Two Venetian Ladies by Vittore Carpaccio

Two Venetian Ladies by Carpaccio (C.1510)

We know Vittore Carpaccio was born in Venice but his precise birth date is not known but it is thought to be around 1460.  His father Piero Scarpazza, who came from nearby Istria, was a leather merchant.  Vittore is believed to have trained in the studio of the Jacopo Bellini family, which at that time after his death, was run by his two sons, Gentile and Giovanni Bellini.  Carpaccio’s art was very much influenced by the works of Gentile and Giovanni Bellini as well as Antonello da Messina, the Sicilian Renaissance painter who introduced the Netherlandish Renaissance art of Flanders and Holland to Venice.  Later he would work as an assistant to the Paduan artist, who had a studio in Venice, Lazzaro Bastiani

Carpaccio’s greatest work of art was his large nine painting series entitled The Legend of Saint Ursula, which was originally meant for the Scuola di sant’Orsola but can now be found in the Gallerie dell’Academia in Venice.   This work completed in 1497 is absolutely breathtaking and is one that should be a “must see” if you visit Venice.  I featured one of the large paintings in My Daily Art Display, March 22nd 2011.  During the first decade of the sixteenth century, Carpaccio worked on a series of paintings for the Hall of the Great Council in the Doge’s Palace along with his former tutor Giovanni Bellini. Unfortunately, like many other major works, the series was entirely lost in the disastrous fire of 1577.  This was the third serious fire to devastate rooms in that building.

Between 1502 and 1507 Carpaccio worked on a cycle of canvases for the Scuola di S.Giorgio degli Schiavoni, with the story of St. George and the dragon and episodes from the life of St. Jerome.   Following this Carpaccio started in 1511 to work on a series of paintings based on the life of St. Stephen in the Scuola di S. Stefano.  It took him three years to complete the works.  Carpaccio received many commissions including ones from the Venetian government.

His popularity in the ten years prior to his death in 1525 waned mainly due to a young artist who had arrived in Venice in 1500 and like Carpaccio went to work for the Bellini brothers.  His name was Tiziano Vecellio, better known simply as Titian and it was this young man who was to amass numerous commissions from the Venetian government and rich Venetian patrons.  Carpaccio ended his career back in the provinces where his somewhat out-dated approach to art still attracted many buyers.   After his death he was almost completely forgotten as an artist but now art historians look upon him as a fifteenth century Venetian artist, only bettered by Giovanni Bellini.

My Daily Art Display’s featured work today is a tempera and oil on wood panel painting entitled Two Venetian Ladies and can be found at the Correr Museum in Venice.  It was completed by Carpaccio around 1510.  Before us are two unknown Venetian ladies.  Who they were has never been agreed on by art historians.  They sit there with what can only be described as vacant and bored expressions.  Early scholars including the English art critic, John Ruskin, believed that the two ladies were high class courtesans, a polite term for high class prostitutes, and they were waiting for their rich clients. John Ruskin, who thought this work at the time was one of the finest in the world, actually referred to the painting as Two Courtesans.   The story of the two ladies was further embellished by stating that the small page we see to the left of the painting has just arrived with a message from a lover for one of the ladies.  Another reason Ruskin and other believers in the “courtesan” argument gave for their theory was that in front of the page, on the floor, are a pair of wedge platform sandals which were often worn by prostitutes to make themselves look taller.  Those who did not accept the “courtesan” theory pointed out that most women of the time wore such sandals.

However, those who did not accept the “courtesan scenario” would have us believe that because of their exquisite clothing and expensive jewelry, they were members of the aristocratic Torella family.  Another reason for believing that they were not courtesans, mistresses of rich men, is Carpaccio’s inclusion in the painting of a white handkerchief held by one of the ladies, strings of pearls worn around their necks of both women, and the white doves perched on the balustrade, which were known as the birds of the Goddess of Love, Venus, and all of which symbolized chastity.

Hunting on the Lagoon by Carpaccio (c.1510)

In 1944 all the speculation about the Two Venetian Ladies painting changed when the upper half of the painting was discovered.   Professor Pamela Fortini Brown of Princeton University may have solved the question regarding the two ladies as she wrote that this painting is part of a larger one, in fact the lower right hand section of a very large work.     The upper right half of the original work is now housed in the Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and is entitled Hunting in the Lagoon.  This upper part depicts several boats in a lagoon.  Because of the way only half of the dog’s head is shown in the painting, suddenly cut off behind its ears, it is thought there is a complete missing left hand side of the work in which the rest of the dog is depicted.

So now we must rethink what we are seeing in the original painting.   One now must believe that the husbands of the two ladies seated are in this party of hunters and that the ladies are waiting their return.  We can see each boat has a group of three rowers and an archer who all stand in these shallow-bottomed craft and hunt the glossy black cormorants which they will sell or train to catch and retrieve fish from the lake.   Rather than bring the bird down with an arrow which would damage the plumage, the archers use clay pellets which will stun the birds. If we now consider the two paintings together it would explain the meaning of the paintings title, as the two women are awaiting their husbands’ return after a hunting and fishing expedition in the Venetian lagoon. Look closely at the two paintings.

Juxtaposition of the two paintings

So do you agree the two paintings are part of one original work?  Observe the majolica vase of flowers on the balustrade in the upper left background of the Two Venetian Ladies painting.  Note how the stalk of the flower is cut off at the top edge of the work.  Now look at the bottom left foreground of the Hunting on the Lagoon painting and you can see the stem and head of a lily which when looking at just that painting makes no sense, but if the two paintings are juxtaposed, one on top of the other, one can then see that the head of the lily in one painting is a continuation of the stem protruding from the vase in the other painting.  Add to this visual evidence the fact that when the two panels were examined, the wood grain of the two panels was found to be identical and this confirmed that they were once a single panel. It is thought that the two parts were probably sawed apart some time before the nineteenth century.

