For many of you who have visited the National Gallery in London, you will be aware of the daily lunchtime lectures. These often come in the form of one of the gallery curators/educators talking about one of the paintings, which is part of the gallery’s permanent collection. In some instances, on the day you will be advised of the painting featuring that day’s talk and where to find it. Chairs are then arranged around the painting and at the prescribed time the talk begins. They are well worth half an hour of one’s time. The reason I mention this is that the painting mentioned in this blog was one that was being talked about when I first attended one of these lunchtime sessions. It was Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s 1601 work, Supper at Emmaus, which is based on a biblical tale quoted in Luke 24:30-31:
“…When he was at the table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight…”
Caravaggio’s large work (141 x 196cms; 56 x 77 ins.) depicts the moment when the resurrected, but incognito Jesus, reveals himself to two of his disciples as they sat down to eat. Standing to the left of Christ is the innkeeper, who has served up the food. On the left, with his back to us, is Luke in his torn clothes and to the right is Cleopas. Attached to the coat worn by Cleopas is the scallop shell denoting that he is a pilgrim. The setting for the painting is the interior of a village inn, in the small town of Emmaus, which lies close to Jerusalem. In the painting, we see Christ reaching out his hand, in his renowned gesture, to bless the meal and at it is at this point that Luke and Cleopas suddenly realise that they are with the risen Christ and it is at this juncture of time that Caravaggio has strived to capture in his work. With the work being so large, the figures within it are life-sized.
However, the blog is more than just this painting but more about a lucky happening. I had just flown into the Algarve in southern Portugal and picked up a copy of the local newspaper and saw a full-page article about a local painter António Villares Pires who had just completed a full-size copy of the work. I decided to go and see it, which was at his studio in the town of Silves. The name of his workshop/studio is O Templo do Tempo (The Temple of Time). I contacted him and arranged a visit.
António was born in Porto in a neighbourhood which was populated by many artists and it was with him mixing in their company that he fell in love with art. He studied art at university and achieved a degree in Fine Arts. He later taught art and eventually became a professional artist. He moved to the Algarve in 2009 and founded his studio in Silves, which backs on to the Silves railway station. He says that the name he gave the studio, O Templo do Tempo, is his perception of art because he always felt that when something is truly art, it belongs to the past, present, and future – art, he says, is timeless.
His studio is full of his artwork and sculptures he is working on or are completed in the last decade. Despite being busy with many commissions he has dedicated the last six months to his “Caravaggio Project”. António loves and is in awe of Caravaggio’s style of painting and the way in which the Italian painter portrayed human beings in both a physically and emotionally realistic manner, often centered on a melodramatically dark background, which is often lit up by a single source of light.
Antonio says that it was the first time he painted in this style and the experience was a journey he wanted to fulfill in order to get into the mind of Caravaggio. He wanted to get to know the artist. His studio has two levels and it is in the mezzanine that almost all the space is dedicated to his Supper at Emmaus painting.
The painting, which he completed the day before we arrived, has the exact same measurements of the original and is flanked by photographs of the original National Gallery version of the painting as well as a large array of paints. It was on the mezzanine that Antonio spent up to six hours a day for the last six months creating his work. One would think he would tire of this same routine day in, day out, but he says that he loved it more each day. He returned to the National Gallery for the second time last November (his first visit was thirty years ago) and stood in front of the massive painting making notes, becoming aware of subtle changes he may have to make to his version.
Like Caravaggio’s work, Antonio’s copy is created in oils and he has made every effort to make his painting match every last detail of the original. For me, the painting looks identical to the original I saw in London. So why choose to copy this work? Antonio says that for him the Caravaggio work is an extraordinary painting with a lot of soul and humanity. When I talked to him about it his eyes lit up. He was truly in love with the work.
He says he will return to London to see if and how he can get his work officially certified. Once certified, he will sell it as his own work. I asked if he would be sad to let it go. He said he would but before it left him, he would make a full-sized colour copy that he could keep. He says that he will create more pieces of art in the style of Caravaggio. Antonio has been painting for more than fifty years but says that when he is painting in the style of Caravaggio he feels he is twenty-eight again. For him his studio, O Templo do Tempo, is more than just a large storeroom for his work, it is a creative sanctuary, which he has poured his heart into. This is simply, his life.
The full article about O Templo do Tempo was written by Cameron Cobb and appeared in the January 9th, 2020 edition of the Algarve Resident and the December/January edition of the Essential Algarve magazine.
Although Albert Herter was recognized as an “easel painter” who concentrated on portraiture and floral still lifes, he had always loved mural painting, a specialization he began early in his career. Herter’s best-known and most personal mural was his work which is displayed inside the Gare de l’Est. one of the railway stations in Paris. It is entitled Le Départ des poilus, août 1914. It was one of many mural commissions he completed during his lifetime, many of which were for buildings in America, such as the murals prominently displayed in the Massachusetts House of Representatives (Milestones on the Road to Freedom, dedicated in 1942) and in the Connecticut Supreme Court Hearing Room (The Signing of the Fundamental Orders of the Constitution 1638-39, and An Allegory of Education, both installed in 1913).
In 1926, Albert completed his most famous monumental painting which measured 12 x 5 metres depicting the departure of young soldiers to the front. It was entitled Le Départ des poilus, août 1914. Poilu is an informal term for a French World War I infantryman, meaning, literally, “hairy one” and is still widely used as a term of endearment for the French infantry of World War I. The word hints at the infantryman’s typically rustic, agricultural background.
Albert Herter, who painted the work in an empty room of the Palace of Versailles, donated the work to France in memory of his eldest son. In the upper half of the painting we see a depiction of young men in uniform on the train awaiting departure to the Front. The soldier on the far right carries the French tricolour.
Look at the soldier in the centre of the painting with his arms raised aloft. In his right hand he holds up a rifle, the muzzle of which is filled with a bouquet of flowers. This is a portrait of Everit, his younger son, who was to die on the battlefield.
The lower half of the painting is dedicated to the soldiers’ families who have come to say their farewells. Look at the man to the right who carries a bunch of flowers. He is bent over and clutches his chest. This is a self-portrait of the artist, Albert Herter. He has depicted himself as being sad and somewhat fearful of the fate of his son.
Scan across to the left of the painting and look at the woman in white with hands clasped in prayer. This is a portrait of Herter’s wife Adele. She has a haunted look on her face. She too is fearful for her son. The painting was inaugurated on 8 June 8th 1926 in the lobby of the Paris Gare de l’Est Station in the presence of Marshal Joffre. It has hung at many different places in the station. The painting was removed from the Gare de l’Est in 1948, to be cleaned of the dirt deposited by years of smoke from steam trains. It was returned in 1964, but was removed again in 2006 to allow the station to be adapted for the TGV Est.
After restoration, it was reinstalled in early 2008 hanging seven metres above the floor in the station’s Hall d’Alsace. The Gare de l’Est was chosen as a site for the work as it is a place of remembrance of the First World War as many soldiers passed through it on their way to the front while those returning home from the battlegrounds passed through there on their way to joining their families at home. For many veterans, the painting by Herter was regarded as an invitation to remembrance and recollection.
Another series of Herter’s murals was commissioned for the Wisconsin Supreme Court Hearing Room although these were somewhat controversial. The controversy was written about in the 1995 Wisconsin State Capitol Historic Structure Report which reported:
“…The complicated and protracted story of the Wisconsin Supreme Court murals involved three different artists (one of whom perished on the Titanic), justices who needed to be convinced of the desirability of murals in the hearing room and an architect who was determined to implement his scheme for the space. The justices, accustomed to portraits of former justices on the walls in the hearing room of the previous capitol, wanted to hang the portraits in the new hearing room…”
The Wisconsin Supreme Court Hearing Room is reputed to be the most beautiful of its kind in the country. In addition to the walls and columns of marble from Germany, Italy, France and Maryland, the bronze candelabras, the carved mahogany bench and counsel table, the most striking objects are the four large murals by Albert Herter, each nine feet by 18 feet six inches. Each mural depicts a source of Wisconsin law.
