Léon Frédéric. Part 2. The Symbolist painter

Having looked at his Realism/Naturalism works in my previous blog, in this, the second of my blogs about the nineteenth century Belgian artist, Léon Frédéric, I want to concentrate on his work as a Symbolist painter.

Allegory of the Night by Léon Frédéric

Léon Frédéric has been designated as a Symbolist painter and yet when I look at all his work only some of it seems to fall into that category, whilst other of his paintings tended towards realism, but today it is all about his Symbolist art. I think probably the best way of starting the discussion is to specify what Symbolism means as far as art is concerned. Symbolism was a late nineteenth century anti-materialist and anti-rationalist movement. It was a type of art which rejected the authentic representation of the natural world, as seen in impressionism, realism, and naturalism, which was spurned in favour of imaginary dream worlds in which we may see strange figures from literature, the bible, and Greek mythology. It was art which focused upon the erotic and mystical with diverse subjects such as love, fear, anguish, death, sexual awakening, and unrequited desire. It was the aim of Symbolist painters to give visual articulation to emotional happenings. Symbolism was an art in which there was an idea that another world lies beyond the world of appearances.

Jean Moréas by Antonio de La Gandara

The Greek-born poet, essayist and art critic, Jean Moréas published The Symbolist Manifesto in the French newspaper Le Figaro on September 18th 1886. It described a new literary movement, and it proclaimed the name of Symbolism as not just the fitting terminology for that movement, but one that echoed how imaginative minds manage the work. It was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites in England and Symbolist art became very popular throughout Europe. The leading protagonists in France were Gustave Moreau, Puvis de Chavannes and Odile Redon. In Germany it was the artwork of Franz Stuck and Max Klinger and in Austria at the forefront of Symbolist art was Gustav Klimt and Alfred Kubin and in Frédéric’s homeland Belgium, Fernand Khnopff, James Ensor were the leading exponents of Symbolism art.

Studio Interior by Léon Frédéric (1882)

Frédéric completed his extraordinary symbolist painting, Studio Interior in 1882,  which appears to be a fantasy self-portrait depicting the artist naked with a skeleton on his lap. The latter has been dressed up in undergarments with a long starry veil over them. His palette and brushes are at the lower right, and his clothes – including a top hat – are draped on chairs.

Ohara Museum of Art (Kurashiki, Japan)

Frédéric’s works from the early 1890’s concentrated almost exclusively on symbolist subjects. His artwork was lauded by his fellow Belgian artist, Fernand Khnopff in The Studio, the Illustrated Magazine of Fine and Applied Art magazine which was published in London. More of Frédéric’s work was talked about in many foreign journals such as the Austrian Ver Sacrum, the official magazine of the Vienna Secession and it was this wide coverage which brought Frédéric and his art to the fore and became internationally recognised. His work was exhibited in Paris, Venice and Munich. Léon Frédéric’s Symbolist artworks were both large and spectacular. One example of this is in the Ohara Museum of Art in Kurashiki, Japan.

All Things Die, But All Will Be Resurrected through God’s Love by Léon Frédéric

It is entitled All Things Die, But All Will Be Resurrected through God’s Love. It is a massive work of art measuring 161 x 1100cms (5ft 3 x 36 feet). It is a polyptych, a painting which is divided into sections, or panels or to be more precise, a heptaptych (or septych) one which is divided into seven panels. It is incredibly detailed and took Frédéric twenty-five years to complete having started it in 1893, it was not completed until 1918. It is a work of great beauty and its potency is overpowering. The multi-depiction is made up of Biblical tales and it reads from left to right.

The three panels on the left tell how God is angry with how he is unhappy at how mankind has been acting and he is sends down fire and brimstone to punish the people. The end result, as depicted, is that the people were burnt by the fires and crushed into rocks and all eventually die.

In the fourth (middle panel) there is a change of mood and we see a depiction of a white dove, which is a symbol of a messenger from God, arriving on the scene bearing good news, that God forgives and through his love,  humanity will be revived.

The three panels to the right depict the result of his forgiveness. Happy people congregate under a double rainbow. It is an amazing work with countless figures, each with their own expressions. It was obviously a time-consuming project and highlights the love Frédéric had for this work and his Christian beliefs. Take time to study each panel. Look at all the different expressions on the faces of the people. Look at the backgrounds of each panel. It is amazing what you discover.

One sad note with regards the painting is connected with the centre panel. During the time Frédéric was painting this work, World War I had begun in which he lost his daughter Gabrielle. In the foreground of the middle panel there are five young girls wearing floral garlands on their heads. It is believed that the girl in the centre of this group was a portrait of his daughter who died and to the bottom left of the panel (although illegible in this attached picture) Frédéric has written:

“…a nohe bien ainee fille Gabrielle (To my dear daughter, Gabrielle)…”

and he has added his own signature.

