Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

My featured artist today is the Victorian painter Mary Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, one of the most popular artists of her time. She is perhaps best remembered for reawakening the Pre-Raphaelite style of painting at the end of the 19th century as shown in her moral or medieval depictions with their vibrant and flamboyant colours. The Pre-Raphaelite group was founded in 1848 by John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti but by the time Eleanor went to art school in 1889, Pre-Raphaelite painting was led by a second generation of artists which included Edward Burne-Jones. Eleanor admired their work and carefully followed in their footsteps which helped keep the style alive until the start of the twentieth century. Eleanor was not simply a painter. She was also a designer, produced stained-glass windows and small-scale sculptures, illustrated books as well as completing numerous watercolour and oil paintings.

The Ugly Princess by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1902)

Mary Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale was born at the family home in the prosperous London suburb of Upper Norwood on January 25th, 1872. Her father Matthew Inglett Fortescue-Brickdale was a barrister of Lincoln’s Inn who married, Sarah Ann Lloyd, the daughter of Judge Edward John Lloyd QC, of the Bristol county court. Eleanor was the youngest of five children. She had two brothers, Charles, the eldest child, who was born in 1857, John Matthew and two sisters, Kate, and Ann. Ann died aged six, four years before Eleanor was born. The family financial circumstances were sound, and they employed four servants and a governess for Eleanor. As was the norm at that time, the parents were preoccupied with their sons’ future ensuring they had the best schooling and went on to a financially-sound profession whilst being ambivalent with regards their daughters’ future believing that the future happiness of their daughters was a good, kind, and wealthy husband!

Portrait of Charles Fortescue-Brickwell by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickwell (1924)

Charles, an amateur artist who, attended Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford University, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a barrister focusing on land law and in 1900 was appointed Chief Registrar of HM Land Registry.  He was famed for modernising the Land Registry system. John, who was two years older than Eleanor, went into medicine and became a physician in Bristol and contributed many articles for medical journals and co-authored a couple of medical books. Ironically, despite their parent’s plans, neither Kate nor Eleanor married. Little is known of Kate but of course we do know that Eleanor’s love of art was to contribute to her fame and financial stability.

In the Springtime by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1901) watercolour

One must presume Eleanor’s interest in art was fostered by her parents who looked upon the ability to paint and draw, as simply a hobby for females  but one which would prove attractive to suitors. Another reason could be that her father had an interest in art and had John Ruskin as a fellow Oxford University student. Matthew Fortescue-Brickdale was involved in one of Ruskin’s art projects, the Arundel Society, which was founded to promote knowledge of the art works of the old Italian, Flemish, and other European Masters and to conserve and document works of art which were at risk of destruction. It is believed that her father’s love of art resulted in visits with his children to art galleries.

After completing her home schooling in 1889, seventeen-year-old Eleanor enrolled at the Crystal Palace School of Art, Science and Literature. It was not one of the most prestigious establishment but maybe it was chosen for Eleanor for its closeness to the family home. It was a mixed college, but the art classes were for female students only, the science for male students and the music was for both. Eleanor proved an able student and at the end of her first year, was awarded the annual scholarship for crayon drawing and watercolours and in 1892 she gained a silver medal for watercolour.

Natural Magic, 1905 watercolor by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale

In 1894, tragedy struck the Fortescue-Brickdale household when Eleanor’s father, Matthew was killed whilst mountain climbing in the Alps.

Around the mid 1890’s, wanting a more prestigious art school which offered tuition by well-known artists who would develop her talent, Eleanor enrolled at the St John’s Wood School. The art school had another important role. It was an established feeder school for students who wanted to enrol at the prestigious Royal Academy Schools. Proof of this comes from the statistic that in the first half of the 1890’s of the 394 students who were admitted to the RA Schools, 250 came from the St John’s Wood School. St John’s Wood School also offered life drawing classes with nude models to both its male and female students.

Contemplation by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

To achieve admission into the Royal Academy Schools, the candidate had to submit certain pieces of art and if they were found acceptable the candidate would become a probationer and then, if their work during the next three months was up to the standard required, they would become a full student and be allowed to start one of the courses. In the Magazine of Art, 25, 1902, an article appeared written by Marion Hepworth Dixon , Our rising Artists: Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale in which she wrote that it took Eleanor three attempts to get to become a probationer but once that was achieved in January 1895, she only remained as such for three weeks before becoming a full-student and starting an art course. In 1897 Eleanor was awarded a prize by the Royal Academy Schools for her work as a designer and promising decorative designer.

Madame Placid by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

For any up-and-coming artist wanting to establish a reputation, social connections were of paramount importance to achieving commissions and acquiring a wealthy patron. Eleanor’s education had been different to many other aspiring painters. She had not attended school, her parents deciding on home schooling, she had not attended a university and now at the age of twenty-five remained unmarried, all of which resulted in her not having many outside connections which would have helped her through her artistic life and so, she had to rely on her family and friends for a helping hand.

Land Registry certificate (1898). Designed by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale.

Her first breakthrough came in the form of a “brotherly helping-hand”. Charles her eldest brother who was working at the Land Registry persuaded her to design a certificate of registration for his newly re-organised Land Registry office.

A Cotswold Village; or, country life and pursuits in Gloucestershire, by James Gibbs

In the same year her brother Charles helped her once again. He had married Mabel Gibbs, whose brother James Gibbs an amateur cricketer who had played for the MCC, and a writer who, that year, had published a book, A Cotswold Village; or, country life and pursuits in Gloucestershire, and had Eleanor illustrate it with twenty pen and ink sketches of rural scenes. Later her reputation was further advanced when she provided pen and ink sketches for the illustrated version of Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.

Her reputation as a talented illustrator soon grew and her design work was in great demand from such popular journals as Country Life and The Ladies’ Field. Her “audience” were the wealthy landowners some of who became her patrons and would often call upon her to paint pictures of their family and stately homes.

The Pale Complexion of True Love by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1898)

In 1899 she completed her first major work of art entitled The Pale Complexion of True Love which was accepted for inclusion in that year’s Royal Academy Annual Exhibition. The title of the work is taken from Act 3 Scene IV of Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy, As You Like It, when the elderly shepherd, Corin speaks of the shepherd, Silvius’ unrequited love for the shepherdess, Phebe:

“…If you will see a pageant truly play’d,
Between the pale complexion of true love
And the red glow of scorn and proud disdain,
Go hence a little and I shall conduct you,
If you will mark it…”

The first thing that strikes you with this painting is the sumptuous red of the lady’s gown. It is interesting how the artist has used such a bright spectrum of colours. To many people, the Pre-Raphaelite painters use of bright colours was garish and lacked delicacy. To others it was this vibrancy of colour which heightened their work, but I will leave you to decide.

The Gift That is Better Than Rubies by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1899)

In 1899 Eleanor produced a painting, The Gift That is Better Than Rubies, a title derived from a passage in the Bible – Proverbs 8: 10-11.

“…Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold. For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it…”

The Gilded Apple by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1899)

In the summer of 1899, father and son art dealers, William and Walter Dowdeswell who ran a gallery in New Bond Street, London, commissioned Eleanor to produce a large number of watercolour paintings for their 1901 show which was entitled Such stuff as dreams are made of, a line from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. The depictions in these works covered subjects from the Bible, Shakespeare, Browning and Coleridge. One of her watercolour paintings on show at this exhibition was The Gilded Apple. It depicts a fairy tale princess being thrown a gilded apple. She leans back in an attempt to catch it and her crown tumbles from her head and is about to fall into a fishpond behind her. Meanwhile we see a cat ready to pounce on one of the fish in the pond.  The commission had been so big that Eleanor had decided to acquire her own studio in Holland Park, and area populated by many artists. The show was a spectacular success and all the paintings were sold. In an article in the June edition of The Artist praise was heaped upon her:

“…Rarely, if ever, has a woman painter made a great reputation as quickly and thoroughly as Miss Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, whose series of watercolour drawings has, during the last month, drawn the whole of artistic London to the Dowdeswell Galleries…”

The Little Foot Page by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1905)

One of Eleanor’s best-known paintings is one she completed in 1905 and is entitled The Little Foot Page which is now part of the Walker Art Gallery collection in Liverpool. This painting illustrates lines from a 1765 ballad Child Waters sometimes known as Burd Helen, part of the collection of traditional folk ballads by Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. The ballad describes the loyalty of Ellen who is bearing the child of her heartless lover Child Waters. He insists Ellen serve him as a page. She is shown dressed in male clothing and just about to cut her long beautiful hair, so she can pass as a boy. Her dress and wimple can be seen, discarded in the foreground. The theme of a wronged woman was a familiar one in Victorian times. Look at the painstaking way the artist has depicted the foliage. Eleanor was a great believer of the adage, “truth to nature”, and this is highlighted in the painting.

