Mademoiselle Lange as Danaë and Mademoiselle Lange as Venus by Anne-Louis Girodet

Mademoiselle Lange as Danaë by Anne-Louis Girodet (1798)

My Daily Art Display today has the slight whiff of scandal about it, or to be more precise, about the sitter for the painting.  It is a tale of two paintings, a disgruntled sitter and a furious artist.   The title of today’s featured works are Mademoiselle Lange as Danaë and Mademoiselle Lange as Venus and the artist who painted both these rather erotic works in 1799 was the French painter and illustrator, Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy-Trisson but more commonly known as Anne-Louis Girodet.  Here was an artist whose works straddled the rationalism of Neoclassicism and the flights of fantasy associated with Romanticism.

Girodet was born in Montargis, a small town some 100 kilometres south of Paris in 1767.   He had an unhappy start to life with both his parents dying when he was young and he then came under the guardianship of Doctor Trioson who took care of his well-being and education.  Later Girodet would add the surname of his guardian to his own in recognition to everything the doctor had done for him when he was young.  There is a train of thought that the good doctor was actually Girodet’s natural father.   Initially Girodet studied to become an architect and had a desire to follow a military career but finally he decided that the life of an artist was for him.

He studied with Jacques-Louis David and in 1789 was awarded the Prix de Rome by the Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture and with that came the scholarship to travel to Italy and stay at the Academy of France in Rome.  Girodet remained in Rome for five years.

He returned to Paris in 1793 and concentrated on portraiture and was well known for his glorifying portraits of Napoleon Bonaparte.  One of his best known and most controversial portraits is one of the painting I am featuring today.  He also spent a lot of time doing illustrations for books.  In 1815 his erstwhile guardian Doctor Trioson died and Girodet inherited a fortune and for the rest of his life he spent little time painting and concentrated on writing poetry.  Girodet died in Paris in 1824, aged 57.

So that was a little bit about the artist and now to delve into the much more colourful life of the sitter of this painting, Anne Françoise Elisabeth Lange.  She was born in Genoa in 1772.  Her mother and father were both musicians who with their company of players, travelled throughout Europe performing in musical shows.  The young Anne Françoise soon became a young child performer.  At the age of sixteen she made her first performance at the famous Comédie-Francais as a pensionnaire, and five years later she was promoted to the position of a sociétaire.  It is an interesting theatrical hierarchy.  A pensionnaire is promoted to a societaire by a decree of the Ministry of Culture, from names put forward by the general administrator of the Comédie-Française.  Once one has achieved the rank of a sociétaire, an actor automatically becomes a member of the Société des Comédiens-Français and receives a share of the profits plus they also receive a number of shares in the Société to which he or she is contractually linked.

Triumph followed triumph in her rolls and soon she became a notable performer in Paris.  The turning point came in 1793 when she appeared in a play which had Royalist connotations and as Paris was in the clutch of the Revolution anything alluding to royalty or the monarchy was taboo and the theatre was shut down and the play’s author and the actors were arrested.  She spent two periods incarceration and narrowly escaped the guillotine thanks to having friends in “high places”.

Elisabeth Lange bore a daughter, Anne-Elisabeth Palmayre  to her wealthy lover, Hoppé, a wealthy banker from Hamburg and two years later bore a son to another lover, Michel-Jean Simons, a Belgian supplier to the French army, whom she later married, after which her acting career virtually came to an end.  Disaster struck Simms’ business and he was ruined almost leaving the family destitute.  Michel-Jean Simons died at the family’s Swiss home in 1810 and his wife Elisabeth Lange died six years later in Florence.

Mademoiselle Lange as Venus by Anne-Louis Girodet (1798)

Miss Lange was both very talented and extremely beautiful.  She had approached the artist, Girodet, to paint her portrait.  He duly obliged and depicted her as Venus, in which she held the pose seen in depictions of the Birth of Venus but in this painting it is Cupid who holds the mirror up to Venus for her to study her reflection.  He exhibited the painting at the 1798 Salon exhibition but the sitter was horrified by her depiction and demanded that Girodet should remove it from the exhibition and from public view.  Furthermore she refused to pay Girodet the agreed amount for the painting.  The artist was furious and in an act of revenge took the painting out of the exhibition, removed it from its frame and ripped it up.  He then sent the pieces to Mademoiselle Lange.  However his revenge was not complete as he decided to paint another portrait of Elisabeth Lange but this time showing her in a very unfavourable light.  He rushed off a satirical painting of Mademoiselle Lange as Danaë  in just a few days.   Eighteenth-century artists sometimes portrayed people as mythological characters to highlight their virtues but this time Girodet wanted to highlight Mademoiselle Lange’s vices.   Danaë was one of the mortals loved by the Greek god Zeus, who transformed himself into a shower of gold and fell upon her. Girodet shows Miss Lange as a prostitute greedily catching and gathering the gold coins in a sheet.   In the painting Girodet has featured a turkey with peacock feathers wearing a wedding ring, symbolizing her final lover and husband Michel-Jean Simons whom she married for his fortune, and to the bottom right we have a bizarre mask with the features of another of her lovers, Lord Lieuthraud, with a gold piece stuck in one of its eye sockets.  Look at the mirror she holds.  It is cracked and this symbolises her inability to see herself as she is, or how Girodet saw her – vain, adulterous and avaricious.

