Léon Frédéric. Part 1. The Naturalist painter

Self Portrait by Léon Frédéric

My chosen subject today is the life and works of a nineteenth century Belgian artist. He has been designated as a Symbolist painter and yet when I look at his work only some of it seems to fall into that category. Other of his paintings tend towards realism.  So, in this first of two blogs about the artist, I am going to concentrate on his woks of Realism.

The Three Sisters by Léon Frédéric

The artist I am looking at today is Léon-Henri-Marie Frédéric. He was one of the most prominent representatives of the Belgian symbolist school. He was born in the Brussels’ municipality of Uccle, on August 26th, 1856. His parents were Eugène Frédéric, a wealthy jeweller, and Felicie Dufour. Léon was brought up in a crowded Roman Catholic household and at the age of seven, his parents sent him to the Institute of Joséphites in Melle, a Jesuit boarding school. In 1871, at the age of fifteen, he began working as an apprentice to the painter, decorator Charles Albert, and at the same time, attended the evening classes of the Brussels Academy of Art, where he became a pupil of Jules Vankeirsblick and Ernest Slingeneyer. He also worked in the studio of Jean Portaels, the Neo-Classicist painter who at the start of 1878 became the director of the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles. In 1875, Léon joined other young painters and they rented a studio and set up a collective, pooling their money so as to employ living models.

The Funeral Meal by Léon Frédéric (1886)

One of the greatest of prizes on offer to young aspiring artists was to win the Prix de Rome. The original Prix de Rome was a scholarship for arts students and was created in 1663 in France under the reign of Louis XIV. The prize, organised by Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, was open to their students. The award winner would win a stay at the Palazzo Mancini in Rome at the expense of the King of France. The Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp followed suit in 1832 and organised the the Belgian Prix de Rome with a similar prize being given to the winner. Léon entered the competition on three occasions but without any success. He was devastated, so much so, that his father financed a two year-long study trip for his son in 1876. Léon travelled to Italy in the company of Juliaan Dillens, who had won the Prix de Rome for sculpture the previous year. Léon travelled extensively through Italy visiting Naples, Rome, Florence and Venice. He visited museums and observed the work of the great Italian Masters. His favourite artists were said to have been Botticelli and Domenico Ghirlandaio. He was also influenced by the Italian primitives and that of the English Pre-Raphaelites, and Burne-Jones in particular. As a painter, Léon said pain ting gave him an understanding of the overpowering beauty and harmony of nature with mankind. This sense of accord was balanced by his own artistic vision which expressed a truthfulness to nature.

Old Woman Servant by Léon Frédéric

On his return to Belgium in 1878, Léon joins the Brussels-based artist group known as L’Essor. The group was created in 1876, and was formed by a group of art students who had once studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, although in 1879 this artists group severed all links it had with the Academy. The motto of the group was “a unique art, one life“, and concentrated on the relationship which they believed should unite the Art to Life. The founders of the group wanted their art to be a pictorial condemnation of the bourgeois and conservative Literary and Artistic Circles of Brussels.

In this first blog about Frédéric I am going to concentrate on his artwork which is looked upon as Naturalism and Realism.  In the early days, Léon Frédéric mainly painted realistic scenes of the lives of the less well-off people such as labourers, the homeless and farm workers. He empathised with their grief and depravation but at the same time he was also very inspired by their never-ending and fervent religious beliefs of the old people who lived in these countryside areas. 

Les garçons (The little boys) by Léon Frédéric

He completed a set of five group portraits entitled Les Âges du paysan (The Age of the Peasant) which depict the five different stages in the life of  rural peasants.  Besides the aging process very little changes with their poor attire and their seemingly acceptance of what life has offered them.

Les fillettes (the young girls) by Léon Frédéric
Les promis (The betrothed) by Léon Frédéric
Les époux (The married couples) by Léon Frédéric
Les vieillards (The elderly) by Léon Frédéric

Around this time Léon was inspired by the art of the French Naturalism painter Jules Bastien Lepage and Léon’s 1882 triptych painting Les marchands de craie (The Chalk Merchants) was inspired by the French painter.

Chalk Sellers by Léon Frédéric (Morning, Noon and Evening) (1882-83),

The three paintings incorporate three distinct times in the day of a family of workers. The triptych was hailed as a veritable masterpiece of Realism / Naturalism and, like some of Bastien-Lepage’s work, is particularly sensitive to the plight of the poor. It was exhibited to great acclaim at the Brussels’s Salon in 1882.

Morning by Léon Frédéric

The left-hand panel depicts a poor family of chalk sellers setting out for work. In the background is their small village. It is a harrowing depiction. The mother is wrapped up against the cold and yet her reddened hands are bare. Her face is half hidden by her headscarf but we still meet her penetrating stare, an almost accusing glower. On her back is a heavy basket of chalk which they hope to sell. Behind her is her husband. He has a red beard and wears a wide-brimmed, floppy hat. His eyes look tired and unable to focus. His mouth is partly open as if he is struggling to breathe. He is struggling with life both physically and mentally. He looks resigned to his fate. He carries a basket on his back which contains a very young blonde-haired child. In one hand he holds a wicker basket containing their food. His other hand clasps the hand of his dark-eyed, rosy-cheeked son, a bare-footed child, whose small dirty hand grasps a piece of bread which he is eating.  They all look tired and yet the day’s work has yet to begin.

Noon, lunchtime by Léon Frédéric

The middle panel depicts the family having a modest noontime meal as they sit in some barren fields with a small town in the background. The family from the previous picture have been joined by a woman nursing her baby and her child sitting besides her. Before them is a pot of boiled potatoes which they are eating with their bread. The two women and the children are all bare-footed. The man has taken off his hat and we see he is bald. The women in the centre once again fixes us with a questioning glower, almost as if she is demanding to know why we should be looking at them

Evening by Léon Frédéric

In the right hand panel we see the family returning home after a day’s work. They all have their back to us. Their village is on the left and way in the background a city looms. The wooden basket and the wicker one they carry have been lightened of food and chalk but still it is a wearying trek back to their village. The man staggers with the weight of the young sleeping child he cradles in his arms. The mother looks down at her other child, who walks besides her, hand in hand, to see if he is alright.  This was just one of Frédéric’s paintings which shows that he was aware of social inequality in Belgian society.

Two Walloon Farm Children by Léon Frédéric (1888),

Another of Frédéric’s Naturalist paintings which was influenced by Bastien-Lepage was his beautiful 1888 portrayal of two children, entitled Two Walloon Farm Children. Bastien-Lepage, who was renowned in France as the leader of the evolving Naturalist school, had died after a long illness in 1884, aged just 36 and Frédéric took over the Naturalist mantle. The painting is both exquisite and yet troubling. It is a portrait of child poverty. The two sit on chairs, finger tips touching, wearing white-collared grey smocks. The plain clothes seem clean and but for their dull simplicity, do not insinuate poverty. Their hands and fingernails are dirty suggesting a peasant life which is further alluded to by their rosy cheeks brought about by their outdoor life. The two girls who look out at us seem to be displeased with our attention to their life. It is one of the most moving images of the deprivation which went hand in hand with rural life. Frédéric’s naturalist style of painting brings with it a vision of a harsh, grim lifestyle with all the hardships that poverty brings to the table. It was not the fault of the people but the unstoppable march of industrial modernity. If one look at all his paintings featuring the harsh life suffered by the peasants one does not detect or sense rebellion, just a sense of dejection and resignation and that life for them would carry on through their faith in God.

The Legend of Saint Francis by Léon Frédéric (1882)

During Frédéric’s travels around Italy in 1878 it is thought that he may have visited the Umbrian town of Assisi and seen Giotto’s famed cycle of twenty-eight frescoes on the lower part of the walls of the nave and entrance in the town’s upper church of St. Francis at Assisi. In 1882 Frédéric painted a triptych depicting St. Francis, simply entitled The Legend of Saint Francis. In the left-hand panel we see the saint walking down a country path and the centre panel depicts him feeding the hens. The right-hand panel is more interesting as it recounts the tale of the St Anthony as written in the 14th century book, Fioretti di San Francesco (The Little Flowers of St. Francis) a fifty-three chapter book on the life of the Saint, one of which talks about the Wolf of Gubbio, which according to the book terrorized the Umbrian city of Gubbio until it was tamed by St. Francis of Assisi acting on behalf of God.

Burial of a Farmer by Léon Frédéric

In 1883, Léon Frédéric left Brussles and went to live in Nafraiture, a small rural village in the Ardennes region of southern Belgium, close to the French border, where he lived for several years. Many of Frédéric’s works after his re-location depict poor people and peasants and the artist’s work focused on the harsh reality of peasant life. One of his paintings, thought to have been completed around 1886, focuses on grief and hardship and were thought to have been completed during his time at Nafraiture. The painting was entitled Burial of a Farmer. Sad burial scenes of country folk were popular ever since Courbet’s 1850 large-scale masterpiece, Burial at Ornans, which had gained Courbet great success at the 1850 Salon. Frédéric’s painting differs in that it depicts a procession of mourners at a village funeral in harsh wintry conditions somewhere in the Ardennes. At the head of the procession is the clergyman with the bible tightly grasped in his hand. Next to him are the close family mourners – the wife, rubbing tears from her eyes, her young son almost hidden behind the black clothes of his grandmother. Behind them are other family members, friends, and a smattering of local people. The black clothes of the mourners against the snow almost makes this a monochromatic depiction but there are just the odd splashes of colour, albeit muted, in the clothes of the three children at the right of the painting. Without doubt it is a very moving scene.

In my next blog about Léon Frédéric I will look at his work which compartmentalises him as a Symbolist painter.

Gustave Doré, the book illustrator.

Gustave Doré and the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Paul-Gustave Doré

The subject of my blog today reflects moments of my past life, from the days when I spent years journeying across the oceans and earlier when, at the age of sixteen,  I had to sit the national exam in English Literature.  The  examination was based on a book, a Shakespearian play, and a poem, all of which, we had to read, over and over again and dissect each into bits of minutiae. My classmates and I were delighted to find the book we had to read and digest was a novel by H.G.Wells. We had all heard of and/or read his Time Machine and War of the Worlds so we looked forward to the book set by the exam board.

Our hopes were soon dashed as we set about reading The History of Mr Polly which I remembered to be both turgid and depressing but there again I have to admit I was never an avid reader. The Shakespearean play was the Merchant of Venice which proved a lucky choice and one which I especially enjoyed when we looked at it in depth. Then came the poem. Poetry was anathema to sixteen year old boys and “boys don’t do poetry” was our class mantra and one needs to remember that our school was an all-boys one. Add to that the feeling of gloom about embarking on reading and learning lines of the poem for furthermore this chosen poem, which we had to study was not a short one with just a  few stanzas but an extremely long one. It was The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which was the longest major poem by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and one he completed and had published in 1798. Unbelievably it proved to be my favourite part of the English Literature exam syllabus.

