Theodore Robinson. Part 3 – Monet, Giverny and Robinson’s muse, Marie.

At the Piano by Theodore Robinson (1887)

Whilst Robinson often depicted women at work, other paintings of his  portrayed women at rest, sometimes relaxing at the piano as was depicted in his 1887 painting At the Piano.  The painting was completed whilst he was staying at the home of John Armstrong “Archie” Chanler, a wealthy American writer and activist, and an acquaintance of Robinson who was related to the elite Astor, Livingston, and Stuyvesant families. Chanler was a great supporter of American artists who had come to Paris to follow their artistic dream and it is thought that on occasions had provided financial support to Robinson.

Look at the different textures depicted such as the glistening surface of the piano top and the glowing fabric of the woman’s dress.  We can almost hear the sound of the music as we see the fingers of the lady caress the ivory keys.

The painting was very popular and Robinson believed he knew why.  In his diary entry for September 10th, 1893 he wrote:

“…It is probably the sincerity with which it was done – I remember it seemed to me a sad failure at the time, and at Archie’s rue Dumont d’Urville just before leaving for the country…”

At the Piano by Whistler (1859)

Many believe the inspiration for this work was a painting Robinson may have come across when he was in Philadelphia in 1881 or New York in 1882 when At the Piano by James Abbott McNeil Whistler was being exhibited. Albeit that work, which is a study of Whistler’s half-sister and niece, is much darker in comparison to Robinsons painting which is aglow with delicate light.

Lady in Red by Theodore Robinson (1885)

The model for Robinson’s painting was thought to be Marie a love interest of his during his time in Paris and Giverny although they never married.  Robinson first met Marie at the start of his second visit to France in the Spring of 1884.  She was an artist’s model who lived in Paris.    He first portrayed Marie in a watercolour in 1885 entitled Lady in Red in which she is depicted in profile against a dappled background of leaves and fragile branches.

The Red Gown (also known as His Favorite Model) by Theodore Robinson (1885)

Although that was just a head and shoulder depiction we see she is wearing a red costume which was often seen in other Robinson portraits, such as his painting entitled The Red Gown, and the dress is thought to be one of Robinson’s studio props.

Val d’Arconville by Theodore Robinson (c.1888)

Another of Theodore Robinson’s works featuring Marie was his beautiful 1888 work entitled Val D’Arconville, which can be seen at the Chicago Institute for Art.  In this depiction, we see Marie sitting on a flower-filled hillside overlooking the Arconville Valley which is situated southeast of Paris.  In the painting, Robinson used densely layered, broken brushwork, which was a technique he picked up from Monet.  This clever artistic method has the observer of the work relinquish their focus on the woman and their eye is led down the slope, and across the valley.  This was not simply an impressionistic painting which captured momentary effects such as the grass moving in the breeze, it becomes more of a structural work with the inclusion of the houses in the middle ground.

The painting was originally owned by Arthur Astor Carey, a cousin of John Armstrong Chanler, who had taken up residency at Giverny during the summer 1887.  The identity of Marie as the sitter for the painting was confirmed by an entry in Robinson’s diary for June 11th1893 in which he stated:

“…Mrs B. told me of the inspiration she got from a picture of mine (Carey’s, with Marie on the hill-side)…”

Little is known of Marie but in Sona Johnston book In Monet’s Light she quotes from a letter of a fellow American tourist and lodger at Hôtel Baudy who wrote home:

“…By the way, dear, it looks very strange but Mr. Robinson has a model down here who has a little daughter . . . Everyone says that . . . the little girl is the daughter of Mr. Robinson [and] the child looks very like him.”

Robinson had fell heavily for his muse and in a letter to his sister-in-law, Mary, on May 20th, 1887, he wrote:

“…I am in love with a French Girl, it is an affair of some time – and I came close to writing of it to Father but did not.  It is quiet just now and nothing may come of it so you had better say nothing about it – She has the same name as you in French – Marie – but she is as dark as you are fair…”

Nobody ever knew the surname of Robinson’s love as he never wrote it down in any of his letters or in his diary.  Despite his deep love for the young women, nothing came of the relationship.  The couple never married and we will never know why.  Maybe it was because of his failing health or maybe it was because of his poor financial state.  We do know that the relationship was not as Robinson would have liked as he discussed his disappointment with the state of his love life on many occasions over the dinner table with Will Low and his wife.   His relationship with Marie lasted for six years until he finally left France but he continued to correspond with Marie up until his death.

Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood by John Singer Sargent (1885)

Giverny became a popular spot for artists around mid-1880’s.  It is known that John Singer Sargent visited the village around 1885 and met with Monet and it was the latter’s love of en plein air painting that appealed to Sargent.  It was in that year that Sargent produced his painting entitled Claude Monet Painting at the Edge of the Wood which depicts the great man at work watched over by his future second wife, Alice Hoschedé.

In 1880s and 1890s, American aspiring artists poured into Paris looking for places at its art schools and a chance to work in the ateliers of famous French painters. To them Paris was the Mecca of art and to study at one of the academies or ateliers was a “must have” experience and at the same time it was a sought-after freedom from the rigidity of artistic training at American academies.  For them to study at one of the famed Parisian academies and then to head for the countryside or the coast during the summer months was, for them, their idea of Shangri-La.

In the summer of 1887 a small group of young American artists made their home in Giverny.  How this came about was documented in a book written by the English Impressionist painter, Dawson Dawson-Watson entitled The Real Story of Giverny, based on a conversation he had had with the American artist, John Leslie Breck in 1888.  Breck recounted:

“…In the spring of ’87 [he and] Willard Metcalf, Theodore Robinson, Blair-Bruce, Theo Wendel, and a chap named Taylor whose Christian name I cannot recall, were talking over some place to go for the summer.  All of the usual places, Pont Aven, Etretat, Ecoigu, and Grèz, were rejected because their interest was in finding a new location to paint. After consulting the destination board at the Gare St. Lazare, they agreed that Pont del’Arche was appealing, so they decided to visit the town and see if it was as picturesque as its name.

The train to Pont del’Arche followed the Seine into Normandy and required a change at Vernon. As they approached Vernon, Metcalf pointed out a little village of white houses and a Norman church at the base of the hill on the opposite bank of the river and commented on its loveliness. At Vernon, they were told the village was Giverny. Once aboard the new train they were treated to a second view of Giverny when they crossed the Seine and were doubling back. The painters agreed unanimously that if Pont del’Arche was not to their liking they would return to Giverny the following morning, which was exactly what they did…”

After the initial discovery, other American artists soon followed and many began to extend their visits beyond the summer months.

Robinson’s photograph of the Monet-Hoschedé family gathering at Giverny (c.1892)

In April 1883, forty-two-year-old Claude Monet left his home in the western Paris suburb of Poissy and went to live in the small Normandy farming village of Giverny, a village he had passed thorough many times during his train journeys from Paris to Rouen.  The unpretentious village nestled at the bottom of a hill across the River Seine from the town of Vernon.  It was then made up of simple farms, modest houses, and a Norman church and at the time had a population of less than three hundred residents.  What appealed to Monet about Giverny and the surrounding area was its pastoral charm.  Monet, at this time, had been widowed for four years.  He arrived at Giverny and set up home along with his two children, Jean and Michel, and his former patrons Ernest and Alice Hoschedé.  Ernest Hoschedé, a departments store magnate and art collector had been declared bankrupt in 1877 when his business failed.  With nowhere to live, he and his wife and six children went to live with Claude and Camille Monet and their two children.

Charcoal sketch of Claude Monet by Theodore Robinson (1890)

At the time of Monet’s arrival at Giverny, his artistic career was starting to take off.  Giverny was to be a secluded and peaceful retreat and so he was less than pleased by the summer influx of artists to Giverny.  In his 1993 book Monet’s Giverny: An Impressionists Colony. William Gerdts recalls what Monet told a reporter about the influx of Americans:

“…When I first came to Giverny I was quite alone, the little village was unspoiled. Now, so many artists, students, flock here, I have often thought of moving away…”

However, the great man did not move away. Instead he progressively removed himself to his compound where his garden and lily pond provided all the subject matter he needed for his paintings.

Theodore Robinson’s photograph of Monet (c.1889)

Theodore Robinson agreed with Monet about the downside of the influx of visitors and was set against the idea put forward by John Leslie Breck to establish Giverny as an artists’ colony, and he was quoted as saying:

“…Breck conceived the idea of making an art colony of it [Giverny]. Theo Robinson strenuously objected saying they had found a lovely spot and should keep it to themselves…”

Breck had replied that because everyone had been so damn nice, he wanted them to reap some real financial benefit and not withstanding Robinson’s objection, Breck had persuaded Monsieur Baudy, the owner of Café Baudy they frequented, to build six rooms in the courtyard in back of the building and so Hôtel Baudy came into existence.  He even persuaded the landlord to build a studio for Willard Metcalf.

Theodore Robinson may have objected to making Giverny a hub for artists to visit in the summer for other than selfish reasons, it could well have been due to his own social reserve.  Robinson was not an unfriendly person but was quite happy with his own company.  Robinson, at thirty-one years of age, was older than his friends who had come to Giverny with him and this may have been a factor as to why he had been befriended by Monet.  Robinson, being close to Monet, was probably aware of Monet’s dislike of the village being overrun by visiting artists.  Robinson and Monet’s friendship was an interesting one.  It was not based on Monet being the master and Robinson the pupil.  It was a friendship based on a shared common love – painting, and both appreciated the talent of the other.  It was a friendship that would last even after Robinson returned to America with many letters passing from one to the other.

