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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Many of the animals depicted were kept in Susan’s own yard.
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.
Susan also produced a number of excellent still-life paintings
and sometimes a combined still-life and animal depiction as in her work entitled The Marauders.
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.
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.
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.
I am starting this second part of my blog talking about my favourite paintings in the Barber Institute collection by focusing on beauty in a work of portraiture. I suppose I have three portraits in mind when I think of extreme female beauty.
I fell in love with the woman featured in Gerald Brockhurst painting Jeunesse Dorée which is in the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Wirral, which I have seen many times.
My second true love is the portrait I saw when I was visited the Palazzo Abatellis in Palermo, Sicily. It was of the Virgin Mary and entitled Virgin Annunciate and the artist was Antonello da Messina.
My third beautiful portrait is in the collection of the Barber Institute and is entitled Portrait of Countess Golovina painted by the French painter Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun. Lebrun was born in 1755 during pre-revolutionary France. In 1789, aged thirty-four, she had to escape the Revolution and in 1795 she had settled in St Petersburg. It was whilst in Russia that she painted the beautifully crafted portrait of Varvara Nikolayevna Golovina who was the wife of Count Nikolai Golovin. Countess Golovina was an artist and memoirist who came from Russian nobility and was a close confidant of Empress Elizabeth. She was appointed a maid of honour at the court of Catherine the Great. In Vigée-Lebrun’s portrait the countess is dressed in a red shawl which is decorated with a gold border. She wears a deep gold headband. Her hair flows down her shoulders. She gazes directly towards us with a look of amazing openness. What is quite captivating about her pose is the way she has laid her arm across her body as her hand clasps her shawl to her body in a gesture that suggests she has been caught off-guard by the artist. It is a very intimate depiction of a beautiful woman.
Govert Flinck, the son of a cloth merchant, was born in Cleves in the Lower Rhine region. When he was fourteen he began to draw and paint and began his apprenticeship as a painter in Leewarden with the painter and Mennonite preacher Lambert Jacobsz. Whilst there he met the painter Jacob Adrianesz. Backer and the two artists travelled together to Amsterdam to continue their studies in Rembrandt’s studio where Flinck spent around three years and it was there that he collaborated with him for some years. During this time, he lived in the house of the art dealer Hendrick van Uylenburgh. In 1636 he opened his own studio. Rembrandt had never taken a commission to paint a portrait of a child but many of his pupils were pleased to fill the gap in the market for such a genre. One of the best was Govert Flinck who had gained in popularity in the mid 1630’s and at one time it was thought that he was more popular than his master. Flink, like Rembrandt, used a dark palette of browns and greys for this work. The identity of the boy is somewhat of a mystery but recently Flick’s eight-year-old nephew, David Leeuw, has been suggested as the sitter. He was the son of a wealthy businessman and avid art collector. The depiction has a low horizon line which gives prominence to the boy’s figure and theatrically silhouettes his head and body against the menacing sky.
Of all the Impressionist painters I think my favourite is Renoir. Renoir differed from his Impressionist colleagues as his works often featured figures whereas his contemporaries preferred to depict Impressionistic landscapes. In this painting entitled Young Woman Seated we see one of his favourite professional models posing for the work, so we are aware that this not a commissioned portrait. Renoir started this painting around the time of the Second Impressionist Exhibition in April 1876 and completed it in 1877, the year of the Third Impressionist Exhibition. Renoir was a major exhibitor at both these Paris exhibitions. In the work we see the model tilting her head and partially turns to face us but her eyes fail to meet ours. Renoir has depicted his model with her hand raised to her face which draws our eyes towards her mouth and cheeks which he has highlighted with subtle shades of pink and peach. Her clothing is a mass of superficial fabrics and depicted with delicate frothy curls which create a sense of femininity and sensuality.. Although the title of the work is a very general one the art market at the time gave it the title of La Pensée (Thought). On hearing this, Renoir cuttingly stated “my models have no thoughts”.
I have always loved the works of the Pre-Raphaelite painters and was pleased to see one of Dante Rossetti’s works at the Barber Institute. It was his 1865 painting entitled The Blue Bower. Twelve years earlier, around 1853 Dante Rossetti and his colleagues, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, had gone their separate ways. Rossetti began to concentrate on depictions of medieval fantasy and focused on themes from the life and works of Dante Alighieri and from Malory’s legends of King Arthur, and his depictions were exclusively in watercolour. Around 1859 Rossetti’s artwork changed and he went back to oil painting and produced a series of idealized portraits of beautiful women often depicted at close range in glamorous settings. These women were depicted as being dominant and strong-willed females and often had a back story of the ruining of men. The woman who sat for Rossetti’s painting was Fanny Cornforth, who was born Sarah Cox. Cornforth met Rossetti in 1856 and became his model and mistress. Rossetti has enhanced her natural beauty. She has thick wavy hair and wears a loose luxurious gown, and her eyes are not cast down modestly as a geisha’s might be, but watchful. From every point of view, composition, colour and character, it is a fascinating and very beautiful work. The background has a blue cornflower pattern and actual cut cornflowers lie on the table in front of her. Also on the table is a small Japanese koto, a half-tube zither instrument, that she is playing albeit without showing any interest in what she is doing. The arrangement of the portrait offers the proposition that her role in his life was that of courtesan, mistress, the entertaining geisha, although her eyes are not cast down in a geisha-like modesty. At this point in time artists were captivated by all things Japanese, their culture, and the fashion for blue-and-white china, and Japanese ornaments.
In April 2011 I was in London and went to see the George Bellow’s exhibition at the National Gallery entitled An American Experiment: George Bellows and the Ashcan Painters. This small twelve painting exhibition, seven by Bellows, featured his work as a painter of urban scenes. . My favourite was his 1912 painting which the National Gallery actually owned, Men of the Docks.
So I was surprised to see a nude painting at the Barber Institute attributed to the American painter. It is only the second work by the artist to enter a British collection. Bellows is regarded as one of the greatest early 20th-century American painters who was much better known for his gritty urban and brutally realistic boxing scenes than for naked ladies. It is entitled Nude, Miss Bentham. Bellows painted this attractive nude in 1906 after completing his studies at the New York School of Art and when he had set up his own studio. Bellows was the outstanding American talent of his generation and a member of the group which was later known as the ‘Ashcan School’, a reference to their commitment to finding subject matter in the people and scenes offered up by the bustling modern city. It is a full-length work of a standing nude woman as viewed from behind. It was Bellow’s first attempt at depicting a nude and he never sold it. It was also the first nude painting to grace the walls of the Barber Institute. When he died in January 1925 it was found in his studio. The work was sold by his widow in 1985, to Andy Warhol. After Warhol died in 1987, it was sold to an anonymous private collector who in turn sold it in 2015, through the dealer Collisart, to the Barber Institute.
The Barber Institute director, Ms Kalinsky said of the purchase:
“…This is a thrilling departure for the Barber Institute and our first major purchase for some years. It fits in extremely well with the strengths of our gallery as a historical collection, but it takes us into new areas too. The painting is very American and very much of its time, strengthening and expanding our representation of early 20th-century art…”
Bellows painted it in a realistic but highly dramatic style against a dark background. The full-length oil depicts a model named by Bellows as Miss Bentham, painted in a realistic but highly dramatic style against a dark background. Notice how there is a reddish abrasion seen around the woman’s knees and feet, a sure sign that she has experienced hard physical work.
The Arts and Crafts Movement was a design movement which emerged from the Pre-Raphaelite circle with the founding of the design firm Morris and Co. in 1861 by William Morris. It was a design movement which aspired to enhance the quality of design and make it available to the widest possible audience. The term was not coined until 1887 and the Arts and Crafts Movement officially started when Morris and fellow artist, Edward Burne-Jones established a group that they called the Birmingham Set or Birmingham Group. They were an informal collective of painters and craftsmen who worked in Birmingham, England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. My featured artist today, Joseph Edward Southall, was one of the leaders of this group. He was probably the most important, if not the most celebrated artist of that group and was looked upon as among the most dedicated.
Joseph Edward Southall was born in Nottingham on August 23rd 1861, the son of a grocer, Joseph Sturge Southall, and his wife Elizabeth Maria Baker, both offsprings of distinguished Quaker families. Just a year after the birth of Joseph Southall his father died aged twenty-seven and Joseph and his mother had to go and live with his maternal grandmother in Edgbaston, a suburb of Birmingham
Joseph Southall’s education was to attend Quaker schools. He attended the Friends’ School at Ackworth and in 1872, at the age of eleven, transferred to the Friends’ School at Bootham, York, where he received his first tuition in art when he was taught watercolour painting by the English artist and educator, Edwin Moore. From the school at Bootham he went to a school in Scarborough while still carrying on with private lessons with Moore. On September 1st 1878, following on a few days after his seventeenth birthday, Joseph Southall completed his schooling and began an apprenticeship at the offices of the renowned Birmingham architectural partnership of Martin and Chamberlain. He remained with the firm for four years but continued his art studies at evening classes at the Birmingham School of Art. Both the architectural company and the School of Art were steeped in the spirit of John Ruskin and the Arts and Crafts movement. The architect John Henry Chamberlain was a founder and trustee of the Guild of St George, while the Principal of the School of Art, Edward R. Taylor, was a pioneer of Arts and Crafts education and a friend of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. It was also around this time that Joseph took to reading books written by Ruskin and William Morris, and what he gained from this would remain with him for the rest of his life.
Southall however felt unfulfilled with his architectural training. Southall left the architectural practice to pursue his studies in painting and carving. For him, architecture should embrace and craft disciplines such as painting and carving and with that in mind and having been inspired by his reading of Ruskin and Morris he decided to go on trips to Europe to broaden his artistic education. In 1882 he visited Bayeux, Rouen and Amiens in Northern France where he was enthralled by the ancient cities with their Gothic cathedrals. In 1883, now a free agent, he, accompanied by his mother, journeyed to Italy and spent thirteen weeks visiting Pisa, Florence, Siena, Orvieto, Rome, Bologna, Padua, Venice and Milan. It was during his stay in Italy that he fell in love with the works of the painters of the Italian Renaissance and the frescoes of the fifteenth century painter, Benozzo Gozzoli
Southall returned home with an overwhelming appreciation of the Italian Primitives and set his mind to study and practise the art of painting in tempera, a painting medium he had witnessed whilst in Italy. In an essay by Peyton Skipwith in the book of paintings, Joseph Southall: 1861-1944.Sixty works by Joseph Southall, 1861-1944, from the Fortunoff Collection, he quotes Southall’s recollection of his time in Italy:
“…the thrill of joy which I experienced when, without any knowledge of what I was about to see, I stepped inside the enchanting cloisters of the great Campo Santo of Pisa. There I found myself at 21 years of age face to face with a vast series of frescoes, so quiet and yet so gay, so reticent in manner and so lively in essence that words must ever fail to convey even the faintest expression of what I felt…”
After returning to England Southall began to experiment with the tempera medium whilst at the Birmingham School of Art. It was at the Birmingham School of Art that he met Arthur Gaskin, who became his closest friend. The School of Art was run by the enigmatic head, Edward R. Taylor who had made the Birmingham school one of the leading schools of art in Britain, and the foremost for the study of the crafts. One of Southall’s great work using tempera was his 1898 painting entitled Beauty Seeing the Image of her Home in the Fountain.