Camden Lock Market at night.

I was in London last week and visited Camden Lock which has a great market and a plethora of “arty” shops including an excellent second-hand book shop where I found a number of books to buy, one of which was The Rime of The Ancient Mariner with forty-two illustrations by Gustave Doré. My blog today looks at Gustave Doré and some of the illustrations used in the book.

Journal pour rire

Paul-Gustave Doré was an Alsatian, born on January 6th, 1832, in Strasbourg. He became known as one of the most prolific and successful book illustrators of the late 19th century, whose high-spirited and somewhat strange fantasy-fashioned sizeable dreamlike scenes were widely loved during the Victorian period.

Doré was considered by many as a child genius when it came to his artistic ability. By age five, he was creating drawings that were mature beyond his years. In his late teenage years, he created several text comics, like his 1847 “comic” Les Travaux d’Hercule. Others followed and so well-liked were his works that he won a commission to illustrate books by Cervantes, Milton, and Dante.

Honoré de Balzac’s Les Contes drolatiques (Droll Stories) were illustrated by Gustave Doré

In 1848, when he was fifteen years old, Doré, went to Paris and began working as a caricaturist for the French paper Le Journal pour rire (Journal for laughs) as well as producing, over the next six years, several albums containing his lithographs.

Oeuvres de Rabelais, illustrated by Gustave Doré

His most accomplished work could be seen in his illustrations in such books as the 1854 edition of the Oeuvres de Rabelais, the 1855 edition of Honoré de Balzac’s Les Contes drolatiques (Droll Stories), and the 1861 edition of Inferno of Dante.

Andromeda by Gustave Doré (1869)

He also painted many large compositions of a religious, mythological, or historical character such as his 1869 work, Andromeda. The painting depicts Andromeda, the daughter of the Aethiopian king Cepheus and his wife Cassiopeia. When Cassiopeia’s boasts that Andromeda is more beautiful than the Nereids, the sea nymphs, Poseidon sends the sea monster Cetus to ravage Andromeda as divine punishment. Andromeda is stripped and chained naked to a rock as a sacrifice to sate the monster but is saved from death by Perseus.

Glen Massan by Gustave Doré

One of my favourite paintings by Doré was his spectacular landscape scene entitled Glen Massan. Doré first visited the Scottish Highlands in 1873 on a salmon fishing trip with his good friend Colonel Teesdale. However, it turned out that Doré preferred to paint rather than fish and was inspired by the beauty of the Highland landscape, so much so, he returned to northern Scotland the following year. This painting, of Glen Massan near Dunoon, is a large canvas painted in a romantic Victorian style. I like the way Doré has depicted shafts of light penetrating the billowing clouds and lighting up parts of the valley.

And so to the Samuel Coleridge Taylor poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  Doré was excited about illustrating the poem, so much so he had completed the designs for the illustrations before a deal had been struck with the publisher.  The wooden blocks he used for the illustrations were very large and cost Doré a lot of money and unlike previous engravings he took control of the supervision of them.  Doré believed that this was his greatest work but unfortunately for him, its sales recouped him only slowly for his large initial outlay.  It was first published in England and soon editions appeared in France, Germany and America.

Samuel Coleridge Taylor did not set his poem in any one period but as an illustrator, Doré had to be more precise and he chose a medieval setting for the wedding feast  at the start of the poem.

The opening setting for the poem is a path leading to a church where three of wedding party are heading. An elderly man with a grey beard, the Ancient Mariner, halts them to tell his tale. Two escape his clutches but the third is trapped and made to listen. It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
“By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?
“The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May’st hear the merry din.”

The old sailor recounts how the sea voyage had started well but soon the ship was being drawn southward by a storm and the men had lost control of the vessel.

With sloping masts and dipping prow,
As who pursued with yell and blow
Still treads the shadow of his foe
And forward bends his head,
The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast,
And southward aye we fled.

Soon the Ancient Mariner’s ship was trapped in the Antarctic ice with no hope for survival.

And through the drifts the snowy clifts
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken —
The ice was all between.
The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!

The Ancient Mariner recalls how the sailors believed they were doomed and all hope had gone – until the arrival of an albatross, which came each day and was fed by the sailors.  The bird then led the ship and the sailors away from their icy prison and all aboard celebrated their good fortune.

At length did cross an Albatross:
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God’s name.
It ate the food it ne’er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsman steered us through!
And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariners’ hollo!

However for some unknown reason the Ancient Mariner shot the albatross with his crossbow.

“God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus! —
Why look’st thou so?”— With my cross-bow
I shot the ALBATROSS.

At first the sailors, despite condemning the old mariner for his action, seemed to be pleased that the south wind which had been mustered up by the albatross was still with them and they had left the cold waters of Antarctica and approached the warm waters of the Equator. All was good with the crew and their ship, but then the wind dropped and the ship was becalmed.

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
’Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!
All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean. 

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.

The becalmed ship was surrounded by evil creatures of the sea and soon the blame for their misfortune fell on the Ancient Mariner for killing the albatross.  Close to death they suddenly spot a shape on the horizon – could it have come to their rescue?

There passed a weary time. Each throat
Was parched, and glazed each eye.
A weary time! a weary time!
How glazed each weary eye,
When looking westward, I beheld
A something in the sky.
At first it seemed a little speck,
And then it seemed a mist:
It moved and moved, and took at last
A certain shape, I wist.

The ghostly hulk approaches their ship and on board are two figures, a skeletal Death and a deathly pale female, Night-mare Life-in-Death and the two are playing dice for the souls of the crew members. Death wins the lives of all the crew members, all except for the Ancient Mariner, whose life is won by Night-mare Life-in-Death. It is the name of this character that allows us to know the fate of the Ancient Mariner – a fate worse than death, a living death, was to be his punishment for killing the albatross.

The Ancient Mariner is the sole survivor of the ill-fated crew.  The bodies of the dead crew members lay around the deck with their eyes staring at the Ancient Mariner. The Ancient Mariner recounts how he felt, how he wanted to die but was not allowed that luxury.

I looked to Heaven, and tried to pray:
But or ever a prayer had gusht,
A wicked whisper came, and made
my heart as dry as dust.
I closed my lids, and kept them close,
And the balls like pulses beat;
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky
Lay like a load on my weary eye,
And the dead were at my feet.
But the curse liveth for him in the eye of the dead men.
The cold sweat melted from their limbs,
Nor rot nor reek did they:
The look with which they looked on me
Had never passed away.
An orphan’s curse would drag to Hell
A spirit from on high;
But oh! more horrible than that
Is a curse in a dead man’s eye!
Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse,
And yet I could not die.

I suppose you may curse me, like the curse put on the Ancient Mariner, but I am not going to tell you the end of the story in the hope that you will go out and get yourself a copy of the epic poem, and if possible, a copy with the Gustave Doré’s woodblock illustrations.  You won’t regret it.

 

 

 

 

 

Maurice Denis. Part 1 – Les Nabis

Self-Portrait with his Family in Front of Their House by Maurice Denis (1916)
Self-Portrait with his Family in Front of Their House by Maurice Denis (1916)

Remember that a painting – before it is a battle horse, a nude model, or some anecdote – is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order.

Maurice Denis

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Today I am looking at the life and some works by the great French painter, designer, printmaker and writer, Maurice Denis whose Christian upbringing had an influence on many of his works.  His writings on art theory and his paintings were to influence future painters and in some ways heralded the arrival of cubism, fauvism and abstract art.

Portrait of the Artist Aged Eighteen by Maurice Denis
Portrait of the Artist Aged Eighteen by Maurice Denis

Maurice Denis was born in November 1870 in the fishing port of Granville in the Manche department of north-west France.  This Normandy coastal town with its scenic coastline and its countryside hinterland were very picturesque and would feature in many of Denis works.  He was the only son of Constant Eugène Denis and Hortense Denis (née Hadde).  Maurice was born into a wealthy family and benefited from this by attending the best school and academies.

The Denis family, who had been living in Paris, had moved out of the French capital to avoid the Franco-Prussian war which culminated in the capital being besieged by the Prussian army in September 1870.  After the war the family returned to Paris and went to live in the western suburb of Saint Germain-en-Laye which was to be Maurice’s home town for the rest of his life.  In 1882, aged eleven, Maurice enrolled at the Lycée Condorcet, which was founded in 1803 and  was one of the four oldest and most esteemed high schools in Paris   Fellow students at the school were his future contemporary artists, Édouard Vuillard and Ker-Xavier Roussel and the future theatre director and set designer, Aurélien Lugné-Poe.  Maurice completed his secondary schooling in 1888 and due to his family’s financial status was able to enrol simultaneously in the École des Beaux Arts and the Académie Julian where one of his tutors was Jules Lefebvre.

Pluie en Bretagne by Maurice Denis (1889)
Pluie en Bretagne by Maurice Denis (1889)

Also studying at the Académie Julian at that time was another aspiring artist, Paul Sérusier.  Sérusier, who was six years older than Denis, had also studied at the Lycée Condorcet high school.  During the summer of 1888 Sérusier had spent his time at Pont-Aven in Brittany, which was a popular meeting place for artists. It was during that summer stay that Sérusier met the French painters, Émile Bernard and Paul Gaugin.  Sérusier sat in on many conversations between Paul Gaugin, Louis Anquetin and Émile Bernard, the latter postulating many artistic theories which intrigued his listeners.  For Bernard, simplicity should be the key to paintings and both he and Gaugin would talk about what art genre should follow and differ from Impressionism which had been so popular during the late nineteenth century but it was around the late 1880’s that the Impressionist artists were starting to look at other styles of painting. Sérusier learnt about painting techniques whilst he was at Pont-Aven and one of the last paintings he did that summer was a small landscape work which he called The Aven River at the Bois d’Amour.  When he returned to Paris he explained to Maurice Denis and some of the other students that Gaugin had coached him during this painting and Sérusier quoted Gaugin’s words:

“…How do you see these trees? They are yellow. So, put in yellow; this shadow, rather blue, paint it with pure ultramarine; these red leaves? Put in vermilion…”

The Talisman, The Aven River at the Bois d'Amour by Paul Sérusier (1888)
The Talisman, The Aven River at the Bois d’Amour by Paul Sérusier (1888)

Gaugin’s advice to Sérusier was to strengthen the colour but at the same time make the form simpler.  Whereas Impressionists would want to paint what they saw and how natural light affected the scene, this was replaced by the artist searching for coloured equivalents.  Maurice Denis and some of his fellow students, Vuillard, Bonnard and Paul Ranson were fascinated by the work and the change of emphasis in the painting technique.  This to them was a new beginning.  They nicknamed Sérusier’s work “The Talisman”, as for them it was looked upon as a secret and magical object that would change their ideas on artistic technique.  This was an early example of Synthetism in art, a term used by Gaugin, often termed Cloisonnism , a term given to it by Édouard Dujardin, a writer and art critic, of the style developed by Bernard and Anquetin, inspired by both stained glass  and Japanese ukiyo-e prints.  It emphasized two-dimensional flat patterns which was totally different to the techniques used by the Impressionists.

