The Allure of Dieppe for the Great Artists

Dieppe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

East end of the Church of St Jacques at Dieppe today

Another English artist who visited Dieppe was Turner.

Dieppe Harbour by J.L.Turner (1826)

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

Changement de Domicile

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

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

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

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

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

Dieppe Harbour by Walter Sickert

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

Le Pollet, Dieppe by Walter Sickert

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

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

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

The Blind Sea Captain by Walter Sickert (1914)

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

Pays de Caux by Richard Parkes Bonington (1823)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry Clay Frick

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

The Frick Collection, New York.

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

View of Dieppe Harbour by Antoine Vollon (1873)

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

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

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

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

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

The Shore, Pourville by James McNeil Whistler (1899)

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

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

View of Dieppe by Spencer Gore (1906)

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

Beach Scene, Dieppe by Charles Conder (1895)

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

Dieppe by Charles Conder

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

Dieppe by Charles Conder

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

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

Alfred Sisley Revisited

The villages of the Seine and its tributaries

Sisley went tirelessly in search of motifs along the Seine and its tributaries, he looked no further. He concentrated on views of village streets, or of interesting groups of buildings, he would be drawn to an old stone bridge, the kind of subject that had fascinated painters since Corot. In what many would dismiss as unprepossessing patches of gardens or meadows, landscapes on the outskirts of towns or along river banks, Sisley could often discover the most arresting colour or light effects.

Alfred Sisley by Renoir (1876)

In 1866, Sisley began a relationship with Eugenie Lesouezec and shortly thereafter the couple had two children: a son, Pierre, in 1867 and daughter, Jeanne in 1869.  Although they remained together until Eugenie’s death in 1898, they didn’t marry until August 5, 1897.  In 1870, the Franco-Prussian War began and this precipitated the failure of Sisley’s father’s silk business which ended in his father’s bankruptcy and the financial devastation hastened his death.   Sisley had relied heavily on his father’s financial support because of the low prices being offered for his artwork, and this revenue stream had come to an end.

Louveciennes, above Marly by Alfred Sisley (1873)

To manage his financial difficulties and to avoid the Prussian War, Sisley gave up his home in Paris and moved to the countryside and the town of Louveciennes, a village west of Paris.  It is said that during the summer of 1871, Sisley, Renoir and Pissarro had watched Paris burn during the Prussian siege of the capital city. In his painting Louveciennes, above Marly, Sisley has depicted the view from Louveciennes, down over the forest and the riverside town of Marly.

Louveciennes: View of the Sèvrees Road by Alfred Sisley (1873)

Another of Sisley’s works featuring Louveciennes is his 1873 painting entitled Louveciennes: View of the Sèvres Road. It is a classic example of a perspective road which we see narrowing into the distance. He used this technique in many of his works as it allowed him to give movement to his depiction while also giving a feeling of space.

The Avenue at Middleharnis Meindert Hobbema (1689}

It is thought that Sisley’s depiction may have been influenced by Meindert Hobbema’s 1689 landscape painting, The Avenue at Middleharnis, which he would have seen at the National Gallery when he visited London.

Place du Chenil à Marly, effet de neige by Alfred Sisley (1876)

Two years later, in October 1874, after his four-month summer holiday spent in London, Sisley and his family moved to 2 avenue de l’Abreuvoir in Marly-le-Roi, a commune in the Île-de-France region, in north-central France, located in the western suburbs of Paris, 18 kilometres from the centre of the French capital. The two following winters were especially harsh with temperatures below zero and frequent heavy snowfall. I particularly like Sisley’s 1876 painting entitled Place du Chenil at Marly, and the depiction of snow. There is an eerie stillness about the depiction of the town’s main square which since Sisley’s time has been renamed Place du Général-de-Gaulle. We see that a heavy snowfall has occurred and the town has been covered by a thick blanket of snow. Look at how Sisley has depicted the snow. It is not just coloured white but a subtle blending of blues, greens, creams and greys. There is nothing spectacular about the scene but it is just a timeless realistic rendition. Place du Chenil in Marly, Snow Effect is now located in Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen which is an art museum in Normandy, France. It was given to Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen by François Depeaux, a French art collector, industrialist and patron. He gave the painting to the museum in 1909, just over 100 years after the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen was built.

Postage stamp issued in 2009

Commemorative postage stamp issued by Republic of Guinea on October 1st 2009 depicted Sisley’s painting Place du Chenil à Marly, effet de neige.

Village by the Seine (Villeneuve-La-Garenne) by Alfred Sisley (1874)

The Villeneuve-la-Garenne painting depicts the village on the River Seine, a commune in the northern suburbs of Paris, which lies less than ten kilometres from centre of the French capital. In 1872 Alfred Sisley created his painting depicting the small village entitled Village by the Seine (Villeneuve-La-Garenne). After visiting the small village, Sisley was inspired by what he saw and was determined to produce a work so that he could share the beauty of the place.  The depiction oozes tranquillity.  The two trees in the foreground act as if they were theatre curtains on either side of a stage.  In this work Sisley has managed to encapsulate the beauty of nature.

The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne by Alfred Sisley (1872)

Sisley completed a number of paintings featuring the village and just to the left of the previous painting, but out of view, is the bridge which crosses the river at Villeneuve-La-Garenne and this was the subject of Sisley’s 1872 painting, The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne. The cast-iron suspension bridge resting on stone abutments was built in 1844 to connect what had until then been a fishing village and small port with the Paris neighbourhood of Saint-Denis, on the other side of the river. The building of the bridge and the bridge itself was symbolic of French modernity, and the structure was depicted in a number of Sisley’s paintings of the 1870s and early 1880s. Sisley made the depiction somewhat livelier by including figures of holidaymakers on the riverbank and in a boat which is passing under the bridge.  Look how Sisley’s brushstrokes communicate the fleeting effect of sunlight on the water.

The Seine at Suresnes by Alfred Sisley (1877)

About six miles up-river from Villeneuve-La-Garenne is the town of Suresnes, a commune in the western suburbs of Paris, Île-de-France. In 1877 Sisley completed his painting entitled The Seine at Suresnes.  It is a typical work of Impressionism with its swirling clouds dominating his depiction of the sky.  His intention was to capture a fast-changing scene due to the approaching storm.  Look how he has depicted the river, no longer bathed in sunlight, now dimmed by the heavy clouds overhead.  Unlike many of Sisley’s best loved works which focus on tranquillity, this is more about doom-laden skies and what was to come to pass.  The painting was sold to fellow artist, Gustave Caillebotte, and along with Gustave’s other paintings he had amassed, it was later left to the French nation.

Canal de Loing by Alfred Sisley (1892)

With the canals from Briare and Orléans completed respectively in the second half of the seventeenth century, merchants started complaining about the poor navigability of the river Loing. The Duc d’Orléans ordered a survey and designs for the navigational route which would be part river and part canal.  The waterway was completed in 1723.  The Loing Canal is used by working barges and was the subject of many Sisley’s depictions.  In this painting we see a winding path, which follows the curve of the canal, alongside of which are poplar trees.  Our eyes, once we have taken in the house, follow the curve of the road and canal into the distance.  The inclusion of the winding road was one of Sisley’s favourite themes in which it plays a part in the perspective of the painting.  This painting, The Loing Canal, was offered to the Musée du Luxembourg after the painter died in 1899.  It was part of a gift from Sisley’s friends which was organised by Monet.

A Road in Seine et Marne by Alfred Sisley (1878)

Seine et Marne is a department in the Île-de-France region of northern France named after the rivers Seine and Marne and is on the eastern edge of the Ile de France.  It was to be Sisley’s countryside during the last twenty years of his life.  In 1880 he had moved to Veneux-Nadon, close to Moret-sur-Loing.  It was a “forced” move as Sisley had been evicted from his house in Sèvres for not paying his rent.  As some of his work prior to 1880 depicted scenes of Veneux-Nadon, it is clear that he had visited the area on a number of occasions.  This was an agriculturally rich and tranquil countryside with its woods and tiny hamlets.  It was a perfect venue for Sisley’s landscape work and allowed him to relax away from the chaos of Paris.  It worked for him as he produced many serene and beautiful paintings.

The Meadow at Veneux-Nadon by Alfred Sisley (1881)

Sisley’s painting, The Meadow at Veneux-Nadon, depicts the slender poplars with their delicate leaves and it leads our gaze into the depth of the picture space and gives it stability in this wide summer landscape. Through a juxtaposition of shimmering fields of colour and a reduction of motifs, Alfred Sisley lends an iridescent vitality and tension to the seemingly monotonous theme. Sisley exhibited the painting at the Seventh Impressionist Exhibition in 1882, in which the group focused on landscapes.

Le Bois des Roches Veneux Nadon, by Alfred Sisley (1880)

In his work, Le Bois des Roches Veneux Nadon, we see a windswept scene of a forest at the water’s edge . To the left we see a small rowing boat struggling in choppy waters.

Snowy Weather at Veneux Nadon Alfred Sisley (1880)

This painting, Snowy Weather at Veneux Nadon, was completed during his first winter in Veneux- Narbon on the Loing in 1880. It is another of his snowscapes which this time is dominated by dark clouds with just a glimmer of the rising sun in the background. This was one of Sisley’s favourite depictions, often populated by workers heading for the mills, which were the village people’s primary source of employment. It is an atmospheric depiction of a cold early-morning scene and Sisley has used muted colours to ensure the contrast with the presence of the rising sun.

Veneux, August Afternoon by Alfred Sisley (1881)

Veneux, August Afternoon was painted by Alfred Sisley in 1881. Financially, it had not been a good year for him although he managed to afford to travel to the Isle of Wight in June. He had arranged for canvases to be sent to him on the island but they never arrived an he could not afford to pay for English canvases. When he arrived back in France in August he painted this work. It is a typical Sisley scene – quiet riverside setting with trees and picturesque sky. Our eyes are drawn to the creamy clouds in the upper left of the painting and then back down in a diagonal direction to the patch of sunlight we see falling on the pathway on the bottom right of the work.

