The Grindelwald Glacier by Thomas Fearnley

Grindelwald Glacier by Thomas Fearnley (1838)

Today I am concluding my look at the life of Thomas Fearnley and for those of you have just landed on this page,  my introduction to the Norwegian artist’s life was the subject for My Daily Art Display blog of November 24th.

The date is 1832 and that September, Fearnley, who along with his fellow artists, the Dane, William Bendz and the German painter Joseph Petzl, had just left the Bavarian Alpine village of Ramsau and were beginning their long and strenuous trek on foot over the Alps to Italy.  So why had this Norwegian artist and his friends set off on this gruelling journey?  Why did Fearnley spent most of his life wandering around Europe?   The answer probably lies in the fact that although the Norwegian landscape offered many beautiful vistas to paint, there were few commissions to be had from wealthy patrons in his native Norway.  Whereas in the art capitals of Europe such as Paris, London, Rome and Munich there were a large number of affluent patrons who would pay generous sums for landscape works.

Fearnley and his travelling companions headed for Rome but first stopped off in Venice in the late October of 1832.  The three travellers split up at this point as Fearnley was determined to carry on until he reached the Italian capital whereas Bendz wanted to stay in Venice.  As I told you in my last blog, William Bendz took ill in Venice but left the city and went to Vicenza where his health deteriorated rapidly and he died of typhoid, just ten days after he had parted from his friends.  Fearnley finally arrived in Rome in November 1832, just before his 30th birthday.  He settled down in the Italian capital, living amongst the Danish and German artistic community.  Fearnley made Rome his base for the next three years but was constantly setting off from there on his artistic trips.  In 1883, along with a Danish friend, he left the capital on a long walking tour of Sicily and on his way back to Rome, visited Naples, Sorrento and Capri.  This journey along the Amalfi coast had been carried out by his erstwhile mentor John Christian Dahl, ten years earlier.

Fearnley loved the practice of en plein air oil sketching and he followed earlier practitioners of this kind of art such as Claude-Joseph Vernet, Pierre-Henri Valenciennes and the Welsh artist Richard Wilson, all of whom had pioneered en plein air sketching whilst they were based in Rome.  The other aspect of this art, which Fearnley believed in, was to select views for painting that were “fresh”, even unorthodox rather than painting views which had been done so many times over by other landscape artists.  Another aspect of art which fascinated Fearnley was how various meteorological conditions affected the light and the view of the landscapes.  He strived for a true depiction of the skies and the cloud formations and was only too aware of the fast change in what he was looking at, due to varying changes in the weather conditions.   Having left the colder, duller and wetter climate of Northern Europe and Scandinavia he was now able to appreciate and take advantage of the warmer, sunnier climes of Italy which allowed him a greater opportunity to paint outdoors for lengthy periods of time.

In 1835, after his three year sojourn in Italy, Fearnley decided to move on.  He travelled north via Florence to Switzerland where he spent most of the summer studying the breathtaking Alpine scenery and especially the glaciers at Grindelwald, which would be depicted in his famous 1838 large studio oil painting entitled The Grindelwald Glacier, which is My Daily Art Display’s featured painting today.  From this Alpine area he once again moves north, crossing the Alps, heading for Paris, arriving in September of that year.  Whilst in Paris, he exhibits three of his works, including the “yet to be completed” Grindelwald Glacier painting.  During Fearnley’s stay in Rome he had met and befriended a number of wealthy English art lovers.  Many were rich aristocrats who were taking part in the Grand Tour.   It could have been this that made him decide to travel from Paris to London in the spring of 1836.  Whilst in the English capital, Fearnley took in the Royal Academy May Exhibition and at this exhibition he would have seen major works by the likes of Turner, Constable, David Wilkie and William Etty.  However the artist who most impressed Fearnley was the English landscape painter Augustus Wall Callcott.   This R.A. Exhibition was a special one as there were more than 1200 paintings being exhibited and it was the last one to be held at Somerset House.  Whilst in England Fearnley made a number of painting trips and in August 1837 he, along with his fellow artist friend, Charles West Cope, visited the Lake District.  He visited Derwentwater, Coniston and Patterdale, all the time recording the views in oil sketches.   In 1838 Fearnley became the founder member of the Etching Club, an artists’ society founded in London.  The club published illustrated editions of works by authors such as Oliver Goldsmith, Shakespeare, and Milton.  Other well known artists who became members of this club were the Pre-Raphaelite painters, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais.

In 1838, Fearnley exhibited his now completed work The Grindelwald Glacier at the Royal Academy.    His wanderlust continued unabated and he leaves London in the summer for Germany.  He first visits Berlin and then on to Dresden where he once again meets up with his former mentor and teacher J C Dahl. He makes a brief stop-over in Switzerland before returning to his homeland, Norway, where he lives in the capital Christiania for the next two years.   Fearnley became a member of the Christiania Art Society.  On July 15th 1840,  he married Cecilia Catharine Andresen, the daughter of one of his patrons from previous years, the banker and Member of Parliament Nicolai Andresen.   In the autumn the couple went to Amsterdam, where they stayed for one year, and where their only child, a son Thomas, was born.  During their stay Fearnley becomes infected with typhus and on January 16th 1842 he died, aged just 39 years old.   He was buried in a Munich cemetery but 80 years later his son took the initiative to have his father’s remains brought back to Norway, and in 1922 the tomb was moved to Our Saviour’s Cemetery in Oslo.

Fearnley’s painting, which at the time was entitled The Upper Grindelwald Glacier, Canton Berne, Switzerland,  was started in 1836 and although not finished was shown at the Paris Salon that year.  It was two years later in 1838 that the painting appeared at the Royal Academy Exhibition, which was being held in its new home at the National Gallery, the R.A. having just moved from Somerset House that year.  This beautiful painting is dated 1838 which leads us to believe that the original work started in 1836 was re-worked in late 1838 whilst the artist was in London.  This large studio work derives from a number of oil sketches which Fearnley made in late 1835 whilst he was in the Grindelwald valley.  The spectacular view we are looking at is of the upper Grindelwald glacier, which lies on the northern side of the Bernese Alps.  In the middle ground we can just make out a lone shepherd silhouetted against the stunning white ice peaks of the glacier.  In the foreground of the work we see that Fearnley has put a lot of effort into depicting the flora, amongst which are dotted the shepherd’s flock.  Although my attached picture might not clearly show it, the artist’s signature “Fearnley” is on the rock in the right foreground, next to a fern ! Coincidence or a witty visual play on his name?

