Thomas Cooper Gotch. Part 3.

Although returning to live in Newlyn was tempting Thomas decided on another course of action and took his wife on the long voyage to Australia on the fully rigged sailing passenger clipper, Torrens., leaving England on October 30th 1883.  Their daughter Phyllis remained in Kettering with her grandparents.   Thomas and Caroline arrived in Port Adelaide on January 8th 1884 where they transferred to the SS South Australia and sailed to Melbourne where they were met by John Speechley Gotch, a wealthy distant relative who had met Tom when he visited England in 1874.  John Gotch was an art lover and he arranged for Thomas and Carrie to hold a joint exhibition of their work which they had brought with them, at Melbourne’s Fletcher’s Art Gallery in February 1884. 

Mental arithmetic
Mental Arithmetic by Thomas Gotch

The most important painting exhibited by Thomas Gotch was one entitled Mental Arithmetic.  It depicts an elderly bearded fisherman sitting holding a knife and plate of food being watched by a small girl.  It is thought that Thomas painted this in November 1883 from sketches he made that summer in Newlyn.  Melbourne City Gallery wanted to buy the painting but baulked at the £200 selling price.  However, John Gotch bought it and donated it to the gallery.  Many of John Goth’s paintings and sketches were sold as well as work by his wife Carrie and the couple made more than enough money to pay for their sea passages.

Qua-Qua, south of Johannesburg
Qua-Qua , South of Johannesburg by Thomas Gotch

Tom and Carrie returned to England on the Torrens calling at Cape Town, St Helena and the Ascension Island for the vessel to replenish supplies.  They eventually returned to London on July 3rd 1884.  The couple left the English capital and journeyed to the West Country looking for suitable accommodation.  They tried Brixham and Looe but finally settled on the Cornish town of Polperro where they lodged at the Louriet Hotel and were soon joined by their ten-month-old daughter and her nurse.

Child Enthroned by Thomas Gotch

Children featured in many of Gotch’s paintings.  Probably the best known is his 1894 work entitled Child Enthroned.  Like many other depictions of the young there is a mystical element about the portrayal of the young girl.   His eleven-year-old daughter Phyllis was the model for The Child Enthroned.  Her father’s Madonna like depiction was, he said, down to his time spent in Italy in the summer of 1891.  The painting is testament to Gotch’s ability as a portrait painter, especially his love of child portraiture and his competency in depicting fine detail in ornate fabrics.  The painting when exhibited to the public that year at the Royal Academy was rapturously received and established Gotch’s reputation as an artist.

Alleluia by Thomas Gotch

Another painting featuring Gotch’s daughter was his 1896 work entitled Alleluia. It was a major demonstration of his Pre-Raphaelite style.  Along the top of the painting, we see inscribed in Gothic lettering on a background of gold leaf, a Latin quotation which reads:

“…Sancti tui domine benedicent te gloriam regni tui dicent – Alleluya…”

 The inscription is taken from Psalm xlvii: 6 and 7, which was printed in the catalogue of the 1896 Royal Academy exhibition:

“…Sing praises to God, sing praises: Sing praises unto our King, Sing praises, For God is King of all the earth: Sing praises with understanding…”

It is a painting featuring thirteen richly clad children singing against a gilded background and his thirteen-year-old daughter is at the centre rear of the group with her hands clasped in prayer.  In front of her is a small figure with amber curls.  This is her cousin Hester Gotch.  When it was first shown at a local exhibition in Newlyn it was criticised by the local press because they believed Gotch had broken with the Newlyn tradition of painting.  The art critic of the Cornish Telegraph quipped that he doubted whether the time it took to complete (nine months) was worth the effort.   The art critic of the local weekly newspaper, West Briton, criticised the work saying:

“…It would be easy enough to say outright that we don’t like the thing and have done with it.  It is not possible to take ordinary children of today and pictorially attempt to transform them into choiring cherubim, without coming within consciousness of incongruity…”

Fortunately for Gotch when he submitted the work to that year’s Royal Academy exhibition the receiving jury accepted the painting had it hung at the most advantageous position, (hung on line). The work of art, which is part of the Tate Britain collection, was bought for the Nation under the terms of the Chantrey Bequest, following its exhibition at the Royal Academy.  The Chantrey Bequest, set out in the will of sculptor Sir Francis Chantrey, was of primary importance to the foundation and development of a national collection of British art at the Tate Gallery and it constituted the gallery’s main purchasing fund from its opening in 1897 until 1946.

See the source image
A Pageant of Childhood by Thomas Gotch (1899)

Another of Gotch’s paintings featuring a group of children was completed in 1899. It was entitled A Pageant of Childhood.  It depicts a procession of nine children of varying age, the eldest at the rear and the youngest at the front crossing a tiled hall in front of a fresco of Father Time, who we are aware will, in due course, carry off even the youngest of the children.  It is a colourful depiction of children enacting an historic pageant.  Some like the two boys at the centre play long horns whilst behind them are two girls, one with a drum and one with a set of symbols.  Take a look at the various children.  Some, with thoughtful expressions, are taking the enactment very seriously whilst others appear light-hearted and, in some respect, they personify children of different ages at play, a representation of the stages of life.  It was Gotch’s own evocation of innocence and youth.  The painting was completed just before the family left Newlyn and exhibited at the Newlyn Gallery in March 1899.  It was shown at the 1899 Royal Academy exhibition and appeared at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery, after which the Liverpool Corporation purchased the work and is part of the Walker Art Gallery collection.  This painting was completed close to the time that the Gotchs moved to a new house and went to live in Shottermill.

Postcard advertising auction of ‘Penwith’, Shottermill in 1906

Thomas Gotch’s House Penwith on sale in 1907

Thomas Gotch had decided to relocate his family to Shottermill close to the town of Haselmere, West Sussex, forty miles south west of London and twenty-five miles from the south coast of England.  At the end of 1898 Thomas started building his new home, named Penwith and the family were able to move in in October 1899.  Penwith was situated on a hillside at the end of a long twisting drive, which rose above the ponds of Shottermill.  It was a large six-bedroom residence with two drawing rooms, a large kitchen and two purpose-built studios.

See the source image
The Dawn of Womanhood by Thomas Gotch (1900)

In 1900 Thomas Gotch’s main work was entitled The Dawn of Womanhood which appeared at the 1900 Royal Academy Exhibition.  The painting depicts the child enthroned being confronted by the vision of approaching motherhood.  The phantom figure on the left represents Womanhood.  She is dressed in opalescent drapery of pale blue, gold and silvery primrose.  She is wearing a mask, as legend has it that all who are no longer children must conceal themselves which probably harks back to the story of Eve, who after eating the forbidden fruit was ashamed of her nakedness and sought to conceal it.  Sitting on the steps of the throne, to the right, is the familiar winged sprite representing the spirit of childhood, who is aware of the strange presence and makes ready to take flight for ever from the girl on the throne.

The Exile
The Exile: Heavy is the Price I Paid for Love by Thomas Gotch (c.1930)

Painted around that time, in 1930 — a year before Thomas Cooper Gotch’s death — The Exile is shrouded in mystery. As of now, we know nothing about the identity of the sitter or about the suggestive, tantalizing title of her portrait.

Thomas Gotch exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1880-1931, in all showing seventy of his paintings. He was elected to the Royal Society of British Artists in 1885 and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour in 1912. He was a founder member of the New English Art Club in 1886 and served as President of the Royal British Colonial Society of Artists between 1913 and 1928.   Gotch was fêted at the Salon and won medals in Chicago and Berlin.

Thomas Cooper Gotch died aged seventy-six of a heart attack while in London for an exhibition on May 1st, 1931.  He was buried in Sancreed churchyard in Cornwall.   Also in the graveyard of St Sancredus are buried fellow Newlyn School artists, Stanhope Forbes and Elizabeth Forbes.

Thomas Gotch’s wife, Caroline, died on December 14th, 1945 aged 91 and their only child, Phyllis Marian Gotch became Marquise de Verdières when she married André Marie, Marquis de Verdières in 1922. She died in Hong Kong on April 24th, 1963 aged 81.   She is buried with her parents in Cornwall’s Sancreed Churchyard.

Thomas Cooper Gotch. Part 2.

Thomas Cooper Gotch

Sometime in 1878 their reading group, set up by Thomas Gotch, had a new member.  Her name was Caroline Burland Yates.  Caroline was one of three sisters born to Esther Burland and wealthy property owner, Edward Yates. The family was from the Liverpool area, later moving to Sway in Hampshire. Caroline was the youngest of the three daughters and educated by a governess.  Caroline attended finishing school in Switzerland where she became fluent in French.  She, like Thomas Gotch, had studied at the Heatherley School before arriving at the Slade.

A Golden Dream
A Golden Dream by Thomas Gotch

Thomas’ progress at the Slade was outstanding and he was the firm favourite of his principal lecturer, Alphonse Legros, the French-born painter who later took British citizenship.  During his first year at the Slade, Gotch produced many paintings and sketches which were sold at exhibitions in London.  One of Thomas Gotch’s closest friends at the Slade was fellow artistic aspirant, Henry Tuke. Through his friendship with Henry Tuke Thomas met other members of the Tuke family and became friendly with his sister Maria Tuke and medical student brother William Tuke.  Thomas was asked by William, and some of his fellow medics, to help form a group of art and medical students which would become a friendly debating society.  Thomas, who was extremely popular with the female students at Slade, and so, was asked to entice some “beautiful but well educated” young women into joining the society. 

See the source image
The Misses Santley by Henry Tuke

Many agreed to join, two of whom were the Santley sisters, Edith and Gertrude as well as Carrie Yates.  Thomas Gotch’s close friend, Henry Tuke, depicted these three in his famous work entitled The Misses Santley which was shown at the Royal Academy.  It shows the influence of Henry Tuke’s Slade professor, Alphonse Legros who encouraged his students to study the works of the Old Masters.  Frederic Leighton, then president of the Royal Academy, is reported to have said: “Can it be an old master? It could not be by a young man.”    The work depicts three women who were all fellow students of Thomas Gotch and Henry Tuke at the Slade.  The young woman on the right, holding a music score, is Edith Santley, the daughter of the famous baritone Charles Santley.  Next to her is her sister Gertrude, and in front left of the painting stands Carrie Yates, who would later marry Thomas Gotch.

Cornfields above Lamorna
Cornfields above Lamorna by Thomas Gotch

During the summer of 1879 Thomas Gotch and Harry Tuke went on a painting trip to Cornwall, visiting Penzance and Newlyn, where they were joined by Caroline Yates and her sister Esther.  The following summer Thomas Gotch and his sister Jessie spent part of the summer in the small North Wales coastal town of Beaumaris on the isle of Anglesey meeting up with Willie and Maria Tuke.  In October 1880 Thomas Gotch left England and arrived in Paris where he lodged at the Hotel d’Angleterre for a month whilst he negotiated his entrance to John Paul Laurens’ atelier.  In the meantime, in fact a month earlier, Carrie Yates along with two fellow art students, Jane Ross and Alma Broadridge had travelled to Paris and enrolled at the Académie Julian. 

Hilda and Margaret, daughters of Professor sir Edward Poulton
Hilda and Margaret, daughters of Professor Sir Edward Poulton by Thomas Gotch

Thomas Gotch was influenced by the historical works of Laurens as he was interested in figurative painting.  His other overwhelming interest was also Carrie Yates.  They had become remarkably close and she was teaching him French.  She was lodging at the Hotel de Paris and Thomas had an apartment on the top floor of a building at 17 rue de Tournon. Although it was a Bohemian establishment, the rooms were spacious.   Thomas and Carrie visited the artists’ colony at Barbizon.  The relationship between the two became ever stronger and before he returned to London to submit a painting for the Academy exhibition, he proposed marriage.

