My featured artist today was one of the Pennsylvania Impressionists, an artistic movement of the first half of the 20th century that was centred in and around Bucks County, Pennsylvania, particularly the town of New Hope. Often the movement was referred to as the New Hope School or the Pennsylvania School of Landscape Painting. Leading artists of the movement taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. There was a difference between Pennsylvania Impressionism and Impressionism practiced in other parts of America as, with the former, the personification of their art was the thick brushwork and the way they almost had a dedicated concentration on landscape painting. Today’s artist was one of the great American painters of her time and although she has been tagged with the term, Impressionism, Fern Isabel Coppedge has of late been labelled as a follower of Colourism, which is a painting style characteristic for its use of intense colour, and for making colour itself the main compositional language in the resultant work of art. Thus, her paintings are looked upon as part Impressionism part Colourism, which is a painting style characteristic for its use of intense colour, and for making colour itself the main compositional language in the resultant work of art. Coppedge’s paintings offered up her bold and unorthodox use of bright vibrant colours similar to Fauvism, which is also characterised by strong colours and fierce brushwork.
Let me introduce you to the nineteenth century American painter, Fern Isabel Coppedge, a landscape artist, who was famed for her depiction of the villages and farms of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, often blanketed with snow, as well as her harbour scenes of Gloucester, Massachusetts, where she spent her summers.
Fern Isabel Kuns was born on July 18th 1883 in the small town of Cerro Gordo which lies about twelve miles east of the central Illinois city of Decatur. Her parents were John Leslie Kuns and Maria Anna Dilling. Fern was one of six children. She had four sisters, Margaret Effa, Dessie, Vada, and Maria and one brother, George Dilling. Sadly, the first-born of John and Maria’s family was a boy, Joseph, who died in 1873 aged ten.
Her father had a small farm which he had inherited from his father, but was constantly struggling to make ends meet, so much so that in 1886, when Fern was aged three, he had to sell the farm, at a loss, so as to feed the family and pay for their education. John and his family moved west to California in the hope of finding work but nought came of it, although Fern’s eldest sister Margaret, nine years Fern’s senior, said that life in California was the best year of her childhood. When potential opportunities did not work out for their father, they headed back east and arrived in Kansas. In 1889, the Kuns’ finally settled in McPherson, Kansas and occupied a house on the campus of McPherson College.
When Fern was thirteen years old, she went back west to Palo Alto in California where her sister Margaret Effa was studying at Leland Stanford University. Fern, still too young to leave the school system, enrolled at the Pasadena High school. During her stay in California she enjoyed the company of her elder sister, Margaret Effa, and was fascinated watching her painting in a watercolour class. This was what first instance which eventually made Fern fall in love with painting and drawing. Effa encouraged her sister’s newly found love of art and would take her to museums to study famous paintings.
An early insight of Fern’s early work can be gleaned by a comment she once made about her art and her unusual views of the use of colours. She said:
“…People used to think me queer when I was a little girl because I saw deep purples and reds and violets in a field of snow. I used to be hurt over it until I gave up trying to understand people and concentrated on my love and understanding of landscapes…”
In 1900, at the age of seventeen, Fern Kuns went back to Kansas and, upon her return to the Midwest, she studied at McPherson College and later the University of Kansas. Shortly after her return to Kansas, she met her future husband, Missouri-born, Robert William Coppedge, a high school science teacher, botanist, and amateur artist. On January 2nd, 1904, Fern Kuns and Robert Coppedge were married in her parents’ home in McPherson, and the ceremony was followed by a four-course wedding breakfast. Fern and her husband moved east to the Kansas state capital, Topeka. Robert continued with his teaching profession whilst Fern continued with her love of painting and four years later, when they moved to Illinois, she attended the Art Institute of Chicago from 1908 to 1910.
From Chicago she moved to New York, where she enrolled at the Arts Student League. She studied with the artist, muralist and illustrator, Frank Vincent DuMond and the Impressionist painter, William Merritt Chase. In 1917, Fern spent time studying at the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where one of her tutors was the Pennsylvania artist and art teacher, Daniel Garber and that year she had some of her artwork accepted into that year’s annual exhibition. In that summer she studied at the Art Students League summer school in Woodstock where winter painting specialist, John Fabian Carlson, was director. Carlson was one of the great interpreters of the wooded landscape and was a great influence on Fern Coppedge.
