Jennie Augusta Brownscombe

Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1850 – 1936)

In my last blog I looked at the life of the nineteenth century American painter, Anna Elizabeth Klumpke.  Today I want to look at the life of one of her contemporaries, Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, who was born just six years earlier.

Jennie Augusta Brownscombe was born December 10th, 1850 in a small log cabin farmhouse, built by her father, near Irving Cliff in Honesdale, in rural north-eastern Pennsylvania.  It was a picturesque area, which the historian, writer and author of the short stories, Rip van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irvine, described as:

“…Honesdale is situated between high hills on a plain through which two romantic mountain streams flow, uniting in the village and forming the Lackawaxen River. There are two wide basins where the streams unite, and the water was formed into the two most picturesque lakes. From the Eastern shore of one of these, Lake Dyberry, a solid ledge of serried and moss-grown slate rock rises almost sheer to the height of nearly 400 feet…”

Peasant Girl Before a Gate by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe

Jennie was the only child of William Brownscombe, originally a farmer in the English county of Devon who had left England to seek his fortune in America in 1840 and his American wife Elvira Brownscombe (née Kennedy), who was said to be a direct descendent of an original Mayflower passenger.  Her mother who was a talented writer and amateur painter, nurtured her daughter’s interest in poetry and art.  Her early exploration of drawing is mentioned in the entry for Jennie Brownscombe in the 1897 book, American Women Fifteen Hundred Biographies:

“…She was studious and precocious, and about equally inclined to art and literature. She early showed a talent for drawing, and when only seven years old she began drawing, using the juices of flowers and leaves with which to colour her pictures. In school she illustrated every book that had a blank leaf or margin available…”

Jennie won awards for her art at the Wayne County Fair  when she was a high school student.

The New School-Mistress by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1873)

In 1868, when Jennie was eighteen years old, her father died.  To help herself and her mother financially, Jennie began selling illustrations to book and magazine publishers based on the landscape around her home and Irving Cliff.  One such illustration appeared in the illustrated journal, Harper’s Weekly, of September 20th 1873, entitled The New School-Mistress.   She also accepted a post as a school teacher at the high school in Honesdale.  Eventually she moved to New York to study art.  To get an idea of what this young aspiring artist was like we need to see the description of her given by art historian, Florence Woolsley Hazzard in her article on Brownscombe for the three-volume biographical dictionary, Notable American Women 1607-1950, in which she described the young artist:

“…she was slender, with a thin face in which large brown eyes and a dimpled chin were distinctive, and reserved in manner. She lived simply with one companion or servant…”

Jennie Brownscombe left home and went to New York where she studied under the Paris-born academic-style painter Victor Nehlig who had come to America in 1850 and opened up a studio in New York city, and was elected as an academician in the National Academy of Design.  In May 1871 Jennie graduated from the School of Design for Women of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art more commonly known as the Cooper Union or Cooper Institute which was a privately funded college located in Cooper Square in the East Village neighbourhood of Manhattan, New York City.

Portrait of a Young Woman in Pink and Green by Jennie Brownscombe (1898)

For the next four years, until 1875, Jennie was enrolled at the National Academy of Design where she attended the Antique and Life Schools and studied painting under the tutelage of the American painters, Thomas LeClear and Lemuel Wilmarth, who was the director of the Academy.  The Academy also paid Jennie to teach some of the classes and this helped defray the cost of her tuition.  Whilst at the Academy Brownscombe won the first prize, the Charles Loring Elliott Medal, in the Antique School and the first prize, the Suydam Medal in the Life School, which was given annually by the Academy for achievements in life drawing and painting in the Life studies school.

Unfortunately, the Academy encountered financial problems at the end of the 1874/5 academic year and could no longer afford to employ Wilmarth and there was even talk that come the start of the next academic year in the autumn the Academy would not re-open.  With the uncertainty as to whether the Academy, due to financial pressures, would cancel all classes temporarily, forcing students to forgo drawing from life for a significant period of time, something had to be done.  Apart from this uncertain future, many of the students were also unhappy with the rigid artistic teaching at the Academy believing the favoured academic-style was too conservative especially in comparison with what was happening at the time with the art in Europe with the birth of Impressionism.  And so, in 1875, Lemuel Wilmarth and a group of artists, most of whom were students at the National Academy of Design, and many of whom were women, founded The Art Students League and Wilmarth was confirmed as its first president.

