The Naples Series by Thomas Jones

Buildings in Naples by Thomas Jones (1782)
Buildings in Naples by Thomas Jones (1782)

To start My Daily Art Display blog today I want to first look at the fascinating happening which occurred during the late seventeenth century to early eighteenth century and which was known as the Grand Tour.   It was a journey which would see travellers visit places such as Paris, Venice, Florence and culminate with the arrival at the cultural Mecca which was Rome, where they would visit the sites of ancient ruins such as the Forum and the Coliseum.  It was also to be a journey of artistic enlightenment.  The seasoned 18th century British traveller, Charles Thompson, put it succinctly when he extolled the virtue of the Grand Tour and the expectation of what would be savoured by the Grand Tourists:

 “…being impatiently desirous of viewing a country so famous in history, which once gave laws to the world; which is at present the greatest school of music and painting, contains the noblest productions of statuary and architecture, and abounds with cabinets of rarities, and collections of all kinds of antiquities…”

For some, such as artists and art scholars, it was a chance to revel in the art history of past times.  For others who were “art virgins” they would be accompanied by teachers who would give them an understanding of art and architecture.  For most it was a chance to return home with souvenirs and the ability to regale tales about their journey at fashionable dinner parties.   It was a sort of “gap year finishing school” for young gentlemen.  They would receive an all-round full cultural education.   There would be opportunities for them to hone their dancing and fencing skills and polish up on their foreign languages.  For the travellers on the Grand Tour, and it was usually young men who made the trip as the journey would be physically demanding, there were a few prerequisites.  They had to be wealthy as the Tour would last many months, even years, and the cost of their travel plus that of any accompanying teachers had to be paid for as well as the cost of the many souvenirs they would accumulate during the journey which would enhance the family’s collection back home.  By souvenirs, I am not talking about a plastic effigy of a famous building, but a landscape painting from a great artist of the time or a piece of antiquity that the dealer had probably pillaged from one of the many historical sites.  This then meant that most of the travellers came from the privileged classes.  It would have been expected that the traveller would also have a thorough grounding in Greek and Latin literature although they would often be accompanied by their tutors and have been taught the basics en route.

Like you and I, when we go on holiday we like to bring back mementos of our travels but more importantly we want to bring back photos of the places we visited and people we were with or whom we met.  Of course in the Grand Tour days of the 17th and 18th century there were no cameras to record the Tourists’ travels and so artists benefited from the patronage of Grand Tourists eager to procure mementos of their travels.   Some Grand Tourists even invited artists from home to accompany them throughout their travels, and by so doing, they could orchestrate exactly what scenes they wanted painting, whether it be ancient ruins or grand palaces, or people, who were part of their party, or just interesting people they met have met en route.

It is with this long preamble that I move closer to my featured artist.  I attended a talk at a small local museum last week which was all about a very rich and privileged young man, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, 4th Baronet, who set forth at the age of 19, on his Grand Tour in 1768.  He returned home the following year and the total cost of his tour, including all the items he had purchased, came to £8643 and to put this into context a very good annual wage at the time was considered to be £100.  The year Sir Watkins Williams Wynn had his twenty-first birthday he asked the fashionable landscape painter, Richard Wilson, to become artist-in-residence at the Wynstay estate and Wynn had a large pavilion erected which overlooked the River Dee so as to allow Richard Wilson to paint the beautiful scenes featuring the Welsh hills which could be seen in the distance.

I am sorry to drag you through this sort of “seven degrees of separation” formula but trust me, I am getting closer to my featured artist.  Just hang in there a little longer !  My featured artist today is not Richard Wilson but one of his pupils, Thomas Jones who spent some time in Italy and who completed a series of unusual (for that time) paintings of the city.  It was a copy of one of these works which I saw as I walked around the Sir Watkins Williams Wynn’s Grand Tour exhibition which I found fascinating and as it was such an unusual depiction for its time, I had to find out more about the painter, hence today’s blog.

Thomas Jones was born at Trefonnen, a small township in the Radnorshire parish of Cefnllys in 1742.  He was the second of sixteen children, seven of whom died in childhood, to Thomas and Hannah Jones.  His father was a land owner in Trefonnen and his wife inherited a house and an estate at Pencerrig, near Builith Wells, where the family went to live.  Thomas Jones went to school at Christ College, Brecon when he was eleven years old and it was here he developed his love for pictures and drawing.  In 1758, at the age of sixteen he moved to one of Dr. Daniel William’s schools at Llanfyllin in Montgomeryshire, where he was taught by the well-known master Jenkin Jenkins.  The following year Thomas Jones was accepted as a student at Jesus College, Oxford.  The fees for attending Oxford University were funded by Jones’ maternal uncle, John Hope,  who believed that a university education would lead to his nephew entering the church.  His stay at the university was cut short with the death of his uncle at the end of 1761 and Thomas Jones decided that his future did not lie in religion nor a life at sea which was often a chosen profession for the younger sons of the landed gentry.  He believed his future was in art.

Buildings in Naples with the North-East Side by Thomas Jones (1782)
Buildings in Naples with the North-East Side by Thomas Jones (1782)

In November 1761, Thomas Jones left Wales and moved to London where he enrolled at the William Shipley’s Drawing School.  This was an establishment named after the great artist and social reformer, William Shipley, who some years earlier had founded a London arts society that would become The Royal Society of Arts, or to give it its full name, the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce, (RSA).  It was at this school that Jones was taught by the draughtsman and drawing tutor Henry Pars.    During this period in London, Jones also attended the St Martin’s Lane Academy where he studied life drawing.  Reluctantly he realised that his ability at painting figures was not good enough and he decided to concentrate on landscape painting.  All he needed now was a good landscape painter to tutor him.  As far as Thomas Jones was concerned, the best landscape painter of the time was his fellow countryman, the Welsh landscape painter, Richard Wilson.   Wilson, who is now considered the father of British landscape painting,  had himself started off studying to become a portraitist in London but had switched to the landscape genre of painting on the advice of the Italian painter, Francesco Zuccarelli, whom he met whilst living and working in Italy between 1750 and 1757.

In March 1763 Thomas Jones managed to persuade Richard Wilson to take him on as a student.  Wilson agreed to tutor him for two years for a fee of fifty guineas.  Once his tuition period with Wilson was over, he dedicated the next ten years to landscape painting in Wales and around London.  In 1765 Jones began to submit some of his works to the Society of Artists exhibitions.  This society would eventually become the Royal Academy.   In the late 1760’s a change in style in his landscape work could be detected.  At this time he began to adopt what we now term the “grand manner” by which we mean his landscape works incorporated mythological scenes or scenes from history or literature à la Claude Lorrain.   As Jones was not an accomplished figure painter he often relied on the help and collaboration from artists such as John Hamilton Mortimer, who was a British figure and landscape painter and known for his romantic paintings set in Italy.  Thomas Jones had by 1776 exhausted all his commissions and the sales of his work were falling so he decided that September to embark on his keenly anticipated journey to Italy.  He first visited and settled in Rome and stayed there for two years carrying out a number of lucrative commissions, often for wealthy English men who were on their Grand Tour.  His reputation as a landscape artist grew and he was part of the city’s hectic cosmopolitan art-scene. Following a dispute over commission with an art dealer he decided to leave the Eternal city in September 1778 and travel south to the capital of the Kingdom of the two Sicilies, Naples.  His first stay in the city lasted five months before he returned to Rome.  It was during his sojourn in Rome that he met a Danish widow called Maria Moncke who became his lover, although for the sake of respectability he always referred to her as his “maid servant”.  The couple moved back to Naples in April 1779, where Jones believed there was more scope for painting commissions.   Later, Maria gave birth to two daughters in Naples, Anna Maria in 1780 and Elizabetha in 1781.

In Naples, Jones found lodgings in a house close to the harbour which had the advantage of having a roof terrace opposite the Dogana Del Sale. It is from this very vantage-point, and from the window of his studio that he made a set of small beautifully, highly finished oil studies of the neighbouring buildings and it is these cityscape views I am featuring today. At first glance they may seem mundane and just uninteresting views from out of his window, but I love them.  They are so different to his other works and those of many artists of that time, so much so, I felt I had to make them known to you.   These works were done by Jones for his own pleasure and were never intended for exhibition or sale. However, today they are looked upon as some of the most ground-breaking pictures of their time.   In some ways they have a modern look about them.  They could have been contemporary cityscapes but remember, he painted these works almost two hundred and fifty years ago.  It was this Naples series, which he completed just before his return to Britain in 1783, on which Thomas Jones’ modern reputation is based.

