Seymour Joseph Guy

At the Opera by Seymour Joseph Guy (1887)
At the Opera by Seymour Joseph Guy (1887)

I was looking at the website of a person who had commented on one of my blogs and I was fascinated by a painting he had posted.  I had to find out more about it and the artist who had painted it.  The title of the work is At the Opera and the creator of the work was the nineteenth century English-born,  American genre painter, Seymour Joseph Guy.  Genre paintings are works, which depict one or more persons going about their every day life.  They could be scenes in the kitchen, at the market or in a tavern and they are nearly always realistic depictions, lacking any sense of idealisation.  They are “warts and all” depictions of life.  Seymour Joseph Guy’s later works, which were often quite small “cabinet pieces”, concentrated mainly on depictions of children.  His works were meticulous in detail.

 Seymour Joseph Guy was born in 1824 in England, in the south London borough of Greenwich.   His father was Frederick Bennett Guy who owned an inn as well as a number of commercial properties.   His mother was Jane Delver Wilson.  Seymour had an elder brother, Frederick Bennett Guy Jnr. and a younger brother, Charles Henry.  When Seymour was five years old, his mother died and he and his brothers were brought up by their father.  Four years later their father died and the executors of their late father’s will were John Locke who was the owner of the inn called the Spanish Galleon and a local cheese merchant and friend of Seymour’s father, John Hughes.   It is the thought that the three orphaned boys came under the legal guardianship of one of these gentlemen.  Seymour’s schooling was at a local school in Surrey and it was during these early informative years that he took an interest in art and he liked to spend time drawing dogs and horses.   He enjoyed drawing so much that, when he was thirteen years old, he made it known that he would like to become an artist, or maybe a civil engineer.  This choice of career did not go down well with his guardian who actively discouraged the teenager, going as far as stopping his pocket money so he couldn’t buy any pencils and sketchbooks and that he believed would force his charge to abandon his artistic plans.  Seymour was not to be put off and despite his lack of pocket money; he managed to earn enough to buy his own drawing materials by becoming a part time sign-painter.

Open Your Mouth and Shut Your Eyes by Seymour Joseph Guy (c.1863)
Open Your Mouth and Shut Your Eyes by Seymour Joseph Guy (c.1863)

Seymour Guy continued with his ambition to become a painter and in his late teenage years received some artistic tuition from Thomas Butterworth.  Butterworth, who had served as a seaman in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars period, lived in Greenwich and was a marine painter.  His guardian decided that a good career for Seymour, and in line with his artistic ambitions, would be to become an engraver.  However the cost of an apprenticeship to learn the engraving trade was prohibitive and this proposed profession had to be abandoned and instead his guardian arranged for Seymour to begin a seven-year apprenticeship at an oil and colour firm which oversaw the making of pigments, preparing binders, as well as combining the two skills in order to make paint either by hand-grinding them or using a steam driven machine.   This was a valuable experience for Seymour as he learnt the intricacies and expertise of mixing various pigments which he would himself use in the future for his own paintings.

In 1845 Seymour’s legal guardian died. It was also a time, when having reached the age of twenty-one, the brothers’ late father’s estate was split between them.  In Seymour’s case this also coincided with the end of his seven-year apprenticeship at the colour factory.    Seymour Guy was twenty-one years of age and now had sufficient money to pursue his dream of becoming a professional painter.  A friend offered to sponsor him to enable his entrance to the Royal Academy but instead he decided to work on his own and so he obtained a copying permit and took his easel and brushes to the British Museum where he copied some of the works of art.  Understanding that working alone was not the answer to learning about art he also enrolled at the studio of the portrait and historical painter, Ambrosini Jerome, who had received a number of commissions from the English royal family.  Seymour Guy was to work with Jerome for the next four years.

The Crossing Sweeper by Seymour Joseph Guy (c.1860's)
The Crossing Sweeper by Seymour Joseph Guy (c.1860’s)

In 1852, aged twenty-eight, Seymour married Anna Maria Barber, who was the daughter of William Barber, an engraver.  The couple went on to have nine children, many of whom were used by Seymour as models for his genre paintings.  Two years later in 1854, Seymour moved his family from London to New York and settled in Brooklyn.  Here he set up his studio in Brooklyn Heights, played a leading role in the art life of the city and founded the Sketch Club and it was during these early times in Brooklyn that he met and became a close friend of another genre painter, John George Brown.  Brown who was also English-born had left his home in Durham and immigrated to America in 1853.  This close bond of friendship probably stemmed from them both being English born, and both genre painters who liked to concentrate on small-scale works which gave them the opportunity to demonstrate their intricate minute workmanship.   In those early days in Brooklyn Seymour Guy also completed a number of portraits of leading local figures.

