Maxfield Parrish. Part 4.

                                                           Daybreak, by Maxfield Parrish (1922)

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

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

                                                                              Kitty Owen Spence

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

                                                                        Jean Parrish

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

                                                         Preparatory drawing of Daybreak

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

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

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

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

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

                                                Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley

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

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

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

                  Edison Mazda 1921 calendar

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

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

                          The Knave of Hearts by Louise Saunders

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

                                              The Enchanted Prince by Maxfield Parrish (1934)

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

                                                  Dreaming by Maxfield Parrish (1928)

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

                                  Dreaming/October by Maxfield Parrish (1932)

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

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

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

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

                                                     Susan Lewin (c.1970’s)

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

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

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

                                             Getting Away From It All by Maxfield Parrish

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

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

Maxfield Parrish. Part 2.

                                           Maxfield Parrish in 1896

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scribner’s Magazine (October 1900) by Maxfield Parrish

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

                                                          Page from the book Story of Ann Powel

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

                                              Potpourri by Maxfield Parrish (1905)

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

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

                                                                                   Lydia Parrish (1895)

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

                                                                                          Susan Lewin

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

                                                                                       Susan Lewin

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

                                                             Harvest by Maxfield Parrish (1905)

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

                                Land of Make Believe by Maxfield Parrish (1905)

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

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

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

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

Pied Piper mural by Maxfield Parrish (1909)

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

                                                         Pied Piper bar with Maxfield Parrish mural

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

……………………………….to be continued.


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

Alphonse Mucha. Part 2

             Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Paris (World’s Fair) 1900

The year 1900 was a momentous one for Paris as it staged the Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Paris (World’s Fair) between April 15th and November 12th.    The event was to be a grand celebration of the past century’s achievements and a look forward to the innovations of the new century.  The planning had begun in 1892 and it had been fully budgeted by 1896.  At this time Alphonse Mucha had already burst on to the Parisian art scene and in 1897 had held a highly successful one-man exhibition at the Galerie de la Bodinière followed by a major show at the Salon des Cent.

Everyone was excited by the forthcoming event and La Plume magazine, a French bi-monthly literary and artistic review, dedicated a special issue to the exhibition and Alphonse Mucha, whose illustration appeared on the cover of the January 1898 edition, and was a ‘hot’ topic within the city’s artistic circle.

Alphonse Mucha’s design for the Menu for the Bosnian Pavilion Restaurant at the Paris Exhibition 1900

Alphonse was inundated with commissions for projects appertaining to the World’s Fair from both local companies and the French government.  Some were for posters advertising the event and also the installation of display stands and the design of exhibition halls, which provided him with an opportunity to work with a three-dimensional space.

Bosnia & Herzegovina Pavilion at the Paris Exhibition 1900 interior view with Mucha’s wall paintings (1900)

Beside the peripheral commissions Mucha was tasked with painting the murals for the Pavilion of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was a region that had come under the control of Austria-Hungary in 1878 and was one of three pavilions exhibited by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. For Alphonse Mucha, this was a highly prestigious commission.  Mucha transformed the pavilion into a commemoration of the history and the cultural diversity of Bosnia and Herzegovina which pleased the Austro-Hungarian leaders but Mucha would rather have highlighted the Slavic struggle against that vast nation.  He could well have thought about that as he planned the murals for the pavilion and maybe he promised himself that in the near future he would tell the real story of the persecution and suffering of the Slav nation and the Slav people.  His grand plan would not start until 1911 and it would take him fifteen years to complete.  It would be known as The Slav Epic

                    Facade of the jeweler’s boutique Georges Fouquet located at 6 rue Royale, Paris

Georges Fouquet, a prominent Parisian jeweller and jewellery designer had worked together with Alphonse Mucha on a number of jewellery pieces for Fouquet’s stand at the 1900 Exposition Universelle. After the 1900 Paris Exposition, Georges Fouquet who was best known for his Art Nouveau creations opened a new jewellery store at 6 rue Royale in Paris which was right across the street from the famous restaurant, Maxim’s. He approached Mucha to design all aspects of his shop, both exterior and interior, as well as the contents including the furniture, light fittings and show cases.  

                    Interior of Georges Fouquet’s shop designed by Alphonse Mucha

The centrepiece of the design was two peacocks, which were the traditional symbol of opulence.  They were made of bronze and wood with coloured glass decoration. To one side of them was a shell-shaped fountain, with three gargoyles spouting water into basins, surrounding the statue of a nude woman. The shop opened in 1901, but, sadly for Georges, it was at a time when tastes were beginning to change, and the yearning to have Art Nouveau pieces was superseded by people wanting jewellery with more naturalistic patterns.  Mucha’s shop designs remained in place until 1923 when it was replaced with more up-to-date fittings. 

                                                      Interior of Georges Fouquet’s Paris jewellery store

Realising that Mucha’s designs for the shop’s interior were of importance in art history, most of the original decoration were preserved. In 1941 Fouquet gave each piece of Mucha’s revolutionary design to the Musée Carnavalet for safekeeping. In 1989 the Musée Carnavalet completed the painstaking job of reconstructing the boutique. It remains one of the most spectacular examples of Art Nouveau decorative design.  It is still on display at the museum.

                                             Documents Decoratifs by Alphonse Mucha published in 1902

Alphonse Mucha’s reputation as an artist was now established and he became one of the most popular and successful of Parisian artists.  He became inundated with commissions for theatre posters, advertising posters, decorative panels, magazine covers, menus, postcards, calendars. He even started to provide designs for jewellery, cutlery, tableware, fabrics etc which were in so much demand that he conceived the idea of creating a handbook for craftsmen, which would offer all the necessary patterns for creating an Art Nouveau lifestyle.  His book, Documents Décoratifs, a style book published in Paris in 1902, was by the Librairie Central des Beaux-Arts, and is an encyclopaedia of his decorative work. The Documents Décoratifs is comprised of 72 exquisite plates of elaborate designs for brooches and other pieces, with swirling arabesques and vegetal forms, with incrustations of enamel and coloured stones.  It epitomized everything the Art Deco movement is remembered for: decor, women, flowers, natural forms, structures, jewellery.  Alphonse also spent an increasing amount of his time teaching, first at the Académie Colarossi and later, with Whistler, at the Académie Carmen.

                                Portrait of Mucha’s Wife, Maruska (1908)

In 1902, Alfonse Mucha accompanied his friend Auguste Rodin to Prague on the occasion of Rodin’s exhibition at Jan Kotera’s new Mánes Pavilion in Prague.  A gala night was held at the National Theatre of Prague to welcome the renowned sculptor and it was here that Alphonse Mucha first met Marie Chytilová, an aspiring artist, who was studying at the School of Applied Arts in Prague and who admired the work of Mucha.

Marie Chytilová in Mucha’s studio in rue du Val-de-Grâce, Paris. 1903

A year later whilst visiting Paris with her family, Marie solicited the help of her uncle, the eminent Czech art historian Dr. Karel Chytil, to arrange art classes with Mucha.  Alphonse agreed and got Maria to also to take classes at the Académie Calarossi where he was teaching and they spent each of the remaining days of her month-long sojourn together.  Love blossomed between the two despite an age difference of twenty-two years.  However, despite the intense amour between Alphonse and Marie, he left her in Europe whilst he made his first trip to America thanks to letters of introduction, which he had received from Baroness Salomon de Rothschild.  There must have been some great pull which made him abandon Marie and cross the Atlantic, and to find that reason we must go back to when he was painting his murals at the Paris World Fair for the Bosnia-Herzegovina pavilion and his promise to himself that he would one day complete a series of paintings which would illustrate the Slav fight for independence.  He needed financial backing and where better to go to find funds – America.

                                                                          Charles Richard Crane in 1909

Alphonse Mucha was by no means an unknown artist in America.  In fact, he was a celebrity in the United States as his posters had been widely displayed during Sarah Bernhardt’s annual American tours since 1896. He stayed at a rented studio near Central Park and continued to paint as well as giving interviews and lectures. More importantly, he was able to contact Pan-Slavic organizations with regards to his money-raising idea to support his proposed Slavic Saga series of history paintings. At one of the Pan-Slavic banquets held in his honour he was introduced to Charles Richard Crane, a wealthy businessman and philanthropist, who was a passionate Slavophile. Crane was enthusiastic with Mucha’s vision for a series of monumental paintings depicting Slavic history, and he became Mucha’s most important patron. 

Cours Mucha poster at Académie Colarossi

Alphonse returned home to Paris in May 1904, to complete some commissions but in January 1905 he returned to America.  During this visit he gives classes, known as the cours Mucha, at the New York School of Applied Design for Women, similar to those he held at Académie Colarossi.  He was enjoying life in America and wrote to his folks back in Moravia:

“…You must have been very surprised by my decision to come to America, perhaps even amazed. But in fact, I had been preparing to come here for some time. It had become clear to me that that I would never have time to do the things I wanted to do if I did not get away from the treadmill of Paris, I would be constantly bound to publishers and their whims…in America, I don’t expect to find wealth, comfort, or fame for myself, only the opportunity to do some more useful work…”

        Alphonse and Marie on their wedding day, June 10th 1906.

