Anna Palm de Rosa, the Swedish watercolourist.

Anna Palm de Rosa (1865-1924)

In my last blog I looked at the life of Gustaf Wilhelm Palm, the renowned Swedish landscape painter. In this blog I want to talk about his equally artistically talented daughter Anna Palm. I read a Swedish article which it declared that Anna Palm was “one of our most productive artists from the oscarian era”. Oscarian is similar to what we term Victorian (1872-1907) as it relates to a period when the Swedish monarch Oscar II, who was on the throne between 1837-1901. Although today her work is largely forgotten and very little is written about her, in the 1890‘s she was one of the most wanted artists in Sweden.

Cliffs by Anna Palm (1891)

Anna Palm was born on Christmas day 1859 in Stockholm. Her father was Gustaf Wilhelm Palm, the court and landscape painter. Her mother, Eva, was the daughter of portraiture and historian painter Johan Gustaf Sandberg. The family lived at Barnhusträdgårdsgatan 19, in Stockholm, which today is known as Olof Palmes Street, renamed after the former Swedish prime Minister who was assassinated in 1986. The home of the Palm family was a favourite meeting place for a large circle of their artist friends. Gustaf Palm who lived in Italy between 1841 and 1851 brought the Italy he loved to his paintings and his love of art was soon transferred to his daughter.

Self-portrait as a Hunter by Edvard Perséus

During her teenage years she was home-schooled in art by her father,  who was a teacher at the elementary education school, which was a preparatory school for the Academy of Fine Arts. Anna did not attend the Academy itself as it was still uncommon for women to study at that prestigious establishment. However, in 1880, aged twenty-one, she became a student of the history painter Edvard Perséus. Edvard Perséus, born Edvard Persson, had opened a very successful private painting school in Stockholm in 1875 and who, in 1882, was appointed to be a hovintendent (superintendent) responsible for King Oscar’s art collection.

Norrland coastal landscape with woman on the path by Per Daniel Holm (1864)

Another of Anna’s tutors was the landscape and genre painter Per Daniel Holm. After this, and through her family’s financial support, Anna travelled to Denmark where she spent some time at the artist colony in Skagen, a small harbour town in the north of Denmark.

A game of l’hombre in Brøndums Hotel by Anna Palm (1885)

It was whilst here that she embarked on one of her best-known paintings, A game of L’hombre in Brøndums Hotel which she completed in 1885. L’hombre was a quick-fire seventeenth-century trick-taking card game and the Brøndums Hotel in Skagen became the centre of one of the most famous artists’ colonies in Europe, known as the Skagen painters

Summer Evening at Skagen Beach – The Artist and his Wife by P.S. Krøyer (1899)

It was at the beginning of the 1870’s that the first artists came to the town of Skagen, on the east coast of the Skagen Odde peninsula, in the far north of Jutland.  Peder Severin Krøyer, one of the best-known of the Skagen painters, was inspired by the light of the evening which he termed the “Blue hour”, which made the water and sky seem to optically merge.  These young painters, who congregated at Skagen, had studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and were seduced by these light conditions in an area which also offered numerous sights of natural beauty which could satisfy the plein air painters, and furthermore many of the local population were willing to act as artists’ models for a small fee. It was not just artists who came to sample the fresh and rejuvenating air of this small coastal town. Writers, musicians, and actors often visited the place all of whom wanted to immerse themselves in the cultural life of the colony.

The hotel dining-room with portraits of the Skagen Painters (c.1892)

The Skagen Painters had a close relationship with Brøndums Hotel. One of the earliest painters to arrive at Skagen was Michael Ancher who arrived there in 1874 and he soon developed close ties with the family, who owned the hotel, and he eventually married their daughter Anna Kristine in 1880. Anna Ancher went on to become one of Denmark’s greatest visual artists. The Brøndums’ dining-room became the centre of the artists’ social life and was filled with the paintings they donated to cover the cost of board and lodging.

