Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. Part 5 – Finances and portraiture.

Portrait of Jean-Baptiste Chardin by Maurice Quentin de La Tour (1760)

Over the last few blogs about the French artist Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, I have looked at his still-life works which he partly abandoned for financial and artistic reasons around 1733 to concentrate on genre paintings, which once engraved provided him an income from the prints. Chardin never abandoned one genre in order to take up another, but from around 1748 onwards he produced fewer genre scenes and reverted to his beloved still life work of his early career. The number of his genre paintings that he once exhibited regularly dwindled whilst there was an increase in his still life works which were shown at various exhibitions. For many, Chardin will be remembered for his figurative paintings and his portraiture and in this final blog on the artist I will look at some of these works.

Portrait of the Painter Joseph Aved (also known as The Philosopher) by Chardin (1734)

One of Chardin’s earliest portraits was one which he completed in 1734 and was exhibited at the 1937 Salon with the title A Chemist in His Laboratory. Several years later, in 1744, the painting was engraved by François Bernard Lépicié and given the title Le soufleur, which, according to the seventeenth century, Dictionnaire de l’Académie, is a person using chemistry to search for the philosopher’s stone. It is again exhibited at the Salon in 1753 with the title A Philosopher Reading. It is now more commonly known as Portrait of the Painter Joseph Aved.  Aved was a good friend of Chardin and had just been elected to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. He had assisted Chardin in drawing up the estate inventory of Chardin’s first wife, Marguerite Saintard and had been a witness at Chardin’s second marriage to Françoise-Marguerite Pouget in 1744. It was one of Chardin’s first attempts at portraiture.

Boy building a House of Cards sometimes referred to as The Son of M. Le Noir Amusing Himself by Making a House of Cards by Chardin (1737)

In 1737 Chardin completed three paintings which featured young boys, two of which were sons of friends of Chardin. His painting The House of Cards sometimes referred to as The Son of M. Le Noir Amusing Himself by Making a House of Cards featured the son of his friend Jean-Jacques Le Noir, a furniture dealer and cabinet maker and one of Chardin’s patrons. He had been a witness at Chardin’s second wedding and had bought several of his paintings. The painting shows Le Noir’s son enjoying himself making a house of cards. The original work can be found at the National Gallery in London but as with many of Chardin’s paintings he painted a number of versions of it. François Bernard, Lépicié created an engraving of the work and added the following caption underneath, which in a way adds a meaning to the depiction:

Dear child all on pleasure
We hold your fragile work in jest
But think on’t, which will be more sound
Our adult plans or castles by you built

The Young Draughtsman (also known as Le jeune dessinateur) by Chardin (1737)

The Young Draughtsman was also a painting Chardin completed in 1737. It was a subject Chardin had used before. Remember the 1734 painting I highlighted in the previous blog which showed a view from behind of a draughtsman at work, sitting on the floor, face hidden from view. In this painting we clearly see the face of the young man. It is a smooth youthful face which has a look of one lost in the joy of his work. There is a look of pleasure on his face, satisfied with what he has achieved so far. He concentrates on the task ahead as he holds the chalk stick which holds the sharpened chalk. He is relaxed. This scene also gives the viewers of the painting a feeling of relaxation, of serene equanimity and this was a forte of Chardin. Chardin once again has used a subtle set of colours. Milky whites, the black patch of the tricorn hat, the rose colour of the lips and cheek, and various blues for the furnishings and the piece of drawing paper on which the draughtsman has drawn the head of an old man.

Portrait of the Son of M. Godefroy, Jeweller, Watching a Top Spin (also known as Child with Top) by Chardin (1738)

Chardin completed another painting of a son of a friend around 1737. It was entitled Portrait of the Son of M. Godefroy, Jeweller, Watching a Top Spin. This work is housed in The Louvre since its purchase from the Godefroy family in 1907. The painting depicts nine-year-old Augustine-Gabriel Godefroy who would later become the controller-general of the French Navy. The young boy smiles and stares at the top as it spins atop of a chiffonier, a low cupboard. The top has been cleared of the quill pen, books and papers which have been pushed to one side to make room for the spinning top. One of the drawers of the chiffonier is partly open in which we can see a chalk holder, similar to the one in the previous work.

Portrait of a Child by Chardin (1777)

Chardin’s financial situation had improved since he married his second wife, the wealthy widow, Françoise-Marguerite Pouget in 1744. She brought with her a house in rue Princesse which was close to the house in rue du Four where the Chardin family had lived for many years, although they did not own it. Chardin’s new wife also brought to the marriage a sizeable amount of wealth, estimated at in excess of thirty-thousand livres in the form of annuities and cash. Chardin brought about eight thousand livres to the marriage accrued from his share of his first wife’s and his mother’s estates. Chardin’s financial situation was further improved when, in 1752 Chardin was granted a pension of 500 livres by Louis XV. This was the first gratuity Chardin received.

Portrait of a Young Girl, by Chardin (1777)

Chardin rarely travelled far from his Left Bank home, just occasionally making the short trips to Versailles and Fontainebleau. In 1757 he finally moved to a new residence as Louis XV had granted him a studio and living quarters in the Louvre, saving Chardin several hundred livres. This apartment, Studio no. 12, which was opposite the church of Saint-Thomas, was vacant following the death of the previous occupant, the goldsmith, François-Joseph Marteau.

Soap Bubbles (also known as Young Man Blowing Bubbles) by Chardin (1734)

Chardin continued to work for the Académie and in 1761 he is given the role of tapissier, the academician tasked with designing the arrangement of the pictures on the walls of the Salon. In Ryan Whyte’s 2013 essay Exhibiting Enlightenment: Chardin as tapissier, he commented:

“… Chardin’s efforts had merited an observation that he had treated the Salon as both a totality and a collection of parts, recognition that the effect of the Salon arrangement was based on a unified design, Chardin’s ‘beauty of the whole’ and mattered as much as the quality of the individual works therein…”

In a 1763 pamphlet regarding that year’s Salon the author commented on Chardin’s masterful lay-out of the paintings at the exhibition:

“…One has never arranged the different parts of this collection with more intelligence, as much for the beauty of the whole as for the particular benefit of each of the artworks that make it up…”

In essence the author of the pamphlet suggested that the Salon space was a work of art itself.

In 1763, the Marquis de Marigny, the general Manager of the King’s buildings, awarded Chardin 200 livres increase to his pension for taking charge of hanging the exhibits at the Salons. In 1765 he was unanimously elected associate member of the Académie des Sciences, Belles-Lettres et Arts of Rouen, but there is no evidence that he left Paris to accept the honour.

Self Portrait (also known as Portrait of Chardin Wearing Spectacles) by Chardin (1771)

If I was to ask you what paintings by Chardin you have seen or read about, high on that list would be his three pastel self-portraits. Chardin had to turn to pastels around 1771 when he had been taken seriously ill. The cause of his illness was put down to his use of lead-based pigments and binders he used for his oil painting. These had, over time, burnt his eyes and brought on a condition known as amaurosis, a paralysis of the eye leading to deteriorating sight. Coincidentally, Degas suffered from the same ailment and he too had to turn to pastel painting. Chardin’s first pastel self-portrait often referred to as Portrait of Chardin wearing Spectacles was exhibited at the 1771 Salon and is now, since 1839, part of The Louvre collection. People were surprised by the exhibit as many believed that Chardin was too ill to paint. They were also surprised by the fact that it was a work of self-portraiture, not a genre he was known for. In 1771, the art correspondent of L’Année litéraire wrote:

“…This is a genre in which no one has seen him work and which, at first attempt, he mastered to the highest degree…”

Denis Diderot, the French philosopher, art critic, and writer praised Chardin and this work, writing:

“…the same confident hand and the same eyes accustomed to seeing nature – seeing nature clearly, and unravelling the magic of its effects…”