On June 10th 1906, forty-five-year-old Alphonse Mucha, and twenty-three-year-old Marie Chytilová married shortly after his return to Prague from New York.  Marie was everything Alphonse could have wanted.  She was extremely attractive, she was well-educated and well-read, musical, a great lover of art, and from an old Czech family. 

                                                                               Husband and wife

She was to become his muse and was incredibly supportive of his art.  For their honeymoon, the couple travelled to the highlands of South Bohemia and stayed in the small village of Pec.  Once the honeymoon was over the couple travelled to Chicago where Alphonse was given a post as teacher at the Art Institute

                                    Portrait of Maruška, the artist’s wife by Alphonse Mucha (1905)

Alphonse painted a number of portraits of his wife.  One such painting was entitled Portrait of Mucha’s wife, Maruška.   Maruška is a diminutive of ‘Marie’.

Tragedy – study for a mural for the German theatre New York (1908)

In 1908 Alphonse also worked on a large decoration project, for the interior of the German Theatre of New York.  He was commissioned to produce five large decorative panels, the stage curtain, and decorative elements for the foyer, the corridor, the staircase, and the auditorium. The three large allegorical murals would be depicted in the Art Nouveau style, and would represent Tragedy, Comedy and Truth.  In his depiction, Tragedy, the female protagonist is modelled on the lead tragedienne of the Max Reinhardt Theatre, Miss Reichl.

                                              Painting of Josephine Crane Bradley as Slavia (1908)

In that same year, 1908, Charles Crane commissioned Mucha to make two separate portraits in a traditional Slavic style of his two daughters, Josephine, and Frances.  The painting of Josephine, as the Slav goddess, Slavia, was to mark her marriage to Harold C. Bradley.   The portrait was to be incorporated into the interior decoration of a new house that Crane was building for the newlyweds.   It was looked upon by critics as his finest work in America.

   Alphonse Mucha-designed artwork on a 1920 Czechoslovak Republic 100 Czechoslovak korun note

In fact, ten years later, when Mucha was asked to design the Czechoslovak 100-koruna banknote he once again used her portrait as a model for Slavia.

       Mucha’s daughter Jaroslava is born on March 15th 1909 in New York.

On March 15th 1909, in New York, Alphonse and Marie hade their first child, a daughter, Jaroslava

Die Jungfrau von Orleans (The Maid of Orleans)

That same year (1909) Alphonse was commissioned to design a poster depicting the highly paid prominent American actress, Maude Adams, in her role as Joan of Arc in a translation of Friedrich Schiller’s Die Jungfrau von Orleans (The Maid of Orleans).  The play was staged on June 22nd for a crowd of around two thousand spectators in a one-night gala performance at Harvard University Stadium.  The portrait served as a poster for the event and Alphonse was also responsible for designing the costumes and sets.  The painting depicts the medieval heroine, Joan of Arc, gesturing in amazement at the apparition behind her, which was inspiring her to lead French troops into battle. The stylized floral patterns, swirling hair and garments, and flat, graphic quality of the composition was typical of Mucha’s work and he also designed the complementary frame.

                                      Zbiroh Castle with the town of Zbiroh in the left background.

In 1909 Alphonse Mucha leaves America satisfied that he had Charles Crane’s financial backing for his grand plan to paint a series of works outlining the Slav struggles.   Alphonse rented a studio and apartment in Zbiroh Castle, a 12th century château in West Bohemia. He began by visiting the places he intended to depict in the cycle such as Russia, Poland, and the Balkans, including visits to the Orthodox monasteries of Mount Athos.   He now spent all his free time studying all the books he could find with regards the history of the Slavs and also contacted specialists in the field, such as Ernest Denis who Alfonse meets in Paris in 1911.  Ernest Denis was considered to be one of the most highly regarded 20th-century historians of the Slav world in France and who played a major role in the establishment of the Czechoslovak state in 1918.  Alphonse’s dream of the Slav Saga series of paintings had now started.  For anybody who might look upon Alphonse Mucha as an illustrator and a poster designer, the next three blogs will change that opinion…………………

………………………….to be continued.


Much of the information for this came from the excellent website The Mucha Foundation

 

Alphonse Mucha. Part 1

                              Alphonse Mucha in his Paris studio on Rue de Val de Grace (c. 1899)

The artist I am looking at today is a Czech painter, illustrator, and graphic artist, who spent the first part of his artistic life living in Paris during the Art Nouveau period and where he became best known for his stylized and decorative theatrical and advertising posters.  This was all to change when, at the age of 43, he returned to his homeland of the Bohemia-Moravia region in Austria where he dedicated himself to completing a series of twenty monumental paintings, known as The Slav Epic, which pictorially portrayed the history of the Slavic people.  I will talk about that great series in the later blogs but for today let me tell you about the early life of Alphonse Marie Mucha and his wonderful illustrative work.

Alphonse Maria Mucha was born on July 24th 1860 in the small town of Ivančice in the southern Moravia region,  which is now the Czech Republic, but then was a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  His father Ondřej Mucha was an usher at the Ivančice courthouse and his mother Amálie was the daughter of a miller.  Alphonse was the eldest of five children.  He had three sisters, Anna, Andéla and Antoine and one brother, August.  He also had two stepsisters from his father’s first marriage.  Alphonse was gifted musically.  He was an alto singer and also a talented violinist.  He also enjoyed drawing.

                                                          Crucifixion by Alphonse Mucha (1868)

One of his earliest works is entitled Crucifixion which he completed around the age of eight.   It can be seen from the depiction that the young boy was influenced by the Catholic Church and its teachings.  As a young boy he was inspired by the Catholic rituals and later in life he recalled attending church for the Easter celebrations:

“…I used to kneel for hours as an acolyte in front of Christ’s grave. It was in a dark alcove covered with flowers heavy with intoxicating fragrance and wax candles were burning quietly all round with a sort of sacred light which illuminated from below the martyred body of Christ, life-size, hanging from the wall in utmost sadness… How I loved to kneel there with my hands clasped in prayer. No-one in front of me, only the wooden Christ hanging from the wall, no-one who would see me shutting my eyes and thinking of God-knows-what and imagining that I am kneeling on the edge of a mysterious unknown figure…”

                             Choirboys at Gymnázium Slovanské in Brno by Alphonse Mucha (1872)

 After primary school he was to move into secondary schooling but this had to be paid for and his parents just did not have the funds as they were already paying for the education of his two stepsisters.  However, as he was such a good musician his music teacher arranged for him to meet to Pavel Křížkovský, the choirmaster of St Thomas’s Abbey in Brno, who was impressed with Alphonse.  Alphonse’s family had hoped that through Křížkovský, their son would be able to become a member of the choir and with this would come a monastery scholarship which would pay for his secondary education.  Unfortunately for Alphonse, Křížkovský was not able to admit him and get him funding as he had already attained sponsorship for another musician.  However, Křížkovský arranged for twelve-year-old Alphonse to be interviewed by the deputy choirmaster of the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul,  Leoš Janáček, who admitted him as a cathedral chorister and funded his studies as a boarder at the Gymnázium Slovanské, the high school in Brno.  Alas, nature took its course and eventually the teenager’s voice broke and he had to leave the choir but instead played the violin during the church services.

Although it was due to his musical talents that Alphonse was able to complete his schooling he still believed in a possible artistic future and he set about gaining employment as a theatrical scene designer.  The next step for him was to gain some formal artistic tuition and so, in 1878, aged eighteen, he applied to enrol on a course at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, but was rejected.   They harshly advised him to follow a different career path.  In 1880, aged 19, he travelled to Vienna, which at the time was looked upon as the political and cultural capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Here Alphonse was taken on as an apprentice scenery painter for the Kautsky-Brioschi-Burghardt painting workshop, which produced stage scenery and theatre curtains, a company which made sets for Vienna theatres.   Vienna to Alphonse was like a breath of fresh air and he enrolled at some of the city’s art classes..

                                                                  Hans Makart, Self-portrait, (1878)

Now living in this large city, Alphonse was able to visit art galleries and theatres, tickets to which were given to him by his employer.  During his visit to the galleries, he came across the works of Hans Makart, the renowned 19th-century Austrian academic history painter, designer, decorator, who was famed for his monumental works of portraiture. Like many artists in the late nineteenth century, Alphonse began to experiment with photography as an aid to his artwork.  

                             The fire catastrophe at the Ring Theatre in Vienna (December 8th 1881)

In 1881, just a year after he arrived in Vienna, fate once again stepped into Alphonse Mucha’s life when a fire destroyed the Ring Theatre, which was the main customer of the firm he worked for.  Within the series of theatre fires in the 19th century, the catastrophe at the Ring Theatre in Vienna was the worst because of at least 450 fatalities. There are several crucial points, which led to a disaster in this extent: The fire was not reported immediately, the people in the theatre were not informed in time, the emergency lighting was not working, the architectural structure of the building made the way out long and complicated, and the theatre staff was unable to cope with this case of emergency. 

