The Barnes School (Part 4)

The children

Sidney Richard Percy and Alfred Walter Williams

Sidney Richard Percy

Sidney Richard Percy Williams.

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

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

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

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

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

Rest on the Roadside by Sidney Richard Percy (1861)

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

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

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

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

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

Mountain Pass by Sidney Richard Perry (1872)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alfred Walter Williams

Alfred Walter Williams

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

The Rescue by Albert Walter Williams (1859)

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

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

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

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

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

Off Hastings, Sunrise by Alfred Walter Williams (1885)

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

Cornfield with Reapers by Alfred Walter Williams (1864)

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

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

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

Welsh Hillside Farmers Dragging Bracken by Alfred Walter Williams

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

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

The Barnes School (Part 3)

The Children: George Augustus Williams and Arthur Gilbert Frederick Williams

George Augustus Williams

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

Barnes Common in Winter by George Augustus Williams

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

Windsor Castle from the Thames by George Augustus Williams

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

Early Morning near Gravesend by George Augustus Williams

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

Farmyard in Snow by George Augustus Williams

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

A Snowy Evening near Nutfield, Kent by George Augustus Williams

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

A Break in the Clouds by George Augustus Williams

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

The Trespassers by George Augustus Williams

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

The Thames at Shiplake by George Augustus Williams

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

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

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

Arthur Gilbert Frederick William

Arthur Gilbert Frederick Williams

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

Cader Idris from the River Mawr by Arthur Gilbert

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

On the Thames by Arthur Gilbert (1848)

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

Llangollen by Arthur Gilbert (1880)

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

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

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

The Bell Inn by Arthur Gilbert (1844)

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

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

The Barnes School

The Patriarch, Old Williams.

When I came across the words “Barnes School” in connection with art, I immediately thought it was referring to an artistic colony or a type of painting but I was wrong, albeit the name derived from the then rural town of Barnes, a district in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, where a talented artistic family had their painting studio.  The name referred to a nineteenth century family of gifted Victorian landscape painters who pictorially depicted the British countryside.  The head of this family of artists was Edward Williams. In this and the next three blogs I will be looking at the life and work of the talented patriarch and his six sons

Edward Williams (1781-1855)

Edward Williams was born some time in 1781 as baptismal records show him as being baptised on October 13th 1781 at St. Mary’s Church in the London borough of Lambeth.  Edward was the son of Edward Williams, an engraver and Mary Ward.  Mary came from a large artistic family. She was a sister of James Ward the well-known animal painter, and a sister of the equally well-known engraver, William Ward. Mary was also a sister-in-law of the talented figure painter George Morland, and a sister-in-law of Henry Chalon, another animal painter. The family history recounts that around 1793 Edward Williams’ mother left his father for another man, and their son Edward was sent to live with his maternal uncle, James Ward the painter. Ward was one of the outstanding artists of the day and was regarded as one of the great animal painters of his time.  It is not recorded as to whether Ward ever gave his young nephew any artistic training but there is no doubt that Edward must have been influenced by his brief association with Ward.

A Cottage in a Wooded Landscape by Edward Williams

After staying with Ward for a short period Edward Williams took up an apprenticeship with a carver and gilder named Thomas Hillier, who was not in any of the trade guilds but nonetheless had a shop on Silver Street, Golden Square, London. It was probable that Edward began his career carving and gilding picture frames, but it is also known that to support himself financially he painted and sold miniatures.

River Landscape with Windsor Castle by Edward Williams

Edward married Ann Hildebrant, who was the daughter of Frederick and Sarah Hildebrant, on February 12th, 1806 at St. Pancras Church in London. Ann was twenty-five and Edward was a year younger.  Although Edward Williams’ profession was as a carver and gilder he was amongst relatives who were all well-known painters and engravers, and consequently, as time passed, Edward re-invented himself as a painter. 

The Jewish Cemetery by van Ruisdael (c.1655)

His initial delving into the world of art was when he started to copy well known landscape paintings of the Dutch Baroque era of the 1600’s, such as those by Jacob Isaackszoon van Ruisdael and Meindert Hobbema. 

The Old Watermill by George Morland (1790)

Following this phase in his artistic career, he concentrated on copying works by contemporary landscape painters, such as his uncle, George Morland. Edward took the decision to become a landscape painter which was a risky choice as landscape art was, at the time, considered to be an inferior genre.

