John William Waterhouse. Part 1

John William Waterhouse (c.1886)

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

The Slave by John William Waterhouse (1872)

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

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

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

Undine by John William Waterhouse (1882)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miranda by John William Waterhouse (1875)

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

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

Miranda by John William Waterhouse (1916)

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

After the Dance by John William Waterhouse (1876)

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

An aulios

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

…………………………….to be continued

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

Murillo Exhibition at Seville

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

Self-portrait by Murillo

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

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

The Good Shepherd by Murillo (1665)

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

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

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

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

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

The Annunciation by Murillo (c.1660)

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

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

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

Mater Dolorosa by Murillo (1670-1675)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Girl Lifting her Veil by Murillo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait of Juan de Saavedra by Murillo (1650)

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

Portrait of Josua van Belle by Murillo (1670)

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

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

James Tissot. Part 4 – True love, loss and a return to his homeland

James Tissot (1836 – 1902)

Tissot had stayed at the home of his friend, Thomas Bowles, when he arrived in England in June 1871, and remained his guest until 1872, at which time he went to live in a house in St John’s Wood, an area inhabited by a number of artists. A year later, with buoyant finances, he was on the move again, this time buying a house close by, in Grove End Road. His friends back home in France could not believe the change in Tissot’s fortunes. His good friend Degas wrote to him about his change of circumstances:

“…I hear you have bought a house. My mouth is still open…”

While others, probably jealous of his success in London were somewhat scathing. Edmond de Goncourt, a French writer, literary and art critic wrote mockingly in his journal, dated November 3rd 1874:

“… Tissot the plagiarist painter, was having the greatest of successes in England. Has this ingenious exploiter of English stupidity not come up with the idea of an ante-room to his studio perennially filled with iced champagne for his visitors, and around his studio a garden where one might observe at all times a footman occupied in dusting and polishing the leaves of the laurel bushes…”

Berthe Morisot and her husband visited Tissot in 1875 and following the meeting she wrote to her mother:

“…he is very well set up here and is turning out very pretty pictures. He sells them for 300,000 francs a time. So, what do you think of success in London? He was very kind; and complimented me on my work, though I doubt if he has actually seen any…”

In another letter to her sister she wrote:

“…Tissot……is living like a prince…..he is very kind, and most amiable, though a little common…..I paid him a great many compliments and truly deserved ones…”

The Ball on Shipboard by James Tissot (c.1874)

One of Tissot’s paintings in 1874 is now looked upon as one of his most festive works and one of his finest works which he completed whilst living in England. Again, it followed on from other shipboard paintings which Tissot had become known for. The painting depicts men and women relaxing at an event thought to be the annual regatta at Cowes on the Isle of Wight. It is entitled The Ball on Shipboard and was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1874, but unpredictably it received an unfavourable reaction from some art critics. To them, there was no narrative, the colours were too garish and some even levelled the complaint that it was “simply vulgar”. John Ruskin described it as:

“…unhappy mere colour photographs of vulgar society…”

The art critic of the magazine Athenaeum said of it:

“…I can find no pretty women, but a set of showy rather than elegant costumes, some few graceful, but more ungraceful attitudes and not a lady in a score of female figures…”

How the critic came to that collusion now seems unfathomable and the supercilious and snobbish judgement he made is completely at odds with today’s views when the work is simply looked upon as the spirit of Victorian fashion and sophistication.

London Visitors by James Tissot (1874)

Another of Tissot’s works to be exhibited at the Royal Academy received stinging criticism and yet is now looked upon as one of his masterpieces. The painting is entitled London Visitors. The colours used are mainly grey and muted tones which are suggestive of a typical of a smoky city atmosphere of a London scene on a dull winter’s day. Depicted are a couple of stylishly dressed visitors to the capital standing underneath the portico of the newly constructed National Gallery in London, with the church of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields framed in the background. The couple are trying to decide where to head to next. The gentleman checks his guidebook, while his female companion uses her umbrella to point towards Trafalgar Square, which lies in front of them. Standing in the foreground is young boy. He is one of the so-called bluecoat boys, who were students of the charitable Christ’s Hospital School, who often acted as tour guides to visitors to the city.

Empress Eugénie and the Imperial Prince in the grounds of Camden Place, Chislehurst by James Tissot (c.1874)

Tissot’s exalted reputation as a portrait painter was further boosted with one of his most prestigious portrait commissions which he received in 1874. This painting is a royal portrait of the widowed Empress Eugénie and her son, Louis Napoleon, entitled The Empress Eugénie and the Prince Impérial in the Grounds at Camden Place, Chislehurst. The painting which is now housed in the Chateau de Compèigne in France is one of Tissot’s most remarkable portraits. It is a portrait of a once powerful family who were then living in reduced circumstances. It is a portrait laced with sympathy. The autumnal colours add to the pair’s mood of sad reflection and feeling of desolation. In it, we see the sorrowful figures of the Empress Eugenie and her son, the recently deceased Napoleon III’s heir.  He is dressed in his British Royal Artillery uniform and is depicted supporting his mother as he looks towards us.   Empress Eugénie was to suffer more tragedy for sadly her son was killed in 1879, five years after the painting was completed, while fighting in the Zulu War in South Africa.

Mavourneen (My Darling)
Portrait of Kathleen Newton by James Tissot (1877)

It was 1875 when a new person entered James Tissot’s life. A person who would bring both joy and sadness to him. The person was Kathleen Newton (née Kelly), an Irish woman who would become his muse and later his lover.
Kathleen Irene Ashburnham Kelly was born in 1854 to Irish parents in Lahore, where her father, an officer in the British Indian army, was stationed. Kathleen’s father finally achieved the rank of chief adjutant and accountant officer in Agra and eventually retired around 1865 and left India and returned with his wife and daughters to live in London. Kathleen had been convent educated, but after her mother died she was sent to boarding school. When she was seventeen her father decided that she should marry. He arranged such a marriage with an older man, Isaac Newton who was a surgeon attached to the Indian Civil Service, and Kathleen was sent off in a steamer to meet her proposed husband, whom she had yet to set her eyes upon. For all intense and purposes, she was a mail-order bride.

The Bunch of Violets by James Tissot (1875)

Unusually her father had not arranged for a chaperone to travel with his teenage daughter and it was during this long sea passage that she fell in love with a fellow traveller, a Captain Palliser. She arrived in Lahore and on January 3rd 1871 Kathleen and Isaac Newton were married. Being somewhat naïve but one has to remember she was a pious convent girl,  on the advice of a Catholic priest, she confessed to her husband about the on-board romance soon after their wedding ceremony and before the marriage was consummated. In a letter to her husband, which I am not sure would have helped her cause for forgiveness, she wrote:

“…I am going to speak to you as if I was standing before God. It is true that I have sinned once, and God knows how I love that one [Palliser] too deeply to sin with any other…”

He was horrified and unforgiving and in May 1871 initiated divorce proceedings. He was granted a decree nisi in December 1871 and a decree absolute in July 20th 1872. Kathleen returned to England and went to live with her sister and brother-in-law, Mary and Augustus Hervey who lived in Hill Road, St John’s Wood close to Tissot’s Grove End Road house. On the same day as the decree absolute ending Kathleen’s marriage was granted she gave birth to Palliser’s child, Muriel Mary Violet.

Young Women Looking at Japanese Objects by James Tissot (1869)

It is not known for sure how Kathleen Newton and James Tissot met or when, but the best guess is late 1875. What we do know is that Kathleen Newton gave birth to her second child, Cecil George in March 1876 and that Kathleen, plus Violet and Cecil George went to live in James Tissot’s house that same year. Opinions are divided and arguments put forward fore and against as to whether Cecil George was Tissot’s son.  Kathleen gave her son the surname of Newton presumably so that he and his sister had the same last name !  All we do know is that Tissot’s household now included an Irish divorcee and her two illegitimate children and this did not sit well with the “rules” of respectable Victorian society. Although his close friendship with fellow artists remained as strong as ever his relationship with Kathleen found him barred from many high society gatherings. Tissot did not worry about this ostracising for he now sampled the joys of “family life” for the first time.

