The Wilson and the Ferrieres Collection

The Wilson Cheltenham Museum and Art Gallery
The Wilson
Cheltenham Museum and Art Gallery

When I have to travel to meetings in the UK and have an overnight stay, I try and go to local art galleries and see what is on offer.   I am often somewhat disappointed with the collections.  I suppose I expect too much.  It is my own fault.  I should realise I am not going to find a hidden Uffizi or Prado in a provincial town as I am aware that building up an art collection is a costly affair in this day and age.  So, to my great surprise and pleasure, yesterday I discovered a real gem.  I was in Cheltenham for a meeting and had the afternoon free so decided to go and find their art gallery.   It is called The Wilson and it has a small but wonderful collection of paintings many of which are from an era I particularly love – seventeenth and nineteenth Dutch and Flemish works of art.  My blog today is all about the gallery and some of these paintings.

Baron Charles Conrad Adolphus du Bois de Ferrieres
Baron Charles Conrad Adolphus du Bois de Ferrieres

For a gallery to become established it obviously needs a collection of paintings and this almost always means it has to have a benefactor who has bequeathed the gallery a large number of works of art.  The regency spa town of Cheltenham and The Wilson had the second Baron de Ferrieres to thank for their foreign painting collection.  He died in Cheltenham in 1864 and left his large art collection to his son the third Baron, Charles Conrad Adolphus du Bois de Ferrieres, who in 1898 donated forty-three paintings and a sum of £1000 to the town of Cheltenham to set up a gallery to house the works of art, and so it was his generosity that today’s gallery began life and was able to house such a rich collection of work.

Trees, Castle and Skating Figures by Marinus Adrianus Koekkoek the Elder
Trees, Castle and Skating Figures by Marinus Adrianus Koekkoek the Elder

The first painting I am showcasing is entitled Trees, Castle and Skating Figures by Marinus Adrianus Koekkoek the Elder (1807-1868).  Marinus Adrianus Koekkoek the Elder was a 19th-century Dutch landscape painter who was born in Middelburg and was the son of the painter, Johannes Hermanus Koekkoek who gave him his early art lessons.  Marinus had two brothers, Barend Cornelis and Hermanus who were also artists.  Koekkoek was primarily based in Hilversum and Amsterdam, where he later died.

Fortified Building on the Banks of a Canal by Cornelis Springer
Fortified Building on the Banks of a Canal by Cornelis Springer

Fortified Building on the Banks of a Canal is another fine example from the Ferriers collection.  It was painted around 1850 by the Dutch landscape artist, Cornelis Springer who was born in Amsterdam in 1817.  Springer became a member of the Amsterdam painters collective Felix Meritis and won a gold medal for a painting of a church interior in 1847. He was the most skilled of the Dutch townscape painters in the nineteenth century.  He consistently strived for topographical accuracy in his townscapes and this he achieved by many hours studying the design plans of the original buildings.  His townscapes have a meticulous style with attention to light and atmospheric conditions.  In this work Springer has somewhat abandoned his normal detailed depiction of the buildings an sought to concentrate the light and atmosphere which makes the depiction more Romantic that topographically correct.

Dutch Street Scene by Adrianus Eversun
Dutch Street Scene by Adrianus Eversun

Adrianus Eversen was a pupil of our previous painter, Cornelis Springer and spent most of his life painting in Amsterdam.  He, like Springer, was known for his townscapes and street scenes.  However, unlike Springer most of his townscapes lacked topographical accuracy.  In his painting, Dutch Street Scene, which he completed in 1858, we see a row of buildings which the artist has depicted with architectural accuracy but the setting was probably just a figment of his imagination rather than a real street.  He completed many paints of this ilk which were simply entitled “Dutch street scenes”.

A fête champêtre was a popular form of entertainment in the 18th century, and took the form of a kind of garden party. This form of entertainment was especially prevalent at the French court where at Versailles large areas of the park were landscaped with follies, pavilions and temples to have the capacity for such revelries.

Fête Champêtre: Cavaliers and Women Round a Gaming Board by Joseph le Roy
Fête Champêtre: Cavaliers and Women Round a Gaming Board by Joseph le Roy

The term fête champêtre comes from the French expression for a “pastoral festival” or “country feast” and this may be construed as being a simplistic form of entertainment, but in the eighteenth century, a fête champêtre was usually a very graceful and stylish form of entertainment which would sometimes involve whole orchestras hidden from sight amongst the trees and participants would be in fancy dress.  Joseph Anne Jules Le Roy (1853-1922), the Parisian-born painter, was a specialist in military scenes and animals and in this painting of his we see those two themes.  In his painting, Fête Champêtre: Cavaliers and Women Round a Gaming Board we see depicted the fête champêtre in the grand manner with the people dressed in Flemish seventeenth century costumes.