                          Decorative murals at the Hrušovany Emmahof Castle

Alphonse was now made redundant and had to decide whether to remain in Vienna or head back home to Ivančice.  In the end, he did neither but took a train through Austria and into Moravia.  By the time he arrived at Mikulov in southern Moravia his money had run out and he had to alight from the train.  He needed somewhere to stay in the town but had no money.  Fortunately, he was able to “pay” for his board and lodgings by sketching some portraits.  His portraiture was seen by Count Eduard Khuen-Belasi, the local landowner and he was so impressed by the standard of Alphonse’s work that he commissioned him to paint murals for his Hrušovany Emmahof Castle near Hrušovany nad Jeviškou and his Gandegg Castle in the Tyrol, as well as reconstructing the Castle’s portraits and the decorative murals.  So amazed with Alphonse’s work, the Count decided to sponsor Alphonse’s formal training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts for two years.  Following the completion of his studies in 1887 the Count arranged for Alphonse to go and study in Paris at Académie Julian and Académie Colarossi.

                                         Portraits of Saints Cyril and Methodius                                                    St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church in Pisek, USA by Alphonse Mucha (1887)

The Count funded Mucha’s  expenses until the end of 1889 at which time the flow of money stopped and it is thought that the Count wanted Alphonse to become independent and survive by his work alone.  It was a blow to Alphonse who had for the last three years, no financial worries.  He now had to balance his income against expenditure and learnt to survive on a diet of lentils and beans and began to eke out a living by providing illustrations for a variety of magazines and books.  However, his hard work paid off and he was soon able to establish himself as a successful and reliable illustrator.

Sarah Bernhardt as Gismonda poster by Alphonse Mucha

Was it sheer luck, or fate once again, that on December 26th 1894 Alphonse happened to be at Lemercier’s printing works, when Sarah Bernhardt, the star of the Parisian stage, called de Brunhoff, the printer’s agent, with an immediate demand for a new poster for her production of Gismonda.  Unfortunately for Lemercier all his regular artists were on holiday and so in an act of desperation he approached Alphonse to produce the poster.  The poster was of a long narrow format (216 x 74cms) and the subtle pastel colours and the ‘halo’ effect around the subject’s head were to remain features of Mucha’s posters throughout his life.  It was a depiction which oozed both grandeur and solemnity and was in stark contrast to other garish street posters of the time.  This Art Nouveau advertising poster was for the four-act comedy, Gismonda, by Victorien Sardou, which was being staged at the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris. Sarah Bernhardt was both director and actor. This poster by Mucha was produced to promote the new production which opened on January 4, 1895.  Mucha portrayed Bernardt as an exotic Byzantine noblewoman wearing a splendid dress and an orchid headdress with a palm branch in her hand. This costume was worn in the last act, the climax of the comedy, in which she joined the Easter procession.  The Gismonda poster which Alfonse Mucha created was a sensation and it was so popular with the Parisian public that collectors bribed bill stickers to obtain them or simply went out at night and, using razors, cut them down from the hoardings.  Bernhardt was delighted with Mucha’s work and continued to use this poster for her American tour in 1896.  She offered Mucha a five-year contract to produce stage and costume designs as well as posters.

Champagne Ruinart poster by Alphonse Mucha (1896)

This Champagne Ruinart poster is one of Mucha’s earliest commissions from the printer and lithographer Ferdinand Champenois and was included in the seminal Exposition d’Affiches Artistiques Françaises & Etrangères Moderns & Retrospectives held in Rheims in November 1896.

                                             JOB cigarette papers poster by Alphonse Mucha (1897)

Alphonse Mucha’s success with the Sarah Bernhardt posters precipitated in many more commissions for advertising posters. He designed posters such as the one for JOB cigarette papers…

Moët Chandon Crémant Impérial poster by Alphonse Mucha (1899)

…and for Moët-Chandon champagne.

                             Champenois poster by Alphonse Mucha

At the turn of the twentieth century, Alphonse Muhca continued to create posters for Ferdinand Champenois, who had his premises at 66 Boulvd. St. Michel, Paris.  He signed an exclusive contract with the company to produce commercial and decorative posters.  With Gismonda ‘le style Mucha’ was launched.  Mucha was established as the preeminent exponent of Parisian Art Nouveau.  This 1897 lithograph depicts a beautiful young girl in a sophisticated pink dress with red and blue embroidery. The girl wears pink and red flowers in her dark blonde hair and is surrounded by the heavy floral ornamentation and spirals characteristic of much of Alphonse Mucha’s work.  Over the next decade Mucha illustrated posters and decorative panels, books, magazine covers, advertisements, theatre programmes, menu cards, calendars, and postcards many using Champenois as his printer.

          Calendar illustration designed by Alphonse Mucha for La Plume

Alphonse also designed a calendar which featured a woman’s head around which were the twelve signs of the zodiac in a halo-like disc. The rights for the illustration were sold on to Léon Deschamps, the editor of the arts review La Plume, who brought it out with great success as the magazine’s calendar for 1897. This was Mucha’s first work under his contract with the printer Champenois and was originally designed as an in-house calendar for the company.  The majestic beauty of the woman is emphasised by her regal bearing and elaborate jewellery.  It became one of Mucha’s most popular designs; at least nine variants of this lithograph are known, including this one which was printed without text to serve as a decorative panel.  Between 1896 and 1904 Alphonse Mucha created over one hundred poster designs for Champenois. These prints were sold in various formats, ranging from expensive versions printed on Japanese paper or vellum, to less expensive versions which combined multiple images, to calendars and postcards.

                       Railroad poster advertising travel to Monaco and Monte-Carlo (1897)

His posters almost always depicted beautiful women in sumptuous settings with their hair generally curling in arabesque forms and filling the frame. In 1897 Alphonse produced a poster for the railway line between Paris and Monaco-Monte-Carlo but it neither showed a train nor any identifiable scene of Monaco or Monte-Carlo. It simply depicted a beautiful young woman in a dream-like pose, surrounded by whirling images of flowers, which implied the turning wheels of a train.

            Poster for Alphonse Mucha’s 1897 retrospective exhibition at the Salon des Cent

Alphone Mucha’s reputation as an illustrative artist grew and he was invited to exhibit his work in the Salon des Cent exhibition in 1896, and a year later he had a major retrospective in the same gallery exhibiting 448 works. The art magazine La Plume made a special edition devoted to his work, and his exhibition travelled to Vienna, Prague, Munich, Brussels, London, and New York, which boosted his international reputation.

                                  Jewelelry designs by Mucha in Documents Decoratifs (1901)

In 1899 Alphonse entered into a collaboration with the jeweller Georges Fouquet to make a bracelet for Sarah Bernhardt in the form of a serpent, made of gold and enamel, similar to the costume jewellery Bernhardt wore in Medea.

                               Cascade pendant designed by Alfons Mucha for Fouquet jewelers, (1900)

The Cascade pendant designed for Fouquet by Mucha in 1900 is in the shape of a waterfall.  It is composed of gold, enamel, opals, tiny diamonds, paillons, and a barocco or misshapen pearl.

………………………to be continued


Much of the information for this came from the excellent website The Mucha Foundation

The Red Rose Girls. Part 4. Howard Pyle.

Howard Pyle

The story of The Rose Girls could not be told without talking about the American illustrator and author, primarily of books for young people, Howard Pyle, who gave the The Rose Girls soubriquet to the three young ladies he was mentoring.  He was a man of great talent and a patriotic missionary of Americanism and his illustrations were held in high esteem on both sides of the Atlantic..

The Coming of Lancaster by Howard Pyle (1908).  Illustration from The Scabbard by James Branch Cabell, and illustrated by Howard Pyle which appeared in Harper’s Monthly Magazine, May 1908 and is a fictional retelling of the story of King Richard II of England, who was deposed by his cousin Henry who belonged to the Lancaster branch of British royalty

Howard Pyle was born in Wilmington, Delaware on March 5th 1853.   He was the son and eldest child of Quakers, William Pyle and Margaret Churchman Painter, an amateur artist.  Pyle remembered his childhood, with fondness, as being an idyllic time that was centred around the family’s wonderful old stone house and its garden, which he remembered as being filled with profuse blooms and hidden wonders. Mainly thanks to his mother, Pyle developed a love of reading and like many children of his age he loved the tales of Daniel Defoe’s,such as Robinson Crusoe, the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and mystical stories from the Arabian Nights. all of which fired up his young imagination. He attended the Friend’s School in Wilmington followed by schooling at a small private institution. He was not a top student, and it was said that he wasted too much time daydreaming. His one love was art and he spent much of his free time drawing.  He also developed a love of writing his own stories.   Although it was the wish of Pyle’s parents that their son should attend college, Howard Pyle had other ideas about his future, which he saw as being a professional artist or writer.  Knowing that their son was never going to go to university his parents, especially his mother, decided to encourage him to study art.

