Dutch and Flemish Golden Age painters.

Like many others, I am a lover of the artwork of the Dutch Golden Age painters.  The Dutch Golden Age was a period in the history of the Netherlands, which spanned the era from 1588 and the birth of the Dutch Republic to 1672, Rampjaar (Disaster Year) which was the year of the outbreak of the Franco-Dutch War.  During this period, it was considered that Dutch trade, science, and art and the Dutch military were among the most acclaimed in Europe.  We all know about the lives and works of the famous artists of that era, such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen, Frans Hals and Judith Leyster to name but a few.  In my blog today I want to look at the lives and works of the lesser-known painters of that era.

Izaak van Oosten was a Flemish Baroque landscape and cabinet painter who worked out of Antwerp.  Izaak was born in Antwerp in December 1613 and was the son of an art dealer with the same name.  His father had become a master in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke in 1617. Very little is known about his upbringing or his early artistic training as there is no record of which master or masters he studied under.  Izaak became a master in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke in 1652.

Landscape with a Wagon and Travellers passing through a Village by Izaak van Oosten

There is something joyful about paintings depicting skaters on frozen rivers and lakes.  It is all before global warming and I am sure that now, many of the rivers and lakes retain their fluidity even in the depths of winter.  The painting I am showcasing is entitled Skaters on a Frozen Lake at the Edge of Town and it was painted by the Dutch Golden Age landscape painter Cornelis Beelt.  Cornelis Beelt was a Dutch Golden Age landscape painter who was  one of the chief figures in the Haarlem school of landscape painting, but was also well-known for his genre paintings of towns, markets and villages.  Beelt was born in Haarlem during the first decade of the seventeenth century.

Skaters on a Frozen Lake at the Edge of Town by Cornelis Beelt (c.1652)

The setting is a clear winter’s day and crowds of locals gather besides a country inn keen to enjoy the sport on the ice. Young and old, rich and poor are attracted to this pastime. In the foreground a group of well-dressed men and women stands on the ice and chat. An old lady with her hands in a fur muff sits in a splendid arreslee (sleigh which is drawn by a horse and which is decorated with a fine plumed harness. Close by young children propel themselves across the ice on small prikslees (sledges).

Beach of Shevingen by Cornelis Beelt

There is a strange thing about this painting which unfortunately is not visible from the attached picture. Beelt signed his painting in an unusual manner, one which he had also done on his painting Beach of Shevingen. He signed his name on the plank of wood in the foreground. However , at a later time, his signature was scrubbed out and replaced by the inscription J.V.Ostade f.1653 and this was judged to be an attempt by a less than honest art dealer to ascribe the work to a more famous name, Isaac van Ostade, so as to have a better chance of selling the painting, even though Ostade had died in 1649 !

The phrase ‘cabinet d’amateur’, in French, is an ancient term which referred to a room or part of a room in an art collector’s house where he or she displayed the paintings they had purchased.  These display areas were before the rise of public galleries.  Some where simple cabinets which contained their owner’s beloved works and some where floor to ceiling displays of their paintings.  The phrase cabinet d’amateur should not be viewed as that of an “amateur collector” but that of an “art lover”.  A German term for such a place is often referred to as a kunstkammer. In Italian it might be called a Gabinetto, Studiolo or Camerino.

Two collectors dining in a gallery surrounded by paintings and works of art, with two parrots in the foreground. by Frans Fancken the Younger

The painting connected with this term is one by the Flemish painter, Frans Francken the Younger and described as Two collectors dining in a gallery surrounded by paintings and works of art, with two parrots in the foreground. Frans Francken the Younger was the most famous of an Antwerp dynasty of painters; he trained with his father, Frans the Elder, and joined the Antwerp guild in 1605. He was a painter of religious and historical subjects as well as being the inventor of the genre – the cabinet painting.

