Elisabeth Chaplin

Elisabeth Chaplin

The artist I am looking at today is the French-born painter, Elisabeth Chaplin. She was born in Fontainebleau, France on October 17th 1890. Her father was William Chaplin and her mother was the eminent sculptor and poet, Marguerite Bavier-Chaufour.

A Song Silenced by Charles Joshua Chaplin
A Song Silenced by Charles Joshua Chaplin

A further artistic connection was that of her uncle, Charles Joshua Chaplin, a French artist and printmaker who was known for his landscapes and portraiture. He worked in many mediums such as watercolours, pastels and oils and was probably best known for his portraits of beautiful young women. He became famous in the Paris of Napoleon III and was admired by  Empress Eugenie for the delicate tones of his paintings. He became a member of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, and exhibited his paintings at the Salon de Paris.

Autoritratto contro la finestra di San Domenico by Elisabeth Chaplin (1910)

The family, due to her father’s occupation, moved from France in 1900 and relocated to the Piemonte region of north-western Italy, a region which borders France. A few years later the family was on the move again. This time they went to live in Lagueglia, a coastal town on the Italian Riviera and it was around this time that Elisabeth, now a teenager, began to take an interest in painting and set about teaching herself to paint.

Self portrait in Pink by Elisabeth Chaplin (1921)

The family was soon on the move again and in 1905 finally went to live at Villa Rossi which was in the hills of Fiesole overlooking the Tuscan city of Florence. Living so close to Florence and being interested in painting Elisabeth would spend hours at the Uffizi Gallery copying the paintings of the Grand Masters. Elisabeth received no official training and maintained that the Grand Masters were her tutors and she, their pupil.

Ritratto di Famiglia (Family portrait) by Elisabeth Chaplin (1906)

One of the first paintings she completed was a family portrait in 1906 entitled Ritratto di famiglia in esterno, (Outdoor Family Portrait). She was just sixteen years old and the painting earned her the gold medal from the Florentine Society of Fine Arts. Whilst in Florence, Elisabeth visited the studio of Francesco Giolio’s and met the painter Giovanni Fattori, who was a member of the Macchiaioli, a group of Italian artists who were active in Tuscany in the second half of the nineteenth century. They shied away from the antiquated conventions which were being taught by the Italian art academies. They were lovers of plein air painting so that they were able to capture natural light, shade, and colour. The Macchiaioli are often compared to the French Impressionists, but unlike their French contemporaries they didn’t complete their entire paintings en plein air, but instead would take back to their studios the sketches they had done outdoors and worked them up into a full painting. Elisabeth would have learnt a lot about art from Fattori.

The Garden of Villa Il de Trepiede by Elisabeth Chaplin

In her early twenties, Elisabeth exhibited her work in all the major Italian exhibitions between 1910 and 1914. Her work was shown at the Società delle Belle Arti in 1910, and the Internazionale di Valle Giulia in Rome in 1911. In 1912 her work could be seen at the Promotrice Fiorentina, the Secessione Romana in 1913 and the Venice Biennale in 1914.

Three Sisters by Elisabeth Chaplin (1912)

In 1916 she and her family moved to Rome, and it was here that she was able to immerse herself into the vibrant, international cultural climate and through her artwork was able to build on her reputation as an international painter. It was in the Italian capital that she met Paul-Albert Besnard, a French painter and printmaker who became one of her mentors. After a two year stay in Rome Elisabeth returned to her beloved Villa Il Treppiede.

Two Nudes or Double Self-portrait by Elisabeth Chaplin (1918)

It was around 1918 that Elisabeth Chaplin created what is now looked upon as one of her masterpieces. The painting was entitled Two Nudes or Double Self-portrait, and is one of few works which was not bought by the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Palazzo Pitti a few years before she died. Elisabeth depicts herself in a dual position, front and back, as she holds onto a red sheet that is tantalisingly falling off her naked body. It is a Symbolist-style work and any likeness to her disappears, giving way to Symbolist features that go beyond a solely naturalistic portrayal. It is a beautiful example of chiaroscuro with the light striking the figure from below. The colour palette she uses is vivid with reds and blues meeting and conflicting. There is a whiff of exoticism about her long, black hair and about the red sheet that looks like a Tahitian wraparound skirt, so much so that the Italian art critic and author of the 1994 book: Elisabeth Chaplin, Giuliano Serafini, stated that it was “an unwitting tribute to Gauguin, which remains one of her most fascinating and emblematic pictures, is the nude conveyed with such fullness of style and truth.” .

Fanciulle in Giallo (Young girls in yellow) by Elisabeth Chaplin (1921)

I think my favourite Elisabeth Chaplin work is one she painted in 1921 when she was living in Paris. Its title is Les Jeunes filles en jaune (Young girls in yellow). The painting depicts them dressed in yellow-coloured clothes and this derives from the many self-portraits Elisabeth did during her childhood.  The two young girls are totally different.  The redheaded girl on the left is seated. Her hair is unfettered. She stares out at us with such intensity. Cradled in her arms is a black cat, a creature that is often looked upon as being enigmatic and yet sometimes malign. The cat is a sacred icon that infuses mystery and thus this young girl represents disorder and turmoil. The other girl with her distant blue eyes is so different. There is an air of calm and graceful tranquillity about her. Her hair is neatly coiffed and she is seen touching a bunch of anemones, the embodiment of innocence. This duality is a connotation of Symbolism and we again see the duality with the reflection of the girl’s hand and the vase on the dark brown table.

Self-portrait with a Green Umbrella by Elisabeth Chaplin (1903)

In 1946, the Uffizi Gallery bought three of her paintings and asked to be given an early self-portrait by her. She agreed and donated her 1903 work entitled Self-portrait with a Green Umbrella and it now hangs in the Vasari Corridor.  The most famous and the most respected collection of self-portraits in the world are to be found in the very long Vasari Corridor of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.  (It has been closed for major renovations). The corridor is a long, raised passageway that connects Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria to Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the river Arno. The passageway was designed and built in 1564 by Giorgio Vasari and its function was to allow Cosimo de’ Medici and other Florentine elite to walk safely through the city, from the seat of power in Palazzo Vecchio to their private residence, Palazzo Pitti. It is a veritable tribute to art but more especially to those who have created it. Along the walls there are great self-portraits by the Masters, such as Rembrandt, Velazquez, Delacroix and Chagal. The first paintings were bought by the Medici family, and after the collection started, the family began to receive the paintings as donations from the painters themselves. However, what is noticeable about the collection is the small number of self-portraits by female artists. There are some such as Marietta Robusti, the talented daughter of Tintoretto, who died prematurely, Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun, who immortalized for posterity the image of Maria Antonietta and today’s artist whom I am writing about, Elisabeth Chaplin. One of her very first paintings.