Death the Bride by Thomas Gotch (1912)

Thomas and Carrie travelled back to England in July 1881 and visited each other’s families to get the parental permission to marry.  Carrie had spent the summers of 1879 and 1880 in Newlyn and loved the place.  The couple decided that Newlyn in Cornwall should be the setting for their marriage and so they both travelled there and secured separate lodgings.  Twenty-six-year-old Thomas Cooper Gotch and twenty-seven-year-old Caroline Burland Yates married on August 31st 1881 at St. Peter’s church which was built in 1866 and nestles underneath Tol Carn, the ancient pile of rocks associated in Cornish legend with Bucca-boo, a male sea-spirit in Cornish folklore, a merman that inhabited mines and coastal communities as a hobgoblin during storms and who was said to steal the nets of fishermen.

A Cottage Interior, Newlyn
A Cottage Interior, Newlyn by Thomas Gotch

The newlyweds honeymooned at Mullion, a quiet village on the Lizard Peninsula in south Cornwall.  Once the honeymoon was over Carrie returned to London.  Prior to her wedding she had been sharing a house with her sister, Esther (Ess) and now she needed to take back to Newlyn her share of the furniture.  Meanwhile Thomas Gotch had begun painting scenes of Newlyn and became friends with three Birmingham painters, Walter Langley, Edwin Harris and William Wainwright.   Thomas Gotch and his depictions of Cornish life thrived and maybe it was marriage that buoyed his love of the area.

Portrait of Madame G by Thomas Gotch

In October 1881, Caroline and Thomas returned to Paris.  Thomas returned to the Laurens atelier and Carrie went back to Académie Julian where there was a separate atelier for women.  Thomas also engineered the acceptance at the Laurens atelier of his friend Harry Tuke.  That Christmas was spent in Paris but the couple returned to England in time for Easter 1882.   During that three-month period Thomas Gotch worked on a portrait of his wife, entitled Portrait of Madame G, which he presented and was accepted at the April 1st 1872 Salon.  This life-sized portrait of his wife depicts her dressed in a dark navy dress with gold and white cuffs and collar.   Thomas never put the painting up for sale and it adorned the walls of the houses they resided in.

Evening by Thomas Gotch

One of the reasons the couple returned to England that April was for Carrie to consult her doctor and have it confirmed that she was pregnant with her first child and to break the good news to their family members.  Their visit to England was only short but gave them time to employ a nurse for when the new baby arrived.  They all returned to France and rented a small property at Marchand de Bois, Brolles which was owned by a wood merchant.  It was a good-sized house for the young couple and access to half of a large garden.  Brolles was an idyllic spot situated in a very rural area and the nearby landscapes coupled with the fine summer weather allowed them to paint en plein air.  The young couple had domestic help with a young French maid, Marie, and Windsor, the English nurse who looked after Caroline during her pregnancy.

Phillis Marian Gotch was born in Brolles on September 6th 1882.  It is thought the name “Phyllis” came from the fact that Thomas’ first painting to be exhibited at the Royal Academy was entitled Phillis and the name “Marian” derived from a character of that name (a pseudonym for his wife), who was a character in his fictionalised novel A Long Engagement.

In late September Thomas and Carrie had to quickly return to England with nurse Windsor as she had told them that she could no longer put up with life in France and they needed to replace her.  They left Brolles leaving the maid Marie in charge of the house.  Their stay in London had to be quickly curtailed when Thomas and Carrie received a letter from their French landlord telling them that Marie and her friends were leading a riotous lifestyle in their house during their absence !

Winter Sketch, Provence, France
Winter Sketch, Provence, France by Thomas Gotch

Although the quiet picturesque landscape around the village of Brolles offered Thomas Gotch the ideal vistas for his paintings there was a problem in finding suitable models from within the village and eventually he and Carrie decided they must give up their rural idyll and return to the French capital where it would be easier to find models for his paintings.  So, in February 1883 the couple were once again living in Paris, Thomas returned to the Laurens atelier and Caroline to the Académie Julian.

Looe
Looe by Thomas Gotch

Life in France ended for Thomas and Carrie when she became ill with a serious lung infection.  The couple and their daughter returned to England where they received a second opinion from a London specialist.  He confirmed the diagnosis and Carrie was told she had to rest.   Their daughter Phillis was taken to Thomas’ parents who began to look after her along with the re-hiring of their first nanny, Windsor.  Thomas took Carrie to Newlyn that summer to give her a chance to recuperate whilst he continued to paint depictions of the Cornish fishing village.  Carrie’s breathing problems slowly lessened, probably due to the clean and fresh sea air of the Cornish coast and soon she was able to walk freely.  By the end of the summer Carrie had recovered her health and the couple returned to London where the specialist gave her a clean bill of health.

…………………………………to be continued.

Thomas Cooper Gotch. Part 1.

Self Portrait with Two Square Brushes by Thomas Gotch

My featured artist today is the British painter, Thomas Cooper Gotch.  Little has been written about Thomas Gotch and in a way, he appears to be the forgotten man.  Part of the reason for this is that he was an unassuming man who preferred to take a step back rather than be in the limelight.  Another possible reason was that he never associated himself with painting “schools” and it is hard to compartmentalise his painting style.  In the pre-1890’s, his works were mainly depictions of open spaces, subdued in colour and yet full of detail, but then later came his more symbolist-style works.  Gotch was unhappy in the way some of his contemporaries painted only what would sell, or as he put it, they painted down to the level of the market, and further derided them by saying that they grew rich as tradesmen but following that path, they lost as artists.  Having said that, Gotch was aware that he had to survive financially and took on painting commissions, especially portraiture ones.  Once he had earned the money from a portraiture commission, he was happy to return to his Newlyn home, Wheal Betsy, overlooking Mount’s Bay and relax by working on one of his charming landscapes featuring local views of his beloved Cornwall.

xxFamily

Thomas Cooper Gotch, with the fair hair, sits on his maternal grandmother’s knee whilst his older brother John Alfred Gotch stands by the side of his mother.  The father stands at the back of the family group.

To fully understand the person, we need to look at his family and his early life.  Thomas Cooper Gotch was born on December 10th, 1854 in the Mission House, Kettering, in rural Northamptonshire, a landlocked county located in the southern part of the East Midlands region.  His parents were John Henry Gotch and Mary Anne Gale Gotch. He was the fourth surviving son of the couple.  His father, John Henry, and his father’s two brothers, John Davis Gotch and Frederick William Gotch had inherited the family wealth when their father passed in 1852.  The three men had been bequeathed two businesses, a family shoe and boot establishment which was subsequently managed by John Davis Gotch and the J.C. Gotch and Sons bank, managed by his father, John Henry Gotch.  The artist’s father, John Henry was well suited to run a bank as he was an exceptionally talented mathematician.  His younger brother Frederick William played no part in the family businesses and instead became a renowned Hebrew scholar and later was elected President of the Baptist Union.

 

A Cottage in a Garden

A Cottage in a Garden by Thomas Gotch

All was going well for the family businesses until 1857 when a combination of events led to a financial disaster for the family.  Firstly, 1857 was the year of a financial panic in the United States which resulted in the declining international economy and over-expansion of the domestic economy.  Due to the advance of telecommunications at the time, it meant that the world economy was also more interconnected, which also made the Panic of 1857 the first worldwide economic crisis.  Secondly, and more connected with the Gotch bank, John Henry Gotch had been authorising a number of unsecured financial loans, a number of which were given to the Rev. Allan Macpherson, the curate of Rothwell, without due diligence and with the downturn of 1857 the bank collapsed as did the shoemaking business under the terms of unlimited liability.  The bankruptcy meant that the brothers had to sell their Mission House and auction off most of the furnishings as well as selling the adjoining shoe factory to pay off creditors.  John Henry Gotch sadly realised that authorising so many loans without investigating the circumstances of the borrowers was his fault.

Ruby

Ruby by Thomas Gotch

Perhaps poking fun at the prevalence of red-headed women in Pre-Raphaelite art, an acquaintance bet Gotch that he could not paint a red-haired subject with red cheeks in red clothes. This painting of Ruby Bone, a local girl who would have been little over two years old when she sat for the portrait, was the artist’s response. The warm oranges and reds of the sitter’s hair and clothes are balanced against the dull green-grey of the background and off-white of her dress and buttons.

After the financial collapse of the two businesses, John Henry Gotch, along with his wife and family were now homeless and had to rely on the kindness of relatives, including his wife’s brother’s family, the Hepburns, for somewhere to stay.  In 1858 they managed to rent a house in Ilford, Essex and this is where his wife gave birth to a daughter, Jessie.  It took John Davis Gotch until 1863 to have the bankruptcy discharged thanks in the main to money that he borrowed from the Hepburns.  He then set about to revive the family shoemaking business and invited John Henry to join him.

The Lady in Gold - A Portrait of Mrs. John Crooke

The Lady in Gold.  A Portrait of Mrs John Crooke by Thomas Gotch

The present picture dates from the turning-point in Gotch’s career since it was painted in Newlyn early in 1891 and exhibited at the Royal Academy that summer, shortly before he made the visit to Florence which had such a dramatic effect on his style. The sitter’s husband had already commissioned Gotch to paint a small watercolour portrait of her, which was exhibited at the New Gallery in 1890.

Thomas Cooper Gotch attended the Church of England boarding school, Foy’s Academy in West Brompton and, along with his brother Alfred, was looked after during long weekends and school holidays by Thomas and Mary Ann Hepburn.  By 1863 the family’s financial problems had eased and Thomas Gotch along with his parents and four siblings returned to live together in Kettering.  Thomas Gotch remained at the Foy’s boarding school until 1869, aged nine.  He returned to live with his family in Kettering and attended the Kettering Grammar School where he was given an “A” for effort but struggled. He left school in 1872 and in March 1873 he began working at his father’s boot and shoe business.

The Orchard

The Orchard by Thomas Gotch (1887)

Working in the shoe and boot industry was not what Tom wanted but on the other hand he did not know what he wanted!  He had a hankering for writing and submitted a few of his stories to a publisher to be edited but there is no record of what was thought of his literary efforts but what we do know is that he continued writing stories throughout his life.  So, what made Thomas Cooper Gotch take up painting?  He never recorded his decision to take up painting in any of his diaries or writings so there is a mystery about what first led him towards an artistic career.  It is known that his mother, Mary Anne, enjoyed sketching and her sister, Sarah Gale had married John Frederick Herring Snr., an animal painter, sign maker and coachman in Victorian England.  It was also at the insistence of his mother that Thomas always took his painting paraphernalia with him when he went off on holiday.  Whatever happened, Thomas Gotch decided to follow the artistic path of life and in May 1876, aged 21, he applied to attend Heatherley’s Art School, one of the oldest independent art schools in London, submitting the required specimens of his work.  Attending Heatherley’s was a steppingstone to entering other art schools.  Whilst at Heatherley’s Thomas Gotch had his work critiqued by well-known practicing artists.

