Jules-Louis Ernest Meissonier – Part 1.

The Wallace Collection, London

When I go to a large town or city I tend to try and visit the local art gallery/museum. The trouble with these establishment in major cities such as London, New York, Paris, and Madrid, is that the foremost galleries tend to be massive in size and almost impossible to view all the works in the time you have free. When time is of the essence I tend to look for a smaller gallery and often they are little gems. When I am in London, and if I only have a few hours to spare, I try and visit the Wallace Collection which is situated in Manchester Square a short distance from Selfridges and Debenhams on Oxford Street.

Wallace Collection gallery

There, on display are a superb collection of works of art collected in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the illegitimate son of the 4th Marquess. When Richard Wallace died in 1890, he bequeathed his entire estate, including the art collection, to his widow, Amélie-Julie-Charlotte Castelnau and it was Lady Wallace who, on her death in 1897, bequeathed it to the British nation. There were a couple of provisos that went with the bequest.

In her will, she specified that in return for her gift, the Government should provide a site to build a new museum and that the collection should be kept together. She also stipulated that the Wallace Collection was to be a closed collection, meaning that no other works of art could be added to it, permanently or temporarily, nor should any of the collection be taken away. So little changes with the art collection but one never tires of seeing so many gems of European oil paintings from the fourteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. Both the 4th Marquess and his son, Sir Richard Wallace lived in Paris and they both acquired many works of art by eighteenth and nineteenth century French artists, such as Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard and Decamps as well as my featured artist, Jules-Louis Ernest Meissonier.

Self-portrait by Ernest Meissonier (1889)

In my next two blogs I will be looking at the life of Jules-Louis Ernest Meissonier, the great French Classicist painter, who is probably best known for his military and historical subjects, especially depictions of Napoleonic battles.  Meissonier was largely self-taught, and yet, became one of the highest paid painter in the second half of the century.

An Artist showing his Work by Ernest Meissonier (1851)

Ernest Meissonier was born, in Lyon on February 21st, 1815, just as the Napoleon Bonaparte era was ending.  He was the elder of two sons.  At the age of three his father moved his family to Paris. His father, Charles Meissonier, was a dye merchant and a very successful businessman, who owned a factory in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. The factory produced dyes for the textile industry. He also had a drug and provisions shop in the Rue des Ecouffes. Meissonier’s mother loved music and took lessons in the painting of miniatures and ceramics. She died when her son was still young.

Meissonier’s school record left a lot to be desired. When he was nine years old and attending a local school in Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, his teacher commented:

“…[he showed] too marked a tendency to draw sketches in his copy-books instead of paying attention to his teachers…”

Meissonier’s father was concerned about his son’s leaning towards art as the Romantic painters in those days did not have a great reputation and he believed that the likelihood of his son becoming successful was unlikely.  Later during his stay at a school on the Rue de Jouy his teacher reported on Meissonier’s love of art and the part it played in his failing at other subjects:

“… Ernest has a decided talent for drawing. The mere sight of a picture often takes our attention from our serious duties…”

By now Meissonier’s father was alarmed with his son’s progress and in 1832, when Ernest was seventeen years old, his father decided to pull him out of school and had him apprenticed as a druggist. Ernest was not happy with his father’s plan for his future and presumably after many months of conflict between father and son, he was allowed to study art at the atelier of Jules Potier. His stay there was short-lived and from there he moved to the atelier of the French history painter and portraitist, Léon Cogniet. However, Ernest was more influenced by the paintings of the Dutch and Flemish Masters which he saw at the Louvre than the teachings of Potier and Cogniet.

L’Expédition d’Egypte sous les ordres de Bonaparte (in 1798), by Léon Cogniet

However, it was whilst studying at Cogniet’s studio that Meissonier witnessed his master painting a military work which when completed in 1835 would be referred to as L’Expédition d’Egypte sous les ordres de Bonaparte (in 1798), (The 1798 Egyptian Expedition Under the Command of Bonaparte). Meissonier was fascinated to watch Cogniet working on the painting, soldiers were hired in for the day, dressed in republican uniform as well as dragoons and artillerymen and their horses. He realised that he would like to become a military painter, but that was some way in the future.

Dutch Burghers by Ernest Meissonier (1834)

Meissonier’s first breakthrough into the art world was when he had one of his paintings, Les Bourgeois Flamands (Dutch Burghers), also known as The Visit to the Burgomaster, accepted into the 1834 Salon. This very small oil painting measuring 18 x 22cms was, in essence, a costume piece depicting three sober-looking gentlemen dressed in traditional seventeenth century clothing. It is fascinating to see how Meissonier has depicted in this work the light and shadow. He has also inserted a still-life depiction into the painting with his rendition of the silver tray, jug, and glasses atop the table to the right of the painting. This work of art was acquired by Sir Richard Wallace for his Wallace Collection.

Chess Players by Ernest Meissonier (1853)

Meissonier in the mid-thirties soon realised that the life of an artist was one of depravation and living hand to mouth and had to turn to his father on a regular basis for financial assistance. Notwithstanding the financial hardships he endured, he had further success at the Salon in 1836 when two of his paintings, The Chess Player and The Errand Boy were accepted into the exhibition. It is interesting to note the vagaries of the Salon jury system as both these works had been rejected by the Salon jury in 1835.   The chess player theme was evident in another painting he completed almost twenty years later.  It was a miniature (9.5 x 12.5cms) which he painted in 1853.

The novel, Paul et Virginie, with illustrations by Ernest Meissonier

Financial salvation for Meissonier arrived in the form of book illustrations. He produced many woodblock illustrations for the publisher, Henri-Léon Curmer, for his edition of the popular 1788 novel Paul et Virginia,  by Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre. Meissonier also supplied a full set of diminutive illustrations for another edition of a novel by this author, which he wrote in 1790, La Chaumière indienne (The Indian Cottage). They were well received, and book sales flourished. Financially, the tide had turned for Meissonier.

The Recital by Ernest Meissonier (1853)

One of Meissonier’s artistic friends was the Strasbourg-born painter Auguste Steinheil and through this friendship, Meissonier met his sister Emma. A courtship followed and on October 13th 1838 Ernest and Emma married. The couple went on to have two children, a daughter Thérèse in 1840 and later a son, Jean-Charles. Maybe Meissonier had plans for his artistic future as on Thérèse’s birth certificate, Meissonier’s occupation was given as “painter of history”.

Isiah by Ernest Meissonier (c.1838)

In the late 1830’s Meissonier embarked on religious paintings and around 1838 produced Isaiah which was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1840. This was to be one of only a few religious paintings by Meissonier and so, with little success with this genre and advice from the French painter Jules Chenavard, he stopped painting religious scenes and returned to his small genre pieces featuring scenes of bourgeoise domestic life which proved so popular.  One of the reasons why miniature paintings were preferred to the bygone grandiose history paintings was that smaller canvases such as landscapes or portraits, because they fitted more easily onto the walls of Paris apartments, were big sellers. Meissonier was often referred to as the French Metsu, likening him to the seventeenth-century Dutch painter Gabriel Metsu, who also specialised in miniature scenes of bourgeois domestic life.