Portrait of Mrs N., more commonly titled La Frileuse by James Tissot (1876)

One of his earliest portraits of Kathleen Newton was a small (26 x 16cms) drypoint in black ink on cream laid Japan paper, which he completed in 1876. It was entitled Portrait of Mrs N..(Kathleen Newton) often referred to as La Frileuse (a woman shivering) which referred to the fact that Kathleen constantly felt the cold. It is regarded as his finest and most exquisite portrait of Kathleen. It must have been a true labour of love as we know he lost his heart to this Irish woman. The description in the William Weston London Gallery’s catalogue states:

“…It is a work of extreme delicacy yet great richness, of poetic quiet yet great emotion. Unlike the great majority of Tissot’s prints it is worked in pure drypoint, without the strength of underlying pure etching. The use of pure drypoint allowed him to combine extremely fine touches of line, in the drawing of her face for example, with tremendously rich textures in the burr and wiped ink tone in the fur collar or the hat. Kathleen Newton was the inspiration for some of Tissot’s very finest works…”

Le Croquet. (Playing Croquet) by James Tissot (1878)

The fact that Tissot was living with Kathleen was not unusual as many wealthy men kept mistresses but they did not, like Tissot, parade them around openly and advertise their relationship. Tissot did not worry about what society thought about his relationship with Kathleen as he now sampled the joys of “family life” for the first time. Tissot’s open and very public display of his affair with Kathleen shocked the London society, a society which had once welcomed him with open arms. His choice was simple, embrace Victorian society’s protocol or be proud to be seen with Kathleen.  For Tissot there was no question as to which course of action he would choose. Kathleen was the love of his life and he chose her over life amongst London society. James and Kathleen settled down to home life and were happy to mix with their many artistic friends who continued to support them. They never married and the reason for this could be their rigid Roman Catholic upbringing and beliefs. Tissot’s house and garden were spacious and Tissot and Kathleen along with her two children created a private world together and it is this private world which is the atmospheric background to many of Tissot’s compositions of this period including another drypoint, Le Croquet, which he completed around 1878.

A Passing Storm by James Tissot (1876)

One of the first painting in which Kathleen appears is the 1876 work by Tissot entitled A Passing Storm. The setting for this painting is a room overlooking Ramsgate harbour. Kathleen is depicted lying on a chaise longue in an elegant if somewhat provocative pose. In the background, seen standing on the balcony, we see her lover. His demeanour is puzzling. He stands there with his hands in his pockets looking rather impatient and uninterested in the lady. It is a scene of inhibited passion. Again, it is a narrative work which lets the viewers decide what is going on and what has been said between the two to end up at this juncture.

Room Overlooking the Harbour by James Tissot (c.1876)

Another early work featuring Kathleen was one entitled Room Overlooking the Harbour. In this work the lady sits at a table having lunch. Across the table from her is an older man who is reading a newspaper.

Photograph of Kathleen Newton

It was during this period, the late 1870’s that Tissot began to use photographs to help with his depictions and a number of these photographs still survive to this day.

En Plein Soleil (In the Sunshine) by James Tissot (c.1881)

One such instance of this technique was Tissot’s painting En plein Soleil (In the Sunshine) which he completed in 1881. The depiction of Kathleen Newton is from a photograph of her sitting in the garden of his Grove End home.  The setting for the painting is Tissot’s Grove End Road garden in St. John’s Wood. It is a group portrait, we see Kathleen Newton on the left depicted in the same pose as in the photograph. On the rug next to her is her daughter, Muriel Mary Violet. The other girl lying under the parasol is her niece Lillian Hervey. To the right is Kathleen’s sister, Mary Hervey, whom she lived with on her return from India,  and is seen ruffling the hair of a young boy, Cecil George, Kathleen’s five-year-old son, who may also have been fathered by Tissot.

Family photograph

In 1878 Tissot used another photograph of Kathleen for his painting entitled Waiting for the Ferry. The photograph was once again taken in the garden of Tissot’s Grove End Road home. In it, we see Tissot and Kathleen along wither son Cecil George and her niece Lilian Hervey.

Waiting for the Ferry by James Tissot (1878)

In the painting we see the young girl wearing a large hat with an equally large bow holding onto the wooden rail of the dock waiting for the arrival of the ferry. The woman, modelled by Kathleen, is depicted sitting in the same Windsor chair shown in the photograph. The woman is well wrapped up against the cold and doesn’t look well. In a number of his later works featuring Kathleen Newton, Tissot has depicted her as being unwell and convalescing which is rather sad, bearing in mind the onset of Kathleen’s own illness.

Mrs Newton with a Parasol by James Tissot (1879)

Another beautiful painting featuring Kathleen was his 1879 work Mrs Newton with a Parasol. This is looked upon as one of Tissot’s finest depictions of Kathleen. It has a hint of japonisme in its simplicity of design and the abstract colouring of the background. This is Tissot’s eulogy to feminine exquisiteness. This is Tissot’s homage to the woman he loved.

Tissot, by 1876, was financially secure through the sale of his paintings and he was happy with his life with Kathleen and her children. However, as we all know, life is not all plain sailing. In the latter part of the 1870’s Tissot’s paintings which he exhibited at various galleries were receiving a lot of criticism from the art critics. During the period, late 1879, through all of 1880, Tissot failed to exhibit any of his work at any of the leading London galleries. The critic were probably aware of the disdain shown by Tissot with regards Victorian morals and thought that criticising his work would be pay-back for his laissez-faire attitude to flaunting his private life in public. The art critic of the Spectator scathingly wrote:

“…This year he tries our patience somewhat hardly, for these ladies in hammocks, showing a very unnecessary amount of petticoat and stocking, are remarkable for little save a sort of luxurious indolence and insolence…”

The Hammock by James Tissot (1880)

The painting which the critic was lambasting was The Hammock which was set in Tissot’s own garden with its distinctive pool and cast-iron colonnade. In Victorian London having and maintaining such a large and decorative garden was very much a sign of affluence. The painting is all about lavishness, inactivity, and adoration. We see the lady, modelled by Kathleen, sitting back in her hammock, lazily reading her newspaper, There is a glimpse of a white petticoat which had upset the critics believing this would result in male viewers entertaining erotic thoughts !!! Although not discernible from the attached picture the book lying face down on the rug is probably French which alludes to the fact that Tissot had been sitting on the rug at the feet of his lover. Once again Tissot has included elements of japonisme in the painting.  It was interesting to note that Tissot exhibited the work at the Grosvenor Gallery instead of the Royal Academy. The Grosvenor was the temple of the Aesthetic Movement and Tissot’s style of paintings were much more aligned to the philosophy of this gallery than the Royal Academy which was looked upon as an older, straight-laced institution which frowned at frivolity.

Soirée d’eté (Summer Evening) by James Tissot (1882)                                                                                       A painting featuring Kathleen shortly before her death.

Another reason for Tissot not exhibiting any of his work during 1879 and 1880 was the declining health of Kathleen Newton who had contracted tuberculosis. In 1882 her health deteriorated rapidly with the onset of consumption. It was an illness that caused her great suffering and seeing his wife in so much pain was almost too much for Tissot to bear. Kathleen, aware that she was dying and saddened by sight of her distraught husband, decided to take matters into her own hands and took an overdose of laudanum. Kathleen Newton died in November 9th 1882, aged just 28.   While her coffin stood in Grove End Road draped in purple velvet, Tissot prayed besides it for hours.  Later, she was buried in plot  in St Mary’s Cemetery, Kensal Green.

One week after the death of his beloved Kathleen, Tissot abandoned his London home at St John’s Wood, leaving behind his paints, brushes and unfinished canvases and never returned to it. The house was later bought by his painter friend Alma-Tadema. Tissot was inconsolable and never really recovered from Kathleen’s death. He left London for good and returned to his homeland, France.

..…..to be concluded.


Most of the information I am using comes from Christopher Wood’s 1986 biography of Tissot which is an excellent read, full of beautiful pictures.

The Alma-Tadema Ladies. Part 2 – The Two Daughters, Anna and Laurense.