The spectacles are delicately perched upon the bridge of his nose. Chardin was forced to wear spectacles due to his failing eyesight and the pair he wears in the painting were made in England. Chardin is depicted in three quarter view. He has turned towards us with his probing brown eyes. How he has depicted himself is symbolic of his trade as an artist. He wears an elaborately entwined blue and white cap, together with a colourful, geometric-patterned scarf which because it has been lit up appears silk-like. The depiction of the artist shows him to be both knowledgeable and astute and the way he has used various tones on the face has made him look almost life-like.  Marcel Proust summed up the self-portrait commenting on the ageing artist:

“…Above the outsized pair of glasses that have slipped to the end of his nose and are pinching it between two brand new lenses, are his tired eyes with the dulled pupils; the yes look as if they have seen a lot, laughed a lot, loved a lot, and are saying in tender, boastful fashion: ‘Yes, I’m old!’ Behind the glimmer of sweetness dulled by age they still sparkle. But the eyelids are worn out, like an ancient clasp, and rimmed with red…”

Self Portrait with Eyeshade by Chardin (1775)

In 1775 Chardin completed another pastel self-portrait which was exhibited at the 1775 Salon. It was entitled Portrait of Chardin wearing an Eyeshade which is housed at The Louvre. In the painting Chardin has carefully fashioned his costume with the same care he once used when he depicted arrangements of fruit and objects in his still life works. The visor which shades the light from his eyes has an attached dusky pink ribbon. He has a scarf knotted around his head and neck and once again he wears a pair of spectacles. Every detail has been well thought out by Chardin. After seeing the self-portrait in 1904, the then elderly sixty-five-year-old Cezanne wrote about the work to his young friend, the painter and art critic, Emile Bernard:

“…You remember the fine pastel by Chardin, equipped with a pair of spectacles and a visor providing a shade. He’s an artful fellow, this painter. Haven’t you noticed that by letting a light plane ride across the bridge of the nose the tone values present themselves better to the eye? Verify this fact and tell me if I am wrong…”

Self Portrait (also known as Portrait of Chardin at His Easel) by Chardin (1779)

The third pastel self-portrait by Chardin, Portrait of Chardin at His Easel was completed in late 1779 but did not enter The Louvre collection until 1966. There are the odd similarities with his 1771 self-portrait in as much as he looks out at us and wears the same turban but in this work, it is decorated with an stylish blue bow. In this work we see Chardin sat in front of his easel, on which is a frame covered with a sheet of blue paper. Our eyes are drawn to his hand, in which he holds a red pastel crayon. His face is half hidden in shadow and it noticeably thinner and his features have taken on a sunken and hollow look, even his eyes have become duller and he looks tired. In his demeanour, we can witness his failing health and in fact this self-portrait was only completed just a few months before Chardin died at 9am on Monday, December 6th 1779, aged 80. He was buried the next day at Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, at 2 Place du Louvre, Paris.

Chardin had become quite wealthy in his latter years but never quite achieved the great wealth of his contemporaries such as the Rococo painter François Boucher, Nicolas de Largillièrre or the Baroque painter Hyacinthe Rigaud. This is probably due to his moderate output which according to some critics was due to the slowness of his painting which Chardin said was due to his perfectionist attitude to all his works. Other said it was down to his laziness!

I cannot end this look at Chardin’s life without telling you about the fate of his family members. As I previously recounted, Chardin’s two daughters, one from each of his wives died when they were still very young, but he also had a son from his marriage to his first wife, Marguerite Saintard.   Jean-Pierre Chardin was born in November 1731. He too studied to become a painter and in August 1754, won the Académie’s first prize for a painting on a historical subject. In 1757 Chardin and his son fell out over Marguerite Saintard’s will, Jean-Pierre believing he was not being given what was rightly his. In the September of that year Jean-Pierre received a scholarship from the Académie to study at the French Academy in Rome. On his return to France by sea from Italy Jean-Pierre is kidnapped by English pirates off the coast of Genoa, but later released. In 1767, aged 36, Jean-Pierre travelled to Venice, part of the French Ambassador to Venice’s entourage. On July 7th 1772, forty-year-old  Jean-Pierre was found drowned in a Venice canal. It is believed that he suffered from severe bouts of depression and committed suicide.

In December 1780, a year after Chardin’s death, his second wife Françoise-Marguerite Pouget, left their apartment at The Louvre and moved to her cousin’s house in rue du Renard-Saint Sauveur,  where she died on May 15th 1781, aged 84.

Advertisements

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. Part 4. The second Mme. Chardin and scenes of domestic life.

Chardin was taken seriously ill, both physically and mentally in 1742. It was probable that his temporary decline in health was due to the extreme sadness he suffered due to the passing of his loved ones. Chardin and Marguerite Saintard were married in February 1731. Two months later, his father, Jean Chardin, died. Marguerite Saintard who had given birth to Chardin’s son and daughter died in April 1735 and a year later his daughter, Marguerite-Agnès, also died aged three. Chardin was appointed guardian to his son, Jean-Pierre in November 1737. Chardin and his son were now living in a Paris apartment in rue du Four, sub-let to him by his mother. Apart from the deaths of members of his family, the other aspect of his life which probably contributed to his illness was his dire financial situation. He owed his mother for the money she had loaned him after his wife died and he had run up debts with his supplier of painting materials. His financial position worsened even further when his mother, Jeanne-Françoise, died in November 1743.

Chardin needed to improve his financial position. He had already decided to move away from still-life paintings and concentrate on genre works which once made into engravings provide him with much-needed income from the popular prints. Still, money or lack of it, remained a problem for forty-five-year-old Chardin but this was all to change in 1744 when he married his second wife, Françoise-Marguerite Pouget at Saint-Sulpice Church on November 26th 1744. Françoise was the thirty-seven-year-old wealthy widow of Charles de Malnoé and eight years Chardin’s junior. Françoise was simply a God-send to Chardin. She saved him from abject poverty and helped him manage his correspondence and his responsibilities on behalf of the Salon, which included arranging the exhibitions and acting as treasurer, from 1755, during which time he was tasked to manage the Académie accounts. Françoise-Marguerite Pouget gave birth to Chardin’s daughter, Angélique-Françoise in October 1745 but sadly the baby died in April 1746.

The Serinette (also known as The Bird Organ) by Chardin (1751)

Françoise-Marguerite Chardin appeared in a number of her husband’s works, one being The Sertinette or The Bird Organ which he completed in 1751 and was exhibited at that year’s Salon as Lady Varying Her Amusements. A serinette was a small barrel organ originally designed for teaching cage birds to sing. The painting is housed at the Louvre which acquired it in 1985. It was the first Royal order passed to Chardin, originally commissioned by Le Normante de Tourneheim, keeper of the King’s estates, for Louis XV but two years later, was gifted by the king to the Marquis de Vandières, the brother of Mme de Pompadour, the king’s favourite. In the painting we see a lady, modelled by Chardin’s wife, Françoise, with the help of a “serinette”, teaching the caged bird to sing. The setting for the painting is a bourgeois interior. The woman wears a cap tied under neck and a delicate white scarf-like narrow piece of clothing, worn over her shoulders, similar to a stole and known as a tippet. The tippet she wears partially covers a dress embroidered with flowers. The lady is seated and on her knees is the serinette which she activates by turning the handle. At the left of the painting we see a bird’s cage resting on a pedestal. The pedestal has a crossbar which allows one to fix a screen to protect the serin, a small finch-like bird, from the light and from distractions which would hamper it from learning a tune. It was with the help of this salon instrument that the ladies of the “good” society taught their caged birds to sing. In front of the woman, we can see a large work bag which contains her embroidery.

The Geographer by Johannes Vermeer (1669)

Light streams into the room through the window to the left similar to depictions seen in seventeenth century Dutch paintings – think Vermeer for example, and they obviously had an influence on Chardin.

The Serinette (also known as The Bird Organ) by Chardin (1751)
The Frick Collection, New York

Another version of the painting is in the Frick Collection in New York, which came from the collection of Dominique-Vivant Denon, the director of the Musée Napoléon and bought by the New York gallery in 1926. There is one major difference between the two versions and I will leave you to spot it!

