The Hudson River School, as it has come to be termed, was founded by the painter Thomas Cole around 1825. Cole believed that nature manifested to man the mind of the Creator and saw the artist as a prophet. The Hudson River School was so named because its proponents showed a fondness for depicting the scenery to be found in the countryside bordering the Hudson River. James McDougal Hart, like his brother William and his sister, Julie, were looked upon as second generation exponents of this type of landscape painting.
James McDougal Hart was born on May 10th 1828 in the East Ayrshire town of Kilmarnock. His father James was a schoolteacher and he and his wife took passage on the SS Camillus with their seven children and emigrated to America, landing in New York on February 12th 1830. After landing on American shore, the family located to Albany in upstate New York.
After completing his education, James, like his brother William before him, became an apprentice to a local sign and carriage maker and was employed to paint landscape scenes on carriage doors and banners. In 1851 James left America and travelled to Germany, visiting Munich, Leipzig and Dusseldorf, where he enrolled for a short period at the Dusseldorf Art Academy. Being a student at the Academy he was influenced by the Düsseldorf school of painting, which was a name given to a group of painters who taught or studied at the Academy during the 1830s and 1840s, a period when the Academy was directed by the Romantic painter Wilhelm von Schadow. The Dusseldorf School is typified by its keenly detailed yet imaginary landscapes, often with religious or allegorical stories set in the landscapes and he was a great believer in plein air painting and the use of a palette with comparatively subdued colours.
The Düsseldorf School had a significant influence on the Hudson River School in the United States, and many prominent Americans trained at the Düsseldorf Academy such as George Caleb Bingham, Worthington Whittredge, and Richard Caton Woodville. Strangely, one of the great Hudson River painters, Albert Bierstadt, applied but was not accepted.
James Hart returned to Albany around 1853 and opened a studio where he painted and gave painting lessons. In 1857 he moved to New York City and he and his brother William opened up a studio. James became an associate member of the National Academy of Design in 1857 and a full member in 1859.
James Hart married fellow painter Marie Theresa Gorsuch in 1866 and the couple went on to have five children, three sons Robert Gorsuch Hart, William Gorsuch Hart and William Howard Hart and two daughters, Mary Theresa Hart and Letitia Bonnet Hart. Three of the siblings became artists in their own right.
William Howard Hart became a landscape and portrait painter. He studied in New York with J. Alden Weir at the Art Students League. Later, in the 1890’s, he went to Paris and studied under Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebvre at the Academy Julian.
Letitia Bonnet Hart, who became a painter known for her portrait and figure painting, was born in 1867. She exhibited in twenty-eight annual exhibitions from 1885 to 1914, including at the Woman’s Building at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. In 1901 she exhibited in the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York and three years later, in 1904, her work was shown in the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis,. She and her sister Mary Theresa Hart, shared a studio in NYC and later she went to live in Lakesville, CT.
Marie Theresa Hart was born in 1872 in Brooklyn, New York and studied with her father as well as with Edgar Melville Ward, the American genre painter, at the National Academy of Design. Between 1889 and 1895, she was enrolled in antique and life classes at the Academy and won several awards. She was best known for her floral painting and illustrations of violets and was also an accomplished portrait artist and art teacher.
One of James Hart’s favourite subjects was cattle, and this can be seen by his painting entitled The Coming Storm, where he depicted them huddled under trees, during a period of stormy weather.
The mid 1860’s was a time of wealth for some Americans. The Civil War had ended in 1865. The North in 1865 was an extremely prosperous region. Its economy had boomed during the war, bringing economic growth to both the factories and the farms. Since the war had been fought almost entirely on Southern soil, the North did not have to face the task of rebuilding. Men involved in transportation made large profits from the movement of supplies for the Union troops during the Civil War. The world of property development also created many wealthy people. It was known as the Gilded Age and was an era that occurred during the late 19th century, from the 1870s to about 1900. The Gilded Age was an era of rapid economic growth, especially in the Northern United States and the Western United States.
James Hart later moved to Brooklyn and in the 1870s, he and his brother, William, opened studios in Keene Valley, NY, in the heart of the Adirondacks. For artists like James Hart and his brother William there was plenty of commissions to be had. The wealthy industrialists, now the nouveau riche of the post-Civil War society especially wanted to acquire works which depicted serene and relaxing rural scenes, scenes of picturesque tranquillity and they were eager to spend their money on such paintings as well as other paraphernalia of culture which they believed would allow them to become part of the cultured elite. The American author Sinclair Hamilton summed it up, observing:
“…both Hart brothers painted in a language intelligible for the artistically illiterate…”
James went on to exhibit at the annual exhibitions of the National Academy, and also at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Boston Athenaeum, the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, the Boston Art Club, and at the Paris Expositions of 1867 and 1878.
James McDougal Hart died on October 24, 1901, aged 73. Like his brother William, he is buried at the Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York. Even if one cares little today for the style of painting carried out by James and William Hart, one is able to benefit a better understanding of the era in general, and of its fascination with the Hudson River School painters, through a study of their art work. . The paintings of James MacDougal Hart can be found in several public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum.
