Dorothea Tanning, her early life and her love of Surrealism. Part 3

Dorothea Tanning, Sedona, Arizona
Dorothea Tanning in Sedona (1943)

Dorothea and Max Ernst divided their time between their Arizona home in Sedona and their apartment in New York.  Often Tanning would return to New York to show her work at the Julien Levy Gallery in Midtown Manhattan.  In April 1944, the Julien Levy Gallery held Dorothea’s first one-person exhibition.

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Fête Champêtre by Dorothea Tanning (1944)

That same year, 1944, Dorothea completed her painting entitled Fête Champêtre depicting a popular form of entertainment in Baroque France during the 18th century, taking the form of a garden party.  In Tanning’s work an unusual desert landscape provides the setting and she has added a marble mantelpiece and an ornate rococo clock.  She has also populated the depiction with a number of unidentifiable figures, some of which are human others are anthropomorphic, adding human characteristics to nonhuman things.  However, we can clearly see a bearded man and a girl who sits beside him, both staring out at something invisible to us.  The whole depiction remains a mystery as to what it is all about.

The Temptation of St Anthony by Dorothea Tanning (1945)

Whilst in New York,in 1945, Dorothea Tanning, completed a work which focused on a biblical scene that has been depicted by many famous artists, such as Dali and Hieronymus Bosch.  The painting is entitled The Temptation of St Anthony, which is now the property of Philadelphia’s La Salle University Art Museum. The painting portrays the supernatural temptation reportedly faced by Saint Anthony the Great during his stay in the Egyptian desert.  Saint Anthony, then aged 35, decided to spend the night alone in an abandoned tomb. A great multitude of demons came and started beating him, wounding him all over. He lay on the ground as if dead and the claws of the demons prevented him from getting up. According to the hermit the suffering caused by this demonic torture was comparable to no other.  Terrified and brought to his knees in fear, the habit that he is wearing wafts upwards as if caught in a gale-force updraft.  The blue, green and pink folds of the habit expose images of feminine shapes that seem to be the cause of his anguish. 

The Temptation of St Anthony by Salvador Dali. His entry to the Bel Ami competition

Dorothea created the work for the Bel Ami International Art Competition, where twelve surrealist and magic realist painters were asked to submit a painting to be used in Albert Lewin’s film The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, based on Guy de Maupassant’s novel Bel Ami. The rules of the competition for a cash prize were that the painting should be 36 × 48 inches and on the subject of the temptation of Saint Anthony. It would be shown as the only colour segment in the otherwise black and white film in which paintings of The Temptation of St. Anthony. Both American and European artists participated, including Ivan Albright, Eugene Berman, Leonora Carrington, Salvador Dalí, Paul Delvaux, Max Ernst, O. Louis Gugliemi, Abraham Rattner, Horace Pippin, Sydney Spencer, Leonor Fini and Dorothea Tanning.  All artists who submitted a painting received $500, while the winner received a prize of $3000. Max Ernst won the competition and his painting was shown in the film. Dali’s entry also became famous in its own right.

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The Temptation of Saint Anthony. The winning entry by Max Ernst

The competition was judged by Marcel Duchamp, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., and Sidney Janis. Max Ernst wining submission was not loved by all as the film critic Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called Ernst’s painting “downright nauseous” and wrote that it “looks like a bad boiled lobster.

Of her work and the meaning behind the depiction Dorothea Tanning wrote:

“…It seems to me that a man like our St. Anthony, with his self-inflicted mortification of the flesh, would be most crushingly tempted by sexual desires and, more particularly, the vision of woman in all her voluptuous aspects.  It is this phase which I have tried to depict in my painting. St. Anthony, alone in the desert, struggles against his visions; half-formed, moving in indolent suggestion, colored with the beautiful colors of sex, his desires take shape even in the folds of his own wind-tossed robes…”

Dorothea Tanning painting the Temptation of St Anthony (1945)

A photographer took a picture of Dorothea whilst she was working on the St Anthony portrait as a promotional photograph for the Bel Ami competition.  It was at a time when she had been ill and had contracted encephalitis and the photographer had to prop her up for the shot as she was so unwell.  She has her back to us but we see her long flowing locks of hair and on the wall is her famous Birthday self-portrait.  In her autobiography, Between Lives, she tells of how the illness caused her and her soon-to-be husband Max to return to the peace of Sedona in 1946 and sub-let their New York apartment to their friend, Marcel Duchamp.  Dorothea and Max married in October 1946.  Although they had regular guests come to their Sedona home, Dorothea always maintained that the period in Sedona, when it was just her and her husband, were the happiest days of her life.

The newlywed couple would separately paint all day and then come together in the evenings to listen to music, read and often play chess which was one of their favourite pastimes.

Max in a Blue Boat, 1947 - Dorothea Tanning
Max in a Blue Boat by Dorothea Tanning (1947)

Their love of chess is depicted in Dorothea’s 1947 work entitled Max in a Blue Boat.  It depicts the couple in the boat in the midst of a desert landscape and they seem to move effortlessly despite the lack of water.

Maternity, 1946 - 1947 - Dorothea Tanning
Maternity by Dorothea Tanning (1947)

In 1947 Dorothea completed the work entitled Maternity, which focused on motherhood and the psychological and physical problems associated with bearing and raising a child.  In the setting of a sand-strewn desert we see a young woman holding a young child in a shielding encirclement.  At the feet of the woman, on the rug, lies her dog which has a child’s solemn face staring out at us.  The features of the dog resembled her own Lhasa Apso dog, named Katchina.  Mother, child and dog make for a strong family unit set against a hostile setting.

The dog was depicted in one of her favourite works entitled Tableau Vivant.  It was then purchased by the National Galleries of Scotland. The painting was the first by Dorothea Tanning that they had acquired and joined up with major artworks by Surrealists Leonora Carrington, Salvador Dalí and René Magritte held at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (SNGMA).  The work was first shown at Tanning’s first exhibition in France in May 1954 at the Galerie Furstenberg, Dorothea Tanning: Peintures 1949-1954.   She had inscribed the title L’Etreinte on the verso, which can be translated as The Embrace.   A few months later the inscription was crossed out and substituted with Tableau Vivant and it was under its new title, Tableau Vivant that it was included in the artist’s first exhibition in Britain, at the Arthur Jeffress Gallery, London in 1955.

Tableau Vivant by Dorothea Tanning (1954)

It was not uncommon for Surrealist artists to include animals in their paintings.  Numerous Surrealist artists took animal embodiments which played the role of their alter-ego in their work: Max Ernst used a bird, Leonora Carrington favoured a horse; and Tanning took Katchina. Whreas other Surrealist depicted various types of the animal, Tanning’s choice was more specific.  It was her own pet, Katchina, whose insertion into Tanning’s work was not of necessity a personification of the artist; sometimes it acted as a witness, other times as a protagonist, the Katchina affected different roles in different works. These works started a change of Tanning’s painting style.  She moved away from the meticulous, controlled, illustrative technique which was the hallmark of her Surrealist work. In its place she began to decide on much looser, softer, more painterly brushwork and her colour switched from bright, intense primaries to ashes and ochres.  It was a move towards her Abstract period.

The painting is a depiction of many feelings.   Power, love, the erotic, the humorous, the dream and the nightmare, Tableau Vivant brings together many key moments in the artist’s life and career. Tanning loved the painting and it was included in almost every major exhibition of her work, notably her solo shows in Brussels in 1967, Paris in 1974, and the Malmö Konsthall and Camden Art Centre in 1993. The work of art remained with her for the remainder of her life until 2012, when she died at the age of 101, almost sixty years after painting it. Towards the end of her life, she specified it as one of a small number of works reserved only for sale to a museum.  Simon Groom, Director of Modern and Contemporary Art at the National Galleries of Scotland said of the painting:

“…We’ve been looking for a major painting by Dorothea Tanning for many years. This was one of her favourite works: she kept it for more than sixty years, hanging it above her desk in her apartment in New York. It’s a stunning addition to the Galleries’ world-famous collection of Surrealist art…”

Sarah Philp, Director of Programme and Policy at Art Fund, which helped the National Galleries of Scotland financially with the purchase of the work which cost £205K  said:

“…Tableau Vivant is an astonishing work with a fascinating biography and we are proud to help National Galleries of Scotland purchase this painting for their outstanding Surrealist art collection…”

Interior with Sudden Joy by Dorothea Tanning (1951)

The Tableau Vivant dog appeared in a number of her paintings after 1946, including Interior with Sudden Joy.

Interior with Sudden Joy is a strange painting.  In the depiction we see two girls standing to the right. They strike a provocative pose.  They are both dressed in white garments which harmonise with their pale skin, the buttons are unfastened and expose a camisole top and red bra, which reminds one of the bared chest in Tanning’s self-portrait Birthday. The girls pose with their arms wrapped around each other and both exude an air of nonchalance. They are young women and are only too aware of their sexuality.  The girl furthest to the right pats the head of a large shaggy dog.  The dog, which faces away from us, takes little notice of the two girls and instead stares at the blackboard on the back wall like a pupil ready to learn. On the blackboard there is chalked writing. In her memoir, Tanning says she took writings written in poet Arthur Rimbaud’s ‘secret notebooks’ and put them on the blackboard in this painting.  Rimbaud was admired by the surrealists because of his belief that poetry passed through the body in the manner of a musical instrument, which reaffirmed the surrealist idea of automatism as a creative outlet using the body as a vehicle.

The Boy

On the floor, close to the feet of one of the girls, lies a burning cigarette.  The girl’s hand is held up as though the cigarette had once been held between her fingers. To the left of them is a naked boy embracing a strange amorphous mass which imitates a human figure and wraps itself around him. The whiteness of its fabric-like flesh contrasts with the boy’s dark skin, and abundance of dark curls which form a halo around the boy’s head. The boy looks completely at peace. If the painting’s title Sudden Joy derives from any part of the depiction it is from him. In her memoir, Tanning described the girls as being like Sodom and Gomorrah.  On the floor in the left-hand corner of Tanning’s painting is an open book atop an ornate purple cushion. Its pages are blank, perhaps waiting to be written in. It is an eerie depiction.  We see a figure standing in the doorway in the left-hand top corner of the painting, and the black door stands ajar waiting for someone or something to enter the room.

 Dorothea Tanning died on January 31st 2012, at her Manhattan home at age 101. Her husband Max Ernst had died thirty-six years earlier.

Most of the information in my blogs about Dorothea Tanning come from the excellent 2020 biography of the artist, entitled Dorothea Tanning: Transformations by Victoria Carruthers.

Dorothea Tanning, her early life and her love of Surrealism. Part 2.

New York 1944

Dorothea Tanning (1944)

By the later part of 1942, Dorothea Tanning was well established with the Surrealist Movement within the New York art scene.  At the party hosted by the art dealer, Julien Levy and his wife, Muriel, she had been introduced to many of the Surrealist luminaries who were living in New York, including the German-born painter, Max Ernst.  Following on from his meeting with Dorothea, he visited her at her sprawling, sparse apartment studio to look at her paintings.

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It was not just idle curiosity that had brought Ernst to Tanning’s studio but he had come at the behest of his then wife, the art collector and socialite, Peggy Guggenheim, in order to select one of Dorothea’s paintings for the Exhibition by 31 Women.  This exhibition was organized by Peggy Guggenheim and ran for a month starting on January 5th 1943 in her New York gallery and included works by Frida Kahlo, Louise Nevelson, Leonor Fini, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Leonora Carrington.  Many of the artists were Surrealists, and many were wives of artists with whom Guggenheim was acquainted.  Georgia O’Keeffe declined an invitation to participate in the show, saying that she refused to be categorized as a “woman painter.”

