John Singer Sargent and Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau

In my last blog I featured a painting by Theodore Roussel entitled The Reading Girl which was at the time both controversial and newsworthy, only going to prove the old adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity.  My blog today follows a similar theme, a controversial painting which had major repercussions on the artist and his career.

Self portrait by John Singer Sargent (1907)

Self portrait by John Singer Sargent (1907)

My featured artist is John Singer Sargent.   He came from a very wealthy family.   His grandfather was Winthrop Sargent IV, who had descended from one of the oldest colonial families.  Due to a failed merchant-shipping business in Gloucester, Massachusetts, he moved his family to Philadelphia.  It was in that city that John Singer Sargent’s father, Fitzwilliam Sargent became an eye surgeon.  In 1850, Fitzwilliam Sargent married Mary Newbold Singer who was the daughter of a successful local merchant. In 1853 Mary gave birth to their first child, a daughter, who sadly died a year later.   Sargent’s mother suffered a nervous breakdown after the death of her daughter and her husband decided that it would be better for his wife’s health to move away from Philadelphia and the sad memories and take up residency in Europe.  Initially Sargent’s father’s idea was for he and his wife to stay in Europe just a short time until she was better but their life away from America extended and soon they became expatriates.  He and his wife based themselves in Paris but they would often travel and stay in Florence, Rome, or Nice in the winters and in the summers they would journey to the Alps were the climate was much cooler and more pleasant.   Their son John was born in January 1856 whilst they were in Florence.

Because of the nomadic lifestyle of the family and because of his determination not to stay in school, John Singer Sargent did not receive formal schooling and was taught at home by his father and mother.  He proved to be an excellent pupil excelling in languages and the arts.  Art played a great part in his early life as his mother was a talented amateur artist and his father was a talented medical illustrator.  Following more additions to the family and because his wife wanted to remain in Europe, John Singer Sargent’s father eventually resigned his post at the Willis Eye Hospital in Philadelphia and acquiesced to his wife’s wishes for the family to remain in Europe.

John Singer Sargent soon developed a love of art and his father had him enrol at the Accademia di Bella Arti in Florence during the winter of 1873/4.  In 1876, at the age of eighteen, Sargent passed the entrance exam to the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.  Here he studied anatomy and perspective and spent time in the Paris museums copying the works of art of the masters. In those early days at the art academy Sargent was schooled as a French artist.  It was the era of French Impressionism and he was greatly influenced by the work of the Impressionist movement.  He was also a lover of the works of art by the Spanish painter, Velazquez and the Dutch master Frans Hals.

Portrait of Carolus-Duran by John Singer Sargent (1879)

Portrait of Carolus-Duran by John Singer Sargent (1879)

However nearer to home he was inspired by his art tutor, the French painter, Carolus-Duran, a portrait of whom he completed in 1879.     John Singer Sargent’s reputation as a great artist and portraitist grew rapidly and in Paris he was the toast of artistic circles.  Everything he did was loved by the critics and the public.  The Parisians loved him.  He could do no wrong.  Well actually he could and did and through one painting, a portrait of a lady, his fall from grace was rapid and final and caused him to exile himself from Paris and France and take refuge in England.  So what happened?  The answer to this question is examined in this very blog.

The lady whose portrait caused such a stir was Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau.  Virginie Amélie Avegno was born in New Orleans in January 1859.  She was the daughter of a white Creole family.  Her father was Major Anatole Placide Avengo, a Confederate army soldier and her mother was Marie Virginie de Ternant who came from a wealthy Louisiana plantation owning family.  Her father was killed during the American Civil War at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862.  Five years later in 1867 her widowed mother took her eight year old daughter to live and be educated in Paris and as a teenager was introduced into high French society.

Virginie Amélie Avegno blossomed into a beautiful woman.  She was a pale-skinned brunette.  She was renowned for her great beauty and was accepted into Parisian society circles.  She dazzled all who met her with her exquisite clothing and undeniable beauty.  She mastered the art of make-up to enhance her looks and was known for her heavy use of chalky lavender powder which was dusted on her face and body affording her a very distinctive pallor.  Her beauty was unique.  She had a long nose which was somewhat longer than the accepted norm, her forehead was also too high and yet these physical characteristics never detracted from her hourglass figure and the seductive way she would walk when entering a room of people.

In his 2011 book The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, David McCullough quotes an American art student named Edward Simmons who wrote about seeing Virginie and how the sight of her was unforgettable:

“…She walked as Virgil speaks of a goddess—sliding—and seemed to take no steps. Her head and neck undulated like that of a young doe, and something about her gave you the impression of infinite proportion, infinite grace, and infinite balance. Every artist wanted to make her in marble or paint…”

As always beauty as well as bringing out admirers, brings about jealousy and many of her detractors labelled her an arriviste, one who has attained a high position but has not attained general acceptance or respect.  I suppose we would liken her to one of the nouveau-riche looked down on by the “old establishment rich”

A mother’s most fervent wish is to see her daughters marry successfully which often translates into having their daughters marry a wealthy man.  Virginie’s mother must have been well pleased when her daughter married a wealthy French banker, Pierre Gautreau, and her daughter now had two of the greatest assets of life, beauty and a wealthy husband who held a great status in Parisian society.

John Singer Sargent met Virginie Gautreau at a social gathering around 1881.  He was smitten by her beauty and elegance; some say he soon became obsessed with her.  Having met her he wanted just one thing from life – to paint her portrait and have it exhibited at the Paris Salon so all could admire “his lady”.  Sargent had been inundated with portraiture commissions but on this occasion it was he who approached his desired sitter to ask if she would acquiesce to become the subject of his portrait.  Sargent realised that Gautreau was both part of high class Paris society and a renowned beauty and thus a portrait of her by him at the Salon would bring great kudos and he probably realised that if he portrayed her seductively it would cause a sensation similar to Manet’s Olympia at the 1865 Salon.  Sargent had unfortunately not realised how sensational it would turn out.

Watercolour figure study of Madame Gautreau  by John Singer Sargent (c.1883) Harvard Art Museum

Watercolour figure study of Madame Gautreau
by John Singer Sargent (c.1883)
Harvard Art Museum

After some help from colleagues Sargent persuaded Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau to sit for him.  For months on end he would complete many line drawings of her head in profile.  He would complete studies of her in pencil and watercolour, sometimes simply relaxing on a chaise-longue in a low-cut evening dress or depicted her in oil painting sketches drinking a champagne toast. In the summer of 1883, he stayed at the Gautreaus’ country estate in Brittany but admitted to his friend the writer, Vernon Lee, that he was still struggling to do justice to this un-paintable beauty.  He was also now having doubts as to whether it would be accepted into the 1884 Salon by the Salon jury.

In the winter of 1883, Sargent moved his Paris residence which had been on the Left Bank to a new studio across the Seine in the fashionable Parc Monceau neighbourhood and it was here that he completed his full-length portrait of Gautreau.  It was a nerve-wracking time for Sargent as he had suffered a loss of self-confidence in his artistic ability in respect to the depiction of his beloved beauty.  Despite his worries, the painting was finally completed in 1884 and the Salon jury accepted it into the 1884 Salon. This was the sixth year in a row that the Salon had accepted works by Sargent. Before the Salon opened there was already a frenzied excitement about the portrait.  Gautreau had talked wildly and incessantly to her friends and acquaintances about the painting, even though she had never seen the finished work.

Madam *** by John Singer Sargent as exhibited at 1884 Salon

Madam *** by John Singer Sargent
as exhibited at 1884 Salon

In the painting, Gautreau is seen dressed in a long black satin skirt with its sultry low-cut black velvet bodice.  Against the deep black of the dress and the plain dark background, the deathly blue-white of her powdered skin was even more eccentric and noticeable.   Her shoulders are bare with the exception of two narrow jewelled straps. Gautreau posture is one in which both her shoulders are held back, her body faces us and yet her head is angled to the left, which fully highlights her stunning profile.   Her left arm rests on her hip with her hand gripping the material of her dress.   Her right hangs down in a twisted manner s her fingers grasp the top of the table.  The result of this distorted pose was to create tension in the neck and arm but it also highlighted the subject’s graceful curves.   Her hair is pinned up high on her head atop of which is a tiara.  Sargent must have “designed” this un-natural pose presumably because he believed it brought a haughty sensuality to his sitter, for remember, besides wanting to do justice to his sitter’s beauty he also wanted this work to have a sensational affect when it was exhibited.  It was probably this thought of sensationalism that made him make the cardinal error which was to damn him.   During one of Gautreau’s sittings the thin strap of her dress had slipped from her right shoulder and as she was about to re-adjust it when Sargent told her to leave it down it was and he decided to make the portrait even more sultry by portraying Gautreau’s right shoulder bare.  The die was cast and the painting with the strapless shoulder went on exhibition under the title Portrait of Madame *** although most Parisians were aware that it was the portrait of Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau.

