Mrs Baldwin in Eastern Dress by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Mrs Baldwin in Eastern Dress by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1782)

Today I am returning to portraiture and one of the greatest English portrait painters, Sir Joshua Reynolds.  His works were in a style which came from classical art and was often referred to as the Grand Manner which depended on idealization of the imperfect.  Reynolds himself preferred the term Grand Style which referred more to history painting and in his series of lectures, entitled Discourses of Art, he maintained that artists should perceive their subjects through generalisation and idealization rather than simply copying the sitter.  In the course of his lecture he expanded such thoughts, saying:

“…..How much the great style exacts from its professors to conceive and represent their subjects in a poetical manner, not confined to mere matter of fact, may be seen in the cartoons of Raffaelle.   In all the pictures in which the painter has represented the apostles, he has drawn them with great nobleness; he has given them as much dignity as the human figure is capable of receiving yet we are expressly told in Scripture they had no such respectable appearance; and of St. Paul in particular, we are told by himself, that his bodily presence was mean. Alexander is said to have been of a low stature: a painter ought not so to represent him. Agesilaus was low, lame, and of a mean appearance. None of these defects ought to appear in a piece of which he is the hero. In conformity to custom, I call this part of the art history painting; it ought to be called poetical, as in reality it is….”

Reynolds made a number of trips to Europe during which time he studied the foreign artistic techniques and by so doing was able to draw inspiration from them and it influenced how he shaped his own “English” paintings

My Daily Art Display featured painting;  Mrs Baldwin in Eastern Dress is a prime example of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Grand Style of painting.   Jane Baldwin was born in Smyrna, Turkey in 1763.  She was the third daughter of Margaret Icard and William Maltass, a Yorkshire man from Ripon who, along with his brother Henry, spent the early part of the eighteenth century in Eastern Europe and was one of the earliest Europeans to settle in Turkey.    He became a wealthy merchant who traded with the East through the Levant Company.  From an early age Jane was deemed an extraordinary beauty.  At the age of sixteen, still virtually a child, she married the prosperous George Baldwin, an extremely wealthy English merchant stationed in Alexandria, Egypt.  George Baldwin later became that country’s British Consul-General and the British Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of Tehran.

In the painting we see the delectable nineteen-year old English beauty attired in a luxuriously brocaded emerald and gold striped caftan, sprigged with cherry-coloured flowers and is aggrandized by an ermine mantle.  We see her dark chestnut hair braided into multiple long strands.  She is wearing a white and pink silk turban, atop of which are a small bouquet of tea roses.   In the late eighteenth century it was very fashionable for ladies to wear Eastern style headdresses and was in a way highlighting Britain’s trading relationship with the Ottoman Empire.

Around her neck she wears a diamond waterfall necklace along with a gold chain and pendant.  Her ears are adorned with gold teardrop earrings.   She is seated on a red velvet divan which is studded with brass tacks around its base.  Her pose is somewhat both alluring and seductive as she sits cross-legged before us.  Her eyes are fixed upon an ancient gold coin of Smyrna, the inclusion of which was probably to remind us of the links between England and its Turkish trading partner.  The sitter seems lost in thought, unaware that she is the focus of attention of the artist and of course us, the viewers.  So did the artist manage this expression on his sitters face by just simply having her stare at the coin for hours on end?  In fact no he didn’t.  Jane Baldwin sat in the pose we see but at the time the artist was painting her portrait she was actually holding and reading a book of poems by Pietro Metastasio, the famed Italian poet and librettist.  So why not have her reading the book in this portrait instead of having her transfixed by the sight of a coin?  The reason is probably that Reynolds had been asked to have something in the painting which reflected the world of commerce, the very thing which had led to her family’s wealth.  It also is reminding us that different cultures are brought together through trade and on economic grounds.  For the sitter to be holding and reading a book of poems written by an Italian might lead the viewers to believe that cultures are brought together through the arts….. perish the thought that we believed that (even if we know it to be true)  !!!!!!!

Jane Baldwin wore the costume we see in the painting many times when she visited England including a ball given by the king.   She earned the sobriquet the “pretty Greek”  not because she was of Hellenic descent (she had no Eastern-European blood) but because she, having been born and raised in the Greek region of Western Turkey, identified with that community as her own.  This is one of Reynolds’ finest portraits and I will leave you with a passage from Jane Baldwin’s obituary notice from the 1839 (July to December) issue of the Gentleman’s Magazine which talks about the painting and the sitter’s views of the artist:

“…..It was during the first winter after her arrival in London (1781), that Sir Joshua Reynolds painted the beautiful portrait of this lady which now enriches the Marquess of Lansdowne’s Gallery at Bowood. She is represented sitting on a sofa in the eastern fashion, contemplating a small object which she holds in her right hand.  She once told the writer that, when this portrait of her was made, she was lodging with her husband in the Temple; and that the trees which Sir Joshua has represented in the background were those in the Temple Gardens. At first she used to give the painter sittings in his study, but Reynolds could not satisfy himself with her resemblance; he made three attempts, which he successively defaced. Mrs. Baldwin could only remember, besides, that he took a prodigious quantity of snuff, and that his painting room smelled horribly. After a few hours she always grew restless and cross, which used to vex Reynolds, who did not know how to amuse her. He made his fourth and last sketch at the residence of the lady, and when she grew impatient suggested that she should take a book. She asked for Metastasio, and while reading it her portrait was made. Instead of a volume, Reynolds represented an ancient coin of Smyrna in Mrs. Baldwin’s band,—a circumstance, as she informed the writer, which was much quizzed and ridiculed at the time. Of this painting there exist several mezzotint engravings….”

“….. She travelled widely and lived in England for a considerable number of years, and was always admired for her intelligence and beauty. She was patronised by Mrs Hester Lynch Thrale, who remarked “I…hope to Obtain some favours from the new Ministry for my pretty Greca: could her Husband but gain the Embassy!  Oh I should not sleep for Pleasure. This pretty Greek as we call her, was born at Smyrna, & ran away with a Man whose Family had been some of Mr Thrale’s best Friends in the Borough; between Gratitude to him, and delight in her, for artlessness & Beauty; I have been led to interest myself no little towards protecting her, may my Fortune & Talents be ever devoted to Charity & Friendship! & may I have the Strength & Courage to despise them who would hinder its Current, by trying to make each other believe that its Source was only Desire!…”.

“…Mrs. Baldwin had many peculiarities, but they were of a less ambitious character: a singular iulirmity of temper, which estranged from her all but her immediate relatives, was perhaps her prevailing characteristic. She had survived her generation, and ended her days in a self-inflicted penurious seclusion,— the inconveniences of which were aggravated, of late years, by sickness and suffering….”