So, what does the painting symbolise? It is thought that Frédéric intention was to depict the foolishness of wars and the sorrow it brings, not just to the victims but their loved ones as seen in the left-hand panels. However, he wants there to be some good for those victims including his daughter to revive in the land of God in the right half of the painting.

Self Portrait by Torajiro Kojima

The painting was bought by Torajiro Kojima following his visit to Frédéric’s Studio in 1923. He had originally seen the work at an exhibition in Antwerp. Torajiro was a Japanese artist who followed the traditions of the Impressionists. He studied at the University of Fine Arts and Music in Tokyo, and in 1908 went to Paris to continue his studies. In 1909 he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, Belgium, where he trained in Luminism. From 1920 onwards, after a decade back in Japan, he travelled to Europe several times at the request of Magosaburo Ohara, his patron and a Japanese businessman and philanthropist who founded the Ōhara Art Museum with the intention of filling it with Western art by Emile Claus, Jean-Joseph Delvin, Monet, Matisse, Albert Marquet and sculptures by Rodin, and many others. The museum, which opened in 1929, was the first one in Japan to house a large collection of modern Western art.  The polyptych painting by Frédéric was Torajiro Kojima’s last purchase in Europe. It is believed that this seven-panel painting became a determining factor for the width of the Ohara Museum of Art during the time of the design phase.

Les âges de l’ouvrier [The Ages of the Worker] by Léon Frédéric

The Musée d’Orsay has, within its collection, a triptych by Lé Frédéric entitled Les âges de l’ouvrier [The Ages of the Worker], which he completed around 1897. It is a painting packed with crowds of people, all of whom are displaying a multitude of dramatic, yet meaningful gestures.

Left-hand panel

The left-hand panel depicts the men engaged in heavy labour. The white-haired man with the white apron is almost kneeling on the floor. Is he collecting rubble as behind him stands a young boy with a wicker basket on his back, possibly waiting to haul away the stones? Look at the men in the background helping each other to carry the large baulks of timber. Does this not remind you of a crucifixion scene with the erection of the crosses in a religious painting?  Is this symbolic of man’s struggle?

Right-hand panel

The right-hand panel in contrast is populated by the women who are nursing their babies. They look very concerned and seem not to be happy with their lot in life. Again, thinking of religious connotations does this depiction remind you of religious depictions of the Virgin and Child ?

Centre panel

In between these two panels is the centre panel which is all about childhood and youth. In the front there is a group of boys playing cards while we observe a parade of youngsters coming out of school or young men leaving their workshops or worksites. Some of the young girls are carrying food whilst others are eating theirs. Look closely at the centre background of this centre panel and you will catch a glimpse of a funeral procession moving away and it is a reminder of the inevitability of death. The movement of the cortege is away from us which is in direct contrast to all the workers and school children that move towards the viewer.

Aurora by Léon Frédéric

Another of Léon Frédéric’s famed Symbolism paintings is entitled Aurora often referred to as ‘L’Aube arrachant les Ténèbres (Dawn tearing away the Darkness) which he completed in the early 1890’s. It is a painting, part Symbolism and part Neo-Classicism. Aurora is the Greek goddess of dawn and she was the sister of the sun-god Helios. Her normal depiction features her scattering flowers from her four-horse chariot but in this depiction by Frédéric we see her almost naked, her body partly covered with a wind-blown diaphanous black veil which covers half her face. She is surrounded by a series of moons, suns and an aureole of stars. We see her materialising from banks of clouds and sunbeams, she stands before us, separating the morning from the night. She is the true goddess of dawn. Frédéric has heightened the atmosphere of his depiction by using lighter, silvery-blue colours to paint a cosmic, supernatural motif. There is no doubt the depiction is both mesmerising and challenging.

Le Ruisseau (The Torrent) by Léon Frédéric

Around the same time that Frédéric completed Aurora he also finished what many consider to be his greatest Symbolist work, the giant triptych entitled Le Ruisseau (The Stream), which he dedicated to Beethoven. It was a controversial painting full of naked children and swans. Observers of the work were either impressed or upset by what they saw. Although painted in a photorealist style the meaning of the work was incomprehensible.

Centre panel (detail) of Le ruisseau (The torrent) by Léon Frédéric

Of all Léon Frédéric’s paintings my favourite is his 1882 triptych entitled The Holy Trinity. The frames of the three paintings are not joined together but the three are looked upon as companion pieces. As I said in the previous blog, in around 1882. Frédéric went to live in the small southern Belgium village of Nafraiture, which was close to the French border and over the next forty years he was to visit the village on numerous occasions and paint portraits of the inhabitants as well as landscapes of the outlying areas.

