Museo de Bellas Artes, Sevilla. Part 2 The Murillo Exhibition

Murillo Exhibition at Seville

……….when I arrived at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Seville I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a special exhibition on marking the 400th anniversary of Seville’s great painter Bartolomé Estaban Murillo.  It had opened in November 2018 and was still running. The city of Seville had been celebrating the 400th anniversary of his birth for the last twelve months and this exhibition, which ends in April, was the culmination of the celebrations.

Self-portrait by Murillo

Murillo came from a very large family, the youngest of fourteen children.  His father was both a barber and a surgeon.  His parents died when he was young and he went to live with a distant relative and artist, Juan del Castillo who started Murillo’s artistic education.  He stayed with Castillo until 1639 when his mentor had to move to Cadiz.  Now Murillo, aged twenty-two, had to fend for himself and scraped a living by selling some of his paintings.  In 1643 he travelled to Madrid where he met Velazquez who was also from Seville and had now become a master of his craft.  He took pity on Murillo and let him lodge in his house.  Murillo stayed in Madrid for two years before returning to Seville.  In 1648, at the age of thirty-one, Murillo married a wealthy lady of rank, Doña Beatriz de Cabrera y Sotomayor.   Murillo died in 1682 aged 64.  He lived a humble and pious life and was a brave man.  On his death he left a son and daughter, his wife having died before him.

The Seville exhibition was a collection of fifty-five paintings by Murillo from museum collections around the world. The exhibition was divided into nine sections each providing a glimpse of the world through Murillo’s eyes. The sections were designated as Holy Childhood, A family of Nazareth, Glory on Earth, The Immaculate Conception, Compassion, Penitence, Storyteller, Genre painting and Portraiture. It was a journey through his religious works to the social realism of 17th century Seville, which has been described as a city of paupers and saints, of rascals and wealthy noblemen and merchants who, through their wealth, were able to have Murillo paint their portraits.

The Good Shepherd by Murillo (1665)

In the first section, there was the Prado-owned painting entitled The Good Shepherd, which Murillo completed in 1665. The scene has a rural setting along with classical allusions in the form of archaeological ruins which we can see in the left background. Jesus is portrayed as the boy who exudes an air of determination as he holds his shepherd’s crook in one hand whilst his left-hand lies across the back of the animal. There is a certain gentleness about the scene and the sheep, seen with the boy, represents the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), which is talked about in the scriptures. The depiction of the lamb as being obedient and submissive is all part of the divine plan.

The Holy Family with the Infant St John by Murillo (c.1670)

One of Murillo’s paintings in the Family of Nazareth section was The Holy Family with Infant Saint John, which Murillo completed around 1670 and was loaned to the Seville gallery by Budapest Museum of Fine Arts. This was a pendant painting forming a pair with his work The Flight into Egypt, which was also on show. In the depiction, we see Saint Joseph, in the background, with his carpentry tools. In the foreground, we see the Christ Child and the young Saint John busily tying two sticks together to form a cross. Mary watches over the children as she busies herself sewing. A sense of depth has been added to the composition by the inclusion of a background of mountains and clouds.

The Holy Family (The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities) by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, (1675-1682)

In the third section, Glory on Earth we have the Murillo painting The Holy Family (The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities) which was loaned to the museum for this exhibition by London’s National Gallery. This work of art encapsulates the religious theory that Jesus is both God and man and thus belongs to both the Heavenly Trilogy of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit as well as belonging to the Earthly Trinity – the family from Nazareth as seen in the painting with Jesus’ closeness to his mother, the Virgin Mary and his father, her husband Saint Joseph.

The Annunciation by Murillo (c.1660)

Murillo completed many paintings featuring the Virgin Mary and many were on show at the exhibition. The Annunciation by Murillo, which he completed around 1660 and had been loaned out by the Prado, was a great example of this focus on the Mother of God.

The Virgin and the Rosary by Murillo (c.1680)

The Dulwich Gallery-owned work by Murillo entitled The Virgin and the Rosary was also on view. In this work we see the Virgin seated on a throne of clouds floating in the celestial sphere and unlike other versions of this work by the Seville painter, clouds and angels have now been added to become her throne and footstool.

Mater Dolorosa by Murillo (1670-1675)

One of my favourite pieces of religious art by Murillo, which was at the exhibition, was Mater Dolorosa an artwork, which was part of a private collection belonging to a Dutch family. Mater Dolorosa or Our Lady of Sorrows refers to the sorrows in the life of the Virgin Mary and is a key subject for what is termed Marian art in the Catholic Church. In 1939 when the painting was bought from the Amsterdam art dealership, de Boer, by a private Dutch buyer, there was some doubt as to whether this painting was by Murillo but the German art historian August Lieberman Mayer, who was one of the most prominent art historians of the early 20th century and the era’s leading specialist for 17th century Spanish painting, wrote to the new owner stating his belief that it had been painted by Murillo. In his letter dated July 12th, 1939, he wrote:

“…I deeply regret, that actually I cannot make a new edition of my book in „Klassiker der Kunst“, but I hope to publish another monography of Murillo in Spain“ The picture is, in my opinion, a very fine, well preserved, genuine and most characteristic work by B. Murillo, executed most probably about 1668, the period, I consider the best and most powerful of the master. I reserve me the right of the first publication of this important and impressive work..”

Despite Mayer’s opinion, many art scholars still question his attribution. August Mayer never did publish another work on the Spanish master. As a Jew, he was forced to leave his offices in Munich by the Nazis.   He then fled to Paris in 1936 but was later arrested and was deported to Auschwitz in 1944 where he died.

I am not a great lover of religious art, probably not due to the quality of the work but more to do with the subject matter. I was therefore very pleased that after seven rooms of religious painting the final two rooms were devoted to Murillo’s genre paintings and his portraiture.

A Peasant Boy leaning on a sill by Murillo (c.1675)

I especially liked Murillo’s painting A Peasant Boy Leaning on a Sill, which he completed around 1675.  When London’s National Gallery acquired this work in 1826, it was the first Spanish painting to enter the museum’s collection.   The National Gallery of London loaned this to the Museo de Bellas Artes for the Murillo exhibition. This striking depiction of a cheerful boy is related to Murillo’s depictions of street urchins in his larger canvases. We see the boy at a window, the implication being that there is a lot going on that we are not aware of and so we have to be satisfied with what we have before us. So what else is going on? What has been excluded from the depiction? What is the boy looking at?   Some would have us believe that this work had a companion piece painted by Murillo, which was to be hung to the right of this one which would allow us to see what the boy was looking at.

Young Girl Lifting her Veil by Murillo

That suggested pendant piece was Young Girl Lifting Her Veil, (which is privately owned and was not included at the Seville exhibition). However, many art historians cast doubt on the two paintings being pendant pieces but the fact is that they were painted around the same time, they are both half-length depictions and are of similar size.  I have included the Young Girl Lifting her Veil and let you decide whether the two paintings hung side by side on a wall would add to your belief that they were pendant pieces. Was this beautiful girl the subject of the boy’s gaze?  Some think that the boy’s demeanour has an air of mischief about it and his expression was not instilled with innocent sincerity, like that of the girl. I will leave you with one further clue. At the sale of the two works at the Peter Coxe London saleroom on March 20th, 1806 of paintings owned by the Marquess of Lansdowne, the catalogue described them as:

“…No.50. Murillo. A Laughing Boy – delicately treated in every part – one of those performances so rare to be met with, & in his best style of perfection.

No.51. Murillo. Portrait of a girl treated with the same tone of harmonious colouring, as the preceding Lot, to which it is a companion, in the same happy effect of management…” 

The two paintings were sold at the auction to separate buyers.