Beauty in the Autumn Wood by Maurice Denis (1892)
Beauty in the Autumn Wood by Maurice Denis (1892)

Maurice Denis, Édouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard and Paul Ranson, the four students who had been amazed by the painting which Sérusier had brought back from Pont-Aven soon after formed themselves into art group and called themselves Les Nabis, which is a Hebrew word for “prophets”.  It was a kind of secret brotherhood committed to a type of pictorial Symbolism.  The term Les Nabis was thought up by the poet and physician, Henri Cazalis, who drew a parallel between the ways of the group of painters, as prophets of modern art, aspired to invigorate painting in the same way the ancient prophets had rejuvenated Israel. Other artists studying with Denis at Académie Julian, such as Odilon Redon, Félix Vallotton and Ker-Xavier Roussel also became part of Les Nabis.  This group of young artists were fundamentally opposed to the naturalism technique, the true-to-life style which involved the representation or depiction of nature and people with the least possible distortion or interpretation, which was taught by their Academy teachers.

Maurice Denis was a lover of art theory and at the time published an article, Définition du néo-tranditionnisme in August 1890 in the periodical, Art et Critique, in which he defended their new ideas on art and this became Les Nabi’s manifesto.  It was a definitive declaration which signified the founding philosophies of cubism and fauvism and set up the foundation for the theories of abstraction that would carry on expanding throughout the 20th century.  The article opened with the famous lines:

“…It is well to remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a nude woman or some anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order…”

Nouvelles théories sur l'art moderne [et] sur l'art sacré, 1914-1921 by Maurice Denis
Nouvelles théories sur l’art moderne [et] sur l’art sacré, 1914-1921 by Maurice Denis

Denis would later, in 1922, publish a collection of  his historical and theoretical work in one book entitled Nouvelles théories sur l’art moderne, sur l’art sacré (New Theories of Modern and Sacred Art), often simply referred to as “Theories by Maurice Denis.”

Sunlight on the Terrace by Maurice Denis (1890)
Sunlight on the Terrace by Maurice Denis (1890)

Maurice Denis produced a small painting in 1889 entitled Sunlight on the Terrace which illustrated the style used by the Sérusier/Gaugin Talisman painting and the works on show at the 1889 Volpini Exhibition.    The story behind this exhibition and how it came into being is, to say the least, unusual.  The Académie des Beaux Arts was holding an official art exhibition as part of the Exposition Universelle, the world’s fair designed to flaunt French cultural and industrial might, and its signature attraction was the 300-meter tower of Gustave Eiffel.  Artists were invited to submit paintings for this exhibition which then had to be sanctioned by the selection jurists.  Gaugin and Les Nabis painters realised they would not be invited to submit their works for public viewing and decided to hold a “counter exhibition”.

Volpini Exhibition poster
Volpini Exhibition poster

This was made possible when the painter, Emile Schuffenecker, a friend of Gaugin, discovered that across from the main exhibition on the Champ de Mars was the Grand Café des Arts.  The owner of the café was Monsieur Volpini who was, at the time, arranging the inside furnishings for the café but was distraught to be informed that the large decorative mirrors he had ordered for the walls, and which were coming from Italy, had been delayed and so was delighted to be approached by Schuffenecker who offered to decorate the walls of the café with their paintings.  The exhibition was the initial showing of paintings which reflected the progressive ideas of Gauguin and other artists of the Pont-Aven School. The exhibition became known as the Volpini Exhibition.

A Studio at Les Batignolles, Un atelier aux Batignolles by Henri Fantin-Letour (1870)
A Studio at Les Batignolles, Un atelier aux Batignolles by Henri Fantin-Letour (1870)

In My Daily Art Display (February 3rd 2012) I looked at a painting completed in 1870 by Henri Fantin-Letour entitled A Studio at Les Batignolles.  It was a depiction of a group of artists at the atelier of Édouard Manet whom we see surrounded by his artist friends.  It was a painting which pictorially documented the group of popular artists of the time.

The next painting I am showing you was one done in a similar vein by Denis.  Although Les Nabis as a group had started to go their own ways around 1899 this painting by Maurice Denis entitled Homage to Cézanne was not completed until 1901.  It is a large work of art measuring 180 x 240cms which makes the figures almost life-sized. The setting for the work is the shop belonging to the art dealer Ambroise Vollard, which was in the Rue Laffitte, a street in the 9th arrondissement of Paris.  Les Nabis artists used to meet regularly at the home of one of their group, Paul Ranson and talk about their art and this painting was a reminder of those get-togethers.  In the background, hanging on the rear wall we can just make out works by Renoir and Gaugin.  This pictorial recorded meeting was to celebrate Paul Cézanne and on the easel in the centre of the painting is his 1880 still-life work Fruit Bowl, Glass and Apples.  The presence of this painting was another reminder of Paul Gaugin who owned the work but was not present as he had six years earlier set off for a new life in Martinique and Tahiti.  Gaugin had been a great fan of Cézanne describing him as:

“… an exceptional pearl, the apple of my eye…”

Homage to Cézanne by Maurice Denis (1900)
Homage to Cézanne by Maurice Denis (1900)

The gathered artists along with some art critics and art dealers are all dressed in black suits, which is strange attire for such a gathering of the avant-garde Nabis.  On the far left is Paul Sérusier, the leader of Les Nabis who is in conversation with the bearded painter Odilon Redon.  At the back on the left we have the painter Jean-Édouard Vuillard.  Behind him wearing a top hat is André Mellerio, a French art critic who endorsed the cause of Symbolism and was the biographer, and great friend of Odilon Redon.    Behind the easel to the right of Mellerio, and seen holding the easel’s upright, is the art dealer and host, Ambroise Vollard.  Further to the right is Maurice Denis, Paul Ranson, Ker-Xavier Roussel and on the far right with pipe in hand, Pierre Bonnard.  It is also interesting to note that Maurice Denis included his wife, Marthe in the painting, whom we see in the right background.

In my final look at the life and works of Maurice Denis I will be looking at his later works which would centre around his devout religious beliefs.

Georges de la Tour. Part 1

In my next two blogs I am looking at the life of the seventeenth century French artist, Georges de la Tour and featuring some of his works of art.   In this first blog I want to feature some of his genre paintings and in the second blog I will look at how he, like Caravaggio before him, was a master of tenebrism.

Georges de la Tour was born in 1593 in Vic-sur-Seille, a small town in the department of Lorraine in north-eastern France but which, at the time, was part of the Holy Roman Empire.  He was one of seven children born to his father Jean, a baker and mother Sybille.  Details of his early life are sparse but we know he married Diane le Nerf when he was twenty-four and they went on to have ten children.  Three years after marrying the couple moved to Lunéville, which was his wife’s home town, and was also just a short distance from Georges’ birthplace.  It was here that he spent the rest of his life.    He had quite a successful career and his paintings were bought by the likes of King Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu and the Duke of Lorraine whom he worked for between 1639 and 1642. He died in 1652 just short of his fifty-ninth birthday.

The Cardsharps by Caravaggio (c.1594)
The Cardsharps by Caravaggio (c.1594)

Paintings featuring card players, and the perils of being cheated of your winnings, were not an unusual subject and one of the most famous was completed around 1594 by Caravaggio.  It was entitled The Cardsharps and now hangs in the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth.   The boy on the right is the “cheater” and his older accomplice in the middle is giving him signs as to the cards held by his opponent.

Le Tricheur à l'as de carreau or The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds by Georges de la Tour (c. 1635)
Le Tricheur à l’as de carreau or The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds
by Georges de la Tour (c. 1635)

The first of the Georges de la Tour paintings I want to showcase is one entitled Le Tricheur à l’as de carreau or The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds which he completed around 1635 and is now to be found in the Louvre.   It is easy to see the similarity between this painting and the one painted forty years earlier by the Italian Master.  This seventeenth century work was put on show at the 1934 exhibition at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris entitled The Painters of Reality in France in the seventeenth century and it was through this memorable exhibition that French 17th century art was brought back to prominence and works by Georges de la Tour, who had almost been forgotten by French art lovers, once again became popular and his works following the exhibition were in great demand.

 The first thing we must decide on is what is going on.      On the right is a man dressed in the most expensive clothes carefully studying his hand of cards.    There is something about his appearance which makes us believe that he is slightly naive as his conspirators exchange sidelong glances.  He is slightly set apart from the other three characters.  Is he there at his own volition or has he been seduced into coming to the gambling den by the courtesan who sits next to him?  In a way it is a painting with a moral.  It is a depiction of a man who has to withstand three great inducements.   He has to withstand the temptations of lust brought on by the presence of the courtesan and serving maid, the temptation of alcohol which is being handed out to the card players and of course he has to resist the vice of gambling  French moral standards of the time frowned upon the three vices.  However he has put his moral standards to one side and for that, we know, by what we see happening before us, will be his undoing.

The courtesan is centre stage in the painting.  On the table by her is a small pile of money.  It is not as large as that of the guests but that will soon change.  Her clothes are sumptuous.  The plunging neckline of her costume no doubt titillates her male guest and probably distracts him from his game.  Her hair is topped by a fancy and fashionable feathered headdress.  Look at her eyes.  They are shifty.  Her whole expression, her whole demeanour, is one of deceitfulness.  Her right hand points to her co-conspirator probably advising him to play his hand.  We see him retrieving the ace of diamonds from under his belt, which will complete his winning hand.  The serving wench brings wine to the table and she too has a deceitful look about her as she casts a sidelong glance at the “mark”.  She knows what is going on.  She is part of the conspiracy.  The man, who is slightly in shadow and who is retrieving the ace of diamond looks out at us.  We have been drawn into this plot.  It is as if now we are also co-conspirators.

Cheat with Ace of Clubs by Georges de la Tour (c.1634)
Cheat with Ace of Clubs by Georges de la Tour (c.1634)

A copy of this work which Georges de la Tour completed later can be found at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth Texas, the same gallery which owns the Caravaggio painting, Cheaters.   This painting is entitled Cheat with Ace of Clubs and once again is a moralistic painting warning people against the vices of lust, excess wine and gambling.  Like the painting in the Louvre the characters are the same, the shifty looks of the deceivers are the same it is just the suit of cards has changed from diamonds to clubs.