Holy Trinity Triptych by Léon Frédéric (1882)

Frédéric gave his Holy Family triptych, which he completed in 1882, to the village. One would have thought that the inhabitants of the village would be delighted to have his three paintings displayed in the charming little village church but that was not the case. The paintings were placed out of sight in the church rectory. The reason for the parishoners’ reluctance to openly exhibit the works of art was that the faces depicted in the paintings were that of some of the local people, who were less than pleased with their depictions. However Cardinal Mercier, an admirer of the works of Frédéric, had them removed from the rectory and placed on the interior walls of the church itself. They are now the centrepieces of the church of Nafraiture and are a testament to the artist Léon Frédéric’s love for the village.

The left-hand panel of The Holy Trinity triptych – God the Father

The painting on the left of the trio depicts the omnipotence of God the Father.

The centre panel of the Holy Trinity – Jesus Christ, God the Son

The painting which is positioned in the middle of the triptych is a depiction of God the Son, Jesus Christ. His face is depicted on a white shroud held aloft by two angel-like figures as they walk through a field of flowers. In the background we can see a field being ploughed and to the right we see a procession of people walking along a path, following the angels. Look at the bottom foreground on the right and you will see a pair of snakes

Close-up of Christ’s face

The depiction of Jesus Christ’s face is an amazing work of art which has been brought back to life after seven moths of restoration. It is a face covered in blood from the crown of thorns. The blood runs down the white cloth below the face. The forehead of Christ is wrinkled with pain and his eyes have taken on a blank look due to his intense suffering. It is such a heart-rending depiction.

The Holy Spirit

The final painting which is usually positioned on the right of the trio depicts the Holy Spirit.

In September 2017 the three works were taken down from the walls of the church so that they could be restored. The restoration took seven months to complete. It was a difficult job with the frames having been attacked by vermin and had to be repaired and the canvases re-stretched.

The restorer and the church curator explains what else had to be achieved:

“…We started with a clean-up, and we realized at that point the condition of the varnish, which is not homogeneous. The details and the touch of the artist were no longer so noticeable, because of the yellowing. It was due to the restoration varnish laid about fifty years ago, not to the painting. There were no chemicals used during our restoration…”

The tears

The clarity of the newly restored paintings is quite amazing. Look at the face of the Holy Spirit. Look at the astounding way the artist has depicted the tears. After the restoration, you can see much better the tears that flow from the eyes. The colours are lighter, brighter.

The village church of Nafraiture

The triptych of the Holy Trinity has been exhibited all over the world, but it has always returned home to the village church at Nafraiture.

Léon Frédéric died in the Belgian town of Schaarbeek on January 27th 1940 aged 83.

Elisabeth Chaplin

Elisabeth Chaplin

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

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

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

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

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

Self portrait in Pink by Elisabeth Chaplin (1921)

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

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

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

The Garden of Villa Il de Trepiede by Elisabeth Chaplin

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

Three Sisters by Elisabeth Chaplin (1912)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope by George Frederic Watts

Hope by George Frederic Watts (1886)

George Frederic Watts was a Victorian painter and sculptor who was closely associated in his later years with the Symbolism Movement.  Symbolism came about in the 1880’s but by the end of the century it had almost died away having been overshadowed by the birth and rise of Modernism.  The Symbolist movement was a reaction against the literal representation of objects and subjects, where instead there was an attempt to create more suggestive, metaphorical and evocative works.  Symbolic artists based their ideas on literature, where poets such as Baudelaire believed that ideas and emotions could be portrayed through sound and rhythm and not just through the meaning of words. Symbolist painter styles varied greatly but common themes included the mystical and the visionary. Symbolists also explored themes of death, debauchery, perversion and eroticism. Symbolism moved away from the naturalism of the impressionists and demonstrated a preference for emotions over intellect.

George Frederic Watts was born on February 23rd 1817 in Marylebone, London and his Christian names were those of the great musician George Frederic Handel who was born on that date some 132 years earlier.  His mother and father struggled financially and this was not helped by the poor health of his mother who was to die when George was very young.   His father was a piano maker and took it upon himself to educate his son at home.  Much emphasis was placed on a conservative Christian upbringing and a love for classical literature.  Unfortunately, as is so often the case, his father’s compelling desire to force his Christian views on his son, eventually made George turn completely away from organised religions.

At the age of ten, George had some informal tuition from William Behnes, a local sculptor where he practiced drawing from the sculptures.  This training proved a godsend as by the age of sixteen he was able to support himself from the sale of his portraits.  In 1835, aged eighteen years of age, George Watts enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools.  Although Watts never enjoyed his time at the establishment and would often fail to attend he did exhibit some of his works at the 1837 Royal Academy Exhibition.  It was whilst studying art that he met and became great friends with Alexander Constantine Ionides, an art patron and collector.  Ionides commissioned many paintings from Watts and became one of his earliest patrons.