Spring afternoon at the North Sea by Romain Steppe

From Denmark, Anna Palm went to live in Antwerp and studied at the studio of the Belgian marine painter Romain Steppe, a painter of landscapes, and genre scenes but was best known for his atmospheric marine painting in the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist style. From Antwerp Anna went to live and study art in Paris.

Ships in Stockholm Harbor by Anna Palm (1890)

Anna Palm’s painting were shown at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen in 1885 and again in 1887 as well as many other exhibitions around Scandinavia. Once again, one hears about the frustration of artists with their country’s academic training and in 1885 and she was one of the many signatories to a letter from disgruntled artists who felt frustrated by what they termed as the “obsolete education” of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. Despite this criticism Anna became a teacher in watercolour painting at the Academy in 1889 and held that that post until 1891. It was during this period that there was a growing demand for her watercolour paintings and she was soon inundated with commissions, many of which depicted sailboats and steamers.

Old Opera Seen from Helgeandsholmen by Anna Palm (1892)

Views of Stockholm were often depicted in her watercolour paintings, such as her 1892 work entitled Old Opera Seen from Helgeandsholmen. Helgeandsholmen is a small island in central Stockholm.

We can see in a letter she wrote to a client in 1892 as to how busy she was producing watercolours:

“…… Mr. Wilhelm Sjöström, Karlshamn,
I have not received students in watercolour painting, because I have so much to do with ordered jobs. What about your second request as to whether I have any watercolour study to sell, I have enough. For example, from the coast of Gotland, two smaller – 33 cm long and 24 cm wide. The one with trees on the left, in the background a jetty and boys wading in the foreground. The other – Lax fi crashed on the way home. They are painted directly after nature and really fresh in colour. I sell these two to 50, but not below. I also have a motif from Stockholm, 55 cm long and 30 cm high, Stockholm’s stream from Riddarholmen for SEK 50. Best is about Mr. Sjöström can decide soon, because I hardly get them ready until they are sold. With the utmost importance Anna Palm.

Stockholm, March 5, 1892. Address: Brännkyrkagatan 4 A. Stockholm…”

It needs to be remembered that 50 kr in the 1890’s was about one month’s salary for a worker and her watercolours now fetch between 15,000 – 25,000 kronor.

View of the Royal Palace, Stockholm by Anna Palm (1893)

Another such work featuring her favoured city was one entitled View of the Royal Palace, Stockholm which she completed in 1893.

Boulevard des Capucines by Anna Palm (1905)

Anna Palm left Stockholm and Sweden on New Year’s Eve in 1895 and never returned to her homeland. At this time, Anna Palm was thirty-six years old. Both parents were dead, and her brother had left Stockholm to live in Jönköping. Anna boarded a steamboat to Le Havre and went to live in Paris, with her friend Karin Nilsdotter. After some years in France, the two women went to Italy and during a visit to Capri, she met her prospective husband, Infantry Lieutenant Alfredo de Rosa. The couple married in Vaucresson, a western suburb of Paris, on September 9, 1901. From there they returned to Italy and moved to Capri before settling in the Madonna dell’Arco, district of Sant’Anastasia, near Naples in 1908.

Colosseum by Anna Palm de Rosa (c.1900)

Now an Italian resident, many of her watercolours featured depictions of famous Italian landmarks and Italian life such as her 1900 gouache work entitled Colosseum.

Stockholm Castle by Anna Palm de Rosa

However, Anna never forgot her previous life in Sweden and in fact many of her clients were Swedish and still wanted her to paint depictions of Stockholm and life in Sweden. One such work was her watercolour depiction of Stockholm Castle.  These constant commissions allowed her to support her husband and herself.

Motif from Yxlan, Stockholm Archipelago by Anna Palm de Rosa

Anna’s husband, Lieutenant Alfredo de Rosa, was called-up during the First World War and whilst he was away Anna became even more committed to her painting and spent large part of her time at Baiae, an ancient Roman town situated on the north-west shore of the Gulf of Naples, where she completed some of her finest marine paintings. With the ending of the war in 1918, Alfredo de Rosa, then a colonel and Anna were once again reunited.  Anna’s health began to fail and she became very frail. Anna Palm de Rosa died on May 2nd 1924, aged 64.