Fête champêtre (Pastoral Gathering) by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1721)
Fête champêtre (Pastoral Gathering) by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1721)

This was different to the sumptuous costumes depicted by the French artist, Jean-Antoine Watteau’s in his 1721 painting, Fête champêtre (Pastoral Gathering). 

A Flemish Fair by of Isaac Claesz. Van Swanenburgh
A Flemish Fair by of Isaac Claesz. Van Swanenburgh

The next painting which is also part of the Ferrieres Collection comes from an earlier period.  This is thought to be a late sixteenth century work and is attributed to Isaac Claesz. Van Swanenburgh.  He was a Dutch Renaissance painter who was born in Leiden in 1537 and died in the same town in 1614.  The work, entitled A Flemish Fair, reminds me of works by one of my favourite artists, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who was a contemporary of Isaac Claesz. Van Swanenburgh.  The depiction of fairs in paintings was very popular in the last decade of the sixteenth century.

Ruins over the River Birchel at Zutphen by Everhardus Koster
Ruins over the River Birchel at Zutphen by Everhardus Koster

Everhardus Koster (1817-1892) was a Dutch painter who specialized in sea and river scenes.  He studied at Frankfurt-am-Main’s Stadelsches Kunstinstitut and would later become a member of the Amsterdam Academy and for twenty years was the director of Het Pavijoen in Haarlem, he served as Director of the various museums that were formerly housed in the Villa Welgelegen.  One of his paintings, Ruins over the River Birchel at Zutphen is part of the Ferrieres Collection.

Willem van Mieris (1662-1747) was the most successful genre painter of his generation and a leader of the painters of Leiden. He was a master of cabinet pieces. In this painting, A Hurdy-Gurdy Player Asleep in a Tavern, which is dated 1690, the setting is the interior of an inn.  Van Mieris has meticulously depicted the numerous details of the inn itself as well as the table laden with food.   Not only is this a genre painting but it is also an extremely talented example of a still life featuring a meal of herring and plaice, a bun of bread and the brown German stoneware jug on the table and let’s not forget the authentic portrayal of the hurdy-gurdy. So what is the painting all about?

A Hurdy-Gurdy Player Asleep in a Tavern by Willem van Mieris
A Hurdy-Gurdy Player Asleep in a Tavern by Willem van Mieris

Surrendering to the effects of alcohol he has imbibed, the old hurdy-gurdy player has fallen asleep with his instrument on his lap.  The sleeping musician, a simple beggar, is dressed in rags.  Behind him the female maidservant holds aloft a pouch of money which she may have just taken from the sleeping musician.  She is ecstatic.  Two other tavern revellers look on in the background.  Hurdy-gurdy players were a frequent theme in Dutch peasant painting. They were people who would liven up happy gatherings with the primitive and penetrating sound of their instrument.  Willem shared his liking of depicting lively tavern scenes such as this one with his father Frans van Mieris the Elder. Willem painted several hurdy-gurdy players set in an inn.

The Artist’s Wife, Evelyn, seated reading by Gerald Gardiner
The Artist’s Wife, Evelyn, seated reading by Gerald Gardiner

Besides the Dutch and Flemish paintings bequeathed to The Wilson there were some interesting works that the museum had acquired over time.   The Artist’s Wife, Evelyn, seated reading is a work by Gerald Gardiner.  Gardiner worked at the Cheltenham School of Art teaching drawing and painting from 1927 until his death in 1959.  It is a painting which exudes the quiet domestic atmosphere of life at home.  This work was painted at the Bisley home of Gerald and Evelyn Gardiner and is an example of the artist’s depiction of a night-time scene with his wife enjoying the company of her book, showing up the light, reflections and shadows which are cast by the gas lamp and fire as his wife reads.  It wonderfully encapsulates an atmosphere of domestic bliss and, for us, nostalgia as we see Evelyn reading a book by gas-light in front of the fire. Gardiner was particularly interested in painting night-time scenes and here he balances a powerful composition and the subtle effects of light. Gerald Gardiner was born in 1902. He studied at Beckenham School of Art and the Royal College of Art where he was awarded an Associateship with Distinction in 1926. In 1927 he was appointed second master at the Cheltenham School of Art, in charge of the drawing and painting department, later becoming Painting Master, where he worked until his death

Village Gossip by Stanley Spencer (c.1939)
Village Gossip by Stanley Spencer (c.1939)

Stanley Spencer was one of the most original artists of the modern age and it was good to see one of his works hanging in The Wilson.  Spencer’s paintings have special characteristics; we are urged to work out the story behind each painting and the work on show, Village Gossip is no exception.   It was painted around 1939 whilst he was on holiday in the Gloucestershire village of Leonard Stanley.  I will leave you to work out what you think is going on this painting.  Look at the body language of the woman on the right with her arms tightly folded across her chest.  Look at the accusing stance of the elderly man and woman on the left.  Even the small girl points towards the young man in an accusatory gesture. He bows his head in a somewhat remorseful manner.  What is he being accused of?