(Detail from full-length portrait) Miss Anna Alma-Tadema by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1883)

In my last blog I looked at the lives of Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s two wives, Marie-Pauline Gressin-Dumoulin de Boisgirard and Laura Theresa Epps and how, in a way their two lives were intertwined.  In this second part of the blog I am looking at Alma-Tadema’s Ladies but in this blog I am looking at the lives of his two daughters, Laurense and Anna Alma-Tadema.

In the painting above, entitled Miss Anna Alma-Tadema, which her father completed in 1883 we see fifteen year old Anna, standing at the door of the library at Townshend House.  In her hand is a vase of carnations and she wears an Aesthetic dress probably made of Indian cotton, with a shell necklace.  Look how the artist has mastered the depiction of the different textures of the various surfaces whether it be clothes or inanimate objects.

Hall in Townshend House by Ellen Epps (1873)
Painting of Laurense and Anna painted by the sister of their step-mother

On September 24th, 1863, twenty-seven-year-old Laurens Alma-Tadema married a French lady, Marie-Pauline Gressin-Dumoulin de Boisgirard in Antwerp City Hall and the couple went on to have three children.  Their first-born, a son, died aged six months of smallpox.  The couple then went on to have two daughters, Laurense in August 1865 and Anna in 1867.  Both children were born in Brussels.

Laurense, Anna, their father, and his sister Atje moved to London in 1870, a year after Marie-Pauline’s death.  Lawrence Alma-Tadema re-married in 1871.  His second wife, who was sixteen years younger than him, was Laura Epps the English daughter of a homeopathic doctor.   Laurense and Anna were home-schooled by their father and step-mother.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema – The Sculpture Gallery (1874)

In 1874 Lawrence Alma-Tadema painted one of his largest works, The Sculpture Gallery which measured 223 x 174cms.  In this work, which depicts an Ancient Roman temple setting, he has included depictions of his two wives and two children as well as himself.  We see his second wife Laura Theresa wearing a gold armlet in the centre of the work, and to the right of her are her two children Laurense and Anna.  Lawrence Alma-Tadema is seated on the left and to his right, sitting upright hold a purple feather fan is thought to be a portrayal of his late wife, Marie-Pauline Gressin-Dumoulin de Boisgirard who died five years earlier.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s Study, Townshend House, London, (1884)

Anna developed her father’s and step-mother’s love of art and by the age of seventeen had become a talented artist.  She focused on painting the elaborate interiors of the family home, as well as portraits and flower paintings. Her gift as an artist can be seen in a set of watercolour and pen and ink depictions she completed in 1884 and 1885 of the family’s first London home, Townshend House close to Regents Park.  The detail is truly amazing and these works were almost certainly due to the influence of her father.   Her painting entitled Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s Study in Townshend House, London was completed by Anna in 1884.  The interior of Townshend House was designed and furnished by her father.  He managed to create a set of ornate and diverse interiors in a variety of styles ranging from traditional Dutch to Egyptian, Ancient Greek, Pompeiian, Byzantine, and Japanese based on his journeys.  The setting in this work is the interior of a comfortable library.  The intricate detail amazes me.  At the back of the room we see a very comfortable couch made even more so with the addition of a fur covering. It is almost a day-bed to be used by a weary reader who has come to the library for some peace and quiet.  The room is bright due to its dual aspect stained-glass windows and in the evening the candle-lights of the bronze chandelier, which Alma-Tadema designed, will illuminate the room.  The room has many pieces of heavy Dutch oak furniture which probably reminded Anna’s father of his birthplace.   On the ceiling to the left there seems to be a Japanese lantern or it could be an upturned parasol.  The floor is covered by a tatami matting, which was used as a flooring material in traditional Japanese-style rooms.  Hanging from the fireplace is a large palm leaf fan and on top of the fireplace mantle is a vase full of peacock feathers.  Just take your time and look at everything that Anna has painstakingly depicted in this very busy room.

The Drawing Room, Townshend House by Anna Alma-Tadema (1885),

In a small (27 x 19cms) watercolour and ink painting The Drawing Room which Anna completed in 1885 we see another room in Townshend House.   We are standing in the Gold Room and looking through the archway into the Columned Drawing Room albeit the columns themselves are hidden.   In the work we see one of a suite of ornate drawing rooms in the family’s home.  In this work take a close look and see how she has mastered light and the texture of the objects.  Look at how she has depicted the full-length brocade curtain which seems to act as a room-divider.  Look at the way she has illustrated the shiny surface of the floor lit by a light source emanating from an unseen window to the right.  Anna exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1886 and exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, in 1893.

The Gold Room by Anna Alma-Tadema (1884)

Finally, we have her work entitled The Gold Room which she completed in 1884.   This watercolour depicts a view into the Gold Room which was named thus because its walls were overlaid with gold leaf.  The centre of the painting is dominated by the large ornate piano which has inlays of ivory and tortoiseshell.  On the right we see a sumptuous full-length curtain made of Chinese silk.  If you look carefully at the window in the background you will see that the leading of it forms the family name, “Alma-Tadema”.  We cannot but be amazed by the talent of this seventeen-year-old girl at how she has managed to create the rich and bright surfaces we see as well as the various textures of the objects.  The inclusion of an antique bust on a pedestal was probably testament to her father’s interest in Roman and Greek history.  The painting was shown at the 1885 Royal Academy exhibition and is housed at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City Missouri.

Eton College Chapel by Anna Alma-Tadema

Another 1885 painting highlighted Anna’s ability to replicate detail onto canvas.  It was her watercolour work entitled Eton College Chapel which she completed when she was just twenty years of age and was exhibited at the Royal Academy.  Of Anna and her great artistic skill her father’s biographer, Helen Zimmerman, wrote in her 1902 biography, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema R.A., that she was:

“…a delicate, dainty artist who has inherited much of her father’s power for reproducing detail…”

The Closing Door by Anna Alma-Tadema

In 1886, the family moved to a larger house, No. 17 Grove End Road, St. John’s Wood, London, which had previously been owned by the painter James Tissot.  Anna’s father carried out major refurbishments to the house and had extra studios added so that all four in the family could paint!   A room, thought to be on the upper floor in this house was the setting for Anna’s 1899 painting, The Closing Door.  It is a beautiful painting, full of mystery and atmosphere.  Once one has enjoyed the detail of the inanimate objects in the room our gaze goes to the central character of this work, the lady and soon our head is filled with questions.  So what story is unfolding before us?  Look at the woman – how is she feeling and why?  I suppose we recognise that something has badly upset her.  Look how she has roughly grasped the bead necklace and broken it.  If you look carefully you can see beads on the carpet.  Look at her facial expression –wretchedness, bewilderment, and fear are all recognisable.  So, what has brought her to this state of bleak despondency.  A lover’s tiff, a break-up of a relationship?  All possible.  Maybe if we look at some of the objects on the table we may get a clue.  A small vase of anemones symbolising the death of a loved one for in Greek mythology, the anemone sprang from Aphrodite’s tears as she mourned the death of Adonis.  In Victorian times, the anemone was looked upon as a symbol of dying love or departure of a loved one to the “point of no return”.  So, has her “loved one” died or abandoned her?  Next to the vase is a bottle of violet ink, the colour of which has associations with modesty and humility which probably tells us more about the lady herself.  The final mystery associated with this painting is the door.  Look closely at it and you will see fingers grasping it as if to close it.  Is this another sign of somebody “leaving”?  Or is this somebody about to enter which is causing the lady to be afraid?  So many questions and only the artist knows the answers.

Girl in a Bonnet with her Head on a Blue Pillow by Anna Alma-Tadema (1902),

In 1902 Anna Alma-Tadema painted Girl in a Bonnet with Her Head on Blue Pillow   It is a haunting painting with the girl seeming to stare at us as we observe the work but, on closer scrutiny, it is a blank stare.  She shows little interest at what is going on her around her.  Something is troubling her.  She feels helpless and alone.  Her hands are clasped tightly together in a pleading manner.  What solace does she crave? We, the observers, want to help her but how?  Is this simply about an unknown stranger or is this about the artist herself and her mood?

Following the death of her father in 1912, the value of his paintings fell drastically, and this loss of family revenue adversely affected the finances of his two daughters who lived their latter years in poverty.  Anna Alma-Tadema, who never married, died in 1943, aged seventy-six.