A Girl in a Kitchen (La chercheuse de puce) by Nicolas Lancret

A Girl in a Kitchen by Nicolas Lancret (c.1720-30)

Today I am featuring the French painter, draughtsman and art collector, Nicolas Lancret, who was born in Paris in 1690.  To begin with, Lancret trained as an engraver but soon afterwards became an apprentice to the history and religious painter Pierre Dulin.  Dulin was later to become a professor of art at  Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture in Paris.  Throughout his early artistic training Lancret was influenced by and greatly admired the works of the Jean-Antoine Watteau the late Baroque painter and one of the leading artists in the new Rococo style of artwork.  In 1708, at the age of eighteen, Lancret enrolled at the Académie royale de peinture and in 1711 he competed unsuccessfully for the Prix de Rome prize.  His stay at the Académie ended when he was expelled for quarrelling.    It was Lancret’s love of Watteau’s work that made him part from his tutor Dulin and serve under Claude Gillot, the French genre and decorative painter, who had Watteau as his assistant in 1703.  Once Lancret began to work in the studio of Gillot his artwork changed from the history painting he had learnt whilst with Dulin to the Rococo style with all its scenes of graceful figures at leisure in elegant garden settings similar to the works of Watteau whom Lancret met around 1712.

In 1719 he was the first painter to be accepted into the Académie Royale as a painter of fête galantes, a category that had been created by the Academy in 1717.  Fête galante, which means “courtship party”, is a French term used to describe a type of painting which first came very popular in the early eighteenth century France.  Watteau had submitted his reception piece, ‘The Embarkation for the Island of Cythera (See My Daily Art Display, February 22nd 2011)  to the Académie Royale in 1717 and the critics of the time described it as characterising une fête galante.  These fêtes galantes paintings were usually small in size and recorded the lives of stylishly dressed men and women engaged in amorous but well-mannered play in a garden or parkland surroundings.

Lancret’s art work became very popular and he received numerous commissions from wealthy patrons especially after the death of Watteau in 1721.  Frederick the Great owned more than twenty-six of his paintings but his main patron was the ruler of France, Louis XV,  who, from the 1725,  continued to buy Lancret’s work until the artist died almost twenty years later.  He was one of the most prolific and imaginative genre painters of the first half of the eighteenth century in France and he had the ability to insert lively genre images into an allegorical framework.  His portraiture work was different to many of the time as he liked to treat his portraits as genre scenes.  Lancret exhibited works regularly at the Paris Salon.

Lancret remained single for much of his life and did not marry until 1741 when he was fifty-one years of age.  He married the 18 year old grandchild of Edmé Boursault, the French dramatist and writer.  Although one may be dismayed by the age difference of the couple it is believed that Lancret decided to marry the young girl after finding her and her dying mother living in poverty in an attic room and on hearing that the daughter was soon to be compelled to enter a convent. The marriage was a short-lived as Lancret died of pneumonia in Paris in 1743, aged fifty three.

My Daily Art Display featured painting today is not a fête galante work but a genre piece which I saw recently at the Wallace Collection in London.  The painting is entitled A Girl in a Kitchen (La chercheuse de puce) which Lancret completed in the 1720’s.  It is very reminiscent of the Dutch genre paintings of the previous century.  We see before us a young woman seated in a kitchen.  The first question which comes to mind as we look at her is what is she doing?  The subtitle of the painting La chercheuse de puce, reveals all, as translated it means “the seeker out of fleas”.  Unbelievable as it may seem the girl is inspecting herself for fleas !!!   The reason for this activity was that during the eighteenth century, amongst the poorer classes, infestation in the household with fleas was quite common.  However the depiction of the girl touching her exposed breasts during her inspection was probably Lancret’s way of titillating the observer.  The girl sits before us with her corset unlaced, inspecting her body.  Kitchen scenes in poor and peasant households were popular with the Dutch art collectors but the addition of the bare-breasted girl with its erotic connotations adds a typical French flavour to the depiction.

In some ways this painting is a kind of plagiarism as it is thought that although Lancret painted the girl and the still-life on the table next to her, the interior was painted by a Dutch artist much earlier.    The erotic element of the painting is not the only “Frenchness” about the work of art.  She sits there in her French silk skirt, semi-laced corset and delicate pointed slippers and she has been added by Lancret to this Dutch seventeenth-century interior.  It is not known which Dutch artist had painted the interior.  There were many art collectors  in France who paid good money for these Dutch genre scenes.  However Lancret, the master of fêtes galantes paintings, wanted to add some colourful and picturesque feminine interest into those more dark and somber Dutch paintings and, as was the case in today’s work, he is known to have embellished works by the Dutch landscape and peasant scene painter, Herman Saftleven and the Dutch Golden Age and sill-life painter, Willem Kalf.

I will leave you to ponder over whether the original Dutch interior needed the little bit of colour and bare flesh that Nicolas Lancret has given us.

The Bean King by Jacob Jordaens

The Bean King by Jacob Jordaens (c.1665)
(Kunsthistoriches Museum Vienna)

My Daily Art Display today features the Flemish painter Jacob Jordaens.  He along with Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck made up a triumvirate of great seventeenth century Flemish Baroque painters.  These three artists were in the forefront of the Antwerp School of painters, which was the artistic stronghold of Flemish Baroque art.

Jacob Jordaens was born in Antwerp in 1593.  He came from a very large family being the eldest of eleven children of his father Jacob Jordaens Senior, who was a wealthy linen merchant, and his mother Barbara van Wolschaten.  Coming from a wealthy family background it is assumed that young Jacob was afforded the best education.   This assumption is borne out by his clear handwriting and his competence in conversing in French.   In 1607, at the age of fourteen, he was apprenticed to the Antwerp painter Adam van Noort and he lived with van Noort and his family.  Fifteen years earlier, Rubens had been an apprentice of van Noort.   Adam van Noort was to be Jordaens only artistic tutor.  In 1615, aged twenty-two, and having completed his eight-year apprenticeship, Jordaens became a member of the Antwerp Guild of St Luke as a waterschilder.  A waterschilder was a painter of watercolours on canvas or paper which were then used as substitute tapestries.  A year later in 1616 Jordaens started to paint in oils.  His talent as an oil painter soon meant that he abandoned his watercolour work in favour of oil painting which was far more profitable.

In May 1616 Jacob Jordaens married Catherina van Noort, the eldest daughter of his tutor, and the couple went on to have three children, Elizabeth, Jacob and Anna Catharina.  Once married the couple moved from his father in law’s house to the Everdijstraat and two years later he had made sufficient money from his art to buy a house in the Hoogstraat, the very street in which he was born twenty five years earlier.   At the age of twenty-eight he was made the dean of the Guild of St Luke a post which he held for one year.

His father died in 1618 and his mother passed away in 1633.  On his mother’s death Jacob inherited Het Paradijs, the house in which he was born.  His artistic career at this point in time could not have been better.  Commissions for his work were flooding in and he became a leading light in Antwerp’s artistic circles.  Many of the commissions came from the authorities of the Catholic Church who wanted large altarpieces and he also designed several cycles of real, woven tapestries.

Between 1634 and 1638 he collaborated with Rubens on a number of commissions.  Jordaens continued to receive more and more commissions from wealthy patrons, including one for a series of twenty-two paintings from King Charles I of England in 1639.    His ever improving financial situation allowed him to have a new stylish home built next door to the one he had purchased in Hoogstraat and the two were combined to form one large residence affording him greater living space and studio work rooms.  Jordaens’ collaborator Rubens died in May 1640 and Rubens’ heirs approached Jordaens with a request for him to complete a commission for two paintings that Philip IV of Spain had given Rubens.  Jordaens fame as an artist grew throughout Europe and young aspiring painters came from many countries to study his techniques and work for him in his Antwerp studio.

In his later years, although a practicing Catholic, he clashed a number of times with the Catholic Church and his disagreement with some of the church’s beliefs.   In the 1650’s he was fined two hundred and forty pounds for publishing what the Catholic Church regarded as blasphemous and heretical writings.  In 1671, aged seventy-eight, Jordaens turned his back on the Catholic Church and was admitted into the Protestant faith, the Reformed congregation in Antwerp known as the Mount of Olives under the Cross.  As the Catholic Church was the only permitted religion in Flanders, which was under Spanish rule, the religious meetings of the Reformed Calvinist church were held secretly at worshipers’ homes, including the home of Jacob Jordaens.

Jacob Jordaens died on October 18th 1678, aged 85.  His death was from what has been termed a “mystery disease” and tragically, on that very day, this same disease struck and killed his unmarried daughter, Elizabeth, who lived with him.  Because Jordaens was now a Protestant he could not be buried in a Catholic cemetery in his home town of Antwerp and both father and daughter were buried together in the Protestant cemetery in Putte, a small village just north of the Dutch-Flemish border.  It is also in this cemetery that his wife, who died in 1659, was buried.

Have you ever heard the expression bean feast or beano?  My Daily Art Display featured painting today is all about the bean feast.  The term bean feast, often shortened to beano means a celebratory party with plentiful food and drink.  Today’s featured painting is entitled The Bean King and was completed by Jacob Jordaens around 1655 and was the fourth and last version he painted on this subject.  It is housed at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.  The subject is the traditional Netherlandish feast held on January 6, the Day of the Three Kings or Magi, who came, according to the Gospels, to worship the Christ Child. Traditionally, a pie or cake containing a bean was baked for the festivities, and he who found the bean in his piece of pie or cake became Bean King. In this picture Jordaens showed the most joyful and noisy moment of the feast. Rich colouring and dynamic gestures emphasize the air of festivity.

King for the day !!!

In the painting we can see a joyous and boisterous gathering sitting around a table, well stocked with food, and presided over by an old man with a crown on his head who, having found the bean in his slice of cake has been crowned the Bean King.  He has in turn chosen the prettiest lady in the gathering to be his Queen.  We see her as she sits demurely to the left of the king and seems to be overwhelmed by the whole occasion.  The rest of the group were appointed as the king’s courtiers by the newly crowned King.  The celebration meal would be punctuated at regular by the king raising his glass, as would the gathered merrymakers, and he would shout “The King drinks!”  at which time everybody else takes a swig of their drink.

There is an exuberant vitality about this work.  This painting is in the tradition of Pieter Bruegel the Elder and his tavern scenes, fairs and other over-indulgent festivities which were awash with unbridled merriment.  It is fascinating to look closely at the people in the gathering.   Take time and study the individual expressions on their faces.   On the left we see a man holding his head as he vomits.  Close by is a young child who has gained the unwanted attention of a large dog.  Whilst most of the men seem to be occupied in raising their glasses to the king, the one to the left of the queen grasps the chin of a young woman in a prelude to forcing a kiss upon her.   The cheeky looks we get from the women coupled with their low-cut neckline of their dresses would have us believe that they may be there to sell their wares to the highest bidders.  Old and young, sober and drunk are squashed together.  We are looking at a chaotic scene in a murky tavern atmosphere lit up solely by a shaft of light which streams through the window to the left of the painting.  This shaft of light seems to separate the revellers into distinct groups.   Jordaens has managed to depict an atmosphere of unrestrained emotion and merriment, giving each character expressive gestures and facial features.

In his interpretation, the everyday scene takes on a truly monumental character and can be read as an affirmation of life. The energetic composition with its warm golden-brown colouring marks out Jordaens as a follower of Rubens and one of the leading masters of the Flemish Baroque.  The final irony to this painting is a plaque on the wall above the heads of the revellers, on which is inscribed a moralizing Latin proverb:

 “No-one resembles the fool more than the drunkard”

The painting below is the version of The Bean King by Jordaens which he painted around 1638 and which can be found in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

The Bean King by Jacob Jordaens (c.1638)
(The Hermitage, St Petersburg)

Another version of The Bean King by Jacob Jordaens (below) can be found at the Staatliche Museen, Kassel.

The Bean King by Jacob Jordaens (c.1635-55)
(Staatliche Museen, Kassel)

A View of the Westerkerk, Amsterdam by Jan van der Heyden

Today I am going to leave 19th century French art and Impressionism, which has featured in my recent blogs, and look at some 16th and 17th Dutch and Flemish art and artists.  Dutch art has always been very popular and admired for the realism it portrayed of everyday life and it has always proved to be highly collectible.  Before I look at some of the art of that time it may be interesting to look at a brief history of the region which has a bearing on the style of art.   I am probably laying myself open for criticism from Dutch historians for my understanding of this period of the history of the Netherlands and Holland but all I am trying to do is give you a brief insight into Flemish and Dutch art of the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Netherlands back in the fifteenth century was a conglomerate of the Seventeen Provinces often referred to as the Burgundian Netherlands, which included part of today’s Germany, Belgium, France and Luxembourg.  It was controlled from 1506 by Charles V who was the Holy Roman Emperor and also the King of Spain.   In 1556, Charles V abdicated and the power passed to his son, Philip II.  With Spanish rule came the imposition of the Catholic religion on the people of the Netherlands.  This policy of strict religious uniformity was imposed by the Inquisition with enormous amounts of brutality.  However the rise of the Protestantism in the forms of the Lutheran and Anabaptist movements and Calvinism were starting to gain ground with the populace.   The beginning of the break-up of Philip’s control of the Seventeen Provinces started with the Dutch people being unhappy at the high level of taxation levelled on them by Philip and his brutal repression of anti-Catholic movements.  To subdue the unrest, Philip sent his Spanish troops to the area under the leadership of the Duke of Alba and their presence and their cruelty further fanned the flames of rebellion.  Control of the vast area was becoming more of a problem for Philip, added to which there was now a threat coming from the French along the southern borders.  Philip II’s troops were moved from the north to the south leaving the north less well controlled and this led to the start of the Eighty Years’ War often termed as the Dutch War of Independence.   After the initial stages, Philip II deployed his armies and regained control over most of the rebelling provinces. However, under the leadership of the exiled William of Orange, the Northern provinces continued their resistance and managed to oust the Spanish armies, and established the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, Holland, in 1609. The Dutch Revolt had officially ended and the Dutch republic of Holland was officially recognised by France and England. The end of the Eighty years War however did not end for another forty years.

The Netherlands was now split along an almost North/South divide.  The north, Holland, became a haven for Protestantism with Calvinism becoming the main religion.  There were no Catholic churches in this northern territory.   It soon became one of the world’s most economically powerful and wealthy maritime nations in the world and Amsterdam became its capital.   As far as far as art was concerned there was also a north/south divide.   The Spanish Catholic south, Flanders, with its capital Antwerp, still had most of its art commissioned by the Catholic Church or the Spanish Catholic rulers and would more often than not therefore depict religious scenes, whereas now the Dutch north where religion was mainly a Reformed Calvinistic one would not allow church’s money to be spent frivolously on the commissioning of art.   Dutch art had new patrons.  Now works were commissioned by the territory’s wealthy merchants and ship owners.  Often the subjects they commissioned had little to do with religion and more to do with their wealth and their status in society.

Today I want to feature an artist from the southern region, Flanders.  Jan van der Heyden was born in 1637 in Gorinchem, which now lies in south west Holland.  In 1650, when he was thirteen years old, the family moved to Amsterdam and lived in a house on Dam Square.   Sadly however, his father, who was a follower of the ethno-religious Mennonite group, died the year of their move.  Jan’s early artistic training began in Gorinchem with drawing lessons at his elder brother’s studio.  He also learnt, from a local artist, the reverse technique of glass painting.  Although we are looking at van der Heyden as an artist his overwhelming love was not art, although he continued to paint all his life, it was his love of engineering and inventions.   He was an artist but he also was an inventor and an engineer.  He designed many things such as the street lighting system in Amsterdam.  Shortly after he and his family moved to Amsterdam he witnessed a fire at the old town hall and the futile efforts that were made to hold back the flames.   He probably never forgot that incident for later, along with the help of his brother Nicolaes van der Heyden, a hydraulic engineer; he invented a fire engine fitted with pump driven hoses which was to change the effectiveness of fire fighting.

In 1661 Jan van der Heyden married and he and his wife moved to a house along the Herengracht, a fashionable area of Amsterdam.  As a painter, Jan van der Heyden, will always be remembered for his beautiful townscapes and his architectural designs certainly dominate these works.   Although he painted many townscapes he also painted scenes featuring village streets and country houses.  He loved to paint old and new buildings and paid particular attention to their facades.  He also completed more than forty landscapes although his landscape art was never in the same league as his contemporaries, Meindert Hobbema and Jacob van Ruisdael.   He worked in partnership with Adriaen van der Velde,  the Dutch animal and landscape painter, and Johannes Lingelbach, a Dutch Golden Age painter, who would often add figures to van der Heyden’ architectural scenes and add landscape effects as a finishing touch to the paintings.   His main subjects were Amsterdam and the region surrounding the Dutch-German border where he and his family visited on many occasions.

In 1672, Adriaen van de Velde died and Jan van der Heyden artistic output dwindled as he concentrated on his main employment that of superintendent of the lighting in Amsterdam and he also devoted much of his time as the director of the Amsterdam Fireman’s Guild.  He died a wealthy man in 1712, aged 75.

View of the Westerkerk, Amsterdam by Jan van der Heyden (c.1660)
(National Gallery, London)

My featured painting today is entitled View of the Westerkerk, Amsterdam.    The building work on the protestant church commenced in 1620 and was designed by the foremost architect of the time, Hendrick de Keyser, the father of the Dutch painter Thomas de Keyser.  The construction was completed eighteen years later and at the time its tower was the highest in the city.  Jan van der Heyden painting is of the church, seen from the east, across from the Keizersgracht, the new Emperor canal.  Buried within the church are the painters Nicolaes Berchem, Rembrandt and his son Titus.

There are two versions of this paintings housed in galleries in London.  Both were painted between 1660 and 1670.   In both cases these are, like many of his townscapes and landscapes, only loosely based on actual views as topographical accuracy was not in the forefront of his mind when he started to work on his paintings.  It was almost as if he wanted to bring into his painting all that was beautiful about the town, whether it be its landscape or its architecture.  It was simply an idealised townscape which I believe does not lessen the beauty of the finished work.  The difference between these paintings and others he did was that in View of Westerwerk, Amsterdam he has paid great attention to the detail of the buildings whereas in other townscapes the main buildings may look half finished with the emphasis being placed on surrounding structures and open spaces.

Let us look at the version which is at the National Gallery in London.  Look at the clarity of this work.  Marvel at the detail van der Heyden has put into this painting.  In the foreground we can see four wooden casings which protect the young tree saplings.  One can almost read the writing on the torn posters which have been affixed to the casings.   This version is much larger than the one in the Wallace Collection, measuring 91cms x 114cms and almost three times the normal size of van der Heyden’s previous works.  It is believed that it was commissioned by the governors of the Westerkerk, for their meeting room, where it remained until 1864.   I love the details of the red-brick buildings but look at the contrast in colour of them with how the artist has depicted the blue sky with all its luminosity, the yellow cobblestone path in the foreground which runs parallel to the stretch of the canal and the glass-like stillness of the water.  It is probable that another artist painted the people and animals shown in the work.

View of the Westerkerk, Amsterdam by Jan van der Heyden (c.1665-1670)
(Wallace Collection, London)

I went to the Wallace Collection last week and saw this other version of the painting.  It is much smaller in size, measuring just 41cms x 59cms.  The artist’s signature can be seen in the lower right on the coping of the canal wall.  To the left of the church is the Westmarkt and if you look carefully between the trees you can just make out the Westerhal, which housed a meat market on the ground floor and above it was a guard house.   The house which we see to the right of the church is Keizersgracht no, 198 and was at that time the residence of Lucas van Uffelen a wealthy Flemish merchant and art collector.  What is very striking about this small painting is the sharp contrasts of colour, light and texture with shadows slanting across the front of the church.  Look at the contrast between the angular roofs and the luminous blue sky.  See how the artist has contrasted the trees heavy in leaf with the red brick buildings and in the case of the house on the right of the painting, its whitewashed frontage.  In this painting, unlike the one at the National Gallery, the artist(s?) have depicted reflections in the still water of the canal.  It should be remembered that this painting was completed after the one which now hangs in the National Gallery and is probably a re-working of the scene.  It could be that Jan van der Heyden was not completely satisfied with his first effort and wanted to make some artistic improvements.

If you are in London, why not take a chance to visit both galleries and compare the two paintings and decide which you like the best.

Une loge aux Italiens (A Box at the Theatre des Italiens) by Eva Gonzalès

Une loge aux Italiens (A Box at the Theatre des Italiens) by Eva Gonzalès (1874)

I had intended this offering to be my previous blog but when I researched into today’s featured artist and her painting I saw there was a connection between this work of hers and a similar one completed by Renoir in that same year.  My Daily Art Display featured artist today is Eva Gonzalès and the work I want to look at is entitled Une loge aux Italiens (A Box at the Theatre des Italiens) which she completed in 1874.

Eva Gonzalès was born in Paris in 1849.  Her father was the novelist and playwright, Emmanuel Gonzalès, a Spaniard but naturalised French.  Her mother was a Belgian musician.  From her childhood she was immersed in the literary world as her parents house was often used as a meeting place for critics and writers.

Eva began her artistic career in 1865, at the age of sixteen, when she began to study art.  Initially she studied under Charles Joshua Chaplin, the French society portraitist, who ran art classes specifically for women in his atelier and who, the following year, would teach the American female artist Mary Cassatt.

Portrait of Eva Gonzalès by Manet

Just before her twentieth birthday in 1869 she became a pupil of Édouard Manet and also used to model for him and many of the other Impressionist artists.  It was whilst at his studio that she met Berthe Morisot who was also working with Manet and posing for some of his works.  There would seem to have been an intense  rivalry between the two females.  According to Anne Higonnet’s book Berthe Morisot, Morisot wrote to her sister about Gonzalès and Manet’s attitude towards her saying:

“… Manet preaches at me and offers me the inevitable Mlle Gonzalès as an example; she has bearing, perseverance, she knows how to carry something through, whereas I am not capable of anything.   In the meantime, he begins her portrait again for the twenty-fifth time; she poses every day, and every evening her head is washed out with black soap.  Now that’s encouraging when you ask people to model…”

Repose by Édouard Manet

One can easily detect Berthe Morisot’s jealousy of Eva Gonzalès in that passage.  The painting referred to by Berthe Morisot was entitled Portrait of Eva Gonzalès which Manet was working on and which he exhibited in the 1870 Salon.  It is now housed at the National Gallery, London.  At the same time that he was painting the portrait of Eva Gonzalès he was also painting a work entitled Repose which was a portrait of Morisot and which he also exhibited at the 1870 Salon, as almost a companion piece.  This portrait of Morisot can be seen in the Rhode Island School of Design, Museum of Art, Providence, Rhode Island.  As you can see by the passage above, Morisot was annoyed by Manet’s painting of Gonzalès.   What rankled Morisot the most was probably how Manet had portrayed the two young ladies.    So what could have annoyed Morisot about Manet’s depiction of her?  Look at the two paintings.  Both young women, both wear similar clothing, both have been portrayed as young and pretty but the one big difference is that Morisot is depicted half laying back on the sofa in what one could describe as a languid and idle pose whereas Eva is portrayed as a budding artist actively at work.   What also should be kept in mind is that Morisot did not look upon herself as merely a “pupil” of Manet.  For Morisot,  her relationship with Manet was almost as equals rather than master and pupil.  In her relationship with Manet, she was also much more forceful and self-confident than Gonzalès, who was more of a willing disciple of Manet and who would put up with Manet’s abrupt manner,  whilst continually absorbing his teaching.   Of course there was another significant difference between the two young women – age!   Eva was more than eight years younger than Morisot.

Unlike Morisot, but like her mentor Manet, Eva Gonzalès decided not to exhibit any of her work at the controversial Impressionist Exhibitions but she has always been grouped with them because of her painting style.   However, she did regularly have her work shown at the annual Salon exhibitions in the 1870’s.  Her works received mixed comments.  The critics who were supporters of the Impressionist artist liked her work.

Portrait of Jeanne Gonzalès in Profile by Eva Gonzalès

In 1869 Eva married Henri Charles Guérard, an etcher, lithographer  and printmaker, who was a close friend and sometime-model for Édouard Manet and who modelled for some of his wife’s paintings along with his sister-in-law Jeanne (La femme en rose, Jeanne Gonzelès).  In 1883, a month after her 34th birthday, she gave birth to a son, John.  Sadly, her life was cut short when she died following complications of childbirth.  It was believed to have been Puerperal Fever.    Her death came just six days after the death of her one-time mentor Édourad Manet.   Two years after her death a retrospective of Gonzalès’ work was held at the Salons de La Vie Moderne in Paris where over eighty of her paintings were put on display.

Five years later, in 1888, Henri-Charles Guérard  married Eva’s younger sister, Jeanne Gonzalès, also an artist.   My featured painting by Eva Gonzalès is entitled Une loge aux Italiens (A Box at the Theatre des Italiens) and you can obviously see the similarity between her painting and my previous offering entitled La Loge by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.  I decided to feature his first and then let you compare her painting with his.

As I discussed in my last blog, the auditorium of a  theatre and especially the theatre box were fashionable places for an exchange of society chit-chat and gave the theatregoers the opportunity to be seen at their best.  The subject of the theatre and theatre goers was a subject frequently chosen by the Impressionists, such as Cassatt and Degas but probably the most celebrated of this genre was Renoir’s La Loge (The Theatre Box) and it is interesting to compare it with this work by Eva Gonzalès which she completed in the same year, 1874.  This painting by Gonzalès was submitted to the Salon jurists for inclusion in the 1874 Salon but was refused.   Eva Gonzalès then made some changes to the painting and five years later submitted it to the 1879 Salon and this time it was accepted.  The critics loved the work.

There are some similarities to this painting of hers and that of her former tutor Édouard Manet in the way she, like him, chose to paint a modern-day subject and the way her painting, like some of his, shows a total contrast between the light colours of the clothing of the subject and the pale creamy skin of the female and the dark background.   In stark contrast to the dark velvet edge of the box , we see her white-gloved hand with its gold bracelet casually resting along it.   There is also an uncanny similarity between the bouquet of flowers that rests on the edge of the theatre box to the left of the woman in Gonzalès’ painting and the bouquet of flowers which Manet depicted in his painting, Olympia (see My Daily Art Display October 12th 2011).  The two people who were sitters for Eva’s painting were her husband, Henri Guérard and her sister Jeanne who as I said before was to become Henri’s second wife.

As was the case in Renoir’s painting we are left to our own devices as to what is going on within the theatre box. We need to make up our own minds as to what the relationship is between the man and the woman and to their social standing in society.  There is little symbolism to help us interpret the scene.  We just have to use our own imagination and sometimes that adds to the joy os looking at a work of art.

La Loge by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

La Loge by Renoir (1874)

Today’s featured work of art was not my original intended offering.  That sounds somewhat strange but actually there is logic to my decision.  I was researching a painting when I came across today’s work and there seemed, at least in my mind, a good reason to offer you today’s painting before I showcased my original work.

The French word La Loge in the context of a theatre means the theatre box and it has been the subject of a number of paintings.  Today I want to look at La Loge by Pierre-Auguste Renoir which he completed in 1874 and now hangs at The Courtauld Gallery in London.  Today this work of art by the Impressionist painter is looked upon as one of the most significant works of the Impressionist movement.  At the time of this painting it was estimated that over 200,000 theatre tickets were sold every week in Paris.  However, going to a Parisian theatre in the nineteenth century was not just about taking in the latest plays by the likes of Victor Hugo or Alexandre Dumas or the less formal vaudeville shows which were also very popular at the time, it was about being seen by other theatregoers.  Men would accompany and flaunt their wives or lovers.  Proud fathers would show off their daughters and “out-of-towners” would take the opportunity of dressing up and sample the Parisian lifestyle.   It was an almost indoor form of promenading, which was the leisurely walking in public places dressed in one’s finery and carried out as a social activity.  Attending  the theatre was a chance to showcase one’s most expensive clothes and accoutrements as well as parading one’s latest beau.  What could be more satisfying than to flaunt one’s wealth or one’s new lover?  It was a question of seeing and being seen and going to the theatre dominated the cultural life of the city.  As well as seeing actors on the theatre stage the theatregoers were actually quietly performing on their own  social stage.

Being seen

The way Renoir has depicted the scene in the theatre box sums up this attitude.  We see a lady and gentleman seated in their box.  Take a look at their demeanour.  Are they depicted as locked in concentration at what is happening on the stage below?  No they are not.  The lady stares out at us with her gloved hand holding her opera glasses and resting it on the lavish velvet frontage of the box whilst her other hand clasps a black fan and a white lace handkerchief in her lap.  Protocol of the day demanded that ladies must wear gloves on formal occasions.

Her face is now not hidden from view by her opera glasses.  She is revealing her face to all who may wish to gaze at her.   So how would you describe her?  Is there a delicate elegance about her or does she look rather brash.  She is without doubt beautiful and has little trepidation about letting people admire her from afar.  She wears a lavish dress, one she has probably saved for this very outing.  This is her tenue de premiere or opening-night attire.  Her costume would often be referred to as a robe à la polonaise or polonaise which was popular in the late eighteenth century and saw a was revival a hundred years later in the 1870’s.  It consisted of a fitted overdress which extended into long panels over an underskirt.  The magic of Renoir’s painting is that from a far one can see the three dimensional form of the dress with all its folds and yet up close it was just a series of brushstrokes.  It is almost magical the way the artist has painted this work.

The elegant dress oozes a sense of wealth but that is not the only thing which advertises the financial situation of the couple.   The style of the dress also oozes the ladies sensuality.  Note the position of the rose which immediately draws our eyes to the décolletage which emphasizes her cleavage. The low-cut neckline was a popular feature of evening gowns of that era.   Another rose placed in her hair once again draws our eyes to her simple but elegant coiffure.

Look at her neck and the pearl necklace she is wearing.  Also we can just make out a pair of diamond earrings dangling from her ears and if we look at the hand which holds her opera glasses we note a gold bracelet around her slender wrist.  The wealth is there for us to see but more importantly it is there for the other theatregoers to note.

This is a summation of the “seen and being seen” philosophy.  She is wanting to be seen in all her finery whilst he is concentrating on seeing.  Renoir used one of his regular models, Nini Lopez, as the model for the lady.


The sitter for her male companion in the theatre box was Edmund Renoir, the brother of the artist.  He, like the lady, is dressed elegantly in his formal clothes.  Renoir has depicted him wearing a white shirt with a starched cravat, black trousers and gold cufflinks.  His attire, which is typical of that of the wealthy male theatregoer also exudes a sense of affluence but its plainness and subdued colour allows the more colourful female to be the centre of attention.

The aspect of this painting which we cannot be sure about and I will leave you to decide is whether we are seeing a husband and wife out for an evening at the theatre or are we looking a wealthy man accompanied by an elegantly dressed courtesan.  Can we deduce the truth from looking at the painting but beware of falling into the trap of being too judgemental !!!

Renoir exhibited this painting in the First Impressionist Exhibition which was held in the former studio of the photographer Nadar at 35 boulevard des Capucines in Paris on April 15, 1874.  This work, which gives us an insight into Parisian life in the late nineteenth century, is now hailed as a masterpiece of art and one of the most significant works of the Impressionist movement.  At the time it was exhibited it helped establish the reputation of Renoir.  The painting gives us an insight into life in the French capital during the late nineteenth century.

The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife by Daniel Maclise

The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife by Daniel Maclise (1854)

Today I am moving from France to Ireland for my featured artist.  I will be looking at the life of the Irish painter Daniel Maclise and one of his historical paintings which will allow me to take you back in time to the twelfth century and regale you about a happening at that time in Irish History, but first let me tell you a little about the artist.

Daniel Maclise was born in Cork in 1806 into a poor but thrifty Scottish Presbyterian family. His father, after leaving the British Army, became a shoemaker. Maclise was educated locally in Cork and attended the Cork Institute where he studied drawing.   Whilst still a teenager  he was introduced to the art connoisseur, George Newenham, and the antiquarian and merchant, Richard Sainthill and it was through Sainthill that Maclise became interested in medals, coins, and aspects of heraldry and he would often illustrate coin catalogues for Sainthill.

In 1825, when he was nineteen years of age, Walter Scott the novelist and playwright visited a local bookstore in Cork and Maclise made a sketch of him which was subsequently lithographed and the copies sold.  This was to launch Maclise’s artistic career and enhanced his reputation as a portraitist.

Maclise travelled to London in 1827 and started to put together a portfolio of his work which he submitted to the Royal Academy as part of his submission to become a probationary student.  He was accepted into the R.A. the following year and stayed on for a further three years during which time he was awarded a silver medal and a gold medal for his historical painting, Choice of Hercules.  Whilst in London Maclise mixed in the company of men who appreciated his artistic skills and in particular Dr William Maginn, the founder and editor of Fraser’s Magazine, a general and literary journal for which Maclise contributed portraiture and caricatures.  He became a friend of Charles Dickens and contributed a number of book illustrations for his novels.

In 1848 he was back in London after a period of time spent in Ireland.  He presented a cartoon, sketch, and fresco specimens to the Fine-Art Committee of the Palace of Westminster for their official competition to paint frescoes in the House of Lords.   They liked his work and he was chosen to paint The Spirit of Chivalry for the House of Lords in 1848. One year later he painted a companion fresco entitled The Spirit of Justice.    His big break came along in 1858 when he was commissioned to paint two giant commemorative frescoes for the Royal Gallery of Westminster Palace, The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher and The Death of Nelson. These two mammoth works were to be the greatest achievement of Maclise’s public career but sadly they were also to cause the deterioration of his health.   The two works took Maclise seven years to complete and he worked tirelessly on completing them on time.   The passionate and concentrated effort which he put into these two great historic works affected him badly.   He would shut himself away and shun his erstwhile friends.  The Royal Academy even offered him the Presidency in 1865 but he declined the invitation.  His health declined rapidly and in 1870, aged 64, he died of acute pneumonia.

My Daily Art Display’s featured painting today by Daniel Maclise is entitled The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife and was completed in 1854.  I suppose the first thing you need to know is who are these two characters, Strongbow and Aoife, and why are they the centre of attention in the painting.

Strongbow was the nickname given to Richard de Clare the 2nd Earl of Pembroke who was born in Tonbridge, Kent in 1130.  He was a Cambro-Norman knight, that is to say, he was a descendent of the Norman knights who had eventually settled in southern Wales after the 1066 Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror.  He had become the Earl of Pembroke on the death of his father in 1848 and had lands around Pembroke.

However fate was to take a hand in his destiny.   King Henry I of England died in 1135 and his only surviving offspring was his daughter Matilda, who at the time was pregnant in Normandy with her third child.  This gave her cousin Stephen of Blois, grandson of William the Conqueror, the chance he needed to usurp the English throne and he became King Stephen I of England and ruled until his death in 1154.  On his death, Matilda’s eldest son Henry was crowned King Henry II of England.   Unfortunately for Richard de Clare he made a bad decision in 1135 as instead of supporting Matilda’s claim to the English throne he supported Stephen’s claim and when Matilda’s son became King Henry II of England he took his revenge on Richard de Clare by stripping him of the title of the Earl of Pembroke.  Unbeknown to Richard his future lay entwined in what was happening across the Irish Sea as in 1167, Dermot MacMurrough, the king of Leinster, was defeated by Turlough O’ Connor, the king of Connacht.   Dermont hastily rushed to England and asked King Henry II for help .  Henry could not send troops but asked Dermot to approach Richard de Clare to help him in his war against Roderic.   Richard agreed to help on condition that he was allowed to marry Dermont’s daughter, Aoife and succeed Dermont as King of Leinster on his death.  With Richard de Clare’s help, Dermot was able to defeat the king of Connacht’s forces, who poorly armed with only slings and stones, where no match for  Richard de Clare’s army which relied heavily on Welsh archers, which is why Richard, who was an expert bowman,  received the nickname ‘Strongbow’.   Richard married Aoife in 1170 and when Dermont died the following year he became the new king of Leinster.   However back in England King Henry II was concerned with their power Richard now exerted in Ireland and so in late 1171 Henry and his troops crossed the Irish Sea and Strongbow was forced to surrender Leinster to Henry. The land was later returned to Richard de Clare in return for the service of 100 of his knights.

My Daily Art Display featured painting today is the large romantic historical oil painting (309cms x 505cms) entitled The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife which was completed by Daniel Maclise in 1854 and is housed in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.   It depicts the ruins of the captured city of Waterford, which is the setting for the arranged marriage of the daughter of Diarmuid Mac Murrough the King of Leinster to Richard de Clare. In the foreground of the painting we see bodies of the vanquished enemy heaped on top of each other.  To the left we see the broken-stringed harp, the instrument which symbolises Ireland.   In the central midground we see Richard and Aiofe.  The victorious Richard de Clare takes his bride’s hand whilst we see his foot on top of a Celtic cross, symbolising the crushing of the Irish enemy.  This would be the start of a long period of subjugation by the English for the people of Ireland.  Facing Richard is Aoife, his bride-to-be, behind who stand a line of her bridesmaids.  Facing us in the central midground is the local religious dignitary who, with his hand raised heavenwards, blesses the couple.  The father of the bride, Diarmuid Mac Murrough, King of Leinster, stands to the right of the priest.  In the background above the ruins of the city we see wounded men and bodies being carried away by their colleagues whilst women weep and mourn the loss of their men folk.

A truly remarkable painting with so much going on.   It is one of those paintings which every time you revisit it, you see something that you had not noticed before.