This painting is now at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Religious Procession in Kursk Province by Ilya Repin

Religious Processionin in Kursk Province by Ilya Repin (1883)

Ilya Efimovich Repin was born in 1844 in the town of Chuhuiv, now part of eastern Ukraine.  His parents were a family of military settlers.  Military Settlements in thise days were places which allowed the combination of military service and agricultural employment.   At the age of twelve, his art training took the form of an apprenticeship with the local icon painter, Ivan Bunakov and throughout his life religious representations remained of great importance to him.   When he was 19 he entered the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts and studied portraiture.  It was whilst at that artistic establishment that the Rebellion of the Fourteen took place in September 1863  The rebellion consisted of fourteen young artists who left the Academy in protest against its rigid neoclassical dicta and who refused to use mythological subjects for their diploma works.. The rebel artists insisted that art should be close to real life and they formed the Society of the Peredvizhniki to promote their own aesthetic ideals.  In order to reach the widest audience possible, the society organized regular travelling exhibitions throughout the Russian Empire. Later, Repin would be become a close friend and associate with some of them and fifteen years on after returning from Europe he would join the group.  But for the time Repin remained at the Academy and in 1871 won the prestigious Major Gold Medal award and received a scholarship to study abroad.

Repin went abroad in 1873 travelling around Italy before settling in Paris.  It was whilst he was in Paris that he came in contact with the Impressionists and their works which had a lasting effect upon his use of light and colour and he witnessed their first exhibition in 1874.  Although he never joined the group and was often critical of their style, which he considered too distant from reality, he was greatly influenced by some of the artists’ en plein air style of painting.  In 1876 he left Paris and returned home to Russia, settling down in Moscow.  During his period in Moscow he visited the country estate of Abramtsevo belonging to Savva Mamontov a wealthy Russina patron of the arts (See Valentin Serov – My Daily Art Display Feb 24th).    Following the Bolshevik Revolution Repin went to Kuokkola, Finland to live in the estate he had built and which he called Penates.  Repin produced his greatest works during the latter two decades of the nineteenth century although he continued painting well into the twentieth century.  Repin died in 1930 in Kuokkla, at the age of 86.   After the Winter War between Russia and Finland and the Continuation War between the two countries between 1939 and 1944, Kuokkala became Russian. In 1948, it was renamed Repino in honor of today’s artist Ilya Repin

My Daily Art Display featured painting today is entitled Religious Procession in Kursk Province and was completed by Repin in 1883.  This massive oil on canvas painting measures 175 x 280cms.   The setting for the painting is a time of drought and we see a large group of people crossing the parched earth.   The leaders of the procession carry aloft a miracle-working icon to a church which lies nearby.  What is interesting about the procession is that there is a great mix of people of various social standing in the community.   Scan the painting, look at the various characters Repkin has depicted.  He, by his portrayal of how the people are dressed, stresses the difference in their social status and highlights life’s inequalities.  Some are in rags whilst others are bedecked in rich caftans.  We focus our eyes on the young hunchback as he struggles along with his makeshift crutch totally focused on the icon, which is being held on the shoulders of the monks.  To him, it may mean salvation.  To him, life cannot get any worse and for him this procession will lead him to a better existence.  Compare that with the posture of the cavalry officer atop of his horse who oozes a kind of sanctimonious piety,  his attitude appears to be of one who only half believes in the power of the icon and who probably, unlike the hunchback, needs little that the icon can possibly offer anyway.  This is a “them and us” scene, a “have and have not” scenario, which Repin liked to depict in his realist paintings.  This was part of a slow build up to the revolution which would take another twenty years to arrive with its 1905 initial uprisings leading eventually to the ultimate revolution in 1917 which finally destroyed the Tsarist rule and the inequalities of life.  For Repkin this procession we see before us in this painting maybe an allegory for the slow but unyielding forward advance of the working classes towards social change.