Four Figures on a Step by Murillo (1655-1660)

The most bizarre painting at the exhibition, and one I particularly like, is Four Figures on a Step, which is owned by the Kimbell Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas. At first sight, I thought somebody had defaced the painting by adding a pair of thick black spectacles to the woman on the right.

Before us, we have four very different characters. In the central background, we have a young woman. Her face is somewhat distorted into a smile, even a knowing wink, as she raises her scarf over her head. What is the significance of the gesture?   Art historians have hypothesised that it is a coquettish gesture whilst others say that that is reading too much into her manner stating that the depiction is a simple scene with a family scrutinising the goings-on in the street outside. However, the scene to many historians is to associate it with one of procurement. Procurement?  They would have us believe that the older women with the thick dark glasses, resembles the character of a Celestina, an aged prostitute, madam, and procuress, of Spanish literature. The old procuress,  Celestinacomes from the 1499 book La Celestina, which is considered to be one of the greatest works of all Spanish literature, a timeless story of love, morality, and tragedy by Fernando de Rojas. The Celestina is often represented as a crone wearing enormous glasses and a headscarf hence the belief that Murillo’s painting includes a procuress!   So, if she is procuring, is she offering the man the pleasures of the young woman? More conservative historians point to the fact that on the contrary to the Celestina idea, the mature woman also resembles the bespectacled characters in Dutch and Flemish genre paintings, which Murillo would have seen.

The possible “procuress” is seen cradling the head of a young boy whose bottom is exposed by his torn breeches. In less liberal times Murillo’s depiction of the bare bottom had offended the public and had been over-painted for reasons of regaining a modicum of modesty but the painting now, after restoration, is seen as Murillo intended.

So the question I leave you with is this depiction simply a portrayal of the colourful characters to be found in the streets of Seville, or does the painting carry a reproachful, message, urging the viewers to avoid enticements of worldly decadences?

Portrait of Juan de Saavedra by Murillo (1650)

In the final room of the exhibition, we have Murillo’s portraiture.  Murillo’s earliest dated portrait is a newly discovered canvas, which depicts Juan Arias de Saavedra y Ramírez de Arellano an aristocrat from Seville and one of Murillo’s patrons. The subject of the painting was a knight in the Order of Santiago as indicated by both the red cross on his left shoulder and the pendant with a scallop shell.  The portrait is shown as being in a stone frame, which includes the sitter’s coat of arms. Murillo often used this stone-frame device in his bust-length portraiture. Also in the painting are two putti each holding a tablet. The one held by the putti on the left records the age of the sitter as twenty-nine while the one on the right has the date on which the portrait was painted – 1650. Below the portrait, there is a lengthy Latin inscription which is about Saavedra. Saavedra, it states, was a senior minister of the Holy Inquisition and is described in the inscription as a “profound connoisseur of the liberal arts, and of painting in particular”. The inscription also includes a passage by Murillo, which offers convincing proof of the connection between the artist and the nobleman with Murillo admitting his gratitude and sincere regard for Saavedra.

Portrait of Josua van Belle by Murillo (1670)

My last offering for this blog is another work of portraiture by Murillo, which was loaned to the Seville museum by the National Gallery of Ireland.   The sitter is Josua van Belle. He was born in Rotterdam and became a Dutch shipping merchant who lived for a period in Cadiz and Seville, where this portrait was painted in 1670. Van Belle was a celebrated art collector and amongst his collection of paintings, was Johannes Vermeer’s Woman Writing a Letter, with her Maid, which also resides in the National Gallery of Ireland. This portrait is looked upon as one of Murillo’s finest.

The Museo de Bellas Artes’ exhibition was excellent, full of beautiful masterpieces by Murillo and you have until the last day of March to visit this Sevilla exhibition.

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Museo de Bellas Artes, Sevilla

Having decided to escape the cold and miserable weather of Britain for a short period  I find myself in the warmth of the Algarve soaking up the sun and staring out at the blue sky and sea whilst reading about blizzard and gale-force conditions back home. Ok, that’s enough schadenfreude for one day. However, it is my location that leads me on to the next few blogs – not the Algarve but its neighbour Andalusia which I visited last week and enjoyed the delights of the beautiful city of Seville. I think I was most impressed by the city’s architecture and it is a timely reminder for me to walk more upright and look above eye level instead of concentrating on the pavement – old age can be a challenge!

Museum courtyard

I always try and visit at least one art gallery if I visit a large city so when I arrived in the Andalusian city of Seville and after settling into the hotel, I headed for Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla. Some art galleries/museums can be large and soulless with just a never-ending series of rooms. I particularly like ones, which are different and have had a  usage prior to becoming a museum, such as a place of residence or a religious institution, which then come with ornate decorations.

The garden of Museo Sorolla, Madrid

One of the best I have visited was the Museo Sorolla in Madrid which albeit smaller in size in comparison to the much bigger art institutions in the city and, despite featuring only the works of Joaquin Sorolla, it was a true joy to behold and one I insist you visit when in the Spanish capital. The building was originally the artist’s house and was transformed into a museum after the death of his widow, Clotilde, in 1929.   The museum was eventually opened in 1932.

Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla

The Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla was originally home to the convent of the Order of the Merced Calzada de la Asunción, founded on the site by Saint Peter Nolasco, shortly after the re-conquest of Seville by the Christians in 1248. The building itself was built in 1594, but did not become a museum until 1839, following the desamortizacion, the name given to the Spanish government’s seizure and sale of property, including from the Catholic Church, from the late 18th century to the early 20th century which resulted in the shutting down of religious monasteries and convents. The building we see today, with the galleries arranged on two floors around three quiet courtyards and a central staircase, was largely the work of Juan de Oviedo y de la Bandera.

Entrance to the Museo de Bellas Artes, Sevilla

This superb art museum has been lovingly restored and it now ranks as one of the finest in Spain. It is built around three patios, which are decorated with flowers, trees, and the distinctive Seville tile work.  Much of the paintings in the permanent collection was Religious Art. Because of Spanish unwavering obedience to the religious teachings of Rome, it was therefore not surprising that their artists were heavily involved in spreading the Christian message through their commissioned works of art. The purpose of religious art and architecture was to gain converts to the Catholic faith. Architecture in the shape of breathtaking cathedrals was, therefore, the principal form of inspiration. Inside the cathedrals and churches statuary was also inspirational and religious stories were illustrated in the form of stained glass windows, altarpieces, and works of art.

Inside, the museum’s permanent collection of Spanish art and sculpture from the medieval to the modern focuses on the work of Seville School artists, such as Bartolome Esteban Murillo, Juan de Vales Leal, and Francisco de Zurbaran.

Sagrada Cena (Holy Supper) by Alonso Vasquez (1588)

The large (308 x 402 cms) painting Sagrada Cena (Holy Supper) by the Renaissance painter Alonso Vazquez is part of the permanent collection. It was his first known work and was commissioned for the refectory of the Cartuja de Santa Maria de las Cuevas de Sevilla in 1588. The composition is based on different prints, living the naturalistic elements of the tableware and food. The Mannerist style of the work features the elongated fingers and hands and the emphatic and animated gestures of those at the table all adorned in artificially-coloured clothing.

St Francis of Assisi by Francisco Pacheco (1610)

There were a number of religious paintings by the sixteenth-century Spanish artist Francisco Pacheco including his 1610 painting St Francis Assisi.