On the right-hand side of the painting we see two men deep in discussion about a painting one of them is holding up but we do not know who is the owner of this kunstkammer.  The presence of a kunstkammer in one’s house was a sign of wealth, intelligence and social status.  In the main part of the painting, we see an ornate sideboard supported by classical caryatids.  A caryatid is the name given to a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head.  A light-pink fringed cloth covers the top shelf of the sideboard on which two large shells are placed either side of the painting, The Adoration of the Magi.   Richly decorated goblets and covered urns are displayed on two of the sideboard shelves. On the floor we see two parrots depicted sitting on a perch.  The import of exotic foreign birds testified to the owner’s wealth.   We see a large red velvet curtain falls from the ceiling which when released would act as a separator of the two rooms.  Everything in the room exudes the wealth of the owner which would have been the raison d’être for the owner of the cabinet d’amateur commissioning the work.

The Cabinet of the Collector by Frans Francken the Younger (c.1617)

A similar painting by Frans Francken the Younger is in the Royal Collection entitled The Cabinet of the Collector which he completed around 1617. Amongst the paintings on view in the kunstkammer is a landscape by Joos de Momper,  a still life of an everyday table set for a meal; and a small, nocturnal Flight into Egypt. Other religious painting depicted are one featuring St Augustine who is trying to comprehend the idea of the Trinity and sees a baby struggling to pour the entire sea into a pool in the sand with a shell – both tasks being equally beyond the scope of man. The drawings, one framed and one in an open book are two studies for Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling and a preparatory drawing for Raphael’s Madonna della Perla which emphasise the intellectual side of painting.. There are also letters on the table, no doubt signifying an intelligent characteristic of the painting’s owner.  Also displayed are exotic weaponry which is a reminder of the importance of travel and trade and a handful of Roman coins and a bowl of modern ones, which were not anything to do with wealth but more likely a celebration of the achievements of great men.

For me, the most interesting part of the work is seen beneath the arch to the right.  In the background a church is demolished and nearby donkey-headed men with cudgels destroy a pile of objects associated with learning, science, the arts and sport. According to Karel van Mander, the sixteenth century Flemish poet, painter and art historian, a man with a donkey head is a symbol of Ignorance. The episodes depicted here recall two historical events: the Beeldenstorm, an outbreak of iconoclasm carried out by Protestants in 1566; and the ‘Spanish Fury’, the sack of Antwerp in 1576.

A Rhineland Landscape with a Hermit and Soldiers by Jan Griffier the Elder

Jan Griffier the Elder, who was born in Amsterdam around 1645, was a painter and printmaker, who produced views of Rhineland landscapes as well as spending time, around 1660, in England where he produced many landscape works featuring the English countryside.  One of his most beautiful landscapes is referred to as A Rhineland Landscape with a Hermit and Soldiers. The painting dramatically depicts a steep mountain landscape with a meandering river below which slowly flows through wooded crags which are surmounted by castles.  If we look to the left foreground, we can see a men loading barrels of wine onto a small boat.  The main figures in this painting are on the right-hand side.  We see a group of soldiers lying down, concealed among the ferns and flowers.  One of the group points down to the boat which is being loaded.  Are they planning to raid the operation?  Above them, sitting on a rock by a large oak tree in peaceful isolation, is a hermit, who is meditating.  It is an interesting painting with plenty to focus on, but what is it all about ?

Floral Still life Floral by Gaspar van den Hoecke

There is something that fascinates me about floral still life paintings.  I think it is just the effort and patience the artists must have put in to produce such beautiful works.  My next featured painting is a small (70 x 50cms) floral still life attributed to the Flemish Baroque painter, Gaspar van Hoecke, who was born in Antwerp around 1580.

Gaspar van den Hoecke was best known for his small religious cabinet pieces but during his early period around 1610 his work focused on still life floral paintings.  The vase of flowers sits on a wooden tabletop.  This dense grouping of flowers fills almost two thirds of the painting.  The profusion of flowers doesn’t allow the artist to depict twigs and leaves between individual flowers.  On the table we see a caterpillar of the swallow-tailed butterfly which is next to it.  Also on the table there is a silver medal with the head of Pope Pius V which had been created in 1571.   Just above it is a gold coin which is a rare example of a byzantine solidus made during the era of Anastasius, the Eastern Roman Emperor. 

