Harriet Backer. Part 2 – The later years.

Chez Moi by Harriet Backer (1887)

Harriet Backer’s younger sister, Agathe Ursula, became a much-heralded concert pianist and composer, who at the age of twenty-eight, married the conductor and singing teacher Olaus Andreas Grøndahl in 1875, and was thereafter known as Agathe Backer Grøndahl. When she was eighteen years of age, she studied composition under Theodor Kullak at the Akademie der Tonkunst in Berlin, where she lived together with her sister Harriet Backer. Maybe it was because of her time with her sister and during her concert tours that a number of Harriet’s paintings featured people playing the piano. Her most memorable work with that motif is her 1887 painting, Chez Moi which is housed at the Nordnorske Museum in Tromso. Once again, we are aware of Harriet using a similar motif to some of her earlier works, a single person in a room lit by light emanating from a large window. This once again highlights her accomplished technique of depicting light and shadow and how various items in the room are affected by the conditions of the light. Look at the picture frame high-up close to the window. We cannot see the painting in the frame but what she has cleverly depicted is the reflection of the slatted blind on the glass of the picture frame. Again, I would ask you to carefully study the details in this work and avoid taking things for granted. Look how she has managed to depict the texture of the green velvet chair seats. Look carefully at the chairs themselves and the way she has, through clever use of colours, brought the wood to life. The trompe l’oiel affect she has created with the depiction of the music sheets on the piano by use of shading gives them a real three-dimensional look. There is so much detail in this work which needs to be studied. Never just glance over a work of art. Take your time and examine every facet and then you will be able to appreciate the talent of a painter. It is interesting to note she never painted her sister Agathe at the piano, albeit, she did use her as a model in some of her other paintings.

Storrebror spiller (Big Brother Playing) by Harriet Backer (1890)

Harriet Backer was awarded the State Travel Scholarship for three years in 1886.   Whilst staying in Paris she was part of the artists’ circle which centred around the well-respected Norwegian novelist, poet, and playwright, Jonas Lie and his wife Thomasine Lie. Their daughter Asta Lie Isaachsen was a model in several of Harriet’s pictures, such as in the painting Chez moi. The painting went on to be awarded with a silver medal at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1889. In 1890, it was purchased for the National Gallery in Oslo.

Landskap fra Ulvin (Landscape from Ulvin) by Harriet Backer (1889)

Although Harriet based herself in Paris, she returned to Norway each summer and explored the beautiful landscapes for inspiration for her paintings. One example of this genre was her 1889 plein air work, Landskap fra Ulvin (Landscape from Ulvin). It is a work which encapsulates the wonderful colours of the intense Norwegian summer. This work is housed in the Drammens Museum in Drammen, a town to the south-west of Oslo. Sadly, very few of her landscapes are in public galleries, most being in private hands.

Landscape in Cernay-la-Ville by Harriet Backer (1887)

It was not just the Scandinavian landscapes which Harriet encapsulated in her paintings I particularly like a painting she completed around 1887 entitled Landscape in Cernay-la-Ville. Cernay-la-Ville is a small town which lies ten miles south-west of Paris and lies in the heart of the Forest of Rambouillet. In this landscape work Backer has reverted to her favoured motif of adding a single figure to a depiction. The various greens she has used in the painting are contrasted by the white bark of the silver birch trees. It is a painting which oozes calmness and tranquillity.

To barn og tregruppe (Two children and a group of trees) by Harriet Backer (1885)

To barn og tregruppe (Two children and a group of trees) was another of her plein air works and is a prime example of her summer landscapes. Painting en plein air was very popular at the time in Paris. It could well be that she started the depiction outside and then took it back to her studio to complete it.

Drying Clothes by Harriet Backer (1890)

In 1888, she moved back to Norway permanently and settled in Sandvika, in the municipality of Baerum, on the outskirts of Christiania and it was here that she started giving private painting lessons. This led to her running a much sought-after painting school from 1889 until 1912, where many aspiring artists of the next generation studied. Her training proved to be of great importance as a link between the French academic tradition which she was a part of, and the new approach of the younger painters. Harriet Backer held a special position in Scandinavian art. Her art linked the realism of the late 1800s and important modern directions art took at the beginning of the 20th century.

Tanum church in Bærum, Norway

It was during this period in her life that she focused on interiors, including those illuminated by lamplight. She began to paint interiors by lamplight, resulting in long shadows which gave the rooms a sense of mystery. At this time, she began to paint church interiors. This was a new subject for her. In 1892 whilst living in Sandvika she visited the nearby church of Tanum and it was the interior of this church which was to be featured in a number of her best-known paintings.   Tanum church is one of two medieval churches in Bærum, not far from Sandvika. It was built in around 1100-1130. It is a Romanesque church, with frescoes from the 1300s, and medieval sculptures.

Christening in Tanum Church, (Harriet Backer, 1892)

Christening in Tanum Church (Barnedåp i Tanum kirke) is Harriet Backer’s 1892 oil on canvas painting, which she exhibited at the Autumn Exhibition (Høstutstillingen) in Oslo during that year. A year later the painting was exhibited at the Chicago World Exposition. It is currently on display at the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo.  The painting depicts the interior of the church where a christening is about to be held. Our viewpoint is from the darkened centre aisle of the church looking towards the open doors, through which the strong light of day can be seen streaming in. In the background we see two ladies and a man standing at the doorway waiting to enter. The lady in the centre is cradling a baby in her arms as she walks towards the church. In the right foreground of the painting we see a woman sitting on the bench at the back of the church eagerly turning around to witness the arrival of the christening party. Look at the various tones of brown Backer has used to depict the floor and pews and how it contrasts well to the blue and white structure behind the pews.

Entrance Wives by Harriet Backer, (1892)

Another of Harriet Backer’s paintings featuring Tanum Church with a connection to christening and childbirth is her 1892 work entitled Inngangskoner which literally translates to Entrance Wives but is often simply referred to as Women in Church. This painting depicts a traditional local custom where mothers were blessed before attending church services after having given birth. After a child’s birth, women could not step into the church room without having been blessed and cleansed by the priest.  The fact that it was painted around the same time as Christening in Tanum Church could mean that the two paintings were pendant pieces. Once again, this painting by Backer is a study of light and shade and how light affects that which it falls upon. To do this she has used a muted palette to give emphasis to the shaded area, where the women kneel with heads bowed in prayer, in stark contrast opposed to the eruption of colours as daylight hits the church windows illuminating part of the interior. Harriet Backer’s artistic skills are on display here, in the way she captures the variously illuminated surfaces as the sunlight strains into the shadowy interior of the church. The view from the church interior and out into the open allows for a striking perspective.

The Library of Thorvald Boeck by Harriet Backer (1902)

Harriet Backer received a commission for a painting depicting a room in the house of Thorvald Olaf Boeck. It was not just any room in his house but his beloved library. Boeck was a Norwegian civil servant, and book collector who was known for assembling what was the largest private library of its time in Norway.

The Sandvik River by Harriet Backer (1890)

Harriet Backer’s output during her lifetime was quite small, with approximately 180 pictures. It must be remembered that she started late and her painting methodology was to work thoroughly and slowly. Notwithstanding this, as early as the mid-1880s, she was acknowledged as one of the leading artists of her generation and in recent years, her paintings have drawn considerable international attention.

In Trefoldighets Church by Harriet Backer (1908)

Harriet Backer was not only a practicing artist but played an important role in the cultural life of her country. For twenty years between 1898 and 1918 Harriet was a member of Oslo’s National Gallery’s board and purchasing committee, and in 1914 she was elected member of the jury for the jubilee exhibition in Christiania, as well as being part of the jury for the decoration of Bergen Stock Exchange in 1918.

