Thomas Cooper Gotch. Part 3.

Although returning to live in Newlyn was tempting Thomas decided on another course of action and took his wife on the long voyage to Australia on the fully rigged sailing passenger clipper, Torrens., leaving England on October 30th 1883.  Their daughter Phyllis remained in Kettering with her grandparents.   Thomas and Caroline arrived in Port Adelaide on January 8th 1884 where they transferred to the SS South Australia and sailed to Melbourne where they were met by John Speechley Gotch, a wealthy distant relative who had met Tom when he visited England in 1874.  John Gotch was an art lover and he arranged for Thomas and Carrie to hold a joint exhibition of their work which they had brought with them, at Melbourne’s Fletcher’s Art Gallery in February 1884. 

Mental arithmetic
Mental Arithmetic by Thomas Gotch

The most important painting exhibited by Thomas Gotch was one entitled Mental Arithmetic.  It depicts an elderly bearded fisherman sitting holding a knife and plate of food being watched by a small girl.  It is thought that Thomas painted this in November 1883 from sketches he made that summer in Newlyn.  Melbourne City Gallery wanted to buy the painting but baulked at the £200 selling price.  However, John Gotch bought it and donated it to the gallery.  Many of John Goth’s paintings and sketches were sold as well as work by his wife Carrie and the couple made more than enough money to pay for their sea passages.

Qua-Qua, south of Johannesburg
Qua-Qua , South of Johannesburg by Thomas Gotch

Tom and Carrie returned to England on the Torrens calling at Cape Town, St Helena and the Ascension Island for the vessel to replenish supplies.  They eventually returned to London on July 3rd 1884.  The couple left the English capital and journeyed to the West Country looking for suitable accommodation.  They tried Brixham and Looe but finally settled on the Cornish town of Polperro where they lodged at the Louriet Hotel and were soon joined by their ten-month-old daughter and her nurse.

Child Enthroned by Thomas Gotch

Children featured in many of Gotch’s paintings.  Probably the best known is his 1894 work entitled Child Enthroned.  Like many other depictions of the young there is a mystical element about the portrayal of the young girl.   His eleven-year-old daughter Phyllis was the model for The Child Enthroned.  Her father’s Madonna like depiction was, he said, down to his time spent in Italy in the summer of 1891.  The painting is testament to Gotch’s ability as a portrait painter, especially his love of child portraiture and his competency in depicting fine detail in ornate fabrics.  The painting when exhibited to the public that year at the Royal Academy was rapturously received and established Gotch’s reputation as an artist.

Alleluia by Thomas Gotch

Another painting featuring Gotch’s daughter was his 1896 work entitled Alleluia. It was a major demonstration of his Pre-Raphaelite style.  Along the top of the painting, we see inscribed in Gothic lettering on a background of gold leaf, a Latin quotation which reads:

“…Sancti tui domine benedicent te gloriam regni tui dicent – Alleluya…”

 The inscription is taken from Psalm xlvii: 6 and 7, which was printed in the catalogue of the 1896 Royal Academy exhibition:

“…Sing praises to God, sing praises: Sing praises unto our King, Sing praises, For God is King of all the earth: Sing praises with understanding…”

It is a painting featuring thirteen richly clad children singing against a gilded background and his thirteen-year-old daughter is at the centre rear of the group with her hands clasped in prayer.  In front of her is a small figure with amber curls.  This is her cousin Hester Gotch.  When it was first shown at a local exhibition in Newlyn it was criticised by the local press because they believed Gotch had broken with the Newlyn tradition of painting.  The art critic of the Cornish Telegraph quipped that he doubted whether the time it took to complete (nine months) was worth the effort.   The art critic of the local weekly newspaper, West Briton, criticised the work saying:

“…It would be easy enough to say outright that we don’t like the thing and have done with it.  It is not possible to take ordinary children of today and pictorially attempt to transform them into choiring cherubim, without coming within consciousness of incongruity…”

Fortunately for Gotch when he submitted the work to that year’s Royal Academy exhibition the receiving jury accepted the painting had it hung at the most advantageous position, (hung on line). The work of art, which is part of the Tate Britain collection, was bought for the Nation under the terms of the Chantrey Bequest, following its exhibition at the Royal Academy.  The Chantrey Bequest, set out in the will of sculptor Sir Francis Chantrey, was of primary importance to the foundation and development of a national collection of British art at the Tate Gallery and it constituted the gallery’s main purchasing fund from its opening in 1897 until 1946.

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A Pageant of Childhood by Thomas Gotch (1899)

Another of Gotch’s paintings featuring a group of children was completed in 1899. It was entitled A Pageant of Childhood.  It depicts a procession of nine children of varying age, the eldest at the rear and the youngest at the front crossing a tiled hall in front of a fresco of Father Time, who we are aware will, in due course, carry off even the youngest of the children.  It is a colourful depiction of children enacting an historic pageant.  Some like the two boys at the centre play long horns whilst behind them are two girls, one with a drum and one with a set of symbols.  Take a look at the various children.  Some, with thoughtful expressions, are taking the enactment very seriously whilst others appear light-hearted and, in some respect, they personify children of different ages at play, a representation of the stages of life.  It was Gotch’s own evocation of innocence and youth.  The painting was completed just before the family left Newlyn and exhibited at the Newlyn Gallery in March 1899.  It was shown at the 1899 Royal Academy exhibition and appeared at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery, after which the Liverpool Corporation purchased the work and is part of the Walker Art Gallery collection.  This painting was completed close to the time that the Gotchs moved to a new house and went to live in Shottermill.

Postcard advertising auction of ‘Penwith’, Shottermill in 1906

Thomas Gotch’s House Penwith on sale in 1907

Thomas Gotch had decided to relocate his family to Shottermill close to the town of Haselmere, West Sussex, forty miles south west of London and twenty-five miles from the south coast of England.  At the end of 1898 Thomas started building his new home, named Penwith and the family were able to move in in October 1899.  Penwith was situated on a hillside at the end of a long twisting drive, which rose above the ponds of Shottermill.  It was a large six-bedroom residence with two drawing rooms, a large kitchen and two purpose-built studios.

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The Dawn of Womanhood by Thomas Gotch (1900)

In 1900 Thomas Gotch’s main work was entitled The Dawn of Womanhood which appeared at the 1900 Royal Academy Exhibition.  The painting depicts the child enthroned being confronted by the vision of approaching motherhood.  The phantom figure on the left represents Womanhood.  She is dressed in opalescent drapery of pale blue, gold and silvery primrose.  She is wearing a mask, as legend has it that all who are no longer children must conceal themselves which probably harks back to the story of Eve, who after eating the forbidden fruit was ashamed of her nakedness and sought to conceal it.  Sitting on the steps of the throne, to the right, is the familiar winged sprite representing the spirit of childhood, who is aware of the strange presence and makes ready to take flight for ever from the girl on the throne.

The Exile
The Exile: Heavy is the Price I Paid for Love by Thomas Gotch (c.1930)

Painted around that time, in 1930 — a year before Thomas Cooper Gotch’s death — The Exile is shrouded in mystery. As of now, we know nothing about the identity of the sitter or about the suggestive, tantalizing title of her portrait.

Thomas Gotch exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1880-1931, in all showing seventy of his paintings. He was elected to the Royal Society of British Artists in 1885 and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour in 1912. He was a founder member of the New English Art Club in 1886 and served as President of the Royal British Colonial Society of Artists between 1913 and 1928.   Gotch was fêted at the Salon and won medals in Chicago and Berlin.

Thomas Cooper Gotch died aged seventy-six of a heart attack while in London for an exhibition on May 1st, 1931.  He was buried in Sancreed churchyard in Cornwall.   Also in the graveyard of St Sancredus are buried fellow Newlyn School artists, Stanhope Forbes and Elizabeth Forbes.

Thomas Gotch’s wife, Caroline, died on December 14th, 1945 aged 91 and their only child, Phyllis Marian Gotch became Marquise de Verdières when she married André Marie, Marquis de Verdières in 1922. She died in Hong Kong on April 24th, 1963 aged 81.   She is buried with her parents in Cornwall’s Sancreed Churchyard.

Thomas Cooper Gotch. Part 2.

Thomas Cooper Gotch

Sometime in 1878 their reading group, set up by Thomas Gotch, had a new member.  Her name was Caroline Burland Yates.  Caroline was one of three sisters born to Esther Burland and wealthy property owner, Edward Yates. The family was from the Liverpool area, later moving to Sway in Hampshire. Caroline was the youngest of the three daughters and educated by a governess.  Caroline attended finishing school in Switzerland where she became fluent in French.  She, like Thomas Gotch, had studied at the Heatherley School before arriving at the Slade.

A Golden Dream
A Golden Dream by Thomas Gotch

Thomas’ progress at the Slade was outstanding and he was the firm favourite of his principal lecturer, Alphonse Legros, the French-born painter who later took British citizenship.  During his first year at the Slade, Gotch produced many paintings and sketches which were sold at exhibitions in London.  One of Thomas Gotch’s closest friends at the Slade was fellow artistic aspirant, Henry Tuke. Through his friendship with Henry Tuke Thomas met other members of the Tuke family and became friendly with his sister Maria Tuke and medical student brother William Tuke.  Thomas was asked by William, and some of his fellow medics, to help form a group of art and medical students which would become a friendly debating society.  Thomas, who was extremely popular with the female students at Slade, and so, was asked to entice some “beautiful but well educated” young women into joining the society. 

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The Misses Santley by Henry Tuke

Many agreed to join, two of whom were the Santley sisters, Edith and Gertrude as well as Carrie Yates.  Thomas Gotch’s close friend, Henry Tuke, depicted these three in his famous work entitled The Misses Santley which was shown at the Royal Academy.  It shows the influence of Henry Tuke’s Slade professor, Alphonse Legros who encouraged his students to study the works of the Old Masters.  Frederic Leighton, then president of the Royal Academy, is reported to have said: “Can it be an old master? It could not be by a young man.”    The work depicts three women who were all fellow students of Thomas Gotch and Henry Tuke at the Slade.  The young woman on the right, holding a music score, is Edith Santley, the daughter of the famous baritone Charles Santley.  Next to her is her sister Gertrude, and in front left of the painting stands Carrie Yates, who would later marry Thomas Gotch.

Cornfields above Lamorna
Cornfields above Lamorna by Thomas Gotch

During the summer of 1879 Thomas Gotch and Harry Tuke went on a painting trip to Cornwall, visiting Penzance and Newlyn, where they were joined by Caroline Yates and her sister Esther.  The following summer Thomas Gotch and his sister Jessie spent part of the summer in the small North Wales coastal town of Beaumaris on the isle of Anglesey meeting up with Willie and Maria Tuke.  In October 1880 Thomas Gotch left England and arrived in Paris where he lodged at the Hotel d’Angleterre for a month whilst he negotiated his entrance to John Paul Laurens’ atelier.  In the meantime, in fact a month earlier, Carrie Yates along with two fellow art students, Jane Ross and Alma Broadridge had travelled to Paris and enrolled at the Académie Julian. 

Hilda and Margaret, daughters of Professor sir Edward Poulton
Hilda and Margaret, daughters of Professor Sir Edward Poulton by Thomas Gotch

Thomas Gotch was influenced by the historical works of Laurens as he was interested in figurative painting.  His other overwhelming interest was also Carrie Yates.  They had become remarkably close and she was teaching him French.  She was lodging at the Hotel de Paris and Thomas had an apartment on the top floor of a building at 17 rue de Tournon. Although it was a Bohemian establishment, the rooms were spacious.   Thomas and Carrie visited the artists’ colony at Barbizon.  The relationship between the two became ever stronger and before he returned to London to submit a painting for the Academy exhibition, he proposed marriage.

