My featured artist today and over the next two blogs, is the Dutch nineteenth century landscape painter Charles Henri Joseph Leickert. His painting genre was also often associated with another artistic “-ism”, that of Romanticism. But what is Romanticism when used as a description of an artist’s work. In his 1950 book De Romanesken, the Dutch art writer, Frans Hannema described Romanticism in art as:
“…A great emotive stirring of the heart; an all enveloping expansion of feeling; a controllable urge for the whimsical, the grotesque, the fantastic and the eerie; a boundless desire and self-imposed hardship; a fantastic devotion and passionate contempt; an unfathomable nostalgia for the transience of all happiness and for the inconstancy of all things; a flight from circumscribed reality to the interminable dream: these are the fiercely jostling and often contradictory emotions with which the soul of the Romantic individual is affected…”
However, Romanticism in art was not that evident in Dutch paintings of the time. The leading Romantics of the nineteenth century were the Frenchman, Théodore Géricault, and Eugene Delacroix and the German Caspar David Friedrich. Dutch paintings in the early nineteenth century were generally limited to landscapes and cityscapes. The favourite Dutch artists of the time were from the bygone days of the seventeenth century such as Jan van Goyen, Salomon van Ruysdael, Jacob van Ruisdael, and Isaac van Ostade. Unlike the Romantic depictions of forests and waterfalls depicted in Jacob van Ruysdael’s works, Leickert preferred to depict everyday Dutch village and river scenes with their picturesque embankments or winter scenes featuring frozen canals on which people would be seen skating, and the frozen rivers and canals would often be overlooked by windmills. However, the Romantic title associated with Leickert was probably due to his ability to saturate his scenes with what is almost a supernatural light which was so prevalent in his depictions especially those featuring the evening sun.
So why is Leickert not a well-known Dutch artist? Some historians believe the answer lies with his character. He was a shy person and often hid his light under the proverbial bushel. The bushel being his mentor and teacher, Andreas Schelfhout, whose shadow Leickert was pleased to remain under. The subject of Schelfhout’s works was very similar to that of Leickert or maybe that should be seen the other way around! Andreas Schelfhout was a Dutch painter, etcher, and lithographer, known for his landscape paintings. Schelfhout belonged to the Romantic movement and his Dutch winter scenes with frozen canals and skaters were already famous during his lifetime.
Charles Leickert was born on September 22nd, 1816 in Brussels. His parents were, his father Henricus Michael Leickert who had been born in Wittendorf, Germany in 1781 and his mother, also German-born, Henrietta Frederique Martilly. Leickert’s parents, who were married in Berlin, lived there until 1815, at which time with the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo and the subsequent ending of the First French Empire, the French were driven out of the Netherlands and Leickert’s father, mother, and his eldest sister, two-year-old, Louïze Frederica, moved from Berlin to Brussels.
Leickert’s father gained employment as the King’s chamberlain (valet de chambre) at the court of King Willem I. At this time, and until 1820, the Kingdom of the Netherlands had twin seats of government, The Hague in Northern Netherlands, and Brussels in Southern Netherlands and so Henricus Leicker, as part of the royal entourage, had to move with his family backwards and forwards from one city to the other. In 1816 Charles Leickert was born in Brussels while some his younger siblings were later born in The Hague. Finally, around 1820 The Hague was designated as the sole capital of The Netherlands and the Leickert family made their home there. With the defeat of Napoleon and the ending of the French annexation of the Netherlands thousands of people came to live in the country and the population of The Hague swelled. The surge in population led to housing shortages, poor sanitation and disease which led to a large rise in infant mortality. The Leickert family were hit hard losing most of their children before they reached adulthood, some due to typhoid and tuberculosis and his three-year-old brother died of his burns in a fire.
Charles Leickert managed to survive and when he was just twelve years old, because he was showing talent as an artist, his father enrolled him into The Hague Drawing Academy in 1827. The tutor who had the most influence on Leickert was the Dutch landscape and cityscape painter, Bartholomeus van Hove. In 1828, a year after his enrolment, Charles Leickert’s father Henricus died. The cause of death was given as verval van krachten which simply means a decline in strength which seems very unusual as Henricus was just forty-five years old, but it could have been “part and parcel” of the poor sanitary conditions of the city at the time. Leickert’s mother Henrietta was left to bring up the family but struggled financially as her poor health meant she could not work. She pleaded successfully with the art academy to give her son artistic tuition for free, a decision which says a lot for Leickert’s talent. With no money to pay the mortgage, the king stepped in and bought the house of his one-time servant and Henrietta, along with Charles and his two sisters, Adelheid and Barbara, moved into rented accommodation. The health of Leickert’s mother continued to deteriorate and she eventually died in 1830.
Charles Leickert’s mother was a great believer in her son’s talent as an artist and she wrote a short poem in one of his sketchbooks as a testament to her belief that one day he would become a great painter. A translated version of her poem is:
Accept this booklet, little Lijket And fill it with sweet studies Improve your judgement, and the little heart That burns with love so sweet for art With little skills, free from small sorrows May life flit by till death draws nigh.
Walk in the little field and in small nature Observe and draw each little hour Every little object, be it great or small And great you shall one day be as artist.
Charles then 14 years of age, Adelheid aged 10 and Barbara aged 12 were placed in the Civic Orphanage. Their older sister Louïze, who was eighteen, had her own home as a live-in domestic. Although being consigned to an orphanage seems harsh, it had its benefits. Sanitation was good, the children were inoculated against infections which were killing many children at the time and they were fed and clothed. Life in fact for the children was quite good, and for Charles, being the son of the former First Chamberlain to the King, he was allowed to carry on his art lessons at the Drawing Academy. Art played a part in the orphanage and the children were encouraged to try out art and the most talented would attend painting classes which were funded by charitable bequests.
It is known, through his biographer, Johannes Immerzeel, that Charles Leickert’s first art teacher was Bartholomeus van Hove who ran a flourishing studio as well as teaching at The Hague Drawing Academy. Whilst under van Hove’s tutelage, Leickert honed his drawing skills and the art of chiaroscuro. The term chiaroscuro derives from the two words chiaro bright (< Latin clārus) + oscuro dark (< Latin obscūrus) and describes the prominent contrast of light and shade in a painting, and how the artist by managing the shadows is able to create the illusion of three-dimensional forms.
…………….. to be continued
Most of the information for the three blogs on Charles Leickert came from excellent 1999 book entitled Charles Leickert 1816-1907: Painter of Dutch Landscape by Harry J Kraaij
It is often strange that a chance meeting or a chance happening can affect one’s life but for my featured artist today his life was changed when he met a man who offered him a chance to go on a “holiday adventure”. Intrigued? Then come and join me as I look at the life of the nineteenth century American painter Alfred Jacob Miller and explore the world of mountain men and the famous rendezvous of trappers.
Miller was born in Baltimore, Maryland on January 2, 1810. Like many artists I have featured, as a child, he loved to paint and sketch. Apparently when he was at school he loved to create caricatures of his teachers which often got him into trouble. It is said that his first art lessons were given to him by the talented American portrait painter, Thomas Sully in Philadelphia.
Miller worked on his portraiture and an example of this early work can be seen in his companion pieces Portrait of Colonel Alexander Smith and his wife Portrait of Lydia Lloyd Murray which he was commissioned to paint in 1833.
Colonel Alexander Smith served in the Morgan Volunteers which was a militia based in Baltimore part of the Maryland militia, a group of men which is probably the equivalent of the current National Guard. Colonel Smith paid Miller $75 for the pair of paintings. The two paintings are now housed in the Walters Museum in Baltimore.