Smoker by Ernest Meissonier

The significant year in Meissonier’s life was 1842. It was in that year that he produced two beautifully painted genre works, The Smoker and The Bass Player. Critics were overwhelmingly complimentary and one of the leading critics at the time, Théophile Gautier commented:

“…In their small scale, we place these inestimable works without hesitation beside those of Metsu, Gerald Dou, and Mieris; perhaps even above them, because Meissonier has the truth of drawing, the fineness of tone and preciousness of touch joined with a quality that the Dutch hardly possess—style…”

Poissy, enclosure of the abbey, years 1870-1880.
From left to right, Meissonier’s house, Ridgway Knight’s house (center) and Notre-Dame collegiate church. Photo Agnès Guignard

Such critical praise made Meissonier one of the most sought-after painter of the decade, and his works of art appealed to a wide range of collectors. Such a demand for his work meant that the prices he could achieve for his work also rose and the money flowed in. The fruits of all this labour were rewarded and in 1847, he was able to purchase an elegant suburban home in Poissy, known as the Grand Maison. The Grande Maison included two large studios, the atelier d’hiver, or winter workshop, situated on the top floor of the house, and at ground level, a glass-roofed annexe, the atelier d’été or summer workshop. This rise in wealth and artistic status was a great achievement for somebody who had taught himself art and had no great financial backing from a well-to-do family.

The Barricade by Ernest Meissonier (1848)

Things had settled down in France politically since the Revolution of the 1790’s and the Napoleonic era but in 1848 the situation changed for the worse. In Paris, Louis-Philippe, known as the “citizen king was forced to abdicate that February, and the country descended into civil strife and anarchy. Meissonier was an artillery captain in the National Guard, and one his responsibilities was for his troops to defend the Hôtel de Ville. In June 1848, Meissonier witnessed a bloody struggle and resulting carnage with the massacre of the insurgents on a barricade of the rue de l’Hôtel-de-Ville. He produced a watercolour which depicted the outcome of the massacre. Meissonier neither forgot about the incident nor the painting for in the 1890’s he talked about his love for the work, in a letter to Alfred Stevens, the Belgian painter:

“…I am not modest about this drawing, and I am not afraid to say that if I were rich enough to buy it back, I would do so immediately […] When I painted it, I was still terribly affected by the event I had just witnessed, and believe me, my dear Alfred, those things penetrate your soul when you reproduce them […] I saw it [the taking of the barricade] in all its horror, its defenders killed, shot, thrown out of the windows, the ground covered with their bodies, the earth still drinking their blood…”

The watercolour was hailed as truly remarkable and it was acquired by the painter Eugène Delacroix and is now housed in the Musée d’Orsay.
This watercolour, depicting the outcome of the fight, was always considered, by both the artist and his contemporaries, as a remarkable and an unusual work. The history of this drawing also makes it special with Eugène Delacroix being its first owner.

The Barricade, rue de la Mortellerie, June 1848 by Ernest Meissonier (1849)

Meissonier did a follow-up oil painting depicting the massacre the following year entitled The Barricade, rue de la Mortellerie, June 1848 which can now be found in the Louvre. Once again, the depiction is based on Meissonier’s memory of what happened on that fateful day. In the work we see numerous corpses and severed limbs of the rioters lying amongst the cobblestones in the middle of a street lined with old houses.  Meissonier had hoped to exhibit this painting at the 1849 Salon under the title of June 1848, but he gave up on the idea saying that the horror of the incident was too fresh in people’s minds and many wanted to eradicate the incident from their memory. The art critic Théophile Gautier was the only one who dared to admit being disturbed by the work and talked of “this trusty truth that no-one wants to tell.” This unidealized work not only presents a denunciation of civil rebellion, but also highlights the growing tensions between the social classes in Paris.

………….to be continued.


The New Year Puzzle

I will start my first blog of 2018 with a question, a puzzle for you to solve.

What is the connection between an anonymous group of feminist, female artists dressed up as gorillas, the twentieth century American author, journalist, and philanthropist, Jane Fortunea and the sixteenth century nun and talented artist, Suor Plautilla Nelli ?

Guerilla Girls poster

The Guerrilla Girls, a play on the word, gorilla, are an anonymous group of feminist activist artists who are dedicated to fighting sexism and racism in the art world. They want to bring to the attention of the public the domination of white males in the art establishment. They only appear in public wearing gorilla masks. It’s important for them to remain anonymous as most of them are practising artists and their use of pseudonyms, instead of using their own names, is so that people focus on what they stand for and not concentrate on their true identity. The group members adopt the names of dead female artists, including Frida Kahlo, Zubeida Agha, Diane Arbus, Georgia O’Keeffe and Rosalba Carriera.

An anniversary recount sticker showing numbers from 1985 and 2015

The Guerilla Girls was formed in New York in 1985, the year after the MOMA,  the Museum of Modern Art  in New York City held a large exhibition entitled An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture.  This international exhibition of contemporary painting and sculpture  inaugurated the newly-renovated and expanded Museum of Modern Art and intended to demonstrate the museum’s commitment to the work of living artists.  This exhibition had been organized by the curator Kynaston McShine, and, according to him, it presented the most important 169 artists in the world at that time. One prerequisite for selection in the survey was that an artist’s reputation had to have been established after 1975.  However, only 13 of them were women, and as for the ‘international’ part of the exhibition title, there wasn’t a single artist of colour due to have their work exhibited. According to the curator the exhibition presented a survey of contemporary art, but largely left female artists out of consideration. To make things worse, Kynaston McShine was quoted as saying:

“…Any artist who wasn’t in the show should rethink his career…”

This disparity and the fact nobody seemed to care, became the impetus for the formation of the Guerilla Girls.

Jane Fortune with her 2013 Emmy Award

The second part of my puzzle was the name Jane Fortune. Jane was born in Indianapolis in 1942. She is a journalist, acting as cultural editor of The Florentine, an English-language newspaper in Tuscany in which she contributed many articles regarding the art and culture of the Tuscan city.

Of equal importance Jane was Founder and Chair of the Advancing Women Artists Foundation (AWA) which is an organisation committed to safeguarding art by women and rediscovering a vital part of Florence’s forgotten cultural and creative heritage. She is a tireless advocate for art preservation.

Invisible Women by Jane Fortune

Jane is also an author of several books, having written about art and the city of Florence, including her very popular 2007 guidebook reflecting on Florentine culture, To Florence, Con Amore: 77 Ways to Love the City. In later books she championed art by female Florentine artists, such as her 2009 book, Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of Florence, in which she talks about how the many paintings by Florentine women of the past lie languishing and deteriorating in basement storerooms of galleries.

