A Storm with a Shipwreck by Claude-Joseph Vernet

A Storm with a Shipwreck by Claude-Joseph Vernet (1754)

I spent the last couple of days in London and whilst there visited a couple of art displays.  Unfortunately, with previous commitments tying up my time on one day I had a limited exposure to the beautiful world of art.  I normally would have spent some time at the National Gallery or one of the Tates but because I had only a short period and because I wanted to visit the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition I decided I had to limit myself to one gallery and so I decided to go somewhere new.  It was for these reasons I ended up on the steps of the Wallace Collection and although my time was restricted, I was completely blown-away by the art on display.  This is a beautiful jewel in the art crown of London, just a few minutes’ walk from the great Emporiums of M&S and Selfridges and everybody who visits London should visit this gallery and savour the magnificent art they have on display.

My Daily Art Display today features one of the many works of art I saw at the gallery.  It is entitled A Storm with a Shipwreck and was painted in 1754 by Claude-Joseph Vernet.  The Vernet family tree reads like a “Who’s Who” of distinguished French painters.  The head of the family was Antoine Vernet (1689-1753) was a prosperous artisan painter in Avignon and to whom many decorated coach panels are attributed. He had four sons, all of whom were painters, Claude Joseph,  Jean-Antoine,  Antoine-Francois and Antoine Ignatius.  He was grandfather to the artist Antoine-Charles Joseph, known as Carle Vernet and great grandfather to the painter Horace Vernet.  Of his three sons, Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-89) earned a reputation throughout Europe as a great landscape and marine artist, receiving the commission from Louis XV for the series of paintings, Ports of France.   Jean-Antoine Vernet (1716-1755) also painted seascapes, and (Antoine-) Francois Vernet (1730-79) was a decorative painter.  Jean-Antoine Vernet had a son, Louis Francois, who along with Antoine-Francois’s son, Joseph Vernet the Younger, were both active sculptors in Paris.  Today’s featured artist Claude-Joseph Vernet had a son Carle who followed in his father’s footsteps and became known for his pictures of horses and battle scenes, though his achievement was overshadowed not only by his father’s but by that of his son Horace Vernet, a prolific and highly successful painter, especially of battle scenes. The Vernet family was connected by marriage to several other notable French artists, Carle becoming father-in-law of Hippolyte Lecomte and Horace that of Paul Delaroche; Carle’s sister Emilie married the architect Jean-Francois-Thérese Chalgrin.

When I saw today’s painting of a shipwreck at sea I was immediately transported back in time to my days at sea and the many horrendous storms I had to endure.  However this seascape also reminded me of the many times we had to bring our small vessel into the Portuguese port of Oporto.  The flow of water along the river Duoro, which is controlled by dams in the river high up in the Spanish mountains, ends its 727kms journey as it forces its way through the town of Oporto before pouring itself out into the Atlantic Ocean.  For many years the flow had not been strong enough to clear the sandbank and silting at the river mouth and the passage from ocean to river was a hazardous dog-leg, which was made even more difficult with the Atlantic rollers buffeting the stern of vessels as they headed for the narrow channel entrance.  I will always remember the tension on the bridge of the vessel as we tried to steer a course through the narrow entrance along the winding channel, hampered by following seas buffeting the stern of vessel making the ship slew from side to side.  Tension was further heightened as one looked at the sandbank which almost completely straddled the entrance and perched on top of it was a wreck of a ship which had failed to successfully navigate its way through the narrow entrance.  This was almost forty years ago and I am sure things have changed.

Vernet had just returned to France in 1753 after spending the previous twenty years in Italy.   Madame de Pompadour’s brother, the Marquis de Marigny, when he had been appointed Surintendant des bâtiments (Cultural Minister) under Louis XV, commissioned Vernet to paint a series of views for the crown of the major French ports.   Vernet had just started his first commission in Marseilles in 1754 when Marginy commissioned today’s work.    Vernet loved the sea and seascapes but his most favourite subject was his dramatic portrayal of shipwrecks and all the emotions that went hand in hand with such disasters.

As we look at the painting we see a dreadful storm and shipwreck scene.  Torrential rain is pouring down on the battered remains of the wrecked ship and its hapless survivors.   The white-crested seas push the broken ship further onto the jagged rocks.  In the background, we can see another ship which is being unmercifully tossed about on the stormy sea but remains out of harm’s way.  In the foreground we see survivors just about clinging to life as they lie on the rocks.   Some are being helped to drag themselves out of the stormy waters and onto the slippery rocks to escape the jaws of certain death.  To the right we see a fort perched on a rocky outcrop.  A tree with its roots embedded in the rocks clings perilously to its elevated position in the face of gale-force winds.  Along the walls leading up to the fort, we see spectators looking down on the unfolding drama.

Some of the survivors

Like a number of his paintings, Vermet has cleverly utilised the effects of light in order to create visual excitement.  He has cleverly contrasted the darkness of the sea and the rocks with the blue sky which is emerging from behind the black storm clouds.   Venet’s figure drawing and his mastery of the portrayal of human emotions through gestures was his forte and you need to stand close up to the painting to take in the minutiae of the details

The Broken Pitcher by Jean-Baptiste Greuze

The Broken Jug by Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1771)

This is my second painting featuring the artist Jean-Baptiste Greuze, the first being on June 28th.  However today’s painting is very different in comparison to my first offering.

Greuze was born in Tournus, a Burgundian town on the banks of the River Saône in 1725, the sixth of nine children.  He came from a prosperous middle-class background and studied painting in Lyon in the late 1740’s under the successful portrait painter, Charles Grandon.   At the age of twenty-five, Greuze moved to Paris where he entered the Royal Academy as a student.  During this period he developed a style of painting which was described as Sentimental art or Sentimentality.     I believe we could define sentimentality as an emotional disposition that idealizes its object for the sake of emotional gratification and that it is inherently corrupt because it is grounded in cognitive and moral error. Sentimental art can thus be defined as art that, whether or not by design, evokes a sentimental response.

Greuze was accepted as an Associate member of the Academy after he submitted three of his paintings A Father Reading the Bible to His Family, the Blindman Deceived and The Sleeping Schoolboy.    These three works were about life amongst working class folk and were moralising pictorial stories and, in some ways, are reminiscent of the works by William Hogarth some two decades earlier.  It was Hogarth’s genre of art that depicted scenes from the lives of ordinary citizens and which were calculated to teach a moral lesson.