Winter Landscape with a peasant walking through snow by Gysbrecht Leytens

The Flemish painter Gijsbrecht Leytens was born in Antwerp in 1586. As a teenager, he began his apprenticeship with Jacob Vrolijck.  In 1611 he joinied the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke as a master. In 1615 he became a member of the Olijftak, a chamber of rhetoric that dates back to the early 16th century in Antwerp, when it was a social drama society which drew its membership primarily from merchants and tradesmen and provided public entertainment at prestigious events.  Gijsbrecht was a captain in Antwerp’s Civic Guard between 1624 and 1628.  His work followed the style of 16th and 17th century Flemish and Dutch great landscape paintings, which had brought recognition to such masters as Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Hendrick Avercamp, Gillis Van Coninxloo, Joost de Momper and Denijs Van Alsloot.

Winter landscape with a woodsman and travelers by Gysbrecht Leytens

However, it was Gijsbrecht Leytens’ determined personal style that brought him to the public’s attention.   Many of his paintings were simply attributed to “The Master of the Winter Landscape” and only in the 1940’s attributed to him.  Leytens has an easily recognisable style not just because he focuses on snowy winter scenes but because of the way he depicts intricate and curious intertwining designs created by the bare branches and twigs which form a large part of his depictions.   He was described as a poet of the frost in the way he conveys the cold nakedness of the sun on a countryside caught in the ice. No-one before him, nor after him, either in Flanders or elsewhere, expressed this with such intensity. The fundamental and unique quality of his art also resides in the extreme refinement of the subtle colour harmonies apparent in his paintings at all times.

Old Man Reading a Letter by Willem van Mieris (1729)

The depiction of the reading of a letter has featured in many paintings over the years.  Such attention to what is written in the letter adds to the back-story of the artwork and often our imagination runs riot as we try to fathom out the sentiment expressed in the pages of the letter.  My next painting is one by the Dutch artist Willem van Mieris who was born in Leiden in the Northern Netherlands in June 1662.  His artistic tuition came from his father Frans van Mieris who was a genre painter.  Throughout his career Willem was successful and had the support of a number of patrons who constantly supplied him with commissions.  He was equally at home painting genre scenes and portraiture as well as being a skilled landscape painter, etcher, and draughtsman.  He was the active leader of, and once became dean of, the Leiden Guild of St. Luke in 1693. A year later, in 1694, he established a drawing academy in Leiden along with the painter Jacob Toorenvliet.

In this work we see an elderly gentleman seated  at a table in a darkened interior deep in concentration as he reads a handwritten document.  He wears an opulent-looking gown which is made of richly embroidered material and which is evocative of the fashion for Japanese dress at the time.  Upon his head is a hat made of rich blue velvet and lined with a extravagant swathe of fur.  In the dark background we can just make out shelves filled with books.  Couple that with the paraphernalia on the table, such as an inkwell, sealing wax and quill pen tells us that this a gentleman of great learning, maybe a lawyer.  Lawyers were often depicted in paintings reading documents and letters.

I hope this blog will encourage you to delve into the world of Dutch and Flemish painters where you will find so many talented artists.

John Downton

Self portrait by John Downton (c.1928)

My featured artist today is the lesser-known British painter John Downton who was born on March 27th, 1906 in the Kent town of Erith, some twenty kilometres south-east of London.  He was the youngest of three children of Albert Victor and Flora Edith Downton (née Mitchell).  John had two older sisters, Hilda and Mary both of whom had intended to study medicine but their plans were thwarted by family circumstances and health reasons.

At the age of four John attended the Erith Convent where he was a pupil for the next four years.  In 1914 he transferred to the Erith Grammar School.  It was around this time that John developed a love for music.  His father played the flute and the piano and was a prominent member of the local church choir.  John’s uncle, Hedley, gave John a violin and during the following years John became an important member of the school orchestra.  The other great love of the teenager was his desire to read, particularly books by ancient philosophers and other “serious” works of English literature.