La Vachère (The Cowherd) by Theodore Robinson (1888)

Robinson returned briefly to New York at the end of 1887, but was back in Paris by early 1888 and had once again re-visited Giverny that summer. One of his paintings he completed during that summer is now considered to be one of his first Impressionist paintings.  It was La Vachére. It is interesting to note that this work highlights a dilemma for Robinson.  Is he an Impressionist painter or an Academic painter?  The painting would seem to be part Impressionism in the way the trees and foliage are depicted as patches of colour and part Academic in the way he depicts the woman.  She is simply a figurative study within an Impressionistic backdrop.  The painting was exhibited in the 1889 Paris Salon.

Autumn Sunlight by Theodore Robinson (1888)

A more impressionist style of painting can be seen in Theodore Robinson’s 1888 work entitled Autumn Sunlight.  In this painting, we see a young woman standing in the woods.  She is what is termed a faggot gatherer, a person who collects firewood, a bundle of which we see at her feet.   The background of speckled light hints at tonalism, which emphasizes atmosphere and shadow. However, the foreground with its myriad of leaves depicted by a montage of broken brushstrokes is pure Impressionism.

Winter Landscape by Theodore Robinson (1889)

Robinson returned to New York in December 1888.  He rented a studio in Manhattan.  His artistic output was less than it had been during his days in Giverny but produced works that he exhibited at the American Watercolor Society in the Spring of 1889.  Come the summer of 1889, Robinson was back in Giverny and it was during that year that he completed his beautiful work entitled Winter Landscape.  The work depicts ta view of the village of Giverny after it had succumbed to a freak snowstorm.  The red rooves of the houses were suddenly transformed to a patchwork of white and the entire village is swathed in a icy-looking purple-blue ambience.  Once again Robinson had returned to New York that winter and entered this painting at the Society of American Artists annual exhibition.  It won the Webb Prize, an award given for the best landscape in the exhibition, painted by an American artist under forty years of age.  He also received a monetary prize amounting the three hundred dollars.  Ironically this was one of the pure landscapes Robinson painted without a person or persons being part of the scene and the category for the prize stipulated that only “pure” landscape paintings would be accepted by the judges!

Capri and Mount Solaro by Theodore Robinson (1890)

Robinson was back in Giverny, once again a resident of Hôtel Baudy, for the summer of 1890 but the highlight of the year for him was his trip to Italy and the south of France.  During that winter journey Robinson visited Capri and from that stop-over produced the painting Capri and Mount Solero.  This landscape work was a depiction of the town and mountain as seen from a hillside which looks across from the town.  Again, in this work, we see the juxtaposition of his two styles.  We have the geometrical depiction of the village and the flat-roofed houses and yet we have the Impressionism style loose brushstrokes which are used to depict the foliage.

Capri by Theodore Robinson (1890)

For the first three months of 1891 Robinson was in Frascati, a town twenty kilometres south-east of Rome.  It was in March 1891 that Monet contacted Robinson, summoning home:

“…[Spring] is close … and I hope you are not going to delay taking possession again of your little house…….”

Robinson returned to Giverny in April 1891 after a brief stay in the French coastal town of Antibes.  Once again, having arrived back in Giverny, he took up residence at the Hôtel Baudy where he stayed until December, at which time he returns to New York.  The year 1891 was one of the most productive for Robinson and it was in that year that he once again began to dabble with photography.  He wrote to his family explaining why:

“…Painting directly from nature is difficult as things do not remain the same, the camera helps retain the picture in your mind…”

Two in a Boat Theodore Robinson (1891)

His use and dependency on photography varied but was mainly for use in his figurative work.  In some cases, it was found that he drew a grid of squares on the photograph and on the canvas or sheet of paper he was to draw on so that he could transfer a composition with great accuracy.  One painting he completed using this method to depict the two figures was Two in a Boat which he completed whilst in Giverny in the summer of 1891.  The depiction is of two women reading while lounging in a skiff floating on the Seine or Epte rivers. The method Robinson used to complete the work is given by the Phillips Collection in Washington which houses the painting:

“…The relationship between Two in a Boat and the photograph from which it derived offers a vivid example of Robinson’s painting process. He lightly scored the photograph and the canvas with graphite and sketched in the composition, using the grid as a measure. The grid and under-drawing are visible throughout, because Robinson’s pink primed canvas was left exposed in many areas, particularly in the lines defining the interior of the occupied boat and the figures. The painting differs slightly from the photograph: Robinson excluded a fourth boat to the starboard side of the skiff and the branch falling diagonally from the top left corner; furthermore, the photograph’s strong contrast has been replaced by an overall tone of violet and green…”

Robinson was pleased with the painting and exhibited it in the Society of American Artists’ 1895 annual exhibition and in his one-person exhibition at Macbeth’s later that year.

On May 13th, 1892, Robinson departed for what would prove to be his last summer in Giverny and the following month celebrated his fortieth birthday.  Celebrate was probably not the best way to describe this milestone in his life as he was suffering from a bout of severe depression and self-doubt.

La Debacle (also known as Marie at the Little Bridge) by Theodore Robinson (1892)

In 1892 Robinson completed one of his best known and best loved paintings.  It had the strange title of La Débâcle and later a subtitle of Marie at Little Bridge was added.  The sitter for this work was again his muse, Marie, Robinson’s great love and regular model.  In the painting, we see a fashionably dressed young woman seated on the stone foundation of the bridge over the River Epte, which runs close to Giverny.  Something or someone has disturbed her although we have no clue to what or who it is.  Clutched in her hand is the most recent novel written by Emile Zola entitled La Débâcle which had just come on sale that year.  The title of the book refers to the ignominious defeat of France in its battle with Prussia in 1870.  However, there may be another reason for the title of the painting as Robinson had proposed to Marie on a number of occasions and had been spurned and in a way that was Robinson’s own Débâcle.  It was also the year Robinson left Giverny and France for the last time but with him on his final journey back to America was this painting.

The Wedding March by Theodore Robinson (1892)

Also in 1892 Robinson produced what is probably his best-known work, The Wedding March.  The painting was based on the wedding of the American painter, Theodore Earl Butler to one of Monet’s stepdaughter, Susan Hoschedé.  In a letter to his friend he described the event:

“…There was a double ceremony – first at the Mairie – then at the church.  Nearly all the wedding party were in full dress……Most of the villagers and all the pensionnaires were there – guns were fired, two beggars held open the carriage doors and received alms…”

Although one may have thought that Robinson painted the work using a photograph of the processional march but in fact he painted it from memory. In the painting, we see the procession from the orange-sided Mairie, or City Hall, on its way to the old Norman church down the lane which has since been named the rue Claude Monet. In the depiction, we see Monet himself escorting the bride at foreground while Butler and Madame Hoschedé bring up the rear. The unidentified girl in the middle is thought to be the youngest Hoschedé daughter.

Gathering Plums by Theodore Robinson (1891)

Robinson arrived back in America on December 12th, 1892.  He had hoped to survive financially through the sale of his paintings but this was not to be and due to ever increasing financial difficulties Robinson was forced to teach a summer class for the Brooklyn Art School.  Robinson was a shy person who favoured his own company and so due to this and his lack of confidence, teaching was not a favourite occupation, but beggars cannot be choosers.

Père Trognon and His Daughter at the Bridge (1891)

For the next three years, Theodore Robinson continued to paint and teach at various colleges but his health was beginning to fail.   During the winter of 1895, asthma was increasingly consuming more of Robinson’s strength. In his final letter to Monet in February 6th, 1896 he wrote to the great man saying that he hoped to return to Giverny but it was not to be. He finally succumbed to the respiratory ailment that he had been suffering from all his life and he died on April 2nd, 1896 at the New York home of his cousin, Agnes Cheney. Robinson’s funeral was held on 4 April at the Society of American Artists in New York, and his body was then sent to Evansville, Wisconsin for burial.  His death came just six weeks before what would have been his forty-fourth birthday.

Theodore Robinson has long been considered the first American Impressionist.

 

 

 

 

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Theodore Robinson. Part 1 – the early years of the American Impressionist

Theodore Robinson

When we think of Impressionism and Impressionist painters we immediately think of French artists and if I was to ask you to name a few French Impressionist painters, I guess you wouldn’t have a problem and the names of Monet, Sisley, Renoir, Bazille, Pissaro and Cézanne would easily roll off your tongue.  However, if I was to ask you to cite some famous American Impressionists I guess the names of Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent would come immediately to mind, some may even suggest William Merritt Chase or John Henry Twachtman but, especially if you were not an American, it would become a struggle to think of the names of any other American Impressionist.  In my blog today I am looking at the life and work of one of the first American Impressionists, Theodore Robinson, albeit he is not the best known.  Lovell Birge Harrison, the American genre and landscape painter, teacher, and writer and prominent practitioner and advocate of Tonalism wrote about Robinson in a 1916 article in Century Magazine, saying:

“…The one who always stands out most vividly in my own mind …[is] Theodore Robinson, who is now taking his place beside Inness, Wyant, and Winslow Homer as one of our American old masters…”

Self Portrait by Theodore Robinson (c.1887)

Robinson was one of the most skilful and gifted American artists of the nineteenth century. He said he always knew he would become an artist and once said of himself that perhaps he was born to make sketches.  His accomplishments as an artist take on an even greater meaning considering that he was a man who would have to battle all his life against poor physical health.