Rosalind

Rosalind by Thomas Gotch

Buoyed by the praise he received from the lecturers at Heatherley’s, Thomas Gotch applied to the Academy Schools and was taken aback when he was refused entry. A second application was also rejected and Thomas began to believe the training he had been receiving at Heatherley’s was at fault and so, in October 1877, accompanied by his friend Edward Laurie, he travelled to Antwerp where they enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, where the Professor of Art was the Belgian painter and watercolourist, Charles Verlat.  It was not a happy time for Gotch who railed against the school’s endorsement of traditional subject matter and the use of a dark palette whilst he preferred brighter colours and a more decorative approach.  He commented on this to his long-standing friend and previous fellow Heatherley’s student, Jane Ross.  In his letter to her, he wrote:

“…Here we must do what we are told with as good as grace as we can and if we break the rules are reminded that we are only allowed in the school as a favour.  Each week, there is a fresh figure wheeled into the room and all who are drawing figures have obediently to draw that and nothing else…”

Clouds

Clouds by Thomas Gotch

At the end of February 1878, Thomas Gotch, having completed his painting and drawing examinations, decided to leave Antwerp.  He was disheartened by the experience and would have returned home but his brother Alfred joined him in the city and although he could not persuade his brother to stay at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, he did persuade him to carry on with his art and return to London and resume his artistic studies at Heatherleys.  Thomas returned to Heatherleys at the end of March 1878 and also enrolled as a private student with the English portrait painter, Samuel Lawrence.  Following a number of arguments with the family he realised that to be financially independent he would have to become a successful artist.  During the summer of 1878 he set himself the task of completing a number of landscape paintings.  He and his artist student friend, John Smith, rented a small house in the village of Goring-on-Thames and set about painting scenes of the surrounding countryside and various farmyard scenes.  Thomas Gotch was accepted into the Slade School of Fine Art in October 1878 where he remained for two years.  His love of literature encouraged him and some of his fellow art students to form a Shakespeare Reading Society at which they would read the plays. 

……………………………………………..to be continued.

Jenny Eugenia Nyström

Britain over the years have had many talented children’s book illustrators.  There are the likes of Beatrix Potter with her illustrative work seen in books of Peter Rabbit and his Friends.  There was Ernest Howard Shepard, an English artist and book illustrator, known especially for illustrations of the animal and soft toy characters in The Wind in the Willows and Winnie-the-Pooh.  Let us not forget Quinton Blake for his illustrations in the Roald Dahl books.  There is Roger Hargreaves for his illustrations for his Mr Men and Little Miss books and Raymond Briggs for his unforgettable illustrations for his wordless picture book, The Snowman.

The book cover is an illustration of a sail boat coming into a forested shore. On the shore, sleeping against a tree, is a giant furry monster with bare human feet and the head of a bull. Above the illustration, written in uneven block capital letters against a white background, is the title of the book "Where the Wild Things Are" and below the illustration, "Story and pictures by Maurice Sendak".

America has its share of great children’s book illustrators such as Maurice Sendak, an American illustrator and writer of children’s books. He became widely known for his book Where the Wild Things Are, first published in 1963.  Sendak also wrote works such as In the Night Kitchen, Outside Over There, and illustrated many works by other authors including the Little Bear books by Else Holmelund Minarik.  One of course calls to mind Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. His books and illustrations are loved by children and adults from all around the world, his books are quirky treasures that leave a lasting impression.  He wrote his first children’s book, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, in 1937, and the book that catapulted him into success, The Cat in the Hat, in 1957.

Image of Tomte

A Tomte

In today’s blog I am looking at the life and work of one of Sweden’s great illustrators, Jenny Eugenia Nyström, who was the first woman in Sweden to be awarded a royal medal for her historically themed painting. Her legacy was established by the popularity of her depictions of tomte, a mythological creature often associated with Christmas.  Jenny Nyström’s artwork was modern as well as humorous. It was not unusual to see a “tomte” captaining an airplane, driving a car, a truck, a motorcycle or even a train. She was not afraid to use exotic animals like elephants and giraffes as “tomte” assistants for delivering Christmas presents across Sweden. The images also contained several elements of traditional folk Christmas imagery such as Christmas goats, Christmas trees, sleighs, toboggans and more. 

Christmas card with jultomte by Jenny Nyström, (circa 1899)

Jenny Nyström was born in the Kalmar County district of Malmen, Sweden on June 13th 1854.  She was the daughter of Daniel Isacsson Nyström, the cantor of the Kalmar Castle church, a local schoolteacher and an accomplished piano player who gave piano lessons.  Jenny’s mother was Anette Eleonora Bergendahl. Jenny Nyström had three brothers, Emil, Leonard and Axel and one sister Augusta.  She was the third of the five children, and reportedly was an energetic and imaginative youngster who later spoke about her happy and idyllic upbringing in Kalmar, a town in the southeast of Sweden.  She had a happy home life living with her parents, siblings as well as her maternal grandparents, two maternal aunts and her maternal great grandmother.  Her father attended to her education whilst her mother was remembered by her daughter for her storytelling.

 Bear Reading Going Upstairs Godt Nytt Ar by Jenny Nyström (c.1910) 

In November 1863, when Jenny was nine years old the family left Kalmar and moved to the Gothenburg suburb of Majorna where her father had a teaching post.  Jenny was devastated to leave her Kalmar friends and wrote about her new home:

“…In the beginning, I found my stay in Gothenburg very boring, when I had no playmates, and when I got them, they just made life miserable for me, as they imitated my Kalmar dialect. I couldn’t speak clean.  I often longed to go back to Kalmar and to my little playmates there and then to these nice windmills, in whose wings we hung, when it didn’t blow too hard, and after the outbuilding roof where we used to sit and sunbathe, and after grandpa’s old garden with the frog pond…”

Along with the family came the Nyström’s maid, Karin Johansdotter who would be part of Jenny’s “family” for many years.  Up until this time Jenny had been home-schooled by her father but once in Gothenburg, she attended Mrs Natt och Dag’s local primary school and after graduating from there she attended the Kjellbergska flickskolan (Kjellberg Girls’ School), a school founded by a fund granted in the will of the wealthy merchant Jonas Kjellberg.   The all-girls elementary school was to provide education to make it possible for females to support themselves professionally.

Tomte by Frederik Wohlfart

In 1869, aged fifteen Jenny received her first art education at the Göteborgs Musei-, Rit- och Målarskola, today known as Konsthögskolan Valand, where one of her tutors was Fredrik Wohlfart, a Swedish genre painter and caricaturist from the Düsseldorf School.  Wohlfahrt was best known for a series of paintings depicting popular figures of elves and it was he who inspired Jenny to depict images of tomte, one of the most popular Scandinavian mythological characters.  Christmas in Sweden is celebrated in a very unique and different manner, owing to the differences in its culture and traditions. Christmas celebrations there begin on St. Lucia Day, which is on December 13. Tomte comes into picture after the Christmas dinner, when someone from the family dresses up like him. Tomte, believed to live in the forests or in a farm, is known for looking after the livestock of the farmers after the Christmas dinner. Tomte was converted to the Swedish Santa Claus over a period of time and soon began to deliver gifts as well. 

Harvest Joy by Jenny Nyström

One day, in 1871, seventeen-year-old Jenny Nyström was visiting the Gothenburg Art Museum and was sitting and drawing.  Another visitor to the museum that day was regional governor Albert Ehrensvärd who noticed her sketching and admired her work, so much so, he invited her to Stockholm to visit art galleries and to go to the city’s National Art Museum.  She accepted the offer and whilst in Stockholm she was introduced to Christoffer Boklund, professor at the Stockholm Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

Jenny Nyström illustrated Viktor Rydberg’s poem “Tomten” in Ny Illustrerad Tidning in 1881.

In August 1873, two years after her first visit to Stockholm she returned to the city and enrolled at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts and there she enjoyed life as an art student for the next eight years.  Although Nyström had been brought up in a happy household it was not a rich upbringing and when she was at the Academy, she had to fund herself.  To earn money, she would go out and sell subscriptions for the magazine, Ny Illustrerad Tidning, a publication for which she also provided illustrations.  More importantly Jenny slowly built up a number of patrons from Gothenburg who bought her work, one of which was the regional governor Albert Ehrensvärd who guaranteed her the sum of 100 kroner a month.

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Gustav Vasa inför king Hans (Gustav Vasa as Child in front of King Hans) by Jenny Nyström (1881)

Another of her patrons was James Dickson, a Scottish-Swedish merchant, industrialist, banker and philanthropist who was based in Gothenburg.   She also received an annual stipend from the Academy from 1877 onwards. Nyström fared well at the Academy and in 1881, she received the highest commendation available: the royal gold medal for her historically themed painting Gustav Vasa inför king Hans (Gustav Vasa as Child in front of King Hans).  The royal medal provided opportunities for scholarships abroad and success for the students. The motifs that were ranked highest were the biblical, mythological and historical last came folk life depictions, landscape painting and still lifes.

From my Atelier in Paris by Jenny Nyström (1884)

In July 1882, she was awarded one thousand Swedish Krona from the Academy’s special support fund and with this money she was able to travel to Paris.  Paris being looked upon as the centre of the art world was very popular with foreign artists and many Swedish artists lived in Paris such as Carl Larsson, his wife Karin and Anders Zorn. Unable to gain entrance to the French Academy of Fine Arts due to its male-only policy, Jenny enrolled at the Académie Colarossi in November and then the Académie Julian.  While in Paris, she painted diligently so as to have her work accepted by the Salon. In 1884 her painting From my Atelier in Paris was exhibited at that year’s Salon.

The Convalescent by Jenny Nyström via DailyArt app, your daily dose of art getdailyart.com
The Convalescent by Jenny Nyström (1884)

In 1884 she also completed 0ne of my favourite of her works, The Convalescent. Around the turn of the 20th century, convalescing women and girls were a popular theme in visual art. In her painting The Convalescent, Jenny Nyström has chosen to depict the subject from the narrative perspective of the classicist tradition. We see before us an idealised young female figure at centre of the work, hovering between life and death. In stark contrast, next to her, we see the shamelessly healthy-looking and pretty girl standing by her side. The invalid looks upwards, probably praying for good health and trusting her fate in God’s hands. The picture is full of overt symbols, like the dead potted plant set against the bouquet of living flowers. The compositional pattern, which is centred on the histrionic body language and facial expressions of the figures, has its roots in an older anecdotal tradition. In early 19th-century genre painting, we often see figures posing as they do here, as if being in a stage spotlight, creating a sense of distance. The image of a convalescing female became a symbol of subordination, of the fragility of “womanliness”, and hence proof of women’s inability to participate in public life. These pictures can be seen as a reaction to the emancipation of women at that time and an attempt to return them to the home and the private sphere.

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Husband of Jenny Nyström, Daniel Stoopendaal (1853-1927) by Jenny Nyström (1887)

In 1880, whilst still a student at the Academy she attended a student concert at Katarina Church in Stockholm. where she met her future husband, Daniel Stoopendaal.  He was a medical student.  In the Autumn of 1884, the couple got engaged.  Jenny Nyström moved back to Stockholm at the start of the year in 1886 and worked as an illustrator for several different publishers. On May 24th 1887 she married Daniel Stoopendaal in the Adolf Fredrik church, and that autumn they moved into a large city apartment on Tegnérgatan.  In 1889, a few years after her mother had died, Jenny Nyström’s father moved in with her and her husband.  Their first child Curt was born on June 25th 1893.  Sadly, Daniel was ill for most of his life with tuberculosis.  He never completed his medical studies and Jenny was the breadwinner of the family supporting them through the sale of her paintings.  It was a hard struggle for her to sell her work.  In the end she had to sell her work to different publishers and other employers.

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vi två (The two of us) by Jenny Nyström (1895)

From the time her son Curt was born he often made an appearance in her paintings wearing a red skull-cap and dressed in a “kolt” (traditional outfit). She also painted a portrait of herself with two-year-old Curt in 1895, which she called Mor och son. Today it is known as Vi två (The Two of Us). 