Little is known about Miller’s early years except that his talent as an aspiring artist was blossoming. In his 1832 book Six Months in America, the seasoned traveller and travel writer, Godfrey Vigne wrote:
“…At Baltimore I visited the studies of two very promising young artists: Mr Hubbard, an Englishman, is certainly the better painter; but has the advantage of four or five years of experience over Mr Miller, who is an American , quite a boy; and whom, I think, at least an equal genius. He has had little or no instruction. If sent to Europe as he certainly ought to be, I will venture to predict, that at some future period he will be an ornament to his native city; and which he certainly never will, or can be, if he does not leave it…”
Whether or not Vigne spoke to Miller about the advantages of travelling to Europe to study art is not known but it is quite likely. The seeds must have been planted in Miller’s mind for in 1833, at the age of twenty-three, with the financial backing of his parents, he did leave the shores of America and head for Europe in order to enhance his knowledge of his true love, art. Whilst in Europe, he visited Switzerland, the Italian cities of Bologna, and Rome where he studied religious art at the Gallerie Borghese. He also made many sketching trips through the Lazio region, north of the Italian capital, Venice and spent a considerable amount of time in Paris, where he attended life classes at the École des Beaux Arts. During his stay in the French capital, Miller like other visiting painters would spend time at the Louvre and other galleries copying the works of the Old Masters.
Miller loved to sketch, in fact he was a prolific sketcher and filled many sketchbooks with his sketches, most of which were accompanied by his own captions. Above the sketch, Baltimore Watchman, on which, he scribbled in pencil:
“…Recollections” and “One of the Dogberry’s of 1825 Balto”.
Below the figure he scrawled:
“…”after crying the hour of ten, he slept soundly in his box– until roused again…”
Many of his sketches depicted theatre life but also life in the home. One poignant sketch of his was entitled The Two Friends.
Another moving sketch was entitled Bridge of Sighs which shows a woman committing suicide by jumping from a bridge. Miller’s scribbled notes at the bottom of the sketch are a quote from the Thomas Hood 1844 poem Bridge of Sighs:
“…It was pitiful, near a whole city full, Friend, had she non….”
Thomas Hood’s poem also inspired the English painter, George Frederick Watts to complete his moving 1850 painting, Found Drowned (see My Daily Art Display, July 4th 2011)
Miller returned to Baltimore in 1834 and opened his own portrait studio but his portrait business was poor and so, in December 1836, he decided to relocate to New Orleans and ply his trade in that city. Miller set up lodgings on the second floor of L. Chittenden’s dry-goods store on Chartres Street in New Orleans. This also acted as his studio. However, money was still tight as his optimism that commissions would soon roll in was unfounded and his financial plight was such that he painted the landlord’s portrait in lieu of his rent. In return his landlord also allowed Miller to place some of his works of art in the shop window. Maybe this was fate for Miller’s artwork attracted a passer-by who came into the shop and watched Miller at work. The man was Captain William Drummond Stewart. He was the second son of Sir George Stewart, seventeenth Lord of Grandtully and fifth baronet of Murthly. William Stewart was a Scottish adventurer and retired British military officer, who had travelled around the American West in the 1830’s. He told Miller that he was about to set off to attend the annual rendezvous of fur trappers and traders in the Rocky Mountains in the summer and needed an artist to accompany him and record the trip.
Miller’s painting Attack by Crow Indians has a fascinating story to go with it. Miller did not witness the scene himself, which happened during an earlier expedition of Captain Stewart’s who then recounted the story to Miller who converted his words into a painting.. In fact Miller made a number of versions of Stewart’s story. The account of the story appears in the book entitled Broken Hand by LeRoy Hafen. In it he tells of what happened a century earlier:
“…a band of young Crows invaded the camp while Fitzpatrick was away and Stewart was in charge. They carried off stock, pelts, and other property. They encountered Fitzpatrick on their return and stripped him of everything of value as well. As Stewart described the incident, the Crow medicine man had told the braves that, if they struck the first blow, they could not win. Thus, they had to provoke Stewart or someone in his party into striking the first blow. Stewart stood firm, refusing to strike. The Crows left, and the captain survived a situation in which he would have surely lost the battle. Fitzpatrick managed to talk the Crows into returning most of what they had taken…”
These annual Rocky Mountain Rendezvous, which began in 1822 and went on for fifteen years, happened in various locations during the spring and early summer months. The rendezvous was originally organised by a St. Louis businessman and politician William H. Ashley. The idea was that the trappers, who lived in the wild collecting furs, would not have to leave the mountains to come to the cities to sell or exchange their wares for much needed rations but would instead exchange their produce at an annual fair in the mountain regions. Ashley advertised for men who were willing to seek adventure as trappers and stay in the mountainous wilderness for up to two or three years.
These “Rendezvous” were a kind of trading fair organised by the fur trading companies at which the trappers and so-called mountain men would exchange their furs and hides, which they had collected during the year, for supplies which would allow them to survive the harsh winters. The fur trading companies would then move the furs and hides to places in the Pacific Northwest or the ports on the northern Missouri river. It was a time of celebration when the trappers and their wives and children as well as Native Indians would come to the Rendezvous after a long season of hunting. The fur trading companies, as well as bringing food, weapons and ammunition, would also bring whisky which no doubt enhanced the celebrations. The trapper and mountain man, James Pierson Beckwourth, who narrated his life story, which was then made into a book in 1856 entitled The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth: Mountaineer, Scout and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians, told of the merriment:
“…“Mirth, songs, dancing, shouting, trading, running, jumping, singing, racing, target-shooting, yarns, frolic, with all sorts of extravagances that white men or Indians could invent…”
William Stewart had been present at four previous rendezvous but due to the failing health of his brother , the then lord of Grandtully and baronet of Murthly, he had an inclination that this 1837 one maybe his last and so believed that the event should be recorded pictorially by an artist – hence Alfred Jacob Miller. Miller also knew he had little to lose by leaving New Orleans and so readily agreed to take part in the adventure. The Rendezvous in the spring of 1837 was to take place on the banks of the tributary of the Green River an area which is at the centre of the Rocky Mountain region and is now part of Wyoming. Stewart, Miller, representatives from the American Fur Company and the caravan of goods set off for St Louis in April 1837. On arriving at St Louis, William Stewart introduced Alfred Miller to Governor William Clark, an American explorer, soldier, Superintendant of Indian Affairs and territorial governor. His collection of artefacts and paintings by George Catlin, who was an American painter, author, and traveller who specialized in portraits of native Americans in the Old West. They had a great influence on Miller. From St Louis the fur company’s caravan headed across what is now known as Kansas and finally arrived at the Platte River. From there they headed into western Wyoming and finally arrived at their destination, the valley Horse Creek with its backdrop of the Wind River Mountains part of the Rocky Mountain range.
Throughout the journey Miller was continuously sketching the exquisite mountainous terrain, the people who were part of the caravan and of course the mountain men and Indians who had come to exchange their furs and hides. At the rendezvous site the fur trappers and Indians were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Fur Company’s caravan. These people made excellent sitters for Miller’s portraits. One such person whose portrait Miller completed was Antoine Clement who had been one of the scouts and buffalo hunters who had supplied the people on the travelling caravan with food during their journey. Clement was a half caste, his father was French, his mother a native Indian. All in all Miller’s stay at Horse Creek lasted three weeks and then after two weeks on a hunting trip with William Stewart they returned to New Orleans.
One painting Miller converted from one of his sketches was The Lost Greenhorn. The story behind the painting was given in Miller’s 1837 book entitled The West of Alfred Jacob Miller:
“…On reaching the Buffalo District, one of our young men began to be ambitious, and although it was his first journey, boasted continually of what he would do in hunting Buffalo if permitted. This was John (our cook), he was an Englishman and did no discredit to that illustrious nation in his stupid conceit and wrong-headed obstinacy. Our Captain, when any one boasted, put them to the test, so a day was given to John and he started off early alone. The day passed over, night came, – but so did not John. Another day rolled over, the hunters returning at evening without having met him. The next morning men were dispatched in different quarters, and at about two o’clock, one of the parties brought in the wanderer – crest fallen and nearly starved;- he was met by a storm of ridicule and roasted on every side by the Trappers. Thus carrying out that ugly maxim of Rochefoucault’s ‘There is always something in the misfortune of our friends not disagreeable to us’…”‘
Once back in the Louisiana city Miller set to work on his large collection of sketches he had made whilst at the rendezvous and completed an album of eighty seven of the watercolour sketches. William Thompson Walters, an American businessman and art collector, whose collection was to form the basis of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore where many of Miller’s paintings are housed, commissioned two hundred watercolours from Miller paying him twelve dollars per painting. Each sketch was accompanied by Miller’s descriptive text. It took Alfred Miller almost two years to complete the commission which William Walters then had bound in three leather volumes.
