A Stormy Landscape by Meindert Hobbema

A Stormy Landscape by Hobbema (1663-5)

Meindert Hobbema was thought to have been born in 1638 in Amsterdam but there are varied opinions on this fact.  The name “Hobbema” was his own invention as his father’s name was Lubbert Meyndert.  He was the great landscape painter of the Dutch Golden Age.   The Dutch Golden age was that period in Dutch history which spanned the 17th century, at the time of, and following the Eighty Years War, which encompassed the struggle for Dutch independence. The newly formed Dutch Republic became the most prosperous nation in Europe, and led European trade, science, and art. The northern Netherlandish provinces that formed part of the new state had customarily been less significant as artistic centres in comparison with the Flemish cities in the south.  The war caused tremendous disruption and resulted in the break with the old monarchist and Catholic cultural traditions.  As a result, Dutch art needed to reinvent itself entirely, a task in which it was very largely successful and this re-birth was known as the Dutch Golden Age.

We know that Hobbema was active as an artist in Amsterdam and that he was a pupil of the great landscape painter Jacob van Ruisdael.  Some of Hobbema’s work showed a distinct similarity to his master’s work and as Ruisdael’s paintings were in great demand, a number of Hobbema’s works were passed off as being works of his master.  Strangely enough, in years to come when Hobbema’s flair as an artist and his artistic gift was established, the reverse would happen.

Hobbema married Eelije Vinck in 1668 who had been his serving maid.  One of the witnesses at the ceremony was Jacob Ruisdael.  The couple went on to have four children.   It was about this time that Hobbema started to work for the Customs & Excise in Amsterdam supervising the weighing and measuring of imported wine.  This was his full time job and from then on his artistic endeavours were reserved for his spare time.  The output of his paintings from then on decreased and was somewhat erratic.   In 1704 Eeltije died, and was buried in the pauper section of the Leiden cemetery at Amsterdam. Hobbema himself survived till December 1709, and he too was buried in a pauper’s grave in Amsterdam. It was a depressing fact of life that both van Ruisdael and Hobbema, looked upon as the two greatest Dutch landscape painters of the era, both died in poverty.  Like the two great Dutch painters Hals and Rembrandt some fifty years earlier, despite the demand for their works and the sale of their paintings, they too died penniless.   This sad fact has to be put down to either they let their paintings go too cheaply or simply their financial mismanagement which was brought on by them living a life they could not afford and as a result it was to prove to be their undoing.   

The Cottages and the passing walkers

Hobbema was a master painter when it came to painting woods and hedges, or mills and pools. This talent was derived from his life in the countryside, where day after day he might study the branching and foliage of trees, cottages and mills, under every variety of light, in every shade of transparency, during the various seasons.    His paintings had a characteristic rich texture to them.  Today’s featured painting entitled A Stormy Landscape, which he completed in 1665, is a prime example of his extraordinary talent as a landscape painter.  In it we can see his love of creating woodland scenes with various shaped trees which in turn gave him the opportunity to show off his talent in depicting illuminated clearings and patches of light randomly placed amongst the shaded areas caused by the massive trees and dense foliage.

The Fisherman

In the foreground we have a fisherman with his line cast in the rippling waters of the river.  In total there are nine figures dotted around the rural scene, all quite small but put there by the artist for a specific reason, that of directing our eyes through the landscape.  There is no urgency in the movement of the water which adds to the tranquillity of the scene. To the man’s right we have a family strolling through the woods.  Across the river stand two cottages nestling under the cover of the large trees.  More people out for a stroll can be seen on that side of the river.   The heavy clouds shown to the left of the painting warn us of a storm approaching but this appears to be of little concern to our fisherman or the walkers.

This is a beautifully crafted work of art and one of Meindert Hobbema’s masterpieces. It has a soothing quality to it.  It is the type of picture you should look at when you feel stressed as its calm depiction of a country scene counteracts the stress of city life.  It has a calming effect and in some ways standing in front of it offers you a chance to relax.   Life alas can be hectic and I believe this painting offers one the perfect foil to our sometime chaotic existence.