Sailing Boats by Alfred Sisley (1885)

The painting Sailing Boats by Sisley depicts a scene of the boatyards at the riverside town of Saint-Mammès, sixty kilometres south-southeast of the French capital, at a point where the rivers Seine and Loing come together. Sisley has depicted a number of pleasure boats tied up next to a barge fitted with lifting gear. Sisley has used a familiar technique with the layout of his work – the subject is viewed head-on and the depiction is a series of wide horizontal bands, which, in this painting, is held together by the tall triangular shape of the lifting equipment. The scene is populated by a number of figures.

The Goose Girl by Alfred Sisley (1897)

Sisley’s favoured painting medium had always been oils but this late painting by him was a pastel. It is not known whether this pastel work was just a preliminary sketch that would later be used to complete the depiction in oils or whether Sisley was intrigued by the medium. Once again Sisley has used a winding path to give perspective to the depiction. The work is not simply a landscape but focuses on a girl looking after her flock of geese.

Alfred Sisley was born and spent most of his life in France, but retained British citizenship. In 1897, Sisley and his partner of over thirty years, Marie Eugénie Lescouezec, visited Britain and were finally married at the Cardiff Register Office on August 5th. On his return to France, in 1898, Sisley applied for French citizenship, but was refused. Later, a second application was made and on this occasion his application was supported by a police report, but Sisley became seriously ill and the process was halted. In October 1898 his wife died of cancer and four months later on January 29th 1899 Sisley died of throat cancer, aged 59. Sisley remained a British national until his death. He was buried with that of his wife at Moret-sur-Loing Cemetery.

The religious works of Andrea Mantegna

Bronze Bust of Mantegna attributed to Gian Marco Cavalli

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

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

St Luke Polyptych by Andrea Montagne (1453-1454)

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

Saint Justina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polyptych of Saint Zeno by Mantegna (1457-60)

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

Central panel of the San Zeno polyptych

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

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

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

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

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

The Agony in the Garden

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

The Crucifixion

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

The Resurrection

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

The Uffizi Triptych by Andrea Mantegna (1460-1470)

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

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

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

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

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

The Circumcision (detail of The Uffizi Triptych by Mantegna)

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

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

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

St Sebastiano Church, Mantua

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

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

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

Rider in the cloud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Candle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toyohara Kunichika

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai (1829-1832)

When I think about Japanese printmakers I think about the three eighteenth century masters of that genre.  There was Hokusai with his well known print The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

Rain Showers at Shōno.by Hiroshige

Then there was Hiroshige with his many prints, including one of my favourites, Rain Shower at Shōno.

Fukaku Shinobu Koi by Kitagawa Utamaro (c.1794)

The third of the great eighteenth century printmakers which I call to mind is Kitagawa Utamaro who was one of the most highly regarded designers of ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings, and is best known for his bijin ōkubie “large-headed pictures of beautiful women” of the 1790s. One of Utamaro’s most famous works being Fukaku Shinobu Koi which set an auction record of €745,000 in 2016. The woman depicted in the title of the print, Fukaku Shinobu Koi means deeply hidden love and the woman has blackened her teeth, a tradition known as ohaguro, the Japanese custom which normally signifies a married woman, but maybe she is not, as her eyebrows are unshaved which would also signify as her being married.  It could be that she is still young and only recently married.  In her hair she has an ornate kanzashi hairpin with a flower design on it.   This type of hairband was often associated with maiko (trainee geisha).  The young woman looks down and holds a kiseru tobacco pipe in her right hand.  Look at her countenance.   She stares off, her shoulders raised, eyes narrowed, and tiny lips pursed, as if in a deep, emotional mid-sigh.

The other day I had the opportunity to see a small exhibition of Japanese prints by Kunichika at the Lady Lever Gallery on Merseyside, He was the most celebrated print designer of the nineteenth century and so I am dedicating this blog to some of his prints as well as looking at the mystical and colourful world of life in Edo and the magic of Kabuki.  For the unitiated in Japanese life and culture let me start by talking about Edo, Ukiyo-e and Kabuki.

Bijin and a child among flowering sedges under a misty full moon in Ueno Park by Kunichika (1880)

Kyoto, which had been the historic capital of Japan, was replaced by Edo, a castle town centred around the Edo Castle.  Edo became the de facto capital of Japan from 1603 and the seat of the Tokugawa shogunate, the military government of Japan. The period ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate from 1603 to 1868 became known as the Edo period.  This Tokugawa military government brought in social segregation by underlining a hierarchal class system which positioned the warriors at the top, followed by farmers, craftsmen, and then merchants at the bottom. The rulers also organised and built walled areas in the cities where theatres, teahouses, and brothels were licensed and which came to be known as the “pleasure districts.”  For the Japanese people the Edo period was a relatively peaceful time domestically and the regime’s isolationist policy in relationship to the rest of the world, maintained peace in the country. From this was born an art form that reflected this Japanese lifestyle and which found a new audience amongst a rising Japanese middle class and this art known as Ukiyo-e, was born as an evolution of yamato-e, a previous style of painting. Ukiyo-e depended upon collaboration between four people. The artist, using ink on paper, drew the image that was then carved by a craftsman into a woodblock. A printer then applied pigment to the woodblock, and a publisher oversaw and coordinated the process and marketed the works.

Kunichika in 1897, aged 52.

The artist I am featuring today is Kunichika Toyaharo, who was born Yasohachi Oshima on June 30th, 1835 in the Kyobashi district of Edo, which nowadays days is known as Tokyo.

 His father, Ōshima Kyujū was the proprietor of a public bathhouse. His father was a poor businessman, and he lost the bathhouse sometime in Yasohachi’s childhood. The boy’s mother, Arakawa Oyae, was the daughter of a teahouse proprietor. At that time, commoners of a certain social standing could ask permission to alter the family name and so to distance themselves from the father’s failure, the family took the mother’s surname, and the boy became Arakawa Yasohachi.

Around the age of twelve, Kunichika became a student of the ukiyo-e master Chikanobu.      A year later he entered the studio of Utagawa Kunisada the most popular, prolific and commercially successful designer of ukiyo-e woodblock prints in 19th-century.  It was at this point in time that Yasohachi Oshima received his artist name – Kunichika. The name derives from the names of his two masters – Kunisada and Chikanobu.

Kunichika was reputed to be a rather bohemian artist. He married in 1861 and had one child with his wife – a daughter named Hana. Although there is no definitive account of their marriage, it is known that they broke up but it is not known who left whom.  What is known is that he was a philanderer and led a nomadic life very rarely staying in one place for any period of time.  It is said that he once actually bragged that he had moved one hundred and seven times during his life.  His heavy drinking habits and time spent in brothels is well documented by his contemporary artists, Kyosai Kawanabe and Kiyochika Kobayashi and reading between the lines Kunichika was probably an alcoholic with  loose morals who could not control his spending habits.

According to Kanichika’s biographer, Amy Reigle Newland in her 1999 book, Time present and time past: Images of a forgotten master: Toyohara Kunichika, 1835–1900, Kunichika got into trouble in 1862 when he made a “parody print” in response to a commission for a print illustrating a fight at a theatre. This angered the students who had been involved in the fracas. They ransacked Kunichika’s house and tried to enter Kunisada’s studio by force. His mentor revoked Kunichika’s right to use the name he had been given but relented later that year. Decades afterwards Kunichika described himself as greatly “humbled” by the experience.

Kunisada Memorial by Kunichika (1864)

To get an idea of Kunichika’s status in the studio of Kunisada when his mentor died in 1864, of all his apprentices, Kunichika was tasked with producing memorial prints of his late master, one of which was a diptych.

A Scene from Bancho Sarayashiki (The Dish Manor at Bancho) by Kunichika (1863)

Kunichika embraced modern subjects and his prints reflected the great social and political change which was taking place at the time in Japan. He will be best remembered for his depictions of the Kabuki theatre, and his prints encapsulated the drama and excitement of scenes from popular plays and famous actors.  Kabuki, which literally means the art of song and dance, is a world-renowned form of traditional Japanese performance art. It incorporates music, dance, and mime with elaborate costumes and theatre sets.  Kabuki dramas depict stories which came from regional myths and history.  Kabuki is a bizarre visual display which focuses more on looks than the story itself. The elements which go into the production, such as costumes, lighting, props, and set design compliment aspects of the actual performance such as song and dance. All are presented in grandiose fashion to create a single, spectacular show.

Mitate Chuya Niju-Yo Ji no Uchi” (Allusion to the Twenty-four Hours of the Day) by Kunichika Mitate Chuya Niju-Yo Ji no Uchi” (Allusion to the Twenty-four Hours of the Day). – Babysitting at 3 a.m.

Kunichika produced a set of twenty-four prints featuring each hour of the day.  This series is regarded as Kunichika’s finest, completed bijin series.  Bijin is a Japanese term which literally means “a beautiful person” and is synonymous with bijyo meaning “beautiful woman”.  The prints are a fascinating collection of beauties in different aspects of lives and full of intriguing word-puns and allusions. Th one above is set at 3 o’clock in the morning and we see a mother trying to get her baby to sleep.

Niwaka Festival at 9 p.m. – Scenes of the Twenty-four Hours by Kunichika
Courtesan at 10 p.m. – Scenes of the Twenty-four Hours by Kunichika

The prints are a fascinating collection of beauties in different aspects of lives. At 10 o’clock in the evening we see a courtesan waiting for her client.

Scenes of Famous Places Along the Tokaido Road Station 77: Tenryugawa, 1863 by Kunichika

Another interesting set of prints was completed in 1863 and us known as The Tokaido Road Processional series. The print above is one of a series of about one hundred and sixty woodblock prints the authorities commissioned seventeen of the leading ukiyo-e artists of the time  The series is a collaborative effort of the various print designers of the Utagawa School in one quite unique effort.   What is probably fascinating about the series is despite the differing ages and styles of the artists who contributed to this project, from twenty-four-year-old Tsukioka Yoshitosh to the Master himself, Kumisada, who was seventy-seven, there is a homogeneity about them and it is very difficult to distinguish between them.  Kunichika completed seven of this series

Utagawa Kuniyoshi triptych Xuande Leaping into the Gorge of Tan (1853)

Whilst Kunichika was still attending Kunisada’s Kameido studio he was also being influenced by Kunisada’s colleague and rival Kuniyoshi, in the way he has added the swirling motifs of the water taken directly from the Kuniyoshi triptych Xuande Leaping into the Gorge of Tan. In Kunichika’s 1863 print, Scenes of Famous Places Along the Tokaido Road Station 77: Tenryugawa, he depicts figures in a boat in the foreground set against the swirling waves of the seashore.