The mural on the north wall, to the left of the Hearing Room shows King John of England sealing and granting Magna Charta (the Great Charter) in June 1215 on the banks of the Thames River at the meadow called Runnymeade. His reluctance to grant the Charter is shown by his posture and sullen countenance. But he had no choice. The barons and churchmen led by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, forced him to recognize principles that have developed into the liberties we enjoy today. King John, out of avarice, greed or revenge, had in the past seized the lands of noblemen, destroyed their castles and imprisoned them without legal cause. As a result, the noblemen united against the king. Most of the articles in Magna Charta dealt with feudal tenures, but many other rights were also included.
Article 39 provided:
No freeman shall be seized or imprisoned, or dispossessed, or outlawed, or in any way destroyed, nor will we condemn him, nor will we commit him to prison, excepting by the legal judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.
Article 40 promised:
To none will we sell, to none will we deny, to none will we delay right or justice.
Out of these and other provisions came the rights of habeas corpus and trial by jury. Freedom of the church was also guaranteed in the Charter. The barons and churchmen claimed that all of these were ancient rights expressed in earlier charters of Edward the Confessor and Henry I. This mural commemorates our indebtedness to English common law, brought to these shores by the early British colonists. The young boy holding the dog was modelled by Christian Herter, son of the artist. He became governor of Massachusetts and secretary of state under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The mural on the west wall over the entrance to the Hearing Room depicts an incident in the reign of Caesar Augustus Octavius. The Roman writer Seutonious tells of Scutarious, a Roman legionnaire who was being tried for an offense before the judges seated in the background. The legionnaire called on Caesar to represent him, saying: “I fought for you when you needed me, now I need you.” Caesar responded by agreeing to represent Scutarious. Caesar is shown reclining on his litter borne by his servants. Seutonious does not tell us the outcome of the trial but leaves us to surmise that with such a counsellor he undoubtedly prevailed. The mural represents Roman civil law, which is set forth in codes or statutes, in contrast to English common law, which is based not on a written code but on ancient customs and usages and the judgments and decrees of the courts which follow such customs and usages.
The mural on the south wall portrays the trial of Chief Oshkosh of the Menominees for the slaying of a member of another tribe who had killed a Menominee in a hunting accident. It was shown that under Menominee custom, relatives of a slain member could kill his slayer. Judge James Duane Doty held that in this case territorial law did not apply. He stated:
“…it appears to me that it would be tyrannical and unjust to declare him, by implication, a malicious offender against rules which the same laws presume he could not have previously known…”
Judge Doty acquitted Chief Oshkosh of the charge and they became friends.
In 1848 Wisconsin achieved statehood and this mural shows the state’s indebtedness to territorial law. Article XIV of the Wisconsin Constitution of 1848 says the common law in force in the territory and the laws of the territory are part of the law of Wisconsin except as changed by the Constitution or altered or repeated by the legislature.
The fourth mural, which is actually the first one that is visible on making an entrance to the Supreme Court Room, and is Albert Herter’s rendition of the signing of the Constitution at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787. George Washington is shown presiding. On the left, Benjamin Franklin is easily recognizable. On the right, James Madison, “Father of the Constitution” is shown with his cloak on his arm. Although he was in France at the time, Thomas Jefferson was painted into the mural because of his great influence on the principles of the Constitution. The painting hangs above the place where the seven member Wisconsin Supreme Court sit to hand down their decisions. The mural’s position above the bench is symbolic that the Supreme Court operates under its aegis and is subject to its constraints. The United States Constitution has served us well for more than 200 years. This mural shows our indebtedness to federal law.
Thus, the four murals show that Roman, English, federal and territorial law are all part of our legal heritage.
Albert Herter is believed to have used studio space at both his business, the textile design firm, Herter Looms in New York City, and at “The Creeks,” his meticulously designed East Hampton, Long Island estate. Herter’s use of certain colours in his murals so that they complemented the colours in the marble panels beneath them was ingenious. The murals arrived in Madison, and work began on installation at the Capitol on May 25, 1915, The Racine (Wisconsin) Journal-News reported on that day.
“…The pictures cost the state $28,000. Francis D. Millett, who was the first engaged to make the paintings for the Supreme court room, lost his life in the sinking of the steamship Titanic before he could begin the pictures…”
Another set of five murals by Albert Herter can be found in the House of Representatives chamber of the Massachusetts State House, the lower house of the Massachusetts General Court, the state legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The murals known as the Milestones on the Road to Freedom in Massachusetts decorate the upper walls of the chamber. The names above the murals list the fifty-three most important men in Massachusetts history.
The mural on the left was a scene from the court case against a local magistrate, Samuel Sewall. In 1692 a small group of men and women of Salem were arrested for bewitching their neighbours. Samuel Sewall, a local magistrate, was a member of the court that ultimately sentenced nineteen people to be hanged. The tragedy was realised several months later: those still being held were released. In the mural, Sewall is seen standing in Old South Church in Boston with his head bowed as his confession and prayers for pardon are read aloud.
Sewall is said to have fasted one day each year, praying for his soul and the souls of those wrongfully put to death. At the dedication of the murals, this event in particular was singled out as a turning point, for it represented “the beginning of the recognition of the ‘quality of mercy’ in human affairs.”
The mural was a gift of the artist and his son, Governor Christian Herter which was unveiled December 16th, 1942.
Besides these murals at Madison, Wisconsin, Albert Herter’s murals now decorate walls in the State capitols at Hartford, Connecticut, Lincoln Nebraska, the Public Library in Los Angeles, the Academy of Science in Washington DC, the National Park Bank in New York and many other public buildings. It is probably his murals that Albert Herter will be best remembered and one has to remember the story of him as a child when his first drawing was a very large picture featuring numerous people. Maybe his large-scale murals were always going to be his favoured genre.
Information about Albert Herter’s murals at the Wisconsin Supreme Court Hearing Room came from the Wisconsin Court System website:
One’s upbringing surely plays a big part in how we develop. Often, we follow in the footsteps of our parents and soon what was there chosen occupation, becomes ours. Financial stability must play an important role in how we develop. There are many stories of artists struggling away against financial adversity in their childhood and youth to become famous painters. It was that struggle which shaped them and their life. However, there are also many young people who emerged from a wealthy background who also made it to the top of their profession. They neither struggled with nor worried about financial matters. My artist today is Albert Herter, an American, who was one of those privileged people who had a successful career as an artist. Regina Armstrong, writing in The Art Interchange of January 1899, commented on Herter’s start in life:
“…Well, Albert Herter simply has no right to exist. To begin with, he was born to wealth and social position; he is handsome and attractive in manner, and he has exceptional talent. You see, his career knocks the props from under those accepted saws about the impetus of poverty…”
Albert Herter was an American painter, illustrator, muralist, and interior designer. He was born in New York City on March 2nd 1871. He came from an artistic family. His mother was Mary Herter (née Miles) and his father was Christian Augustus Ludwig Herter, a German immigrant, who with his brother, Gustave, were founders of the prestigious Herter Brothers, a prominent New York interior design and furnishings firm, which began as a furniture and upholstery shop/warehouse, but, after the Civil War became one of the first American firms to provide complete interior decoration services. Albert’s father, Christian, was also a talented amateur artist. Albert was the younger son and had an elder brother, by six years, Christian Archibald Herter, an American physician and pathologist noted for his work on diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. He was co-founder of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
As a child Albert loved to draw and historians love to quote the story of one of Albert’s first artistic forays – not a small sketch nor a painting but a complicated multi-figure, large-scale drawing. His parents realised that their son’s future was to be artistic. They realised that he was not bound for an Ivy League university but the artistic establishments of New York and Paris. He studied in New York at the Art Students League where he studied alongside William Kendall, the subject of my previous blog. Albert’s work received a number of mentions in art journals and was awarded many medals for his artistic works. He was also acknowledged as the youngest artist to have his work shown at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.