Brita and Bertil by Jenny Nyström (1911)

It was around this time that she began to concentrate on illustrating a large number of children’s books and historical novels. She also painted cover images for newspapers and journals. She had a breakthrough in 1911 when she signed a contract to make greeting cards for Axel Eliasson’s publishing house, but this meant that she needed to produce a certain number of watercolours each month as a background illustration for the cards. These illustrations gained great exposure due to the appealing nature of her drawings. The Swedish publication series Barnbiblioteket Saga, which was initiated by schoolteachers in the late 19th century was one of the most ambitious and extensive reading promotion projects ever undertaken in Sweden. It looked into the world of children’s books In Barnbiblioteket’s Saga, 1910, a biographical entry on Jenny Nyström reveals why she chose to illustrate children’s stories

“…The reason I mainly illustrate children’s books is probably because I have always loved children and have always wanted to show children something of the fair sunny land east of the sun and west of the moon, beauty which has remained in my memory from my childhood in Kalmar. Maybe now you can also understand why I prefer to draw beautiful images…”

Jenny Nyström carried on with her painting and illustrative work until the end. She died in her home in Stockholm on 17 January 1946 aged 91. Of her last minutes on this earth her long-time housekeeper described her passing as:

“…It was like blowing out a candle…”

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Jenny Nyström’s last resting place

Jenny Nyström was buried at Norra cemetery beside her husband Daniel Stoopendaal and her father Daniel Nyström. Seventy five years after her death her illustrated cards are still being printed and her academic artwork and her watercolours fetch high prices at the larger auction houses.

Manchester Art Gallery. Part 3.

My third and final look at some of the artwork on view at the Manchester Art Gallery is a collection of many painting genres all of which appealed to me.

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The Desert by Edwin Landseer (1849)

Sir Edwin Landseer was the favourite artist of Queen Victoria and much loved by the British public for his sentimental, though closely observed, animal paintings. He is probably best known for his 1851 painting Monarch of the Glen which is now part of the Scottish National Gallery collection and the four bronze lions that stand guard at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London.  However, in the Manchester Gallery there is another full-sized animal painting by the artist, entitled The Desert which he completed in 1849.  It is a painting of a dead lion, and the work is often referred to as The Fallen Monarch. The lion has always been regarded as the national symbol of the British people, epitomising bravery, fortitude and royalty. 

Tate & Lyle Golden Syrup

The painting is thought to have provided the inspiration for the logo of Lyle’s Golden Syrup, which first appeared in 1885. In the case of the syrup tin the logo depicts a story from the Old Testament, in which Samson kills a lion and later finds that a swarm of bees has formed a honeycomb in its carcass. It is accompanied by the biblical quote ‘Out of the strong came forth sweetness‘.

Water of the Nile by Frederick Goodall (1893)

Edward Wadie Said was a Palestinian American a professor of literature at Columbia University.   In his 1978 book entitled Orientalism, which was hailed as his best-known work and one of the most influential scholarly books of the 20th century, he defined the term Orientalism as:

“… the acceptance in the West of “the basic distinction between East and West as the starting point for elaborate theories, epics, novels, social descriptions, and political accounts concerning the Orient, its people, customs, ‘mind,’ destiny and so on…”

The orientalists were not only fascinated by historical Egypt, but they were also amazed by the beauty of its environment and the 1893 painting by the English artist, Frederick Goodall, entitled Water of the Nile is a classic example of Orientalism in art.  In the foreground, on the riverbank, we see Egyptian women wearing traditional clothes, filling their water jars from the Nile River.  To the right of the women is a young boy remonstrating with his animals who he has brought down to the water’s edge.  To the left we see a man riding his camel as he heads towards the pyramids, seen in the background.

Cattle fording a Stream by Henry Moore (1862)

Henry Moore (not the famous sculptor), the English marine and landscape artist, was born in March 1831 in York.  In the Manchester Gallery there is a fine example of his rural landscape prowess with his 1862 painting, Cattle Fording a Stream.  It is a beautiful autumnal moorland landscape which is made melodramatic by the colourful sunset sky.  In the foreground we see depicted a herd of large horned russet-coloured cattle being driven across the ford by two men on horseback.  It is a leisurely cattle drive.  Some of the cattle halt their progress to take a drink.  One of the men herding the beasts sits up and looks back at the following animals which are being marshalled along by a second rider.  To the left, a dog keeps one of the herd from moving out of line.  Beyond, in the upper left of the painting, we see stacked sheaves of hay in a field. To the right, behind a tree-covered mound, is a cottage with smoke coming from the chimney.  It is without doubt that the dominating aspect of this painting is the sky with its streaked cloud formations giving a great sense of depth through the use of brilliant pink and orange hues.

The Norman Archipelago (Channel Islands)
The Norman Archipelago (Channel Islands) by John Brett (1885)

When I think of John Brett my mind always goes to his work, The Stonebreakers, which is in the Walker Art Gallery collection in Liverpool but his painting hanging in the Manchester Gallery could not be more different.  Brett was an English painter, whose main works featured coastal scenes and landscapes. He was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites and the writings of John Ruskin.  He had taken part in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s group exhibition in London in 1857 and during the 1870s he had become well known for his large seascapes, which featured accurate geological detail and meteorological conditions, which can be likened to an almost hyper-realistic representations.  His seascape painting at the Manchester Gallery is entitled The Norman Archipelago and is a panoramic view of the Channel Islands, from Sark, looking across a calm sea towards Guernsey, Herm and Jethou.  To the left, in the middle-ground, we see a small sailing vessel, which is navigating its way close to a current which has been created as the ebbing tide empties out through a narrow channel between rocks seen in the centre of the depiction.  In the background, on the horizon, we see low pink clouds against a bright blue sky, below which are a number of other white-sailed boats plying their way across calm waters.

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Early Lovers by Frederick Smallfield (1885)

Frederick Smallfield was an English oil and watercolour artist, whose work was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite artists of the time.  He had trained at the Royal Academy Schools in the late 1840s, at the same time as various members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, although there is nothing to show that he was a close acquaintance of theirs.

The painting by Smallfield on display at the Manchester Gallery is entitled Early Lovers.  It is a depiction of two young lovers set against a rural landscape scene.  It is thought to illustrates the 1827 poem, entitled Ballad, by Thomas Hood

Twas twilight, and I bade you go,

But still you held me fast;

It was the Time of Roses, –

We pluck’d them as we pass’d. –

What else could peer thy glowing cheek,

That tears began to stud?

And when I ask’d the like of Love,

You snatched a damask bud;

The setting is a gently undulating verdant landscape of rich farmland imbued with trees and hedgerows. The scene is illuminated by a low light, suggestive of evening or early morning.  In the depiction we see a young girl sitting on a stile.  She has shoulder-length fair hair and wears a mauve dress over a white petticoat.  A straw hat is slung casually around her neck on a pink ribbon.  She is not alone, as we also see an older youth wearing a dark jacket, sporting a red neckerchief.  He is probably a local farm worker.  The young man is perched besides her, straddling the stile.  Balanced on his head is a flat cap which cannot contain the unruly red locks of his hair.  The young couple clasp hands as they gaze lovingly at each other.  To the right of the stile, entwined in the hedgerow, are a Dog Rose in bloom as well as Honeysuckle.

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A 1944 Pastoral : Land Girls Pruning At East Malling by Evelyn Mary Dunbar

Evelyn Mary Dunbar was a British artist, illustrator and teacher who was born in Reading in 1906.  In April 1940 she was appointed by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, (WAAC), as an official war artist.   Her remit was to record civilian contributions to the war effort on the home front. At the beginning she concentrated on the work of the Women’s Voluntary Service, (WVS), and later in the war, she depicted members of the Women’s Land Army, which was set up to encourage women to work on farms to help the war effort.   When the war ended Dunbar had completed and had accepted by the WAAC some forty paintings.  The Manchester Art Gallery has in its collection one of her later works entitled A 1944 Pastoral: Land Girls Pruning at East Malling. Evelyn spent some time at the Kent village in the winter of 1944/5, when one of the principal activities was pruning of fruit trees, particularly of apple trees. Until more disease-resistant rootstocks were introduced from the United States and latterly from Poland, the influence of East Malling Research Station on the British commercial apple industry was vast.   The painting depicts a rural setting in winter with a view along a long avenue of trees of an orchard. Hills are visible in the distance beneath a cloudy sky.  We see groups of women from the Women’s Land Army pruning the trees and carrying away the dead wood. Standing in the foreground are three women pruning the nearest trees, two of whom are standing on white ladders. Another woman in the left foreground can be seen bringing another ladder into the orchard.   The scene is surrounded by a brown painted frame containing different motifs, including gloved hands each holding a pair of secateurs, a bowl of apples, a plate of apples, a gloved hand holding a small saw, and a gloved hand holding a serrated knife. The site of this orchard is close to East Malling Research Station in Kent which was established in 1913 as a government owned establishment and was the leading fruit research centre in the UK.

'In Manus Tuas, Domine'
In Manus Tuas, Domine’ by Briton Riviere

My final selection of the paintings I saw when I went to the Manchester Art Gallery is one by the nineteenth century British artist Briton Riviere, who was famous for his animal depictions.  He once wrote about how he became proficient in this genre:

“…The only way to paint wild animals is to gradually accumulate a large number of studies and a great knowledge of the animal itself, before you can paint its picture … I paint from dead animals as well as from live ones. I have had the body of a fine lioness in my studio … I have done a great deal of work in the dissecting rooms at the Zoological Gardens from time to time…”

The painting that I saw in the gallery was entitled In Manus Tuas, Domine which is part of a Latin phrase which translates as Into thy hands O Lord, I commend my spirit.  It is a phrase recited by many who are facing death.  The depiction is of a fearless young fair-haired knight astride a white horse, escorted by his three bloodhounds.  They are at the mouth of a dark cave and both rider, horse and dogs seem fearful of what they may find inside.  The animals cower and seem to be digging their heels into the ground to stop any forward motion.  The young rider is wearing a soft black cap and dressed in a full suit of shining silver-coloured armour, complete with star-shaped spurs. His helmet, which is trimmed with pink and black ostrich plumes, is tied to his saddle. The knight, unlike his animals, is putting a brave face on, despite his fear and no doubt the phrase in the title of the painting is passing his lips.  He looks directly ahead into the darkness as he raises the cross-hilt of his sword before him. The sword forms a cross, symbolising the victory of man’s faith and may be apt as he leaves the daylight to enter the dark chasm. To defend himself he also carries behind him a black shield painted with a narrow blue cross, and a lance.  To add to the terror, a red-eyed bat flies out of the dark tangle of branches towards the knight and what might be the tail of a snake, can be seen disappearing into a hole.

I hope that my three blogs will tempt you to visit the Manchester Art Gallery. It is well worth a visit.

Manchester Art Gallery. Part 2. The Pre-Raphaelites.

The Lantern-Maker's Courtship
The Lantern Maker’s Courtship by William Holman Hunt (c.1860)

The setting for the Lantern Maker’s Courtship by William Holman Hunt is a street somewhere in the Middle East.  We are outside a lantern maker’s shop.  A variety of lantern hang from hooks in the wall behind the young lantern-maker and his equipment lies on the bench next to him. Beneath the bench, a dog lies curled up asleep.  In the background we see a busy, narrow, with a man in a top hat and a blue jacket, riding a donkey away from us.  A servant quickly follows the man and donkey.  The man astride the donkey raises a whip at an oncoming local, who is leading a camel laden with goods, and the horrified local raises his arm to shield himself against the onslaught.  The main characters of this painting are the young lantern-maker dressed in a long red coat and green turban, perched on a bench outside his workshop.  Next to him stands a young girl dressed in a long blue gown and golden Turkish slippers. The lower part of her face is hidden by a black face mask.  It is a happy coming together of the young couple.  We see the smiling lantern maker reaching out to the girl.  One of his hands gently touches her wrist whilst the other is outstretched feeling her face beneath the black mask. It is as if he is blind and wants to use his sense of touch to give him the vision of her face.  Her face will be hidden from him until and if they become man and wife.  Their happiness at the meeting is plain to see.  He smiles broadly and her left foot curls up inside her slipper in a sign of ecstasy.  Despite the painting’s informality, Holman Hunt’s devotion to detail can be seen in his portrayal of the drape and puff of the fabric, the careful depiction of the eastern-style shoes and dress, as well as the minutiae of the lantern maker’s tools and the finished and half-finished lanterns hanging nearby. The painting is awash with bright colours and the rich blue and vibrant red that leap from the canvas are characteristic of Holman Hunt’s artwork.  By having this explosion of colour the street scene is magically brought to life.