Art by Women in Florence by Jane Fortune and Linda Falcone

On a more proactive note, in 2012, she and Linda Falcone, a California-born university professor and member of the Advancing Women Artists Foundation, wrote a guidebook entitled Art by Women in Florence: A Guide through Five Hundred Years, which described where to view artworks by women artists in the public collections of Florence. From this book followed a five-part television documentary, which described the six-year project to research, restore, and exhibit works of art by women in Florence’s museums and storage covering the restoration of works by three artists: Plautilla Nelli, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Irene Parenti Duclos. On June 1, 2013, the documentary won an Emmy Award as Best Documentary in the Cultural/Historical Program category.

Of the award Jane said:

“…Winning the Emmy is a new boost to my project, which aims to restore and exhibit artworks by women in Florence. To achieve these goals, it takes technology and skill. It takes the commitment of the city’s museum directors, its restorers and its citizens in general, who are eager to finally learn more about these lesser-known works…”

To Florence Con Amore – 90 Ways to Love the City
by Jane Fortune

In Florence, she is also on the Board of Trustees of the Medici Archive Project (MAP), one of the world’s leading Digital Humanities research organizations for research on history, art, and material culture in the period of the Renaissance through the Enlightenment. Under the auspices of MAP she has endowed a pilot program dedicated to researching women artists in the age of the Medici. It is the world’s first archival research program dedicated to women artists.

The Florentine – an English language monthly arts magazine

As a philanthropist and art collector (particularly works of women artists), she has served on several museum boards and is currently a member of the Board of Governors of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, a member of the National Advisory Board of the National Museum of Women in the Arts (Washington D.C.), an honorary member of the Dean’s Advisory Board at Herron School of Art and Design, Indianapolis, a founding member of the Women’s Philanthropy Council, Indiana University, a National Advisory Board Member of the Indiana University Museum, Bloomington, IN.

And so, I come to the third piece of the puzzle – Sister Plautilla Nelli. How can a sixteenth century woman have a connection with the Guerilla Girls and Jane Fortune? To find the connection one needs to know more about Sister Plautilla Nelli.

Possible portrait of Plautilla Nelli

Pulisena Margherita Nelli was born into a wealthy family in Florence in 1524. Her father was a prosperous fabric merchant. At the age of fourteen she became a nun at the convent of Santa Caterina da Siena, and took the name Suor Plautilla. Her older sister Costanza, also became a nun and took the name Suor Petronilla.

Saint Catherine by Plautilla Nelli

The convent was managed by the Dominican friars of San Marco, who were led by Girolamo Savonarola, the Italian Christian preacher, reformer, and martyr, who was renowned for his conflict with despotic rulers and a dishonest and immoral clergy. Nelli was heavily influenced by his teachings. Through the words of he encouraged devotional painting and drawing by religious women to avoid sloth and thus the convent Nelli was a member became a centre for artistically-inclined nuns. According to Jane Fortune in her 2010 book Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of Florence, Nelli is looked upon as the first-known female Renaissance painter of Florence and one who was influenced by the work of Fra Bartolomeo.

Lamentation with Saints by Plautilla Nelli

Dr. Catherine Turrill, the American art history professor and renowned expert on Plautilla Nelli, believed that many of the nuns at Santa Caterina were daughters of Florentine artisans, and the convent was known throughout Italy as a place where women could dedicate themselves to art, as well as serving God. Nelli was self-taught, and would spend time copying paintings by the mannerist painter Agnolo Bronzino and the high Renaissance painter Andrea del Sarto but the artist who influenced her the most was Fra Bartolomeo. She drew particular inspiration from the work of Fra Bartolommeo and his pupil Fra Paolino, both from the Dominican monastery of San Marco. After Fra Paolino’s death she was given his collection of drawings by Fra Bartolommeo.

Saint Catherine Receives the Stigmata by Plautilla Nelli

So now you may be a little closer to solving the puzzle. The Guerilla Girls wants greater recognition of the work of female artists. Jane Fortune of the Advancing Women Artists, who has connections with Florence was of the same mind, and Plautilla Nelli was a sixteenth century forgotten painter but there is just one more piece needed to solve the puzzle.

In the March 18th, 2013 edition of the Harvard Art Museums Index magazine, Cheryl Pappas wrote:

“…She [Jane Fortune] heard the call to find works by “forgotten” women artists when she, with help from the Florence Committee of National Museum of Women in the Arts, funded the restoration of a painting by a self-taught 16th-century nun, Suor Plautilla Nelli, who is considered the first woman painter of Florence. When Fortune saw the figures in Lamentation with Saints come to life in the midst of its restoration, she was moved, especially by the women in the painting: “Their tear drops became visible and their emotion touched me. It was then that I knew—Plautilla Nelli deserves to be discovered, studied, and appreciated. I will do all I can to rediscover and protect the works of this incredible woman artist and others like her, who have yet to get their proper due…”

There are over 2,000 paintings, sculptures, and drawings by pioneering women artists, stored in the Florence museum storage facilities which have been overlooked for hundreds of years. They have deteriorated and in urgent need of restoration. The Advancing Women Artists Foundation is committed to safeguarding this art and by so doing, revive an essential part of Florence’s forgotten cultural and creative heritage.

Plautilla Nelli’s painting Last Supper in the restoration lab

In the 1570’s Plautilla Nelli completed her large-scale (6.7metres long) masterpiece depicting the Last Supper. Her depiction of the event was the first done by any female artist and is the only signed work by Plautilla Nelli known to survive.

Detail of left-hand side of Last Supper canvas

Plautilla Nelli completed the work for the refectory of her own convent. However, in the early 1800’s, when Napoleon subjugated the monasteries and convents, the work was rolled up and put in storage for a while. Later it was hung back in the private (not open to the public) refectory at Santa Maria where a small group of Dominican friars would take their meals. However, the currents state of the painting, even after earlier restoration attempts, was causing concern. The Advancing Women Artists Foundation which regularly sponsors the restoration of works by women artists, has now taken on the task of organising the restoration of Nelli’s huge canvas which they hope will be completed in 2018. On completion people will be able to see the restored work at the Museum of Santa Maria Novella in Florence.

As for works by Plautilla Nelli and other female artists of the distant past, things are looking up. In March 2017, the Uffizi Galleries in Florence began a long-term strategy for promoting female artists. One of the first initiatives was the Uffizi exhibition, Sister Plautilla Nelli. Convent Art and Devotion in the Footsteps of Savonarola exhibit, curated by Dr. Fausta Navarro which is devoted to Sister Plautilla Nelli, considered the first female Florentine painter.

If you are still somewhat unconvinced about people’s knowledge of female artists of the past, ask a friend to name five artists of the past and see how many include the name of a female artist.


Happy New Year to you all.