In 1892 Herter completed a portrait of his childhood friend, Elisabeth Newton. It is a life-sized depiction measuring 59 x 32 inches. The lady is in a reflective mood and for this work there are signs of Herter being influenced by Whistler with its carefully schemed arrangement of whites. In the background we have a decorative patterned curtain which also reveals Herter’s interest in textiles and Japanese design.
After Albert Herter left the Art Students League, he travelled to Paris to hone his artistic skills in the studio of Jean-Paul Laurens, the French Academic-style painter and sculptor. It was whilst living in the French capital that Albert met another American art student. She was Adele McGinnis who was studying under William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Gustave Courtois, and Tony Robert-Fleury at the Académie Julian. Adele, who was two years older than Albert, was born February 27th 1869. She was the daughter of the New York banker, John McGinnis and his wife Lydia. Love blossomed between Albert and Adele and they married in New York in 1893.
In 1894, Mary Miles Herter, Albert’s mother, gave the couple a wedding gift. It was not just any wedding gift, it was a seventy-acre parcel of land in East Hampton, Long Island, between Montauk Highway and Georgica Pond. In 1899, on this parcel of land, the couple built The Creeks, a 40-room, Mediterranean-style villa. This beautifully created estate incorporated almost a mile of waterfront on the tidal estuary. As both Albert and Adele Herter were artists, they incorporated into their villa two large art studios so each would have their own workspace. Adele Herter also designed the extensive gardens.
In 1912, Albert Herter added a much larger studio to the complex, which also doubled as a private theatre, and it was in this building that famous artists, such as Enrico Caruso, Isadora Duncan and Anna Pavlova performed. The house design and interior featured in a 1914 book entitled The Honest House by Ruby Ross & Rayne Adams in which the authors wrote:
“…One of the finest examples of a color plan in our architecture is the country place of Mr. Albert Herter at East Hampton, Long Island. Here is a large, rambling house, built so close to the sea that the blue-green of the water and the clear blue of the sky are deliberately considered as a part of the color plan. Mr. Herter’s idea was to get, if possible, the effect of a house in Sicily, and so he built the house of pinkish yellow stucco and gave it a copper roof. The sea winds have softened the texture and deepened the color of the walls to salmon, and the copper roof has been transformed into ever-changing blue-greens that repeat the colors of the sea. In front of the house there are terraces massed with flowers of orange and yellow and red, and back of the house there is a Persian garden built around blue and green Persian tiles, and great blue Italian jars. Here flowers of blue and rose, and the amethyst tones in between, are allowed. Black green trees and shrubs are used everywhere, with the general effect of one of Maxfield Parrish’s vivid Oriental gardens…”
Although known for her floral still life and decorative wall paintings, Adele McGinnis was principally a portraitist. Through Adele’s upper-class upbringing she made many important contacts some of whom sat for her, such as Abby, the wife of John D Rockefeller and Mary Emma Harkness the wife of the wealthy philanthropist, Edward S. Harkness. She received a number of awards for her art, the major ones being at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, in 1901 and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Saint Louis, Missouri, in 1904. She was also a charter member of the Cosmopolitan Club, New York.
Albert and Adele honeymooned in Japan, and Herter completed a number of paintings with Oriental themes such as his 1894 work entitled Eastern Blossoms.
The Portrait of Master Rosenbaum, (Portrait of Albert M. Rosenbaum, Jr.) was commissioned by Albert and Nettie Rosenbaum, young Albert’s parents. The painting then became the property of Milton Meyers, the older brother of Albert M Rosenbaum Jnr and his wife Fern Meyers. According to Mrs Meyers, the Rosenbaums, whom she never knew, commissioned Albert Herter to paint a portrait of their son after his impending death became known. She didn’t remember if she’d ever heard the cause of his death at the age of eleven, but it was probably consumption.
The couple returned to Paris for the first years of their marriage. Albert and Adele went on to have three children, two sons, Everit born in 1894, Christian Archibald in 1895 and one daughter, Lydia Adele in 1898. Everit and Lydia both became artists. Sadly, Everit was killed, at age 24, in World War I. Christian became a politician, serving as governor of Massachusetts and later U.S. Secretary of State under Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In 1894 Herter completed his well-loved painting entitled Woman with Red Hair. His work was a depiction of fine living during America’s Gilded Age. The Gilded Age was a term derived from the title of Mark Twain’s satirical novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today and defined the turbulent years between the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the turn of the twentieth century. It was during this period that America became more prosperous and saw unprecedented growth in industry and technology. However, the Gilded Age had a more sinister side. It was a period when greedy, corrupt industrialists, bankers and politicians enjoyed unprecedented wealth at the expense of the working class. The lady in the painting is the height of elegance with her swan-like neck and mass of red hair set against a lavishly decorated background. Her dress is sumptuously embroidered and the gossamer filaments which attach the sleeve to the bodice reveal a sophisticated sensitivity to the beautifully handcrafted garments that could only be afforded by the wealthy. There is an element of the depiction which reminds one of the portraits of the Italian Renaissance which many aspiring American artists liked to mimic. For many artists of the time the accoutrements used to set up the painting were of great importance.
Arabella Huntington was a philanthropist whose second husband was the American railway tycoon and industrialist Collis Potter Huntington. Collis Huntington died in 1902, and in 1913 Arabella married his nephew, becoming the second wife of Henry Edwards Huntington. Arabella Huntington was once known as the richest woman in America and was the energy behind the art collection that is housed at the Huntington Library in San Marino California, which was founded by her husband Henry Huntington. The establishment, which already owned an inlaid ebonized secretary cabinet designed by the Herter Brothers furniture and decorating company purchased Albert Herter’s 1895 painting entitled Woman with a Fan.
There is a lot of speculation as to who the sitter was for this portrait. On the back of the frame is a nameplate which reads Miss Maude Bouvier. Maude Bouvier was the grandmother of Jacqueline Kennedy and it is known that during the early 1890’s, Albert Herter had spent time in the Hamptons, close to where the Bouviers lived. The only query as to the sitter is that the nameplate is not original to the painting and thus there is an element of doubt as to the authenticity of the sitter. Her costume and the format of the painting are derived from Italian Renaissance portraits, such as the Huntington’s Portrait of a Woman, by Domenico Ghirlandaio
In 1904, Albert Herter’s mother, Mary bought a plot of land in Santa Barbara, California with the intention of having a home built. She persuaded her son and daughter-in-law to help decorate the large Mission Revival-style home.
They agreed and the residence was transformed into a veritable showplace, which was bedecked with magnificent murals, tapestries, and other artistic pieces. The Herter family spent their winters there. When Mary Herter died in 1913 Albert inherited the house and he turned it into a hotel and named it El Mirasol (The Sunflower). Later Albert and Adele built a number of bungalows on the surrounding land of the property, and El Mirasol became a destination resort for the wealthy.
Herter Brothers, the business founded by Albert’s father, closed its doors in 1906, and Albert founded Herter Looms in 1909, a tapestry and textile design-and-manufacturing firm that was, in a sense, successor to his father’s firm.
Around 1912 Albert Herter completed a portrait of his two sons and many prints were made of the work. It has been given many titles, such as The College Boys, Portrait of the Artist’s Sons, and Two Boys. The depiction features Albert and Adele Herter’s sons, eighteen-year-old Everit and seventeen-year-old Christian. The painting was part of the collection of the Metropolitan Museum from 1912 until 1923, when it was returned to the Herters, in exchange for another of his paintings. The request to have the painting returned to the family could well have been due to the death from shrapnel wounds of Everit in World War I. Sergeant Everit Albert Herter, Herter’s twenty-four-year-old son, volunteered to join the US Army in September 1917, some months after the US joined the First World War. Everit Herter joined the camouflage section of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Sergeant Herter was killed in June 1918 near Château-Thierry in Aisne, while serving in France with the American Expeditionary Force, and is buried in the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. Sadly, Everit Albert Herter was the first to be hired as a volunteer and also the first to be killed in his unit.
