help he received from his son Lorenzo. The resulting depictions were amazing and offered to serve as testimony of Vienna’s imperial magnificence

Nymphenburg Palace, Munich, by Bellotto (c. 1761)

In 1761, after almost two years in Vienna, Bellotto left the city and travelled, not to Dresden where his wife and daughters lived, but to Munich.  This could have been because of the on-going troubles with the Prussian invaders.  He had been given authorisation to visit the German city through a letter from Empress Marie Theresa to her cousin Maria Antonia, the Princess of Bavaria, who had fled from Dresden since the Prussian siege.  Once there Bellotto was commissioned to paint panoramic views of Munich and the Baroque Nymphenburg Palace in the western suburbs of the city, which was Maria Antonia’s birthplace and summer residence.

The Ruins of the Old Kreuzkirche in Dresden by Bellotto (1765)

At the end of 1761 Bellotto returned to his home Dresden to find it devastated during the Prussian invasion.  Worse, was the fact that he found himself in great financial difficulty arising from the death of two of his major patrons, Augustus III, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland and Count Heinrich Bruhl, the prime minister of Saxony in 1763.  Their deaths and his financial situation made Bellotto melancholic and it was around this time that he painted the Kreuzkirche which now lay in ruins.  It had been partially destroyed during the Seven Year War, at a time when Bellotto had been forced to flee the city.  The painting is entitled View of the Kreuzkirche in Ruins and was completed by Bellotto in 1765.  The Kreuzkirche is the oldest church in Dresden and, during the conflict, was shelled by Prussian artillery.   The building was set ablaze and finally collapsed. The church tower, though damaged, remained standing.  Work commenced on the reconstruction of the church and it was decided to preserve the original tower. Unfortunately, in June 1765, with the construction of the new church already under way, the greater part of the tower collapsed.  The painting is a good example of how Bellotto unique, capacity to capture the spirit of an event.  His depiction of the ruin  is an unusual one for it is not an ancient ruin as far as the artist was concerned.  It was a relatively new one as the destruction had only occurred five years earlier.   Bellotto had completed a work depicting the great church some years earlier (see painting earlier in the blog).   However, in this work, we see are the jagged remnants of the church rear up skywards.   The cleanliness of the once beautiful church has gone.  There is nothing clean about the church now.   The scene before us is just a mass of noise and dirt.  It is a chaotic scene which we find hard to believe that it could ever be put back to its former glory.   The Church, as the body of Christ, has been violated all over again and the civic wounds of the German city have been violently opened for all to see.  This is the price to be paid when once we set forth to war.  In the painting we see many of Dresden citizens.  Close to the ruins we can just make out craftsmen as they start their preparations to rebuild the once –beautiful edifice.  On the periphery we see men and women dressed in their best clothes staring at the ruin.  For them it was just a day out to visit the site where the destruction had taken place.  For them it was just blatant voyeurism.

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Kreuzkirche , Dresden (2008)

……………………………….to be continued.