Photograph of Laurence Alma-Tadema from the US Library of Congress

Anna’s elder sister was born Laurense Alma-Tadema in August 1865 but she is always referred to as Laurence Alma-Tadema.  For this portion of the blog there will be few paintings as Laurence, unlike her sister, father and step-mother was not an artist.

Love’s Dream by Laurence Alma-Tadema

She was a novelist, playwright, short story writer, and poet. Her first novel, Love’s Martyr was published in 1886.  She wrote in various genres during the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries.

The Yellow Book periodical

She also submitted work to various periodicals such as The Yellow Book, a British quarterly literary periodical that was published in London from 1894 to 1897.  She also edited a periodical.  Many of her works were privately printed.

She left the family home and went to live in the Kent village of Wittersham in a cottage named The Fair Haven.  She became an active member of the local community, and involved herself with music and plays.  She even had a place built which could accommodate a hundred people and was to be used by the villagers to stage music concerts and plays and where the children of the village could be taught many local handicrafts.  She named it the Hall of Happy Hours.  In 1907 and 1908 she gave a series of readings in America on her literary work The Meaning of Happiness, which proved to be very well-liked by her American audiences.

World War I Propaganda Poster

She was an ardent activist and often spoke on the plight of the Polish people who were being displaced from their homes by the Austro-German troops in World War I.  She was a close friend and ardent admirer of Jan Paderewski, the Polish concert pianist and composer, politician, and spokesman for Polish independence.  Laurense was secretary of the Poland and the Polish Victims Relief Fund from 1915 to 1939 and her name appeared on many of their propaganda posters.  On her book tour in America, she spoke on the plight of the divided Poland and asked her audience to support the Polish people’s cause.

Laurense died in a nursing home in London on March 12th 1940, aged seventy-five.  Laurense like her sister Anna never married and one wonders whether either ever loved somebody and whether they missed “married bliss”.   Laurense’s poem If One Ever Marries Me would make one believe at least she was resigned to a solitary life.

 If no one ever marries me,—

And I don’t see why they should,

For nurse says I’m not pretty,

And I’m seldom very good—

 If no one ever marries me

I shan’t mind very much;

I shall buy a squirrel in a cage,

And a little rabbit-hutch:

 I shall have a cottage near a wood,

And a pony all my own,

And a little lamb quite clean and tame,

That I can take to town:

 And when I’m getting really old,—

At twenty-eight or nine—

I shall buy a little orphan-girl

And bring her up as mine.

————————–

I visited the exhibition At Home in Antiquity which features many paintings by Lawrence Alma-Tadema.   It is being held in London at the Leighton House Museum until October 29th.  It is a “must-see” exhibition of Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s works as well as works by his daughter and second wife.

 

 

The ter Borch family

Gerard ter Borch the Elder by Moses ter Borch (1660)

Today I am looking at a dynasty of Dutch artists – the ter Borch family.  The head of the family was Gerard ter Borch the Elder who was born in Zwolle in 1583.  At the age of eighteen he travelled to Italy and stayed in Rome and Naples for the next eleven years drawing and painting local landscapes.  On his return to his home town of Zwolle he married Anna Bufkens and five years later, in 1617, she gave birth to their son Gerard.

The Sacrifice of Abraham by Gerard ter Borch the Elder (1619)

During his final years in Italy and after his return to The Netherlands, many of the paintings by Gerard ter Borch the Elder featured scenes from the Bible, one of which was his 1619 painting entitled The Sacrifice of Abraham.

Head of a Girl by Gerard ter Borch the Elder (1628)

Gerard ter Borch the Elder was a talented draughtsman and this can be seen in his drawing, Head of a Girl, which he completed around 1628 and is thought to be a portrait of Sara, his daughter (by his second wife) who was four years old at the time.

Head of a Little Girl Wearing a Necklace by Gerard ter Borch the Elder (c. 1630)

Ter Borch the Elder, like many artists of the time used family members as their models and again we can see an example of this in another of his pen and ink drawings entitled Head of a Little Girl Wearing a Necklace.

Little Girl at a Table Holding a Slice of Melon by Gerard ter Borch the Elder (1630’s)

A third example of Ter Borch’s draughtsmanship is his 1630’s work entitled Little Girl at a Table Holding a Slice of Melon.  This small (12 x 9cms) drawing is done using black chalk, brown ink washes and black ink.  The brown wash is used to shade one side of the girl’s face and to cover the background. This wash reinforces the effect of light falling on her face and her clothing. The girl stares off to the right of the painting at something which is fascinating her. Other items of food lie in front of her. She is dressed simply, wearing a wide white collar over her dress.  Her hair is tied behind her head with a bow, but some loose strands have escaped and lie across her forehead.

In the late 1630’s Gerard ter Borch the Elder almost gave up his painting although he did oversee the artistic education of his children.

Self Portrait of Gerard ter Borch the Younger (1688)

The eldest of the Ter Borch children was Gerard ter Borch the Younger, the only child from his father’s first marriage to Anna Bufkens, and I suppose if I was to talk about a Dutch artist by the name of ter Borch you would probably assume that I was referring to Gerard ter Borch the Younger as he was probably the most accomplished member of this talented and prosperous Dutch artistic family.  He was born in Zwolle in 1617. His mother died when he was just four years old and was looked after by his father.  Gerard Junior proved to be a talented painter even before his teenage years. In 1632, he went to Amsterdam to study painting and two years later, when he was seventeen years old, he went to Haarlem to study with the painter and engraver Pieter de Molijn and there, he entered the Guild of St Luke of Haarlem the following year.

The Suitor’s Visit by Gerard ter Borch the Younger (1658)

In 1635 ter Borch the Younger travelled to London where he worked alongside his uncle, Robert van Voerst, the royal engraver of Charles I.  Many of his travels took him to Italy, France and Spain, the latter visit being an invitation to the Spanish royal court to produce a portrait of King Philip IV which gives you an idea as to how highly he was thought of as an artist.  Ter Borch received a knighthood and a gold chain and medal from the king of Spain for his artistic efforts.

The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster, 15 May 1648by Gerard ter Borch the Younger (1648)

Around 1646 Gerard Ter Borch the Younger was living in Münster, Westphalia, and it is here he completed one of his most famous paintings, The Swearing of the Oath of Ratification of the Treaty of Münster which can be seen in the National Gallery in London. The Treaty of Munster, which was signed in May 1648, was a momentous time in the history of The Netherlands as it finally recognised the country’s independence. This treaty and the treaty signed in Osnabruck ended the Thirty Years’ War between 1618 and 1648 in the Holy Roman Empire, and the Eighty Years’ War between 1568 and 1648 between Spain and the Dutch Republic, with Spain formally recognizing the independence of the Dutch Republic.

The oil on copper painting is set in the Ratskammer (council chamber) of the Town Hall of Münster and depicts the portraits of seventy-seven men. In the foreground, standing behind the table, dressed in black, we see the six Dutch delegates.  To the right of the table stand the two Spanish.  Both sets of men are ratifying the treaty simultaneously.  A Franciscan monk stands behind the Spaniards on the extreme right.  What appeals to me about this work is that Ter Borch has taken the liberty of including himself in the work on the far left, gazing out at us!!!!

In his earliest works, Ter Borch depicted barrack-room scenes whereas most of his later genre scenes, focused on the more refined elements of Dutch society.

An Officer Dictating a Letter by Gerard ter Borch the Younger (1658)

Gerard ter Borch the Younger was also a leading proponent of genre scenes often featuring depictions of soldiers at rest in their barracks or the local taverns.  These works were generally small and upright in format and typically depict two or three elegantly clad, full-length figures engaged in an activity such as letter writing or music making.  The depiction of letter writing was extremely popular.  The reason for this probably stems from the belief that letter writing was predominately a form of relaxation among the middle and upper classes and these social classes had expanded during this period which saw the Dutch economy prosper.  An example of this is his 1658 work Officer Dictating a Letter.  They are executed with great sensitivity of touch and show an interest in the psychology of the sitters.

Portrait of a Lady and a Girl by Caspar Netscher (1679)

Ter Borch also painted many small-scale, full-length portraits. His most important student was Caspar Netscher (Dutch, 1639 – 1684), who learned many of his master’s techniques for rendering luxurious textures and who painted, in addition to his original compositions, many signed copies of Ter Borch’s works.

