Museo de Bellas Artes, Sevilla. Part 2 The Murillo Exhibition

Murillo Exhibition at Seville

……….when I arrived at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Seville I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a special exhibition on marking the 400th anniversary of Seville’s great painter Bartolomé Estaban Murillo.  It had opened in November 2018 and was still running. The city of Seville had been celebrating the 400th anniversary of his birth for the last twelve months and this exhibition, which ends in April, was the culmination of the celebrations.

Self-portrait by Murillo

Murillo came from a very large family, the youngest of fourteen children.  His father was both a barber and a surgeon.  His parents died when he was young and he went to live with a distant relative and artist, Juan del Castillo who started Murillo’s artistic education.  He stayed with Castillo until 1639 when his mentor had to move to Cadiz.  Now Murillo, aged twenty-two, had to fend for himself and scraped a living by selling some of his paintings.  In 1643 he travelled to Madrid where he met Velazquez who was also from Seville and had now become a master of his craft.  He took pity on Murillo and let him lodge in his house.  Murillo stayed in Madrid for two years before returning to Seville.  In 1648, at the age of thirty-one, Murillo married a wealthy lady of rank, Doña Beatriz de Cabrera y Sotomayor.   Murillo died in 1682 aged 64.  He lived a humble and pious life and was a brave man.  On his death he left a son and daughter, his wife having died before him.

The Seville exhibition was a collection of fifty-five paintings by Murillo from museum collections around the world. The exhibition was divided into nine sections each providing a glimpse of the world through Murillo’s eyes. The sections were designated as Holy Childhood, A family of Nazareth, Glory on Earth, The Immaculate Conception, Compassion, Penitence, Storyteller, Genre painting and Portraiture. It was a journey through his religious works to the social realism of 17th century Seville, which has been described as a city of paupers and saints, of rascals and wealthy noblemen and merchants who, through their wealth, were able to have Murillo paint their portraits.

The Good Shepherd by Murillo (1665)

In the first section, there was the Prado-owned painting entitled The Good Shepherd, which Murillo completed in 1665. The scene has a rural setting along with classical allusions in the form of archaeological ruins which we can see in the left background. Jesus is portrayed as the boy who exudes an air of determination as he holds his shepherd’s crook in one hand whilst his left-hand lies across the back of the animal. There is a certain gentleness about the scene and the sheep, seen with the boy, represents the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), which is talked about in the scriptures. The depiction of the lamb as being obedient and submissive is all part of the divine plan.

The Holy Family with the Infant St John by Murillo (c.1670)

One of Murillo’s paintings in the Family of Nazareth section was The Holy Family with Infant Saint John, which Murillo completed around 1670 and was loaned to the Seville gallery by Budapest Museum of Fine Arts. This was a pendant painting forming a pair with his work The Flight into Egypt, which was also on show. In the depiction, we see Saint Joseph, in the background, with his carpentry tools. In the foreground, we see the Christ Child and the young Saint John busily tying two sticks together to form a cross. Mary watches over the children as she busies herself sewing. A sense of depth has been added to the composition by the inclusion of a background of mountains and clouds.

The Holy Family (The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities) by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, (1675-1682)

In the third section, Glory on Earth we have the Murillo painting The Holy Family (The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities) which was loaned to the museum for this exhibition by London’s National Gallery. This work of art encapsulates the religious theory that Jesus is both God and man and thus belongs to both the Heavenly Trilogy of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit as well as belonging to the Earthly Trinity – the family from Nazareth as seen in the painting with Jesus’ closeness to his mother, the Virgin Mary and his father, her husband Saint Joseph.

The Annunciation by Murillo (c.1660)

Murillo completed many paintings featuring the Virgin Mary and many were on show at the exhibition. The Annunciation by Murillo, which he completed around 1660 and had been loaned out by the Prado, was a great example of this focus on the Mother of God.

The Virgin and the Rosary by Murillo (c.1680)

The Dulwich Gallery-owned work by Murillo entitled The Virgin and the Rosary was also on view. In this work we see the Virgin seated on a throne of clouds floating in the celestial sphere and unlike other versions of this work by the Seville painter, clouds and angels have now been added to become her throne and footstool.

Mater Dolorosa by Murillo (1670-1675)

One of my favourite pieces of religious art by Murillo, which was at the exhibition, was Mater Dolorosa an artwork, which was part of a private collection belonging to a Dutch family. Mater Dolorosa or Our Lady of Sorrows refers to the sorrows in the life of the Virgin Mary and is a key subject for what is termed Marian art in the Catholic Church. In 1939 when the painting was bought from the Amsterdam art dealership, de Boer, by a private Dutch buyer, there was some doubt as to whether this painting was by Murillo but the German art historian August Lieberman Mayer, who was one of the most prominent art historians of the early 20th century and the era’s leading specialist for 17th century Spanish painting, wrote to the new owner stating his belief that it had been painted by Murillo. In his letter dated July 12th, 1939, he wrote:

“…I deeply regret, that actually I cannot make a new edition of my book in „Klassiker der Kunst“, but I hope to publish another monography of Murillo in Spain“ The picture is, in my opinion, a very fine, well preserved, genuine and most characteristic work by B. Murillo, executed most probably about 1668, the period, I consider the best and most powerful of the master. I reserve me the right of the first publication of this important and impressive work..”

Despite Mayer’s opinion, many art scholars still question his attribution. August Mayer never did publish another work on the Spanish master. As a Jew, he was forced to leave his offices in Munich by the Nazis.   He then fled to Paris in 1936 but was later arrested and was deported to Auschwitz in 1944 where he died.

I am not a great lover of religious art, probably not due to the quality of the work but more to do with the subject matter. I was therefore very pleased that after seven rooms of religious painting the final two rooms were devoted to Murillo’s genre paintings and his portraiture.

A Peasant Boy leaning on a sill by Murillo (c.1675)

I especially liked Murillo’s painting A Peasant Boy Leaning on a Sill, which he completed around 1675.  When London’s National Gallery acquired this work in 1826, it was the first Spanish painting to enter the museum’s collection.   The National Gallery of London loaned this to the Museo de Bellas Artes for the Murillo exhibition. This striking depiction of a cheerful boy is related to Murillo’s depictions of street urchins in his larger canvases. We see the boy at a window, the implication being that there is a lot going on that we are not aware of and so we have to be satisfied with what we have before us. So what else is going on? What has been excluded from the depiction? What is the boy looking at?   Some would have us believe that this work had a companion piece painted by Murillo, which was to be hung to the right of this one which would allow us to see what the boy was looking at.

Young Girl Lifting her Veil by Murillo

That suggested pendant piece was Young Girl Lifting Her Veil, (which is privately owned and was not included at the Seville exhibition). However, many art historians cast doubt on the two paintings being pendant pieces but the fact is that they were painted around the same time, they are both half-length depictions and are of similar size.  I have included the Young Girl Lifting her Veil and let you decide whether the two paintings hung side by side on a wall would add to your belief that they were pendant pieces. Was this beautiful girl the subject of the boy’s gaze?  Some think that the boy’s demeanour has an air of mischief about it and his expression was not instilled with innocent sincerity, like that of the girl. I will leave you with one further clue. At the sale of the two works at the Peter Coxe London saleroom on March 20th, 1806 of paintings owned by the Marquess of Lansdowne, the catalogue described them as:

“…No.50. Murillo. A Laughing Boy – delicately treated in every part – one of those performances so rare to be met with, & in his best style of perfection.

No.51. Murillo. Portrait of a girl treated with the same tone of harmonious colouring, as the preceding Lot, to which it is a companion, in the same happy effect of management…” 

The two paintings were sold at the auction to separate buyers.

Four Figures on a Step by Murillo (1655-1660)

The most bizarre painting at the exhibition, and one I particularly like, is Four Figures on a Step, which is owned by the Kimbell Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas. At first sight, I thought somebody had defaced the painting by adding a pair of thick black spectacles to the woman on the right.