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Art display, Landscape paintings, Norwegian painters, Thomas Fearnley | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ramsau by Thomas Fearnley

Ramsau by Thomas Fearnley (1832)

I have said on a number of occasions that one of the joys of visiting art galleries is when you suddenly come across one you did not know existed.  It is always a pleasure to go to the large and famous galleries such as the Louvre, Prado, and London’s National Gallery to name just a few but I find it exhilarating when I come across, often by accident, the smaller, more hidden-away ones such as London’s Wallace Collection or the Musée Marmottan Monet Gallery  in the 16th arrondissement of Paris.   I had visited Birmingham before and visited the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery but a fortnight ago I decided to visit the city again and have a look at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts which is on the University of Birmingham campus.   If I had not decided on that visit I would never have come across a divine portraiture work of Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun which I enthused about in my last blog and which was part of their permanent collection.  However the reason for me going to the gallery was to see an exhibition of the Norwegian painter Thomas Fearnley and today I want to talk a little about the life of this artist and look at one of the paintings which was in the exhibition.

Thomas Fearnley, although an English-sounding name, was Norwegian.  He was a romantic painter who was born in 1802 in Frederikshald, Norway, a small town in the south east of the country, a few miles from the Norwegian-Swedish border.  The town has since been renamed Halden.  The Fearnley family maintained its custom of naming its eldest sons Thomas and so both his father and grandfather were named Thomas.  His grandfather was an English timber merchant from Heckmondwike, a small mill town near Leeds, and who with his family moved to Norway in 1753 as a representative for a trading company based in the English seaport of Hull.  Fearnley’s father Thomas was also a merchant and married Maren Sophie Paus, a woman from the important Norwegian Paus dynasty.  Thomas was the eldest of their eight children.

Thomas Fearnley’s father owned a shop in Frederikshald and earned his money as an importer/exporter, importing woollen and cloth goods from England and exporting Norwegian lumber.   At the age of five, young Thomas went to live with his maternal aunt, Karen and her husband, Georg Frederik Hagemann in Christiania, (now known as Oslo).  The couple had no children of their own and were delighted to have Thomas live with them.  When Thomas was twelve years old he was enrolled as a pupil in the cadet corps of the Military Academy.  At the Academy, one of the subjects Thomas was taught was drawing.  It was soon clear that he had a talent for drawing and excelled in these lessons.  However he achieved less in his other subjects especially in the military training and he left the Academy in the spring of 1819.

As his father and his father’s father before him had all been merchants, it was expected that Thomas would follow suit and at the age of sixteen, for a while, he took on the role of a young merchant in his uncle’s business.  However Thomas had not given up his love of drawing and every evening he would attend an elementary art class in Christiania, where he spent time copying still lifes and portraits painted by various artists.

To become an artist in Norway was quite difficult as there were no major art academies where aspiring artists could learn their trade.  It could well be this factor, which forced Fearnley to travel extensively through Europe visiting major art institutions.  In late 1821 he travelled to Copenhagen and enrolled at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.  It was here that he came across Dutch landscape paintings of Nordic scenes by the likes of Jacob van Ruisdael.  It was these seventeenth century works, which influenced Fearnley and it was these depictions of Nordic landscapes, which would play an important role in Norwegian art and Norwegian artists such as Thomas Fearnley.

In 1823, aged twenty-one, Fearnley left Copenhagen and went to live in Stockholm where he attended the Drawing Class at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts enrolling on a four-year course.  During this period Thomas received a number of commissions for his landscape work including a three-painting commission from the country’s royal family.  During his time at the Academy, he would take the opportunity, during summer breaks in the art course, to travel back to Norway to sketch the wild and rugged landscape of his homeland.  It was at this juncture in his artistic career that he completed his first en plein air oil sketch.  It was also during one of these visits to western Norway, in 1826, that he first encountered another artist on an art tour.  He was Johan Christian Dahl, who would become the first great romantic painter in Norway, and one of the great European artists of all time.  Dahl is now looked upon as the founder of the “golden age” of Norwegian painting.

Fearnley’s four-year art course at the Copenhagen Academy ended in 1829 and Fearnley continued with his European travels, this time going to Dresden.   It was in this city that Fearnley again meets Dahl and they soon become friends and Thomas received some artistic tuition from him.  One of Dahl’s other artistic friends and near neighbour was the German artist Casper David Friedrich.  Fearnley spent time studying Friedrich’s work and one can see in a number of Fearnley’s landscape works a characteristic employed by Friedrich – figures in the paintings are seen from behind.  Fearnley studied the different ways in which Dahl and Friedrich worked.  J C Dahl used rapid brushstrokes in his paintings whilst Casper Friedrich was much slower and more methodical and his landscapes often had religious connotations.  The study of these two great artists was to influence Fearnley’s art in the future.

From Dresden Fearnley travelled to Prague, Nuremberg and the lake district of Salzburg before finally settling in Munich in 1830.  He was to remain in the Bavarian city for two years often travelling south to the foothills of the Bavarian Alps on painting trips.  Following his two-year sojourn in Munich he and two other fellow artist Wihelm Bendz and Joseph Petzl set off on foot at the end of August 1832 on their 700 kilometre trek to Italy, passing through the Bavarian alpine village of Ramsau, which is the setting for my Daily Art Display’s featured painting today.  The en plein air oil on paper, laid on canvas, sketch was completed by Thomas Fearnley within a week in 1832 and is simply entitled Ramsau.  This was the first painting I came across when I entered the gallery of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, which was staging Thomas Fearnley’s exhibition In front of Nature.   It was, by far, my favourite of all his works on show and was of great interest to me as I have visited the picturesque Alpine village of Ramsau on a number of occasions when I toured around Berchtesgadener Land in southern Bavaria.

The sketch is dated September 20th 1832 and diaries kept by Wilhelm Bendz record that it was the last day the intrepid trio stayed in the village before heading across the Alps to Italy.  In the picture we can see the road winding and disappearing around a corner of the village before we catch a glimpse of it again as it heads off towards their destination, the snow-covered Alps.  There is a beautiful stillness about this picture.   In the left middle ground we see a solitary farmer collecting hay, which will be needed for the harsh and bitterly cold winter, which is fast approaching.  In the background we see the majestic snow-capped mountain, Hoher Göll, which straddles the border between the German state of Bavaria and the Austrian city of Salzburg.  This en plein air work would have taken Fearnley several sittings during the week-long stay, on each occasion adding another layer of colour.

