Adolphe-William Bouguereau. Part 2 – The painter of Religious Scenes and his painting The Flagellation of Christ

Photograph of William Bouguereau (c.1870)
Photograph of William Bouguereau (c.1870)

My blog today looks at another of Bouguereau’s great history paintings.  This is one of his religious works and has all the ferocity of his painting Dante and Virgil, which I featured in my last blog.  Whether you are a lover of religious historic paintings or not, I defy you to be unmoved by the beauty of this work.  Bouguereau was a devout catholic and looked upon his religious paintings as a form of his worship of both God and mankind.  Bouguereau’s religious belief can be plainly seen in his religious works.  The painting I am featuring today is entitled The Flagellation of Christ, which he completed in 1880. Before I discuss the painting let me tell you a little about his life.

Adolphe-William Bouguereau was born in the French Atlantic coastal town of La Rochelle in November 1825.  His father was Theodore Bouguereau, a seller of wine and olive oil.  His father struggled to make much money from his business and because of the financial hardship and family tensions William was sent to live with his uncle Eugène Bouguereau, who was curate in the town of Montagne, some twenty kilometres from Bordeaux.   This enforced move to his uncles was to prove highly fortuitous for the young boy as it was his uncle who introduced him to the world of Roman and Greek mythology and had him read the stories from the Old and New Testaments.  At the age of thirteen, William’s uncle arranged for him to attend the high school at Pons where he attended his first drawing classes under the guidance of Louis Sage, a young classical painter who had once studied under Ingres.   He remained at the school for three years.  In 1841, he eventually moved to Bordeaux where his father had set up his business and once again William was with his family.  William joined in his father’s business but at the same time, in 1842, he was allowed to enrol on a two-year part-time course at the city’s École Municipale de Dessin et de Peinture.  Here he studied under  Jean-Paul Alaux, the French landscape painter and lithographer.  He could not attend full-time because of his promise to help his father during the day, and so, he only attended art classes in the early morning and in the late evening.  Despite being a part-time student he excelled in what he did and in 1844 he won first prize for the best History painting with his depiction of Saint Roch.     Following this award William Bouguerau realised that his future was indelibly tied to art.  To earn some money for himself he designed lithographic labels for jars of jams and other preserves.

Bouguereau realised that to progress with his art he needed to be in Paris which was, at that time, considered the capital of the art world.   However to live in the French capital required money, a commodity he lacked.  His father’s business was not successful enough for him to give his son the money but fortunately for William, his uncle Eugène, the curate, once again proved to be his salvation.  He arranged for William to paint portraits of his parishioners for a fixed fee and after months of portraiture he had amassed nine hundred francs.  A similar sum was given to him by his aunt and he was all set to head to Paris.

The Flagellation of Christ by William Bouguereau (1880)
The Flagellation of Christ by William Bouguereau (1880)

In my third and final blog about Bouguereau I will finish his life story but for today I want to focus on another of his great History paintings, his religious work entitled The Flagellation of Christ.   He exhibited this work at the 1880 Paris Salon.  It is a monumental work measuring 390 x 210 cms (almost 13ft high and 7ft wide).  One can easily imagine how it stood out from all the other works on show at the exhibition. This is acknowledged as being one of Bouguereau’s greatest religious works.  In this painting, Bouguereau has depicted Christ, tied to a column.  Christ’s body hangs down almost lifelessly with his feet dragging on the ground.  His head droops backwards.  His eyes are blank and unfocused. He is utterly powerless.  He can do little to stop the ferocious onslaught.  Unlike Bouguereau’s painting Dante and Virgil which I featured in the last blog, he has made no attempt to exaggerate the musculature in his portrayal of Christ’s body.  The body of Christ is that of a normal human being.  It is just like ours and in doing this Bouguereau has allowed us more easily to empathise with Christ’s suffering and pain.

A look of concern
A look of concern

We see Christ’s tormentors, two men, who stand on either side of him, arms raised in mid swing with their knotted rope whips airborne.  In the right foreground we see a third man kneeling.  He is in the process of tying up birch branches which will be used later to flagellate their prisoner.  Look at his facial expression.  It is one of concern.  It appears that maybe he is not convinced that what he sees before him is justified.  It is if he is beginning to question his part in the flogging.    In the background an inquisitive crowd gather to witness the flogging.  This is not a leering and jeering crowd we have seen in many of the crowd scenes in Northern Renaissance works.  This group of people cannot be likened to the snarling mob we have seen in earlier Passion of Christ depictions.

A child looks on
A child looks on

An old man in the crowd, maybe the father, lifts a baby aloft for him or her to get a better view.  There is little sign of compassion on the faces of the crowd.  Maybe they have accepted the charges that have been laid against Christ and feel that he needed to be punished.  However there is one exception.

Look closely at the far left of the background.  We see a young boy in a long green tunic who has turned away in horror of what is happening and has burrowed his head in the clothing of the woman who has wrapped her arm around him in a comforting gesture.  Maybe it is his mother.  Maybe she is horrified by what her young son has witnessed and is trying belatedly to protect him.  In the mid-background, there is a man wearing a white vest and grey headband.  He grips a sheath of birch branches and is readying himself to take part in the flogging.  There are a number of examples where the artist has decided to insert his own image into a work and Bouguereau has done the same in this painting.

The artist looks on
The artist looks on

Look at the face in the background to the right of the man wearing the white top and head band.  There, gazing between the spectators is a man with red hair and a red beard.  His brow is furrowed signifying his unease of what he sees before him.  This is believed to be the face of the artist himself.  He, like us, looks on at the terrible scene.

The size of the work almost certainly precluded the sale of it to a private individual and in 1881 Bouguereau gave it to the Society of Friends of the Arts in his home town of La Rochelle.  This majestic work can now be found at the Baptistery of La Rochelle Cathedral, France. 

Bouguereau never lost his love of Greek and Roman mythology which he had been brought up on from early age by his uncle Eugène.   As I said earlier, Bouguereau was a very religious man and religious imagery was a persistent theme in his paintings.   Often his religious works focused on sad and moving events and it is believed they mirrored the anguish and suffering he endured with the loss of loved ones in his own life, which I will talk about  next time.

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Adolphe-William Bouguereau. Part 1 – The History Painter and his painting, Dante and Virgil

Self Portrait by William Bouguereau (1879)
Self Portrait by William Bouguereau (1879)

In my next three blogs I want to look at the life and some of the works of one of the greatest and most prolific nineteenth century French painters, Adolphe-William Bouguereau.   At a time when many of his contemporaries were railing against academic art, Bouguereau was a staunch supporter of it.  He was a pure traditionalist.  So why did he support the establishment’s stance on art and the establishment’s method of training aspiring artists when many of his contemporaries were vociferous in their condemnation of all that the art establishment stood for?  To answer that question, one must look at the way art was taught in France or more precisely in the case of Bouguereau,  how it was taught in Paris which was then considered the art capital of the world.  Artistic training in that city was centred on the government-sponsored art school, the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, which was founded in the mid seventeenth century as the Académie des Beaux-Arts and once it had become independent from the government in 1863 changed its name to L’École des Beaux-Arts.

Viila Medici, the French Academy in Rome
Viila Medici, the French Academy in Rome

It was here that young men (women were not admitted until 1898) were taught how to draw.   The actual teaching of putting paint on canvas was carried out in private studios which were often run by the professors of the school.   Artistic training was thorough and aspiring artists had to reach high standards before they were allowed to proceed with the course.  They would also have to enter work into a number of in-house competitions.  The most prestigious award being the Prix de Rome, which was given to the artist who submitted the best History painting.  Bouguereau won the coveted Prix de Rome in 1850, with his painting  Zenobia Found by Shepherds on the Banks of the Araxes. His reward was the chance to attend the Villa Medici, which was the French Academy in Rome, and remain there for four years.  During that time the student would have the opportunity to study the classical art of the Italian Renaissance masters.  The reason why the French art establishment believed that this was so important was their belief that no artist had ever achieved the level of excellence attained by the likes of Raphael, Titian or Michelangelo.  In their opinion, every aspiring artist was duty bound to emulate this type of art.

The Parisian art establishment which oversaw the running of L’École des Beaux-Arts issued artists with an official list detailing which genre of paintings they considered more important than others.  This hierarchy of genres was headed by History painting and the reason for that was that it somehow represented all the artistic skills the young artists had been taught during their passage through the Academy system. History paintings were generally very large works, and thus were nearly always destined to be hung in public places such as in churches, or the spacious rooms of government buildings or on gallery walls. History paintings delved into the world of classical, mythological, literary and religious events which had taken place in bygone days. Within this top-placed genre there was the allegorical works which, through their depiction, carried symbolic messages about good and evil. It was in these works that the depiction of nude figures, were considered acceptable and it was from years of studying the human figure in life drawing classes at the Academy that the aspiring artists were able to skilfully show off what they had been taught.

Once an artist had trained at the academy, he and later she, had to face up to the fact that to survive they had to sell their work.  In the past the government, the church and the wealthy aristocracy were the buyers of art works but it soon became obvious that their commissioning power was becoming limited and the new buyers of art were the Parisian people of middle and upper-class standing who had the money and wanted to fill their grand houses with fine art.  So where could these new buyers get their hands on fine works of art?  Parisian art dealers such as Paul Durand-Ruel and Adolphe Goupil did not become buyers and sellers of art until the mid nineteenth century.  Before then the most prestigious way of selling your paintings was to get them accepted at the Paris Salon’s annual exhibition.  Simply referred to as the Salon, it began in 1725 as the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. These were massive exhibitions in which artist’s works, once they had passed the scrutiny of the Salon jurists, were exhibited floor-to-ceiling and on every available inch of wall space.   Potential buyers were then able to see, in one space, the art work that was on offer.  One can therefore realise that for a work to sell, not only had it to be pleasing on the eye of a potential buyer but it had to have been hung in a prominent position at the Salon exhibition.  The advantage the History painters had over others was the monumental size of their works which often dwarfed their “competition” and therefore were always placed in a prominent position.  

Dante And Virgil by William Bouguereau (1850)
Dante And Virgil by William Bouguereau (1850)

In my next two blogs I want to look at two monumental history painting completed by Bouguereau, one secular, the other religious, but both follow the artistic traditions laid down by the Academy.   Today I am featuring the secular work, entitled Dante and Virgil in Hell, which is housed at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.  This is a truly breathtaking work and is a prime example of classic art with so much attention paid to the musculature of the human body.  The first thing that strikes one about this painting is its unfettered ferocity, which has the effect of either you wanting to turn away from it in shock or you stare at it in a mesmeric state.

The setting for the work comes from Dante Alghieri’s 14th century epic poem, The Divine Comedy, which recounts the journey made by Dante through Hell along with his guide the ancient Roman poet, Virgil.  The poem tells us that Hell is made up of nine concentric circles within the bowels of Earth.  Each of the circles houses people who have committed certain types of sin.  Bouguereau’s painting depicts the two travellers arriving at the Eighth Circle of Hell.  This is the Circle which houses the deceased falsifiers.   This Circle, nicknamed Malebolge (evil pouches) is unlike the other Circles for it is surrounded by a wall of dull iron-coloured stone, and the valley itself is divided into ten secondary circles or pouches.  The setting for Bouguereau’s work is the tenth pouch of the eighth Circle of hell. We see Dante and Virgil watching a fight between two damned souls. 

So who are the two main characters depicted fighting in the painting and why are they condemned to stay in this Circle of Hell, which is the home of alchemists, counterfeiters, perjurers, and imposters?  Dante Alghieri would have known about the two men.  One is Capocchio, a heretic and alchemist from Sienna who was put to death by public burning at the stake in August 1293.  The other is Gianni Schicchi who is condemned to Hell for impersonating Buoso Donati and making his will highly favourable to himself.  The story goes that after the wealthy Florentine, Buoso Donati, died in 1299; his relatives conducted a frenetic search for his will.  The will was eventually found but to the relatives’ horror Donati had left most of his money and possessions to the local monks. The relatives then turn to the scheming but ingenious Gianni Schicchi, who has the gift of mimicry, to help them find a solution and save their inheritance.   Schicchi has no love for the money-grabbing relatives but however agrees to impersonate Buoso Donati, as nobody, other than the relatives, knows of his death.  Schicchi successfully passes himself off as the deceased Donati and changes the will.  The irony is that Schicchi, in changing the will, ends up giving himself most of the possessions belonging to the dead man.  The relatives were powerless to do anything as they were involved in the deception!   This usurping the identity of a Donati in order to fraudulently claim his inheritance has condemned him to the Eighth Circle of Hell.

The bite to the throat
The bite to the throat

The foreground of the painting is well lit and like the powerful light almost acts as a spotlight which has picked out the two fighting adversaries, Schicchi and Capocchio, in the foreground,.  Capocchio, the heretic and alchemist is attacked and bitten on the throat by Gianni Schicchi, the usurper.  He acts like a vampire.  In the background shadows we see Dante and Virgil standing together.  Virgil is dressed in a red cloak and hat and Dante is dressed in grey.  Virgil looks down at the fighters but Dante has covered his mouth in horror at what he sees before him.  However Dante’s eyes are not fixed on the fighting but at something to the right, out of picture.  So what is he looking at?   Maybe it is more naked writhing bodies similar to those which we see below the winged demon.  

Dante and Virgil the onlookers
Dante and Virgil the onlookers

Virgil has taken hold of Dante and wants him to move on away from this horrific scene.  Hovering above them is a flying demon which we see depicted against the fiery red background of Hell. 

The smiling flying demon
The smiling flying demon

The demon has a wide smile as he sees the men below tearing each other apart.  On the floor by the fighting couple we see a man wracked in pain, the punishment for his past sins. 

Nails dig into flesh and draw blood
Nails dig into flesh and draw blood

Look carefully how Bouguereau has embellished the muscle structure of the two men.  Look how the distortion of the bodies in their over-elaborate poses has added an animal-like ferocity to the painting.  I particularly like the way Bouguereau has exaggerated the depiction of Schicchi’s violent stretching of Capocchio’s skin, his finger nails starting to draw blood whilst his knee, which has slammed into Capocchio’s back, bends his victim’s spine.

The 19th century French art critic and poet Théophile Gautier was very complimentary about Bouguereau’s painting, saying:

“…Gianni Schicchi throws himself at Capocchio, his rival, with a strange fury, and Monsieur Bouguereau depicts magnificently through muscles, nerves, tendons and teeth, the struggle between the two combatants. There is bitterness and strength in this canvas – strength, a rare quality!..” 

It is a magnificent work of art albeit a very disturbing one.   In my next blog I will feature another of Bouguereau’s history paintings, a religious one, which like today’s work has an undeniable feel of savagery, which makes the viewer nervously unsettled by what they see before them.

Judith Leyster and Tulip madness

The Merry Company by Judith Leyster (1630)
The Merry Company by Judith Leyster (1630)

Of my featured artist today, the Dutch Golden Age writer and poet Theodorus Schrevelius wrote in his 1648 book about the history of Haarlem entitled Harlemias:

“…There also have been many experienced women in the field of painting who are still renowned in our time, and who could compete with men. Among them, one excels exceptionally, Judith Leyster, called “the true Leading star in art…” 

Judith Jans Leyster was born in Haarlem in July 1609.  She was the eighth child of Jan Willemsz Leyster who was a cloth maker and owner of a local brewery, which was called Ley-ster (guide or leading star).  It is thought that her initial artistic tuition came from Frans Pieter de Grebber.   De Grebber, a member of the local painters’ guild, Haarlem Guild of St Luke, was a landscape artist and portraitist, who also designed tapestries. The reason for this belief is that the chronicler of life in Haarlem at that time, Samuel Ampzing, mentioned Judith Leyster in his 1628 book about life in Haarlem, Beschrijvinge ende Lof der stad Haelem in Holland.  He commented that Leyster, then 19 years old, was a painter who had “good and keen insight”.   It was interesting to note that he also made the comment: “Who has ever seen paintings by a daughter?” which alluded to the fact that it was very unusual for a female to become a professional painter and furthermore, in 1633, she was one of only two females in the 17th century who had been accepted as a master in the Haarlem Guild of St Luke.  The first woman registered was Sara van Baabbergen, two years earlier.

It was around this time that Judith’s family left Haarlem and moved some forty kilometres to the southwest and went to live in Vreeland, a town close to the provincial capital Utrecht.  Utrecht in the 1620’s was the home of the group of artists known as the Utrecht Caravaggists.  These painters, such as Dirck van Baburen, Hendrick ter Brugghen, and Gerrit van Honthorst had spent time in Rome during the first two decades of the 17th century and, in the Italian capital, it was a time when Caravaggio’s art was exerting a tremendous influence on all who witnessed his works and by the early 1620s, his painterly style of chiaroscuro, was wowing the rest of Europe.   Whether Judith Leyster mixed with these painters or just picked up on their style is in doubt as the family stayed in the Utrecht area less than twelve months, moving to Amsterdam in the autumn of 1629 but two years later Judith returned to her home town of Haarlem.

It is known that she met Frans Hals when she was in Haarlem but although many of Leyster’s work resembled Hals’ work, both in style and genre, art historians are not in agreement as to whether she was ever actually Hals’ pupil or simply an admirer.  Leyster’s paintings were secular in nature and she never painted any religious works.   Although she is known to have painted a couple of portraits she was, in the main, a genre painter, recording on canvas the life of everyday people.  They were, generally speaking, joyous in their depiction and were extremely sought after by wealthy merchants.

Self Portrait by Judith Leyster (1835)
Self Portrait by Judith Leyster (1835)

Her famous self-portrait was completed around 1630 when she was twenty-one years of age and could well have been her entrance piece for the Haarlem Guild of St Luke’s.  In the work, she is at her easel, palette and an array of eighteen paint brushes in her left hand.  Her right arm is propped against the back of her chair and a brush, held in her right hand is poised ready to carry on painting the work we see on her easel.  She has turned towards us.  She is relaxed and seems to have broken off from painting to say something to whoever is in her studio.  The first things we notice are that the clothes she is wearing.  These would not be the ones she would wear when she was painting.  They are too good for such a messy job to be worn by somebody who is painting.  Her skilful depiction of her clothes allude to her social status and her depiction of them is a fine example of the up-to-date female fashion. Also consider, would a painter working on a painting really be clutching all eighteen of their brushes at the same time?   Of course not!   This is more a painting in which Judith Leyster is intent on promoting herself.  Through this self- portrait she is eager to reveal herself, her painterly skills and her social standing.  In this one painting she is advertising her ability to paint a merry genre scene as seen by the painting of the violin player on the easel.  This depiction of a musician was similar to the one depicted in her 1630 work entitled The Merry Company, which she completed around the same time as this self-portrait.  Of course this being a self-portrait it has also highlighted her ability as a portraitist.  It is interesting to note that when this painting was subjected to infrared photography it was found that the painting on the easel was Leyster’s own face and so one has to presume she originally intended that this painting would be a quirky “self-portrait within a self-portrait”, but presumably, Leyster on reflection, decided to have the painting on the easel represent another facet of her painterly skills – that of a genre painter.  This was her most successful and profitable painting genre with its scenes of merrymakers.  It was this type of work which was extremely popular with her clientele, who wanted to be reminded of the happy and enjoyable times of life.  Although Leyster was proficiently skilled as a portrait artist the art market was already crowded with popular portraitist and so, probably for economic reasons, she decided to concentrate on her genre paintings.

Judith Leyster's signature
Judith Leyster’s signature

Around 1629 she set up a studio on her own and started to add her own signature to her works.  Her signature or moniker was an unusual and clever play on her surname “Leyster”.  Lei-star in Dutch means “lode star” or “polestar” a star often used by sailors to navigate by and she was often referred to as a “leading star” in the art world, and so she used this play-on-words to create a special signature: a monogram of her initials with a shooting star.  She must have been successful at selling her works of art as soon she had employed three apprentices.  It is interesting to note that she had a falling out with Frans Hals who had “illegally” poached one of her apprentices and the whole matter ended up in court at which time Hals was made to apologise and make a payment to her for his action.

The Jolly Toper by Judith Leyster (1629)
The Jolly Toper by Judith Leyster (1629)

Judith Leyster completed many genre pieces in which she portrayed people as being happy with their lot in life.  Settings were often inside taverns but whereas with other Dutch artists who tended to portray the tavern dwellers with a moralistic tone around the evils of drink and the repercussions of becoming a heavy drinker, Leyster wanted to focus more on people enjoying themselves.  A good example of that was her 1630 painting which is in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum entitled The Jolly Toper or The Merry Drinker which is considered to be one of her finest works.

The Merry Drinker by Frans Hals (1628-30)
The Merry Drinker by Frans Hals (c.1628)

However with this painting came the assertion by many critics that she was merely a copier of Frans Hals style of painting, such as her choice of subjects and her brushwork.  Hals had completed his own painting The Merry Drinker in 1630 so I will leave you to decide whether there are more similarities between Leyster and Hal’s paintings other than the subject matter.

The Last Drop (The Gay Cavalier) by Judith Leyster (c.1639)
The Last Drop (The Gay Cavalier) by Judith Leyster (c.1639)

Although Leyster’s genre scenes would often focus on happiness and merriment with no moralistic judgement, she did occasionally focus on the darker side of life and a good example of this can be seen in her 1639 painting which is housed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, entitled The Last Drop (The Gay Cavalier).  It is a vanitas work, meaning it is a work of art which in some way symbolises the brevity of life.   In the work we see two men dressed in festive clothing having an enjoyable time drinking and smoking.  The fact that they are not just celebrating but are also dressed up for the occasion has led people to believe that this merriment is taking place on the Dutch holiday of  vastelaovend, which we know as Shrove Tuesday, the day before the start of Lent.  This was the day when people took advantage of the last day of merrymaking before the forty days of Lent abstinence and fasting.  However it is not just the two revellers that Leyster has depicted in the drinking scene, for between them we see a skeleton.  The skeleton holds an hour-glass in one bony hand and a skull and a lit candle in the other.  The candle both casts a shadow on the seated drinker but at the same time lights up the cavalier’s face.   The skull, burning candle and hour-glass are classic symbols of a vanitas painting which have the sobering effect of reminding us of the brevity of life and the inevitability of death.  There is no interaction between the drinkers and the skeleton which is probably an indication that as they have imbibed so much alcohol the thought of death never crosses their mind.  Look at the expression on the face of the cavalier dressed in red.  It is one of blankness and stupidity which we have often witnessed when we look into a face of a drunkard.  At that moment in time, he has no concern about his own mortality.   One final comment about this work is that it is a good example of how Leyster utilised a style of painting which was associated with the Italian painter Caravaggio and his Dutch followers, the Utrecht Caravaggists, whom Leyster would have seen earlier in her career.  It is known as tenebrism which is where the artist has depicted most of the figures engulfed in shadow but at the same time, have some of them dramatically illuminated by a shaft of light usually from an identifiable source, such as a candle as is the case in this painting, or from an unidentifiable source, off canvas.

A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and an Eel by Judith Leyster (c.1635)
A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and an Eel by Judith Leyster (c.1635)

On a lighter note I offer you another painting with a moral, but somewhat more humorous, which Judith Leyster completed around 1635 and is entitled A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and an Eel.  It is a visual joke with a moralising tale.  It is one of those paintings, typical of Dutch genre scenes, in which you have to look carefully at all who and what are depicted in the painting so as work out what is going on.  See if you can fathom it out.

The two main characters are a boy and a girl.  The boy has a cheeky smile on his face.  He has enticed the cat to join them by waving a wriggling eel which he now holds aloft, having grabbed the cat.   The little girl has now grabbed the tail of the cat, which in a state of shock and fear.  It is desperate to get away from the pair of young tormentors and has extended its claws and about to scratch the boy’s arm in an attempt to escape his clutches.  The young girl who has a face of an older woman, admonishingly wags her finger at us – so why is she so censorious?   It is believed that she is smugly warning us against foolish and mischievous behaviour alluding to the Dutch saying: ‘He who plays with cats gets scratched’.  In other words he who seeks trouble will find it. Although children are depicted in this moralising scene, it is more a warning to adults about their behaviour and many Dutch artists who painted genre scenes with a moral twist frequently used children to put over their moral message.

In the late 1630’s, a strange phenomenon occurred in the Netherlands, which had been brewing for a number of years.   It became known as Tulpenwoede (tulip madness) which saw the price of tulip bulbs rocketing.   It all began when some tulip contracts reached a level which was about 20 times the level of three months earlier.   In one particular case a rare tulip known as Semper Augustus, which had been valued at around 1,000 guilders per bulb  ten years earlier was fetching a price of 5,500 guilders per bulb in  January 1637.  This meant that one of these bulbs was worth the cost of a large Amsterdam house.  Many people, who watched the rising value of the tulip bulb, wanted part of the action.  People used their life savings and other assets were cashed in to get money to invest in these bulbs, all in the belief and expectation that the price of tulip bulbs would continue to rise and they would suddenly become rich.  Alas as we have all seen when a thing is too good to be true, it usually is, and by the end of February 1637 the price of a tulip bulb had crashed and many people lost their savings.

Tulip by Judith Leyster
Tulip by Judith Leyster
from her Tulip Book

However the rising value of the tulip bulb came as a boon to floral artists for if people could not afford the actual tulips for their gardens or pots the next best thing was to have a painting of them and even better still would be to have a book full of beautiful depictions of different tulips.   Judith Leyster realised that the public’s love of tulips could be advantageous for her and she produced her own book of tulips.

Flowers in a vase by Judith Leyster (1654)
Flowers in a vase by Judith Leyster (1654)

In 1636 Judith Leyster married Jan Miense Molenaer, another genre painter, and the two of them set up a joint studio and art dealing business.  They moved to Amsterdam as the opportunity to sell their works of art was better and there was also a greater stability in the art market.  Judith went on to have five children and the role of mother and housekeeper meant that her art output declined.  Until recently it was thought that her artistic output had all but ceased, that was until the run-up to a Judith Leyster retrospective at the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem a number of years ago when a beautiful floral still life which she painted in 1654 surfaced.  It had been hidden from public view in the collection of a private collector.

Judfith Leyster and her husband remained in Amsterdam for eleven years.  They then moved to Heemstede in the province of North Holland, where in 1660, at age 50, Leyster died.

Hans Makart

Hans Makart in Renaissance costume (1879) Photogrphed by Ludwig Angerer
Hans Makart in Renaissance costume (1879)
Photogrphed by Ludwig Angerer

The artist I am featuring in My Daily Art Display today is the Austrian academic history painter Hans Makart.  He was an artist who was so loved by the high society of Vienna that he attained an almost cult-like status.  He was born Johann Evangelist Ferdinand Apolinaris Makart in Salzburg in May 1840.  His mother was Mary Catherine Rüssemayr and his father was John Makart, who was the chamberlain at the Mirabell Palace in Salzburg.  He must have shown some artistic talent as a youngster for he enrolled at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts in 1858.   His tutor was the Austrian painter of genre pieces and landscapes, Johann Fischbach.  However, his tenure at this famous art establishment was short lived as his tutors found that he lacked the talent to become an academic painter.  Hans Makart was not to be put off by the comments of his former tutors as he still retained a great self-belief in his artistic ability.  In 1860 Makart moved from Vienna to Munich and in 1861 enrolled at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste München, also known as the Munich Academy and, for four years,  studied under the tutelage of the German painter and Munich Academician, Karl von Piloty.  During those four years he also found time to visit London, Paris and Rome.

His artistic “break” came in 1868 but the lead up to his opportunity began ten years earlier.   The inner city of Vienna in 1857 was ringed by its 13th century city walls. However in that year the emperor, Franz Josef, decreed that the walls should be demolished and in their place a wide thoroughfare was to be built, which would circle the inner city.  This large-scale building project was financed, in part, by the sale to private individuals, of land alongside the proposed boulevard, which had not been set aside for public buildings or parks.  The work started in 1858 and was completed seven years later. It became known as the Ringstraße and soon buildings, both private and public, were erected along the tree-lined boulevard.   People loved their new boulevard and would take the opportunity to stroll along the Ringstraße.  This love of promenading by the citizens of Vienna was captured in Theodore Zasche’s work entitled The Ringstrasse, Vienna.

Moderne Amoretten (Modern Cupids) by Hans Makart (1868)
Moderne Amoretten (Modern Cupids) by Hans Makart (1868)

One of the first public buildings erected along the Ringstraße was the Vienna Künstlerhaus which was completed and opened in September 1868 and became home to the Austrian Artists’ Society.   To mark its opening it held an art exhibition and Hans Markt was invited to submit some of his work.  One of the paintings he sent was a very large triptych entitled Moderne Amoretten (Modern Cupids).  It was such a large work that he even sent written instructions and drawings as how it was to be hung to achieve the best visual result.  All three paintings were bought by Count Johann Palffy who later commissioned more work from Makart, including a portrait of his wife.  A few months after the end of the exhibition Emperor Franz Joseph, who had already acquired some of Makart’s works, invited him to return to Vienna and in return for doing so, he was provided with a large studio, for his art work, which had once been a foundry.

Hans Makart's Studio before the Auction by Rudolf Ritter von Alt (1855)
Hans Makart’s Studio before the Auction by Rudolf Ritter von Alt (1855)

Makart filled the place with sculpture, ornate furniture, musical instruments and flowers, all of which he used as a backdrop to his historical works and for his staged elaborate and opulent interiors which he incorporated as backgrounds for some of his portraiture.  Before long the former foundry was not just a simple, if large, artist’s studio, but a Salon and it was here he would invite his friends, models and patrons. He entertained everybody notwithstanding whether they were nobility or bourgeoisie.  The social class of his guests mattered little to him, all he wanted from them was their adoration of him as an artist.  It was simply his showroom for marketing his paintings. The visitors were merely his admiring audience and soon he became the talk of the Viennese high society.  He had become a cult hero and he loved every minute of it.  He had become the leading artistic figure of Viennese society.

Makart did not shy away from controversy.  He saw nothing controversial in his art work and in fact he realised that controversy could work in his favour.   Alexander Klee, a curator at Vienna’s Belvedere museum commented on this aspect of Makart’s art, saying:

“…Part of the scandal came from erotic features in his paintings.  Adults kissing, loose-fitting clothing, an uncovered ankle, monks receiving sexual favours, gold backgrounds inspired by church paintings with nudes in the forefront, depictions of sex and crime – these were all scandalous and sometimes almost blasphemous compositions…”

The Entry of Charles V into Antwerp by Hans Makart (1878)
The Entry of Charles V into Antwerp by Hans Makart (1878)

One such painting which caused ructions was one Makart completed in 1878 entitled The Entry of Charles V into Antwerp.  In the work we see Charles V, the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, depicted arriving in Antwerp in 1525.  Makart has depicted the triumphal procession surrounded by beautiful scantily-clad virgins.  Art critics of the time questioned why such nudity should appear in a modern historical scene and suggested that their inclusion was simply a tawdry way Makart had used to be noticed.  In the United States, the painting fell afoul of the Comstock Law, a law named after Anthony Comstock, the United States Postal Inspector and politician dedicated to the strict ideas of  Victorian morality which made illegal the delivery or transportation of “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” material .   As we know, there is no such thing as bad publicity and despite prints of the painting being banned in America, the Americans were desperate to see the work and make their own judgement and of course the painting, in a round-about way, secured Makart’s fame in that country.

However maybe the critics were overly harsh about Makart’s inclusion of semi naked women in the historical painting as Albrecht Dürer in his book, Journal of a Voyage to the Netherlands wrote:

“…I gave a sou for a little book describing the entry into Antwerp where the king received a costly triumph.  The city gates were ornamented in the most costly manner; there was music and great rejoicing, and beautiful maidens whose like I have seldom seen…” 

And in 1526 Dürer wrote to his friend with regards the scene, writing:

“…I looked at these young women very attentively and closely, and without shame, because I am a painter…”

One presumes Makart was aware of Dürer’s comments as he included him in the crowd scene in his work!

Death of Cleopatra by Hans Makart (1875)
Death of Cleopatra by Hans Makart (1875)

Another historical painting Makart completed in 1875 was sold at auction this year for 757,300 Euros.  It was his work entitled Death of Cleopatra.  The painting depicts the dramatic moment immediately after the snake has plunged its poisonous fangs into Cleopatra’s breast.   The portrayal of the dying queen derives its intensity from the contrast between the depiction of Cleopatra’s luxurious silk garments along with her glittering gold jewellery that adorn her body and the pale opaqueness of her skin.  We see the blue tinge on her right breast at the point where the asp has struck.   The sitter for this painting was a friend of Makart, Charlotte Wolter, a Viennese actress.  Gabriel Frodl, who was once director of the Belvedere in Vienna, describes how Makart set the scene:

“…In this manner, the painter conveys an erotic-lascivious mood, further emphasised by the palpable vulnerability of the body, doomed to die among the now insignificant luxury of its surroundings…”

Makart’s artistic work had now branched out in many directions.  He not only created works of art on canvas but also designed costumes and furniture and conceived elegant interior designs for upper-class residences and his work became known as Makartstil (Makart-style).  In 1879, just before his fortieth birthday, he was commissioned to organise a pageant and parade as part of the Silver Wedding Anniversary celebrations of the marriage of Emperor Franz Josef and his wife, Elizabeth of Bavaria.

Hans Makart at the Parade
Hans Makart at the Parade

It was a great success and Makart took this as an opportunity of self-aggrandisement for besides designing the costumes for the people on the floats, cars and carriages and the scenic settings for the various floats he designed a float specifically for artists, which would head the parade and this would be headed by Makart himself on a white horse.   It is no wonder that this parade later became known as the Makart-parade.  The Makart-styled parade was such a success with the Viennese people been given the opportunity to dress up in beautiful historical costumes and be “transported” back to bygone times.  Such was the triumph of this parade and pageant that annual parades followed.

Portrait of Anna von Waldberg by Hans Makart (1883)
Portrait of Anna von Waldberg by Hans Makart (1883)

One could not end a blog about Makart and his paintings if one did not delve into his portraiture.  Many men sat for their portraits but it is Makart’s sensual and seductive portraits of upper-class females which were his best.  One such painting was his 1883 Portrait of Anna von Waldberg which he completed a year before her death.  In the painting we see her wearing a black bustle-era evening dress with its low-cut neckline.  The design was less conservative but incorporates a black bow as a modesty piece hiding the lady’s cleavage.

The Five Senses by Hans Makart (1872-79)
The Five Senses by Hans Makart (1872-79)

The final work of Makart which I am featuring is his famous; some would say his infamous, five-panel oil painting entitled Die Füunf Sinne (The Five Senses) which he completed in around 1879.    It is a study in the nude, depicting five different views of his ideal female form under the guise of the five senses: the senses of smelling, seeing, hearing, feeling and tasting.  Each of the five senses is represented by the action of the female nude.

1990 Austrian Postage Stamp
1990 Austrian Postage Stamp

Hans Makart died in October 1884, aged 44.  He was buried in an honorary grave in Vienna’s Central Cemetery.  The Austrian postal service has issued a number of stamps honouring his memory, the most recent being in 1990 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of his birth.

Honoré Daumier – Lithographs and Caricatures

1830 issue of La Caricature
1830 issue of La Caricature

In my blog today I want to look at some of Honoré Daumier’s political and satirical caricatures and lithographs.  To get some idea as to why he came to satirise the ruling classes of his day I think it is worthwhile looking at the French history of Daumier’s time to find the answers.

The French Revolution began almost twenty years before Daumier’s birth in 1789 with the storming of the Bastille and the fall of the French monarchy.  The majority of upper-class and bourgeoisie Parisians who had managed to survive the slaughter, found themselves imprisoned.  In September 1792 the ruling body known as the National Convention had declared France a republic and took control of the country.  This ruling group was split into two major factions: the Moderates known as the Girondins and the Radicals known as the Jacobins but in Paris itself there was third and far more dangerous faction known as the sans-culottes, (those without breeches).  This group of radical left-wing partisans came from the lower classes and were typically urban labourers.  They were easily identifiable as they wore full-length working-class pants rather than the knee-length culottes which was the French name given to silk knee-length breeches worn by the moderate bourgeois revolutionaries of the National Convention.  The sans-culottes strove for popular democracy, affordable food but most of all they wanted to ensure that a counter-revolution would never come to fruition.  This fear of a counter-revolution was to have a bloody consequence as the sans-culottes were aware that there were a large number of political prisoners in gaols, the number of which they believed was greater than the free Parisians, and, in their mind, they viewed them as counter revolutionaries and a threat to the spirit of the Revolution.  Their decision to rid themselves of this threat was precipitated by rumours that the Prussian army was going to invade the country and when it got to Paris would be sympathetic to the imprisoned counter-revolutionaries.   The sans-culottes were now desperate to prevent the freeing of the prisoners and so on September 3rd and 4th of 1792 they stormed the prisons and within a few days had killed thousands of them.  Men and women, aristocrats and clergy were butchered.  The bloodbath became known as the September Massacre.  A year later, Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette were beheaded.

As is often the case violence begets violence and in 1794 the leaders of the sans-culottes had themselves been executed by the Jacobins under Robespierre.  Robespierre was now a leader of the Convention and ruled through terror but by 1794 he was considered by many to have gone too far and eventually fell from grace.  He was arrested by the deputies in the National Convention and was executed in July 1794.  A new grouping known as The Directory was formed in 1795 with the intention of making France a republic.  For four years the Directory tried to please all the people but they themselves were still divided between those who wanted life to go back to the Pre-Revolution days and those who still wanted the bloodshed to continue and rid the country of the upper classes.

In October 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte arrived back in Paris from his battlefield heroics in Egypt.   The time was right for change.  Popular opinion was divided but all seemed to hate the Directory and so Bonaparte struck and his successful coup in November 1799 led him to become the new French ruler.  In December 1804 he was crowned Napoleon I, Emperor of the French by Pope Pius VII.   Bonaparte reign as leader lasted until his defeat at Waterloo in June 1815, after which he was exiled to St Helena where he died six years later.

On Bonaparte’s departure, France was once again under monarchist rule – this time it was the House of Bourbon and Louis XVIII.  On Louis death in 1824 his younger brother Charles X, who had been living in exile in London, returned to France and took up the reins of power.   Soon after coming to power Charles’ government passed a series of laws which strengthened the power of both the nobility and clergy.

Charles’ rule was of a dictatorial nature.  His was an absolute monarchy in which he exercised ultimate governing authority as the head of the country and his powers could not be limited by the country’s constitution or law. As an absolute monarch he was the supreme judicial authority and as such he could condemn men to death without the right of appeal.   Charles wielded his unlimited authority to reassert the power of the Catholic Church in the country.  He also sought to restrict the freedom of the press but most contentiously he passed laws which would compensate the families of the nobles who had had their property destroyed during the Revolution.  His popularity slowly but surely waned with the French people.  The “straw that broke the camel’s back” came about when Charles set forth what is now known as the July Ordinances which laid down a raft of new laws, one of which was to exclude the commercial middle-class from future elections.   Furthermore most businessmen were banned from running as candidates for the Chamber of Deputies, membership of which for many was a position that afforded them the ultimate in social prestige. Bankers were far from happy with this Ordinance and took their revenge by refusing to lend money, and business owners shuttered their factories and work places, which culminated in workers being callously turned out onto the streets where they were left to fend for themselves.   Naturally, the unemployed felt badly done by and decided that the only course of action left to them was to take to the streets in protest.  The July Revolution of 1830 had started.  It lasted three days and eventually forced Charles to flee to exile in England.  However rule by a monarch survived and Louis-Philippe became king of the French.   The downfall of Charles came to fruition, not only because of the workers protesting on the streets but because of the power wielded by the upper middle class society, the bourgeoisie, the bankers, railroad barons, mine and forest owners as well as wealthy merchants and so during Louis-Philippe’s eighteen year reign the power of the French bourgeoisie grew more powerful and became very close to the king.

However as years passed it was clear that not everybody was happy with Louis-Philippe’s monarchy and his government and many reform movements came in to being wanting more equality for the working classes.  In 1846 France suffered a financial crisis and it was also a year when the harvest was disappointing.  In 1847 the country descended into an economic depression and the peasant farmer workers began to rebel against their poor living standard.  It was not just the rural areas that were suffering as a third of Parisians were out of work.  Louis-Philippe and his government sought to silence the masses by banning political rallies but this only served to further incense the populace and the people took to the streets of Paris.  The military fired on the angry crowd and over fifty were killed.  Barricades were erected and shops, cars and omnibuses were set alight.  It was over for Louis Philipe and so, like his predecessor Charles X, the people had ousted him, forcing him to flee to exile in England.  The monarchy had once again fallen and the Second Republic of France was born.

It was in the middle of all this that Honoré Daumier was born in Marseille in February 1808.   He came from a working-class household.   When he was twelve years old the family moved to Paris.  His father was a glazier and picture-framer but gave it all up in his quest to become a successful playwright, alas to no avail.  The family was now short of money and Honoré had to supplement the family income by working as an errand boy at the law courts and as a clerk in a bookshop.  He had developed a love of sketching and would often spend time at the Louvre copying the Masters.   He secured some informal artistic training from a friend of his father, the painter, Alexandre Lenoir.  Later he attended life-classes and at the age of seventeen he became an apprentice at the studio of Zepherin Belliard, the lithographer and portraitist and it was his love and skill at lithography which would shape Daumier’s future.

Daumier being from a working-class background was a staunch republican and so was delighted with the July Revolution of 1830 and the overthrow of Charles X but was bitterly disappointed to find that instead of the formation of a Republic, the monarchy would continue with the arrival of King Louis-Philippe as the successor to Charles X.  His hope of a Republic had been dashed.   Daumier decided to fight the monarchy in the only way he could.  He would use the power of the political and satirical caricature to criticise the monarchy.  This was quite a dangerous form of dissent and many artists shied away from such a blatant form of criticism.  Daumier joined the newly founded Parisian satirical, anti-monarchist, illustrated newspaper Le Caricature.  The four-page weekly journal, with two or three lithographs usually in the form of political caricatures, was one of the first French satirical newspapers and was founded in November 1830 by the anti-royalist, Charles Philipon, five months after the July Revolution.

Gargantua by Honoré Daumier (1831)
Gargantua by Honoré Daumier (1831)

Probably the most famous of Daumier’s caricatures was one he completed in 1831, entitled Gargantua.   The name Gargantua derives from Rabelais’ 16th century series of novels, which tells of the adventures of two giants, Gargantua and his son Pantagruel.   It was one of the first major political lithographs completed by Daumier. In the work, we see King Louis-Philippe seated on his high throne, which is actually a giant commode!  It is an unflattering caricature of the monarch but this pear-shaped head was Daumier’s constant caricature depiction of Louis-Philippe.  From the king’s mouth runs a stepping board to the ground on which the servants carry the sacks of money which, on reaching the top, tip into the king’s mouth.  Daumier is portraying the king as a devourer of his subjects’ hard-earned money.

In the bottom right of the work we see taxpayers who have been rounded up and told to empty their pockets into the baskets.  Look at the man who is just putting his money into the basket.  He is dressed in rags.  Sitting on the floor in the very right of the foreground is an emaciated-looking woman clutching her baby.  By depicting such people Daumier is highlighting that it is the lower class poor people who are giving money to the already-rich king.  Above the heads of the poor tax-givers we see the windmills and buildings of a port.  The sun is shining on this landscape and presumably Daumier is reminding his viewers that the economy was on track despite the way the king had an ever-demanding tax regime.

Look at the secondary scene by the feet of the king where we see well-dressed men with their tricorn hats.  They are standing under the steep walkway and are availing themselves of any coins which may fall from the servants’ baskets as they stagger upwards towards the king’s mouth.  Under the king’s commode/throne we see papers fluttering down and its is Daumier’s somewhat unsavoury way of showing the king “issuing” documents granting honours and privileges to the chosen few below, who are carrying their symbol of their status – their tricorn hats and who eagerly await to collect their privileges.  In the left of the painting we see these people from upper-middle class who have collected their documents of privileges running off towards the National Assembly.

The caricature appeared in the December 15th 1831 edition of La Caricature and was displayed in the window of La Caricature office in the Gallery Vero – Dodat to attract onlookers.  The ruling powers were horrified with this pictorial assault on royal power.  Louis-Philippe immediately reintroduced press censorship. Orders were given by the king’s government via the courts that all the copies of the caricature were to be seized and the lithographic stone broken.   The proprietor of the journal, Charles Philipon, was fined and Daumier was gaoled in August 1832 and not released until February 1833.  To raise money to pay the fines, Philipon, in August 1832,  immediately retaliated by launching the L’Association Mensuelle Liphographique, sometimes referred to as L’Association pour la Liberté de la Presse which published a monthly large format supplement which was distributed to regular subscribers.

The Legislative Belly by Honoré Daumier (1834)
The Legislative Belly by Honoré Daumier (1834)

Many of the issue would include a number of Daumier’s caricatures.  The first of these was entitled:

Le Ventre législatif

Aspects des bancs ministériels de la chamber improstituée de 1834

 The Legislative Belly

(Aspects of the Ministerial Benches of the Improstituted Chamber of 1834)

In it we see a meeting of some of the National Legislature.  There are thirty-five members shown in the work, all of who, at some time, had been unflatteringly caricatured separately by Daumier. These were members of the Centre Right faction of Louis-Philippe’s legislature.  One can see by the way Daumier has portrayed them that he has an extreme dislike of them and what they stand for.  He has depicted them as bloated and uninspiring, figures who struggle to keep awake.   Daumier is wishing to portray them as the embodiment of idleness, conceit and corruption as this was how he viewed the monarchy and its supporters.

Rue Transnonain le 15 avril 1834 by Honoré Daumier (1834)
Rue Transnonain le 15 avril 1834 by Honoré Daumier (1834)

The third and final Daumier work I am looking at is not a caricature but a lithograph which he completed in 1834 and once again highlights the artist’s interest in politics and the cause of the ordinary people as they struggled to survive.   It is entitled Rue Transnonain le 15 avril 1834.  This work was like many of his others in as much as Daumier wanted to put across, through his art his discontentment with what he believed was social injustice. Through his art work he wanted to remind people, if it was needed, that they should not have to put up with their lot in life.  The background story to this work was that Louis-Philippe’s government had just passed a law which would seriously curtail the power of the unions.  Louis-Philippe, although outwardly indicating that he would maintain the ideals which were held dearly by those revolutionists at the end of the eighteenth century, said that he would look after the lower classes.  Despite this promise his government still favoured the wealthy classes when it came to offering business contracts.  This we saw was highlighted in Daumier’s Gargantua caricature.  The rich got richer and these wealthy businessmen treated their workers badly and for these downtrodden people, their union was their only hope of improved conditions.  The workers could see that the curtailment of the union powers by this new proposed legislation was going to have dire consequences on their working life and living conditions and so they rose up against it.

In April 1834 the insurrections and public disorder began in Paris, part of which was centred around Rue Transnonain in the Parisian working class district of St. Martin,.  The house at number 12 Rue Transnonain was close to a barricade set up by the protesters and, according to the soldiers of the civil guard, who were trying to quell the uprising, a shot was fired at them from a window in that building and a civil guard was killed  The civil guard reacted swiftly and murderously.  They forced their way into the building and indiscriminately fired on the inhabitants. Nineteen people, men, women and children, were slaughtered.

If we look at the lithograph we are aware that there is a somewhat restrained brutality about this work.  We are not shown the actual killings but just witnessing the bloody aftermath.  It is as if we have just opened the door of the bedroom and are greeted with this dreadful sight.  There is a deathly stillness of what we see before us.  The main focal point of this lithograph is a man slumped against his bed, tangled up in the sheets of his bed.  He is dressed in his white night shirt which is stained with blood and he still has his nightcap on his head.  His attire gives us the impression that he had been asleep when the civil guard burst into the room, all guns blazing.  It is not until you look more closely at the slumped figure that you realise his inert body is lying on top of a dead child.  Blood is coming from a wound in the child’s head.  Cast your eyes to the left of the lithograph and in the shadows you can just make out another body of a woman lying on the ground and in the right foreground, on the floor by the bed, we see the head of an elderly man, yet another victim.  From the choice of bodies, Daumier has depicted he is highlighting the fact that neither the elderly, nor a child nor a woman escaped the massacre.

We have to admire Daumier’s skill in the way he has made us search the lithograph for more victims of this massacre.  Each one we find adds to the horror.  There is a matter-of-fact element to Daumier’s depiction.  Daumier had been quite clever with this lithograph.  The king and the government were not alluded to nor openly blamed in the work.  It was just a pictorial statement of facts of what happened on the night of April 14th 1834.   It was simply a piece of journalism.  People who looked upon the work were then allowed to make up their minds about what they saw before them and decide who to blame.  Baron Haussmann in his radical remodelling of Paris in the 1860’s and 1870’s merged Rue Transnonain with the larger Rue Beaubourg and the street name Rue Transnonain was deleted and with it the reminder of the atrocities which occurred on the night of April 14th 1834.

My apologies for the length of the blog but I thought it was important to give you a feel for what was happening in France which lead to the staunch Republican views of Honoré Daumier.  To all historians I just hope I have presented the French history facts correctly !!!

Jean-Marc Nattier

Jean-Marc Nattier by Louis Tocqué (c.1742) Toqué was taught by Nattier in the 1720's and married Nattier's daughter Marie in 1747.
Jean-Marc Nattier by Louis Tocqué (c.1742)Toqué was taught by Nattier in the 1720’s and married Nattier’s daughter Marie in 1747. 

The career you decide on as a teenager is often a logical follow-on from what one or both your parents did or what they were interested in.  There are cases when parents are disappointed that their children don’t follow their career footsteps, no matter how much they try to cajole them.  Musicians beget musicians, lawyers, beget lawyers and of course artists beget artists.   The father, mother and godfather of the painter featured in my blog today were all artists and so one should not be surprised to find that their sons became interested in all things artistic.  Of course to be interested in art and be good at art are two completely different things but my featured painter today was one of France’s most talented 18th century historical painter and portraitist.  He was Jean-Marc Nattier. 

Nattier was born in Paris in March 1685.  He was the second son of Marc Nattier a portrait painter and Marie Nattier (née Courtois) who was a miniaturist.  His father and his godfather were his first art tutors.  His godfather was Jean Jouvenet, a history painter, who specialised in religious scenes.  When he was fifteen years of age his father arranged for him to enrol in the drawing classes at the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture of Paris and soon the establishment recognised the artistic talent of  Jean-Marc for in 1700 he was awarded the Premier Prix de Dessin.

The Wedding by Proxy of Marie de' Medici to King Henry IV by Rubens (1622-1625) Part of the Marie de' Medici cycle
The Wedding by Proxy of Marie de’ Medici to King Henry IV by Rubens (1622-1625)
Part of the Marie de’ Medici cycle

Nattier’s father had a royal licence to reproduce Rubens’s famous cycle of paintings known as the History of Marie de’ Medici, which was, at that time, housed in the Le Galerie du Palais du Luxembourg, Paris.  It is now housed in the Louvre.   Before he died, he arranged for the licence to be taken over by Jean-Marc and his brother, another artist,  Jean-Baptiste Nattier.  Nattier and his brother spent much time making drawings of this cycle of paintings.  The cycle consisted of twenty four monumental allegorical paintings of the French dowager Queen by the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens who began painting them in 1622 and which took him two years to complete.  It was a set of narrative paintings, commissioned by Maria de’ Medici, the widow of Henry IV of France, who, on her husband’s death, took control of the country until their thirteen year old son Louis XIII reached the age of thirteen.   Twenty-one of these works tell the story of her life, her struggles and triumphs as a widow, mother and ruler.  The other three paintings were portraits of her and her parents, Francesco I de’ Medici the Grand Duke of Tuscany and Joanna, Archduchess of Austria.  It was presumably in her mind that such a set of paintings about her would immortalize her in French history. Jean-MarcNattier, over time, made a series of drawings of this cycle of paintings which were turned into engravings by the leading engravers of the time.  The drawings appeared in 1710 under the title La Galerie du Palais du Luxembourg and  proved extremely popular.  Jean-Marc Nattier’s artistic ability was now recognised. 

Portrait of Tsar Peter by Jean-Marc Nattier (1717)
Portrait of Tsar Peter by Jean-Marc Nattier (1717)

Through the good auspices of his uncle, Jean Jouvenet, Jean-Marc Nattier was offered the chance to visit Rome and study at the prestigious Académie de France à Rome.  Unlike his elder brother, John-Baptiste, however, he declined the offer and instead of heading to Italy, remained in Paris to further his career.  

Catherine I of Russia by Jean-Marc Nattier (1717)
Catherine I of Russia by Jean-Marc Nattier (1717)

In 1717, Nattier, at the age of thirty-two, travelled to Amsterdam where he was commissioned to paint portraits of the visiting Russian Tsar, Peter the Great and his second wife, the Tsarina, Catherine. Both portraits are housed at the Hermitage in St Petersburg.

Battle of Poltava by Jean-Marc Nattier (1717)
Battle of Poltava by Jean-Marc Nattier (1717)

The Tsar, obviously pleased with the portraits then commissioned Nattier to produce two historical paintings depicting the 1709 Battle of Poltava and the 1708 Battle of Lesnaya, two of the major conflicts between Russia and Sweden in the Great Northern War which he completed in 1717. 

The Tsar was delighted with the history paintings and invited him to come to Russia and work at the Russian court but the Frenchman declined the offer and returned to the French capital.  Nattier remained in Paris for the rest of his life . 

Perseus Petrifies Phineas and his Companions with the head of Medusa by Jean-Marc Nattier (1718)
Perseus Petrifies Phineas and his Companions with the head of Medusa by Jean-Marc Nattier (1718)

Nattier’s work between 1715 and 1720 focused on historical paintings such as his Great Northern War paintings (above) and he was received into the Académie Royale as a history painter on the strength of these works and in particular one he completed in 1718 entitled Perseus Petrifies Phineas and his Companions with the head of Medusa.   The painting is based on Book V of Ovid’s Metamorphoses,  which tells the tale of  Andromeda, who was betrothed to her uncle, Phineas, until Perseus rescued her from the sea monster, Cetus,  and in return for saving her life she agreed to marry him instead.    At their wedding celebrations Phineas and his followers burst in and attacked Perseus and the wedding guests.  Andromeda came to his aid but he was heavily outnumbered.  Perseus then unveils his ultimate weapon, the severed head of the gorgon, Medusa, that petrifies all those who look at it.  Perseus thus transforms all his attackers into statues and utters the words to Phineas:

“…You shall not suffer by the sword.  Rather I will cause you to be an enduring monument through the ages and you will always be seen in my father-in-laws palace, so that my wife may find solace in the statue of her intended…”  

Phineas tried to avert his eyes but it was too late.  His neck hardened, the tears on his cheek were turned to stone and he was turned into marble.  In Nattier’s painting we see the intruders on the left already turned to stone whilst those in the right foreground try to avert their eyes from the Medusa’s severed head which is being held aloft by Perseus.  Throughout the painting we see the bright flashes of highly polished armour.  There are also the gleaming  silver salvers and decorative pitchers which lie on the floor in the foreground that were being used for the wedding feast.  These random reflections catch our eye and have our gaze dart around the painting.  This attention-dispersing effect is known as the papillotage

Nattier’s was forced to move from historical paintings to the more lucrative genre of portraiture around 1720 when he, and numerous French citizens, lost most of their money they had invested in the government’s Mississippi Company, set up by Louis XIV’s financial adviser, the Scotsman, John Law.  The collapse of the company became known as the Mississippi Bubble.  Nattier was in a state of financial ruin and urgently needed to recoup his lost money and the most lucrative art genre was portraiture, although this form of art came low down in the academic hierarchy of genres.   Artists of the time who made money from their portraiture were frowned upon by the art establishment who considered that the portraitists had lost all artistic credibility.  Nattier was loathed to give up on his favoured genre of history painting, which he knew the art academies of 17th century Europe considered the highest intellectual achievement for an artist.   He was extremely unhappy that he was about to sell his soul for the financial gain of portraiture but “needs must”.   However to retain some artistic credibility he decided that his portraiture would revive the genre of allegorical portraiture and by depicting his sitters as characters from Greek and Roman mythology, history or biblical tales then he was not completely abandoning history painting.  Initially his portraiture clientele came from the Parisian bourgeoise but later in the 1730’s he began to work on portraits of the ladies of the Royal court and in the 1740’s he was commissioned to paint portraits of the Royal family of Louis XV.  

Henriette of France as Flora by Jean-Marc Nattier (1742)
Henriette of France as Flora by Jean-Marc Nattier (1742)

Females liked this type of portraiture as artists could then depict them in roles outside their normally constrained and often boring professions, and elevate their status to that of Goddesses.  Nattier realised that with a little help from props and artificial settings the finished painting moved a tad closer to the much vaunted and more credible history painting genre.  His finished works pleased the female courtiers as besides elevating them to the status of Goddesses he would cleverly beautify his sitters without losing their true likeness.  Examples of this allegorical portraiture can be seen in his 1742 painting entitled Henriette of France as Flora.  The painting had been commissioned by Henriette’s mother, Maria Leczinska, the wife of Louis XV.  Nattier had transposed the princess into the mythological figure of the Roman goddess of flowers and the season of spring, Flora. 

Marie Adelaide of France by Jean-Marc Nattier (1745)
Marie Adelaide of France by Jean-Marc Nattier (1745)

Three years later in 1745 he completed another allegorical portrait for Maria Leczinska.  This time it was a portrait of another of her daughters, Marie Adelaide, which was entitled Marie Adelaide of France as Diana.  Diana was the Roman goddess of hunting and in the painting we see Marie Adelaide sitting on the ground, one hand wrapped around her bow whilst the other hand withdraws an arrow from its quiver.  Both the paintings of Louis XV’s daughters can now be seen at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Portrait of Queen Marie Leszczyńska by Jean-Marc Nattier (1748)
Portrait of Queen Marie Leszczyńska by Jean-Marc Nattier (1748)

In 1748 Nattier received a commission to paint Louis XV’s wife, Maria Leszczynska, who was the daughter of the former King of Poland.  Louis and Maria’s marriage was an arranged one and fifteen year old Louis and twenty-one year old Maria met for the first time on the eve of their wedding.   It started off as a very happy marriage and the couple went on to have ten children.   There were complications with the birth of the last child, Princess Louise, in 1737 and from that time on the couples sex life was at an end and they slept in separate rooms.   It was around this juncture in their married life that Louis  began to have a series of love affairs including his famous one with Madame de Pompadour.   The portrait by Nattier of the Queen was a change of portraiture style.  This was not the usual allegorical portrait that he had been carrying out over the last twenty years, but a simple depiction of a forty-five year old married woman.  Marie had asked that she be depicted in habit de ville (day dress).   She wanted simplicity and that is exactly what Nattier gave her.  We see her seated with her left hand on top of an open bible which makes us aware of her strong religious beliefs.  She looks relaxed and at ease with herself.  She was a homely-type of person and Nattier has depicted her just so.  There is a natural quality about this work which must have pleased the queen.

Jean-Marc Nattier had married Marie-Madeleine de la Roche in 1724 and the couple went on to have four children, one of whom, Marie, married Louis Tocqué in 1747.  Tocqué who was only ten years younger than his father-in-law and had at one time been a student of his and they were colleagues at the Académie Royale.  Louis Tocqué and Jean-Marc Nattier were two of the most celebrated portraitists of the 18th century.

Self-Portrait with his Family, by Jean-Marc Nattier
Self-Portrait with his Family, by Jean-Marc Nattier

Nattier completed a family portrait of himself, his wife and their four children which depicts them well dressed and quite affluent looking.  The painting would have been from the 1730’s when Nattier had started to recover from his financial losses a decade before.  

Jean-Marc Nattier’s health deteriorated in 1762 and he was forced to stop painting.   The popularity of his work had started to wane in the last decade of his life and he died a poor man.  

Jean-Marc Nattier  died in Paris in November 1766, aged 81.

The Three Portraits of Ria Munk by Gustav Klimt

I suppose the most challenging and distressing period of one’s life is when somebody close to us, somebody we love, dies.  It is both a traumatic and painful time when suddenly we feel the loss of someone we loved.  Later, we want to cling to memories of the dead person.  We want to remember them forever.  We do not want to ever forget that person who had so touched our lives.   How do we do that?   Within days of our loved one dying, we are offered the chance to see the deceased one last time as they lay in rest in the funeral parlour.   I have done that on a number of occasions and regretted it.  I probably did it more out of duty than out of a desire to see the body of the dead person.  The face of the deceased I looked down upon was not the way I wanted to remember them.  It makes no difference how well the mortician has waved his or her magic wand over the deceased, the face of the person is pallid and lifeless and only our mental capacity and power of imagination can change that image.  Ultimately, our fondest recollection of the deceased person is almost always through photographs, which sadly, like our recollections, fade over time.  Even after photography became the medium of remembrance, a painting of a person acted as an aide-mémoire and in today’s blog I want to look at how one family wanted to remember their deceased daughter. 

Ria Munck on her Deathbed by Gustave Klimt (1912)
Ria Munk on her Deathbed by Gustav Klimt (1912)

My blog today is about a mother’s love for her dead daughter and her desire to hold on to her memories of her beautiful girl through a posthumous painting.   The mother in question was Aranka Pulitzer Munk.  She was the niece of Joseph Pulitzer, the man who, through the  provisions in his will, set up the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism.   Aranka married Alexander Munk, a wealthy Polish industrialist in 1882 and the couple went on to have three daughters, Lili, Maria (Ria) and Lola.  The daughter that is featured in today’s blog is the second-born girl, Ria, who was born in November 1887.  Ria was an extremely beautiful young woman and in 1911, when she was twenty-four years old, she had become the lover of the forty-year old German poet and writer Hanns Heinz Ewers.  This was never going to be a good match for Ewers reputation as a libertine was well known and wherever he went, scandals followed.  However maybe it was this that drew Ria to the latter-day “bad boy” character.  They eventually became betrothed and despite Ria entering this arrangement with a sizeable dowry, Ewers called it off.  According to the book Gustave Klimt by Jane Rogoyska and Patrick Bade, Ewers wrote Ria a letter that December, in which he described her as “a hopeless romantic and out of touch with reality”.     As one can imagine, Ria was devastated and could not come to terms with the break-up and at noon on December 28th she took a gun and shot herself through the heart. 

Whereas now, the tabloid papers would be full of the scandalous story of the suicide of the daughter of a wealthy family, the suicide of Ria Munk was of little import in the local press.  On the contrary, Viennese society looked upon suicide following a broken relationship as almost the norm.  There was even a sense of romanticism about it, similar to cases of death at the end of a duel which was fought over someone’s honour.  The Viennese society seemed to be in awe of the pomp and ceremony of grand funeral processions which followed on from such deaths.  The famous Austrian writer and journalist, Stefan Zweig  summed it up in his 1943 autobiography, The World of Yesterday, when he wrote:

“…‘In Vienna, even funerals found enthusiastic audiences and it was the ambition of every true Viennese to have a lovely corpse, with a majestic procession and many followers; even his death converted the genuine Viennese into a spectacle for others. In this receptivity for all that was colourful festive and resounding, in this pleasure in the theatrical, whether it was on the stage or in reality, both as theatre and as a mirror of life, the whole city was at one…” 

That may in the case but one can only imagine the devastation and heartbreak felt by her parents.  Her mother, Aranka, decided that she wanted a posthumous portrait painted of her daughter.  Aranka’s sister was Serena Lederer (neé Pulitzer) and she was one of Gustav Klimt’s main patrons and he had painted her portrait in 1899 and a portrait of her daughter, Portrait of Elisabeth Bachofen-Echt in 1916.  Serena Lederer and her husband August had built up the largest collection of the Austrian artist’s works and so it was logical for Aranka to ask her sister to speak to Klimt about the portrait commission, Klimt was, at that time, the most sought after portraitist in Vienna.  It was also around this time in Viennese society that the death-mask portrait and the death-bed portrait had grown to become in vogue with city’s privileged classes, and so following the tragedy of her daughter’s suicide, Aranka Munk decided that she would commission a death-bed portrait of her beloved Ria and arranged, through her sister, to have Klimt  paint it. 

Presumably with the help of photographs, Klimt completed the death-bed portrait of Ria Munk in 1912 and it was entitled Ria Munk am Totenbett (Ria Munk I),   Ria Munk on her Deathbed (Ria Munk I).  The background of the work is dark blue and is in stark contrast to the red carnations which form part of the garland of flowers, which frame Ria’s beautiful face.   Looking at the work we see Ria lying peacefully with her head on a white pillow.  Surrounding the pillow there are some white carnations.  There is no indication that Ria has died a violent death.   This painting is all about Ria’s beauty.  Her chest is covered in orange, red and purple fabric, which hide from us the bullet wound.  She is at peace.  Klimt has painted her with pink cheeks. As yet her facial features have not begun to sink into her skull.   Her mouth is partly open which make us think that she is just asleep.    She is surrounded by flowers and many people draw a similarity to Klimt’s depiction of her and the depiction of the tragic heroine in John Everett Millais’ 1852 painting, Ophelia.   It is a lovely portrait which exudes an aura of peace and serenity but there was also something about it that made her parents to reject it.  Aranka Munk decided the work, although beautiful, was too death-like and too distressful to behold.   Aranka then belatedly decided that she wanted the aide-mémoire of her daughter to be a painting of how she remembered her when she was alive.  She wanted to evoke memories of her daughter’s vivaciousness and exuberance, rather than the peaceful but solemn one of Ria, depicted by Klimt as she lay on her death bed and so, according to Erich Lederer, Serena Lederer’s son, Klimt was again commissioned to paint a second portrait of Ria.  In 1913, Aranka gave Klimt some more photographs of her daughter and asked him for another portrait, one that would encapsulate her beauty and her joie de vivre. 

Die Tänzerin (Ria Munk II) by Gustave Klimt (1916)
Die Tänzerin (Ria Munk II) by Gustav Klimt (1916)

There are some questions about this second portrait that remain unanswered.    The one fact we do know was whatever the artist gave Aranka, she rejected it.   Why did she reject it?   Was the painting above the one Klimt handed over to Aranka Munk?  If we look at the painting which bears the title Ria Munk II, then it is not difficult to see why a mother would be horrified and subsequently reject such a semi-naked portrait of her late daughter.   However we are not sure that the portrait we see before us was the painting Klimt gave her, in fact we can almost be certain that it was not.  Would Klimt really believe that a grieving mother would welcome such a semi-nude depiction of her daughter?  Although we have no way of knowing what Klimt’s second portrait of Ria Munk, which he gave to Aranka looked like, what we do know is that it was rejected by her.  Another fact we know about this second commission from Ria’s mother was that Klimt struggled with it.  We know this from a postcard he sent to his life-long friend, the Viennese fashion designer Emilie Flöge, in 1913.  He wrote of his problem with the commission:

“…the Munk portrait… wouldn’t come together! Can’t make it a likeness!…”

Following Aranka’s rejection of the painting, Klimt took it back to his studio, and altered it.  The altered and finished version is more erotic and depicts a bare-breasted portrait of a dancer.  It is now beleived that the dancer could have been Johanna Jusl, who was not only a dancer with the Vienna Hofoper but was also one of Klimt’s models.  His amended version, which we see above, depicts a lady, bare-breasted and exuding an overt sensuality, which one presumes would not have been present in the painting he offered Aranka Munk.   She stands in a full-frontal pose but her head is coyly turned away. Her cheeks have a faint rose tinge to them.  The elongated horizontal shape of her eyes gives her an oriental look.  There is a delicate tinge of light blue on her face and neck which confers upon her a ghost-like appearance. Next to her is a table upon which there is a vase of poppies.  Behind her, to the right, there is a vast floral display whilst in the left of the work we see oriental figures portrayed on a green background.  Her highly colourful and garish patterned  dress, which is open to her waist exposing her breasts, seems to become one with the background.  Below the hem of the dress we catch sight of lace-edged black pantaloons below which we see her shapely white-stocking legs and high-heeled shoes with their decorative bows.  There is a definite oriental-feel to this work and we know Klimt was fascinated by orientalism.  In Frank Whitford’s 1990 book, Klimt, he tells the story of a young aspiring artist, Egon Schiele, visiting Klimt’s studio in the Vienna district of Heitzing and how Schiele describes the studio as being dominated by Far Eastern Art and artefacts as well as Japanese woodblock prints.  Klimt had also a large collection of kimonos, a large red Japanese suit of armour and a number of exquisite Chinese costumes.  So was Klimt’s love of orientalism unusual?  In 1923, Anton Faistauer, a Viennese painter wrote a book entitled ‘Neue Malerei in Osterreich’ and in it he discussed  Klimt and orientalism, he wrote:

“…for Europeans Klimt is an outsider… (and) it would be better not to compare him at all to western ways. He is incomprehensible to the West, to the French and Germans, and his art, for now, is rejected there… He is conceivable only in Vienna, better still in Budapest or Constantinople. His spirit is entirely oriental. Eroticism plays a dominant role in his art, and his taste for women is rather Turkish… He is inspired by the decorations of Persian vases and oriental carpets, and especially delights in the gold and silver of his canvases…” 

The work, with the title Die Tänzerin (Ria Munk II) – The Dancer (Ria Munk II), the title originating from Erich Lederer, remained in Klimt’s studio and he never sold it.  It is now part of the collection of the Neue Galerie in New York. 

Frauenbildnis (Ria Munk III) by Gustave Klimt (1918)
Frauenbildnis (Ria Munk III) by Gustav Klimt (1918)

The third portrait of Ria Munk, entitled Frauenbildnis ( Ria Munk III), which Klimt began around 1917, was one of the largest and greatest full-length female portraits by him.  It was, like a number of Klimt’s  later works found in his studio, unfinished, when he died in February 1918.  The woman in the painting, with her pink cheeks and dark eyes is standing sideways on but is turning to face us, the viewer.  Unlike the previous portrait, there is demureness in the way she holds her robe closed.  She seems totally at ease.  There is an aura of self-confidence about the young lady.  She proffers us a dreamy smile.  There is no hint of seductiveness about her expression that we saw in the earlier portrait. As was the case in many of his earlier full length female portraits of women from Vienna’s high society such as Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer II (1912), Portrait of Eugenia (Mäda) Primavesi (c.1914) and Friedericke Maria Beer (1916), he once again morphs his subject into a highly colourful and decorative background.   The background of this work consists of a multitude of flowers such as roses and tulips, floral patterns and oriental-looking designs. The painting is incomplete, especially with regards the dress and the foreground, which we see are just traces of the charcoal preliminary sketch.

Shortly after Klimt’s death, and because her daughter’s portrait had been commissioned by Aranka Munk, it was given to her.  Aranka, who had divorced her husband in 1913, was now living in the summer at her lakeside villa at Bad Aussee in the Austrian state of Styria and it was here that she kept this third portrait of her daughter Ria.  It remained there until 1941.  Aranka, being Jewish, was then forced to sell part of the property to neighbours in 1941.   The Gestapo later seized her remaining property, and her apartment in Vienna, in 1942.    Aranka was deported to Lodz in German-occupied Poland in October 1941 and was put to death on November 26th, a day before her 79th birthday. Her daughter, Lola, was also sent to a concentration camp, at Chelmno, Poland, where she died in September 1942.

The year the villa and its contents were seized by the National Socialists, the Frauenbildnis ( Ria Munk III), portrait passed into the hands of the art collector and dealer William Gurlitt.  In 1953 the Frauenbildnis painting was among a number of important paintings that Gurlitt sold to the Neue Galerie der Stadt Linz, which in 2003 became known as the Lentos Museum. The painting subsequently remained in the Lentos Museum, Linz until June 2009.  It was then, after years of legal challenges that Linz city council finally voted to return the Klimt painting to its rightful owners and it was thus given up by the Lentos Museum to Aranka Munk’s descendents, who were living in Europe and America.  The following year, June 2010, the descendents put the work in Christie’s London auction where it sold for £18.8 million. 

Whilst I was working on this blog news broke out about a $1 billion art hoard discovery at a Munich apartment of an 80-year-old recluse, Cornelius Gurlitt.

Does the surname ring a bell ??????