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The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt, (1851-53)

Another painting by William Holman Hunt on display at the gallery is his allegorical work entitled The Light of the World.  It is thought that he started the work in 1850 but did not complete it until three years later.  The painting depicts a Biblical scene, based on a passage from St John’s Gospel:

“…I am the Light of the World; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life”.

Look at the way Hunt has depicted the door.  It is very old and overgrown by ivy and brambles and there is no handle to use to open it.  It was Hunt’s way of likening it to the problems of a closed mind.  There are many ideas put forward as to where he painted the work.  Some believe he painted it after dark in a hut on a Surrey farm; while others claim that his location was the Oxford University Press garden.  Hunt’s original painting, which he completed in 1853, resides in Keble College Oxford.  The one which can be seen at the Manchester Art Gallery is a smaller version of the original, which he worked on between 1851 and 1856.  There is a third version which Holman Hunt completed around 1904, when he was eighty-three years of age.  That version is to be found at St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

There is much symbolism within the painting which need considering and the St Paul’s Cathedral website offers their interpretation:

“…There are two lights shown in the picture. The lantern is the light of conscience and the light around the head of Christ is the light of salvation. The door represents the human soul, which cannot be opened from the outside. There is no handle on the door, and the rusty nails and hinges overgrown with ivy denote that the door has never been opened and that the figure of Christ is asking permission to enter. The morning star appears near Christ, the dawn of a new day, and the autumn weeds and fallen fruit represent the autumn of life. The writing beneath the picture, is taken from Revelation 3 .

“…Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with me…”

The orchard of apple trees evokes several biblical references. The tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden was, according to legend, an apple tree and in some Christian traditions the wood of that tree was miraculously saved to construct the cross on which Christ was crucified. The fallen apples could symbolise the fall of man, original sin, and sometimes in Italian art can refer to redemption…”

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Byron’s Dream by Ford Madox Brown (1874)

As you look at Ford Madox Brown’s painting, Byron’s Dream, you try and work out what is happening and this fascinates me and it is why narrative paintings are high on my list of favourite painting genres. So let us just consider what we see.   There is a young man and woman sitting on a hillside looking out over green fields and trees. The woman is dressed in a low cut, white blouse with lacy trim around the neck and cuffs and along with the blouse she wears a full length, red skirt.  In her right hand she holds the pink ribbon of her wide-brimmed hat. The man is dressed in breeches, with a white shirt finished with ruffles under a black jacket.  The woman stares out at a distant rider in the distance. The man, who is seated slightly behind her and hesitantly holding her hand, is not interested in what she is searching for but instead gazes lovingly at the woman’s face. Accompanying them on the hillside is a black and white dog which wears a wide gold collar.   If we look at the midground we can just make out the subject of her gaze – a man on horseback below them, riding along the path towards them. 

Mary Chaworth

The painting is not just a depiction of any man and any woman but as the painting’s title, Byron’s Dream, indicates, it is a depiction of Lord Byron and his girlfriend.  Not in reality but in Byron’s dream.  Ford Madox Brown had been a great lover of Byron’s poetry, especially his 1816 poem entitled The Dream.  The poem is described as conveying romantic beliefs about dreams.   It also describes the view from the Misk Hills, close to Byron’s ancestral home in Newstead, Nottinghamshire, which we see in the painting. 

Mary Chaworth, who was born at Annesley, not far from Mansfield, on the borders of Sherwood Forest, was a niece of Lord Byron.  She was also the first woman Byron fell in love with, when he met her during a vacation at Southwell in 1803.   They spent much time in one another’s company. The problem was he was yet a boy at fifteen, and she a woman at seventeen: The infatuation flowed entirely in one direction !!!  He wrote many poems for her, but Mary didn’t care for the “lame, bashful, boy lord” and instead married John “Jack” Musters in August, 1805. The couple went on to have seven children.  Mary separated from her husband on 10 April 1814 due to his infidelities and started writing to Byron. However, by that time, he was famous and was no longer interested in her. Mary is the “Maid” of the poem and it is she who is seen sitting with Byron in the painting. 

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The Hireling Shepherd by William Holman Hunt (1851)

The setting for William Holman Hunt’s painting, The Hireling Shepherd was in the Surrey countryside in Spring.  Hunt and fellow artist and good friend, John Everett Millais, had travelled to Ewell in Surrey where they searched together for locations for painting.  Eventually they discovered the ideal setting close to the River Hogswell.  Millais worked on his painting Ophelia whilst Hunt selected the meadows near the fields of Ewell Court Farm to paint The Hireling Shepherd.

At first glance this is simply a depiction of a rural idyll and innocent young love but there is more to this painting than meets the eye.  If we take Holman Hunt’s painting at face value, we see a ruddy-faced young shepherd kneeling on the ground.  His small barrel of ale or cider is strapped to his belt.  He reaches out wrapping his arm around the shoulders of a pretty young girl, dressed in peasant costume.  On her lap is a small lamb and some half-eten apples.   Although it is not known who the male was who modelled for Hunt, we do know that the red-headed girl was Emma Watkins, a local country girl who later travelled to London to model for Hunt so that he could complete the painting.  Her later efforts to become an independent model in the capital city failed and she had to return home.

Now look more closely at the depiction to find some of the things you may have missed at first glance.   In Hunt’s depiction, preferring to gain the attention of the young girl by showing her a death’s head hawkmoth he has captured, the shepherd has paid little attention to his flock of sheep who have crossed over a ditch and are now ensconced in a field next to an orchard. The sheep have been eating some of the fallen sour apples and are now becoming ill.

When the painting was first displayed in the Royal Academy, it was accompanied by a quotation from King Lear:

Sleepest or wakest thou, jolly shepherd?

Thy sheep be in the corn;

And for one blast of thy minikin mouth,

Thy sheep shall take no harm.

And yet there is still more to this painting.  It is a work of symbolism.  Holman Hunt explained it in a letter around the time the Manchester gallery had acquired it.  Hunt wrote that he intended the couple to symbolise the pointless theological debates which occupied Christian churchmen while their “flock” went astray due to a lack of proper moral guidance.

The painting received mixed reviews.  One anonymous reviewer wrote:

“…Like [Jonathan] Swift, [Hunt] revels in the repulsive. These rustics are of the coarsest breed, — ill favoured, ill fed, ill washed. Not to dwell on cutaneous and other minutiae,  — they are literal transcripts of stout, sunburnt, out-of-door labourers. Their faces, bursting with a plethora of health, and a trifle too flushed and rubicund, suggest their over-attention to the beer or cyder (sic) keg on the boor’s back….Downright literal truth is followed out in every accessory; each sedge, moss, and weed – each sheep – each tree, pollard or pruned – each crop, beans or corn – is faithfully imitated. Summer heat pervades the atmosphere, — the grain is ripe, — the swifts skim about, — and the purple clouds cast purple shadows…”

And in the edition of the Illustrated London News the art critic objected to the “fiery red skin” and “wiry hair” of Hunt’s peasants. On the other hand, his supporters insisted that the painting was an unembellished and faithful image of society.

Notwithstanding what has been written about the work, I like it.

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Wandering Thoughts by John Everett Millais (c.1855)

My final look at the works of the Pre-Raphaelites at the Manchester Art Gallery is one by Sir John Everett Millais, a work entitled Wandering Thoughts which he completed around 1855.

The woman is sitting back in a red upholstered chair with both of her hands resting on the carved wood of the padded arms of the chair.  The background is dark and lacks detail and it contrasts with her pale skin.  She is wearing a long black dress with lace-trimmed short sleeves which exposes her bare shoulders.  A small posy of red flowers is fixed to the bodice.  Her dark hair is neatly parted down the centre and secured away from the face.  In her lap, we see a letter which must have fallen from her hand.

Her expression is one of contemplation.  Her head is tilted forward and she looks down to the left.  It is a blank expression, an unseeing countenance.  The abandoned letter could well be the cause of her dour facial expression.  What has she just read?  Did the missive contain news which shocked her into dropping the letter?  Is she now lost in thought as to what she has just read?

Questions, questions and more questions.  I will leave you to come up with the answers.

In the next blog I will showcase some more of my favourite paintings on display at the gallery

…………………….to be concluded.

Manchester Art Gallery. Part 1. The Females.

Manchester Art Gallery

If you happen to visit Manchester, England, you will find two main art galleries, the Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth Gallery.  Last weekend I was in the city for a weekend break and decided to revisit the main Manchester Art Gallery.

The main part of the collection is derived from the Royal Manchester Institution which demonstrated a partiality for purchasing contemporary art and that predilection continued when it eventually became the City Art Gallery in 1883.  The retired Bradford-based textile businessman and philanthropist with a passionate love of art, Charles Rutherston, although not an artist himself, was both an art collector and a generous friend and patron to artists.  He had amassed a large collection of paintings which he bequeathed to the Gallery in 1925.  Between the two World Wars, the Gallery accumulated a large number of contemporary artworks.  Today the Manchester Art Gallery has an extensive collection of work by nineteenth-century British artists, particularly the Pre-Raphaelites.  In 1979, the European Old Masters collection was transformed by the Assheton Bennett bequest of almost a hundred paintings, mainly by seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish artists. Today the collection includes over 2,000 oil paintings, plus related studies and archival material, and there is a renewed focus on collecting contemporary art.  In the next three blogs I will be looking at some of  my favourites which were on view.

Study of Jane Morris

Chalk drawing of Jane Morris by Rossetti (1875)

In the Gallery, there are a number of paintings by the Pre-Raphaelite artists but the one I find the most haunting is Rossetti’s late work entitled Astarte Syriaca.  The story behind this work started back in 1875 with a chalk drawing Rossetti had made of Jane Morris, his lover.  Rossetti’s friend, Theodore Watts–Dunton, told Rossetti that the drawing could form the basis of a full-length Venus portrait.  After one of Rossetti’s patrons, Clarence Fry saw some of the preliminary sketches in August 1875, he commissioned Rossetti to complete the Venus painting.

Rossetti started working on the painting, Astarte Syriaca, sometimes known as Venus Astarte, in the Autumn of 1875 but abandoned it, unfinished in March 1876, saying that he was dissatisfied with it and he began work on the “second” Astarte.  Finally it was completed in December 1876 and framed at the end of January 1877 ready for his patron.  Jane Morris was the model for Venus (and May Morris, her sister, the attendant figure on the left)

Astarte Syriaca Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Astarte Syriacs by Dante Rossetti (1876)

The depiction is a full-length figure of a woman dressed in sea-green robes, gazing towards us, the viewer. Astarte Syriaca has long, thick. and wavy flowing hair that flows on her back.  She is pictured holding an ornate floral metal strap with her left hand under her chest. Her left hand seems to be holding a similar strap that rests around the hips area.  This is known as a traditional pudica pose.

Both her hands, the limbs, and her breast are large, and her lips seem to be full and pink. Astarte Syriaca portrait is one of Gabriel Rossetti’s iconic paintings that romantically evokes the marvellous power of women in the context of the European Symbolist Movement, the nascent pan. In the same breath, it signifies as a covert admonition of the patriarchal Victorian Christianity. It can as well be interpreted in various other ways.   The woman has one of her legs placed forward to look as if she is striding towards us.  Also in the painting we see two male figures placed symmetrically in the background.  Rossetti wrote a sonnet which was first published in 1877 and which accompanied the painting.