River by Moonlight by Edward Williams

Edward Williams became known for his moonlight scenes.  Edward Williams often shared art exhibition venues with his sons, causing some confusion with the public who had trouble telling one Williams painting from another. He is often called “Old Williams” to distinguish him from his oldest son, and he is referred to in some of the art journals of the time as “Moonight Williams”, as moonlit scenes of the Thames were one of his favourite subjects in his paintings

A View on the Banks of the Thames by Edward Williams

As he got older, for river scenes along the Thames.

Edward and his wife Ann Hildebrandt had married in February 1806 and went on to have eight children.  The first-born was Edward Charles Williams who was born on July 10th 1807 and because he had been given the same name as his father, Edward Williams, his father became known in his later years as “Old Williams” to distinguish himself from his eldest son .  Two more sons followed, Henry John Boddington Williams in October 1811, George Augustus Williams in May 1814.   Then followed the Williams’ only daughter, Emily Anne Williams who was born in June 1816.   Arthur Gilbert Frederick Williams arrived in December 1819 followed by Sidney Richard Percy Williams in March 1822.  Identical twin boys Alfred Walter Williams and Charles Williams were the final additions to the Williams family in July 1824.  Sadly, Charles Williams died shortly after birth.

Crossing the Stream, A Wayside Chat by Edward Williams

Edward and his wife Ann lived in various residences, in what is now termed the West End of London, in Percy Street, Foley Street, and Charlotte Street.  In 1827 the family moved to Cromer Street in the St Pancras area where they stayed for almost twenty years.  By 1846 with the continuous sale of the father and sons’ paintings, the family’s finances had improved.  Add to that fact the family had grown, they needed a larger residence and so moved to 32 Castelnau Villas, Barnes.  Edward Williams spent his final years there with his wife Ann.  She died, aged 71, and was buried on September 24th, 1851 at the Barnes Parish Church.  Old Williams was overcome with the grief from the death of his wife and he died just four years later at the age of 74 on June 24th, 1855 at his Castelnau Villa house.  He along with his wife now rest in the Old Barnes Cemetery.  Sadly, the cemetery has been turned into a nature sanctuary by the city council and the graveyard has fallen into disrepair and is overgrown with bushes and vines.

……………..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.

See the source image
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…”

Charles Frederick Ulrich

Charles Frederic Ulrich (c. 1895)

My featured artist today is Charles Frederick Ulrich, the late nineteenth-century realist painter of portraits and genre scenes who spent much of his life as an expatriate in Europe.  He was born on October 18th, 1858 in New York, the son of a German émigré photographer and painter, Friedrich Ulrich and his wife, Caroline Ulrich (née Hartje) .  Following his ordinary schooling, he studied at the National Academy of Design in New York and it is thought that he spent some time studying at the Cooper Union School of Art.  From there, in October 1875, at the age of seventeen he crossed the Atlantic and travelled to Munich where he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich.  Here he learnt all about how to capture the subtle effects of daylight and became influenced by seventeenth century Dutch genre paintings as well as the genre paintings by contemporary German artists.  In 1879 one of his paintings was awarded a bronze medal.  His primary instructors were the German landscape and genre painter, Ludwig von Löfftz and the German history painter, Wilhelm von Lindenschmit. He also became friends with the American painter, John Henry Twachtman, who was a fellow student in Löfftz’s class and joined the circle of American-born artists who associated with Frank Duveneck in Munich and the Bavarian town of Polling.  The two artists travelled together to Polling, Germany, where an American artists’ colony had formed and they signed the guestbook sequentially in the spring of 1876. 

Around 1882 Ulrich returned to New York and began exhibiting his work at the National Academy of Design. The next five years were highly productive, resulting in most of the artist’s best-known works.

The Wood Engraver by Charles Frederick Ulrich (1882)

His first painting to be exhibited at New York’s National Academy of Design was his 1882 work entitled The Wood Engraver. It was hailed a resounding success by the critics who considered the painting to be “his best.” A New York Times review of the National Academy exhibition described the painting as:

“…a picture of a woman at work before a window engraving a wood block. It is excellently painted both in figure and interior by Charles Frederick Ulrich…”

The Glass Engraver by Charles Frederick Ulrich (1883)

His painting, The Wood Engraver signified a peak period of his career, and later he would produce a series of works depicting workers. It was a subject for which he is best known for.