Love and his Counterfeits by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1904)

I have always liked multi-figured paintings which have a story attached and so one of my favourite works by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale is one which she completed in 1905 and entitled Love and His Counterfeits. The painting was included in the artist’s second show at the Dowdeswell Gallery, in June 1905. How many times do we look at a “complicated” work of art and wonder what is going on? If only we could ask the artists. In this case Eleanor has put us out of our misery by supplying, in her words, the story behind the depiction which came with the work. She wrote:

“…When a girl’s soul awakens and she opens the door of her Heart’s Castle to receive Love, at first she will not recognise him.
First, she will see Fear and think him to be Love. Fear, in craven armour of black, with no coat of arms or badge to mark his family. But by Fear, Love may come.
Then she will see Romance, being now in love with ‘being in love’ –
Romance, the Boy on a Bubble with a Castle of Dreams in his hand, and
Birds and Roses about him. He leads Ambition, who shall stir the girl to think he is Love himself – Ambition, very hot and eager, riding upon Pegasus, the winged Horse.
After them is Position, whom she may take for Love; but truly she is in love with Appearance, Prestige, Importance, Riches, Place, all his Train, and this is borne by a Cupid.  Now she is stirred by Pity, thinking whom she pities she loves – Pity with the Cup of tears with three handles, that many may drink.
Then she perceives Arts, a brave fellow who is but words and emptiness and a mask for love. Arts paints a wound upon him and sings that it is real. To Love he is not henchman, nor cousin, but enemy.
Behind him goes Flattery with a mirror, so she is wooed by vain words. Then Gratitude comes with the smoke of memory, and she will think she is faithless if she does not love one who has been kind.
Now, at last, after her emotion, her assault by gifts, mirrors, riches, tears, dreams, phrases, memories, comes True Love, empty-handed, to take and win her Heart’s Castle…”

The Rusty Knight (Yniol’s rusted arms) by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

During the first part of the twentieth century Eleanor carried on with her book illustration. In 1909, Ernest Brown, of the Leicester Galleries, commissioned a series of twenty-eight watercolour illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, which she painted over two years. They were exhibited in the Dowdeswell Gallery in 1911, and twenty-four of them were published the next year in a deluxe edition of the first four Idylls. The book, Idylls of the King, was a cycle of twelve narrative poems by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, which retells the legend of King Arthur.

In the painting, above, The Rusty Knight (Yniol’s rusted arms), we see the knight Sir Geraint astride his horse, accompanied by Enid who walks alongside. He has borrowed a suit of armour from her father Yniol to challenge Enid’s other suitor on the tournament ground. Geraint is a flawed character and suffers from jealousy and at times mistrusted Enid. It could be that Eleanor felt for Enid and so mocked Geraint by depicting him, peeking 0ut his ill-fitting suit of armour whilst sat on an over-large horse.

The Passing of Elaine by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1911)

Her 1911 painting, The Passing of Elaine, depicts another female character from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, which caught the imagination of Eleanor.  She was Elaine, a naïve but affectionate young girl who falls in love with Lancelot, but he has no romantic feelings for her. When he tells her that their love can never be, she wishes for death. She orders a chariot bier to take her to the river and place her on a barge, clothed in black upon which she will make her final journey down the river to King Arthur’s Court in the castle at Camelot.

Portrait of Winifred Roberts, by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, (1913)

The works of art of Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale were not all book illustrations, neither were they all Pre-Raphaelite-type paintings. One of my favourite works by Fortescue-Brickdale is a portrait which she completed in 1913. It is a portrait of Winifred Roberts, a student at the Byam Shaw School of Art, where she taught. The portrait was a commission given to Eleanor by Winifred’s grandmother Rosalind Howard. Winifred wears a blue dress with lace trimming. She is sitting on a settee which is covered in a fabric produced by Morris and Company, a furnishings and decorative arts manufacturer and retailer founded by the artist and designer William Morris with friends from the Pre-Raphaelites.

In 1938, Brickdale’s career as an artist and illustrator was cut short when she suffered a stroke and was unable to paint for the last seven years of her life. Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale died in Surrey on March 11th, 1944 at the age of 79.

Eleanor was acknowledged as having revived the Pre-Raphaelite style of painting at the end of the 19th century and was considered ‘the last survivor of the late Pre-Raphaelite painters’. Her style of painting and her illustrative work had many admirers who baulked at the new modern art which was becoming more popular, what they wanted and what Eleanor gave them was aesthetically pleasing art which told stories.

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Annie Louise Swynnerton. Part 1 – the early years.

Portrait of Annie Swynnerton by Gwenny Griffiths (1928)

The media these days is full of articles and comments about the lack of equality suffered by women in all walks of life. One hopes that it is not just a fad that the media believe its audience want to be informed about but will die away like so many “hot topics” in the past. Women have had to struggle for too long and nowhere so much as in the male-dominated world of art. In the next few blogs I want to feature a female artist who railed against such inequalities. My featured artist today is the English painter Annie Louise Swynnerton (née Robinson).

Annie Swynnerton

Annie Louise Robinson was born  at 3 Vine Grove, Hulme, an inner-city working-class area south of the city centre of Manchester. She was one of seven daughters of Ann Sanderson and Francis Robinson. Her father came from a humble background, his father plying his trade as a carpenter. After he had completed his schooling, Francis Robinson embarked on a career in law as an attorney’s clerk. He married Anne Sanderson, the daughter of a York innkeeper, in 1840. Francis Robinson’s legal career progressed and in 1843 he attained the position of managing clerk in the Higsons law firm, later the firm became Higsons and Robinson. The couple had seven children, all daughters, the first born being Annie Louisa Robinson who entered the world on February 26th 1844. She was followed by Emily, Julia, Sarah, Adela, Mary and Frances. Annie was baptised at St Wilfrid’s Catholic Church later that year. The family changed their place of residence many times when Annie was growing up, living in various Manchester suburbs, such as Kersal, Chorlton-on-Medlock, Greenhays and in 1861 the seventeen-year-old was living at 227 Prestwich Park, Salford. This was a prestigious area of Manchester and the Robinson’s home was an eight-bedroomed house and was large enough to accommodate the parents, their seven children, Mary Robinson, Francis’ unmarried sister and two young Irish servant girls. The next-door neighbours were both prosperous  families, one being a hat manufacturer who employed over two hundred workers and on the other side the neighbour was a silk merchant.

Annie Swynnerton in her studio painting Sense of Light (1895)

Around the end of the 1860’s there was a change in the family fortunes. Francis Robinson’s financial situation deteriorated when his firm was declared bankrupt. In 1869, Francis Robinson lost his home and most of its contents were sold off over a three-day period to pay off his debts. From census records of 1871 it is apparent that Annie, along with her two oldest sisters, Emily and Julia, and her two youngest sisters, Mary and Francis had moved to a small rented property at 28 Upper Brook Street in Chorlton-on-Medlock, an inner city area of Manchester but strangely there is no record of their father and mother living at this premises but they could have been out of the country during the census. Her aunt, Mary, and her step-grandmother lived in another small terraced house in the same street and were recorded as visitors to this property at the time of the census as were Annie’s other two sisters, Sarah and Adela. Maybe they lived somewhere else. Maybe they lived with their parents.

Glow Worm by Annie Swnnerton (1900)

In the autumn of 1868, Annie, Emily and Julia attended, on a part time basis, the nearby Manchester School of Art on Mosely Street, which is now the Manchester Art Gallery. One cannot be sure whether Annie had planned to become a professional fine artist or simply develop the skills which would count if she ever applied for a post as a governess. The three sisters all did well and, during the period they were there and won a number of prizes. In 1873, Annie won the respected national award, the Princess of Wales Scholarship, for the drawing of the head of a boy and a further award for one of her oil paintings. She received a gold medal and the princely sum of £11. It is apparent that the reason the three young ladies attended the School was to hone their artistic skills to such an extent that they would be able to sell their work and make some much needed money to support themselves, but it would also make them independent and maybe even self-sufficient and avoid relying on a man to support them. At this time, there was a vibrant market for contemporary art from the well-off merchants of Manchester who tended to steer clear of the art of the “old masters” as their knowledge of such work often led to deception and they preferred to commission their own paintings from up-and-coming painters.

Unwinding the Skein by Annie Swynnerton

Annie Swynnerton’s struggle against prejudice and her eventual success at becoming a professional artist was an amazing achievement. People, who have studied the paths taken by females in the art world, soon realised that those few who succeeded had family artistic connections and no doubt family support for their venture into the male-dominated art world. However, Annie had no such parental backing, no artistic or social connections, which could have smoothed her path towards an artistic career, no early artistic training for remember she was twenty-four years of age when she attended the Manchester School of Art, also she had the responsibility of bringing up her younger siblings in cramped living conditions which did not favour the work of an artist. She was simply the daughter of a provincial attorney who turned to art as a way of earning money to support her family. She entered the art school with little going for her except her great determination to succeed.

Susan Isabel Dacre by Annie Swynnerton (1880)

For artists to make money they must be able to exhibit and sell their work and at that time in Manchester the main route for this was to become a member of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts and be allowed to show their work at the annual Spring exhibition. However, the Academy which had been founded in 1859, would not accept female artists into its fold. Annie was a fighter and would not accept things without a fight and so in 1874, along with some other female artists petitioned the Academy council to be allowed to become members. They had also made sure that their request was well reported in the local newspapers. In 1875, the Academy fearing bad publicity agreed on a compromise by which a new class of Academy membership was created and was to be known as Lady Exhibitioners, but the Academy would still neither let females hold office within the Academy nor would they let them attend the life drawing classes which was such an important aspect in artistic training. In 1875 Annie, her sisters Emily and Julia, her friend Isabel Dacre and five other female artists were elected as Lady Exhibitioners at the Manchester Academy but by this time and because of Annie’s lack of access to life drawing classes at the Academy which she found unacceptable, she had already left the country.

The Walls of Sienna by Isabel Dacre

Often in life it is a chance meeting with another person which will shape and influence your future. For Annie it was the meeting and the enduring friendship with her fellow Manchester School of Art student Susan Isabel Dacre. Warwickshire-born, convent-educated in Salford, where her mother kept a number of small hotels, Dacre was the same age as Swynnerton and like Annie had not had the benefit of an advantaged background. However, the early life of Isabel and Annie could not be more different for whereas Annie Swynnerton had led a quiet life in Manchester Isabel Dacre was an experienced traveller. At the age of fourteen Isabel was living in Paris and after completing her schooling there worked as a governess in the French capital and studied art at the Louvre. In 1869 she spent the winter in Italy before returning to Paris. However, following the war between France and Prussia which saw the French capital besieged by the Prussian troops in 1870,  Isabel Dacre and her brother hastily left France and returned to Manchester. They returned to Paris at the cessation of the Franco-Prussian War but were then caught up in the bloody and very dangerous Paris Commune uprisings in 1871 and had to once again quickly exit the country. On her return to Manchester Isabel Dacre became a student at the Manchester School of Art.

The Town of Sienna by Annie Swynnerton (c.1880’s)

There can be no doubt that Isabel Dacre had a great influence on Annie Swynnerton and managed to persuade her to join her in a trip to Paris and the opportunity to further their artistic career once they had concluded their art course in Manchester in the autumn of 1874. First port of call for the pair was Rome where the two women studied for two years and became part of the Anglo-American artistic and literary circle which had become well established in the city. Here they mixed with female writers, singers, actresses and artists. Swynnerton loved the Italian lifestyle and later lived there for lengthy periods between 1883 and 1910. Italy and the Italian way of life was to influence Swynnerton and this can be seen in the vibrant colours used in her portrayals of women.

The Roman Lady Jebsa by Annie Swynnerton (1874)

One such work which she completed in 1874 was an exquisite oil portrait entitled Roma Lady ‘Jebsa’. It is a Victorian portrait of an elegant Roma woman in traditional dress.   The name Jebsa has no historical or literary connotation and so it is presumed that Annie and the sitter could have been on first-name terms. This was Annie Swynnerton’s earliest known oil painting which she completed during her first visit to Italy. In this work, she has used the technique known as chiaroscuro, which is the use of strong tonal contrasts between light and dark to model three-dimensional forms which had been used by Italian artists such as Caravaggio during the High Renaissance period and Annie would have seen many of his works whilst in Rome.

An Italian Mother and Child by Annie Swynnerton (1886)

Another portrait of note emanating from her time in Italy was her 1886 painting entitled An Italian Mother and Child. It was one of a series of Italian women and child paintings that Annie produced during the 1880’s.  The woman and child are posed in an arch of the wall of the Campo Verano cemetery that overlooks the Basilica Papale di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura (Basilica of St Lawrence outside the Walls).  In this portrait we see a young woman bedecked in a simple peasant dress with its white blouse with puff sleeves and a white head dress. She is sitting on a wall below an ivy-covered archway. On her lap stands her young pudgy-thighed child. The child is dressed in a blue dress with a white undergarment and a gold medallion necklace around her neck. The mother supports her child with her left hand, holding the child’s right hand with her right. Look at how the artist has used white highlights to depict how the bright natural sunlight  has fallen on the woman’s headdress, arms and knees.  The painting has a look of Renaissance art which Swynnerton would have studied during her days in Italy.

The Young Mother (Through the Orchard) by Annie Swynnerton (1885)

Another mother and child painting was completed by Swynnerton in the 1880’s entitled Mother and Child but often referred to as Through the Orchard.  The setting for this painting was Clovelly in Devon.  Similar to the previous work we can see how Annie has registered area where the natural light has touched various surfaces.  The inclusion of the apple tree as a background element harks back to pre-Raphaelite concept of truth to nature.  Annie has used a palette of earthy colours in this portrayal of a working-class woman and is a reminder of the Rural Naturalist paintings done by the likes of Bastien-Lepage and George Clausen.  The woman carries her young child as well as carrying a pitcher of water and symbolises the roles of motherhood, and worker.

Around the end of 1876, Annie and Isabel left Italy and returned to Manchester.

…………………………………………to be continued.

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Most of the information for this and following blogs about Annie Swynnerton was found in some excellent books which I bought at the Painting Light and Hope exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery.

Annie Swynnerton, Painting Light and Hope by Kate JT Herrington and Rebecca Milner

The Life and Works of Annie Louise Swynnerton by Susan Thomson

Annie Swynnerton, Painter and Pioneer by Christine Allen and Penny Morris.

The Wilson and the Ferrieres Collection

The Wilson Cheltenham Museum and Art Gallery
The Wilson
Cheltenham Museum and Art Gallery

When I have to travel to meetings in the UK and have an overnight stay, I try and go to local art galleries and see what is on offer.   I am often somewhat disappointed with the collections.  I suppose I expect too much.  It is my own fault.  I should realise I am not going to find a hidden Uffizi or Prado in a provincial town as I am aware that building up an art collection is a costly affair in this day and age.  So, to my great surprise and pleasure, yesterday I discovered a real gem.  I was in Cheltenham for a meeting and had the afternoon free so decided to go and find their art gallery.   It is called The Wilson and it has a small but wonderful collection of paintings many of which are from an era I particularly love – seventeenth and nineteenth Dutch and Flemish works of art.  My blog today is all about the gallery and some of these paintings.

Baron Charles Conrad Adolphus du Bois de Ferrieres
Baron Charles Conrad Adolphus du Bois de Ferrieres

For a gallery to become established it obviously needs a collection of paintings and this almost always means it has to have a benefactor who has bequeathed the gallery a large number of works of art.  The regency spa town of Cheltenham and The Wilson had the second Baron de Ferrieres to thank for their foreign painting collection.  He died in Cheltenham in 1864 and left his large art collection to his son the third Baron, Charles Conrad Adolphus du Bois de Ferrieres, who in 1898 donated forty-three paintings and a sum of £1000 to the town of Cheltenham to set up a gallery to house the works of art, and so it was his generosity that today’s gallery began life and was able to house such a rich collection of work.

Trees, Castle and Skating Figures by Marinus Adrianus Koekkoek the Elder
Trees, Castle and Skating Figures by Marinus Adrianus Koekkoek the Elder

The first painting I am showcasing is entitled Trees, Castle and Skating Figures by Marinus Adrianus Koekkoek the Elder (1807-1868).  Marinus Adrianus Koekkoek the Elder was a 19th-century Dutch landscape painter who was born in Middelburg and was the son of the painter, Johannes Hermanus Koekkoek who gave him his early art lessons.  Marinus had two brothers, Barend Cornelis and Hermanus who were also artists.  Koekkoek was primarily based in Hilversum and Amsterdam, where he later died.

Fortified Building on the Banks of a Canal by Cornelis Springer
Fortified Building on the Banks of a Canal by Cornelis Springer

Fortified Building on the Banks of a Canal is another fine example from the Ferriers collection.  It was painted around 1850 by the Dutch landscape artist, Cornelis Springer who was born in Amsterdam in 1817.  Springer became a member of the Amsterdam painters collective Felix Meritis and won a gold medal for a painting of a church interior in 1847. He was the most skilled of the Dutch townscape painters in the nineteenth century.  He consistently strived for topographical accuracy in his townscapes and this he achieved by many hours studying the design plans of the original buildings.  His townscapes have a meticulous style with attention to light and atmospheric conditions.  In this work Springer has somewhat abandoned his normal detailed depiction of the buildings an sought to concentrate the light and atmosphere which makes the depiction more Romantic that topographically correct.

Dutch Street Scene by Adrianus Eversun
Dutch Street Scene by Adrianus Eversun

Adrianus Eversen was a pupil of our previous painter, Cornelis Springer and spent most of his life painting in Amsterdam.  He, like Springer, was known for his townscapes and street scenes.  However, unlike Springer most of his townscapes lacked topographical accuracy.  In his painting, Dutch Street Scene, which he completed in 1858, we see a row of buildings which the artist has depicted with architectural accuracy but the setting was probably just a figment of his imagination rather than a real street.  He completed many paints of this ilk which were simply entitled “Dutch street scenes”.

A fête champêtre was a popular form of entertainment in the 18th century, and took the form of a kind of garden party. This form of entertainment was especially prevalent at the French court where at Versailles large areas of the park were landscaped with follies, pavilions and temples to have the capacity for such revelries.

Fête Champêtre: Cavaliers and Women Round a Gaming Board by Joseph le Roy
Fête Champêtre: Cavaliers and Women Round a Gaming Board by Joseph le Roy

The term fête champêtre comes from the French expression for a “pastoral festival” or “country feast” and this may be construed as being a simplistic form of entertainment, but in the eighteenth century, a fête champêtre was usually a very graceful and stylish form of entertainment which would sometimes involve whole orchestras hidden from sight amongst the trees and participants would be in fancy dress.  Joseph Anne Jules Le Roy (1853-1922), the Parisian-born painter, was a specialist in military scenes and animals and in this painting of his we see those two themes.  In his painting, Fête Champêtre: Cavaliers and Women Round a Gaming Board we see depicted the fête champêtre in the grand manner with the people dressed in Flemish seventeenth century costumes.

Fête champêtre (Pastoral Gathering) by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1721)
Fête champêtre (Pastoral Gathering) by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1721)

This was different to the sumptuous costumes depicted by the French artist, Jean-Antoine Watteau’s in his 1721 painting, Fête champêtre (Pastoral Gathering). 

A Flemish Fair by of Isaac Claesz. Van Swanenburgh
A Flemish Fair by of Isaac Claesz. Van Swanenburgh

The next painting which is also part of the Ferrieres Collection comes from an earlier period.  This is thought to be a late sixteenth century work and is attributed to Isaac Claesz. Van Swanenburgh.  He was a Dutch Renaissance painter who was born in Leiden in 1537 and died in the same town in 1614.  The work, entitled A Flemish Fair, reminds me of works by one of my favourite artists, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who was a contemporary of Isaac Claesz. Van Swanenburgh.  The depiction of fairs in paintings was very popular in the last decade of the sixteenth century.

Ruins over the River Birchel at Zutphen by Everhardus Koster
Ruins over the River Birchel at Zutphen by Everhardus Koster

Everhardus Koster (1817-1892) was a Dutch painter who specialized in sea and river scenes.  He studied at Frankfurt-am-Main’s Stadelsches Kunstinstitut and would later become a member of the Amsterdam Academy and for twenty years was the director of Het Pavijoen in Haarlem, he served as Director of the various museums that were formerly housed in the Villa Welgelegen.  One of his paintings, Ruins over the River Birchel at Zutphen is part of the Ferrieres Collection.

Willem van Mieris (1662-1747) was the most successful genre painter of his generation and a leader of the painters of Leiden. He was a master of cabinet pieces. In this painting, A Hurdy-Gurdy Player Asleep in a Tavern, which is dated 1690, the setting is the interior of an inn.  Van Mieris has meticulously depicted the numerous details of the inn itself as well as the table laden with food.   Not only is this a genre painting but it is also an extremely talented example of a still life featuring a meal of herring and plaice, a bun of bread and the brown German stoneware jug on the table and let’s not forget the authentic portrayal of the hurdy-gurdy. So what is the painting all about?

A Hurdy-Gurdy Player Asleep in a Tavern by Willem van Mieris
A Hurdy-Gurdy Player Asleep in a Tavern by Willem van Mieris

Surrendering to the effects of alcohol he has imbibed, the old hurdy-gurdy player has fallen asleep with his instrument on his lap.  The sleeping musician, a simple beggar, is dressed in rags.  Behind him the female maidservant holds aloft a pouch of money which she may have just taken from the sleeping musician.  She is ecstatic.  Two other tavern revellers look on in the background.  Hurdy-gurdy players were a frequent theme in Dutch peasant painting. They were people who would liven up happy gatherings with the primitive and penetrating sound of their instrument.  Willem shared his liking of depicting lively tavern scenes such as this one with his father Frans van Mieris the Elder. Willem painted several hurdy-gurdy players set in an inn.

The Artist’s Wife, Evelyn, seated reading by Gerald Gardiner
The Artist’s Wife, Evelyn, seated reading by Gerald Gardiner

Besides the Dutch and Flemish paintings bequeathed to The Wilson there were some interesting works that the museum had acquired over time.   The Artist’s Wife, Evelyn, seated reading is a work by Gerald Gardiner.  Gardiner worked at the Cheltenham School of Art teaching drawing and painting from 1927 until his death in 1959.  It is a painting which exudes the quiet domestic atmosphere of life at home.  This work was painted at the Bisley home of Gerald and Evelyn Gardiner and is an example of the artist’s depiction of a night-time scene with his wife enjoying the company of her book, showing up the light, reflections and shadows which are cast by the gas lamp and fire as his wife reads.  It wonderfully encapsulates an atmosphere of domestic bliss and, for us, nostalgia as we see Evelyn reading a book by gas-light in front of the fire. Gardiner was particularly interested in painting night-time scenes and here he balances a powerful composition and the subtle effects of light. Gerald Gardiner was born in 1902. He studied at Beckenham School of Art and the Royal College of Art where he was awarded an Associateship with Distinction in 1926. In 1927 he was appointed second master at the Cheltenham School of Art, in charge of the drawing and painting department, later becoming Painting Master, where he worked until his death

Village Gossip by Stanley Spencer (c.1939)
Village Gossip by Stanley Spencer (c.1939)

Stanley Spencer was one of the most original artists of the modern age and it was good to see one of his works hanging in The Wilson.  Spencer’s paintings have special characteristics; we are urged to work out the story behind each painting and the work on show, Village Gossip is no exception.   It was painted around 1939 whilst he was on holiday in the Gloucestershire village of Leonard Stanley.  I will leave you to work out what you think is going on this painting.  Look at the body language of the woman on the right with her arms tightly folded across her chest.  Look at the accusing stance of the elderly man and woman on the left.  Even the small girl points towards the young man in an accusatory gesture. He bows his head in a somewhat remorseful manner.  What is he being accused of?

There were so many other excellent works of art on show at The Wilson and if ever you are in or around Cheltenham, I urge you to pay it a visit.

The Mérode Altarpiece by Robert Campin

The Merode Altarpiece by Robert Campin (c.1432)
The Merode Altarpiece by Robert Campin (c.1432)

I travel a lot around Europe and during my stays in the various towns and cities I always try and spend some time in the local art galleries.  The one thing that I do enjoy, which is not often afforded to me in my own country, is the ability to visit local churches in which, especially in France and Italy, one can find beautiful works of art, frescoes and exquisite altarpieces.  In this blog I want to look at one of the great altarpieces of the fifteenth century.  It was not a huge work of art destined for a church or cathedral but a small devotional work which was to be placed in a room of a wealthy merchant, who had commissioned the altarpiece.   The altarpiece I am referring to is an Annunciation triptych known as the Mérode Altarpiece.  The work, which was completed sometime between 1425 and 1428, is now part of the Metropolitan Museum collection in New York and the exquisite and beautiful work is attributed to the early Netherlandish painter, Robert Campin and his workshop assistants.

Robert Campin is often referred to the Master of Flémalle.  The title “Master of….” was term often used by art historians to attribute an anonymous work or even groups of works.  It was a common attribution used in the nineteenth century by German art historians when discussing Early Netherlandish paintings.    So how did Campin end up with his title?   It is believed that it was due to the fact that three paintings in the Städliches Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt were said to have come from the abbey of Flémalle, a town close to Liège, but have since been attributed to Campin.

Robert Campin was born around 1375 but it is not until thirty years later that his name appears in records.   It seems that he settled in Tournai, the Walloon town of Belgium.  Tournai is unlikely to have been his birthplace as records show that in 1410 he bought citizenship of the town, which he would not have had to do if it had been his birthplace.  Some would have us believe he was born in Valenciennes, now a French town bordering Southern Belgium.  This assertion is based upon the fact that the name Campin was very common surname at the time in that town.  In the records, Campin’s profession was given as a Master Painter and we know he became a free master of the local Corporation of Goldsmiths and Painters and in 1423 became the sub-dean of the society and later held the post of Eswardeur.  During his early years at Tournai, Campin worked for the municipality painting banners and he went on to be employed to paint sculptures in various churches, including the town’s Church of St Brice, and a number of municipal buildings, notably the Halle des Doyens in Tournai .  This colouring of sculptures was termed polychromy.  He had a good working relationship with the local sculptors including the famous sculptor, Jacques de Braibant.

Robert Campin was good at what he did and soon he and his work became very popular and he received many commissions.  His wealth grew and through his commissions and his investments Campin owned a number of properties in Tournai.  His standing in the community was high.  He was warden of the church of St Pierre as well as procurator of the Convent of the Haute-Vie.  All was going so well for Campin.  He was running a large successful workshop and had skilled apprentices including a young painter, Rogier de le Pasture who is believed to be Rogier van der Weyden. So life was good until he got involved in local politics and the disturbances in the city between two political factions.  Sadly for him he backed the losing side and for his part in the 1429 disturbances and his reluctance to testify against the leaders of the uprising he was sentenced to go on a pilgrimage to Saint-Gilles in Provence.  Such a sentence was common in those days as it was thought that during such a pilgrimage one could think about one’s wrong-doings.  The local authorities never forgave Campin for his part in the uprising and for a number of years hounded him.

It came to a head three years later, in July 1432.   Campin was in trouble again.  This time it was because of his adultery.  He was married to Ysabiel de Stocquain but at this time was living with another woman, Leurence Polette.  The courts took a dim view of this sexual liaison and he was charged with adultery and was once again sentenced to go on a twelve-month pilgrimage.  This would have ended his artistic work and the closure of his workshop but this time he was saved from this banishment.  His saviour was none other than Margaret of Burgundy, the Countess Dowager of Hinault and the powerful daughter of Philip the Bold and wife of William of Bavaria and his pilgrimage sentence was reduced to a fine.   Maybe it was one court appearance too many for after this last incident little was heard of Campin in the archives of Tournai and his lucrative commissions dwindled.  Robert Campin died in Tournai in 1444.

And so to the featured work of art by Robert Campin and his workshop assistants, the oil on oak panel entitled The Annunciation Triptych often referred to as The Mérode Altarpiece which was completed around 1432 and is now housed in the Cloisters museum and gardens, a branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which is given over to the art and architecture of medieval Europe that largely date from the twelfth through the fifteenth century.  The building and its cloistered gardens are located in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan.  Although termed an altarpiece, because of its small size (centre panel is 64cms x 63cms and each wing is just 64cms x 27cms), this was never destined for the altar of a church or cathedral.  This was destined for a devotional room in a private house.  It is one of Campin’s greatest works. It is thought that originally the painting which comprised of just the central panel was completed around 1430 and then later on the request of the prospective buyer, two hinged wings were added and the work became a devotional triptych.  It is also understood that the paintings depicted on the wings were painted by different artists, probably Campin’s assistants at his workshop.

The centre panel (The Annunciation) by Robert Campin
The centre panel (The Annunciation) by Robert Campin

The centre panel is a depiction of the Annunciation, which was a common subject for paintings in the fifteenth century.   In this depiction Campin has decided the setting of the scene should be a place of domesticity recognisable to people of his time and not set in some palace-like location.  The setting is not, as often depicted, the bed chamber of Mary but a living room.  Maybe Campin wanted observers of this altarpiece to empathise with Mary and for that she needed to be looked upon as an ordinary young woman – hence no halo!  The room is clean and tidy and in some ways defines Mary as a diligent and house-proud female.  Look closely at this panel and the first thing which may strike you as being strange is the depiction of Mary.  She is sitting on a cushion on the floor and not on the bench to her left.  This could be to illustrate her humility. She is totally absorbed in reading a book but is so careful not to dirty the tome by touching it and so she holds it in a white cloth.   She is wearing a long red dress and Campin has cleverly depicted the folds of the dress with the light playing on them so that they form a bright white star.  As she sits and reads from her book she seems quite oblivious to the presence of the Angel Gabriel who is to her right dressed in the vestments of a deacon.  Between Gabriel and Mary there is a sixteen-sided table which some art historians believe alludes to the sixteen main Hebrew prophets.  On the table there is an open book and a scroll, which could have been reference works which were used by Mary as she read her book.   The act of reading what was probably a religious work and the presence of a reference book and scroll open on the table portray Mary as a learned and devout woman.

There is a blue patterned majolica pitcher on the table in which there is a lily.  The lily represents the purity of Mary.   Margaret Freeman, Curator of The Cloisters, comments on the symbolism of the lily quoting St Bernard who wrote:

“…Mary is the violet of humility, the lily of chastity, the rose of charity and the glory and splendour of the heavens…”

Detail of central panel
Detail of central panel

We see a highly-polished bronze fifteenth century Flemish candlestick holder with its newly extinguished candle on the table.  The flame, which had once been present, represented God and now it is gone, to be replaced by the tiny Christ Child which enters the room on the rays of the sun which beam through the window at the left of the painting.  It is a symbol of the Incarnation.

15th century Flemish bronze hanging-laver
15th century Flemish bronze hanging-laver

In the left background we see, hanging in an alcove, a highly polished bronze laver.  This was the implement originally used by priests when they washed their hands and feet before entering into and coming out of a holy place.  Campin’s depiction is of a 15th century Flemish laver. Once again the highly polished laver and candle holder are testament to Mary being a hard working woman who took pride in her house.

The central panel’s Annunciation scene depicts the Angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she is about to conceive the Christ Child. The Holy Spirit, in the form of the Christ Child, which impregnates Mary, appears descending towards Mary on rays of light emanating from the round window to the left of this centre panel.

Christ Child descending into room on a beam of light
Christ Child descending into room on a beam of light

When I first looked at this centre panel I completely missed the small figure of the Christ Child with a wooden cross on his back reminding us of the future crucifixion.   So why this inclusion?   It has been included in this depiction of the Annunciation as what we see before us is also about the Incarnation, the point in time when God becomes man.

Lion finial
Lion finial

There are other little pieces of iconography which are easily missed.  Look at the bench seat which Mary rests against.  Look at the small carved lions on the top of the arms of the bench.  These carvings are known as finials and mark the top or end of some object.  Some art historians believe that such an inclusion of the finials refers back to the throne of Solomon.  These finials have appeared in many paintings – take a look at the top of the arms of the seat in the background of Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait.

The left panel
The left panel – the donor and his new wife

Now look at the left hand panel of this triptych and we see a man and a woman kneeling down in prayer.  It is generally agreed that the man is the person who commissioned Campin to produce the work and the lady next to him is his new wife, so new that it is thought she was added later. – but who are they?  The answer seems to come from various clues dotted around the triptych.  If you look back at the central panel and the transom of the left hand window at the back of the room you will see a coat of arms.   This was the coat of arms of the Engelbrecht or Ingelbrecht family of Mechelen who according to records were living in Tournai at the time the altarpiece was being painted and the man was Jan Engelbrecht, a wealthy and prosperous businessman.  The painting is thought to have been a wedding gift for his wife and one reason why he commissioned a depiction of the Annunciation could be because of the family name Engelbrecht which translated means “angel brings”.  Behind the couple we see a man wearing a straw hat.  He is wearing the badge of Mechelen and is believed to be a Mechelen town messenger.

Right panel of triptych - Saint Joseph at work
Right panel of triptych – Saint Joseph at work

In the right-hand panel, we see Saint Joseph, who we know was a carpenter.  Again, like the central panel, there is an air of domesticity about the depiction with Joseph busying himself with his carpentry.  He sits at his bench busily drilling holes in a piece of wood.  On the table next to him we see all the tools of his trade.  Art historians believe each has its own symbolic meaning – the saw refers to the implement that St Peter used to cut off the ear of Malchus, during Christ’s betrayal and arrest; the log alludes to the cross of the crucifixion; the nails, hammers, chisels, pliers and screwdrivers are all likely references to the instruments of the Passion.

Mousetrap and tools
Mousetrap and tools

Also on the table there is a mousetrap and another on the window ledge, which Joseph has previously made.  According the American art historian, Meyer Schapiro, Joseph fashioning mousetraps had a theological meaning and talks about how Saint Augustine used the mousetrap metaphor to explain the redemption of man by Christ’s ultimate sacrifice.  He explained the necessity of the Incarnation and that human flesh was the bait for the devil who by seizing it brings about his own ruin. Saint Augustine wrote:

“…The devil exulted when Christ died, but by this very death of Christ the devil is vanquished as if he had swallowed the bait in the mousetrap.  He rejoiced in Christ’s death, like a baliff of death.  What he rejoiced in was his own undoing.  The cross of Lord was the Lord’s mousetrap; the bait by which he was caught was the Lord’s death…”

View from window of St Joseph's workshop
View from window of St Joseph’s workshop

In my last blog I looked at some works by Joachim Patinir in which he combined biblical scenes with landscapes and townscapes but for Patinir the landscape was the most important part of the depiction.  Look now how Campin has in some way combined a small townscape with this religious work. Look at the scene as seen through the window behind Saint Joseph.  The window of Joseph’s workshop overlooks a city square around which are various houses, churches and shops. This is not a depiction of a town in the Holy Land at the time of Mary but of a town in 15th century Flanders.  It could be that Campin had incorporated a scene from his birthplace, Valenciennes or Tournai or possibly Mechelen, which was the town of the commissioner of this work.

So that is the Annunciation triptych or the Merode Triptych and I suppose the only question you have is why “Mérode Triptych” and not The Engelbrecht Triptych?  The answer to that is simple.  In the nineteenth century, this altarpiece was owned by Augustine Marie Nicolette, princess van Arenberg, having been given it by her father as a wedding present when she married Charles Antoine Ghislain de Mérode.

Joachim Patinir – the early landscape artist.

Joachim Patinir  c.1480 -1524
Joachim Patinir
c.1480 -1524

When I visit local art galleries around my neighbourhood they are packed with landscape works from various local artists.  As it is Wales a few sheep and the odd shepherd are “thrown in” as a prerequisite for Welsh landscape paintings.  My featured artist today was one of the earliest landscape painters and although his paintings often incorporated religious themes which were commonplace in northern Renaissance art, his forte was his splendid detailed, visually fascinating landscapes.   He is considered one of the first modern landscape specialists. Let me introduce you to the great sixteenth century Flemish landscape painter Joachim Patinir (often referred to as Patenier) of whose style the English art historian Kenneth Clarke described as:

“…the first painter to make landscapes more important than his figures…”

So how well thought of as an artist was this sixteenth century painter? Felipe de Guevara was a sixteenth century Spanish humanist, art writer, patron of the arts and a connoisseur of Netherlandish painting and in his manuscript of 1560, which two hundred years later, was published in book form, Comentarios de la pintura, he wrote that he regarded Patinir as on being par with the great Netherlandish painters Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden.  Praise indeed!  So who was this man who achieved such great standing?

In all biographies the opening paragraph usually contains a date of birth and it is at this point, with this artist, that one hits a brick wall as his actual date of birth is unknown and his birth date, which often varies from book to book, is somewhat of an educated guess.

According to the 1521 diary of Albrecht Dürer, who described Patinir as the good painter of landscapes there was, at that time, a portrait of Patinir as a man in his forties and that would then put Joachim Patinir’s birth date somewhere around 1480.  If Patinir’s birth date is uncertain so is his birthplace albeit the consensus of opinion is that he was born in either the town of Dinant or the nearby village of Bouvignes on the River Meuse.  It is interesting to note that Dinant is situated at a point on the River Meuse where the river cuts deeply into the western Condroz plateau.  The town lies in a steep sided valley sandwiched between the rock face and the river and the spectacular landscape around this town came to influence Patinir in his landscape works.

The first concrete facts we have of him was that he was serving an apprenticeship in the Antwerp Guild of Painters in 1515, a city in which he was to live all his life.  During his time he met and worked with other great Netherlandish artists of the time such as Gérard David, Hieronymus Bosch, Quentin Matsys

The Temptation of St Anthony by Joachim Patinir  (c. 1520-24)
The Temptation of St Anthony by Joachim Patinir (c. 1520-24)

My first offering of Patinir’s work is one entitled Landscape with the Temptation of Saint Anthony Abbot which he completed somewhere between 1520 and 1524 was one of the few paintings which was signed by the artist. The painting now resides at the Museo Nacional del Prado. This work of art was not a solo effort by him, but a collaboration with Quentin Matsys, who painted the figures, which we see in the foreground.  St Anthony, who had given up his worldly possessions and devoted himself to a contemplative life, is depicted sitting on the ground.  He is surrounded by temptation in the form of three courtesans who try to seduce him.  One of the women holds out an apple which symbolises temptation reminding us of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  A demon-like monkey pulls at his clothes.   Lying on the ground we see a discarded rosary symbolising the possible abandonment of faith.  Although our eyes are initially drawn to the large figures in the foreground and as we try to work out what is going on, they soon move to take in the wondrous landscape in the middle ground and background which is a setting for various events in the life of the saint. Cast your eyes to the central middle ground and one can make out Anthony and his hut which is under attack by an army of demons.  To the right of that scene we see St. Anthony sitting at the water’s edge of a lake on which is the royal barge carrying the queen and her ladies-in-waiting, some of whom are naked; all part of a seduction scene.  The rocky landscape and the river hark back to the geography of his birthplace.  The painting was acquired by the Spanish king, Philip II in 1566 and was hung in the Escorial Palace.

Landscape with St Jerome by Joachim Patinir (c. 1517)
Landscape with St Jerome by Joachim Patinir (c. 1517)

Patinir often incorporated hermit-style life depiction in his landscape works.  This was a very popular subject in Northern European devotional works of art. This next painting focuses on these two elements.  It is his Landscape with St Jerome painting, which he completed around 1517, and which also can be found in the Prado in Madrid.  The work combines an extensive landscape background, with its vibrantly coloured and decidedly naturalistic vista, with the tale of Saint Jerome.  In this work we see the moment in time when Saint Jerome, seen huddled under a rocky outcrop, removes the thorn from the paw of the lion.  Patinir’s depiction of the saint is not as we would expect to observe him.   Jerome, who was a cardinal in the Catholic Church and eminent theological scholar, was often depicted alone, dressed in his red ceremonial robes, studiously at work in his room.  However, in this work Jerome is dressed in the rags of a hermit living outside his battered wooden shelter.  As was the case in the first painting I featured, our eyes soon leave Jerome and the lion and focus on the way Patinir has beautifully depicted, in great detail, the landscape which surrounds the saint. Perched on rocky plateau is a monastery, supposedly a depiction of the one at Bethlehem where Jerome once worked.   The painting seems to have three well defined colour patterns.  The foreground is the darkest made up of various tones of brown and black depicting Jerome’s shelter attached to the high and dark rocky outcrop.  The middle ground is full of green of differing shades from the dark greens of the tree foliage to the lighter greens of the fields further away which surround a small village.  The background is predominantly lighter with blues and greys depicting the sea and the far-off mountains although to the left we see the black clouds of an approaching storm.  This change in colours from the darkness of the foreground to the lightness of the background creates perspective in the work.  Once again the high craggy outcrops hark back to the geography of his birthplace, Dinant which nestled snugly between the high rocky cliffs which protruded out towards the River Meuse.

Charon crossing the River Styx by Joachim Patinir (1524)
Charon crossing the River Styx by Joachim Patinir (1524)

My third offering is fundamentally a landscape work and yet this has a mythological connotation.  It is entitled Charon Crossing the River Styx and was completed by Patinir around 1524.  Again, like the two previous works, it can be found in Madrid’s Prado museum.  This is not a devotional work and was probably originally commissioned by a wealthy merchant and scholarly connoisseur who was also an avid art collector.  The painting is divided into three vertical parts, the centre of which is the River Styx and the outer parts represent the banks on either side of this great mythological waterway.   The River Styx was one of the five rivers that separated the world of the living from the world of the dead. In Greek mythology, it was written that the River Styx wound around Hades nine times. The name of the river derives from the Greek word stugein which means hate, and so, Styx, was the river of hate. To the left of the river is the swamp-like and rugged bank of Paradise and to the right of the river is that of Hell

Charon and the Soul
Charon and the Soul

Our eyes immediately home in on the sandy-coloured boat and its occupants which are midway between the two banks.  The boatman is Charon, the old ferry man who ferries the dead onto the underworld, and we see him crossing the river Styx towards the underworld, where the dragon-tailed three-headed dog, Cerebus, stands guard, allowing all souls to enter but none to leave. We can see Cerebus curled up in his lair at the entrance to the gates of Hell, which is depicted in the right background of the painting, burning brightly.

The Angel pointing the way
The Angel pointing the way

Along with Charon in the boat is the soul of a recently deceased person. The soul is looking around and has to decide on to which bank it wants to disembark.  If you look carefully at the left bank you will notice an angel perched on a mound pointing towards another waterway and another land.  This water is the Fountain of Life and it is part of Paradise.  We can see peacocks and ravens on this land and these symbolise Resurrection and Redemption.  The angel is canvassing that this should be the soul’s land of choice.  Now, if we look on the right bank that also seems to be calm and peaceful with birds flying around the trees.  Cerebus is out of sight but on the ground near the foot of the trees is a small monkey which is a symbol of the devil and that for the soul in the boat should be warning enough.  Unfortunately, looking at the way Charon is steering the boat, the soul has made the wrong choice!  The background story is interesting but for me the beauty of this work is not the characters in it but the artist’s depiction of the landscape.

Landscape with Saint John the Baptist Preaching by Joachim Patinir
Landscape with Saint John the Baptist Preaching by Joachim Patinir

My fourth and final offering of works by Joachim Patinir is entitled Landscape with Saint John the Baptist Preaching and one version of this work can be found in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique – Brussels, but the one below is from the collection of  the Philadelphia Museum of Art and in the lower right hand corner of this version we see a crest.   It is the crest of the wealthy Rem family and it could well be the wealthy merchant, Lucas Rem, the sixteenth century Augsburg merchant and art collector had this version painted for himself and had the family crest added to it.

Landscape with Saint John the Baptist Preaching by Joachim Patinir with the Rem Crest
Landscape with Saint John the Baptist Preaching by Joachim Patinir with the Rem Crest

In the painting, we have a bird’s eye view of St John the Baptist preaching to a group of followers but what I like most about the painting is the beautifully depicted imaginary landscape which acts as a backdrop to the religious scene,   Once again it crosses my mind that the religious story plays a secondary role to Patinir’s depiction of the landscape.  Once again we see a similar landscape to that in his other works – tall rocky outcrops closely bordering on to a river, which because of the religious nuance of the painting could have represented the River Jordan and on the left bank, although not clear in this picture, is a depiction of the baptism of Christ, in the Jordan river, by John the Baptist.

We observe St John, bent over, leaning heavily against a sturdy branch of a tree.  It is almost as if he is leaning against a lectern or pulpit rail as he looks down upon his followers who sit entranced by his words.  In the foreground to the left of the painting we see a tree which is dying around which is a vine.   This is thought to allude to the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden which withered and died once Adam had taken a bite of the apple offered to him by Eve.  According to legend, the tree eventually came back to life once Jesus Christ had died on the cross and in so doing, had atoned for the sins of the world.

Both John the Baptist and his audience are in the shade as the bright light we see lighting up the meandering river, which wends its way towards the horizon, is incapable of penetrating the thick tree canopy above the group.  As was the case in the earlier painting, Patinir has used different colour combinations to craft perspective.  Dark browns and greens in the foreground around the people gradually change to lighter greens of the banks of the river and then in the distance lighter blues and greys become the dominant colours.

Bayard Rock, Dinant
Bayard Rock, Dinant

There is a fascinating delicacy about Patinir’s landscape work and as I have said before this favoured landscape depiction of the artist probably stemmed from what he remembers of his birthplace around Dinant and the rock structure there known as the Bayard Rock, which looms above the town and the River Meuse.

In German, Patinir would be classified as a painter of Weltlandschaft which translated means world landscape.  The Weltlandschaft painters completed works depicting panoramic landscapes as seen from a high viewpoint.  These works of art typically included mountains and lowlands, water, and buildings. As in Patinir’s works, the subject of each painting is usually a Biblical or historical narrative, but the figures included in the work are secondary to their surroundings and they were often made-to-order by secular patrons.  The landscapes in these works were not geographically accurate.  In her 2005 book, Seventeenth-century Art and Architecture, Anne Sutherland Harris, a professor of Art History, describes this form of art:

“…They were imaginary compilations of the most appealing and spectacular aspects of European geography, assembled for the delight of the wealthy armchair traveller…”

So again I ask – was Patinir a religious painter who liked to add a landscape background to his work or was he a landscape painter who liked to add, or get somebody else to add, figures appertaining to religious and mythological stories?  Perhaps his friend Albrecht Dürer had the answer to this conundrum when he described his friend as:

“…der gute Landschaftmaler…

(the good painter of landscapes)

Portrait of an Infanta, Catherine of Aragon by Juan de Flandes

Portrait of an Infanta, Catherine of Aragon by Juan de Flandes (c.1496)
Portrait of an Infanta, Catherine of Aragon by Juan de Flandes (c.1496)

Today, as promised, I am featuring another beautiful and yet quite simple portrait that I came across when visiting the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid.  The work was one of many which hung amongst other fifteenth century paintings.   The reason it stood out for me was because of the beauty and innocence of the eleven-year old sitter whose life and future had been mapped out for her at the age of three.  She was born into an age when planned betrothals and marriages between royal houses was the norm.  Her life, like that of her mother, was to be a life of great turmoil.  The girl in my featured painting is Catherine of Aragon who was the daughter, and youngest surviving child of Queen Isabella I of Castile and her husband King Ferdinand II of Aragon. 

Catherine was born in December 1485 in the small town of Alcalá de Henares some twenty miles from Madrid.  She was the youngest of five children having one brother, John and three sisters, Isabella, Joanna and Maria.    Even at the tender age of three plans were being formulated by her parents to arrange a beneficial betrothal for her.  Not necessarily beneficial to her but beneficial to her country and her parents.  Catherine’s parents were cousins and belonged to the House of Trastámara, a powerful dynasty of kings in the Iberian Peninsula.  Isabella was the half sister and heiress to Henry IV of Castile and Ferdinand was the son of John II of Aragon.  The two of them were betrothed and went on to marry in 1469 in an attempt to consolidate two of the main royal houses, for in 1474 on the death of Isabella’s half brother Henry, she became Queen of Castile and through a prenuptial agreement based on jure uxoris (literally,by right of his wife”) Ferdinand became, not the Prince Regent, but the King of Castile.  Five years later when his father died Ferdinand also became King of Aragon and this unification became the basis of what we know as modern Spain.

According to two of her biographers, Alison Weir (The Six Wives of Henry VIII) and Antonia Fraser (The Wives of Henry VIII), Catherine was “quite short in stature with long red hair, wide blue eyes, a round face and a fair complexion”.   Catherine, through her mother’s side of the family, was connected to the English royal family and so her parents turned to the English royal house for a suitable husband for their daughter.   They also believed that an alliance with England would safeguard them against the predatory French.  Their efforts to find a husband for their daughter found favour with Henry VII the current ruler of England who believed a liaison with the Catholic rulers of Spain and the house of Trastámara would be very advantageous for the English House of Tudor.  And so, in 1488, when Catherine was just three years of age, she was betrothed to King Henry VII’s oldest son Arthur, the Prince of Wales, who at the time was two years of age !   In May 1499 Catherine and Arthur were married by proxy.  She was still six months away from her fourteenth birthday and he was a few months short of his thirteenth birthday.  It was not until 1501 that Catherine left Spain and travelled to London to meet her future husband Arthur although they had been corresponding for a number of years.  They married that November and went to live in Ludlow Castle but five months after the ceremony Arthur died of what was termed “sweating sickness” which was a highly virulent disease that had reached epidemic proportions in England at that time.  Catherine was also struck down by the illness but survived. 