On his return to Birmingham Joseph Southall settled in the house of his uncle, George Baker, at 13 Charlotte Road, in the city suburb of Edgbaston and it would be here that he would remain for the rest of his life. George Baker was a charismatic man and a friend of John Ruskin. He was a staunch Quaker and a life-long admirer of John Ruskin’s Utopian ideals. Baker became a prominent member of Ruskin’s Guild of St George and succeeded him to become the second master of the Guild on Ruskin’s death in 1900. He also showed Ruskin some of his nephew’s 1883 Italian drawings. Ruskin was so taken by Southall’s architectural knowledge that in 1885 he gave Southall his first major commission. Ruskin wanted Joseph Southall to design a museum for the Guild of St George and have it built on Joseph’s uncle’s land near Bewdley, Worcestershire. To gather ideas for this project, Southall made a second trip to Italy in 1886, again visiting Pisa, Florence, Siena and Assisi, so as to do research into Ruskin’s commission. Unfortunately for Southall, the project was abandoned by Ruskin who reverted to his original plans to build a museum in Sheffield. Southall was very disappointed at the turn of events saying that his chance of becoming an architect vanished and he was destined to spend years of obscurity, followed by a little bitterness of soul. The years that followed this disappointment and his love of tempera began to wane. He was generally frustrated with the medium and eventually abandoned it leading him to favour painting with oils.
After a third visit to Italy in 1890, he once again became interested with the works by the Italian Primitives and slowly and once again experimented with the painting medium of tempera. His great influence now that he had returned to Birmingham, was his fellow Brummie artist, Sir Edward Burne-Jones.
It was he who congratulated Southall on his 1898 tempera painting Beauty Seeing the Image of her Home in the Fountain. It was also Burne-Jones who in 1897 sent Southall’s tempera self-portrait, Man with a Sable Brush, to the New Gallery, along with his own work. These paintings and others like them, confirmed Southall as one of the foremost British tempera painters and as such led to his participation in the exhibitions of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society and the exhibition of Modern Paintings in Tempera at Leighton House. The latter immediately preceded the foundation of the Tempera Society, of which Southall became one of the foremost members.
For a number of years Joseph Southall had been very close companions with his cousin Anna Elizabeth Baker, known as Bessie, who was two years older than Joseph. He completed a number of portraits of her including his 1887 portrait of her when she was twenty years of age.
Another early portrait of Anna was John Southall’s 1895 painting entitled Coral Necklace.
She also appeared in his 1898 painting Hortus Inclusus which means private garden. The setting is just such a garden with tall yew hedges in the background. It is a portrait of Southall’s wife-to-be although the wedding would not take place for another five years. It is an idyllic scene with Anna sitting on a bench in the garden with her cat by her side.
In June 1903 Joseph Southall and his long-time fiancé, Anna Elizabeth Baker were married. He was forty-two and she was forty-four. Their relationship started when they were both youths. Over time their relationship became more intimate and they eventually became engaged to be married. However, as they were cousins, this close kinship made the couple deliberately put off marriage until Anna was past child-bearing age. Probably my favourite portrait by Southall is the one which depicts he an Anna, eight years after they married. The setting is a beach, more than likely Southwold on the Suffolk coast, which is where they spent their honeymoon and returned their many times more. The title of the painting, The Agate, derives from Bessie seen in the depiction handing her husband an agate, a gemstone which can be found on the seashore in this area. This handing of the agate to her husband can be seen as a symbol of the couple’s collaboration, as we know that the agate gemstone is used by craftspeople to burnish the gilding on picture frames and Southall’s wife Anna, who was a talented craftswoman, would make the picture frames ready for her husband’s paintings.
Joseph Southall’s popularity and recognition as a great painter grew. He was at the height of his career during the latter years of the 1890’s until the start of World War I. His work was shown at numerous exhibitions, not just in Britain but in Europe and America and he was elected a member of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, the Art Workers Guild and the Union Internationale des Beaux-Arts et des Lettres. His major exhibition in England was held in 1907 at the Fine Art Society in London and three years later a major one-man exhibition was held at the Galeries Georges Petit in Paris. At the Paris exhibition Southall’s work was snapped up and following the event he received a number of lucrative commissions.
With the onset of war in 1014 Southall’s output as an artist waned. Southall being brought up a Quaker and followed their beliefs all his life had him take an anti-War stance at the onset of hostilities. Southall’s output as a painter declined considerably with the outbreak of World War I, as the pacifism inherent in his Quaker faith led him to devote his energies to anti-war campaigning. He abandoned his commitment to the Liberal Party and joined the Independent Labour Party, becoming Chairman of the Birmingham City Branch; the Party was the one left-wing body that always upheld its opposition to the war. Southall also chaired the Birmingham Auxiliary of the Peace Society and was a joint Vice-president of the Birmingham and District Passive Resistance League. His main artistic output during this period were anti-war cartoons printed in pamphlets and magazines, and art historians reckon they number among his most powerful works.
In the above cartoon we see depicted ‘all those who sit in the high places and cast the people into the pit’. A diplomat and a businessman push a blindfolded officer towards a precipice, whilst a fashionable society woman looks on and a cleric of the Established Church appears as the priest who ‘blessed our banners and bade speed to our swords’. Apart from Death, who gleefully accompanies this performance on his drum, only the diplomat sees what is happening; the others all have their eyes covered.
‘The Obliterator’ appeared in his anti-war pamphlet Fables and Illustrations opposite a mock sales promotion advertising the Obliterator’s record of leaving ‘nothing standing and nothing breathing’ while making ‘a clean sweep of civilisation’. Southall’s woodcuts and satirical fables were published when most of his wartime energies were consumed by pacifist activism in Birmingham and print caricature provided him a convenient alternative artistic output. The essence of his moral standpoint is an unshakable absolute conviction of conscience, clearly articulated in his fable ‘Inscription from Babylon’: although citizens ‘ought to be law-abiding’, in the final analysis, pacifism is justified by faith that ‘Divine law stood above human laws’ in the form of the the sixth Commandment: ‘Thou shalt not kill’
During the two decades of peace between the two world wars, Southall and his wife made regular trips to Europe, visiting France and Italy in the Spring and Autumn. Their European holidays were combined with their shorter summer holidays to their beloved Southwold on the Suffolk coast and Cornish breaks on the Fowey estuary, all of which gave Southall opportunities to paint the various places. At this time Southall’s favoured painting medium was watercolours. Many of these paintings were exhibited at the Alpine or Leicester Galleries in London and the Ruskin Galleries in Birmingham, as well as at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, the Royal Academy, and the Paris Salon.
Between holidays Southall spent time on lucrative commissions, painting portraits for wealthy patrons, who would often be from the Quaker community. One such work was his portrait of Sir Whitworth Wallace the first director of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery which opened in 1885.
At the 1930 Winter Exhibition at the Royal Academy, Southall exhibited his painting The Return. The painting depicts two women high up on the banks of a river, possibly the River Fowey, one seated on the grass in grey dress, with mustard coloured shoes and a blue hat with green bands. There is a red book on a rock beside her. The other woman stands. She wears a red hat, a salmon-coloured dress with white collar and cuffs. She waves a handkerchief and her white scarf also waves in the wind. On the still water below are sailing ships, casting long reflections on the water. On a small boat lower right, two figures appear to return the woman’s wave.
Many of the works at this exhibition focused on Southall’s Italian paintings, many done using tempera. So popular were paintings in that medium that the following Summer Exhibition 1n 1931 allotted one room for works using tempera. This was indeed a change of heart by the Academy Hanging Committee jurists who had scorned that painting medium and could not decide whether such works fell into a watercolour or oil classification.
Joseph and Bessie Southall made many trips to Italy and one of their favourite haunts was Venice which he depicted in a number of his works.
The couple made their last trip to Venice in the Spring of 1937 but later that year Southall was taken ill and had to undergo major surgery from which he never fully recovered. Doctors struggled to make a proper diagnosis of what was ailing Southall and he had to return to hospital on a number of occasions. Notwithstanding his poor health he still determinedly carried on painting. One of his last paintings was his memorial portrait in tempera of the Bradford MP, Frederick William Jowett who was a founder member of the Independent Labour Party. In the depiction we see a copy of the Independent Labour Party newspaper with a headline
“…IS THIS WHAT YOUR MEN FIGHT FOR?…”
Jowett had died in February 1944 and Southall had not quite finished it when he died nine months later. The work was then completed by Maxwell Armfield, before being presented to the City of Bradford.
Joseph Edward Southall died of heart failure at his home in Edgbaston in 1944, aged 83.
Bertha Wegmann . Photographed by Georg Emil Hansen (1891)
Bertha Wegmann was one of the first professional female Danish painters. Her work was very popular during her lifetime and she was much sought after as a portrait artist. Without doubt, she is one of the most noteworthy painters of the Danish Realism movement. Some art historians would have us believe that after the famous Danish portrait painter Peder Severin Krøyer, who died in 1909, Wegmann became the acknowledged leader of portrait painters in Denmark, among both genders. She went on to complete numerous portraits of the celebrities of her day along with many paintings of her family and friends. Although renowned for her portraiture she also painted landscapes, still life, and genre scenes.
Portrait of Marie Triepcke. by Bertha Wegmann (1885)
In 1885 Bertha completed a portrait of Kroyer’s wife, Marie Triepcke Krøyer Alfvén, more commonly known as Marie Krøyer, also, like her husband, a talented Danish painter. The portrait was entitled Portrait of Marie Triepcke.
Portrait of an Elderly Gentleman by Bertha Wegmann
Another Skagen painter, Vigo Johansen, was thought to be the model for Wegmann’s portrait, Portrait of an Elderly Gentleman.
Portrait of a Girl by Bertha Wegmann (1880)
Bertha Wegmann, who was of German ancestry, was born in the small village of Soglio, in south-east Switzerland on December 16th, 1846 to Eberhard Ludwig and Cathrine Wegmann. At the age of five the family moved to Denmark but sadly, five years after that move her mother died. As a child, Bertha showed an interest in drawing and her father, who was a merchant, and who was also an accomplished amateur painter, encouraged his daughter to paint. Because of schoolwork and having to help her father run the family home she had no time to enrol on an additional art course. In fact, it was not until she was nineteen years of age that she began her formal art studies.