In 1861, the two friends, Seymour Guy and John Brown, decided to move their studios from Brooklyn to the more fashionable Manhattan.  Seymour Guy had his studio on Broadway whilst John Brown moved into the Tenth Street Studio Building. Two years later Guy decided to leave his Broadway studio and move into the Tenth Street Studio Building.  The Tenth Street Building, which was on 51 West 10th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenue, was constructed in 1857 and was the first modern facility designed exclusively to the needs of artists.  Soon it became the hub of the New York art world and would remain so for the rest of the nineteenth century.  It was to be the home for many famous American artists including Winslow Homer, Frederic Edwin Church, William Merritt Chase and Albert Bierstadt.

Summer Issue by Seymour Joseph Guy (1861)
Summer Issue by Seymour Joseph Guy (1861)

The genre work of John Brown with its depiction of young children in rural settings influenced Seymour Guy for around about 1861 he too started to produce similar depictions. Around this time, the two artists made a number of ferry trips across the East River,  to escape the manic setting of the big city, to the tranquil setting of Fort Lee in New Jersey.  The two artists liked the peace and quiet so much that they decided to quit Manhattan and move home to the New Jersey countryside.  Brown went in 1864 and Seymour Guy followed with his family two years later.  Seymour Guy and his family lived the quiet existence in the country for seven years until in 1873 when they moved back to Manhattan where they remained for the rest of their life.

Seymour Joseph Guy died in 1910, aged 86, by which time his art was out of vogue and he was almost completely forgotten as an artist.   During that first decade of the twentieth century Guy’s health had begun to fail and his role as an artist seemed simply to have acted as an elder statesman to younger artists who sought out his vast knowledge about the art and the craft of painting. One of the most complimentary eulogies to him following his death appeared in the Century Association’s annual journal, which stated:

“…He is remembered with deep affection by artists who came to him as to an older man of recognized position. He was most genial, cordial, and ready to place himself and the methods of his art at their disposal, rejoicing in their companionship and keeping himself young through participation in their pursuits. For twenty-two years he was of the rare artistic fellowship of The Century, though of late years, through the infirmities of age, seldom here…”

The Contest for the Bouquet.  The Family of Robert Gordon in Their New York Dining-Room  by Seymour Joseph Guy (1866)
The Contest for the Bouquet. The Family of Robert Gordon in Their New York Dining-Room by Seymour Joseph Guy (1866)

In 1866 Seymour Guy completed a painting entitled The Contest for the Bouquet: The Family of Robert Gordon in Their New York Dining-Room, which is a combination of a group portrait and a genre work.  It is a conversation piece sometimes referred to as a narrative painting.  Seymour had received the commission from the head of the family, Robert Gordon, a British-born financier and an avid collector of American art, who was also a founding trustee of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The commission was for the portrait of Gordon’s wife, Frances, and four of their children.  In this charming family portrayal we see the three older children of Robert Gordon playfully fighting to gain hold of a small floral corsage.  The elder boy, who is by far the tallest, holds the flowers aloft out of the reach of his sister whilst his brother stands on a chair to help him reach the “prize”.   To the right we can see the youngest child sitting on her mother’s lap, clinging to her, in order to avoid her three siblings.  The setting is the family dining room and appears to be around breakfast time as the three older children are already dressed in their school clothes.

The Story of Golden Locks by Seymour Joseph Guy
The Story of Golden Locks by Seymour Joseph Guy

The final two paintings I am featuring were set in the same room.  The painting The Story of Golden Locks by Seymour Guy was completed around 1870 and in it we see a young girl reading the story of Goldilocks to two young boys, probably her brothers.  The storyteller is very animated and for the two young listeners it has probably turned the story telling into a somewhat nightmarish tale.  Look at their faces.  They are wide-eyed, unsure whether they want to hear more.  Maybe the frightening shadow of the girl’s head on the curtain above their bed has added to their trepidation.  On the chair next to the bed is the girl’s doll which lies in a drawer and this is thought to allude to the fact that the storyteller has finished with children’s toys and is transitioning between childhood and womanhood.

Making a Train by Seymour Joseph Guy (1867)
Making a Train by Seymour Joseph Guy (1867)

My final selected work by Seymour Guy was completed in 1867 and is entitled Making a Train.  There is an innocence about this painting although I am sure its content, the semi-nudity of a female child, would be criticised as being too salacious if it had been exhibited now.  In the same attic room as the setting for the previous work we see a young girl standing by her bed with a dress which has been lowered so that it drags along the ground like the train of a ball gown.  She looks over her shoulder to see the finished effect.   The painting is lit up by the light from an oil lamp which sits on a book on a wooden chair, to the right of the picture.  Once again Guy is depicting this young girl as moving from childhood to womanhood.  In the cabinet to the left of the picture we see a doll which has been put away.  This is the end of the era of playing with toys.  Now the interest is in fine clothing.  Her small breasts are both an evocation of her child-like innocence but also the start of her journey towards being a young woman.  In an era when realist painters liked to portray children as often sickly, dirty and poor street urchins many would have found favour with this work which depicts the young, clean, and healthy girl enjoying dressing-up.  It is thought that Seymour Guy’s daughter Anna modelled for this work.

