Camille Doncieux and Claude Monet

My next two blogs deal not with a particular painting but with the subject of a series of paintings completed lovingly by one artist.  The subject is Camille-Léonie Doncieux, who was the beloved model, mistress and wife of Claude Monet.  In 1861, Monet had enlisted as a soldier in the Chasseurs d’Afrique regiment and spent two years in Algeria.  His military life came to an end in 1863 because he had fallen ill with fever.  He went back to Paris where he studied at the atelier of the Swiss artist Charles Gleyre and it was during this time that he met up with the artists Sisley, Bazille and Renoir, who would later join together with others and become known as the Impressionists..

Camille Doncieux was born in 1846 and met the impoverished but talented painter, Claude Monet, for the first time in 1865 when she was just eighteen years of age.  She came from an ordinary unprivileged background.  She fell in love with him, leaving her home to live with the talented 25-year-old painter who struggled to sell his work. People called her La Monette.  Everyone she met fell under her spell.   It was recorded that she was a ravishingly good-looking girl with dark hair, very graceful, full of charm and kindness.  Monet, her future husband, was struck by her beauty and described her eyes as being wonderful.    It was not long after they met that she began modeling for him and soon became his favourite model.  His professional interest in her soon became personal and the two soon became lovers.   The first time we come across Camille in a painting by Monet was in a study for his ill-fated work Déjeuner sur l’Herbe.

Study for Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe (1865/6)

In 1863, Édouard Manet had exhibited his painting Déjeuner sur l’Herbe at the Salon des Refusés (see My Daily Art Display, December 23rd 2010).   The critics and public were shocked by the work and Manet’s depiction of a nude woman seated with a pair of clothed men in a landscape setting.    Monet, who was known for his competitive streak decided to paint his own version of Déjeuner sur l’Herbe in the spring of 1865. This audacious venture would culminate in putting it forward for an exhibition at the Salon of 1866.  Following outdoor studies he made in the Forest of Fontainebleau, he immediately headed back to his nearby studio at Chaillyen-Bière and started to make preparatory sketches for what would be his mammoth canvas measuring an unbelievable 4.5 metres x 6 metres.  In one of his preparatory sketches, which he did in oil entitled Bazille and Camille (study for Déjeuner sur l’Herbe) we see Camille Doncieux and Monet’s fellow artist friend Frédéric Bazille.   Ultimately the painting was not a success. Monet was unable to finish it in time for the 1866 Salon and eventually abandoned the work. He left it, rolled up, with his landlord as part payment for rent he owed but it became damp and all that now remains are fragments of the work and some preparatory studies. The experience did, however, contribute to Monet’s realisation that to portray the brief moment in time, he would have to work on a much smaller scale.

La Femme à la Robe Verte by Monet (1866)

The next time we see Camille is in a painting Monet exhibited in the 1866 Salon.  The work was entitled Camille or Woman in a Green Dress and now hangs in the Kunsthalle, in Bremen.  After his disastrous attempt to emulate Manet with his painting of Déjeuner sur l’Herbe this work of his gained him critical acclaim.  Rumour had it that in his rush to meet the Salon deadline he completed the work in four days but one must doubt that assertion.  It is not strictly a portrait of Camille.  It is all about the dress.  She was simply his model for the painting.  The first thing which strikes one as we look at the work is the colour of the promenade dress which had probably been borrowed for the occasion.  Monet loved colour and the green he has used is awesome.  It dominates the painting and even detracts from the woman herself.  This is not about Camille but on the dress she wears and how it hangs.  The painting reminds one of a photograph out of a fashion shoot for a fashion magazine when the clothes are the important thing and not the model.  Look how the background is undefined.  It is simply plain and dark.  Monet had decided that nothing should deflect our gaze from the woman and her dress.  I like how Camille is just raising her right hand towards her face as if the picture has captured her just about to do something, a fleeting gesture, and we are left guessing as to what.  Maybe she is adjusting the ribbon of her bonnet.  The painting was accepted by the Salon jury and hung in their 1866 exhibition.    It was an immediate hit with both the art critics of the time and the public and the Paris newspapers called Camille the Parisian Queen.

One amusing anecdote about this painting was the story that Monet’s signature on the painting had been mistaken by many viewers for that of Manet, who had entered the Salon to a chorus of acclaim for his supposed work.  Monet told this story to the newspaper Le Temps:

“….imagine the consternation when he discovered that the picture about which he was being congratulated was actually by me !   The saddest part of all was that on leaving the Salon he came across a group which included Bazille and me.  ‘How goes it?’ one of them asked.  ‘Awful,’ replied Manet, ‘I am disgusted.  I have been complimented on a painting which is not mine’…….”

Camille au Petit Chien by Monet (1866)

That same year Monet produced a hauntingly beautiful and intimate portrait of his lover entitled Camille with a Little Dog, which is in a private collection.  We see Camille sitting side-on to us in quite a formal pose.  This is one of the few paintings of her by Monet that looks closely at her.  Once again as was the case in the Woman in a Green Dress, the background is plain and dark and in no way serves as a reason for taking our eyes off Camille.  We are not to be distracted from her beauty.  This painting is all about Camille.  It is interesting how Monet has painted the figure of the dog simply by thick brush strokes.  At a distance it looks like a dog but if you stand close up to the painting you can see it is just a mass of brush strokes.  However Monet has not treated the painting of Camille’s face with the same quick thick strokes of his brush.  She has been painted with delicate precision.  Monet did not want to depict the love of his life with hastily swishes of a brush. He took pains in her appearance.  This was a labour of love.