“…Go first to Nature to learn to paint landscape, and when you shall have earnt to imitate her, you may then study the pictures of great artists with benefit . . . I would urge on any young student in landscape painting, the importance of painting direct from Nature as soon as he shall have acquired the first rudiments of Art…”
Asher Durand, a leading Hudson River School painter. Letters on Landscape Painting (1855)
The Hudson River School painters produced the most richly colourful and remarkable landscape works of the 19th century. However, the term “Hudson River School” was a judgemental term used by European critics who were used to, and preferred, the revered realism of the French Barbizon School. The Hudson River paintings celebrated and honoured the rugged beauty of the American landscape. The works effectively communicated the natural grandeur of what was termed the New World. The paintings did not just depict scenes of the Hudson River Valley, but also depicted scenes from the Catskills, Adirondacks, White Mountains, the Maritimes, the American West and South and the second-generation painters even captured the beauty of their Canadian neighbour. In earlier blogs I have looked at the life and works of many of the Hudson River painters such as Frederick Church, Asher Durand and the man looked upon as the founder of the movement, Thomas Cole. In my next three blogs I am going to look at the members of a family whose art followed the concepts of this art movement. Let me introduce you to three members, siblings, of the Hart family.
James Hart and Marion Robertson lived in Scotland and the couple married on July 16th 1811, and they went on to have ten children. Of these, William Hart was born in Paisley, Scotland on March 31st 1823 and James McDougal Hart was born five years later on May 10th 1828. In 1830 James and Marion Hart and their seven children sailed for America, arriving in New York on February 12th aboard the SS Camillus. They later settled in Albany in up-state New York. At the time of their sea voyage, James was twenty-one months old and William was just a few months away from his seventh birthday. On December 28th 1834, their youngest child, a daughter, Julia Fenn Hart was born. She was the only child of the family to be born in America. Julia later changed the spelling of her name to Julie and dropped the middle name, Fenn, entirely.
If you read about William Hart you will see his name is often given as “William M Hart” or “William McDougal Hart” but some say the middle name “McDougal” was his brother’s middle name and not his. I have no idea of the correct name so I will just refer to him as William Hart. Above is a signature from one of his paintings and he has signed it “Wm” with the small letter “m” underlined which I believe is a shortened version of William and not the initial of a middle name. William’s artistic ability was all self-taught. He was apprenticed to a decorative painter in Albany, New York and worked in the local township of Troy. He was employed to paint coach panels and window shades with depictions of landscapes. Later William decided to set himself up as a portrait painter and travelled in search of commissions and spent several years in and around Michigan but returned to Albany in 1845 because of ill health and a paucity of business opportunities.
To give some idea of the artistry of William Hart, one only has to look at one of his first landscape works. It is a prime example of his talent at using oil paints plein air which required a special talent. Prior to 1841, when collapsible paint tubes revolutionized plein air painting, pigments had to be mixed and blended by hand, and then carefully sealed in leather bladder bags for transport. It was a time-consuming and problematic task. However, William Hart probably was able to buy the collapsible tubes. The work was entitled First Sketch from Nature and this oil on canvas work was completed in 1845, by the twenty-two year old. On the reverse of the canvas is inscribed the words:
“…My first sketch from Nature in Oil Wm. Hart 1845 Normanskill near Albany N.Y…”
His first art works were exhibited at the National Academy of Design in New York in 1848. Having gained the financial assistance of a patron, Doctor Ormsby, William Hart went abroad in 1849. He spent three years travelling around both England, but mainly his native Scotland before returning to Albany in 1852.
In the following year he took up residence in New York and at this time, all his art was focused on landscape painting and many would include studies of cattle. Cattle were a popular decorative addition in Hudson River School art, and many of the artists from that group included them in at least some of their landscapes. The inclusion of the animals was looked upon as being symbolic of man’s cordial rapport with nature.
In 1854, he opened up his own studio in the Tenth Street Studio Building, situated at 51 West 10th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Manhattan. It was the first modern facility in the city designed solely to serve the needs of artists. It became the centre of the New York art world for the remainder of the 19th century. In its initial years, Winslow Homer took a studio there, as did Edward Lamson Henry, and many of the artists of the Hudson River School, including Frederic Church, Lockwood de Forest and Albert Bierstadt.
William soon became one of the most popular landscape artists of the late nineteenth century. He was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design in 1854 and an academician in 1858. On July 15th that same year William and his wife, Jennette had their first child, a daughter, Jessie.
William Hart was a founder of the Brooklyn Academy of Design and seven years later, in 1865, he became its first president. William Hart exhibited his work on a regular basis throughout the mid 1870’s in particular at the Brooklyn Art Association. He was also one of the eleven founding members of the American Watercolour Society, which was formed at a meeting at the Gilbert Burling’s studio in the New York University Building on December 5th 1866 and Hart was its president from 1870 to 1873. It is interesting to note that although the Society wished to keep the quality of its membership high, many of the top artists of the time were reluctant to join the new Society because women had been allowed membership.