Young Woman with a Child in the Garden by Bertha Wegmann
In 1867, aged twenty-one, funded by her father, she travelled to Munich and enrolled at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, with the intention of becoming a painter of historical subjects and whilst in Munich her tutors included Wilhelm Lindenschmit the Younger, the German history painter and the Austrian genre painter Eduard Kurzbauer. Although her artistic technique flourished rapidly, she, like many aspiring young artists, found herself discontented with the old-fashioned academic ambiance of the Munich academic establishments. It was a time of change in the art world with the arrival of the French Impressionists. In Italy, a group of Italian painters active in Tuscany in the second half of the nineteenth century had offered an alternative to the antiquated conventions taught by the Italian art academies and urged artists to carry out much of their painting en plein air so as to capture natural light, shade, and colour.
The Danish Artist Bertha Wegmann Painting a Portrait by Jeanna Bauck
It was whilst studying in Munich that Bertha Wegmann met fellow aspiring artist Jeanna Bauck. She was the daughter of a German-born composer and music critic Carl Wilhelm Bauck and a Swedish mother, Dorothea Fredrique. She was six years older than Wegmann. She had moved to Germany to study painting, first in Dresden and then in Munich. They immediately became great friends and for many years would share their home and studios in Munich and Paris. It was in their Munich studio, around 1879, that Jeanna completed a portrait of Bertha Wegmann entitled Den danska konstnären Bertha Wegmann målande ett porträtt, (The Danish Artist Bertha Wegmann Painting a Portrait). The setting was their studio and, at the side of which, was a window that allowed natural light to stream through and illuminate the room.
Målarinnan Jeanna Bauck by Bertha Wegmann (1881)
Bertha and Jeanna went together on painting trips including many journeys to Italy. In late 1880, Bertha and Jeanna moved to Paris and again shared a studio. Bertha Wegmann painted almost twenty portraits of her friend, the best known of which is her well-known portrait entitled, Målarinnan Jeanna Bauck which she completed in their Paris studio. In the painting we see a smiling Jeanna gazing out at us. She is sitting slightly forward, book in hand, with a smile on her face. Her friend has portrayed her with great honesty and charisma. In the portrait, Bertha has managed to effectively juxtapose the impression of an uninhibited, independent type of woman with the stylishness of the middle-class woman. Besides Jeanna we see the tools of her career such as brushes, a palette and painting rags. The book held in her hand symbolises her character as an intelligent woman. If we look closely through the window in the background we can just make out the rooftops of Paris.. Jeanna Bauck returned to Munich in 1882, where she founded a painting school for female artists. Later, around the turn of the century she also taught at the Verein der Berliner Künstlerinnen painting school, an influential organisation for female artists, which continuously offered drawing and painting courses in Berlin.
Bertha Wegmann exhibited at several Salons and received an “honourable mention” in her first Salon in 1880 and a gold medal in 1881. She left Paris in 1882 and returned to Copenhagen, where she was already renowned for the works she had sent home and had exhibited at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Artsin Copenhagen. In 1883 her submission for the annual exhibition at the Charlottenborg Palace was a portrait her sister, Anna, entitled Madam Anna Seekamp, the Artist’s Sister. For this painting the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts awarded her the Thorvaldsen Medal. The award was one of the highest honours conferred in the Danish art world and Bertha was only the second woman to win this accolade. The enchanting painting depicts her sister with her knitting in hand. Her facial expression is one of sweetness, even playfulness. In this work, Bertha has shown her mastery at conveying both likeness and complex human expressions.
After Bertha received the Thorvaldsen’s Medaille at Charlottenborg in 1883, she became the first woman to sit in the Academy’s Plenary Session. At the same time, she took part in many large official exhibitions throughout Scandinavia and Europe and at the Exposition Universelle of 1889 in Paris and 1900 and she also represented Denmark at several world’s fairs, including the famous World Columbian in Chicago in 1893 also known as the Chicago World’s Fair. In 1895 her work appeared at the landmark Kvindernes Udstilling fra Fortid og Nutid (the Women’s Exhibition from the Past and Present) held in Copenhagen. It was an art and culture exhibition for women from the Nordic countries.
In 1897 Bertha Wegmann became the first woman to hold a chair at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. From that year through to 1907, she was a member of the board for the “Tegne- og Kunstindustriskolen for Kvinder” (Drawing and Art Industrial School for Women). In 1892 she became one of the first women to receive the royal Ingenio et Arti medal. The award is given to artists (musicians, painters, actors and scientists) who have done extremely noteworthy work. It is a Danish medal awarded to prominent Danish and foreign scientists and artists.
On February 22nd 1926, after a very long life of constant artistic success, Bertha Wegmann died suddenly, aged 78, while working in her studio. She will be remembered as someone who achieved an unparalleled career at a time when it was especially difficult for a woman to forge any kind of independent life. She was both determined and hard-working, but she also had a calm and caring nature. She was a multifaceted person who forged trails, broke stereotypes and cracked so many of the glass ceilings of her time. She must also be remembered as a popular and loyal friend to many, a loving sister and a zealous champion of other artists, especially women artists.
The artist I am looking at today is the twentieth century American painter John Koch. I will also look at the life he had with his extremely musically talented wife Dora. Both their successes came from hard work and their mutual support of each other. For them, it was hard work that achieved you a grand lifestyle which the couple enjoyed during their married life. He is best known for his portraits, nudes, and paintings of genteel urban interiors, often set in his own light-filled Manhattan apartment.
John Koch was the son of Marian Joan and Edward John Koch and was born in his grandmother’s house in Toledo, Ohio on August 18th, 1909. He spent most of his childhood and teenage years in the university town of Ann Arbor, a city in the U.S. state of Michigan, where his father was in the furniture business but unfortunately, failed to make a success of it. John Koch described his father as a man of great charm, a great reader, but a poor businessman. His father also unsuccessfully ran for governor of Michigan on the Socialist ticket.
In his early teens John Koch developed a love of art and, later in life, he revealed in an interview:
“…The possibility of being other than a painter never seriously occurred to me. Ever since I could hold a pencil, the desire I had to reproduce amounted to passion…”
In 1923, at the age of 14, John, for a short period, took some lessons in drawing in charcoal and that was essentially the only formal art training he received. During high school, he did however spend two summer vacations at the artists’ colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and around 1928, shortly after graduation he sailed to Paris, not to enroll at an artistic establishment, but to simply paint by himself and savour the life of an artist in the European capital of art. His self-tuition focused on going to the Louvre and copying the work of the Masters. According to John, the Louvre was his master. John became so skilled at copying the famous works that he once produced an imitation of a painting by Gustave Courbet that was subsequently mistaken for a genuine work. In 1929, Koch exhibited his work at the Salon des Tuileries and the Salon de Printemps and received an honourable mention, which was to be the first of his many awards.
In his early twenties, John Koch joined the Internationale Union des Intellectuals, where he mixed with such luminaries as André Gide, the French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, André Malraux, the French novelist, art theorist, who later became Minister of Cultural Affairs, and Jean Cocteau, the poet, playwright, novelist, designer, filmmaker, visual artist, and critic. This group would assemble in the homes of its members and presented Koch with his first exposure to the lives of artists and intellectuals. It also gave him the opportunity to sit in on discussions about Surrealism and, swayed by what he heard and seen, even painted a few Surrealist works himself but was unhappy with his attempts and gave up on that genre.
John spent over four years in Paris and during that time he developed a formidable technique, evident in his beautiful rendering of light playing on surfaces. A good example of this can be seen in his later painting, The Plasterers which he completed in 1967. It was described in the New York Historical Society’s 2001 exhibition catalogue as:
“… a tour de force of (the artist’s) ability to bring the outside into an interior through reflection of light playing off surfaces…”
The Plasterers stands among John Koch’s most important paintings.
Before John had set sail for Paris in 1928, it is thought he had met the newly married, Dora Schwartz, and was impressed by both her beauty and her talent as a pianist. The two quickly became friends, but their mutual affinity was put on hold when John sailed for Paris, intent on pursuing his life as a painter in the world’s art capital. Dora Schwartz (née Zaslawskaya) was a Jewish immigrant, born on July 18th 1904 in the Ukraine city of Kremenchuk in the oblast of Poltava. Her father Max had immigrated to the United States the previous year and she then travelled by ship to a new life in America with her mother Celia and her older siblings Joseph and Fay, along with a young cousin. Another of her brothers, Israel, was born six years later. Dora’s father’s early occupation was as a peddler and family legends has it that Dora’s musical talent was discovered thanks to a large toy piano with real black and white keys that her father brought home for her. This was the start of her musical career ! Eventually after a lot of training, she became a gifted pianist, which led to a career as a piano teacher and she would go on to coach some of the outstanding concert pianists of the day. Later she became head of the piano department at the Manhattan School of Music and developed its chamber music section. On September 12th 1927, Dora Zaslawskaya, aged 23, married New Yorker Herbert S. Schwartz Herbert was also a talented musician and his family had hoped that one day, he would become a concert pianist, a similar aspiration was had by Dora’s mother for her daughter. Herbert Schwartz, however, chose to pursue a college education rather than continue studying music and when he and Dora married, he was beginning his third undergraduate year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, with the hope of eventually becoming a physician. He was accepted into medical school but dropped out after one semester. Following his rejection of medical studies, he enrolled at Columbia University the following fall to study philosophy and graduated in 1933. By this time, the marriage between Dora Zaslavsky and Herbert Schwartz was almost over and they decided to end the relationship in an amicable divorce. However, in the state of New York the only grounds for divorce was adultery and so in 1934 they arranged for, and staged a fraudulent act of adultery, at which the said defendant, Herbert T. Schwartz, was not even present ! The divorce decree was granted on August 10th, 1935. There were repercussions with regards this fake adultery set up which are complicated and too long for me to go into the details but you can read about the Ohio Court of Appeal case in 1960, Schwartz v Schwartz
Meanwhile, John Koch left Paris in 1934 and returned to America, settling in Manhattan, initially staying at a friend’s apartment on Washington Square. He already knew Dora Schwartz. He could well have met her and her husband in Paris. They had sailed to Europe on the SS. Minnetonka on September 26th 1932. When he settled in Manhattan in 1934 and heard about her impending divorce, he was determined to make her his wife. John went to live in an apartment block in Manhattan at 56th & Madison, in a room next door to the apartment Dora was sharing with her sister Fay. A year later, the couple sealed their love by marrying on December 23rd, 1935 and moved into their first “together home”, an apartment at 865 First Avenue, between 48th and 49th Streets, in Midtown Manhattan. It catered for both their needs with the bedroom served as John’s studio and the living room with piano was Dora’s studio. The newlyweds hosted parties driven by sharp business acumen: as John served cheap port to his wife’s students and their parents, Dora worked the room, procuring portrait commissions for her husband.