Harbour Scene by Theodore Robinson (1876)

Theodore Pierson Robinson was born on July 3rd 1852 in the small northern Vermont town of Irasburg which lies twenty-five miles south of the US-Canada border.  He was the third of six children of Elijah and Ellen Brown Robinson.  Sadly, his two sisters and one of his brothers died in childhood, leaving just Theodore and his two brothers Hamline and John.  In 1843, his father, who had worked on the family farm in Jamaica, trained to become a minster in the Methodist congregation but due to ill health had to give up the ministry and he became a shopkeeper opening is own clothing store.

Young Woman Reading by Theodore Robinson (1887)

In 1855, whilst still a very young child, Theodore and his family moved from Vermont and went to live in the small town of Barry, Illinois and two years later they moved again, this time to Evansville, southern Wisconsin, another small town that was first settled in the 1830s by New Englanders who were attracted to the area by its unspoiled wooded landscapes.  Another reason for the move to the countryside of Wisconsin was because of Theodore’s health.  As a young child, he had developed asthma which had weakened him and would trouble him for the rest of his life.  He enrolled at the local seminary where his artistic talent was first noted, winning  prizes for penmanship.   He would also often sketch portraits of friends and family as well as the parishioners who came to the local Methodist church.

In 1869, aged 17, after he had completed regular schooling, and because of his burgeoning artistic talent,  along with his mother’s dogged perseverance, he enrolled as a student at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Unfortunately, he did not stay there long as his asthma worsened, a chronic condition that he had suffered with since childhood, and so it was decided that he should move away from polluted air of city life and move to the cleaner drier mountain air of Denver, Colorado.  It must have done the trick for a few years later, he did return to Evansville where he carried on with his portraiture work which he would sell and with the money he earned he would put it aside for his art college fund.  In 1874 he moved to New York where he enrolled at the National Academy of Design.   This establishment was founded in 1825 by a group of artists including Samuel F. B. Morse, Asher B. Durand, Thomas Cole, Martin E. Thompson, all students of the American Academy of Fine Arts, who had grown increasingly impatient with the constraints of the Academy, and in 1825 they had left to found the National Academy of Design. The idea for its existence was said to be

“…to promote the fine arts in America through instruction and exhibition…”

On the Housatonic River Connecticut by Theodore Robinson (1877)

Whilst there, Robinson studied under Lemuel Everett Wilmarth and when not at the Academy would spend hours sketching in nearby Central Park.  We have seen with many of the European academies, the narrow and rigid academic training in art was not for everybody with some aspiring young artists wanting more freedom with regards what was being taught and how it was being taught.  As far as Robinson and several his fellow students were concerned there was a two-fold problem with the American Academy of Fine Art.   Firstly, the Academy was run by a group of older artists who were landscape painters and concentrated on teaching that artistic genre despite many of the students, including Robinson, wanting more emphasis on figurative painting.  Secondly, the students believed that their prospects to exhibit, and ultimately sell their work, was being limited by the Academy.  Another reason could have been that in 1874 the Academy temporarily suspended activities.  Rumours flew around that the establishment was in financial trouble and so its students felt they had nowhere to turn and wondered about their future.  In 1875, this dissatisfaction and confusion about the future lead Wilmarth, along with a group of his students, including Robinson, to form the Art Students League. This Art Students League met and held its classes in a small rented space over a shop at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 16th Street.  It was so small a space that a daily schedule of studio instruction had to be organised, with women studying in the afternoon and men at night. However, this alternative organisation allowed these painters a greater influence on their curriculum and would also allow them greater access to exhibition space.

Suzette (also known as Peasant Girl) by Theodore Robinson (1879)

Theodore Robinson fulfilled one of his artistic goals two years later in 1876 when he went to study art in Paris, a city looked upon at the time as the centre of the world of art.  Most American art students during the second half of the nineteenth century viewed their study in New York as a stopping-off point on their artistic journey before they headed to Europe.   The first art tutor Robinson studied with in Paris was the French painter, August Carolus-Duran, whose studio was in the Boulevard Montparnasse.  Carolus-Duran was renowned for his elegant portrayal of members of French high society and people travelled from far and wide to become one of his sitters.

Portrait of Mrs Astor by August Carolus-Duran (1890)

Carolus-Duran was probably well known to artists in America for his 1890 portrait of the American banker’s wife, Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor, the doyenne of American high society in the latter half of the 19th century, who maintained the stance of “old money” in the face of changing times and values when the nouveau riche were coming to the fore.   Also, studying under Carolus-Duran, at that time, were John Singer Sargent, the landscape and genre painter Carroll Beckwith and the muralist and author Will Hicock Low.   It was Low who recalled being with Theodore Robinson at that time in Carolus-Duran’s atelier, when he wrote in his 1908 book A Chronicle of Friendship, 1873-1900:

“…Among the new arrivals one year was Theodore Robinson, who, timidly, with due respect for my two years experience in Paris student life, sought my acquaintance… Frail, with a husky, asthmatic voice and a laugh that shook his meager sides and yet hardly made itself heard, yet blessed with as keen a sense of humor as anyone I have ever known, Robinson was received at once into our little circle. At first he seemed almost negative, so quietly he took his place among us, but once the shell of diffidence was pierced few of the men had thought as much or as independently…”

Arabs Arguing by Jean-Leon Gérome

Theodore Robinson was only with Carolus-Duran for a short time and rumour has it that they did not agree on some aspects of the artistic training,  Robinson moved on and became a student at the École des Beaux-Arts, and a pupil at the atelier of the French painter and sculptor, Jean-Léon Gérome, an artist, who had always been a great believer and follower of the painting style known as Academicism, a style of painting and sculpture produced under the influence of European academies of art. Gérome was noted for his portraiture and his history paintings which often featured Arabian scenes, which was known as Orientalism, and was an art genre of Academic art, popular in the nineteenth century which represented the Middle East.  The fact that Robinson was accepted into this atelier is testament to his artistic ability as it was the most admired studio and the one that most American students wanted to attend.

Spinning by Theodore Robinson

In 1877 Theodore Robinson achieved another of his artistic goals, one which every art student strived for; he had a painting, Une Jeune Fille, accepted at that year’s Salon. One can only imagine how delighted he was to get his painting hung at the Salon.  In a letter to his mother he wrote of his joy:

“…My picture is accepted and I tremble with joy…”

The Bridge at Grèz-sur-Loing by Corot (c.1860)

Robinson went on to exhibit his works at five more Salons during the 1880’s.  Following the time spent on his Salon entry and its inclusion at the 1877 Salon, Robinson decided to take a break from his studies and head out of the city and delve into the nearby countryside around Fontainebleau.  He and some of his fellow artists, Will Low, Birge Harrison and Walter Launt Palmer travelled to the village of Grèz which was on the banks of the River Loing on the southern edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau, some fifteen kilometres south of Barbizon.  At the time, this was an area that was awash with artist colonies such as those at Barbizon, Grèz-sur-Loing, Montigny-sur-Loing and Thomery but at this time, Grèz was the most popular with artists who wanted to spend the day painting en plein air and the evening spent talking about art.  This popular idyll was described in the book Theodore Robinson’s La Debacle, 1892: an American Artist in France by Betsy Kathryn Koeninger, in which she quotes the words of the Scottish painter John Lavery, a student at the Académie Julien who stayed in the village in the early 1880’s.   He described the ambience of the village and its surroundings:

“…a pleasant place surrounded by large fields of white and yellow water lilies and poplars and willows. There was also the much-painted bridge… a ruined castle and an ancient church… [and] Madame Chevillon’s Inn with its long garden down to the water’s edge where guests could sit in bathing dress to eat after a swim or a sail in a skiff…”

Farmhouse at Grèz by Theodore Robinson

Robinson’s friend and colleague from the Academy, Birge Harrison, who had travelled to Grèz with him and remembers him, wrote an article in the December 1916 edition of the Century Magazine, entitled With Stevenson in Grèz.  He wrote:

“…Robinson was far from handsome in the classic sense. An enormous head, with goggle-eyes and a whopper-jaw, was balanced on a frail body by means of a neck of extreme tenuity; and stooping shoulders, with a long, slouching gait, did not add anything of grace or of beauty to his general appearance.” It was not Robinson’s physical prowess that interested Harrison, but his strength of character. “[Out] of those goggle-eyes shone the courage of a Bayard, and in their depths brooded the soul of a poet and dreamer, while his whole person radiated a delightful and ineffable sense of humor…”

Another visitor to Grèz that summer was the writer Robert Louis Stevenson and he and Theodore Robinson immediately became good friends.