For a further and much more detailed look at the life of Seymour Joseph Guy have a look at the website below, from which I got most of my information:

http://www.themagazineantiques.com/articles/seymour-joseph-guy/

The Outcast by Brian Hatton

The Outcast by Brian Hatton (1913)

Today I am concluding my look at the life of the Hereford artist Brian Hatton and featuring a couple more of his paintings.

In 1905 Brian Hatton was accepted into Trinity College Oxford where he remained for a year.  Hatton enjoyed travelling and in 1906 along with his uncle Charles Marr, he went to Holland where they visited Amsterdam and The Hague.  On returning from his trip abroad, Hatton went to Scotland where he enrolled at the Hospitalfields Art School in Arbroath and studied painting under George Harcourt, the Scottish portrait and figure painter.  This establishment is believed to be Scotland’s first school of fine art and the first art college in Britain.  It was founded by Patrick Allan-Fraser, a patron of the arts.   Allan-Fraser, who was the son of an Arbroath weaving merchant, had studied art in Edinburgh and was once president of the British Academy of Art in Rome.  He acquired the Hospitalfields estate through marriage and set about the remodelling of the buildings, converting the eighteenth-century barn into a gallery.  Allan-Fraser died in 1890 and having no heirs, bequeathed the building to the State for the promotion of Education in the Arts.   It was later renamed the Patrick Allan-Fraser School of Art.

In 1908 Hatton returned to England and went to live in Camden Place, London, where he and his cousin Geoffrey Vevers shared lodgings.  Whilst in London he attended an art school in South Kensington and spent time at the National Gallery copying paintings.  During 1908 Hatton was invited to join an archaeological expedition to Egypt, led by the English Egyptologist, Professor William Flinders Petrie and his wife.

Mother, July 27th 1909 by Brian Hatton

Brian and his party arrived back in England in May 1909.  Whilst he had been away his mother’s health had declined and she had been away from home staying with relations in Scotland.   In the July her doctors prescribed a rest cure and she went into a Shropshire nursing home in Church Stretton and for a time her health seemed to improve.  Sadly Brian’s mother’s health took a sudden turn for the worse and on July 27th 1909 she died.  This was a terrible blow to the Hatton family, especially to Brian.  His mother had, at an early age, recognised his artistic potential and nurtured it with great care.  There are numerous letters in the archives which show how his mother had been his closest confidant and friend.  His final tribute to his mother was a sketch he made of her as she lay at peace in her room, entitled Mother, July 27th 1909.

Following his mother’s death, and for the next twelve months, Brian immersed himself in his artistic work and carried out a number of portraiture commissions.  Eventually he craved a break from this type of work and decided to realise a dream he had been nurturing and planning for some time – a visit to Paris.  In November 1910 he decided to fulfil this dream and set off for the French capital, visiting the Louvre and working at the Parisian art school, Académie Julian.

At Académie Julian, Paris by Brian Hatton (1910-12)

It was whilst at this artistic school that he started the painting (above) entitled At the Académie Julian, Paris, which he completed back in England, two years later, in 1912.

After his brief sojourn in Paris, Brian returned to England and to his family home in Herford in time for Christmas. It was 1911 and the year that the new king, George V, was crowned king of England.  Brian made frequent trips to London and realised that to prosper artistically he needed to establish a studio in the capital and seek out a well-connected patron.  His dilemma was simple – to gain a wealthy London patron he needed to have a studio in the city but to be able to afford a London studio, he needed a wealthy patron !   In a letter to him from the English artist Briton Riviere,  who had been following Hatton’s progress from when he was a youngster, Riviere warned Hatton about the perils of London:

“…I feel that a move to London is almost inevitable for you as time went on and I hope that now you are strong enough in your own convictions and beliefs, to escape being drawn into any artistic extravagances and fashions of the day, which have been so much to the fore in these times…”

Despite the warning, Hatton left Hereford and with his Oxford University friend and fellow artist, Gerald Siordet set themselves up in The Bronze Door studio in South Kensington in January 1912.  Hatton received many commissions and soon he was so busy he found it difficult to spare time to return to Hereford and visit his father and siblings.  In 1913 he received a royal commission from Windsor Castle to make drawings of Princess Alice’s children, Prince Rupert and Princess May.   Princess Alice was the longest surviving grandchild of Queen Victoria.  The success of this commission led to many more from the “landed gentry”.