William Hart also painted in watercolours and his 1860 watercolour and pencil on paper work entitled White Pine, Shokan, Ulster County, New York is a fine example of his work. It is a depiction of a white pine tree. Few works can surpass the immediacy and spontaneity of William Hart’s watercolour of a stately white pine tree, which he observed whilst visiting Shokan, New York, which lies on the eastern edge of the Catskill Mountains. Hart frequently went on long sketching trips and travelled throughout the Hudson River valley. He even went as far away as Maine and Lake Superior. As a talented draughtsman he experimented with different media and diverse styles. William Hart completed close to four hundred drawings and watercolours which in 2004 were donated to the Albany Institute and from looking at the collection one can see his love of nature and his determination to depict it accurately.
William Hart was also known for his remarkable etchings. In 1883 the Art Department of the New England Manufacturers’ and Mechanics’ Institute, Boston, held an important exhibition of contemporary American art. The 731 works on view were mainly American drawings and etchings one of which William M. Hart’s etching, Naponock (Naponoch) Scenery, Ulster County, New York.
That same year Hart completed an oil painting depicting the same area which also included the obligatory cattle. It was simply entitled Scene at Naponock and can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, a direct bequest from Hart’s daughter, Jessie Hart White.
William Hart died at Mount Vernon, New York, in June, 1894, aged 71 and was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.
The artist I am looking at today is the French painter Léon-Augustin Lhermitte. I suppose his work could be categorised by three artistic terms: Naturalism, Realism and Ruralism, as he will probably be remembered for his paintings depicting peasant farmers and their families at work in the fields. However, as you will find out, there were more strings to his bow.
Léon-Augustin Lhermitte was the only son of a local schoolmaster. He was born on July 31, 1844 in Mont-Saint-Père, a commune in the Aisne department in Hauts-de-France in north-eastern France, which lies about eighty kilometres north east of the French capital. The village was close to Chateau Thierry, a farming region close to the Champagne region around Rheims. This rural setting was to provide a wealth of ideas, inspiration, and realist subject matter throughout the artist’s life. As a young boy he enjoyed drawing and liked to copy art works he saw in popular illustrated magazines. He liked to look at books which had illustrations by earlier French painters, such as the Realists. Lhermitte’s father encouraged his son’s artistic hobby by encouraging him to sketch. Léon’s talent quickly became apparent to others. His father, proud of his son’s talent, presented his drawings to Count Alexandre Colonna-Walewski, who, at the time, was minister at the École des Beaux-Arts. Walewski was so impressed by the young man’s artistic ability that he offered him a scholarship of 600 francs and arranged for him to enrol in the École Impériale de Dessin in the studio of Horace Lecoq de Boisboudran. It was here Lhermitte was able to learn about his tutor’s unusual drawing method, which emphasised memorization.
Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran was born in Paris. In 1819 he was admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts and exhibited at the Salon in 1831 and 1840. Later he became a professor at the academy. He taught drawing at l’École spéciale de dessin et de mathématiques, which was better known simply as the Petite École and now known as the École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs. He wrote many books regarding drawing techniques including The Training of the Memory in Art and the Education of the Artist, and The Education of The Scenic Memory and The Training of the Artist. He influenced many great artists such as Rodin, Henri Fantin-Latour and Whistler to mention but a few. Lecoq Boisbaudran developed in his pupils a method of training memory. His students were required to copy progressively complex shapes (starting with straight lines and rectangles) and objects before drawing them from memory. The outcomes were then subjected to rigorous comparison with the model and mistakes corrected, over and over again, if necessary. Eventually, the students graduated to making careful analyses of masterpieces in the Louvre and then drawing them from memory when back in the studio. Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudrand theories had a profound effect on Lhermitte. From what Lhermitte learnt from his tutor, he was able to view a scene, notably a landscape scene, and then more fully execute the painting back in his studio. Whilst working at Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran’s studio Lhermitte became friends with fellow artists, Jean Charles Cazin, Alphonse Legros and Fantin-Latour.
After attending the École Impériale, Lhermitte moved to Paris and shared an apartment with some of his friends. With the financial help Lhermitte had received from Count Walewski he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts and attended the 1863 Salon des Refusés. Although he was receiving tuition in painting at the École des Beaux-Arts his debut at the Salon was not one of his coloured paintings but a charcoal drawing, Les Bords de la Marne près Alfort (The Banks of the Marne near Alfort), which harked back to his days of draughtsmanship at the École de Dessin. In 1864 his painting, Violets in a Glass, Shells, Screen was shown at the Salon.
In 1869 Lhermitte visited London for the first time and whilst there he met Alphonse Legros, a former pupil at the École Impériale de Dessin and he, like Lhermitte, had studied under Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran. Lhermitte returned for a second visit in 1871 and it was then that Legros recommended him as an illustrator for Art in the Collections of England Drawn by E. Lie. More importantly, Legros introduced him to the art dealer Durand-Ruel, who following their meeting, agreed to sell several of his drawings. Later, in 1873 Durand-Ruel arranged for some of Lhermitte’s monochrome pictures to be shown at the Dudley Gallery for the first of the annual Black and White exhibitions and following that, Lhermitte became a regular participant.