Miller was interested in the lifestyle of the Native Americans and his painting entitled Indian Lodge looks at the Indian lodge and its construction with its upright supports which act to hold the supporting bond timbers at differing heights and this design allows for a sloping circular roof. There is an aperture at the centre of the roof which allows light to filter in and allows smoke from the fires to exit the space. The painting depicts groups of Indians scattered around the large space, some standing, some seated some immersed in game playing.
William Stewart returned to the Rocky Mountains for the 1838 Rendezvous but whilst there he learnt of the death of his brother back in Scotland. William Stewart had suddenly become the new laird of the family’s estates of Murthly, Grandtully, and Logiealmond. Stewart, now Sir William Stewart, returned home to Scotland and commissioned Alfred Miller to paint a series of large oil paintings which would be on display at Murthly Castle. In 1840, Miller was invited to stay at Murthly Castle by its new owner and whilst there he could continue with his paintings. He accepted the invite and was Sir William’s guest until the autumn of 1841 at which time he returned to Baltimore where he was to live the rest of his life and where he established himself as a leading portraitist of the time.
After his 1837 Rendezvous expedition, Miller worked for many years converting many of his two hundred sketches he had made whilst out West into oil paintings. The public loved them and he received many commissions. He also sold several of his works of art to Charles Wilkins Webber, the American explorer and writer who had them made into illustrations for his 1851 book The Hunter-Naturalist: Romance of Sporting; or, Wild Scenes and Wild Hunters.
In 1839 the Apollo Gallery in New York held an exhibition featuring eighteen of Miller’s large oil paintings depicting scenes from his 1837 expedition with Stewart. The paintings were owned by Stewart who agreed to loan them to the gallery. So popular was the exhibition that it was extended to allow more people to view Miller’s work.
Alfred Jacob Miller spent the next thirty years working hard on converting his sketches into oil paintings to satisfy all the commissions he received. He also continued with his portraiture work. He is now looked upon as one of the earliest and most significant painters to record pictorially the American West. He was the only artist to go on a Rendezvous expedition and depict the fur traders, Native Indians and mountain men. His art played a major role in educating people back East about life in the American West.
Alfred Jacob Miller died in Baltimore in June 1874, aged sixty-four.
I am going to conclude this blog with one of my favourite paintings of his. It is not an American West landscape nor is it one of the mountain men or Native Americans. It is a painting he completed around 1840 entitled Artist’s Studio – The Critic and in some way it is an amusing look at a cleaner who is appraising a painting which is in the studio of an artist in which she is the cleaner. We see her pausing from sweeping the floor to look at a painting on the easel.
If you live near Baltimore and like what I have shown you it would be worth visiting the Walters Art Museum on Charles Street. I would be interested to hear what you thought of the collection of Miller’s artwork.
I have often mentioned in previous blogs that the subject for a blog frequently comes from something I have stumbled upon whilst researching another blog. Today’s blog is all about the Dutch painter Ary Scheffer who had a connection with the artist I talked about in the last two blogs, Théodore Géricault, but more of that connection later as I first want to look at the life of the Dutchman who was a leading Romantic painter.
Ary Scheffer came from an artistic background. His father was Johann- Bernhard Scheffer a portraitist who originally hailed from Hamburg but from his early teenage years lived in the Netherlands. He had married Cornellia Lamme, another artist who concentrated on miniature portraits. Ary Scheffer’s maternal grandfather was Arie Lamme the Dutch landscape painter. The couple, who lived in Dordrecht, had three sons, Ary, the eldest, was born in February 1795, his brother Karel Arnold Scheffer who was born in 1796, went on to become a journalist and writer and their youngest, Hendrik, who also became an artist, was born in September 1798.
Ary Scheffer was given his first artistic tuition by his parents but when he was eleven years of age his parents enrolled him at the Stadstekenacademie in Amsterdam on a three year art course. During that time he put forward one of his paintings, Hanibal Searing to Avenge the Death of his Brother Hasdrubal, in the first Exhibition of Living Masters in Amsterdam in 1808.
The painting is now in the Dordrecht Museum along with a number of his other works which are hung in the Ary Scheffer Room. That same year, his father became the court painter of Louis Bonaparte, who ruled over the Kingdom of Holland, a position bestowed on him by his brother, Napoleon Bonaparte. Ary’s father only held the position for a year as in 1809 he died. Following the death of her husband, Cornelia Scheffer moved to Paris with her three sons where Ary and his brother Hendrik became pupils at the studio of the French painter, Pierre Guérin. Ary and Hendrik were in good company at the studio as two of their fellow pupils would become the figureheads of the French Romantic movement in art, Eugène Delacroix and Théodore Géricault.
Ary Scheffer later attended the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and from 1812 for the next thirty five years exhibited works at the annual Salons. Along with Delacroix and Géricault, Ary Scheffer is recognised as one of the great painters of the Romantic school. Following the end of the Revolution and the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte the French bourgeoisie once again came to prominence and along with the State were the main patrons of the Arts. Scheffer’s work was very popular and at the end of each Salon his paintings would be snapped up by eager buyers.
In the 1822 Salon he exhibited his very sentimental painting Soldier’s Widow which was very popular and although the whereabouts of the painting is unknown there are a number of monochrome prints of the work.
Ary Scheffer was also an excellent portraitist and in 1823 he completed probably one of the best portraits. It was of General Lafayette, the French aristocrat and military officer. It was a full-length standing portrait that was the most popular image of Lafayette as an older man, who had once been a general in the American Revolution War (1775-83) against the British and a close friend of George Washington. Lafayette was a popular subject for prints in the first half of the 19th century. He was a hero to both the French and the Americans; he was the first foreign dignitary to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress and in 1824, on the occasion of Lafayette’s celebrated tour of the United States, Ary Scheffer presented his painting to the U.S. House of Representatives. It has hung to the left of the Speaker’s rostrum since the opening of the current House Chamber in 1858. Lafayette would later figure in the French Revolution in 1789 and in the July Revolution of 1830 which led to Louis-Philippe becoming ruler of the French nation. This painting, entitled Gilbert de Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, is now part of the collection of the US House of Representatives in Washington.
When Louis-Philippe came to power in 1830 it marked the zenith of Scheffer’s artistic career. Scheffer, before the July revolution, had been giving drawing lessons to Louis-Philippe’s children and a great friendship between artist and his pupils blossomed. Once Louis-Philippe came to power after the 1830 Revolution, Scheffer attained an influential position within the court. Louis-Philippe became the patron of the artist and the Orleans family bought many of Scheffer’s paintings. Scheffer received numerous lucrative commissions for the Musée Historique at Versailles, which Louis-Philippe founded in 1837 and which was situated in the wings of the Palace of Versailles. The gallery which is one hundred and twenty metres long houses and also includes extensive tables that illustrate the major military events of the history of France.
Ary Scheffer also completed a number of Royal portraits including one in 1831 of Princess Marie of Orléans the third child and second daughter of Louis-Philippe and his wife Maria Amalia of the Two Sicilies. She later became the wife of Duke Alexander of Württenberg. She was the most talented artist of all the Royal children and was constantly encouraged to pursue her love of art and sculpture by Ari Scheffer. Sadly she died of tuberculosis when she was just twenty-five years old.
Another member of the he French Royal Family who featured in one of Scheffer’s portraits was Marie-Amalia, the niece of Marie-Antoinette and the wife of Louis-Philippe. Louis-Philippe had reigned as the French monarch from 1830 when he came to power following the July Revolution and ruled for eighteen years but was deposed in the February 1848 Revolution which resulted in he and his wife, Marie-Amalia living a life in exile in England.
The couple lived at Claremont, a stately home owned by Leopold of the Belgians, but lent out to Queen Victoria. In 1850 Louis-Philippe died but his widow remained at Claremont for the rest of her life. Ary Scheffer visited Claremont in 1857 at which time he completed the portrait of the ex-Queen. In it we see a frail seventy-five year old lady in mourning.
What persuaded me to feature Ary Scheffer was when I was looking at the death of Théodore Géricault at the young age of thirty-two; I came across a painting entitled The Death of Géricault by today’s featured artist, Ary Scheffer. It is beautiful work of art which highlights the French Romanticism style, which was so popular at the time. Look at the man sitting on the chair who was presumably one of Géricault’s close friends. Look at the way Scheffer has depicted him. He grasps Géricault’s limp wrist with his right hand whilst he buries his head on his left hand which lies across the back of the chair which he is sitting on. It is almost a scene from an old silent Hollywood movie or part of an amateur dramatics production. The physician holds Géricault’s left hand which lies almost lifeless over his heart. Look at Géricault’s face. It is sunken. It is almost skull-like. In my last blog I featured Géricault’s last self-portrait which was a very disturbing depiction and somebody commented that it could not have been that bad but what we see in Scheffer’s painting is very close to that self-portrait. This was the end for the great artist.
When I wander around various galleries, I am often lost in wonderment when I stand in front of a massive painting. I can remember when I was in Venice last year and visited the Accademia Galleries and stood before the giant work of Paolo Veronese entitled Feast in the House of Levi. I was amazed at the magnitude of the work which measured 5.6 metres x 13metres and I could only wonder at how he managed to physically paint such a large scale picture. How long must it have taken him? Maybe he had some of his apprentices to help him but still it was an outstanding undertaking. I find equally impressive miniature paintings and I am always filled with a sense of amazement at how these delicate paintings have been achieved. My Daily Art Display featured painting today is one such miniature and I want you to feast your eyes on this lovely work of art entitled A Primitive City painted by the English artist Edward Calvert.
Edward Calvert was born in Appledore in the county of Devon in 1799. His early schooling and art education was at Plymouth but coming from a seafaring area the young Calvert joined the Navy and spent five years serving his country. A death of a close friend in naval action resulted in him leaving the force and coming ashore. In 1824 he moved to London and it was here he, at the age of twenty-five, enrolled at the Royal Academy, where one of the professors was the artist, Henri Fuseli. It was whilst in London that he met the ageing English painter, William Blake. Blake and his paintings were one of his first great artistic influences and one that would remain with him for the rest of his life. Blake’s art work inspired a number of aspiring artists and Calvert and some like-minded Romantic artists, who had fallen under the spell of Blake and his work formed an association known as The Brotherhood of the Ancients often simply known as The Ancients. The leader of the group was Samuel Palmer but one of the most of the most important members of the group was today’s featured artist, Edward Calvert. Others in the group were George Richmond and John Linnell. This group of painters, who all had a love of the spiritual art of the past, would often meet at the home of Blake, which they used to refer reverentially to as the House of the Interpreter. They would also congregate at Palmer’s house in Shoreham, Kent to discuss Blake’s visionary ideology and to paint pastoral images with a mystical perspective. They brought a new dimension to Romantic Art. They brought a wondrous vision of a golden age set in quiet landscapes amidst a pastoral innocence and abundance.
Edward Calvert who was a man of private means left the Academy and concentrated on another love of his, wood-engraving. He lived with his wife in Dalston in the London borough of Hackney for most of his life. Calvert’s love of pastoral depictions disappeared gradually but his interest in ancient Greece increased. He visited Greece where he sketched prolifically. Eventually, he gave up his printmaking and for the rest of his life his art was just for himself and for his own pleasure. He would work in oil, watercolour and gouache and for his subjects he liked to focus on pagan mythology. Latterly, Calvert became a recluse and died in 1883, aged 84.
My featured painting today is a tiny watercolour miniature, measuring just 7 cms x 10 cms (not quite 3 inches x 4 inches), entitled A Primitive City, which Edward Calvert painted in 1822. The quality of this work of art is amazing with its clarity of line and jewel-like colouring and the amount of detail that is shown in such a small space. It is an evening scene and in the background on the right, we see the waning moon as it hovers behind a distant walled city. In the right mid-ground we see a peasant leading a donkey which staggers slowly heavily laden with two large baskets of grapes on its back. Behind the donkey there is another cart, crossing a rickety wooden bridge, being pulled by a bullock, which is loaded with sacks of grain and driven by a woman. The grapes and grain symbolise the Eucharistic wine and bread. The pastoral theme is emphasized by the shepherd and his flock which we see depicted in the left mid-ground of the work. If we carefully look at the city itself we see a woman drawing water from a well and above her we see another woman watching her from her viewpoint on the staircase between the two towers.
There is an innocence to the scene and this is accentuated by the beautiful, almost naked, young girl we see to the left of the picture who is about to take a swim in the nearby stream, which runs across the foreground of the painting. We can see Calvert’s love and interest in Classical art in the way he has depicted the woman, as the stance of the scantily-clad young lady is almost certainly derived from the Venus Kallipygos, which is in the Naples National Archaeological Museum. It could well be that the presence of the river was Calvert’s idea of symbolising the river of life and the nakedness of the young woman symbolic of innocence. Above the girls head we see that the trees are full of fruit symbolising abundance.
This was Calvert’s vision of the perfect idyll, tranquillity and abundance. It should be remembered that this work was completed before Calvert went to London and became part of The Ancients , which just goes to show that his ideas for artistic subjects were similar to those of artists he was yet to meet.
Francis Danby was an English painter, born in 1793, in a small village near Waterford, Ireland, where his father owned a farm. When he was fourteen years of age his father died and he along with his mother and twin brother moved to Dublin. Whilst living in Dublin, Francis Danby enrolled at the Royal Dublin Society’s Schools of Drawing where he received artistic training. It was at this establishment that he met the renowned Irish landscape painter James Arthur O’Connor and it was through his mentorship that Danby developed a love of landscape painting. Danby also struck up a friendship with another fellow student, George Petrie, and they along with O’Connor left Dublin in 1813 and travelled to London. By all accounts the trip had not been well planned financially and their funds soon ran out and they had to head back to Ireland, on foot, but on the way they stopped off in Bristol. It was in this city that Danby managed to supplement his meagre worth by painting watercolours of the local scenes and selling them to the locals. At the same time as selling some of his work, he kept back what he considered to be his best paintings and sent them to various London exhibitions.
The works of Francis Danby, which were shown at various London sites, received favourable reviews and were soon in great demand. It was whilst still living in Bristol around 1818 that Danby joined an informal association of artists based around Bristol, which had been founded by the English genre painter, Edward Bird, known as the Bristol School or Bristol School of Artists. In 1821, Danby had a painting of his first exhibited at the Royal Academy. It was entitled Disappointed in Love and is My Daily Art Display’s featured work today. In 1824 Danby left Bristol and moved to London. It was around this time that Danby gave up his naturalistic and topographically accurate landscapes and moved towards poetic landscape painting. Poetic landscapes gave one the geography and architecture of landscapes from a subjective point of view, using elements of myth, fantasy or the picturesque. Claude Lorrain is usually looked upon as the originator of this style and this style of painting culminated in the Romantic landscape of the 19th century. A Poetic Landscape presents us with an imaginary place and for that reason the artists did not have to worry about topographical accuracy and it allowed them the opportunity to transform the characteristic features of, for example, Italian geography and architecture, and turn them into mythical or pastoral fantasy. This painting genre allowed artists to exaggerate the shape and height of mountains, delete or redesign buildings and objects, insert dramatically placed trees or human figures, and throw strongly contrasted lighting effects over it all. The public liked this style of landscape painting and did not care about the topographical veracity of what they saw. People, at the time, preferred this style to the topographical landscape with its dryly objective recording of what was actually there.
Another artistic genre Danby began to draw on was the large biblical scenes such as his 1825 painting The Delivery of Israel, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy and which led to him being elected an Associate Member of the Royal Academy. In the next two decades Francis Danby produced many large biblical and apocalyptic paintings which were to rival his contemporary and renowned “high priest” of apocalyptic art, John Martin.
Francis Darby, already an Associate Member of the Royal Academy was put up for election in 1829 to become a Royal Academician. When the votes were counted, he was devastated to find he had lost out by one vote to John Constable, who was elected instead of him. This year, 1829, was an annus horriblis for Danby as this was also the year that his marriage to his wife Hannah failed and he took himself a mistress. Hannah went off with another artist Paul Falconer Poole who had spent some time in the Danby household. London Society was scandalised by the goings-on at Danby’s household and in 1830 he went into self-imposed exile in Paris along with his mistress. From 1831 to 1836 Danby worked out of Geneva reverting back to his topographical watercolour landscape art work.
In 1837 he returned to Paris and a year later went back to living in London. It was in that year he produced his famous work, The Deluge, which re-established his reputation amongst the art community. This massive canvas, measuring 2.85m x 4.52m, depicted an area of harsh and violent weather and writhing, diminutive bodies trying to save themselves from the stormy waters. The painting put Danby briefly back in the limelight. However for Danby, life as an artist was becoming too much for him and in 1847, aged 54, he left London and went to live in Exmouth, Devon.
Whilst living in Devon Danby still found time to paint concentrating on landscapes and seascapes but he also took up boatbuilding. Francis Danby died in Exmouth, in 1861, aged 67. To the end of his life Danby constantly had money problems and was embittered that he never gained the recognition he deserved from the Royal Academy and was never elected as a Royal Academician. The final straw came two days before he died when he learnt that his ex-wife’s husband, Paul Falconer Poole had been elected a Royal Academician !
My Daily Art Display painting for today is by Francis Danby which he completed in 1821 and is entitled Disappointed Love. The painting was the first painting Francis Danby exhibited at the Royal Academy, and it became one of his best-known works. Before us, we see a heartbroken young woman who has just been jilted. Her hands cover her face as she sits weeping on the bank of a lily pond surrounded by dark and murky woodland. The occasional small white flowers, dotted around, struggle to lift the dark green and browns of the undergrowth. This gloomy undergrowth mirrors the depressed mind of the young girl. Her long dark tresses hang down over her white dress. On the ground beside her we see her discarded bonnet, her scarlet shawl , a miniature portrait of her lover and other letters which she has not yet destroyed. Her sad figure dressed in white is reflected in the water and in some way it seems that the water is drawing her to it so that she can end her life and her misery, in an Ophelia-like fashion. Floating on the surface of the pond are pieces of a letter which she has torn up and discarded. Eric Adams wrote a biography in 1973 on Francis Danby entitled Francis Danby: varieties of poetic landscape and he believes the setting for the painting was on the banks of the River Frome on the outskirts of Bristol and that the model for the painting was a model at the Bristol Artists newly founded Life Academy. There was a lot of criticism of the painting, not so much for the poetical nature of the work but for its technical faults, in particular the lack of proportion of the plants in the foreground.
When the painting was put forward to the Royal Academy jurists to see if it should be allowed in to the 1821 Exhibition it was not wholly loved. An account of the jurist’s comments on seeing Danby’s painting was reported some twelve years later as:
“…An unknown artist about ten years ago sent a very badly painted picture for the exhibition. The committee laughed, but were struck by “something” in it and gave it admission. The subject was this. It was a queer-coloured landscape and a strange doldrum figure of a girl was seated on a bank, leaning over a dingy duck-weed pool. Over the stagnant smeary green, lay scattered the fragments of a letter she had torn to pieces, and she seemed considering whether to plump herself in upon it. Now in this case, the Academicians judged by the same feelings that influence the public. There was more “touching” invention in that than in the nine-tenth of the best pictures exhibited there the last we do not know how many years. The artist is now eminent…”
To my mind it is a beautiful painting, full of pathos, and one cannot but feel sympathy for the young girl. It was for this reason that I was surprised to read an anecdote about this painting and the depiction of the girl. Apparently the Prime Minister at the time, Lord Palmerston, was being shown the painting by its owner, the wealthy Yorkshire cloth manufacturer, John Sheepshanks and commented that although he was impressed by the deep gloom of the scene, it was a shame that the girl was so ugly. Sheepshanks replied:
“..Yes, one feels that the sooner she drowns herself the better…”
How unkind !
This painting along with the rest of his outstanding art collection was presented to the Victoria & Albert Museum
For an artist to have two favourite subjects for his paintings, biblical stories and female nudity, one would have thought combining the two would be somewhat difficult, if not risky. However my featured artist today, the leading Romantic painter and portraitist of his time, Francesco Hayez, has, on a number of occasions, achieved that very thing.
Francesco Hayez was born in Venice in 1791. He was the youngest of five sons. His father was a French fisherman originally from Valenciennes and his mother, Chiara Torcella came from island of Murano, situated in the Venetian lagoon. He was born into an impoverished household but fate took a hand in his life as Francesco was brought up in the household of his mother’s sister whose husband, Giovanni Binasco was a wealthy antiquarian and an avid art dealer and art collector. It is more than likely that his uncle’s love for art transferred to his nephew, who in his childhood days developed a love of drawing. Hayez’s uncle further developed Francesco’s love of art by gaining him a position as an apprentice in a studio of an art restorer. His uncle then arranged for Francesco to study art under the tutelage of the Italian historical and allegorical painter, Francesco Maggiotto where he learnt about the Neo-Classical style of painting. From the age of eleven to fifteen he studied the use of colour in classes run by the Bergamo painter, Lattanzio Querena, a skilful portraitist and copyist of 16th century Venetian paintings.
At the age of seventeen, Francesco Hayez was able to be enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia where he studied under the historical and portrait painter, Teodoro Matteini. It was whilst at the Academia that he won a painting competition, the prize being the chance to study for one year at one of the leading art establishments, Academia di San Luca in Rome. Although his prize was for a one-year study period, Francesco Hayez, remained in the Italian capital for almost five years and spent much time studying the works of Raphael in the four Stanze di Raffaello (“Raphael’s rooms”) in the Vatican Palace. He then moved on to Naples in order to fulfill a commission he had received from Joachim-Napoléon Murat, who at the time was the King of Naples, and brother-in-law to Napoleon Bonaparte.
Hayez moved to Milan in 1823 when he was thirty two years of age. He was appointed Professor of Painting at the Accademia di Brera and soon became part of the academic and aristocratic life of the city. It was around this time that he concentrated his art work on history paintings and portraiture and regularly exhibited his works at the annual Brera exhibitions. In the mid 1830s he attended the famous Salon, which became known as the Salotto Maffei, as it was hosted by Clara Maffei, a leading Milan society hostess of the time. Salon was the name given to gatherings of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste and increase their knowledge of the participants through conversation. Clara’s salon was always well attended by well-known writers, artists, scholars, musical composers such as Verdi and people who were pro-Risorgimento (the political and social movement that wanted all the different states of the Italian peninsular united into one single state of Italy). Hayez received many commissions from the men in the forefront of the fight for Italian independence and unification, one of these was his good friend Teodoro Arese, who in Hayez’s 1828 painting, Count Francesco Teodoro Arese in Prison, he depicted Arese in chains as a reminder of Arese’s imprisonment in 1821, as a result of his struggle against the government.
The paintings of Hayez were often dominated by biblical themes but Hayez had also developed an interest in the history of his country and began to incorporate contemporary political and social figures in historical backgrounds. The sense of patriotism which he depicted in his portraiture was always well received by his patrons. In 1850 he was appointed the director of the Academy of Brera and it is the Pinacoteca di Brera (“Brera Art Gallery”) which now houses one of the most famous of Hayez paintings, The Kiss (see My Daily Art Display Jan 6th 2011).
As I stated at the start of this blog, besides his love of historical and biblical paintings, one of his other favourite themes was that of the semi-clothed, or the naked female. He often incorporated these within oriental themes or scenes from harems, such as his 1867 painting, Odalisque. By doing this he and other artists were able, in some way, to counter any possible negative comments by people offended by naked flesh.
What was more controversial was his 1825 portrayal of a naked repenting, Mary Magdalene, entitled Penitent Mary Magdalene, which surprisingly depicted such a well-known religious figure in a full-frontal nude pose. Hayez’s reasoning behind such a depiction, which was not the normal portrayal of Mary Magdalene recanting her sins, was that it was to remind us of Mary Magdalene’s somewhat erotic and dubious past.
My featured Hayez painting today has also religious connotations but is unlike many similar depictions. The work, which he completed in 1850, is entitled Susanna at her Bath and is housed in the National Gallery, London. It has allowed the artist to combine his love of biblical stories and the portrayal of a well-endowed female nude. The story of Susanna and the Elders comes from Chapter 13 of the Old Testament Book of Daniel
The story revolves around a Hebrew wife named Susanna who was falsely accused by two lecherous voyeurs. Whilst bathing one day in her garden and having dispensed of the services of her attendants, two lustful elders secretly observe her. On making her way back to her house, they accost her, threatening to claim that she was meeting a young man in the garden unless she agrees to have sex with them. She is horrified at their suggestion and refuses to be blackmailed. The two lechers carry out their threat and inform the authorities about her affair with an illicit lover. She is arrested and about to be put to death by stoning for promiscuity when a young man named Daniel interrupts the proceedings, shouting that the two elders should be questioned to prevent the death of an innocent. The two men are questioned separately and their stories do not agree. The court then realises that the two elders have made false accusations against Susanna. The false accusers are put to death and virtue triumphs.
The Susanna in Hayez’s painting is the same Susanna but unlike other depictions of the event we do not see the two elders and accordingly Hayez has not included the words “the Elders” in the title of his work. Hayez has preferred to concentrate all his artistic ability in his depiction of the nubile and beautiful young woman. Although the two men are not seen by us we notice the accusatory expression on Susanna’s face as she looks over her shoulder and catches a glimpse of her voyeurs. It is a truly beautiful painting and Hayez’s portrayal of the voluptuous Susanna with her pale skin and pursed lips is remarkable. Look into her eyes. It is as if she is looking straight through us. We ourselves feel accused of staring at her naked flesh. We can just imagine her unwavering stare as she browbeats the two old lechers. The background to the right is dark and contrasts with the pale white skin of her leg and this chiaroscuro effect adds to the painting.
This painting depicting the biblical scene portrays Susanna’s character as being quite hard, determined and dare I say slightly brazen. If you want to see a slightly different depiction of Susanna, in which she is shown as being vulnerable, frightened and devastated by the overtures of the two lechers then you must look at the painting Susanna and the Elders by my favourite female artist, Artemisia Gentilesschi. She completed the work in 1610 and rather than showing Susanna as a coy or flirtatious person as often depicted by male artists, including Hayez, Artemisia looks on the event from the female perspective and deftly portrays the vulnerability of Susanna, showing her as being both scared and repulsed by the demands of the two men who menacingly loom over her. It is one of the few Susanna paintings showing the sexual assault by the two Elders as a traumatic event. Artemisia Gentileschi at the time of her painting was having a torrid time with her boyfriend who two years later would rape her and Artemisia had then to endure the trauma and mortification of the rape trial.
When I visited the National Gallery in London last week I knew I only had an hour to spare so decided to try and sensibly limit what I wanted to see rather than rush around trying to see as much as I could in the allotted time and end up really seeing nothing. I decided to visit the Impressionist paintings which were housed in rooms 43 to 46. They were awash with works by Degas, Monet, Manet, Renoir and the likes. I spent some time in front of The Large Bathers by Cézanne as I knew I was going to write about the Philadelphia Museum of Art version of the painting which is very similar to the one in the National Gallery. (See My Daily Art Display for March 13th). The reason for mentioning all this is not that I am featuring another Impressionist work today but that having passed through these rooms I arrived at Room 41 which was simply entitled The Academy.
So why label this room as such? The answer is that It goes back to the first half of the 19th century and the academic teachings of École des Beaux-Arts, which was the official art school in Paris. The training that young aspiring artists received at this establishment was very taxing and their tutors made them spend long periods drawing. The students started by copying plaster cast statues and then later they would join the life classes. In some ways there art was regimented. It had to conform to the rules of The Academy. Their tutors only wanted to have them deliver what we now term academic art. I had thought that the title of this room would mean that it would be full of works by French painters but it was not. It was more to do with the style of paintings than the nationality of the artist and although there were a large number of works by famous French artists such as Corot, Delacroix, Géricault, and Jaques Louis-David there were some non-French contributors such as the Spanish painter, Francesco Hayez, the Danish painter ChristenKøbke and the German painter, Johann Philipp Eduard Gaertner. However I came across a painting in this room, entitled Winter Landscape, by one of my favourite artists, Caspar David Friedrich and it is this painting along with two of his other works, which are connected to this painting that I want to feature in My Daily Art Display blog today. Caspar David Friedrich studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts at the end of the eighteenth century. This Academy is the oldest and most renowned place of higher learning in Denmark.
Caspar Friedrich was one of the leading artists of the German Romantic movement. He specialised in landscape painting but with a difference. His aspiration as a landscape artist was not to be a topographical artist portraying true representations of what he saw but he wanted his paintings, as he once said, “to reflect the artist’s soul and emotions in the landscape”. He endowed his landscape works with symbolism and the natural elements in his work often took on a religious connotations.
There is something about all Friedrich’s paintings which make them so evocative. I find his works of art breathtaking and I stood before this painting and marvelled how such a painting could exude an overwhelming feeling of both wonderment and awe. As we have seen with other artists, they would often paint a number of versions of the same subject. In some cases the difference between the various versions would be very noticeable in others the differences would not be so obvious. Two of today’s painting fall into the latter category. The two paintings, Winter Landscape and Winter Landscape with Church look almost the same, but not quite. To confuse things slightly I am also going to look at another work of his, also entitled Winter Landscape, which is almost a prequel to the other two. Sounds confusing? Let us take a look at each of the works.
The oil on canvas painting, above, entitled Winter Landscape, can be found in the Staatliche Museum in Schwerin and was painted by Friedrich in 1811.This painting has an intense feeling of solemnity and pathos as we look out at a bleak winter scene with a snow covered ground stretching out as far as the eye can see. This melancholic depiction before us, with its threatening dark grey sky features a tiny old man, bent over and leaning on his two wooden crutches. He is standing between two gnarled tree trunks and into the distance we can see the stumps of trees which have been cut down. Some art historians would have us believe that we should interpret this as being symbolic of the end of life and see the painting as an allegory for the aged man coming to end of his life as the landscape and vegetation also have reached the end of their life cycle. So looking at this work are we to believe there is no hope for this man? Probably so, but then Friedrich decided to paint a companion piece. In fact that same year, 1811, he painted two companion pieces which follow up the story of the little old man. These two works depicted a tale of the old man’s salvation.
One of the companion paintings was again entitled Winter Landscape and is housed in Room 41 of the National Gallery, London. This work was discovered in a private collection in 1982, and was acquired by the National Gallery five years later. The second one, thought to be a copy of the London painting, is entitled Winter Landscape with Church, and can be found in the Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte (Museum of Art and Cultural History) in Dortmund. In both of these paintings we see that Friedrich has introduced, for the first time in his art work, a Gothic church, which can just be seen emerging out of the misty backdrop with the somewhat red-streaked threatening winter sky overhead. In the mid-ground we see a man leaning back against a boulder and is probably the same man we saw leaning on his crutches in the previous work. He had arrived at the end of his journey and we see him gazing up, in prayer, at the crucifix which is positioned in front of a cluster of young fir trees. The figure of Christ on the cross looks down upon him. In the foreground we see his crutches lying in the snow, which we presume he has discarded. The abandoned crutches and the man looking up devotedly at the crucifix are interpreted as the man’s blind faith in his Christian beliefs and his feeling of security he has derived from those dearly held values.
In the first painting we looked at there is little to see but dead trees and stumps of once large ones. We felt for the crippled man as he stood bent over his crutches in that wintry landscape and in a way we grieved for his unwanted solitude and wretchedness. However in this scene before us now we see him in prayer and for him, we begin to realise he has reached the place he wants to be. The mood of the painting is so different from the previous one. The snow is the same. We still almost feel the coldness of the scene but the atmosphere has changed. The once hopelessness has been replaced with a degree of hope. The figure of Christ on the cross is symbolic of the hope that his resurrection would bring. No longer does the man feel the necessity of wooden sticks to act as crutches. The only support he wants is that given to him by his belief in Christ.
Looming on the horizon we see the facade of the spires of the grand Gothic church which reach toward the heavens, the silhouette of which has a marked similarity to that of the fir trees. These trees along with the rocks we see appearing from beneath the snow in some ways symbolise faith and the large Gothic church, which appears to be rising from the ground, is symbolic of our belief that there is life after death.
Friedrich used few colours in these two paintings as he was more interested in the graduating tones of the few colours he used. On a close examination of the actual paintings we are able to see that the misty but iridescent background has been achieved by stippling. Stippling, in this case, is the creation of shading by using small dots. The dots are made of a pigment of a single colour, and for this work the artist has used, the blue pigment, smalt, and has applied it with the point of a brush.
The London version of the painting is different to the version in Dortmund in as much as Friedrich has shown small blades of grass pushing up through the melting snow. This symbolises hope and rebirth. Also in the London version of the painting Friedrich has added an arched gateway in front of the church.
In November 1811 Friedrich sent these three works along with six others to an exhibition in Weimar. This was the largest group of works shown by Friedrich so far. The works were admired by a number of critics and poets, writers and famous figures like Goethe and Ludwig Tieck but they had their detractors who were opposed to the way Friedrich treated religious subjects and landscapes.
In recent posts I have looked at the works of William Etty, which featured nudity and the controversy they caused. I have also recently looked at works by William Blake the subjects of which caused many to question his mental stability. Today I am going to look at a work by a Belgian Romantic artist and sculptor whose works also caused some controversy and whose mental state was also questioned. He was looked upon as one of the great eccentrics in the history of art. His name is Antoine Joseph Wiertz and I was requested to look at his very unusual painting entitled La Liseuse de Romans (The Reader of Novels) which he completed in 1853.
Wiertz was born in Dinant, Belgium in 1806. At the age of fourteen, having shown a modicum of artistic talent, he enrolled at the Antwerp Art Academy. Here he studied under Guillaume-Jacques Herreyns, the Flemish painter who was considered the last of the school of Rubens and Mathieu Ignace van Bree, the Belgian painter and sculptor. Having come from a relatively poor family environment Wiertz was fortunate to receive an annual stipend from King William I of Netherlands through the good auspices of Wiertz’s protector, the politician, Pierre-Joseph de Paul de Maibe.
In 1829, aged twenty-three Wiertz moved to Paris where he stayed for three years and spent a great deal of his time studying the old masters at the Louvre. It was whilst in the French capital that he also came into contact with the French Romantic painters, such as Théodore Géricault and it was through him that Wiertz began to appreciate and admire the works of the Flemish master, Pieter Paul Rubens. Wiertz idolised Rubens.
Having come second with his entry in the 1828 Grand Concours for the Belgian Prix de Rome, organised by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp, he tried again in 1832. This time Wiertz’s efforts proved successful and he was awarded the cherished Prix de Rome prize which came with an annual bursary and the chance to stay at the Palazzo Mancini in Rome for three to five years and all the costs of this stay were paid for by Belgian State.
Wiertz travelled to Rome in 1834 and stayed for three years. Here he studied the works of Michelangelo and Raphael. It was also during that time that his artistic leaning changed. He virtually abandoned his landscape works and his paintings which depicted life in the Italian capital and focused on Roman and Greek mythological subjects. In 1836 he completed one of his major works entitled Les Grecs et les Troyens se disputant le corps de Patrocle (The Greeks and the Trojans Contesting the Body of Patroclus) in which he portrays a scene from Homer’s book, Iliad. The way he depicted the musculature of the men vying for the body of Patroculus won great favour with the art critics and this painting was to prove a turning point in Wiertz’s career. It was a somewhat violent scene and it was said that children on looking at the painting ran from it in horror.
Wiertz returned to Belgium in 1837 and set up home with his mother in Liège. Buoyed by the success of this painting when exhibited in Rome he sent it to Paris to be included in the 1838 Salon but it was received too late and was included in the following year’s exhibition. However, much to his annoyance the painting was not placed in a favourable position in the Salon and it went unnoticed by the public, worse still it did not receive the plaudits from the French art critics and was criticised in the French press. Wiertz was devastated by the treatment his painting received and never forgave the French for this snub.
Following on from this debacle, Wiertz’s artistic style changed and the subjects of his works became somewhat more excessive. Tragedy struck in 1844 when his mother died and Wiertz was badly affected by her death. He left Liège the following year and went to live in Brussels where he remained until his death. In 1850, just twenty years after the formation of Belgium, the new Belgian government was in search of national idols and so when Wiertz, who had become famous in the country for his massive works of art, offered them to the State in return for them building him a huge comfortable and well lit studio. His offer was accepted and the government agreed to display his works in the building during and after his lifetime. They also agreed that the works would never be moved, loaned or placed in storage, but should remain “invariably fixed” to the walls of the studio Belgium had built for him.
Wiertz died in his studio in 1865, aged fifty-nine. His remains were embalmed in accordance with Ancient Egyptian burial rites and buried in a vault in the municipal cemetery of Ixelles. Wiertz was an artist with an arrogance which bordered almost on madness and which convinced not only his contemporaries but also himself of his own genius.
The painting featured in today’s My Daily Art Display is entitled LaLiseuse de Romans (The Reader of Novels) which he completed in 1853 and is housed in the Wiertz Museum in Brussels. When I was asked to feature this painting, I investigated the artist and the painting thinking there would have been a lot written about the elements of symbolism in the painting and that many art historians would have written their interpretation of what is before us. However I was wrong as despite hours of research I can find little written about this work of art. I was tempted to discard this blog entry because of the this lack of information but because the painting fascinates me I thought maybe if I published the blog somebody may come up with some background to it.
I suppose the first thing I should do to try and fathom out what is happening in the scene is to state what I see before me. We see before us a naked woman lying on her back with her thighs slightly parted holding a book above her head to allow her to read it. Next to her is a mirror which reflects her nudity. Besides her on the bed are more books and we can see someone or something in the act of either placing a book on the bed or about to remove one.
I get the impression that the woman is enjoying what she is reading. Dare I suggest that the book is in some way titillating her and maybe the contents of the book are of a sexual nature? Look closely at the figure, which is surreptitiously moving his hand towards the books on the bed. Am I imagining that he has “horn like” structures on his head? Am I to conclude that this is actually a satyr and that he is supplying the woman with books of a sexual nature which she is finding so arousing? Are we looking at a scene of temptation and corruption?
I do apologise for not having any firm answers as to what is going on in the painting but then again we must remember that they would only be opinions and interpretations by third parties and who is to say they are correct in their assumptions. So what is your opinion on what we are looking at in today’s featured painting?
From a French Modernist painter I am moving to an Italian Romantic painter. Today I am featuring Tommaso Minardi and looking at his painting entitled Self Portrait, which he painted in 1807.
Tommaso Minardi was born in Faenza in 1787, an Italian city some fifty kilometres south-east of Bologna. As a teenager he studied art and design at a private school, as a pupil of Giuseppi Zauli. Minardi was granted an annual stipend by Count Virgilio Cavina of Faenza and in addition, he received financial assistance in the form of a stipend, from the Congregazione di S Gregorio of Faenza. Thanks to this five year stipend from his patron, Minardi, who was not yet sixteen years of age, moved to Rome to continue his artistic studies. The terms of this five year grant were such that the young man had to send one completed work of art back to Faenza each year. His paintings Socrates and Alcibiades and Supper at Emmaus were two of his works he sent back to his patron in Faenza. At the age of twenty-three he entered a painting into an annual competition run by the Bologna Academy of Fine Arts and he won and his reward was financial stability for the next three years.
Whilst in Rome he studied art but was also employed by the painter and engraver Giuseppe Longhi, who was an exponent of Neoclassicism and for his employer he did reproduction drawings of Michelangelo’s Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel.
In his thirties Minardi began to teach art and in 1819 he was appointed director of the Academy of Fine Arts in Perugia. Three years later he became professor of drawing at the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, a position he held for over thirty-five years. Besides his own painting and teaching, Minardi began to take an interest in local politics and he spent much of his time working tirelessly for the protection and restoration of the capital city’s great heritage. Tommaso Minari died in Rome in 1871, aged eighty-three.
My Daily Art Display’s featured painting today entitled Self Portrait depicts the artist himself, sitting on a matress which is on the floor. He is wrapped in a coat in what looks like a very unassuming room. The room we see him in is termed a mansard room but is known more commonly as an attic room with its sloping ceiling. It is a typical student-type apartment at the top of a very large house. On the back wall of the room we can just make out a painting and besides the bed is a bookcase crammed with books and papers. More books and documents can be seen strewn on a desk to the right of the painting. The room is lit up from two sources, light streaming in through windows on either side. On a cabinet to the artist’s left is a human skull and on the floor in the left foreground there is skull of an animal. What are we to make of this? What was Minardi’s symbolic reasoning for including these two items? Was the human skull to have the meaning related to Vanitas paintings, that human life passes quickly and we are but mere mortals, or is it just a theatrical prop used by the artist to induce a feeling of melancholia into the work. Are we meant to sympathise with this depiction of him, a poor, sad young art student in his small cramped abode, clutching a heavy coat around his body for warmth. Is this a depiction of a poor young artist struggling for recognition, and desperate to attain financial security? Remember Minardi was only twenty years old when he painted this work and had yet to become a successful artist. So maybe this is how the artist viewed his current “lot in life” – life as a bohemian student in his dingy top floor attic room in the Eternal city.
I wonder whether this paining in any way inspired the French novelist and poet, Henri Murger, when he wrote a work published in 1851 entitled Scènes de la vie de bohème and which was later used by the librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa for Puccini’s 1896 opera La Bohème. Was our struggling artist, Tommaso Minardi, in today’s painting the forerunner of the struggling painter Marcello, in La Bohème ?
I like the painting for its emotive qualities and I am heartened by the fact that Minardi did eventually make good and went on to live a prosperous life.
I will start My Daily Art Display today with a look at a local folklore that of the Devil’s Bridge. Like most folklore there is not simply one version of the tale but many different versions of it depending on which country the structure is situated. The first time I came across this phenomenon was when I visited Cahors in France and went to see the spectacular 14th century Pont Valentré Bridge.
Built in 1308 and completed seventy years later it became associated with the legend of the Devil’s Bridge and the architect Paul Gout made reference to this by placing a small sculpture of the devil at the summit of one of the towers.
The folklore of the Devil’s Bridge is all about the Devil, a bridge builder and his bridge. The main gist of the story is that a bridge builder sets about building a bridge across a river or river gorge, but at some point in the building of the structure the bridge builder realises he hasn’t the strength or time to complete the task and has to turn to the Devil for assistance. The price levied by the Devil for his assistance is that he should receive the first soul that crosses it.
In my featured painting, Teufelsbrücke or Devil’s Bridge painted by the German Romantic artist, Karl Blechen, in 1832. In the painting we see the Devil’s Bridge straddling the Swiss River Reuss as it passes through the Schöllenen Gorge on its way to Lake Lucerne. The legend of this particular Devil’s Bridge states that the river was so difficult to cross that a Swiss goat herdsman asked the Devil to make a bridge. The Devil duly appeared, but required that if he should construct the bridge, the soul of the first to cross it would be given to him. The herder agreed, but instead of crossing the bridge first and risk losing his soul he drove a goat across ahead of him, thus tricking the devil. The Devil was so angry that he had been duped he fetched a rock with the intention of smashing the bridge, but an old woman drew a cross on the rock and this prevented the Devil from being able to lift it. The rock is still there and, in 1977, 300,000 Swiss Francs were spent to move the 220 ton rock by 127 m in order to make room for the new Gotthard road tunnel.
Karl Blechen was born in Cottbus in 1798. His father was a local tax collector and Karl started his working life as a minor bank official. It was not until he was aged twenty four that he began to study art. In 1822 he enrolled at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin (Academy of the Arts). Later when he was working in Dresden as an apprentice in an art studio he was befriended by two artists also based in the city , the German painter, Caspar David Friedrich and the Norweigen artist, Johan Christian Dahl who were leaders in the fields of art known as Romanticism and Realism. My Daily Art Display has featured some of their works and they are well worth viewing. Their styles would influence Blechen in his future works. In 1828 he travelled to Italy where he remained for a year studying art and in particular, oil painting. It was here that he was introduced to the en plein air style of painting and was influenced by the works of English landscape painter, Turner who was also in Italy at this time and by the French landscape painter, John-Baptiste Corot, who at this period in time, lived in Italy. He returned to Germany and in 1831 and was awarded a professorship at the Berlin Academy. Despite this academic recognition the sales of his work were disappointing and this depressed him. His depression and mental state deteriorated and four years later, at the age of thirty-seven he was diagnosed as being mentally unstable. Blechen died in 1840 in Berlin, a broken man, aged forty-two.
When Karl Blechen visited Italy his journey fostered an interest on visual phenomena and how light and colour effects landscapes. A number of his paintings were categorised as being of a Romantic genre. The Romantic artists, of which Blechen was one, applauded individualism, subjectivism, irrationalism, imagination, emotions and nature – emotion over reason and senses over intellect. Whilst Blechen was returning back to Germany he travelled along the St Gothard’s pass and the Teufelsbrücke was still being built. This Devil’s Bridge depicted by Blechen in his painting is enclosed by snow-capped mountains which soar into the sky and below them we can see the raging torrents of the Reuss River. I think what I like most about this painting is the beautiful way in which Blechen has depicted the sunlight penetrating a gap in the mountains to light up the bridge and some of its builders. It is as if somebody has switched on a spotlight to illuminate the scene. In the central mid ground we see the arch of the old bridge and the partly constructed arch of the new one with its scaffolding. The illuminated partly-built new arch is dwarfed by the mountains and one wonders whether its frailty and exposed position will be able to withstand the forces of nature when gale force winds relentlessly charge down the valley. There is also a sensation of remoteness about the scene. We are aware that we are miles from civilisation but can marvel in the savagery of nature. In the right foreground we see some of the bridge builders taking a well earned rest from their labours amongst all their building materials.
Karl Blechen has managed to create an image which is both awe-inspiring and beautiful and one which makes us realise how small we are in comparison to our surroundings. This awesome painting by Karl Blechen, which I have featured today, hangs in
the Bavarian State Picture Collection housed in the Neue Pinakothek in Munich.