The Cappella Nuova outside the Porta di Chiaia, Naples, by Thomas Jones (1782)
The Cappella Nuova outside the Porta di Chiaia, Naples, by Thomas Jones (1782)

The Cappella Nova outside the Porte did Chiai, Naples was a small oil on hand-made laid paper, measuring just 20cms x 23cms which Thomas Jones painted in May 1782.  In his diary/memoirs of May 12th 1782 he wrote about the new lodging he had temporarily moved into and from where he painted this work:

“…The Room which I was in possession of at the Convent, was large and commodious for such a place, and as it was on the ground floor and vaulted above, very cool and pleasant at this Season of the Year – The only window it had, looked into a Small Garden, and over a part of the Suburbs, particularly the Capella nuova, another Convent, the Porta di Chaja, Palace of Villa Franca, and part of the Hill of Pusilippo, with the Castle of S. Elmo & convent of S. Martini &c all of which Objects, I did not omit making finished of in Oil upon primed paper…”

This compelling view was painted from the roof terrace of the artist’s lodgings opposite the Dogana del Sale in Naples. It shows a rooftop view of the city, but the painting is dominated by the humble Neapolitan house opposite – the real subject of this work.

Jones has captured in minute detail the texture of the crumbling wall, the half-shuttered windows and doorway, all bathed in sunlight. This is one of a number of oil sketches that surfaced on the art market in 1954 and completely changed Jones’s reputation. The sketches are characterized by their humble subjects and compositional cropping, and it is this which give them a startlingly modern appearance. These works show the artist painting his daily surroundings. They were not for exhibition or sale, but simply personal works, made for his own enjoyment.  Today they are prized as some of the most innovative pictures of their time.

A Wall in Naples by Thomas Jones (1782)
A Wall in Naples by Thomas Jones (1782)

Another small oil sketch Thomas Jones completed in 1782 was entitled A Wall in Naples, which measured just 11.2cm x 15.8cm.  It is about the size of a postcard and is dwarfed by larger works in the room in which it hangs in the National Gallery of London.   It is a strange work which just depicts a decaying expanse of late 18th century Neapolitan house wall, broken up by a closed wooden balcony door, a glazed and dust covered window which allows us no view of the interior.  There is a short washing line hanging over the balcony, on which there seems to hang various coloured items of undergarments.  The wall we see before us almost blocks out the entire view, except for a small rectangle of blue sky in the top right of the painting.  One can only wonder what made Thomas Jones depict such an uninspiring view and one can understand why this work like the others were simply for his own edification and would never, in the artist’s mind, be destined for an exhibition.   We can only wonder why Jones chose this wall for his painting.  Was it because of the various textures of the pitted and pock-marked surface or maybe its decrepit state having been battered by weather appealed to him.    What are the square holes dotted around the surface of the wall?   Are they places where once there had been beams which had supported floors?

During the same year Thomas Jones painted his Naples series he received news that his father had died and so feeling slightly homesick, he decided the following year to end his six year stay in Italy and return by ship to England with his lover Maria and their two daughters.  On returning to London in November 1783, he was horrified to discover that much of his possessions and paintings he had left behind in London had been destroyed or ruined by damp.  Jones once again set about painting but now as he was receiving an annual income from his father’s estate, he did not need the money from the sale of his works and his artistic output slowly decreased.

Since returning to England, he made a number of journeys back to Wales and the Pencerrig estate where he was brought up and which was now owned by his elder brother, Major John Jones.  In 1787 his brother died and having no descendents the estate passed to Thomas Jones.  Thomas eventually married Maria in September 1789 in London.  By all accounts the decision to marry his lover and “maid servant” was not solely his decision for it is believed that his mother “laid down the law”.  Thomas Jones painted less and less in the latter years of his life as so much time was taken up looking after his beloved Pencerrig estate.  In 1791 he was elected High Sheriff of Radnorshire.  Thomas Jones died in 1803 and was buried at the family chapel at Caebach, Llandrindod Wells

His autobiography, Memoirs of Thomas Jones of Penkerrig, went unpublished until 1951 but it is now recognised as an valuable source of information on the 18th-century art world.

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Zinaida Serebriakova – Part 2.

My blog today continues with a look at the life of the Russian painter, Zinaida Serebriakova.  At the end of my last entry I told you that she and her family’s life had been turned upside down by the onset of the October Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.  Lenin, who was the leader of the Bolsheviks, wanted to keep the peasant classes on his side so when he made his attempt to overthrow the provisional Russian government, he ensured the neutrality of the peasants by offering them land, owned by the aristocracy.  The Revolution saw the riches, property and lands owned by the aristocratic classes being taken from them by the Bolsheviks and redistributed to the peasants.   That October, Serebriakova had been living at her family estate of Neskuchnoye when the Bolshevik forces descended upon her and her family.  When it was all over the reserves of Neskuchnoye had been plundered and the family was left without food.   Zinaida was left with nothing – no income, no husband, for he had been dragged off by the Bolsheviks and jailed and would die of typhus, which he contracted during incarceration, two years later.  Notwithstanding the fact that she was penniless and had no means to earn money, she was responsible for the upbringing of her four children as well as having to care for her widowed mother.    Zinaida was forced to give up oil painting in favour of the less expensive techniques of charcoal and pencil sketching

Zinaida eventually managed to get some work at the Kharkov Archaeological Museum, where she made pencil drawings of the exhibits.   In December 1920 she and her family went to live with her grandfather who had an apartment in Petrograd.    Petrograd had formerly been known as St Petersburg but when World War I broke out in August 1914 it was decided to change the name of the Russian capital from the Germanic  St. Petersburg to the more Russian equivalent, Petrograd.  It was not until 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, that the city reverted back to the name of St Petersburg.   Because of a Bolshevik dictate which stated that all inhabitants of private apartments had to share their living space with other people, Zinaida found herself sharing her lodgings with artists from the Moscow Art Theatre.

In Ballet Dressing Room (Big Ballerinas) by Zinaida Serebriakova (1922)
In Ballet Dressing Room (Big Ballerinas) by Zinaida Serebriakova (1922)

Serebriakova’s work during this period focused on theatre life. It was around this time that her daughter Tatyana became interested in ballet and her mother managed to get her enrolled at the prestigious ballet school of the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, the home of the Russian Ballet, where Zinaida’s uncle, Alexander Benois was the scenic director.   Much of Zinaida’s time was absorbed by the theatre and she produced a series of exquisite pastels on the balletic life at the theatre.  Many of her works showed young ballerinas in their dressing room preparing to go on stage.

In 1924 Zinaida Serebriakova got the offer of work in Paris and with some financial help from her uncle Alexander Benois, she left St Petersburg and headed to the French capital, leaving behind her four children with her ailing mother.  A few years later Zinaida managed to bring her son Alexander and her daughter Katya to live with her in Paris but her son Yevgenyi and her daughter Tatiana had to remain in Russia with their grandmother, and it was not until 1960 that she was able to have Tatiana visit her in Paris.

Zinaida was now one of many Russian exiles living in Paris who could not return to her homeland.   She earned a living by painting society portraits. Her children also often featured in her work, and her daughter often posed in the nude.   She also painted other female models, reclining in her studio with patterned wraps and decorative drapes. These works were of a very informal nature and often highly erotic.  According to her daughter Ekaterina these nude studies were probably the most intimate images of the female body in Russian art.   She later wrote:

“…The female nude was mother’s favourite subject. While she was in Russia young peasant women would pose for her. In Paris her friends would come over to her studio, drink a cup of tea, then they would stay and pose for her. They were not the professional models that you might find in Montparnasse and maybe this is the reason why they are so natural and graceful…”

Sleeping Nude (Katya).by Zinaida Serebriakova (1934)
Sleeping Nude (Katya).by Zinaida Serebriakova (1934)

Zinaida completed one of her best known nude studies of her daughter, Ekaterina, in 1934, entitled Sleeping Nude (Katya).  It was a veritable masterpiece which is similar in imagery to the sleeping Venuses of the Venetian masters, the nymphs of Boucher and the bathers of Cabanel and Renoir.  In this work, Zinaida does not offer us some anonymous heroine from Greek mythological tales but presents us with an innocent young girl, who lies before us, totally relaxed, her cheeks flushed from sleep.  It is so natural and it is even more endearing knowing that the model for this painting was her twenty-two year old daughter, Katya who had modelled for her mother for the previous fifteen years.