Repin was a Realist painter and focused much of his work on the social dilemmas of his country.  He was aware of the inequalities of the Tsarist system and although that same system treated him well, he was aware that for a vast majority of his people, life was unfair.  Ivan Kramskoi, the Russian artist and critic and leading light of the Society of the Peredvizhniki of which Repin was a member, said of his Repkin’s perception of life’s inequalities:

“…Repkin has a gift for showing the peasant as he is.  I know many painters who show the moujik [Russian peasants], and they do it well but none can do so with as much talent as Repin…”

The painting hangs in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and I would so like to stand in front of the painting and absorb the atmosphere that Repkin has conjured up in this magnificent work.

Madame de Ventadour with Portraits of Louis XIV and his Heirs by The French School

Madame de Ventadour with Portraits of Louis XIV and his Heirs by The French School (c. 1715-1720)

For My Daily Art Display today I am returning to French art and a painting which is attributed to the French School around 1720.  The title of the work is Madame de Ventadour with Portraits of Louis XIV and his Heirs. It has all the grandeur and splendour one would expect in the pre-Revolution days when French life was controlled by the Monarchy.

I suppose the first thing I should talk about is who are all these people standing before us with their dignified regal poses?  In the painting we see four adults and a child in what is meant to look like an elegantly decorated room in the Palace of Versailles.  In the right background we can see the lavish gardens of the palace.  The people in the painting pose like actors playing to an audience and maybe we are that audience who marvels open-mouthed at such opulence.  Seated centre stage, as befits the most important person of the group, is King Louis XIV, the King of France.   Leaning on the back of his chair is his son, Louis, the Grand Dauphin and heir to the French throne.  On the right dressed sumptuously in a red velvet coat with gold brocade is the Dauphin’s eldest son and Louis XIV’s grandson, Louis, Duc de Bourgone who is second in line to the French throne.  The lady on the left is the lady of the title of the painting, Madame de Ventadour, who was the governess to the royal children and finally, the child in front of her, who is actually a boy despite the dress, and he is the great grandson of Louis XIV, Louis, the Duc d’Anjou, who would later become King Louis XV.  Two other personalities are present in the painting but only in the form of busts.  On the plinth in the left background we have the bust of King Henri IV, the deceased head of the Bourbon dynasty and on the plinth to the right we have the bust of King Louis XIII the deceased King of France and Louis XIV’s father.  Madame de Ventadour can be seen to the left of the painting but more about her later.

Louis XIV’s father Louis XIII had an arranged marriage with Anne of Austria when he was only fourteen years of age.  Anne suffered four miscarriages and the Royal couple waited twenty-eight years for their first child, Louis, to be born in 1638.  Five years after the birth of his son, Louis XIII died.  An amusing anecdote is related regarding the deathbed scene of the forty-one year old Louis XIII and his five year old son.  The dying man asked his son did he know who he was, the little boy replied:

“….Louis the Fourteenth, Father….”

To which his father quickly retorted:

“…You are not Louis the Fourteenth, yet….”

Louis came to the throne as Louis XIV on the death of his father at the age of four and ruled France for just over seventy-two years from 1643 to 1715 and as such, it is one of the longest recorded reigns of any European monarch.  He was known as the Sun King as he identified himself with the Sun God Apollo and it was probably in his honour that the picture of Apollo riding his chariot, which we see on the rear wall, was incorporated into the painting.

As the title of the painting states, this is a painting depicting Louis XIV’s heirs.  Actually we are looking at members from four generations.  We have the king seated, his son with the white wig, his grandson with the red coat and his great grandson the small child.   So why did this little boy, the king’s great grandson, become the next king on the death of his great grandfather?    The reason is simple but in some ways tragic.   Louis XIV lived a very long life, dying just four days before his seventy-seventh birthday in 1715.  His eldest son, the man standing behind his chair in the painting died of smallpox in 1711, aged 49.  The next in line for the throne would have been Louis XIV’s grandson, the Duc de Bourgogne, the man in the painting wearing the red coat, but he, his wife and one of their sons died of a measles epidemic in 1712.  This meant the little five year old boy, Louis duc d’Anjou, who we see in the painting with his governess Madame de Ventadour became Louis XV.

But why is this lady included in this royal portrait?  Like many of her family, Madame de Ventadour was the Gouvernante des enfants royaux, (Governess of the Children of France).  She became the royal governess in 1704.  It was amusing to read about her husband, Louis, Duke of Ventadour for though through marriage she became a duchess, she had a lot to put up with.  In L C Syms’ book of 1898 entitled Selected Letters of Madame de Sévigné  (Madame de Ventadour’s daughter) one letter described the Duke de Ventadour  as being

“horrific — very ugly, physically deformed, and sexually debauched”

However, she was credited as having saved the life of the soon to be Louis XV at a time when his elder brother, father and mother all succumbed to the deadly disease. The family was treated by the royal doctors, who bled them in the belief that it would help them to recover; instead, it merely weakened them and reduced their chances of survival.  She decided that she would not allow the same treatment to be applied to the two year old Duke of Anjou so Madame de Ventadour locked herself up with three nursery maids, and refused to allow the doctors near the boy.