Even though the Salon had just opened the picture was condemned for what was termed the sitters’ “flagrant insufficiency” of clothing.  Little was said about the other aspects of the work, it was all about the seductive pose and dress (or undress) of the sitter.  The Paris public could not stop talking about Sargent’s portrait of Gautreau.  It was fast becoming a scandal of epic proportions.  The painting received many critical reviews.  Some objected to the portrait on the grounds that they disliked Madame Gautreau’s décolletage, others criticised what they termed the repulsive colour of her skin.  Few however were less harsh and stated that they liked the modern approach to the portrait and congratulated Sargent on is courageous approach.  It is difficult to understand the furore over the suggestiveness of the black dress when paintings of nudes littered the walls of the Salon but of course they would normally have biblical or mythological connotations to them which made blatant nudity acceptable.  Maybe it was the haughty pose of the arriviste with her heavily powdered features which was too much for the critics and public alike. Gautreau herself was humiliated by the whole affair and her mother, Madame Avegno, who was also horrified with publicity surrounding the portrait, demanded Sargent remove it from the Salon. He defended the portrait, telling the irate mother that it was a truthful likeness of the pose of her daughter and the clothes she wore.

John Singer Sargent in his studio with with his painting Madame X

John Singer Sargent in his studio with with his painting Madame X

Sargent had scandalised Paris society and he was widely criticised in Paris art circles for being improper.  For Sargent the criticism of the work and of him as an artist was almost impossible to bear.  He had been living and working in Paris for ten years and during that period he had received nothing but praise for his work and the commissions had poured in on the back of such praise.  The criticism of the portrait went beyond a simple poor review.  He was being mocked by the Paris public for what he later stated was the best painting he had ever completed.  For him the work was a true masterpiece but it would take a long time before the world acknowledged that fact.  Sargent hung the work first in his Paris studio and later in his studio in London and from 1905 onwards he allowed it to be seen at various international exhibitions.

Madame X by John Singer Sargent (c.1884) with the position of the strap of dress altered

Madame X by John Singer Sargent (c.1884)
with the position of the strap of dress altered

Sargent repainted the fallen strap on Guitreau’s right shoulder, re-titled it Madame X and eventually sold the work to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1916 where it is housed today.  An unfinished second version of the same pose is in the Tate Gallery London.

Sargent found the criticism unjustified and shortly after the 1884 Salon, in the May, at the age of 28, he left Paris disillusioned by the incident and disappointed by the fall off of sales of his paintings and moved to London where he remained for the rest of his life England.  Although his long-term career as a portraitist in France was over, he once again thrived artistically in the English capital and some say that it was here that he reached the pinnacle of his fame.  In those days to have you portrait done by Sargent was looked upon as having it painted by the best portraitist of the time.

John Singer Sargent      (1856 - 1925)

John Singer Sargent
(1856 – 1925)

He died in London in 1925, aged 69.

Posted in American artists, Art, Art Blog, Art History, John Singer Sargent, Portraiture | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Théodore Roussel and Hetty Pettigrew

 Theodore Roussel  Self Portrait (1901)

Theodore Roussel
Self Portrait (1901)

I went to the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy one afternoon, a couple of weeks ago and frankly I was a little disappointed in the majority of the works.  Yes they were quirky and often bizarre but I like beauty in paintings.  Maybe part of the problem was that in the morning I had just visited the National Portrait Gallery and perused their permanent collection as well as the BP 2014 Awards exhibition.  There were so many beautiful works of art.  There was a “chalk and cheese” difference between the paintings I stood before at the Portrait Gallery and those in the many rooms housing the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition.  You see, I like to stand back from a work of art and be amazed at what I see before me.    I especially like to be stunned by the beauty depicted by the artist whether it is a landscape or a portrait.  I am never impressed by a few random blobs of colour on a canvas and to be told to just imagine something.  Yes, I do need to be led by the nose and have everything explained to me through a realistic depiction.   The artist I am featuring today was also an admirer of beauty, to be more precise, feminine beauty and I was utterly seduced by a painting he completed featuring his lover, a work which the establishment at the time found a little too much to countenance.  Today I am going to look at the life of Théodore Casimir Roussel, and explore some of his paintings and prints and feature his sitter, studio assistant and lover, Hetty Pettigrew who featured in many of his works.

Roussel was born in the French town of Lorient in Brittany in March 1847 and was educated in France.   He was called to arms by his country during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 but in 1878 he moved to England and settled in London. Two years later he married an English lady, Frances Amelia Smithson Bull.  Roussel had always loved to sketch and paint and was, for the most part, self taught.  When he settled in the English capital he managed to secure studio space in Chelsea with two English artists, George Percy Jacomb-Hood and Thomas Henry.  A couple of years after working in his Chelsea studio, Roussel began to exhibit some of his paintings.  His breakthrough came in 1885 when he was introduced to one of his neighbours, the successful artist, James McNeil Whistler, who had seen Roussel’s paintings and had been very impressed by the standard of his work.  Despite Whistler being thirteen years older than Roussel, it was not long before the two became firm friends, probably because some of their works of art centred around the same subject matter – London and the Thames river.  They also shared similar artistic tastes and had similar views with regards the art establishment.  Roussel now became one of Whistler’s London circle of friends which included Walter Sickert, Paul Maitland and Wilson Steer.  Like Whistler, Théodore Roussel became a member of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1887 but both resigned from the Society the following year.

Blue Thames End of a Summer Afternoon Chelsea by Théodore Roussel (1889)

Blue Thames End of a Summer Afternoon Chelsea by Théodore Roussel (1889)

Some of Roussel’s early work, when he was in London, depicted the river Thames around Chelsea.  One such painting was Blue Thames.  End of a Summer Afternoon, Chelsea  received excellent reviews when it was exhibited at the London Impressionist exhibition.  In December 1888 he exhibited seven such oil paintings of “Impressions of the Thames and Chelsea” at the London Impressionist Exhibition at the Goupil Gallery.

The Thames at Hurlingham by Théodore Roussel

The Thames at Hurlingham by Théodore Roussel

Another work featuring the Thames is a work Roussel completed later in his career was a work entitled The Thames at Hurlingham.  This atmospheric work has all the characteristics of a Whistler painting.  When Roussel made preliminary sketches for this work he was probably in the grounds of the famous Hurlingham Club, one of Britain’s greatest private members’ club which borders the Thames at Fulham.  In the painting we are treated to the merest glimpse of the river and the house on the opposite bank as we peer between the two mature lime trees whose size has cast the bank in deep shadow.

The Reading Girl by Théodore Roussel         (1886–7)

The Reading Girl by Théodore Roussel
(1886–7)

However my lead in to this blog was all about Roussel’s depictions of female beauty and one particular painting which had caught my attention and so let me feature this absolute gem.  The painting I am referring to was completed by Roussel in 1887 and was entitled The Reading Girl.  It measures 152 x 161cms (60 x 64 inches) and now hangs in the Tate Britain in London and I urge you to feast your eyes on this beautiful work.

 Roussel decided to by-pass the Royal Academy and exhibited this work in April 1887 at The New English Art Club, which had been founded in London in 1885 as an alternate venue to the Royal Academy for artists to exhibit their works.    Maybe the reason for the painting being accepted into the exhibition was that this art club was, at that time, promoting the French style of painting.  Maybe another reason for Roussel’s decision not to submit it to the Royal Academy was that he was well aware that the Royal Academy would be very critical of his depiction of a nude woman, not as a mythological, classical or historical character, but simply as a present day female.  This was Roussel pushing the boundaries.  This was a step too far for many and the art critic for the Spectator newspaper in the April 16th edition of the journal wrote a highly critical article.  He wrote:

 “…Our imagination fails to conceive any adequate reason for a picture of this sort.  It is realism of the worst kind, the artist’s eye seeing only the vulgar outside of his model, and reproducing that callously and brutally.  No human being, we should imagine, could take any pleasure in such a picture as this;  it is a degradation of Art…”

 It could well be that Roussel was making a stand with regards female nudity and would have been well aware of the furore which followed Edouard Manet exhibiting his famous but rebellious nude work, Olympia, at the Paris Salon twenty-two years earlier (see My Daily Art Display October 12th 2011).

 What I suppose strikes you at first glance is how relaxed the sitter is for the artist, how comfortable and at ease she was to sit before Roussel without any vestiges of clothing.  The female is Harriet (Hetty) Selina Pettigrew, a nineteen year old professional model, Roussel’s studio assistant and possibly a student of his.  She was born in 1867 in Portsmouth, one of twelve children, nine brothers and three sisters.  She was Roussel’s favourite model and also modelled along with her sisters Rose and Lily, for James McNeil Whistler, John Everett Millais and other Pre-Raphaelite artists. Hetty had met Roussel in 1884 and from becoming his model, then, despite Roussel being married, became his mistress and gave birth to their daughter, Iris around 1900.   When Roussel’s wife died, instead of legalising his relationship with Hetty and their child, he married Ethel Melville, the widow of the Scottish watercolour painter, Arthur Melville. Once Roussel re-married in 1914,  Hetty never sat for him again. Their close bond was over.

