Thomas Cooper Gotch. Part 3.

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

Mental arithmetic
Mental Arithmetic by Thomas Gotch

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

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

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

Child Enthroned by Thomas Gotch

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

Alleluia by Thomas Gotch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the source image
A Pageant of Childhood by Thomas Gotch (1899)

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

Postcard advertising auction of ‘Penwith’, Shottermill in 1906

Thomas Gotch’s House Penwith on sale in 1907

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

See the source image
The Dawn of Womanhood by Thomas Gotch (1900)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Cooper Gotch. Part 2.

Thomas Cooper Gotch

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

A Golden Dream
A Golden Dream by Thomas Gotch

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

See the source image
The Misses Santley by Henry Tuke

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

Cornfields above Lamorna
Cornfields above Lamorna by Thomas Gotch

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

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

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

Death the Bride by Thomas Gotch (1912)

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

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

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

Portrait of Madame G by Thomas Gotch

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

Evening by Thomas Gotch

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

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

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

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

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

Looe
Looe by Thomas Gotch

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

…………………………………to be continued.

Thomas Cooper Gotch. Part 1.

Self Portrait with Two Square Brushes by Thomas Gotch

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

xxFamily

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

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

 

A Cottage in a Garden

A Cottage in a Garden by Thomas Gotch

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

Ruby

Ruby by Thomas Gotch

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Orchard

The Orchard by Thomas Gotch (1887)

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

Rosalind

Rosalind by Thomas Gotch

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

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

Clouds

Clouds by Thomas Gotch

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

……………………………………………..to be continued.

Jenny Eugenia Nyström

Britain over the years have had many talented children’s book illustrators.  There are the likes of Beatrix Potter with her illustrative work seen in books of Peter Rabbit and his Friends.  There was Ernest Howard Shepard, an English artist and book illustrator, known especially for illustrations of the animal and soft toy characters in The Wind in the Willows and Winnie-the-Pooh.  Let us not forget Quinton Blake for his illustrations in the Roald Dahl books.  There is Roger Hargreaves for his illustrations for his Mr Men and Little Miss books and Raymond Briggs for his unforgettable illustrations for his wordless picture book, The Snowman.

The book cover is an illustration of a sail boat coming into a forested shore. On the shore, sleeping against a tree, is a giant furry monster with bare human feet and the head of a bull. Above the illustration, written in uneven block capital letters against a white background, is the title of the book "Where the Wild Things Are" and below the illustration, "Story and pictures by Maurice Sendak".

America has its share of great children’s book illustrators such as Maurice Sendak, an American illustrator and writer of children’s books. He became widely known for his book Where the Wild Things Are, first published in 1963.  Sendak also wrote works such as In the Night Kitchen, Outside Over There, and illustrated many works by other authors including the Little Bear books by Else Holmelund Minarik.  One of course calls to mind Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. His books and illustrations are loved by children and adults from all around the world, his books are quirky treasures that leave a lasting impression.  He wrote his first children’s book, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, in 1937, and the book that catapulted him into success, The Cat in the Hat, in 1957.

Image of Tomte

A Tomte

In today’s blog I am looking at the life and work of one of Sweden’s great illustrators, Jenny Eugenia Nyström, who was the first woman in Sweden to be awarded a royal medal for her historically themed painting. Her legacy was established by the popularity of her depictions of tomte, a mythological creature often associated with Christmas.  Jenny Nyström’s artwork was modern as well as humorous. It was not unusual to see a “tomte” captaining an airplane, driving a car, a truck, a motorcycle or even a train. She was not afraid to use exotic animals like elephants and giraffes as “tomte” assistants for delivering Christmas presents across Sweden. The images also contained several elements of traditional folk Christmas imagery such as Christmas goats, Christmas trees, sleighs, toboggans and more. 

Christmas card with jultomte by Jenny Nyström, (circa 1899)

Jenny Nyström was born in the Kalmar County district of Malmen, Sweden on June 13th 1854.  She was the daughter of Daniel Isacsson Nyström, the cantor of the Kalmar Castle church, a local schoolteacher and an accomplished piano player who gave piano lessons.  Jenny’s mother was Anette Eleonora Bergendahl. Jenny Nyström had three brothers, Emil, Leonard and Axel and one sister Augusta.  She was the third of the five children, and reportedly was an energetic and imaginative youngster who later spoke about her happy and idyllic upbringing in Kalmar, a town in the southeast of Sweden.  She had a happy home life living with her parents, siblings as well as her maternal grandparents, two maternal aunts and her maternal great grandmother.  Her father attended to her education whilst her mother was remembered by her daughter for her storytelling.

 Bear Reading Going Upstairs Godt Nytt Ar by Jenny Nyström (c.1910) 

In November 1863, when Jenny was nine years old the family left Kalmar and moved to the Gothenburg suburb of Majorna where her father had a teaching post.  Jenny was devastated to leave her Kalmar friends and wrote about her new home:

“…In the beginning, I found my stay in Gothenburg very boring, when I had no playmates, and when I got them, they just made life miserable for me, as they imitated my Kalmar dialect. I couldn’t speak clean.  I often longed to go back to Kalmar and to my little playmates there and then to these nice windmills, in whose wings we hung, when it didn’t blow too hard, and after the outbuilding roof where we used to sit and sunbathe, and after grandpa’s old garden with the frog pond…”

Along with the family came the Nyström’s maid, Karin Johansdotter who would be part of Jenny’s “family” for many years.  Up until this time Jenny had been home-schooled by her father but once in Gothenburg, she attended Mrs Natt och Dag’s local primary school and after graduating from there she attended the Kjellbergska flickskolan (Kjellberg Girls’ School), a school founded by a fund granted in the will of the wealthy merchant Jonas Kjellberg.   The all-girls elementary school was to provide education to make it possible for females to support themselves professionally.

Tomte by Frederik Wohlfart

In 1869, aged fifteen Jenny received her first art education at the Göteborgs Musei-, Rit- och Målarskola, today known as Konsthögskolan Valand, where one of her tutors was Fredrik Wohlfart, a Swedish genre painter and caricaturist from the Düsseldorf School.  Wohlfahrt was best known for a series of paintings depicting popular figures of elves and it was he who inspired Jenny to depict images of tomte, one of the most popular Scandinavian mythological characters.  Christmas in Sweden is celebrated in a very unique and different manner, owing to the differences in its culture and traditions. Christmas celebrations there begin on St. Lucia Day, which is on December 13. Tomte comes into picture after the Christmas dinner, when someone from the family dresses up like him. Tomte, believed to live in the forests or in a farm, is known for looking after the livestock of the farmers after the Christmas dinner. Tomte was converted to the Swedish Santa Claus over a period of time and soon began to deliver gifts as well. 

Harvest Joy by Jenny Nyström

One day, in 1871, seventeen-year-old Jenny Nyström was visiting the Gothenburg Art Museum and was sitting and drawing.  Another visitor to the museum that day was regional governor Albert Ehrensvärd who noticed her sketching and admired her work, so much so, he invited her to Stockholm to visit art galleries and to go to the city’s National Art Museum.  She accepted the offer and whilst in Stockholm she was introduced to Christoffer Boklund, professor at the Stockholm Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

Jenny Nyström illustrated Viktor Rydberg’s poem “Tomten” in Ny Illustrerad Tidning in 1881.

In August 1873, two years after her first visit to Stockholm she returned to the city and enrolled at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts and there she enjoyed life as an art student for the next eight years.  Although Nyström had been brought up in a happy household it was not a rich upbringing and when she was at the Academy, she had to fund herself.  To earn money, she would go out and sell subscriptions for the magazine, Ny Illustrerad Tidning, a publication for which she also provided illustrations.  More importantly Jenny slowly built up a number of patrons from Gothenburg who bought her work, one of which was the regional governor Albert Ehrensvärd who guaranteed her the sum of 100 kroner a month.

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Gustav Vasa inför king Hans (Gustav Vasa as Child in front of King Hans) by Jenny Nyström (1881)

Another of her patrons was James Dickson, a Scottish-Swedish merchant, industrialist, banker and philanthropist who was based in Gothenburg.   She also received an annual stipend from the Academy from 1877 onwards. Nyström fared well at the Academy and in 1881, she received the highest commendation available: the royal gold medal for her historically themed painting Gustav Vasa inför king Hans (Gustav Vasa as Child in front of King Hans).  The royal medal provided opportunities for scholarships abroad and success for the students. The motifs that were ranked highest were the biblical, mythological and historical last came folk life depictions, landscape painting and still lifes.

From my Atelier in Paris by Jenny Nyström (1884)

In July 1882, she was awarded one thousand Swedish Krona from the Academy’s special support fund and with this money she was able to travel to Paris.  Paris being looked upon as the centre of the art world was very popular with foreign artists and many Swedish artists lived in Paris such as Carl Larsson, his wife Karin and Anders Zorn. Unable to gain entrance to the French Academy of Fine Arts due to its male-only policy, Jenny enrolled at the Académie Colarossi in November and then the Académie Julian.  While in Paris, she painted diligently so as to have her work accepted by the Salon. In 1884 her painting From my Atelier in Paris was exhibited at that year’s Salon.

The Convalescent by Jenny Nyström via DailyArt app, your daily dose of art getdailyart.com
The Convalescent by Jenny Nyström (1884)

In 1884 she also completed 0ne of my favourite of her works, The Convalescent. Around the turn of the 20th century, convalescing women and girls were a popular theme in visual art. In her painting The Convalescent, Jenny Nyström has chosen to depict the subject from the narrative perspective of the classicist tradition. We see before us an idealised young female figure at centre of the work, hovering between life and death. In stark contrast, next to her, we see the shamelessly healthy-looking and pretty girl standing by her side. The invalid looks upwards, probably praying for good health and trusting her fate in God’s hands. The picture is full of overt symbols, like the dead potted plant set against the bouquet of living flowers. The compositional pattern, which is centred on the histrionic body language and facial expressions of the figures, has its roots in an older anecdotal tradition. In early 19th-century genre painting, we often see figures posing as they do here, as if being in a stage spotlight, creating a sense of distance. The image of a convalescing female became a symbol of subordination, of the fragility of “womanliness”, and hence proof of women’s inability to participate in public life. These pictures can be seen as a reaction to the emancipation of women at that time and an attempt to return them to the home and the private sphere.

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Husband of Jenny Nyström, Daniel Stoopendaal (1853-1927) by Jenny Nyström (1887)

In 1880, whilst still a student at the Academy she attended a student concert at Katarina Church in Stockholm. where she met her future husband, Daniel Stoopendaal.  He was a medical student.  In the Autumn of 1884, the couple got engaged.  Jenny Nyström moved back to Stockholm at the start of the year in 1886 and worked as an illustrator for several different publishers. On May 24th 1887 she married Daniel Stoopendaal in the Adolf Fredrik church, and that autumn they moved into a large city apartment on Tegnérgatan.  In 1889, a few years after her mother had died, Jenny Nyström’s father moved in with her and her husband.  Their first child Curt was born on June 25th 1893.  Sadly, Daniel was ill for most of his life with tuberculosis.  He never completed his medical studies and Jenny was the breadwinner of the family supporting them through the sale of her paintings.  It was a hard struggle for her to sell her work.  In the end she had to sell her work to different publishers and other employers.

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vi två (The two of us) by Jenny Nyström (1895)

From the time her son Curt was born he often made an appearance in her paintings wearing a red skull-cap and dressed in a “kolt” (traditional outfit). She also painted a portrait of herself with two-year-old Curt in 1895, which she called Mor och son. Today it is known as Vi två (The Two of Us). 

Brita and Bertil by Jenny Nyström (1911)

It was around this time that she began to concentrate on illustrating a large number of children’s books and historical novels. She also painted cover images for newspapers and journals. She had a breakthrough in 1911 when she signed a contract to make greeting cards for Axel Eliasson’s publishing house, but this meant that she needed to produce a certain number of watercolours each month as a background illustration for the cards. These illustrations gained great exposure due to the appealing nature of her drawings. The Swedish publication series Barnbiblioteket Saga, which was initiated by schoolteachers in the late 19th century was one of the most ambitious and extensive reading promotion projects ever undertaken in Sweden. It looked into the world of children’s books In Barnbiblioteket’s Saga, 1910, a biographical entry on Jenny Nyström reveals why she chose to illustrate children’s stories

“…The reason I mainly illustrate children’s books is probably because I have always loved children and have always wanted to show children something of the fair sunny land east of the sun and west of the moon, beauty which has remained in my memory from my childhood in Kalmar. Maybe now you can also understand why I prefer to draw beautiful images…”

Jenny Nyström carried on with her painting and illustrative work until the end. She died in her home in Stockholm on 17 January 1946 aged 91. Of her last minutes on this earth her long-time housekeeper described her passing as:

“…It was like blowing out a candle…”

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Jenny Nyström’s last resting place

Jenny Nyström was buried at Norra cemetery beside her husband Daniel Stoopendaal and her father Daniel Nyström. Seventy five years after her death her illustrated cards are still being printed and her academic artwork and her watercolours fetch high prices at the larger auction houses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Byron’s Dream by Ford Madox Brown (1874)

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

Mary Chaworth

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

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

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The Hireling Shepherd by William Holman Hunt (1851)

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

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

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

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

Sleepest or wakest thou, jolly shepherd?

Thy sheep be in the corn;

And for one blast of thy minikin mouth,

Thy sheep shall take no harm.

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

The painting received mixed reviews.  One anonymous reviewer wrote:

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

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

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

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Wandering Thoughts by John Everett Millais (c.1855)

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

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

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

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

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

…………………….to be concluded.

Manchester Art Gallery. Part 1. The Females.

Manchester Art Gallery

If you happen to visit Manchester, England, you will find two main art galleries, the Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth Gallery.  Last weekend I was in the city for a weekend break and decided to revisit the main Manchester Art Gallery.

The main part of the collection is derived from the Royal Manchester Institution which demonstrated a partiality for purchasing contemporary art and that predilection continued when it eventually became the City Art Gallery in 1883.  The retired Bradford-based textile businessman and philanthropist with a passionate love of art, Charles Rutherston, although not an artist himself, was both an art collector and a generous friend and patron to artists.  He had amassed a large collection of paintings which he bequeathed to the Gallery in 1925.  Between the two World Wars, the Gallery accumulated a large number of contemporary artworks.  Today the Manchester Art Gallery has an extensive collection of work by nineteenth-century British artists, particularly the Pre-Raphaelites.  In 1979, the European Old Masters collection was transformed by the Assheton Bennett bequest of almost a hundred paintings, mainly by seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish artists. Today the collection includes over 2,000 oil paintings, plus related studies and archival material, and there is a renewed focus on collecting contemporary art.  In the next three blogs I will be looking at some of  my favourites which were on view.

Study of Jane Morris

Chalk drawing of Jane Morris by Rossetti (1875)

In the Gallery, there are a number of paintings by the Pre-Raphaelite artists but the one I find the most haunting is Rossetti’s late work entitled Astarte Syriaca.  The story behind this work started back in 1875 with a chalk drawing Rossetti had made of Jane Morris, his lover.  Rossetti’s friend, Theodore Watts–Dunton, told Rossetti that the drawing could form the basis of a full-length Venus portrait.  After one of Rossetti’s patrons, Clarence Fry saw some of the preliminary sketches in August 1875, he commissioned Rossetti to complete the Venus painting.

Rossetti started working on the painting, Astarte Syriaca, sometimes known as Venus Astarte, in the Autumn of 1875 but abandoned it, unfinished in March 1876, saying that he was dissatisfied with it and he began work on the “second” Astarte.  Finally it was completed in December 1876 and framed at the end of January 1877 ready for his patron.  Jane Morris was the model for Venus (and May Morris, her sister, the attendant figure on the left)

Astarte Syriaca Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Astarte Syriacs by Dante Rossetti (1876)

The depiction is a full-length figure of a woman dressed in sea-green robes, gazing towards us, the viewer. Astarte Syriaca has long, thick. and wavy flowing hair that flows on her back.  She is pictured holding an ornate floral metal strap with her left hand under her chest. Her left hand seems to be holding a similar strap that rests around the hips area.  This is known as a traditional pudica pose.