The present Art Students League of New York Building, West 57th Street, New York

Jennie Brownscombe was one of the founder members of the Art Students League.  Another founder member was the sculptor and illustrator James Edward Kelly whose comments about Jennie were published in 1925 in the Fiftieth Anniversary of the League publication.  He recalled the young artist:

“…Although I used to see Miss Jennie Brownscombe when she came to Harper’s Art Department, and as a student at the old Academy, I always visualize her sitting at her easel – working,  working, ceaseless and untiring.  The outcome was a series of paintings and etchings showing the halcyon days in the home life of America…”

The League opened its school with studio space on the top floor of a building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 16th Street. Things were somewhat cramped and classes were conducted in just one small room.  It proved so popular that many more art students joined and by the end of the first semester the League had to rent the whole of floor to accommodate this new influx of artists.  Jennie returned to the National Academy of Design in 1879 and remained there as a student until mid-1881.

After completing her studies at the Academy, Jennie travelled to France and studied in Paris under the Polish-born American painter, Henry Mosler, who became well-known for his Breton peasant depictions.  Jennie returned to the United States but an eye injury curtailed her art until 1884 at which time she returned to painting in her studio in New York City.  Whilst living in New York she found time to make regular visits back to her mother who was still at the family home in Honesdale, Pennsylvania.  Her mother died in 1891.

The Homecoming by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1885)

Jennie Brownscombe’s art was of various genres.  Many of her works focused on the observance of rural family life and it was the sentimentality of these works which appealed to buyers who liked to remember those trouble-free days.  A good example of this is her 1885 painting, The Homecoming, which depicts the return of a husband and the greeting he received from his wife and child on the doorstep of their log cabin.  Everything we see in the painting oozes with happiness and contentment –  what’s not to like about it?

Ready for the Oven by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe

In another depiction of contented homeliness,  Ready for the Oven, we see a lady in the kitchen.  She holds a pie, which she has just made and is about to put it into the oven to bake.  Again, this is a work depicting the joy that can be had by simply staying at home and looking after one’s family.  It is a depiction of a clean and well organised country kitchen and the rural idyll.  A lot of her genre works featuring rural life were about a clean and contented homely American lifestyle and is in stark contrast to the rural/ peasant kitchens we see depicted in some of the Dutch genre paintings where realism seemed to mean showing less than clean interiors and chaotic lives, often caused by the demon alcohol.  So, what did people want from their paintings – idyllic sentimentality or realistic hell on earth?

Love’s Young Dream by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe

One of the most popular example of Brownscombe’s idyllic but sentimental depictions is her idealized painting depicting rural family life which is entitled Loves Young Dream.  The painting has two distinct parts to it.  In the right foreground, and squeezed in, we have the porch of a wooden house and three people whilst on the left and in the background the space is open and clutter-free as we look towards the hills shrouded in mist but it is this openness which gives us the sense of vast sweeping and unspoilt countryside and set up of the painting highlights the isolation of the small house.

We see a young woman standing on the outside step of her modest wooden home.  Her expression is one of yearning, as she looks out at the winding country lane which leads to her family home.  In the distance, we can just make out a man on horseback approaching. Could this be who she is awaiting?  On the right of the painting we see an elderly couple sitting on the porch. One, probably her mother, looks up from her knitting and looks at the young woman and probably worries about her daughter’s expectations.  She is completely oblivious to the fact that the cat is playing with her ball of wool.  The other person on the porch is an elderly man who is completely engrossed in his book and has no time to observe his daughter, wife or the approaching rider.

The New Scholar by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1879)

In another example of her genre paintings we have The New Scholar which captures what school days were like in a rural community in the past.  In the work, we see a very young girl heading to her lessons. She is new to the school and is somewhat frightened at the reception she would receive from her fellow pupils. She walks towards the school room door, head down, but surreptitiously eyeing some of her fellow pupils whilst they line her approach and blatantly study her.   This is yet another beautifully portrayal of individuals.  This work is housed in the Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma

The First Thanksgiving held at Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth, Massachusetts by Jennie Brownscombe

In some works, she would produce depictions of special moments of American history such as the arrival of the first settlers in her painting The First Thanksgiving held at Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth, Massachusetts which commemorated the event which took place in early autumn of 1621, when the 53 surviving Pilgrims celebrated their successful harvest, which was an English custom.  Another reason for the depiction by Brownscombe could have been the colonial roots of her mother’s family.

In the painting, we see a group of Puritans in dark and dour-looking clothes gathered around a table being blessed by a pastor.  The idealisation of the depiction shows friendly native Americans looking on at the ceremony and are ready to participate in this communal meal. In the background, we see a solitary log cabin set amongst the yet to be developed New England countryside.  This is a quintessentially American depiction and paintings like this were very popular with American public.  Brownscombe sold the reproduction rights to more than a hundred of her genre and historical works which were then used by publishers to produce prints or incorporate them in calendars and greeting cards.

