Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti

Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

My Daily Art Display today will, I hope, tempt you to travel and by so doing actually see today’s work of art.  Your journey will be well worth it and for those of you who live close to my proposed destination, I have to say I am indeed very jealous.   I have been there and the whole area is so beautiful and full of many places and things to see.  As an added bonus  for my female readers, I will also offer you an alternative way to lighten your hair à la Sienna !!

 

Sala della Pace

You need to go to Italy.  You need to go Tuscany.  You need to visit the beautiful city of Siena and to find today’s offering you need to visit the Plazzo Pubblico. The erstwhile palace is now the town hall.    Inside this beautiful building is the Sala dei Nove, also known as the Sala della Pace, where the nine chief magistrates held their meetings. 

On three walls of this high-ceilinged room is the fresco series painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti and this work of his is looked upon as one of the most revolutionary and remarkable endeavours of the Renaissance.  Over the next three days I will show the three frescos, which are collectively known as Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government.  The aim of the frescos was to acclaim the political doctrine of the government of the Nove, who retained power in Siena until 1355.  The commissioning of the frescoes was uncommon for that time period as they were not commissioned by the church, as was the norm, but by the governing body of the city.  The scenes in some of the frescoes had nothing to do with religion and were definitely of a secular nature which in 14th century Italy was very unusual.  The group of frescoes elaborate on two themes.  Firstly that of justice and secondly the importance that private interests must always be secondary to the interests of the majority and  therefore for the common good of the majority.

Allegory of Good Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (c.1338-40)

The painted frescoes essentially work on two levels, one allegorical and symbolic and the other concerned with description and exemplification, while the whole cycle covers three walls of the great hall.   On the wall opposite the window, which is 7.7 metres long, is Allegory of Good Government, which is My Daily Art Display for today.    

The Allegory of the Good Government is situated on the smaller wall of the room and faces the windows. The fresco is built up from three horizontal bands. In the foreground the figures of contemporary Siena are represented. Behind them, on a stage, there are allegoric figures in two groups, representing the Good Government. The two groups are connected by the procession of the councillors. The upper band indicates the heavenly sphere with the floating body-less ghosts of the virtues.

The enthroned man on the right side of the middle band represents the city of Siena and embodies the Good Government.   Around his head the four letters C S C V (Commune Saenorum Civitatis Virginis) explain his identity. At his feet sit two children who are the sons of Remus, Ascius and Senius, the founders of Siena according to the Roman legends. On both sides of Siena the virtues of Good Government are represented by six crowned, stately female figures: Peace, Fortitude and Prudence on the left, Magnanimity, Temperance and Justice on the right. On the far left of the fresco the figure of a woman, the personification of Justice, can be seen as she balances the scales held by Wisdom who is floating over her throne.  On the viewer’s left, a convicted criminal is beheaded; on the right, figures receive the rewards of justice. At Justice’s feet, the personification of Virtue, also, unusually for the time, portrayed as a female figure, passes virtue among twenty four recognizable images of prominent male citizens of Siena. The men face towards the largest figure in the image, a judge located in the centre-right.   The figure of Justice bears a resemblance to the figure of Mary, Queen of Heaven, the patron saint of Siena, on a throne. The Judge reflects the tradition in the Christian Last Judgment to have God or Christ judging the saved on the left; the damned on the right. While classified as medieval or proto (pre)-renaissance art, this fresco shows a transition in thought and an evolution in theme from earlier religious art.

The judge is surrounded by additional personifications including Peace, who is represented as a fashionable, white-clad contemporary female figure with elaborate blonde hair.  Although blonde hair was fashionable it was not the dominant hair colour of Italian women from this region but it was not unusual in those days for women to lighten their hair by streaking it with urine and letting it dry in the sun!

Below the fresco there is the signature of the painter:

AMBROSIUS LAURENTII DE SENIS HIC PINXIT UTRINQUE.

Tomorrow and the day after I will look at the other two frescoes which appear on the walls of the Sala della Pace.

Still Life of Food and Drink by Willem Claesz Heda

Still Life of Food and Drink by Willem Heda (1631)

My Daily Art Display is another first.  It is the first time my chosen painting has been a still-life.   Still-life paintings are not one of my favourite art genres but I do admire the skill of the artist who paint still-life subjects.  So what does one mean when one talks about still-life works of art ?   Still-life paintings are works of art, which, in the main, depict inanimate objects.  Such inanimate objects maybe either natural, such as flowers, plants and food or they may be man-made objects, such as vases, jewellery, books and drinking vessels etc. 