The painting was commissioned to celebrate the role of the lady in ensuring the continuation of the Bourbon dynasty.  It is interesting to see how the seated king and the young child point to each other.  Maybe that symbolises the connection between great grandfather and his great grandson in as much as the crown passed between these two and circumvented the other two men in the painting.   If we want to look at symbolic connections in this painting, look how the bust of Louis XIII on the right hand pedestal, the seated Louis XIV and the little boy, Louis XV, the three consecutive French monarchs,  are connected by an imaginary diagonal line – just a coincidence ?

The painting can be seen by visiting the Wallace Collection in London.

The Life of Man by Jan Steen

The Life of Man by Jan Steen (c.1665)

My Daily Art Display today is about two paintings and the reason I am looking at two is because the second one, which is a copy of the first by a different artist, is almost identical but not quite and it does show up certain details much clearer, which are harder to see on the original work by Jan Steen.  Sounds interesting? – Well then, read on !

Jan Havicksz Steen was born in Leiden around 1626.  He was the eldest son of the brewer and former grain merchant, Havick Jansz Steen and his wife, Elisabeth Capiteyn, the daughter of a city clerk.  Steen was brought up in a well-to-do Catholic family home.  His forefathers and parents had run the tavern, The Red Halbert, for two generations.  Jan Steen, like his contemporary Rembrandt, went to the Latin School and later became a student in the Department of Letters at Leiden University.  Art historians question whether he actually studied at the university as he never attained a degree.  It is thought that he may have enrolled at the university to take advantage of the privileges bestowed on students, such as exemption from serving in the civic gurad and not having to pay the municipal excise tax on beer and wine !  His artistic education was overseen by the German painter, Nicolaes Knupfer,  a specialist in history paintings and produced works based on stories from the Bible, from Greek and Roman history and from mythology.   He was to have a great influence on Jan Steen.  Two other painters who had some bearing on Steen’s future artistic career were the brothers Adriaen and Isaac van Ostade, both of who lived in nearby Utrecht

In March 1648, at the age of twenty-two, Jan Steen and Gabriel Metsu, a fellow artist, founded the painters’ Guild of St Luke at Leiden.  It was shortly after that time that, Jan Steen went to The Hague where he met and became assistant to Jan van Goyen, the prolific landscape artist.  Within a short space of time Steen left his lodgings and moved into van Goyen’s home.  In October 1648 Jan Steen married van Goyen’s daughter Margriet and the couple went on to have six children, their first child, a son Thadeus was born in 1651.   Van Goyen and Steen worked together for a further five years until 1654 at which time Steen and his family moved to Delft and to supplement his income from his art, he rented a brewery for 400 guilders a month, known as De Slang (The Serpent), also sometimes known as De Roskam (The Curry Comb) which was on the Oude Delft canal,  but the enterprise met with little success.

The year 1654 was to be a momentous and a tragic year for Delft and its inhabitants.  This was the year in which The Delft Explosion occurred on October 12th,  when a gunpowder store exploded, destroying much of the city. Over a hundred people were killed and thousands wounded.  Thirty tons of gunpowder had been stockpiled in a former Clarissen Convent in the Doelenkwartier district of the city.   On that morning the keeper of the magazine, which stored the explosives, opened up the store and an enormous explosion followed.   The death toll could have been much worse but fortunately many of the people of Delft had gone to a market at the nearby town of Schieden.  One of the casualties of the explosion was the artist Carl Fabritius, many of whose paintings were also destroyed in the explosion and fire.  After this disaster and the fall-out from the First Anglo-Dutch War, the art market in the city almost collapsed and sales of Steen’s works fell sharply.  Once again Jan Steen moved his family.

Jan Steen, following his departure from Delft in 1657, moved around the country, living for a time in Warmond, a small village north of Leiden and in 1660 moved to Haarlem where the next year Steen became a member of the Haarlem Guild of St Luke.   In May 1669 his wife died and the following year his father died.  Jan Steen inherited the family house in Leiden (his mother had died a year earlier) and he moved his family back home.  He returned to Leiden in 1672 when again he opened a tavern.  The year 1672 in Holland was known as the rampjaar (“disaster year”).   In that year, the Republic of the Seven United Provinces was after the outbreak of the Franco-Dutch War and the Third Anglo-Dutch War attacked by both England, France, and the invading armies very quickly defeated the Dutch States Army and conquered a large part of the Republic.  Steen’s unsuccessful brewery business and the fall in his art sales led him into debt which was further exacerbated by his heavy drinking.