Self-portrait with her mother by Elisabeth Chaplin (1938)

Buoyed by the success of her work, in 1920 she had her paintings exhibited for the first time at that year’s Paris Salon. During the 1920s, she exhibited with Cezanne, Matisse, and Van Gogh and had her work was exhibited twice at Venice Biennale, in 1924 and 1926. Her work received great acclaim at the Salon, so much so that in 1922 she moved to Paris and remained in the French capital until the end of World War II. During her extended stay in Paris she spent time going to the Panthéon and the Hotel de Ville to study the work of the Symbolist painters, such as Puvis de Chavannes. Her acclaimed work brought her many commissions including producing large murals for the churches of Notre-Dame du Salut and Saint Esprit. In 1937 she was awarded the gold medal at the Exposition Internationale and a year later was given the Légion d’Honneur.

Mendiante avec enfant – Misère (Begging with child – Misery) by Elisabeth Chaplin

Elisabeth Chaplin died in Florence in 1982, aged 91. Most of her work including her family portraits, plus some plaster figures created by her poet and sculptor mother, Marguerite de Bavier-Chaffour, were donated to the Pitti Palace and have been on display there since 1974 in a room devoted entirely to her work.  More than six hundred other works are in storage at the Palace.

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The Tretyakov Portraits. Part 4

The portraiture of Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy

Russian Stamp from 2012 celebrating 175th anniversary of Kramskoy’s birth

My third look at portraiture exhibited at the Tretyakov Gallery features the work of Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy, the artist who was born into an impoverished lower middle social class family on June 8th 1837 in the village of Novaya Sotnya, near Ostrogozhsk, a town in south-west Russia. He was the third son of a town council clerk of the municipal duma. He attended the local school but, at the age of twelve, when is father died, he was unable to continue his education. During these early years Ivan showed a great interest in and a talent for drawing but lacked the support of family and friends to follow his dream of becoming an artist. Help finally came his way when he was employed by a visiting photographer who employed him to work as a colour correction artist. In October 1853, aged sixteen, Ivan left his native village and after much travelling arrived in St Petersburg.

Portrait of the Photographer Andrey Denier by Ivan Kramskoy (1883).                      The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Having already worked for a photographer back home he found a job with a well-known St Petersburg photographer, Andrey Denier. Ivan gained many friends whilst living in the city and many were amazed at the quality of his artwork and persuaded him to study art. In the Autumn of 1857, aged twenty, Ivan Kramskoy enrolled at the St Petersburg Academy of Arts.

The St Petersburg Academy had, like most European Academies of art, a fixed way of teaching and pushed the long-established practice of depictions focusing on the Neoclassical tradition, as suitable subjects. However, many of the young aspiring painters were not interested in old fashioned historical and mythological subjects preferring to dwell on works of art, the depictions of which embraced social realism. The students were also critical of the social environment that caused the conditions which were depicted in their social realism paintings. It came to a head in 1863 when fourteen young artists, all studying at the St. Petersburg Academy of Art, rebelled against the choice of topic for the annual Gold Medal competition, “The Entrance of Odin into Valhalla”. Instead, the fourteen wanted to depict in their paintings the reality of contemporary Russian life, a Realist style similar to what had emerged in the art world in  19th century Europe and in protest, had refused to take part in the competition. The rebel students asked to be allowed to choose their own subjects but the Academy Council turned down their request, and so they left the Academy. It was such a sensitive issue with political connotations that the rebel artists were put under secret surveillance and the press was forbidden to mention them.

Ivan Kramskoi, who had already spent six years at the Academy, led this “group of fourteen” rebels. The protest was not just about what they had to paint but in the unjust conservatism of Russian society and the desire for democratic reforms which he believed could be furthered if artists developed a political responsibility through their art. His views were anathema to the Academy hierarchy and he soon became a figurehead for an increasing number of disillusioned artists who believed in his artistic and political philosophy.

Artel of Artists (1863-1864) (l-r) Venig, Zhuravlev, Morozov, Lemokh, Kramskoi, Litovchenko, Makovsky, Dmitriev-Orenburgsky, Petrov, Kreitan, Peskov, Shustov, Korzukhin, Grigoryev

The revolt of the fourteen, as it was termed, led to the formation of the Artel of Artists which was a cooperative association (artel). It was formed and organised by the art students who had been expelled from the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. because of the “revolt of fourteen”. Ivan Kramskoy and four other artists set up home and a workshop in an apartment in the apartment house of Gudkov on Vasilievsky Island.  It was here that they formed a kind of commune with the common workshop. Almost every evening young people gathered in Kramskoi’s apartment.

The Peredvizhniki (1885)  Ivan Kramskoy (back row, 5th from the left)

In 1870, seven years after the establishment of the Artel for Artists, the group under the leadership of Kramskoy formed the Peredvizhniki (Передви́жники, mobile workers), often called The Wanderers or The Itinerants. This group of Russian realist artists formed an artists’ cooperative in protest of academic restrictions. They formulated plans to hold a series of “Itinerant Art Exhibitions” in provincial locations which could be funded without State assistance allowing them to choose what was being exhibited without State interference. It was also a chance for them to preach political reform. They decided that the subject of their paintings should showcase the achievements of Russian art to the common man and woman. They hoped to foster public understanding of art and at the same time develop new markets for the artists. The first of Peredvizhniki’s “Itinerant Art Exhibitions” was held in 1871, in Nizhny Novgorod and from then on, the group organized a series of shows across Russia. Running besides the exhibition of their paintings were artists’ lectures and talks on social and political reform.

Fedor Vasilev by Ivan Kramskoy (1871)

Surprisingly, the St Petersburg Academy initially welcomed the Peredvizhniki and even allowed them to host their first exhibition 0n November 29th, 1871. In all there were forty-seven paintings exhibited which received favourable reviews from the art critics. Ten of the paintings were portraits establishing the role of portraiture within the group. Kramskoi put forward three portraits of fellow artists, one of which was a monochromatic one depicting Fedor Vasilev.  Vasilev was a Russian landscape painter who brought to the Russian art scene the term “lyrical landscape”. Lyrical landscapes were those which exhibit a certain spiritual or emotional quality. It could be that the depiction is of a sensitive and expressive nature. It could also be that the landscape, as well as depicting a picturesque view, conveys a particularly reflective, ardent or tender feeling, conceivably associated with romanticism. Vasilev was one of the twenty founder members of the Peredvizhniki Association in 1870. In 1871, aged just twenty-one, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and so left St. Petersburg and travelled to Crimea, where he had hoped to find a cure for his illness. The plight of Fedor Vasilev touched the heart of many of his friends and contemporary artists. Kramskoy regularly contacted his friends asking them to help the ailing artist. The Society for Promotion of Artists sponsored his stay in the Crimea, but to meet his living costs he had to sell his paintings. He died in Yalta on October 6th, 1873 at the age of 23. A posthumous exhibition was held in Saint Petersburg and was an outstanding success with all his paintings being sold prior to the start of exhibition. Kramskoy’s portrait of Vassily avoided a mawkish depiction of a dying young man. Instead he depicts the young artist as a dapper young professional with an aura of dignity and professionalism wearing his attractively tailored three-piece suit and fob watch. Feodor Vassily reputation as a “boy genius” was well founded.