Birthday by Dorothea Tanning (1942)

Birthday by Dorothea Tanning (1942)

The one painting which caught Max Ernst eye was the one Dorothea completed around the time of her thirty-second birthday, simply entitled Birthday, a title actually suggested by Ernst.  It is a self-portrait.  She has depicted herself in the process of metamorphosis.  She stands before us semi-naked.  Her hair is pinned back and she is wearing an Elizabethan-style purple silk and lace shirt, open to the waist, exposing her chest and breasts.  Her direct and open gaze emanates a sense of calm. Her semi-naked stance is probably her way of challenging her oppressive past and demonstrating her desire to rid herself of past parental control when she was a recalcitrant teenager.   She does not fear people looking at her body as this is how she sees herself.

Skirt 2

Her skirt seems to be disintegrating and being replaced by a thick layer of jagged brambles that cascade down to her bare feet. However, look closely at the brambles and you will see that they are made up of writhing naked bodies which are spiralling and intertwined to create a fabric of woodland sprites which adds a touch of menace to the depiction.  On the floor in front of her crouches a winged famulus.  The art historian Whitney Chadwick called it the “winged lemur.” These fantastic animals are associated with the night and the spiritual world and are a combination of hybrid parts, a fusion between realism and fantasy, the commonplace and the supernatural.

Corridor

The other interesting aspect of this work is what we see on the right of the depiction.  Within the confines of her apartment, we see a passageway which leads to a suite of rooms with doorways in line with each other, known as an enfilade.

The catalogue for the 1944 exhibition held in New York, Abstract and Surrealist Art in America, contained a piece by Dorothea Tanning in which she described her painting, Birthday.  She wrote:

“…One way to write a secret language is to employ familiar signs, obvious and unequivocal to the human eye.  For this reason, I chose a brilliant fidelity to the visual object as my method in painting Birthday.  The result is a portrait of myself, precise and unmistakable to the onlooker.  But what is a portrait?  Is it mystery and revelation, conscious and unconscious, poetry and madness?  Is it a demon, a hero, a child-eater, a ruin, a romantic, a monster, a whore?  Is it a miracle or a poison?  I believe that a portrait, particularly a self-portrait, should be somehow, all of these things and many more, recorded in a secret language clad in the honesty and innocence of paint…”

Fifty-five years later in 1999, the painting was bought by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and in the brochure which accompanied the survey show eighty-nine-year-old Dorothea Tanning once again talked about the work, saying:

“…It was a modest canvas by present-day standards.  But it filled my New York studio, the apartment’s back room, as if it had always been there.  For one thing, it was the room:  I had been struck one day by a fascinating array of doors – all, kitchen, bathroom, studio – crowded together, soliciting my attention with the antic planes, light, shadows, imminent openings and shuttings.  From there it was an easy leap to dram of countless doors.   Moreover, alone and taking stock of myself, I felt a sort of immanence as if my life was revealing itself at last – real birthday…”

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Self-portrait by Leonora Carrington (1938)

Many art critics highlight the similarities between Tanning’s self-portrait which is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the self-portrait done four years earlier, in 1938, by another Surrealist painter, Leonora Carrington, which is housed in the Metropolitan Museum of art in New York.  Both paintings combine fantasy and reality, each artist is depicted in the company of some magical creature.

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The Magic Flower Game by Dorothea Tanning (1941)

Similar to the depiction of the girl transforming in her self-portrait painting, Birthday, we can once again see another transformation in her painting The Magic Flower Game in which a boy is depicted in a state of organic transformation.  The boy in the painting is part human and part fashioned of beautifully coloured flowers which lie flattened against his legs and thighs like a second skin.  They also burst from his back in an assemblage of colour.  Again, his two upper limbs are part human and part nature with one being a branch-like appendage which end in claws.  In his hand he holds a ball of thread that seems to have come from the petals of a sunflower which lies at his feet.  Behind him in the fireplace we see the blue sky on which is the outline of a cat.  A second figure, possibly a mirror image of the boy is seen disappearing into the wall above the mantlepiece.  This part human, part nature is a classic occurrence of juxtaposition which is familiar in Surrealist works of art.

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Arizona Landscape by Dorothea Tanning (1943)

Dorothea Tanning often delved into the motif of hair as being symbolic of transformation in her early 1940’s paintings.  It was almost her iconographic autograph.  One of my favourite works of this type was her 1943 painting entitled Arizona Landscape.

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Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning (1947)

Dorothea’s encounter with Max Ernst, Peggy Guggenheim’s husband, prior to The 31 Women exhibition, led not only her having one of her works included in the show but led to a romantic entanglement with Guggenheim’s husband.  Max Ernst left his wife and went to live with Tanning and the couple eventually married in a double wedding with photographer Man Ray and Juliet Browner in Beverly Hills, California in October 1946.  This was Ernst’s fourth marriage and Tanning’s second and for both of them it was their last. Guggenheim expressed her sadness in losing Ernst to Tanning and painfully and caustically recalled the important exhibition, famously saying: “I should have had 30 women.”

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Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Dorothea Tanning (1943)

Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst first visited Sedona, Arizona together in 1943.  He had first visited Sedona in 1941 with his son, Jimmy, and his third wife, Peggy Guggenheim.  Dorothea and Ernst rented a small studio space and it was in Sedona that Tanning painted her masterpiece, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.  It is another painting in which the motif of hair is depicted and is one of her most famous early works, which she also completed in 1943.  The painting is now part of the Tate Modern’s collection in London.   It depicts what appears to be a hotel corridor along which are numbered doors on the left and a steep stairway on the right, the door at the end is open slightly and offers us a glimpse of light radiating from within. On the floor of the landing, we see the head of a giant sunflower.  Two of its petals lie on the stairs to the right and a third is held in the hand of a life-like doll which lies against one of the doorways. There is a similarity between the tattered clothes worn by the reclining doll and the girl walking along the hallway.  It could be that the ragged state of the clothes worn by both the doll and the girl indicate that a struggle with a malevolent force may have taken place and note how the girl’s long hair streams upwards as if blown up by an extremely forceful gust of wind. Tanning herself commented on the meaning of her painting saying:

“…It’s about confrontation. Everyone believes he/she is his/her drama. While they don’t always have giant sunflowers (most aggressive of flowers) to contend with, there are always stairways, hallways, even very private theatres where the suffocations and the finalities are being played out, the blood red carpet or cruel yellows, the attacker, the delighted victim…”

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Max and Dorothea and their home in Sedona (1947)

Tanning and her husband Max Ernst lived in Sedona on and off from 1943 to 1957.  They had constructed a three-room rough-hewn dwelling which Dorothea named Capricorn. It was a simple home which had no running water, a precious commodity which had to be hauled daily from a well five miles away.   At the time Sedona was a small town with just a few hundred inhabitants.  Dorothea lovingly described their house and living there in her autobiography:

“…Alone it stood, if not crooked at any rate somewhat rakish, stuck on a landscape of such stunning red and gold grandeur that its life could be only a matter of brevity, a beetle of brown boards and tarpaper roof waiting for metamorphosis………Up on its hill, bifurcating the winds and rather friendly with the stars that swayed over our outdoor table like chandeliers…”

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Dorothea and Max with his outdoor sculpture “Capricorn” (1947)

Ernst had his own studio at the rear of the property whilst Dorothea painted in the house.  In the summer of 1947, their home was connected to the mains water supply and to celebrate the arrival of water, Max Ernst, commemorated the moment with a large outdoor sculpture which Dorothea recalled in her autobiography:

“…In the summer of 1947, Max Ernst, exuberant and inspired by the arrival of water piped to our house (up to then we had hauled it from a well five miles away), began playing with cement and scrap iron with assists from box tops, eggshells, car springs, milk cartons and other detritus.  The result:  Capricorn, a monumental sculpture of regal but benign deities that consecrated our ‘garden’ and watched over its inhabitants…”

Capricorn, which refers to the tenth sign of the zodiac, is normally represented by a goat with a fish tail but Max Ernst divided Capricorn’s attributes between two figures, the horned male and the mermaid.  The two main figures can be identified as a king and queen seated on their thrones.  Ernst reportedly called Capricorn a family portrait, although his wife cast doubt on that.  The couple did not have children together, but they did own two dogs, one of which may have inspired the animal in the king’s lap with its long tongue hanging out.

Capric

Capricorn by Max Ernst (cast in 1975)

The statue remained in Sedona but in Washington’s National Gallery of Art there is a large bronze replica of the sculpture.

………………………………to be concluded.

Dorothea Tanning, her early life and her love of Surrealism. Part 1.

Dorothea Tanning
Dorothea Tanning aged 18. (1928)

What does one mean when one says they like art.  What is art?  By definition, art is a diverse range of human activities involving creative imagination to express technical proficiency, beauty, emotional power, or conceptual ideas and it encompasses the three classical branches of visual art are painting, sculpture, and architecture, but the term “art” also embraces theatre, dance, and other performing arts, as well as literature, music, film and other media such as interactive media. So, I need to narrow down what I mean when I say I love art.  I should maybe say I love visual art and yet I am not a fan of conceptual or performance art.   I love the paintings created by numerous artists.  However, that is not quite true as I do not love all painting genres.  I neither find pleasure in looking at works of abstract art such as those by Kurt Schwitters nor the black lines and blocks of colour by Mondrian nor the works of abstract expressionist painters such as those by Robert Delaunay, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning nor the disturbing imagery of Francis Bacon. Having told you what I do not like I suppose I should tell you what I do like but if you have been following my blogs over the years, you will probably already know.

I love the paintings of the Dutch and Flemish Masters.  I like many of the painters of the Victorian era.  I like “busy” multi-figure paintings and love to delve into the depiction to see what is happening in narrative paintings.  I like narrative paintings which have a tale to tell or a moral to enforce.  Surprisingly, having said all that I also have a reluctant love of Surrealism and enjoy trying to figure out what the depiction is all about and what was in the painter’s mind when he or she put brush to canvas.

Dorothea Tanning with her mother, Amanda Tanning
Dorothea Tanning with her mother, Amanda Tanning, 1911

This was a somewhat long-winded introduction to today’s artist, the American Surrealist painter, printmaker, sculptor, writer, and poet, Dorothea Margaret Tanning.  Tanning was born on August 25th 1910.  She was the middle child of Andrew Tanning and Amanda Marie Tanning (née Hansen), who were of Swedish descent.  She had an elder sister Maurine and a younger sister Mary Louise.  Andrew Tanning, born Andreas Peter Georg Thaning, came alone from Skåne in the southernmost county of Sweden and settled in the conservative Midwestern town of Galesburg, Illinois.  In her memoirs Dorothea Tanning recounted that both her parents were very loving, indulgent and imaginative, the latter trait which she believed led to her creativity.  In her 2001 autobiography, Between Lives, Tanning wrote lovingly of her mother:

“…How could a tiny artist grow into a big one without the quilt of maternal love with its pattern of solace for hurts, its curving comfort, cloud-soft, its consolation for having to exist, its sweet smell?  The mother-goddess (the term would have embarrassed her), doctor and protector hovered over us in the full conviction that we were worth the trouble…”

Dorothea Tanning
Dorothea Tanning, aged 5. (1915)

By her own admission Dorothea was a small and delicate child prone to bouts of illness which often confined her to bed.  Like similar stories of young children who became well-known artists, it was this time during bed rest that she developed artistic skills and immersed herself into reading picture books.  Her favourites were the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, and the stories and colourfully mesmerising characters from Greek mythology and the Bible.  It was from the likes of these that Dorothea gained an insight of the outside world, a world free from a cosseting mother.  She would also amuse herself by the simple game of staring at patterns on the wallpaper or furnishings and allow her imagination to form images which were not real.  In a way she was slipping from the real world into an imagined parallel existence.  Maybe it was this which would eventually lead her into the world of Surrealism.

Dorothea Tanning, Galesburg High School Yearbook, Senior Year
Dorothea Tanning, Galesburg High School Yearbook, Senior Year, 1926

In 1926, aged sixteen, Dorothea Tanning graduated from Galesburg Public High School.  The following year she managed to get a part-time job at Galesburg Public Library which gave her access to a world of literature.  She termed it the House of Joy.  One of her earlier jobs was cataloguing the books with a senior assistant who decided on whether the contents were deigned immoral and unfit for minors and were marked with a red cross in the catalogue.  Dorothea said that it was then much easier to find the “best” books.  In her biography she wrote about the time at the library and how it made her consider her future:

“…Over the years, the library became my haven, its treasures slyly challenging the voice of “art” in the tug-of-war for my ambitions, its sirens singing and crying by turns, its weight crushing my famous certitudes forever…”

Some Roses and Their Phantoms, 1952 - Dorothea Tanning
Some Roses and Their Phantoms by Dorothea Tanning (1952) represents a domestic world transformed by mysterious eruptions and inhabited by unnamed creatures. The table top setting, with its crisp white tablecloth and marks of ironed folds, suggests a safe world of bourgeois ritual. A recurrent motif, the white table cloth can also be found in other works of the same period. 

In 1928 she enrolled at Knox College in Galesburg and remained there for two years.  In 1930 she quit the college in order to pursue an artistic career and set off for Chicago under the guise of meeting up with a friend.  She had surreptitiously packed a trunk with her belongings which she left in her bedroom and later, once in Chicago, asked her parents to forward it to her !

Chicago at the time of Dorothea’s arrival, was a city in the grip of Prohibition, jazz-filled nightclubs and violent gang wars.  She lodged with an ex-library colleague.  She revelled in the nightlife of the Windy City and began a relationship with the writer, Homer Shannon.  To earn a living, she took on a number of jobs including waitressing at the Colonial Room.  She operated marionettes in the 1933 Chicago World Fair.  She must have accumulated some money as she loved to travel going to New Orleans in 1934 where she exhibited some of her watercolours. 

December 1936 newspaper cuttings about the Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism exhibition. 

She also made a number of trips to New York searching for work as a commercial artist and during one visit in 1936 visited the Museum of Modern Art to see the Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism exhibition.  The exhibition was rife with controversy and provoked fierce reactions from battling factions among the Dadaists and the Surrealists.  The press release by MOMA identified Surrealism and Dadaism as such:

“…”Surrealism, which developed in Paris around 1924, was the direct descendent of the Dadaist interest in the bizarre, the spontaneous, and the anti-rational. But while the Surrealist program carried on the iconoclasm of Dada it added serious research into subconscious images, dreams, visions, automatic and psychoanalytic drawings. Surrealism, so far as its serious adherents are concerned, is more than a literary or an art movement: it is a philosophy, a way of life, a cause which has involved some of the most brilliant painters and poets of our age…”

In a later interview Dorothea said of the exhibition:

“…For me it was the revelation, and I wasn’t the only one.  I would even say that most American artists – as well as poets – were deeply affected by that explosive event.  So, I became more impatient than ever – I just had to live in Paris…”

Once again in her autobiography Dorothea was certain that what she saw at the exhibition at the MOMA was a turning point in her artistic life.  She wrote:

“…Here, gathered inside an innocent concrete building, are signposts so imperious, so laden, so seductive and yes, so perverse that, like the insidious revelations of the Galesburg Public Library, they would possess me utterly…”

Deirdre
Deirdre by Dorothea Tanning (1940)

Dorothea had now caught the Surrealism bug and knew to explore the genre more she had to go to Paris.  She set sail on SS. Amsterdam for the France in July 1939 with the intention of meeting some of the Surrealist artists living there but her plans were thwarted by the onset of the Second World War.  Artists had hurriedly escaped from Paris and she managed to escape France and makes her way through Holland Belgium Germany and Sweden in August to the home of her paternal relatives. From there, in October, she managed to gain passage back to America on the SS. Gripsholm.  Another artist to take flight from France and journey to America was the leader of the Surrealism Movement, German-born Max Ernst who before his salvation had been interned twice in 1939, once by the French government having been labelled an “undesirable foreigner” and once by the Gestapo but he managed to escape with the help of Peggy Guggenheim, a member of a wealthy American art collecting family, and the journalist Varian Fry. 

Dorothea Tanning, Music Hath Charms. 1940.
Music Hath Charms by Dorothea Tanning (1940)

Once back home in New York, Dorothea Tanning sought employment as a commercial artist and for a time worked on the advertisements for Macy’s department store, producing adverts for perfumery products, clothing and accessories.  She continued with her own art and in 1940 produced a small painting entitled Music Hath Charms.  It was the beginning of her love of Surrealism being translated into her own work.  The painting depicts a young girl, dressed in red, playing the piano formed by the roots of one of two large trees which act as a frame for the scene.  She has long blonde hair which runs down her back.  Look at the background and at first it seems to be just a snow-capped mountain but with closer inspection it is the gigantic wave of a stormy sea in which we see a sinking tall ship.  The terrifying sight of the doomed ship is in stark contrast with the pastoral scene of the middle-ground with the grazing sheep and yet there is more.  Look carefully at the dark brown/olive hills which divide the space between the sheep-grazing field and the wild stormy sea.  It is the prone body of a hybrid beast, part human in the shape of a woman’s body and part animal being the face of a wild cat. Again it, like the sea and the fields, is the juxtaposition of human and animal.  The creature stares at the girl as if mesmerised by the sound of the music.  The depiction implies that the melodious sounds emanating from the piano is causing a metamorphosis in the landscape with the creature materialising from the “softened rocks”.

Portrait of Julien Levy by Jay Leyda (c.1932)

In 1942 after an up-and-down relationship and short marriage to Homer Shannon, the pair split up and Dorothea concentrated on her art and immersed herself in the artistic community and became great friends with Julien Levy, a gallery owner who offered her an exhibition at his gallery once she had built up a sizeable collection.  Levy had opened his new gallery in midtown Manhattan in November 1931 with a photography exhibition that included works by his friend and mentor, Alfred Stieglitz. As selling photographs became more difficult Levy shifted his gallery’s focus to Surrealism and to showing the work of artists like Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Man Ray and Joseph Cornell.

In May 1942 Julien Levy invited Dorothea Tanning to one of his afternoon soirees held in his Chelsea apartment.  Dorothea remembered stepping into Levy’s apartment and at that party, seeing her future road map lying before her:

“…A May afternoon as only May afternoons can be in the city.   And an apartment in Chelsea, all dark woof and those slated shutters peculiar to old New York.  A Recamier sofa, an iron sleigh-bed breathing Paris, a Bellmer doll, the Duchamp window and scattered everywhere, objects, pictures, books and more pictures.  Indeed, coming time, you were overwhelmed with vertigo that it was hard to register Julien’s easy, smiling introductions to – as I remember them – Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, Kurt Seligmann, Kay Sage, Bob Motherwell with beauteous wife, Maria, Virgil Thomson, Max Ernst, Consuelo de Saint-Exupery, Peggy Guggenheim, Sylvia Marlowe, Max Ernst……Doesn’t the repetition say it all?  Because quite simply, this was a new door for me to open, and it was Julien Levy who held the key, who did it all, not deliberately – he didn’t believe in plans – who very nonchalantly launched my art and found me a life companion…”

………………………………….to be continued.

Most of the information in my blogs about Dorothea Tanning come from the excellent 2020 biography of the artist, entitled Dorothea Tanning: Transformations by Victoria Carruthers.

Many pictures of Dorothea came from the Dorothea Tanning Organisation website

Paul Fischer

Self-portrait, Nytorv in Winter by Paul Fischer (1909)

Paul Gustav Fischer was born July 22nd, 1860.  His ancestors, who were originally from Poland, were the fourth generation of the Fischer family to live in Denmark. His immediate family would be classed socially as upper-middle class. Paul was the son of Philip August Fischer and Gustafva Albertina Svedgren. Paul’s father had started as a painter, and later succeeded in the business of manufacturing paints and lacquers.  Paul first received art tuition from his father but later went on to have formal art tuition.  He was apprenticed for a year and a half at the terracotta manufacturer C. Møller and graduated from the Technical Institute to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts where he attended the general preparatory class in May 1876 but failed to complete the course, leaving in January 1878.  Following on from this, he became an assistant in his father’s painting materials business and worked there for ten years.  During this time he still carried on with his own painting. At the start of his artistic career, Paul completed mostly sketches and illustrations which he submitted for inclusion in a number of magazines such as Out and Home, Illustrated Journal, Juleroser and Klods-hans.

Paul Fischer. Vesterbrogade
Vesterbrogade is the main shopping street of the Vesterbro district of Copenhagen, 

The standard of his paintings were such that he exhibited regularly at the Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition between 1884 and 1902. He has also had his work exhibited at the Salon in Paris and exhibitions in Munich, Berlin, Oslo and Stockholm.

View from Ved Stranden in Copenhagen with two women sheltering from the rain
View from Ved Stranden in Copenhagen with two women sheltering from the rain by Paul Fischer

His early paintings depicted city life, and it was this genre that established him with the viewing public.  His depictions were often set in overcast or winter weather, but that was to change after his Paris trips when his works took on more colours and were warmer.  Paul Fischer stayed in Paris on two occasions in the 1890s and became influenced by the French Realists, Gustave Courbet and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. 

Paul Fischer - Flowersellers At Dr. Louises Bro (Queen Louise’s Bridge) In Copenhagen
Flower Sellers on Queen Louise Bridge, Copenhagen by Paul Fischer

Paul Fischer painted motifs from Queen Louise Bridge with views towards Ferdinand Meldahl’s two symmetrical palatial apartment buildings on Søtorvet – being some of the most French-influenced architecture in Copenhagen. Moreover, it was easy for him to compare the lakes on either side of the bridge with his beloved river Seine in Paris.

Højbro Plads seen from Højbro by Paul Fischer  (1900)

Especially famous are his colourful paintings, one of his most popular ones featuring the cityscape of Copenhagen is his 1900 work entitled Højbro Plads seen from Højbro.   Højbro Plads (High Bridge Square)  is a rectangular public square located between the adjoining Amagertorv and Slotsholmen Canal in the city centre of Copenhagen.  Højbro is a bridge in central Copenhagen, which connects the city centre to the small island of Slotsholmen, on which is the Christiansborg Palace.

See the source image
The Artist’s Wife, Dagny by Paul Fischer (1892)

Paul Fischer married Dagny Grønneberg on November 24th,1886.  Her father, Julius, was an art dealer and her Norwegian mother, Hulda Azora Tegner was a painter. 

See the source image
The Artist’s Daughter, Harriet Fischer by Paul Fischer

Paul and Dagny’s daughter, Harriet Fischer, was born on July 24th, 1890 and grew up in a busy artist’s studio and her father Paul Fischer persistently used household members as models, and often Harriet featured in some of his paintings both as a little girl and as a young girl, in portraiture and as a supporting figure in the street scenes.

Bondekvinde {Peasant Woman) by Hrriet Fischer

Harriet was admitted to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, where she was from 1915-1920. From 1920-1940 she travelled on countless study trips to most of Europe. When their daughter began painting, it is known that she and her father exhibited together during the summer stays in Båstad in the years before World War I.

Harriet in the living room at Sofievej by Paul Fischer (1908)

Another beautiful painting featuring his daughter was his 1908 work entitled Harriet in the living room at Sofievej.

Winter Day with a Little Girl with a Sledge and a Large Red Knitted Hat by Paul Fischer

Paul Gustave Fischer was also well known for his amazingly natural sunbathers and his 1916 painting Sunbathing in the Dunes is a good example. 

Sunbathing in the Dunes
Sunbathing in the Dunes by Paul Fischer (1916)

The models seem to be happy to pose on the beach but I am sure were reluctant to parade nude in the icy waters of the Baltic.

Nude Bathers on the Beach, by Paul Gustave Fischer (1916)

There are more than a dozen such works painted over a number of years, and it is interesting to note how, in the depiction, his striking  bathing beauties merge so wonderfully with the sands of the beach one which almost makes ignore the erotic overtones of the paintings. 

Vragnet (Wrecked) by Paul Fischer (1906)
Portrait of a Young Girl by Paul Fischer (1903)

Most of Fischer’s paintings are populated with female figure, some attractive older ones but also depicting young girls such as his 1903 tender Portrait of a Young Girl.

The Fire Engine by Paul Fischer (1900)

However, my favourite works of Paul Fischer are his everyday scenes of city life featuring people of all social classes and it is his depiction of the real lives of those around him which in part explains his popularity.  Take for example his 1900 painting The Fire Engine.   This is a depiction of a classic everyday occurrence.  It is a “busy” painting.  There are so many things happening in the depiction and your eye flits from one to another.  We, like the crowd, are drawn into the present dramatic happenings.  The red and gold coloured fire engine takes centre stage in the painting and, in a way, it is a salute to the industrial growth of the time.

Paul Fischer. Magasin du Nord at Kongens Nytorv, Copenhagen
Magasin du Nord at Kongens Nytorv, Copenhagen by Paul Fischer

The late 19th and early 20th century in Denmark, like other European countries was rapidly changing and these changing times were captured in Paul Fischer’s cityscapes often populated with the motor cars, trams and other vehicles.

In the Tram Compartment by Paul Fischer (1927)

The 1927 work In the Tram Compartment by Paul Fischer is a fascinating depiction of everyday life.  The man reads his newspaper whilst the woman looks outside at the cityscape they are trundling past.  A bunch of flowers is on the bench next to her.  Maybe a gift from the man and yet he shows no interest n her and may just be a fellow passenger.  It is painting like these that you gaze at and make up a story of what you believe is going on!

See the source image
by Paul Fischer

Fischer depicted everyday life and tram rides on a number of occasions, such as the one above.  Maybe he was fascinated with this form of transport or maybe he was interested in the interaction between the passengers. Again we have a man reading a newspaper and a woman sitting next to a bunch of flowers.

View from Pompei
View from Pompeii by Paul Fischer (1894)

Paul Fischer travelled through a number of European countries, sketching and painting.  One of his favoured countries was Italy and during the last decade of the nineteenth century he visited the area around Naples and the ruins of Pompeii.  In 1894 he produced a pencil and watercolour sketch of the area which was given the name View from Pompeii.

Italian Street Scene
Italian Street Scene by Paul Fischer

Another painting around this time was a work in oils, simply entitled Italian Street Scene.

In the early twentieth century Fischer’s paintings were selling well.  However, he was still in the shadow of his contemporary, the leading Danish painter of the time, Laurits Tuxen.  However, one would have that thought the life was good for Fischer.  He had a beautiful wife, Dagny, and a fine-looking and talented daughter, Harriet, but that was not the case as his marriage to Dagny ended in 1914. 

Portrait of Martha Vilhelmine Jensen, who became Mrs. Fischer by Paul Fischer (1913)

On June 17th, 1914, sixty-year-old Fischer married his second wife, twenty-five-year-old opera singer, Martha Vilhelmine Jensen whom he had been dating for some time.  His first wife, Dagny Grønneberg eventually went to live in Oslo where she died six years later on February 24th, 1920.

Paul Fischer died in Gentofte, a northern suburb of Copenhagen on May 1st 1934 aged 73

Eugène Boudin. Part 2.

Picture2

       Sky, Setting Sun, Bushes in Foreground. by Eugène Boudin (ca. 1848-1853)

One of Boudin’s earlier paintings which featured his mastery of depicting skies is his work entitled Sky, Setting Sun, Bushes in Foreground which he completed in the early 1850’s. In this work, Boudin has gone for a very high frame and in fact, the sea does not appear in the composition. In this work and many similar ones, there is just the faint outline of a low horizon.  More often than not, the clouds are the main, sometimes the only motif. At times, the subject becomes so fine or abstract that Boudin specified its meaning on the back of the work.  His love of the paintings by the Dutch Masters made Boudin strive to achieve skies that he had seen in their works of art.  Between 1850 and 1870 Boudin completed many such depictions and a note in his personal diary refers to them:

“…To swim in the open sky. To achieve the tenderness of clouds. To suspend these masses in the distance, very far away in the grey mist, make the blue explode. I feel all this coming, dawning in my intentions. What joy and what torment! If the bottom were still, perhaps I would never reach these depths. Did they do better in the past? Did the Dutch achieve the poetry of clouds I seek? That tenderness of the sky which even extends to admiration, to worship: it is no exaggeration…”

On  January 14th,  1863,  Boudin married the 28-year-old Breton woman Marie-Anne Guédès in Le Havre and the couple set up home in Paris but would return to the Normandy coast in the summers.

Eugène Boudin - Sur la plage à Trouville.jpg

                        On the Beach at Trouville by Eugène Boudin (1863)

Boudin had started off his career painting seascapes, but he found his calling in the 1860’s depicting small beach scenes which he populated with affluent holidaymakers that had made the journey from Paris and outlying places.  These people spent summers sampling the health-giving benefits of sea bathing and the vibrant social life in the fast-emerging seaside resorts of Trouville and Deauville. Boudin created a few hundred examples of this type of painting, which enhanced his reputation.  He knew that genre was popular with the public once writing:

“…I shall do something else, but I shall always be a painter of beach scenes…”

On the Beach, Dieppe MET DT11491.jpg

                                On the Beach, Dieppe by Eugène Boudin (1864)

An example of this type of work is his 1864 painting entitled On the Beach, Dieppe.   The setting is the beach of the Channel coastal town of Dieppe.

The changing skies of France’s Channel coast and the fashionable crowds on the resort beaches were Boudin’s lifelong subjects. These pictures were avidly collected, ensuring the artist’s success. In 1863 he commented:

“…They love my little ladies on the beach, and some people say that there’s a thread of gold to exploit there…”

On the Beach, Sunset MET DT1031.jpg

                                 On the Beach, Sunset by Eugène Boudin (1865)

Around 1865 Eugène Boudin spent time painting on the Normandy coast along with Monet, Courbet and Whistler.  It is around this time that Boudin began a series of depictions of fashionable beaches and this was to carry on for the whole of that decade.  In his 1865 painting, On the Beach, Sunset, we see the well-dressed upper-class holidaymakers who have gathered together to catch the final light of the day.  The seaside towns of Trouville and Deauville had not only their beautiful sandy beaches to inveigle tourists to their town but also had racetracks and casinos to satisfy those who liked the thrill of a wager. 

Princess Pauline Metternich (1836–1921) on the Beach MET DT4425.jpg

                    Princess Metternich on the Beach by Eugène Boudin (1867)

Visits by famous people to the Normandy beaches, such as Napoleon III’s wife, the Empress Eugénie also enhanced their reputation. Another dignitary to visit the Normandy beaches was Princess Metternich, the famous Austrian socialite, and wife of the Austrian ambassador to France and one of the most notable women at the court of Napoleon III.  She visited the seaside times on many occasions and was often accompanied by Princess Eugénie.  Her visit was captured by Boudin in his small 1867 painting entitled Princess Metternich on the Beach.  The Impressionistic style of the painting gives us little idea of the woman herself, which may be a relief to the Princess, as commentators of the time described her as small, very slight of build and as having “a turned-up nose, lips like a chamber pot and the pallor of a figure from a Venetian masque”.

Laundresses by Eugène Boudin

For a period of time in 1867 Boudin left the beaches of Normandy and the luxurious lifestyle of the visiting rich and depicted the less well-off peasants and their daily routines.  Boudin could clearly see and understand the difference in the lives of the various social classes.  Did this bother him?  In a letter to his friend Ferdinand Martin, on August 28th, 1867, he condemned the social class system, writing:

“…I have a confession to make. When I came back to the beach at Trouville it seemed nothing more than a frightful masquerade.  If you have passed one month among the people condemned to hard work in the fields, with black bread and water, and you then find that gang of golden parasites with such a triumphant air, you can’t help feeling a bit of pity.  Fortunately, dear friend, the Creator has spread a little of his splendid and warming light everywhere, and what I reproduce is not so much this world as the element that envelops it…”

…….and yet in a letter to the same friend, Ferdinand Martin, a year later (September 3rd. 1868), he justifies his depictions of the wealthy on the Normandy beaches, writing:

“…The peasants have their painters, Millet, Jaque, Breton; and that is a good thing.  Well and good: but between you and me, the bourgeois walking along the jetty towards the sunset, has just as much right to be caught on canvas, ‘to be brought to the light’.  They too are often resting after a day’s hard work, these people who come from their offices and from behind their desks.  There’s a serious and irrefutable argument…”

Antwerp, Boats on the Scheldt by Eugène Louis Boudin, High Museum of Art.jpg
Antwerp, Boats on the Scheldt by Eugène Boudin (1871)

The Franco-Prussian War broke out in July 1870 and the Prussian army invaded the French capital the following month.  Both Boudin and Monet fled the country with Monet going to London whilst Boudin went north to Belgium and the city of Antwerp.  Whilst in Antwerp Boudin completed a number of maritime paintings, one of which was his 1871 work entitled Antwerp, Boats on the Scheldt.

Eugène Louis Boudin - The Escaut River in Antwerp - 1977.57 - Yale University Art Gallery.jpg
Antwerp, The Escaut River by Eugène Boudin (c.1871)

Another work around the same time was The Escaut River in Antwerp.

Low Tide. Portrieux by Eugène Boudin (1873)

With the Franco-Prussian war ending in 1871 and the bloody Paris Commune, which followed in the Spring of that year, coming to an end, it was safe to return to France.

Portrieux, in the bay of St. Brieuc, Côtes du Nord, was a popular village with painters and Boudin visited it on several of his trips to Brittany between 1865 and 1897.  His 1873 painting Low Tide, Portrieux depicts vessels he would have seen during his visits.  In this painting Boudin has focused on the fishing vessels from Newfoundland, the Terre-Neuvas, becalmed at low tide, and several of his paintings centred on this subject matter.   Boudin, who was the son of a ship’s captain, and who had worked as a cabin boy on ships sailing along the Channel coast, was well able to recognise, and record, the individual characteristics of the vessels he came across in the ports he visited.

The Dock at Deauville (1891)

The Dock at Deauville by Eugène Boudin (1891)

One of Boudin’s paintings, The Dock of Deauville, which he completed in 1891, has a similar depiction, ships in a harbour.  This painting treats a common theme in Boudin’s later art, ships in harbours. For Boudin these paintings were all about tranquillity, harmony and the effect of natural light on subjects and, unlike other maritime painters, avoided depictions of busy dockside life and the arduous jobs carried out by dock workers.  In this work, one can see how he has combined lighter tones around the ships’ masts, often overlying the darker lines of the wood and rigging with white or grey tones as if to suggest the passing wind and ever-changing positions which were everyday aspects of nautical life.

Eugène Boudin - Voir d'Antibes au coucher du soleil.jpg

View of Antibes by Eugène Boudin (1893)

By the time the 1880’s came around Boudin had achieved widespread recognition as an accomplished painter and had finally achieved financial security once he had secured a contract with the art dealer Durand-Ruel.   Paul Durand-Ruel, who was a great supporter of Impressionism and the Impressionist artists. In 1883 he opened his new gallery on the Boulevard de la Madeleine in Paris with an exhibition of works by Boudin, comprising 150 paintings and other pastels and drawings.

Fair in Brittany by Eugène Boudin

In 1888 at an auction at Hôtel Drouot in Paris, a large auction house in Paris, known for fine art, antiques, and antiquities, which consisted of  sixteen halls hosting seventy independent auction firms, many of Boudin’s paintings were bought by avid collectors of his work. 

Venice: Santa Maria della Salute and the Dogana Seen from across the Grand Canal

Venice: Santa Maria della Salute and the Dogana seen from across the Grand Canal, by Eugène Boudin (1895)

In 1889, 1890, and 1891, more successful exhibitions were organized at Galerie Durand-Ruel, and in 1890 Boudin was elected a member of the Société des Beaux-Arts.  His paintings travelled across the Atlantic and were shown in exhibitions in Boston in 1890 and 1891.  He continued to exhibit at the Paris Salons until his death and received a third-place medal at the Paris Salon of 1881, and a gold medal at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris.  In 1892 Boudin was made a knight of the Légion d’honneur.  His wealth allowed him to travel and he visited Belgium, the Netherlands, and southern France, and from 1892 to 1895 made regular trips to Venice.

Villefranche

Villefranche by Eugène Boudin  (1892)

Boudin was now spending every winter in the south of France, returning to his beloved Normandy in the summer.  His wife died in 1889 and Boudin’s own health was in decline.  In 1898 Boudin must have realised he was dying as he decided to move back to his home in Deauville to die. 

Eugène Louis Boudin died on August 8th 1898 aged 74.  He was buried according to his wishes in the Saint-Vincent Cemetery in Montmartre, Paris.  Boudin was a very modest man  and once said:

“…I may well have had some small measure of influence on the movement that led painters to study actual daylight and express the changing aspects of the sky with the utmost sincerity…”

But I will leave the last words to Claude Monet who said of Boudin:

“…If I have become a painter, I owe it to Eugène Boudin…”

Eugène Boudin. Part 1.

See the source image

My featured artist today is the nineteenth century French painter Eugène Boudin.  He was one of the earliest en plein air painters and is credited with introducing plein air painting to Monet.  He was a marine painter and his depictions focused on seascapes and the Normandy shorelines.

Portrait of the Artist’s Father  by Eugène Boudin (1850)

Eugène Louis Boudin was born in the coastal town of Trouville in Normandy on July 12th 1824. Leonard-Sebastien Boudin,  Boudin’s father, was a harbour pilot, and at the age of ten, young Boudin worked as a cabin boy on a steamboat that sailed across the Seine estuary between Le Havre and Honfleur and during those days on the water the young boy must have witnessed the constant fluctuations of the colours of the sea and sky which were aspects so important to plein air artists.  Boudin’s father gave up his seagoing life when Eugène was about twelve years of age.  In 1835, Eugène moved with his family to Le Havre where his father established himself as stationer and frame-maker. Eugène began work the following year as an assistant in the shop before opening his own small framing shop which he co-owned. It was whilst running this shop that he first met artists who were working in the area and used his shop to exhibit their paintings.  The most well-known of these were the landscape painter, Constant Troyon, Jean-Francois Millet, the portraiture artist, Jean-Baptiste Isabey and the history painter, Thomas Couture.  Eugène would receive encouragement from these painters to abandon the world of commerce and take up painting.  In 1846, aged twenty-two, Eugène Boudin took their advice and gave up the stationery shop and began to paint full time.  He had sold his share of the business to buy himself out of military service and in 1847, he travelled to Paris and spent time travelling through the Flanders region.  Boudin was profoundly influenced by the Dutch 17th-century Masters and when he met the Dutch painter Johan Jongkind, who had already made his mark in French artistic circles, Boudin was advised by his new friend to paint en plein air.  Three years later, in 1850 he won a scholarship that allowed him to move to Paris.  However, he never forgot his roots and would return to Normandy to paint and later take many painting trips to Brittany.  

The Road from Trouville to Honfleur by Eugène Boudin (c.1852)

During that early period, Eugène painted rural landscapes, peasants, and still life works, but soon his love of the sea and the seaside progressively attracted his attention, and in 1862, he began to paint the crowds of fashionable tourists who had descended on the Normandy beaches.  Seaside resorts began to appear on the French Channel coast and in what was to become Belgium and the Netherlands in the late eighteenth century.  By the early nineteenth century the commercial sea-bathing habit was making an impact on Normandy. 

Fishermen by the Water by Eugène Boudin (1855)

Up until that time artists’ coastal scenes were rarely populated, and if they did include figures they were likely to be local fishermen. Boudin’s coastal scene paintings were adventurously modern in nature depicting smartly dressed holidaymakers engaging in leisure activities.

Elegant Women on the Beach by Eugène Boudin (1863)

His modus operandi was to sketch en plein air during the summer months and finish off the paintings in his studio during the winter months.  Boudin still respected the established tradition of outdoor painting.  His plein air sketches were merely studies rather than finished works and they had to be finalized in his studio utilizing the many sketches he had made as well as the meticulous notes he had recorded about atmospheric conditions and the time of day when the sketches had been made.  It was a painstaking operation as he once wrote in a letter to one of his students:

“… An impression is gained in an instant, but then it has to be condensed following the rules of art or rather your own feeling, and that is the most difficult thing – to finish a painting without spoiling anything…”

However, Boudin changed his methodology realising that there was an innate wrongness with his system of completing works indoors and so he would, from start to finish, complete his works en plein air.  This inherent immediacy of work painted outdoors allowed him to be aware of changing weather and light conditions.

The Beach at Villerville by Eugène Boudin (1864)

Claude Monet was born in Paris on November 14th 1840 and at the age of five moved with his family out of the French capital and went to live in Le Havre.  Monet was fourteen years younger than Boudin but it is said that around 1856, sixteen-year-old Monet met fellow artist Eugène Boudin, who then became his mentor and taught him to use oil paints. Boudin who befriended him also taught Monet the technique for outdoor painting.  This was to have a great influence on the young artist.  Up to the early meetings with Boudin, Monet had concentrated on his teenage caricatures but was persuaded by Boudin to focus all his time on landscape painting.  Monet recalled the time:

“…it was as if a veil had been torn from my eyes. I had understood, had grasped what painting could be. Boudin’s absorption of his work, and his independence, were enough to decide the entire future and development of my painting…”

Büyük Purolu Adam, 1855-1856 picture

Boudin helped Monet to love the bright hues and the play of light on water.  Monet remembered Boudin’s words of encouragement and later paid tribute to Boudin’s early influence:

“…Boudin without hesitation, came up to me, complimented me in his gentle voice and said ‘I always look at your sketches with pleasure, they are amusing, clever, bright.  You are gifted; one can see that at a glance.  But I hope you are not going to stop there.  It is all very well for a beginning, yet soon you will have had enough of caricaturing.  Study, learn to see and paint, draw, make landscapes.  The sea and the sky, the animals, the people and the trees are so beautiful, just as nature had made them, with their character, their genuineness, in the light, in the air, just as they are’…”

Laundresses by a Stream by Eugène Boudin

This would later become evident in Monet’s Impressionist paintings. Boudin offered Monet the chance to help him in his framing shop but the young man declined but later that summer he acquiesced.  The two remained lifelong friends and  it was probably through Monet that Boudin was asked to participate in the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874.  

In 1859 Boudin met Gustave Courbet who introduced him to the poet and art critic, Charles Baudelaire, who was the first critic to draw Boudin’s talents to public attention when he made his debut at the 1859 Paris Salon.

Deauville Harbour by Eugène Boudin

Boudin was to later join Monet and his young friends in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, but he never considered himself a revolutionary trend-setter unlike some of the other artists.  So now Boudin’s work featured at both the Imressionist’s First Exhibition as well as at the Paris Salon that year.  In a way Boudin had created a vital connection between the past and future trends of French art, and by so doing won the admiration of his contemporaries.  Boudin could have become a regular member of the Impressionists but chose not to.

   Boudin had mental issues in the form of bouts of melancholia and he always seemed to doubt his own ability.  He was introverted and never felt the need to bolster his reputation which may have been enhanced if he had decided to live in the French capital and regularly mix within the Paris art circle.  Boudin preferred to remain living in Normandy.

In a letter, from Paris, dated June 14th 1869, to family-friend Ferdinand Martin Boudin tells of his desire to return to Normandy:

“…I dare not think of the sun-drenched beaches and the stormy skies, and of the joy of painting them in the sea breezes…”

The paintings that Boudin made of the coast were consistent with the ideals of the depiction of light which became popular with the Impressionist movement and so we must realise that Boudin continued to be an influence with the group.  

Beach at Trouville by Eugène Boudin

Boudin was a master when it came to depicting skies.   Fellow artists, like Corot, praised that aspect of Boudin’s paintings and nicknamed him King of the Skies.  In 1859 the poet Charles Baudelaire rhapsodically described the skies in Boudin’s paintings, shown at the Salon, ‘prodigious spells of air and water’.

………..to be continued.

The Talented Paxtons

 

William McGregor Paxton and his wife, Elizabeth Okie Paxton

William McGregor Paxton

Elizabeth Okie Paxton

 

 

 

 

 

 

       William McGregor Paxton                                               Elizabeth Okie Paxton

My blog today features an artistically talented husband and wife who were born in America in the late nineteenth century.  Let me acquaint you with Mr William “Bill” McGregor Paxton and his wife Mrs Elizabeth “Betty”  Okie Paxton.

     

Portraits by William Mc Gregor Paxton of his father and mother (1902)

William McGregor Paxton was born in Baltimore on June 22nd 1869.  He was the only child of James Paxton and Rose Doherty Paxton, a daughter of Irish immigrants.  The family left Baltimore before William’s teenage years and settled in Newton Corner, a village just west of Boston, where his father set up a baking and catering business.  Whilst at school, William became interested in art and became a very proficient painter, so much so, whilst still at the suburban high school he was accepted into the Cowles Art School in Boston which was one of the largest art schools in the city.  Cowles Art School offered instruction in figure drawing and painting from the flat cast and life, artistic anatomy, perspective, and composition, painting still life, drawing, and painting the head from life, drawing still life, oil and water colours. He studied with the American Impressionist Dennis Miller Bunker, a friend of John Singer Sargent, who was the chief instructor of figure and cast drawing, artistic anatomy, and composition at the school.  Bunker was so impressed by the work produced by Paxton that he persuaded him to travel to Paris to further his artistic tuition.

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In the Studio by William McGregor Paxton (1905)

From this Boston art school, William Paxton travelled to Paris in 1889 and studied at the Académie Julian.  Later he transferred to the government run, prestigious all male, art establishment, École des Beaux-Arts and studied under the French Academic painter, Jean-Léon Gérôme in his Paris atelier. William Paxton remained in Paris for four years and did not return to America until 1893.  On his return, William returned to the Cowles School and studied with Joseph DeCamp and became a junior instructor.   Around the same time, Elizabeth Vaughn Okie was also studying art at the Cowles Art School, under Ernest Lee Major and Joseph Rodefer DeCamp. 

Elizabeth Okie Paxton

Elizabeth Okie Paxton

Elizabeth Okie was born into a well-to-do family on March 17th, 1878 in Providence, Rhode Island.  She was the daughter of Dr. Howard Okie who had studied medicine in Germany and Elizabeth Coleridge Vaughn whose family were stockbrokers and bankers.  Elizabeth had a younger sister, Adele. Both Elizabeth and Adele were home-schooled by a governess which gives you an idea as to the financial status of the family.    While Adele loved music, Elizabeth loved her art and her parents enrolled her at Cowles Art School when she was sixteen-years-old.   One of her tutors at Cowles Art School was William Paxton during his brief tenure teaching at the school.  Love blossomed between teacher and pupil despite a nine-year age difference and in 1896, she and William became engaged. 

My Wife, Elizabeth (Wedding Portrait of Elizabeth Okie Paxton) (1899).

On January 3rd, 1899, just a few months before her twenty-first birthday, the couple married.  The long length of the engagement could well have been down to Elizabeth’s well-off parents being concerned with the future financial prospects of their future son-in-law.  After their marriage, William and Elizabeth lived with his parents at 43 Elmwood Street, and later bought a house at 19 Montvale Road in Newton Centre, one of a number of villages within the city of Newton in Middlesex County, Massachusetts.  William Paxton would continue to commute daily into Boston.

Elizabeth Vaughan Okie by William McGregor Paxton (1894)

In the collection of the Boston Athenæum’s is one of the earliest portraits of Elizabeth by her husband which he completed in 1894.  It is thought that it may have been painted specifically for her. It is fortunate that the work still survives as most of Paxton’s early paintings were destroyed in a studio fire in 1904, making this a rare survivor from that period of his professional life.

In 1906, now back in Massachusetts, William joined the faculty of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston as an instructor and became friends of Frank Weston Benson, head of the Painting department and the Impressionist painter, Edmund Tarbell.  These three artists and art educators believed passionately in teaching art and conveyed to their students an in-depth understanding of painting methods and composition. All three of them had studied at the Parisian art academies where demanding technical classes were coupled with an intensive study of the most well-known painters of the past. For them it was important to try and convey to their students what it was about the great paintings of the past that made them timeless.  William Paxton summed it up, saying:

“…Other people can look at pictures just for the pleasure they get out of them. We painters, when we are on the job, must always be looking to see how they achieve their effect. Just as an actor, when he goes to the theatre, never loses sight of the scenery, lighting, pulleys, gestures and tricks of inflection, the sum of which stirs the audience, so we painters must always be watching to discover the procedures by which the great masters produced beauty…”

Art of Impressionist Painter William McGregor Paxton

La Russe by William McGregor Paxton (1913)

William Paxton, along with Edmund C. Tarbell and Frank Weston Benson, was one of the founding members of a group of Boston-based painters active in the first three decades of the twentieth century, known as the Boston School.   Their preferred subject matter was of a genteel nature such as portraiture, picturesque landscapes, and young women posing in well-appointed interiors. They were influenced by artists such as John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet, and Jan Vermeer.  The Guild of Boston Artists was established in 1914 by the three artists and was created to be an artist-owned and artist-operated gallery. With the mission of promoting both emerging and established artists living in the region, the Guild developed a reputation for excellence in quality and presentation.

Elizabeth Okie Paxton featured in a number of her husband’s paintings.  One such example was his 1906 work entitled The Red Fan.

The Red Fan by William McGregor Paxton (1906)

The Red Fan (Portrait of Mrs Paxton) by William McGregor Paxton (1906)

Paxton had been brought up in a middle-class background and was well aware of Society’s hierarchical rules.  On getting back to America from his time in France William Paxton completed a number of paintings which featured the domestic opulence of the upper-class. His favoured depictions were those of composed females of the leisure class, often his patron’s wives, often with their domestic servants, with sumptuous backdrops of richly decorated interiors.  He was an important genre and portrait painter in the Beaux Arts style. 

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The Figurine by William McGregor Paxton (1921)

The females that featured in his genre and portraiture varied from dowagers and schoolgirls to servants, and his paintings helped identify idealized female roles of upper-class New Englanders at the beginning of the twentieth century.  It was all about female beauty and elegance which was in stark contrast to the work of the Ashcan School painters of New York who featured the gritty, and unglamorous realities of city life, often featuring New York women wandering down busy streets, flirting openly, and willingly catching the eye of passing strangers.  Paxton’s females oozed confidence and a sensual wistfulness but at the same time exuded demureness and respectability in stark contrast to the vulnerable yet gregarious Ashcan School’s women

William McGregor Paxton (1869–1941), Tea Leaves (1909),

Tea Leaves by William McGregor Paxton (1909)

A fine example of this is his 1909 painting entitled Tea Leaves.  We see two well-dressed young women taking tea together. The woman in the blue-trimmed hat looks closely at the leaves at the bottom of her cup, which was a popular way of telling one’s fortune. 

William McGregor Paxton (1869–1941), The String of Pearls (1908

The String of Pearls by William Mc Gregor Paxton (1908)

His 1908 painting String of Pearls was another work which portrayed a sophisticated and cultured female enjoying a period of leisure, studying her pearl necklace.  Paxton often depicted ladies with expensive and beautiful accoutrements in luxurious settings.  For affluent male observers of Paxton’s works, it was if it were not just the furnishings and the jewellery which were items they would like to possess, but it was also the females themselves.

 

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Woman with Book by William McGregor Paxton (1910)

Like many of his Boston colleagues, Paxton was influenced by the work of the seventeenth-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. Paxton was fascinated not only with Vermeer’s imagery, but also with the system of optics he employed. He studied Vermeer’s works closely and discovered that only one area in his compositions was entirely in focus, while the rest were somewhat blurred. Paxton called it “binocular vision,” crediting Vermeer with recording the slightly different point of view of each individual eye that combine in human sight.  His painting, Woman with Book, we see the sunlight beaming through the window at the left, a woman (who even looks like one of Vermeer’s models) stands and reads a large book, with a painting on the wall behind her. The optical focus of the work appears to be the purse which the woman holds high against her left shoulder. 

The New Necklace by William Paxton (1910)

William Paxton began to use this system in his own work, including his narrative painting The New Necklace, where only the gold beads are sharply defined while the rest of the objects in the composition have softer, blurrier edges.  The New Necklace, which he completed in 1910, is one of Paxton’s best-known paintings.  It is an intriguing work and we are made to wonder what is going on.  In the depiction, we see a younger woman, dressed in fashionably coloured clothes, sitting at a narrow bureau writing. She has turned her chair so that she can reach behind and hold out her left hand to receive the new necklace mentioned in the title. The jewellery is being placed into her hand by a slightly older woman, in a drabber dark blue-green dress.  She rests her chin on her left hand.  She purposefully does not make eye contact with the seated woman.  What is going on?  We, the observer, are provoked to use our imagination as to what is taking place in front of us.  There is obviously an air of subservience between the standing and seated woman but how does the handing over of the jewellery come into the story.  What hold does the seated woman have over the other?   I leave it for you to decide.

Nude by William Paxton

Nude by William McGregor Paxton (1915)

This blurring effect can be seen again in Paxton’s 1915 painting simply entitled Nude, which is part of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts collection. In the depiction, we sees a young woman seated on a blue dress that is spread across the seat of a backless divan. She leans to the right as she reaches out for her pink underwear.  We observe the woman partly from the back and partly from the side.  Paxton has slightly blurred all the items in the room and the woman herself with the exception of her right breast and parts of her right arm.  From seeing the props used in this painting in other of his works, we know they are part of the trappings of his studio.

The Beach at Chatham by William Paxton (c.1915)

The Beach at Chatham by William McGregor Paxton (1915)

Paxton completed a number of landscape paintings such as his 1915 work Beach at Chatham.  Chatham is a town in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, located at the southeast tip of Cape Cod.  It is an unusual painting format with a low horizon line and seven-eighths of the work taken with the sky.   The result being the minute figures of those people on the shore.  However, the unusual format gives us, mere mortals, the feeling of how little we matter in the Grand Plan.  When Paxton began painting The Beach at Chatham, he envisioned the same problems that confronted the first Dutch landscape painters, namely, how to perfectly balance the visual expansiveness of a seascape with the presence of the human element. Adopting an extremely low horizon line and filling seven-eighths of the canvas with sky, the beachgoers appear diminutive, allowing the artist to promote the infinite over the everyday, and create a powerful, even awe-inspiring composition.

Nausicaa by William Paxton

Nausicaä by William McGregor Paxton

William McGregor Paxton delved into mythology with his painting Nausicaä.  It is based on Homer’s story of the trials and tribulations of Odysseus on his journey back home after the fall of Troy.  Odysseus has finally escaped on a raft from the clutches of Calypso and her island of Ogygia.  The raft is wrecked in a storm inflicted by Poseidon, and Odysseus has to swim ashore on the island of the Phaeacians.  After swimming along a river estuary he manages to clamber up the banks exhausted and naked and heads into a wood, where he falls asleep.  The next morning, Nausicaä, the daughter of King Alcinous and Queen Arete of Phaeacia, and her handmaidens go to the seashore to wash clothes. Awakened by their chatter and play, Odysseus emerges from the forest completely naked, scaring the servants away, and begs Nausicaä for aid.  William Paxton’s depiction is at the point in the story when the naked Odysseus approaches Nausicaä and her handmaidens.

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Red Apples by Elizabeth Okie Paxton (1920)

Elizabeth Paxton continued with her art studies under her husband’s guidance and became known for her beautiful still life paintings and her timeless works which featured everyday domestic objects, beautifully depicted with a sensitivity to light, colour, and form.  By shifting from interior scenes to still life works, Okie Paxton avoided competing with her husband’s subjects.  Elizabeth Okie Paxton painted still life works, finding a ready market with private collectors. Unfortunately, this meant that very few of her paintings are on show to the public in a museum.

ELIZABETH VAUGHAN OKIE PAXTON (American

Copper Jug with Apples by Elizabeth Okie Paxton

Copper Jug with Apples is a still life of a table covered partly by a white tablecloth upon which a copper-handled jug, three apples and a green cup and saucer.

Continental Breakfast by Elizabeth Okie Paxton (1907)

Another of her still life works is entitled Continental Breakfast which was exhibited at Rowland’s in Boston and described on May 17, 1907, and was described as:

“…she has set forth a dainty little breakfast, daintily arranged on a crisp, clean white tablecloth; there is a silver coffee-pot, a coffee-cup and a saucer of thin white porcelain, with a light green rim, a brown breakfast roll, a dish of fruit containing a half of a grapefruit and a bunch of grapes, and a covered dish of blue and white hawthorn ware. All these things are painted with so much delicacy and loving care, they are so pretty in themselves, and they are so well related together, that it is a pleasure to look at them. It is a long time since we have seen a better piece of still life work…”

Okie Paxton utilized light, texture, and colour like that of other artists of the Boston School. 

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The Breakfast Tray by Elizabeth Okie Paxton (c.1910)

In contrast to this pure still life work she also completed another work which featured a breakfast tray.  The painting is her famous 1910 work entitled The Breakfast Tray.  The painting requests our company into a world of femininity.  What we see before us is a scene of disorder and yet highly sensual, and utterly credible. It has a personality of its own.  Before us is not a depiction of staged harmonious domesticity but one that pricks our curiosity.  It is a provocative, almost erotic narrative work and yet it is almost a still-life work.  What at first glance appears to be a simple depiction 0f morning light streaming through an unseen window.  On the left falling we see the light falling upon the silver service of a breakfast tray which has been placed on a chair next to the unmade bed.  On the tray there is a small samovar, half a grapefruit, a bread roll, and a porcelain mug and jug.

Look at the artists depiction of light and shade.  See how the morning light bounces of the highly polished wooden leg and spindles of the Windsor chair.  It is still early morning and the sun has yet to rise high in the sky and so we see deep shadows under the shoes and along the rails of the chair as well as the space under the bed.  The bedding is rumpled.  A dressing gown has almost slid from the bed.  The lace-trimmed sheets and pillow, still with the marked impression of the sleeper’s head who has now risen and vacated the bedroom and it is all those aspects which prevent it being a still-life and steer it towards a narrative work.  So, what is going on?   The pillows on the bed are intimately close.  On the footboard of the bed there is another item of clothing. What is it?  Maybe another robe or a pair of trousers.  The more we stare and seek out minute details the more we become a voyeur.  A rumpled bed and abandoned shoes allow our mind to race towards the sexual nature of the scene and yet our erotic thoughts are dampened when we realise the breakfast tray is set for just one person.  Who brought the tray to the sleeping person – a servant, a lover?  Where has everybody gone? 

Elizabeth Okie Paxton's Sick a-Bed

Sick-a-bed by Elizabeth Okie Paxton (1916)

A similar setting can be seen in her 1916 painting entitled Sick a-bed. The painting was bought by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  Academy officials said that the work would serve to bolster the museum’s effort to build its contemporary holdings and add to its growing body of art by women.

Is this all just a figment of my imagination and yet I say to you never just flick your gaze over a work of art, study it and imagine what was in the artist’s mind when they put brush to canvas and the painting makes us want to know more about the artist who created it.  What little we know about her is that Elizabeth Okie Paxton enjoyed a harmonious marriage, who would selflessly endorse her husband’s career.  They loved and respected each other.  She was a beautiful woman who also served as her husband’s muse, and often modelled for many of his paintings.  Although she painted The Breakfast Tray which some considered a risqué work, she enjoyed painting less controversial still life works. She and her husband were not blessed with children and consequently her life was devoted to both her and her husband’s art. She continued to manage her husband’s business affairs after his death with correspondence regarding his art estate until 1970, apparently paying even more attention to his posthumous career than her own active one. Of course, this leads to the obvious question – could she have been better known as a painter had she not married William? On the other hand, if she had not married William Paxton would she have missed meeting influential people and teachings that subsequently propelled her own development?   It is just the age-old question “what if?”