Luis de Vargas. Alegoría de la Inmaculada Concepción (Seville Cathedral)

Works were on show by Luis de Vargas, the 16th-century painter of the late Renaissance period, who spent much of his life in Seville although he did travel to Rome where he was influenced by Mannerist styles.  Such works are characterized by the exaggeration or alteration of proportions, posture, and expression. He was not only a great painter, but was also a man of strong devotional temperament, and was known as a holy man. His greatest wish was to use his talent for the glory of God, and he had a tradition of going to confession and receive Holy Communion before painting one of his great altarpieces. One of his contemporaries said that Vargas kept a coffin in his room to remind him of the approach of death.

The Purification of the Virgin by Luis de Vargas (c.1560)

One of his paintings on view at the museum was The Purification of the Virgin. In this work we see Mary depicted inside the temple, presenting the baby Jesus to the priest, San Jose. The depiction is completed by the inclusion of three women and a young girl with two pigeons in a basket, together with some angels.    This painting records the ceremony of the Purification of the Virgin and the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple and festivity celebrated this event occur on February 2nd, which is forty days from the twenty-fifth of December, the date of birth of Jesus.     This forty day period harks back to the Mosaic law, which states that the woman who gave birth to a man was impure for a period of forty days, (eighty if the one born was female!).    At the end of that forty-day period, the baby had to be presented to the priest in the temple, so that he could be declared clean by means of an offering. As for the offering the mother was expected to offer the priest a one-year-old lamb. However, Mary, being from a poor family, was unable to offer a lamb, and so instead of a lamb, Mary offered the priest a pair of pigeons.

Calvario con el centurión by Lucas Cranach (1538)

The 1538 work entitled Calvario con el centurión (Calvary with the Centurion) by Lucas Cranach is also part of the museum’s permanent collection. At the heart of the depiction we see Christ on the cross, on either side of him are the in-profile portrayal of the good thief, Dismas, and the evil thief, Gestas, both of whom are also impaled on their crosses. The depiction is at the very moment that Jesus raises his head skywards and utters the words Father in your hands I commend my Spirit” and it is those very words (vater in dein hendt befil ich mein gaist) we see written in Cranach’s native tongue, at the top of the painting. Look at the amazing way Cranach has depicted the facial expressions of the three men. In the central foreground, we see the centurion atop his rearing horse. He utters the words “Truly this Man was the Son of God” and again the words in German “Warlich diser mensch ist gotes sun gewest” can be seen as if coming from his mouth. The background of this work is quite interesting. Cranach has split it in two. The upper part, which is the sky, is dark and filled with a sense of foreboding whilst the lower background is a distant view of the city of Jerusalem.

One of the two most famous Sevilla-born artists was Diego de Siva y Velázquez, who was born in the Spanish city in 1599. Some of his paintings were displayed at the Sevilla museum and I particularly liked his 162o painting, St Ildefonso Receiving The Chasuble From The Virgin.

St Ildefonso Receiving The Chasuble From The Virgin by Diego Velazquez (1620)

Saint Ildefonsus, a scholar and theologian, was born in Toledo around 607 AD. Ildefonse, against his parents’ wishes, gave up their clerical plans for him and he became a monk at the Agali monastery in Toledo and in 650 he was elected to head the order as their abbot. On December 18th 665, according to a biography on the saint in the Catholic Encyclopaedia, he experienced a vision of the Blessed Virgin when she appeared to him in person and presented him with a priestly vestment, to reward him for his zeal in honouring her and it was this event that Velázquez captured in his painting.  According to legend, Bishop Ildefonsus and the congregation were singing Marian hymns when light cascaded into the church, terrifying the congregation and causing most of them to flee. The bishop and a few of his deacons remained and they watched as Mary descended and sat on the episcopal throne. She was full of praise for Ildefonsus’ devotion to her and vested him with a special chasuble from her son’s treasury, which she instructed the bishop to wear only during Marian festivals.

The highlight of my tour around the museum was not just witnessing the permanent collection but happening to arrive during a special 400th-anniversary exhibition of one of Seville’s most famous painters.  Who was he?  I will tell you in my next blog………..

Anders Zorn. Part 3

Anders Zorn

Some biographers have maintained that Zorn’s personality was somewhat loud and garish and it is that personal trait which can often be seen in the animated, broad sweeping distinctive brushstrokes of his works. By the beginning of the 1880s Zorn had acquired a self-assured style, and with his popular artwork, he was on an artistic journey. As in so many instances in the early life of aspiring artists, who were being academically trained, Zorn’s view on how art should be taught ended with him having disagreements with the director of the Royal Academy of Fine Art regarding the strict curriculum and in January 1881, after a final divergence of opinion with the Academy’s director regarding the school’s authoritarian and inflexible curriculum, Zorn decided to resign. Zorn, by this time, had built up a strong set of student followers and many followed his lead and also left the Academy.

Une Première (The First Time) by Anders Zorn (1888)

Having had great success with his painting such as his gouache painting, Une Première, which won him a Gold Medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889, his standing as a plein air artist soared. There was nothing new about an artist depicting a nude with a backdrop of nature but Zorn’s depictions were quite different to those academic artists who liked to have a mythological theme in their works, full of nymphs prancing through forests and fields!

The Hinds by Anders Zorn (1908)

The nudes in Zorn’s paintings were depicted differently. There was a realism about his subjects. The naked women were simply depicted as healthy, ordinary Nordic women who were merely part of nature. A good example of this is his 1908 painting entitled The Hinds.

In Wikstrom’s Studio by Anders Zorn (1889)

One of his most beautiful works featuring a female nude is his 1889 painting entitled In Wikströms Studio. At this time Zorn and his wife Emma were living in Montmartre where he had his studio. He and his wife often entertained intellectuals and artists, especially artists from Scandinavia, who,  like him, had decided to ply their trade in the French capital.   One such artist was the Finnish sculptor, Emil Wikström, and he and Zorn became close friends. The two men shared a fascination for the female nude and the search for the perfect body to paint or sculpt and the two men would often use the same models for their work. The painting, as the title suggests, was painted by Zorn at Wikström studio. The young woman, a veritable beauty with luxuriant red hair and an almost golden skin tone, is seen standing next to a yet-to-be-completed image and is in the process of undressing prior to posing for the artist. There is a sense of unhappiness about the scene as if we believe the young woman has been forced into taking her clothes off. There is also a feeling that we are simply voyeurs and in a way, we are simply spying on the woman unbeknown to her, which adds a touch of both censure and hint of eroticism to the work.   Despite her seemingly unaware that she is being watched, we feel that we are standing before the work unable to move, gazing at the woman in total silence in case she detects us.

Zorn was contented with his standard of work and a quote published in Société des Peintres-Graveurs: printmaking, 1889–1897 quoted Zorn:

“…I never spent much time thinking about others’ art. I felt that if I wanted to become something, then I had to go after nature with all my interest and energy, seek what I loved about it, and desire to steal its secret and beauty. I was entitled to become as great as anyone else, and in that branch of art so commanded by me, watercolour painting, I considered myself to have already surpassed all predecessors and contemporaries…”

Self portrait with Model by Anders Zorn (1896)

Anders Zorn in the latter years of the nineteenth century continued with his favoured motifs, portraits including his own self-portraits and nude paintings of women. One such work, entitled Self-portrait with Model, which he completed in 1896, is a juxtaposition of his two favoured motifs. In the work, we see Zorn resting in front of his easel, smoking a cigarette as he takes a short break from his work. His partly dressed model is seen lying slumped in the background. Her eyes are fixed upon him and it is this gaze, which gives us a slight feeling of tension between artist and sitter.   An etching derived from this painting was completed by Zorn in 1899 and can be seen at the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston.