In 1935 John Koch exhibited works at his first New York exhibition which was held at the Valentine Dudensing Gallery. His work was well received and Emily Genauer, the art critic of the New York World-Telegram described John as:
“…the man to watch……a young man with a great gift…”
In 1939 John held a sell-out one man show of his works at the Kraushaar Gallery, a long-established gallery run by the niece of the founder, Antoinette M. Kraushaar. John Koch had a special relationship with the gallery and its owners and during the next thirty-five years the Gallery held a further dozen one-man exhibitions of his work.
It was in the thirties that John’s painting East River was acquired by the Brooklyn Museum of Art and it was one the first museum acquisitions of his work.
In 1941, starting on November 12th and carrying on until December 30th, the Whitney Museum of Art held its Forty under Forty Exhibition. It was the museum’s Annual Exhibition and that year it was an Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, chosen by members of the Museum staff from the work of artists forty years of age, or younger. John Knox submitted two paintings, Marble Quarry and Portrait of Mary. That same year he also exhibited at the 51st Annual Exhibition of the Art Institute of Chicago.
By the 1940s, John Koch’s success and recognition continued to grow. From 1942-45 he joined the United Service Organizations in the art sketching and portrait division in veterans’ hospitals and from 1944-46, Koch took up the post as tutor and taught figure painting at the Art Students League in New York. However, with regards financial success he became one of the featured artists of classical portraits at Portraits Inc. Portraits, Inc., was founded in 1942 by Lois Shaw, an art and antiques dealer and socialite. In the early 1940’s, Mrs. Shaw partnered with the USO to give weekly studio parties in her Park Avenue gallery that often centred on portraiture. She contacted a number of portrait artists and asked them to contribute their services by doing life drawings of the military men and women in uniform who attended the parties. This allowed Koch to earn a substantial income. The joint income of John and Dora was such that they managed to buy a summer residence at Setauket on Long Island.
The artist I am looking at today is the French-born painter, Elisabeth Chaplin. She was born in Fontainebleau, France on October 17th 1890. Her father was William Chaplin and her mother was the eminent sculptor and poet, Marguerite Bavier-Chaufour.
A further artistic connection was that of her uncle, Charles Joshua Chaplin, a French artist and printmaker who was known for his landscapes and portraiture. He worked in many mediums such as watercolours, pastels and oils and was probably best known for his portraits of beautiful young women. He became famous in the Paris of Napoleon III and was admired by Empress Eugenie for the delicate tones of his paintings. He became a member of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, and exhibited his paintings at the Salon de Paris.
The family, due to her father’s occupation, moved from France in 1900 and relocated to the Piemonte region of north-western Italy, a region which borders France. A few years later the family was on the move again. This time they went to live in Lagueglia, a coastal town on the Italian Riviera and it was around this time that Elisabeth, now a teenager, began to take an interest in painting and set about teaching herself to paint.
The family was soon on the move again and in 1905 finally went to live at Villa Rossi which was in the hills of Fiesole overlooking the Tuscan city of Florence. Living so close to Florence and being interested in painting Elisabeth would spend hours at the Uffizi Gallery copying the paintings of the Grand Masters. Elisabeth received no official training and maintained that the Grand Masters were her tutors and she, their pupil.
One of the first paintings she completed was a family portrait in 1906 entitled Ritratto di famiglia in esterno, (Outdoor Family Portrait). She was just sixteen years old and the painting earned her the gold medal from the Florentine Society of Fine Arts. Whilst in Florence, Elisabeth visited the studio of Francesco Giolio’s and met the painter Giovanni Fattori, who was a member of the Macchiaioli, a group of Italian artists who were active in Tuscany in the second half of the nineteenth century. They shied away from the antiquated conventions which were being taught by the Italian art academies. They were lovers of plein air painting so that they were able to capture natural light, shade, and colour. The Macchiaioli are often compared to the French Impressionists, but unlike their French contemporaries they didn’t complete their entire paintings en plein air, but instead would take back to their studios the sketches they had done outdoors and worked them up into a full painting. Elisabeth would have learnt a lot about art from Fattori.
In her early twenties, Elisabeth exhibited her work in all the major Italian exhibitions between 1910 and 1914. Her work was shown at the Società delle Belle Arti in 1910, and the Internazionale di Valle Giulia in Rome in 1911. In 1912 her work could be seen at the Promotrice Fiorentina, the Secessione Romana in 1913 and the Venice Biennale in 1914.
In 1916 she and her family moved to Rome, and it was here that she was able to immerse herself into the vibrant, international cultural climate and through her artwork was able to build on her reputation as an international painter. It was in the Italian capital that she met Paul-Albert Besnard, a French painter and printmaker who became one of her mentors. After a two year stay in Rome Elisabeth returned to her beloved Villa Il Treppiede.
It was around 1918 that Elisabeth Chaplin created what is now looked upon as one of her masterpieces. The painting was entitled Two Nudes or Double Self-portrait, and is one of few works which was not bought by the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Palazzo Pitti a few years before she died. Elisabeth depicts herself in a dual position, front and back, as she holds onto a red sheet that is tantalisingly falling off her naked body. It is a Symbolist-style work and any likeness to her disappears, giving way to Symbolist features that go beyond a solely naturalistic portrayal. It is a beautiful example of chiaroscuro with the light striking the figure from below. The colour palette she uses is vivid with reds and blues meeting and conflicting. There is a whiff of exoticism about her long, black hair and about the red sheet that looks like a Tahitian wraparound skirt, so much so that the Italian art critic and author of the 1994 book: Elisabeth Chaplin, Giuliano Serafini, stated that it was “an unwitting tribute to Gauguin, which remains one of her most fascinating and emblematic pictures, is the nude conveyed with such fullness of style and truth.” .
I think my favourite Elisabeth Chaplin work is one she painted in 1921 when she was living in Paris. Its title is Les Jeunes filles en jaune (Young girls in yellow). The painting depicts them dressed in yellow-coloured clothes and this derives from the many self-portraits Elisabeth did during her childhood. The two young girls are totally different. The redheaded girl on the left is seated. Her hair is unfettered. She stares out at us with such intensity. Cradled in her arms is a black cat, a creature that is often looked upon as being enigmatic and yet sometimes malign. The cat is a sacred icon that infuses mystery and thus this young girl represents disorder and turmoil. The other girl with her distant blue eyes is so different. There is an air of calm and graceful tranquillity about her. Her hair is neatly coiffed and she is seen touching a bunch of anemones, the embodiment of innocence. This duality is a connotation of Symbolism and we again see the duality with the reflection of the girl’s hand and the vase on the dark brown table.
In 1946, the Uffizi Gallery bought three of her paintings and asked to be given an early self-portrait by her. She agreed and donated her 1903 work entitled Self-portrait with a Green Umbrella and it now hangs in the Vasari Corridor. The most famous and the most respected collection of self-portraits in the world are to be found in the very long Vasari Corridor of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. (It has been closed for major renovations). The corridor is a long, raised passageway that connects Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria to Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the river Arno. The passageway was designed and built in 1564 by Giorgio Vasari and its function was to allow Cosimo de’ Medici and other Florentine elite to walk safely through the city, from the seat of power in Palazzo Vecchio to their private residence, Palazzo Pitti. It is a veritable tribute to art but more especially to those who have created it. Along the walls there are great self-portraits by the Masters, such as Rembrandt, Velazquez, Delacroix and Chagal. The first paintings were bought by the Medici family, and after the collection started, the family began to receive the paintings as donations from the painters themselves. However, what is noticeable about the collection is the small number of self-portraits by female artists. There are some such as Marietta Robusti, the talented daughter of Tintoretto, who died prematurely, Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun, who immortalized for posterity the image of Maria Antonietta and today’s artist whom I am writing about, Elisabeth Chaplin. One of her very first paintings.
Buoyed by the success of her work, in 1920 she had her paintings exhibited for the first time at that year’s Paris Salon. During the 1920s, she exhibited with Cezanne, Matisse, and Van Gogh and had her work was exhibited twice at Venice Biennale, in 1924 and 1926. Her work received great acclaim at the Salon, so much so that in 1922 she moved to Paris and remained in the French capital until the end of World War II. During her extended stay in Paris she spent time going to the Panthéon and the Hotel de Ville to study the work of the Symbolist painters, such as Puvis de Chavannes. Her acclaimed work brought her many commissions including producing large murals for the churches of Notre-Dame du Salut and Saint Esprit. In 1937 she was awarded the gold medal at the Exposition Internationale and a year later was given the Légion d’Honneur.
Elisabeth Chaplin died in Florence in 1982, aged 91. Most of her work including her family portraits, plus some plaster figures created by her poet and sculptor mother, Marguerite de Bavier-Chaffour, were donated to the Pitti Palace and have been on display there since 1974 in a room devoted entirely to her work. More than six hundred other works are in storage at the Palace.
My third look at portraiture exhibited at the Tretyakov Gallery features the work of Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy, the artist who was born into an impoverished lower middle social class family on June 8th 1837 in the village of Novaya Sotnya, near Ostrogozhsk, a town in south-west Russia. He was the third son of a town council clerk of the municipal duma. He attended the local school but, at the age of twelve, when is father died, he was unable to continue his education. During these early years Ivan showed a great interest in and a talent for drawing but lacked the support of family and friends to follow his dream of becoming an artist. Help finally came his way when he was employed by a visiting photographer who employed him to work as a colour correction artist. In October 1853, aged sixteen, Ivan left his native village and after much travelling arrived in St Petersburg.
Having already worked for a photographer back home he found a job with a well-known St Petersburg photographer, Andrey Denier. Ivan gained many friends whilst living in the city and many were amazed at the quality of his artwork and persuaded him to study art. In the Autumn of 1857, aged twenty, Ivan Kramskoy enrolled at the St Petersburg Academy of Arts.
The St Petersburg Academy had, like most European Academies of art, a fixed way of teaching and pushed the long-established practice of depictions focusing on the Neoclassical tradition, as suitable subjects. However, many of the young aspiring painters were not interested in old fashioned historical and mythological subjects preferring to dwell on works of art, the depictions of which embraced social realism. The students were also critical of the social environment that caused the conditions which were depicted in their social realism paintings. It came to a head in 1863 when fourteen young artists, all studying at the St. Petersburg Academy of Art, rebelled against the choice of topic for the annual Gold Medal competition, “The Entrance of Odin into Valhalla”. Instead, the fourteen wanted to depict in their paintings the reality of contemporary Russian life, a Realist style similar to what had emerged in the art world in 19th century Europe and in protest, had refused to take part in the competition. The rebel students asked to be allowed to choose their own subjects but the Academy Council turned down their request, and so they left the Academy. It was such a sensitive issue with political connotations that the rebel artists were put under secret surveillance and the press was forbidden to mention them.
