Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon. Part 2: 18th century gems.

Peacock and Hunting Trophies by Jan Weenix (1708)

The first 18th-century painting housed in the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian which I want to talk about is a still-life, entitled Peacock and Hunting Trophies, by Jan Weenix.  Jan Weenix or Joannis Weenix was thought to have been born in Amsterdam sometime between 1640 and 1649. The exact date is unknown but at the time of his marriage, in 1679, to Pieternella Backers, he gave his age as “around thirty”. The couple went on to have thirteen children. He received his education in art from his father, Jan Baptist Weenix and his cousin, Melchior d’Hondecoeter. The Weenix family lived in a castle outside Utrecht, but his father died young following a series of personal financial disasters that rendered him bankrupt. Jan Weenix was a member of the Utrecht guild of painters in 1664 and 1668. The subjects for his paintings were varied but we remember him best of all for his paintings of dead game and of hunting scenes. In this large oil on canvas painting (200 x 195 cms) we see various hunting trophies and a peacock framed by a landscape in the background. The main depiction in this work is the lifeless arrangement of the swan which imitated the widely used representation for such paintings. Behind the dead swan, we have a large urn decorated with bas-reliefs. Bas-relief being a French term from the Italian basso-relievo (“low relief”), which is a sculpture technique in which figures and/or other design elements are just barely more prominent than the overall flat background. The 3-D trompe l’oeil effect of the dead game “hanging over” steps was often used in this kind of depiction and adds to the beautifully crafted work. The painting dates back to the period 1702 to 1712 when Weenix had been commissioned to paint twelve works featuring hunting motifs for the Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm for his castle of Benberg. They were to illustrate the favourite pastime of the elites. It was all about social power for the hunting of certain species was a special privilege granted solely to the nobility.

The Embarkation for Cythera (Louvre version) by Antoine Watteau (1717)

The French term, fête galante, is used to describe a type of painting that first came to the fore with Antoine Watteau. They are representations in art of elegantly dressed groups of people at play in a rural or parklike setting. This painting genre began with Watteau’s famous painting, The Embarkation for the Island of Cythera which he submitted to the Academy as his reception piece in 1717. However, when Watteau applied to join the French academy there was no suitable category for this type of work and so, rather than reject his application which was described as characterising une fête galante, the academy simply created one!

Fête Galante by Nicolas Lancret (c.1780)

In the Founder’s Collection at the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon, there was a painting by Nicolas Lancret, entitled Fête Galante which he completed around 1730. Like most Fête Galante works it is small, measuring just 65 x 70 cms. The painting was once part of the Collection of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, an admirer of Watteau and Lancret and who had built up a collection of twenty-six of the latter’s works. The painting was acquired by Gulbenkian in 1930. Lancret had a habit of sketching individual figures and later incorporating them into his final work.

An example of this is the preliminary sketch of the reclining man, dressed in brown, we see at the bottom left of the Fête Galante painting. This sketch can be found at the Ackland Art Museum, which is part of the University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill.

Portrait of Tomas Germain and His Wife by Nicolas de Largillièrre (1736)

The 18th century works in the Founder’s Collection feature many portraits. One of my favourites was one by Nicolas de Largillièrre entitled Portrait of Tomas Germain and His Wife which he completed in 1736.  Largillière was a French-born and Antwerp-trained artist who spent time in London between 1665 and 1667, and again from 1675 until 1679 when he worked for the English artist Sir Peter Lely. However, in England, at the time, there was widespread anti-Roman Catholic sentiment and he, being a Catholic, decided to return to France and find work in Paris. He did return to England for a 12-month stay in 1688 having received a commission to paint portraits of King James II and his wife, Queen Mary of Modena. The two figures depicted in the painting above are King Louis XV of France’s famous goldsmith Thomas Germain inside his workshop at the Louvre along with Anne-Denise Gauchelet, his wife.

Candelabrum

Thomas Germain became known as The Prince of Rocaille. Rocaille was a French style of decoration, with a profusion of curves, counter-curves, undulations, and elements which were modeled on nature, and which played a part in furniture and interior decoration during the early reign of Louis XV of France and was prevalent between 1710 and 1750. It was the start of the French Baroque movement in furniture and design, and also signaled the beginning of the Rococo movement.  Germain was appointed sculpteur-orfèvre du Roi (sculptor-goldsmith to the king). Look carefully at the shelf in the right background. On it are several models, which were used as patterns for tableware pieces created by Germain, and later his son, François-Thomas Germain. Such tableware adorned many tables in the European and Russian royal courts. Germain is seen in the painting pointing proudly to the shelf and a very ornate silver candlestick with satyrs on its shaft. This model of a candelabrum would result in a series of identical pieces delivered in Lisbon in 1757 for the court of King Joseph I of Portugal, which was sent by his son François-Thomas Germain.

In my next blog I will look at some of the 19th century paintings which adorn the walls of the Founders Collection of the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian.

Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon. Part 1: 17th century gems.

In my last blog I looked at the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon and talked about its founder Calouste Gulbenkian. In my next couple of blogs, I want to talk about my favourite paintings I saw in the Founders Collection of the museum. I have to admit when I entered the building and followed the path you had to take it was all about ancient pieces of porcelain, furniture and jewellery – all good, but not what I was interested in, and I was starting to wonder if there were any paintings but I finally came across the rooms where they hung.

View from the Coast of Norway or A Stormy Sea Near the Coast by Jacob van Ruisdael

My first painting I want you to see is one by Jacob van Ruisdael. I have always loved the works by this seventeenth century Dutch painter especially his rural landscape paintings. The one on show at this gallery was a seascape entitled View from the Coast of Norway or sometimes referred to as  A Stormy Sea Near the Coast, which he completed around 1660. It was a painting that Gulbenkian acquired in 1914. I had not realised that Ruisdael had actually completed forty to fifty seascapes. Once again he has adhered to his successful formula of having two-thirds of the work occupied by the threatening sky and by doing so, he has added a palpable melodramatic energy to the work. In the mid-ground we see boats struggling against the force of nature as they are pounded by ferocious seas and bent over by gale-force winds. Oddly shaped rocks, which have been eroded by past storms, lie in wait and we cannot help but wonder about the fate of the boats. Ruisdael’s inclusion of the rocks further adds to the atmospheric ferocity of the depiction.

Dutch Landscape by Jan van der Heyden

Another painting by a seventeenth century Dutch artist which I liked was simply entitled Dutch Landscape, a work by Jan van der Heyden. Van der Heyden, the third of eight children, was born on March 5th 1637 in Gorinchem, a city and municipality in the western Netherlands. His father was by turns an oil mill owner, a grain merchant and a broker. The family moved to Amsterdam in 1646 and van der Heyden’s father acquired local citizenship. Jan van der Heyden himself would never acquire Amsterdam citizenship. Initially his painting genre was still-lifes but later this changed and he became known for his townscapes featuring groups of buildings. . Van der Heyden, although a talented artist, was better known in his own day as an inventor and engineer. One of his most famous accomplishments was that he designed and implemented a complex system of lighting for the streets of Amsterdam, which was utilised from 1669 until 1840 and which was also adopted by other Dutch cities and even used abroad.