A Church at Ramsau, Austria by Wilhelm Bendz (c.1830)

It is interesting to note that whilst the intrepid trio were in Ramsau William Bendz also completed an en plein air oil sketch of the village from almost the same vantage point used by Fearnley.  Bendz was principally a figure painter and this landscape work of his is a comparative rarity.  You will see from Bendz’s picture that unlike the deliberate and carefully detailed picture painted by Fearnley over a seven-day period, the foreground and some other areas of Bendz’s work were hastily sketched in and the work would probably have been completed within a day or two.  William Bendz’s work, which was dated September 1830, two years earlier than Fearnley’s sketch, and entitled The Church of Ramsau, Austria, can be found in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum.

In my next blog I will conclude my look at the life of Thomas Fearnley and follow his journey through Europe visiting the Neapolitan and Amalfi Coasts as well as visiting England and travelling around the Lake District.

To end on a slightly sad note, Fearnley’s companion on his trek to Italy, which started in September 1832, Wilhelm Bendz, made it to Venice but soon after, in the November of that same year, on reaching Vincenza, he took ill and died from a lung infection.  Bendz had noted in his diary that the road to Rome was hard, the weather conditions unfavourable and at times extremely harsh and the walking very strenuous and the exertion obviously took the ultimate toll of him.

Posted in Adolph Menzel, Art, Art Blog, Landscape paintings, Norwegian painters, Thomas Fearnley | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Portrait of Countess Golovine by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun

Portrait of Countess Golovine
by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (c.1797-1800)

Today is the third and final part of my look at the life of one France’s greatest female portraitists, Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, but as to why I came to showcase this particular artist I have to make a terrible admission.   I have been unfaithful once again.  My undying and faithful love for a beautiful woman has now fallen by the wayside, not once, but twice.  Last week I looked at a woman and in my mind I told her that she was the most beautiful and the most alluring creature I had set my eyes upon.  What worries me is that this is the third time I have uttered these words in the last couple of years.  How can I be so fickle?

Jeunesse Dorée by Brockhurst

Ok, before you press the escape button, horrified by my infidelity, let me say that my love or is it infatuation is not for an actual woman but for a woman in a painting.  It all started back on May 16th 2011 when I told you about the time I stood before the painting Jeunesse Dorée.  I was rooted to the spot at the gallery, staring at Gerald Brockhurst’s portrait of Kathleen Woodward, the lady who was his beloved muse and who modelled for this painting.  I couldn’t take my eyes off her face.  There was something magnetic about the way she stared out at me.  I have since visited the gallery on a number of occasions just to pay homage to this beautiful woman.

Virgin Annunciate by Antonello da Messina

So that was that.  I was convinced that no other woman would compare with Kathleen’s beauty or so I thought.  However, almost a year later, (My Daily Art Display May 1st 2012), I came across a painting by Antonello da Messina entitled Virgin Annunciate.  As the title states, this was a painting of the Virgin Mary but the model the artist used for Mary was a humble Sicilian girl and for once the Virgin Mary portrayed in a painting, appeared simply as a young girl.  The model the artist had used for this work was a stunningly beautifully girl.  Words failed me as I looked into her eyes.  She had the most gorgeous face.  She had such an innocent air about her, which of course was befitting such a depiction.  There was such an unsullied loveliness about her that for a moment in my mind I discounted the haunting visage of Kathleen Woodward of Jeunesse Dorée, and yet how could I be so capricious?

And so my undying love of beauty had been transferred from a young English woman to a young Sicilian girl but I was determined that it was going to stop there, and so it would until I went to the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at Birmingham University a fortnight ago and “met” Countess Varvara Nikolaevna Golovina as portrayed by my featured painter, Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun.  Before I tell you more about the sitter and eulogise about her physical beauty, let me complete Élisabeth’s life story.

Maria Carolina by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1791)

The French Revolution had begun and in October 1789, the Palace of Versailles had been stormed by a mob and the Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette had been detained.  Élisabeth, because of her connections with Marie Antoinette, had to hurriedly leave France with her daughter and her daughter’s governess and head for the safety of Italy.  She visited Turin, Bologna, and Rome where her paintings met with great critical acclaim and she was elected to the Roman Accademia di San Luca.  From Rome she moved on to Naples.  Her artistic reputation preceded her and she received many commissions, including royal ones from the Queen of Naples and her husband King Ferdinand IV.  Look closely at the portrait (right) of the Queen, Maria Caroline.  Does she remind you of somebody from my last blog?  There is a very close resemblance with Marie Antoinette and this should not be too surprising as they were sisters.

During her European journeys, Élisabeth gained a travelling companion, who would remain alongside her and her daughter for the next nine years.  His name was, Auguste Jean-Louis Baptiste Rivière, a painter, who had also fled revolutionary Paris and made his way to Turin, where he had met up with Madame Vigée Le Brun and her daughter. Thereafter, he accompanied them and their servants on their trek across Europe and into Russia. During this time the two artists often worked in tandem, Vigée Le Brun painting life-size portraits, some of which were copied in miniature or simply on a small scale by Rivière. She wrote of him in her memoirs:

“…M. de Rivière was an astonishing actor in comic roles. Moreover he possessed every kind of talent, which caused the painter Doyen to remark that M. de Rivière was a little nécessaire de voyage literally a travelling case, but in French a play on words, meaning that he was a necessary adjunct during her voyages. The fact is that he was a fine painter and he copied all of my portraits in the form of large miniatures in oil. He sang very agreeably, played the violin and the bass viol and could accompany himself at the piano. He was endowed with intelligence, perfect tact and such a good heart that despite his distractions, which were frequent and numerous, he was able to oblige his friends with as much enthusiasm as success. M. de Rivière was short, svelte, and he never lost his youthful appearance, so that even at the age of sixty his thin waist and his bearing led one to think he was thirty…”

In 1795, Vigée Le Brun left Vienna and travelled to Russia where she was received by the nobility and painted portraits of numerous aristocrats including the last king of Poland Stanisław August Poniatowski and members of the family of Catherine the Great.  Catherine was not initially happy with Vigée Le Brun’s portrait of her granddaughters, Elena and Alaxandra Pavlovna, because of the amount of bare skin the short sleeved gowns revealed.  However, in order to please the Empress, Vigée Le Brun added sleeves giving the work its characteristic look. This alteration seemed to please the Empress who subsequently agreed to sit herself for Vigée Le Brun.  The proposed portrait never came to fruition as Catherine died in 1796 of a stroke before this work was due to begin.  While in Saint Petersburg, Vigée Le Brun was made a member of the Academy of Fine Arts of Saint Petersburg.   However less pleasing to Élisabeth was her daughter Julie’s decision to marry a Russian nobleman.

And so to My Daily Art Display’s featured work, entitled Portrait of Countess Golovine.  It is of Varvara Nikolaevna Galitzin, the daughter of Lieutenant General Prince Nicholas Feodorovitch Galitzin and his wife, née Prascovia Ivanovna Chouvaloff.  She spent the first fourteen years of her life on her father’s estate of Petrovska, near Moscow. After his death, she and her mother went to live in Saint Petersburg in a house on the Nevsky Prospect next to that of her uncle, Ivan Ivanovitch Chouvaloff.   She was named maid-of-honour at the Imperial court in 1783.   In spite of her mother’s opposition, she married the handsome wealthy but profligate Count Nicholas Nikolaevitch Golovin.   For a time she lived in Paris in the society of the old French aristocracy, but returned to Russia when Napoleon seized power.   Élisabeth and the countess formed a close friendship and in the artist’s memoirs, she wrote of her sitter:

“…Countess Golovin was a charming woman, whose wit and talents were enough to keep us amused, for she received few visitors. She drew very well and composed delightful love songs that she sang while accompanying herself on the piano. Moreover she was on the lookout for all the latest European literature with which she was familiar as soon as it was known in Paris…”

In the painting we see the Countess almost entirely enveloped in the red cloak which is embroidered with a neoclassical design. She wears a deep gold headband.  She stares out at us.  Her eyes are fixed on ours with unwavering, and somewhat unnerving frankness.  What made me lose my heart to this woman was the captivating way her left hand, which grasps her shawl, sweeps up wards clutching the material to her body.  Her loosely flowing auburn hair cascades down on to her shoulder. There is a ray of light falling at an angle from left to right which cuts the background diagonally into dark and light sections and by doing this the artist has emphasised the drama of the pose. There is an aspect of spontaneity about the pose and it is this aspect of the portrait which totally seduced me.

The painting was acquired by the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham in 1980 where it hangs today.

After a sustained campaign by  Élisabeth’s ex-husband and other family members to have her name removed from the list of counter-revolutionary émigrés, she was able to return to France in 1802, during the reign of Emperor Napoleon I.   Her husband died in 1813 and six years later she suffers the tragedy of the death of her daughter.  She recalled these times in her memoirs:

“…I must now speak of the sad years of my life during which, in a brief space, I saw the beings dearest to me depart this world. First, I lost M. Lebrun. True that for a long time I had entertained no relations whatever with him, yet I was none the less mournfully affected by his death. You cannot without regret be separated forever from one to whom so close a tie as marriage has bound you. This blow, however, was far less than the cruel grief I experienced at the death of my daughter. I hastened to her as soon as I heard of her illness, but the disease progressed rapidly, and I cannot tell what I felt when all hope of saving her was gone. When, going to see her the last day, my eyes fell upon that dreadfully sunken face, I fainted away. My old friend Mme. de Noisville rescued me from that bed of sorrow; she supported me, for my legs would not carry me, and took me home. The next day I was childless! Mme. de Verdun came with the news, and vainly tried to soften my despair. All the wrong-doing of the poor little one vanished – I saw her again, I still see her, in the days of her childhood. Alas! she was so young! Why did she not survive me?…”

She bought a house in Louveciennes, Île-de-France, and lived there until the house was seized by the Prussian Army during the Franco-Prussian War in 1814.   She then moved to Paris where she remained until her death in her apartment at the Hotel Le Coq, rue Saint Lazare, at the age of 86,  on March 30th 1842 .  Her body was taken back to Louveciennes and buried in the Cimetière de Louveciennes near her old home.  On her tombstone were the words:

“Ici, enfin, je repose…”

(Here, at last, I rest…).

In all, Vigée Le Brun painted over 660 portraits and 200 landscapes which are in galleries and museums all over the world.   In 1835 she published her memoirs.

For a full account of Élisabeth’s life you should try and get hold of her autobiography, Memoirs of Madame Vigée Lebrun translated by Lionel Strachey.  There is an internet version to be found at:

http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/lebrun/memoirs/memoirs.html#XVIII

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Art display, Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, Female artists, Female painters, French painters, Portraiture | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun and Marie Antoinette

Marie-Antoinette of Austria, Queen of France
by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1778)

I had intended this blog to be the concluding look at the life and some of the works of Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun but instead I am just concentrating this blog on a couple of the portraits Élisabeth did of the Queen consort Marie Antoinette and look at Élisabeth’s life up to her forced exile from France.  My next blog will conclude Élisabeth’s life story.

At the end of my last blog we had reached 1775 and Élisabeth’s step father had retired from his jewellery business and the family had moved to an apartment in a large property, Hotel de Lubert, which was situated on the rue de Clery.    The Hotel de Lubert was also where the painter and art dealer Jean-Baptiste Pierre Le Brun had his gallery.  Soon after settling into her new home, Élisabeth took a great interest in the beautiful masterpieces which filled Le Brun’s apartment and gallery.   She recalled this time in her memoirs saying:

“…I was enchanted at an opportunity of first-hand acquaintance with these works by great masters.  Monsieur Lebrun was so obliging as to lend me, for purposes of copying, some of his handsomest and most valuable paintings. Thus I owed him the best lessons I could conceivably have obtained…”

Six months after moving in to her new home Le Brun proposed marriage to Élisabeth.   She was not physically attracted to him but was concerned about her family’s financial future, hated living with her stepfather and after much persuasion from her mother, who believed Le Brun was very rich, agreed to Le Brun’s proposal.  Even on her wedding day on January 11th 1776, Élisabeth had her doubts about the wisdom of her decision for she later wrote:

“…So little, however, did I feel inclined to sacrifice my liberty that, even on my way to church, I kept saying to myself, “Shall I say yes, or shall I say no?” Alas! I said yes, and in so doing exchanged present troubles for others…”

Élisabeth’s fears were soon borne out for although she termed her husband as being “agreeable” he had one great character flaw – he was an inveterate gambler and soon his money and that which Élisabeth earned from her commissions was frittered away.  However before the money had run out, Élisabeth and her husband bought the Hotel de Lubert in 1779, and her Salons, which she held there became one of Paris’ most fashionable pre-revolutionary venues for artists and the literati.  Two years later, on February 12th 1780, her only child Jeanne Julie Louise was born.   In 1781 she and her husband left Paris and journeyed to Flanders and the Netherlands and it was during this trip that she saw some of the works by the great Flemish Masters and these paintings inspired her to try new painting techniques. During their time in Flanders she carried out various portraiture commissions for some of the nobility, including the Prince of Nassau.