The Mermaid by Howard Pyle (1910)

He studied for three years at the studio of Francis Van der Wielen in Philadelphia.  Van der Wielen was a Dutch artist who in 1872 had taught sixteen-year-old Cecilia Beaux.  Besides a few art lessons later at the Art Students League of New York, these three years tutoring by van der Wielen were Howard Pyle’s only formal training. Because of problems with his father’s leather business, Howard Pyle had to spend many years helping out in the family business. The artistic breakthrough for Howard Pyle came in 1876 when his mother sent an essay and sketches he had done while on holiday with his father on Chincoteague Island to Scribner’s Magazine.  The editor accepted the article and illustrations and told Pyle they were so good that they were being published in the November issue of the magazine.  Furthermore, the editor invited Howard Pyle to come to New York and work for the magazine as a writer and illustrator.

A Wolf Had Not Been Seen at Salem for Thirty Years by Howard Pyle.  Illustration for “The Salem Wolf”  a short story written and illustrated by Howard Pyle for Harper’s Monthly magazine, December 1909.  

Howard Pyle was now living in New York city in a small rented room at 250 West 38th Street (between Seventh and Eighth Avenues) and it was not long before he sold his first painting to Harpers Weekly, a magazine that would continue to buy his work for many years in the future. The publisher of Harper’s Weekly had assembled an exceptional group of professionals who were knowledgeable about illustration and trained in the newest methods of printing, and the House of Harper became an informal training ground for the likes of Howard Pyle to learn every aspect of the publishing process.  It was soon after settling in New York that Howard Pyle knew that he wanted to write and illustrate books for children. Pyle had both a wonderful imagination and he also was able to recollect stories from his childhood.  He set about putting those memories on paper and at the same time illustrated his prose.  He submitted many of his stories and illustrations to the St Nicholas magazine, a popular monthly American children’s magazine, founded by Scribner’s in 1873.    

An Attack on a Galleon, a 1905 illustration for the story, The Fate of a Treasure Town by Howard Pyle which appeared in the December edition of Harper’s Monthly magazine.

He drew upon his vivid childhood memories to contribute stories to the St. Nicholas magazine, and he read and studied many of the old folktales that he’d loved as a child, extending his reading to include less familiar tales from many nations. These folktales and the romances of his boyhood would become the central core of his work over his lifetime; and although he is primarily remembered today for his contributions to illustration, he was a writer of some skill. Indeed, he has been compared to Hans Christian Andersen in the way his unique voice and imagination shaped his traditional folklore and fantasy material.

St Nicholas magazine cover. May 1875

According to Ian Schoenherr’s blog on Howard Pyle, one of the first magazine covers to feature an illustration by Howard Pyle is the May 1877 cover of St. Nicholas, Scribner’s Illustrated Magazine for Girls & Boys.  Pyle actually only designed the long rectangular illustration which runs diagonally across the cover.  In the magazine the publisher explained the illustration:

“…The beautiful tablet by Mr. Pyle, which adorns our cover this month, tells a true story in its own lively fashion. Its quaint costumes of successive centuries, showing how May-day rejoicings have been kept up from age to age, will send some of you a-Maying in encyclopedias and year-books, but it gives its real meaning at a glance – which is, that through all time people have welcomed the first coming of the spring. “Merrie May,” meaning pleasant May (for in old times “merry” simply meant pleasant), was as fresh and beautiful ages ago as it is to-day; and in one way or another the thought at the bottom of all the rejoicing is ever that of the old carol:

 

“A garland gay I’ve brought you here,

And at your door I stand;

It’s but a sprout, but it’s well budded out.

The work of our Lord’s hand.”

Howard Pyle remained in New York until 1879 at which time he returned home to Wilmington, by which time he had established a reputation as a leading writer and illustrator of children’s books. 

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire, published in 1883, is thought to have been Pyle’s first children’s book.  He wrote, illustrated and designed the book himself.  In all, he went on to do many more books for this audience including Pepper and Salt, The Wonder Clock and four volumes of the Legends of King Arthur

He completed Legend and Stories of King Arthur in 1903.  The book contains a compilation of various stories, adapted by Pyle, regarding the legendary King Arthur of Britain and select Knights of the Round Table. Pyle’s novel begins with King Arthur in his youth and continues through numerous tales of bravery, romance, battle, and knighthood.

The 1902 illustration by Howard Pyle “There is a time to fight, and that time has now come” for The Story of a Great-Grandfather by George Hibbard which appeared in Scribner’s Magazine January 1903

Howard Pyle believed that book illustration was the fundamental basis from which to produce painters.  His ideas with regards illustration were revolutionary and at odds with many of the beliefs of the day. Pyle was adamant that artists needed, to get beyond the stiff figures of the studio life class and let their figures and scenes come from the imagination rather than from a frozen pose.

For Pyle, the overall design of the book was of paramount importance and he helped his students learn how to incorporate their illustrations into the finished article. Pyle made it clear to his students that the role of the illustrator was to compliment and enhance the text in personal ways rather than merely mimic what the text expressed. Through his many books and his teaching, the influence of Howard Pyle on children’s literature is acknowledged by readers and artists to this day.

Howard Pyle working on mural depicting Battle of Nashville in his Franklin Street studio (c.1905).

Pyle decided to do something about giving art students a firmer foundation in illustrative art by offering his services to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art as their Instructor of Illustration.  His offer was politely refused and he was told that the Academy school was for painters and sculptors and was a school for the fine arts only.  Pyle, having been rebuffed by the Academy, was not to be deterred and made  the  same  offer  to  the  Drexel  Institute.  His offer was promptly  accepted  and within  a short  time there  began  to appear  in the magazines new names of illustrators who had been students of Pyle.  Sensing that the Drexel Institute was the better option when it came to illustrative art, many of the Pennsylvania Academy students left and enrolled at the Drexel Institute.  The director of the Pennsylvania Academy, Harrison Morris, realised he had been wrong to rebuff Pyle’s offer, and asked him to come and teach at the Academy and name his own salary.  Pyle’s short reply was to the point:

“…He who will not when he may, when he will, he shall have nay…”

Howard Pyle commenced teaching at the Drexler Institute in October 1894. The catalogue of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts (1894-1895) announced:

“…A Course in Practical Illustration in Black and White, under the direction of Mr. Pyle.  The course will begin with a series of lectures illustrated before the class by Mr. Pyle. The lectures will be followed by systematic lessons in Composition and Practical Illustration, including Technique, Drawing from the Costumed Model, the Elaboration of Groups, treatment of Historical and other subjects with reference to their use in Illustrations.  The students’ work will be carefully examined and criticized by Mr. Pyle…”

Within Howard Pyle’s first class that October, there were thirty-nine students, including three young people destined to become outstanding leaders in the field of illustration:  Maxfield Parrish, Jessie Willcox Smith, and Elizabeth Shippen Green.  Three years later, in 1897, Violet Oakley joined the class.

………..to be continued.


Most of the information I used for this blog came from an excellent book by Alice A. Carter entitled The Red Rose Girls, An Uncommon Story of Art and Love.


On a more personal note, it is ten years to the day that I started My Daily Art Display blog and this is 830th “edition”.  It started as a one-a-day blog but they were shorter blogs and I was finding I was putting too much pressure on myself to meet deadlines so I now do just one a week but have increased the number of words.  I do enjoy writing them and hopefully will carry on a little while longer.

The Red Rose Girls. Part 1. Elizabeth Shippen Green.

In my next series of blogs, I want to look at the lives of three talented women artists – Jessie Willcox Smith, Elizabeth Shippen Green and Violet Oakley.  These three artists enchanted and fascinated early twentieth century Philadelphia with their brilliant careers and somewhat uncommon lifestyle.  At one time the three women lived together in The Red Rose Inn, a picturesque estate in the affluent Philadelphia suburb of Villanova, a respected area known as the Main Line, an historical and social region of suburban Philadelphia, which was situated along the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s once prestigious Main Line.  The three women were joined by their friend, Henrietta Cozens, who took on the responsibility of managing their communal household.  Their mentor and tutor at the time was the famous American illustrator, Howard Pyle, who, because of their residence, nicknamed them The Red Rose Girls.  The four women forged an intense and emotional bond and vowed to live together for the rest of their lives.  They even adopted and acronymic surname, wanting to be known as the Cogs family – C for Cozens, O for Oakley, G for Green and S for Smith.  In the following blogs, I want to delve into the life of these three women and look at their backgrounds, their works and how they fought their way through a male-orientated world of art.  These three women were to become renowned for their illustrative work.

Red Rose Girls, Pictured left are Violet Oakley, Jesse Willcox Smith and Elizabeth Shippen Green (with Henrietta Cozens).

