Zinaida Serebriakova. Part 1

House of Cards (1919)by Zinaida Seberiakova

House of Cards (1919)
by Zinaida Seberiakova

One of the most pleasing aspects of this blog for me is discovering artists I had never heard of before.  It is an even greater pleasure when the “new-to-me” artist is a female for I am often made aware in my look at the lives of painters, the difficulty it has been for a female artist to attain credit for her ability.  In the past I have looked at works by Artemisia Gentileschi, Frida Kahlo, Gabriele Münter and Vigée Le Brun, to mention just a few, and I have been mesmerised by their works and the passion that went into them.   In my next couple of blogs, I want to introduce you to Zinaida Serebriakova, one of the greatest Russian female artists, whose life story is enthralling and whose works are entrancing.

Zinaida Serebriakova, née Lanceray, was born in 1884, on the family estate of Neskuchnoye, near Kharkov, which now lies in Ukraine. She is descended from two great wealthy and powerful Russian dynasties.  On her father’s side there was the Russian Lanceray dynasty and on her mother’s side was the great Franco-Russian Benois family dynasty.  Zinaida’s father was the sculptor, graphic artist, and painter, Yevgeny Lanceray, who died when she was just two years of age and her mother was Ekaterina Benois.  Zinaida had two brothers, Nikolai and Yevgeny who also excelled artistically and many of her ancestors excelled artistically so it comes as no surprise when she showed both and interest and talent for drawing and painting.

Country Girl by Zinaida Serebriakova (1906)

Country Girl by Zinaida Serebriakova (1906)

Zinaida spent her childhood and youth split between living in St. Petersburg, where her grandfather the architect Nicholas Benois lived, and at the family estate of Neskuchnoye.    Her initial artistic tuition came in 1901 after she had completed her grammar school education the previous year, when at the age of seventeen, she enrolled at the Princess Tenisheva Art School in St Petersburg, where the lead tutor was the distinguished Russian painter and sculptor, Ilya Repin.  The following year she travelled to Italy and in 1903 she began a two year apprenticeship at the St Petersburg studio of the Russian portraitist Osip Braz.  Living in St. Petersburg she was able to visit the Hermitage Museum and gaze in wonderment at the classical paintings of the Masters.   Of all those artists which she admired, the one who stood out the most for her and was to influence her future work was her countryman, Alexey Gavrilovich Venetsianov.  He was famous for his paintings which focused on the simple life of ordinary people and the struggle for survival of the peasant classes.  He often painted portraits of the peasants and Zinaida was captivated by the innocence and virtuousness of his imagery and many of her future works would incorporate scenes from peasant life.  An example of this is the early work which she completed in 1906 entitled Country Girl.

Boris Serebriakov by Zinaida Serebriakova (c.1905)

Boris Serebriakov by Zinaida Serebriakova (c.1905)

Apart from seeing these works by Venetsianov, she was fortunate to live at Neskuchnoye and savour the beauty of the surrounding countryside and the tranquillity of country life.  She also spent much of her time completing portraits of her family members.  In 1905, Zinaida Lanceray married Boris Serebriakov, who was her first cousin.  They had met at Neskuchnoe whilst he was studying engineering and he would later become a railroad engineer.  Zanaida and her husband went off to Paris where she continued her art studies at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris.  This art establishment which was founded three years earlier by the Swiss painter Martha Stettler operated as a ‘free’ academy, where art students, both professional and amateur alike could enter to draw and paint at will.

At the Dressing Table (Self Portrait) by Zinaida Serebriakova (1909)

At the Dressing Table (Self Portrait) by Zinaida Serebriakova (1909)

Her popularity as an artist took off shortly after she exhibited her Self Portrait at the exhibition held by the Union of Russian Artists in 1910.  It was a work she had completed the previous year and showed her image, as seen in a mirror, seated at her dressing table, combing her hair.  The painting can be seen at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.  Her uncle Alexander Benois wrote about this work:

“…A young woman lives in a remote country area … and has no other pleasure, no other aesthetic enjoyment on winter days that seclude her from the whole world, than to see her gay young face in the mirror and to watch the play of her bare arms and hands with a comb … Her face and everything else in the picture is young and fresh. There is not a trace of modernistic refinement. But the simple, real-life atmosphere, illuminated by youth, is joyous and lovely…”

 In 1916 Zinaida’s uncle, Alexander Benois was commissioned to decorate the Kazan Railway Station in Moscow and he invited her to help him by becoming part of his team. Serebriakova took on the theme of the Orient: India, Japan, Turkey, and Siam were represented allegorically in the form of beautiful women.  It is recognised that the work she produced between 1914 and 1917 were some of her best.

Bleaching Cloth by Zanaida Serebriakova (1917)

Bleaching Cloth by Zanaida Serebriakova (1917)

She created a series of works, the theme of which was the rural life she witnessed all around her.    In 1917 she completed one such painting entitled Bleaching Cloth which in some way is her homage to the female peasant workers.  Against a background formed by a blue sky and partly veiled by light greyish white clouds, we see the women hard at work in the fields with their bales of cloth.   The red, green and brown colour of the peasants’ clothes gives the painting a beautiful vibrancy and the figures seen against a very low horizon gives the depicted peasants a commanding and grandiose quality.    The work, measuring 142cms x 174cms,  was a testament to Zinaida’s talent as a monumental artist.  The painting is now held at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

The year 1917 proved to be her annus horriblis and changed her life and that of her family forever.   The Russian Revolution led by the Bolsheviks under the leadership of Lenin started in October of that year and soon spread throughout the country.  The Bolsheviks believed that the working classes would, at some point, liberate themselves from the economic and political control of the ruling classes.  It was an uprising by the “have-nots against those who had” and as such the family estate owned by Zinaida’s family, where she was living was a target.  Much of the estate was taken over or destroyed.  All the reserves of Neskuchnoye had been plundered which resulted in the family suffering from hunger.  Her husband had been taken away by the Bolsheviks and was incarcerated in jail where he died of typhus in 1919.  Zinaida was left without any money and yet was responsible for her four children and her sick widowed mother.

This was a traumatic time in Zinaida’s life and it was in that very year that her husband died that she completed one of her most famous works and which is my featured painting of the day, entitled House of Cards which depicts her four orphaned children, Alexandre, Ekaterina, Eugene and Tatyana playing cards.  It is a tragic painting featuring her children, who probably could not understand what had happened to dramatically change their way of life.  Their safe and privileged existence had suddenly collapsed like a house of cards.

In my next blog I will take you through the story of the rest of Zinaida Serebriakova’s life story and have a look at some of her later works.

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Art display, Female painters, Flemish painters, Russian artist | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

I and the Village and The Birthday by Marc Chagall

I and the Village by Marc Chagall (1911)

I and the Village by Marc Chagall (1911)

Having just completed my four part look at the quartet of Scottish Colourists I am turning to a painter from the same era but one who could not be more different in style.  For my blog today I want to look at the early life of and two fascinating paintings by the Russian-Jewish artist, Marc Chagall.  He was a painter of poetic, surreal images that to him, represented a topsy-turvy world, combining fantasy and spirituality with a modernist style

house

Chagall’s family home in Vitebsk

 Marc Chagall, a name he did not use until 1915 when he arrived in Paris,  was born Moishe Segal on the 7th of July 1887 in the small Jewish shetl of Liozna part of the town of Vitebsk, which was in the Russian Empire but now is situated in Belarus.   He was the eldest of nine children born into a Hasidic Jewish family.  His parents led a simple yet spartan life.  His mother Feige-Ite ran a small grocery shop from their home.  His grandfather worked as a teacher and a cantor in a local synagogue and had secured a position for Marc Chagall’s father as a clerk at a wholesale herring merchants but in Marc Chagall’s autobiography, My Life, he criticised his grandfather for his father’s placement and derided the job description of “clerk”.  He wrote:

“…My grandfather, a teacher of religion, could think of nothing better than to place my father – his eldest son, still a child – as a clerk with a firm of herring wholesalers, and his youngest son with a barber. No, my father was not a clerk, but, for thirty-two years, a plain workman. He lifted heavy barrels, and my heart used to twist like a Turkish pretzel as I watched him carrying those loads and stirring the little herrings with his frozen hands……Sometimes my father’s clothes would glisten with herring brine. The light played above him, besides him. But his face, now yellow, now clear, would sometimes break into a wan smile…”

 Chagall would always remember those early days of hardship and how hard his father worked to provide for his family.  In his 1922 autobiography, My Life, Chagall recalled those difficult times:

 “…Day after day, winter and summer, at six o’clock in the morning, my father got up and went off to the synagogue. There he said his usual prayer for some dead man or other. On his return he made ready the samovar, drank some tea and went to work. Hellish work, the work of a galley-slave. Why try to hide it? How tell about it? No word will ever ease my father’s lot… There was always plenty of butter and cheese on our table. Buttered bread, like an eternal symbol, was never out of my childish hands…”

 As a young child, Chagall went to the local heder, an elementary Jewish school in which children were taught to read the Torah and other books in Hebrew. Later he transferred to the local secular secondary school and it was here that young Chagall started to show an interest in art.  The fact that he, as a Jew, was allowed to go to the local secular school was in itself rather unusual as according to government dictates at the time, Jewish children were not allowed to study at secular schools.  In 1906 when Marc was nineteen years of age and with help from his mother, and despite his father’s protests, he enrolled at a private school of drawing, Artist Pen’s School of Drawing and Painting run by Yethuda Pen.  Yethuda Pen was a talented Jewish artist and art teacher and one of the outstanding figures of the Jewish Renaissance in Russian and Belarusian art.   Chagall remembers the day he first cast his eyes on the school and how it impressed him.  He recounted the time in his autobiography:

“…I learned about Pen when I was riding on a streetcar.  It was crossing the Cathedral Square and I saw a banner – white letters on blue: Artist Pen’s School. ‘What a cultured city is our Vitebsk,’ I thought...”

Later, in 1921, Chagall told his former tutor, Penn, about the day he first entered the college, accompanied by his mother, for an interview for a place on Penn’s art course and how nervous he was.  He wrote:

 “…I recall how, as a boy, I climbed the steps of your studio. And the tremor with which I awaited you: you were to decide my fate in my mother’s presence. I know how many other young boys in Vitebsk and the entire gubernia [administrative district] had their fates decided by you. For dozens of years your studio was the first to lure people in town… You have trained a vast generation of Jewish artists…”

He remained only a few months at Penn’s art school and in 1907 with little money, he left Vitebsk and headed for Saint Petersburg.  Chagall had already seen and felt the full force of the anti-Semitic Russian laws in his home town but they paled into insignificance compared to the discriminatory policies against Jews in Saint Petersburg.  However for Chagall these legal hardships and the fact that he had little money to live on, was of little consequence as he was now able to immerse himself in the whirlpool of artistic life.  These were also revolutionary times and the revolutionary mood of the Russian people against their Tsarist ruler could be seen in every-day life, through avant-garde magazines and art exhibitions which pioneered new and modern western art.  The art world was waking up to the new art of the French Fauves, the German Expressionists and the Italian Futurists.  This was an exciting time for the young Russian artist, Chagall, and this new art would greatly influence him.  Although he absorbed this new art and knew about the various artistic groupings, he was his own man and he wanted to stand alone and create his own unique artistic style.  The one thing Chagall was determined about was that he would never ever forget his childhood background and the people of Vitebsk.  He would never forget his family’s or his poor but happy upbringing and the family’s lowly status.  He would never forget the hand to mouth existence and the importance of the land and the farms that provided food for its people.  He would never forget the onion-shaped cupolas of the churches, the wooden houses with the grass roofs which helped insulate them.  His home town of Vitebsk was tattooed on his very heart and he would always remember it in his art with great affection.

Whilst living in St Petersburg Marc Chagall earned a living by working at the editorial office of the Russian-Jewish periodical, Voskhod.   He also carried on with his artistic studies first at the school of the Society for the Encouragement of Art Society of Art Supporters where he studied under the Russian painter and stage designer Nikolai Roerich and the following year he enrolled as a student at the Yelizaveta Zvantseva’s School of Drawing and Painting where one of his teachers was the great Russian artist and costume designer Leon Bakst.  Bakst had lived in Paris from 1893 to 1897, where he studied at the Académie Julian, and he would eventually persuade Chagall to head for the French capital, the then art capital of the world,  so as to best continue his artistic studies.

Bella Rosenfeldcourtesy of http://www.marcchagallart.net/

Bella Rosenfeld

In 1909, Chagall met Bella Rosenfeld who lived in his home town and had been visiting friends in St. Petersburg.   It was love at first sight and within a short time they had become engaged.   Although both Marc and Bella were from Vitebsk, their social worlds could not have been more different and for that reason Bella’s parents were very unhappy with the liaison.  Bella’s parents, Shmule and Alta Rosenfeld were extremely wealthy and ran a very successful jewellery business back in Vitebsk and had managed to put Bella through the best education culminating at the University of Moscow.  She was particularly interested in the workings of the theatre and in art, and whilst studying at university, she contributed articles to a Moscow newspaper.  Chagall’s love for Bella, who became his wife in 1915, was deep and enduring and in his autobiography he wrote with passion about his true love:

“… Her silence is mine, her eyes mine. It is as if she knows everything about my childhood, my present, my future, as if she can see right through me; as if she has always watched over me, somewhere next to me, though I saw her for the very first time. I knew this is she, my wife. Her pale colouring, her eyes. How big and round and black they are! They are my eyes, my soul…”

In 1910, Chagall held his first solo exhibition, which was in the editorial office of the St Petersburg avant-garde magazine Apollon.  One of the visitors to the exhibition was Maxim Vinaver, a lawyer and deputy of the State Duma.  Vinaver, who was one of the outstanding figures in Russian Jewry of his time. He played a distinguished role as a Jewish communal leader, as well as one of the leaders of the Liberal Cadet Party. He was always a champion of the Jewish cause and as a deputy in the Russian Duma, Vinaver organized the Society to Secure Equality for the Jews in Russia.  Impressed by the talent of Chagall, he became his patron and gave him a monetary scholarship and with this financial assistance Chagall was able to go to Paris to carry on his artistic studies.  It was on arriving in the French capital that Moishe Segal adopted the French-sounding pseudonym, Marc Chagall.

I will leave the life story of Marc Chagall at this stage of his life and return to it in a later blog but for now I want to look at two of his paintings.  The first painting, and one of his most famous, is entitled I and the Village, which he completed in 1911, whilst living in Paris.  It is currently housed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The painting on first sight is, like many of his works, unfathomable and one has to look carefully at all the elements depicted to try and understand what was going on in Chagall’s mind as he put brush to canvas.  It is a dream-like image with many overlapping elements.  This lively composition and the geometrical structures, such as lines, angles, triangles, circles, and squares clearly displays aspects of Cubism.  Some would have us believe that Chagall’s assortment of large and small circular forms are meant to depict the sun’s revolution within our solar system as well as the earth’s revolution around the sun, and the moon’s revolution around the earth. The moon being in the lower left of the painting is causing an eclipse of the sun.  However, maybe like me, this cosmic interpretation of the painting is possibly a step too far!

It is a collage of various objects.  It portrays the artist’s memories of the Hasidic Community of Vitebsk in which he was brought up, a peasant community, which relied heavily on the land and their animals for food. There are human and animal elements in the work which are both fragmented and randomly assembled to produce an abstract composition. The colours Chagall uses are vibrant and he has produced a severe contrast between the red, the green and the blue which he has liberally used.

Let us look more closely at the work and see if we can unravel the meaning of some of its elements.  If you look at the top right hand corner of the work you can make out a small town.  There is a church with its onion-shaped cupola and some brightly coloured houses some of which are upside down.   This inclusion, as he did in many of his works, is probably Chagall’s home town of Vitebsk and the fact that some of the houses are upturned could well be his way of illustrating that it is his town as visualised by him in his dream.  In front of the row of houses is man dressed in black with a scythe over his shoulder, presumably returning home after a hard day’s work in the fields.  In front of him is an upturned woman.   The woman, according to some descriptions is playing a violin.  However although people playing violins feature in many of Chagall’s works I beg to differ as far as this woman is concerned.  I have studied pictures of the painting, inverted it to see her better, and have concluded she is simply a peasant woman swinging her arms as if dancing.  I will let you decide.  This dream-like depiction of the peasant woman whether a violinist or a dancer could be a reference to the importance that music and dance played for entertainment for the people of Chagall’s erstwhile small Jewish community.

eye contact

Eye contact

The two main elements of the painting are, on the right, a green-faced man wearing a cap and on the left an animal.   The green colour of his face is an example of Fauvism where the colour used is not the one we would normally associate with in reality.  On the left is the head of an animal, possibly a horse or goat or cow.  On its cheek Chagall has painted an image of smaller goat or cow being milked.  If you look carefully you will see Chagall has drawn a line between the eye of the man and the eye of the animal and this probably refers to the close relationship, the inter-dependence between a peasant and his animal – a kind of “seeing eye to eye”, understanding the important relationship between man and beast.  The man, who wears a cross around his neck,  clutches hold of a small flowering branch, the seeds from which seem to be scattering, which could allude to the sowing of seed in the ground.

The Birthday by Marc Chagall (1915)

The Birthday by Marc Chagall (1915)

The reason why I chose Chagall for my blog today was because it was Valentine’s Day and I wanted to feature a painting which in some ways was the essence of true love between two people.  I could have gone for The Kiss by Gustave Klimt or Francesco Hayer or some other erotic and sensuous painting but I came across the painting by Chagall entitled Birthday and in a way it said everything to me about the love between two people.   Chagall painted the picture in 1915,  the year he married his beloved Bella Rosenfeld.  For Chagall his relationship with her was everything he could have wanted and I believe the couple in the painting are Marc and Bella.

Bella with White Collar by Marc Chagall (1917)

Bella with White Collar by Marc Chagall (1917)

Chagall painted Bella in many of his works and I believe this is one of them.  The painting depicts the man and the woman.  Although the woman’s face is clearly defined the man’s face is somewhat of a blur.   In the work we see them both seemingly elevated by their love for each other.  For them it was possible to float above the reality of the world and just enjoy each other’s company.  Look at the feet of the man and the woman.   They seem to be pointing in opposite directions.   Maybe he has given her the bunch of flowers and has walked past her but realises that the flowers without a kiss is not enough and so he literally bends over backwards to please his loved one by offering up a kiss.  She holds the flowers that he has given her and purses her lips in readiness for his kiss but he has walked past her.  However before disappointment can set in he returns, lips ready to kiss his beloved girl!  What could be more romantic?  However there is much more to this work of art than the two lovers.  Look at the amount of detail Chagall has put into the painting.  See how he has depicted the seeds of the watermelon which lies on the counter, the exotically detailed Indian blanket which lies on the bed and the blue lace fabric which hangs below the window.

I end by wishing you all a Happy Valentine’s Day and hope that your loved one manages to bend over backwards for you !!!

The photo of Chagall’s home and Bella Rosenfeld were courtesy of http://www.marcchagallart.net/

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Art display, Cubism, Marc Chgall, Russian artist, Surrealism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Scottish Colourists, Part 4 – George Leslie Hunter

Cottage, near Largo by G.L.Hunter  (c.1920)

Cottage, near Largo by G.L.Hunter (c.1920)

In my blog today I conclude my look at the group of early twentieth century Scottish artists, who would later be grouped together and known as the Scottish Colourists.  The fourth member of this group was George Leslie Hunter.   Hunter was born in Rothesay, a town on the west coast Scottish Isle of Bute, in 1877.  He was the youngest of five children, born to William Hunter, a chemist by trade and his wife, Jeanie Hunter (née Stewart).  His initial schooling was at Rothesay Academy.  In February 1892, Hunter’s elder sister Catherine died and this was followed shortly after with the death of his elder brother.  Both iwho were in their early twenties were thought to have died from an influenza pandemic which had been sweeping the country.  Although his mother and father had been toying with the idea of emigrating, these tragic events were the final push they needed to leave Scotland and in September that year they set sail for California via New York to start a new life.  The family arrived in California where Hunter’s father bought an orange farm east of Los Angeles.  George enjoyed life in America and spent most of his time sketching and enjoying the favourable Californian climate.   He did not undertake formal art training, and was largely self-taught.  When he was nineteen years of age he managed to get work as an illustrator for some local magazines.  The father’s farming venture lasted just eight years before Hunter’s parents decided to return home to Scotland.  However George, who had developed a love of art, was enjoying life in America so much that he decided not to return with his parents but instead decided to stay on and in 1900 he moved to San Francisco where he became part of the Bohemian lifestyle of the Californian city.   The following year he had some of his artwork exhibited at the California Society of Artists exhibition.

To earn money Hunter illustrated work for the Californian magazines, Overland Monthly and the Sunset magazine.  The latter was a promotional journal for Southern Pacific Transportation Company, designed to combat all the negative publicity regarding the “Wild West” life in California. In 1904 Hunter went to New York with friends and then on to Paris and it was whilst in the French capital that Hunter took up oil painting and became determined to become a professional artist.  On his return to California in 1905, he started to build up a large collection of his work which he intended to exhibit at his first solo exhibition which was to be held at the Mark Hopkins Institute the following year.  However tragedy struck in the form of the great Californian earthquake in April 1906 which devastated San Francisco and destroyed his studio and most of his artwork.

Fruit and Flowers on a Draped Table by G.L.Hunter (1919)

Fruit and Flowers on a Draped Table by G.L.Hunter (1919)

Hunter returned to Glasgow and rejoined his mother.  He continued his self-education as a painter and carried earning a living as an illustrator.  Many of his initial oil paintings were of the still life genre.  He liked to experiment with these works, revelled in the use of colour and often would incorporate the technique used by the Dutch still-life masters, such as Willem Kalf, Jan Davidsz de Heem and the great Willem van Aelst.

Still Life with Nautilus Cup by William Kalf (1662)

Still Life with Nautilus Cup by William Kalf (1662)

These still life painters often composed their colourful depiction of floral and fruit arrangements with a drab and dark background to afford the greatest contrast.  They used the chiaroscuro technique to dramatic effect and for Kalf it was his delightful way in which he  combined in his paintings humble objects such as simple kitchen utensils with luxurious objects such as crystal glassware and exquisite silverware.    Hunter would probably have seen examples of the Dutch masters in the museums of Glasgow and would have found them inspirational for his work.   Although this may be construed as “copying” by Hunter and could be looked upon as a form of plagiarism, in fact it was not, for he was simply studying the great works of art and taking what he had seen back into his own works.

Hunter met fellow Colourist, Samuel Peploe, through mutual friends, the artists, Edward Archibald Taylor and his wife Jessie Marion King when he was in Paris in 1910 but it was over a decade later before the two became close friends.  Hunter’s professional artistic career really started in 1913 when he was fortunate to be introduced to Alexander Reid, an influential Glasgow art dealer.  That year he held his first solo exhibition in Glasgow at Reid’s gallery.   Three years later, in 1916, Hunter exhibits more work at the gallery and later showed at the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts.  The review of the exhibition in the March edition of the Bailie newspaper commented on Hunter’s work:

“…He has three of four examples of still life that are superlatively strong…. they show a mastery of form and colour that takes one back to the triumphs of the Dutchmen…”

It was through exhibitions like these that Hunter connected with a group of affluent collectors who would continue to buy his works of art over the next fifteen years.

Portrait of Alexnder Reid by Vincent van Gogh (1887)

Portrait of Alexnder Reid by Vincent van Gogh (1887)

During the post-First World War days, Hunter became influenced more and more by the works of the modern French painters he had seen whilst visiting Paris, in particular Matisse, Cezanne and van Gogh.   In 1922 he went on an extended tour of Europe, visiting the French Riviera, Florence and Venice.  Glasgow art dealer Alex Reid and Parisian gallery owner, Ettienne Bignou, were developing a business relationship around this time and decided to stage an exhibition of the works of Peploe, Cadell and Hunter, entitled Les Peintres De l’Ecosse Moderne at the Galerie Barbazanges in June 1924.  Following this Hunter held a joint exhibition the next year with Peploe and Cadell at the Leicester Galleries in London.

Provencal Landscape by George Leslie Hunter (c.1929)

Provencal Landscape by George Leslie Hunter (c.1929)

During the period between 1924 and 1927 Hunter carried out a lot of his work in Fife and around Loch Lomond.  Whether it was due to the cold climate of Scotland or just his desire for the chance to savour the bright light and warm weather in southern France,  he became restless and left Scotland and based himself in the small Provencal village of Sainte-Paul-de-Vence.  From there he would set off on daily sketching trips around the many picturesque Provencal villages.  Most of the paintings he completed were sent back to Alex Reid in Glasgow for him to sell.  In 1929 he made the trip to New York for his exhibition at the Ferargil Galleries, which was critically acclaimed as an outstanding success.  From New York he returned to France but in November 1929 he suffered a breakdown and his health began to deteriorate and he is forced to return to Glasgow where he was looked after by his sister.

Reflections, Balloch by George Leslie Hunter (1930)

Reflections, Balloch by George Leslie Hunter (1930)

During the last couple years of his life Hunter concentrated once again on painting scenes around Loch Lomond and the village of Balloch which is situated at the southern tip of the loch.  He had painted scenes in this area five years earlier but now his later works show a greater clarity and are unfussy in composition.  In his work, entitled Reflections, Balloch, Hunter has concentrated the main focus of the work on the sparkle of light and reflections on the surface of the loch.  Many of these later works featuring the loch also incorporated houseboats and this series of paintings has been acknowledged as some of his best. His fellow colourist Samuel Peploe praised it at this time, saying:

“…that is Hunter at his best, and it is as fine as any Matisse…”

In 1931 Hunter travelled to Paris for the last time so as to be present at the highly successful exhibition Les Peintres Ecossais from which the French government bought a landscape of Loch Lomond for their national collection.  Buoyed by the success of the exhibition, of which he played a leading part, he began to make tentative plans to move from Scotland and go to live in London.  His spirits were high, he believed his luck had changed and he viewed the future with great optimism.  He was quoted at the time as saying:

“…I have been kicking at the door so long and at last it is beginning to open…”

Sadly before he could savour what he believed would be the start of a new life, he died in a Glasgow nursing home in December 1951, aged just 54.

This is my final blog about the four Scottish Colourists.  It cannot be emphasised enough the importance France played in their art.  In the book Scottish Colourists 1900-1930, one of the authors, Elizabeth Cumming, a lecturer at Edinburgh College of Art, commented on this fact, writing:

“…Without their French contacts and experience, none of the Scottish Colourists would have developed their art as we know it.  For all, visiting and living in France invested their ideas with a new vision.  For Cadell, it meant developing an empathy with stylistic sophistication.  For Hunter, visiting the south of France especially injected light airiness into his landscapes.  For Peploe, two years of life in Paris opened a door to the intellectual possibilities within traditional subjects.  And for Fergusson, living in France for far longer than any of the others, it became the crux of his existence…”

 

Posted in Art, Art Blog, George Leslie Hunter, Scottish artists, Scottish Colourists, Still life paintings | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Scottish Colourists, Part 3 – John Duncan Fergusson

Self-portrait by J.D.Fergusson (1902)

Self-portrait by J.D.Fergusson (1902)

Today I am looking at the third member of the Scottish Colourist group and possibly the most well-known, John Duncan Fergusson, who was born in March 1874 in Leith, a town which is often known as the port of Edinburgh.  He was the eldest of four children of John Fergusson, a spirit merchant and Christina, his mother.  He attended the Royal High School, Edinburgh and Blair Lodge School in Linlithgow.  Following this, in 1892, Fergusson attended the Edinburgh University Medical School to study medicine with the intention of becoming a naval surgeon.  However his lack of application to his studies resulted in him leaving after just two years, at which time, he decided on a complete volte-face and decided to study art at the city’s Trustees Academy School of Art.  Once again, Fergusson did not last long studying at this academy for he left stating that he found it too difficult to reconcile  what he considered to be, their old fashioned and inflexible teaching methods and their rigid curriculum which had been set in stone.   He left the art school and decided to set himself up in his own studio in Picardy Place, Edinburgh and simply teach himself how to paint.

Fergusson knew of the work of the Glasgow Boys and decided to do as they had done, go and study art in Paris which was, at the time, looked upon as the art capital of the world.  In 1895, aged twenty, he enrolled in the life-classes at Académie Colarossi and revelled in the lifestyle of his fellow artists and the whole Paris café society scene.   Fergusson enthusiastically adopted the lifestyle of a Bohemian artist, mixing with the likes of Picasso and Matisse and he could often be seen frequenting the legendary cafés of the time, such as, Le Pre-Catalan Restaurant, the Cage Harcourt and the La Closerie des Lilas and it was in these places, surrounded by his artist acquaintances that he drew so much of his inspiration.   He easily settled into this unrestrictive café society of the Left Bank.  He was surrounded by the work of the Impressionists and would visit the public and private galleries such as Salle Caillebotte at the Musée du Luxembourg, where their works were on display.   Fergusson loved the French capital and for the next ten years spent his summers in Paris and the rest of the time in Edinburgh, where he had established a close productive working relationship with fellow Scottish Colourist, Samuel Peploe.   In 1897 Fergusson exhibited some of his work at the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts and the following year, spent time in central France, painting at the artists’ colony of Grez-sur-Loing, a small commune seventy kilometres south of Paris.   This River Loing setting often featured in the works of Alfred Sisley.  In 1899 Fergusson decided to go to Morocco and follow in the footsteps of Arthur Melville, the Scottish painter, who was famed for his Orientalist works, and who is now looked upon as being one of the most powerful influences in the contemporary art of his day.

Mademoiselle Dryden by J.D.Fergusson (1908)

Mademoiselle Dryden by J.D.Fergusson (1908)

It was during a painting trip at the seaside resort of Paris-Plage, in the summer of 1907 that Fergusson met two American ladies, Anne Estelle Rice and Elizabeth Dryden.   Elizabeth Dryden was an American writer and critic who had been sent to Paris in 1905 by her employer, the Philadelphia department store magnate, Lewis Rodman Wanamaker, to write fashion reviews for his Philadelphia department store trade magazine.   These reviews would then be illustrated by her friend Anne Estelle Rice, who was a sculptor and artist and who had worked as an illustrator on a number of magazines.   Both women featured in a number of paintings by Fergusson and he became great friends with them and Anne Estelle Rice later became Fergusson’s mistress.  In his 1908 painting of Elizabeth Dryden entitled Mademoiselle Dryden, Fergusson has depicted her clad not in the latest fashion but wearing a simple red scarf to keep out the chill with a painter’s smock worn loosely around her shoulders.

Rhythm by J.D. Fergusson (1911)

Rhythm by J.D. Fergusson (1911)

After his fully clothed portraits of Rice and Dryden it is quipped that from then on all his sitters had to remove their clothes and be in a state of undress!  In 1910, the English writer and critic, John Middleton Murray visited Fergusson’s Edinburgh studio.  He was about to launch a new literary, arts and critical review magazine.

Rhythm magazine cover

Rhythm magazine cover

Murray wanted to name the magazine after one of Fergusson’s paintings and have a drawing of it on the front cover.   Fergusson’s painting of a female nude was entitled Rhythm and that became the magazine’s title.  The cover of the magazine was elephant grey with Fergusson’s strong image of a naked woman sitting under a tree with an apple in her hand printed on it in black ink.  Fergusson became its art editor and through his many contacts in the art world was able to persuade artists such as Derrain, Picasso, and Delauny to provide illustrations for the magazine.  Anne Estelle Rice was also a regular contributor to the periodical.

Fergusson loved life in France and all the opportunities it afforded him to paint.  In the summers Fergusson would go on holiday and would often meet up with Peploe and his family in Brittany or Cassis in the south of France and for a short time Fergusson lived at Cap d’Antibes.

On his return to Paris he accepted the position as teacher at the Académie de la Palette and set up his studio in Montparnasse.  Fergusson was very happy with life at this time.  His long term partner Margaret Morris, whom he met in 1913, quoted Fergusson’s words describing his satisfaction with his Montparnasse studio and life in general in her 1974 book,  The Art of J.D.Fergusson:

“… [it was] comfortable, modern and healthy.   My concierge most sympathetic.  Life was as it should be and I was very happy.  The Dome, so to speak, round the corner; L’Avenue quite near; the Concert Rouge not far away – I was very much interested in music; the Luxembourg Gardens to sketch in; Colarossi’s class if I wanted to work from the model.  In short everything a young painter could want…”

Fergusson had met the dancer, choreographer, Margaret Morris in 1913.   She is now recognised for her pioneering work in modern dance.  She ran a dance school in London and that year had taken her dance troupe to Paris to dance at the Marigny Theatre on the Champs Elysees.  Fergusson and Morris later married and he became Art Director of all her MMM (Margaret Morris Movement) schools.  Fergusson and Morris were to remain together for almost fifty years.  The two built up a collection of friends from the literary greats of the time such as the novelist and playwright John Galsworthy, the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, the American ex-pat poet, Ezra Pound and the English writer and painter Wyndham Lewis.  Fergusson now had two homes and two distinct lives.  He had his base in Paris and the painting trips to the south of the country and he had the chance to stay with friends back in Britain, whether it was Samuel Peploe and his family in Edinburgh or his new friend Margaret Morris in London.

Christmas Time in the South of France by J.D.Fergusson (1922)

Christmas Time in the South of France by J.D.Fergusson (1922)

With the outbreak of the First World War he returned to Britain and, for the next four years, had to suffer the financial hardship brought about by the lack of sales of his work during the period of conflict.  After the war, he set up his own studio in London and this remained his base for the next ten years.  He exhibited his work on a regular basis and in 1928 he had four major exhibitions: in Chicago, London, Glasgow and New York.  In 1929, he along with Margaret Morris, returned to his beloved France and he set up his studio near the Parc de Montsouris, in Paris,  but always in the summers they made the trek south to live at Cap d’Antibes.  In 1939, at the start of the Second World War, Fergusson and Morris return to Britain and set up home in Glasgow and it was here that Fergusson spent the last years of his life.

Throughout his life Fergusson had rebelled against formal academic art and he now found himself a slightly beleaguered figure, who was neither a part of the academic fold nor was he welcomed by the Royal Scottish Academy.   Fergusson and his wife, Margaret Morris were leading lights in the Glasgow artistic scene and Fergusson did have his followers as many much younger artists were drawn to him and his art.  In 1940, he decided to form the New Art Club, and out of this emerged the New Scottish Group of painters of which he was the first president.

John Duncan Fergusson died in Glasgow in 1961, aged 87.   Throughout his life, whether he lived and worked in Paris, Antibes, London or Glasgow, his art was infused by his rebellious and independent nature.  He always maintained his belief in freedom of expression and his fervent commitment to a modern, non-academic art world.  He was a lover of colour which was summed up by a quote from him, recorded in William MacLellan’s 1943 book entitled J. D. Fergusson, Modem Scottish Painting.  Fergusson was quoted as saying:

“…Everyone in Scotland should refuse to have anything to do with black or dirty and dingy colours, and insist on clean colours in everything.   I remember when I was young any colour was considered a sign of vulgarity. Greys and blacks were the only colours for people of taste and refinement. Good pictures had to be black, grey, brown or drab. Well! let’s forget it, and insist on things in Scotland being of colour that makes for and associates itself with light, hopefulness, health and happiness…”

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The Scottish Colourists – Part 2, Francis Cadell

Self Portrait by Francis Cadell (c.1914)

Self Portrait by Francis Cadell (c.1914)

In my last blog, I introduced you to the four painters who would later become known as the Scottish Colourists.  In that first blog I looked at the life of Samuel Peploe and today I am concentrating on the life and works of another member of the group, Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell.   Cadell was born in Edinburgh in April 1883.  His father was Francis Cadell, an Edinburgh surgeon and his mother was Mary Boileau, a lady of French extraction.  His sister was Jean Cadell,  who would later become a well-known character actress.   As a boy, Cadell showed an aptitude for drawing and was educated at the Edinburgh Academy where he studied art.  When he was sixteen years of age and had completed his studies, on the advice of the Scottish landscape and figure painter, Arthur Melville, who was also the godfather to Cadell’s younger brother, Cadell went to Paris, chaperoned by his mother,  in order to study art at the Académie Julian.   He remained at the Academy for three years, during which time his exposure to the works of French artists of the time was to have an intense and enduring effect on his paintings.   During his first year at the Academy he was delighted to have one of his watercolours accepted for exhibiting at that year’s Paris Salon.  Whilst he was studying in the French capital he met one of the other Scottish Colourists, Samuel Peploe, and the two soon became friends.  The artwork of Peploe, who was twelve years his senior, was to prove to be a great influence on his work.

Mythical Scene by Francis Cadell (c.1907)

Mythical Scene by Francis Cadell (c.1907)

Cadell returns to Scotland in 1902 and, for the first time, exhibited work at the Royal Scottish Academy.  The genre of his works was varied.  He painted portraits as well as landscapes and also dabbled with mythical subjects, such as his work entitled Mythical Scene which he completed around 1907.  In 1906 he and his family moved to Munich and the following year he enrolled at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich.  A year later, in 1908, his mother died and the family returned home to Edinburgh.  That year, Cadell held his first one-man show at the gallery of the Edinburgh picture dealers, Doig, Wilson and Wheatley.  Cadell remained in Edinburgh until 1914, with just a brief time away on a painting trip to Venice, a city, which provided him with the ideal setting for his natural aptitude as a colourist.  Cadell loved everything about Edinburgh and was impressed by the city’s buildings.  He loved the beautiful architecture and the sumptuous interiors of some of the houses.  He was also very much in love with the stylishness and sophistication of its people and wanted to be part of that world.  In 1909, having established himself within Edinburgh society as a colourful, witty and entertaining host, he moved his studio to Great George Street and it was within the lavish interior of his residence that he held his regular soirées and entertained the “beautiful people” of Edinburgh.

Many of his paintings, which he completed in his Edinburgh studio before the war and during the 1920’s, often featured elegant female sitters with the backdrop, the interior of his impressive studio and these works were to become some of his best loved.  Cadell spent much time over the decoration and furnishing of his residence and before the war and throughout the 1920s, most of the paintings that he made at home centred on depictions of his studios or arrangements of elegant female models or still life objects within them. The works of the immediate pre-war period conjure up a sense of the refined lifestyle of Edinburgh’s upper-class, depicted with a palette which brightened as the war approached.

Iona by Francis Cadell

Iona by Francis Cadell

In 1912, Cadell made his first visit to the small Western Isle of Iona and fell in love with the beauty of the wild landscape.  He found it an ideal place for painting because of the light, the colours of the white sand beaches and blue skies, and Iona’s geological diversity resulting in differing coloured rock formations.  The rapid changing weather conditions around this area meant an en plein air artist had to work swiftly, but it was all worthwhile as the numerous stunning views provided plenty of incentive for keen artists.   The island of Iona is low-lying and this results in the light reflected from the surrounding sea intensifying the colour of the water as well as the green of its pastureland.  However, Cadell was of the opinion that any artist with any real sense of colour could only paint in Scotland during the summer and so he chose to work on Iona during the summer months, usually en plein air, and he would remain in Edinburgh and work in his studio during the darker days of spring and early autumn.   A fine example of his Iona paintings highlighting the differing colours of the sea, rocks and sand was completed by him in 1920 and simply entitled Iona.  After the First World War, Cadell would make annual pilgrimages to the island.   He was not the only artist at the time to be drawn to the beauty of this Inner Hebridean Island as it attracted many other artists, including the Scottish Colourists, Peploe and Fergusson, and the Scottish landscape artist, John MacLauchlin Milne.  In 1912 Cadell founded the Society of Eight.  This was a group of like-minded artists, who rejected the artistic establishment of the day and, whose work was characterised by the use of bright colours.

In 1914 he applied to join the army but was turned down on medical grounds so for the next few months he took work on a farm as a labourer with the intention of improving his physical condition and fitness.   All the exercise must have worked for in 1915 he re-applied to join the army and this time he was accepted and became a member of the 9th Argyll, 9th Royal Scots and the Sutherland Highlanders.

Portrait of a Lady in Black by Francis Cadell

Portrait of a Lady in Black by Francis Cadell

In 1921 Cadell completed one of his most popular works entitled Portrait of a Lady in Black.  The sitter for this painting was his long-time muse, the enigmatic and mysterious, Miss Bethia Don Wauchope, who over a period of fifteen years, posed for twenty five paintings by Peploe and Cadell.   In this work the setting is almost certainly the artist’s Ainslie Place studio in Edinburgh which Cadell had moved to the previous year.   Miss Bethia Don Wauchope was a wealthy heiress of independent means.   Little is known about Cadell’s muse accept that she was the eldest of four daughters, who never married and her father was Sir John Don-Wauchope, chairman of the Board of Education and Board of Lunacy.  There is no doubt that she loved the thought of being immortalised in paintings.   This was one of Cadell’s favourite works and we know he loved to work with Bethia  as he went on to create a series of paintings with the theme ‘Lady in a Black Hat’, which included, Black Hat, Miss Don Wauchope, The Black Hat and  in 1925 (Lady in Black) and 1926 (Interior, the Orange Blind).

The Harbour, Cassis by Francis Cadell (1924)

The Harbour, Cassis by Francis Cadell (1924)

In 1923 Cadell embarked on a painting trip to the beautiful small seaside town of Cassis, on the French Mediterranean coast. The following year he produced some of his most radiant Colourist works while staying with fellow Colourist, Peploe.   One of the works he painted there in 1923/4 was entitled The Harbour, Cassis and cleverly reflects the harsh Mediterranean light and the effect it has the surrounding buildings.  Here the sun is so intense and the colours more vibrant.  It is truly an artist’s paradise.  (I was fortunate to visit this idyllic place a few years ago and was amazed by its charm and beauty).

Like most good things in life – they seem to have to end, and for Francis Cadell his lavish lifestyle in Edinburgh, which we saw reflected in many of his paintings of elegant women and opulent interiors,  came to an end with the decline of the art market during the economic downturn of the late 1920s.  Cadell, who had led a somewhat pampered and indulgent way of life was, like many others, badly affected financially and he was forced to sell part of his multi-storeyed Ainslie Place property.  Things deteriorated further in the early 1930’s and sales of his works dwindled and he was even forced to move to a less expensive and salubrious residence.

In 1935 he was elected a member of the Royal Society of Watercolours and the following year he was made an Academician of the Royal Scottish Academy.   Sadly, by 1936, his health was starting to decline and the following year, 1937, Cadell died, aged 54, the cause being given as cancer and cirrhosis of the liver.

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The Scottish Colourists – Part 1, S.J.Peploe

Self-portrait by S.J.Peploe (c.1900)

Self-portrait by S.J.Peploe (c.1900)

It has often been the case that artists have been compartmentalised into groups which is then given an elaborate name.  The name is, more often or not, one which has not been made up by them but has come from an external source.  We know that Monet, Renoir, Degas and Sisley, to name just a few, did not sit around a French café table and come up with the name Impressionists for their group.  In fact the name Impressionists came from Louis Leroy, the art critic, journalist and some time contributor to the illustrated Parisian newspaper, Le Charivari.   In 1874, he had gone along to an exhibition of works by a group of artists which was being held at the photographer Nadar’s studio in the French capital.  The group of painters called themselves the Société anonyme des peintres, sculpteurs et graveurs, (The Anonymous society of painters, sculptors and engravers).  One of the paintings being exhibited was Claude Monet’s 1872 work entitled Impression: Soleil levant (Impression: Sunrise).  The title of Leroy’s review, in the April 27th edition of le Charivari, Exhibition of Impressionists, was taken directly from the title of Monet’s work.  Leroy’s review took the form of a fictional dialogue between two people who were viewing the exhibits with a measure of cynicism and disbelief at what they saw.     Commenting on Monet’s work one said:

 “…Impression I was certain of it. I was just telling myself that, since I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it — and what freedom, what ease of workmanship!   A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more finished than this seascape…”

Another example of this naming of a group of artists by somebody from outside the circle was that of the Fauves   The Fauves were a small group of artists who in the early 1900’s burst onto the French art scene with their wild, vibrant style that shocked their critics.  The name of the group was not thought up by the artists of the group such as Matisse, Derrain or Vlaminck but the term came from the influential but acerbic French art critic, Louis Vauxcelles, who first gave the group of painters the name les Fauves (the wild beasts).  The name came from a comment he made when he went to see the 1905 Salon d’Automne exhibition.  Their paintings were on display in the same room as a classical sculpture by Donatello.  Vauxcelles decried their offerings in comparison to the classical sculpture by saying that the sculpture was Donatello parmi les fauves (Donatello amongst wild beasts).

 In my next couple of blogs I am going to look at the works of four Scottish painters who were influenced by the French Impressionists and Fauvists and who exhibited their works in the early part of the twentieth century. It was not until almost twenty years later, in 1948, that the four painters were grouped together under the name “The Scottish Colourists” by the director of the Kelvingrove Gallery in Glasgow, Dr. Tom Honeyman, by which time three of the four painters were dead.  The four artists, often referred to by just the initials of their Christian names and their surnames, were Francis Campbell Boileau (F.C.B.) Cadell, Samuel John (S.J.) Peploe, John Duncan (J.D.) Fergusson and George Leslie (G.L.) Hunter.  This group of painters took up the mantle of Scottish art previously held by the group of Scottish painters, known as the Glasgow Boys, in the last decade of the nineteenth century.

S.J. Peploe, the eldest of the four, was born in Edinburgh in 1871.  He was the son of Robert Luff Peploe, an assistant secretary of the Commercial Bank of Scotland and his second wife, Anne.  He was educated at the Collegiate School in Edinburgh.  He was undecided as to what future path he should take and after finishing at school.  At one time he thought a military career was the career he wanted.  Then he considered a career in the church and ended up with a position as an apprentice in the Edinburgh legal firm of Scott & Glover.  He was unhappy in that work and decided to become an artist and in 1891 enrols at the Edinburgh School of Art.  Three years later Peploe heads for Paris to broaden his artistic education, where he lodges with another Scottish artist who was studying in Paris, the Aberdeen–born painter, Robert Brough who had been a fellow student with Peploe in Edinburgh.  In 1894 Peploe begins his studies at L’Académie Julian under the French Academic painter, William Bouguereau and at L’Académie Colarossi.  In 1895 Peploe visited Holland and is fascinated by the works of Frans Hals and brought back a number of reproductions of the Dutch artist’s works which he puts on the walls of his lodgings.

The Green Blouse by Samuel Peploe (c. 1904)

The Green Blouse by Samuel Peploe (c. 1904)

One of Peploe’s works which shows the influence of Frans Hals was a painting Peploe completed around 1904 entitled The Green Blouse.  The sitter for this portrait was Jeannie Blyth, a gypsy flower seller.  Peploe had used this teenager on a number of occasions.  It is thought that her dark colouring and total “at ease” attitude, as a sitter, made her the perfect model.

In 1895 Peploe returns to Scotland and takes up lodgings there and acquires a studio in Edinburgh.  He enrols in the Royal Scottish Academy life classes and went on to be awarded the Maclaine Watters medal for winning the RSA Art Prize.   The following year he exhibits work at both the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh and the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts.  Besides these two great artistic establishments there were other chances for up-and-coming new artists to exhibit their works.  One such place was the private gallery of the Edinburgh fine art dealers, Aitken Dott & Son who afforded Peploe his first solo exhibition in 1903.  Later, the other three Scottish Colourists would have solo exhibitions at this establishment.   In the summer of 1905 Peploe and fellow Scottish Colourist, Fergusson travel to Brittany on a painting trip and carry on their artistic tour taking in the sights of Dieppe, Paris and Paris-Plage.

The Lobster by S.J.Peploe (c.1903)

The Lobster by S.J.Peploe (c.1903)

It was around this time that Peploe started to paint still-lifes.  Peploe spent large amount time in the preparation for his still-life works even though the subject matter itself was not complicated.  His brother in law Frederick Porter wrote about Peploe’s obsession with his detailed preliminaries before starting painting and his struggle for perfection.  He wrote:

“… All his still lifes were carefully arranged and considered before he put them on canvas.  When this was done – it often took several days to accomplish – he seemed to have absorbed everything necessary for transmitting them to canvas.   The result was a canvas covered without any apparent effort.   If a certain touch was wrong it was soon obliterated by the palette knife.  The whole canvas had to be finished in one painting so as to preserve complete continuity.  If, in his judgement, it was not right then the whole painting was scrapped and painted again…”

The Lobster was one of Peploe’s still life paintings which he completed around 1903 and in this work there is a sense of drama in the way he has contrasted the strongly coloured objects against a dark background.  Look at the unusual way Peploe has included his vertical signature in the right hand side of the painting.  In some ways it looks like a vertical column of Japanese script and the colour scheme used, red, yellow and black as well as the sheen of the work affords it an effect which is very like the Japanese lacquer-work.  A few blogs ago, I talked about how all things Japanese had become very popular in the late nineteenth century in Europe.  This “craze” known as Japonisme was also becoming popular in Britain, and due to the Japonisme works of Whistler, it was influencing many artists including painters from Scotland, such as the Glasgow Boys and the Scottish Colourists.

In 1910 Peploe married Margaret Makay and the couple moved to Paris.  His son Willy was born that year.  He remained in France and carries on with his painting.  In June 1912 Peploe moves his family from Paris and takes up residence in Edinburgh and in 1914 his second son, Denis is born.   In 1917 after a number of solo exhibitions he is elected an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy and ten years later is elected as a member of the Royal Scottish Academy.  In 1928 he has an exhibition in New York at the Kraushaar Galleries.  In 1933, as well as continuing with his own painting, he taught the advanced life-class students at Edinburgh College.

 Samuel John (S.J.) Peploe died in October 1935, aged 64.

In my next blog I will look at the life of Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell, another of the Scottish Colourists.

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Gare Montparnasse, (The Melancholy of Departure) by Giorgio de Chirico

Gare Montparnasse, (The Melancholy of Departure) by Giorgio de Chirico (1914)

Gare Montparnasse, (The Melancholy of Departure) by Giorgio de Chirico (1914)

“…One must embrace all forms of art…”

With those words from the lecturer who gives us weekly Art History talks still ringing in my ears when I dared query the relevance of Surrealism, Abstract and Performance Art, I will, for his sake, attempt to seduce you with a modicum of Pittura Metafisica and talk about the life of its founder and main proponent and leave you to decide whether you can embrace my tutor’s concept.

Pittura Metafisica or Metaphysical Art was a movement formed by the Italian painter, writer and theatre designer, Giorgio de Chirico and is a term applied to his work in the early twentieth century and to the work of his friend Carlo Carrà.  So in a few words, what is Metaphysical Art?   It is a depiction of dream-like things with sharp contrasts of light and shadow which sometimes gives the impression of being slightly threatening and has a mysterious quality. There is often a feeling of neoclassicism about the works and in many instances there is a mood of depressing purposelessness and a scary-type remoteness of a world alienated from man and, by the way the artist has arranged completely unrelated objects in the work, has somehow created a secret, often magical meaning to the work with their recognizable iconography and their illusory depictions with their subverted one-point perspective.  Often within the paintings, regularly of types of architecture found in Mediterranean cities, one would see classical statues or what look like tailor’s mannequins or expressionless human beings.  To this was often added inanimate objects such as coloured toys, geometrical instruments, fruit and small realistic paintings.

Giorgio de Chirico was the elder son, born in Vólos, Greece in 1888, of Italian parents.  His mother was Gemma Cervetto,  a noblewoman of Genoese origin and his father, Evaristo, was from Sicily.  He had a brother Andrea, who was two years his junior, and the two would remain close friends and confidants until the death of their mother in 1936 at which time, they started to drift apart.  The parents had moved from Tuscany and were living in Greece as his father was an engineer who was involved in the overseeing of the construction of the Greek railway system in Thessaly.  Giorgio and his brother  had early parental encouragement to take an interest in art and in the stories from Greek mythology and this latter was probably made somewhat easier by the fact that de Chirico’s home town of Vólos was built on the area which was once the site of the ancient port of Ioclos, which was were Jason boarded his ship Argo accompanied by the Argonauts as they set sail in their quest to find the Golden Fleece.  De Chirico’s childhood health was not good and it is recorded that he suffered from numerous bouts of stomach disorders which could well be the reason for his ever increasing bouts of melancholy which would, in later life, turn towards a more serious form of depression and lead him to having a fairly jaundiced view of life.  His initial artistic training came at the age of seven when his father arranged for him to have drawing lessons from a Swiss painter, Emile Gilleron, who taught his young charge the fundamentals of drawing.  De Chirico completed and signed his first work, a depiction of a galloping horse, at the age of seven, which was acquired by the Austrian-Hungarian Consulate General in Vólos.  In 1899, his father moved the family from Vólos to Athens.

In 1903, at the age of fifteen, Giorgio attended the Athens Polytechnic, which at the time was both an engineering school and the Academy of Fine Art. Here he studied drawing and painting and received tuition from, amongst others, Georgios Roilos and Konstantinos Bolonakis, who were the most important and influential Greek painters of the late 19th-early 20th century.  De Chirico’s father died in 1905 and this event is thought to have been a contributing factor to Giorgio’s failure in his final Academy exams that same year.   In the autumn of the following year, the family left Greece and went to live in Munich where Giorgio enrolled at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.    It was during de Chirico’s eighteen month tenure at the Academy that he came across and was influenced by the artistic works of the Swiss Symbolist painter, Arnold Böcklin and the bizarre works of the German Symbolist painter and sculptor, Max Klinger.   It is thought that their art was one of the reasons why de Chirico began to reject naturalism and instead concentrate on more illusionary and imaginary subjects for his paintings.   He was also influenced by the literary works of the German philosophers, Schopenhauer, Weininger and Frederick Nietzsche.  It was Nietzsche who tried to persuade artists of the time to “refute reality”.

In March 1910, de Chirico left Germany and travelled to Milan to rejoin his mother.  He stayed there for six months before moving on to Florence the following year.  Whilst staying in the Tuscan city he studied the works of the great thirteenth century Florentine painter and architect Giotto de Bordone.   It was whilst in Florence that de Chirico began a series of works known as his Metaphysical Town Square paintings, which depicted deserted public squares with sombre monolithic arches which cast giant dark shadows.  The first painting in the series which he completed in 1910 was entitled The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon and the idea came to him after he spent an afternoon wandering around the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence.  He recalled that time and what he experienced on that day and explained his painting by saying:

“…One clear autumn afternoon I was sitting on a bench in the middle of the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence. It was of course not the first time I had seen this square…The whole world, down to the marble of the buildings and fountains, seemed to me to be convalescent…Then I had the strange impression I was looking at these things for the first time, and the composition of my picture came to my mind’s eye. Now each time I look at that painting I see that moment. Nevertheless the moment is an enigma to me, for it is inexplicable…”

In July 1911 he and his mother left Florence and headed for Paris where his brother Andrea was living but on his way they stopped off for a few days at Turin.  De Chirico liked Turin and was intensely stimulated by what he saw in that city and often referred to the city’s architecture, with all its archways and piazzas, as the ‘metaphysical aspect’ of Turin, something which would shape his art in the future.  De Chirico arrived in the French capital that same month, joining his brother Andrea and it was through him that Giorgio de Chirico was introduced to Pierre Laprade who held the powerful position as one of the jurists at the Salon d’Automne.  De Chirico managed to get three of his works exhibited at that 1912 Salon and in 1913 exhibited paintings at the Salon des Indépendants, one of which he sold.  Soon his works became popular and he was introduced to the Parisian art dealer, Paul Guillaume with whom he signed a contract to produce more works for sale.  At the time, Guillaume Apollinaire, who was looked upon as the apostle of modern art, noticed de Chirico’s canvases and the two met at one of Apollinaire’s soirées.  Apollinaire was the first person to coin the term metaphysical to de Chirico’s art in an article he wrote for the left-wing French newspaper,  L’Intransigeant.  It was also through Apollinaire that Giorgio de Chirico and his brother, Andrea met Pablo Picasso and the Fauvist painter, André Derain.  Apollinaire showed great interest in the Giorgio’s work and soon became a great supporter of the artist introducing his work to the late Surrealist painters such as Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Giorgio Morandi, and René Magritte.  The Surrealists were influenced by his paintings but de Chirico had a love-hate relationship with them and when his style changed he was criticised by the Surrealists and he turned on them referring to them as “the leaders of modernistic imbecility.”

At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, de Chirico decided to leave Paris and return to Florence.  In June 1915, de Chirico and his brother were conscripted into the Italian army and sent to join their regiment in Ferrara.  In 1917, he suffered a mental breakdown and was admitted to the town’s military hospital.  It was whilst at the hospital that he met the artist Carlo Carrà and together they decided to launch the art movement la scuola metafisica (Metaphysical Painting movement).  When the war ended in 1918, the two artists set out the basic theories of the Pittura Metafisica and de Chirico published their ideas in the form of articles for the magazine Valori Plastici, a newly founded Rome-based magazine which focused on the aesthetic ideals and metaphysical artwork. The articles focused on his belief that there should be a return to traditional methods and iconography.  Although their Metaphysical Painting movement and ideas influenced the Surrealist painters of the time, the movement was short-lived and ended shortly after the two founders, de Chirico and Carrà fell out in 1919.

 From 1918 de Chirico’s work was exhibited extensively in Europe.  He returned to Paris in November 1924 but he no longer had the support from his friend Apollinaire who had died six years earlier.  This time during his stay in the French capital he became friends with the surrealist painters Max Ernst, René Magritte, Yves Tanguy and Salvador Dalí. In 1929, Giorgio de Chirico married the Russian ballet dancer Raissa Gurievich Kroll and he worked with the Russian Ballet company of Sergei Diaghlev and during the next six months designed scenery and costumes for them. His first marriage ended in 1930 and he remarried that same year to another Russian émigré Isabella Pakswer.  This second marriage lasted for the rest of his life. In that year he also published an autobiographic novel Hebdomeros, Le peintre et son génie chez l’ecrivain.  In August 1935 he moved to New York, buoyed by the success of his earlier exhibitions in the city.  He remained there until January 1938 and then headed back to Italy eventually settling down in Rome.  Giorgio de Chirico died in Rome in 1978, aged 90.

The featured painting by de Chirico I am featuring today is entitled Gare Montparnasse, (The Melancholy of Departure), which he completed in 1914 just before he left France for Italy.  It is a classical example of his early work.  The setting for the work is the Paris station Gare Montparnasse and we see the long shadows and deep colors of early evening.  It is a dream-like, somewhat nightmarish depiction and some art historians believe that the subject of the painting coincided with a period of acute homesickness experienced by de Chirico whose overwhelming and all-consuming thought was to leave Paris, board a train and return to Italy.  One can only conjecture on some items he has included in the work and one can only ask questions which remain unanswered about other objects.  In many of de Chirico’s works, including this one, a steam train is featured and this could well be due to his early memories of his father, the railway engineer, and his fascination with rail transportation.  The painting is strange in many ways.  Look at how the smoke from the steam train rises vertically and yet the flags on the clock tower and the building to the left flutter furiously in a wind coming from right to left.  Was there a reason for this inconsistency?   There is absolutely no perspective in the way the artist has depicted the yellow road on which we see two figures and yet to the left of the road there is a structure which visibly recedes into the distance.  So why apply the laws of perspective to one element of the painting and not the other?  The strangest part of this painting is the inclusion of a large bunch of bananas in the right foreground of the painting.  This is not the first time such an object has been incorporated into his paintings, but what is the significance of this fruit with a French railway station?  I am sure art historians have had a field day postulating on the meaning!

I will leave you to decide whether you can take on board my art lecturer’s advice to “embrace all forms of art”.  For me his advice is a little hard to swallow!

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