Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

My featured artist today is the Victorian painter Mary Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, one of the most popular artists of her time. She is perhaps best remembered for reawakening the Pre-Raphaelite style of painting at the end of the 19th century as shown in her moral or medieval depictions with their vibrant and flamboyant colours. The Pre-Raphaelite group was founded in 1848 by John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti but by the time Eleanor went to art school in 1889, Pre-Raphaelite painting was led by a second generation of artists which included Edward Burne-Jones. Eleanor admired their work and carefully followed in their footsteps which helped keep the style alive until the start of the twentieth century. Eleanor was not simply a painter. She was also a designer, produced stained-glass windows and small-scale sculptures, illustrated books as well as completing numerous watercolour and oil paintings.

The Ugly Princess by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1902)

Mary Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale was born at the family home in the prosperous London suburb of Upper Norwood on January 25th, 1872. Her father Matthew Inglett Fortescue-Brickdale was a barrister of Lincoln’s Inn who married, Sarah Ann Lloyd, the daughter of Judge Edward John Lloyd QC, of the Bristol county court. Eleanor was the youngest of five children. She had two brothers, Charles, the eldest child, who was born in 1857, John Matthew and two sisters, Kate, and Ann. Ann died aged six, four years before Eleanor was born. The family financial circumstances were sound, and they employed four servants and a governess for Eleanor. As was the norm at that time, the parents were preoccupied with their sons’ future ensuring they had the best schooling and went on to a financially-sound profession whilst being ambivalent with regards their daughters’ future believing that the future happiness of their daughters was a good, kind, and wealthy husband!

Portrait of Charles Fortescue-Brickwell by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickwell (1924)

Charles, an amateur artist who, attended Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford University, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a barrister focusing on land law and in 1900 was appointed Chief Registrar of HM Land Registry.  He was famed for modernising the Land Registry system. John, who was two years older than Eleanor, went into medicine and became a physician in Bristol and contributed many articles for medical journals and co-authored a couple of medical books. Ironically, despite their parent’s plans, neither Kate nor Eleanor married. Little is known of Kate but of course we do know that Eleanor’s love of art was to contribute to her fame and financial stability.

In the Springtime by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1901) watercolour

One must presume Eleanor’s interest in art was fostered by her parents who looked upon the ability to paint and draw, as simply a hobby for females  but one which would prove attractive to suitors. Another reason could be that her father had an interest in art and had John Ruskin as a fellow Oxford University student. Matthew Fortescue-Brickdale was involved in one of Ruskin’s art projects, the Arundel Society, which was founded to promote knowledge of the art works of the old Italian, Flemish, and other European Masters and to conserve and document works of art which were at risk of destruction. It is believed that her father’s love of art resulted in visits with his children to art galleries.

After completing her home schooling in 1889, seventeen-year-old Eleanor enrolled at the Crystal Palace School of Art, Science and Literature. It was not one of the most prestigious establishment but maybe it was chosen for Eleanor for its closeness to the family home. It was a mixed college, but the art classes were for female students only, the science for male students and the music was for both. Eleanor proved an able student and at the end of her first year, was awarded the annual scholarship for crayon drawing and watercolours and in 1892 she gained a silver medal for watercolour.

Natural Magic, 1905 watercolor by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale

In 1894, tragedy struck the Fortescue-Brickdale household when Eleanor’s father, Matthew was killed whilst mountain climbing in the Alps.

Around the mid 1890’s, wanting a more prestigious art school which offered tuition by well-known artists who would develop her talent, Eleanor enrolled at the St John’s Wood School. The art school had another important role. It was an established feeder school for students who wanted to enrol at the prestigious Royal Academy Schools. Proof of this comes from the statistic that in the first half of the 1890’s of the 394 students who were admitted to the RA Schools, 250 came from the St John’s Wood School. St John’s Wood School also offered life drawing classes with nude models to both its male and female students.

Contemplation by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

To achieve admission into the Royal Academy Schools, the candidate had to submit certain pieces of art and if they were found acceptable the candidate would become a probationer and then, if their work during the next three months was up to the standard required, they would become a full student and be allowed to start one of the courses. In the Magazine of Art, 25, 1902, an article appeared written by Marion Hepworth Dixon , Our rising Artists: Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale in which she wrote that it took Eleanor three attempts to get to become a probationer but once that was achieved in January 1895, she only remained as such for three weeks before becoming a full-student and starting an art course. In 1897 Eleanor was awarded a prize by the Royal Academy Schools for her work as a designer and promising decorative designer.

Madame Placid by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

For any up-and-coming artist wanting to establish a reputation, social connections were of paramount importance to achieving commissions and acquiring a wealthy patron. Eleanor’s education had been different to many other aspiring painters. She had not attended school, her parents deciding on home schooling, she had not attended a university and now at the age of twenty-five remained unmarried, all of which resulted in her not having many outside connections which would have helped her through her artistic life and so, she had to rely on her family and friends for a helping hand.

Land Registry certificate (1898). Designed by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale.

Her first breakthrough came in the form of a “brotherly helping-hand”. Charles her eldest brother who was working at the Land Registry persuaded her to design a certificate of registration for his newly re-organised Land Registry office.

A Cotswold Village; or, country life and pursuits in Gloucestershire, by James Gibbs

In the same year her brother Charles helped her once again. He had married Mabel Gibbs, whose brother James Gibbs an amateur cricketer who had played for the MCC, and a writer who, that year, had published a book, A Cotswold Village; or, country life and pursuits in Gloucestershire, and had Eleanor illustrate it with twenty pen and ink sketches of rural scenes. Later her reputation was further advanced when she provided pen and ink sketches for the illustrated version of Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.

Her reputation as a talented illustrator soon grew and her design work was in great demand from such popular journals as Country Life and The Ladies’ Field. Her “audience” were the wealthy landowners some of who became her patrons and would often call upon her to paint pictures of their family and stately homes.

The Pale Complexion of True Love by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1898)

In 1899 she completed her first major work of art entitled The Pale Complexion of True Love which was accepted for inclusion in that year’s Royal Academy Annual Exhibition. The title of the work is taken from Act 3 Scene IV of Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy, As You Like It, when the elderly shepherd, Corin speaks of the shepherd, Silvius’ unrequited love for the shepherdess, Phebe:

“…If you will see a pageant truly play’d,
Between the pale complexion of true love
And the red glow of scorn and proud disdain,
Go hence a little and I shall conduct you,
If you will mark it…”

The first thing that strikes you with this painting is the sumptuous red of the lady’s gown. It is interesting how the artist has used such a bright spectrum of colours. To many people, the Pre-Raphaelite painters use of bright colours was garish and lacked delicacy. To others it was this vibrancy of colour which heightened their work, but I will leave you to decide.

The Gift That is Better Than Rubies by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1899)

In 1899 Eleanor produced a painting, The Gift That is Better Than Rubies, a title derived from a passage in the Bible – Proverbs 8: 10-11.

“…Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold. For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it…”

The Gilded Apple by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1899)

In the summer of 1899, father and son art dealers, William and Walter Dowdeswell who ran a gallery in New Bond Street, London, commissioned Eleanor to produce a large number of watercolour paintings for their 1901 show which was entitled Such stuff as dreams are made of, a line from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. The depictions in these works covered subjects from the Bible, Shakespeare, Browning and Coleridge. One of her watercolour paintings on show at this exhibition was The Gilded Apple. It depicts a fairy tale princess being thrown a gilded apple. She leans back in an attempt to catch it and her crown tumbles from her head and is about to fall into a fishpond behind her. Meanwhile we see a cat ready to pounce on one of the fish in the pond.  The commission had been so big that Eleanor had decided to acquire her own studio in Holland Park, and area populated by many artists. The show was a spectacular success and all the paintings were sold. In an article in the June edition of The Artist praise was heaped upon her:

“…Rarely, if ever, has a woman painter made a great reputation as quickly and thoroughly as Miss Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, whose series of watercolour drawings has, during the last month, drawn the whole of artistic London to the Dowdeswell Galleries…”

The Little Foot Page by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1905)

One of Eleanor’s best-known paintings is one she completed in 1905 and is entitled The Little Foot Page which is now part of the Walker Art Gallery collection in Liverpool. This painting illustrates lines from a 1765 ballad Child Waters sometimes known as Burd Helen, part of the collection of traditional folk ballads by Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. The ballad describes the loyalty of Ellen who is bearing the child of her heartless lover Child Waters. He insists Ellen serve him as a page. She is shown dressed in male clothing and just about to cut her long beautiful hair, so she can pass as a boy. Her dress and wimple can be seen, discarded in the foreground. The theme of a wronged woman was a familiar one in Victorian times. Look at the painstaking way the artist has depicted the foliage. Eleanor was a great believer of the adage, “truth to nature”, and this is highlighted in the painting.

Love and his Counterfeits by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1904)

I have always liked multi-figured paintings which have a story attached and so one of my favourite works by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale is one which she completed in 1905 and entitled Love and His Counterfeits. The painting was included in the artist’s second show at the Dowdeswell Gallery, in June 1905. How many times do we look at a “complicated” work of art and wonder what is going on? If only we could ask the artists. In this case Eleanor has put us out of our misery by supplying, in her words, the story behind the depiction which came with the work. She wrote:

“…When a girl’s soul awakens and she opens the door of her Heart’s Castle to receive Love, at first she will not recognise him.
First, she will see Fear and think him to be Love. Fear, in craven armour of black, with no coat of arms or badge to mark his family. But by Fear, Love may come.
Then she will see Romance, being now in love with ‘being in love’ –
Romance, the Boy on a Bubble with a Castle of Dreams in his hand, and
Birds and Roses about him. He leads Ambition, who shall stir the girl to think he is Love himself – Ambition, very hot and eager, riding upon Pegasus, the winged Horse.
After them is Position, whom she may take for Love; but truly she is in love with Appearance, Prestige, Importance, Riches, Place, all his Train, and this is borne by a Cupid.  Now she is stirred by Pity, thinking whom she pities she loves – Pity with the Cup of tears with three handles, that many may drink.
Then she perceives Arts, a brave fellow who is but words and emptiness and a mask for love. Arts paints a wound upon him and sings that it is real. To Love he is not henchman, nor cousin, but enemy.
Behind him goes Flattery with a mirror, so she is wooed by vain words. Then Gratitude comes with the smoke of memory, and she will think she is faithless if she does not love one who has been kind.
Now, at last, after her emotion, her assault by gifts, mirrors, riches, tears, dreams, phrases, memories, comes True Love, empty-handed, to take and win her Heart’s Castle…”

The Rusty Knight (Yniol’s rusted arms) by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

During the first part of the twentieth century Eleanor carried on with her book illustration. In 1909, Ernest Brown, of the Leicester Galleries, commissioned a series of twenty-eight watercolour illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, which she painted over two years. They were exhibited in the Dowdeswell Gallery in 1911, and twenty-four of them were published the next year in a deluxe edition of the first four Idylls. The book, Idylls of the King, was a cycle of twelve narrative poems by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, which retells the legend of King Arthur.