Before us, we have four very different characters. In the central background, we have a young woman. Her face is somewhat distorted into a smile, even a knowing wink, as she raises her scarf over her head. What is the significance of the gesture?   Art historians have hypothesised that it is a coquettish gesture whilst others say that that is reading too much into her manner stating that the depiction is a simple scene with a family scrutinising the goings-on in the street outside. However, the scene to many historians is to associate it with one of procurement. Procurement?  They would have us believe that the older women with the thick dark glasses, resembles the character of a Celestina, an aged prostitute, madam, and procuress, of Spanish literature. The old procuress,  Celestinacomes from the 1499 book La Celestina, which is considered to be one of the greatest works of all Spanish literature, a timeless story of love, morality, and tragedy by Fernando de Rojas. The Celestina is often represented as a crone wearing enormous glasses and a headscarf hence the belief that Murillo’s painting includes a procuress!   So, if she is procuring, is she offering the man the pleasures of the young woman? More conservative historians point to the fact that on the contrary to the Celestina idea, the mature woman also resembles the bespectacled characters in Dutch and Flemish genre paintings, which Murillo would have seen.

The possible “procuress” is seen cradling the head of a young boy whose bottom is exposed by his torn breeches. In less liberal times Murillo’s depiction of the bare bottom had offended the public and had been over-painted for reasons of regaining a modicum of modesty but the painting now, after restoration, is seen as Murillo intended.

So the question I leave you with is this depiction simply a portrayal of the colourful characters to be found in the streets of Seville, or does the painting carry a reproachful, message, urging the viewers to avoid enticements of worldly decadences?

Portrait of Juan de Saavedra by Murillo (1650)

In the final room of the exhibition, we have Murillo’s portraiture.  Murillo’s earliest dated portrait is a newly discovered canvas, which depicts Juan Arias de Saavedra y Ramírez de Arellano an aristocrat from Seville and one of Murillo’s patrons. The subject of the painting was a knight in the Order of Santiago as indicated by both the red cross on his left shoulder and the pendant with a scallop shell.  The portrait is shown as being in a stone frame, which includes the sitter’s coat of arms. Murillo often used this stone-frame device in his bust-length portraiture. Also in the painting are two putti each holding a tablet. The one held by the putti on the left records the age of the sitter as twenty-nine while the one on the right has the date on which the portrait was painted – 1650. Below the portrait, there is a lengthy Latin inscription which is about Saavedra. Saavedra, it states, was a senior minister of the Holy Inquisition and is described in the inscription as a “profound connoisseur of the liberal arts, and of painting in particular”. The inscription also includes a passage by Murillo, which offers convincing proof of the connection between the artist and the nobleman with Murillo admitting his gratitude and sincere regard for Saavedra.

Portrait of Josua van Belle by Murillo (1670)

My last offering for this blog is another work of portraiture by Murillo, which was loaned to the Seville museum by the National Gallery of Ireland.   The sitter is Josua van Belle. He was born in Rotterdam and became a Dutch shipping merchant who lived for a period in Cadiz and Seville, where this portrait was painted in 1670. Van Belle was a celebrated art collector and amongst his collection of paintings, was Johannes Vermeer’s Woman Writing a Letter, with her Maid, which also resides in the National Gallery of Ireland. This portrait is looked upon as one of Murillo’s finest.

The Museo de Bellas Artes’ exhibition was excellent, full of beautiful masterpieces by Murillo and you have until the last day of March to visit this Sevilla exhibition.

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Museo de Bellas Artes, Sevilla

Having decided to escape the cold and miserable weather of Britain for a short period  I find myself in the warmth of the Algarve soaking up the sun and staring out at the blue sky and sea whilst reading about blizzard and gale-force conditions back home. Ok, that’s enough schadenfreude for one day. However, it is my location that leads me on to the next few blogs – not the Algarve but its neighbour Andalusia which I visited last week and enjoyed the delights of the beautiful city of Seville. I think I was most impressed by the city’s architecture and it is a timely reminder for me to walk more upright and look above eye level instead of concentrating on the pavement – old age can be a challenge!

Museum courtyard

I always try and visit at least one art gallery if I visit a large city so when I arrived in the Andalusian city of Seville and after settling into the hotel, I headed for Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla. Some art galleries/museums can be large and soulless with just a never-ending series of rooms. I particularly like ones, which are different and have had a  usage prior to becoming a museum, such as a place of residence or a religious institution, which then come with ornate decorations.

The garden of Museo Sorolla, Madrid

One of the best I have visited was the Museo Sorolla in Madrid which albeit smaller in size in comparison to the much bigger art institutions in the city and, despite featuring only the works of Joaquin Sorolla, it was a true joy to behold and one I insist you visit when in the Spanish capital. The building was originally the artist’s house and was transformed into a museum after the death of his widow, Clotilde, in 1929.   The museum was eventually opened in 1932.

Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla

The Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla was originally home to the convent of the Order of the Merced Calzada de la Asunción, founded on the site by Saint Peter Nolasco, shortly after the re-conquest of Seville by the Christians in 1248. The building itself was built in 1594, but did not become a museum until 1839, following the desamortizacion, the name given to the Spanish government’s seizure and sale of property, including from the Catholic Church, from the late 18th century to the early 20th century which resulted in the shutting down of religious monasteries and convents. The building we see today, with the galleries arranged on two floors around three quiet courtyards and a central staircase, was largely the work of Juan de Oviedo y de la Bandera.

Entrance to the Museo de Bellas Artes, Sevilla

This superb art museum has been lovingly restored and it now ranks as one of the finest in Spain. It is built around three patios, which are decorated with flowers, trees, and the distinctive Seville tile work.  Much of the paintings in the permanent collection was Religious Art. Because of Spanish unwavering obedience to the religious teachings of Rome, it was therefore not surprising that their artists were heavily involved in spreading the Christian message through their commissioned works of art. The purpose of religious art and architecture was to gain converts to the Catholic faith. Architecture in the shape of breathtaking cathedrals was, therefore, the principal form of inspiration. Inside the cathedrals and churches statuary was also inspirational and religious stories were illustrated in the form of stained glass windows, altarpieces, and works of art.

Inside, the museum’s permanent collection of Spanish art and sculpture from the medieval to the modern focuses on the work of Seville School artists, such as Bartolome Esteban Murillo, Juan de Vales Leal, and Francisco de Zurbaran.

Sagrada Cena (Holy Supper) by Alonso Vasquez (1588)

The large (308 x 402 cms) painting Sagrada Cena (Holy Supper) by the Renaissance painter Alonso Vazquez is part of the permanent collection. It was his first known work and was commissioned for the refectory of the Cartuja de Santa Maria de las Cuevas de Sevilla in 1588. The composition is based on different prints, living the naturalistic elements of the tableware and food. The Mannerist style of the work features the elongated fingers and hands and the emphatic and animated gestures of those at the table all adorned in artificially-coloured clothing.

St Francis of Assisi by Francisco Pacheco (1610)

There were a number of religious paintings by the sixteenth-century Spanish artist Francisco Pacheco including his 1610 painting St Francis Assisi.

Luis de Vargas. Alegoría de la Inmaculada Concepción (Seville Cathedral)

Works were on show by Luis de Vargas, the 16th-century painter of the late Renaissance period, who spent much of his life in Seville although he did travel to Rome where he was influenced by Mannerist styles.  Such works are characterized by the exaggeration or alteration of proportions, posture, and expression. He was not only a great painter, but was also a man of strong devotional temperament, and was known as a holy man. His greatest wish was to use his talent for the glory of God, and he had a tradition of going to confession and receive Holy Communion before painting one of his great altarpieces. One of his contemporaries said that Vargas kept a coffin in his room to remind him of the approach of death.