Washington Greeting Lafayette at Mount Vernon, 1784 by Jennie Brownscombe

Brownscombe was among a group of artists of the Colonial Revival Movement, which was a cultural movement which was both an architectural and decorating style. It was very popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was motivated by a romantic adoration of the early American past. Paintings were created by artists depicting early American scenes.  Colonial heroes like George Washington and colonial history were popular subjects for artists, inspired by the 1876 centennial, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.  Jennie Brownscombe’s painting Washington Greeting Lafayette at Mount Vernon is a classic example of Colonial Revival Movement painting.

Colonial Minuet by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe

Brownscombe developed a structured lifestyle geared up to her artistic life.  She would travel to Italy and spend the winters in Rome and it was during one such winter she met the American still-life and landscape artist George Henry Hall who had a studio in the Italian capital.  They became close friends and Hall who was twenty-five years her senior, became her mentor.  During the summer months, the two of them would return to Hall’s American residence, in Kaaterskill Clove Valley, in New York’s eastern Catskill Mountains, lying just west of the village of Palenville.   When Hall died in 1913 at the age of eighty-eight, he bequeathed the house and studio to Brownscombe.

Children Playing in the Orchard by Jennie Brownscombe (1934)

In 1932 Jennie Brownscombe suffered a stroke which temporarily stopped her painting but two years later in 1934, when she was eighty-four years old, she completed a work for the Lincoln School in her hometown of Honesdale entitled Children Playing in the Orchard.

Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, who never married, died on August 5th, 1936 four months before her eighty-sixth birthday and was buried next to her parents in the Glen Dyberry Cemetery in Honesdale next to her parents.

Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (c.1930)

I end this story with a quote from the blog The Jellybean Tree which perfectly sums up the life and work of Jennie Augusta Brownscombe and why her paintings appealed to so many:

“…Jennie Brownscombe was a pilgrim in her own way, making a name and life for herself in a time when most women were still housewives and mothers. She tapped into a talent and nostalgia that warmed the hearts of her viewers. Artists like Brownscombe place a mirror to our lives, forcing us to see the beauty in every day. Creative types can sometimes become bogged down with visions of the fantastic. A reminder of the subtle grace of life is always welcome…”

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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.

Jozef Israels Part 2 – The Peasants and his later life

Self portrait by Jozef Israels (1881)
Self portrait by Jozef Israels (1881)

I ended my last blog, which looked at the life of Jozef Israels, around 1856 when he was living in the small fishing town of Zandvoort and spent much of his time sketching and painting scenes involving the local fishing community.

The Day Before Parting by Jozef Israels (c.1862)
The Day Before Parting by Jozef Israels (c.1862)

Israels left the coastal area around 1858 and returned to Amsterdam where he remained until 1870.  In 1860 he completed a work entitled De dag voor het  schieden (The Day before the Parting), which can now be found in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.   It is a beautiful soulful depiction.  It is a depiction of sadness.  But why the sadness?  Is it like the paintings depicting families waiting for their fisherman husbands and fathers to return from the hazards of the sea?  Actually it is not, it is about death.   The setting is the interior of a cottage.  In the dimly lit background there is a coffin which lies across two chairs.  The wooden coffin is covered with a pall and is barely illuminated by a solitary candle.

Light streams into the room from the left and illuminates the two characters featured in the work.   The lighting of the foreground is in stark contrast to the background.  It was the artist’s clever use of chiaroscuro (the strong contrast of light and dark), which in some ways was a contrast between life and death.  In the foreground we have the mother leaning against the chimney breast as she sits on a chair, besides her in the fire hearth lies an empty overturned wicker log basket.  Her face is red from all the tears she has wept.  She leans forward and rests her face on her right hand whilst her left hand clutches hold of a book, probably the bible and her thumb keeps the place of the passage she was reading.  On the floor, at her feet, sits a young girl.  She leans against her mother to get comfort.  Her right hand lies across her mother’s knee.  She stares at the coffin.  Her left hand lies in her lap, grasping the loop of the cord attached to her toy cradle which lies by her side.  This painting is not only a depiction of sorrow it is a depiction of poverty.  The mother and daughter do not wear shoes despite the coldness of the red-tiled floor.  The fireplace, with its blue surround tiles, is empty and so too is the wicker log basket indicating that they have no fuel for the fire.  The large black chain over the fireplace which would hold pots or a kettle for food and drink hangs idly.  Have they food?

This wonderful work of art received the gold medal when it was exhibited in Rotterdam in 1862 and that same year it was shown at the International Exhibition in London.  Israels himself, some forty years later, admitted that this painting made his reputation.  In 1906 he commented on the work:

 “…I painted it in 1860 – I know it was then because it was the year before I was engaged.  It was made ‘pour la gloire’.  It was exhibited in Rotterdam in 1862 and got the Gold medal, the last year the medal was given…………………….There is good colour in that picture; I could do no better – some people say I cannot do now so well…”

Peasant Children by Jozef Israels
Peasant Children by Jozef Israels

 In May 1863 Jozef Israels married Aleida Schaap and the couple had two children, a daughter Mathilde Anna Israëls who was born in February 1864 and a son, Isaac Lazarus in February 1865.  His son became a fine art painter and was associated with the Amsterdam Impressionism movement.  At the time of his son’s birth Jozef Israel wrote about him saying:

 “…With the help of the Lord, he will become a better painter than his father…”

  Jozef Israels moved to The Hague in 1870 and here he began to associate himself with The Hague School of Painters.  This group of artists were active between 1860 and 1890.  For these artists reality was the key to their work, not idealised reality but depicting true reality, warts and all.  The colours used by these artists was often gloomy and sombre and consisted mainly of various tints of grey, so much so they were often termed the Grey School.  This only changed in the latter years of the School with the influence of the Barbizon painters and the early Impressionists who instilled a lighter and brighter palette.

In 1876, with a number of close artistic colleagues, Israels launched the Dutch Drawing Society (watercolours in those days were termed drawings)

The Cottage Madonna by Jozef Israels
The Cottage Madonna by Jozef Israels (1871)

 During his lifetime, Jozef Israels was one of the most famous living Dutch artist and earned the nickname ‘the Dutch Millet.’  The two artists saw in the life of the poor and humble peasants a motive for expressing with peculiar intensity their wide human sympathy.  Millet’s depictions of peasant life were much lighter in tone and were simply a look at peaceful rural life.  For Israels it was different, his depictions of peasant life was very much more sombre and carried a message of hardship and despair.  The French novelist and art critic, Louis Edmond Duranty who was a great supporter of the realist cause said Israels’ depiction of peasant life was painted with gloom and a sense of anguish.

  Jozef Israëls primarily painted scenes from the lives of simple farm labourers or fishermen. Sometimes, as in my next painting, he singled out tragic moments in their lives. This next work of art really tugs at one’s heart strings.  It is entitled Alone and can be found at the Mesdag Museum in The Hague.  Hendrik Mesdag, a contemporary and great friend of Israels, was a leading artist of The Hague School and he and his wife, Sientje played an active role in The Hague art world.  Hendrik Mesdeg was not just an artist, he was an avid art collector.  His collection grew so much that, in 1877, he had a museum built to house it

Alone in the World by Jozef Israels, (1881)
Alone in the World by Jozef Israels, (1881)

The setting for the painting, Alone in the World, is the inside a sparsely furnished bedroom of a peasant’s cottage.   There is an air of bleak despondency about the scene we see before us.  A man sits on the side of a bed.  His bony workman’s hands rest on his knees, his posture is unmoving. He is wracked by sadness as his wife has died despite all he had done for her.  Her body lies in the half-light which streams in from the left of the painting on to the bed and also illuminates the table on which are a pitcher of water and an empty glass as well as the bed.  The greyish colour of the dead woman’s skin makes her almost indistinguishable from that of her bedclothes.

It is interesting to note that Jozef Israels and Sientje Mesdeg talked about this work years after its completion and on a broader aspect of art.  They considered the anecdotal aspect of art and whether genre paintings should tell a tale.  They failed to agree. Sientje was adamant that there was never a need for art to tell a story, whereas Jozef Israels countered saying that a “felt” work is good even if badly delineated.  There is no doubt that this work is a “felt” work as we, the observers, can understand the feelings of the man at a time of his great loss.

Convalescent Mother and Child by Jozef Israels (1871)
Convalescent Mother and Child by Jozef Israels (1871)

A painting I really like which combines the reality of illness and sentimentality is Israels 1871 work entitled Convalescent Mother and Child.  In the painting we see a mother slumped in a chair, head lolled to one side, her knitting lies abandoned in her lap.  Walking towards her is her barefooted young child struggling to carry a small table towards her.  The child is trying to be a help to his sick mother.  Look at the concentrated expression on the child as he makes a great effort to move the table towards her.

A Jewish Wedding by Jozef Israels (1903)
A Jewish Wedding by Jozef Israels (1903)

In later years his paintings were influenced by the works of Rembrandt and this next work of art, entitled The Jewish Wedding, is a fine example of this.  Jozef Israels was a committed orthodox Jew and his mother had once hoped that he would become a Rabbi.  He produced a number of paintings depicting Jewish ceremonies.  Here before us we see bride and groom under the chupa in the ceremony of sanctification of the joining together of the couple in marriage, surrounded by family and wedding guests.  The couple in the painting are depicted in bright sunlight which was a symbol of the happiness of the occasion.

We Grow Old. Jozef Israëls, 1878
We Grow Old. Jozef Israëls, 1878

Joseph Israels died in Scheveningen in August 1911. aged 87.

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/