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.

Frigates by Johan Barthold Jongkind

Frigates by Johan Jongkind (1853)

My featured artist today is the nineteenth century Dutch painter and one who is considered to be the forerunner of Impressionism.  His name is Johan Barthold Jongkind.

Jongkind was born in 1819 in the small Dutch town of Lattrop in the Dutch province of Overijssel, close to the German border, although much of his early life was spent in the harbour town of Vlaardingen, which lies on the River Meuse, and where his father, Gerrit Adrianus Jonkind, was a local tax collector.  His father and mother, Wilhelmina, had ten children of which Johan was the eighth.  At the age of sixteen, once he had finished his education, he went to work as a junior clerk in a notary’s office.  A year later in 1836 his father died and Johan moved from Vlaardingen to The Hague where he enrolled at the Academy of Arts to study drawing under the tutelage of the director of Andreas Schelfhout, the Dutch Romantic painter, etcher and lithographer, who was renowned for his landscape works and who, by the end of his life, was looked upon as the leading Dutch landscape painter of the nineteenth century.

He spent almost nine years working at the Schelfhout’s studio training as a landscape painter and studying the great works of the Dutch Golden Age painters who plied their trade between the late sixteenth and mid to latter part of the seventeenth century, such as Jacob von Ruisdael, Meindert Hobbema and Aelbert Cuyp.  It was during this time that Jongkind developed the love of en plein air painting.  The early works of Jongkind depicted themes popular in the Netherlands at the time, harbour scenes with boats as well as canals , windmills and winter scenes featuring skaters on the frozen waterways.  His works grew in popularity and one of the admirers of his paintings was the leader of the French Romantic School, the landscape and seascape painter, Eugène Isabey.  Isabey had accompanied Alfred Emile de Nieuwkerke, who was the directeur des Beaux-Arts in Paris, to The Hague for the unveiling of the equestrian statue of William the Silent in front of the Paleis Noordeinde.  Isabey invites Jongkind to Paris to study in his studio and in 1846, with the financial support from the Prince of Orange, the young Dutch artist headed to the French capital where he remained for ten years.

Jongkind not only studied with Isabey but also with the French painter, François-Edouard Picot.   He also met many of the landscape painters of the Barbizon School with whom he often worked with and exhibited his works alongside theirs.  Despite his initial traditional training as a Dutch landscape artist, his painting technique evolved and soon his works took on a new range of colour and he became fascinated with the pictorial representation of light.  It was this interest in light which would become essential in the development of Impressionism.

When Jongkind had first arrived in Paris he discovered the river Seine and this became a new source of inspiration for his art. He also depicted many aspects of Paris life but preferred to concentrate on the industrial modernity and urban development of the capital rather than the touristy scenes of the crowded city.   His style is often likened to Naturalism, which is the representation of the world with a minimum of abstraction or stylistic distortion.  It is the depiction of realistic objects in a natural setting and is characterised by convincing effects of light and surface texture.

It was whilst in France that he fell in love with the Normandy and Brittany coast which he visited whilst on a painting and sketching trip with Isabey.  He would return to the area many times during his life and some of his best watercolour works incorporate the beautiful and strong lighting found along the Atlantic shoreline.  One of his great artistic successes came in 1850 when he exhibited his work View of Honfleur port at the Paris Salon exhibition.  It received great acclaim from the art critics.

For Jongkind, the streets of Paris were not paved with gold and he spent nine financially difficult years in Paris and had no choice but to live a bohemian existence. He had a number of his paintings rejected by the Salon jurists.  He put forward three of his paintings for inclusion at the 1855 World Exhibition but was disappointed at the lack of interest for his works.  He was now starting to feel dejected and depressed at the way his life was going.   In 1855 his mother died and the thirty-six year old artist returned to The Netherlands and set up home in Rotterdam and with this change of country came his change in painting style as he returned to a more traditional Dutch style of art which he had initially be trained in, during his early life.  Jongkind remained in Holland for five years but the sale of his paintings in his homeland were disappointing.   The only art he managed to sell was to a French art dealer and one of his first patrons, Pierre-Firmin Martin.   Martin’s gallery was on the rue Mogador and he routinely bought works from artists such as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Jean-FrançoisMillet, Theodore Rousseau, Constant Troyon, and Charles-François Daubigny.   Martin was such a great support figure for these artists that they called him Père or Father in English. Jongkind would send Père Martin a painting and in return he would receive a 100 franc note.  However Jongkind could not survive alone on this and as a result he found himself getting deeper and deeper in debt and so in 1860 he decided to return to Paris where he believed the sale of his works would improve and where his standing as a painter was much greater.  He said at the time:

“…It is Paris where I am recognized as a painter…”

However to return to Paris he needed money and he had none.  However through his Parisian friends led by Comte Doria and Père Martin they put on an auction of their works and managed to raise 6046 francs which was used to bring back their friend to Paris.