In 1874 he received his first medal, third-class, at that year’s for three of his works, Le Benedicite (The Benedictine), Le Bateau (The Boat), Une Rue de Saint-Cyr (A Road in Saint-Cyr). It was in the summer of 1874 that Lhermitte decided to spend time in Brittany and soon he became fascinated with Breton culture, their celebrations, and the way the people, especially women, dressed in their Breton clothes. He enjoyed his time in the region, so much so, he returned there on numerous occasions during the next five years. It was a productive time for Lhermitte and he produced numerous depictions of Breton life.
As well as producing colourful scenes of peasants in the fields he never lost his ability to draw with charcoal and one of his best loved is entitled An Elderly Peasant Woman which he completed around 1878 and now hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Lhermitte’s technique is quoted as: charcoal with black chalk, with stumping, scraping erasing and wetting, on wove paper. It is a dignified portrait of a humble person. His sitter has experienced a hard and rugged life as can be seen by her weather-beaten face and her crinkled but she has endured all the hardship. By his depiction of the woman, Lhermitte asks us not to feel sorry for her but admire her fortitude.
In a letter, dated February 4th 1883, to his friend the Dutch painter and draughtsman, Anthon van Rappard, , Vincent van Gogh commented on the talent of Lhermitte. He wrote:
“…Something else — the boss of Black and White may be someone neither you nor I know. In reviews of exhibitions I see mention made of the work of Lhermitte, a Frenchman who does scenes from the life of fishermen in Brittany. It’s said of him that ‘he is the Millet and Jules Breton in Black and White’, and his name crops up again and again. I’d like to be able to see something by him, and have recently written about him to my brother, who has given me very good information several times in the past…”
In 1876, inspired by the wine making traditions of Champagne, Lhermitte completed La Vendange à Mont-Saint-Père which was exhibited at that year’s Paris Salon. It was a large, highly finished works showing amazing detail and observation. Throughout the 1870’s Lhermitte’s reputation continued to blossom as a painter in the realist tradition of Courbet. Such was his reputation that Edgar Degas wrote in his diary that he intended to ask Lhermitte to exhibit at the 4th Impressionist Exhibition in 1879 but it never happened.
Other prizes and honours came to Lhermitte throughout his long career, including the Grand Prix at the Exposition Universelle, 1889, the Diplome d’honneur, Dresden, 1890, and the Legion of Honour. He was also a founding member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
The subject matter of Lhermitte’s paintings rarely strayed from depictions of the peasants and rural life which he remembered from his youth. Without doubt, the most overwhelming influence upon his work was certainly the French Realist painter, Jean François Millet who, like Lhermitte, was equally skilled with pastel as with oil.
During the 1880’s Lhermitte embarked on a series of monumental works of rural life, influenced by two of his contemporaries, Jean-François Millet and Jules Breton. In this series of paintings he created beautiful light-filled works which mirrored Millet’s theme and reinforcing the self-esteem of peasant life and the splendour of the French rural landscape in the face of the invasion of modern technology. Lhermitte added realism and careful detail to his rural depictions and this would serve him well, stretching into the 1920’s.
In the 1914 book, Le Livre d’Or des Peintres Exposants (The Golden Book of Exhibiting Painters), there was a passage extoling the virtues of Lhermitte’s work:
“…All of his rustic scenes are full of observation and naturalness, executed in a manner which is less and less rugged, and a technique that gains in suppleness. The artist has now discovered his own easy and definitive way of expressing himself and appears in full possession of a subject, which he treats with ease and without weakness. He is the painter of the field worker and rustic landscapes, the theatre of his work. In this genre, he shows a true vision of personages and of the things that surround them…”
And again, Van Gogh wrote about Lhermitte:
“…If every month Le Monde Illustré published one of his compositions…it would be a great pleasure for me to be able to follow it. It is certain that for years I have not seen anything as beautiful as this scene by Lhermitte…I am too preoccupied by Lhermitte this evening to be able to talk of other things…”
Lhermitte exhibited his work at the Salon on a regular basis and his paintings became sought-after items. Despite that, Lhermitte was not satisfied with his success and strived for more recognition. He believed he just had to complete a work which would help him attain the level of success he craved for.
As a regular exhibitor at the Salon, Lhermitte’s paintings had become increasingly sought after, though, in his mind, he had not yet attained the level of success that he desired. He wanted to complete a work that would solidify his success and this came in the form of a series of several large-scale paintings portraying the life and people of his native village of Mont-Saint-Pierre. In 1881 he completed The Tavern Interior. This painting was the first piece in Lhermitte’s grand manner series. Before us, we see a long brown table around which gather a few men watching a woman pouring liquor.