There were so many other excellent works of art on show at The Wilson and if ever you are in or around Cheltenham, I urge you to pay it a visit.

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Louis-Léopold Boilly

Self-portrait by Léopold Boilly (1805)
Self-portrait by Léopold Boilly (1805)

My artist today is the prolific late eighteenth century French painter Louis-Léopold Boilly, who was best known for his genre scenes featuring life in the French capital during the French Revolution and the French Empire. He is also renowned for his revolutionary use of lithography.

Boilly was born on July 5th 1761 in La Bassée, a commune in the Nord department of northern France, sixty kilometres south-east of Calais.  His father was wood carver and it was he, who gave Léopold his first lessons in art, and soon during his early teens young Boilly was producing many good works of art, a fact that came to the attention of the Austin friars at the monastery in Douai, a town close to his home. By 1774, word of Boilly’s artistic talent reached the bishop of Arras, Monseigneur Louis François Marc Hilaire de Conzié, who offered him a place to live and paint in Arras.

Also around this time, living and working in Arras, was the Flemish-born artist Guillaume-Dominique-Jacques Doncre, who made a living from painting portraits of the members of the Conseil of Arras and members of the local aristocracy but who also specialised in trompe-l’oeil paintings.  It is thought that maybe Léopold Boilly studied under Doncre as the young artist developed a liking for trompe l’oeil works.

A trompe l'oeil by Dominique Doncre
A trompe l’oeil by Dominique Doncre

Trompe l’oeil, (French for “deceive the eye) is a style of painting invented by the ancient Greeks whereby the artist creates an illusion of space often showing apparently three dimensional objects and spaces in a way which the eye accepts as realism in the context of their surroundings.  It was particularly popular in the 17th and 18th centuries with the Low Countries and Northern France.  This trompe l’oeil by Dominique Doncre, above was completed in 1785.  At first sight it looks like a collection of items set out randomly on his “noticeboard”.  Two horizontal straps seem to be holding the items in place including what looks like an engraved page featuring the artist himself and we know it is Doncre as the words “ego sum pictor (I am the painter) are beneath the portrait.  On a card below the pair of spectacles, he has also signed and dated the painting.  It is a simple work with no hidden message.

A trompe-l'oeil by Léopold Boilly
A trompe-l’oeil by Léopold Boilly

Léopold Boilly completed several trompe l’oeil paintings of his own and my favourite is one with a cat gazing through a hole in the canvas caused by a log which has pierced it.  On the top bottom of which are fish hanging from the stretcher.

The Visit received by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1789)
La Visite reçue (The Visit received) by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1789)

In 1785, aged twenty-four, Boilly went to live in Paris and there, two years later, he married Marie-Madeleine Desligne, the daughter of a merchant of Arras. In 1787 Boilly received a lucrative commission. The nobleman and lawyer, Antoine Joseph François Xavier Calvet de Lapalun had decided to refurbish his family residence in Avignon and he was advised by one of his former clients to incorporate an art collection into the re-modelling of the large house and at the same time arranged for his friend a number of  introductions with some of the most influential Parisian art dealers who would be able tosell him the finest works of art.  One of the artists chosen to provide works for the residence was Léopold Boilly.  The former client, the Marquis Alexandre de Tulle de Villefranche, gave Calvet de Laupin a present of two of Boilly’s works, La Visite reçue and La Visite rendue.  Calvet de Laupin was so pleased with the works that he commissioned Boilly to complete a further nine genre paintings of the same ilk.

The Visit Returned by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1787)
La Visite rendue (The Visit Returned) by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1787)

All eleven genre works featured the many facets of love, all of which are set in an upper-middle class milieu.  The people depicted in the various scenes look as if they are actors appearing in a stage play.  These were not, unlike Hogarth’s Marriage à la Mode, an eleven-episode story.  Each were simply variations on the theme of love and left the viewer to decide what was happening in the painting.   The setting of the two works I have included had been dictated to Boilly by Tulle de Villefranche while Calvet de Lapalun himself described the settings he wanted for the final seven works.