Christ in the Wilderness by Ivan Kramskoy (1872)

My next offering, in a way, is not actually a portrait, per se, but it is one of my favourite paintings by Kramskoy which hangs in the Tretyakov Gallery. It is entitled Christ in the Wilderness and was completed in 1872.  It was first shown in 1872 at the Peredvizhniki exhibitions in St. Petersburg and later in many cities throughout the country.  The haunting depiction is radical and, some may say, shocking.  Kramskoy offers us an image of Christ that is very different from the usual sterile submissions of the past. In his depiction of the temptation of Jesus we can see his unbending realism. Jesus is seated on a boulder in a barren and dry wilderness. He is hunched over and has a dishevelled appearance.  It depicts Christ sitting in a state of profound dejection and indecision, hands clasped due to tension not prayer. We see the suffering of Jesus as he endures life in the barren arid wilderness. He has his back to the rising sun as he sits hunched forward on a boulder. Mentally he looks anxious. Maybe he is contemplating the forty-day exile and whether he should or is able to continue despite all the temptations. Physically, he looks dishevelled. He looks tired and his face is gaunt and there can be no doubt that he is suffering. We can empathize with his hunger and thirst and through Kramskoy’s realist depiction we are able to sense Jesus’ loneliness during this period of haunting isolation. Leo Tolstoy described it as the best Christ he had ever seen.

Actor Alexander Lensky Pavlovich as Petruchio in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew by Ivan Kramskoy (1883)

The plays of William Shakespeare were very popular in Russia in the nineteenth-century with the first edition of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare being published in the 1860’s. The Russian actor who was most famous for his portrayal of the Shakespearean characters was Alexander Lensky who often appeared on the stage of the Maly Theatre in Moscow which had opened in 1806. The theatre would often not appoint a director for the plays giving the position to one of the main actors. Lensky would often assume the role of main actor and director. Kramskoy and Lensky became good friends and in 1883 the artist gave the actor some painting lessons. Maybe it was the number of hours spent teaching Lensky that gave Kramskoy the chance to study him at close quarters. In his portrait entitled The Actor Alexander Lensky as Petruchio in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew we see the actor in the costume of Petruchio, with his leather gauntlet, heavy jewelled chain and white ruff, so arranged to form tiers of differing textures. Against this, we have the tousled hair and downcast eyes of the actor who is immersing himself in his theatrical role.

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Ivan Kramskoy (1873)

Fourteen years before Pavel Tretyakov commissioned Ilya Repin to paint portraits of Leo Tolstoy, he had approached Ivan Kramskoy with the same task once he realised that Kramskoy lived near Leo Tolstoy. Whether Tretyakov told Kramskoy that he had approached Tolstoy requesting him to be a sitter for a portrait on several occasions only to be refused, we will never know, but he did add that Kramskoy should use all his charm to persuade Tolstoy to acquiesce. Tolstoy did agree and artist and writer ended up becoming great friends. Tolstoy was working on his novel Anna Karenina at the same time Kramskoi was at the writer’s home painting his portrait. It is believed that Tolstoy ended up creating the character of Mikhailov, a Russian artist who paints Anna’s portrait in his book, and was based on Kramskoi’s personality. Kramskoy’s portrait is a dark and sombre depiction of the great man but one which Tretyakov liked and paid Kramskoy 5oo roubles for it in 1874.

The final portrait by Kramskoy, belonging to the Tretyakov Gallery, which I am going to show you, is one surrounded in mystery as to who is the beautiful sitter for the painting. The unknown female is seen leaning back on the leather seat. She is exquisitely and sophisticatedly dressed. She wears a dark blue velvet fur coat which is trimmed with silver fur and decorated with satin ribbons. She has an elegant hairstyle which is almost hidden by a stylish hat with a white ostrich feather. Her right hand is concealed inside a furry clutch whilst the other hand can be seen covered by a dark kid glove. On her wrist we can see her lustrous gold bracelet. This majestic beauty is composed and looks down upon us with a somewhat haughty expression. She is very aware of the power her beauty commands. The architectural landscape in the background occupies an important place in the painting, with its pink/brown colouring. It is the blurry outlines of the Anichkov Palace that we glimpse as it emerges out of the fog.

Unknown by Ivan Kramskoy (1883)

The 1883 work by Kramskoy is simply entitled Unknown. In all the papers and notes left by Kramskoy nothing sheds light as to the identity of the beautiful woman. The Kramskoy portrait appeared at the eleventh exhibition of the Peredvizhniki’s Association Itinerant Art Exhibitions in November 1883. Viewers were mystified by who the model was for this work. Speculation came fast and furiously that it could have been a member of minor royalty or an actress but Kramskoy would not reveal the model’s name. Could she just be Kramskoy’s idea of the fictional heroine in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina or Dostoevsky’s female character Nastasya Filippovna, in his novel Idiot.  Another possible answer to the identity of the woman comes from a book written by Ilya Repin. In 1916 Repin worked on his book of reminiscences entitled Far and Near, with the assistance of Korney Chukovsky and in the book Repin tells of an incident which occurred in the workshop of the Artel of Artists group. He wrote:

“…One morning, on Sunday, I came to Kramskoy … From a troika-sleigh that arrived, a group of artel artists-artists with cold frost on fur coats fell into the house with a beautiful woman. I was just dumbfounded by this wondrous face, the height and all proportions of the black-eyed… In the general turmoil, chairs quickly boomed, easels moved, and the general hall quickly turned into a study class. They set the beauty on an elevation … I began to stare at the back of the artists … Finally, I got to Kramskoy. Here it is! That’s her! He was not afraid of the correct proportion of eyes with a face, she has small eyes, Tatar, but how many shine! And the end of the nose with nostrils is wider between the eyes, just like hers, and what a beauty! All this warmth, charm came only from him…”.

Dis Kramskoy remember that incident and make the lady the subject of his Unknown painting ?   We will never know.

Portrait of the Doctor Karl Rauchfus by Ivan Kramskoy (1887).                                                   The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Ivan Kramskoy died at work 0n April 6th 1887 in St. Petersburg while standing at his easel. He was painting the Portrait of Doctor Rauchfus, which remained unfinished.  He was forty-nine years of age.

In my final blog regarding the Tretyakov Gallery’s paintings I will talk about my favourite works housed by the Moscow institution, other than the portraits which I have looked at in the previous blogs.

The Tretyakov Portraits. Part 3.

The portraiture of Valentin Serov.

Valentin Serov

In today’s blog I want to look at another artist who has many of his works of art featured in the Tretyakov Gallery, including a number of portraits. Let me introduce you to Valentin Alexandrovich Serov who was a Russian painter, and one of the leading portrait artists of his era.

Self portrait by Valentin Serov (1887)

Valentin Alexandrovich Serov was born in St Petersburg in 1865 and was to become one of the foremost portrait artists of his time. He was the only-child of Alexander Nikolayevich Serov and his wife, Valentina Serova née Bergman. His father Alexander was a Russian composer and one of the most important music critics in Russia during the 1850s and 1860s.