Both her hands, the limbs, and her breast are large, and her lips seem to be full and pink. Astarte Syriaca portrait is one of Gabriel Rossetti’s iconic paintings that romantically evokes the marvellous power of women in the context of the European Symbolist Movement, the nascent pan. In the same breath, it signifies as a covert admonition of the patriarchal Victorian Christianity. It can as well be interpreted in various other ways.   The woman has one of her legs placed forward to look as if she is striding towards us.  Also in the painting we see two male figures placed symmetrically in the background.  Rossetti wrote a sonnet which was first published in 1877 and which accompanied the painting.

ASTARTE SYRIACA

Mystery: lo! betwixt the sun and moon

Astarte of the Syrians: Venus Queen

⁠Ere Aphrodite was. In silver sheen

Her twofold girdle clasps the infinite boon

Of bliss whereof the heaven and earth commune:

⁠And from her neck’s inclining flower-stem lean

Love-freighted lips and absolute eyes that wean

The pulse of hearts to the spheres’ dominant tune.

Torch-bearing, her sweet ministers compel

⁠All thrones of light beyond the sky and sea

⁠The witnesses of Beauty’s face to be:

That face, of Love’s all-penetrative spell

Amulet, talisman, and oracle,—

⁠Betwixt the sun and moon a mystery.

Cinderella by Valentine Prinsep (1899)

The next painting featuring a female is simply entitled Cinderella.  The artist is Valentine Cameron Prinsep who was born in India on St Valentine’s Day 1838.  His father was a civil servant based in the country but who would return to England with his family when Valentine was five years old.  Valentine’s mother was a great art lover and would often hold parties at their Kensington home with artists and writers, including poets Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning and artists John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. Although his parents assumed their son would follow his father into the Indian Civil Service but having been stirred by the artistic company he kept, Valentine decided his future life should be as an artist too.  Prinsep never reached the status of a great artist although he had his successes.  He was influenced by Rossetti, Millais and Burne-Jones, and he painted initially in the Pre-Raphaelite style. He exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts for the first time in 1862, after travelling with Burne-Jones in Italy.

The painting, Cinderella, was completed in 1899 and is a work of great sentimentality.  The young girl rests against the stone wall of the kitchen.  It is a depiction of poverty.  The girl is barefooted and is wearing a dress which is ragged at the hem.  She raises the hem of the skirt to allow the warmth from the fire to caress her body.  Look at her posture and facial expression.  Is it a happy looking expression awaiting for the arrival of somebody she looks forward to seeing or is it one of trepidation at the thought of the impending arrival?  We all know the story of Cinderella so probably we also know the answer to the question.

Girl with Beret
Girl with a Beret by Lucian Freud (1951)

Girl with a Beret, the 1959 painting by Lucian Freud is a beautifully painted, close-up head and shoulders portrait of a young woman wearing a plain blue-grey jumper and beret. The girl has pale skin and shiny blue eyes, which stare off to the left in a self-absorbed manner. Her hair is parted to one side and she wears a small gold hoop earring in her left ear. The background colour is muted.  Freud liked his portraits to be of people he knew well and as such were people Lucien had a close personal relationship with and because of this, these portraits could be looked upon as being pictorial autobiographies.  The sitter for this portrait is the Irish actress, Helena Hughes who was twenty-three at the time.  Helena had been introduced to Freud by his lover Anne Dunn during one of his frequent visits to Dublin in the 1950s. In 1950, Helena Hughes had invited Freud to Paris where she was working on a stage production with Orson Welles. The portrait took more than one hundred and fifty sittings to complete and for this protracted length of time artist and model were together which led to an intensity of their relationship and in a way, this could be detected within the painting.

Sapho by Charles-August Mengin (1877)

The painting entitled Sapho was completed in 1877 by Charles-August Mengin, a French Academic painter and sculptor.  He was a pupil of Alexandre Cabanel and exhibited regularly at the Salon from 1876 to 1927.  Sappho was a Greek lyric poet born around 600 BC. Her poems considered love, desire and contemplation.  Many of her works were devoted to her female pupils who studied with her on the island of Lesbos. Legend had it that she threw herself into the sea from the cliff of Leucadia because Phaon, a young man from Mitylene, did not return her love.  In the painting we see Sapho depicted standing on the cliff edge in dark, in translucent robes, with her breasts exposed. Her left arm rests lightly at shoulder height, on a huge rock whilst her right hand holds her lyre down by her right side. Her face is partly put in the shade by her dark wavy hair, gauzy veil. Her dark eyes, which have shadows beneath them, stare down into the middle distance.  Her feet are bare. She wears gold hoop earrings, a gold bangle, and there is a gold tie or belt around her waist. The dark sky in the background, which is only broken by a sliver of light on the horizon adds to the feeling of impending doom.  Two grey birds fly in the sky behind.

And now for something different.  Gone is the exotic beauty of Sapho and Artiste Syriaca.  Gone is the everyday prettiness of the girl wearing her Beret.  It is now about the reality of mortality.

Mamma Mia Poveretta
Mama Mia Poveretta by Walter Sickert (c.1904)

Walter Sickert, a German-born English painter, made a series of visits to Venice, initially focusing on the city’s topography but it was during his last painting trip from the autumn of 1903 to the summer of 1904 that, due to inclement weather, he was forced indoors to his small studio at 940 Calle dei Frati, close to the Rialto, to paint and it was during that time he developed a distinctive approach to portraiture.  The models for many of the Venetian paintings are believed to have been prostitutes, whom Sickert might have known through being a client.  One of his models which he nicknamed La Giuseppina was his favourite and one day she arrived at the studio with her mother, the old lady who became known as mamma mia poveretta (my poor mother)

La Giuseppina
La Giuseppina by Walter Sickert (1904). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund

In the first decade of the twentieth century in Britain which was also the end of the reign of Queen Victoria, artists and designers began to try new things.  Artists were starting to create a new art for a modern era. Traditional ways of completing portraits, landscapes and interiors would be undertaken in new ways.  Gone was the romantic view of life and an acceptance that urban life was often a matter of hectic rushing around and there was definitely an air of brutality to it.  Life was becoming a challenge.  Walter Sickert’s 1904 painting entitled Mama Mia Poveretta is realist depiction of life.  It is a half-length frontal portrait of this gaunt, almost emaciated elderly Venetian woman who is nearing the end of a hard life.  She is wrapped in a dark shawl and wears a headscarf. She has turned her head slightly to the right, and her face is illuminated from the left and highlights the darkness around her eyes.

In my next blog I will look at work by some of the Pre-Raphaeliete artists which are on display at the Manchester Art Gallery.

………………………………..to be continued

The Moonlight Pethers

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

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

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

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

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Moonlight Scene by Abraham Pether (c.1790)

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

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

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

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

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

God’s House Tower by Moonlight by Abraham Pether

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

A View of Mount Vesuvius Erupting  by Abraham Pether

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venice by Moonlight
Venice by Moonlight by Henry Pether

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

Fishing by Moonlight by Sebastian Pether

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

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

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

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

See the source image
The Night Fishermen by Sebastian Pether (1920)

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

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

A truly sad ending to a great painter.

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

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

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

See the source image
Fête Champêtre by Dorothea Tanning (1944)

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

The Temptation of St Anthony by Dorothea Tanning (1945)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorothea Tanning painting the Temptation of St Anthony (1945)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tableau Vivant by Dorothea Tanning (1954)

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

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

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

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

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

Interior with Sudden Joy by Dorothea Tanning (1951)

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

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

The Boy

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

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

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

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

Dorothea Tanning
Dorothea Tanning aged 18. (1928)

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

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

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

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

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

Dorothea Tanning
Dorothea Tanning, aged 5. (1915)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a later interview Dorothea said of the exhibition:

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

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

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

Deirdre
Deirdre by Dorothea Tanning (1940)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

………………………………….to be continued.

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

Many pictures of Dorothea came from the Dorothea Tanning Organisation website

Paul Fischer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Højbro Plads seen from Højbro by Paul Fischer  (1900)

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

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The Artist’s Wife, Dagny by Paul Fischer (1892)

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

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The Artist’s Daughter, Harriet Fischer by Paul Fischer

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

Bondekvinde {Peasant Woman) by Hrriet Fischer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fire Engine by Paul Fischer (1900)

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

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

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

In the Tram Compartment by Paul Fischer (1927)

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

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by Paul Fischer

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

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

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

Italian Street Scene
Italian Street Scene by Paul Fischer

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

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

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

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

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