Ivan Kramskoi, who had already spent six years at the Academy, led this “group of fourteen” rebels. The protest was not just about what they had to paint but in the unjust conservatism of Russian society and the desire for democratic reforms which he believed could be furthered if artists developed a political responsibility through their art. His views were anathema to the Academy hierarchy and he soon became a figurehead for an increasing number of disillusioned artists who believed in his artistic and political philosophy.
The revolt of the fourteen, as it was termed, led to the formation of the Artel of Artists which was a cooperative association (artel). It was formed and organised by the art students who had been expelled from the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. because of the “revolt of fourteen”. Ivan Kramskoy and four other artists set up home and a workshop in an apartment in the apartment house of Gudkov on Vasilievsky Island. It was here that they formed a kind of commune with the common workshop. Almost every evening young people gathered in Kramskoi’s apartment.
In 1870, seven years after the establishment of the Artel for Artists, the group under the leadership of Kramskoy formed the Peredvizhniki (Передви́жники, mobile workers), often called The Wanderers or The Itinerants. This group of Russian realist artists formed an artists’ cooperative in protest of academic restrictions. They formulated plans to hold a series of “Itinerant Art Exhibitions” in provincial locations which could be funded without State assistance allowing them to choose what was being exhibited without State interference. It was also a chance for them to preach political reform. They decided that the subject of their paintings should showcase the achievements of Russian art to the common man and woman. They hoped to foster public understanding of art and at the same time develop new markets for the artists. The first of Peredvizhniki’s “Itinerant Art Exhibitions” was held in 1871, in Nizhny Novgorod and from then on, the group organized a series of shows across Russia. Running besides the exhibition of their paintings were artists’ lectures and talks on social and political reform.
Surprisingly, the St Petersburg Academy initially welcomed the Peredvizhniki and even allowed them to host their first exhibition 0n November 29th, 1871. In all there were forty-seven paintings exhibited which received favourable reviews from the art critics. Ten of the paintings were portraits establishing the role of portraiture within the group. Kramskoi put forward three portraits of fellow artists, one of which was a monochromatic one depicting Fedor Vasilev. Vasilev was a Russian landscape painter who brought to the Russian art scene the term “lyrical landscape”. Lyrical landscapes were those which exhibit a certain spiritual or emotional quality. It could be that the depiction is of a sensitive and expressive nature. It could also be that the landscape, as well as depicting a picturesque view, conveys a particularly reflective, ardent or tender feeling, conceivably associated with romanticism. Vasilev was one of the twenty founder members of the Peredvizhniki Association in 1870. In 1871, aged just twenty-one, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and so left St. Petersburg and travelled to Crimea, where he had hoped to find a cure for his illness. The plight of Fedor Vasilev touched the heart of many of his friends and contemporary artists. Kramskoy regularly contacted his friends asking them to help the ailing artist. The Society for Promotion of Artists sponsored his stay in the Crimea, but to meet his living costs he had to sell his paintings. He died in Yalta on October 6th, 1873 at the age of 23. A posthumous exhibition was held in Saint Petersburg and was an outstanding success with all his paintings being sold prior to the start of exhibition. Kramskoy’s portrait of Vassily avoided a mawkish depiction of a dying young man. Instead he depicts the young artist as a dapper young professional with an aura of dignity and professionalism wearing his attractively tailored three-piece suit and fob watch. Feodor Vassily reputation as a “boy genius” was well founded.
My next offering, in a way, is not actually a portrait, per se, but it is one of my favourite paintings by Kramskoy which hangs in the Tretyakov Gallery. It is entitled Christ in the Wilderness and was completed in 1872. It was first shown in 1872 at the Peredvizhniki exhibitions in St. Petersburg and later in many cities throughout the country. The haunting depiction is radical and, some may say, shocking. Kramskoy offers us an image of Christ that is very different from the usual sterile submissions of the past. In his depiction of the temptation of Jesus we can see his unbending realism. Jesus is seated on a boulder in a barren and dry wilderness. He is hunched over and has a dishevelled appearance. It depicts Christ sitting in a state of profound dejection and indecision, hands clasped due to tension not prayer. We see the suffering of Jesus as he endures life in the barren arid wilderness. He has his back to the rising sun as he sits hunched forward on a boulder. Mentally he looks anxious. Maybe he is contemplating the forty-day exile and whether he should or is able to continue despite all the temptations. Physically, he looks dishevelled. He looks tired and his face is gaunt and there can be no doubt that he is suffering. We can empathize with his hunger and thirst and through Kramskoy’s realist depiction we are able to sense Jesus’ loneliness during this period of haunting isolation. Leo Tolstoy described it as the best Christ he had ever seen.
The plays of William Shakespeare were very popular in Russia in the nineteenth-century with the first edition of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare being published in the 1860’s. The Russian actor who was most famous for his portrayal of the Shakespearean characters was Alexander Lensky who often appeared on the stage of the Maly Theatre in Moscow which had opened in 1806. The theatre would often not appoint a director for the plays giving the position to one of the main actors. Lensky would often assume the role of main actor and director. Kramskoy and Lensky became good friends and in 1883 the artist gave the actor some painting lessons. Maybe it was the number of hours spent teaching Lensky that gave Kramskoy the chance to study him at close quarters. In his portrait entitled The Actor Alexander Lenskyas Petruchio in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew we see the actor in the costume of Petruchio, with his leather gauntlet, heavy jewelled chain and white ruff, so arranged to form tiers of differing textures. Against this, we have the tousled hair and downcast eyes of the actor who is immersing himself in his theatrical role.
Fourteen years before Pavel Tretyakov commissioned Ilya Repin to paint portraits of Leo Tolstoy, he had approached Ivan Kramskoy with the same task once he realised that Kramskoy lived near Leo Tolstoy. Whether Tretyakov told Kramskoy that he had approached Tolstoy requesting him to be a sitter for a portrait on several occasions only to be refused, we will never know, but he did add that Kramskoy should use all his charm to persuade Tolstoy to acquiesce. Tolstoy did agree and artist and writer ended up becoming great friends. Tolstoy was working on his novel Anna Karenina at the same time Kramskoi was at the writer’s home painting his portrait. It is believed that Tolstoy ended up creating the character of Mikhailov, a Russian artist who paints Anna’s portrait in his book, and was based on Kramskoi’s personality. Kramskoy’s portrait is a dark and sombre depiction of the great man but one which Tretyakov liked and paid Kramskoy 5oo roubles for it in 1874.
The final portrait by Kramskoy, belonging to the Tretyakov Gallery, which I am going to show you, is one surrounded in mystery as to who is the beautiful sitter for the painting. The unknown female is seen leaning back on the leather seat. She is exquisitely and sophisticatedly dressed. She wears a dark blue velvet fur coat which is trimmed with silver fur and decorated with satin ribbons. She has an elegant hairstyle which is almost hidden by a stylish hat with a white ostrich feather. Her right hand is concealed inside a furry clutch whilst the other hand can be seen covered by a dark kid glove. On her wrist we can see her lustrous gold bracelet. This majestic beauty is composed and looks down upon us with a somewhat haughty expression. She is very aware of the power her beauty commands. The architectural landscape in the background occupies an important place in the painting, with its pink/brown colouring. It is the blurry outlines of the Anichkov Palace that we glimpse as it emerges out of the fog.
The 1883 work by Kramskoy is simply entitled Unknown. In all the papers and notes left by Kramskoy nothing sheds light as to the identity of the beautiful woman. The Kramskoy portrait appeared at the eleventh exhibition of the Peredvizhniki’s Association Itinerant Art Exhibitions in November 1883. Viewers were mystified by who the model was for this work. Speculation came fast and furiously that it could have been a member of minor royalty or an actress but Kramskoy would not reveal the model’s name. Could she just be Kramskoy’s idea of the fictional heroine in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina or Dostoevsky’s female character Nastasya Filippovna, in his novel Idiot. Another possible answer to the identity of the woman comes from a book written by Ilya Repin. In 1916 Repin worked on his book of reminiscences entitled Far and Near, with the assistance of Korney Chukovsky and in the book Repin tells of an incident which occurred in the workshop of the Artel of Artists group. He wrote:
“…One morning, on Sunday, I came to Kramskoy … From a troika-sleigh that arrived, a group of artel artists-artists with cold frost on fur coats fell into the house with a beautiful woman. I was just dumbfounded by this wondrous face, the height and all proportions of the black-eyed… In the general turmoil, chairs quickly boomed, easels moved, and the general hall quickly turned into a study class. They set the beauty on an elevation … I began to stare at the back of the artists … Finally, I got to Kramskoy. Here it is! That’s her! He was not afraid of the correct proportion of eyes with a face, she has small eyes, Tatar, but how many shine! And the end of the nose with nostrils is wider between the eyes, just like hers, and what a beauty! All this warmth, charm came only from him…”.
Dis Kramskoy remember that incident and make the lady the subject of his Unknown painting ? We will never know.
Ivan Kramskoy died at work 0n April 6th 1887 in St. Petersburg while standing at his easel. He was painting the Portrait of Doctor Rauchfus, which remained unfinished. He was forty-nine years of age.
In my final blog regarding the Tretyakov Gallery’s paintings I will talk about my favourite works housed by the Moscow institution, other than the portraits which I have looked at in the previous blogs.
This is my first blog in a series which looks at Russian portraiture on display at the Tretyakov Gallery. As I wrote in my previous blog about the art gallery, the founder Pavel Tretyakov had wanted to have a large collection of portraits of famous Russians in his gallery. The first Russian artist I am featuring, who has paintings in Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery, is Ilya Repin.
Ilya Yefimovich Repin was born in the southern Russian (now Chuhuiv, Eastern Ukraine) town of Chuguyev close to the Georgian border on July 24th, 1844. He was the fourth of six children of Efim Vasilievich Repin and his wife Tatyana Stepanovna Repina. His parents were a family of military settlers. Military Settlements in those days were places at which there was a combination of military service and agricultural employment. His father traded horses and his grandmother ran an inn. From the age of ten, Ilya studied at the Chuhuiv School of Military Topography and in 1857, Ilya studied art as an apprentice with the local icon painter, Ivan Bunakov. During his apprenticeship he would help paint icons and frescoes for the local churches. Throughout his life religious representations remained of great importance to him.