Van Heyden would travel extensively in Flanders and Holland as well as the Rhineland towns of Germany close to the Dutch border constantly looking for inspiration for his cityscapes.  In his early seventeenth century work, Dutch Landscape, we see depicted the Dutch town of Zuylen which lies on the banks of the River Vecht, close to the city of Utrecht. One can see in this work, like many of his other cityscapes, that his main interest is not one of nature but on architecture and his painstakingly accurate way in which he depicts the facades of buildings, especially when we look at the Gothic church on the left of the painting. There is nothing flash about this depiction. It is not ablaze with colour. It is a simple yet sober interpretation of everyday life. It is thought that another artist executed the figures in the painting.

Portrait of San Andriedr. Hessix by Frans Hals

Among Gulbenkian’s seventeenth century paintings on show at the Founder’s Collection there were a number of portraits. I particularly liked Portrait of San Andriedr. Hessix by Frans Hals. It is an oil on canvas depiction of Sara Andriesdr (daughter of Andries) Hessix who was married to Michael Jansz. Van Middelhoven, a pastor from the city of Voorschoten, near Leiden, and another of Frans Hals’ sitters.

Michiel Jansz van Middelhoven, aged 64 in 1626, by Hals (confiscated during WWII and whereabouts unknown)

Both portraits formed a pair which were completed around 1626 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the couples wedding which took place on 1586. Unfortunately, the portrait of the pastor was confiscated by the Germans during World War II and has never been recovered. Frans Hals methodology regarding the portrait of the woman would be repeated in many of his works.

It is an accurate resemblance of the sixty-year-old woman. She has a serious expression on her face. There has been no attempt by the artist to “beautify” the lady. The way we see her, turned in three-quarters and against a plain dark background, is in the finest Dutch tradition of portraiture.

Portrait of an Old Man by Rembrandt (1645)

Another portrait which caught my eye was one by the Dutch Master, Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn. It was his 1645 painting entitled Portrait of an Old Man. The portrait which was once owned by Catherine the Great came into the possession of Gulbenkian in 1930. Nobody knows for certain the identity of the sitter although many theories abound. The man is dressed in expensive clothes but this does not necessarily indicate his wealth, occupation or social status as they could well be props belonging to the artist’s studio and simply used as a decorative effect. Rembrandt is known for his penchant for portraits of people in their old age and has appeared as an old man in a number of his self-portraits. It is a beautifully crafted work. Look at the skin texture of the man’s hands as he holds on to his walking cane. It is both a complex and emotional depiction. Rembrandt has concentrated on a palette of browns with the odd flash of gold and the painting is enhanced by the artist’s use of chiaroscuro. The light homes in on the man’s hands and face and in some way elicits a feeling of tragedy – the tragedy of ageing.

Portrait of a Man by Anthony van Dyck (1621)

My final look at the seventeenth century paintings I saw in the Founders Collection in the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian was another portrait painting, this time one by Anton van Dyck. The title given to this 1621 work was simply, Portrait of a Man and so like the previous painting we are unaware of the identity of the sitter. But maybe we do, as when it was purchased for Gulbenkian in 1923 at Christies, it had the title Portrait of Anton Triest.

He is mentioned in documents as being the Burgomaster of Ghent and is also referred to as Nicolas, but this theory is contested by many art historians. His social status has been set due to the absence of a sword which would suggest that the sitter in question is a member of the bourgeoisie.  The man sits on a leather chair with Spanish style nail-work which was often used by van Dyck in his early works.

In the next blog I will showcase some of my favourite 18th century paintings which can be discovered in the Founder’s Collection at Lisbon’s Museu Calouste Gulbenkian.

The Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon.

My eight-week holiday in the sun on the picturesque Algarve coast has come to an end and I have now returned to the gales and rain back home. Whilst away I had no real quiet time to concentrate on writing another blog on art but was full of ideas, which I can now work on.

A few months ago when I was in Moscow I was fortunate to visit the Tretyakov Museum and look at their wonderful collection. I started that series of blogs by talking about the founder of the Museum before looking at some of the works in the collection. Whilst in the Algarve I took a train up to Lisbon and spent three days in the capital. During that time I visited the large Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in the heart of the city. It was an incredible museum in a tranquil and beautiful setting in the heart of the Portugeuse capital.  So who is Calouste Gulbenkian?

Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian

Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian was a very wealthy businessman, art collector, and philanthropist of Armenian descent, who was born on March 23rd, 1869 in Üsküdar, or as we know it,  Scutari, a large and densely populated district on the Asian side of Istanbul.

Sarkis

Dirouhie

He was the eldest of three sons of Sarkis and Dirouhie Gulbenkian.  His father was an Armenian oil importer/exporter who was heavily involved in the oil industry. Sarkis’ wealth came from his ownership of several oil fields in the Caucasus around Baku.

Young Carnouste Gulbenkian commenced his education attending the local Aramyan-Uncuyan Armenian school. He then attended the Lycée Saint-Joseph a private high school located in Istanbul.   His father believed that his son’s ability to speak French fluently would be important in later life and so, in 1884, when Calouste was fifteen-years-old, his father had him attend the Ecole de Commerce in Marseille where he studied basic business skills, honed his ability to speak French and in the evenings began to learn English. On returning to Istanbul, Calouste continued his studies at the prestigious American Robert College and completed his studies with a diploma in engineering. Following his academic success, his father sent him to London and had him enrolled at the Kings College School to study petroleum engineering. Once again Calouste excelled and in 1887, at the age of eighteen, he earned himself an associateship of the Department of Applied Sciences an honour bestowed upon him for winning the second and third year prizes in physics and the third year prize in practical physics.

In December 1887 Calouste returned home to Istanbul.  In September 1888 he travelled to Eastern Europe and the Azerbaijan capital of Baku via Batumi and Tiblisi,  to learn about the Russian oil industry. Three years later in 1891, he published a book about his month-long journey of discovery entitled La Transcaucasie et la péninsule d’Apchéron; souvenirs de voyage (“Transcaucasia and the Absheron Peninsular – Memoirs of a Journey”) and parts of it appeared in the Revue des deux Mondes, the French language monthly literary, cultural and political affairs magazine.

Wedding photograph of Calouste Gulbenkian and Nevarte Essayan

Another Armenian oil baron and colleague of Calouste’s father was Ohannes Essayan who had five children, one of whom was a daughter, Nevarte.  Calouste and Nevarte became friends.  According to Jonathan Conlin’s biography, Mr Five Per Cent: The many lives of Calouste Gulbenkian, the world’s richest man, Calouste fell in love with Nevarte whilst the two were playing dominoes, one summer’s day in 1889, at her parents house in the Turkish town of Bursa. Calouste was twenty and Nevarte was a mere fourteen years old. Because of Nevarte’s young age the couple were continually being watched and chaperoned when they were together. Even the writing to each other was difficult lest the missives fell into the hands of Nevarte’s parents. To give an idea of how difficult things were between the two young people one only has to look at an old love letter to Calouste written by Nevarte. In it, she worries about their love being discovered. She wrote:

“…Forgive me, my friend, for not going to the garden today. Yesterday afternoon, Dad was looking at me in such a strange way that I feared he suspected something. He forbade me to go out with that girl, saying that she is too young to accompany me. So don’t expect to see me in the garden again. See you in B [uyuk] D [ere] – if my friend goes there. I think we’ll see each other at the latest in a month. Oh, my friend, I know it is useless to remind you of your promise, but, for God’s sake, don’t forget your vow not to reveal to anyone anything that happened between us […] Au revoir , your faithful friend . If I seem cold to you, if and when I go to B [uyuk] D [ere], please ignore it, it will be to mitigate any suspicions. Forgive me this doodle and love me. If you have anything to say to me, you can write it on a piece of paper and give it to this girl, she doesn’t know French. Destroy this paper. Cheers…”

Both Calouste and Nevarte’s parents believed Nevarte too young to marry and so the youngsters had to wait a further three years before they married.  In 1892 Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian married Nevarte Adèle Essayan in London. She was 17 and her husband 23. The couple went on to have a son, Nubar Sarkis, born in Istanbul in 1896 and their daughter, Rita Sirvate, was born in London in 1900.

1952 family portrait on the terrace.. Seated, Calouste Gulbenkian and his wife Nevarte. Standing, from left to right: Kevork and Rita Essayan (Gulbenkian’s son-in-law and daughter), Robert Gulbenkian (nephew), Mikhael Essayan (only grandson) and Nubar Gulbenkian (son) with his wife (1952)

Calouste Gulbenkian, despite his wealth and prestige was forced to move home due to wars and conflicts. In 1896 he and his family had to hastily flee the Ottoman Empire by steamship, during the Hamidian Massacres, which lasted almost three years, during the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the anti-Armenian sentiment in the country, which led to the persecution and killing of thousands of Armenians.  The Gulbenkian family landed in Alexandria, Egypt where they temporarily settled.  In later years, Calouste and his family spent time living in London and Paris. However, in April 1942, during the Second World War Gulbenkian who had been living in France, decided  to seek refuge in a neutral country. For Calouste, the choice lay between Switzerland and Portugal. Gulbenkian decided on Portugal because of its geographical situation for, if necessary, he could easily escape by sea to the United States. He also favoured Portugal as it had a favourable tax regime, a stable society and he believed he would be able to avoid the prying media in places such as London and Paris. He remained there until his death in 1955. Calouste felt the Portugeuse people were very welcoming he praised the country’s hospitality, which he said he had never felt the like anywhere else.

Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon

Gulbenkian had amassed a great fortune from his businesses in the oil industry. With his vast wealth Gulbenkian took pleasure in purchasing works of art whether it be paintings, furniture, porcelain, or jewellery, dating from antiquity to the 20th century, in total over six thousand items. He acquired his first painting in April 1899, an oil painting entitled Versailles by Giovanni Boldini.  His wide-ranging collection covers various periods and areas: Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Islamic and Oriental art, old coins and European painting and decorative arts. Although many works of art in Gulbenkian’s collection were once in many museum across the world, after his death, and following long-running discussions with the French Government and the National Gallery in Washington, the entire collection was brought to Portugal in 1960, where it was exhibited at the Palace of the Marquises of Pombal from 1965 to 1969. Then, on July 18th, 1956, a year after his death, the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, part of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, was opened in the Portugeuse capital. It had been specifically built to house his collection. Gulbenkian derived considerable pleasure from his collection, which he referred to as his “children”.

The Gulbenkian Museum

The Gulbenkian Museum is now looked upon as one of the best museums in Portugal. There are two buildings. One houses The Founder’s Collection which has works ranging from Antiquity to the early 20th century, including paintings by the great masters such as Rubens, Rembrandt, Turner, and Degas. The other building houses the Modern Collection which contains more than ten thousand works and is considered to be the most complete collection of modern and contemporary Portuguese art. Tour the museums and see how the Gulbenkian Museum can take you from Ancient Egypt to the present day across its two collections.

Gulbenkian Garden, Lisbon

The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum is set in one of the most emblematic modern gardens in central Lisbon, which is open all year round and offers visitors a great sense of tranquillity. When I visited there, hundreds of students were relaxing on the grass in the sunshine and being besieged by hungry ducks which had emerged from their large lake looking for tasty food that the young people were lunching upon.

In my next blogs I will look at some of the paintings which I saw when I visited the Gulbenkian Founder’s Collection.

Antonio Villares Pires.

O Templo do Tempo

Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio (1601) London National Gallery.

For many of you who have visited the National Gallery in London, you will be aware of the daily lunchtime lectures. These often come in the form of one of the gallery curators/educators talking about one of the paintings, which is part of the gallery’s permanent collection. In some instances, on the day you will be advised of the painting featuring that day’s talk and where to find it. Chairs are then arranged around the painting and at the prescribed time the talk begins. They are well worth half an hour of one’s time.  The reason I mention this is that the painting mentioned in this blog was one that was being talked about when I first attended one of these lunchtime sessions. It was Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s 1601 work, Supper at Emmaus, which is based on a biblical tale quoted in Luke 24:30-31:

“…When he was at the table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.  And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight…”

Caravaggio’s large work (141 x 196cms; 56 x 77 ins.) depicts the moment when the resurrected, but incognito Jesus, reveals himself to two of his disciples as they sat down to eat. Standing to the left of Christ is the innkeeper, who has served up the food. On the left, with his back to us, is Luke in his torn clothes and to the right is Cleopas. Attached to the coat worn by Cleopas is the scallop shell denoting that he is a pilgrim.  The setting for the painting is the interior of a village inn, in the small town of Emmaus, which lies close to Jerusalem.  In the painting, we see Christ reaching out his hand, in his renowned gesture, to bless the meal and at it is at this point that Luke and Cleopas suddenly realise that they are with the risen Christ and it is at this juncture of time that Caravaggio has strived to capture in his work.   With the work being so large, the figures within it are life-sized.

My wife with António Villares Pires

However, the blog is more than just this painting but more about a lucky happening.   I had just flown into the Algarve in southern Portugal and picked up a copy of the local newspaper and saw a full-page article about a local painter António Villares Pires who had just completed a full-size copy of the work. I decided to go and see it, which was at his studio in the town of Silves. The name of his workshop/studio is O Templo do Tempo (The Temple of Time). I contacted him and arranged a visit.

António was born in Porto in a neighbourhood which was populated by many artists and it was with him mixing in their company that he fell in love with art. He studied art at university and achieved a degree in Fine Arts.  He later taught art and eventually became a professional artist. He moved to the Algarve in 2009 and founded his studio in Silves, which backs on to the Silves railway station. He says that the name he gave the studio, O Templo do Tempo,  is his perception of art because he always felt that when something is truly art, it belongs to the past, present, and future – art, he says, is timeless.

Ground floor of Antonio’s workshop

His studio is full of his artwork and sculptures he is working on or are completed in the last decade. Despite being busy with many commissions he has dedicated the last six months to his “Caravaggio Project”. António loves and is in awe of Caravaggio’s style of painting and the way in which the Italian painter portrayed human beings in both a physically and emotionally realistic manner, often centered on a melodramatically dark background, which is often lit up by a single source of light.

Antonio studying a book with Caravaggio’s painting. Behind him is his copy.

Antonio says that it was the first time he painted in this style and the experience was a journey he wanted to fulfill in order to get into the mind of Caravaggio. He wanted to get to know the artist. His studio has two levels and it is in the mezzanine that almost all the space is dedicated to his Supper at Emmaus painting.

António Villares Pires at work on his copy of the Caravaggio painting

The painting, which he completed the day before we arrived, has the exact same measurements of the original and is flanked by photographs of the original National Gallery version of the painting as well as a large array of paints. It was on the mezzanine that Antonio spent up to six hours a day for the last six months creating his work. One would think he would tire of this same routine day in, day out, but he says that he loved it more each day. He returned to the National Gallery for the second time last November (his first visit was thirty years ago) and stood in front of the massive painting making notes, becoming aware of subtle changes he may have to make to his version.

Unfinished sculpture

Like Caravaggio’s work, Antonio’s copy is created in oils and he has made every effort to make his painting match every last detail of the original. For me, the painting looks identical to the original I saw in London. So why choose to copy this work? Antonio says that for him the Caravaggio work is an extraordinary painting with a lot of soul and humanity. When I talked to him about it his eyes lit up. He was truly in love with the work.

Standing outside workshop with artist and his wife

He says he will return to London to see if and how he can get his work officially certified. Once certified, he will sell it as his own work. I asked if he would be sad to let it go. He said he would but before it left him, he would make a full-sized colour copy that he could keep.   He says that he will create more pieces of art in the style of Caravaggio. Antonio has been painting for more than fifty years but says that when he is painting in the style of Caravaggio he feels he is twenty-eight again. For him his studio, O Templo do Tempo, is more than just a large storeroom for his work, it is a creative sanctuary, which he has poured his heart into. This is simply, his life.


The full article about O Templo do Tempo was written by Cameron Cobb and appeared in the January 9th, 2020 edition of the Algarve Resident and the December/January edition of the Essential Algarve magazine.

Albert Herter. Part 2 – The muralist.

Albert Herter

Although Albert Herter was recognized as an “easel painter” who concentrated on portraiture and floral still lifes, he had always loved mural painting, a specialization he began early in his career. Herter’s best-known and most personal mural was his work which is displayed inside the Gare de l’Est. one of the railway stations in Paris. It is entitled Le Départ des poilus, août 1914. It was one of many mural commissions he completed during his lifetime, many of which were for buildings in America, such as the murals prominently displayed in the Massachusetts House of Representatives (Milestones on the Road to Freedom, dedicated in 1942) and in the Connecticut Supreme Court Hearing Room (The Signing of the Fundamental Orders of the Constitution 1638-39, and An Allegory of Education, both installed in 1913).

Le poilu (French infantryman of the First World War.

In 1926, Albert completed his most famous monumental painting which measured 12 x 5 metres depicting the departure of young soldiers to the front. It was entitled Le Départ des poilus, août 1914. Poilu is an informal term for a French World War I infantryman, meaning, literally, “hairy one” and is still widely used as a term of endearment for the French infantry of World War I. The word hints at the infantryman’s typically rustic, agricultural background.

 

Le Départ des poilus, août 1914. by Albert Herter (1926)

Albert Herter, who painted the work in an empty room of the Palace of Versailles, donated the work to France in memory of his eldest son. In the upper half of the painting we see a depiction of young men in uniform on the train awaiting departure to the Front. The soldier on the far right carries the French tricolour.

Everit Herter

Look at the soldier in the centre of the painting with his arms raised aloft. In his right hand he holds up a rifle, the muzzle of which is filled with a bouquet of flowers. This is a portrait of Everit, his younger son, who was to die on the battlefield.

Albert Herter

The lower half of the painting is dedicated to the soldiers’ families who have come to say their farewells. Look at the man to the right who carries a bunch of flowers. He is bent over and clutches his chest. This is a self-portrait of the artist, Albert Herter. He has depicted himself as being sad and somewhat fearful of the fate of his son.

Adele Herter

Scan across to the left of the painting and look at the woman in white with hands clasped in prayer. This is a portrait of Herter’s wife Adele. She has a haunted look on her face. She too is fearful for her son. The painting was inaugurated on 8 June 8th 1926 in the lobby of the Paris Gare de l’Est Station in the presence of Marshal Joffre. It has hung at many different places in the station. The painting was removed from the Gare de l’Est in 1948, to be cleaned of the dirt deposited by years of smoke from steam trains. It was returned in 1964, but was removed again in 2006 to allow the station to be adapted for the TGV Est.

Mural in situ at Paris Gare de l’Est railway station

After restoration, it was reinstalled in early 2008 hanging seven metres above the floor in the station’s Hall d’Alsace. The Gare de l’Est was chosen as a site for the work as it is a place of remembrance of the First World War as many soldiers passed through it on their way to the front while those returning home from the battlegrounds passed through there on their way to joining their families at home. For many veterans, the painting by Herter was regarded as an invitation to remembrance and recollection.

Another series of Herter’s murals was commissioned for the Wisconsin Supreme Court Hearing Room although these were somewhat controversial. The controversy was written about in the 1995 Wisconsin State Capitol Historic Structure Report which reported:

“…The complicated and protracted story of the Wisconsin Supreme Court murals involved three different artists (one of whom perished on the Titanic), justices who needed to be convinced of the desirability of murals in the hearing room and an architect who was determined to implement his scheme for the space. The justices, accustomed to portraits of former justices on the walls in the hearing room of the previous capitol, wanted to hang the portraits in the new hearing room…”

Wisconsin Supreme Court main Hearing Room with one of Herter’s murals in the background

The Wisconsin Supreme Court Hearing Room is reputed to be the most beautiful of its kind in the country. In addition to the walls and columns of marble from Germany, Italy, France and Maryland, the bronze candelabras, the carved mahogany bench and counsel table, the most striking objects are the four large murals by Albert Herter, each nine feet by 18 feet six inches. Each mural depicts a source of Wisconsin law.

The mural on the north wall, to the left of the Hearing Room shows King John of England sealing and granting Magna Charta (the Great Charter) in June 1215 on the banks of the Thames River at the meadow called Runnymeade. His reluctance to grant the Charter is shown by his posture and sullen countenance. But he had no choice. The barons and churchmen led by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, forced him to recognize principles that have developed into the liberties we enjoy today. King John, out of avarice, greed or revenge, had in the past seized the lands of noblemen, destroyed their castles and imprisoned them without legal cause. As a result, the noblemen united against the king. Most of the articles in Magna Charta dealt with feudal tenures, but many other rights were also included.

Article 39 provided:

No freeman shall be seized or imprisoned, or dispossessed, or outlawed, or in any way destroyed, nor will we condemn him, nor will we commit him to prison, excepting by the legal judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

Article 40 promised:

To none will we sell, to none will we deny, to none will we delay right or justice.

Out of these and other provisions came the rights of habeas corpus and trial by jury. Freedom of the church was also guaranteed in the Charter. The barons and churchmen claimed that all of these were ancient rights expressed in earlier charters of Edward the Confessor and Henry I. This mural commemorates our indebtedness to English common law, brought to these shores by the early British colonists. The young boy holding the dog was modelled by Christian Herter, son of the artist. He became governor of Massachusetts and secretary of state under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The mural on the west wall over the entrance to the Hearing Room depicts an incident in the reign of Caesar Augustus Octavius. The Roman writer Seutonious tells of Scutarious, a Roman legionnaire who was being tried for an offense before the judges seated in the background. The legionnaire called on Caesar to represent him, saying: “I fought for you when you needed me, now I need you.” Caesar responded by agreeing to represent Scutarious. Caesar is shown reclining on his litter borne by his servants. Seutonious does not tell us the outcome of the trial but leaves us to surmise that with such a counsellor he undoubtedly prevailed. The mural represents Roman civil law, which is set forth in codes or statutes, in contrast to English common law, which is based not on a written code but on ancient customs and usages and the judgments and decrees of the courts which follow such customs and usages.

The mural on the south wall portrays the trial of Chief Oshkosh of the Menominees for the slaying of a member of another tribe who had killed a Menominee in a hunting accident. It was shown that under Menominee custom, relatives of a slain member could kill his slayer. Judge James Duane Doty held that in this case territorial law did not apply.  He stated:

“…it appears to me that it would be tyrannical and unjust to declare him, by implication, a malicious offender against rules which the same laws presume he could not have previously known…” 

Judge Doty acquitted Chief Oshkosh of the charge and they became friends.
In 1848 Wisconsin achieved statehood and this mural shows the state’s indebtedness to territorial law. Article XIV of the Wisconsin Constitution of 1848 says the common law in force in the territory and the laws of the territory are part of the law of Wisconsin except as changed by the Constitution or altered or repeated by the legislature.

The fourth mural, which is actually the first one that is visible on making an entrance to the Supreme Court Room, and is Albert Herter’s rendition of the signing of the Constitution at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787. George Washington is shown presiding. On the left, Benjamin Franklin is easily recognizable. On the right, James Madison, “Father of the Constitution” is shown with his cloak on his arm. Although he was in France at the time, Thomas Jefferson was painted into the mural because of his great influence on the principles of the Constitution. The painting hangs above the place where the seven member Wisconsin Supreme Court sit to hand down their decisions. The mural’s position above the bench is symbolic that the Supreme Court operates under its aegis and is subject to its constraints. The United States Constitution has served us well for more than 200 years. This mural shows our indebtedness to federal law.
Thus, the four murals show that Roman, English, federal and territorial law are all part of our legal heritage.

Albert Herter is believed to have used studio space at both his business, the textile design firm, Herter Looms in New York City, and at “The Creeks,” his meticulously designed East Hampton, Long Island estate. Herter’s use of certain colours in his murals so that they complemented the colours in the marble panels beneath them was ingenious.  The murals arrived in Madison, and work began on installation at the Capitol on May 25, 1915, The Racine (Wisconsin) Journal-News reported on that day.

“…The pictures cost the state $28,000. Francis D. Millett, who was the first engaged to make the paintings for the Supreme court room, lost his life in the sinking of the steamship Titanic before he could begin the pictures…” 

House of Representatives chamber of the Massachusetts State House,

Another set of five murals by Albert Herter can be found in the House of Representatives chamber of the Massachusetts State House, the lower house of the Massachusetts General Court, the state legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The murals known as the Milestones on the Road to Freedom in Massachusetts decorate the upper walls of the chamber. The names above the murals list the fifty-three most important men in Massachusetts history.
The mural on the left was a scene from the court case against a local magistrate, Samuel Sewall. In 1692 a small group of men and women of Salem were arrested for bewitching their neighbours. Samuel Sewall, a local magistrate, was a member of the court that ultimately sentenced nineteen people to be hanged. The tragedy was realised several months later: those still being held were released. In the mural, Sewall is seen standing in Old South Church in Boston with his head bowed as his confession and prayers for pardon are read aloud.
Sewall is said to have fasted one day each year, praying for his soul and the souls of those wrongfully put to death. At the dedication of the murals, this event in particular was singled out as a turning point, for it represented “the beginning of the recognition of the ‘quality of mercy’ in human affairs.”

Christian Archibald Herter

The mural was a gift of the artist and his son, Governor Christian Herter which was unveiled December 16th, 1942.

Besides these murals at Madison, Wisconsin, Albert Herter’s murals now decorate walls in the State capitols at Hartford, Connecticut, Lincoln Nebraska, the Public Library in Los Angeles, the Academy of Science in Washington DC, the National Park Bank in New York and many other public buildings.  It is probably his murals that Albert Herter will be best remembered and one has to remember the story of him as a child when his first drawing was a very large picture featuring numerous people.  Maybe his large-scale murals were always going to be his favoured genre.


Information about Albert Herter’s murals at the Wisconsin Supreme Court Hearing Room came from the Wisconsin Court System website:

https://www.wicourts.gov/news/view.jsp?id=687

 

 

William Sergeant Kendall

William Sergeant Kendall

Almost four years ago, when I was looking at the life of the French artist Balthus, I included some of his works of art featuring nude young girls. This was part of his main body of work but some of my readers were offended by their inclusion, so I believe it is necessary to alert readers of this edition of my blog that near the end of it I have reproduced paintings of young girls, in a state of undress, painted by today’s featured artist. Some may find them disturbing but it is art and it was the artist’s decision to have his children model for him in the state of undress.


Nowadays, remembering people and places is done by the media of photography. It is becoming ever simpler and more accessible with the advent of camera phones. For a lot of people taking a photograph of a friend or a “selfie” has become a daily ritual. It may seem trivial but it is an aide mémoire of a time past and, at times, to look back at ones we love is a potent reminder.  If, however, we lived in the mid-nineteenth century, recording an event, a place or a loved one was far from easy, almost impossible. So, what could one do? The answer of course, was owning a portrait carried out by an artist. For that to happen, one had to be wealthy or be friends with an artist. For portrait artists, completing portrait commissions was a lucrative business and for many artists whose genre was not portraiture, they would often subsidise their income by carrying out the odd portrait commission. My artist today was a master of portraiture. He is most famous for his paintings of his three young daughters with his wife. Let me introduce you to the nineteenth century American painter William Sergeant Kendall.

Autumn Landscape by William Sergeant Kendall (1896)

William Sergeant Kendall was born on January 20th 1869 in Sputyen Duyvil, which is now a bustling upper middle-class neighbourhood of the Bronx in New York City. However, at the time when Kendall was born, prior to the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad passing through the town, it was a much quieter town. William Sergeant Kendall started painting when he was twelve-years-of age. There is nothing strange about that but what was strange that he signed all his work Sergeant Kendall, omitting his Christian name, William. Sergeant was his mother’s maiden name and had been given to her first-born child.

Woman with a Parrot by William Sergeant Kendall

William’s parents must have seen their son’s love of painting as well as his burgeoning artistic talent, because two years later, in 1883, when he was fourteen years old they enrolled him at the Brooklyn Art Guild. A year later he attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. One of his tutors there was the prolific Realist painter, Thomas Eakins. Eakins was a controversial character who fell foul of the Academy board over the use of nude male models in mixed classes and was forced to resign in 1886. Kendall was greatly influenced by Eakins and in a letter to his mother and father in 1885 he wrote about Eakins:

“…Eakins came in today and criticized my work. He said my work ‘was not bad’ which as you know is good praise for him!..”

The End of the Day by William Sergeant Kendall (1900)
(Margaret Kendall and her first child Elisabeth)

In 1886 William Kendall left the Academy in Philadelphia and went back to New York where he enrolled at the Art Student League, an art school which had been created twenty years earlier. Among his tutors were the American painter, Professor James Carroll Beckwith and Harry Siddons Mowbray who taught drawing at the Art Students League. Both of these tutors had come back to America to teach at the Art Student League having spent time in Paris honing their artistic skills. It could well be their tales of life in Paris, which many would say was then the centre of the Art World, which instilled a desire in Kendall to follow in their footsteps.

In 1888 Kendall and a fellow artist and friend, John Lambert, from his days at the Academy in Philadelphia, set off for Paris, where they worked at the atelier of Luc Olivier Merson. Kendall then enrolled at the Academie Julian and remained there for three years eventually passing the entrance exam to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

First Communion by William Sergeant Kendall

The Spanish painter Velazquez had always been one of Kendall’s favourite artists and in 1891 he travelled to Madrid in order to copy some of his works. He returned to Paris and like many other artists, left the bustling city every summer to find peace and beauty in rural Brittany which offered a beautiful countryside ideal for landscape painters and the southern Brittany coastal towns of Concarneau and Le Pouldu, which was favoured by many of the seascape painters. Rural life in Brittany could be hard and realising an income could be quite difficult for the young Breton women and so, for many of them, money could be made by modelling for the various visiting artists. Young girls in striking Breton costumes were one of the favoured genres of the Salon hanging juries at the time.

A wood engraving on paper by Henry Wolf of William Sergeant Kendall’s 1895 painting St. Ives, Priez pour Nous, (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Kendall sent his painting The Little Water Carrier – Brittany and a Breton landscape to the National Academy of Design in New York City in 1890. However, the turning point for his artistic career came when one of his Breton paintings, St. Yves, Priez Pour Nous, was exhibited at the 1891 Paris Salon and was awarded an “honourable mention”. Saint Yves or Saint Ivo was born on 17th October 1253 at Kermartin, Brittany and was the patron saint of lawyers. St Ives was also hailed as the Advocate of the Poor and is the patron saint of abandoned children. Above is a wood engraving on paper by Henry Wolf of William Sergeant Kendall’s 1891 painting which is held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Désirs by William Sergeant Kendall (1892)

Another painting from Kendall’s time in Brittany was entitled Désirs (Desire) which he completed in 1892. For this painting Kendall used his favourite Breton models. Therese Le Goue and her sister. Kendall arranged for Therese to go to America and act as his parents’ housekeeper. It is said that whilst employed in that role she would wear her Breton costumes. This painting, which hung in Elizabeth Kendall Underwood’s family home, was gifted to the Smithsonian by her before her death.  To have one’s work accepted by the Salon jurists was a great feat but to have it win an award was what every aspiring artist strived for. For Kendall, an American, his “honourable mention” resulted in many congratulatory letters from fellow Americans and he even received an offer of a post at the Cooper Union in New York, which had been established in 1859, and was among the nation’s oldest and most distinguished institutions of higher education. Kendall was tempted but on discussing his future with his former tutor, Luc Olivier Merson, he decided to remain in Paris for a further twelve months of studying.

The Artist’s Wife And Daughters by William Sergeant Kendall

Kendall did eventually cross the Atlantic and return to New York and he established himself in a studio in the University Building on Washington Square and took up the role as teacher at the Cooper Union, where he took a women’s class for the next three years. He also spent some of his time teaching at his own Alma Mater, The Art Students League. One of the students attending his classes was Margaret Weston Strickly. Strickly and Kendall became attached amorously and early in 1896 the couple married. Within a year their first child, Elizabeth was born, on Gerrish Island off the coast of Maine, where he and his wife had spent the summer painting. A second daughter, Beatrice, was born in 1902 and their third and last child, another daughter, Alison was born in 1907. William Kendall now had a wife and three beautiful daughters to model for him for many years to come.

An Interlude by William Sergeant Kendall (1907)

In 1907 Kendall completed his painting entitled An Interlude which featured his wife and her daughter Elizabeth. Once again, the depiction of the two females is Kendall’s favoured pose – the child facing directly towards us while the mother’s face is in profile. Look at the child’s expression. It is a wide-eyed, somewhat troubled expression. We cannot see the facial expression of the mother, Margaret, as she has turned away from us. Should we read something into this depiction? The curtain has been drawn across the window and thus we conclude that it is night time. Is this a simple case of a mother reading her daughter a bedtime story? The title of this work is An Interlude which suggests an interval – but what kind of interval. Is it an interval from reading the book or is there more to the meaning of the painting’s title? When the painting was completed Margaret and William Kendall had been married eleven years. Margaret, who was six years younger than William, had been a twenty-year-old student of his at the Art Student League when the two, tutor and student, started a romantic relationship. Now in 1907, William Kendall’s relationship with one of his present Yale students, Christine Herter, was about to destroy his marriage. So maybe the painting’s title The Interlude, referred to the change in his life.

Beatrice by William Sergeant Kendall

It all started back in the late 1880’s when Kendall and the artist Albert Herter became friends at the Art Students League. Albert came from a wealthy background. He was the son of Christian Herter, who with his half-brother Gustave formed Herter Brothers, a prominent New York interior design and furnishings firm. It was through this friendship that William Kendall received a number of family portrait commissions. During his time with the Herter family, William met Albert Herter’s thirteen-year-old niece, Christine, and because the young girl had shown an interest in painting, the family arranged for her to take private painting lessons with Kendall. A close bond between Kendall and his young pupil followed as besides their love of art they both enjoyed music and soon, despite the twenty-year age difference, a close friendship soon developed with Christine becoming a frequent caller at Kendall’s studio in New York and later to his home studio in Barrytown. When Kendall and his family moved further afield to Newport, Rhode Island, Christine followed and rented her own studio nearby. Their friendship grew and when she spent the summers away from him in Europe the two would correspond regularly.

The Critics by William Kendall (1910)

In 1910 Kendall completed another mother and daughter painting. It is entitled The Critics. The painting is a depiction of his wife Margaret and their youngest child, Alison, who was three years old. Mother and daughter are carefully inspecting and considering the merits of a bust which Kendall had carved of Alison herself. The painting now belongs to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Mother and Child. by William Sergeant Kendall

His pastel painting, Mother and Child, is part of a series that Kendall did of his wife, Margaret, and their youngest daughter, Alison.

Yale professor by William Sergeant Kendall

In 1913 Kendall took on the post as head of the department of Fine Arts at Yale University and the Kendall family moved to New Haven, Connecticut. During this period Kendall completed many pastel portraits of his colleagues.

Portrait of Jean-Julien Le Mordant by William Sergeant Kendall

He also completed a pastel portrait of the Breton artist, architect and French soldier, Jean-Julien Lemordant, who had lost his eyesight during the First World War. He received an award from Yale University for the valour and leadership he displayed in the trench warfare of World War I.

Narcissa by William Sergeant Kendall (1907)

Besides Kendall’s mother and child paintings and ones featuring just his children, Kendall completed a series of nude or semi-nude paintings of his children using his middle child, Beatrice, then five-years-old, as model in 1907 for his painting Narcissa.

Crosslights by William Sergeant Kendall (1913)

His youngest daughter, Alison, was the model for his painting entitled Crosslights in 1913. Kendall said he enjoyed the “mirror” format as it gave him a chance to paint two daughters instead of one.

A Statuette by William Sergeant Kendall (1915)

Alison was again her father’s model for his painting A Statuette which he completed in 1915 when his daughter was eight-years-old.

Psyche by William Sergeant Kendall

Kendall also completed a painting of his eldest daughter Elisabeth under the title Psyche in 1909 when she was thirteen years old. At the time, the painting became famous and was reproduced on posters and plastered on the sides of streetcars. However, Elisabeth herself never cared for it.

Christine Herter, who had been studying in Paris, in the summer of 1914, returned home shortly after war was declared in Europe, and enrolled as a student at Yale fine-arts department, whilst continuing to work in Kendall’s studio, and sometimes modelled for him. Christine seemed to have been accepted as part of the family group and would spend part of her summer with them in their summer home in the Vermont town of Brattleboro on the Connecticut River.

L’Allegro by William Sergeant Kendall (Kendall’s eldest daughter is dressed in green)

In the Autumn of 1921 William and Margaret Kendall’s marriage collapsed and they were divorced and the following Spring William resigned from his post at Yale University’s Fine Art department. In June 1922 he sold his home in Newhaven and that summer he married his former pupil and lover,  Christine Herter. William was fifty-three and Christine was thirty-two.

Panoramic image of Garth Newel and some of its outbuildings in 2016

Because of the changing artistic taste of New Yorkers, who had now fallen in love with modern art, William Kendall decided to move away from the city and move five hundred miles south-west to Hot Springs, Virginia, a small isolated town close to the Allegheny Mountains. In 1823 the couple set about having a large residence built which they called Garth Newel, a Welsh phrase meaning “new hearth” or “new home. The property consisted of a three-story central block flanked by two, half-story wings. It also had stables in which they raised the Arabian horses they rode year-round. The couple lived there for the remainder of their lives. Their home gave them both a rural and isolated retreat with high-class sophistication.

Cypripedia.by William Sergeant Kendall (1927) One of a series of nudes in the woods that Kendall did in the last phase of his life. The cypripedia is a type of bulbous flower, seen at the bottom left of the painting.

William Kendall’s love of horse riding had its problems. In 1931, aged 62, he suffered serious head injuries after a riding accident and was laid-up for a month. Six years later, in 1937, he had another riding accident. It was a much more serious one and he was bedridden until the January of the following year. William Sergeant Kendall died, aged 69, on February 16th 1938 at his home in Hot Springs, Virginia. His widow Christine survived him for another forty-three years, dying on June 22nd 1981, aged 90. Following her husband’s death, Christine donated much of the property to the Girl Scouts of America to be used as a summer camp. The Girl Scouts found that it was too much to maintain, so she regained possession in 1969 and began to search for another use. Christine arranged for repairs to long-abandoned buildings, including the conversion of the indoor riding ring where the Arabian horses had once trained into a wonderful concert hall.  On her death she bequeathed the property and a modest fund to the Garth Newel Music Centre Foundation.


The majority of information I used for this blog came from an excellent website (http://williamsergeantkendall.com/) whose author is Anne Underwood Enslow, William Kendall’s great-granddaughter and daughter of Kendall’s  eldest daughter, Elisabeth.

Luigi Loir

The painter of Parisian boulevards.

Luigi Loir

My featured artist today lived in Paris during the Belle Epoch. The Belle Epoch was that period in time in France, between the end of the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 and the start of World War I in 1914. The term Belle Epoch is obviously a retrospective term as it is used to describe a time of optimism, peace and, for some, prosperity. I say “for some” as Paris was then both the richest and poorest city in France. A study of people living Paris in the early 1820’s deduced that just over a quarter of Parisians were upper- or middle-class while three-quarters were termed impoverished. Although this may seem a terrible disenfranchisement of the majority of Parisians, the comparative situation at that time in New York, known as the Gilded Age, showed that the wealthiest two per cent of American households owned more than a third of the nation’s wealth, and the top ten per cent of the population actually owned roughly three quarters of the city’s wealth.

Baron Haussmann and Napoleon III make official the annexation of eleven communes around Paris to the City. Painting by Adolphe Yvon

The artist I am showcasing today is Luigi Loir, or to give him his full name, Luigi Aloys-Francois-Joseph Loir. He was to become famous for his paintings depicting contemporary Paris, a city which had been extensively renovated. The renovation began around 1852 and lasted almost twenty years. Baron Haussmann, who was the Prefect of the Seine, was tasked by Napoleon III to carry out a massive urban renewal program of new boulevards, parks and public works in Paris and was looked upon as Haussmann’s renovation of Paris. The programme of public works Haussmann set about saw him arrange for the chaotic maze of tiny streets with their poor sanitation being bulldozed and replaced by wide, straight, tree-lined avenues, which connected the rail terminals and allowed for rapid and easy movement across the city possible for the first time.