Jongkind settles down in Montparnasse in Paris.  His friendship with the art dealer Père Martin continued and it was whilst attending one of his dinners that Jongkind was introduced to Joséphine Fesser-Borrhee, a Dutch lady who taught art at a home for Parisian girls.   This lady who was to shape the rest of Jongkind’s life was an interesting character.  She like him, was born in 1819.   She had been abandoned by her parents and brought up in a children’s home. Although known as Marie Borrhée she would later take the name of Joséphine.    At the age of twenty she arrived in Paris, where she was taught to draw, and later she went on to teach in a home for young girls.   Having had a very difficult childhood she was ideally placed to understand the temperament of her troubled friend, Jongkind,  who in many ways was something of an orphan himself.  Jongkind had immediately taken to Joséphine and shortly after their first meeting at the house of Père Martin; he wrote her a letter in which he commented:

“…When I saw you arrive, it was as if my mother and father were coming to fetch me!…”

She was married to Alexander Fesser with whom she had a son, Jules.   It was the Fesser family and especially Joséphine, who through their kind hospitality and friendship, enabled Jongkind to recover both his physical and mental health  and in doing so had a great impact on the quality of his artistic work.  Jonkind and Fesser would travel around France but on many occasions he would return to Normandy.  It was here in 1862 he met Claude Monet.  Monet once described Jongkind’s and his works of art and chided him for his long-standing inability to master the French language saying:

“….a good-hearted, shy man who butchered French and whose art was too new and too artistic to be, in 1862, appreciated to its true value…”

For the next years, the influence of the Normandy coast showed through Jongkind’s abundant production of etchings and paintings. In Normandy, Jongkind became a close friend of Monet a mixed with the likes of Corot, Diaz, Boudin, Sisley and many of the other great artists who used to gather at the Farm Saint-Simeon run by Mère Toutain.

Joséphine Fesser was to become Jongkind’s guardian angel and companion for life and although she remained married to her husband Alexandre she became Jongkind’s mistress.   She was a very caring person and brought a soothing stability and balance to his life. The sale of his art works grew and Jongkind, reputation as an artist, gained in popularity. The number of his commissions increased and with the rise in his art sales his finances improved and with that came a sort of mental calmness, free from worry, and his personality blossomed.   Through Joséphine,  Jongkind had discovered the Dauphiné region of south-east France.  He soon got himself into an annual routine of spending the summer months there and returning to Paris in the winter months.

The first exhibition of the Impressionists in the studio of the photographer Nadar was held in 1874 and although asked to exhibit some of his works, Jongkind declined as by this time in his life, due to his poor health and intemperance he had given up submitting his paintings to major art exhibitions.  Joséphine’s husband died in 1875 and after his death, Madame Fesser remained with Jongkind in Paris. During the late 1870’s when Jongkind was in his fifties his health started to deteriorate and he spent more time in the warmer climes and fresher air of the Dauphiné.

From 1878 until his death in 1891 Jongkind and Joséphine Fesse live in la Côte-Saint-André near Grenoble.  During the last year of his life Jongkind was beset with mental problems, suffering from bouts of depression and paranoia which led him back to alcohol dependence. His mood swings caused by the excess consumption of alcohol led him to be banned from most of the cultural and social activities of the town.  He died in Saint-Rambert hospital close to Grenoble on February 9th 1891 aged 71.  Joséphine Fesser outlived him by just a few months. They are both buried in the small cemetery of La Côte-Saint-André, on the outskirts of the town.

My featured work today by Johan Jongkind is entitled Frigates.  In the painting we see a seaside port which is an idealised view made up of many sites, which was a technique often used by many Dutch landscape painters.   It was completed in 1853, just a couple of years before he left Paris to return to The Netherlands.  The painting highlights his great ability to depict atmosphere and light effects.  Look how well he has depicted the reflections of the ships in the rippling water of the harbour.  Art historians believed that it was Jongkind’s  mastery of light in his works that was to influence the likes of the young Impressionist painter Claude Monet.