Even at the early age of fifteen, Repin demonstrated a rare talent for painting portraits which can be seen in his 1859 painting of his maternal aunt, Agrafena Stepanovna Bocharova, entitled Portrait of A.S. Bocharova, the Artist’s Aunt.
In 1863, at the age of nineteen, Repin moved to St Petersburg and enrolled for a one-year course at the School of Drawing of the Society for the Encouragement of Artists, a school which was created by a decree of Tsar Nicholas I in 1839 and was a preparatory school for the St. Petersburg Art Academy. Here he studied under the portrait painter Rudolf Zukowski and the Realist painter, Ivan Kramskoi, an intellectual leader of the Russian democratic art movement in 1860-1880.
It was whilst at that artistic establishment that the Rebellion of the Fourteen took place in September 1863. The rebellion consisted of fourteen young artists who left the Academy in protest against its rigid neoclassical dicta and who refused to use mythological subjects for their diploma works. The rebel artists insisted that art should be close to real life and they formed the Society of the Peredvizhniki to promote their own aesthetic ideals. In order to reach the widest audience possible, the society organized regular travelling exhibitions throughout the Russian Empire.
In 1864, Repin, having completed his preparatory year, was accepted at the Imperial Academy of Arts. Repin completed another portrait of a family member in 1867. It was a painting featuring his younger brother, Vasily Efimovich Repin.
Later, Repin would be become a close friend and associate with some of rebel artists of the Society of the Peredvizhniki and fifteen years on after returning from Europe he would join the group. But for the time Repin remained at the Academy and in 1871 won the prestigious Major Gold Medal award and received a scholarship to study abroad.
In 1872 Repin married Vera Alekseevna Shevtsova and in 1873 they travelled to Paris where Repin exhibited work at the Salon. The marriage lasted ten years but ended in divorce in 1884, on the grounds of Repin’s infidelity.
In 1874 whilst living in Paris Repin was contacted by Pavel Tretyakov who offered him a commission to paint a portrait of Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev, a popular Russian novelist, short story writer, poet, and playwright who at the time was also living in the French capital. Turgenev was at the time the undisputed figurehead of the Russian artistic community in France. Repin was delighted and proud to be asked to paint the portrait of such a famous and influential man and Turgenev in turn held Repin in high regard as can be seen in a letter he wrote to the writer and art critic, Vladamir Stasov in November 1871, praising the talent of Repin:
“…I was delighted to learn that the young man [Repin] is moving ahead so vigorously and rapidly. He has great talent and unquestionably the temperament of a painter, which is most important of all…”
Pavel Tretyakov planned to fill his museum with portraits of the “great and the good” of Russia and a portrait of Turgenev was a prime example of what he wanted. Vasily Perov, another Russian portrait artist, had already completed a portrait of Turgenev in 1872 but Tretyakov was unimpressed by it and so had approached Repin, who by this time had established a reputation as one of the most promising artists of his generation. Tretyakov was pleased with the Repin’s final portrait but Turgenev was less pleased with the result. Turgenev was a steadfast supporter of modern French painting which he considered should serve as a model for Russian artists. Repin disagreed and poured scorn on the French paintings Turgenev was buying. The portrait of Turgenev prompted such heated debate, with one side who believed Russian artists should follow the Western style of painting whilst the opposing view was one which believed Russian artists and their art should follow their own path. The extent to which Russian artists should look inward or outward for inspiration was becoming a highly controversial debate.
Alexei Pisemsky was a novelist and dramatist, who, in the late 1850’s was looked upon as an equal to Turgenev and Dostoyevsky and in the late 1850’s wrote two hard-hitting books, One Thosand Serfs and A Bitter Fate both of which were critical of the peasant/master relationship. Later in the 1870’s he wrote about the evils of Russia’s emergent capitalism but his later books were often ignored by the reading public. Despite his fall from grace Pavel Tretyakov wanted Pisemsky’s portrait in his Moscow gallery and commissioned Repin to complete the task. Repin’s 1880 portrait of the fifty-nine-year-old Pisemsky depicts him as an ageing man with pouchy eyes clutching a walking stick. His coat is rumpled and his bow-tie droops giving the impression that Pisemsky’s best days are well passed and yet he seems alert and looks at us with a fixed stare. Alexei Pisemsky died shortly after the portrait had been completed.
One of Repin’s most moving and beautiful portraits was of the Russian composer, Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky. He was, as well as working as a civil servant, a giant of Russian music and was therefore an ideal subject for one of Pavel Tretyakov’s paintings. Although a genius, Mussorgsky had one great failing; he was an alcoholic. Mussorgsky’s decline in health became increasingly steep and he was increasingly unable to resist drinking. He was aware of the dangers of alcoholism and despite a succession of deaths among his closest associates which caused him great pain, he was unable to abstain. The decline could not be halted, and in 1880 he was finally dismissed from government service and through help from friends, managed to stave off destitution.
In early 1881 Mussorgsky suffered four seizures in rapid succession and was hospitalized. It was at this time that Tretyakov commissioned Repin to paint Mussorgsky’s portrait. Repin started the work on March 2nd 1881 in the ward of the Nikolaevsky Mlitary Hospital. It was the day after Emperor Alexander II was assassinated by, Ignacy Hryniewiecki, a young member of the Narodnaya Volya, a radical political organisation. Repin wrote about working on Mussorgsky’s portrait in the hospital ward:
“…When I painted M.P.’s [Mussorgsky’s] portrait in the Nikolaevsky Hospital, a terrible event had just occurred: the death of Alexander II; and during the breaks between sittings we read a mass of newspapers, all on one and the same terrible topic……[Mussorgsky] lived under a strict regime of sobriety and was in a particular fine sober mood….But as always, alcoholics are gnawed by the worm of Backus; and M.P. was already dreaming of rewarding himself for his long patience. Despite strict orders forbidding cognac…..an attendant obtained a full bottle of cognac for M.P.’s birthday…. My last session was planned for the next day. But when I arrived at the appointed hour, I did not find M.P. among the living…”
Mussorgsky died a week after his 42nd birthday. This beautiful portrait depicts the composer wearing a dressing gown. The striking burgundy decorative flap frames the florid features of this once-great man. We catch a glimpse of his highly decorative shirt between the folds of the dressing gown. His expression is one of rebelliousness but with a hint of feared inevitability. His eyes are turned away from us maybe in embarrassment at his parlous state. His hair and beard are unkempt. It is an uncompromising portrait but ever so poignant. Repin refused to keep the commission fee that Tretyakov gave him for the portrait and donated it to a memorial for the composer. Pavel Tretyakov was delighted with the finished work as he recognised it as one of the most passionate and emotional deathbed portraits of all time.
With Pavel Tretyakov’s desire to build a collection of portraits of famous Russians for his gallery, it was inevitable that he would want a painting depicting the great writer Leo Tolstoy who had cemented his position as one of the greatest writers of the century with his 1869 historical novel, War and Peace and his 1877 novel Anna Karenina. Through an introduction by Vladamir Stasov, the art critic, Repin and Tolstoy met in Moscow in 1880. Vladamir Stasov pointed out to Tolstoy that Repin’s exalted reputation in painting was the same as Tolstoy reputation in literature. By 1880, despite Tolstoy being a prominent writer he began to renounce his earlier works and decided to devote himself to religious and philosophical enquiry. He was in a state of “spiritual quest”, re-evaluating the values and his achievements of his earlier years. He took to wearing peasant clothes and renounced earthly pleasures. That first meeting of the two great men took place at Repin’s studio and Repin often visited Leo Tolstoy at his house in Khamovniki in Moscow. A number of portraits of Tolstoy were completed by various artists in the 1870’s but Ilya Repin’s worked on the great man’s portraits in August 1887 when he stayed with Tolstoy for eight days at his estate, Yasnaya Polyana at Tula, some 120 miles south of Moscow. In all, Repin produced twelve portraits, twenty-five drawings, eight sketches of Tolstoy and his family members, as well as seventeen illustrations to enhance Tolstoy’s works.
One of the portraits entitled The Ploughman. Leo Tolstoy ploughing, depicts the fifty-nine-year-old artist guiding a plough in bright sunlight. Repin remembered his time at Yasnaya Polyana and watching Tolstoy move around his estate, talking to the peasants. Repin recalled one hot day in August when Tolstoy was in the field ploughing for six hours without a break. Repin said that he had his sketchbook with him and kept sketching each time Tolstoy with his horse-driven plough passed by. Lithographic prints depicting Tolstoy the Ploughman followed and they were popular throughout the whole world.
In that same year, 1887, Repin completed a large portrait of Tolstoy sitting in a chair dressed in a black robe. On his knee is a book which Tolstoy has marked in two places as if to emphasise his passion for reading.
Another stunning portrait by Ilya Repin which hangs in the Tretyakov Gallery is entitled Portrait of Baroness Varvara Ikskul von Hildenbandt which he completed in 1889. It is a narrow oil on canvas work with unusual dimensions. It is 197cms tall and yet only 72cms wide and yet it skilfully depicts this beautiful slender woman. Baroness Varvara Ikskul von Hildenbandt was the wife of the Russian ambassador to Rome who hosted soirées at her home in Moscow during the 1880’s with eminent writers and artists as her guests, one of whom was Ilya Repin. She was the hostess of a noisy and motley literary salon, who herself used to write a lot in her youth. Pavel Tretyakov commissioned Repin to paint a portrait of the salonnière in 1889. On receiving this commission, Repin wrote to Tretyakov:
“…The Baroness is in rapture at the thought that her portrait will be in such a famous gallery……..She is an interesting model and poses like a statue…”
The almost life-size portrait is brought to life by Repin’s use of red and black. The artist has captured the detail of the lady’s attire with great skill, from the ruched skirt and tightly cinched blouse with its high-necked bow to the curious points and folds of the headdress. There is a concealment of flesh with just the hands and face bared and even the latter is partially veiled, partly concealing her eyes. Yes, the pose is quite static but one cannot deny it is a dynamic one. In 1917 following the Revolution, the baroness was forced to leave her mansion and flee to Finland and later Paris.
Ilya Yefimovich Repinwas was, without doubt, the most renowned Russian artist of the 19th century. In this blog I have just concentrated on some of his portraiture which can be found at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow but he is probably best remembered for his realist paintings such as his 1873 work Barge Haulers on the Volga
Over the last few blogs about the French artist Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, I have looked at his still-life works which he partly abandoned for financial and artistic reasons around 1733 to concentrate on genre paintings, which once engraved provided him an income from the prints. Chardin never abandoned one genre in order to take up another, but from around 1748 onwards he produced fewer genre scenes and reverted to his beloved still life work of his early career. The number of his genre paintings that he once exhibited regularly dwindled whilst there was an increase in his still life works which were shown at various exhibitions. For many, Chardin will be remembered for his figurative paintings and his portraiture and in this final blog on the artist I will look at some of these works.
One of Chardin’s earliest portraits was one which he completed in 1734 and was exhibited at the 1937 Salon with the title A Chemist in His Laboratory. Several years later, in 1744, the painting was engraved by François Bernard Lépicié and given the title Le soufleur, which, according to the seventeenth century, Dictionnaire de l’Académie, is a person using chemistry to search for the philosopher’s stone. It is again exhibited at the Salon in 1753 with the title A Philosopher Reading. It is now more commonly known as Portrait of the Painter Joseph Aved. Aved was a good friend of Chardin and had just been elected to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. He had assisted Chardin in drawing up the estate inventory of Chardin’s first wife, Marguerite Saintard and had been a witness at Chardin’s second marriage to Françoise-Marguerite Pouget in 1744. It was one of Chardin’s first attempts at portraiture.
In 1737 Chardin completed three paintings which featured young boys, two of which were sons of friends of Chardin. His painting The House of Cards sometimes referred to as The Son of M. Le Noir Amusing Himself by Making a House of Cards featured the son of his friend Jean-Jacques Le Noir, a furniture dealer and cabinet maker and one of Chardin’s patrons. He had been a witness at Chardin’s second wedding and had bought several of his paintings. The painting shows Le Noir’s son enjoying himself making a house of cards. The original work can be found at the National Gallery in London but as with many of Chardin’s paintings he painted a number of versions of it. François Bernard, Lépicié created an engraving of the work and added the following caption underneath, which in a way adds a meaning to the depiction:
Dear child all on pleasure We hold your fragile work in jest But think on’t, which will be more sound Our adult plans or castles by you built
The Young Draughtsman was also a painting Chardin completed in 1737. It was a subject Chardin had used before. Remember the 1734 painting I highlighted in the previous blog which showed a view from behind of a draughtsman at work, sitting on the floor, face hidden from view. In this painting we clearly see the face of the young man. It is a smooth youthful face which has a look of one lost in the joy of his work. There is a look of pleasure on his face, satisfied with what he has achieved so far. He concentrates on the task ahead as he holds the chalk stick which holds the sharpened chalk. He is relaxed. This scene also gives the viewers of the painting a feeling of relaxation, of serene equanimity and this was a forte of Chardin. Chardin once again has used a subtle set of colours. Milky whites, the black patch of the tricorn hat, the rose colour of the lips and cheek, and various blues for the furnishings and the piece of drawing paper on which the draughtsman has drawn the head of an old man.
Chardin completed another painting of a son of a friend around 1737. It was entitled Portrait of the Son of M. Godefroy, Jeweller, Watching a Top Spin. This work is housed in The Louvre since its purchase from the Godefroy family in 1907. The painting depicts nine-year-old Augustine-Gabriel Godefroy who would later become the controller-general of the French Navy. The young boy smiles and stares at the top as it spins atop of a chiffonier, a low cupboard. The top has been cleared of the quill pen, books and papers which have been pushed to one side to make room for the spinning top. One of the drawers of the chiffonier is partly open in which we can see a chalk holder, similar to the one in the previous work.
Chardin’s financial situation had improved since he married his second wife, the wealthy widow, Françoise-Marguerite Pouget in 1744. She brought with her a house in rue Princesse which was close to the house in rue du Four where the Chardin family had lived for many years, although they did not own it. Chardin’s new wife also brought to the marriage a sizeable amount of wealth, estimated at in excess of thirty-thousand livres in the form of annuities and cash. Chardin brought about eight thousand livres to the marriage accrued from his share of his first wife’s and his mother’s estates. Chardin’s financial situation was further improved when, in 1752 Chardin was granted a pension of 500 livres by Louis XV. This was the first gratuity Chardin received.
Chardin rarely travelled far from his Left Bank home, just occasionally making the short trips to Versailles and Fontainebleau. In 1757 he finally moved to a new residence as Louis XV had granted him a studio and living quarters in the Louvre, saving Chardin several hundred livres. This apartment, Studio no. 12, which was opposite the church of Saint-Thomas, was vacant following the death of the previous occupant, the goldsmith, François-Joseph Marteau.
Chardin continued to work for the Académie and in 1761 he is given the role of tapissier, the academician tasked with designing the arrangement of the pictures on the walls of the Salon. In Ryan Whyte’s 2013 essay Exhibiting Enlightenment: Chardin as tapissier, he commented:
“… Chardin’s efforts had merited an observation that he had treated the Salon as both a totality and a collection of parts, recognition that the effect of the Salon arrangement was based on a unified design, Chardin’s ‘beauty of the whole’ and mattered as much as the quality of the individual works therein…”
In a 1763 pamphlet regarding that year’s Salon the author commented on Chardin’s masterful lay-out of the paintings at the exhibition:
“…One has never arranged the different parts of this collection with more intelligence, as much for the beauty of the whole as for the particular benefit of each of the artworks that make it up…”
In essence the author of the pamphlet suggested that the Salon space was a work of art itself.
In 1763, the Marquis de Marigny, the general Manager of the King’s buildings, awarded Chardin 200 livres increase to his pension for taking charge of hanging the exhibits at the Salons. In 1765 he was unanimously elected associate member of the Académie des Sciences, Belles-Lettres et Arts of Rouen, but there is no evidence that he left Paris to accept the honour.
If I was to ask you what paintings by Chardin you have seen or read about, high on that list would be his three pastel self-portraits. Chardin had to turn to pastels around 1771 when he had been taken seriously ill. The cause of his illness was put down to his use of lead-based pigments and binders he used for his oil painting. These had, over time, burnt his eyes and brought on a condition known as amaurosis, a paralysis of the eye leading to deteriorating sight. Coincidentally, Degas suffered from the same ailment and he too had to turn to pastel painting. Chardin’s first pastel self-portrait often referred to as Portrait of Chardin wearing Spectacles was exhibited at the 1771 Salon and is now, since 1839, part of The Louvre collection. People were surprised by the exhibit as many believed that Chardin was too ill to paint. They were also surprised by the fact that it was a work of self-portraiture, not a genre he was known for. In 1771, the art correspondent of L’Année litéraire wrote:
“…This is a genre in which no one has seen him work and which, at first attempt, he mastered to the highest degree…”
Denis Diderot, the French philosopher, art critic, and writer praised Chardin and this work, writing:
“…the same confident hand and the same eyes accustomed to seeing nature – seeing nature clearly, and unravelling the magic of its effects…”
The spectacles are delicately perched upon the bridge of his nose. Chardin was forced to wear spectacles due to his failing eyesight and the pair he wears in the painting were made in England. Chardin is depicted in three quarter view. He has turned towards us with his probing brown eyes. How he has depicted himself is symbolic of his trade as an artist. He wears an elaborately entwined blue and white cap, together with a colourful, geometric-patterned scarf which because it has been lit up appears silk-like. The depiction of the artist shows him to be both knowledgeable and astute and the way he has used various tones on the face has made him look almost life-like. Marcel Proust summed up the self-portrait commenting on the ageing artist:
“…Above the outsized pair of glasses that have slipped to the end of his nose and are pinching it between two brand new lenses, are his tired eyes with the dulled pupils; the yes look as if they have seen a lot, laughed a lot, loved a lot, and are saying in tender, boastful fashion: ‘Yes, I’m old!’ Behind the glimmer of sweetness dulled by age they still sparkle. But the eyelids are worn out, like an ancient clasp, and rimmed with red…”
In 1775 Chardin completed another pastel self-portrait which was exhibited at the 1775 Salon. It was entitled Portrait of Chardin wearing an Eyeshade which is housed at The Louvre. In the painting Chardin has carefully fashioned his costume with the same care he once used when he depicted arrangements of fruit and objects in his still life works. The visor which shades the light from his eyes has an attached dusky pink ribbon. He has a scarf knotted around his head and neck and once again he wears a pair of spectacles. Every detail has been well thought out by Chardin. After seeing the self-portrait in 1904, the then elderly sixty-five-year-old Cezanne wrote about the work to his young friend, the painter and art critic, Emile Bernard:
“…You remember the fine pastel by Chardin, equipped with a pair of spectacles and a visor providing a shade. He’s an artful fellow, this painter. Haven’t you noticed that by letting a light plane ride across the bridge of the nose the tone values present themselves better to the eye? Verify this fact and tell me if I am wrong…”
The third pastel self-portrait by Chardin, Portrait of Chardin at His Easel was completed in late 1779 but did not enter The Louvre collection until 1966. There are the odd similarities with his 1771 self-portrait in as much as he looks out at us and wears the same turban but in this work, it is decorated with an stylish blue bow. In this work we see Chardin sat in front of his easel, on which is a frame covered with a sheet of blue paper. Our eyes are drawn to his hand, in which he holds a red pastel crayon. His face is half hidden in shadow and it noticeably thinner and his features have taken on a sunken and hollow look, even his eyes have become duller and he looks tired. In his demeanour, we can witness his failing health and in fact this self-portrait was only completed just a few months before Chardin died at 9am on Monday, December 6th 1779, aged 80. He was buried the next day at Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, at 2 Place du Louvre, Paris.
Chardin had become quite wealthy in his latter years but never quite achieved the great wealth of his contemporaries such as the Rococo painter François Boucher, Nicolas de Largillièrre or the Baroque painter Hyacinthe Rigaud. This is probably due to his moderate output which according to some critics was due to the slowness of his painting which Chardin said was due to his perfectionist attitude to all his works. Other said it was down to his laziness!
I cannot end this look at Chardin’s life without telling you about the fate of his family members. As I previously recounted, Chardin’s two daughters, one from each of his wives died when they were still very young, but he also had a son from his marriage to his first wife, Marguerite Saintard. Jean-Pierre Chardin was born in November 1731. He too studied to become a painter and in August 1754, won the Académie’s first prize for a painting on a historical subject. In 1757 Chardin and his son fell out over Marguerite Saintard’s will, Jean-Pierre believing he was not being given what was rightly his. In the September of that year Jean-Pierre received a scholarship from the Académie to study at the French Academy in Rome. On his return to France by sea from Italy Jean-Pierre is kidnapped by English pirates off the coast of Genoa, but later released. In 1767, aged 36, Jean-Pierre travelled to Venice, part of the French Ambassador to Venice’s entourage. On July 7th 1772, forty-year-old Jean-Pierre was found drowned in a Venice canal. It is believed that he suffered from severe bouts of depression and committed suicide.
In December 1780, a year after Chardin’s death, his second wife Françoise-Marguerite Pouget, left their apartment at The Louvre and moved to her cousin’s house in rue du Renard-Saint Sauveur, where she died on May 15th 1781, aged 84.
Chardin was taken seriously ill, both physically and mentally in 1742. It was probable that his temporary decline in health was due to the extreme sadness he suffered due to the passing of his loved ones. Chardin and Marguerite Saintard were married in February 1731. Two months later, his father, Jean Chardin, died. Marguerite Saintard who had given birth to Chardin’s son and daughter died in April 1735 and a year later his daughter, Marguerite-Agnès, also died aged three. Chardin was appointed guardian to his son, Jean-Pierre in November 1737. Chardin and his son were now living in a Paris apartment in rue du Four, sub-let to him by his mother. Apart from the deaths of members of his family, the other aspect of his life which probably contributed to his illness was his dire financial situation. He owed his mother for the money she had loaned him after his wife died and he had run up debts with his supplier of painting materials. His financial position worsened even further when his mother, Jeanne-Françoise, died in November 1743.
Chardin needed to improve his financial position. He had already decided to move away from still-life paintings and concentrate on genre works which once made into engravings provide him with much-needed income from the popular prints. Still, money or lack of it, remained a problem for forty-five-year-old Chardin but this was all to change in 1744 when he married his second wife, Françoise-Marguerite Pouget at Saint-Sulpice Church on November 26th 1744. Françoise was the thirty-seven-year-old wealthy widow of Charles de Malnoé and eight years Chardin’s junior. Françoise was simply a God-send to Chardin. She saved him from abject poverty and helped him manage his correspondence and his responsibilities on behalf of the Salon, which included arranging the exhibitions and acting as treasurer, from 1755, during which time he was tasked to manage the Académie accounts. Françoise-Marguerite Pouget gave birth to Chardin’s daughter, Angélique-Françoise in October 1745 but sadly the baby died in April 1746.
Françoise-Marguerite Chardin appeared in a number of her husband’s works, one being The Sertinette or The Bird Organ which he completed in 1751 and was exhibited at that year’s Salon as Lady Varying Her Amusements. A serinette was a small barrel organ originally designed for teaching cage birds to sing. The painting is housed at the Louvre which acquired it in 1985. It was the first Royal order passed to Chardin, originally commissioned by Le Normante de Tourneheim, keeper of the King’s estates, for Louis XV but two years later, was gifted by the king to the Marquis de Vandières, the brother of Mme de Pompadour, the king’s favourite. In the painting we see a lady, modelled by Chardin’s wife, Françoise, with the help of a “serinette”, teaching the caged bird to sing. The setting for the painting is a bourgeois interior. The woman wears a cap tied under neck and a delicate white scarf-like narrow piece of clothing, worn over her shoulders, similar to a stole and known as a tippet. The tippet she wears partially covers a dress embroidered with flowers. The lady is seated and on her knees is the serinette which she activates by turning the handle. At the left of the painting we see a bird’s cage resting on a pedestal. The pedestal has a crossbar which allows one to fix a screen to protect the serin, a small finch-like bird, from the light and from distractions which would hamper it from learning a tune. It was with the help of this salon instrument that the ladies of the “good” society taught their caged birds to sing. In front of the woman, we can see a large work bag which contains her embroidery.
Light streams into the room through the window to the left similar to depictions seen in seventeenth century Dutch paintings – think Vermeer for example, and they obviously had an influence on Chardin.
Another version of the painting is in the Frick Collection in New York, which came from the collection of Dominique-Vivant Denon, the director of the Musée Napoléon and bought by the New York gallery in 1926. There is one major difference between the two versions and I will leave you to spot it!
Chardin’s 1746 painting Domestic Pleasures also featured his second wife. The painting was commissioned by Lvise Ulrike, the sister of Frederick the Great of Russia and the wife of Adolf Frederick the Crown Prince of Sweden and the country’s future king. However, the commissioning was far from straight forward. Lvise Ulrike was a great fan of Chardin’s paintings and wanted him to paint two works and she gave him the titles of them to be The Strict Upbringing and The Gentle, Subtle Upbringing. Unfortunately for her, Chardin was a slow painter which in a letter dated October 1746, he stated:
“…I take my time because I have developed the habit of not leaving my paintings until, to my eyes, there is nothing more to add…”
Chardin’s assertion that it was diligence and being a perfectionist were the reasons for the long time he took on each painting was challenged by others who put it down to his laziness. The princess was however not amused by this slow pace. Bizarrely Chardin finished the two paintings in 1746 but the subjects had nothing to do with the titles supplied by the princess. They appeared at the 1746 Salon entitled Domestic Pleasures and The Housekeeper and were subsequently given to Lvisa via the Swedish ambassador in Paris in February 1747.
My last offering of a Chardin painting, featuring his wife, Françoise-Marguerite Pouget, is his pastel work entitled Portrait of Madame Chardin, née Françoise-Marguerite Pouget which he completed in 1775 when he was seventy-six and which can now be seen in the Louvre. A year later he repeated the portrait, which is now housed in the Art Institute of Chicago. Before us we see the face of Chardin’s second wife, sixty-eight-year-old Marguerite Pouget. Her face is wrapped to the eyes in an almost nun-like headdress, a head covering which often featured in Chardin’s paintings. Her forehead has an ivory pallor. Look how a shadow is cast by the headdress and the daylight on her temple is filtered through its linen material. Her mouth is closed tightly and she is not smiling. Her gaze is frosty. There is a dullness about her eyes. We detect wrinkles around her eyes. Chardin has managed to create all the indicators of old age. Chardin’s use of colours is masterful. The whiteness of her face is achieved with pure yellow and the pallid face has no white in it at all. The pure white cap is made solely of blue. The art critics loved the portrait. The eighteenth-century writers, publishers, literary and art critics, the brothers Edmond, and Jules de Goncourt wrote:
“…it is in the portrait of his wife that he reveals all his ardour, his vitality, the strength and energy of his inspired execution. Never did the artist’s hand display more genus, more boldness, more felicity, more brilliance than in this pastel. With what a vigorous, dense touch, with what freedom and confidence he wields his crayon; liberated from the hatching that previously damped his voice or obscured his shadows. Chardin attacks the paper, scratches it, presses his chalk home……To have represented everything in its true colour without using the real shade, this is the tour de force, the miracle that the colourist has achieved…”
Chardin produced many genre paintings in the late 1730’s and early 1740’s which depicted female servants carrying out their household duties. There are three versions of The Turnip Peeler which he completed around 1738. One is housed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington whilst one can be found in the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen in Munich. The third version was previously in Berlin, acquired for Frederick II of Prussia but which is now lost. The Washington version was exhibited at the 1739 Salon by Chardin and bought around that time by the Austrian ambassador, Prince Joseph Wenzel of Liechenstein. It became part of the Washington National Gallery collection in 1952. Before us we see a large woman sitting slightly hunched on a chair, knife in hand, about to peel a turnip. She gazes out blankly, lost in thought. She is surrounded by other vegetables such as a large pumpkin, some cucumbers and a bowl of water which contains the previously scraped turnips. In front of her we see a copper cauldron and a saucepan which is leaning against a bloodstained butcher’s block, in which a meat clever has been driven. This genre piece by Chardin is not one which has an anecdotal element to it, neither has it any social comment about the plight of servants.
A painting which has connections with The Turnip Peeler is The Return from Market. Once again, three versions of this painting exist. One, dated 1738, is in Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada, and was presented to the Salon in 1739. One is at Schloss Charlottenburg in Berlin and is dated 1738, and the third is housed in The Louvre. It is believed that the version held in Berlin was a companion piece to The Turnip Peeler, with the two being acquired by Frederick the Great in 1746. This painting unlike its companion piece still survives, but only just, as it was found in the park at Charlottenburg after the Schloss was pillaged by Austrian troops in 1760. Since that time this work by Chardin has never left Berlin. An engraving by François-Bernard Lépicié was made from the Louvre version. Lépicié made engravings of a number of Chardin’s paintings and prints from the engravings were a great source of income for the artist. When the painting was exhibited at the 1739 Salon it received great critical acclaim. The French literary brothers, Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt, wrote about the work stating:
“…the colours placed side by side give the painting the appearance of a tapestry in gros point…”
While the writer Henri de Chennevières was even more enthusiastic when he wrote about Chardin’s use of colour:
“…the milky whites of the woman’s skirt, the unique faded blues of the apron….., the floury, golden crust on the loaves of bread. And the two bottles on the floor, the red seal on one of them echoing the ribbon on her sleeve…”
My final two paintings by Chardin in this blog are his small pendant works, (49 x 39cms), The Diligent Mother and Saying Grace, both of which were completed in 1740. Chardin gave both works to Louis XV in the November following their showing at the Salon and are now housed at The Louvre. The Diligent Mother was the less famous of the two works and depicts a young mother, wearing pink slippers and blue stockings, her scissors hanging at her waist as she and her daughter inspect a piece of embroidery. In the foreground, by her, we see a wool winder and skein with coloured balls of wool inside the base of it. A bobbin can be seen lying on the floor as well as a box which acts as a pin cushion, next to which is curled-up pug. To the extreme right we see a red fire screen, while behind the mother stands a large green folding screen which prevents the light from the half-open door entering the room. The work was considered to be a genre piece in which a well-to-do middle-class mother shows the daughter a mistake she has made in her tapestry. One other interesting fact about this work was when an engraving was made of it by the engraver François-Bernard Lépicié, he added lines of moralistic verse to it so as to explain what was depicted:
“…A trifle distracts you my girl Yesterday this foliage was done See from each stitch you have made How distracted your mind is from work Believe me, avoid laziness Remember this one simple truth That hard work and wisdom together Are more valued than beauty and wealth…”
Were these salutary words approved by Chardin? Are they Chardin’s or Lépicié’s words?
The final Chardin painting for today’s blog is entitled Saying Grace and is one of his most celebrated and most popular of his works. The theme of the painting is prayer before meals and was one of the most famous works by Chardin but when it was shown at the 1740 Salon it received very little praise. However, along with its pendant piece, The Diligent Mother, it was given to Louis XV. It remained in the royal collections until the French Revolution; it then entered the Muséum Central des Arts, which would later become the Louvre, in 1793. It was largely forgotten until the nineteenth century when Chardin was “rediscovered”. It was then that the work was hailed as being emblematic of a morally upright, industrious social class and was often contrasted to the debauched, wasteful lifestyle of the aristocracy. Chardin in this tender work depicting a mother teaching her children to pray highlights commendable and hidden qualities and like many of his genre works, once again depicts the satisfied life which comes from a sense of duty, unlike the Rococo painters of the time, such as François Boucher, who depicted the dalliance and flirting of the nobility and upper-classes at their garden luncheons, and moonlit promenades.
In my final blog about Chardin I will be looking at his latter days and his works of portraiture.