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A Storm with a Shipwreck by Claude-Joseph Vernet

A Storm with a Shipwreck by Claude-Joseph Vernet (1754)

I spent the last couple of days in London and whilst there visited a couple of art displays.  Unfortunately, with previous commitments tying up my time on one day I had a limited exposure to the beautiful world of art.  I normally would have spent some time at the National Gallery or one of the Tates but because I had only a short period and because I wanted to visit the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition I decided I had to limit myself to one gallery and so I decided to go somewhere new.  It was for these reasons I ended up on the steps of the Wallace Collection and although my time was restricted, I was completely blown-away by the art on display.  This is a beautiful jewel in the art crown of London, just a few minutes’ walk from the great Emporiums of M&S and Selfridges and everybody who visits London should visit this gallery and savour the magnificent art they have on display.

My Daily Art Display today features one of the many works of art I saw at the gallery.  It is entitled A Storm with a Shipwreck and was painted in 1754 by Claude-Joseph Vernet.  The Vernet family tree reads like a “Who’s Who” of distinguished French painters.  The head of the family was Antoine Vernet (1689-1753) was a prosperous artisan painter in Avignon and to whom many decorated coach panels are attributed. He had four sons, all of whom were painters, Claude Joseph,  Jean-Antoine,  Antoine-Francois and Antoine Ignatius.  He was grandfather to the artist Antoine-Charles Joseph, known as Carle Vernet and great grandfather to the painter Horace Vernet.  Of his three sons, Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-89) earned a reputation throughout Europe as a great landscape and marine artist, receiving the commission from Louis XV for the series of paintings, Ports of France.   Jean-Antoine Vernet (1716-1755) also painted seascapes, and (Antoine-) Francois Vernet (1730-79) was a decorative painter.  Jean-Antoine Vernet had a son, Louis Francois, who along with Antoine-Francois’s son, Joseph Vernet the Younger, were both active sculptors in Paris.  Today’s featured artist Claude-Joseph Vernet had a son Carle who followed in his father’s footsteps and became known for his pictures of horses and battle scenes, though his achievement was overshadowed not only by his father’s but by that of his son Horace Vernet, a prolific and highly successful painter, especially of battle scenes. The Vernet family was connected by marriage to several other notable French artists, Carle becoming father-in-law of Hippolyte Lecomte and Horace that of Paul Delaroche; Carle’s sister Emilie married the architect Jean-Francois-Thérese Chalgrin.

When I saw today’s painting of a shipwreck at sea I was immediately transported back in time to my days at sea and the many horrendous storms I had to endure.  However this seascape also reminded me of the many times we had to bring our small vessel into the Portuguese port of Oporto.  The flow of water along the river Duoro, which is controlled by dams in the river high up in the Spanish mountains, ends its 727kms journey as it forces its way through the town of Oporto before pouring itself out into the Atlantic Ocean.  For many years the flow had not been strong enough to clear the sandbank and silting at the river mouth and the passage from ocean to river was a hazardous dog-leg, which was made even more difficult with the Atlantic rollers buffeting the stern of vessels as they headed for the narrow channel entrance.  I will always remember the tension on the bridge of the vessel as we tried to steer a course through the narrow entrance along the winding channel, hampered by following seas buffeting the stern of vessel making the ship slew from side to side.  Tension was further heightened as one looked at the sandbank which almost completely straddled the entrance and perched on top of it was a wreck of a ship which had failed to successfully navigate its way through the narrow entrance.  This was almost forty years ago and I am sure things have changed.

Vernet had just returned to France in 1753 after spending the previous twenty years in Italy.   Madame de Pompadour’s brother, the Marquis de Marigny, when he had been appointed Surintendant des bâtiments (Cultural Minister) under Louis XV, commissioned Vernet to paint a series of views for the crown of the major French ports.   Vernet had just started his first commission in Marseilles in 1754 when Marginy commissioned today’s work.    Vernet loved the sea and seascapes but his most favourite subject was his dramatic portrayal of shipwrecks and all the emotions that went hand in hand with such disasters.

As we look at the painting we see a dreadful storm and shipwreck scene.  Torrential rain is pouring down on the battered remains of the wrecked ship and its hapless survivors.   The white-crested seas push the broken ship further onto the jagged rocks.  In the background, we can see another ship which is being unmercifully tossed about on the stormy sea but remains out of harm’s way.  In the foreground we see survivors just about clinging to life as they lie on the rocks.   Some are being helped to drag themselves out of the stormy waters and onto the slippery rocks to escape the jaws of certain death.  To the right we see a fort perched on a rocky outcrop.  A tree with its roots embedded in the rocks clings perilously to its elevated position in the face of gale-force winds.  Along the walls leading up to the fort, we see spectators looking down on the unfolding drama.