Luncheon by Monet (1868)

In 1867 Monet’s lover Camille gave birth to their son Jean.  A year later, during the winter of 1868, Monet started on his painting entitled Luncheon, which can be seen at the Städelsches Kunstinstitut in Franfurt.   This family, which now included their son Jean, were staying in Étretat at the house of a patron, where Monet had taken refuge from his Parisian creditors and critics.  It is a large highly detailed oil on canvas painting measuring 230cms x 150cms.   It is simplistic in its subject.  Before us we have sitting at the dining table Camille and her blonde-haired son.  She looks lovingly at him whilst he seems to only have eyes for the food.  A visitor stands with her back to the window and the maidservant is seen leaving the room.  A place is set out ready for her husband to join her at the meal table.  Look how Monet has painted a number of items overlapping the surfaces they are resting on.  On the table we have the loaf of bread, the newspaper and the serviette  all hanging over the cloth which Monet has depicted as being somewhat creased.  In the background we have two books overlapping the edge of the table.  All this in some ways adds to the realism of the painting.  Sunlight pours through the large window to the left of the painting and bathes the well-stocked table in light and by doing so brings it to life.  Monet submitted the painting to the 1870 Salon jury but it was rejected.  Four years later he included the work in the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874.

to be concluded tomorrow………………………………

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The Stoning of Stephen by Adam Elsheimer (c.1604)

The Stoning of Saint Stephen by Adam Elsheimer (c.1604)

Today I am staying with the religious theme and I am also looking at another painting which is housed at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh.  My featured painting today is entitled The Stoning of Stephen by Adam Elsheimer.

Adam Elsheimer was born in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany in 1578.  He was the son of a tailor and one of ten children.  His initial training as an artist was under the tutelage of Philipp Uffenbach, the German painter and etcher.  It is thought that in those early days he may have also been influenced by the works of the Dutch painter, Gillis van Coninxloo, as his early works show signs of the way the Dutch artist depicted forest scenes.  Coninxloo, at the time, was living in the nearby Frankenthal region having had to flee his native country in order to avoid religious persecution.

In 1598, after his initial artistic training in Frankfurt, Elsheimer travelled to Munich and from there headed south into Italy.  He initially settled in Venice and it is thought that whilst there he worked as an assistant to Hans Rottenhammer, a German painter who specialized in highly finished small scale paintings.  Rottenhammer was a master craftsman who was known for his highly-finished cabinet paintings on copper, depicting religious and mythological subjects, which were a mix of both German and Italian fundamentals of design and technique.  The term cabinet paintings was used to describe small works of art, which are usually no larger than two feet square but in many cases are much smaller. The name is especially used for paintings that depict full-length figures painted on a small scale, as opposed to a head painted nearly life-size, and these works of art are painted very precisely and with great delicacy. From the 1600’s onwards wealthy collectors of art would keep cabinet paintings in locked cabinets, hence the name, or sometimes they would be on show in a relatively small and private room in a house, to which only those with whom the house owners were on especially intimate terms would be admitted.  Elsheimer learnt a great deal from Rottenhammer in the time they were together. Most of Elsheimer’s works were cabinet paintings painted on copper plates. He was particularly admired for his use of diverse sources of illumination.  Using copper as his “canvas” meant that his pictures remained of small dimensions. But copper was an excellent medium on which to paint. It meant that Elsheimer was able to include more than fifty figures on this miniature-like plate. Copper also allowed him to put on paint in very fine and delicate strokes and by doing so the detail could be both intricate and decorative. He also took advantage of the medium to select and use very brilliant colours.

In the spring of 1600 Elsheimer moved to Rome and it was here, through his contact with Hans Rottenhammer that he met and became friends with the Flemish landscape painter, Paul Bril.  Soon Elsheimer built up a friendship with a number of artists who were working in the Italian capital at the time, such as Rubens and David Teniers the Elder.  The artistic work carried out by Elsheimer was noted in the Schilder-Boeck, which was written by the art historian Karel van Mander  in 1604.  In it van Mander praised the artist but described him as slow-working and making few drawings.    It was this small output that led to Elsheimer’s financial ruin.

In 1606, Elsheimer married Carola Antonia Stuarda da Francoforte, a lady of Scottish ancestry and a fellow Frankfurter, and in 1609 they had a son. The son was not mentioned in a census a year later, which could have been because he died as an infant or possibly because he had been put out to a wet nurse.  His wife had been the recent widow of the artist Nicolas de Breul.  In 1606, Elsheimer was admitted to the Academia di San Luca, the Roman painters’ guild.  He was a very religious man and converted to Catholicism in 1608.   In spite of his fame and talents, he appears to have both lived and impoverished life and died penniless.

Despite his reputation for being an influential artist of his time he was a perfectionist and he dwelled for ages over a single work.  This led to him being unable to finish enough pieces to actually make a living.  This perfectionist trait along with frequent bouts of depression which stopped him working combined to reduce his artistic output.  Elsheimer, despite having a talent that inspired Rembrandt and Peter Paul Rubens, and in spite of his fame and obvious talents, lived and died in difficult financial circumstances.  In his latter days he had set up a partnership with a wealthy etcher, Count Hendrick Goudt to complete a number of works but he was unable to fulfil his part of the contract with his partner.  Worse still, he had also borrowed a sum of money from his partner but was unable to repay him and was thrown into a debtor’s prison, where he died in 1610, aged 32.   Sadly, he only painted for a period of about thirteen years and only twenty-seven pictures are attributed to him.