The painting is normally housed in the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts but is now part of the exhibition From Paris: a Taste for Impressionism, which is being held at the Royal Academy in London.   This wonderful exhibition of works by Monet, Manet, Sisley, Renoir and many others is on until September 23rd 2012

Winter Harmony by John Henry Twachtman

Winter Harmony by John Twachtman (C.1890-1900)

When we hear the word Impressionism we immediately think of French painters such as Monet, Renoir, Cassatt, Degas et al, but how much do we know about American Impressionists and their works?  How did the Impressionism Movement become important for a time in America?  To find the answer, we probably have to go back to the mid-nineteenth century as it was after the Civil War ended in 1865 that America developed a healthy economy and this was never more so than in the North where many of the victors, who had made their fortunes from the war, had become extremely wealthy.  As is the case nowadays, it is often not just enough to be wealthy, one had to flaunt one’s wealth.   The newly wealthy Americans wanted not just to be recognised as rich, they also craved to be looked upon as sophisticated which didn’t automatically go hand-in-hand with wealth.  So the rich Americans sat in their large magnificent houses and realised that it wasn’t enough to just have a large building, they realised that what they filled their homes with could help in their quest for sophistication and what could be more sophisticated than having their house filled with European art and furnishings.  American artists soon realised that European style art was a saleable commodity and many crossed the Atlantic to Europe, especially Paris, to study the latest artistic techniques.

It was also around this time in Paris that French Impressionism was born.  Impressionist art was a style in which the artist captured the image of an object as someone would see it if they just caught a glimpse of it. Their paintings were full of colour and, in the main, the paintings depicted outdoor scenes. There was a wonderful brightness and vibrancy about the works of the Impressionists.  The images we saw on their canvases were without detail but were painted in bold colours.   In the 1870’s there were already two American painters who had been seduced by the Impressionist style of art and were considered great exponents of this style.  They were Mary Cassatt and the Italian-born son of American ex-patriots, John Singer Sargent.

During the mid-1880s, French Impressionist art became very popular with American collectors who began to appreciate this new style, and more American artists realised that they had to take on board this new phenomenon.   Soon, exhibitions of Impressionist works were held in American cities and the paintings sold well.

Today I am going to look at a work of a less well known Impressionist, the American painter, John Henry Twachtman.  John Twachtman was born in Cincinnati in 1853.  His parents, Frederick Twachtman and his mother Sophie Dröge were German immigrants who had arrived in the country in the late 1840’s.  His father had many different jobs including being a policeman, a storekeeper and a cabinetmaker but his most lucrative work was as a window-shade decorator at the Breneman Brothers factory, and when his son, John, was fourteen years of age he joined his father in the business,  as well as attending classes at the Ohio Mechanics Institute.  John developed a love for art and persuaded his parents to allow him to enrol for a part-time course at the McMicken School of Design in Cincinnati and this is when he met and was mentored by an already successful American realist artist, Frank Duveneck who invited Twachtman to share his studio in Cincinnati.

In 1875, when he was twenty-four years of age, he and Duveneck, who was just five years his senior, travelled to Europe to study European art.  First stop was Munich where Twachtman studied for two years at the city’s Royal Academy of Fine Art tutored by the German genre and landscape painter, Ludwig von Löfftz.  This artistic establishment was a long-standing center of artistic excellence and was one which attracted increasing numbers of aspiring American artists.   From there he, Duveneck and another American student attending the Academy, William Merritt Chase, travelled to Venice in the spring of 1877 and spent much of their time painting en plein air.

Twachtman returned to America in 1878 and for a brief time taught at the Women’s’ Art Association in Cincinnati. He also joined the Cincinnati Etching Club where he became friendly with Martha Scudder, a Cincinnati artist and daughter of a local physician.    Martha had studied at the School of Design and also in Europe, and had, on a number of occasions, exhibited her work.   In 1880, Twachtman married, Martha Scudder.  Soon after she married she gave up her artistic career and simply devoted herself to bringing up her family.  John and Martha had two children: a son, J. Alden Twachtman, who was born in March 1882 and went on to became a painter and architect and a daughter, Marjorie, who was born in Paris in 1884.    In 1880 John and Martha left America on honeymoon and went to Europe and Bavaria where Twachtman helped out as an art teacher in Duveneck’s school.  Twachtman tired of the Munich style’s painting especially its lack of draughtsmanship and so he upped roots and moved to Paris, where in 1883 he enrolled at the Académie Julian, where he studied under Gustave Boulanger, the French figure painter who was renowned for his classical and Orientalist subjects.  Another of his tutors was the French figure painter, Jules-Joseph Lefebvre.