 Look how Roussel has used an almost black background so that nothing detracts from the female form.  This is not a pulchritudinous depiction of a classical woman à la Rubens.  This is simply a modern beautifully proportioned young woman.  Hanging from the back of her chair is a kimono which harks back to Roussel and Whistler’s love of all things Japanese which were sweeping through Europe.  The female reads a newspaper giving the impression that before us, we have a well educated young woman.  This is no Rococo-style air-head !!  The art critic Frederick Wedmore’s view of the painting was completely at odds to that of the Spectator’s art critic.  Of the painting he compared the work with many previous classics and wrote in the Art Journal of 1909:

 “…the most health-suggesting, health-breathing of Courbets, with the most rosily robust of Caro Delvaille’s (Le Sommeil fleuri), with the dreamiest Henner, with the slimmest and least material of Raphael Collin’s (Floréal)… a high masterpiece… austere in its performance, restful in its effect…”

Eva Mongi-Vollmer an art historian and curator at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt commented on the pose of the woman in Roussel’s painting in her book, Naked!Woman views. Painters intentions departure to modernity.  She wrote:

 “…It is the reading of an intellectual, modern woman who is not sexually available, despite the nudity…”

 

Study From the Nude of a Girl Lying Down by Théodore Roussel (1890)

Study From the Nude of a Girl Lying Down by Théodore Roussel (1890)

Another of Roussel’s works which is believed to have featured Hetty is Study From the Nude of a Girl Lying Down, a drypoint completed around 1890 which is part of the collection at the Art Institute of Chicago with a print of it held at the British Museum.

Chiaroscuro, A Profile, the Golden Scarf by Théodore Roussel (1900)

Chiaroscuro, A Profile, the Golden Scarf by Théodore Roussel (1900)

My third and final featured work by Théodore Roussel which featured Hetty is Chiaroscuro, A Profile, the Golden Scarf, which he completed around 1900.

Théodore Roussel died at St Leonards on Sea, a coastal town in East Sussex in 1926, aged 79.

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Art History, French painters | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

C R W Nevinson. Part 2 New York

Portrait of C R W Nevinson by  Ronald Ossory Dunlop

Portrait of C R W Nevinson by Ronald Ossory Dunlop

In my last blog I looked at the early life of Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson and featured some of his paintings which depicted the horrors of the First World War.  Today I want to conclude his life story and look at some of his other works of art which had nothing to do with war but which I find have their own beauty.

Nevinson had been taken ill in 1912 and was moved to Buxton to convalesce and it was whilst partaking of the healing waters at the Hydro that he met Kathleen Knowlman who had accompanied her father to the health resort.  With the outbreak of war in 1914, Nevinson, being a conscientious objector, had joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in November 1915.  It was in this capacity that he had helped tend the wounded who had been brought home from the Front.  He was stationed at the Third General Hospital in London but was always aware that soon he would be called to leave the relative safety of England and travel to France.  Fully realising his possible death at the Front he decided that he should be married before he met his fate !  On November 1st 1915 he married Kathleen Knowlman.  It turned out that he was never sent to the front as he was invalided out of the army following bouts of pericarditis and rheumatic fever which he contracted in January 1916 which left him crippled and for a time he began to think he would never walk again.  He recalled the time in his 1935 autobiography, Paint and Prejudice:

“…I was now crippled completely. I began to think I should never walk again. Everything was tried on me while I lay helpless on my bed…”

Temples of New York by C R W Nevinson (1919) Drypoint. Trinity Church facade from the back, which faces Wall Street

Temples of New York by C R W Nevinson (1919)
Drypoint. Trinity Church facade from the back, which faces Wall Street

With the ending of the First World War in 1918, the public’s desire for his war paintings and their harrowing depictions of the suffering of the troops waned. Maybe people just wanted to forget about the previous four years and did not want to be reminded of the brutality of war.   For Nevinson, his favoured and once much appreciated subject matter had dried up and he had to make a decision as what to do next.   Paul Nash, a contemporary of Nevinson and also a war artist, summed up the war artists’ dilemma when he talked about the ‘struggles of a war artist without a war’.   At the end of the war, Nevinson went to Paris looking for new inspiration but soon tired of the French capital, a place he had visited as a child with his mother.  In the spring of 1919, he decided to visit America and in particular New York.  He had received an invitation from David Keppel to visit the American city to stage an exhibition of his War prints.  David Keppel who with his father, Frederick Keppel, were print publishers and owned a four-storey gallery on 4 East 39th Street in Manhattan.  They had exhibited many of Nevinson’s war prints which proved very popular with the American public.

Nevinson was made very welcome on his arrival and according to David Boyd Haycock in his 2009 book about the artist, A Crisis of Brilliance, relates how Nevinson was welcomed as a ‘war hero and victimised genius of modern European art, come to discover the USA and reveal it to itself ‘   Nevinson, on his arrival in New York, was taken aback by the city’s architecture, so much so when questioned by a local journalist of how he liked the city he commented that he loved the buildings so much he believed the city had been built for him.  Nevinson would roam around the city constantly sketching and after a month long stay in America, he returned to London and converted his sketches into paintings.   On his return to London he was to receive sad family news.  Whilst he was in America his wife had given birth to a son, Anthony Christopher Wynne on 21st May 1919. His mother, Margaret, recorded that the child only lived for fifteen days, which, as she put it, had been “just enough time to get fond of him.”   Nevinson later wrote in his autobiography:

“…On my arrival in London I was met by my mother, who told me my son was dead…”

 And he later added in a somewhat morbid fashion:

“…I am glad I have not been responsible for bringing any human life into this world…”

The Soul of the Soulless City (New York - an Abstraction) by C R W Nevinson (1920)

The Soul of the Soulless City (New York – an Abstraction) by C R W Nevinson (1920)

One of Nevinson’s depictions of  New York, which he completed back in London in 1920 before he returned to America that October to set up his second exhibition of work at Frederick Keppel & Co, New York gallery, was entitled The Soul of the Soulless City (‘New York – an Abstraction’).  The painting depicts an idealised view of a section of the elevated railway which ran through Manhattan. It was an unusual work with a narrow chromatic range reliant mainly on shades of greys and browns with just merest hint of blue for the skies between the tops of the skyscrapers.  The way he has depicted the skyscrapers with their complex faceting harks back to Picasso and Braque’s cubism of a decade earlier.  There is something very powerful and impressive about the way Nevinson has depicted the railway line receding dramatically into a cluster skyscraper blocks.  There is a sense of speed about the disappearing railway track.  Nevinson, was associated with Filippo Tommaso Marinetti  and his concept of futurism, who wanted  to revolutionize culture including art and make it more modern. The new ideology of Futurism was an art form which stressed modernity, and the virtues of technology, machinery, and speed and we can see in this work that Nevinson was a great believer of the ideals of futurism.

When the work was first exhibited at the Bourgeois Galleries in New York it was entitled New York – an Abstraction.  It was not received well.  According to David Cohen in his 1999 The Rising City Urban Themes in the Art and Writings of C.R.W.Nevinson’, C.R.W.Nevinson The Twentieth Century, one critic went as far as to dub the painting  “inhuman, metallic and hard”.  Later when he exhibited the work in London in 1925 at the Faculty of Arts Exhibition, Grosvenor House, London, it was given the title of The Soul of the Soulless City and this change was almost certainly made by Nevinson himself and although it has been likened to Karl Marx’s comment on religion being the “heart of the heartless world”, it could also be because Nevinson had fallen out of love with the American city.

New York, Night by C R W Nevinson (c.1920)

New York, Night by C R W Nevinson (c.1920)

Another work by Nevinson with New York as its subject is New York, Night which he completed somewhere between 1919 and 1920.  This work which was completed around the same time as the previous work and was painted at the time when Nevinson was still in love with New York.   There can be no doubt about his initial love affair with New York for Nevinson was quoted by David Cohen in his 1999 book, C.R.W. Nevinson, The Twentieth Century:

 “…New York, being the Venice of this epoch, has triumphed, thanks to its engineers and architects, as successfully as the Venetians did in their time..Where the Venetian drove stakes into his sandbanks to overcome nature, the American has pegged his city to the sky. No sight can be more exhilarating and beautiful than this triumph of man…”

 The painting depicts the busy harbour of New York at night.  It is a view I have witnessed many times from the bridge of a ship as the city’s skyscrapers loom large ahead as we enter the port.   In the painting we see the giant buildings through the smoke and steam emanating from the funnels of the small tugs and ferries which ply their way up and down the Hudson River.  It is a mystical and atmospheric scene.  It is a scene depicting industry.  This is a scene of modernity, loved by the futurists.  In the foreground we see jibs of cranes busily working on the loading and unloading of cargo vessels berthed at Brooklyn, across the river from Manhattan.