The main figure is the man sitting at the right of the long table who is wearing a white shirt and brown pants, holding a spade in his left hand and in his right hand he holds a glass demanding a refill.. This is the peasant hero created by Lhermitte, known as Le Pére Casimir. It is believed that the painting was in fact based on a real figure, an old peasant named Casimir Dehan. Le Pére Casimir is one of the most important themes in Lhermitte’s grand manner series. Lhermitte depicts the old man with the spade in hand wearing torn and soiled clothing, and thus the artist reveals the status of the working class and the reality of their utter poverty. The weather-beaten face and complexion indicate the long hours spent in the fields with their laborious work, and yet the man’s bulky figure and his upright sitting posture with a spade in hand indicates his heroic temperament.
In 1882, his masterpiece La Paye des Moissonneurs (Paying of the Harvesters) was shown at that year’s Salon and it achieved great acclaim from the critics. Thereafter followed numerous commissions. The painting was bought by the French State and housed in the Luxembourg Museum before being transferred to the Hotel de Ville at Chateau-Thierry. It is a classic example of Naturalism in the way Lhermitte accurately depicted the hard-nosed view of life in rural communities.
Lhermitte received a commission in 1886 to paint a large group portrait featuring Claude Bernard, a French physician and physiologist, which would then be hung at the Sorbonne. The painting is entitled La Leçon de Claude Bernard and depicts him in his Laboratory at the Colle de France. He completed the painting in 1889 and was exhibited at that year’s Salon.
In 1888 he was approached by Andre Theuriet, the French poet and novelist, who asked him to provide illustrations for his new book, La Vie Rustique. This was a major commission and Lhermitte was able to use the many drawings of peasant life he had already completed. In the introduction the author wrote: “…We propose to trace the grand acts of the rustic drama: the soaring, the labour, the hay-making, the harvest, and the vintage; we wanted to describe the solitude of the farm, the business of the village life, the pleasures of Sunday, and the preoccupations of the weekdays …”
Andre Theuriat’s words sum up the art of Léon Lhermitte and his position in French art of the late 19th century.
Lhermitte was a founding member of the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1890. In 1894 he was made an officer of the Legion d’honneur. Lhermitte was elected to fill Jacques Henner’s chair in painting at the Institut in 1905. He kept exhibiting his paintings in the first decades of the 20th century, but many critics looked upon him and his works as a relic of a bygone era. However, his style undoubtedly had an influence on Socialist Realism.in later years. In the last twenty years of his life he worked much more in pastel, with his skill as a draughtsman ever in evidence. He went on to produce some sensitive portraits and peasant scenes which were reminiscent of his earlier and more powerful depictions, ones that van Gogh had cited as “an ideal”.
Léon Augustin Lhermitte died in Paris, on July 28th 1925, three days before his eighty-first birthday.
This is my last blog relating to Museu Calouste Gulbenkian and the paintings to be found in the Founder’ Collection and I have saved the best till last ! I wanted to take another look at the 19th century collection and choose some of my favourites and explore paintings in other museums which have a connection to those in the Lisbon museum.
Henri Fantin-Latour was a prolific artist and completed many works including a number of portraits. In his 1870 work, The Reading, we have a dual portrait of two women in a domestic setting, both seated and one of them is depicted reading. The theme of reading was the subject of several of his well-known works. The painting is an example of intimism, a French term applied to paintings and drawings of quiet domestic scenes. It is an every-day scene with a sense of sober realism. It also introduces the observer into his favourite themes, poetic and dreamlike domestic environment with vaguely melancholic undertones. The lady on the left is Victoria Dubourg, a fellow painter whom he met at the Louvre whilst she was copying old masters. She became his wife in 1875.
Across from her, on the right of the depiction, is her sister Charlotte Dubourg. Charlotte Dubourg featured in a number of Henri Fantin-Latour’s paintings. This frequent collaboration between artist and muse gave rise to the speculation that Fantin-Latour was fascinated by Charlotte’s mysterious beauty and that there was an unspoken understanding between Fantin-Latour and his sister-in-law, maybe even more!
A similar double portrait in an interior setting can be seen at the St Louis Art Museum. This painting was entitled Two Sisters and Fantin-Latour completed the work in 1859 when he was just twenty-two years old. Once again, we have a depiction of two young women in the intimate setting of their home. This double portrait shows the two younger sisters of the painter; Marie reads on the right while Nathalie embroiders on the left. Once again, the interior painting is comprised of subdued grey and brown tones which is counterbalanced by the colourful yarns on the embroidery table. There is also seems to be a disconnect between the two sisters. Had the artist intentionally depicted it in that way ? Natalie, instead of concentrating on her embroidery, has an unsettled expression on her face. Something is troubling her. It could be that her brother, through his depiction of her expression, is hinting about her depressive illness which would soon confine her to a mental institution for the rest of her life.