The Purification of the Virgin by Luis de Vargas (c.1560)

One of his paintings on view at the museum was The Purification of the Virgin. In this work we see Mary depicted inside the temple, presenting the baby Jesus to the priest, San Jose. The depiction is completed by the inclusion of three women and a young girl with two pigeons in a basket, together with some angels.    This painting records the ceremony of the Purification of the Virgin and the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple and festivity celebrated this event occur on February 2nd, which is forty days from the twenty-fifth of December, the date of birth of Jesus.     This forty day period harks back to the Mosaic law, which states that the woman who gave birth to a man was impure for a period of forty days, (eighty if the one born was female!).    At the end of that forty-day period, the baby had to be presented to the priest in the temple, so that he could be declared clean by means of an offering. As for the offering the mother was expected to offer the priest a one-year-old lamb. However, Mary, being from a poor family, was unable to offer a lamb, and so instead of a lamb, Mary offered the priest a pair of pigeons.

Calvario con el centurión by Lucas Cranach (1538)

The 1538 work entitled Calvario con el centurión (Calvary with the Centurion) by Lucas Cranach is also part of the museum’s permanent collection. At the heart of the depiction we see Christ on the cross, on either side of him are the in-profile portrayal of the good thief, Dismas, and the evil thief, Gestas, both of whom are also impaled on their crosses. The depiction is at the very moment that Jesus raises his head skywards and utters the words Father in your hands I commend my Spirit” and it is those very words (vater in dein hendt befil ich mein gaist) we see written in Cranach’s native tongue, at the top of the painting. Look at the amazing way Cranach has depicted the facial expressions of the three men. In the central foreground, we see the centurion atop his rearing horse. He utters the words “Truly this Man was the Son of God” and again the words in German “Warlich diser mensch ist gotes sun gewest” can be seen as if coming from his mouth. The background of this work is quite interesting. Cranach has split it in two. The upper part, which is the sky, is dark and filled with a sense of foreboding whilst the lower background is a distant view of the city of Jerusalem.

One of the two most famous Sevilla-born artists was Diego de Siva y Velázquez, who was born in the Spanish city in 1599. Some of his paintings were displayed at the Sevilla museum and I particularly liked his 162o painting, St Ildefonso Receiving The Chasuble From The Virgin.

St Ildefonso Receiving The Chasuble From The Virgin by Diego Velazquez (1620)

Saint Ildefonsus, a scholar and theologian, was born in Toledo around 607 AD. Ildefonse, against his parents’ wishes, gave up their clerical plans for him and he became a monk at the Agali monastery in Toledo and in 650 he was elected to head the order as their abbot. On December 18th 665, according to a biography on the saint in the Catholic Encyclopaedia, he experienced a vision of the Blessed Virgin when she appeared to him in person and presented him with a priestly vestment, to reward him for his zeal in honouring her and it was this event that Velázquez captured in his painting.  According to legend, Bishop Ildefonsus and the congregation were singing Marian hymns when light cascaded into the church, terrifying the congregation and causing most of them to flee. The bishop and a few of his deacons remained and they watched as Mary descended and sat on the episcopal throne. She was full of praise for Ildefonsus’ devotion to her and vested him with a special chasuble from her son’s treasury, which she instructed the bishop to wear only during Marian festivals.

The highlight of my tour around the museum was not just witnessing the permanent collection but happening to arrive during a special 400th-anniversary exhibition of one of Seville’s most famous painters.  Who was he?  I will tell you in my next blog………..

Anders Zorn. Part 2 – America

Emma Zorn by Anders Zorn

In 1896 the Zorns returned to Sweden and went to live at their home, Zorngården, in Mora. Anders’ wife, Emma, immersed herself in the life of the small town and became involved in many different local activities including setting up a small local library and a small society where people could meet and practice their handicraft skills. She also founded the Zorn Children’s Home and the local community was indebted to her for the setting up of a public school for adults in Mora which came into being as a result of the active participation and financial support from her and her husband.  Anders and Emma’s relationship is believed to have changed somewhat during the last decade of the nineteenth century. It appears they grew apart, found it difficult to agree on many things, and their marriage changed from one based on deep mutual love, as it was at the beginning, to one of friendly companionship.

Antonin Proust by Anders Zorn (1888)

Above all else, it was Anders’ skill as a portrait artist that gained him international acclamation. He had the innate capacity to depict his sitters’ individual character and this can be seen in his 1888 portrait of the French journalist and politician, Antonin Proust.

Coquelin Cadet by Anders Zorn (1889)

Another fine portrait by Zorn was his 1889 one featuring Ernest Alexandre Honoré Coquelin a French actor who was better known as Coquelin Cadet, to distinguish him from his brother.  Zorn believed that a portrait should be painted in an environment that was natural for the model. An artificial studio environment was not to his taste.

Outdoors by Anders Zorn (1888)

At around about the time Anders and Emma settled in Paris and he started to complete paintings which depict not only water, one of his favourite motifs, but nudes either in the water or on the banks of rivers. One such work was his 1888 work entitled Outdoors, which is currently housed in the Gothenburg Art Museum.

The First Time by Anders Zorn (1888)

Another painting by Zorn depicting nudes and water is his poignant work featuring a mother and her young child whom she is trying to instill in him/her a love of water.  This 1888 painting is entitled The First Time and is housed at the Ateneum, the Finnish National Gallery in Helsinki.

Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina

Zorn completed a number of genre paintings, which focused on the depiction of light and shadow and if you are in North Carolina, near the town of Asheville, then you should make your way to the Biltmore Estate and see one such painting by him. The main residence of the estate is a Châteauesque-style mansion built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895 and is the largest privately-owned house in the United States and there, on the second-floor living area, you will find a beautiful genre painting by Anders Zorn, entitled The Waltz.

The Waltz by Anders Zorn (1891

It is a genre painting in as much it captures life at a ball. Zorn completed it in 1891. It is a romantic depiction in which we see dance partners gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes but it is all about the artist’s clever use of light and shadow in his portrayal of differing light conditions. The background is bathed in bright light and the ladies’ white dresses glow beautifully. This is in stark contrast to the light conditions in the right middle ground. It is darker in this area of the ballroom, with a dark curtain as a background, which further cuts off the bright-light gaiety of the main dance floor. With the darkness comes intimacy and this sense can be seen in the eyes of the male dancer in the foreground as he peers longingly into the eyes of his partner. Behind them, a man sits alone at a table and watches the dancers. Is he truly alone? Does he wish he was on the dance floor with a beloved partner? The third section of differing light is from the lamp on the table close to the lone man. From its glow, which is reflected on the floor, we can see another couple dancing and catch a faint glimpse of tables in the background. Zorn completed the painting in 1893 and on show at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago that year where it was purchased by George Vanderbilt.

Omnibus by Anders Zorn (1892)

Another of Zorn’s paintings around this time, which focused on the depiction of light and shadows, is one that is held at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the Fenway–Kenmore neighbourhood of Boston, Massachusetts. It is entitled The Omnibus and Zorn completed it in 1892. We see five people seated on the bus with their backs to the windows. Look how he has portrayed the light from outside streaming through the windows.  It is reflected on the neck of the girl in the foreground and the parcel she holds on her knee. The clothes of the travellers are dark and contrast with the splashes of light in the windows.

Our Daily Bread by Anders Zorn (1886)

During the summers, Zorn spent most of the time at home in Mora and he painted prolifically. One painting of this era which I particularly like is his Realist painting entitled Our Daily Bread, which he completed around 1886 and is now housed at the National Museum in Stockholm. In the painting we see an elderly peasant sitting on a dried-up riverbank gazing forlornly at the ground. Besides her, there is a loaf of bread and a boiling cauldron is hung precariously on a wooden pole, which is resting on the steep banks of the stream. A young child approaches carrying kindling, which will be added to the fire under the boiling cauldron.

1893 Chicago World’s Fair Swedish Building

The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, often called the Chicago World’s Fair was a world’s fair, which was held in Chicago to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the New World in 1492. Anders Zorn, whose status as a leading Swedish artist, was selected by the Swedish government to act as the superintendent of the Swedish art exhibition at the Fair. Zorn travelled to the United States that year and remained in the country for twelve months.   During the next fifteen years, he would revisit America six more times, usually between autumn and spring allowing him time to return to his beloved Sweden in the summer. Zorn loved America and the lifestyle it offered him during his frequent trips to the country but more importantly, it presented him with many portrait commissions, including numerous statesmen and society figures and those of three US presidents, Grover Cleveland, William Taft, and Theodore Roosevelt.