Rubens, who owned a couple of Elsheimer’s paintings, wrote of him saying:

“…..he had no equal in small figures, landscapes, and in many other subjects. …one could have expected things from him that one has never seen before and never will see….”

And on news of his Elsheimer’s death Rubens wrote to a friend:

“…Surely, after such a loss, our entire profession ought to clothe itself in mourning.  It will not easily succeed in replacing him………….. For myself, I have never felt my heart more profoundly pierced by grief than at the news…”

Contemporaries described him as an extraordinary artist who “invented a style of small sceneries, landscapes, and other curiosities”.

The painting today is based on the New Testament story of the martyrdom of Saint Stephen.  The scene is set in Acts 7: 55-60

“…..But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God   “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

 

 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep…”.

Elsheimer’s painting on copper is entitled The Stoning of Stephen which he completed around 1604 and which can now be seen in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh.  St Stephen was one of the first seven deacons of the Christian Church appointed by the Apostles and also its first Christian martyr.  His fervent preaching had incurred the hostility of the Jewish authorities who accused him of blasphemy and he was sentenced to be stoned to death outside the walls of Jerusalem.

The painting before us shows the point in time just before Stephen’s execution.  He has sunk to his knees.   There is a gentle naivety about his expression.  He actually seems surprised with what is about to happen to him.  He is open-mouthed uttering his last words to God asking him to receive his spirit. His tormentors with their arms held aloft clutch large stones which they are about to rain down on the ill-fated Stephen. It is at this time that he is said to have experienced a vision of heaven and a beam of intense light  penetrated the clouds and shines down on the kneeling saint almost like a spotlight focuses on an actor on a stage.  Stephen is dressed in the robes of a deacon, and angels tumble towards him bearing the palm fronds of martyrdom and a laurel crown.

It is a small work of art measuring just 35cms x 29cms (14 inches x 11 inches).   It is an extremely colourful work and the artist has magically depicted the beams of light, emanating from the heavens at the top left of the painting, and falling on the head of the martyr.  The painting is divided into three diverse areas with diagonals creating clear tonal contrasts.  This effect is known as chiaroscuro.  To the left and right, the painting is in shadow.  On the left-hand side we see a man on horseback presiding over the execution.  This is Saul of Tarsus, who would himself late convert to Christianity and become the future Saint Paul.  On the right-hand side, also in shadow, we see some Roaman soldiers, one of whom is on horseback, and a gathering group of spectators.  The middle section is illuminated, and in this section we see Stephen and his young executioners.

The Stoning of Stephen by Rembrandt (1625)

Rembrandt’s first dated work is entitled The Stoning of St Stephen, which he completed in 1625 at the age of 19, and appears to be a response to Elsheimer’s painting of the subject.  The same chiaroscuro effect can also be seen in his version of the painting.

For me, besides the exquisite colouring and the astonishing amount of detail  Elsheimer has brought to this painting, I love the magical Italianate landscape which forms the background.  Elsheimer’s delicate portrayal of the trees and the Roman ruins exudes such a beautiful and enchanting quality. I would have loved this work of art to have been on a much larger scale but then maybe some of the enchantment would have been lost.

The Flemish landscape artist Paul Bril, who befriended Elsheimer, may have, at one time, owned this painting.

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer (c.1655)

Once again, as promised in my last blog, I am returning to a painting depicting the two biblical sisters Mary and Martha.  The setting for this painting is their meeting with Christ at their home, which unlike the setting and the story behind Cagnacci’s painting Martha Rebuking Mary for her Vanity which I featured in yesterday’s blog; this meeting was recorded in the Bible.  In Luke 10:38-39 it states:

“…As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  

The depiction of this meeting has been painted by many artists, such as Tintoretto in 1580, Diego Velázquez in 1618, and Rubens who painted a similar scene in 1628 but moved the setting to an outdoor terrace.  Christ at Home with Martha and Mary was painted by Joachim Beuckelaer, a kitchen scene, but from which we learnt about the rivalry between Mary and Martha.  A similar kitchen scene was depicted in the late 16th century painting entitled Christ in the House of Mary and Martha by Vincenzo Campi.  In these last two paintings Martha is depicted working hard in the kitchen whilst Mary is sitting at the feet of Christ listening to what he had to say.  The tension between the two women as highlighted in these paintings was recorded in the Book of Luke 10:40-42:

“….But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!”      “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,  but few things are needed—or indeed only one Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her…”

However the painting I am featuring today depicts Mary and Martha in seemingly perfect harmony as they listen to the words of Christ.  The painting is by the great Dutch Master, Johannes Vermeer and is entitled Christ in the House of Martha and Mary and hangs in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh.  He completed the work around 1655 and it is believed to be one of his earliest surviving paintings, coming some ten years before his more famous works, such as Girl with a Pearl Earringwhich he completed in 1665.    It is also thought to be one of his largest paintings, measuring 160 cm × 142 cm (63 in × 56 in) and this probably means it was painted for a specific commission.  The fact that the work is so large and has a very dark backdrop, unlike most of Vermeer’s later works it may not have been accredited to Vermeer but for his recognisable signature on the stool which Mary sits upon.

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Erasmus Quellinus the Younger (1650)

There is a certain similarity with the way Vermeer has painted the folds in Christ’s robe with the 1650  painting  Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by the Flemish artist Erasmus Quellinus the Younger (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes) and one that Vermeer may have actually seen as his father, Reynier Jansz,  was an art dealer.

