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.

Charles Spencelayh – English genre painter and portraitist

Interior of a Tavern by Adriaen Brouwer

The term genre painting relates to works depicting scenes of everyday life. Such depictions embrace scenes of ordinary people at work or enjoying their leisure time. This type of painting flourished in Protestant Northern Europe as an independent art form. The first great advocates of genre painting were the Dutch Realist artists of the 17th century, such as  Adriaen Brouwer with his riotous pub scenes, Adriaen Van Ostade, who painted genre scenes depicting peasants enjoying their home life or relaxing in an inn.

The Merry Family, by Jan Steen (1668)

My favourite has to be Jan Steen, who ran an inn and depicted people in their homes.

Woman Cleaning Turnips, by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (ca. 1738)

In France there were genre paintings by the likes of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin who depicted servants and children. The harsher realities of working life featured in genre paintings of Jean-François Millet, Daumier, Courbet, van Gogh, and Degas whilst joyous life experienced in bars and cafés featured in works by Toulouse-Lautrec.

Charles Spencelayh at the Age of 33.

My featured artist today is the English genre painter and portrait painter Charles Spencelayh.   Genre paintings, as well as being a pleasure to observe, are an insight into everyday life before the era of cameras and television. The genre and Academic portrait paintings of Spencelayh looked at life during Victorian and Edwardian times and gives us a great insight into life and fashion in those times.

Boys Fishing by eight-year-old Charles Spencelayh (1873)

Charles Spencelayh was born in Rochester in Kent on October 27th 1865. He was the youngest of eleven children and was the son of Henry Spencelayh, an engineer and iron and brass founder who sadly died before his son was born. Charles’ first steps into the world of art came when he was given his first set of paints at the age of eight and he soon progressed to copying Old Masters. He studied art at the National Art Training School, South Kensington, which later became known as the Royal College of Art, where he won a prize for his figure drawing.

My Pet by Charles Spence;ayh (1890)

Charles Spencelayh married  Elizabeth Hodson Stowe, who worked as a governess, at St. Paul’s, Penge in 1890 and the couple started married life in Chatham.  According to the 1891 census Elizabeth’s occupation was given as a tobacconist. She appears in many of her husband’s paintings including My Pet which depicts Elizabeth, in profile, holding a dove.

Vernon Spencelayh by his father Charles

In 1891 the couple had their one and only child, a son, Vernon who went on to become a talented artist and ivory miniaturist, having been taught by his father. Vernon served as an officer in WW1 and was held as a prisoner of war in Germany. He, like his mother, appeared in a number of portraits by his father.

Private Vernon Spencelayh (1891-1980), West Yorkshire Regiment by Charles Spencelayh

Another fine portrait by Charles of his son, Vernon, in uniform is owned by The National Army Museum. This portrait by his father is a fond record of his son preparing to depart for war.   This Academic-style portrait of his son has an intensity and could almost be mistaken as a photograph.  Vernon Spencelayh’s regiment was the West Yorkshire Regiment, denoted by the motif of the white horse of Hanover on the cap badge. He was involved in a number of battles on the Western Front and at Gallipoli.

In 1896, Spencelayh became a founder member of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Gravers, a Society which was formed with the stated intention:

“…to esteem, protect and practice the traditional 16th Century art of miniature painting emphasising the infinite patience needed for its fine techniques…”

Queen Mary’s Doll House

During his lifetime Spencelayh exhibited 129 miniatures at their exhibitions. Probably one of his most famous miniatures was a postage stamp sized portrait of King George V for his wife, Queen Mary’s celebrated Doll’s House, designed by Edwin Lutyens, which was exhibited at the Wembley Exhibition of 1924 and now housed in Windsor Castle. Queen Mary’s and Princess Marie-Louise’s thank you letter was one of Spencelayh’s most treasured possessions.  Spencelayh was a favourite of Queen Mary, who was an avid collector of his work and she bought many of his paintings when they were exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions and she even commissioned one painting, which Spencelayh titled ‘The Unexpected’ due to his surprise at receiving such a request.

Rosie Levy taking afternoon tea at the Midland Hotel Manchester by Charles Spencerlayh (1925)

The high-points of Spencelayh’s artistic career were the years between the two World Wars. He had acquired a wealthy patron, Joseph Nissim Levy, a prosperous Manchester cotton merchant and during the 1920’s completed a number of portraits of Levy’s social circle. Mr. Levy’s admiration of the talented artist went so far as to give Spencelayh and his family use of a residence in Manchester. In 1924 Spencelayh painted an intimate portrait of Joseph’s wife titled Rosie Levy taking afternoon tea at the Midland Hotel Manchester. It is a masterpiece in the way Spencelayh has captured the folds of the rich fabric backdrop and the furnishings with their reflective surfaces.

The first Mrs Spencelayh (Elizabeth Hodson Stowe) by Charles Spencelayh

In the early 1930’s the Spencelayh’s moved south to Grove Park and Lee a suburb of south London, but sadly, his wife, Elizabeth died there in 1937 and was buried four miles away in Chislehurst Cemetery.

Why War? by Charles Spencelayh

Spencerlayh had his work exhibited at the Paris Salon, but most of his exhibitions were in Britain. For sixty years until his death in 1958 he exhibited more than 30 paintings at the Royal Academy, with his work entitled Why War winning the 1939 Royal Academy ‘Picture of the Year’. Spencelayh had fought in the First World War and in this painting, he depicts another veteran of that war in his darkened sitting room. He blankly stares into space. He is forlornly envisaging the onset of the Second World War. The artist has added so much detail in this painting that we can build up a picture of how the man lives. We see, on the table next to him, a new gas mask issued to him by Lewisham Council and lying on a chair is a newspaper, emblazoned across the front page is the story covering Chamberlain’s abortive mission to make peace with Hitler. Spencelayh’s talent as both a genre painter and portraitist and his training as a miniaturist allowed him to build up a pictorial story by his depiction of visual clues in painstaking detail.

It’s War by Charles Spencelayh (1942)

His 1942 painting It’s War brings home the hardship felt by many during the Second World War.  Painted in his studio with a large amount of props which he accumulated during his visits to bric-a-brac shops it depicts the hard times suffered by many during the conflict.  It is part portraiture, part genre and part still-life.  Its is testament to the genius of the man.

His Daily Ration by Charles Spencelayh

Although the War had ended and the Allies had been victors, Many in England had to suffer years of deprivation.  Food was rationed and hardships endured as is beautifully depicted in Spencelayh’s 1946 painting, His Daily Ration in which we see an elderly man staring at his meagre meal.

The Latest Addition by Charles Spencerlayh

One theme which appeared in many of Spencelayh’s paintings was of old men pottering around in junk shops or in cluttered rooms in their homes. These were classic Victorian genre works which were pictorial histories of the between-War days in England.

The Laughing Parson by Charles Spencelayh

Many of his subjects were of domestic scenes, painted with such definition that they are almost photographic. In his 1935 painting The Laughing Parson,  we see the parson dressed in a grey morning suit, resplendent with his “dog collar”. He is half slumped in his wing back armchair as he peruses the latest issue of the satirical Punch magazine. By the look on his face and his broad smile, something in the magazine has amused him.  Once again Spencelayh has added numerous items of furniture and accessories which tell us about life in those bygone days.

The Second Mrs Spencelayh by Charles Spencelayh

In 1940, Charles remarried, and his second wife, another Elizabeth and he continued to live in Lee but after a particularly fierce German bombing raid over London, they were rendered homeless. Worse still many of his paintings were destroyed. The couple then moved north to Olney were his wife’s family lived and soon after, setting up home in the Northamptonshire village of Bozeat where they remained for the rest of their lives. It was during those years at Bozeat that Spencerlayh produced some of his best loved paintings often featuring residents of the village who were often treated to a home-cooked meal as payment for modelling for one of his paintings.

A Lover of Dickens by Charles Spencelayh (1947)

Spencelayh set up his studio with room-sized screens bedecked with patterned wallpaper and had a chest, full of props, with which he would “dress” the room.  Charles  ‘dressed’ the room using “props” from his collection, such as Toby jugs, stuffed birds, Windsor chairs, clocks and cheap watches as well as patriotic framed pictures of Lord Nelson and members of the Royal Family.  Look at the background of his 1947 work A Lover of Dickens.  The props he used to add meaning to the painting were arranged haphazardly to give a sense of everyday clutter.  Maybe the man lived on his own and a regime of “tidiness” was not forced upon him !

Fingerprints by Charles Spencelayh (1953)

By the late 1950’s his eyesight began to fail but that did not deter him and he continued to paint and in 1958, three of his works were accepted into the Royal Academy Summer, including a poignant work titled The Faded Rose. Sixty-six years earlier he had his first work exhibited, a miniature entitled Mrs Robins and he is considered to be one of the most prolific artists to show at the Royal Academy. Notwithstanding this, he was never made an Associate of the Academy, which baffled many including himself. He wrote to his Canadian agent, George Nuttall in 1956 about this unforgiveable omission. He commented jokingly:

“…I do not know, unless I am not old enough, or work not sufficiently good, which is my aim to yet improve although I cannot wear glasses to paint eventually this will stop my efforts I’m sure of it…”

Taking the Risk by Charles Spencelayh

Charles Spencelayh died, aged 92, in St Andrews Hospital, Northampton on June 25th, 1958 and after a funeral service conducted by his friend and executor the Reverend W.C. Knight in the 12th century church of St Mary the Virgin, Bozeat, he made his final journey back to Kent and was buried with his first wife in Chislehurst Cemetery.


Most of the pictures came from ARC and Art UK and Spencelayh’s biography came from a number of websites of galleries which house some of his paintings and the Chislehurst Society website:

Click to access CharlesSpencelayh.pdf

 

Vasily Perov. Part 2 – portraiture and humour

Self-Portrait (1851)
Self-Portrait (1851)

In my last blog I looked at Perov’s early life and his artwork which is often categorised as critical realism because of the way his paintings  focused on the peasants and how they had been let down by the Church, its clergy and the State.  For one of these works he was awarded the Gold Medal by the St Petersburg Imperial Academy of Arts and also a scholarship for him to travel to Europe and study European art.  He went to Paris where he spent a considerable amount of time but once again his art focused on poverty, this time, poverty in France.  Perov was now moving away from his anti-clerical depictions, and his barbed narrative works which poured scorn on the Church.  He now wanted to concentrate on the poor themselves and left the observer to decide on the reason for the poverty.