In the next part of the Albert Herter blog I will look at his work as a muralist.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish everybody a Happy Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah and a peaceful New Year.
Almost four years ago, when I was looking at the life of the French artist Balthus, I included some of his works of art featuring nude young girls. This was part of his main body of work but some of my readers were offended by their inclusion, so I believe it is necessary to alert readers of this edition of my blog that near the end of it I have reproduced paintings of young girls, in a state of undress, painted by today’s featured artist. Some may find them disturbing but it is art and it was the artist’s decision to have his children model for him in the state of undress.
Nowadays, remembering people and places is done by the media of photography. It is becoming ever simpler and more accessible with the advent of camera phones. For a lot of people taking a photograph of a friend or a “selfie” has become a daily ritual. It may seem trivial but it is an aide mémoire of a time past and, at times, to look back at ones we love is a potent reminder. If, however, we lived in the mid-nineteenth century, recording an event, a place or a loved one was far from easy, almost impossible. So, what could one do? The answer of course, was owning a portrait carried out by an artist. For that to happen, one had to be wealthy or be friends with an artist. For portrait artists, completing portrait commissions was a lucrative business and for many artists whose genre was not portraiture, they would often subsidise their income by carrying out the odd portrait commission. My artist today was a master of portraiture. He is most famous for his paintings of his three young daughters with his wife. Let me introduce you to the nineteenth century American painter William Sergeant Kendall.
William Sergeant Kendall was born on January 20th 1869 in Sputyen Duyvil, which is now a bustling upper middle-class neighbourhood of the Bronx in New York City. However, at the time when Kendall was born, prior to the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad passing through the town, it was a much quieter town. William Sergeant Kendall started painting when he was twelve-years-of age. There is nothing strange about that but what was strange that he signed all his work Sergeant Kendall, omitting his Christian name, William. Sergeant was his mother’s maiden name and had been given to her first-born child.
William’s parents must have seen their son’s love of painting as well as his burgeoning artistic talent, because two years later, in 1883, when he was fourteen years old they enrolled him at the Brooklyn Art Guild. A year later he attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. One of his tutors there was the prolific Realist painter, Thomas Eakins. Eakins was a controversial character who fell foul of the Academy board over the use of nude male models in mixed classes and was forced to resign in 1886. Kendall was greatly influenced by Eakins and in a letter to his mother and father in 1885 he wrote about Eakins:
“…Eakins came in today and criticized my work. He said my work ‘was not bad’ which as you know is good praise for him!..”
In 1886 William Kendall left the Academy in Philadelphia and went back to New York where he enrolled at the Art Student League, an art school which had been created twenty years earlier. Among his tutors were the American painter, Professor James Carroll Beckwith and Harry Siddons Mowbray who taught drawing at the Art Students League. Both of these tutors had come back to America to teach at the Art Student League having spent time in Paris honing their artistic skills. It could well be their tales of life in Paris, which many would say was then the centre of the Art World, which instilled a desire in Kendall to follow in their footsteps.
In 1888 Kendall and a fellow artist and friend, John Lambert, from his days at the Academy in Philadelphia, set off for Paris, where they worked at the atelier of Luc Olivier Merson. Kendall then enrolled at the Academie Julian and remained there for three years eventually passing the entrance exam to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
The Spanish painter Velazquez had always been one of Kendall’s favourite artists and in 1891 he travelled to Madrid in order to copy some of his works. He returned to Paris and like many other artists, left the bustling city every summer to find peace and beauty in rural Brittany which offered a beautiful countryside ideal for landscape painters and the southern Brittany coastal towns of Concarneau and Le Pouldu, which was favoured by many of the seascape painters. Rural life in Brittany could be hard and realising an income could be quite difficult for the young Breton women and so, for many of them, money could be made by modelling for the various visiting artists. Young girls in striking Breton costumes were one of the favoured genres of the Salon hanging juries at the time.
Kendall sent his painting The Little Water Carrier – Brittany and a Breton landscape to the National Academy of Design in New York City in 1890. However, the turning point for his artistic career came when one of his Breton paintings, St. Yves, Priez Pour Nous, was exhibited at the 1891 Paris Salon and was awarded an “honourable mention”. Saint Yves or Saint Ivo was born on 17th October 1253 at Kermartin, Brittany and was the patron saint of lawyers. St Ives was also hailed as the Advocate of the Poor and is the patron saint of abandoned children. Above is a wood engraving on paper by Henry Wolf of William Sergeant Kendall’s 1891 painting which is held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Another painting from Kendall’s time in Brittany was entitled Désirs (Desire) which he completed in 1892. For this painting Kendall used his favourite Breton models. Therese Le Goue and her sister. Kendall arranged for Therese to go to America and act as his parents’ housekeeper. It is said that whilst employed in that role she would wear her Breton costumes. This painting, which hung in Elizabeth Kendall Underwood’s family home, was gifted to the Smithsonian by her before her death. To have one’s work accepted by the Salon jurists was a great feat but to have it win an award was what every aspiring artist strived for. For Kendall, an American, his “honourable mention” resulted in many congratulatory letters from fellow Americans and he even received an offer of a post at the Cooper Union in New York, which had been established in 1859, and was among the nation’s oldest and most distinguished institutions of higher education. Kendall was tempted but on discussing his future with his former tutor, Luc Olivier Merson, he decided to remain in Paris for a further twelve months of studying.
Kendall did eventually cross the Atlantic and return to New York and he established himself in a studio in the University Building on Washington Square and took up the role as teacher at the Cooper Union, where he took a women’s class for the next three years. He also spent some of his time teaching at his own Alma Mater, The Art Students League. One of the students attending his classes was Margaret Weston Strickly. Strickly and Kendall became attached amorously and early in 1896 the couple married. Within a year their first child, Elizabeth was born, on Gerrish Island off the coast of Maine, where he and his wife had spent the summer painting. A second daughter, Beatrice, was born in 1902 and their third and last child, another daughter, Alison was born in 1907. William Kendall now had a wife and three beautiful daughters to model for him for many years to come.
In 1907 Kendall completed his painting entitled An Interlude which featured his wife and her daughter Elizabeth. Once again, the depiction of the two females is Kendall’s favoured pose – the child facing directly towards us while the mother’s face is in profile. Look at the child’s expression. It is a wide-eyed, somewhat troubled expression. We cannot see the facial expression of the mother, Margaret, as she has turned away from us. Should we read something into this depiction? The curtain has been drawn across the window and thus we conclude that it is night time. Is this a simple case of a mother reading her daughter a bedtime story? The title of this work is An Interlude which suggests an interval – but what kind of interval. Is it an interval from reading the book or is there more to the meaning of the painting’s title? When the painting was completed Margaret and William Kendall had been married eleven years. Margaret, who was six years younger than William, had been a twenty-year-old student of his at the Art Student League when the two, tutor and student, started a romantic relationship. Now in 1907, William Kendall’s relationship with one of his present Yale students, Christine Herter, was about to destroy his marriage. So maybe the painting’s title The Interlude, referred to the change in his life.
It all started back in the late 1880’s when Kendall and the artist Albert Herter became friends at the Art Students League. Albert came from a wealthy background. He was the son of Christian Herter, who with his half-brother Gustave formed Herter Brothers, a prominent New York interior design and furnishings firm. It was through this friendship that William Kendall received a number of family portrait commissions. During his time with the Herter family, William met Albert Herter’s thirteen-year-old niece, Christine, and because the young girl had shown an interest in painting, the family arranged for her to take private painting lessons with Kendall. A close bond between Kendall and his young pupil followed as besides their love of art they both enjoyed music and soon, despite the twenty-year age difference, a close friendship soon developed with Christine becoming a frequent caller at Kendall’s studio in New York and later to his home studio in Barrytown. When Kendall and his family moved further afield to Newport, Rhode Island, Christine followed and rented her own studio nearby. Their friendship grew and when she spent the summers away from him in Europe the two would correspond regularly.