Some of the survivors

Like a number of his paintings, Vermet has cleverly utilised the effects of light in order to create visual excitement.  He has cleverly contrasted the darkness of the sea and the rocks with the blue sky which is emerging from behind the black storm clouds.   Venet’s figure drawing and his mastery of the portrayal of human emotions through gestures was his forte and you need to stand close up to the painting to take in the minutiae of the details

Fur Traders descending the Missouri by George Caleb Bingham

Fur Traders descending the Missouri by George Caleb Bingham (1845)

For My Daily Art Display today I cross the Atlantic and return to the nineteenth century in order to discover the art of George Caleb Bingham.  Bingham was born in 1811 in Augusta County Virginia.  He was the second of seven children to Mary and Henry Bingham and his early life should have been a life of plenty as his grandfather on his mother’s side passed on to his mother and father the family mill and a vast tract of land along with a number of slaves and servants.  However when Caleb was seven years old, an unwise decision to stand surety for a friend’s debt by his father lost the family everything.  It was time to move on and the family went West in search of their fortune.

The family settled in Missouri in the small town of Franklin in Howard County, a few miles north of the great Missouri River, and eventually Caleb’s father became a county judge.  Sadly, when Caleb was only twelve, his thirty-eight year old father contracted malaria and died.   The family moved to a farm just outside the town.  Caleb spent much of his leisure time down by the river and many of his paintings he did as an adult featured this magnificent waterway.   Caleb became an apprentice to a cabinet maker when he was sixteen years old and he was put to work painting signs.  A few years earlier Caleb Bingham had met Chester Harding the portrait painter who had passed through Howard County looking for work.  The artist had sparked an interest in art with Caleb, so much so that the teenager started to paint portraits of the local people which he sold for twenty dollars.

Bingham married Sarah Hutchinson in 1836 and the couple moved to the city St Louis where he was able to expand his artistic career and soon made a name for himself as a portrait painter.  He travelled to Philadelphia where he spent some time at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts before moving to Washington.   He returned back to his Missouri home in 1844 and started painting river scenes, one of which is my featured painting today.  As far as his paintings are concerned, it is reckoned that the period between 1845 and 1855 he produced his greatest works.    In 1848 his wife died and his mother moved in with him to look after his children.  She too died three years later.  In 1856 Caleb made a trip to Europe with his second wife Eliza Thomas.   He visited Paris and was able to fulfil one of his ambitions which was to study the works of the Great Masters at the Louvre.  They moved on to Germany where the family lived in an artists’ colony and he enrolled at the Dusseldorf School of painting where he studied historical painting.

Eventually he and his family returned to America and he continued his lucrative career as a portraitist.  He also fulfilled another of his ambitions; he entered politics and held positions in the state legislature of Missouri and later became president of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners and was appointed their first chief of police.  His second wife died in an asylum in 1876 and soon after he married for a third time.  He became the first Professor of Art at the University of Missouri but he died in 1879, early into this tenure.

The painting I am featuring today in My Daily Art Display is entitled Fur Traders descending the Missouri which he completed in 1845.    This was one of his genre paintings of everyday life on the Missouri River.  He loved to depict the river boatmen and fur traders whose livelihood was tied up with this vast waterway.  In some ways Bingham’s painting was out of date and it really was just his nostalic look back on the past as by 1845 when he completed this work, the world of the lone hunters and trappers bringing their pelts to trading posts by canoe was over, superseded by the big companies which shipped their commodities up and down the river by steamer and barge.  The painting was originally titled French Trader, Half Breed Son.  It was quite common in those days for fur traders to take up with Native American women.  However when first exhibited the American Art Union considered the title to be, what we would now term, “not politically correct” and so the Art Union renamed it, hence its present title.  In front of us we see an old French fur trader, wearing his liberty hat along with his son with their cargo, riding a dugout canoe along the shimmering Missouri River.  In the centre of the canoe is their cargo of furs atop of which is a dead duck which will provide supper for the duo.   In the prow of the craft is a tethered animal.  I say “animal” for to me it looks like a cat but doing some research into the painting I believe it is supposed to be a small bear cub!