Death the Bride by Thomas Gotch (1912)

Thomas and Carrie travelled back to England in July 1881 and visited each other’s families to get the parental permission to marry.  Carrie had spent the summers of 1879 and 1880 in Newlyn and loved the place.  The couple decided that Newlyn in Cornwall should be the setting for their marriage and so they both travelled there and secured separate lodgings.  Twenty-six-year-old Thomas Cooper Gotch and twenty-seven-year-old Caroline Burland Yates married on August 31st 1881 at St. Peter’s church which was built in 1866 and nestles underneath Tol Carn, the ancient pile of rocks associated in Cornish legend with Bucca-boo, a male sea-spirit in Cornish folklore, a merman that inhabited mines and coastal communities as a hobgoblin during storms and who was said to steal the nets of fishermen.

A Cottage Interior, Newlyn
A Cottage Interior, Newlyn by Thomas Gotch

The newlyweds honeymooned at Mullion, a quiet village on the Lizard Peninsula in south Cornwall.  Once the honeymoon was over Carrie returned to London.  Prior to her wedding she had been sharing a house with her sister, Esther (Ess) and now she needed to take back to Newlyn her share of the furniture.  Meanwhile Thomas Gotch had begun painting scenes of Newlyn and became friends with three Birmingham painters, Walter Langley, Edwin Harris and William Wainwright.   Thomas Gotch and his depictions of Cornish life thrived and maybe it was marriage that buoyed his love of the area.

Portrait of Madame G by Thomas Gotch

In October 1881, Caroline and Thomas returned to Paris.  Thomas returned to the Laurens atelier and Carrie went back to Académie Julian where there was a separate atelier for women.  Thomas also engineered the acceptance at the Laurens atelier of his friend Harry Tuke.  That Christmas was spent in Paris but the couple returned to England in time for Easter 1882.   During that three-month period Thomas Gotch worked on a portrait of his wife, entitled Portrait of Madame G, which he presented and was accepted at the April 1st 1872 Salon.  This life-sized portrait of his wife depicts her dressed in a dark navy dress with gold and white cuffs and collar.   Thomas never put the painting up for sale and it adorned the walls of the houses they resided in.

Evening by Thomas Gotch

One of the reasons the couple returned to England that April was for Carrie to consult her doctor and have it confirmed that she was pregnant with her first child and to break the good news to their family members.  Their visit to England was only short but gave them time to employ a nurse for when the new baby arrived.  They all returned to France and rented a small property at Marchand de Bois, Brolles which was owned by a wood merchant.  It was a good-sized house for the young couple and access to half of a large garden.  Brolles was an idyllic spot situated in a very rural area and the nearby landscapes coupled with the fine summer weather allowed them to paint en plein air.  The young couple had domestic help with a young French maid, Marie, and Windsor, the English nurse who looked after Caroline during her pregnancy.

Phillis Marian Gotch was born in Brolles on September 6th 1882.  It is thought the name “Phyllis” came from the fact that Thomas’ first painting to be exhibited at the Royal Academy was entitled Phillis and the name “Marian” derived from a character of that name (a pseudonym for his wife), who was a character in his fictionalised novel A Long Engagement.

In late September Thomas and Carrie had to quickly return to England with nurse Windsor as she had told them that she could no longer put up with life in France and they needed to replace her.  They left Brolles leaving the maid Marie in charge of the house.  Their stay in London had to be quickly curtailed when Thomas and Carrie received a letter from their French landlord telling them that Marie and her friends were leading a riotous lifestyle in their house during their absence !

Winter Sketch, Provence, France
Winter Sketch, Provence, France by Thomas Gotch

Although the quiet picturesque landscape around the village of Brolles offered Thomas Gotch the ideal vistas for his paintings there was a problem in finding suitable models from within the village and eventually he and Carrie decided they must give up their rural idyll and return to the French capital where it would be easier to find models for his paintings.  So, in February 1883 the couple were once again living in Paris, Thomas returned to the Laurens atelier and Caroline to the Académie Julian.

Looe
Looe by Thomas Gotch

Life in France ended for Thomas and Carrie when she became ill with a serious lung infection.  The couple and their daughter returned to England where they received a second opinion from a London specialist.  He confirmed the diagnosis and Carrie was told she had to rest.   Their daughter Phillis was taken to Thomas’ parents who began to look after her along with the re-hiring of their first nanny, Windsor.  Thomas took Carrie to Newlyn that summer to give her a chance to recuperate whilst he continued to paint depictions of the Cornish fishing village.  Carrie’s breathing problems slowly lessened, probably due to the clean and fresh sea air of the Cornish coast and soon she was able to walk freely.  By the end of the summer Carrie had recovered her health and the couple returned to London where the specialist gave her a clean bill of health.

…………………………………to be continued.

Thomas Cooper Gotch. Part 1.

Self Portrait with Two Square Brushes by Thomas Gotch

My featured artist today is the British painter, Thomas Cooper Gotch.  Little has been written about Thomas Gotch and in a way, he appears to be the forgotten man.  Part of the reason for this is that he was an unassuming man who preferred to take a step back rather than be in the limelight.  Another possible reason was that he never associated himself with painting “schools” and it is hard to compartmentalise his painting style.  In the pre-1890’s, his works were mainly depictions of open spaces, subdued in colour and yet full of detail, but then later came his more symbolist-style works.  Gotch was unhappy in the way some of his contemporaries painted only what would sell, or as he put it, they painted down to the level of the market, and further derided them by saying that they grew rich as tradesmen but following that path, they lost as artists.  Having said that, Gotch was aware that he had to survive financially and took on painting commissions, especially portraiture ones.  Once he had earned the money from a portraiture commission, he was happy to return to his Newlyn home, Wheal Betsy, overlooking Mount’s Bay and relax by working on one of his charming landscapes featuring local views of his beloved Cornwall.

xxFamily

Thomas Cooper Gotch, with the fair hair, sits on his maternal grandmother’s knee whilst his older brother John Alfred Gotch stands by the side of his mother.  The father stands at the back of the family group.

To fully understand the person, we need to look at his family and his early life.  Thomas Cooper Gotch was born on December 10th, 1854 in the Mission House, Kettering, in rural Northamptonshire, a landlocked county located in the southern part of the East Midlands region.  His parents were John Henry Gotch and Mary Anne Gale Gotch. He was the fourth surviving son of the couple.  His father, John Henry, and his father’s two brothers, John Davis Gotch and Frederick William Gotch had inherited the family wealth when their father passed in 1852.  The three men had been bequeathed two businesses, a family shoe and boot establishment which was subsequently managed by John Davis Gotch and the J.C. Gotch and Sons bank, managed by his father, John Henry Gotch.  The artist’s father, John Henry was well suited to run a bank as he was an exceptionally talented mathematician.  His younger brother Frederick William played no part in the family businesses and instead became a renowned Hebrew scholar and later was elected President of the Baptist Union.

 

A Cottage in a Garden

A Cottage in a Garden by Thomas Gotch

All was going well for the family businesses until 1857 when a combination of events led to a financial disaster for the family.  Firstly, 1857 was the year of a financial panic in the United States which resulted in the declining international economy and over-expansion of the domestic economy.  Due to the advance of telecommunications at the time, it meant that the world economy was also more interconnected, which also made the Panic of 1857 the first worldwide economic crisis.  Secondly, and more connected with the Gotch bank, John Henry Gotch had been authorising a number of unsecured financial loans, a number of which were given to the Rev. Allan Macpherson, the curate of Rothwell, without due diligence and with the downturn of 1857 the bank collapsed as did the shoemaking business under the terms of unlimited liability.  The bankruptcy meant that the brothers had to sell their Mission House and auction off most of the furnishings as well as selling the adjoining shoe factory to pay off creditors.  John Henry Gotch sadly realised that authorising so many loans without investigating the circumstances of the borrowers was his fault.

Ruby

Ruby by Thomas Gotch

Perhaps poking fun at the prevalence of red-headed women in Pre-Raphaelite art, an acquaintance bet Gotch that he could not paint a red-haired subject with red cheeks in red clothes. This painting of Ruby Bone, a local girl who would have been little over two years old when she sat for the portrait, was the artist’s response. The warm oranges and reds of the sitter’s hair and clothes are balanced against the dull green-grey of the background and off-white of her dress and buttons.

After the financial collapse of the two businesses, John Henry Gotch, along with his wife and family were now homeless and had to rely on the kindness of relatives, including his wife’s brother’s family, the Hepburns, for somewhere to stay.  In 1858 they managed to rent a house in Ilford, Essex and this is where his wife gave birth to a daughter, Jessie.  It took John Davis Gotch until 1863 to have the bankruptcy discharged thanks in the main to money that he borrowed from the Hepburns.  He then set about to revive the family shoemaking business and invited John Henry to join him.

The Lady in Gold - A Portrait of Mrs. John Crooke

The Lady in Gold.  A Portrait of Mrs John Crooke by Thomas Gotch

The present picture dates from the turning-point in Gotch’s career since it was painted in Newlyn early in 1891 and exhibited at the Royal Academy that summer, shortly before he made the visit to Florence which had such a dramatic effect on his style. The sitter’s husband had already commissioned Gotch to paint a small watercolour portrait of her, which was exhibited at the New Gallery in 1890.

Thomas Cooper Gotch attended the Church of England boarding school, Foy’s Academy in West Brompton and, along with his brother Alfred, was looked after during long weekends and school holidays by Thomas and Mary Ann Hepburn.  By 1863 the family’s financial problems had eased and Thomas Gotch along with his parents and four siblings returned to live together in Kettering.  Thomas Gotch remained at the Foy’s boarding school until 1869, aged nine.  He returned to live with his family in Kettering and attended the Kettering Grammar School where he was given an “A” for effort but struggled. He left school in 1872 and in March 1873 he began working at his father’s boot and shoe business.

The Orchard

The Orchard by Thomas Gotch (1887)

Working in the shoe and boot industry was not what Tom wanted but on the other hand he did not know what he wanted!  He had a hankering for writing and submitted a few of his stories to a publisher to be edited but there is no record of what was thought of his literary efforts but what we do know is that he continued writing stories throughout his life.  So, what made Thomas Cooper Gotch take up painting?  He never recorded his decision to take up painting in any of his diaries or writings so there is a mystery about what first led him towards an artistic career.  It is known that his mother, Mary Anne, enjoyed sketching and her sister, Sarah Gale had married John Frederick Herring Snr., an animal painter, sign maker and coachman in Victorian England.  It was also at the insistence of his mother that Thomas always took his painting paraphernalia with him when he went off on holiday.  Whatever happened, Thomas Gotch decided to follow the artistic path of life and in May 1876, aged 21, he applied to attend Heatherley’s Art School, one of the oldest independent art schools in London, submitting the required specimens of his work.  Attending Heatherley’s was a steppingstone to entering other art schools.  Whilst at Heatherley’s Thomas Gotch had his work critiqued by well-known practicing artists.