In my next series of five blogs, I want to look at the lives of three talented women artists – Jessie Willcox Smith, Elizabeth Shippen Green and Violet Oakley.  These three artists enchanted and fascinated early twentieth century Philadelphia with their brilliant careers and somewhat uncommon lifestyle.  At one time the three women lived together in The Red Rose Inn, a picturesque estate in the affluent Philadelphia suburb of Villanova, a respected area known as the Main Line, an historical and social region of suburban Philadelphia, which was situated along the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s once prestigious Main Line.  The three women were joined by their friend, Henrietta Cozens, who took on the responsibility of managing their communal household.  Their mentor and tutor at the time was the famous American illustrator, Howard Pyle, who, because of their residence, nicknamed them The Red Rose Girls.  The four women forged an intense and emotional bond and vowed to live together for the rest of their lives.  They even adopted and acronymic surname, wanting to be known as the Cogs family – C for Cozens, O for Oakley, G for Green and S for Smith.  In the following blogs, I want to delve into the life of these three women and look at their backgrounds, their works and how they fought their way through a male-orientated world of art.  The three women were to become renowned for their illustrative work.

Page from illuminated manuscript

Book illustrations can be traced back to the world of manuscript illuminations.  An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript in which the text is accompanied with decoration as initials, borders known as marginalia, and miniature illustrations.  The term illumination originally denoted the embellishment of the text of handwritten books with gold or, more rarely, silver, giving the impression that the page had been literally illuminated. 

Biblia Pauperum or Bible of the Poor, woodcut illustrations with manuscript text

Fast forward to the 18th and 19th centuries and the literature of the Western World and the birth of what we now know as the novel, in the form of adult fiction.  

‘Mr Winkle Returns under Extraordinary Circumstances’, etched illustration by Hablot Knight Browne for The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club by Charles Dickens

An example of this are the novels of Charles Dickens and the way in which he would collaborate with book illustrators.  How it worked was Dickens would give the illustrator an outline of the story line before he wrote the text and he carefully scrutinised the drawings to ensure that they complemented his own ideas.  In the case of Dickens, his favoured illustrator was Hablot Knight Browne who worked under the pen name “Phiz”. 

By the end of the twentieth century, Elizabeth Shippen Green, was to become a leading American illustrator.

 Elizabeth Shippen Green

Elisabeth “Bessie” Shippen Green was born into an old well-to-do Philadelphia family, on September 1st 1871.  She was the third child of Jasper Green and Elizabeth Shippen Boude. Her eldest sister died when aged two and, Katherine, her middle sister, was born a year before Elizabeth.  The family lived near the centre of Philadelphia at 1320 Spruce Street.  Although not very wealthy, the Green family had impeccable “old Philadelphia” connections through both the Shippen and Green ancestors and as such Elizabeth was able to access the elite social circles throughout her life.  It was this advantageous aspect of Elizabeth’s life that led her to become easy going and self-confident.  Elizabeth’s parents were determined that their daughters had every possible social advantage in life and to ensure a good start to Elizabeth’s life journey she was sent to private Philadelphia schools.  Initially she was enrolled at Miss Mary Hough’s School and later Miss Gordon’s School.

Jasper Green, Elizabeth’s father at the Red Rose Inn (1904). Elizabeth Shippen Boude, Elizabeth’s mother (1903)

Elizabeth’s father imbued in his daughter a love of art as he was an amateur artist who had studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and during the American Civil War, worked as an illustrator/correspondent for the Harper’s Weekly, an American political magazine based in New York City.   It was said that during her early schooldays Elizabeth took pleasure in illustrating her school notebooks. 

Portrait of the Artist’s Father, Jasper Green by Elizabeth Shippen Green (c.1900)

Elizabeth Shippen Green, self portrait

In October 1889, a month after that first publication of her work she enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  She spent one year in the antique class, where she had to draw from plaster casts, and two years in the life class, working with live models.  During that period her teachers included Thomas Anshutz, Thomas Eakins, and Robert Vonnoh.  Elizabeth graduated from the Academy in 1893 and it was in that year that the Green family suffered a devastating loss.  Elizabeth’s sister, Katherine died on September 1st 1893, aged twenty-three.  This tragic death would haunt Elizabeth every year as it coincided with her birthday.  Elizabeth had now suffered the tragic loss of both of her sisters and one can only imagine the devastation felt by her parents.

Paper Doll Book #2 watercolour and charcoal by Elizabeth Shippen Green (1906)

Once her schooling was completed, eighteen-year-old Elizabeth enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1888.  For Elizabeth the Fine Arts path was not for her as she was interested in her father’s branch of art, that of illustration and, in her father, she had the best illustrations tutor possible.  By the time she was seventeen years-old she had turned a corner of her bedroom into her studio and produced a series of drawings which she managed to sell to the Philadelphia Times and the first of these were printed by the newspaper on her eighteenth birthday.  The drawings accompanied a short but charming rhyme about a child and her doll, entitled, Naughty Lady Jane.   Although this was the only work of prose which she had published, the Philadelphia Times editors recognised her immense talent as an illustrator and in the September 8th 1889 edition of the Philadelphia Times the editor inserted this extended by-line:

“…You will see in another column today some very pretty verses called Naughty Lady Jane accompanied by six exquisite illustrations.  They are the work of Miss Bessie S. Green of Philadelphia who is only eighteen years old.  The lines are unpretending, of course, yet admirably suited to their purpose; but the illustrations show wonderful talent.  Indeed, they would do credit to an artist much older and more experienced than Miss Green…”

Elizabeth (“Bessie”) must have been delighted to have her work published although the payment of 5o cents for a one-column drawing was hardly going to give her financial independence.

Philadelphia Public Ledger

Elizabeth continued working hard and would regularly submit her illustrations to the Philadelphia Public Ledger, a daily Philadelphia newspaper which was, at the time, owned by George William Childs and Anthony J. Drexel.  Elizabeth received many assignments for fashion illustrations from the newspaper.  In 1897, Elizabeth Shippen Green enrolled at the Drexel Institute which had been founded by Anthony J Drexel, a Philadelphia financier and philanthropist in 1891.   He envisioned an institution of higher learning uniquely suited to the needs of a rapidly growing industrial society and of the young men and women seeking their place in it.

Enter Howard Pyle the leading American illustrator of the time and the two other Red Rose Girls…………………………

………………………………to be continued.

 


The information I used for my five blogs about the Red Rose Girls was mostly collected from the excellent book entitled The Red Rose Girls.  An Uncommon Story of Art and Love by Alice A. Carter.  I can highly recommend this biography.  You will not be disappointed.

John Bauer and Ester Ellqvist

John Bauer Self Portrait (1908 – Volterra, Italy)

I suppose everybody at some time or other has read or had read to them a children’s fable or fairy tale. As a child we would have been fascinated by these stories, but the enchantment was enhanced by the illustrations which were set alongside the printed stories. My blog today is about an artist who was the master of book illustrations which often sat alongside stories about enchanted woods and fairy princesses. Let me introduce you to John Albert Bauer, the Swedish painter and illustrator.

Stackars lilla Basse! (Poor Little Bear) by John Bauer (1912)

John Bauer’s father, Joseph Bauer, came to Sweden from Ebenhausen in Bavaria as a young orphaned teenager in 1863. He eventually settled down in Jönköping, which is situated at the southern end of Sweden’s second largest lake, Vättern, a lake, which would play a fateful part of his son, John’s life. In the early 1870’s Joseph married Emma Charlotta Wadell, whose parents belonged to a farming community in Rogberga, a rural area, eight kilometres south-east of Jönköping.

Villa Sjovik

Joseph Bauer and his family lived in an apartment above their charcuterie shop in the bustling East Square in Jönköping. The family business was a very profitable venture, so much so that Joseph Bauer was able to afford to buy a summer residence, Villa Sjövik, which was built in 1881 and was situated on the west shore of the Rocksjö, a lake close to Jönköping. It was a rural location, surrounded by almost untouched nature. Looking back from the lake, forests could be seen straddling the mountains which bordered the city of Jönköping. Alas, Villa Sjövik was demolished in the 1960’s but in its place today, there is the JOHN BAUERSGATAN (John Bauers Park) bearing the artist’s name. It is now a small area of tranquillity in the middle of the bustling city and there is a sign marking the place where Villa Sjövik once lay.

Eight year old John Bauer

John Bauer was born on June 4th, 1882. He was the third of four children having an elder brother and sister, Hjalmar and Anna and a younger brother Ernst. When John Bauer grew up he spent much time exploring the woods and the nearby fields. Nature to him was his friend. Villa Sjövik was a beautiful residence with a large verdant garden and leading from it was a long jetty which led to the lake which made for an ideal bathing spot. The Bauer family enjoyed their time at their summer residence, away from their town apartment, and after a time, they decided to live permanently at Villa Sjövik.

John Bauer at work

The Bauer family happiness ended abruptly in 1889 when John was seven years old. His sister Anna died suddenly at the tender age of thirteen and this death had an overwhelming effect on John and his family. Living in an apartment situated above their father’s charcuterie, he was always given to sketching and drawing. During his time at Villa Sjövik, he would spend time walking through the Småland forest, always with his sketchbook. It was probably during these teenage years that he began to draw images of the imaginary creatures which he believed inhabited the woods, such as forest trolls and it could be the time that his imaginary fairy-tale world evolved. Another reason for John’s fascination with the world of fairy tales came from the numerous stories he and his siblings were told by their maternal grandmother Johanna Ellqvist. In these recounted myths and legends, she would tell her grandchildren about superstitions and the powers and the secrets of nature which undoubtedly remained in John Bauer’s mind and would play such a big part of his artistic life.

An Old Mountain Troll by John Bauer (1904)

His initial schooling was at Jonkopings Hogre Allmana Laroverk, the Jönköping Public School of Higher Education and then from the age of ten to sixteen he attended the Jonkopings Tekniska Skola, the Jönköping Technical School. John’s passage through school was undistinguished. He was, at best, a mediocre student who lacked any interest in his studies and during lessons would often be lost in his daydreams and doodling on his books and composing caricatures of his teachers. However, one thing was certain, his ability to draw and his interest in art was undeniable. His interest in art was lost on his parents who were too occupied with their own life. They understood he did not like school and showed no interest in getting a job so were supportive when their sixteen-year-old son told them he wanted his future life to be centred around art.

Princess Daga by John Bauer (1907)

At the age of sixteen John left home and moved to Stockholm to study art. Although his parents showed little interest in his artistic ambition they did support him financially, enabling him to pursue his future plans. It must have been a difficult time for the teenager as although he was immersed in his chosen life of art he must overcome his doubts about his own ability. At sixteen years of age Bauer was too young to enrol at the Stockholm’s Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts and so became a student at the Kaleb Ahltins school for painters for the next two years.

Troll by John Bauer (1912)

In 1900, aged 18, Bauer was accepted into the Swedish Academy of Fine Arts. He studied traditional illustrations and made drawings of plants, medieval costumes and croquis, which is the quick and sketchy drawing of a live model. There were Classical Art classes, classes which looked at anatomy, perspective, and he would also be expected to attend lectures on the History of Art. When he got home he would also be expected to complete drawing assignments. All of this was to serve him well in his later work. He did well at the Academy and in his 1991 biography of John Bauer, the author Gunnar Lundqvist quotes a comment of one of Bauer’s tutors, the noted historic painter, Gustaf Cederström, who had this to say about Bauer’s work:

“…His art is what I would call great art, in his almost miniaturized works he gives an impression of something much more powerful than many monumental artists can accomplice on acres of canvas. It is not size that matters but content…”

Söndags-Nisse magazine

Whilst a student at the Academy he supplemented the money he received from his parents by working as an illustrator for various magazines. One of the greatest influences on him was the fellow illustrator Albert Engström, who was one of the most influential journalists in Sweden. He was a humourist and cartoonist with a great European reputation, and in America he was referred to as the “European Mark Twain”. John Bauer sold his first illustrations to the Söndags-Nisse, which was a light-hearted Swedish magazine. He continued to earn money with his illustrations for this journal and they even offered him a permanent job, which he turned down.

Laplanders in snowstorm by John Bauer (1904)

The far north of Sweden, Norway and Finland was the land of the Sami people but with the discovery of vast amounts of iron ore in that region much of their lands were taken over by large mining companies. In 1904 Carl Adam Victor Lundholm planned to publish a book, Lappland, det stora svenska framtidslandet (Lappland, the great Swedish land of the future) which was all about the beauty of this area known as Lapland and to focus on the native Sami people who lived in this wintry region. To make the book complete Lundholm wanted it to be illustrated. Established artists were commissioned.  Bauer applied but as he was only young and inexperienced he was asked to prove his abilities by going to Skansen and sketch the Sami people.

Model Village at Skansen

Skansen was the first open-air museum and zoo in Sweden which is located on the island Djurgården in Stockholm. It had been in existence since October 1891 and revealed the way of life in the different parts of Sweden prior to the industrial era. This open-air museum atop the hill dominates the island and the site includes a full replica of an average 19th-century town, in which craftsmen in traditional dress such as tanners, shoemakers, silversmiths, bakers and glass-blowers demonstrate their skills in period surroundings. There is also an open-air zoo containing a wide range of Scandinavian animals including the bison, brown bear, moose, grey seal, lynx, otter, red fox, reindeer, wolf, and wolverine (as well as some non-Scandinavian animals because of their popularity). There are also farmsteads where rare breeds of farm animals can be seen.

Lundholm was pleased with what Bauer produced after his visits to Skansen and commissioned him to provide some of the book illustrations, and so in July 1904 Bauer travelled to Lappland, staying there a month, sketching, and photographing the area, its people, and their way of life. The book was eventually published in 1908 and eleven of Bauer’s watercolours graced the book. Bauer also turned many of his sketches and photographs into paintings.

Self portrait by Ester Ellqvist

A fellow first-year student of John Bauer was Ester Ellqvist. Ester was born in Ausås in southern Sweden on October 4th, 1880. She was the youngest of seven children of Karl Kristersson Ellqvist and Johanna Nilsdotter. Ester had three older brothers, Carl, Oscar, and Ernst and three older sisters, Selma, Hilda and Gerda. A couple of years after Esther was born, the Ellqvist family moved to Stockholm, where Esther went to the technical school and amongst other things learnt to draw perspective, which was one of the requirements for being admitted into Stockholm’s art academy. One of her sister, Gerda, became an art and needlework teacher, and two of her brothers, Oscar and Ernst made their living as photographers.

John and Ester

John and Ester never studied together as at that time males and females were not allowed to attend the same classes for the men and their artistic education was conducted differently. This was problematic for women such as Ester as although she had the artistic talent and the ambition to succeed she did not have the same opportunities as her fellow male students.

Dubbelporträtt av barn (Double portrait of children) by Ester Ellqvist

John and Ester began seriously courting around 1903 but it was not a close courtship as they were apart most of the time, and their courtship often just existed as an exchange of letters. But these letters were important as each told the other about their loves, their worries and their hopes for the future

Ester photographed by her brother Oscar.

For John, blonde-haired Ester was the personification of a beautiful fairy tale princess and she would be his great inspiration when he started to concentrate on his illustrations for fairy tale books. John and Ester were engaged in 1903, much to Bauer’s family dismay for they believed their son was too young to marry and had yet to establish himself as a professional artist or illustrator.

The Fairy Princess, 1904, oil sketch by John Bauer

However, a year after the couple completed their Academy course they were married on December 18th, 1906. Whether it was just marriage jitters but before the wedding Ester was beginning to have doubts about her relationship with John and their future together. One must remember that the two had vastly different upbringings. Ester, except for her first couple of years, lived in the city of Stockholm and was used to all the things cities could offer. She was a lively vivacious person who had many friends and for her, life in the city was exciting and offered up many social events. John Bauer on the other hand was a solitary person who was brought up in a small town and spent much of his life alone or with his brothers wandering around the nearby forests of South Vätterbygden where he gained inspiration for his paintings. The other problem for the newly-weds was that Ester, like John, was an aspiring artist but now, after marriage, she was expected to give up her art and concentrate on her husband, their home, and the family.

The Königsberg by John Bauer

The turning point in John Bauer’s artistic career came in 1907 when the publishers, Åhlén & Åkerlund, asked him, to provide illustrations for their newly launched Bland tomtar og troll, (Among Gnomes and Trolls) which was a popular Swedish annual which was full of folklore stories and fairy tales written by various authors.  The first edition was published in 1907. Except for 1911 issue, Bauer’s illustrations appeared in the first nine publications. The reason that the 1911 edition of the annual did not contain his illustrations was due to Bauer and the publisher falling out about who owned the watercolours Bauer had given the publisher for the books. He wanted them, they refused saying his material belonged to them and so he declined to supply any material for the 1911 issue. The result was a disaster for the publisher as sales of that year’s annual slumped. The publisher caved in. Bauer was granted the copyright of his paintings which were all returned to him and he resumed producing paintings for their annuals and sales of the annual rose.  Many of the illustrations would be of blonde-haired princesses for which Ester was his ideal muse.

Lucia by John Bauer

One can imagine how excited Bauer was to produce the illustrations. As a child he would walk through the woods close to Villa Sjövik and daydream about the trolls and fairy princess he imagined lived in the woods and now he could convert his dreams into pictorial reality. His illustrations depicted the beauty of Swedish nature with its dense forests pierced by sunlight as it penetrated the gigantic tree canopy. There is a mysticism about his forest illustrations which may sound a chord to those who have ever explored the dark world of a forest.

Ännu sitter Tuvstarr kvar och ser ner i vattnet (Still, Tuvstarr sits and gazes down into the water) by John Bauer (1913)

Due to the restrictions of the technology available to his printers, the 1907to 1910 editions were produced in just two colours: black and yellow even though the watercolour paintings he had given the publisher were in full colour. Things changed with printing techniques in 1912, and the pictures could then be printed in three colours: black, yellow, and blue which were now closer to Bauer’s original paintings. In 1914, following his return from Italy, his illustrations started to be influenced by the Italian Renaissance. However, after eight years of supplying paintings for the annuals, Bauer had had enough and wanted to move on with his art and 1915 marked the last year he provided material for the annuals.