Portrait of a Young Woman by John Downton (1929)

Apart from his music and books, John had an overriding passion for art and even built a summer house/studio in the family garden where he did his painting.  When he was seventeen the school entered his pencil sketch, Biplanes: A Study, into the Royal Drawing Society at the Guildhall, London and he was awarded a Silver Medal.  As a teenager he was fascinated by all things military and penned many sketches of war machines and yet, later in life he became a pacifist.

Woman at the Window by John Downton (1934)

In 1922, when he was sixteen years old, his mother noticed an advert in The Times which stated that a Professor Gaugot, who was a lecturer at the Sorbonne, was willing to teach an English boy to speak French and so young John Downton headed to Paris where he stayed with the Gaugot family.

Child with Roses by John Downton (1936)

A year later in 1923 John accompanied his two sisters to Italy where they visited Venice and the Northern Italian Lakes as well as the Swiss towns of Lucerne and Lugano.  This was the start of John’s love affair with travel.  His favourite destinations were Northern Italy and Switzerland.

Having completed his schooling John was accepted into Queen’s College, Cambridge.  Initially he took Part 1 of the English Tripos and in 1927 was placed into the Second Class but the following year he decided to abandon English and instead enrolled in the History of Art course and once completed, he received a First Class degree.  During his three years at the university John immersed himself in their musical activities.

Hilda Downton by John Downton (1929)

In the Autumn of 1928, having completed his three-year degree course, John Downton enrolled at the Slade School of Art which at the time was presided over by Henry Tonks, a British surgeon and later draughtsman and painter of figure subjects, chiefly interiors, and a caricaturist who was Slade Professor of Fine Art from 1918 to 1930.  John, like many of the Old Masters of the past, preferred the medium of tempera but the Slade tutors wanted him to change his favoured painting medium and embrace a more modern style of painting.  There was to be no common ground and so on May 21st 1929, John resigned.  In a forward to John Downton’s 1937 book, The Death of Art, an art critic and author wrote about Downton’s falling out of love with the Slade and the Academy’s thoughts on art.  He wrote:

“…A certain kind of rather drably coloured, sober urban realism was the style in favour.  Not for Downton though: he had pretty certainly made up his mind what he wanted to do and what sort of painter he wanted to be well before he arrived at the Slade and it has much more to do with the legacy of Piero della Francesca than that of Sickert and Cezanne…”

Downton’s art was a return to the art of the early Renaissance.

In 1930 John Downton and his sister set off on an European trip.  They based themselves in the Côte d’Azur town of Menton and from there they took day trips out to the Italian Riviera towns of Ventimiglia and Genoa.  Much longer trips were taken by the pair when they visited Milan and Lugano as well as his beloved Italian Lakes.

Portrait of a Young Lady by John Downton (1929)

Around 1930, John bought Park Cottage in the Kent village of Sundridge, some twenty miles, south-east of London.  He spent much of his time renovating the property and buying antique furniture at auction to furnish the rooms.  After two years living there, he realised it was too small for him and his artwork and so he moved out and rented the cottage to a fellow artist, Vincent New.

In April 1932 John Downton was awarded his M.A. and, as if to celebrate the successful completion of his studies, he took a trip to Tunis and returned via Naples, where he remained for a few months.  On arriving back to England John searched for a new home and eventually purchased a property with a north-facing conservatory in which he could paint.  The property was in Observatory Gardens, in the London borough of Kensington.

Frances Witts by John Downton (1935)

Around 1935, John Downton completed a poignant in memoriam portrait of his cousin Frances Witts.  She had died of pneumonia aged just twenty-six.  He used a family photograph for this work.

Portrait of a Lady in Yellow by Alesso Baldovinetti (1465)

Downton was influenced by profile portraits executed by Florentine painters such as Baldovinetti’s 1465 work entitled Portrait of a Lady in Yellow but art historians believe this portrait of his cousin was influenced by the Milanese painter, Ambrogio’ de Predis and his c.1490 work, Beatrice d’Este, which was once attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. 

Portrait of a Lady (Beatrice d’Este) by Ambrogio’ de Predis

Downton’s memorial portrait has a dark and rich tonal quality and he has based it on a conservative portrait of the past and has accomplished an image that is both solemn and inspiring.  The woman in Downton’s portrait, like the Italian females in the portraits mentioned earlier, includes a necklace with diminishing size of beads whilst her hair is similarly geometric but in Frances Witts’ case it is gathered at the sides rather than at the back of the head.

Nora Russell by John Downton (1936)

Between 1936 and 1940 John Downton exhibited work at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.  His two submissions in 1936, which were considered to be his masterpieces, were The Battle and and Nora Russell.  The latter painting was executed in egg tempera and, despite it being a simple depiction of a young schoolgirl, it is evocative in the way it reminds us of the spirit of Quattrocento female portraiture, that is to say, female portraiture in fifteenth-century Italy, which portrayed womanly perfection as established in Catholic doctrine, illustrating the special social roles that upper-class women fulfilled at the time.

The Battle by John Downton (1935)

The title, The Battle, the second of his submitted painting to the 1936 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, is to do with conflict but not a battlefield scene, as you may have expected.  It is all about the battle between modern industrialisation and the ideal of Renaissance humanism, which was a revival in the study of classical antiquity, at first in Italy and then spreading across Western Europe in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, a cultural legacy, literary legacy, and moral philosophy of classical antiquity.

Erasmus of Rotterdam by Hans Holbein the Younger (1523)

The figure and its stance in the painting is based upon Holbein’s 1523 work, Erasmus of Rotterdam.  Erasmus was the leading humanist at the time.  Both works accentuate the hands of the sitter.  In the Louvre collection there are studies of hands made by Holbein as preliminaries for his painting.  In Downton’s painting we see through the window an abstract depiction of a modern factory.

Joan Harris by John Downton (1937)

John Downton was always on the move and made many more house relocations and in August 1937 he took up residence in Cambridge.  That year he submitted his work entitled Joan Harris to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition where it was subsequently chosen to be shown in The Prominent Living Artists Exhibition which was staged at the Russell-Cotes Museum in Bournemouth.  Joan Harris was the daughter of John Downton’s Cambridge neighbour.  From a letter she wrote him during the sittings for the portrait we can gather that Downton completed more than just this one portrait of her.  She wrote:

“…I hope you will finish the picture soon; but if you ever want me to come and sit for you again, just let me know and I will come any time that I am able.

When you have finished the picture I hope I will be able to see it and if you get the first picture back in Cambridge I would like to see it, and I know Mummy and Daddy would love to see it as they never saw it when it was completed…”

Portrait of a Girl by John Downton (1938)

Downton’s 1938 submission to the RA Summer Show was Portrait of a Girl which unusually for Downton depicted the model against a landscape background giving the impression that it was a plein air portrait.  There is a definite resemblance to the style of one of my favourite portrait artists, Gerald Brockhurst.

Portrait of a Woman by John Downton (1955)

A strange looking portrait going under the title Portrait of a Woman was completed by John Downton in 1955. 

Edith Sitwell by Pavel Tchelitchew (1935)

It is thought that the depiction was loosely based on the Polish painter, Pavel Tchelitchew’s portrait of his good friend Edith Sitwell in 1935.

Girl Conducting by John Downton (1940)

In 1938, now living in Cambridge, Downton was having to cope with the rejection by Faber & Faber of his manuscript, The Death of Art, but which was published years later. In 1940 Downton submitted three paintings to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, Eve, A Girl Conducting, and A Child. His painting entitled Girl Conducting is all about his depiction of the girl’s hands and it is such a facet in many of his works. The finished product did not come easily for Downton, who made numerous sketches of hands until he had perfected them. Many of the depictions were influenced by Renaissance paintings. The three paintings Downton submitted to the RA that year were to be the last of his offerings to that establishment.

Woman in Flemish Head Dress by John Downton

So why did Downton stop exhibiting his work at the RA ? In the foreword to Downton’s book The Death of Art, which his sister, Hilda, finally had published in 1995, the writer and critic John Russell Taylor explained:

“…He seems to have felt himself marginalised in a world increasingly unsympathetic to everything he stood for. In 1939 he moved to Florence in an attempt to escape the materialist twentieth century, but then almost immediately had to return to Britain at the outbreak of war. The war itself was even more of an alienating factor, a total outrage to his dearly held pacifist principles. And a general feeling that the mainstream of British Art was moving further and further away from his own ideals, first into luxuriant Romanticism and then into freeform abstraction, caused him to withdraw altogether from exhibiting his own art after 1940…”

Bearded Profit by John Downton (1975)

Now back home in England with the war waging in Europe, John Downton received his conscript papers.  Downton had always been a pacifist and went before the Review Board to argue his case for not fighting.  The Board accepted that he was a genuine conscientious objector and so, in September 1940, he was put to work on a farm near Ludlow.  That same year his two sisters moved north to Pitlochry in Scotland and later Downton moved north to be with them and work on the land of the local farmer.

Portrait of a Woman by John Downton (1940)

When the war ended Downton moved south and took up residence in the Kent town of Sevenoaks.  He remained there for two years but then returned to Cambridge where he stayed until 1964 but when his lease ran out on the property he was renting in 1971 he moved back to Sevenoaks and rented a large ground floor flat with a cellar, close to where his sisters, Hilda and Mary were then living.  Mary became very ill with asthma in 1986 and died.   In December 1990 a water pipe burst in the cellar and caused a flood which partly destroyed some of his books and manuscripts he had stored in the room.  He struggled to save and move the heavy boxes of books and this exertion damaged his heart.  He was confined to hospital for two weeks and on discharge went to live with his sister, Hilda, who looked after him during his final days.  John Downton died on July 31st 1991, aged 85.

John never married but was in no way a recluse as his time was taken up with his painting and his love of music.  He had many friends who valued his company.  His sister, Hilda died in 2006, aged 104.

British Victorian Art and the Maas Gallery, London. Part 2.

My second blog continues to look at some of the Victorian paintings which were on show at the Maas Gallery in London.

The Last Song of the Girondins by Claude Andrew Calthrop (1868)

The first painting I am displaying in Part 2 is one by the English artist Claude Andrew Calthrop.  Calthrop was born in Deeping St Nicholas, near Spalding, Lincolnshire, on December 20th 1844, the youngest son of James Thompson Calthrop, a farmer and grazier, and his wife, Edna (née Knowles).  Calthrop attended the Merchant Taylors’ School, in the City of London, but, by 1861, had transferred to King’s College School. From there, he then studied art at Lambeth School of Art and the Royal Academy Schools, where in December 1864, he was awarded a silver medal for the best drawing from life and a gold medal and a scholarship for £50 for the best historical painting, a biblical one, depicting a subject from the Book of Job. He went on to exhibit at the Royal Society of British Artists and the Royal Academy.  At first, Claude Calthrop concentrated on history paintings depicting episodes of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. Later he changed to depictions of contemporary life, portraiture and genre scenes.

Today’s painting, Last Song of the Girondins, was completed and submitted by Calthrop to the Royal Academy exhibition in 1868.  It depicts a scene from the French Revolution and the Jacobins, an anti-Royalist grouping formed mainly of two prominent parliamentary factions, the Montagnards, lead by Robespierre and the Girondins lead by Jacques-Pierre Brissot.  The Montagnards referred to those who occupied the higher benches in both the Jacobin club and the national legislature. Those who sat on these high benches were generally more radical in their ideology and their policies, while those who sat further down were usually more moderate. The conflict between the Girondins and Montagnards came to a head in the spring of 1793. The catalyst for this was the trial of Louis XVI

Detail from The Last Song of the Girondins by Claude Andrew Calthrop

The two factions fell out and in 1793, the Girondins were charged with conspiring against the Republic by the Montagnards.  They were all immediately found guilty in a show trial, and just before midnight on the October 30th 1793, they were sentenced to death. The following morning, the twenty-one convicted men were taken by cart from the dungeons of the Conciergerie to the guillotine. Defiant to the end, the prisoners, led by Brissot, started to sing the Marseillaise and as each was beheaded, the sound of the song dwindled to silence, until the very last Girondin was executed.  The twenty-one died in a space of thirty-six minutes and this heralded in the Reign of Terror.

Of Calthrop’s painting, the art critic for Bell’s Weekly Messenger, described it as:

“…a more difficult scene to portray could scarcely have been chosen; but he has given individuality to each character, whilst he has managed the processional grouping with an ease which says much for his appropriate idea of detail. The manner, too, in which the general scheme is worked out by means of a happy blending of colour, is also appropriate. The handling is minute, without being laboured; and the tone, kept down, to represent the vault from which the prisoners are about to emerge, is as sober as the scene is sad. We shall expect, after such a specimen as this, to note Mr C Calthrop’s rise in his profession…”

Ruskin in his Turret Brantwood by William Collingwood

William Gershom Collingwood, a writer and artist, was born in Liverpool in 1854. He had always liked the Lake District and had accompanied his father there on sketching tours.   He received his early education at Liverpool College and at the age of eighteen went to University College, Oxford, where he first met John Ruskin. During the summer of 1873 Collingwood visited Ruskin at his Lake District house, Brantwood.  Ruskin had bought the somewhat dilapidated house in Coniston in August 1871.  Brantwood was Ruskin’s main home from 1872 until his death in 1900.  Ruskin oversaw many renovations to Brantwood including adding a turret to his bedroom which gave him a panoramic view of the lake

Brantwood as it looks today.

Later Collingwood was working at Brantwood with Ruskin and his associates. Ruskin was impressed with Collingwood’s draughtsmanship, and so he influenced Collingwood to study at the Slade School of Art between 1876 and 1878. Collingwood exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1880.  For many years Collingwood dedicated his life to helping Ruskin and lived at Branston, taking on the role as Ruskin’s personal assistant.   In 1883 Collingwood married Edith Mary Isaac and the couple lived close to Ruskin in the Lake District. Collingwood went on to edit many of Ruskin’s texts and published a biography of Ruskin in 1893.

Michelangelo Nursing his Dying Servant by Frederic, Lord Leighton (c.1862)

In this 1857 watercolour painting by Frederic, Lord Leighton, we have a depiction a young man supporting and comforting an older man.  It is a tender and compassionate scene.  The old man, a servant, is Urbino and the benevolent person with his arm around the old man’s shoulder is his master, Michelangelo.  Leighton has fashioned the depiction similar to many religious depictions of The Deposition, the cradling of the dead Christ after being brought down from the cross.  A number of years later Leighton completed a copy of the work in oils.

Kathleen by James Tissot

This is an unfinished watercolour portrait of Kathleen Newton by the French painter James Tissot.  She was his favourite model who also became his lover.  The story of artist and model is fascinating and I covered it in my blog, James Tissot and Kathleen Newton ten years ago.

Quiet by James Tissot

This watercolour is thought to be a preliminary sketch which Tissot used when he worked on his painting entitled Quiet. This was one of Tissot’s most famous pictures of Kathleen and it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1881.  Kathleen is depicted sitting on a bench in the garden at Tissot’s house in Grove End Road with one of her children and a pet dog.  The depiction of Kathleen in Quiet shows her in a similar pose as in the unfinished watercolour sketch. 

My next offerings were paintings by the prolific English Victorian painter William Lionel Wylie, an artist of maritime themes which he painted in both oils and watercolours.

W L Wylie

William Lionel Wyllie, better known as W.L.Wylie, who was born on July 5th 1851 at 67 Albany Street, Camden Town, London.  He was the elder of two sons of a prosperous minor-genre painter, French-born English William Morrison Wyllie, who at the time of the birth of his son, was living in London.  His younger brother Charles William Wylie was also a talented painter.  William Jnr. received a first-class artistic education, studying firstly at the Heatherley School of Fine Art, and then in 1866, when he was aged fifteen, at the Royal Academy Schools, where he studied under some of the great artists of the time like Edwin Landseer, John Everett Millais and Frederic Leighton.

Dawn After a Storm by W.L.Wylie (1869)

His artistic talent showed through with his 1869 painting entitled Dawn After a Storm which won him the Turner Gold Medal. He was just eighteen years old.

Landing the Catch, Portel Sands by W.L. Wylie (1875)

William Wylie submitted his painting Landing the Catch, Portel Sands, in 1875.  Wylie who had success at submitting his work to the Royal Academy’s Exhibitions the previous years was horrified and disillusioned  to have his work rejected by the Exhibition jurists.  It was the first time this had happened to him in seven years.  He swore that he would give up painting and go off to sea.

  His parents once had a summer home at Wimereux, a coastal town just north of Boulogne and just to the south was Portel Sands which is depicted in his painting.  This painting depicts fishermen landing their catch on the beach at low tide.  The scene is lit up by the blazing sun overhead.

Shrimpers Hauling to Windward by W.L. Wylie

Wylie’s painting entitled Shrimpers Hauling to Windward is a small work (58 x 71 cms) and is looked upon as one of Wylie’s masterpieces of maritime art.  It appeared at the Royal Academy in 1905.  It is a work full of movement, air, and light. It depicts a sea reach, which is the last bit of river before it meets the sea.  To the right we see the submerged mud bank. The last of the shrimper fleet heads towards land, hard on the starboard tack in the channel, battling against both wind and the current, whilst the leading boats have already made it to the inner harbour and protection against the elements. 

The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by W.L. Wylie

Wylie’s small painting featuring the Shrimpers which was shown at the Royal Academy in 1905, was overshadowed by another of Wyllie’s works, the monumental (148 x 272 cms) painting of Trafalgar on the centenary of the battle. The art press and critics alike stated that this large maritime depiction ‘stole the show’.

A Walk in the Country by John Ritchie (1863)

Little is known about the artist who created the painting above, simply entitled A Day in the Country.  The artist is John Ritchie and we know he is Scottish and was born around 1821.  The difficulty in unearthing facts about his life is strange as he did exhibit his work at such hallowed establishments as the Scottish Academy, Liverpool Academy and the Royal Academy in London.  He began to exhibit his work in 1840 when he was nineteen years old.  One of the artists who influenced Ritchie was John Brett (see earlier painting in Part 1).  His painting, A Day in the Country, was exhibited at the Liverpool Academy in 1863 and depicts a farmer taking a stroll on his land and checking on the forestry management with, in the middle-ground, some of his workers hauling away a felled tree. In the foreground we see the exposed roots of a large old oak tree.  Rabbits have nibbled at the roots and the bark and have burrowed under the sandy bank beneath the tree.  Besides checking on the tree-felling he is carrying a shotgun and is also hunting the rabbits that are damaging his trees.  To the left we see one of his men collecting the body of a rabbit his boss has killed.

Pensive by Sir George Clausen (1895)

The painting above is by George Clausen, an artist I have dedicated two blogs to back in 2015. This work is his beautiful and sensitive portrait of a young woman which he completed in 1895 and originally it was entitled Pensive but later was given the name Cinderella on the behest of David Croal Thomson, an Edinburgh-born art dealer and critic, who was based mainly in London, managing the London branch of the prestigious Goupil Gallery. Thomson advised Clausen that such a change of name would add a touch of romanticism to the work.  The painting was shown at the New Gallery in 1896 and the critic for the Pall Mall Gazette praised the work saying that Clausen had captured a creature exquisitely tender in nature.  The girl who modelled for the painting was Lizzie Deller a girl from Widdington, Essex.

Although the exhibition at the Maas Gallery has finished by the time you read these two blogs, I just wanted to remind you of the benefits one gets when you call in and look around these private “selling” galleries.

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…”