Thomas Cooper Gotch. Part 2.

Thomas Cooper Gotch

Sometime in 1878 their reading group, set up by Thomas Gotch, had a new member.  Her name was Caroline Burland Yates.  Caroline was one of three sisters born to Esther Burland and wealthy property owner, Edward Yates. The family was from the Liverpool area, later moving to Sway in Hampshire. Caroline was the youngest of the three daughters and educated by a governess.  Caroline attended finishing school in Switzerland where she became fluent in French.  She, like Thomas Gotch, had studied at the Heatherley School before arriving at the Slade.

A Golden Dream
A Golden Dream by Thomas Gotch

Thomas’ progress at the Slade was outstanding and he was the firm favourite of his principal lecturer, Alphonse Legros, the French-born painter who later took British citizenship.  During his first year at the Slade, Gotch produced many paintings and sketches which were sold at exhibitions in London.  One of Thomas Gotch’s closest friends at the Slade was fellow artistic aspirant, Henry Tuke. Through his friendship with Henry Tuke Thomas met other members of the Tuke family and became friendly with his sister Maria Tuke and medical student brother William Tuke.  Thomas was asked by William, and some of his fellow medics, to help form a group of art and medical students which would become a friendly debating society.  Thomas, who was extremely popular with the female students at Slade, and so, was asked to entice some “beautiful but well educated” young women into joining the society. 

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The Misses Santley by Henry Tuke

Many agreed to join, two of whom were the Santley sisters, Edith and Gertrude as well as Carrie Yates.  Thomas Gotch’s close friend, Henry Tuke, depicted these three in his famous work entitled The Misses Santley which was shown at the Royal Academy.  It shows the influence of Henry Tuke’s Slade professor, Alphonse Legros who encouraged his students to study the works of the Old Masters.  Frederic Leighton, then president of the Royal Academy, is reported to have said: “Can it be an old master? It could not be by a young man.”    The work depicts three women who were all fellow students of Thomas Gotch and Henry Tuke at the Slade.  The young woman on the right, holding a music score, is Edith Santley, the daughter of the famous baritone Charles Santley.  Next to her is her sister Gertrude, and in front left of the painting stands Carrie Yates, who would later marry Thomas Gotch.

Cornfields above Lamorna
Cornfields above Lamorna by Thomas Gotch

During the summer of 1879 Thomas Gotch and Harry Tuke went on a painting trip to Cornwall, visiting Penzance and Newlyn, where they were joined by Caroline Yates and her sister Esther.  The following summer Thomas Gotch and his sister Jessie spent part of the summer in the small North Wales coastal town of Beaumaris on the isle of Anglesey meeting up with Willie and Maria Tuke.  In October 1880 Thomas Gotch left England and arrived in Paris where he lodged at the Hotel d’Angleterre for a month whilst he negotiated his entrance to John Paul Laurens’ atelier.  In the meantime, in fact a month earlier, Carrie Yates along with two fellow art students, Jane Ross and Alma Broadridge had travelled to Paris and enrolled at the Académie Julian. 

Hilda and Margaret, daughters of Professor sir Edward Poulton
Hilda and Margaret, daughters of Professor Sir Edward Poulton by Thomas Gotch

Thomas Gotch was influenced by the historical works of Laurens as he was interested in figurative painting.  His other overwhelming interest was also Carrie Yates.  They had become remarkably close and she was teaching him French.  She was lodging at the Hotel de Paris and Thomas had an apartment on the top floor of a building at 17 rue de Tournon. Although it was a Bohemian establishment, the rooms were spacious.   Thomas and Carrie visited the artists’ colony at Barbizon.  The relationship between the two became ever stronger and before he returned to London to submit a painting for the Academy exhibition, he proposed marriage.

Death the Bride by Thomas Gotch (1912)

Thomas and Carrie travelled back to England in July 1881 and visited each other’s families to get the parental permission to marry.  Carrie had spent the summers of 1879 and 1880 in Newlyn and loved the place.  The couple decided that Newlyn in Cornwall should be the setting for their marriage and so they both travelled there and secured separate lodgings.  Twenty-six-year-old Thomas Cooper Gotch and twenty-seven-year-old Caroline Burland Yates married on August 31st 1881 at St. Peter’s church which was built in 1866 and nestles underneath Tol Carn, the ancient pile of rocks associated in Cornish legend with Bucca-boo, a male sea-spirit in Cornish folklore, a merman that inhabited mines and coastal communities as a hobgoblin during storms and who was said to steal the nets of fishermen.

A Cottage Interior, Newlyn
A Cottage Interior, Newlyn by Thomas Gotch

The newlyweds honeymooned at Mullion, a quiet village on the Lizard Peninsula in south Cornwall.  Once the honeymoon was over Carrie returned to London.  Prior to her wedding she had been sharing a house with her sister, Esther (Ess) and now she needed to take back to Newlyn her share of the furniture.  Meanwhile Thomas Gotch had begun painting scenes of Newlyn and became friends with three Birmingham painters, Walter Langley, Edwin Harris and William Wainwright.   Thomas Gotch and his depictions of Cornish life thrived and maybe it was marriage that buoyed his love of the area.

Portrait of Madame G by Thomas Gotch

In October 1881, Caroline and Thomas returned to Paris.  Thomas returned to the Laurens atelier and Carrie went back to Académie Julian where there was a separate atelier for women.  Thomas also engineered the acceptance at the Laurens atelier of his friend Harry Tuke.  That Christmas was spent in Paris but the couple returned to England in time for Easter 1882.   During that three-month period Thomas Gotch worked on a portrait of his wife, entitled Portrait of Madame G, which he presented and was accepted at the April 1st 1872 Salon.  This life-sized portrait of his wife depicts her dressed in a dark navy dress with gold and white cuffs and collar.   Thomas never put the painting up for sale and it adorned the walls of the houses they resided in.

Evening by Thomas Gotch

One of the reasons the couple returned to England that April was for Carrie to consult her doctor and have it confirmed that she was pregnant with her first child and to break the good news to their family members.  Their visit to England was only short but gave them time to employ a nurse for when the new baby arrived.  They all returned to France and rented a small property at Marchand de Bois, Brolles which was owned by a wood merchant.  It was a good-sized house for the young couple and access to half of a large garden.  Brolles was an idyllic spot situated in a very rural area and the nearby landscapes coupled with the fine summer weather allowed them to paint en plein air.  The young couple had domestic help with a young French maid, Marie, and Windsor, the English nurse who looked after Caroline during her pregnancy.

Phillis Marian Gotch was born in Brolles on September 6th 1882.  It is thought the name “Phyllis” came from the fact that Thomas’ first painting to be exhibited at the Royal Academy was entitled Phillis and the name “Marian” derived from a character of that name (a pseudonym for his wife), who was a character in his fictionalised novel A Long Engagement.

In late September Thomas and Carrie had to quickly return to England with nurse Windsor as she had told them that she could no longer put up with life in France and they needed to replace her.  They left Brolles leaving the maid Marie in charge of the house.  Their stay in London had to be quickly curtailed when Thomas and Carrie received a letter from their French landlord telling them that Marie and her friends were leading a riotous lifestyle in their house during their absence !

Winter Sketch, Provence, France
Winter Sketch, Provence, France by Thomas Gotch

Although the quiet picturesque landscape around the village of Brolles offered Thomas Gotch the ideal vistas for his paintings there was a problem in finding suitable models from within the village and eventually he and Carrie decided they must give up their rural idyll and return to the French capital where it would be easier to find models for his paintings.  So, in February 1883 the couple were once again living in Paris, Thomas returned to the Laurens atelier and Caroline to the Académie Julian.

Looe
Looe by Thomas Gotch

Life in France ended for Thomas and Carrie when she became ill with a serious lung infection.  The couple and their daughter returned to England where they received a second opinion from a London specialist.  He confirmed the diagnosis and Carrie was told she had to rest.   Their daughter Phillis was taken to Thomas’ parents who began to look after her along with the re-hiring of their first nanny, Windsor.  Thomas took Carrie to Newlyn that summer to give her a chance to recuperate whilst he continued to paint depictions of the Cornish fishing village.  Carrie’s breathing problems slowly lessened, probably due to the clean and fresh sea air of the Cornish coast and soon she was able to walk freely.  By the end of the summer Carrie had recovered her health and the couple returned to London where the specialist gave her a clean bill of health.

…………………………………to be continued.

Manchester Art Gallery. Part 2. The Pre-Raphaelites.

The Lantern-Maker's Courtship
The Lantern Maker’s Courtship by William Holman Hunt (c.1860)

The setting for the Lantern Maker’s Courtship by William Holman Hunt is a street somewhere in the Middle East.  We are outside a lantern maker’s shop.  A variety of lantern hang from hooks in the wall behind the young lantern-maker and his equipment lies on the bench next to him. Beneath the bench, a dog lies curled up asleep.  In the background we see a busy, narrow, with a man in a top hat and a blue jacket, riding a donkey away from us.  A servant quickly follows the man and donkey.  The man astride the donkey raises a whip at an oncoming local, who is leading a camel laden with goods, and the horrified local raises his arm to shield himself against the onslaught.  The main characters of this painting are the young lantern-maker dressed in a long red coat and green turban, perched on a bench outside his workshop.  Next to him stands a young girl dressed in a long blue gown and golden Turkish slippers. The lower part of her face is hidden by a black face mask.  It is a happy coming together of the young couple.  We see the smiling lantern maker reaching out to the girl.  One of his hands gently touches her wrist whilst the other is outstretched feeling her face beneath the black mask. It is as if he is blind and wants to use his sense of touch to give him the vision of her face.  Her face will be hidden from him until and if they become man and wife.  Their happiness at the meeting is plain to see.  He smiles broadly and her left foot curls up inside her slipper in a sign of ecstasy.  Despite the painting’s informality, Holman Hunt’s devotion to detail can be seen in his portrayal of the drape and puff of the fabric, the careful depiction of the eastern-style shoes and dress, as well as the minutiae of the lantern maker’s tools and the finished and half-finished lanterns hanging nearby. The painting is awash with bright colours and the rich blue and vibrant red that leap from the canvas are characteristic of Holman Hunt’s artwork.  By having this explosion of colour the street scene is magically brought to life.

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The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt, (1851-53)

Another painting by William Holman Hunt on display at the gallery is his allegorical work entitled The Light of the World.  It is thought that he started the work in 1850 but did not complete it until three years later.  The painting depicts a Biblical scene, based on a passage from St John’s Gospel:

“…I am the Light of the World; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life”.

Look at the way Hunt has depicted the door.  It is very old and overgrown by ivy and brambles and there is no handle to use to open it.  It was Hunt’s way of likening it to the problems of a closed mind.  There are many ideas put forward as to where he painted the work.  Some believe he painted it after dark in a hut on a Surrey farm; while others claim that his location was the Oxford University Press garden.  Hunt’s original painting, which he completed in 1853, resides in Keble College Oxford.  The one which can be seen at the Manchester Art Gallery is a smaller version of the original, which he worked on between 1851 and 1856.  There is a third version which Holman Hunt completed around 1904, when he was eighty-three years of age.  That version is to be found at St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

There is much symbolism within the painting which need considering and the St Paul’s Cathedral website offers their interpretation:

“…There are two lights shown in the picture. The lantern is the light of conscience and the light around the head of Christ is the light of salvation. The door represents the human soul, which cannot be opened from the outside. There is no handle on the door, and the rusty nails and hinges overgrown with ivy denote that the door has never been opened and that the figure of Christ is asking permission to enter. The morning star appears near Christ, the dawn of a new day, and the autumn weeds and fallen fruit represent the autumn of life. The writing beneath the picture, is taken from Revelation 3 .