Self-portrait in a wolfskin by Anders Zorn (1915)

In the early 1900s, Anders Zorn continued with his portraiture and one exceptional example was his Self-portrait in Wolfskin in oils, which he completed in 1915.

A Toast in the Idun Society by Anders Zorn (1892)

Another work of portraiture that is worth a mention is Zorn’s meticulous work entitled A Toast in the Idun Society, which is housed in the National Museum of Stockholm. In this work, we see Harald Wieselgren, an influential intellectual, portrayed as the animated and scholarly speaker. In 1862, Wieselgren was the founder of the Idun Society and throughout his life, he was a leading figure in the Society. The male Idun Society was known for its closed bourgeois atmosphere. Wieselgren was a writer, a librarian at the Royal Library, and for several decades a driving force of the Idun society. This cultural association for men still survives today and since 1885 there has been a female equivalent Society known as Nya Idun.

Skerikulla (Skeri Girl) by Anders Zorn (1912)

Undoubtedly, Zorn was best known for his paintings but his etchings were extremely popular in their own right. It is said that his etchings realised higher prices than Rembrandts during his lifetime. In total, he completed almost 300 etchings, many of which were associated with his oil and watercolour works. One such is his 1912 etching entitled Skerikulla. The word Skerikulla means “Skeri girl” in the local Mora dialect, which was spoken by Zorn.  Zorn’s model for this work was a local girl, Emma Andersson, and Zorn has portrayed her as a happy young woman with a beaming smile. There is a feeling of energy about her demeanour, which we see in the middle of a laugh. It is a tender depiction. Later that year, Zorn also completed an oil painting of Emma.

Girl with a Cigarette II by Anders Zorn (1891)

Another exquisite etching is his 1891 one entitled Girl with a Cigarette II. Such simplicity, such perfection.   There are a number of versions of this etching. One can be found at the Met in New York while another is housed in the Art Institute of Chicago.

We often compare portraiture when we consider the talent of various portrait artists. I wonder if portrait artists ever compare their talent against that of fellow portraitists. I consider this possibility having just read an anecdote on The ARTery website with regards the portraiture of Zorn and that of his contemporary John Singer Sargent.

Mrs Walter Bacon (Virginia Purdy Barker) by John Singer Sargent (1896)

The story goes that in 1897, Edward Rathbone Bacon, a powerful American railway magnate, challenged Anders Zorn to come up with a superior portrait of his sister-in-law, Virginia Purdy, that John Singer Sargent had painted in 1896. The Sargent portrait had Mrs. Walter Rathbone Bacon standing, in a Spanish gown, leaning against a wall.   Sargent’s painting is housed at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

Mrs. Walter Rathbone Bacon (Virginia Purdy Barker) by Anders Zorn (1897)

Zorn took up the challenge but chose a more intimate slant. Virginia sat for Zorn in 1897, during one of his visits to America. We see the lady seated indoors wearing a satin gown. It is a masterpiece of fluid brushwork and soft colour harmonies. He depicted his sitter in a moment of unpretentious elegance, as she hugs her collie dog.

So which was the better?   Who won the wager? Well, according to Zorn’s memoirs (!) Sargent, on seeing Zorn’s painting at the Paris Salon in 1897, conceded that Zorn’s work was the winner.   However what should be taken from this story is the glimpse into the competitive rivalry between two of the great portraitists of their time as they both strived for portrait commissions from the same slice of American Gilded Age high society in the 1880s with its lavishness and high spending elites.

Night Effect by Anders Zorn (1895)

A woman features in another work by Zorn. It is his Night Effect work, which he painted in 1895 and depicts a night time scene featuring a life-sized portrait of a young woman. She is wearing a red dress, (which one believes implies she is engaged in prostitution) and can be seen leaning against a tree, possibly suffering from an excess of alcohol. It is a life-sized depiction measuring 160 x 106cms (63 x 42ins).

Statue of Gustav Vasa by Anders Zorn atop a hill in the town of Mora

When Zorn grew up, his interest in art was more to do with his love of sculpture before he concentrated on his painting. Maybe the combination of his love of sculpture and his love for his country resulted in one of his most famous creations, the statue of King Gustav Vasa, which Zorn created and was unveiled in 1903 in Zorn’s birthplace and home in the central Swedish county of Dalarna and the town of Mora. Gustav Eriksson of the Vasa noble family was later known as Gustav Vasa. He travelled to the province of Dalarna to rally the peasantry to fight against King Christian II of Denmark, the ruler of the Kalmar Union, a confederation of three countries, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. In 1523, Gustav Vasa made an impassioned speech to the men of Mora urging them to stand with him against the forces of the Kalmar Union. Gustav lead the rebel movement and his triumphant entry into Stockholm in June 1523 was followed by Sweden’s final secession from the Kalmar Union which was dissolved on June 6th, 1523 and Gustav became King Gustav I of Sweden.

House, garden and fountain – the sculpture “Morgonbad” (Morning bath) – of the Swedish artist Anders Zorn. Mora, Sweden.

Zorn also sculpted a number of portraits and smaller statues, among them is one known as Morning Bath which he completed in 1909.  It is a figure of a girl who holds a sponge in her hands from which a fountain spouts and is situated in front of the home where Zorn used to live.

The King of Sweden, King Oscar II by Anders Zorn (1898)

Anders Zorn used the popularity of his art to fund many charities. One example of this was the holding of a small exhibition featuring thirty-five of his works at the Artists Association in Stockholm in the Spring of 1918. The sale of his works at the end of the exhibition raised 12,642 Swedish Krona, which he donated to the Swedish Red Cross. In May that year, he donated twenty thousand Swedish krona to Västmanlands Dalanation.   Västmanlands-Dala nation, usually referred to simply as V-Dala, is one of the 13 “Student Nations” at Uppsala University, in Sweden. The “nation”, was intended for students from the provinces of Dalarna and Vastmanland, the former being the area of Zorn’s homeland. On June 6th, 1918, Zorn became Knight Commander of the Northern Pole Star order, first class.   The Order of the Polar Star is a Swedish order of chivalry which was created by King Frederick in 1748 and was a reward for Swedish and foreign “civic merits, for devotion to duty, for science, literary, learned and useful works and for new and beneficial institutions”.

Sommarnöje, by Anders Zorn (1886).

Sweden’s most expensive painting ever; sold at 26 million sek on June 3rd, 2010.

During the summer of 1920, Zorn spent much time sailing around the Stockholm archipelago and spending many nights celebrating on the island of Sandheim. However, Zorn was not well and was in constant pain and could not paint during that summer. After the summer sailing was over he returned to Mora, a tired and ailing man.
 Zorn was rushed to hospital in August 1920 for emergency abdominal treatment and was operated on at Mora hospital. Sadly Zorn had contracted blood poisoning in the lower abdomen and died on August 22nd, 1920, aged 60.

The Zorn Collections, or Zornsamlingarna, is a Swedish state museum, located in Mora,

Zorn’s wife Emma lived another twenty-two years, dying on January 4th, 1942. To honour the memory of her husband, she had worked to create a museum, which opened in 1939. She completed the existing collection by re-purchasing a number of paintings that he had sold and at the same time, she continued the philanthropic work that she and her husband had initiated.

Anders Zorn’s atelier at his house, Zorngården in Mora

The popularity of Anders Zorn’s art during his lifetime made him very wealthy and, over a number of years, he bought the art of his contemporaries and amassed a considerable collection. In their joint will, Anders and Emma Zorn donated their entire holdings to the Swedish State, including their home, Zorngården, which still remains today much as it was at the time of Emma Zorn’s death in 1942.