In 1910 Kendall completed another mother and daughter painting. It is entitled The Critics. The painting is a depiction of his wife Margaret and their youngest child, Alison, who was three years old. Mother and daughter are carefully inspecting and considering the merits of a bust which Kendall had carved of Alison herself. The painting now belongs to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
His pastel painting, Mother and Child, is part of a series that Kendall did of his wife, Margaret, and their youngest daughter, Alison.
In 1913 Kendall took on the post as head of the department of Fine Arts at Yale University and the Kendall family moved to New Haven, Connecticut. During this period Kendall completed many pastel portraits of his colleagues.
He also completed a pastel portrait of the Breton artist, architect and French soldier, Jean-Julien Lemordant, who had lost his eyesight during the First World War. He received an award from Yale University for the valour and leadership he displayed in the trench warfare of World War I.
Besides Kendall’s mother and child paintings and ones featuring just his children, Kendall completed a series of nude or semi-nude paintings of his children using his middle child, Beatrice, then five-years-old, as model in 1907 for his painting Narcissa.
His youngest daughter, Alison, was the model for his painting entitled Crosslights in 1913. Kendall said he enjoyed the “mirror” format as it gave him a chance to paint two daughters instead of one.
Alison was again her father’s model for his painting A Statuette which he completed in 1915 when his daughter was eight-years-old.
Kendall also completed a painting of his eldest daughter Elisabeth under the title Psyche in 1909 when she was thirteen years old. At the time, the painting became famous and was reproduced on posters and plastered on the sides of streetcars. However, Elisabeth herself never cared for it.
Christine Herter, who had been studying in Paris, in the summer of 1914, returned home shortly after war was declared in Europe, and enrolled as a student at Yale fine-arts department, whilst continuing to work in Kendall’s studio, and sometimes modelled for him. Christine seemed to have been accepted as part of the family group and would spend part of her summer with them in their summer home in the Vermont town of Brattleboro on the Connecticut River.
In the Autumn of 1921 William and Margaret Kendall’s marriage collapsed and they were divorced and the following Spring William resigned from his post at Yale University’s Fine Art department. In June 1922 he sold his home in Newhaven and that summer he married his former pupil and lover, Christine Herter. William was fifty-three and Christine was thirty-two.
Because of the changing artistic taste of New Yorkers, who had now fallen in love with modern art, William Kendall decided to move away from the city and move five hundred miles south-west to Hot Springs, Virginia, a small isolated town close to the Allegheny Mountains. In 1823 the couple set about having a large residence built which they called Garth Newel, a Welsh phrase meaning “new hearth” or “new home. The property consisted of a three-story central block flanked by two, half-story wings. It also had stables in which they raised the Arabian horses they rode year-round. The couple lived there for the remainder of their lives. Their home gave them both a rural and isolated retreat with high-class sophistication.
William Kendall’s love of horse riding had its problems. In 1931, aged 62, he suffered serious head injuries after a riding accident and was laid-up for a month. Six years later, in 1937, he had another riding accident. It was a much more serious one and he was bedridden until the January of the following year. William Sergeant Kendall died, aged 69, on February 16th 1938 at his home in Hot Springs, Virginia. His widow Christine survived him for another forty-three years, dying on June 22nd 1981, aged 90. Following her husband’s death, Christine donated much of the property to the Girl Scouts of America to be used as a summer camp. The Girl Scouts found that it was too much to maintain, so she regained possession in 1969 and began to search for another use. Christine arranged for repairs to long-abandoned buildings, including the conversion of the indoor riding ring where the Arabian horses had once trained into a wonderful concert hall. On her death she bequeathed the property and a modest fund to the Garth Newel Music Centre Foundation.
The majority of information I used for this blog came from an excellent website (http://williamsergeantkendall.com/) whose author is Anne Underwood Enslow, William Kendall’s great-granddaughter and daughter of Kendall’s eldest daughter, Elisabeth.
What do we want from a depiction in a painting? Do we want absolute truth? For example, should a portrait be of hyper-realsitic quality so it almost look like a photograph or should the portrait artist, through their bold brush marks and splashes of colour, produce a portrait which has not achieved photographic accuracy but is how the artist “sees” the model? What do we prefer in a painting Romanticism or Realism? Is it the same as asking about our taste in films, whether we prefer a *rom-com” or a “blood and guts” movie? Do we really want to be reminded of real life or do we want to be lulled by the happiness of how life should be?
Many questions, but it all leads me to the painting genre used by today’s artist. Once again I am looking at an artist who was classified as a painter of Naturalism, not just that, but Rural Naturalism, sometimes termed Ruralism. It was a nineteenth century art genre which was realist in nature and yet allowed artists to pictorially advocate the joys of rural life as an alternative to living amongst the grime of city life. The detractors of Rural Naturalism are quick to condemn the depictions of rural life as unadulterated sentimentality in comparison to the harsher work of the nineteenth century realist painters who depicted the harsh and unforgiving life of peasants as they struggled to work in the fields for their wealthy masters. Rural naturalism was seen in paintings by British artists such as George Clausen, Henry Herbert La Thangue and Edward Stott and in many of the artists of the Newlyn School.
In France the painters closely associated with Ruralism were Jean-François Millet and Jules-Adolphe Breton. Millet is probably most famous for his works such as The Gleaners, The Sowers and The Angelus which all depict peasant farmworkers in a realistic way and highlight the harshness of peasant life.
The paintings of Jules-Adolphe Breton are also greatly inspired by the French countryside and often depict the traditional farming methods used by peasants but they also imbued the beauty and sublime vision of rural existence. Maybe it was a picture of life which did not really exist but was the preference of many. Think back to my analogy of the rom-com!
Today I am looking at the work of a French father and daughter who were noted for their Rural Naturalism paintings. They are Julien Dupré and his daughter Thérèse Marthe Françoise Dupré. Julien Dupré was born in 1851 some thirty-seven years after Millet and twenty-four years after Breton were born but his works of art were often compared to theirs and yet there were subtle differences. Hollister Sturgess, the American writer and former Museum director, in his 1982 book, Jules Breton and the French Rural Tradition, wrote:
“…Salon critics rightly perceived Julien Dupré as Breton’s closest follower. Through idealization of form, he invested his peasant women with a heroic aura, though unlike his predecessor, his figures are usually engaged in vigorous action. His landscapes, with their cloudy skies and varied motifs, are also much more active. Their high key color and spontaneous brushwork have a vivacity and freshness that distinguishes them from the somber calm of Breton’s scenes…”
Julien Dupré was born in Paris on March 18th, 1851. He was the son of Jean Dupré, a jeweller, and his second wife, Marie-Madeleine Pauline Célinie Bouillé. His parents had a jewellery shop in Paris which they had to abandon during the 1870 siege of the French capital by the Prussian forces. Julien enrolled in evening classes at the École nationale des arts décoratifs which then allowed him entrance to the École des Beaux-Arts, where he trained under Isidore Pils, the French history painter and Henri Lehmann, a German-born French historical painter and portraitist.
In 1875 Dupré went to live in Picardy and became a student of Désiré François Laugée. In his early days as a painter he adhered to the academic tradition he had been taught at the École des Beaux-Arts producing many historical and religious works as well as completing portrait commissions and murals. Later he became interested in plein air painting of landscapes and was fascinated with peasant genre subjects. Laugée and his wife had four children. The eldest was their daughter Marie Eléonore Françoise. Julien Dupré became romantically involved with Marie and eventually on May 17th 1876, in Paris, the couple married. They went on to have three children: Thérèse Dupré, Jacques Dupré and Madeleine Dupré. Thérèse Dupré, like her father, became a painter whilst Jacques became a doctor, draughtsman and illustrator and Madeleine a pianist. The year 1876 was also an auspicious year for Dupré as it was the year that he had his first painting exhibited at the Paris Salon.