The Fortune Teller by Georges de la Tour (c.1630)
The Fortune Teller by Georges de la Tour (c.1630)

Four years before Georges de la Tour embarked on the theme of cheating at cards he focused on another piece of skulduggery – pick-pockets and con-artists.  The work in question was known as The Fortune Teller which he completed during the 1630’s and can now be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  In this work we see a naive young man standing between two young women.  He is well dressed and one is given the impression that he is also wealthy and ideal rich picking for the pick-pocket.   To the right of the painting is the wrinkle-skinned old crone who purports to be a fortune teller and has extracted a silver coin from the young man as payment for her telling him his fortune.  She is about to take the coin from his hand, and as part of the gypsy fortune-teller ritual, she will then cross his palm with it.   She, like the three younger women, are colourfully dressed and portrayed as gypsies.   As is often the case, even in today’s time, gypsies are pictorially portrayed in this work of art as thieves.  The crime is clearly there for us to witness as whilst the young man is engrossed in what the fortune teller has to say and at the same time as he hands over his fee the young lady on the right of the painting delicately removes the coin purse from the pocket.  However that is not all the young man is about to lose.  Look at the young woman between the fortune teller and the man.  She is more soberly dressed.  Look what she is doing with her hands.  She is just about to cut the gold medallion from its chain which is around the young man’s neck and right shoulder.  I like the way her eyes are fixed on his face in order to see if he is aware of what she was doing.

My final featured paintings by Georges de la Tour move away from the group genre scenes with the accompanying moral tale and focus on single portraits.  These are really exquisite works of art.  The subject of the next work of art is an elderly blind beggar and street musician trying to eke out a meagre living by playing a hurdy-gurdy. The hurdy-gurdy was the first stringed instrument to which the keyboard principle was applied. In France it was known as Viella a Roue , which literally translates to wheel fiddle and which describes the method by which sound is produced. The bowing action of the fiddle is replaced by a wheel cranked by a handle. The outer rim of the wooden wheel is coated with resin. When the crank is spun, the wheel turns and the gut strings vibrate.  The player of such an instrument was known as a vielleur.

Blind Hurdy-Gurdy Man by Georges de la Tour (c.1630)
Blind Hurdy-Gurdy Man by Georges de la Tour (c.1630)

Georges de la Tour often painted several variations on the same subjects, and the depiction of a street musician was an example of this.  He painted the one shown above, entitled The Blind Hurdy-Gurdy Player, around 1630 and it can now be found in the Prado, Madrid.  The man is depicted in profile and, but for the title of the work, one would never have known that he was blind, although his eyes are closed.  He has a trouble-worn face and his forehead is heavily wrinkled.  His skin is swarthy from spending most of his time out on the streets.   He wears a thick grey-brown coat with a white lace ruff.  Look how the artist has spent time on depicting the texture of the musical instrument.

The Hurdy-Gurdy Player by Georges de la Tour (c.1630)
The Hurdy-Gurdy Player by Georges de la Tour (c.1630)

Another version of this work can be seen in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes in France.   This work entitled The Hurdy-Gurdy Player was also completed by de la Tour around 1630.  This is a more unsettling portrait of the beggar.  He looks unkempt and uncared for.  His facial expression is one of pain and anguish as he sings to the tune he plays on the hurdy-gurdy.  He wears the same heavy grey-brown coat with the white scarf or ruff.  On the floor in front of him, resting on a large stone, is his bright red hat with a plume of feathers and often this painting is referred to as The Hurdy-Gurdy Player with Hat.

The Hurdy Gurdy Player with a Dog by Georges de la Tour (c.1625)
The Hurdy Gurdy Player with a Dog by Georges de la Tour (c.1625)

An earlier version, around 1625, on the same theme can be found in Bergues, the northern French town, close to the border with Belgium.   It is the Musée Municipal Bergues which houses The Hurdy-Gurdy Player with his Dog by Georges de la Tour.

In my next blog I will feature some of Georges de la Tour’s tenebrist paintings, a style which had been made popular by Caravaggio.

Honoré Daumier – Lithographs and Caricatures

1830 issue of La Caricature
1830 issue of La Caricature

In my blog today I want to look at some of Honoré Daumier’s political and satirical caricatures and lithographs.  To get some idea as to why he came to satirise the ruling classes of his day I think it is worthwhile looking at the French history of Daumier’s time to find the answers.

The French Revolution began almost twenty years before Daumier’s birth in 1789 with the storming of the Bastille and the fall of the French monarchy.  The majority of upper-class and bourgeoisie Parisians who had managed to survive the slaughter, found themselves imprisoned.  In September 1792 the ruling body known as the National Convention had declared France a republic and took control of the country.  This ruling group was split into two major factions: the Moderates known as the Girondins and the Radicals known as the Jacobins but in Paris itself there was third and far more dangerous faction known as the sans-culottes, (those without breeches).  This group of radical left-wing partisans came from the lower classes and were typically urban labourers.  They were easily identifiable as they wore full-length working-class pants rather than the knee-length culottes which was the French name given to silk knee-length breeches worn by the moderate bourgeois revolutionaries of the National Convention.  The sans-culottes strove for popular democracy, affordable food but most of all they wanted to ensure that a counter-revolution would never come to fruition.  This fear of a counter-revolution was to have a bloody consequence as the sans-culottes were aware that there were a large number of political prisoners in gaols, the number of which they believed was greater than the free Parisians, and, in their mind, they viewed them as counter revolutionaries and a threat to the spirit of the Revolution.  Their decision to rid themselves of this threat was precipitated by rumours that the Prussian army was going to invade the country and when it got to Paris would be sympathetic to the imprisoned counter-revolutionaries.   The sans-culottes were now desperate to prevent the freeing of the prisoners and so on September 3rd and 4th of 1792 they stormed the prisons and within a few days had killed thousands of them.  Men and women, aristocrats and clergy were butchered.  The bloodbath became known as the September Massacre.  A year later, Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette were beheaded.

As is often the case violence begets violence and in 1794 the leaders of the sans-culottes had themselves been executed by the Jacobins under Robespierre.  Robespierre was now a leader of the Convention and ruled through terror but by 1794 he was considered by many to have gone too far and eventually fell from grace.  He was arrested by the deputies in the National Convention and was executed in July 1794.  A new grouping known as The Directory was formed in 1795 with the intention of making France a republic.  For four years the Directory tried to please all the people but they themselves were still divided between those who wanted life to go back to the Pre-Revolution days and those who still wanted the bloodshed to continue and rid the country of the upper classes.

In October 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte arrived back in Paris from his battlefield heroics in Egypt.   The time was right for change.  Popular opinion was divided but all seemed to hate the Directory and so Bonaparte struck and his successful coup in November 1799 led him to become the new French ruler.  In December 1804 he was crowned Napoleon I, Emperor of the French by Pope Pius VII.   Bonaparte reign as leader lasted until his defeat at Waterloo in June 1815, after which he was exiled to St Helena where he died six years later.

On Bonaparte’s departure, France was once again under monarchist rule – this time it was the House of Bourbon and Louis XVIII.  On Louis death in 1824 his younger brother Charles X, who had been living in exile in London, returned to France and took up the reins of power.   Soon after coming to power Charles’ government passed a series of laws which strengthened the power of both the nobility and clergy.

Charles’ rule was of a dictatorial nature.  His was an absolute monarchy in which he exercised ultimate governing authority as the head of the country and his powers could not be limited by the country’s constitution or law. As an absolute monarch he was the supreme judicial authority and as such he could condemn men to death without the right of appeal.   Charles wielded his unlimited authority to reassert the power of the Catholic Church in the country.  He also sought to restrict the freedom of the press but most contentiously he passed laws which would compensate the families of the nobles who had had their property destroyed during the Revolution.  His popularity slowly but surely waned with the French people.  The “straw that broke the camel’s back” came about when Charles set forth what is now known as the July Ordinances which laid down a raft of new laws, one of which was to exclude the commercial middle-class from future elections.   Furthermore most businessmen were banned from running as candidates for the Chamber of Deputies, membership of which for many was a position that afforded them the ultimate in social prestige. Bankers were far from happy with this Ordinance and took their revenge by refusing to lend money, and business owners shuttered their factories and work places, which culminated in workers being callously turned out onto the streets where they were left to fend for themselves.   Naturally, the unemployed felt badly done by and decided that the only course of action left to them was to take to the streets in protest.  The July Revolution of 1830 had started.  It lasted three days and eventually forced Charles to flee to exile in England.  However rule by a monarch survived and Louis-Philippe became king of the French.   The downfall of Charles came to fruition, not only because of the workers protesting on the streets but because of the power wielded by the upper middle class society, the bourgeoisie, the bankers, railroad barons, mine and forest owners as well as wealthy merchants and so during Louis-Philippe’s eighteen year reign the power of the French bourgeoisie grew more powerful and became very close to the king.

However as years passed it was clear that not everybody was happy with Louis-Philippe’s monarchy and his government and many reform movements came in to being wanting more equality for the working classes.  In 1846 France suffered a financial crisis and it was also a year when the harvest was disappointing.  In 1847 the country descended into an economic depression and the peasant farmer workers began to rebel against their poor living standard.  It was not just the rural areas that were suffering as a third of Parisians were out of work.  Louis-Philippe and his government sought to silence the masses by banning political rallies but this only served to further incense the populace and the people took to the streets of Paris.  The military fired on the angry crowd and over fifty were killed.  Barricades were erected and shops, cars and omnibuses were set alight.  It was over for Louis Philipe and so, like his predecessor Charles X, the people had ousted him, forcing him to flee to exile in England.  The monarchy had once again fallen and the Second Republic of France was born.

It was in the middle of all this that Honoré Daumier was born in Marseille in February 1808.   He came from a working-class household.   When he was twelve years old the family moved to Paris.  His father was a glazier and picture-framer but gave it all up in his quest to become a successful playwright, alas to no avail.  The family was now short of money and Honoré had to supplement the family income by working as an errand boy at the law courts and as a clerk in a bookshop.  He had developed a love of sketching and would often spend time at the Louvre copying the Masters.   He secured some informal artistic training from a friend of his father, the painter, Alexandre Lenoir.  Later he attended life-classes and at the age of seventeen he became an apprentice at the studio of Zepherin Belliard, the lithographer and portraitist and it was his love and skill at lithography which would shape Daumier’s future.