As usual much of the information I gleaned for the three blogs on Anders Zorn came from many internet websites but one of which is well worth looking at if you want a full and concise biography of this great Swedish artist.  The website is:

http://www.alsing.com/zorn_eng/index.html

 

Anders Zorn. Part 2 – America

Emma Zorn by Anders Zorn

In 1896 the Zorns returned to Sweden and went to live at their home, Zorngården, in Mora. Anders’ wife, Emma, immersed herself in the life of the small town and became involved in many different local activities including setting up a small local library and a small society where people could meet and practice their handicraft skills. She also founded the Zorn Children’s Home and the local community was indebted to her for the setting up of a public school for adults in Mora which came into being as a result of the active participation and financial support from her and her husband.  Anders and Emma’s relationship is believed to have changed somewhat during the last decade of the nineteenth century. It appears they grew apart, found it difficult to agree on many things, and their marriage changed from one based on deep mutual love, as it was at the beginning, to one of friendly companionship.

Antonin Proust by Anders Zorn (1888)

Above all else, it was Anders’ skill as a portrait artist that gained him international acclamation. He had the innate capacity to depict his sitters’ individual character and this can be seen in his 1888 portrait of the French journalist and politician, Antonin Proust.

Coquelin Cadet by Anders Zorn (1889)

Another fine portrait by Zorn was his 1889 one featuring Ernest Alexandre Honoré Coquelin a French actor who was better known as Coquelin Cadet, to distinguish him from his brother.  Zorn believed that a portrait should be painted in an environment that was natural for the model. An artificial studio environment was not to his taste.

Outdoors by Anders Zorn (1888)

At around about the time Anders and Emma settled in Paris and he started to complete paintings which depict not only water, one of his favourite motifs, but nudes either in the water or on the banks of rivers. One such work was his 1888 work entitled Outdoors, which is currently housed in the Gothenburg Art Museum.

The First Time by Anders Zorn (1888)

Another painting by Zorn depicting nudes and water is his poignant work featuring a mother and her young child whom she is trying to instill in him/her a love of water.  This 1888 painting is entitled The First Time and is housed at the Ateneum, the Finnish National Gallery in Helsinki.

Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina

Zorn completed a number of genre paintings, which focused on the depiction of light and shadow and if you are in North Carolina, near the town of Asheville, then you should make your way to the Biltmore Estate and see one such painting by him. The main residence of the estate is a Châteauesque-style mansion built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895 and is the largest privately-owned house in the United States and there, on the second-floor living area, you will find a beautiful genre painting by Anders Zorn, entitled The Waltz.

The Waltz by Anders Zorn (1891

It is a genre painting in as much it captures life at a ball. Zorn completed it in 1891. It is a romantic depiction in which we see dance partners gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes but it is all about the artist’s clever use of light and shadow in his portrayal of differing light conditions. The background is bathed in bright light and the ladies’ white dresses glow beautifully. This is in stark contrast to the light conditions in the right middle ground. It is darker in this area of the ballroom, with a dark curtain as a background, which further cuts off the bright-light gaiety of the main dance floor. With the darkness comes intimacy and this sense can be seen in the eyes of the male dancer in the foreground as he peers longingly into the eyes of his partner. Behind them, a man sits alone at a table and watches the dancers. Is he truly alone? Does he wish he was on the dance floor with a beloved partner? The third section of differing light is from the lamp on the table close to the lone man. From its glow, which is reflected on the floor, we can see another couple dancing and catch a faint glimpse of tables in the background. Zorn completed the painting in 1893 and on show at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago that year where it was purchased by George Vanderbilt.

Omnibus by Anders Zorn (1892)

Another of Zorn’s paintings around this time, which focused on the depiction of light and shadows, is one that is held at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the Fenway–Kenmore neighbourhood of Boston, Massachusetts. It is entitled The Omnibus and Zorn completed it in 1892. We see five people seated on the bus with their backs to the windows. Look how he has portrayed the light from outside streaming through the windows.  It is reflected on the neck of the girl in the foreground and the parcel she holds on her knee. The clothes of the travellers are dark and contrast with the splashes of light in the windows.

Our Daily Bread by Anders Zorn (1886)

During the summers, Zorn spent most of the time at home in Mora and he painted prolifically. One painting of this era which I particularly like is his Realist painting entitled Our Daily Bread, which he completed around 1886 and is now housed at the National Museum in Stockholm. In the painting we see an elderly peasant sitting on a dried-up riverbank gazing forlornly at the ground. Besides her, there is a loaf of bread and a boiling cauldron is hung precariously on a wooden pole, which is resting on the steep banks of the stream. A young child approaches carrying kindling, which will be added to the fire under the boiling cauldron.

1893 Chicago World’s Fair Swedish Building

The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, often called the Chicago World’s Fair was a world’s fair, which was held in Chicago to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the New World in 1492. Anders Zorn, whose status as a leading Swedish artist, was selected by the Swedish government to act as the superintendent of the Swedish art exhibition at the Fair. Zorn travelled to the United States that year and remained in the country for twelve months.   During the next fifteen years, he would revisit America six more times, usually between autumn and spring allowing him time to return to his beloved Sweden in the summer. Zorn loved America and the lifestyle it offered him during his frequent trips to the country but more importantly, it presented him with many portrait commissions, including numerous statesmen and society figures and those of three US presidents, Grover Cleveland, William Taft, and Theodore Roosevelt.

President Grover Cleveland by Anders Zorn (1899)

One such portrait was his 1899 portrait of Stephen Grover Cleveland, the American Democratic politician, and lawyer who became the twenty-second president of the United States in 1885, held office for four years before being defeated by the Republican candidate, Benjamin Harrison, but then in 1892 he again won the race to the White House to become the twenty-fourth US President.   Zorn painted this portrait two years after Cleveland had completed his second term. The sittings for the portrait, which lasted for several days, took place at the former president’s estate in Princeton, New Jersey. Zorn and Cleveland got on well during the sittings and the ex-President was well satisfied with the portrait, joking to a friend:

“… As for my ugly mug, I think the artist has ‘struck it off’ in great shape…”

Frances Folsom Cleveland by Anders Zorn (1899)That same year, 1899, Zorn completed a portrait of Grover Cleveland’s wife, Frances Folsom Cleveland. Francis Folsom was the daughter of Oscar Folsom, a lawyer and long-time close friend of Grover Cleveland. Cleveland first met Frances Folsom shortly after she was born in 1864 and, when her father was killed in a carriage accident in 1875, the court appointed Cleveland administrator of the estate and he oversaw her upbringing after her father’s death. After High School, Frances attended Wells College in Aurora, New York, and it was around this time when Frances was twenty-one that the relationship between Grover Cleveland and Frances developed romantically. The couple married at the White House on June 2nd, 1886. Frances was twenty-one years old and her husband was forty-nine.

William Howard Taft by Anders Zorn

Another American President to feature in one of Zorn’s paintings was Republican, William Howard Taft who became the twenty-seventh US President in 1909. The portrait of Taft, which is housed at the White House, was painted by Zorn during his last visit to America in 1911.

The courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Isabella Stewart Gardner was a leading American art collector, philanthropist, and patron of the arts. She was the daughter of wealthy linen-merchant David Stewart and Adelia Smith Stewart. On the death of her father, she inherited $1.75 million and around this time she started to buy European fine art. In 1903 her own museum in Boston, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which she had built to house her extensive art collection, was opened to the public. She was friends with many artists, such as James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent and during Anders Zorn’s first visit to America, he travelled to Boston where he met Gardner. Through this meeting developed a friendship and soon Zorn became popular with Boston’s wealthy artistic society. In 1894 Zorn painted a portrait of Isabella Gardner at the Palazzo Barbaro in Venice, one of her favourite haunts, which had become a meeting place for a circle of American and English expatriates in Venice.