Twachtman returned to the United States in 1887 and remained there for the rest of his life settling in Connecticut where he established an informal art school at Holly House, a boarding house for artists at Cos Cob, a small fishing village near Greenwich.  This became a magnet for young aspiring artists, who came and were taught by Twachtman.  Ten years later in 1897, Twachtman along with Childe Hassan and J Alden Weir became founder members of a group known as the Ten American Painters generally known as The Ten.  This group was considered to be a sort of Academy of American Impressionists who had broken away from the more conservative Society of American Artists.  From 1899 onwards, although living on his farm in Greenwich, Twachtman spent most of his last summers in Gloucester, Massachusetts and it was here that he died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in 1902, aged 49.

The painting by John Twachtman, which I am featuring today, is one of his many winter landscapes.  This one is entitled Winter Harmony and was completed by the artist in the last decade of the nineteenth century.  It now hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington.  The painting features a pool on the artist’s property and was to be depicted in a number of his works.

Peasant Girl Lighting a Fire. Frost, by Camille Pissarro

Peasant Girl Lighting a Fire. Frost by Camille Pissarro (1888)

My Daily Art Display’s featured painting today is entitled Peasant Girl Lighting a Fire. Frost, which was painted by Camille Pissarro in 1888 and can now be found in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.  At this time Pissarro was still a leading light of the Impressionist movement, a movement he had helped to form.   However it was two years prior to this work that Pissarro began to become interested in the experimental work of young artists, who had adopted the fragmented brushstroke technique which Georges Seurat and Paul Signac were trying out, known as pointillism , a technique Pissarro used in parts of this painting.  For a more in depth look at pointillism see My Daily Art Display October 21st 2011 for a painting by Georges Seurat and November 29th 2011 for a painting by Paul Signac. Pissarro had been introduced to Seurat and Signac in 1885 and in the following years he began to work in the pointillist style which had then been adopted by the Neo-Impressionists.  By the time Pissarro was in his sixties he found that this pointillism technique too restricting and in the last ten years of his life he returned to a purer Impressionist style.
Camille Pissarro was fifty-eight years of age when he completed today’s featured work of art.  Ten years earlier his style of painting was such that he would portray nature in his landscapes by a myriad of smaller comma-like brushstrokes built up on the surface of the canvas such as his 1877 work, The Red Roofs (see My Daily Art Display of November 30th 2010).  Pissarro was concerned that these works lacked clarity and so he decided to change the way he worked.  He spent time working in collaboration with Degas, who was, of all the Impressionists, a great believer and advocate of figure painting and the primacy of the human figure at the expense of landscape background.  It was maybe the views of Degas that led to Pissarro to complete some works in which the human being(s) took pride of place in the painting, as is the case with today’s featured work.

The painting depicts two peasant girls working in a field in a cold and frosty winter morning and we see one of them tending a fire.  Pissarro often painted peasant women at work.  Two fine examples of this are his 1881 work entitled Girl with a Stick and the 1893 painting entitled Woman with a Green Shawl.  His portrayal of peasants received some criticism for copying the ideas of Jean-François Millet but Pissarro firmly contested such a notion.  However in general art critics looked upon his works as true representations of peasant life.  Look at the beautiful way in which Pissarro has depicted the landscape.  At the time of this painting Pissarro was extremely interested in the pointillism technique of Seurat and Signac and he used this method to present us with a sumptuous backdrop to the two girls.  The painting has a light and airy feel to it and there is a subtle delicate nature to the work.  The work was painted in Eragny just north-west of Paris where Pissarro and his family lived for a time.

In the far distance we can see the low hills topped by irregular spaced bushy trees.  In the middle ground, we observe grazing cows in the meadow, a line of poplar trees at the foot of the hills and possibly a hidden stream running horizontally across the mid ground.   Notwithstanding the backdrop, the focus of the painting is on the two girls in the foreground, who almost appear to stand next to us.  The scene is lit up by the sun, somewhere out of sight, to the left, which throws off long blue shadows across the field.  It is a wintry sun and still low in the sky, hence the long shadow of the girl in the foreground, which disappears off the painting to the right.    Although it emits light, the sun gives off little warmth and so our two young workers are wrapped up well.  The temperature is even colder due to the wind chill factor.  Look how the girls skirt and the smoke from her small fire are blown horizontally by the wind which comes from the left of the painting.  One can imagine how cold it is with the driving wind on a wintry day. We almost shiver as we look at this work of art.

The girls are both well wrapped up against the morning’s wintry chill.  The girl on the right, who seems no more than a child, is warming her hands by the fire.  She wears a blue dress and a thick dark brown coat.  She has a dark woolen hat on her head which is pulled down to protect her ears from the icy wind.   The older girl, who is closest to us and because of her height, is the main focus of our attention.  She has taken a branch from the pile behind her, and is about to break it up and add it to the fire.  She wears a pink skirt with a blue apron.  She too has protected her head, wearing a white scarf tied beneath her chin.  Her final layer of protection is a pink and white shawl from which emerge long black sleeves of her dress.

The colour combinations Pissarro uses to achieve the colour we see is fascinating.  The girls pink dress is made up of a combination of yellow, blue and pink.  The green grass of the meadow is achieved by using a combination green, blue, yellow, pink and white.  The only orange Pissarro used was for the flames of the fire.

Pissarro fled the traumas of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and, like Monet, went to live in London.   It was whilst in London that he saw a number of paintings by Turner.  Pissarro later commented on Turner’s works and was amazed by the way Turner succeeded in conveying the snow’s whiteness, not just by the use of white alone but by combining a host of multi-coloured strokes, dabbed in, one against the other, which when looked at from a distance, created the desired effect.  It is in this painting that Pissarro has, without the actual presence of snow, managed to give us a crystalline frost of a cold winter’s morning encapsulated in an aura of diamond blue.

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait of Eva Gonzalès by Manet

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

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

Repose by Édouard Manet

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

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

Portrait of Jeanne Gonzalès in Profile by Eva Gonzalès

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

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

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

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

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

La Loge by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

La Loge by Renoir (1874)

Today’s featured work of art was not my original intended offering.  That sounds somewhat strange but actually there is logic to my decision.  I was researching a painting when I came across today’s work and there seemed, at least in my mind, a good reason to offer you today’s painting before I showcased my original work.

The French word La Loge in the context of a theatre means the theatre box and it has been the subject of a number of paintings.  Today I want to look at La Loge by Pierre-Auguste Renoir which he completed in 1874 and now hangs at The Courtauld Gallery in London.  Today this work of art by the Impressionist painter is looked upon as one of the most significant works of the Impressionist movement.  At the time of this painting it was estimated that over 200,000 theatre tickets were sold every week in Paris.  However, going to a Parisian theatre in the nineteenth century was not just about taking in the latest plays by the likes of Victor Hugo or Alexandre Dumas or the less formal vaudeville shows which were also very popular at the time, it was about being seen by other theatregoers.  Men would accompany and flaunt their wives or lovers.  Proud fathers would show off their daughters and “out-of-towners” would take the opportunity of dressing up and sample the Parisian lifestyle.   It was an almost indoor form of promenading, which was the leisurely walking in public places dressed in one’s finery and carried out as a social activity.  Attending  the theatre was a chance to showcase one’s most expensive clothes and accoutrements as well as parading one’s latest beau.  What could be more satisfying than to flaunt one’s wealth or one’s new lover?  It was a question of seeing and being seen and going to the theatre dominated the cultural life of the city.  As well as seeing actors on the theatre stage the theatregoers were actually quietly performing on their own  social stage.

Being seen

The way Renoir has depicted the scene in the theatre box sums up this attitude.  We see a lady and gentleman seated in their box.  Take a look at their demeanour.  Are they depicted as locked in concentration at what is happening on the stage below?  No they are not.  The lady stares out at us with her gloved hand holding her opera glasses and resting it on the lavish velvet frontage of the box whilst her other hand clasps a black fan and a white lace handkerchief in her lap.  Protocol of the day demanded that ladies must wear gloves on formal occasions.

Her face is now not hidden from view by her opera glasses.  She is revealing her face to all who may wish to gaze at her.   So how would you describe her?  Is there a delicate elegance about her or does she look rather brash.  She is without doubt beautiful and has little trepidation about letting people admire her from afar.  She wears a lavish dress, one she has probably saved for this very outing.  This is her tenue de premiere or opening-night attire.  Her costume would often be referred to as a robe à la polonaise or polonaise which was popular in the late eighteenth century and saw a was revival a hundred years later in the 1870’s.  It consisted of a fitted overdress which extended into long panels over an underskirt.  The magic of Renoir’s painting is that from a far one can see the three dimensional form of the dress with all its folds and yet up close it was just a series of brushstrokes.  It is almost magical the way the artist has painted this work.

The elegant dress oozes a sense of wealth but that is not the only thing which advertises the financial situation of the couple.   The style of the dress also oozes the ladies sensuality.  Note the position of the rose which immediately draws our eyes to the décolletage which emphasizes her cleavage. The low-cut neckline was a popular feature of evening gowns of that era.   Another rose placed in her hair once again draws our eyes to her simple but elegant coiffure.

Look at her neck and the pearl necklace she is wearing.  Also we can just make out a pair of diamond earrings dangling from her ears and if we look at the hand which holds her opera glasses we note a gold bracelet around her slender wrist.  The wealth is there for us to see but more importantly it is there for the other theatregoers to note.

This is a summation of the “seen and being seen” philosophy.  She is wanting to be seen in all her finery whilst he is concentrating on seeing.  Renoir used one of his regular models, Nini Lopez, as the model for the lady.

Seeing

The sitter for her male companion in the theatre box was Edmund Renoir, the brother of the artist.  He, like the lady, is dressed elegantly in his formal clothes.  Renoir has depicted him wearing a white shirt with a starched cravat, black trousers and gold cufflinks.  His attire, which is typical of that of the wealthy male theatregoer also exudes a sense of affluence but its plainness and subdued colour allows the more colourful female to be the centre of attention.

The aspect of this painting which we cannot be sure about and I will leave you to decide is whether we are seeing a husband and wife out for an evening at the theatre or are we looking a wealthy man accompanied by an elegantly dressed courtesan.  Can we deduce the truth from looking at the painting but beware of falling into the trap of being too judgemental !!!

Renoir exhibited this painting in the First Impressionist Exhibition which was held in the former studio of the photographer Nadar at 35 boulevard des Capucines in Paris on April 15, 1874.  This work, which gives us an insight into Parisian life in the late nineteenth century, is now hailed as a masterpiece of art and one of the most significant works of the Impressionist movement.  At the time it was exhibited it helped establish the reputation of Renoir.  The painting gives us an insight into life in the French capital during the late nineteenth century.

Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight and Eugène Manet and His Daughter in the Garden by Berthe Morisot

Although I could write numerous blogs about Berthe Morisot and her works, this is not a Berthe Morisot site and therefore after today’s offering I will drag myself away from this talented artist and head for pastures new.  However today I want to focus on Berthe Morisot, her husband and her daughter and have a look at a couple of her paintings which portray the happy family.

As I wrote in my last blog, in 1868, Berthe Morisot had been introduced to Édouard Manet by Henri Fantin-Latour whilst she was working as a copyist at the Louvre.  Over time the Morisot and the Manet family became close friends and would exchange visits to each other’s houses and during this time Berthe became acquainted with Édouard Manet’s brothers, Gusatve and Eugène.

When her sister Edma married Adolphe Pontillon in 1869 she moved to Lorient and gave up painting.   For her, and despite having exhibited at four Salons, she considered her marriage was far more important than any thoughts she may have had of an artistic career. She was determined to channel all her energy into her marriage, playing the role of a supporting wife to her naval officer husband and being a loving and devoted mother to their children.  On the other hand, Berthe on her marriage to Eugène Manet in December 1874 was adamant that the change in her marital status would not affect her art.  She continued to paint as prolifically as before and kept signing her works in her maiden name.  In many ways she was fortunate that Eugène’s attitude to her work was one of support and often when Berthe set off on painting trips he would accompany her and dabble a little in art himself by making a few sketches.  Berthe was also fortunate not to have any money worries and this allowed her to pursue her artistic career without being anxious about where the next centime was coming from.

Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight by Berthe Morisot (1875)

My Daily Art Display featured painting today, which is housed in the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, is entitled Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight and is one which Berthe Morisot completed in 1875 when she and her husband spent the summer in Cowes on the Isle of Wight on their honeymoon.  This, at the time, was a favoured holiday destination for the English high society.  They visited the town of Rye several times before they moved on to London.  Whilst on the Isle of Wight Berthe spent most of her time painting.  Often she and Eugène would be seen leaving their lodgings carrying easels and paint boxes which they would position at some site of natural beauty and spend the day recording the beauty of the island.   Often Berthe would set up her easel in their hotel room and paint what they could see from their window.  Today’s work is an example of just that.  She managed to persuade Eugène, with some difficulty, to pose for her looking out of the window.   She wrote to Edma about the problems of getting her husband to pose, saying:

“…I began something in the sitting room with Eugène; poor Eugène is taking your place; but he is a much less accommodating model; he’s quickly had enough…”

The view from the window is of the port of Cowes but the painting is all about her husband Eugène Manet and the little cottage garden in front of the residence.  It is interesting to observe how Morisot has painted the window panes and the gauze curtains to convey transparency.  The flowers in the garden and the potted plants on the window sill add a dash of colour but in the main Morisot has used muted greys, blacks and blues in her work.  There is a grid-like structure to the painting with the vertical and horizontal lines of the window frame, window sill and garden fencing as well as Eugène’s boater.  Apparently Morisot found it quite difficult to paint this kind of picture and found the task both frustrating and in some ways depressing.  This again is an example of Morisot’s perfectionism and the problems inherent in that state of mind.  She wrote to Edma about the work saying:

“…The view from my window is very pretty to see, very ugly to paint; views from above are almost always incomprehensible; the upshot is that I am not doing very much, and the little I do looks frightful…”

Eugène Manet and His Daughter in the Garden by Berthe Morisot (1883)

In November 1878, almost four years after Eugène and Berthe married, Berthe gave birth to a daughter, Julie, who was to be their one and only child.  Berthe featured her daughter prominently in many of her future paintings as did her sisters and family members.  I particularly like the painting she did in 1883, entitled Eugène Manet and His Daughter in the Garden.  The setting is the garden on the Bougival estate where they were staying that summer.  Unlike some of her works which also featured her husband and daughter, this painting depicts a more private world of Eugène and Julie.  Eugène is dressed casually in an artist’s smock with a straw hat atop his head.  Julie, dressed in her light blue summer dress, sits by the pond watching her tiny red sailing boat drifting on the water.  There is no sign of their house in the painting but the natural setting enhances the loving father/daughter relationship.   Morisot had always intended the painting to be a private family work and no doubt for that very reason she never exhibited it during her lifetime.  It was not seen by the public until 1896, a year after her death.  The work was one of her daughter’s particular favourites,  as Julie commented on the scene with her father saying:

“..he gazes with a father’s eyes on the little blonde girl in a white dress who is intent on getting boats to move around the pond…”

I will now leave the life and paintings of Morisot for a little while but will undoubtedly return to showcase some of her other beautiful work at a later date.  If you are interested in Berthe Morisot and her life I suggest you read Berthe Morisot by Anne Higonnet, which gives a fascinating insight into Berthe Morisot’s life, her family and the people she mixes with.  It is a great read.

Berthe Morisot by Edma Morisot

Berthe Morisot by Edma Morisot (1865)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music in the Tuileries Gardens by Édouard Manet

Music in the Tuileries by Édouard Manet (1862)

In my last blog I looked at the painting Afternoon at the Tuileries Garden by Adolph Menzel which he completed in 1867.  He had visited Paris that year and attended the second Exposition Universelle and it was during this stay that he completed a number of sketches of the Tuileries Gardens.  On returning to his home in Berlin he completed this  work.  When it was exhibited, he pointed out that the painting was all done from his memory of the times when he walked around the Gardens watching the weekend promenading of the bourgeois.  However,  there is a train of thought that believes his work was not just based on his memories but was very much influenced by a painting he saw, when in Paris, by Édouard Manet, which was completed in 1862 entitled Music in the Tuileries Gardens.  This is My Daily Art Display featured work today and I will let you decide whether Manet’s painting had any bearing on Menzel’s work.

Music in the Tuileries Garden,s like the Menzel work, hangs, in the National Gallery, London.  The work depicts a fashionable Parisian crowd promenading and socialising in the Gardens as they listen to music played by a band, albeit Manet has not included the musicians in the painting.  The Jardin des Tuileries lies between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde, and it was the favourite place for people to idle away their leisure time.   The way in which people spent their free time in the capital became one of Manet’s favourite subjects for his paintings.  Manet’s close friend going back to his childhood,  Antonin Proust, the politician and journalist, often recalled the many times he witnessed Manet walking along the Parisian boulevards in search of interesting aspects of city life, which he could depict in his paintings. Manet and his companion, the poet, Charles Beaudelaire,  could often be seen in the afternoons, strolling through the Tuileries Gardens, a favoured gathering place for the beau monde, who wanted “to see and be seen”.  Manet completed numerous sketches of these “beautiful people” as well as the working nannies, who were spending a pleasant afternoon with their little charges.

This was Manet’s first major work on this theme.  The Tuileries Gardens were created for Catherine de Medici who, on the death of her husband King Henry II of France, decided to move her home to the Louvre Palace.  She then had built a separate new palace with gardens modelled after the gardens of her native Florence.  These were the Tuileries Gardens and were opened to the public in 1667 and became a public park following the French Revolution.  As we look at the people in the scene we can imagine the enjoyment they were having whilst they socialised and listened to the music.  Leisure time and recreational activities such as listening to music in a park on a Sunday afternoon was all part of this newly quoted term, modernity.

Manet's man
Menzel's man

Menzel’s work is far more detailed than Manet’s painting.  If we compare the two works there are some similarities but Menzel also maintained some differences.     Both depict families enjoying their leisure time.  Look at foreground and slightly right of centre of today’s painting by Manet.  There is a man with the top hat bending down in conversation with a lady.   He is almost the same character, in the same pose leaning against a tree, we saw yesterday in Menzel’s work.  The theme of both paintings is similar – bourgeois Parisians at leisure but as I have just said there are also some differences in the two works.  Menzel’s depiction of what is happening is somewhat more realistic.

Manet's children
Menzel's children

In his work we saw children in the foreground playing with a bucket and spades but they are not dressed in their “Sunday best” clothes and look somewhat dirtied by their playing on the ground. Now compare that with the children in Manet’s painting.  They too have buckets and spades but these children,  like their adult counterparts , are dressed in their best clothes and are behaving much more demurely.   Also in Menzel’s work we witnessed a small child being dragged off screeching by a woman, probably her mother.  We also saw dogs skirmishing but in Manet’s work there is no such unsavoury incidents happening, which would otherwise shatter the beautiful tranquillity of the scene.

Manet has included the portraits of many of his friends into the lively social gathering, some of whom are fellow artists.  Manet has painted himself at the far left of the painting partly hidden by the figure of Comte Albert de Balleroy, the wildlife artist, seen here holding a walking stick, who shared a studio with Manet.  Another artist also included is Henri Fantin-Latour, best known for his flower paintings.  Manet has added portraits of his brother Eugène, who was the husband of the Impressionist painter, Berthe Morissot.  Several cultural figures of the time are featured in the painting such as the French poets Baudelaire and Théopile Gautier and the travel writer Baron Taylor.  Other intellectuals who have found their way into the painting are the art critic Champfleury and the bearded sculptor Zacharie Astruc who sits at the table and behind him stands the journalist Aurélien Scholl.  Two women sit facing us in the foreground.  The younger of the two, on the left, is Madame Lejosne, the wife of the Commandant in whose house Manet met Baudelaire and the fledgling painter Frederic Bazille.  The other lady is Heminie d’Alcain, the wife of Jacques Offenbach.  Offenbach is the bespectacled man with a moustache who sits in front of a tree to the right of centre of the middle ground, between Eugène Manet and the painter, Charles Monginot who we see doffing his hat to a lady .

Menzel’s work was far more detailed and with his painting your eyes darted from place to place surveying different incidents.  In some ways this painting, by Manet, as did Cezanne’s Large Bathers ( My Daily Art Display March 13th))have an “unfinished” look about them but this is all to do with their style of painting.  So what did the critics think of this work by Manet when it was first exhibited in 1863?   It received very mixed reviews.   On one hand, many of the artists who were soon to be known as the Impressionists, like Claude Monet and Frederic Bazille, were delighted with   Manet’s depiction of the Parisian scene.  However the conservatives among the art critics were less than complimentary.   Paul Mantz, the art historian and  art critic, who would later become Director General of Fine Arts and a member of Supreme Council of Fine Arts was particularly ruthless in his condemnation stating that Manet’s composition struck him as being disorganised and formless, while the broken play of light that animates its surface with such an eloquently restless quality roused him to declare that “this is not colour, but the caricature of colour”.

I have had a number of comments added to the Large Bathers blog strongly disagreeing with my assertion that Cezanne’s work had an unfinished look to it and therefore I will not dare comment about the finish of this work.   Emile Zola explained the “unfinished” look of Manet’s painting, countering such criticism, saying:

“…You are to imagine a crowd of people, a hundred characters perhaps, moving about in the sunlight under the trees in the Tuileries; every character is simply a blot of colour, hardly given form at all, and the details are only lines and black dots. If I had been there I should have asked the amateur [observer of the painting] to move away to a respectful distance; he would then have seen that the patches of colour were alive, that the crowd was speaking, and that the picture was one of the characteristic productions of the artist, the one picture in fact in which he had most loyally obeyed his eyes and his temperament…”

As with most of the Impressionist works of art, the best view you get is if you stand back from the work to see its exquisiteness.  Close up one just sees brushstrokes but at a distance one discovers the true beauty of the work.

So which painting do you like best, the one by Adolph Menzel or the one by Édouard Manet?