Julien Dupré endeavoured to depict the work of peasants in the fields in their harsh reality and to show the bond between peasant farmers and their farm animals. Julien Dupré’s peasant women seen working in the fields is the most enduring of his characterisation. Often, he depicted strong women positioned theatrically and yet elegantly in the forefront 0f his paintings, carrying out strenuous work as pitching sheaves of hay. His finely modelled figures are testament to his academic training, and the quality of his work is due to the influence of the work of Breton and Bouguereau. Dupré also developed a much freer management of the background areas of his paintings often carried out using a palette knife, which indicates the influence of the Impressionists painters. The characters we see depicted in his paintings are not frozen in artificial and unnatural academic poses but are observed equally well in action, as in rest, and by doing so, showing them as everyday working people. In most of his works, the landscapes depicted are idealised but are nevertheless inspired by the countryside of Picardy especially in the region of Saint-Quentin and Nauroy.
Dupré returned to Paris and worked in his Parisian workshop at 20 Boulevard Flandrin, which he shared with his brother-in-law Georges Laugée. But he loved outdoor life and painting en plein air. He exhibited regularly at the Paris Salon from 1876 to 1910 and won numerous awards. In 1880 he was awarded a third-class medal for his painting, Le Faucheurs de Luzerne and in 1881 he received a second-class medal for his work, La Recolte des Foins. He was honoured with a gold medal at the Paris Fair of 1889 and in 1892 was awarded the Legion of Honour. His works were very popular and many sold internationally especially in America.
Marion Spielmann, the prolific Victorian art critic and scholar, in an article in The Magazine of Art in 1891, entitled The White Cow, described Julien Dupré as:
… one of the most rising artists of the French School. He is individual in his work, accurate as an observer, earnest as a painter, healthy in his instincts and intensely artistic in his impressions and translations of them… he is always one of the attractions at the Salon………..In The White Cow which was amongst the finest works in last year’s Salon, several of M. Dupré’s merits as a painter are exemplified. The cow – taking a patient and intelligent interest in the operation of milking – is superbly drawn, and her expression admirably rendered. The light and shade, the balance of composition, and the rendering and disposition of the figures combine in this picture to produce a canvas which pleases the spectator the more he examines it…”
Throughout his career Julien Dupré championed the life of the peasant and continued painting scenes in the areas of Normandy and Brittany until his death in Paris on April 15th, 1910. He was buried in Père Lachaise cemetery. His tombstone bears a sculpture of a painter’s palette resting on a wreath of flowers.
Thérèse Marthe Françoise Dupré was the eldest child of Julien Dupré and his wife, Marie Eléonore Françoise Laugée. She was born on March 19, 1877 in Paris, a year after her parents married. From an early age, she came into contact with the many artists who attended her father’s and grandfather’s studio including family members, such as her uncle, the painter Georges Paul Laugée, her aunt Jeanne Eulalie Laugée-Fontaine, and her great-uncle Philibert Léon Couturier.
There is no doubt that her artistic style was very much influenced by both her father and her uncle, the artist, George Paul Laugée. Just like her father her paintings depicted idealised visions of peasant life in rural France. She started to exhibit her work at the Salon in 1899 and later became a member of the Société des Artistes Français, and in 1907 receiving a third-class medal for one of her works. She married the artist Edmond Cotard on June 2nd 1898, with whom she had two children, Henri Edmond Cotard on October 6th 1899 and François Cotard on January 9th 1905, who both became artists.
One of her best-known compositions is her painting entitled La Lessive (The Laundry). Like many of her works, they suggest that she was very familiar with the tasks she depicted in her works. The painting when sold at Bonhams of New Bond Street, London in 2015 achieved a record price for one of her paintings of $66,153.
While her father was a prolific artist, his daughter’s artistic output was much more meagre for one has to remember she was a wife and a mother. She was married at the age of twenty-one and became a mother when she was twenty-two and so the output of her work was severely restricted by her responsibilities as a wife and a mother.
Her depiction of the peasant farmers, both male and female, as healthy and strong and rarely tired who seem to carry out their tasks with smiles on their faces is obviously an idealised view of peasant life. Such happy depictions of peasant life helped to ease the conscience of wealthy landowners whereas gritty Realist depictions of the down beaten peasant may have gnawed at their consciences.
She lived for a long time in Saint Quentin in Northern France where she copied and studied the pastels of the great Quentin De la Tour. She created many commissioned works, such as portraits, landscapes, peasant scenes. Unfortunately, many were lost during the First World War.
Thérèse-Marthe-Françoise Cotard-Dupré died, aged 43 on April 13th, 1920 in Orly near Paris in the clinic of Dr. Piouffle specializing in the care of alcoholics. She was buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery in the vault with her mother and father.
My featured artist today lived in Paris during the Belle Epoch. The Belle Epoch was that period in time in France, between the end of the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 and the start of World War I in 1914. The term Belle Epoch is obviously a retrospective term as it is used to describe a time of optimism, peace and, for some, prosperity. I say “for some” as Paris was then both the richest and poorest city in France. A study of people living Paris in the early 1820’s deduced that just over a quarter of Parisians were upper- or middle-class while three-quarters were termed impoverished. Although this may seem a terrible disenfranchisement of the majority of Parisians, the comparative situation at that time in New York, known as the Gilded Age, showed that the wealthiest two per cent of American households owned more than a third of the nation’s wealth, and the top ten per cent of the population actually owned roughly three quarters of the city’s wealth.
The artist I am showcasing today is Luigi Loir, or to give him his full name, Luigi Aloys-Francois-Joseph Loir. He was to become famous for his paintings depicting contemporary Paris, a city which had been extensively renovated. The renovation began around 1852 and lasted almost twenty years. Baron Haussmann, who was the Prefect of the Seine, was tasked by Napoleon III to carry out a massive urban renewal program of new boulevards, parks and public works in Paris and was looked upon as Haussmann’s renovation of Paris. The programme of public works Haussmann set about saw him arrange for the chaotic maze of tiny streets with their poor sanitation being bulldozed and replaced by wide, straight, tree-lined avenues, which connected the rail terminals and allowed for rapid and easy movement across the city possible for the first time.
Curinier in his 1899 Dictionnaire National Des Contemporains (National dictionary of present-day people) wrote of Luigi Loir:
“…One can say of this master that he created a genre: the “parisianism”…he is, in effect, the painter of Paris par excellence ; no different aspects of the city, often momentary and fleeting, and none of his successive transformations, is of any secret to him. The vigour of his colours, as well as in the brilliance of his mornings and of his afternoon sun, such as the mists of his twilights, is of a correct observation, that still enhances the conscientious study of the environment…”
Luigi Aloys-Francois-Joseph Loir was born on January 22nd, 1845 in Gorritz, Austria. His parents, of French origin, were Tancrède Loir François and Thérèse Leban. His family lived in Austria as employees of the French royal family, the Bourbons. His father was a valet while his mother was a governess and Luigi’s first two years were spent living at Gorritz Castle. In 1847, Luigi’s family along with the Bourbon family left Gorritz and moved into exile to the Duchy of Parma.
All was well for the Bourbon household in Parma until 1859 when the Bourbons were driven out by a revolution following the French and Sardinian victory in the war against Austria. The following year, the Luigi’s family, including his sister, returned to France but he remained in Parma and began studying painting and enrolled at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts in 1853. His artistic studies at the Academy came abruptly to an end in 1863 when news from Paris reached him of his father’s failing health. He immediately set off for Paris. For this eighteen-year-old it was his first time in the French capital and it was Baron Haussmann’s Paris that would inspire his scenes for the rest of his career. In 1865, he made his debut at the Paris Salon with his first notable work, a view of Villiers-sur-Seine that received very high praise. He continued to exhibit at the Salon, receiving multiple awards there, throughout his life.