By 1840 Watts had moved away from portraiture and concentrated on historical paintings.  In 1843, he entered the first competition to design murals for the new Houses of Parliament.  Entries were to be of a narrative genre which endorsed patriotism and thus would be appropriate to the new legislative building.   His entry, Caractacus Led in Triumph through the Streets of Rome, gained him first prize in the competition and the prize money helped fund his artistic study trip to Italy where he remained for four years.  During his stay in Italy he learnt the secrets of fresco painting and completed many large scale paintings depicting scenes from Romantic literature.  However, he never gave up on his other artistic loves, portraiture and landscape painting.

Watts returned to London in 1847 and once again entered the Houses of Parliament competition.  This was the fourth one organised by the monarch and the government.  Watts won the competition with his entry Alfred Inciting the Saxons to Encounter the Danes at Sea.   Watts suffered from bouts of depression and he expressed his personal struggle with the illness in a series of four paintings which evoked a social realism theme.  One of these works entitled Found Drowned was my featured painting in My Daily Art Display of July 4th 2011.  In 1851 he went to live with his friend Henry Thoby Prinsep and his wife Sara at Little Holland House.  He lived with them for the next twenty-four years and it undoubtedly provided Watts with a secure environment for him to work and relax and provide a safe haven away from the rigours of the real world.  Little Holland House was a favourite meeting place of the young Pre-Raphaelite artists and literary people like Tennyson and it gave Watts then ideal opportunity to paint portraits of the aspiring literary and artistic luminaries of the day.

In 1878 Watts took part in the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris and submitted nine paintings and one sculpture.  He became an instantaneous celebrity on the European art scene.  During the 1880’s,  he produced many symbolic paintings which displayed close links to the work of his friend, the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and the other Pre-Raphaelite artists such as Edward Burne-Jones.

In 1886 at the age of 69 Watts re-married, to Mary Fraser-Tytler, a Scottish designer and potter who was some thirty three years his junior.   In 1891 he bought a house in Compton, near Guilford, in Surrey and in 1904 had a gallery built nearby which became known as the Watts Gallery and which was dedicated to his work.  The Watts Gallery is still a very popular venue for art lovers. George Frederic Watts died that year aged 87, shortly after the gallery opening.

Hope is looked upon as certainly the most influential, and outstanding if not most unusual of all George Frederic Watts’ paintings. This portrayal of the poignant musician has struck a chord with audiences and critics ever since it was first displayed at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1886.  In 1887 at the Royal Jubilee exhibition held in Manchester the painting took pride of place in the middle of an entire wall dedicated to Watts’ work.  Numerous reproductions were made of this painting and many who saw it were deeply affected by what they saw and Watts received many letters from people who were greatly moved by the emotional impact it had on them. In the painting Watts has personified Hope as a young woman seated on a globe, hunched over, appearing to be almost asleep.  She wears a blindfold which symbolises her blindness and to the mental state she embodies. What was it about this work that such an effect on people?  It has to be Watts’ portrayal of this hunched, isolated, blindfolded and barefoot woman who appears to be on the edge of despair.  So why the title Hope?   Maybe in this case it is not hope meaning one’s optimistic thoughts but more of a feeling of almost despair; a hoping against hope.   As we take in the picture of the girl bent over listening to the music from her lyre we wonder why Watts has chosen the title.  The bluish grey background induces a melancholy mood. One critic commented that the painting did not evoke a feeling of hope and should have been entitled Despair.  Maybe that was the reason that in another version of his painting he has added a single star to the background to symbolise hope.  The girl, Hope, bends her ear to catch the music from the last remaining string of her almost shattered lyre. It is the faintest of hope as symbolised in her musical instrument which now with just one string left for her to make music and once that has broken, all hope of her producing a musical sound has disappeared.

Did the painting appeal to those who had almost lost hope themselves and in some way empathised with the vulnerability of the woman in the painting?  Watts had always sought, through his paintings, to communicate his message to as many people as possible. Some would criticise this aspect as being somewhat patronizing but Watts was a great master of narrative paintings and this was probably the reason why his conventional patriotic works he put forward for the Houses of Parliament were so successful.  Watts was surprised by the critical acclaim and popularity of his painting and attempted to follow up his success with Hope with two other works entitled, Faith and Charity, the other two “theological virtues” but they neither received the critical acclaim that his Hope painting achieved nor were they as popular with the public.

This version of the painting can be found in the Tate Gallery, London.