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Greta Bridge by John Sell Cotman

Greta Bridge by John Sell Cotman (1805)British Museum
Greta Bridge by John Sell Cotman (1805)
British Museum

I try to visit my children, who live in London, every couple of months and take the opportunity to visit new art exhibition at one of the many city galleries.  As they are all away on extended breaks in far-off lands I will not be heading south until the end of January and this will sadly mean I will miss the Dulwich Picture Gallery exhibition, Cotman in Normandy which is an exhibition of works by the watercolourist, John Sell Cotman, which ends on January 13th.  For most of the twentieth century, Cotman was the most widely admired English watercolourist, surpassing even Turner in popularity.

John Sell Cotman was a marine and landscape painter, mainly in watercolour, who was born in Norwich in 1782.  He was the eldest of ten children.  His father, Edmund Cotman, formerly a barber but latterly a draper by trade, had married Ann Sell.   He initially studied at the Norwich School, which is one of the oldest schools in the world having been founded in 1096.   John’s father had intended that once his son had completed his education he would join him in his family business.  However during his time at school John Cotman had developed a love of art and being determined that he would not spend his working life behind a shop counter, at the age of 16, left home and went to London to study art.

Whilst in London he managed to earn a living by colouring aquatints for Anglo-German lithographer and publisher, Rudolph Ackerman, who in 1795 established a print-shop and drawing-school in The Strand.   Ackermann had set up a lithographic press and begun a trade in prints. It was whilst he was in London that he also met Doctor Thomas Monro, who was an avid art collector.   He was Principal Physician of the Bethlem Royal Hospital and one-time consulting physician to King George III.  Besides being an amateur painter and art collector he was also a patron to a number of young aspiring artists including Thomas Girtin.  He had a house in Adelphi Terrace, London where he had his studio and a country house in Merry Hill, a suburb of Bushey just fifteen miles from the capital.  Monro liked to surround himself with other artists and J.M.W. Turner was a frequent visitor.  He ran an art Academy where he would offer evening art classes, some of which were attended by John Sell Cotman.

John Sell Cotman managed to gain the patronage of Monro and through him met many of the leading British artists of the time and it was through his friendship with Turner, Girtin and Peter de Wint that Cotman continued his artistic development.  He enjoyed taking trips out to sketch and it is believed that in 1800 he accompanied Thomas Girtin on a sketching trip to North Wales. Considering Cotman had had no formal art tuition it is amazing the artistic standard he had reached for someone of such a young age for when he was aged just eighteen, he first exhibited at the Royal Academy  showing five works, four depicting scenes from the Surrey countryside and one was of Harlech Castle.   The following year, 1801, John Cotman joined the Brothers, a sketching society, founded by Thomas Girtin, for both professional artists and talented amateurs. During the next two summers he spent much of his time travelling around Wales, sketching scenes many of which were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1801 and 1802.

For the next three summers John Cotman spent time at Brandsby Hall in North Yorkshire, which was the home of Francis Cholmeley, an avid art collector and a patron of Cotman.  During his stay at the Hall, Cotman acted as the drawing tutor to the Cholomeley family.  Whilst there he also met the politician and art collector, Walter Ramsden Hawkesworth Fawkes, whose stately home was Farnley Hall and who was a very close friend of the artist, J.M.W. Turner who often stayed at Farnley Hall.

The success he had hoped for in London never materialised and in 1806 Cotman returned to his hometown of Norwich and earned his living as an art tutor.  On returning home he also joined the Norwich Society an art society formed the previous year by the Norfolk landscape painter John Crome.  This society met fortnightly, held artistic discussions and organised exhibitions of their work.  John Cotman became the vice president and he and Crome were the leading lights of the society.  The ethos of the Society was laid down as being:

“…An Enquiry into the Rise, Progress and present state of Painting, Architecture and Sculpture, with a view to point out the Best Methods of study to attain to Greater Perfection in these Arts…”

The artistic styles of Crome and Cotman were different and the Society members were, to some extent, divided into those who followed Crome’s realist manner, and those working in the more free style of Cotman, who was not above painting pictures of places he had not personally visited, working from other artists’ sketches.  The subjects of the Norwich School painters were typically landscapes, coasts and marine scenes from around Norwich and Norfolk.  John Cotman became president of the Norwich Society of Artists in 1811.

In 1809, Cotman married Ann Mills, the daughter of a farmer from the nearby village of Felbrigg and the couple went on to have five children.  During his time as a drawing master he taught the local banker, botanist and antiquary Dawson Turner and his children.  They became close friends and Dawson Turner introduced him to many prospective students. Cotman issued the first of his sets of etchings in 1811. He moved from Norwich and for the next ten years he lived in the Norfolk coastal town of Yarmouth and this gave him the opportunity to complete a number of seascapes.   It was around this time that Cotman concentrated on printmaking.  The majority of his etchings were architectural in nature, with numerous ones of old Yorkshire and Norfolk buildings.  It is more than likely that this move towards etchings and printmaking was due to, and inspired in part by, his friend and patron, Dawson Turner.   In 1817, Cotman , with help from his patron, made the first of three tours of Normandy and out of these journeys came a book in 1822 entitled, Architectural Antiquities of Normandy, one of various books he illustrated with his etchings.

In 1824, for business reasons he moved back to Norwich.  Cotman took up painting again with renewed energy, in watercolour and in oil; he exhibited more frequently in the city and also in London. In January 1834, through the good auspices of J.M.W.Turner, he gained the post of Master of Landscape Drawing at King’s College School in London, which he held until his death.  He and his family moved home to the London borough of Bloomsbury. Two years later, his eldest son Miles Edmond Cotman was appointed to assist him.  The taking up of the position at King’s College could not have come at a more fortuitous time as Cotman was beginning to have financial problems.   Sadly, with these financial problems, which had afflicted him during most of his working life, came bouts of depression, ill health and despondency brought on by the poor sales of his work.  During John Cotman’s tenure at King’s College he taught many artists including Dante Rossetti.  His last visit to his homeland of Norfolk was in the autumn of 1841, just nine months before his death in London in July 1842.

The 20th century art historian and painter, Charles Collins Baker, said of John Sell Cotman:

“…a great colourist, whose earlier palette produced that rare plenitude that only masters of exquisite simplicity and restraint compass: from his palette the brown glebe, the black reflection of massed trees in a still river, the grey and gold of weathered stone and plaster, the glinting gold on foliage and the gilded green of translucent leaves have a special and supernal quality of dream pageants rather than of actuality…”

Preliminary sketch of Greta Bridge by John Sell Cotman
Preliminary sketch of Greta Bridge by John Sell Cotman

My Daily Art Display featured painting today is a watercolour entitled Greta Bridge (22cms x 33cms), which Cotman completed in 1805 can be found in the British Museum. A second version of the painting, a much larger one, (30cms x 50cms), was completed by Cotman in 1810 and is housed in the Norwich Castle Museum.  Both watercolours recreate the rural solitude and tranquillity of the Greta area of North Yorkshire, where Cotman spent the summers of 1803 – 1805.   The Greta Bridge in this painting  spanned the river Greta in North Yorkshire near the gates of Rokeby Park. John Cotman had arrived at Rokeby on the evening of 31 July 1805, accompanied by his friend and patron, Francis Cholmeley. It had been arranged in advance that the two men were to stay as guests of the owner of Rokeby Park, John Bacon Sawrey Morritt.  Cotman stayed at the house for about three weeks and when his hosts left on business, he remained nearby, taking up lodgings in a room at the local inn, which is the large building to the left of the bridge. Cotman then continued the work he had begun along the river Greta that skirts the park.  It is a wonderfully balanced composition depicting the Greta Bridge, with its striking, single arch, which runs horizontally across the picture, in some way dividing it in two and yet uniting it into a single scene.  The arch of the bridge epitomizes a great feat of engineering, which Cotman, with his love of architecture, admired. The structure we see before us was designed by John Carr of York, and built in 1773 for Morritt’s father, John Sawrey Morritt, who was a well-known collector of classical antiquities. The bridge replaced a Roman single-arched bridgeof the same design.  Cotman had a love of bridges and sketched many.  For him, a bridge was a meeting point or landmark for travellers, and would often be a point of reference on maps where rivers and roads meet. Cotman was fascinated by the interaction of this man-made feature and how it harmoniously interacted with a natural setting

