Harold Harvey

Harold Harvey

Harold Harvey (1874 – 1941)

My featured artist today is one of the famous Newlyn School painters. The term Newlyn school applies to a group of artists who settled in Newlyn and St Ives in the late nineteenth century and whose work is characterised by an impressionistic style and embodies subject matter drawn from scenes of rural life.   It was founded by a group of artists led by Stanhope Forbes. who came to Newlyn in West Cornwall in 1884 and was immediately captivated by the scenery and people in the area. The ‘Newlyn School’ became famous for its superb realism, in ‘Plein-Air‘ painting.  The artist I am looking at today, Harold Harvey, made his name for his beautiful works featuring the Cornish countryside.

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The Old Slip, Newlyn by Harold Harvey

Harold Charles Francis Harvey was born on May 20th 1874 in North Parade, Penzance, Cornwall.  He was the eldest of eight children of Francis McFarland Harvey, a bank clerk, and Mary Bellringer whom he married in September 1872. Harold had six brothers, Percival George Harvey; Frank Harvey; Arthur William H Harvey; Wilfrid Vignes Harvey; Leonard Harvey, and Cyril Harvey along with one sister, Gladys Maud Harvey.  Harvey trained in painting at the Penzance Art School under the tutelage of Norman Garstin, an Irish artist, teacher, art critic and journalist associated with the Newlyn School of painters. After leaving the Penzance Art School at the age of nineteen, William travelled to France and attended the Académie Julian in Paris between 1894 and 1896.

Harold Harvey - Unloading the boats, Newlyn Harbour.jpg

Unloading the boats, Newlyn Harbour by Harold Harvey (1906)

In the early part of the twentieth century, Harold Harvey’s paintings were impressionistic in style and the depictions focused on people involved in the agricultural and fishing trade. 

In the Whiting Ground’ by Harold Harvey

In the Whiting Ground by Harold Harvey (c.1900)

One such work was In the Whiting Ground which he completed around 1900 and depicts a small dinghy at sea with a young man standing holding a fishing line in his hands while an older man is holding a line in the water.  St Michael’s Mount the tidal island in Mount’s Bay, a large, sweeping bay on the English Channel coast of Cornwall, can be seen in the far distance.

Whiffing in Mount's Bay

Whiffing in St Mount’s Bay by Harold Harvey (c.1900)

A small painting completed around the same time by Harvey featuring three young men in a boat had the strange title of Whiffing in St Mount’s Bay.  Whiffing is a mode of fishing with a hand line.

The Seaweed Gatherers by Harold Harvey

The Seaweed Gatherers by Harold Harvey

Another of his paintings depicting life along the Cornish shoreline was one entitled The Seaweed Gatherers in which we see two men hauling a horse and cart laden with fresh seaweed.

The Close of a Summers Day by Harold Harvey. (1909)

The Close of a Summers Day by Harold Harvey (1909)

A more colourful painting is his beautiful work of idyllic tranquillity entitled The Close of a Summers Day which he completed in 1909.  It is at the end of a hot summers day and man and beast have need of a rest and refreshment.  The young farmworkers have been tasked with taking the horses down to the river for them to cool down and have a drink.  The white horse gently splashes in the water attempting to cool down its fetlocks.

From 1909 to 1913, Harvey was an Associate of the Royal Cambrian Academy of Art, Conwy and, in 1910, he became a member of the South Wales Art Society.

gertrude_harvey2_large

Gertrude Harvey by Harold Harvey

It was around this time that Harold Harvey met Gertrude Bodinnar.  She was born in 1879 and was the eighth of the ten children born to Ann Crews Bodinnar, (née Curnow), and her husband John Matthews Bodinnar, a cooper.  In her twenties, she acted as a model for students at the Forbes School of Painting, which had been founded in 1899 by Stanhope Forbes and his Canadian-born wife Elizabeth as their School of Painting and Drawing at Newlyn. It was indirectly through her work with students at this establishment that she first met Harold Harvey and agreed to act as his model.  Love blossomed and Harold and Gertrude married on April 19th 1911 and the couple set up home at Maen Cottage Elms Close Terrace, in Newlyn

Portrait of the Artist's Wife, Gertrude by Harold Harvey (1917)

Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Gertrude by Harold Harvey (1917)

Gertrude appeared in a number of her husband’s paintings.  One example was his 1917 portrait of her entitled Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Gertrude……

Gertrude Harvey with Parrot in the Artist's Home by Harold Harvey

….and Gertrude Harvey with Parrot in the Artist’s Home……

The Red Silk Shawl by Harold Harvey (1932)…..and The Red Silk Shawl in 1932.

Being around artists, including her husband, and watching them work fascinated her. She would often note down how the artists worked, and she soon realised that she had a talent for art and design.  Gertrude used mostly oil on canvas, board, card, or paper, but also tempera, gouache and though largely self-taught she became a talented artist in her own right, and her paintings were mainly of still-lifes, flowers and landscapes. 

Landscape

Landscape by Gertrude Harvey

Her paintings were good enough to be sold and exhibited at the Newlyn Art Gallery and in the twenties and thirties her work could be seen in many London galleries including the Leicester Gallery and the Royal Academy. Often, she showed work together with her husband in mixed and group shows.   Between 1930 and 1949, Gertrude Harvey had twenty works selected for Royal Academy exhibitions and from 1945 to 1949 she was regular exhibitor with the St Ives Society of Artists.  She was also proficient at needlework and clothing design.

Reflections by Harold Harvey (1916)

Reflections by Harold Harvey (1916)

Meanwhile Harold Harvey continued painting and exhibiting his work. The First World War began in 1914 but due to health issues, he was exempted from military service.  In that year, he started to paint a series of interiors often using his own home.  One such painting was his 1916 work entitled Reflections.

The Critics by Harold Harvey

The Critics by Harold Harvey

In another work entitled The Critics, we see three women enjoying coffee and an aperitif as they study some paintings, weighing up the merits of each one.

The Tea Table by Harold Harvey

The Tea Table by Harold Harvey (1920)

A depiction of domestic living can be best seen in Harold Harvey’s 1920 painting entitled The Tea Table.  It is a masterful depiction of a small dining room filled with shelves of crockery and ornaments.  It could almost be termed a still-life of household goods.

Girl on a Cliff by Harold Harvey (1926)

Girl on a Cliff by Harold Harvey (1926)

With such wonderful landscapes on his doorstep, it is no wonder that Harvey continued with his outdoor works featuring young models.  One example of this is his 1926 painting entitled Girl on a Cliff.  In a way, this is not a true plein air painting as the girl in the depiction is fourteen-year-old Cressida Wearne and Harvey painted her posing in the garden of his studio and he added the background at a later date.

Clara

Clara by Harold Harvey (1922)

Again, we see this technique with his 1922 painting, Clara.  It is a full-length portrait of a girl standing by a wall set in a rolling landscape.  She is seen holding a rose and in several of Harvey’s portraits his female sitters are holding a single flower. The work is composed mainly of tones of grey and brown but it is the red of the rosebud which creates the focal point of the work.

Harvey, Harold C., 1874-1941; James Jewill Hill Junior

Portrait of James Jewill Hill by Harold Harvey (1920

Harold Harvey completed a number of portrait commissions, such as his 1920 portrait of the youngest son of James Jewill Hill, a partner in the solicitors firm Jewill Hill & Bennett, Penzance.

Harvey, Harold C., 1874-1941; John Humphreys (1850-1937), Professor of Dentistry
Portrait of John Humphreys, Professor of Dentistry; University of Birmingham; by Harold Harvey (1938)

 

Another portrait he completed was a 1938 commission to paint a portrait of John Humphreys, Professor of Dentistry.

In 1920, Harold Harvey and fellow Newlyn School artist, Ernest Procter, founded the School of Painting, in Newlyn, called the Harvey-Procter School, which ran throughout most of the 1920s. 

Harold Harvey died in Newlyn on 19 May 1941 and was buried in Penzance at the St Clare Cemetery. His wife, Gertrude, lived in their cottage until 1960 when she moved into the Benoni Nursing Home in St Just. She died six years late, aged 86.

 

Ásgrímur Jónsson, the Icelandic Impressionist.

This is just a short mini-blog to look at a twentieth century Impressionist from Iceland, Ásgrímur Jónsson

                                                               Ásgrímur Jónsson

Ásgrímur Jónsson wasat the forefront of Icelandic art.  He was a pioneer of Icelandic visual art and the first Icelander to become a professional painter. Ásgrímur was born on March 4th, 1876, in Suðurkot, a small town thirty kilometres south west of Reykjavik.

                                       Autumn Sunlight, Öskjuhlíð by Ásgrímur Jónsson (1920)

In 1897 he left home and went to Copenhagen.  In 1900, aged twenty-four,  he enrolled on a three-year art course at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.  Once qualified, he toured a number of European countries before settling back down in Iceland in 1910.  On his journey home he visited Germany and the cities of Berlin and Weimar and it was during this period that he became influenced by the French Impressionists and the Post Impressionists, especially the landscape works of  the French painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.

                                          Hafnarfjörður Town by Ásgrímur Jónsson (1930)

Ásgrímur’s main painting genre was landscape art and especially that of his native Iceland and through his art many native artists would follow his lead.  His depictions of nature were fashioned by the romance of the nineteenth century.  He liked to focus his depictions on the changes of light and how it altered the view of the land.  He alternated between watercolours and oils but is best known for the former medium.

                           Mt. Strútur and Eiríksjökull Glacier, West Iceland by Ásgrímur Jónsson (1948)

He was a great believer in Naturalism in art – the broad movement in the nineteenth century which represented things closer to the way we see them.  However later his works were characterised by colourful expressionism.

                                           From a Folklore by Ásgrímur Jónsson (1957)

Ásgrímur also worked as a pioneer in the illustration of Icelandic legends and adventures.  He pictorially depicted Icelandic Folk Legends delving into the world of elves and trolls who lived in the semi-darkness of the old turf farmhouse and who would kidnap humans.  Tales of pastors haunting their wives-to-be, of witches flying to Satanic gatherings, of sheep-rustling and flying bulls.  A land where humans live inside hills, where witches flying on jawbones instead of broomsticks, and tales which rarely have happy endings.

                                                                  Troll painting by Ásgrímur Jónsson

Ásgrímur’s works on folklore themes were well received.  The art critics delighted in his depictions and that Iceland’s folktale heritage was being addressed, for the first time, by an Icelandic artist. Ásgrímur’s depictions of the appearance of elves and trolls also met with widespread approval from the public who believed he had succeeded in capturing the way that they imagined their folklore characters to be.  For Ásgrímur Jónsson it was all about the viewer’s own imagination when they looked at these folklore works and it was a reminder of the beauty of their land when they looked at his landscape paintings.  Today the folklore paintings form part of the unique cultural heritage conserved in the collections of the National Gallery of Iceland.

                        ÁSGRÍMUR JÓNSSON MUSEUM at BERGSTAÐASTRÆTI 74, 101 REYKJAVÍK

Ásgrímur Jónsson died on April 5th, 1958, aged 82.  The Ásgrímur Jónsson’s collection, which is today a department within the National Gallery of Iceland, originated in 1960 when a small gallery was opened in Ásgrímur’s studio and home, which he bequeathed to the Icelandic nation along with all of his works in his own possession upon his death. 

John Koch. Part 3.

                                                                        Interlude by John Koch (1963)

Dora featured in many of her husband’s paintings.  One such is his 1963 work entitled Interlude.  In a way it is a narrative painting recounted a day of painting for the artist.  Here we glimpse artist John Koch in his apartment studio with an African American model, said to be one of is favourites.  She dominates the foreground of the painting.  The contrast between the colour of her dark ebony skin, the white bed sheets, and the vibrant red robe of the third person in the painting make for a great contrast.  The shape of her graceful back echoes the lines of the nearby Queen Anne style chair.  The African American model, Rosetta Howard, dominates the foreground as Koch depicts her dark velvety back against the white bed sheet and the vibrant red robe of the third person in the painting, John Koch’s wife, Dora, who offers the model a cup of tea. The three figures neither engage with the viewer, nor do they engage in eye contact with each other.  The artist fixates on his partially completed canvas.  The artist’s wife in the red gown avoids looking at the naked body of the model, who in turn concentrates her gaze on the cup and saucer.  So, like other paintings by Koch, the figures and furniture have been set by the artist.  What are we to make of the depiction?  Is it just a simple portrayal of an artist and the model taking a break from their work or is it something more?  Could it be John Koch wanting to highlight a contentious role reversal – a white woman in 1963 serving a black woman !

                                                        The Breakfast Tray by John Kotch (1970)

Dora Koch appeared in the same red dress in her husband’s 1970 painting entitled The Breakfast Tray.  For John and Dora, breakfast on a tray was a daily ritual.  In this work we see the tray laden with their finest china.  The setting for the painting is the hallway of their Setauket, Long Island house.  John holds the tray in front of himself and it appears to be an offering to his elegantly robed wife who is mounting the stairs.

Photography by Dwight Primiano
                                                              Studio – End of the Day by John Koch

Rosetta Howard appeared in a number of John Koch’s paintings including His work, Studio – End of the Day in which artist and model finally take a rest from painting and posing.

Artwork Title: The Lesson - Artist Name: John Koch
                                                                            The Lesson by John Koch (1970)

Another painting to feature his wife was John Koch’s 1970 work entitled The Lesson in which we see Dora giving one of her piano lessons.

John Koch (1909-1978) Summer Night 78 x 44in (198.1 x 111.8cm) (Painted in 1965.)
                                                      Summer Night by John Koch (1965)

John Koch was known for his sophisticated and stylish depictions of trendy life in and around New York City. His 1965 painting, Summer Night, is a perfect example of the genre.  It was painted on a monumental scale (198 x 112 cms) and highlights Koch’s dextrous skill for assembling figures so as to highlight the interactions and intrigue between his subjects. The scene in this painting is set in the evening on a front porch of a wealthy home with people relaxing after drinks and a meal.  The scene exudes a laid-back and tranquil elegance of a family gathering on a warm evening.  Note how Koch has carefully arranged the props which translate into fastidiously arranged still life elements of the work.  The painting was first exhibited at the Kraushaar Galleries. His time working with the gallery brought him great commercial success for the remainder of his career.  The painting was last sold in 2020 at Bonhams, New York Auction for US$ 162,575

                                                                   The Sculptor by John Koch (1964)

There were a number of paintings by Koch that depicted both artist and sitter and one of my favourites is his painting entitled The Sculptor.  It is a quasi-self portrait with John Koch as the sculptor, surrounded by the tools of his craft, including a caliper, which he is holding – in fact, one should remember that John Koch was not only a painter but a sculptor.  The model in this work was Ernest Ulmer, one of Dora’s former student who was also the subject of Interior of Studio. Ulmer is painted in full view from the back, his muscular body extended in a classic pose.  The sculpture painted in the background was one that he had made. It is a scene from Greek mythology, with Hercules and Prometheus, a mythological individual who stole fire from the gods to bring it to humans. Koch has added a touch of humour to the depiction with the visual pun between that tale from Greek mythology and the depiction in the painting of the model handing a light to the sculptor for his cigarette.  In the painting we see Koch leaning forward with the cigarette in his mouth, and the flame from the lighter held by the model is cleverly reflected in his glasses, as if extending the spark to the man himself.

The Plasterers1957x633
                                                                       The Plasterers by John Koch (1957)

In 1967 John Koch completed one of his most important paintings.  It was entitled The Plasterers.   The two men have come to Koch’s apartment to make good repairs to the walls.  In the background there is a bank of windows, some of which are open.   Look through the windows and you can see that Koch has managed to depict a panoramic skyline, probably a view of the Hudson River from his apartment window at the El Dorado building at 300 Central Park West of the Hudson River.  In the left foreground there is once again depicted Koch’s sculpture, Prometheus, which we saw in his painting, The Sculptor.   Through the windows streams the daylight which dances on the highly polished floor and furniture. 

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                                             Gustave Caillebotte’s 1875 painting The Floor Scrapers

For some reason, it is this shiny wooden floor which always reminds me of Gustave Caillebotte’s 1875 painting The Floor Scrapers which depicts three workers scraping a wooden floor in a bourgeois apartment.   On May 9, 2009 at the Brunk Auctions in Asheville, North Carolina, the painting, along with six preparatory sketches for the painting, sold for $210,000.  The painting was shown at two major Koch exhibitions. The first in 1973 at the New York Cultural Centre. The second was in 2001-2002 at the New York Historical Society.   The New York Historical Society’s 2001 exhibition catalogue described the painting as:

“…a tour de force of (the artist’s) ability to bring the outside into an interior through reflection of light playing off surfaces…”

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                                                  The Window Washers by John Koch (1975)

Another painting featuring two workers in the setting of John and Dora’s apartment is the 1975 work entitled The Window Washers.

Artwork by John Koch, THE ACCIDENT NO. 2, Made of oil on canvas
                                                     The Accident No.2 by John Koch (1968)

Another unusual work by Koch was his 1968 painting entitled The Accident. No.2.  It is a narrative work.  In the depiction we are looking into the small artist’s studio, which could also act as the artist’s bedroom.  The props set up by John Koch are a small single-bed with ruffled sheets, a discarded red silk robe, a pair of bedroom slippers which have been casually abandoned, a hand-mirror propped on the rim of a waste.  The window is partially covered by a curtain pulled back and of course the artist’s workstation with his easel, canvas, and palette. The artist and his naked model have rushed to the window to view what is happening outside.  By the title of the painting the artist is telling us that they are looking out at an accident which has happened in the street below.  The model is pointing down to something in the road below which he is straining to see.  It is an unusual scenario as most depictions of artist and model focus on the single-minded concentration of the artist as he studies his absolutely motionless model.  Here the commotion outside has broken the spell of their sensual assignation.

                                                                                Night by John Koch (1964)

In his 1964 painting, Night, John Koch has presented us with the contrast of warmth and coolness.  The coolness of the bodies now divested of clothes and yet the oppressive heat and humidity of a New York summer night when one tries desperately to be able to sleep.  John liked the setting of his painting describing it:

“…a picture of a young couple before they go to bed at night, which I think is as splendid an idea for a picture as any could be…”

The woman has fallen asleep whilst the man bides his time by reading a newspaper.  Besides him the light from a lamp on the bedside table glows through his newspaper.  The bottom of the bed and the white sheets have been illuminated by the soft blue glow of a television which is on a stand at the end of their bed.

Artwork Title: The Bath - Artist Name: John Koch
                                                                            The Bath by John Koch (1973)

John Koch whose oeuvre contained a large number of nude depictions of couples or a single male or a single female.  He was adamant that the depictions were not envisioned to be erotic, even when they depicted couples in bed. If you look over the depictions featuring a male and a female in bed they are not in the middle of lovemaking but simply relaxing, even though it may be in a post-coital state.  The pair who could be lovers or married couples show neither indication of sexual stimulation, lustful craving nor agitated signs of conflict.  There is a kind of neutrality with regards the couple’s personal thoughts.  Koch’s agenda seemed to be one that was to offer viewers a normal heterosexual relationship – one of idyllic well-being, a sense of happiness unsullied by lust or anguish. In his 1973 painting, The Bath, we see a man drying himself on the edge of a tub. He takes time to glance back at the woman who remains in the water. In contrast to his rough and hirsute muscular and bronzed body hers is smooth, pale, and supple.

                                                    Back Scratcher by John Koch 

John Koch became an elected member of the American Academy and the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1970. Five years later, he suffered a stroke and abandoned painting for the first time since his youth. John Koch died on April 18th 1978 from complications of another stroke.  He was 78.  His wife Dora died on September 9th 1987 aged 83.  John Koch’s art was dismissed by the more progressive art scene as just a society painter and was little known outside his circle of wealthy, connected patrons. However, he managed to capture scenes of a New York society that is mostly gone now and therefore many of his paintings were a historical record of a world which was more formal and refined.  His often stage-managed art is classed as being of a realism genre and yet the depictions of opulence were tinged by an element of fantasy.  Maybe it is a fantasy we all hold dear.

John Koch. Part 2.

                                                             The Monument by John Koch (1950)

John Koch’s reputation was further enhanced in 1950, when his painting The Monument was exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s national competitive exhibition American Painting Today.

                                                       The iconic El Dorado Apartments, Manhattan

In 1953 John and Dora spent five months in Paris and on their return to New York they moved into a fourteen-room apartment on the tenth floor at the El Dorado at 300 Central Park West, one of the twin-towered pre-war apartment buildings that presents such an iconic and distinctive vista on the Central Park West skyline. It was whilst living here that John and Dora became one of the uptown bohemian set which also included an ever-expanding number of Upper West Side artists, writers, and musicians.  A short time later, the couple purchased the adjacent apartment on their floor to be used as Dora’s music studio, where she continued her practice as a private tutor.

                                              Forbes family portrait by John Koch (1956)

Portraiture had always been a financially rewarding genre for artists and so it was for John Koch.  His forte was group portraits and in 1956 he completed a group portrait for Malcolm Forbes, an American entrepreneur most prominently known as the publisher of Forbes magazine.  It is a very informal depiction of the family.  Malcolm Forbes relaxes at home shortly after the birth of a new daughter, Moira.  We see Malcolm and his wife, who cradles the baby, along with their four sons, Steve (Malcolm Jnr)., Robert, Christopher, and Timothy. It is interesting to note Koch’s methodology in how he paints group portraits.  He would make studies of each individual, then to join these studies as a group against the backdrop of a chosen interior. He stated:

“…In all the pictures, the models never pose together.  What is more important than whether there is or is not someone posing for you is the relationship between them…”

John Koch carefully arranged where each person would stand or sit in the portraits just as he would when arranging the objects in the still life and interiors he painted. He was ultra-meticulous when considering where people and objects were placed.  It was if he was an interior designer.  This painstaking thoroughness was also a reflection of his own lifestyle in the way he dressed, the way he carefully chose his circle of cultured friends and acquaintances, and what fine art and antiques he would bring into his tastefully appointed apartment which he shared with his wife, Dora.  Leslie Cheek Jnr., Director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, between 1948 and 1968, wrote about John Koch’s interior depictions:

“…His pictures of his particular slice of our world today are vigorous and appealing. One enjoys with him his love of fine furniture, elegant mirrors, rich fabrics, and fresh flowers-all glowing with the individual reflections which light, his particular forte, gives to each…”

Artwork Title: The Cocktail Party - Artist Name: John Koch
                                                            The Cocktail Party by John Koch (1956)

For some, Koch’s depiction of afternoon soirées are too good to be true, but does it matter?  Maybe Koch had decided to pictorially represent how life should be rather than how it was.   Probably his best-known painting is his 1956 work entitled The Cocktail Party.  It never happened but it was a depiction of what Koch imagined what a great soirée would have been and the guests he would have invited.  Koch described his social circle as:

“…people of our own making, our own way of looking at things…”

The attendees at this party were all acquaintances of the John and Dora Koch in the mid-1950s and as I explained before, Koch’s modus operandi was to paint each individual separately and then fit them into the painting which was set in his living room at the El Dorado where John and Dora were the consummate hosts.

Artwork Title: The Cocktail Party - Artist Name: John Koch

The characters in the work are Leo Lerman (author and editor), in the foreground in profile (with dark beard) conversing with pianist Ania Dorfmann. The other guests, left to right, are artist Roger Baker, artist and critic Maurice Grosser, the Dr. Leonard Smileys, the painter John Koch, standing at the bar, busy mixing drinks, Mrs. Edgar Feder, an unidentified woman, composer Virgil Thomson (composer), music critic Noel Straus, Dora Koch seen standing and bending forward to attend to the seated music critic Noel Strauss. , an unknown seated woman, artist Felicia Meyer Marsh, artist Aaron Shikler, art dealer Roy Davis, butler Leroy Lowry, artist Raphael Soyer, and biographer Frances Winwar.  The painting was John’s idea of the perfect guest list for his perfect party.  He liked the painting so much that it remained in his possession for the rest of his life.

                                                                 Three Musicians by John Koch (1958)

It is fascinating to view some of Koch’s paintings which feature interiors once you realise he has stage managed the depiction.  It is as if in Koch’s life as in his art, his and Dora’s apartment simply acted as the stage for a play-in-progress.  The props in the form of furniture and wall hangings were, like the figures, merely theatrical props, and John, with the help of Dora, was the director and often the lead actor.  In his 1958 painting entitled Three Musicians there are three “actors”. There is the artist’s wife, Dora, as well as Leo Lerman, an American writer and editor who worked for Condé Nast Publications for more than 50 years, who is shown seated closest to the cello. The model for the third figure in the white shirt is probably Paul Rotella, who, like Dora Koch, was a pianist and music teacher.

                                                 Family Group by John Koch

I also like his “stage-managed” family portrait simply entitled Family Group.  Such a happy family gathering of husband, wife and two sons.  So contented in a sumptuously furnished room.  Everything is placed just so to give the observer a view of a perfect lifestyle.  For John and Dora Koch, paintings like this were just a chance to construct a perfect lifestyle, a world of their own conception.

                                                                              At Home by John Koch (1953)

John and Dora’s lifestyle was one of afternoon cocktails, musical recitals in their large living room and eagerly expected painting unveilings but they still had to be financially sound and this was achieved by Dora’s musical tutorials and John’s commissioned portraits.  Let us not think for one moment that the Koch’s elegant lifestyle was achieved without hard work by the couple.  It was their dedication to the arts, painting for John, music for Dora that gave them the greatest pleasure.  We should also remember that the couple came from completely different upbringings.  John was the son of liberal Midwesterners.  His mother was of Irish descent who had a non-religious epiphany and left the church after her son’s baptism while his father, albeit a charismatic man was a business failure and later a political failure when he failed in all his attempts to become governor of Michigan on the Socialist ticket. On the other hand, Dora Zaslavsky was a Jewish immigrant, born in the Ukraine, whose father’s early occupation was that of a poverty-stricken peddler.

                                                                       My Studio by John Koch (1952)

The closeness of the couple and the way they worked hand in hand can be seen in John Koch’s 1952 painting My Studio.   A nude model looks out at us as she reclines on a chaise longue.  John is perched upon a stool in front of his easel.  A trolly holds his palette whilst on the shelves underneath it is all the oils and paraphernalia needed by the artist.  Dora, holding a book of sheet music, stares out at the river scene.  All is serene.  It is a truly untroubled and harmonious life. 

John Koch (1909-1978) Siesta 30 1/8 x 25 1/4in (76.5 x 64.1cm) (Painted in 1962.)
                                                                  Siesta by John Koch (1962)

John Koch’s art was not just depictions of wealthy people living in opulent settings.  Many of his works featured nudes, sometimes nude women, sometimes nude men and sometimes both.  These like his group portraits were beautifully finished works of art.  In 1962 he completed a work entitled Siesta which focused on human sexuality and the intricacies and complications of the male-female relationship.  We see two figures, one, a nude female with her back to us, sitting in a chair at a desk brushing her hair.  She is glancing in the mirror at her lover who lies asleep on the bed.  We can just make out her flushed face, flushed from her early lovemaking.  The other figure, her lover, is partly wrapped in a blue sheet, which is raked by the afternoon sunlight which has penetrated the bedroom.  The large bed is centre stage of the painting.   The depiction exudes an air of intimacy.  It is not a condemnation of sexual activity but an at-ease acknowledgement of a tender relationship and the pleasurable sensuality of sex.   Koch has composed his two figures in an idyllic state, contentedly relaxing in warm light that spills through the windows. 

Time Magazine, January 24, 1964, vol. 83, no. 4, front cover illustration featuring Siesta painting by John Koch

The work of art, through its domestic bedroom scene depicts the complexities of the male-female relationship. John Koch’s painting was chosen for the cover of Time Magazine in 1964 for a special issue entitled SEX in the U.S.: Mores & Morality, accompanied by an article Morals: The Second Sexual Revolution which ended with the following paragraph:

“…The difference between the ’20s and ’60s comes down, in part, to a difference between people. The rebels of the ’20s had Victorian parents who laid down a Victorian law; it was something concrete and fairly well-defined to rise up against. The rebels of the ’60s have parents with only the tattered remnants of a code, expressed for many of them in Ernest Hemingway’s one-sentence manifesto: “What is moral?…”

The painting went to auction at Bonhams American Art Sale on July 29th, 1962 and although had an estimate of between $40,000 and $60,000 it eventually sold for $596,075 !   Jennifer Jacobsen, Bonhams’ Director of American Art, commented:

 “…We are thrilled with the success of our most recent sale of American Art. We saw competitive bidding across all of the genres offered in the category, demonstrating collectors’ demand for quality works and the strength of the current market. We are honoured to have achieved such a strong price for John Koch’s elegant, beautifully painted work Siesta, which is now his second highest price at auction and a near miss of his world auction record…”

……………………………..to be concluded.

John Koch. Part 1.

                                                               John Koch

The artist I am looking at today is the twentieth century American painter John Koch.  I will also look at the life he had with his extremely musically talented wife Dora.  Both their successes came from hard work and their mutual support of each other.  For them, it was hard work that achieved you a grand lifestyle which the couple enjoyed during their married life.  He is best known for his portraits, nudes, and paintings of genteel urban interiors, often set in his own light-filled Manhattan apartment.

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                                                  Portrait of the Artist’s Father by John Koch (1951)

John Koch was the son of Marian Joan and Edward John Koch and was born in his grandmother’s house in Toledo, Ohio on August 18th, 1909.   He spent most of his childhood and teenage years in the university town of Ann Arbor, a city in the U.S. state of Michigan, where his father was in the furniture business but unfortunately, failed to make a success of it.  John Koch described his father as a man of great charm, a great reader, but a poor businessman.  His father also unsuccessfully ran for governor of Michigan on the Socialist ticket.

In his early teens John Koch developed a love of art and, later in life, he revealed in an interview:

“…The possibility of being other than a painter never seriously occurred to me. Ever since I could hold a pencil, the desire I had to reproduce amounted to passion…”

In 1923, at the age of 14, John, for a short period, took some lessons in drawing in charcoal and that was essentially the only formal art training he received. During high school, he did however spend two summer vacations at the artists’ colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and around 1928, shortly after graduation he sailed to Paris, not to enroll at an artistic establishment, but to simply paint by himself and savour the life of an artist in the European capital of art.   His self-tuition focused on going to the Louvre and copying the work of the Masters.  According to John, the Louvre was his master.  John became so skilled at copying the famous works that he once produced an imitation of a painting by Gustave Courbet that was subsequently mistaken for a genuine work.  In 1929, Koch exhibited his work at the Salon des Tuileries and the Salon de Printemps and received an honourable mention, which was to be the first of his many awards.

Artwork Title: Father and Son - Artist Name: John Koch
                                                         Father and Son by John Koch (1955)

In his early twenties, John Koch joined the Internationale Union des Intellectuals, where he mixed with such luminaries as André Gide, the French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, André Malraux, the French novelist, art theorist, who later became Minister of Cultural Affairs, and Jean Cocteau, the poet, playwright, novelist, designer, filmmaker, visual artist, and critic.  This group would assemble in the homes of its members and presented Koch with his first exposure to the lives of artists and intellectuals.  It also gave him the opportunity to sit in on discussions about Surrealism and, swayed by what he heard and seen, even painted a few Surrealist works himself but was unhappy with his attempts and gave up on that genre.

                                                                      The Plasterers by John Koch

John spent over four years in Paris and during that time he developed a formidable technique, evident in his beautiful rendering of light playing on surfaces.  A good example of this can be seen in his later painting, The Plasterers which he completed in 1967.  It was described in the New York Historical Society’s 2001 exhibition catalogue as:

“… a tour de force of (the artist’s) ability to bring the outside into an interior through reflection of light playing off surfaces…

The Plasterers stands among John Koch’s most important paintings.