Isabella Stewart Gardner in Venice by Anders Zorn (1894)

Zorn’s depiction of Isabella is a joy to behold. Look how he has managed to depict her vivacity and total joie de vivre as she moves into the dining room from the balcony, which overlooks the Grand Canal, imploring her dinner guests to come on to the terrace and witness the beauty of the late evening and the excitement of the ensuing firework display. Her arms are outstretched. She is beside herself with the joy of the moment. Anne O’Hagan Shinn, a well-known American feminist, suffragist, journalist, and writer of short stories, on seeing the painting described it as:

“…a flamelike incarnation of vigour and life – impression helped, doubtless, by the wonderful yellow gown which swathes the strong and supple figure that seem to leap from the canvas…”

………………to be continued

Anders Zorn. Part 1 – The early years

For my last blog featuring Alois Priechenfried I struggled for biographical information. In the next few blogs I am looking at the life and work of the well-known Swedish painter Anders Zorn and I am pleased to say that there has been much written about this talented nineteenth-century artist.

Anders Zorn (1908)

Anders Leonard Zorn was born Anders Leonardsson in the central Swedish town of Mora in Dalarna County on February 18th, 1860. The town of Mora is situated on the isthmus between the lakes Siljan and Orsan. Anders’ mother was Grudd Anna Andersdotter, but to her children, she was simply known as Mona, which meant mother in the Mora dialect. Grudd’s family were farmers and Anders was raised on his maternal grandparents’ farm in Yvraden, a hamlet near the village of Utmeland in the parish of Mora. Anders’ mother subsidised the family’s income by working in Von Düben’s brewery in Uppsala and it was here that she met the German brewer Leonhard Zorn, who became Ander’s father. Although she gave birth to Leonard’s son they never married and sadly, Anders Zorn never met his father who died in Helsinki on Boxing Day, 1872. However, Anders was recognised as Leonhard’s son and was allowed to carry his father’s name.

With the absence of a father in his life Anders Zorn was brought up by his grandparents who had a farm in Yvraden, a parish of Mora. He went to the local primary school in Morastrand and when he was twelve-years-old he was sent to the secondary grammar school in Enköping where he studied Swedish, German, history and geography. Although he was just an average student, he began to show an extraordinary artistic talent, especially when it came to depicting people and horses and he displayed an aptitude for being able to carve figures in wood.

On January 3rd 1874, Ander’s mother, Grudd, just a year after the death of Leonhard Zorn, married Skeri Anders Andersson and the couple lived in Lisselby, a small town thirty kilometres south-east of Mora. They had their first child, a daughter, Karin in the November. Later, three more daughters would enhance Grudd and Anders family. In the July of that year Anders Zorn received a bequest of 3000 SEK from the personal estate of brewer Leonardsson and this was allocated for Anders’s upbringing. The money was given to Anders parental guardian, a farmer in Mora, Bälter Sven Ersson, who set it aside for Anders and his education. The inheritance was well managed and lasted for four years.

In 1875, aged fifteen years of age, Anders Zorn went to study in Stockholm. He firstly went to the school for Handicraft and in that September was enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Art’s preparatory school, which was the de facto Principle School for the Academy. There, he studied, the techniques required for painting, drawing and sculpturing. In August 1878 Anders graduates from the Royal Academy of Fine Art’s preparatory school and enters the main Academy.

The financial support of his inheritance came to an end in 1878, but his late father’s German friends had a collection and the money was given to Anders to carry on with his education at the Academy. In 1879 he completed his studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Art and received his diploma on the June 28th.

In Mourning by Anders Zorn (1880)

In the Autumn of 1880, Anders Zorn moved to a studio at Hamngatsbacken, a street in central Stockholm. At that year’s Academy Students Exhibition Zorn exhibited a watercolour entitled In Mourning. This beautifully crafted and sensitive work, which depicted the sorrowful face of a young girl in mourning, was greatly admired by the public and critics alike. In the Official Swedish Government Gazette of May 22nd the Zorn’s painting was praised by Carl Rupert Nyholm a leading Swedish critic and Zorn was rewarded with 200 SEK for his work of art.

Banker Ludvig Arosenius by Anders Zorn (1880)

Following on from this, Zorn received a number of portraiture commissions. The most popular of which were from wealthy individuals and society parents who wanted portraits of their children. One example of this is Zorn’s 1880 watercolour portrait of the banker, Ludvig Arosenius.

Emma Zorn by Anders Zorn (1887)

In the Spring of 1881, Anders Zorn met Emma Amalia Lamm. Emily, who was the same age of Anders Zorn, but came from a completely different background than that of Anders. She and her family, who lived in Stockholm, were Jewish and her ancestors had settled in Sweden in the 1770’s. They were a wealthy middle-class family who had a love for art and culture and led an intense social life. Her father, Martin Oscar Lamm, who was a wholesale textile merchant, and was part of the S.L. Lamm & Son Textile Company, and her mother, Henriette Lamm (née Meyerson) had three children, Herman, Anna and Emma.

Zorn and his Wife (1890)

The meeting between Zorn and Emma came about as he had been commissioned to paint a portrait of Emma’s nephew, Nils, the three-year-old son of her sister, Anna and it coincided with Emma who was acting as a babysitter for the young boy. For Anders and Emma, it was a case of “love at first sight” and they became secretly engaged on June 2nd which was just a few months after they had first met. Emma’s family were charmed by her young man but the secret nature of the engagement was probably due to Emma’s parents realising that Anders’ early career as an artist would not be sufficiently lucrative for him to support their daughter.

Head of Spanish Girl, Sevilla by Anders Zorn (1881)

In August 1881, Zorn went abroad to study and to try to earn enough money to support a family. He left Sweden and travelled to Spain via Paris with his friend Ernest Josephson. The pair visited Madrid, Toledo and Seville and by the end of the year were lodged in Cadiz. It was in Cadiz that Zorn exhibited some of his work and they received great acclaim from the local art critics. He continued his travels in the early part of 1882 passing through Nice and Genoa before arriving in the Italian capital. Eventually he returned to Paris where he met up with Emma and her mother.

A Swedish Girl in Mora Folk Dress by Anders Zorn

For the next four years Anders spent time in England and Spain, returning to his home in Mora during the summers and in the town of Dalarö which lay on the East coast, south west of Stockholm, where the Lamm family rented a summerhouse.  He liked to depict people in their traditional costumes. One example of this is his painting entitled A Swedish Girl in Mora Folk Dress. The woman in the present painting is wearing the traditional folk dress of the small parish of Mora, in Dalarna Sweden, where Anders Zorn was born and raised. Even today Dalarna is regarded as the most typical and traditional of Swedish landscapes, and the folk dress plays a large part in the area’s culture. Zorn maintained a home in Mora and contributed greatly to the preservation of the area’s folk customs and dress, as well their local dialect.

Rocks at Dalarö II by Anders Zorn (1887)

During these periods spent on the coast Anders developed a technique of painting water illustrating the fluctuating and reflective surface.  An example of this type of work can be seen in his 1887 painting, Rocks at Dalarö II.