Savoyard by Vasily Perov (1863)
Savoyard by Vasily Perov (1863)

One of his most famous paintings, which he completed whilst in France, was one entitled Savoyard which he finished in 1863.  In Perov’s painting we see a young boy sat slumped on some stone steps.  The absence of any movement allows us to focus on the child without any distractions.  The child is asleep.  His feet stick out in front of him and this allows us to see the tattered hems of his trousers and because of the way is feet rest on the pavement we are given a view of the soles of his shoes, which are holed.  The painting itself is made up of dark sombre tones of smoky blue, green and grey.

Street Beggar by Gavarni
Street Beggar by Gavarni

It is thought that Perov’s painting was influenced by the work of Paul Gavarni, a French engraver, who had his illustrations published in a collection of London sketches, featuring life in London at the time.  The sketches and accompanying illustrations were first published as a magazine series in 1848 and later they were collected in one volume, edited by essayist and journalist Albert Smith, which was first published in Paris, in 1862, a year before Perov’s arrival in the French capital.  It was entitled Londres et les Anglais.  One of the sketches was the Street Beggar and its thought that Perov had this in mind when he worked on the Savoyard.

Perov’s arrival in Paris in 1863 coincided with a great upheaval in French art.  The Hanging jury at that year’s Salon had been ruthless in their choice of paintings which could be admitted.  Those which were cast aside were ones deemed to have not been of the quality or type they wanted.  That year, the jury had been more ruthless than they had been in the past, rejecting two-thirds of paintings.  This resulted in vociferous protests from the artists who had had their works rejected.  It was so bad that Napoleon III stepped into the argument and placated the disgruntled artists by offering them a separate exhibition for their rejected works.  It became known as the Salon de Refusés (Exhibition of rejects) and that year this exhibition exhibited works by Pissarro, Fantin-Latour, Cezanne and included Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’herbe and Whistler’s Symphony in White,no. 1. 

The Arrival of the Governess at a Merchant's House by Vasily Perov (1866)
The Arrival of the Governess at a Merchant’s House by Vasily Perov (1866)

Perov returned home early from his European tour in 1865 and in 1866 produced a wonderful painting entitled The Arrival of the Governess at a Merchant’s House.  This was a move away from his focus on poverty and more to do with the fate of women.  In the painting we see a governess standing before the master of the house, a merchant who is to be her new employer.  This painting depicts the awkward encounter between the governess, who has probably graduated from a school for governesses, where they are taught to act like nobility, and the merchant who has no noble blood and is the face of the nouveau riche.   She presents herself well. She clutches a letter of introduction in her hands. She oozes an air of timidity and subservience, which is a trait that would be required if she was to become a member of the household.  However her demure stance with head bent down is befitting that of a lady.  She stands before, not only the master of the house, a bloated man, but behind him stands his family.  The children of the family are to be her pupils and by the looks of them she was going to be in for a difficult time.  The master of the house and his three children are dressed elegantly and the furnishings we see are fine and elegant and are part of merchant’s plan that they be elevated in status from mere merchants to something approaching nobility. Perov has changed the subject of his biting satire from the clergy of the Church to the oppressive merchant classes and the poor treatment they bestow on their employees.

Troika by Vasily Perov (1866)
Troika by Vasily Perov (1866)

The painting was purchased by thirty-four year old Pavel Tretyakov, a Russian businessman, patron of art, avid art collector, and philanthropist who gave his name to the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.   This work along with his Troika painting earned Perov the title of Academician.

Wanderer by Vasily Perov (1870)
Wanderer by Vasily Perov (1870)

In the late 1860’s Perov began to concentrate on portraiture, initially of peasants and the title Wanderer was given to three of his works which featured peasants, all different and yet all emotive in their own way, one of which is shown above.  As Perov travelled around he came across a variety of fascinating characters and he was able present them on canvas and highlight their individualism and their way of life.

Portrait of the Author Feodor Dostoyevsky by Vasily Perov (1872)
Portrait of the Author Feodor Dostoyevsky by Vasily Perov (1872)

In the early 1870’s Perov’s portraiture focused on cultural greats of Russia but it is interesting to note in these next two paintings they were totally devoid of any background accoutrements which would have added a sense of vanity in the sitter.  In 1872 he completed the Portrait of Dostoyevsky, a the Russian novelist, short story writer, essayist, journalist and philosopher. It was Dostoyevsky’s literary works which influenced Perov in the way they explored human psychology in the troubled political, social, and spiritual atmosphere in Russia during the 19th-century.

Portrait of the Playwright Alexander Ostrovsky by Vasily Perov (1871)
Portrait of the Playwright Alexander Ostrovsky by Vasily Perov (1871)

And in 1871 he finished his Portrait of Alexander Ostrovsky, a Russian playwright who was generally thought to have been the greatest writer of the Russian realistic period, which existed against the background social and political problems.  It started in the 1840’s under the rule of Nicholas I and lasted through to the end of the nineteenth century.   The painting is now housed in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Old Parents Visiting the Grave of Their Son by Vasily Perov (1874)
Old Parents Visiting the Grave of Their Son by Vasily Perov (1874)

In all his genre works he always managed to tug at your heart strings with his moving depictions.  Another of his heart-rending scenes was completed in 1874 and was entitled Old Parents Visiting the Grave of their Son.  It is said that nobody should suffer the agony of burying their children and in this work we feel the loss of the mother and father as they stand, heads bowed, at the side of the son’s grave.  This painting, like many of his other works, are to be found at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

Having received his academician’s degree in 1867, Perov went on in 1871 to gain the position of professor at Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.   It was through Perov’s teaching at Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture that he managed to influence and nurture the young aspiring artists in his charge.  Many of the great Russian artists had been taught by him or were influenced by his style of painting

Amateur by Vasily Perov (1862)
Amateur by Vasily Perov (1862)

As always I have the dilemma of which paintings to show you and which ones to leave out.  I just hope the blog will get you to search the internet for more of his works.   My final offering is one that features Perov’s sense of humour.  It is in complete contrast to his works which looked at poverty and the impoverished existence of the peasant classes.   It is a painting entitled Amateur which he completed in 1862.  It is both humorous and fascinating.   Before us we see a man slouched in a chair, chewing on the end of his maulstick, eyes narrowed as he looks at his work.  His wife stands beside him holding a baby.  She too is closely examining the canvas.    From the way the man is dressed along with the background details of the room we gather that this is an upper-middle class couple.  Another give away to the man’s social status is the way Perov has depicted him.  Well dressed, highly polished shoes and overweight.  Perov’s depiction of this man is similar to the master of the household, the merchant, whom he depicted in The Arrival of the Governess at a Merchant’s House- overweight, through all the food he had been able to buy and eat, whereas in most cases Perov portrayed the poor peasants as thin undernourished people.

Vasily Grigorevich Perov died of tuberculosis  in Kuzminki Village which is now part of Moscow and was laid to rest at Donskoe Cemetery.  He was fifty-eight years old.

Frederick Elwell. Part 4 – More of his genre works

Frederick William Elwell       (1870 - 1958)
Frederick William Elwell
(1870 – 1958)

In my final look at the life of the twentieth century Yorkshire artist Frederick William Elwell I want to conclude his life story and look at some of his genre paintings.

In the last blog, when looking at his life, I had reached 1914.  It was in the August of that year that the Great War began in Europe and it was also in that year, two months later, that Fred Elwell married his close friend and fellow artist, Mary Dawson Holmes.  The newlyweds made their home at Bar House, a residence Mary and her late husband George Holmes had bought in 1910.  Mary loved the house and its garden and they were depicted in a number of paintings by both Mary and Fred.

At the Mirror by Mary Dawson Elwell
At the Mirror by Mary Dawson Elwell

In the work entitled At the Mirror by Mary Dawson Elwell we see the interior of one of the bedrooms of their house which overlooked York Road.  There are two large double beds each covered with a purple quilt.  One of the bedroom’s windows is in the central background and through it we are able to see the neighbouring house, Wyles House.  The technique of allowing viewers to catch a glimpse of the outside world, seen through the framing device of a window, had always been popular with artists.  To the right of the window a woman stands before a mirror brushing her hair totally oblivious of the outside world that we see through the window.  The large full length mirror reveals a reflection of the room.  The light which shines through the windows of the room lights it up and the polished brass fender casts its reflection on the dark polished wooden floor.

Bar House Garden, Beverley by Fred Elwell (1914)
Bar House Garden, Beverley by Fred Elwell (1914)

Fred Elwell painted a number of depictions of the interior of the house but I particularly like the one he completed in 1914 of the garden at Bar House entitled Bar House Garden, Beverley .

The First Born by Fred Elwell (1913)
The First Born by Fred Elwell (1913)

It was also around this time that Fred Elwell developed an idea based on the blissful event for a mother,  the birth of her child.  This type of painting was not a new idea for artists but the mother/baby scene had been depicted as far back as the Renaissance period.  In 1913 Elwell completed an oil on canvas work entitled The First Born.  The setting for the work is a farm worker’s cottage in Beverley.  The furnishings are simple.  The large canopied tester bed with its old-fashioned chintz curtains and turned bed-posts takes up centre stage in the painting.  A floral-covered ottoman sits next to the end of the bed.  By the bed is a ladder-backed cane chair.   In the work we see the young father who is still wearing his gamekeeper clothing.  He has rushed home from work to be with his wife and their first baby.  The father sits on his wife’s bed, leaning slightly forward to catch a better glimpse of his child.  He grasps small bouquet of primroses as a small present for his wife.  Primroses are associated with spring which in turn is associated with new beginnings which fits in nicely with the birth of the newborn baby.   It must have been a warm spring day as the sliding window is open and the delicate lace curtains gently flutter in the breeze which penetrates the room.   The thing which strikes you when you look at this work is how light and airy it is.  This was a factor in the work of the French Impressionists and was taken on board by the artists involved with the Newlyn School in Cornwall around the end of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth century.