                                                             Dora Zaslavsky Schwarz (1925)

Before John had set sail for Paris in 1928, it is thought he had met the newly married, Dora Schwartz, and was impressed by both her beauty and her talent as a pianist.  The two quickly became friends, but their mutual affinity was put on hold when John sailed for Paris, intent on pursuing his life as a painter in the world’s art capital.  Dora Schwartz (née Zaslawskaya) was a Jewish immigrant, born on July 18th 1904 in the Ukraine city of Kremenchuk in the oblast of Poltava.  Her father Max had immigrated to the United States the previous year and she then travelled by ship to a new life in America with her mother Celia and her older siblings Joseph and Fay, along with a young cousin. Another of her brothers, Israel, was born six years later.  Dora’s father’s early occupation was as a peddler and family legends has it that Dora’s musical talent was discovered thanks to a large toy piano with real black and white keys that her father brought home for her.  This was the start of her musical career !   Eventually after a lot of training, she became a gifted pianist, which led to a career as a piano teacher and she would go on to coach some of the outstanding concert pianists of the day.  Later she became head of the piano department at the Manhattan School of Music and developed its chamber music section.  On September 12th 1927, Dora Zaslawskaya, aged 23, married New Yorker Herbert S. Schwartz   Herbert was also a talented musician and his family had hoped that one day, he would become a concert pianist, a similar aspiration was had by Dora’s mother for her daughter.  Herbert Schwartz, however, chose to pursue a college education rather than continue studying music and when he and Dora married, he was beginning his third undergraduate year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, with the hope of eventually becoming a physician. He was accepted into medical school but dropped out after one semester.  Following his rejection of medical studies, he enrolled at Columbia University the following fall to study philosophy and graduated in 1933.  By this time, the marriage between Dora Zaslavsky and Herbert Schwartz was almost over and they decided to end the relationship in an amicable divorce.  However, in the state of New York the only grounds for divorce was adultery and so in 1934 they arranged for, and staged a fraudulent act of adultery, at which the said defendant, Herbert T. Schwartz, was not even present !  The divorce decree was granted on August 10th, 1935.  There were repercussions with regards this fake adultery set up which are complicated and too long for me to go into the details but you can read about the Ohio Court of Appeal case in 1960, Schwartz v Schwartz 

                                                                       Ocean Liner SS. Minnetonka

Meanwhile, John Koch left Paris in 1934 and returned to America, settling in Manhattan, initially staying at a friend’s apartment on Washington Square.  He already knew Dora Schwartz.  He could well have met her and her husband in Paris.  They had sailed to Europe on the SS. Minnetonka on September 26th 1932.  When he settled in Manhattan in 1934 and heard about her impending divorce, he was determined to make her his wife.  John went to live in an apartment block in Manhattan at 56th & Madison, in a room next door to the apartment Dora was sharing with her sister Fay.  A year later, the couple sealed their love by marrying on December 23rd, 1935 and moved into their first “together home”, an apartment at 865 First Avenue, between 48th and 49th Streets, in Midtown Manhattan. It catered for both their needs with the bedroom served as John’s studio and the living room with piano was Dora’s studio.  The newlyweds hosted parties driven by sharp business acumen: as John served cheap port to his wife’s students and their parents, Dora worked the room, procuring portrait commissions for her husband.

Artwork Title: The Bridge - Artist Name: John Koch
                                                                               The Bridge by John Koch (1950)

In 1935 John Koch exhibited works at his first New York exhibition which was held at the Valentine Dudensing Gallery.  His work was well received and Emily Genauer, the art critic of the New York World-Telegram described John as:

“…the man to watch……a young man with a great gift…”

In 1939 John held a sell-out one man show of his works at the Kraushaar Gallery, a long-established gallery run by the niece of the founder, Antoinette M. Kraushaar.  John Koch had a special relationship with the gallery and its owners and during the next thirty-five years the Gallery held a further dozen one-man exhibitions of his work.

                                                         East River by John Koch (1939)

It was in the thirties that John’s painting East River was acquired by the Brooklyn Museum of Art and it was one the first museum acquisitions of his work.

Cover for 1941 Annual Exhibition of Paintings by American Artists Under 40 catalogue
Cover for 1941 Annual Exhibition of Paintings by American Artists Under Forty catalogue

In 1941, starting on November 12th and carrying on until December 30th, the Whitney Museum of Art held its Forty under Forty Exhibition.   It was the museum’s Annual Exhibition and that year it was an Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, chosen by members of the Museum staff from the work of artists forty years of age, or younger.  John Knox submitted two paintings, Marble Quarry and Portrait of Mary.  That same year he also exhibited at the 51st Annual Exhibition of the Art Institute of Chicago.

By the 1940s, John Koch’s success and recognition continued to grow. From 1942-45 he joined the United Service Organizations in the art sketching and portrait division in veterans’ hospitals and from 1944-46, Koch took up the post as tutor and taught figure painting at the Art Students League in New York. However, with regards financial success he became one of the featured artists of classical portraits at Portraits Inc. Portraits, Inc., was founded in 1942 by Lois Shaw, an art and antiques dealer and socialite. In the early 1940’s, Mrs. Shaw partnered with the USO to give weekly studio parties in her Park Avenue gallery that often centred on portraiture. She contacted a number of portrait artists and asked them to contribute their services by doing life drawings of the military men and women in uniform who attended the parties. This allowed Koch to earn a substantial income.  The joint income of John and Dora was such that they managed to buy a summer residence at Setauket on Long Island.

……………………………………to be continued

Frants Henningsen

Today I am looking at the life and works of the Danish painter and illustrator, Frants Peter Diderik Henningsen.  Henningsen was born in Copenhagen on June 26th 1850. He was the oldest of three children of Frants Christian Henningsen, a wholesaler and his wife Hilda Christine Charlotte Schou.  Frants had a younger sister Euphemia and a younger brother Erik. Henningsen attended the Borgerdyd School in the Christianshavn district of Copenhagen and after graduating from there he enrolled at the Christian Vilhelm Nielsen drawing school in preparation for admission to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture which he attended from October 1870 on a five-year course.  After completion of the Academy course, he, like many other aspiring painters, decided to further his art education in Paris.  In 1877 he enrolled at the atelier of Léon Bonnat, which was attended by other Danish students.

En rygvendt bondekone, der arbejder i solen
Farm woman working in the sun by Frants Henningsen

Frants Henningsen, although in France and in the midst of plein air painting and Impressionism, was more of an Academic painter who created his artwork in a studio.  He was very much influenced by the Realism genre of painting and the socially oriented naturalism of Jules Bastien-Lepage, Jean-François Millet and Jules Breton.  Henningsen’s paintings often added the human dimension to the depictions of deprivation, human suffering and poverty.

A Funeral by Frants Henningsen (1893)

One of his most famous painting is his 1893 work entitled A Funeral.  It is a poignant depiction of a funeral and one which Henningsen has cleverly manipulated to add to the sense of sadness.  The setting is the Assistens graveyard in the Nørrebro area of Copenhagen, which was originally a burial site for the poor and was laid out to relieve the crowded graveyards inside the walled city, but which at the start of the nineteenth century had become fashionable and many leading luminaries of the Danish Golden Age, such as Hans Christian Andersen, Søren Kierkegaard, Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, and Christen Købke were laid to rest here.   Henningsten, using dark tones, has depicted the setting as a very gloomy winter’s day.   The wall of the cemetery is grey and devoid of any colour.  There seems to be only a few people who will be taking part in the funeral service.  The main character is the widow, a pregnant woman who takes the arm of an elderly gentleman, whom we presume is her father.  She looks down as she is about to enter the cemetery.  Her face is drawn and she has a greyish-white facial complexion.  In front of her are her two children.  In the background we see two men, standing apart from the mourners, gazing at the family.  Like them, we are merely spectators witnessing the harrowing event.  Henningsen received a great deal of praise for the painting, which was immediately bought by the National Gallery of Denmark.

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En lille pige sælger violer (A little girl sells violets) by Frants Henningsen (1891)

In the Spring of 1878 Henningsen along with fellow Danish painters, Peder Severin Krøyer, Frans Schwartz and the German artist, Julius Lange travelled to Spain,where they studied the works of the great Spanish painters such as Velazquez and Francisco de Zurbarán.

Walking Trip, Jutland by Frants Henningsen (1877)

In November 1880, in Copenhagen, thirty-year-old Frants Henningsen married twenty-one-year-old, Thora Vermehren.  She was the daughter of Frederik Vermehren, the genre and portrait painter in the realist style. The couple went on to have five children, four sons and a daughter.

r/museum - Frants Henningsen - A Hero from 1864 (1901)
A Hero from 1864 by Frants Henningsen (1901)

The Second Schleswig War was the second military conflict of the nineteenth century over the Schleswig-Holstein Question . The war began on February 1st 1864, when Prussian and Austrian forces crossed the border into Schleswig. The army of Denmark fought the Kingdom of Prussia and the Austrian Empire and Henningsen depicts a conflict between the two sides in his great 1901 work entitled A Hero from 1864.  The setting is a country road in Schleswig. In it we see a lone Danish Hussar facing a large group of the enemy invaders.  His heroics are captured in the painting but we know his fate is sealed.

En falden tysk husar
A Fallen German Hussar by Frants Henningsen (1901)

Another casualty of the war was depicted in Henningsen’s 1901 painting A Fallen German Hussar. Once again we see the result of battle.

Summer day on the beach at Hornbæk with children playing
Summer day on the beach at Hornbæk with children playing by Frants Henningsen

In the late 18th century, it was common practice for artists from Copenhagen to spend their summers in the countryside and seaside north of the city and a number of artists began lodging in Hornbæk, either in the local inns or privately. Hornbæk is a seaside resort town on the north coast of the Danish island of Sjælland, facing the Øresund which separates Denmark from Sweden.

From the beach at Hornbæk by Frants Henningsen (1883).

In 1873, twenty-two-year-old  P.S. Krøyer, the celebrated Danish painter, arrived in Hornbæk along with three artist friends Frants Henningsen, Viggo Johansen and Kristian Zahrtmann. Later many other painters would follow in their footsteps.  The four young artists settled along the northern coastline of Zealand, fascinated by the sea, the broad beaches, and the blue hills of Kullen on the Swedish mainland on the horizon. 

Fisherman with Red Kerchief
Fisherman with Kercheif by Frants Henningsen (1880)

They were also fascinated by the weather-beaten faces of the local fishermen and listened intently to their tales of peril on the sea.  P.S. Krøyer, reported on his first time in Hornbæk with his friends:

“…I had a splendid summer this year – well, not as far as the weather was concerned, for it was stormy and restless – but rather because I was, for the first time ever, able to spend an entire summer in the countryside out in the open air, far removed from the troubles and drudgeries of the city, and with three other painters whom I count among my very best acquaintances; all this has been to me a tremendous pleasure. We enjoyed some lovely trips (being based in Hornbæk on the north coast of Zealand); we went on a sailing trip to Kullen, on excursions to Gurre, Nakkehoved, to Tisvilde on Midsummer Night and to various places besides. The way of life there was utterly attractive: to venture out into the fresh, clear water en compagnie in the mornings (I learnt to swim there); and the pleasant evenings spent either walking in the woods or the beaches or in conversation back home in our pleasant digs, speaking and smoking our pipes; a splendid, idyllic life…”

Forladt. Dog ej af venner i nøden
Abandoned by Frants Henningsen (1888)

One of my favourite paintings by Henningsen is his 1888 Realist work with the strange title, Forladt. Dog ej af venner i nøden, which translates to Abandoned. However, Not By Friends in Need.   Many of his paintings depict unfortunate occurrences in the lives of middle-class people living in Copenhagen during difficult times. In this work, it is all about the fate of the single mother. It is interesting to note that Frants Henningsen painted this picture in the same year as the law that allowed single mothers to receive money from absent fathers in the form of child support until the child reached the age of ten.  It was not until a law was passed on May 27th 1908, that child support was to be provided until the child reached the age of eighteen.  However, even around the turn of the nineteenth century, the single unmarried mother had very little chance of being able to keep her child with her and many of these children therefore went to orphanages.

Hos pantelåneren
Hos pantelåneren (At the Pawnbroker) by Frants Henningsen (1893)

One of his best loved genre pieces is his painting entitled Hos pantelåneren (At the Pawnbroker) in which he depicts a group of visitors to the emporium, both young and old, examining the goods on offer, all eager to find a bargain.

Industricafeen
A Café in Copenhagen by Frants Henningsen (1906)

It was not just the working classes that featured in Henningsen’s paintings. The upper class lifestyle was on view in his depiction of Copenhagen café life in his 1906 painting Industricafeen (A Café in Copenhagen).

Frants Henningsen died in Copenhagen on  March 20th 1908, aged 57.

Lilla Cabot Perry. Part 1.

Lilla Cabot Perry, self portrait
                                               Self portrait by Lilla Cabot Perry (1913)

The artist I am looking at today, born Lilla Cabot, comes from a long line of powerful and wealthy descendants.  The Cabot family was part of the Boston Brahmin, also known as the “first families of Boston.  It all goes back to John Cabot, who was born on the Isle of Jersey on April 7th 1680.  At the age of twenty he set sail for America and settled in Salem, Massachusetts in 1700.  John was not part of the first community to have arrived in the New World but by the end of the eighteenth century, the Cabots were the pre-eminent family of New England.  By 1800 John and his son Joseph Cabot were extremely wealthy, largely because of their privateering during the American Revolution, smuggling, and trading in slaves and opium.  Shipping during the eighteenth century was the lifeblood of most of Boston’s first families.  In the nineteenth century, the Cabot enterprises multiplied and took in oil and gas production, railroads, and chemicals.  The Cabots maintained their wealth and social status into the twentieth century, in the main, by educating most of their sons at Harvard and carefully arranging their marriages and the marriages of their daughters.

Lilla Cabot was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 13th, 1848.  She was the eldest of eight children of Doctor Samuel Cabot III and her mother, Hannah Lowell Jackson.  She had six brothers and one sister.  Her family was one of the most important in Boston society, and the family were on friendly terms with such literary luminaries as Louisa May Alcott, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

                                         Child in Window by Lilla Cabot Perry (1891)

Lilla had a good and fulfilling childhood and was given the freedom to think for herself by her parents.  She was an avid reader and liked taking part in outdoor sports.  During her school years she studied literature, language, poetry, and music but during her early teenage years there she had no great interest in painting and drawing except that occasionally she would take part in sketching sessions with her friends.  As a child and teenager she never received any formal art training, This would not happen until she was thirty-six years of age !

The Cabots played an active role in Boston society and through that young Lila came into contact with many people who would congregate at the Cabot residence.  On April 12th, 1861, when Lila was just thirteen years old, the American Civil War began.  Her parents, coming from the North, were passionate abolitionists and they took a hands-on role in the war effort by offering care to wounded soldiers and helping to safeguard runaway slaves.  Lilla Cabot was seventeen when the Civil War finally ended and it was around this time that her father moved his family out of the city and relocated them to farmstead in Canton, Massachusetts, a small rural town about 15 miles southwest of downtown Boston.  It was probably here that Lilla Cabot became interested in landscapes and rural life.

Portrait of Thomas Sergeant Perry by Lilla Cabot Perry, (1889)

Thomas Sergeant Perry was an American editor, academic, literary critic, literary translator, and literary historian. From his early childhood days, he was a close friend and associate of Henry James who would become one of Americas greatest novelists.   Perry was a member of the faculty at Harvard University and after graduating in 1866, went to study in Germany.  He returned to America and in 1872 worked for the literary magazine, North American Review. He was the grandnephew of U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew Perry and a Harvard professor who was once described as ‘the best-read man in Boston’.  He and Lilla Cabot became friends and the relationship turned into love and on April 9th, 1874, twenty-six-year-old Lilla Cabot married twenty-nine-year-old Thomas Sergeant Perry.   The couple went on to have three daughters, Margaret born in 1876, Edith in 1880, and Alice in 1884.

Lilla Cabot Perry, Portrait of an Infant, Margaret Perry.JPG
                               Portrait of an Infant, Margaret Perry, by Lilla Cabot Perry (c.1877)

The answer to why Lilla became interested in art is thought to be due to the encouragement to take up painting by her husband’s brother in-law John LaFarge, an artist famous for his stained-glass windows, and the husband of Thomas Sergeant Perry’s sister Margaret.  One of Lilla’s first works was that of her infant daughter Margaret.

Lilla Cabot Perry, The Beginner, 1885, University of Arizona Art Museum.jpg
                  The Beginner (Margaret with a Violin) by Lilla Cabot Perry (1885)

In the same year that Lilla’s youngest daughter was born she enrolled on her first artistic course.  She began with private lessons in 1885, with the portrait painter Alfred Quentin Collins and one of the first works she completed under the tutelage of Collins was the 1885 work entitled The Beginner which depicts her ten-year-old daughter Margaret playing the violin.

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     Portrait of Alexander Stewart Wetherill by Alfred Quentin Collins

Looking at this portrait of her daughter playing the violin, it can be seen the input Collins must have had on Lilla as seen in Collins’ Portrait of Alexander Stewart Wetherill.  The depiction has the same dark background and the sitter has the same serious facial expression.   

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                                     Robert Vonnoh, Self portrait

In 1885, Lilla’s father died and left her an inheritance and this financial backing gave her the chance to enrol at art institutions which would afford her the chance to study art more earnestly. In January 1886, she began to study with Robert Vonnoh, an American Impressionist painter known for his portraits and landscapes.  At the time, Vonnoh taught at both the Cowles Art School in Boston and at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  Lilla was inspired with Vonnoh’s more unorthodox work which was very different to that of Alfred Collins and it was to be the beginning of her artistic journey and lifelong commitment to Impressionism.  Another tutor she worked under at Cowles School was Dennis Miller Bunker, a leading American Impressionist, who was the Cowles School chief instructor of figure and cast drawing, artistic anatomy, and composition.

                                          The Red Hat,” or “Edith,” by Lilla Cabot Perry

In 1887 Lilla Cabot Perry received a commission to paint the portraits of the three daughters of Aaron Lufkin Dennison, one of the founders of the Waltham Watch Company.  It was a valuable assignment and covered the cost of first-class sea voyage to Europe in June 1887 for her and her husband.  Upon arriving in France, Perry enrolled in the Académie Colarossi where she worked with Gustave Courtois and Joseph Blanc. She also studied with Felix Borchardt, a German painter. In addition to receiving formal academic training, Perry spent much of her time studying the old masters at the Louvre in Paris.  She also travelled to Madrid and spent time copying works at the Museo del Prado. Her 1888 painting The Red Hat, is testament to her previous formal training she had received back in America as well as the time she spent in Europe studying the works of the old Masters, especially the work of Sandro Botticelli.

                                                   Fritz von Udhe in his studio

In 1888 Perry travelled to Munich where she studied with the German painter Fritz von Uhde, who mainly worked with genre painting and religious motifs .  Over the years, his colour palette became stronger and more colourful, similar to those of his impressionist artist colleagues.  His painting style could be described as being between Realism and Impressionism, and he was once known as “Germany’s outstanding impressionist” Fritz von Udhe became one of the first painters to introduce plein-air painting in Germany.

                                                                     Tony  Robert-Fleury in his studio

Lilla Cabot Perry left Germany in the Autumn of 1888 and returned to Paris where she enrolled in art classes at Académie Julian under the tutelage of Tony Robert-Fleury, a French painter, known primarily for historical scenes.

                       Le Grand Salon, Musée Jacquemart-André, by Walter Gay (1913)

One of Lilla’s fellow artist friends was Walter Gay, the Massachusetts born painter who was residing in Paris.  Many young American artists who arrived in Paris in the late 19th-century became Gay’s pupils so much so that the New York Times labelled him the “Dean of American Artists in Paris”.  At the start of his career he would often depict realist scenes of French peasantry but later in life he began to depict stylish interiors with exquisite furnishings.  It was Walter Gay, in 1889, who persuaded Lilla to put forward two of her paintings for inclusion at an exhibition held by the Société des Artistes Indépendants

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                                    The Red Tunic(Portrait of Edith Perry) by Lilla Cabot Perry (1889)

The paintings were portraits of her husband, Thomas Sergeant Perry, (seen earlier on) and one of her middle child, nine year old daughter, Edith, also known as The Red Tunic.  They were accepted into the exhibition and that success marked the start of Lilla Cabot Perry’s artistic career. 

                                                            Elegant Figures in a Salon by Alfred Stevens

The success of her paintings also enhanced her reputation as an artist, so much so that she was admitted as a student at one of Belgium artist’s Alfred Stevens’ class in Paris.  Stevens like Walter Gay depicted opulent French interiors but in his case he added genteel ladies to his depictions.

In the summer of 1889 Lilla and her husband met Claude Monet…………………

……………………………….to be continued.

Maxfield Parrish. Part 4.

                                                           Daybreak, by Maxfield Parrish (1922)

Maxfield Parrish referred to Daybreak as his Magnus Opus.  It is a blend of the sentimentality of the works by the Pre-Raphaelites but also retains the Old Master technique of adhering to the rules of proportion.  It is a gateway to an Arcadian fantasy where we are welcomed into a dazzling landscape bathed in dawn’s rising sun which is testament to Parrish’s ability to master light and colour.

Maxfield took a complex approach to how the composition should be worked out.  He used photography, paper cut-outs of the figures that he planned to include in the painting, props and models constructed in his workshop so that he could decide on the ultimate layout.  He would first complete the landscape and then use a stencil of the silhouette to impose the figure on top.  Once the composition had been decided by doing it in this way, he was able to concentrate on what colours he would use.  The beauty of this painting comes from Parrish’s painstaking and laborious process of painting with glazes, a process used by many of the Old Masters to achieve wonderful luminosity and strength of colour.  Look at the penetrating blue of the sky which radiates out from behind the foliage.  This cobalt blue became known as Parrish Blue.  He often used clever methods of reproducing grand components in his studio, for mountainous landscapes such as the one in Daybreak he used broken quartz rocks placed on a mirror. He created the effect of natural light and shadows through artificial methods, shining lamps on models and props.  The scenery for the painting bears a resemblance to a theatre set with its prescribed layout.

                                                                              Kitty Owen Spence

Lying on the floor in the left foreground is a young woman who was “part-modelled” by eighteen-year-old Kitty Owen Spence.  Kitty came from a world of social privilege, wealth, and opportunity being the granddaughter of William Jennings Bryan, a three-time US Presidential candidate.  According to the provenance of the painting, Kitty Owen Spence was said to have actually owned the work from around the 1940’s until 1974.  However, it turned out that William Jennings Bryan, her grandfather, had bought it for a fairly high amount, but because he had political ambitions and did not want it known that he had spent a large sum of money on a painting and this could be the reason that the provenance of the work was attributed to his granddaughter.

                                                                        Jean Parrish

Maxfield Parrish’s daughter, Jean, who was eleven at the time, posed as the standing figure who is bent over the prone figure.

                                                         Preparatory drawing of Daybreak

However, what is more intriguing is the figure that does not appear in the final work and this we know, if we look at his preliminary sketch of how he wanted the composition to be.  Maxfield had initially intended to have a third figure seated near the base of the column in the right foreground. It is also believed that this figure was intended to be posed by Susan Lewin, Maxfield’s housekeeper, his favourite model and lover.  Alma Gilbert, art dealer, curator, author, and broker specializing in Maxfield Parrish, speculates in her 2001 book Maxfield Parrish: The Masterworks that because his long-time model and probable mistress Susan Lewin posed for that third figure, Parrish’s daughter asked him to remove her.  In the end, however, Parrish used Lewin’s body as the model for the reclining figure and gave it the face of Kitty Owen.

Just two other interesting things about the painting I must recount.  As you know, I like a good story behind a painting and so did the House of Art who had commissioned the work.  They asked Maxfield to write a paragraph to accompany the work, but he declined, stating:

“…Alas, you have asked the very one thing that is entirely beyond me, to write a little story of Daybreak, or, in fact, of any other picture. I could do almost anything in the world for you but that. I know full well that public want a story, always want to know more about a picture than the picture tells them but to my mind if a picture does not tell its own story, it’s better to have the story without the picture. I couldn’t tell a single thing about Daybreak because there isn’t a single thing to tell; the picture tells all there is, there is nothing more…”

And so, it is up to viewers of the painting to create their own personal meaning of Daybreak.

Much has been written about the painting and I have tried to condense the information I have gleaned from various books and websites but I decided not to attempt to explain the compositional rules followed by Maxfield Parrish when he planned the work.  It has all to do with Jay Hambridge’s rules of dynamic symmetry and I will leave you great artists to read about that yourself.  It is far too complex for me!

                                                Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley

And finally, does the scene of the naked figure bending over the young woman who lies prone on the floor remind you of a similar, more recent scene ???  Caste your mind back to 1992 and the Michael Jackson music video for his song, You are not alone, in which he appears in an affectionate semi-nude scene lying on the ground with his then-wife, Lisa Marie Presley, bent over, looking down at him.  The painting has surprisingly always been in private ownership. On May 25th, 2006, Daybreak was purchased by a private collector, Mel Gibson’s then-wife, Robyn, at auction at Christie’s for US $7.6 million. This set a record price for a Parrish painting. Five years later, on May 21st, 2010, it was sold again for US$5.2 million.

In September 1918 Maxfield Parrish left Philadelphia and moved to an apartment at 75 East 81st Street, New York where he would be close to his two older sons who were attending the Teacher’s College.  Parrish asked Sue Lewin to accompany him and the two lived together there for almost a year.  By now it must have been obvious to him that people and the media were becoming interested in his relationship with his wife Lydia and his model, Sue Lewin.  Rumours were rife but Parrish would not comment on their enquiries about his relationship with Sue.  Maxfield Parrish was aware how scandal could devastate his life and career as he had witnessed the furore first-hand when his mother had left his father to join a Californian commune.  Sue was in full agreement with Maxfield about not commenting on their relationship and in a reply to a salacious question, she said:

“…I’ll have you know that Mr Parrish has never seen my bare knee…”

                  Edison Mazda 1921 calendar

This denial could well be taken with a “pinch of salt” as she had posed nude for his illustrations for the Mazda Lamp calendar of 1921.  After Parrish and Lewin had passed away, construction workers at the estate found a secret compartment where Parrish had hidden the nude photographs he had taken of Lewin.

By 1921, Parrish’s wife Lydia had had enough of the ménage à trois and confided with her friend and neighbour Mabel Churchill.  Mabel and her husband spoke to Maxfield and told him that his marriage to Lydia would not survive whilst Sue was living with him in the studio.  To help solve the problem Lydia went off to Europe with the Churchills and Sue moved from the studio at The Oaks and into Winston and Mabel Churchill’s vacated home.  On October 26th, 1923, in a cruel twist of fate the Churchill’s home, Harlakenden, burned to the ground and Sue had to return to living in the studio of The Oaks.  She would remain there for the next forty years!   The villagers from the tiny farm town were scandalized by this living arrangement and even sent a delegation out to the estate to confront Parrish, but Parrish and Lewin both contended that their relationship was purely platonic.

                          The Knave of Hearts by Louise Saunders

Lydia Parrish returned from her European journey to find the living arrangements of Sue Lewin had not changed.  She must have been both angry and sad but probably weighed up the pros and cons of divorcing her husband and reluctantly decided to remain living at The Oaks whilst Maxfield and Sue lived in the studio complex.  Sue Lewin continued to model for Parrish and appeared in many of the children’s book illustrations.  One such book was the Knave of Hearts written by Louise Saunders in which Sue posed for the characters of Lady Violetta, Ursula, and the Knave.

                                              The Enchanted Prince by Maxfield Parrish (1934)

The last time Sue modelled for one of Parrish’s paintings was in 1934 when she was forty-five-years-old, although the final model was Kathleen Philbrick Read.  It was entitled The Enchanted Prince and it depicts a beautiful young woman contemplating the frog which is perched in front of her.  When Maxfield completed the work, he decided not to sell it and instead, gave it to Sue.  In Alma Gilbert’s book, The Make-believe World of Maxfield Parrish and Sue Lewin, she wrote that this gift could be to let her know that she was the youthful maiden who had dissipated his loneliness and returned him to rule over some enchanted kingdom.

                                                  Dreaming by Maxfield Parrish (1928)

From around 1930 Parrish’s paintings were landscape works.  One reason could have been that his favoured model Sue Lewin was now into her forties and could no longer pose as a lithe young female. In his 1928 painting, Dreaming, he completed for Reinthal Newman’s House of Art in 1928, we see a young girl sitting underneath a tree beside a lake in a tranquil autumn setting. 

                                  Dreaming/October by Maxfield Parrish (1932)

In his 1932 version of the work, entitled Dreaming/October, which was Maxfield’s last work he had created for General Electric Mazda company, he removed the figure and turned the work into a pure landscape painting.

Like all good novels, the reader cannot wait to read the last chapter to see what happens in the end.  So, let me tell you how it all ended for the three main protagonists of these blogs, Maxfield, his wife Lydia and his favoured model, Sue Lewin.  Maxfield Parrish continued with his close relationship with Sue despite being married to Lydia.  His children had all married and moved away from the family home, The Oaks.

Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands by Lydia Parrish (1942)

Lydia who had often spent an annual vacation on St. Simmons Island, the largest of the Golden Isles along south Georgia’s Atlantic coast, which she had first visited in 1912.  She eventually bought herself a cottage and some land on the island and became interested in old plantation songs and eventually in 1942 had a book published, Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands.  Lydia died alone of cancer on Saint Simmons Island on March 29th 1953, aged eighty-one.  Lydia was buried on the island at the Oglethorpe Memorial Gardens.  At the time of her death, she had been married to Maxfield for fifty-eight years.

                                                     Susan Lewin (c.1970’s)

Maxfield was now a widower and had the opportunity to move his close and intimate relationship with Sue Lewin to a marriage status but that did not happen.  Whether Sue held out the hope that he would propose we cannot be sure but she stayed with him for a further seven years until in 1960 when she was 71 and Maxfield was 90, she left him and married Earl Colby who had been her childhood sweetheart and had once courted her whilst she lived and worked at The Oaks.  The question of why Maxfield never proposed marriage to Sue is not known.  Maybe he believed it was just too late in his life or maybe he remembered the problems with his marriage to Lydia and also the failed marriage of his father and of course he had always denied that he and Sue had had an intimate relationship.  Shortly after Sue married Earl Colby, Maxfield Parrish made a new will which started by stating that firstly, all his debts were to be paid off and then secondly:

“…I give and bequeath to SUSAN LEWIN COLBY the sum of Three Thousand Dollars ($3000) and direct that any inheritance, estate, death, succession or other tax imposed by the Federal Government or any State Government on this bequest be paid out of my residuary estate…”

For a rich man, giving the sum of three thousand dollars to somebody he had known for fifty-five years may be looked upon as a trifling amount.  Why was it such a small amount?  Had an earlier will bequeathed her more?  Was it an act of revenge for her marrying Colby?  It was if the amount was a suitable sum for one of his servants which would, of course, substantiate his declaration that there had never been a close relationship between him and Sue.  Or was the fact that Sue was mentioned in the will a declaration by Parrish and acknowledgement of his relationship with her.  We will just never know.  Earl Colby died in 1968. Colby had children from a previous marriage who inherited his house. Sue then moved into her Aunt’s home. Her aunt then left the dwelling to Sue in her will and this was where she lived for the rest of her life.   Sue Lewin Colby passed away on January 27th 1978 and was interred that Spring alongside her late husband in the Plainfield cemetery.

                                             Getting Away From It All by Maxfield Parrish

Maxfield Parrish continued with his painting until 1961 when, he was ninety-one-years-old.  His arthritis prevented him from painting any more.  His last work was a small landscape painting entitled Getting Away From It All and can be viewed as Parrish’s ultimate expression of his love of nature.  It is a beautiful depiction, showing one small, snow-covered cottage which appears dwarfed by the towering mountains surrounding it, yet the window of the home persistently glows with warmth from within. It is a more exceptional work in that Parrish chose to paint the subject solely for himself and remained with him, in his studio, for the remainder of his life and maybe the title of the painting recognises that, with this work complete, he was giving up his career as an artist.

Maxfield Parrish spent his last years in a wheelchair and was looked after in his house by a live-in nurse.  On March 30th 1966, he died, aged 95.  He was buried at Plainfield Cemetery, Sullivan County, New Hampshire.  Three years later, his eldest son, John Dilwyn Parrish, who died on January 4th 1969, was buried besides him.

Maxfield Parrish. Part 3.

                                               Maxfield Parrish

In 1914, before Maxfield Parrish had  completed the Florentine Fête murals, the Curtis Publishing company, through Edward Bok, decided to commission a monumental-sized mural at 15ft x 49ft (4.6 m × 14.9 m) which would be placed in the building lobby. For some unknown reason Bok decided not to give the commission to Parrish.  Maybe it was because Parrish was still working on Bok’s previous 18-painting commission or maybe Bok was disappointed with Parrish at the length of time he was taking to complete that project.  Whatever reason, Bok made the fateful decision to approach other muralists, but fate stepped in to thwart him.

                                                      Curtis Centre mural by Maxfield Parrish

Bok first went to London and met the American muralist, illustrator, and painter Edwin A. Abbey, who had based himself in London since 1883.  Abbey was working on a project for the capitol building in Harrisburg, but Bok persuaded him to agree to the commission and was given free rein to paint anything he liked for the proposed Curtis Centre mural.  Bok returned to America elated with the deal he had made with Abbey.  However, the day after Abbey started work on the mural, he collapsed and died.  Bok still preferring not to approach Parrish, tried to contact Howard Pyle who was making a name for himself as an educator and muralist. Pyle had been living in Italy with his family for a year.  Bok had never met Pyle and on finally contacting Pyle’s home by telephone he was informed that fifty-eight-year-old Pyle had just died in Florence of a kidney infection.  Still undeterred and disregarding fate, Bok approached a third artist, Louis Boutet de Monvel, a famous decorative master, and he agreed to carry out the project, Monvel was invited to Philadelphia to inspect the space at the Curtis building and discuss the project but almost immediately after arrangements were made, Monvel died in Paris.

Bok circa 1918

Edward Bok

Edward Bok was now feeling that his mural project was cursed.  Finally, he put the commission out to tender and received back six submissions, all of which were rejected by a panel of judges.  Bok’s final throw of the dice was his approach to Louis Comfort Tiffany, an American artist and designer who worked in the decorative arts and is best known for his work in stained glass, and who had once designed a glass mosaic curtain for the Mexico City’s Municipal Theatre. Bok had seen the work and remembered the look of favrile glass, the name given to a type of iridescent art glass which had been developed and patented by the artist.   Bok finally contacted Parrish and asked him to come up with a sketch for Tiffany to use, despite the fact that Parrish had never worked with glass or mosaics. Parrish’s preliminary drawing was approved.

                                        Curtis Centre mural by Maxfield Parrish

The collaborative project took six months of planning and thirty skilled workers were employed.  Over one million pieces of glass were used to create the Dream Garden mural and the finished work was given a New York exhibition where it was viewed by over seven thousand people. People were thrilled with the finished work.  It took six months for the mural to be disassembled in New York and then reassembled in Philadelphia.  The mural which was now in the lobby of the Curtis Company building was admired by thousands and became a Philadelphia art treasure.  All was well until July 1998 when it was announced that it was about to be removed and sold to an anonymous buyer by the Estate of developer and arts patron Jack Merriam. It was later discovered that the mystery buyer was the casino owner Steve Wynn, who planned to move it to Las Vegas.  The beneficiaries of the estate were four non-profit education and arts institutions and Merriam’s widow, who died before the disposition of The Dream Garden was settled.  Following a vociferous public outcry, the buyer decided not to pursue the purchase. To provide greater protection for the mural in the future, the Philadelphia Historical Commission designated the mural as the City’s first “historic object,” under an existing provision of the historic preservation ordinance. The Merriam estate appealed this designation and followed up by filing for a demolition permit.  Appeals and counter-appeals followed for the next three years.  Finally, in 2001, came a sweeping gesture of civic rescue, when the Pew Charitable Trusts agreed to provide $3,5 million to buy out the interest of the owner’s heirs, and the three remaining beneficiaries and turned the mural over to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with the understanding that it will remain in the lobby of the Curtis Building.

                                                              The Rubaiyat by Maxfield Parrish, 1917

The sweet manufacturer, Ohio-born, Clarence A. Crane, commissioned Maxfield Parrish to create decorative labels for the Crane’s Chocolates Christmas gift boxes from 1916 to 1918.  For the 1916 Christmas gift box of chocolates Parrish submitted the art print entitled Rubáiyát which was adapted from the poem by Omar Khayyam.

                                                              Cleopatra by Maxfield Parrish (1917)

For the 1917 Christmas gift box, Mr. Crane suggested to Parrish that he should make Cleopatra the subject for the painting as he and the public had been delighted with Parrish’s depiction of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám that he painted for the previous year’s edition of the gift box. Parrish was pleased to go along with the suggestion and in a letter, he wrote to Mr. Crane:

“…Cleopatra is welcome here, or any lady of history of undoubted charm…Of course there are no end of subjects. All I care about is something that can hold color and be made effective…”

186047267_e4f269bf-da54-4aa7-b326-323ddd473a4d

Mabel Harlakenden Churchill

Now all Parrish had to do was decide on a young model to pose as Cleopatra.  Parrish asked his best friend, neighbour, and confidante, the American writer Winston Churchill if his wife, Mabel Harlakenden Churchill, would pose as Cleopatra. Parrish’s wife, Lydia, made the request and Mabel agreed to model for the painting. The painting was well received and according to Coy Ludwig’s 1973 book, Maxfield Parrish, it received an enthusiastic reception:

“…Cleopatra arrived in Cleveland on April 16, 1917, to an enthusiastic reception. The unusual design, with subjects in costumes reminiscent of silent-film exotica, combined several bare-chested oarsmen, a female attendant, and Cleopatra in a loose robe reclining on a bed of roses in a frame of frozen moonlight. The lapis lazuli blue water and the typical Parrish blue starlit sky were separated at the horizon by white mountains. Polka-dotted and checkered fabrics, used as the lap robes of the oarsmen and the headdress of the standing figure, were a favourite motif of the artist…”

                         The Garden of Allah design by Maxfield Parrish (1917)

The third Crane’s Christmas gift box of chocolates, produced in 1918, was adorned by Parrish’s print of an oil on panel painting entitled Garden of Allah.  The Garden of Allah was the title of a 1904 novel by Robert Hichens and was one of the most popular novels of the early 20th century. So popular that it went through forty-four editions over the next 40 years. In this work we can see how Parrish was influenced by Pre-Raphaelite painters such as William Holman Hunt

These three candy boxes that Parrish produced for Crane were extremely successful for both Crane’s Chocolates and for Maxfield Parrish. The partnership between Crane and Parrish was mutually beneficial and proved a significant turning point in the illustrator’s career.  From this point onwards, Maxfield Parrish declared that he would only accept commissions, like the one with Crane, which interested him artistically.  Maxfield Parrish’s illustrations on the chocolate boxes proved so popular that the Crane company issued them as art prints, which could be ordered through a form enclosed in the gift boxes.  In Coy Ludwig’s biography Maxfield Parrish he wrote:

“…Crane regarded the art prints as a means of building prestige for his firm and a moderately profitable service he might provide for his clients who wanted replicas of the candy-box illustrations suitable for framing…The demand for reproductions of Parrish’s decorations grew so great that Crane arranged for the House of Art, the New York fine arts publishing and distributing firm, to handle the marketing of the prints…Crane’s reproductions helped to create an unprecedented public demand for Parrish’s paintings in the art-print market and with it the assurance of continued financial security for the artist…”

                                                         Daybreak, by Maxfield Parrish (1922)

Daybreak was an iconic painting completed by Maxfield Parrish in 1922.  Parrish was commissioned to paint Daybreak by the art publishing firm House of Art in August 1920. The commission of Daybreak was motivated by the art-print successes of the three illustrations Maxfield Parrish had completed as decorations for Crane’s Chocolates Christmas gift boxes from 1916 to 1918.  One example of this was his painting of Cleopatra which was the cover illustration of Crane’s Chocolates 1917 Christmas gift box, and it signified the artist’s successful incursion into commercial advertising.

Daybreak was Maxfield’s first work commissioned solely for reproduction as a colour lithograph print and became one of the most reproduced images in American history, according to the auction house, Christie’s catalogue, it was estimated that one of every four households in America had a copy of the work, making it a national sensation and cultural phenomenon.

            The Knave of Hearts by Louise Saunders

Meanwhile, Maxfield was preoccupied with completing illustrations for Louise Sander’s book, Knave of Hearts and did not start to work on Daybreak until the summer of 1922.  He had to placate Stephen Newman, the co-owner of House of Art, saying:

“… As to the ‘great painting,’ its beautiful white panel is always on the wall before me, and I am thinking great things into it. I have thought so many beautiful things into it that it ought to make a good print just as it is. Have patience…”

……………………..to be concluded.

Maxfield Parrish. Part 2.

                                           Maxfield Parrish in 1896

More and more illustration commissions came in to Maxfield and soon he was becoming financially sound.  In 1898, with money earnt and financial help from his father, Maxfield and Lydia felt able to purchase some land atop a hill in Plainfield, New Hampshire, which overlooked Mount Ascutney.  Here Maxfield built a one-room cabin.  Lydia would often remain in Philadelphia to carry on teaching which also allowed Maxfield to carry on with his own work as well as planning and building a larger home for them.  Maxfield and Lydia would stay with his parents at their large home, Northcote, whilst their new home was being built. Maxfield’s father and mother had moved to Cornish, New Hampshire in 1894 where there was a thriving artist’s colony founded by the American sculptor, Augustus St. Gaudens. 

                                 An aerial view of The Oaks, the former estate of Maxfield Parrish.

Maxfield and Lydia’s new home, known as The Oaks, was built on a large tract of land on an isolated hillside across the valley from his father’s home and close to the Vermont-New Hampshire border.  It comprised of a guest house, studio, and 45 acres of hillside land and was so named because of the magnificent trees next to their home especially one giant old oak tree. 

Maxfield Parrish drew inspiration from his Plainfield, New Hampshire home, “The Oaks,”

The Oaks was built around the trees and rocks on the hillside site. The largest white oak in Sullivan County, New Hampshire, stands near what was the front entrance of the house, and the ground floor was built on two levels to accommodate a large rock ledge.

Night in the desert by Maxfield Parrish. From “The Great South West” by Ray Stannard Baker (1902)

Two years after Maxfield and Lydia had moved into their newly built home,  he had a health scare.  Lydia, whilst teaching at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, received an urgent telegram from her father-in-law telling her that Maxfield had been taken seriously ill and she should return home immediately.  Lydia instantly left her school and took the train to Windsor.  She would never return to her teaching position at Drexel nor would she carry on with the private students she had been tutoring.  Maxfield Parrish was diagnosed as contracting tuberculosis which at the time was a deadly illness.  Lydia stayed with her husband despite the disease being highly contagious.   After being discharged from hospital, Lydia followed her husband to a Saranac Lake sanatorium in New York State where he underwent treatment and began his recuperation.   The sanatorium treatment was expensive but financial help came to Maxfield through a cheque for five hundred dollars given to him by his best friend and neighbour, the American writer, Winston Churchill.  Churchill who had also settled in the area in the same year as Maxfield in 1898, became great friends. The two were of a similar age, and Churchill had married the same year as Maxfield and Lydia.  During the convalescent years between 1900 and 1901 Parrish painted at Saranac Lake, New York and at Hot Springs, Arizona,

Cowboys by Maxfield Parrish. From “The Great South West” by Ray Stannard Baker (1902)

Whilst convalescing at Saranac Lakes Parrish received a commission from Century Magazine to illustrate the Ray Stannard Baker series entitled Great South West and from the money Parrish received, he was able to afford to further convalesce in Castle Creek Hot Springs in Arizona during the winter of 1901-02.  Maxfield and Lydia returned home to The Oaks in April 1902.  The Spring and summer of 1902 up until 1904 was probably the happiest Lydia had ever been.  No children as yet, she was able to devote time to cultivate the garden and time for her to paint, it was just as life should be for her.

             Edith Wharton’s book Italian Villas and Their Gardens, illustrated by Maxfield Parrish

Maxfield’s health had improved and he was now looking out for new commissions.  In 1903 Maxfield accepted a commission from Century Magazine to illustrate Edith Wharton’s book Italian Villas and Their Gardens which they were going to serialise.

Villa d’Este, Tivoli, near Rome. The Pool at Villa d’Este, illustration by Maxfield Parrish (1903) for Edith Wharton’s book.

For him to complete this commission Maxfield decided to travel to Italy and photograph and then paint the different villas that Wharton would be writing about in her book. Days after his marriage he had “abandoned” his wife to go to Europe on his own but this time she accompanied him, and in a way, it made up for the honeymoon they had missed at the time of their wedding.  It was a time when Maxfield and Lydia became very close.  Sadly, for her, it was to be the only trip she would make with him.

Scribner’s Magazine (October 1900) by Maxfield Parrish

All artists need models and many married male artists often use their young wives.  Before Lydia Parrish gave birth to their first child in 1904, she was Maxfield’s model in a number of his works including the Scribner Magazine October 1900 cover.

                                                          Page from the book Story of Ann Powel

She also modelled for Maxfield’s beautiful full-page drawing of Ann Powel, framed by a simple doorway, to accompany Annie Tynan’s piece in the 1900 Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, The Story of Ann Powel.

                                              Potpourri by Maxfield Parrish (1905)

Maxfield Parrish also used himself as a model for some of his paintings.  One example of this is his 1905 illustration, Potpourri, which featured in Scribner’s Magazine in August 1905.   The illustration depicts a nude boy picking flowers in the forest. The large sun is peeking through the foliage and typically of Parrish there are two columns and a large fountain or urn. It is reputed that Parrish attached a string to his camera and snapped the photo of himself to use as the model for the illustration.  The illustration was drawn to illustrate a poem by H.C. Dwight and the line:

“…Ah, never in the world were there such roses as ones from that enchanted trellis hung…”

                                                                                   Lydia Parrish (1895)

Lydia Parrish’s modelling days had come to an end in 1904 when she became pregnant with their first child, John Dilwyn, who was born that December.  For the previous years, Lydia Parrish had been an equal partner with her husband.  She would entertain his and her friends as well as prospective clients.  She ably ran the household, managed the household finances, and oversaw the domestic help that had finally come to assist her after the birth of Dillwyn in December 1904. In 1905, she was expecting their second child, and was struggling to look after her first child as well as running the household for her husband, not to mention the lack of time she had for her own art and her writing.  It was decided that Lydia needed more help and so, Maxfield and Lydia Parrish hired sixteen-year-old Susan Lewin who had been working at Maxfield Parrish’s father’s house, Northcote, since she was fourteen and was pleased at Stephen Parrish’s suggestion that she should help his son and daughter-in-law.  She received a wage of a dollar a day plus board and lodgings.  Sadly, life for Maxfield and Lydia would never be the same again !!!

                                                                                          Susan Lewin

Young Susan Lewin was born in the farm town of Harland Vermont on November 22nd 1889.  She was one of six children of Elmer and Nellie Lewin and because of the household’s financial problems had to abandon school after only two years in order to become a wage earner.  She was a tall and willowy young woman with thick cascading hair and an oval face with large expressive eyes and a classic profile. She first met Maxfield when she was working for his father at Northcote and his good looks and charm was not lost on her.  She had just the romantic appearance which reminded Maxfield of the ladies depicted in the Pre-Raphaelite paintings, which he loved, and her good looks and charm was probably not lost on him! 

                                                                                       Susan Lewin

The arrival of their first child caused problems for Maxfield as he was constantly being interrupted by noise whist trying to concentrate on his painting and so, had a builder, George Ruggles, build a fifteen-room studio, some forty feet across the lawn from the main house.   The building comprised of three bedrooms, a kitchen, two painting rooms, two bathrooms, a dark room for his photography and rooms to store all his artistic paraphernalia which he used to construct his compositions.  Here he could paint in peace.  For his wife Lydia, her painting days were over.  She had to look after their children and keep them from disturbing her husband! The relationship between Maxfield Parrish and Susan Lewin was symbiotic.  She tended to him hand and foot.  She was passive and obedient and always eager to please and was amenable to all his wishes.  She was an excellent cook and a perfect servant to her master.  Later her two sisters, Annie and Emily joined the household as extra help for Mrs Parrish.

                                                             Harvest by Maxfield Parrish (1905)

In the early days of Sue Lewin’s stay at The Oaks she did receive a number of suitors but nothing became of them.  However, one suitor, Kimball Daniels, also began courting Sue’s sister Annie and eventually in 2011 the two were married.  He worked for the Parrish family tending their sheep and cows as well as harvesting the crops.  Kimball was the model for Parrish’s 1905 painting, Harvest.  We see him standing proudly on a hillock, scythe in hand.  Tragically he was found dead from a broken neck on the property twenty months after his marriage.

                                Land of Make Believe by Maxfield Parrish (1905)

Not only did Susan Lewin help Maxfield’s wife with childcare she also became a model for some of Maxfield’s paintings.   The first painting for which the sixteen-year-old girl posed was entitled Land of Make-Believe.  The painting depicts two figures in a verdant and enchanted garden. The taller figure on the right is based on a photograph of Susan Lewin in costume.  She stands in a contrapposto pose among blooming climbing roses. The two figures are attired in medieval costume and this adds to the unreality of the scene. Maxfield Parrish’s idealized fantasy worlds he created in his painting, such as this one, appealed to the buying public. These works were simply pictorial escapism and his fantasy world helped them believe there were safe and gentle places which were so different from the world they currently lived in.  Parrish’s illustration was used as the frontispiece to Rosamund Marriott Watson’s Make-Believe published in Scribner’s Magazine in August 1912. Marriott Watson’s poem reminisces about the care-free childhood world of “let’s pretend” filled with enchanted woods, castles, and witches.

In the 1995 book, Maxfield Parrish: A Retrospective, by Laurence and Judy Cutler, they wrote about Maxfield’s delight at having Susan in the household:

“…When Susan bounded around The Oaks with babes in arms, Parrish watched her with fascination. He imagined her as his counterpart to Lord Leighton’s companion model, Dene. When he first asked her to model for him and that first pose resulted in the painting Land of Make-Believe, Parrish was so happy with the outcome that he began to use Susan as his constant model…”

In the Land of Make-Believe, look closely at the way Parrish has lit up this depiction.  There is a double lighting effect.    The figures in the foreground are illuminated by soft and delicate light, while if you study the cliffs in the background you can see that they glow luminously from the radiance of the setting sun giving the work a feeling of depth whilst the two enormous columns in the middle ground of the depiction anchor Maxfield’s painting as well as acting as a frame for both the foreground and background.  The inclusion of monumental columns like these appear in one of his most famous works – the 1922 painting entitled Daybreak, which turned out to be one of the most replicated paintings in American history and will be discussed in the next part of this series.

Pied Piper mural by Maxfield Parrish (1909)

By 1909 Parrish’s demands on Sue to model for his paintings were becoming increasingly intense.  In 1909 she posed for a number of characters of his large-scale mural The Pied Piper which had been commissioned by the Palace Hotel in San Francisco for their Pied Piper bar and restaurant, a favoured spot of locals and visitors from around the world. 

                                                         Pied Piper bar with Maxfield Parrish mural

The Pied Piper, originally named The Happy Valley Bar, made its grand opening in 1909. Composed specifically for the re-opening after the 1906 earthquake, Maxfield Parrish created The Pied Piper of Hamelin painting, which still graces the hotel after over 100 years.

                   Sweet Nothings – part of the Florentine Fete mural by Maxfield Parrish

In 1910, Edward Bok, the director of Ladies Home Journal offered Maxfield a commission to paint eighteen panels for The Girls’ Dining Room at the Curtis Publishing building in Philadelphia, which was under construction at 6th and Walnut. Each painting would be placed between the windows which overlooked the street. Bok, because the company employed so many females, decided that they should have their own dining room on the top floor.   It was a mammoth assignment and Bok wanted it completed within twelve months and agreed to pay Parrish $2000 per panel.  Parrish completed the first piece, Florentine Fête Mural in July 1910 and he sent it to the building’s architect, Robert Seeler, for him to approve, writing:

“…The scene will be in white marble loggia:  the foreground will be a series of wide steps extending across the entire picture leading up to three arches and supporting columns…It will be my aim to make it joyous, a little unreal, a good place to be in, a sort of happiness of youth…”

Sue Lewin posing for the Sweet Nothings panel (see figure in far right of the mid-ground)

There are over a hundred figures in the panels of the murals and Maxfield had Sue Lewin to model for all but two of them.  It was such a monumental project that both Maxfield and Sue moved out of the main residence at The Oaks and lived in his studio whilst Maxfield’s wife remained at the big house with the children.  Maxfield Parrish was forty-six years of age when he completed the commission and it is interesting to read in Alma Gilbert’s 1990 book, The Make Believe World of Maxfield Parrish and Sue Lewin, the artist thought of himself as being much younger.  She wrote:

“…Sue Lewin was the woman who ‘youthened’ Parrish’s spirit.  The Florentine Fête panels are his tribute to that wish to remain young, as embodied by the beautiful young woman who so dominated his art and his thoughts during the midpoint of his life…”

Parrish completed all but one of the mural paintings by 1913 and the final one was finished in 1916.

……………………………….to be continued.


Much of the information for these Maxfield Parrish blogs comes from the excellent 1990 book by Alma Gilbert: The Make Believe World of Maxfield Parrish and Sue Lewin,