Virgin and Child with Saints by Rogier van der Weyden

Sketch of Madonna and Child with Saints

Sketch of Madonna and Child with Saints

Do you like jigsaw puzzles?  Do you like a mystery?    I hope so as today my featured paintings are just part of an artistic and mysterious jigsaw puzzle.  I will be looking at the three remaining pieces of an original oil on wood work of art and a sketch which may give a clue as to what the original complete painting may have looked like.  From the three remaining pieces which still exist, one can tell it must have been a truly beautiful work of art.  The artist who painted the work was the great early Netherlandish painter Rogier van der Weyden.  I featured one of his best known works entitled The Descent from the Cross in My Daily Art Display on November 15th 2010 and today I am pleased to feature another of his fine works.

Rogier van der Weyden was born in, what is now, the Belgium town of Tournai around 1399.  His name at that time was actually Rogier de le Pasture which literally translated meant Roger of the Pasture.   His father Henri de le Pasture was a knife manufacturer.  At the age of 26 he married Elisabeth Goffaert, the daughter of a Brussels shoemaker, and they had four children.  In 1436 he was given the position of stadsschilder, (painter to the town), of Brussels, a post especially created for him.  It was whilst living in Brussels, which was then a Dutch-speaking town that he began to use the Dutch version of his name: Rogier van der Weyden.

The complete painting I am featuring today was entitled Virgin and Child with Saints, but it does not exist anymore.   However three parts of the work have survived.  One of these is entitled The Magdalen Reading and is housed at the National Gallery in London.  The other two pieces entitled Head of Saint Joseph and Head of Female Saint (St Catherine?) are to be found in the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon.  It is believed that all three pieces were once part of a large Sacra Conversazione painted by Rogier van der Weyden some time between 1435 and 1438A Sacra Conversazione is an Italian phrase which literally translates to “holy conversation”.  The phrase is designated to works of art, normally altarpieces, which depict the Virgin and Child flanked by attendant saints, who are grouped in a single panel, rather than a multi-panelled polyptych.  From the fifteenth century the sacra conversazione began to replace the polyptych.   The word “conversazione” alludes to the characters in the painting being in intimate conversation with one another.  This depiction of the saints communing with each other was unusual as normally in religious works of the time the saints would be shown simply meditating or reading and it was not until a century later that they took on a more animated quality.

Although the original and complete painting does not exist any longer we have some idea what it looked like as there exists a drawing of the almost complete work in the National Museum of Fine Arts in central Stockholm which was drawn by a follower of Rogier van der Weyden.  Although it is an incomplete sketch, it gives one an idea of what the original finished painting looked like.   In this drawing we see standing on the left a bishop saint with a mitre on his head.  In his left hand he holds his crosier, his pastoral staff, and his right hand is raised as he makes a blessing.    If you look to the right of this figure you can see there is a narrow vertical gap with a few curved but faint vertical lines and it is in this gap that art historians believe was the lower part of the kneeling figure of the female saint, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, a fourth century martyr, whose head and shoulders appear in the Lisbon painting. 

Head of Female Saint (St Catherine?) by Rogier van der Weyden ? (before 1438)

Head of Female Saint (St Catherine?) by Rogier van der Weyden ? (before 1438)

However, some art historians, who have studied the three pieces of the painting, have come to the conclusion that the depiction of Saint Catherine may not have been painted by van Weyden himself.  The Scottish art historian, Lorne Campbell, an expert on early Netherlandish paintings, wrote in his 2004 book, Van der Weyden, that the depiction of the head of Saint Catherine was “obviously less well drawn and less successfully painted than the figure in the Magdalen “and as far as he was concerned the image of Saint Catherine may have been painted by one of the members of van Weyden’s workshop. 

The next figure along in the sketch is a bearded barefooted figure holding an open book.  This is thought to be John the Baptist.  Seated to the right of him is the Virgin who holds the Christ Child in her lap.  The Christ Child is wriggling himself out of his mother’s grasp as he tries to look at another book which the kneeling man, on the right, is showing him.  This man is believed to be John the Evangelist.  As I said earlier, this drawing seems to be an unfinished sketch of the original painting, not just because of the empty space between the bishop and John the Baptist but more importantly because it does not show what is believed to have been the complete right hand side of the original painting, part of which forms the work held in London’s National Gallery entitled The Magdalen Reading.   Because the sketch does not show the right hand section of the original painting it is believed that this was the first section to have been cut from the original.

The Magdalen Reading by Rogier van der Weyden (before 1438)

The Magdalen Reading by Rogier van der Weyden (before 1438)

So let us examine both the sketch and the Magdalen Reading painting and see if we can envisage the two being joined.    Look at the robes of the figure kneeling in the extreme right of the sketch.  See how they lie along the floor but suddenly stop at the edge of the sketch.   Look carefully at how the folds of this robe in the black and white sketch compare with the folds of the red robe on the floor to the left in the Magdalen Reading, close to where we see the bottom of a stick or cane which is being held by somebody who is not fully shown in the painting.  The stick touches the red flowing robes which are almost certain to be the robes of the kneeling John the Evangelist of the sketch.

So now we have what we believe is the bottom right hand part of the original painting in the guise of The Magdalen Reading.  This fragment of the original painting depicts a woman with pale skin and high cheekbones.   This is Mary Magdalen.  She sits piously reading a holy book, the cover of which includes a chemise of white cloth, which protects the precious tome.  We see her deep in contemplation as she reads. According to art historian, Lorne Campbell, the book she is reading looks similar to a 13th century French Bible.   She seems quite oblivious to those around her.  Her head is tilted so that her eyes are shyly turned from us, the viewer.    She sits on a red cushion and leans back slightly and relaxes against a kind of wooden sideboard.   On the floor by her side is a white alabaster jar.  This is her traditional attribute in Christian art as the Gospels tell of her bringing spices in it to the tomb of Jesus.  Look how beautifully van Weyden has portrayed her.  She wears a long green robe which is pulled tightly below her bust by a dark blue sash.  From beneath the robe we catch a glimpse of the gold brocade of her underskirt which is hemmed with many jewels.  Van Weyden has spent much time in depicting detail, such as the many folds of her green robe, or the rosary beads dangling from Saint Joseph’s hand. 

In the background we have a view through a window which overlooks a canal in the distance.  On this side of the canal positioned on the wall of the garden there is an archer and across the canal we catch sight of a figure walking along the opposite canal bank.  The background and the headless torso are visible to us today but that was not always the case as the background of the painting had been over-painted with a thick layer of brown paint.   It was not until the painting was cleaned in 1956 that the figure behind Mary Magdalen, the red robe of the kneeling figure on the left and the landscape view through the window were revealed. 

 

Head of St Joseph by Rogier van der Weyden (before 1438)

Head of St Joseph by Rogier van der Weyden (before 1438)

But what about the top right hand part of the original painting.   For this we must go to the painting held in Lisbon’s Museu Calouste Gulbenkianand study their painting entitled Head of Saint Joseph.   If you place this painting above the Magdalen Reading painting you can see that the head and shoulders of the man in the Lisbon painting fit perfectly with the lower torso of the “head-less” figure shown standing to the side of Mary Magdalen in the London painting.  The man in the Lisbon painting has been identified as Saint Joseph and if you look carefully at his right shoulder you will see a slight hint of a red sleeve which can be clearly seen continuing on the “headless” torso in the Magdalen Reading painting.  In one hand he holds a walking stick or cane and in the other he holds rosary beads made of rock crystals.   So we now have managed to place the three individual paintings into the one work…….or do we?

I raise the hint of doubt as not all art historians agree that the three are part of one whole, especially when it comes to the head of Saint Catherine.  Let us look more closely at the Lisbon painting, Head of Female Saint (St Catherine?).  Look carefully at the background and the window opening behind her and that of the one shown in the background of the Magdalen Reading painting.  They are different in design, one is plain and one is bevelled and this to some art historians, such as Martin Davies, who wrote about the painting in his work Rogier van der Weyden’s Magdalen Reading and John Ward, who wrote an article about the painting entitled A Proposed Reconstruction of an Altarpiece by Rogier van der Weyden in the Art Bulletin (vol. 53, 1971. 27–35), means that Head of the Female Saint was not part of the original work. 

Notwithstanding whether I believe the three paintings once formed part of one original work, I only wish I could have seen the work as a whole before it was split up.

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Religious paintings, Rogier van der Weyden | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Portraiture of Christen Købke

Self Portrait by Christen Købke (1833)

Self Portrait by Christen Købke (1833)

Today, as I promised in my last blog, I am going to continue looking at the life of the Danish painter Christen Købke and concentrate on some of his intriguing and exquisite portraiture work.

Portrait of the Artist's Wife,Susanne Cecilie Købke by Christen Købke (c.1836)

Portrait of the Artist’s Wife,Susanne Cecilie Købke by Christen Købke (c.1836)

In my last blog, I had reached the year 1836 in the life of Købke and he had just completed a series of works featuring the Frederiksborg Castle.   A year later, in November 1837, Købke married Susanne Cecilie Købke, whom he called Sanne, and shortly afterwards painted a portrait of his young bride.  The following August after gaining a travel stipend awarded to him by the Royal Danish Academy, Købke leaves his wife and home and along with the Danish decorative artist, Georg Christian Hilker, sets off on a two year painting expedition around Europe.  On their way to Italy they call at Dresden and Munich and pass through Austria before arriving in Rome on December 8th 1838.  It is in the Italian capital that Købke meets up with many other Danish artists living in the Eternal City as well as the sculptor and medallist, Frederik Krohn, his brother-in-law, who had married his sister Susanne.  In May 1839 Købke, along with Hilker and another Danish artist, Constantin Hansen journey to Naples and later to Capri where they stay until the end of that year painting out in the open air.  The following year Købke spends months examining the ruins of Pompeii where he completes a series of sketches and paintings.