The history of still life painting can be traced back as far as Ancient Greek and Ancient Egyptian times.  If one goes back to the Ancient Egyptian times one has learnt that among the items found in their burial chambers in those days were still life paintings of the deceased’s favourite foods.  These were placed with the mummified body in the belief that they would travel to the after-life with the deceased and when he or she arrived there, the food would become real and available for use by the now re-born person. 

An artist painting a still life, of course, had more scope in arranging the design within a still life composition than a landscape or portrait painter had when transferring their subject on to canvas.  Still life artistry developed separately in the Netherlands in the late sixteenth century and this term “still life” probably derives from the Dutch word “stilleven”.  Illustrations in illuminated manuscripts were often decorated along the borders with intricate displays of flowers.  Later when books took over from illuminated manuscripts the same artistry was used in scientific botanical illustrations.

Another favourite item to feature in “still-life” paintings, especially those of Northern Europe, was food and kitchenware.  These, often massive works of art, were favoured by the Flemish artists of the time, such as Pieter van Aelst and Joachim Beuckelaer.   At the beginning of the seventeenth century oil paintings of flowers became very trendy.  Another style of still life painting was known as “breakfast paintings” which were works of art which not only represented a literal presentation of the food which the upper-class of the time would consume but they would be a religious reminder to steer clear of one of the seven deadly sins – that of gluttony.

This brings me nicely to our artist of the day and his still life painting.  My Daily Art Display artist for today is the Dutch artist Willem Claeszoon Heda.  Heda was born in Haarlem in 1594 and devoted all his artistic life to still life painting.   His father Claes was the city architect for Haarlem and his uncle Cornelis Claesz Heda was a painter.  Willem Heda was to become, along with his countryman Peter Claesz, one of the most important representatives of ontbijt (breakfast piece) painting in the Netherlands.

Today’s painting entitled Still Life of Food and Drink was completed in 1631.  This is one of five known still-life paintings featuring items of food and drink on a simple table by Heda.  On the food tables that he painted, one would often see mincemeat pies, ham and oysters.  Today’s painting by Heda is a Vanitas.  A Vanitas is a symbolic type of work of art which was associated with Heda and other Northern European artists in Flanders and the Netherlands during the 16th and 17th centuries.  The word is Latin and means “emptiness”.   Vanitas works of art were usually still-life pictures depicting an object or group of objects symbolising the shortness of life on earth and the transience of all earthly pleasures and triumphs.

In today’s painting we see left-over, half eaten mincemeat pies which will soon decay and be gone, symbolising the brevity of life.  On the table we can also see a knife, an upturned tazza, a glass römer goblet and a timepiece, the latter being another symbol of the passing of time. The peeled lemon alludes to a deceptive appearance – beautiful to look at but sour tasting.  The half-peeled lemon appeared in a number of Heda’s still-life paintings of the time and was clearly favoured for artistic reasons, lending strong colour to the picture.  Lemon was also used in those days to improve the taste of wine.  The painting is characterized by subdued, close tonal harmonies.  Heda wanted to contrast the different textures of the objects on display – the dull sheen of the pewter plate and the gloss of the upturned silver tazza.  For this painting, Heda painted a plain, softly illuminated background which gave a fleeting appearance that the objects in the foreground were floating.

A Roman Slave Market by Jean-Léon Gérôme

A Roman Slave Market by Jean Léon Gérome (c.1884)

For My Daily Art Display today I am moving away from landscape artists and their works and delving into the world of Academicism and Academic art.  The term “Academic Art” is associated particularly with the French Academy and its influence on the Paris Salons in the 19th century. Though Academic art can be meant to extend to all art influenced by the European Academies, it’s often meant to refer to artists influenced by the standards of the French Académie des Beaux Arts.   Academic Art was in fashion in Europe from the 17th to the 19th century. It practiced under the movements of Neoclassicism and Romanticism and more usually used to refer to art that followed these two movements, in the attempt to synthesize both of their styles.   Artists such as today’s featured artist, Jean-Léon Gérôme epitomize this style. Academic Art is often referred to as art pompier, or eclecticism.