Sleeping Girl in the Blue (Katyusha on a Blanket)by Zinaida Serebriakova (1923)
Sleeping Girl in the Blue (Katyusha on a Blanket)
by Zinaida Serebriakova (1923)

In 1923, before Zinaida left for Paris she had painted a nude study of the then ten-year old Katya, entitled Sleeping Girl in the Blue (Katyusha on a Blanket), in which we see her young daughter, in all her innocence, sprawled across a blue blanket.

Zinaida’s uncle Alexander Benois, an artist, art critic and co-founder of the art magazine and movement Mir iskusstva (World of Art), commented on the way his niece had portrayed her naked young women.  He wrote:

“…[Her nude studies were] not by a generalised sensuality but by something specific, which we recognise from our literature, from our music, from our personal experiences. This is truly the flesh of our flesh. Here is that grace, that comfortable languor, that cosy, domesticated side to Eros – all of which are actually more alluring, more subtle and sometimes more perfidious, more dangerous than what Gauguin found on Tahiti and in search of which blasé Europeans left their pampered life at home and set off in the footsteps of Pierre Loti, across the whole of the white, yellow and black world…”

Zinaida Serebriakova’s nudes were always dignified, self-assured and classically beautiful.  She created the most sensual and intimate images of the female body in the Russian art and remained true to the Neo-Romantic tradition and her classical training.  At an exhibition of Russian art at the Midi Fair in Brussels in 1928, people noted Serebriakova’s ‘nude’ oeuvre and it was here that she met the industrialist, the Belgian nobleman, Baron de Brouwer.   So impressed was he with her work that he became her patron and commissioned her to paint portraits of his family.

Reclining woman (Etude de femme hadija) Marakech by Zinaida Serebriakova (1932)
Reclining woman (Etude de femme hadija) Marakech by Zinaida Serebriakova (1932)

De Brouwer also financed her painting trip to Morocco where he owned a plantation.  Zinaida set off for North Africa on her own and fell in love with the colour and light Morocco afforded her.  The baron had wanted her to bring back paintings of the area and its people.  He had also said that he had wanted to some nude studies of the Arab women but Zinaiad found this very difficult to achieve.  She wrote:

“…He (Brouwer) wants nude paintings of the lovely native women, but it’s a fantasy hardly worth dreaming about – even in their veils which cover everything but their eyes nobody will pose for me. There is no question of a nude…”

However she did return with many paintings of the area and the Arab and Berber women, some of whom she had even managed, with much haggling and offers of financial rewards, to get some to pose in the nude but it was difficult.  She wrote of this time:

“…As soon as you sit to draw the women walk away – Arabs don’t wish to be drawn, so they immediately close up their shops or charge up to 10 or 20 francs for tea an hour!…”

De Brouwer was delighted with the works Zinaida brought back from North Africa, so much so, that he commissioned her to paint a series of murals for his villa Manoir du Relais in Pommeroeul near Mons, in Belgium.  Zinaida customized the theme of this mural series to that which appealed to her patron.  The baron had a love of classical art, which of course was ideal for somebody like Zinaida who had a talent for painting portraits of the naked human form.  She set about the commission and decided to paint four separate vertical panels each displaying a standing nude,  each with their allegorical attributes which in some way would mirror the leisure activities and talents of de Brouwer.

Jurisprudence by Zinaida Serebriakova (1937-8)
Jurisprudence by Zinaida Serebriakova (1937-8)

One of the figures would be Jurisprudence, which would represent the baron’s career as a lawyer.  A second would be Flora, which would symbolize his passion for gardening, his plantations and his love of flowers.   Light, would be another figure which referred to his role as a director of power and gas plants and finally Art which would embody his interest and patronage of the arts.  For Zinaida there could only be one possible candidate for the role of model for the four nudes, which would be depicted on the four vertical panels.  It was to be her daughter Katya.  Her stance in each panel was to be different turning slightly for each depiction.  A further two large horizontal panels (145cms x 710cms) were also created and these depicted four maps in cartouches.  Zinaida left the painting of these to her son, Alexander, and these were of Flanders, Morocco, India and Patagonia. Next to the maps Zinaida had added half-seated female nudes which were initially intended to represent the four seasons, but she later changed their titles to the countries represented on the maps they adorned. Years later, Zinaida wrote about this commission:

“…The assignment was to paint decorative geographical maps in the 18th-century style, single-tined (my son did the maps); and I painted in the corners of the maps, against that background, the images of the ‘four seasons’ (summer with a sheaf, spring with flowers, etc.), and four figures standing in ‘niches’ on another wall. I painted all this in Paris and, unfortunately, did not see how all this looked on the walls, because the house was not quite ready yet, and the residents were yet to move in … during the war the area was a battlefront, and de Brouwer’s summer house was destroyed…”

Even more pleasing to Zinaida’s was the comments by her artist brother Yevgeni Lanceray, who on seeing photographs of the paintings wrote to her:

“…I love them..You have exactly that which others around you do not – an understanding of composition. The panels are excellent in the simplicity of their execution, completeness of shape, and so monumental and decorative. You completely understand the form of objects. Particularly difficult, I think, is the panel Jurisprudence… It is especially elegant and richly executed. In everything is simplicity and parsimony, so to speak, of decoration and attributes. I envy you your ease, your flexibility, and how broad and accomplished is your representation of the body…”

Nadezhda Tregub of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow wrote about the four nude figures:

“…These murals can be considered entirely cosmopolitan works: they were accomplished on a commission from Belgium, by an artist from Russia who worked in France, and who drew on the major achievements of all European art…”

Sadly the baron and his wife did not have much time to enjoy the murals which were completed in 1937/8 as both died during the Second World War, and it was also thought that their house had also been destroyed. In fact this assumption was incorrect as the house remained standing and even changed ownership a number of times. The murals also remained untouched for over 70 years, but curiously the owners did not recognise the work as being done by Zinaida.  They thought they had been executed by an unknown Flemmish artist.

In 1966 a large exhibition of Zinaida Serebryakova’s works was mounted in Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev and the critics loved what they saw.  In September of the following year Zinaida died in Paris, at the age of eighty-two. She was buried in the Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois Russian Orthodox cemetery in Paris.  The cemetery is a burial place for more than 10,000 Russian emigrants, including the celebrated ballet dancer, Rudolf Nureyev.

Zinaida Serebriakova. Part 1

House of Cards (1919)by Zinaida Seberiakova
House of Cards (1919)
by Zinaida Seberiakova

One of the most pleasing aspects of this blog for me is discovering artists I had never heard of before.  It is an even greater pleasure when the “new-to-me” artist is a female for I am often made aware in my look at the lives of painters, the difficulty it has been for a female artist to attain credit for her ability.  In the past I have looked at works by Artemisia Gentileschi, Frida Kahlo, Gabriele Münter and Vigée Le Brun, to mention just a few, and I have been mesmerised by their works and the passion that went into them.   In my next couple of blogs, I want to introduce you to Zinaida Serebriakova, one of the greatest Russian female artists, whose life story is enthralling and whose works are entrancing.

Zinaida Serebriakova, née Lanceray, was born in 1884, on the family estate of Neskuchnoye, near Kharkov, which now lies in Ukraine. She is descended from two great wealthy and powerful Russian dynasties.  On her father’s side there was the Russian Lanceray dynasty and on her mother’s side was the great Franco-Russian Benois family dynasty.  Zinaida’s father was the sculptor, graphic artist, and painter, Yevgeny Lanceray, who died when she was just two years of age and her mother was Ekaterina Benois.  Zinaida had two brothers, Nikolai and Yevgeny who also excelled artistically and many of her ancestors excelled artistically so it comes as no surprise when she showed both and interest and talent for drawing and painting.