The Concert, Singer and Theorbo Player by Gerard ter Borch the Younger (1657)

Later in the 1650’s he often depicted more genteel scenes featuring wealthy members of Dutch society.  One such painting was entitled The Concert: Singer and Theorbo Player which he completed around 1657 and can now be found in The Louvre.  The setting is a cosy and relaxed bourgeois interior. Hanging in the background we see a large luxuriant tapestry.  The table in the left foreground is covered by a sumptuous oriental carpet with its colourful, geometric design that appealed to northern painters and which signified the wealth of the household. The two young women in the painting are giving a musical performance.  The lady standing on the left is playing a theorbo, a plucked string instrument of the lute family.  Seated at the table is her companion who is following the score, her hand is raised as she beats the time presumably as she prepares to break into song.  On the right of the painting, and looking towards us, is a young servant who has brought the ladies a glass of beer on a tray.

A Maid Milking a Cow in a Barn by Gerard ter Borch the Younger (c.1654)

Another genre work from around 1654 by Gerard ter Borch the Younger was A Maid Milking Cows in a Barn.   In the barn, we see a young woman squatting down in the process of milking a brown and white spotted cow. Another cow stands close by, waiting its turn. This work is a classic example of the ability of the artist to expertly depict different textures.  Look at how he has portrayed the various objects dotted around the foreground of this work such as the jaggedly sculpted stool and the wooden basin which is filled with water.  Look too at the chipped ceramic crock pot, and the shiny metal hinges of the buckets. The painting is housed in the Getty Centre, Museum East Pavilion in Los Angeles

Jan van Duren by Gerard ter Borch (1667)

Gerard ter Borch the Younger also painted many small-scale, full-length portraits such as the pendant portraits he completed around 1667 of Jan van Duren, a member of the upper ruling class of the Dutch town of Deventer and his wife Margaretha van Haexbergen.  Van Duren is dressed in the opulent clothing one associated with an affluent regent and in the other work, his wife is equally well adorned.

Margaretha van Haexbergen by Gerard ter Borch the Younger (1667)

In both cases the background is bare which avoids anything that may have detracted from the subject/patron and in the same way, the settings are minimal with just a simple velvet covered table, atop of which is a hat, in one and a fringed velvet chair in the other.  The overall appearance of both portraits is one of simplicity, elegance, and dignity.

Gerbrand Pancras, Formerly Known as Hendrick Casimir II, Prince of Nassau-Dietz by Gerard ter Borch the Younger (1670)

Another of Gerard ter Borch’s portraits is one entitled Gerbrand Pancras, Formerly Known as Hendrick Casimir II, Prince of Nassau-Dietz which is housed mat the Manchester Art Gallery.  The three-quarter length, three-quarter right-side portrait is of a young man dressed in blue and silver clothes which are decorated with pink ribbon.  The man stands looking out at us, some would say condescendingly, with a silver-topped walking stick in his right hand whilst his left-hand rests on his hip. Lying to the side of him is a table, covered by a red cloth, on which is a black hat dressed with a white feather. The inscription states that he is 12 years old.

Anna Bufkens, the first wife of Gerard ter Borch the Elder and the mother of Gerard ter Borch the Younger died in 1621, aged 34.  Shortly after the death of his first wife, ter Borch the Elder re-married.  His second wife was twenty-two-year-old Geesken van Voerst.  The couple went on to have two daughters, Anna in 1622 and Sara in 1624.  It was around this time that Gerard Snr’s painting output declined although he would still afford his children artistic training.   He also assumed the position held by his aged father, Harmen, the Licencemaster of Zwolle, a position Gerard ter Borch the Elder would hold for about 40 years until his death.

The Milkmaid by Gesina ter Borch (1669)

Seven years later, in 1628, Gerard ter Borch the Elder’s second wife died aged just twenty-nine years of age.  Following shortly on from her death, forty-five-year-old Gerard married for a third time.  His third wife was twenty-one-year-old lady from Deventer, Wiesken Matthys.  There seems some doubt about how many children they had ranging from five to ten but I found that they had a daughter Gesina in 1631, a daughter Catharina in 1634, a son Harmen in 1638, a third daughter Jenneken in 1640 and a son Moses in 1645.  There was also talk about another son Mattijs but I cannot find a birth date for him.

Gesina ter Borch was born on November 15th, 1631 at the family home in Sassenstratt in the town of Zwolle, where she would live all her life.  She was the eldest child of Gerard ter Borch the Elder and his third wife, Wiesken Matthijs.  When her father died in 1662 and her brothers had left home, she lived in her parental home with her mother, sister Catharina and her late sister, Jenneken’s three children.  She never married.

Page from Gesina’s poetry album

Gesina became a great talent in the art of draughtsmanship and when she painted she favoured the medium of watercolours.  Her paintings which were mainly for her and her family’s pleasure and were usually small in size but vibrant in colour.  She had not received any formal artistic training except for the tuition afforded to her by her father who had also taught his sons, Gerard the Younger, Harmen and Moses.

Farmer’s wife and child in a landscape by Gesina ter Borch (1669)

Gesina over time collected her pen and ink and watercolour drawings as well as her poetry in three albums, Materi-Boeks, the first of which was begun in 1646 when she was just fifteen years of age.  Her art books were a combination of her art and her scrapbook.   She printed drawings of her family members, newspaper clippings, children’s and friends’ artwork, and many copies of her half-brother Gerard’s work and that of her brother Moses.

Moses ter Borch by Gerard ter Borch the Younger and Gesina ter Borch (1667)

The one painting she is probably best known for was her posthumous portrait of her youngest brother Moses ter Borch which is in the Rijksmuseum.  It was a collaborative work with her step brother Gerard ter Borch the Younger.  Moses, who was born in 1645 and died in 1667, aged twenty-two, during the storming of Fort Languard near Felixstowe in England. He had served in the Dutch navy which had been fighting against the English since 1664. It is a painting full of symbolism and meaning.  Time is alluded to by the inclusion of a pocket watch, death is symbolised by the skull, loyalty by the inclusion of a small lap dog looking lovingly at his master and eternity by the depiction of the ivy on the rocks. Moses ter Borch was buried in Harwich.

Moses ter Borch off the coast of Harwich by Gesina ter Borch (c.1667)

In the above collaborative portrait, one can tell that Gesina’s stepbrother Gerard probably was the greater of the two contributors to the work but a quite simplistic portrait of her brother and his death can be seen in her painting which was part of one of her albums.

Self portrait by Moses ter Borch (c.1661)

Moses himself was also an artist and when he was about sixteen years of age completed a self-portrait.

Self portrait, the so-called portrait of Jan Fabus by Moses ter Borch (1661)

He also completed many sketches, some were oil sketches like his very small (8 x 7cms) work with the strange title, Self Portrait, the so-called Portrait of Jan Fabus which he completed in 1661.

Sketch of soldiers by Harmen ter Borch (1650)

The final artist of the family was Harmen ter Borch.  He was the eldest son of Gerard ter Borch and his third wife, Wiesken Matthys and the sister of Gesina and Moses.  There are several his sketches in the Rijksmuseum including one depicting soldiers which he completed when he was just twelve years old.

Beestenconcert by Harmen ter Borch (1653)

Another, the Beestenconcert was completed in 1653 when he was fifteen years old.

The Broken Bridge by Harmen ter Borch (1655)

But probably my favourite is his colour sketch entitled The Broken Bridge which he painted in 1655 when he was seventeen years old

With such a number of artists in one family, one wonders whether family life was a very competitive environment.  Gerard ter Borch the Younger was by far the greatest of the family artists but it is good to remember that he had some talented siblings.

Hendrick Willem Mesdag. Part 1 – The early years, family and influences

Hendrik Willem Mesdag
Hendrik Willem Mesdag

If you are a young aspiring artist I wonder what your dreams are.  You obviously hope that your painterly skills will improve over the following years.  Maybe you dream that your love of painting could become your main livelihood but for that to happen maybe it needs some sort of financial breakthrough.  Perhaps you hope that one day you could also afford to build up a collection of paintings created by well-known artists and that your collection grows to such an extent that you house them in your own museum.   An impossible dream?  The artist I am looking at today achieved all this, so sometimes what you wish for does come true.