Jean-Léon Gérôme was born in 1824 in Vésoul in the Haute Saône region of France.   His father was a goldsmith and did everything in his power to discourage his son from studying to become a painter but to no avail.  At the age of sixteen, Jean-Léon went to Paris and studied at the studio of the painter, Paul Delaroche where he inherited his highly finished academic style Delaroche closed his studio in 1843 and took Gérôme with him to Italy.  There they visited Rome, Florence and the Vatican but for Gérôme the place which impressed him the most was Pompeii and Herculaneum.  It was here that new excavations were taking place and frescoes and sculptures were being uncovered.  Inspired by these, Gérôme was later to establish, in 1848, the Néo-Grec (New Greek) group of artists.  Ill health forced him to return to Paris in 1844.  He attended the Académie des Beaux Arts and entered some of his paintings into the Prix de Rome but with only mixed fortune.  However his works of art were being noticed by the art critics and in 1847 his painting The Cock Fight, an academic exercise depicting a nude young man and a lightly draped girl with two fighting cocks and in the background the Bay of Naples, won him a medal at the Paris Salon.

Jean-Léon Gérôme travelled extensively and recorded all that he saw on his journeys especially those to Turkey and Egypt.   These visual notes he recorded, whether they were simple drawings or paintings gave him an abundance of material to use when he returned home to his studio in Paris and had the time and space to convert his material into large scale works.  As an artist he was highly successful and never lacked profitable commissions.  In 1860 he married the Marie Goupil, the daughter of Adolphe Goupil a wealthy and well-established art dealer and from that day forth Gérôme’s international popularity and recognition grew.

My Daily Art Display for today is Jean-Léon Gérôme’s oil on canvas painting entitled A Roman Slave Market which he completed around 1884.  In all Gérôme painted six slave market scenes set in either Rome or 19th century, Istanbul.  Today’s work of art was originally entitled Sale of Circassian Slave.  This beautiful painting depicts a naked female slave standing before the male bidders at an auction.  Gérôme found a novel slant on the common 19th century theme of the slave market by viewing the action from behind the podium.   The slave is seen from behind, as if through the eyes of the next slave who is waiting to be moved forward and be auctioned off.  What was controversial about this painting was the way in which he portrayed the leering crowd which undermined the notion that bodily perfection could be viewed with a pure and disinterested gaze

Jean-Léon Gérôme died in his atelier on 10 January 1904. He was found in front of a portrait of Rembrandt and close to his own painting “The Truth”.   At his own request, he was given a simple burial service without flowers.   But the requiem mass given in his memory was attended by a former president of the Republic, most prominent politicians, and many painters and writers. He was buried in the cemetery at Montmartre in front of the statue Sorrow that he had cast for his son Jean who had died before him in 1891.

Maybe the last words on Jean-Léon Gérôme should come from the Lorenz Eitner, the Stanford University Art History professor who wrote about Gérôme and his works of art in his book An Outline of 19th Century European Painting saying:

“… In the variety and sensationalism of his subjects Gérôme surpassed all his rivals at the Salon – murder in the Roman Senate and carnage in the gladiatorial arena, luscious nudity at the slave auction or the harem bath; Bonaparte contemplating the Sphinx – all served equally well for his carefully plotted picture-plays, graced with sex, spiced with gore and polished into waxwork life-likeness by a technique that his admirers took for realism….”

Kindred Spirits by Asher Brown Durand

Kindred Spirits by Asher B Durand (1849)

A few days ago (February 4th), I gave you a landscape painting by the American (although born in England) artist Thomas Cole.  Today, My Daily Art Display, relates to three men, a poet and two artists, both of the Hudson River School of painting, one of whom, Thomas Cole, was the founder.  Today’s work of art is not a painting by Thomas Cole but one in which he is depicted.

The Hudson River School paintings are among America’s most admired and well-loved artworks. Such artists as Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, and Albert Bierstadt left a powerful legacy to American art, embodying in their epic works the reverence for nature and the national idealism that prevailed during the middle of the 19th century.  The Hudson River School artists shared an awe of the magnificence of nature as well as a belief that the untamed American scenery reflected the national character. Members of the school shared their iconography and responded to one another’s paintings.  Their works of art reflected nineteenth-century American cultural, intellectual, and social backgrounds. It is interesting to study paintings by this group of artists and discover how they represented the landscape and look at their depictions of weather, light, and season.