In 1917 Fern visited Pennsylvania for the first time. She immediately fell in love with its picturesque-wooded hills and the many old-fashioned Bucks County towns which reminded her a little of her home state, Kansas. She remained in Pennsylvania for over thirty years and went on to own homes in Philadelphia, and the Bucks County towns of Lumberville, where she purchased a home and art studio in 1920, which she named Boxwood, sometimes referred to as The Boxwood Studios.
In her painting, Lumberville in Winter, we see depicted a yellow building which is believed to be her first Boxwood studio which had once been a Quaker meeting house dating to the 1700s and is featured in several other works by the artist. The small two-storey building would feature in many more of her paintings. Living close to her in the small village of Cuttalossa was her former tutor, Daniel Garber.
There is an interesting story about Fern Coppedge’s painting entitled October. In May, 2011, a man with a small but pleasant oil painting entitled October, fresh from a New Jersey estate, walked up to the owner of a hot dog stand in North Carolina, Alison Bledsoe. The hot dog lady, looked at the dirty landscape of a bridge, some yellow leafed trees, and some brightly coloured houses. She was not quite sure if the interesting painting was worth buying, but as it was not expensive she purchased it. Seven months later, on December 4, 2011, Les and Sue Fox of West Highland Art Auction Brokers and authors of The Art Hunters’ Handbook, in cooperation with Alasdair Nichol of Freeman’s Auctioneers, sold the professionally cleaned New Hope, Pennsylvania bridge scene by Fern Isabel Coppedge for $29,800 at auction.
Nine years later, in 1929, Fern Coppedge moved seven miles down-river to the small town of New Hope. It was a town located along the route of the Old York Road, the former main highway between Philadelphia and New York City. At the time when George Washington crossed the Delaware in 1776, it was known as Coryell’s Ferry, after the owner of the ferry business, and got its current name after a fire destroyed several mills in 1790. It was said that once the mills were rebuilt, there was a “new hope” for this small town on the Delaware river. The town would later be joined by a bridge to Lambertville, on the New Jersey side. Artist William Langston Lathrop and his family moved to New Hope in 1898 and founded an art school and he is now considered the father of The New Hope School
Fern Coppedge lived on North Main Street in the centre of New Hope, in an early American style stone house and studio which she had built and was designed by architect Henry T. MacNeill in 1929. This too was named Boxwood ! Over the years Fern Coppedge painted a number of pictures of her Boxwood home, at which she held many exhibitions of her work. In 1907 Daniel Garber, who had once tutored Fern at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in the early 1900’s, joined the early group of American Impressionists who would evolve into The New Hope School of Pennsylvania Impressionists. Fern became a member of the group and at the time she was the only female member of the New Hope School. Members of the New Hope School lived and painted in a number of Bucks County towns near New Hope, including Lumberville and Carversville. But the “New Hope School” name stuck and that is what these talented artists who followed in the footsteps of the French Impressionists are now called.
………………………to be continued.
Most of the information for this blog came from the website Pennsylvania through the eyes of Fern I Coppedge.
Alfred Sisley returned to France late on October 18th, 1874 after his four-month summer holiday spent in London. Sisley had been living in the town of Louveciennes since 1872 but in the winter of that year, Sisley and his family moved to 2 avenue de l’Abreuvoir in Marly-le-Roi, a commune in the Île-de-France region, in north-central France, located in the western suburbs of Paris, 18 kilometres from the centre of Paris.
Many art historians believe that during the time Sisley lived in Marly-le-Roi between 1875 and 1880, he produced his finest works. In the late autumn of 1874 Sisley completed a work featuring the town of Noisy-le-Roi which lay about 4 kilometres south-west of Marly-le-Roi. It was entitled The Church at Noisy-le-Roi: Autumn. In some ways, it is an unusually constructed work. The subject of the painting, the church has been placed in the mid-ground and there is no visual access to it from the foreground. Our view towards it through the foreground landscape is restricted by the fence line and a number of squat trees. The painting was exhibited at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris on 24 March 1875 along with works by Renoir, Monet, and Morisot. It was purchased by Paul Durand Ruel and submitted to the Salon jurists in 1876 but was turned down. The painting was sold on a number of occasions including an 8500 francs sale to Baron Henri de Rothschild in 1899. It was later bought by Sir William Burrell, a Scottish shipping merchant and philanthropist, who in 1944 gave it to the City of Glasgow Corporation. The one proviso was that this work and the whole of his collection was to be housed in a building far enough from the city centre so that the works could be shown to their greatest advantage, and to avoid the damaging effects of air pollution at the time.
It took the trustees more than 20 years trying to find a suitable resting place for Burrell’s collection, one which met all the criteria set out in the Trust Deed. A venue was finally found in 1967 when the Pollok Estate was given to the city of Glasgow. The Trustees also had to waive certain terms of the deed which allowed the current site, in Pollok Park to be used. The park was only three miles from the city centre but within the city boundaries.
In December 1872 Sisley had painted four pictures showing floods at Port-Marly. In 1876 there was another flood and Sisley executed seven paintings as documentary evidence of its different stages, from the first rise in water level to the return of the river to its normal course. Being well settled in Marly-le-Roi, Sisley was there to witness the great floods of 1876. In March that year, the Seine burst its banks and flooded many of the riverside villages and towns including the neighbouring village of Port-Marly. In his 1876 painting, La barque pendant l’inondation (Boat in the Flood) he depicts a wine merchant’s house, À St Nicolas, which almost looks like it is resting on the mirrored surface of the flood waters. The artist produced six paintings of this event. He cleverly captured the great expanse of water with moving reflections that transformed the peaceful house of a wine merchant into something mysterious and poetic. Sisley’s viewing point gave him an oblique-angled view of the scene which meant that the wine-merchant’s shop becomes the predominant feature of the work and Sisley has been able to depict architectural aspects of the building, especially the upper section. The light colour tones are offset by the black pigment used for the window openings giving a sharp contrast between light and dark. The industrialist, Ernest Hoschedé, originally owned the painting. He was one of the first major supporter of the Impressionists’ art. His wife Alice became Monet’s second wife. A year after Hoschedé bought the painting his business collapsed and he became bankrupt. The painting was later sold by Durand-Ruel to the wealthy art collector, Comte Isaac de Camondo who had amassed a large number of works by the French Impressionists. He bequeathed this work and a number of other paintings from his collection to The Louvre in 1908, three years before his death. The painting was transferred to its current home, Musée d’Orsay, in 1986.
The work we see above, The Flood at Port-Marly is housed in the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Madrid. In the painting we see the rue de Paris in Port-Marly. On the right, behind the trees, we can see the overflowing River Seine. The sky is littered by wind-swept clouds which scurry across the sky. Sisley was able to give a marked emphasis to the movement of the clouds through the use of a low horizon line. We can see the road and how the water has flooded the pavements. The sun has reappeared and the water level is starting to recede, which allowed Sisley to set up his easel in the middle of the street and once again return to the use of a central perspective which can be found in many of his paintings. This technique derives from the classical tradition of French landscape painting. In September 1876, shortly after Sisley had concluded his series on the floods at Port-Marly, Stéphane Mallarmé, a French poet and critic, published an article on the Impressionist artists in the London magazine The Art Monthly Review. He said of Sisley:
“…He captures the fleeting effects of light. He observes a passing cloud and seems to depict it in its flight. The crisp air goes through the canvas and the foliage stirs and shivers…”
Sisley’s relationship with the Impressionists can be gauged by a set of statistics. At the first exhibition in 1874, Sisley exhibited five paintings, in the second exhibition in 1876 he had eight paintings displayed and in the third Impressionist Exhibition seventeen of his works were displayed. He did not exhibit any of his paintings at the fourth, fifth or sixth shows. So why? It is thought that two of the reasons could have been the lack of critical acclaim and success at the first three exhibitions but maybe more importantly there was a fragile sense of unity and some tension between the painters at these joint exhibitions. The fourth, fifth and sixth exhibitions were dominated by Degas and the works on show tended to be figure painting rather than landscape painting so this could also be a reason for Sisley backing away. There were few Impressionist artists that had a foot both in the figurative and landscape camps but Pissarro was the one exception and he exhibited at all eight of the Impressionist exhibitions. Sisley was also aware that he had to sell more works and become more well known to dealers and so turned back to the Salon. In a letter to the French journalist, author, and art critic, Théodore Duret Sisley wrote:
“…I am tired of vegetating, as I have been doing for so long. The moment has come for me to make a decision. It is true our exhibitions have served to make us money and in this have been useful to me, but I believe we must not isolate ourselves too long. We are still far from the moment we shall be able to do without the prestige attached to official exhibitions. I am therefore determined to submit to the Salon…”
Following the third Impressionist exhibition Sisley tried to get his works accepted by the Paris Salon jurists but failed. In October 1878 Sisley left Marly and moved to avenue de Bellevue in Sèvres, a town in the southwestern suburbs of Paris. Sisley’s finances were deteriorating fast. His paintings only sold for small amounts. He was borrowing money so that he and his wife were able to survive and, to make things worse, some of the lenders were demanding repayment of his debts. In 1880 Sisley could no longer afford to live in Sèvres and moved his family to Moret-sur-Loing, a town south of Paris on the edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau.