The background to the depictions is the journey made by Shogun Tokugawa lemchi, Japan’s military leader, who had travelled along the Tokaido Road from the military capital, Edo, (Tokyo) to the Emperor in the imperial capital, Kyoto, for a crisis meeting concerning foreign incursions into their country.  The road was an important and busy road used by samurai, officials and merchants during that time. Along the road, there were outposts, inns, temples and shrines at the service of weary travellers. The prints depict the Shogun’s entourage at various beauty spots on the Tokaido Road.

Onoe Kikugorō V, Ichikawa Danjūrō IX and Ichikawa Sadanji I
(in the play Matsu no sakae Chiyoda no shintoku)
by Toyohara Kunichika, 1878

Kunichika was a lover of Kabuki theatre and fascinated by the actors.  Many of his prints feature the leading actors of the time and snippets of the plays themselves. This woodblock triptych print from 1878 features the three greatest actors of the time, Onoe Kikugorō V playing the role of Kashiwabara Koheita, Ichikawa Danjūrō IX in the role of Tokugawa Ieyasu  and Ichikawa Sadanji I in the role of Kakuya Shichirōji in the play Matsu no sakae Chiyoda no shintoku, which was written by Kawatake Mokuami and staged at the Shintomi-za in June 1878. The play, a historical drama, was a portrayal of the life of first Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and was the first commercial production in the Shintomi-za.  The play ran for forty-two days, and attracted a total of forty-nine thousand theatre goers.

Ghost of Shinchunagon Taira no Tomomori by Kunichika (1867) 

Many of the kabuki plays were based on historical tales of the past and Kunichika captured one such story in his 1867 woodcut print entitled Ghost of Shinchunagon Taira no Tomomori.  The main character was played by the well-known kabuki actor Otani Tomoemon V.  He took on the character of the ghost of Taira no Tomomori, who committed suicide after his defeat at the Battle of Dan-no-ura by tying himself to an anchor and jumping into the sea. In the print, he is depicted with the anchor behind him, a rope entwined around it.  His face a pale blue to indicate that he is a ghost. His long, wet hair falls over his shoulders, and blood flows from wounds to his head and body. He wears a fine suit of armour with the butterfly crest of the Taira family on the chest plate. A terrific, expressive image with incredible fine detail in the hair.

The actor Ichikawa Sandanji as a Suikoden hero

Another of Kunichika’s prints featuring a “great” of the world of kabuki actors is of the actor Ichikawa Sandanji playing the role of a Suikoden hero.  Ichikawa Sadanji I belonged to the triumvirate of stars who dominated the Kabuki world during the Meiji era (1868-1912).  The two others “greats” were Ichikawa Danjûrô IX and Onoe Kikugorô V.

Making A Wish At The Shrine by Kunichika (1869)

My final offering of Kunichika’s woodblock prints is his 1869 work entitled Making A Wish At The Shrine. It is one print from the Tosei Sanju-ni So (Thirty-two Fashionable Physiognomies series), which was one of Kunichika’s major works. The series showcased typical Ukiyo-e beauties but their facial expressions and gestures were livelier and more personalized. These down-to-earth beauties were the harbinger of what became known as Meiji realism which became increasingly popular during the mid – late Meiji period. 

Lady Lever Gallery
Port Sunlight Village, Wirral CH62 5EQ
Kunichika: Japanese Prints
15 April – 4 September
The first exhibition held in a national gallery outside Japan to focus on one of the most important 19th century Japanese print makers.

Ralph Blakelock Part 2.

The sad ending and Beatrice Van Rensselaer Adams

During the 1880’s, Blakelock carried on painting.  He still derived pleasure from painting and showed his work at various exhibitions.  Often, unable to pay the rent, Blakelock was repeatedly forced to move his large family from home to home in northern New Jersey and Harlem including a period of time spent with his in-laws who lived in Brooklyn.  His wife, Cora, gave birth to more children. The seventh-born, Ruth, arrived in 1893, the same year that Blakestock exhibited some of his work at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  In 1897 Cora and Ralph’s eighth child, Allen, was born.  During his ongoing mental health issues brought on by the financial stress of not being able to feed his family, he fluctuated in and out of lucid periods, but he still managed to capture beautifully haunting scenes of moonlit skies, glades of leafless trees and multicoloured streaks of clouds.

The demands of housing and feeding his family continued to worsen his mental health.  In his 2003 biography of Blakelock, entitled The Unknown Night: The Genius and Madness of R. A. Blakelock, an American Painter, the author Glyn Vincent, described Blakelock’s eccentric behaviour at that time:

“…Mr. Blakelock began grandiosely adding price tags of millions of dollars to the backs of his paintings. He based his images on scratches in his enameled bathtub; started carrying around an antique dagger; and draped himself in embroidered sashes and belts with trimmings that his wife described as “long strings of beads and trinkets of all sorts…”

Moonlight by Ralph Blakelock (c.1899)

In 1899, on the day of the birth of his ninth child, Douglas, Ralph Blakelock was once again sectioned in a mental ward at the Long Island State Hospital at Flatbush. He was later transferred to Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital in June 1901, where he was treated for dementia praecox, which we know today as paranoid schizophrenia, leaving his wife and children destitute. Initially he was confined to a secluded ward but later was placed in an open ward where he had the freedom to move about the grounds and even visit the nearby village.  This was just the beginning of an increasingly unbelievable story.

1902 Auction catalogue for Lotos Club exhibition

There now follows a strange twist in Blakelock’s life. Almost as soon as Blakelock went into the Long Island State hospital, his works began to receive recognition from the critics especially after his one-man exhibition of his work at the New York Lotos Club in December 1900. Further exhibitions at the prestigious club followed including one held in September 1902 for Exhibition of paintings by Ralph Albert Blakelock, from the collection of Hon. Frederick S. Gibbs.

Moonlight Sonata by Ralph Blakelock (c.1892)

Within a few years Blakelock’s paintings that he had once sold for a pittance were being resold for several thousand dollars.  It is so ironic that the moment of his greatest triumph with his art came while he was sectioned at the Middletown hospital. On February 21st 1916, his painting, Brook by Moonlight sold at auction, part of the Catholina Lambert collection, for $20,000.  This, at the time, was a record amount ever paid at auction for a living American artist.   Later in 1916 he was finally elected to full membership at the National Academy of Design. 

The news of the record payment for his painting Brook by Moonlight was extensively covered in the media and it captured the imagination of a young New York woman, Beatrice Sadie Filbert Adams.  It is a story which has a hint of the Anna Sorokin/Anna Delvey story which has recently become famous through Netflix.   But who was Sadie Filbert Adams?

Mrs Van Rensselaer (c.1925)

Beatrice Sadie Filbert was born in 1884 in the town of Fishkill, sixty miles north of New York.  Her mother had been employed as a servant and Sadie never attended state schooling but was educated for a number of years at the home of her mother’s employer.  When she was sixteen, she and her older sister went to live in New York.  Two years later, in 1902, she married Louis Adams whom she described as a Chicago millionaire.  Louis actually had rich relatives but none of their wealth ever came to him and he was “a person of interest” to the Cincinnati police.  He went by a number of aliases as he plied his trade as a scam artist and swindler who had taken money from many unsuspecting and naive women.    It is thought that Sadie was complicit in many of his scams.  In October 1906, Louis Adams was convicted and jailed for his crimes and their two children were temporarily taken into care at an Albany orphanage.  Two months later the younger child, a daughter, died of diphtheria.    Sadie was heartbroken and managed to remove her son, Van Rensselaer, from the care facility.

Sadie or Mrs Van Rensselaer Adams, as she liked to be called, now gained money by writing begging letters to wealthy prominent people, mainly men and this soon led to a duplicitous lifestyle similar to that of her jailed husband. Two such wealthy philanthropists who gave her money to cover her living expenses as well as a loan whilst they pondered over how best to help her were Henry P Crowell of the Quaker Oats Company and Harold F McCormick of the International Harvester Company, the son of Cyrus Hall McCormick, an American inventor and businessman who founded the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, which later became part of the International Harvester Company in 1902.  McCormick was also treasurer of International Harvester subsidiary, Wisconsin Steel Company which leased mines including the Victoria Iron Mine of which Mrs Adams had an eighth share which it is believed she had acquired from her husband.  Wanting to see her prosper legitimately they arranged for her to embark on a three-year nurse-training course at the Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago.  She was not enthused by the nurse training and lasted just seven months before quitting, citing the ill health of her son as her reason for leaving.

Illustration in Tacoma Ledger newspaper Blakelock confined in an insane asylum

Sadie Adams left Chicago and returned to New York but still kept close to wealthy philanthropists.  Here she involved herself in fundraising for the women’s division of the endowment association of Lincoln Memorial University, Tennessee.  She would send out begging letters for financial contributions including ones to President Taft and President Woodrow Wilson.  In the Spring of 1916, she became aware of the extensive publicity surrounding Ralph Blakelock who was languishing in a mental institution.  One such article appeared in the Washington newspaper, the Tacoma Ledger, dated May 14th 1913 in which an imaginary illustration depicts Blakelock in his cell at the Middletown (New York) State Homeopathic Hospital

Mrs Van Rensselaer then began to involve herself with Blakelock’s friends and help organise an exhibition of his work and the money raised would go to achieving his release and provide for him and his family once released from the asylum. It was also a trust, which purported to help the poverty-stricken artist and his destitute family. She contacted a young newspaper reporter, Harrison Smith, who was working for the New York Tribune, and told him about Blakelock.  Smith then went to visit the artist at the mental hospital.  The young journalist found the artist to be lucid and yet rambling and reported that Blakelock was fantasising about an imagined “diamond of the Emperor of Brazil” which he said had been stolen from him.  The journalist believed that Blakelock’s claim to be a great artist was not being believed by the asylum authorities or staff and so arranged for the artist and the asylum director to visit Manhattan where a gallery was holding a retrospective of Blakelock’s work.  The rookie journalist was hailed for his major news story despite omitting the part in which Blakelock had told him that some of the paintings on show at the gallery were forgeries.  In an account given by Smith many years later he said that he had omitted Blakelock’s comments as he believed Blakelock’s sanity at the time was in question.