 In the Land of Promise, Castle Garden by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1884)

In 1883 he was elected an associate member of the National Academy. In 1884 Ulrich completed one of his most famous paintings entitled, In the Land of Promise—Castle Garden.  Castle Clinton or Fort Clinton, previously known as Castle Garden, is a circular sandstone fort located in Battery Park, in Manhattan, New York City. Built from 1808 to 1811, it was the first American immigration station, where more than 8 million people arrived in the United States from 1855 to 1890. The painting depicts a scene in Castle Garden, and Ulrich has us concentrate on a young immigrant mother at the reception station. She is sitting on her trunk which probably contains all of her worldly possessions. She breastfeeds her baby as her daughter looks off to the left.  Look behind the mother and daughter and you will see a bowler-hatted man tending to his ailing wife. Disease was rife in Castle Garden with cholera and smallpox being rampant in the crowded conditions, although it has to be said that in New York City itself, the conditions were no better. The centre was closed by the government due to cholera and smallpox epidemics and Castle Garden was replaced by another immigration resort that has become much more emblematic in collective memories, the small island of Ellis Island, where immigration services were active from 1892 to 1954

Portrait of Thomas B. Clarke, by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1884)

The painting, In the Land of Promise—Castle Garden, attracted the attention of Thomas B. Clarke, a lace and linen manufacturer who had become the country’s foremost collector of contemporary American art. Clarke was influential in numerous aspects of the New York art world, for he was treasurer of the National Society of Arts, chair of the Union League Club’s art committee, president of the New York School of Applied Design for Women, and a founding member of both the National Sculpture Society and the National Arts Club. Ulrich won the National Academy’s first Thomas B. Clarke Prize for Best American Figure Composition and as an expression of his gratitude, Ulrich painted the portrait of the collector.

An old fire-place / Granny by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1882)

In the mid 1880’s, Charles Frederic Ulrich built up a standing that was largely based on his small-scale genre scenes.  One of example of this was his 1882 painting entitled An Old Fireplace which was often referred to as A Granny.  The setting for this painting is believed to be the Ephrata Cloister, a historic German Anabaptist hermitage located west of Philadelphia which was founded in 1732. Ulrich’s austere depiction of the interior reflects the long history of Ephrata and is reinforced by the sitter’s old age and plain and simple dress.  It depicts life there as it was during his own time with its original hearth converted into a simple kitchen.

The Village Printing Shop, Haarlem, Holland by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1884)

In the summer of 1884, Ulrich returned to Europe and journeyed through Belgium and Holland.  He had made this trip with fellow American artists, William Merritt Chase and Robert Blum.  Ulrich and Blum became great friends over the next three years.  Whilst in the town of Haarlem in the Netherlands, Ulrich completed one of his best known works, The Village Printing Shop, Haarlem. The setting for the painting is a spartan workroom illuminated by the light coming through an open window. Ulrich depicts a boy who has paused during his work to allow himself to take a drink of water.  He stares at the blank wall in front of him and we wonder what is he thinking.  In the background we see two men operating a platen printing press.  Look how Ulrich has enriched the work with his attention to detail such as the ornament on the cast-iron stove.  Look at the clutter on the tabletop in front of the boy, where a bottle of water and a chipped second cup are casually placed amidst stacked blocks of type and other printing-related paraphernalia.

Glassblowers of Murano by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1886)

Ulrich left Europe and returned to New York in late 1884.  He so enjoyed his time in Europe that he immediately started to plan another voyage to there the following year and this time he planned to remain for a longer period.  It was not just his love of Europe that made him want to leave the shores of America but the lack of sales of his paintings.  According to a critic of the era, his abrupt departure was due to his “proclaimed disgust at the sordidness of an unappreciative public, which refused to bankrupt itself in the purchase of over-priced pictures.”

Ulrich went back to Holland and then moved to Venice, where he established a home in 1886.  It was here that he completed his painting, Glass Blowers of Murano which now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York.   Ulrich depicts workers blowing glass, a craft which was revived in Venice during the late nineteenth century. The setting for the work is the city’s glassmaking centre on the island of Murano.   Murano’s reputation as a centre for glassmaking was born when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and the destruction of the city’s mostly wooden buildings, ordered glassmakers to move their furnaces to Murano in 1291. Murano glass is still associated with Venetian glass.  Ulrich’s was fascinated with artisan subjects which came at the time of the international Arts and Crafts movement, which valued old-fashioned handicraft rather than industrial production. Ulrich was awarded a substantial cash award in 1886 at the National Academy of Design’s second Prize Fund Exhibition.  This indicated the degree to which an international taste had emerged in American art.