Luigi Loir soon came under the influence of the artist Jean-Aimable Amédée Pastelot who became his primary art tutor. Pastelot, was a painter who concentrated on depicting characters from the Comédie delle’art, flowers and genre paintings in watercolour and gouache. He also produced many illustrations for caricature journals which were very popular during this period.
It was whilst working in Pastelot’s studio that Loir began experimenting with his art and trained to become a muralist. One of Loir’s first mural commissions was to paint the wall and ceiling friezes at the Châteaux du Diable (the Devil’s House), a bourgeois mansion in Bordeaux, in 1866. Loir experimented in various media; mainly oils, watercolour and lithographs, and would also try out different art forms ranging from decoration, theatrical costumes, and illustrations for novels and gained a lot of artistic knowledge during his time with Pastelot.
Luigi Loir was not just a painter. He was probably more known for his hundreds of graphic designs for commercial advertisements, book and music illustrations, menus. He also created numerous designs and theatrical decorations. Loir was recognized as being a very talented graphic artist, and received many commissions for his work, such to design the official exhibition cover of the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. It was around this time that print had been recognised as a genuine art form. Luigi Loir transformed the art of the poster.
Luigi Loir’s awards were numerous. In 1898 he was made Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur. He was also a member of the Société de Peintres-Lithographes, member of the Société des Aquarellistes, and a member of the Jury of the Société des Artists Français and of the Société des Arts Décoratifs since 1899. His artwork can be seen in galleries around the world.
Charles Baudelaire, the Author of Modernism, once said that artists should represent the contemporary environment and there is no doubt that Luigi Loir embraced Baudelaire’s call. Looking at Loir’s style it is easy to note that he was interested in Impressionism and yet his work reflected that of many Naturalist painters. He designed some of the packaging for the famous LU French biscuit company and also illustrated a bond of the company B. Sirven, which was issued 14. May 14th 1901.
Loir was entranced by the Parisian street scene which had been transformed by Haussmann’s mission to reshape the Parisian landscape transforming it from a labyrinthine network of dark and dingy narrow medieval streets, into the complex order of grand boulevards.
Loir must have taken from Pastelot an interest in capturing figural qualities, but Loir invested this type of training instead into his own synthesis of figures and landscape to produce the natural replication of the activity along the Parisian streets. This interest in the Parisian street scene was influenced, however, by another transformation that had entirely reshaped the Parisian landscape and how Parisians spent their leisure time. Beginning in the 1850s, Baron Georges Haussmann undertook an enormous project that changed Paris, from a labyrinthine maze of medieval streets, into the complex order of grands boulevards. For Loir, the streets themselves became the centre of activity – whether it be the bohemian centre of Montmartre or the upper-class promenades of the leisure class. Loir spent hours each day walking the streets in search of inspiration, all the time, studying them and the Parisians who populated them.
In one of the volumes of Figures Contemporaines: Tirées De L’album Mariani, illustrated biographies of famous contemporary characters from 1894 to 1925, Luigi Loir’s relationship with Paris as depicted in his art was explained:
“… he understands the sites; he likes the twilights in them; he studies all of their aspects. His canvases give off the reflection of a faithful mirage, of a conscientious study of urban nature. There is a dilettantism of a stroller and the contemplation of a poet in him. One feels that all of his impressions are real and that he only paints them while under a spell. His interest in the urban cityscape is perhaps more complex than a simple depiction of Paris and its inhabitants. Lori’s sincere reflections on the changing effects of both the different times of day and the weather, show the aesthetic reflection put into his paintings…”
Luigi Loir was not alone when it came to depicting life in Paris. A contemporary of his was the Russian-born Frenchman, Jean Béraud. Jean Béraud was known for his depictions of the changing face of Paris and the nightlife during the Belle Époque. He, like Loir, was captivated with modern life in Paris, especially after the major infrastructure project of what was termed, Haussmannisation, named for Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the prefect chosen to lead the urban renewal project. Béraud painted the newly widened boulevards, the new transportation systems and the intermingling of people from a wide array of social spheres. However, the scenes Béraud and Loir produced were different. Loir was more interested in depicting the environment whereas Béraud wanted to depict the people. In C.-E. Curinier, Dictionnaire Nationale des Contemporains, the difference between the two painters was succinctly put:
“…It is Béraud who paints the Parisians of Paris, but Loir who paints the Paris of the Parisians…”
In Loir’s depiction of Paris scenes his attention is not given to individual details so much as light and atmosphere
In 1870, Loir was commissioned into the military to record the battles of Bourget, part of the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. Loir concentrated exclusively on painting views of Paris. In these works, Loir caught and expressed the many faces of Paris, at all hours of the day and during different seasons. It was because of his work during this campaign of 1870, that Loir was elected to be the official painter of the Boulevards of Paris. This boosted his career and reputation. In 1879 in was awarded the Bronze medal from the Exposant Fidele des Artistes Francais. Loir was also elected into the Legion of Honor in 1898.
Luigi Aloys-François-Joseph Loir died in his beloved Paris on February 9th 1916 aged 70.
In the early days of this blog I would just write about a single painting, its history, its hidden meaning and just a little about its creator. Later I changed the format and wrote about the artist and included many of his or her works. Today I am reverting back to my former structure.
My blog today features two paintings by two different Russian artists, which I saw at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow that are connected by imprisonment and death in a State institution. Both can be classified as works of Historical Realism. Both are works by a Russian realist painters. One artist was famous for his many works on historical and religious subjects. The other is a painter whose name will always be synonymous for just one of his works of art.
The State institution which connects the two paintings is the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg. The military fortress was established by Peter the Great on May 16th 1703 on the small Zavachy Island by the north bank of the Neva River. Peter the Great commissioned his architect, Domenico Trezzini, to design the fortress as a defence against the Swedish, in case they tried to re-conquer this area. Russia had been involved in the Great Northern War against Sweden, and in 1703 managed to re-conquer the lands along the Neva River. From around 1720, the fortress served as a base for the city garrison and also as a prison for high-ranking or political prisoners and became known as the Russian Bastille. The subjects of both today’s paintings spent the last days of their lives in this prison. There are other connections between the subjects of the two paintings. The perceived threat to the ruling classes can have devastating consequences, even to family members.
Nikolai Nikolayevich Ghe is looked upon as one of the greatest nineteenth century Russian Realist painters and in this 1871 painting he has depicted a meeting between father and son. The father, sitting at the table, is Pyotr Alekseyevich, better known as Peter the Great who became Tsar of Russia, at the age of ten, in 1682. Peter ruled jointly with his brother Ivan V from 1682, until the death of Ivan in 1696, at which time Peter was officially declared Sovereign of all Russia.
Standing forlornly by the table is his son, Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich. Alexi Petrovich was the son of Peter the Great and his first wife, Eudoxia Lopukhina who were married in 1689. The couple had three children of whom Alexi, born in February 1690 was the eldest. His brothers, Alexander and Pavel died before they reached their first birthday. Peter divorced his wife in 1698 and forced her to join a convent. Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich was just eight years old when is mother had been banished. There can be no doubt that losing his mother at such an early age scarred young Alexei. The father-son relationship broke irrevocably in 1715, when Peter, hoping threatened his son that unless he changed, he would be deprived of the succession on his father’s death. Peter, who had believed such a threat would change the mind of his errant son, was astonished when Alexei volunteered to enter a monastery. However, at the last moment, Alexei had a change of heart, and fled to Vienna, where he was granted asylum.