Valentina Serova by Ilya Repin (1878)

His mother, Valentina had studied for a short time at the St. Petersburg Conservatory with Anton Rubinstein but left to study with Alexander Serov whom she married in 1863. Valentin Serov was brought up in a musical and artistic household. At the age of six his father died from a heart attack and his mother sent him to live with a friend in a commune in Smolensk province and later he accompanied his mother on her travels throughout Europe as she sought to further her musical career. In 1874 mother and son arrived in Paris where they met Ilya Repin who took the nine-year-old Valentin under his wing and gave him daily drawing lessons. In 1880 Repin arranged for Valentin to attend and study art for five years at the St Petersburg Academy of Arts under Pavel Chistyakov. Serov was very interested in the Realism genre of art and was greatly influenced by what he saw in the major galleries and museums of his home country and those of Western Europe.

Portrait of Savva Mamontov, 1887 by Valentin Serov. (Private collection)

In 1874, Repin introduced Valentin Serov and his mother  to Savva Mamontov the railroad tycoon and entrepreneur, philanthropist, and founder and creative director of the Moscow Private Opera. Mamontov was best known for supporting a revival of traditional Russian arts at an artists’ colony he led at Abramtsevo. On returning to Moscow from Paris, he and his mother were invited by Savva Mamontov to settle at Abramtsevo, an estate located north of Moscow, on the Vorya River. This estate had become a centre for the Slavophile Movement, an intellectual movement originating from the 19th century that wanted the Russian Empire to be developed upon values and institutions derived from its early history.

Abramtsevo, 1880 painting by Ilya Repin

Abramtsevo was originally owned by the Russian author Sergei Akaskov. On his death the property was purchased by the wealthy railroad tycoon and patron of the arts, Savva Mamontov. Through his efforts, Abramtsevo became a centre for Russian folk art and during the 1870’s and 1880’s the estate was to be home for many artists who tried to reignite the interest, through their paintings, in medieval Russian art. Workshops were set up on the estate and production of furniture, ceramics and silks, ablaze with traditional Russian imagery and themes, were produced. It was during his time here that Serov came into contact with the cream of Russia’s artistic and cultural talent.

Girl with Peaches. Portrait of V.S.Mamontova by Valentin Serov (1887 )

Portraiture can come in a number of forms. Portraits can look official, stiff with a muted background so as not to detract from the aura of the sitter or they can be gentler and loving, often depicting family members. To start with let me show some of Serov’s more “natural” portraiture. One of my favourite works by Serov, and probably his best known, is his 1887 work entitled Girl with Peaches. Portrait of V.S. Mamontova which is housed in the Tretyakov Gallery. It was during his time at the Abramtsevo Colony, that Valentin Serov met and painted the portrait of Vera Mamontov, the twelve-year-old daughter of Savva Mamontov. Some believe that this work launched Russian Impressionism. Serov exhibited this painting at the Academy of Fine Arts, St Petersburg and received great acclaim and it is now looked upon as one of his greatest works. The painting which hangs in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow is a more relaxed study and is breathtakingly beautiful. In the centre of the painting, we see depicted a portrait image of Savva’s Mamontov’s eldest daughter Vera. Serov was fascinated by the young girl who he looked upon as the little “Muse” of the Abramtsevo circle. The painting is a mixture of portraiture, fragments of interior, landscape, still-life which Serov combined in this beautiful work. The light shines through the window behind the girl and she is depicted using warm tones, which contrast with the cold grey tones of the space around her. The black eyes of the girl look out at us, thoughtful but slightly impatient at the length of time she had to pose for Serov and the number of sittings she had to endure. Valentin Serov knew Vera Mamontova from when she was born as he was a regular visitor to Mamontov’s Abramtsevo estate, and on a number of occasions he would live there for long periods. Serov would later recall painting this picture:

“…All I wanted was freshness, that special freshness that you can always feel in real life and don’t see in paintings. I painted it for over a month and tortured her, poor child, to death, because I wanted to preserve the freshness in the finished painting, as you can see in old works by great masters…”

Portrait of Emperor Nicholas II by Valentin Serov (1900 )

During the 1880’s Serov travelled abroad and came into contact with French Impressionism and the Impressionist painters such as Degas. Due to his family background and the popularity of his paintings, Serov never struggled financially. He was the foremost portraiture artist of his time and his subjects included Emperor Nicholas II.

Watercolour Portrait of Artist Ilya Repin by Valentin Serov (1901)

In 1887, after knowing each other for many years, Valentin Serov married Olga Feerovna Trubnikova and one of the witnesses at the wedding was Ilya Repin. Serov completed a watercolour portrait of his friend and one-time mentor Repin in 1901. It is now to be seen at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

Olga Feerovna Trubnikova

Olga was a quiet lady and was once described as a petit, pleasant blonde with beautiful eyes, simple and very modest. She was the ideal wife for Serov. She was supportive, a sympathetic listener who and would listen to her husband’s grand plans for his artistic future. In a letter to his wife dated May 1887 he talked about his love of the Impressionist’s lifestyle writing:

“…I want to be just as carefree. At present they all paint heavily without joy. I want joy and will paint joyfully…”

Olga Trubnikova by the Window by Valentin Serov (1886)

Olga Serova featured in many of his paintings. One example of this is his 1886 work entitled By the Window. Portrait of Olga Trubnikova.

In Summer (also known as Portrait of O. F. Serova) by Valentin Serov (1895)

Serov completed another more famous portrait of his wife in 1895 entitled In Summer. In this work we see Olga in the foreground and in the background one can see Olga and Yuri, two of their children, playing in a field in the village of Domotkanovo, at the country estate of Serov’s former schoolfriend and fellow Academy of Arts student, the watercolourist, Vladamir Derviz. Derviz had bought the estate with his inheritance from his father, a St. Petersburg senator. Serov often stayed on the estate as, for him, it was a welcome relief to get away from the large city of Moscow and the professional networking he had to endure to secure commissions. It is a modest depiction of great charm. It is a plein air painting which really captures the qualities of the light. The painting is full of silver-greys and muted green, blue and white colours. Olga’s dress is a mixture of pale pink, a hint of gold and blueish lilac colours.

Girl in the Sunlight (Portrait of M. Simonovich), 1888 by Valentin Serov.

Another of Serov’s female portraits was of his cousin, Maria Simonovich, entitled Girl in the Sunlight which he completed in 1888. His cousin remembered the long plein air sittings for the painting, writing:

“…He was looking for new ways to transfer to the canvas infinitely varied play of light and shade while retaining the freshness of colours. Yes, I sat there for three months, and almost without a break…”

Portrait of Nadezhda Derviz and Her Child by Valentin Serov (1889)

During one of his stays at the Domotkanovo estate of Vladamir Derviz, Serov completed a portrait of his host’s wife, Nadezhda with her young child. Nadezhda was Serov’s cousin. The painting entitled Nadezhda Dervi with Her Child is dated 1888-1889 but is unfinished. It was experimentally painted on an iron roofing-sheet, presumably purchased for the replacement of the old wooden lath roof of the Domotkanovo house with a new one. Serov initially started painting this portrait in 1887 when baby Maria was a breastfed baby and Serov continued with the painting a year later when baby Maria had become too big.