ASTARTE SYRIACA

Mystery: lo! betwixt the sun and moon

Astarte of the Syrians: Venus Queen

⁠Ere Aphrodite was. In silver sheen

Her twofold girdle clasps the infinite boon

Of bliss whereof the heaven and earth commune:

⁠And from her neck’s inclining flower-stem lean

Love-freighted lips and absolute eyes that wean

The pulse of hearts to the spheres’ dominant tune.

Torch-bearing, her sweet ministers compel

⁠All thrones of light beyond the sky and sea

⁠The witnesses of Beauty’s face to be:

That face, of Love’s all-penetrative spell

Amulet, talisman, and oracle,—

⁠Betwixt the sun and moon a mystery.

Cinderella by Valentine Prinsep (1899)

The next painting featuring a female is simply entitled Cinderella.  The artist is Valentine Cameron Prinsep who was born in India on St Valentine’s Day 1838.  His father was a civil servant based in the country but who would return to England with his family when Valentine was five years old.  Valentine’s mother was a great art lover and would often hold parties at their Kensington home with artists and writers, including poets Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning and artists John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. Although his parents assumed their son would follow his father into the Indian Civil Service but having been stirred by the artistic company he kept, Valentine decided his future life should be as an artist too.  Prinsep never reached the status of a great artist although he had his successes.  He was influenced by Rossetti, Millais and Burne-Jones, and he painted initially in the Pre-Raphaelite style. He exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts for the first time in 1862, after travelling with Burne-Jones in Italy.

The painting, Cinderella, was completed in 1899 and is a work of great sentimentality.  The young girl rests against the stone wall of the kitchen.  It is a depiction of poverty.  The girl is barefooted and is wearing a dress which is ragged at the hem.  She raises the hem of the skirt to allow the warmth from the fire to caress her body.  Look at her posture and facial expression.  Is it a happy looking expression awaiting for the arrival of somebody she looks forward to seeing or is it one of trepidation at the thought of the impending arrival?  We all know the story of Cinderella so probably we also know the answer to the question.

Girl with Beret
Girl with a Beret by Lucian Freud (1951)

Girl with a Beret, the 1959 painting by Lucian Freud is a beautifully painted, close-up head and shoulders portrait of a young woman wearing a plain blue-grey jumper and beret. The girl has pale skin and shiny blue eyes, which stare off to the left in a self-absorbed manner. Her hair is parted to one side and she wears a small gold hoop earring in her left ear. The background colour is muted.  Freud liked his portraits to be of people he knew well and as such were people Lucien had a close personal relationship with and because of this, these portraits could be looked upon as being pictorial autobiographies.  The sitter for this portrait is the Irish actress, Helena Hughes who was twenty-three at the time.  Helena had been introduced to Freud by his lover Anne Dunn during one of his frequent visits to Dublin in the 1950s. In 1950, Helena Hughes had invited Freud to Paris where she was working on a stage production with Orson Welles. The portrait took more than one hundred and fifty sittings to complete and for this protracted length of time artist and model were together which led to an intensity of their relationship and in a way, this could be detected within the painting.

Sapho by Charles-August Mengin (1877)

The painting entitled Sapho was completed in 1877 by Charles-August Mengin, a French Academic painter and sculptor.  He was a pupil of Alexandre Cabanel and exhibited regularly at the Salon from 1876 to 1927.  Sappho was a Greek lyric poet born around 600 BC. Her poems considered love, desire and contemplation.  Many of her works were devoted to her female pupils who studied with her on the island of Lesbos. Legend had it that she threw herself into the sea from the cliff of Leucadia because Phaon, a young man from Mitylene, did not return her love.  In the painting we see Sapho depicted standing on the cliff edge in dark, in translucent robes, with her breasts exposed. Her left arm rests lightly at shoulder height, on a huge rock whilst her right hand holds her lyre down by her right side. Her face is partly put in the shade by her dark wavy hair, gauzy veil. Her dark eyes, which have shadows beneath them, stare down into the middle distance.  Her feet are bare. She wears gold hoop earrings, a gold bangle, and there is a gold tie or belt around her waist. The dark sky in the background, which is only broken by a sliver of light on the horizon adds to the feeling of impending doom.  Two grey birds fly in the sky behind.

And now for something different.  Gone is the exotic beauty of Sapho and Artiste Syriaca.  Gone is the everyday prettiness of the girl wearing her Beret.  It is now about the reality of mortality.

Mamma Mia Poveretta
Mama Mia Poveretta by Walter Sickert (c.1904)

Walter Sickert, a German-born English painter, made a series of visits to Venice, initially focusing on the city’s topography but it was during his last painting trip from the autumn of 1903 to the summer of 1904 that, due to inclement weather, he was forced indoors to his small studio at 940 Calle dei Frati, close to the Rialto, to paint and it was during that time he developed a distinctive approach to portraiture.  The models for many of the Venetian paintings are believed to have been prostitutes, whom Sickert might have known through being a client.  One of his models which he nicknamed La Giuseppina was his favourite and one day she arrived at the studio with her mother, the old lady who became known as mamma mia poveretta (my poor mother)

La Giuseppina
La Giuseppina by Walter Sickert (1904). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund

In the first decade of the twentieth century in Britain which was also the end of the reign of Queen Victoria, artists and designers began to try new things.  Artists were starting to create a new art for a modern era. Traditional ways of completing portraits, landscapes and interiors would be undertaken in new ways.  Gone was the romantic view of life and an acceptance that urban life was often a matter of hectic rushing around and there was definitely an air of brutality to it.  Life was becoming a challenge.  Walter Sickert’s 1904 painting entitled Mama Mia Poveretta is realist depiction of life.  It is a half-length frontal portrait of this gaunt, almost emaciated elderly Venetian woman who is nearing the end of a hard life.  She is wrapped in a dark shawl and wears a headscarf. She has turned her head slightly to the right, and her face is illuminated from the left and highlights the darkness around her eyes.

In my next blog I will look at work by some of the Pre-Raphaeliete artists which are on display at the Manchester Art Gallery.

………………………………..to be continued

The Moonlight Pethers

Today I am looking at a family of artists who specialised in painting moonlight scenes, so much so they were known as the Moonlight Pethers.  This is a story about Abraham Pether and his two sons Henry and Sebastian who lived and worked in Southampton, England in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries.

Abraham Pether, the patriarch, was a landscape painter who was born at Chichester in 1756. He was the cousin of the notable engraver, William Pether. He could have been a professional musician as at the tender age of nine, he showed a great talent for music, and played the organ in one of the Chichester churches. However, his main love became art and he received artistic training from George Smith, an English landscape painter and poet.  Within a short period of time the talent of the pupil matched that of his master.

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A moonlit view of the River Tweed with Melrose Abbey in the foreground and figures on a bridge by Abraham Pether

Abraham painted river and mountain scenery, incorporating classical buildings, in an attractive though artificial style.  Some compared his work with the great Welsh landscape painter Richard Wilson.  However, Abraham Pether will be remembered for his moonlight subjects which warranted him the moniker, ‘Moonlight’ Pether.

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Moonlight Scene by Abraham Pether (c.1790)

His moonlight pieces are notable for their astronomical accuracy. He exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1784, his subject being “Moonlight.”

Moonlight Scene with Windmill by Abraham Pether (c.1780)

Moonlight Scene with Windmill by Abraham Pether (c.1780)

The Night Blowing Cereus (flower painted by Philip Reinagle, (moonlit background by Abraham Pether)

Abraham also collaborated with other painters who needed a moonlight background to their painting.  One example of this is his collaboration with Philip Reinagle RA, an English painter of animals, landscapes, and botanical scenes. Reinagle’s painting was entitled The Night Blowing Cereus and Abraham’s moonlight background added authenticity to the work.

God’s House Tower by Moonlight by Abraham Pether

Close to Abraham’s birthplace, Chichester, is the city of Southampton.  One of Abraham Pether’s paintings featured a night scene featuring the 13th century God’s House Tower, a gatehouse, which leads into the old town.  It stands at the south-east corner of the town walls and permitted access to the town from the Platform and Town Quay. It is now an arts and heritage venue.  In its former days it had served as the town gaol and housed the Museum of Archaeology. The building is Grade I listed and a scheduled ancient monument.  The buildings which form modern-day God’s House Tower are some of the earliest in Southampton. The name God’s House comes from the nearby hospice and it was built around 1189 as a resting place for travellers and pilgrims en-route to Canterbury.  The original gate was built around 1280, to give access to the Platform Quay as well as to the walls on the east at a high level, useful for any patrols or at times of attack. Running along the eastern walls was a double ditched moat, up to 40 feet wide, which was fed by sea water operated by a sluice at the Platform Quay. The ditches were important not only for defence but also because they also provided water-power for one of the town’s main mills which was built adjacent to God’s House Tower.

A View of Mount Vesuvius Erupting  by Abraham Pether

A View of Mount Vesuvius Erupting by Abraham Pether (c.1810)

 Abraham Pether also liked to paint depictions in which not only moonlight but fire lighted up the sky as can be seen in his painting entitled A View of Mount Vesuvius Erupting.

The fire at the Old Drury Lane Theatre, seen from Pimlico by Abraham Pether (1809)

It was not just fire lighting up the sky by natural phenomena, that Abraham captured in some of his works of art but also devastating events of buildings burning such as his painting entitled The Fire at the Old Drury Lane Theatre seen from Pimlico. In this 1809 painting we witness the destruction of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s Drury Lane Theatre in 1809, which Sheridan had completely rebuilt in 1794 with the architect Henry Holland.  It is said that when Sheridan, who was in the Houses of Parliament at the time when the fire broke out, heard the news, he hurried to his theatre. Upon realising that there was little he could do to help, he sat down in the coffeehouse opposite and ordered a bottle of port, remarking rather dryly ‘a man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside’.   It is a work of Romanticism which was popular around the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Abraham has cleverly balanced the light sources emanating from the moon and the fire, which adds a sense of excitement to the depiction.  Another interesting fact about this depiction is that it actually shows a lost view of London as the river seen is not the Thames, but part of the River Tyburn, which now flows beneath the city, coming out into the Thames at Whitehall Stairs, near Downing Street.

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Evening Scene With Full Moon and Persons by Abraham Pether (1801)

Abraham Pether not only distinguished himself as painter and musician but also by his philosophical and mathematical research which were of great value. He also showed skill as a mechanic, and constructed various optical instruments, such as telescopes, microscopes, air-pumps, and electric instruments. Abraham Pether died in Southampton on April 13th, 1812.

Abraham had two artistically talented sons Sebastian Pether who was born in 1790 and Henry Pether who was born on March 5th, 1800, both of whom became landscape artists who, like their father, became known for their moonlit scenes.

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Houses of Parliament from the Thames by Moonlight by Henry Pether (c.1864)

In Henry Pether‘s painting, Houses of Parliament from the Thames by Moonlight we see Westminster Bridge straddling the River Thames with the Houses of Parliament on the right bank. By the mid-19th century Westminster Bridge was subsiding badly and expensive to maintain and so was replaced by the current bridge, which was designed by Thomas Page and opened on 24 May 1862.  As Henry Pether died in 1865, we know the painting had to be completed sometime between those three years.  It is a fascinating depiction of the endless work on the river even during the night with barges and rowing boats plying their trade.  Note the gaslights illuminating the bridge.  During these years air pollution was very bad, day and night, and this is depicted by the smoky and murky appearance.