In 1889 she became an honorary member of The Norwegian Student Society. In 1908, she received the King’s merit medal in gold, and in 1925 she was appointed knight of the 1st class of St. Olav’s Order, the same year she was elected to the Academy of the Free Arts in Stockholm and received the State Artist’s salary from 1921.

Harriet Backer (1845-1932)

Harriet Backer, who never married, died in Oslo on March 25th, 1932, aged 87. She is buried with her parents at Vår Frelsers Cemetery (Cemetery of our Saviour) in Oslo, a resting place for many noble Norwegians, such as Edvard Munch and Henrik Ibsen. The Norwegian sculptor, Ada Madssen designed a bronze statue of Harriet Backer and her sister Agathe Backer Grøndahl which was erected in 1982 in their hometown of Holmestrand.

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Harriet Backer. Part 1 – The early years

Harriet Backer

My blog today continues to look at the life and works of nineteenth-century female Scandinavian artists.  In my last blog about the Swedish painter, Julia Beck, I talked about her time in Paris and how she had shared a studio with three other Scandinavian artist, one of whom was the young Norwegian artist, Harriet Backer. HarrietBacker is now considered to be one of her generation’s foremost Norwegian painters.

Harriet Backer in her studio c. 1920.

Harriet Backer was born on January 21st 1845 in Holestrand, a small coastal town in the south-east of the country, some sixty kilometres south of Oslo. Her father was Nils Backer, a prosperous ship owner and merchant and her mother was Sofie Smith Petersen, who came from a wealthy shipping family based at Grimstad. Her father was a very religious man, but of a free-spirited direction that would also influence his daughters in later life.

Harriet Backer

Harriet was the second-born of four daughters. Her elder sister Inga Agathe was born in 1842. She also had two younger sisters, Agathe Ursula, born in 1847, who was to play an important part in Harriet’s life, and Margrethe who was born in 1851. Harriet and her sisters were brought up in a wealthy home but their parents chose a frugal lifestyle.  In 1856,when Harriet was eleven years old, her family moved from Holestrand to Christiania (now Oslo) where her father set up the company Becker and Backer. The following year, Harriet attended Mrs Wilhemine Autenrieth’s girls’ school, where she received an all-round education including learning foreign languages. She also received her first lessons in drawing and painting, with Joachim Calmeyer. In 1860 following graduation, Harriet enrolled at the women’s class at the painting school run by J. F. Eckerberg.  In 1863, at the age of eighteen, Harriet had to decide how best to earn money and enrolled on a one-year governess course at Hartvig Nissen’s school in Christiania. It was the second oldest school in the Norwegian capital and was widely deemed to be one of the country’s most prestigious and was the first higher education institution in Norway to admit females. The school was privately owned, usually by its headmasters.

Agathe Ursula Backer Grøndahl (c.1870)

Harriet’s parents encouraged their very gifted children to develop a love for the arts. The girls spent hours reading and have an interest in music and their third daughter, Agathe Ursula, was soon discovered to have an extraordinary musical talent and between 1865 and 1867 she became a pupil of Theodor Kullak and studied composition under Richard Wuerst at the Akademie der Tonkunst in Berlin where she lived together with her sister Harriet Backer who acted as her chaperone.  Through her piano playing expertise, Harriet’s sister, Agathe, now an accomplished concert pianist, travelled throughout Europe and often Harriet would accompany her and the two sisters visited such places as Berlin, Weimar, Cologne, Leipzig, Copenhagen, Florence, Rome and Naples. During the periods when Agathe was engaged in teaching music or performing Harriet would occupy herself by visiting the city art museums and often spent hours copying the paintings of the old masters. Whilst the sisters were living in Berlin, Harriet would visit the Kaiser Friedrich Museum and copy paintings under the guidance of the German painter, Alphons Holländer. Later in life when she taught art she would remind students how important it was to copy and appreciate the art of the old masters. In those earlier days accompanying her sister, besides visiting art museums and practicing her art she would dedicate a lot of her time to writing. This was the great love of her life at this time. She enjoyed writing short stories and poems and even embarked on writing a novel.

Harriet Backer’s “Aften, interiør” (Evening, interior).

Harriet would return to Christiania between periods chaperoning her sister during her European tours and when home studied art under Christian Brun. Between the years of 1871-1874, she attended the women’s class at the Knud Bergslien’s painting school. The great Norwegian painter Johan Fredrik Eckersberg had established an art school on Lille Grensen in Christiania and following his death in 1859 the school continued under the leadership of Knud Bergslien and his fellow artist, Morten Muller.

Portrait of Knud Bergslien by Johanne Mathilde Dietrichson

 

Knud Bergslien served as the director of what became known as the Bergslien School of Painting (Bergsliens Malerskole) and a whole generation of Norwegian painters became his students. It was during her time here that Harriet decided that she would become a professional artist.

 

 

Lille Rødhette (Little Red Riding Hood),by Harriet Backer (1872)

Harriet Backer proved to be an excellent student producing many exceptional works of art. One of her outstanding paintings at the time was her 1872 work entitled Lille Rødhette, although we would know it as Little Red Riding Hood. It was her amazing ability to realistically depict people, in this case, an older woman and a young girl, that led her along the path of becoming a portrait painter.

Portrait of Kitty Kielland by Harriet Backer (1880)

In 1874, twenty-nine year old Harriet left Norway and travelled to Germany and the city of Munich. At that time, Munich was the place the elite Norwegian painters gathered, and it was here that she met and became a lifelong friend with another Norwegian landscape painter, Kitty Kielland. Kielland had left Karlsruhe for Munich in 1875 where she joined a colony of Norwegian artists living there. Harriet, like Kielland, received private training in portraiture for four years with the Norwegian painter Eilif Peterssen who was based at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, but, because at that time women did not have access to the art academy in Munich, they were therefore dependent on private teachers.

The Farewell (also known as Avskjeden by Harriet Backer (1878)

Eilif Peterssen, like Harriet had received some of his artistic training at the painting school of Knud Bergslien in Christiania. Sometime during this period Harriet decided to veer away from portraiture per se and became interested in figurative drawing within the setting of an interior. A prime example of this genre was her 1878 painting entitled The Farewell (Avskjeden) which is housed in the National Museum of Art in Oslo. The painting depicts the emotional departure of a daughter from her parents. The daughter lovingly lays her hand on her father’s shoulder whilst her mother turns her back on them both as she cries in the corner. A porter carrying her luggage is also added to the scene.

Why did Harriet depict such a sad moment? The reason could well be that the year before, in January 1877, her father, Niels died and despite her mother’s wish that she should return home, Harriet told her that she would not be leaving Germany to care for her. No doubt this rebuttal surprised her mother but her daughter explained in a letter to her mother that art was her professional vocation, and it must take precedence over her duties as a daughter. Harriet had no intention of returning and living permanently in Norway as she wanted to carry on with her artistic career in Europe. One can only imagine how upset her mother would have been at that news. Maybe the painting was a reflection of Harriet’s abandoning her mother.