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The House Maid by William McGregor Paxton(1910)

Over the decades that followed, both William and Elizabeth became successful artists, William best known as an accomplished portrait painter who painted two US presidents, Grover Cleveland and Calvin Coolidge and Elizabeth gained fame as a painter of still-lifes and interiors.  William Paxton was made a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1928.  He was working on his last painting, a view of his living room at 19 Montvale Road, with his wife posing for him, when he was stricken with a heart attack and died in 1941, at the age of 72.  After her husband’s death Elizabeth once again gave up her own art to focus on promoting her husband’s art and legacy.

Elizabeth Okie Paxton died on April 2, 1972 in Boston, aged 94.

 

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

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Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Last week I treated myself to a day trip to Liverpool, a city which was some eight miles from my birthplace. I had not visited there for a number of years but decided that I should take the opportunity to visit one of their art galleries.  Although the Tate Liverpool is very popular with tourists, I much prefer the old established Walker Art Gallery.

Andrew Barclay Walker (1824-1893)

In 1873 Andrew Barclay Walker, a Liverpool brewer and alderman offered to present a gallery to Liverpool to commemorate his term as mayor. Although he was neither an art collector nor a patron of the arts, it was believed that Walker wanted to improve the public image of brewing and alcohol at a time when the temperance movement was popular and his donation of £20,000 towards the building of a new gallery would, he considered, counter the diatribe of the temperance folk.  The foundation stone was laid the following year and in 1877 the 15th Earl of Derby opened the Walker Art Gallery on September 6th.    

Due to Covid restrictions I had to obtain a time slot for my visit which just gave me enough time to visit the rooms housing their permanent collection.  Strangely, the rooms were almost empty and I felt as if I had the gallery to myself !  In this blog I want to take a look at some of my favourite painting in a hope that it may encourage you to pay a visit to this wonderful gallery.

Crazy Kate by William James Bishop

My first selection is a small and unobtrusive painting by the nineteenth century Manchester-born English artist William James Bishop entitled Crazy Kate. This strange title derives from a character in William Cowper’s 1785 blank verse (un-rhyming verse) poem, The Task. The verse tells of the fate of the young girl Kate, whom we see bare-footed in a ferocious storm, clutching a pin, which as the poem tells us, she prizes beyond food , clothes and comfort

Crazy Kate by William Cowper

There often wanders one whom better days

Saw better clad, in cloak of satin trimmed

With lace, and hat with splendid ribbon bound.

A serving-maid was she, and fell in love

With one who left her, went to sea, and died.

Her fancy followed him through foaming waves

To distant shores, and she would sit and weep

At what a sailor suffers; fancy too

(Delusive most where warmest wishes are)

Would oft anticipate his glad return

And dream of transports she was not to know.

She heard the doleful tidings of his death

And never smiled again. And now she roams

The dreary waste; there spends the livelong day,

And there, unless when Charity forbids,

The livelong night. A tattered apron hides,

Worn as a cloak, and hardly hides a gown

More tattered still; and both but ill conceal

A bosom heaved with never-ceasing sighs.

She begs an idle pin of all she meets,

And hoards them in her sleeve, but needful food,

Though pressed with hunger oft, or comelier clothes,

Though pinched with cold, asks never. Kate is crazed.

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Springtime in Eskdale by James McIntosh Patrick (1935)

The next painting is a landscape work by the Dundee-born artist, James McIntosh Patrick entitled Springtime in Eskdale which he completed in 1935. It is a work which I featured in my blog ten years ago and it was good to revisit this beautiful work. It is a detailed landscape painting of The Crooks in Eskdalemuir, Dumfriesshire which was the birthplace of the famous civil engineer and architect Thomas Telford.  This painting by Patrick was completed in 1934 and was to mark the centenary of Telford’s death.  In the middle ground we can see people visiting a cottage whilst further back we can just make out a farmer ploughing his land.  In the distance, we see a small river at the foot of a line of hills, which rises into the background.  The artist’s view of the scene is from a somewhat elevated position looking down at the farmland. The inclusion of a road in the foreground is a clever way in which the artist has encouraged us to follow it with our eyes and thus explore the middle ground and background.  One of the most well-defined aspects of the painting is the way he has painted the trees.  McIntosh Patrick was a great believer that they were one of nature’s greatest gifts to mankind and he would put a lot of effort into their depiction in order for us to be more appreciative of what Mother Nature has bestowed upon us.

Mill on the Alyn, Denbighshire

Mill on the Alyn, Denbighshire by John Edward Newton

Another landscape work which caught my eye was John Edward Newton’s painting Mill on the Alyn, Denbighshire.  John Edward Newton was a member of the Liverpool Academy, exhibiting at its galleries between 1856 and 1867 and at the Royal Academy in London between 1862 and 1887. Like other Liverpool School painters, he was highly influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites in their use of pure glazes over a white ground and meticulous attention to detail.   His tightly executed and highly accurate brushwork is part of a larger movement inspired by Ruskin’s call for ‘truth to nature’ originally exemplified in the Pre-Raphaelite Circle’s attention to detail and meticulous handling of ‘wet-on-wet’ painting techniques.

The Stonebreaker by John Brett (1858)

I came across this painting in the nineties when I was doing some research for my daughter with regards a number of paintings featuring stonebreakers.  Gustave Courbet and Henry Wallis had painted different versions based on the same subject.   John Brett was born in in 1831 and was a British artist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement.  However his masterpiece has always been considered to be his painting The Stonebreaker which he completed in 1858.  It is a work of two halves.  The setting is a beautiful landscape with its vast meadows and grove, indicating paradise and is captured with remarkable accuracy by Brett who was influenced by Ruskin’s adage that landscapes should be depicted with  ‘truth to nature’.  The foreground, in contrast, is enveloped in weeds, rocks and a dead tree. We observe a young boy accompanied by a little puppy which is playing away beside him. 

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The Stone Breakers by Gustave Courbet (1849). Destroyed during World War II

As was with Courbet’s painting, it portrays the poor but in a very different light.   Brett’s depiction does not have the same claustrophobic atmosphere of Courbet’s painting, nor does it contain the hopelessness of Henry Wallis’s 1857 version. 

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The Stonebreaker by Henry Wallis (1857). Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Despite it not being a sombre work depicting cruelty, it is a painting that can still be categorised as a Realist painting depicting the boy, although well dressed, having to undertake brutal and laborious work. Despite his playful pet he has no time to stop and play with it because he is working hard to earn his food.

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Isabella by John Everett Millais (1849)

I do love the painting Isabella by Millais but I will not go into great detail with regards this painting or the enthralling story behind the depiction as my blog in 2012 had an in-depth look at the work. However it is still one of my favourites and the story behind the depiction is fascinating. I do like the vivid colours of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

Henry Holiday - Dante and Beatrice - Google Art Project.jpg

Dante and Beatrice by Henry Holiday (1883)

Henry Holiday was a British historical genre and landscape painter, stained-glass designer, illustrator and sculptor. He was part of the Pre-Raphaelite school of art.  His 1883 painting, Dante and Beatrice is a painting that is considered to be Holiday’s most important work of art.  What we see is based on Dante’s 1294 autobiographical work La Vita Nuova which describes his love for Beatrice Portinari. Dante concealed his love by pretending to be attracted to other women. The painting depicts an incident when Beatrice, having heard gossip relating to this, refuses to speak to him. The event is shown as Beatrice and two other women walk past the Santa Trinita Bridge in Florence.   Beatrice wears a white dress and walks beside her friend Monna Vanna, with Beatrice’s maidservant lagging slightly behind.  Holiday was anxious that the painting should be historically accurate and in 1881 travelled to Florence to carry out research. He discovered that in the 13th century the Lungarno, the street on the north side of the River Arno between the Ponte Vecchio which can be seen in the background and the Ponte Santa Trinita, was paved with bricks and that there were shops in the area; these are shown in the painting. He also learnt that the Ponte Vecchio had been destroyed in a flood in 1235. It was being rebuilt between 1285 and 1290 and in the painting, it is shown covered in scaffolding. When he died in 1927, Holiday was described as “the last Pre-Raphaelite”.

Going to Market, 1860 - 1860 - John Lee

Going to the Market by John Ingle Lee (1860)

My next two choices are paintings by the Liverpool-born English artist John Ingle Lee.  Going to the Market was exhibited in 1860 at the Liverpool Academy under the title The Young Carriers. The fresh mountainous landscape and the children are possibly both intended to be Welsh. John Ingle Lee was born in 1839, the third son of Henry Boswell Lee and Emily Sarah Ingle. His father sold straw bonnets and the raw materials for their manufacture.

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George Henry Lee, Liverpool in its 1970’s prime

The family business developed into the famous Liverpool department store, George Henry Lee, which was founded in 1853.  By the late 1850s, as John Ingle Lee was starting his artistic career, his father retired from the retail trade, and passed the business to his sons George and Henry.  In 1874, the last of the Lee sons retired and control passed to Thomas Oakshott, who in 1887 became the first tradesman to become Lord Mayor of Liverpool, an appointment which added to the prestige of the enterprise.  Shortly after the end of the First World War, the Oakshott family sold the business to the American millionaire, Gordon Selfridge.   It was acquired in 1940 by the John Lewis Partnership.

Sweethearts and Wives

Sweethearts and Wives by John Ingle Lee (1860)

One of Ingle’s best-known works and one of the best-known Liverpool Pre-Raphaelite paintings was his painting entitled Sweethearts and Wives.  One can see by the way Lee has mastered the sharp-focus technique and the use of bright colour that he was influenced by the work of the Pre-Raphaelites. His depiction of soldiers or sailors parting from their families was commonplace in the Victorian era.  The men in the painting are from HMS Majestic, an ex-Crimea warship anchored in the River Mersey as part of the port defences.  Lee’s depiction has accurately recorded every detail including the view across the River Mersey towards Birkenhead and local landmarks such as St. Mary’s Church and Bidston Windmill stand out on the horizon.  Of the thirteen pictures he is recorded as having exhibited during his lifetime, only six are known today, of which this is the most ambitious.  The work of this Liverpool painter is rare and very few works by him are known.

Millie Smith Ford Madox Brown

Millie by Ford Madox Brown (1846)

It was in 1846 when twenty-five-year-old Ford Madox Brown painted my next selected painting. It is entitled Millie and is a portrait of Millie Smith, the daughter of Ford Madox Brown’s landlord at Southend where he stayed with his own small daughter, Emma Lucy on his return from Rome after the death of his first wife, Elizabeth Bromley. She died in Paris of consumption during their return journey from Italy.  The child’s head is almost “cartoonishly” big, her eyes even more so, as she gazes out at us.  She sits at a table with a formal pose.  In the foreground is the table, on top of which is a rose-coloured tablecloth which has been partly folded back.  Two small flowers rest abandoned on the uncovered part of the mahogany table.  Look at Millie’s facial expression.  She is not smiling as she scrutinizes us.  There is something mechanical about her pose as if she has received strict instructions as how she should obediently conduct herself.  Ford Madox Brown went on to paint many child portraits similar to this one.

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Kim Cattrall by Samira Addo (2018)

I will end my choices with a portrait by the young artist Samira Addo, who with over a thousand other artists entered a television art competition.  She won the Sky Portrait Artist of the Year competition in 2018 and the prize was a sum of money and a commission to paint the portrait of actress, Kim Cattrall.  I have selected this work, not because of its beauty, although I acknowledge the extraordinary talent shown by the artist, but because, in my opinion, of the poor choice of where it has been hung by the museum authorities.

The unveiling ceremony

The portrait is displayed in the 18th century room, alongside paintings by some of the most famous portrait artists in British history, including Thomas Gainsborough, Joseph Wright of Derby and Sir Joshua Reynolds and there lies the problem.  It is a contemporary work of art.  It is an accomplished portrait but it just should not have been hung in that room.  It is a very bright and colourful work of art, in stark contrast with the somewhat dark room itself and the other portrait paintings on the walls of the room which have the dark brown subdued colouring which we associate with older portraiture.  It just does not fit in with these other works.

If you ever visit Liverpool I believe you will not be disappointed in the works of art on show at the Walker Art Gallery, especially if you like Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

Harold Harvey

Harold Harvey

Harold Harvey (1874 – 1941)

My featured artist today is one of the famous Newlyn School painters. The term Newlyn school applies to a group of artists who settled in Newlyn and St Ives in the late nineteenth century and whose work is characterised by an impressionistic style and embodies subject matter drawn from scenes of rural life.   It was founded by a group of artists led by Stanhope Forbes. who came to Newlyn in West Cornwall in 1884 and was immediately captivated by the scenery and people in the area. The ‘Newlyn School’ became famous for its superb realism, in ‘Plein-Air‘ painting.  The artist I am looking at today, Harold Harvey, made his name for his beautiful works featuring the Cornish countryside.

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The Old Slip, Newlyn by Harold Harvey

Harold Charles Francis Harvey was born on May 20th 1874 in North Parade, Penzance, Cornwall.  He was the eldest of eight children of Francis McFarland Harvey, a bank clerk, and Mary Bellringer whom he married in September 1872. Harold had six brothers, Percival George Harvey; Frank Harvey; Arthur William H Harvey; Wilfrid Vignes Harvey; Leonard Harvey, and Cyril Harvey along with one sister, Gladys Maud Harvey.  Harvey trained in painting at the Penzance Art School under the tutelage of Norman Garstin, an Irish artist, teacher, art critic and journalist associated with the Newlyn School of painters. After leaving the Penzance Art School at the age of nineteen, William travelled to France and attended the Académie Julian in Paris between 1894 and 1896.

Harold Harvey - Unloading the boats, Newlyn Harbour.jpg

Unloading the boats, Newlyn Harbour by Harold Harvey (1906)

In the early part of the twentieth century, Harold Harvey’s paintings were impressionistic in style and the depictions focused on people involved in the agricultural and fishing trade. 

In the Whiting Ground’ by Harold Harvey

In the Whiting Ground by Harold Harvey (c.1900)

One such work was In the Whiting Ground which he completed around 1900 and depicts a small dinghy at sea with a young man standing holding a fishing line in his hands while an older man is holding a line in the water.  St Michael’s Mount the tidal island in Mount’s Bay, a large, sweeping bay on the English Channel coast of Cornwall, can be seen in the far distance.

Whiffing in Mount's Bay

Whiffing in St Mount’s Bay by Harold Harvey (c.1900)

A small painting completed around the same time by Harvey featuring three young men in a boat had the strange title of Whiffing in St Mount’s Bay.  Whiffing is a mode of fishing with a hand line.

The Seaweed Gatherers by Harold Harvey

The Seaweed Gatherers by Harold Harvey

Another of his paintings depicting life along the Cornish shoreline was one entitled The Seaweed Gatherers in which we see two men hauling a horse and cart laden with fresh seaweed.

The Close of a Summers Day by Harold Harvey. (1909)

The Close of a Summers Day by Harold Harvey (1909)

A more colourful painting is his beautiful work of idyllic tranquillity entitled The Close of a Summers Day which he completed in 1909.  It is at the end of a hot summers day and man and beast have need of a rest and refreshment.  The young farmworkers have been tasked with taking the horses down to the river for them to cool down and have a drink.  The white horse gently splashes in the water attempting to cool down its fetlocks.

From 1909 to 1913, Harvey was an Associate of the Royal Cambrian Academy of Art, Conwy and, in 1910, he became a member of the South Wales Art Society.

gertrude_harvey2_large

Gertrude Harvey by Harold Harvey

It was around this time that Harold Harvey met Gertrude Bodinnar.  She was born in 1879 and was the eighth of the ten children born to Ann Crews Bodinnar, (née Curnow), and her husband John Matthews Bodinnar, a cooper.  In her twenties, she acted as a model for students at the Forbes School of Painting, which had been founded in 1899 by Stanhope Forbes and his Canadian-born wife Elizabeth as their School of Painting and Drawing at Newlyn. It was indirectly through her work with students at this establishment that she first met Harold Harvey and agreed to act as his model.  Love blossomed and Harold and Gertrude married on April 19th 1911 and the couple set up home at Maen Cottage Elms Close Terrace, in Newlyn

Portrait of the Artist's Wife, Gertrude by Harold Harvey (1917)

Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Gertrude by Harold Harvey (1917)

Gertrude appeared in a number of her husband’s paintings.  One example was his 1917 portrait of her entitled Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Gertrude……

Gertrude Harvey with Parrot in the Artist's Home by Harold Harvey

….and Gertrude Harvey with Parrot in the Artist’s Home……

The Red Silk Shawl by Harold Harvey (1932)…..and The Red Silk Shawl in 1932.

Being around artists, including her husband, and watching them work fascinated her. She would often note down how the artists worked, and she soon realised that she had a talent for art and design.  Gertrude used mostly oil on canvas, board, card, or paper, but also tempera, gouache and though largely self-taught she became a talented artist in her own right, and her paintings were mainly of still-lifes, flowers and landscapes. 

Landscape

Landscape by Gertrude Harvey

Her paintings were good enough to be sold and exhibited at the Newlyn Art Gallery and in the twenties and thirties her work could be seen in many London galleries including the Leicester Gallery and the Royal Academy. Often, she showed work together with her husband in mixed and group shows.   Between 1930 and 1949, Gertrude Harvey had twenty works selected for Royal Academy exhibitions and from 1945 to 1949 she was regular exhibitor with the St Ives Society of Artists.  She was also proficient at needlework and clothing design.

Reflections by Harold Harvey (1916)

Reflections by Harold Harvey (1916)

Meanwhile Harold Harvey continued painting and exhibiting his work. The First World War began in 1914 but due to health issues, he was exempted from military service.  In that year, he started to paint a series of interiors often using his own home.  One such painting was his 1916 work entitled Reflections.

The Critics by Harold Harvey

The Critics by Harold Harvey

In another work entitled The Critics, we see three women enjoying coffee and an aperitif as they study some paintings, weighing up the merits of each one.

The Tea Table by Harold Harvey

The Tea Table by Harold Harvey (1920)

A depiction of domestic living can be best seen in Harold Harvey’s 1920 painting entitled The Tea Table.  It is a masterful depiction of a small dining room filled with shelves of crockery and ornaments.  It could almost be termed a still-life of household goods.

Girl on a Cliff by Harold Harvey (1926)

Girl on a Cliff by Harold Harvey (1926)

With such wonderful landscapes on his doorstep, it is no wonder that Harvey continued with his outdoor works featuring young models.  One example of this is his 1926 painting entitled Girl on a Cliff.  In a way, this is not a true plein air painting as the girl in the depiction is fourteen-year-old Cressida Wearne and Harvey painted her posing in the garden of his studio and he added the background at a later date.

Clara

Clara by Harold Harvey (1922)

Again, we see this technique with his 1922 painting, Clara.  It is a full-length portrait of a girl standing by a wall set in a rolling landscape.  She is seen holding a rose and in several of Harvey’s portraits his female sitters are holding a single flower. The work is composed mainly of tones of grey and brown but it is the red of the rosebud which creates the focal point of the work.

Harvey, Harold C., 1874-1941; James Jewill Hill Junior

Portrait of James Jewill Hill by Harold Harvey (1920

Harold Harvey completed a number of portrait commissions, such as his 1920 portrait of the youngest son of James Jewill Hill, a partner in the solicitors firm Jewill Hill & Bennett, Penzance.

Harvey, Harold C., 1874-1941; John Humphreys (1850-1937), Professor of Dentistry
Portrait of John Humphreys, Professor of Dentistry; University of Birmingham; by Harold Harvey (1938)

 

Another portrait he completed was a 1938 commission to paint a portrait of John Humphreys, Professor of Dentistry.

In 1920, Harold Harvey and fellow Newlyn School artist, Ernest Procter, founded the School of Painting, in Newlyn, called the Harvey-Procter School, which ran throughout most of the 1920s. 

Harold Harvey died in Newlyn on 19 May 1941 and was buried in Penzance at the St Clare Cemetery. His wife, Gertrude, lived in their cottage until 1960 when she moved into the Benoni Nursing Home in St Just. She died six years late, aged 86.

 

Ásgrímur Jónsson, the Icelandic Impressionist.

This is just a short mini-blog to look at a twentieth century Impressionist from Iceland, Ásgrímur Jónsson

                                                               Ásgrímur Jónsson

Ásgrímur Jónsson wasat the forefront of Icelandic art.  He was a pioneer of Icelandic visual art and the first Icelander to become a professional painter. Ásgrímur was born on March 4th, 1876, in Suðurkot, a small town thirty kilometres south west of Reykjavik.

                                       Autumn Sunlight, Öskjuhlíð by Ásgrímur Jónsson (1920)

In 1897 he left home and went to Copenhagen.  In 1900, aged twenty-four,  he enrolled on a three-year art course at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.  Once qualified, he toured a number of European countries before settling back down in Iceland in 1910.  On his journey home he visited Germany and the cities of Berlin and Weimar and it was during this period that he became influenced by the French Impressionists and the Post Impressionists, especially the landscape works of  the French painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.

                                          Hafnarfjörður Town by Ásgrímur Jónsson (1930)

Ásgrímur’s main painting genre was landscape art and especially that of his native Iceland and through his art many native artists would follow his lead.  His depictions of nature were fashioned by the romance of the nineteenth century.  He liked to focus his depictions on the changes of light and how it altered the view of the land.  He alternated between watercolours and oils but is best known for the former medium.

                           Mt. Strútur and Eiríksjökull Glacier, West Iceland by Ásgrímur Jónsson (1948)

He was a great believer in Naturalism in art – the broad movement in the nineteenth century which represented things closer to the way we see them.  However later his works were characterised by colourful expressionism.

                                           From a Folklore by Ásgrímur Jónsson (1957)

Ásgrímur also worked as a pioneer in the illustration of Icelandic legends and adventures.  He pictorially depicted Icelandic Folk Legends delving into the world of elves and trolls who lived in the semi-darkness of the old turf farmhouse and who would kidnap humans.  Tales of pastors haunting their wives-to-be, of witches flying to Satanic gatherings, of sheep-rustling and flying bulls.  A land where humans live inside hills, where witches flying on jawbones instead of broomsticks, and tales which rarely have happy endings.

                                                                  Troll painting by Ásgrímur Jónsson

Ásgrímur’s works on folklore themes were well received.  The art critics delighted in his depictions and that Iceland’s folktale heritage was being addressed, for the first time, by an Icelandic artist. Ásgrímur’s depictions of the appearance of elves and trolls also met with widespread approval from the public who believed he had succeeded in capturing the way that they imagined their folklore characters to be.  For Ásgrímur Jónsson it was all about the viewer’s own imagination when they looked at these folklore works and it was a reminder of the beauty of their land when they looked at his landscape paintings.  Today the folklore paintings form part of the unique cultural heritage conserved in the collections of the National Gallery of Iceland.

                        ÁSGRÍMUR JÓNSSON MUSEUM at BERGSTAÐASTRÆTI 74, 101 REYKJAVÍK

Ásgrímur Jónsson died on April 5th, 1958, aged 82.  The Ásgrímur Jónsson’s collection, which is today a department within the National Gallery of Iceland, originated in 1960 when a small gallery was opened in Ásgrímur’s studio and home, which he bequeathed to the Icelandic nation along with all of his works in his own possession upon his death.