Front page of New York Evening Journal (September 18th 1916)

By now Adams had assumed absolute control of the Blakelock Fund, which was reputed to be $35K,  and in early September 1916, she, with the help from money she took from the Fund, managed to afford to move Blakelock from the Middletown Hospital to a bungalow studio at a private sanatorium in West Englewood, New Jersey.  Not only was the money used to facilitate the move it allowed her to lavishly furnish the place and bring in large canvases, paints and brushes so that Blakelock would continue to paint more masterpieces which she could sell.  The newspaper headlines at the time read:

Blakelock May Recover Genius.

(New York World, September 10th 1916)

Freed from Insane Asylum, Has Six Months’ Probation to Prove Sanity

(New York Times.  September 6th 1916)

Untitled – Moonlight with Figures by Ralph Blakelock (1916)

Adams realised that Blakelock could be her cash-cow and took on the sole control of his artistic output.  Adams maintained that it was all done for Blakelock’s benefit and she said in a gesture of his gratitude Blakelock painted a rough sketch on cardboard which he gave to her.  It was unsigned but on the reverse, Adams had written:

“…This picture was painted by Blakelock for me as a momento of my efforts in his behalf and the figures are supposed to represent he and I…”

In the depiction we see the couple standing in the moonlight, surrounded by woods and mountains, at a gateway which probably leads symbolically away from the Middletown Asylum.

The Vision of Life by Ralph Blakelock (c.1897)

Adams managed to limit visits to him from his family and even had his wife Cora sign a waiver of her right to contest the guardianship as Adams had told her it would be best for her husband to be under Adams’ guardianship.  Adams also promised Cora that funds would be released to her and her family to move to a more respectable residence and which would be fully furnished.  Cora never received this promised payment.  The family tried to visit Blakelock but Adams always blocked their requests and even moved Blakelock to a new, but secret, sanatorium so they even lost contact with him.  She even returned Blakelock to the Middletown Asylum when the money ran out or as a punishment.  By the Spring of 1919, Blakelock had become fearful of Adams and her wild physical tantrums and decide he would be safer at the Middletown facility.  However on July 2nd 1919, Adams managed to extricate him from that safety and back into her custody for the last time.  A month later, on August 9th 1919, seventy-one-year-old Blakelock was dead.  Cause of death was given as a stroke or heart attack.

Such a sad end to the life of an extremely talented artist.

For a full account of the relationship Sadie Filbert (Beatrice Van Rensselaer Adams) had with Blakesock you should try and read an excellent twelve page article written by Dorinda Evans, entitled Art and Deception: Ralph Blakelock and his Guardian which appeared in The American Art Journal (Volume 19, No.1 Winter 1987). I discovered the article at the JSTOR website. It is a fascinating read and supplied me with so much information for this blog.

Ralph Blakelock. Part 1.

The American Impressionist.

Ralph Blakelock

A blog I wrote some eleven years ago featured an artist who spent the last twenty years of his life in an asylum. He was Richard Dadd, the English Victorian painter.  Today I am looking at the life and works of an American painter, Ralph Albert Blakelock, a contemporary of Dadd, who was also incarcerated in an asylum during the last eighteen years of his life.

Woodland Cabin by Ralph Blakelock (1864)

The art of Ralph Albert Blakelock is termed as being of the Romanticism movement.  The Romantic movement, which emphasized emotion and imagination, emerged in response to the artistic disenchantment with the Enlightenment ideas of order and reason.  Blakelock was a painter known mainly for his landscape paintings related to the Tonalism movement.   Tonalism is, at times, used to describe American landscapes derived from the French Barbizon style, which accentuated mood and shadow.

Landscape by Ralph Blakelock (c.1865)

Ralph Blakelock was born on Christopher Street in New York City on October 15th, 1847.  He was the son of Ralph Albert and Caroline Blakelock. His father was an English immigrant carpenter, who would later serve as a police officer before becoming a homeopathic doctor. It was not Ralph’s father but his uncle James A. Johnson, a choirmaster who was to be Ralph’s cultural mentor. Ralph had connections with art through his uncle’s friendship with the great American landscape painters of the time, Frederic Church with and James Renwick Brevoort. Ralph had four brothers and four sisters. His father had hoped that Ralph would follow in his footsteps and study medicine and so it transpired that in 1864, seventeen-year-old Ralph began to study medicine at the Free Academy of New York.  However he gave up his studies at the academy after he had completed the third semester.

Hudson River Landscape by Ralph Blakelock (1867)

Blakelock ended his further education in 1866 and began to study art and paint landscapes full-time. To look for different landscapes to paint he made several sketching trips in upstate New York and New Hampshire. One of his first exhibition pieces was exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1868, when he exhibited a view of the White Mountains.

 Morning – near Devil’s Den, White Mountains by Ralph Blakelock (1868)

The voyage of discovery for Blakelock proved to be central to his artistic vision and was to be an influence on his work for the rest of his life. Such cross-country trips had become popular with artists such as Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran but their journeys were part of expeditions funded by the US government, unlike the one Blakelock undertook on his one-man adventure. He wanted to “go West” and explore more of his country and whilst doing so, sketch and paint what he saw. 

House by the Stream by Ralph Blakelock (1869)

In 1869, thanks to his father’s financial backing, Blakelock began the first of two lengthy journeys to the western territories of the United States. His extensive travelling was done using the train, stagecoach, and horseback, and his trip took him to the states of Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada, finally arriving on the west coast and California. After spending time in that state, he travelled south into Mexico. It is thought that he arrived back home by sea in 1871. The voyage of discovery for Blakelock proved to be central to his artistic vision and was to be an influence on his work for the rest of his life.

Cheyenne Encampment by Ralph Blakelock (1873)

A year later, in 1872, Blakelock embarked on a second western trip. Blakelock spent all his time sketching and painting and it was during this voyage of discovery that he became interested in one of his most lasting subjects for his work – the Native Americans. He painted tableaux of American Indian dancers, tented encampments and native Indian horseback riders Like artists who had journeyed west, there is no doubt that Blakelock was impressed by the vastness of the landscape. He spent time with various American Indian tribes and would often travel alone into the wilderness on horseback and spent time with tribes of the Great Sioux Nation.   It was a time when the Native Americans were still retaining many of their traditional practices despite the constant incursion on their lands by the white Americans from the East who were expanding  rapidly taking hold of the land belonging to the Native Indians.  Blakelock liked to depict Indian encampments in his paintings.  His paintings were not just about pretty scenes, they were a pictorial history of the time.  Mark Mitchell, the American writer and the Holcombe T. Green Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale University Art Gallery,  wrote in his 2008 article Radical Color: Blakelock in Context about Blakelock’s work during his travels West:  He wrote:

“…they were documents of his experience and observations, but with time they became documents of his memory, as well as the memory of the nation at large…”

Sunshine in the Woods by Ralph Blakelock (1876)

Once Blakelock returned to New York after his wanderings in the West he rented his own studio and exhibited his work at the National Academy as well as the Society of American Artists and the Brooklyn Art Association. Initially his paintings followed the Hudson River School style

Shanties in Harlem by Ralph Blakestock (1874)

Now back on the East Coast, Blakelock began to concentrate on depictions of the northern edges of the outer city (what is now 55th Street and Central Park), which had yet to be developed.  Here he focused on the shanties which were starting to appear.  One such painting was his 1874 work entitled Shanties in Harlem.

Portrait of Cora Bailey (Mrs. Ralph Blakelock) by Ralf Albert Blakelock

In 1877, Blakelock married Cora Rebecca Bailey and, soon after, the first of their nine children, Carl, was born.  It was probably at this time in Blakelock’s life that things started to go wrong.  Unfortunately for Blakelock the art critics did not look upon his work favourably and the public were reluctant to buy his paintings at the advertised price.  Coming into play was the dreaded balance of matching income with expenditure.  His income was decreasing as he was having to sell his work cheaply.  However, the increasing size of his family had to be housed and fed. He had to increase his rate of production of his paintings to boost his income.  In his book, The Unknown Night: The Madness and Genius of R. A. Blakelock, An American Painter, Glyn Vincent tells that Blakelock’s wife, Cora, in a letter to the art dealer, Robert Vose, who ran the Vose Gallery in Boston, wrote that her husband did just that.  She wrote:

“…His best work took a long time to complete and in the meantime he had to live. Pictures were painted to keep things going. He could paint a really good picture in less time than anyone else I ever saw…”

In 1880, his second child, Marian is born and in 1883, Blakelock moved into the prestigious Tenth Street Studio Building, in New York and had famous neighbours such as William Merritt Chase and Frederic Church. He took part in the 1884 Society of American Artists exhibition and this boosted his reputation with his work being hailed by the press as being among the best works on show.  Clarence Cook of the Tribune wrote:

“…it was the best work of his which we have seen, marked not only by rich coloring, but by the possession of a distinctive character…”

The year 1884 was the year of the birth of his third and fourth chiId, twins, Claire and Ralph and so it became a dire financial struggle and to support his new and rapidly growing family. Blakelock would sometimes take jobs as an art teacher and later would produce small paintings of birds, flowers, and landscapes on plaques at E. C. Meekers Art Novelty Shop in New Jersey while he and his family lived nearby in East Orange. 

A Waterfall, Moonlight by Ralph Blakelock (1886)

Despite the good press reviews of his work, Blakelock was still struggling financially.  One reason could be that to avoid paying dealers a commission for selling his work he sold his own paintings and although he saved money, he lost the power of marketing and advertising a dealer would have afforded him. In 1886, the popular journal, Harper’s Weekly, reviewing an exhibition at the National Academy of Design praised Blakelock’s painting entitled A Waterfall, Moonlight hailing it as the best landscape in the exhibition, and the art critic admitted that he was surprised to see the name of the artist having completed such a powerful landscape. The painting featured elements that are typical of Blakelock’s style, such as generalized and silhouetted forms, glowing moonlight, and thick paint.  The foliage that frames the edge of the canvas echoes the irregular contours of the tree so much that it gives the impression that the forms are almost able to interlock.