In April 1673 he re-married.  His second wife was Maria Dircksdr van Egmont, the widow of a Leiden bookseller, who soon after gave birth and the forty-seven year old artist became a father yet again.  Jan van Steen died penniless in 1679, aged fifty-three.  After his death, his wife had to sell most of their possessions and her husband’s paintings to pay off his many debts.  Maria died eight years later.

My Daily Art Display’s featured painting by Jan Steen is entitled The Life of Man which he completed around 1665.  In the painting before us we glimpse into the busy bar of a tavern full of people of various ages with one thing in common – they are all there to enjoy themselves.  They create their own enjoyment through making music, singing and playing tric-trac, the popular dice game of that time.     In the centre of the painting we see a young woman, dressed in blue and white, seated, turning away from an older man who is offering her an oyster.  We can see by the smile on her face that maybe her initial rebuff of his gift may soon be reversed.  Behind the pair we can see a hunchbacked lute player, who looks on and seems happy to ridicule the mismatched pair.

To the right of the picture we see a young woman and another lute player sitting together at a table.  This relationship seems to be prospering, if the sultry look she is giving the musician is anything to go by.  It would appear that the owners of the tavern are use to preparing and selling large quantities of oysters, a supposed aphrodisiac, to their clientele.

As I have said many times before I like paintings where a lot of things are going on as every time I look at one of these paintings I notice something different.   Cast your eyes around the tavern scene and see what you can discover.  To the left we can see an old man eating an oyster and on his knee he has a small child who is wriggling from his grasp trying to grab the tail of a parrot.  In the central foreground we see a small girl cradling a small dog in her apron and by the table on the right and sitting on the floor is a small boy who is trying to teach a kitten to stand on its hind legs.  It is interesting to focus on the small boy in the right foreground, with the blue coat and red hat, who holds a basket of bread rolls under his arm.  Jan Steen has painted this figure with his back to us and has used this technique in other paintings and what it does is to get us to look at where the boy is looking and thus the artist gets the viewer to focus his or her eye into the depths of the picture.

Across the top of the painting we have what looks like a raised curtain and what Steen wants us to accept that we are not just looking at any old tavern but in some ways we are looking at a stage and the curtain is a theatre curtain raised to show the cast of players.  In Shakespeare’s play, As You Like It, there is the famous line:

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

 As the painting is by a Dutch artist maybe we should look at the Dutch saying by Joost van den Vondel:

De wereld is een schouwtoneel
Elk speelt zijn rol en krijgt zijn deel.

Which translated roughly means:

“  The world‘s a stage
Each plays his role and gets his share”

And so maybe Jan Steen wants us to look at this scene as more than just people in a tavern but as “the world stage “and the people we see in the tavern are just players.

The Life of Man by Reinier Craeyvanger (c.1840)

And so I come to my second painting which is also entitled The Life of Man but the artist is Reiner Craeyvanger.  It is obviously a copy of Jan Steen’s work but I am showing it for two reasons.  Firstly, when I was researching the painting by Jan Steen I kept reading about “a boy lying in the loft above, blowing bubbles”.  I searched Jan Steen’s painting for hours looking for the boy and couldn’t find him and convinced myself that the picture I had was a cropped version of the original.  However when I saw Craeyvanger’s copy I immediately saw the boy and when I looked back at Steen’s painting I could just make out a fuzzy image of the boy.  See if you can find him.

Boy on balcony blowing bubbles

The boy is laying there blowing bubbles and next to him is a skull.  From this we must believe that both are symbolic and the message is, that like a bubble which will suddenly burst, our life may suddenly come to an end and we die and of course the addition of a skull which we often see in Vanitas painting symbolises that death is always around the corner.  Although it is not very clear in the attached pictures the painting on the rear wall has a gallows in it and that again is harking back to life and death.

There are two other interesting things in the painting.  Firstly we see broken egg shells scattered on the floor which could be symbolically interpreted as the frailty of life itself, and secondly, look at the right background and the old woman staring into a tankard.  She is a kannekijker,  which literally translated means a “pot looker” or “someone who looks into a pot”.  This gesture was a well-known literary and artistic convention of the time that signified the habitual drinker or drunkard.  I am sure there is more symbolism incorporated in this painting, such as why has Steen depicted a pot with a spoon and a hat in the foreground?  How are we to interpret these objects or maybe there is nothing to interpret!

However I will leave you with a question.  Although Craeyvanger has carefully copied Jan Steen’s painting, what is the main difference between his work and that of Jan Steen’s painting?  I am not talking about colours, tones or technique.  It is more obvious than that, something is missing from the later painting, but what ?

Gathering on the Terrace at 47 Downshire Hill, Hampstead by Richard Carline

Gathering on the Terrace at 47 Downshire Hill, (1925) by Richard Carline

If you go back to My Daily Art Display for August 5th and the painting by Sir Stanley Spencer, you will find a mention of Richard Carline, as Spencer married his sister Hilda.   Richard Carline was born in Oxford into a family of artists.  It was an artistically talented family.  Richard Carline’s parents, George and Annie Carline were both artists who married in 1885 and had five children and the three youngest of these Sydney, Hilda and Richard all became respected painters.

Richard Carline’s works included landscapes and portraits, often of his contemporaries.  In 1913 Richard Carline enrolled at the Percyval Tudor-Hart’s Académie de Peinture et de Sculpture, in Paris.  Following a short period teaching, Carline served in World War I where he was appointed an Official War Artist.   Along with his brother he became well-known for his war pictures from the air.   In the 1920’s, the Carlines’ Hampstead home at Downshire Hill became a focus point for artists such as Henry Lamb, John Nash, Stanley Spencer and Mark Gertler who would have regular meetings there to discuss the arts.  It was during this time that Carline was clearly influenced by Stanley Spencer, transforming everyday scenes into something monumental.  Unlike Spencer, Carline achieved this without actually exaggerating figures or their gestures to the degree that Spencer did.  In 1924 he started a five year stint teaching at the Ruskin School of Drawing at Oxford.   His first solo exhibition came about in 1931 at the Goupil Gallery in London.  During the Second World War Carline supervised camouflage of factories and airfields. When the war was over, he was involved in helping to found the Hampstead Artists’ Council in 1944.   In 1946-47 he was appointed as the first Art Counsellor to UNESCO, and from 1955 to 1974 was chief examiner in art for the Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate.   He also published a number of books including Pictures in the Post: the Story of the Picture Postcard, 1959;  Draw They Must, 1968; and Stanley Spencer at War, 1978.  The latter, I bought off eBay last week !!

Richard Carline died in 1980 aged 84.

The Carline family home, which George and Annie Carline bought in 1916, was 47 Downshire Hill in Hampstead, London and it was here that many artists would meet and discuss art, politics, religion and life in general.   One of the regular visitors, the Australian-born British painter, Henry Lamb,  described the artistic meetings as a veritable cercle pan-artistique.   Many of the group would embark on painting holidays together.

My Daily Art Display featured painting today by Richard Carline, entitled Gathering on the Terrace at 47 Downshire Hill, Hampstead,  shows one such meeting of the Downshire Hill Circle.  The painting was judged as one of Carline’s most impressive works.  Before us we have a group portrait. From left to right we have Stanley Spencer, James Wood, Kate Foster, Hilda Carline (later to become Mrs Stanley Spencer), Henry Lamb, Richard Hartley, Annie Carline and Sydney Carline.   Richard Carline was meticulous in his preparations for this work.  He painted an oil study of each of the group before slotting them into his group portrait.  His 1924 preparatory oil study of Stanley Spencer for this group portrait is also a stand-alone painting of his, entitled Study of Stanley Spencer.  Looking at the study one has to presume that he hadn’t  quite properly calculated the height of the preparatory study as he had to add Spencer’s shoes separately alongside the figure.

What enhances this group painting is the varied but individual characterization of each person.  This was not done by accident as Carline said his intention was to somehow convey the individuality of the people assembled at his parent’s house.  In his own words Carline described the group portrait:

“… [I] sought to convey the conflicting personalities gathered at our house – Stanley [Spencer] peering up and down as he expounded his views on this or that, James Wood hesitating in the doorway whether to come or go, Hilda absorbed in her own thoughts, Hartley sitting at ease, Lamb courteously attentive to my mother, with Sydney always helpful…”

This paintings, Gathering on the Terrace at 47 Downshire Hill, Hampstead , along with the Study of Stanley Spencer, are housed in the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull.  It is a gallery I have never visited but looking at their website it is one I will put down as a “must visit” location.

Finally, I always like to imagine what a place, depicted in a painting, looks like today.  I did this with my entry about Renoir’s boathouse in his painting Luncheon of the Boating Party which I featured in My Daily Art Display of August 2nd, so I wondered what the house at 47 Downshire Hill looks like today.  So below is a picture of it I found of it on the internet!