“…Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with me…”

The orchard of apple trees evokes several biblical references. The tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden was, according to legend, an apple tree and in some Christian traditions the wood of that tree was miraculously saved to construct the cross on which Christ was crucified. The fallen apples could symbolise the fall of man, original sin, and sometimes in Italian art can refer to redemption…”

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Byron’s Dream by Ford Madox Brown (1874)

As you look at Ford Madox Brown’s painting, Byron’s Dream, you try and work out what is happening and this fascinates me and it is why narrative paintings are high on my list of favourite painting genres. So let us just consider what we see.   There is a young man and woman sitting on a hillside looking out over green fields and trees. The woman is dressed in a low cut, white blouse with lacy trim around the neck and cuffs and along with the blouse she wears a full length, red skirt.  In her right hand she holds the pink ribbon of her wide-brimmed hat. The man is dressed in breeches, with a white shirt finished with ruffles under a black jacket.  The woman stares out at a distant rider in the distance. The man, who is seated slightly behind her and hesitantly holding her hand, is not interested in what she is searching for but instead gazes lovingly at the woman’s face. Accompanying them on the hillside is a black and white dog which wears a wide gold collar.   If we look at the midground we can just make out the subject of her gaze – a man on horseback below them, riding along the path towards them. 

Mary Chaworth

The painting is not just a depiction of any man and any woman but as the painting’s title, Byron’s Dream, indicates, it is a depiction of Lord Byron and his girlfriend.  Not in reality but in Byron’s dream.  Ford Madox Brown had been a great lover of Byron’s poetry, especially his 1816 poem entitled The Dream.  The poem is described as conveying romantic beliefs about dreams.   It also describes the view from the Misk Hills, close to Byron’s ancestral home in Newstead, Nottinghamshire, which we see in the painting. 

Mary Chaworth, who was born at Annesley, not far from Mansfield, on the borders of Sherwood Forest, was a niece of Lord Byron.  She was also the first woman Byron fell in love with, when he met her during a vacation at Southwell in 1803.   They spent much time in one another’s company. The problem was he was yet a boy at fifteen, and she a woman at seventeen: The infatuation flowed entirely in one direction !!!  He wrote many poems for her, but Mary didn’t care for the “lame, bashful, boy lord” and instead married John “Jack” Musters in August, 1805. The couple went on to have seven children.  Mary separated from her husband on 10 April 1814 due to his infidelities and started writing to Byron. However, by that time, he was famous and was no longer interested in her. Mary is the “Maid” of the poem and it is she who is seen sitting with Byron in the painting. 

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The Hireling Shepherd by William Holman Hunt (1851)

The setting for William Holman Hunt’s painting, The Hireling Shepherd was in the Surrey countryside in Spring.  Hunt and fellow artist and good friend, John Everett Millais, had travelled to Ewell in Surrey where they searched together for locations for painting.  Eventually they discovered the ideal setting close to the River Hogswell.  Millais worked on his painting Ophelia whilst Hunt selected the meadows near the fields of Ewell Court Farm to paint The Hireling Shepherd.

At first glance this is simply a depiction of a rural idyll and innocent young love but there is more to this painting than meets the eye.  If we take Holman Hunt’s painting at face value, we see a ruddy-faced young shepherd kneeling on the ground.  His small barrel of ale or cider is strapped to his belt.  He reaches out wrapping his arm around the shoulders of a pretty young girl, dressed in peasant costume.  On her lap is a small lamb and some half-eten apples.   Although it is not known who the male was who modelled for Hunt, we do know that the red-headed girl was Emma Watkins, a local country girl who later travelled to London to model for Hunt so that he could complete the painting.  Her later efforts to become an independent model in the capital city failed and she had to return home.

Now look more closely at the depiction to find some of the things you may have missed at first glance.   In Hunt’s depiction, preferring to gain the attention of the young girl by showing her a death’s head hawkmoth he has captured, the shepherd has paid little attention to his flock of sheep who have crossed over a ditch and are now ensconced in a field next to an orchard. The sheep have been eating some of the fallen sour apples and are now becoming ill.

When the painting was first displayed in the Royal Academy, it was accompanied by a quotation from King Lear:

Sleepest or wakest thou, jolly shepherd?

Thy sheep be in the corn;

And for one blast of thy minikin mouth,

Thy sheep shall take no harm.

And yet there is still more to this painting.  It is a work of symbolism.  Holman Hunt explained it in a letter around the time the Manchester gallery had acquired it.  Hunt wrote that he intended the couple to symbolise the pointless theological debates which occupied Christian churchmen while their “flock” went astray due to a lack of proper moral guidance.

The painting received mixed reviews.  One anonymous reviewer wrote:

“…Like [Jonathan] Swift, [Hunt] revels in the repulsive. These rustics are of the coarsest breed, — ill favoured, ill fed, ill washed. Not to dwell on cutaneous and other minutiae,  — they are literal transcripts of stout, sunburnt, out-of-door labourers. Their faces, bursting with a plethora of health, and a trifle too flushed and rubicund, suggest their over-attention to the beer or cyder (sic) keg on the boor’s back….Downright literal truth is followed out in every accessory; each sedge, moss, and weed – each sheep – each tree, pollard or pruned – each crop, beans or corn – is faithfully imitated. Summer heat pervades the atmosphere, — the grain is ripe, — the swifts skim about, — and the purple clouds cast purple shadows…”

And in the edition of the Illustrated London News the art critic objected to the “fiery red skin” and “wiry hair” of Hunt’s peasants. On the other hand, his supporters insisted that the painting was an unembellished and faithful image of society.

Notwithstanding what has been written about the work, I like it.

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Wandering Thoughts by John Everett Millais (c.1855)

My final look at the works of the Pre-Raphaelites at the Manchester Art Gallery is one by Sir John Everett Millais, a work entitled Wandering Thoughts which he completed around 1855.

The woman is sitting back in a red upholstered chair with both of her hands resting on the carved wood of the padded arms of the chair.  The background is dark and lacks detail and it contrasts with her pale skin.  She is wearing a long black dress with lace-trimmed short sleeves which exposes her bare shoulders.  A small posy of red flowers is fixed to the bodice.  Her dark hair is neatly parted down the centre and secured away from the face.  In her lap, we see a letter which must have fallen from her hand.

Her expression is one of contemplation.  Her head is tilted forward and she looks down to the left.  It is a blank expression, an unseeing countenance.  The abandoned letter could well be the cause of her dour facial expression.  What has she just read?  Did the missive contain news which shocked her into dropping the letter?  Is she now lost in thought as to what she has just read?

Questions, questions and more questions.  I will leave you to come up with the answers.

In the next blog I will showcase some more of my favourite paintings on display at the gallery

…………………….to be concluded.

Manchester Art Gallery. Part 1. The Females.

Manchester Art Gallery

If you happen to visit Manchester, England, you will find two main art galleries, the Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth Gallery.  Last weekend I was in the city for a weekend break and decided to revisit the main Manchester Art Gallery.

The main part of the collection is derived from the Royal Manchester Institution which demonstrated a partiality for purchasing contemporary art and that predilection continued when it eventually became the City Art Gallery in 1883.  The retired Bradford-based textile businessman and philanthropist with a passionate love of art, Charles Rutherston, although not an artist himself, was both an art collector and a generous friend and patron to artists.  He had amassed a large collection of paintings which he bequeathed to the Gallery in 1925.  Between the two World Wars, the Gallery accumulated a large number of contemporary artworks.  Today the Manchester Art Gallery has an extensive collection of work by nineteenth-century British artists, particularly the Pre-Raphaelites.  In 1979, the European Old Masters collection was transformed by the Assheton Bennett bequest of almost a hundred paintings, mainly by seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish artists. Today the collection includes over 2,000 oil paintings, plus related studies and archival material, and there is a renewed focus on collecting contemporary art.  In the next three blogs I will be looking at some of  my favourites which were on view.

Study of Jane Morris

Chalk drawing of Jane Morris by Rossetti (1875)

In the Gallery, there are a number of paintings by the Pre-Raphaelite artists but the one I find the most haunting is Rossetti’s late work entitled Astarte Syriaca.  The story behind this work started back in 1875 with a chalk drawing Rossetti had made of Jane Morris, his lover.  Rossetti’s friend, Theodore Watts–Dunton, told Rossetti that the drawing could form the basis of a full-length Venus portrait.  After one of Rossetti’s patrons, Clarence Fry saw some of the preliminary sketches in August 1875, he commissioned Rossetti to complete the Venus painting.

Rossetti started working on the painting, Astarte Syriaca, sometimes known as Venus Astarte, in the Autumn of 1875 but abandoned it, unfinished in March 1876, saying that he was dissatisfied with it and he began work on the “second” Astarte.  Finally it was completed in December 1876 and framed at the end of January 1877 ready for his patron.  Jane Morris was the model for Venus (and May Morris, her sister, the attendant figure on the left)

Astarte Syriaca Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Astarte Syriacs by Dante Rossetti (1876)

The depiction is a full-length figure of a woman dressed in sea-green robes, gazing towards us, the viewer. Astarte Syriaca has long, thick. and wavy flowing hair that flows on her back.  She is pictured holding an ornate floral metal strap with her left hand under her chest. Her left hand seems to be holding a similar strap that rests around the hips area.  This is known as a traditional pudica pose.

Both her hands, the limbs, and her breast are large, and her lips seem to be full and pink. Astarte Syriaca portrait is one of Gabriel Rossetti’s iconic paintings that romantically evokes the marvellous power of women in the context of the European Symbolist Movement, the nascent pan. In the same breath, it signifies as a covert admonition of the patriarchal Victorian Christianity. It can as well be interpreted in various other ways.   The woman has one of her legs placed forward to look as if she is striding towards us.  Also in the painting we see two male figures placed symmetrically in the background.  Rossetti wrote a sonnet which was first published in 1877 and which accompanied the painting.

ASTARTE SYRIACA

Mystery: lo! betwixt the sun and moon

Astarte of the Syrians: Venus Queen

⁠Ere Aphrodite was. In silver sheen

Her twofold girdle clasps the infinite boon

Of bliss whereof the heaven and earth commune:

⁠And from her neck’s inclining flower-stem lean

Love-freighted lips and absolute eyes that wean

The pulse of hearts to the spheres’ dominant tune.

Torch-bearing, her sweet ministers compel

⁠All thrones of light beyond the sky and sea

⁠The witnesses of Beauty’s face to be:

That face, of Love’s all-penetrative spell

Amulet, talisman, and oracle,—

⁠Betwixt the sun and moon a mystery.

Cinderella by Valentine Prinsep (1899)

The next painting featuring a female is simply entitled Cinderella.  The artist is Valentine Cameron Prinsep who was born in India on St Valentine’s Day 1838.  His father was a civil servant based in the country but who would return to England with his family when Valentine was five years old.  Valentine’s mother was a great art lover and would often hold parties at their Kensington home with artists and writers, including poets Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning and artists John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. Although his parents assumed their son would follow his father into the Indian Civil Service but having been stirred by the artistic company he kept, Valentine decided his future life should be as an artist too.  Prinsep never reached the status of a great artist although he had his successes.  He was influenced by Rossetti, Millais and Burne-Jones, and he painted initially in the Pre-Raphaelite style. He exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts for the first time in 1862, after travelling with Burne-Jones in Italy.

The painting, Cinderella, was completed in 1899 and is a work of great sentimentality.  The young girl rests against the stone wall of the kitchen.  It is a depiction of poverty.  The girl is barefooted and is wearing a dress which is ragged at the hem.  She raises the hem of the skirt to allow the warmth from the fire to caress her body.  Look at her posture and facial expression.  Is it a happy looking expression awaiting for the arrival of somebody she looks forward to seeing or is it one of trepidation at the thought of the impending arrival?  We all know the story of Cinderella so probably we also know the answer to the question.