The definition of a Vanitas painting is one that contains a single item, but more frequently, collections of symbolic objects, which remind us of the inevitability of death as well as the transience and vanity of earthly achievements and pleasures. For many artists it was a way to encourage the viewer to consider their own mortality and atone for their transgressions. The next painting I am going to talk about is classified as a Vanitas work but does not have the usual skull or fluttering candle which are often associated with the passing of life in such works. What it does have is a large bubble which is being blown by a young boy. It is the fact that as beautiful as the bubble may appear it will soon burst and the beauty will be forgotten. The painting is entitled Boy Blowing Bubble and it was painted by the French artist, Édouard Manet in 1867. It is now in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, which acquired it via André Weil in New York November 1943.
In 1850, Manet enrolled at the rue Laval studio of Thomas Couture and remained one of his students for six years. It could have been his tutor’s 1859 painting entitled Soap Bubbles which gave Manet the idea for this painting.
The painting by Manet was one of a series which featured his illegitimate son Léon Koelin-Leenhoff. Suzanne Leenhoff, a Dutch-born pianist, had been employed as a music tutor for Édouard and his younger brothers Eugène and Gustave. Léon Koelin-Leenhoff was born on January 29th, 1852, the son of Suzanne Leenhoff. His birth certificate stated Suzanne as his mother and “Koella” as his father. The man named as Koella has never been traced and it is widely believed that Édouard was the boy’s father whilst some even point the finger at Édouard’s father, Auguste, Suzanne’s employer. Léon Koelin-Leenhoff was baptised in 1855 and became known as Suzanne’s younger brother. Édouard’s father, Auguste, died in 1862 and in October 1863 Suzanne and Édouard married. Léon featured in a number of Manet’s paintings.
In 1861, Manet’s employed Suzanne’s nine year old son, Léon Leenhoff , for his painting Boy Carrying a Sword. He posed in a 17th-century Spanish infant costume, holding a full-sized sword and sword belt. The work can now be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Six years later, in 1868, Léon Leenhoff, now sixteen years of age, appeared in Manet’s painting entitled Le déjeuner dans l’atelier (Luncheon in the Studio). In the summer of 1868 Manet travelled to Boulogne-sur-Mer for his summer vacation, where he worked on this painting. Luncheon in the Studio was staged in the dining room of Manet’s rented house. The title of the painting almost hides the fact that it is a portrait of Léon Koélla Leenhoff. Léon is clearly the main character as he stands “centre stage” in the foreground, leaning against the table. The depiction of Leon is quite interesting. Manet has depicted him as the modern type of dandy, whose self-image plays between arrogance and aloneness. Elegantly dressed in a velvet jacket, confident of his superiority, cool with an air of indifference, he stands with his back to the others. He even avoids eye contact with us and so has an air of aloofness. But is that a fair reading of his character? Maybe his blasé expression hides a hint of sadness. Behind him we see an older man smoking, seated at the table enjoying a coffee and a digestif, and a woman preparing to serve hot drinks. At one time they were thought to have been Manet and his wife Suzanne but this assertion has since been overturned and the figures are now thought to have been servants. The painting is awash with still-life depictions, such as the weapons on the armchair on the left, a colourful pot of plants on the table in the background and the table with a plethora of food and tableware. The still-life accoutrements we see before us, in particular the partially peeled lemon and the placement of the knife over the table edge were reminiscent of Dutch still-life works of two centuries earlier. The painting is part of the Neue Pinakothek in Munich.
There were a number of Monet paintings in the Founder’s Collection but one I especially liked was entitled The Break-up of the Ice. France, like most of Europe suffered one of the coldest winters on record in the latter months of 1879. Monet had been living in Vétheuil, a commune on the banks of the Seine, some sixty kilometres from the French capital from 1878 to 1881 along with his wife, Camille Doncieux and their two sons, Jean and Michel. They also shared their house with their friends, the Hoschedé family. During that period Monet completed more than one hundred and fifty paintings of the area. The winter of 1879 was so severe that even Monet found working outdoors almost unbearable. However, in early December, a sudden rise in temperature caused the ice on the Seine to crack. Alice Hoschedé, the wife of Monet’s friends, who along with her children were living in Monet’s house, described the resulting thaw as terrifying, as half the melted snow slid down from the hills onto the village. It was at this time that Monet painted scene after scene as the ice floes broke on the river and one of these works was The Break-up of the Ice, which he completed in 1880. In this grim and dismal landscape we see the thawing of the ice on the River Seine in January 1880.
It is one of a series of eighteen paintings by Monet at this location depicting the severity of the winter. His works were portrayals of the icy beauty of this wintry landscape. These paintings of ice floes chart Monet’s early fascination with capturing the same motif under differing conditions of light and at different times of day. Some, like the Lisbon painting, focused on the ferociousness of the weather and how it can devastate nature as depicted in the fallen trees, while others focused on the beauty of the winter landscape. Monet must have witnessed first-hand the devastation when the frozen Seine river thawed, dislodging large ice floes that inundated the countryside and damaged bridges The finished painting was almost certainly completed in Monet’s studio after having completed a number of plein-air sketches. Look at the simplicity of the depiction of the ice flows using a series of short brushstrokes.