The light in the painting adds a haunting quality to the work and this is where I give you another “-ism” to think about – Luminism and the American Luminists.    The term luminism came into being in the mid-twentieth century when art historians used the term to describe a 19th-century American painting style that arose as a derivative of the Hudson River School, examples of which I featured on Feb 4th and Feb 9th.  Luminism was a retrospective name given by art historians and was not a term used by the luminist artist themselves nor did they align themselves with the Hudson River School of painters. The landscapes of Luminists could be characterised by the use of clear and cool colours.  It was hard to detect brushstrokes in paintings done by the luminists.  These artists liked to paint very large works emphasising nature’s grand scale that emphasized tranquillity, reflective water and soft hazy skies.

Today’s featured painting was looked upon as Caleb Bingham’s most famous,  evoking an era in America’s early history.  There is no question that the painting today is a prime example of luminism.  I am amazed by the aura of serenity and stillness I detect in this painting.  The composition is well balanced.   There is no hint of any motion and yet we know the small craft is carrying its passengers downstream.  Caleb Bingham will have seen such sights many times over when he lived near the banks of the Missouri.  It was thanks to the paintings of the likes of Bingham that folk back in the East learnt about the pioneering push to the West as although cameras had been invented before the time of this painting, photographs were expensive to produce and so for the ordinary people works of art were their window to the West.

The Broken Pitcher by Jean-Baptiste Greuze

The Broken Jug by Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1771)

This is my second painting featuring the artist Jean-Baptiste Greuze, the first being on June 28th.  However today’s painting is very different in comparison to my first offering.

Greuze was born in Tournus, a Burgundian town on the banks of the River Saône in 1725, the sixth of nine children.  He came from a prosperous middle-class background and studied painting in Lyon in the late 1740’s under the successful portrait painter, Charles Grandon.   At the age of twenty-five, Greuze moved to Paris where he entered the Royal Academy as a student.  During this period he developed a style of painting which was described as Sentimental art or Sentimentality.     I believe we could define sentimentality as an emotional disposition that idealizes its object for the sake of emotional gratification and that it is inherently corrupt because it is grounded in cognitive and moral error. Sentimental art can thus be defined as art that, whether or not by design, evokes a sentimental response.

Greuze was accepted as an Associate member of the Academy after he submitted three of his paintings A Father Reading the Bible to His Family, the Blindman Deceived and The Sleeping Schoolboy.    These three works were about life amongst working class folk and were moralising pictorial stories and, in some ways, are reminiscent of the works by William Hogarth some two decades earlier.  It was Hogarth’s genre of art that depicted scenes from the lives of ordinary citizens and which were calculated to teach a moral lesson.

Greuze was pleased to have achieved admission to the prestigious Academy but he wanted more.  He wanted to be recognised as a historical painter.  From the 17th century, Art Academies of Europe had formalised a hierarchy of figurative art and the French Académie royale de peinture et de sculpturehad a central role in this listing.  According to them this was the hierarchical order, with the most prestigious at the top:

History Painting

(including narrative religious mythological and allegorical subjects)

Portrait Painting

Genre painting

 or scenes of everyday life

Landscape

Animal painting

Still Life

 

In 1789 he put forward his work, Septimius Severus Reproaching Caracalla, as a history painting but it was rejected by the Academy as they considered him to be a “mere genre painter”.    The Academy did not consider his works fell into the category of historical paintings and this rebuff so annoyed Greuze that he refused to submit any more of his works for the Academy’s exhibitions.  The fact that the Academy downgraded his works did not in any way affect their popularity with the public who couldn’t get enough of these “sentimental” paintings and the sale of his works continued strongly.  In fact, the sales of his works were so popular that the money kept pouring in and so Greuze had no more need to exhibit his works at the Academy.

During the late eighteenth century in France, Rococo art thrived and the likes of Fragonard, Watteau and Boucher had almost taken over the French art scene.  It was all the rage with its mythological and allegorical themes in pastoral settings and its elegant and sometimes sensuous depictions of aristocratic frivolity.  At the time, this brand of light-hearted, and now and again erotic works, were much in demand with wealthy patrons.  So in some ways the French art world received a shock when Greuze’s pompously moralising rural dramas on canvas countered the frivolity of the artificial world of Rococo art.