Greta Bridge by John Sell Cotman (1810)Norwich Castle Museum
Greta Bridge by John Sell Cotman (1810)
Norwich Castle Museum

The foreground of the painting is dominated by its rocky intrusions. In the background, above the bridge we see in the 1805 version, a forest of trees and  large white clouds and yet in the 1810 version a mountain ridge, which, in reality, does not actually exist, has substituted the individual clouds. So why did he make this fundamental change and add the idealised rocky structure?  It is believed that Cotman decided to add the mountain ridge in the later watercolour so as to strengthen the sense of perspective and by so doing have the viewers eye drawn through the landscape, starting from the rocks in the foreground, through the arch of the bridge to the trees in the middle ground as far as the mountain ridge and the sky in the background.

Although John Sell Cotman and Turner were strongly influenced by the work of Thomas Girtin, Cotman’s landscape style in comparison to Turner’s was different.  Cotman’s landscapes were not as detailed as either Girtin’s or Turner’s.  In his landscapes, Turner’s was more precise with the details.  Many believed his “every-single-branch-and-bud” precision was somewhat overwhelming, and said that the result was that the viewer stared at the same copse for too long.   In contrast, Cotman’s landscapes could be taken in with just a single glance.  In today’s work one can see the beauty of the watercolour despite the lack of minute detail.  In these watercolours, Cotman strived to capture the feeling and atmosphere of a place through the use of pattern and abstract shapes. Look how he has painted the boulders, which we see in the river.  They are smooth, rounded shapes sprinkled with spots of colour.  Cotman’s technique of using colour washes has accentuated the smooth roundness of the landscape.  His trees are rounded and block-like, in varying shades of green and brown and in the 1810 version the mountain ridge in the background is softly shaped.

This watercolour is a prime example of his balanced and sensitive technique which he used in his landscape work.   In this work he has used very muted colours for his high cloudy sky, which echo the colour of the river surface.  Below the dark clouds we see a suggestion of better weather to come with a hint of blue sky and thick white clouds.  The watercolour is built up in distinct patches of restrained colour, held in a precise pattern of tone and line, which were the hallmarks of Cotman’s inimitable style. The presence of the sun and the large trees around the flowing river causes crisp shadows on the building, bridge and water surface.

I love this watercolour and would love to visit Norwich were a number of his works are housed.  It would also be good to visit the Greta River area and take in the landscape, which inspired this talented artist.

Lake of Albano and Castel Gandolfo by John Robert Cozens

Lake of Albano and Castel Gandolfo by John Robert Cozens (1777)

About the watercolours produced by today’s featured artist, the Swiss-born painter Henri Fuseli wrote:

“…they are creations of an enchanted eye drawn with an enchanted hand…”

The great English landscape artist, John Constable,  wrote of him saying he was:

“…the greatest genius that ever touched landscape…”

So who was this celebrated artist who was so revered by his fellow painters?  His name was John Robert Cozens.  He was born in London in 1752.  He received his initial artistic training from his father, Alexandra Cozens, the Russian-born watercolour landscape artist who was mostly employed in teaching and was drawing-master at Eton school from 1763 to 1768 and also  gave lessons to the Prince of Wales.  He allegedly was the natural son of Peter the Great.  He and his wife Juliet Cozens (née Pine) had one son, John and a daughter Juliet.