An example of a more peaceful winter landscape at the same spot was also completed in 1880 and was also entitled The Break-up of the Ice and this painting can be found at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. In this painting a sweeping winter river scene opens up from the foreground and sweeps away towards the left. Ice floes dot the river surface and snowy hills frame trees that stand along the riverbank in the middle distance. The palette of this painting is restricted to mauves, blues, greens, and whites.
John Singer Sargent moved from Paris to London in the summer of 1885 as he was struggling to attract patrons, and so he turned to his friends and family for portrait commissions. Singer Sargent may have been introduced to the cousins Robert and Peter Harrison by Alma Strettell as she was a close friend of Sargent and, in 1877, he had illustrated her book, Spanish and Italian Folk Songs. Robert Harrison, a stockbroker and musical connoisseur had married Helen Smith, a daughter of a wealthy Tyneside businessman and politician and the couple went to live Shiplake Court, in the affluent London district of Henley-on-Thames. The Harrisons, like many of Sargent’s patrons, formed part of the high society of late Victorian Britain. Amongst the Gulbenkian’s Founder’s Collection there was an 1887 painting by John Singer Sargent entitled Lady and Child Asleep in a Puntunder the Willows. In the summer of 1887 Sargent was invited by his friends Robert and Helen Harrison to spend the season at Shiplake Court. In the painting we see the sleepy figures of Helen Harrison and her son Cecil lying in a punt, under the shade of a willow tree. They are being gently lulled by the movement of a barge which had just passed by. This work is Impressionist in style. Sargent’s Impressionist period came about in the late 1880’s. The painting falls into the category dolce far niente which means the sweetness of doing nothing, a pleasant relaxation in carefree idleness which describes many of his works between 1887 and 1889.
Another similar work by Singer Sargent is his 1880 painting entitled A Backwater at Henley which is housed at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
The last painting I am showcasing that hangs in the Founder’s Collection is Les Bretonnes au Pardon(Breton Women at a Pardon). It is a fine example of Naturalism in which subjects were connected with the minutely detailed description of urban and rural life. It was an art form which was very popular in the late 1880’s and this work achieved great success for the artist at the 1889 Salon. When I saw this work, I thought it was by Gaugin but in fact the artist, who painted it in 1887, was the French painter, Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret. It is a beautifully crafted depiction of a rural tradition, but what also fascinated me was, what is or was a Pardon? The depiction is termed ethnographic, meaning it is relating to the scientific description of peoples and cultures with their customs, habits, and mutual differences.
The word “Pardon”, coming from the Latin verb perdonare, to forgive, and is a Breton form of pilgrimage and one of the most traditional expressions of popular Catholicism in Western Brittany. It dates back to the conversion of the country by the Celtic monks, It is a penitential ceremony. A Pardon occurs on the feast of the patron saint of a church or chapel, at which an indulgence is granted. There are five distinct kinds of Pardons in Brittany: St. Yves at Tréguier – the Pardon of the poor; Our Lady of Rumengol – the Pardon of the singers; St. Jean-du-Doigt – the Pardon of fire; St. Ronan – the Pardon of the mountain; and St. Anne de la Palude – the Pardon of the sea and they all occur between Easter and Michaelmas, a period between March and October. Pilgrims arrive at these Breton Pardon ceremonies dressed in their best costumes which is probably why they make ideal subjects for artists. The day is spent in prayer and after a religious service a great procession takes place around the church. The Pardon in Brittany has practically remained unchanged for over two hundred years. The ceremony is not one focused on feasting or revelry but one focused on veneration where young and old connect with God and his saints in prayer. Brittany at the time was a favourite location for artists such as Paul Gaugain, Léon Augustin Lhermitte, Jules Adolphe Aimé Louis Breton and Émile Bernard who were beguiled by the family rituals of the local peasants.
It is known that Dagnan-Bouveret used photographs he had taken at the ceremony in the Finistère town of Rumengol in 1886 as an aid to his finished works. He also used portraits he had made of some of his models. Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret completed a number of paintings featuring “The Pardon” one of which, The Pardon in Brittany, which is a truly amazing, almost photrealistic depiction of the ceremony. This painting is housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Before us we see penitents wearing traditional regional dress proceeding with an air of solemnity as they joylessly parade around a church. Some of the pilgrims go barefoot or kneel in an expression of remorse. What is quite interesting is that on the reverse of the canvas were drawings of his wife which the artist later used for the young woman in the foreground. When the picture was shown at the 1887 Salon and the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle, it was hailed a great success by art critics saying they were astounded by its meticulous details. This is almost certainly down to the artist’s use of photographs to help him with the work.
That was final look at the paintings of the Founder’s Collection at the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon. If we ever have the travel restrictions lifted and you find yourself in the Portugeuse capital make sure you pay this museum a visit. You will not be disappointed.
Of all the paintings on view at the Founder’s Collection of the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon I think my favourites where the section featuring the 19th century works.
The first work I have chosen is by the English painter Joseph Mallord Turner and is entitled The Wreck of the Transport Ship which he completed around 1810. The painting is one of a series of large-scale depictions carried out by Turner in the first decade of the 19th century which were all about natural disasters at sea caused by storms. Shipwrecks and other disasters at sea were a popular theme in Romantic painting. They revealed the unrelenting and brutal forces of nature which were constant dangers to those who set off on a sea voyage. The inspiration for this work has been much debated. At one time it was thought that Turner painted the work the same year the vessel, Minotaur was wrecked in December 1810, as a result of a navigational error in a gale on the Haak Sands off the mouth of the Texel, with around 370 of her crew lost, including Captain Barrett. However, this idea was discounted when billing records showed the sale of the painting to Charles Pelham, 1st Earl of Yarborough, in April 1810, some several months before the sinking of the Minotaur.
The popular thought is that Turner was influenced by an earlier painting of his, The Shipwreck, which is part of the Tate Britain collection in London, and one he completed in 1805.
Calouste Gulbenkian was an avid collector of works by Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot and the one I especially like is entitled A Road to Ville-d’Avray which he painted in 1874, the year before his death. In the work we see the road leading to the railway station at Ville d’Avray, a village in the western suburbs of Paris, located twelve kms from the centre of the French capital. It was a very small village where Corot spent long periods of his life at a summer house which was purchased by his parents in 1817. This small hamlet, as it was then, was one of the artist’s greatest sources of inspiration. Corot’s paintings of Ville d’Avray are thorough observation of nature. They are closely associated with plein air painting although sketches first made outdoors were then usually finished back in his studio utilising both his memory and his imagination. It is thought that Corot positioned the figures we see in the depiction, at the end, to act as a balancing mechanism for the finished work. Jean-Baptiste Corot died in Paris of a stomach disorder on February 22nd 1875, aged 78 and was buried at Paris’ Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Another painting by Corot which I liked was his work entitled Bridge at Mantes which he completed around 1870. The outlying towns and villages of the French capital were one of Corot’s favourite subjects throughout his career and many depictions of them appear in many of his works. Mantes-la-Jolie was one of Corot’s favoured places to paint. The town is situated a few kilometres to the north-east of Paris and the depiction we see before us is as seen from the Île de Limay on the Seine. Corot painted many views which incorporated the old medieval bridge, Le pont de Mantes, and the Gothic cathedral. Corot had begun a series of works around the middle of the nineteenth century and completed the last one around 1870. This painting was one of his later works to feature the town. It is both a clear and natural looking depiction which Corot achieved by the use of monochrome shades and the way he reduced the use of colours. The painting shows soft fluent brushstrokes and this fluidity makes it seem as if the leaves on the trees are being moved by a gentle breeze and the painting displays a freshness that floods all of the senses. Corot’s art in this period is magical and as he himself declared, sensations captured in the open air are reproduced without ever losing sight of the importance of the first impression.
I have always liked the rural realism paintings of Jean-François Millet such as The Gleaners, The Angelus and The Winnower and so to see something quite different from the French artist at the museum was of great interest. The painting was Winter which he painted around 1868. The depiction in the painting, Winter, is of grim harshness, and exudes an air of melancholia. We see before us a frozen wintry landscape which disappears into the distant horizon. The tiny figure of a man can be seen to the right of the haystack and the inclusion of the figure enforces a sense of loneliness in this bleak expanse of the frozen plain. It forces us to think about man’s relationship with nature and his ever-changing environment. This sense of cold desolation has been achieved by Millet through his constrained use of colours. Before us we see a vision of a grey, hostile, and unwelcoming world and it is this sombre intensity which dominates the entire surface of the canvas.
In 1868, the wealthy French industrialist Frédéric Hartmann had given Millet a twenty-five thousand francs commission to paint a series of four paintings depicting the seasons. A painting from that series, Haystacks: Autumn which Millet went on to paint in 1874 and which now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, bears a resemblance to his aforementioned Winter
Étienne Pierre Théodore Rousseau was just eighteen years old when he completed his 1830 painting entitled The Town of Thiers. He had visited the Central French Auvergne town in the summer of 1830 and during his stay completed many works depicting the commune. The depiction reveals the scene of a medieval town with its gathering of houses which ascend the steep slope that culminates in the Church of St. Jean, the towns highest point. The pale blues of the background signify the mountain range of the Puy-de-Dome. Rousseau’s biographer, Alfred Sensier, believed that the style used in the series of work Rousseau completed in this region were to forever become his own style.
My last offering for this first look at the 19th century paintings is one by the Barbizon school artist, Constant Troyon. Troyon was born in Sèvres a southwestern suburb of Paris in 1810. The painting, The Fishermen, which he completed around 1850 was the integration of an imported pictorial style from the Dutch Golden Age. It was recorded that Troyon visited the Low Countries in 1847 and was influenced by the great Dutch artists, such as Albert Cuyp and Paulus Potter and such influence can be seen in this work in a group of animals seen on the plain somewhere in the region of Normandy. In the middle ground we see ancient oaks set against a cloud covered sky. It is a balance of Romanticism and Naturalism.
In my final blog about the paintings in the Founders Collection of the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian I will be looking at more of the nineteenth century paintings on display.