Rosalind

Rosalind by Thomas Gotch

Buoyed by the praise he received from the lecturers at Heatherley’s, Thomas Gotch applied to the Academy Schools and was taken aback when he was refused entry. A second application was also rejected and Thomas began to believe the training he had been receiving at Heatherley’s was at fault and so, in October 1877, accompanied by his friend Edward Laurie, he travelled to Antwerp where they enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, where the Professor of Art was the Belgian painter and watercolourist, Charles Verlat.  It was not a happy time for Gotch who railed against the school’s endorsement of traditional subject matter and the use of a dark palette whilst he preferred brighter colours and a more decorative approach.  He commented on this to his long-standing friend and previous fellow Heatherley’s student, Jane Ross.  In his letter to her, he wrote:

“…Here we must do what we are told with as good as grace as we can and if we break the rules are reminded that we are only allowed in the school as a favour.  Each week, there is a fresh figure wheeled into the room and all who are drawing figures have obediently to draw that and nothing else…”

Clouds

Clouds by Thomas Gotch

At the end of February 1878, Thomas Gotch, having completed his painting and drawing examinations, decided to leave Antwerp.  He was disheartened by the experience and would have returned home but his brother Alfred joined him in the city and although he could not persuade his brother to stay at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, he did persuade him to carry on with his art and return to London and resume his artistic studies at Heatherleys.  Thomas returned to Heatherleys at the end of March 1878 and also enrolled as a private student with the English portrait painter, Samuel Lawrence.  Following a number of arguments with the family he realised that to be financially independent he would have to become a successful artist.  During the summer of 1878 he set himself the task of completing a number of landscape paintings.  He and his artist student friend, John Smith, rented a small house in the village of Goring-on-Thames and set about painting scenes of the surrounding countryside and various farmyard scenes.  Thomas Gotch was accepted into the Slade School of Fine Art in October 1878 where he remained for two years.  His love of literature encouraged him and some of his fellow art students to form a Shakespeare Reading Society at which they would read the plays. 

……………………………………………..to be continued.

Manchester Art Gallery. Part 2. The Pre-Raphaelites.

The Lantern-Maker's Courtship
The Lantern Maker’s Courtship by William Holman Hunt (c.1860)

The setting for the Lantern Maker’s Courtship by William Holman Hunt is a street somewhere in the Middle East.  We are outside a lantern maker’s shop.  A variety of lantern hang from hooks in the wall behind the young lantern-maker and his equipment lies on the bench next to him. Beneath the bench, a dog lies curled up asleep.  In the background we see a busy, narrow, with a man in a top hat and a blue jacket, riding a donkey away from us.  A servant quickly follows the man and donkey.  The man astride the donkey raises a whip at an oncoming local, who is leading a camel laden with goods, and the horrified local raises his arm to shield himself against the onslaught.  The main characters of this painting are the young lantern-maker dressed in a long red coat and green turban, perched on a bench outside his workshop.  Next to him stands a young girl dressed in a long blue gown and golden Turkish slippers. The lower part of her face is hidden by a black face mask.  It is a happy coming together of the young couple.  We see the smiling lantern maker reaching out to the girl.  One of his hands gently touches her wrist whilst the other is outstretched feeling her face beneath the black mask. It is as if he is blind and wants to use his sense of touch to give him the vision of her face.  Her face will be hidden from him until and if they become man and wife.  Their happiness at the meeting is plain to see.  He smiles broadly and her left foot curls up inside her slipper in a sign of ecstasy.  Despite the painting’s informality, Holman Hunt’s devotion to detail can be seen in his portrayal of the drape and puff of the fabric, the careful depiction of the eastern-style shoes and dress, as well as the minutiae of the lantern maker’s tools and the finished and half-finished lanterns hanging nearby. The painting is awash with bright colours and the rich blue and vibrant red that leap from the canvas are characteristic of Holman Hunt’s artwork.  By having this explosion of colour the street scene is magically brought to life.

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The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt, (1851-53)

Another painting by William Holman Hunt on display at the gallery is his allegorical work entitled The Light of the World.  It is thought that he started the work in 1850 but did not complete it until three years later.  The painting depicts a Biblical scene, based on a passage from St John’s Gospel:

“…I am the Light of the World; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life”.

Look at the way Hunt has depicted the door.  It is very old and overgrown by ivy and brambles and there is no handle to use to open it.  It was Hunt’s way of likening it to the problems of a closed mind.  There are many ideas put forward as to where he painted the work.  Some believe he painted it after dark in a hut on a Surrey farm; while others claim that his location was the Oxford University Press garden.  Hunt’s original painting, which he completed in 1853, resides in Keble College Oxford.  The one which can be seen at the Manchester Art Gallery is a smaller version of the original, which he worked on between 1851 and 1856.  There is a third version which Holman Hunt completed around 1904, when he was eighty-three years of age.  That version is to be found at St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

There is much symbolism within the painting which need considering and the St Paul’s Cathedral website offers their interpretation:

“…There are two lights shown in the picture. The lantern is the light of conscience and the light around the head of Christ is the light of salvation. The door represents the human soul, which cannot be opened from the outside. There is no handle on the door, and the rusty nails and hinges overgrown with ivy denote that the door has never been opened and that the figure of Christ is asking permission to enter. The morning star appears near Christ, the dawn of a new day, and the autumn weeds and fallen fruit represent the autumn of life. The writing beneath the picture, is taken from Revelation 3 .

“…Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with me…”

The orchard of apple trees evokes several biblical references. The tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden was, according to legend, an apple tree and in some Christian traditions the wood of that tree was miraculously saved to construct the cross on which Christ was crucified. The fallen apples could symbolise the fall of man, original sin, and sometimes in Italian art can refer to redemption…”

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Byron’s Dream by Ford Madox Brown (1874)

As you look at Ford Madox Brown’s painting, Byron’s Dream, you try and work out what is happening and this fascinates me and it is why narrative paintings are high on my list of favourite painting genres. So let us just consider what we see.   There is a young man and woman sitting on a hillside looking out over green fields and trees. The woman is dressed in a low cut, white blouse with lacy trim around the neck and cuffs and along with the blouse she wears a full length, red skirt.  In her right hand she holds the pink ribbon of her wide-brimmed hat. The man is dressed in breeches, with a white shirt finished with ruffles under a black jacket.  The woman stares out at a distant rider in the distance. The man, who is seated slightly behind her and hesitantly holding her hand, is not interested in what she is searching for but instead gazes lovingly at the woman’s face. Accompanying them on the hillside is a black and white dog which wears a wide gold collar.   If we look at the midground we can just make out the subject of her gaze – a man on horseback below them, riding along the path towards them. 

Mary Chaworth

The painting is not just a depiction of any man and any woman but as the painting’s title, Byron’s Dream, indicates, it is a depiction of Lord Byron and his girlfriend.  Not in reality but in Byron’s dream.  Ford Madox Brown had been a great lover of Byron’s poetry, especially his 1816 poem entitled The Dream.  The poem is described as conveying romantic beliefs about dreams.   It also describes the view from the Misk Hills, close to Byron’s ancestral home in Newstead, Nottinghamshire, which we see in the painting. 

Mary Chaworth, who was born at Annesley, not far from Mansfield, on the borders of Sherwood Forest, was a niece of Lord Byron.  She was also the first woman Byron fell in love with, when he met her during a vacation at Southwell in 1803.   They spent much time in one another’s company. The problem was he was yet a boy at fifteen, and she a woman at seventeen: The infatuation flowed entirely in one direction !!!  He wrote many poems for her, but Mary didn’t care for the “lame, bashful, boy lord” and instead married John “Jack” Musters in August, 1805. The couple went on to have seven children.  Mary separated from her husband on 10 April 1814 due to his infidelities and started writing to Byron. However, by that time, he was famous and was no longer interested in her. Mary is the “Maid” of the poem and it is she who is seen sitting with Byron in the painting. 

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The Hireling Shepherd by William Holman Hunt (1851)

The setting for William Holman Hunt’s painting, The Hireling Shepherd was in the Surrey countryside in Spring.  Hunt and fellow artist and good friend, John Everett Millais, had travelled to Ewell in Surrey where they searched together for locations for painting.  Eventually they discovered the ideal setting close to the River Hogswell.  Millais worked on his painting Ophelia whilst Hunt selected the meadows near the fields of Ewell Court Farm to paint The Hireling Shepherd.

At first glance this is simply a depiction of a rural idyll and innocent young love but there is more to this painting than meets the eye.  If we take Holman Hunt’s painting at face value, we see a ruddy-faced young shepherd kneeling on the ground.  His small barrel of ale or cider is strapped to his belt.  He reaches out wrapping his arm around the shoulders of a pretty young girl, dressed in peasant costume.  On her lap is a small lamb and some half-eten apples.   Although it is not known who the male was who modelled for Hunt, we do know that the red-headed girl was Emma Watkins, a local country girl who later travelled to London to model for Hunt so that he could complete the painting.  Her later efforts to become an independent model in the capital city failed and she had to return home.

Now look more closely at the depiction to find some of the things you may have missed at first glance.   In Hunt’s depiction, preferring to gain the attention of the young girl by showing her a death’s head hawkmoth he has captured, the shepherd has paid little attention to his flock of sheep who have crossed over a ditch and are now ensconced in a field next to an orchard. The sheep have been eating some of the fallen sour apples and are now becoming ill.

When the painting was first displayed in the Royal Academy, it was accompanied by a quotation from King Lear:

Sleepest or wakest thou, jolly shepherd?

Thy sheep be in the corn;

And for one blast of thy minikin mouth,

Thy sheep shall take no harm.

And yet there is still more to this painting.  It is a work of symbolism.  Holman Hunt explained it in a letter around the time the Manchester gallery had acquired it.  Hunt wrote that he intended the couple to symbolise the pointless theological debates which occupied Christian churchmen while their “flock” went astray due to a lack of proper moral guidance.

The painting received mixed reviews.  One anonymous reviewer wrote:

“…Like [Jonathan] Swift, [Hunt] revels in the repulsive. These rustics are of the coarsest breed, — ill favoured, ill fed, ill washed. Not to dwell on cutaneous and other minutiae,  — they are literal transcripts of stout, sunburnt, out-of-door labourers. Their faces, bursting with a plethora of health, and a trifle too flushed and rubicund, suggest their over-attention to the beer or cyder (sic) keg on the boor’s back….Downright literal truth is followed out in every accessory; each sedge, moss, and weed – each sheep – each tree, pollard or pruned – each crop, beans or corn – is faithfully imitated. Summer heat pervades the atmosphere, — the grain is ripe, — the swifts skim about, — and the purple clouds cast purple shadows…”

And in the edition of the Illustrated London News the art critic objected to the “fiery red skin” and “wiry hair” of Hunt’s peasants. On the other hand, his supporters insisted that the painting was an unembellished and faithful image of society.

Notwithstanding what has been written about the work, I like it.

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Wandering Thoughts by John Everett Millais (c.1855)

My final look at the works of the Pre-Raphaelites at the Manchester Art Gallery is one by Sir John Everett Millais, a work entitled Wandering Thoughts which he completed around 1855.

The woman is sitting back in a red upholstered chair with both of her hands resting on the carved wood of the padded arms of the chair.  The background is dark and lacks detail and it contrasts with her pale skin.  She is wearing a long black dress with lace-trimmed short sleeves which exposes her bare shoulders.  A small posy of red flowers is fixed to the bodice.  Her dark hair is neatly parted down the centre and secured away from the face.  In her lap, we see a letter which must have fallen from her hand.

Her expression is one of contemplation.  Her head is tilted forward and she looks down to the left.  It is a blank expression, an unseeing countenance.  The abandoned letter could well be the cause of her dour facial expression.  What has she just read?  Did the missive contain news which shocked her into dropping the letter?  Is she now lost in thought as to what she has just read?

Questions, questions and more questions.  I will leave you to come up with the answers.

In the next blog I will showcase some more of my favourite paintings on display at the gallery

…………………….to be concluded.

The Moonlight Pethers

Today I am looking at a family of artists who specialised in painting moonlight scenes, so much so they were known as the Moonlight Pethers.  This is a story about Abraham Pether and his two sons Henry and Sebastian who lived and worked in Southampton, England in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries.

Abraham Pether, the patriarch, was a landscape painter who was born at Chichester in 1756. He was the cousin of the notable engraver, William Pether. He could have been a professional musician as at the tender age of nine, he showed a great talent for music, and played the organ in one of the Chichester churches. However, his main love became art and he received artistic training from George Smith, an English landscape painter and poet.  Within a short period of time the talent of the pupil matched that of his master.