The Wedding Dress by Fred Elwell (1911)
The Wedding Dress by Fred Elwell (1911)

Queen Victoria died in 1901 and this solemn period and the Victorian period prior to her death saw many artists concentrate on human loss and the grief felt when a loved one died.  Queen Victoria suffered the loss of her beloved husband, Albert in 1861, and continually wore mourning clothes for ten years after he died.   Many paintings compared the happiness of life before the death of a loved one with the inconsolable grief of those left behind.  Elwell beautifully captured such a moment with his painting, The Wedding Dress, which he completed in 1911.  The setting for Elwell’s painting is the widow’s bedchamber.  The lady lies slumped against the ottoman at the end of the bed, the lid of which is open.  On the floor next to her is her wedding dress and we can see more wedding clothes in the chest.  She is grief-stricken and buries her face in her hands.  We cannot see her face.  This is a private and very sad moment for her.  It could be that although she had her wedding dress, she never had a chance to marry her fiancé or maybe she did marry and is now remembering the day her and her late husband got married and the happy life they once had.  It is a pictorial tale of two worlds.  The white of the dress and the happiness of marriage in contrast to the black mourning clothes she wears in respect of her late husband or fiancé.  It is the contrast between innocence and happiness and the darkness of sadness and loss.  One other thing which makes this depiction even more poignant is the fact that the model for this painting was a local girl, Violet Prest, a costumier of Minster Moorgate West, in Beverley, and three years after the painting was completed, her husband was killed in the Great War.

The Wreath by Mary Dawson Elwell (1908)
The Wreath by Mary Dawson Elwell (1908)

Violet Prest also modelled for Elwell’s soon-to-be-wife Mary for her painting entitled The Wreath which she completed in 1908, three years before Fred Elwell completed The Wedding Dress.

His Last Purchase by Fred Elwell (1921)
His Last Purchase by Fred Elwell (1921)

With this being the last part of my blog featuring Frederick Elwell I was in a quandary as which paintings to feature or more to the point which ones could I bear to leave out.  My next painting by Elwell was completed in 1921 and is one of my favourites.  It is entitled The Last Purchase and is housed in the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull.  The painting depicts Fred’s father, James Elwell, sitting at a table in the book-lined study of Fred and Mary Elwell’s house.  We see before us a very satisfied and happy man who has just returned from an antiques auction with his purchases.  James Elwell was a great lover of ceramics and in the painting we can see him carefully eyeing the vase which was one of his purchases.  It is not in perfect condition but this master craftsman considers how best to repair the lip of the vase.  The table he sits at is covered with his beloved purchases some of which still retain their auction lot number.

The painting was originally entitled His New Purchase but on James Elwell’s death in 1926, Fred Elwell changed the title of the work to The Last Purchase in memory of his late father.  What I like about this work is that it highlights the artistic ability of the artist.  It is not just a meticulous and lifelike portrait of his father, it is an example of his ability to paint a still-life work as well as it being a beautifully crafted interior painting

 In 1931, Elwell was elected to the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and, in 1938, he was elected as a member of the Royal Academy.  Elwell felt very honoured to have been elected to full membership of the Royal Academy.  The honour came with one drawback, which he wrote about to one of his friends – the writing of acknowledgements to all his well wishers on them hearing of this artistic honour.  He humorously wrote:

 “…Can you picture me trying to cope……with twenty suitable acknowledgements every evening?   No club, no cinemas, no dinners, no theatres until they are finished for such are the Kingdom of God…”

 Having accepted the honour of becoming a full member of the Academy, he was asked to serve on the Royal Academy Council and become a member of the selection and hanging committee, which was a group of Academicians, who decided which works of art submitted by the public should be accepted into the Royal Academy’s annual exhibition.

The Royal Academy Selection and Hanging Committee by Fred Elwell (1938)
The Royal Academy Selection and Hanging Committee by Fred Elwell (1938)

Having featured the portrait of his father in the previous work set me thinking, what could be more difficult than crafting a single recognisable portrait?  I suppose the answer is to craft a work of art which includes fourteen individual recognisable portraits and this is exactly what Fred Elwell achieved in his 1938 painting entitled The Royal Academy Selection & Hanging Committee, 1938,  which was his diploma work on being made a Royal Academician and was retained by the Academy as an example of his extraordinary artistic talent.

 The setting for this work was the assembly room of Burlington House.  This 18th century room was walled with dark wood panelling and the only light emanates from behind the artist himself as he tries to incorporate all the members of the picture selection and hanging committee who sit around the dining table.  Elwell has included himself into the group portrait.  He stands to the left with brushes and palette in hand.  Look how the light source has not only illuminated the faces of the Academicians but also lit up the tableware and napkins.

Armstrong's Garage by Fred Elwell (1921)
Armstrong’s Garage by Fred Elwell (1921)

The next two paintings I am showcasing show how war changes every facet of daily life.   The first work is entitled Armstrong’s Garage which Elwell painted in 1921 and features the interior of the Elizabethan timber-framed building which was a garage and workshop in Beverley, owned by Gordon Armstrong since 1907.  It was close to Fred and Mary’s Bar House.  Fred Elwell was fascinated by motor engineering and the innovative skill of the owner who designed and built his own car, known as The Gordon.  Gordon Armstrong also patented the Armstrong shock absorber which made motoring much more comfortable.   In the foreground of the painting we see two mechanics working at a bench and behind them we see the vast empty expanse of the workshop.  The timber “A” frames and beams play a prominent role in the depiction and are lit up by the light streaming through the skylights.  The work is now part of the permanent collection of the Williamson Art Gallery at Birkenhead.

A Munitions Factory by Fred Elwell (1944)
A Munitions Factory by Fred Elwell (1944)

 Fast forward twenty three years and Elwell painted another picture featuring Armstrong’s Garage but it could not be more different.  Armstrong’s business boomed and he eventually moved to a larger premises on the other side of town in the late 1930’s.  However with the onset of the Second World War, his garage was taken over by the government and turned into a munitions factory.  The painting which Elwell completed in 1944 and was entitled A Munitions Factory.  In the left foreground   of the painting we see a table on which lay tracer bullets and other munitions which had been produced in the factory.  This is not just a beautiful work of art but forms a pictorial record of the time.  The factory employees will be almost all women who helped the war effort whilst their male partners had gone off to fight the war.  This will be a daytime scene as we can see windows in the roof which would have been covered with black-out curtains had this been a night shift.  Despite it being the day shift there is a lack of natural light which would have added to the difficulty in working conditions.

Maids with Pigeons by Feed Elwell (1916)
Maids with Pigeons by Feed Elwell (1916)

I have reluctantly come to the last painting I am featuring by Elwell.  There are so many and yet far too many for me to feature so I will choose another of my favourites.  When Fred and Mary married in 1914 they went to live in Mary’s Bar House.  Mary, on the death of her husband George Holmes, had been left financially well off.  So much so they were able to employ staff to help run the house.  In his 1916 painting, Maids with Pigeons, two years after their marriage, Fred Elwell depicted their kitchen maids in the houses’ kitchen.  This was just one of many Elwell’s depictions of domestic life at Bar House.  The realism of the paintings was well loved by both public and critics alike.  This work is a fine example of naturalism.  The two maids pay no attention to us but focus on two pigeons who have braved their way through the open window in search of food.  One holds out the palm of her hand on which there is some food for the hungry birds.  On the sink we see a bowl of water, the wetness of which has been skilfully depicted by Elwell using coloured highlights.  On the window sill is a plate and a colander.  To the left of the window we can just make out a wooden casing which highlights the water pump.

Married in 1914, Fred and Mary lived a long and happy life.  In 1945 Mary suffered a series of strokes which meant that she had to have round the clock nursing.  She died in 1952.  Fred Elwell continued to paint finding his art very theraputic.  He was his own tough taskmaster and even in his eightieth year would rise early to work on his canvases.  In 1953, the Ferens Gallery in Kingston upon Hull and the Beverley Art Gallery held a retrospective exhibition featuring ninety of his painting and a small selection of his wife’s work.

Frederick William Elwell died in January 1958, aged eighty-seven.

It has given me great pleasure over the last four blogs to look at the life and work of Fred Elwell.  He was a truly talented painter.  I will certainly make the effort to visit Beverley and Kingston upon Hull and visit the galleries which house so many of his paintings.  In the meantime I will satisfy myself with the excellent book, Fred Elwell RA – A Life in Art by Wendy Loncaster and Malcolm Shields.  It is well written and has 141 colour plates of Elwell’s art.  It inspired me to write these four blogs and I do recommend you buy it.

William Sidney Mount. Part 3, More of his genre paintings

Caught Napping- (Boys Caught Napping in a Field) by William S Mount (1848)
Caught Napping- (Boys Caught Napping in a Field) by William S Mount (1848)

This is Part 3 of my blog featuring the nineteenth century American genre painter and portraitist, William Sidney Mount.  In my first blog about this great painter I looked at his genre works which featured his great love of music and musicians.  My second blog featured some of his early biblical works and his portraiture and in this last offering I am reverting to his love of genre painting and some of his best known works of art.  In the first part of this trilogy I talked about the “heyday” of genre style paintings from the Low Countries in the seventeenth and eighteenth century.  They often featured taverns and interiors of homes and were often dark and looked at the life of the peasant classes with a degree of sombreness.  Mount’s genre paintings on the other hand, were more light and joyful.

 William Mount had entered the National Academy of Design in New York in 1829 and during his time there his studies incorporated the study of European paintings and engravings as well as the study of classical statuary.  Whilst he was studying at the Academy he was living with his uncle, Micah Hawkins, who was an amateur poet, and owned a tavern and grocery shop in New York.  Micah’s greatest love was the theatre and he would produce plays in which he would combine music and storytelling and the finished opus would have political and national connotations.  His nephew William was influenced by this and the American life theme and social comment  featured in many of his works of art.

 William Mount completed his studies in 1829 and returned home to Long Island where he set about building up a portfolio of paintings which included portraits of relatives and some of the workers on the family farmstead.  In 1832 he was elected to the Academy and for the next thirty-three years exhibited there regularly.   William Mount was very aware of the class structure in his country.  He could see the social gap between the urban citizens and those who worked the land.  Towns expanded and became cities and those who worked and lived in these cities became wealthier than their poor relations that remained in the countryside to work the land.  With financial wealth came cultural wealth and soon the division between the urban dwellers and the country folk became more obvious.

The Sportsman's Last Visit by William S Mount (1835)
The Sportsman’s Last Visit by William S Mount (1835)

The painting by Mount, which best looks at this cultural difference, was one he completed in 1835, entitled The Sportsman’s Last Visit.  In the depiction we see Mount has contrasted the genteel elegance of the city gentleman, dressed immaculately in black, who sits next to the lady and engages her in conversation.  She demurely, but coquettishly, looks away from him supposedly concentrating on a piece of fabric which she has been working on.  There is a slight smile on her lips indicating that she is enjoying the man’s attention. She completely ignores the man whom we see standing on the right hand side. He is scratching his head, perplexed by what he is witnessing.  He is a local country boy.  He has none of the airs and graces of the city gentleman but he cannot understand why the lady should favour the city gentleman over him.  Mount often painted scenes from rural life with loving depictions but in this one he was hinting at things were about to change.  If money was to be made, maybe city life was the way to do it.   On an artistic note I love how Mount has cleverly used the ceiling beams to demonstrate a feeling of depth in the painting.

California News by William S Mount (1850)
California News by William S Mount (1850)

Another of Mount’s painting which recorded changing time, was entitled California News which he completed in 1850.,  This was in the middle of the chaotic California Gold Rush In the picture we see a local man, with the New York Daily Tribune newspaper in his hands, reading aloud about the gold rush in California.  Local people stand around agog with excitement but what is more interesting is the picture above the door which depicts a couple of pigs which is probably a reminder that many who raced across country to make their fortune were simple pig farmers who struggled to eke out a living wage for their family.

 In 1834, William Mount met Luman Reed.   Luman Reed, who was born in 1784, was a farmer’s son from upstate New York.  He made a fortune in the wholesale grocery business in New York City and through his love of paintings, built up one of America’s most important collections of paintings, concentrating on American art of his own time.  He became patrons to such American artists as Asher Durand, Thomas Cole and George Flagg, just to name a few.  Luman Reed liked the works of William Mount and bought two of his paintings, Bargaining for a Horse and The Truant Gamblers (Undutiful Boys).

 

Bargaining for a Horse by William Sidney Mount (1835)
Bargaining for a Horse by William Sidney Mount (1835)

The painting, Bargaining for a Horse, which he completed in 1835, is probably one of the best known and best loved of William Mount’s works of Art.  The original title for the painting was Farmers Bargaining but when the painting was published as an engraving five years later the title was changed to Bargaining for a Horse.  When Luman Reed received the completed painting he was delighted and commented that this was “a new era of the fine arts of the country”.  There was a political connotation to this work by Mount as the phrase “horse trading” referred to a promise of material benefit in return for political support.  Mount’s original title for the painting did not so much allude to that colloquialism but the changed title in 1840 made it more apparent to all those who viewed the work.

 Look at the two men.  There is no eye contact between the seller and the buyer.  Both concentrate on the whittling of the wood almost as if the sale is of little importance.  Maybe the concentration they have given to the wood carving gives them time to think about their next step in the bargaining process.  It is a beautifully composed work which has been skilfully painted.   It is a painting which combines humour, warmth, and razor sharp observation.

 Luman Reed was delighted with his painting and wrote to William Mount in November 1835:

 “…This is a new era of fine arts in this Country, we have native talent and it is coming out as rapidly as is necessary.  Your picture of the ‘Bargain’ is the wonder and delight of everyone that sees it…”

The Truant Gamblers (Undutiful Boys) by William S Mount (1835.)
The Truant Gamblers (Undutiful Boys) by William S Mount (1835.)

A month later Mount wrote to Luman Reed telling him of the other painting he had completed for him.  He wrote:

 “…You will receive with this letter a picture: ‘Undutiful Boys’.   Boys hustling coppers on the barn floor……….My price for the picture ‘Undutiful Boys’ two hundred and twenty dollars.  I hope the picture will meet your approbation…”

 A week later Luman Reed wrote back  to Mount:

 “… I yesterday received your much awaited letter of the 4th Instant with your beautiful Picture of the ‘Undutiful Boys’.  To say that this picture is satisfactory is not enough, and the least I can say is that it pleases me exceedingly.  It is a beautiful specimen of art.   The interior is far superior to any thing of the kind I have seen, it is all good and therefore I need not particularize, the price is perfectly satisfactory and the money is ready for you any day you want it.  I pride myself on having now two of your Pictures and what I consider your best productions and hope yet to have more but it is no more than fair that others should be gratified too and I must wait until you execute some other commissions…”

 In the painting we see a group of young boys who have decided to abandon their farming chores and, instead, decided to spend some time gambling for pennies.  Happy with their decision to forego work, what they do not realise is that the farmer is approaching, pitchfork and switch in his hands and punishment is imminent.  This type of genre painting featuring life on the farm was popular in those days as life was changing from an agrarian one to an industrial one and rural life soon became somewhere to relax and enjoy and for people like Luman Reed who was brought up in the Hudson River town of Coxsackie and later moved to the hustle and bustle of New York City, paintings depicting life on the farm may have brought him fond memories of his childhood days.  For him this painting was a nostalgic one

At the Well by William S Mount
At the Well by William S Mount

In 1837 William Mount left New York City and returned home to Stony Brook and Setauket on Long Island and remained there for the rest of his life with just the odd trips back to New York.  He was content to paint rural scenes and the characters who worked on the farmsteads.   He maintained his portraiture work as this was a good source of income.  Unlike a number of his contemporaries he showed no inclination to travel to Europe to experience artistic life in London, Paris or Rome.  Mount fully captivated the rich European artistic legacy that was imported to the United States. It was through engravings, books and copies of European masterpieces, that Mount received a complete schooling in the academic tradition of art and by doing so became America’s first great genre painter.  He lived quite a sheltered life and unlike his brothers, he never married.

When we look at his works of art we are struck by the amount of detail in them.  Mount loved detail and worked painstakingly slow to ensure no detail was omitted from the finished work and this resulted in a small number of completed works, believed to be no more than two hundred completed in the thirty years that he painted.

The Raffle (Raffling for the Goose) by William S Mount (1837)
The Raffle (Raffling for the Goose) by William S Mount (1837)

My last featured painting is one of my favourites.  It is entitled The Raffle (Raffling the Goose) which William Mount completed in 1837 and is now housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.  In this work, like a number of his other paintings Mount liked to highlight the social and political issues of the time.  Before us we see six men gathered around a table eagerly awaiting the result of an impromptu lottery to see who had won the plump goose which lies in front of them.  If you look carefully at the table you will see signs of blood which indicate the bird had recently been killed and plucked.  Such lotteries were common in the rural communities of Long Island around this time.  The year 1837 was a year of hardship for Americans.  The Panic of 1837, as it was known, was the financial crisis in the United States that touched off a major recession that lasted until the mid-1840’s. Profits, prices and wages went down while unemployment went up.  Mount alluded to food shortages during this hard time in this painting and what people had to do to survive and put food on the family table.  Mount worked on the painting through the winter of 1836 and completed it early in 1837.  Mount exhibited the painting that year at the National Academy of Design Spring Exhibition.

In the first part of this William S Mount trilogy I talked about his inventive nature and how he had invented a violin/fiddle which produced a larger volume of noise.  In about 1860 Mount designed a portable studio and home on wheels which was drawn by horses. It afforded him the opportunity to drive himself around the area and paint en plein air.   He spent much time during his last years in this unique conveyance, but sadly, due to ill health, his painting days were almost over.

The Grave of William Sidney Mount, Caroline Church of Brookhaven, East Setauket, New York.
The Grave of William Sidney Mount, Caroline Church of Brookhaven, East Setauket, New York.

William Sidney Mount died on November 19th 1868, at Setauket and is buried in the Presbyterian Church Cemetery.

William Sydney Mount House, Stony Brook, NY
William Sydney Mount House, Stony Brook, NY

His home and studio, now known as The William Sidney Mount House is one of America’s National Treasures.   One of the local elementary schools in The Three Village Central School District, a district in Long Island so named from the older, original “Three Villages” of Setauket, Stony Brook and Old Field, is named after the artist.

There were so many paintings I could have included but these are just a few of my favourites.  Besides the usual internet sources I gleaned a lot of my information from an old book I just bought entitled William Sidney Mount by Alfred Frankenstein.  The William Sidney Mount House at Stony Brook, Long Island houses numerous works of art by William Sidney Mount and I would be interested to hear from anybody who has visited the museum.

William Sidney Mount. Part 1. The Music Man

William Sidney Mount
William Sidney Mount

Genre art is defined as the pictorial representation of scenes or events from everyday life.  They often depict settings such as a marketplace or tavern or simply everyday occurrences in houses or in the street.  They can be either realistic depictions or imagined ones which may have been romanticised by the artist.  These works of art have one or more persons in the depiction carrying on with their everyday life notwithstanding how unglamorous it may be.  When one thinks of genre paintings one immediately thinks of the seventeenth century art of the Low Countries, the art of the Golden Age, and of the art of Gerard Dou, Gerard te Borch, Pieter de Hooch and Jan Steen just to name a few.  I love this type of art and today I am focusing on another artist who was renowned for his genre works of art.  He however was not from Europe but from America.  He was the nineteenth century American genre artist and portraitist, often looked upon as one of the first American genre painter, the great William S. Mount.  In this blog, I will look at his early life, ponder over his connection with music and showcase some of his works which were influenced by his love of music.

William Sidney Mount was born on November 26th 1807 in Setauket , a small town on the northern side of Long Island, New York. He was the son of Thomas Shepherd Mount and Julia Ann Hawkins.  He was the fourth of five children with three older brothers, Henry Smith Mount, Shepherd Alonzo Mount and Robert Nelson Mount and a younger sister, Ruth Hawkins Mount.  His maternal grandfather was Jonas Hawkins, an American Patriot and a member of the notorious Culper Spy Ring during the American Revolution, whose task it was to send messages to General Washington about the activities of the British Army in New York City which was the British headquarters and base of operations.

Portrait of William Sydney Mount by Charles Loring Elliott. (1848)
Portrait of William Sydney Mount by Charles Loring Elliott. (1848)

William recalled those very early traumatic days as an infant, presumably told to him by his relatives.  According to him he was literally left for dead.  He wrote:

“…The first and most remarkable event of my life occurred when I was about 6 or 7 months old.  I was taken from my Mother (she being very sick) to be brought up by hand – I soon declined for want of proper or abundant nourishment and after several days [was] considered dead by my kind nurse and tenderly laid away as so.  My Father’ sister being sent for to make further arrangements concerning me observed signs of life and immediately commenced nourishing me…”

Due to his mother’s poor health his grandmother played an important role in his upbringing.  In October 1814, a month before William’s seventh birthday, his father died and his mother took him and his four siblings to live on the Stony Brook farmstead owned by her family.  For the next ten years William and his brothers worked on the farm.  It was whilst living at the farmstead that, through his uncle, Micah Hawkins, who had a passion for music and the theatre that William and his siblings developed a love for music, especially the playing of the fiddle which William would often play at barn dances.

Cradle of Harmony
Cradle of Harmony

Barn dances were very popular with the farming communities but for them to be a success they needed a good fiddler and one such expert was young William Mount.  Barn dances were raucous and merry events and it could be difficult to hear the lone fiddler amongst the “whooping and hollering” of the dancers and so William decided to invent and instrument which could supply loud music.   In 1852 he designed a violin with a hollow back to make it sound louder than a normal violin and he patented it and called it The Cradle of  Harmony.

 However it was his younger brother Robert, the only one of the family who was not attracted to art who would turn out to be the accomplished musician and dance instructor.  Music however played a part in William Mount’s art as many of his paintings were a blend of music and art.

William Mount worked on the family farm at Stony Brook until 1824, when, at the age of seventeen, he was apprenticed to his older brother Henry, who was a sign and ornamental painter in New York City. It was also around this time that his other brother, Shepherd, became a fellow apprentice. From these small artistic beginnings, all three brothers soon became painters. William, who had taken up drawing seriously when he was eighteen years old studied for a short time with the leading American portraitist of the time, Henry Inman.  However William’s studies with Inman came to an end due to lack of tuition money and his own poor health and he returned home to Setauket in 1827.

Dancing on the Barn Floor by William S Mount (1831)
Dancing on the Barn Floor by William S Mount (1831)

The painting entitled Dancing on the Barn Floor, which he completed in 1831, was one of Mount’s earliest successes and combines his love of music with his talent as an artist.  The painting is a perfect example of how his studies in perspective influenced him. The converging lines at the centre of the painting are textbook examples of how students were taught to organize their canvases.  The painting is housed in the Long Island Museum of American Art, located in Stony Brook, New York.

Catching the Tune by William Sidney Mount (1866)
Catching the Tune by William Sidney Mount (1866)

Another work by Mount which focused on music was his painting entitled Catching the Tune, which he completed in 1866William wrote in his diary that the tune the musician was playing in this painting was Possum Up a Gum Tree, a title still known today and attached to more than one distinct tune in the South and Midwest.  All three men as well as the women onlookers are white. However, what is interesting is that a a study sketch that Mount did for this painting depicts the musicians’ faces with a subtle increase in African features.

The Banjo Player by William S Mount (1856)
The Banjo Player by William S Mount (1856)

Probably two of his most famous works of art are a combination of portraiture and genre painting.   He completed both in 1856 featuring African American musicians.  They were entitled The Bone Player and The Banjo Player and both had been commissioned by William Schaus.  Schaus was the New York city agent for the European firm of the printers Goupil & Company, who had asked for two pictures of African-American musicians, to be lithographed for the European market.   One should remember that the time Mount completed these works was just five years before the outbreak of the American Civil War and feelings regarding slavery was about to split the country.  Mount was not known as an abolitionist but he was an artist who was in tune with the feelings of the African-American folk and his art always depicted the black man with dignity and sensitivity notwithstanding whether they were portrayed at work or at play.  His art made it very clear that everybody, black and white, should be judged for their own worth and not by the colour of their skin.  There was a simplicity about the two portraits.  It was all about enjoyment.

The Bone Player by William Mount (1856)
The Bone Player by William Mount (1856)

By entitling the painting The Bone Player, Mount points out that the work of art is all about the musical skill of the man and not the man himself.   The two sets of bones, one in each hand, are made of wood or bone and are clicked together.  This instrument has always been connected with African-American minstrels, and was easily recognised as such by folks on both sides of the Atlantic.  There was a good market in Europe for this type of work with all its mystic and exoticism.  In some ways Mount’s depiction of the African-American in both portraits was neutral and he left it up to the purchaser of the works how they wanted to interpret what they saw in the painting and this neutrality made the works appealing to Americans from both the North and the South.

Dance of the Haymakers by William S Mount (1845)
Dance of the Haymakers by William S Mount (1845)

A painting by William S Mount which brings out the joy of barn dancing is one he completed in 1845, entitled Dance of the Haymakers.  It is said that Mount was inspired to paint this scene when he heard the song Shep Jones’ Hornpipe, composed by his neighbour Shep Jones who can be seen depicted in the painting as the fiddler.

The description of the work was outlined in a letter from William Mount to William Schaus of Goupil, Vibert & Company written on April 16th 1849.  Mount wrote:

“…[The depiction] represents a barnfloor scene, opening upon a fiddler, two Long Islanders, dancing with great energy, and an old man listening with his fancy evidently touched by the performance at the right, and on the out side of the barn, a negro boy is adding to the excitement and noise by drumming on the door, evidently delighted with the ‘concord of sweet music’ which he thinks he produces.  The noise of the clog hoppers, the music, and the loud laughter of the lookers on, is enough to arouse the village Parson.  The last and not least, a cat watching a dog from ma hollow beneath the door sill, is marvellous for its life and finish, quite equal to the celebrated master pieces of the kind in the Dutch school…

In my next blog I will carry on the story of William S Mount’s life and look at his wonderful portraiture and some more of his genre paintings.

Domenico Induno

Today I am featuring an artist which many of you, like me, will have not heard of before.  He, you will discover, had an artistic connection with my last featured artist, Francesco Hayez.  He also had another thing in common with Hayez.  He had a fervent belief in Risorgimento, the resurgence of a unified Italy.  The artist in question is the Italian nineteenth century painters, Domenico Induno.

Domenico Induno, who had a younger brother Gerolamo, also a painter, was born in Milan in May 1815.  He began working as an apprentice goldsmith to Luigi Cossa, who, in 1831, convinced by Domenico’s burgeoning artistic talent, persuaded him to enrol on an art course at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan.  Whilst at the Brera he studied under the Lombard sculptor, Pompeo Marchesi and the Italian artist and professor of painting, Luigi Sabatelli.  It was also at the Brera that Domenico Induno studied under Francesco Hayez who had been teaching at the establishment since 1822.  Hayez was a great influence on Domenico and even allowed Domenico to have a studio in the Hayez residence.  Hayez was also able to help Domenico to progress with his artistic career by introducing him to the leading Milanese art dealers and collectors.

The Chaste Susanna by Domenico Induno
The Chaste Susanna by Domenico Induno

It was through the influence of Hayez that Domenico initially concentrated on depictions of biblical stories and depictions of ancient history.  Like Hayez, Domenico was a great believer in Risorgimento (Italian Unification) and he and his brother, Gerolamo, took part in the 1848 Cinque Giorante uprisings in Milan. (see the previous blog with regards Cinque Giorante).  After the failure of the five day uprising and maybe because of their involvement, the brothers went into voluntary exile, initially travelling just across the Italian-Swiss border to Astano in Switzerland where they stayed with a fellow artist Angelo Trezzini and his sister Emilia, later to become Domenico’s wife.  Trezzini had also been a student at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts from 1844 to 1846 and had served his apprenticeship in the same studio as the Induno brothers.

From Astano Domenico Induno moved to Florence but returned to Milan at the end of 1859.  Domenico now concentrated on genre scenes with their powerful depictions of the everyday life of the common folk and the world of the lowly and poor.   He began to participate regularly in the Brera exhibitions and those held by the branches of the Società Promotrice di Belle Arti in Florence, Turin and Genoa.

Pane e lacrime by Domenico Induno (1855)
Pane e lacrime by Domenico Induno (1855)

One of his most beautiful and most moving paintings of this genre was one which he completed around 1854, entitled Pane e lagrime (Bread and Tears).  It is a depiction of suffering and there is an emotional beauty about this work. Yes it is a depiction full of sentimentality and to some it would be denigrated as being mawkish and syrupy but for me it is a painting which depicts the reality of life for the less fortunate.  The setting is a small stone-walled room.  The woman, the mother of the child, is crying as she sits on the bed.  The fire remains unlit and we can tell that the room is cold as on her knees is a muff or hand-warmer which she has been utilising in order to keep her hands warm.  Look at her facial expression.  It is one of unhappiness.  It is one that makes us believe that she is almost about to give up on her life. She is distraught and despondent with her “lot in life”.  She looks to a framed picture on the wall, probably a religious work.  She is beseeching help from the subject of the painting although we are aware that none will be forthcoming.   Before her stands her child clutching a piece of bread, probably the only food he or she has been given.  The painting was bought by Francesco Hayez, who presented it to the Brera in 1854.  The following year it was exhibited at the Exhibition Universelle of 1855 in Paris and in 1891 it appeared in the Induno brothers’ retrospective exhibition in Milan.

The Post Boy by Domenico Induno (1857)
The Post Boy by Domenico Induno (1857)

Another of Domenico Induno’s paintings came up at the Christies London auction in June 2006 and realised £60K, well above its £18K-£25K estimate.  The painting is entitled The Post Boy and we see the main character sitting and relaxing at a table outside a house or inn.  In his left hand he holds his whip with which he controls his horse and carriage and tucked under his left arm is his bugle sounded when he and the post has arrived in town.  In front of him are two young children, the elder of whom , a girl, is listening to his stories, whilst the younger hangs on to her apron.  On the floor we see some small fowl pecking away at some food.

Domenico Induno was a firm advocate of the Risorgismento and the triumphant Unification of Italy, which finally happened in 1861 following the Spedizione dei Mille (Expedition of the Thousand).  This expedition was lead by Giuseppe Garibaldi and with him were 1,000 men, mostly idealistic young northerners.  His troops overthrew the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and by so doing, allowed southern Italy and Sicily to become united with the north. The Spedizione dei Mille was one of the most dramatic events of the Risorgimento.  After this victory, the states of the Italian peninsula were united under king Victor Emmanuel II of the Savoy dynasty and he proclaimed all his territory to be the Kingdom of Italy.  Many artists including the Induno brothers and Hayez pictorially depicted some of the defining moments of the struggle for unification

L’arrivo del Bollettino di Villafranca (The arrival of the bulletin of the peace of Villafranca)  by Domenico Induno (1862)
L’arrivo del Bollettino di Villafranca (The arrival of the bulletin of the peace of Villafranca) by Domenico Induno (1862)

Domenico Induno completed one such painting in 1862.  It was entitled L’arrivo del Bollettino di Villafranca (The arrival of the bulletin of the peace of Villafranca) and can be found in the Museo del Risorgimento in Milan.  The painting was hailed as a great success and was purchased by Vittorio Emanuele II, the king of the unified Italy.  He bestowed on Domenico Induno an order of chivalry known as a Knight of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus.  There were a number of versions of the painting by Induno but all have one thing in common.  It was all about the people.  It was no grand history painting depicting the witnessing of the agreement between the two emperors.  Induno had once again shown his desire to express the importance of the common people who had had to endure war and now could relax and enjoy peace.  The setting is outside the door of an inn where the reading of the bulletin about the treaty is taking place.    The ordinary people of Villafranca gather around to hear the news about the treaty and the ending of the conflict.

The Return of the Wounded Soldier by Domenico Induno (c.1854)
The Return of the Wounded Soldier by Domenico Induno (c.1854)

Another painting by Domenico Induno combines a genre work with a historical work about the fight for Risorgimento.  It is entitled The Return of the Wounded Soldier and was completed around 1854.  Induno depicts a soldier sitting slumped in a chair at the bedside of his wife.  She, like him, does not seem to be in the best of health.  A crucifix on a ribbo0n hangs above the bed head.  Their young child stands forlornly by her mother’s bedside. Their home exudes an air of poverty.  Paint is peeling off the walls.  Light streams through the open window and illuminates the soldier’s red tunic.  A woman anxiously looks out of the window maybe a doctor has been summoned and she awaits sight of his arrival.   The war has taken its toll on the family and although the soldier has managed to survive the many battles, his and his family’s future looks bleak. This is a genre painting which has a strong element of realism.  This is not a work of art glorifying the Risorgimento but one which pictorially narrates the suffering and the sacrifices made by the ordinary people during such a cause.

Domenico Induno died in Milan in November 1878 aged 63.

Museu Nacional de Bellas Artes, Part 1 – Victor Meirelles

MUSEU NACIONAL DE BELAS ARTES Rio de Janeiro
MUSEU NACIONAL DE BELAS ARTES
Rio de Janeiro

Ten days ago I had a holiday in search of some sun and hot weather and arrived in Rio.   Besides the usual things to do like swim in the sea, visit Corcovado and Christ the Redeemer and take cable car journeys to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain I went to the main art gallery in the city, Museu Nacional de Bellas Artes.  One travel book said it held 18,000 works of art and sculpture whilst another put the figure at 20,000.  Drawn in by those figures and having little or no knowledge about Brazilian art it was a destination I did not want to miss.  The building housing this vast collection was in the centre of the city and when we walked in we were told the collection was on the second and third floor.  Whether I am not good at counting but I would estimate the total number of artworks to be about 500 with about 200 sculptures so what happened to the others?  There was room after room of empty white walls so maybe there was once a large collection but it has now disappeared.  I am sure somebody will tell me where they all went.  Before I show you some of the fine works which were on display I have another complaint!  How many art galleries have you been to that have no shop or café?  Well this was a first for me.  I so wanted to buy some catalogues to find out about the works which were on display so I asked about the whereabouts of the shop only to be told that unfortunately there wasn’t one….unbelievable !!!!

In my next couple of blogs I am going to put those disappointments behind me and concentrate on what was good about the museum.  There were many beautiful paintings on display including two monumental historical works by two different Brazilian painters, which were displayed along one wall of a very long room.   The first work was by Victor Meirelles and was entitled Battle of Guararapes which he completed in 1879.  It measured 494cms x 923cms and the other, which was even bigger was entitled, Battle of Avaí and was by the Brazilian artist Pedro Américo.  This one measured 600cms x 1100cms.  However today I want to concentrate on the art work of Victor Meirelles.

Victor Meirelles
Victor Meirelles

Victor Meirelles de Lima was born in August 1832 in Nossa Senhora do Desterro, which is now known as Florianópolis, a town on the island of Santa Catarina, in southern Brazil.  His parents, Antonio Meirelles de Lima and Maria da Conceição, were impoverished Portuguese immigrants.

He showed an early talent for art and in 1849, aged 17, he attended the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro.  It was here that he specialised in genre and historical painting. This Academy was founded by the then present ruler of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves, Don João VI, around 1816.  It was the main official institution of Brazilian academic art.  It had come to fruition with the arrival of the Missão Artistica Francesca (French Artistic Mission), which arrived in Brazil in 1816 and had suggested the creation of an art academy which would be modelled on the French Académie des Beaux-Arts.  It, like its French counterpart, would have graduation courses both for artists and craftsmen for such diverse activities modelling, decorating and carpentry.  The leader of the mission and the instigator of this plan was Joachim Lebreton who had fallen foul of the post-French revolutionary leaders and had sort exile in Brazil.  Like the French Academy the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in Rio awarded as a prize to the best artists a travel scholarship.

Saint John the Baptist in Prison by Victor Meirelles (1852)
Saint John the Baptist in Prison by Victor Meirelles (1852)

Victor Meirelles was a brilliant scholar and in 1852 won the travel scholarship to Europe with his painting São João Batista no Cárcere (St. John the Baptist in Prison) and in June 1853 he set off on his artistic journey.  His first port of call was Le Havre and then after a brief stay in Paris headed to Rome.

His initial studies were at the Piazza Venezia studio of the Italian painter and author of books on art theory, Tommaso Minardi but Meirelles found his tuition too dogmatic and he felt artistically constrained and felt that he lacked the prospect of developing his own artistic ideas.   He then moved to the studio of Nicola Consonni  who was a member of Rome’s Guild of St. Luke.  Again Meirelles found his mentor too strict but the one thing he did gain was the opportunity to improve his life drawing skills as Consonni gave his students drawing sessions with live models.  The ability to master the art of figure drawing was a prerequisite to becoming a talented historical painter.  Meirelles left Rome and moved to Florence where the museums were overflowing with the works of the great Italian Masters such as Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese and he spent much of his time copying their works. One of the stipulations of the Travel Prize was that he would regularly send back to Rio work he had completed as proof of his artistic progress and this he had done during his three-year European stay.  The Brazilian government was so impressed with the work they received, that they granted him a further three year scholarship in Europe.

In 1856, Meirelles moved from Florence to Milan and then on to Paris where he studied at the ateliers of the French historical painter and portraitist, Léon Cogniet and the Paris-based Italian historical painter, André Gastaldi.  Meirelles was a dedicated student whose whole life was devoted to learning about art and when his extended scholarship came to an end the Brazilian government on seeing the work he had sent to them agreed to a further two year scholarship extension.  They were well aware that Meirelles was going to become one of Brazil’s finest painters.

First Mass in Brazil by Victor Meirelles (1861)
First Mass in Brazil by Victor Meirelles (1861)

It was during this final scholarship extension that Meirelles painted his most famous work, Primeira Missa no Brasil,  (The First Mass in Brazil), which was exhibited at the 1861 Paris Salon. In fact it was the first work by a Brazilian artist to appear at the Salon.  It is now housed at the art museum in Rio.  The painting depicts the official historic version of the discovery of Brazil as a heroic and peaceful event, celebrated in harmony by colonists and native Indians.  Meirelles had based his depiction on some resources he found about the Brazilian Indian at the Sainte-Geneviève Library in Paris.   In the work we see the monk Henrique de Coimbra celebrating mass on April 26, 1500. The painting made Meirelles’s name and has illustrated many history books, stamps, bank notes, catalogues and magazines.  It is such an iconic work and is probably the best known painting in Brazil.

Dom Pedro II by Victor Meirelles (1864)
Dom Pedro II by Victor Meirelles (1864)

Following his artistic success with his painting, Meirelles returned to Brazil in 1861 as an artistic hero because of  this painting.  He was awarded the Imperial Ordem da Rosa (Knight of the Order of the Rose) by Emperor Dom Pedro II and he became one of the Emperor’s favourite painters, and in 1864 he completed a portrait of the Emperor.

Moema by Victor Meirelles (1866)
Moema by Victor Meirelles (1866)

He was appointed Honorary Professor of the Academy, and shortly after promoted to Acting Teacher of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro.   He continued painting important historical works, which for many Brazilians pictorially recounted their history. In his 1866 work entitled Moema he highlighted the sad plight of the Brazilian indigenous population and their clashes with the Dutch and Portuguese colonists.  It was a work of art which was known as Indianism which was the term used which refers to the idealisation of the indigenous people of Brazil,d who were sometimes portrayed as mythical national heroes.  In nineteenth century Brazilian literature the indigenous people of the country were chosen to represent the new nation.  Indianism was a form of Romanticism in Brazilian art.

Battle of Guararapes by Victor Meirelles (1879)
Battle of Guararapes by Victor Meirelles (1879)

In 1875 Meirelles was commissioned to produce a historical work based on a seventeenth century battle between the Dutch colonizers and the Portugeuse/Brazilian army.  He went to the area where the conflict had occurred in order to produce a topographical accurate background and began making preliminary sketches for his monumental historical work which became known as Batalha de Guararapes (Battle of Guararapes).  Meirelles completed the work four years later. It was a depiction of the First Battle of Guararapes which took place in 1648 in the Guararapes Hills in the north-east of the country and was part of the Pemambucana Insurrection between the Dutch army who had colonized much of the area and the Portuguese army.  However it was not the Portuguese army per se as the forces fighting the Dutch colonizing army were in fact considered the origin of the Brazilian Army, because it was the first time where whites, blacks and Indians joined forces to fight for Brazil, their land, instead of fighting for Portugal.

The painting had a surface area of 45 square metres, measuring 494cms x 923cms.  I stood before this work and marvelled at the detail that went into it.   It really is an awesome work of art.

Naval Battle of Riachuelo"by Victor Meirelles (1883)
Naval Battle of Riachuelo by Victor Meirelles (1883)

Being known as a strong supporter of the Empire and because of his loyalty to the national cause, Meirelles was also commissioned in 1868 by the Brazilian government to create an historical work which featured Brazil’s crucial naval victory during its war with Paraguay.  The Battle of Riachuelo took place on the Paraná River in June 1865 and it was a turning point in the war between Paraguay and the Triple Alliance of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.  The war which had begun in 1864 lasted six years.  Meirelles travelled to the region of the conflict so as to gather impressions of the landscape and the military environment. He installed a workshop on the ship Brazil, which was the flagship of the Brazilian fleet, and remained on board for six months preparing sketches for the painting.

Everything was going well for Meirelles until on November 15, 1889, Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca headed a military coup which led to the downfall and exile of the sixty-eight year old Emperor Dom Pedro II .  The Empire had fallen and was replaced by a Republic.  As was the case with many French artists who had connections with the family of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, they too quickly fell out of favour with the onset of the French Revolution.  Whereas When Emperor Dom Pedro was ruler of Brazil his patronage of Victor Meirelles was a boon to the artist but when the Emperor was deposed artists connected with the Emperor and the court were cut adrift.  Meirelles also lost his position at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, the spurious reason for his sacking was that he was too old.  He was just fifty-seven years of age.  Victor Meirelles de Lima died in Rio de Janeiro on February 23rd 1903 aged 70.  It was a Sunday morning and the Carnival was in full swing but few mourned the passing of the once iconic artist.

Victor Meirelles Museum, Florianapolis
Victor Meirelles Museum, Florianapolis

Today, besides his work which is on display at the Museu Nacional de Bellas Artes in Rio de Janeiro, there is a museum dedicated to him and his work in his birthplace, Florianapolis.  The museum is in a house, built of stone masonry, bricks and stucco, fences which have openings with a wooden roof with tiles. It was acquired by the Union in 1947 and National Heritage and National Art in 1950  The works of Meirelles are exhibited on the upper floor whilst the ground floor contains works by contemporary artists.  The mission of the Victor Meirelles Museum, set in its Museum Plan, is set out as:

“…To preserve, research, and the life and work of Victor Meirelles, and disseminate, promote and preserve the historical, artistic and cultural society, and also stimulate reflection and experimentation in the arts, heritage and contemporary thought, contributing to the expansion of access to the most different cultural events and for training and exercise of citizenship…”

It is good that the country that once hailed Meirelles as an iconic artist and then abandoned him have finally realised the contribution he made to the history and life of Brazil.

Seymour Joseph Guy

At the Opera by Seymour Joseph Guy (1887)
At the Opera by Seymour Joseph Guy (1887)

I was looking at the website of a person who had commented on one of my blogs and I was fascinated by a painting he had posted.  I had to find out more about it and the artist who had painted it.  The title of the work is At the Opera and the creator of the work was the nineteenth century English-born,  American genre painter, Seymour Joseph Guy.  Genre paintings are works, which depict one or more persons going about their every day life.  They could be scenes in the kitchen, at the market or in a tavern and they are nearly always realistic depictions, lacking any sense of idealisation.  They are “warts and all” depictions of life.  Seymour Joseph Guy’s later works, which were often quite small “cabinet pieces”, concentrated mainly on depictions of children.  His works were meticulous in detail.

 Seymour Joseph Guy was born in 1824 in England, in the south London borough of Greenwich.   His father was Frederick Bennett Guy who owned an inn as well as a number of commercial properties.   His mother was Jane Delver Wilson.  Seymour had an elder brother, Frederick Bennett Guy Jnr. and a younger brother, Charles Henry.  When Seymour was five years old, his mother died and he and his brothers were brought up by their father.  Four years later their father died and the executors of their late father’s will were John Locke who was the owner of the inn called the Spanish Galleon and a local cheese merchant and friend of Seymour’s father, John Hughes.   It is the thought that the three orphaned boys came under the legal guardianship of one of these gentlemen.  Seymour’s schooling was at a local school in Surrey and it was during these early informative years that he took an interest in art and he liked to spend time drawing dogs and horses.   He enjoyed drawing so much that, when he was thirteen years old, he made it known that he would like to become an artist, or maybe a civil engineer.  This choice of career did not go down well with his guardian who actively discouraged the teenager, going as far as stopping his pocket money so he couldn’t buy any pencils and sketchbooks and that he believed would force his charge to abandon his artistic plans.  Seymour was not to be put off and despite his lack of pocket money; he managed to earn enough to buy his own drawing materials by becoming a part time sign-painter.

Open Your Mouth and Shut Your Eyes by Seymour Joseph Guy (c.1863)
Open Your Mouth and Shut Your Eyes by Seymour Joseph Guy (c.1863)

Seymour Guy continued with his ambition to become a painter and in his late teenage years received some artistic tuition from Thomas Butterworth.  Butterworth, who had served as a seaman in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars period, lived in Greenwich and was a marine painter.  His guardian decided that a good career for Seymour, and in line with his artistic ambitions, would be to become an engraver.  However the cost of an apprenticeship to learn the engraving trade was prohibitive and this proposed profession had to be abandoned and instead his guardian arranged for Seymour to begin a seven-year apprenticeship at an oil and colour firm which oversaw the making of pigments, preparing binders, as well as combining the two skills in order to make paint either by hand-grinding them or using a steam driven machine.   This was a valuable experience for Seymour as he learnt the intricacies and expertise of mixing various pigments which he would himself use in the future for his own paintings.

In 1845 Seymour’s legal guardian died. It was also a time, when having reached the age of twenty-one, the brothers’ late father’s estate was split between them.  In Seymour’s case this also coincided with the end of his seven-year apprenticeship at the colour factory.    Seymour Guy was twenty-one years of age and now had sufficient money to pursue his dream of becoming a professional painter.  A friend offered to sponsor him to enable his entrance to the Royal Academy but instead he decided to work on his own and so he obtained a copying permit and took his easel and brushes to the British Museum where he copied some of the works of art.  Understanding that working alone was not the answer to learning about art he also enrolled at the studio of the portrait and historical painter, Ambrosini Jerome, who had received a number of commissions from the English royal family.  Seymour Guy was to work with Jerome for the next four years.

The Crossing Sweeper by Seymour Joseph Guy (c.1860's)
The Crossing Sweeper by Seymour Joseph Guy (c.1860’s)

In 1852, aged twenty-eight, Seymour married Anna Maria Barber, who was the daughter of William Barber, an engraver.  The couple went on to have nine children, many of whom were used by Seymour as models for his genre paintings.  Two years later in 1854, Seymour moved his family from London to New York and settled in Brooklyn.  Here he set up his studio in Brooklyn Heights, played a leading role in the art life of the city and founded the Sketch Club and it was during these early times in Brooklyn that he met and became a close friend of another genre painter, John George Brown.  Brown who was also English-born had left his home in Durham and immigrated to America in 1853.  This close bond of friendship probably stemmed from them both being English born, and both genre painters who liked to concentrate on small-scale works which gave them the opportunity to demonstrate their intricate minute workmanship.   In those early days in Brooklyn Seymour Guy also completed a number of portraits of leading local figures.

In 1861, the two friends, Seymour Guy and John Brown, decided to move their studios from Brooklyn to the more fashionable Manhattan.  Seymour Guy had his studio on Broadway whilst John Brown moved into the Tenth Street Studio Building. Two years later Guy decided to leave his Broadway studio and move into the Tenth Street Studio Building.  The Tenth Street Building, which was on 51 West 10th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenue, was constructed in 1857 and was the first modern facility designed exclusively to the needs of artists.  Soon it became the hub of the New York art world and would remain so for the rest of the nineteenth century.  It was to be the home for many famous American artists including Winslow Homer, Frederic Edwin Church, William Merritt Chase and Albert Bierstadt.

Summer Issue by Seymour Joseph Guy (1861)
Summer Issue by Seymour Joseph Guy (1861)

The genre work of John Brown with its depiction of young children in rural settings influenced Seymour Guy for around about 1861 he too started to produce similar depictions. Around this time, the two artists made a number of ferry trips across the East River,  to escape the manic setting of the big city, to the tranquil setting of Fort Lee in New Jersey.  The two artists liked the peace and quiet so much that they decided to quit Manhattan and move home to the New Jersey countryside.  Brown went in 1864 and Seymour Guy followed with his family two years later.  Seymour Guy and his family lived the quiet existence in the country for seven years until in 1873 when they moved back to Manhattan where they remained for the rest of their life.

Seymour Joseph Guy died in 1910, aged 86, by which time his art was out of vogue and he was almost completely forgotten as an artist.   During that first decade of the twentieth century Guy’s health had begun to fail and his role as an artist seemed simply to have acted as an elder statesman to younger artists who sought out his vast knowledge about the art and the craft of painting. One of the most complimentary eulogies to him following his death appeared in the Century Association’s annual journal, which stated:

“…He is remembered with deep affection by artists who came to him as to an older man of recognized position. He was most genial, cordial, and ready to place himself and the methods of his art at their disposal, rejoicing in their companionship and keeping himself young through participation in their pursuits. For twenty-two years he was of the rare artistic fellowship of The Century, though of late years, through the infirmities of age, seldom here…”

The Contest for the Bouquet.  The Family of Robert Gordon in Their New York Dining-Room  by Seymour Joseph Guy (1866)
The Contest for the Bouquet. The Family of Robert Gordon in Their New York Dining-Room by Seymour Joseph Guy (1866)

In 1866 Seymour Guy completed a painting entitled The Contest for the Bouquet: The Family of Robert Gordon in Their New York Dining-Room, which is a combination of a group portrait and a genre work.  It is a conversation piece sometimes referred to as a narrative painting.  Seymour had received the commission from the head of the family, Robert Gordon, a British-born financier and an avid collector of American art, who was also a founding trustee of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The commission was for the portrait of Gordon’s wife, Frances, and four of their children.  In this charming family portrayal we see the three older children of Robert Gordon playfully fighting to gain hold of a small floral corsage.  The elder boy, who is by far the tallest, holds the flowers aloft out of the reach of his sister whilst his brother stands on a chair to help him reach the “prize”.   To the right we can see the youngest child sitting on her mother’s lap, clinging to her, in order to avoid her three siblings.  The setting is the family dining room and appears to be around breakfast time as the three older children are already dressed in their school clothes.

The Story of Golden Locks by Seymour Joseph Guy
The Story of Golden Locks by Seymour Joseph Guy

The final two paintings I am featuring were set in the same room.  The painting The Story of Golden Locks by Seymour Guy was completed around 1870 and in it we see a young girl reading the story of Goldilocks to two young boys, probably her brothers.  The storyteller is very animated and for the two young listeners it has probably turned the story telling into a somewhat nightmarish tale.  Look at their faces.  They are wide-eyed, unsure whether they want to hear more.  Maybe the frightening shadow of the girl’s head on the curtain above their bed has added to their trepidation.  On the chair next to the bed is the girl’s doll which lies in a drawer and this is thought to allude to the fact that the storyteller has finished with children’s toys and is transitioning between childhood and womanhood.

Making a Train by Seymour Joseph Guy (1867)
Making a Train by Seymour Joseph Guy (1867)

My final selected work by Seymour Guy was completed in 1867 and is entitled Making a Train.  There is an innocence about this painting although I am sure its content, the semi-nudity of a female child, would be criticised as being too salacious if it had been exhibited now.  In the same attic room as the setting for the previous work we see a young girl standing by her bed with a dress which has been lowered so that it drags along the ground like the train of a ball gown.  She looks over her shoulder to see the finished effect.   The painting is lit up by the light from an oil lamp which sits on a book on a wooden chair, to the right of the picture.  Once again Guy is depicting this young girl as moving from childhood to womanhood.  In the cabinet to the left of the picture we see a doll which has been put away.  This is the end of the era of playing with toys.  Now the interest is in fine clothing.  Her small breasts are both an evocation of her child-like innocence but also the start of her journey towards being a young woman.  In an era when realist painters liked to portray children as often sickly, dirty and poor street urchins many would have found favour with this work which depicts the young, clean, and healthy girl enjoying dressing-up.  It is thought that Seymour Guy’s daughter Anna modelled for this work.

For a further and much more detailed look at the life of Seymour Joseph Guy have a look at the website below, from which I got most of my information:

http://www.themagazineantiques.com/articles/seymour-joseph-guy/

Gabriel Metsu. Part 1 – Early life and The Letter

A Hunter Getting Dressed after Bathing by Gabriel Metsu (c.1654)
A Hunter Getting Dressed after Bathing by Gabriel Metsu (c.1654)

In A Hunter Getting Dressed after Bathing (above), Gabriel Metsu depicted himself as a nobleman and hunter, but of course the unusual twist to the depiction was the fact that he depicted himself in an a full-length, un-idealized, naturalistic nude pose.

If I was asked who was my favourite artist or what was my favourite artistic era, I would probably choose one of the 17th century Dutch Golden Age painters.  To be more precise, I would almost certainly choose an artists who painted genre scenes, all of which I find quite fascinating. Nowadays the most well known and most popular Dutch Golden Age painter is almost certainly, Johannes Vermeer.  However, for the next two blogs, I am going to feature some of my favourite works by a contemporary of Vermeer, and who during their lifetime was by far the more popular.  Let me introduce you to Gabriel Metsu.

Gabriel Metsu was the son of the Flemish painter Jacques Metsu, and Jacomijntje Garniers.  Jacques Metsu besides being a painter was also believed to be a tapestry designer or cartoon painter.  A cartoon being a full size drawing made for the purpose of transferring a design to a painting or tapestry or other large work.  Records show that Jacques came from “Belle in Flanders” which is now Bailleul, a small town in French Flanders close to the France-Belgium border. Jacques Metsu married his first wife, Maeyken, who died in 1619 without giving him any children.  He married his second wife, Machtelt Dircx the following year and the couple went on to have four children, but only the first child, Jacob, survived childhood, the others probably succumbed to the plague which  swept through the region in 1624 and which also claimed the life of Machtelt.

Jacomijntje Garnier’s family came from Ypres but by 1608 when she was eighteen years of age she was living with her family in Amsterdam.  It was in this year that she became betrothed to her first husband, Abraham Lefoutere, a citizen of Antwerp.  His profession was given as a teacher but some records show him as an innkeeper.  The couple had four children, Philips, Sara, Marytgen and Abraham who died in infancy. Her husband, Abraham, died in 1614 and soon after Jacomijntje remarried.  Her second husband was Willem Fermout but he too died at a young age in 1624

Jacomijntje Garnier moved, with her three children, to Leiden and there she met Jacques Metsu and the couple were married in November 1625.  In 1629 she became pregnant with Gabriel but sadly her husband, Jacques died in the March of that year, eight months before Gabriel was born, some time between the end of November and the middle of December 1629.  Jacomijntje’s occupation around this time was given as a midwife.  Gabriel Metsu, along with his step-brother and two step-sisters from his mother’s first marriage, were brought up by her alone, until, in 1636, when Gabriel was six years old, she married her fourth husband, Cornelis Gerritsz. Bontecraey, who then became their stepfather   Bontecraey was a wealthy captain and owner of a barge and two houses in Leiden.  He died in 1649 making Jacomijntje a widow for the fourth time.  She died two years later in 1651.

  There are few hard facts with regards Gabriel Metsu’s early artistic training and teenage years.  However it is believed he could have helped in the workshop of Claes Pietersz de Grebber, a silversmith.   Because Gabriel Metsu’s earliest work, which is still in existence, entitled Ecce Homo, which he completed around the late 1640’s was a religious one,  it is believed that his early artistic tuition must have come from a history painter.  It maybe just a coincidence, but his employer’s son, Anthonie de Grebber, who Metsu must have known, was a history painter and maybe he gave Gabriel some of his first artistic tuition.   In 1644, when just fifteen years of age, Gabriel Metsu joined a  group of local artists, and even at  such an early age, his name was entered in the membership rolls as a “painter.”  Other larger Dutch cities such as Gouda and Haarlem had their own painters’ guild, Guild of Saint Luke, and it was mandatory that artists were members of these guilds in order to sell their wares.  Leiden, up until March 10th 1648, had no such guild but on that date the Leidse Sint Lucasgilde (Leiden Guild of St Luke) was founded by Gerard Dou and Abraham Lambertsz van den Tempel.  Six days after its formation Gabriel Metsu, aged 18,  became a member.

I will continue Gabriel Metsu’s life story in my next blog but for today I want to feature two of his most famous works, two narrative pendants, Man Writing a Letter and its companion piece Woman Reading a Letter, both of which were completed around 1666 and now hang in the National Art Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.  Dutch artists were the first to make the private letter a central focus in genre scenes.

Man writing a Letter by Gabriel Metsu  (c. 1664-1666)
Man writing a Letter by Gabriel Metsu
(c. 1664-1666)

The setting for the painting, Man Reading a Letter, is a study.  The scene is bathed in sunlight.  We see a young, fine-looking man, with long blonde curls, sitting at a table, pen in hand.  He is finely dressed in a black velvet jacket and the white of his shirt and neckerchief are lit up by the sunlight, which streams through the open window in front of him and reflects off the light-coloured back wall.   His hat is precariously balanced on the back of his chair.  He is quietly contemplating the words he wants to write to the woman he loves.  The sunlight highlights him.  He is at centre stage of this work and the sunlight acts as a spotlight.  If this is indeed a love letter he is writing then he must be careful with his words.  He cannot countenance a misunderstanding caused by what he has written.  Look at the resolute expression on his face.  He is totally lost in thought knowing the importance of the words he uses.  They have to say exactly what he wants them to say.  He must avoid ambiguity.  The missive must be perfect.

Observe his opulent surroundings.  The floor is made up of smooth black and white marble slabs, a sure indication that the owner of this house is wealthy.   Everything points to this being a room belonging to a well-to-do person.  We can tell this by some of the furnishings on view.   The table at which he writes the letter is covered with a finely detailed expensive Oriental rug or table tapestry.  Behind him we see a landscape painting in an expensive heavily carved gilt Baroque frame. To his right, partially hidden by the opened window frame we see a globe.  The globe appeared in many Dutch paintings of the time and is almost certainly a reminder of the Dutch Golden Age when the country was one of the leaders in exploration and trade with the far corners of the world.

Woman Reading a Letter by Gabriel Metsu  (c. 1664-1666)
Woman Reading a Letter by Gabriel Metsu
(c. 1664-1666)

The companion work to this painting is Woman Reading a Letter.  The Metsu’s pendants, when seen together, combine to become a set of narrative works in which we see the man writing to the woman and the woman reading his letter.  In this second work by Metsu, we see the lady sitting in the corner on a wooden zoldertje platform in a marble-floored hall.  She is wearing a long pink skirt, and her yellow top is trimmed with ermine, which is a sure sign of wealth.   A pillow rests on her knees, which has been used as a support whilst sewing.  Her sewing has been cast aside when the maidservant brought in a letter for her.  In her excitement at receiving the letter she has dropped her thimble which we see lying on the floor.    The letter obviously means a lot to her.  She is totally absorbed by what he has written.  Look how she tilts the letter at an angle as she thoughtfully reads it.  Maybe it could be that she needs the sunlight which is streaming through the window to illuminate the words, making them easier for her to read or maybe she is shielding the contents from her maidservant.  The painting is full of symbolism which adds intrigue to the painting.  With this being one of a pair of paintings we know that the man has written the letter to her, which she is now reading but what is the relationship between the man and the woman?  Look at the woman’s forehead. The hairline is receding and to achieve that it could be that some of her hair had been plucked or the forehead shaved giving a higher forehead, which was the fashion of the day.  Look more closely and one can see a single curl of hair at the centre of the forehead and this usually signified that the lady was engaged.

The inclusion of the dog is a symbol of fidelity and one presumes its inclusion probably signifies the woman’s faithfulness. According to some art historians and iconographers, a cast-off shoe, one of which we see on the floor, has erotic connotations.  I find that a slight stretch of their imagination but I suppose their line of thought is that lovers hastily cast of shoes in their rush to make love.  It is interesting to look at the maidservant who stands next to her mistress.  Because of her lowly status in the household she has been depicted in a drab brown dress although a little colour has been added with the blue of her apron.  Under her left arms she has a bucket with two arrows scribed on it.  Could this once again symbolise that love is in the air and these are Cupid’s arrows.  To me they look more like the arrows one used to see on the back of prisoners’ jackets in 1930’s movies.  She also holds in her left hand an envelope.  There is a word on the envelope which I cannot quite read although it seems to start with the letter “M”.  I read somewhere that the word is “Metsu” but until I stand before the original work I will not be sure.  Hopefully I will get to Dublin next month and have a closer look.

The maidservant is drawing back the green curtain, which is hanging from a rod, and which is covering a framed painting on the back wall.  Covers over paintings were not unusual as it was a means of preventing sunlight from falling on them causing them to fade.  The subject of the painting is a seascape in which we see two sailing ship battering their way through a storm. Is the subject of the painting symbolic?  There are two theories about this.  One is that the woman’s betrothed is a seafarer and the other is that the ship struggling in a storm symbolises the romantic struggles ahead for the two lovers.  Also on the wall is a mirror which is in a plain black frame, the colour of which I read symbolised a warning against narcissism and lewdness, but like the abandoned shoe I remain unconvinced with that theory.

As I said earlier, both the paintings are housed in the National Gallery of Ireland, part of the Beit Collection which is housed in the .  The paintings were owned by Sir Alfred Beit and his wife, Lady Beit.  Sir Alfred Beit was a British Conservative politician, philanthropist, art lover, and honorary Irish citizen.  He donated the two paintings I have featured today along with fifteen other masterpieces to the National Gallery of Ireland in 1987, whilst the other major art works remained at their home, Russborough House, which was once described as the most beautiful house in Ireland.   Sir Alfred and Lady Beit bought Russborough House in 1952 to house their art collection and in 1976 established the Alfred Beit Foundation to manage the property. Beit died in 1994 but Lady Beit remained in residence until her own death in 2005.  Due to a number of armed robberies and thefts of some of the paintings, which fortunately were recovered, the Foundation agreed to move them to the National Gallery of Ireland for safekeeping.

In my next blog I will complete the life story of Gabriel Metsu and feature some more of his paintings.