Hendrik Mesdag at work in his studio
Hendrik Mesdag at work in his studio

Hendrik Willem Mesdag was born in Groningen on February 23rd 1831.  His father Klaas, who originally was a grain merchant, later became a very successful stockbroker and banker, and was also active in politics, but maybe more importantly, for the future path of his sons Hendrick and Taco, he was an art collector, amateur painter and draughtsman.   Hendrick’s mother was Johanna Wilhelmina van Giffen, who came from a wealthy family of silversmiths.  Sadly, she died at the age of 35, when Hendrik was just four years old.  Hendrik had an elder brother Taco who was born in 1829, a younger brother Gilles, born in 1832 and a sister, Ellegonda, who was born in 1827.  His cousin was the renowned painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema and the two men and their wives would remain friends throughout their lives.  As schoolchildren, both Hendrick and his older brother Taco showed and early artistic talent and their father decided to send them for some artistic training.  They both received drawing lessons from the Dutch painter, Cornelis Bernardus Buys who had also tutored Jozef Israels and later received drawing tuition from the Dutch painter and photographer, Johannes Hinderikus Egenberger.  However, for Hendrik, once he left school at the age of nineteen, art became just an enjoyable pastime, as he believed that his future, like that of his father, lay in banking.  Hendrik Mesdag joined his father’s bank where he remained for the next sixteen years.

Hendrik and Sientja (1906)
Hendrik and Sientja (1906)

On April 23rd 1856, when Hendrik was twenty-five years old, he married Sina (often known as Sientja) van Houten, who was three years his junior.  Her father, Derk van Houten, was a wealthy timber merchant who owned a large sawmill just outside Groningen.  She was the eldest of seven children brought up by a wealthy family, and she, like her husband, would become a painter later in life.  Hendrik’s love of art during his days as a banker did not diminish, in fact in August 1861 he enrolled as a pupil at the Academie Minerva, a Dutch art school based in Groningen.  On September 25th 1863 Sientje gave birth to their son Nicolaas, who was called Klaas.

In 1864, a year after she gave birth to her son, her father died and left her an inheritance which she finally received in 1866, the size of which was enough to allow her husband Hendrik to give up his job in his father’s bank and concentrate on his painting. You may wonder what Hendrik’s father thought of his son’s decision to quit the world of banking and take up a more hazardous life as an artist.  Maybe that can be answered by a passage in a letter he wrote to his son on October 9th 1868:

“…Keep up the good work and fulfil if possible my hope that you will someday become a true artist…”

In the Spring of 1866, Hendrik wrote to his cousin Laurence Tadema-Alma asking for some help with his desire to become a professional artist:

“…‘I’m 35 years old. I’ve a wife and child. I’ve been trained for business, but am not cut out for it. I’m a painter; help me…”

Tadema-Alma arranged a tutor for Mesdag.  He was Willem Roelofs, the Dutch painter, water-colourist, etcher, lithographer, and draughtsman and was one of the forerunners of the Dutch Revival art and one of the founders of the art society known as The Hague Pulchri Studio.  Roelofs agreed to train Mesdag but he didn’t come cheaply.  Roelofs wrote of his tuition agreement saying:

“…‘In the autumn (September) I’m expecting a new pupil, a cousin of Tadema, Mr Mesdag from Groningen. The 1,200 francs His Honour gives me is nothing to sniff…”

 

Roelofs wrote from Brussels to Mesdag on May 27th 1866 to tell him he looked forward to tutoring him:

“…As I’ve already told Alma-Tadema, nothing would give me greater pleasure than helping you with your study of landscape, and I hope to be able to stimulate you to make progress in our art…”

Woodcutters by Hendrik Mesdag (c.1866)
Woodcutters by Hendrik Mesdag (c.1866)

Before starting his tuition, Hendrik Mesdag took his wife Sientja on a short break to Oosterbeek, a small village on the outskirts of Veluwe in eastern Netherlands which was famed for its beautiful landscapes. At that time, Oosterbeek was the site of one of the first Dutch artist’s colonies. The artists there were followers of the French Barbizon naturalist tradition, and it attracted painters, such as landscape painter Johannes Warnardus Bilders, who was one of the the first to settle there and they were inspired by the open air and were able to capture the fluctuations of light. Bilders soon became an inspiration to many other painters who flocked to the region.  This would have been an ideal place for Mesdag to practice his en plein air painting.  Mesdag wrote Roelofs in May 1866, to tell him about his Oosterbeek plans.  Roelofs heartily approved of Mesdag’s plan to spend the summer making sketches directly from nature, and replied to his letter:

“…since, if you were here, I could advise you to do nothing better…”

After his summer sojourn in Oosterbeek, Mesdag and his wife and child move to Brussels in September 1866 where he began his three-year studies under Roelofs.

We know a little of the initial training and advice Mesdag was given by Roelofs as in the 1996 edition of the Van Gogh Museum Journal there is a quote from the van Houten archives of the dbnl (digitale bibliotheek de Nederlandse lettern) in which Roelofs advice to Mesdag is quoted:

“…Try and rid yourself of all so-called manner and, in a word, try and imitate nature with feeling, but without thinking about others’ work. Paint studies of parts, a bit of land for instance, a stand of trees or something of the kind, but always in such a way that it can be grasped in connection with the entire landscape […]. – These studies [are] in order to become acquainted with nature bit by bit. – Further studies of a whole, preferably very simple subjects. – A meadow with the horizon and a bit of sky […]. Paint all these studies not so you can bring home something beautiful […] but for yourself…”

Interior with Staircase by Hendrik Mesdag (1868)
Interior with Staircase by Hendrik Mesdag (1868)

Willem Roelofs was a great follower of the Barbizon School and the Barbizon artists whose paintings faithfully reproduced nature in their depictions.  Roelofs wanted Mesdag to go away and paint depictions of his own surroundings.  There was nothing to be fanciful about the depictions.  Roelof just wanted Mesdag to paint realistic depictions of his everyday life and what was happening around him.  One example was his 1868 painting Interior with Staircase.

Interior with Wife and Child by Hendrik Mesdag (1868)
Interior with Wife and Child by Hendrik Mesdag (1868)

Another early work by Mesdag was entitled Interior with Wife and Child which was also completed in 1868.

Fate again played a hand in the course of the artistic life of Mesdag for in the summer of 1868 he and his family went to Norderney for a holiday.  Norderney is one of the German East Frisian islands off the North Sea coast.  For Mesdag it was a veritable epiphany, for it was here that Mesdag discovered his love of the sea and seascapes and when he returned to Brussels he began to collect paintings which depicted the sea and it was from this time that he decided that he wanted to become a seascape artist. Mesdag became fascinated by the sea itself.  He was enthralled by the constantly changing shape of the waves and his sketches of the sea were testament to the realism of his art.  He constantly strived to improve his depictions of the sea and the waves and how they were constantly changing and in an interview for the De Nieuwste Courant in March 1901 he was quoted as saying:

“…at home I had spent an entire winter fumbling at a work; it was a coastline, but very naively painted. Then I said to myself: “You have to have the sea in front of you, everyday, to live with it, otherwise all this will come to nothing…”

Near the Lighthouse by Hendrik Mesdag (1873)
Near the Lighthouse by Hendrik Mesdag (1873)

It was probably then that he knew that he had to live by the sea.  Mesdag completed his three-year study course with Roelofs in Brussels in 1869 and the family moved to The Hague where he knew that there would be an abundance of sea views at the nearby coastal village of Scheveningen.  Hendrik also gained admission to The Hague’s Pulchri Studio Painters’ Society.   The society had been formed in 1847 because of mounting dissatisfaction among the young artists in The Hague who complained about there being little or no opportunities for training in art and developing their artistic skills and so the Pulchri Studio was established.  It was also to be an artistic talking-shop where artists could exchange views and ideas.