In the painting, above, The Rusty Knight (Yniol’s rusted arms), we see the knight Sir Geraint astride his horse, accompanied by Enid who walks alongside. He has borrowed a suit of armour from her father Yniol to challenge Enid’s other suitor on the tournament ground. Geraint is a flawed character and suffers from jealousy and at times mistrusted Enid. It could be that Eleanor felt for Enid and so mocked Geraint by depicting him, peeking 0ut his ill-fitting suit of armour whilst sat on an over-large horse.

The Passing of Elaine by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1911)

Her 1911 painting, The Passing of Elaine, depicts another female character from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, which caught the imagination of Eleanor.  She was Elaine, a naïve but affectionate young girl who falls in love with Lancelot, but he has no romantic feelings for her. When he tells her that their love can never be, she wishes for death. She orders a chariot bier to take her to the river and place her on a barge, clothed in black upon which she will make her final journey down the river to King Arthur’s Court in the castle at Camelot.

Portrait of Winifred Roberts, by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, (1913)

The works of art of Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale were not all book illustrations, neither were they all Pre-Raphaelite-type paintings. One of my favourite works by Fortescue-Brickdale is a portrait which she completed in 1913. It is a portrait of Winifred Roberts, a student at the Byam Shaw School of Art, where she taught. The portrait was a commission given to Eleanor by Winifred’s grandmother Rosalind Howard. Winifred wears a blue dress with lace trimming. She is sitting on a settee which is covered in a fabric produced by Morris and Company, a furnishings and decorative arts manufacturer and retailer founded by the artist and designer William Morris with friends from the Pre-Raphaelites.

In 1938, Brickdale’s career as an artist and illustrator was cut short when she suffered a stroke and was unable to paint for the last seven years of her life. Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale died in Surrey on March 11th, 1944 at the age of 79.

Eleanor was acknowledged as having revived the Pre-Raphaelite style of painting at the end of the 19th century and was considered ‘the last survivor of the late Pre-Raphaelite painters’. Her style of painting and her illustrative work had many admirers who baulked at the new modern art which was becoming more popular, what they wanted and what Eleanor gave them was aesthetically pleasing art which told stories.

Advertisements

Annie Louisa Swynnerton. Part 3 -The later years and the Royal Academy

Portrait of Annie Swynnerton by Gwenny Griffiths (1928)

In my third and final blog looking at the life and works of the talented Victorian artist, Annie Louise Swynnerton I wanted to firstly concentrate on some of her best loved paintings.

In 1880 she completed a work entitled The Tryst sometimes referred to as The Factory Girl’s Tryst. This remarkable painting was bought by Henry Boddington Jnr., the owner of the brewing empire which was not only Manchester’s largest brewery but one of the largest in the North of England. He later gave it to the Salford Art Gallery.

Tryst by Annie Swynnerton (1880)

The depiction features a night-time background scene with distant twinkling lights reflected on water behind the female figure. It could be that Annie got the idea of this background after seeing some of Whistler’s Nocturne paintings featuring the River Thames at night, which he completed in the 1870’s. The setting for Annie Synnerton’s work is thought to be Peel Park Lake, an urban park in Salford, Manchester and the park is situated on the flood plain of the River Irwell.  In the top right of the painting you can just make out an illuminated windmill and it is known that a mill stood on the bank of the river in the 1880’s.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket, (1874)

The meaning of the word tryst in the title of the painting refers to a secret meeting between lovers and this subject is a very popular one for the Pre-Raphaelite painters. The figure is of a young girl who is clutching her shawl around her body to fend off the cold. She has a worried expression on her face, a look of desperation, but why? We cannot hep feel for this vulnerable young girl. Her eyes are staring out as if she is looking for something or somebody, but what or who is she searching for?

The answer lies in a Manchester legend which Annie would have been familiar with. It is a legend of the love affair between a poor local girl, a mill worker, the daughter of a miller, and the son of the wealthy landowning Stanley family. She had come to the windmill to meet the young man, but he never arrived. His family had found out about the affair and were horrified by the liaison and so, to put an end to the relationship, they sent him away from home. The young girl was heartbroken when she heard what had happened and being so distraught threw herself into Peel Park Lake and drowned. The Stanley’s son on hearing of the death committed suicide. The boy’s father was so remorseful about sending his son away from home which resulted in the two suicides made it known that the windmill, the trysting place of the young lovers, must endure forever.

The Letter by Annie Swynnerton

Another painting which causes you to wonder what the depiction is all about is Swynnerton’s painting, The Letter, which is part of the Royal Academy collection in London and is a depiction of a favoured subject by many artists of the past. Receiving, reading, and writing a letter was a much-loved subject of artist for many centuries. Looking back at genre works by sixteenth and seventeenth century Northern Renaissance and Dutch painters many featured this subject.  It was a depiction that made viewers wonder about the story behind the painting.

Woman Reading a Letter by Gabriel Metsu (1665)

I can recall two wonderful paintings by Gabriel Metsu, prints of which I have on one of my walls at home, Woman Reading a Letter and Man Writing a Letter (see My Daily Art Display, Jan 22nd, 2014).

The Letter by Leonard Campbell Taylor

The subject was also popular in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century with British artists such as The Letter painted by the British painter Leonard Campbell Taylor.

Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window by Johannes Vermeer (1659)

Annie Swynnerton’s painting besides being about letter reading has another connection with a famous painting of the same subject, Johannes Vermeer’s painting Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, as like Vermeer the person reading the letter is illuminated by natural light coming through a window, which symbolised the outside world. In the work by Swynnerton the way she has formulated the composition (101 x 48cms) its narrowness gives us a feeling that the girl is in some way confined in a restricted space which gives us a perception of claustrophobia. The contrast between the dark background and the illuminated figure of the girl with the painted highlights on her face, hair and dress enhances the three-dimensionality of the depiction. What is in the letter remains a mystery but whatever it is, it has the girl’s full attention.

Cupid and Psyche by Annie Swynnerton (1891)

Annie Swynnerton’s paintings often depicted nudes but couched them with mythological connotations probably to make them more acceptable to the Victorian public. Her best-known work of this genre was her 1890 painting Cupid and Psyche. The pair from Roman mythology were the favourite subject of many artists. According to mythology Cupid was sent by his mother Venus, who was jealous of Psyche’s beauty, to wound Psyche with one of his arrows and by so doing she would fall in love with a lowly man. The twist to the story is that Cupid falls in love with Psyche and makes her his wife, but he forbids her to look at his face to ensure the marriage remains a secret. The story then gets more complicated………

In the depiction we see Cupid on the right kissing Psyche. The depiction of the nudes differs from the normal idealized Academic-depicted nude paintings which were common in works by artists such as Lawrence Alma-Tadema or Frederic Leighton. Swynnerton has once again gone for an un-idealized portrayal of the human body. Look carefully at the way the artist has use an assortment of colours in the portrayal of the naked flesh including blue for the veins. Their bodies are illuminated by moonlight whilst, behind them, we see the light of the breaking dawn. The painting received mixed reviews from the critics, some of whom were startled by the depiction. Claude Phillips from the Art Journal praised Swynnerton writing:

“…her flesh-painting has a certain quivering reality not to be found in many renderings of the nude by contemporary English artists…”

But the art critic and one of the two ‘non-artistic’ members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Frederic George Stephens, writing in The Athenaeum commented on Swynnerton’s depiction of Psyche:

“…her features are coarse and blubbered, and her flesh is without the sweetness, evenness or purity of youth…”

Oceanid by Annie Swynnerton (1908)

Another of Annie Swynnerton’s mythological paintings, Oceanids, was completed in 1909 and is thought to have resulted from some plein-air painting at one of the crater lakes close to Rome and then completed in her studio in central Rome. Oceanids were goddess-nymphs who presided over the sources of earth’s fresh-water, from rain-clouds to subterranean springs and fountains. Along with the Oceanid there is another creature depicted in the painting but barely discernible in the bottom right of it. It is a sea serpent which co-habits with the Oceanid in the lake. What is so magical about this painting is the way Swynnerton has illustrated the translucency and movement of the water and could only have been achieved by carefully studying the water conditions of the lake and the way light played on the surface. It is also remarkable the way she has depicted the dappled light on the body of the woman. The expression on the woman’s face is one of great pleasure as she draws her hair out to be warmed by the rays of the sun. The painting was bought by Christiana Jane Herringham who was the daughter of Thomas Wilde Powell, an artist, and later a wealthy patron of the Arts and Crafts Movement. In 1880 she married the physician Wilmot Herringham, (later Sir Wilmot Herringham) with whom she had two sons, Geoffrey, and Christopher. Lady Herringham was committed to women’s suffrage from 1889 onwards and had probably met Swynnerton through their mutual friendship with Millicent Garrett Fawcett. The painting is now part of the City of Bradford Museum collection.

Geoffrey and Christopher Herringham by Annie Swynnerton

Annie Swynnerton completed a painting, of Jane Herringham’s two sons, Geoffrey, and Christopher Herringham in 1889 and the following year was exhibited at the New Gallery in London and at the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition. The rural setting is at the onset of evening with the sun setting in the blue-hilled background. Again, like so many of her figurative works, Swynnerton has focused on the natural light which illuminates the rosy-cheeks of the boys but also look at how the glimmering light is captured on the velvet jumpers worn by the boys. It is a depiction of happy childhood but alas their future was destined to be anything but happy. The younger son, Christopher, died of acute rheumatoid arthritis soon after the painting was completed, and Geoffrey was killed in 1914, during the first months of the Great War. He was 31. Their mother Jane died aged 77 in 1929 but spent many of her last years in a mental institution suffering from delusions of pursuit and persecution.

Autumn Leaves by John Everett Millais (1856)

The painting is often likened to that of John Millais’s 1856 work Autumn Leaves with its twilight setting and blue-hilled backdrop. Millais’ work is housed in the Manchester Art Gallery and must have been seen on many occasions by Swynnerton.

Margaret and Chrystian Guthrie by Annie Swynnerton (1907)

Another painting commission Annie Swynnerton received due to her connection with the woman’s rights campaign was to produce a portrait of the two daughters of American-born Mary Guthrie, the wife of David Charles Guthrie, 5th Baron of Craigie and East Haddon Hall. Mary Guthrie was a leading campaigner in the Northampton area for the Woman’s rights and it is through that connection that she met Swynnerton. In the painting entitled Margaret and Chrystian Guthrie we see her two daughters sitting on a window seat in East Haddon Hall. In the background we can see the extensive and opulent gardens. The children seem a little bit edgy and probably don’t like to waste time sitting for the portrait and prefer to be off playing. Look at the elder of the sisters on the left. She is almost desperate to lift herself off the seat and run away. The younger, with her back to us, looks over her shoulder and smiles but seems to prefer to concentrate on the sunny garden. The painting is a mass of colour and tones from the yellows, greens, and blues of the garden in the background to the pinks and reds of the sumptuous curtains and cushions we see in the room itself. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1907.

In 1922 Annie Louisa Swynnerton was finally elected the first female Associate Member of the Royal Academy. One has to remember that Swynnerton had been regarded as a highly accomplished and talented artist since the late 1880’s so why the long wait for recognition by the Royal Academy? To find a possible answer to that question one must look at the Royal Academy establishment.

A 19th century illustration of the Royal Academy

The Royal Academy was founded in 1768 to publicise the arts, to deliver free tuition which would enable the talented, notwithstanding their means, to be taught to the highest standards. It was also committed to hold an annual exhibition which would be free to exhibitors and at which the works would be selected on merit. Thirty-six artists and architects petitioned King George III seeking his permission to establish a society which would promote the Arts.

The Academicians of the Royal Academy by Johan Zoffany (1772)

In a group portrait of the thirty-six founding members of the Royal Academy completed by Johann Zoffany in 1772, we see the members gathered around a nude male model at a time when women were excluded from such training to protect their modesty. For that reason, the two female founding members, Mary Moser and Angelica Kauffman could not be depicted as being present at the life drawing class but Zoffany added them as portraits hanging on the wall.

King George III agreed to the request and accorded it Royal status and helped subsidise it for the first decade. Its first president was Joshua Reynolds. To preserve the excellence of the establishment the numbers of Academicians would be limited to artists, sculptors and architects.  Later engravers were included. The 1768 Instrument of Foundation allowed total membership of the Royal Academy to be 40 artists. When Annie Swynnerton was elected the maximum permitted number was 42 and since then there have been two more changes to the rule and the maximum now stands at 80, but within that number there must always be at least 14 sculptors, 12 architects and 8 printmakers with the balance being painters. The maximum age of an Academician is set at seventy-five and once Academician reach that age they stand down and become Senior Academicians. So, when this happens or on the death of an Academician, a vacancy occurs.

Nominations Book of the Royal Academy

Anyone is eligible to become a Royal Academician, if they are under seventy-five years of age and professionally active as an artist or architect in the UK. Potential new Royal Academicians are first nominated by an existing Academician, who writes their name in the weighty Nominations Book. Signatures must then be elicited from eight other Royal Academicians in support of the nomination. At this stage the nominee becomes a candidate. In March, May, and December each year, all the Academicians meet at a General Assembly to vote in new Members from the list of candidates. There is no postal voting, so this is done entirely in person.

Oreads by Annie Louisa Swynnerton (1907)

So, to go back to the case of Annie Swynnerton. She was a respected artist. She was under seventy-five years of age and so she should have been a prime candidate, or was she? The Royal Academy in the last two decades of the nineteenth century was very male orientated and talk of electing a woman into the hallowed ranks was anathema to many Academicians. In 1907, when Annie was 63, her name was put forward by George Clausen following the positive response to her paintings which were shown at the Academy’s 1906 exhibition and by her painting Oreads shown in 1907. However, she failed to be elected. Seven years later, in 1914, her name was once again put forward by George Clausen but once again she failed to be elected. Annie may have been totally disillusioned with the way in which she had been treated by the R.A. and did not exhibit again at the Royal Academy for six years.

The breakthrough finally came in November 1922 when she was finally elected the first woman Associate Royal Academician. Full coverage across all newspapers hailed this not only a success for Annie but a success for women. She was delighted, and the Daily Mail of November 25th printed an interview they had with her and recorded her feelings at being so honoured:

“…I am much gratified at the honour bestowed on me, but true art needs no incentive; its work is its own reward. Professionally, though, this recognition of women artists should be a great help. It marks such a very long stage from my younger days, when women were not admitted to the Academy schools and it was difficult for them to get their best work exhibited…”

And that ended the saga – or did it? Those of you who are good at maths, knowing Annie Swynnerton was born in 1844, will have realised that when she was elected a Royal Academician in November 1922 she was 78 and that was three years past the cut-off date for being eligible to become a Royal Academician !!!!!!   It was thought that she would have to resign immediately. The proposed treatment of Annie outraged the national press. In an article in November 28th Daily News they did not mince their words:

“…Today the world sinks back in its chair overwhelmed with laughter and despair and the Academy is covered with ignominy. Surely there has never been so egregious a blunder, if indeed it was not something worse…”

They, like many people, could not decide whether it had been the Academicians’ carelessness and incompetence for not realising the age of Annie Swynnerton when her name was put forward on the third occasion or they were being devious and there was an element of conspiracy about the whole issue.  A compromise was finally reached and Annie Louisa Swynnerton was made a Senior Associate Academician but, because of her age, could never be raised to full membership.

Annie Swynnerton’s Grave, St Mary’s Church, South Hayling

Annie Swynnerton’s sight began to deteriorate towards the end of her life, but she continued to exhibit pictures at the Academy, although they were often works she had painted years earlier. She died on October 24th, 1934 at the age of eighty-eight at her home on Hayling Island, near Portsmouth, leaving a studio full of 170 pictures, all but 12 of them unfinished and unframed.

Annie Louisa Swynnerton, besides being a very talented painter, was a fighter. Her determination was the key to success. She overcame many difficulties and what she achieved was a beacon of light which inspired many female artists who followed to press ahead with their fight against institutionalised prejudice against female artists.


Most of the information for my three blogs about Annie Swynnerton was found in some excellent books which I bought at the Painting Light and Hope exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery, which you should try and visit.

Annie Swynnerton, Painting Light and Hope by Kate JT Herrington and Rebecca Milner.

The Life and Works of Annie Louise Swynnerton by Susan Thomson.

Annie Swynnerton, Painter and Pioneer by Christine Allen and Penny Morris.

Annie Louise Swynnerton. Part 1 – the early years.

Portrait of Annie Swynnerton by Gwenny Griffiths (1928)

The media these days is full of articles and comments about the lack of equality suffered by women in all walks of life. One hopes that it is not just a fad that the media believe its audience want to be informed about but will die away like so many “hot topics” in the past. Women have had to struggle for too long and nowhere so much as in the male-dominated world of art. In the next few blogs I want to feature a female artist who railed against such inequalities. My featured artist today is the English painter Annie Louise Swynnerton (née Robinson).

Annie Swynnerton

Annie Louise Robinson was born  at 3 Vine Grove, Hulme, an inner-city working-class area south of the city centre of Manchester. She was one of seven daughters of Ann Sanderson and Francis Robinson. Her father came from a humble background, his father plying his trade as a carpenter. After he had completed his schooling, Francis Robinson embarked on a career in law as an attorney’s clerk. He married Anne Sanderson, the daughter of a York innkeeper, in 1840. Francis Robinson’s legal career progressed and in 1843 he attained the position of managing clerk in the Higsons law firm, later the firm became Higsons and Robinson. The couple had seven children, all daughters, the first born being Annie Louisa Robinson who entered the world on February 26th 1844. She was followed by Emily, Julia, Sarah, Adela, Mary and Frances. Annie was baptised at St Wilfrid’s Catholic Church later that year. The family changed their place of residence many times when Annie was growing up, living in various Manchester suburbs, such as Kersal, Chorlton-on-Medlock, Greenhays and in 1861 the seventeen-year-old was living at 227 Prestwich Park, Salford. This was a prestigious area of Manchester and the Robinson’s home was an eight-bedroomed house and was large enough to accommodate the parents, their seven children, Mary Robinson, Francis’ unmarried sister and two young Irish servant girls. The next-door neighbours were both prosperous  families, one being a hat manufacturer who employed over two hundred workers and on the other side the neighbour was a silk merchant.

Annie Swynnerton in her studio painting Sense of Light (1895)

Around the end of the 1860’s there was a change in the family fortunes. Francis Robinson’s financial situation deteriorated when his firm was declared bankrupt. In 1869, Francis Robinson lost his home and most of its contents were sold off over a three-day period to pay off his debts. From census records of 1871 it is apparent that Annie, along with her two oldest sisters, Emily and Julia, and her two youngest sisters, Mary and Francis had moved to a small rented property at 28 Upper Brook Street in Chorlton-on-Medlock, an inner city area of Manchester but strangely there is no record of their father and mother living at this premises but they could have been out of the country during the census. Her aunt, Mary, and her step-grandmother lived in another small terraced house in the same street and were recorded as visitors to this property at the time of the census as were Annie’s other two sisters, Sarah and Adela. Maybe they lived somewhere else. Maybe they lived with their parents.

Glow Worm by Annie Swnnerton (1900)

In the autumn of 1868, Annie, Emily and Julia attended, on a part time basis, the nearby Manchester School of Art on Mosely Street, which is now the Manchester Art Gallery. One cannot be sure whether Annie had planned to become a professional fine artist or simply develop the skills which would count if she ever applied for a post as a governess. The three sisters all did well and, during the period they were there and won a number of prizes. In 1873, Annie won the respected national award, the Princess of Wales Scholarship, for the drawing of the head of a boy and a further award for one of her oil paintings. She received a gold medal and the princely sum of £11. It is apparent that the reason the three young ladies attended the School was to hone their artistic skills to such an extent that they would be able to sell their work and make some much needed money to support themselves, but it would also make them independent and maybe even self-sufficient and avoid relying on a man to support them. At this time, there was a vibrant market for contemporary art from the well-off merchants of Manchester who tended to steer clear of the art of the “old masters” as their knowledge of such work often led to deception and they preferred to commission their own paintings from up-and-coming painters.

Unwinding the Skein by Annie Swynnerton

Annie Swynnerton’s struggle against prejudice and her eventual success at becoming a professional artist was an amazing achievement. People, who have studied the paths taken by females in the art world, soon realised that those few who succeeded had family artistic connections and no doubt family support for their venture into the male-dominated art world. However, Annie had no such parental backing, no artistic or social connections, which could have smoothed her path towards an artistic career, no early artistic training for remember she was twenty-four years of age when she attended the Manchester School of Art, also she had the responsibility of bringing up her younger siblings in cramped living conditions which did not favour the work of an artist. She was simply the daughter of a provincial attorney who turned to art as a way of earning money to support her family. She entered the art school with little going for her except her great determination to succeed.

Susan Isabel Dacre by Annie Swynnerton (1880)

For artists to make money they must be able to exhibit and sell their work and at that time in Manchester the main route for this was to become a member of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts and be allowed to show their work at the annual Spring exhibition. However, the Academy which had been founded in 1859, would not accept female artists into its fold. Annie was a fighter and would not accept things without a fight and so in 1874, along with some other female artists petitioned the Academy council to be allowed to become members. They had also made sure that their request was well reported in the local newspapers. In 1875, the Academy fearing bad publicity agreed on a compromise by which a new class of Academy membership was created and was to be known as Lady Exhibitioners, but the Academy would still neither let females hold office within the Academy nor would they let them attend the life drawing classes which was such an important aspect in artistic training. In 1875 Annie, her sisters Emily and Julia, her friend Isabel Dacre and five other female artists were elected as Lady Exhibitioners at the Manchester Academy but by this time and because of Annie’s lack of access to life drawing classes at the Academy which she found unacceptable, she had already left the country.

The Walls of Sienna by Isabel Dacre

Often in life it is a chance meeting with another person which will shape and influence your future. For Annie it was the meeting and the enduring friendship with her fellow Manchester School of Art student Susan Isabel Dacre. Warwickshire-born, convent-educated in Salford, where her mother kept a number of small hotels, Dacre was the same age as Swynnerton and like Annie had not had the benefit of an advantaged background. However, the early life of Isabel and Annie could not be more different for whereas Annie Swynnerton had led a quiet life in Manchester Isabel Dacre was an experienced traveller. At the age of fourteen Isabel was living in Paris and after completing her schooling there worked as a governess in the French capital and studied art at the Louvre. In 1869 she spent the winter in Italy before returning to Paris. However, following the war between France and Prussia which saw the French capital besieged by the Prussian troops in 1870,  Isabel Dacre and her brother hastily left France and returned to Manchester. They returned to Paris at the cessation of the Franco-Prussian War but were then caught up in the bloody and very dangerous Paris Commune uprisings in 1871 and had to once again quickly exit the country. On her return to Manchester Isabel Dacre became a student at the Manchester School of Art.

The Town of Sienna by Annie Swynnerton (c.1880’s)

There can be no doubt that Isabel Dacre had a great influence on Annie Swynnerton and managed to persuade her to join her in a trip to Paris and the opportunity to further their artistic career once they had concluded their art course in Manchester in the autumn of 1874. First port of call for the pair was Rome where the two women studied for two years and became part of the Anglo-American artistic and literary circle which had become well established in the city. Here they mixed with female writers, singers, actresses and artists. Swynnerton loved the Italian lifestyle and later lived there for lengthy periods between 1883 and 1910. Italy and the Italian way of life was to influence Swynnerton and this can be seen in the vibrant colours used in her portrayals of women.

The Roman Lady Jebsa by Annie Swynnerton (1874)

One such work which she completed in 1874 was an exquisite oil portrait entitled Roma Lady ‘Jebsa’. It is a Victorian portrait of an elegant Roma woman in traditional dress.   The name Jebsa has no historical or literary connotation and so it is presumed that Annie and the sitter could have been on first-name terms. This was Annie Swynnerton’s earliest known oil painting which she completed during her first visit to Italy. In this work, she has used the technique known as chiaroscuro, which is the use of strong tonal contrasts between light and dark to model three-dimensional forms which had been used by Italian artists such as Caravaggio during the High Renaissance period and Annie would have seen many of his works whilst in Rome.

An Italian Mother and Child by Annie Swynnerton (1886)

Another portrait of note emanating from her time in Italy was her 1886 painting entitled An Italian Mother and Child. It was one of a series of Italian women and child paintings that Annie produced during the 1880’s.  The woman and child are posed in an arch of the wall of the Campo Verano cemetery that overlooks the Basilica Papale di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura (Basilica of St Lawrence outside the Walls).  In this portrait we see a young woman bedecked in a simple peasant dress with its white blouse with puff sleeves and a white head dress. She is sitting on a wall below an ivy-covered archway. On her lap stands her young pudgy-thighed child. The child is dressed in a blue dress with a white undergarment and a gold medallion necklace around her neck. The mother supports her child with her left hand, holding the child’s right hand with her right. Look at how the artist has used white highlights to depict how the bright natural sunlight  has fallen on the woman’s headdress, arms and knees.  The painting has a look of Renaissance art which Swynnerton would have studied during her days in Italy.

The Young Mother (Through the Orchard) by Annie Swynnerton (1885)

Another mother and child painting was completed by Swynnerton in the 1880’s entitled Mother and Child but often referred to as Through the Orchard.  The setting for this painting was Clovelly in Devon.  Similar to the previous work we can see how Annie has registered area where the natural light has touched various surfaces.  The inclusion of the apple tree as a background element harks back to pre-Raphaelite concept of truth to nature.  Annie has used a palette of earthy colours in this portrayal of a working-class woman and is a reminder of the Rural Naturalist paintings done by the likes of Bastien-Lepage and George Clausen.  The woman carries her young child as well as carrying a pitcher of water and symbolises the roles of motherhood, and worker.

Around the end of 1876, Annie and Isabel left Italy and returned to Manchester.

…………………………………………to be continued.

———————————————————-

Most of the information for this and following blogs about Annie Swynnerton was found in some excellent books which I bought at the Painting Light and Hope exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery.

Annie Swynnerton, Painting Light and Hope by Kate JT Herrington and Rebecca Milner

The Life and Works of Annie Louise Swynnerton by Susan Thomson

Annie Swynnerton, Painter and Pioneer by Christine Allen and Penny Morris.

The Krohg Family. Part 2 – Oda Krohg the Bohemian Princess

 

Self Portrait by Oda Krohg (1892)

I start this second blog about the Krohg family by delving back in history…..

Christian Fredrik Jacob von Munthe af Morgenstierne was a descendent of Bredo Munthe of Bekkeskov, who on 19 December 1755 was ennobled under the name von Munthe af Morgenstierne. Christian married Anastasia Sergiewna Soltikoff, a Russian princess in 1836 and the couple went on to have six children. The second eldest was a daughter, Alexandra Cathrine Henriette von Munthe af Morgenstierne who was born on March 5th, 1838. On May 8th, 1857 in Christiania (Oslo), at the age of nineteen, she married Christian Carl Otto Lasson, a government attorney. Over the next seventeen years Alexandra gave birth to eleven children, the third of whom was a daughter, Othilia Pauline Christine Lasson who was born on June 11th, 1860. Othilia Lasson became known as Oda Lasson, and would eventually become Oda Krohg.

A subscriber to the Aftenposten by Oda Krohg (1887)

Oda Lasson was brought up in an intellectual bourgeois environment with artistic, especially musical interests. Hers was a large family, which consisted of her parents, eight sisters and two brothers. When she was twenty-one years old she married a businessman, Jørgen Engelhardt. The couple had two children, a daughter Sacha in 1882 and a son, Frederik in 1883. Oda and her husband split up shortly after the birth of their second child and she left the family home with her two children. However, it would be another five years before Oda and Jørgen were officially divorced.

Japanese Light by Oda Lasson (1886)

It was also around 1883 that Oda Lasson decided to follow her love of art and in January 1884 she enrolled at a private painting school for ladies in Christiania which was run by Christian Krohg and Erik Werenskiold. Before attending this school, she had had n0 formal art education, but she was a willing student and soon began to progress with her art. The first painting she exhibited was entitled Ved Christianiafjorden (japansk lykt) (At the Oslofjord (Japanese Light). This is now in the National Gallery of Oslo.

Portrait of Christian Krohg by Oda Krohg (1903)

A close relationship developed between Oda and her art tutor, Christian Krohg and soon they became lovers which culminated on August 8th, 1885, with the birth of their first child Nana. Christian and Oda finally married in 1888 after her divorce from Jørgen Engelhardt was finalised. The following June, her second child, Per, was born during Christian Krohg and her stay at their summer residence in the coastal resort of Åsgårdstrand, about 100 km south of Oslo.

Poor little one by Oda Krohg (c.1900)
Christian Krohg and his daughter Nana

It was through her liaison with Krohg that Oda became part of the Bohemian movement of Christiania (Oslo), known as the Kristiania-bohemen and Oda soon became referred to as the Bohemian Princess due to her maternal ancestors. This small but conspicuous group of young students, artists and writers living in the capital shared radical and incisively critical views on bourgeois society. This group of upper-class intellectuals, writers, and artists dealt with controversial issues like urban poverty, prostitution, and sexual bigotry.

Chinese Lantern by Oda Krohg (1889)

One such member was the artist Edvard Munch. One of the leading lights of this bohemian movement was Hans Jaeger, a one-time seaman, one-time philosophy student and part time government stenographer. He was a colourful and controversial figure who made himself spokesperson for free love during the early 1880’s and he strived to promote the importance of sexuality. The group wanted full sexual freedom between the sexes in the same social class – in practice the upper classes – and the abolition of the institution of marriage. Bizarrely, Jaeger wanted to establish a school for women, which among other things would educate them and make them conscious of their lusts and follow them, so that neither them nor the men would be robbed of their part of the wonders of life !!

Cover of Fra Kristiania-Bohêmen. A novel by Hans Jæger

Jaeger’s downfall came in 1885 with the publication of his novel Fra Kristiania-Bohêmen (From Christiania’s Bohemia). The novel which was set in Christiania, was about two men who lived in lodgings and spent their days drinking in cafés, discussing philosophy, literature, and society reforms. One of them ends his life by committing suicide, shooting himself after spending his last night with a prostitute. The book was immediately banned by the Ministry of Justice, and the police managed to confiscate most of the printed copies shortly after its publication. Jæger received a 60-day prison sentence for the infringement of modesty and public morals, and for blasphemy. He avoided part of the sentence by moving to Paris, where he spent most of the rest of his life.

Portrait of Hans Jaeger by Edvard Munch (1889)

Munch painted a portrait of Hans Jaeger in 1889. In the depiction we see Jaeger slouched on a sofa. He stares out at us through his spectacles. His facial expression is emotionless and there is a sense of aloofness. He is dressed in a tight-fitting overcoat and wears a wide-brimmed hat which is placed on his head at a jaunty angle. The light source is to the left and casts deep shadows creating flickers of red-violet, brown and blue green hues. For many years the painting remained in Munch’s possession and was shown in most of his exhibitions in the 1890s. In 1897 he offered it to the National Gallery in Oslo, which duly purchased it.

Oda Krohg and Jappe Nilssen, photo from 1891

Christian Krohg and Oda’s roles in the organisation may not be fully known but there are a couple of aspects of the Kristiania-bohemen group which had a part to play in their lives. The sexual freedom advocated by many in the group seemed to have an effect on Oda and Christian’s marriage as it was what is now often termed as, an “open marriage” and it is known that Oda, despite being married to Christian  had a number of lovers, including Hans Jaeger, the Norwegian writer and art historian, Jappe Nilssen and the playwright Gunnar Heiberg. In Jaeger’s 1893 novel Syk Kjærlihet (Diseased Love), he describes a love triangle where he was strongly in love with a woman who was to marry an artist. It is believed that Oda was the model for the woman, and the book depicted the relation between himself, Oda and Christian during the summer and autumn of 1888.

Another aspect of Hans Jaeger’s philosophy which influenced Christian Krohg was Jaeger’s support of prostitutes and how he believed that the reason women turned to prostitution was due to the State’s social system.

Madeleine by Christian Krohg (1883)

In 1883 Krohg produced a painting entitled Madeleine. In the depiction we see a bleak and bare bedroom. A young woman sits on a thin mattress on a simple iron bedstead. From the little clothes she is wearing and the unmade nature of the bedding we think she is just getting up. However, what is more telling is her demeanour. Her body droops forwards and her head is cast downwards supported by her left hand. We are not allowed to see her face. Is she ashamed? In her right hand she seems to be holding a mirror. Has she been viewing her image? Is she unhappy at what she sees? It is thought that Krohg is portraying her as a “fallen woman” who is engaged in prostitution. Maybe her demeanour is one of sadness at what she has just done and is unable to come to terms with the shame. Like most paintings that seem to have a message it is up to the viewer to ponder on the possible story behind the image.

The novel Albertine

In 1886 Krohg wrote a novel, Albertine. The novel is set in Norway’s capital, Christiania, and looks at the plight of an unmarried but spirited seamstress Albertine, who is seduced by a police officer and because of her financial desperation and lack of support from the authorities, is forced into prostitution. The book caused a stir and embarrassed the authorities resulting in its confiscation of all copies the day after its publication. In 1888 the Supreme Court of Norway upheld the ruling, and Krohg was sentenced to pay a fine of 100 kr. Krohg went on to make a number of paintings based on the book and the world of prostitution.

Albertine at the Police Doctor’s Waiting Room by Christian Krohg (1887)

Christian Krohg painted a number of pictures based on his novel.  In 1877 the most famous of these is his work entitled Albertine i politilægens venteværelse (Albertine at the Police Doctor’s Waiting Room) which is housed in the National Gallery in Oslo. The painting is set in a police station and depicts a number of women that have been arrested for being prostitutes. We see Albertine at the head of the queue at the door of the examination room where she will be examined by a doctor.  She is dressed in a simple plain costume and is wearing a headscarf, unlike the garish clothes worn by the other women, which were the normal adornment of the “street workers” of the time.

The public outcry following the confiscation of the book finally led to a partial de-criminalising of prostitution in Norway. The change in the Penal Code in 1902 did not signal that prostitution was to become allowed by society. It did however accept that the exchange of sex in one’s own home was now legal but maintained that loitering and procurement on the streets or in a public place would remain illegal and that women arrested for selling sex in public were to be entered into rehabilitation programmes. Ironically, the current law in Norway which bans purchase of sex and any money earned is illegal and yet such money is taxable!!!!
Krohg’s book, Albertine, was published again in 1921 without any murmurs from the authorities.

The Struggle for Existence by Christian Krohg (1889)

It was not just the plight of prostitutes that featured in Krohg’s paintings. He was very interested in the state of poverty in his own country and his painting The Struggle for Existence was one of his major projects and also one of his finest works. The setting for the scene is Oslo’s main thoroughfare, Karl Johan Street, on a cold winter’s day. The street and pavements are covered in a slushy snow and the cold has almost freed the street of people with the exception of a crowd of poor women and children who are queuing for the chance to be given some free food. We see both women and children clutching empty baskets and cannisters which they hope to fill with food given to them. To the left we can make out a hand sticking out from behind the pillars which is holding a bread roll which is part of the free food. This could be a bakery and the baker has decided to give the poor some of yesterday’s stale bread. The people are poorly dressed in shabby and ragged clothing. In the middle of the street we observe a policeman walking towards the crowd but seemingly uninterested in what is happening.

Gunnar Heiberg by Oda Krohg (1900)

Oda Krohg’s extra-marital relationship with the playwright Gunnar Heiberg became serious around 1897 and Oda declared she was in love with him. She left Oslo in 1897, and took her eight-year-old son, Per, and went to live with Heiberg in Paris. Christian also left the Norwegian capital in 1901 and moved to Paris where he became an art instructor at Académie Colarossi in 1902. Later Oda set herself up in an artist’s studio in Montparnasse and soon immersed herself into the art world of Paris meeting most of the leading artists including Henri Matisse. Having now established herself she began to exhibit her work at the Salon d’Automne. Oda’s restless nature kicked in once again and around this time she began a relationship with the poet and art critic Jappe Nilssen. When that finally died she returned to her husband, Christian and Oda along with their children left Paris and returned to Oslo in 1909 but would often return to Paris for long periods and did not final settle down in Oslo until 1911. From 1909 to 1925 Christian held the post of professor and director of the newly founded Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Oslo.

Five to Twelve by Christian Krohg (c 1924)

One of Christian Krohg’s last paintings which he completed a year before his death was entitled Five to Twelve. On the face of it, it appears to be a self-portrait and we see him with his long white beard, but almost bald, as he sleeps in a chair beneath a pendulum clock. The face of the clock is completely blank, but the title of the artwork tells us the time: it is five minutes to midnight, close to midnight and maybe meant to symbolise that it is close to the end of his life.

Grave of Christian Krohg and Oda Krohg at Vår Frelsers gravlund, Oslo, Norway.

In 1925, Krohg retired as the director of the State Academy of Art, and he died in Oslo a few months later, on 16 October, aged 73. Oda Krohg died exactly ten years later on October 15th 1935, aged 75. Christian and Oda are buried at the Cemetery of Our Saviour in Oslo.

Per Lasson Krohg

Christian and Oda Krohg’s son, Per Lasson Krohg, who was born in Åsgårstrand, Norway in June 1889, followed in his parent’s footsteps and became an artist. As a teenager, he received his artistic training from his father and, when he was twenty years old, had Henri Matisse for a mentor. Per Lasson Krohg’s artistic work was varied and covered simple drawings on paper, to colour illustrations, and from designing posters to set design and sculpture, but he will probably be remembered mainly for the oil canvas mural he painted in 1952 for the United Nations Security Council Chamber, located in the United Nations building.

Mural at the United Nations Security Council Chamber by Per Lasson Krohg

It depicts a phoenix rising from its ashes, as a symbol of the world being rebuilt after the Second World War. Above the dark sinister colours at the bottom different images in bright colours symbolizing the hope for a better future are depicted. Equality is symbolized by a group of people weighing out grain for all to share.

Nana Krohg, Christian and Oda’s daughter was born in Brussels in the summer of 1885. At this time, Oda was still married to Engelhart and his living with Oda was passed off as a “study stay”. Nana Krohg’s art career was neither long nor particularly comprehensive. At the age of 18, she attended an art school and received tuition for the next two years from the Norwegian painter, Johan Nordhagen. Nana never became a professional artist and after her marriage to Anton Schweigaard around 1909, she simply used her artistic skills in design and homemaking for her own use. The couple had two children, Anton Martin and Line.

The Krohg Family – Part 1 – Christian Krohg. The early years and life at Skagen

Christian Krohg

The art of one of the painters I am looking at today was compartmentalised as being works of a Naturalism genre and also of a Realism genre. So what is Naturalism and how does it differ to Realism when appertaining to art?

The best way to describe Naturalism is to say that it is a type of art that pays attention to very accurate and precise details. It is painting which is true to what we see without any falsification or artistic interpretation.  That sounds like Realism !

Naturalism was an artistic movement, which came into being in the mid-nineteenth century and embodied things closer to the way we observed them. Prior to this, depictions of landscapes or human beings tended to be idealised or rendered according to precepts resulting from the traditions of classical art. Naturalism was a denouncement of the fantasy world of Romanticism, which had flourished from the late eighteenth century into the first half of the nineteenth century. Naturalism is also often associated with plein air painting.

But is this not the definition of Realism? The two are close but Realism, especially Social Realism, focuses more on social realities and concentrates on content rather than the methodology of the work. Realism tends to deliberate on who or what is being painted rather than how it was painted and realist depictions often muse over ordinary people, who are often struggling with life. Often Realism paintings have a moralistic story to tell and they then tend to be viewed as a commentary on the social and political life of the day. Naturalism tends to be more about how the work has been painted ensuring that it is true to life.

Self Portrait by Christian Krohg

Christian Krohg was born in Vestre Aker, a district of the city of Oslo on August 13th 1852, the son of the journalist and publisher, Georg Anton Krohg and Sophie Amalie Holst. His paternal grandfather, Christian Krohg was a lawyer, government minister, and had at various times served as Minister of the Interior and Minister of Finance.

Christian was the second-born of their children and had four sisters, Anna Helene Nicoline, born in June 1850, Stine Marie, born in December 1854, Nanna born in January 1859, and Sophie Amalie Holst born in April 1861. Christian’s mother died on April 28th 1861, seven days after having given birth to Sophie and maybe in memory of her mother she was also named Sophie Amalie Holst. In June 1868 more sadness was to befall Christian’s family when Christian’s younger sister, Nanna, contracted tuberculosis and died, aged nine.

Still life with a D.O.M. Bottle by Christian Krohg (1883)
The D.O.M. stands for Deo Optimo Maximo which means – To God most good, most great.

Following his normal schooling Christian went to the Royal Frederick University (now the University of Oslo) in 1869 to study law, the plan, probably fostered by his father, being that he would become a lawyer, like his grandfather.   However for Christian his main interest was art and maybe through an agreement with his father that if he studied for a law degree he would be allowed to also attend art classes at the local drawing schools. He attended both Johan Fredrik Eckersberg’s private art school from 1869 to 1870 and later the drawing class of Julius Middelthun, the Norwegian sculptor, at the Royal School of Art and Design of Christiana (Oslo).

Braiding her Hair by Christian Krohg (1888)

On April 13th 1873, during his university studies, Christian’s father Georg died, aged fifty-six. The following year, at the end of his five year law course, he attained a law degree but instead of practicing law he decided to travel to Germany with his friend and fellow artist, Eilif Peterssen and they both enrolled at the Baden School of Art in Karlsruhe, where two of his professors were Karl Gussow, the German Realist painter, and Hans Gude, the Norwegian Romanticist painter and one of Norway’s foremost landscape painters. Gude spent most of his adult life as a professor of art and was a leading figure in the advancement of Norwegian art. To young, aspiring Norwegian artists of the mid and late nineteenth century, Gude was a god and they would travel to Germany to enrol on courses taught by him at academies in Dusseldorf, Berlin and Karlsruhe.

Georg Brandes – sketch by P S Krøyer (1900)

Christian Krohg remained at the Baden School of Art in Karlsruhe for a year before moving on to the Berlin Academy in 1875, a move that had already been made by his former professor, Karl Gussow. Krohg remained in Berlin for three years. Whilst there he made friends with the German symbolist painter, Max Klinger and the Danish writer and philosopher, Georg Brandes.   Brandes writings were centered on the concept of realism and were diametrically opposed to the world of fantasy in literature. He was looked upon as the founder of the Cultural Radicalism movement. According to Aarhus Universitet’s Institut for Kultur og Samfund, Cultural Radicalism can be looked upon as:

“…Cultural radicalism must be understood from its cultural and philosophical origins in the modern breakthrough in the last half of the 19th century, as well as from the actual roots of rationalism of enlightenment. In Denmark, cultural radicalism has rooted in the bourgeois radicalism of the 1870s and in the intellectual environment around the brothers Georg and Edvard Brandes and Viggo Hørup. The bourgeois radical ideas constituted a cultural battle against the authority of the church and the state, and they concerned in particular the right to individual expression, freedom of opinion and tolerance, and criticism of what was considered to be a restricted, oppressive and colorless civil culture…”

Charles Lundh in Conversation with Christian Krohg by Christian Krohg (1883)
Charles Lundh, a Norwegian painter, lived together with Christian Krohg and the Swedish painters Johan Krouthén and Oscar Björck in a house in Skagen in 1883

Krohg was very attentive to the views of Brandes and became more aware of the social and political problems of the time. These views were enhanced by the poor quality of his living standards during his time in Berlin, which almost bordered on out and out poverty   More importantly for Krohg it was his friendship with Georg Brandes that led to him being introduced to Emile Zola, the great French writer, playwright and journalist.  Zola was interested in the world of art and as a journalist in the late 1860’s and early 1870’s, he produced many newspaper articles defending the art of Cézanne, Manet, and the emerging Impressionists, such as Monet, Renoir and Degas, all of whom were being criticised by the artistic elite. It was also Zola who first coined the term Naturalism, defining it as a literary movement, which gave emphasis to observation and the methodology used in the fictional portrayal of reality.

Farewell by Christian Krohg

It was in the following year, 1876, that Krohg exhibited his painting entitled A Farewell. For the time he concentrated on his portraiture and two works of note was his 1876 portrait of Lucy Eyeberg and his depiction of his friend Georg Brandes which he completed in 1879

The year 1879 was of great importance to Christian Krohg as it was during that summer that he first went to Skagen, a Danish fishing community on the north coast of Jutland. Christian and his fellow Norwegian painter and former fellow student in Karlsruhe, Frits Thaulow, travelled to Skagen in Thaulow’s small sailboat and remained there through to the end of autumn. Skagen had become a summer meeting place for artists in the late 1870’s and remained such up until the end of the nineteenth century.

Dining room in Brøndums Hotel (ca. 1891) showing some of the group and the panel of their portraits

It was because of its favourable natural light that it was so popular with the plein-air artists from Scandinavia, such as husband and wife artists, Anna and Michael Ancher, Peder Severin Krøyer and his wife Marie, Karl Madsen and Viggo Johansen, as well as painters from northern Europe.  It was this fascination with the changing natural light that had also inspired the Impressionists. Many of the Skagen artists had spent time in Paris and they were influenced by the French Barbizon artists and the world of Realism. This style of painting was contrary to the inflexible conventions set out by academies such as The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts, which believed students should adhere to painting in the favoured Academic styles of Historicism and Neoclassicism. Michael Ancher, Karl Madsen and Viggo Johansen had also studied at the Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen.

Ane Gaihede by Christian Krohg (1888)

The early members of the Skagen artistic community had been befriended by Brøndum family, who were the owners of a local shop/bar and soon it became the meeting place for the Skagen painters and their literary friends. Peder Severin Krøyer became very friendly with the Brøndum’s fifteen-year-old daughter Marie and six years later the pair were married.

Woman cutting bread by Christian Krohg (1879)

Christian Krogh became a regular summer visitor to Skagen during the mid and late 1880’s and it was during those times that he focused on one family, the Gaihede family, for the subject of many of his works. Husband and wife, Niels and Ana Gaihede, along with their son Rasmus and daughter-in-law, Tine and their two children Ane and Sofus. One such painting featured the matriarch of the family Ana Gaihede who modelled for Krohg’s 1879 painting Woman Cutting Bread. Sixty-six year old Ana is seen in three-quarter length profile against a blank background, save for three small pictures, which allows us to focus completely on the subject of the work. It is a fascinating depiction, which gives us an insight into the people and their culture of the time.

The Net Mender by Christian Krohg

In another of Krohg’s works featuring the Gaihede family, The Net Mender, we see both Ana and her husband Niels depicted. In this 1880 work Niels can be seen repairing his fishing net whilst Ana sits stony-faced in the background making balls of fibre, which will be used in the repairing of the net. The walls of their home are a dull grey and the only thing breaking up the monotony of the colour are a few magazine pictures of animals and boats which may have been for the benefit of Sofus their six-year-old grandson. Looking at the interior furnishings of the home and the dress of the two characters one can detect a frugal standard of living, maybe not poverty-stricken but one in which every krone counts.

Niels Gaihede by Christian Krohg (1888)

Christian Krohg won a state stipend in 1881 and travelled to Paris, where he taught at an art school for women. In those days most of the prestigious art establishments denied women access to art tuition and Krohg could see the error of this dictate and wanted to be supportive of the female cause. Maybe Krohg was sympathetic with regards the plight of women in general as it is known that at about this time he was also becoming more and more interested in painting pictures which highlighted people’s struggle with everyday life and especially the great effort women had to make just to survive.

The Sick Girl by Christian Krohg (1881)

In 1881 he completed a very poignant painting entitled The Sick Girl. It was the depiction of a girl who had been struck down by tuberculosis and was dying. Krohg would be painfully aware that this killer disease had also taken his youngest sister, Nanna, thirteen years earlier. It is a haunting depiction. The girl sits upright in a wooden chair with a cushioned back. A thick woollen blanket covers the lower part of her body. Look at the girl’s tight-lipped facial expression. It is a mixture of sadness and fear. Maybe she is aware that her life is ebbing away. Her hands are tightly clasped together, as if in prayer, as she clutches the stem of a pale pink rose, the leaves and petals of which are starting to fall to the ground. The rose like the girl is dying.  One cannot help but be moved by such a depiction.

Babord litt (Port side) by Christian Krohg (1879)

During his time in the French capital he became influenced by the works of Édouard Manet and his modern scenes, which were often controversial. Even now, Manet is looked upon as the father of modernism. During his stay in Paris Krohg had two of his works accepted for the 1882 Salon. One of which was entitled Port Side, which he had started whilst living in Berlin but did not complete until 1879 whilst living in Skagen. It is a depiction of great detail. Look how Krohg has portrayed the clothes worn by the seaman. They have been well worn and impregnated with oil and dirt. They are old and have had to be patched and these details, along with the backdrop of the rough seas, add to the atmospheric mood of the work and we can sense how the bow of the vessel is about to dive headlong into the unforgiving swell.

Girl with a Rake by Jules Breton (1859)

During his stay in Paris Krohg had been very interested in the works of the leading French Social Realist painters of the time, Jules Breton, who was known for his depictions of peasant themes, Jules Bastien-Lepage, a painter noted for his sentimental naturalistic paintings of rural life and Léon Lhermitte, whose main theme for his paintings was also rural scenes depicting peasants at work.

Sovende mor med barn (Sleeping mother with child) by Christian Krohg (1883)

Krohg’s developing interest was the plight of women and their everyday trials and tribulations, which had to be overcome just to survive. Tiredness is one of the greatest afflictions that beset mothers with small children and Krohg’s 1883 painting Mother and Child highlights this perfectly. The work is housed in the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo.

Trett (Tired) by Christian Krohg (1885)

Again exhaustion features in his 1885 work simply entitled, Tired, which shows a young woman who has fallen asleep during working on her sewing machine.

In the second part of the blog about Christian Krohg and his family I will be looking at his fascination with and his depiction of “fallen women” and how it got himself into trouble with the authorities.  I will also look at the life of his wife, Oda, and his unusual and sometimes turbulent marriage.

John-Louis Ernest Meissonier – Part 2

The Siege of Paris in 1870 by Ernest Meissonier 1874

……………………Paris under siege, this time, not by its own people, but by the Prussians, as it was pictorially recorded in Meissonier’s 1884 painting, Le siège de Paris 1870-1871 [The Siege of Paris 1870-1871]. The event took place at the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. During the siege Meissonier was colonel of a marching regiment. It is a painting which is part realism and yet partly allegorical. The central figure, standing in front of a tattered French tricolour flag, is that of Paris, draped in a black veil and a lion skin, and modelled by Meissonier’s wife. She stands above the ruined barricade. There is nothing glorious about the depiction, just a foreboding of hard times to come following the destruction of the city by the Prussian troops signified by the billowing clouds of ash emanating from the burnt-out buildings in the background. The work paints a picture of utter confusion as we see dead and dying soldiers lying on beds of palm leaves which were a symbol of martyrdom. Confusion abounds. Look at the man who lies against the skirt of Paris. This is the twenty-seven-year-old artist Henri Regnault. He was not killed during the siege but actually died in January 1871 at the Battle of Buzenval which was part of the Prussian offensive against the French and a precursor to the siege shown in this painting. Meissonier added him to the work to highlight the futility and waste of young and promising lives struck down by the conflict. Look carefully at the details of this work. To the right of the central character we see a woman holding up her dead baby to her husband. Further to the right we see a woman prostrating herself across the body of her dead husband and to the right of her we see an old man searching through the bodies in the hope of finding his son.

Napoléon III at the Battle of Solferino by Ernest Meissonier (1863)

The defeat to the Prussian army stayed in the minds of the French people and scenes from the war were common subjects for painters of the day. Most, like Meissonier, wanted to focus their depictions on the heroism of the French in defeat and offer some hope for the future.  In 1859, Meissonier was commissioned to paint the Napoleon III at the Battle of Solferino. This was the beginning of a new series of works, which was to celebrate the glories of the first Empire. The Battle of Solferino took place on 24 June 1859 and resulted in the victory of the allied French Army under Napoleon III and Sardinian Army under Victor Emmanuel II and the defeat of the Austrian Army under Emperor Franz Joseph I. It was the last major battle in world history where all the armies were under the personal command of their monarchs. Meissonier completed the work in 1863 and is now housed in the Louvre.

La Rixe (The Brawl) by Ernest Messonier (1855 )

In 1851 he produced a very popular genre painting entitled La Rixe (The Brawl). The painting was one of nine paintings by Meissonier that were exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1855, where it was awarded the prestigious Grande Médaille d’Or by the critics. One special admirer of the work was Prince Albert, the Prince Consort and wife of Queen Victoria. It was originally acquired by Emperor Napoleon III for 25,000 francs and then presented to Prince Albert on 26 August 1855, his thirty-sixth birthday. Queen Victoria recalled the gift-giving event:

“…We lunched with the Emperor & Empress. Both most kindly gave Albert presents, the former a beautiful picture by Meissonier called “La Rixe”, the finest thing in the Exhibition, which Albert had been in such extacies over…”

It is now part of the Royal Collection. In the painting we see that a row has broken out in a tavern over a game of cards. A melee ensued, and the table has been overturned. The two men seen brawling are elegantly dressed in early seventeenth-century-style doublets and breeches, and are being restrained by their three fellow players, whilst a sixth person can be seen peeping around the door. What has made the drama more realistic is the way Meissonier has portrayed the twisting and straining of the figures as they battle for supremacy. Meissonier often made wax model figures when planning a composition, and he also owned a large collection of historical costumes and weaponry which he used as props. This work is a romanticised history painting conjuring up a swashbuckling scene from the past and has its counterpart in the novels of Alexandre Dumas, whose The Three Musketeers, which was published in 1844, became the most commercially successful French book of the nineteenth century.

Innocents and Card Sharpers (A Game of Piquet) by Ernest Meissonier (1861)

Playing cards featured in several paintings by Meissonier and often they have a hint of skulduggery as is the case in his 1861 work, Innocents and Card Sharpers (A Game of Piquet). The depiction is of two innocent and naïve youths sitting around a table along with a group of card sharps. The callow youths are unaware of their dubious company, but the atmosphere is tense as seen by the man on the right, standing behind them, keeps his hand on his sword whilst others keenly watch the cards and the players.

A Man in Black smoking a Pipe by Ernest Meissonier (1854)

The National Gallery in London has an oil on wood painting by Meissonier entitled A Man in Black smoking a Pipe which he completed in 1854. Meissonier painted numerous genre scenes with individuals in period costume. This is a typical example with the smoker shown in a modest interior with a tankard and a glass of beer. The wall behind is decorated with some unframed popular prints.

Le Voyageur by Ernest Meissonier (c. 1880’s) s
Statuette in wax, fabric and leather

Whereas most people will know of Meissonier as a painter less would realise that he was also a sculptor. The Musée d’Orsay has a fine example of his prowess as a sculptor – Le Voyager (The Traveller) which he completed in 1840. This wax sculpture measuring (HWD) 48 x 60 x 40cms depicts a man hunched over the neck of his horse, as he battles against the wind and lashed by the rain.  The Traveller is probably the most notable of all the statuettes made by Meissonier and one that exudes an air of romanticism. Look how Meissonier by the way in which he models the musculature of the horse and by doing so, has been able to amplify the power of the piece. This work by Meissonier is an example of verism, (the theory that rigid representation of truth and reality is essential to art), in the way that he used real fabric for the coat and leather for the reins. Meissonier said that he enjoyed modelling and almost always worked in wax because it was so malleable.  He commented:

“…It is instant burst of creativity… You cannot imagine how absorbing and exciting it is to make a model…”

Campagne de France (Napoleon and his staff returning from Soissons after the Battle of Laon), by Ernest Meissonier (1864)

Meissonier was probably best known for his military art and paintings depicting Napoleon Bonaparte and scenes from Napoleonic battles. He specialised in meticulous, small-scale military scenes. One of his most memorable works is Campagne de France, 1814 [Campaign of France, 1814] which is housed in the Musée d’Orsay. Although this is a military history painting, in comparison to the often-monumental paintings of this genre, it is small in size, measuring just 52 x 77cms.  It is an example of Historical Realism in art. There is no sign of glorified heroics. The riders are not crossing a stretch of virgin white snow but rather an unpleasant-looking muddied terrain. This is pictorial history recording Napoleon and his staff returning from Soissons after being defeated at the Battle of Laon in March 1814 by the Prussian troops of Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher. The whole scene uses subdued brown and grey tones, and with the exception of the fortitude that emanates from the isolated figure of Napoleon on his white horse, there is a sense of doubt and resignation felt by the officers and the troops.

Friedland 1807 by Ernest Meissonier (1875)

Countering that image of Napoleon in defeat, Meissonier’s completed his largest and most ambitious painting, Friedland 1807, which evokes one of the emperor’s greatest victories. The work measures 136 x 243cms and is currently housed in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Initially the work was bought “sight unseen” by the American department store magnate Alexander T. Stewart and later Judge Henry Hilton acquired the work at Stewart’s estate sale and in 1887 bequeathed it to the Metropolitan Museum. This work and the previous one, Campagne de France, 1814 were the only two paintings completed by Meissonier for his proposed cycle of five episodes in the life of Napoleon.

A General Officer by Ernest Meissonier

Meissonier produced very small meticulous paintings of military scenes and interiors as well as men in military uniforms such as his painting, A General Officer, which just measured 13 x 9cms. It depicts a General Officer in the army of Napoleon III. The painting, being in profile, shows off the military man wearing his grand military hat to its best advantage. The officer, dressed in white breeches and a blue jacket with gold epaulettes, stands in an upright pose with his hands behind his back. This type of meticulous painting by Meissonier is based on the style of seventeenth-century Dutch genre and still life paintings and they were greatly admired in his lifetime by both the public and the critics.

Advance Guard of an Army by Ernest Meissonier.

Another military miniature measuring 12 x 21cms is Advance Guard of an Army. In this work we see the advance guard of an army moving downwards along a path on a barren hillside. The column of troops is being observed by a solitary soldier on horseback at the top of the hill.  In the background on the far left we catch a glimpse of the sea. The overcast sky is plain and does not distract from the portrayal of the troop column. Once again Meissonier has used a low viewpoint to depict the movement of the horsemen and this technique lent itself well to Meissonier’s diminutive canvases, giving them a feeling of expansiveness in a small frame.

Street Scene near Antibes by Ernest Meissonier (1868)

In June 1868 Meissonier travelled to the south of France and stayed in Antibes. His desire to go to the Mediterranean coast was probably two-fold. Firstly he was interested in the life of Napoleon Bonaparte who had been imprisoned in Fort Carré, at Antibes and also when Napoleon returned from exile on the isle of Elba in 1815 he made landfall at Golfe-Juan along the coast from Antibes. The second reason for the visit was probably the excellent plein air painting conditions he would have had in Antibes.   Other plein air landscape painters would have talked to him about the conditions and have persuaded him to move away from his historical works and look to completing some landscape plein air work.

“…It is delightful to sun oneself in the brilliant light of the South instead of wandering about like gnomes in the fog. The view at Antibes is one of the fairest sights in nature.”

One such work he completed whilst there was his 1868 painting Street Scene near Antibes.

Napoleon and his Staff by Ernest Meissonier (1868)

Meissonier received many honours during his lifetime. In 1846 he was appointed knight of the Légion d’honneur and promoted to the higher grades in 1856, 1867, and 1880, eventually receiving the Grand Cross in 1889. One of his unfilled ambitions was to teach at the École des Beaux-Arts, but it never came to fruition. He also dabbled in politics but his attempts to be chosen as a deputy or made senator were never realised. When the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts was revitalized, in 1890, Ernest Meissonier was elected its first chairman, but he died shortly after the appointment.

Jean-Charles Meissonier, son of the artist, in Louis XIII costume by Ernest Meissonier

His son, Jean Charles Meissonier, also a painter, was his father’s pupil, and was admitted to the Légion d’honneur in 1889.

Statue of Meissonier at Parc Meissonier in Poissy (Yvelines), France

Meissonier’s wife died in June, 1888 and in August, 1890, he married Mlle Bezançon.   Meissonier died in Paris on 31 January 1891, just a few weeks short of his seventy-sixth birthday.  After a Requiem Mass at the Madeleine, on February 3rd 1891, he was buried at Poissy where a monument was erected to him in 1894.

Jules-Louis Ernest Meissonier – Part 1.

The Wallace Collection, London

When I go to a large town or city I tend to try and visit the local art gallery/museum. The trouble with these establishment in major cities such as London, New York, Paris, and Madrid, is that the foremost galleries tend to be massive in size and almost impossible to view all the works in the time you have free. When time is of the essence I tend to look for a smaller gallery and often they are little gems. When I am in London, and if I only have a few hours to spare, I try and visit the Wallace Collection which is situated in Manchester Square a short distance from Selfridges and Debenhams on Oxford Street.

Wallace Collection gallery

There, on display are a superb collection of works of art collected in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the illegitimate son of the 4th Marquess. When Richard Wallace died in 1890, he bequeathed his entire estate, including the art collection, to his widow, Amélie-Julie-Charlotte Castelnau and it was Lady Wallace who, on her death in 1897, bequeathed it to the British nation. There were a couple of provisos that went with the bequest.

In her will, she specified that in return for her gift, the Government should provide a site to build a new museum and that the collection should be kept together. She also stipulated that the Wallace Collection was to be a closed collection, meaning that no other works of art could be added to it, permanently or temporarily, nor should any of the collection be taken away. So little changes with the art collection but one never tires of seeing so many gems of European oil paintings from the fourteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. Both the 4th Marquess and his son, Sir Richard Wallace lived in Paris and they both acquired many works of art by eighteenth and nineteenth century French artists, such as Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard and Decamps as well as my featured artist, Jules-Louis Ernest Meissonier.

Self-portrait by Ernest Meissonier (1889)

In my next two blogs I will be looking at the life of Jules-Louis Ernest Meissonier, the great French Classicist painter, who is probably best known for his military and historical subjects, especially depictions of Napoleonic battles.  Meissonier was largely self-taught, and yet, became one of the highest paid painter in the second half of the century.

An Artist showing his Work by Ernest Meissonier (1851)

Ernest Meissonier was born, in Lyon on February 21st, 1815, just as the Napoleon Bonaparte era was ending.  He was the elder of two sons.  At the age of three his father moved his family to Paris. His father, Charles Meissonier, was a dye merchant and a very successful businessman, who owned a factory in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. The factory produced dyes for the textile industry. He also had a drug and provisions shop in the Rue des Ecouffes. Meissonier’s mother loved music and took lessons in the painting of miniatures and ceramics. She died when her son was still young.

Meissonier’s school record left a lot to be desired. When he was nine years old and attending a local school in Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, his teacher commented:

“…[he showed] too marked a tendency to draw sketches in his copy-books instead of paying attention to his teachers…”

Meissonier’s father was concerned about his son’s leaning towards art as the Romantic painters in those days did not have a great reputation and he believed that the likelihood of his son becoming successful was unlikely.  Later during his stay at a school on the Rue de Jouy his teacher reported on Meissonier’s love of art and the part it played in his failing at other subjects:

“… Ernest has a decided talent for drawing. The mere sight of a picture often takes our attention from our serious duties…”

By now Meissonier’s father was alarmed with his son’s progress and in 1832, when Ernest was seventeen years old, his father decided to pull him out of school and had him apprenticed as a druggist. Ernest was not happy with his father’s plan for his future and presumably after many months of conflict between father and son, he was allowed to study art at the atelier of Jules Potier. His stay there was short-lived and from there he moved to the atelier of the French history painter and portraitist, Léon Cogniet. However, Ernest was more influenced by the paintings of the Dutch and Flemish Masters which he saw at the Louvre than the teachings of Potier and Cogniet.

L’Expédition d’Egypte sous les ordres de Bonaparte (in 1798), by Léon Cogniet

However, it was whilst studying at Cogniet’s studio that Meissonier witnessed his master painting a military work which when completed in 1835 would be referred to as L’Expédition d’Egypte sous les ordres de Bonaparte (in 1798), (The 1798 Egyptian Expedition Under the Command of Bonaparte). Meissonier was fascinated to watch Cogniet working on the painting, soldiers were hired in for the day, dressed in republican uniform as well as dragoons and artillerymen and their horses. He realised that he would like to become a military painter, but that was some way in the future.

Dutch Burghers by Ernest Meissonier (1834)

Meissonier’s first breakthrough into the art world was when he had one of his paintings, Les Bourgeois Flamands (Dutch Burghers), also known as The Visit to the Burgomaster, accepted into the 1834 Salon. This very small oil painting measuring 18 x 22cms was, in essence, a costume piece depicting three sober-looking gentlemen dressed in traditional seventeenth century clothing. It is fascinating to see how Meissonier has depicted in this work the light and shadow. He has also inserted a still-life depiction into the painting with his rendition of the silver tray, jug, and glasses atop the table to the right of the painting. This work of art was acquired by Sir Richard Wallace for his Wallace Collection.

Chess Players by Ernest Meissonier (1853)

Meissonier in the mid-thirties soon realised that the life of an artist was one of depravation and living hand to mouth and had to turn to his father on a regular basis for financial assistance. Notwithstanding the financial hardships he endured, he had further success at the Salon in 1836 when two of his paintings, The Chess Player and The Errand Boy were accepted into the exhibition. It is interesting to note the vagaries of the Salon jury system as both these works had been rejected by the Salon jury in 1835.   The chess player theme was evident in another painting he completed almost twenty years later.  It was a miniature (9.5 x 12.5cms) which he painted in 1853.

The novel, Paul et Virginie, with illustrations by Ernest Meissonier

Financial salvation for Meissonier arrived in the form of book illustrations. He produced many woodblock illustrations for the publisher, Henri-Léon Curmer, for his edition of the popular 1788 novel Paul et Virginia,  by Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre. Meissonier also supplied a full set of diminutive illustrations for another edition of a novel by this author, which he wrote in 1790, La Chaumière indienne (The Indian Cottage). They were well received, and book sales flourished. Financially, the tide had turned for Meissonier.

The Recital by Ernest Meissonier (1853)

One of Meissonier’s artistic friends was the Strasbourg-born painter Auguste Steinheil and through this friendship, Meissonier met his sister Emma. A courtship followed and on October 13th 1838 Ernest and Emma married. The couple went on to have two children, a daughter Thérèse in 1840 and later a son, Jean-Charles. Maybe Meissonier had plans for his artistic future as on Thérèse’s birth certificate, Meissonier’s occupation was given as “painter of history”.

Isiah by Ernest Meissonier (c.1838)

In the late 1830’s Meissonier embarked on religious paintings and around 1838 produced Isaiah which was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1840. This was to be one of only a few religious paintings by Meissonier and so, with little success with this genre and advice from the French painter Jules Chenavard, he stopped painting religious scenes and returned to his small genre pieces featuring scenes of bourgeoise domestic life which proved so popular.  One of the reasons why miniature paintings were preferred to the bygone grandiose history paintings was that smaller canvases such as landscapes or portraits, because they fitted more easily onto the walls of Paris apartments, were big sellers. Meissonier was often referred to as the French Metsu, likening him to the seventeenth-century Dutch painter Gabriel Metsu, who also specialised in miniature scenes of bourgeois domestic life.

Smoker by Ernest Meissonier

The significant year in Meissonier’s life was 1842. It was in that year that he produced two beautifully painted genre works, The Smoker and The Bass Player. Critics were overwhelmingly complimentary and one of the leading critics at the time, Théophile Gautier commented:

“…In their small scale, we place these inestimable works without hesitation beside those of Metsu, Gerald Dou, and Mieris; perhaps even above them, because Meissonier has the truth of drawing, the fineness of tone and preciousness of touch joined with a quality that the Dutch hardly possess—style…”

Poissy, enclosure of the abbey, years 1870-1880.
From left to right, Meissonier’s house, Ridgway Knight’s house (center) and Notre-Dame collegiate church. Photo Agnès Guignard

Such critical praise made Meissonier one of the most sought-after painter of the decade, and his works of art appealed to a wide range of collectors. Such a demand for his work meant that the prices he could achieve for his work also rose and the money flowed in. The fruits of all this labour were rewarded and in 1847, he was able to purchase an elegant suburban home in Poissy, known as the Grand Maison. The Grande Maison included two large studios, the atelier d’hiver, or winter workshop, situated on the top floor of the house, and at ground level, a glass-roofed annexe, the atelier d’été or summer workshop. This rise in wealth and artistic status was a great achievement for somebody who had taught himself art and had no great financial backing from a well-to-do family.

The Barricade by Ernest Meissonier (1848)

Things had settled down in France politically since the Revolution of the 1790’s and the Napoleonic era but in 1848 the situation changed for the worse. In Paris, Louis-Philippe, known as the “citizen king was forced to abdicate that February, and the country descended into civil strife and anarchy. Meissonier was an artillery captain in the National Guard, and one his responsibilities was for his troops to defend the Hôtel de Ville. In June 1848, Meissonier witnessed a bloody struggle and resulting carnage with the massacre of the insurgents on a barricade of the rue de l’Hôtel-de-Ville. He produced a watercolour which depicted the outcome of the massacre. Meissonier neither forgot about the incident nor the painting for in the 1890’s he talked about his love for the work, in a letter to Alfred Stevens, the Belgian painter:

“…I am not modest about this drawing, and I am not afraid to say that if I were rich enough to buy it back, I would do so immediately […] When I painted it, I was still terribly affected by the event I had just witnessed, and believe me, my dear Alfred, those things penetrate your soul when you reproduce them […] I saw it [the taking of the barricade] in all its horror, its defenders killed, shot, thrown out of the windows, the ground covered with their bodies, the earth still drinking their blood…”

The watercolour was hailed as truly remarkable and it was acquired by the painter Eugène Delacroix and is now housed in the Musée d’Orsay.
This watercolour, depicting the outcome of the fight, was always considered, by both the artist and his contemporaries, as a remarkable and an unusual work. The history of this drawing also makes it special with Eugène Delacroix being its first owner.

The Barricade, rue de la Mortellerie, June 1848 by Ernest Meissonier (1849)

Meissonier did a follow-up oil painting depicting the massacre the following year entitled The Barricade, rue de la Mortellerie, June 1848 which can now be found in the Louvre. Once again, the depiction is based on Meissonier’s memory of what happened on that fateful day. In the work we see numerous corpses and severed limbs of the rioters lying amongst the cobblestones in the middle of a street lined with old houses.  Meissonier had hoped to exhibit this painting at the 1849 Salon under the title of June 1848, but he gave up on the idea saying that the horror of the incident was too fresh in people’s minds and many wanted to eradicate the incident from their memory. The art critic Théophile Gautier was the only one who dared to admit being disturbed by the work and talked of “this trusty truth that no-one wants to tell.” This unidealized work not only presents a denunciation of civil rebellion, but also highlights the growing tensions between the social classes in Paris.

………….to be continued.