Zorn House

Anders and Emma did not get officially engaged until the July 2nd 1885 by which time Anders was financially sound thanks to the many commissions he was completing. Shortly after the engagement Emma and her mother travelled to Mora to meet Anders’ mother and other members of the family. The couple married in a civil ceremony on October 18th 1885. The newly married couple spent the next eleven years travelling, including a honeymoon in Constantinople, where Anders became seriously ill with typhoid fever. Despite their travels in Europe, the couple always returned to Sweden in the summer. In 1886, Zorn had acquired a vacant lot near the church in Mora church and designed and had built a house for his family. Additions were constantly made to the house, and by 1910 it was finished. The house, now known as Zorn House, is surrounded by a garden with berry bushes and fruit trees and adorned with a fountain sculpture in bronze made by Zorn himself. In the garden is the artist’s studio. The Zorngården, as it is called, is one of the most well-known artist homes in Sweden. It remains today almost untouched since their time and is now a museum dedicated to the life of Anders and Emma Zorn.

A Fisherman in St Ives by Anders Zorn

Emma and Anders Zorn spent the winter of 1887-88 in St Ives in Cornwall. This was an artistic turning point for Zorn. He began to paint in oils and one of earliest oil paintings, A Fisherman in St Ives, was an acclaimed success. It was accepted by the Paris Salon jurists for the 1888 exhibition and received a First Class Medal. By the end of the show it had been acquired by the French state.

Fish Market in St Ives by Anders Zorn (1888)

Following that achievement, Zorn was awarded a Gold Medal there for his 1888 work, Fish Market in St Ives. This painting is looked upon as one of his most outstanding watercolours.

By 1889 Anders and Emma had finally settled down in their first home in Paris and the French capital was to be their base for the next eight years. It was a challenging time for Emma as having come from a privileged household she had never learnt to cook. However, on the plus-side she had an amazing organisational talent and soon she began to manage her husband’s affairs, arranging contacts with galleries and museums and ensuring his work was well publicised.  Art historians now look upon this period, from Anders’ arrival in Paris and the following five years, as his finest artistic years and ones that raised his profile as one of the leaders of the Parisian art scene. In 1889, when he was 29, he was made a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur at the Exposition Universelle, the Paris World Fair.

Self Portrait by Anders Zorn (1889)
Galleria degli Uffizi

Anders Zorn was asked to paint his self-portrait for the Vasari Corridor of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The Vasari Corridor is a long, raised passageway that connects Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria to Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the river Arno. The passageway was designed and built in 1564 by Giorgio Vasari in just 6 months to allow Cosimo de’ Medici and other Florentine elite to walk safely through the city, from the seat of power in Palazzo Vecchio to their private residence, Palazzo Pitti.

The Vasari Corridor at the Uffizi Gallery, Florence

The passageway contains over 1000 paintings, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, including the largest and very important collection of self-portraits by some of the most famous masters of painting from the 16th to the 20th century. The collection now has over 400 portraits on view. They are hung along the corridor facing each other in chronological order. The self-portraits at the beginning of the collection are also hung according to the artist’s origin, Italians on the right and everywhere else on the left.

……………..….to be continued

Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

Settling the Accounts by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

Today’s blog is a very short one.  I think I have mentioned before how I choose an artist to write about. There are two things I need before I can embark on the journey of looking at the life of an artist. Firstly, I need to have multiple sources which offer a biography of the painter. Why multiple? Because you would be amazed at how often I come across differing facts such as names of family members, educational information and simple dates and I have to work out what are the true facts. Secondly, I must have a wide range of pictures so as to be able to highlight the artist’s skill as a painter. Proceeding with the blog without both of these is very difficult.

Portrait of an Old Man by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

However once in a while, and today is one of those occasions, I come across artwork which is so good that I just have to formulate a blog even though my knowledge about the artist’s life is severely limited. I scoured the internet and reference books and, as I was on a three-day visit to London on child-minding duties, I even went to the British Library but all to no avail as little seems to be written about today’s painter although the auction houses such as Bonhams, Christies and Sothebys offered samples of his art without a biography, which is somewhat unusual.  Let me introduce you to the nineteenth century Austrian portrait and genre painter Alois Heinrich Priechenfried.

Seated Rabbi by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

Much of the Jewish art by Priechenfried focused on the quiet contemplation of the holy scriptures.

A Rabbi Studying the Torah by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

Alois Michel Priechenfried, the artist’s father, was a gilder by trade. Gilding is the decorative technique for applying a very thin coating of gold to solid surfaces such as metal, wood, porcelain, or stone. He married Anna Hackensoellner and the couple had three children, August Franz, Georg and Alois. Alois Heinrich Priechenfried was born June 25th, 1867 in the Gumpendorf district of Vienna.

Seated Rabbi by Alois Priechenfried

Alois was brought up in the Catholic faith although when I first looked at his paintings I wrongly believed that he must have been Jewish.  Many of his paintings featured rabbis as is the one he painted entitled Seated Rabbi.  The quotation behind the rabbi is from Psalms 118:17, “I shall not die but live and proclaim the works of the Lord.”

Reading the Scriptures by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

My favourite painting of his featuring people of the Jewish religion is one entitled Reading the Scriptures.  There is something very peaceful about this painting.  The rabbis, who are seen reading the holy book or quietly contemplating what they have just read, offers one a feeling of extreme serenity which many people get from their belief in their religion and their God.  I suppose, being a non-believer, I miss out on such times of peaceful contemplation.

A Cardinal Reading by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

Not all Priechenfried’s paintings depicted aspects of the Jewish religion for one of his best paintings features a cleric from the Catholic religion.  It is simply entitled A Cardinal Reading.  Once again it is a portrayal of tranquil meditation.

Conversation in the Kitchen by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

When young Alois was fourteen years old, he followed in his father’s footsteps and trained and worked as a gilder.  At the age of seventeen he enrolled for one year at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts as a guest student.

Christian Griepenkerl (c.1907)

One of his professors at the Academy was the German painter, Christian Griepenkerl. Griepenkerl had been appointed a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna in 1874 and three years later he was the lead professor at the Academy’s special school for historical painting. Griepenkerl specialised in allegorical representation using themes from classical mythology and portraiture. He taught many of the foremost painters of the time including Egon Schiele and Anton Peschka but his teaching methodology and that of the Academy was looked upon by many young students as antiquated and overly-conservative and so many left the Academy and founded the Neukunstgruppe (New Art Group), which fostered its own style without Academic constraints.  Christian Griepenkerl later became famous for refusing Adolf Hitler’s application to join the Academy in 1907 stating that Hitler’s entrance submission piece was both unimaginative and unsatisfactory.

The Visit by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

Alois married a Emile Aurelia Watzek, a Yugoslavian lady in 1890 and the couple went on to have eight children.  As can be seen in the above painting and the ones below, he also completed many genre works.

German Interior Scene by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

Priechenfried spent many periods of his life in Munich but always returned to his beloved Vienna.

The Rehearsal by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

Alois Heinrich Priechenfried died on May 24th 1953 at his home in Diefenbachgasse in the Rudolfsheim-Fünfhausdistrict of Vienna which lies on the northern bank of the River Wien. He was 85.


My apologies for the lack of biographical information but I am sure you will agree the paintings themselves are worth the blog.   If anybody knows more about Priechenfried I would love to hear from you and then I could update this blog.

Finally, Merry Christmas and a belated Happy Hanukkah to everyone.

Anna Palm de Rosa, the Swedish watercolourist.

Anna Palm de Rosa (1865-1924)

In my last blog I looked at the life of Gustaf Wilhelm Palm, the renowned Swedish landscape painter. In this blog I want to talk about his equally artistically talented daughter Anna Palm. I read a Swedish article which it declared that Anna Palm was “one of our most productive artists from the oscarian era”. Oscarian is similar to what we term Victorian (1872-1907) as it relates to a period when the Swedish monarch Oscar II, who was on the throne between 1837-1901. Although today her work is largely forgotten and very little is written about her, in the 1890‘s she was one of the most wanted artists in Sweden.