Cottages at Burghclere by Sir Stanley Spencer

Cottages at Burghclere by Sir Stanley Spencer (1930)

On August 5th I featured a painting by Stanley Spencer entitled Double Nude Portrait, which in some ways was a pictorial insight into his life at that time.  For many it was a shocking painting, to others it was a sad realisation as how tormented the artist must have been at that juncture in his life.  Today I am looking at another painting by Spencer,  which could not be more different and which I hope you will like.

For the last two days I have been on my travels visiting my elder daughter who lives in the Derbyshire Peak District and I decided that as I was relatively close to Compton Verney I would call there on my way back home as I knew there was a small exhibition of Stanley Spencer paintings in their galleries.  The title of the exhibition was Stanley Spencer and the English Garden and it is on until October 2nd.  If you get a chance you should try and get there as not only do you have a great selection of paintings, including the Stanley Spencer exhibition, you have the chance to walk around the magnificent grounds of Compton Verney.

Stanley Spencer had served as an orderly with the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War, stationed first at the Beaufort War Hospital in Bristol then at the age of 24 he went overseas and served the RAMC in Macedonia in the 68th Field Ambulance unit.  It was whilst there that he transferred into the infantry division of the Berkshire Regiment.  It was during that time that he witnessed horrendous suffering and lost many friends on the field of battle.

After the war Spencer received a commission from Mary and Louis Behrend to paint murals for the Sandham Memorial Chapel in Burghclere, which had been built as a memorial to Mary’s brother, Lieutenant Henry Willoughby Sandham, who had died at the end of World War I.    He started work on them in 1926 and did not complete the commission until 1932.  The featured painting does not come from the chapel but I will feature some of them at a later date but today’s painting is one which he painted in his spare time when he was at Burghclere.  In some ways I think it may have given Spencer a respite from the memorial paintings and the horrors of war which were relevant to those works.

My Daily Art Display painting for today is entitled Cottages at Burghclere which he painted in 1930 and is owned by the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge but is now part of the Compton Verney exhibition.  In this beautiful painting we see two cottages, one with a thatched roof that is slightly bowed and mirrors the bowing of the side hedges separating it from the other, with its tile-cladded roof and its more modern horizontal wooden-slatted facade.  These two side by side dwellings serve as a contrast between old and new.  Both of the dwellings are almost buried by a profusion of shrubbery.  We have before our eyes a voluptuous excess of summer with gardens full of blooming flowers and bordered by lop-sided topiary.  The small compact gardens are fronted by white picket fences, which struggle to fend off the invading weeds and brambles, which press against them in their attempt to spill over into the manicured gardens.  On one side of the fence we see the dwellers have managed to tame the rampant weeds whilst on the other side of the fence line the weeds are mustering forces to lay siege once again.  It is almost man versus nature.

A white picket fence gate in the left foreground stands ajar as if inviting us in to this garden paradise.  The verdancy of the image is almost too much to behold as we look towards the wooded background.   Everything is so lush.  This painting is not of a vast garden with its beautifully manicured lawn which we are used to seeing around French chateaux of the Loire Valley.   This painting is of a small, full-to-the brim with flowers, Berkshire garden in front of its chocolate-box type of dwelling.  There is a snug homeliness about this picture.  There is a feeling of security and wellbeing about the setting.

We are all so used to seeing Spencer’s unusual figures in his religious paintings, which link biblical stories with his native Cookham.  We are also used to his paintings which hark back to the relationship with his two wives, but the garden pictures of Stanley Spencer which he painted throughout his life, have remained little known.   They celebrate all those things that Spencer thought of as quintessentially English and highlight the English love of their gardens.  For this reason I urge you to visit the exhibition before it closes.

The Times described this painting as:

“….the work of a Pre-Raphaelite who has looked at Cezanne..”

The Director of Compton Verney said of Spencer’s paintings:

“…Nothing in Spencer is without symbolism.  He was an inherently mystical person.  For him even the most modest garden was a self-contained vision of heaven…”

I will put it more simply and say that it is so easy to fall in love with the simplicity and beauty of Spencer’s garden paintings and I would love to hang one on my wall at home to remind me of the beauty that is the English countryside.

Portrait of Jacobus Blauw by Jacques-Louis David

Portrait of Jacobus Blauw by Jacques-Louis David (1795)

The artist and the subject of this painting had one thing in common – they were both revolutionaries.  The artist Jacques-Louis David was both an artistic and political revolutionary.

Artistically, David was a revolutionary in as much he condemned the French Royal Academy and its standards and the way it functioned.  In the 1780’s, he continually voiced his disapproval of the rule-bound world of the Academy and Academicism.  His art was different to that which had been so fashionable since the start of the eighteenth century and which was termed Rococo.  Rococo was a light-hearted and often gently erotic artistic style which was well suited to the excesses of the royal regime prior to the Revolution.  David’ style of painting became free of Rococo mannerisms and developed a heroic style which was heavily influenced by his study of antique sculptures during his time in Rome.   His style was to become known as Neoclassicism and harked back to the Classical past which could be looked upon as a means to understanding the contemporary world.  This Neoclassical art tended towards a high moral seriousness and was in complete contrast to the frivolity of Rococo art which was condemned by the French Revolutionists.

Politically, David was an active sympathiser of the French Revolution and he served on various committees and even voted for the execution of Louis XVI.   Artistically he was looked upon as the foremost painter of the Revolution.    As with many of the revolutionaries of that time, life was good for them, as long as the people they supported remained powerful.  In David’s case he was a great friend and supporter of Maximillien Robespiere, one of the most influential figures of the French revolution and a leading light in the period which was commonly known as the Reign of Terror.    However, after the fall of Robespierre and his execution in 1794, David was imprisoned.  He was released on the plea of his wife, who had previously divorced him because of his Revolutionary sympathies; she being a Royalist.  The couple remarried two years later.

The sitter for this painting was Jacobus Blauw.  Blauw, albeit a respectable middle-class man, was also a revolutionary and one of the leaders of the Dutch Patriots.  He went on to be a judge, politician and diplomat..  He was a political envoy from the Netherlands who had rebelled against the feudal relationship with Prince William of Orange and had asked France to assist in the overthrow of the government.

Although David made his name with large heroic narrative pictures on themes from antiquity, some of his finest works are portraits of contemporaries and todays featured painting is a good example.  David has managed to bring authentic realism to this severe composition.  When the French army invaded the Netherlands, Blauw was sent to Paris as Ministre Plénipotentiare (envoy) of the new Batavian Republic to negotiate a peace settlement with the French and get them to recognise the new republic.

David has made interesting use of contrasting colour.  We have a pale grey background, a red chair and a pink cloth lying on the table as well as the turquoise coloured table covering itself.  We see Blauw in a half-length portrait seated at a table writing an official document.  The paper on the table before him is inscribed:

J. BLAUW, minister Plénipotenttiaire aux Etats Généraux des provinces unies.

Blauw sits upright at the table with his short-cropped powdered hair and this contrasts in style to the powdered wigs which were fashionable with the aristocracy of the time.  He has a lively expression on his face as he looks up at us with quill in hand almost as if we have interrupted him as he writes his letter.  This supposed interruption of course gives the artist the chance to paint Blauw in a full-face view.   He is dressed simply, which is befitting a republican.  His blue coat is of a plain design and around his neck he has a soft white cravat.  The brass buttons of his coat glisten with a hint of red as the light falls upon them.   It is probably difficult to see it in the attached picture but if you look closely you will see that the artist has inscribed his name “L.DAVID  4” in the folds of Blauw’s brown coat which seems to have slipped off the back of the chair.  The “4” refers to the date, year four of the French Revolution, i.e. 1795.
Bluaw was delighted with the portrait and in his letter to David he expresses his satisfaction:

“..Mes voeux sont enfin satisfaits, mon cher David.  Vous m’avez fait revivre sur la toile..”

(My wishes were finally satisfied, my dear David. You made me live again on the canvas)

The sitter obviously knew the artist for the letter continues:

“…j’ai voulu posséder un de vos chefs d’oeuvre, et j’ai voulu plus encor avoir dans ce portrait un monument éternel de mon étroite liaison avec le premier peintre de l’Europe..”

(I wanted to own one of your masterpieces, and I wanted to have more in this portrait an eternal monument of my close association with the first painter of Europe)

We must believe that Blauw was aware of David’s revolutionary activities and that will have won the admiration of a fellow revolutionary.  The two had another thing in common; they both suffered for their great causes.

I love this portrait.  I love the way Blauw is portrayed – dignified and assertive.  He is almost too beautiful to be a man.  The way David has portrayed his sitter lends us to believe that the artist respected him and that there was a bond between the two men, a kind of reverence between fellow revolutionaries.

The Lake by L S Lowry

The Lake by L S Lowry (1937)

I don’t know about you, but for me, when I wake up and the sun is shining and the sky is a clear blue, I feel great.  Life is good.  I want to get out and do things.  I have an urge to go into the garden and make things look good.   On the other hand, when I get up and it is cold, pouring with rain and the sky is covered in black clouds I start to feel slightly depressed and extremely unmotivated.  I know that anything I do will not be done with any degree of enjoyment simply because I am not in the right frame of mind.  For that reason, and so as to clear my mind, I will often turn to a DVD and watch a film which helps me escape reality.   Although I am not an artist I would imagine that if you are experiencing life at its worse for whatever reason it may be transmitted subconsciously into your work of art.  It could be that your painting reflects your state of mind.  All this leads me to the second painting I am featuring by the artist L S Lowry.

This painting was the first one I came across when I walked into the Lowry Gallery at Salford Quays, just outside of Manchester.  I was so impressed by it that throughout my hour-long walk around the gallery I kept wanting to return to it and search for things that had escaped my attention during my initial viewing.  It was painted by Lowry in 1937 at a very distressing period of his life.  His father had died five years earlier and this had badly affected his elderly mother who just took to her bed and stayed there until she died in late 1938.  Lowry’s never really bonded with his father and their relationship does not appear to have been a loving one.  I get the feeling they exchanged pleasantries but there was never a warmth in their relationship.  Lowry probably turned to his mother, whom he dearly loved, for comfort but sadly he never received the love and affection that a child should receive from his mother.  She had always wanted daughters and was dissatisfied with her lot in life having been saddled with a son.  She rarely praised Lowry for his artistic achievements and maybe if she had shown just a modicum of pride for her son’s artistic success then maybe Lowry would have led a much happier life.

Despite all this, she demanded that Lowry and only Lowry attended to her needs when she spent her last seven and half years bedridden.  He would comb and brush her hair, bathe her and tend her bed sores.  I don’t believe she even appreciated what her son did for her and this period in his life must have affected him both mentally and physically. He was a man under great stress.

So to look at this painting knowing what life was like for Lowry at the time may give you some idea why there is a somewhat depressing feel to the work.  It is possible that his mental stress and depression percolated into the painting and in a way was the reason for its bleakness.  We are looking at a view of the Irwell Valley.  We see the smoke-polluted atmosphere of an industrial area.   It is a very moody painting.  It is a very depressing work of art.   It is an environmental nightmare set against an industrial background.  Look at the foreground with its fences and what look like blood-red coloured tombstones dotted around.  The telegraph poles remind us of crucifixes.  The water in the middle ground looks dirty and stagnant and we see an abandoned half-sunken boat to the left.  On the left shore we see men queuing for work at a time when jobs were few and far between.  On the far side of the lake we see Agecroft Colliery which had been opened in 1844 but had to close in 1932 with a great loss of jobs.  It was re-opened in the late 1940’s due to the country’s lack of coal supplies.  As our eyes scan the picture we are drawn to the red mill on the skyline.  Look how Lowry has intertwined churches and the town hall with the mill chimneys, which spew out black polluting smoke, and the winding tower of the colliery, which sits by its slag heap.  It is an interesting juxtaposition of industrial architecture and residential buildings.

It is a very dark and “dirty” picture and after looking at it for a while I feel I need to go and wash my hands to cleanse myself of the grime which emanates from the painting.  The more I look at the painting, the more I am sure that there was transference of the artist’s state of mind into what he offered us in his painting.

Head of a Man with Red Eyes by L S Lowry

Head of a Man with Red Eyes by L S Lowry (1938)

The other day I went over to Manchester and visited the Lowry Gallery at Salford Quays.  The Gallery was named after Laurence Stephen Lowry, best known simply as L.S.Lowry.  He was the Lancashire artist, who had a very distinctive type of art, often depicting people and places around his home town.  The small stick-like characters which were seen in the crowd scenes of his paintings were his trademark and were often described as matchstalk people.

The Matchstalk people of a Lowry painting

The term matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs was further immortalised with the No. 1 hit song produced in late 1977 entitled Matchstalk men and Matchstalk cats and dogs.  The lyrics  of the song, telling the story of the artist Lowry, was performed by a duo, who went by the name of Brian and Michael.

The poignant lyrics summed up Lowry’s art:

He painted Salford’s smokey tops

On cardboard boxes from the shops

And parts of Ancoats where I used to play

I’m sure he once walked down our street

Cause he painted kids who had nowt on their feet

The clothes we wore had all seen better days.

Now they said his works of art were dull

No room, all round the walls are full

But Lowry didn’t care much anyway

They said he just paints cats and dogs

And matchstalk men in boots and clogs

And Lowry said that’s just the way they’ll stay

And he painted matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs

He painted kids on the corner of the street with the sparking clogs

Now he takes his brush and he waits outside them factory gates

To paint his matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs.

The Matchstalk people of a Lowry painting

Although I went to the Gallery expecting to see just a series of similar looking crowd scene paintings filled with strange looking, stick-like people, I was very pleased to see the exhibition showed far more than I was expecting.  Besides Lowry’s trade-mark paintings, there were a number of completely different works of art by Lowry, which I found amazing and two of which I will feature today and tomorrow.

The painting by Lowry which is My Daily Art Display painting of the day is entitled Head of a Man with Red Eyes, which he completed in 1938.  The 1930’s had been a period of his life which was very traumatic.  Lowry was an only child and was never to marry.  He lived with his mother and father, with his mother being, by far, the more dominant parent.  His mother had always wanted daughters and her son disappointed her and to make things worse her sister had given birth to three girls.  Lowry’s mother was very envious of her sister Mary and once commented that it was unfair that whilst Mary had three splendid daughters all she had was one clumsy boy.

In 1932 his father, aged 74, died of pneumonia.  Lowry’s relationship with his father had been somewhat cold and strained and although he called his father “Dad” there was a distinct lack of father-son rapport.   The death of his father did not bring out any palpable signs of overwhelming grief.  His main concern at the time was how the death of her husband would affect his mother.  The affect it had on his 73 year-old mother was terrible as she all but gave up on life and retired to bed where she remained for seven and a half years until her death.  Her demands on her son and his time were great and constant and for that lengthy period Lowry had to care for his mother, who would not agree to any outside help.

Not only did Lowry now have to be at his mother’s beck and call he discovered to his horror that his late father had run up a mass of debts.  The discovery of the alarming state of his father’s financial situation was only discovered when the creditors came knocking at the door.  It took Lowry a year to settle the outstanding debts.  Lowry’s health began to fail due to being over-tired with looking after his mother and at one point he had to go away for a few days on doctor’s orders.

Today’s painting probably was in some way a product of his physical and mental state.  He had suffered badly because of his all controlling mother who rarely showed him any love or affection and this painting was completed the year before she died.   It is the morning- mirror reflection of the face of a man staring out at us.   It looks like he has slept little during the night.  The healthy vigour is missing, drained completely away, leaving just strain and tension.  The physical discomfort we see in this face is the look of utter despair.  The gaze is both unsettling and intense.  Of this painting Lowry said:

 “…I was simply letting off steam.  I started a big self-portrait and then I thought ‘What’s the use of it.  I don’t want it and nobody will’.  I turned it into a grotesque head, I’m glad I did, I like it better than a self-portrait….”

 

Boy in a Yellow Jacket by L S Lowry (1935)

Lowry in the 1950’s commented again about his work and his equally disturbing 1935 painting Boy in a Yellow Jacket and came to the conclusion that it was painted during a harrowing period in his life.  He said of the period:

“…I think I reflected myself in those pictures.  That was the most difficult period of my life.  It was alright when he [his father] was alive, but after that it was very difficult because she was very exacting.  I was tied to my mother.  She was bedfast.  In 1932 to 1939 I was just letting off steam…”

The painting was bought by a Manchester man who only kept it for three weeks saying that he couldn’t live with such a disturbing picture.

Would you like to have it on your bedroom wall to see when you wake up?  Maybe a man should have it next to his bathroom mirror so that he can compare likenesses when he finally gets out of bed and thus be appreciative of his looks and be appreciative of what he has and realise that life could change for the worse !

McSorley’s Bar by John Sloan

McSorley's Bar by John Sloan (1912)

I have looked at many paintings which have featured inns and taverns but they have been mainly been depictions of rural scenes with peasants in the Netherlands and Flanders and were painted by the Dutch and Flemish painters centuries ago.  Today, for a change, I am looking at a genre painting of a tavern scene but this is not really a tavern, more what we British would call a pub or Americans would term a bar or a saloon.  The title of the painting is McSorley’s Bar and was painted by the American artist John French Sloan.  Sloan was originally a member of a group of artists who had the strange collective name of The Eight and later he became a leading figure in the Ashcan School of realist artists.  I have featured works by these artists in earlier blogs and if you enter either Ashcan School or Robert Henri or George Bellows into the “Search” function at the right of this blog it will give you a little bit of history about these artist groups.

John French Sloan was born in New York in 1871.  His father James had had an interest in art, but as only as a hobby but he did encourage his children to draw and paint during their early years.  Sloan’s father struggled to find gainful employment moving from one job to another without ever making a fortune.  He married, Henrietta, a girl who had come from a much more financially prosperous family and who was a teacher.  James Sloan suffered a mental breakdown when John was seventeen years of age and consequently was unable to work and the burden of supporting the family fell on to the shoulders of the seventeen year old John.  For this reason, John Sloan had to leave school and find a job in order to bring in some money for the family.

Sloan was employed in a local bookstore as an assistant cashier.  The job was not very taxing and the young man had time to read the books that were on sale at the emporium and also spend time studying the artistic prints that it also held.  It was during this time that Sloan started to make pen and ink copies of some of the prints and the store owner liked them so much that he allowed Sloan to put them up for sale in the store.  Two years later in 1890 Sloan moved on to work in a stationery store where he used to design calendars and greeting cards.  Sloan had now found the joy of art and enrolled in an evening art class.  Buoyed by his artistic successes he left the stationers and set himself up as a commercial artist but his well-intentioned venture failed and he took a job as an illustrator at the local newspaper offices of The Philadelphia Enquirer, later he would work for the rival newspaper, The Philadelphia Press.    He continued his artistic tuition in the evenings by enrolling at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.  It was here he met and became friends with fellow artists such as William Glackens and Robert Henri who became Sloan’s mentor, sending him reproductions of works by the French Impressionists and the leading European Renaissance painters, for him to copy.

When Sloan was twenty-seven he was introduced to a young woman with a somewhat chequered history, Anna Maria Wall, known affectionately as Dolly.  Sloan, who was very naive, very self-conscious and lacked the social graces which would gain him female companionship, met Anna at a brothel.  Although she worked in a department store during the day, she supplemented her meagre income by working in a brothel at night.  She needed the extra money to feed her other vice;  she was also an alcoholic but despite all this he fell in love with her and they started, what one can imagine, was a “challenging” relationship.

Their relationship did prove difficult as Anna not only suffered the effects of excessive and prolonged alcohol intake, she suffered from alcohol-related mental problems  and insecurity often believing Sloan was about to leave her.  In 1906 Sloan sought medical advice and was advised that he needed to constantly support Anna and show how much he needed her.  Between them they devised a plan by which Sloan would keep a dairy and in it he would write down each day how much he loved Anna and wanted to be with her and then leave the diary somewhere where she was bound to find it and surreptitiously read his journal entries and by doing so put her mind at rest.  He wrote daily entries for seven years until 1913.   Despite these problems, Sloan’s artistic work continued well and he was producing numerous oil paintings.  In 1904 he moved to New York and went to live in Greenwich Village and although relying on money he received from his freelance work for The Philadelphia Press newspaper, he supplemented that with money he earned for his book and magazine illustrations.   It was whilst living in New York, in 1912, that he painted today’s featured work McSorley’s Bar.  He exhibited it at the 1913 Armory Show, an exhibition of modern art which had been organised by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors.  This turned out to be a landmark exhibition which opened the eyes of the New Yorkers to this new modern art and the likes of cubism, who up till then had been accustomed to realistic art.   Sloan’s painting never sold and in fact remained unsold until 1932 when the Detroit Institute of Arts purchased it.  This was the first painting by Sloan to be part of a museum collection and was probably one of his best.

This painting was very typical of works by John Sloan in which he liked to depict the energy and life during the early years of the twentieth century of New York City and its inhabitants.  Sloan was a socialist and a member of the Socialist Party and had great empathy with the less well-off and their demanding and troubled existences.  His paintings would show the city’s people in different places and situations on the city streets and occasionally, like today’s painting, he would depict people in interior settings, such as cafés or bars as they discussed among themselves their everyday existence.

The painting today shows the interior of McSorley’s Bar with its clientele standing at the bar.  John Mc Sorley opened his Manhatten establishment on East Seventh Street in 1854 and during its existence in the nineteenth century, was an all-male bar.  From around 1912 it became a regular haunt of John Sloan and his Ashcan School artists.  The bar Sloan depicted was somewhat rough and inhospitable. It was always frequented by a great mix of people of various social classes and even today carpenters and mechanics rub shoulders with Wall Street brokers and local politicians.  John Sloan completed five paintings of the interior of the bar between 1912 and 1930 and these certainly increased the popularity of the establishment.   Today, McSorley’s bar draws visitors from around the world.    Its fame as New York’s oldest bar assures its survival and a 1970 court order guarantees that women are as welcome as men!   It’s a museum-like place. One can go there to drink a pint of ale and survey relics of a past era.

In 1943, Sloan’s  wife, Dolly, died of coronary heart disease. The next year, Sloan married Helen Farr, who is responsible for most of the preservation of his works. Part of this was the diary he wrote between 1907 and 1913 for his first wife, Dolly, to read and which were lovingly collated and published in 1965.  They gave a marvellous insight into Sloan’s life and his thoughts during those turbulent times.

On September 7, 1951 John Sloan died at the age of 80, of cancer in Hanover, New Hampshire.  John French Sloan was a leading figure in the Ashcan School of realist painters and was somebody who embraced the principles of socialism and allowed his artistic genius to be used to benefit those fervently upheld values.  His paintings sadly rarely sold during his lifetime and teaching at the Art Students’ League, of which he became its director in 1931, was his principal income.

To learn more about McSorley’s Bar why not go to their website:

http://www.mcsorleysnewyork.com/

Le Bercau (The Cradle) by Berthe Morisot

Le Bercau (The Cradle) by Berthe Morisot (1872)

Today I am returning to the Impressionists.  For most people, if they were asked to reel off the names of Impressionist artists, the likes of Monet, Cezanne, Degas, Renior and Pissarro would easily trip off the tongue.   With a little more contemplation the names of Sisley and Caillebotte may come to mind.  Of course looking at the list they have, besides Impressionists, one thing in common – they are all men.  However the Impressionist painters were not all men.  They had three talented female artists amongst their ranks and this triumvirate was called le trios grandes dames by the French art critic and historian, Gustave Geffroy, in his book Histoire de l’Impresssionnisme, La Vie artistique.

There was Marie Bracqemond who exhibited at three of the eight great annual Impressionist exhibitions in Paris.  There was the American-born Mary Cassatt who spent most of her adult life in Paris and exhibited at four of the Impressionist exhibitions, which were held in Paris between 1874 and 1886.  Then finally there was Berthe Morisot, who is my featured artist of the day, and who exhibited her work at all except one of the eight Exhibitions and that was because she was giving birth to her daughter.  She was not just a token female of the art group; she was one of the great organisers and a leading light of the Impressionist group.   Morisot and Cassatt are also thought of as the most important female painters of the nineteenth century.  The art world up to this time was dominated by male artists and even now there is a patronising attitude to 19th century female artists that they were “followers” of their contemporary male painters instead of giving them the credit they deserve.  Even today when Impressionist works by Morisot and Cassatt are not looked upon and judged on their own merit but are instead compared to the works of their mail contemporaries, such as Degas and Manet.   Female artists in those days were also hamstrung by convention in which they were not supposed to draw or paint nudes.  The role of women in those days was simple – look after their men folk and have their babies and if the woman wanted to draw or paint then this was looked on as a mere hobby and not a career option.  However along came Berthe Morisot, a very independent person and a free spirit, whose desire to become an artist was supported by her family.  She also had another thing going for her – she was an extremely beautiful woman.

Berthe Marie Pauline Morisot was born in 1841 in Bourges in central France.  Her family were very successful and wealthy.   Her father Edme Tiburce Morisot had studied art at the Ecole de Beaux- Arts, but eventually gave up the idea of becoming a full-time painter and instead became a prominent government official.   He married his sixteen year-old bride Marie Cornelie Thomas in 1835 and they had four children.  Berthe was the youngest of three sisters, the other two being Marie Edma Caroline and Marie Elizabeth Yves and she had a younger brother Tiburce.

She and her sisters Edma and Yves set their hearts on being painters and their family were very supportive. It was an artistic family with Berthe’s grandfather, Jean-Honoré Fragonard being one of the greatest Rococo painters of his time. Their parents arranged art lessons for them but soon Yves lost interest in art and dropped out of the lessons.  In 1857 Berthe and her sister Edma studied drawing under Geoffery-Alphonse Chocrane.  A year later they studied under the tutelage of Joseph-Benoît Guichard and he would take them to the Louvre where they copied the paintings of the Masters and that year they were registered with the museum as copyists.   It was around about 1861 that the two sisters, whilst working in the Louvre, met another young painter, Edouard Manet and this was to prove to be the start of a very long friendship.   From 1862 to 1868 Morisot studied art under the guidance of the French landscape and figure painter Camille Corot who taught her the finer arts of landscape painting and the en plein air method of painting.  It was during this time that she became friends with an Impressionist painter Henri Fantin-Latour, whose speciality was still life paintings incorporating flowers.

The two Manet brothers, Edouard and Eugène and the two Morisot sisters, Berthe and Edma became very close friends and it was through Berthe Morisot that Edouard Manet was introduced to the other Impressionist painters.  It is also believed that it was through Morisot that Manet embarked on the en plein air method of painting.  Edouard Manet used Morisot as a model on a number of occasions and the portrait of Berthe Morisot we see the most is one done by Manet, entitled Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets.  Berthe Morisot was not just a talented artist, she was also extremely beautiful.  She and Manet were leading lights of the Impressionist Movement and it was she and Camille Pissarro who were the most consistent exhibitors at the eight Impressionist Exhibitions.  In 1874 and Manet became her brother-in-law when Berthe married Eugène Manet.   Four years later she gave birth to a daughter, Julie.

Édouard Manet is seen as the most important single influence on the development of her artistic style.  Over time the Master/Pupil status of Manet and Morisot changed to the point when they were looked upon as equals and Morisot developed her own style.   Morisot was by this time becoming a successful artist and had her first works; two landscape paintings, exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1864 at the age of twenty-three.  She continued to exhibit her works there for the next ten years.

Morisot’s paintings focused on everyday life and often reflected the cultural restrictions experienced by females in the nineteenth century.  Her works of art, like today’s painting, often concentrated on simple domestic scenes and in her works she would utilise family friends or relatives as models.  Her works were set in many different locations such as in the garden, besides the river but there was a constant theme, that of the joys of family life.  She battled against the two prejudices which were levelled against her art – her gender and her wealth.  Being a female, social convention would not allow her to paint nudes or men and thus she had to concentrate on landscapes and paintings of women and children.   Coming from a wealthy family and having financial stability left her open to the charge that she was merely a dilettante whose art was just a hobby.

Eugène Manet, her husband, died in 1892 and three years later Berthe Morisot died of pneumonia in 1854. at the age of 54 and was buried in the Cimetière de Passy, Paris.

The painting today, Le Bercau (The Cradle) was painted by Berthe Morisot in 1872.  In the picture we see a mother looking at a baby who lies asleep in a crib.  Morisot’s sister Edma was the model for the woman and the baby asleep in the crib was Edma’s daughter Blanche.  This painting was the first of her many works which featured motherhood and the everyday life of contemporary women, which was her most favourite subject for her works of art.

There are some interesting things about how mother and child are depicted by Morisot.  Look how the left hand of the mother mirrors the left hand of the baby in the way that it touches her face.  There is a diagonal line in the painting running from the baby’s arm through to the mother’s arm almost like an attachment between mother and child.  The diagonal continues with the way the artist has added a fold in the wispy curtain in the background.    There is a great sense of intimacy between mother and child as she looks down lovingly at the infant having carefully drawn back the net curtain to get a better view of her beautiful child.  We, on the other hand,  are just allowed to see the baby through the mesh of the curtain.  The painting reflects the love between mother and child.  She is positioned by the crib to be able to comfort the baby if she should wake.  This is an extremely moving painting.  Its depiction of the look of endearment on the mother’s face and the peaceful look on the baby’s sleeping face is superb.  It is very touching but I believe the painting as a whole avoids over-romanticizing the subject or making it mawkish.

The painting was exhibited at the first Impressionist Exhibition at Félix Nadar’s photographic studio at Boulevard des Capucines in 1874 and she was the first woman to exhibit with the group.  This has always been looked upon as one of Morisot’s finest paintings.  The painting remained in the Morisot family until 1930 when it was sold to the Louvre where it remained until it was transferred to the Musée d’Orsay, where it hangs today.

I will finish with the words of her brother-in-law, the artist Manet, who said of Morisot:

“…This woman’s work is exceptional. Too bad she’s not a man….”

One final bit of trivia – on her death certificate under the heading “Profession” the entry simply stated “No Profession”.  Why ?  Simply because she was a woman !

 

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli

The Nightmare by Henri Fuseli (1781)

I can sum up My Daily Art Display’s featured painting today in one word – disturbing.  I have featured many paintings in the past which could be described as erotic, maybe even pornographic.  I have described some paintings as being very violent and bloodthirsty but what is disturbing about this painting is the combination of both these elements in one work of art.  The painting is entitled The Nightmare and the artist who painted the work was Henry Fuseli.

Henri Fuseli was born Johann Heinrich Fussli in Zurich in 1741.  Although Swiss born, he spent almost fifty years living in England.  He came from a very large family, the second child of eighteen!  His father, Johann Caspar Fussli was a portrait and landscape artist as well as an author.  His father encouraged some of Henry’s siblings to become artists but for Henry he wanted him to study theology and enter the church.  Henry followed that chosen path and went to Caroline College in Zurich where he received a first-class classical education.  Eventually he took orders and at the age of twenty was ordained a Zwinglian clergyman.  The following year Henry Fuseli, angered by the corruption of a local politician, Felix Grebel, produced a pamphlet condemning him.  This angered the politician and his powerful family vowed retribution and in consequence Henry had to hurriedly leave the city and take refuge in Germany.

Fussli was an accomplished linguist and after spending some time in Berlin, he moved to London where he was employed as a translator, translating French, German and Italian books into English. He spent a lot of his leisure time sketching and writing but had little success in getting any of his writings published. Whilst in London he got to know the artist Sir Joshua Reynolds and on showing the English artists some of his sketches was encouraged to devote more of his time on his art and so in 1768 Henry Fussli decided to become an artist.    In 1770, at the age of twenty nine, Fussli went along the well-trodden path taken by artists and would-be artists – an artistic pilgrimage to Italy and he remained in that country for eight years.  Fuseli was a self-taught artist and whilst in Italy copied many of the works of the Renaissance Masters and spent much time in the Sistine Chapel copying the frescoes of Michelangelo.  During his eight year sojourn In Italy he also changed his surname to the more Italian-sounding Fuseli.  In 1779 he returned to Zurich.

If we wind the clock back to the time when he was studying theology in Zurich we know that the young Fuseli came across a man who was to become his lifelong friend – Felix Lavater.  It is the meeting of these two, twenty years earlier which has, in a roundabout way, a connection with today’s painting for through his friendship with Lavater, he met Lavater’s niece Anna Landolt.   Fuseli was besotted with the young woman and had fallen passionately in love with her.   In Maryanne Wards book, A Painting of the Unspeakable: Henri Fuseli’s The Nightmare she quotes a passage of a letter written by Fuseli to his friend Lavater about an erotic dream he had about Anna:

“…Last night I had her in bed with me—tossed my bedclothes hugger-mugger—wound my hot and tight-clasped hands about her—fused her body and soul together with my own—poured into her my spirit, breath and strength. Anyone who touches her now commits adultery and incest! She is mine, and I am hers. And have her I will….”

However, sadly for Fuseli, it was a one-sided love affair and it came to nought but this failed romance played on his mind and art historians believe that today’s featured painting was all about his passionate affair with and the erotic dreams he had about Anna Landolt.

In the painting we see a woman, lying on her back on a bed.  See how Fuseli has contrasted the very bright colour of the woman herself and her nightdress with the dark red, yellows and ochres of the background.   Her position has been described as “lying in a sexually receptive position”.   She looks almost comatose with her right hand placed behind the back of her head which is hanging down exposing her long pale neck.  Her left arm also dangles over the side of the bed.  Sitting atop of her abdomen with its feet positioned over her heart is an incubus.  The creature looks out at us.  An incubus is a male demon which lies upon sleepers, especially women, in order to have intercourse with them.   It has been suggested that the sleeping woman in this painting is Anna Landolt and Fuseli himself is the incubus.  Strangely enough, on the rear of the painting is an unfinished sketch of a girl which is thought to be Anna and that in some way supports the conclusion that Anna is the woman in Fuseli’s picture.   In the left background we see a horse’s head with leering phosphorescent eyes push its way through the parting of the dark red velvet curtains.  In some quarters this depiction is considered to be the sexual act itself.

Fuseli did not comment on his painting and never gave any indication as to the symbolism, if any, that could be derived from the work.  So why did he choose such a subject?  Many believe it is all down to his jealous passion and unfulfilled longing for the woman he wanted but could not possess.  Fuseli painted other versions of The Nightmare following the success of the first.  The painting was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1782 and created quite a stir.  Critics of the time were shocked by the unconcealed sexuality of the painting

So what happened to Henri Fuseli after this?  Fuseli eventually found his “true love”, Sophia Rawlins and married her in 1788.  She posed for him in many of his later paintings which were often a mixture of the macabre and the erotic.  Two years later he was appointed professor of painting at the Royal Academy and in 1804 was appointed the Keeper of the Academy.  This very prestigious appointment gave him the responsibility for the Royal Academy Schools which are located at the Royal Academy.  Whilst in this position he oversaw the artistic tuition of such well known artists as Landseer, Turner, William Etty and John Constable.  Fuseli was well respected as a teacher despite his eccentric ways.  He died in 1825, aged 81 and was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral close to Sir Joshua Reynolds, the man who set Fuseli on his artistic journey.

Fuseli was fascinated with the darker side of human nature and this is probably the reason that many of his works focus on suppressed violence, fears people have which are illogical and often foolish and sexual perversity.  There is something very disturbing about this painting and I would love to know what had been going through the artist’s mind when he started to paint this scene we see before us today.

The painting is currently at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The Bellelli Family by Edgar Degas

The Bellelli Family by Edgar Degas

Today, My Daily Art Display looks at a painting by a French Impressionist painter who, to me, is synonymous with paintings and sculptures of young ballet dancers.  His name is Edgar Degas who was actually born Hilaire-Germain Edgar De Gas in 1834.  He was in the forefront of the Impressionism movement although he preferred to be labelled as a realist painter.  He worked on today’s featured painting between 1858 and 1867.  It is entitled Family Portrait or The Bellelli Portrait and is a masterpiece of Degas’ youth.  It is a deeply insightful family portrait, in which we observe four people, two adults and two children who are the family Bellelli.

Degas had a traditional École des Beaux-arts education in Paris and in 1856 travelled to Italy to continue his studies and the following year visited his grandfather, Hilaire Degas, in Naples.  He also spent time in Rome where he set about copying the work of the Renaissance Masters.  In 1858 he received an invitation from his aunt, Laura Bellelli, née De Gas, to visit her and her family in Florence and at the same time to take the opportunity to study the paintings in the city’s prestigious gallery, the Uffizi.  He jumped at the chance and so went to stay with the family.  The head of the household was Laura’s husband, Gennaro, who had been a political journalist as well as a fervent supporter and good friend of Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, a leading figure in the movement towards Italian Unification.  When in 1854 the revolution against the Austrians failed, Gennaro was forced to flee from Italy to escape persecution by the Austrians over his participation in the failed uprising.  He first went and lived in exile in Paris but later returned to Florence.

Degas did not get on well with Gennaro and only remained at their rented house until the arrival of his cousins who had remained in Naples following the death of Degas’ grandfather, Hilaire.  Degas’ could sense the tension between Gennaro and his aunt Laura who once she confided in Degas about her relationship with her husband and her uncertain future saying:

“…my husband is “immensely disagreeable and dishonest… Living with Gennaro, whose detestable nature you know and who has no serious occupation, shall soon lead me to the grave….”

Part of the problem was that this exile in Florence separated her from her family back in Naples and to make matters worse, Laura was once again pregnant.  It is thought that the constant tension between her and her husband led to the death of the child in infancy and this tragic loss only added to the bitterness between husband and wife.  It was with this lack of domestic happiness in mind that Degas started this family portrait.

Before us we see the four members of the Bellelli family, Gennaro, his wife Laura, the sister of Degas’ father, and their daughters Giulia and Giovanna.  It is known that Degas made many sketches of the family before returning to Paris to work on the painting.

We see Laura dressed in mourning for the recent death of her father, and Degas’ grandfather, Hilaire, and in the background we can see a framed portrait of him.  Looking closely at how Degas has depicted his aunt.  We see a very dignified woman with a very stern countenance.  She stands upright as if posing for an official picture.  She coldly averts her gaze away from her husband. Her right hand rests protectively on the shoulder of her elder and favourite daughter, Giovanna.   Degas’ two young cousins are depicted with their mother, and are also dressed in mourning, in their black dresses and white pinafores. Giulia half sits on a small chair at the centre of the painting, arms akimbo, as she looks towards her father and in some ways forms a link between the two estranged adults.  Degas was very taken with his cousins describing them:

“….The elder one was in fact a little beauty. The younger one, on the other hand, was smart as can be and kind as an angel. I am painting them in mourning dress and small white aprons, which suit them very well…I would like to express a certain natural grace together with a nobility that I don’t know how to define….”

Note how Degas has positioned the husband and wife far apart in the painting, which was probably an acknowledgement of the tension between the couple and how the two had drifted apart.  There is no feeling of togetherness about the family.    The father sits in an armchair at his desk next to the fireplace, where he had been reading or writing a letter.   He has his back to us but his head is turned towards his daughter.  He appears unmoved and uncaring, showing little interest in what is going on around him.    His body is framed by a mantelpiece on which we see an ornate clock, some plates and a candlestick.  Over the mantelpiece there hangs a large mirror and in the mirror we see reflections of the room which in some way open up the space and fills it with more light.  We see reflections in the mirror of a curtained window, a chandelier and a framed painting.

It is interesting to look at how Degas has seemed to separate the husband from the rest of the family by a vertical separation formed by the leg of the table, the candlestick and the vertical side of the fireplace and mirror.   Just behind his chair, on the floor, we catch a glimpse of the family’s pet dog.  The drawing which we can see hanging on the wall behind Laura is a portrait of the recently deceased Hilaire Degas, which his grandson had drawn.  It is more than likely that Degas positioned this small picture where he did so as to give a sense of connection between the various generations of the Degas family.

Laura must have been appalled that Degas had to stay in a household, which exuded such unhappiness.   It is believed that Laura married Gennaro in desperation because her father had not been satisfied with any of her previous suitors and she was still unmarried at the “ripe old age” of 28.   She was extremely unhappy in her marriage and once shared her misgivings with Degas.   According to the American biographer and art historian, Theodore Reff, who wrote about a letter from Laura to her nephew, in his book , Degas: The Artist’s Mind .   In the letter she wrote:

 “…You must be very happy to be with your family again, instead of being in the presence of a sad face like mine and a disagreeable one like my husband’s…”

 It is thought that this family portrait was not to be a gift to the family but a work of art which he wanted to exhibit at the Paris Salon.  Whether he ever did that is uncertain but many believe he put it forward for exhibition at the Salon in 1867.  Degas kept hold of the painting until 1913 when he gave it to his art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, for him to sell.  In 1918 it was sold to the Musée du Luxembourg, Paris  and later the painting was moved to the newly opened Musée d’Orsay where it can now be found.

One should remember that this is not a photograph in which one can detect the mood of the sitters.  This is a painting by an artist who has the ability to paint the demeanour of his sitters in whatever way he chooses.  So this painting is how Degas views the family life of the Bellelli family.  How close it is to realism is known only by Degas and the Bellelli family.  So it is up to you  to decide whether Laura was a stern and disillusioned matriarch and whether Gennaro was the disinterested and curmudgeonly.

Lady and Gentleman on Horseback by Aelbert Cuyp

Lady and Gentleman on Horseback by Aelbert Cuyp (c.1655)

Over time I suppose one gets to like different artists and different paintings and one’s favourites constantly change.  For me however,  I have always loved the work of Aelbert Cuyp and along with Pieter Bruegel the Elder, I would have him constantly in my top five favourite artists.  I love his landscapes (see March 12th) and his riverscapes (see Feb 8th) but for My Daily Art Display today I have chosen one of his portraits, entitled Lady and Gentleman on Horseback which he painted around 1655.

Aelbert Jacobsz Cuyp was born in Dordrecht in 1620. His father was Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp, a successful portrait painter in the city and his mother was Aertken Cornelisdr van Cooten.  Aelbert was unquestionably raised up in an artistic environment with his grandfather Gerrit Cuyp being an eminent glass painter and his uncle’s step brother Benjamin Gerritsz Cuyp was a well known painter of religious, peasants and tavern scenes.  It was his father who gave Aelbert his earliest artistic tuition.  Although Dordrecht was not known for being an important artistic centre, it was a wealthy city and proud of being the oldest city and principal city of Holland and of great mercantile importance.     Aelbert used to assist his father in his studio by supplying landscape backgrounds for portrait commissions.  It is uncertain whether Cuyp had ever been an apprentice of a landscape painter, but he soon abandoned his father’s style and subject matter and turned almost exclusively to landscapes and riverscapes.  He would only occasionally paint portraits in his mature period.

Aelbert, despite branching off on his own as a painter, continued to assist his father right up to the time of his father’s death in 1652.  It is thought that the landscape works of Jan van Goyen, which were known to Cuyp, may have been instrumental in his artistic style as were the works of the Utrecht painter Jan Both.  Cuyp also followed the example of Jan van Goyen in the way he travelled throughout Holland sketching and gaining inspiration for future works.

In 1658, aged thirty eight, he married Cornelia Bosman, a wealthy widow of Johan van de Corput, a naval officer and member of an important Dordrecht family.  Cornelia had three children from her previous marriage.  Following his marriage, Cuyp appears to have painted less frequently, and stopped painting altogether years before his death due to his civic and religious responsibilities he had assumed after his marriage.  He was very wealthy and there were no financial pressures on him to produce paintings for sale.    He was listed in the register of the dead on 7 November 1691, and buried in the Augustinian Church at Dordrecht.

Today’s work of art, Lady and Gentleman on Horseback, highlights the popularity of the Dutch patrician pastime of hunting in the second half of the seventeenth century and many similar paintings exist.  This is a large oil on canvas work measuring 123cms x 172cms and depicts a man and a woman, probably husband and wife, on horseback setting off for the hunt.   There have been many names put forward as to the identity of the sitters, the most popular being that the man is Adriaen Stevensz Snouck and the lady his wife, Erkenraad Berk.  The lady’s father, Matthijs, was an important patron of Aelbert Cuyp, which may account for the prominence in the painting of his daughter in her gorgeous blue dress, who we see sitting resplendently on the back of a white horse with its brilliant red and gold saddlecloth.   The couple had just married and it could well be that Cuyp was commissioned to paint this to commemorate the happy event.

The landscape in the background is filled with light, typical of the popular Italianate style of the time.  We see a building in the background which is more than likely a fanciful evocation of an ancient fortified chateau which Cuyp may have seen on his travels.   The two hunters have their dogs with them.  There are two types of dog on this hunt, the turfters which were used to track and follow the scent of deer and greyhounds, which we see in the middle-ground of the painting, being controlled by an attendant and which run after the deer and bring them to bay.

X-Ray Image of painting

When this painting was x-rayed there were some interesting differences to the finished article.  The man originally wore a hat and his hair was much shorter and was seen lying on his shoulders.  His attire was different.  He had originally been painted in a military tunic and cape which were adorned with braids and buttons that in all likelihood were golden in colour.  It was also thought that the overall colour of the man’s clothing was a brilliant red rather than drab brown we see in today’s painting.   If we look at the woman we see that originally she wore a hat which was of a different shape to the one she is wearing now and originally the hat had feathers at the back of it.  Her dress was more loosely fitting and cascaded down the right flank of her horse.  Such changes to the painting must mean that the patrons were dissatisfied with the original composition and the fact that there was more going on in the original painting probably was viewed as being too distracting from the formal character of the double portrait and thus had to be revised.