John Robert Cozens was, for the most, an en plein air painter and would often go off on sketching tours of Suffolk.  In 1772 he toured the Peak District area continually sketching the rugged landscape.  It was in that same year that he moved to live in Bath where his uncle Robert Pine, the English portrait and historical painter also lived.  In 1776 he exhibited his first oil painting at the Royal Academy and it was well received by the critics. He made his first trip to Europe in 1776, accompanied by Payne Knight.  Knight was a colourful character.  He was a classical scholar and connoisseur, who was best known for his theories of picturesque beauty.  He was later to become a Member of Parliament and he was also a member of the Dilettante Society or Dilettanti which was a society of noblemen and scholars which sponsored the study of ancient Greek and Roman art and the creation of new work in the classical style and it was through his auspices that Cozens made it to Italy. 

During the next eighteen months Cozens toured around the Italian countryside visiting Tivoli, Naples as well as the volcanic lakes of the Alban Hills, which lie twenty kilometers south of Rome.  During his time in this area he made sketches which he would eventually turn into some of the greatest watercolour landscapes ever seen.  His artwork incorporated the classicism of the greats such as Claude, Gaspar Dughet and Nicolas Poussin.  He remained in Rome until April 1779 at which time he returned to England and Bath where he remained for three years.  During this sojourn he set about converting the numerous sketches and drawings he had made on his Italian trip into watercolours, as by this time he had numerous wealthy patrons, who could not get enough of his work as they realised that not only were they things of beauty but also a solid investment for the future.  In May 1782 Cozens, along with a party of companion travelers made up of doctors, teachers, musicians along with a number of servants set off for another journey of discovery to Italy.

The following year Cozens returned to England and set up home in London where he set about producing more watercolours for his various patrons based on what he had seen and recorded during his recent visit.  Whilst living in the capital he took the opportunity to go on sketching trips around the local area and sketched and painted many scenes of the likes of Richmond Hill, and Greenwich and Windsor Parks as well as Thames river scenes.  He was so inundated with commissions from patrons that he never had time to put forward paintings to the Royal Academy exhibitions.

Sadly, like many gifted people, Cozens suffered from bouts of depression, probably caused by his unending and burdening search for artistic perfection.  His health was further affected by a bout of malaria which he had contracted during his Italian visit in 1782.   In 1794, aged just forty-two, his mental health had deteriorated and he had a mental breakdown and was placed under the care of a Doctor Thomas Monro, a physician at the Bethlehem Hospital, better known as Bedlam.   Unable to paint, Cozens and his family faced financial ruin and had to be rescued with the help of patrons and friends.  John Robert Cozens died four years later at the age of forty-five and was buried in London on New Year’s Day 1798.

Whilst Cozens was in the care of his physician Thomas Monro the doctor had access to some of Cozens’ sketches and he employed both Turner and Thomas Girtin to copy them.  The two young aspiring artists were greatly influenced by Cozens’ work.   Cozens was an expert when it came to the painting of trees and in 1789 he published a set of works entitled Delineations of the General Character of Forest Trees.  He submitted it to the Royal Academy but they rejected it saying that it was judged as being “not proper art”.

My Daily Art Display featured watercolour over pencil work today is entitled Lake of Albano and Castel Gandolfo which Cozens completed in 1777.   This little gem measures just 43cms x 62cms.   It depicts a large panorama of a menacing sky over the darkening hills surrounding Lake Albano, a small volcanic crater lake in the Alban hills of Lazio and the small hill-top town of Castel Gandolfo. There is a solemn grandeur about this work, a sense of vastness as well as an underlying tranquility.  I think there is also an air of mystery to the setting and maybe we are meant to look at it and use our imagination as to what it would be like to stand high above the lake at sunset.  

The work itself which was owned by Professor Ian Craft a fertility doctor, who bought it for £198,500 in 1991.  It went under the hammer at a Sotheby’s auction last year with a catalogue estimate of £500,000 – £700,000.   It finally went to David Thomson, the Third Baron of Fleet, and Canadian media magnet for £2.4 million.  That price represented not just a significant return on investment for the vendor but also a dramatic new high for a work by Cozens.  It easily surpassed the artist’s previous record of £240,000 for Cetara, Gulf of Salerno, Italy at Christie’s in November 2004.  It was also a record, not just for the artist, but for any 18th-century British watercolour.