Solitude by Harriet Backer (1880)

Following her refusal to return to Norway, Harriet moved to Paris and shared spacious lodgings with four Scandinavian painters, the Swedish painters, Julia Beck, Hildegard Thorell, Anna Norstedt and Elizabeth Keyser and in 1880, and for the next eight years, Harriet shared an apartment with Kitty Kielland who had also left Munich for the French capital. Harriet became a pupil of Léon Bonnat and Jean-Léon Gérôme, and for a short time was tutored by Jules Bastien-Lepage. In 1880 she had her first painting exhibited at the Paris Salon. It was entitled Solitude. The depiction was of a genre she had begun to favour – figure(s) in the interior of a house. However, there was a subtle difference between this work and the previous one as this work depicted a room interior which was not fully lit and the resulting depiction was greeted well by the art critics. Harriet decided that this type of depiction was the way forward. It received an “Honourable Mention” when it was exhibited at the Salon.

Blue Interior by Harriet Backer (1883)

One of Harriet Backer’s masterpieces was painted during the time she lived in Paris. It is her 1883 work entitled Blått interiør (Blue Interior). The depiction of a woman sitting in front of a sunlit window is a similar motif to her 1880 painting Solitude. In this work, there is a definite hint of Impressionism about the work in her use of colour. The “blue-ness” is captivating.  Impressionism was very popular at this time in Paris with the seventh Impressionist exhibition being held the year before. In the work we see a young woman seated before a window through which daylight streams in illuminating the figure and parts of the room. Added to this study of light, we have the mirror in the background in which we see reflections of items in the room.  The model for Harriet’s painting was a fellow Norwegian artist and close friend, Asta Nørregard who had been attending classes with Harriet.

..…………………………………….to be continued

Julia Beck, the Swedish Impressionist

Julia Augusta Lovisa Beck.

The blog today features the very talented nineteenth century Swedish female landscape and portrait painter, Julia Augusta Lovisa Beck.

The Artist, Julia Beck by Richard Bergh (1883)

Julia Beck was born in Stockholm on December 20th 1853. Her father, Franz Beck, was a German immigrant from the Rhineland-Palatinate who had set himself up as a successful bookbinder. Her mother was Charlotte Julia Beck (née Carlsson). She had a brother, Johan Viktor, who was one year older than her. Viktor helped out at his father’s workshop and would later become part of the father’s bookbinding business, whereas Julia concentrated on her painting. She initially enrolled on courses in wood engraving and decorative painting at the local Slöjdskolan (School of handicraft). When she was eighteen years old she became a student at the Konstakademie, the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm and enrolled in a five-year state-run art course.  It had only been since eight years before that the Academy had begun to accept female students and she was assigned to the Ladies Section which although the tutors were the same as those who taught the male students, the females had fewer lectures and were taught in a different building. She and her fellow female art students, known as the “painter-girls” mixed with the male students and Julia was instrumental in setting up a student society and a student newspaper, Palettskrap.

Self portrait by Julia Beck (1881)

For aspiring young artists the place to be was Paris, which had taken on the mantle of the leading art centre of Europe. Julia wasted no time after completing her course at the Academy to travel to Paris to avail herself of the best art tuition and in 1880 she had great success when she had her self portrait exhibited at the annual Salon de Paris, the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. The painting depicting her in a plumed hat was admired for its depth of colour and realistic depiction.

Woman Dressing, on a Stool by Julia Beck

In 1881 Julia Beck, who was then twenty-eight years old, enrolled at the Académie Julian where she received tuition from Léon Bonnat and Jean Léon Gérôme. The Académie Julian was one of the the main art establishment in Paris that accepted female students. The other state-run art establishments in Paris did not accept women as students until the 1890s. The influential École des Beaux-Arts did not begin admitting women until 1897. From studying under those two much-heralded artists she left the Académie Julian and went to study at the school run by the Belgian artist, Alfred Stevens.

Water Lilies by Julia Beck (1888)

Julia Beck shared spacious lodgings in Paris with four Scandinavian painters, the Swedish painters, Hildegard Thorell, Anna Norstedt and Elizabeth Keyser and the Norwegian, Harriet Backer. Like many artists of the time who were living and studying in Paris, Julia liked to spend time in the tranquillity of the rural environment which could be found to the south of the capital. The small village of Barbizon, near the Forest of Fontainebleau, was popular with artists between 1830 and 1870 who were looking for something different from the formalism of Academic training and sought creativeness directly from nature and suddenly scenes of nature became the subject of paintings rather than simply an add-on backdrop.

River Landscape from Montcourt by Julia Beck (1885)

Julia was one of the first Scandinavian artists to visit another artist colony, twenty kilometres south of Barbizon, at Grez sur Loing. It was the rural village, which was to attract many American and Scandinavian painters, including many of the Skagen artists.

The Bridge at Grez-sur-Loing by Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1850-60)

In one of Margie White’s excellent blogs, American Girls Art Club in Paris…and Beyond, she talks about the attraction of the artists’ colony:

“…Grez became a popular summer travel destination for American artists in Paris after a train station and a new hotel were built.   In 1860. Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot’s painting View of the Loing at Grez (1850-60) may have worked like a Grez travel poster, inducing many art students to come and try to paint it themselves. Word about Grez circulated through the Academie Julian in Paris as well as Carolus-Duran’s studio…’

Gréz zur Nemours by Julia Beck (1885)

Julia Beck completed a painting featuring the area entitled Gréz zur Nemours in 1885. It was a good example of the work she favoured at that time. She often depicted glistening water reflections in a romantic grey-scale which reflected verdant trees in full leaf and occasionally the odd birds but rarely do people feature in her landscapes. It was all about her love for nature and how she captured it during periods of ever-changing light during various times of the day and the differing seasons. There was a kind of meditative atmosphere to her depictions achieved by her choice of colours.   There is a definite hint of Impressionism, which we saw in the work of Claude Monet. In the foreground, we see reeds and foliage depicted in a style similar to that seen in Japanese and Chinese art, which was very popular in Europe at the time.

The river landscape by Julia Beck

If we study her work we can see she has carefully examined the rural lands of the area both at dusk and dawn and by doing so saw how the light from the sun and the shadows differed immensely. She had a special attraction to depicting motionless waters with verdant backdrops. She liked to depict how the light fell on the water of slow-moving rivers and lakes. There can be no doubt she was influenced and stimulated by the paintings of the Impressionist artists.   Her plein air depictions were simply as she saw them and were often expressed in pinks, turquoise and green.

The Raven Swamp by Julia Beck

Her paintings were not always set with bright sunny conditions. One of her most moody and inspiring works is an oil painting entitled The Raven Swamp, in which we see ravens in both the foreground and background circling an almost-stagnant stretch of water. What adds to the sombre mood of the painting is the way in which the lake and the sky have the same colour. How would you describe it? Muted, melancholic or simply a study of quiet beauty?

L’Etang Saint-Cucufa, près Vaucresson by Julia Beck

Julia Beck, who lived in a rented studio with her friends in Paris and had spent the summers at Grez sur Loing was constantly on the move and would often return to her homeland, Sweden, on many trips during the 1870s and 1880s. Maybe she became disillusioned with her nomadic lifestyle and wanted to put down roots so, in 1888, she decided to set up a permanent home in France. She chose Vaucresson, a small town in the western suburbs of Paris in the Hauts-de-Seine department, a few miles from the centre of the capital.  It was close to rural areas, which were often the subject of her artworks.  A painting entitled L’Etang (The Pond)Saint-Cucufa, près Vaucresson depicts an area close to Vaucresson.  The wood of Saint-Cucufa, also known as the forest of Malmaison , is a wood and a pond in the department of Hauts-de-Seine managed by the French National Forest Office.

Her reasoning behind making her permanent home in France rather than back in Sweden was probably due to the fact that the Parisian art market was buoyant and at this time French art critics were in love with Scandinavian art. Vaucresson was also not a long train ride from the Belgian border and the towns of Bruges and Gent where she had a number of clients. When asked why she did not return to live in Sweden she replied:

“…In Sweden I could never learn to paint the sun – it is so hard to see, the air is clear, oui, but in Normandy the atmosphere is misty and there I could see the sun glittering in the haze and on the sea…”

Nénuphars (also known as Water Lilies) by Julia Beck (1931)

Julia Beck remained unmarried all her life. She had had many female Scandinavian artist friends who, once married, had given up their art to look after their home and family. That course of action was not for her as her true love was her art.  One of her paintings she completed in the last years of her life was her 1931 work entitled Nénuphars (Water Lillies) which once again reminds us of Monet and Impressionism.

Wild Flowers in French Meadow by Julia Beck

France appreciated her artistic talent and in 1934 she was awarded the Legion d’Honneur. She exhibited widely in Paris and abroad and received a number of medals for her paintings. Sadly the Swedish art fraternity did not take kindly to her abandonment of her country and she was not allowed to exhibit in the Swedish pavilion at the 1900 World Fair in Paris.

Julia Beck died in Vaucresson on September 21st 1935, aged 81.

Grace Carpenter Hudson and the Pomo Indians

Grace Carpenter Hudson

One of the pleasures of writing my blog is that I am constantly discovering artists I had previously never heard of. Along the way, there are also many other discoveries, which are not related to art, which I find fascinating. Today’s blog is a prime example of this. My featured artist today is the nineteenth-century American painter,  Grace Carpenter Hudson, one of the most celebrated painters of Native American subjects, with her artistic speciality being the pictorial documentation of a Native American group, the Pomo tribe, who lived close to where she was born and lived most of her life. As a child, I was brought up watching Cowboy and Indian films and TV shows featuring the likes of the Midwest tribes of the Sioux, Comanche, and Apache et al. However until researching the life of Grace Hudson, I had never come across this Californian Native American tribe, known as the Pomo.

Portrait of a Pomo Matron (also known as A Young Woman) by Grace Carpenter Hudson (1916)

The word ‘Pomo’ means “those who live at red earth hole” and refers to their earth lodge pit houses that were built with red coloured earth which were the winter homes of the tribe. They were hunter-gatherers and relied upon fishing and hunting for their daily food supply.   The territory they originally occupied in Northern California was vast. To the west, the border of their land was the Pacific Ocean. To the east, their territory stretched to the area around Clear Lake. Their north-south boundaries were Cleone in the north and Duncans Point in the south. Sadly, like most indigenous people around the world they were not allowed to live in peace.

Captain John (Ab-ba-ba-pomo) by Grace Carpenter Hudson

During the 1800s foreigners were constantly invading their tribal lands.   The Russian fur traders, looking for sea otters treated the Pomo people they encountered with brutality.   The Spanish had arrived on the Southern Pomo country looking to convert the tribe to Christianity and forcing them to work as slaves in Spanish missions. In 1821 when the Spaniards finally left the Mexicans took their place and they, once again, forced the Pomo people to work as slaves on Mexican ranches. In 1848, with news of the Californian gold rush, hordes of American prospectors arrived from the east. It was not just the savagery of the “intruders” but the diseases they brought with them that the Pomo people could not withstand. A cholera epidemic in 1833 followed by a smallpox epidemic in 1838 decimated the Pomo community. Around the area where the Carpenter family lived the white pioneers moved onto the Pomo ancestral territory taking the most fertile land in the valley for themselves, the Pomo people were increasingly suffering and on the brink of starvation.

Photograph of Grace Carpenter Hudson at her easel

Grace Carpenter was born on February 21st 1865 in the small town of Potter Valley, in the Mendocino county of Northern California, some one hundred and thirty miles north of San Francisco. It was named after two of its founders William and Thomas Potter in 1852. Her father was Aurelius Ormando Carpenter a newspaperman/photographer and her mother was Helen Carpenter (née McCowen). Aurelius, simply known as A.O. and his wife arrived in California from the Kansas Territory, where A.O. had served alongside revolutionary leader John Brown in the fight to secure Kansas’s entry into the Union as a state free from slavery. They stopped off at Green Valley in Western California and, in 1860, were two of the earliest white settlers in Potter Valley. Grace Carpenter had a twin brother, Grant and an older sister, May. Once Grace’s parents had settled in Potter Valley her father worked part-time as a newspaperman and part-time as a rancher whilst her mother taught the Pomo children at a local school and the whole family tried to help the Promo people the best that they could.

Powley: Young Man Hoeing Corn by Grace Carpenter Hudson (1895)

At the age of four, Grace moved with her family from Potter Valley to the nearby larger town of Ukiah and it was here that the family number increased by one with the arrival of another son, Frank. Grace’s mother and father branched out into a joint project, that of studio photography. As a young child, Grace had started to show an interest in drawing. Once she and her twin brother had finished their primary school education in May 1878, and because there were no high schools in Ukiah, in the autumn, Grace went to live in San Francisco, and attend an ordinary state-run high school whilst, at the same time,  receive private art lessons.

Grasshopper Dance by Grace Carpenter Hudson (1898)

Grace’s parents had been aware how talented Grace was with regards her artwork and so, in early 1879, shortly after her fourteenth birthday they enrolled her at the San Francisco School of Design, which was under the directorship of the American painter, Virgil Macey Williams. Whilst at the School, Grace studied how to draw from casts and sculptures, and then moved on to life drawing with live models. She also experimented in painting using a variety of media as well as taking part in plein air classes. Her progress at the School of Design was swift. Her winning of the highly sought after Alvord Gold Medal in 1881 for the best full-length study in crayon from a cast was followed by a hearty comment from her portraiture teacher, Oscar Kunath who stated that she was the most talented pupil he had ever taught.

Portrait of Grace Carpenter. ca. 1882. Courtesy of the Grace Hudson Museum, City of Ukiah

Sixteen-year-old Grace was enjoying her time in San Francisco. She was vivacious and was described as a petite attractive brunette with a sprinkling of freckles across her face and this beauty brought her a number of suitors during her art school days. Grace, as well as attending the art school, helped out her father at his photographic studio. Her main job was hand tinting the black and white photographic portraits her father had captured with his cameras, (manually adding colour to a black and white photograph, so as to heighten the realism of the photograph).

Rosie’s Baby in a Quilt Basket by Grace Carpenter Hudson (1905)

Grace remained the San Francisco School of design until the autumn of 1883 and that December she returned to her home in Ukiah. Her return to Ukiah was not the joyful homecoming that one might have expected as Grace had met and begun a serious relationship with a man fifteen years her senior and whose previous relationship had resulted in the birth of a child. The “love of her life” was thirty-three-year-old real estate and money broker William T Davis. Grace’s parents were horrified with their daughter’s liaison with a man they considered totally unsuitable. The more Grace told her mother and father that she was in love with Davis the more they became adamant that he was not “the one” for her. Following the Christmas break, they managed to persuade Grace to stay in Ukiah and thus, away from her suitor. To complicate matters further another of her admirers and good friend, Edward Epsey, who had been a fellow art student in San Francisco and had expressed his desire to see more of her, had returned from studying at the Académie Julian in Paris and become a talented young artist. Grace’s parents also liked Epsey. Decisions decisions!