Brook by Moonlight by Ralph Blakelock (1891)

The year 1886 was also the year of the birth of Ralph’s fifth child, Mary, and, tragically, the year of the death of one of his twins, his two-year-old daughter Claire. In 1887 his sixth child, Louis was born. The financial stress on Blakelock continued to mount and cause him mental stress until March 1890, when it culminated in his first mental breakdown and he was taken by his brother to the Flatbush Insane Asylum.

Photograph of the Sherwood Building, Manhattan (c.1902)

Blakelock stayed in the asylum for a short time and on his release, a wealthy patron of his, the English-born textile firm owner, Catholina Lambert allowed Blakelock, his wife Cora, and their four children to come to his estate in Hawley, Pennsylvania, to convalesce. Having recuperated, he returned to New York, where Blakelock began working out of fellow artists’ studios and later president of the National Academy of Design, Harry Watrous’s studio in the Sherwood Building.  This building was at 58 West 57th Street, at the southeast corner with Sixth Avenue (Avenue of the Americas) in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. The building was constructed in 1879 as artists’ apartments. It was here that Blakelock painted his masterpiece Brook by Moonlight which is now part of the Toledo Museum of Art collection. Depicting moonlight, sunsets, and twilight were favourite depictions of Blakelock  It is said that they held a special attraction for Ralph Albert Blakelock for their poetic qualities and in this work he expressed his personal response to nature in this mysterious and haunting moonlit forest.

Sadly the life of Ralph Blakelock was going to take a turn for the worse…..

…….to be continued.

Susan Catherine Moore Waters

Today I am delving into the life of the nineteenth century American painter Susan Waters.  It is difficult to compartmentalise her artwork, some, however, have labelled her a folk portraitist.  It is a mixture of portraiture which could be best described as quirky and animal paintings.  Her art, especially her early portraiture, is certainly easily recognisable as you will see.  I like its simplicity and although she will never be regarded as one of the American great artists, her depictions ooze a naiveté which is so endearing.

Susan Catherine Moore was born on May 18th 1823 in Binghamton, a small town in the Southern Tier of New York state on the border with Pennsylvania.  She was one of two children, both daughters, of a cooper, Lark Moore, and his wife, Sally, who were Hicksite Quakers.  As a young child Susan showed a talent for art.

Two Children in an Interior Setting, One Child Holding a Grey Cat, the Other Holding a Piece of Melon by Susan Waters

Susan and her sister, Amelia, attended the fee-paying Boarding School for Females run by Quakers at the small Pennsylvania border town of Friendsville.  The town had been founded in 1819 and the majority of early settlers were Quakers.  At the age of fifteen, in order to afford to pay the fees for the school for her and her sister, Susan would paint copies for the Natural History course run by the school.  Although the school had basic art education lessons, Susan is considered to be a self-taught painter.

The Downs Children of Cannonsville, New York. by Susan Waters (1843)

On 27 June 1841, aged just eighteen, she married William C. Waters, a Friendsville Quaker and amateur artist, and he would encourage his young wife to develop her talent as a painter. She took up portraiture about 1843, when her husband became ill and was unable to support the family. She would travel around the outlying areas painting and selling portraits of the people and their children.  One of Susan’s earliest recorded signed paintings is her 1843 work entitled The Downs Children of Cannonsville, New York. It depicts two children with a dog and a toy wagon in a landscape setting which includes a white house in the background. The boy on the left holds a riding crop.

Helen M Kingman by Susan Waters (1845)

In 1845, Susan completed a set of three paintings featuring the Kingman family.  This signed and dated portrait of fifteen-year-old Helen M Kingman is one of the three works.  The young girl is depicted seated in a stencilled chair, wearing a salmon pink dress, against a grey-walled backdrop.  Note the potted plant on the windowsill, an accoutrement often seen in portraits of children.

Lyman Kingman by Sarah Waters (1845)

Another in the series is a portrait of Lyman Kingman dressed in a black suit, holding sheets of paper. Behind him are shelves of books at right and drapery at upper left.

The Lincoln Children by Susan Waters (1845)

In the 1840s Susan specialized in portraits of children, and this 1845 painting, The Lincoln Children, is a depiction of three of the twelve children of Otis Lincoln, an innkeeper who was plying his trade in the small rural town of Binghamton in New York State. The three small girls are Laura Eugenie, aged nine, Sara, aged three, and Augusta, aged seven and they have been positioned in a pyramid. They are all wearing decorative dresses, adorned with eyelet and lace. One of the girls holds a peach, another a small branch in one hand and a pencil in the other while the third has a book open upon her knee.  These trappings were added to the portrait to publicise the girls’ sweetness and their attentiveness whilst attending school. The fine-looking furnishings including an expensive floral-patterned carpet, the pretty plants on a stand in the right background, and the addition of the appealing puppy with its well-arranged stance coalesce and create a lovely image of domestic stability and cosiness and yet their intense expressions as they look out at us gives the painting a disconcerting openness.

Herding Sheep before the Storm by Susan Waters

The Waters’ life was complicated, flitting from one temporary home to another. They continued to reside in Friendsville for several years, but by May of 1852 they had moved to Bordentown, New Jersey. They built themselves a cottage in the Quaker community of Bordentown and although they did not settle there permanently at that time, they would return to their house in 1866.

Chicken and Raspberries by Susan Waters

The couple sold their Bordentown cottage and journeyed to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in 1855, returned to Friendsville four years later, and in 1866 finally resettled in Bordentown buying back their former home on Mary Street and it was here that they spent the rest of their lives. This was a base from which she taught art and produced over fifty of her later works, many of which were painting of animals in their natural settings, especially her favourite animals, sheep, and pastoral scenes. She was also an early photographer and produced many ambrotypes and daguerreotypes, which were early forms of photography. This made a lot of practical sense, as commissioned portraits were giving way to the more exciting medium of photography. 

Barnyard Animals by Susan Waters.

Many of the animals depicted were kept in Susan’s own yard.

Rooster with two Chickens in the Yard by Susan Waters.

Whilst residing in Bordentown Susan Waters painted animal and still life pictures in a style which was more mature and academic than her earlier efforts at portraiture.  There was a greater sophistication with her depictions.

A Cache of Raspberries by Susan Waters

Susan also produced a number of excellent still-life paintings

Still life with Grapes by Susan Waters

and sometimes a combined still-life and animal depiction as in her work entitled The Marauders.

The Marauder by Susan Waters

The artwork she produced and sold whilst living in Bordentown earned her recognition in her own lifetime.  It was not just from within her local community but from outside and in 1876, Waters was honoured with an invitation to exhibit some of her paintings at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. It was the first official World’s Fair to be held in the United States. She submitted two of her animal paintings.

Lighthouse on the Coast by Susan Waters

Susan Waters also became active in State politics when she became a member of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association, which was founded in 1867.  It was in this year that Lucy Stone delivered a speech on “Women Suffrage in New Jersey” before the state legislature.  This would have been a thrilling time to be involved with the movement, and Susan was elected recording secretary for the Association in 1871. She was also an Animal Rights activist.

Pasture scene with cows and distant mountains by Susan Waters

After exhibiting successfully at the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, Susan discovered that her work was much sought after and it remained so for the rest of her life.  Her husband died in 1893 and from then on Susan dedicated herself to her art.  In 1899 she had to sell her home and go to a nursing home in Trenton New Jersey.  On July 10th 1900 Susan Catherine Moore Waters passed away at the age of seventy-seven.  Three days later she was buried alongside her beloved husband, William in the beautiful Bordentown cemetery.  Of her character, her obituary noted:

“…as beautiful as her paintings … her talent she could not bequeath…”

The folks of Bordentown will remember Susan Waters as a lady of refinement, modest and unassuming.  She was a lady of extraordinary ability, not just as a painter but as a writer and a speaker in the Society of Friends.

Alson Skinner Clark. Part 1.

Alson Skinner Clark

Alson Skinner Clark was an American Impressionist painter known for his landscape paintings and his murals, including at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles and the First Trust and Savings Bank in Pasadena.  He was also an ardent photographer.  He was born on March 25th 1876 in Chicago, Illinois, to Alson Ellis Clark and Sarah Clark.  He had two brothers, Mancel and Edwin and a sister, Mary Emily, who died when young.  His father was not always a wealthy man as he came from an impoverished background.  He had served in the Civil War, and then moved to Chicago where he established a highly successful commodities business at the Chicago Board of Trade.  From then, his wealth increased and he was able to provide a comfortable lifestyle for his wife and family.

The Black Race by Alson Skinner Clark (1902)

Alson showed an early interest in art and was proving to be a gifted young painter.  In an 1956 interview for The Archives of American Art, a collection of primary resources documenting the history of the visual arts in the United States, his wife recalled her late husband’s early “artistic talent” saying:

“… I think the desire to draw was always extant with Alson Skinner Clark. When he was nine or ten years old, it made itself manifest—and obnoxious as well—to the his church-going parents, for during the long Sunday sermons he surreptitiously recorded the bonnets and bald pates in front of him in the only place available at the time—the frontispiece and blank rear pages of the family hymnals…”

His family supported and encouraged him to continue with his art by enrolling him in Saturday classes at the Art Institute of Chicago when he was just eleven years old. 

Breton Village, Rochefort-en-terre by Alson Skinner Clark (1903)

One of the perks of being part of a wealthy family was the ability to travel and in 1889 the Alson Clark and his family set off on a two-year trip around the world. For Alson it was his first taste of European art and no doubt instilled in the young man a love of both travel and painting. Back in America, Alson graduated from high school, and for a short period at the end of 1895 enrolled as a full-time student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  The teaching of art at the Institute was based on the teachings at the French Academies and focused on drawing from casts and still-lifes before students were allowed to progress to drawing live models.  Alson was unhappy with the Institute’s system and after a quarrel with one of his teachers regarding the slow and arduous process of drawing from casts, Clark quit the Institute.

Despite his short but unhappy period at the Chicago Institute Alson was determined to carry on with his art and in 1896 moved to New York and studied under the tutelage of William Merritt Chase at the Art Students’ League of New York.  Despite being twenty-years-old, Alson’s mother would not let him live on his own in New York and so went with him bringing along his childhood friend Amelia Baker.  The three shared an apartment on Seventy-Seven Street and Columbus Avenue.  Alson’s mother Sarah justified this arrangement by saying:

“…For two years Mela [Amelia] and I have talked of spending a winter in New York, in Bohemian fashion, and have searched for a good reason for doing so, in vain till this time. Alson, however, came to the rescue in his desire to study art with a New York master, and made it seem a necessary thing to do…”

Early Nude by Alson Clark (1898)

When Chase opened his own school of art, Alson Clark, along with many other students, followed him.  Chase was a great influence on Alson, an influence which would remain with him for the years to come.   A painting completed by Alson, entitled Early Nude, which he completed in 1898 bears an inscription that Merritt Chase had also worked on the painting.

Mansion of Leroy de Chaumont near Watertown, New York by Alson Skinner Clark (1902)

For two summers Clark spent working en plein air at Merritt Chase’s school in Shinnecock, Long Island and it was the beginning of his love affair with plein air painting and his predisposition with the Impressionist style of painting.  In November 1898 Alson decided, like many other young aspiring artists, to leave America and travel to France to study at the famous French art academies.  The most popular art academy for visiting American artists was the Académie Julian.  However, the “rough and ready” Académie Julian was not for Alson, who commented that he found the working conditions “disgusting”.  Alson preferred to enrol at the newly opened Academia Carmen, which had been founded by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, where the business side of the school was handled by Whistler’s former model Carmen Rossi for whom, along with her musician husband, the school was named. Alson Clark was in awe of Whistler’s artistic talents and kept going to Whistler’s atelier on and off until it closed in 1901.  Alson would never to forget the teachings of Whistler.

Taking Paintings to the Salon, Paris, (c. 1905)

In March of 1899, Clark entered his first work in the Paris Salon. In a letter written the following month to his friend Amelia Baker, he described his experience:

“…Wednesday, Wilson and I went to the Salon to see the stuff carried in and all the awful things that went in—I never saw such a lot of bad painting. The wagons come up to the entrance and take their wads of pictures in and there are crowds of people watching the stuff enter. I have little hope that [my picture] will pass the jury but one can never tell as there is a great deal of “pull” in the Salon, and as I have not studied under any Frenchman I may be thrown out. I don’t care what happens although of course I would rather be in than out. Exhibitions are, after all, a farce…”

When his painting was rejected by the Salon jury, Clark feigned indifference stating:

“It doesn’t’ matter to me at all as I haven’t a reputation to make and there isn’t much honour in being in unless you get in squarely as only very few do.…”

The Violinist by Alson Clark (1901)

Despite his work being rejected by the jurists he never gave up trying to have one of his paintings was eventually accepted into a Salon exhibition for in 1901 his perseverance paid off with his painting, The Violinist being selected for that year’s Paris Salon exhibition.

Comfort Island Alexandria Bay, New York was built in 1883 by industrialist Alson E. Clark.

Whilst he had been living in America Alson Clark’s health was often very poor and was a frequent visitor to his doctor with stomach problems.  In 1901 whilst living in France he once again became ill and was advised he had to have his appendix removed.  In those days this was a serious operation and so he decided to return to America for the operation and set sail for New York on June 1st with surgery booked at a Chicago hospital that summer.  After the operation he recuperated at the family home on Comfort Island, one of the Thousand Islands in Alexandria Bay, New York.  Comfort Island, Alexandria Bay, New York was built in 1883 by his father Alson E. Clark and it is located on the St. Lawrence River in the Thousand Islands Region in what is known as Millionaire’s row.

Ile de la Cite, Paris by Alson Skinner Clark (c.1900)

In the Autumn of 1901 Alson rented a barn from the parents of his friend Amelia in Watertown a small, provincial city near Lake Ontario and the Canadian border and the closest city to Comfort Island.  This was the start of his career as a professional artist and the only one in Watertown. Now set up as a professional artist, he needed a model and he discovered that one of the local girls, Atta Medora McMullin, was willing to pose for him and her mother would act as her chaperone.  Soon love between artist and model blossomed but Alson had his doubts about being good husband material.  He wrote:

“…In the evening I would have liked to have seen Medora, but stayed home and wrote. I have no more business in marrying than the man in the moon for I am fickle and can’t help myself. It is a misfortune and not a fault.” Yet, just a few days later, he wrote, “In the afternoon she posed. I could not work as I wanted to tell her that I loved her but could not. We sat by the fire knowing each other’s minds…”

Landscape near Le Pouldu, France by Alson Skinner Clark (c.1900)

At the end of January 1902, Alson Clark professed his love to Medora and proposed marriage. She accepted.  Medora was to prove a very compassionate and supportive wife.  His first exhibition of his work was at Watertown and featured many paintings of Paris.  It was a success and he sold many works.  From there the exhibition moved to Chicago for Clark’s first major exhibition, at the Anderson Galleries.  Once again the exhibition was hailed as a great success and the Chicago Times declared:

“… Popular opinion has decided that it is a very promising display for a young artist…. Mr. Clark has a style of his own. It is suggestive of Japanese reminiscences, is refined and pleasantly frank…. The sentimental does not interfere with the boldness of using masses…”

From our Window, Paris by Alson Skinner Clark (1903)

Alson Skinner Clark and Atta Medora MacMullin wed on September 20th, 1902, and for their honeymoon they took a sea voyage to Europe on the S.S. Minnetonka.  On November 7th the couple moved into a Parisian apartment at 6, rue Victor Considérant.   Shortly after settling in, Alson’s friend, and fellow American artist, Frederick Carl Frieseke, moved in with them whilst waiting for the apartment above the Alsons to become available to rent.  Alson and Frieseke were good friends and Frieseke used to paint from the Clarks’ apartment balcony and would also occasionally use Medora as a model.  That winter Alson and Frederick painted continually so that they could build up a collection to put before the jurists at the Spring Salon.  They even split the cost of renting wagons to transport their work to the Salon.

Les Colliers (The Necklaces) by Alson Clark (1905)

Alson Clark continually acknowledged the debt he owed Whistler and wrote to him many times confirming such indebtedness.  In 1905 Alson completed a work entitled Les Colliers (the Necklaces) and the style of the work mirrored many of Whistler’s works.  It was simply Alson’s way of paying homage to Whistler’s portraiture.  In the painting we see the lady, modelled by Medora, dressed in a flowing gown with her back to us, standing beside an elegant mantlepiece.  In her hands she holds a pair of necklaces

The Coffee House by Alson Skinner Clark (1906)

One of Alson’s early industrial paintings is his atmospheric work entitled The Coffee House which he completed in 1906.  It is a depiction of Chicago on a cold winter day.  We see ice floating down the river which is overlooked by monstrous dark skyscrapers which are looming through the smoggy atmosphere.  As we look at the painting our eyes are drawn into the picture by the curved ironwork of the State Street Bridge, 

Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare, by Claude Monet (1877)

This is a typical depiction of urban realism and it is suggested that Alson may remember seeing such scenes depicted in Monet’s paintings such as his 1877 work, Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare, which highlight both the ephemeral nature of fog and smoke and the atmosphere’s effect upon the forms of the city.

………….to be continued.

Much of the information I used for this blog came from an article in CALIFORNIA ART CLUB NEWSLETTER entitled An American Impressionist by Deborah Epstein Solon Ph D.

The Hayllar Family

Having recently looked at the Barnes School, the Williams family of English painters featuring a father and his six sons, I am today looking at another talented English family of painters featuring a father and his four daughters.  Let me introduce you to the Hayllars. 

James Hayllar, the patriarch.

James Hayllar, photograph by David Wylkie Wynfield (c.1860’s)

The patriarch of the Hayllar family was James Hayllar who was born in the West Sussex town of Chichester in 1829.  Despite parental opposition he decided to become an artist and, aged thirteen, enrolled at Cary’s Art School in 1842.  Francis Stephen Cary, a noted historical painter, who had once taught Rossetti and Millais, had become a pupil at Henry Sass’ Art Academy, and he, on the death of Henry Sass, took over the running of the academy in Bloomsbury and it then became known as Cary’s Art School.

An 1851 pencil and chalk portrait of Stephen Cary by James Hayllar is in London’s National Portrait Gallery.

Cimabue’s Madonna by Frederic Lord Leighton (1853-1855)

On completing his studies at Cary’s Art School, Hayllar travelled to Europe and made a tour of the continental countries.  In 1851, whilst in Rome he met Frederic Leighton.  It is believed that Hayllar appears as one of the figures in Leighton’s monumental (2m x 5m) masterpiece, Cimabue’s Madonna, which he worked on between 1853 and 1855.

Granville Sharp the abolitionist rescuing a slave from the hands of his master by James Hayllar (1864)

Granville Sharp, who was born in 1735, was a scholar who campaigned for social justice. In 1787, with his fellow Anglican Thomas Clarkson and a group of Quakers, Sharp founded the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Sharp supported the resettlement of British and Canadian slaves to Sierra Leone, but despite reports about its moral decline and the resurgence of slave trading in the colony, maintained the view that the project was worthwhile.  James Hayllar’s 1864 painting Granville Sharp the abolitionist rescuing a slave from the hands of his master, depicts an event which occurred in 1765 and is based on Sharp’s involvement with the Abolitionist movement. In 1765 Sharp met Jonathan Strong, a slave seeking treatment for injuries sustained at the hands of his owner. Sharp took up Strong’s case and secured his release from prison when he was arrested as an escaped slave. Following this success Sharp began to research the legal status of slaves in Britain and argued on behalf of a number of slaves in court, which is why the background of Hayllar’s painting has the legal setting.

Miss Lily’s Carriage stops the Way by James Hayllar (1866)

Hayllar exhibited his work at the Royal Academy focusing on literary and historical genre but by 1866 he changed tack and began a series of extremely well-liked genre studies of children and he completed a three painting series depicting a child attending a formal party. The first of these was Miss Lily’s Carriage stops the Way. In the first painting, Hayllar depicts a young child having her cloak adjusted before she makes an appearance at her first party.

Miss Lily’s First Flirtation by James Hayllar (1866)

In the second work, entitled The First Flirtation,  we see the same young girl, Lily, enjoying herself at the party as she makes the acquaintance of a young boy similar in age to herself.