The rest of Catherine of Aragon’s life, her marriage and divorce from Henry VIII, Arthur’s brother, has been well documented and I will not speak more about her life.  The portrait that I am featuring today is a painting of the young girl herself, entitled Portrait of an Infanta, Catherine of Aragon.  It was completed around 1496 when she was about eleven years old.  The artist was the Flemish painter, Juan de Flandes.  Little is known about the artist except that his name would indicate he was born in and spent his early life in Flanders.  It is not until 1496 that we have some documented evidence of his life for his name appears as a court painter in the royal household accounts of Queen Isabella of Castile.   It is thought that Juan de Flandes had, like many other European painters, come to Spain and to the royal household of Isabella and Ferdinand and along with them had worked on a number of religious paintings, including the forty-seven small (each approximately 21cms x 16cms) panelled polyptych entitled The Polyptych of Isabella the Catholic, which has since been split up into its many parts and which only twenty-seven survive. 

Juan de Flandes never returned to his homeland and worked for the royal Spanish household until Isabella died in 1504.  From there he moved to Salamanca where, for the next three years, he worked on the main altarpiece for the city’s university chapel.  During this period he also received commissions for work on an altarpiece for the Salamanca cathedral.   Then four years later, in 1509 he lived in Palencia with his wife.  In Palencia, he again completed a number of commissions for the Catholic Church.   Juan de Flandes is thought to have died in 1519 aged 54. 

My featured painting is a beautiful work which captures Catherine’s beauty and innocence and comes before the traumatic and sad life which she was to endure.   There is even some doubt that the portrait is of Catherine.  Some say that it could be of her sister Joanna but at the time of the painting (1496) Joanna would have been seventeen years of age and the girl in the painting does not look that old.   Also if we look at the work we can see she is delicately holding a rose and this is thought to symbolise her future intended connection with the English House of Tudor, the Tudor Rose.  Other art historians such as the Elisa Bermejo tend to believe that the rose is just symbolic of the youthfulness of the sitter whilst others believe that it is indeed Catherine and this painting was just a betrothal portrait. 

Portrait of Young Catherine of Aragon by Michael Sittow (C. 1504) Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna
Portrait of Young Catherine of Aragon
by Michael Sittow (c.1504)
Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna

One of the other Nertherlandish-style  painters who was at Queen Isabella’s court with Juan de Flandes was Michael Sittow and he too painted a portrait of the young Catherine, some seven years later, and one can see a definite likeness between his and Juan de Flandes’ portraits. 

I love Juan de Flandes’ portrait of the young Catherine and stood before it for many minutes contemplating what was going through the young girl’s mind as she sat before the artist, totally unaware of what life in the future held for her.

Jan Siberechts English Country Houses and Landscapes

My Daily Art Display today continues examining the life of the seventeenth century Flemish painter Jan Siberechts and taking a look at some of the paintings he completed after he moved his home to England.  In my previous blog I talked about Siberechts’ early landscape paintings which followed the style of the Dutch Italianate artists of the time.  Then, in the early 1660’s, he worked on a number of paintings depicting Flemish rural life and the life of the peasant community.

View of Longleat by Jan Siberechts (1675)
View of Longleat by Jan Siberechts (1675)

In 1672, at the age of forty-five, Siberechts’ life changed.   Two years earlier, George Villiers, the second Duke of Buckingham, whilst on business in the southern Netherlands came across some of Siberechts’ work.  He was so enamoured by what he saw that he invited the artist to come to England and help decorate his Italianate mansion, Cliveden, which was situated on the bank River Thames near the town of Windsor and which he had built six years earlier.  Jan Siberechts agreed to move home to England and became just one of the hundreds of Dutch and Flemish artists who came to Britain in the seventeenth century to ply their trade.

View of Longleat by Jan Siberechts (1678)
View of Longleat by Jan Siberechts (1678)

Siberechts’ work at Cliveden enhanced his reputation in England as a talented artist and his birds-eye views of stately homes became much sought after.  His recognised artistic ability and his connection with Villiers, led him to be awarded numerous painting commissions from the aristocracy and he was often referred to as being the “father of British landscape painting.

Wollaton Hall and Park by Jan Siberechts (1695)
Wollaton Hall and Park by Jan Siberechts (1695)

These aristocratic commissions from around England were often for paintings of their stately homes.  One such example was his 1695 work entitled Wollaton Hall and Park which was in Nottinghamshire and the home of Thomas Willoughby, 1st Baron Middleton.  Another commission in 1694 was for a painting of Chatsworth, the Derbyshire country house of William Cavendish, the 1st Duke of Devonshire.

Siberechts received a commission in 1675 from Thomas Thynne.  The painting, entitled View of Longleat, depicted his stately home.   The work still hangs in the house.  Three years later Siberechts completed another painting of the building and this is now part of the Government Art Collection.   These depictions of country houses and country estates were very popular with their aristocratic owners and Siberechts was inundated with similar commissions.   In the foreground of this painting we see the aristocratic owners along with their horses, portrayed as huntsmen readying themselves for the hunt.

Another example of this type of work by Jan Siberechts is his 1696 topographical landscape painting entitled View of a House and its Estate in Belsize, Middlesex which he completed in 1696.   In the painting we see a birds-eye view of the The Grove, the house and estate of Sir Francis Pemberton, a leading figure of the English judiciary.  He, along with his wife and seven children, lived there until his death in 1697 just one year after Siberechts had completed the work.   Pemberton had bought the neighbouring Dorchester House and its estate around 1688.  He then demolished that house to make way for his extensive vegetable gardens and orchards.  The all-embracing gardens can be seen surrounding the manor house in Siberechts’ painting.

Landscape with Rainbow, Henley-on-Thames by Jan Siberechts (c.1690)
Landscape with Rainbow, Henley-on-Thames by Jan Siberechts (c.1690)

Jan Siberechts spent a good deal of time travelling around the English countryside fulfilling commissions to paint palatial residences.  Such paintings were interspersed with works featuring hunting scenes and views of the rural landscape.  My last offerings today are also from the 1690’s when Siberechts completed a series of five landscape paintings featuring the town of Henley and the Thames Valley.    There is no record of who commissioned the works but it could well have been one of the many rich merchants who owned land around the town of Henley.     The works were different to his earlier ones featuring stately homes for in this series Siberechts concentrated on the landscape of the area with its pastureland and woods and also included views of the River Thames and the boats which plied their trade along this busy waterway.  One of the best known of these, entitled Landscape with Rainbow, Henley-on-Thames, can be seen at Tate Britain.  It is a beautifully crafted painting.   In the foreground we have cattle and horses grazing in pastureland which slopes down towards the tree-lined banks of the River Thames.  On the left we can see a laden barge, piled high on deck with its cargo, being manoeuvred along the waterway by four men in the field, who laboriously drag the floating hulk towards the warehouses of Henley.  To the right of the painting we see the busy little town of Henley-on-Thames with its high-towered 13th century church, St Mary the Virgin, rising amidst the dwelling places.  The church still stands today.  The background to the right is filled with rising hills, more pastureland and the occasional woods above which are a double rainbow and a dark and threatening rain cloud which is emptying its contents on the fields below.  In the left background of the painting the view has opened up more and we catch a glimpse of the distant hills.

Henley from the Wargrave Road by Jan Siberechts (1698)
Henley from the Wargrave Road by Jan Siberechts (1698)

Another painting in the series was Siberechts 1698 work entitled Henley from the Wargrave Road which hangs in its own room in the Henley Gallery of the River & Rowing Museum, Mill Meadows in Oxfordshire.  This work is a veritable masterpiece which is in a way a historical record of the time depicting the life of the town, its surrounding countryside, and the importance of the commercial trade using the river.  Siberechts has depicted the 17th century buildings of Henley with its old wooden bridge with stone flood arches, the Church and the mill on the river.  In the foreground we can see farm workers busy haymaking in the riverside meadows and a cart fully loaded with hay heading down the country lane towards the town of Henley.  It is interesting to look back at the paintings of Jan Siberechts which I have featured in my last two blogs.  They are so different.  There is a certain simplicity and charm to his 1660’s rural life works but his artistic talent cannot be denied when we study some of his later works which he completed during his days in England.

Jan Siberechts died in London in 1703, aged 76.