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A moonlit view of the River Tweed with Melrose Abbey in the foreground and figures on a bridge by Abraham Pether

Abraham painted river and mountain scenery, incorporating classical buildings, in an attractive though artificial style.  Some compared his work with the great Welsh landscape painter Richard Wilson.  However, Abraham Pether will be remembered for his moonlight subjects which warranted him the moniker, ‘Moonlight’ Pether.

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Moonlight Scene by Abraham Pether (c.1790)

His moonlight pieces are notable for their astronomical accuracy. He exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1784, his subject being “Moonlight.”

Moonlight Scene with Windmill by Abraham Pether (c.1780)

Moonlight Scene with Windmill by Abraham Pether (c.1780)

The Night Blowing Cereus (flower painted by Philip Reinagle, (moonlit background by Abraham Pether)

Abraham also collaborated with other painters who needed a moonlight background to their painting.  One example of this is his collaboration with Philip Reinagle RA, an English painter of animals, landscapes, and botanical scenes. Reinagle’s painting was entitled The Night Blowing Cereus and Abraham’s moonlight background added authenticity to the work.

God’s House Tower by Moonlight by Abraham Pether

Close to Abraham’s birthplace, Chichester, is the city of Southampton.  One of Abraham Pether’s paintings featured a night scene featuring the 13th century God’s House Tower, a gatehouse, which leads into the old town.  It stands at the south-east corner of the town walls and permitted access to the town from the Platform and Town Quay. It is now an arts and heritage venue.  In its former days it had served as the town gaol and housed the Museum of Archaeology. The building is Grade I listed and a scheduled ancient monument.  The buildings which form modern-day God’s House Tower are some of the earliest in Southampton. The name God’s House comes from the nearby hospice and it was built around 1189 as a resting place for travellers and pilgrims en-route to Canterbury.  The original gate was built around 1280, to give access to the Platform Quay as well as to the walls on the east at a high level, useful for any patrols or at times of attack. Running along the eastern walls was a double ditched moat, up to 40 feet wide, which was fed by sea water operated by a sluice at the Platform Quay. The ditches were important not only for defence but also because they also provided water-power for one of the town’s main mills which was built adjacent to God’s House Tower.

A View of Mount Vesuvius Erupting  by Abraham Pether

A View of Mount Vesuvius Erupting by Abraham Pether (c.1810)

 Abraham Pether also liked to paint depictions in which not only moonlight but fire lighted up the sky as can be seen in his painting entitled A View of Mount Vesuvius Erupting.

The fire at the Old Drury Lane Theatre, seen from Pimlico by Abraham Pether (1809)

It was not just fire lighting up the sky by natural phenomena, that Abraham captured in some of his works of art but also devastating events of buildings burning such as his painting entitled The Fire at the Old Drury Lane Theatre seen from Pimlico. In this 1809 painting we witness the destruction of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s Drury Lane Theatre in 1809, which Sheridan had completely rebuilt in 1794 with the architect Henry Holland.  It is said that when Sheridan, who was in the Houses of Parliament at the time when the fire broke out, heard the news, he hurried to his theatre. Upon realising that there was little he could do to help, he sat down in the coffeehouse opposite and ordered a bottle of port, remarking rather dryly ‘a man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside’.   It is a work of Romanticism which was popular around the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Abraham has cleverly balanced the light sources emanating from the moon and the fire, which adds a sense of excitement to the depiction.  Another interesting fact about this depiction is that it actually shows a lost view of London as the river seen is not the Thames, but part of the River Tyburn, which now flows beneath the city, coming out into the Thames at Whitehall Stairs, near Downing Street.

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Evening Scene With Full Moon and Persons by Abraham Pether (1801)

Abraham Pether not only distinguished himself as painter and musician but also by his philosophical and mathematical research which were of great value. He also showed skill as a mechanic, and constructed various optical instruments, such as telescopes, microscopes, air-pumps, and electric instruments. Abraham Pether died in Southampton on April 13th, 1812.

Abraham had two artistically talented sons Sebastian Pether who was born in 1790 and Henry Pether who was born on March 5th, 1800, both of whom became landscape artists who, like their father, became known for their moonlit scenes.

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Houses of Parliament from the Thames by Moonlight by Henry Pether (c.1864)

In Henry Pether‘s painting, Houses of Parliament from the Thames by Moonlight we see Westminster Bridge straddling the River Thames with the Houses of Parliament on the right bank. By the mid-19th century Westminster Bridge was subsiding badly and expensive to maintain and so was replaced by the current bridge, which was designed by Thomas Page and opened on 24 May 1862.  As Henry Pether died in 1865, we know the painting had to be completed sometime between those three years.  It is a fascinating depiction of the endless work on the river even during the night with barges and rowing boats plying their trade.  Note the gaslights illuminating the bridge.  During these years air pollution was very bad, day and night, and this is depicted by the smoky and murky appearance.

View of Windsor Castle looking at the Lowe Ward by Moonlight by Henry Pether

Henry Pether’s work, View of Windsor Castle looking at the Lowe Ward by Moonlight, demonstrates how Henry Pether’s portrayal of the romantic quality of light makes his depiction so striking. Henry preferred actual scenes, often on the Thames or in Venice, and this painting communicates the poetry and realism of his best work. As ever, Henry’s palette was more sensitive and truthful to nature than that used by his father and brother, as this very fine example demonstrates.

Henry Pether, ‘Greenwich Reach, Moonlight’ exhibited 1854
Greenwich Reach, Moonlight by Henry Pether (c.1854)

Henry Pether’s works were not all about England as he completed and excellent depiction of the canals of Venice.

Venice by Moonlight
Venice by Moonlight by Henry Pether

Sebastian Pether, born in 1790, was the eldest son of Abraham Pether, was also a landscape painter. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1812 to 1826 and at the Royal Society of British Artists at Suffolk Street, London.  He had learnt his artistic ability as a pupil of his father, and, like him, primarily painted moonlight views as well as depictions of fires as seen at night.  His paintings were praised for their accuracy and congruency of colour.   He could have made a fortune from the sales of his work but being desperate for money to feed his family he was having to accept paltry sums from art dealers who knew of his desperate financial circumstances and wanted his work so as they may be copied and sold on. 

Fishing by Moonlight by Sebastian Pether

One of Sebastian’s beautiful painting is his Fishing by Moonlight.  The work is painted on panel, which is a medium best suited to the fine brushwork quality, which he found necessary for this intricate work. In this painting, he has cleverly used the strong use of chiaroscuro effects of light and shade in his painting. The eye, of course, is drawn towards the full moon, which illuminates the sky and caresses the clouds.  Look how the artist has created the mysterious atmosphere of the moonlit evening. He has depicted the moonlight glistening on the river below and has painstakingly depicted the buildings in meticulous detail.  On the bank in the foreground we see the two night fishermen silhouetted against the calm waters.

Artwork by Sebastian Pether, Anglers along a moonlit river, Made of oil on canvas laid down on panel
An extensive river landscape with a fisherman by the shore, before a tower by Sebastian Pether

Sebastian married very young. In the July 1884 edition of the Gentleman’s Magazine there was an obituary notice regarding the death of Sebastian Pether. It said that “he married too young and too poor“. To exacerbate matters his wife had nine children in a short period and Sebastian struggled to earn enough money from his art to feed his family. The art dealers who bought his paintings were aware of his dire financial situation and the obituary notice was very cutting about their role in Sebastian’s life:

“…As a matter of course he soon fell into the hands of those harpies – the dealers. When once they had obtained power over him they took care to retain it; he was their victim all through life…”

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The Night Fishermen by Sebastian Pether (1920)

Sebastian Pether’s paintings always sold well but because of the low prices offered to him by dealers the money from the sale of his work was never enough to satisfy the wants of his large family.  Sebastian became ill in March 1844.  The illness was brief but severe and he died on March 14th 1844, aged 54.  His life at the end was an unhappy one and this was set out in the Gentleman’s Magazine obituary:

…During the three last years of his life he lost three of his grown-up children by consumption; and since the demise of the father another son died at Westminster Hospital of lockjaw occasioned by an accident to the hand……………………..A subscription has been opened to help his surviving family out of their terrible state of distress…”

A truly sad ending to a great painter.

Dorothea Tanning, her early life and her love of Surrealism. Part 3

Dorothea Tanning, Sedona, Arizona
Dorothea Tanning in Sedona (1943)

Dorothea and Max Ernst divided their time between their Arizona home in Sedona and their apartment in New York.  Often Tanning would return to New York to show her work at the Julien Levy Gallery in Midtown Manhattan.  In April 1944, the Julien Levy Gallery held Dorothea’s first one-person exhibition.

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Fête Champêtre by Dorothea Tanning (1944)

That same year, 1944, Dorothea completed her painting entitled Fête Champêtre depicting a popular form of entertainment in Baroque France during the 18th century, taking the form of a garden party.  In Tanning’s work an unusual desert landscape provides the setting and she has added a marble mantelpiece and an ornate rococo clock.  She has also populated the depiction with a number of unidentifiable figures, some of which are human others are anthropomorphic, adding human characteristics to nonhuman things.  However, we can clearly see a bearded man and a girl who sits beside him, both staring out at something invisible to us.  The whole depiction remains a mystery as to what it is all about.

The Temptation of St Anthony by Dorothea Tanning (1945)

Whilst in New York,in 1945, Dorothea Tanning, completed a work which focused on a biblical scene that has been depicted by many famous artists, such as Dali and Hieronymus Bosch.  The painting is entitled The Temptation of St Anthony, which is now the property of Philadelphia’s La Salle University Art Museum. The painting portrays the supernatural temptation reportedly faced by Saint Anthony the Great during his stay in the Egyptian desert.  Saint Anthony, then aged 35, decided to spend the night alone in an abandoned tomb. A great multitude of demons came and started beating him, wounding him all over. He lay on the ground as if dead and the claws of the demons prevented him from getting up. According to the hermit the suffering caused by this demonic torture was comparable to no other.  Terrified and brought to his knees in fear, the habit that he is wearing wafts upwards as if caught in a gale-force updraft.  The blue, green and pink folds of the habit expose images of feminine shapes that seem to be the cause of his anguish. 

The Temptation of St Anthony by Salvador Dali. His entry to the Bel Ami competition

Dorothea created the work for the Bel Ami International Art Competition, where twelve surrealist and magic realist painters were asked to submit a painting to be used in Albert Lewin’s film The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, based on Guy de Maupassant’s novel Bel Ami. The rules of the competition for a cash prize were that the painting should be 36 × 48 inches and on the subject of the temptation of Saint Anthony. It would be shown as the only colour segment in the otherwise black and white film in which paintings of The Temptation of St. Anthony. Both American and European artists participated, including Ivan Albright, Eugene Berman, Leonora Carrington, Salvador Dalí, Paul Delvaux, Max Ernst, O. Louis Gugliemi, Abraham Rattner, Horace Pippin, Sydney Spencer, Leonor Fini and Dorothea Tanning.  All artists who submitted a painting received $500, while the winner received a prize of $3000. Max Ernst won the competition and his painting was shown in the film. Dali’s entry also became famous in its own right.

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The Temptation of Saint Anthony. The winning entry by Max Ernst

The competition was judged by Marcel Duchamp, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., and Sidney Janis. Max Ernst wining submission was not loved by all as the film critic Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called Ernst’s painting “downright nauseous” and wrote that it “looks like a bad boiled lobster.