The Return from the Ball by James Hayllar (1866)

In the third painting entitled The Return from the Ball, Lily is seen being carried from the party by her mother, although her eyes are still open as she rests her head on her mother’s shoulder and we can see that the evening party has tired her out.  She still manages to clutch her lace fan in her silk gloved hand.

Castle Priory Wallingford, home to artist James Hayllar and his daughters,

 The series was well received and his standing as an artist rose.  His name was put forward as an Associate of the Royal Academy by William Powell Frith and Eyre Crowe, but he missed being elected by one vote and being very despondent regarding the outcome, never tried again.  Having given up hope of becoming an Academician he distanced himself from the Academy circle and also distanced himself from the English capital and London life in general and moved from his St Pancras home and settled down in the rural part of Suffolk at Carlton Rookery near the town of Saxmundham and in 1875 moved to the county of Berkshire and the town of Wallingford where he rented Castle Priory, a large house on the banks of the Thames.

Rivals Drink by James Hayllar (1881)

James Hayllar had married Ellen Phoebe Cavell in 1855 and the couple went on to have nine children, five daughters, Jessica Ellen in 1858, Edith Parvin in 1860, Eugenie Grace in 1861, Alexandra Mary in 1862 and Beatrice Kate in 1864.  They also had four sons, their first-born child, William Ernest in 1855, Reginald James in 1857 and their two youngest children, Thomas and Algernon in 1866 and 1868. 

Forty Winks by James Hayllar

Both parents and children led an exceptionally happy family life and they often played host to visiting neighbours and cousins.  The days were filled with games of tennis as well as artistic endeavour. The house was to provide his family with inspiration for their paintings.

The Only Daughter by James Hayllar (1875)

They were a very close family and of course, at a certain age, they would leave home and it is thought that James Hayllar’s 1875 painting entitled The Only Daughter was a reminder to him of the sad day when he “lost” one of his daughters.  The painting depicts an only daughter standing between her beloved father and the man who was to be her future husband.  His role in the young lady’s life would be to take over the protective mantle, once the role of her father and this successional responsibility is made plain by placing his head between the portraits of past generations on the wall behind him.

Lunchtime by James Hayllar

Hayller lived at Castle Priory until the death of his wife in 1899.  He them went to live in Bournemouth where he stayed until his death in 1920, aged 91.

The daughters of James Hayllar.

Jessica Hayllar

The Lemonade Drink by Jessica Hayllar

Of the nine children James and Ellen had, five were daughters and it was the female members of the family that followed in the footsteps of their father. James Hayllar and his wife’s third-born child was their first daughter, Jessica.

Fresh from the Altar by Jessica Hayllar (1890)

Jessica Hayllar was born on September 16th 1858.  She studied under her father and began to exhibit her art in 1879 and at the Royal Academy from 1880 to 1915. In the early days, up until 1900, her work was mainly depictions of domestic scenes of everyday life at Castle Priory.  Her genre scenes were described as being ones which were full of genuine charm.  For her models she nearly always used members of her family.

The Hallway with Potted Palms by Jessica Hayler (1882)

In 1900 she was badly injured in a carriage accident and was partially paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. From that moment the subject of her paintings changed and she started to paint floral still life works which often featured azaleas.

A Double Pink Azalea by Jessica Hayllar

Jessica Hayllar lived with her parents throughout her life and never married.  When her father left Castle Priory and went to live in Bournemouth she went with him.  Following her father’s death in 1920, Jessica moved to Surrey to live with her younger sister Edith Hayllar MacKay.

A Sunny Corner by Jessica Hayllar (1909)

Jessica Hayllar died on November 7th 1940, aged 82.

Alexandra Mary Hayllar

Alexandra Mary Hayllar wedding day photo (1885)

In comparison to her four sisters, Alexandra Mary Hayllar was the least prolific, and unlike her sisters, she only exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1880 to 1885.  Her paintings were mainly still life works or genre pieces which featured children.

Lawn Tennis Season by Mary Hayllar (1881)

Despite her lesser output of work in comparison to that of her sisters, Mary was extremely gifted and like her sisters, she took pleasure in pictorially depicting the domestic life of the Berkshire countryside, as lived at her parents’ house, Castle Priory, Wallingford

The Tennis Party by Alexandra Mary Hayller (1907)

On July 1st 1885, at the age of twenty-two, she married Henry Wells in St Marys, Wallingford and this change of status coincided with her giving up painting and taking on the accepted role of supportive wife, keeper of the home and bringing up the children.  The couple had six children, two sons, Henry and Guy and four daughters, Dora, Muriel, Beatrice and Joyce.  All of the children at one time or another modelled for their aunts’ paintings.

Helping Gardener by Mary Hayllar (1884)
For a Good Boy by Mary Hayllar (1880)

Alexandra Mary Hayllar died in 1950, aged 87.

Edith Parvin Hayllar

Edith Hayllar (self portrait)

Edith Hayllar was the fourth child and second daughter of the British artist James Hayllar born in 1860.   As was the case for most English middle- and upper-class young ladies in Victorian times, art was an essential accomplishment and Edith, like her four sisters, adhered to the Victorian system of four to ten art classes a day by their father and this was to guarantee a proficiency in the basic art techniques such as proportion and perspective.   They would also be given instruction in modelling, etching, mezzotint, and engraving among other media.

In the Park by Edith Hayllar

Once their art lessons were completed, she and her sisters spend the rest of their time at home relaxing, partaking in outdoor sports such as tennis, plein air painting, and even some gardening. This relaxed lifestyle featured in the depiction seen in all the sisters’ paintings

Five o’clock Tea by Edith Hayllar

Of the five sisters, Jessica Hayllar and Edith Hayllar where the most well-known painters, and like their father, James, they specialised in genre painting.  It is thought that through the depictions in Edith’s paintings of women in domestic interiors with their families gave an insight into their lifestyle. The women in her genre works were observed running a well-organized households and clearly defined a woman’s role at any given time in their lives.  Edith had not taken on the role as a spokesperson for female independence and was content with the term “female dependency”

A Cozy Corner by Edith Hayllar (1887)

Edith works of art were shown almost every year from the 1880s–1890s at the Institute for Oil Painters and Dudley’s Gallery. In 1881 she had her first piece exhibited at the Royal Society of British Artists in London and then a year later, in 1882, another of her works was exhibited in the Royal Academy of Arts.

Summer Shower by Edith Hayllar (1883)

Maybe her best-known and best loved painting was her 1883 work entitled A Summer Shower, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy Exhibition.  It depicts a young man with a badminton racket courting a woman who is reclining in a chair next to him.  Through the window in the background, we can see the inclement weather has put a stop to all outdoor sporting activities.  One critic described the work as one of the most charming genre scenes of the nineteenth century.

Feeding the Swans by Edith Hayllar

In 1900, at the age of forty, Edith married Rev. Bruce MacKay and the couple moved to Sutton Courteney.  Marriage also signalled the end of her painting career as she devoted her life to looking after the family household. Edith died in 1948, aged 88.

(Beatrice) Kate Hayllar

A Corner of the Shelf by Kate Hayllar

(Beatrice) Kate Hayllar was born on September 1st 1864 at 15 Mecklenburgh Square, London.  She was the seventh child of James and Ellen Hayllar and the youngest of their five daughters.  She, like her other sisters, loved to paint and were tutored by their father.  Most of her ideas for her work derived from the happy life she experienced when the family lived at Castle Priory, a large Thames-side house, close to the small town of Wallingford, Oxfordshire.  The family resided there from 1875 and 1899.  The beautiful interior of Castle Priory, its domestic events held there, the extensive well-laid out gardens, and the nearby countryside inspired the sisters to paint and the flowers they grew became their favourite subjects.  Kate Hayllar focused her work on small and intensely observed flower and still life subjects, many of which she exhibited at the Royal Academy and Royal Society of British Artists.

Souvenirs of Japan by Kate Hayllar (1883)

When her mother died in 1899 she gave up painting and became a nurse. She moved to Bournemouth with her father and sister Jessica. Later she went to live with her sister Mary at Wallingford, Berkshire. 

Eugenie Grace Hayllar

Eugenie Grace Hayllar was born in St Etienne, Ardèche, Rhône-Alpes, France on  August 26th 1861. She was the fifth child of James Hayllar and Ellen Phoebe Cavell.  Eugenie Grace Hayllar married Robert Fletcher Leslie and the couple had two children, Harry and Charles, born in 1891 and 1893 respectively.  Eugenie passed away on March 2nd 1943 in Wallingford, Berkshire, England. Her husband had died the year before.

I was unable to find any paintings attributed to her but we know that like her sisters she was taught to paint by her father.

Pierre Adolphe Valette

Self portrait by Pierre Adolphe Valette (1912)

I first came across the artist I am featuring in this blog through his famous English pupil, L.S.Lowry.  Today I want to explore the beautiful and very different paintings of the French artist Pierre Adolphe Valette.

Valette was born on October 13th 1876 in the family home on the rue de Roanne in the east-central French industrial town of Saint Etienne, some sixty kilometres south-west of the city of Lyon.  Saint-Etienne was a vibrant industrial centre similar to the English city of Manchester which would later become a home to Valette.  Valette’s father, Ferdinand, who was born close by in 1846, worked as an armourer at the firm of Claude Brondel and he and the family could be socially termed middle-class and were financially well-to-do.  In 1872, Adolphe’s father Ferdinand, when he was twenty-six, had married his wife, Madeleine, a dressmaker, an occupation she soon relinquished after marriage.

Pierre Adolphe Valette

Ferdinand and Madeleine had their first child, a son, Ferdinand Claude Marie in January 1873.  Their second child, Antoine Emile Edouard soon followed in September 1874 and the third child Pierre Adolphe, the subject of this blog, arrived in 1876.  The family was completed in June 1881 with the birth of their fourth child, and their only daughter, Marguerite Aglaée Nathalie. She was born with a slight mental and physical handicap and was looked after for forty-seven years by her mother.

Saint-Etienne,  École de dessin, renamed École régionale des arts industriels in 1884,

Adolphe Valette was brought up in St Etienne and like all the locals had to put up with the cold, damp and smog of the industrial pollution of this industrialised town.  The first French railway had arrived at St Etienne with its horse-drawn wagons in 1832 and twelve years later steam locomotives took their place.  Adolphe was enrolled by his father at the Ecole Régionale des Arts Industriels where he studied engraving.  It was a school, which as the name suggests, stressed the interaction between industry and the arts.  His father had hoped that Adolphe would learn all about metal engraving which could be used in the armoury sector, such as the engraving on weapons.  His studies also encompassed history and anatomy.  Valette received art tuition at Ecole Régionale des Arts Industriels from Jean Dablin, who was later become the founder of the Société des Arts du Forez’ of which Valette would become a member.  Adolphe Valette was influenced by Dablin’s choice of subjects such as works featuring industrial landscapes and coal mines.

A Lady Reading by Pierre Adolphe Valette

It has not been documented as to why Valette decided to leave St Etienne and move to Lyon.  It maybe he had exhausted the subject matter for his paintings or that he wanted to establish himself as an artist in the city of Lyon.  He worked hard in Lyon.  He worked as an engraver during the day and spent the evenings painting.  He attended evening art classes in the city and from September 1895 he was a student at the Ecole Municipale de Dessin de la Guillotière.  Whilst there he received numerous accolades for his work, receiving a silver medal for figure drawing and in the academic year of 1895/6 he came top of the class.  The following year, in a sketching competition, he received first prize, a rappel de médaille de Vermeil.  His consistency of performing well at the college demonstrated Valette’s artistic talent

Still life with flowers by Pierre Adolphe Valette (1917)

More and more awards came Valette’s way during his period at the Lyon academy.  Valette eventually left Lyon and travelled to Bordeaux.  Nobody has given a reason for this move as surely for a blossoming artist, Paris would have been the logical destination.  The Paris art scene was booming with the acceptance of the Impressionist movement.  Artists like Monet, Pissarro, Degas and Morisot were all selling their works. 

Matinée d’hiver, place Pey Berland à Bordeaux by Alfred Smith (c.1893)

Although Bordeaux was away from the great Impressionist upheavals seen in the French capital there was an influx of Impressionism by way of Pierre Cazaubon and the British painter, Bordeaux-born, Alfred Smith, whose father was of Welsh origin and whose mother was from Bordeaux. This painting above by Smith may be termed gloomy while others assert that it is atmospheric but as you will see later, Valette must have admired the work as it would influence his many works depicting the city of Manchester. Smith painted a series of works focused on views of European cities with pedestrian plying their way down wide boulevards with depictions of local transport such as cabs and trains.  They were true chronicles of everyday city life and Pierre Valette would complete similar works of the northern English city of Manchester in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Open Air Class by Pierre Adolphe Valette (1906)

Valette settled down well in Bordeaux and managed to get a job as an engraver and a professional draughtsman.  He also enrolled at the Ecole Municipale des Beaux-Arts et des Arts Décoratif, a very prestigious academy.  As before he did well at the academy and gained many prizes for his drawings and paintings.  One of his tutors at the Academy was Paul-François Quinsac, a painter of the French School known as Academic art, a specialist in mythological and allegorical subjects, figures and landscapes.  He was also a fashionable portrait painter loved by the Bordeaux upper classes.  Valette was also tutored by Charles Braquehaye in the art of drawing from a live model.  Valette continued to do well at the Academy.  The Academy gave out a number of scholarships to its best students so that they could support themselves whilst studying.  One of the most important scholarships was the Poirson scholarship named after Auguste Poirson who funded the award and bequeathed his vast collection of paintings to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux. 

Paris by Adolphe Valette

In 1903 Valette was awarded the scholarship, worth 400 Francs.  The money was to fund a trip to Japan to study Japanese art and prints and how it interacted with French Impressionism.  The four hundred franc award was not quite enough to fund the study trip but the Poirson scholarship administrators were told that Valette would fund the shortfall.  Little is known as to what happened next, except to say that Valette left the Academy that year, 1903, and because he could not raise the extra money for the trip to Japan, the scholarship money was never handed over to Valette.  That must have hurt but he was still determined to seek wider horizons in his search for a way to improve his artistic skills.   One may have thought Paris would be his destination but instead, he decided to travel to England.  Why England? Maybe it was the fact that in 1904, England and France had just jointly signed the Entente Cordiale, a series of formal political agreements that negotiated peace between England and France and there was a burgeoning admiration between the well-to-do of each nation.  It was also true that many French artists, such as Monet and Pissarro, because of the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war, had travelled to England to study the works of Constable and Turner.

Plymouth Grove by Pierre Adolphe Valette (1909)

Having arrived in England in 1904 Valette enrolled on courses at the School of Art at Birkbeck College, London in April 1905.  However, his stay there was very short and he left the English capital and travelled north to Manchester.  It is thought that Valette went to Manchester with the intention to find work as an engraver and as an artist in a connection with this industrial north-west city.  Valette was not disappointed as he quickly found work at the Norbury, Natzio printing company and secured lodgings at Plymouth Grove in Victoria Park, Manchester.  The company was all about general and colour printing which at the time was ground-breaking technology.  The company specialised in posters and trade publicity.  Whilst there, Valette produced the company’s trade calendars which were exquisite and refined works, a sort of Japanese-style art.

Manchester Municipal School of Art

Besides working at the printing company, twenty-eight-year-old Valette enrolled as a student at the Manchester Municipal School of Art in 1905.  There were five hundred students enrolled at the school. Half attending day courses whilst the other half attended evening classes.  Valette, who had a full time job, enrolled in the life drawing and engraving evening classes.  The future famous English artist LS Lowry enrolled at the Manchester school the same year as Valette but he had to start in the preparatory classes whereas, because of his experience in art, Valette entered the higher classes of the school.

Portrait of John Henry Reynolds by Pierre Alphonse Valette (1919)

Valette proved himself to be an exceptional student, so much so that the head of the academy, Richard Glazier, suggested that Valette should apply for the post of Master of Painting and Drawing.  Glazier probably liked the idea of having a proven French artist on his staff as this would an international flavour to the academy.  Valette applied and in March 1906 he was awarded the post at annual salary of two hundred and twenty-five pounds.  One of Valette’s conditions when he accepted the post that he would be a “hands-on” tutor and would be able to paint alongside his students.  This was a French teaching style, painting by demonstration, and this was new to the United Kingdom. Valette’s knowledge of the French Impressionism movement and what was happening in the French studios allowed him to breathe fresh life into the teaching of art and, at the same time, circumvent the stuffy academic way of teaching the subject.  The director and secretary for the Manchester School of Art when Valette enrolled was John Henry Reynolds and in 1919 Valette completed a portrait of the man.

Drawing from Antiques class at Manchester Municipal School of Art

The famous English painter, L.S.Lowry, or to give him his full name, Laurence Stephen Lowry, enrolled in the evening classes at the Manchester Municipal School of Art in 1905 at the age of seventeen.  A few years on Lowry took part in the Drawing from Antiques course.  The School had a large hall containing many Renaissance classical statues of male and female nudes which gave the students the opportunity to learn and produce drawings of the classical poses.  Lowry produced a number of sketches which Valette appreciated and found the time to convince Lowry to continue with his art studies.  Lowry expressed great admiration for Valette, who taught him new techniques and showed him the potential of the urban landscape as a subject.  Of Valette Lowry described him as “a real teacher … a dedicated teacher”, and added:

“I cannot over-estimate the effect on me of the coming into this drab city of Adolphe Valette, full of French impressionists, aware of everything that was going on in Paris…”

Manchester Ship Canal by Adolphe Valette

What drew me to the artwork of Valette was his impressionist style paintings depicting urban scenes of Manchester often depicting its canals swathed in a smog-filled haze over the lights and dark ironwork of the industrial city.  His painting, His Manchester Ship Canal painting, depicted the barges on the canal and managed to capture the ever-changing effects of light, cloud and movement outdoors.

Albert Square, Manchester by Adolphe Valette (1910)

Valette’s 1910 painting entitled Albert Square is an atmospheric, smog-filled view of one of Manchester’s main squares.  We are viewing it from the southwest side and in the foreground we observe the dark figure of a man, wearing a cloth cap and knee-length coat.  He is plying his trade, pushing a handcart, his figure silhouetted against the wet cobbles. In the mid-ground we see a parked a hansom cab beneath the statue of Gladstone.  The horse feeds from a nose-bag as the driver manages to take a breather.  To the left of the scene, a group of figures congregate around a motorcar parked beneath the Albert Memorial and the statue of Oliver Heywood can be seen to the right.

India House, Manchester by Adolophe Valette (1912)

Valette’s 1912 painting, India House, depicts a secluded view, looking down the River Medlock in Manchester, as viewed from Oxford Bridge and looking in the direction of India House, the large office building which is situated on Whitworth Street. The upper part of the painting is a  framed view of an archway belonging to the railway viaduct spanning Oxford Road. At the centre of the work our eyes strain to see, through the haze, the materialising form of India House, with its numerous lit up windows reflected in the water below. On the left of the painting is what used to be the Refuge Assurance building which would later become the Palace Hotel.  On the river we can see two flat barges.

York Street leading to Charles Street, Manchester by Adolphe Valette (1913)

In 1913, Valette completed his painting entitled York Street leading to Charles Street, Manchester.  It is a typical Valette style work featuring a smog-ridden industrial scene, depicting York Street, Manchester, and looking towards an arched railway bridge spanning the street, over which we can see a steam train crossing.  In the right foreground we see two labourers shovelling a pile of coal on the road and to the right, a single motor car drives along the road to the left.  The pavements are full of people.  All around are tall blackened buildings each emitting tiny lights which struggle to penetrate the smoggy atmosphere.

Ferme Sanlaville, La Combe, Blace by Adolphe Valette

In 1920 Valette resigned from the Manchester Municipal School of Art owing to ill health but remained in Lancashire for eight more years, during which time he was involved in private art tuition.  In 1928 he returned to Paris, and later moved to Blacé en Beaujolais, where he painted portraits and country landscapes. He died there on April 18th, 1942, aged 65.

Although his work contained many colourful landscape scenes and a large number of beautifully crafted portraits.   I will always think of Pierre Adolphe Valette as the artist who depicted the smog-filled urban depictions of Manchester.