The majority of Greuze’s later works consisted of titillating paintings of young girls.  His paintings contained thinly disguised sexual suggestions under the surface appearance of over-sentimental innocence.  My Daily Art Display featured painting today entitled The Broken Jug is a classic example of this style of art.  In the picture we see a three-quarter length portrait of a young girl.  She has blue eyes, light hair, pink cheeks, very red lips, and her dress is white. She still exudes the innocence of childhood but we need to look closer at this portrait.   How old do you think she is?  Look closely at her facial expression.  What can you read into it?  Do you think she looks serious?  Do you think there is a slight look of alarm in her eyes?  Is there a look of sadness in her expression?  What has happened?

Look at the way she is dressed.  It looks as if it was a special dress for a special occasion, look at the flowers in her hair, maybe she has just returned from a party, but why are her dress and her appearance so dishevelled?  On her arm she carries a pitcher which is broken but she has not discarded it.  She clings lovingly to it.  It must have been a prized possession of hers and maybe she hopes to be able to remedy the break.  How did it break?  Was she running away from something and tripped, breaking the pitcher, which may explain her dishevelled appearance.  Maybe her worry is based on how she is going to explain away the breaking of the pitcher to her parents and pleading that it was a simple accident and beyond her control.  Is it as simple as this?

Let me suggest another possibility to this story.   I am not convinced this is all about a broken pitcher.  Let us consider an alternative theory.  Look at her dishevelled appearance.  Look at her silk scarf adorned with a rose which has lost some of its petals.  See how the scarf has been dragged down and is now no longer wrapped around her slender neck.  Look how the top of her dress has been pulled down exposing her left breast and nipple.  Look how she struggles to gather up flowers in the folds of her dress.  Has she been involved in a struggle with a lover and the tryst has got out of hand?   Is her beloved broken pitcher just an allegory and this is not about a broken jug at all but it is about her broken hymen and the loss of her virginity and the fear of telling her parents what has happened?

Could The Broken Pitcher by Jean-Baptiste Greuze be alluding to loss of virginity or am I reading something into this painting which does not exist?

The Rhinoceros by Pietro Longhi

My Daily Art Display painting of the day is one which when once seen will never be forgotten.  Not necessarily for the breathtaking art but for the unusual subject of the painting.  My featured painting to today is The Rhinoceros by Pietro Longhi.

The Rhinoceros by Pietro Longhi (1751)

Longhi was born in Venice in the latter part of 1701. His parents were Antonia and his father Alessandro Falca, who was a silversmith.  Pietro changed his surname to Longhi once he started to paint.  He studied art initially under the guidance of the painter from Verona, Antonio Balestra, and finally was accepted as an apprentice to Giuseppe Crespi the Baroque painter from Bologna.  Longhi returned to Venice when he was thirty-one years of age and married Caterina Maria Rizzi and the couple went on to have eleven children.  Sadly, and it is a common story of that era, only three of their children reached the age of maturity, one of whom, Alessandro, became a successful portraitist.

His early work featured a number of altarpieces and religious paintings and he was commissioned to carry out a number of frescos in the walls and ceilings of the Ca’Sacredo in Venice, which is now an exclusive hotel.  Later his art turned to genre scenes of contemporary life in Venice of the aristocracy and the working class.  He produced numerous works and in many instances painted many different versions of the same scene.  His type of art,  his satirical look at everyday Venetian life with its coffee-drinking, receptions and social soireeswas extremely popular..  Some of his paintings remind one of the type of paintings done by William Hogarth.  The difference between the two was that Hogarth was often brutally satirical with his paintings in which he mocked the life of English folk whereas Longhi just wanted to chronicle the everyday life of his compatriots without standing in judgment and acting as a satirical moralist.  In a number of cases his patrons, who had commissioned his work where featured in the works and maybe for that reason Longhi was careful not to offend them.   Bernard Berenson, the American Art historian, talked about Longhi’s artistic style and the comparison with Hogarth when he wrote:

“…Longhi painted for the Venetians passionate about painting, their daily lives, in all dailiness, domesticity, and quotidian mundane-ness. In the scenes regarding the hairdo and the apparel of the lady, we find the subject of gossip of the inopportune barber, chattering of the maid; in the school of dance, the amiable sound of violins. It is not tragic… but upholds a deep respect of customs, of great refinement, with an omnipresent good humor distinguishes the paintings of the Longhi from those of Hogarth, at times pitiless and loaded with omens of change..”.

Longhi became Director of the Academy of Drawing and Carving in 1763 and it was around this time that he concentrated almost all his artistic efforts in to portraiture, ably assisted by his son, Alessandro.  He died aged 83 in 1785.

The featured painting today is based on historical facts and revolves around the Carnevale di Venezia, the annual festival, held in Venice. The Carnival starts around two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ends on Shrove Tuesday.  This grand event was described by John Evelyn, the 17th century English traveller and diarist:

“…At Shrovetide all the world repair to Venice, to see the folly and madness of the Carnival; the women, men, and persons of all conditions disguising themselves in antique dresses, with extravagant music and a thousand gambols, traversing the streets from house to house, all places being then accessible and free to enter. Abroad, they fling eggs filled with sweet water, but sometimes not over-sweet. They also have a barbarous custom of hunting bulls about the streets and piazzas, which is very dangerous, the passages being generally narrow. The youth… contend in other masteries and pastimes, so that it is impossible to recount the universal madness of this place during this time of license….”

The painting which hangs in the National Gallery in London centres on the unusual spectacle of Clara the young rhinoceros, which was brought to Europe in 1741 by a Dutch sea captain, Douwe Mout van der Meer, who had bought the lumbering creature.  It is believed that she was only the fifth rhinoceros to be imported from India to Europe since the days of the Roman Empire.  Clara, after extensive travels in Europe, arrived in Venice ten years later.   The female rhinoceros in Longhi’s painting, seen munching away at some hay seems somewhat docile, even depressed, as caged animals often are who suffer such a fate.

The Audience

Behind her we see the keeper of the animal and a number of spectators.  The keeper holds aloft a whip and the horn of the rhinoceros which according to historical notes, was not cut off but knocked off by Clara herself due to her continuous rubbing it against the sides of her cage.  The small audience of seven, some of whom wear their Carnival masks stand on wooden benches in an almost triangular formation.  They show no interest in the poor creature as they gaze vacuously in all different directions.  The elegant lady in the front row wearing a dark lace shawl, edged in gold is Catherine Grimani.  She stares directly out at us.  Her white-masked suitor, on her left, is her husband John Grimani and the couple were the commissioners of the painting.  Their servant stands to her right and looks straight ahead.  The man to the right of the group wearing a red cloak and has a long clay pipe in his mouth has his eyes cast downwards and seems lost in his own thoughts.  Above him, Longhi has painted a scroll-like notice which tells us all about the painting, which when translated reads:

“True Portrait of a Rinocerous  conducted in Venice  year 1751:

made for hand by  Pietro Longhi

Commissions  S of Giovanni  Grimani Servi Patrick Veneto “.

The small girl in the back row seems totally disinterested in Clara.  With the exception of the animal’s keeper brandishing the severed horn there seems no relationship with the audience and the animal on display.  It is if Longhi has merely added them to please his patrons and highlight the fact that the exhibition was at Carnival time in Venice.

One thing that I found fascinating is the lady in the upper middle of the audience dressed in the blue and white gown.  Instead of a white carnival mask she is wearing the soft black leather Moretta mask.  Moretta, means darkness, and the masks were only worn by women and were not tied around the wearer’s head but held in place by a leather button on the inside of the mask which is held in the clenched teeth of the wearer.  It has only two nearly circular openings for the eyes, restricting the lady’s breath a little, as the only airway is through the eye openings down to the nose.  Sweat also has to evaporate through the openings as well, quickly making the face hot.  Not only was that uncomfortable but it prevented the wearer from speaking.  This enforced silence especially pleased their male counterparts !

I was going to add a male-chauvinist comment, but thought better of it  !!!!!!

Hard Times by Sir Hubert von Herkomer

Hard Times by Sir Hubert von Herkomer (1885)

My featured artist today is the German painter Hubert von Herkomer.  He was born in 1849 in Waal, a small town in southern Bavaria.  He was an only child.  His father Lorenz was a talented wood carver and his mother was a talented pianist and music teacher.  At the age of two he and his family emigrated to America and settled in Cleveland Ohio.  Their stay in America was comparatively short for in 1857 they returned to Europe, settling down in Southampton, England.  Herkomer first art tuition came from his father and later in life he often said that his father had been one of the most important and positive influences on his career.   He went to school in Southampton and began his art education when he attended the Southampton School of Art.  One of his fellow students was Luke Fildes who was to become one of the greatest English Social Realism painters (see My Daily Art Display, May 17th).  When he was sixteen years old his father took him back to Bavaria where he attended the Munich Academy for a short time.  In 1866 he returned to England and enrolled at the South Kensington Schools which we now know as the Royal College of Art and at the age of twenty he exhibited, for the first time, at the Royal Academy.

Herkomer left Kensington Art School and 1867 and started a career as a book and magazine illustrator. However he found most of the work tedious and so being a young man with radical political opinions he was excited by the news that the social reformer, William Thomas, intended to launch an illustrated weekly magazine called the Graphic.  Herkomer immediately fired with enthusiasm sent Thomas a drawing of a group of gypsies. The magazine owner, Thomas, was delighted with the drawings and the following week it appeared in his magazine.   Over the next few years Herkomer supplied Thomas with more drawings which were published.  He applied to join the staff of the magazine but was both annoyed and disappointed when his application was turned down by Thomas.  Herkomer had no choice but to remain as a freelance contributor.  Although devastated by the refusal he was later to recall that this rebuff was to be the making of him as an artist.  He wrote about his belief that he had an obligation to pictorially depict the hard times of the poor and the importance of such magazines like the Graphic, saying:

 “…It is not too much to say that there was a visible change in the selection of subjects by painters in England after the advent of the Graphic.  Mr. Thomas opened its pages to every phase of the story of our life; he led the rising artist into drawing subjects that might never have otherwise arrested his attention; he only asked that they should be subjects of universal interest and of artistic value.  I owe to Mr. Thomas everything in my early art career.  Whether it was to do a two-penny lodging-house for St. Giles’, a scene in Petticoat Lane, Sunday morning, the flogging of a criminal in Newgate Prison, an entertainment given to Italian organ grinders, it mattered little.  It was a lesson in life, and a lesson in art.  I am only one of many who received these lessons at the hands of Mr. W. L. Thomas….”

(Spartacus Educational Hubert Von Herkomer)

A number of his engravings which were used in the Graphic were later reworked by Herkomer into large scale oil paintings.  In 1879 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy and became an Academician in 1890.

In 1880 Herkomer started to concentrate on portraiture which, at the time, was the most lucrative art genre.  His fame grew and he spent time in America where he completed thirteen portraits during his ten week stay and for them he received the princely sum of £6000.  His wealth grew rapidly and he could now afford a luxurious lifestyle.  Despite the lucrative portraiture market he never lost his love of Social Realism art which drew attention to the atrocious conditions of the poor.  It was in the late nineteenth century that he produced some of his great Social Realism paintings such as Pressing to the West in 1884; today’s featured painting Hard Times in 1885 and On Strike in 1891.  In 1883 Herkomer started his own art school at Bushey in Hertfordshire, at which he oversaw some five hundred would-be artists.  He served as Slade Professor of Art at Oxford University between 1885 and 1895 and was knighted by the King in 1907.  Herkomer died in 1914 aged 65 and is buried in St James’s Church, Bushey.

The featured painting in My Daily Art Display is entitled Hard Times and was painted by Herkomer in 1885.  It now hangs in the City Art Gallery of Manchester.  The artist was dedicated to bringing the social problems of the poor to the eyes of the public through his oil on canvas paintings.  He never forgot his early impoverished childhood and his health problems.  The author Lee Edwards, who wrote extensively about Herkomer, commented:

“…Herkomer painted a number of pictures that revealed his sympathy with the poor and disadvantaged, a characteristic fostered in part by his own humble origins…”

This painting was one of his most famous works and was one of many of his paintings which featured rural scenes.  His inspiration for this painting was probably the impoverished migrant workers he had seen near his home in Bushey.  Herkomer actually used a real family for his painting, getting an a working labourer, James Quarry and his wife Annie to pose with their two sons Frederick George and his brother James Joseph as unemployed workers and their children.  The setting for this painting was called Coldharbour Lane, a long and winding road in the Hertfordshire countryside.  The outdoor setting was painted en plein air but the characters in the painting were painted later, indoors at his Art School.

The wife who sits with her children by the roadside looks sad and dejected.   On the other hand, the man looks down the road and his face is one of hope and possibly optimism that something will “turn up soon” and the tools of the man’s trade lie before them signifying that strength would eventually overcome hardship.  It is interesting to note the difference in Herkomer’s portrayal of the effect hardship had on men and women.  So should we view this painting as one of hope or one of destitution?

I suppose the answer lies with ourselves and whether when we face problems we believe our glass is half full or half empty !