The Dawning by Grace Carpenter Hudson

Against the wishes of her parents, Grace did choose which suitor she loved most and in September 1884 after spending the spring and summer at home, she left and returned to San Francisco and into the arms of William Davis. The couple eloped and married but the relationship did not last and just over two years later, in December 1886, Mrs Grace Davis was granted a divorce absolute and she returned to her family in Ukiah. Whether it was the trials and tribulations of married life and its eventual breakdown, one will never know, except to say her artistic output had almost dried up and very few works exist with the signature Grace Davis. From 1885 to 1890, Grace lived with her parents in Ukiah. She continued to paint including genre, landscapes and still lifes in various media. She also occasionally taught and supplied illustrations to magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Overland Monthly.

Indian Papoose Kawasi by Grace Carpenter Hudson (1904)

Although she was very unhappy with what happened to her first real love affair, Grace carried on with her paintings. It was five years later that another chance of love visited her in the shape of Doctor John Wilz Napier Hudson. Hudson was an American physician who had an interest in Tennessee archaeology, and ethnologist. He had graduated from the Medical College of Nashville and then worked several years at the University of Tennessee.  Later he practiced medicine as a homoeopathic physician. He left his native Nashville, Tennessee in 1889, to take up the position of a physician for the newly extended San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad Company, which had its terminus and medical centre in Grace’s hometown, Ukiah. Hudson was soon accepted into Ukiah’s social circles and met the Cartwright family. Hudson had been brought up in a strict family setting with his father, a physician, expecting his son to tread in his footsteps and become a doctor whereas his son’s first love was ethnology, which is the study of the characteristics of different peoples and the differences and relationships between them. Hudson found the Carpenter family totally different from his own and enjoyed their progressive attitude to life, which could not have been more different than his own conventional and conservative upbringing. A year after his arrival Grace Carpenter married John Hudson and this time, for Grace, she received her parent’s blessing.

The Carpenter family, circa 1873, Aurelius O. Carpenter, photographer. Standing at rear, May Carpenter. Seated, left to right: Helen, Grant, Frank, Grace, and Aurelius Ormando “A.O.” Carpenter. A.O. Carpenter took this family portrait via a camera shutter release bulb he held behind Grace’s back

John’s main interest was in ethnology and through Grace’s parents’ longstanding connections to the local Pomo families, he discovered a wealth of information regarding them, their basketry and culture and this provided him with a foundation for his own cultural and linguistic studies. John joined Grace in her interest in basketry and over the years managed to build a very large collection of the various baskets made by the tribe. John Hudson offered Grace his support for her art and would urge her to focus her paintings on the Pomo people, with whom she was so familiar. Grace and John were both very aware that the Pomo tribe, through disease and war with their “intruders”  were on the cusp of extinction. Both Grace and her husband realised that the Pomo Indians were a vanishing race and that it was important that through Grace’s art they should be portrayed with compassion and deference for their culture. John and Grace realised that if Grace’s artwork focused on the Pomo people it could well make a professional name for her depicting a subject that no other artist had considered. Once Grace had decided on that strategy she began to become more methodical with the output of her work. In the summer of 1891 she began what she termed “her painting diary” and within the tome, she would carefully chronicle information about each of her works she believed were good enough to be sold.

National Thorn by Grace Carpenter Hudson (1891)

The first painting she recorded, as “Number 1” was her painting entitled National Thorn. This was a true-to-life portrait of a slumbering Pomo baby in a cradle basket, guarded by a watchful dog. This maternal choice of a sleeping Indian child to be the focus of the work was not one, which would occur to a male artist of the time, and its popularity meant that it was one that Grace would return to time and time again throughout her career. Midway through the painting, it was seen by H. Jay Smith, the director of the art department of the Minneapolis Industrial Exposition, who was in the Ukiah area, visiting the Hudson’s on a Pomo basket buying expedition. He fell in love with the incomplete painting he saw on Grace’s easel, with its sensitive portrayal and unusual theme. He immediately asked to buy the painting, once completed. Grace agreed and it appeared at the Minneapolis Industrial Exposition. Visitors at the Exposition loved the sentimental work and it was quickly sold. It was not just the sale of the work which pleased Grace, it was the constructive and encouraging publicity that followed the Exposition which made her realise that her choice of subject was a winner.

Quail Baby (also known as The Interrupted Bath) by Grace Carpenter Hudson (1892)

In 1892, her Number Two, Number Three and Number Four works appeared at the Exposition.  The painting logged by Grace as Number Four was entitled  Quail Baby sometimes referred to as The Interrupted Bath.  Critics praised her for how she sympathetically portrayed the Pomo child.  The depiction shows a small Pomo child looking quite startled as if he had been caught unaware of the artist’s presence.  There is such a poignancy about this depiction.

Little Mendocino by Grace Carpenter Hudson

Also in 1892 Grace produced painting Number 5 in her series of numbered oils, entitled Little Mendocino. It was exhibited at the Midwinter Fair in San Francisco, and in 1893 it was hung at the World’s Fair in Chicago. This was the big turning point for Grace and her artwork. Her reputation was well and truly established, and from then on she photographed and documented all her oil paintings for posterity. One of the reasons for doing this was for copyright reasons as other artists had tried to copy her most popular paintings.

According to Patricia Trenton, in her 1995 book, Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945:

 “… Hudson could not paint her portraits fast enough to meet the growing demand. One magazine of the time reported that no other artist today is so popular with the picture-loving public of San Francisco. A canvas from her brush is sold before it leaves her easel…”

Greenie with Two Yellow Puppies by Grace Carpenter Hudson (1896)

By the start of the twentieth century, Grace Carpenter Hudson’s national reputation as a talented artist had been achieved and she became the main breadwinner of the family but all her hard work up to this point had taken a toll on her health and in 1901 she decided to take a year out and relax in the serenity of the Hawaiian Islands. Whilst there, she completed 26 canvases of Japanese, Chinese, and Hawaiian natives. In that same year, John Hudson gave up his medical career and dedicated himself exclusively to ethnography and on her return from Hawaii, Grace travelled widely with her husband, as he documented many other Indian tribes including the Pawnee in Oklahoma Territory. During their journeys Grace continued to paint portraits of the tribespeople but, sadly, many of her paintings of this time were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire which devastated parts of California.

The Sun House – Grace Hudson’s house at 431 S. Main Street, Ukiah, California

In 1912 Grace and John moved into a Hopi style house in Ukiah, known as the Sun House, and except for a brief trip to Europe in 1925, the couple lived there for the rest of their lives. Grace had a beautiful studio which incorporated an intricate system of moveable skylights. It was in her Ukiah studio that Grace invited members of the Pomo tribe to model for her paintings.

John Hudson died on January 18th, 1936, aged 79. After his death, Grace stopped painting. Grace Carpenter Hudson died on March 23rd 1937, a month after her seventy-second birthday. The couple had no children and all their money and property went to a nephew, Mark, who turned their home, along with thirty thousand objects into the Grace Hudson Museum.  The objects consisted of paintings and the vast Pomo basket collection which had belonged to John Hudson.

The Dove Garden by Grace Carpenter Hudson (1911)

Grace Hudson’s painting diary, which she started in 1891, came to an end in 1935 and in it, she recorded all 685 oil paintings she had completed during that time.


I found a lot of information about the life of Grace Carpenter Hudson in an article written by Karen Holmes entitled:

The Sincerest Form of Flattery: Grace Hudson’s Little Mendocino and Its Many Copies

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/577fcdeab3db2bbb8519136a/t/58ae3f2a1e5b6c4889a00f19/1487814572232/little-mendocino-mad.pdf

and in an article in Genealogy.com

https://www.genealogy.com/forum/surnames/topics/carpenter/5071/

 

Elizabeth Nourse. Part 2.