Of her work and the meaning behind the depiction Dorothea Tanning wrote:

“…It seems to me that a man like our St. Anthony, with his self-inflicted mortification of the flesh, would be most crushingly tempted by sexual desires and, more particularly, the vision of woman in all her voluptuous aspects.  It is this phase which I have tried to depict in my painting. St. Anthony, alone in the desert, struggles against his visions; half-formed, moving in indolent suggestion, colored with the beautiful colors of sex, his desires take shape even in the folds of his own wind-tossed robes…”

Dorothea Tanning painting the Temptation of St Anthony (1945)

A photographer took a picture of Dorothea whilst she was working on the St Anthony portrait as a promotional photograph for the Bel Ami competition.  It was at a time when she had been ill and had contracted encephalitis and the photographer had to prop her up for the shot as she was so unwell.  She has her back to us but we see her long flowing locks of hair and on the wall is her famous Birthday self-portrait.  In her autobiography, Between Lives, she tells of how the illness caused her and her soon-to-be husband Max to return to the peace of Sedona in 1946 and sub-let their New York apartment to their friend, Marcel Duchamp.  Dorothea and Max married in October 1946.  Although they had regular guests come to their Sedona home, Dorothea always maintained that the period in Sedona, when it was just her and her husband, were the happiest days of her life.

The newlywed couple would separately paint all day and then come together in the evenings to listen to music, read and often play chess which was one of their favourite pastimes.

Max in a Blue Boat, 1947 - Dorothea Tanning
Max in a Blue Boat by Dorothea Tanning (1947)

Their love of chess is depicted in Dorothea’s 1947 work entitled Max in a Blue Boat.  It depicts the couple in the boat in the midst of a desert landscape and they seem to move effortlessly despite the lack of water.

Maternity, 1946 - 1947 - Dorothea Tanning
Maternity by Dorothea Tanning (1947)

In 1947 Dorothea completed the work entitled Maternity, which focused on motherhood and the psychological and physical problems associated with bearing and raising a child.  In the setting of a sand-strewn desert we see a young woman holding a young child in a shielding encirclement.  At the feet of the woman, on the rug, lies her dog which has a child’s solemn face staring out at us.  The features of the dog resembled her own Lhasa Apso dog, named Katchina.  Mother, child and dog make for a strong family unit set against a hostile setting.

The dog was depicted in one of her favourite works entitled Tableau Vivant.  It was then purchased by the National Galleries of Scotland. The painting was the first by Dorothea Tanning that they had acquired and joined up with major artworks by Surrealists Leonora Carrington, Salvador Dalí and René Magritte held at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (SNGMA).  The work was first shown at Tanning’s first exhibition in France in May 1954 at the Galerie Furstenberg, Dorothea Tanning: Peintures 1949-1954.   She had inscribed the title L’Etreinte on the verso, which can be translated as The Embrace.   A few months later the inscription was crossed out and substituted with Tableau Vivant and it was under its new title, Tableau Vivant that it was included in the artist’s first exhibition in Britain, at the Arthur Jeffress Gallery, London in 1955.

Tableau Vivant by Dorothea Tanning (1954)

It was not uncommon for Surrealist artists to include animals in their paintings.  Numerous Surrealist artists took animal embodiments which played the role of their alter-ego in their work: Max Ernst used a bird, Leonora Carrington favoured a horse; and Tanning took Katchina. Whreas other Surrealist depicted various types of the animal, Tanning’s choice was more specific.  It was her own pet, Katchina, whose insertion into Tanning’s work was not of necessity a personification of the artist; sometimes it acted as a witness, other times as a protagonist, the Katchina affected different roles in different works. These works started a change of Tanning’s painting style.  She moved away from the meticulous, controlled, illustrative technique which was the hallmark of her Surrealist work. In its place she began to decide on much looser, softer, more painterly brushwork and her colour switched from bright, intense primaries to ashes and ochres.  It was a move towards her Abstract period.

The painting is a depiction of many feelings.   Power, love, the erotic, the humorous, the dream and the nightmare, Tableau Vivant brings together many key moments in the artist’s life and career. Tanning loved the painting and it was included in almost every major exhibition of her work, notably her solo shows in Brussels in 1967, Paris in 1974, and the Malmö Konsthall and Camden Art Centre in 1993. The work of art remained with her for the remainder of her life until 2012, when she died at the age of 101, almost sixty years after painting it. Towards the end of her life, she specified it as one of a small number of works reserved only for sale to a museum.  Simon Groom, Director of Modern and Contemporary Art at the National Galleries of Scotland said of the painting:

“…We’ve been looking for a major painting by Dorothea Tanning for many years. This was one of her favourite works: she kept it for more than sixty years, hanging it above her desk in her apartment in New York. It’s a stunning addition to the Galleries’ world-famous collection of Surrealist art…”

Sarah Philp, Director of Programme and Policy at Art Fund, which helped the National Galleries of Scotland financially with the purchase of the work which cost £205K  said:

“…Tableau Vivant is an astonishing work with a fascinating biography and we are proud to help National Galleries of Scotland purchase this painting for their outstanding Surrealist art collection…”

Interior with Sudden Joy by Dorothea Tanning (1951)

The Tableau Vivant dog appeared in a number of her paintings after 1946, including Interior with Sudden Joy.

Interior with Sudden Joy is a strange painting.  In the depiction we see two girls standing to the right. They strike a provocative pose.  They are both dressed in white garments which harmonise with their pale skin, the buttons are unfastened and expose a camisole top and red bra, which reminds one of the bared chest in Tanning’s self-portrait Birthday. The girls pose with their arms wrapped around each other and both exude an air of nonchalance. They are young women and are only too aware of their sexuality.  The girl furthest to the right pats the head of a large shaggy dog.  The dog, which faces away from us, takes little notice of the two girls and instead stares at the blackboard on the back wall like a pupil ready to learn. On the blackboard there is chalked writing. In her memoir, Tanning says she took writings written in poet Arthur Rimbaud’s ‘secret notebooks’ and put them on the blackboard in this painting.  Rimbaud was admired by the surrealists because of his belief that poetry passed through the body in the manner of a musical instrument, which reaffirmed the surrealist idea of automatism as a creative outlet using the body as a vehicle.

The Boy

On the floor, close to the feet of one of the girls, lies a burning cigarette.  The girl’s hand is held up as though the cigarette had once been held between her fingers. To the left of them is a naked boy embracing a strange amorphous mass which imitates a human figure and wraps itself around him. The whiteness of its fabric-like flesh contrasts with the boy’s dark skin, and abundance of dark curls which form a halo around the boy’s head. The boy looks completely at peace. If the painting’s title Sudden Joy derives from any part of the depiction it is from him. In her memoir, Tanning described the girls as being like Sodom and Gomorrah.  On the floor in the left-hand corner of Tanning’s painting is an open book atop an ornate purple cushion. Its pages are blank, perhaps waiting to be written in. It is an eerie depiction.  We see a figure standing in the doorway in the left-hand top corner of the painting, and the black door stands ajar waiting for someone or something to enter the room.

 Dorothea Tanning died on January 31st 2012, at her Manhattan home at age 101. Her husband Max Ernst had died thirty-six years earlier.

Most of the information in my blogs about Dorothea Tanning come from the excellent 2020 biography of the artist, entitled Dorothea Tanning: Transformations by Victoria Carruthers.

Dorothea Tanning, her early life and her love of Surrealism. Part 1.

Dorothea Tanning
Dorothea Tanning aged 18. (1928)

What does one mean when one says they like art.  What is art?  By definition, art is a diverse range of human activities involving creative imagination to express technical proficiency, beauty, emotional power, or conceptual ideas and it encompasses the three classical branches of visual art are painting, sculpture, and architecture, but the term “art” also embraces theatre, dance, and other performing arts, as well as literature, music, film and other media such as interactive media. So, I need to narrow down what I mean when I say I love art.  I should maybe say I love visual art and yet I am not a fan of conceptual or performance art.   I love the paintings created by numerous artists.  However, that is not quite true as I do not love all painting genres.  I neither find pleasure in looking at works of abstract art such as those by Kurt Schwitters nor the black lines and blocks of colour by Mondrian nor the works of abstract expressionist painters such as those by Robert Delaunay, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning nor the disturbing imagery of Francis Bacon. Having told you what I do not like I suppose I should tell you what I do like but if you have been following my blogs over the years, you will probably already know.

I love the paintings of the Dutch and Flemish Masters.  I like many of the painters of the Victorian era.  I like “busy” multi-figure paintings and love to delve into the depiction to see what is happening in narrative paintings.  I like narrative paintings which have a tale to tell or a moral to enforce.  Surprisingly, having said all that I also have a reluctant love of Surrealism and enjoy trying to figure out what the depiction is all about and what was in the painter’s mind when he or she put brush to canvas.

Dorothea Tanning with her mother, Amanda Tanning
Dorothea Tanning with her mother, Amanda Tanning, 1911

This was a somewhat long-winded introduction to today’s artist, the American Surrealist painter, printmaker, sculptor, writer, and poet, Dorothea Margaret Tanning.  Tanning was born on August 25th 1910.  She was the middle child of Andrew Tanning and Amanda Marie Tanning (née Hansen), who were of Swedish descent.  She had an elder sister Maurine and a younger sister Mary Louise.  Andrew Tanning, born Andreas Peter Georg Thaning, came alone from Skåne in the southernmost county of Sweden and settled in the conservative Midwestern town of Galesburg, Illinois.  In her memoirs Dorothea Tanning recounted that both her parents were very loving, indulgent and imaginative, the latter trait which she believed led to her creativity.  In her 2001 autobiography, Between Lives, Tanning wrote lovingly of her mother:

“…How could a tiny artist grow into a big one without the quilt of maternal love with its pattern of solace for hurts, its curving comfort, cloud-soft, its consolation for having to exist, its sweet smell?  The mother-goddess (the term would have embarrassed her), doctor and protector hovered over us in the full conviction that we were worth the trouble…”

Dorothea Tanning
Dorothea Tanning, aged 5. (1915)

By her own admission Dorothea was a small and delicate child prone to bouts of illness which often confined her to bed.  Like similar stories of young children who became well-known artists, it was this time during bed rest that she developed artistic skills and immersed herself into reading picture books.  Her favourites were the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, and the stories and colourfully mesmerising characters from Greek mythology and the Bible.  It was from the likes of these that Dorothea gained an insight of the outside world, a world free from a cosseting mother.  She would also amuse herself by the simple game of staring at patterns on the wallpaper or furnishings and allow her imagination to form images which were not real.  In a way she was slipping from the real world into an imagined parallel existence.  Maybe it was this which would eventually lead her into the world of Surrealism.

Dorothea Tanning, Galesburg High School Yearbook, Senior Year
Dorothea Tanning, Galesburg High School Yearbook, Senior Year, 1926

In 1926, aged sixteen, Dorothea Tanning graduated from Galesburg Public High School.  The following year she managed to get a part-time job at Galesburg Public Library which gave her access to a world of literature.  She termed it the House of Joy.  One of her earlier jobs was cataloguing the books with a senior assistant who decided on whether the contents were deigned immoral and unfit for minors and were marked with a red cross in the catalogue.  Dorothea said that it was then much easier to find the “best” books.  In her biography she wrote about the time at the library and how it made her consider her future:

“…Over the years, the library became my haven, its treasures slyly challenging the voice of “art” in the tug-of-war for my ambitions, its sirens singing and crying by turns, its weight crushing my famous certitudes forever…”

Some Roses and Their Phantoms, 1952 - Dorothea Tanning
Some Roses and Their Phantoms by Dorothea Tanning (1952) represents a domestic world transformed by mysterious eruptions and inhabited by unnamed creatures. The table top setting, with its crisp white tablecloth and marks of ironed folds, suggests a safe world of bourgeois ritual. A recurrent motif, the white table cloth can also be found in other works of the same period. 

In 1928 she enrolled at Knox College in Galesburg and remained there for two years.  In 1930 she quit the college in order to pursue an artistic career and set off for Chicago under the guise of meeting up with a friend.  She had surreptitiously packed a trunk with her belongings which she left in her bedroom and later, once in Chicago, asked her parents to forward it to her !