Looking through Brooklyn Bridge by C R W Nevinson (1920)

Looking through Brooklyn Bridge by C R W Nevinson (1920)

Nevinson built up a collection of prints of Manhattan, another of which is the drypoint print entitled Looking through Brooklyn Bridge.  This work and another entitled Under Brooklyn Bridge are housed in the British Museum and were part of a set of ten drypoints of the city of New York which were commissioned by Frederick Keppel.  Whenever I visit New York I always take time to walk across this bridge and never fail to be enthralled by the views on offer when crossing from Brooklyn to Manhattan.  What first strikes you about this work is how the bridge is the central “character” as it dwarfs the people we see walking across it.  In the background, through the mist, we see the colossal skyscrapers of Manhattan looming before us.  In the evening light they lack colour and are just presented as grey giants.  It is a cold depiction.  There is no warmth about it.  It is an inhospitable scene and the mist which gives a haziness to the skyscrapers also gives a feeling that the air may also be polluted.  The people are wrapped up in warm clothes and the wooden walk way looks wet as if the rain has been beating down on the massive structure.  The man in the foreground holds an umbrella but probably due to the strong winds, dare not open it to protect himself. Nevinson has managed to convey the massive structure as a monument to the permanence of the new Industrial time and it contrasts with the temporary nature of the people, who appear on it as mere shadows as they hurry from one side to the other.

Like a lot of artists, Nevinson did not take criticism and rejection well and his love for New York and America disappeared.  Not only were his paintings attracting criticism, he himself was also becoming disliked for his ill-conceived outbursts.  He often suffered periods of depression and would often be volatile.  He had an unfortunate habit of bragging and publicly aired embellished claims of his war experiences, which people found hard to accept and together with his depressive and temperamental personality, he became an unpopular figure on the New York art scene.   Whether it was because of the poor reviews or his growing dislike for the people around him, he decided to leave America.

So who was to blame for Nevinson’s falling out of love with America and the Americans.  Maybe the answer lies in the 1920 catalogue introduction to an exhibition of Nevinson’s work by the art critic Lewis Hind.  Of Nevinson he wrote:

“…It is something, at the age of thirty one, to be among the most discussed, most successful, most promising, most admired and most hated British artists…”

In Julian Freeman’s biography on Nevinson he talked about the artist’s mental state during the last couple of decades of his life:

“…From 1920 until 1940 they carried his strident, maverick diatribes, aimed at society at large, and at the establishment in all its forms… and the variety, salacity, and often uncompromising savagery of his egocentric articles remains enormously entertaining. However, his autobiography is marked and marred by a strong undercurrent of confrontational right-wing xenophobia, and some of his private correspondence in the Imperial War Museum in London is explicitly racist: true signs of the times to which he was such a conspicuous contributor…”

I will leave the last word to the artist himself who, in his 1937 autobiography,  Paint and Prejudice,  wrote:

“…My prices have always been humble, but it has been possible up to the present to lead the life of a millionaire. Far from being a starving artist, a great deal of my time has been taken up in refusing food and drink, affairs with exquisite women, and wonderful offers of travel or hospitality. But I have always been driven mad by the itch to paint. Painting has caused me unspeakable sorrows and humiliations, and I frankly loathe the professional side of my life. I am indifferent to fame, as it only causes envy or downright insult. I know the necessity of publicity in order to sell pictures, because the public would never hear of you or know what you were doing unless you told them of it. But publicity is a dangerous weapon, double-edged, often causing unnecessary hostility and capable of putting you into the most undignified positions. Until of late I have had to fight an entirely lone hand. When I exhibited at the Royal Academy it was a revelation to me how well the publicity was done through the dignity of an institution rather than through the wits of an individual. But I suppose that now I shall always remain the lone wolf. I have been misrepresented so much by those who write on art that the pack will never accept me. Incidentally, because I painted I have earned something like thirty thousand pounds for the critics, curators, or parasites of art. Ninety per cent of their writings has consisted of telling the public not to buy my pictures and of charging me with every form of charlatanism, incompetency, ignorance, madness, degeneracy, and decadence. It is useless to deny that this has had its effect..”

A Winter Landscape by C R W Nevinson (1926)

A Winter Landscape by C R W Nevinson (1926)

His post-war career was not so distinguished.  He never achieved the adulation that was bestowed on him due to his war paintings.  Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson died in October 1946 aged 57.

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Art History, C R W Nevinson, Futurism, Uncategorized, War paintings | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson the war artist

     Self Portrait  by C.R.W Nevinson

Self Portrait
by C.R.W Nevinson

The newspapers and television are awash with articles and documentaries with regards the First World War and so, over the next two blogs, I thought I would take this opportunity to look at one of the best known British war artist, many of whose paintings featured the Great War. His name is Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, but is often referred to as C.R.W. Nevinson, and was known to his friends as Richard.

Nevinson was the son of Henry Nevinson, who was a British war correspondent during the Second Boer War and the First World War. His father was a fierce and radical campaigning journalist who, through the might of his pen, fought to end slavery in Western Africa. He was also a suffragist, and along with the left-wing writers, Henry Brailsford, Max Eastman and Lawrence Housman founded the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage society in 1907. In 1884 he had married Margaret Nevinson an activist in the campaign for women’s rights and in Hampstead, London in August 1889 she gave birth to their only child, Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson. An insight into his early childhood can be gleaned from a book written by Frank Rutter in 1935 entitled Art in my time and in it he talks about Nevinson and his parents. He wrote:

“…Nevinson was the child of parents who had singularly noble ideas, who were markedly progressive and humane in their habit of thought… Nevinson started life with a pre-natal tendency to revolt against injustice, cruelty and oppression…”

He also commented on how tied up Nevinson’s parents were in their campaigning and quotes young Nevinson as being somewhat critical of his mother’s lack of time for him. Later, Nevinson wrote of his mother:

“…If my mother does happen to be in for a meal she is so engrossed in other things that she hardly hears and certainly never takes in a word I say.”

Nevinson’s parents were so wrapped up in their own agendas it was bound to affect the early life of their son and for young Nevinson, who after a period in kindergarten, at the age of seven, worse was to come as his parents decided to send him away from home to a boarding school. For a child who just wanted his parents to spend time with him it was the worst possible outcome and he hated the school and was soon in trouble. In his 1935 autobiography, Paint and Prejudice, he wrote about his time as a boarder:

“…In due time I went to a large school, a ghastly place from which I was rapidly removed as I had some sort of breakdown owing to being publicly flogged, at the age of seven, for giving away some stamps which I believed to be my own. I was not only described as a thief but as a fence. From this moment I developed a shyness which later on became almost a disease. During my sufferings under injustice a conflict was born in me, and my secret life began…”

If school life was bad enough, life at home did not improve. His father’s strong pro-Boer utterances during the Second Boer War became well known and disliked and his son was tarred by this same brush of loathing and would be treated like an outcast by his young contemporaries.

In 1903, Nevinson was sent to Uppingham School. The school was strong in its teaching of engineering and art. However he described the time at Uppingham as a débâcle. At first the school seemed acceptable to the fourteen year old but things deteriorated for the teenager as probably due to his earlier school experiences he did not make friends easily and was singled out by both staff and fellow pupils and he wrote of his horrific experiences at the hands of older students:

“…”I had no wish to go to any such school at all, but nevertheless Uppingham did seem to be the best. Since then I have often wondered what the worst was like. No qualms of mine gave me an inkling of the horrors I was to undergo. Bad feeding, adolescence – always a dangerous period for the male – and the brutality and bestiality in the dormitories, made life a hell on earth. An apathy settled on me. I withered. I learned nothing. I did nothing. I was kicked, hounded, canned, flogged, hairbrushed, morning, noon and night. The more I suffered the less I cared…”

Normality finally came into his life when he left Uppingham School and enrolled at St John’s Wood School of Art where he would train to pass the exams required for entry to the Royal Academy Schools. Nevinson summed up this move in his autobiography in a simple sentence:

“…From Uppingham I went straight to heaven…”

Life at the art school was so different in comparison to his previous schools and Nevinson began to come out of his shell and this could well have been helped by the fact that he was now in the company of female students. He recalled the happy days of socialising with the girls and acknowledged that he himself was changing:

“…My shyness went, and I spent a good deal of my time with Philippa Preston, a lovely creature who was later to marry Maurice Elvey. There were others, blondes and brunettes. There were wild dances, student rags as they were called… and various excursions with exquisite students, young girls and earnest boys; shouting too much, laughing too often…”

However it was not the Royal Academy Schools for Nevinson as he had been influenced by the works of Augustus John who, along with his sister, Gwen, had been students at the Slade School and so, in 1909, aged twenty, Nevinson entered the Slade School. Most of his friends from St John’s Wood School of Art progressed on to the Royal Academy School and so Nevinson arrived at the Slade knowing nobody. After an initial nervousness and an uncertainty about his choice of artistic direction he settled in and made a number of friends. In his class were aspiring artists such as Mark Gertler, Adrian Allinson, Edward Wadsworth, Rudolf Ihlee and Stanley Spencer. This group of young artistic friends were known as the Coster Gang because they dressed in black jerseys with scarlet mufflers and atop their heads they would wear a black cap or hat similar to those worn by costermongers, the street sellers of fruit and vegetables.