Elizabeth Nourse
(1859-1938)

In April 1893, Elizabeth and Louise Nourse returned to Cincinnati as they had become aware that their sister Adelaide was seriously ill with consumption. At this time there were just the three sisters left of the original ten children, the other seven already having died. Adelaide never recovered from the wasting disease and died on September 12th 1893, aged 33. This was a devastating loss to Elizabeth as she had been very close to her twin, and used to regularly correspond with her whilst they lived on two different continents. Elizabeth now had no family connections in America and decided that her home from then on would be Paris. For Elisabeth and her elder sister, Louise Nourse, Paris offered them a better standard of living as the cost of living was less than that in America.

La mère” (The Mother), by Elizabeth Nourse (1888)

Before their return journey back to France, the assistant director of the Cincinnati Museum, Joseph H. Gest, invited Elizabeth to exhibit her work. In the Cincinnati exhibition, she had 102 of her paintings on show that she had painted whilst living in Europe and she managed to sell eighteen of them. Later at a smaller exhibition in Washington DC, she exhibited sixty-one of the same works and sold a further twenty-one. After Washington, they spent a week in New York before boarding a ship for England where they rested over briefly before travelling to Paris.

L’enfant endormi by Elisabeth Nourse (1901)

In the summer of 1894, following their return to France, Elisabeth and her sister Louise travelled to Brittany and visited the art colony of Pont Aven. However, Elisabeth decided that rather than live within the bustling colony she and her sister should find a much quieter location where she was able to detach herself from others in a small village which would allow her to paint alone. During their visits to the area, the two women would often find board and lodgings at a convent in the hamlet of Saint-Gildas where Elisabeth reckoned the daily cost of living was just one dollar.

Little Sister by Elizabeth Nourse (1902)

Elisabeth and Louise returned to Paris in the autumn of 1894 and took over a studio at 80 rue d’Assas which was to be their home for the rest of their lives. The studio which was situated opposite the south-west corner of the Luxembourg Gardens was in a quarter which housed a number of artist’s studios and was also home to many American expatriates. A couple of roads away from Elisabeth’s studio was rue de Chevreuse where the American Women Artists Association of Paris had its club and in 1899 Elizabeth served as its president. Elisabeth founded another artistic group, known as the Lodge Art League, which held annual exhibitions of paintings done by women.  It was a female-only group as female artists believed they were not getting a “fair shout” when it came to main-line exhibitions and so they started to organise their own independent shows.

Head of an Algerian by Elizabeth Nourse (1897)

Orientalist painting, depicting the Middle East, had become one of the many specialisms of 19th-century academic art and became very popular in France in the last decade of the nineteenth century, so much so that in 1893, the French Society of Orientalist Painters was founded. In 1897, Elisabeth and Louise Nourse spent three months in North Africa in the Algerian city of Biskra. Elizabeth described North Africa as “the land of sunshine and flowers and lovely Arabs.” and in 1897 completed a painting entitled Moorish Prince (Head of an Algerian).

Meditation (Sous les Arbres) by Elizabeth Nourse (1902

At the start of the twentieth century Elizabeth Nourse and her elder sister (by six years) Louise were living in Paris but they would often escape the hustle and bustle of city life. They discovered the quiet countryside idyll of Saint Leger–en Yvelines, a village in the heart of the Rambouillet forest, fifty-five kilometres south-west of central Paris. They lived there in a simple cottage rented to them by the Lethias family. Elizabeth’s love of the countryside and rural life inspired her art. It was this “back to nature” aspect of her stay in the countryside that she enjoyed so much and this can be seen in her paintings of the time. One I particularly like is her 1902 work, Meditation (Sous les Arbres), which is housed in the Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, Nebraska. It depicts a mother seated in a chair in the garden. Her chin is resting on her hand and there is an air of tiredness about her, but not enough to stop her amusing her young child who sits on the grass at her feet.

Un Heure de Loisir by Elizabeth Nourse (1900)

In the ten years up to 1904 Elizabeth Nourse concentrated on rural themes, not the depiction of the beautiful country landscapes but depictions of peasant women getting on with their daily lives, working hard bringing up their children, and finally, at the end of the day, taking a chance to have a well-earned rest as can be seen in her 1904 work entitled Un Heure de Loisir (A Time of Leisure).

Normandy Peasant Woman and her Child by Elizabeth Nourse (1900)

Elizabeth Nourse’s depictions of peasant women and their children had a sense of realism, which was not always appreciated by art dealers. A good example of this is her 1900 painting, Normandy Peasant Woman and Child. In this work, Nourse has concentrated on the child but it is the contrasting of mother and child, which is most interesting.   Look at the way she has depicted the woman’s rough, reddened hand, which wraps around the child’s waist, with that of the soft skin of the child’s pudgy hands. This ruddy-faced depiction of the woman was viewed by the art dealers as something which would put off potential buyers and they often urged Elizabeth to make her depictions more “pretty” and thus, in their minds, more “saleable”. Needless to say, Nourse disagreed with their summation. In  Anna Seaton Schmidt’s book, Elizabeth Nourse: The Work of an Eminent Artist in France, she quoted Elizabeth as saying to one dealer:

“…”How can I paint what does not appeal to me?…”

The Kiss (Le Baiser) by Elizabeth Nourse (c.1906)

Elizabeth Nourse had her drawings, watercolours and pastels regularly shown at the Salon as well as her works in oils but it was her works on paper that first brought her recognition there. In 1901 she was elected societaire (member) in that category and in 1904 a societaire in oil painting as well. This was a great honour and more importantly, it meant that her work was no longer juried prior to being accepted and that she herself could also serve as a Salon juror. This official approval by the Salon meant that her reputation spread and she received an increasing number of invitations to exhibit her work. An example of her drawings is her 1906 work entitled The Kiss (Le Baiser). It is a pastel and charcoal on paper, mounted on board and is housed at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (The Clark) in Williamstown, Massachusetts. It is such a delicate and loving portrayal of a mother and her child. I don’t think I have seen such a depiction of tenderness in a long while.

The Closed Shutters (also known as Les Volets Clos) by Elizabeth Nourse (1910)

In 1910 her painting Closed Shutters (Les Volets Clos) was exhibited at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Many of Elizabeth’s works around this time showed how she was fascinated by the depiction of light, whether it be daylight or lamplight or firelight. In this painting we see bright sunlight streaming through wooden louvred window shutters into a dimly lit room.   In the room we see a woman standing before a mirror. It is a masterful depiction of light and one of Nourse’s most famous work of art which was bought in 1910 by French Ministry of Fine Arts for its permanent collection of contemporary art to hang in the Musee du Luxembourg alongside works by other great American artists such as James McNeil Whistler, Winslow Homer, and John Singer Sargent. It is now part of the Musee d’Orsay collection in Paris.

La reverie by Elizabeth Nourse (1910)

After the success of her painting Closed Shutters she completed another impressionistic work which experimented and focused on the way the sunlight plays on different surfaces. In La reverie (Daydreaming) we see a woman, posed by her sister Louise, standing before an open window, lost in thought, as she stares down at a glass goldfish bowl. The interior is illuminated by the bright sunlight so much so that part of the interior where the woman stands and the exterior seem to be as one. The reflection of the woman can be seen in the glass of the open window frame behind her. Nourse executed the work using ingenious strokes of blue, green, and violet, and it reveals the skill Elizabeth showed when showing the multifaceted reflecting elements of glass and water. The style of painting was likened to decorative intimism, a style of painting showing intimate views of domestic interiors using impressionist techniques, a style used in the early 20th century by the likes of her contemporaries the French Post-Impressionist painter, Pierre Bonnard and the American Impressionist painter, Richard Miller who was a member of the Giverny Colony of American Impressionists.