Portrait of Ivan Morozov, 1910 by Valentin Serov

Art needs artists. Artists need commissions. Commissions come from wealthy patronage. In the late nineteenth-century many of the Russian patrons were wealthy industrialists. A prime example of this was the Morozov family. Savva Vasilyevich Morozov was the eighteenth-century entrepreneur, who founded the Morozov dynasty of entrepreneurs. Two of the descendants from this ultra-wealthy family were the brothers,  Ivan and Mikhail Morozov, both art collectors and patrons of the art. Ivan, a major collector of avant-garde French art, was known for his patronage of both the theatre and visual arts and was a painter himself. Ivan Morozov had a passion for paintings by Matisse and in Serov’s 1910 portrait of Ivan Morozov we can see Matisse’s 1910 painting, Fruit and Bronze which the industrialist had acquired that year.

Portrait of Mikhail Abramovich Morozov by Valentin Serov (1902)

Ivan’s brother Mikhail was also featured in a Serov portrait. Mikhail like Ivan was a wealth patron of the arts as well as being an avid collector of works by Van Gogh, Gaugin, Degas and Renoir. Serov’s portrait of Mikhail is a much sterner depiction. He stares out at us with a stern gaze which is somewhat unsettling. In the early 1900s Mikhail had built up a collection of eighty-three paintings by Russian and West European artists. The highlight of his collection were works by Maurice Denis, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Vincent Van Gogh. It was Mikhail who brought these artists to the attention of his brother Ivan and another art collector by the name of Sergei Shchukin. Mikhail sadly died in 1903, and sixty paintings from his collection were bequeathed to the Tretyakov Gallery.

Mika Morozov, 1901 by Valentin Serov.

In complete contrast to this disconcerting portrait of Mikhail, that same year Serov painted a wonderful portrait of Mikhail’s son, Mika. It all came about when Serov and Mikhail Morozov were sitting talking when Mika bounded into the room, full of energy, full of life. Mika’s childish innocence amazed Serov and he agreed to carry out a portrait of the young boy. Serov’s problem with carrying out such a portrait was how to get the child to sit still. Serov’s solution to this problem was to start telling Mika Russian fairy tales and Mika listened with his eyes wide-open and that is what we see in this poignant portrait by Serov. In return to hearing the stories, Mika also retold the tales back to Serov, which he had heard from his nanny and so with the story telling continuing, the portrait was completed.

Portrait of Henrietta Girshman by Valentin Serov (1904)

My final set of portraits completed by Valentin Serov features Henrietta Leopoldovna Girshman, a lady who was once referred to as the most beautiful woman in Russia. From 1904 Serov’s favourite model was Henrietta Leopoldovna Girshman. She was the hostess of a famous Moscow salon as well as being the wife of the prominent industrialist, art collector and patron of arts, Vladimir Girshman. Strikingly beautiful, Henrietta inspired several well-known Russian artists to paint her portrait. Serov’s 1904 gouache on cardboard Portrait of Henrietta features the subject sitting with its flowing lines associated with the modernist style. Yet Serov was not satisfied with this drawing and attempted to destroy it.

Portrait of Henrietta Girshman by Valentin Serov (1906)

Valentin Serov’s 1906 portrait of her in her boudoir hangs at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Henrietta stares confidently out at us in the knowledge that she has attained her status as the influential centre of Russian culture. Serov mimics Velazquez’s “Las Meninas” with his image appearing in the reflection of himself at the right side of the mirror.

Henrietta Girshman and her husband, Vladimir nurtured cultural exchanges and initiatives by organizing art-oriented programs and meetings and by founding the Society of Free Esthetics in 1907. They often opened their home for recitals, poetry readings and theatrical improvisations and welcomed such friends as Valentin Serov, Sergei Diaghilev, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Maxim Gorky.

Portrait of Henrietta Girshman by Valentin Serov (1911)

Of all the paintings featuring Henrietta, Serov’s favourite was his final portrait of her, an oval, which he completed in 1911.  The 1917 Russian Revolution forced the Girshmans into exile. Their house was confiscated and its contents and their art collection were nationalized. They eventually settled in Paris, and Henrietta revived her salon albeit on a much smaller scale.

Serov taught in the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture from 1897 to 1909. He died in Moscow on December 5th 1911, from a form of angina that eventually led to cardiac arrest and heart failure due to severe complications. He was just forty-six years old. He was buried at the Donskoye Cemetery and later his remains exhumed and reburied at the Novodevichy Cemetery. A retrospective of his work was held at the Tretyakov Gallery in 2016 and it attracted record crowds.

The Tretyakov Portraits. – Part 2

The portraiture of Ilya Repin

Self portrait by Ilya Repin (1878)

This is my first blog in a series which looks at Russian portraiture on display at the Tretyakov Gallery. As I wrote in my previous blog about the art gallery, the founder Pavel Tretyakov had wanted to have a large collection of portraits of famous Russians in his gallery. The first Russian artist I am featuring, who has paintings in Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery, is Ilya Repin.
Ilya Yefimovich Repin was born in the southern Russian (now Chuhuiv, Eastern Ukraine) town of Chuguyev close to the Georgian border on July 24th, 1844. He was the fourth of six children of Efim Vasilievich Repin and his wife Tatyana Stepanovna Repina. His parents were a family of military settlers. Military Settlements in those days were places at which there was a combination of military service and agricultural employment. His father traded horses and his grandmother ran an inn. From the age of ten, Ilya studied at the Chuhuiv School of Military Topography and in 1857, Ilya studied art as an apprentice with the local icon painter, Ivan Bunakov. During his apprenticeship he would help paint icons and frescoes for the local churches. Throughout his life religious representations remained of great importance to him.

Portrait of A.S. Bocharova, the Artist’s Aunt by Ilya Repin (1859)

Even at the early age of fifteen, Repin demonstrated a rare talent for painting portraits which can be seen in his 1859 painting of his maternal aunt, Agrafena Stepanovna Bocharova, entitled Portrait of A.S. Bocharova, the Artist’s Aunt.

In 1863, at the age of nineteen, Repin moved to St Petersburg and enrolled for a one-year course at the School of Drawing of the Society for the Encouragement of Artists, a school which was created by a decree of Tsar Nicholas I in 1839 and was a preparatory school for the St. Petersburg Art Academy. Here he studied under the portrait painter Rudolf Zukowski and the Realist painter, Ivan Kramskoi, an intellectual leader of the Russian democratic art movement in 1860-1880.

It was whilst at that artistic establishment that the Rebellion of the Fourteen took place in September 1863. The rebellion consisted of fourteen young artists who left the Academy in protest against its rigid neoclassical dicta and who refused to use mythological subjects for their diploma works. The rebel artists insisted that art should be close to real life and they formed the Society of the Peredvizhniki to promote their own aesthetic ideals. In order to reach the widest audience possible, the society organized regular travelling exhibitions throughout the Russian Empire.

Portrait of V. E. Repin, the Artist’s Brother by Ilya Repin (1867)

In 1864, Repin, having completed his preparatory year, was accepted at the Imperial Academy of Arts. Repin completed another portrait of a family member in 1867. It was a painting featuring his younger brother, Vasily Efimovich Repin.

Later, Repin would be become a close friend and associate with some of rebel artists of the Society of the Peredvizhniki and fifteen years on after returning from Europe he would join the group. But for the time Repin remained at the Academy and in 1871 won the prestigious Major Gold Medal award and received a scholarship to study abroad.

Portrait of Vera Shevtsova by Ilya Repin (1869)

In 1872 Repin married Vera Alekseevna Shevtsova and in 1873 they travelled to Paris where Repin exhibited work at the Salon. The marriage lasted ten years but ended in divorce in 1884, on the grounds of Repin’s infidelity.

Turgenev, by Ilya Repin, 1874

In 1874 whilst living in Paris Repin was contacted by Pavel Tretyakov who offered him a commission to paint a portrait of Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev, a popular Russian novelist, short story writer, poet, and playwright who at the time was also living in the French capital. Turgenev was at the time the undisputed figurehead of the Russian artistic community in France. Repin was delighted and proud to be asked to paint the portrait of such a famous and influential man and Turgenev in turn held Repin in high regard as can be seen in a letter he wrote to the writer and art critic, Vladamir Stasov in November 1871, praising the talent of Repin:

“…I was delighted to learn that the young man [Repin] is moving ahead so vigorously and rapidly. He has great talent and unquestionably the temperament of a painter, which is most important of all…”

Portrait of the Author Ivan Turgenev by Vasily Perov (1872)

Pavel Tretyakov planned to fill his museum with portraits of the “great and the good” of Russia and a portrait of Turgenev was a prime example of what he wanted. Vasily Perov, another Russian portrait artist, had already completed a portrait of Turgenev in 1872 but Tretyakov was unimpressed by it and so had approached Repin, who by this time had established a reputation as one of the most promising artists of his generation. Tretyakov was pleased with the Repin’s final portrait but Turgenev was less pleased with the result. Turgenev was a steadfast supporter of modern French painting which he considered should serve as a model for Russian artists. Repin disagreed and poured scorn on the French paintings Turgenev was buying. The portrait of Turgenev prompted such heated debate, with one side who believed Russian artists should follow the Western style of painting whilst the opposing view was one which believed Russian artists and their art should follow their own path. The extent to which Russian artists should look inward or outward for inspiration was becoming a highly controversial debate.

Portrait of Alexei Pisemsky by Ilya Repin (1880)

Alexei Pisemsky was a novelist and dramatist, who, in the late 1850’s was looked upon as an equal to Turgenev and Dostoyevsky and in the late 1850’s wrote two hard-hitting books, One Thosand Serfs and A Bitter Fate both of which were critical of the peasant/master relationship. Later in the 1870’s he wrote about the evils of Russia’s emergent capitalism but his later books were often ignored by the reading public. Despite his fall from grace Pavel Tretyakov wanted Pisemsky’s portrait in his Moscow gallery and commissioned Repin to complete the task. Repin’s 1880 portrait of the fifty-nine-year-old Pisemsky depicts him as an ageing man with pouchy eyes clutching a walking stick. His coat is rumpled and his bow-tie droops giving the impression that Pisemsky’s best days are well passed and yet he seems alert and looks at us with a fixed stare. Alexei Pisemsky died shortly after the portrait had been completed.

Ilya Repin’s celebrated portrait of Mussorgsky, painted 2–5 March 1881, only a few days before the composer’s death.

One of Repin’s most moving and beautiful portraits was of the Russian composer, Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky. He was, as well as working as a civil servant, a giant of Russian music and was therefore an ideal subject for one of Pavel Tretyakov’s paintings. Although a genius, Mussorgsky had one great failing; he was an alcoholic.  Mussorgsky’s decline in health became increasingly steep and he was increasingly unable to resist drinking. He was aware of the dangers of alcoholism and despite a succession of deaths among his closest associates which caused him great pain, he was unable to abstain. The decline could not be halted, and in 1880 he was finally dismissed from government service and through help from friends, managed to stave off destitution.

In early 1881 Mussorgsky suffered four seizures in rapid succession and was hospitalized. It was at this time that Tretyakov commissioned Repin to paint Mussorgsky’s portrait. Repin started the work on March 2nd 1881 in the ward of the Nikolaevsky Mlitary Hospital. It was the day after Emperor Alexander II was assassinated by, Ignacy Hryniewiecki, a young member of the Narodnaya Volya, a radical political organisation. Repin wrote about working on Mussorgsky’s portrait in the hospital ward:

“…When I painted M.P.’s [Mussorgsky’s] portrait in the Nikolaevsky Hospital, a terrible event had just occurred: the death of Alexander II; and during the breaks between sittings we read a mass of newspapers, all on one and the same terrible topic……[Mussorgsky] lived under a strict regime of sobriety and was in a particular fine sober mood….But as always, alcoholics are gnawed by the worm of Backus; and M.P. was already dreaming of rewarding himself for his long patience. Despite strict orders forbidding cognac…..an attendant obtained a full bottle of cognac for M.P.’s birthday…. My last session was planned for the next day. But when I arrived at the appointed hour, I did not find M.P. among the living…”

Mussorgsky died a week after his 42nd birthday. This beautiful portrait depicts the composer wearing a dressing gown. The striking burgundy decorative flap frames the florid features of this once-great man. We catch a glimpse of his highly decorative shirt between the folds of the dressing gown. His expression is one of rebelliousness but with a hint of feared inevitability. His eyes are turned away from us maybe in embarrassment at his parlous state. His hair and beard are unkempt. It is an uncompromising portrait but ever so poignant. Repin refused to keep the commission fee that Tretyakov gave him for the portrait and donated it to a memorial for the composer. Pavel Tretyakov was delighted with the finished work as he recognised it as one of the most passionate and emotional deathbed portraits of all time.

Portrait of Art Critic Vladimir Stasov by Ilya Repin (1873)

With Pavel Tretyakov’s desire to build a collection of portraits of famous Russians for his gallery, it was inevitable that he would want a painting depicting the great writer Leo Tolstoy who had cemented his position as one of the greatest writers of the century with his 1869 historical novel, War and Peace and his 1877 novel Anna Karenina. Through an introduction by Vladamir Stasov, the art critic, Repin and Tolstoy met in Moscow in 1880. Vladamir Stasov pointed out to Tolstoy that Repin’s exalted reputation  in painting was the same as Tolstoy reputation in literature. By 1880, despite Tolstoy being a prominent writer he began to renounce his earlier works and decided to devote himself to religious and philosophical enquiry. He was in a state of “spiritual quest”, re-evaluating the values and his achievements of his earlier years. He took to wearing peasant clothes and renounced earthly pleasures. That first meeting of the two great men took place at Repin’s studio and Repin often visited Leo Tolstoy at his house in Khamovniki in Moscow. A number of portraits of Tolstoy were completed by various artists in the 1870’s but Ilya Repin’s worked on the great man’s portraits in August 1887 when he stayed with Tolstoy for eight days at his estate, Yasnaya Polyana at Tula, some 120 miles south of Moscow. In all, Repin produced twelve portraits, twenty-five drawings, eight sketches of Tolstoy and his family members, as well as seventeen illustrations to enhance Tolstoy’s works.