Dora CarringtonIn 1910 a new student joined the Slade. She was Dora Carrington. In Michael Walsh’s 2002 biography on Nevinson which looked at his energetic early career he wrote of Nevinson and Carrington’s relationship:

“…Nevinson’s infatuation with Dora Carrington became progressively more acute. In Carrington he had met his match, not only in intellect and in personality, but also in that she could be as obtuse as he could… The friendship was always confused, faltering between brotherly affection and unfulfilled love affair, rooted in Nevinson’s reluctance to trust strangers and her notorious desire to remain unattached…”

Dora Carrington, CRW Nevinson and Mark Gertler during their time at the Slade School

Dora Carrington, CRW Nevinson and Mark Gertler during their time at the Slade School

With this fascination with Dora came a major problem. Dora had another great admirer and he was Nevinson’s best friend, Mark Gertler. Gertler and Nevinson had spent much time together after classes and a bond between them ensued. Michael Walsh in his 2002 biography of Nevinson, C. R. W. Nevinson: The Cult of Violence, wrote about this close friendship:

“…Together they studied at the British Museum, met in the Café Royal, dined at the Nevinson household, went on short holidays and discussed art at length. Independently of each other too, they wrote of the value of their friendship and of the mutual respect they held for each other as artists…”

However they had both fallen in love with Dora Carrington and in a way she destroyed the friendship between the two men. Nevinson after some tentative efforts to move his relationship from a close platonic one to something more was spurned by Carrington and she began to distance herself from him.  Nevinson was devastated at this turn of events and wrote to her:

“…I am now without a friend in the whole world except you…. I cannot give you up, you have put a reason into my life and I am through you slowly winning back my self-respect. I did feel so useless so futile before I devoted my life to you.”

Nevinson also realised that his attempt to become Carrington’s lover ended his friendship with Gertler. Gertler was in love with Carrington and now Nevinson, once his closest friend, had now become a rival for Carrington’s affections. Something had to give and Gertler wrote to Nevinson:

“…I am writing here to tell you that our friendship must end from now, my sole reason being that I am in love with Carrington and I have reason to believe that you are so too. Therefore, much as I have tried to overlook it, I have come to the conclusion that rivals, and rivals in love, cannot be friends. You must know that ever since you brought Carrington to my studio my love for her has been steadily increasing. You might also remember that many times, when you asked me down to dinner. I refused to come. Jealously was the cause of it. Whenever you told me that you had been kissing her, you could have knocked me down with a feather, so faint was I. Whenever you saw me depressed of late, when we were all out together, it wasn’t boredom as I pretended but love…”

The romantic hopes of both Nevinson and Gertler were spurned by Carrington and the two men paid an enormous price because of their infatuation with their fellow student. The price was the ending of their own close and once fulfilling friendship.

Nevinson left the Slade School in the summer of 1912 and travelled to Paris, a place he had visited on a number of occasions with his mother. It was in the French capital that he met and became friends with Gino Severiniand Filippo Marinetti, an Italian poet and editor, the founder of the Futurist movement. Futurism was originally an Italian movement which was characterised by its belligerent celebration of modern technology and city life and energetically showed contempt for Western Art traditions. Nevinson was excited with these futurist ideas and he and Marinetti co-wrote the English Futurist manifesto Vital English Art, in June 1914 edition of English newspaper, The Observer.

Nevinson in his Red Cross uniform

Nevinson in his Red Cross uniform

On the outbreak of the First World War, Nevinson, who was a fervent pacifist, refused to become involved in combat duties, and volunteered instead to work for the Red Cross. Nevinson joined the Friends Ambulance Unit, which was a voluntary ambulance service founded by some young members of the Quakers. It was independent of the Quakers’ organisation and mainly run by registered conscientious objectors. Later, between November 1914 and January 2015, Nevinson served as a volunteer ambulance driver. However his time in the ambulance service as driver, stretcher bearer and hospital orderly ended in January 1915 when he had to return to home due to ill health.

The brutality of the war stimulated him and on his return home in January 1915 he wrote an article for the Daily Express about this artistic stimulation:

“…All artists should go to the front to strengthen their art by a worship of physical and moral courage and a fearless desire of adventure, risk and daring and free themselves from the canker of professors, archaeologists, cicerones, antiquaries and beauty worshippers…”

I will leave Nevinson’s life story at this juncture and return to it in my next blog. I now want to feature three of his war paintings which were to make him famous and which depicted life and the brutality of the First World War. It was during his period convalescing that he started on a series of works based on his own experiences and incidents he witnessed whilst at the Western Front in France.

          La Mitrailleuse  by C.R.W. Nevinson (1915)

La Mitrailleuse
by C.R.W. Nevinson (1915)

One such work was entitled La Mitrailleuse (The machine gun), which he completed in 1915. The work is a depiction of a French machine-gunner and two of his comrades in a battle trench. It is amazing how Nevinson has portrayed the soldiers simply as a series of angular planes and has kept the colours to various tones of grey. There is something mechanical about the men. He has de-humanized them. The angularity of their facial expressions and the dark colouring around their eyes transforms them into fierce-looking individuals who seem to lack any trace of humanity. The machine gun, which is the title of the painting, is gripped by the gunner. The belt of bullets hangs from the machine ready to be spat out and mercilessly cut down the enemy. Of the painting Walter Sickert, the Camden Town Group painter described the painting as:

“…the most authoritative and concentrated utterance on the war in the history of painting…”

The Harvesting of the Battle by C R W Nevinson (1915)

Harvest of Battle by C R W Nevinson (1915)

The second painting I am featuring is entitled Harvest of Battle, which can be found at the Imperial War Museum, London. In this work we observe the deadly aftermath of battle. The battleground is sodden. Large pools of water formed by craters made by exploding shells abound making life that much worse, if that was possible. We see a long line of soldiers trudging from right to left across the wet ground. Many are wounded with bandaged limbs and some of the able-bodied are carrying or helping their wounded comrades to return to a place of safety at the rear of the battle lines. For many it was to be their last battle and they are now just corpses. In the central foreground we see a skeletal-like corpse lying on his back and even in death, his left arm is still raised in a claw-like fashion, a gesture of pleading for help, whether it be from his comrades or God himself, but it was to no avail.    In the right background we see flashes of artillery fire. The idea for this depiction came to Nevinson when he and another officer visited Passchendaele, close to the town of Ypres, the scene of many battles during the First World War. He wrote about his experience in his autobiography:

“…We arrived at Ypres, and while he went to the Officers’ Club I wandered on up towards the Salient and obtained notes and rough sketches for my painting, ‘Harvest of Battle…”

In a letter Nevinson wrote in 1919 to Alfred Yockney from the Ministry of Information he described what he saw:

“…A typical scene after an offensive at dawn. Walking wounded, prisoners and stretcher cases are making their way to the rear through the water- logged country of Flanders. By now the Infantry have advanced behind the creeping barrage on the right, only leaving the dead, mud, & wire; but their former positions are now occupied by the Artillery. The enemy is sending up SOS signals and once more these shattered men will be subjected to counter-battery fire. British aeroplanes are spotting hostile positions…”

           Gassed  by John Singer Sargent             (c.1919)

Gassed
by John Singer Sargent
(c.1919)

It is a sad and moving painting and reminds me of a work by James Singer Sargent, entitled Gassed, which I featured in My Daily Art Display on July 10th 2011. That work also depicted a line of wounded soldiers, blinded by mustard gas, trudging towards their field hospital.

Paths of Glory  by C.R.W. Nevinson (c.1917)

Paths of Glory
by C.R.W. Nevinson (c.1917)

My final offering is another war painting by Nevinson which depicts the horrors of war. It is entitled Paths of Glory and was completed by him around 1917. In the painting we see the corpses of two dead British soldiers lying face down in the mud among barbed wire. They have been left behind and their bodies are awaiting collection, identification and then their nearest and dearest will be informed of their fate. Besides them lie their helmets and rifles now no longer any use to them. Nevinson chose the title for his work, a quote from Thomas Gray’s famous poem Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour:-
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

There is of course a  difference in the circumstances of death between Gray’s corpses who lay buried and at peace in a church graveyard and Nevinson’s corpses which lay abandoned on the battlefield.

Nevinson’s depiction of the two dead soldiers lying abandoned in a foreign field was just too much for the British Board of Censors, for the war was still raging in France and scenes like this would have a terrible affect on the morale of English people and so they did not want the work exhibited at the Leicester Galleries in Leicester Square, London. Nevinson rebelled and included the painting in the exhibition but placed a wide brown strip of paper across the work with word “censored” written upon it. The establishment was very unhappy by Nevinson’s apparent disregard of their dictate and he was publicly reprimanded, firstly for exhibiting a “censored” work and for the audacity of writing the word “censored” across the brown strip. As always, there is no such thing as bad publicity and the notoriety he gained from his audacious behaviour brought him to the attention of the public. The painting was bought by the Leicester Galleries.

In my next blog I will conclude Nevinson’s life story and look at some of his non-war paintings which first attracted me to him.

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Most of the information and facts  for this blog came from books which I have mentioned as well as the excellent Spartacus Educational website.

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Art History, C R W Nevinson, English artist, Mark Gertler, War paintings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Domenico Induno

Today I am featuring an artist which many of you, like me, will have not heard of before.  He, you will discover, had an artistic connection with my last featured artist, Francesco Hayez.  He also had another thing in common with Hayez.  He had a fervent belief in Risorgimento, the resurgence of a unified Italy.  The artist in question is the Italian nineteenth century painters, Domenico Induno.

Domenico Induno, who had a younger brother Gerolamo, also a painter, was born in Milan in May 1815.  He began working as an apprentice goldsmith to Luigi Cossa, who, in 1831, convinced by Domenico’s burgeoning artistic talent, persuaded him to enrol on an art course at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan.  Whilst at the Brera he studied under the Lombard sculptor, Pompeo Marchesi and the Italian artist and professor of painting, Luigi Sabatelli.  It was also at the Brera that Domenico Induno studied under Francesco Hayez who had been teaching at the establishment since 1822.  Hayez was a great influence on Domenico and even allowed Domenico to have a studio in the Hayez residence.  Hayez was also able to help Domenico to progress with his artistic career by introducing him to the leading Milanese art dealers and collectors.

The Chaste Susanna by Domenico Induno

The Chaste Susanna by Domenico Induno

It was through the influence of Hayez that Domenico initially concentrated on depictions of biblical stories and depictions of ancient history.  Like Hayez, Domenico was a great believer in Risorgimento (Italian Unification) and he and his brother, Gerolamo, took part in the 1848 Cinque Giorante uprisings in Milan. (see the previous blog with regards Cinque Giorante).  After the failure of the five day uprising and maybe because of their involvement, the brothers went into voluntary exile, initially travelling just across the Italian-Swiss border to Astano in Switzerland where they stayed with a fellow artist Angelo Trezzini and his sister Emilia, later to become Domenico’s wife.  Trezzini had also been a student at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts from 1844 to 1846 and had served his apprenticeship in the same studio as the Induno brothers.

From Astano Domenico Induno moved to Florence but returned to Milan at the end of 1859.  Domenico now concentrated on genre scenes with their powerful depictions of the everyday life of the common folk and the world of the lowly and poor.   He began to participate regularly in the Brera exhibitions and those held by the branches of the Società Promotrice di Belle Arti in Florence, Turin and Genoa.

Pane e lacrime by Domenico Induno (1855)

Pane e lacrime by Domenico Induno (1855)

One of his most beautiful and most moving paintings of this genre was one which he completed around 1854, entitled Pane e lagrime (Bread and Tears).  It is a depiction of suffering and there is an emotional beauty about this work. Yes it is a depiction full of sentimentality and to some it would be denigrated as being mawkish and syrupy but for me it is a painting which depicts the reality of life for the less fortunate.  The setting is a small stone-walled room.  The woman, the mother of the child, is crying as she sits on the bed.  The fire remains unlit and we can tell that the room is cold as on her knees is a muff or hand-warmer which she has been utilising in order to keep her hands warm.  Look at her facial expression.  It is one of unhappiness.  It is one that makes us believe that she is almost about to give up on her life. She is distraught and despondent with her “lot in life”.  She looks to a framed picture on the wall, probably a religious work.  She is beseeching help from the subject of the painting although we are aware that none will be forthcoming.   Before her stands her child clutching a piece of bread, probably the only food he or she has been given.  The painting was bought by Francesco Hayez, who presented it to the Brera in 1854.  The following year it was exhibited at the Exhibition Universelle of 1855 in Paris and in 1891 it appeared in the Induno brothers’ retrospective exhibition in Milan.

The Post Boy by Domenico Induno (1857)

The Post Boy by Domenico Induno (1857)

Another of Domenico Induno’s paintings came up at the Christies London auction in June 2006 and realised £60K, well above its £18K-£25K estimate.  The painting is entitled The Post Boy and we see the main character sitting and relaxing at a table outside a house or inn.  In his left hand he holds his whip with which he controls his horse and carriage and tucked under his left arm is his bugle sounded when he and the post has arrived in town.  In front of him are two young children, the elder of whom , a girl, is listening to his stories, whilst the younger hangs on to her apron.  On the floor we see some small fowl pecking away at some food.

Domenico Induno was a firm advocate of the Risorgismento and the triumphant Unification of Italy, which finally happened in 1861 following the Spedizione dei Mille (Expedition of the Thousand).  This expedition was lead by Giuseppe Garibaldi and with him were 1,000 men, mostly idealistic young northerners.  His troops overthrew the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and by so doing, allowed southern Italy and Sicily to become united with the north. The Spedizione dei Mille was one of the most dramatic events of the Risorgimento.  After this victory, the states of the Italian peninsula were united under king Victor Emmanuel II of the Savoy dynasty and he proclaimed all his territory to be the Kingdom of Italy.  Many artists including the Induno brothers and Hayez pictorially depicted some of the defining moments of the struggle for unification

L’arrivo del Bollettino di Villafranca (The arrival of the bulletin of the peace of Villafranca)  by Domenico Induno (1862)

L’arrivo del Bollettino di Villafranca (The arrival of the bulletin of the peace of Villafranca) by Domenico Induno (1862)

Domenico Induno completed one such painting in 1862.  It was entitled L’arrivo del Bollettino di Villafranca (The arrival of the bulletin of the peace of Villafranca) and can be found in the Museo del Risorgimento in Milan.  The painting was hailed as a great success and was purchased by Vittorio Emanuele II, the king of the unified Italy.  He bestowed on Domenico Induno an order of chivalry known as a Knight of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus.  There were a number of versions of the painting by Induno but all have one thing in common.  It was all about the people.  It was no grand history painting depicting the witnessing of the agreement between the two emperors.  Induno had once again shown his desire to express the importance of the common people who had had to endure war and now could relax and enjoy peace.  The setting is outside the door of an inn where the reading of the bulletin about the treaty is taking place.    The ordinary people of Villafranca gather around to hear the news about the treaty and the ending of the conflict.

The Return of the Wounded Soldier by Domenico Induno (c.1854)

The Return of the Wounded Soldier by Domenico Induno (c.1854)

Another painting by Domenico Induno combines a genre work with a historical work about the fight for Risorgimento.  It is entitled The Return of the Wounded Soldier and was completed around 1854.  Induno depicts a soldier sitting slumped in a chair at the bedside of his wife.  She, like him, does not seem to be in the best of health.  A crucifix on a ribbo0n hangs above the bed head.  Their young child stands forlornly by her mother’s bedside. Their home exudes an air of poverty.  Paint is peeling off the walls.  Light streams through the open window and illuminates the soldier’s red tunic.  A woman anxiously looks out of the window maybe a doctor has been summoned and she awaits sight of his arrival.   The war has taken its toll on the family and although the soldier has managed to survive the many battles, his and his family’s future looks bleak. This is a genre painting which has a strong element of realism.  This is not a work of art glorifying the Risorgimento but one which pictorially narrates the suffering and the sacrifices made by the ordinary people during such a cause.

Domenico Induno died in Milan in November 1878 aged 63.

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Art History, Domenico Induno, Francesco Hayez, Genre painting, Genre paintings, Italian artists, Realism Artists | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Francesco Hayez and his women.

Self portrait with freinds by Francesco Hayez (c.1827)

Self portrait with freinds by Francesco Hayez (c.1827)

In the work above,  Francesco Hayez has depicted himself surrounded by friends.  On the left is the artists Pelagio Palagi, at the top, the artist Giovanni Migliara, and on the right, the painter Giuseppe Molteni, wearing a top hat, along with the writer and poet Tommaso Grossi, the only one with a bare head.  In the foreground and at the centre of the scene, is Hayez.  For some reason he has depicted himself as a somewhat unassuming person and yet there is an air of self-satisfaction about his facial expression.  On his head is an artist’s peaked beret and he wears a pair of round glasses.  This is the only portrait of him wearing spectacles.  It is clear to see the background of the painting lies unfinished and yet it blends in with the material of the clothes the men are wearing and in a way it bonds together the group of friends.  The unfinished background blends and merges with the material of their garments and unites the group of friends, and thus it presents the group of men with a feeling of intellectual brotherhood. Maybe the subject of the painting is not just portraits of a group of friends but more a symbol of friendship and belonging between them.

 So why have I chosen to feature works by Francesco Hayez?   Over the past few years of writing this blog I have featured paintings of many ladies.  Some were pretty, some were plain, and laying myself open to be called un-gentlemanly, some were frankly, ugly!  However, in a few cases I have fallen in love with the depicted beauty of a lady.   A week ago I found myself falling for the haunting depiction of another woman!   Before I identify my new love, I have to admit that I am not a lover of Modern Art and Modern Art Galleries tend to be well down my list of places to visit.   Of course I am always willing to be converted or as was the case last week, during my stay in Verona, I was willing to be seduced to visit the Galleria d’Arte Moderna Achille Forti by their advertising posters, which were dotted around the city.   On these large posters was the painting of a beautiful young woman.  It was a haunting depiction and I knew I had to see the original.  The work was entitled Meditazione (Meditation), and was completed by the nineteenth century Italian artist Francesco Hayez in 1851.  The works of Hayez are not new to my blog as I have featured paintings by him on two other occasions, viz., his very famous The Kiss (My Daily Art Display Jan 6th 2011) and the Old Testament painting,  Susanna at her Bath (My Daily Art Display Mar 27th 2012).

Meditation by Francesco Hayez (1851)

Meditation by Francesco Hayez (1851)

The painting, Meditazione, is housed in the Verona gallery is stunning.  The sensuousness of the model is breathtaking.  Is this just simply an erotic painting with little meaning?  Of course it isn’t.  To understand the depiction one needs to understand the history of the time and Hayez himself.   The year 1848, three years before Hayez painted this work, was a year seething with revolutions in Europe.  They began in France in the February of that year and soon spread throughout Europe.  In total more than fifty countries were affected by uprisings.  The reasons behind the revolutions were varied; dissatisfaction with the political leaders, people demanded a more democratic rule with more say on how the country should be run.  The poor were fed up with their lot in life.  In Italy it was also the desire for Risorgimento, the unification of Italy, and for the Milanese in particular, it was about freeing themselves from Austrian rule.

Milan, where Hayer was living, was a hotbed of unrest and it was there that the Cinque Giorante insurrections took place between March 18th and March 22nd 1848.  News of the revolution in Vienna and the dismissal of the Austrian chancellor, Metternich had reached Milan on March 17th and this created much political exhilaration and fresh hopes for the future. A group of young republicans decided to coordinate a large demonstration calling for freedom of the press, the setting up of a civilian guard and the setting up of a new national assembly. On March 18th a crowd of ten thousand people assembled, some of them armed, in front of the town hall and quickly invaded the government palace, killing a guard and forcing the Vice-governor O’Donell to accept their political demands, most importantly, the formation of a civilian guard. The Austrian military leader, Marshal Radetzky, ordered his troops to recapture the government buildings, and an intense combat ensued. The insurrection spread spontaneously throughout Milan; the Milanese people erected hundreds of barricades in the narrow streets of Milan using carriages, pianos, and sofas, thus rendering the movement of the Austrian troops difficult. The combat was split into many isolated battles which was advantageous to the Milanese who were able to capture arms and ammunition from the enemy. While almost the entire Milanese society supported the revolt, the lower classes, artisans and workers, played the most significant role in the combat, but over four hundred of them lost their lives during those five bloody days.  The First War of Italian Independence against Austria failed and it would take two further wars and another twenty-two years before Risorgimento was achieved.  Hayez, who personally experienced the insurrections and was a great supporter of Italian unification, was disappointed when the First War of Independence came to nought and this probably was reflected in this painting.

The demeanour of the female in the painting is one of meditation.  Thinking what could have been if the initial fight for independence had succeeded and downhearted about its failure.  These were probably the thoughts of Hayez himself, who was fiercely patriotic.  She sits on a leather-backed chair her head slightly lowered but she has a penetrating stare.  The white dress has slipped from her right shoulder exposing her breast.   She symbolizes the disappointment following the five day uprising and the war.  On her lap is a book, the title of which we see on its spine, is The History of Italy.   The title alone enshrines the hopes of the young people who had fought and in many cases died in the name of freedom and independence.  In her left hand she holds a black wooden cross, symbolizing the martyrdom of the Milanese citizens who died opposing the Austrian troops.  On the cross are carved the dates of the Cinque Giornate.

La Meditazione  by Francesco Hayez (1851)

La Meditazione by Francesco Hayez (1851)

Hayez painted a number of versions of La Meditazione and the one above was completed by him in 1851 and it again depicts the dark-haired and pale-skinned young woman in plain dress. Her melancholic attitude is explicitly connected to the failed hopes of 1848 and the Cinque Giornati in Milan. This work of art was originally entitled  Italia nel 1848 (Italy in 1848)

Melancholic Thoughts by Francesco Hayez (1842)

Melancholic Thoughts by Francesco Hayez (1842)

In 1842, he had completed a work entitled Melancholic Thoughts.  Again it depicts a woman lost in thought and again we can tell by her facial expression that all is not well with her.  Hayez is once again transferring to the woman his own melancholia with regards the failure of Italian unification.  She is clearly expressing his pessimism.

Carolina Zucchi (La Malata) by Francesco Hayez (1825)

Carolina Zucchi (La Malata) by Francesco Hayez (1825)

One of Hayez favoured models was his girlfriend Carolina Zucchi.  She posed for many of his famous works and in 1825, Hayez painted her portrait, Portrait of Carolina Zucchi, often termed la Malata or Sick Woman.  Carolina Zucchi came from an educated middle class Milanese family and her father, a prosperous accountant, was part of a circle of intellectuals who would gather in the living rooms of various houses including the one at her family home.  Hayez was often invited to attend these soirées and was introduced to many of the popular artists and musicians of the time, such as Gaetano Donizetti and Vincenzo Bellini who were regular visitors.  Hayez’s depiction of Carolina is as a person who is unwell and has retired to her bed.  It is a small (60cms x 50cms) intimate depiction of her posing on her bed in a simple white cotton nightdress with collar and cuffs decorated with a round of flounces.  It is undone at the neck.  Her dark hair is gathered at the back of her head with just a few curls hanging down over her ears almost touching her shoulders.  The darkness of her hair is in stark contrast to the whiteness of her nightdress and the bedding.  Although this work was given the title of la Malata, the sick person, this is more than just a depiction of a woman laid low with an illness, it is an intimate painting in which Hayez pays homage to the beauty of Carolina.

Clara Mafei by Francesco Hayez (1825)

Clara Mafei by Francesco Hayez (1825)

Hayez completed a number of history paintings some of which featured the Crusades and was a master of portraiture especially those of aristocratic ladies.  One such lady was Clara Carrara Maffei.  She was the daughter of Count Giovanni Battista Spinelli Carrara Clusone, a writer, dramatist and poet.  At the age of seventeen she married a young poet, Andrea Maffei.  Clara often held salons at their home and it became known as the Salotto Maffei, with Giuseppe Verdi being a regular caller.  Clara and her husband would invite to these soirées the most popular composers, artists and writers of the time, such as Honoré de Balzac and Franz Liszt and one of the painters invited was Francesco Hayez.   Clara, like Hayez, was pro-Risorgimento and these evenings were often populated by such like-minded people.  Hayez was commissioned by Andrea to complete the portrait of his beloved wife Clara and this he completed in 1825.

Matilde Juva Branca by Francesco Hayez (1851)

Matilde Juva Branca by Francesco Hayez (1851)

Another portrait he painted was of Matilde Juva Branca, a famous singer.  Her husband Giovanni Juva had commissioned the work in 1851 as a pendant of his own portrait which had been painted in the same year by one of Francesco Hayez’s students, Mauro Conconi.  Hayez chose a neutral background from which Matilde’s dark silhouette emerges.  She is depicted in three-quarter pose.  Her demeanour is one of sober elegance and her face and white blouse stand out against the darker background.  There is a touch of haughtiness about her facial expression.  Matilde and her husband Giovanni often held soirées at their residence, at which artists, like Hayez and the literati would attend.  Giuseppe Verdi, the composer and Alessandro Manzoni, the poet and novelist were frequent visitors to their salons.

Odalisque with book by Francesco Hayez (1866)

Odalisque with book by Francesco Hayez (1866)

Hayez had a penchant for painting semi-clothed females often with Oriental themes such as his series of odalisque paintings.   Odalisque paintings were popular with many artists, such as Ingres and François Boucher.    The word derives from the Turkish word odalik which translated means chambermaid but in fact an odalisque was a female slave in a Turkish harem.  She was ranked below a concubine of the harem.  In fact, she was the lowest of the low in the social order of a harem, but in time she could become a concubine herself. So low was her status that an odalık was rarely seen by the sultan but instead was under the direct management of the sultan’s mother.  Depicting semi naked women by artists was frowned upon unless they could incorporate a historical or mythological connotation to the works of art and so the depiction of these women in a realistic harem setting seemed to make them acceptable!

Francesco Hayez was a wonderful artist who, amongst other things, took great pleasure in depicting female beauty in his works of art.

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Art History, Francesco Hayez, Italian artists | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Marie Bracquemond

        Self Portrait  by Marie Bracquemond             (1870)

Self Portrait
by Marie Bracquemond
(1870)

I was reading the other day about the short list for the National Portrait Gallery – 2014 BP Award.  Apparently the judges, who decide on which works should be shortlisted, are not aware of the names of the artists when they make their selections.  For the first time in the twenty-five years of the competition, two of the portraits selected for the exhibition were works by a husband and wife, Henrietta Graham and Tim Hall and it made me wonder how well husband and wife artists co-exist and whether they were supportive of each other’s artistic efforts and style or were they occasionally critical and somewhat jealous of each other’s success.  My featured artist today was one half of a husband and wife duo but it is thought that the husband became so critical of his wife’s works and her style of painting that she eventually gave up art altogether.

Marie Bracquemond        (1840-1916)

Marie Bracquemond
(1840-1916)

The lady in question was born Marie Anne Caroline Quivoron in December 1840 in the small picturesque coastal village of Argenton-en-Landunvez, on the Brittany coast. She was of the same era as her female Impressionist contemporaries, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt and Eva Gonzalez but her background was very unlike their more privileged and cultured upbringing.  Her mother’s first marriage was an arranged one to a sea captain.  It was neither a successful nor happy union.  However, it did not last long as he died shortly after the birth of his daughter, Marie Anne. Her mother was only a widow for a short period before marrying for a second time.  Her husband was a Monsieur Pasquiou.   Shortly after this second marriage, Marie, her mother and her mother’s new husband moved away from Britanny and went to live in the Jura, a mountainous region in the east of the country.  Then, soon after, they crossed over the border to take up residence in Switzerland.  Again their stay was short-lived and before long they moved back to central France and settled in Corrèze in the Auvergne, where Marie’s sister, Louise, was born.  According to what she told her son in later life, this was the happiest time of her childhood. They lived in a area surrounded by mysterious forests, fast-flowing streams and ancient ruined abbeys.  Living there was a truly magical time for her.  The family finally moved north and settled in Paris but later because of Marie’s health problems they were advised by the family physician, Doctor Hache, to move out of the polluted atmosphere of the city and settle in Étampes, a small town south-west of the capital where the air would be purer.

Woman in the Garden  (a portrait of her sister Louise)  by Marie Bracquemond

Detail from Woman in the Garden (a portrait of her sister Louise) by Marie Bracquemond

Woman in the Garden (Portrait of her sister Louise Quivoron) by Marie Bracquemond (1877)

Woman in the Garden (Portrait of her sister Louise Quivoron) by Marie Bracquemond (1877)

Now a teenager, Marie developed a love for art and it was whilst living in Étampes that she received her first artistic tuition.  Her teacher was a Monsieur Wassor, an elderly man who gave art lessons to the young women of Étampes as well as earning money as an art restorer.  He got Marie to make copies of reliefs and plaster casts which he had scattered around his studio and he also got her to make copies of paintings he had accumulated.  When the summer came and the weather improved he would take Marie and other students outside to paint en plein air.  Her progress as an accomplished artist was swift and a measure of that is the fact at the age of seventeen she submitted a family portrait, which included her mother, her sister Louise and one of her elderly teachers, for inclusion at the 1857 Salon and it was accepted.

Pierre Bracquemond as child by Marie Bracquemond (1878)

Pierre Bracquemond as child by Marie Bracquemond (1878)

Fate now took a hand in Marie’s future as the sister-in-law of the family doctor, Doctor Hache, was married to the Neoclassical painter, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and she arranged for Marie to meet her husband.  Ingres arranged for her to work with two of his students, Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin and Émile Signol and she learnt much from them.  Although grateful for Ingres’ help she was unhappy with the elderly artist’s disdain with regard female artists.  In a letter she wrote about Ingres’ contempt:

“…The severity of Monsieur Ingres frightened me.  I tell you, because he doubted the courage and perseverance of a woman in the field of painting.  He wished to impose limits.  He would assign to them only the painting of flowers, of fruits, of still lifes, portraits and genre scenes…”

For Marie, Ingres view on female artists was unacceptable.  Her determination to rail against Ingres’ criticism of female artists and his compartmentalising of the artistic genres suitable for female artists, materialised when she wrote of her split with the elderly painter:

“…There is in me a strong determination to overcome all obstacles.  I wish to work at painting, not to paint some flowers, but to express those feelings that art inspires in me…..All this will not come to pass in a year, but in any event, I do not wish to return to Monsieur Ingres…”

The Lady in White by Marie Bracquemond (1880)

The Lady in White by Marie Bracquemond (1880)

Her artistic ability must have been well known as she soon received commissions including one from the court of Empress Eugenie, the Empress of France and wife of Napoleon III, which commissioned a depiction Cervantes in prison.   Following the successful conclusion of this commission she was approached by the Director-General of French Museums, Count de Nieuwerkerke, to work at the Louvre, making copies of the most famous paintings in the collection.   It was in 1867, whilst Marie was working in the Louvre copying a painting by Rembrandt, that a young man, Félix Bracquemond, an engraver and etcher, first caught sight and fell in love with this dark-haired beauty.  Félix, through his friend, Eugène Montrosier, was introduced to Marie.  A two-year courtship followed during which time Félix introduced Marie to all his artist friends, such as Millet, Corot, Degas, Rodin and Fantin-Latour and art critics and writers such as Edmond de Goncourt and Gustave Geffroy, and through them she received more and more commissions.   Unfortunately for Marie there was a problematic downside to this relationship.  Félix was not a particularly nice man.  He had a very off-hand brusque demeanour.  He was self-opinionated and later became über-critical of Marie’s artistic talent but despite Marie’s mother’s voiced concern over the relationship between Félix and her daughter, the couple were married in August 1869 and went to live in the rue de l’Université in Paris.  Marie was well aware of her husband’s unacceptable characteristics but presumably believed that all that would change when they were married.  It didn’t!  In 1870 Marie gave birth to their only child, Pierre.  Despite his uncompromising and offhand attitude Marie learnt a great deal from her husband and she exhibited works at the 1874 and 1875 Salon.

The Artist's Son and Sister in the Garden at Sèvres by Marie Bracquemond (1890

The Artist’s Son and Sister in the Garden at Sèvres by Marie Bracquemond (1890)

Haviland China was a factory set up in Limoges, France, by the American entrepreneur David Haviland and later was aided by his sons, Charles and Theodore.  The factory produced the finest china tableware.  In 1872 David’s son Charles, opened the Auteuil Studio in Paris, which attracted many of the great artists of the day, including Manet, Monet, and the Damousse brothers, all of whom greatly influenced Haviland’s floral designs.  It became known as the “French School”.   Félix Bracquemond, who had a reputation as a great ceramics decorator, was, in 1878, employed in the studio as the artistic director and Marie also worked there designing plates for dinner services.  In an article in the 1904 magazine Women in the Fine Arts, the writer, Clara Erskine Clement who was the author of Women in the Fine Arts from the Seventh Century to the Twentieth Century AD,wrote about Marie Bracquemond’s amazing ability:

“…Madame Bracquemond had the facility of employing the faience colours so well that she produced a clearness and richness not achieved by other artists.  The progress made in the Haviland faience in the 70’s was very largely due to Madame Bracquemond, whose pieces were almost always sold from the atelier before being fired, so great was her success…”

Faience is the conventional name in English for a tin-glazed earthenware.

One of Marie’s great accomplishments was to design and produce several dishes and a wide Faience panel of ceramic tiles entitled the Muses, all of which were exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1878; the preliminary sketch used for the design was shown at the Impressionist Exhibition of 1879 and among its greatest admirers was Edgar Degas.

On the Terrace at Sèvres by Marie Bracquemond (1880)

On the Terrace at Sèvres by Marie Bracquemond (1880)

It was around 1880 that there was a change in Marie’s artistic style.  Gone were the small muted works of art and in their place came larger works with a greater intensity of colour and more of her paintings were carried out en plein air allowing her to catch the nuances of the daylight which constantly changed..  This was the era of the Impressionists and Marie Bracquemond had become great friends of Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Renoir and Gaugin these artists had become her artistic mentors.  She had been welcomed into the Impressionists’ fold and she exhibited works at three of their annual exhibitions, in 1879, 1880 and the final Impressionist Exhibition in 1886.  Three of her works completed in 1880 which clearly demonstrate her alteration of style to a noticeable Impressionist style, were The Lady in White, On the Terrace at Sèvres and Le Gouter (Afternoon Tea).

Le Gouter or Afternoon Tea by Marie Bracquemond (1880)

Le Gouter or Afternoon Tea by Marie Bracquemond (1880)

She was delighted with her art and its popularity but this delight was not shared by her husband, Félix, who resented her success and her close liaison with the Impressionists.   Their son Pierre, who loved his mother and was the No.1 fan of her work, later wrote about his father’s resentment.  According to Pierre, Félix was jealous of her achievement and rarely showed her works to visiting artists and friends.  He said that Félix now resented any criticisms Marie might venture about his paintings.  It appeared that the once close artistic relationship between Marie and Félix, with each offering constructive critiques regarding their works, was over.  Félix would often hide his new works from his wife but at the same time was openly critical with regards to her artistic efforts.  This uncomfortable atmosphere in the marital home and the constant friction between her and Félix finally took its toll in 1890 when Marie could not stand her husband’s attitude to her work any longer and except for a few examples completely gave up her painting.  One of her last works was the Impressionist-style work entitled The Artist’s Son and Sister in the Garden at Sèvres which she completed in 1890.  At the time of this painting the constant battle with her husband had made her become introverted and she became a virtual recluse, rarely leaving their Sèvres home. Her sister Louise did not like her brother-in-law finding him overbearing and boorish in the way he treated her sister.

Pierre Bracquemond painting a bouquet of flowers by Marie Bracquemond (1887)

Pierre Bracquemond painting a bouquet of flowers by Marie Bracquemond (1887)

Pierre Bracquemond who was taught by his father later became involved in works for Gobelin, a Parisian tapestry factory.  He then worked at a career as an interior decorator specialising in the designs of carpets and tapestries.  He also carried on his love of art concentrating on seascapes and nudes, chiefly employing the technique of encaustic paintiing, which was also known as hot wax painting, as it involved using heated beeswax to which colored pigments were added.   He also wrote many critiques with regards art and the teachings of his father on the subject.  There were also many manuscripts he had written about his parents Marie and Félix, some of which were never published.

Marie Bracquemond died in Paris on January 17, 1916.

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Art History, Female painters, French painters, Impressionists | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments