Joaquín Sorolla (part 2)

Portrait of Joaquín Sorolla by José Jiménez Aranda (1901)

Portrait of Joaquín Sorolla by José Jiménez Aranda (1901)

By 1885, Joaquín Sorolla had settled down to life in Rome but during that year he also spent the spring and summer in Paris.  At this time in the French capital, the Impressionists were in the ascendancy after they and their art had been criticised and they had had to survive an initial period of ridicule, commercial failure and outright denunciation.    However, the Impressionists had now managed to establish their status some eleven years after they held their first Impressionist exhibition at Nadar’s studios and whilst Sorolla was in Paris he saw much of thire work but it was not the Impressionist painters who would influence him.   Whilst in the French capital he visited the retrospective exhibitions of two non-Impressionist painters, the French Naturalist painter, Jules Bastien-Lepage, who had died the previous year, and Adolf von Menzel the German painter who, along with Caspar Davisd Friedrich, was considered one of the two most prominent German artists of the 19th century and was also the most successful artist of his era in Germany.

Sorolla returned to his home town of Valencia on two occasions during the late 1880’s and on the second visit in 1888 he proposed to and married Clotilde Garcia del Castillo the daughter of his mentor, the photographer Antonio Garcia.  Joaquín and Clotilda had first met in 1879 when he had started work in her father’s workshop.   Joaquín finally returned from Italy and in 1890 the couple settled in Madrid.   Sorolla style of painting became more individualistic with him tending towards social realism works. 

Another Marguerite by Joaquín Sorolla (1892)

Another Margarita by Joaquín Sorolla (1892)

For a good example of a social realism work by Sorolla one only has to look at his beautifully executed painting entitled Another Margarita which he completed in 1892.  He exhibited the work at the Madrid National Exhibition that year and was awarded a first-class medal.  This was also Sorolla first major painting to be exhibited in America and it was awarded the first prize at the Chicago International Exhibition, where it was acquired and subsequently donated to the Washington University Museum in St Louis.    The story behind the depiction is of a woman who has been arrested for suffocating her small son and Sorolla actually witnessed the woman being transported to jail.  There is an air of gloom about the manacled woman as she sits slumped on the wooden bench of the train carriage being watched by her two guards who sit behind her.  In contrast to the dark and depressing depiction of the three individuals, the carriage itself is lit up by the warm light which streams through the windows at the rear of the compartment and which bathes the entire space.

The Return of the Catch by Joaquin Sorolla (1894)

The Return of the Catch by Joaquin Sorolla (1894)

His realist art also embraced what the Spanish termed costumbrismo, which was the pictorial interpretation of local everyday life, mannerisms, and customs.   This kind of art depicted particular times and places, rather than of humanity in an abstract form.   In many instances costumbrismo was often satirical and often moralizing, but it was careful not to offer or even imply any particular analysis of the society it depicted, unlike proper realism art.  In less satirical works costumbrismo took on a romantic folklore flavour.  A fine example of this type of work was a painting entitled The Return of the Catch which Sorolla completed in 1894 and which received critical acclaim when it was shown at the 1895 Paris Salon.   It was subsequently acquired by the Musée du Luxembourg.  He painted a number of similar pictures depicting Valencian fisherman at work bathed in the dazzling Mediterranean light such as his 1894 painting entitled Return from Fishing and his 1903 painting, Afternoon Sun.

Sad Inheritance by Joaquín Sorolla (1899)

Sad Inheritance by Joaquín Sorolla (1899)

By 1895 Joaquín and Clotilda had three children.  Their daughter Maria was born in 1890, their son Joaquín in 1892 and their youngest child Elena in 1895.  In 1899 Sorolla painted what was to become his most famous and most moving picture.  It was entitled Sad Inheritance and I talked about this work in My Daily Art Display of Jan 31st 2011.  It is a poignant work featuring a monk and a group of children, crippled by polio, who are seen bathing in the sea at Valencia.   Sorolla received his greatest official recognition for this work of art, the Grand Prix and a medal of honour at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900, and a year later he received the medal of honour at the National Exhibition in Madrid in 1901.

In my third and final blog about Joaquín Sorolla I will feature some of his family portraits, look at the Sorolla Museum in Madrid and conclude the life story of this wonderful Spanish artist.

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Joaquín Sorolla (part 1)

Self Portrait by Joaquín Sorolla (1909)

Self Portrait by Joaquín Sorolla (1909)

I have said on a number of occasions that when one is in a large city which has one or maybe two famous large art museums, and when one is time-limited, one should search around and look for a smaller gallery which may have hidden treasures to offer.  The art on display in smaller museums can be taken in on one visit and there is no feeling of having to rush from room to room, constantly looking at ones watch to try and see as much as one can and ultimately seeing very little.  Madrid is famous for its three large art museums the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Queen Sophie but once again thanks to my daughter, who was my travelling companion on this trip, I discovered a pure gem of a museum – The Sorolla, which was just a few stops on the Metro from the city centre.  In my blogs I want to offer you a taste of what you would get if you visit the museum dedicated to one of Spain’s best loved artists, show you some of the Spanish painters work and look at his life story.

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida was born into a humble household in Valencia in February 1863.  His parents were Joaquín Sorolla Gascón and Concepción Bastida who were retailers.  Joaquín and his younger sister Concha were orphaned in 1865 when both their parents died from the cholera epidemic which had swept through and ravaged the Spanish city.  Joaquín and Concha went to live with their maternal aunt, Isabel Bastida and her husband José Piqueres, a locksmith by trade.  Joaquín’s early schooling was not a success with the young boy being inattentive during lessons and was happy to doodle and draw in his exercise books to pass the time away.  His lack of progress at the school came to the attention of his uncle who withdrew him and took him on as an apprentice at his workshop.  However, owing to his love of drawing, when Joaquín was fourteen years old, his uncle arranged for him to attend drawing classes in the evening at the city’s Escuelade Artesanos where his artistic ability astounded his teachers, including the sculptor Cayetano Capuz.   The following year, 1878, he enrolled on a three-year course at Valencia’s prestigious Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Carlos.  It was whilst attending the art school that he met and became friends with a fellow student, Juan Antonio Perez.  He was soon introduced to Juan’s family.  Juan’s father, Antonio Garcia Perez was a photographer and was very impressed with Sorolla’s art work, so much so that he gave him a job at his photography studio as an illuminator.  This opportunity allowed Sorolla to leave his uncle’s workshop and concentrate on his artwork and discover the world of photography.  He learnt all about the framing of a subject and the manipulation of light which would prove a boon to him when he started to paint seaside and beach scenes.   This “new world” of photography fascinated many artists of the time and the likes of the French pair of Impressionists, Degas and Caillebotte were accomplished amateur photographers.

The Shout of the Palleter by Joaquín Sorolla (1881)

The Shout of the Palleter by Joaquín Sorolla (1881)

 Joaquín won many awards whilst studying at Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Carlos and at the end of his time there, and buoyed by his success, he sent off three seascapes to the Madrid National Exhibition.   He travelled to Madrid on a couple of occasions and visited the Prado where he painted copies of the great Masters.   In 1884, in the hope of attaining a monetary scholarship from the Valencia Provincial Council, he submitted a number of paintings to them, one of which was entitled The Shout of the Palleter, which was a historical painting recording the event in Valencia when one of its inhabitants Vincent Doménech in 1808, incensed by the French occupation of his country stood in the square urging people to rebel against the French tyranny.  He uttered his famous words:

“…Jo, Vicent Doménech, un pobre palleter, li declare la guerra a Napoleó. ¡Vixca Ferran sèptim! ¡Muiguen els traïdors!…”

(I, Vincent Doménech, a poor and simple worker, declare war against Napoleon.  Long live Ferdinand.  Death to the traitors.)

Sorolla painted the picture in the bullring of Valencia which he transformed into a huge studio and which was bathed in brilliant sunlight.  The stage-managed scene was a triumph and the Valencia Provincial Council awarded him a three-year scholarship to study art at the Spanish Academy in Rome. 

Father Jofré Protecting a Madman by JoachínSorolla (1887)

Father Jofré Protecting a Madman by JoachínSorolla (1887)

One of the conditions attached to the scholarship was that he regularly sent back work to the Council to prove that he was making good use of his time.   One of the paintings he duly sent back to Valencia was his 1887 work entitled Father Jofré Protecting a Madman.  This historical painting was based on the story of Father Joan-Gilabert Jofré, a friar of the Valencian Mercedarian Order, who, on  February 24, 1409, was on his way from the convent of the Plaza de la Merced to the Cathedral of Valencia.   On his way there he passed along the street of Martín Mengod,  the ancient street of the silver workers, next to the church of Santa Catalina.  On entering the street he was greeted with a great commotion.   Before him, he saw a group of children who were hitting and making fun of a mentally ill man who lay on the ground before them.   In those days it was believed by many that somebody who was mentally ill was possessed by the devil.  Father Jofré immediately berated the children and took the helpless man with him to the convent of the Order of Mercy, where he was given shelter and cure for his wounds.  Father Jofré would go on to found the world’s first lunatic asylum.

After his three year scholarship came to an end, Joaquín Sorolla continued to live in Rome and for a time in Assisi but on two occasions between 1885 and 1889 he returns to his home city of Valencia.

 

…….to be continued.

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Hyperrealism or Photorealism or Superrealism

Untitled (4 VWs) by Don Eddy (1971)

Untitled (4 VWs) by Don Eddy (1971)

Last week I decided to escape the cold and dreary weather of Britain.  It can be so depressing to look out each day on black clouds, heavy rain and suffer the inclement weather which rushes in from the Atlantic.   Although I like being by the sea when I go away, I thought the water temperature even in the Mediterranean might not be quite bearable for somebody so delicate as moi, so I decided to go for a warm/hot city break which would afford me the chance to visit some excellent art galleries and so I headed for Madrid.  I have flown to Madrid on a number of occasions but have always driven away from the capital’s airport on my way to other destinations so this was my first proper visit to the Spanish city.   I had planned my “must see and must do” list before I went and had the Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza museums on the list but in fact I came across another gem which I will tell you about in my next blog.

Today I want to talk you about an exhibition I went to see at the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum.  I have to be honest with you and say that even when I was standing in line to pay my museum entrance fee I had no intention of paying extra to see their special exhibition entitled Hyperrealism 1967-2012.  There were posters all around advertising the event with what looked like a photograph of four highly-polished VW Beetle cars (see above).  I immediately, and wrongly, jumped to the conclusion that the exhibition was a one of modern photography which is not what I want to see in a museum of art.  However thanks to my daughter, who loves modernity in art and who had accompanied me on this short holiday, I was dragged into the rooms which held this display.

Telephone Booths by Richard Estes (1967)

Telephone Booths by Richard Estes (1967)

I have to tell you I had never seen anything quite like it.  This was not a display of photographs but a large exhibition of works of Hyperrealism art often referred to as Photorealism art.  There are so many –isms in art.  I thought I knew them all and in fact I have the book …isms , Understanding art,  by Stephen Little, which discusses them all from Classicism to Sensationalism but even he had not touched on Hyperrealism.  So what are Hyperrealism and Photorealism?  The Oxford Dictionary of Art lists them under the name Superrealism and states that

“…it is an art form where the subjects are depicted with a minute and impersonal exactitude of detail…”

  It appears that Photorealism is the accepted artistic term in German and English speaking countries whereas Hyperrealism is the preferred term for this form of art in countries speaking Romance languages.  Whatever the term, this genre of art first emerged in the late 1960s  when a group of artists in the USA began to paint objects and scenes from daily life with a high degree of realism, using photography as the basis for their works.  The leading lights of the movement in those early days were Richard Estes, John Baeder, Robert Bechtle, Tom Blackwell, Chuck Close and Robert Cottingham.   This new movement attained international recognition in 1972 when their art appeared in the German city of Kassel at its Documenta 5 exhibition in the city’s Neue Gallerie.  The works of art at this exhibition were mostly by up-and-coming American artists.  In a way their works were a protest against abstract art which was dominating the art scene and the intellectual world since the mid 1940’s.  It was the era of the Abstract Expressionists, the Minimalists, the painters of Op Art and the Conceptual artists.  The emergence of Photorealism or Hyperrealism in the late 60’s was like new art movements of the past,  challenging current artistic practices and by doing so distancing themselves from what they considered to be the mainstream art genre of that time. The exhibition in Kassel caused an uproar.  The art critic of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung edition of July 8th 1972 reviewed the exhibition and was vehemently ctitical of what he saw, saying:

“… These are decorative objects for the dining room, or some even for the bedroom produced following the latest doctrines, pedantry in place of genius and the results are the most pedantic decorative objects imaginable…”

A few months earlier another writer reviewed a Photorealism exhibition held in New York and wrote;

“…if there is an obscene art, then it is that selling itself as the latest movement of the avant garde…”

The article went even further with its condemnation of the rapidly growing interest of the public for this new art genre.  The writer sought to bring shame on the buyers of this art by saying:

“…The buyers are snapping up this production-line Galatea as fast as its prolific Pygmalions can create her, dragging her home, like sailors with their inflatable dolls, for their aesthetic reassurance…”

The works of the Photorealists were painted with such intricate precision and with such meticulous detail that their finished paintings looked like photographs themselves.   The critics of this genre maintained that Photorealism was not art but simply the virtuosity of a copyist whose main aim was an accurate mimicking of reality, which was simply producing a stereotyped image of it.  The critics of this art even deemed it to be anti-intellectual.

The exhibition I went to see at the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum consisted of  sixty-six works by three generations of Hyperrealist artists and had been organised by the Institut für Kulturaustausch (German Cultural Exchange Institute.   It was an exhibition which offered visitors an insight into Hyperrealism and the history of the movement.  I have chosen two of my favourite works from this exhibition to feature in today’s blog.  One work is by a Second Generation of Hyperrealists,  Rod Penner, and the other by a young lady, born in London who is one of the new breed of Hyperrealists, Raphaella Spence.

House with Snow by Rod Penner (1998)

House with Snow by Rod Penner (1998)

The first work I have chosen is entitled House with Snow and was completed by Rod Penner in 1998 and is one of many he did which focused on the streets and single family homes in small towns in Texas.      Rod Penner was born in Vancouver in 1965 and currently lives and works in the small mid-Texan town of Marble Falls. He attended Kwantlen College in Canada before receiving a Bachelor of Arts in 1986 from Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, Oklahoma.  The work is a culmination of his visit to the location, photographing the scene, often using digital video stills.   It measures 91cms x 137cms and depicts a small single-family home in winter.  It is a truly remarkable work of art and I had to keep going up close to it to make sure it was not an actual photograph.

Canal Grande by Raphaella Spence (2007)

Canal Grande by Raphaella Spence (2007)

My second offering and probably my favourite is by a young British woman, Raphaella Spence.  It is entitled Canal Grande and was completed in 2007.  Raphaella was born in London in 1978 but she spent the first eight years of her life with her family in France.   The family went back to London where she continued her schooling.  At the age of twelve she was once again on her travels as the family relocated to Italy and went to school in Rome at the St. George’s British International School.   Raphaella love of art and the beautiful Umbrian countryside led her towards the creation of Photorealist landscape works.  In 2000 at the age of twenty-two she held her first solo exhibition in Italy which was well received and gained her public recognition.  Three years later she held a solo exhibition of her work at the Bernarducci. Meisel.Gallery in New York and ever since her works have been in ever increasing demand for exhibitions.  Many of her works are housed in galleries around the world both public and private and are often part of corporate collections.  Her works bring new perspectives to the artistic style of Photorealism.  She photographs her subjects with her 66-megapixel camera, and her cityscapes are often photographed as she flies over them in a helicopter.  Once she has the photographs she transfers the images to canvas, pixel by pixel, and the result is a spectacular pin-sharp hyperrealist painting.  I just could not believe the detail in her painting

I hope I have whetted your appetite to see this wonderful exhibition and look fiurther into the world of Hyperrealism or Photorealism.  You have a chance to view the exhibition I went to see in Madrid as it is on tour.  The dates are:


Painted Illusions: Hyperrealism 1967-2012,

Thyssen – Bornemisza Museum,  Madrid,  

April 8th  to June 30th 2013

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, England

November 20, 2013 – March 30, 2014

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Art display, Art Galleries, Don Eddy, Hyperrealism, Photorealism, Raphaella Spence, Richard Estes, Rod Penner, Superrealism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

George Bellows, his wife and children

Emma at the Piano by George Bellows (1914)

Emma at the Piano by George Bellows (1914)

George Bellow’s depiction of his wife sitting at the piano entitled Emma at the Piano was completed in 1914.  It is a beautiful portrayal of his wife, dressed in a rich blue coloured coat which along with the dark background adds to our awareness of the sense of intimacy of the scene.  The depiction captures the moment when Emma has stopped playing and turns her gaze towards her husband as he paints her image.  The painting belongs to the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk.

Just recently I have looked at paintings done by Rubens and Rembrandt of their wives.  Thinking about it as a non-artist, I suppose there is logic behind an artist portraying his or her partner.  In most cases the portrait done by the artist would be a labour of love and pride.  I am returning to this theme in My Daily Art Display today when I look at the portraits George Bellows did of his wife Emma and their children.

George Wesley Bellows was an only child, born in Columbus, Ohio on August 12th 1882 to Anna and George Bellows.  He was brought up in a conservative Methodist household with his mother’s sister Elinor, whom he called Aunt Fanny, and who would leave the family home to get married when George was eight years of age.    Also living at home was his eighteen year old half-sister Laura, from his father’s first marriage.  Laura would also leave to get married, when George was two years of age.  This left him as the only child of the household.  At the age of fifteen he attended the Central High School in Columbus where he excelled at sport.  In the summer of 1900 George worked as an illustrator at the local Columbus Dispatch newspaper.  The following fall, he enrols at Ohio State University where he studied English.  It was here that his English professor, Joseph Taylor got him interested in the arts.  Throughout his time at the university he continued his love of sport, playing both basketball and baseball.   He regularly contributed drawings to the college publications and in his second year began to take art classes.  In 1903 he receives a cash prize for his still life painting which was on display at the Ohio State Fair.  The following year, 1904 was his graduation year but George failed to sit his final exams and left the university in the spring.  During that summer he gains employment as a sports writer at two local newspapers, the Ohio State Journal and the Columbus Dispatch and again that year wins himself more money from his works of art which were displayed at that year’s Ohio State Fair.  Although his mother who was devoutly religious and had always wanted George to become a minister in the church, he told his father that he wanted to go to New York, study art at the New York School of Art and become a professional artist.  He even turned down the opportunity to become a professional baseball player.  His father was supportive and gave him a $50 monthly allowance.

Emma in a Purple Dress by George Bellows (1919)

Emma in a Purple Dress by George Bellows (1919)

Emma in the Purple Dress was completed by Bellows in 1919 and can be found at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

George Belows arrived in New York in September 1904 and took lodgings at the YMCA.   He enrolled at the New York School of Art, which had originally been known as the Chase School of Art, so named after its director and founder was William Merritt Chase, the American Impressionist painter.   It was at this establishment he first met his charismatic art tutor and one of the most influential teachers of the time, the painter, Robert Henri.  Henri would become the leading figure of the artistic group known as The Eight and a prominent member of the Ashcan School of American Realist painters.  It was Henri that roused his students to move away from the genteel scenes which were common in art and favoured by the establishment, such as the National Academy of Design.  Henri urged them to look towards depicting more rugged and harsh cityscapes in their paintings.  It was a plea for them to look towards modernity and realism in their art.  Bellows took up the challenge and many of his works at the time depicted vast public transportation projects such as the building of the Pennsylvania Railroad Station and the Queensboro Bridge which spans the East River in New York.

However the most important person George Bellows met when he arrived at the art school was a fellow student, Emma Louise Story.  Emma was two years younger than George and was the daughter of William Edward Story, a successful New Jersey linen and lace merchant, and Catherine Elizabeth Story (née Anderson).  George and Emma soon became great friends and that Christmas George spent Christmas in the Story household in Upper Montclair, New Jersey.  George Bellows continued to love playing sport and in the summer of 1905 played semi-professional baseball in Brooklyn.

George Wesley Bellows and Emma Louise Story married on September 23rd 1910 at St George’s Episcopal Church in the Bronx.  This close and loving partnership brought Bellows a renewed interest in portraiture, especially family portraiture and this love would remain with him for the rest of his life.  Bellows was very much in love with his wife and in a letter to her, he wrote:

“…Can I tell you that your heart is in me and your portrait is in all my work?   What can a man say to a woman who absorbs his whole life?…”

Anne in White by George Bellows (1920)

Anne in White by George Bellows (1920)

His love for his wife was equalled by his love for his children.  George and Emma had two daughters, Anne and Jean.  Anne was born on September 8th 1911 and Jean was born on April 23rd 1915.  For an artist who gave the world paintings depicting the harshness of city life, the brutality of the boxing ring and the atrocities of war, he could also depict a charming tenderness in his portraiture, especially those featuring his children as he witnessed their journey through youth.  One such work was completed in 1920 entitled Anne in White, which featured his eight year old daughter Anne, and is housed in the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.  This painting measuring 134cms x 109cms has the young girl sitting in a small rocking chair.  Her left hand falls to her side clutching the brim of her dark blue hat with its long ribbon trailing out before her.  Her young face is framed by the thick locks of her hair.  Her posture is one of grace and elegance.  Her eyes have the darkness which Bellows frequently used in his portraiture.  Bellows had delightfully and skilfully captured his young daughter’s look of innocence.   In her right hand she holds a highly-coloured fan on her lap.  Her position in the painting is midway between a background consisting of a heavy curtain on the left and a window through which we observe a verdant spectacle of nature on the right.  It is a juxtaposition of domesticity as denoted by the drapery and liberty offered by the outside world.

Elinor, Jean and Anna by George Bellows  (1920)

Elinor, Jean and Anna by George Bellows (1920)

In that same year, 1920, Bellows completed another portrait which featured his daughter Anna.  It was group family portrait entitled Elinor, Jean and Anna.   This work by Bellows is now considered to be one of the most accomplished group portraits in modern art.  In Charles Hill Morgan’s 1965 book George Bellows, Painter of America,  he quotes art critics as saying:

“…[Bellows] has lifted portraiture out of the status of a mere profession, and conferred upon it a genuinely aesthetic distinction…”

At the centre of the group sits the petite figure of his eight year old daughter, Anna in her white dress with its starkly contrasting wide black sash wrapped tightly around her waist.  In front of her, open on her lap, is an art book.  On either side of her, and in total contrast to this diminutive figure of his daughter, sits monumental figures dressed in black.  These two elderly ladies are attired in widows’ garb.  On the left is Elinor, Bellows’ Aunt Fanny, who was at the time was in her early eighties.   She had lived with Bellows and his parents when he was young and had fostered in him an interest in art.  Bellows always remembered those early years living with Elinor.   Her left hand lies palm-upwards , laid out directing us to look at the young girl and the art book with its still-life picture of a flower.   It is as if Elinor is inviting us to join the group or it could be that Bellows wanted there to be a connection in the painting between Elinor and the art book to remind himself that it was Elinor who had first nurtured in him his love for art.    Bellows always remembered with great fondness his early days living at home with Elinor.  In a letter to his cousin, Laura Daggett, he wrote:

“…Aunt Fanny will always remain to me a beautiful and important vision of my babyhood.  It gives me a great sensation to have her bring to me a drawing which I had made as a little kid…”

On the right of the portrait is Anna, George Bellows’ mother, who was in her late seventies.  The work is in some ways a connection between the old and young of Bellows generation with the artist being the conduit between the two generations.

Lady Jean by George Bellows (1924)

Lady Jean by George Bellows (1924)

My final offering is Bellows’ portrait of his younger daughter, Jean which he completed in 1924 entitled Lady Jean, and which is now housed in the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.   This was to be Bellows’ last major portrait of a family member.  In the work we see his nine year old daughter Jean dressed in a nineteenth century Southern costume with its long frilled skirt that forms a slight train.  The dress had been given to her mother, who used to lend it to her children when they wanted to dress up.   The neckline and cuffs of the old-fashioned pale-blue dress are enhanced by ribbons.  On her head Jean wears a  black hat with its veil retracted.  Her right hand is covered with a lace mitt, whilst the other mitt dangles from her left hand which also clutches a small purse.  Jean’s love of dressing up and performing before her parents led her to eventually become an actress, appearing on Broadway opposite such stars as the great Helen Hayes.

George Bellows was suddenly taken ill at his studio in New York on January 2nd 1925.  He was rushed to hospital where it was diagnosed that he was suffering from a ruptured appendix and he was immediately operated on.  Sadly on January 8th he died of peritonitis, aged forty-two.   It was said that he died at the height of his fame and prowess as a painter but this, in some ways, is demeaning and suggests he had reached his best but who is to know to what artistic heights he would have risen to had he lived longer.  I recently returned for a second visit to an exhibition of his work at London’s Royal Academy and I was taken by his words which were printed in large letters on the wall at the exit.  They came from motivational words he had once offered his students just a few years before his death.  To them he said:

Try it every possible way.

Be deliberate.  Be spontaneous.

Be thoughtful and painstaking.

Be abandoned and Impulsive intellectual and inspired, calm and temperamental.

Learn your own Possibilities

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Vanitas Still-life with a Portrait of a Young Painter by David Bailly

 

Vanitas Still-life with a Portrait of a Young Painter by David Bailly (1651)

Vanitas Still-life with a Portrait of a Young Painter by David Bailly (1651)

Vanitas is an explicit genre of art in which the artist uses gloomy and moody symbolic objects in order that the viewer becomes very aware of the brevity of life and the inevibility of death.   The origins of the term vanitas can be traced back to the Latin biblical adage from the Book of Ecclesiastes (1:2):

“…vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas…”

which when translated means:

“…vanity of vanities; all is vanity…”

This specific artistic genre was very popular in the 16th and 17th century especially in the Netherlands, Flanders and France.

My Daily Art Display blog today looks at one of the works by the great Dutch still life and vanitas painter David Bailly.   Bailly was born in Leiden in 1584.  His father, Pieter, a Flemish immigrant from Antwerp, was a writing master.  Being a practicing Protestant he had fled from the Catholic Spanish rule of his homeland to the safer, more tolerant Northern Netherlands, eventually settling in the town of Leiden.  It was whilst living here that he married Willempgen Wolphaertsdr. and the couple went on to have four children, Anthony,  Anna, Neeltgen and David.  In 1592 David’s father took up the position as writing master at the University of Leiden.  He remained there until 1597 at which time he changed careers and became fencing master at a school run by the mathematician Ludolph van Cuelen, which was an establishment set up to train aspiring army officers in the various facets of warfare.

David’s initial training in drawing came from his father and in 1597, at the age of thirteen, he trained at the Leiden studio of the Dutch draughtsman and copper engraver, Jacques de Gheyn II.  David Bailly soon came to believe that his future did not lie as a draughtsman but as a painter and he was somewhat fortunate to live in the town of Leiden which was the home of many established and aspiring artists.  The leading artist in Leiden at the time was Isaac van Swanenburgh, who with his three sons, had set up a thriving studio in the town.  However it was not to this family concern that young David sort employment and tuition but instead his father arranged his son to become an apprentice to the painter and surgeon, Adriaen Verburgh.   In 1602 David moved to Amsterdam and became an apprentice in the city studio of the very successful portraitist and art dealer, Cornelius van der Voort. 

At the end of 1608, then aged twenty-four, David Bailly, now a journeyman painter, set off on his own Grand Tour, all the time seeking out commissions.  He travelled around Europe visiting a number of German cities such as Frankfurt, Nuremburg and Augsburg before crossing the Tyrolean Alps into Italy where he visited Venice and Rome.  In all, his journey lasted five years and it was not until 1613 that he returned to the Netherlands.

Once back home his work concentrated on drawing and painting portraits and vanitas still-life works and would often, as is the case in today’s featured work, combine the two genres.  His portraiture at the time consisted of many works featuring some of the students and professors of the University of Leiden.  He built up a very illustrious clientele which was testament to his artistic ability.  Bailly also had a number of pupils, two of whom were his nephews Harmen and Pieter van Steenwyck, who rank amongst the best still-life Dutch Golden Age painters.  In 1642 David Bailly married Agneta van Swanenburgh.  The couple did not have any children.  In 1648, he along with other artists including Gabriel Metsu, Gerard Dou, and Jan Steen founded the Leidse Sint Lucasgilde  – Leiden Guild of St Luke.  David Bailly died in Leiden in October 1657, aged73.

The painting I am featuring today is entitled Vanitas Still Life with a Portrait of a Young Painter which was completed by David Bailly in 1651 when he was sixty-six years of age and six years before he died.  It is now housed in the Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden.    It is a fascinating painting full of symbolism.  To the left of the painting we have, what some believe, is a self-portrait of the artist himself, but of course as we know Bailly’s age when he painted the work we know this was a depiction of himself as a young man in his early twenties.    In his right hand he holds a maulstick, or mahlstick, which is a stick with a soft leather or padded head, used by painters to support the hand that holds the brush.  In his other hand he holds upright on the table a framed oval portrait of himself as he was at the time of painting this work.  So in fact the man sitting on the left of the painting and the man in the frame are one and the same and the inclusion of both images in the painting simply reminds us of the transience of life.    

Behind the framed self-portrait we have another oval painting, that of a young woman and this has always interested art historians.  It is believed to be a portrait of his wife Agneta in her younger days.  However at the time the painting was completed Bailly’s wife was gravely ill, in fact, it could well be that she had already died.  Look closely at the wall in the right background, just behind the half empty fluted glass, can you make out a ghost-like portrait of a woman, en grisaille, painted on it, across which drifts the smoke from the extinguished candle?  This is another classic vanitas symbolisation.  This could well be alluding to the fact that his wife had died from contracting the plague.  On the table we also see a standing figure of Saint Stephen bound to a tree, pierced with arrows.  So what is the connection with St Stephen and the other objects on the table?   One theory is that there was a link between Saint Stephen and the plague, which killed so many people in Europe, including Bailly’s wife.    The infections produced by the bubonic plague caused people to compare the “random attacks” of the plague with attacks by arrows and these folk desperately sort out a saint who was martyred by arrows, to intercede on their behalf and so prayers were offered up to St Stephen for him to intercede.   

This is a vanitas still-life painting and we see the usual vanitas symbolism amongst the objects depicted in the work of art.   Vanitas works allude to the transience of life.  Time passes.  It cannot be halted.  We all must eventually die.  Look at the background of the painting.  Look at the angle of the wall as it vertically divides the painting.  To the left, the painting is brightly lit and we have the young man, the aspiring artist, with his unused artist’s palettes hanging on the wall.  To the right of the vertical divide, the room is in shadow and we have the portrait of the old artist.  On the vertical line we have a bubble, which is a classic metaphor for the impermanence and fragility of life. 

There are many other items to note.   On the wall we see a print of Franz Hals 1626 painting, The Lute Player.  There is a plethora of objects on the table including a picture of a bearded man which could have been a portrait of Bailly’s father or maybe one of his teachers.  On the table, there are also many noteworthy items indicating death such as the skull, the extinguished candle, the tipped-over Roemer glass, the grains of sand of an hour glass running down and the wilting flowers.  There are also reminders of the luxuries of life which are of little use to us once we are dead, such as the coins and the pearls as well as items that have once helped us to relax and add to our enjoyment such as the pipe and the book, as well as the art in the form of paintings and sculpture. Sadly, pleasure and wealth are short-lived and ultimately unimportant.   This is about the temporality of life.    Overhanging the table in the foreground is a scroll with the words:

VANITAS VANIT(AT)VM

ET OMNIA VANITAS

which remind us of the words from the  book of Ecclesiastes I quoted at the start of this blog.

So the next time you decide to have somebody take your photograph, think carefully what you would place by your side or on a nearby table so as to convey a subtle and symbolic message to the people who will view the photograph in years to come.

 


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Peter Paul Rubens and Hélène Fourment

Rubens, His Wife Helena Fourment  and Their Son Frans by Rubens (c.1636)

Rubens, His Wife Helena Fourment and Their Son Frans by Rubens (c.1636)

This superb portrait by Rubens of his wife Hélène and their three year old son, Frans can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.   Frans is the only one of their children featured which makes us think that Rubens did not see this work as a family portrait but had more to do with his desire to show off the beauty of his second wife.   Look how Rubens has depicted himself and his son in this work.  They both look lovingly at Hélène.  She is the wife to one and the mother to the other.  This in a way is Rubens’ intimate tribute to his wife.  In the background we see a caryatid, (the sculpted female figure which is serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar), which along with the fountain in the right background, symbolise fecundity

In my last blog I had reached the year 1626, a distressing time in Peter-Paul Rubens’ life for this was the year his first wife and true love, Isabella Brandt died.  Rubens was left alone with his three children, Clara Serena, Nikolas and Albertus.  He was still employed as court painter at the court of Archduke Albert VII, the Archduke of Austria and Governor General of the Habsburg Netherlands and his wife and consort, the Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia.  It was in 1621, when her husband, Albert, died that the Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia, became the Governor of the Netherlands on behalf of the King of Spain.  She was also keen to use Rubens’ ambassadorial skills and she sent him on a number of diplomatic missions to the Spanish and English courts to see if a solution could be found for the troubles besetting the Spanish Netherlands with the breakaway of the Seven United Provinces.  His skill as a diplomat was well appreciated by both sides and he was knighted by King Philip IV of Spain in 1624 and six years later received a similar honour from Charles I of England.  Notwithstanding his diplomatic brief, he continued to paint and received a number of royal commissions.

Hélène Fourment  with a Carriage by Rubens (c.1639)

Hélène Fourment with a Carriage by Rubens (c.1639)

In this 1639 painting Hélène Fourment with a Carriage by Rubens, which is housed in the Louvre, we see his wife Hélène leaving their palatial home in Antwerp followed by her six year-old son Frans, who was born in 1633. We view the scene from a low level which affords Hélène a more regal and majestic stance as she awaits her carriage.   Hélène, dressed like a lady of high society.  She is dressed in a long black satin gown, in the wealthy and lavish Spanish style.  She wears a small headdress with the pom-poms attached to large veil of black gauze.  Rubens has contrasted the black of the dress with the bright white satin which form the puffed sleeves which are in turn accentuated by the gold braid.  More colour is then added as we note the rosy pink of her cheeks and the purple sleeve bows and silk belt at her waist.    She waits in front of a porch of their home with its columns and pilasters. The building had been designed by her husband, imitating an Italian palazzo.   Hélène’sleft hand lies by her side whilst her right hand is raised in a gesture of modesty which belies her sumptuous clothes.  Frans follows his mother, dressed in a red suit with a flat white collar.    One must remember that Rubens at this time in his life was extremely affluent having been court painter at the Habsburg court and was also head of a thriving studio which was inundated with commissions from all over Europe.  At the bottom left of the painting we see a two-horsed carriage awaiting mother and son.  Besides a mode of transport the two-horsed carriage symbolised conjugal harmony.  This is probably the last known portrait of Hélène by Rubens.

In 1630, at the age of 53, and four years after the death of his first wife, Isabella, Rubens married the 17 year-old daughter of his friend and tapestry merchant, Daniel ‘Le Jeune’ Fourment.   His new wife, Hélène Fourment, went on to give him 5 children, two daughters, Clara Johanna and Isabella Helena and two sons, Frans and Peter-Paul.  A fifth child, a third daughter Constance Albertine, was born eight months after Rubens died.   My blog today looks at some of the many paintings by Rubens which featured his second wife, Hélène,   many of which were portraits but she also featured in some of his allegorical and classical works.  

Finally in August 1634, Rubens managed to relinquish his diplomatic work for the Habsburgs and in 1635 he bought himself a country estate, Het Steen, which was situated between Antwerp and Brussels.  It was here that he spent much of the latter part of his life.  Around 1636 Rubens completed a work entitled The Rainbow Landscape which was an imaginary artistic reconstruction of his own estate.  It was a maginificent estate which included a castle, draw-bridge, tower, moats, a lake and a farm and gave him the right to be known as Lord of Het Steen. One can just imagine the joy it must have brought  Rubens to spend his last quiet and tranquil years with his family at this idyllic place.    At Het Steen, Rubens finally managed to enjoy the fruits of his long and hard-working career, and it was during these last years that he spent time painting landscapes.

In his later years, Rubens was increasingly troubled by arthritis which caused a swelling of the joints in his hands, which forced him to reluctantly give up painting altogether.   Rubens died from heart failure on May 30th 1640, a month short of his sixty-third birthday.  He was buried in Saint Jacob’s church, Antwerp. The artist left behind eight children, three with Isabella and five with Hélène.

Het pelsken (the little  fur) by Peter Paul Rubens (c.1638)

Het Pelsken (the little fur) by Peter Paul Rubens (c.1638)

The final painting I am showing you by Rubens, featuring his wife Hélène Fourment, is probably one of the strangest depictions a man could make of his beloved.   The work was completed around 1638 when Rubens was 61 and Hélène was just 27.   It is a life size painting of his wife, entitled Het Pelsken (The Little Fur), which is the title given to it by Rubens in his will.   It is also sometimes referred to as Hélène Fourment in a Fur Coat.  In the painting, Hélène is depicted nude except for a fur coat, which could well have belonged to her husband.  This was a private work by Rubens.  It was one of his favourite works and he would neither give it away, nor sell it nor exhibit it.

Venus de Medici

Venus de Medici

It was simply done by him for his own pleasure.  It is an outstanding painted depiction of nakedness.  It could well be that Rubens modelled his depiction on the Venus Pudica (modest Venus) of the life-size Venus de Medici, the Hellenistic marble sculpture which depicts the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, and which is housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Hélène stands before us on a red cloth, almost naked.   She is portrayed with curly dishevelled hair.  She just about holds on to the wrap which seems to be about to fall from her body and leave her completely naked.  She clutches at it in a manner that both of her arms are wrapped around the front of her.  Her left hand covers her pelvic region whilst her right hand holds the fur coat in position on her left shoulder and by doing so her right arm cradles and uplifts her breasts.  Her nipples seem to have hardened and her face has a rosy glow to it which may indicate the pleasure she is experiencing as her husband stares out at her.  There is a look of defiance about her expression.  Is this look intended to be one of provocation as she exposes her body to her husband or is it that she is fed up with standing in such a pose and becoming cold?  In some ways we are fascinated by what we see before us and yet in other ways, because of the personal nature of the painting we feel as if we are intruding into a private husband/wife moment and we feel we should look away.  It is a truthful portrayal of his wife.  He has not tried to idealise his wife’s body.  She is a woman with a womanly figure and Rubens’ depiction of her is an honest portrayal of her and there can be no doubt that he found what he saw, very pleasurable.

In his will he left the painting to his wife with the stipulation that it should never be sold to pay for death duties.  Hélène carried out his wish and it was not sold until after she died in 1658.  The painting is currently housed in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna.

 

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Peter Paul Rubens and Isabella Brant

Honeysuckle Bower by Rubens (c.1609)

The Honeysuckle Bower by Rubens (c.1609)

This painting, which is housed in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich is entitled The Honeysuckle Bower and was painted by Rubens the year he married Isdabella Brant.  It is a full-length double portrait of the happy couple who have the honeysuckle bower as the backdrop.  The honeysuckle symbolises devoted affection and is a symbol of love and generosity and this is a loving portrait of the couple as they sit hand-in-hand in the shade afforded to them by the bower.   Rubens has depicted himself as an elegant and chivalrous husband relaxing, legs crossed, perched atop of a balustrade.  He looks over his wife from his high position.  He looks thoughtful but at peace with his world.    His beloved wife sits close to him on a grassy bank, at a slightly lower level.  She is wearing a brocade bodice and a dark red skirt.  There is a ruff around her neck and atop her head is a Florentine hat.   Both husband and wife lean slightly towards each other in another sign of affection.  Life is good for them both and this is symbolised by the flourishing flora which we see all around them.  Life just couldn’t be better!

In my last couple of blogs I looked at the artistic collaboration between Rembrandt von Rijn and his wife Saskia von Uylenburg and later the artistic collaboration with his mistress Hendrickje Stoffels.   In my next two blogs I want to look at the artistic partnership between artist/model, husband/wife,  of the great Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens and his two wives.  Today I will tell you a little about Rubens’ early life and examine portraits which depicted his first wife Isabella Brant.  In the following blog I will show some of his works featuring his second wife, Hélène Fourment.

Peter Paul Rubens was born in Siegen in Germany in June 1577.  He was one of seven children of his father Jan Rubens, who was an Antwerp lawyer, and his mother Maria Pypelinckx.   Jan Rubens was a practicing Calvinist and because of his strong Protestant beliefs the family were persecuted during the Catholic rule of the Spanish Netherlands under the Duke of Alba.  For their own safety Jan, Maria and their family left Antwerp in 1568 and travelled to Cologne.  Whilst there, Jan Rubens acted as a legal adviser to Anna of Saxony, the second wife of William the Silent, Prince of Orange.  Their close business relationship culminated in an adulterous affair and Anna gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, Christina.  Her husband banished her and her daughter Christina to Beilstein Castle.  Their marriage was annulled in 1571.   As a result of his affair, Jan Rubens was incarcerated in Dillenburg prison for two years.   His wife must have been very forgiving for it was through her constant pleading to the authorities that her errant husband was released but exiled to the town of Siegen.   It was whilst the family was staying in Siegen that Maria gave birth to her sons, Filips and Peter-Paul.  In May 1578 Jan and his family had their Siegen exile rescinded and they returned to Cologne where Jan Ruben died in March 1587, when Rubens was ten years of age.  Jan Rubens was buried in the Church of Saint Peter in Cologne and for one to understand the love Maria had for her wayward husband one has just to look at an inscription she had carved on the headstone of the grave.  It read:

“…Sacred to the Memory of Jan Rubens, of Antwerp, who went into voluntary exile and retired with his family to Cologne, where he abode for nineteen years with his wife Maria, who was the mother of his seven children. With this his only wife Maria he lived happily for twenty-six years without any quarrel. This monument is erected by said Maria Pypelings Rubens to her sweetest and well-deserved husband…”

In 1589, aged twelve, Rubens went back to Antwerp with his mother and siblings, where he was brought up in the Catholic religion.   Rubens attended a Latin school in Antwerp where he was taught both Latin and Greek and studied classical literature.  He also became proficient in English, Spanish, Italian, French, Dutch and German.  At the age of thirteen he became a court page to a noble-woman, Marguerite de Ligne, Countess of Lalaing. It was an important position for one so young and it gave him a taste of court life and life in noble and court circles.  The Countess, who had no children, used to refer to herself as his “other mother,” and gave him all the attention that was possible.   Rubens’ life at the court was split between school work which was given to him by a Jesuit priest in the mornings, while in the afternoons another priest would come in order to teach the ladies of the court foreign languages and young Rubens was always present during these lessons.   After a year at court, his mother had him return to the family home.   His mother wanted the best for him and thought that her son would be best served if he should have a career in the Church but was also mindful of the stories relating to the great Italian artists and the power they wielded due to their connections with their country’s leaders and so she and her son settled on the idea that he should become a painter.  His early artistic tuition came when he worked for three leading Flemish painters of the time, the landscape painter, Tobias Verhaecht, the Mannerist, Adam van Noort, and the Latin scholar and classically educated humanist painter Otto van Veen, sometimes referred to by his Latin name, Octavius Vaenius.   Following a four year apprenticeship, Rubens, in 1598 aged twenty-one, was accepted as a Master in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke, the city’s painters’ guild and this allowed him to work independently and receive pupils.

Portrait of Isabella Brant by Rubens (c.1620-5)

Portrait of Isabella Brant by Rubens (c.1620-5)
Cleveland Museum of Art

In 1600, Rubens travelled to Italy. His first stop-over was Venice where he encountered the paintings of the triumvirate of Venetian Masters, Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto.  From there he moved on to Mantua where he received painting commissions at the court of Duke Vincenzo I of Gonzaga who had seen his artistic work when he had visited Venice.  Thanks to financial backing from the Duke he was able to journey to Florence, stopping off at Rome.  In Florence he came into contact with the works of art of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael Sanzio.  He was also impressed and greatly influenced by the works of Caravaggio.   The Duke of Mantua had asked Rubens to make copies of some of Raphael’s works and bring them back to the court.     Rubens returned to the Mantua court and in 1603 he was sent on the first of many diplomatic missions, this one to the court of Philip III in Madrid, bearing gifts from the Gonzagas.  Now living at the court in Madrid he was able to examine the extensive collection of art work which the ruler’s father, Philip II had amassed, including numerous works by Raphael and Titian.  Rubens remained in Madrid for a year before returning once again to Mantua.  He was soon on his travels again, visiting Rome and Genoa.

In 1608, whilst in Rome, Rubens received a letter from his family telling him that his mother Maria was gravely ill.  He immediately left Italy and unbeknown to him, he would never return to that country.  He set off for Antwerp but sadly his mother passed away before he reached her.   Although Rubens was keen to return to Italy he received an offer he couldn’t refuse.   In September 1609, Rubens was appointed the court painter by Archduke Albert VII, the Archduke of Austria and Governor General of the Hapsburg Netherlands and his wife and consort, the Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia.  It was not just as a painter that the rulers had employed him but for his talent as a diplomat and ambassador.   His recompense for such a position was a salary of 500 livres plus all the perks that came with the job of somebody working in the royal household.  Another benefit was that he was exempt from all the regulations and bureaucracy arising from the regulations of the guild of St Luke.

Isabella Brandt by Rubens (c.1626) Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Isabella Brandt by Rubens (c.1626)
Uffizi Gallery, Florence

The Portrait of Isabella Brandt, which is housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence was completed by Rubens around 1625.  It is one of a number of portraits of his wife that he completed during their seventeen years together.  It is a half-length portrait against the dark background of a red curtain and a column.  Isabella smiles out at us.  It is an engaging yet hesitant smile.  This portrait of his wife is considered to be one of Rubens’ masterpieces of portraiture.  In 1705, the painting, along with others, was donated by the Palatine Elector of the Rhine, Johann Wilhelm, to his brother-in-law, Grand Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici.  Of the Rubens portrait of his wife, Ferdinando wrote to his brother-in-law:

 “…it surpasses the imagination and is a prodigy of that famous brush…”

Rubens, although at the royal court in Brussels, was also allowed to set up his own studio in Antwerp and it was whilst in Antwerp that he met and married Isabella Brant.  Isabella, who was fourteen years younger than her husband, was the daughter of Jan Brant, an important Antwerp city official, and Clara de Moy.  The wedding took place on October 3rd 1609 in Saint Michael’s Abbey, Antwerp and in 1610, they moved into a new house and studio that he designed.  This Italian-styled villa in the centre of Antwerp , which is now the Rubenshuis museum, was designed by Rubens and also housed his workshop, where he and his apprentices worked on various works of art. One of his most famous apprentices was Anthony van Dyck, who would later become the leading Flemish portraitist of the time and both Master and pupil collaborated frequently on works of art.  Other collaborators with Rubens were the animal and still-life painter Frans Snyder and Jan (Velvet) Brueghel the Elder the flower painter and son of Pieter Bruegel the Elder.   Rubens and his wife went on to have three children, a daughter Clara Serena and two sons, Nikolas and Albertus.

Portrait sketch of Isabella Brandt by Rubens (c.1621)

Portrait sketch of Isabella Brandt by Rubens (c.1621)

My final offering is a portrait drawing of Isabella Brant completed by her husband around 1621 and which is held at the British Museum.   This portrait of Rubens’s first wife, Isabella Brant is drawn in coloured chalks with a pale brown wash and white heightening.   The artist used the red chalk in an effort to highlight the warm flesh of his wife’s face and ears. Again a subtle hatching using both red and black chalks he has cleverly produced the shadows on her face. The sketch concentrates on Isabella’s head and face and her shoulders and the high collar of her dress have just been sketched as a sort of afterthought.  Isabella smiles at us, as she no doubt smiled at her husband as he sketched her.  She has a radiant smile which somehow gives us the impression she would have been a likeable person to have met.  Her marriage to Rubens was one of love and mutual respect and her death due to the plague in 1626, at the age of 35, deeply saddened him.  In Ruth Saunders Magurn’s  collection of translated letters of Rubens, entitled The Letters of Peter Paul Rubens, she highlights the extent to which Rubens mourned the death of Isabella in an extract from a letter he wrote to his friend, the French scholar, Pierre Dupuy, dated July 15th 1626, a little over three weeks after Isabella died.   Of his late wife, Rubens wrote:

“…Truly I have lost an excellent companion, whom one could love – indeed had to love, with good reason – as having none of the faults of her sex.   She had no capricious moods, and no feminine weaknesses, but was all goodness and honesty…”

I think it is a delightful sketch but not everybody agrees.     In Jeremy Wood’s 1998 book entitled Some Early Collectors of Rubens Drawings in England, he quotes a one-time owner of the sketch, the notable portrait painter and art theorist, Jonathan Richardson, who described Rubens’ sketched portrait of his wife:

“…[her] face is one of the most disagreeable I have ever seen and I am sure it is more so than was necessary for the likeness, however ugly she really was…”

 I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder !!!

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