The War Series by George Bellows

Massacre at Dinant by George Bellows (1918)

Massacre at Dinant by George Bellows (1918)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Barricade by George Bellows (1918)

The Barricade by George Bellows (1918)

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

Return of the Useless by George Bellows (1918)

Return of the Useless by George Bellows (1918)

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

The Germans Arrive by George Bellows (1918)

The Germans Arrive by George Bellows (1918)

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

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

Murder of Edith Cavell by George Bellows (1918)

Murder of Edith Cavell by George Bellows (1918)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in American artists, Art, Art Blog, Art display, George Bellows, Realism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Paul Delvaux’s Sleeping Venus

Sleeping Venus by Paul Delvaux (1944)

Sleeping Venus by Paul Delvaux (1944)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Auderghem by Paul Delvaux (1923)

For Auderghem by Paul Delvaux (1923)

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

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

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

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

The Crucifixion by Paul Delvaux (1952)

The Crucifixion by Paul Delvaux (1952)

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

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

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

Paul Delvaux Museum at St Idesbald

Paul Delvaux Museum at St Idesbald

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

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

The Sleeping Venus by Paul Delvaux Second version (1943)

The Sleeping Venus by Paul Delvaux
Second version (1943)

A second Sleeping Venus was completed by Delvaux in 1943.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gradiva by André Masson

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

André Masson

André Masson

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

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

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

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

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

Battle of the Fishes by André Masson (1926)

Battle of the Fishes by André Masson (1926)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gradiva by André Msson (1939)

Gradiva by André Msson (1939)

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

Bas-relief of Gradiva

Bas-relief of Gradiva

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

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

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

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

The novel, Gradiva by Wilhelm Jensen

The novel, Gradiva by Wilhelm Jensen

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

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

or  Amazon.co.uk:

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

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

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

Frederic Edwin Church, Part 2

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

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

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

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

Isabel Carnes Church by Frederic Church (1860)

Isabel Carnes Church by Frederic Church (1860)

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

Fern Walk, Jamaica by Frederic Church (1865)

Fern Walk, Jamaica by Frederic Church (1865)

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

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

Ed Deir, Petra Jordan by Frederic Church (1868)

Ed Deir, Petra Jordan by Frederic Church (1868)

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

Königsee by Frederic Church (1868)

Königsee by Frederic Church (1868)

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

South West Facade of Olana by Frederic Church (1870)

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

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

Olana Historic Site

Olana Historic Site

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

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

Forest Pool by Frederic Church (1860)

Forest Pool by Frederic Church (1860)

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

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

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

Frederic Edwin Church, Part 1

Last weekend I spent a two day break in London attending the christening of my grandson and pottering around a couple of galleries visiting their current exhibitions.   I had tickets for the Boccacio exhibition at the National Gallery and whilst there I decided to call in to their small but excellent Frederic Church exhibition, Through American Eyes: Frederic Church and the Landscape Oil Sketch, which is running until April 28th.   It was a veritable gem of a show and as the publicity stated,

 “…[ it was an invitation to] step into a world of wild natural phenomena with the landscape oil sketches of celebrated American landscape painter, Frederic Church…

 It is a free-to-enter exhibition and one you should try and visit.   I want to dedicate the next two blogs to the nineteenth century American painter Frederic Church, and look at some of his paintings, some of which were at the exhibition.  Church was a master of the plein-air oil sketch and I ask you to accompany me on a journey looking at his life and sampling some of his exquisite artistic gems.

Frederic Church was born in Hartford, the state capital of Connecticut, in May 1826.  He came from a privileged background.  His father, Joseph, who came from a very prosperous family, was a jeweller, silversmith and a Hartford insurance adjuster and the Church household lived an affluent lifestyle.  Frederic, who was brought up in a devout Protestant Congregationalist household, showed a propensity for art whilst at school and through a family neighbour, Daniel Wadsworth, was fortunate enough to be introduced to Thomas Cole, the English-born American landscape artist, who is regarded as the founder of the Hudson River School.  Thomas Cole, who up until then had never taken a pupil under his wing, agreed to take Frederic on as his pupil.   Frederic studied under Thomas Cole in his Catskill studio between 1844 and 1846 during which time he and his tutor would go off on painting trips to the Catskill Mountains and the Berkshires, a highland region in western Massachusetts, west of the Connecticut and lower Westfield Rivers .

Hooker and Company journeying through the Wilderness in 1636  from Plymouth to Hartford by Frederic Church (1846)

Hooker and Company journeying through the Wilderness in 1636 from Plymouth to Hartford
by Frederic Church (1846)

Frederic flourished under Cole’s guidance and, within a year, he had his painting, a scene from early New England history, Hooker and Company journeying through the Wilderness in 1636 from Plymouth to Hartford shown at New York’s National Academy of Design annual exhibition.  The scene recounts the June 1636 journey made by the prominent Puritan religious leader, Reverend Thomas Hooker as he left the Boston area with one hundred men, women, and children and set out for the Connecticut valley. The group traveled over one hundred miles through the wilderness and reached their destination in early July. Many members of the Hooker party settled in Hartford, while some located to nearby Wethersfield and Windsor, and others traveled north and settled Springfield, Massachusetts.    It was through this painting that Church combined his love for ancient landscapes with an acknowledgement of his cultural origins.  The following year Church was elected as the youngest Associate of the National Academy of Design and was promoted to Academician the following year.  That year he sold his first major oil painting to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, an art museum which had been founded by Daniel Wadsworth.

 After completing his apprenticeship with Cole, Frederic Church moved to New York and set up his own studio in a space which he rented in the Art-Union Building, which was at the centre of the city’s art world, and he began to teach art.   During the spring and autumn months he would leave the city and set out on painting trips throughout New England, particularly Vermont.  Over the months he would build up a large collection of sketches of the beautiful scenery he witnessed, which he would then bring back to his New York studio and during the dark and cold months of winter he would convert them into beautiful landscape paintings.    His landscape artistry was much admired and his landscape works featuring New York and New England vistas sold well.  Frederic Church’s landscape paintings differed from the moral and religious allegorical ones which had been the hallmark of his tutor, Thomas Cole’s landscape works,  for Church wanted to concentrate on the true beauty of nature.  His depictions of storms, sunsets and waterfalls in the Catskill Mountains encapsulated the beauty and spirituality of the American wilderness.  It could well be the case that Frederic Church had read the words of the great English art critic John Ruskin who laid out his ideas of what a young artist should seek to achieve in their landscape works.  Ruskin wrote:

 “…For young artists nothing ought to be tolerated but simple bona fide imitation of nature….. Their duty is neither to choose, nor compose, nor imagine, nor experimentalize; but to be humble and earnest in following the steps of nature, and tracing the finger of God…”

Niagara by Frederic Church (1857)

Niagara by Frederic Church (1857)

During a two year period, 1854 to 1856, Frederic Church travelled extensively visiting Nova Scotia, and journeying throughout Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, and it was around this time that he visited the Niagara Falls.   The Falls, by this time, had become a great tourist attraction and a favourite destination for artists.  Whilst at the Falls he completed a number of oil sketches which he would utilise when he painted his large-scale works of the Falls in 1857 and 1867.   Frederic Church’s great breakthrough came when, in 1857, he exhibited his painting Niagara It was a large work measuring 107cms x 230cms (see My Daily Art Display Sept 9th 2011) and it visually stunned all who saw it.   Without doubt, the late 1850’s were the high point of Church’s career.  Artistic triumph followed artistic triumph.

 Frederic Church had, like many others,  become fascinated with the translated writings of the celebrated Prussian naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt, which were based on his five-year expedition in the New World at the start of the nineteenth century.  It was in one of his works, Kosmos  that Von Humboldt implored artists to travel and paint equatorial South America.   In 1853, along with his friend, the young entrepreneur Cyrus West Field, who had financed the trip, Church set off on the first of two expeditions following Humboldt’s footsteps, chiefly in Colombia;  the second trip, in 1857, in company with the American Creole landscape painter, Louis Remy Mignot.   Together, the artists travelled from Panama to Ecuador, where they spent 10 weeks painting village and mountain scenes.

The Heart of the Andes by Frederic Church (1859)

The Heart of the Andes by Frederic Church (1859)

From his trips to South and Central America, Frederic Church amassed a large collection of sketches from which, on his return home, he completed large and spectacular oil paintings.  One of these works was his ten-foot wide work entitled The Heart of the Andes which he completed in 1859.   This elaborate and highly structured painting was his most ambitious work.  In this painting Church managed to depict the variety of earthly life as seen by the lush green foreground.   The painting took pride of place in a New York exhibition, housed in an elaborate window-like frame and illuminated in a darkened room by concealed skylights.  Can you just imagine what nineteenth century viewers made of this extraordinary painting exhibited in such an extraordinary setting?   People thronged to see the painting and it was estimated that more than twelve thousand people visited the exhibition in three weeks and were happy to part with a quarter each to see it.  For that admission fee, the public were provided with opera glasses so that they could examine the painting in detail.  The painting was then shipped to England where once again people flocked to see it.  Church eventually sold it for $10,000, at that time the highest price ever paid for a work by a living American artist.

Iceberg Flotante by Frederic Church (1859)

Iceberg Flotante by Frederic Church (1859)

In 1859 Church took a voyage north along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador in search of icebergs.  On this trip he was accompanied by the Reverend Louis L. Noble, an author who was to write about their trip together in his 1861 book, After Icebergs with a Painter: A Summer Voyage to Labrador and Around Newfoundland.  During their voyage of discovery Frederic Church and Noble would hire a boat to take them up close to these awe-inspiring floating icebergs to allow Church to sketch these remarkable and majestic floating white giants.  Frederic Church managed to capture the breath-taking beauty of these white giants in a number of his paintings, one of which was his work entitled Iceberg Flotante which he completed in 1859

The Icebergs by Frederic Church (1861)

The Icebergs by Frederic Church (1861)

I particularly like his 1861 painting entitled The Icebergs, in the foreground of which we see a broken masthead lying cross-like on the ice.  Not only is this a beautiful landscape work but it is a kind of historical painting as the inclusion of the masthead is a reference to the tragic loss of Sir John Franklin’s doomed British expedition party which had been attempting to cross the last un-navigated section of the North-West Passage in 1847.  Sadly, the two ships of the expedition became icebound in Victoria Strait, close to King William Island in the Canadian Arctic.  Despite the British Admiralty’s sending numerous search parties to find the ships, the entire expedition party, including Franklin himself and his 128 men, was lost.

……………………………………………….to be continued in my next blog.

Posted in American artists, Frederic Church, Hudson River School, Landscape paintings, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Figure at a Window by Dali (1925) and Young Virgin Autosodomized by her Own Chastity by Dali (1954)

Figure at a Window by Dali (1925)

Figure at a Window by Dali (1925)

My blog today looks at two paintings by the same artist, completed twenty-nine years apart.  There is an obvious a similarity about the works and yet they could not be more different.   As a non-painter, it is this difference in style which intrigues me.   The artist in question is Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, better known simply as Dali.

Dali was born in 1904 in Figueres, a Spanish Catalonian town close to the border with France.  He was born into a middle-class background.  His father, Salvador Dalí i Cusí, was a lawyer and notary and a fierce Catalan federalist.  His mother was Felipa Domenech Ferrés, a demure and pretty Barcelona girl, two years younger than her husband.   Felipa’s mother had been a talented craftsman, who had run a long-standing family establishment that specialized in making objets d’art.  Felipa Domenech before her marriage to Dali’s father in 1900 used to help her mother in the workshop and developed a considerable skill as a designer of `artistic objects’.    She was deft with her fingers, and was accomplished in drawing.  She would spend time fashioning delicate wax figurines out of coloured candles which was a source of amusement to her son.

It has been recorded that young Dali was both an intelligent and a precocious child.  His father was a strict disciplinarian and, thankfully for Dali, this was countered by the love he received from his mother, who often indulged her young son in his artwork and his many eccentricities.  This coddling of her son was probably partly due to her fear that she would lose him to illness as she did her first son.  It was not just his mother who spoilt him as he was the centre of attention of his maternal grandmother, Maria Ana Ferrés and his aunt Catalin.  His mother doted on him and at the first sign of illness he was allowed to take to his bed.  In her controversial book about her brother entitled Salvador Dali, Seen through the eyes of his sister,  Dali’s sister wrote how her mother only rarely let young Salvador out of her sight and would often sit by his bedside for hours at night as he slept for if he awoke and found himself alone, he would cause quite a commotion.   However his father’s relationship with his son was quite different.  He would never tolerate his son’s so-called eccentricities and often punished him.   Dali would often turn to his mother for affection after being chastised by his father and this would further annoy his father who looked upon Dali’s closeness to his mother as a kind of threat to the affection she gave to him, her husband and in consequence the father-son relationship deteriorated.  I am sure psychologists would consider this triangle of affection to have caused some of Dali’s future mental turmoil.

Dalí had had an older brother who was born nine months before him.  He had also been named Salvador but had died of gastroenteritis in infancy, just nine months before the artist was born.  The naming of their second son the same as their deceased son (as was the case with Vincent van Gogh and his deceased elder brother) may have played on Dali’s mind and he once recounted the story of the time, when he was just five years old, that his parents took him to the grave of his older brother and told him he was his brother’s reincarnation. Dali later wrote of this event and of his dead brother, saying:

“…[we] resembled each other like two drops of water, but we had different reflections.  ” He ” was probably a first version of myself, but conceived too much in the absolute…”

In 1908 his sister Ana Maria was born and it is her who features in the first of today’s paintings.  Dali started school at the age of four, attending the Escuela Pública (public school) in Figueres.   This was not the local Catholic school which he could have attended but his father who held an anti-Catholic sentiment decided to send him to the local state school.   Dalí had an aversion to school life, found concentrating during lessons very difficult and he spent most of his time daydreaming.  This lack of attention to his school work and his seemingly lack of progress with his academic work after the first year annoyed his father and caused him to have a re-think about his son’s schooling.  He eventually decided to have his son transferred to a private Catholic school, one run by the brothers of the French La Salle order,  where all of his classes were taught in French. This had a profound effect on Dali’s future life as although at home he spoke Catalan, he had been taught Spanish at that early school.  With his transfer to this new French speaking school, French was to become the language that he would use during his artistic career.  Dali was still not happy with life at school, maybe because he was bullied but also to him, being confined in a small classroom, which he looked upon as a kind of gaol, was very claustrophobic.

What Dali liked was the school holidays when the family would spend time together in the seaside town of Cadaqués, where his father had been born and where the family had a small holiday house.  It was during these long summer holiday periods that he felt free from the constraints of school life, free to paint and draw pictures of his family and his beloved Catalan coastline and it was whilst holidaying at Cadaqués that he met the artist, Ramón Pichot, who was a family friend .  Pichot was an artist who painted mostly in the style of the Impressionists, but more importantly to Dali, Pichot also liked to experiment with some styles of the Catalan avant-garde.

On February 6th 1921 Dali’s mother Felipa died of breast cancer.  The death of his mother hit the sixteen year old Dali very hard.  It was a very traumatic time in his life.  He described the time as:

“…the worst blow of my life.  I worshipped her;   she was unique….. Weeping and with clenched teeth I swore that with all the power of the holy light which would one day circle my glorious name I would rescue my mother from death and from fate…”

Dali’s father quickly married his deceased wife’s sister Catalin who had already been living with the family for the past eleven years.

Ramón Pichot continued to mentor Dali during his youth and it was he who managed to persuade Dali’s father to let his son leave school and enrol at the San Fernando Academy of Art in Madrid.  In the autumn of 1922, Dali along with his father and sister travelled to Madrid and Dali sat a gruelling six day entrance examination which comprised of the candidates having to prepare drawings of a classical sculpture.  Dali passed the exam and aged 18,  he became a student at the Academy.   Life at the Academy was so different to life at school and Dali revelled in the freedom of self-expression.   Whilst there he made a number of friends including Federico García Lorca, who would become one of Spain’s leading poets and dramatists  and Luis Buñuel, who became an international film maker and film director half a century later.   Whilst at the Academy Dalí experimented with a number of painting styles, mainly avant- garde, such as Cubism, Futurism and Purism, which he studied through reading articles and studying reproductions in art journals. Dali started exhibiting his work in galleries in Barcelona and Madrid and was allowed two solo exhibitions.  He would also exhibit work at exhibitions with other Catalan modernists. His work was greeted with acclaim which boosted his confidence.  He believed that he was progressing steadily in the art world but he believed such progression was, in a way, being nullified by the type of artistic tuition he was receiving at the Academy.  He felt that neither the tutors nor the art syllabus was sufficiently challenging enough.   His dissatisfaction led to him often criticising and openly challenging the authorities at the Academy which eventually lead to him being asked to leave in 1926.

I will leave Dali’s life story at this point to concentrate on the first of my two featured paintings, entitled Figure at a Window, which Dali completed in 1925.   The painting is not one which we would immediately attribute to Dali.  Like many of his early works it features two of Dali’s favourite depictions – the Catalan coastline and a member of his family.    This early work by Dali, completed when he was twenty-one years of age, is one of Dali’s best known and most important early oil on canvas works.  Dali used his sister Ana Maria as his model.  She would remain the artist’s only female model until his beloved Gala came along in 1929.   Salvador’s relationship with his sister was very close, even more so when their mother died in 1921 and in some ways she took over the role of the mother who had to constantly cope with the ever discontented son.    The work we see is the height of tranquility.  This serene and peaceful feeling one gets when one studies the work is a result of Dali use of the predominant colours of light blues and lavenders.   There is a stress-free intimacy about the painting, which would soon disappear from his works.  We cannot see the face of the girl.  She has her back to us as she leans against the sill of the open window.  She gazes out at the bay at Cadaques, the seaside resort much loved by Dali.   This viewpoint, while lending the picture an air of intrigue, ensures that the viewer’s eye is drawn, like the girl’s, to the landscape ahead.

Girl from Ampurdam by Dali (1926)

Girl from Ampurdam by Dali (1926)

Although this is simply a painting of his sister looking out of a window with a view across a stretch of water, there is something about the way he has depicted the girl and the way she is dressed which adds a modicum of sensuality to the painting.  The clothes Ana Maria wears cling tightly against her and one cannot help but notice the way the tight fitting dress accentuates the swell of her buttocks.  It is interesting to note that a year later Dali painted The Girl of Ampurdam in which we once again see the rear view of a girl, standing in a provocative pose which again accentuates the curvature of the cheeks of her bottom.  It is not certain whether Ana Maria was the model for this painting but once again we can be in no doubt as to the part of the female anatomy that appealed to Dali the most !   Ana Maria commented about the way in which Dali portrayed her and also incorporated the Catalan landscape:

“…During the hours I served him as model, I never tired of looking at the landscape which already, and forever, formed part of me. He always painted me near a window. And my eyes had time to take in all the smallest details….”

Young Virgin Autosodomized by her Own Chastity by Dali (1954)

Young Virgin Autosodomized by her Own Chastity by Dali (1954)

And now to the second painting, which although in complete contrast to the first, I am sure you can recognise a certain similarity.  In this second work, which has the bizarre and somewhat tasteless title, Young Virgin Autosodomized by her Own Chastity, the tranquillity and the innocent peacefulness of the first painting is nowhere to be seen.   Why would an artist suddenly change the atmosphere of the painting?  Why would he want to depict the violation of the female, who held a similar pose to the one in the earlier painting, which had been modelled by his sister?

For the answer to that maybe we need to consider a couple of books, one an autobiography and one a biography.  In 1942 Dali published his autobiography entitled, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí  and seven years later in 1949 his sister, Ana Maria published her own biography of her brother, Salvador Dali as Seen by his sister.   Unfortunately Dali’s autobiography was a somewhat sanitised version of his life story and was quite different to the way in which his sister viewed him in her book.   Dali was horrified by Ana Maria’s version of his life and the way in which he lived it.  He felt it cast him in an unflattering light and viewed her words as a blatant betrayal and sadly his perceived view of her disloyalty led to the total collapse of their relationship.   So incensed was he by this betrayal by his sister that in 1954 he decided to paint another version of his 1925 Figure at the Window which had featured her.  He called his new painting Young Virgin Autosodomized by her Own Chastity.  The figure of the young woman was, according to Robert Descharnes 2002 Dali biography, Dalí, L’héritage infernal, based upon a photograph published in a 1930’s pornographic magazine.

In the painting we once again have a rear view of a woman who is looking out over a stretch of water  at a distant landscape.  She is depicted leaning over a rail with horned shaped objects being pointed at her. One of these horns has positioned itself as the one which will sodomize her. These horned shaped objects are phallic-like in shape.  So what do the horns symbolise?  According to one of his biographers, the rhinoceros horns in the painting were symbolic and that  a rhinoceros is a very forceful animal as well as a very dangerous one.  The one thing about a rhinoceros, though, is that they do not attack unless provoked. This adds another element to the painting. Is it that Dali was provoked by his sister’s autobiography to paint this work?   If the woman is being sodomized, is it because she brought it upon herself?    The railing, which she is bent over and which is shattered by one of the larger phallic horns, symbolizes a chastity belt and its destruction symbolizes the destruction of her chastity.

One would wonder who would want to own such a disturbing painting.   However we do know who owned it up until February 2003 at which time he sold it at Sotheby’s London auction.   It was none other than Hugh Heffner who had, on behalf of Playboy Enterprises, sold it for two million pounds.  It had been hanging in the entryway to the dining room of the Great Hall in his Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles.

 I am not sure it is the kind of painting I would like to have hanging in the dining room of our Bed & Breakfast establishment.

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Victorine Meurent

Le Jour des Rameaux by Victorine Meurent (c.1880)

Le Jour des Rameaux by Victorine Meurent (c.1880)

The painting above, Le Jour des Rameaux or Palm Sunday, is unique in as much as it is the only surviving painting by my featured artist.  It was recovered in 2004 and can now be found hanging in the local museum of Colombes, a suburb of Paris.  The artist who completed the work in the 1880’s is Victorine Meurent.  “Victorine who? “, do I hear you say.  If you haven’t heard the name as an artist, you may have heard of her as an artist’s model.

Victorine Meurent was born into a working class family in Paris in 1844.  It is thought that her father worked as an engraver, a patinator of bronze, and her mother worked as a milliner. Little is known of Victorine’s teenage years but it is known that she had a musical aptitude being able to play various instruments, such as the guitar and violin.   It is also thought that she must have shown an interest in art as it is believed that in 1860, at the age of sixteen, she worked as a model at the Senlis studio of the French history painter, Thomas Couture, and it was here she probably received her first artistic tuition.      Two years later, in 1862, she met Édouard Manet.  One account tells of their meeting at Couture’s studio, another version of the meeting was that Manet saw her walking down a Paris street carrying her guitar.  Whatever the circumstances of that first encounter, there was an immediate rapport between these two very different characters.  She was a young unsophisticated girl from a poor background eking out a living as an artist’s model whilst at the same time struggling to become an artist in her own right.   Édouard Manet, on the other hand, was twelve years her senior, a wealthy painter who came from an aristocratic background.   So what could the two offer each other?  I suppose it is obvious.  For her, Manet could provide her with employment as his model and at the same time offer her some drawing tuition.  For him, being a painter, he was always on the lookout for a good looking young female model and Victorine with her eye-catching long unruly red hair was just what he liked.  She was small, slightly dumpy in stature, which often led her to be given the nickname, la Crevette, the shrimp.   She was not what one would describe as an elegant beauty but she appealed to Manet.  It was almost a marriage made in heaven and she would, for the next ten years, become Manet’s favourite model.

Street Singer by Edouard Manet (1862)

Street Singer by Edouard Manet (1862)

The first time Manet used Victorine as a model was for a painting in 1862.   The painting is entitled Street Singer, which is now owned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  The woman we see depicted is modelled by Victorine.  She is hurriedly leaving a café, with her guitar securely tucked under her arm.  She is dressed in a drab brown gown alluding to the fact that she was poor and did not have the money to buy a new one.  She has been performing her music at the café and appears to be in a hurry to get to her next musical appointment.   Although she has no time to loiter, she quickly glances towards us and, at the same time, crams cherries into her mouth.  This gesture once again alludes to the fact that she is not one of Paris’ refined ladies.  She is too busy to stop and soon will disappear amongst the bustling Parisian crowd.    This painting by Manet was in some ways a new kind of art.  It was not the academic art which depicted women in scenes from the bible or from mythological stories.  This art of his depicted real life, real people and as he himself said:

“…You must be of your time and paint what you see…”

Probably the two most famous or maybe infamous works by Édouard Manet, and which also featured Victorine Meurent,  were the nude portrayals of her in his 1862 painting Olympia (see My Daily Art Display Oct 12th 2011) and his 1868 painting, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (My Daily Art Display Oct 23rd 2010)

Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe by Édourad Manet (1862-1863)

Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe by Édourad Manet (1862-1863)

The larger version of Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe  can be found at the Musée d’Orsay whilst a smaller version is housed in the Courtauld Gallery in London.   We see her completely naked with two fully clothed men lounging on the grass having just partaken of a picnic with two gentlemen friends.   The painting caused a furore and Victorine was caught up in the public scandal which followed the exhibition of the work.  It was said that respectable men hurried their wives past the naked depiction of Victorine before they themselves returned for a closer look !!!   Emperor Napoleon III who visited the exhibition was vociferous in his condemnation of the work saying that it was disgusting.

What particularly shocked the public was that she was portrayed as a naked woman who exhibited no mortification at her compromising position alongside two fully clothed men.  The man sitting next to Victorine was modelled by Manet’s brother-in-law, Ferdinand Leenhoff, and the man laying back opposite her is a composite of Manet’s two younger brothers, Eugène, who went on to marry the artist Berthe Morisot, and his other brother Gustave.  If we looked at historical paintings of the time, naked women who were depicted as nymphs or goddesses were more likely to be shown shrinking from the viewer in order to reach some piece of clothing to hide their nudity. In Manet’s picture, the young woman makes no attempt to hide her nudity.  She just sits there, seemingly bored by her companions and what they had to say and appears to have been lost in thought until we came on to the scene.  Now she fixes us with her gaze and we are made to feel uncomfortable as we take on the role as voyeurs.  It was maybe not just Victorine’s state of undress that shocked the public but her haughty and reproving gaze that caused the upset.   This painting had been rejected by the jurists of the 1863 Paris Salon and so Manet had to turn to the Salon des Refusés for inclusion in their exhibition.

Olympia by Édouard Manet (1863)

Olympia by Édouard Manet (1863)

As Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe shocked the public and caused such a stir one may have been forgiven for thinking that Manet, with his model, Victorine Meurent would tone down his next work.    Far from toning down the subject of his next painting, he shocked the public even more with his following work which he completed in 1863, and which was entitled Olympia.  If we recall Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe we have to admit that there was no hint of sexual activity having taken place at the picnic.  The furore was caused by a naked woman being depicted next to two clothed gentlemen and if we, the viewers, wanted to accept a sexual connotation to the depiction then that was more of what was in our mind and not what was depicted on the canvas.   However Olympia went a step further by depicting the lady, modelled by Victorine, as a courtesan awaiting her next client.  The bedclothes she lies upon are still rumpled from her previous sexual encounter.   Her black maidservant has just brought her flowers from her next eager client but the courtesan ignores them and just looks out at us, a sign that the flowers meant nothing to her and it was simply a case of business is business.  One can just imagine how the visitors to the exhibition felt when they saw this work.  It is believed that this depiction of a female nude by Manet was the first time an artist had depicted a naked female.

The face of OlympiaAlthough similar to Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus Manet’s work did not hide the nudity as part of a mythological scene.  Another reason for the public’s condemnation of the work was the fact that Victorine’s face is clear.  Manet has not depicted the naked woman with just an indistinct face.  The face is real and by doing this Manet has humanized his courtesan or prostitute and it is that which upset the viewing public.  Maybe the gentle folk of Paris did not want to be reminded that prostitution existed and flourished in their fair city.  Courtesans had been depicted before in 19th century paintings but it was Manet’s unabashed and honest depiction of a prostitute lounging in bed, naked except for a pair of slippers and a necklace, which shocked the Parisians.

Gare Saint-Lazare or The Railway by Édouard Manet (1873)

Gare Saint-Lazare or The Railway by Édouard Manet (1873)

The Manet painting I like the most which also featured Victorine was his 1873 work entitled Gare Saint-Lazare often known as The Railway (My Daily Art Display Nov 9th 2011).   This was the last painting by Manet featuring Victorine and can be seen at the Royal Academy’s current exhibition Manet, Portraying Life.

Although Victorine Meurent was used as a model in those three paintings,  were they accurate portraits of the model?   Not really and one must remember they were never supposed to be portraits of her but if we really want to see what she looked like at the age of eighteen we should take a look at Manet’s 1862 portrait of her, Victorine Meurent.  She is not a Society beauty and yet Manet has afforded her all his time to depict her beautifully in this portrait.  The first thing that strikes you about this young woman is her red hair.   We do not see the flowing locks we knew she had as her hair is held in place by a blue ribbon bow.  Her eyelashes are much lighter than the colour of her hair.  They are almost blonde and are somewhat difficult to detect.  There is a strange blankness about her expression.  It is a look of indifference.  Her lips are pressed tightly together.  She has a square jaw and a cleft chin.  We look at her face and wonder what she was thinking when Manet was painting her portrait.  Her forehead and left cheek are lit by an external light source which comes from her right.

During the time she was Manet’s model, she also worked as a model for Manet’s artist friends, Edgar Degas and the Belgian artist, Alfred Stevens who it is rumoured would later become her lover.  The Manet-Victorine Meurent partnership ended shortly after the artist had completed The Railway.  Victorine, by then, had taken up formal art lessons and her love of art leaned towards academic art which was anathema to Manet and may have caused the two to go their own separate ways.  In 1876 she had her self portrait exhibited at the 1876 Salon.  This was the same Salon that rejected two of Manet’s works, The Laundress and The Artist.  Manet was so annoyed by that decision that he opened his studio to the public to exhibit the refused paintings and other works.  Three years later in 1879 Victorine Meurent had her painting, Bourgeoise de Nuremberg au XVIe siècle, accepted at the Salon.  This time Manet’s works, Boating and The Greenhouse were also accepted for the exhibition.  Victorine managed to have her works accepted at six different annual Salons.

Victorine remained and worked in Paris, but times got harder for her and there is no doubt that she was suffering financial hardship.  In total desperation, it is said that in August 1883, five months after Manet’s death, she approached Manet’s widow for financial help.  She told Madame Manet that her late husband, Édouard, had promised to provide her with some money if he ever was successful in selling the paintings for which she had posed. At the time Victorine had declined Manet’s offer but had told him that she would remind him of it once her career as an artist’s model was over. Her appeal for money to Manet’s widow fell on barren ground and Victorine was never recompensed.   According to Édouard Manet’s biographer, Adolphe Tabarant, Victorine, in the 1890’s spent a lot of time around Montmartre drinking heavily, and telling stories about her and Manet to anybody who would listen to her and buy her a drink.   It would appear that things got somewhat better for Victorine for in 1893 as it is recorded that  she was again exhibiting her artwork, this time at the Palais de l’Industrie.

In 1903, aged 59 she was made a member of the Société des Artistes Français.     Three years later she left central Paris and moved to the northern suburb of Colombes where she lived with a friend, Marie Dufour.  The local census records show that Marie Dufour worked at different times as a secretary and a piano teacher and Victorine was listed as an artist.  Meurent died on March 17, 1927 aged 83.  After the death of Marie Dufour, in 1930, the contents of the house were liquidated; in the late 20th century, elderly neighbours recalled the last contents of the house, including a violin and its case, being burnt on a bonfire.

Many rumours still surround the life of Victorine Meurent.  She was rumoured to have plumbed the depths through drink and unsavoury tales abound regarding her sexual habits and her sexuality but I would rather just think of her as Manet’s muse and inspiration who, as a young girl, became part of some of his greatest works of art.

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