Before us we have the three figures, named in the title of the painting, in a kind of triangular formation almost filling the canvas.  The background is sombre and somewhat dark which ensures that we are not distracted from the three figures depicted in the work.  Our viewpoint is from the bottom left of the painting which leads art historians to believe that this could have been intended for an altarpiece which would have been above eye level.

Christ is seated, looking very relaxed.  There is a soft glow emanating from his head and this ensures that he is seen as the main figure of the three.  He wears a dark blue robe over a brown undergarment.  It is an unusual shade of blue and not the ultramarine that we see in later works by Vermeer.  The right arm of Christ stretches out as he points towards Mary.  At the same time he focuses his attention on Martha.  Our attention is immediately drawn to his outstretched arm as the colour of his skin and the brown sleeve of his undergarment stand out against the pure white of the table cloth.

Mary sits on the floor at the feet of Christ, her head resting on her hand.  She looks lovingly at Christ hanging on his every word.  Of the three she is by far the most exquisite.  Vermeer has painted her lovingly and may have been sympathetic with her contemplative nature.  Mary’s positioning in the painting at the feet of Christ is somewhat controversial as that place was usually taken up by one of Christ’s disciples and in those days for a teacher to accept a female as a disciple was unheard of.

Martha stands at Christ’s right-hand side  and we see her placing a loaf of bread on the table whilst at the same time leaning slightly forward listening to his words.  Her eyes are downcast and yet her eyebrows are raised in a questioning gesture.  She looks somewhat saddened and dissatisfied with something.  Could it be she is not happy with Christ’s support of Mary’s contemplative role?   There is a hint of a pout in her expression, which could hark back to the conflict between the two females.   All looks tranquil and peaceful in Martha and Mary’s house but I wonder if the fact that Martha is bringing in the food whilst Mary just sits and listens to the words of Christ harkens back to the different roles the women play in the household and the discord between the two sisters is caused by such differing roles.  Maybe we are at a point in time that Christ is explaining to Martha that although she is the “worker” of the household who is serving up the bread which she may just have baked, Mary’s role as a contemplative disciple is equally as important. This is more forcibly portrayed in other works of art.  I am sure there are many theologians who have looked in to the relationship between the two sisters but the general consensus is that Martha is the more aggressive and work-like female whereas Mary is the more quiet and contemplative woman.

Much has been written about the two females and it has been interesting to study the various paintings featuring the two sisters and by doing so trying to read the mind of the artist and figure out what he or she is trying to tell us about the women.

Martha Rebuking Mary for her Vanity by Guido Cagnacci

Martha Rebuking Mary for her Vanity by Guido Cagnacci (c.1660)

Today I am returning to an artist I featured back in My Daily Art Display of April 24th 2011 when I looked at two paintings of his depicting the death of Cleopatra.  He is the Italian painter of the late-Baroque period, Guido Cagnacci.

Guido Cagnacci was an Italian painter belonging to the Bolognese School, which rivalled Florence and Rome as centres of painting.    He was born in 1601 in Santarcangelo di Romagna, a town in the province of Rimini where he spent the early part of his life.  Later, he moved to Rome where he met fellow artists Simon Vouet, and Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, often better known simply as Guernico.   Cagnacci had also been a pupil of Guido Reni and he tended to combine references to classical models and to Raphael’s work with his own lively interest in the type of daring perspectives and brilliant compositions that the Baroque style favoured.   It is also believed that during this time he may have studied under an ageing Ludovicio Carracci.  He moved back east to Venice in 1650 and started to paint very sensual scenes with seductive, half-naked girls as his subject, His later paintings often featured semi-naked women as Lucretia, Cleopatra and even Mary Magdalene, as we will see in today’s offering.  These erotic paintings were very popular and much sought after by collectors at the time and through them, his popularity spread.  In 1658 he journeyed to Vienna where he gained the patronage of Emperor Leopold I and that was his ticket to fame and riches.  It also gave him the opportunity to bring to the German-speaking lands the latest classical style.

It is his contentious painting of a semi-naked Mary Magdalene that I am featuring in My Daily Art Display today.  The painting, which Cagnacci completed around 1660, is entitled Martha Rebuking Mary for Her Vanity.  The title of the painting brings up the first question one needs to consider and that is who is Mary?    Many would say that the Mary in the title is Mary Magdalene but others would disagree.  Mary and Martha are the most familiar set of sisters in the Bible. In the books of Luke and John, the pair, who lived in Bethany were described as friends of Jesus and who had a brother called Lazarus.  Though some earlier interpreters blended the person of Mary of Bethany with Mary Magdalene, current theologians believe she was a different person.  In Latin tradition, Mary of Bethany is often identified as Mary Magdalene while in Eastern Orthodox and Protestant traditions they are considered separate persons. The Orthodox Church has its own traditions regarding Mary of Bethany’s life beyond the gospel accounts.  However I will go along with the idea that in this painting we are looking at Mary Magdalene and her sister Martha.

Cagnacci's Mary Magdalene

The painting is a vivid and somewhat melodramatic allegory of Virtue conquering Vice.  Cagnacci has managed to blend reality, idealism and fantasy in the way he has portrayed the occurrence.   Lying prostrate on the floor is the semi-clad Mary Magdalene being rebuked and lectured to by Martha who sits on the floor in front of her.  Martha leans forward and is fervently lecturing her sister about the sins of Vanity pointing to the allegorical scene we see in the background. She is passionately trying to get her sister to discard the life of pleasure she had been leading up until then and turn to the life of virtue as a true follower of Christ.  Mary would seem to have recognised the life of sin she had been leading and realised, in response to the admonitions of her sister Martha, the error of her ways.  As a dramatic act of changing course, she has discarded her lavish and extravagant outer garments, jewellery and her other worldly possessions which we see scattered on the floor around her.

To the right of the painting we see a couple of servants, one in tears, symbolising contrition whilst the other looks back in disbelief and annoyance at Mary’s act of repentance and she symbolises the unremorseful face of Vanity.   In the background, mirroring what is happening in the foreground, we see an angel, symbolising Virtue driving out the demon which represents Vanity.  Cagnacci has in some ways tailored the story of the discarding of the woman’s clothes so as to give us an unusually sensuous depiction of the semi-naked Mary Magdalene.  He was often criticised for this sort of eroticism in his paintings, with critics maintaining that some artists could make anything salacious and Cagnacci was one of these.  However one must remember that Cagnacci knew that this type of painting sold well, so he would not be put off by his detractors.

The scene, which Cagnacci has painted, does not come from any particular passage in the Bible and we must believe the artist has manipulated the biblical facts of the differing character of the two sisters to suit the story behind this work.  The story of the differing personalities of Mary and her sister Martha was painted many times before by many different artists and in my next blog I will feature one by Johannes Vermeer.

Cagnacci probably completed this work whilst working for Leopold I at the Austrian court in Vienna.   The painting later went to the Gonzaga court in Mantua, which had strong ties with the court at Vienna. The painting was acquired by the Norton Simon Art Foundation and is currently housed at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California.

Ruth Weisberg and her painting

When I was researching the painting I discovered that the Museum had held a special exhibition in November 2008 entitled Guido Cagnacci and the Resonant Image which featured the Los Angeles artist Ruth Weisberg’s series of works in dialogue with Cagnacci’s Baroque masterpiece Martha Rebuking Mary for her Vanity.  It was based on her intuitive artistic reaction to the work.  Ruth created over twenty paintings and drawings which were pictorial stories on the themes of repentance, anger and ultimately the triumph of virtue over vice. In one she even depicts herself and family members as characters from the Cagnacci work.

Farm at Watendlath by Dora Carrington

Farm at Watendlath by Dora Carrington (1921)

It often occurs that I stumble across and interesting subject for My Daily Art Display when I am researching another artist.  I came across today’s featured artist when I was delving into the life story of Mark Gertler and his painting Gilbert Cannan and his Mill in my last blog.  I should probably state up front that today’s blog is more about the artist and her fascinating social life than her featured painting.

Dora de Houghton Carrington was born in Hereford in 1893.  She was the second of the two daughters and fourth of the five children of Samuel Carrington and his wife, Charlotte de Houghton.  In 1902, aged 9, the family moved to Bedford and Dora attended the local girl’s high school.  The school’s ethos at the time was that the pupils should concentrate their studies on the Arts such as music and art with a healthy amount of sport thrown in rather than the normal but more commonplace subjects.  Dora showed an aptitude for drawing and her teachers persuaded her parents to pay for her to attend extra drawing classes in the afternoons.  One’s childhood often shapes the way we are in later life and the author Vanessa Curtis wrote about Dora’s differing relationship she had with her mother and father:

“…Although Carrington adored and revered her father, sketching him almost obsessively, she did not admire her fussy, martyr-like mother, who crammed the house with ornaments and devoted herself to charity work and religious causes….”

It is quite obvious that Dora’s mother had a suffocating influence on her children, especially her daughter.  Dora’s brother, Nicholas wrote of his mother extreme views on sex and  religion:

“..The first was extreme prudishness. Any mention of sex or the common bodily functions was unthinkable. We were not even expected to know that a woman was pregnant. Even a word like confined was kept to a whisper. The second was church-going and behaviour on Sunday. We all came to hate the whole atmosphere of a Sunday morning. The special clothes, the carrying of prayer books, the kneeling, standing and murmuring of litanies…”

In 1910, aged 17, she enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. There can be no doubt that once Dora Carrington was free of her home life and the puritanical views of her domineering mother, she rebelled.  She cut her hair to a bob which gave her a somewhat androgynous appearance. She entered into many intense and sometimes sexual relationships both with women and homosexual and heterosexual men.   She also decided that she wanted to be known simply by her father’s surname, “Carrington”.   Carrington fared well at the Slade and won several awards for her work.  One of her fellow students was Mark Gertler, who was totally besotted with Carrington and it was through him that Carrington met Lady Ottoline Morrell, the “society queen” and he introduced Carrington to the Bloomsbury Group, a group of writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists.    Lady Ottoline and her husband Philip had a house in Bloomsbury, Central London and a country house in Garsington, Oxford where they would hold weekend parties for their friends, many of whom, like Stanley Spencer, Gertler and Carrington were aspiring artists.

Carrington and Lytton Strachey

The Morrells were prominent pacifists and during World War I they invited conscientious objectors, such as the artist Duncan Grant and the writers Clive Bell and Lytton Strachey to take refuge at Garsington.  Carrington met Strachey, a writer and founder member of the Bloomsbury Group in 1915. Strachey was a homosexual but this did not stop Carrington falling in love with him.  This was a love that was to last almost twenty years.  Gertler felt no threat from Carrington’s love for the openly gay Strachey but in 1917 when Strachey bought a house and Carrington moved in with him, Gertler was devastated and realised that his love for Carrington was irrevocably unrequited and doomed.

Lytton Strachey and Ralph Partridge

Carrington’s father died in 1918 leaving her a small inheritance that allowed her to feel more independent.  That same year, Carrington was introduced to Ralph Partridge, a friend of her brother Noel.  Partridge like many men before him was besotted with Carrington, even though he was aware of Carrington’s love and devotion to Lytton Strachey.  Despite this knowledge, and knowing that Carrington would never give up Strachey, he married her in 1921 and along with Lytton Strachey, they bought and moved into Ham Spray House just outside the town of Hungerford.  It was here that they spent the rest of their lives.  It was a happy period for Carrington who carried on with her artwork and looking after the two men in her life.  Unfortunately, over time, Strachey suffered frequent bouts of illness and had to be cared for by Carrington.

Frances Partridge née Marshall

In 1926 Ralph Partridge started an affair with Frances Marshall, a writer friend and member of the Bloomsbury Group and went to live with her in London. His marriage with Carrington was all but over, but never in the eyes of the law.  Partridge did however still visit her most weekends.   Carringotn in the meantime had a number of extra-marital affairs with both males and females.  The most famous being her affair with Gerald Brenan, an army man and friend of her husband.  She also had a tempestuous love affair with Henrietta Bingham, the daughter of the American ambassador in London

In 1931 Strachey became seriously ill with stomach trouble and the doctors could not decide as to what was causing the illness.  By the end of that year doctors had given up hope of curing him.  In a fit of deep despair at the thought of losing her beloved friend she attempted to kill herself but was saved by her husband Partridge.  For the next month she watched as Strachey moved slowly towards death.  In January 1932 the end came for Strachey and, following an autopsy, it was discovered that he had been suffering from stomach cancer.  Carrington was devastated and her friends tried to rally round to support her but it was to no avail as in March 1932 she shot herself with a gun she had borrowed from a neighbour.  Her husband found her just before she died.  She died just a fortnight before her thirty-ninth birthday.

The painting I am featuring today entitled Farm at Watendlath was completed by Carrington in 1921. Newly-wed Carrington and her husband along with Lytton Strachey and some of their artist friends spent a summer holiday here that year.   One of their holiday companions was her future lover and friend of her husband, Gerald Brenan.  She would often return to spend other painting holidays around this area and she and her friends were frequent visitors to the farm which is near to Keswick in the Lake District.  The house we see in the painting faces Watendlath Beck, which flows from Watendlath Tarn into Derwentwater. A stuffed stag hanging inside was known as ‘Mr Wordsworth’  The two female figures we see in the painting are unknown and it has been suggested by some art historians that this depiction of female figures, dwarfed by a fertile and undulating landscape, relates to the artist’s sense of being overwhelmed by her own womanhood.  However, I find that interpretation hard to believe.

Her life story, in many ways, is tinged with sadness.  Her relationship with Lytton Strachey could not have fulfilled all her dreams and she would have constantly have had to compromise.  Yet, I am sure she had times of great joy and maybe we should look at this painting and remember that at the time she painted this, she had just married and she was at a place she loved with companions whose company she enjoyed and who in return where devoted to her.

The painting which can be found at the Tate Gallery London was presented to that establishment by her brother Noel Carrington in 1987.

Gilbert Cannan and his Mill by Mark Gertler

Gilbert Cannan at his Mill by Mark Gertler (c.1916)

My Daily Art Display today is all about the artist and the person who is the subject of the painting.  The artist who painted today’s featured painting was Mark Gertler and the painting which he completed in 1916 is entitled Gilbert Cannan and his Mill.

Marks Gertler was born in Spitalfields, London in 1891.  He was the youngest of five children born to Jewish immigrants from Poland, Louis Gentler and Kate Berenbaum.  He had two older brothers and two older sisters.   At the age of one, his father took the family to his mother’s native city, Przemyśl in south-east Poland where they worked as innkeepers.  The business failed and one night in 1893, in desperation, Gertler’s father Louis, without telling anyone, left them all and went off to America to search for work.  He eventually sent word to his wife telling her that once he was settled she was to bring the children to live with him there.  It never happened as all his hopes of making a fortune ended in failure.  Louis Gertler returned to Britain, and had his family join him in London in 1896.  It was at this time that his son’s Polish name “Markz” was changed to Mark.

From a very early age Mark Gertler showed a talent for drawing. His first formal artistic tuition came when he enrolled in art classes at Regent Street Polytechnic in London.   Unfortunately because of the family’s dire financial circumstances he had to leave the course after just a year to try and earn some money as an apprentice with a stained glass maker.  However he still maintained his art tuition, attending evening classes at the Polytechnic.  In 1908 he entered a national art competition and was awarded third place.  Buoyed up with that success, but knowing the cost of art training, he applied for a scholarship from the Jewish Education Aid Society.  His application was successful and in 1908, aged seventeen, he enrolled on a three year course at the Slade School of Art.  It was whilst on this course that he met Paul Nash, Stanley Spencer and Charles Nevinson, all of whom would be leading artists in the twentieth century.  Whilst studying at the Slade, Gertler also met the aspiring painter Dora Carrington, the daughter of a Liverpool merchant.  Gertler fell in love with her and pursued her relentlessly for many years.  The story of his brief love affair with Dora was featured in the 1995 biographical film Carrington.  Unfortunately for Gertler his love was unrequited and at one point in this tempestuous relationship he threatened to commit suicide.

Gertler was fortunate enough , in these early days, to be patronized by Lady Ottoline Morrell, the English aristocrat and society hostess and it was through her that Gertler became acquainted with the Bloomsbury Group. He was also introduced to Walter Sickert, who at the time was the leader of the Camden Town Group. With all these new artistic and society connections it was not long before he was enjoying great success as a painter of society portraits.  Unfortunately Gertler had a very abrasive manner and was extremely temperamental.  This did not go down well with his clients and his popularity and that of his paintings waned sharply causing him some financial problems.

In 1914 Gertler visited the writer and the subject of today’s painting, Gilbert Cannan, who lived with his wife in their converted windmill at Cholesbury, Hertfordshire. They became great friends and over the next two years Gertler would be a regular visitor to the mill along with the likes of the writers Katherine Mansfield and D.H.Lawrence  The latter would feature Gertler as the sculptor Loerke in his celebrated novel Women in Love.  It was during one of his early visits that Gertler started his painting which he later entitled Gilbert Cannan and his Mill.

In 1920 when he was just twenty-nine years of age he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and this ailment resulted in many long stays in various sanatoriums.  Around this time, when his artistic career was in decline, he taught part-time at Westminster School of Art.  Gertler’s life began to unravel in the 1930’s.  A war with Germany was brewing.  His mother, whom he was very close to, had died.  The once love of his life Dora Carrington had committed suicide in 1933.    His exhibition at London’s Lefevre Gallery was ridiculed by the critics.  In 1936, no doubt as a result of these personal and professional setbacks, he attempted to commit suicide but failed.   Three years later, in 1939, aged forty-eight, he succeeded in ending his life by gassing himself at his studio in Hampstead.

The subject of today’s painting, as I have said was Gertler’s friend Gilbert Cannan.  Cannan, a novelist, was born in Manchester in 1884 of Scottish ancestry.  He was well educated studying at Manchester Grammar School and King’s College Cambridge.  After receiving his university degree he went into the legal profession.  This profession was not for him and after a brief dabble into the world of theatrics he turned all his efforts to writing.  He worked as a secretary to the Scottish author and dramatist J M Barrie who created the famous character Peter Pan.  Over time, Gilbert Cannan and Barrie’s wife Mary became lovers.  James Barrie and his wife were divorced in 1909 and the following year Mary Barrie and Cannan were married.

In the years before the First World War Gilbert Cannan became friendly with the Bloomsbury Group, a group of writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists who, throughout the 20th century, held informal discussions in Bloomsbury, London,.   The group would also congregate at Cannan’s home which from 1916 was a converted mill at Cholesbury in Hertfordshire and it was during this time that he met Dora Carrington and Mark Gertler.  The mill we see in the painting was Cannan’s home and was a favourite place for his intellectual circle to meet.

The painting is a full-length portrait of Gilbert Cannan standing in front of the mill with his two dogs.  The large black dog on the right hand side of Cannan is a Newfoundland dog called Luath.  To the left hand side of Cannan is his large black and white St Bernard dog Porthos.  Porthos was originally owned by J.M.Barrie and was used as a model for the dog Nana, dog which served as the Darling children’s nurse in J.M.Barrie’s famous book, Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.

What is interesting and somewhat quirky about this painting is Gertler’s use of geometrical shapes such as cones and triangles.  This can be seen in the shape of the windmill and the foliage of the large tree to the right of it.  Even the way Cannan and his two dogs are portrayed has a triangular shape to it as does the way the tall poplar trees on the left of the work lean to the left against the side of the painting. This was a reflection of Gertler’s interest in the contemporary art which was popular at the time.  The bright colours used by Gertler were not realistic and reflects the anti-naturalistic modern style of the era.

I think I am drawn to this painting purely for its eccentricity and nonconformity and the way Gertler has added vibrancy to the work with his use of unrealistic colouring.  The painting can be seen at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and as I have said on a number of occasions you must add a visit to this wonderful establishment on your “to do” list.

Étretat by Various artists

There are many subjects depicted by artists in their paintings which are the same.  One only has to think of religious paintings and the likes of the pietà or the deposition or even the crucifixion itself to see how numerous artists choose the same subject for their works of art.  It is also reasonably common for one artist to paint many versions of the same subject.  Think of how many times Vincent van Gogh painted his Sunflowers.  The last blog I did featured a painting of Bentheim Castle by Jacob van Ruisdael and I told you that he had actually painted the subject no fewer than fifteen times.  Today I am going to focus on geological structure that many artists have used in their paintings and I will let you compare them and see what you think.  First let me show you the location as you would see it today.

Cliffs and The Pinnacle at Étretat

The place is Étretat which is situated in the Haute-Normandie region of Northern France.  The town itself is about twenty miles north-east of Le Havre but it is not the town which claims the fame and which has always fascinated artists but its cliffs.  The single beach of Étretat is separated from the town by a sea-wall promenade and lies between two well-known cliffs.  To the east of the town lies the Amont Cliff and to the west lies the Aval cliff with its huge arch, Porte d’Aval,  cut through the chalk structure.   Slightly offshore of the Porte d’Aval stands the solitary needle rock known as L’Aiguille.    During the late nineteenth century this area of Normandy was very popular with Parisian families and with this popularity it soon became a very fashionable place to visit.

In 1868, Claude Monet lived at Étretat with Camille Doncieux,  whom he was to marry two years later.  He revisited the town on a number of occasions in the 1880’s so as to work on a number of paintings depicting the cliffs and sea.   Étretat had already been painted by both Delacroix and Courbet and in fact Monet owned a Delacroix watercolour of the area.. When Monet visited Étretat in 1883 he had planned to create his own Normandy seascapes, saying:

“I reckon on doing a big canvas on the cliff of Étretat, although it’s terribly audacious of me to do that after Courbet who did it so well, but I’ll try to do it differently.”

Because of the increasing popularity of the area with holidaymakers, Monet sensed that there would be a good market for paintings depicting this area. The area had everything, magnificent cliff structures from the top of which one had spectacular views of the sea, which sometimes had a mirror-like calm sheen about it, whilst on other times it exhibited a terrible unforgiving  ferocity as it crashed on to the foot of the cliffs, biting away at the base of the massive chalk structures

During the 1880s, Monet rediscovered the Normandy coast and visited the area many times so as to draw by the sea. He was fascinated by its dramatic cliffs and rock arches and was constantly looking for somewhere with outstanding natural beauty and a place where he could observe the effects of natural light on the sea and on the chalk and limestone cliffs.  He would move from one position to another continually looking for the best natural lighting of the cliffs and the sea. His search for the perfect light on the sea and the perfect position from where it could be seen was of paramount importance.  He once said:

“…I know that to really paint the sea it has to be seen every day at any hour and from the same spot to know its life at this very spot ; that’s why I’m repeating the same subjects up to four and even six times…”

Stormy Sea at Étretat by Claude Monet (1883)

In 1883 Monet completed a work entitled Stormy Sea in Étretat, which is now housed in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon.  The painting is set on a winter day and we can see is being whipped up by gale force winds.  It is believed that Monet worked on this painting as he sat at the window of his hotel room.  What a wonderful depiction of the ferocity of the sea with the white curls of the surf atop the waves.  In the foreground we have the beach on which we see five boats.  Three of which are filled with what looks like thatch whilst the other two on the right seemed to have been abandoned and show signs that they have had to endure a battering in the waves.  Two men, stand by the boats, looking out on the rough seas.  To the left we have the cliffs and the Porte d’Aval,  above which we have the storm and rain clouds rushing towards the land.

The Étretat Cliffs after the Storm by Gustave Courbet (1870)

The next painting I am featuring is one which depicts a similar view but is a work which depicts the time after a storm.  The title is La falaise d’Étretat après l’orage [The Etretat Cliffs after the Storm] and was completed by Gustave Courbet in 1870.  Courbet visited Étretat that summer and stayed in a house by the sea which was tucked against the Aval cliffs to the left of the bay.  He painted a number of versions of this scene but the one you see above is housed at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.  Courbet like other artists was attracted to this area not only because of the breathtaking geological structures but because of the quality of natural light and the clarity of the air.  The composition of the sea, the land with its cliffs and rocks and the sky is well balanced.  Courbet had sent the painting for exhibition at the Paris Salon in 1870 where it was well received and Courbet’s reputation as a painter was enhanced.  Of the painting, the art critic and Courbet’s friend, Jules Antoine Castagnary, marvelled at the beauty of his friend’s work and described the elements of the work, speaking of:

 “…the free, joyous air which circulates in the canvas and envelops the details…”

Beach at Etretat by Eugène-Louis Boudin (1890)

Another artist to depict this area in his painting was Eugène-Louis Boudin who in 1890 completed his work entitled Beach at Étretat.  Here we are looking at the scene from a vantage point similar to the previous works.  On the beach we once again see abandoned fishing boats which have been ravaged by the wind and sea.  Sails can be seen hanging from mast boom, shredded by the ferocity of a previous storm and probably act as a warning to the men as they contemplate a return to the fishing grounds.  In the distance we can just make out a steamship passing westward.

Étretat, Laundresses on the Beach, Low Tide by Eugène Bourdin (1892)

Two years later in 1892, Boudin, a noted marine painter, completed a very interesting depicting the beach at Étretat entitled Etretat, Laundresses on the Beach, Low Tide which is held in a private collectionThe setting is the same but the tide has retreated into the distance.  We are left with the brown and green of the rocks which have briefly lost their watery covering.  The breathtaking rock structure of the cliffs is not the focus of our attention in this work.  Before us we have a large group of women who have come down to the beach to do their washing.  It is a veritable hive of activity.

The Manneporte near Étretat by Monet (1886)

For my final painting I am returning to one painted by Monet in 1886 of the Manneporte, a spectacular rock structure just to the west of Étretat and the Aval cliffs.   It is entitled Manneporte (Étretat) and can now be found in the Metroploitan Museum of Art in New York.   This was one of nearly twenty views of the beach at Étretat and the spectacular rock formations such as the Porte d’Aval, Porte d’Amont and the Manneporte which rise upwards on along the coastline that Monet painted. In this painting Monet has captured the way the sunlight strikes the Manneporte, this beautiful natural wonder.  The reason for Monet painting so many pictures of the same scene was that he wanted to capture the changing light at different times of the day and during differing weather conditions

The writer Guy de Maupassant wrote his eyewitness account of Monet at Étretat.

“…The artist walked along the beach, followed by children carrying five or six canvases representing the same subject at different times of the day and with different effects. He took them up and put them aside by turns according to changes in the sky and shadows…”

One can so well imagine that scene.