Country Girl by Zinaida Serebriakova (1906)
Country Girl by Zinaida Serebriakova (1906)

Zinaida spent her childhood and youth split between living in St. Petersburg, where her grandfather the architect Nicholas Benois lived, and at the family estate of Neskuchnoye.    Her initial artistic tuition came in 1901 after she had completed her grammar school education the previous year, when at the age of seventeen, she enrolled at the Princess Tenisheva Art School in St Petersburg, where the lead tutor was the distinguished Russian painter and sculptor, Ilya Repin.  The following year she travelled to Italy and in 1903 she began a two year apprenticeship at the St Petersburg studio of the Russian portraitist Osip Braz.  Living in St. Petersburg she was able to visit the Hermitage Museum and gaze in wonderment at the classical paintings of the Masters.   Of all those artists which she admired, the one who stood out the most for her and was to influence her future work was her countryman, Alexey Gavrilovich Venetsianov.  He was famous for his paintings which focused on the simple life of ordinary people and the struggle for survival of the peasant classes.  He often painted portraits of the peasants and Zinaida was captivated by the innocence and virtuousness of his imagery and many of her future works would incorporate scenes from peasant life.  An example of this is the early work which she completed in 1906 entitled Country Girl.

Boris Serebriakov by Zinaida Serebriakova (c.1905)
Boris Serebriakov by Zinaida Serebriakova (c.1905)

Apart from seeing these works by Venetsianov, she was fortunate to live at Neskuchnoye and savour the beauty of the surrounding countryside and the tranquillity of country life.  She also spent much of her time completing portraits of her family members.  In 1905, Zinaida Lanceray married Boris Serebriakov, who was her first cousin.  They had met at Neskuchnoe whilst he was studying engineering and he would later become a railroad engineer.  Zanaida and her husband went off to Paris where she continued her art studies at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris.  This art establishment which was founded three years earlier by the Swiss painter Martha Stettler operated as a ‘free’ academy, where art students, both professional and amateur alike could enter to draw and paint at will.

At the Dressing Table (Self Portrait) by Zinaida Serebriakova (1909)
At the Dressing Table (Self Portrait) by Zinaida Serebriakova (1909)

Her popularity as an artist took off shortly after she exhibited her Self Portrait at the exhibition held by the Union of Russian Artists in 1910.  It was a work she had completed the previous year and showed her image, as seen in a mirror, seated at her dressing table, combing her hair.  The painting can be seen at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.  Her uncle Alexander Benois wrote about this work:

“…A young woman lives in a remote country area … and has no other pleasure, no other aesthetic enjoyment on winter days that seclude her from the whole world, than to see her gay young face in the mirror and to watch the play of her bare arms and hands with a comb … Her face and everything else in the picture is young and fresh. There is not a trace of modernistic refinement. But the simple, real-life atmosphere, illuminated by youth, is joyous and lovely…”

 In 1916 Zinaida’s uncle, Alexander Benois was commissioned to decorate the Kazan Railway Station in Moscow and he invited her to help him by becoming part of his team. Serebriakova took on the theme of the Orient: India, Japan, Turkey, and Siam were represented allegorically in the form of beautiful women.  It is recognised that the work she produced between 1914 and 1917 were some of her best.

Bleaching Cloth by Zanaida Serebriakova (1917)
Bleaching Cloth by Zanaida Serebriakova (1917)

She created a series of works, the theme of which was the rural life she witnessed all around her.    In 1917 she completed one such painting entitled Bleaching Cloth which in some way is her homage to the female peasant workers.  Against a background formed by a blue sky and partly veiled by light greyish white clouds, we see the women hard at work in the fields with their bales of cloth.   The red, green and brown colour of the peasants’ clothes gives the painting a beautiful vibrancy and the figures seen against a very low horizon gives the depicted peasants a commanding and grandiose quality.    The work, measuring 142cms x 174cms,  was a testament to Zinaida’s talent as a monumental artist.  The painting is now held at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

The year 1917 proved to be her annus horriblis and changed her life and that of her family forever.   The Russian Revolution led by the Bolsheviks under the leadership of Lenin started in October of that year and soon spread throughout the country.  The Bolsheviks believed that the working classes would, at some point, liberate themselves from the economic and political control of the ruling classes.  It was an uprising by the “have-nots against those who had” and as such the family estate owned by Zinaida’s family, where she was living was a target.  Much of the estate was taken over or destroyed.  All the reserves of Neskuchnoye had been plundered which resulted in the family suffering from hunger.  Her husband had been taken away by the Bolsheviks and was incarcerated in jail where he died of typhus in 1919.  Zinaida was left without any money and yet was responsible for her four children and her sick widowed mother.

This was a traumatic time in Zinaida’s life and it was in that very year that her husband died that she completed one of her most famous works and which is my featured painting of the day, entitled House of Cards which depicts her four orphaned children, Alexandre, Ekaterina, Eugene and Tatyana playing cards.  It is a tragic painting featuring her children, who probably could not understand what had happened to dramatically change their way of life.  Their safe and privileged existence had suddenly collapsed like a house of cards.

In my next blog I will take you through the story of the rest of Zinaida Serebriakova’s life story and have a look at some of her later works.

I and the Village and The Birthday by Marc Chagall

I and the Village by Marc Chagall (1911)
I and the Village by Marc Chagall (1911)

Having just completed my four part look at the quartet of Scottish Colourists I am turning to a painter from the same era but one who could not be more different in style.  For my blog today I want to look at the early life of and two fascinating paintings by the Russian-Jewish artist, Marc Chagall.  He was a painter of poetic, surreal images that to him, represented a topsy-turvy world, combining fantasy and spirituality with a modernist style

house
Chagall’s family home in Vitebsk

 Marc Chagall, a name he did not use until 1915 when he arrived in Paris,  was born Moishe Segal on the 7th of July 1887 in the small Jewish shetl of Liozna part of the town of Vitebsk, which was in the Russian Empire but now is situated in Belarus.   He was the eldest of nine children born into a Hasidic Jewish family.  His parents led a simple yet spartan life.  His mother Feige-Ite ran a small grocery shop from their home.  His grandfather worked as a teacher and a cantor in a local synagogue and had secured a position for Marc Chagall’s father as a clerk at a wholesale herring merchants but in Marc Chagall’s autobiography, My Life, he criticised his grandfather for his father’s placement and derided the job description of “clerk”.  He wrote:

“…My grandfather, a teacher of religion, could think of nothing better than to place my father – his eldest son, still a child – as a clerk with a firm of herring wholesalers, and his youngest son with a barber. No, my father was not a clerk, but, for thirty-two years, a plain workman. He lifted heavy barrels, and my heart used to twist like a Turkish pretzel as I watched him carrying those loads and stirring the little herrings with his frozen hands……Sometimes my father’s clothes would glisten with herring brine. The light played above him, besides him. But his face, now yellow, now clear, would sometimes break into a wan smile…”

 Chagall would always remember those early days of hardship and how hard his father worked to provide for his family.  In his 1922 autobiography, My Life, Chagall recalled those difficult times:

 “…Day after day, winter and summer, at six o’clock in the morning, my father got up and went off to the synagogue. There he said his usual prayer for some dead man or other. On his return he made ready the samovar, drank some tea and went to work. Hellish work, the work of a galley-slave. Why try to hide it? How tell about it? No word will ever ease my father’s lot… There was always plenty of butter and cheese on our table. Buttered bread, like an eternal symbol, was never out of my childish hands…”

 As a young child, Chagall went to the local heder, an elementary Jewish school in which children were taught to read the Torah and other books in Hebrew. Later he transferred to the local secular secondary school and it was here that young Chagall started to show an interest in art.  The fact that he, as a Jew, was allowed to go to the local secular school was in itself rather unusual as according to government dictates at the time, Jewish children were not allowed to study at secular schools.  In 1906 when Marc was nineteen years of age and with help from his mother, and despite his father’s protests, he enrolled at a private school of drawing, Artist Pen’s School of Drawing and Painting run by Yethuda Pen.  Yethuda Pen was a talented Jewish artist and art teacher and one of the outstanding figures of the Jewish Renaissance in Russian and Belarusian art.   Chagall remembers the day he first cast his eyes on the school and how it impressed him.  He recounted the time in his autobiography:

“…I learned about Pen when I was riding on a streetcar.  It was crossing the Cathedral Square and I saw a banner – white letters on blue: Artist Pen’s School. ‘What a cultured city is our Vitebsk,’ I thought...”

Later, in 1921, Chagall told his former tutor, Penn, about the day he first entered the college, accompanied by his mother, for an interview for a place on Penn’s art course and how nervous he was.  He wrote:

 “…I recall how, as a boy, I climbed the steps of your studio. And the tremor with which I awaited you: you were to decide my fate in my mother’s presence. I know how many other young boys in Vitebsk and the entire gubernia [administrative district] had their fates decided by you. For dozens of years your studio was the first to lure people in town… You have trained a vast generation of Jewish artists…”

He remained only a few months at Penn’s art school and in 1907 with little money, he left Vitebsk and headed for Saint Petersburg.  Chagall had already seen and felt the full force of the anti-Semitic Russian laws in his home town but they paled into insignificance compared to the discriminatory policies against Jews in Saint Petersburg.  However for Chagall these legal hardships and the fact that he had little money to live on, was of little consequence as he was now able to immerse himself in the whirlpool of artistic life.  These were also revolutionary times and the revolutionary mood of the Russian people against their Tsarist ruler could be seen in every-day life, through avant-garde magazines and art exhibitions which pioneered new and modern western art.  The art world was waking up to the new art of the French Fauves, the German Expressionists and the Italian Futurists.  This was an exciting time for the young Russian artist, Chagall, and this new art would greatly influence him.  Although he absorbed this new art and knew about the various artistic groupings, he was his own man and he wanted to stand alone and create his own unique artistic style.  The one thing Chagall was determined about was that he would never ever forget his childhood background and the people of Vitebsk.  He would never forget his family’s or his poor but happy upbringing and the family’s lowly status.  He would never forget the hand to mouth existence and the importance of the land and the farms that provided food for its people.  He would never forget the onion-shaped cupolas of the churches, the wooden houses with the grass roofs which helped insulate them.  His home town of Vitebsk was tattooed on his very heart and he would always remember it in his art with great affection.

Whilst living in St Petersburg Marc Chagall earned a living by working at the editorial office of the Russian-Jewish periodical, Voskhod.   He also carried on with his artistic studies first at the school of the Society for the Encouragement of Art Society of Art Supporters where he studied under the Russian painter and stage designer Nikolai Roerich and the following year he enrolled as a student at the Yelizaveta Zvantseva’s School of Drawing and Painting where one of his teachers was the great Russian artist and costume designer Leon Bakst.  Bakst had lived in Paris from 1893 to 1897, where he studied at the Académie Julian, and he would eventually persuade Chagall to head for the French capital, the then art capital of the world,  so as to best continue his artistic studies.

Bella Rosenfeldcourtesy of http://www.marcchagallart.net/
Bella Rosenfeld

In 1909, Chagall met Bella Rosenfeld who lived in his home town and had been visiting friends in St. Petersburg.   It was love at first sight and within a short time they had become engaged.   Although both Marc and Bella were from Vitebsk, their social worlds could not have been more different and for that reason Bella’s parents were very unhappy with the liaison.  Bella’s parents, Shmule and Alta Rosenfeld were extremely wealthy and ran a very successful jewellery business back in Vitebsk and had managed to put Bella through the best education culminating at the University of Moscow.  She was particularly interested in the workings of the theatre and in art, and whilst studying at university, she contributed articles to a Moscow newspaper.  Chagall’s love for Bella, who became his wife in 1915, was deep and enduring and in his autobiography he wrote with passion about his true love:

“… Her silence is mine, her eyes mine. It is as if she knows everything about my childhood, my present, my future, as if she can see right through me; as if she has always watched over me, somewhere next to me, though I saw her for the very first time. I knew this is she, my wife. Her pale colouring, her eyes. How big and round and black they are! They are my eyes, my soul…”

In 1910, Chagall held his first solo exhibition, which was in the editorial office of the St Petersburg avant-garde magazine Apollon.  One of the visitors to the exhibition was Maxim Vinaver, a lawyer and deputy of the State Duma.  Vinaver, who was one of the outstanding figures in Russian Jewry of his time. He played a distinguished role as a Jewish communal leader, as well as one of the leaders of the Liberal Cadet Party. He was always a champion of the Jewish cause and as a deputy in the Russian Duma, Vinaver organized the Society to Secure Equality for the Jews in Russia.  Impressed by the talent of Chagall, he became his patron and gave him a monetary scholarship and with this financial assistance Chagall was able to go to Paris to carry on his artistic studies.  It was on arriving in the French capital that Moishe Segal adopted the French-sounding pseudonym, Marc Chagall.

I will leave the life story of Marc Chagall at this stage of his life and return to it in a later blog but for now I want to look at two of his paintings.  The first painting, and one of his most famous, is entitled I and the Village, which he completed in 1911, whilst living in Paris.  It is currently housed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The painting on first sight is, like many of his works, unfathomable and one has to look carefully at all the elements depicted to try and understand what was going on in Chagall’s mind as he put brush to canvas.  It is a dream-like image with many overlapping elements.  This lively composition and the geometrical structures, such as lines, angles, triangles, circles, and squares clearly displays aspects of Cubism.  Some would have us believe that Chagall’s assortment of large and small circular forms are meant to depict the sun’s revolution within our solar system as well as the earth’s revolution around the sun, and the moon’s revolution around the earth. The moon being in the lower left of the painting is causing an eclipse of the sun.  However, maybe like me, this cosmic interpretation of the painting is possibly a step too far!

It is a collage of various objects.  It portrays the artist’s memories of the Hasidic Community of Vitebsk in which he was brought up, a peasant community, which relied heavily on the land and their animals for food. There are human and animal elements in the work which are both fragmented and randomly assembled to produce an abstract composition. The colours Chagall uses are vibrant and he has produced a severe contrast between the red, the green and the blue which he has liberally used.

Let us look more closely at the work and see if we can unravel the meaning of some of its elements.  If you look at the top right hand corner of the work you can make out a small town.  There is a church with its onion-shaped cupola and some brightly coloured houses some of which are upside down.   This inclusion, as he did in many of his works, is probably Chagall’s home town of Vitebsk and the fact that some of the houses are upturned could well be his way of illustrating that it is his town as visualised by him in his dream.  In front of the row of houses is man dressed in black with a scythe over his shoulder, presumably returning home after a hard day’s work in the fields.  In front of him is an upturned woman.   The woman, according to some descriptions is playing a violin.  However although people playing violins feature in many of Chagall’s works I beg to differ as far as this woman is concerned.  I have studied pictures of the painting, inverted it to see her better, and have concluded she is simply a peasant woman swinging her arms as if dancing.  I will let you decide.  This dream-like depiction of the peasant woman whether a violinist or a dancer could be a reference to the importance that music and dance played for entertainment for the people of Chagall’s erstwhile small Jewish community.

eye contact
Eye contact

The two main elements of the painting are, on the right, a green-faced man wearing a cap and on the left an animal.   The green colour of his face is an example of Fauvism where the colour used is not the one we would normally associate with in reality.  On the left is the head of an animal, possibly a horse or goat or cow.  On its cheek Chagall has painted an image of smaller goat or cow being milked.  If you look carefully you will see Chagall has drawn a line between the eye of the man and the eye of the animal and this probably refers to the close relationship, the inter-dependence between a peasant and his animal – a kind of “seeing eye to eye”, understanding the important relationship between man and beast.  The man, who wears a cross around his neck,  clutches hold of a small flowering branch, the seeds from which seem to be scattering, which could allude to the sowing of seed in the ground.

The Birthday by Marc Chagall (1915)
The Birthday by Marc Chagall (1915)

The reason why I chose Chagall for my blog today was because it was Valentine’s Day and I wanted to feature a painting which in some ways was the essence of true love between two people.  I could have gone for The Kiss by Gustave Klimt or Francesco Hayer or some other erotic and sensuous painting but I came across the painting by Chagall entitled Birthday and in a way it said everything to me about the love between two people.   Chagall painted the picture in 1915,  the year he married his beloved Bella Rosenfeld.  For Chagall his relationship with her was everything he could have wanted and I believe the couple in the painting are Marc and Bella.

Bella with White Collar by Marc Chagall (1917)
Bella with White Collar by Marc Chagall (1917)

Chagall painted Bella in many of his works and I believe this is one of them.  The painting depicts the man and the woman.  Although the woman’s face is clearly defined the man’s face is somewhat of a blur.   In the work we see them both seemingly elevated by their love for each other.  For them it was possible to float above the reality of the world and just enjoy each other’s company.  Look at the feet of the man and the woman.   They seem to be pointing in opposite directions.   Maybe he has given her the bunch of flowers and has walked past her but realises that the flowers without a kiss is not enough and so he literally bends over backwards to please his loved one by offering up a kiss.  She holds the flowers that he has given her and purses her lips in readiness for his kiss but he has walked past her.  However before disappointment can set in he returns, lips ready to kiss his beloved girl!  What could be more romantic?  However there is much more to this work of art than the two lovers.  Look at the amount of detail Chagall has put into the painting.  See how he has depicted the seeds of the watermelon which lies on the counter, the exotically detailed Indian blanket which lies on the bed and the blue lace fabric which hangs below the window.

I end by wishing you all a Happy Valentine’s Day and hope that your loved one manages to bend over backwards for you !!!

The photo of Chagall’s home and Bella Rosenfeld were courtesy of http://www.marcchagallart.net/

The Scottish Colourists, Part 4 – George Leslie Hunter

Cottage, near Largo by G.L.Hunter  (c.1920)
Cottage, near Largo by G.L.Hunter (c.1920)

In my blog today I conclude my look at the group of early twentieth century Scottish artists, who would later be grouped together and known as the Scottish Colourists.  The fourth member of this group was George Leslie Hunter.   Hunter was born in Rothesay, a town on the west coast Scottish Isle of Bute, in 1877.  He was the youngest of five children, born to William Hunter, a chemist by trade and his wife, Jeanie Hunter (née Stewart).  His initial schooling was at Rothesay Academy.  In February 1892, Hunter’s elder sister Catherine died and this was followed shortly after with the death of his elder brother.  Both iwho were in their early twenties were thought to have died from an influenza pandemic which had been sweeping the country.  Although his mother and father had been toying with the idea of emigrating, these tragic events were the final push they needed to leave Scotland and in September that year they set sail for California via New York to start a new life.  The family arrived in California where Hunter’s father bought an orange farm east of Los Angeles.  George enjoyed life in America and spent most of his time sketching and enjoying the favourable Californian climate.   He did not undertake formal art training, and was largely self-taught.  When he was nineteen years of age he managed to get work as an illustrator for some local magazines.  The father’s farming venture lasted just eight years before Hunter’s parents decided to return home to Scotland.  However George, who had developed a love of art, was enjoying life in America so much that he decided not to return with his parents but instead decided to stay on and in 1900 he moved to San Francisco where he became part of the Bohemian lifestyle of the Californian city.   The following year he had some of his artwork exhibited at the California Society of Artists exhibition.

To earn money Hunter illustrated work for the Californian magazines, Overland Monthly and the Sunset magazine.  The latter was a promotional journal for Southern Pacific Transportation Company, designed to combat all the negative publicity regarding the “Wild West” life in California. In 1904 Hunter went to New York with friends and then on to Paris and it was whilst in the French capital that Hunter took up oil painting and became determined to become a professional artist.  On his return to California in 1905, he started to build up a large collection of his work which he intended to exhibit at his first solo exhibition which was to be held at the Mark Hopkins Institute the following year.  However tragedy struck in the form of the great Californian earthquake in April 1906 which devastated San Francisco and destroyed his studio and most of his artwork.

Fruit and Flowers on a Draped Table by G.L.Hunter (1919)
Fruit and Flowers on a Draped Table by G.L.Hunter (1919)

Hunter returned to Glasgow and rejoined his mother.  He continued his self-education as a painter and carried earning a living as an illustrator.  Many of his initial oil paintings were of the still life genre.  He liked to experiment with these works, revelled in the use of colour and often would incorporate the technique used by the Dutch still-life masters, such as Willem Kalf, Jan Davidsz de Heem and the great Willem van Aelst.

Still Life with Nautilus Cup by William Kalf (1662)
Still Life with Nautilus Cup by William Kalf (1662)

These still life painters often composed their colourful depiction of floral and fruit arrangements with a drab and dark background to afford the greatest contrast.  They used the chiaroscuro technique to dramatic effect and for Kalf it was his delightful way in which he  combined in his paintings humble objects such as simple kitchen utensils with luxurious objects such as crystal glassware and exquisite silverware.    Hunter would probably have seen examples of the Dutch masters in the museums of Glasgow and would have found them inspirational for his work.   Although this may be construed as “copying” by Hunter and could be looked upon as a form of plagiarism, in fact it was not, for he was simply studying the great works of art and taking what he had seen back into his own works.

Hunter met fellow Colourist, Samuel Peploe, through mutual friends, the artists, Edward Archibald Taylor and his wife Jessie Marion King when he was in Paris in 1910 but it was over a decade later before the two became close friends.  Hunter’s professional artistic career really started in 1913 when he was fortunate to be introduced to Alexander Reid, an influential Glasgow art dealer.  That year he held his first solo exhibition in Glasgow at Reid’s gallery.   Three years later, in 1916, Hunter exhibits more work at the gallery and later showed at the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts.  The review of the exhibition in the March edition of the Bailie newspaper commented on Hunter’s work:

“…He has three of four examples of still life that are superlatively strong…. they show a mastery of form and colour that takes one back to the triumphs of the Dutchmen…”

It was through exhibitions like these that Hunter connected with a group of affluent collectors who would continue to buy his works of art over the next fifteen years.

Portrait of Alexnder Reid by Vincent van Gogh (1887)
Portrait of Alexnder Reid by Vincent van Gogh (1887)

During the post-First World War days, Hunter became influenced more and more by the works of the modern French painters he had seen whilst visiting Paris, in particular Matisse, Cezanne and van Gogh.   In 1922 he went on an extended tour of Europe, visiting the French Riviera, Florence and Venice.  Glasgow art dealer Alex Reid and Parisian gallery owner, Ettienne Bignou, were developing a business relationship around this time and decided to stage an exhibition of the works of Peploe, Cadell and Hunter, entitled Les Peintres De l’Ecosse Moderne at the Galerie Barbazanges in June 1924.  Following this Hunter held a joint exhibition the next year with Peploe and Cadell at the Leicester Galleries in London.

Provencal Landscape by George Leslie Hunter (c.1929)
Provencal Landscape by George Leslie Hunter (c.1929)

During the period between 1924 and 1927 Hunter carried out a lot of his work in Fife and around Loch Lomond.  Whether it was due to the cold climate of Scotland or just his desire for the chance to savour the bright light and warm weather in southern France,  he became restless and left Scotland and based himself in the small Provencal village of Sainte-Paul-de-Vence.  From there he would set off on daily sketching trips around the many picturesque Provencal villages.  Most of the paintings he completed were sent back to Alex Reid in Glasgow for him to sell.  In 1929 he made the trip to New York for his exhibition at the Ferargil Galleries, which was critically acclaimed as an outstanding success.  From New York he returned to France but in November 1929 he suffered a breakdown and his health began to deteriorate and he is forced to return to Glasgow where he was looked after by his sister.

Reflections, Balloch by George Leslie Hunter (1930)
Reflections, Balloch by George Leslie Hunter (1930)

During the last couple years of his life Hunter concentrated once again on painting scenes around Loch Lomond and the village of Balloch which is situated at the southern tip of the loch.  He had painted scenes in this area five years earlier but now his later works show a greater clarity and are unfussy in composition.  In his work, entitled Reflections, Balloch, Hunter has concentrated the main focus of the work on the sparkle of light and reflections on the surface of the loch.  Many of these later works featuring the loch also incorporated houseboats and this series of paintings has been acknowledged as some of his best. His fellow colourist Samuel Peploe praised it at this time, saying:

“…that is Hunter at his best, and it is as fine as any Matisse…”

In 1931 Hunter travelled to Paris for the last time so as to be present at the highly successful exhibition Les Peintres Ecossais from which the French government bought a landscape of Loch Lomond for their national collection.  Buoyed by the success of the exhibition, of which he played a leading part, he began to make tentative plans to move from Scotland and go to live in London.  His spirits were high, he believed his luck had changed and he viewed the future with great optimism.  He was quoted at the time as saying:

“…I have been kicking at the door so long and at last it is beginning to open…”

Sadly before he could savour what he believed would be the start of a new life, he died in a Glasgow nursing home in December 1951, aged just 54.

This is my final blog about the four Scottish Colourists.  It cannot be emphasised enough the importance France played in their art.  In the book Scottish Colourists 1900-1930, one of the authors, Elizabeth Cumming, a lecturer at Edinburgh College of Art, commented on this fact, writing:

“…Without their French contacts and experience, none of the Scottish Colourists would have developed their art as we know it.  For all, visiting and living in France invested their ideas with a new vision.  For Cadell, it meant developing an empathy with stylistic sophistication.  For Hunter, visiting the south of France especially injected light airiness into his landscapes.  For Peploe, two years of life in Paris opened a door to the intellectual possibilities within traditional subjects.  And for Fergusson, living in France for far longer than any of the others, it became the crux of his existence…”

 

The Scottish Colourists, Part 3 – John Duncan Fergusson

Self-portrait by J.D.Fergusson (1902)
Self-portrait by J.D.Fergusson (1902)

Today I am looking at the third member of the Scottish Colourist group and possibly the most well-known, John Duncan Fergusson, who was born in March 1874 in Leith, a town which is often known as the port of Edinburgh.  He was the eldest of four children of John Fergusson, a spirit merchant and Christina, his mother.  He attended the Royal High School, Edinburgh and Blair Lodge School in Linlithgow.  Following this, in 1892, Fergusson attended the Edinburgh University Medical School to study medicine with the intention of becoming a naval surgeon.  However his lack of application to his studies resulted in him leaving after just two years, at which time, he decided on a complete volte-face and decided to study art at the city’s Trustees Academy School of Art.  Once again, Fergusson did not last long studying at this academy for he left stating that he found it too difficult to reconcile  what he considered to be, their old fashioned and inflexible teaching methods and their rigid curriculum which had been set in stone.   He left the art school and decided to set himself up in his own studio in Picardy Place, Edinburgh and simply teach himself how to paint.

Fergusson knew of the work of the Glasgow Boys and decided to do as they had done, go and study art in Paris which was, at the time, looked upon as the art capital of the world.  In 1895, aged twenty, he enrolled in the life-classes at Académie Colarossi and revelled in the lifestyle of his fellow artists and the whole Paris café society scene.   Fergusson enthusiastically adopted the lifestyle of a Bohemian artist, mixing with the likes of Picasso and Matisse and he could often be seen frequenting the legendary cafés of the time, such as, Le Pre-Catalan Restaurant, the Cage Harcourt and the La Closerie des Lilas and it was in these places, surrounded by his artist acquaintances that he drew so much of his inspiration.   He easily settled into this unrestrictive café society of the Left Bank.  He was surrounded by the work of the Impressionists and would visit the public and private galleries such as Salle Caillebotte at the Musée du Luxembourg, where their works were on display.   Fergusson loved the French capital and for the next ten years spent his summers in Paris and the rest of the time in Edinburgh, where he had established a close productive working relationship with fellow Scottish Colourist, Samuel Peploe.   In 1897 Fergusson exhibited some of his work at the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts and the following year, spent time in central France, painting at the artists’ colony of Grez-sur-Loing, a small commune seventy kilometres south of Paris.   This River Loing setting often featured in the works of Alfred Sisley.  In 1899 Fergusson decided to go to Morocco and follow in the footsteps of Arthur Melville, the Scottish painter, who was famed for his Orientalist works, and who is now looked upon as being one of the most powerful influences in the contemporary art of his day.

Mademoiselle Dryden by J.D.Fergusson (1908)
Mademoiselle Dryden by J.D.Fergusson (1908)

It was during a painting trip at the seaside resort of Paris-Plage, in the summer of 1907 that Fergusson met two American ladies, Anne Estelle Rice and Elizabeth Dryden.   Elizabeth Dryden was an American writer and critic who had been sent to Paris in 1905 by her employer, the Philadelphia department store magnate, Lewis Rodman Wanamaker, to write fashion reviews for his Philadelphia department store trade magazine.   These reviews would then be illustrated by her friend Anne Estelle Rice, who was a sculptor and artist and who had worked as an illustrator on a number of magazines.   Both women featured in a number of paintings by Fergusson and he became great friends with them and Anne Estelle Rice later became Fergusson’s mistress.  In his 1908 painting of Elizabeth Dryden entitled Mademoiselle Dryden, Fergusson has depicted her clad not in the latest fashion but wearing a simple red scarf to keep out the chill with a painter’s smock worn loosely around her shoulders.

Rhythm by J.D. Fergusson (1911)
Rhythm by J.D. Fergusson (1911)

After his fully clothed portraits of Rice and Dryden it is quipped that from then on all his sitters had to remove their clothes and be in a state of undress!  In 1910, the English writer and critic, John Middleton Murray visited Fergusson’s Edinburgh studio.  He was about to launch a new literary, arts and critical review magazine.

Rhythm magazine cover
Rhythm magazine cover

Murray wanted to name the magazine after one of Fergusson’s paintings and have a drawing of it on the front cover.   Fergusson’s painting of a female nude was entitled Rhythm and that became the magazine’s title.  The cover of the magazine was elephant grey with Fergusson’s strong image of a naked woman sitting under a tree with an apple in her hand printed on it in black ink.  Fergusson became its art editor and through his many contacts in the art world was able to persuade artists such as Derrain, Picasso, and Delauny to provide illustrations for the magazine.  Anne Estelle Rice was also a regular contributor to the periodical.

Fergusson loved life in France and all the opportunities it afforded him to paint.  In the summers Fergusson would go on holiday and would often meet up with Peploe and his family in Brittany or Cassis in the south of France and for a short time Fergusson lived at Cap d’Antibes.

On his return to Paris he accepted the position as teacher at the Académie de la Palette and set up his studio in Montparnasse.  Fergusson was very happy with life at this time.  His long term partner Margaret Morris, whom he met in 1913, quoted Fergusson’s words describing his satisfaction with his Montparnasse studio and life in general in her 1974 book,  The Art of J.D.Fergusson:

“… [it was] comfortable, modern and healthy.   My concierge most sympathetic.  Life was as it should be and I was very happy.  The Dome, so to speak, round the corner; L’Avenue quite near; the Concert Rouge not far away – I was very much interested in music; the Luxembourg Gardens to sketch in; Colarossi’s class if I wanted to work from the model.  In short everything a young painter could want…”

Fergusson had met the dancer, choreographer, Margaret Morris in 1913.   She is now recognised for her pioneering work in modern dance.  She ran a dance school in London and that year had taken her dance troupe to Paris to dance at the Marigny Theatre on the Champs Elysees.  Fergusson and Morris later married and he became Art Director of all her MMM (Margaret Morris Movement) schools.  Fergusson and Morris were to remain together for almost fifty years.  The two built up a collection of friends from the literary greats of the time such as the novelist and playwright John Galsworthy, the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, the American ex-pat poet, Ezra Pound and the English writer and painter Wyndham Lewis.  Fergusson now had two homes and two distinct lives.  He had his base in Paris and the painting trips to the south of the country and he had the chance to stay with friends back in Britain, whether it was Samuel Peploe and his family in Edinburgh or his new friend Margaret Morris in London.

Christmas Time in the South of France by J.D.Fergusson (1922)
Christmas Time in the South of France by J.D.Fergusson (1922)

With the outbreak of the First World War he returned to Britain and, for the next four years, had to suffer the financial hardship brought about by the lack of sales of his work during the period of conflict.  After the war, he set up his own studio in London and this remained his base for the next ten years.  He exhibited his work on a regular basis and in 1928 he had four major exhibitions: in Chicago, London, Glasgow and New York.  In 1929, he along with Margaret Morris, returned to his beloved France and he set up his studio near the Parc de Montsouris, in Paris,  but always in the summers they made the trek south to live at Cap d’Antibes.  In 1939, at the start of the Second World War, Fergusson and Morris return to Britain and set up home in Glasgow and it was here that Fergusson spent the last years of his life.

Throughout his life Fergusson had rebelled against formal academic art and he now found himself a slightly beleaguered figure, who was neither a part of the academic fold nor was he welcomed by the Royal Scottish Academy.   Fergusson and his wife, Margaret Morris were leading lights in the Glasgow artistic scene and Fergusson did have his followers as many much younger artists were drawn to him and his art.  In 1940, he decided to form the New Art Club, and out of this emerged the New Scottish Group of painters of which he was the first president.

John Duncan Fergusson died in Glasgow in 1961, aged 87.   Throughout his life, whether he lived and worked in Paris, Antibes, London or Glasgow, his art was infused by his rebellious and independent nature.  He always maintained his belief in freedom of expression and his fervent commitment to a modern, non-academic art world.  He was a lover of colour which was summed up by a quote from him, recorded in William MacLellan’s 1943 book entitled J. D. Fergusson, Modem Scottish Painting.  Fergusson was quoted as saying:

“…Everyone in Scotland should refuse to have anything to do with black or dirty and dingy colours, and insist on clean colours in everything.   I remember when I was young any colour was considered a sign of vulgarity. Greys and blacks were the only colours for people of taste and refinement. Good pictures had to be black, grey, brown or drab. Well! let’s forget it, and insist on things in Scotland being of colour that makes for and associates itself with light, hopefulness, health and happiness…”

The Scottish Colourists – Part 2, Francis Cadell

Self Portrait by Francis Cadell (c.1914)
Self Portrait by Francis Cadell (c.1914)

In my last blog, I introduced you to the four painters who would later become known as the Scottish Colourists.  In that first blog I looked at the life of Samuel Peploe and today I am concentrating on the life and works of another member of the group, Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell.   Cadell was born in Edinburgh in April 1883.  His father was Francis Cadell, an Edinburgh surgeon and his mother was Mary Boileau, a lady of French extraction.  His sister was Jean Cadell,  who would later become a well-known character actress.   As a boy, Cadell showed an aptitude for drawing and was educated at the Edinburgh Academy where he studied art.  When he was sixteen years of age and had completed his studies, on the advice of the Scottish landscape and figure painter, Arthur Melville, who was also the godfather to Cadell’s younger brother, Cadell went to Paris, chaperoned by his mother,  in order to study art at the Académie Julian.   He remained at the Academy for three years, during which time his exposure to the works of French artists of the time was to have an intense and enduring effect on his paintings.   During his first year at the Academy he was delighted to have one of his watercolours accepted for exhibiting at that year’s Paris Salon.  Whilst he was studying in the French capital he met one of the other Scottish Colourists, Samuel Peploe, and the two soon became friends.  The artwork of Peploe, who was twelve years his senior, was to prove to be a great influence on his work.

Mythical Scene by Francis Cadell (c.1907)
Mythical Scene by Francis Cadell (c.1907)

Cadell returns to Scotland in 1902 and, for the first time, exhibited work at the Royal Scottish Academy.  The genre of his works was varied.  He painted portraits as well as landscapes and also dabbled with mythical subjects, such as his work entitled Mythical Scene which he completed around 1907.  In 1906 he and his family moved to Munich and the following year he enrolled at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich.  A year later, in 1908, his mother died and the family returned home to Edinburgh.  That year, Cadell held his first one-man show at the gallery of the Edinburgh picture dealers, Doig, Wilson and Wheatley.  Cadell remained in Edinburgh until 1914, with just a brief time away on a painting trip to Venice, a city, which provided him with the ideal setting for his natural aptitude as a colourist.  Cadell loved everything about Edinburgh and was impressed by the city’s buildings.  He loved the beautiful architecture and the sumptuous interiors of some of the houses.  He was also very much in love with the stylishness and sophistication of its people and wanted to be part of that world.  In 1909, having established himself within Edinburgh society as a colourful, witty and entertaining host, he moved his studio to Great George Street and it was within the lavish interior of his residence that he held his regular soirées and entertained the “beautiful people” of Edinburgh.

Many of his paintings, which he completed in his Edinburgh studio before the war and during the 1920’s, often featured elegant female sitters with the backdrop, the interior of his impressive studio and these works were to become some of his best loved.  Cadell spent much time over the decoration and furnishing of his residence and before the war and throughout the 1920s, most of the paintings that he made at home centred on depictions of his studios or arrangements of elegant female models or still life objects within them. The works of the immediate pre-war period conjure up a sense of the refined lifestyle of Edinburgh’s upper-class, depicted with a palette which brightened as the war approached.

Iona by Francis Cadell
Iona by Francis Cadell

In 1912, Cadell made his first visit to the small Western Isle of Iona and fell in love with the beauty of the wild landscape.  He found it an ideal place for painting because of the light, the colours of the white sand beaches and blue skies, and Iona’s geological diversity resulting in differing coloured rock formations.  The rapid changing weather conditions around this area meant an en plein air artist had to work swiftly, but it was all worthwhile as the numerous stunning views provided plenty of incentive for keen artists.   The island of Iona is low-lying and this results in the light reflected from the surrounding sea intensifying the colour of the water as well as the green of its pastureland.  However, Cadell was of the opinion that any artist with any real sense of colour could only paint in Scotland during the summer and so he chose to work on Iona during the summer months, usually en plein air, and he would remain in Edinburgh and work in his studio during the darker days of spring and early autumn.   A fine example of his Iona paintings highlighting the differing colours of the sea, rocks and sand was completed by him in 1920 and simply entitled Iona.  After the First World War, Cadell would make annual pilgrimages to the island.   He was not the only artist at the time to be drawn to the beauty of this Inner Hebridean Island as it attracted many other artists, including the Scottish Colourists, Peploe and Fergusson, and the Scottish landscape artist, John MacLauchlin Milne.  In 1912 Cadell founded the Society of Eight.  This was a group of like-minded artists, who rejected the artistic establishment of the day and, whose work was characterised by the use of bright colours.

In 1914 he applied to join the army but was turned down on medical grounds so for the next few months he took work on a farm as a labourer with the intention of improving his physical condition and fitness.   All the exercise must have worked for in 1915 he re-applied to join the army and this time he was accepted and became a member of the 9th Argyll, 9th Royal Scots and the Sutherland Highlanders.

Portrait of a Lady in Black by Francis Cadell
Portrait of a Lady in Black by Francis Cadell

In 1921 Cadell completed one of his most popular works entitled Portrait of a Lady in Black.  The sitter for this painting was his long-time muse, the enigmatic and mysterious, Miss Bethia Don Wauchope, who over a period of fifteen years, posed for twenty five paintings by Peploe and Cadell.   In this work the setting is almost certainly the artist’s Ainslie Place studio in Edinburgh which Cadell had moved to the previous year.   Miss Bethia Don Wauchope was a wealthy heiress of independent means.   Little is known about Cadell’s muse accept that she was the eldest of four daughters, who never married and her father was Sir John Don-Wauchope, chairman of the Board of Education and Board of Lunacy.  There is no doubt that she loved the thought of being immortalised in paintings.   This was one of Cadell’s favourite works and we know he loved to work with Bethia  as he went on to create a series of paintings with the theme ‘Lady in a Black Hat’, which included, Black Hat, Miss Don Wauchope, The Black Hat and  in 1925 (Lady in Black) and 1926 (Interior, the Orange Blind).

The Harbour, Cassis by Francis Cadell (1924)
The Harbour, Cassis by Francis Cadell (1924)

In 1923 Cadell embarked on a painting trip to the beautiful small seaside town of Cassis, on the French Mediterranean coast. The following year he produced some of his most radiant Colourist works while staying with fellow Colourist, Peploe.   One of the works he painted there in 1923/4 was entitled The Harbour, Cassis and cleverly reflects the harsh Mediterranean light and the effect it has the surrounding buildings.  Here the sun is so intense and the colours more vibrant.  It is truly an artist’s paradise.  (I was fortunate to visit this idyllic place a few years ago and was amazed by its charm and beauty).

Like most good things in life – they seem to have to end, and for Francis Cadell his lavish lifestyle in Edinburgh, which we saw reflected in many of his paintings of elegant women and opulent interiors,  came to an end with the decline of the art market during the economic downturn of the late 1920s.  Cadell, who had led a somewhat pampered and indulgent way of life was, like many others, badly affected financially and he was forced to sell part of his multi-storeyed Ainslie Place property.  Things deteriorated further in the early 1930’s and sales of his works dwindled and he was even forced to move to a less expensive and salubrious residence.

In 1935 he was elected a member of the Royal Society of Watercolours and the following year he was made an Academician of the Royal Scottish Academy.   Sadly, by 1936, his health was starting to decline and the following year, 1937, Cadell died, aged 54, the cause being given as cancer and cirrhosis of the liver.