Woman with cigarette by Elizabeth Nourse (1895)

In the fourteen year period before the onset of The Great War, Elizabeth Nourse was at the pinnacle of her artistic career which had started back in 1874 for the, then fifteen-year-old McMicken School art student. But with war, came change. The art scene changed. Art dealers in the major cities of the western world became ever more important with their regular exhibitions, diminishing the importance of the Paris Salon. The Germans had invaded Belgium in 1914 and France became a potential target causing almost all of the American expatriates to return to the safety of their homeland on the other side of the Atlantic. However, Elizabeth and her sister decided to stay in the French capital. In a letter to a friend back in Cincinnati in December 1914, Elizabeth wrote nonchalantly about her thoughts on a possible German invasion:

 ‘…We shall stick it out and retire to the cellar…”

On August 22nd Louise Nourse also wrote a letter to her friend Melrose Pitman in Cincinnati explaining how the sisters had come to the decision to stay in Paris:

“…All the Americans are going but we will stay right here. I should feel an ungrateful wretch to run away—as though I fled from some hospitable roof when smallpox breaks out…”

Woman with cigarette by Elizabeth Nourse (1895)

Not only did the two sisters remain in Paris but they actively supported the people of Paris who had to deal with the influx of Belgium refugees fleeing the conflict in their country. With the collapse of the market for works of art, Elizabeth set about trying to help struggling artists to survive by appealing to her friends in America to donate funds. They worked tirelessly, so much so they both became ill and their doctor ordered them to leave Paris for a while and convalesce in the countryside.

Le frère et la soeur, Penmarc’h by Elisabeth Nourse (1901)

The two travelled to the coastal farming commune of Penmarc’h in Western Brittany. On arrival, they were shocked and saddened to discover that over sixty village women had been widowed by the war and all the remaining able-bodied men had had to leave the area for they had been conscripted to fight in the war. The lack of men in the commune meant that the women left behind not only had to care for their home and remaining family members but also had to cope with all the farm work. Louise and Elizabeth immediately set about helping the local women. An article by their friend Anna Seaton Schmidt in the September 2nd edition of the Boston Evening Post quotes from a letter Elizabeth Nourse had sent to a friend in Cincinnati:

“…It is quite a sight to see us bringing in the cows and tossing the hay, besides feeding ducks, chickens and picking beet and cabbage leaves for the cattle…”

In 1919, the year after the Great War had concluded, the board of the New Salon presented Elizabeth with a silver plaque in grateful recognition for this work during the war.

Artist in her studio

The following year, 1920, Elizabeth became unwell and it was discovered that she had breast cancer. She underwent surgery but it left her seriously debilitated and prevented her from standing at the easel for long periods. When it was time to proffer a painting for the 1921 Salon she had nothing recently painted to give them and so put forward some works she had completed years earlier.

Happy Days by Elizabeth Nourse (1905)

That year, 1921, she was honoured with the Laetare Medal, given annually to a Catholic layperson for distinguished service to humanity by the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. The award ceremony was presided over by the Papal Nuncio in Paris, and the Paris edition of the New York Herald referred to Elizabeth Nourse as “the dean of American women painters in France and one of the most eminent contemporary artists of her sex” and the Chicago Tribune simply referred to her as “the first woman painter of America”. Elizabeth, although pleased to receive the award, did not like the comment by either of the newspapers. She spoke of it to her friend Anna Seaton Schmidt telling her that she wanted to be judged as an artist, not as a woman.

Her health continued to deteriorate and by 1924, at the age of sixty-five, she had given up exhibiting at the Salon. In 1937 Elizabeth was devastated when her sister and life-long companion Louise died, aged 84. The loss of her beloved sister caused her health to worsen further and eighteen months after her sister died, on October 8th 1938, Elizabeth passed away and she and her sister were buried next to each other in their beloved Saint Leger–en Yvelines.   Her remaining paintings housed in her studio were returned to Cincinnati.


Most of the information on the life of Elizabeth Nourse I have used is taken from Elizabeth Nourse: Cincinnati’s Most Famous Woman Artist an essay by Mary Alice Heekin Burke.

 

Elizabeth Nourse. Part 1.

Self portrait by Elizabeth Nourse (1892)

My featured artist today is the American realist-style genre, portrait and landscape painter Elizabeth Nourse, who was hailed by her fellow artists as “the first woman painter of America”. She was an artist in an era when female painters were put down as simply “Sunday Painters” whose art was a mere hobby and would never lead to anything. It was just something for them to do whilst they waited to marry a rich gentleman or if marriage did not come a-calling, then they could always teach.

An American journalist and advocate of women’s rights, Boston-born, Mary Livermore, wrote a book in 1883 warning women not to simply hope for a good man to rescue them. In her book, What Shall We Do With Our Daughters? Superfluous Women and Other Lectures, she wrote:

“…one of the most serious dangers to which inefficient women are liable, the danger of regarding marriage as a means of livelihood. The theory is that all men support all women, but some men are incompetent, some are invalids, some are dissolute, and some die leaving their wives destitute…”

Flock of Geese by Elizabeth Nourse (c.1883)

If Elizabeth was to teach or marry and dedicate herself to bringing up a family then the chance of producing a large and varied body of work was very unlikely. With this prevalent jaundiced male attitude of a woman’s place being in the home with her children, one soon realises a female artist had to go it alone and be very determined to overcome the prejudices of male exhibition jurists and male art critics, both of whom they had to curry favour with. Also, later, when she was living in Paris, as a woman she did not have the friendship-bonding/support of the café culture that aspiring male artists had, but thankfully, she was helped by strong family support, especially her elder sister Louise, together with a large network of female friends, including Anna Seaton Schmidt.

Etude by Elizabeth Nourse (1892)

Elizabeth Nourse was born to Caleb Nourse and Elizabeth Lebreton Rogers Nourse, both descendants of pioneer New England families who were married in Cincinnati in 1833. Elizabeth came into this world on October 26th, 1859 at Mount Healthy, Ohio. Mount Healthy was a small village north of Cincinnati, originally called Mount Pleasant, but in 1850 was so named as during a cholera epidemic in 1849 the citizens of the village survived while those in the surrounding territory did not, in fact, four per cent of Cincinnati’s population died of the disease. She and her twin sister Adelaide were the youngest of ten children, four sons, and six daughters, and they were brought up in a Catholic family. Cincinnati’s location on the Ohio River was a great trade hub for North to South and East to West trade and this brought in a large number of European immigrants. At the time Elizabeth was born, Cincinnati had become the sixth biggest city in America. Elizabeth’s father, Caleb Nourse, prospered with the boom and became a banker. However, with the onset of the Civil War in 1861, the movement of goods on the Ohio River was badly disrupted and the four-year war brought a disastrous financial decline to Cincinnati and Caleb’s bank failed.

Charles McMickenElizabeth and her twin, Adelaide, at the age of fifteen, went to classes at the McMicken School of Design in Cincinnati, which was open to all qualified residents, tuition-free, while her next eldest sister Louise became a teacher. The McMicken School of Design had been founded by Cincinnati resident, and real estate millionaire, Charles McMicken. In the 1850’s he donated one million dollars to the city of Cincinnati to form a university. Originally known as McMicken University, a month after the college’s founding, the university’s board of directors changed the institution’s name to the University of Cincinnati and this institution absorbed the McMicken School of Drawing and Design.

Thomas Satterwhite Noble

The head of the Drawing and Design School was an American painter, Thomas Satterwhite Noble. and the McMicken School of Design later became the present-day Art Academy of Cincinnati.

Elizabeth embarked on the full curriculum and took drawing and painting courses for five years whilst also training in sculpture.  Elizabeth’s twin sister Adelaide just studied wood carving and china painting in the classes which had been started by Benn Pitman, a widower whom she later married in 1882 when she was twenty-three and he was sixty. It should be remembered that except for a few months’ studies in New York and later in Paris at the Académie Julian her artistic style was formed at the McMicken School of Design in Cincinnati. Elizabeth’s early interest was the lives of poor rural workers of the Midwest, especially the hardships endured by women at work who struggled to raise a family.

Portrait of a Lady by Elizabeth Nourse (1888)

Once she had completed her course at the School of Design in 1880, she was offered a position at the School as a teacher but she declined the offer, as she wanted to continue with her own art and be recognised as a painter and not a teacher!  This was certainly a gamble as she had to help financially support her sisters and teaching would have given her a secure income. However, after her graduation in 1880, she returned to the School to study for two years in the first life class offered to women only.

Tennessee Woman by Elizabeth Nourse (1895)

Both of Elizabeth’s parents died in 1880 and with her twin sister Adelaide married and living in her own home, Elizabeth, accompanied by sister, Louise decided to move to New York where, having received funding from one of her patrons, she enrolled on courses at the Art Students League in New York City and studied briefly under William Sartain, an American painter who had spent a number of years in Paris. She also met the famed Impressionist painters William Merritt Chase and Julian Alden Weir. She left New York the following year and returned to Cincinnati where she earned money as a home decorator and portrait painter and by selling her pen and ink sketches of local buildings and submitting illustrations to various magazines. Nourse was able to spend a couple of summers during the following years making watercolour paintings in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee.

In August 1887, with the money she had made from her various jobs, Elizabeth, aged twenty-eight, and her elder sister, Louise aged thirty-four, left the shores of America for Europe and the art capital of the world, Paris. She and Louise rented a studio apartment on Paris’ Left Bank. Louise played a very important role in her sister’s life acting as her companion, housekeeper, and later, secretary, and business manager. Having settled in the French capital, Elizabeth enrolled at the renowned Académie Julian and studied under master painters Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebvre. However, she only remained at the Académie for three months for they advised her that as her artistic ability was of such a high standard she needed no more tuition. After leaving the Académie she set up her own studio and began on a painting, which she wanted to submit to the Salon jurists.

La mère” (The Mother), by Elizabeth Nourse (1888)

In 1888 her painting, La mère (The Mother) was completed and it was accepted at that year’s Salon. Not only was it accepted by the Salon jury, but they also had it placed “on the line”, meaning that it was hung at eye-level, which was quite a prominent position for an unknown artist. The work of art came with no anecdotal details, which would identify the depiction. Elizabeth Nourse did not want this to be a depiction of a specific person with a background story. This work did not relate it to a specific relationship. She wanted this to be about every mother’s feeling, that of fondness and love for their precious baby. As good as the work was and despite it being highly praised by the critics it did not sell. In fact, it did not sell for seven years despite it being exhibited in five different exhibitions. It was finally bought in 1894 whilst being exhibited in a Washington DC exhibition. One interesting fact about the painting and that of most of her early works was that she signed it “E. Nourse”. Elizabeth felt it would be received more favourably by the Salon jury and the art critics if they did not know she was a woman!! By 1891 her reputation as an artist had risen considerably and she felt it time to sign her paintings with her full name.

In the summer of 1888, Elizabeth Nourse took the opportunity to leave the city of Paris and explore the French countryside. She explored the Fontainebleau Forest area and the small commune of Barbizon, a place made famous in the mid-1800’s by its artist colony. She fell in love with the rural landscape of the country.

Fisher Girl of Picardy by Elizabeth Nourse (1889)

Another woman who played an important role in Elizabeth’s life was Anna Seaton Schmidt. Anna was a successful writer and lecturer on art and wrote passionate articles about Nourse and her art for international art periodicals and American newspapers. She would often meet up with Elizabeth and Louise in Paris and went with them on painting trips throughout Europe. In the summer of 1889 Anna, Louise and Elizabeth travelled north from Paris to Picardy and visited the Etaples art colony, and it was in that year that Elizabeth Nourse completed a work, whilst at Etaples, entitled Fisher Girl of Picardy. Of the painting and the day, Anna Schmidt commented:

“…I was with Elizabeth when she painted that girl on the Etaples Dunes—it was so cold and windy the model used to weep…”

The setting for this en plein air painting was the windswept dunes of Etaples. The cold blustery weather at the time of the painting probably was the cause of the model’s pink cheeks and why the small boy clutches the girl’s hand and tries to gain some shelter from the wind by staying within the folds of the girl’s skirt. The girl stands, head aloft, holding some fishing gear as she looks out towards the stormy ocean.

Although based in Paris Elizabeth and Louise travelled extensively, spending time in Russia and Italy. The two sisters spent eighteen months in Rome during 1889 and 1890 and it was during her Italian sojourn that Elizabeth received an invitation from Paris to join the Societe Nationale des Beaux Arts (New Salon), one of two important Salons at the time, which was organized by the modern French artists, such as Rodin and Puvis de Chavannes. It was a rebellious act in reaction to the conservative standards of the established artists who made up the jury of the Old Salon. Elizabeth was the second American woman elected a member of this auspicious art society. Her acceptance was a risk as if this New Salon did not get the acceptance by the art world, which it desired then she may never become a Salon painter.

The Church of St. Francis of Assisi by Elizabeth Nourse (1890)

Whilst in Italy Louise and Elizabeth travelled to Assisi where they spent six weeks and during this time Elizabeth completed a couple of religious paintings, one of which was her 1890 work entitled The Church of St. Francis of Assisi.

Peasant Women of Borst by Elizabeth Nourse (1891)

When their time in Italy came to an end Elizabeth and Louise headed back to Paris via Austria. It was a tiring journey over the mountains, part of which was by ox cart. They passed through the Austrian mountain village of Borst, which must have impressed them as they rested there for six weeks and during this time Elizabeth produced her painting, Peasant Women of Borst. This work is now housed in the Cincinnati Museum of Art. The two sisters finally arrived back in Paris during the winter of 1891.

In the Church at Volendam by Elizabeth Nourse (1892)

Whether it was the restless nature of the women or just their love of travel but by the summer of 1892 they were all packed and off once again on their travels. This time their destination was Holland. Although this was a painting trip it was also a chance to catch up with some friends and fellow expatriates from Cincinnati, the Wachman sisters, who had a studio in Volendam. The Dutch village of Volendam in the late 19th, and the early 20th century had developed as an artist colony. Elizabeth and Henriette Wachman had been fellow students at McMicken School of Design. Resulting from her stay in Volendam was her painting entitled In the Church at Volendam……………….

…………………to be continued


A great deal of information for this blog came from a very good and thoroughly researched article: Elizabeth Nourse: Cincinnati’s Most Famous Woman Artist by Mary Alice Heekin Burke.

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

Murillo Exhibition at Seville

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

Self-portrait by Murillo

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

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

The Good Shepherd by Murillo (1665)

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

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

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

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

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

The Annunciation by Murillo (c.1660)

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

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

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

Mater Dolorosa by Murillo (1670-1675)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Girl Lifting her Veil by Murillo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait of Juan de Saavedra by Murillo (1650)

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

Portrait of Josua van Belle by Murillo (1670)

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

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