President Grover Cleveland by Anders Zorn (1899)

One such portrait was his 1899 portrait of Stephen Grover Cleveland, the American Democratic politician, and lawyer who became the twenty-second president of the United States in 1885, held office for four years before being defeated by the Republican candidate, Benjamin Harrison, but then in 1892 he again won the race to the White House to become the twenty-fourth US President.   Zorn painted this portrait two years after Cleveland had completed his second term. The sittings for the portrait, which lasted for several days, took place at the former president’s estate in Princeton, New Jersey. Zorn and Cleveland got on well during the sittings and the ex-President was well satisfied with the portrait, joking to a friend:

“… As for my ugly mug, I think the artist has ‘struck it off’ in great shape…”

Frances Folsom Cleveland by Anders Zorn (1899)That same year, 1899, Zorn completed a portrait of Grover Cleveland’s wife, Frances Folsom Cleveland. Francis Folsom was the daughter of Oscar Folsom, a lawyer and long-time close friend of Grover Cleveland. Cleveland first met Frances Folsom shortly after she was born in 1864 and, when her father was killed in a carriage accident in 1875, the court appointed Cleveland administrator of the estate and he oversaw her upbringing after her father’s death. After High School, Frances attended Wells College in Aurora, New York, and it was around this time when Frances was twenty-one that the relationship between Grover Cleveland and Frances developed romantically. The couple married at the White House on June 2nd, 1886. Frances was twenty-one years old and her husband was forty-nine.

William Howard Taft by Anders Zorn

Another American President to feature in one of Zorn’s paintings was Republican, William Howard Taft who became the twenty-seventh US President in 1909. The portrait of Taft, which is housed at the White House, was painted by Zorn during his last visit to America in 1911.

The courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Isabella Stewart Gardner was a leading American art collector, philanthropist, and patron of the arts. She was the daughter of wealthy linen-merchant David Stewart and Adelia Smith Stewart. On the death of her father, she inherited $1.75 million and around this time she started to buy European fine art. In 1903 her own museum in Boston, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which she had built to house her extensive art collection, was opened to the public. She was friends with many artists, such as James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent and during Anders Zorn’s first visit to America, he travelled to Boston where he met Gardner. Through this meeting developed a friendship and soon Zorn became popular with Boston’s wealthy artistic society. In 1894 Zorn painted a portrait of Isabella Gardner at the Palazzo Barbaro in Venice, one of her favourite haunts, which had become a meeting place for a circle of American and English expatriates in Venice.

Isabella Stewart Gardner in Venice by Anders Zorn (1894)

Zorn’s depiction of Isabella is a joy to behold. Look how he has managed to depict her vivacity and total joie de vivre as she moves into the dining room from the balcony, which overlooks the Grand Canal, imploring her dinner guests to come on to the terrace and witness the beauty of the late evening and the excitement of the ensuing firework display. Her arms are outstretched. She is beside herself with the joy of the moment. Anne O’Hagan Shinn, a well-known American feminist, suffragist, journalist, and writer of short stories, on seeing the painting described it as:

“…a flamelike incarnation of vigour and life – impression helped, doubtless, by the wonderful yellow gown which swathes the strong and supple figure that seem to leap from the canvas…”

………………to be continued

Anders Zorn. Part 1 – The early years

For my last blog featuring Alois Priechenfried I struggled for biographical information. In the next few blogs I am looking at the life and work of the well-known Swedish painter Anders Zorn and I am pleased to say that there has been much written about this talented nineteenth-century artist.

Anders Zorn (1908)

Anders Leonard Zorn was born Anders Leonardsson in the central Swedish town of Mora in Dalarna County on February 18th, 1860. The town of Mora is situated on the isthmus between the lakes Siljan and Orsan. Anders’ mother was Grudd Anna Andersdotter, but to her children, she was simply known as Mona, which meant mother in the Mora dialect. Grudd’s family were farmers and Anders was raised on his maternal grandparents’ farm in Yvraden, a hamlet near the village of Utmeland in the parish of Mora. Anders’ mother subsidised the family’s income by working in Von Düben’s brewery in Uppsala and it was here that she met the German brewer Leonhard Zorn, who became Ander’s father. Although she gave birth to Leonard’s son they never married and sadly, Anders Zorn never met his father who died in Helsinki on Boxing Day, 1872. However, Anders was recognised as Leonhard’s son and was allowed to carry his father’s name.

With the absence of a father in his life Anders Zorn was brought up by his grandparents who had a farm in Yvraden, a parish of Mora. He went to the local primary school in Morastrand and when he was twelve-years-old he was sent to the secondary grammar school in Enköping where he studied Swedish, German, history and geography. Although he was just an average student, he began to show an extraordinary artistic talent, especially when it came to depicting people and horses and he displayed an aptitude for being able to carve figures in wood.

On January 3rd 1874, Ander’s mother, Grudd, just a year after the death of Leonhard Zorn, married Skeri Anders Andersson and the couple lived in Lisselby, a small town thirty kilometres south-east of Mora. They had their first child, a daughter, Karin in the November. Later, three more daughters would enhance Grudd and Anders family. In the July of that year Anders Zorn received a bequest of 3000 SEK from the personal estate of brewer Leonardsson and this was allocated for Anders’s upbringing. The money was given to Anders parental guardian, a farmer in Mora, Bälter Sven Ersson, who set it aside for Anders and his education. The inheritance was well managed and lasted for four years.

In 1875, aged fifteen years of age, Anders Zorn went to study in Stockholm. He firstly went to the school for Handicraft and in that September was enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Art’s preparatory school, which was the de facto Principle School for the Academy. There, he studied, the techniques required for painting, drawing and sculpturing. In August 1878 Anders graduates from the Royal Academy of Fine Art’s preparatory school and enters the main Academy.

The financial support of his inheritance came to an end in 1878, but his late father’s German friends had a collection and the money was given to Anders to carry on with his education at the Academy. In 1879 he completed his studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Art and received his diploma on the June 28th.

In Mourning by Anders Zorn (1880)

In the Autumn of 1880, Anders Zorn moved to a studio at Hamngatsbacken, a street in central Stockholm. At that year’s Academy Students Exhibition Zorn exhibited a watercolour entitled In Mourning. This beautifully crafted and sensitive work, which depicted the sorrowful face of a young girl in mourning, was greatly admired by the public and critics alike. In the Official Swedish Government Gazette of May 22nd the Zorn’s painting was praised by Carl Rupert Nyholm a leading Swedish critic and Zorn was rewarded with 200 SEK for his work of art.

Banker Ludvig Arosenius by Anders Zorn (1880)

Following on from this, Zorn received a number of portraiture commissions. The most popular of which were from wealthy individuals and society parents who wanted portraits of their children. One example of this is Zorn’s 1880 watercolour portrait of the banker, Ludvig Arosenius.

Emma Zorn by Anders Zorn (1887)

In the Spring of 1881, Anders Zorn met Emma Amalia Lamm. Emily, who was the same age of Anders Zorn, but came from a completely different background than that of Anders. She and her family, who lived in Stockholm, were Jewish and her ancestors had settled in Sweden in the 1770’s. They were a wealthy middle-class family who had a love for art and culture and led an intense social life. Her father, Martin Oscar Lamm, who was a wholesale textile merchant, and was part of the S.L. Lamm & Son Textile Company, and her mother, Henriette Lamm (née Meyerson) had three children, Herman, Anna and Emma.

Zorn and his Wife (1890)

The meeting between Zorn and Emma came about as he had been commissioned to paint a portrait of Emma’s nephew, Nils, the three-year-old son of her sister, Anna and it coincided with Emma who was acting as a babysitter for the young boy. For Anders and Emma, it was a case of “love at first sight” and they became secretly engaged on June 2nd which was just a few months after they had first met. Emma’s family were charmed by her young man but the secret nature of the engagement was probably due to Emma’s parents realising that Anders’ early career as an artist would not be sufficiently lucrative for him to support their daughter.

Head of Spanish Girl, Sevilla by Anders Zorn (1881)

In August 1881, Zorn went abroad to study and to try to earn enough money to support a family. He left Sweden and travelled to Spain via Paris with his friend Ernest Josephson. The pair visited Madrid, Toledo and Seville and by the end of the year were lodged in Cadiz. It was in Cadiz that Zorn exhibited some of his work and they received great acclaim from the local art critics. He continued his travels in the early part of 1882 passing through Nice and Genoa before arriving in the Italian capital. Eventually he returned to Paris where he met up with Emma and her mother.

A Swedish Girl in Mora Folk Dress by Anders Zorn

For the next four years Anders spent time in England and Spain, returning to his home in Mora during the summers and in the town of Dalarö which lay on the East coast, south west of Stockholm, where the Lamm family rented a summerhouse.  He liked to depict people in their traditional costumes. One example of this is his painting entitled A Swedish Girl in Mora Folk Dress. The woman in the present painting is wearing the traditional folk dress of the small parish of Mora, in Dalarna Sweden, where Anders Zorn was born and raised. Even today Dalarna is regarded as the most typical and traditional of Swedish landscapes, and the folk dress plays a large part in the area’s culture. Zorn maintained a home in Mora and contributed greatly to the preservation of the area’s folk customs and dress, as well their local dialect.

Rocks at Dalarö II by Anders Zorn (1887)

During these periods spent on the coast Anders developed a technique of painting water illustrating the fluctuating and reflective surface.  An example of this type of work can be seen in his 1887 painting, Rocks at Dalarö II.

Zorn House

Anders and Emma did not get officially engaged until the July 2nd 1885 by which time Anders was financially sound thanks to the many commissions he was completing. Shortly after the engagement Emma and her mother travelled to Mora to meet Anders’ mother and other members of the family. The couple married in a civil ceremony on October 18th 1885. The newly married couple spent the next eleven years travelling, including a honeymoon in Constantinople, where Anders became seriously ill with typhoid fever. Despite their travels in Europe, the couple always returned to Sweden in the summer. In 1886, Zorn had acquired a vacant lot near the church in Mora church and designed and had built a house for his family. Additions were constantly made to the house, and by 1910 it was finished. The house, now known as Zorn House, is surrounded by a garden with berry bushes and fruit trees and adorned with a fountain sculpture in bronze made by Zorn himself. In the garden is the artist’s studio. The Zorngården, as it is called, is one of the most well-known artist homes in Sweden. It remains today almost untouched since their time and is now a museum dedicated to the life of Anders and Emma Zorn.

A Fisherman in St Ives by Anders Zorn

Emma and Anders Zorn spent the winter of 1887-88 in St Ives in Cornwall. This was an artistic turning point for Zorn. He began to paint in oils and one of earliest oil paintings, A Fisherman in St Ives, was an acclaimed success. It was accepted by the Paris Salon jurists for the 1888 exhibition and received a First Class Medal. By the end of the show it had been acquired by the French state.

Fish Market in St Ives by Anders Zorn (1888)

Following that achievement, Zorn was awarded a Gold Medal there for his 1888 work, Fish Market in St Ives. This painting is looked upon as one of his most outstanding watercolours.

By 1889 Anders and Emma had finally settled down in their first home in Paris and the French capital was to be their base for the next eight years. It was a challenging time for Emma as having come from a privileged household she had never learnt to cook. However, on the plus-side she had an amazing organisational talent and soon she began to manage her husband’s affairs, arranging contacts with galleries and museums and ensuring his work was well publicised.  Art historians now look upon this period, from Anders’ arrival in Paris and the following five years, as his finest artistic years and ones that raised his profile as one of the leaders of the Parisian art scene. In 1889, when he was 29, he was made a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur at the Exposition Universelle, the Paris World Fair.

Self Portrait by Anders Zorn (1889)
Galleria degli Uffizi

Anders Zorn was asked to paint his self-portrait for the Vasari Corridor of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The Vasari Corridor is a long, raised passageway that connects Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria to Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the river Arno. The passageway was designed and built in 1564 by Giorgio Vasari in just 6 months to allow Cosimo de’ Medici and other Florentine elite to walk safely through the city, from the seat of power in Palazzo Vecchio to their private residence, Palazzo Pitti.

The Vasari Corridor at the Uffizi Gallery, Florence

The passageway contains over 1000 paintings, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, including the largest and very important collection of self-portraits by some of the most famous masters of painting from the 16th to the 20th century. The collection now has over 400 portraits on view. They are hung along the corridor facing each other in chronological order. The self-portraits at the beginning of the collection are also hung according to the artist’s origin, Italians on the right and everywhere else on the left.

……………..….to be continued

The Palm family. Part 1 – The father, Gustaf Wilhelm Palm.

Portrait sketch of landscape artist Professor Gustaf Wilhelm Palm by Fritz von Dardel,

There has to be an enticement to become an artist if one or both of your parents or siblings is a successful painter. Maybe such a family connection is to do with artistic genes. My featured painter today had the perfect start on her road to an artistic future as her father and her maternal grandfather, Johan Gustaf Sandberg,  were accomplished painters and must have nurtured her love of sketching and art when she was young.  In my next blog I will look at the life and works of the talented daughter, the landscape painter, Anna Palm, later Anna Palm de Rosa, but today I want to concentrate on the talents of her father.

View of Subiaco by Gustaf Wilhelm Palm (1884)

Gustaf William Palm was born in Norra Åsum, a small village close to the town of Kristianstad in Southern Sweden on March 14th 1810. He went to school in Kristianstad and when his regular schooling was completed in 1825 he picked up some work in Lund through the good auspices of a friend, Johan Rabbén, who arranged for him to complete some illustrations for a book on European algae written by Carl Agardh. In 1828, when Gustaf was eighteen years of age, he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Stockholm.

View of Gripsholm Castle by Carl Johan Fahlkrantz (1819)

Gustaf Palm was greatly influenced by the works of the acclaimed Swedish romantic landscape painter, Carl Johan Fahlcrantz, whose paintings were often in the form of a somewhat diffused romantic mood with warm, dark colours.

Gustav Vasa Speaks to the Dalecarlians at Mora J G Sanberg (1836)

Another influential figure for Gustaf Palm was his Academy professor, and father-in-law, Johan Gustaf Sandberg, a foremost history painter whose works of art often depicted Norse mythology, folklore and Swedish history. One such painting was Gustav Vasa Speaks to the Dalecarlians at Mora, in which we see Gustav Ericksson trying to drum up support with the people of Dalarna in his fight against the Swedish king Christian II during the Swedish War of Liberation in 1521.

Motif from Norway by Gustaf Wilhelm Palm (1835)

Whilst at the Academy Gustaf Palm received many awards for his work and was commissioned to produce illustrations for Sven Nilsson’s book, Skandinavisk Fauna and Sandberg’s illustrated book, One Year in Sweden. In the summer of 1833 Gustaf and fellow artist, Mikael Gustaf Anckarsvärd , travelled to Norway and Norrland on a painting trip and one of Gustaf Palm’s early paintings from this journey was entitled Motifs of Norway which he completed in 1835.

View of the Riddarholmskanalen, Stockholm by Gustaf Wilhelm Palm (1883)

In 1837 Gustaf developed a problem with his eyes and travelled to Berlin to find a cure for the disease. En route he stopped off in Copenhagen where he met the Danish painter, J C Dahl. He remained in Berlin for a year before moving to Vienna in 1838. In Vienna he exhibited some of his work at the Vienna Academy of Arts. His art works depicting Scandanavian landscapes were very popular and the Austrian public deemed his rugged landscapes to be quite exotic and they sold well.

Dachstein by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller (1839)

Gustaf Palm began to be influenced by the popular Austrian writer and landscape artist, Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller whose work was in great demand at the time.

View of Venice by Gustaf Wilhelm Palm (1843)

In 1840 Gustaf Palm left Austria and travelled to Venice, first visiting Hungary and Trieste. He arrived in Venice in the November of that year and soon set about sketching the various facets of this beautiful city, the canals and surrounding lagoon and these he took with him and converted into paintings when he went onto Rome at the end of July 1841. He was to remain in the Italian capital for the next ten years.

View of Ariccia by Gustaf Wilhelm Palm (1841)

One of his early paintings during his stay in Rome was View of Ariccia which he completed in 1841 and was a landscape work depicting the town which lies thirty kilometres south-east of the capital. It is now housed in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

View of Rome with the Colosseum by Gustaf Wilhelm Palm (1847)

Rome at the time was awash with visiting artists. Tourists flowed through the Italian capital and were often on the look out for something to remind them of their visit and so a painting depicting the city sights or the outlying countryside was a must-have thing. There was a German artist colony and there was a Swedish art colony, to just mention a few, and Gustaf Palm soon became acquainted with the artists. He made friends with the Swedish sculptors Johan Niclas Byström and Bengt Fogelberg and became a lifelong friend of the Swedish watercolour painter, Egron Sellif Lundgren.

View of Tivoli in Italy by Gustaf Wilhelm Palm (1844)

Gustaf completed many landscape paintings depicting the hills surrounding Rome, views of Tivoli with the catacombs as well as may of the small picturesque towns close to the city.

The Road from Pellegrino to Palermo by Gustaf Wilhelm Palm

In December 1851 Gustaf left the Italian capital and moved to Paris and yet he continued to use his sketches from his time in Italy to complete paintings and seemed to dismiss the Parisian surroundings. In October 1852 he left Paris and travelled home to Stockholm. When he returned home he was elected a member of the Royal Academy.  From his Swedish base he made a number of painting trips to central Sweden and up to the far north to Norrland.  In 1856, Gustaf Palm married Eva Sandberg, the daughter of the painter and professor Johan Gustaf Sandberg and three years later the couple had a daughter, Anna. From 1860 Gustaf taught at the Academy as a professor of elementary drawing, and he held the position until the school was withdrawn at the end of 1878 and transferred to the Technical School.

Vue in the neighborhood of Bie by Gustaf Wilhelm Palm (1870)

In 1870 Gustaf completed a beautiful landscape painting of the area close to the hamlet of Bie in central Sweden entitled Vue in the neighbourhood of Bie. The exquisite depiction shows an artist standing in the road sketching the wooden cottage. The old wooden structure has a roof insulated by layers of grass. A man in the foreground struggles with a heavy pail of water which he is going to give to his horse. His unhitched wagon lays by the wayside. Going along the path leading to the house is a woman carrying a heavy bag. Maybe she and the man have been into town for supplies.

Gustaf Wilhelm Palm

Gustaf Wilhelm Palm continued to teach until 1880 and died ten years later on September 20th 1890. He was 80.

Arthur John Elsley – the painter of idyllic life.

As in life itself, snobbery pervades the arts. When asked what our taste in literature is, does one admit to liking romantic fiction or, do we, to save face, rattle on about our love for the novels of Chekhov and Dostoyevsky. When it comes to our love in classical music, do we avoid saying we like the Strauss’ waltzes and the 1812 overture and, talk about our passion for Mahler and Schönberg so as to gain kudos, and to bolster our image as a music savant. Our taste in art and artists can be the same. I remember a collector of pre-Raphaelite paintings being somewhat apologetic about his taste in art maybe thinking that his love should be more on the lines of the great Masters or the avant-garde artists such as Pollock, Picasso and Miró. I remember being on a ship and talking to a passenger who was a well-known port wine producer and he was drinking a glass of port with a cube of ice in it and I queried whether that was the accepted way to drink the wine and he just said that he always drinks what he likes and how he likes it, so maybe we should not be backward in coming forward and saying what we like without fear of condemnation by the elitists of this world.

Weatherbound by Arthur John Elsley (1898)

So why this long introduction to today’s featured artist? The artist I am looking at today produces paintings which many would dismiss as “sugary” or “chocolate-boxy” and yet there is a wonderful beauty about his depictions. Let me welcome you to the world of the English painter of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, Arthur John Elsley. During the middle of the nineteenth century, genre paintings featuring happy family life became very popular in England. The newly wealthy middle class chose in particular those genre paintings that depicted scenes of beautifully dressed young children with their pets in playful settings and this is exactly what Arthur John Elsley gave them. The paintings proved so popular that many were reproduced as prints, and others were often used in calendars, adverts, books and magazines.

Hold Up, Here He Comes by Arthur Elsley (1901)

Elsley was born in London on November 20th 1860. He was one of six children of John Elsley and Emily Freer. His father plied his trade as a coachman but had to give up the job and retire with the onset of tuberculosis. John Elsley was also an amateur artist and had achieved a standard which allowed him to exhibit his work, A Group of Horses, at the British Institution Exhibition of 1845. This Institution had been founded in 1804 for promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom. Young Arthur Elsley, like his father, developed a love of art and on family trips to the Regent’s Park Zoo he would make sketches of the animals. In 1875, aged fourteen, Arthur Elsley enrolled at the South Kensington School of Art, which later became the Royal College of Art.

Mother’s Darling by Arthur Elsley

In 1876 Arthur Elsley was accepted into the Royal Academy Schools as a probationer. It was during his time here that he came under the influence of the historical and biblical painter, Edward Armitage, who was the Professor of Painting, Henry Bowler the Professor of Perspective and his professor of anatomy, John Marshall.

A Helping Hand by Arthur Elsley (1913)

Two years later in 1878 Elsley submitted his first painting (A Portrait of an Old Pony) and had it accepted at that year’s Royal Academy Exhibition. The one setback he had to contend with at this time was a problem with his eyesight which was brought on when he contracted measles. He remained at the Academy Schools until 1882 and on leaving he began to receive portrait commissions especially for ones featuring children with dogs and horses. Many of his portrait commissions came from the Benett-Stanford family of politicians who lived at Preston Manor in Brighton. His first known published work was a line engraving entitled April Floods In Eastern Counties printed in the Young England magazine in 1885.

Goodnight by Arthur Elsley (1911)

Elsley became friends with Solomon Joseph Solomon, a British painter, a member of the Royal Academy and founding member of the New English Art Club. He was also a friend of George Grenville Manton, and he and Elsley shared a studio in 1876. Manton specialised in portraiture but also painted genre subjects with Pre-Raphaelitesque subjects as well as large-scale religious works.

Feeding the Rabbits, also known as Alice in Wonderland by Frederick Morgan

It was through Manton that Arthur Elsley met Frederick Morgan, who was an English portrait artist and painter of domestic and country scenes. He was well-known for his idyllic genre scenes of childhood. This was also the art genre favoured by Elsley and in 1889 he moved into Morgan’s studio, and the two came to an artistic arrangement in which Elsley would paint the animals in Morgan’s paintings as this was his forte and was proving problematic for Morgan.

Their First Swim by Arthur Elsley (1897)

In the summer of 1891 the Great Exhibition was held in London. It was to be the first in a series of World’s Fairs, and within it there was exhibitions of culture and industry. The Great Exhibition was organized by Henry Cole and Prince Albert, husband of the reigning monarch, Queen Victoria. At this exhibition Elsley was awarded a silver medal in for his painting The Bailiff’s Daughter of Islington.

I’se biggest by Arthur Elsley (1892)

The following year his painting entitled I’se Biggest was published, and it was so popular that it had to be re-engraved to cope with public demand. Elsley depicted a young girl comparing her height with that of a large St. Bernard dog.  Terry Parker describes the depiction in his 1998 book, Golden Hours: Paintings of Arthur J Elsley, 1860-1952:

“…one of those simple and unaffected pictures which readily lend themselves to reproduction and has so much nature and so admirable a touch of humour in it that no doubt a great number of those who admire it at Burlington House will be delighted to have an opportunity of hanging a version of it upon their walls…”

The paintings of Elsley were so popular with the public that the Illustrated London News printed one of Elsley’s paintings, Grandfather’s Pet as their Christmas choice for 1893.