View of Marina Picola on Capri by Christen Købke (1846)

View of Marina Picola on Capri by Christen Købke (1846)

In September 1840 Købke returns home to Copenhagen and in June 1841, Købke’s wife Susanne gives birth to their first child, a son, Hans Peter Carl.  In 1842 Købke applies for membership to the Royal Danish Academy which accepts his proposal of a landscape work featuring Capri as his membership piece.   He was given two years in which to complete the painting.  In 1843 Købke’s father, Peter, dies.  By the end of 1844 Købke has still to complete his membership piece for the Academy but fortunately they give him a two year extension.  In 1845 his second child was born, a daughter, Juliane Emilie.   In 1846 he had finally finished the painting entitled View of Marina Picola on Capri and submits it to the Academy.  To his amazement and disappointment the Academy rejects the work. 

Christen Købke's gravestone

Christen Købke’s gravestone

On February 7th 1848, Christen Købke died of pneumonia, aged 37 albeit his family maintained that the rejection of his painting by the Academy was a contributing factor in his death.  Købke was buried in Assistens Cemetery in Copenhagen.   He left behind his wife Susanne and children Hans and Juliane.  His wife died the following year and his children were looked after by Købke’s sister Sophie.

 

Today’s blog concentrates on some of Købke’s portraiture.   Portraiture is not simply the representation of a specific individual or individuals.  It is not just documentary evidence of a person’s features.  A good portrait looks into the soul of the person and can be used to define who the person is and by so doing the finished work gives us a clear and coherent sense of the real person we see before us on the canvas.   If one thinks about a media outlet, such as a newspaper office, and think about the use of their photograph archives.   Take an example of an editorial the newspaper wants to put out an article about a celebrity.  They go to their photo archives and pick a photo which corroborates the story that they are writing.   In other words, the picture  gives one an idea about that person’s character but of course we need to remember that the newspaper can manipulate their story by cleverly using a photograph simply to prove their point, whether it be true or false.  This is the same with portraiture.  The portrait artist is able to manipulate his or her work so that the finished depiction can present certain characteristics or status of the sitter, which the sitter wants us to see. The portraitist can also add objects to the portrait so as to represent an idea, such as wealth by adding luxury furnishings or by depicting the sitter in expensive clothing.  They can add smouldering candles or a skull to create a Vanitas painting in which they want us to contemplate the passing of time and our own mortality.  In other words, the secret to great portraiture is not just how well the finished likeness is to the sitter but about how much it tells us about the sitter, about his or her place in society and their character.

 

As far as the Academic “pecking order” was concerned portraiture was secondary to History Painting in the painting genres.  Portraiture has been around since the Ancient Egyptians with their wall paintings depicting their gods and their Pharoes.  We saw portraiture in the form of sculptures and on the coinage in Ancient Greek and Roman times.  The Renaissance brought us portraits of the royalty, nobility and religious leaders and later we were to see portraits of the nouveau riche and the bourgeoisie classes.  In present times the art world is flooded with portraits of so-called “celebrities”.  All the sitters for these portraits wanted the artist to create a portrait which would confirm their new position in society.

Christen Købke’s portraits differ from many of his contemporaries as he liked to depict the sitter in such a way so that we could read their character from their expressions.  He had decided what their character was and translated that into the painting.  Some of his best portraiture was a simple head and shoulder depiction with no external accoutrements such as furniture or items which could be used to tell the story of the sitter.  The story of the sitter was in the face – the facial expression was to tell its own story.  His works were the culmination of his probing of the personality of the sitter.  Throughout his life, Købke was to complete numerous portraits.  The majority were single-figure portraits whose image was full of character.  However this intense searching for character in a person and his disinterest in having tell-tale inclusion of items advertising their status was in some ways counterproductive as for many would-be major portrait commissions that was just what sitters wanted and Købke’s modus operandi could well explain his lack of many lucrative commissions.  When we look at many of his portraits they are of family members, friends and acquaintances and not for rich fee-paying clients.  It was their loss as his outstanding talent as a portrait artist cannot be questioned.

His self-portrait, at the start of this blog, was the only one he ever painted and it was completed around 1833 when he was twenty-three years old.  It is a head and shoulder pose against a plain dark background which can thus not distract our eyes from looking directly at the sitter.  Although now in his early twenties there is a boyish look to him and that is enhanced by his ruddy-red cheeks, a facial quality which allegedly went down well with the local Italian girls when he visited their country some years later.  He has an engaging countenance and a look of sincerity.

Portrait of the Artist's Mother, Cecilia Margrete, née Petersen by Christen Købke (1829)

Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, Cecilia Margrete, née Petersen by Christen Købke (1829)

Købke also painted his parents portraits.   Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, Ceilia Margarete, née Petersen was completed in 1829 when he was nineteen years of age. Six years later, he completed a portrait of his father, entitled Portrait of the Artist’s Father, Master Baker Peter Købke.  

Portrait of Inger Margrethe Høyen, née Schrøder, The Art Historian N.L. Høyen's Mother by Christen Købke (1832)

Portrait of Inger Margrethe Høyen, née Schrøder, The Art Historian N.L. Høyen’s Mother by Christen Købke (1832)

One of my favourite portraiture works of Købke was one he completed in1832.  It was a portrait of Inger Høyen, who was the mother of his friend and mentor, the art historian, Niels Høyen.   The portrait, simply entitled Portrait of Inger Margrethe Høyen née Schrøder, was completed by Købke in 1832.  It is a beautifully painted work brimful of characterisation.  It is a very sympathetic depiction of an old lady.  Inger was a prosperous, self-made woman, the daughter of a Jutland gardener who went on to marry a man who worked as a distiller in a local brewery and who would later go on to run his own distillery.  By all accounts she was a mild-mannered but astute person who possessed an imaginative quality.  Look how Købke has portrayed her.  Notwithstanding the wrinkles of time on her face he has clearly depicted her as a woman with a caring and an unassuming nature, an unpretentious character whose face radiates charm and kindness.

Portrait of the Landscape Painter, Frederik Sødring by Christen Købke (1832)

Portrait of the Landscape Painter, Frederik Sødring by Christen Købke (1832)

The final portrait I want to show you by Købke differs from most of his portraiture as there is a background to the painting and has objects included in the depiction which were there as an aid to telling the story of the sitter and his friendship with the artist.   It is a carefully crafted work and needs to be studied carefully.  As I told you in the last blog, Købke, in 1832, just before completing his Academy training, rented a studio with his friend and fellow student, Frederik Sødring in Toldbodvej, which was close to the Citadel.  The street is now renamed Esplanaden.  It was in that same year that Købke painted his friends portrait as he sat in their studio.  The painting is entitled Portrait of a Landscape Painter Frederik Sødring.  What is amazing about this painting is that Købke was just twenty-three years of age when he completed this work. He gave the portrait to Sødring as a twenty-third birthday present and on the reverse of the canvas there is an inscription written by Sødring:

“…Presented to me by my friend!  Ch: Købke on my birthday 31 May 1832…”

 

It is an intimate portrait done by friend, of a friend.  I am struck by Sødring’s youthful ruddy cheeks.   Before us we see Sødring relaxing, partly slouched in an upright wooden chair, in a somewhat  inelegant fashion.  I wonder how the sitter and artist decided on the pose.   Despite his somewhat ungainly posture, there is an air confidence about him.   In his left hand he holds his palette whilst in his right hand, which rests on his leg, he holds a palette knife. He is ready to start painting.   Sødring is wearing a striped shirt and brocaded silk waistcoat with a black velvet collar.   Look how well the folds of the crisp cotton shirt and the brocade are beautifully painted by the artist.   What did Købke want the painting tell the world about his friend and their friendship?  Can you imagine the conversation between the two artists during the hours the portrait was being painted?  

Købke has also managed to give us the impression that their studio was not pristine but somewhat untidy, somewhat cluttered – a working space.  The setting appears “stage-managed” and items have been added to the portrait which mean something to the two men.   Behind the sitter we see a door with an ornate brass latch and on the door is hanging an oval mirror.  Why would you hang a mirror on a door?   Maybe the answer is in the reflection we can see in the mirror of an easel and a picture frame.  By including these images in this way it allowed Købke to not have to fill the painting with the actual easel or have his friend sitting before it.  The depiction of mirrored reflections within a painting was used by many artists, especially the Dutch and Flemish painters.  Famous paintings incorporating mirrored reflections include the Arnolfini Portrait by Van Eyck and Velazquez’s painting Las Meninas.

Also on the doors are a number of copper engravings, some of ancient Roman ruins and one of a cow.  After Købke’s death in February 1848 an itinerary was made of all his works and those of other artists he had collected.  Amongst the list was five etchings by Paulus Potter, the Dutch painter, who was famous for his depiction of cows and the one we see in the Sødring portrait is more than likely to be one of those.  Below the mirror we see an accomplished still life depiction on a mahogany table incorporating a potted ivy plant and some sketch books.  The ivy is a plant which always clings to its support, and in art symbolises attachment and undying affection and its inclusion in the painting is probably a reminder of the close friendship between the two aspiring artists, Sødring and Købke.  The items placed on the table are of different textures and subtle colours which add an element of contrast.  Amongst them is an eye-catching red box, which because of its vibrant colour, captures our attention and draws our eyes towards the table and its contents.  To the right of the seated artist, leaning against the panelled wall, is a portable artist’s folding stool which alludes to Sødring’s artistic forte, plein air landscape paintings.  The painting is housed in the Hirschprung Collection, the Copenhagen art museum which is located close to the much larger Danish National Gallery.  The works of art in this smaller museum concentrate on paintings of the Danish Golden Age from 1800 to 1850.