Peter’s main aim was to re-establish his country as a great and powerful nation and to achieve that he had to undertake many reforms which affected great swathes of the population. People are averse to change and so was the case in Russia. He secularized schools, administered greater control over the reactionary Orthodox Church and introduced new administrative and territorial divisions of the country and with all these changes came many enemies who did not like what he was attempting to do. Peter would not tolerate dissent and he ruthlessly implemented his reforms, steamrolling over all opposition. He faced much opposition to these policies at home but brutally suppressed rebellions against his authority, including by the Streltsy, Bashkirs, Astrakhan, and the greatest civil uprising of his reign, the Bulavin Rebellion.
Rebellion was even closer to home in the shape of his son, Alexei, who although out of the country, was suspected of being involved in a plot to overthrow his father. Alexei sought to stake out his individuality by contrasting himself with his father. To that end, he became conservative and religious, and attracted admirers from amongst the traditionalists who wanted the return of the “good old days” – the days before Peter’s reforms. At the news of this perceived treachery, Peter sent agents to track down his son. In 1717, they contacted him and handed him a letter in which the Tsar berated Alexei but promised not to punish him if he returned to Russia. Alexi was advised to ignore the promises of his father and returned to Russia in 1718, where he begged forgiveness.
The 1871 painting at the Tretyakov Gallery by Nikolai Ghe depicts that first meeting of Peter and his son in a room at his father’s residence, the Monplaisir Palace at Peterhof after he returned to St Petersburg. It is entitled Peter the Great Interrogates Tsarevich Alexei. In this psychological painting the drama unfolds purely through the characterisation of father and son. Look at the protagonists. The red-faced father, Peter, angrily sits resolute and stares at his guilty son, who stands before him, meek and guilt-ridden. His head is bent dejectedly. He probably realises that it was a mistake to return home to his father. Mikhail Yevgrafovich Saltykov-Shchedrin, a nineteenth century Russian Satirical-Fiction writer, on seeing the painting, wrote:
“…Anyone who has seen these two simple, ingeniously positioned figures must confess that he was a witness to one of those stunning dramas which can never be erased from the memory…”
In Ghe’s painting, the artist has displayed an understanding of the historical struggle between the reactionary and the progressive. It is a depiction of the drama between father and son which overrides the sphere of personal relations. The artist has brought to us a feel for this turbulent and critical age with the image of Peter with the vital idea of his own time and his readiness to sacrifice his son for the sake of the interests of society.
During a public spectacle in which Alexei was disinherited. The Tsar forced him to name those who had aided his flight, which resulted in the torture and execution of dozens of Alexei associates. That done, Peter ordered his son jailed. On June 19th, 1718, Peter had Alexei flogged for days, until he confessed to conspiring to have his father assassinated. He was convicted and sentenced to be executed. The sentence could be carried out only with Peter’s signed authorization, and Alexei died in prison, as Peter hesitated before making the decision. Alexei died, aged 28, on 6 June 1718.
The second painting I am looking at is by the nineteenth-century Russian artist, Konstantin Flavitsky and it depicts a purported event which happened in 1777 although it is thought that the end of the story deviates slightly with the whole truth. The painting is undoubtedly the most famous of Flavitsky’s works and one he will always be remembered by.
The ruler of Russia at the time of this incident was Catherine II of Russia, known as Catherine the Great. Catherine was the wife of Tsar Peter III, the grandson of Tsar Peter I from my first story. Peter III had become Tsar in January 1762 but only ruled for six months. His downfall came because he had the habit of offending groups of powerful people. He offended the Russian Orthodox Church by trying to force it to adopt Lutheran religious practices and he alienated the imperial guards by making their service requirements more severe and even threatened to dispense with them. If all that was not bad enough, he turned away from his wife, Catherine, and we know that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Catherine suspected that he was planning to divorce her and so, with her lover Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov and the help of other members of the Imperial Guard that Peter had planned to discipline, she managed to have the emperor arrested and forced to abdicate on July 9th 1762. Later, he was transported to Ropsha, a settlement situated about 20 kilometres south of Peterhof and 49 kilometres south-west of central Saint Petersburg. Here, he was allegedly assassinated, although it is unknown how Peter died.
Being a ruler of a great empire, Catherine had to overcome many problems and in 1772 she faced yet another predicament for her to overcome in the shape of a beautiful young and refined woman who laid claim to Catherine’s position as ruler of Russia. It all started in Paris when the woman who had captivated French Society claiming she was illegitimate daughter of Empress Elizabeth, Peter III’s cousin, and thus, she was the legitimate heir to the Russian throne. She called herself, Princess Vladamir. She regaled her story that she was born in St. Petersburg in 1753, and later taken to Persia. There, she grew up in the home of a Persian nobleman. Whilst there she was tutored and one of her tutors made the astounding discovery about her true lineage. According to the tutor’s discovery she was the product of an affair between Elizabeth and her favourite, Count Aleksey G. Razumovsky. Elizabeth had many liaisons as a young woman and Razumovsky was her favourite lover.
Empress Catherine was shocked by the news of this impostor, who claimed to be the late Empress Elizabeth’s daughter and as such would have a greater claim to become Russian ruler than Catherine as before she married Peter III, Catherine was Sophie von Anhalt-Zerbst, a German princess, and as such had no direct birthright to the Russian throne. Catherine knew that if her enemies decided to support the “false” princess, the her reign could be at risk and therefore, she knew she had to act fast.
Catherine conjured up a plan to lure this pretender to Russia and once there she would be under Catherine’s absolute authority and her claims to the throne would be immediately quashed. Catherine turned to Count Alexei Orlov, the brother of her companion, Grigory Orlov, for help. Alexei Orlov was a Russian soldier and statesman, who rose to prominence during the reign of Catherine the Great. He had served in the Imperial Russian Army, and through his connections with his brother, became one of the key conspirators in the plot to overthrow Tsar Peter III and replace him on the Russian throne with his wife, Catherine. Alexi Orlov put together a clever plan to seduce the faux princess. He arranged to meet the imposter princess in the Italian port of Livorno. At a meeting he agreed to help overthrow Catherine and she in turn offered Orlov a joint role in governing the country. Orlov took the plan a step further, seducing the princess and proposing marriage which would take place on his ship. On the day of the wedding, the princess, wearing her fine clothes and jewellery, boarded a small skiff and was ferried out to Orlov’s ship. Once on board, she was seized by a squad of soldiers commanded by Orlov himself and was arrested in the name of Catherine II.
The shipset sail for St. Petersburg, where the imposter princess was imprisoned in a dank cell at the Peter and Paul Fortress. She was brutally interrogated, but even under torture, she did not contradict herself, admit to fraud, or deny her royal descent. She died of tuberculosis whilst in a cell at the Peter and Paul Fortress in 1775 and was buried without ceremony in the fortress graveyard. So, this was the true version of the story of the princess, later to be known as Princess Tarakanova but many versions of this story came out in books and films and the magnificent 1864 painting, Princess Tarakanova, in the Peter and Paul Fortress at the Time of the Flood, by the Russian artist Konstantin Flavitsky. His take on the story was a depiction of the death by drowning of the imposter in her cell which was deluged by the flood waters of the great flood. It was a case of artistic licence as the great St Petersburg Flood, with water levels rising over ten feet, occurred in September 1777, two years after the princess’ death. It is a very moving painting and I remember being at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and standing in front of it for a long time taking in all the details. Flavitsky powerfully depicts the tragedy and suffering of this young woman who was facing certain death in a depressingly dark dungeon which is flooding with water coming through her cell window. Look how the rats are desperate to reach the higher ground of her mattress. It is a poignant depiction of her vulnerability and despair. Shafts of light stream through the window of the gaol cell in the Peter and Paul fortress as the water continues to rise. Eventually, the troubled twenty-two-year-old will die. The tragedy is immediate and realistic.
So there you have it. Two paintings connected to two death in the same gaol of two people who had the temerity to threaten the Russian leader of the time.