…………………..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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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…”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
La Belle Époque, which literally means “Beautiful Age” is a name given in France to the period from the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and the start of World War I in 1914. So why was this termed a beautiful age? Probably the reason for naming this period thus was because, for the middle and upper classes in France, the standards of living and security increased in comparison with the dark days that went before. The devastation and death toll of the Franco-Prussian War and the short-lived but bloody battles of the Paris Commune were over. Napoleon III’s period of power had ended and a Third Republic was declared. It was a period free of wars affecting France. It was a period of economic affluence and an era of many new innovations both cultural and technological. For many it was a good time which needed to be savoured. My artist today is one who lived and painted during this time and his Parisian street scenes of the time depicted an opulence which many, but the poorer classes, could enjoy. Let me introduce you to the French painter Eugène Galien-Laloue. He was a consummate draughtsman. His depictions of fin-de-siècle Paris architecture was of an amazing standard and yet he was not just a cityscape painter as he was equally adept with his landscape work in which he brought to life the rural French countryside.
In his tiny gouaches Galien-Laloue rendered every detail of fin-de-siècle Parisian architecture with absolute precision, but in his landscape works he was more attuned to the painterly tradition of the Barbizon School and the Impressionists, recording life in the rural French countryside in light-filled canvasses. Galien-Laloue painted with great delicacy a wide variety of subjects. Eugene
Eugène Galien-Laloue was born in Montmartre, Paris, on December 11th 1854, almost a year after his father, Charles Laloue, an artist and set designer, married Eugène’s mother, Endoxi Lambert in December 1853. Eugène was the eldest of nine children and the large family lived on Rue Leonie in the Montmartre, which at the time was an artistic community where many of the Parisian artists and freethinkers lived. Eugène, even as a child, demonstrated his artistic ability and almost certainly his early training from his father, who liked to paint, and being a set designer was a talented draftsman. Charles Laloue died suddenly in 1869 when Eugène was fifteen years old and the family, which only just made ends meet when he was alive, struggled to survive financially. Eugène, was forced to leave school so that he could find work and help his family and his mother secured him a job as an assistant to a notary.
In 1871, aged seventeen, filled with a sense of patriotism and nationalism, Eugène joined the army but to do so he had to lie about his age. The war with Prussia was a short but deadly affair which France lost. Fortunately, Eugène came through the bloody war unscathed and once the war ended he left the army and returned to civilian life. His one aim in life was now to become a professional artist. For an aspiring artist in Paris there was just one course one had to take to reach that ultimate goal. One had to become a member of the prestigious L’Académie des Beaux-Arts, which was looked upon as the hub of the Parisian art world. Some of the artists of this French Academy also served on the jury that selected paintings for the well-respected Salon de Peinture et de Sculpture, held at the Palais de l’Industrie on the Champs-Élysées, at which more than a thousand artists and sculptors had their works of art and sculptures displayed. Unlike today there were only a small limited number of galleries where artists could show their work and so gaining access to the Salon was crucial for their success as painters and getting approval from the Salon hanging jurists was critical.
In order to be nominated to the French Academy, an artist followed a well-tread course of instruction. Students attended either the official school, the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris, or if they or their parents were affluent, received instruction in the private atelier of an established artist, often one who had connections with luminaries of the Salon. Academic learning in the nineteenth century to become an artist was not an easy process. The tuition was laborious albeit meticulous and it started off with the students learning draughtsmanship by copying engravings and sketching Roman and Greek sculpture, which was known as “working from the antique,” which translated, meant sketching black and white tonal studies from classical marble statuary or casts. If the student had mastered that task, then the tutor would allow them to progress to the next phase of learning. Advancement from one phase of instruction to another was based on the aspiring young artist mastering what they had been taught. Progression was not based on an indiscriminate period of instruction. They would then move on to drawing nude models using just graphite or charcoal.
Following several years of drawing the young artists would begin to paint. This would be carried out under the direction of a time-honoured master and, when he believed his scholars to be ready, they would be allowed to submit their work to the Salon. Having been trained by an established and well-respected painter would count for a great deal with the Salon’s jurists. Not only did the jurists control which paintings would be exhibited they also decided on the placement of the paintings on the monumental and crowded wall of works. A good placing of an artist’s painting (at eye level) ensured that they would be noticed by the buying public. In the days of Eugène Galien-Laloue the Academy favoured large figurative works and looked on painting landscapes as a mere hobby one did when holidaying in the many artist colonies!
Records do not show whether Eugène attended the Academie des Beaux-Arts or any other academy, such as L’Academie Julian but when one of his works appeared at the Salon it was noted in the catalogue that he was artistically trained by his uncle, Charles Laloue, but of course this was also the name of his father, so maybe there was some confusion as to who did train Eugène. In life, everybody needs a good break, a stroke of luck, and for Eugène it was the seemingly unbounded industrial enlargement of La Belle Epoque and one aspect of this was rapidly developing rail network which was growing westward from Paris. Eugène was hired as an illustrator for the French railways, the Chemins de Fer de l’Ouest. The Compaigne de l’Ouest was formed in 1855 through the merger of several smaller railways operating in the western suburbs of Paris, largely serving Normandy and Brittany. Destinations served included London and Jersey (through ports in Normandy and Brittany), as well as Rouen, Dieppe, Saint-Germain, Mont St. Michel, Mers-les-Bains, Treport, and other outlying places. Illustrators, like Eugene, were employed to illustrate the sights that awaited passengers on their rail journeys and these were used to seduce potential passengers to find out more about what lay at the end of the line. To carry out his job as a railway company illustrator Eugène had to travel to all these “exotic” places out West and sketch the rural landscape along the way.
Eugene exhibited his work for the first time in 1876 at the Museum of Reims, where his work Le quai aux fleurs par la neige (Flower Market Along the Seine Under the Snow) was shown. The following year he exhibited for the first time at the annual Parisian Salon, showing En Normandie (In Normandy) as well as two other gouaches. He preferred executing gouaches since they were less time consuming as his oils and, in fact, brought comparable prices.
After some time, Eugène Galien-Laloue decided to become self-employed and set himself up in his own Paris studio in rue de Clignancourt. He spent a lot of his time alone which did not seem to bother him. Acquaintances described him as a loner, an introvert, who was never happier than when he was working alone in his studio or sitting quietly managing his business. Modern city life with all its gaiety did not appeal to him. Maybe he became somewhat crotchety as it was said of him that he was a loner and someone who did not suffer fools gladly, and because of this characteristic people found it very difficult to befriend him.
The French Art Expert, Noe Willer, who was author of Galien-Laloue’s catalogue raisonné wrote of this aspect of Galien-Laloue’s character:
“…He was not eccentric but always conservative, practically a royalist. He was obsessed with his painting. In his private life he found simplicity alluring: he married three sisters, one after the other (beginning with the youngest and ending with the oldest). They had all lived next door to him. He lived a monastic life. All worldly pursuits, games, alcohol, the pleasure of the flesh were not for him. Riding his bicycle to places in Paris to paint was his only physical exercise…”
The cityscape of Paris was changing rapidly during Eugène Galien-Laloue lifetime. It all began around the 1830’s when Parisians were complaining about the condition of their city. The city was overcrowded. The streets with their open sewers were narrow and dark. Paris had become a very dangerous and unhealthy environment to live in and the people were not happy with the government. A whiff of revolution was once again in the air. Tampering with the problem was not helping and so Napoleon III, in 1854, and his interior minister brought in Georges Eugène Haussmann, known as Baron Haussmann, to oversee the “rebuilding” of the city. He had the slums torn down and the narrow streets were turned into wide avenues. Large parks were created as were small villages on the periphery of the city. A new theatre was built and the Paris Garnier opera house was completed in 1875. The cit,y after many years of change, became a desirable place to live and it was this revitalisation of Paris which became the subject of the many Belle Epoque artists such as Eugène Galien-Laloue.
These Belle Epoque artists were pleased to depict the reality of the newly refurbished French capital with its cafés, parks and buildings. More importantly this now beautiful city was a magnet to tourists, visitors from Great Britain and the United States came to Paris while they were partaking of the “Grand Tour” and Galien-Laloue had a ready market for his work which concentrated on depictions of the city. These depictions were just the treasured mementos the American tourists wanted to take home with them for it is known that many of Galien-Lalou’s cityscapes made their way across the Atlantic and into the collections of wealthy Americans from New York, Boston and Chicago.
One of Galien-Laloue’s favourite subjects was, L’église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine; less formally known as La Madeleine. This Roman Catholic church, looking more like a Roman temple, occupies a commanding position in the 8th arrondissement of Paris and was originally designed as a temple to the glory of Napoleon’s army. Galien-Lalou depicted the building and the area surrounding it in both summer with the flower markets brightening up the grey buildings and in winter with snow on the ground and people rushing to get to the warmth of their destinations.
In complete contrast, many people, who moved from the countryside in search of work and went to live in the bustling and noisy city, hankered after a more tranquil life in the countryside they had left behind and wished to be reminded of their rural idyll of the past. Paintings depicting rural landscapes became popular and Galien-Laloue and the Barbizon painters of the time filled the void in the market for those people who wanted a landscape painting to remind them of the peaceful serenity of nature they had left behind. Galien-Laloue had cornered both markets – Parisian street scenes and his rural landscape works which he made when he journeyed around the roads and villages of the Ile-de-France Region and the riverside views along the tree-lined banks of the rivers Seine and Marne.
In the early 1900’s Eugène and his family left the city of Paris and went to live at Fontainebleau, a town fifty kilometres south east of Paris which is surrounded by a large and scenic forest. Eugène now fifty years of age was probably drawn to this area because of its beautiful and quiet environ and the slower pace of life such an idyll afforded.
In 1904 he once again put forward a painting which was exhibited at that year’s Salon. It had been fifteen years since Galien-Laloue had exhibited at the annual Salon due partly to the politics of the Salon and maybe because his sales were so good that he no longer needed the Salon to be a sales vehicle. World War I broke out in August 1914 and the ever-patriotic Galien-Laloue put himself forward to fight for his country but, at that time, he was sixty years of age and he was considered too old for military duty.
Eugène Galien-Laloue married three times which in itself is not unusual but the extraordinary thing was that his three wives were sisters. He married Flore Bardin in the 1880’s and they had one child, a son, Fernand. She died in 1887 and five years later he married her elder sister Ernestine. This second marriage lasted thirty-three years until she died in 1925. They had a daughter Flore. A short time after the death of his second wife he married for a third time this time to another of the Bardin sisters, Claire. Claire died in 1933 and Eugène, now almost eighty years of age, moved back to Paris to live with his daughter Flore, her husband and his grandchildren.
Galien-Laloue never stopped painting but his output of pictures decreased. Despite living with his family, he became even more introverted and lived a rather solitude lifestyle. When the German army moved towards Paris in 1940, the family left their city home and went to their summer residence in their country at Chérence in Val d’Oise. During this flight from the French capital Eugène broke his arm which curtailed his ability to paint.
Eugène Galien-Laloue died at Chérence on April 18th 1941, aged 86.
Many of his paintings also bore other names such as “L.Dupuy”, “Juliany”, “E.Galiany”, “Lievin” and “Dumoutier”. The reason for this is thought to be that he had a sales exclusivity contract with certain galleries that gave them the exclusive right to sell all his works and so to get around this he may have decided to sell some of his works under a different name ! So why those pseudonyms? J. Lievin’ was the name of a soldier he met during the Franco-Prussian war, ‘E. Galiany’ is an Italianized version of his own names, and ‘L. Dupuy’ was the name of a neighbour, Dupuy Léon. Although he signed the paintings, very few of them showed a date and art historians have found it difficult to actually date them.
In my last blog I looked at the early life of Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson and featured some of his paintings which depicted the horrors of the First World War. Today I want to conclude his life story and look at some of his other works of art which had nothing to do with war but which I find have their own beauty.
Nevinson had been taken ill in 1912 and was moved to Buxton to convalesce and it was whilst partaking of the healing waters at the Hydro that he met Kathleen Knowlman who had accompanied her father to the health resort. With the outbreak of war in 1914, Nevinson, being a conscientious objector, had joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in November 1915. It was in this capacity that he had helped tend the wounded who had been brought home from the Front. He was stationed at the Third General Hospital in London but was always aware that soon he would be called to leave the relative safety of England and travel to France. Fully realising his possible death at the Front he decided that he should be married before he met his fate ! On November 1st 1915 he married Kathleen Knowlman. It turned out that he was never sent to the front as he was invalided out of the army following bouts of pericarditis and rheumatic fever which he contracted in January 1916 which left him crippled and for a time he began to think he would never walk again. He recalled the time in his 1935 autobiography, Paint and Prejudice:
“…I was now crippled completely. I began to think I should never walk again. Everything was tried on me while I lay helpless on my bed…”
With the ending of the First World War in 1918, the public’s desire for his war paintings and their harrowing depictions of the suffering of the troops waned. Maybe people just wanted to forget about the previous four years and did not want to be reminded of the brutality of war. For Nevinson, his favoured and once much appreciated subject matter had dried up and he had to make a decision as what to do next. Paul Nash, a contemporary of Nevinson and also a war artist, summed up the war artists’ dilemma when he talked about the ‘struggles of a war artist without a war’. At the end of the war, Nevinson went to Paris looking for new inspiration but soon tired of the French capital, a place he had visited as a child with his mother. In the spring of 1919, he decided to visit America and in particular New York. He had received an invitation from David Keppel to visit the American city to stage an exhibition of his War prints. David Keppel who with his father, Frederick Keppel, were print publishers and owned a four-storey gallery on 4 East 39th Street in Manhattan. They had exhibited many of Nevinson’s war prints which proved very popular with the American public.
Nevinson was made very welcome on his arrival and according to David Boyd Haycock in his 2009 book about the artist, A Crisis of Brilliance, relates how Nevinson was welcomed as a ‘war hero and victimised genius of modern European art, come to discover the USA and reveal it to itself ‘ Nevinson, on his arrival in New York, was taken aback by the city’s architecture, so much so when questioned by a local journalist of how he liked the city he commented that he loved the buildings so much he believed the city had been built for him. Nevinson would roam around the city constantly sketching and after a month long stay in America, he returned to London and converted his sketches into paintings. On his return to London he was to receive sad family news. Whilst he was in America his wife had given birth to a son, Anthony Christopher Wynne on 21st May 1919. His mother, Margaret, recorded that the child only lived for fifteen days, which, as she put it, had been “just enough time to get fond of him.” Nevinson later wrote in his autobiography:
“…On my arrival in London I was met by my mother, who told me my son was dead…”
And he later added in a somewhat morbid fashion:
“…I am glad I have not been responsible for bringing any human life into this world…”
One of Nevinson’s depictions of New York, which he completed back in London in 1920 before he returned to America that October to set up his second exhibition of work at Frederick Keppel & Co, New York gallery, was entitled The Soul of the Soulless City (‘New York – an Abstraction’). The painting depicts an idealised view of a section of the elevated railway which ran through Manhattan. It was an unusual work with a narrow chromatic range reliant mainly on shades of greys and browns with just merest hint of blue for the skies between the tops of the skyscrapers. The way he has depicted the skyscrapers with their complex faceting harks back to Picasso and Braque’s cubism of a decade earlier. There is something very powerful and impressive about the way Nevinson has depicted the railway line receding dramatically into a cluster skyscraper blocks. There is a sense of speed about the disappearing railway track. Nevinson, was associated with Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and his concept of futurism, who wanted to revolutionize culture including art and make it more modern. The new ideology of Futurism was an art form which stressed modernity, and the virtues of technology, machinery, and speed and we can see in this work that Nevinson was a great believer of the ideals of futurism.
When the work was first exhibited at the Bourgeois Galleries in New York it was entitled New York – an Abstraction. It was not received well. According to David Cohen in his 1999 The Rising City Urban Themes in the Art and Writings of C.R.W.Nevinson’, C.R.W.Nevinson The Twentieth Century, one critic went as far as to dub the painting “inhuman, metallic and hard”. Later when he exhibited the work in London in 1925 at the Faculty of Arts Exhibition, Grosvenor House, London, it was given the title of The Soul of the Soulless City and this change was almost certainly made by Nevinson himself and although it has been likened to Karl Marx’s comment on religion being the “heart of the heartless world”, it could also be because Nevinson had fallen out of love with the American city.
Another work by Nevinson with New York as its subject is New York, Night which he completed somewhere between 1919 and 1920. This work which was completed around the same time as the previous work and was painted at the time when Nevinson was still in love with New York. There can be no doubt about his initial love affair with New York for Nevinson was quoted by David Cohen in his 1999 book, C.R.W. Nevinson, The Twentieth Century:
“…New York, being the Venice of this epoch, has triumphed, thanks to its engineers and architects, as successfully as the Venetians did in their time..Where the Venetian drove stakes into his sandbanks to overcome nature, the American has pegged his city to the sky. No sight can be more exhilarating and beautiful than this triumph of man…”
The painting depicts the busy harbour of New York at night. It is a view I have witnessed many times from the bridge of a ship as the city’s skyscrapers loom large ahead as we enter the port. In the painting we see the giant buildings through the smoke and steam emanating from the funnels of the small tugs and ferries which ply their way up and down the Hudson River. It is a mystical and atmospheric scene. It is a scene depicting industry. This is a scene of modernity, loved by the futurists. In the foreground we see jibs of cranes busily working on the loading and unloading of cargo vessels berthed at Brooklyn, across the river from Manhattan.
Nevinson built up a collection of prints of Manhattan, another of which is the drypoint print entitled Looking through Brooklyn Bridge. This work and another entitled Under Brooklyn Bridge are housed in the British Museum and were part of a set of ten drypoints of the city of New York which were commissioned by Frederick Keppel. Whenever I visit New York I always take time to walk across this bridge and never fail to be enthralled by the views on offer when crossing from Brooklyn to Manhattan. What first strikes you about this work is how the bridge is the central “character” as it dwarfs the people we see walking across it. In the background, through the mist, we see the colossal skyscrapers of Manhattan looming before us. In the evening light they lack colour and are just presented as grey giants. It is a cold depiction. There is no warmth about it. It is an inhospitable scene and the mist which gives a haziness to the skyscrapers also gives a feeling that the air may also be polluted. The people are wrapped up in warm clothes and the wooden walk way looks wet as if the rain has been beating down on the massive structure. The man in the foreground holds an umbrella but probably due to the strong winds, dare not open it to protect himself. Nevinson has managed to convey the massive structure as a monument to the permanence of the new Industrial time and it contrasts with the temporary nature of the people, who appear on it as mere shadows as they hurry from one side to the other.
Like a lot of artists, Nevinson did not take criticism and rejection well and his love for New York and America disappeared. Not only were his paintings attracting criticism, he himself was also becoming disliked for his ill-conceived outbursts. He often suffered periods of depression and would often be volatile. He had an unfortunate habit of bragging and publicly aired embellished claims of his war experiences, which people found hard to accept and together with his depressive and temperamental personality, he became an unpopular figure on the New York art scene. Whether it was because of the poor reviews or his growing dislike for the people around him, he decided to leave America.
So who was to blame for Nevinson’s falling out of love with America and the Americans. Maybe the answer lies in the 1920 catalogue introduction to an exhibition of Nevinson’s work by the art critic Lewis Hind. Of Nevinson he wrote:
“…It is something, at the age of thirty one, to be among the most discussed, most successful, most promising, most admired and most hated British artists…”
In Julian Freeman’s biography on Nevinson he talked about the artist’s mental state during the last couple of decades of his life:
“…From 1920 until 1940 they carried his strident, maverick diatribes, aimed at society at large, and at the establishment in all its forms… and the variety, salacity, and often uncompromising savagery of his egocentric articles remains enormously entertaining. However, his autobiography is marked and marred by a strong undercurrent of confrontational right-wing xenophobia, and some of his private correspondence in the Imperial War Museum in London is explicitly racist: true signs of the times to which he was such a conspicuous contributor…”
I will leave the last word to the artist himself who, in his 1937 autobiography, Paint and Prejudice, wrote:
“…My prices have always been humble, but it has been possible up to the present to lead the life of a millionaire. Far from being a starving artist, a great deal of my time has been taken up in refusing food and drink, affairs with exquisite women, and wonderful offers of travel or hospitality. But I have always been driven mad by the itch to paint. Painting has caused me unspeakable sorrows and humiliations, and I frankly loathe the professional side of my life. I am indifferent to fame, as it only causes envy or downright insult. I know the necessity of publicity in order to sell pictures, because the public would never hear of you or know what you were doing unless you told them of it. But publicity is a dangerous weapon, double-edged, often causing unnecessary hostility and capable of putting you into the most undignified positions. Until of late I have had to fight an entirely lone hand. When I exhibited at the Royal Academy it was a revelation to me how well the publicity was done through the dignity of an institution rather than through the wits of an individual. But I suppose that now I shall always remain the lone wolf. I have been misrepresented so much by those who write on art that the pack will never accept me. Incidentally, because I painted I have earned something like thirty thousand pounds for the critics, curators, or parasites of art. Ninety per cent of their writings has consisted of telling the public not to buy my pictures and of charging me with every form of charlatanism, incompetency, ignorance, madness, degeneracy, and decadence. It is useless to deny that this has had its effect..”
His post-war career was not so distinguished. He never achieved the adulation that was bestowed on him due to his war paintings. Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson died in October 1946 aged 57.