The present Downshire Hill house and garden

Die Teufelsbrücke or the Devil’s Bridge by Karl Blechen

Pont Valentré at Cahors

I will start My Daily Art Display today with a look at a local folklore that of the Devil’s Bridge.  Like most folklore there is not simply one version of the tale but many different versions of it depending on which country the structure is situated.   The first time I came across this phenomenon was when I visited Cahors in France and went to see the spectacular 14th century Pont Valentré Bridge.

The Devil clinging to one of the towers of the Pont Valentré

Built in 1308 and completed seventy years later it became associated with the legend of the Devil’s Bridge and the architect Paul Gout made reference to this by placing a small sculpture of the devil at the summit of one of the towers.

The folklore of the Devil’s Bridge is all about the Devil, a bridge builder and his bridge.  The main gist of the story is that a bridge builder sets about building a bridge across a river or river gorge, but at some point in the building of the structure the bridge builder realises he hasn’t the strength or time to complete the task and has to turn to the Devil for assistance.  The price levied by the Devil for his assistance is that he should receive the first soul that crosses it.

Die Teufelsbrücke by Karl Blechen

In my featured painting, Teufelsbrücke or Devil’s Bridge painted by the German Romantic artist, Karl Blechen, in 1832.  In the painting we see the Devil’s Bridge straddling the Swiss River Reuss as it passes through the Schöllenen Gorge on its way to Lake Lucerne.   The legend of this particular Devil’s Bridge states that the river was so difficult to cross that a Swiss goat herdsman asked the Devil to make a bridge. The Devil duly appeared, but required that if he should construct the bridge, the soul of the first to cross it would be given to him. The herder agreed, but instead of crossing the bridge first and risk losing his soul he drove a goat across ahead of him, thus tricking the devil.   The Devil was so angry that he had been duped he fetched a rock with the intention of smashing the bridge, but an old woman drew a cross on the rock and this prevented the Devil from being able to lift it.    The rock is still there and, in 1977, 300,000 Swiss Francs were spent to move the 220 ton rock by 127 m in order to make room for the new Gotthard road tunnel.

Karl Blechen was born in Cottbus in 1798.   His father was a local tax collector and Karl started his working life as a minor bank official.  It was not until he was aged twenty four that he began to study art.  In 1822 he enrolled at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin (Academy of the Arts).  Later when he was working in Dresden as an apprentice in an art studio he was befriended by two artists also based in the city , the German painter, Caspar David Friedrich and the Norweigen artist, Johan Christian Dahl who were leaders in the fields of art known as Romanticism and Realism.   My Daily Art Display has featured some of their works and they are well worth viewing.   Their styles would influence Blechen in his future works.   In 1828 he travelled to Italy where he remained for a year studying art and in particular, oil painting.  It was here that he was introduced to the en plein air style of painting and was influenced by the works of English landscape painter, Turner who was also in Italy at this time and by the French landscape painter, John-Baptiste Corot, who at this period in time, lived in Italy.  He returned to Germany and in 1831 and was awarded a professorship at the Berlin Academy.   Despite this academic recognition the sales of his work were disappointing and this depressed him.  His depression and mental state deteriorated and four years later, at the age of thirty-seven he was diagnosed as being mentally unstable.  Blechen died in 1840 in Berlin, a broken man, aged forty-two.

When Karl Blechen visited Italy his journey fostered an interest on visual phenomena and how light and colour effects landscapes.  A number of his paintings were categorised as being of a Romantic genre.  The Romantic artists, of which Blechen was one, applauded individualism, subjectivism, irrationalism, imagination, emotions and nature – emotion over reason and senses over intellect.  Whilst Blechen was returning back to Germany he travelled along the St Gothard’s pass and the Teufelsbrücke was still being built.  This Devil’s Bridge depicted by Blechen in his painting is enclosed by snow-capped mountains which soar into the sky and below them we can see the raging torrents of the Reuss River.  I think what I like most about this painting is the beautiful way in which Blechen has depicted the sunlight penetrating a gap in the mountains to light up the bridge and some of its builders.  It is as if somebody has switched on a spotlight to illuminate the scene.  In the central mid ground we see the arch of the old bridge and the partly constructed arch of the new one with its scaffolding.   The illuminated partly-built new arch is dwarfed by the mountains and one wonders whether its frailty and exposed position will be able to withstand the forces of nature when gale force winds relentlessly charge down the valley.    There is also a sensation of remoteness about the scene.  We are aware that we are miles from civilisation but can marvel in the savagery of nature.  In the right foreground we see some of the bridge builders taking a well earned rest from their labours amongst all their building materials.

Karl Blechen has managed to create an image which is both awe-inspiring and beautiful and one which makes us realise how small we are in comparison to our surroundings.   This awesome painting by Karl Blechen, which I have featured today,  hangs in
the Bavarian State Picture Collection housed in the Neue Pinakothek in Munich.



Dordrecht Harbour by Moonlight by Aelbert Cuyp

Dordrecht Harbour by Moonlight by Aelbert Cuyp (c.1645)

I am putting religion and religious paintings behind me today and I am going to feature a truly beautiful riverscape painting by one of my favourite artists, Aelbert Cuyp.   I really cannot get enough of this man’s paintings.  Whether it be his landscapes, riverscapes or seascapes, they are all delights to behold.  My Daily Art Display today is the painting Cuyp completed around 1645 entitled Dordrecht Harbor by Night and which now hangs in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne.

Aelbert Cuyp was born in 1620 and is the most famous member of the Cuyp family and today is proclaimed as one of the greatest of all landscape painters.  He was the son and, more than likely, the pupil of Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp, a portrait painter.  In his early works one can detect the influence of Jan van Goyen, the prolific seventeenth century Dutch landscape painter.  Aelbert was born and died at Dordrecht, and spent a lot of time travelling along the great rivers of Holland reaching the eastern borders of the country and the western part of what is now Westphalia, Germany.   He was an artist, who naturally signed his works, but very rarely dated them and thus it has been difficult for art historians to build up a chronological list of his works

In 1658 Cuyp married a wealthy widow, and in the 1660’s, with his newly found financial stability, he seems to have practically forsaken painting. He died in 1691 and was buried in the Augustijner Church in Dordrecht.   Although for a hundred years after his death his works seemed to have been ignored, but the eighteenth century proved a turning point for the sale of his paintings.   The greatest collector of his paintings was the eighteenth-century Dordrecht iron dealer and mint-master Johan van der Linden van Slingeland, who owned forty-one works by the artist.   After the sale of his collection in 1785, many of these paintings entered collections in England, where Cuyp’s work was greatly admired for their grandeur.

The popularity of his paintings in France and England grew unabated, so much so,  that by the late eighteenth century there were hardly any of his paintings left in his native Netherlands.   From fame in Europe came fame in America with art dealers clambering to get hold of his works.

It was around 1640 that Dutch painters began to be fascinated with the depiction of extraordinary light and weather conditions but such paintings were deemed to be one of the most complicated challenges faced by artists.

The challenge was to be able to accurately depict the various colours of the moonlight reflections.  It was interesting to read about the debate from the Italian Renaissance period, known as the paragone, in which one form of art, whether it be architecture, sculpture, painting or poetry, is championed to be the superior in comparison to the others.  Bearing in mind today’s featured work, it is interesting to see what Philips Angel, the Dutch Golden Age painter, and a contemporary of Cuyp, wrote in his published a defence of the art of painting:

“..unlike sculpture, painting can depict a rainbow, rain, thunder, lightning, clouds, vapour, light, reflections….. the rising of the sun, early morning, the decline of the sun, evening, the moon illuminating the night, with her attendant companions, the stars, reflections in the water…”

The painting, Dordrecht Harbor by Night is a beautiful study of moonlight over water.  The Dutch painter and esteemed biographer of 17th century Dutch artists, Arnold Houbraken, who lived in Dordrecht at the time of Cuyp was able to have firsthand knowledge of the artist’s work.  Of Cuyp, he wrote:

“.. [Cuyp] paid much attention to the time of day in which he portrayed his subjects, so that one can distinguish in his paintings the misty early mornings from the bright afternoons from the saffron-colored evening time…… I have also seen various moonlight scenes by him which were very realistic and arranged in such a way that the moon was beautifully reflected in the water….”

Aelbert Cuyp’s ability to depict a moonlight scene is exactly what we see in this painting.  Look how the moonlight shimmers on the still waters of the inland waterway.  Look at the colours the artist has used in his depiction of the clouds and sky.  It is an extremely atmospheric and haunting work with its sailboats at a dock across the harbour from Dordrecht’s Rietdijkspoort.  It is believed to be one of the few moonlight scenes painted by Cuyp.  There is an utter stillness to the painting.  Maybe just a whispered conversation of the men standing on the pier awaiting a morning ferry would be heard over the sound of the lapping water which caresses the pier structure and the wooden hulls of the sailing boats.   Above we have dark billowing clouds which try and mask the moonlight which is being cast onto the still water.  The moonlight refuses to be diffused by the threatening clouds and floods across the scene reflecting on the sails of the boats and the old stone windmill.   It would seem that bad weather is on its way or has just passed.

To look at this painting is almost theraputic.  Its calmness has a calming effect on the viewer.  Look at it, relax and enjoy.