Domestic Pleasures by Chardin (1746)

Chardin’s 1746 painting Domestic Pleasures also featured his second wife. The painting was commissioned by Lvise Ulrike, the sister of Frederick the Great of Russia and the wife of Adolf Frederick the Crown Prince of Sweden and the country’s future king. However, the commissioning was far from straight forward. Lvise Ulrike was a great fan of Chardin’s paintings and wanted him to paint two works and she gave him the titles of them to be The Strict Upbringing and The Gentle, Subtle Upbringing. Unfortunately for her, Chardin was a slow painter which in a letter dated October 1746, he stated:

“…I take my time because I have developed the habit of not leaving my paintings until, to my eyes, there is nothing more to add…”

Chardin’s assertion that it was diligence and being a perfectionist were the reasons for the long time he took on each painting was challenged by others who put it down to his laziness. The princess was however not amused by this slow pace. Bizarrely Chardin finished the two paintings in 1746 but the subjects had nothing to do with the titles supplied by the princess. They appeared at the 1746 Salon entitled Domestic Pleasures and The Housekeeper and were subsequently given to Lvisa via the Swedish ambassador in Paris in February 1747.

 

Portrait of Françoise Marguerite Pouget by Chardin (1775)

My last offering of a Chardin painting, featuring his wife, Françoise-Marguerite Pouget, is his pastel work entitled Portrait of Madame Chardin, née Françoise-Marguerite Pouget which he completed in 1775 when he was seventy-six and which can now be seen in the Louvre. A year later he repeated the portrait, which is now housed in the Art Institute of Chicago. Before us we see the face of Chardin’s second wife, sixty-eight-year-old Marguerite Pouget. Her face is wrapped to the eyes in an almost nun-like headdress, a head covering which often featured in Chardin’s paintings. Her forehead has an ivory pallor. Look how a shadow is cast by the headdress and the daylight on her temple is filtered through its linen material. Her mouth is closed tightly and she is not smiling. Her gaze is frosty. There is a dullness about her eyes. We detect wrinkles around her eyes. Chardin has managed to create all the indicators of old age. Chardin’s use of colours is masterful. The whiteness of her face is achieved with pure yellow and the pallid face has no white in it at all. The pure white cap is made solely of blue. The art critics loved the portrait. The eighteenth-century writers, publishers, literary and art critics, the brothers Edmond, and Jules de Goncourt wrote:

“…it is in the portrait of his wife that he reveals all his ardour, his vitality, the strength and energy of his inspired execution. Never did the artist’s hand display more genus, more boldness, more felicity, more brilliance than in this pastel. With what a vigorous, dense touch, with what freedom and confidence he wields his crayon; liberated from the hatching that previously damped his voice or obscured his shadows. Chardin attacks the paper, scratches it, presses his chalk home……To have represented everything in its true colour without using the real shade, this is the tour de force, the miracle that the colourist has achieved…”

The Turnip Peeler (also known as Die Rübenputzerin) by Chardin (1738)

Chardin produced many genre paintings in the late 1730’s and early 1740’s which depicted female servants carrying out their household duties. There are three versions of The Turnip Peeler which he completed around 1738. One is housed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington whilst one can be found in the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen in Munich. The third version was previously in Berlin, acquired for Frederick II of Prussia but which is now lost. The Washington version was exhibited at the 1739 Salon by Chardin and bought around that time by the Austrian ambassador, Prince Joseph Wenzel of Liechenstein. It became part of the Washington National Gallery collection in 1952. Before us we see a large woman sitting slightly hunched on a chair, knife in hand, about to peel a turnip. She gazes out blankly, lost in thought. She is surrounded by other vegetables such as a large pumpkin, some cucumbers and a bowl of water which contains the previously scraped turnips. In front of her we see a copper cauldron and a saucepan which is leaning against a bloodstained butcher’s block, in which a meat clever has been driven. This genre piece by Chardin is not one which has an anecdotal element to it, neither has it any social comment about the plight of servants.

The Return from the Market by Chardin (1738) Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada,

A painting which has connections with The Turnip Peeler is The Return from Market. Once again, three versions of this painting exist. One, dated 1738, is in Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada, and was presented to the Salon in 1739. One is at Schloss Charlottenburg in Berlin and is dated 1738, and the third is housed in The Louvre. It is believed that the version held in Berlin was a companion piece to The Turnip Peeler, with the two being acquired by Frederick the Great in 1746. This painting unlike its companion piece still survives, but only just, as it was found in the park at Charlottenburg after the Schloss was pillaged by Austrian troops in 1760. Since that time this work by Chardin has never left Berlin. An engraving by François-Bernard Lépicié was made from the Louvre version. Lépicié made engravings of a number of Chardin’s paintings and prints from the engravings were a great source of income for the artist. When the painting was exhibited at the 1739 Salon it received great critical acclaim. The French literary brothers, Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt, wrote about the work stating:

“…the colours placed side by side give the painting the appearance of a tapestry in gros point…”

While the writer Henri de Chennevières was even more enthusiastic when he wrote about Chardin’s use of colour:

“…the milky whites of the woman’s skirt, the unique faded blues of the apron….., the floury, golden crust on the loaves of bread. And the two bottles on the floor, the red seal on one of them echoing the ribbon on her sleeve…”

The Diligent Mother by Chardin (1740)

My final two paintings by Chardin in this blog are his small pendant works, (49 x 39cms), The Diligent Mother and Saying Grace, both of which were completed in 1740. Chardin gave both works to Louis XV in the November following their showing at the Salon and are now housed at The Louvre. The Diligent Mother was the less famous of the two works and depicts a young mother, wearing pink slippers and blue stockings, her scissors hanging at her waist as she and her daughter inspect a piece of embroidery. In the foreground, by her, we see a wool winder and skein with coloured balls of wool inside the base of it. A bobbin can be seen lying on the floor as well as a box which acts as a pin cushion, next to which is curled-up pug. To the extreme right we see a red fire screen, while behind the mother stands a large green folding screen which prevents the light from the half-open door entering the room. The work was considered to be a genre piece in which a well-to-do middle-class mother shows the daughter a mistake she has made in her tapestry. One other interesting fact about this work was when an engraving was made of it by the engraver François-Bernard Lépicié, he added lines of moralistic verse to it so as to explain what was depicted:

“…A trifle distracts you my girl
Yesterday this foliage was done
See from each stitch you have made
How distracted your mind is from work
Believe me, avoid laziness
Remember this one simple truth
That hard work and wisdom together
Are more valued than beauty and wealth…”

Were these salutary words approved by Chardin? Are they Chardin’s or Lépicié’s words?

Saying Grace by Chardin (1740)

The final Chardin painting for today’s blog is entitled Saying Grace and is one of his most celebrated and most popular of his works. The theme of the painting is prayer before meals and was one of the most famous works by Chardin but when it was shown at the 1740 Salon it received very little praise. However, along with its pendant piece, The Diligent Mother, it was given to Louis XV. It remained in the royal collections until the French Revolution; it then entered the Muséum Central des Arts, which would later become the Louvre, in 1793. It was largely forgotten until the nineteenth century when Chardin was “rediscovered”. It was then that the work was hailed as being emblematic of a morally upright, industrious social class and was often contrasted to the debauched, wasteful lifestyle of the aristocracy. Chardin in this tender work depicting a mother teaching her children to pray highlights commendable and hidden qualities and like many of his genre works, once again depicts the satisfied life which comes from a sense of duty, unlike the Rococo painters of the time, such as François Boucher, who depicted the dalliance and flirting of the nobility and upper-classes at their garden luncheons, and moonlit promenades.

In my final blog about Chardin I will be looking at his latter days and his works of portraiture.

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. Part 3 – Retours de chasse and Genre works.

During the last years of the 1720’s and the early part of the 1730’s Chardin completed many paintings which were termed as retours de chasse, literally meaning returns from the hunt, paintings which depicted the animals killed by hunters and the instruments used for the kill. Although such sights of dead animals may not be popular during our time now, they were very sought after during Chardin’s time and during the seventeenth century in the Netherlands.