Curinier in his 1899 Dictionnaire National Des Contemporains (National dictionary of present-day people) wrote of Luigi Loir:

“…One can say of this master that he created a genre: the “parisianism”…he is, in effect, the painter of Paris par excellence ; no different aspects of the city, often momentary and fleeting, and none of his successive transformations, is of any secret to him. The vigour of his colours, as well as in the brilliance of his mornings and of his afternoon sun, such as the mists of his twilights, is of a correct observation, that still enhances the conscientious study of the environment…”

Luigi Aloys-Francois-Joseph Loir was born on January 22nd, 1845 in Gorritz, Austria. His parents, of French origin, were Tancrède Loir François and Thérèse Leban. His family lived in Austria as employees of the French royal family, the Bourbons. His father was a valet while his mother was a governess and Luigi’s first two years were spent living at Gorritz Castle. In 1847, Luigi’s family along with the Bourbon family left Gorritz and moved into exile to the Duchy of Parma.

Paris, Morning by Luigi Loir (1890)

All was well for the Bourbon household in Parma until 1859 when the Bourbons were driven out by a revolution following the French and Sardinian victory in the war against Austria. The following year, the Luigi’s family, including his sister, returned to France but he remained in Parma and began studying painting and enrolled at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts in 1853. His artistic studies at the Academy came abruptly to an end in 1863 when news from Paris reached him of his father’s failing health. He immediately set off for Paris. For this eighteen-year-old it was his first time in the French capital and it was Baron Haussmann’s Paris that would inspire his scenes for the rest of his career. In 1865, he made his debut at the Paris Salon with his first notable work, a view of Villiers-sur-Seine that received very high praise. He continued to exhibit at the Salon, receiving multiple awards there, throughout his life.

Paris with Snow by Luigi Loir (1889)

Luigi Loir soon came under the influence of the artist Jean-Aimable Amédée Pastelot who became his primary art tutor. Pastelot, was a painter who concentrated on depicting characters from the Comédie delle’art, flowers and genre paintings in watercolour and gouache. He also produced many illustrations for caricature journals which were very popular during this period.

Jean Pastelot c. 1865

It was whilst working in Pastelot’s studio that Loir began experimenting with his art and trained to become a muralist. One of Loir’s first mural commissions was to paint the wall and ceiling friezes at the Châteaux du Diable (the Devil’s House), a bourgeois mansion in Bordeaux, in 1866.  Loir experimented in various media; mainly oils, watercolour and lithographs, and would also try out different art forms ranging from decoration, theatrical costumes, and illustrations for novels and gained a lot of artistic knowledge during his time with Pastelot.

Porte St Martin At Christmas Time In Paris by Luigi Loir (c.1889)

Luigi Loir was not just a painter. He was probably more known for his hundreds of graphic designs for commercial advertisements, book and music illustrations, menus. He also created numerous designs and theatrical decorations. Loir was recognized as being a very talented graphic artist, and received many commissions for his work, such to design the official exhibition cover of the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. It was around this time that print had been recognised as a genuine art form. Luigi Loir transformed the art of the poster.

Le Boulevard sous la Pluie by Luigi Loir (1889)

Luigi Loir’s awards were numerous. In 1898 he was made Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur. He was also a member of the Société de Peintres-Lithographes, member of the Société des Aquarellistes, and a member of the Jury of the Société des Artists Français and of the Société des Arts Décoratifs since 1899. His artwork can be seen in galleries around the world.

Bond of the B.Sirven Co. issued May 14th 1901. Illustration by Luigi Loir

Charles Baudelaire, the Author of Modernism, once said that artists should represent the contemporary environment and there is no doubt that Luigi Loir embraced Baudelaire’s call. Looking at Loir’s style it is easy to note that he was interested in Impressionism and yet his work reflected that of many Naturalist painters. He designed some of the packaging for the famous LU French biscuit company and also illustrated a bond of the company B. Sirven, which was issued 14. May 14th 1901.

Boulevard Haussmann, Paris by Luigi Loir

Loir was entranced by the Parisian street scene which had been transformed by Haussmann’s mission to reshape the Parisian landscape transforming it from a labyrinthine network of dark and dingy narrow medieval streets, into the complex order of grand boulevards.

Evening in Paris by Luigi Loir

Loir must have taken from Pastelot an interest in capturing figural qualities, but Loir invested this type of training instead into his own synthesis of figures and landscape to produce the natural replication of the activity along the Parisian streets. This interest in the Parisian street scene was influenced, however, by another transformation that had entirely reshaped the Parisian landscape and how Parisians spent their leisure time. Beginning in the 1850s, Baron Georges Haussmann undertook an enormous project that changed Paris, from a labyrinthine maze of medieval streets, into the complex order of grands boulevards. For Loir, the streets themselves became the centre of activity – whether it be the bohemian centre of Montmartre or the upper-class promenades of the leisure class. Loir spent hours each day walking the streets in search of inspiration, all the time, studying them and the Parisians who populated them.

In one of the volumes of Figures Contemporaines: Tirées De L’album Mariani, illustrated biographies of famous contemporary characters from 1894 to 1925, Luigi Loir’s relationship with Paris as depicted in his art was explained:

“… he understands the sites; he likes the twilights in them; he studies all of their aspects. His canvases give off the reflection of a faithful mirage, of a conscientious study of urban nature. There is a dilettantism of a stroller and the contemplation of a poet in him. One feels that all of his impressions are real and that he only paints them while under a spell. His interest in the urban cityscape is perhaps more complex than a simple depiction of Paris and its inhabitants. Lori’s sincere reflections on the changing effects of both the different times of day and the weather, show the aesthetic reflection put into his paintings…”

Sortant De La Madeleine, Paris by Jean Béraud

Luigi Loir was not alone when it came to depicting life in Paris. A contemporary of his was the Russian-born Frenchman, Jean Béraud. Jean Béraud was known for his depictions of the changing face of Paris and the nightlife during the Belle Époque. He, like Loir, was captivated with modern life in Paris, especially after the major infrastructure project of what was termed, Haussmannisation, named for Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the prefect chosen to lead the urban renewal project. Béraud painted the newly widened boulevards, the new transportation systems and the intermingling of people from a wide array of social spheres. However, the scenes Béraud and Loir produced were different. Loir was more interested in depicting the environment whereas Béraud wanted to depict the people. In C.-E. Curinier, Dictionnaire Nationale des Contemporains, the difference between the two painters was succinctly put:

“…It is Béraud who paints the Parisians of Paris, but Loir who paints the Paris of the Parisians…”

The Quay of the Seine, Paris by Luigi Loir

In Loir’s depiction of Paris scenes his attention is not given to individual details so much as light and atmosphere

In 1870, Loir was commissioned into the military to record the battles of Bourget, part of the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. Loir concentrated exclusively on painting views of Paris. In these works, Loir caught and expressed the many faces of Paris, at all hours of the day and during different seasons. It was because of his work during this campaign of 1870, that Loir was elected to be the official painter of the Boulevards of Paris. This boosted his career and reputation. In 1879 in was awarded the Bronze medal from the Exposant Fidele des Artistes Francais. Loir was also elected into the Legion of Honor in 1898.

Luigi Aloys-François-Joseph Loir died in his beloved Paris on February 9th 1916 aged 70.