Greuze was pleased to have achieved admission to the prestigious Academy but he wanted more.  He wanted to be recognised as a historical painter.  From the 17th century, Art Academies of Europe had formalised a hierarchy of figurative art and the French Académie royale de peinture et de sculpturehad a central role in this listing.  According to them this was the hierarchical order, with the most prestigious at the top:

History Painting

(including narrative religious mythological and allegorical subjects)

Portrait Painting

Genre painting

 or scenes of everyday life

Landscape

Animal painting

Still Life

 

In 1789 he put forward his work, Septimius Severus Reproaching Caracalla, as a history painting but it was rejected by the Academy as they considered him to be a “mere genre painter”.    The Academy did not consider his works fell into the category of historical paintings and this rebuff so annoyed Greuze that he refused to submit any more of his works for the Academy’s exhibitions.  The fact that the Academy downgraded his works did not in any way affect their popularity with the public who couldn’t get enough of these “sentimental” paintings and the sale of his works continued strongly.  In fact, the sales of his works were so popular that the money kept pouring in and so Greuze had no more need to exhibit his works at the Academy.

During the late eighteenth century in France, Rococo art thrived and the likes of Fragonard, Watteau and Boucher had almost taken over the French art scene.  It was all the rage with its mythological and allegorical themes in pastoral settings and its elegant and sometimes sensuous depictions of aristocratic frivolity.  At the time, this brand of light-hearted, and now and again erotic works, were much in demand with wealthy patrons.  So in some ways the French art world received a shock when Greuze’s pompously moralising rural dramas on canvas countered the frivolity of the artificial world of Rococo art.

The majority of Greuze’s later works consisted of titillating paintings of young girls.  His paintings contained thinly disguised sexual suggestions under the surface appearance of over-sentimental innocence.  My Daily Art Display featured painting today entitled The Broken Jug is a classic example of this style of art.  In the picture we see a three-quarter length portrait of a young girl.  She has blue eyes, light hair, pink cheeks, very red lips, and her dress is white. She still exudes the innocence of childhood but we need to look closer at this portrait.   How old do you think she is?  Look closely at her facial expression.  What can you read into it?  Do you think she looks serious?  Do you think there is a slight look of alarm in her eyes?  Is there a look of sadness in her expression?  What has happened?

Look at the way she is dressed.  It looks as if it was a special dress for a special occasion, look at the flowers in her hair, maybe she has just returned from a party, but why are her dress and her appearance so dishevelled?  On her arm she carries a pitcher which is broken but she has not discarded it.  She clings lovingly to it.  It must have been a prized possession of hers and maybe she hopes to be able to remedy the break.  How did it break?  Was she running away from something and tripped, breaking the pitcher, which may explain her dishevelled appearance.  Maybe her worry is based on how she is going to explain away the breaking of the pitcher to her parents and pleading that it was a simple accident and beyond her control.  Is it as simple as this?

Let me suggest another possibility to this story.   I am not convinced this is all about a broken pitcher.  Let us consider an alternative theory.  Look at her dishevelled appearance.  Look at her silk scarf adorned with a rose which has lost some of its petals.  See how the scarf has been dragged down and is now no longer wrapped around her slender neck.  Look how the top of her dress has been pulled down exposing her left breast and nipple.  Look how she struggles to gather up flowers in the folds of her dress.  Has she been involved in a struggle with a lover and the tryst has got out of hand?   Is her beloved broken pitcher just an allegory and this is not about a broken jug at all but it is about her broken hymen and the loss of her virginity and the fear of telling her parents what has happened?

Could The Broken Pitcher by Jean-Baptiste Greuze be alluding to loss of virginity or am I reading something into this painting which does not exist?

The Rhinoceros by Pietro Longhi

My Daily Art Display painting of the day is one which when once seen will never be forgotten.  Not necessarily for the breathtaking art but for the unusual subject of the painting.  My featured painting to today is The Rhinoceros by Pietro Longhi.

The Rhinoceros by Pietro Longhi (1751)

Longhi was born in Venice in the latter part of 1701. His parents were Antonia and his father Alessandro Falca, who was a silversmith.  Pietro changed his surname to Longhi once he started to paint.  He studied art initially under the guidance of the painter from Verona, Antonio Balestra, and finally was accepted as an apprentice to Giuseppe Crespi the Baroque painter from Bologna.  Longhi returned to Venice when he was thirty-one years of age and married Caterina Maria Rizzi and the couple went on to have eleven children.  Sadly, and it is a common story of that era, only three of their children reached the age of maturity, one of whom, Alessandro, became a successful portraitist.

His early work featured a number of altarpieces and religious paintings and he was commissioned to carry out a number of frescos in the walls and ceilings of the Ca’Sacredo in Venice, which is now an exclusive hotel.  Later his art turned to genre scenes of contemporary life in Venice of the aristocracy and the working class.  He produced numerous works and in many instances painted many different versions of the same scene.  His type of art,  his satirical look at everyday Venetian life with its coffee-drinking, receptions and social soireeswas extremely popular..  Some of his paintings remind one of the type of paintings done by William Hogarth.  The difference between the two was that Hogarth was often brutally satirical with his paintings in which he mocked the life of English folk whereas Longhi just wanted to chronicle the everyday life of his compatriots without standing in judgment and acting as a satirical moralist.  In a number of cases his patrons, who had commissioned his work where featured in the works and maybe for that reason Longhi was careful not to offend them.   Bernard Berenson, the American Art historian, talked about Longhi’s artistic style and the comparison with Hogarth when he wrote:

“…Longhi painted for the Venetians passionate about painting, their daily lives, in all dailiness, domesticity, and quotidian mundane-ness. In the scenes regarding the hairdo and the apparel of the lady, we find the subject of gossip of the inopportune barber, chattering of the maid; in the school of dance, the amiable sound of violins. It is not tragic… but upholds a deep respect of customs, of great refinement, with an omnipresent good humor distinguishes the paintings of the Longhi from those of Hogarth, at times pitiless and loaded with omens of change..”.

Longhi became Director of the Academy of Drawing and Carving in 1763 and it was around this time that he concentrated almost all his artistic efforts in to portraiture, ably assisted by his son, Alessandro.  He died aged 83 in 1785.

The featured painting today is based on historical facts and revolves around the Carnevale di Venezia, the annual festival, held in Venice. The Carnival starts around two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ends on Shrove Tuesday.  This grand event was described by John Evelyn, the 17th century English traveller and diarist:

“…At Shrovetide all the world repair to Venice, to see the folly and madness of the Carnival; the women, men, and persons of all conditions disguising themselves in antique dresses, with extravagant music and a thousand gambols, traversing the streets from house to house, all places being then accessible and free to enter. Abroad, they fling eggs filled with sweet water, but sometimes not over-sweet. They also have a barbarous custom of hunting bulls about the streets and piazzas, which is very dangerous, the passages being generally narrow. The youth… contend in other masteries and pastimes, so that it is impossible to recount the universal madness of this place during this time of license….”