Girl with Beret
Girl with a Beret by Lucian Freud (1951)

Girl with a Beret, the 1959 painting by Lucian Freud is a beautifully painted, close-up head and shoulders portrait of a young woman wearing a plain blue-grey jumper and beret. The girl has pale skin and shiny blue eyes, which stare off to the left in a self-absorbed manner. Her hair is parted to one side and she wears a small gold hoop earring in her left ear. The background colour is muted.  Freud liked his portraits to be of people he knew well and as such were people Lucien had a close personal relationship with and because of this, these portraits could be looked upon as being pictorial autobiographies.  The sitter for this portrait is the Irish actress, Helena Hughes who was twenty-three at the time.  Helena had been introduced to Freud by his lover Anne Dunn during one of his frequent visits to Dublin in the 1950s. In 1950, Helena Hughes had invited Freud to Paris where she was working on a stage production with Orson Welles. The portrait took more than one hundred and fifty sittings to complete and for this protracted length of time artist and model were together which led to an intensity of their relationship and in a way, this could be detected within the painting.

Sapho by Charles-August Mengin (1877)

The painting entitled Sapho was completed in 1877 by Charles-August Mengin, a French Academic painter and sculptor.  He was a pupil of Alexandre Cabanel and exhibited regularly at the Salon from 1876 to 1927.  Sappho was a Greek lyric poet born around 600 BC. Her poems considered love, desire and contemplation.  Many of her works were devoted to her female pupils who studied with her on the island of Lesbos. Legend had it that she threw herself into the sea from the cliff of Leucadia because Phaon, a young man from Mitylene, did not return her love.  In the painting we see Sapho depicted standing on the cliff edge in dark, in translucent robes, with her breasts exposed. Her left arm rests lightly at shoulder height, on a huge rock whilst her right hand holds her lyre down by her right side. Her face is partly put in the shade by her dark wavy hair, gauzy veil. Her dark eyes, which have shadows beneath them, stare down into the middle distance.  Her feet are bare. She wears gold hoop earrings, a gold bangle, and there is a gold tie or belt around her waist. The dark sky in the background, which is only broken by a sliver of light on the horizon adds to the feeling of impending doom.  Two grey birds fly in the sky behind.

And now for something different.  Gone is the exotic beauty of Sapho and Artiste Syriaca.  Gone is the everyday prettiness of the girl wearing her Beret.  It is now about the reality of mortality.

Mamma Mia Poveretta
Mama Mia Poveretta by Walter Sickert (c.1904)

Walter Sickert, a German-born English painter, made a series of visits to Venice, initially focusing on the city’s topography but it was during his last painting trip from the autumn of 1903 to the summer of 1904 that, due to inclement weather, he was forced indoors to his small studio at 940 Calle dei Frati, close to the Rialto, to paint and it was during that time he developed a distinctive approach to portraiture.  The models for many of the Venetian paintings are believed to have been prostitutes, whom Sickert might have known through being a client.  One of his models which he nicknamed La Giuseppina was his favourite and one day she arrived at the studio with her mother, the old lady who became known as mamma mia poveretta (my poor mother)

La Giuseppina
La Giuseppina by Walter Sickert (1904). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund

In the first decade of the twentieth century in Britain which was also the end of the reign of Queen Victoria, artists and designers began to try new things.  Artists were starting to create a new art for a modern era. Traditional ways of completing portraits, landscapes and interiors would be undertaken in new ways.  Gone was the romantic view of life and an acceptance that urban life was often a matter of hectic rushing around and there was definitely an air of brutality to it.  Life was becoming a challenge.  Walter Sickert’s 1904 painting entitled Mama Mia Poveretta is realist depiction of life.  It is a half-length frontal portrait of this gaunt, almost emaciated elderly Venetian woman who is nearing the end of a hard life.  She is wrapped in a dark shawl and wears a headscarf. She has turned her head slightly to the right, and her face is illuminated from the left and highlights the darkness around her eyes.

In my next blog I will look at work by some of the Pre-Raphaeliete artists which are on display at the Manchester Art Gallery.

………………………………..to be continued

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

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Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Last week I treated myself to a day trip to Liverpool, a city which was some eight miles from my birthplace. I had not visited there for a number of years but decided that I should take the opportunity to visit one of their art galleries.  Although the Tate Liverpool is very popular with tourists, I much prefer the old established Walker Art Gallery.

Andrew Barclay Walker (1824-1893)

In 1873 Andrew Barclay Walker, a Liverpool brewer and alderman offered to present a gallery to Liverpool to commemorate his term as mayor. Although he was neither an art collector nor a patron of the arts, it was believed that Walker wanted to improve the public image of brewing and alcohol at a time when the temperance movement was popular and his donation of £20,000 towards the building of a new gallery would, he considered, counter the diatribe of the temperance folk.  The foundation stone was laid the following year and in 1877 the 15th Earl of Derby opened the Walker Art Gallery on September 6th.    

Due to Covid restrictions I had to obtain a time slot for my visit which just gave me enough time to visit the rooms housing their permanent collection.  Strangely, the rooms were almost empty and I felt as if I had the gallery to myself !  In this blog I want to take a look at some of my favourite painting in a hope that it may encourage you to pay a visit to this wonderful gallery.

Crazy Kate by William James Bishop

My first selection is a small and unobtrusive painting by the nineteenth century Manchester-born English artist William James Bishop entitled Crazy Kate. This strange title derives from a character in William Cowper’s 1785 blank verse (un-rhyming verse) poem, The Task. The verse tells of the fate of the young girl Kate, whom we see bare-footed in a ferocious storm, clutching a pin, which as the poem tells us, she prizes beyond food , clothes and comfort

Crazy Kate by William Cowper

There often wanders one whom better days

Saw better clad, in cloak of satin trimmed

With lace, and hat with splendid ribbon bound.

A serving-maid was she, and fell in love

With one who left her, went to sea, and died.

Her fancy followed him through foaming waves

To distant shores, and she would sit and weep

At what a sailor suffers; fancy too

(Delusive most where warmest wishes are)

Would oft anticipate his glad return

And dream of transports she was not to know.

She heard the doleful tidings of his death

And never smiled again. And now she roams

The dreary waste; there spends the livelong day,

And there, unless when Charity forbids,

The livelong night. A tattered apron hides,

Worn as a cloak, and hardly hides a gown

More tattered still; and both but ill conceal

A bosom heaved with never-ceasing sighs.

She begs an idle pin of all she meets,

And hoards them in her sleeve, but needful food,

Though pressed with hunger oft, or comelier clothes,

Though pinched with cold, asks never. Kate is crazed.

See the source image

Springtime in Eskdale by James McIntosh Patrick (1935)

The next painting is a landscape work by the Dundee-born artist, James McIntosh Patrick entitled Springtime in Eskdale which he completed in 1935. It is a work which I featured in my blog ten years ago and it was good to revisit this beautiful work. It is a detailed landscape painting of The Crooks in Eskdalemuir, Dumfriesshire which was the birthplace of the famous civil engineer and architect Thomas Telford.  This painting by Patrick was completed in 1934 and was to mark the centenary of Telford’s death.  In the middle ground we can see people visiting a cottage whilst further back we can just make out a farmer ploughing his land.  In the distance, we see a small river at the foot of a line of hills, which rises into the background.  The artist’s view of the scene is from a somewhat elevated position looking down at the farmland. The inclusion of a road in the foreground is a clever way in which the artist has encouraged us to follow it with our eyes and thus explore the middle ground and background.  One of the most well-defined aspects of the painting is the way he has painted the trees.  McIntosh Patrick was a great believer that they were one of nature’s greatest gifts to mankind and he would put a lot of effort into their depiction in order for us to be more appreciative of what Mother Nature has bestowed upon us.

Mill on the Alyn, Denbighshire

Mill on the Alyn, Denbighshire by John Edward Newton

Another landscape work which caught my eye was John Edward Newton’s painting Mill on the Alyn, Denbighshire.  John Edward Newton was a member of the Liverpool Academy, exhibiting at its galleries between 1856 and 1867 and at the Royal Academy in London between 1862 and 1887. Like other Liverpool School painters, he was highly influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites in their use of pure glazes over a white ground and meticulous attention to detail.   His tightly executed and highly accurate brushwork is part of a larger movement inspired by Ruskin’s call for ‘truth to nature’ originally exemplified in the Pre-Raphaelite Circle’s attention to detail and meticulous handling of ‘wet-on-wet’ painting techniques.

The Stonebreaker by John Brett (1858)

I came across this painting in the nineties when I was doing some research for my daughter with regards a number of paintings featuring stonebreakers.  Gustave Courbet and Henry Wallis had painted different versions based on the same subject.   John Brett was born in in 1831 and was a British artist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement.  However his masterpiece has always been considered to be his painting The Stonebreaker which he completed in 1858.  It is a work of two halves.  The setting is a beautiful landscape with its vast meadows and grove, indicating paradise and is captured with remarkable accuracy by Brett who was influenced by Ruskin’s adage that landscapes should be depicted with  ‘truth to nature’.  The foreground, in contrast, is enveloped in weeds, rocks and a dead tree. We observe a young boy accompanied by a little puppy which is playing away beside him. 

See the source image

The Stone Breakers by Gustave Courbet (1849). Destroyed during World War II

As was with Courbet’s painting, it portrays the poor but in a very different light.   Brett’s depiction does not have the same claustrophobic atmosphere of Courbet’s painting, nor does it contain the hopelessness of Henry Wallis’s 1857 version. 

See the source image

The Stonebreaker by Henry Wallis (1857). Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Despite it not being a sombre work depicting cruelty, it is a painting that can still be categorised as a Realist painting depicting the boy, although well dressed, having to undertake brutal and laborious work. Despite his playful pet he has no time to stop and play with it because he is working hard to earn his food.

See the source image

Isabella by John Everett Millais (1849)

I do love the painting Isabella by Millais but I will not go into great detail with regards this painting or the enthralling story behind the depiction as my blog in 2012 had an in-depth look at the work. However it is still one of my favourites and the story behind the depiction is fascinating. I do like the vivid colours of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

Henry Holiday - Dante and Beatrice - Google Art Project.jpg

Dante and Beatrice by Henry Holiday (1883)

Henry Holiday was a British historical genre and landscape painter, stained-glass designer, illustrator and sculptor. He was part of the Pre-Raphaelite school of art.  His 1883 painting, Dante and Beatrice is a painting that is considered to be Holiday’s most important work of art.  What we see is based on Dante’s 1294 autobiographical work La Vita Nuova which describes his love for Beatrice Portinari. Dante concealed his love by pretending to be attracted to other women. The painting depicts an incident when Beatrice, having heard gossip relating to this, refuses to speak to him. The event is shown as Beatrice and two other women walk past the Santa Trinita Bridge in Florence.   Beatrice wears a white dress and walks beside her friend Monna Vanna, with Beatrice’s maidservant lagging slightly behind.  Holiday was anxious that the painting should be historically accurate and in 1881 travelled to Florence to carry out research. He discovered that in the 13th century the Lungarno, the street on the north side of the River Arno between the Ponte Vecchio which can be seen in the background and the Ponte Santa Trinita, was paved with bricks and that there were shops in the area; these are shown in the painting. He also learnt that the Ponte Vecchio had been destroyed in a flood in 1235. It was being rebuilt between 1285 and 1290 and in the painting, it is shown covered in scaffolding. When he died in 1927, Holiday was described as “the last Pre-Raphaelite”.

Going to Market, 1860 - 1860 - John Lee

Going to the Market by John Ingle Lee (1860)

My next two choices are paintings by the Liverpool-born English artist John Ingle Lee.  Going to the Market was exhibited in 1860 at the Liverpool Academy under the title The Young Carriers. The fresh mountainous landscape and the children are possibly both intended to be Welsh. John Ingle Lee was born in 1839, the third son of Henry Boswell Lee and Emily Sarah Ingle. His father sold straw bonnets and the raw materials for their manufacture.

See the source image

George Henry Lee, Liverpool in its 1970’s prime

The family business developed into the famous Liverpool department store, George Henry Lee, which was founded in 1853.  By the late 1850s, as John Ingle Lee was starting his artistic career, his father retired from the retail trade, and passed the business to his sons George and Henry.  In 1874, the last of the Lee sons retired and control passed to Thomas Oakshott, who in 1887 became the first tradesman to become Lord Mayor of Liverpool, an appointment which added to the prestige of the enterprise.  Shortly after the end of the First World War, the Oakshott family sold the business to the American millionaire, Gordon Selfridge.   It was acquired in 1940 by the John Lewis Partnership.

Sweethearts and Wives

Sweethearts and Wives by John Ingle Lee (1860)

One of Ingle’s best-known works and one of the best-known Liverpool Pre-Raphaelite paintings was his painting entitled Sweethearts and Wives.  One can see by the way Lee has mastered the sharp-focus technique and the use of bright colour that he was influenced by the work of the Pre-Raphaelites. His depiction of soldiers or sailors parting from their families was commonplace in the Victorian era.  The men in the painting are from HMS Majestic, an ex-Crimea warship anchored in the River Mersey as part of the port defences.  Lee’s depiction has accurately recorded every detail including the view across the River Mersey towards Birkenhead and local landmarks such as St. Mary’s Church and Bidston Windmill stand out on the horizon.  Of the thirteen pictures he is recorded as having exhibited during his lifetime, only six are known today, of which this is the most ambitious.  The work of this Liverpool painter is rare and very few works by him are known.

Millie Smith Ford Madox Brown

Millie by Ford Madox Brown (1846)

It was in 1846 when twenty-five-year-old Ford Madox Brown painted my next selected painting. It is entitled Millie and is a portrait of Millie Smith, the daughter of Ford Madox Brown’s landlord at Southend where he stayed with his own small daughter, Emma Lucy on his return from Rome after the death of his first wife, Elizabeth Bromley. She died in Paris of consumption during their return journey from Italy.  The child’s head is almost “cartoonishly” big, her eyes even more so, as she gazes out at us.  She sits at a table with a formal pose.  In the foreground is the table, on top of which is a rose-coloured tablecloth which has been partly folded back.  Two small flowers rest abandoned on the uncovered part of the mahogany table.  Look at Millie’s facial expression.  She is not smiling as she scrutinizes us.  There is something mechanical about her pose as if she has received strict instructions as how she should obediently conduct herself.  Ford Madox Brown went on to paint many child portraits similar to this one.

See the source image

Kim Cattrall by Samira Addo (2018)

I will end my choices with a portrait by the young artist Samira Addo, who with over a thousand other artists entered a television art competition.  She won the Sky Portrait Artist of the Year competition in 2018 and the prize was a sum of money and a commission to paint the portrait of actress, Kim Cattrall.  I have selected this work, not because of its beauty, although I acknowledge the extraordinary talent shown by the artist, but because, in my opinion, of the poor choice of where it has been hung by the museum authorities.

The unveiling ceremony

The portrait is displayed in the 18th century room, alongside paintings by some of the most famous portrait artists in British history, including Thomas Gainsborough, Joseph Wright of Derby and Sir Joshua Reynolds and there lies the problem.  It is a contemporary work of art.  It is an accomplished portrait but it just should not have been hung in that room.  It is a very bright and colourful work of art, in stark contrast with the somewhat dark room itself and the other portrait paintings on the walls of the room which have the dark brown subdued colouring which we associate with older portraiture.  It just does not fit in with these other works.

If you ever visit Liverpool I believe you will not be disappointed in the works of art on show at the Walker Art Gallery, especially if you like Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

John William Waterhouse. Part 2.

Marriage and women destined to suffer.

Portrait of the Artist’s Wife by John William Waterhouse (1885)

In 1883 John William Waterhouse married Esther Maria Kenworthy, a noted flower painter. She was the daughter of James Lee Kenworthy, an artist and schoolmaster from Ealing and Elizabeth Kenworthy who was also a schoolteacher. Waterhouse was thirty-four-years-old and Esther was eight years younger. The marriage took place at the Church of England parish church in Ealing, and thereafter Waterhouse’s wife used the name Esther Kenworthy Waterhouse. At the beginning of their married life the couple lived close by a purpose-built artistic colony in Primrose Hill, where the houses also had studios. Primrose Hill Studios, built in 1877, was a development of twelve artist houses around a quadrangle in a mews off Regent’s Park. Waterhouse already rented a studio at No. 3 Primrose Hill Studios, which he had leased since 1878, and later moved to a much bigger studio at No.6.

Self portrait by William Logsdail

One of the Waterhouses’ neighbours at the Primrose Hill Studios was the prolific Antwerp-trained English landscape, portrait, and genre painter, William Logsdail. The Primrose Hill Studios complex was, as Logsdail later recalled, a place that the artists around the courtyard ‘formed a happy family, in and out of each other’s studios during the day, and in the evening swapping stories over the cards and whisky or dining at “the Bull and Bush” on Hampstead Heath’.

John William Waterhouse by William Logsdail (1887)

Logsdail recorded in 1917 that he used friends and colleagues from the Primrose Hill Studios – including four members of the Waterhouse family – to act as models for parts of his London cityscape paintings. It is the connection and friendship between Waterhouse and Logsdail, which brought about questions as to who painted the small oil on board portrait of Waterhouse in 1887. At first, it was looked upon as a self-portrait but in 2002 Peter Trippi, the leading authority on Waterhouse, questioned the attribution, suggesting that the sketch was not a self-portrait but in fact it had been painted by William Logsdail, In the painting we see that Waterhouse’s features half-hidden under a thick reddish-brown moustache and beard. The portrait went to auction, run by John Physick, Waterhouse’s great-nephew, at the Canterbury Auction Galleries, in May 2011. Even then, it was deemed as a self-portrait by Waterhouse.   However, in Trippi’s words this head is ‘absolutely a modern-life image made by a trusted colleague or friend’. It is the first example of Logsdail’s work to enter London’s National Portrait Gallery Collection. The attribution to Logsdail has now been established beyond doubt.

St Eulalia by John William Waterhouse (1885)

In 1885 John William Waterhouse was elected as an Associate of the Royal Academy. This election to full membership status came shortly after he exhibited a painting, the depiction of which was one that engendered great discussion with regards its depiction. The work was entitled Saint Eulalia, who was a twelve-year-old martyr. When the work was exhibited it came with a note from Waterhouse:

“…’Prudentius says that the body of St. Eulalia was shrouded “by the miraculous fall of snow when lying in the forum after her martyrdom…”

Aurelius Prudentius Clemens was a Roman Christian poet who was born in Northern Spain and who practiced law, as well as holding two provincial governorships.  He was awarded a high position by the Roman emperor Theodosius but tiring of court life, he devoted the rest of his time, from about 392, to writing poems on Christian themes.

Eulalia of Mérida was a devout Christian girl, aged between twelve and fourteen years old who lived in Mérida, Spain, and who was killed during the Persecution of Diocletian around 304AD. The Diocletianic persecutions, sometimes referred to as the Great Persecution, was the last and most severe persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. In 303 AD, the four Roman Emperors, Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius, and Constantius set out a series of pronouncements withdrawing the legal rights of Christians and ordered them to observe the traditional religious practices. The story goes that Eulalia ran away to the law court of the governor Dacian at Emerita, and stubbornly professed herself a Christian. She then went on to insult the pagan gods and emperor Maximian, and defied the authorities challenging them to martyr her.

Manuscript of the Sequence of Saint Eulalia written in 880 AD.

The story is told in a book of twenty-nine verses, The Sequence of Saint Eulalia, also known as the Canticle of Saint Eulalia, which is a ninth century biography of Saint Eulalia and tells how she resisted pagan threats despite being tortured. Finally, she was executed and became a Christian martyr. Below is a translation of a passage of The Sequence of Saint Eulalia.

Eulalia was a good girl,
She had a beautiful body, a soul more beautiful still.
The enemies of God wanted to overcome her,
they wanted to make her serve the devil.
She does not listen to the evil counsellors,
(who want her) to deny God, who lives up in heaven.
Not for gold, nor silver, nor jewels,
not for the king’s threats or entreaties,
nothing could ever persuade the girl
not to love continually the service of God.
And for this reason she was brought before Maximian,
who was king in those days over the pagans.
He exhorts her — but she does not care —
to abandon the name of Christian;
She gathers up her strength.  And subsequently worship his god.
She would rather undergo persecution
Than lose her spiritual purity.
For these reasons she died in great honor.
They threw her into the fire so that she would burn quickly.
She had no sins, for this reason she did not burn.
The pagan king did not want to give in to this;
He ordered her head to be cut off with a sword.
The girl did not oppose that idea:
She wants to abandon earthly life, and she calls upon Christ.
In the form of a dove she flew to heaven.
Let us all pray that she will deign to pray for us
That Christ may have mercy on us
And may allow us to come to Him after death
Through His grace.

For some, this painting by Waterhouse the pictorial story was a too  gory and disturbing subject and for some it was too much to behold.  Many of the public who had never heard of Eulalia were shocked by the story and depiction. For Waterhouse it was all about women being subjected to a horrible and undeserved fate, some of whom we will see in later paintings. Before us we see the foreshortened body of Eulalia which in itself often received criticism from critics of the time. As we look along the body from her head to her feet, our eyes are led  to a void of snow which in a way underlines the young girls isolation. Her arms are outstretched forming a cross as if she has been taken down from a crucifixion and laid upon the floor which, of course, mirrors the fate of Christ. Hovering above her are white doves, one of which in the story of her martyrdom is said to have come from the dead girl’s mouth on its journey to heaven. This frightened away the soldiers from her body and allowed a miraculous snow to cover her nakedness, its whiteness indicating her sainthood. Look how Waterhouse has depicted Eulalia’s hair spread out like a fan. For Waterhouse, a woman’s hair was an object of male attraction. Although the painting shocked many who saw it at the 1885 Royal Academy Exhibition it secured Waterhouses election as a full member of the Academy. For all the painting recounts the martyrdom of a young virgin, Waterhouse was careful not to depict on her body the result of the savagery and butchery of her torture that preceded her death, instead he managed to secure the purity and innocence of her body.

Mariamne by John William Waterhouse (1887)

Waterhouse’s fascination with doomed women can be seen in his 1887 painting entitled Mariamne. The story comes from an account in Josephus’ book Jewish Antiquities. Josephus was a first-century Romano-Jewish historian who was born in Jerusalem. In his book, Josephus recounts the story of Mariamne the Hasmonean, who he describes as a magnificently beautiful and dignified Hasmonean princess and the second wife of Herod the Great and sister-in-law of Salome. Herod feared the power of the Hasmoneans which led him to execute all the leading Hasmonean family members, including his wife, Mariamne, whom Herod had executed at the behest of sister Salome on a trumped-up charge of infidelity. The painting by Waterhouse was the largest he ever made, measuring 259 x 180cms. It is a wonderful painting full of fascinating narratives. Art critics of the time likened it to a scene from a play. The main figure of the work is the white-robed figure of Marianme who we see descending a marble staircase. Her hands are chained having been condemned to death by a group of elders seen lurking in the shadows in the background. Their decision being based on their loyalty to their king and not because they believed the charge of infidelity. To the right we see a man in crimson robes seated, listening intently to the whisperings of the women by his side. There is one line of thought that the interior painted by Waterhouse is reminiscent of the interior of his contemporary, Alma-Tadema’s Grove End Road, St John’s Wood studio/house. The painting was exhibited in Paris, Chicago and Brussels over the next ten years and by the beginning of the twentieth century Waterhouse had become world renowned.

The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse (1888)

Another of Waterhouse’s works featuring a doomed and maligned female is probably his best known. It is The Lady of Shalott which he completed in 1888. The Lady of Shalott is a character from Tennyson’s 1832 poem and recounts the story of a woman who is suffering under a curse of isolation. The woman’s home is a tower on a lonely island called Shalott. Running down past the island is a river which emanates from the castle of King Arthur’s and wends its way down to the town of Camelot. She had been incarcerated in her room, under a curse that barred her to go outside or even look directly out of the window in the tower. The curse forbids her to see the world other than that reflected images in her mirror.

She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

 She would spend her time sitting below the mirror weaving a tapestry of scenes that she could only observe in the reflection of the mirror. One day she looks into the mirror and catches a glimpse of the reflected image of the handsome knight Lancelot.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn’d like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.

She is overwhelmed by his beauty and cannot resist looking at him directly. She is stricken by love and lust and turns to look out of her window. For her disobedient act the mirror cracks and she is cursed.

Out flew the web and floated wide—
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalott.

The lady leaves the tower and goes to the riverbank where she finds a boat. It is this point in the tale that is captured by Waterhouse’s painting. The lady is just about to slip the chain holding the boat to the shore. We see the lady in the boat, sitting on the tapestry she has just been weaving. There is a pensive air about her facial expression. She seems slightly fearful as she starts her journey. Her lips are parted as she sings, maybe to ward off her anxiety as she leaves the island and floats down the river towards Camelot.

And down the rivers dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance —
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

At the front of the boat is a lantern and a crucifix. Besides the crucifix we see three candles. Candles symbolise life, and in this painting, we see two have blown out and one is flickering in the strong breeze, signifying that the lady has little time left. This is not just the starting point of the journey. It is almost her last moments before she dies never having reached Camelot.  Look at the sumptuous colours Waterhouse has used in the painting contrasting the stark white of her clothing. The painting was further enhanced by Waterhouse’s inclusion of naturalistic details such as the pied flycatcher which rests on the reed bed and the many water plants which were native to English rivers at the time.

The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse (1894)

Waterhouse completed two further paintings with the motif of The Lady of Shalott. The one he painted in 1894 is part of the Leeds Art Gallery collection. In this work Waterhouse captures the moment as the lady turns and rises from her chair, clutching her weaving shuttle, hesitating before the sight of Lancelot as the curse begins to take place and the mirror starts to crack. The tip of Lancelot’s lance points to the crack. Behind her we see the cracked mirror and the reflection of the knight. Look at her facial expression. It is a piercing gaze. It is a combination of anxiety and yearning, a yearning to free herself from captivity. It is an act of defiance on her part. It is her assertion that she should be free. For Tennyson the poem was an allegorical tale about the transition from innocence, repression to sexual revelation. Look how the golden thread used in her weaving has wrapped around her torso and how she is breaking free of its restraints as if she is a white moth emerging from its silk cocoon, which metaphorically is her sexual awakening following her catching sight of the famous knight. Behind her, in the right background of the work Waterhouse has once again depicted candles being extinguished by the wind signifying the coming of her death.

I am Half Sick of Shadows, said the Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse (1915)

Waterhouse’s final version of the Lady of Shalott was painted in 1915 entitled I am Half Sick of Shadows, said the Lady of Shalott. This is the point in the poem before Lancelot appears as a reflection in her mirror. It is from this stanza that the painting gets its sub-title:

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror’s magic sights,
For often thro’ the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, came from Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead
Came two young lovers lately wed;
‘I am half sick of shadows,’ said
The Lady of Shalott.

Again, we see the lady in solitary confinement in her tower. She is stretching upwards with her hands behind her head in a rather sensual pose. She is thinking about love and contemplating her dash for freedom. In preliminary sketches for this painting, Waterhouse had portrayed the lady sitting exasperatingly slumped in the chair with her hand covering her face. In front of her is her loom and to her left we see her large mirror.

It is important to look carefully at the mirror to see how Waterhouse has carefully chosen what is reflected in it. It reflects the arches of the tower’s windows creating a “heart” shape which symbolises what the lady dreams of – love and to be loved. But, like the mirror itself, this will soon be shattered. The river is reflected in the mirror reminding us that this is the ladies escape route. Camelot is also reflected in the mirror. This is where Sir Lancelot rides to and from. The reflection at the bottom of the mirror is of the two young lovers. There is a look of frustration on the lady’s face, no longer satisfied by her weaving. Frustrated by her lack of freedom. The sight of the two lovers in the mirror is frustrating her.  She realises she must escape captivity and does not fear the consequences.

Waterhouse had been fascinated by Tennyson’s poem for almost thirty years and these three paintings are testament to him wanting to delve into the meaning of the work and express it pictorially.

..………………..to be continued.

John William Waterhouse. Part 1

John William Waterhouse (c.1886)

The artist I am looking at in my next series of blogs is the very popular late 19th and early 20th-century British painter, John William Waterhouse, who was best known for painting in the Pre-Raphaelite style, a style which became increasingly popular during the Pre-Raphaelite movement which began in 1848. Waterhouse was a man who, through his paintings, we can see was fascinated by unhappiness, magical worlds and the exciting perils brought about by love and beauty. He was captivated by female beauty and intrigued by the power the women held over men.

The Slave by John William Waterhouse (1872)

Waterhouse was born in Rome on April 6th 1849. The year 1849 was an important year in English art as it was the year that members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which included Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, were first causing a pandemonium in the London art scene. John William Waterhouse was the first-born child of William Waterhouse and his second wife Isabella Waterhouse (née McKenzie). Both his parents were artists who had exhibited at the Royal Academy and worked in Rome. Waterhouse was given the nickname of “Nino” by his parents. Nino was short for Giovannino or “little John” and this nickname would remain with him throughout his life. When he was five years old his parents left Italy and moved to the London, where they moved into a newly built house in South Kensington, which was near to the newly founded Victoria and Albert Museum.  Three years after moving back to England, his mother died of tuberculosis at the age of 36, a disease which, seventeen years later, would take the lives of two of his younger brothers.

Gone, But Not Forgotten by John William Waterhouse (1873)

Waterhouse’s father remarried in 1860 and at this time he, his new wife and his son lived in Leeds. Waterhouse attended the local school and despite his favourite subject being Roman history, he had hopes of becoming an engineer. By 1870 the family was once again living in London and his father was earning a living by painting portraits assisted by his son. In 1880, at the age of 21, Waterhouse entered the Royal Academy Schools as a probationer in sculpture. His probationary period just lasted for six months, after which he was admitted as a student but he had now begun to concentrate on painting rather than sculpting. It was around this time that he began to exhibit some of his work at the Dudley Gallery and the Society of British Artists.

Undine by John William Waterhouse (1882)

One of Waterhouse’s early paintings was his 1882 work entitled Undine. Undine was the main character in the German novelist and playwright Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s 1811 classic fairy tale, Undine, in which he tells the story of this elemental water spirit, who marries a human in order to gain a soul.   Undine’s hair and body shape replicate the vertical flume of water from the fountain we see behind her. This connection between women and water will be repeated many times in Waterhouse’s later works. The female, Undine, was also the one of the first of Waterhouse’s many young female figures.

The Unwelcome Companion A Street Scene in Cairo by John William Waterhouse (1873)

During the 1870’s Waterhouse completed a number of Orientalist works. One of these works, which he completed in 1873, was his painting, The Unwelcome Companion: A Street Scene in Cairo. The painting was exhibited at the gallery of the Society of British Artists the following year. In 1951, the work was donated it to Towneley Art Gallery in Burnley. Waterhouse later depicted the same woman in the same dress in his work, Dancing Girl.  At this time there was a great demand for paintings featuring Near Eastern images. The great French painter, Jean-Léon Gérôme had become a worldwide celebrity for his Orientalist works. Coincidentally, whilst Waterhouse was studying at the Royal Academy Schools in London, Gérôme was also in the city having taken refuge there during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and had been elected as an Honorary Foreign Academician at the Royal Academy and it is thought that the two artists could have met.   The depiction of the woman featured in the painting is quite similar to the females we see in some of Gérôme’s painting featuring the women of Cairo. In this work the woman holds a tambourine and so we must conclude that she is a dancer but she is a mystery as we cannot tell what she is thinking. The architecture, as seen in Waterhouse’s depiction of the arch column we see in the background, derives from the Alhambra Palace in Granada. It is known that Waterhouse had not visited Spain but his family did live close to the South Kensington Museum which housed architectural models of the interior of the Spanish palace and it is here that he probably made sketches.

Sleep and his Half-brother Death by John William Waterhouse (1874)

In 1874, Waterhouse had his first painting accepted for the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. The painting, entitled Sleep and his Half Brother Death refers to Greek mythology and the Greek gods Hypnos (sleep) and Thanatos (death) who were brothers. It is a painting which links sleep and death. Two young men are seen lying on a bed. As our eyes move from the foreground to the background we are moving from life to death. Hypnos in the foreground is bathed in light whereas his brother, Thanatos is enveloped in darkness and from the title of the painting we know that Hypnos represents sleep whereas Thanatos personifies death. Hypnos also can be seen clutching a bunch of poppies from which is derived laudanum and opium for inducing sleep and dreamlike states.

John Arthur Blaikie, a journalist gave a brief critique of this painting in The Magazine of Art in 1886, wrote :

“…The two figures recline side by side on a low couch, beyond which are the columns of a colonnade open to the night and touched with moonlight. The interior is lit by a lamp, whose light streams on the foremost figure, Sleep, whose head hangs in heavy stupor on his breast, and his right hand grasps some poppies. By his side lies Death in dusky shadow, with head thrown back, and the lines of the figure expressive of easeful lassitude. At his feet is an antique lyre, while immediately in the foreground is a low round table… The two figures are both young, and the beauty of youth belongs to one as much as to the other… the strange likeness and unlikeness of the recumbent figures…”

The reason why twenty-five-year-old Waterhouse decided to paint this disturbing scene was probably because it was shortly after his two younger brothers died of tuberculosis.

Miranda by John William Waterhouse (1875)

At the 1875 Royal Academy Exhibition Waterhouse submitted his work Miranda. This marked the first time he depicted a heroine from a Shakespeare play, a thing he would do on a number of occasions later in his life. Miranda was the daughter of Prospero in the play, The Tempest. She was banished to the Island along with her father at the age of three, and in the subsequent twelve years has lived with her father and their slave, Caliban, as her only company In the depiction we see the young women, seated gracefully on a rock, gazing out at a ship on the horizon which she hopes is bringing Ferdinand, her future lover and rescuer, to the land where she has been exiled. But then the storm comes……..

Miranda in Waterhouse’s painting is not dressed in Shakespearean costume but wears classical clothes replicated from ancient Greece sculpture. Cords cross between her breasts and encircle her waist with an overfold of rumpling fabric. The hairstyle Waterhouse has given his female is also of classical style with two bands of circling ribbon, the ends of which flutter in the strengthening winds of the approaching storm.

Miranda by John William Waterhouse (1916)

Forty-one years later, in 1916, a year before his death, Waterhouse once again depicts Miranda in a painting. Whereas the earlier painting has Miranda looking out at Ferdinand’s ship which is a mere dot on the horizon, this painting depicts a later part of the  Shakespearean story. The storm or tempest has come and Ferdinand’s ship is much bigger and closer to the rocky shoreline where Miranda sits upon the rock. The ship is being battered by huge green and purple waves topped with white foam. The gale force winds whip through Miranda’s clothes and hair. In this work Miranda’s clothes are no longer of classical Greek style but now resemble clothes worn at the time of Shakespeare’s 1612 play. There is something much stronger about this latter Miranda with her fiery red hair loosened and flowing and the vivid colouring of her clothes which give her a much bolder aura than her earlier reflective and inhibited counterpart of 1875.

After the Dance by John William Waterhouse (1876)

The third year Waterhouse had a painting accepted for the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition was 1876. His painting, entitled After the Dance, was given a favourable hanging position on the wall of the gallery, just above eye-level, often referred to as “on the line” as this was the level at which most observers could best see the works of art. To achieve this positioning was an acknowledgement that the hanging committee looked upon him as an up-and-coming talent. This is a work quite clearly influenced by the great Lawrence Alma-Tadema who also had a painting with the same title in that year’s exhibition, although his work depicted a voluptuous nude bacchante lying asleep after wild revelry.  This large work (76 x 127cms) depicts a Roman interior, in which we see part of the atrium and a glimpse into the court beyond. The main figures are a young boy and a young girl, both dancers who are very tired after dancing and are both resting on cushions, the boy is sitting up, clutching a wilting flower, and the girl is drowsily stretched on the tessellated floor with a tambourine lying alongside her. In the left background we can see a group of adult minstrels seated on a marble bench.

An aulios

One holds an aulos or tibia which was an ancient Greek double-piped wind instrument, while the other rests his arm upon his lyre. One has to question the mood of the painting. The title, After the Dance, suggests merriment and yet before us we see two exhausted children and as a backdrop there is a very dark painting depicting a funeral procession. The expression on the children’s faces is not one of joy and excitement but one of exhaustion and a hint of melancholy. Maybe Waterhouse wanted his painting to be a critical comment with regards child labour.

…………………………….to be continued

Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

My featured artist today is the Victorian painter Mary Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, one of the most popular artists of her time. She is perhaps best remembered for reawakening the Pre-Raphaelite style of painting at the end of the 19th century as shown in her moral or medieval depictions with their vibrant and flamboyant colours. The Pre-Raphaelite group was founded in 1848 by John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti but by the time Eleanor went to art school in 1889, Pre-Raphaelite painting was led by a second generation of artists which included Edward Burne-Jones. Eleanor admired their work and carefully followed in their footsteps which helped keep the style alive until the start of the twentieth century. Eleanor was not simply a painter. She was also a designer, produced stained-glass windows and small-scale sculptures, illustrated books as well as completing numerous watercolour and oil paintings.

The Ugly Princess by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1902)

Mary Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale was born at the family home in the prosperous London suburb of Upper Norwood on January 25th, 1872. Her father Matthew Inglett Fortescue-Brickdale was a barrister of Lincoln’s Inn who married, Sarah Ann Lloyd, the daughter of Judge Edward John Lloyd QC, of the Bristol county court. Eleanor was the youngest of five children. She had two brothers, Charles, the eldest child, who was born in 1857, John Matthew and two sisters, Kate, and Ann. Ann died aged six, four years before Eleanor was born. The family financial circumstances were sound, and they employed four servants and a governess for Eleanor. As was the norm at that time, the parents were preoccupied with their sons’ future ensuring they had the best schooling and went on to a financially-sound profession whilst being ambivalent with regards their daughters’ future believing that the future happiness of their daughters was a good, kind, and wealthy husband!

Portrait of Charles Fortescue-Brickwell by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickwell (1924)

Charles, an amateur artist who, attended Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford University, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a barrister focusing on land law and in 1900 was appointed Chief Registrar of HM Land Registry.  He was famed for modernising the Land Registry system. John, who was two years older than Eleanor, went into medicine and became a physician in Bristol and contributed many articles for medical journals and co-authored a couple of medical books. Ironically, despite their parent’s plans, neither Kate nor Eleanor married. Little is known of Kate but of course we do know that Eleanor’s love of art was to contribute to her fame and financial stability.

In the Springtime by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1901) watercolour

One must presume Eleanor’s interest in art was fostered by her parents who looked upon the ability to paint and draw, as simply a hobby for females  but one which would prove attractive to suitors. Another reason could be that her father had an interest in art and had John Ruskin as a fellow Oxford University student. Matthew Fortescue-Brickdale was involved in one of Ruskin’s art projects, the Arundel Society, which was founded to promote knowledge of the art works of the old Italian, Flemish, and other European Masters and to conserve and document works of art which were at risk of destruction. It is believed that her father’s love of art resulted in visits with his children to art galleries.

After completing her home schooling in 1889, seventeen-year-old Eleanor enrolled at the Crystal Palace School of Art, Science and Literature. It was not one of the most prestigious establishment but maybe it was chosen for Eleanor for its closeness to the family home. It was a mixed college, but the art classes were for female students only, the science for male students and the music was for both. Eleanor proved an able student and at the end of her first year, was awarded the annual scholarship for crayon drawing and watercolours and in 1892 she gained a silver medal for watercolour.

Natural Magic, 1905 watercolor by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale

In 1894, tragedy struck the Fortescue-Brickdale household when Eleanor’s father, Matthew was killed whilst mountain climbing in the Alps.

Around the mid 1890’s, wanting a more prestigious art school which offered tuition by well-known artists who would develop her talent, Eleanor enrolled at the St John’s Wood School. The art school had another important role. It was an established feeder school for students who wanted to enrol at the prestigious Royal Academy Schools. Proof of this comes from the statistic that in the first half of the 1890’s of the 394 students who were admitted to the RA Schools, 250 came from the St John’s Wood School. St John’s Wood School also offered life drawing classes with nude models to both its male and female students.

Contemplation by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

To achieve admission into the Royal Academy Schools, the candidate had to submit certain pieces of art and if they were found acceptable the candidate would become a probationer and then, if their work during the next three months was up to the standard required, they would become a full student and be allowed to start one of the courses. In the Magazine of Art, 25, 1902, an article appeared written by Marion Hepworth Dixon , Our rising Artists: Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale in which she wrote that it took Eleanor three attempts to get to become a probationer but once that was achieved in January 1895, she only remained as such for three weeks before becoming a full-student and starting an art course. In 1897 Eleanor was awarded a prize by the Royal Academy Schools for her work as a designer and promising decorative designer.

Madame Placid by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

For any up-and-coming artist wanting to establish a reputation, social connections were of paramount importance to achieving commissions and acquiring a wealthy patron. Eleanor’s education had been different to many other aspiring painters. She had not attended school, her parents deciding on home schooling, she had not attended a university and now at the age of twenty-five remained unmarried, all of which resulted in her not having many outside connections which would have helped her through her artistic life and so, she had to rely on her family and friends for a helping hand.

Land Registry certificate (1898). Designed by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale.

Her first breakthrough came in the form of a “brotherly helping-hand”. Charles her eldest brother who was working at the Land Registry persuaded her to design a certificate of registration for his newly re-organised Land Registry office.

A Cotswold Village; or, country life and pursuits in Gloucestershire, by James Gibbs

In the same year her brother Charles helped her once again. He had married Mabel Gibbs, whose brother James Gibbs an amateur cricketer who had played for the MCC, and a writer who, that year, had published a book, A Cotswold Village; or, country life and pursuits in Gloucestershire, and had Eleanor illustrate it with twenty pen and ink sketches of rural scenes. Later her reputation was further advanced when she provided pen and ink sketches for the illustrated version of Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.

Her reputation as a talented illustrator soon grew and her design work was in great demand from such popular journals as Country Life and The Ladies’ Field. Her “audience” were the wealthy landowners some of who became her patrons and would often call upon her to paint pictures of their family and stately homes.

The Pale Complexion of True Love by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1898)

In 1899 she completed her first major work of art entitled The Pale Complexion of True Love which was accepted for inclusion in that year’s Royal Academy Annual Exhibition. The title of the work is taken from Act 3 Scene IV of Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy, As You Like It, when the elderly shepherd, Corin speaks of the shepherd, Silvius’ unrequited love for the shepherdess, Phebe:

“…If you will see a pageant truly play’d,
Between the pale complexion of true love
And the red glow of scorn and proud disdain,
Go hence a little and I shall conduct you,
If you will mark it…”

The first thing that strikes you with this painting is the sumptuous red of the lady’s gown. It is interesting how the artist has used such a bright spectrum of colours. To many people, the Pre-Raphaelite painters use of bright colours was garish and lacked delicacy. To others it was this vibrancy of colour which heightened their work, but I will leave you to decide.

The Gift That is Better Than Rubies by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1899)

In 1899 Eleanor produced a painting, The Gift That is Better Than Rubies, a title derived from a passage in the Bible – Proverbs 8: 10-11.

“…Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold. For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it…”

The Gilded Apple by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1899)

In the summer of 1899, father and son art dealers, William and Walter Dowdeswell who ran a gallery in New Bond Street, London, commissioned Eleanor to produce a large number of watercolour paintings for their 1901 show which was entitled Such stuff as dreams are made of, a line from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. The depictions in these works covered subjects from the Bible, Shakespeare, Browning and Coleridge. One of her watercolour paintings on show at this exhibition was The Gilded Apple. It depicts a fairy tale princess being thrown a gilded apple. She leans back in an attempt to catch it and her crown tumbles from her head and is about to fall into a fishpond behind her. Meanwhile we see a cat ready to pounce on one of the fish in the pond.  The commission had been so big that Eleanor had decided to acquire her own studio in Holland Park, and area populated by many artists. The show was a spectacular success and all the paintings were sold. In an article in the June edition of The Artist praise was heaped upon her:

“…Rarely, if ever, has a woman painter made a great reputation as quickly and thoroughly as Miss Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, whose series of watercolour drawings has, during the last month, drawn the whole of artistic London to the Dowdeswell Galleries…”

The Little Foot Page by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1905)

One of Eleanor’s best-known paintings is one she completed in 1905 and is entitled The Little Foot Page which is now part of the Walker Art Gallery collection in Liverpool. This painting illustrates lines from a 1765 ballad Child Waters sometimes known as Burd Helen, part of the collection of traditional folk ballads by Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. The ballad describes the loyalty of Ellen who is bearing the child of her heartless lover Child Waters. He insists Ellen serve him as a page. She is shown dressed in male clothing and just about to cut her long beautiful hair, so she can pass as a boy. Her dress and wimple can be seen, discarded in the foreground. The theme of a wronged woman was a familiar one in Victorian times. Look at the painstaking way the artist has depicted the foliage. Eleanor was a great believer of the adage, “truth to nature”, and this is highlighted in the painting.

Love and his Counterfeits by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1904)

I have always liked multi-figured paintings which have a story attached and so one of my favourite works by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale is one which she completed in 1905 and entitled Love and His Counterfeits. The painting was included in the artist’s second show at the Dowdeswell Gallery, in June 1905. How many times do we look at a “complicated” work of art and wonder what is going on? If only we could ask the artists. In this case Eleanor has put us out of our misery by supplying, in her words, the story behind the depiction which came with the work. She wrote:

“…When a girl’s soul awakens and she opens the door of her Heart’s Castle to receive Love, at first she will not recognise him.
First, she will see Fear and think him to be Love. Fear, in craven armour of black, with no coat of arms or badge to mark his family. But by Fear, Love may come.
Then she will see Romance, being now in love with ‘being in love’ –
Romance, the Boy on a Bubble with a Castle of Dreams in his hand, and
Birds and Roses about him. He leads Ambition, who shall stir the girl to think he is Love himself – Ambition, very hot and eager, riding upon Pegasus, the winged Horse.
After them is Position, whom she may take for Love; but truly she is in love with Appearance, Prestige, Importance, Riches, Place, all his Train, and this is borne by a Cupid.  Now she is stirred by Pity, thinking whom she pities she loves – Pity with the Cup of tears with three handles, that many may drink.
Then she perceives Arts, a brave fellow who is but words and emptiness and a mask for love. Arts paints a wound upon him and sings that it is real. To Love he is not henchman, nor cousin, but enemy.
Behind him goes Flattery with a mirror, so she is wooed by vain words. Then Gratitude comes with the smoke of memory, and she will think she is faithless if she does not love one who has been kind.
Now, at last, after her emotion, her assault by gifts, mirrors, riches, tears, dreams, phrases, memories, comes True Love, empty-handed, to take and win her Heart’s Castle…”

The Rusty Knight (Yniol’s rusted arms) by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

During the first part of the twentieth century Eleanor carried on with her book illustration. In 1909, Ernest Brown, of the Leicester Galleries, commissioned a series of twenty-eight watercolour illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, which she painted over two years. They were exhibited in the Dowdeswell Gallery in 1911, and twenty-four of them were published the next year in a deluxe edition of the first four Idylls. The book, Idylls of the King, was a cycle of twelve narrative poems by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, which retells the legend of King Arthur.

In the painting, above, The Rusty Knight (Yniol’s rusted arms), we see the knight Sir Geraint astride his horse, accompanied by Enid who walks alongside. He has borrowed a suit of armour from her father Yniol to challenge Enid’s other suitor on the tournament ground. Geraint is a flawed character and suffers from jealousy and at times mistrusted Enid. It could be that Eleanor felt for Enid and so mocked Geraint by depicting him, peeking 0ut his ill-fitting suit of armour whilst sat on an over-large horse.

The Passing of Elaine by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1911)

Her 1911 painting, The Passing of Elaine, depicts another female character from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, which caught the imagination of Eleanor.  She was Elaine, a naïve but affectionate young girl who falls in love with Lancelot, but he has no romantic feelings for her. When he tells her that their love can never be, she wishes for death. She orders a chariot bier to take her to the river and place her on a barge, clothed in black upon which she will make her final journey down the river to King Arthur’s Court in the castle at Camelot.

Portrait of Winifred Roberts, by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, (1913)

The works of art of Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale were not all book illustrations, neither were they all Pre-Raphaelite-type paintings. One of my favourite works by Fortescue-Brickdale is a portrait which she completed in 1913. It is a portrait of Winifred Roberts, a student at the Byam Shaw School of Art, where she taught. The portrait was a commission given to Eleanor by Winifred’s grandmother Rosalind Howard. Winifred wears a blue dress with lace trimming. She is sitting on a settee which is covered in a fabric produced by Morris and Company, a furnishings and decorative arts manufacturer and retailer founded by the artist and designer William Morris with friends from the Pre-Raphaelites.

In 1938, Brickdale’s career as an artist and illustrator was cut short when she suffered a stroke and was unable to paint for the last seven years of her life. Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale died in Surrey on March 11th, 1944 at the age of 79.

Eleanor was acknowledged as having revived the Pre-Raphaelite style of painting at the end of the 19th century and was considered ‘the last survivor of the late Pre-Raphaelite painters’. Her style of painting and her illustrative work had many admirers who baulked at the new modern art which was becoming more popular, what they wanted and what Eleanor gave them was aesthetically pleasing art which told stories.

Sophie Gray by John Everett Millais

Sophie Gray by John Everett Millais (1857)
Sophie Gray by John Everett Millais (1857)

Much has been written about the love triangle of the pre-Raphaelite artist, John Everett Millais, the art critic, John Ruskin and his wife, Euphemia Gray.  This year we will be offered two feature films, Effie and Untouched exploring their relationship but for today I want to look at the life of Millais’ other sister-in-law, Sophie Gray.  Sophie was Effie’s younger sister, and today I am featuring the amazing portrait of her by her brother-in-law, Millais.

Sophie Gray was born in Kinnoull, a suburb of Perth, Scotland in 1843. She was brought up in a comfortable family environment, her father, George Gray, having his own solicitor’s practice, along with money from property investments in Perth.  Her family, although not considered to be rich, could neither be described as poor and she would have had everything money could buy to ensure that she was kept safe, warm and in good health. George Gray and her mother, Sophia Margaret Gray, née Jameson, had fifteen children although by the time Sophie, their tenth child, arrived, five had died and sadly, before Sophie had reached her seventh birthday in 1850 another two of her siblings had passed away and a third died a year later.  Sophie was fifteen years younger than her elder sister Effie.

Effie Gray, first met John Ruskin, who was a family friend, in 1840, when she was twelve, whilst she was on a visit to Herne Hill and they met again a a year later.  Six years passed before their next encounter in October 1847 and it was at this meeting that John Ruskin started to fall in love with the nineteen-year old Effie, so much so that when Ruskin returned to his home in London, he wrote to Effie’s father and asked for her hand in marriage. George Gray consented and marriage plans for the following year were drawn up. These plans were disrupted by Effie’s father becoming almost bankrupt due to a railway speculation going awry. However, the wedding did eventually take place at Effie’s home in Bowerswell House on April 10th 1848.

At the time of the wedding Sophie was just five years old and she would often go to London and stay with her sister and Ruskin.  Effie, in many ways, became a second mother to her.   The marriage between Effie and Ruskin as it has been well documented was not a success and could have been down to many reasons such as their totally different personalities and their differing temperaments for Effie was naturally sociable and flirtatious, and soon began to feel oppressed by her husband’s  dogmatic and unbending personality.  In April 1854, Sophie had been staying with her sister and husband and on the pretext of having to take her little sister back home to Scotland Effie left the marital home at Herne Hill and never returned.  The marriage was annulled on the grounds of non-consummation in July of that year.

Sophie Gray (aged 10) by Millais (1854
Sophie Gray (aged 10) by Millais (1854

Sophie Gray had first met John Everett Millais in 1853 and she, like her sister, Effie, had modeled for him.  He painted several pictures of her and this led, in some quarters, to speculation as to Millais relationship with his young sister-in-law.  The first painting of Sophie produced by Millais was a sensitive watercolour drawing of her, in oval form, in January 1854 when she was just ten years old. Millais appears to have been totally entranced by the prettiness of the young girl who would soon become his future sister-in-law.  When he had completed the work he wrote to Sophie’s mother extolling the virtues of her daughter.  He wrote:
“…What a delightful little shrewd damsel Sophia is…I do not praise her to please you, but I think her extremely beautiful, and that she will even improve, as yet she does not seem to have the slightest idea of it herself which makes her prettier—I am afraid that ignorance cannot last long…”

Autumn Leaves by John Everett Millais (1856)
Autumn Leaves by John Everett Millais (1856)

Sophie continued to sit for Millais; in fact, she was being used as his model more than he used Effie.  Her sister Effie, now divorced from Ruskin had moved back to Scotland and from August 1855 lived with Millais at Annat Lodge which was close to her parent’s home at Bowerswell and so Sophie was always on hand to sit for Millais.  Sophie’s beauty had become even more noticeable as she changed from a young girl to a young teenager.  One of next paintings Millais completed of Sophie was in 1856 when she had yet to reach her thirteenth birthday.  It was entitled Autumn Leaves which he exhibited at the Royal Academy that year.   In this painting Sophie is one of four girls standing around a smouldering bonfire of fallen leaves which they had been collecting.  The twilight setting is the garden at Annat Lodge and in the background we see the Arochar Alps. The girl on the left is Sophie’s younger sister Alice, who was two years her junior.  Next to her is Sophie who is, like Alice, dressed in a green velvet dress.  On the right there are two young working-class girls from the village, Matilda Proudfoot and Isabella Nicol.  Millais used these same two local girls as sitters for his beautiful painting, The Blind Girl, (See My Daily Art Display May 16th 2011).  As we look closely at these four young girls Sophie stands apart as the one who is not to be looked upon as a young girl but one who should be considered as becoming a young woman.

The painting received mixed reviews.  John Ruskin described the work as:

“…the first instance of a perfectly painted twilight…”

and

“…[It] will rank in future among the world’s best masterpieces…”

 

For others, like some of the members of the Royal Academy, the subject of the painting baffled them.  One wrote:

“…We are curious to learn the mystic interpretation that will be put upon this composition…”

John Millais’s wife, Effie, wrote that her husband had intended to create a picture that was “full of beauty and without a subject”.  Millais wrote to his friend and art critic, Frederic Stephens, who was also one of the two “non-artistic” members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and who had written a glowing report about the work.  Millais explained the thought behind the painting stating that he:

“… intended the picture to awaken by its solemnity the deepest religious reflection. I chose the subject of burning leaves as most calculated to produce this feeling…”

However my featured painting today is the truly haunting head and shoulder intimate portrait entitled Sophie Gray which he completed in 1857 when his sitter was just fourteen years of age.  The young girl occupies an uncharacteristically large portion of the picture.   A delicate light illuminates the left side of her face and this emphasizes the golden brown colour of her hair with its auburn highlights.  Sophie’s clothes are unremarkable.  They are dark in colour and simply decorated with an embroidered heart with three flowers within it.  What an enigmatic portrait.  Her long hair frames her face and becomes one with the equally dark background, leaving only her pale skin and the touch of lace at her throat as an absolute contrast.  Sophie looks out at us.  Her ice-blue eyes stare blankly and expressionless.  Her lush red lips and rosy cheeks are a contrast to her white skin and dark background.  Her lips are defiantly pursed and her chin is tilted up slightly in a determined manner.  This is a young woman of great self-confidence for one so young.  The way Millais has depicted the beauty of his young sister-in-law leaves us in no doubt for the fondness he had for the young girl. It is an alluring and haunting portrait.  This is a very personal work of art.  There is a definite connection between the artist and the sitter and one feels that had he not loved his wife, his relationship with Sophie may have been much different.

Alice Gray by Millais (1857)
Alice Gray by Millais (1857)

This beautiful Pre-Raphaelite painting, dating from the height of the movement, is a pendant to a similar head of Sophie’s younger sister Alice, who was another of Millais’ favourite models.   Both works were bought from Millais by his friend, the Pre-Raphaelite landscape and figurative artist, George Price Boyce, for himself and on behalf of his sister Joanna, also an artist. There is a well-defined difference between the two portraits. The painting of Alice, the younger of the two sisters is simply an uncomplicated portrait of a young and somewhat immature girl, whereas the portrait of Sophie is a painting which demonstrates the electric energy that was present between the sitter and the artist.

So what became of Sophie Gray?   She had major mental health problems and in 1868, in her mid-twenties, she spent time away from home, staying at Manor Farm House in Chiswick receiving medical care from a Doctor Thomas Tuke, who was a noted practitioner in mental health.  She remained under his care, away from the family home, and did not return to Scotland until the following year.    Sophie did not marry until 1873, at what was in Victorian times looked upon as a very advanced age of thirty. She married Sir James Key Caird, who was a wealthy jute manufacturer, and the couple had one child, a daughter Beatrix Ada a year later.  A portrait of their daughter, when she was five years old, was painted by Dante Rossetti.  The marriage was an unhappy one and Sophie’s husband paid little attention to his wife’s needs and was often absent from the marital home.   Sophie spent much of her time alone with Beatrix, mostly living between Dundee and Paris.   She had suffered from anorexia nervosa for a good deal of her life and in her later years lost a lot of weight.  In 1882, with her health rapidly deteriorating, she had to return to the care of Doctor Tuke but her health never improved and on March 15th 1882, aged 38 she died.  The cause of death was put down to “exhaustion and atrophy of nervous system, 17 years”.

As I wrote this blog I couldn’t help but wonder how the beautiful thirteen year old we see in the main picture could lead such a sad life and die so young.  Such a waste of life.

The Forerunner by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

The Forerunner by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1920)

Today I am going to continue looking at the life of Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale and feature another of her paintings.   Whilst most of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood continued to be household names even though it was more than a century after their deaths, not all those who followed in their footsteps are as well recognised today as they were at the height of their fame.

When Eleanor was growing up she would have been aware of the art of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as there were still commemorative exhibitions and books being published about their work.   There is no doubt that even at that early age the publicity surrounding the art work of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood would have influenced Eleanor.   She was a painter, who continued the Pre-Raphaelite tradition, reworking romantic and moralising medieval subjects in naturalistic and often intense colour and elaborates detail.

In my last blog I had reached 1895 and Eleanor had just been accepted at the Royal Academy Schools in London having previously studied art at St John’s Wood School.   Whilst attending the Royal Academy School she met Byam Shaw and their friendship and working relationship endured for almost twenty-five years until his untimely death, aged forty-six in 1919.  Byam Shaw was a painter, decorator and illustrator, who was the same age as Eleanor, and had been born in Madras in 1872.   Byam was to become a big influence on her artistic work and like Eleanor he had been commissioned to do numerous pen and ink drawings and watercolours for books.

Whilst at the art school, Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale won a £40 prize in 1896 for her design for the decoration of a public building and, the following year, she made her debut with a black and white work in the RA’s exclusive Summer Exhibition.  Following this success she progressed to colour illustrative work and by the end of the century she was making a name for herself as a painter with oils which she began exhibiting at the Royal Academy and in my last blog I featured the first oil painting she had exhibited there, entitled The Pale Complexion of True Love.  In 1899 she received a commission for a number of watercolours from Charles Dowdeswell who with his brother, Charles, were art dealers who owned the Dowdeswell and Dowdeswell art gallery in New Bond Street, London.   She completed the commission in 1901 by producing forty-five watercolours and her work was shown at the Dowedswell gallery under the Shakespearean title Such Stuff as Dreams are Made of.  The press greeted the exhibition as a spectacular success and her work was immediately likened to that of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood painters of the 1850’s.  In the June 1901 issue of The Artist, her exhibition was reviewed:

“…Rarely, if ever has a woman painter made a great reputation as quickly and as thoroughly as Miss Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, whose series of watercolour drawings has, during last month, drawn the whole of artistic London to the Dowdeswell Galleries……She combines great technical skill with extremely felicitous, quaint imagination and rare poetic feeling…. [This exhibition] should be sufficient to secure her a leading position among the women artists of this country…”

All but two of her works were sold and with the money she received she acquired her own studio in Holland Park, in west London, which was the home of many artists.   This was to be her artistic base for the rest of her life.  She had been living at home with her sister Kate and her mother Sarah.  Her father had been killed in a climbing accident in the Alps in 1894.  In 1908 Eleanor, her mother and sister moved house and went to live in West Kensington where she would remain for the next thirty years.  Her mother died the following year.

Her name as an artist was indelibly made after the Dowdeswell exhibition and numerous journals and newspapers wrote about her and her work.  In 1905, despite the large number of painting commissions she received, she decided to take up teaching art and, along with her old artistic friends Byam Shaw and Rex Vicat Cole, taught one day a week at the art school of King’s College for Women. By 1909 these three were looked upon and advertised as leading the art courses at the college.  However the following year Cole and Shaw were disillusioned with the teaching at the college and, along with Eleanor, they left.  They set up their own art school known as the Byam Shaw School of Art.  Shaw and Cole were the joint principals and Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale was in charge of the Watercolour and Composition sections.    In 2003, this school of drawing and painting was integrated with Central Saint Martins, but maintained its individual title and teaching approach.

Eleanor carried on with her work as an illustrator of books and was never short of commissions.  She was a hard and diligent worker.  Maybe she worked too hard as in the early 1920’s she was struck down with a long and unexplained illness which prevented her working and affected her eyesight.  It was this problem with her eyesight that made her concentrate on larger works rather than the finely detailed watercolours in which she had specialised.  The appearance of her works at various exhibitions started to decrease and it was during this time that she made a number of glass designs which were seen in churches around the country, and which no doubt mirrored the stained-glass work of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Burne-Jones.  One such window, which she designed in 1928, was for the Bristol church of All Saints’ Clifton commemorated the passing of her brother John in 1921.

Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale remained artistically active well into her sixties although she bemoaned the fact that in her mind, Pre-Raphaelitism was no longer wanted.  In 1938, aged sixty-six she suffered a stroke which put an end to her art.  She died seven years later in March 1945, aged 73.

For my featured painting today I have chosen a work by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale which I saw last week at the Lady Lever Museum exhibition of her work.  It was a painting which immediately caught my eye and I was curious to know what it was all about.  The work, which she completed in 1920, is entitled The Forerunner and has the subtitle:  Leonardo da Vinci showing a model of his flying machine to Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, and his Court.

The Forerunner title derives from a novel entitled The Romance of Leonardo Da Vinci: The Forerunner by Dmitry Merezhkovsky and was a fictional tale about the conflicted life of Leonardo da Vinci: genius on the one hand,  counterbalanced by the pagan world, in conflict with the fanatical religious climate in which he lived.

The painting is set in the court of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan and depicts Leonardo, the artist, theoretician, designer and scientist, demonstrating his model flying machine to his patrons Ludovico Sforza and his wife, Beatrice d’ Este.   In the painting, Beatrice d’ Este is seated on the left and appears totally indifferent to Leonardo’s presentation.  On the other side of Leonardo stands the Duke.  He seems bemused and somewhat sceptical of what Leonardo is showing him and what he is being told.   Leonardo had a troubled relationship with his patron Ludovico Sforza.   The Duke had rubbished many of Leonardo’s ideas and on occasions failed to pay Leonardo for his commissioned work.  There was also little love lost between Leonardo and the Duchess, Beatrice d’ Este, as she was angry with the artist for painting a portrait of her husband’s mistress, Cecilia Gallerani, a painting, which we know as Lady with an Ermine.  In this painting Fortescue-Brickdale has included Cecilia in the painting standing next to the seated duchess and to her left is the Duchess of Albano.  Positioned behind the seated duchess, in a hooded monk’s habit, is Girolamo Savanarola, a much feared Dominican friar and preacher who was known for his prophecies of civic glory and calls for Christian renewal. He denounced clerical corruption, despotic rule and the exploitation of the poor.  In a way his addition to the painting is a reminder of his and the Church’s antagonism towards scientific advancement.  Savonarola was to become very powerful in Florence after the fall of the Medici family in 1494.  For all those in the painting who doubted the wisdom of Leonardo’s new invention there was one avid believer.   In the centre of the painting, with his back to us, Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale has added the small figure of a boy who looks up at Leonardo, mesmerised by what the great man holds in his hands.  The boy is Ludovico’s son Cesare.

It is a sumptuous painting measuring just 60cms high and 122 cms long.  Brickdale’s interest in the subject reflects her enthusiasm for Renaissance art and her fascination with Leonardo da Vinci.   Another possible explanation for the choice of the theme of this painting could be due to Eleanor having personal connections with Charles Rolls the aviator and the fact that she had always shown an interest in aeroplane technology.

The painting was bought by Lord Leverhulme in 1920.  In the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool there is a preliminary watercolour study for ‘The Forerunner’ .

The Pale Complexion of True Love by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

The Pale Complexion of True Love
by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1898)

Today I want to look at the life of Pre-Raphaelite painter, Mary Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, who was born thirty-four years after the original seven English Pre-Raphaelites painters formed an artistic group, known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, whose aim it was to reject classicism and return to the vibrant colours and complex details of earlier Italian and Flemish art. But while the Brothers were starting to go their own way artistically and the Brotherhood was heading for extinction, their ideas were not.

When I visited the Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde at the Tate Britain a week ago I was struck by just the few paintings on display which had been painted by women.  There were a couple of watercolours by Dante Rossetti’s model and mistress, Elizabeth Siddall.  There were some early photographs taken by Julia Margaret Cameron and some embroidery by Jane Burden who later became Mrs Jane Morris, but little else from any other female Pre-Raphaelite painters.  So it was very pleasing to find that a local art gallery, not too far from me, The Lady Lever Gallery in Port Sunlight, Wirral had just put on a small exhibition of work by a feminine Pre-Raphaelite painter entitled A Pre- Raphaelite Journey which showcased the art of Mary Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale.  In my next couple of blogs I want to look at the life of this gifted female artist and feature some of her paintings.

Mary Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale was born in the prosperous London suburb of Upper Norwood, Surrey in 1872.   She was brought up in an affluent household which, besides the family, also housed four live-in servants and a governess.  Eleanor was the youngest of five children.  Her father Matthew was a Lincoln Inn’s barrister who had married Sarah Anna Lloyd, the daughter of a judge from Bristol.   At this juncture in Victorian England, parents expected their sons to prosper at school and go onto university, after which they would secure well paid, high status professions.  Daughters were not expected to achieve any great academic status but would harness all their efforts into securing a “good” marriage.  Mary Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale’s two brothers achieved all that was expected of them.  Both Charles and John Fortescue-Brickdale graduated from Oxford University, following which Charles, like his father became a lawyer and John followed a career in medicine.  Of the three daughters, Anne had died at the age of six leaving Eleanor and Kate to fulfill their parents’ plans of finding themselves “good” husbands.  However, unlike their brothers, they were not to realize their parent’s wishes as neither married.

The Fortescue-Brickdale family had tentative ties to the world of art with Eleanor’s father being a fellow Oxford university student of John Ruskin and later Eleanor’s brother Charles, who was an amateur artist, would attend Ruskin’s lectures at Oxford.  Eleanor had originally shown an interest in painting and drawing but merely as a pastime.  As she grew older, she began to take art more seriously and consider it as a possible future profession.  In 1889, aged seventeen, Eleanor enrolled at the Crystal Palace School of Art, Science and Literature.  It was not considered a prestigious art school and did not have any famous painters on the staff but it was close to where Eleanor lived and so was deemed fit for purpose.  The school was open to both boys and girls but the science classes were only for young men whilst the art classes were solely for young women.  The only mingling of the sexes occurred in the music classes.

In 1894, tragedy was to strike the Fortescue-Brickdale family with Eleanor’s father being killed whilst climbing in the Swiss Alps.  Eleanor having gained a basic knowledge of art and artistic techniques whilst at the Crystal Palace School of Art, realised that to become a professional artist she needed to attend a much more professionally run art establishment and in the mid 1890’s she enrolled at the St John’s Wood Art School.  The aim of this school was to train students for the Royal Academy Schools and it was very successful at this, as between 1880 and 1895, 250 out of 394 students admitted to the Royal Academy had come from St John’s Wood Art School and furthermore, of the 86 prizes awarded to students by the Royal Academy, 62 had been ex-pupils of St John’s Wood Art School.   To achieve entry to the Royal Academy Schools as a probationer one had to submit certain prescribed pieces of work.  If the submitted works were considered acceptable, the candidate then had to endure a three month probationary period before being allowed on to a full-time course.   In January 1895, on her third attempt to become a probationer, Eleanor was admitted.  Despite the initial problems of being accepted as a probationer, her work during her probationary period was looked upon as being so good that she was allowed to embark on a full-time course after just three weeks.

Eleanor managed to cover the costs of her first year at the Academy by selling some of her work which she used to work on before and after attending the Academy School.  Although this was a financially good option for her,  it made her days very long.  Two years later in 1897 she was awarded a prize for her design work and the recognition she received for this led to a number of commissions, including one from her brother Charles’ legal practice, and one for illustrating a book entitled A Cotswold Village, which was written by her brother-in-law, J Arthur Gibbs.  Soon she became one of the most visible female artists of her time.  One must remember that Eleanor was a single woman, had not gone to a public school instead had been home educated, did not go to university and so lacked the opportunity in later life to cultivate connections with ex students.  The one thing that was going for her was the sector of society in which she grew up.  Their neighbourhood family friends included well-to-do bankers and lawyers, landed families who had houses in town, all of which needed decorating and acquiring paintings to hang on their walls.  These were people with disposal incomes.  They were also readers of upper-class publications such as Country Life and The Ladies Field and Eleanor managed to find work at these magazines using her well-loved artistic design skills.  She contributed illustrations to these magazines for over ten years and from people seeing and admiring her work she began to build up a sizeable patronage

In 1898 she had her first major work of art entitled The Pale Complexion of True Love accepted for the Royal Academy Exhibition of that year.  This is my featured painting of the day.  The title of the work is taken from Act 3 Scene IV of Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy, As You Like It, when the elderly shepherd, Corin speaks of the shepherd, Silvius’ unrequited love for the shepherdess, Phebe:

“…If you will see a pageant truly play’d,
Between the pale complexion of true love
And the red glow of scorn and proud disdain,
Go hence a little and I shall conduct you,
If you will mark it…”

The first thing that strikes you with this painting is the sumptuous red of the lady’s gown.  It is interesting how the artist has used such a bright spectrum of colours.  To many people, the Pre-Raphaelite painters use of bright colours is too garish and lacks subtlety.  To others it is this vibrancy of colour which enhances the work.   I will let you decide which camp you find yourself in.

In my next blog I will continue the life story of Eleanor Fotrtescue-Brickdale and look at another of her paintings.