Daumier being from a working-class background was a staunch republican and so was delighted with the July Revolution of 1830 and the overthrow of Charles X but was bitterly disappointed to find that instead of the formation of a Republic, the monarchy would continue with the arrival of King Louis-Philippe as the successor to Charles X.  His hope of a Republic had been dashed.   Daumier decided to fight the monarchy in the only way he could.  He would use the power of the political and satirical caricature to criticise the monarchy.  This was quite a dangerous form of dissent and many artists shied away from such a blatant form of criticism.  Daumier joined the newly founded Parisian satirical, anti-monarchist, illustrated newspaper Le Caricature.  The four-page weekly journal, with two or three lithographs usually in the form of political caricatures, was one of the first French satirical newspapers and was founded in November 1830 by the anti-royalist, Charles Philipon, five months after the July Revolution.

Gargantua by Honoré Daumier (1831)
Gargantua by Honoré Daumier (1831)

Probably the most famous of Daumier’s caricatures was one he completed in 1831, entitled Gargantua.   The name Gargantua derives from Rabelais’ 16th century series of novels, which tells of the adventures of two giants, Gargantua and his son Pantagruel.   It was one of the first major political lithographs completed by Daumier. In the work, we see King Louis-Philippe seated on his high throne, which is actually a giant commode!  It is an unflattering caricature of the monarch but this pear-shaped head was Daumier’s constant caricature depiction of Louis-Philippe.  From the king’s mouth runs a stepping board to the ground on which the servants carry the sacks of money which, on reaching the top, tip into the king’s mouth.  Daumier is portraying the king as a devourer of his subjects’ hard-earned money.

In the bottom right of the work we see taxpayers who have been rounded up and told to empty their pockets into the baskets.  Look at the man who is just putting his money into the basket.  He is dressed in rags.  Sitting on the floor in the very right of the foreground is an emaciated-looking woman clutching her baby.  By depicting such people Daumier is highlighting that it is the lower class poor people who are giving money to the already-rich king.  Above the heads of the poor tax-givers we see the windmills and buildings of a port.  The sun is shining on this landscape and presumably Daumier is reminding his viewers that the economy was on track despite the way the king had an ever-demanding tax regime.

Look at the secondary scene by the feet of the king where we see well-dressed men with their tricorn hats.  They are standing under the steep walkway and are availing themselves of any coins which may fall from the servants’ baskets as they stagger upwards towards the king’s mouth.  Under the king’s commode/throne we see papers fluttering down and its is Daumier’s somewhat unsavoury way of showing the king “issuing” documents granting honours and privileges to the chosen few below, who are carrying their symbol of their status – their tricorn hats and who eagerly await to collect their privileges.  In the left of the painting we see these people from upper-middle class who have collected their documents of privileges running off towards the National Assembly.

The caricature appeared in the December 15th 1831 edition of La Caricature and was displayed in the window of La Caricature office in the Gallery Vero – Dodat to attract onlookers.  The ruling powers were horrified with this pictorial assault on royal power.  Louis-Philippe immediately reintroduced press censorship. Orders were given by the king’s government via the courts that all the copies of the caricature were to be seized and the lithographic stone broken.   The proprietor of the journal, Charles Philipon, was fined and Daumier was gaoled in August 1832 and not released until February 1833.  To raise money to pay the fines, Philipon, in August 1832,  immediately retaliated by launching the L’Association Mensuelle Liphographique, sometimes referred to as L’Association pour la Liberté de la Presse which published a monthly large format supplement which was distributed to regular subscribers.

The Legislative Belly by Honoré Daumier (1834)
The Legislative Belly by Honoré Daumier (1834)

Many of the issue would include a number of Daumier’s caricatures.  The first of these was entitled:

Le Ventre législatif

Aspects des bancs ministériels de la chamber improstituée de 1834

 The Legislative Belly

(Aspects of the Ministerial Benches of the Improstituted Chamber of 1834)

In it we see a meeting of some of the National Legislature.  There are thirty-five members shown in the work, all of who, at some time, had been unflatteringly caricatured separately by Daumier. These were members of the Centre Right faction of Louis-Philippe’s legislature.  One can see by the way Daumier has portrayed them that he has an extreme dislike of them and what they stand for.  He has depicted them as bloated and uninspiring, figures who struggle to keep awake.   Daumier is wishing to portray them as the embodiment of idleness, conceit and corruption as this was how he viewed the monarchy and its supporters.

Rue Transnonain le 15 avril 1834 by Honoré Daumier (1834)
Rue Transnonain le 15 avril 1834 by Honoré Daumier (1834)

The third and final Daumier work I am looking at is not a caricature but a lithograph which he completed in 1834 and once again highlights the artist’s interest in politics and the cause of the ordinary people as they struggled to survive.   It is entitled Rue Transnonain le 15 avril 1834.  This work was like many of his others in as much as Daumier wanted to put across, through his art his discontentment with what he believed was social injustice. Through his art work he wanted to remind people, if it was needed, that they should not have to put up with their lot in life.  The background story to this work was that Louis-Philippe’s government had just passed a law which would seriously curtail the power of the unions.  Louis-Philippe, although outwardly indicating that he would maintain the ideals which were held dearly by those revolutionists at the end of the eighteenth century, said that he would look after the lower classes.  Despite this promise his government still favoured the wealthy classes when it came to offering business contracts.  This we saw was highlighted in Daumier’s Gargantua caricature.  The rich got richer and these wealthy businessmen treated their workers badly and for these downtrodden people, their union was their only hope of improved conditions.  The workers could see that the curtailment of the union powers by this new proposed legislation was going to have dire consequences on their working life and living conditions and so they rose up against it.

In April 1834 the insurrections and public disorder began in Paris, part of which was centred around Rue Transnonain in the Parisian working class district of St. Martin,.  The house at number 12 Rue Transnonain was close to a barricade set up by the protesters and, according to the soldiers of the civil guard, who were trying to quell the uprising, a shot was fired at them from a window in that building and a civil guard was killed  The civil guard reacted swiftly and murderously.  They forced their way into the building and indiscriminately fired on the inhabitants. Nineteen people, men, women and children, were slaughtered.

If we look at the lithograph we are aware that there is a somewhat restrained brutality about this work.  We are not shown the actual killings but just witnessing the bloody aftermath.  It is as if we have just opened the door of the bedroom and are greeted with this dreadful sight.  There is a deathly stillness of what we see before us.  The main focal point of this lithograph is a man slumped against his bed, tangled up in the sheets of his bed.  He is dressed in his white night shirt which is stained with blood and he still has his nightcap on his head.  His attire gives us the impression that he had been asleep when the civil guard burst into the room, all guns blazing.  It is not until you look more closely at the slumped figure that you realise his inert body is lying on top of a dead child.  Blood is coming from a wound in the child’s head.  Cast your eyes to the left of the lithograph and in the shadows you can just make out another body of a woman lying on the ground and in the right foreground, on the floor by the bed, we see the head of an elderly man, yet another victim.  From the choice of bodies, Daumier has depicted he is highlighting the fact that neither the elderly, nor a child nor a woman escaped the massacre.

We have to admire Daumier’s skill in the way he has made us search the lithograph for more victims of this massacre.  Each one we find adds to the horror.  There is a matter-of-fact element to Daumier’s depiction.  Daumier had been quite clever with this lithograph.  The king and the government were not alluded to nor openly blamed in the work.  It was just a pictorial statement of facts of what happened on the night of April 14th 1834.   It was simply a piece of journalism.  People who looked upon the work were then allowed to make up their minds about what they saw before them and decide who to blame.  Baron Haussmann in his radical remodelling of Paris in the 1860’s and 1870’s merged Rue Transnonain with the larger Rue Beaubourg and the street name Rue Transnonain was deleted and with it the reminder of the atrocities which occurred on the night of April 14th 1834.

My apologies for the length of the blog but I thought it was important to give you a feel for what was happening in France which lead to the staunch Republican views of Honoré Daumier.  To all historians I just hope I have presented the French history facts correctly !!!

Victorine Meurent

Le Jour des Rameaux by Victorine Meurent (c.1880)
Le Jour des Rameaux by Victorine Meurent (c.1880)

The painting above, Le Jour des Rameaux or Palm Sunday, is unique in as much as it is the only surviving painting by my featured artist.  It was recovered in 2004 and can now be found hanging in the local museum of Colombes, a suburb of Paris.  The artist who completed the work in the 1880’s is Victorine Meurent.  “Victorine who? “, do I hear you say.  If you haven’t heard the name as an artist, you may have heard of her as an artist’s model.

Victorine Meurent was born into a working class family in Paris in 1844.  It is thought that her father worked as an engraver, a patinator of bronze, and her mother worked as a milliner. Little is known of Victorine’s teenage years but it is known that she had a musical aptitude being able to play various instruments, such as the guitar and violin.   It is also thought that she must have shown an interest in art as it is believed that in 1860, at the age of sixteen, she worked as a model at the Senlis studio of the French history painter, Thomas Couture, and it was here she probably received her first artistic tuition.      Two years later, in 1862, she met Édouard Manet.  One account tells of their meeting at Couture’s studio, another version of the meeting was that Manet saw her walking down a Paris street carrying her guitar.  Whatever the circumstances of that first encounter, there was an immediate rapport between these two very different characters.  She was a young unsophisticated girl from a poor background eking out a living as an artist’s model whilst at the same time struggling to become an artist in her own right.   Édouard Manet, on the other hand, was twelve years her senior, a wealthy painter who came from an aristocratic background.   So what could the two offer each other?  I suppose it is obvious.  For her, Manet could provide her with employment as his model and at the same time offer her some drawing tuition.  For him, being a painter, he was always on the lookout for a good looking young female model and Victorine with her eye-catching long unruly red hair was just what he liked.  She was small, slightly dumpy in stature, which often led her to be given the nickname, la Crevette, the shrimp.   She was not what one would describe as an elegant beauty but she appealed to Manet.  It was almost a marriage made in heaven and she would, for the next ten years, become Manet’s favourite model.