Mesdag had completed some seascapes but felt they were not good enough to exhibit and so spent hour after hour trying to perfect his depiction of the sea and elements of landscape paintings.  In another letter, dated June 1869, to his friend Verwée he talked about the pleasure it had brought him to be near to the coast, despite the sometime inclement weather:

“…Nature is so beautiful here, but the weather has been awful so far…”

Les Brisant de la Mer du Nord by Hendrick Mesdag (1870)
Les Brisant de la Mer du Nord by Hendrick Mesdag (1870)

For an aspiring artist, the one thing which would enhance their reputation was to have one of their paintings exhibited at the Paris Salon.  Mesdag failed to get any work exhibited at the 1869 Salon and so was very hesitant in deciding to try again the following year. It was only in March 1870 that he made up his mind to exhibit two paintings, one of which was to be ‘la grande marine’ entitled Les Brisants de la Mere du Nord and the other was Journée d’hiver à Schéveningue.   He sent both entries to the Paris Salon via Brussels, where his friend, Verwée saw them at a local art dealer’s gallery.   Verwée was unconvinced by the Journée d’hiver à Schéveningue, but thought the large seascape, Les Brisant, was excellent and this approbation pleased Mesdag.

Mesdag not only had his two paintings accepted but, to the surprise of many, was later awarded the gold medla for Les Brisant. The painting marked the start of Hendrik’s illustrious career as a seascape painter and this work is now considered as the first masterworks of The Hague School.  Mesdag started on this beautiful work in November 1869 as he mentioned in a letter to his good friend Alfred Jacques Verwée, a Belgian painter who was known for his depictions of animals, landscapes, and seascapes.  In the letter, dated November 15th 1869, Hendrik wrote to Verwée, as quoted in the 1989 book by Johan Poort, Hendrik Willem Mesdag (1831-1915): Oeuvrecatalogus:

“…Impressed by one of those bad days, I have painted over that large marine painting you saw. It is now much improved…”

Hotel Rauch
Hotel Rauch on Scheveningen beach front

The inspiration for this work was the North Sea at Scheveningen which was a short distance from The Hague where he lived.  So that he could spend an unlimited time at the coast, he rented a room in the Villa Elba which had a view of the sea.  Later he would move to the Hotel Rauch, located at the Scheveningen beach. Until his death in 1915, Mesdag visited the sea frequently to seek inspiration for his paintings. From his room he could observe the sea in every weather condition.

Les Brisant is a painting with a broad format, measuring 90cms x 181cms.  It is painted from a low point of view as if the artist sat or stood on the beach at the waterline with their brushes and easel, albeit we see nothing of the shore and yet through the change in tone of the colour we can see the change in depth of the water.   This low vista causes the horizon we see depicted just below the vertical centre of the work.  The one thing these two aspects achieve is it allowed Mesdag to ensure that the breakers fully stood out in this seascape. In the midground, just below the horizon we see the crest of the waves being caught by the wind.  We can tell that the depiction is during a period of adverse weather as the sky is both grey and stormy.  There are no humans in the depiction and yet if we look closely at the central foreground we see a piece of driftwood being battered towards the shore by the ferocity of the sea.  Look also to the central horizon and we can just make out a small ship battling the seas and struggling to survive.  These two elements bring home the ferocity of nature and the brutal nature of the sea that claimed so many of the lives of the fishermen of Scheveningen.

The Wave by Gustave Courbet (1869)
The Stormy Sea (The Wave) by Gustave Courbet (1869)

One knows that Mesdag was seduced by the view of the sea but what made him choose this motif for his painting?  Some believe that he was aware of the painting, The Stormy Sea (The Wave) by Gustave Courbet which the French painter completed whilst staying at Etreat and which he submitted to the Salon in September 1869 and received rave reviews around the world and maybe Mesdag realised that concentrating on the waves and sea would bring him similar acclaim, which we know was correct, as his submission gained a medal at the Salon.

In my next blog I will be looking at more of Hendrik Mesdag’s seascape works often featuring Scheveningen and their fishing folk.  It was this genre that Mesdag was mainly known for.   I will also look at the paintings done by his wife Sientje and look at the amazing and spectacular Scheveningen Panorama which Mesdag, with the help of his wife and a few friends completed and which measures an incredible 14 metres x 114 metres !!!!!

Sir George Clausen. Part 2 – More rural works and the War artist

Sir George Clausen       1852 - 1944
Sir George Clausen
1852 – 1944

In this concluding part looking at the life and works of George Clausen, later Sir George Clausen, I will focus on his love of depicting workers labouring in the fields in a genre of art which was often referred to as rustic naturalism and have a look at a couple of works he completed whilst he was employed as a war artist.

Agnes Mary Webster by George Clausen (1882)
Agnes Mary Webster by George Clausen (1882)

In 1881 George Clausen married Agnes Mary Webster of Kings Lynn and they went on to have three sons and a daughter.  Clausen had met her brother, Alfred, at South Kensington Art School where he was also studying art.  The following year Clausen painted his wife’s portrait.

Henry La Thangue, an English landscape painter, who had visited Brittany to paint and was a friend of Stanhope Forbes, another landscape artist, persuaded Clausen to take a trip there to discover the countryside and light the French area had to offer.  And so, in 1882, Clausen sett off for Brittany with his wife and visited the artist colony at Quimperlé, a small town, fifteen kilometres east of the other popular haven for artist, Pont Aven.   Here they met up with the Dublin-born artist, Stanhope Forbes who, two years later, moved to Newlyn in Cornwall and became a leading figure in that growing colony of artists.  Stanhope Forbes was excited that Clausen was to join him at Quimperlé writing to his mother in September 1882:

“…Thangue tells me he is sending G.Clausen the painter and his wife.  Very glad as he is a really good painter in fact belongs to the sacred band whom even I admire…”

 It was whilst here that Clausen produced a number of wonderful paintings depicting local peasant farm workers and their families.

Peasant Girl Carrying a Jar, Quimperlé by George Clausen (1882)
Peasant Girl Carrying a Jar, Quimperlé by George Clausen (1882)

One such work was entitled Peasant Girl Carrying a Jar, Quimperlé which he completed in 1882.  This is a portrait of a young girl seen standing in a field, hand on hip, holding an earthenware pot.  She is dressed in a peasant costume, the quality of which indicates that she is from a family of limited means.  She is surrounded by tall spherical flowering onion plants. It is interesting to look closely at the way Clausen has depicted the pose of the young girl.   This is not the pose of a professional model.  This is a peasant girl displaying the uncomfortable pose of a young child, which makes the image of her appear so realistic.  There is no harshness about the way Clausen has depicted her facial expression.  It is a face that exudes gentleness.  What must be going through the child’s mind as she poses for this foreigner, the artist?

The Return to the Fields by George Clausen (1882)
The Return to the Fields by George Clausen (1882)

The next featured work of Clausen is a small watercolour (35 x 26 cms) which he again completed in 1882.   The painting, entitled The Return from the Fields depicts two young workers carrying bundles of brushwood which had been obtained by thinning out the copses.  This brushwood was used for hedging, or as beating implements used for fire fighting or sometimes used to construct sheep hurdles.  That year, the painting was exhibited at Institute of Painters in Watercolours, in London, under the title of Boy and Man and the art reviewer of the Magazine of Art commented favourably on the work:

“… the most artistic work on the walls……a small drawing, but it is so strong, and at the same time so tender and full of feeling, that it arrests attention more powerfully than the other pictures together.  It is evidently inspired by Millet…….he has struck the right road…”

Head of a Peasant Woman by George Clausen (1882)
Head of a Peasant Woman by George Clausen (1882)

Clausen painted two close-up portraits of peasant labourers.  The first was entitled Head of a Peasant Woman which he completed in 1882.   This is a wonderful portrait.  It is a triumph of realism as Clausen has depicted the woman, “warts and all”.  We see her weather beaten face caused by the many days and weeks of working the fields and her wrinkled bow is testament that she has endured a hard and worrisome life.  She doesn’t look directly at us as she rests her hands on a long stick.  The ring on her wedding finger glints in the sunlight.