The Wilson and the Ferrieres Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hendrik Willem Mesdag. Part 3. Bomschuiten, Storms and Panorama Mesdag

Hendrik Willem Mesdag by Hendrik Johannes Haverman
Hendrik Willem Mesdag by Hendrik Johannes Haverman

Following his visit to the Frisian island of Nordeney in the summer of 1868, Hendrik Mesdag would dedicate the rest of artistic life to seascapes and maritime paintings.  He and his wife Sientje had moved back to The Hague in 1869, a town which was a short distance from the coastal district of Scheveningen which offered him the perfect situation for his seascape paintings.

Beached Bomschuiten by Moonlight by Hendrik Mesdag
Beached Bomschuiten by Moonlight by Hendrik Mesdag

Scheveningen, at the time of Mesdag, was a small fishing village which has since grown to become one of the most popular beach destinations of The Netherlands. In the 16th century the village of Scheveningen had less than 900 inhabitants whose livelihood was dependent on fishing.   In the 19th century the main fishery was focussed on the catch of the herring. These were the golden times for the Scheveningen’s fishing industry but by the end of the 19th century the fishery almost ended since few young folk of Scheveningen followed in their fathers’ footsteps in becoming fishermen.

The Scheveningen Fishing Fleet putting to Sea in Hevay Weather by Hendrik Mesdag
The Scheveningen Fishing Fleet putting to Sea in Hevay Weather by Hendrik Mesdag

One of the main features in Mesdag’s seascape depictions was the fishermen and their flat-bottomed boats known as bomschuiten on the beaches at Scheveningen.  When Mesdag went to live in The Hague, there was no harbour for the fishing boats and they would have to rest on the beach and the fishermen would simply pull them on and off the shore.  To get them into the sea for the next fishing trip was quite a complex and unusual affair which I saw explained in a write-up on the Gallery Rob Kattenburg website.

“…At about six feet from the water’s edge a heavy anchor is placed in the sea with a smaller anchor fixed to the same cable to prevent the large anchor from what is known as ‘crabbing’ – that is, sliding over the bottom – when the boat is being launched. At a short distance from the vessel an even smaller anchor is fixed to the cable. The youngest anchorman, with the anchor over his shoulder, walks into the sea up to his neck and then drops the anchor. Only after this has been done are the fishermen carried one by one by the so-called carriers or swimmers and set down on a ladder placed at the stern of the vessel. Then the carriers themselves climb on board. A complete crew numbered nine men. Then the anchor cable is wound round a primitive wooden windlass and the handspikes are inserted. Simultaneously with each rolling wave the crew strains to pull the cable in and thus draw the ship out to sea until they reach deep water. At some distance from the coast the sail is hoisted and the boat sets off for the fishing grounds…”

After the Storm of 1894 by Hendrik Mesdag (1894)
After the Storm of 1894 by Hendrik Mesdag (1894)

The low lying Dutch coastline was often battered by storms, one of the worst being in 1470 when it destroyed the church and half the houses.  The village was again hit by storms in 1570, 1775, 1825, 1860, 1881, and 1894, the latter being the most devastating.  At that time a safe harbour had yet to be built and as usual the fishing fleet of the flat-bottomed bomschuiten had been pulled up on the beach. They were devastated by the ferocity of the storm and most were smashed to pieces and this devastation was captured in Henrik Mesdag’s painting After the Storm 1894.  After this last storm, the villagers decided to build a harbour. Once the harbour had been constructed in 1904, more modern fishing boats replaced the bomschuiten.

Fishing Boats and Fisher-folk on the Beach of Scheveningen by Hendrik Mesdag (1872)
Fishing Boats and Fisher-folk on the Beach of Scheveningen by Hendrik Mesdag (1872)

The painting Hendrik Mesdag was probably best known for was his panorama painting which became known as Panorama Mesdag.  I remember when I travelled to Venice many years ago, and visited the Gallerie dell’Academia I came across the enormous painting by Veronese entitled The Feast in the House of Levi.  I could not believe how big it was – it measured 18ft high and 42ft in width.  However, this fades into insignificance if you compare it to the size of Hendrik Mesdag’s Panorama which is 46ft high and 394ft in circumference (14m x 120m).  Trust me, seeing is believing!

London Panorama by Robert Barker (1792)
London Panorama by Robert Barker (1792)

Panorama paintings had existed prior to Mesdag’s effort.  A panorama or panoramic painting is a massive work of art, which depicts a wide and all-encompassing view of a subject.  But what is a panorama? The word was coined by the Irish painter Robert Barker, the inventor of the visual panorama, by merging the Greek for pan, “all,” + orama, “that which is seen.” They could be depictions of a battle, historical event or a landscape and were very popular in the nineteenth century, a time before television or the cinema. The Irish artist, Robert Barker experimented with the idea of representing nature at a single glance.  Barker was born at Kells, County Meath, in 1739. He set himself up as an artist in Dublin but was never very successful and eventually left Ireland and settled in Edinburgh, where once again he set himself up as a painter of portraits and as a miniature painter. If not a great painter, Barker was certainly a great inventor and devised a mechanical system of perspective which he taught. One day when atop Calton Hill, one of Edinburgh’s main hills set right in the city centre he had the idea of a panorama painting of the city below and in 1787, helped by his twelve-year old son, Henry, he made drawings of a half-circle view from the hill and later in his studio completed his picture in water-colour and took it to London where sadly, it was not well received.  However, Barker believed in his project and completed a whole-circle view of Edinburgh twenty-five feet in diameter. He went on to exhibit the work in the Archer’s Hall at Holyrood and afterwards in the Assembly Rooms in George Street. Later in 1788 he exhibited the work in a large room in the Haymarket, London.  Barker went on to complete many more panorama paintings.

Panorama Mesdag with Sientje sitting under white parasol
Panorama Mesdag with Sientje sitting under white parasol

In Belgium panoramas became very popular and Hendrik Mesdag received a commission from a Belgian panorama society, Societé Anonyme du Panorama Maritime de la Haye to paint a maritime panorama.  They wanted the panorama, without borders, to be centred around the Seinpostduine, which at the time was the highest sand dune in Scheveningen and was in danger of being excavated to make room for a café-restaurant.

Panorama Mesdag - view of Scheveningen
Panorama Mesdag (detail) – view of Scheveningen

Mesdag accepted the commission believing it to be a great opportunity to depict his beloved picturesque coastal village of Scheveningen and so, he went about enlisting the help of a few artist friends from The Hague School.  He invited George Hendrik Breitner, a young art student from The Hague Academy, whose task it was to sketch the village of Scheveningen, Théophile de Bock, a friend of van Gogh, was tasked to paint the sky and the dunes and the small contribution of Bernard Blommers was the painting of a fisherwoman and her child who are looking out to sea.  Another contributor to this massive project was Mesdag’s wife Sientje, who he depicted in the painting sitting down with her easel under a white parasol.   Mesdag set to work on the panorama in March 1881 building a sixteen-cornered building on Zeestraat in The Hague.  It incorporated a 14-metre-high structure on which Mesdag could paint his work

Panorama Mesdag (detail) showing Cavalry exercising the horses on Scheveningen Beach

Mesdag and his team of painters made numerous sketches of the town and the surrounding coast and slowly over the next four and a half months the panorama evolved.  Mesdag was well satisfied with the finished result.  He believed the painting gave an overwhelming impression of nature.  Many believe he was influenced by his training at the hands of Willem Roelofs who had stressed the importance of reality painting.  Roelofs had told Mesdag on many occasions to “paint reality and nothing but reality”.

Panorama Mesdag Gallery
Panorama Mesdag Gallery

The museum housing the panorama was opened to the public on August 1st 1881 but after five years it went bankrupt.  Mesdag, who was concerned as to the fate of his panoramic painting, bought the museum, and kept it open despite it losing money year on year.   Vincent van Gogh, an early visitor to Panorama Mesdag,  in a letter to his brother Theo, dated August 26th 1881, wrote about the panorama:

“…then I saw Mesdag’s panorama with him [Théophile de Bock], that’s a work for which one must have the utmost respect.  It put me in mind of what Bürger or Thoré, I think, said about Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson. That painting’s only fault is not to have any faults…”

Panorama Mesdag Viewing Gallery
Panorama Mesdag Viewing Gallery

I visited Panorama Mesdag at the beginning of December and it was truly an amazing experience.  You enter the building, past the obligatory shop and into two small rooms which house some of Mesdag and his wife’s paintings.  You then follow a corridor upwards through a dimly lit long passage which opens out to what looks a circular observation gallery surrounded by the enormous painting.  The observation gallery has a circular walk way with rails all around it which you can lean against as you scan the painting.  As you stand on the gallery platform, the painting is 14 metres away from you and between you and the painting is sand and various items of flotsam, abandoned fishing nets and marram grasses which make it seem that you are standing on top of a sand dune looking down to the sea on one side and the village on the opposite side.  This addition of sand and bits of driftwood make the whole experience more realistic.

The museum housing the panorama was opened to the public on August 1st 1881 but after five years it went bankrupt.  Mesdag, who was concerned as to the fate of his panoramic painting, bought the museum, and kept it open despite it losing money year on year.

In his later years Mesdag received many honours. In 1889, he was elected chairman of Pulchri Studio Painters’ Society, the society he joined twenty years earlier, and remained in that post until 1907. He received the royal distinction of Officer in the Order of Oranje-Nassau in 1894.  In February 1901 Mesdag is promoted to Commander of the Order of the Dutch Lion.

50th wedding anniversary of Hendrik Mesdag and Sientje Mesdag-van Houten in the Pulchri Studio
50th wedding anniversary of Hendrik Mesdag and Sientje Mesdag-van Houten in the Pulchri Studio (1906)

In March 1909 his beloved Sientje died, aged 74.  Two years later in 1911, Hendrik Mesdag was taken seriously ill and although he recovered, his health slowly deteriorated.  Hendrik Willem Mesdag died in The Hague in July 1915, aged 84.

I end with a quote from the author, Frederick W Morton who wrote an article in the May 1903 edition of the American art journal, Brush and Pencil .  He wrote about Mesdag’s seascapes:

“…Other artists have painted more witchery into their canvases, more tenseness and terror.  A Mesdag has not the glint of colour one finds in a Clays or the awful meaning one reads in Homer.  On the contrary, many of his canvases are rather heavy in tone and are works calculated to inspire quiet contemplation rather than to excite nervous.  But he is a great marine-painter because he thoroughly knows his subject – he has sat by it, brooded over it, studied it in its every phase – and by straightforward methods, without the trick of palette or adventitious accessories, has sought to make and has succeeded in making his canvases convey the same impression to the spectator that the ocean conveyed to him…”

It is very difficult to describe the Panorama Mesdag experience but if you go to YouTube and type in “panorama mesdag” there are a number of videos showing you this wonderful painting.

Two Mallorcan artists – Coll Bardolet and Miró.

During the last seven days I have been soaking up the sun and heat of Mallorca and now, whilst sheltering from the continual rain, I thought I would look at two artists who had an attachment to this Balearic Island.  Their work could not have been more different.  The artwork of the first artist was bright and beautiful whilst the work of the second artist, who is, by far, more famous, left me unmoved but I will try not to judge and simply accept that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Josep Coll Bardolet at work
Josep Coll Bardolet at work

The first artist I am featuring is the Catalan painter Josep Coll Bardolet, whose work I came across at a gallery in the quaint Mallorcan town of Valldemossa.  He was born in November 1912 on mainland Spain, in Campdevànol, a village in the province of Girona.  When he was fifteen years old the family moved to the city of Vic, a small town twenty miles south of where he was born and where Coll Bardolet began his education at the Escola Municipal de Dibuix and worked as a painter and decorator. It is in that year in Vic that he held his first exhibition of his paintings. Having developed a love of landscape painting he then enrolled at the Landscape Painting School in Olot, which is now known as Escola d’Art i Superior de Disseny d’Olot .  The town of Olot, which lay twenty miles east of Campdevànol, is known for its natural landscape, including four volcanoes which are scattered around the city centre.  The town was also famous for its cultural activity, with its various art movements such as the Olot School of landscape painting.  The Olot School was a group of painters that created an artistic style in the second half of the 19th century, similar to the French Barbizon School.

Cala Deiá by Josep Coll Bardolet
Cala Deiá by Josep Coll Bardolet

In July 1936, the Spanish Civil War broke out and Bardolet, being a pacifist, decided to leave his homeland and cross the border to France.  He travelled to Tours and here he studied at the town’s Academy of Fine Arts.  The following year he moved to Brussels where he was appointed professor at the city’s Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts.

Majorcan Landscape (Oil on tablex) by Josep Coll Bardolet
Majorcan Landscape (Oil on tablex) by Josep Coll Bardolet

In 1939 he returned to Spain and his beloved Catalonia and it is whilst here that he makes a number of journeys to Mallorca, each time staying longer and longer on the island.  He was fascinated by the island’s light, landscape and its folk dances and it is these themes which play a major part of his art.  His paintings were exhibited both on the mainland at Barcelona and on the island at Palma.  His love of the island grew over the years and finally in 1944 he settled permanently in Valdemossa.    He bought a house with a studio and a garden next to the Charterhouse of Valldemossa, a former Carthusian monastery, which is now a museum.  Here he lived with a small dog, a cook and a housekeeper.  Over the next twenty years he worked tirelessly completing paintings which are exhibited in galleries throughout Europe as well as Boston, USA.

Collidores by Josep Coll Bardolet
Collidores by Josep Coll Bardolet

In 1987 he was declared an honorary citizen of Valldemossa, the town he had made his home for over forty years.  In 1988, in recognition of his achievements the Coll Bardolet  Art Gallery was opened in Campdevànol, the village where he was born seventy-six years before.

Spanische Tänzer by Josep Coll Bardolet
Spanische Tänzer by Josep Coll Bardolet

Thirty miles north-east of where Bardolet used to live in Valldemossa is the town of Escorca and there is the Santuari de Lluc, a monastery and pilgrimage site.  In 1984, with the celebration of the centenary of the Coronation of the Virgin the museum expanded with the addition of a considerable acquisition of modern art and sculpture, which was further extended to include rooms dedicated to the work of Josep Coll Bardolet who made two donations totalling 236 works of art in 1989 and 1995.  The new and definitive collection was opened on 10th September, 1995 and is made up of the Coll Bardolet Collection of portraits, drawings, gouache and water-colours.

The Coll Bardolet Cultural Fundation
The Coll Bardolet Cultural Fundation

In 1990 Bardolet was awarded the Saint George Cross by the Autonomous Government of Catalonia and the Gold medal of the Community of the Balearics Islands.  The Coll Bardolet Cultural Foundation was established in 2005 with the works donated by him to the town of Valdemossa.  The Foundation has two main objectives. The first is to preserve, exhibit and publicise the pictorial work of Josep Coll Bardolet and the Foundation’s private collection of his work, and the second is to promote the fine arts in all of their facets and forms.  The Foundation, which I visited last week, is in a three storey building in the centre of Valldemossa.  The first floor of the building features a permanent exhibition of Coll Bardolet’s paintings, which primarily consist of landscapes of Mallorca, though they also include still lifes, flower compositions and his well-known renderings of traditional Mallorcan folkdance scenes. The second floor houses temporary exhibitions, and the ground-level floor accommodates different cultural activities, such as conferences and concerts.  The building was restored under the auspices of the Balearic Islands Government and the Valdemossa Town Council.  The works in this permanent collection captivate the beautiful Mallorcan scenery.

Josep Coll Bardolet (1912 - 2007)
Josep Coll Bardolet
(1912 – 2007)

Josep Coll Bardolet died in Valdemossa in July 2007, aged ninety-four.


Joan Miro at work
Joan Miro at work

The second artist I am featuring today is the Barcelona-born painter who also had a connection with Mallorca.  He is Joan Miró.  I visited the museum dedicated to his art work, the Fundación Pilar i Joan Miró (Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation) museum whilst visiting Cala Major just a little way west of Palma.  Although born in Catalonia, both his mother and wife came from the Balearic Island of Mallorca.  The museum is comprised of a main building which houses his works which he donated, a library, a sculpture garden, Miró’s Sert studio, a building designed by his friend of twenty-five years, the Spanish architect and city planner, Josep Sert.

Inside the Gallery at the Fundación Pilar i Joan Miró, Palma Mallorca
Inside the Gallery at the Fundación Pilar i Joan Miró, Palma Mallorca

In 1937, Josep Sert designed the Pavilion of the Spanish Republic for the Paris Exposition Universelle, for which Miró painted a large format oil painting, The Reaper, also known as El campesino catalán en rebeldía (Catalan peasant in revolt).

Joan Miró working on The Reaper
Joan Miró working on The Reaper

It was an enormous mural, 5.5metres tall.  Sadly it was destroyed or lost in 1938 and only a few black and white photographs survive, including one showing Miró working on the mural.

Inside Miró's Sert Studio
Inside Miró’s Sert Studio

The Sert studio is the one he used from the time he arrived on the island in 1956 until his death in 1983.  Almost twenty years earlier, in May 1938, whilst living in exile in Paris, he wrote about how owning his own spacious atelier would give him so much pleasure:

“My dream, when I can set somewhere, is to have a large workshop, not so much for lighting, north light, etc., that I find indifferent as to have more space, many fabrics, because the more I have work, the more you come to me to do “.

In 1956 his Sert atelier was ready for him and Miró remembered the time well, saying:

“…In the new study, I had enough space for the first time. I could unpack boxes containing works long ago […] When I took everything in Mallorca, I started myself […] I was ruthless with myself. I destroyed many fabrics, especially a lot of drawings and gouaches… “

Finca Son Boter
Finca Son Boter

Also on the land, there is the Finca Son Boter which he often used as a studio.  The structure is of a typical eighteenth century Mallorcan manor house and its name derives from the surname of the owner of the land in the fourteenth century, the merchant Llorenc Boter.  The closeness of Son Boter to his Sert studio was commented upon in Miró’s letter to Josep Sert.  In October 1959, he wrote:

“…I just bought Son Boter, the magnificent house located behind ours. What, besides being a good investment, puts us safe from possible fastidious neighbors. I also serve to make fabrics and monumental sculptures, as well as to decongest the workshop…”

Sculpture outside Miro's studio
Sculpture outside Miro’s studio

The cost of the building was probably offset thanks to the funding which came with the Guggenheim prize, which he had won in 1958 for the creation of two ceramic murals he did for the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

View of Cala Major, Palma, from the Joan Miro Museum
View of Cala Major, Palma, from the Joan Miro Museum

Joan Miró maintained a close relationship with Mallorca throughout his life. Although he was born in Barcelona on April 20, 1893, his mother, Dolores Ferrà, and his maternal grandparents were from Mallorca and from 1900, when he was only seven years, he began to spend part of the summer with his maternal grandmother in Mallorca.

Joan Miro and Pilar Juncosa (1929)
Joan Miro and Pilar Juncosa (1929)

In 1920 Miró made his first trip to Paris, which would was to prove the turning point in his life.  In October 1929 his ties with Mallorca strengthened when he married Pilar Juncosa Iglesias.  Pilar’s mother, Enriqueta, was cousin of Miró’s grandmother.

 Joan MiroIn 1936 he travelled to Paris with his latest works, which were to be exhibited in New York. When the Spanish civil war broke out, he decided to stay in Paris and his wife and daughter joined him.   He lived and worked in an apartment at 98 Boulevard Auguste Blanqui, Paris and attended life classes at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, where he produced a large number of drawings.  In the summer of 1939, with the onset of the Second World War he and his family left Paris and moved to Varengeville-sur-Mer in Normandy, where he rented a house and where the family remained until 1940.

Z 097At the end of May 1940 the Germans bombed Normandy and Miró decided to return to seek refuge in Spain with his family.  His fame had by now crossed the Atlantic and in 1947 during his first trip to America, he produced a mural painting for the Gourmet Room at the Terrace Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati.

Initially, Miró and his family had left France for Barcelona, but Miró had been an active sympathiser for the Republican struggle during the Spanish Civil War a few years earlier and this made him unpopular with Franco’s new regime, and so in 1956, he and his family decided to set up home in the relative isolation of Mallorca.  .

Joan_Mir_Espa_a_Catalu_a_El_nacimiento_del_d_aIn 1956 Miró  summed up his love of the Balearic Island:

“…This wonderful country … We are about to buy a house near Palma in a beautiful land. Dividing my time between here [Mallorca] and Paris, and occasionally travelled to New York, would be ideal for work and health… “

Joan Miró died in Palma de Mallorca on Christmas Day 1983, aged 90. He was buried in the Montjuïc cemetery, Barcelona on December 29th.

Oiseau dans La Nuit by Joan Miro (1973)
Oiseau dans La Nuit by Joan Miro (1973)

I have purposely not commented on the paintings as they are not the kind of art that I can understand or appreciate.  I am however mindful of what somebody once told me.  They said I must embrace all types of art and never make the crass comment that a child could have done better !  As I said at the beginning, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so maybe this is your type of art, and if it is, enjoy.


Hyperrealism or Photorealism or Superrealism

Untitled (4 VWs) by Don Eddy (1971)
Untitled (4 VWs) by Don Eddy (1971)

Last week I decided to escape the cold and dreary weather of Britain.  It can be so depressing to look out each day on black clouds, heavy rain and suffer the inclement weather which rushes in from the Atlantic.   Although I like being by the sea when I go away, I thought the water temperature even in the Mediterranean might not be quite bearable for somebody so delicate as moi, so I decided to go for a warm/hot city break which would afford me the chance to visit some excellent art galleries and so I headed for Madrid.  I have flown to Madrid on a number of occasions but have always driven away from the capital’s airport on my way to other destinations so this was my first proper visit to the Spanish city.   I had planned my “must see and must do” list before I went and had the Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza museums on the list but in fact I came across another gem which I will tell you about in my next blog.

Today I want to talk you about an exhibition I went to see at the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum.  I have to be honest with you and say that even when I was standing in line to pay my museum entrance fee I had no intention of paying extra to see their special exhibition entitled Hyperrealism 1967-2012.  There were posters all around advertising the event with what looked like a photograph of four highly-polished VW Beetle cars (see above).  I immediately, and wrongly, jumped to the conclusion that the exhibition was a one of modern photography which is not what I want to see in a museum of art.  However thanks to my daughter, who loves modernity in art and who had accompanied me on this short holiday, I was dragged into the rooms which held this display.

Telephone Booths by Richard Estes (1967)
Telephone Booths by Richard Estes (1967)

I have to tell you I had never seen anything quite like it.  This was not a display of photographs but a large exhibition of works of Hyperrealism art often referred to as Photorealism art.  There are so many –isms in art.  I thought I knew them all and in fact I have the book …isms , Understanding art,  by Stephen Little, which discusses them all from Classicism to Sensationalism but even he had not touched on Hyperrealism.  So what are Hyperrealism and Photorealism?  The Oxford Dictionary of Art lists them under the name Superrealism and states that

“…it is an art form where the subjects are depicted with a minute and impersonal exactitude of detail…”

  It appears that Photorealism is the accepted artistic term in German and English speaking countries whereas Hyperrealism is the preferred term for this form of art in countries speaking Romance languages.  Whatever the term, this genre of art first emerged in the late 1960s  when a group of artists in the USA began to paint objects and scenes from daily life with a high degree of realism, using photography as the basis for their works.  The leading lights of the movement in those early days were Richard Estes, John Baeder, Robert Bechtle, Tom Blackwell, Chuck Close and Robert Cottingham.   This new movement attained international recognition in 1972 when their art appeared in the German city of Kassel at its Documenta 5 exhibition in the city’s Neue Gallerie.  The works of art at this exhibition were mostly by up-and-coming American artists.  In a way their works were a protest against abstract art which was dominating the art scene and the intellectual world since the mid 1940’s.  It was the era of the Abstract Expressionists, the Minimalists, the painters of Op Art and the Conceptual artists.  The emergence of Photorealism or Hyperrealism in the late 60’s was like new art movements of the past,  challenging current artistic practices and by doing so distancing themselves from what they considered to be the mainstream art genre of that time. The exhibition in Kassel caused an uproar.  The art critic of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung edition of July 8th 1972 reviewed the exhibition and was vehemently ctitical of what he saw, saying:

“… These are decorative objects for the dining room, or some even for the bedroom produced following the latest doctrines, pedantry in place of genius and the results are the most pedantic decorative objects imaginable…”

A few months earlier another writer reviewed a Photorealism exhibition held in New York and wrote;

“…if there is an obscene art, then it is that selling itself as the latest movement of the avant garde…”

The article went even further with its condemnation of the rapidly growing interest of the public for this new art genre.  The writer sought to bring shame on the buyers of this art by saying:

“…The buyers are snapping up this production-line Galatea as fast as its prolific Pygmalions can create her, dragging her home, like sailors with their inflatable dolls, for their aesthetic reassurance…”

The works of the Photorealists were painted with such intricate precision and with such meticulous detail that their finished paintings looked like photographs themselves.   The critics of this genre maintained that Photorealism was not art but simply the virtuosity of a copyist whose main aim was an accurate mimicking of reality, which was simply producing a stereotyped image of it.  The critics of this art even deemed it to be anti-intellectual.

The exhibition I went to see at the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum consisted of  sixty-six works by three generations of Hyperrealist artists and had been organised by the Institut für Kulturaustausch (German Cultural Exchange Institute.   It was an exhibition which offered visitors an insight into Hyperrealism and the history of the movement.  I have chosen two of my favourite works from this exhibition to feature in today’s blog.  One work is by a Second Generation of Hyperrealists,  Rod Penner, and the other by a young lady, born in London who is one of the new breed of Hyperrealists, Raphaella Spence.

House with Snow by Rod Penner (1998)
House with Snow by Rod Penner (1998)

The first work I have chosen is entitled House with Snow and was completed by Rod Penner in 1998 and is one of many he did which focused on the streets and single family homes in small towns in Texas.      Rod Penner was born in Vancouver in 1965 and currently lives and works in the small mid-Texan town of Marble Falls. He attended Kwantlen College in Canada before receiving a Bachelor of Arts in 1986 from Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, Oklahoma.  The work is a culmination of his visit to the location, photographing the scene, often using digital video stills.   It measures 91cms x 137cms and depicts a small single-family home in winter.  It is a truly remarkable work of art and I had to keep going up close to it to make sure it was not an actual photograph.

Canal Grande by Raphaella Spence (2007)
Canal Grande by Raphaella Spence (2007)

My second offering and probably my favourite is by a young British woman, Raphaella Spence.  It is entitled Canal Grande and was completed in 2007.  Raphaella was born in London in 1978 but she spent the first eight years of her life with her family in France.   The family went back to London where she continued her schooling.  At the age of twelve she was once again on her travels as the family relocated to Italy and went to school in Rome at the St. George’s British International School.   Raphaella love of art and the beautiful Umbrian countryside led her towards the creation of Photorealist landscape works.  In 2000 at the age of twenty-two she held her first solo exhibition in Italy which was well received and gained her public recognition.  Three years later she held a solo exhibition of her work at the Bernarducci. Meisel.Gallery in New York and ever since her works have been in ever increasing demand for exhibitions.  Many of her works are housed in galleries around the world both public and private and are often part of corporate collections.  Her works bring new perspectives to the artistic style of Photorealism.  She photographs her subjects with her 66-megapixel camera, and her cityscapes are often photographed as she flies over them in a helicopter.  Once she has the photographs she transfers the images to canvas, pixel by pixel, and the result is a spectacular pin-sharp hyperrealist painting.  I just could not believe the detail in her painting

I hope I have whetted your appetite to see this wonderful exhibition and look fiurther into the world of Hyperrealism or Photorealism.  You have a chance to view the exhibition I went to see in Madrid as it is on tour.  The dates are:

Painted Illusions: Hyperrealism 1967-2012,

Thyssen – Bornemisza Museum,  Madrid,  

April 8th  to June 30th 2013

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, England

November 20, 2013 – March 30, 2014

A Suffolk Farm by Edward Seago

A Suffolk Farm by Edward Seago

Last Sunday,  I went down to London to visit two of my children and my one and only grandchild and on the following afternoon I had scheduled a visit to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.  I had some spare time on Monday morning and had intended to visit a couple of galleries or museums but my best laid plans were thwarted because of an item of shopping I was looking for which proved elusive and the atrocious weather which put a damper on any thoughts I had of a pleasant stroll between artistic collections.  I had seen an advert for an exhibition, Samuel Palmer, His Friends and His Followers at The Fine Art Society which is situated in New Bond Street so I eventually ended up there like a drowned rat as my umbrella proved totally inadequate to counter the torrential rain.   I will look at one of the paintings from that exhibition in a later blog.  I left there and still had an hour to kill before I was due to attend the Royal Academy and as I had no intention of any further long walks in the downpour I ended up at the Richard Green Gallery just a few doors down from The Fine Art Society.  The gallery was in the process of hanging an Edward Seago exhibition but allowed me to take a look at what was already in place.  What a wonderful collection of art.

Edward Brian Seago was born in Norwich in 1910, the second son of Brian, a local coal merchant and Mabel Seago.   As a child he suffered quite a lot with ill health caused by a heart complaint, paroxysmal tachycardia, with which he was first diagnosed when he was eight years of age.   This illness meant that on a number of occasions he was reluctantly confined to his bed. As a result of this enforced confinement, he spent a lot of time painting skies and the surrounding landscape from his bedroom window.  Seago later remembered those times with a surprising fondness and called his enforced leisure, “spells of sheer delight”.  It was during these periods of imposed convalescence that the young Edward Seago realised his great enthusiasm and aptitude for painting.

His continued illness precluded him from any formal artistic training and, for the most, he taught himself.  He did however receive some artistic advice from the local East Anglian painters who were both impressed with his work.  They were Sir Alfred Munnings, who lived in Dedham close to the Essex/Sussex border and the landscape painter, Bertram Priestman, who remained a friend for the rest of Seago’s life.  Another of Edward Seago’s friends was the poet John Masefield with whom Seago collaborated on a number of publications.  Masefield would provide the poems whilst Seago provided the illustrations.  Two of the most successful collaborations were The Country Scene which was published in 1937 and Tribute to Ballet which was published the following year.  It was also Masefield that instilled in Seago the love and appreciation of English country life.

Seago’s landscape works were influenced by the landscape paintings of the Dutch Masters as there was a certain similarity between the landscape of The Netherlands and that of the East Anglian countryside.  Seago also was a great admirer of the landscape works of the English painter, John Constable and by the painters of the Norwich School founded by John Chrome in 1803.  However notwithstanding all these outside influences, his biographer James Reid, wrote:

“…While Seago’s subject matter evolved within a fundamentally traditional genre, his methodology, style and technique contributed to an innovative interpretation of the rural, urban and marine scene…

During the 1930’s Seago led a very varied existence.  He loved the freedom associated with a bohemian lifestyle and would often travel and work with circus folk, gypsies and ballet dancers but at the same time he kept in contact with the more refined aristocratic circles which provided him with generous patronage.  One such patron and friend was the politician and industrialist, Henry Mond, 2nd Lord Melchett, who was also an art connoisseur and collector.  Seago and Henry Mond travelled together to Venice in 1933.   Seago was astounded by the beauty of Venice which he later captured in many of his oil paintings.  He also had the opportunity to view the art works of the great Italian masters which were on show in the city.

Another of Seago’s close friends was Princess Mary, the Countess of Harewood, who was King George VI’s sister, and it was through this acquaintance that he was later to meet the present Royal Family who collected many of his paintings.  George VI also commissioned a portrait, and that royal patronage made Seago and his art,  very fashionable.    The Queen Mother bought so many of his works of art that eventually the artist gave her two a year – on her birthday and at Christmas.   Later, in 1956, he accompanied Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh on the Royal Yacht Britannia, on a world tour and during one part of the voyage the ship sailed around the Antarctic.  Prince Philip and Edward Seago used to paint alongside each other on the deck of the Royal Yacht Britannia and the two developed a very close friendship.  Edward Seago’s paintings depicting the Antarctic were quite beautiful and were loved by art critics and the public alike.

He became a war artist in Italy during the Second World War and spent two years with General Alexander.  After the Second World War Edward Seago concentrated his art work on the East Anglian countryside with its cloud-filled skies, cattle grazing in the expansive flat fields as well as paintings which focused on the waters and the mudflats of The Broads and some of the barges which plied their trade along these inland waterways.  His beautiful landscape paintings would often incorporate man-made structures such as windmills, churches and farmhouses.  Seago loved East Anglia and its countryside and once wrote:

“…Perhaps one has to be born and bred there for it to really get into one’s blood.   But it has a powerful hold on me, and whenever I go, I feel a longing to return there…”

In 1968 Seago bought Ca Conca, a villa apartment in the elegant yachting resort of Porto Cervo on the Costa Smeralda, Sardinia. The terrace of his property offered fine views of the harbour to the right.   His life was suddenly cut short whilst on a painting tour of Sardinia when he was diagnosed as having a brain tumour, from which he died in London in January 1974 just before his sixty-fourth birthday.  In terms of commissions, he was the most successful artist of his day.

The painting I have featured today by Edward Seago is entitled A Suffolk Farm and epitomises the beauty of his landscape paintings and his love for the Suffolk countryside.  I urge you to visit the Richard Green Gallery (147 New Bond Street, London W1 2TS) which in honour of Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, is presenting an exhibition of 41 paintings by Edward Seago.  The exhibition opened on June 13th and ends on Saturday, July 7th.   The gallery is open Monday to Friday from 10am to 6pm and on Saturday from 10am to 1pm.  I can assure you that you will not be disappointed and if you have a few pounds to spare then you will be pleased to know that all the works are up for sale.