Victims by Arthur Elsley (1891)

Arthur Elsley married his second cousin Emily Fusedale on November 11th 1893. Emily, who was ten years younger than Elsley, had worked for Arthur for over ten years modelling for his paintings. This role, as artist’s model, was passed down to their daughter, Marjorie, who was born in 1903 and who as a young child, would appear in many of Elsley’s paintings. After the marriage Elsley set himself up in a new studio and continued with his paintings depicting young children and animals in idyllic countryside settings.

Suspanse by Charles Burton Barber (1894)

With the death of the leading Victorian painter of this genre, Charles Burton Barber, in 1894, Elsley took up the mantle as the most revered painter of children and pets.  The Illustrated London News, 25 January 1896, wrote:

“…Mr. Elsley appears more distinctly as a follower, though not an imitator, of Mr. Burton Barber, differing from him by allowing his children more than a pet at a time, and going beyond the limitations of a fox-terrier, or a collie. He has a keen sense of humour, especially in his treatment of puppies’ backs, which, as students of dog-life well know, are their most expressive features…”

The close relationship between Elsley and Morgan soured around the turn of the century when the latter accused Elsley of artistic plagiarism as he believed Elsley was using his ideas in his paintings.

The First World War broke out in 1914 and for its four-year duration Elsley contributed to the war effort by working on bomb-sights in a munition factory, which put a terrible strain on his already failing eyesight. Elsley’s output of paintings dwindled and he only managed to complete four during the first three years of the war, one of which was a portrait of his daughter, which, although he would not sell it, allowed it to be exhibited at the Royal Academy.

Never Mind by Arthur Elsley (1907)

Marjorie Elsley featured in many of her father’s paintings and I particularly like the one entitled Never Mind which he completed in 1907. The St Bernard dog we see in the painting featured in many of Elsley’s works.

Golden Hours Paintings of Arthur J Elsley by Terry Parker

In his 1998 book, Golden Hours: Paintings of Arthur J Elsley, 1860-1952, Terry Parker, who interviewed Elsley’s only child and principal model, wrote:

“…Marjorie remembers that the St Bernard featured in Never Mind was owned by Miss Mumford, a nurse who lived at South Woodford ………..Elsley was the most popular ‘chocolate box’ artist of the late Victorian and Edwardian period. The appealing quality of his paintings were easily understood and presented a cosy, idealised world of happy, smiling children and their animals…”

In the years that followed, Elsley continued to paint mostly for pleasure and exhibited some of his works until 1927. His failing eyesight eventually curtailed his art work and by 1931 the only hobby he could still manage  were his love of woodwork, metalwork and gardening.

Arthur John Elsley (1860-1952)

Arthur John Elsley died at his home in Tunbridge Wells on 19 February 1952, at the age of 91. At the height of his career from 1878 to 1927, Elsley exhibited 52 works at the Royal Academy.

Gerald Leslie Brockhurst – painter of mesmeric beauty.

To capture beauty with a camera is complicated but with all the aids such as lighting, make-up and Photoshop, photographs of beautiful women are often seen in magazines and newspapers. However, to capture the same life-like beauty in a painting is solely down to the expertise of the artist. As a man, there is something utterly mesmeric when you stand in front of a painting and see before you unadulterated beauty.

Portrait of Charlotte du Val d’ Ognes by Marie-Denise Villers (1801)

I was reminded of this in a comment I received concerning the painting entitled Young Woman Drawing by the eighteenth century French artist Marie-Denise Villers, which I featured in my blog (January 21st 2011). The reader, who confessed to not being a lover of art, commented:

“…while walking through the MET this painting stopped me in my tracks. I love the thoughts that this painting invokes – Who is this woman that is examining me and what does she see? The history of this painting makes it that much intriguing to me and really sets the tone that this painting has nothing to do with the artist weather David or Villers; but more the subject – you. I would pay admission to The MET again just to enjoy this painting one more time. This painting is by far my favorite of the whole museum…”

My blog today is about a man who effortlessly brought beauty to his canvases although such a dedication had a problematic affect on his life. I want you to peruse his many paintings of beautiful women that led to his fame as a great portrait painter. Today I want to introduce you to Gerald Leslie Brockhurst.

Self-Portrait, by Gerald Brockhurst (1949)

Brockhurst was born in the Birmingham suburb of Edgbaston, on October 31st, 1890. He was the youngest of four sons. His father, Arthur, a coal merchant, deserted the family and sought his fortune in America. Gerald attended a number of local schools but found it hard to settle down to school life. He struggled with his writing but excelled in sketching. Problems at school were exacerbated by recurring ear infections he frequently suffered from and which often left him bedridden. As a young boy, he showed a talent for drawing and having an aunt who lived in India, it gave him the opportunity to send her illustrated letters and this really fired-up his interest in art and soon his goal for the future was to become a painter. In 1901, just before his twelfth birthday, he was accepted into the Birmingham School of Art where he remained for five years. He prospered at the academy and the then headmaster of the Birmingham School of Art even announced he had discovered “a young Botticelli”.

Self portrait by Gerald Brockhurst (1905)

During this five-year period, he developed a love for portraiture. Testament to this fact was his self-portrait which he completed in 1905 when he was just fifteen years of age. The portrait is now housed in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.

Gerald Brockhurst won many awards at the Birmingham School of Art and later in 1907 he enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools, which was the oldest art school in the country, founded through a personal act of King George III in 1768. In 1912 Brockhurst gained the esteemed Gold Medal for General Excellence and a travelling scholarship.

Anais, an etching by Gerald Brockhurst

In 1913 Brockhurst met a young French woman, Anais Melisande Folin. She was an amateur artist and it is thought the two met at the home of Ambrose and Mary McEvoy, with whom she was very close. Anais, besides being an artist, sat for many of his early portraits. During his lifetime, Brockhurst made many portraits of celebrities and royalty, but his main sitters were his family and his wife.  The couple married in 1913 and a year later Brockhurst took up his travelling scholarship award and set off with Anais to France and Italy to study the paintings of the old Masters, in particular the work of Leonardo Da Vinci and Piero della Francesco whose stylistic and compositional ideas had a lasting effect on his career.

Ireland 1916 by Gerald Brockhurst (1916)

In 1915, Gerald and Anais moved to Ireland where they remained until 1919. Brockhurst painted a number of pictures on the west coast of Ireland. Whilst in Ireland the couple became friends with some established painters such as Augustus John and it is his influence which can be seen in Brockhurst’s 1916 work entitled Ireland, 1916 which is housed in the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow. In this work his wife Anais is depicted in local costume against the Connemara mountains.

The Dancer (Anaïs) – etching by Gerald Brockhurst

It was during those years in Ireland that Brockhurst created many etched and painted portraits of his wife. From those works, we can see that he was truly in love with her and was fascinated by her beauty. His meeting with the Welsh artist, Augustus John proved very fortuitous as he introduced Brockhurst to his circle of friends. In fact, it was Augustus John who persuaded him to stage two major exhibitions of his works at Chelsea’s Chenil Gallery, in 1916 and again in 1919. These were the launchpad to Brockhurst’s artistic career and he and his wife left Ireland and went to live in London in 1920. Once in London he began to enter some of his etchings and drawings to the Royal Academy. In London, Brockhurst became one of the most successful and highly sought-after portrait painters, but he was also a highly skilled draughtsman and etcher.

Etchings of John Rushbury and his wife

During the twenties and thirties, there was a voracious market for contemporary etching and Brockhurst quickly mastered the technique publishing his first prints in 1920. In 1921, Brockhurst was elected to membership in the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers. One of his first etchings was of his friend and fellow Artist Henry Rushbury. Both had studied at the Birmingham School of Art and when Rushbury left Birmingham to live in London, he first shared a flat with Brockhurst who had already been living in the capital for five years. The etching on the left is entitled Yolande (Mrs Rushbury) and is a portrait of his friend’s wife. Although entitled Yolande, which was a “fancy” name made up by Brockhurst, her name was actually Florence! This etching with its minimal use of lines was described by critics as “a piece of the purest etching in the strictest sense of the word”.