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy as a Ploughman on a Field by Ilya Repin (1887)

One of the portraits entitled The Ploughman. Leo Tolstoy ploughing, depicts the fifty-nine-year-old artist guiding a plough in bright sunlight. Repin remembered his time at Yasnaya Polyana and watching Tolstoy move around his estate, talking to the peasants. Repin recalled one hot day in August when Tolstoy was in the field ploughing for six hours without a break. Repin said that he had his sketchbook with him and kept sketching each time Tolstoy with his horse-driven plough passed by. Lithographic prints depicting Tolstoy the Ploughman followed and they were popular throughout the whole world.

Ilya Repin, Portrait Of Leo Tolstoy, 1887

In that same year, 1887, Repin completed a large portrait of Tolstoy sitting in a chair dressed in a black robe. On his knee is a book which Tolstoy has marked in two places as if to emphasise his passion for reading.

Baroness Varvara Ikskul von Hildebrandt by Ilya Repin (1889)

Another stunning portrait by Ilya Repin which hangs in the Tretyakov Gallery is entitled Portrait of Baroness Varvara Ikskul von Hildenbandt which he completed in 1889. It is a narrow oil on canvas work with unusual dimensions. It is 197cms tall and yet only 72cms wide and yet it skilfully depicts this beautiful slender woman. Baroness Varvara Ikskul von Hildenbandt was the wife of the Russian ambassador to Rome who hosted soirées at her home in Moscow during the 1880’s with eminent writers and artists as her guests, one of whom was Ilya Repin. She was the hostess of a noisy and motley literary salon, who herself used to write a lot in her youth. Pavel Tretyakov commissioned Repin to paint a portrait of the salonnière in 1889. On receiving this commission, Repin wrote to Tretyakov:

“…The Baroness is in rapture at the thought that her portrait will be in such a famous gallery……..She is an interesting model and poses like a statue…”

The almost life-size portrait is brought to life by Repin’s use of red and black. The artist has captured the detail of the lady’s attire with great skill, from the ruched skirt and tightly cinched blouse with its high-necked bow to the curious points and folds of the headdress. There is a concealment of flesh with just the hands and face bared and even the latter is partially veiled, partly concealing her eyes. Yes, the pose is quite static but one cannot deny it is a dynamic one. In 1917 following the Revolution, the baroness was forced to leave her mansion and flee to Finland and later Paris.

Ilya Yefimovich Repinwas was, without doubt, the most renowned Russian artist of the 19th century.  In this blog I have just concentrated on some of his portraiture which can be found at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow but he is probably best remembered for his realist paintings such as his 1873 work Barge Haulers on the Volga

https://mydailyartdisplay.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/barge-haulers-on-the-volga-by-ilya-repin/

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait of a Child by Chardin (1777)

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

Portrait of a Young Girl, by Chardin (1777)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self Portrait with Eyeshade by Chardin (1775)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Museo de Bellas Artes, Sevilla. Part 2 The Murillo Exhibition

Murillo Exhibition at Seville

……….when I arrived at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Seville I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a special exhibition on marking the 400th anniversary of Seville’s great painter Bartolomé Estaban Murillo.  It had opened in November 2018 and was still running. The city of Seville had been celebrating the 400th anniversary of his birth for the last twelve months and this exhibition, which ends in April, was the culmination of the celebrations.

Self-portrait by Murillo

Murillo came from a very large family, the youngest of fourteen children.  His father was both a barber and a surgeon.  His parents died when he was young and he went to live with a distant relative and artist, Juan del Castillo who started Murillo’s artistic education.  He stayed with Castillo until 1639 when his mentor had to move to Cadiz.  Now Murillo, aged twenty-two, had to fend for himself and scraped a living by selling some of his paintings.  In 1643 he travelled to Madrid where he met Velazquez who was also from Seville and had now become a master of his craft.  He took pity on Murillo and let him lodge in his house.  Murillo stayed in Madrid for two years before returning to Seville.  In 1648, at the age of thirty-one, Murillo married a wealthy lady of rank, Doña Beatriz de Cabrera y Sotomayor.   Murillo died in 1682 aged 64.  He lived a humble and pious life and was a brave man.  On his death he left a son and daughter, his wife having died before him.

The Seville exhibition was a collection of fifty-five paintings by Murillo from museum collections around the world. The exhibition was divided into nine sections each providing a glimpse of the world through Murillo’s eyes. The sections were designated as Holy Childhood, A family of Nazareth, Glory on Earth, The Immaculate Conception, Compassion, Penitence, Storyteller, Genre painting and Portraiture. It was a journey through his religious works to the social realism of 17th century Seville, which has been described as a city of paupers and saints, of rascals and wealthy noblemen and merchants who, through their wealth, were able to have Murillo paint their portraits.

The Good Shepherd by Murillo (1665)

In the first section, there was the Prado-owned painting entitled The Good Shepherd, which Murillo completed in 1665. The scene has a rural setting along with classical allusions in the form of archaeological ruins which we can see in the left background. Jesus is portrayed as the boy who exudes an air of determination as he holds his shepherd’s crook in one hand whilst his left-hand lies across the back of the animal. There is a certain gentleness about the scene and the sheep, seen with the boy, represents the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), which is talked about in the scriptures. The depiction of the lamb as being obedient and submissive is all part of the divine plan.

The Holy Family with the Infant St John by Murillo (c.1670)

One of Murillo’s paintings in the Family of Nazareth section was The Holy Family with Infant Saint John, which Murillo completed around 1670 and was loaned to the Seville gallery by Budapest Museum of Fine Arts. This was a pendant painting forming a pair with his work The Flight into Egypt, which was also on show. In the depiction, we see Saint Joseph, in the background, with his carpentry tools. In the foreground, we see the Christ Child and the young Saint John busily tying two sticks together to form a cross. Mary watches over the children as she busies herself sewing. A sense of depth has been added to the composition by the inclusion of a background of mountains and clouds.

The Holy Family (The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities) by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, (1675-1682)

In the third section, Glory on Earth we have the Murillo painting The Holy Family (The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities) which was loaned to the museum for this exhibition by London’s National Gallery. This work of art encapsulates the religious theory that Jesus is both God and man and thus belongs to both the Heavenly Trilogy of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit as well as belonging to the Earthly Trinity – the family from Nazareth as seen in the painting with Jesus’ closeness to his mother, the Virgin Mary and his father, her husband Saint Joseph.

The Annunciation by Murillo (c.1660)

Murillo completed many paintings featuring the Virgin Mary and many were on show at the exhibition. The Annunciation by Murillo, which he completed around 1660 and had been loaned out by the Prado, was a great example of this focus on the Mother of God.

The Virgin and the Rosary by Murillo (c.1680)

The Dulwich Gallery-owned work by Murillo entitled The Virgin and the Rosary was also on view. In this work we see the Virgin seated on a throne of clouds floating in the celestial sphere and unlike other versions of this work by the Seville painter, clouds and angels have now been added to become her throne and footstool.