Street Singer by Edouard Manet (1862)
Street Singer by Edouard Manet (1862)

The first time Manet used Victorine as a model was for a painting in 1862.   The painting is entitled Street Singer, which is now owned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  The woman we see depicted is modelled by Victorine.  She is hurriedly leaving a café, with her guitar securely tucked under her arm.  She is dressed in a drab brown gown alluding to the fact that she was poor and did not have the money to buy a new one.  She has been performing her music at the café and appears to be in a hurry to get to her next musical appointment.   Although she has no time to loiter, she quickly glances towards us and, at the same time, crams cherries into her mouth.  This gesture once again alludes to the fact that she is not one of Paris’ refined ladies.  She is too busy to stop and soon will disappear amongst the bustling Parisian crowd.    This painting by Manet was in some ways a new kind of art.  It was not the academic art which depicted women in scenes from the bible or from mythological stories.  This art of his depicted real life, real people and as he himself said:

“…You must be of your time and paint what you see…”

Probably the two most famous or maybe infamous works by Édouard Manet, and which also featured Victorine Meurent,  were the nude portrayals of her in his 1862 painting Olympia (see My Daily Art Display Oct 12th 2011) and his 1868 painting, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (My Daily Art Display Oct 23rd 2010)

Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe by Édourad Manet (1862-1863)
Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe by Édourad Manet (1862-1863)

The larger version of Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe  can be found at the Musée d’Orsay whilst a smaller version is housed in the Courtauld Gallery in London.   We see her completely naked with two fully clothed men lounging on the grass having just partaken of a picnic with two gentlemen friends.   The painting caused a furore and Victorine was caught up in the public scandal which followed the exhibition of the work.  It was said that respectable men hurried their wives past the naked depiction of Victorine before they themselves returned for a closer look !!!   Emperor Napoleon III who visited the exhibition was vociferous in his condemnation of the work saying that it was disgusting.

What particularly shocked the public was that she was portrayed as a naked woman who exhibited no mortification at her compromising position alongside two fully clothed men.  The man sitting next to Victorine was modelled by Manet’s brother-in-law, Ferdinand Leenhoff, and the man laying back opposite her is a composite of Manet’s two younger brothers, Eugène, who went on to marry the artist Berthe Morisot, and his other brother Gustave.  If we looked at historical paintings of the time, naked women who were depicted as nymphs or goddesses were more likely to be shown shrinking from the viewer in order to reach some piece of clothing to hide their nudity. In Manet’s picture, the young woman makes no attempt to hide her nudity.  She just sits there, seemingly bored by her companions and what they had to say and appears to have been lost in thought until we came on to the scene.  Now she fixes us with her gaze and we are made to feel uncomfortable as we take on the role as voyeurs.  It was maybe not just Victorine’s state of undress that shocked the public but her haughty and reproving gaze that caused the upset.   This painting had been rejected by the jurists of the 1863 Paris Salon and so Manet had to turn to the Salon des Refusés for inclusion in their exhibition.

Olympia by Édouard Manet (1863)
Olympia by Édouard Manet (1863)

As Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe shocked the public and caused such a stir one may have been forgiven for thinking that Manet, with his model, Victorine Meurent would tone down his next work.    Far from toning down the subject of his next painting, he shocked the public even more with his following work which he completed in 1863, and which was entitled Olympia.  If we recall Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe we have to admit that there was no hint of sexual activity having taken place at the picnic.  The furore was caused by a naked woman being depicted next to two clothed gentlemen and if we, the viewers, wanted to accept a sexual connotation to the depiction then that was more of what was in our mind and not what was depicted on the canvas.   However Olympia went a step further by depicting the lady, modelled by Victorine, as a courtesan awaiting her next client.  The bedclothes she lies upon are still rumpled from her previous sexual encounter.   Her black maidservant has just brought her flowers from her next eager client but the courtesan ignores them and just looks out at us, a sign that the flowers meant nothing to her and it was simply a case of business is business.  One can just imagine how the visitors to the exhibition felt when they saw this work.  It is believed that this depiction of a female nude by Manet was the first time an artist had depicted a naked female.

The face of OlympiaAlthough similar to Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus Manet’s work did not hide the nudity as part of a mythological scene.  Another reason for the public’s condemnation of the work was the fact that Victorine’s face is clear.  Manet has not depicted the naked woman with just an indistinct face.  The face is real and by doing this Manet has humanized his courtesan or prostitute and it is that which upset the viewing public.  Maybe the gentle folk of Paris did not want to be reminded that prostitution existed and flourished in their fair city.  Courtesans had been depicted before in 19th century paintings but it was Manet’s unabashed and honest depiction of a prostitute lounging in bed, naked except for a pair of slippers and a necklace, which shocked the Parisians.

Gare Saint-Lazare or The Railway by Édouard Manet (1873)
Gare Saint-Lazare or The Railway by Édouard Manet (1873)

The Manet painting I like the most which also featured Victorine was his 1873 work entitled Gare Saint-Lazare often known as The Railway (My Daily Art Display Nov 9th 2011).   This was the last painting by Manet featuring Victorine and can be seen at the Royal Academy’s current exhibition Manet, Portraying Life.

Although Victorine Meurent was used as a model in those three paintings,  were they accurate portraits of the model?   Not really and one must remember they were never supposed to be portraits of her but if we really want to see what she looked like at the age of eighteen we should take a look at Manet’s 1862 portrait of her, Victorine Meurent.  She is not a Society beauty and yet Manet has afforded her all his time to depict her beautifully in this portrait.  The first thing that strikes you about this young woman is her red hair.   We do not see the flowing locks we knew she had as her hair is held in place by a blue ribbon bow.  Her eyelashes are much lighter than the colour of her hair.  They are almost blonde and are somewhat difficult to detect.  There is a strange blankness about her expression.  It is a look of indifference.  Her lips are pressed tightly together.  She has a square jaw and a cleft chin.  We look at her face and wonder what she was thinking when Manet was painting her portrait.  Her forehead and left cheek are lit by an external light source which comes from her right.

During the time she was Manet’s model, she also worked as a model for Manet’s artist friends, Edgar Degas and the Belgian artist, Alfred Stevens who it is rumoured would later become her lover.  The Manet-Victorine Meurent partnership ended shortly after the artist had completed The Railway.  Victorine, by then, had taken up formal art lessons and her love of art leaned towards academic art which was anathema to Manet and may have caused the two to go their own separate ways.  In 1876 she had her self portrait exhibited at the 1876 Salon.  This was the same Salon that rejected two of Manet’s works, The Laundress and The Artist.  Manet was so annoyed by that decision that he opened his studio to the public to exhibit the refused paintings and other works.  Three years later in 1879 Victorine Meurent had her painting, Bourgeoise de Nuremberg au XVIe siècle, accepted at the Salon.  This time Manet’s works, Boating and The Greenhouse were also accepted for the exhibition.  Victorine managed to have her works accepted at six different annual Salons.

Victorine remained and worked in Paris, but times got harder for her and there is no doubt that she was suffering financial hardship.  In total desperation, it is said that in August 1883, five months after Manet’s death, she approached Manet’s widow for financial help.  She told Madame Manet that her late husband, Édouard, had promised to provide her with some money if he ever was successful in selling the paintings for which she had posed. At the time Victorine had declined Manet’s offer but had told him that she would remind him of it once her career as an artist’s model was over. Her appeal for money to Manet’s widow fell on barren ground and Victorine was never recompensed.   According to Édouard Manet’s biographer, Adolphe Tabarant, Victorine, in the 1890’s spent a lot of time around Montmartre drinking heavily, and telling stories about her and Manet to anybody who would listen to her and buy her a drink.   It would appear that things got somewhat better for Victorine for in 1893 as it is recorded that  she was again exhibiting her artwork, this time at the Palais de l’Industrie.

In 1903, aged 59 she was made a member of the Société des Artistes Français.     Three years later she left central Paris and moved to the northern suburb of Colombes where she lived with a friend, Marie Dufour.  The local census records show that Marie Dufour worked at different times as a secretary and a piano teacher and Victorine was listed as an artist.  Meurent died on March 17, 1927 aged 83.  After the death of Marie Dufour, in 1930, the contents of the house were liquidated; in the late 20th century, elderly neighbours recalled the last contents of the house, including a violin and its case, being burnt on a bonfire.

Many rumours still surround the life of Victorine Meurent.  She was rumoured to have plumbed the depths through drink and unsavoury tales abound regarding her sexual habits and her sexuality but I would rather just think of her as Manet’s muse and inspiration who, as a young girl, became part of some of his greatest works of art.

Une loge aux Italiens (A Box at the Theatre des Italiens) by Eva Gonzalès

Une loge aux Italiens (A Box at the Theatre des Italiens) by Eva Gonzalès (1874)

I had intended this offering to be my previous blog but when I researched into today’s featured artist and her painting I saw there was a connection between this work of hers and a similar one completed by Renoir in that same year.  My Daily Art Display featured artist today is Eva Gonzalès and the work I want to look at is entitled Une loge aux Italiens (A Box at the Theatre des Italiens) which she completed in 1874.

Eva Gonzalès was born in Paris in 1849.  Her father was the novelist and playwright, Emmanuel Gonzalès, a Spaniard but naturalised French.  Her mother was a Belgian musician.  From her childhood she was immersed in the literary world as her parents house was often used as a meeting place for critics and writers.

Eva began her artistic career in 1865, at the age of sixteen, when she began to study art.  Initially she studied under Charles Joshua Chaplin, the French society portraitist, who ran art classes specifically for women in his atelier and who, the following year, would teach the American female artist Mary Cassatt.

Portrait of Eva Gonzalès by Manet

Just before her twentieth birthday in 1869 she became a pupil of Édouard Manet and also used to model for him and many of the other Impressionist artists.  It was whilst at his studio that she met Berthe Morisot who was also working with Manet and posing for some of his works.  There would seem to have been an intense  rivalry between the two females.  According to Anne Higonnet’s book Berthe Morisot, Morisot wrote to her sister about Gonzalès and Manet’s attitude towards her saying:

“… Manet preaches at me and offers me the inevitable Mlle Gonzalès as an example; she has bearing, perseverance, she knows how to carry something through, whereas I am not capable of anything.   In the meantime, he begins her portrait again for the twenty-fifth time; she poses every day, and every evening her head is washed out with black soap.  Now that’s encouraging when you ask people to model…”

Repose by Édouard Manet

One can easily detect Berthe Morisot’s jealousy of Eva Gonzalès in that passage.  The painting referred to by Berthe Morisot was entitled Portrait of Eva Gonzalès which Manet was working on and which he exhibited in the 1870 Salon.  It is now housed at the National Gallery, London.  At the same time that he was painting the portrait of Eva Gonzalès he was also painting a work entitled Repose which was a portrait of Morisot and which he also exhibited at the 1870 Salon, as almost a companion piece.  This portrait of Morisot can be seen in the Rhode Island School of Design, Museum of Art, Providence, Rhode Island.  As you can see by the passage above, Morisot was annoyed by Manet’s painting of Gonzalès.   What rankled Morisot the most was probably how Manet had portrayed the two young ladies.    So what could have annoyed Morisot about Manet’s depiction of her?  Look at the two paintings.  Both young women, both wear similar clothing, both have been portrayed as young and pretty but the one big difference is that Morisot is depicted half laying back on the sofa in what one could describe as a languid and idle pose whereas Eva is portrayed as a budding artist actively at work.   What also should be kept in mind is that Morisot did not look upon herself as merely a “pupil” of Manet.  For Morisot,  her relationship with Manet was almost as equals rather than master and pupil.  In her relationship with Manet, she was also much more forceful and self-confident than Gonzalès, who was more of a willing disciple of Manet and who would put up with Manet’s abrupt manner,  whilst continually absorbing his teaching.   Of course there was another significant difference between the two young women – age!   Eva was more than eight years younger than Morisot.

Unlike Morisot, but like her mentor Manet, Eva Gonzalès decided not to exhibit any of her work at the controversial Impressionist Exhibitions but she has always been grouped with them because of her painting style.   However, she did regularly have her work shown at the annual Salon exhibitions in the 1870’s.  Her works received mixed comments.  The critics who were supporters of the Impressionist artist liked her work.

Portrait of Jeanne Gonzalès in Profile by Eva Gonzalès

In 1869 Eva married Henri Charles Guérard, an etcher, lithographer  and printmaker, who was a close friend and sometime-model for Édouard Manet and who modelled for some of his wife’s paintings along with his sister-in-law Jeanne (La femme en rose, Jeanne Gonzelès).  In 1883, a month after her 34th birthday, she gave birth to a son, John.  Sadly, her life was cut short when she died following complications of childbirth.  It was believed to have been Puerperal Fever.    Her death came just six days after the death of her one-time mentor Édourad Manet.   Two years after her death a retrospective of Gonzalès’ work was held at the Salons de La Vie Moderne in Paris where over eighty of her paintings were put on display.

Five years later, in 1888, Henri-Charles Guérard  married Eva’s younger sister, Jeanne Gonzalès, also an artist.   My featured painting by Eva Gonzalès is entitled Une loge aux Italiens (A Box at the Theatre des Italiens) and you can obviously see the similarity between her painting and my previous offering entitled La Loge by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.  I decided to feature his first and then let you compare her painting with his.

As I discussed in my last blog, the auditorium of a  theatre and especially the theatre box were fashionable places for an exchange of society chit-chat and gave the theatregoers the opportunity to be seen at their best.  The subject of the theatre and theatre goers was a subject frequently chosen by the Impressionists, such as Cassatt and Degas but probably the most celebrated of this genre was Renoir’s La Loge (The Theatre Box) and it is interesting to compare it with this work by Eva Gonzalès which she completed in the same year, 1874.  This painting by Gonzalès was submitted to the Salon jurists for inclusion in the 1874 Salon but was refused.   Eva Gonzalès then made some changes to the painting and five years later submitted it to the 1879 Salon and this time it was accepted.  The critics loved the work.

There are some similarities to this painting of hers and that of her former tutor Édouard Manet in the way she, like him, chose to paint a modern-day subject and the way her painting, like some of his, shows a total contrast between the light colours of the clothing of the subject and the pale creamy skin of the female and the dark background.   In stark contrast to the dark velvet edge of the box , we see her white-gloved hand with its gold bracelet casually resting along it.   There is also an uncanny similarity between the bouquet of flowers that rests on the edge of the theatre box to the left of the woman in Gonzalès’ painting and the bouquet of flowers which Manet depicted in his painting, Olympia (see My Daily Art Display October 12th 2011).  The two people who were sitters for Eva’s painting were her husband, Henri Guérard and her sister Jeanne who as I said before was to become Henri’s second wife.

As was the case in Renoir’s painting we are left to our own devices as to what is going on within the theatre box. We need to make up our own minds as to what the relationship is between the man and the woman and to their social standing in society.  There is little symbolism to help us interpret the scene.  We just have to use our own imagination and sometimes that adds to the joy os looking at a work of art.

Berthe Morisot by Edma Morisot

Berthe Morisot by Edma Morisot (1865)

For the next few blogs I want to look at the life and works of Berthe Marie Pauline Morisot and some of the paintings other artists have done of her.  As I told you in my last offering I visited the Musée Marmottan Monet last week whilst in Paris and they were currently staging a retrospective of her work.  I have already featured one of her works, Le Bercau (The Cradle) in My Daily Art Display of August 10th 2011 and briefly told you about her life.  Today I am going to look again at her early life and feature a painting, not by the artist herself,  but a stunningly portrait of her, painted by her sister, Edma.

The world of French art between 1839 and 1841 was surely blessed as it was in that two-year period that the world witnessed the birth of four of the greatest French artists.  Paul Cezanne was born in January 1839, Claude Monet was born in November 1840 and Berthe Morisot and Pierre-Auguste Renoir were born in January and February 1841 respectively.  Berthe Morisot was born in Bourges, a city in central France.  She had distant roots in French art as she was an indirect and distant descendent on her father’s side of none other than the French Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard and the French 18th century female painter, Marguerite Gérard.  Berthe was one of four children.  She had two sisters, Marie-Elizabeth Yves born in 1838, known simply as Yves and Marie Edma Caroline born in 1839, known simply as Edma.  She also had a younger brother, Tiburce, born in1848.  Berthe was brought up in a successful and financially secure household.  Her mother was Marie-Cornélie Thomas, who came from a family of high level government officials, chief treasurers and paymasters of the province.   Her father was Edmé-Tiburce Morisot, who was an architectural graduate and who at the age of twenty-six founded an architectural journal.  However the venture collapsed when his co-founders absconded with all the money and left Tiburce to face the creditors.  He eventually had to hurriedly leave town, leaving all his furniture and possessions to his landlord in lieu of rent, and fled to Greece.  A year later in 1835 he returned to France penniless but his good looks and charm won him the hand of Marie-Cornélie in marriage.  She was sixteen years old and he was thirteen years older.   Marie’s father, who was the personnel director at the Ministry of Finance, managed to arrange employment for Tiburce Morisot as subprefect at the city of Yssingeaux, in the Haute-Loire region.  Tiburce worked hard and soon impressed his employers.  Promotions followed and at the time of his daughter Berthe’s birth, he was the prefect of the Department of Cher, the monarch’s chief administrator for the entire province.

In 1848 when Berthe was just seven years of age, because of the Third French Revolution which eventually led to the creation of the French Second Republic, Berthe’s father decided to move his family from Bourges to the Parisian suburb of Passy.   When Berthe was aged sixteen years of age, her mother, Marie-Cornélie Morisot decided to enrol her three daughters in private drawing classes.  At that time the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts would not admit female students and maintained that sexist doctrine until the last few years of the nineteenth century.  The sisters’ first tutor was Geoffroy-Alphonse Chocarne who taught the girls the fundamentals of drawing.  Yves love of art waned quickly and she gave up on her art tuition after a few months leaving just Edma and Berthe to carry on with their artistic studies.

Edma and Berthe then enrolled to study with Joseph Guichard, who had once been a student of Ingres and now lived in the same street in Passy as the Morisot family.  Guichard taught the girls all about classical art in the academic tradition.  He was there tutor from 1857 and 1860 and in 1858 Berthe registered as a copyist at the Louvre.  It was under the guidance of Guichard that Berthe Morisot first experimented in oil painting.  En plein-air,  painting outdoors in natural light,  became very important to the Impressionist painters and those from the Barbizon School and the two girls told Guichard that they wanted to learn more about that technique and so, in 1863, in consultation with Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, a leader of the Barbizon School of painters it was arranged that the girls would study under Achille Oudinot, the French landscape painter.  In the spring of 1864 after seven years of intensive artistic training Berthe and Edma Morisot were admitted to the official Salon.  Berthe would exhibit at the Salon regularly and Edma would until her marriage in 1869 at which time she virtually gave up painting.

It is said that behind every great woman, there is another woman, often a close relative.  In nineteenth century England we saw it with the likes of the talented Bronte sisters who had each other for constructive critical support.  Although Morisot’s upbringing in a wealthy household bears no resemblance to the upbringing of the Bronte sisters,what she did have in her formative years, similar to the Bronte sisters, was the luxury of having a very loyal and supportive sister.  Standing unwaveringly behind Berthe was her sister Edma.  The sisters’ artistic collaboration came to an end in 1869, when Edma married her husband, Adolphe Pontillon, a naval officer.  In some ways Edma regretted the end of their artistic partnership and the close friendship which came with it.  They kept in contact by letter and in one Edma wrote:

“…I am often with you in thought, dear Berthe.  I’m in your studio and I like to slip away, if only for a quarter of an hour, to breathe that atmosphere that we shared for many years…”

Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets by Édouard Manet (1872)

And so I come to today’s featured painting.  There have been many portraits painted of Berthe Morisot , probably the best known being the one of her entitled, Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets which was painted by her brother-in-law, Édouard Manet in 1872 and which is housed in the Musée d’Orsay.  I have always thought that his has made her look rather dowdy, so today I have featured one of my two favourite portraits of the artist.  This one is simply entitled Berthe Morisot and was painted by her sister Edma in 1865 and is held in a private collection.  This beautiful portrait in some ways bears out the close relationship between the sisters and reveals the shared interest both had in painting.  In this work Edma has depicted her sister Berthe holding her palette and brush concentrating earnestly at the picture she is painting.  Look how well Edma has captured the intensity in Berthe’s expression.  Our eyes are immediately drawn to the face of Berthe, which is bathed in light and which contrasts well with the darkened background and also echoes the whites of the side of the canvas and the rag she holds.  This painting of Berthe Morisot depicts her indisputable beauty which often other portraits fail to achieve.  This is indeed a portrait of an extremely delightful young woman in her mid-twenties and one I fell in love with when I first saw it.

The Artist’s Studio, Rue de La Condamine by Frédéric Bazille

The Artist’s Studio, Rue de La Condamine by Frédéric Bazille

quem di diligunt, adolescens moritur

Whom the gods love, die young.”

The aphorism comes from the Roman playwright Plautus, who flourished around the end of the 3rd century and actually based his story on a Greek legend about a mother and her two sons.   The point of bringing up this saying is that it unhappily could refer to my featured artist of the day, who was so talented and yet was taken from us at such a young age by war.

Jean Frédéric Bazille was born in Montpellier in 1841.  His father was a senator and the head of an affluent and cultured middle-class Protestant family.    In Montpellier, Jean became acquainted with a friend of his father, a local art collector Alfred Bruyas.  Bruyas was a close friend of Gustave Courbet and he owned a large number of expensive paintings by Millet, Corot, Eugène Delacroix and many by his friend Courbet.  Young Frédéric Bazille was fascinated and inspired by the collection and this was the start of his love affair with art. He loved to paint and sketch but his father told him that if he wanted to continue with his art he had to agree to continue with his medical studies. He agreed to his father’s terms and in 1860 he started studying art.