 Sadly during Købke’s lifetime his artistic work was not appreciated and he received few commissions.  His life was relatively short and his total output was small compared to many of his contemporaries and much of it was held by family members.  However, as is often the case, Købke is now looked upon by art historians as one of the most distinguished Danish painters of his time.  He is now thought of as one of the most gifted among the Danish Golden Age painters.

 

I am ending this blog on a personal note.   My first blog was published on November 9th 2010 and today’s blog is my 500th !   Back at the start of this venture I had no idea that I would complete so many but as long as I get enjoyment out of researching the works and the artists I will try to carry on a little longer.   I was always determined that my blog should not just be a painting and its title.  I wanted to write more about the subject of the painting, the life of the artist and a little about the history of the time.   When I look back at the early blogs I see I wrote far fewer words but I was able to publish more often.  However, recently, it has been my intention to write in more depth and publish less blogs and although the “Daily” in the title of my blog is now a misnomer I feel the “more in-depth but less frequent” publications are for the best.  I would like to thank the many of you who have favourably commented on the blogs and to the couple of people I have upset with my words, I apologise.

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Christen Købke, Danish artists, Portraiture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Frederiksborg Castle paintings by Christen Købke

Frederiksborg Castle in the Evening Light by Christen Købke (1835)

Frederiksborg Castle in the Evening Light by Christen Købke (1835)

The featured painter in my next two blogs is the Danish artist, Christen Købke, who lived in Denmark in the first half of the nineteenth century, a period which was to become known as den danske guldalder (the Danish Golden Age).  The paintings I am looking in this blog feature the Frederiksborg Palace, sometimes referred to as the Frederiksborg Castle, the majority of which was built as the royal residence of King Christian IV the ruler of the joint kingdoms of Denmark and Norway between 1602 and 1620.

Christen Købke was born in May 1810 in Copenhagen.  He had an unremarkable upbringing.  He came from a well-to-do family, at the head of which was his father, Peter Berendt Købke and his mother Cecilie Margrete Købke (née Petersen).  Christen was one of eleven children, five boys and six girls.  His father Peter, like his father before him, was a baker and owned a bakery in the town of Hillerød, some twenty miles north of Copenhagen, which was also the location of the Frederiksborg Castle.  At the age of five, the Købke family moved to Copenhagen where his father had been awarded a fifteen year contract to serve as head baker to the large military Citadel, known as the Kastellet.  This was a very lucrative contract for it had a guaranteed clientele and secured the family’s future prosperity.

By all accounts, Christen was a sickly child and various illnesses would trouble him throughout his life.  When he was eleven years old he contracted rheumatic fever and was bedridden for a number of months, following which came a long period of convalescence.  It was during this enforced resting period that Christen started to sketch and began to formulate the idea of becoming an artist.   His parents supported their son’s desire to study art and in May 1822 just after his twelfth birthday, they arranged for him to begin studying at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, which was housed in the Charlottenborg Palace, close to Købke’s home in the Citadel.  It was a slow process and it was not until he was in his fifth year at the establishment that he began figure and life drawing.  However one should remember his young age and accept that the time at the academy allowed him to mature and develop at a slow and calculated pace.  His lessons covered such things as the theory of perspective, mathematics, anatomy, history, mythology and the history of art.  It was an all-round education for prospective artists and its art students included the German painter, Caspar David Friedrich and Johan Christian Dahl.

Initially he studied under the tutorship of the eighty-year old Christian Lorentzen and later in 1828, after Lorentzen’s death, he was taken on by the Danish painter, Christoffer Eckersberg,  for his final four years at the academy.  Under the tutelage of Eckersberg, Købke’s art thrived and by the end of his studies he had become a gifted artist.  With the help of Eckersberg, he had mastered the art of working from nature.  In 1832 just before the end of his academic training he, along with a fellow student, the landscape painter, Frederick Hansen Sødring, rented a studio close to the Kastellet.  It was to be their artistic base from which they were to launch their artistic careers.  During his time at the Academy Købke received a number of awards for his work.   He never achieved a gold medal but was presented with the Academy’s small silver medallion in 1831 and a large silver medallion in 1833.

In 1933 his father’s contract with the military came to an end and he, at the age of 62, decided to retire and so, along with his family, moved from the Citadel to a large and grand house in Blegdammen, which was situated just outside the ramparts of the Citadel.

My featured works by Købke depict the magnificent Fredriksborg Castle, which lies some twenty miles north of Copenhagen.  It is located on three small islands in the middle of the Slotsøen, the Palace Lake, and is surrounded by large formal Baroque-style gardens.  Købke’s paintings of the castle were completed between 1834 and 1836.

Shortly after Købke had finished at the Academy he visited Fredriksborg Castle where he met the art historian, Neils Høyen.  Høyen at the time was living in the castle, cataloguing the royal portrait collection.  Høyen was to be a great influence on the life of Købke. He was an art critic and art historian, who vigorously promoted Danish nationalistic art, whether it was through literature or works of art.   He, like Købke, had studied at the Academy and later returned there and gave lectures to the students.  In 1836 he became the first Professor of Art History at the University of Copenhagen.  More importantly he was a founder member of the Kunstforeningen, the Copenhagen Art Union in 1827 and in 1847 he established the Nordic Art Society.     The Art Union, amongst other things, would sponsor competitions.  In its competition of 1834 one of the subjects for that year’s competition was landscape painting, which highlighted a Danish locale. Another that same year called for an interior or exterior view of a noteworthy or characteristic Danish building or public place.  Høyen persuaded Købke to paint views of the Fredriksborg Castle and submit them for the competition.  For Høyen, this would also be an opportunity for Købke to record, through his art, a piece of Danish national heritage.

One of the Small Towers on Frederiksborg Castle by Christen Købke (1834)

One of the Small Towers on Frederiksborg Castle by Christen Købke (1834)

Købke completed the first of the castle paintings in 1834.  It was a work which just depicted a close-up of one of the small towers of the castle and was entitled One of the Small Towers on Frederiksborg Castle. It was a small work just measuring 26cms x 19cms.  In this painting we have a birds-eye view of the roof of the castle and see a large stork perched on one of the chimney tops, eyeing his or her mate as they fly off over the fields.  Købke so liked the finished work that he produced a larger version of it, which he gave to his parents and which hung on the wall of their dining room.  It is currently housed in the Danish Museum of Art and Design in Copenhagen.

Roof Ridge of Fredericksborg Castle with View of the Lake by Christen Købke (1834)

Roof Ridge of Fredericksborg Castle with View of the Lake by Christen Købke (1834)

Shortly after the completion of those painting Købke finished his large work (177cms x 171cms) entitled Roof Ridge of Fredericksborg Castle with View of the Lake.  There is emptiness about this work as the majority of the canvas is virtually taken up by a sky which is both uninspiring and unimaginative.   In fact all that we see is the roof line, a chimney, and a tower.  Further afield we have the lake and the small town of Hillerød.   These paintings did not fulfill Høyen’s criteria that art should record the country’s national treasures and yet people recognized the castle from the simple isolated details in the painting so maybe they did partly follow Høyen’s dictates.

Frederiksborg Castle by J.C Dahl (1814)

Frederiksborg Castle by J.C Dahl (1814)

However, Købe’s third painting of the castle, and the one shown at the top of the blog, entitled Frederiksborg Castle in the Evening Light, fulfilled Høyen’s romantic nationalist ambitions.   It is a magnificent work measuring 72cms x 103cms.  The castle had been the subject of paintings by many artists before Købke.  He, like many before him, decided to chose the view as seen from the other side of the lake.  Johan Christian Dahl, the Norwegian artist, had painted the same view in 1814 and 1817.

It had been a very trying period in Købke’s life.  The time deadline for producing a work for the Fine Art Society exhibition along with the technical challenges thrown up by the work took their toll on him both physically and mentally.  He wrote to his sister, Conradine, during this time telling her of the problems he was having and the stress it was causing.  It would appear that she was the most sympathetic of his family members and a good listener and it was with her he liked to stay when he found the stress unbearable.  In his letter to her, he wrote:

 “…I am taking my refuge with you tonight, as I know with you I will find a friendly place and I need to do so once in a while to unburden my mind….I have difficulties lately as my spirit has been under pressure, mainly because of the burden of my work and the bad weather and is always the case with me my body suffers from this…”

Whether he had some doubts as to whether the work would do well in the exhibition one will never know but we do know he started a second version which he was going to enter in to the exhibition instead of his initial painting but he failed to complete it in time for the exhibition deadline so he put forward his original offering.   Alas, it did not win.  There were some critical comments about errors of perspective in the work and maybe that is why his contemporary, Jørgen Roed, carried off the first prize.   However, Købke had the consolation that the Society purchased the work.

 Frederiksborg Castle.  View near the Møntbro Bridge by Christen  Købke (1836)

Frederiksborg Castle. View near the Møntbro Bridge by Christen Købke (1836)

The final depiction of Frederiksborg Castle by Købke, which is my favourite was completed in 1836 and entitled Frederiksborg Castle.  View near the Møntbro Bridge.  This work depicts just part of the castle.  Unlike the other works this is not one of architectural accuracy as Købke has use artistic license to change some of the landscape, removing a promontory from the lake and adjusted the foliage in the foreground enabling us to get a clear view of the castle foundations as seen through the arches of the bridge, which in reality was not possible.  I like the colours used.  The sky is a delicate and pale blue.  The trees and the foliage are painted in restrained and somewhat muted greens whilst the brickwork of the castle walls has a pinkish-red tone.

So Høyen was well pleased with nationalist subject matter depicted in Købke’s Frederiksborg Castle works but what of the artist himself.  What did he think of Høyen’s views on nationalistic art?  From a passage in a letter to a friend we can see he was at best confused by Høyen’s views and somewhat cynical.  He wrote:

 “…What have politics, nationality and taxes to do with painterly effects and beautiful lines?   What does national art mean?   Does it mean politically Danish from border to border and all things within those boundaries?  Or does it mean Nordic, including Nordic history and the Sagas?…. No, just as the same sun shines over the entire world, art has no boundaries; it serves only beauty and truth…”

 In my next blog I will look at the latter years of Christen Købke’s life and his beautifully crafted portraiture.

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Art display, Christen Købke, Danish artists | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The War Series by George Bellows

Massacre at Dinant by George Bellows (1918)

Massacre at Dinant by George Bellows (1918)

Another exhibition I recently attended whilst in London was one which showcased some of the works by the influential American realist painter, George Bellows.  To me, before I saw this collection of his work, the art of George Bellows was all about his wonderful boxing match scenes and the haunting look at the Pennsylvania Station excavation in New York so I was delightfully surprised by the amazing variety of his works, which were on view.  Today I want to look at a series of paintings and lithographs he completed in 1918, which highlighted German atrocities in the First World War.   Some of these works were on display at the Royal Academy exhibition.  The paintings, when they were first exhibited, shocked the people who saw them and the series caused some controversy, which I will talk about later.

The story behind his War Series paintings was of the German invasion of Belgium during the First World War and depicted some of the atrocities carried out by the invading German troops.  The Belgian town of Dinant, which lies on the Meuse River, was overrun by the German Third Army, led by Lieutenant General Baron Max Klemens von Hausen on August 23rd 1914.  Dinant fell to the German invaders but according to German reports some of the German soldiers, whilst repairing a bridge in the town, were fired upon by locals.  A swift and bloody retribution followed.  The German troops rounded up 612 local residents in the main town square.  This group consisted of men women and children.  In the double Pullitzer Prize Winner, Barbara Tuchman’s 1963 book The Guns of August, she wrote that among those executed that day was Felix Fivet, aged just three weeksold.  The town was then ransacked by the occupying army.

Unlike how it is nowadays, there were no television crews following the battle to send back live feeds of the war with all its brutality.  There were no newspaper pictures of the massacre of Dinant, so how did Bellows and the world hear about this horrific event?  A month after the atrocities in Dinant, the Belgian Government put out three reports on German war crimes committed during the invasion of their country.   The contents of these reports shocked all those who read them and in Britain both Parliament and the newspapers clamoured for an independent British commission to be set up to investigate the atrocities.  The British Prime Minister at the time, Herbert Asquith, bowed to public opinion and set up an inquiry.  In December 1914, James Bryce was asked to chair what was termed, the “German Outrages Inquiry Committee”, which would look into all material and take witness statements appertaining to the massacre of Belgium citizens and to the complicity of the German officers into the behaviour of their troops during the summary executions of civilians.  James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce, was a British academic, historian and Liberal politician and had been, from 1907 to 1913, the British Ambassador to the United States of America and was on friendly terms with the then Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

The report of the Committee was published on May 12th 1915 and the conclusion was that atrocities had been committed by the German army in order to strike terror into the civil population which would, in turn, dishearten the Belgian troops.  The Germans believed that it would quash resistance and extinguish the very spirit of self-defence. The Commission also stated that the German report of the townsfolk firing on German troops was simply used to justify the murder of large numbers of innocent civilians.   However, there was one problem with the compiling of the Commission’s report and this was the documenting of the 1200 eye witness accounts which had been correlated by a team of English lawyers.  A large number of these were excluded as the committee were mindful that their findings had to be reliable, credible and truthful.   For that to happen, the Committee stated that many of the depositions collected had to be omitted, although they were probably true, as they believed that it was much safer not to place reliance on them.   The committee ended their report by concluding:

“…Our function is ended when we have stated what the evidence establishes, but we may be permitted to express our belief that these disclosures will not have been made in vain if they touch and rouse the conscience of mankind, and we venture to hope that as soon as the present war is over, the nations of the world in council will consider what means can be provided and sanctions devised to prevent the recurrence of such horrors as our generation is now witnessing…”

The report was translated into many languages and circulated throughout the world.   Some later historians believed that the Bryce Commission report was a piece of propaganda and that the lurid accounts of German atrocities were designed to bolster the resolve of those already fighting in the war and to encourage those countries, including the powerful USA, to end their neutrality.

America had declared its neutrality in 1914 with Woodrow Wilson making his speech to the nation on August 18th 1914.  In the speech he said:

“…I venture therefore my fellow countrymen to speak a solemn word of warning to you against that deepest, most subtle, most essential breach of neutrality which may spring out of partisanship, out of passionately taking sides.   The United States must be neutral in fact as well as in name during these days that are to try men’s souls.  We must be impartial in thought as well as action, must put a curb on our sentiments as well as upon every transaction that might be construed as a preference of one party to the struggle before another…”

The United States of America finally gave up its stance of neutrality in April 1917.

So what has this report to do with the George Bellow paintings?  The answer is that Bellows based the depictions in his paintings on the Bryce Commission report.   In 1918 Bellows created a series of works, known as his War Series, depicting German war atrocities in order to stir outrage and embolden America in World War I.   The set consisted of five large paintings, which were his largest works ever completed.   Besides these oil paintings he also completed 20 lithographs and 42 drawings about the Great War.   At the time war paintings tended to focus on the heroic victors and glory in battles won and so Bellow’s War Series was a complete turnaround and many found them offensive.

Another artist, Francisco de Goya, a century earlier, had produced works highlighting the brutality of war.  In all he completed eighty-two etchings between 1810 and 1820 but,for political reasons, they were never exhibited until 1863, some thirty-five years after Goya’s death.  They depicted not only the atrocities of the French army which had invaded Spain but the inhuman treatment men inflicted on their fellow men.  Prints of these works by Goya would have been on display at galleries in New York and it is very likely that George Bellows would have seen them.

One Can't Look by Francisco de Goya (1863)

One Can’t Look by Francisco de Goya (1863)

In Bellow’s work, Massacre at Dinant, we see the foreground is littered with the dead bodies of women and children.  In the background we see the skies darken at the moment of death.  In the centre of the painting we see the clergy with their arms stretched aloft beseeching an end to the killings.  Their pleas fall on deaf ears and they are powerless to prevent the massacre.  It is a brutal depiction and horrifies all who stand before it. Although Bellows has not depicted any German soldiers in the painting, if one looks to the far left of the work one can see their bloody bayonets and rifles appearing on the scene.   This depiction of the “approaching” rifles could be taken directly from one of Goya’s lithographs entitled One Can’t Look (No se puede mirar), in which we see the bayoneted rifles just coming into the right hand side of the etching.

The Barricade by George Bellows (1918)

The Barricade by George Bellows (1918)

Another painting from his War Series was entitled The Barricade, in which we see a line of naked human beings, arms held aloft, acting as human shields for the uniformed German soldiers, with their guns raised, who stand and crouch behind them.   As a propaganda piece it worked well evoking both pity and rage in the mind of the viewer.  The message to the American public was clear – can we stand by and let this kind of thing happen or should we join the battle and end such atrocities.

Return of the Useless by George Bellows (1918)

Return of the Useless by George Bellows (1918)

In his painting Return of the Useless, Bellows depicted Germans soldiers unloading sick and disabled labour-camp prisoners from a rust-red boxcar.   These were Belgian citizens who were being returned home as they were no longer physically fit to work for the Germans.   Box-cars were familiar sights on the American railroads but this work depicted the box-car as a transport system for German prisoners.    Look how Bellows has cleverly used the same colour, red, for the rusty box-car as he used for the flushed face of the German soldier who is venting his anger on the fallen and cowering man and the bloodied skin of some of the prisoners.  Cast your eyes towards the interior of the box car.  Here we see an elderly man supporting a young female who is on the point of collapse.  Another woman sits on the floor her arms wrapped around a child.  A young woman is stepping out of the boxcar and her arms are raised in horror as she watches the German guard bring down the butt of his rifle on to the fallen man, who pathetically looks up and begs for mercy.

The Germans Arrive by George Bellows (1918)

The Germans Arrive by George Bellows (1918)

The Germans Arrive, another painting in the series, was based on an actual account from the Bryce Commission and gruesomely illustrated  a German soldier restraining a young Belgian teenager whose hands had just been severed.   This and the other paintings in the series suffered much criticism accusing Bellows of taking liberties when capturing on canvas, the horrific scenes of war. One notable detractor was the American artist and author,  Joseph Pennell, who argued that because Bellows had never been at the battlefront and therefore had not witnessed at first hand the events he painted, he forfeited the right to paint them. Bellows responded sarcastically that he had not been aware that the great Leonardo da Vinci “had a ticket of admission to the Last Supper”.

The final painting in his War Series is entitled Murder of Edith Cavell.   Edith Cavell was head of the Training School for Nurses in occupied Brussels.

Murder of Edith Cavell by George Bellows (1918)

Murder of Edith Cavell by George Bellows (1918)

On August 5th 1915, she was arrested for assisting Belgian, British, and French soldiers to escape from the country. Two months later, she was shot by the German authorities. News of her execution spread round the world, and in October of that year, The New York Times published 41 stories and her case became a cause célèbre.   George Bellows included this incident in a series of 12 lithographs and one full scale painting for his War Series.    In 1959 the Princeton University Art Museum found and acquired Bellow’s finished, full-size drawing (53.5 x 68.5 cm.) for this print. It is interesting to note that Bellows did not complete the oil painting of the scene until after he had finished the full scale drawing and lithograph print.  The painting now belongs to the Springfield Art Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts.

The work depicts a dark and somewhat chaotic prison cell with its grates and bars covering the windows and door.   We see on the flight of stairs leading down to the room the angelic figure of Cavell, dressed in white with her hand to her breast, enacting the classic gesture of humility.  Behind her and to the left, on a landing, we can see some soldiers and a priest clutching his bible. At the foot of the stairs there are more soldiers, one of whom holds a sword.   On the floor in the foreground we see some wounded prisoners lying on the floor guarded by soldiers in the left foreground.

George Bellow’s War Series paintings and lithographs, which he completed in the summer of 1918 whilst he was residing at his home in Middletown, Rhode Island, were ambitious in nature in the beloved tradition of grand manner history works.  His intention was to stir up both the public’s outrage and sympathy.  However the credibility of the images depicted in these paintings went hand in hand with the credibility of the Bryce Commission Report and that was to be called into question after the war had ended.  Many of the reports of German atrocities were then looked upon as merely Allied propaganda, simply designed to bolster the resolve of those Allied nations which were participating in the war and to encourage those nations to commit to the war effort , which up until then, had preferred to remain neutral,   Later, many Americans believed that their country had been tricked and manipulated into joining the conflict and unfortunately for George Bellows he and his War Series were regarded as part of this deception.  In 1925, the American art critic and historian, Virgil Barker commented on the series saying:

“…[they were] ill-judged in their appeal to the passion of hatred as anything produced in America’s most hysterical war years…”

However I will close with a more favourable comment on the War Series.  The art critic G.D.Cotton saw the initial exhibition and wrote about the works in the American Art News in September 1918.  He commented:

“…[the works] are brutal, full of horror, but reeking with truth, which adds to their poignancy.   After one has recovered from the shock of the subject themselves one sees that the pictures are full of strange beauty, conceived in bigness of vision that is rare and inspiring.  The whole exhibition is one to stiffen the spines of the enlisted men who are here and make them realize what they face ‘Over There’…

I can sincerely recommend you go and see the George Bellows exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London which runs until June 9th 2013.  See what you make of these War Series paintings and lithographs and at the same time, take in many of Bellow’s other beautiful works.

Posted in American artists, Art, Art Blog, Art display, George Bellows, Realism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Paul Delvaux’s Sleeping Venus

Sleeping Venus by Paul Delvaux (1944)

Sleeping Venus by Paul Delvaux (1944)

In my last blog I looked at the life of André Masson, the French-born Belgian Surrealist and one of his paintings, which in some ways mirrored the physical and mental suffering he had to endure for most of his life.  Today my featured artist is the Belgian Surrealist painter, Paul Delvaux would never accept that he was a Surrealist or that his art followed the dictates of Surrealism.  In fact Delvaux was totally averse to being labelled with and sort of “–ism”.  Delvaux’s life could not be more different to that of Masson.  Delvaux’s dreamlike, somewhat gentle paintings I believe reflected his inner peace and contentment.

He was born in September 1897 in the home of his grandparents in Antheit-les-Huy, a small town in eastern Belgium.  He was the elder son of an affluent bourgeois family.  He was his mother’s favourite son and some say she molly-coddled and over-protected him.  His father was an Appeal Court lawyer and his younger brother André followed in his father’s footsteps and became part of the Belgian judicial system.

As a young child, in the summer he would go and stay with his four maiden aunts who lived in the nearby town of Wanze.  One of these ladies, his Aunt Adele, encouraged his early love of music, literature and art and when he was ten years old, for his first communion gift, she gave him a beautifully illustrated copy of Jules Verne’s Voyage to the Centre of the Earth.  This edition contained detailed engravings and illustrations by the French painter Édouard Riou, who collaborated with Jules Verne on many of his novels.  In Guy Carels 2004 biography of Delvaux entitled, Paul Delvaux – His Life, he quotes Delavaux’s comments about his youth and his passion for reading adventure novels:

 “…My overriding passion was the books of Jules Verne…. I was completely fascinated by the engraving of Riou showing Otto Lidenbrock the wise geologist from Journey to the Centre of the Earth. I reproduced this for the first time in 1939 in the Phases de la Lune I (Phases of the Moon I)….”

Delvaux attended the Athénée de Saint-Gilles School in Brussels, where he studied both Latin and Greek and it was at this time that he became acquainted with Homer’s great epic, the Odyssey with its adventures of Odysseus, the legendary Greek king of Ithaca.  It is often said that childhood memories play a part in one’s future life but one recollection by Delvaux of his early schooling was to have an influence on many of his later works.   It was one of his earliest memories of the music room of his primary school in which there were two full-sized skeletons, that of a man and a monkey.  The sight of the two skeletons frightened him and he never forgot them and skeletons would often appear in his art work.

 Such tales of adventure featured prominently in his early childhood sketches.   He completed his regular school education at the age of eighteen and much to his father’s disappointment it was obvious that Paul was not going to enter the legal system.   His parents decided that if their son wasn’t to study law then he should study architecture and so they had him enroll on the architecture course run by the Brussels Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts.   Paul Delvaux did not enjoy the course, which consisted of copying the plans and elevations of classical buildings but little did he realise at the time that this training would play a major part in his future works of art.  Much to his parents’ disappointment, but to his own relief, Delvaux had to abandon the course as he failed to pass the exam in mathematics, which was a prerequisite for the continuation of the course.  His time on the course was not completely wasted as his understanding of linear perspective like the classical architecture was to feature in many of his future paintings.

 Paul Delvaux had always wanted to study art so that he could take it up professionally although that was not the future his parents had in mind.   His stroke of good fortune came in the summer of 1919 when he was almost twenty-two years of age.  He was on a family holiday at the Belgium seaside resort town of Knokke-le-Zoute.  One day whilst painting a seascape watercolour he was noticed by a professional artist who was so enamoured by his work he spoke to Paul’s parents and persuaded them to let their son attend the Brussels Académie des Beaux-Arts and pursue his desire to become a professional artist.  They reluctantly agreed and Paul Delvaux enrolled in the decorative painting class, which was run by Constant Montald, who also taught the featured artist of my last blog, Andre Masson and it was whilst on this course that Delvaux would once again immerse himself into the world of ancient Greece and Rome.  Another of his artistic instructors at the Académie was Jean Delville, the Belgian Symbolist painter.

For Auderghem by Paul Delvaux (1923)

For Auderghem by Paul Delvaux (1923)

Delvaux remained at the Academy for four years and during this time he completed almost a hundred works of art, mainly of the naturalistic landscape genre, often depicting scenes of his home town on the river Meuse, with its castle, Le Fort de Huy, perched on a high cliff above the river.  One of Delvaux’s early works was entitled For Auderghem,  which he completed in 1923 and depicts the railway bridge in the town of Auderghem, which is located to the southeast of Brussels, and lies along the Woluwe valley at the entrance to Forêt de Soignes.   In 1925 Delvaux held his first solo exhibition and two years later set up his first studio in his parent’s house.  At this time in his life he had no interest in Modern art, which he considered to be merely a “hoax” and instead, preferred the works of the Flemish Expressionists such as Frits van den Berghe, Gustave de Smet and Constant Permeke, whose paintings featured themes such as the countryside and village life.

 All this was to change in the 1930’s when he veered towards the art of the Surrealists.  He was never a member of André Breton’s group but was greatly influenced by the dreamlike works of Giorgio de Chirico which he saw in a Paris exhibition in 1926.  He was particularly interested in de Chirico’s painting style known as Pittura Metafisica, (Metaphysical art) which had been extremely popular between 1911 and 1920.  Another artist, a fellow countryman, whose art was to have a great influence on Delvaux, was René Magritte.  Delvaux found his work both amusing if somewhat disconcerting.

Delvaux’s work took on strangeness about it from the mid 1930’s with the introduction of nude figures in a world which the intimacy of nakedness is portrayed in very public settings.  There was none of the automatism we saw in Masson’s paintings in my last blog.   Delvaux’s works seem to be, although bizarre, very calculated and lack the spontaneity of Masson’s “subconscious” works.

Delvaux’s mother died in 1933 and four years later, his father died and it was in that same year, 1937, that he married Suzanne Purnal.  The marriage was a disaster.  However, some believe the emotional turmoil of their marriage resulted in Delvaux’s best works.  Delvaux had been very much in love with Anne-Marie de Martelaere but the relationship foundered because of his parents’ disapproval of her. Whether his marriage to Suzanne was a “rebound” thing, one may never know.  However, ten years later in 1947, completely by chance whilst visiting St Idesbald, he met his first-love Anne-Marie who had never married.  Delvaux left his wife Suzanne and went to live with Anne-Marie and the pair married in October 1952.

The Crucifixion by Paul Delvaux (1952)

The Crucifixion by Paul Delvaux (1952)

In 1950, Paul Delvaux became professor of painting at the Ecole Nationale de la Cambre in Brussels and he would teach there until 1962.  In 1952 he received the commission to create the wall frescos at the Ostend casino.  In 1952 Delvaux created one of his most controversial works, The Crucifixion.  The painting which is in the Royal Beaux-Arts Museum in Brussels shows a skeleton Christ on a cross between two skeletal crucified robbers.  Standing beneath the crucified trio is the centurion also depicted as a skeleton.    When this work was shown at the 1954 Venice Biennale it caused a furore.   Cardinal Roncalli, who would later become Pope John XXIII, was horrified and Delvaux was accused of blasphemy.  However Delvaux was unrepentant stating:

“…Through the skeleton, I represent a different kind of being in a kind of medieval mystery play which is perhaps profane, but never profanatory – the idea of sacrilege never entered my mind – it was put there by others…”

This skeleton painting is considered to be one of the most powerful and the most unforgettable in contemporary art.

Paul Delvaux Museum at St Idesbald

Paul Delvaux Museum at St Idesbald

Paul Delvaux received many honours during his life.  In 1955, he received the Italian Reggio Emilia-award.  In 1956, he was admitted to the Royal Academy of Sciences, Letters and Fine Arts of Belgium.  In 1966 he received the Belgian State Prize for his work of art together and he was appointed Chairman of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.  In 1982 the Paul Delvaux Museum opened in Saint Idesbald.   Delvaux died in Veurne, Belgium in 1994, at the age of 97.

Delvaux painted three versions of his Sleeping Venus.  The first he completed in 1932.    It is thought that the influence on the artist for this depiction was a visit in 1932 when he visited the Brussels Fair at which he came across the Pierre Spitzner’s Grand Musée Anatomique et Ethnologique, a travelling museum run by Pierre Spitzner,  which was a sort of travelling wax museum.    The centrepiece of the exhibition was a wax anatomical model of a sleeping woman, which opened to reveal her internal organs.  This bizarre Spitzner Sleeping Venus had a mechanical movement which was to emulate breath.   As if by magic, her chest rose and fell as she lay there, dressed in her white nightgown.    Delvaux didn’t exhibit the work until after his mother died, in 1933.  The painting received poor reviews and later Delvaux would destroy it.

The Sleeping Venus by Paul Delvaux Second version (1943)

The Sleeping Venus by Paul Delvaux
Second version (1943)

A second Sleeping Venus was completed by Delvaux in 1943.

 My featured painting today was his final version of Sleeping Venus, which he completed in 1944.  The setting is a Greco-Roman one.  The darkly coloured work is a dream-like depiction.  In the centre foreground, in a strange half-light, we have a female nude sleeping on a chaise longue.  However it is the characters which surround her which are the most puzzling.  Are we to believe they are part of the naked woman’s dream?  Who are the other naked women in the scene who seem to be visibly moved in prayer?   At the foot of the chaise longue we have one of Delvaux’s favourite inclusions – a skeleton (remember his fixation on skeletons since his primary school days).  Could it be that the sleeping woman’s dream is about death?  But if that was the subject of her subconscious why does she seem to be in a very relaxed state of sleep and not somebody who is experiencing a nightmare as she contemplates her mortality.  Another favourite feature often depicted in Delvaux’s paintings is present in this work – that of classical temple-like structures, which harks back to his early classical architectural training. Another common feature in this work which we see in a lot of his other works is his inclusion of a barren lifeless and petrified landscape.  To the left of the sleeping Venus is a fully-clothed lady whose pose is similar to that of a catwalk model!   Her expression, like many of the women in Delvaux’s works, is impassive.  She, like other females in his paintings, does not connect with us.   They have a haunting quality about them but as in a number of paintings by Delvaux there is a definite disconnect between the figures depicted.  All have a dream-like appearance.   It is almost as if he has added figures to the works without any reasoning behind the addition.

 Delvaux himself talked about his depictions of the Sleeping Venus in an interview he gave in which he described his first visit to the Spitzner Museum:

“…In the middle of the entrance to the Museum was a woman who was the cashier, then on one side there was a man’s skeleton and the skeleton of a monkey, and on the other side there was a representation of Siamese twins. And in the interior one saw a rather dramatic and terrifying series of anatomical casts in wax which represented the dramas and horrors of syphilis, the dramas, deformations.  And all this in the midst of the artificial gaiety of the fair. The contrast was so striking that it made a powerful impression on me … All the ‘Sleeping Venuses’ that I have made, come from there. Even the one in London, at the Tate Gallery. It is an exact copy of the sleeping Venus in the Spitzner Museum, but with Greek temples or dressmaker’s dummies, and the like. It is different, certainly, but the underlying feeling is the same…”

There is no doubt that there is a strange quality to many of Delvaux’s works and art historians have tried to figure out what is going on within the paintings.  They give their own interpretations and look for hidden symbolism but maybe we should be guided by the words of the artist himself as to his Sleeping Venus which he completed in 1944 during the Nazi flying-bomb attacks on his home town of Brussels.  Delvaux wrote about the painting in a letter:

 “…I remember that I placed my picture each evening when the painting session was over perpendicularly to the window thinking naively that, if a bomb should fall, it would be better protected in this position…….It is my belief that, perhaps unconsciously, I have put into the subject of this picture a certain mysterious and intangible disquiet – the classical town, with its temples lit by the moon, with, on the right, a strange building with horses’ heads which I took from the old Royal Circus at Brussels, some figures in agitation with, as contrast, this calm sleeping Venus, watched over by a black dressmaker’s dummy and a skeleton….I tried in this picture for contrast and mystery….It must be added that the psychology of that moment was very exceptional, full of drama and anguish… I wanted to express this anguish in the picture, contrasted with the calm of the Venus…”

Unlike the works of his contemporary André Masson, which I looked at in the previous blog, although Delvaux’s works with his naked women, skeletons, classical architecture are strange, even bizarre, there is something soothing about them unlike the disturbing works of Masson.  Could it be the fact that Masson and Delvaux’s lives were so different and their life experiences translated into the types of works they produced?

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Art display, Belgian painter, Paul Delvaux, Surrealism | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Gradiva by André Masson

After my last two blogs looking at the exquisite artistry of the American landscape painter, Frederic Church, I am going to give you something completely different today.   I was going to facetiously say that I was moving from the sublime to the ridiculous but I know that labelling Surrealism as “ridiculous” is a rather facile and childish statement.   Not being an artist, I would be curious to know if the upbringing of an artist and how life has treated them has any bearing on their painting style.  For example, Frederic Church came from a happy and financially sound family background and lived close to a very picturesque countryside and in some ways the works he produced mirrored not just the environment around him but the peace and tranquillity of his mind.   My featured artist today probably felt little of that peace and tranquillity in his life and that may account for some of the disturbing images he produced.  My artist today is André Masson and the painting of his I want to look at is entitled Gradiva which he completed in 1939.  It is not just about a painting but about a German novel and a renowned Austrian neurologist who was hailed as the founding father of psychoanalysis and along the way I will delve into the world of automatism in art!

André Masson

André Masson

Andre Masson was born in January 1896, in Balagny-sur-Thérain, in the northern French province of Oise, about sixty miles north of Paris.  Although born in France, because of his father’s business, he spent most of his childhood in neighbouring Belgium.  The family relocated to Lille in 1903 and then later moved to the capital Brussels.  In 1907, aged 11, he enrolled at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts et l’École des Arts Décoratifs in Brussels where he received tuition from the Belgian painter and muralist, Constant Montald, who would later teach the likes of Rene Magritte and Paul Develaux.   It was on Montald’s advice that Masson decided to leave Belgium and travel to France.  In 1912, Masson moved to Paris and attended the illustrious Parisian art college, École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts where he attended Paul Albert Baudoin’s studio to study fresco painting.   In 1914 he was awarded a scholarship from the École des Beaux-Arts and this allowed him to travel to Italy, along with his fellow art student, Maurice Albert Loutreuil.    Whilst in Italy, Masson studied the art of fresco and discovered the works of Paolo Uccello.

These were exciting times for the youth of the day.  Art Nouveau, Impressionism and Symbolism were dominating the art scene and the music of Wagner and the thoughts of Nietzsche were often foremost in their minds.  Like many of his fellow art students of the time, André was a person who railed against convention and authority and had many run-ins with the police.  He embraced vegetarianism and would often be seen walking bare-footed along the streets.  He avidly read the great works of literature and philosophy and became a follower of the German poet and philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.

In 1914, France entered the First World War and there was a call to arms.  Many of the young eagerly put themselves forward to support their country.   Some, like Masson, looked on the fight that lay ahead in terms of a grand Wagnerian battle with little concern about their own mortality.  In an interview he gave the American magazine Newsweek in 1965 André Masson said that when war was declared he volunteered because he wanted to experience “the Wagnerian aspects of battle”.  Like many who marched off patriotically to the front line, they were mere “cannon fodder” and would never return home.   Although Masson, an infantryman, was not killed in the war, in April 1917, he was badly injured during the Second Battle of the Aisne when several French army battalions stormed the German lines on the Chemin des Dames ridge.  (It is interesting to note that one of the German soldiers at this battle was Adolph Hitler!)

The battle was short-lived and, for the French, it ended catastrophically in a matter of a few weeks.  Thousands of French troops were slaughtered.  Many others mutinied and the career of the French army’s Commander-in Chief, Richard Nivelle was destroyed. The attack, which Masson had taken part in proved disastrous and he was gravely wounded and lay helpless on the battlefield all night and it was not until the following day that stretcher bearers were able to reach him and take him to a field hospital.   The wound to his chest and abdomen was of such severity that Masson remained in hospital for the next two years.   Not only did he suffer horrendous physical injuries but the battle and his witnessing the death and maiming of many of his colleagues left him mentally scarred and he had to undergo a long period of psychiatric rehabilitation to treat the devastating effect it all had on his mind.   His patriotic rush to serve his country resulted in constant physical pain, nightmares and insomnia for the rest of his life and he was advised by psychiatrists to stay away from the noise and chaos of cities.

In April 1919 Masson went to Céret, a town which lies in the Pyrénées foothills in south-west France.   Céret was, around this time, a popular meeting place for artists, such as Picasso, Modigliani, Andre Derrain and Matisse.  Whilst living there Masson met Odette Cabale, who became his wife. Odette became pregnant and Masson decides to return to Paris where his parents could assist her.  In 1920 their daughter Lily was born. Masson sets up a studio at 45 Rue Blomet in Paris which soon became a local meeting place for aspiring artists as well as some influential people such as the author Ernest Hemmingway and the writer and art collector Gertrude Stein.

Battle of the Fishes by André Masson (1926)

Battle of the Fishes by André Masson (1926)

In 1924 the German-born art historian, art collector and art dealer, Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, organised Masson’s first solo exhibition at his Galerie Simon. One of the viewers at the exhibition was André Breton and he bought a work by Masson entitled The Four Elements.   Breton was the founder of the Surrealist Movement and later that year published Manifeste du surrealism, his Surrealist Manifesto, in which he had defined surrealism as “pure psychic automatism”.   Masson, who had been invited to join Breton’s group of Surrealists, was influenced by the ideas Breton had put forward and began to experiment with “automatic drawing” or automatism.  Automatism was a way of creating drawings in which artists smother conscious management of the movements of their hand, and by doing so, allow their unconscious mind to take over.  Breton and his Surrealists believed automatism in art was a higher form of behaviour.   For them, automatism could express the creative force of what they believed was the unconscious in art.   Masson’s work could be categorised as a semi-abstract variety of Surrealism, which is experimental use with unusual, such as sand.  His so-called sand pictures were works which his automatic drawing would be first put on the canvas using glue.  Then before the glue had dried he would sprinkle coloured sand over it.  The canvas would then be shaken and the sand would only remain on the glue.  One of his most famous and most successful  “sand paintings” is Battle of the Fishes, which he completed in 1926 and is now housed in the MOMA in New York.  I read a piece about this work which described it as:

” a work which a primordial eroticism is revealed through an imagery of conflict and metamorphosis, poetically equating the submarine imagery with its physical substance…”

Is that how you see it ????????

In 1925, Masson participated in the first Surrealist exhibition, at the Galerie Pierre, alongside Picasso, Ernst, Klee, Man Ray. However, André Masson fell out with Breton and his Surrealists mainly due to Breton’s authoritarian leadership of the group and his dogmatic attitude.  Masson also came round to the fact that automatism was becoming too much of a constraint on his art and so in 1929 he severed ties with the group.  It was that same year that Masson and his wife Odette parted company after almost ten years of marriage.

Masson spent some time in the Provencal hills around the town of Grasse, where he met Matisse.  In 1934 Masson returns to Paris but that February he is alarmed by the right-wing Fascist riots which take place in the city that February.  He decided to flee the turmoil that has beset the French capital and headed south to Spain and the city of Barcelona.  He was accompanied by Rose Maklès, sister of the wife of his best friend and the well-known author Georges Bataille. In December 1934 André and Rose married in Tossa de Mar on the Costa Brava, and in June 1935 their son Diego was born, later, in September 1936. a second son Luis was born.   Masson’s decision to relocate to Spain, to avoid the chaos of riots in Paris, was an unfortunate one as in October 1934 the Spanish city was hit by a violent insurrection of its people and Masson and his family became trapped in a friend’s house which was at the heart of the city and which was being subjected to constant shelling and sniper fire.  This was just the scenario his psychiatrists had told him to avoid when he was discharged from hospital at the end of the First World War.  The situation deteriorated further in 1936 with the start of the Spanish Civil War and Masson and his family quickly headed back to France.  His return to France also coincided with his return to the Surrealist fold as he and André Breton settled their differences and the following January, Masson exhibited works at the Surrealist Exposition of Paris which was held at Georges Wildenstein’s Galérie Beaux-Arts.

The year 1939 was marked by the start of the Second World War and in January 1940 the German army marched into Paris.   Masson found himself in a precarious situation.   His artwork had already been deemed as degenerate by the Nazis.  The Nazis looked upon the Surrealist Movement and its artists as having close ties to the Communists and to top all that,  Masson’s wife Rose was Jewish.  He realised that for he and his family, in order to survive, had to flee France.  From Paris they headed south to Auvergne and then on to Marseille.  Here a group of Americans led by Varian Fry, a journalist, had set up a European Rescue Committee which helped Jews and Germans blacklisted by the Nazi authorities to escape to the USA.   Varian Fry hid the refugees at the Villa Air-Bel, a chateau on the outskirts of Marseille and then took them via Spain to neutral Portugal, or shipped them from Marseille to Martinique and from there on to the USA, which was Masson escape route.

André Masson and his family, along with some of his artwork, landed in America in 1941 and one would think that his troubles were over but alas the US Customs thought differently as when they examined his drawings they declared five of them to be pornographic and tore them to pieces right in front of the artist’s eyes !!!   For a short while he lived in New York before moving to Connecticut.   In 1945, with the war over, the Masson family returned to France, where they lived for a while with his wife’s sister, Simone.  In 1947 they moved to the small town of Le Tholonet, which lies close to Aix-en-Provence in southern France.   He continued to paint and received many lucrative commissions including one from the French Culture Ministry to paint the ceiling at the Parisian Théatre Odéon.  A series of solo and retrospective exhibitions of his work are held all over Europe and America.  He visited Rome and Venice in the 1950’s and from these trips, he produced a beautiful series of coloured lithographs of Italian landscapes.

Masson’s wife Rose died in August 1986 and Masson himself died in Paris in October 1987 aged 91.

Gradiva by André Msson (1939)

Gradiva by André Msson (1939)

The painting of André Masson I have chosen today is entitled Gradiva which he completed in 1939.  So who is Gradiva?   Gradiva, is Latin for “the woman who walks and in the Vatican Museum, there is a Roman bas-relief (a projecting image with a shallow overall depth), of Gradiva.    This sculpture depicts a young robed woman who we see raising the hems of her skirts so as to be able to stride forward at pace.  This sculpture was the basis for the novel written by the German author Wilhelm Jensen, entitled Gradiva.    He originally published his fictional tale, it in a serialised form, in the Viennese newspaper, Neue Freie Presse in 1902.

Bas-relief of Gradiva

Bas-relief of Gradiva

It is the story of Norbert Hanold, a young archaeologist who became totally obsessed with a woman who did not even exist. He had visited the Vatican museum when he was struck by the beauty of a bas-relief of young Roman woman, very light on her feet, whom he baptized “Gradiva” (she who walks). He purchased a reproduction of the sculpture, which he hung on the wall of his workroom. He becomes fixated by the image and mystery of this enigmatic young woman. One night he dreams that he is in Pompeii in AD 79, just before the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. There he meets Gradiva.  He desperately tries to warn her about the horrific events that are about to occur, but he finds himself powerless to rescue her.  After waking, he is overcome by the longing to meet Gradiva. He immediately sets off for Pompeii, where he meets a young woman, very much alive, whom he believes is Gradiva. In the course of the meetings that follow, he tries to rationalise his fixation for the girl by interpreting signs such as the fact that Gradiva appears at noon, the ghost hour, and other such signs. Gradiva, in turn, seeks to cure him by gradually revealing her identity to him. Through this adventure, Norbert finally sees Gradiva for who she really is: his neighbour and childhood friend Zoe Bertgang (“Bertgang” is the German equivalent of “Gradiva”), who also travelled to Pompeii.  For years he had not seen her and had no desire to see her, but without realising it Norbert was still in love with her and he had substituted his love for Zoe with his love for Gradiva, the young woman of the bas-relief. Happily, his fixation for Gradiva finally yields to reality, and Norbert is cured.

In 1906, Sigmund Freud had been made aware of this story by Carl Jung , who believed Freud would be interested in the dream sequences of the story.  Freud, who frequently cited his Interpretation of Dreams which he published in 1900, suggested in his review of Jensen’s novel that even dreams invented by an author could be analyzed by the same method as real ones. He fastidiously analyzed the two dreams which were the basis of Jensen’s story, and linked them to happenings in Norbert’s life. By doing this Freud attempted to demonstrate that dreams were substitute wish fulfilments and established that they constituted a return of the repressed.   According to the pschoanalysist, the source of Norbert Hanold’s fixation was his repression of his own sexuality, which caused him to forget, his past love, Zoe Bertgang, in order to keep him from recognizing her.  This he termed as “negative hallucinations”.  Freud concluded that the way Zoe treated Norbert when they met in Pompeii was in the manner of a good psychoanalyst, cautiously bringing to consciousness what Norbert forgot through repression.

As an interesting footnote to the Freud story, four months after he published his essay on Gradiva and Jensen’s story, he visited Rome and during the trip he went to see the bas-relief representing “Gradiva” at the museum of the Vatican, the very same one that had inspired Jensen to write his story. Just as Norbert Hainold, the character in Jensen’s story had done, Freud bought a copy of the bas-relief of Gradiva and hung it in his office in Vienna, at the foot of his divan. There it remained until he left Vienna, and took it with him to London in 1938, where it can be found on the wall of his London study which forms part of the Freud Museum.

In today’s featured painting, Masson  iconography for Gradiva (The Metamorphosis of Gradiva) is a Freudian illustration drawn directly from the Jensen story.  In the painting we see a large woman, half flesh, half marble sprawled on a marble plinth, the base of which is starting to crumble.  Her legs are splayed apart and between them we see a beef steak and a gaping shell-like vagina.  To the right of her, on the wall in the background, we see the erupting volcano.  To the left of her we see a large crack in the side wall signifying that the building she is in, is about to collapse.  Another strange addition to the painting is a swarm of bee-like creatures which seem to swarm in arc-like fashion behind the figure of the woman, similar to the arc formed by the way her marble arm arches over her head.  Why depict bees?   The whole of the painting is bathed in a flickering reddish light which highlights a clump of poppies which can be seen in the left foreground of the work.  I have tried to explain some of the iconography of this painting but I will leave you to try and figure out if there are more hidden meanings to what you see before you.

The novel, Gradiva by Wilhelm Jensen

The novel, Gradiva by Wilhelm Jensen

Finally for those of you who would like to read the complete version of Wilhelm Jensen’s Gradiva then you can get a copy from Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/Gradiva-Pompeiian-Fancy-Classic-Reprint/dp/B0094OOP36

or  Amazon.co.uk:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gradiva-Pompeiian-Fancy-Classic-Reprint/dp/B0094UEIIW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1364119670&sr=8-1

I must apologise for the length of this blog but once I got started researching the life of the painter, the painting itself and the story of Gradiva I was loathed to cut anything out.   Not being a master of the art of précising, I don’t think I would make a good journalist !!!!!

Posted in André Masson, Art, Art Blog, Art display, Belgian painter, Surrealism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Frederic Edwin Church, Part 2

For those of you who have just landed on this page I suggest you go back to my previous blog which looks at Frederic Church’s early life and talks a little about his exhibition at the National Gallery, London which I visited last week.

Our Banner in the Sky by Frederic Edwin Church (1861)

Our Banner in the Sky by Frederic Edwin Church (1861)

Another beautiful and moving historical painting by Frederic Church which was on display at the exhibition and which I found very moving was a small oil painting entitled Our Banner in the Sky which Frederic Church completed in 1861.  I stood before this work, fascinated by the way in which Church had cleverly depicted the image of the Stars and Stripes American flag in tatters against an amazing daybreak landscape with its red and white bands of clouds.  Church had painted this shortly after the attack on Fort Sumter by General Beauregard and his Confederate troops in January 1861 , which signalled the start of the American Civil War, which tragically went on to cost so many American lives.   In the work we see a bare and tall tree slightly leaning over, which acts as a flagpole for the flag which blends in with the early morning sky.  In it, we see the North Star depicted through a patch of blue sky.  Church has cleverly managed to create a highly patriotic scene which in some ways connects the American landscape with the Northern cause.  It was a heartfelt cry for unity which sadly was not listened to. It was such a popular work that the Manhattan art dealer, Goupil & Co. commissioned Church to produce a chromolithograph of the work and, within a few months, hundreds of copies were bought up by the public.

Isabel Carnes Church by Frederic Church (1860)

Isabel Carnes Church by Frederic Church (1860)

It was during the New York exhibition of his Andes painting that Frederic Church met Isabel Carnes.  In 1860 just three months before his marriage to Isabel, Church bought some 126 acres of farmland, close to the towns of Hudson and Catskill and situated on a south sloping hill, overlooking the Hudson River.  He was familiar with this site as he had visited the area whilst on a painting trip with Thomas Cole in 1845.   As he still lived in New York, this new acquisition would be the family country get-away.   Church employed the foremost architect of the time, Richard Morris Hunt, to construct a cottage and design this ferme ornée.  The term means an ‘ornamented farm’, and describes a country estate laid out partly according to aesthetic principles and partly for farming.  Church and his wife referred to the small cottgae on the estate as their Cosy Cottage and it was surrounded by gardens and orchards and Church even had a section of marshland drained so as to build his own expansive ten acre lake.  Over time he bought up more of the adjoining land and eventually his estate encompassed 250 acres.

Fern Walk, Jamaica by Frederic Church (1865)

Fern Walk, Jamaica by Frederic Church (1865)

He and his wife lead a settled and happy life and he spent most of his time tending to his farm but his happiness was shattered in March 1865 when both his young children contracted diphtheria and died a week apart.  In an attempt to counteract the intense grief suffered after their children’s death, he and his wife along with some friends travelled to Jamaica where, for five months, Frederic immersed himself in a painting frenzy whilst his wife collected numerous species of ferns which she would later bring back home and which would form part of her fern garden.  Isabel’s interest in ferns and Frederic’s love of depicting nature in his painting were combined in his 1865 work entitled Fern Walk, Jamaica in which Church depicts a narrow path winding through luxuriant plants and ferns.  The shades of greens and browns which he used in depicting the native flora is breathtaking.  Frederic Church loved his stay in Jamaica.  He loved sketching plein air in the tropical light and, on his return to America, would often encourage other landscape artists to venture on painting trips to the Caribbean island.  In a letter he wrote to the landscape artist, Charles de Wolf Bramwell, he extolled the Fern Walk area of the island, writing:

“…the vegetation, next to that on the Magdalena River, the finest I ever saw –– The ferns, especially in the region known as Fern Walk — excelled every place…”

Ed Deir, Petra Jordan by Frederic Church (1868)

Ed Deir, Petra Jordan by Frederic Church (1868)

The couple returned home from Jamaica and in 1866 Isabel Church gave birth to a son, Frederic Junior.   The following year Frederic and Isabel, along with their son and Isabel’s mother, set off on a two-year long journey of Europe and the Holy Land.   They visited Jerusalem and from there headed to Jordan where Church, after an arduous ten day journey by mule, arrived at the ancient city of Petra.  During the long trip Church continually sketched and painted.  It was a trip which was fraught with danger from not only local bandits, but from the native porters which were helping Church’s party get to their destination.  These Arabs were very superstitious about his sketching but were eventually won over by his skill.  He finally arrived at Petra and made the long climb up above the city to the monastery of Ed Deir, which in the first century AD was a Nabatean temple.   Frederic Church completed his beautiful oil and graphite painting entitled Ed Dier, Petra, Jordan,   Unbelievable at it may sound but Church completed the work in just one sitting, in 1868.

Königsee by Frederic Church (1868)

Königsee by Frederic Church (1868)

From the Holy Land, Frederic Church returned to Europe visiting Rome and Athens and also the Bavarian Alpine region, Switzerland and Austria which had always been a popular venue for landscape painters.  Church was drawn to this area as he was always searching for beautiful vistas to paint.   He liked the area as he believed there was a marked similarity between the geography of the area and that of the rugged American landscapes which he knew so well.  In July 1868 he visited the Königsee, the beautiful Upper Bavarian lake which nestles amongst steep-sided cliffs.  Sheltered from the weather,  the surface of the lake is often mirror-like reflecting the surrounding mountains.   He completed a beautiful work entitled Königsee that month and it is a poignant reminder to me of the times I have visited the lake and stood in awe before it, mesmerised by its beauty.

South West Facade of Olana by Frederic Church (1870)

South West Facade of Olana
A watercolour by Frederic Church (1870)

Frederic Church in 1867 was becoming homesick and wanted to return to America and his country estate.  Since he bought it seven years earlier he had been constantly planning the landscape design for the land and the architectural design for a large house on the top of the hill.  Richard Morris Hunt, his architect, had submitted plans for a large French chateau-style house and Church had liked the idea and agreed to the design.   However having returned from his tour of the Levant and studied the architecture of the area, he changed his mind.  He decided to discharge Hunt and take on the British-born American architect and landscape designer Calvert Vaux who was based in Manhattan and had in 1858, along with Frank Law Olmstead had won a design competition to improve and expand New York’s Central Park.

Olana Historic Site

Olana Historic Site

Frederic Church and Vaux worked on the plans for the design of the house which was to be the centrepiece of  Church’s estate, which he and his wife Isabel named Olana after a fortress-treasure house in ancient Persia which like Church’s estate also overlooked a river valley.  The building project was completed in 1872.

As Church got older he spent more and more time on his farm and concentrated his time running the estate.  From the 1870’s onwards Church suffered badly from rheumatoid arthritis which badly affected his right arm curtailing much of his art work although he did teach himself to paint with his left hand.  Frederic Church died in 1900, aged 74 and is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Hartford, Connecticut.

Forest Pool by Frederic Church (1860)

Forest Pool by Frederic Church (1860)

I will finish this blog with a look at the painting by Frederic Church, which most impressed me at the exhibition.  It is entitled Forest Pool and was completed by Frederic Church around 1860.  It was almost the first work I came across as I entered the exhibition room and I had to keep coming back to it in order to savour its beauty.   I stood before it and could not believe the quality of the painting.  Such beautifully drawn details.  Such beautiful colour and tones.  The work was a close-up view of a dense forest and a small forest pool.   Every square inch of the work is covered in rich shades of green and brown and although it was a study for a larger painting, it seems as if it is a finished work.  The artist has delightfully depicted the tranquillity of the forest scene with the calm surface of the pond offering up reflections of the trees and their branches and spots of sunlight.  If you look closely at the upper middle part of the composition you will just be able to make out a hint of blue sky which is otherwise blocked by the screen of trees.

The Frederic Church exhibition at the National Gallery is worth going to see for this painting alone.

Posted in American artists, Art, Art Blog, Art History, Frederic Church, Hudson River School, Landscape paintings | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment