John William Waterhouse. Part 4.

Dolce Far Niente, Tennyson and Herrick

John William Waterhouse (c.1886)

In the last blog on John William Waterhouse I looked at his paintings which focused on sorcery, sorceresses and Homer’s famous work The Odyssey with tales of death and bloodshed. In the blog today I am taking a more relaxed and soothing road and consider the beautiful women who featured in some of his best loved works.

Dolce Far Niente by John William Godward

The phrase Dolce far Niente was the title of a number of eighteenth-century paintings by well-known artists of the time. The Italian phrase literally means “sweet doing nothing, or sweet idleness”. In essence it meant doing nothing and enjoying it. John William Godward was an English painter born in 1861 and lived during the end of the Neo-Classicist era. He was a protégé of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema but unfortunately his style of painting fell out of favour with the unstoppable progression of modern art. Saddened by this inexorable fact of life, he committed suicide at the age of 61 and purportedly wrote a suicide note in which he stated that the world is not big enough for [both] myself and a Picasso.

II Dolce ar Niente by William Holman Hunt (1866)

Another painter to have Dolce far Niente for the title of his work was William Holman Hunt with his 1867 painting, which was exhibited at that year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. His friend and lover, the professional artist’s model, Annie Miller, sat for Hunt for this work but due to a falling-out with the artist half way through the painting Hunt had to enlist the help of Fanny Waugh, the daughter of a chemist whom he later married.

Dolce Far niente by Auguste Toulmouche (1877)

Before I look at Waterhouse’s two paintings which have the same title, I will show you one more. Auguste Toulmouche was a nineteenth century painter noted for his luxurious portraits of Parisian women and he completed his painting Dolce far Niente in 1877.

Dolce Far Niente by John William Waterhouse (1879)

However, this blog is all about John William Waterhouse so let us look at his two versions of the subject. His first work was completed in 1879 and is a depiction of a sensual and elaborately dressed female, lying on a rug with her head on green velvet pillow, whilst white feathers flutter down and stand out against the paler white of the wall. Waterhouse loved his painting and when it was exhibited that year at the Dudley Gallery, he put an 80 guineas price tag on the work, which was treble what he usually asked for his works on sale at that gallery. Waterhouse’s choice of title for the painting suggests that he wanted to associate himself with the light-hearted Italianate subjects of several of his contemporaries who chose settings of the island of Capri for their works. In just a few years Waterhouse’s reputation would eclipse these very painters. Once again, when the painting was exhibited, many commented on the similarity of the depiction and the setting to the works of Alma-Tadema, who was thirteen years older than Waterhouse and still better known. In the top right we can see a Pompeian-style light. On the floor, stands a deep-blue glass vase out of which emerges a sunflower.

Dolce Far Niente by John William Waterhouse (1880)

The following year, 1880, Waterhouse completed another work with the same title, Dolce Far Niente. This much larger work (50 x 96cms) is housed in the Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery in Scotland. The painting depicts everyday life in the ancient world and is very much in the style of Alma-Tadema who often used a composition which was derived from ancient vase paintings which represented drinking parties, and often depicted women reclining on couches with small tables in front of them bearing vases of flowers, statuettes or drinking vessels. In this work by Waterhouse we see brilliant yellow daffodils and a small jug lying atop a marble and bronze table similar to what was found in Pompeii which Waterhouse would have seen when he visited the museum in Naples in 1877.

Scene at Pompeii by John William Waterhouse (1877)

Behind the couch there are a number of colonnades with their distinctive red and white colouring, examples of which were part of the interiors found at Pompeii. When Waterhouse returned to his birthplace, Italy, in 1877, it was the first time he had visited the country since his family left in 1854 when he was five years old. In 1860 the Italian archaeologist, Giuseppe Fiorelli, introduced new excavation techniques which concentrated on clearing rubble from the ruins of Pompeii and restoring architectural spaces of the town. Waterhouse saw the fruits of the archaeologist’s work when he visited the site and completed a number of watercolour paintings of the cleared areas. In his watercolour entitled Scene at Pompeii we once again see the red and white colonnades which were present in his Dolce Far Niente painting.

In Part 3, I looked at Waterhouse’s painting The Lady of Shallott and talked about how it was linked to Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem of that name. My next painting by Waterhouse is also linked to a Tennyson poem, his 1830 ode, Mariana. The poet was inspired by the character of Mariana in Shakespeare’s play, Measure for Measure which was first performed in 1604. Rejected by her fiancé, Angelo, after her dowry was lost in a shipwreck, Mariana leads an isolated existence in a moated grange for five years. Her feelings of loneliness and yearning are spiralling out of control. Her incarceration is a metaphor for unfulfilled sexual longing. However, despite her loneliness, she is still in love with Angelo who has become Deputy to the Duke of Vienna and she yearns to be reunited with him. The poem follows a common theme in much of Tennyson’s work—that of hopeless isolation. Mariana is a woman who endlessly bemoans her lack of connection with society. This isolation defines her existence, and her yearning for a relationship with people leaves her desperate and left her wishing for death which is stated at the end of every stanza in the poem. The one subtle difference between Shakespeare’s story and the tale encompassed within Tennyson’s poem is that Shakespeare has Mariana’s lover return to her whereas Tennyson’s work ends before Mariana’s lover returns.  The depiction we see before us is based on a stanza of the poem:

With blackest moss the flower-plots
Were thickly crusted, one and all:
The rusted nails fell from the knots
That held the pear to the gable-wall.
The broken sheds look’d sad and strange:
Unlifted was the clinking latch;
Weeded and worn the ancient thatch
Upon the lonely moated grange.
She only said, “My life is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said, “I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!”

Her tears fell with the dews at even;
Her tears fell ere the dews were dried;
She could not look on the sweet heaven,
Either at morn or eventide.
After the flitting of the bats,
When thickest dark did trance the sky,
She drew her casement-curtain by,
And glanced athwart the glooming flats.
She only said, “The night is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said, “I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!

Upon the middle of the night,
Waking she heard the night-fowl crow:
The cock sung out an hour ere light:
From the dark fen the oxen’s low
Came to her: without hope of change,
In sleep she seem’d to walk forlorn,
Till cold winds woke the gray-eyed morn
About the lonely moated grange.
She only said, “The day is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said, “I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!”

About a stone-cast from the wall
A sluice with blacken’d waters slept,
And o’er it many, round and small,
The cluster’d marish-mosses crept.
Hard by a poplar shook alway,
All silver-green with gnarled bark:
For leagues no other tree did mark
The level waste, the rounding gray.
She only said, “My life is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said “I am aweary, aweary
I would that I were dead!”

And ever when the moon was low,
And the shrill winds were up and away,
In the white curtain, to and fro,
She saw the gusty shadow sway.
But when the moon was very low
And wild winds bound within their cell,
The shadow of the poplar fell
Upon her bed, across her brow.
She only said, “The night is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said “I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!”

All day within the dreamy house,
The doors upon their hinges creak’d;
The blue fly sung in the pane; the mouse
Behind the mouldering wainscot shriek’d,
Or from the crevice peer’d about.
Old faces glimmer’d thro’ the doors
Old footsteps trod the upper floors,
Old voices called her from without.
She only said, “My life is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said, “I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!”

The sparrow’s chirrup on the roof,
The slow clock ticking, and the sound
Which to the wooing wind aloof
The poplar made, did all confound
Her sense; but most she loathed the hour
When the thick-moted sunbeam lay
Athwart the chambers, and the day
Was sloping toward his western bower.
Then said she, “I am very dreary,
He will not come,” she said;
She wept, “I am aweary, aweary,
Oh God, that I were dead!”

Mariana in the South by John William Waterhouse (1897)

Look how Waterhouse has painted the angled reflection of the oval mirror. The floor he has painted is made up of black and white tiles which stretch off towards the door giving a sense of emptiness and highlights Mariana’s solitude. Behind the mirror, at the top left of the painting, we can just make out the altar to the Madonna at which Mariana has been praying. In some ways Tennyson and Waterhouse seek to connect the imposed purity of Mariana with the purity of the Virgin.

Mariana by John Everett Millais (1851)

As was the case with the Lady of Shalott, Waterhouse was probably influenced by another of John Everett Millais’ famous paintings, that of his 1851 portrayal of Mariana which appeared at that year’s Royal Academy exhibition. Waterhouse probably saw the work when it was displayed at an exhibition at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1886 and later in an exhibition held in Birmingham. Millais depicted Mariana, isolated in a remote farmhouse awaiting the return of her lover. She is standing before a table on which is her embroidery depicting the garden outside and behind that is a stained-glass window showing the Annunciation, which he copied from the window of the Chapel of Merton College, Oxford. The small stained-glass side window, to the right of the table, includes the motto In coelo quies which means In Heaven there is rest and this bears out the last line of each of Tennyson’s stanzas which refer to Mariana’s desire to be dead. It is Autumn and scattered around are fallen leaves symbolising the passing of time. Mariana in this painting is seen stretching her back after hours sitting working on her embroidery.

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May, by John William Waterhouse (1909)

Waterhouse completed two works in the early 1900’s based on a verse of a poem written by the seventeenth century English poet and cleric, Robert Herrick, in 1684. The poem was entitled To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time and the first line is the title of two of Waterhouse’s paintings.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

The poem is in the genre of carpe diem, which means “seize the day”, or “enjoy yourself while you have the chance”. The setting for this 1909 work is a warm sunny Spring day in the countryside, and a field full of wild flowers crossed by a small stream. In the foreground two women gracefully bend down to pick the flowers. One is dressed in blue/violet robes whilst the other, with bright red hair similar to that seen in many Pre-Raphaelite works, is dressed all in pink. In the background there is a distant mountain range depicted in various blue tones. In the mid-ground there is a wood and we can see two other women, standing amongst the trees, also collecting flowers. It is Waterhouse’s first in a series of works motivated by the story of the Greek goddess Persephone in which the virtuous young woman who had been out in the meadow picking flowers on the plain of Enna, is abducted by Pluto. Her mother, the harvest goddess Demeter, is so distressed and angered by the turn of events she curses the world with a long drawn out winter broken only by her daughter’s return to earth each Spring. The women have a seasonal time constraint for the picking of the flowers and so, as the painting’s title suggests, they are only able to gather ye rosebuds while ye may.

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May by John William Waterhouse (1908)

A year earlier Waterhouse completed a painting with a similar title which showed a red-haired woman presenting a bowl of flowers. Her head is reflected in a mirror behind her. The flowers in the bowl are beautiful roses but as Herrick’s poem reminds us in his carpe diem poem:

“…And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying…”

The beautiful roses of today would be dying tomorrow.

..………..to be continued.

 

The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt

The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt (Lady Lever Gallery) 1854

Normally I try and publish my daily blog in the morning but today I am late, but for a very good reason.  I think we all agree that to stand in front of the actual painting is vastly more satisfying than looking at it on the internet or in a book, so although I had made notes for today’s blog I decided that I would go and see the actual painting before publishing my thoughts.

My featured artist today is William Holman Hunt, the English Pre-Raphaelite painter.  In 1854 he had just completed The Light of the World,  which to this day, remains one of the best known religious paintings of the 19th century.  Hunt wanted to carry on painting religious subjects but decided that any future paintings involving biblical subjects should be painted in the very places where they happened.  So in 1854 Hunt decided to journey to the Holy Lands.  This was typical of Hunt’s thoroughness, and also typical of the rational, scientific spirit of the age.     Another reason for the journey was that it was also at this point in his life when he was suffering a crisis of religious faith and he believed that such a visit to the Holy Lands may bring him a better understanding of his faith.  However, his move away from his friends, Millais and Rossetti effectively marked the beginning of the end of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood which they had founded six years earlier.  

The subject of today’s featured painting in My Daily Art Display is entitled The Scapegoat and the subject is derived from the Talmudic tradition of driving a sacrificial white goat out into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).  A strip of red wool was bound to the goat’s horns, in the belief that it would turn white if the appeasement was accepted.  This also harked back to the Book of Isaiah 1:18:

Come now, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.

Hunt regarded the Old Testament scapegoat as a forerunner of the New Testament Christ whose suffering and death similarly expunged man’s sins.

Hunt travelled first to Jerusalem in June 1854 and then in the October on to Oosdoom, a place on the southern edge of the salt-encrusted shallows of the Dead Sea.  In his diary Hunt described this setting as:

 ‘“…never was so extraordinary a scene of beautifully arranged horrible wilderness. It is black, full of asphalte scum and in the hand slimy, and smarting as a sting — No one can stand and say that it is not accursed of God…”

Hunt saw the Dead Sea as a ‘horrible figure of sin’,  believing as did many at this time, that it was the original site of the city of Sodom.    Here he remained painting the landscape, the mountains of Edom, and the lake which would become the background of the painting.  He also made preliminary sketches of the goat.  However the goat proved to be a “fidgety model” refusing to stand still.  Bad weather forced Hunt to head back to Jerusalem.   He had not completed the picture of the goat so brought it, some Dead Sea mud and stones back to his studio in Jerusalem so as to complete the work. However, on the journey back the goat died.  Hunt bought another goat and proceeded to have it stand in a tray of salty Dead Sea mud and stones which he had brought back to his studio and continued with the painting.  To complete the details of the painting he bought a skeleton of a camel and the skull of an ibex both of which he incorporated into the painting. 

The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt (Manchester Art Gallery) 1854

He made two copies of the painting, one (above) of which is a smaller version with a black goat and a rainbow symbolising hope and forgiveness of sins and this can be found in the Manchester Art Gallery, and the other (at the top of the page) hangs in the Lady Lever Gallery, Port Sunlight.  

Inscription along top of frame

The Lady Lever Art Gallery painting has an inscription engraved onto its frame, which was designed by Hunt himself.   It was intended to compliment the painting.  The seven stars at the top may have come from the apocalyptic text mentioning the seven stars that fell on the day of wrath or it may indicate the Book of Revelation’s “ancient” Christ who held seven stars in his right hand.   On the top of the frame, as wel,l is the inscribed a scriptural text from Isaiah 53:4:

” Surely he hath borne our Griefs, and carried our Sorrows:

yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of GOD, and afflicted. “

and on the bottom part of the frame are the words from the Book of Leviticus 16:22:

“And the Goat shall bear upon him all their Iniquities unto a Land not inhabited.”

 Hunt submitted the painting to the Royal Academy exhibition of 1856 where it was greeted with puzzlement and derogatory remarks.  The landscape colour was described as “lurid”.  Hunt was not put off by that comment and the purple colour of his mountains subsequently became the hallmark of much of his landscape painting.

John Ruskin, the foremost art critic of the time, commented:

‘…This picture, regarded merely as a landscape, or as a composition, is a total failure.   Mr Hunt …in his earnest desire to paint the Scapegoat has forgotten to ask himself first, whether he could paint a goat at all…’

His Pre-Raphaelite Brethren commented differently.  Dante Gabriel Rossetti said of the painting:

“…a grand thing, but not for the public…”

Ford Madox Brown wrote in his diary:

“….Hunt’s Scapegoat requires to be seen to be believed in. Only then can it be understood how, by the might of genius, out of an old goat, and some saline encrustations, can be made one of the most tragic and impressive works in the annals of art….”.

You must make up your own mind about this work of art.  I side with Ford Madox Brown. I stood in front of the painting this afternoon and was moved by the tragic and heart-rending depiction of the goat as it stumbles alone along the salt-encrusted shoreline, to what we know will inevitably culminate in its lonely death.  

I love the way in which Hunt’s use of colour to depict the Jordanian mountains in the background.    This was certainly one of the most original painting by Holman Hunt.  Maybe one should say it was one of his most peculiar works of art.  People are divided in their views.  Whilst some admire the painting for its exceptional and powerful image in such an unusual setting, others dislike it and wonder why the artist spent so much time and effort on such a gloomy subject.

I will let you be the judge.

Our English Coast by William Holman Hunt (1852)

Our English Coast by William Holman Hunt (1852)

William Holman Hunt was born in London in 1827.  He started off his working life as a clerk but moved away from the life of commerce and studied at the British Museum and National Gallery.  He, along with Dante Rossetti and John Millais, all members of the Royal Academy, formed the Pre-Raphelite Movement in 1848.  This newly formed group sort to reform art by emphasising the detailed observation of the natural world in a spirit of quasi-religious devotion to the truth.  They took on board the spiritual qualities of medieval art in opposition to the rationalism of the Renaissance personified by the likes of Raphael.  In 1854 Hunt went to the Holy Land to portray scenes from the life of Christ, aiming to achieve total historical and archaeological truth. He returned to Palestine in 1869 and again in 1873.   Hunt died in London in 1910, aged 83.

Today’s painting is Our English Coasts which Hunt painted in 1852 and was commissioned by Charles Maud.  This painting, which featured sheep, followed an earlier painting  of his which featured sheep in the background and was very well received, The Hireling Shepherds .  Hunt used the cliffs of Fairlight, east of Hastings, as the background for this work.  As with a lot of Pre-Raphelite work, there is an element of symbolism in their paintings.  Art historians believe that the use of the cliffs at Hastings, overlooking the English Channel, symbolised the fear of a possible French invasion of England.  The brilliance of the colours Hunt used made it the most remarkable of Hunt’s landscapes.

The painting can be found in the Tate Britain gallery, London.