The Suitor's Gift by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1790)
The Suitor’s Gift by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1790)

In 1790 Boilly completed a work entitled The Suitor’s Gift.  In it we see a beautiful, elegantly dressed young woman looking out at us knowingly as she receives the attentions of a suitor. He is obviously a very generous suitor for on the table in front of the young woman we see a luxurious gift box which lies open. It had been lovingly wrapped, as we see several strands of pink ribbon lying over the side which had once secured the gift.  In the box and resting on the front edge of it are two white roses and this presumably symbolises the young lady’s innocence and adolescence. The young woman’s face is flushed and it is this and her full and rounded cheeks that suggests she is very young, certainly in comparison to her much older suitor.

The knowing look
The knowing look

Her hair is worn loosely and is softly curled with a pink ribbon tied around the crown of her head. Her clothes are elegant and lady-like.  She is attired in a graceful pink corseted gown over which is a thin gauze overskirt, which still allows us to see the colour of the gown.  She stares out at us and by doing so turns away from her suitor.  Is it coyness we are witnessing or is she taking in what she has just been given.  Maybe she is deciding whether the gift meets with her expectations.

Her prospective beau, whom we can just make out in the background shadows, crouches down at the side of the table.  Is he kneeling in a kind of devout reverence?  Look at his expression.  It is one of a man who is keenly awaiting to find out whether his gift had been well received by the young woman.  It would appear by the way his left hand is grasping a crucifix which he wears around his neck that he is looking for divine help in his quest to please the lady. From the demeanour of the pair we get a feel for the relationship.  Look how the woman smiles.  It is a knowing smile.  She knows she has the upper hand in this partnership.  Maybe it is this thought that makes us revise our opinion of her.  Maybe she is not as innocent and vulnerable as we first thought.  At first sight we felt a little pity for her being pestered by an elderly man but maybe it is he whom we should be pitying for it seems she may well play him for a fool!

Boilly’s reputation as an artist who artistically recorded contemporary life in the French capital steadily grew and by often having his paintings on display at various exhibitions he ensured the public would not forget him.  Boilly began exhibiting his work at the Salon in 1791, which was the first year it was open to all artists, previously the exhibition was only open to the work of recent graduates of the École des Beaux-Arts but control of the Salon was taken away from the Academy by the National Assembly, which ordered the exhibition opened to all artists.

Gathering of Artists in the Studio of Isabey by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1798)
Gathering of Artists in the Studio of Isabey by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1798)

In 1798 Boilly put forward his painting Gathering of Artists in the Studio of Isabey for exhibition at that year’s Salon.  This genre of multi-figure or group portraits was popular with many Dutch and British artists and in this work of fiction, Boilly has imagined what it would have been like if all the young aspiring artists of the time had met up at the studio of his contemporary the French artist Jean-Baptiste Isabey, who we see dressed in red standing behind the man sitting at the easel.  The studio’s classical decoration is the work of architects Percier and Fontaine whom we see depicted standing on the left.

Arrival of the Stagecoach by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1803)
Arrival of the Stagecoach by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1803)

Boilly regularly exhibited at the Salon until 1824 and he received a gold medal at the Salon of 1804 for his painting Arrival of the Stagecoach.  The work depicts a major event in Parisian life – the daily arrival of a stagecoach in the crowded courtyard of the Messageries in rue Montmartre (which is now Rue Notre-Dame-des-Victoires).  This was a place where stagecoaches converged from all over France and Europe in the early 19th century. In the painting, we see the stagecoach is in the parking space reserved for coaches coming from northern France and Belgium, indicated by the inscription on the wall.

This is an interesting study of Parisian life.  Boilly has depicted a throng of people some of whom are waiting to board the stagecoach.  By their attire, we can see the various social classes.  At the centre of the painting we see a bourgeois being welcomed by his wife; on the left-hand side, we see a soldier with his arm around a flower seller or maybe she is a maid from the local hostelry, who by the way she is ignoring him, has only eyes for the well-dressed military officer with the plumed hat to her left.  Unfortunately for her, he is totally disinterested in her. There is still one passenger, an elderly lady, sitting in the coach.  Maybe she is awaiting assistance to help her debark, maybe someone was supposed to be there to meet her but has not arrived.