View of Windsor Castle looking at the Lowe Ward by Moonlight by Henry Pether

Henry Pether’s work, View of Windsor Castle looking at the Lowe Ward by Moonlight, demonstrates how Henry Pether’s portrayal of the romantic quality of light makes his depiction so striking. Henry preferred actual scenes, often on the Thames or in Venice, and this painting communicates the poetry and realism of his best work. As ever, Henry’s palette was more sensitive and truthful to nature than that used by his father and brother, as this very fine example demonstrates.

Henry Pether, ‘Greenwich Reach, Moonlight’ exhibited 1854
Greenwich Reach, Moonlight by Henry Pether (c.1854)

Henry Pether’s works were not all about England as he completed and excellent depiction of the canals of Venice.

Venice by Moonlight
Venice by Moonlight by Henry Pether

Sebastian Pether, born in 1790, was the eldest son of Abraham Pether, was also a landscape painter. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1812 to 1826 and at the Royal Society of British Artists at Suffolk Street, London.  He had learnt his artistic ability as a pupil of his father, and, like him, primarily painted moonlight views as well as depictions of fires as seen at night.  His paintings were praised for their accuracy and congruency of colour.   He could have made a fortune from the sales of his work but being desperate for money to feed his family he was having to accept paltry sums from art dealers who knew of his desperate financial circumstances and wanted his work so as they may be copied and sold on. 

Fishing by Moonlight by Sebastian Pether

One of Sebastian’s beautiful painting is his Fishing by Moonlight.  The work is painted on panel, which is a medium best suited to the fine brushwork quality, which he found necessary for this intricate work. In this painting, he has cleverly used the strong use of chiaroscuro effects of light and shade in his painting. The eye, of course, is drawn towards the full moon, which illuminates the sky and caresses the clouds.  Look how the artist has created the mysterious atmosphere of the moonlit evening. He has depicted the moonlight glistening on the river below and has painstakingly depicted the buildings in meticulous detail.  On the bank in the foreground we see the two night fishermen silhouetted against the calm waters.

Artwork by Sebastian Pether, Anglers along a moonlit river, Made of oil on canvas laid down on panel
An extensive river landscape with a fisherman by the shore, before a tower by Sebastian Pether

Sebastian married very young. In the July 1884 edition of the Gentleman’s Magazine there was an obituary notice regarding the death of Sebastian Pether. It said that “he married too young and too poor“. To exacerbate matters his wife had nine children in a short period and Sebastian struggled to earn enough money from his art to feed his family. The art dealers who bought his paintings were aware of his dire financial situation and the obituary notice was very cutting about their role in Sebastian’s life:

“…As a matter of course he soon fell into the hands of those harpies – the dealers. When once they had obtained power over him they took care to retain it; he was their victim all through life…”

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The Night Fishermen by Sebastian Pether (1920)

Sebastian Pether’s paintings always sold well but because of the low prices offered to him by dealers the money from the sale of his work was never enough to satisfy the wants of his large family.  Sebastian became ill in March 1844.  The illness was brief but severe and he died on March 14th 1844, aged 54.  His life at the end was an unhappy one and this was set out in the Gentleman’s Magazine obituary:

…During the three last years of his life he lost three of his grown-up children by consumption; and since the demise of the father another son died at Westminster Hospital of lockjaw occasioned by an accident to the hand……………………..A subscription has been opened to help his surviving family out of their terrible state of distress…”

A truly sad ending to a great painter.

Dorothea Tanning, her early life and her love of Surrealism. Part 3

Dorothea Tanning, Sedona, Arizona
Dorothea Tanning in Sedona (1943)

Dorothea and Max Ernst divided their time between their Arizona home in Sedona and their apartment in New York.  Often Tanning would return to New York to show her work at the Julien Levy Gallery in Midtown Manhattan.  In April 1944, the Julien Levy Gallery held Dorothea’s first one-person exhibition.

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Fête Champêtre by Dorothea Tanning (1944)

That same year, 1944, Dorothea completed her painting entitled Fête Champêtre depicting a popular form of entertainment in Baroque France during the 18th century, taking the form of a garden party.  In Tanning’s work an unusual desert landscape provides the setting and she has added a marble mantelpiece and an ornate rococo clock.  She has also populated the depiction with a number of unidentifiable figures, some of which are human others are anthropomorphic, adding human characteristics to nonhuman things.  However, we can clearly see a bearded man and a girl who sits beside him, both staring out at something invisible to us.  The whole depiction remains a mystery as to what it is all about.

The Temptation of St Anthony by Dorothea Tanning (1945)

Whilst in New York,in 1945, Dorothea Tanning, completed a work which focused on a biblical scene that has been depicted by many famous artists, such as Dali and Hieronymus Bosch.  The painting is entitled The Temptation of St Anthony, which is now the property of Philadelphia’s La Salle University Art Museum. The painting portrays the supernatural temptation reportedly faced by Saint Anthony the Great during his stay in the Egyptian desert.  Saint Anthony, then aged 35, decided to spend the night alone in an abandoned tomb. A great multitude of demons came and started beating him, wounding him all over. He lay on the ground as if dead and the claws of the demons prevented him from getting up. According to the hermit the suffering caused by this demonic torture was comparable to no other.  Terrified and brought to his knees in fear, the habit that he is wearing wafts upwards as if caught in a gale-force updraft.  The blue, green and pink folds of the habit expose images of feminine shapes that seem to be the cause of his anguish. 

The Temptation of St Anthony by Salvador Dali. His entry to the Bel Ami competition

Dorothea created the work for the Bel Ami International Art Competition, where twelve surrealist and magic realist painters were asked to submit a painting to be used in Albert Lewin’s film The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, based on Guy de Maupassant’s novel Bel Ami. The rules of the competition for a cash prize were that the painting should be 36 × 48 inches and on the subject of the temptation of Saint Anthony. It would be shown as the only colour segment in the otherwise black and white film in which paintings of The Temptation of St. Anthony. Both American and European artists participated, including Ivan Albright, Eugene Berman, Leonora Carrington, Salvador Dalí, Paul Delvaux, Max Ernst, O. Louis Gugliemi, Abraham Rattner, Horace Pippin, Sydney Spencer, Leonor Fini and Dorothea Tanning.  All artists who submitted a painting received $500, while the winner received a prize of $3000. Max Ernst won the competition and his painting was shown in the film. Dali’s entry also became famous in its own right.

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The Temptation of Saint Anthony. The winning entry by Max Ernst

The competition was judged by Marcel Duchamp, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., and Sidney Janis. Max Ernst wining submission was not loved by all as the film critic Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called Ernst’s painting “downright nauseous” and wrote that it “looks like a bad boiled lobster.

Of her work and the meaning behind the depiction Dorothea Tanning wrote:

“…It seems to me that a man like our St. Anthony, with his self-inflicted mortification of the flesh, would be most crushingly tempted by sexual desires and, more particularly, the vision of woman in all her voluptuous aspects.  It is this phase which I have tried to depict in my painting. St. Anthony, alone in the desert, struggles against his visions; half-formed, moving in indolent suggestion, colored with the beautiful colors of sex, his desires take shape even in the folds of his own wind-tossed robes…”

Dorothea Tanning painting the Temptation of St Anthony (1945)

A photographer took a picture of Dorothea whilst she was working on the St Anthony portrait as a promotional photograph for the Bel Ami competition.  It was at a time when she had been ill and had contracted encephalitis and the photographer had to prop her up for the shot as she was so unwell.  She has her back to us but we see her long flowing locks of hair and on the wall is her famous Birthday self-portrait.  In her autobiography, Between Lives, she tells of how the illness caused her and her soon-to-be husband Max to return to the peace of Sedona in 1946 and sub-let their New York apartment to their friend, Marcel Duchamp.  Dorothea and Max married in October 1946.  Although they had regular guests come to their Sedona home, Dorothea always maintained that the period in Sedona, when it was just her and her husband, were the happiest days of her life.

The newlywed couple would separately paint all day and then come together in the evenings to listen to music, read and often play chess which was one of their favourite pastimes.

Max in a Blue Boat, 1947 - Dorothea Tanning
Max in a Blue Boat by Dorothea Tanning (1947)

Their love of chess is depicted in Dorothea’s 1947 work entitled Max in a Blue Boat.  It depicts the couple in the boat in the midst of a desert landscape and they seem to move effortlessly despite the lack of water.

Maternity, 1946 - 1947 - Dorothea Tanning
Maternity by Dorothea Tanning (1947)

In 1947 Dorothea completed the work entitled Maternity, which focused on motherhood and the psychological and physical problems associated with bearing and raising a child.  In the setting of a sand-strewn desert we see a young woman holding a young child in a shielding encirclement.  At the feet of the woman, on the rug, lies her dog which has a child’s solemn face staring out at us.  The features of the dog resembled her own Lhasa Apso dog, named Katchina.  Mother, child and dog make for a strong family unit set against a hostile setting.

The dog was depicted in one of her favourite works entitled Tableau Vivant.  It was then purchased by the National Galleries of Scotland. The painting was the first by Dorothea Tanning that they had acquired and joined up with major artworks by Surrealists Leonora Carrington, Salvador Dalí and René Magritte held at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (SNGMA).  The work was first shown at Tanning’s first exhibition in France in May 1954 at the Galerie Furstenberg, Dorothea Tanning: Peintures 1949-1954.   She had inscribed the title L’Etreinte on the verso, which can be translated as The Embrace.   A few months later the inscription was crossed out and substituted with Tableau Vivant and it was under its new title, Tableau Vivant that it was included in the artist’s first exhibition in Britain, at the Arthur Jeffress Gallery, London in 1955.

Tableau Vivant by Dorothea Tanning (1954)

It was not uncommon for Surrealist artists to include animals in their paintings.  Numerous Surrealist artists took animal embodiments which played the role of their alter-ego in their work: Max Ernst used a bird, Leonora Carrington favoured a horse; and Tanning took Katchina. Whreas other Surrealist depicted various types of the animal, Tanning’s choice was more specific.  It was her own pet, Katchina, whose insertion into Tanning’s work was not of necessity a personification of the artist; sometimes it acted as a witness, other times as a protagonist, the Katchina affected different roles in different works. These works started a change of Tanning’s painting style.  She moved away from the meticulous, controlled, illustrative technique which was the hallmark of her Surrealist work. In its place she began to decide on much looser, softer, more painterly brushwork and her colour switched from bright, intense primaries to ashes and ochres.  It was a move towards her Abstract period.

The painting is a depiction of many feelings.   Power, love, the erotic, the humorous, the dream and the nightmare, Tableau Vivant brings together many key moments in the artist’s life and career. Tanning loved the painting and it was included in almost every major exhibition of her work, notably her solo shows in Brussels in 1967, Paris in 1974, and the Malmö Konsthall and Camden Art Centre in 1993. The work of art remained with her for the remainder of her life until 2012, when she died at the age of 101, almost sixty years after painting it. Towards the end of her life, she specified it as one of a small number of works reserved only for sale to a museum.  Simon Groom, Director of Modern and Contemporary Art at the National Galleries of Scotland said of the painting:

“…We’ve been looking for a major painting by Dorothea Tanning for many years. This was one of her favourite works: she kept it for more than sixty years, hanging it above her desk in her apartment in New York. It’s a stunning addition to the Galleries’ world-famous collection of Surrealist art…”

Sarah Philp, Director of Programme and Policy at Art Fund, which helped the National Galleries of Scotland financially with the purchase of the work which cost £205K  said:

“…Tableau Vivant is an astonishing work with a fascinating biography and we are proud to help National Galleries of Scotland purchase this painting for their outstanding Surrealist art collection…”

Interior with Sudden Joy by Dorothea Tanning (1951)

The Tableau Vivant dog appeared in a number of her paintings after 1946, including Interior with Sudden Joy.

Interior with Sudden Joy is a strange painting.  In the depiction we see two girls standing to the right. They strike a provocative pose.  They are both dressed in white garments which harmonise with their pale skin, the buttons are unfastened and expose a camisole top and red bra, which reminds one of the bared chest in Tanning’s self-portrait Birthday. The girls pose with their arms wrapped around each other and both exude an air of nonchalance. They are young women and are only too aware of their sexuality.  The girl furthest to the right pats the head of a large shaggy dog.  The dog, which faces away from us, takes little notice of the two girls and instead stares at the blackboard on the back wall like a pupil ready to learn. On the blackboard there is chalked writing. In her memoir, Tanning says she took writings written in poet Arthur Rimbaud’s ‘secret notebooks’ and put them on the blackboard in this painting.  Rimbaud was admired by the surrealists because of his belief that poetry passed through the body in the manner of a musical instrument, which reaffirmed the surrealist idea of automatism as a creative outlet using the body as a vehicle.

The Boy

On the floor, close to the feet of one of the girls, lies a burning cigarette.  The girl’s hand is held up as though the cigarette had once been held between her fingers. To the left of them is a naked boy embracing a strange amorphous mass which imitates a human figure and wraps itself around him. The whiteness of its fabric-like flesh contrasts with the boy’s dark skin, and abundance of dark curls which form a halo around the boy’s head. The boy looks completely at peace. If the painting’s title Sudden Joy derives from any part of the depiction it is from him. In her memoir, Tanning described the girls as being like Sodom and Gomorrah.  On the floor in the left-hand corner of Tanning’s painting is an open book atop an ornate purple cushion. Its pages are blank, perhaps waiting to be written in. It is an eerie depiction.  We see a figure standing in the doorway in the left-hand top corner of the painting, and the black door stands ajar waiting for someone or something to enter the room.

 Dorothea Tanning died on January 31st 2012, at her Manhattan home at age 101. Her husband Max Ernst had died thirty-six years earlier.

Most of the information in my blogs about Dorothea Tanning come from the excellent 2020 biography of the artist, entitled Dorothea Tanning: Transformations by Victoria Carruthers.

Dorothea Tanning, her early life and her love of Surrealism. Part 2.

New York 1944

Dorothea Tanning (1944)

By the later part of 1942, Dorothea Tanning was well established with the Surrealist Movement within the New York art scene.  At the party hosted by the art dealer, Julien Levy and his wife, Muriel, she had been introduced to many of the Surrealist luminaries who were living in New York, including the German-born painter, Max Ernst.  Following on from his meeting with Dorothea, he visited her at her sprawling, sparse apartment studio to look at her paintings.

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It was not just idle curiosity that had brought Ernst to Tanning’s studio but he had come at the behest of his then wife, the art collector and socialite, Peggy Guggenheim, in order to select one of Dorothea’s paintings for the Exhibition by 31 Women.  This exhibition was organized by Peggy Guggenheim and ran for a month starting on January 5th 1943 in her New York gallery and included works by Frida Kahlo, Louise Nevelson, Leonor Fini, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Leonora Carrington.  Many of the artists were Surrealists, and many were wives of artists with whom Guggenheim was acquainted.  Georgia O’Keeffe declined an invitation to participate in the show, saying that she refused to be categorized as a “woman painter.”

Birthday by Dorothea Tanning (1942)

Birthday by Dorothea Tanning (1942)

The one painting which caught Max Ernst eye was the one Dorothea completed around the time of her thirty-second birthday, simply entitled Birthday, a title actually suggested by Ernst.  It is a self-portrait.  She has depicted herself in the process of metamorphosis.  She stands before us semi-naked.  Her hair is pinned back and she is wearing an Elizabethan-style purple silk and lace shirt, open to the waist, exposing her chest and breasts.  Her direct and open gaze emanates a sense of calm. Her semi-naked stance is probably her way of challenging her oppressive past and demonstrating her desire to rid herself of past parental control when she was a recalcitrant teenager.   She does not fear people looking at her body as this is how she sees herself.

Skirt 2

Her skirt seems to be disintegrating and being replaced by a thick layer of jagged brambles that cascade down to her bare feet. However, look closely at the brambles and you will see that they are made up of writhing naked bodies which are spiralling and intertwined to create a fabric of woodland sprites which adds a touch of menace to the depiction.  On the floor in front of her crouches a winged famulus.  The art historian Whitney Chadwick called it the “winged lemur.” These fantastic animals are associated with the night and the spiritual world and are a combination of hybrid parts, a fusion between realism and fantasy, the commonplace and the supernatural.

Corridor

The other interesting aspect of this work is what we see on the right of the depiction.  Within the confines of her apartment, we see a passageway which leads to a suite of rooms with doorways in line with each other, known as an enfilade.

The catalogue for the 1944 exhibition held in New York, Abstract and Surrealist Art in America, contained a piece by Dorothea Tanning in which she described her painting, Birthday.  She wrote:

“…One way to write a secret language is to employ familiar signs, obvious and unequivocal to the human eye.  For this reason, I chose a brilliant fidelity to the visual object as my method in painting Birthday.  The result is a portrait of myself, precise and unmistakable to the onlooker.  But what is a portrait?  Is it mystery and revelation, conscious and unconscious, poetry and madness?  Is it a demon, a hero, a child-eater, a ruin, a romantic, a monster, a whore?  Is it a miracle or a poison?  I believe that a portrait, particularly a self-portrait, should be somehow, all of these things and many more, recorded in a secret language clad in the honesty and innocence of paint…”

Fifty-five years later in 1999, the painting was bought by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and in the brochure which accompanied the survey show eighty-nine-year-old Dorothea Tanning once again talked about the work, saying:

“…It was a modest canvas by present-day standards.  But it filled my New York studio, the apartment’s back room, as if it had always been there.  For one thing, it was the room:  I had been struck one day by a fascinating array of doors – all, kitchen, bathroom, studio – crowded together, soliciting my attention with the antic planes, light, shadows, imminent openings and shuttings.  From there it was an easy leap to dram of countless doors.   Moreover, alone and taking stock of myself, I felt a sort of immanence as if my life was revealing itself at last – real birthday…”

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Self-portrait by Leonora Carrington (1938)

Many art critics highlight the similarities between Tanning’s self-portrait which is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the self-portrait done four years earlier, in 1938, by another Surrealist painter, Leonora Carrington, which is housed in the Metropolitan Museum of art in New York.  Both paintings combine fantasy and reality, each artist is depicted in the company of some magical creature.

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The Magic Flower Game by Dorothea Tanning (1941)

Similar to the depiction of the girl transforming in her self-portrait painting, Birthday, we can once again see another transformation in her painting The Magic Flower Game in which a boy is depicted in a state of organic transformation.  The boy in the painting is part human and part fashioned of beautifully coloured flowers which lie flattened against his legs and thighs like a second skin.  They also burst from his back in an assemblage of colour.  Again, his two upper limbs are part human and part nature with one being a branch-like appendage which end in claws.  In his hand he holds a ball of thread that seems to have come from the petals of a sunflower which lies at his feet.  Behind him in the fireplace we see the blue sky on which is the outline of a cat.  A second figure, possibly a mirror image of the boy is seen disappearing into the wall above the mantlepiece.  This part human, part nature is a classic occurrence of juxtaposition which is familiar in Surrealist works of art.

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Arizona Landscape by Dorothea Tanning (1943)

Dorothea Tanning often delved into the motif of hair as being symbolic of transformation in her early 1940’s paintings.  It was almost her iconographic autograph.  One of my favourite works of this type was her 1943 painting entitled Arizona Landscape.

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Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning (1947)

Dorothea’s encounter with Max Ernst, Peggy Guggenheim’s husband, prior to The 31 Women exhibition, led not only her having one of her works included in the show but led to a romantic entanglement with Guggenheim’s husband.  Max Ernst left his wife and went to live with Tanning and the couple eventually married in a double wedding with photographer Man Ray and Juliet Browner in Beverly Hills, California in October 1946.  This was Ernst’s fourth marriage and Tanning’s second and for both of them it was their last. Guggenheim expressed her sadness in losing Ernst to Tanning and painfully and caustically recalled the important exhibition, famously saying: “I should have had 30 women.”

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Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Dorothea Tanning (1943)

Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst first visited Sedona, Arizona together in 1943.  He had first visited Sedona in 1941 with his son, Jimmy, and his third wife, Peggy Guggenheim.  Dorothea and Ernst rented a small studio space and it was in Sedona that Tanning painted her masterpiece, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.  It is another painting in which the motif of hair is depicted and is one of her most famous early works, which she also completed in 1943.  The painting is now part of the Tate Modern’s collection in London.   It depicts what appears to be a hotel corridor along which are numbered doors on the left and a steep stairway on the right, the door at the end is open slightly and offers us a glimpse of light radiating from within. On the floor of the landing, we see the head of a giant sunflower.  Two of its petals lie on the stairs to the right and a third is held in the hand of a life-like doll which lies against one of the doorways. There is a similarity between the tattered clothes worn by the reclining doll and the girl walking along the hallway.  It could be that the ragged state of the clothes worn by both the doll and the girl indicate that a struggle with a malevolent force may have taken place and note how the girl’s long hair streams upwards as if blown up by an extremely forceful gust of wind. Tanning herself commented on the meaning of her painting saying:

“…It’s about confrontation. Everyone believes he/she is his/her drama. While they don’t always have giant sunflowers (most aggressive of flowers) to contend with, there are always stairways, hallways, even very private theatres where the suffocations and the finalities are being played out, the blood red carpet or cruel yellows, the attacker, the delighted victim…”

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Max and Dorothea and their home in Sedona (1947)

Tanning and her husband Max Ernst lived in Sedona on and off from 1943 to 1957.  They had constructed a three-room rough-hewn dwelling which Dorothea named Capricorn. It was a simple home which had no running water, a precious commodity which had to be hauled daily from a well five miles away.   At the time Sedona was a small town with just a few hundred inhabitants.  Dorothea lovingly described their house and living there in her autobiography:

“…Alone it stood, if not crooked at any rate somewhat rakish, stuck on a landscape of such stunning red and gold grandeur that its life could be only a matter of brevity, a beetle of brown boards and tarpaper roof waiting for metamorphosis………Up on its hill, bifurcating the winds and rather friendly with the stars that swayed over our outdoor table like chandeliers…”

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Dorothea and Max with his outdoor sculpture “Capricorn” (1947)

Ernst had his own studio at the rear of the property whilst Dorothea painted in the house.  In the summer of 1947, their home was connected to the mains water supply and to celebrate the arrival of water, Max Ernst, commemorated the moment with a large outdoor sculpture which Dorothea recalled in her autobiography:

“…In the summer of 1947, Max Ernst, exuberant and inspired by the arrival of water piped to our house (up to then we had hauled it from a well five miles away), began playing with cement and scrap iron with assists from box tops, eggshells, car springs, milk cartons and other detritus.  The result:  Capricorn, a monumental sculpture of regal but benign deities that consecrated our ‘garden’ and watched over its inhabitants…”

Capricorn, which refers to the tenth sign of the zodiac, is normally represented by a goat with a fish tail but Max Ernst divided Capricorn’s attributes between two figures, the horned male and the mermaid.  The two main figures can be identified as a king and queen seated on their thrones.  Ernst reportedly called Capricorn a family portrait, although his wife cast doubt on that.  The couple did not have children together, but they did own two dogs, one of which may have inspired the animal in the king’s lap with its long tongue hanging out.

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Capricorn by Max Ernst (cast in 1975)

The statue remained in Sedona but in Washington’s National Gallery of Art there is a large bronze replica of the sculpture.

………………………………to be concluded.