Labourers after Dinner by George Clausen (c.1882)
Labourers after Dinner by George Clausen (c.1882)

The second portrait was an oil and canvas study of a young boy who was to figure in a work entitled Labourers after Dinner.  This painting is held in a private collection in Australia and I have not been able to find a colour copy of it so have just scanned a black and white version which I found in a magazine.   The painting was the first indication that Clausen was moving away from the emotional depiction of peasant pictures which had been popularised in England and France by Jules Bastien-Lepage.  Clausen veered towards more naturalistic, if brutal, genre subjects. This work was one of the most studied of Clausen’s early compositions.   It is a depiction of a boy sitting between his mother and father who were taking a rest from their work in the fields.  The controversial Irish novelist and art critic, George Moore, on seeing the painting, wrote scathingly about the group depicted in the painting in his 1893 book entitled Modern Painting. In it he commented on the depiction of the boy’s mother and father:

“…the middle aged man and woman who live in mute stupidity – they have known nothing but the daily hardship of living and the vacuous face of their son tells how completely the life of his forefathers has descended upon him…”

Head of a Peasant Boy by George Clausen (1884)
Head of a Peasant Boy by George Clausen (1884)

A “vacuous face” wrote Moore.  I will let you decide as the oil sketch Clausen made prior to the large scale painting, entitled Head of a Peasant Boy is awash with detail.  George Moore was not a lover of realism in art as in the same book he condemned it saying:

“…Realism, that is to say the desire to compete with nature, to be nature, is the disease from which art has suffered most in the last twenty years.  The disease is now at wane, and when we happen upon a canvas of the period like Labourers after Dinner, we cry out, ‘What madness! Were we ever as mad as that?”…”

Harsh words indeed and yet I like this painting.

The Shepherdess by George Clausen (1885)
The Shepherdess by George Clausen (1885)

Clausen was a founder member of the New English Art Club (NEAC) of London which was set up in 1885 in competition with the Royal Academy.  It was a club which attracted many young inspiring artists who were returning to England after their artistic studies in Paris.  One of Clausen’s first paintings to be exhibited at an NEAC exhibition was The Shepherdess which he completed in the Spring of 1885 and which is now art of the National Museums, Liverpool collection.   Clausen had sold the painting to John Maddocks an artist and art collector, and borrowed it back to show at the exhibition.  The orchard in which the young girl stands was to feature in a number of Clausen’s works.  In 1891, the art critic of The Magazine of Art, Butler Wood, commented on the work:

“…admirable specimen of Mr Clausen’s best manner, and displays feeling and atmosphere.  His colour scheme is simple, yet satisfactory and skilfully elaborated.  The girl’s figure is modelled with almost sculpturesque strength and the face painted with that ruddy glow of health which he is so clever at rendering…”

In 1891 Clausen moved from the Berkshire village of Cookham Dean and went to live in Widdington, a small picturesque village in the county of Essex.  He had been exhibiting most of his works at the New Gallery and the NEAC but as his paintings became larger in size they were not easily accommodated at these venues and so he had to once again look at exhibiting his larger works at the Royal Academy in London.  Clausen had fallen out with the Royal Academy years earlier over their teaching methods and their strict and antiquated rules but now, with an ever expanding family, he needed the support of the Academy if he was to sell his larger works.  In 1895, Clausen was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy.  The art world noted his election to an establishment he had once roundly criticised but many saw Clausen as an excellent addition to the RA.  The scholar and prolific art critic of the time, often referred to as “one of the most powerful figures in the late Victorian art world”, Marion Spielmann, wrote about Clausen’s appointment in the February 1895 edition of weekly illustrated newspaper, The Graphic:

“…Mr Clausen was…… a signatory of the open letter which years ago set fire to the inflammable material which we young hot-bloods had….pile up  against the door of the Academy…. much amelioration has been brought since then;  the girls may now study from the semi-nude; then standard of probationership has been raised….”

Clausen now worked within the Academy system, a system which he had once heavily criticised.   He gave up his time, a couple of months each year, to teach students at the Royal Academy Life School Between 1904 and 1906 and in that year he became Professor of Painting at the Academy and, because of the large number of students who attended his lectures, was regarded as one of the most popular professors since Joshua Reynolds.

Bird Scaring by George Clausen (1896)
Bird Scaring by George Clausen (1896)

One of the works Clausen completed in 1896 was entitled Bird Scaring: March, and which is housed in the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston.  In Victorian days bird scarers were employed by farmers to act as human scarecrows. Their task was simple; they just had to position themselves in the farmer’s field and scare off the birds which swoop down to eat the farmer’s crops.  This onerous job was for very young children who had to be working in the fields, dawn to dusk, no matter what the weather was like.  In the painting we can see the young boy who, despite the cold weather, wears only sack-cloth.  A small fire has been lit on the ground to keep him warm.  The blue/grey smoke from the fire wafts behind him giving us the sense that it is not only cold but also windy.  He is energetically swinging around, holding a wooden clapper in his right hand which made sufficient noise to deter birds from landing nearby.

Youth Mourning by George Clausen (1916)
Youth Mourning by George Clausen (1916)

For my next two featured works by Clausen you will notice a complete change of style.  The first one was completed in 1916 and entitled Youth Mourning.  The work you see is not the original version but one altered on the request of the purchaser.  Clausen, who was sixty-four when he painted this work was too old for military service in the First World War, however he was not untouched by the many tragedies of the Great War for his son-in-law, the husband of his daughter Kitty, was killed in battle in 1915 and it was that sad event which moved him to paint this work.  It was his personal expression of grief for the thousands who perished during the conflict.  This was an artistic departure of his favoured rustic naturalism style and more towards the French Symbolist genre.

In the original work there were three white crosses in the ground just behind the female and further in the background many more white crosses could be seen.  When the owner of the work, a Mr C.N.Luxmoore, who bought this and many other paintings from Clausen presented it to the Nation in 1929 the crosses had been painted out just leaving a barren shell-holed hillside.  We have no definitive reason why the owner got Clausen to re-paint part of the work.   The resulting work has a powerful symbolic aura of anguish and sorrow captured by the nude female figure hunched over in the foetal position.  The finality of death is depicted by the barrenness of the landscape where nothing lives.

In the Gun Factory at Woolwich Arsenal, 1918 by George Clausen (1918)
In the Gun Factory at Woolwich Arsenal, 1918 by George Clausen (1918)

George Clausen was later appointed an official war artist and took part in the ambitious British War Memorials Committee art scheme in 1918. He produced a large 183 x 318cms oil on canvas work in 1918 entitled In the Gun Factory at Woolwich Arsenal, 1918.  This urban scene once again is huge shift away from rustic idylls of the countryside we saw in his earlier works.  The painting was a commission Clausen received from The Ministry of Information who said they wanted a “Uccello” sized work of art which would be exhibited in the Hall of Remembrance.  Clausen visited the gun factory on a number of occasions and had originally intended that the painting would be in an upright format but eventually realised that it had to be of a horizontal format.  The work was finally completed in December 1918 and was first exhibited at the Royal Academy Winter Exhibition of 1919-20.  Critics believed it was one of the best works on display.  In 1926, due to his successful war commission he was commissioned to paint murals, notably Wycliffe’s English Bible for the Houses of Parliament and on completion of this task he was knighted.  He continued to regularly exhibit work at the Royal Academy during the 1930’s.

My Back Garden by George Clausen (1940)
My Back Garden by George Clausen (1940)

One of last paintings by Sir George Clausen was one he completed in 1940 entitled My Back Garden.  It was a depiction of the back garden of his house at 61 Carlton Hill, London.  He was eighty-eight years of age when he painted this picture.  It was almost a farewell painting as a year later; he had left his beloved house and garden because of the almost continuous bombing of London by the Nazis.  He decided that he and his wife should move to Cold Ash, a Berkshire village some two miles from the town of Newbury and seventy miles west of London.  Clausen continued to sketch and complete watercolours which he sent off for inclusion in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions of 1942 and 1943.   Clausen’s wife’s health had deteriorated in 1939 and she remained poorly until her death in March 1944.  Sir George Clausen died eight months later in November 1944, aged 92.   In June 1944, just five months before Clausen’s death, he was approached by Kenneth Clark, the Director of the National Gallery, proposing a retrospective exhibition of his work at the National Gallery.  Clausen was delighted with the proposal and wrote back to Clark:

“… I think such an exhibition as you suggest would be more appropriate when I am dead and indifferent to praise or censure !   However I will help you all I can…”

Sadly the exhibition never took place.