Mater Dolorosa by Murillo (1670-1675)

One of my favourite pieces of religious art by Murillo, which was at the exhibition, was Mater Dolorosa an artwork, which was part of a private collection belonging to a Dutch family. Mater Dolorosa or Our Lady of Sorrows refers to the sorrows in the life of the Virgin Mary and is a key subject for what is termed Marian art in the Catholic Church. In 1939 when the painting was bought from the Amsterdam art dealership, de Boer, by a private Dutch buyer, there was some doubt as to whether this painting was by Murillo but the German art historian August Lieberman Mayer, who was one of the most prominent art historians of the early 20th century and the era’s leading specialist for 17th century Spanish painting, wrote to the new owner stating his belief that it had been painted by Murillo. In his letter dated July 12th, 1939, he wrote:

“…I deeply regret, that actually I cannot make a new edition of my book in „Klassiker der Kunst“, but I hope to publish another monography of Murillo in Spain“ The picture is, in my opinion, a very fine, well preserved, genuine and most characteristic work by B. Murillo, executed most probably about 1668, the period, I consider the best and most powerful of the master. I reserve me the right of the first publication of this important and impressive work..”

Despite Mayer’s opinion, many art scholars still question his attribution. August Mayer never did publish another work on the Spanish master. As a Jew, he was forced to leave his offices in Munich by the Nazis.   He then fled to Paris in 1936 but was later arrested and was deported to Auschwitz in 1944 where he died.

I am not a great lover of religious art, probably not due to the quality of the work but more to do with the subject matter. I was therefore very pleased that after seven rooms of religious painting the final two rooms were devoted to Murillo’s genre paintings and his portraiture.

A Peasant Boy leaning on a sill by Murillo (c.1675)

I especially liked Murillo’s painting A Peasant Boy Leaning on a Sill, which he completed around 1675.  When London’s National Gallery acquired this work in 1826, it was the first Spanish painting to enter the museum’s collection.   The National Gallery of London loaned this to the Museo de Bellas Artes for the Murillo exhibition. This striking depiction of a cheerful boy is related to Murillo’s depictions of street urchins in his larger canvases. We see the boy at a window, the implication being that there is a lot going on that we are not aware of and so we have to be satisfied with what we have before us. So what else is going on? What has been excluded from the depiction? What is the boy looking at?   Some would have us believe that this work had a companion piece painted by Murillo, which was to be hung to the right of this one which would allow us to see what the boy was looking at.

Young Girl Lifting her Veil by Murillo

That suggested pendant piece was Young Girl Lifting Her Veil, (which is privately owned and was not included at the Seville exhibition). However, many art historians cast doubt on the two paintings being pendant pieces but the fact is that they were painted around the same time, they are both half-length depictions and are of similar size.  I have included the Young Girl Lifting her Veil and let you decide whether the two paintings hung side by side on a wall would add to your belief that they were pendant pieces. Was this beautiful girl the subject of the boy’s gaze?  Some think that the boy’s demeanour has an air of mischief about it and his expression was not instilled with innocent sincerity, like that of the girl. I will leave you with one further clue. At the sale of the two works at the Peter Coxe London saleroom on March 20th, 1806 of paintings owned by the Marquess of Lansdowne, the catalogue described them as:

“…No.50. Murillo. A Laughing Boy – delicately treated in every part – one of those performances so rare to be met with, & in his best style of perfection.

No.51. Murillo. Portrait of a girl treated with the same tone of harmonious colouring, as the preceding Lot, to which it is a companion, in the same happy effect of management…” 

The two paintings were sold at the auction to separate buyers.

Four Figures on a Step by Murillo (1655-1660)

The most bizarre painting at the exhibition, and one I particularly like, is Four Figures on a Step, which is owned by the Kimbell Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas. At first sight, I thought somebody had defaced the painting by adding a pair of thick black spectacles to the woman on the right.

Before us, we have four very different characters. In the central background, we have a young woman. Her face is somewhat distorted into a smile, even a knowing wink, as she raises her scarf over her head. What is the significance of the gesture?   Art historians have hypothesised that it is a coquettish gesture whilst others say that that is reading too much into her manner stating that the depiction is a simple scene with a family scrutinising the goings-on in the street outside. However, the scene to many historians is to associate it with one of procurement. Procurement?  They would have us believe that the older women with the thick dark glasses, resembles the character of a Celestina, an aged prostitute, madam, and procuress, of Spanish literature. The old procuress,  Celestinacomes from the 1499 book La Celestina, which is considered to be one of the greatest works of all Spanish literature, a timeless story of love, morality, and tragedy by Fernando de Rojas. The Celestina is often represented as a crone wearing enormous glasses and a headscarf hence the belief that Murillo’s painting includes a procuress!   So, if she is procuring, is she offering the man the pleasures of the young woman? More conservative historians point to the fact that on the contrary to the Celestina idea, the mature woman also resembles the bespectacled characters in Dutch and Flemish genre paintings, which Murillo would have seen.

The possible “procuress” is seen cradling the head of a young boy whose bottom is exposed by his torn breeches. In less liberal times Murillo’s depiction of the bare bottom had offended the public and had been over-painted for reasons of regaining a modicum of modesty but the painting now, after restoration, is seen as Murillo intended.

So the question I leave you with is this depiction simply a portrayal of the colourful characters to be found in the streets of Seville, or does the painting carry a reproachful, message, urging the viewers to avoid enticements of worldly decadences?

Portrait of Juan de Saavedra by Murillo (1650)

In the final room of the exhibition, we have Murillo’s portraiture.  Murillo’s earliest dated portrait is a newly discovered canvas, which depicts Juan Arias de Saavedra y Ramírez de Arellano an aristocrat from Seville and one of Murillo’s patrons. The subject of the painting was a knight in the Order of Santiago as indicated by both the red cross on his left shoulder and the pendant with a scallop shell.  The portrait is shown as being in a stone frame, which includes the sitter’s coat of arms. Murillo often used this stone-frame device in his bust-length portraiture. Also in the painting are two putti each holding a tablet. The one held by the putti on the left records the age of the sitter as twenty-nine while the one on the right has the date on which the portrait was painted – 1650. Below the portrait, there is a lengthy Latin inscription which is about Saavedra. Saavedra, it states, was a senior minister of the Holy Inquisition and is described in the inscription as a “profound connoisseur of the liberal arts, and of painting in particular”. The inscription also includes a passage by Murillo, which offers convincing proof of the connection between the artist and the nobleman with Murillo admitting his gratitude and sincere regard for Saavedra.

Portrait of Josua van Belle by Murillo (1670)

My last offering for this blog is another work of portraiture by Murillo, which was loaned to the Seville museum by the National Gallery of Ireland.   The sitter is Josua van Belle. He was born in Rotterdam and became a Dutch shipping merchant who lived for a period in Cadiz and Seville, where this portrait was painted in 1670. Van Belle was a celebrated art collector and amongst his collection of paintings, was Johannes Vermeer’s Woman Writing a Letter, with her Maid, which also resides in the National Gallery of Ireland. This portrait is looked upon as one of Murillo’s finest.

The Museo de Bellas Artes’ exhibition was excellent, full of beautiful masterpieces by Murillo and you have until the last day of March to visit this Sevilla exhibition.