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.

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

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

Still Life with Hare by Chardin (1730)

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

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

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

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

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

The Water Spaniel by Chardin (1730)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woman Sealing a Letter by Chardin (1733)

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

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

The Washerwoman by Chardin (1733)

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

Woman Drawing Water at the CisternBy Chardin (1733)

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

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

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

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

..…….. to be continued.

Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

Settling the Accounts by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

Today’s blog is a very short one.  I think I have mentioned before how I choose an artist to write about. There are two things I need before I can embark on the journey of looking at the life of an artist. Firstly, I need to have multiple sources which offer a biography of the painter. Why multiple? Because you would be amazed at how often I come across differing facts such as names of family members, educational information and simple dates and I have to work out what are the true facts. Secondly, I must have a wide range of pictures so as to be able to highlight the artist’s skill as a painter. Proceeding with the blog without both of these is very difficult.

Portrait of an Old Man by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

However once in a while, and today is one of those occasions, I come across artwork which is so good that I just have to formulate a blog even though my knowledge about the artist’s life is severely limited. I scoured the internet and reference books and, as I was on a three-day visit to London on child-minding duties, I even went to the British Library but all to no avail as little seems to be written about today’s painter although the auction houses such as Bonhams, Christies and Sothebys offered samples of his art without a biography, which is somewhat unusual.  Let me introduce you to the nineteenth century Austrian portrait and genre painter Alois Heinrich Priechenfried.

Seated Rabbi by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

Much of the Jewish art by Priechenfried focused on the quiet contemplation of the holy scriptures.

A Rabbi Studying the Torah by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

Alois Michel Priechenfried, the artist’s father, was a gilder by trade. Gilding is the decorative technique for applying a very thin coating of gold to solid surfaces such as metal, wood, porcelain, or stone. He married Anna Hackensoellner and the couple had three children, August Franz, Georg and Alois. Alois Heinrich Priechenfried was born June 25th, 1867 in the Gumpendorf district of Vienna.

Seated Rabbi by Alois Priechenfried

Alois was brought up in the Catholic faith although when I first looked at his paintings I wrongly believed that he must have been Jewish.  Many of his paintings featured rabbis as is the one he painted entitled Seated Rabbi.  The quotation behind the rabbi is from Psalms 118:17, “I shall not die but live and proclaim the works of the Lord.”

Reading the Scriptures by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

My favourite painting of his featuring people of the Jewish religion is one entitled Reading the Scriptures.  There is something very peaceful about this painting.  The rabbis, who are seen reading the holy book or quietly contemplating what they have just read, offers one a feeling of extreme serenity which many people get from their belief in their religion and their God.  I suppose, being a non-believer, I miss out on such times of peaceful contemplation.

A Cardinal Reading by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

Not all Priechenfried’s paintings depicted aspects of the Jewish religion for one of his best paintings features a cleric from the Catholic religion.  It is simply entitled A Cardinal Reading.  Once again it is a portrayal of tranquil meditation.

Conversation in the Kitchen by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

When young Alois was fourteen years old, he followed in his father’s footsteps and trained and worked as a gilder.  At the age of seventeen he enrolled for one year at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts as a guest student.

Christian Griepenkerl (c.1907)

One of his professors at the Academy was the German painter, Christian Griepenkerl. Griepenkerl had been appointed a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna in 1874 and three years later he was the lead professor at the Academy’s special school for historical painting. Griepenkerl specialised in allegorical representation using themes from classical mythology and portraiture. He taught many of the foremost painters of the time including Egon Schiele and Anton Peschka but his teaching methodology and that of the Academy was looked upon by many young students as antiquated and overly-conservative and so many left the Academy and founded the Neukunstgruppe (New Art Group), which fostered its own style without Academic constraints.  Christian Griepenkerl later became famous for refusing Adolf Hitler’s application to join the Academy in 1907 stating that Hitler’s entrance submission piece was both unimaginative and unsatisfactory.

The Visit by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

Alois married a Emile Aurelia Watzek, a Yugoslavian lady in 1890 and the couple went on to have eight children.  As can be seen in the above painting and the ones below, he also completed many genre works.

German Interior Scene by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

Priechenfried spent many periods of his life in Munich but always returned to his beloved Vienna.

The Rehearsal by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried

Alois Heinrich Priechenfried died on May 24th 1953 at his home in Diefenbachgasse in the Rudolfsheim-Fünfhausdistrict of Vienna which lies on the northern bank of the River Wien. He was 85.


My apologies for the lack of biographical information but I am sure you will agree the paintings themselves are worth the blog.   If anybody knows more about Priechenfried I would love to hear from you and then I could update this blog.

Finally, Merry Christmas and a belated Happy Hanukkah to everyone.

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:

http://www.chislehurst-society.org.uk/PDFs/CharlesSpencelayh.pdf

 

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…”

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.