Paul Durand-Ruel kept buying paintings from the Impressionists and having them exhibited at various exhibitions and then hopefully selling them on for a profit. However, around the late part of the 1870’s the sale of his paintings was much lower in comparison to the number he had purchased and so he had to source some finance to cover his future buying plans. He turned to Jules Feder, the head of the Union Générale bank in Paris and an important early collector of Impressionist art. In 1880, Feder advanced a great deal of money to Paul Durand-Ruel, enabling the dealer to resume purchasing work from the Impressionists. Immediately upon receiving Jules Feder’s support Durand-Ruel acquired thirty-six paintings from Sisley. This all changed in February 1882 when Union Générale bank collapsed which, in turn, brought about the collapse of the French Stock Exchange, and triggered a general recession, and Jules Feder, the head of the bank, was ruined and because of that Durand-Ruel had to pay the banker back all the money that he had advanced him. Durand-Ruel, with no money to buy further Impressionist paintings, resulted in an extremely uncertain few years for the artists whom Durand-Ruel had supported, particularly Sisley… For the next several years Durand-Ruel was unable to advance money to the Impressionist painters he had always generously supported, and those works he did buy were at much reduced prices and because of this, Sisley was especially hard-pressed to make ends meet.
Things were changing for Sisley. Paul Durand-Ruel purchased his last painting by Sisley, Saint-Mamme’s from the River Loing, for 200 francs in February 1886. The Impressionists were starting to go their own ways. Renoir and Monet had gained public recognition whereas Sisley had not. This must have hurt Sisley and according to John Rewald in his 1961 book, The History of Impressionism, Sisley had become suspicious and sulky not even seeing his old companions anymore. The French art critic of the time, Arsène Alexandre wrote:
“…he [Sisley] added to his woes by creating imaginary ones for himself. He was irritable, discontented, agitated…..He became utterly miserable and found life increasingly difficult…”
Whereas Monet and Pissarro came back into Paul Durand-Ruel’s fold, Sisley refused. Durand-Ruel and his sons had bounced back and in the 1890’s once again had a successful network of connections in Europe and America who bought from the company. Probably due to his state of depression, Sisley ignored the opportunity to return to Durand-Ruel and benefit from the sales of his work. It was the beginning of the end. Sisley’s wife Eugénie died of cancer in October 1898. Sisley, who was ill himself, did not attend the funeral. He had been attending a doctor for five months but in November 1898 he suffered a massive haemorrhage and his health was deteriorating rapidly. Sisley died of cancer on January 29th 1899, aged 59. Sisley was buried on February 1st 1899 at the cemetery in Moret attended by his children and fellow artists such as Monet, Renoir, and Tavernier.
Sisley had been in the process of gaining French citizenship before he died, but on his death. remained an English citizen. His son Pierre settled his estate. According to records at Dammarie-les-Lys, the regional archives for Seine-et-Marne, Sisley’s legacy to his children comprised of his wardrobe, worth 50 francs, furniture worth 950 francs and money obtained from his paintings worth 115,640 francs, making it a total of 116,640 francs, equivalent to £4,665.
I end this blog with the words of Monet who, a week before Sisley’s death, wrote about Sisley to his friend Gustave Geffroy, the French journalist, art critic, historian, and novelist:
“…Sisley is said to be extremely ill. He is truly a great artist and I believe he is as great a master as any who have ever lived. I looked at some of his works again, which have a rare breadth of vision and beauty, especially one of a flood, which is a masterpiece…”
The year is 1870 and on July 19th France had declared war on Prussia. The war went badly for France and the siege of the Paris ended in an armistice on January 28th 1871. It was a crushing defeat for the French and for the Parisians three months of further violence and bloodshed was to follow from March to May of that year with the uprising known as the Paris Commune. Alfred Sisley lost everything that he owned at his apartment in Bougival. Like so many others, his house was looted and destroyed by the occupying forces. As mentioned in the previous blog, worse was to follow as in 1871 his father’s business collapsed and his father became bankrupt and later died penniless. Alfred Sisley had now to rely on the sale of is paintings for he and his family to survive. Artists needed a way to exhibit and sell their works and at one time the Paris Salon was the only and the way to do that and that depended on their work being accepted by the Salon jurists, but then came the art dealers with their private galleries and this meant the artists did not have to rely on the Salon to market their work.