Thomas Cole died an untimely death from pneumonia in 1848 at the age of forty-seven and the poet and his good friend William Cullen Bryant gave a eulogy of Cole which touched the hearts of many, including the wealthy New York dry-goods merchant and art collector Jonathan Sturgess.   In appreciation of Bryant’s tribute, he commissioned the painter Asher Durand to capture the friendship of Cole and Bryant and incorporate it into an America landscape, similar to one which often featured in one of Cole’s paintings.

Asher Brown Durand was also an American painter of the Hudson River School.  He was born in Jefferson Village, now known as Maplewood, New Jersey in 1796.  His father was a watchmaker and silversmith.  He came from a large family being the eighth of eleven children.  Initially he followed in his father’s footsteps and at the age of sixteen was apprenticed as an engraver.  He was very successful in his career and his reputation as an engraver was enhanced when he was commissioned to engrave John Trumbull’s painting The Declaration of Independence.

During the late 1820’s and the early 1830’s Durand’s interest moved away from engraving to oil painting.  In 1837 he and Thomas Cole went on a sketching expedition to Schroon Lake in the Adirondacks and this enforced his love of landscape art.  He spent many summers sketching in the Catskills and the White Mountains of New Hampshire during which time he drew hundreds of sketches and drawings.

The commission from Jonathan Sturgess in 1849 set the task for Durand to create a painting which would show  Cole and his poet friend Bryant as “kindred spirits” which was inspired by John Keats’ “Sonnet to Solitude” which celebrates how aspects of nature enhance our lives, and ends:

Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Those words are images of thoughts refin’d,
Is my soul’s a pleasure; and sure it must be
Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.

Sturgess also wanted the backdrop of this painting to be typical of Thomas Cole’s landscapes.  

My Daily Art Display today is Kindred Spirits painted in 1849 by Asher Durand and was considered to be one of the best works of the Hudson River School.  It shows Cole and Bryant engulfed by the wilderness of the Catskill Mountains of New York state.  As was the case in many of the paintings of the Hudson River school this painting was a tribute to American nature and to the two men who had celebrated its unique exquisiteness.  It was an idealized composition which brought together scenes from several sites around that area and fashioned them into one panorama.  So the scene itself was not real in itself but brought together all that was best in the Catskill Mountain area.

The painting, once completed, was given to the New York Public library by Bryant’s daughter Julie where it remained until it was sold in a blind auction at Sotheby’s  in 2005 to a private collector, Alice Walton, the Walmart heiress for $35 million, which at the time was a record amount for a painting by an American Artist.

And finally for those of you who took a look at My Daily Art Display on February 2nd when I was showcasing La Lecture by Pablo Picasso.  I mentioned it was up for sale with a guide price of between £12million and £18million pounds.  Last night at Sotheby’s, London it sold for £25,241,250.  Anybody fancy taking up art as a hobby ?

The Maas at Dordrecht by Aelbert Cuyp

The Maas at Dordrecht by Aelbert Cuyp (1650)

I have been fortunate that wherever I have lived has been close to either the sea or a river and I have always been fascinated by the ships and boats that move on these waters.  I have spent many a memorable holiday staying in accommodation on both the Rhine and the Mosel Rivers and spent many happy hours relaxing, watching the laden barges as they travelled slowly up and down the busy waterways.  So today I decided to offer you a riverscape painting which encompasses all that I love about water and on which the barges that ply their trade,

My Daily Art Display artist today is the Dutch painter Aelbert Cuyp who was born in the Dutch town of Dordrecht which is on an island bordered by a number of rivers, one of which is the Oude Maas, an off-shoot of the Rhine.  Aelbert Cuyp was born in 1620 and came from a large family of painters but was by far the most famous.  He was the son of the portraitist Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp, who looked after his early training. He, in turn, assisted his father by supplying landscape backgrounds for his father’s portrait commissions.  Aelbert soon tired of portraiture and concentrated on landscapes and riverscapes.  He was a religious man and had an active involvement in the Dutch Reformed Church.

From his paintings of landscapes and townscapes it is apparent that at some time in his twenties he had travelled extensively within the Netherlands and along the upper Rhine in Germany.  Because of the Italianate lighting effects seen in his later works, it is thought he may have spent time in Italy and also mixed with other Dutch Italianate landscape painters.

In 1658, at the age of thirty eight, he married Cornelia Bosman, the wealthy widow of Johan van de Corput, a naval officer and member of a very wealthy Dordrecht family.  After his marriage Aelbert appeared to have spent less time painting and more time involved with church activities.  His new found wealth meant that he did not have to earn a living by selling his paintings.

Aelbert Cuyp died in Rotterdam in 1691, aged seventy one.

Today’s painting is entitled The Maas at Dordrecht which Cuyp painted in 1650 and is housed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington.   In this picture it is not the town of Dordrecht which has centre stage but the River Maas itself and the craft on it which are plying their trade on its waters.  This vast, sunny composition specifically accents one figure.   In the foreground we see a small boat which has come alongside a sailing barge.  In the boat we can see a dignitary dressed in a black jacket with an orange sash.  He could be the festival’s master of ceremonies and could also be the patron who commissioned Cuyp to document the historic event.  He is greeted by a distinguished looking gentleman who stands among numerous other figures, including a man beating a drum. On the left a second rowboat approaches, carrying other dignitaries and a trumpeter who signals their impending arrival. Most of the ships of the large fleet anchored near the city have their sails raised and flags flying as though they are about to embark on a voyage. The early morning light, which floods the tower of the great church and creates striking patterns on the clouds and sails, adds to the dramatic character of the scene.

It is almost certain that Cuyp was commissioned to mark this event in a painting.  The event, a two-week festival, is believed to have happened in 1646 when an enormous fleet of ships carrying thirty thousand soldiers was anchored off Dordrecht.  Crowds jam the docks, bugles and drums sound fanfares and cannons fire salutes.  One can see that the sunlight in the painting rakes across the panel and by doing so accentuates small bits of detail in the golden light.

The “Merry Company” paintings by Willem Buytewech

My Daily Art Display yesterday featured the Dutch Italianate landscape painter Herman van Swanevelt and in the early part of his life I mentioned that is was thought that he learnt some of his art techniques from another Dutch painter, Willem Buytewech, so today I thought I would showcase this man and look at his style of painting, which was completely different to that of his pupil van Swanevelt.

Merry Company by Willem Buytewech c 1622-1624

Willem Pieterszoon Buytewech was born in Rotterdam around 1591.  His father Pieter was a cobbler and candlemaker.  He started his artistic studies in the Dutch town of Haarlem where at the age of twenty one, he eventually became a member of the local artist’s guild Haarlem Guild of St Lukes , along with two other young local artists Hercules Segers and Essias van de Velde,Here at this prestigious workshop he worked alongside many great Dutch painters including the master himself, Frans Hals, who proved a great influence on Buytewech’s works.  The Guild was named after their patron saint: St Luke. Craftsmen had to be members of the guild to practice their trade. They were expected to adhere to certain requirements relating to quality and price, but the guilds also had funds to protect their members against hardship, economic or social. An extensive system of apprenticeship was maintained by the guilds. Only a fully-trained master could become a member of a guild. House painters and fine-art painters alike belonged to the St Luke’s guild. In the 17th century, however, the artists became increasingly hostile towards the craftsmen, or ‘coarse painters’.

Merry Company by Willem Buytewech (c.1617-20)

Willem Buytewech, who was known as the inventor of Dutch genre paintings, was nicknamed by his contemporaries “Geestige Willem” meaning “Spirited or Jolly” Willem for his penchant of irony and that he was one of the first Dutch painters to use a group of people carousing as a subject for a painting.   In 1613 Willem married Aeltje van Amerongen who came from a well-to-do family and they returned to Rotterdam.

Unfortunately there are only a small number of Buytewech’s paintings in existence but he will be remembered as one of the most interesting artists during the first years of the great period of Dutch painting.  His pictures of dandies, fashionable ladies, drinkers and lusty wenches are amongst the most spirited of the Dutch genre scene and instituted the category known as “Merry Company” which is the title Buytewech gave to his three paintings in today’s My Daily Art Display.

Willem Buytewech died prematurely in Rotterdam in September 1624 at the young age of thirty three and never saw his son, Willem the Younger who was born the following year and who was to follow his father’s footsteps and become a painter.

Merry Company by Willem Buytewech circa 1620-1622

Another interesting note concerning the bottom and middle painting is the framed map on the wall behind the revellers.   Buytewech was the first artist to use wall maps as a major motif in interior scenes. He was a leading pioneer of genre interiors.    Of the ten paintings by Buytewech, four include wall maps. The two paintings I have featured today, one painted around 1617-1620  and the other around 1620-1622, both  feature wall maps with the legible title HOLANDIA. These cartographic backgrounds serve to associate both scenes specifically with the province where the pictures were painted.
One of the strange things about these early Dutch maps is that one may not recognize the geographical contents of Buytewech’s two maps of Holland, for both are oriented with south at the top.   At this time, the designing of maps with north at the top was not yet a standardized practice; a map could be arranged with north at the left, right, or bottom, according to the preference of the cartographer.

Italian Landscape with bridge by Herman van Swanevelt

Italian Landscape with bridge by Herman van Swanevelt (c.1645-50)

The other day I came across a beautiful landscape painting by an artist that was unknown to me.  His name was Herman van Swanevelt and the painting was entitled Italian Landscape with bridge which he painted circa 1645-50 and which hangs in the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London.

The artist was born in Woerden which was one of the smaller towns of the province of Holland in the newly independent Dutch Republic.  His early history is somewhat sketchy other than knowing he came from a family of craftspeople and some way back in his lineage was the celebrated artist Lucas van Leyden.  As there were no well known artists identified as having lived in Woerden at that time it is just conjecture as to how van Swanevelt learnt his artistic trade.  Some art historians believed he spent time in Rotterdam under the tutelage of Willem Buytewech the Dutch painter, draughtsman and etcher, who was considered to be the “inventor” of Dutch genre painting.

Herman van Swanevelt was recorded as having been in Paris in 1623 and later lived in Rome between 1629 and 1641.  It was during his time in Italy that Herman concentrated his works of art on the first generation of the Dutch Italianates and the whole Italianate landscape genre with his paintings focusing on beautiful landscapes sparkling in sunny conditions and a classic example of this is in My Art Display’s painting.  His paintings of  sumptuous Italian landscapes and the views of Roman ruins soon gained favour with the wealthy art collectors of Rome and the Vatican.  One of his large scale paintings was commissioned by King Philip IV which he installed in Buen Retiro, his country palace near Madrid.

In 1642 van Swanevelt  returned to Paris, where he became a member of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1651    His landscape works now began to take on a more Northern appearance and to his pleasure found that French art collectors were equally impressed with his works of art and were only too keen to purchase all that he could produce.  For his artistic work he received the prestigious appointment of “peintre ordinaire du roi”.   In the later years of his life van Swanevelt returned occasionally to his home town of Woerden as can be seen by the name of the town being added to his signature on some of his paintings he completed in the 1640’s.

His popularity as a Dutch painter continued unabated and as a genre, Dutch Italianate landscape paintings were highly prized in the northern Netherlands during the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 17th century they fetched higher prices than native Dutch landscapes paintings.  Then, at the end of the nineteenth century Dutch Italianate landscape paintings in general suddenly fell out of favour.  The reason for this fall from grace of van Swanevelt’s  paintings was that many prominent art critics of the time believed that he and other Dutch 17th century Italianate landscape painters had been unpatriotic in the way they had chosen Italian landscapes as the subject for their paintings.  The art critics of the time also believed that the settings seen in their landscapes lacked a sense of realism and as such their landscape paintings were of a hybrid style that was neither Dutch nor Italian.  Such harsh criticism from the art critics caused art galleries, which had once scrambled to be the first to hang their paintings,  now took them down from their walls and caste them to their basement storerooms.

Have a look at today’s painting and decide whether you like the sunny pituresque nature of the subject or would you prefer a touch more realism.

Ty Ucha, Nant Gwrtheyrn and Golgyfan by Malcolm Edwards

Many years ago I stayed in the house of a German couple who lived in Upper Bavaria.  I was mesmerised by the awesome nature of their surroundings.  Their house was in the foothills of the German Alps and the snow-capped mountains seemed to be within touching distance.  The meadow and pasturelands were lush green in colour and were ideal for feeding the large, almost-purple coloured cows.  There was something very soothing about the tranquillity of the area.  Walking along the small country roads bordering the verdant fields, breathing in the mountain air which was so clean and fresh was such a delight.  One could always hear the deep chiming of the large cow bells as the lumbering animals moved slowly around their lush territory.

So why do I bring this up in My Daily Art Display ?  The reason is that throughout my stay with this young German couple all they could talk about was having a holiday in the Highlands of Scotland.  I couldn’t believe it.  Here they were situated in the middle of what I believed was Shangri-la and all they wanted was to go and see some beautiful Scottish scenery.  Although I have to agree that the Scottish Highlands are beautiful, I just wondered why this young German husband and wife could not recognise that they were living in an equally beautiful place and there was no need to search out foreign splendour when they had their own natural grandeur on their doorstep

Ty Ucha, Nant Gwrtheyrn by Malcolm Edwards

I suppose it is a case of never fully appreciating what you have.  I marvel at the splendour of foreign landscape paintings and have featured some, as was the case yesterday in My Daily Art Display, and I thought that maybe I should be looking closer to home.  Today, I have done just that and looked at pictures of places which are just a few miles from where I live.    My Daily Art Display today features a couple of paintings of the wild mountainous areas of Snowdonia by the local artist Malcolm Edwards.  There is a brutality about the harsh landscapes with its precipitous rock strewn slopes, jagged summits and dark threatening skies.  There is an air of foreboding and even claustrophobia as one looks upwards towards the towering peaks.

A number of the artist’s pictures take in the disused slate and granite quarries which have been hewn out of mountain sides with unforgiving savagery, often with fruitless results.  It is as if God and his elements have stacked the terrain and the inclement weather against the prospectors who have in most cases given up their search for financial glory.

Golygfan by Malcolm Edwards

The first watercolour is of Ty Ucha, Nant Gwrtheyrn  a former homestead of generations of farmers and granite quarrymen.  The large cities of Liverpool and Manchester in the mid nineteenth century were expanding rapidly and needed the raw building materials such as granite for road building.    Nant Gwrtheyrn was once a busy little quarry village on the Llyn Peninsula’s northern coast which supplied such material but sadly the granite boom was short lived with the advent of tarmac and when the mines ceased operating the village died and the residents, the quarrymen and their families moved on.  The other work is entitled Golgyfan which really shows the brutal and desolate landscape with its dark greys and black colours,  which add an ominous and threatening element to the picture.  Note the man with the shepherd’s crook and his sheepdog, which were trademarks in a number of Malcolm Edwards’s pictures.

American Lake Scene by Thomas Cole

American Lake Scene by Thomas Cole (1844)

In the mid nineteenth century a group of American landscape painters got together to form a group whose inspiration was the pride they had in the beauty of their homeland.  They were influenced by the Romanticism Movement that flourished at that time in Europe and many of this newly formed group had studied there and were familiar with the plein-air Barbizon School painters who had become very popular with both American patrons and collectors.  The early leaders of this Hudson River Movement were Thomas Doughty, Asher Durand and the artist which is featured in today’s My Daily Art Display, Thomas Cole.   This group of painters concentrated their art work on the Catskill, Adirondack and White Mountains areas and all along the Hudson River valley.  These were often untouched areas of great natural beauty.  There were three main themes reflected in the Hudson River School artists.  They wanted to depict in their works of art,  the discovery, exploration and the settlement of this area of America.  For most of these artists there was a devout belief that nature in the form of the American Landscape was an indescribable expression of God.  These artists would travel extensively through the sometimes inhospitable areas surrounding the Hudson Valley with its extreme environment just to be able to sketch and memorise the wild and rugged beauty of nature and then return to the safer surroundings of home where they would transfer their memories on to canvas.  Often their works of art, although painted with realism, would be made up of a combination of the many scenes they had witnessed during their wanderings in the wilderness.

Today’s artist Thomas Cole, although now looked upon as an American artist, was actually born in 1801 in Bolton in Lancashire, England.   He is regarded as the founder of the Hudson River School.  His family emigrated to America when he was seventeen and settled down in Steubenville, Ohio.  Cole started his artistic career, studying portraiture but achieved little success with his finished works.  It was then that he turned to landscape painting.  In his early twenties he moved around a great deal, living in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia before rejoining his parents in New York.  Whilst in New York he made an artistic breakthrough when he sold some of his landscape paintings to George Bruen, a prominent figure in the business and financial circles of New York.  So impressed was he by Cole’s work he funded the artist,  so that he could travel to the Hudson Valley and carry out some more paintings of that area.  On his return Cole displayed some of his art work, which he had completed, in a bookstore window.  The artist John Trumbull saw the paintings, bought one and put Cole in contact with some of his wealthy friends who became his most important patrons. 

The Thomas Cole House in Catskill

After this Thomas Cole never looked back and his reputation as a landscape artist grew.  He had a studio on the Cedar Grove farmstead in the town of Catskill, New York at which he completed most of his works of art.  In 1836, aged thirty five, he married Maria Bartow, who was the niece of the farmstead owner and they had five children.  Thomas Cole died in 1848, aged forty seven, at Catskill and the fourth highest peak in the Catskill Range mountain range was named Thomas Cole Mountain in his honour and his studio at the Cedar Grove farm became known as the Thomas Cole House and was declared a National Historic Site in 1999 which has been opened up to the public.

My Daily Art Display offering today is Thomas Cole’s oil on canvas painting entitled American Lake Scene which he completed in 1844, four years before his premature death, and which can be seen in the Detroit Institute of Arts.  If you look closely you will be able to make out a lone Native American sitting under the tree contemplating the tranquillity of the lake.  In this painting the clever use of colour and the natural setting adds to the atmospheric calmness and beauty of the scene.  Of this painting one art critic of the time said that the painting “looks like the earth before God breathed on it

This painting and many of his others was how Thomas Cole would have liked those pioneering days to have been as he was a great opponent of the railroad’s push into the heart of America destroying God’s beautiful landscape.  I believe, like Thomas Cole, we should try and appreciate and preserve more of the natural beauty of our countryside and fervently hope that the march to industrialism does not destroy all that we love.

La Lecture, Deux Femmes aux Corsages Rouge et Rose by Renoir

La Lecture, Deux Femmes aux Corsages Rouge et Rose by Renoir (1918)

My Daily Art Display for today is a painting by the French Impressionist painter Pierre- August Renoir.  He was born in Limoges, France in 1841.  He came from a working class family.  His father Léonard was a tailor and his mother Marguerite was a dressmaker.  At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a M. Levy a porcelain-painter and he worked in the local porcelain factory.  His ability to draw was soon noted and he was soon working in the department which painted designs on the finished fine china.   At the age of twenty one he began studying art in Paris where he met Alfred Sisley and Claude Monet.  He led a very frugal existence at this time and often could not afford to buy the paints he needed for his art work.  Renoir was twenty three years of age when he exhibited his first paintings at the Paris Salon.  His works were greeted with much acclaim at the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874

In 1881 Renoir set off on his travels visiting Algeria, Spain and Italy.  In Italy he visited Florence and Rome and saw the works of the great Masters, such as Titian and Raphael.  In the summer of 1883 Renoir spent the summer in Guernsey, with all its varied landscapes with its beeches, cliffs, bays, forests and mountains.  Whilst there, he created fifteen paintings of the island.  From there he moved back to mainland France and for a time settled down in the Montmartre district of Paris and it was whilst here that he met Suzanne Valadon who modeled for some of his paintings including The Bathers and Dance at Bougival.  Valadon also was a model for Toulouse-Lautrec before becoming a noted painter herself.

In 1890 Renoir married his lover, Aline Victorine Charigot, a model he had used in his painting Luncheon of the Boating Party and with whom he had already had a son, Pierre five years earlier.  His wife and children featured in many of his paintings as did their nursemaid Gabrielle Renard who as well as carrying out her domestic duties, often modeled for Renoir.

In 1907 due to the fact that he suffered badly from rheumatoid arthritis and to try and alleviate the symptoms he moved to the Cagnes-sur-Mer in the south of France.  Despite his arthritis he continued to paint until his death in 1919 at the age of 78, five years after the death of his wife Aline.

My Daily Art Display today is Renoir’s painting La Lecture, Deux Femmes aux Corsages Rouge et Rose which he completed in 1918 a year before he died.  This was by far his most successful of his large scale works.  It is a tender and harmonious portrait of two women as they sit serenely, completely absorbed in the words of a book they are reading.  They seem totally oblivious to what is happening around them, even unmindful of the artist himself.  The dark haired lady on the right is thought to be the erstwhile long serving maid Gabrielle Renard who had left the family five years earlier after looking after them for nineteen years.   The woman on the left maybe Andrée Heuschling, who was introduced to Renoir by Matisse, and who later married Renoir’s son, the film maker, Jean.

Finally, I will leave you with the words Théodore Duret, the French journalist, author and art critic,  who wrote of Renoir in his book,  Histoire des peintres impressionnistes:

“Renoir excels at portraits.  Not only does he catch the external features, but through them he pinpoints the model’s character and inner self.  I doubt whether any painter has ever interpreted women in a more seductive manner.  The deft and lively touches of Renoir’s brush are charming, supple and unrestrained, making flesh transparent and tinting the cheeks and lips with a perfect living hue.  Renoir’s women are enchantresses”