Chicago at the time of Dorothea’s arrival, was a city in the grip of Prohibition, jazz-filled nightclubs and violent gang wars.  She lodged with an ex-library colleague.  She revelled in the nightlife of the Windy City and began a relationship with the writer, Homer Shannon.  To earn a living, she took on a number of jobs including waitressing at the Colonial Room.  She operated marionettes in the 1933 Chicago World Fair.  She must have accumulated some money as she loved to travel going to New Orleans in 1934 where she exhibited some of her watercolours. 

December 1936 newspaper cuttings about the Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism exhibition. 

She also made a number of trips to New York searching for work as a commercial artist and during one visit in 1936 visited the Museum of Modern Art to see the Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism exhibition.  The exhibition was rife with controversy and provoked fierce reactions from battling factions among the Dadaists and the Surrealists.  The press release by MOMA identified Surrealism and Dadaism as such:

“…”Surrealism, which developed in Paris around 1924, was the direct descendent of the Dadaist interest in the bizarre, the spontaneous, and the anti-rational. But while the Surrealist program carried on the iconoclasm of Dada it added serious research into subconscious images, dreams, visions, automatic and psychoanalytic drawings. Surrealism, so far as its serious adherents are concerned, is more than a literary or an art movement: it is a philosophy, a way of life, a cause which has involved some of the most brilliant painters and poets of our age…”

In a later interview Dorothea said of the exhibition:

“…For me it was the revelation, and I wasn’t the only one.  I would even say that most American artists – as well as poets – were deeply affected by that explosive event.  So, I became more impatient than ever – I just had to live in Paris…”

Once again in her autobiography Dorothea was certain that what she saw at the exhibition at the MOMA was a turning point in her artistic life.  She wrote:

“…Here, gathered inside an innocent concrete building, are signposts so imperious, so laden, so seductive and yes, so perverse that, like the insidious revelations of the Galesburg Public Library, they would possess me utterly…”

Deirdre
Deirdre by Dorothea Tanning (1940)

Dorothea had now caught the Surrealism bug and knew to explore the genre more she had to go to Paris.  She set sail on SS. Amsterdam for the France in July 1939 with the intention of meeting some of the Surrealist artists living there but her plans were thwarted by the onset of the Second World War.  Artists had hurriedly escaped from Paris and she managed to escape France and makes her way through Holland Belgium Germany and Sweden in August to the home of her paternal relatives. From there, in October, she managed to gain passage back to America on the SS. Gripsholm.  Another artist to take flight from France and journey to America was the leader of the Surrealism Movement, German-born Max Ernst who before his salvation had been interned twice in 1939, once by the French government having been labelled an “undesirable foreigner” and once by the Gestapo but he managed to escape with the help of Peggy Guggenheim, a member of a wealthy American art collecting family, and the journalist Varian Fry. 

Dorothea Tanning, Music Hath Charms. 1940.
Music Hath Charms by Dorothea Tanning (1940)

Once back home in New York, Dorothea Tanning sought employment as a commercial artist and for a time worked on the advertisements for Macy’s department store, producing adverts for perfumery products, clothing and accessories.  She continued with her own art and in 1940 produced a small painting entitled Music Hath Charms.  It was the beginning of her love of Surrealism being translated into her own work.  The painting depicts a young girl, dressed in red, playing the piano formed by the roots of one of two large trees which act as a frame for the scene.  She has long blonde hair which runs down her back.  Look at the background and at first it seems to be just a snow-capped mountain but with closer inspection it is the gigantic wave of a stormy sea in which we see a sinking tall ship.  The terrifying sight of the doomed ship is in stark contrast with the pastoral scene of the middle-ground with the grazing sheep and yet there is more.  Look carefully at the dark brown/olive hills which divide the space between the sheep-grazing field and the wild stormy sea.  It is the prone body of a hybrid beast, part human in the shape of a woman’s body and part animal being the face of a wild cat. Again it, like the sea and the fields, is the juxtaposition of human and animal.  The creature stares at the girl as if mesmerised by the sound of the music.  The depiction implies that the melodious sounds emanating from the piano is causing a metamorphosis in the landscape with the creature materialising from the “softened rocks”.

Portrait of Julien Levy by Jay Leyda (c.1932)

In 1942 after an up-and-down relationship and short marriage to Homer Shannon, the pair split up and Dorothea concentrated on her art and immersed herself in the artistic community and became great friends with Julien Levy, a gallery owner who offered her an exhibition at his gallery once she had built up a sizeable collection.  Levy had opened his new gallery in midtown Manhattan in November 1931 with a photography exhibition that included works by his friend and mentor, Alfred Stieglitz. As selling photographs became more difficult Levy shifted his gallery’s focus to Surrealism and to showing the work of artists like Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Man Ray and Joseph Cornell.

In May 1942 Julien Levy invited Dorothea Tanning to one of his afternoon soirees held in his Chelsea apartment.  Dorothea remembered stepping into Levy’s apartment and at that party, seeing her future road map lying before her:

“…A May afternoon as only May afternoons can be in the city.   And an apartment in Chelsea, all dark woof and those slated shutters peculiar to old New York.  A Recamier sofa, an iron sleigh-bed breathing Paris, a Bellmer doll, the Duchamp window and scattered everywhere, objects, pictures, books and more pictures.  Indeed, coming time, you were overwhelmed with vertigo that it was hard to register Julien’s easy, smiling introductions to – as I remember them – Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, Kurt Seligmann, Kay Sage, Bob Motherwell with beauteous wife, Maria, Virgil Thomson, Max Ernst, Consuelo de Saint-Exupery, Peggy Guggenheim, Sylvia Marlowe, Max Ernst……Doesn’t the repetition say it all?  Because quite simply, this was a new door for me to open, and it was Julien Levy who held the key, who did it all, not deliberately – he didn’t believe in plans – who very nonchalantly launched my art and found me a life companion…”

………………………………….to be continued.

Most of the information in my blogs about Dorothea Tanning come from the excellent 2020 biography of the artist, entitled Dorothea Tanning: Transformations by Victoria Carruthers.

Many pictures of Dorothea came from the Dorothea Tanning Organisation website

Paul Fischer

Self-portrait, Nytorv in Winter by Paul Fischer (1909)

Paul Gustav Fischer was born July 22nd, 1860.  His ancestors, who were originally from Poland, were the fourth generation of the Fischer family to live in Denmark. His immediate family would be classed socially as upper-middle class. Paul was the son of Philip August Fischer and Gustafva Albertina Svedgren. Paul’s father had started as a painter, and later succeeded in the business of manufacturing paints and lacquers.  Paul first received art tuition from his father but later went on to have formal art tuition.  He was apprenticed for a year and a half at the terracotta manufacturer C. Møller and graduated from the Technical Institute to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts where he attended the general preparatory class in May 1876 but failed to complete the course, leaving in January 1878.  Following on from this, he became an assistant in his father’s painting materials business and worked there for ten years.  During this time he still carried on with his own painting. At the start of his artistic career, Paul completed mostly sketches and illustrations which he submitted for inclusion in a number of magazines such as Out and Home, Illustrated Journal, Juleroser and Klods-hans.

Paul Fischer. Vesterbrogade
Vesterbrogade is the main shopping street of the Vesterbro district of Copenhagen, 

The standard of his paintings were such that he exhibited regularly at the Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition between 1884 and 1902. He has also had his work exhibited at the Salon in Paris and exhibitions in Munich, Berlin, Oslo and Stockholm.

View from Ved Stranden in Copenhagen with two women sheltering from the rain
View from Ved Stranden in Copenhagen with two women sheltering from the rain by Paul Fischer

His early paintings depicted city life, and it was this genre that established him with the viewing public.  His depictions were often set in overcast or winter weather, but that was to change after his Paris trips when his works took on more colours and were warmer.  Paul Fischer stayed in Paris on two occasions in the 1890s and became influenced by the French Realists, Gustave Courbet and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. 

Paul Fischer - Flowersellers At Dr. Louises Bro (Queen Louise’s Bridge) In Copenhagen
Flower Sellers on Queen Louise Bridge, Copenhagen by Paul Fischer

Paul Fischer painted motifs from Queen Louise Bridge with views towards Ferdinand Meldahl’s two symmetrical palatial apartment buildings on Søtorvet – being some of the most French-influenced architecture in Copenhagen. Moreover, it was easy for him to compare the lakes on either side of the bridge with his beloved river Seine in Paris.

Højbro Plads seen from Højbro by Paul Fischer  (1900)

Especially famous are his colourful paintings, one of his most popular ones featuring the cityscape of Copenhagen is his 1900 work entitled Højbro Plads seen from Højbro.   Højbro Plads (High Bridge Square)  is a rectangular public square located between the adjoining Amagertorv and Slotsholmen Canal in the city centre of Copenhagen.  Højbro is a bridge in central Copenhagen, which connects the city centre to the small island of Slotsholmen, on which is the Christiansborg Palace.

See the source image
The Artist’s Wife, Dagny by Paul Fischer (1892)

Paul Fischer married Dagny Grønneberg on November 24th,1886.  Her father, Julius, was an art dealer and her Norwegian mother, Hulda Azora Tegner was a painter. 

See the source image
The Artist’s Daughter, Harriet Fischer by Paul Fischer

Paul and Dagny’s daughter, Harriet Fischer, was born on July 24th, 1890 and grew up in a busy artist’s studio and her father Paul Fischer persistently used household members as models, and often Harriet featured in some of his paintings both as a little girl and as a young girl, in portraiture and as a supporting figure in the street scenes.

Bondekvinde {Peasant Woman) by Hrriet Fischer

Harriet was admitted to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, where she was from 1915-1920. From 1920-1940 she travelled on countless study trips to most of Europe. When their daughter began painting, it is known that she and her father exhibited together during the summer stays in Båstad in the years before World War I.

Harriet in the living room at Sofievej by Paul Fischer (1908)

Another beautiful painting featuring his daughter was his 1908 work entitled Harriet in the living room at Sofievej.

Winter Day with a Little Girl with a Sledge and a Large Red Knitted Hat by Paul Fischer

Paul Gustave Fischer was also well known for his amazingly natural sunbathers and his 1916 painting Sunbathing in the Dunes is a good example. 

Sunbathing in the Dunes
Sunbathing in the Dunes by Paul Fischer (1916)

The models seem to be happy to pose on the beach but I am sure were reluctant to parade nude in the icy waters of the Baltic.

Nude Bathers on the Beach, by Paul Gustave Fischer (1916)

There are more than a dozen such works painted over a number of years, and it is interesting to note how, in the depiction, his striking  bathing beauties merge so wonderfully with the sands of the beach one which almost makes ignore the erotic overtones of the paintings. 

Vragnet (Wrecked) by Paul Fischer (1906)
Portrait of a Young Girl by Paul Fischer (1903)

Most of Fischer’s paintings are populated with female figure, some attractive older ones but also depicting young girls such as his 1903 tender Portrait of a Young Girl.

The Fire Engine by Paul Fischer (1900)

However, my favourite works of Paul Fischer are his everyday scenes of city life featuring people of all social classes and it is his depiction of the real lives of those around him which in part explains his popularity.  Take for example his 1900 painting The Fire Engine.   This is a depiction of a classic everyday occurrence.  It is a “busy” painting.  There are so many things happening in the depiction and your eye flits from one to another.  We, like the crowd, are drawn into the present dramatic happenings.  The red and gold coloured fire engine takes centre stage in the painting and, in a way, it is a salute to the industrial growth of the time.

