Charles Leickert. Part 3 – the middle and latter years.

View on the Ij with Amsterdam in the Background by Charles Leickert (1848)

…………………..In hindsight, Leickert’s decision to move away from The Hague in 1848 and base himself in Amsterdam was probably a brave decision but it paid off as the next twenty years are looked upon as his best period. The finely drawn details in his works and his use of the chiaroscuro technique was looked upon by the critics as masterful. One of the first paintings he did after his move to Amsterdam was View on the Ij with Amsterdam in the Background. The setting is a view from the grounds around the tollgate on the north shore of the IJmuiden, a body of water, formerly a bay, in the Dutch province of North Holland. It was a favourite place of artists, and the Amsterdam public were always willing to buy such depictions.

Winter op het IJ voor Amsterdam by Charles Leickert (1849)

Many artists depicted similar scenes and in fact Leickert completed several versions of this painting, including one with the same view but in a winter setting, entitled Winter op het IJ voor Amsterdam (Amsterdam in the Winter with the Setting Sun), which can be seen at the Rijksmuseum. It was painted from the same viewpoint at slightly different stages of sunset. Both paintings depict the same barn, house, and figure group to the left-hand side. However, the most notable difference is that the Rijksmuseum painting is set during winter and it depicts people skating on the frozen river. These two works are masterpieces in the way they depict a highly detailed analysis of light and colour, and the atmospheric fluctuations between the seasons and times of day. These were aspects of overriding importance to Leickert. Leickert left his mentor Schelfhout when he moved from The Hague to Amsterdam and began to be “his own man” as far as his artwork was concerned. An art critic at the 1850 Rotterdam exhibition which included Leickert’s winter variation of the painting commented on the work and Leickert’s newly-found independence:

“…Leickert has long managed to situate himself outside the school of Schelfhout – that is, to learn to observe with his own eyes. His view of Amsterdam in the Winter with the Setting Sun is one of those paintings at which one must gaze for a long time to recover, as it were all that is surprising and alluring about a sunset in December. The sky has a particularly divine effect, being harmoniously rendered and incontrovertibly one of the most handsome of the Exhibition…”

The “divine effect” mentioned by the critic alludes to the strong Romantic evening light depicted in the painting. In the work look how Leickert has the setting sun lighting up and colouring the sky in red, orange, and lilac tints. The setting of the painting was typical of Leickert. He often chose riverbank scenes which were full of human activity. He himself often lived in houses which were close to river or canal banks, such as the Rokin, in the centre of Amsterdam.

Fisherfolk on the Beach near Scheveningen by Charles Leickert

Having lived in both The Hague and Amsterdam he would have visited the coast on many occasions especially the fishing village of Scheveningen. Although Leickert will always be remembered for his cityscapes and landscapes he did paint coastal scenes. One such work was Fisherfolk on the beach near Scheveningen, the setting and type of depiction was very popular with artists.

Self portrait by Charles Leickert (1852)

We think of Leickert as a painter of enchanting scenes whether it be a riverscape, landscape or cityscape but the one facet of his talent is somewhat surprising – that of a portraitist, although he never contemplated this genre as a professional alternative to landscape painting. His 1852 Self Portrait was a triumph of tonal modulations used in the facial depiction. Look at how Leickert use of light on the skin and dark areas, as well as the clever way in which he shapes the background by the use of varying tones. What is Leickert trying to achieve with this portrait? What does he want us to take away after viewing the painting? Look at the way he is both well-groomed and well-dressed. Look at his facial expression – serious and somewhat imposing. What he has achieved with this depiction is a portrait of a professional and successful man, one who has gained success professionally as an artist and attained social acceptance. There is even a hint of elitism in his demeanour.

A Cappricio View of Utrecht by Charles Leickert

Leickert’s landscapes and cityscapes focused on life as it was and he rarely added to his depictions anything which signalled the changes that were taking place. He shied away from modernity. His paintings concentrated on picturesque towns and ageless, unspoilt landscapes. Such depictions had the wistful feeling of Romanticism.

At the ‘koek en zopie’ in a Panoramic Winter Landscape by Charles Leickert

I love his portrayal of the frontages of the old Dutch streets. I love how he instils in the viewer a sense of warm cosiness and contentment as we look at a winter scene with the refreshment stall on the ice. An example of this is his 1892 painting entitled At the ‘koek en zopie’ in a Panoramic Winter Landscape.

Numerous Skaters near a koek-en-zopie on a FrozenWaterway by a Mansion by Charles Leickert (1892)

Koek en zopie (cookies and hooch!) were refreshment stalls on the ice which sold cakes and biscuits as well as hot alcoholic drinks. The strange quirk of why these stalls were on the ice and not on the land was because if they had been positioned on the mainland there would have been a tax levied on their products. Nowadays these small stalls sell drinks such as split pea soup and hot chocolate. Another painting by Leickert which featured the koek en zopie was entitled Numerous Skaters near a koek-en-zopie on a Frozen Waterway by a Mansion.  On the frozen water, we see villagers engaged in their daily routines. For some, whom we see skating, it is leisure time whilst others in the depiction are using the ice to transport goods. A house with a snow-covered step gable can be seen on the right of the painting. This tall structure forms a vertical compositional element and is echoed in the two windmills and the mast of the small boat which appears to be stuck in the ice. Look at how Leickert has accurately depicted the ice with all the scratches in its surface made by the skaters and sleighs. Look at how Leickert has depicted the sky. It is masterful with variance of colours, different tones of pink, blue and grey added to which are the dark clouds. The warm colours for the sky contrasts and enhances the whiteness of the snow which emphasises the coldness of the winter day.

A Frozen Canal with a Peasants by Charles Leickert

In 1859, forty-three-year-old Leickert leaves Amsterdam and travels to Germany where he journeyed down the Rhine valley calling at Rudesheim and later Mainz where he stayed for some time – time enough to meet, fall in love with, and on September 29th, within the year of their first meeting, marry thirty-six-year-old, Apollonia Schneider. The couple returned to the Netherlands in 1861, settling for a year in Frederikstraat in The Hague before returning to Amsterdam, where his drawings and paintings drew the attention of King Willem III.

Winter Scene with Figures by Charles Leickert

Over time Leickert’s paintings became less popular as they were beginning to be looked upon as old fashioned and the new painters of The Hague and Amsterdam could command prices three-times as high as his were sold for. In 1887, Leickert, then seventy-one years of age decided to end his artistic career, left The Netherlands, and returned with his wife to Mainz, where twenty-eight years earlier, they had married.

Figures on the Ice Unloading a Sledge by Charles Leickert

Charles Leickert died in Mainz on December 5th, 1907, aged ninety-one. His obituary notice stated he was a widower with no children and it is believed that his wife Apollonia had died a few years earlier. Leickert was a prolific artist producing approximately seven hundred paintings, of which he only exhibited about eight-five.

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Most of the information for the three blogs on Charles Leickert came from excellent 1999 book entitled Charles Leickert 1816-1907: Painter of Dutch Landscape by Harry J Kraaij

 

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Charles Leickert. Part 1. The early years, influences and tutors

Charles Leickert by Nicolaas Pieneman (1853)

My featured artist today and over the next two blogs, is the Dutch nineteenth century landscape painter Charles Henri Joseph Leickert. His painting genre was also often associated with another artistic “-ism”, that of Romanticism. But what is Romanticism when used as a description of an artist’s work. In his 1950 book De Romanesken, the Dutch art writer, Frans Hannema described Romanticism in art as:

“…A great emotive stirring of the heart; an all enveloping expansion of feeling; a controllable urge for the whimsical, the grotesque, the fantastic and the eerie; a boundless desire and self-imposed hardship; a fantastic devotion and passionate contempt; an unfathomable nostalgia for the transience of all happiness and for the inconstancy of all things; a flight from circumscribed reality to the interminable dream: these are the fiercely jostling and often contradictory emotions with which the soul of the Romantic individual is affected…”

Two Undershot Watermills with Men Opening a Sluice by Jacob van Ruysdael (1650s)

However, Romanticism in art was not that evident in Dutch paintings of the time. The leading Romantics of the nineteenth century were the Frenchman, Théodore Géricault, and Eugene Delacroix and the German Caspar David Friedrich. Dutch paintings in the early nineteenth century were generally limited to landscapes and cityscapes. The favourite Dutch artists of the time were from the bygone days of the seventeenth century such as Jan van Goyen, Salomon van Ruysdael, Jacob van Ruisdael, and Isaac van Ostade. Unlike the Romantic depictions of forests and waterfalls depicted in Jacob van Ruysdael’s works, Leickert preferred to depict everyday Dutch village and river scenes with their picturesque embankments or winter scenes featuring frozen canals on which people would be seen skating, and the frozen rivers and canals would often be overlooked by windmills. However, the Romantic title associated with Leickert was probably due to his ability to saturate his scenes with what is almost a supernatural light which was so prevalent in his depictions especially those featuring the evening sun.

Ice Merriment Near a Mill by Andreas Schelfhout

So why is Leickert not a well-known Dutch artist? Some historians believe the answer lies with his character. He was a shy person and often hid his light under the proverbial bushel. The bushel being his mentor and teacher, Andreas Schelfhout, whose shadow Leickert was pleased to remain under. The subject of Schelfhout’s works was very similar to that of Leickert or maybe that should be seen the other way around! Andreas Schelfhout was a Dutch painter, etcher, and lithographer, known for his landscape paintings. Schelfhout belonged to the Romantic movement and his Dutch winter scenes with frozen canals and skaters were already famous during his lifetime.

Charles Leickert was born on September 22nd, 1816 in Brussels. His parents were, his father Henricus Michael Leickert who had been born in Wittendorf, Germany in 1781 and his mother, also German-born, Henrietta Frederique Martilly. Leickert’s parents, who were married in Berlin, lived there until 1815, at which time with the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo and the subsequent ending of the First French Empire, the French were driven out of the Netherlands and Leickert’s father, mother, and his eldest sister, two-year-old, Louïze Frederica, moved from Berlin to Brussels.

Summer Landscape by Charles Leickert

Leickert’s father gained employment as the King’s chamberlain (valet de chambre) at the court of King Willem I. At this time, and until 1820, the Kingdom of the Netherlands had twin seats of government, The Hague in Northern Netherlands, and Brussels in Southern Netherlands and so Henricus Leicker, as part of the royal entourage, had to move with his family backwards and forwards from one city to the other. In 1816 Charles Leickert was born in Brussels while some his younger siblings were later born in The Hague. Finally, around 1820 The Hague was designated as the sole capital of The Netherlands and the Leickert family made their home there. With the defeat of Napoleon and the ending of the French annexation of the Netherlands thousands of people came to live in the country and the population of The Hague swelled. The surge in population led to housing shortages, poor sanitation and disease which led to a large rise in infant mortality. The Leickert family were hit hard losing most of their children before they reached adulthood, some due to typhoid and tuberculosis and his three-year-old brother died of his burns in a fire.

View of the Old Women and Children’s Hospital in The Hague by Bartholomeus van Hove (1830)

Charles Leickert managed to survive and when he was just twelve years old, because he was showing talent as an artist, his father enrolled him into The Hague Drawing Academy in 1827. The tutor who had the most influence on Leickert was the Dutch landscape and cityscape painter, Bartholomeus van Hove. In 1828, a year after his enrolment, Charles Leickert’s father Henricus died. The cause of death was given as verval van krachten which simply means a decline in strength which seems very unusual as Henricus was just forty-five years old, but it could have been “part and parcel” of the poor sanitary conditions of the city at the time. Leickert’s mother Henrietta was left to bring up the family but struggled financially as her poor health meant she could not work. She pleaded successfully with the art academy to give her son artistic tuition for free, a decision which says a lot for Leickert’s talent. With no money to pay the mortgage, the king stepped in and bought the house of his one-time servant and Henrietta, along with Charles and his two sisters, Adelheid and Barbara, moved into rented accommodation. The health of Leickert’s mother continued to deteriorate and she eventually died in 1830.

Winter Landscape by Charles Leickert (c.1860)

Charles Leickert’s mother was a great believer in her son’s talent as an artist and she wrote a short poem in one of his sketchbooks as a testament to her belief that one day he would become a great painter. A translated version of her poem is:

Accept this booklet, little Lijket
And fill it with sweet studies
Improve your judgement, and the little heart
That burns with love so sweet for art
With little skills, free from small sorrows
May life flit by till death draws nigh.

Walk in the little field and in small nature
Observe and draw each little hour
Every little object, be it great or small
And great you shall one day be as artist.

Charles then 14 years of age, Adelheid aged 10 and Barbara aged 12 were placed in the Civic Orphanage. Their older sister Louïze, who was eighteen, had her own home as a live-in domestic. Although being consigned to an orphanage seems harsh, it had its benefits. Sanitation was good, the children were inoculated against infections which were killing many children at the time and they were fed and clothed. Life in fact for the children was quite good, and for Charles, being the son of the former First Chamberlain to the King, he was allowed to carry on his art lessons at the Drawing Academy. Art played a part in the orphanage and the children were encouraged to try out art and the most talented would attend painting classes which were funded by charitable bequests.

Winter Scene by Charles Leickert (1867)

It is known, through his biographer, Johannes Immerzeel, that Charles Leickert’s first art teacher was Bartholomeus van Hove who ran a flourishing studio as well as teaching at The Hague Drawing Academy. Whilst under van Hove’s tutelage, Leickert honed his drawing skills and the art of chiaroscuro. The term chiaroscuro derives from the two words chiaro bright (< Latin clārus) + oscuro dark (< Latin obscūrus) and describes the prominent contrast of light and shade in a painting, and how the artist by managing the shadows is able to create the illusion of three-dimensional forms.

…………….. to be continued


Most of the information for the three blogs on Charles Leickert came from excellent 1999 book entitled Charles Leickert 1816-1907: Painter of Dutch Landscape by Harry J Kraaij

Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg. Part 2 – Rome (1813 – 1816)

C.W.Eckersberg by Christian Albrecht Jensen (1832)
C.W.Eckersberg by Christian Albrecht Jensen (1832)

In my last blog I talked about Christoffer Eckersberg travelling to Paris in 1810 where he studied under the tutelage of the French painter, Jacques-Louis David.  The year 1810 was an important year for Eckersberg for a completely different reason for it was in this year on July 1st that he married Christine Rebecca Hyssing.  The two had been lovers for a number of years and in September 1808 she had given birth to their son Erling Carl Vilhelm.  It is thought that the reason for the marriage was more to do with expediency and the desire to legitimise their son than love and devotion and it was soon after his marriage that Eckersberg left the marital home to travel to France.

Erling Eckersberg
Erling Eckersberg

The marriage was doomed to be a failure and in 1816 the couple’s divorce papers finally came through whilst Eckersberg was away on one of his travels. In my next blog about Christoffer Eckersberg I will look at his excuisite portraiture.would follow in his father’s footsteps studying at the Danish Art Academy in Copenhagen and at the age of twenty-six he, like his father, received the Academy travelling scholarship for three years and during which time he journeyed to Paris and Parma in Italy.

The Israelites Resting after the Crossing of the Red Sea by Christoffer Eckersberg
The Israelites Resting after the Crossing of the Red Sea by Christoffer Eckersberg

Christoffer Eckersberg left Paris in June 1813 and arrived in Rome in July.  He rented a room in a house which was also home to the Danish sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen.  History paintings continued to be his favoured genre and in 1812 he had received a commission from a Jewish merchant, Mendel Levin Nathanson to depict the crossing of the Red Sea by Moses and the Jewish people and for two years whilst he was in Rome he worked on the painting which was entitled The Israelites Resting after the Crossing of the Red Sea.  This large work which measures 203 x 283cms (80 x 112 ins) can be seen at the National Gallery of Denmark in Copenhagen.  The depiction is not the actual crossing itself but what happened after the event – the Israelites resting after their crossing.   In the book of Exodus (14: 26-29) it was written:

“…The Lord told Moses, “Stretch your arm toward the sea—the water will cover the Egyptians and their cavalry and chariots.” 27 Moses stretched out his arm, and at daybreak the water rushed toward the Egyptians. They tried to run away, but the Lord drowned them in the sea. 28 The water came and covered the chariots, the cavalry, and the whole Egyptian army that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them was left alive. 29 But the sea had made a wall of water on each side of the Israelites; so they walked through on dry land…”

 It is testament to Eckersberg’s artistic ability that he has been able to include such a large group of people in such a natural manner and once again he has added a landscape dimension to the biblical painting in the way the people are shown within a real landscape setting based on his studies and meticulous observations of nature which served as the basis for the depiction of the morning sun and cloud formations.  This methodology was contrary to the teachings he received from his professor,Abildgaard back at the Copenhagen Academy, whose landscape works were often somewhat murky and had no relevance to the time of day of the depiction.

Rome, at the time of Eckersberg’s sojourn, was a hive of artistic activity.  Many young artists had travelled from all over Europe to congregate in the Eternal City to be with like-minded painters and this offered them a chance to exchange views on art.  Many were inspired by what they learnt from their contemporaries who, like themselves, had escaped the clutches of their Academies and the strict academic training.  It was a chance for them to try out new artistic ideas.  For landscape artists it was a vital stage in their education and the one main decision many undertook was to paint plein air.  This technique allowed them to sit before their chosen subject in the open air and paint what they saw rather than just sketching out doors and then taking the sketches back to their studios for completion.  For these artists plein air painting afforded them the chance to capture on canvas the existing weather conditions and observe how that affected the light and shadow.  It also gave artists the opportunity to produce topographically correct depictions rather than idealized versions conjured up in their studios.  One of the founders of this en plein air idea around 1780 was the French painter, Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes who produced many oil studies en plein air, which were not meant for exhibitions but for his own private collection.

The Marble Steps leading to the Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Rome by Christoffer Eckersberg (1816)
The Marble Steps leading to the Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Rome by Christoffer Eckersberg (1816)

At this time in Rome, landscape and cityscape paintings, especially ones with the city’s most famous sights were in great demand with the tourists so much so it was a struggle for these artists to come up with a subject or a point of view of a subject which had not already been recorded artistically by a previous painter.  One of Eckersberg’s plein air paintings featuring a well-known building in Rome is The Marble Steps leading to the Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Rome.  It was completed in 1816 and we can see that he took up a position with his easel at the foot of the Capitoline Hill and that allowed him to produce a composition of vertical and diagonal lines.  From the way and the direction of the shadow cast by the church we know the time of day was around ten in the morning and so Eckersberg would return numerous times at this time to build up the painting on the canvas.

View of the Capitoline Hill with the Steps that go to the Church of Santa Maria] d’Aracoeli) by Paranesi (c.1757)
View of the Capitoline Hill with the Steps that go to the Church of Santa Maria d’Aracoeli by Giovanni Piranesi (c.1757)

It is interesting to note that the structures we see in the painting were real and yet what was untrue about the depiction is what was left out – the omission of Michelangelo’s Palace which was atop the hill to the left of the church.  We know this by looking at Giovanni Piranesi’s etching of the same scene made half a century earlier, one from his collection entitled Vedute di Roma (Views of Rome).

View of the Cloaca Maxima, Rome by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1814)
View of the Cloaca Maxima, Rome by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1814)

Many of Eckerberg’s paintings featuring the city of Rome avoided the iconic locations which featured in many of the other artists’ paintings.  He seemed to favour depicting less famous parts of the capital.  One such work which he completed in 1814 was entitled View of Cloacia Maxima which was bought by the NGA in Washington in 2004.  Cloacia Maxima, which means Greatest Sewer, is one of the world’s earliest sewage systems, thought to have been built around 600 BC as an open air canal.  It is a highly elaborate depiction packed with rich detail.  Some of the buildings we see are very old and many are decaying.  There is no uniformity in the architecture for most of the buildings would have been erected in different eras.  The viewpoint for this painting was the eastern slopes of the Palatine Hill looking towards the Capitoline, one of the Seven Hills of Rome.  It is a painting which depicts the transition from the “countryside” in the foreground which then leads towards the city itself.  It is a realistic depiction for although the foreground is a mass of verdant vegetation, it has been continually crossed by people on foot carving out rough paths.  Our eyes follow the two figures that walk down the path and lead us into the city.

View of the Garden of the Villa Borghese in Rome by Christoffer Eckersberg (1814)
View of the Garden of the Villa Borghese in Rome by Christoffer Eckersberg (1814)

Even when Eckersberg chose a well known location for his painting, he chose to depict a view that in his mind didn’t become “yet another view” of a famous place.  In his painting View of the Garden of the Villa Borghese in Rome which he completed in 1814 he chose to depict part of the decaying and unexceptional 18th century aqueduct rather than the famous gardens themselves.  The ancient reliefs on the wall to the left are foreshortened and are almost unrecognisable. Having said that, it is a beautiful work, which combines a detailed depiction of the angular ruins of the aqueduct in the mid ground.  Our eyes follow the path which runs under the aqueduct arch to an area of the garden albeit it is hidden from view by the ancient arch itself and the trees.   Again, like the previous work, Eckersberg is making the comparison between the harshness of architecture and the softness of nature in a single painting.  The way the artist depicts the sunlit and shaded areas leads one to believe that this was another of Eckersberg’s plein air paintings.

A Courtyard in Rome by Christoffer Eckersberg (1814-16)
A Courtyard in Rome by Christoffer Eckersberg (1814-16) (34 x 28cms)

Another interesting painting during his stay in Rome is one entitled A Courtyard in Rome.  It is a depiction of a nondescript courtyard which could have been in any city so what made Eckersberg paint this one.  There is some conjecture about this and one line of thought is that it is the courtyard of Casa Buti a lodging house in which he and Thorvaldsen stayed.  If that was the reason for painting this scene then it would make it a more personal depiction and one he would have seen every day for three years.  However it and could equally be one he passed by one day when walking around the city and was just a random choice of depiction for the work.   There is nothing breathtaking about the scene and yet it is a beautifully crafted work.  It is interesting to note that the aspect of this scene, the loggia, which could have added colour and variety to the depiction, can barely be seen in the upper background.  The painting is housed in the art museum of the town of Ribe in western Denmark.

A View through Three of the North-Western Arches of the Third Storey of the Coliseum by Christoffer Eckersberg (c.1816)
A View through Three of the North-Western Arches of the Third Storey of the Colosseum by Christoffer Eckersberg (c.1816)

Probably the most famous of Eckersberg’s paintings was one he completed during his three year stay in the Eternal city and is entitled A View through Three of the North-Western Arches of the Third Storey of the Colosseum in Rome, which he completed around 1816.  It is a relatively small work just measuring 32 x 50cms and is currently housed in the Statens Museum for Kunst (National Gallery of Denmark) in Copenhagen.  Eckersberg had depicted the ancient monument in a number of sketches and paintings but he never depicted a view of the outer structure of the amphitheatre in its entirety unlike many other artists.  It was this painting that he will be remembered for.  He set up his easel high up on the third level of the Colosseum looking out across the city which we see through the three arches of the structure.  The background details of the city in the distance are so precise it is thought that he may have used a telescope to ensure accuracy.  Look at the foreground of the painting and the authentic way in which he precisely depicted the crumbling structure.  This aspect of the work encompasses a thoroughness not seen in many landscape works.  This attention to detail serves to highlight the slow disintegration of the ancient monument.   However the greatest attribute to this work is the way he has made the three arches of the Colosseum act as picture frames for the cityscape in the distance.   he painting is sometimes referred to as “The Beautiful Lie” for if we stood in front of the centre arch, as seen in the depiction, then we would not see views of the city of Rome depicted through the other two arches.  To see those views we would have to move to the left or right and look through other arches.  Eckersberg also rid himself of many of the intervening structures which he thought inconsequential and would detract from the beauty of the view.  However this straying from realism does not take anything away from the work.  Eckersberg just wanted his viewers to experience the beauty of Rome as he envisioned it.

In my next blog about Christoffer Eckersberg I will look at his exquisite portraiture.

View of the Kreuzkirche in Ruins by Bernardo Bellotto

View of the Kreuzkirche in Ruins by Bernardo Bellotto (1765)

My choice of painting for My Daily Art Display blog today is based on a modicum on nostalgia and the return of a small amount of wanderlust.   Next year, at the end of May, I am contemplating a week away on my own to coincide with my wife’s week long vacation with “les girls” and so I am trying to decide where to take myself off to.  I need to decide whether to spend a week looking out at the blue seas of the Mediterranean or have a cultural week looking around the art galleries and museums of a city.  At the moment, and because the sea may not be that warm at the end of May, I am leaning towards the artistic route as my get away.  Presently I am toying with the idea of either Palermo in Sicily, a place I have never visited or maybe I will return to Germany after many years away from this beautiful country and spend some time in either Munich and/or Dresden.   The nostalgia aspect of this blog is to do with Dresden, a city I visited with my children about five years ago.  I fell in love with this beautiful city with its magnificent buildings and I have always wanted to return.   The nostalgia was brought on when I came across a painting the other day which jogged my memory of the happy times we had in this former East German city and some of its beautiful architecture.  The featured painting today is entitled View of the Kreuzekirche in Ruins by the eighteenth century Italian artist Bernardo Bellotto.

Bernardo Bellotto was born in Venice in 1721.  He was the son of Lorenzo Antonio Bellotto and Fiorenza Domenica Canal, the sister of Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known to us as Canaletto.  Bellotto’s initial artistic training was in his uncle’s workshop where he worked from the age of fourteen.  At the age of eighteen Bellotto became a member of the Fraglia dei Pittori (Venetian painters’ guild).  In the early 1740’s he and his uncle, Canaletto, took a trip along the Brenta canal to Padua during which time the two amassed a number of sketches which were later translated into completed oil paintings.

In 1742 Bellotto left Venice and travelled extensively around the Northern Italian cities, stopping off at Florence and Lucca and at each stop he would complete a verduta of the place.   A verduta is a highly detailed, usually large-scale painting of a cityscape or some other vista.   These painting were very popular with the foreigners who travelled around Italy on their Grand Tour and wanted to bring home something to remind them of the places they had visited.  He eventually arrived in Rome where he studied study architectural and topographical painting.   He remained in Rome until 1743 at which time he journeyed back to Venice.

Bellotto left Italy for good in 1747.  The rest of his life was spent travelling around the capital cities of Europe and picking up commissions from the various royal courts.  He was invited to Dresden in 1747 by the then ruler Frederick-Augustus II, Elector of Saxony who was also King Augustus III of Poland.  Some historians believe that Augustus actually wanted Canaletto but as he was bound for England at the time, he had to settle for his nephew !  Bellotto, who was by now a married man and had a son, Lorenzo, was suffering financially from a declining art market in Venice and jumped at the chance to work for Augustus.   The money Augustus offered Bellotto was the most paid to an artist working at the court of Saxony.   Bellotto worked in Dresden for eleven years as court painter.  His commission from Augustus was to paint twenty-nine large-sized canvases, some measuring almost three metres wide, depicting scenes of the cities of Dresden and Pirna and of the fortresses of Sonnenstein and Königstein.  These canvases, most of them almost two and a half metres wide, were to be hung in the royal painting gallery in the Stallhof, which forms part of the Royal Palace in Dresden.  Bellotto’s depictions of the city of Dresden were remarkable for their topographical meticulousness, mathematical perspective and the way in which he portrayed the way the light played on the various architectural structures.  The way he handled the light was truly remarkable.

In 1756, the fierce conflict of the Seven Year War, which had affected many European countries, arrived in Dresden and within months the city of Dresden was overrun by Prussian troops.    Augustus fled to Warsaw and Bellotto moved away from Dresden and took up residence in Pirna.  In 1758 Bellotto left his wife and daughters behind in Pirna and with his son travelled to Vienna as he had been fortunate to have received an invitation from Empress Maria Theresa to come to city and paint a number of cityscapes depicting many of the city’s buildings, royal residences and monuments.   In 1763, just as the Seven Year War was coming to an end Bellotto decided to leave Vienna and return to his wife and daughters in Dresden to see if his erstwhile patron August III could give him some work.   Bellotto, on the way to Dresden, stopped off at Munich, where with a letter of recommendation from Maria Theresa to the Electress of Bavaria, Maria Antonia, who also happened to be Augustus’ daughter was given commissioned to paint some panoramic views of the city and the palace of Nymphenburg.   He then headed back to Dresden full of hope for future commissions from his erstwhile royal patron.   However Bellotto’s best made plans failed as the war had played havoc with the city of Dresden which lay in ruins and his former patron, August III had died.  Dresden had run out of money and there was no longer a post for him as court painter.   The commissioning and purchasing of art for the city was no longer in the hands of the ruler but was now controlled by the city’s newly formed Dresden Academy of Fine Arts which had been established in 1764.

With little work in prospect Bellotto left Dresden in 1767 and travelled to Warsaw.  Here he was employed by King Stanislaus Poniatowski, who commissioned Bellotto to complete a number of large-scale paintings depicting the city of Warsaw.  In all Bellotto completed twenty views of Warsaw itself and four of Wilanow Palace. Almost all of these paintings can be found in the Canaletto Hall in the Royal Palace of Warsaw.

Bellotto remained in Warsaw for sixteen years and died in the city in 1780 at the age of 59.

The Kreuzekirche in Dresden by Bellotto (1747-56)

My Daily Art Display features Bellotto’s depiction of the ruins of the Kreuzkirche in Dresden, which had been partially destroyed during the Seven Year War, at a time when Bellotto had been forced to flee the city.  The painting is entitled View of the Kreuzkirche in Ruins and was completed by Bellotto in 1765.  The Kreuzkirche is the oldest church in Dresden and, during the conflict, was shelled by Prussian artillery.   The building was set ablaze and finally collapsed. The church tower, though damaged, remained standing.  Work commenced on the reconstruction the church and it was decided to preserve the original tower. Unfortunately in June 1765, with the construction of the new church already under way, the greater part of the tower collapsed.

This painting is one of Bellotto’s later works, painted during his second stay in Saxony. It demonstrates his quite extraordinary, perhaps unique, capacity to capture the spirit of an event.  This ruin, painted by Bellotto is an unusual one for it is not an ancient ruin as far as the artist was concerned.  It was a relatively new one as the destruction had only occurred five years earlier.   Bellotto had completed a work depicting the great church some years earlier (see above).   However in today’s featured work all we see are the jagged remnants of the church rear up skywards.   The cleanliness of the once beautiful church has gone.  There is nothing clean about the church now.   The scene before us is just a mass of noise and dirt.  It is a chaotic scene which we find hard to believe that it could ever be put back to its former glory.   The Church, as the body of Christ, has been violated all over again and the civic wounds of the German city have been violently opened for all to see.  This is the price to be paid when once we set forth to war.

As we look at the painting, our first thoughts are that Bellotto had actually painted an ancient ruin but of course he hadn’t.  The great medieval church which was situated in central Dresden was the subject of earlier paintings by Bellotto showing it in all its glory and so the artist was probably grief-stricken as he looked upon what was once his beloved church and which had now been partially destroyed by the advancing Prussian artillery

In the painting we see many of Dresden citizens.  Close to the ruins we can just make out craftsmen as they start their preparations to rebuild the once –beautiful edifice.  On the periphery we see men and women dressed in their best clothes staring at the ruin.  For them it was just a day out to visit the site where the destruction had taken place.  For them it was just blatant voyeurism.

For those of you interested in the history of this great church, here is a potted history of the building:

The Kreuzkirche or Holy Cross Church is the main reformed church of Dresden.
Its history started in 1206, when at his spot a small chapel was located for travelling tradesmen.
In 1215 a Basilica was built named “Nikolaikirche”, after the protecting saint for the tradesmen.
In 1388 the Meißen Bishop renamed the church into Holy Cross Church (as in 1234 a splinter of the original cross was given to and stored inside the church).
In 1491 the church is destroyed by fire. A new church is built in Gothic style.
In 1539 the first Lutheran service is held in the church, now being the main reformed church of town.
In 1584 the tower is added to the church, but in 1689 is destroyed by fire and rebuilt.
In 1760 the church gets damaged during the seven year war.

In 1792 a new church is built in Baroque style; much of the outer design is still visible in the present building.
In 1897 another fire damaged the center section; the reconstruction is done in Jugenstil.
In 1945 the church is burned to the ground during the bombardments.
In 1955 the church is reopened again, but the building is restored and improved in the years after.