A huge amount for David Thomson to spend on a work of art ?   Actually minutes earlier he had paid a record £109,250 for a rare drawing entitled Villa Borghese by Richard Wilson, the influential landscape artist I featured recently.  

Who said money cannot buy you happiness?

Morpeth Bridge by Thomas Girtin

Morpeth Bridge by Thomas Girtin (1802)

I am returning today to an English Victorian artist whom I showcased back on June 25th.  The featured artist in My Daily Art Display today is one of the greatest watercolour painters of his time, Thomas Girtin, and the painting I am featuring today is a work he completed in 1802 entitled Morpeth Bridge.

Thomas Girtin was born in Southwark, London in 1775.  His father was a prosperous brush-maker but died when Thomas was still very young.  His mother remarried and her husband, a Mr Vaughn, was a pattern-draughtsman.   Girtin’s artistic training started when he was only eight years of age.  He took drawing lessons from Thomas Malton, a painter of topographical and architectural views.  Another of Malton’s pupils at the time was J M W Turner. It was around this time that he signed up to a seven year apprenticeship with Edward Daves, a watercolourist and mezzotint engraver.   In 1794 and 1795 Girtin and his friend Turner were put to work copying Dr Thomas Munro’s collection of J R Cozen’s drawings and colouring prints with watercolours and slowly but surely both young men learnt their trade.

When Girtin was nineteen years of age he exhibited his first work at the Royal Academy and soon his reputation as a watercolourist grew.  His style of watercolour painting was such that he has been recognised as being the originator of Romantic watercolour painting.  With fame came commissions and patronage and Girtin acquired two very wealthy patrons, Lady Sutherland and Sir George Beaumont, who played a crucial part in the creation of London’s National Gallery by making the first bequest of paintings to that institution.

In 1800, Girtin married Mary Ann Borrett, the sixteen year old daughter of a well-to-do City goldsmith, and set up home in St George’s Row, Hyde Park.  By 1801, his fame as an artist had spread and he was a prized houseguest at his patrons’ country houses.  His work was in such demand that he could charge 20 guineas for a painting.   In late 1801 to early 1802, he went to live in Paris. It was during his sojourn in Paris that he painted watercolours and made a series the pencil sketches which he engraved on his return to London. They were published as Twenty Views in Paris and its Environs after his death. In the spring and summer of 1802, Girtin produced what many believe was his greatest work, a 360 degree panorama of London, entitled the “Eidometropolis”.  It was 18 feet high and 108 feet in circumference.  It was hailed as his greatest masterpiece.

Sadly, his health was deteriorating and that November, Girtin died in his painting room; the cause was variously reported as asthma or “ossification of the heart.”  Girtin’s early death reportedly caused his friend Turner to remark, “Had Tom Girtin lived I should have starved”

Today’s painting, Morpeth Bridge was completed around 1802, the year of Girtin’s death.  He had travelled around Northumberland two years earlier and made a number of sketches of the countryside and towns.  In the painting, we see the bridge silhouetted against a starkly lit building.  Despite the gold and light brown hues of the buildings, there are dramatic contrasts of light and shade and the sky above is dark and threatening and there is an ominous, almost sinister, mood about the setting.  The great clouds which pass overhead dramatically darken some of the buildings and water.  There is just a hint of a break in the clouds where we catch a glimpse of blue sky which is reflected in the mirror-like surface of the still water and the arc of the bridge.   Girtin was able to convey drama and tension in his paintings by his clever depiction of light.

The painting hangs in the Laing Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne.

The White House at Chelsea by Thomas Girtin

The White House at Chelsea by Thomas Girtin (1800)

From Tudor-period portraiture by a Flemish artist yesterday, I am switching today to a landscape painting by an English Artist.  My Daily Art Display’s featured artist today is Thomas Girtin who was born in Southwark, London in 1775.  Girtin was to become recognised as one of the greatest watercolour landscape artists of his time and a rival to his contemporary, Turner.