 In 1862 he moved north to Paris to continue with his medical studies but spent most of his time sketching and painting.  Later that year he joined the studio of Charles Gleyre, the Swiss artist.  It was whilst there that he met and became friends with fellow aspiring artists, Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Whistler.   Gleyre’s studio closed the following year and Bazille decided to leave Paris and follow his friends whilst he waited on the results of his medical exams.

During his journeys around Normandy with Monet  in 1864 they stopped off at Honfleur, which was at that time a special meeting place for the en plein air painters.   It was here that he met up with Monet’s friends, the French marine and landscape painter, Eugene Boudin and the Dutch landscape and seascape painter, Johan Jongkind.  These two artists would later be instrumental in the development of Impressionism.    In the autumn of 1864 Bazille returned with Monet to Chaillyen-Bière, near Fontainebleau.  It was around this time that he finds out that he had  failed his medical exams but fortunately for him, his father did not press him to re-sit them and instead allowed his son to concentrate solely on his artistic career.  In 1865 he put forward two of his paintings to the Paris Salon, Young Girl at the Piano and Still-life with Fish.  Annoyingly for him only his still-life was accepted for the exhibition by the Salon jury.

Bazille and Camille (Study for Déjeuner sur l'Herbe) 1865

Monet, who had a competitive streak, knew about Édouard Manet’s work  Déjeuner sur l’herbe (See My Daily Art Display December 23rd) and knew of the masses of publicity it had received (not all good of course!) when it was exhibited at the 1863 Salon des Refusés.  In the spring of 1865, he decided that he too would embark on his own version of Déjeuner sur l’herbe.   This idea of figure painting in the open air was a new venture for Monet.  He began sketches for his new large-scale painting (4metres x 6 metres) which he planned to finish back in his Paris studio.  The reason for huge size for the proposed work was mainly down to Monet being inspired by Courbet’s recent large scale paintings.   The figures in Monet’s painting were life-sized.  It was almost a group of portraits set in a landscape.  Bazille and Monet’s girlfriend Camille posed for part of this work.  This preparatory oil painting of the two of them exists entitled Bazille and Camille (Study for “Déjeuner sur l’Herbe”) and can be seen at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.  However, only fragments of Monet’s completed grand scale painting survive.   Monet left it with a landlord to cover a debt, and it was ruined by moisture and neglect.  At the same time Bazille himself completed a painting The Pink Dress, which was part of the study for Monet’s open-air mammoth portrait/landscape. 

Bazille having come from a wealthy family never had any financial problems unlike his newly found artist friends and he would often help them out by sharing his studio with them and providing them with artistic materials when they couldn’t afford to buy them.   He actually bought some of Monet’s paintings, including a large work entitled Women in the Garden,  just because the artist needed money.  His friendship with the soon-to-be Impressionists was recorded in a series of paintings he did one of which was set in his Paris studio where they would all meet and it is this work which is My Daily Art Display’s featured painting of the day. 

At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in August 1870, Bazille enlisted in the Zouave, which was the title given to certain light infantry regiments of the French army.  His friends had all tried to dissuade him from this patriotic gesture but to no avail.   In a battle close to the village of Beaune-la-Rolande, his commanding officer had been killed and he took control of his men leading an assault on the Prussian position.  He was hit twice by enemy fire and died on the battlefield.  His death on November 28th 1870 was just a few days before his twenty-ninth birthday.    His father was devastated by the news and a week later came north from Montpellier to the scene of the battle and took his son’s body back home for burial.

Today I am giving you The Artist’s Studio in the Rue de La Condamine, which Frederic Bazille completed in 1870, the same year he went off to fight and die for his country.  The painting currently hangs in the Musée d’Orsay.   One can imagine a group of friends nowadays doing the same as Bazille has done  – recording for posterity a gathering of companions in a photograph but of course in Bazille’s day,  it had to be a sketch or a painting.   The setting for the painting is Bazille’s studio at 9 rue de la Condamine, which he shared with Renoir from the beginning of 1868 until May 1870.   Some of Bazille’s works  are scattered around the room.  To the left, on the wall, we have his Fisherman with a Net and his painting entitled La Toilette can be seen hanging just above the white sofa.  The small still-life above the head of the piano player is a still life by Monet which Bazille had bought in order to support his friend.   We see three men standing at an easel discussing the painting on display.  The man with the hat standing in the middle is Édouard Manet and behind him we think is Monet.  The tall man to the right of the easel, palette in hand, is Bazille himself.  On the staircase is the journalist, writer and art critic, Emile Zola, who is in discussion with Renoir, who is seated below the staircase.  At the piano is Bazille’s musician friend Edmond Maitre.  The National Gallery at Washington houses a portrait of Maitre by Frédéric Bazille.

Frédéric Bazille was considered to be the most gifted of the soon-to-become Impressionists and, if he had lived, he might well have become one of the leaders of that group.  Camille Pissarro described him as one of the most gifted among us.

The Dead Christ with Angels by Édouard Manet

The Dead Christ with Angels by Édouard Manet (1864)

Today, My Daily Art Display returns to the French painter of contemporary urban life and who was a leading figure in the shift from Realism to Impressionism and was looked upon as one of the founding fathers of Modernism.  So many –“isms” !   We have seen examples of these three -isms before but let me just do a recap of the meaning of these terms.

Realism was prevalent in the mid to late nineteenth century and this movement believed that painters should represent the world exactly as it was, even if it was at the expense of some artistic and social principles.  It was looked upon at the time as very controversial and often the works were viewed as being morally wrong and wicked because they challenged and broke the conventional standards of what was termed “good taste”.

Impressionism had its origins in France between 1860 and 1900 and soon spread to other western countries.   In a way it was, in some ways, a rejection of Academicism which promoted the Classical ideals of beauty and artistic perfection and which had a stringent hierarchy within the visual arts favouring the grand narrative and historical paintings.  The Impressionist painters and Impressionism wanted nothing to do with such Academic traditions but preferred to emphasise an accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities and looking how light changed with the time of day.  They would often paint outdoors (en plein air).   The Impressionist style of painting can be typified by its attention on the common impression produced by a scene or object and the way the artists tended to use unmixed primary colors and small brushstrokes in order to imitate real reflected light.

Finally Modernism, which was a very broad movement that also began around the latter years of the nineteenth century, and was a type of art that reflected modern times and did not keep looking back at times past.  The Modernist artists believed that the modern world they lived in was fundamentally different to what had gone before and that art needed renew itself and move on.  It was all about the artist’s vision of the future.

My featured artist today is Édouard Manet.  He was born in Paris in 1832 and was brought up in a wealthy, upper class household.  He was the eldest son of Auguste Manet, a judge and the Chief of Staff at the Ministry of Justice and Eugénie-Desirée Fournier, the daughter of a diplomat and goddaughter of Charles Bernadotte, the Swedish crown prince.  His father had hoped that young Édouard would follow him into the legal profession.  However even though he was well educated, Manet did not particularly shine academically but he did show a predisposition toward drawing and the arts.  In 1844, aged twelve years old, he enrolled at the College Rollin, a secondary school where he became friends with Antonin Proust, who would, in the future, become the French Minister of Fine Arts.   It was also around this time that Manet’s uncle, Charles Fournier, encouraged his enjoyment of the arts and the two of them along with Antonin Proust, would go on trips to the Louvre.

Manet had set his heart on going to sea and twice sat the entrance exam to a naval training school but in both cases failed.  He did however manage, with help from his father, to get a trip on the training ship Guadeloupe voyaging to Rio in 1848 and returning home in June the following year.   His father had by this time given up any hope of his son entering the legal profession and acquiesced to his son’s desire to become an artist.   For a six-year period, beginning in1850, Manet studies in the studios of Thomas Couture the Academic and History painter.  His relationship with his master was very strained and they would frequently clash.  It was around this time that he registers as a copyist at the Louvre and studies the works of the old masters, such as Velazquez and Goya.  Although impressed with their paintings, he believed that his works should reflect the ideas and ideals of the present time and not like theirs, keep harking back to the past.   Manet was a great friend and constant companion of Charles Beaudelaire, the great poet and art critic who was credited with coining the term modernité to designate the brief short-lived experience of life in an urban metropolis and he believed that art must be held accountable to capture the experience.  His advice to Manet about his art was that he should depict a contemporary realism, and had to become “le peintre de la vie moderne.

The year 1852 was the start of a change for Paris and Parisiennes as the great modernization of the city started on the direct orders of Napoleon III, under the supervision of Baron Georges- Eugène Haussmann.  The infrastructure often going back to medieval times had become inadequate, roads were too narrow and buildings were becoming unsafe.  In the great renovation programme, streets were widened and lengthened, houses pulled down to make way for new ones, shop fronts replaced.  All this work was labour-intensive and thousands of jobs were created people poured into the city from the outlying countryside to gain employment.  The whole of the social and cultural life of Paris changed with such a migration of labour.  Paris became one of the most beautiful and culturally progressive cities in the world and it was this modernity that Manet wanted to record in his works of art.

I will leave Manet’s biography at this point in his life and will conclude it in a later blog but for today I want to look at one of his earlier paintings entitled The Dead Christ with Angels, which he completed in 1864 and which can now be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  This was the first of a number of paintings by Manet that had religious subject matter. The biennial and later, annual Parisian Salons were considered the most expedient way for an artist to make himself known to the public, and Manet submitted paintings to Salon juries throughout his career.  He submitted today’s featured painting in 1864 exhibition.

The inscription indicates Manet’s source, but the passage he cited describes Mary Magdalene finding Christ’s tomb empty except for the two angels whereas his painting shows the two angels with Christ.  If that wasn’t bad enough Manet realised, albeit too late, when the painting was already on its way to the 1864 Salon Exhibition that he had made an even greater mistake with regards the accuracy of the biblical tale he had depicted.   Can you spot it?

In his painting he has painted the wound on the left side of Christ and not, as convention would have it, on his right side.   He immediately contacted his friend Baudelaire and told him of this error, and his friend advised him to correct the position of the wound in the painting before the exhibition opening.  He warned Manet that if he didn’t then his critics would have a field day, adding, “take care not to give the malicious something to laugh at.”   Manet’s submissions to the Salon of 1864 were again condemned by critics, for his painting of Christ and the Angels as they put it showed “a lack of decorum”.   The critics further denounced the work for its realistic touches, such as the cadaverous body of Christ and the seemingly human angels.  They argued that the painting totally lacked any sense of spirituality; the figure of the battered Christ was said to more closely resemble the body of a dead coal miner than the son of God.

Manet did not repaint the wound, and as Beaudelaire had foreseen, the critics derided his error. Only the writer, Émile Zola, gave the painting the respect it deserved.  Zola felt that Manet’s intention was to emphasize the reality of the corpse, even though he called attention to its holiness by including a halo.