During the next decade Brockhurst established himself as an outstanding and flourishing portrait painter, and also strengthened his reputation as one of the exceptional printmakers of his generation.

Portrait of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll by Gerald Leslie Brockhurst (c.1931)

By 1930 Brockhurst’s artwork was becoming increasingly popular and his reputation as a portrait artist was in the ascendancy, especially for his portraits of glamorous and beautiful women. Most of his portraiture was depictions in half-length format solely depicting the head, shoulders, and torso of the sitter. One of his most famous portraits, which can be found in Tate Britain, was that of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll. This smaller than life-size portrait(76 x 64cms) by Brockhurst depicts the socialite Margaret Whigham the only child of Helen Mann Hannay and George Hay Whigham, a Scottish millionaire. She would later become the Duchess of Argyll after her second marriage to Ian Douglas Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll in 1951. When she sat for the painting around 1931, Margaret was nineteen years of age. She was leading a charmed life having been presented at Court in London in 1930 and was known as the debutante of the year. The background of the portrait is comprised of a dark sky and a landscape of mountains and lakes. Margaret was known to be passionately proud of her Scottish heritage, and Brockhurst has reflected this in the way he has painted the scenic backdrop, which evokes the lochs and mountains of Scotland. Margaret faces us, with her face, shoulders, and torso in view. She is wearing a dark dress, and Brockhurst has depicted the golden, floral embroidery in great detail using small brushstrokes. Look at the contrast between her pale, porcelain-like skin with its muted tones with the rest of her face such as her very dark eyes and eyebrows, which are so different in comparison with the whiteness of her face.

Gerald Brockhurst depicts his mistress, Kathleen Woodward, as Ophelia

Teaching in the Royal Academy Schools, at that time, was undertaken by a system of lectures delivered by Professors and Royal Academician Visitors, and in 1928, when Brockhurst was thirty-eight years old, he was appointed a Visitor to the Royal Academy Schools. It was at this time that he met the sixteen-year-old artist’s life model Kathleen Woodward. Brockhurst was immediately besotted by this youthful and exuberant beauty and she was to become his lifelong model and even though she, his muse, was just sixteen years of age and he was thirty-eight, the two soon became lovers. He renamed her Dorette. which is of Greek origin and means “gift”. This renaming of one’s muse was similar to what his fellow artist and friend, Augustus John had done, when he named his lover and muse, Dorothy McNeil, Dorelia.

Adolescence by Gerald Brockhurst (1932)

His new muse Dorette appeared in many paintings and etchings by Brockhurst but the one people remember the most was his audacious, some would say salacious, while others postulated that it was his greatest print masterpiece – Adolescence, which he completed in 1932. In the depiction we see his mistress, Kathleen Woodward, then nineteen years of age, sitting on a stool in front of her dressing table mirror. From the mirrored reflection we can see that Kathleen is studying her naked body. She seems unhappy with what she sees. It is the personification of teenage angst. It is a study of vulnerability. It is a kind of body dysmorphia in which, although the viewer sees a perfect body, the young woman is disappointed in what the mirror has revealed. The darkly lit depiction adds to the intense scene. It is a depiction which tip-toes along the narrow line separating art and erotica. What we see before us is undoubtedly the artist’s talent in his portrayal of a variety of surfaces, textures, and tones. To some, it is simply a study of beauty to others it is a disturbing, even distasteful depiction but it simply comes down to individual taste.

Jeunesse Dorée by Gerald Brockhurst (1934)

This brings me back to my opening lines when I talked about being mesmerised by beauty depicted in a painting. I first caught sight of the 1934 painting by Gerald Brockhurst entitled Jeunesse Dorée when I visited the Lady Lever Gallery in Port Sunlight, Merseyside, back in May 2011. In a way the painting was hidden away, hanging on the wall of the narrow mezzanine corridor above the main gallery. The title of the work comes from the French meaning “gilded youth” and the term is often applied to wealthy and fashionable society people. It was painted by Gerald Brockhurst in 1934 and exhibited at that year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. It was subsequently purchased for £1000 by Lord Leverhume, for his Lady Lever Gallery on the very first day of the show.

Take a moment and study this beautiful portrait. It is a half-length portrait with an almost two-dimensional stark and rocky idealised landscape along with an immense sky as the background. There is a lack of depth to the background of this painting, which in a way projects the young girl towards us. This setting was consistent with his many portraits of the 1930’s and 1940’s but which was in contrast to the works of other portraitist who preferred to use realistic three-dimensional settings. He has used sombre colours. The young woman stares straight at us almost as if she is daring us to blink. As you look at her you wonder what is going through her mind. Her eyes are penetrating as if she is looking into your very soul. There is no hint of a smile on her full red lips. Her expression is inscrutable. This however does not detract from her beauty and her captivating sensuality. Her plain-coloured cardigan, echoing the shades of the background, clings tightly to her body. Her full breasts strain against the material and the buttons of the cardigan which hold them captive. It is no wonder that Brockhurst was seduced by her beauty and fell in love with her. Many who have stood before this portrait have also fallen in love with her, having been lost in her enigmatic loveliness. The art critic of the Daily Mail newspaper of the day reported on the painting and its admirers writing:

“…again, I saw people yesterday standing before the picture trying to fathom the secret of those curiously haunting deep-blue eyes…”

Lord Leverhulme lent the picture to the 1934 Liverpool Autumn Exhibition held at Liverpool Walker Art Gallery and this annual exhibition was looked upon as the equivalent of the Royal Academy shows. The curator at the Walker at the time, Charles Carter, wrote in the Liverpool Evening Express that ‘Jeunesse Dorée’ was “a picture of sensuality incarnate”.

The 1932 etching, Dorette by Gerald Brockhurst

Lord Leverhume’s determination to have the painting stemmed from his frustration the year before when he tried to buy Brockhurst’s 1932 etching Dorette, but due to the hesitancy of his Gallery Trustees on whether to fund the proposed acquisition, the sale was lost and it was bought by the Harris Museum and Art Gallery of Preston.

Portrait of Nancy Woodward by Gerald Brockhurst (c.1930’s)

During the thirties the market for prints had collapsed and Brockhurst reverted to painting. In his painting, Portrait of Nancy Woodward, we see a depiction of Dorette’s sister Nancy which Brockhurst completed in the 1930’s. This work is thought to be one of only two portraits that Brockhurst painted of Nancy. What looks like a domestic backdrop to the painting gives the impression of a close relationship he had with the sitter. Nancy strikes a self-confident pose at a time when her sister’s lover was suffering from public censure for his affair with his muse, Kathleen. The 1930’s proved to be a very turbulent time for Brockhurst. On the plus side Brockhurst was earning the highest income of any British portrait painter of the period and in 1937 he was elected to the Royal Academy.  However on the down-side, following the publishing of his Adolescence etching a newspaper article appeared exposing his affair with his model Kathleen Woodward.   The story created a scandal in England, and his wife Anais was furious and filed for divorce. Gerald Brockhurst was equally vehement with regards his wife’s action and counter-sued.

Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Gerald Brockhurst (1939)

The adverse publicity in the British press from the divorce procedures which was finally granted to Anais in 1939, combined with the beginning of World War II led to Brockhurst fleeing England with his lover and emigrating to New Jersey where the two married. Brockhurst and Kathleen eventually settled in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. In New York, Brockhurst’s fame as a portrait artist blossomed and commissions from his loyal patrons flowed in making him both famous and very wealthy.

Merle Oberon sits for a portrait by Gerald Brockhurst (1937)

He was a prolific portraitist who completed in excess of six hundred works, many of rich and famous people such as J Paul Getty, Wallis Simpson, Merle Oberon, and Marlene Dietrich.

Gerald Leslie Brockhurst died in New Jersey on May 4th, 1978 aged 87. His second wife, Kathleen ‘Dorette’ Woodward, died in 1996.