Paul Fischer. Magasin du Nord at Kongens Nytorv, Copenhagen
Magasin du Nord at Kongens Nytorv, Copenhagen by Paul Fischer

The late 19th and early 20th century in Denmark, like other European countries was rapidly changing and these changing times were captured in Paul Fischer’s cityscapes often populated with the motor cars, trams and other vehicles.

In the Tram Compartment by Paul Fischer (1927)

The 1927 work In the Tram Compartment by Paul Fischer is a fascinating depiction of everyday life.  The man reads his newspaper whilst the woman looks outside at the cityscape they are trundling past.  A bunch of flowers is on the bench next to her.  Maybe a gift from the man and yet he shows no interest n her and may just be a fellow passenger.  It is painting like these that you gaze at and make up a story of what you believe is going on!

See the source image
by Paul Fischer

Fischer depicted everyday life and tram rides on a number of occasions, such as the one above.  Maybe he was fascinated with this form of transport or maybe he was interested in the interaction between the passengers. Again we have a man reading a newspaper and a woman sitting next to a bunch of flowers.

View from Pompei
View from Pompeii by Paul Fischer (1894)

Paul Fischer travelled through a number of European countries, sketching and painting.  One of his favoured countries was Italy and during the last decade of the nineteenth century he visited the area around Naples and the ruins of Pompeii.  In 1894 he produced a pencil and watercolour sketch of the area which was given the name View from Pompeii.

Italian Street Scene
Italian Street Scene by Paul Fischer

Another painting around this time was a work in oils, simply entitled Italian Street Scene.

In the early twentieth century Fischer’s paintings were selling well.  However, he was still in the shadow of his contemporary, the leading Danish painter of the time, Laurits Tuxen.  However, one would have that thought the life was good for Fischer.  He had a beautiful wife, Dagny, and a fine-looking and talented daughter, Harriet, but that was not the case as his marriage to Dagny ended in 1914. 

Portrait of Martha Vilhelmine Jensen, who became Mrs. Fischer by Paul Fischer (1913)

On June 17th, 1914, sixty-year-old Fischer married his second wife, twenty-five-year-old opera singer, Martha Vilhelmine Jensen whom he had been dating for some time.  His first wife, Dagny Grønneberg eventually went to live in Oslo where she died six years later on February 24th, 1920.

Paul Fischer died in Gentofte, a northern suburb of Copenhagen on May 1st 1934 aged 73

John Koch. Part 1.

                                                               John Koch

The artist I am looking at today is the twentieth century American painter John Koch.  I will also look at the life he had with his extremely musically talented wife Dora.  Both their successes came from hard work and their mutual support of each other.  For them, it was hard work that achieved you a grand lifestyle which the couple enjoyed during their married life.  He is best known for his portraits, nudes, and paintings of genteel urban interiors, often set in his own light-filled Manhattan apartment.

See the source image
                                                  Portrait of the Artist’s Father by John Koch (1951)

John Koch was the son of Marian Joan and Edward John Koch and was born in his grandmother’s house in Toledo, Ohio on August 18th, 1909.   He spent most of his childhood and teenage years in the university town of Ann Arbor, a city in the U.S. state of Michigan, where his father was in the furniture business but unfortunately, failed to make a success of it.  John Koch described his father as a man of great charm, a great reader, but a poor businessman.  His father also unsuccessfully ran for governor of Michigan on the Socialist ticket.

In his early teens John Koch developed a love of art and, later in life, he revealed in an interview:

“…The possibility of being other than a painter never seriously occurred to me. Ever since I could hold a pencil, the desire I had to reproduce amounted to passion…”

In 1923, at the age of 14, John, for a short period, took some lessons in drawing in charcoal and that was essentially the only formal art training he received. During high school, he did however spend two summer vacations at the artists’ colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and around 1928, shortly after graduation he sailed to Paris, not to enroll at an artistic establishment, but to simply paint by himself and savour the life of an artist in the European capital of art.   His self-tuition focused on going to the Louvre and copying the work of the Masters.  According to John, the Louvre was his master.  John became so skilled at copying the famous works that he once produced an imitation of a painting by Gustave Courbet that was subsequently mistaken for a genuine work.  In 1929, Koch exhibited his work at the Salon des Tuileries and the Salon de Printemps and received an honourable mention, which was to be the first of his many awards.

Artwork Title: Father and Son - Artist Name: John Koch
                                                         Father and Son by John Koch (1955)

In his early twenties, John Koch joined the Internationale Union des Intellectuals, where he mixed with such luminaries as André Gide, the French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, André Malraux, the French novelist, art theorist, who later became Minister of Cultural Affairs, and Jean Cocteau, the poet, playwright, novelist, designer, filmmaker, visual artist, and critic.  This group would assemble in the homes of its members and presented Koch with his first exposure to the lives of artists and intellectuals.  It also gave him the opportunity to sit in on discussions about Surrealism and, swayed by what he heard and seen, even painted a few Surrealist works himself but was unhappy with his attempts and gave up on that genre.

                                                                      The Plasterers by John Koch

John spent over four years in Paris and during that time he developed a formidable technique, evident in his beautiful rendering of light playing on surfaces.  A good example of this can be seen in his later painting, The Plasterers which he completed in 1967.  It was described in the New York Historical Society’s 2001 exhibition catalogue as:

“… a tour de force of (the artist’s) ability to bring the outside into an interior through reflection of light playing off surfaces…

The Plasterers stands among John Koch’s most important paintings.

                                                             Dora Zaslavsky Schwarz (1925)

Before John had set sail for Paris in 1928, it is thought he had met the newly married, Dora Schwartz, and was impressed by both her beauty and her talent as a pianist.  The two quickly became friends, but their mutual affinity was put on hold when John sailed for Paris, intent on pursuing his life as a painter in the world’s art capital.  Dora Schwartz (née Zaslawskaya) was a Jewish immigrant, born on July 18th 1904 in the Ukraine city of Kremenchuk in the oblast of Poltava.  Her father Max had immigrated to the United States the previous year and she then travelled by ship to a new life in America with her mother Celia and her older siblings Joseph and Fay, along with a young cousin. Another of her brothers, Israel, was born six years later.  Dora’s father’s early occupation was as a peddler and family legends has it that Dora’s musical talent was discovered thanks to a large toy piano with real black and white keys that her father brought home for her.  This was the start of her musical career !   Eventually after a lot of training, she became a gifted pianist, which led to a career as a piano teacher and she would go on to coach some of the outstanding concert pianists of the day.  Later she became head of the piano department at the Manhattan School of Music and developed its chamber music section.  On September 12th 1927, Dora Zaslawskaya, aged 23, married New Yorker Herbert S. Schwartz   Herbert was also a talented musician and his family had hoped that one day, he would become a concert pianist, a similar aspiration was had by Dora’s mother for her daughter.  Herbert Schwartz, however, chose to pursue a college education rather than continue studying music and when he and Dora married, he was beginning his third undergraduate year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, with the hope of eventually becoming a physician. He was accepted into medical school but dropped out after one semester.  Following his rejection of medical studies, he enrolled at Columbia University the following fall to study philosophy and graduated in 1933.  By this time, the marriage between Dora Zaslavsky and Herbert Schwartz was almost over and they decided to end the relationship in an amicable divorce.  However, in the state of New York the only grounds for divorce was adultery and so in 1934 they arranged for, and staged a fraudulent act of adultery, at which the said defendant, Herbert T. Schwartz, was not even present !  The divorce decree was granted on August 10th, 1935.  There were repercussions with regards this fake adultery set up which are complicated and too long for me to go into the details but you can read about the Ohio Court of Appeal case in 1960, Schwartz v Schwartz 

                                                                       Ocean Liner SS. Minnetonka

Meanwhile, John Koch left Paris in 1934 and returned to America, settling in Manhattan, initially staying at a friend’s apartment on Washington Square.  He already knew Dora Schwartz.  He could well have met her and her husband in Paris.  They had sailed to Europe on the SS. Minnetonka on September 26th 1932.  When he settled in Manhattan in 1934 and heard about her impending divorce, he was determined to make her his wife.  John went to live in an apartment block in Manhattan at 56th & Madison, in a room next door to the apartment Dora was sharing with her sister Fay.  A year later, the couple sealed their love by marrying on December 23rd, 1935 and moved into their first “together home”, an apartment at 865 First Avenue, between 48th and 49th Streets, in Midtown Manhattan. It catered for both their needs with the bedroom served as John’s studio and the living room with piano was Dora’s studio.  The newlyweds hosted parties driven by sharp business acumen: as John served cheap port to his wife’s students and their parents, Dora worked the room, procuring portrait commissions for her husband.

Artwork Title: The Bridge - Artist Name: John Koch
                                                                               The Bridge by John Koch (1950)

In 1935 John Koch exhibited works at his first New York exhibition which was held at the Valentine Dudensing Gallery.  His work was well received and Emily Genauer, the art critic of the New York World-Telegram described John as:

“…the man to watch……a young man with a great gift…”

In 1939 John held a sell-out one man show of his works at the Kraushaar Gallery, a long-established gallery run by the niece of the founder, Antoinette M. Kraushaar.  John Koch had a special relationship with the gallery and its owners and during the next thirty-five years the Gallery held a further dozen one-man exhibitions of his work.

                                                         East River by John Koch (1939)

It was in the thirties that John’s painting East River was acquired by the Brooklyn Museum of Art and it was one the first museum acquisitions of his work.

Cover for 1941 Annual Exhibition of Paintings by American Artists Under 40 catalogue
Cover for 1941 Annual Exhibition of Paintings by American Artists Under Forty catalogue

In 1941, starting on November 12th and carrying on until December 30th, the Whitney Museum of Art held its Forty under Forty Exhibition.   It was the museum’s Annual Exhibition and that year it was an Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, chosen by members of the Museum staff from the work of artists forty years of age, or younger.  John Knox submitted two paintings, Marble Quarry and Portrait of Mary.  That same year he also exhibited at the 51st Annual Exhibition of the Art Institute of Chicago.

By the 1940s, John Koch’s success and recognition continued to grow. From 1942-45 he joined the United Service Organizations in the art sketching and portrait division in veterans’ hospitals and from 1944-46, Koch took up the post as tutor and taught figure painting at the Art Students League in New York. However, with regards financial success he became one of the featured artists of classical portraits at Portraits Inc. Portraits, Inc., was founded in 1942 by Lois Shaw, an art and antiques dealer and socialite. In the early 1940’s, Mrs. Shaw partnered with the USO to give weekly studio parties in her Park Avenue gallery that often centred on portraiture. She contacted a number of portrait artists and asked them to contribute their services by doing life drawings of the military men and women in uniform who attended the parties. This allowed Koch to earn a substantial income.  The joint income of John and Dora was such that they managed to buy a summer residence at Setauket on Long Island.

……………………………………to be continued

Maxfield Parrish. Part 2.

                                           Maxfield Parrish in 1896

More and more illustration commissions came in to Maxfield and soon he was becoming financially sound.  In 1898, with money earnt and financial help from his father, Maxfield and Lydia felt able to purchase some land atop a hill in Plainfield, New Hampshire, which overlooked Mount Ascutney.  Here Maxfield built a one-room cabin.  Lydia would often remain in Philadelphia to carry on teaching which also allowed Maxfield to carry on with his own work as well as planning and building a larger home for them.  Maxfield and Lydia would stay with his parents at their large home, Northcote, whilst their new home was being built. Maxfield’s father and mother had moved to Cornish, New Hampshire in 1894 where there was a thriving artist’s colony founded by the American sculptor, Augustus St. Gaudens. 

                                 An aerial view of The Oaks, the former estate of Maxfield Parrish.

Maxfield and Lydia’s new home, known as The Oaks, was built on a large tract of land on an isolated hillside across the valley from his father’s home and close to the Vermont-New Hampshire border.  It comprised of a guest house, studio, and 45 acres of hillside land and was so named because of the magnificent trees next to their home especially one giant old oak tree. 