The painting which hangs in the National Gallery in London centres on the unusual spectacle of Clara the young rhinoceros, which was brought to Europe in 1741 by a Dutch sea captain, Douwe Mout van der Meer, who had bought the lumbering creature.  It is believed that she was only the fifth rhinoceros to be imported from India to Europe since the days of the Roman Empire.  Clara, after extensive travels in Europe, arrived in Venice ten years later.   The female rhinoceros in Longhi’s painting, seen munching away at some hay seems somewhat docile, even depressed, as caged animals often are who suffer such a fate.

The Audience

Behind her we see the keeper of the animal and a number of spectators.  The keeper holds aloft a whip and the horn of the rhinoceros which according to historical notes, was not cut off but knocked off by Clara herself due to her continuous rubbing it against the sides of her cage.  The small audience of seven, some of whom wear their Carnival masks stand on wooden benches in an almost triangular formation.  They show no interest in the poor creature as they gaze vacuously in all different directions.  The elegant lady in the front row wearing a dark lace shawl, edged in gold is Catherine Grimani.  She stares directly out at us.  Her white-masked suitor, on her left, is her husband John Grimani and the couple were the commissioners of the painting.  Their servant stands to her right and looks straight ahead.  The man to the right of the group wearing a red cloak and has a long clay pipe in his mouth has his eyes cast downwards and seems lost in his own thoughts.  Above him, Longhi has painted a scroll-like notice which tells us all about the painting, which when translated reads:

“True Portrait of a Rinocerous  conducted in Venice  year 1751:

made for hand by  Pietro Longhi

Commissions  S of Giovanni  Grimani Servi Patrick Veneto “.

The small girl in the back row seems totally disinterested in Clara.  With the exception of the animal’s keeper brandishing the severed horn there seems no relationship with the audience and the animal on display.  It is if Longhi has merely added them to please his patrons and highlight the fact that the exhibition was at Carnival time in Venice.

One thing that I found fascinating is the lady in the upper middle of the audience dressed in the blue and white gown.  Instead of a white carnival mask she is wearing the soft black leather Moretta mask.  Moretta, means darkness, and the masks were only worn by women and were not tied around the wearer’s head but held in place by a leather button on the inside of the mask which is held in the clenched teeth of the wearer.  It has only two nearly circular openings for the eyes, restricting the lady’s breath a little, as the only airway is through the eye openings down to the nose.  Sweat also has to evaporate through the openings as well, quickly making the face hot.  Not only was that uncomfortable but it prevented the wearer from speaking.  This enforced silence especially pleased their male counterparts !

I was going to add a male-chauvinist comment, but thought better of it  !!!!!!

Hard Times by Sir Hubert von Herkomer

Hard Times by Sir Hubert von Herkomer (1885)

My featured artist today is the German painter Hubert von Herkomer.  He was born in 1849 in Waal, a small town in southern Bavaria.  He was an only child.  His father Lorenz was a talented wood carver and his mother was a talented pianist and music teacher.  At the age of two he and his family emigrated to America and settled in Cleveland Ohio.  Their stay in America was comparatively short for in 1857 they returned to Europe, settling down in Southampton, England.  Herkomer first art tuition came from his father and later in life he often said that his father had been one of the most important and positive influences on his career.   He went to school in Southampton and began his art education when he attended the Southampton School of Art.  One of his fellow students was Luke Fildes who was to become one of the greatest English Social Realism painters (see My Daily Art Display, May 17th).  When he was sixteen years old his father took him back to Bavaria where he attended the Munich Academy for a short time.  In 1866 he returned to England and enrolled at the South Kensington Schools which we now know as the Royal College of Art and at the age of twenty he exhibited, for the first time, at the Royal Academy.

Herkomer left Kensington Art School and 1867 and started a career as a book and magazine illustrator. However he found most of the work tedious and so being a young man with radical political opinions he was excited by the news that the social reformer, William Thomas, intended to launch an illustrated weekly magazine called the Graphic.  Herkomer immediately fired with enthusiasm sent Thomas a drawing of a group of gypsies. The magazine owner, Thomas, was delighted with the drawings and the following week it appeared in his magazine.   Over the next few years Herkomer supplied Thomas with more drawings which were published.  He applied to join the staff of the magazine but was both annoyed and disappointed when his application was turned down by Thomas.  Herkomer had no choice but to remain as a freelance contributor.  Although devastated by the refusal he was later to recall that this rebuff was to be the making of him as an artist.  He wrote about his belief that he had an obligation to pictorially depict the hard times of the poor and the importance of such magazines like the Graphic, saying:

 “…It is not too much to say that there was a visible change in the selection of subjects by painters in England after the advent of the Graphic.  Mr. Thomas opened its pages to every phase of the story of our life; he led the rising artist into drawing subjects that might never have otherwise arrested his attention; he only asked that they should be subjects of universal interest and of artistic value.  I owe to Mr. Thomas everything in my early art career.  Whether it was to do a two-penny lodging-house for St. Giles’, a scene in Petticoat Lane, Sunday morning, the flogging of a criminal in Newgate Prison, an entertainment given to Italian organ grinders, it mattered little.  It was a lesson in life, and a lesson in art.  I am only one of many who received these lessons at the hands of Mr. W. L. Thomas….”

(Spartacus Educational Hubert Von Herkomer)

A number of his engravings which were used in the Graphic were later reworked by Herkomer into large scale oil paintings.  In 1879 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy and became an Academician in 1890.

In 1880 Herkomer started to concentrate on portraiture which, at the time, was the most lucrative art genre.  His fame grew and he spent time in America where he completed thirteen portraits during his ten week stay and for them he received the princely sum of £6000.  His wealth grew rapidly and he could now afford a luxurious lifestyle.  Despite the lucrative portraiture market he never lost his love of Social Realism art which drew attention to the atrocious conditions of the poor.  It was in the late nineteenth century that he produced some of his great Social Realism paintings such as Pressing to the West in 1884; today’s featured painting Hard Times in 1885 and On Strike in 1891.  In 1883 Herkomer started his own art school at Bushey in Hertfordshire, at which he oversaw some five hundred would-be artists.  He served as Slade Professor of Art at Oxford University between 1885 and 1895 and was knighted by the King in 1907.  Herkomer died in 1914 aged 65 and is buried in St James’s Church, Bushey.

The featured painting in My Daily Art Display is entitled Hard Times and was painted by Herkomer in 1885.  It now hangs in the City Art Gallery of Manchester.  The artist was dedicated to bringing the social problems of the poor to the eyes of the public through his oil on canvas paintings.  He never forgot his early impoverished childhood and his health problems.  The author Lee Edwards, who wrote extensively about Herkomer, commented:

“…Herkomer painted a number of pictures that revealed his sympathy with the poor and disadvantaged, a characteristic fostered in part by his own humble origins…”

This painting was one of his most famous works and was one of many of his paintings which featured rural scenes.  His inspiration for this painting was probably the impoverished migrant workers he had seen near his home in Bushey.  Herkomer actually used a real family for his painting, getting an a working labourer, James Quarry and his wife Annie to pose with their two sons Frederick George and his brother James Joseph as unemployed workers and their children.  The setting for this painting was called Coldharbour Lane, a long and winding road in the Hertfordshire countryside.  The outdoor setting was painted en plein air but the characters in the painting were painted later, indoors at his Art School.

The wife who sits with her children by the roadside looks sad and dejected.   On the other hand, the man looks down the road and his face is one of hope and possibly optimism that something will “turn up soon” and the tools of the man’s trade lie before them signifying that strength would eventually overcome hardship.  It is interesting to note the difference in Herkomer’s portrayal of the effect hardship had on men and women.  So should we view this painting as one of hope or one of destitution?

I suppose the answer lies with ourselves and whether when we face problems we believe our glass is half full or half empty !

Crossing at the Schreckenstein by Ludwig Richter

Crossing at the Schreckenstein by Ludwig Richter (1836)

About five or six years ago I was fortunate enough to be having a short break in Europe  and one of my journeys was from Dresden to Prague, partly by boat on the river Elbe and partly by train.  The banks of the River Elbe, like the German Rhine, is littered with palaces and castles perched high above the river.  My featured painting for today entitled Crossing at the Schreckenstein by Ludwig Richter reminded me of that trip and I remember the castle well as it stood imperiously above the river.

Adrian Ludwig Richter, the son of Karl August Richter, a copper engraver, was born in 1803 in Dresden.   He received his initial artistic training from his father.  He attended the Dresden Academy of Art and his favoured artistic genre was that of landscape painting and at the age of twenty, with the financial backing of a Dresden book dealer, he was awarded a scholarship to travel to Rome to continue his studies.  Whilst in Rome he came across Joseph Anton Koch, an Austrian landscape painter of the German Romantic Movement who was famous for idealised landscapes.  It was whilst in Italy that Richter produced the first of many of his idyllic Italian landscape paintings.

Richter returned to Dresden in 1826 and two years later went to work as a designer at the Meissen factory.  Richter made many hiking trips through the mountains of Bohemia and along the Elbe and gradually his landscape art changed from the idealistic landscapes to the topographically accurate ones.  Richter was a lifelong lover of the works of Caspar David Friedrich and his influence can be seen in a number of Richter’s works.  In most cases he would add figures to his landscapes and through them tell a story.    In 1841 he became a professor at the Dresden Academy and would often take parties of students on walking tours through the local mountains where they would sketch and return to the college where they would use them to complete their works of art.

In 1874 at the age seventy-one an eye disease caused his sight to deteriorate to such an extent that he had to give up his art work.  He died in 1884 at Loschwitz ,  a few month short of his 81st birthday.

The harp player

The title of today’s painting Crossing at Schreckenstein is also known as Crossing the Elbe at Schreckenstein near Aussig and I have even seen it referred to as Ferry at the Schreckenstein.   So what do we see before us?  One can almost hear the tune from the harp as the ferryman and his boat transport their passengers across the Elbe.  Note the varied age of the passengers, spread between the child through to the old man and it was thought that Richter’s ferryboat was a “ship of life” in which the passengers of all ages are united.  The ferryman leans back as he heaves on his paddle.  With pipe in his mouth, his eyes are raised towards the hilltop castle.  He still seems in awe of the great edifice notwithstanding how many daily crossing of the river he makes.

At his feet there seems to be a small cargo of plants which are being transported across the waterway and next to them we see a young girl standing with a pole in her hand.  We do not know whether she is the ferryman’s helper or just another passenger.  In the middle of the boat we focus our attention on a young man, standing up with his back to us, who like us,  stares up at the castle whilst the old man plays a folk song about times past.

The Ferryman

A young couple cuddle up together.  His hand rests on hers as she holds on to a posy of flowers. Neither of them are aware of the beauty of their surroundings or their fellow travellers.  They only have eyes for each other.   A man sits in front of the elderly harp player, resting his chin on his hand, his eyes cast downwards.  He too seems unaware of the surrounding landscape.  He is lost in thought.  A small boy at his feet with his hand resting over the gunwale of the craft, drags a small branch through the calm water, slightly rippled by the current.  The curved shape of the upper part of the painting in some way lends it a somewhat solemn and religious feel.

The setting for this picture was probably one Richter saw on his many hikes along the banks of the Elbe.  Maybe the last word on the painting should be given to the artist himself.  He described his work in his autobiography, Lebenserinnerungen eines deutschen Malers, which was edited by his son:

“…As I remained standing on the bank of the Elbe after sunset, watching the activities of the boatmen, I was particularly struck by an old ferryman who was responsible for the crossing.  The boat loaded with people and animals, cut through the quiet current, in which the evening sky was reflected.  So eventually it happened that the ferry came over, filled with a colorful crowd among who sat an old harpist who, instead of paying the penny for his passage, played a tune on his harp….”

The view is as magnificent today as it was in the time of Richter with the once mighty castle perched above the river.  Bridges and locks now straddle the waterway and the ferryman’s efforts are no longer needed.  If ever you visit the area be sure to take the river journey down the mighty Elbe and savour the splendour of the river banks.

Madame Récamier by Jacques-Louis David, Francois Gérard and Magritte

My Daily Art Display today is about one woman and three paintings.  The woman in question was Jeanne-Francois Julie Adélaïde Bernard Récamier and she was a celebrated French beauty and some would say she was the most beautiful and graceful woman of her day.   Add brains, confidence and charms to this exquisite loveliness and you have as they said, the perfect woman.

She was born in Lyons in 1777.  Her father Bernard was a banker and when she was young she and her father moved to Paris.   At the tender age of fifteen she married Jacques Récamier a wealthy banker, some thirty years her senior.  Her residence in Paris was a place of rest for the distinguished men of the day. She was the perfect hostess.  She was witty, a great conversationalist and a natural beauty and the soirées she held at her salon attracted the most important politicians and literary figures.   Invitations to her salon were much in demand, as to be a guest at her house guaranteed one the best of food and drink and the company of the “great and good”.   The fact that you attended one of her gatherings meant that you had achieved social respectability.   She entertained the likes of Lucien Napoleon, the young brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, and painters such as Gustave Moreau and Jacques-Louis David.  Madame Récamier, who had a sweet disposition and was unspoiled by the constant homage she received, was extremely well liked.  Strangely, there was never a hint of scandal regarding all the men that came to visit her.

All was going well until her husband was ruined financially through the policies of  Emperor Napoleon whom he had bankrolled and because of this the visitors to her salon were sympathetic to her and her husband and her house became a home for people who wanted Napoleon’s reign to come to an end.  This led to the Récamiers being forced into exile on the orders of Bonaparte and they fled to Italy for their own safety.   Madame Récamier did not return to France until the fall of Napoleon in 1815.  Husband and wife returned to Paris and she re-opened her salon but further financial setbacks befell them in 1819 and she had to move to a small apartment and despite the downsizing she still was inundated with eminent writers and statesmen.

Even in old age and with little money Madame Récamier retained her popularity.  Her health began to fail and she became almost blind but despite that she never lost her attraction.  Juliette Récamier died of cholera in 1849 aged 72 and is buried in the Cimitière de Montmartre.

Madame Récamier by Jacques-Louis David (1800)

Let us look now at the first of my three paintings and for this we must go back to the year 1800 when the artist Jacques-Louis David, a frequent visitor to her salon, was asked to paint a portrait of Madame Récamier.   The painter who favoured the Neoclassical style was looked upon as the pre-eminent painter of his day.  He had the young twenty-three year old lady bedecked in a white empire-line sleeveless dress like a modern version of a vestal virgin.  We view her from a distance and so her face looks quite small.  It is thought that David wanted his painting to be not just a mere portrait but an ideal of feminine elegance and charm.  Her antique pose, the bare décor and light dress all epitomize his neoclassical ideals.  She is shown in an almost bare space with the exception of the Pompeian furniture.  She reclines on a French empire méridienne sofa, looking slightly backwards over her right shoulder.  We know that David never finished the painting, which may account for the bareness of the canvas.  Besides the sofa there is just a stool and candelabra shown in the painting.  There is an austere minimalism to this painting.

Madame Récamier became impatient with David and the slowness of his work and, unbeknown to him, commissioned one of his pupils, Francois Gérard, to paint her portrait instead.  David, when he heard about this new commission was furious and said to Madame Récamier:

“….Women have their whims, and so do artists; allow me to satisfy mine by keeping this portrait….”

The painting never left David’s atelier until it was finally exhibited at the Louvre in 1826.

Madame Récamier by Francois Gérard (1802)

And so to the second of my three paintings; the one Madame Récamier commissioned Gérard to paint in 1802.  Besides the fact that she thought David was taking too long to complete the painting, she was also unhappy with what she saw on his canvas.  She thought his depiction of her was too low-key and was displeased with his portrayal of her in a Neoclassical style.

Gérard was by no means a novice painter.  In fact he was looked upon as one of the most popular portraitists of the day.  Her instructions to him were quite simple.  She wanted to be painted in a more natural setting.  She wanted a more close-up portrait which would emphasise her natural curvaceous beauty and she wanted her complexion to be somehow echoed in the colour of the background.  She must have been delighted with the finished painting.  The red curtain which acts as a backdrop compliments the sitter giving her flesh a rosy tint.  Look how the slight twist of her body, the low neckline of her Empire dress which only just cover her breasts and her bare feet exude a seductive yet charming air.  There is an erotic charisma about her demeanour.  However, it was not looked upon as erotic at the time.  It was said to be just an intimate and thoughtful pose.  Gérard’s version was not a type of Neoclassical painting.  He has followed more closely the Romanticism movement of the late 18th century.

Perspective: Madame Récamier by David by Magritte

So finally and briefly let us look at the third painting of Madame Récamier.   During the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Surrealist painter René Magritte made a series of “Perspective” paintings based on well-known works by the French artists François Gérard, Jacques Louis David, and Édouard Manet, in which he substituted coffins for the figures represented in the original paintings.  This 1951 irreverent work of art by Magritte, entitled Perspective: Madame Récamier by David is almost identical to the painting by Jacques-Louis David with the one big exception – where Madame Récamier reclined seductively; Magritte substituted her body with a coffin.    The only reminder we have of the lady is her white gown which we see cascading to the floor.

I will let you decide which painting you prefer and will close with one final piece of useful (useless?) information.  The next time you go into a furniture shop looking for a sofa and the haughty salesperson talks to you about possibly purchasing a récamier you will know what he is talking about as the piece of furniture we see Madame Récamier reclining on in Jacques-Louis David’s painting was named after her!!

A Flood by John Everett Millais

A Flood by Millais (1870)

I begin My Daily Art Display today with an extract from The Illustrated London News newspaper telling of the disastrous flooding which occurred in Sheffield on Saturday March 19th 1864

The Illustrated London News
Saturday, March 19, 1864

“… In arguably the greatest tragedy ever to befall Sheffield — indeed one of Britain’s worst disasters, in terms of loss of life — almost 250 people perished, possibly more, when a reservoir dam burst in the hills a few miles from the town, shortly before midnight on the night of 11th March 1864. The entire reservoir is said to have emptied in only 47 minutes, as in excess of a hundred million cubic feet of water (between 600 and 700 million gallons, or — as noted in one of the articles — two million tons weight) crashed down the Loxley and lower river valleys, destroying almost everything in its path and inflicting terrible damage to property and livelihoods in its wake. …..”

John Everett Millais painted The Flood in 1870.  It is believed that he was motivated to paint his flood scene by the tragic events which occurred  in Sheffield in March 1864 when a dam collapsed in the middle of the night and the ensuing flood killed hundreds of villagers who lived downstream of the dam.    Among the many local newspaper reports there was one telling of a baby, still in its cradle, being swept away in the swift flowing waters.

In the painting, we see the baby wide awake with little idea of what is happening around him or her.  The baby just looks upwards and seems mesmerised by the raindrops which cling to the thin branches of a tree.   The wide-eyed and open-mouthed expression of the baby would in normal circumstances cause us to smile at the child’s inquisitiveness but unlike the baby, we are only too aware of its fate.  On the other hand, the black cat, which is sharing the ride on the cradle, is conscious of the peril and it too is also open-mouthed as it howls in fear of its life.   A household jug floats alongside the cradle reminding us of the devastating affect the raging water had as it swept unchecked in and out of the small impoverished village dwellings.

In the background on the left we can see a bridge almost submerged by the flood water and further to the right there is a house on the river bank and we can observe the water level has already reached the height of the ground floor windows.  To the right in the background men in a boat can be seen drifting quickly and uncontrollably on the tide of muddy water.

The painting hangs in the Manchester Art Gallery and it was intetersting to hear various comments from people as they studied the painting.  Some thought, as they looked at the smiling baby, that it was a charming picture whilst others tended to focus on the event itself and the probable drowning of the young child and found the painting rather disturbing.

You see, it is all in the eye of the beholder !

Found Drowned by George Frederic Watts

Found Drowned by George Frederic Watts (c.1850)

For the second consecutive day I want to present a painting to you which has a connection with a poem.  My Daily Art Display painting today is entitled Found Drowned and was painted by the Victorian painter George Frederic Watts in 1850.  It is almost certain that the idea for the painting came from Watts having read The Bridge of Sighs, the poem written by Thomas Hood just before his death in 1845.

Watts was born in London in 1817 and his Christian names came from the fact that he was born on the composer, George Frederic Handel’s birthday.  He was brought up in an impoverished household, did not attend school, being taught at home by his father.  Despite these early setbacks in life, he achieved acceptance into the Royal Academy when he was eighteen years of age.  In 1843 he won first prize in an artistic competition to design a mural for the Houses of Parliament and although this never came to fruition, the monetary value of the prize enabled him to travel to Italy.  He remained in Italy until 1847 at which time he returned to London.

On his return to London he made the acquaintance of Henry Prinseps, an amateur artist and director of the East India Company, along with his circle of friends and in 1850, Prinseps, his wife Sara, along with some of her sisters and Watts obtained a twenty-one year lease on Little Holland House which belonged to Henry Fox, 4th Baron Holland, and a friend of Watts.  The house, not only became a place for them to all live and entertain their friends, but it gave Watts a studio for his painting.

In 1864 Watts painted portraits of the Terry sisters, Kate Terry and her famous actress sister Ellen Terry.  Watts was besotted by Ellen and despite the fact that she was still a little way short of seventeen years of age and he was thirty years her senior, they married.  The marriage was doomed to failure and a year after the marriage she eloped with her lover forcing Watts to sue for divorce.

In the early 1870’s when the lease ran out on the Little Holland House, Watts acquired another house in London and also one in Freshwater on the Isle of Wight.  In 1877 his divorce with Ellen Terry finally came through and nine years later at the age of 69 Watts re-married, this time his bride was Mary Fraser-Tytler,  a Scottish designer and social reformer, some thirty-three years his junior!   In 1891 he bought land in Guilford, Surrey and they named the establishment Limnerslease, which was a combination of the words “limner” meaning artist and “leasen” meaning glean and by it they had built the Watts Gallery which was a museum dedicated to his work.  It was the first and only remaining purpose-built gallery in Britain devoted to a single artist.  It eventually opened in April 1904, shortly before the death of Watts.

So that is the story of today’s artist and so now let us study his poignant painting and understand why he should depict such a heart-rending scene.  When Watts returned to London from Italy he was traumatized by the extremes of riches and poverty that he could see all about him.  It moved him and he realised that through his art he could bring home the inequalities of life.

The background of the painting is the London skyline and we are viewing it from under Waterloo Bridge and in the distance we can just make out Hungeford Suspension Bridge.  Waterloo Bridge had been a common place for suicides with people throwing themselves off the structure into the Thames.  In the foreground Watts has painted a “fallen woman”, a reasonably common subject in Victorian paintings.  She has drowned and been washed up on the shores of the Thames. Was it an accident or had life proved just too much for her to bear?  In those days, female suicides caused by adulterous relationships or financial hardship, which then led to prostitution, were not uncommon happenings.   Her body is lit up and is in stark comparison to the darkened background.  Her dress still floats in the murky polluted waters.  She is lying on her back with her arms stretched out in a cruciform adding religious symbolism to the picture.  In her left hand she is clutching hold of a chain, attached to which is a heart-shaped locket and this again makes us believe that unrequited love may have had some bearing on the situation.  In the night sky we see a very bright pin-point of light which could be a star of the planet Venus and Watts probably added this as a symbol of hope that maybe there will be a better after-life for the dead woman.  Look at the young woman’s face.  It appears calm.  Maybe at last she is at peace with herself.

It is interesting to note that the title of the painting Found Drowned was legal phraseology often used by coroners when there is no conclusive evidence of suicide, such as a note, and thus the coroner’s report avoids the stigma attached to suicides, which would automatically rule out a Christian Burial.

I end today’s blog with the Thomas Hood’s poem Bridge of Sighs which it is believed was the basis of Watts’ painting.  Read it through and then look at the painting and see if you agree that there is a connection between the two.

One more Unfortunate,
Weary of breath,
Rashly importunate,
Gone to her death!

Take her up tenderly,
Lift her with care;
Fashion’d so slenderly
Young, and so fair!

Look at her garments
Clinging like cerements;
Whilst the wave constantly
Drips from her clothing;
Take her up instantly,
Loving, not loathing.

Touch her not scornfully;
Think of her mournfully,
Gently and humanly;
Not of the stains of her,
All that remains of her
Now is pure womanly.

Make no deep scrutiny
Into her mutiny
Rash and undutiful:
Past all dishonour,
Death has left on her
Only the beautiful.

Still, for all slips of hers,
One of Eve’s family—
Wipe those poor lips of hers
Oozing so clammily.

Loop up her tresses
Escaped from the comb,
Her fair auburn tresses;
Whilst wonderment guesses
Where was her home?

Who was her father?
Who was her mother?
Had she a sister?
Had she a brother?
Or was there a dearer one
Still, and a nearer one
Yet, than all other?

Alas! for the rarity
Of Christian charity
Under the sun!
O, it was pitiful!

Near a whole city full,
Home she had none.

Sisterly, brotherly,
Fatherly, motherly
Feelings had changed:
Love, by harsh evidence,
Thrown from its eminence;
Even God’s providence
Seeming estranged.

Where the lamps quiver
So far in the river,
With many a light
From window and casement,
From garret to basement,
She stood, with amazement,
Houseless by night.

The bleak wind of March
Made her tremble and shiver;
But not the dark arch,
Or the black flowing river:
Mad from life’s history,
Glad to death’s mystery,
Swift to be hurl’d—
Anywhere, anywhere
Out of the world!

In she plunged boldly—
No matter how coldly
The rough river ran—
Over the brink of it,
Picture it—think of it,
Dissolute Man!
Lave in it, drink of it,
Then, if you can!

Take her up tenderly,
Lift her with care;
Fashion’d so slenderly,
Young, and so fair!

Ere her limbs frigidly
Stiffen too rigidly,
Decently, kindly,
Smooth and compose them;
And her eyes, close them,
Staring so blindly!

Dreadfully staring
Thro’ muddy impurity,
As when with the daring
Last look of despairing
Fix’d on futurity.

Perishing gloomily,
Spurr’d by contumely,
Cold inhumanity,
Burning insanity,
Into her rest.—
Cross her hands humbly
As if praying dumbly,
Over her breast!

Owning her weakness,
Her evil behaviour,
And leaving, with meekness,
Her sins to her Saviour!

The Raft of Medusa by Théodore Géricault

The Raft of Medusa by Théodore Géricault (1819)

My Daily Art Display today features one of the most moving paintings I have come across and what makes it even more remarkable is that it is based on a true story.  The massive oil on canvas painting is entitled The Raft of Medusa and was painted by the French Romantic painter, Théodore Géricault in 1819.  Before I look at the painting let me go through the actual events which this painting is based upon.

The story begins on June 17, 1816 with the new Bourbon government of France dispatching the frigates Medusa, Loire and Echo and the brig Argus to officially receive the British handover of the port of Saint-Louis in Senegal to France.  The British who having helped to re-establish the French monarchy, wanted to demonstrate their support for Louis XVIII, and decided to hand over to him this strategic trading port on the West African coast.  The French naval frigate, Medusa was to carry 365 crew and passengers, including the Senegal’s governor-designate, Colonel Julien-Désire Schmaltz, from Port de Rochefort on the island of Aix on France’s west coast, to Senegal via Tenerife.

The captain of the Medusa was Vicomte Hugues Duroy de Chaumereys, who at the age of 53 had spent most of his career behind a desk at customs offices and had never been in command of a ship, in fact had hardly sailed on a ship for twenty years.  However,  the old adage “it’s who you know and not what you know” was applicable in his being put in command of the fleet as he had many Royalist connections.  The governor-designate Schmaltz wanted to reach St Louis as soon as possible and persuaded the captain to set a course close to the shore line in order to save time.  Things went badly almost from the start of the voyage when a young cabin boy was lost over the side.  Captain Chaumereys also had problems with both his passengers and crew alike, spending long periods arguing with them

The Medusa was a fast vessel and in fact much faster than the other vessels in the group and soon pulled ahead of them which was to be a contributing factor in the forthcoming disaster and terrible loss of life.  On July 2nd, for some reason, whether due to poor navigation skills or lack of attention the Medusa, was many miles off course and  ran aground on the Arguin Banks, which lie off the west coast of Mauritania, despite perfect weather conditions and calm seas.  The grounding ripped a hole in the hull of the Medusa and after surveying the damage it was deemed un-repairable and terminal.  Couple this factor along with deteriorating weather conditions and the crew had no choice but to abandon the vessel.  The Medusa had some lifeboats but they would hold only 150 people and so it was decided to construct a raft to house the rest

The crew then set to work making a raft from parts of the Medusa’s decking and masts.  When completed the raft measured 65 feet by 23 feet and was towed behind two of the ship’s lifeboats.  In all, one hundred and fifty people, including one woman, boarded the raft.  However with such weight the raft became almost submerged and it was decided to jettison some of the food.  After doing this the deck of the raft settled in the water with what they believed to be a suitable clearance above the sea surface.  The lifeboats towing their raft set off from the crippled Medusa but the weight of the raft was becoming problematic.  The only propulsion of this raft was from the rowing power of the men in the lifeboats which was towing it,as the raft had no oars, no sails and no navigational aids.

For some unknown reason, whether it be that the people on the raft decided that their lives would be safer if they disengaged from the lifeboats or whether those in the lifeboat believed that the raft was jeopardising their safety, the towing line was severed and the raft was set free, some four miles off the coast of Mauretania.  By the second day, three of the passengers had committed suicide and that following night the store of rum aboard the raft was broached and in a drunken insurrection by the soldiers against their officers, mayhem ensued.  By daylight the next day the number of people alive on the raft had more than halved to sixty.  Food had run out and the survivors resorted to eating the corpses.

On July 1th 1816, after 13 days adrift, the raft by pure chance was rescued by the Argus, as no specific search effort was made by the French for the raft.   At this time only 15 men were still alive; the others had been killed or thrown overboard by their comrades,  Some had died of starvation, and some had thrown themselves into the sea in despair.

The whole episode was a disaster, not only to those who sailed on the Medusa but for the French government and when the ship’s surgeon Savigny submitted a report on the incident, it was leaked to an anti-government newspaper, the Journal des débats,  which caused outrage.  The French government had tried hard to suppress the details.  The French nation was horrified.  The event became an international scandal, partly because of the human disaster and partly because the disaster was generally attributed to the incompetence of the French captain, whom people believed was acting under the authority of the recently restored French monarchy.  However in reality, King Louis XVIII had no say in the captain’s appointment, since, then as now, monarchs were not directly involved in appointments made to vessels like a naval frigate.   Captain de Chamereys was found to blame for the incident and was court-martialed.

This painting by Géricault was his first major work of art and is now housed in the Louvre in Paris.    What strikes you first when you stand in front of this painting is its enormous size, measuring 16 feet by 24 feet.  We, the viewers, are dwarfed by its enormity, which gives the painting more power.  Strangely enough nobody commissioned the work but the artist believed that the incident he was portraying would generate great interest from the public and in so doing he believed his career would take off.   Géricault spent much time in preparing for this painting doing numerous sketches.  He interviewed the ship’s doctor, Henri Savigny and the ship’s geographer, Alexander Corréard  and he even constructed a detailed scale model of the raft.  He would have models pose on his constructed raft .  His friend, the artist Delacroix, modelled for the figure in the foreground, with face turned downward and one arm outstretched.  His young assistant Louis-Alexis Jamar modelled nude for the dead man in the foreground, who is about to slip into the sea.  In his desire to depict accurately the bodies of the survivors and the dead he made many visits to morgues and hospitals noting details with regards the texture and colouring of flesh on live bodies and corpses.  Géricault had been correct in his assessment that the painting would prove popular if somewhat controversial.  It appeared in the 1819 Paris Salon and for the artist it launched his career and, although it was partly a history painting, it was looked upon as the beginning of the Romantic Movement in French painting.

The painting portrays the moment in time when the survivors on board the raft spot the approaching ship, Argus, which can just be seen on the whitened horizon.  It is at this very point in time that the survivors realise that they are about to be rescued.  An African crewman, said to be Jean Charles, can be seen standing on a cask waiving his shirt to attract the crew of the Argus.  This portrayal of a negro at the pinnacle of the painting was probably down to Géricault’s abolitionist’s sympathies.  The majority of the figures depicted in this enormous painting are life-size and the bodies of the men in the foreground are almost twice life-size.  Their closeness to the edge of the canvas  makes us almost believe we are just a step away from the raft itself.  The raft has suffered from the battering it endured in the rough seas and is barely afloat.  The painting is dark and sombre which Géricault chose to suggest the torment and agony of the survivors.

In some ways it is an idealised painting as in actuality, there are more people shown on the raft than were found by the Argus and at the time of the rescue of the castaways, the sea was recorded as being calm and the weather settled.  However to add feeling to the painting he has allowed the seas to be whipped up high in a frenzy of surf under blackened storm clouds.  One must also query the fact that some of the men seem so “muscled” and somewhat healthy despite having starved for such a length of time and barely kept alive.  It is a combination of history painting, recording the story of the men’s plight and a painting of the Romanticism genre.

There is a moody darkness about the painting.  There is a strong diagonal surge from the bottom left of the painting to the top right.  Our eyes move along the diagonal from viewing the despondent man with his head in hand in the bottom left to the man arm waving his shirt in the upper right.  As we stare in disbelief at the scene in front of us, we sympathise with the plight of these men.

Géricault must have been fully aware when he submitted the work to the Paris Salon that it would prove controversial as the demise of the Medusa and terrible loss of life was blamed on the Bourbon government and so whether the painting was acclaimed or condemned depended a a great deal on whether the viewer was pro or anti Bourbon.

The Effects of Intemperance by Jan Steen

The Effects of Intemperance by Jan Steen (c.1665)

I have featured many paintings, mainly by Dutch or Flemish artists, which try and have an embedded moral message in their works of art.  Often it is about the dangers of drinking too much, which is a subject painters from our present time may find very topical.   My Daily Art Display today features one such 17th century painting entitled The Effects of Intemperance by the Dutch painter Jan Steen.

Jan Havickszoon Steen was born in 1626 in Leiden a town in the Netherlands and was a contemporary of the great Rembrandt van Rijn.  He received his artistic education from the German painter of the Dutch Golden Age, Niclaes Knupfer who gained a reputation for his historical and figurative scenes of Utrecht.  At the age of twenty-two Steen joined the Saint Lukes Guild of Painters in Leiden.  Steen then moved to The Hague where he lodged in the household of the prolific landscape painter Jan van Goyen.  Soon after, he married Margriet, the daughter of van Goyen.  Jan and his father-in-law worked together closely for the next five years.  Then he moved and went to live in Warmond and later Haarlem.  His wife died in 1669 and his father-in-law passed away a year later.  Steen returned to Leiden re-married and had two children and remained there until his death in 1679 at the age of  53.
So back to today’s featured painting which is a pictorial moral tale of the dangers of insobriety.  The painting illustrates well the Dutch proverb “De Wijn is een spotter” translated means: Wine is a mocker, in other words wine (or drinking it in excess) will make a fool of you.  Although we see the children misbehaving the onus of guilt is placed squarely on the shoulders of the adults.

The main character of the painting is a woman who we see sitting slumped on the steps of her house sleeping off the effects of having drunk too much alcohol.  The overturned flagon of wine lies on the floor and despite the noise and antics of the children she doesn’t wake.   She is being portrayed as the neglectful mother.  She is totally unaware of what is happening around her.  However, she is no peasant.  Look at her clothes.  These are not ragged and threadbare.  The fur-trimmed jacket, in fact, looks both expensive and stylish.  Maybe the moral of the tale is that an excess of alcohol can affect rich and poor alike.  Her comatose state is going to cause a disaster as we see that her lit pipe is just about to slide from her fingers on to her dress.  The hem of her dress rests perilously close to the rim of the small clay brazier by her side which she has been using to keep her pipe alight and soon her clothes will surely catch fire.  It should also be remembered that at this time in the Netherlands most houses were of wood construction and fire had become a great hazard of life for those living in these dwellings.

The child behind her is stealthily filching the purse from the pocket of her dress, watching her carefully in case she stirs.  Again we are reminded of the Dutch proverb which states “opportunity makes the thief”.  This painting, in some ways,  mirrors Pieter Bruegel’s Netherlandish Proverbs but on a smaller scale.    Look at the girl kneeling in front of the comatose woman. Maybe it is her eldest daughter.  She is offering the parrot a drink of wine from a glass.  The girl looks unsteady and her face is flushed.   Maybe she too has imbibed to excess.  Are we being reminded that the sins of the mother will be passed on to the child?

Next to the mother we see a boy clutching a bunch of roses.  He is throwing them to the pig which is busy snuffling around the legs of the woman in search of food.  We know of the biblical proverb “ Nether caste ye youre pearles before swine”  meaning that it is a worthless gesture of offering items of quality to those who aren’t cultured enough to appreciate them.  However the Dutch proverb doesn’t talk about pearls but instead – rose buds.  So what we are seeing in the painting is the rose-strewn pig, which simply symbolises how people waste what they have.

To the right of the mother we see three small children feeding a meat pie to the cat.  Again, this is highlighting the folly of waste.  It is interesting to note what is hanging above the drunken woman’s head.  It is a basket, in which there is a pair of crutches and a birch.  This is to be a reminder of what happens if you throw money away and mismanage your finances.  The crutch is a reminder of life as a beggar and the birch is a salutary warning of what happens if you are hauled to court because of bad debts.  Look back at My Daily Art Display of February 16th and Jan Steen’s painting entitled In Luxury, Look Out,  in which  the artist had depicted a similar scenario and the same moral tale that is being depicted by the artist in today’s painting.  In it we can see the same basket hanging above the miscreant.

Take a look at the background on the right hand side of the painting.  Here we see a man, maybe the husband of the drunken woman, sitting in the garden on a bench with a buxom young serving wench on his knee.  He is oblivious to what is going on around him and prefers to carouse with the young girl.

The Dutch painter and biographer of artists from the Dutch Golden Age, Arnold Houbraken, wrote about Jan Steen, recording that the household of Steen himself was both “riotous and disorganised” and that Steen, not being able to bring in enough money from his paintings ran an inn but Houbraken cynically pointed out that Steen’s best customer was himself!  However maybe the facts do not bear out the biographer’s assertions for Steen completed over 1400 pictures in a span of 30 years,  so could he possibly have had time to waste by drinking in his inn?  In yesterdays offering I spoke about artists liking to incorporate their own image into their paintings and Steen was no different.  He would even add his wife’s image into some of his bawdy pub scenes and she, rather than being flattered by her inclusion, would claim that her husband was always showing her as a “horny tart, a matchmaker or a drunken whore”!  It could be that she was the model for the drunken woman in today’s painting.

The chaos which reigns in this painting is similar to the themes in many of his household scenes and “a Steen household” is a Dutch phrase which means a household which is a badly managed and in total chaos.