It was back in the year 1779 that Élisabeth first painted a portrait of Marie-Antoinette, Louis XVI’s queen consort.  It was at a time when the lady had reached the pinnacle of her beauty.  In her memoirs Élisabeth described Marie-Antoinette:

“…Marie Antoinette was tall and admirably built, being somewhat stout, but not excessively so. Her arms were superb, her hands small and perfectly formed, and her feet charming. She had the best walk of any woman in France, carrying her head erect with a dignity that stamped her queen in the midst of her whole court, her majestic mien, however, not in the least diminishing the sweetness and amiability of her face. To anyone who has not seen the Queen it is difficult to get an idea of all the graces and all the nobility combined in her person. Her features were not regular; she had inherited that long and narrow oval peculiar to the Austrian nation. Her eyes were not large; in colour they were almost blue, and they were at the same time merry and kind. Her nose was slender and pretty, and her mouth not too large, though her lips were rather thick. But the most remarkable thing about her face was the splendour of her complexion. I never have seen one so brilliant and brilliant is the word, for her skin was so transparent that it bore no umber in the painting. Neither could I render the real effect of it as I wished. I had no colours to paint such freshness, such delicate tints, which were hers alone, and which I had never seen in any other woman…”

Both the artist and sitter formed a relaxed friendship and in her first portrait (above) the queen is depicted with a large basket, wearing a satin dress, and holding a rose in her hand. The painting was to be a gift for Marie-Antoinette’s brother, Emperor Joseph II, the Holy Roman Emperor, and a further two copies were made, one of which she gave to the Empress Catherine II of Russia, the other she would keep for her own apartments at Versailles.  In all, Élisabeth painted more than thirty portraits of the queen over a nine year period

Élisabeth’s friendship with Marie-Antoinette and her royal patronage served her well as in 1783,  her name had been put forward by Joseph Vernet for election to France’s Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture.   As her morceau de réception (reception piece) she submitted an allegorical history painting entitled La Paix qui ramène l’Abondance (Peace Bringing Back Prosperity).  She also submitted a number of her portraits. The Académie however did not categorise her work within the academy categories of either portraiture or history.  Her application for admission was opposed on the grounds that her husband was an art dealer, but because of Élisabeth’s powerful royal patronage, the Académie officials were overruled by an order from Louis XVI.  It is thought that Marie Antoinette put considerable pressure on her husband on behalf of her painter friend.

Having royal patronage and being great friends with Marie-Antoinette was a boon when the Royalty was loved by its people but once the people turned against Louis XVI and his queen, as happened during the French Revolution, then any friends the royal couple had were equally detested and at risk from the mob.  Attacks on Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun’s character had started back in late 1783 when the newspapers wrote stories about an alleged affairs she had with the Finance Minister, Charles Alexandre, Vicomte de Calonne, the Comte de Vaudreuil and the painter François Menageot.  The rumours persisted and it all came to a head in 1789 when fictitious correspondence between Élisabeth and Calonne was published in the spring.  Rumours about her lavish lifestyle abounded, even though they were not altogether true.  She was now starting to realise that having close connections to the monarchy, which she had once considered to be advantageous, was becoming a dangerous liability.

Marie Antoinette and her Children
by Élisabeth Vigé Le Brun (1788)

Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun’s last portrait of Marie-Antoinette was completed in 1788 and entitled Marie Antoinette and her Children.  The setting is a bedroom or a private chamber within the Royal palace.  Marie Antoinette is seated with her feet on a cushion.  This depiction of her posture symbolizes her status and high position in society.  She has a young infant on her lap and her son and daughter are either side of her.  In the painting we see her son, Louis-Joseph, Le Dauphin, standing to the right. Louis-Joseph suffered from bad health all his young life with the onset of early symptoms of tuberculosis and he died of consumption in 1789, a few months before his eighth birthday.   On the Queen’s lap sits Louis-Charles, Duc de Normandie, who on the death of his elder brother, became the second Dauphin. Following the guillotining of his father Louis XVI,  he became known as Louis XVII. This young boy was imprisoned in The Temple, a medieval Parisian fortress prison, where he died in 1795, aged ten, probably from malnutrition but rumour also has it that he was murdered.  Standing on the Queen’s right is Marie Therese Charlotte de France, Madame Royale.  She was Marie-Antoinette’s eldest child.  She too was imprisoned in The Temple but was the only member of the Royal family to survive the ordeal.  She remained a prisoner for over a year but Austria arranged for her release in a prisoner-exchange on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, in December 1795.  In the painting we can also see depicted an infant’s cradle which Louis-Joseph points to and lifts the covers showing it as being empty.  This empty cradle is a reference to Princess Sophie, Marie Antoinette’s other daughter, who was born in 1786 and died of convulsions two weeks before her first birthday.  This very poignant painting still hangs at Versailles.

On the night of October 6th 1789, following the invasion of Versailles by Parisian mobs and the arrest of the royal family, Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun left the mayhem of Paris with her daughter and governess in a public coach and headed for Italy.  She had hoped to return to France in the near future when the situation had settled down but in fact she never set foot back in France for twelve years.

My next blog will look at the latter part of Élisabeth’s life and I will regale you with my tale of infidelity which was the reason for featuring Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun in the first place !!

 

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Self Portraiture by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun

Over the next two blogs I want to introduce you to and look at the life of one of the finest 18th century French female portraitist, Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun.  In my initial blog about her I want to examine her early life and show you three of her self portraits and in the following blog I will conclude her life story and tell you about her friendship with Marie-Antoinette, her exile from the land of her birth and relate how I was once again unfaithful having been seduced by a new beauty !  Sounds interesting ?

Self Portrait in a Straw Hat (age 22)
by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (1782)

Today’s artist was born Élisabeth-Louise Vigée in April 1755 on the rue Coquilliere in Paris, just six months before another baby girl was born in the palace of Emperors of Austria in Vienna, a priveleged child, who would become the queen of the French nation and also play a large part in Élisabeth’s life.  That Viennese baby was Marie-Antoinette.   But let me return to Élisabeth.  Élisabeth was the daughter of Louis Vigée, a portraitist and professor at the Academie de Saint Luc .  Her mother, Jeanne Maissin was a hairdresser by trade.  At the age of 3 months, she was sent to a small farm near Épernon, where she was looked after by relatives.  She stayed with them until she was six years old.  Following this, she attended the convent school, Couvent de la Trinite in the Faubourg Saint Antoine district of Paris, as a pensionnaire, (a boarder) where she remained until she was twelve years old.  It was here that she first displayed her young talent for drawing and painting.  In her memoirs she wrote about her time at the boarding school, her love of drawing and the trouble it often got her into but also the pleasure her father had in her interest in art.  She wrote:

“….During that time I scrawled on everything at all seasons; my copy-books, and even my schoolmates’, I decorated with marginal drawings of heads, some full-face, others in profile; on the walls of the dormitory I drew faces and landscapes with coloured chalks. So it may easily be imagined how often I was condemned to bread and water. I made use of my leisure moments outdoors in tracing any figures on the ground that happened to come into my head. At seven or eight, I remember, I made a picture by lamplight of a man with a beard, which I have kept until this very day. When my father saw it he went into transports of joy, exclaiming, “You will be a painter, child, if ever there was one!…”

On returning to live at home on a permanent basis, her father gave Élisabeth her first drawing lessons when she was allowed to attend his drawing classes which he gave to students in his studio.  Sadly his tuition did not last long as Louis Vigée died on May 9 1767 in his apartment on the rue de Clery.   To lose her father at the age of twelve was a traumatic experience for Élisabeth and she recalled the moment:

“…I had spent one happy year at home when my father fell ill. After two months of suffering all hope of  his recovery was  abandoned. When he felt his last moments approaching, he declared a wish to see my brother and myself. We went close to his bedside, weeping bitterly. His face was terribly altered; his eyes and his features, usually so full of animation, were quite without expression, for the pallor and the chill of death were already upon him. We took his icy hand and covered it with kisses and tears. He made a last effort and sat up to give us his blessing. “Be happy, my children,” was all he said. An hour later our poor father had ceased to live…”

Self Portrait with her Daughter (Maternal tenderness)
by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (1786)

Élizabeth’s father had, on his death, left the family penniless and his widow had to find ways of clearing their debts and pay for her son’s schooling and it is with that in mind that, in December of that same year, 1767, she married a wealthy jeweller, Jacques François Le Sevre and the family moved to an apartment on the rue Saint Honore facing the Palais Royal.    However any thoughts she had that her rich husband would solve the family’s financial problems were soon dashed as he turned out to be miserly with his money and just provided the bare minimum for his wife and her son.  Élisabeth, by this time, had been earning her own money from commissions but was made to hand it over to her step-father for him to use as he saw fit.

Élisabeth began taking drawing lessons with her friend Blaise Bocquet from the history painter and Academician, Gabriel Briard, who had a studio in the Louvre.  During her training she copied the paintings of the Old Masters at the Louvre and the Palais-Royal, which housed the magnificent Orléans art collection, and during this period she encountered the French artist, Claude Joseph Vernet.  He would often give her artistic advice and encourage her and more importantly introduced her to prospective important and wealthy patrons.  She also met the Abbé Arnault, of the French Academy.  She later described him as a man of strong imaginative gifts, with a passion for literature and the arts and recalled how his conversation enriched her with ideas.     It was the studying of the Old Masters’ paintings which furthered her knowledge of anatomy, perspective, and the other important aspects of history painting which she was not allowed to formally study, simply because of her gender.  She spent a great deal of time copying the heads in some of the pictures by Rubens, Rembrandt and Van Dyck, as well as several heads of girls in paintings by Jean-Baptiste Greuze.  She was a great admirer of Greuze’s portraiture because, from them, she learnt about his use of  the demi-tints when portraying flesh colouring.

By this time Élisabeth had decided that her future lay in her art and she would strive to become a successful painter.  However her choice of career was problematic simply because she was a female.  As a female, she was excluded from formal academic training and artistic competitions and this factor alone gave her a distinct disadvantage in comparison to the training afforded to her male contemporaries.  At this time in France, the most prestigious type of painting was history painting but to achieve a reputation as a great history painter one had to undergo an all-embracing formal artistic education into the likes of the technique of painting the nude male and how to best arrange figures within a painting for it to be accepted as an acceptable narrative work.  However for reasons of modesty, females were not allowed to paint nude males and so as this formal training was not yet available to aspiring female artists, they had to settle for painting portraits, landscapes and genre works.  She now decided to specialise in portraiture.

Self Portrait with Daughter (à la Grecque)
by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (1789)

In 1774, aged nineteen, Élizabeth applied to join the Academy of Saint Luke where her father had taught. She was accepted and that year she exhibited several of her works at their Salon.  Her portraiture and the way in which she depicted her sitters in a flattering manner was very popular and much in demand.  In 1775 she married a wealthy art dealer and amateur painter, Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun.  The marriage was a marriage of convenience orchestrated by her mother.  Five years later, the couple had their only child, Jeanne Julie Louise, born on February 12th 1780.  It was not a love match, but more of a mutually-beneficial pact that benefitted them both.  .  Her husband marketed her work and endorsed her artistic career while also profiting from her artistic output.  It worked well and the couple became quite affluent and lived a luxurious lifestyle, which allowed them to mix socially with the highest circles of society. Soon Élisabeth and her husband would hold fashionable soirées at their home.  Their guests included artists, writers, and important members of Parisian society.  In 1776 she finally managed to achieve her ultimate aim.  She secured her first royal commission when she was asked to paint a series of portraits of King Louis XVI’s brother, the Comte de Provence.  Before long she even caught the attention of the king and queen themselves and Élisabeth was summoned to the court in 1778 to paint her first portrait of the Marie Antoinette. Marie Antoinette had had her portrait painted by many artists but neither she nor her mother, Marie-Thérèse were ever fully satisfied with the results.  However, they both approved of Élisabeth’s depiction which, although it admirably conveys her royal status, it was actually much more simplified and natural than most of the earlier official portraits of the queen.  This portrait marked the start of a close relationship between Élisabeth and Marie-Antoinette.  This relationship greatly enhanced the reputation of the artist and led to many wealthy commissions. Louis XVI was equally impressed by her artistic work and in Wendy Slatkin’s book, Women Artists in History, she quotes Louis XVI’s comments about Élisabeth and her work:

“…I know nothing about painting, but you have made me love it…”

Élisabeth was a devoted royalist and idolized Marie Antoinette and the rest of the royal family.  It was however this close friendship with Marie-Antoinette which was to alter the course of her life.

Portrait of Susan Lumsden by Rubens

I have included three self portraits in this intial blog about the artist Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun.   The first one entitled Self Portrait with Straw Hat was completed in 1782 and is held in a Swiss private collection.  Élisabeth exhibited this work at the 1783 Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture (Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture), Paris.  Of this painting the artist wrote:

“…I was so delighted and inspired by Rubens’ Le Chapeau de Paille that I completed a self portrait whilst in Brussels in an effort to achieve the same effect.  I painted myself wearing a straw hat with a feather and a garland of wild flowers and holding a palette in one hand...”

For a more comprehensive look at Rubens’ Le Chapeau de Paille, also known as Portrait of Susanna Lunden go to My Daily Art Display of March 11th 2011.

Lady Hervey and her Daughter by Angelika Kauffmann

The second self portrait I have featured was completed by Élisabeth in 1786 and is entitled  Madame Vigée-Le Brun and Her Daughter, Jeanne-Lucie, known as Julie (1718–1819).  The painting is thought to have been inspired by a work by Angelika Kaufmann, entitled Lady Hervey and her Daughter which depicted Elizabeth Drummond, Lady Hervey and her daughter Elizabeth Catherine Caroline Hervey later to become The Honourable Mrs Charles Rose Ellis.  The work by Vigée Le Brun is one of maternal tenderness and is somewhat reminiscent of the sentimental pictures of Jean-Baptiste Greuze which Élisabeth had studied in her younger days.


The third portrait in this blog is entitled Madame Vigée-Le Brun et sa fille, Jeanne-Lucie-Louise, dite Julie (Madame Vigée-Le Brun and her daughter Jeanne-Lucie-Louise, known as Julie) and is often referred to as Self Portrait with Daughter (à la Grecque).  It is currently housed at the Louvre in Paris.

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Art display, Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, Female artists, Female painters, French painters, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Portraiture, Self Portraits | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

July Fourth by Grandma Moses

July Fourth by Grandma Moses (1951)

Grandma Moses – Part 3

This is my third and final instalment of the life and times of Grandma Moses, the great American Folk artist.  If you have just landed on this page I suggest, before reading this blog, you first go back and look at the earlier blogs covering the early and middle part of her life (My Daily Art Display November 6th and 9th)

I ended the last blog talking about Grandma Moses successful one-man exhibition at Otto Kallir’s Manhattan Galerie St Etienne in October 1940.  At the time of her exhibition she was eighty years of age.  Before the exhibition had finished its one-month run the large Manhattan department store, Gimbels, asked that Grandma Moses’ artwork be exhibited in their store’s large auditorium in time for the Thanksgiving Festival the following month and they invited the artist to be in attendance to talk to the shoppers.  Grandma Moses, who had not attended her one-woman show, agreed to Gimbels’ “meet and greet” request and arrived accompanied by Carolyn Thomas, the owner of the Hoosick Falls drugstore, where the artist’s work was first put on display and her artistic journey had begun.

After the success of the Galerie St Etienne exhibition Grandma Moses works were put on display at other exhibitions in New York and Washington.  In 1941 she exhibited some of her works at the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts and for her painting The Old Oaken Bucket, she was awarded the New York State Prize.  Over the years Grandma Moses received numerous requests from people for copies of her work, which they had seen at various exhibitions.  She rarely refused and this would explain why titles of her works often recurred.   It should also be noted that although she provided copies of specific works for people, she would often deviate slightly from the original.  In some cases the scene would be the same but the time of year and thus the weather conditions were changed and thus the tonal quality of the painting was adjusted.

When one looks at the many winter scenes depicted in Grandma Moses’ paintings one can understand why a greetings card company would be interested in her work.  The Brundage Greeting Card Company arranged for a number of her paintings to be part of their 1946 Christmas card selection and the following year, 1947, Hallmark acquired the right to reproduce Grandma Moses paintings and they went on to appear for many years on their Christmas and Greetings cards.

In 1849, aged 89, Grandma Moses attended the Women’s National Press Club Awards held at the Statler Hotel in Washington.  Over seven hundred guests and dignitaries attended and watch President Truman hand out the six awards to women who had made substantial contribution in their field.  Grandma Moses’ received her award for her outstanding accomplishment in Art.  Other award winners were Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s widow, Eleanor for her work as Chairman of the UN Human Rights Commission, Madeleine Carroll, the actress and America’s first female elected mayor of a large city (Portland, Oregon), Dorothy McCullough.  The day after the Awards ceremony Grandma Moses was invited by President Truman and his wife to take tea with them at their Blair House residence (The White House was closed between 1949 and 1951 while the building, which had been found to have serious structural faults, was completely gutted and rebuilt and refurbished).

At the end of May 1949, Grandma Moses returned home to Eagle Bridge in triumph and was met and serenaded by an estimated eight hundred people.  Eagle Bridge had never seen the like before.  She remembered that day well and despite all the homecoming celebrations, she wrote of the time in a letter, simply stating:

“…In a way I was glad to get back and go to bed that night…”

In February 1949, Grandma Moses’ youngest son Hugh, who, along with his wife Dorothy, had been living with her and helping run the Mount Nebo farm died suddenly.  She remained at the farmhouse but two years later in 1951 she moved across the road to a new ranch-style house, which her sons, Forrest and Lloyd had built for her.  Now aged 91, she was not to be left to live alone as her daughter Winona returned from California to be with her.

In March 1952 when President Truman was finally allowed to go back with his wife to live at the White House after its extensive refurbishment, Grandma Moses wrote to his wife:

 “…As I have seen in the papers, the White House will be reopened on April 1st.  It would be a great pleasure to me to dedicate on this occasion an original painting by Grandma Moses to the White House and to the American people, if the President and you would approve of my intention, and if there is a place for it…”

Her offer was accepted and her painting entitled July Fourth has been hanging in the White House ever since.   This is My Daily Art Display featured painting for today.   In 1955 she completed another painting for a US President – this time it was a work of art for President Dwight Eisenhower, entitled The Eisenhower Farm, which was presented to him in January 1956, by Vice President Richard Nixon to mark the third anniversary of his inauguration.  Eisenhower was delighted with the painting but did comment that he wished his farm was as big as the one depicted in Grandma Moses’s painting.

Following the end of World War II Grandma Moses fame spread to Europe.  They had already seen illustrations of her work in magazines but there was now a hunger to see the originals.   In 1950 a collection of fifty of her works was sent to Europe and were shown at exhibitions in all the major European art capitals such as Vienna, Munich, Salzburg, Paris, Berne and The Hague.   The attitude to her artwork changed after these exhibitions.  The art critic for the London journal, Art News and Review wrote:

“…Grandma Moses is one of the key symbols of our time…….She is clearly an artist, whose paintings reveal a quality identical with genius…”

High praise indeed !!

In 1955 she took part in a famous TV programme with the legendry radio and TV commentator Edward Murrow and in May 1960 Governor of the New York State, Nelson Rockefeller issued a proclamation declaring September 7th that year to be “Grandma Moses Day”, which was the day of her one hundredth birthday.

By this time Grandma Moses’ health was starting to decline.  Her strength was waning and she was having severe difficulty with walking.   After a number of falls her son Forrest took her to the Health Centre at Hoosick Falls.  Sadly for Grandma Moses it was decided that she could not continue to live in her home as she needed constant care and so she was admitted to the nursing home.  Away from her own home she was unable to paint and this saddened her.  She never made it back home and although she celebrated her 101st birthday at the Hoosick Falls Health Centre she passed away three months later on December 13th 1961 and was buried at the Maple Grove Cemetery.