In 1931 a book was published which had extracts from the original volumes illustrated by John Bauer and the proceeds from its sales went to raise money for a memorial honouring Bauer.  One of the most memorable illustrations from these annuals was his 1913 picture, Ännu sitter Tuvstarr kvar och ser ner i vattnet. (Still, Tuvstarr sits and gazes down into the water).

Ester in Italy

In Gunnar Lindqvist’s 1991 biography of John Bauer he states that in the Spring of 1908, John’s father financed his son and daughter-in-law’s trip to Southern Germany and Italy. John and his father Joseph had visited Germany in 1902. John and Ester’s journey lasted for almost two years during which they studied art, visiting museums and churches as well as sketching and painting. The couple visited Verona, Florence, and Siena.  Whilst in Tuscany they spent two months in Volterra, a walled mountain top town of which its history dates to before the 7th century BC. They continued through Naples and Capri, constantly writing home to their families, telling them about all they had seen and done.

The Root Trolls by John Bauer (1917)

It was on their return to Sweden in 2010 that they first got sight of Villa Björkudden on the shores of Lake Bunn, a few miles south east of Gränna. They fell in love with the house and in 1914 they bought it.  The following year in the autumn Ester gives birth to their first child, a boy named Bengt, but always referred to as Putte. The nickname may have derived from the Italian word putti, a figure in a work of art depicted as a chubby male child – a cherub! Bengt actually appeared in a painting by his father entitled The Root Trolls, which Bauer completed in 1917.

Ester Bauer and her son Bengt

The marriage of John and Ester Bauer was failing. Ester saw herself and her life being taken away from her. She had wanted to be a portrait artist but instead she was simply a lonely housewife married to an artist. She believed she had nothing to show for herself. Again, another underlying cause for the unhappy marriage was Ester’s discontent about where she lived. Ester had always wanted the city life and John was content with his countryside home on the bank of Lake Brunn. They did return to Stockholm during the winter but that was never enough for Ester. Whether the decision to buy a new house, a permanent home in Stockholm was John’s attempt to save their marriage, we will never know but it sadly ended in the death of the family.

Train accident at Getå on October 1st 1918

On October 1st, 1918 there occurred the worst train disaster in Swedish history caused by a landslide at Getå.  Forty-two people died when the train de-railed due to the collapse of the track after the landslide. The train jumped the embankment, landing on the road below. The tragedy was well-publicized and it was to lead to a fateful decision by Bauer.

The ferry, Per Brahe

Seven weeks later, on November 19th, 1918 John, Ester and two-year-old Bengt had to go to Stockholm to their new home but because of all the media reports about the Getå train disaster John took the  decision to take the  ferry Per Brahe from Granna to Stockholm instead of going by train. The small steamer carried eight passengers and sixteen crew and was fully loaded with iron stoves, agricultural equipment, sewing machines and barrels of produce. All the cargo did not fit into the steamer’s hold and thus a significant portion had to be stored, unsecured, on deck, making the ship top-heavy. The weather was bad, and the ferry sailed into a raging storm. The violent rolling of the vessel in the big swell caused the deck cargo to shift, and some of it went overboard which destabilized the vessel. The ship foundered and capsized, sinking stern first, just 500 metres from its next port of call, Hastholmen.

Bauer’s Obituary notice
“…The artist John Albert Bauer, his wife Ester-Lisa Bauer nee Ellqvist and son John Beng Olof passed away at sea and leave us, siblings, relatives and friends sorrowful and lamented…”

All twenty-four people on board, including the Bauers, drowned. John Bauer was thirty-six, Ester, thirty-eight and their son Bengt was just three years old when they perished that night in Lake Vättern.

The Bauer Family grave

The Bauers were buried at the Östra cemetery in Jönköping.

Who knows what would have become of the Bauer family if they had not died on that fateful night. Would their marriage have survived? Would John Bauer change his artistic style? Would Ester start painting again? We will never know.

John Bauer and the Mountain King film poster (2017)

A film about the life of John and Ester Bauer was made in 2017 and can be downloaded free at:

http://www.4kmoviehub.com/watch-john-bauer-and-the-mountain-king-2018-online-free


A great deal of information for this blog was gleaned from:

Jönköpings läns museum website

Out flew the web and floated wide blog

Gerda Gottlieb and Einar Wegener

Gerda and Einar
Gerda and Einar

The artist I am looking at today was unknown to me.  The more I read about her the more I realise I should have been aware of her especially after the recent publicity.  Howeve,r so that I am not cast alone as the “unknowledgeable one” I wonder how many of you have heard of Gerda Marie Fredrikke Gottlieb.  Well, have you?   I am not going to totally give away why you, like me, should have known her until a little later in the blog.  Today’s blog is not just about her but also about her first husband Einar Wegener.

Gerda Wegener (née Gottlieb)
Gerda Wegener (1886 – 1940)

Gerda Marie Fredrikke Gottlieb was born on March 15th 1886 in the small rural town of Hammelev in the eastern part of central Jutland. She was the daughter of Emil Gottlieb, a clergyman in the Catholic Church and Justine Gottlieb (née Osterberg). Although she had three other siblings they all died before adulthood.  Life as the daughter of a clergyman was a very conservative one.  Probably, because of her father’s profession, the family moved around the country.  Whilst still a child the family moved the short distance south from Hammelev to the coastal town of Grenaa and later to the central Jutland town of Hobro.

Gerda showed a love of art and an unusual artistic talent at a young age and began to receive some local artistic training. In 1903, when she was seventeen years of age, and had completed her schooling, she managed, after a lot of cajoling, to have her parents agree to allow her to carry on with her art studies and enrol at the newly opened women’s college at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen.  Gerda proved to be a very talented student and in 1904 some of her work was exhibited in the Kunsthal Charlottenborg which is the official gallery of the Royal Danish Academy of Art.  It was at this artistic academy that fate was going to change her life for it was here that she met and fell in love with a fellow Academy student Einar Wegener.

Einar Wegener
Einar Wegener

Einar Mogens Andreas Wegener was born a male (important to note!) on December 28th 1882 in the small Danish town, Vejle, which is situated in the southeast of the Jutland Peninsula and lies at the head of Vejle Fjord.  He was the youngest of four children. By all accounts Einar was a precocious child who, like Gerda, showed an early artistic talent. He trained as a painter at the Vejle Technical School, and on graduating in 1902 enrolled at the Royal Academy of Art in Copenhagen.

Capri, Italy by Einar Wegener (c.1920)
Capri, Italy by Einar Wegener (c.1920)

In his own works Einar Wegener often painted landscapes from the place where he came from, and later scenes from the countryside in France. Einar Wegener received Neuhausens prize in 1907 and exhibited at Kunstnernes Efteraarsudstilling (the Artists Fall Exhibition), Vejle Art Museum and in the Saloon and Salon d’Automme in Paris . These two aspiring young artists would often paint together although their interest in art differed.

Landscape by Einar Wegener (1908)
Landscape by Einar Wegener (1908)

Einar liked to paint landscapes whereas Gerda preferred illustrative work, the type she would have seen in fashion magazines.  Her main influences derived from her love of French eighteenth century Rococo art depicting well dressed women in luxurious and colourful clothes painted by the great French artists of that time such as Jean-Antoine Watteau, Francois Boucher, and Jean-Honoré Fragonard.  Having a love of illustrative work she also admired the work of a contemporary of hers, the British Victorian illustrator Aubrey Beardsley

The Morning Dream, an illustration by Aubrey Beardsley
The Morning Dream, an illustration by Aubrey Beardsley

Beardsley, a major figure in Aestheticism and Art Nouveau, was influenced by the pre-Raphaelite painter and illustrator, Edward Burne-Jones and the woodcuts of the Ukiyo-e movement in Japanese art.  He had a distinctive style contrasting the subtle use of line with bold masses of black.  Many of his illustrations were classed as decadent and as an author he wrote an erotic novel, Under the Hill, and illustrated it with pornographic pictures.

Costumes Parisiens - illustration by Gerda Wegener (1914)
Costumes Parisiens – illustration by Gerda Wegener (1914)

Gerda Weneger had a refined and decadent character style, inspired by the English illustrator and her paintings split the views of the critic and public, some of who were excited with her work whilst it offended others, believing it to be simply pornographic. However in a lot of her erotic work Wegener often ensured that the ladies depicted had a disarming and somewhat enchanting twinkle in their eyes which countered the possible pornographic nature of the work. There is a distinct sense of fun and joie de vivre in Wegener’s work.

Lesbian illustration by Gerda Wegener
Lesbian illustration by Gerda Wegener

Gerda now lived in a bohemian area of Copenhagen populated by actors and dancers as well as artists her early works often depicted long-limbed heavily made-up, colourfully dressed exuberant females who were full of joie de vivre rather than art’s normal depictions of somewhat lifeless women.  In some way this could have been her challenge to the art establishment’s depiction of women, even challenging society’s concepts of women and challenge the standards of the time. Her book and magazine illustrations included ones which focused on high fashion and which were acceptable and loved by the public but she also produced illustrations featuring lesbianism and erotica which were often frowned upon my many parts of society.  There was a belief that Gerda herself was a lesbian.

Lili Elbe (1926)
Lili Elbe (1926)

Although I had never heard of Gerda and Einar Wegener they have become well-known not for their art but his sexuality which was brought to life in the 2016 biographical romantic film, The Danish Girl, which was based on the fictional book, of the same name, written in 2000 by David Ebershoff.    The book and the film also derived their information from a 1931 book about Einar.   The biography of Einar Wegener (Lili Elbe) was published in Denmark in 1931 under the title Fra mand til kvinde (From Man to Woman).  This was actually an autobiography edited by Niels Hoyer (real name Ernst Ludwig Hathom Jacobson) who had put together many manuscripts and letters after Lili’s death.  So when did the problematic sexuality of Einar first surface?  The Danish Girl film and book probably over simplified the beginnings of Einar’s doubt about his own sexuality but they refer to the day when he was asked to pose for his wife.  He described the occasion:

“…About this time Grete painted the portrait of the then popular actress in Copenhagen, Anna Larsen. One day Anna was unable to attend the appointed sitting. On the telephone she asked Grete, who was somewhat vexed: ‘Cannot Andreas pose as a model for the lower part of the picture? His legs and feet are as pretty as mine…”

Einar was very reluctant but Gerda finally persuaded him.   When Anna turned up unexpectedly at their studio she was very impressed with Einar’s portrayal of her and nicknamed him Lili.  On seeing (Einar, whose middle name was Andreas), she reportedly said:

 “…You know, Andreas, you were certainly a girl in a former existence, or else Nature has made a mistake with you this time…”

Two Cocottes with Hats (Gerda and Lili) by Gerda Wegener
Two Cocottes with Hats (Gerda and Lili) by Gerda Wegener

Gerda was so pleased with Einar as a female model she persuaded him to model for her on a number of future occasions.  Wegener’s fashion industry paintings featured beautiful women dressed in chic attire, one of the most popular of which was a captivating lady with a stylish short bob, full lips, and haunting almond-shaped brown eyes. Who would have believed that this exquisite beauty was her husband, Einar, who posed as her fashion model while donning women’s clothing. It was through these experiences that her husband Einar came to realize his true gender identity and began living his life as a woman. Einar’s sexuality became even more complicated when he and Gerda would go to parties as two females and often Gerda would introduce Lili Elba as Einar’s sister.

Gerda and Einar married in 1905 whilst they were still students at the Academy.  She was nineteen and he was twenty-two.

Portrait of Ellen von Kohl by Gerda Wegener
Portrait of Ellen von Kohl by Gerda Wegener

In 1907, Gerda completed a portrait entitled Portrait of Ellen von Kohl but although as we look at it now you will be surprised to know it caused quite a controversy and sparked the Peasant Painter Feud which was a national debate covered in the pages of the Danish newspaper Politiken.  It was all about ‘distasteful’ paintings of excess, (the smouldering look of Ellen von Kohl was seen as being too lascivious!) for the favoured norm at the time was for realism favoured representations of ‘ordinary people in the countryside’. The debate became so heated that the portrait was rejected by both the Kunsthal Charlottenborg, which was the official gallery of the Royal Danish Academy of Art, and also the Den Frie gallery, which was founded by the Association of Danish Artists, in protest against the admission requirements for the Kunsthal Charlottenborg.

Lili Elbe by Gerda Wegener
Lili Elbe by Gerda Wegener

Gerda completed her art course at the Academy in 1907 and once again fate was going to play a part in her future as in 1908, soon after leaving the Academy she entered and won a drawing competition organised by the leading Danish broadsheet newspaper Politiken. It was competition to draw ‘Copenhagen Woman’.  The newspaper was so pleased by her winning entry that they offered her a job as a regular contributor and soon she established herself as a capable cartoonist and illustrator.  This was just the start of her career as the recognition launched her into the fashion magazine industry and soon she became a leading illustrator of women’s high fashion in the Art Deco style of the time

Although the bohemian quarter of Copenhagen, where the couple lived, had a somewhat laissez-faire attitude towards life, the pair eventually moved to the more liberal Paris and soon Gerda and Einar began to live as two women.  In the French capital, Gerda was able to further her art career and, some would have us believe that she became a more active lesbian.

Lili and Gerda by Gerda Wegener
Lili and Gerda by Gerda Wegener

Besides posing as a woman for his wife’s paintings, Einar only dressed as Lili and was a tremendous hit on the bourgeois Parisian scene, with all its decadence, art, and sex. It soon became common knowledge that Lili and Einar were the same person but for Einar he had the satisfaction in knowing he would not be ridiculed.

Lili Elbe by Gerda Wegener
Lili Elbe by Gerda Wegener

Sadly for Einar simply dressing as a woman was not enough and he was suffering mental torment as Lili slowly took over his life.  For him, Einar was slowly dying and Lili was taking control.  Einar viewed himself as an artist but, as his alter-ego Lili, he viewed things very differently.  He described Lili as:

 “…thoughtless, flighty, very superficially-minded woman”, prone to fits of weeping and barely able to speak in front of powerful men…”

Illustration by Gerda Wegener for the magazine La Baionette
Illustration by Gerda Wegener for the magazine La Baionette

Life in Paris was good for Gerda who found success as a portrait painter, fashion illustrator and caricaturist and received many commissions for illustrations from La Vie Parisienne, a French weekly magazine founded in Paris in 1863, Le Rire, the successful humour magazine, La Baïonnette, the magazine which started a few years after Gerda and Einar moved to Paris, as well as the elite Journal des Dames et des Modes, a favourite of artists, intellectuals, and high societyHer success guaranteed a degree of fame and soon she was the primary breadwinner of the couple.

Self portrait by Gerda Wegener
Self portrait by Gerda Wegener

Andrea Rygg Karberg, art historian and curator at ARKEN Museum of Modern Art in Denmark has no doubt about the artistic ability of Gerda Wegener, saying:

“…Gerda was a pioneer who spent two decades as part of the Parisian art scene and revolutionised the way women are portrayed in art.  Throughout history, paintings of beautiful women were done by men.  Women were typically seen through the male gaze. But Gerda changed all that because she painted strong, beautiful women with admiration and identification – as conscious subjects rather than objects…”

Café by Gerda Wegener
Café by Gerda Wegener

With her new lesbian lifestyle in the avant-garde French capital, Gerda Wegener’s art became considerably more racy and scandalous. In addition to her fashion world portraiture that was featured in many fashion magazines, Wegener completed paintings featuring nude women often depicted in erotic, some would say lewd, poses. These paintings were termed “lesbian erotica,” and were published in art books, the most notorious being the Adventures of Casanova.  Some of these risqué paintings were exhibited publicly and the erotic nature and lesbian theme of the works often led to a public outcry.  Far from being taken aback by such vociferous criticism of her work by sections of the public, Gerda revelled in the notoriety.

Illustration by Gerda Wegener
Illustration by Gerda Wegener

The phrase “there is no such thing as bad publicity” may be correct as far as the sale of her work but for Gerda there was a price to pay.  Christian X, the King of Denmark, became aware of Gerda’s marriage to Einar Wegener when he, Lili Elba, had legally become a woman, and so the king declared their marriage invalid in October 1930. Maybe the time had come to an end for Gerda and Einar’s marriage anyway but in 1930 following the annulment, the couple parted ways amicably.

Femme a la Rose by Gerda Wegener
Femme a la Rose by Gerda Wegener

Gerda Wegener following the end of her marriage to Einar married an Italian military officer, Major Fernando Porta, and the couple went to live in Morocco. She continued to paint and would sign her paintings as ‘Gerda Wegener Porta’. The marriage was not a happy one and did not last long with couple divorcing in 1936.

Indian couple seated on a balcony by Gerda Wegener Porta
Indian couple seated on a balcony by Gerda Wegener Porta

She returned to Denmark in 1938, but by then, her paintings and illustrations were no longer in demand and sadly Gerda just managed to eke out a meagre living by painting and selling postcards.  She managed to exhibit her work one last time in 1939.  She had no children and her latter years were spent alone in relative obscurity and with the loneliness came her reliance on alcohol.  Gerda Wegener died on July 28th 1940 in Frederiksburg, Denmark aged 54, a few months after the German army marched into Denmark.  She was buried alone at Solbjerg Park cemetery in Copenhagen.

Einar Wegener / Lili Elbe (1882 - 1931)
Einar Wegener / Lili Elbe
(1882 – 1931)

Einar Wegener continually struggled with his sexuality and believed that Lili Elba was his true self.  It was no longer enough to dress as a woman, he believed that the only way to be at peace with himself was to undergo revolutionary sex reassignment surgery and for that he had to travel to Germany.  In 1930 he attended Dr Ludwig Levy-Lenz clinic in Berlin where he was castrated and had his penis surgically removed.  The following year, 1931, he underwent further surgery, vaginoplasty, which was a procedure that results in the construction of the vagina.  Sadly for Einar these surgical procedures were carried out at a time before antibiotics and he died in Dresden of an infection on September 13th 1931, aged 48.