The young delivery men can be seen on top of and at the side of the coach helping to unload packages which have been brought in by the coach.  We see another by the side of the military officer almost brought to his knees by the weight of the case he is carrying on his shoulder.  He was a portefaix, an old term for a porter.   These workers were known as gagne-deniers, unskilled workers, often peasants from the countryside who have come to the city to earn a living and often were paid a mere pittance.   Now look at the characters on the far right of the painting. The man is the epitome of elegance albeit bordering on being a dandy. The lady with him has a pug on a leash, which was at the time the height of fashion. The little girl standing with them has turned her back on them and seems totally disinterested in the adult conversation.

Boilly continually showed an interest in the bustling life of Paris and in this work and others he highlighted the developing role of transport in the early 19th century with the Napoleonic wars and the development of capitalism. This painting which describes an everyday urban event, a scene which falls within the domain of genre painting which, at the time and in view of the Paris Salon academicians was considered inferior to history painting.  Despite that, the work won the gold medal at the Salon in 1804 and was ultimately acquired by the Louvre in 1845.

The Triumph of Marat by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1794)
The Triumph of Marat by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1794)

Boilly was thirty-three at the height of the Reign of Terror period during the French Revolution in 1794.  He was a half-hearted supporter of the Revolution, and that year he was denounced to the Société Républicaine des Arts by a fellow artist, the Jacobin fanatic Jean-Baptiste Wicar, for having painted “obscene works revolting to republican morality.”  He was condemned by the Committee of Public Safety for these erotic undertones and for the frivolity of his work as well as his penchant for depicting the bourgeois in his early paintings. He was saved from literally a “fate worse than death” when his accusers searched his home and found his overtly flattering painting of Jean-Paul Marat, Triumph of Marat, the rabble-rousing radical journalist and politician and hero of the Revolution.  Although Boilly survived the incident, his wife died during these anxious times.  Boilly remarried in 1795.

The Movings by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1822)
The Movings by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1822)

In 1822 Boilly completed a painting entitled The Movings which highlighted the plight of the poor.  In the painting, we see several families, who were unable to pay rent, and so were forced to move out of their homes with their belongings and travel the streets of Paris in search of new shelter. The painting depicts a palpable tension of a social drama and Boilly has created this by adding the opposing constituents in the setting.  In the left background, we see the mirage-like image of the church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Rome. Most of the figures in the work appear to be moving away from the Roman church. However, the owners of the front wagon, possibly a lowly and poor family that appears to have come from outside the city in search of work, move towards the distant mirage of the church and it is this connection that suggests that the arriving family’s search for a better financial future will prove futile, as well-paid job opportunities, like the church, are just an illusion.  This was how Boilly saw life at that juncture of time.

Recueil de Grimacers (Collection of Grimacers) by Louis-Léopold Boilly
Recueil de Grimacers (Collection of Grimacers) by Louis-Léopold Boilly

Boilly was not only a fine artist but he was also a fine businessman and all through his career, he could change his artistic style to coincide with what was popular at the time with the public and made money by selling engraved reproductions of his genre paintings.  One of the strangest form of his art was his depiction of grimacers.  Grimacer is the French word meaning “to pull a face” and it fascinated Boilly, who produced many amusing works focused on the grimacers.   The lithograph above,  Les Amateurs de Tableaux (Lovers of Paintings) is part of his collection Recueil de Grimacers (Collection of Grimacers).  In the painting, we see several grotesque looking characters, open-mouthed, brows furrowed as they concentrate on a small painting, some peering through monocles and spectacles.  It was thought that Boilly was poking fun at the so-called “amateur art connoisseurs”.

Les Grimaces by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1823)
Les Grimaces by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1823)

In other similar works, the artist made many studies of facial expressions and the result was humorous but often cruel caricatures of contemporary society.  In his lithograph, Les Grimacers, he even included himself (top left)

The Artist's Wife by Louis-Léopold Boilly (c.1799)
The Artist’s Wife by Louis-Léopold Boilly (c.1799)

Boilly was a talented portrait artist and received many lucrative commissions for his portraits.  It is said that he completed more than five thousand portraits during his lifetime.  One of my favourites is one he completed around 1799 entitled The Artist’s Wife in His Studio, which featured his wife.

In the 1820’s Boilly was one of the first French artists to experiment with lithography to reproduce his paintings.  He last exhibited at the Salon in 1824 and in the spring of 1828 he sold his collection of Dutch, Flemish, and French paintings and decorative objects, as well as thirty-seven of his own paintings. The monarchy of Louis-Philippe awarded him the cross of the Légion d’honneur in 1833. He died in Paris on January 4th 1845 aged eighty-four.  His youngest son, Alphonse Boilly was a professional engraver who apprenticed in New York.