Crossing at the Schreckenstein by Ludwig Richter

Crossing at the Schreckenstein by Ludwig Richter (1836)

About five or six years ago I was fortunate enough to be having a short break in Europe  and one of my journeys was from Dresden to Prague, partly by boat on the river Elbe and partly by train.  The banks of the River Elbe, like the German Rhine, is littered with palaces and castles perched high above the river.  My featured painting for today entitled Crossing at the Schreckenstein by Ludwig Richter reminded me of that trip and I remember the castle well as it stood imperiously above the river.

Adrian Ludwig Richter, the son of Karl August Richter, a copper engraver, was born in 1803 in Dresden.   He received his initial artistic training from his father.  He attended the Dresden Academy of Art and his favoured artistic genre was that of landscape painting and at the age of twenty, with the financial backing of a Dresden book dealer, he was awarded a scholarship to travel to Rome to continue his studies.  Whilst in Rome he came across Joseph Anton Koch, an Austrian landscape painter of the German Romantic Movement who was famous for idealised landscapes.  It was whilst in Italy that Richter produced the first of many of his idyllic Italian landscape paintings.

Richter returned to Dresden in 1826 and two years later went to work as a designer at the Meissen factory.  Richter made many hiking trips through the mountains of Bohemia and along the Elbe and gradually his landscape art changed from the idealistic landscapes to the topographically accurate ones.  Richter was a lifelong lover of the works of Caspar David Friedrich and his influence can be seen in a number of Richter’s works.  In most cases he would add figures to his landscapes and through them tell a story.    In 1841 he became a professor at the Dresden Academy and would often take parties of students on walking tours through the local mountains where they would sketch and return to the college where they would use them to complete their works of art.

In 1874 at the age seventy-one an eye disease caused his sight to deteriorate to such an extent that he had to give up his art work.  He died in 1884 at Loschwitz ,  a few month short of his 81st birthday.

The harp player

The title of today’s painting Crossing at Schreckenstein is also known as Crossing the Elbe at Schreckenstein near Aussig and I have even seen it referred to as Ferry at the Schreckenstein.   So what do we see before us?  One can almost hear the tune from the harp as the ferryman and his boat transport their passengers across the Elbe.  Note the varied age of the passengers, spread between the child through to the old man and it was thought that Richter’s ferryboat was a “ship of life” in which the passengers of all ages are united.  The ferryman leans back as he heaves on his paddle.  With pipe in his mouth, his eyes are raised towards the hilltop castle.  He still seems in awe of the great edifice notwithstanding how many daily crossing of the river he makes.

At his feet there seems to be a small cargo of plants which are being transported across the waterway and next to them we see a young girl standing with a pole in her hand.  We do not know whether she is the ferryman’s helper or just another passenger.  In the middle of the boat we focus our attention on a young man, standing up with his back to us, who like us,  stares up at the castle whilst the old man plays a folk song about times past.

The Ferryman

A young couple cuddle up together.  His hand rests on hers as she holds on to a posy of flowers. Neither of them are aware of the beauty of their surroundings or their fellow travellers.  They only have eyes for each other.   A man sits in front of the elderly harp player, resting his chin on his hand, his eyes cast downwards.  He too seems unaware of the surrounding landscape.  He is lost in thought.  A small boy at his feet with his hand resting over the gunwale of the craft, drags a small branch through the calm water, slightly rippled by the current.  The curved shape of the upper part of the painting in some way lends it a somewhat solemn and religious feel.

The setting for this picture was probably one Richter saw on his many hikes along the banks of the Elbe.  Maybe the last word on the painting should be given to the artist himself.  He described his work in his autobiography, Lebenserinnerungen eines deutschen Malers, which was edited by his son:

“…As I remained standing on the bank of the Elbe after sunset, watching the activities of the boatmen, I was particularly struck by an old ferryman who was responsible for the crossing.  The boat loaded with people and animals, cut through the quiet current, in which the evening sky was reflected.  So eventually it happened that the ferry came over, filled with a colorful crowd among who sat an old harpist who, instead of paying the penny for his passage, played a tune on his harp….”

The view is as magnificent today as it was in the time of Richter with the once mighty castle perched above the river.  Bridges and locks now straddle the waterway and the ferryman’s efforts are no longer needed.  If ever you visit the area be sure to take the river journey down the mighty Elbe and savour the splendour of the river banks.