Charles Frederick Hugo Otto Ulrich

Although he maintained contact with Blum and Chase, organized exhibitions of American art in Munich in 1888 and 1892, and visited New York briefly in 1891, Ulrich remained in Europe.  He exhibited at the London Royal Academy in 1889 and 1890, in Munich at the Glaspalast, and after 1893 at the Secession exhibitions. He contributed three works to the art display at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, but he focused mainly on showing his paintings widely in Europe. As a result, his work is now relatively little known in the United States. In 1897, in Munich, thirty-nine-year-old Ulrich married twenty-year-old Margarethe Oppenheim, the daughter of the banker, Hugo Oppenheim.  The couple had one son, Charles Frederick Hugo Otto Ulrich, who was born on July 29th 1901.

Waifs in an Orphanage by Charles Frederic Ulrich (1884)

In 1906, Ulrich’s name appears on the membership list of the Deutscher Künstlerbund, making him one of its earliest members.  The aim of the Deutscher Künstlerbund (Association of German Artists) was to ensure the freedom of art, to offer a public forum for different artistic trends and to support young artists.  These intentions were taken into account at annual exhibitions which took place in various German cities and sometimes in foreign countries.

Charles Frederic Ulrich died of pneumonia on May 15th 1908, aged 49.

Clara Peeters – The Queen of Still Life paintings

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

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

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

Basket of Flowers by Balthasar van der Ast (1622)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still Life by Clara Peeters (1607)

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

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

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

The reflected face

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

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

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

Kraak bowl (c.1600)

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

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

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

Reflections

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

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

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

The ornate knife

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

Face of Clara in the lid of the jug

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

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

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

Bouquet of Flowers by Clara Peeters (c.1612)

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

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

Thomas LeClear

Thomas LeClear

The artist I am featuring today is an American, born in New York State and was considered to be one of the major artists of Buffalo’s first golden age in the mid 1800s. He is Thomas LeClear who is recognized for his beautifully crafted depiction of children.

Boys Fishing by Thomas LeClear (1846)

Thomas LeClear was born in the village of Candor, near Owego, in upstate New York on March 11th 1818.  Even at a young age LeClear showed and interest and aptitude in painting.  In Henry T. Tuckerman’s Book of the Artists, which was first published in 1867, he regaled how LeClear, at the tender age of twelve, completed a painting of Saint Matthew, which was so admired by his neighbours that they were willing to pay him two and a half dollars for copies.  In 1832, at the age of thirteen, his family moved to Ontario, Canada, and a few years later LeClear became an itinerant portrait artist and decorative painter in upstate New York and travelling as far west as Green Bay, Wisconsin.  In 1834 he went to Goodrich, a town on the shores of Lake Huron, where he took up a commission to decorate panels on a steamboat under the guidance of its owner.  The finished paintings pleased the owner but were not what LeClear had wanted to paint as he had hoped to depict scenes from American history.  LeClear left Goodrich and moved to Norfolk in the state of New York situated close to the St Lawrence Seaway.  He remained there for two years carrying out portrait commissions and when the money from the sale of them dried up he would do any manual job that was on offer but slowly but surely his money was fast running out.  He moved on to Green Bay but there was no work for him in that city so he decided to head south to New York

Young America by Thomas LeClear (c.1863)

In 1839 LeClear moved to New York City.  According to Tuckerman’s biography of LeClear. The young artist arrived in the city in a poor financial state but still had enough to open a studio at 1271 Broadway which he would later share with Albert Bierstadt. LeClear had said that the seven years of wandering, looking for work, were the darkest period of his life.  He reportedly studied for several years with Henry Inman, an American portrait, genre, and landscape painter, who was at that time, reckoned to be one of the city’s leading artists. By 1847 , still a year short of his thirtieth birthday,  LeClear had gained a reputation as a talented painter and had gained substantial recognition for his work. He began exhibiting at the National Academy of Design in 1845, and in the next few years several of his genre paintings were acquired by the American Art Union.