Girtin’s father, Thomas, who was a prosperous brush maker, died when his son was only a child and Thomas was brought up by his mother and step-father.  Initially Thomas received his art tuition from the painter and engraver, Thomas Malton and this was followed by an apprenticeship with the watercolourist Edward Dayes.  His seven-year apprenticeship did not run smoothly as Thomas had a turbulent existence with his master, Dayes.  Girtin had become friendly with a fellow pupil of Thomas Malton and they were both employed to fill in the outlines of pencil sketches by the antiquarian James Moore with watercolours.  Sometimes they would be set the task of copying drawings by John Cozens.   This friend and pupil was to prove to be one of Girtin’s great rivals.  His name was Joseph Mallord William Turner.  For Girtin, these tasks were of great importance for unlike Turner he never attended the Royal Academy schools and these tasks honed his talent as a watercolourist.

Girtin first exhibited a painting at the Royal Academy in 1794 at the age of nineteen.  He produced many landscape sketches and his use of watercolours was to establish his reputation as a great artist.  He travelled widely throughout Britain on sketching expeditions visiting the Lake District, North Wales and the West Country.  By the end of the eighteenth century, he had managed to acquire the influential patronage of Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland and the wealthy British art patron and amateur painter, Sir George Beaumont, a man who played a decisive part in the creation of the London National Gallery.  In 1800 Girtin, who had attained financial security through the sale of his paintings, married sixteen year old Mary Ann Borrett, the daughter of a London goldsmith and the couple set up house in the fashionable Hyde Park area.  Although free of money worries, his health was beginning to deteriorate,  Despite this he travelled to Paris and spent five months painting watercolours and making a series of sketches which he then turned into engravings on his return to London, some of which were published posthumously as Twenty Views in Paris and its Environs after his death the following year.  In 1802, Girtin exhibited Eidometropolis, a monumental panorama of London that dazzled his contemporaries.  It was 18ft high and 108 feet in circumference.  In November 1802, whilst in his painting studio he collapsed and died at the young age of twenty seven.  The reported cause of death was thought to be asthma or tuberculosis.

My Daily Art Display today is entitled The White House at Chelsea and was completed by Thomas Girtin in 1800.  The scene is set on the River Thames and we see the great waterway as it flows peacefully under a twilight summer sky.  It is believed that the actual view can be narrowed down to an upstream view of the Thames as seen from a location very close to where Chelsea Bridge now stands.   In the background on the left we have Joseph Freeman’s windmill.  If we look to the right of this we can see the sunlit white house, which gives its name to the painting.  The little house glistens.  Its brightness is uncanny and its glow is added to by its own reflection in the water.   The position of the white house is about where Battersea Park is now located.  Move further round to the right and you can see Battersea Bridge and on the other side of the river is the Chelsea Old Church, which was almost completely destroyed in the Second World War in 1941.

Look how Girtin has painted the tranquil surface of the river.   It is awash with colour under the grey and pink clouds of the summer sky.  We see two working boats on the water.  The one on the left has its sails down as it lays peacefully at anchor whilst the other wends its way slowly upstream, its wake breaking the smooth glass-like appearance of the water.

The painting is amazing, as before us we don’t have the sun lighting up a magnificent building or famous London landmark.  All we have is a small nondescript building suddenly illuminated by Girtin’s evening sun.  It is just an ordinary house on a nondescript stretch of the Thames.

To end with let me give you two famous quotes by Thomas Girtin’s friend Turner.   On hearing of Girtin’s death Turner remarked:

“Poor Tom……..If Tom Girtin had lived, I should have starved.”

Today’s watercolour by Girtin was much admired by Turner and this was borne out by the anecdote:

“………..A dealer went one day to Turner, and after looking round at all his drawings in the room, had the audacity to say, I have a drawing out there in my hackney coach, finer than any of yours. Turner bit his lip, looked first angry, then meditative. At length he broke silence: Then I tell you what it is. You have got Tom Girtin’s White House at Chelsea………”.

Praise indeed !