Enter Paul Durand-Ruel who was to play a part in Alfred Sisley’s life in the 1870’s. Durand-Ruel was born in Paris, on October 31st, 1831, the son of shopkeepers Jean Durand and Marie Ruel. It was in their shop that they allowed famous artists to display their paintings and sketches. In the 1840’s, their shop soon became a regular rendezvous for artists and collectors alike, so much so that Jean Durand decided to turn their shop into an art gallery. Their seventeen-year-old son, Paul, joined the family business in 1848. It must have been an exciting time for the young man as he was sent all over Europe to seek out new artists and sell their paintings. In the mid-nineteenth century, his father’s gallery specialized in paintings produced by the landscape artists of the Barbizon School, such as Corot. Paul Durand-Ruel knowledge of art grew and in 1863 he was acknowledged as the firm’s resident art expert. Following the death of his father in 1865, Paul Durand-Ruel took over the business.
During the Franco-Prussian War Durand-Ruel left Paris and escaped to London. It was in the English capital that he met up with a number of exiled French artists including Charles-François Daubigny, Claude Monet, and Camille Pissarro. Paul set up his own London art gallery at 168 New Bond Street and in December 1870, he staged the first of ten Annual Exhibitions of the Society of French Artists. Soon Durand-Ruel became acquainted with their works and through them met their fellow artists.
Paul Durand-Ruel returned to Paris, and there, he secured Impressionism’s place in history through tireless promotion across Europe and the United States and enthusiastic Americans ensured its success. Durand-Ruel discovered, promoted, protected, advocated, and finally exported the work of Sisley, Renoir, Monet, Degas, and Pissarro. Of al the art dealers, he was by far the most committed to their art. He invested in it at a time when all they had to show were refusals and derision at their efforts. It was an interesting relationship between Durand-Ruel and the artists. It was almost a one-way association. He offered them passionate and financial support, the painters repaid him with the only thing they had: their loyalty, which in a way, counted for nothing since he was almost the only dealer who wanted their work. Often, he would over-pay for their finished paintings so as to keep their prices up, but he was rarely able to sell it on. He admitted he was not a good businessman and once said that if he had died when he was in his mid-fifties, he would have died penniless. This was mainly due to the Paris Bourse crash of 1882 which was the worst crisis in the French economy in the nineteenth century. Durand-Ruel was forced to repay the money he had borrowed from Jules Feder, 0ne of the struggling directors of the ill-fated l’Union Générale bank, which eventually collapsed. It was a bank established by Catholic grandees in 1876 to compete with the famous German-Jewish Rothschild bankers.
However, everything changed for Durand-Ruel around 1892 when he succeeded in establishing the market for Impressionism in the United States. The first official French Impressionist exhibition in the United States opened at New York City’s American Art Association from April to May, 1886, and later, in 1887, it moved to the New York City’s National Academy of Design with additional works of art. Of the American buying public Durand-Ruel is quoted as saying:
“…Without America, I would have been lost, ruined, after having bought so many Monets and Renoirs. The two exhibitions there in 1886 saved me. The American public bought moderately . . . but thanks to that public, Monet and Renoir were enabled to live and after that the French public followed suit…”
In 1887, Paul Durand-Ruel opened a New York City gallery at 297 Fifth Avenue named Durand-Ruel & Sons; two years later, in September 1889, it moved to 315 Fifth Avenue, and finally, in 1894, to 398 Fifth Avenue. The gallery was managed by his three sons, Charles, Joseph, and Georges.
Alfred Sisley may not have lived to share the American public’s recognition enjoyed by the likes of Renoir, Monet and Degas but they still liked his atmospheric landscapes which were shown at many of the American exhibitions and were part of many private collections before 1914.
In July 1874, Sisley made a return trip to London with his friend the famous French Opéra-Comique singer, Jean-Baptiste Faure, an avid collector of Impressionist paintings. Faure bankrolled their trip by buying six of Sisley’s works. The pair stayed initially in South Kensington before moving to Hampton Court. Hampton Court was a popular leisure resort with good accessibility to central London. In that year Sisley completed a painting depicting part of the bridge joining Hampton Court with the small village of East Molesey on the south side of the river Thames. It was entitled Une Auberge à Hampton Court (Hampton Court Bridge: The Castle Inn). The Castle Inn, which some believe could have been where the pair were staying, is the focal point of the painting. The relaxed leisurely feeling is depicted by the elegantly clothed figure as he saunters down the road towards us. Sisley has overpainted the light grey ground with bright tones. Look how Sisley has emphasised the broad gravel street by placing his figures to the very edge of it and by doing this he has established a broad vacant zone directly in front of us.
Another work painted by Sisley in 1874 featured the opposite end of the bridge at Hampton Court and is entitled Hampton Court Bridge: The Mitre Inn. The bridge in the painting was the third one on this site having been built in 1865. This was replaced by the current bridge, constructed of reinforced concrete, faced with red bricks and white Portland Stone, in 1933. The inn is the red brick building on the left. There was an inn at each end of the bridge. On the south end was the Castle Inn (previous painting) and on the north end there stood the Mitre Inn. In this painting we once again see the depiction of part of the cast iron bridge which spanned the Thames at Hampton Court and it is thought that Sisley painted this view whilst on the terrace of the Castle Inn.
This viewpoint was used by him for his painting, Regatta at Hampton Court. The large trees on the left and centre of the painting hide the entrance to Hampton Court, one of the royal palaces.
By far one of the quirkiest paintings of the bridge by Sisley was his work entitled Under Hampton Court Bridge. The dramatic depiction is painted from beneath the cast iron and brick bridge and the view between the avenue of bridge piers is of the far riverbank and a pair of rowing boats.
Three paintings of the Hampton Court bridge by Sisley, a bridge which was not known for its beauty, with one commentator of the time asserting that
“…it was one of the ugliest bridges in England, and a flagrant eyesore and disfigurement both to the river and to Hampton Court…”
However, for Sisley it was a structure worthy of his time and effort.
The blog today features the very talented nineteenth century Swedish female landscape and portrait painter, Julia Augusta Lovisa Beck.
Julia Beck was born in Stockholm on December 20th 1853. Her father, Franz Beck, was a German immigrant from the Rhineland-Palatinate who had set himself up as a successful bookbinder. Her mother was Charlotte Julia Beck (née Carlsson). She had a brother, Johan Viktor, who was one year older than her. Viktor helped out at his father’s workshop and would later become part of the father’s bookbinding business, whereas Julia concentrated on her painting. She initially enrolled on courses in wood engraving and decorative painting at the local Slöjdskolan (School of handicraft). When she was eighteen years old she became a student at the Konstakademie, the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm and enrolled in a five-year state-run art course. It had only been since eight years before that the Academy had begun to accept female students and she was assigned to the Ladies Section which although the tutors were the same as those who taught the male students, the females had fewer lectures and were taught in a different building. She and her fellow female art students, known as the “painter-girls” mixed with the male students and Julia was instrumental in setting up a student society and a student newspaper, Palettskrap.
For aspiring young artists the place to be was Paris, which had taken on the mantle of the leading art centre of Europe. Julia wasted no time after completing her course at the Academy to travel to Paris to avail herself of the best art tuition and in 1880 she had great success when she had her self portrait exhibited at the annual Salon de Paris, the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. The painting depicting her in a plumed hat was admired for its depth of colour and realistic depiction.
In 1881 Julia Beck, who was then twenty-eight years old, enrolled at the Académie Julian where she received tuition from Léon Bonnat and Jean Léon Gérôme. The Académie Julian was one of the the main art establishment in Paris that accepted female students. The other state-run art establishments in Paris did not accept women as students until the 1890s. The influential École des Beaux-Arts did not begin admitting women until 1897. From studying under those two much-heralded artists she left the Académie Julian and went to study at the school run by the Belgian artist, Alfred Stevens.
Julia Beck shared spacious lodgings in Paris with four Scandinavian painters, the Swedish painters, Hildegard Thorell, Anna Norstedt and Elizabeth Keyser and the Norwegian, Harriet Backer. Like many artists of the time who were living and studying in Paris, Julia liked to spend time in the tranquillity of the rural environment which could be found to the south of the capital. The small village of Barbizon, near the Forest of Fontainebleau, was popular with artists between 1830 and 1870 who were looking for something different from the formalism of Academic training and sought creativeness directly from nature and suddenly scenes of nature became the subject of paintings rather than simply an add-on backdrop.
Julia was one of the first Scandinavian artists to visit another artist colony, twenty kilometres south of Barbizon, at Grez sur Loing. It was the rural village, which was to attract many American and Scandinavian painters, including many of the Skagen artists.
In one of Margie White’s excellent blogs, American Girls Art Club in Paris…and Beyond, she talks about the attraction of the artists’ colony:
“…Grez became a popular summer travel destination for American artists in Paris after a train station and a new hotel were built. In 1860. Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot’s painting View of the Loing at Grez (1850-60) may have worked like a Grez travel poster, inducing many art students to come and try to paint it themselves. Word about Grez circulated through the Academie Julian in Paris as well as Carolus-Duran’s studio…’
Julia Beck completed a painting featuring the area entitled Gréz zur Nemours in 1885. It was a good example of the work she favoured at that time. She often depicted glistening water reflections in a romantic grey-scale which reflected verdant trees in full leaf and occasionally the odd birds but rarely do people feature in her landscapes. It was all about her love for nature and how she captured it during periods of ever-changing light during various times of the day and the differing seasons. There was a kind of meditative atmosphere to her depictions achieved by her choice of colours. There is a definite hint of Impressionism, which we saw in the work of Claude Monet. In the foreground, we see reeds and foliage depicted in a style similar to that seen in Japanese and Chinese art, which was very popular in Europe at the time.
If we study her work we can see she has carefully examined the rural lands of the area both at dusk and dawn and by doing so saw how the light from the sun and the shadows differed immensely. She had a special attraction to depicting motionless waters with verdant backdrops. She liked to depict how the light fell on the water of slow-moving rivers and lakes. There can be no doubt she was influenced and stimulated by the paintings of the Impressionist artists. Her plein air depictions were simply as she saw them and were often expressed in pinks, turquoise and green.
Her paintings were not always set with bright sunny conditions. One of her most moody and inspiring works is an oil painting entitled The Raven Swamp, in which we see ravens in both the foreground and background circling an almost-stagnant stretch of water. What adds to the sombre mood of the painting is the way in which the lake and the sky have the same colour. How would you describe it? Muted, melancholic or simply a study of quiet beauty?
Julia Beck, who lived in a rented studio with her friends in Paris and had spent the summers at Grez sur Loing was constantly on the move and would often return to her homeland, Sweden, on many trips during the 1870s and 1880s. Maybe she became disillusioned with her nomadic lifestyle and wanted to put down roots so, in 1888, she decided to set up a permanent home in France. She chose Vaucresson, a small town in the western suburbs of Paris in the Hauts-de-Seine department, a few miles from the centre of the capital. It was close to rural areas, which were often the subject of her artworks. A painting entitled L’Etang (The Pond)Saint-Cucufa, près Vaucresson depicts an area close to Vaucresson. The wood of Saint-Cucufa, also known as the forest of Malmaison , is a wood and a pond in the department of Hauts-de-Seine managed by the French National Forest Office.
Her reasoning behind making her permanent home in France rather than back in Sweden was probably due to the fact that the Parisian art market was buoyant and at this time French art critics were in love with Scandinavian art. Vaucresson was also not a long train ride from the Belgian border and the towns of Bruges and Gent where she had a number of clients. When asked why she did not return to live in Sweden she replied:
“…In Sweden I could never learn to paint the sun – it is so hard to see, the air is clear, oui, but in Normandy the atmosphere is misty and there I could see the sun glittering in the haze and on the sea…”
Julia Beck remained unmarried all her life. She had had many female Scandinavian artist friends who, once married, had given up their art to look after their home and family. That course of action was not for her as her true love was her art. One of her paintings she completed in the last years of her life was her 1931 work entitled Nénuphars (Water Lillies) which once again reminds us of Monet and Impressionism.
France appreciated her artistic talent and in 1934 she was awarded the Legion d’Honneur. She exhibited widely in Paris and abroad and received a number of medals for her paintings. Sadly the Swedish art fraternity did not take kindly to her abandonment of her country and she was not allowed to exhibit in the Swedish pavilion at the 1900 World Fair in Paris.
Julia Beck died in Vaucresson on September 21st 1935, aged 81.
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…”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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…”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…”
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.
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.
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…”
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.
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.
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…”
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.
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…”
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…”
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…”
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 leopera, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 !
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…”
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.
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.
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).
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 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.
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