Hi-Jack Game by Thomas LeClear (c.1861)

The year was 1847 and LeClear had arrived in Buffalo, New York.  He reckoned, with Buffalo now a very busy commercial port, there would be many possibilities for a successful career. His calculations proved correct. In short order he became an important member of Buffalo’s art community and acquired many wealthy local patrons. He was a founding member of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy which later became the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. LeClear served on its board for many years. In addition to portraits, he also produced a substantial number of genre paintings. Many of the latter were street life scenes, in which children were featured in whimsical situations. In the early 1860s LeClear moved back to New York City. where he was elected to full membership in the National Academy of Design in 1863. Within a decade of his return to the city, he was believed to be one of the most prominent portrait painters on the East Coast.

Ulysses S Grant by Thomas LeClear (c.1880)

In the spring of 1861, Ulysses S Grant looked unlikely to be remembered for his greatness. He had resigned his army captain’s commission in 1854, and was struggling to survive financially as a humble clerk. This was all to change with the outbreak of the Civil War. He reenlisted in the army, and soon worked his way up through the ranks becoming a general. By war’s end, he was commander of all Union land forces and, as the chief architect of the South’s defeat, had become one of the country’s heroes. His popularity led him to be elected as US President in 1868. Grant posed for this portrait shortly after he returned from a triumphant world tour following his presidency. Thomas LeClear painted two versions. This one was originally owned by Grant himself, while the second one became part of the White House collection.

Ulysses S Grant by Thomas LeClear (1880)

President U.S. Grant was painted in a number of portraits by Thomas Le Clear, for whom the former president sat in New York in 1879, two years after the end of his presidency. The sitting led to three portraits, two of which are in the White House whilst the other hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution.  This small bust portrait was not purchased by the government until the 20th century, and was produced by the painter in 1880.

Buffalo Newsboy by Thomas LeClear (1853)

Buffalo Newsboy was painted by LeClear in 1853 whilst living in Buffalo and twenty years after history’s first paperboy.  The story goes that the publisher of The New York Sun had placed an advert for newspaper hawkers stipulating that only “steady men” should apply. A ten-year-old boy, Barney Flaherty, asked to be considered and he was hired on September 4th, 1833 which is why that date is national newsboy day.  LeClear, who was a founding member and first superintendent of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, which would later become the Albright-Knox, and the institution has the work in its collection.

Interior with Portraits by Thomas LeClear (1865)

The most fascinating of Thomas LeClear’s works is his 1865 painting entitled Interior with Portraits.  The painting was commissioned by Franklin Sidway, an American businessman and banker from Buffalo, New York and is currently held by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

The setting for the painting is a studio in the famous New York artist building known as the  10th Street Studio Building.  It was constructed in New York City in 1857 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.  The painting depicts much of the trappings of the professional artist such as a sculpted bust, animal sculptures, prints and copies after the old masters. This was the home of an artist not a photographer.  This was the home of an artist who revered the artists of the past and their works such as the Borghese Gladiator and the Venus de Milo, copies of which we see in the studio.

Parnell and James Sidway

In the painting we see two young children standing side by side.  These are Sidway’s siblings, James and Parnell, who are posing for a photograph in an artist’s studio. But all is not as it seems as both were dead when this painting was made.  The young boy on the right, James Sidway, was a volunteer firefighter, and had died in 1865, aged twenty-five whilst attending a hotel blaze.  The painting was commissioned by his brother shortly after James’ death.  The girl in the painting, Parnell Sidway, was an adolescent when she died of illness in 1850.  LeClear, having no live models for the portrait, has utilised family daguerreotypes to aid him.  Daguerreotypes were photographs taken by an early photographic process employing an iodine-sensitized silvered plate and mercury vapour and were invented by Louis Daguerre, a French artist and photographer.  Painting using photographs was very contentious at the time and many artists were suspicious of the practice and maybe there are references to those hostilities in the painting.  It marked the arrival of a new technological form of virtual reality into the painter’s traditional territory.  Artists everywhere felt threatened by this new photography. Many vowed never to use photographs as painting aids and would rather acclaim the very special qualities that they believed made painting superior to photography

The two children stand before a landscape painting which has become part of the photographic trickery. This fact alone must have incensed the like of the Hudson River painters and the Western landscapes painters whose works were so dominant in the public exhibition rooms at the time.

An Old Master

Look above the landscape painting and you will see an old patriarch looking disapprovingly over the scene. Is it a mere coincidence that his portrait is partly obscured by the backdrop?  Is this hinting at the Masters are being relegated to the past by the advent of photography?

There is much to see in the work regarding the tension between painting versus photography.  The children are surrounded by painted portraits, and the demonised photographer has his back to us obscuring his face.  Does this symbolise his reluctance to be part of the photography/painting argument?  Of course, early photography had its own problems especially when it involved long exposure time and it being necessary for the subjects remaining absolutely still during the long exposure. Children were a special challenge for photographers. They sometimes used braces and ties and other torturous to keep people from moving.   Note in this painting how the girl holds onto her brother to stop him moving as a comment on the “keep still” factor.

Dog at the door

In the doorway we see a dog is depicted just about to rush into the studio, again highlighting the problem with photography as opposed to painting.  But what happens when the dog chooses just that moment to come in? Well, if you’re an artist, you would capture the moment of him in the doorway. However, if you’re a photographer, you would probably have to start over again.

Three empty chairs

Looking closely at the work of art we have another conundrum to solve.  There are three chairs dotted around but none have a sitter. One, which is positioned in front of the easel, which holds a painting of a bearded man. This had presumably once been occupied by the artist. On another chair we see a lady’s hat, shawl, and purse and the third unoccupied chair with its walking stick and discarded newspaper must have once been occupied by a gentleman.  But where are the three now? The answer is probably quite simple – they are all out here with us, the viewers. We are all standing side by side just outside the picture frame, watching the scene before us. So LeClear is now telling us that instead of there only being three people involved in the painting, there were actually six ! 

Las Meninas by Velazquez

It is thought that by using this illusion he was paying homage to Velazquez’z painting Las Meninas, which if we look at the figures in the mirror, used the same stratagem.

Two years after completing his portraits of the former president Ulysses S Grant, Thomas LeClear died of pleurisy in Rutherford Park, New Jersey on November 26th 1882 at the age of sixty-four. His wife Caroline had died thirteen years earlier when only forty-six-years of age.

Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn.

The two lie together in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, Kings County, New York.

Bernardo Bellotto. Part 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kreuzkirche by Bellotto (1747-56)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fortress of Königstein by Bellotto (1756-58)

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

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

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

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

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

Dominican Church, Vienna by Bellotto

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

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Schloss Hof by Bellotto

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

The Dominican Church in Vienna by Bellotto (1758)

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

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

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

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

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

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Kreuzkirche , Dresden (2008)

……………………………….to be continued.

Pinturicchio . The Master of Frescoes – The Baglioni Chapel

In my last blog I looked at the Pinturicchio frescoes in the Bufalini Chapel and although the artist had painted numerous frescoes in many places of worship, in this blog, I just want to focus on his artistry in the Bagnoli Chapel, part of the Collegiate church of Santa Maria Maggiore, in the town of Spello, Perugia and the frescoes executed by him at the start of the sixteenth century during one of last major commissions.

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Troilo Baglino (left), fresco detail by Pinturicchio in the Baglioni Chapel 

Troilo Baglioni was the prior, later bishop and protonotary of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Spello, an ancient town and commune of Italy, in the province of Perugia in east central Umbria. He was in charge of the management of the chancellery of that church and the diocese and it was he, who, in 1500, commissioned Pinturicchio to decorate the walls of the Cappella Bella which later became known as the Baglioni Chapel .  Pinturicchio and his workers set about the task in the Autumn of 1500 and completed the commission in the Spring of 1501.  The paintings, typically for Pinturicchio, were completed in such a short period as he had around him, a well-organized workshop, with other masters painting above his drawings. The finished product ensured his artistic reputation and prominence in Umbria.

Baglioni Chapel

The chapel has a quadrangular floor plan with a cross-vault. The entire chapel, all three walls and the ceilings, are covered in frescoes.  The frescoes are themed stories about the childhoods of Mary and of Jesus. a pictorial account of the Annunciation, the Adoration of the Shepherds, and Jesus at the Temple..

The vaulted ceiling of the Baglioni Chapel

On the vaulted ceiling, we see depicted four Sibyls, female prophets, Tiburtina, Eritrea, Europea and Samia, seated on thrones and flanked by cartouches with prophecies of the coming of Jesus Christ.

As you enter the chapel, on the left wall, there is Pinturecchio’s fresco of the Annunciation, which is set in a large Renaissance loggia.  As we look at it our eyes are drawn through, what is termed, the hortus conclusus (enclosed garden) towards the handsomely and meticulously detailed landscape background.  The two main characters in the fresco are Mary and an angel.  Mary had been reading a book which was on a tall ornate wooden lectern but has now been distracted by the angel, who kneels before her with a white lily in one hand, symbolising  virginal purity.  Above them we see God the Father depicted encircled by angels and giving off a ray of light which incorporates the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove (just above the lectern).

Look to the lower right of this fresco.  What is strange about this fresco is that if you look closely under the small bookshelf, you will see a portrait.  In fact, it is a self-portrait of Pinturicchio, featuring the bejewelled inscription, “BERNARDINVS PICTORICIVS PERVSIN[VS]” referring to Pinturicchio’s birth name of Bernardino di Betto.

The Adoration of the Shepherds by Pinturicchio (1501)

The rear wall of the Baglioni Chapel features the fresco depicting the Adoration of the Shepherds. It is a depiction of an idyllic scene within an extensive landscape and includes a number of  secondary motifs. In the background, we can see the arrival of the camels of the Magi procession.  The setting in the foreground is a grassy area in front of the stable, and a line of shepherds who have come to visit and bring gifts to the mother and the new-born child.  

The Shepherds by Pinturicchio

The three shepherds stand out as being over-sized.   They have expressive and detailed features, after the fashion of early Netherlandish painting which influenced Pinturicchio. Their facial characteristics are in a way crude, almost scowling and differ greatly from anything else in Pinturicchio’s repertoire of figures. The one exception is the young man on the left with a goat. This is depicted with a more idealized beauty, inspired by ancient reliefs with sacrifice motifs.

The central panel of the Portinari Altarpiece by Hugo van Goes (1472)

Art historians have put down Pinturicchio’s depiction of his “crude scowling” shepherds as being influenced by the figures of the shepherds in the Portinari Altarpiece which was painted by Hugo van der Goes around 1472.

The figures of the shepherds in the Portinari Altarpiece

In the left background of the fresco on the rear wall we see a meticulously drawn town at the foot of a mountain.  To the right we see a temple-like stable with a window through which we can see a mountainous landscape.  On the roof of the stable sits a peacock, a symbol of immortality. 

In the sky above the nativity scene we observe a cluster of angels on a bank of clouds.  They are celebrating the birth of Jesus in song.

On the right-hand wall as you enter the Baglioni Chapel there is a large fresco pictorially recounting the story of the Dispute with the Doctors. .  It is based on an occurrence in the early life of Jesus depicted in Chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke.  Twelve-year-old Jesus had accompanied Mary and Joseph, and a large group of their relatives and friends to Jerusalem on a Passover pilgrimage.. On the day of their return, Jesus hung back in the Temple, but Mary and Joseph thought that he was among their group and she and Joseph headed back home.  It was not until a day after they returned that they realised Jesus was missing, so they returned to Jerusalem, finding Jesus three days later among a group of philosophers.   

In the background we see the Temple of Jerusalem with its large dome.  The scene follows an arrangement which Pinturicchio had already used in his fresco on the wall of the Bufalini Chapel, which itself originated from a Perugino fresco in the Sistine Chapel, Delivery of the Keys.  At the centre of the depiction stands the Child Jesus who is debating with and surrounded by two groups of philosophers from the Temple of Jerusalem. His books are scattered on the pavement in front of him. By contrast, the richly dressed scholars either clutch their books close to their chests or read aloud from them. The temple can be seen in the background and is characterized by a large dome. The crowd is formed by standard set of characters which includes young spouses, wise men, toothless women and others, all of whom are witnessing the dispute.

On the left of the crowd, dressed in the dark robes of a protonotary apostolic (a prelate who is a member of a college charged with the registry of important pontifical proceedings). It is a portrait of Troilo Baglioni, who commissioned the frescoes for his chapel

[Photo Credits: tyle_r]
Pinturicchio’s frescoes in the Piccolomini Library

Pinturicchio’s many paintings and frescoes can be seen throughout Italy.  Between 1481 and 1482, he worked in Rome, and collaborated with Perugino on the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel. From this his career flourished and he worked uninterruptedly in the service of five popes: from Sixth IV to Julius II, passing through Innocent VIII, Alexander VI, and Pius III.  He also received commissions from well-to-do and important clients such as the della Rovere family and Pandolfo Petrucci, the lord of the Italian Republic of Siena.. In Siena, among the many works, he created the extraordinary cycle of the Piccolomini Library in the Duomo of Sienna, and completed frescoes in the chapel of San Giovanni Battista.

Bernardino di Betto (Benedetto), the Italian painter known as  II Pinturicchio dies in Sienna in 1513 aged 61.