Once summer was over Robinson returned to Paris and his studies at Gérome’s studio and to copying the paintings of the Masters at the Louvre.  The climate in Paris during that winter was harsh and Robinson, a poverty-stricken artist, lived in poor conditions and suffered with colds and asthma attacks, all of which affected his work and he wrote to his mother:

“…When I’ve taken cold and cough all night my work is greatly interfered with not to mention the inconvenience it causes…”

On the Canal by Theodore Robinson

In 1878, Robinson decided to send one of his paintings to the Society of American Artists first exhibition.  The group had been founded the previous year by artists of attending the National Academy of Design which they believed did not satisfactorily meet their needs, and was far too conservative in its thinking.  This was the same reasoning behind the formation of the Art Students League which Robinson helped Wilmarth to organise in 1875.  The Society of American Artists was very valuable to those American artists who, having studied art in European cities, were returning home but discovered that there were inadequate prospects to exhibit their work. Robinson became a regular contributor to their annual exhibitions.

In my next blog I will be looking more at Theodore Robinson’s life and a very important and influential friendship he had with his French neighbour.

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Apart from the usual internet sources I found many details about Theodore Robinson’s life in an essay written  for the catalogue of the Theodore Robinson exhibition held at Owen Gallery, New York in March 2000 by the American writer and art curator, D. Scott Atkinson.

Federico Zandomeneghi – the Italian Impressionist

Lesendes Mädchen (Girl reading) by Federico Zandomeneghi (c.1900)
Lesendes Mädchen (Girl reading) by Federico Zandomeneghi (c.1900)

When I was in Germany, just before Christmas, I bought myself a desk calendar which gave you a new painting every day.  I was fascinated by today’s picture of a young girl reading entitled Lesendes Mädchen (Girl Reading) by Federico Zandomeneghi.  I had never heard of the artist and thought it would be interesting to look at his life and his some of his beautiful works of art. He would become known for his many pastel portraits of ladies and children.

Federico Zandomeneghi
Federico Zandomeneghi

Federico Zandomeneghi was born in Venice in June 1841. He came from a family line of sculptors.  Pietro, his father, was a neoclassical sculptor as was his grandfather Luigi but unlike his father and grandfather Federico, and much to their annoyance, he favoured painting to sculpture.  In 1856, at the age of fifteen, he enrolled on a painting course at the Academia di Belle Arti in Venice and then later studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan, where he studied under the neoclassical-style painter Giralamo Michelangelo Grigoletti and Pompeo Marino Molmenti.  Venice was under Austrian rule when Napoleon was defeated in 1814 and it became part of the Austrian held Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia.   Venice was firmly under the control of Austria and as such the Venetian citizens were conscripted into the army.  To escape conscription, Federico fled his city in 1859 and went to Pavia, where he enrolled at the university.  In 1860, when he was nineteen years of age, he joined the military forces of Guiseppe Garibaldi as one of the volunteers in The Expedition of the Thousand, part of the Risorgimento, the push for Italian unification.  As a Venetian this was looked upon as a kind of treachery. His flight from Venice in 162 to Florence to avoid conscription resulted him being charged, in absentia, with desertion.

Femme qui reve by Federico Zandomeneghi,
Femme qui reve by Federico Zandomeneghi,

As a young aspiring artist Federico wanted to mix with other artists in the Tuscan city and by doing so assimilate their views of art.  One of the favoured meeting places for the artists was the Caffè Michelangelo .  It was here that the Macchiaioli met.  The Macchiaioli, which literally means patch-  or spot-makers, was a  group of rebellious Italian artists based in Tuscany during the second half of the 19th century and was formed more than ten years before the French Impressionists came onto the scene.  They rebelled against academic artistic training and many art historians believe they brought about a breath of fresh air into Italian painting.  They ignored the type of painting which was popular at the time such as Neoclassicism and Romanticism.  They were looked upon as the founders of modern Italian painting.  The Macchiaioli believed that areas of light and shadow, or macchie were the most important parts of a painting and when Italian artists spoke of macchia they were talking about the sparkling quality of a drawing or painting.

The Poor on the Steps of Ara Coeli in Rome by Federico Zandomeneghi (1872)
The Poor on the Steps of Ara Coeli in Rome by Federico Zandomeneghi (1872)

The Poor on the Steps of Ara Coeli in Rome by Zandomeneghi is now housed at the Pinaconteca Brera in Milan.  It is a fine example of verismo the nineteenth century Italian painting style and was a style frequently used by the Macchiaioli.  It is a style of painting we would term as realism.  It features a group of poor people, men, women and children sitting on the steps of Santa Maria in Aracoeli (St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven), one the oldest basilicas in Rome.   

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There was a strong connection with French art as many of the Macchiaioli were influenced by the French artists such as Courbet and Corot who belonged to the Barbizon School as well as other nineteenth century plein air painters whose works the Macchiaioli artists were able to see when they visited the French capital.  En plein air painting was at that time a ground breaking method of painting but its proponents believed that it allowed for a new vibrancy and naturalness in the reproduction of light which would have been lost if the painting had been carried out in a studio.   Some of the members of the Macchiaioli, like Federico, had fought alongside Garibaldi in his effort to attain Italian unification.  Many of the works of the Macchiaioli featured grand battles scenes of the Risorgimento as well as landscapes and genre paintings featuring both the bourgeoisie and peasants.

Palazzo Pretorio in Florence by Federico Zandomeneghi (1865)
Palazzo Pretorio in Florence by Federico Zandomeneghi (1865)

Another painting completed by Zandomeneghi whilst he was living in Florence is one of my favourites.  It is entitled Palazzo Pretorio and was completed in 1865.  It can now be found in the Museo d’Arte Moderna, Ca’ Pesaro, Venice.   The work of art was exhibited that year in the rooms of the Società Veneta Promotrice (Venetian Promoter of Fine Arts) which was based in Palazzo Mocenigo at San Benedetto.   The depiction of light and shade we see in the painting was strongly influenced by the Macchiaioli artists of Florence.

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Diego Martelli by Federico Zandomeneghi (1879)
Diego Martelli by Federico Zandomeneghi (1879)

Whilst in Florence and through his association with the Macchiaioli artists, Federico Zandomeneghi met the Italian art critic Diego Martelli.  Martelli was a great supporter of the painters of the Macchiaioli and would often invite them up to his large Tuscan estate in Castiglioncello which was an ideal setting for their en plein air painting sessions.  Martelli wrote fervently about realism in art and favoured the works of Gustave Courbet as well as the plein air artists of the Barbizon School.    He made a number of trips to Paris and its thought that he persuaded Zandomeneghi to leave Florence and go to live in the French capital.  Through their correspondence Zandomeneghi introduced Martelli to the works of the Impressionists so much so that it is said that Martelli was one of the first and leading supporters of Impressionism in Italy.

Portrait of Diego Martelli by Edgar Degas (1879)
Portrait of Diego Martelli by Edgar Degas (1879)

Like Zandomeneghi, Martelli became good friends with Degas who painted his portrait in 1879.  The Degas portrait is unusual in as much as the sitter is viewed from above which is somewhat unflattering as it accentuates the corpulence of Martelli.  We see Martelli sitting unsteadily on a small stool.  To his left is a table, scattered on which are numerous objects belonging to the sitter.  The addition of these items was a trademark of Degas’ portraits as he felt it told viewers more about the subject of the portrait.  The painting is now housed in the Scottish National Gallery.

The Good Book by Federico Zandomeneghi (1897)
The Good Book by Federico Zandomeneghi (1897)

In 1874, Federico, now thirty-three years of age, moved to the art capital of Europe, Paris, and little did he know then, he would never return to his Italian homeland.  On his arrival in Paris, as was the case when he arrived in Florence, he wanted to immerse himself into the life of an artist and mix with the artists of Montmartre.   To be an artist in the French capital at this time was a chance to witness the birth of what would later be termed by the art critic, Louis Leroy, as Impressionism.

Café de la Nouvelle-Athènes on Place Pigalle
Café de la Nouvelle-Athènes on Place Pigalle

The year 1874 was the year of the Impressionist’s first annual exhibition in Paris.  Federico would often frequent the Café de la Nouvelle-Athènes on Place Pigalle.  It was here that he first met and befriended Edgar Degas, who was seven years his senior.    It is said that we are often drawn to people who have the same characteristics and the same looks upon life and as such Degas and Federico Zandomeneghi were well matched.  Both were recalcitrant and often boorish and this similarity of behaviour ensured they would remain life-long friends!  Although great friends with Degas, Federico was more influenced by the works of Renoir and Mary Cassatt and the way they portrayed women in their art work.  This was to lead to many of his works featuring females going about with their daily chores or being immersed in reading.  Zandomeneghi liked to portray through his artwork, and like that of the Impressionists, the elegant high society of the French capital but his paintings were not imitations of the Impressionists’ works.  He had his own inimitable style.

Place d'Anvers, Paris by Federico Zandomeneghi (1880)
Place d’Anvers, Paris by Federico Zandomeneghi (1880)

The Impressionists had by 1879 held three annual exhibitions and Degas persuaded Federico to exhibit some of his work at the fourth annual exhibition at the Avenue de l’Opéra, during the months of April and May in 1879.  Besides Federico there were three other “first appearances” exhibiting at the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition, the husband and wife Impressionists Félix and Marie Braquemond  and Paul Gaugin.  Federico went on to exhibit at the fifth (1880), sixth (1881) and the eighth and final exhibition in 1886.  To sell one’s work one has to have a good dealer and through the good auspices of his Impressionist friends Federico was taken on by the gallery owner and art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel who acted as his sole agent.   It was this Parisian art dealer who changed the fortunes of Federico when he exhibited the Italian artist’s work in America.   In the 1890’s, having had to supplement his income from the sale of his paintings by providing illustrations for Paris fashion magazine, once his work was seen in America he was inundated with commissions.  It was around this time that Federico changed the medium in which he worked, now favouring in pastels.

Conversazione interessante by Federioco Zandomeneghi (1895)
Conversazione interessante by Federioco Zandomeneghi (1895)

Zandomeneghi will always be remembered for his female portraiture.  He seemed to concentrate his depictions of women who were mothers going about their everyday life.  He often liked to show in his paintings the ease in which women interacted with each other.  There was a warmth about his pictorial depiction of females and this may be because of the way he was influenced by the works of Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt.  Enrico Piceni,  the Italian writer and art critic who wrote a biography about Zandomeneghi and who, in 1984, wrote a book entitled Three Italian friends of the impressionists : Boldini, De Nittis, Zandomeneghi, wrote of Zandomeneghi’s work:

“…Zandomeneghi knows how to differentiate himself from his closest colleagues, Degas and Renoir, by surpassing the glossy and even fierce chronicle style of the first thanks to adding a warm and affectionate emotional involvement in the subject, and by transferring the deification of the ideal woman typical of the second in a more bourgeois reality interwoven with truth but able to transform a simple story in a tremor of poetry…”

A good example of the way Zandomeneghi depicted a close relationship between two women is in his 1895 work entitled Conversazione interessante (Interesting Conversation).  Before us, we see two women locked in conversation.  There is a gentleness about the scene.  There is no wild animation.  We feel drawn into the scene as a friend who is being admitted into their private world.  Both women are wearing light fashionable wide-sleeved shirts which were all the fashion in the 1890’s.    This painting highlights the beautiful technique Federico was to often use.  There is a lightness of touch and the artist demonstrates an amazing insight in the way he portrays the mood of the sitters.  The two women in the painting are totally absorbed in their conversation.  Their hands touch. They only have eyes for each other in this intimate and yet non-sexual depiction.   The art critic and writer Francesca Dini in her 1989 book,   Zandomeneghi, la vita e le opera, wrote of this work:

“…Conversazione interessante (Interesting Conversation), is among the most famous works produced by the Venetian painter at the beginning of his relationship with Durand-Ruel. The brilliance and chromatic refinement of the composition are emphasized by the balance of the scene and the richness of the materials chosen for the dresses of two young women, who are wearing light shirts with wide sleeves ‘double sboffo’, very fashionable in the last decade of the century. The provenance of the painting is notable as it belonged, among others, to the greatest admirers and collectors of paintings by the artist…”

Federico Zandomeneghi died in Paris on the last day of 1917, aged seventy-six.  It was not until 1914, three years before his death, that he was given his first one-man show which was at the Venice Biennale of that year in his native country.

There were so many paintings by Zandometeghi I could have showcased but I have just chosen some of my favourites but I hope you will search out more of his works.

Cézanne, Jas de Bouffan and the peasant workers

Paul Cézanne aged 22
Paul Cézanne aged 22

Four years ago I visited the Courtauld Gallery in London to see the Cezanne exhibition which featured three of his five Card Players paintings. I was fascinated by the figures depicted in these works of art, the same fascination the artist must have had for these rustic characters as they featured in many of his paintings. From around 1887, Cézanne began to paint single figures again and, in his early works, he would used his wife and son as models, later he would get some of the peasant workers to model for him at the family’s estate, Le Jas de Bouffan, (“home of the winds” in the language of Provencal). In this blog I want to have a look at some of his paintings which featured these peasants and the estate where it all happened.

The House and Farm at Jas de bouffan by Cézanne (1887)
The House and Farm at Jas de bouffan by Cézanne (1887)

Paul Cézanne’s father, Louis-Auguste Cézanne, was a banker and in September 1859, when Cézanne was twenty years old, his father acquired the Le Jas de Bouffan estate from its then present owner, Gabriel Joursin, who was heavily in debt to the bank. It was a spectacularly beautiful estate, located on the outskirts of Aix-en-Provence, with its long avenue, lined with chestnut trees, leading to the large manor house. The family moved into the large estate house, which was run-down, some of the rooms were in such poor condition that they could not be lived in and were permanently locked up. Initially the family just lived on the first floor with the ground floor rooms set aside for storage. Cézanne, who much to his father’s dismay, wanted to become a professional artist but had placated his father by agreeing to study law at the Law faculty at Aix. His father allowed him to paint murals on the high walls of the grand salon on the ground floor, a room which he was eventually allowed to turn it into his temporary studio.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter by Cézanne (1860-2)
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter by Cézanne (1860-2)

It could have been that as the surface of the walls was in such a poor condition his father allowed his son to exercise his artistic ability on them. Cézanne decorated the walls with four large panels of the Seasons. The odd thing about his four murals was that he signed them, not with his own name, but with the name “INGRES” and added the date 1811 on the bottom left of the panel representing Winter. So, why sign the painting “Ingres” and why the date, which was almost fifty years in the past? It is thought that the young Cézanne wanted to prove to his father that he was as good an artist as the legendary Ingres and the date probably referred to Ingres’ famous work Jupiter and Thétis, which Ingres completed in 1811 and was in the collection of Cézanne’s local museum, Musée Granet, in Aix-en Provence.

The Artist's Father, Reading L'Événement by Cézanne (1866)
The Artist’s Father, Reading L’Événement by Cézanne (1866)

In all, between 1860 and 1870, Cézanne painted twelve large works of art directly on to the walls of the large salon and which remained in situ until 1912. One of these works was entitled The Artist’s Father, Reading “L’Événement” which can be seen at the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Cézanne completed the work in 1866 and depicts Louis-Auguste Cézanne reading the newspaper L’Evénement. The newspaper is a reference to Cézanne’s great friend from his childhood days, the novelist Émile Zola, who was one of the people who urged Cézanne to overcome his father’s demands to have him study law and instead, go to Paris and study art. Zola had become the art critic for the L’Evénement in 1866. It was certainly not the paper Cézanne’s father would have read !

The House of the Jas de Bouffan by Cézanne (1874)
The House of the Jas de Bouffan by Cézanne (1874)

Although often working in his indoor studio, Cézanne also enjoyed painting en plein air in the vast grounds of the estate, which contained a farm, as well as a number of vineyards. He painted a number of views of the manor house, one of which was completed around 1874 and was entitled The House of the Jas de Bouffan. In this work we see the great old ochre-coloured building, with its ivy- clad walls nestled amongst a thriving mix of tall, well-established trees and greenery. It is a beautiful sunlit scene which captures the myriad of visual wonders offered up by nature. Cézanne despite moving around the country, including Paris, where he exhibited works at the first Impressionism exhibition in April 1874, often returned to Jas de Bouffan to relax and paint. The roof of the house had to be replaced in the early 1880’s and it was then that Cézanne’s father made a little studio in the attic for his son. In 1886 when his father died, Cézanne came into a large inheritance which included the family’s beloved estate. This was the same year he married his lover and artist’s model of seventeen years, Hortense. In September 1899, two years after the death of his mother, Cézanne and his two sisters sold Jas de Bouffan to Louis Granel, an agricultural engineer.

House in the Jas de Bouffan
House in the Jas de Bouffan

Much later, the house and a portion of the grounds were sold to the city of Aix. The house has been open to the public since 2006 for visits in connection with the tours organized by the Office de Tourisme with regards to the life of Cézanne.

Man in Blue Smock by Cézanne (1897)
Man in Blue Smock by Cézanne (1897)

As I wrote before, in the late 1880’s Cézanne began to concentrate once again on single portraits and used his wife Hortense and son Paul as models. Later, in the 1890’s he started to paint a number of pictures which featured some of the workers of the estate. Using actual peasant workers that he knew added that little bit extra realism to the depictions. One such work was entitled Man in a Blue Smock which he completed around 1897 which is now housed in the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth. The worker who sat for Cézanne in this painting was also one of the models used for the famous Card Players series. It is an interesting work which needs to be carefully studied. The man, with a large moustache, shows little expression as he sits before Cézanne, the artist and his boss! It appears that he has been asked to put on a painter’s blue smock over his ordinary working clothes, which includes a red bandanna

The painting of the peasant is awash with muted blues and browns but the red used for the bandanna, the man’s cheeks and the backs of the hands draw our eyes to these very points in the painting. The background of the work is predominately filled with pastel colours but what is most interesting is what is behind the left shoulder of the main character. One can make out a faceless lady carrying a parasol. The museum curator believes that this faceless woman perhaps suggests some mute dialogue between opposite sexes, differing social classes, or even between the artist’s earliest and most fully evolved efforts as a painter. This latter reason falls in well with the fact that the lady with the parasol is a copy of one of Cézanne’s first works which he completed in 1859, when he was twenty years of age, and which can now be found in the Musée Granet in Aix.

Seated Peasant by Cézanne (c.1896)
Seated Peasant by Cézanne (c.1896)

Another painting featuring one of his peasant workers is entitled Seated Peasant which he completed around 1896 and is part of the Annenberg Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York The peasant in the painting is young and is seated cross-legged on a cane chair. The setting for the painting is inside one of the rooms in the big house. It is “L-shaped” in design. The background is once again a simple plastered wall with its dado rail. Cézanne has restricted his palette to a small number of colours – greys, blues, browns, yellows and grey greens which are only replaced by the odd small splash of purple and red. Although there is a similarity between him and the peasants in the various Card Players works he has never been identified as being in any of those five famous paintings. The man seems lost in thought. His mouth is drawn down on each side giving his facial expression an air of melancholia. He wears a baggy dark brown coat over a grey jacket and a yellow waistcoat or vest. He wears striped trousers. Look at the way Cézanne has painted his hand which rest on his thigh. It is very large in comparison to the rest of his body and could almost be described it as being “ham-fisted”. As in some other portraits by Cézanne, he has introduced a still-life element into the work. On the floor in the bottom left of the painting he has added two green-bound books, two small boxes, a small bottle and a stick all of which have been placed on a cloth. Only the artist knows why he included these inanimate objects into this portrait! Maybe he was asserting his ability to paint still-life objects.

Peasant Standing with Arms Crossed (Paysan debout, les bras croisés) by Cézanne (1895)
Peasant Standing with Arms Crossed (Paysan debout, les bras croisés) by Cézanne (1895)

Around the same time, Cézanne painted another portrait of a peasant in a standing position. It looks very much like the setting for the portrait was in the same room as the previous work. It was entitled Paysan debout, les bras croisés, (Peasant Standing with Arms Crossed) and was completed around 1896.

Peasant by Cézanne (c.1891)
Peasant by Cézanne (c.1891)

My final work I am showcasing is a head and shoulder depiction simply entitled Le paysan (Peasant) which Cézanne completed around 1891. Again we have this peasant with a most unhappy countenance as he stares downwards. Again his mouth is turned down in an expression of sadness. One has to believe that this is the pose Cézanne wanted his sitter to exhibit. Was the artist trying, by this posed facial expression of his sitter, to get over to us that the life of a peasant was not a happy one. Maybe Cézanne want us to empathize with the man. Maybe Cézanne was determined to depict the inequalities of life in this portrait. Once again the background is plain and in no way detracts from the sitter. The work is a mass of greys and blues but the careful splashes of red on the peasant’s face make us focus on the man’s expression and by doing so poses the question to us as to what we think about is his lot in life.

Marie Bracquemond

        Self Portrait  by Marie Bracquemond             (1870)
Self Portrait
by Marie Bracquemond
(1870)

I was reading the other day about the short list for the National Portrait Gallery – 2014 BP Award.  Apparently the judges, who decide on which works should be shortlisted, are not aware of the names of the artists when they make their selections.  For the first time in the twenty-five years of the competition, two of the portraits selected for the exhibition were works by a husband and wife, Henrietta Graham and Tim Hall and it made me wonder how well husband and wife artists co-exist and whether they were supportive of each other’s artistic efforts and style or were they occasionally critical and somewhat jealous of each other’s success.  My featured artist today was one half of a husband and wife duo but it is thought that the husband became so critical of his wife’s works and her style of painting that she eventually gave up art altogether.

Marie Bracquemond        (1840-1916)
Marie Bracquemond
(1840-1916)

The lady in question was born Marie Anne Caroline Quivoron in December 1840 in the small picturesque coastal village of Argenton-en-Landunvez, on the Brittany coast. She was of the same era as her female Impressionist contemporaries, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt and Eva Gonzalez but her background was very unlike their more privileged and cultured upbringing.  Her mother’s first marriage was an arranged one to a sea captain.  It was neither a successful nor happy union.  However, it did not last long as he died shortly after the birth of his daughter, Marie Anne. Her mother was only a widow for a short period before marrying for a second time.  Her husband was a Monsieur Pasquiou.   Shortly after this second marriage, Marie, her mother and her mother’s new husband moved away from Britanny and went to live in the Jura, a mountainous region in the east of the country.  Then, soon after, they crossed over the border to take up residence in Switzerland.  Again their stay was short-lived and before long they moved back to central France and settled in Corrèze in the Auvergne, where Marie’s sister, Louise, was born.  According to what she told her son in later life, this was the happiest time of her childhood. They lived in a area surrounded by mysterious forests, fast-flowing streams and ancient ruined abbeys.  Living there was a truly magical time for her.  The family finally moved north and settled in Paris but later because of Marie’s health problems they were advised by the family physician, Doctor Hache, to move out of the polluted atmosphere of the city and settle in Étampes, a small town south-west of the capital where the air would be purer.

Woman in the Garden  (a portrait of her sister Louise)  by Marie Bracquemond
Detail from Woman in the Garden (a portrait of her sister Louise) by Marie Bracquemond
Woman in the Garden (Portrait of her sister Louise Quivoron) by Marie Bracquemond (1877)
Woman in the Garden (Portrait of her sister Louise Quivoron) by Marie Bracquemond (1877)

Now a teenager, Marie developed a love for art and it was whilst living in Étampes that she received her first artistic tuition.  Her teacher was a Monsieur Wassor, an elderly man who gave art lessons to the young women of Étampes as well as earning money as an art restorer.  He got Marie to make copies of reliefs and plaster casts which he had scattered around his studio and he also got her to make copies of paintings he had accumulated.  When the summer came and the weather improved he would take Marie and other students outside to paint en plein air.  Her progress as an accomplished artist was swift and a measure of that is the fact at the age of seventeen she submitted a family portrait, which included her mother, her sister Louise and one of her elderly teachers, for inclusion at the 1857 Salon and it was accepted.

Pierre Bracquemond as child by Marie Bracquemond (1878)
Pierre Bracquemond as child by Marie Bracquemond (1878)

Fate now took a hand in Marie’s future as the sister-in-law of the family doctor, Doctor Hache, was married to the Neoclassical painter, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and she arranged for Marie to meet her husband.  Ingres arranged for her to work with two of his students, Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin and Émile Signol and she learnt much from them.  Although grateful for Ingres’ help she was unhappy with the elderly artist’s disdain with regard female artists.  In a letter she wrote about Ingres’ contempt:

“…The severity of Monsieur Ingres frightened me.  I tell you, because he doubted the courage and perseverance of a woman in the field of painting.  He wished to impose limits.  He would assign to them only the painting of flowers, of fruits, of still lifes, portraits and genre scenes…”

For Marie, Ingres view on female artists was unacceptable.  Her determination to rail against Ingres’ criticism of female artists and his compartmentalising of the artistic genres suitable for female artists, materialised when she wrote of her split with the elderly painter:

“…There is in me a strong determination to overcome all obstacles.  I wish to work at painting, not to paint some flowers, but to express those feelings that art inspires in me…..All this will not come to pass in a year, but in any event, I do not wish to return to Monsieur Ingres…”

The Lady in White by Marie Bracquemond (1880)
The Lady in White by Marie Bracquemond (1880)

Her artistic ability must have been well known as she soon received commissions including one from the court of Empress Eugenie, the Empress of France and wife of Napoleon III, which commissioned a depiction Cervantes in prison.   Following the successful conclusion of this commission she was approached by the Director-General of French Museums, Count de Nieuwerkerke, to work at the Louvre, making copies of the most famous paintings in the collection.   It was in 1867, whilst Marie was working in the Louvre copying a painting by Rembrandt, that a young man, Félix Bracquemond, an engraver and etcher, first caught sight and fell in love with this dark-haired beauty.  Félix, through his friend, Eugène Montrosier, was introduced to Marie.  A two-year courtship followed during which time Félix introduced Marie to all his artist friends, such as Millet, Corot, Degas, Rodin and Fantin-Latour and art critics and writers such as Edmond de Goncourt and Gustave Geffroy, and through them she received more and more commissions.   Unfortunately for Marie there was a problematic downside to this relationship.  Félix was not a particularly nice man.  He had a very off-hand brusque demeanour.  He was self-opinionated and later became über-critical of Marie’s artistic talent but despite Marie’s mother’s voiced concern over the relationship between Félix and her daughter, the couple were married in August 1869 and went to live in the rue de l’Université in Paris.  Marie was well aware of her husband’s unacceptable characteristics but presumably believed that all that would change when they were married.  It didn’t!  In 1870 Marie gave birth to their only child, Pierre.  Despite his uncompromising and offhand attitude Marie learnt a great deal from her husband and she exhibited works at the 1874 and 1875 Salon.

The Artist's Son and Sister in the Garden at Sèvres by Marie Bracquemond (1890
The Artist’s Son and Sister in the Garden at Sèvres by Marie Bracquemond (1890)

Haviland China was a factory set up in Limoges, France, by the American entrepreneur David Haviland and later was aided by his sons, Charles and Theodore.  The factory produced the finest china tableware.  In 1872 David’s son Charles, opened the Auteuil Studio in Paris, which attracted many of the great artists of the day, including Manet, Monet, and the Damousse brothers, all of whom greatly influenced Haviland’s floral designs.  It became known as the “French School”.   Félix Bracquemond, who had a reputation as a great ceramics decorator, was, in 1878, employed in the studio as the artistic director and Marie also worked there designing plates for dinner services.  In an article in the 1904 magazine Women in the Fine Arts, the writer, Clara Erskine Clement who was the author of Women in the Fine Arts from the Seventh Century to the Twentieth Century AD,wrote about Marie Bracquemond’s amazing ability:

“…Madame Bracquemond had the facility of employing the faience colours so well that she produced a clearness and richness not achieved by other artists.  The progress made in the Haviland faience in the 70’s was very largely due to Madame Bracquemond, whose pieces were almost always sold from the atelier before being fired, so great was her success…”

Faience is the conventional name in English for a tin-glazed earthenware.

One of Marie’s great accomplishments was to design and produce several dishes and a wide Faience panel of ceramic tiles entitled the Muses, all of which were exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1878; the preliminary sketch used for the design was shown at the Impressionist Exhibition of 1879 and among its greatest admirers was Edgar Degas.

On the Terrace at Sèvres by Marie Bracquemond (1880)
On the Terrace at Sèvres by Marie Bracquemond (1880)

It was around 1880 that there was a change in Marie’s artistic style.  Gone were the small muted works of art and in their place came larger works with a greater intensity of colour and more of her paintings were carried out en plein air allowing her to catch the nuances of the daylight which constantly changed..  This was the era of the Impressionists and Marie Bracquemond had become great friends of Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Renoir and Gaugin these artists had become her artistic mentors.  She had been welcomed into the Impressionists’ fold and she exhibited works at three of their annual exhibitions, in 1879, 1880 and the final Impressionist Exhibition in 1886.  Three of her works completed in 1880 which clearly demonstrate her alteration of style to a noticeable Impressionist style, were The Lady in White, On the Terrace at Sèvres and Le Gouter (Afternoon Tea).

Le Gouter or Afternoon Tea by Marie Bracquemond (1880)
Le Gouter or Afternoon Tea by Marie Bracquemond (1880)

She was delighted with her art and its popularity but this delight was not shared by her husband, Félix, who resented her success and her close liaison with the Impressionists.   Their son Pierre, who loved his mother and was the No.1 fan of her work, later wrote about his father’s resentment.  According to Pierre, Félix was jealous of her achievement and rarely showed her works to visiting artists and friends.  He said that Félix now resented any criticisms Marie might venture about his paintings.  It appeared that the once close artistic relationship between Marie and Félix, with each offering constructive critiques regarding their works, was over.  Félix would often hide his new works from his wife but at the same time was openly critical with regards to her artistic efforts.  This uncomfortable atmosphere in the marital home and the constant friction between her and Félix finally took its toll in 1890 when Marie could not stand her husband’s attitude to her work any longer and except for a few examples completely gave up her painting.  One of her last works was the Impressionist-style work entitled The Artist’s Son and Sister in the Garden at Sèvres which she completed in 1890.  At the time of this painting the constant battle with her husband had made her become introverted and she became a virtual recluse, rarely leaving their Sèvres home. Her sister Louise did not like her brother-in-law finding him overbearing and boorish in the way he treated her sister.

Pierre Bracquemond painting a bouquet of flowers by Marie Bracquemond (1887)
Pierre Bracquemond painting a bouquet of flowers by Marie Bracquemond (1887)

Pierre Bracquemond who was taught by his father later became involved in works for Gobelin, a Parisian tapestry factory.  He then worked at a career as an interior decorator specialising in the designs of carpets and tapestries.  He also carried on his love of art concentrating on seascapes and nudes, chiefly employing the technique of encaustic paintiing, which was also known as hot wax painting, as it involved using heated beeswax to which colored pigments were added.   He also wrote many critiques with regards art and the teachings of his father on the subject.  There were also many manuscripts he had written about his parents Marie and Félix, some of which were never published.

Marie Bracquemond died in Paris on January 17, 1916.

The Magpie by Claude Monet

The Magpie by Claude Monet (1868)
The Magpie by Claude Monet (1868)

Being in a much milder, wetter and windy climate it is always a novelty to see snow except atop distant mountains and for those of you are knee-deep in it, you have my sympathy, as I tend to agree with those who say snow is fine when viewed on a greetings card but not when one has to trudge through it.  However there is nothing as beautiful as a painted snow scene and for My Daily Art Display featured painting today I am featuring a beautiful depiction of a snow scene by Claude Monet entitled The Magpie, which is reputed to be one of the most popular paintings in the Musée d’Orsay collection.

Monet painted this work during the winter of 1868-9 whilst he was living at Étretat with his wife Camille and his one-year old son Jean.  He had left Paris and one of the reasons for his departure from the capital was given by him in a letter to his artist friend, Frederic Bazille:

“…In Paris one is too preoccupied with what one sees and hears, however strong-minded one may be, and what I shall do here will at least have the virtue of being unlike anyone else’s work, because it will simply be the expression of my personal experiences…”

Monet had been going through a very tough and trying period in his life.  Although his painting Woman in Green was exhibited in the 1866 Salon his offering of Women in the Garden the following year was rejected by the jury of the Salon.   None of the pictures he sent in the spring to the International Maritime Exhibition at Le Havre were sold and worse still, the canvases were seized by his creditors.   His lover, Camille Doncieux, whom he had met in 1865, had become pregnant and in August 1867 gave birth to their son, Jean-Armand-Claude.   Although his father had finally and reluctantly come around to his son’s chosen profession as an artist, he was totally against his son’s liaison with Camille and told him that he would only offer him financial help if he left Camille.  Monet’s financial situation in Paris had become dire and he survived on hand-outs from his friends.  His money problems and now the impending arrival of his child, which was yet another mouth to feed, were so bad that in 1868 he had attempted suicide by throwing himself off a bridge into the River Seine.  Penniless, Monet was forced to return home alone to his father’s house in Sainte-Adresse, a small coastal town west of Le Havre, and there he lived with his aunt, abandoning Camille in Paris.  To add to all these financial and family problems he suffered partial loss of his sight in July 1867 which prevented him from painting and sketching out of doors.

His luck finally changed in 1868 when he fortuitously received some timely aid from his very first patron, a shipowner and art collector, Louis-Joachim Gaudibert, who supported him by commissioning him to paint three full-length life-sized portraits.  Two were of Guadibert himself and the third one of his wife,  (Portrait of Madame Gaudibert).  He also managed to sell his painting Camille to Arsène Houssaye, the editor of the magazine L’Artiste, for 800 francs. Now, finally, with some money in his pocket he was able to return to Paris to once again be with Camille.  Gaudibert also helped Monet rent a house in Étretat for his family in late 1868. Recovering from an episode of depression, Monet joined Camille Doncieux and Jean at the house in Étretat in October 1868.  He wrote to Bazille about his change of fortune:

“…Thanks to this gentleman of Le Havre who’s been helping me out, I’m enjoying the most perfect peace and quiet and I look forward to do some worthwhile things…”

It was whilst he lived here that Monet painted the many famous scenes of the cliffs at Étretat and it was in December 1868 that he painted today’s featured work, The Magpie.  Although en plein air painting may be a joy in the sunny warm days of summer, it becomes a challenge in the cold harsh winter days but Monet was not deterred by this and never let the elements confine him to working indoors.  In fact he often claimed that he preferred the countryside in winter.  Monet loved to experience the differing effects light had on the countryside and for him the understated difference of shadows upon the snow covered ground presented him with a different challenge from the sun on green grass and blue water.  It would mean a complete change of palette with more emphasis on the whites, greys and violets.  He wrote to Frederic Bazille extolling the virtues of his surroundings and the freedom to paint en plein air:

“…I spend my time out in the open, on the shingle beach when the weather is bad or the fishing boats go out, or I go into the countryside which is very beautiful here, that I find perhaps still more charming in winter than in summer and, naturally I work all the time, and I believe that this year I am going to do some serious things…”

Before us we have Monet’s oil on canvas winter landscape scenes of the countryside close to Étretat.  It is entitled La Pie (The Magpie).  It is a prime example of the natural effet de neige (effect of snow).   It was one of the earlier snowscapes that Monet painted.  In all he completed over hundred snowscape paintings. The snow lies upon the ground.  A solitary magpie perches on the top rung of a wooden hurdle gate.  Its black and white feathers, along with the dark bark of the trees, contrast starkly against the snowy landscape and, despite the small size of the bird, it become the focus of the work. Its inclusion in the scene in some ways breathes life into the painting. The source of light comes from the background and dramatically creates blueish gray shadows of the wattle fencing on the pristine snow in the foreground.   Monet and the Impressionists, instead of making the shadows in their paintings a conventional black, preferred  to use coloured shadows as they believed that adding colour represented the actual, changing conditions of light and shadow as one would see in nature.  However this idea did not set well with the Salon jurists and this work by Monet was rejected when he submitted it for exhibition at the 1869 Salon.    There is a beautiful luminosity about this work.  In summery paintings the sky would normally be lighter in colour and tone in comparison to the ground colour but of course in winter this all changes and as we see in this work the sky is darker than the snow-covered ground.  Look at the way Monet has depicted the snow.  It is not pure white but more a tinted white and where the shadows straddle the snow-covered ground in the foreground we have patches of gray-blue.  We can also see darker spots in the snow of the foreground indicating that the snow is not as deep here and the ground below it is showing through the whiteness.

The painting is considered by art historians as one of Monet’s best and most accomplished snowscapes.  Monet once revealed that he wanted to paint not things in themselves but the air that touched things – the enveloping air.  I will leave you with a quote from a Harper’s Magazine article entitled The Enveloping Air in which the author John Berger wrote:

“… Monet once revealed that he wanted to paint not things in themselves but the air that touched things – the enveloping air.   The enveloping air offers continuity and infinite expansion.  If Monet can paint the air, he can follow it like following a thought.  Except the air operates wordlessly and when painted, is visibly present only in colours, touches, layers, palimpsest, shades, caresses, scratches……… Like many innovative artists, Monet, I believe, was unclear about what he had achieved.  Or, to be more precise, he could not name his achievement.  He could only recognize it intuitively

Réunion de famille (Family Reunion) by Frédéric Bazille

Family Reunion by Frederic Bazille (1867-69)

Often when I am driving down a large highway and see that the traffic flow in the opposite direction has stopped resulting in a formidable two or three mile tailback and I go further on, past the hold-up, around a bend in the road, and see cars heading towards the stopped traffic, the drivers of which are completely oblivious to what is around the bend.  They are happily driving on.  Life for them is good.  Maybe they are heading home or heading for a destination they have been counting down time to reach.   They have great plans with regards what they will do when they reach their destination.   It is at times like these that I think about life and death and the way we, like the driver and passengers of the cars heading unwittingly towards the tail-back.  We are happily going about our business, completely unaware of what is about to happen to us in a few minutes, or a few hours, or a few days or a few months hence.

So why do I start my art blog in such a fashion?   The reason is that for my next two blogs I am featuring works by two young artists who had their whole lives ahead of them and who must have believed theirs was to be a successful and happy future and yet because of a conscious decision they both made, their lives would end suddenly in the theatre of war.  Today I am going to once again look at the life and works of the nineteenth century French painter Frédéric Bazille and in the following blog I want to introduce you to an artist, who you may not have come across before, the English Victorian painter Brian Hatton.

Jean Frédéric Bazille was born in Montpellier at 11, Grand’rue in 1841. His father was Gaston Bazille and his mother was Camille Victorine Bazille (née Viliars).  Gaston Bazille was a wine merchant, senator and president of the Agricultural Society of Herault.  He was the head of an affluent and cultured upper middle-class Protestant family.  He and his wife had three children, Suzanne the eldest, followed by Jean Frédéric and Claude Marc.  Whilst living in Montpellier, Bazille became acquainted with a friend of his father, a local art collector Alfred Bruyas.  Bruyas was also a close friend and patron of the artist Gustave Courbet and, over time, he had built up a sizeable art collection with works by Jean-François  Millet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Eugène Delacroix and of course, many by his friend Courbet.   Young Frédéric Bazille often had the chance to examine these precious works and was fascinated with and inspired by the collection.   This was to be the start of the young man’s love affair with art.  He began to paint and sketch but his father told him that if he wanted to continue with his art he had to agree to continue with his studies. He graduated from high school in Montpellier, where he obtained a degree in 1859, and as he would do anything to continue with his art, he went along with his father’s wishes and began his medical studies at the Faculty of Montpellier.

To continue with his medical studies, Bazille had to move to Paris and so in November 1862 he travelled to the capital.   Whilst in Paris, Bazille, unbeknown to his father, spent more time sketching and painting than getting on with his medical studies.    In late 1862, Bazille enrolled at the private art studio of Charles Gleyre, the Swiss historical painter.   Whilst at this atelier he met and became friends with fellow aspiring artists, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and James McNeil Whistler.   Monet and Renoir would become close friends of Bazille’s and they were to influence his artistic style and approach toward art, particularly through the practice of en-plein air painting and directly observing life and nature.  During this time, a frequent meeting place for these artistic friends was the Café Guerbois in Paris, where new ideas and theories were discussed passionately.    Bazille, unlike Monet, had no money problems.  He came from a well-off family and he would often pay for many a round of drinks.   Bazille also paid for studio rent and art supplies and always helped ease the financial worries of the likes of Monet by buying some of their paintings and by doing so ensured that his new-found friends would be saved from complete financial despair.

When Gleyre’s studio closed the following year Bazille decided to leave Paris and follow his friends whilst he waited on the results of his medical exams.  In 1863 he went and lived alongside Monet at Chailly and learnt the en plein air painting technique in the Forest of Fontainebleau.  In 1864, he found out that he had failed his medical exams, much to his father’s disappointment.   Bazille gave up any idea of entering the medical profession and, from this time on, he concentrated all his efforts on his painting.

France declared war on Prussia on 19 July 1870 but the other German states quickly joined on Prussia’s side and France was soon defeated.  In August 1870, at the age of 28, Frédéric Bazille, against the wishes and advice from his friends, enlisted in the Third Regiment of the Zouave.    Zouave was the title given to certain light infantry regiments in the French army which trained in Algeria.   One must remember that Bazille was a wealthy man and could, if he had so wanted, not have gone to war, for in those days, even if he had been drafted, he and his family could have paid for another person to substitute for him. However Bazille chose to serve his country.   Bazille died on November 28th 1870 at the Battle of Beaune-la-Rolande, near Orléans.  Bazille’s biographer, François Daulte wrote about the incident:
“... The company halted on the top of ridge overlooking Beaune. It was greeted with a hail of Prussian bullets. The first of the men advancing toward the town fell like flies …….. In the general chaos women and children were escaping from the town and running towards isolated farm buildings which would offer some protection …….. Bazille’s turn came and he charged, crying: “Don’t shoot! Women and children!” He was hit by two bullets to the arm and chest. He fell, face down in the earth, fifty metres from the château where Corot had painted one of his masterpieces…”

Bazille died on the battlefield just eight days before his twenty-ninth birthday.   His family was devastated and his father travelled to the battlefield a few days later to take his body back for burial at Montpellier.

My featured painting today is probably Frederic Bazille’s most famous work, entitled Réunion de famille also called Portraits de famille (Family Reunion also called Family Portraits) which he completed in 1867 and altered slightly two years later.  It is a large painting, measuring 152cms x 230cms.  The subject of the work is an extended family gathering at Bazille’s family’s country estate at Méric, near Montpellier during the summer of 1867.  The sun is shining brightly but the people are safeguarded from the harsh rays of the sun by the very large tree on the terrace, the foliage of which filters the sunlight, which allows the artist to cleverly depict the very sophisticated light and shadow effects against the subjects, their clothing and surroundings.  Look at the strong contrasts of the bright colours between that of the landscape and the sky in comparison to the shaded areas under the tree.  As the sunlight manages to filter through the leaves it manages to light up some of the pale clothing contrasting it against the darkness of the jackets, shawl and apron.  It illustrates how Bazille’s liked painting in the light of the South of France.

In this painting, Bazille has depicted various figures in a tableaux-type style.  Although there is a peaceful feeling about this depiction, it is just a group of figures.  There is a lack of interaction between the family members with all the figures stiffly-posed and all, except the father, looking towards us as if we were the photographer recording this family get-together.  The photographer aspect of this painting may not be as far-fetched as it seems as it is known that around about this time Frédéric’s brother Marc married Suzanne Tissié and it could well be that Frédéric was in some ways recording the family get-together a few days after this wedding.  There is an air of confidence about the demeanours of the people depicted, which probably came with their affluent status in society.  In the picture Bazille has included ten extended family members and he even added himself in the painting.  He is not in a prominent position.  He has squeezed himself into the far left of the painting, which may infer that he was somewhat reluctant to include himself.    Next to him stands his uncle by marriage, Gabriel des Hours-Farel.  Seated on a bench with their back to him is his mother, Camille, and father, Gaston, whilst at the table is his aunt, his mother’s sister, Élisa des Hours-Farel and her daughter Juliette Thérèse.     Standing by the trunk of the tree with their arms linked are Bazille’s cousin Thérèse Teulon-Valio, the married daughter of Gabriel and Élisa des Hours-Farel,  and her husband, Emile.  On the right of the painting, standing by the terrace wall is Marc Bazille, Frédéric’s brother with his wife of a few days, Suzanne Tissié and his sister Suzanne.    The Bazille and des Hours families used to spend every summer on the magnificent estate of Méric, in Castelnau-le-Lez, a village near Montpellier. The house and its grounds were slightly higher up, overlooking the village.

Two years later, after it was shown in the Salon, Bazille re-worked parts of the painting, replacing little dogs, which had been in the foreground, with a somewhat contrived still life made up of a furled umbrella, a straw hat and a bunch of flowers.

The painting was accepted by the French Salon of 1868, which slightly embarrassed Bazille as his friend Monet had failed to get any of his works accepted by the Salon jurists that year.  Bazille didn’t gloat much about his inclusion in the Salon, stating that his being chosen over Monet was “probably by mistake.”  Bazille’s is often now looked upon as a dilettante, an amateur who flirted with avant-gardism but lacked application and so remained a follower rather than a leader. However some of his contemporaries would disagree, Camille Pissaro described him as:  “one of the most gifted among us.”

Bazille produced many beautiful works of art during his short lifetime and who knows what he may have accomplished if he had not patriotically decided to fight for his country and sadly, within a year of painting today’s picture he was lying dead on a battlefield.