Maxfield Parrish drew inspiration from his Plainfield, New Hampshire home, “The Oaks,”

The Oaks was built around the trees and rocks on the hillside site. The largest white oak in Sullivan County, New Hampshire, stands near what was the front entrance of the house, and the ground floor was built on two levels to accommodate a large rock ledge.

Night in the desert by Maxfield Parrish. From “The Great South West” by Ray Stannard Baker (1902)

Two years after Maxfield and Lydia had moved into their newly built home,  he had a health scare.  Lydia, whilst teaching at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, received an urgent telegram from her father-in-law telling her that Maxfield had been taken seriously ill and she should return home immediately.  Lydia instantly left her school and took the train to Windsor.  She would never return to her teaching position at Drexel nor would she carry on with the private students she had been tutoring.  Maxfield Parrish was diagnosed as contracting tuberculosis which at the time was a deadly illness.  Lydia stayed with her husband despite the disease being highly contagious.   After being discharged from hospital, Lydia followed her husband to a Saranac Lake sanatorium in New York State where he underwent treatment and began his recuperation.   The sanatorium treatment was expensive but financial help came to Maxfield through a cheque for five hundred dollars given to him by his best friend and neighbour, the American writer, Winston Churchill.  Churchill who had also settled in the area in the same year as Maxfield in 1898, became great friends. The two were of a similar age, and Churchill had married the same year as Maxfield and Lydia.  During the convalescent years between 1900 and 1901 Parrish painted at Saranac Lake, New York and at Hot Springs, Arizona,

Cowboys by Maxfield Parrish. From “The Great South West” by Ray Stannard Baker (1902)

Whilst convalescing at Saranac Lakes Parrish received a commission from Century Magazine to illustrate the Ray Stannard Baker series entitled Great South West and from the money Parrish received, he was able to afford to further convalesce in Castle Creek Hot Springs in Arizona during the winter of 1901-02.  Maxfield and Lydia returned home to The Oaks in April 1902.  The Spring and summer of 1902 up until 1904 was probably the happiest Lydia had ever been.  No children as yet, she was able to devote time to cultivate the garden and time for her to paint, it was just as life should be for her.

             Edith Wharton’s book Italian Villas and Their Gardens, illustrated by Maxfield Parrish

Maxfield’s health had improved and he was now looking out for new commissions.  In 1903 Maxfield accepted a commission from Century Magazine to illustrate Edith Wharton’s book Italian Villas and Their Gardens which they were going to serialise.

Villa d’Este, Tivoli, near Rome. The Pool at Villa d’Este, illustration by Maxfield Parrish (1903) for Edith Wharton’s book.

For him to complete this commission Maxfield decided to travel to Italy and photograph and then paint the different villas that Wharton would be writing about in her book. Days after his marriage he had “abandoned” his wife to go to Europe on his own but this time she accompanied him, and in a way, it made up for the honeymoon they had missed at the time of their wedding.  It was a time when Maxfield and Lydia became very close.  Sadly, for her, it was to be the only trip she would make with him.

Scribner’s Magazine (October 1900) by Maxfield Parrish

All artists need models and many married male artists often use their young wives.  Before Lydia Parrish gave birth to their first child in 1904, she was Maxfield’s model in a number of his works including the Scribner Magazine October 1900 cover.

                                                          Page from the book Story of Ann Powel

She also modelled for Maxfield’s beautiful full-page drawing of Ann Powel, framed by a simple doorway, to accompany Annie Tynan’s piece in the 1900 Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, The Story of Ann Powel.

                                              Potpourri by Maxfield Parrish (1905)

Maxfield Parrish also used himself as a model for some of his paintings.  One example of this is his 1905 illustration, Potpourri, which featured in Scribner’s Magazine in August 1905.   The illustration depicts a nude boy picking flowers in the forest. The large sun is peeking through the foliage and typically of Parrish there are two columns and a large fountain or urn. It is reputed that Parrish attached a string to his camera and snapped the photo of himself to use as the model for the illustration.  The illustration was drawn to illustrate a poem by H.C. Dwight and the line:

“…Ah, never in the world were there such roses as ones from that enchanted trellis hung…”

                                                                                   Lydia Parrish (1895)

Lydia Parrish’s modelling days had come to an end in 1904 when she became pregnant with their first child, John Dilwyn, who was born that December.  For the previous years, Lydia Parrish had been an equal partner with her husband.  She would entertain his and her friends as well as prospective clients.  She ably ran the household, managed the household finances, and oversaw the domestic help that had finally come to assist her after the birth of Dillwyn in December 1904. In 1905, she was expecting their second child, and was struggling to look after her first child as well as running the household for her husband, not to mention the lack of time she had for her own art and her writing.  It was decided that Lydia needed more help and so, Maxfield and Lydia Parrish hired sixteen-year-old Susan Lewin who had been working at Maxfield Parrish’s father’s house, Northcote, since she was fourteen and was pleased at Stephen Parrish’s suggestion that she should help his son and daughter-in-law.  She received a wage of a dollar a day plus board and lodgings.  Sadly, life for Maxfield and Lydia would never be the same again !!!

                                                                                          Susan Lewin

Young Susan Lewin was born in the farm town of Harland Vermont on November 22nd 1889.  She was one of six children of Elmer and Nellie Lewin and because of the household’s financial problems had to abandon school after only two years in order to become a wage earner.  She was a tall and willowy young woman with thick cascading hair and an oval face with large expressive eyes and a classic profile. She first met Maxfield when she was working for his father at Northcote and his good looks and charm was not lost on her.  She had just the romantic appearance which reminded Maxfield of the ladies depicted in the Pre-Raphaelite paintings, which he loved, and her good looks and charm was probably not lost on him! 

                                                                                       Susan Lewin

The arrival of their first child caused problems for Maxfield as he was constantly being interrupted by noise whist trying to concentrate on his painting and so, had a builder, George Ruggles, build a fifteen-room studio, some forty feet across the lawn from the main house.   The building comprised of three bedrooms, a kitchen, two painting rooms, two bathrooms, a dark room for his photography and rooms to store all his artistic paraphernalia which he used to construct his compositions.  Here he could paint in peace.  For his wife Lydia, her painting days were over.  She had to look after their children and keep them from disturbing her husband! The relationship between Maxfield Parrish and Susan Lewin was symbiotic.  She tended to him hand and foot.  She was passive and obedient and always eager to please and was amenable to all his wishes.  She was an excellent cook and a perfect servant to her master.  Later her two sisters, Annie and Emily joined the household as extra help for Mrs Parrish.

                                                             Harvest by Maxfield Parrish (1905)

In the early days of Sue Lewin’s stay at The Oaks she did receive a number of suitors but nothing became of them.  However, one suitor, Kimball Daniels, also began courting Sue’s sister Annie and eventually in 2011 the two were married.  He worked for the Parrish family tending their sheep and cows as well as harvesting the crops.  Kimball was the model for Parrish’s 1905 painting, Harvest.  We see him standing proudly on a hillock, scythe in hand.  Tragically he was found dead from a broken neck on the property twenty months after his marriage.

                                Land of Make Believe by Maxfield Parrish (1905)

Not only did Susan Lewin help Maxfield’s wife with childcare she also became a model for some of Maxfield’s paintings.   The first painting for which the sixteen-year-old girl posed was entitled Land of Make-Believe.  The painting depicts two figures in a verdant and enchanted garden. The taller figure on the right is based on a photograph of Susan Lewin in costume.  She stands in a contrapposto pose among blooming climbing roses. The two figures are attired in medieval costume and this adds to the unreality of the scene. Maxfield Parrish’s idealized fantasy worlds he created in his painting, such as this one, appealed to the buying public. These works were simply pictorial escapism and his fantasy world helped them believe there were safe and gentle places which were so different from the world they currently lived in.  Parrish’s illustration was used as the frontispiece to Rosamund Marriott Watson’s Make-Believe published in Scribner’s Magazine in August 1912. Marriott Watson’s poem reminisces about the care-free childhood world of “let’s pretend” filled with enchanted woods, castles, and witches.

In the 1995 book, Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective, by Laurence and Judy Cutler, they wrote about Maxfield’s delight at having Susan in the household:

“…When Susan bounded around The Oaks with babes in arms, Parrish watched her with fascination. He imagined her as his counterpart to Lord Leighton’s companion model, Dene. When he first asked her to model for him and that first pose resulted in the painting Land of Make-Believe, Parrish was so happy with the outcome that he began to use Susan as his constant model…”

In the Land of Make-Believe, look closely at the way Parrish has lit up this depiction.  There is a double lighting effect.    The figures in the foreground are illuminated by soft and delicate light, while if you study the cliffs in the background you can see that they glow luminously from the radiance of the setting sun giving the work a feeling of depth whilst the two enormous columns in the middle ground of the depiction anchor Maxfield’s painting as well as acting as a frame for both the foreground and background.  The inclusion of monumental columns like these appear in one of his most famous works – the 1922 painting entitled Daybreak, which turned out to be one of the most replicated paintings in American history and will be discussed in the next part of this series.

Pied Piper mural by Maxfield Parrish (1909)

By 1909 Parrish’s demands on Sue to model for his paintings were becoming increasingly intense.  In 1909 she posed for a number of characters of his large-scale mural The Pied Piper which had been commissioned by the Palace Hotel in San Francisco for their Pied Piper bar and restaurant, a favoured spot of locals and visitors from around the world. 

                                                         Pied Piper bar with Maxfield Parrish mural

The Pied Piper, originally named The Happy Valley Bar, made its grand opening in 1909. Composed specifically for the re-opening after the 1906 earthquake, Maxfield Parrish created The Pied Piper of Hamelin painting, which still graces the hotel after over 100 years.

                   Sweet Nothings – part of the Florentine Fete mural by Maxfield Parrish

In 1910, Edward Bok, the director of Ladies Home Journal offered Maxfield a commission to paint eighteen panels for The Girls’ Dining Room at the Curtis Publishing building in Philadelphia, which was under construction at 6th and Walnut. Each painting would be placed between the windows which overlooked the street. Bok, because the company employed so many females, decided that they should have their own dining room on the top floor.   It was a mammoth assignment and Bok wanted it completed within twelve months and agreed to pay Parrish $2000 per panel.  Parrish completed the first piece, Florentine Fête Mural in July 1910 and he sent it to the building’s architect, Robert Seeler, for him to approve, writing:

“…The scene will be in white marble loggia:  the foreground will be a series of wide steps extending across the entire picture leading up to three arches and supporting columns…It will be my aim to make it joyous, a little unreal, a good place to be in, a sort of happiness of youth…”

Sue Lewin posing for the Sweet Nothings panel (see figure in far right of the mid-ground)

There are over a hundred figures in the panels of the murals and Maxfield had Sue Lewin to model for all but two of them.  It was such a monumental project that both Maxfield and Sue moved out of the main residence at The Oaks and lived in his studio whilst Maxfield’s wife remained at the big house with the children.  Maxfield Parrish was forty-six years of age when he completed the commission and it is interesting to read in Alma Gilbert’s 1990 book, The Make Believe World of Maxfield Parrish and Sue Lewin, the artist thought of himself as being much younger.  She wrote:

“…Sue Lewin was the woman who ‘youthened’ Parrish’s spirit.  The Florentine Fête panels are his tribute to that wish to remain young, as embodied by the beautiful young woman who so dominated his art and his thoughts during the midpoint of his life…”

Parrish completed all but one of the mural paintings by 1913 and the final one was finished in 1916.

……………………………….to be continued.


Much of the information for these Maxfield Parrish blogs comes from the excellent 1990 book by Alma Gilbert: The Make Believe World of Maxfield Parrish and Sue Lewin,