Still Life with Hare by Chardin (1730)

One such painting is his work Still Life with Hare which he completed around 1730 and can be found in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The first interesting thing to note about this painting is that there is no geometrical demarcation of the background wall and the surface on which the hare lies. Neither the wall nor the surface are marked in any way other than the shadow cast by the paws and body of the dead animal. The depiction is all about the dead animal and the items used to kill it and bring it home. It is some ways a minimalistic depiction which simply depicts the hare lying on top of a game bag next to a powder flask tied with a dark blue ribbon, both of which were his own props and appear in other works. Once again take time to examine the animal and the number of shades of brown Chardin has used in its depiction.

Two Rabbits with Game Bag, Powder Flask and Orange by Chardin (1728)

Two other Chardin’s retours de chasse works are thought to be pendant pieces which he completed in 1728. In the painting, Two Rabbits with Game Bag, Powder Flask and Orange, our eyes immediately focus on the Seville orange in the left foreground which is illuminated by a shaft of light emanating from the left. Once our focus leaves the orange it moves upwards towards the two dead wild rabbits, the powder flask and the game bag which are painted with a mixture of dirty whites, grey, cream, and beige and highlighted in blue. On the stone surface we glimpse at a few wisps of straw.

Partridge, Bowl of Plums and Basket of Pears by Chardin (1728)

The pendant piece is Partridge, Bowl of Plums and Basket of Pears. The grey partridge is depicted secured by a large nail to the wall in front of a stone alcove. On a stone ledge in the middle and foreground we can see a plethora of fruit and vegetables all of which have been meticulously painted. There is a large basket of pears, a bowl of plums, two peaches, one of which has had a chunk removed, two figs, some blackberries and some sticks of celery all of which are placed on two levels. The colour palette used is a mass of sumptuous colours and tones and is much richer than its companion piece. Again, in this work the light source is to the left of the depiction which links the two pictures. Like its companion painting, it is one you need to study carefully and take in the colours, shapes and shadows Chardin has given to the work. Both paintings are part of the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Karlsruhe, Germany.

The Water Spaniel by Chardin (1730)

Around 1733 Chardin changed his painting style from works of still-life which depicted inanimate objects to genre painting. Why did Chardin change his style? Maybe the reason was given by comments made by Pierre-Jean Mariette, a collector of and dealer in old master prints, a renowned connoisseur, especially of prints and drawings, and a chronicler of the careers of French, Italian and Flemish artists. He tells the tale of Chardin being at his friend’s house, the French Rococo painter, Joseph Aved, when a lady called. Mariette continues with the story:

“…One day a lady came to find M. Aved to request him to do her likeness; she wanted it to extend as far as her knees and claimed that she could afford to pay only four hundred livres. She left without a deal being struck for, although M. Aved was not as busy as he has been since, her offer seemed to him to be far too modest. M. Chardin, on the contrary, urged him not to waste the opportunity and tried to demonstrate that four hundred livres was a reasonable payment for someone who was not yet very well known. ‘Yes’ said Aved, ‘if a portrait was as easy to do as a saveloy.’ He said this because M. Chardin was engaged in painting a picture for a fire screen in which he was depicting a saveloy on a dish. Aved’s remark made a strong impression on Chardin; he took it as the truth rather than jest and began seriously to re-examine his career…”

Chardin’s thought process made him realise that the public would soon tire of his inanimate still-life and his retours de chasse works. He was also wise enough to understand that to turn his attention to painting live animals he would put himself up against the leaders in that field, François Desportes and Jean-Baptiste Oudry and he would struggle to compete and sell such works. His decision to change genres was two-fold. Firstly, there was the financial aspect as he knew that there would be plentiful profit from prints made from his genre scenes whereas nobody ever made prints of still-life works. Secondly, there was the artistic argument for him to change genre. His still-life works were classed by the French Academy as the lowest in the hierarchy of artistic genres whereas the status of genre scenes which included human figures was much higher in the hierarchy and portraiture which Chardin started to do in 1734 was even higher up in the artistic pecking order. Maybe part of the reason could have been that Chardin no longer felt fulfilled with his still life works.

The Draughtsman or Young Student Drawing by Chardin (c.1734)

One of Chardin’s most famous works was a small work (21 x 17cms) in the style of Dutch cabinet paintings entitled Young Student Drawing, often referred to as The Draughtsman. The work is housed in the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. Chardin returned to the composition repeatedly over a twenty-year period, and completed no fewer than twelve versions, which illustrates how important the subject was to him. We see a young draughtsman from behind. He is seated on the ground with his legs wide apart, wearing a tricorn hat. He is copying in red chalk the figure of a male nude which is pinned to the wall in front of him. Again, look at the details of the work. The boy’s overcoat is torn on the left shoulder and through the hole we glimpse the red of his suit. Our eyes are immediately drawn to this spot of red.  On the floor we can see a knife which the young man has used to sharpen his pencils and leaning against the wall to the right we can see a stretcher and a bare canvas. Through this work, Chardin seems to have been making a comment on the arduous process of artistic training followed by the French Academy. Chardin used to copy his teacher’s academic studies just as the young man in the painting is doing. Chardin recalled his early training with Pierre-Jacques Cazes when he was a young boy:

“…We were set at the age of seven or eight with pencil holder in hand……We spent long hours bent over our portfolio…..We spent five or six years drawing from the model…..The eye has to be taught to look at nature…”

Woman Sealing a Letter by Chardin (1733)

In 1733 Chardin completed his genre work entitled Woman Sealing a Letter which is housed at Schloss Charlottenburg in Berlin. It is a large painting (146 x 147cms) and was the largest work Chardin had attempted. Was this choice of size a way of Chardin showing the public what he was capable of producing? Engravings were made of this painting in 1738 and it was the earliest engraving made of a painting by Chardin. The lady holds her letter which she has just written in one hand whilst the other holds sealing wax and she awaits impatiently for her servant to light the candle which will in turn melt the wax and seal the letter. Our eyes are immediately drawn to the white envelope and the red sealing wax. Women and letter writing were a popular motif in the seventeenth century Netherlandish paintings and maybe Chardin had seen some examples. The painting depicts an affluent woman in a wealthy setting but soon Chardin veered towards portraying more modest folk in their domestic settings. This painting was exhibited at the Place Dauphine, Paris in 1734 and at the Salon in 1738.

Prime examples of Chardin genre paintings depicting a poor household are his 1733 work entitled The Washerwoman and Woman Drawing Water at the Cistern both of which are housed at the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm. These two paintings have been classified of works of Intimism, a French term which is applied to paintings and drawings of quiet domestic scenes. The Washerwoman which Chardin completed in 1733 was one of sixteen paintings by him which were exhibited in June 1734, at the Exposition de la Jeunesse in place Dauphine in the French capital.

The Washerwoman by Chardin (1733)

The Washerwoman when first exhibited was, because of its beautiful rendering of the contrast of the colours and textures, billed as a work in the style of the Flemish 17th-century artist David Teniers the Younger. It was later exhibited at the 1737 Paris Salon, where some critics even likened his style to that of Rembrandt. Chardin was undoubtedly inspired by Rembrandt’s honest descriptions of household chores. In the work we see a servant engaged in the servile, domestic chores of the household. The woman is depicted scrubbing the washing in a large wooden wash bucket. Chardin has portrayed her in full-face albeit gazing away from her work. She seems preoccupied almost as if something has distracted her attention, or maybe she has been depicted in an instant of idle daydreaming.

Woman Drawing Water at the CisternBy Chardin (1733)

The other work classed as one of a pair with The Washerwoman was his painting Woman Drawing Water at the Cistern.  Here we see everyday chores in a kitchen far away from the rooms occupied by the master and mistress. We see a female servant, who because of her pose and the large bonnet she is wearing, has her face hidden from view. She is bent over filling a jug from a large copper urn. To the left of the urn we can see a side of meat hanging from a hook. Behind her there is a doorway through which we can see another servant clasping the hand of a small child. Once again, several of the objects depicted came from Chardin’s home, such as the copper cistern.

An Old Peasant caresses a Kitchen Maid in a Stable by David Teniers the Younger (c.1650)

The beautiful rendering of the contrast of the colours and textures has been compared with works by Flemish masters such as David Teniers the Younger.

Carl Gustaf Tessin, one of the most brilliant personages of his day, and the most prominent representative of French culture in Sweden was tasked by the Swedish Court to purchase the two works on behalf of Crown Prince Adolf Fredrik and his future wife, Lovisa Ulrika at a Paris auction in 1745.

..…….. to be continued.

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. Part 2 – Marriage and early still-life paintings.

Portrait of Marguerite Saintard by Chardin

Chardin’s road towards married life was a protracted one. The love of his life was Marguerite Saintard, the daughter of Simon-Louis Saintard, a Parisian tradesman and his wife Françoise Pantouflet and in 1723 a contract of marriage was agreed with financial details and dowries having been accepted by both parties and the future in-laws. However, Marguerite’s parents were wary with regards how Chardin would support their daughter and needed Chardin’s position to be “consolidated” before any marriage could take place. One has to remember that it was not until 1728 that Chardin was accepted into the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture which meant he had a greater chance of selling his work. However, in 1730 he had acquired his first patron, Comte Conrad-Alexandre de Rothenbourg, Louis XV’s ambassador to Madrid, who was buying up many of his paintings.

Still life with Attributes of the Arts by Chardin (c.1731)

In 1731 Chardin was commissioned by Rothenbourg to paint two still-life canvases for his library on Rue du Regard, in Paris. It was decided that they should be painted and then hung high up on either side of the door to the room, as they were initially designed to be viewed from below. One was entitled Attributes of the Arts which is housed in St Petersberg’s Institute of Russian Literature

The Attributes of the Sciences by Chardin (1731)

The other was Attributes of the Sciences.  It is interesting to note that two of the items depicted in this latter work belonged to Chardin. They were two large Turkish carpets which normally covered the oak tables in Chardin’s study. In the painting we can see a graphic characterisation of the Scientific Revolution and the discoveries and inventions from that time. We see instruments that were connected with observation such as a telescope, and a microscope. There were objects which harked back to times of discovery and knowledge such as the globe, as well as books and maps. These items also symbolise the documentation and spreading of knowledge in science. This still-life work focuses on inanimate objects that represent the theme and motif of the image. The depiction is without people and the scientific instruments are placed in the centre of the painting and reflect the scientific revolution and the new world view and perspective that was gradually accepted during the artist’s time.

Chardin and Marguerite, signed a second marriage contract in January 1731. It is ironic that the delay to the marriage was due to Marguerite’s parents concern about Chardin’s ability to financially provide for their daughter and yet her dowry as stated in the second contract (1000 livres) was less than that stated in the first marriage contract (3000 livres) eight years earlier. The probable reason for this reduction was that since the signing of the first contract both of Marguerite’s parents had died. Chardin and Marguerite married on February 1st 1731 at the nearby church of Saint-Sulpice.

A Lady Taking Tea by Chardin (1735)

In Chardin’s 1735 painting A Lady Taking Tea, it is believed that his wife, Marguerite Saintard, was the model for the depiction. It is a beautiful and, in some way, a haunting image of a lady drinking tea, because the work was completed just two months before she died.

Cat with Salmon, Two Mackerel, Pestle and Mortar by Chardin (1728)

In 1728 Chardin produced two more still-life works featuring cats. One was entitled Cat with Salmon, Two Mackerel, Pestle and Mortar which is now housed in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. In this work we see the cat with its tail erect placing its paw tentatively on a piece of salmon. Under the salmon fillet we can just make out a dark green pottery lid, next to which is a leek and an onion and on the far right there is a pestle and mortar.

Cat with Ray, Oysters, Pitcher and Loaf of Bread by Chardin (1728)

The other work, entitled Cat with Ray, Oysters, Pitcher and Loaf of Bread is also housed in the Madrid museum and features Chardin’s well-known ray. Like the previous painting this work depicts a nervous tortoiseshell cat as it hesitantly places its paws on the oysters. The depiction is completed by the ray. This is complimented by the inanimate objects – the green glazed earthenware dish, a small jug and part of a loaf of bread. Chardin’s still life works are arranged with objects that belonged to him and which he repeatedly used in his compositions.  These two paintings were in the collection of Baron Edmond de Rothschild and were acquired for the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection in 1986.  Both reflect the influence of Dutch painting that is evident in the artist’s early work, in which he adapted northern subjects and formats to his own manner. Chardin had now begun to supplement his inanimate objects with living animals that in some way interpose the calmness of the depiction. The composition of these two paintings is pure simplicity with the arrangement of the cats and the inanimate kitchen items on a stone ledge. Chardin’s rich colouring creates a visually believable image.

Still Life with Pestle and Mortar, Pitcher and Copper Cauldron by Chardin (c.1732)

Another of Chardin’s early still-life paintings housed in the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection in Madrid is Still Life with Pestle and Mortar, Pitcher and Copper Cauldron, which he completed around 1732. In this work, Chardin depicts a wooden pestle and mortar, a pottery pitcher, a small copper cauldron or cooking pot and a fired terracotta dish of a type used for cooking. The foreground is dominated by a white cloth of a thick weave, atop of which we see an arrangement made up of onions, potatoes, two eggs and some thin leeks. Colour played a big part in the success of Chardin’s works and this painting is a fine example of Chardin’s use of colour and tones. Look, for example, at the whites in the foreground. Chardin has used various shades of white to depict the skin of the onions, the eggs and the coarse tablecloth to give a feel for the texture of the objects. The wooden pestle and mortar on the left can be seen in other paintings by Chardin, as would the pitcher and the copper cooking pot.

Still life by Jan Davidsz. de Heem (1642)

Chardin uses ploys which can also be seen in Flemish and Dutch still-life paintings to create a sense of depth by depicting the white cloth fallings over the front of the table top. The end of the leek also appears to overshoot the table top to give a 3-D impression and this reminds one of the similar trompe l’oeil technique when objects overlap tables in many Netherlandish paintings, such as in the Still Life painting by the Flemish painter Jan Davidsz. de Heem in which we see the claws of a lobster and the curled peel of a lemon overhang the green velvet table covering.

Bowl of Plums, a Peach and Water Pitcher by Chardin (1730)

In 1930 Chardin completed his painting, Bowl of Plums, a Peach and Water Pitcher, which is now housed at The Phillips Collection in Washington DC.  The bowl of plums we see in this work was a favourite of Chardin’s and appeared in some of his other works.  What is unique about this painting is his inclusion of the white water pitcher with its exquisite butterfly pattern and delicate silver mount.  It puzzled art historians as to whether this item was a figment of the artist’s imagination but it is known that Chardin needed to have the objects in front of him when copying them and so it is thought that he had acquired this Chinese vessel at some time. Chardin has gone for a scumbled (the application of a very thin coat of opaque paint to give a softer or duller effect) background, so not to detract from the pitcher and fruit.

The next six years were a rollercoaster of personal events for Chardin. His father, Jean-Pierre died at the beginning of April 1731 but Chardin received very little from his father’s estate due to the fact he was the product of his father’s second marriage and there were many “calls” on the estate from his father’s ex-wife and their children of his first marriage. In the end Chardin inherited 1,711 livres. On November 15th 1731, Chardin’s son, Jean-Pierre was born and two years later, in 1733, his daughter, Marguerite-Agnès, was born. A period of sadness was to soon follow with Chardin’s wife Marguerite dying on April 13th 1735 at the young age of 22 and his daughter dying in 1737, aged just four. These deaths probably took their toll on Chardin as in 1742 he became very ill and takes no part in that year’s Salon.

..……to be continued


One of the many blogs I follow is one entitled Victorian Paris Blog and the author is Iva Polansky.  I was pleased to read that she has turned the various blogs into an e-book.  Take a look at it:

https://victorianparis.wordpress.com/2019/04/10/victorian-paris-blog-is-a-book/

 

Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin. Part 1 – The start of the artistic journey.

In my last few blogs I have concentrated on lesser-known artists but for the next few blogs I will be delving into the life and works of one of the greatest French artists of the eighteenth century. This painter is rightly regarded as one of greatest masters of Still Life in the history of art. I give you Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin. Chardin who was born in 1699 and grew up in a time when the painting style of the establishment was Rococo; an affected style which was overflowing with allegorical images from classical mythology depicted amongst a whirl of lavish adornments. Chardin would not follow that theatrical trend, much preferring his works to be rational conversation pieces. His works of art were ones of truth, self-effacement, and tranquillity.

Self-portrait by Chardin (1771)

Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin was born on the Parisian Left Bank quarter of Saint-Germain-des-Prés on November 2nd 1699. His father was Jean Chardin, a master cabinet-maker, and his mother was Jeanne-Françoise David, his father’s second wife. The family lived in a house on the rue de Seine, close to the church of Saint-Sulpice, which has, along with its “Rose Line”, gained notoriety because of the film The Da Vinci Code. Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin was baptised the next day in the church with fellow cabinet maker Siméon Simonet and the wife of another cabinet maker, Anne Bourgine acting as godparents.

From an early age Chardin found joy in drawing and painting and his father decided to nurture his son’s love affair with painting. He had his son join the Académie de Saint-Luc and by securing him a position at the studio of the French historical painter, Pierre-Jacques Cazes to teach his son the finer techniques of painting. It was whilst studying at Cazes’ studio that Chardin learned to draw and studied the history of painting. This was the same sort of tuition young artists were taught at the Académie Royale de Peinture. However, entry to such a prestigious establishment was not open to all and Chardin never studied there but managed, through Cazes, to acquire similar training. During his time with Cazes Chardin set his mind to become a history painter but that was to change. Why did he change? The answer was probably quite fundamental – he was not a very good history painter and so he decided to set upon a different artistic journey.

A Game of Billiards by Chardin (c.1725)

One of his earliest paintings was The Game of Billiards which he completed in 1725. It is a painting which depicts a large number of people in a real-life setting. This work by Chardin which is housed in Musée Carnavalet in Paris was probably a reference to his father who made billiard tables for a living. During those early days he turned his attention to genre scenes but soon found that his greatest satisfaction came from depicting animals involved in game hunting which were known as tableaux de chasse, (hunting pictures). He believed that such paintings should be as realistic and unique as possible, once stating:

“…I must forget everything I have seen, and I must even forget the way such objects by others…”

Chardin exhibited his first still life painting on September 25th 1728. The date was important as this was the date, he was accepted by the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. Charles-Nicolas Cochin, the Younger, the French art critic tells the story of Chardin and that fateful day:

“…Encouraged by the praise he was receiving from a number of artists, he decided in 1728 to present himself to the Académie. He was eager to know what the leading officers of this august body thought. He employed a little ruse – a perfectly legitimate one – to be sure of winning their approval. He placed the paintings he was going to present in the first room, as if by chance, and waited in the second room. M. de Largillierre, an excellent painter, one of the best colourists and a knowledgeable theorist on the effects of light, came to find him. He stopped and studied the paintings before coming in to the room where M. Chardin was waiting. As he entered, he said: ‘You have got some very fine paintings there. They must be by a skilled Flemish painter. Flanders is an excellent school of learning about colour. Let us see your paintings now’. ‘Monsieur, you have just seen them’ said M. Chardin ‘What? Those paintings which….?’ ‘Yes, Monsieur.’ ‘Oh, my friend, said M. de Largillierre, embracing him, present yourself without hesitation…”

However, before this acceptance, Louis de Boullongne, the first painter to the king, and who had served as one of its highest-ranking officials of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, entered the room. Chardin grasped the opportunity to ingratiate himself with Louis de Boullongne, informing him that ten or twelve of the paintings in the first room were painted by him but added that if the Académie found any to their liking they could have them! M. de Boullongne dryly commented that Chardin was already talking about being enrolled when he had yet to be accepted but said he was pleased that Chardin had drawn his attention to the paintings. Cochin goes on to say that Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin was accepted by the Académie to general applause and the institution accepted two of Chardin’s paintings as his morceaux de reception (reception pieces). Chardin was accepted into the Académie but as a painter “specialising in animals and fruit” which, according to the Académie at the time, was the most inferior genre of all.

The Ray by Chardin (1726)

One of the Chardin’s paintings accepted by the Académie was entitled The Ray, which he completed in 1726. The painting remained in the collections of the Academy, before entering, during the French Revolution in 1793, the Muséum Central des Arts, which would later become the Louvre. It is without doubt one of his early masterpieces and it has remained on public display without interruption since 1728. The French novelist, Marcel Proust, on seeing the painting described the fish as:

“…the beauty of its vast and delicate structure, tinted with red blood, blue nerves and white muscles, like the nave of a polychromatic cathedral…”

It is a depiction of contrasts. The central and dominant figure in the painting is the gutted and skinned ray, a repulsive blood-stained fish with almost a human face. To the right we see a collection of everyday inanimate objects, a skimming ladle, the casserole, knife and the pitcher whilst to the left of the hanging fish we have items from the vegetable and animal world. We see oysters, a carp and the strange figure of a young cat, fur raised in fright at something it has seen outside the painting. Cats would often feature in Chardin’s paintings.  The depiction of the skinned ray itself with its expressionless and eerie gaze is spellbinding.

The Buffet by Chardin (1728)

Chardin’s second morceau de reception for the Académie was his painting entitled The Buffet. This work was completed in 1728 some two years after the completion of The Ray. In the foreground we see a hunting dog, standing next to a wine cooler and a bunch of radishes.  He is staring up at a dark grey parrot which is perched on the handle of a large ewer. The dog is obviously distressed at the sight of the bird leaning towards the fruit. To the left on the end of the curved sideboard there is a pewter jug, two stemmed glasses of wine, one of which is tilting over possibly due to the dog pulling the white linen table cloth. At the other end of the sideboard there are two carafes which have been described as being made of very fine fern ash glass, two bowls without handles, probably Chinese in origin. The focus of our attention is the central high pyramid stack of plums and peaches which sits on a crumpled white tablecloth. Below the fruit is a plate of oysters and two golden rounds of lemon. Again, as we have seen in many Flemish still-life works, Chardin has displayed his artistic talent by his depiction of the folds in the tablecloth, the curling lemon peel and the three-dimensional look of the silver tray and knife which overlap the edge of the sideboard.  Again Marcel Proust lovingly commented on what he saw:

“…Clear as daylight, enticing as spring water, glasses in which a few mouthfuls of sweet wine linger as in the throat, stand beside glasses that are already almost empty, like symbols of thirst assuaged.  Bent over like a wilted bloom, one glass is half toppled; this happy stance shows off the shape of its foot, the delicacy of its joints, the transparency of the glass, the elegant flare of its cup…”

Pewter Jug with Basket of Peaches, Plums and Walnuts by Chardin (1728)

Many of the items depicted in those still life paintings emanated from other works by Chardin. Take a look at his painting entitled Pewter Jug with Basket of Peaches, Plums and Walnuts, which he completed the same year and is part of the Staatliche Kunsthalle collection of Karlsruhe, and one can recognise the pewter jug which is part of The Buffet depiction.

Carafe of Water, Silver Goblet, Peeled Lemon, Apple and Pears by Chardin (1728)

Also in his painting Carafe of Water, Silver Goblet, Peeled Lemon, Apple and Pears which he completed in 1728, and also part of the Staatliche Kunsthalle collection of Karlsruhe, we also see items which appeared in The Buffet which makes one wonder whether these two paintings  were preliminary studies for the larger work.

Chardin chooses his objects and fruit carefully, for their shape and for their colour.  Look at the variety of colours.  They are all arranged carefully with the contrast between the soft pink of the peaches and the velvety blue of the plums, the carmine red of the apple and the acid green of the pear or the sharp yellow of the lemon..  It is magical to see how he alternates between hot and cold colours and how he juxstaposes the various shapes of the fruits and the rectilinear surface they are placed on.

..….. to be continued.

Harriet Backer. Part 2 – The later years.

Chez Moi by Harriet Backer (1887)

Harriet Backer’s younger sister, Agathe Ursula, became a much-heralded concert pianist and composer, who at the age of twenty-eight, married the conductor and singing teacher Olaus Andreas Grøndahl in 1875, and was thereafter known as Agathe Backer Grøndahl. When she was eighteen years of age, she studied composition under Theodor Kullak at the Akademie der Tonkunst in Berlin, where she lived together with her sister Harriet Backer. Maybe it was because of her time with her sister and during her concert tours that a number of Harriet’s paintings featured people playing the piano. Her most memorable work with that motif is her 1887 painting, Chez Moi which is housed at the Nordnorske Museum in Tromso. Once again, we are aware of Harriet using a similar motif to some of her earlier works, a single person in a room lit by light emanating from a large window. This once again highlights her accomplished technique of depicting light and shadow and how various items in the room are affected by the conditions of the light. Look at the picture frame high-up close to the window. We cannot see the painting in the frame but what she has cleverly depicted is the reflection of the slatted blind on the glass of the picture frame. Again, I would ask you to carefully study the details in this work and avoid taking things for granted. Look how she has managed to depict the texture of the green velvet chair seats. Look carefully at the chairs themselves and the way she has, through clever use of colours, brought the wood to life. The trompe l’oiel affect she has created with the depiction of the music sheets on the piano by use of shading gives them a real three-dimensional look. There is so much detail in this work which needs to be studied. Never just glance over a work of art. Take your time and examine every facet and then you will be able to appreciate the talent of a painter. It is interesting to note she never painted her sister Agathe at the piano, albeit, she did use her as a model in some of her other paintings.

Storrebror spiller (Big Brother Playing) by Harriet Backer (1890)

Harriet Backer was awarded the State Travel Scholarship for three years in 1886.   Whilst staying in Paris she was part of the artists’ circle which centred around the well-respected Norwegian novelist, poet, and playwright, Jonas Lie and his wife Thomasine Lie. Their daughter Asta Lie Isaachsen was a model in several of Harriet’s pictures, such as in the painting Chez moi. The painting went on to be awarded with a silver medal at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1889. In 1890, it was purchased for the National Gallery in Oslo.

Landskap fra Ulvin (Landscape from Ulvin) by Harriet Backer (1889)

Although Harriet based herself in Paris, she returned to Norway each summer and explored the beautiful landscapes for inspiration for her paintings. One example of this genre was her 1889 plein air work, Landskap fra Ulvin (Landscape from Ulvin). It is a work which encapsulates the wonderful colours of the intense Norwegian summer. This work is housed in the Drammens Museum in Drammen, a town to the south-west of Oslo. Sadly, very few of her landscapes are in public galleries, most being in private hands.

Landscape in Cernay-la-Ville by Harriet Backer (1887)

It was not just the Scandinavian landscapes which Harriet encapsulated in her paintings I particularly like a painting she completed around 1887 entitled Landscape in Cernay-la-Ville. Cernay-la-Ville is a small town which lies ten miles south-west of Paris and lies in the heart of the Forest of Rambouillet. In this landscape work Backer has reverted to her favoured motif of adding a single figure to a depiction. The various greens she has used in the painting are contrasted by the white bark of the silver birch trees. It is a painting which oozes calmness and tranquillity.

To barn og tregruppe (Two children and a group of trees) by Harriet Backer (1885)

To barn og tregruppe (Two children and a group of trees) was another of her plein air works and is a prime example of her summer landscapes. Painting en plein air was very popular at the time in Paris. It could well be that she started the depiction outside and then took it back to her studio to complete it.

Drying Clothes by Harriet Backer (1890)

In 1888, she moved back to Norway permanently and settled in Sandvika, in the municipality of Baerum, on the outskirts of Christiania and it was here that she started giving private painting lessons. This led to her running a much sought-after painting school from 1889 until 1912, where many aspiring artists of the next generation studied. Her training proved to be of great importance as a link between the French academic tradition which she was a part of, and the new approach of the younger painters. Harriet Backer held a special position in Scandinavian art. Her art linked the realism of the late 1800s and important modern directions art took at the beginning of the 20th century.

Tanum church in Bærum, Norway

It was during this period in her life that she focused on interiors, including those illuminated by lamplight. She began to paint interiors by lamplight, resulting in long shadows which gave the rooms a sense of mystery. At this time, she began to paint church interiors. This was a new subject for her. In 1892 whilst living in Sandvika she visited the nearby church of Tanum and it was the interior of this church which was to be featured in a number of her best-known paintings.   Tanum church is one of two medieval churches in Bærum, not far from Sandvika. It was built in around 1100-1130. It is a Romanesque church, with frescoes from the 1300s, and medieval sculptures.

Christening in Tanum Church, (Harriet Backer, 1892)

Christening in Tanum Church (Barnedåp i Tanum kirke) is Harriet Backer’s 1892 oil on canvas painting, which she exhibited at the Autumn Exhibition (Høstutstillingen) in Oslo during that year. A year later the painting was exhibited at the Chicago World Exposition. It is currently on display at the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo.  The painting depicts the interior of the church where a christening is about to be held. Our viewpoint is from the darkened centre aisle of the church looking towards the open doors, through which the strong light of day can be seen streaming in. In the background we see two ladies and a man standing at the doorway waiting to enter. The lady in the centre is cradling a baby in her arms as she walks towards the church. In the right foreground of the painting we see a woman sitting on the bench at the back of the church eagerly turning around to witness the arrival of the christening party. Look at the various tones of brown Backer has used to depict the floor and pews and how it contrasts well to the blue and white structure behind the pews.

Entrance Wives by Harriet Backer, (1892)

Another of Harriet Backer’s paintings featuring Tanum Church with a connection to christening and childbirth is her 1892 work entitled Inngangskoner which literally translates to Entrance Wives but is often simply referred to as Women in Church. This painting depicts a traditional local custom where mothers were blessed before attending church services after having given birth. After a child’s birth, women could not step into the church room without having been blessed and cleansed by the priest.  The fact that it was painted around the same time as Christening in Tanum Church could mean that the two paintings were pendant pieces. Once again, this painting by Backer is a study of light and shade and how light affects that which it falls upon. To do this she has used a muted palette to give emphasis to the shaded area, where the women kneel with heads bowed in prayer, in stark contrast opposed to the eruption of colours as daylight hits the church windows illuminating part of the interior. Harriet Backer’s artistic skills are on display here, in the way she captures the variously illuminated surfaces as the sunlight strains into the shadowy interior of the church. The view from the church interior and out into the open allows for a striking perspective.

The Library of Thorvald Boeck by Harriet Backer (1902)

Harriet Backer received a commission for a painting depicting a room in the house of Thorvald Olaf Boeck. It was not just any room in his house but his beloved library. Boeck was a Norwegian civil servant, and book collector who was known for assembling what was the largest private library of its time in Norway.

The Sandvik River by Harriet Backer (1890)

Harriet Backer’s output during her lifetime was quite small, with approximately 180 pictures. It must be remembered that she started late and her painting methodology was to work thoroughly and slowly. Notwithstanding this, as early as the mid-1880s, she was acknowledged as one of the leading artists of her generation and in recent years, her paintings have drawn considerable international attention.

In Trefoldighets Church by Harriet Backer (1908)

Harriet Backer was not only a practicing artist but played an important role in the cultural life of her country. For twenty years between 1898 and 1918 Harriet was a member of Oslo’s National Gallery’s board and purchasing committee, and in 1914 she was elected member of the jury for the jubilee exhibition in Christiania, as well as being part of the jury for the decoration of Bergen Stock Exchange in 1918.

In 1889 she became an honorary member of The Norwegian Student Society. In 1908, she received the King’s merit medal in gold, and in 1925 she was appointed knight of the 1st class of St. Olav’s Order, the same year she was elected to the Academy of the Free Arts in Stockholm and received the State Artist’s salary from 1921.

Harriet Backer (1845-1932)

Harriet Backer, who never married, died in Oslo on March 25th, 1932, aged 87. She is buried with her parents at Vår Frelsers Cemetery (Cemetery of our Saviour) in Oslo, a resting place for many noble Norwegians, such as Edvard Munch and Henrik Ibsen. The Norwegian sculptor, Ada Madssen designed a bronze statue of Harriet Backer and her sister Agathe Backer Grøndahl which was erected in 1982 in their hometown of Holmestrand.

Harriet Backer. Part 1 – The early years

Harriet Backer

My blog today continues to look at the life and works of nineteenth-century female Scandinavian artists.  In my last blog about the Swedish painter, Julia Beck, I talked about her time in Paris and how she had shared a studio with three other Scandinavian artist, one of whom was the young Norwegian artist, Harriet Backer. HarrietBacker is now considered to be one of her generation’s foremost Norwegian painters.

Harriet Backer in her studio c. 1920.

Harriet Backer was born on January 21st 1845 in Holestrand, a small coastal town in the south-east of the country, some sixty kilometres south of Oslo. Her father was Nils Backer, a prosperous ship owner and merchant and her mother was Sofie Smith Petersen, who came from a wealthy shipping family based at Grimstad. Her father was a very religious man, but of a free-spirited direction that would also influence his daughters in later life.

Harriet Backer

Harriet was the second-born of four daughters. Her elder sister Inga Agathe was born in 1842. She also had two younger sisters, Agathe Ursula, born in 1847, who was to play an important part in Harriet’s life, and Margrethe who was born in 1851. Harriet and her sisters were brought up in a wealthy home but their parents chose a frugal lifestyle.  In 1856,when Harriet was eleven years old, her family moved from Holestrand to Christiania (now Oslo) where her father set up the company Becker and Backer. The following year, Harriet attended Mrs Wilhemine Autenrieth’s girls’ school, where she received an all-round education including learning foreign languages. She also received her first lessons in drawing and painting, with Joachim Calmeyer. In 1860 following graduation, Harriet enrolled at the women’s class at the painting school run by J. F. Eckerberg.  In 1863, at the age of eighteen, Harriet had to decide how best to earn money and enrolled on a one-year governess course at Hartvig Nissen’s school in Christiania. It was the second oldest school in the Norwegian capital and was widely deemed to be one of the country’s most prestigious and was the first higher education institution in Norway to admit females. The school was privately owned, usually by its headmasters.

Agathe Ursula Backer Grøndahl (c.1870)

Harriet’s parents encouraged their very gifted children to develop a love for the arts. The girls spent hours reading and have an interest in music and their third daughter, Agathe Ursula, was soon discovered to have an extraordinary musical talent and between 1865 and 1867 she became a pupil of Theodor Kullak and studied composition under Richard Wuerst at the Akademie der Tonkunst in Berlin where she lived together with her sister Harriet Backer who acted as her chaperone.  Through her piano playing expertise, Harriet’s sister, Agathe, now an accomplished concert pianist, travelled throughout Europe and often Harriet would accompany her and the two sisters visited such places as Berlin, Weimar, Cologne, Leipzig, Copenhagen, Florence, Rome and Naples. During the periods when Agathe was engaged in teaching music or performing Harriet would occupy herself by visiting the city art museums and often spent hours copying the paintings of the old masters. Whilst the sisters were living in Berlin, Harriet would visit the Kaiser Friedrich Museum and copy paintings under the guidance of the German painter, Alphons Holländer. Later in life when she taught art she would remind students how important it was to copy and appreciate the art of the old masters. In those earlier days accompanying her sister, besides visiting art museums and practicing her art she would dedicate a lot of her time to writing. This was the great love of her life at this time. She enjoyed writing short stories and poems and even embarked on writing a novel.

Harriet Backer’s “Aften, interiør” (Evening, interior).

Harriet would return to Christiania between periods chaperoning her sister during her European tours and when home studied art under Christian Brun. Between the years of 1871-1874, she attended the women’s class at the Knud Bergslien’s painting school. The great Norwegian painter Johan Fredrik Eckersberg had established an art school on Lille Grensen in Christiania and following his death in 1859 the school continued under the leadership of Knud Bergslien and his fellow artist, Morten Muller.

Portrait of Knud Bergslien by Johanne Mathilde Dietrichson

 

Knud Bergslien served as the director of what became known as the Bergslien School of Painting (Bergsliens Malerskole) and a whole generation of Norwegian painters became his students. It was during her time here that Harriet decided that she would become a professional artist.

 

 

Lille Rødhette (Little Red Riding Hood),by Harriet Backer (1872)

Harriet Backer proved to be an excellent student producing many exceptional works of art. One of her outstanding paintings at the time was her 1872 work entitled Lille Rødhette, although we would know it as Little Red Riding Hood. It was her amazing ability to realistically depict people, in this case, an older woman and a young girl, that led her along the path of becoming a portrait painter.

Portrait of Kitty Kielland by Harriet Backer (1880)

In 1874, twenty-nine year old Harriet left Norway and travelled to Germany and the city of Munich. At that time, Munich was the place the elite Norwegian painters gathered, and it was here that she met and became a lifelong friend with another Norwegian landscape painter, Kitty Kielland. Kielland had left Karlsruhe for Munich in 1875 where she joined a colony of Norwegian artists living there. Harriet, like Kielland, received private training in portraiture for four years with the Norwegian painter Eilif Peterssen who was based at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, but, because at that time women did not have access to the art academy in Munich, they were therefore dependent on private teachers.

The Farewell (also known as Avskjeden by Harriet Backer (1878)

Eilif Peterssen, like Harriet had received some of his artistic training at the painting school of Knud Bergslien in Christiania. Sometime during this period Harriet decided to veer away from portraiture per se and became interested in figurative drawing within the setting of an interior. A prime example of this genre was her 1878 painting entitled The Farewell (Avskjeden) which is housed in the National Museum of Art in Oslo. The painting depicts the emotional departure of a daughter from her parents. The daughter lovingly lays her hand on her father’s shoulder whilst her mother turns her back on them both as she cries in the corner. A porter carrying her luggage is also added to the scene.

Why did Harriet depict such a sad moment? The reason could well be that the year before, in January 1877, her father, Niels died and despite her mother’s wish that she should return home, Harriet told her that she would not be leaving Germany to care for her. No doubt this rebuttal surprised her mother but her daughter explained in a letter to her mother that art was her professional vocation, and it must take precedence over her duties as a daughter. Harriet had no intention of returning and living permanently in Norway as she wanted to carry on with her artistic career in Europe. One can only imagine how upset her mother would have been at that news. Maybe the painting was a reflection of Harriet’s abandoning her mother.

Solitude by Harriet Backer (1880)

Following her refusal to return to Norway, Harriet moved to Paris and shared spacious lodgings with four Scandinavian painters, the Swedish painters, Julia Beck, Hildegard Thorell, Anna Norstedt and Elizabeth Keyser and in 1880, and for the next eight years, Harriet shared an apartment with Kitty Kielland who had also left Munich for the French capital. Harriet became a pupil of Léon Bonnat and Jean-Léon Gérôme, and for a short time was tutored by Jules Bastien-Lepage. In 1880 she had her first painting exhibited at the Paris Salon. It was entitled Solitude. The depiction was of a genre she had begun to favour – figure(s) in the interior of a house. However, there was a subtle difference between this work and the previous one as this work depicted a room interior which was not fully lit and the resulting depiction was greeted well by the art critics. Harriet decided that this type of depiction was the way forward. It received an “Honourable Mention” when it was exhibited at the Salon.

Blue Interior by Harriet Backer (1883)

One of Harriet Backer’s masterpieces was painted during the time she lived in Paris. It is her 1883 work entitled Blått interiør (Blue Interior). The depiction of a woman sitting in front of a sunlit window is a similar motif to her 1880 painting Solitude. In this work, there is a definite hint of Impressionism about the work in her use of colour. The “blue-ness” is captivating.  Impressionism was very popular at this time in Paris with the seventh Impressionist exhibition being held the year before. In the work we see a young woman seated before a window through which daylight streams in illuminating the figure and parts of the room. Added to this study of light, we have the mirror in the background in which we see reflections of items in the room.  The model for Harriet’s painting was a fellow Norwegian artist and close friend, Asta Nørregard who had been attending classes with Harriet.

..…………………………………….to be continued