In 1913 he was approached by a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters to see if he would like his name to be put forward in the November annual election to become a member of the Society.  This was a great honour and to further his cause he submitted some of his best paintings to their summer exhibition, one of which was entitled The Outcast, which is My Daily Art Display’s featured painting today.  For this work he had employed a model, Beatrice Stewart, who despite her haunting beauty was lame.  In this work Hatton has depicted her with strong features and a somewhat curious expression.  It is an expression of resignation to her fate combined with a rebellious air and yet there is also a somewhat poignant sadness in her expression.  The work received a “highly commended” award at the exhibition.

In 1914 commissions for his work had virtually dried up and Brian was facing financial problems.  The newspapers at the time were full of stories of an impending war with Germany and on July 28th, just a fortnight before his twenty-seventh birthday, war was declared.  Brian left London and returned home and in September enlisted as a trooper with the 1/1 Worcestershire Yeomanry cavalry regiment.  In October the troop was getting ready to ship out to France.   On November 5th his father received a letter from him with some surprising news:

Nov 5th 1914

My Dear Old Dad,

I have just got married to Biddy today by soldier’s licence.  I only decided to go through with it last night and got Biddy down to talk it over with her.  I suppose on the whole it is a very rash thing to have done…..”

He ended the letter rather sheepishly:

“…I hope when you have got over this little shock that you will give us your blessing.   We shall need all that we can get!   Yes, I know that I’m a silly young fool and all that.  But I am still your

loving son

Brian

Brian’s wife, Lydia Bidmead (Biddy), gave birth to their daughter, Mary Amelia,  on September 21st 1915, the same day as his father’s birthday.  Brian went home to Hereford to see his wife and daughter.  A month later he went to Devenport to embark the troop ship, Scotia, bound for Mudros on the Greek island of Lemnos, which had been a British base used for fighting in Gallipoli.     In his last letter to his grandmother he ended with a wistful remark, fully mindful of the dangers which lay ahead.  He wrote:

“…I shall be thankful to return with a sound right hand and eyesight…”

He and his regiment left Mudros and sailed for Egypt in December 1915.  Brian was now back in the country he had visited seven years earlier when he was part of the Flinders Petrie Archaeological Expedition.  On arrival he was trained as a signaller but found learning semaphore and the Morse code very difficult.  Mail to and from home was spasmodic and often letters went astray which he found very frustrating.  He had witnessed some military action but the imminent danger he and his colleagues were in seemed to have not fully hit home and there was even an element of enjoyment about the conflict.  In a postscript to his last letter home in April 1916 he commented:

“…To me, at the time, it all seems ridiculous – like a comic opera.  The men were all smoking and joking and nobody seemed in the least danger.  One only has to take reasonable precautions and lie down behind a few inches of sand hill to be quite safe from any bullet…”

On April 21st 1916 a party of combat engineers was sent to sink wells at Oghratina in the Sinai Desert and to protect them a detachment of Worcester Yeomanry from their base in Katia, of which Brian Hatton was one, was sent to protect them.  On Easter Sunday, April 23rd they came under heavy attack from a Turkish infantry regiment.  The British commanding officers asked for volunteers to ride back to their main garrison at Katia to fetch help.  Brian Hatton was one of the volunteers.  He rode off but was never seen again.   Months later his body was found.  The corpse was identified as that of Brian Hatton as in his wallet was a tiny photograph of Biddy and a postcard addressed to his wife.

I will bring this blog about Brian Hatton to a close with the words of Walter Shaw Sparrow, a British writer on art who wrote a book in 1926 entitled, Brian Hatton – a young painter of genius killed in the War and in it he talked about Hatton’s artistic ability:

“…Brian had the rarest of all things – true genius…”

He went on to describe Brian’s early years as:

“… a boy endowed with gifts of spirit so extraordinary that the first period of work from the age of ten, 1897, to that of nineteen, 1906, was a period not of rare promise only but also of wonderful achievement, showing not only maturity of Design, but maturity of Poetic Feeling, and a charm brimming with country life and English humour…”

The museum and art gallery in Hereford has a small permanent exhibition of Brian Hatton’s art work and I believe the drawings and paintings are often changed.  It is somewhat sad and disappointing that the display is so small and that there was no literature on hand about him considering he was the town’s famous son.   For a full and excellent account of his life through his letters you may like to get hold of Brian Hatton’s 1978 biography by Celia Davies entitled Brian Hatton – A biography of the artist (1887-1916).  I found the book of great help when I was piecing together Brian Hatton’s life.