Cliffs by Anna Palm (1891)

Anna Palm was born on Christmas day 1859 in Stockholm. Her father was Gustaf Wilhelm Palm, the court and landscape painter. Her mother, Eva, was the daughter of portraiture and historian painter Johan Gustaf Sandberg. The family lived at Barnhusträdgårdsgatan 19, in Stockholm, which today is known as Olof Palmes Street, renamed after the former Swedish prime Minister who was assassinated in 1986. The home of the Palm family was a favourite meeting place for a large circle of their artist friends. Gustaf Palm who lived in Italy between 1841 and 1851 brought the Italy he loved to his paintings and his love of art was soon transferred to his daughter.

Self-portrait as a Hunter by Edvard Perséus

During her teenage years she was home-schooled in art by her father,  who was a teacher at the elementary education school, which was a preparatory school for the Academy of Fine Arts. Anna did not attend the Academy itself as it was still uncommon for women to study at that prestigious establishment. However, in 1880, aged twenty-one, she became a student of the history painter Edvard Perséus. Edvard Perséus, born Edvard Persson, had opened a very successful private painting school in Stockholm in 1875 and who, in 1882, was appointed to be a hovintendent (superintendent) responsible for King Oscar’s art collection.

Norrland coastal landscape with woman on the path by Per Daniel Holm (1864)

Another of Anna’s tutors was the landscape and genre painter Per Daniel Holm. After this, and through her family’s financial support, Anna travelled to Denmark where she spent some time at the artist colony in Skagen, a small harbour town in the north of Denmark.

A game of l’hombre in Brøndums Hotel by Anna Palm (1885)

It was whilst here that she embarked on one of her best-known paintings, A game of L’hombre in Brøndums Hotel which she completed in 1885. L’hombre was a quick-fire seventeenth-century trick-taking card game and the Brøndums Hotel in Skagen became the centre of one of the most famous artists’ colonies in Europe, known as the Skagen painters

Summer Evening at Skagen Beach – The Artist and his Wife by P.S. Krøyer (1899)

It was at the beginning of the 1870’s that the first artists came to the town of Skagen, on the east coast of the Skagen Odde peninsula, in the far north of Jutland.  Peder Severin Krøyer, one of the best-known of the Skagen painters, was inspired by the light of the evening which he termed the “Blue hour”, which made the water and sky seem to optically merge.  These young painters, who congregated at Skagen, had studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and were seduced by these light conditions in an area which also offered numerous sights of natural beauty which could satisfy the plein air painters, and furthermore many of the local population were willing to act as artists’ models for a small fee. It was not just artists who came to sample the fresh and rejuvenating air of this small coastal town. Writers, musicians, and actors often visited the place all of whom wanted to immerse themselves in the cultural life of the colony.

The hotel dining-room with portraits of the Skagen Painters (c.1892)

The Skagen Painters had a close relationship with Brøndums Hotel. One of the earliest painters to arrive at Skagen was Michael Ancher who arrived there in 1874 and he soon developed close ties with the family, who owned the hotel, and he eventually married their daughter Anna Kristine in 1880. Anna Ancher went on to become one of Denmark’s greatest visual artists. The Brøndums’ dining-room became the centre of the artists’ social life and was filled with the paintings they donated to cover the cost of board and lodging.

Spring afternoon at the North Sea by Romain Steppe

From Denmark, Anna Palm went to live in Antwerp and studied at the studio of the Belgian marine painter Romain Steppe, a painter of landscapes, and genre scenes but was best known for his atmospheric marine painting in the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist style. From Antwerp Anna went to live and study art in Paris.

Ships in Stockholm Harbor by Anna Palm (1890)

Anna Palm’s painting were shown at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen in 1885 and again in 1887 as well as many other exhibitions around Scandinavia. Once again, one hears about the frustration of artists with their country’s academic training and in 1885 and she was one of the many signatories to a letter from disgruntled artists who felt frustrated by what they termed as the “obsolete education” of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. Despite this criticism Anna became a teacher in watercolour painting at the Academy in 1889 and held that that post until 1891. It was during this period that there was a growing demand for her watercolour paintings and she was soon inundated with commissions, many of which depicted sailboats and steamers.

Old Opera Seen from Helgeandsholmen by Anna Palm (1892)

Views of Stockholm were often depicted in her watercolour paintings, such as her 1892 work entitled Old Opera Seen from Helgeandsholmen. Helgeandsholmen is a small island in central Stockholm.

We can see in a letter she wrote to a client in 1892 as to how busy she was producing watercolours:

“…… Mr. Wilhelm Sjöström, Karlshamn,
I have not received students in watercolour painting, because I have so much to do with ordered jobs. What about your second request as to whether I have any watercolour study to sell, I have enough. For example, from the coast of Gotland, two smaller – 33 cm long and 24 cm wide. The one with trees on the left, in the background a jetty and boys wading in the foreground. The other – Lax fi crashed on the way home. They are painted directly after nature and really fresh in colour. I sell these two to 50, but not below. I also have a motif from Stockholm, 55 cm long and 30 cm high, Stockholm’s stream from Riddarholmen for SEK 50. Best is about Mr. Sjöström can decide soon, because I hardly get them ready until they are sold. With the utmost importance Anna Palm.

Stockholm, March 5, 1892. Address: Brännkyrkagatan 4 A. Stockholm…”

It needs to be remembered that 50 kr in the 1890’s was about one month’s salary for a worker and her watercolours now fetch between 15,000 – 25,000 kronor.

View of the Royal Palace, Stockholm by Anna Palm (1893)

Another such work featuring her favoured city was one entitled View of the Royal Palace, Stockholm which she completed in 1893.

Boulevard des Capucines by Anna Palm (1905)

Anna Palm left Stockholm and Sweden on New Year’s Eve in 1895 and never returned to her homeland. At this time, Anna Palm was thirty-six years old. Both parents were dead, and her brother had left Stockholm to live in Jönköping. Anna boarded a steamboat to Le Havre and went to live in Paris, with her friend Karin Nilsdotter. After some years in France, the two women went to Italy and during a visit to Capri, she met her prospective husband, Infantry Lieutenant Alfredo de Rosa. The couple married in Vaucresson, a western suburb of Paris, on September 9, 1901. From there they returned to Italy and moved to Capri before settling in the Madonna dell’Arco, district of Sant’Anastasia, near Naples in 1908.

Colosseum by Anna Palm de Rosa (c.1900)

Now an Italian resident, many of her watercolours featured depictions of famous Italian landmarks and Italian life such as her 1900 gouache work entitled Colosseum.

Stockholm Castle by Anna Palm de Rosa

However, Anna never forgot her previous life in Sweden and in fact many of her clients were Swedish and still wanted her to paint depictions of Stockholm and life in Sweden. One such work was her watercolour depiction of Stockholm Castle.  These constant commissions allowed her to support her husband and herself.

Motif from Yxlan, Stockholm Archipelago by Anna Palm de Rosa

Anna’s husband, Lieutenant Alfredo de Rosa, was called-up during the First World War and whilst he was away Anna became even more committed to her painting and spent large part of her time at Baiae, an ancient Roman town situated on the north-west shore of the Gulf of Naples, where she completed some of her finest marine paintings. With the ending of the war in 1918, Alfredo de Rosa, then a colonel and Anna were once again reunited.  Anna’s health began to fail and she became very frail. Anna Palm de Rosa died on May 2nd 1924, aged 64.