News of her death spread far and wide and tributes poured in.  President Kennedy issued the following statement:

“…The death of Grandma Moses removes a beloved figure from American life.  The directness and vividness of her paintings restored a primitive freshness to our perception of the American scene.  All Americans mourn her loss.  Both her work and her life helped our nation renew its pioneer heritage and recalled its roots in the countryside and on the frontier…”

I hope you have enjoyed this look at an astounding female artist.  I have trawled through reams of information to try and get a true picture of the great lady’s life.  I have come across numerous factual contradictions, which I have tried to sort out.   My main source of information was a book I bought myself entitled Grandma Moses by Otto Kallir.  It is a wonderful book and one I recommend you buy.

Posted in American artists, American Folk Art, Art, Art Blog, Art display, Female artists, Female painters, Grandma Moses | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Bringing in the Maple Sugar by Grandma Moses

Bringing in the Maple Syrup by Grandma Moses (1939)

Grandma Moses – Part 2

This is the second part of my story about Grandma Moses and if you have just alighted on this page, you should go back to my last blog in which I looked at her early life.

I ended my last blog about Grandma Moses in the year 1927.  This was the year when her husband of almost forty years, Thomas Salmon Moses, died and Anna May Robertson Moses became a sixty-seven year old widow.  Following her husband’s death, she remained on her Mount Nebo farmstead along with her youngest son Hugh, who took over the running of the farm along with his wife Dorothy.  One of Grandma Moses’ other daughters, Anna, lived close by in the town of Bennington with her husband Frank, who was her first cousin, and their two children Walter and Thomas.   Anna had contracted tuberculosis and had become very ill.  Grandma Moses spent a lot of time with her and her family taking care of her two grandchildren.  Anna Moses died in 1933 and Grandma Moses stayed on at their Bennington home for the next two years looking after her son-in-law and his children.  This arrangement continued until 1935, at which time Frank Moses remarried and Grandma Moses was then able to return to her home.

Over those past years Grandma Moses found more time to carry on with her embroidery and needlepoint work.  Once when her sister Celestia came to Mount Nebo for a visit she saw some of her sister’s work and suggested that she should concentrate more on painting rather than embroidery.  This advice, together with the fact that Grandma Moses was suffering badly from arthritis of the hands, persuaded her to heed her sister’s advice and she began to concentrate all her artistic efforts, not in yarn but in oils.

I ended my last blog by mentioning Grandma Moses “big break” as far as her artistic opportunities were concerned.   This came in 1938 when her daughter-in-law, Dorothy persuaded her to let her take some of her embroidered work and painted pictures down to the Woman’s Exchange in the W.D. Thomas drugstore in Hoosick Falls and it was at this point that fate stepped in and took a hand,  for passing through the town during his Easter vacation was Louis Calder, a New York amateur art collector and engineer.  He spotted Grandma Moses’ works displayed in the drugstore window, priced between $3 and $5 and he bought them all.  He then enquired about the artist of his recent acquisitions and went to visit her.  He then bought a further ten of her works.

Louis Calder returned to New York and tried to interest people in Grandma Moses’ works.  There was little interest.  Somewhat despondent Calder had virtually given up hope of re-selling his newly bought acquisitions.  However the following year, 1939, he got to hear about an exhibition being held in the Members Room of the city’s Museum of Modern Art that was to open on October 18th and run for a month.  The exhibition was to be entitled Contemporary Unknown American Painters.  Calder went to the organiser of the show, Sidney Janis and showed him the works of Grandma Moses which he had just bought the previous year.   Janis agreed to exhibit three of the paintings, Home,  Maple Sugar Days and The First Automobile.   None of the paintings sold but Calder was not disheartened and contacted Grandma Moses urging her to produce further works for him.

In the meantime Louis Calder went on searching for prospective buyers for the paintings.  It was at the end of 1939 that he heard of a new gallery, Galerie St Etienne, which had recently been opened by Otto Kallir on Manhattan’s West 57th Street.   In 1938, Otto Kallir, then known as Otto Nierenstein, was one of Vienna’s most prominent Jewish art dealers but had fled the Nazi regime and emigrated to the United States.  He then, in 1939, established his gallery and helped to introduce Expressionism to America.   Later in the 1940’s and 1950’s, Kallir would give numerous important Austrian and German modernists, including Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Alfred Kubin, Paula Modersohn-Becker and Egon Schiele their first American exhibitions in his gallery.   Otto Kallir was known to be interested in folk art and primitive art and so Louis Calder arranged for him to see some of Grandma Moses’ art work.

One of the paintings which Kallir really liked was entitled Bringing in the Maple Sugar and it is this painting which I have featured in My Daily Art Display blog today.   Grandma Moses completed the work in 1839 and it depicts a sugaring-off scene in which people are collecting sap from the maple trees.  It is a winter scene set in a snow-covered clearing and we can see people busying themselves with the task in hand of collecting the precious tree sap to be used in making maple syrup.  Once the sap is collected in the buckets it is carried over and poured into kettles which dangle over fires.  Besides the hard-working adults in the scene, Grandma Moses has added the figures of children happily playing in the snow and waiting for some maple syrup candy which is being prepared by a man on the left who is busily stirring the pot.   To the right of the picture we can see a horse-driven sleigh loaded with timber which will be used to keep the fires burning.  In the left mid-ground we see a team of oxen approaching, pulling their sleigh full of wood.  It is a painting full of activity but what impressed Kallir most of all was not the way the artist had painted the figures, which he considered rather clumsy, but the way she had painted the landscape background.  He commented that although he believed Grandma Moses had never heard of any rules of perspective, she had managed to achieve an impression of depth in the way she had depicted the tall bare trees in the foreground to smaller ones in the background and the clearly outlined larger figures in the foreground to the smaller, hazy-detailed figures in the background.   He also liked how she had almost merged the smoke which billowed and rose from the chimney of the hut and the bluish gray sky of an early morning in winter.  For Kallir it was Grandma Moses’ ability to convey a true atmosphere and a oneness with nature that appealed to him.

Otto Kallir agreed to exhibit Grandma Moses’ works in a “one-man show” at his gallery.  It opened on October 9th 1940 and was entitled What a Farm Wife Painted and consisted of thirty-three of her paintings and one of her embroidered works.  The New York Times of October 8th previewed the exhibition and part of the article read:

“…Mrs Anna May Robertson Moses, known to the countryside around Greenwich, New York, as Grandma Moses, began painting three years ago, when she was approaching 80…”

From that day on Anna Mary Robertson Moses became known as Grandma Moses.

Posted in American artists, American Folk Art, Art, Art Blog, Art display, Art History, Female artists, Female painters, Folk art, Grandma Moses | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment