Landscape and seascape painting must be the most popular art genre. Like all painting genres there are many good examples and some exceptional examples of such paintings. In today’s blog I want to highlight the exceptional landscape work of the nineteenth century Danish painter, Peder Mork Mønsted, who due to his naturalistic plein-air depictions, was considered the foremost landscape painter of his day in Denmark.
Mønsted was born on December 10th, 1859, a few years following the end of what was known as Den danske guldalder (The Danish Golden Age). This period of Danish history straddles the first half of the nineteenth century and is a period of outstanding creative production in Denmark. The start of the nineteenth century had been a disastrous period for Denmark and especially its capital, Copenhagen which had suffered from fires, bombardment and national bankruptcy, but it was also a period when the arts took on a new period of inspiration and originality brought on by the Romanticism movement of Germany, which was at its peak in the first half of the nineteenth century. It was a period when much of Copenhagen had to be rebuilt and this saw the development of Danish architecture in the Neoclassical style. The city took on a new look, with buildings designed by Christian Frederik Hansen and by Michael Gottlieb Bindesbøll.
This Golden Age was most commonly associated with the Golden Age of Danish Painting from 1800 to around 1850 which included the work of Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (see My Daily Art Display five-part blog starting August 5th, 2016) and his students, such as Wilhelm Bendz, Christen Købke, Martinus Rørbye, Constantin Hansen and Wilhelm Marstrand. Eckersberg taught at the Academy in Copenhagen from 1818 to 1853, and became its director from 1827 to 1828. He was an important influence on the following generation, in which landscape painting came to the fore. He taught most of the leading artists of the period.
Peder Mork Mønsted was born near Grenå in eastern Denmark. He was the son of Otto Christian Mønsted, a prosperous ship-builder, and Thora Johanne Petrea Jorgensen. He had an elder brother, Niels. He was a pupil at the Crown Prince Ferdinand’s Drawing School in Aarhus where he studied under Andries Fritz, the Danish landscape and portrait painter. After leaving the Drawing School in 1875, Mønsted moved to Copenhagen and enrolled on a three-year art course at the Royal Academy of Art where he received tuition in many facets of art including the tutoring in figure painting by the Danish genre painter, Julius Exner. It was at the Academy that he began to learn about, and be influenced by, the art of Christen Købke and Pieter Christian Skovgaard, a romantic nationalist painter and one of the main figures associated with the Golden Age of Danish Painting. Skovgaard is particularly known for his large-scale depictions of the Danish landscape.
In 1878 Mønsted left the Academy to study under the artist Peder Severin Krøyer. Krøyer was one of the best known and the most colourful of the Skagen Painters, who were a community of Danish and Nordic artists living and painting in Skagen, Denmark. Krøyer was the unofficial leader of the group.
In his early twenties, Mønsted travelled extensively. In 1882 he journeyed through Switzerland and on to Italy where he visited the isle of Capri. During these journeys he would constantly sketch the people and the landscapes. One such painting to come from that Italian trip was completed in 1884 entitled In the Shadow of an Italian Pergola. Before returning to his home in Denmark he visited Paris and stayed there for four months during which time he studied at the studio of William-Adolphe Bougureau, the French academic painter.
Mønsted was a habitual traveller constantly seeking places and people to paint. In 1884, he first visited North Africa returning to Algeria in 1889. One of his later paintings, a portrait entitled The Smoking Moor, came from his time in North Africa.
Peder Mønsted besides being an exceptional landscape painter was also a talented portraitist as we can see in his 1917 work, simply entitled Olga.
In 1885 his journeys took him to Sicily and Taormina, the commune in the Metropolitan City of Messina, which lies on the east coast of the island. It was from this visit that Mønsted completed his painting The Cloister, Taormina.
Mønsted visited Switzerland on several occasions and his 1887 painting Unloading Stone from a Barge at Ouchy recalled the time he visited the port of Ouchy which is situated south of the city of Lausanne, on the edge of Lake Léman.
On March 14th, 1889, at Frederiksberg, Peder Mork Mønsted married Elna Mathilde Marie Sommer. Nine years later the couple had a son, Tage.
In 1892, Mønsted travelled to Greece, where he was a guest of King George I, who was Danish. While there, he completed portraits of the Royal Family including one of the king himself at the top of a ship’s gangway.
With his royal invitation to Greece, he also took the opportunity to depict the ancient sites. The above large-scale work (80 x 137cms) is one of his finest paintings of the last decade of the nineteenth century. It is thought that the two finely-dressed people depicted to the left in the mid-ground are King George I and his wife, Queen Olga of Greece. Further to the left are members of the famous Presidential Guard known as the Evzones. From Greece, Mønsted travelled to Egypt and Spain.
However, Peder Mork Mønsted will always be remembered for his beautiful landscape works often featuring his native countryside. It is hard to describe the works in a single word but if one had to then words like serene, placid, and tranquil come to mind. His depiction of water in the form of rivers and brooks and the surface reflections are breathtakingly beautiful. One good example of this is his painting Landscape with River.
Mønsted continued all his life to paint the Danish and Scandinavian landscapes and coastlines. His depictions of nature were poetic, even romantic. His forte as far as his landscape works are concerned is his discerning eye for the grandeur of nature and his unerring ability to record both detail and colour.
Of all the motifs within the landscape theme, water seems to be one that arouses the greatest admiration when depicted with serene beauty. It is in such landscape works that there is a multitude of conditions that challenge and stimulate an artist, whether they be beginners or the most experienced painters. It is known that many famous Impressionists had real problems when it came to the representation of water in their compositions and ended up with their depictions, concentrating much more on the effects 0f light on a scene rather than on a realistic representation.
The onset of World War I caused Mønsted to curtail his European travels but the 1920’s and 1930’s once again saw him journeying around the Mediterranean countries.
His travels produced numerous sketches that later became paintings which he presented at several international exhibitions. Most of his landscapes were, however, devoted to Scandinavia. He was especially popular in Germany, where he held several shows at the Glaspalast in Munich. During his later years, he spent a great deal of time in Switzerland and travelling throughout the Mediterranean. Most of his works are now held in private collections. In 1995, a major retrospective, called “Light of the North”, was held in Frankfurt am Main.
Philip Weilbach’s artistic icon, Weilbach Dansk Kunstnerleksikon often just referred to as Weilbach, is the largest biographical reference book of Danish artists and artists and the entry on Peder Mønsted sums up the work of this great man:
“…[Mønsted’s] great success was largely a consequence of his ability to develop a series of schematic types of landscape, which could each individually represent the quintessence of a Scandinavian, Italian, or most frequently Danish landscape. In motifs, built up around still water, trees, and forest, he specialised in portraying the sunlight between tree crowns and the network of trunks and branches of the underwood, the reflections on the water of forest and sky and snow-laden winter landscape paintings with sensations of spring, often all together in the same painting. Insofar as Mønsted included figures in his paintings, these were principally used as ornaments with a view to emphasising the idyllic character of the motif; and only rarely were the figures and the anecdotal element given as prominent a role as in traditional genre paintings…”
Peder Mork Mønsted died in his Danish homeland on June 20th 1941, aged 81.
The artist I am featuring today is the South African-born, Australian portrait and landscape artist Florence Ada Fuller. She was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa in 1867, one of several children of Louisa and John Hobson Fuller. As a child, she emigrated with her family to Melbourne. In 1883, aged sixteen years of age, Florence attended the National Gallery of Victoria Art School and for two years between 1884 and 1886 she worked part-time as a nanny.
During this period she received artistic tuition from her English-born uncle Robert Hawker Dowling, a painter of orientalist and Aboriginal subjects, as well as portraits and miniatures. He was Melbourne’s most sought-after portraitist of the early to mid 1880’s
One of his portraits was the 1885 one of Sir Henry Loch, later 1st Baron Loch of Drylaw, who was Governor of Victoria from1884 to 1889. This portrait was completed by 1885 and shown in exhibitions in that year.
In 1885, through the good auspice of her uncle, Florence, then eighteen years old, received a commission from Ann Fraser Bon, the Scottish-born philanthropist and a formidable woman who fought strenuously to protect the limited rights of Aboriginal people. She asked Florence to complete a formal oil on canvas portrait of William Barak, the leader of the Wurundjeri people, who was also an artist, and who became an advocate and leader in the wider Aboriginal community. The work was acquired by the State Library of Victoria. It is interesting to note how two art critics viewed the finished portrait. One complimented the way in which Fuller avoided romanticising Aboriginal people while another critic said that in his opinion the portrait was an idealisation of the man rather than a truthful portrait.
In 1886, Robert Dowling, returned to England and Florence gave up her work as a governess and decided to concentrate on her art, opening up her own studio in Melbourne. For all aspiring artists, to get a wealthy patron is an ideal start to their artistic career and Florence Fuller procured one by a strange turn of fate. Her uncle who had completed the portrait of Sir Henry Loch had started on a portrait of his wife but had not completed it by the time he went on his visit to London. Sadly, in 1886, aged fifty-nine, he died shortly after arriving in England. Florence was then asked by Sir Henry Loch to complete his wife’s portrait, which she did and Lady Loch was so pleased with the end result, she became Fuller’s patron.
Florence later received tuition from the Australian landscape painter, Jane Sutherland. Sutherland, who had been born in New York, emigrated to Sydney, Australia in 1864 when she was eleven years of age. She was one of the founding members of the plein-air movement in Australia, and a member of the Heidelberg School, an Australian art movement which has often been described as Australian Impressionism. Sutherland was also one of few professional female artists and had to constantly strive for equality and fought hard to further the professional reputation of female artists during the late nineteenth century.
In 1888, Fuller completed a pair of realism paintings featuring poverty. They were entitled Weary and Desolate and both featured child poverty against the backdrop of a ship berthed at the docks in Melbourne. The powerful imagery of the painting, Weary, depicting a homeless child was a potent declaration on the disadvantaged in sharp contrast to the booming economy of the Australian city and although similar paintings by English Victorian realist artists were common this artistic work of urban realism was a shaming of Australian society and its injustice and as such, was very unusual. Look how Fuller has included the tattered advertising hoarding, its message frayed and in shreds weathered by time and the elements almost making its messages unintelligible. The title of the work is based on the poem, Weariness, by Longfellow with its opening lines:
“…O little feet! that such long years
Must wander on through hopes and fears,
Must ache and bleed beneath your load…”
At an exhibition of the Victorian Artists’ Society in 1889 Fuller won a prize for the best portrait by an artist under the age of 25. Another portrait of a child by Fuller which has a happier connotation is her 1890 work Inseparables which depicts a child reading her book. The joy the child gets from reading is depicted in this warm painting. One of the interesting things about studying a painting is our “take” on it. A good example of this is how this painting was viewed by two very different experts. The work was shown as part of The Edwardians exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia and the curator saw the depiction as a “love of reading”. On the other hand, the Australian art historian Dr Catherine Speck looked upon the work as being all about “subversion” because it portrayed a young woman reading and by doing so “gaining knowledge” rather than the stereotypical role of a family and home maker.
Another of Fuller’s paintings which focused on the enjoyment of reading was her work Lady in a Wicker Chair. In the depiction, we see the lady leaning forward, as if someone is coming into the room where she is reading. She ensures that she doesn’t lose the place in her book by marking it with her hand. Look how Fuller has made sure the attention of the viewer is solely on the lady by darkening and blurring the detail of the background.
In 1892, she, accompanied by her married sister Christie, left Australia, and travelled to Cape Town to recuperate from an illness. She and her sister were the guests of her uncle Sir Thomas Ekins Fuller, a member of the Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope and it was through him that she was introduced to Cecil Rhodes, the British businessman, mining magnate and South African politician, who served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896. She left South Africa in 1894 but before she went she completed a painting depicting the home of Cecil Rhodes. Fuller returned in 1899 and had a number of meetings with Rhodes in order to put together studies for five portraits of him.
In 1894 Florence travelled to Europe. Her first port of call was Paris where she enrolled at the Académie Julian, where one of her tutors was William-Adolphe Bouguereau. It was at a time when French art schools had just recently opened their doors to women. This was not a popular move with many of the male artists, who felt threatened and the aspiring female painters were often held in contempt by some of the male tutors. The female students at the Académie often suffered from lowly and congested conditions. Whilst there, she exhibited her work at the Paris Salon in 1896 and again in 1897. Her works were also exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1897 and later in 1904, as well as being hung at exhibitions at the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and the Manchester City Art Gallery.
She returned to Australia in 1904 and for the next five years lived in Perth, where her sister Amy lived. Fuller held an exhibition of 41 works in Perth in 1905, and the newspaper proprietor Winthrop Hackett described one of her paintings, Early Morning, which was later purchased for the Art Gallery of Western Australia:
“…it is probably the greatest success in the domain of pure impressionism … because of its pure tone, its admirable perspective and its strongly vivid reproduction of that mysterious and evanescent but always brilliant colouring that is momentarily lent by the sunrise…”
In 1905, she completed a painting entitled A Golden Hour. When the National Gallery of Australia bought the painting in 2013 they described it as:
“…a masterpiece … giving us a gentle insight into the people, places and times that make up our history…”
The depiction is of a tranquil early evening, the end of a beautiful day. The sun is slowly setting and it gives off a warm glow over the xanthorrhoea, grasses and wildflowers, and lights up the trunks of the white gum trees. In the midground we see a couple walking side by side through the wildflowers towards the valley. Look at the mountains and the sky in the background which have been painted in many pink tones, adding tranquillity to the scene. If we close our eyes we can sense this calmness, this serenity, and soon our imagination even allows us to hear the sound of birds as they circle the gum trees. The setting of the landscape is the Darling Ranges in Western Australia, and the couple we see in the painting are John Winthrop Hackett, businessman, philanthropist and owner of the West Australian newspaper, and his new wife Deborah Vernon Hackett, née Drake-Brockman, who had married Hackett in 1905, when she was just eighteen years of age, much to the horror of her family. When exhibited in October 1905 the art critic for The Western Australian newspaper called the painting the pièce de résistance of Fuller’s exhibition. Many of the art critics of the time were also complimentary with regards to the work, citing the expertly balanced composition and the masterful way Fuller had depicted the hills and sky but most of all praised ‘the wonderful light effects which they referred to as ‘the golden glories of late afternoon’.
The lady depicted in A Golden Hour also appeared in another painting by Florence Fuller, entitled Portrait of Deborah Vernon Hackett, which she completed around 1908. Hackett was born in West Guildford, Western Australia, in 1887, she was the daughter of surveyor Frederick Slade Drake-Brockman and heroine Grace Vernon Bussell and younger sister of Edmund Drake-Brockman. On August 3rd 1905, at the age of 18, she married Sir John Winthrop Hackett who was forty years her senior much to the annoyance of her family. He was a newspaper proprietor, newspaper editor, and prominent Western Australian politician. Fuller depicted Hackett compassionately. The portrayal capturing the young woman’s grace and charm. But she also conveyed the complexity of the twenty-one-year old woman’s character through the contrast between the femininity of her soft, pale-blue dress and the dramatic black hat. She gazes directly at us. It is a somewhat piercing expression questioning why we are staring at her.
Florence Fuller joined the local theosophy society in Perth in May 1905, after attending a talk given by the enigmatic theosophist Charles Webster Leadbeater. Fuller’s time was taken up by the local branch of the society variously holding the positions of secretary, treasurer, and librarian of the local branch. She went on to paint many portraits of the leaders of the Theosophical Society. In 1911, she travelled to London and three years later journeyed to India and visited Adyar, the headquarters of the Theosophical Society.
Later that year Fuller returned to NSW and settled in Mosman where she mainly painted miniatures. In 1920, the Society of Women Painters in New South Wales established a School of Fine and Applied Arts, with Florence Fuller appointed as the inaugural teacher of life classes. Fuller began to suffer from mental illness, which deteriorated over time, and in 1927, at the age of sixty, she was committed to Gladesville Mental Asylum where she died nearly two decades later, on July 17th 1946, aged seventy-nine. She was buried at Rookwood Cemetery, New South Wales.
…………………..In hindsight, Leickert’s decision to move away from The Hague in 1848 and base himself in Amsterdam was probably a brave decision but it paid off as the next twenty years are looked upon as his best period. The finely drawn details in his works and his use of the chiaroscuro technique was looked upon by the critics as masterful. One of the first paintings he did after his move to Amsterdam was View on the Ij with Amsterdam in the Background. The setting is a view from the grounds around the tollgate on the north shore of the IJmuiden, a body of water, formerly a bay, in the Dutch province of North Holland. It was a favourite place of artists, and the Amsterdam public were always willing to buy such depictions.
Many artists depicted similar scenes and in fact Leickert completed several versions of this painting, including one with the same view but in a winter setting, entitled Winter op het IJ voor Amsterdam (Amsterdam in the Winter with the Setting Sun), which can be seen at the Rijksmuseum. It was painted from the same viewpoint at slightly different stages of sunset. Both paintings depict the same barn, house, and figure group to the left-hand side. However, the most notable difference is that the Rijksmuseum painting is set during winter and it depicts people skating on the frozen river. These two works are masterpieces in the way they depict a highly detailed analysis of light and colour, and the atmospheric fluctuations between the seasons and times of day. These were aspects of overriding importance to Leickert. Leickert left his mentor Schelfhout when he moved from The Hague to Amsterdam and began to be “his own man” as far as his artwork was concerned. An art critic at the 1850 Rotterdam exhibition which included Leickert’s winter variation of the painting commented on the work and Leickert’s newly-found independence:
“…Leickert has long managed to situate himself outside the school of Schelfhout – that is, to learn to observe with his own eyes. His view of Amsterdam in the Winter with the Setting Sun is one of those paintings at which one must gaze for a long time to recover, as it were all that is surprising and alluring about a sunset in December. The sky has a particularly divine effect, being harmoniously rendered and incontrovertibly one of the most handsome of the Exhibition…”
The “divine effect” mentioned by the critic alludes to the strong Romantic evening light depicted in the painting. In the work look how Leickert has the setting sun lighting up and colouring the sky in red, orange, and lilac tints. The setting of the painting was typical of Leickert. He often chose riverbank scenes which were full of human activity. He himself often lived in houses which were close to river or canal banks, such as the Rokin, in the centre of Amsterdam.
Having lived in both The Hague and Amsterdam he would have visited the coast on many occasions especially the fishing village of Scheveningen. Although Leickert will always be remembered for his cityscapes and landscapes he did paint coastal scenes. One such work was Fisherfolk on the beach near Scheveningen, the setting and type of depiction was very popular with artists.
We think of Leickert as a painter of enchanting scenes whether it be a riverscape, landscape or cityscape but the one facet of his talent is somewhat surprising – that of a portraitist, although he never contemplated this genre as a professional alternative to landscape painting. His 1852 Self Portrait was a triumph of tonal modulations used in the facial depiction. Look at how Leickert use of light on the skin and dark areas, as well as the clever way in which he shapes the background by the use of varying tones. What is Leickert trying to achieve with this portrait? What does he want us to take away after viewing the painting? Look at the way he is both well-groomed and well-dressed. Look at his facial expression – serious and somewhat imposing. What he has achieved with this depiction is a portrait of a professional and successful man, one who has gained success professionally as an artist and attained social acceptance. There is even a hint of elitism in his demeanour.
Leickert’s landscapes and cityscapes focused on life as it was and he rarely added to his depictions anything which signalled the changes that were taking place. He shied away from modernity. His paintings concentrated on picturesque towns and ageless, unspoilt landscapes. Such depictions had the wistful feeling of Romanticism.
I love his portrayal of the frontages of the old Dutch streets. I love how he instils in the viewer a sense of warm cosiness and contentment as we look at a winter scene with the refreshment stall on the ice. An example of this is his 1892 painting entitled At the ‘koek en zopie’ in a Panoramic Winter Landscape.
Koek en zopie (cookies and hooch!) were refreshment stalls on the ice which sold cakes and biscuits as well as hot alcoholic drinks. The strange quirk of why these stalls were on the ice and not on the land was because if they had been positioned on the mainland there would have been a tax levied on their products. Nowadays these small stalls sell drinks such as split pea soup and hot chocolate. Another painting by Leickert which featured the koek en zopie was entitled Numerous Skaters near a koek-en-zopie on a Frozen Waterway by a Mansion. On the frozen water, we see villagers engaged in their daily routines. For some, whom we see skating, it is leisure time whilst others in the depiction are using the ice to transport goods. A house with a snow-covered step gable can be seen on the right of the painting. This tall structure forms a vertical compositional element and is echoed in the two windmills and the mast of the small boat which appears to be stuck in the ice. Look at how Leickert has accurately depicted the ice with all the scratches in its surface made by the skaters and sleighs. Look at how Leickert has depicted the sky. It is masterful with variance of colours, different tones of pink, blue and grey added to which are the dark clouds. The warm colours for the sky contrasts and enhances the whiteness of the snow which emphasises the coldness of the winter day.
In 1859, forty-three-year-old Leickert leaves Amsterdam and travels to Germany where he journeyed down the Rhine valley calling at Rudesheim and later Mainz where he stayed for some time – time enough to meet, fall in love with, and on September 29th, within the year of their first meeting, marry thirty-six-year-old, Apollonia Schneider. The couple returned to the Netherlands in 1861, settling for a year in Frederikstraat in The Hague before returning to Amsterdam, where his drawings and paintings drew the attention of King Willem III.
Over time Leickert’s paintings became less popular as they were beginning to be looked upon as old fashioned and the new painters of The Hague and Amsterdam could command prices three-times as high as his were sold for. In 1887, Leickert, then seventy-one years of age decided to end his artistic career, left The Netherlands, and returned with his wife to Mainz, where twenty-eight years earlier, they had married.
Charles Leickert died in Mainz on December 5th, 1907, aged ninety-one. His obituary notice stated he was a widower with no children and it is believed that his wife Apollonia had died a few years earlier. Leickert was a prolific artist producing approximately seven hundred paintings, of which he only exhibited about eight-five.
Most of the information for the three blogs on Charles Leickert came from excellent 1999 book entitled Charles Leickert 1816-1907: Painter of Dutch Landscape by Harry J Kraaij
My featured artist today and over the next two blogs, is the Dutch nineteenth century landscape painter Charles Henri Joseph Leickert. His painting genre was also often associated with another artistic “-ism”, that of Romanticism. But what is Romanticism when used as a description of an artist’s work. In his 1950 book De Romanesken, the Dutch art writer, Frans Hannema described Romanticism in art as:
“…A great emotive stirring of the heart; an all enveloping expansion of feeling; a controllable urge for the whimsical, the grotesque, the fantastic and the eerie; a boundless desire and self-imposed hardship; a fantastic devotion and passionate contempt; an unfathomable nostalgia for the transience of all happiness and for the inconstancy of all things; a flight from circumscribed reality to the interminable dream: these are the fiercely jostling and often contradictory emotions with which the soul of the Romantic individual is affected…”
However, Romanticism in art was not that evident in Dutch paintings of the time. The leading Romantics of the nineteenth century were the Frenchman, Théodore Géricault, and Eugene Delacroix and the German Caspar David Friedrich. Dutch paintings in the early nineteenth century were generally limited to landscapes and cityscapes. The favourite Dutch artists of the time were from the bygone days of the seventeenth century such as Jan van Goyen, Salomon van Ruysdael, Jacob van Ruisdael, and Isaac van Ostade. Unlike the Romantic depictions of forests and waterfalls depicted in Jacob van Ruysdael’s works, Leickert preferred to depict everyday Dutch village and river scenes with their picturesque embankments or winter scenes featuring frozen canals on which people would be seen skating, and the frozen rivers and canals would often be overlooked by windmills. However, the Romantic title associated with Leickert was probably due to his ability to saturate his scenes with what is almost a supernatural light which was so prevalent in his depictions especially those featuring the evening sun.
So why is Leickert not a well-known Dutch artist? Some historians believe the answer lies with his character. He was a shy person and often hid his light under the proverbial bushel. The bushel being his mentor and teacher, Andreas Schelfhout, whose shadow Leickert was pleased to remain under. The subject of Schelfhout’s works was very similar to that of Leickert or maybe that should be seen the other way around! Andreas Schelfhout was a Dutch painter, etcher, and lithographer, known for his landscape paintings. Schelfhout belonged to the Romantic movement and his Dutch winter scenes with frozen canals and skaters were already famous during his lifetime.
Charles Leickert was born on September 22nd, 1816 in Brussels. His parents were, his father Henricus Michael Leickert who had been born in Wittendorf, Germany in 1781 and his mother, also German-born, Henrietta Frederique Martilly. Leickert’s parents, who were married in Berlin, lived there until 1815, at which time with the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo and the subsequent ending of the First French Empire, the French were driven out of the Netherlands and Leickert’s father, mother, and his eldest sister, two-year-old, Louïze Frederica, moved from Berlin to Brussels.
Leickert’s father gained employment as the King’s chamberlain (valet de chambre) at the court of King Willem I. At this time, and until 1820, the Kingdom of the Netherlands had twin seats of government, The Hague in Northern Netherlands, and Brussels in Southern Netherlands and so Henricus Leicker, as part of the royal entourage, had to move with his family backwards and forwards from one city to the other. In 1816 Charles Leickert was born in Brussels while some his younger siblings were later born in The Hague. Finally, around 1820 The Hague was designated as the sole capital of The Netherlands and the Leickert family made their home there. With the defeat of Napoleon and the ending of the French annexation of the Netherlands thousands of people came to live in the country and the population of The Hague swelled. The surge in population led to housing shortages, poor sanitation and disease which led to a large rise in infant mortality. The Leickert family were hit hard losing most of their children before they reached adulthood, some due to typhoid and tuberculosis and his three-year-old brother died of his burns in a fire.
Charles Leickert managed to survive and when he was just twelve years old, because he was showing talent as an artist, his father enrolled him into The Hague Drawing Academy in 1827. The tutor who had the most influence on Leickert was the Dutch landscape and cityscape painter, Bartholomeus van Hove. In 1828, a year after his enrolment, Charles Leickert’s father Henricus died. The cause of death was given as verval van krachten which simply means a decline in strength which seems very unusual as Henricus was just forty-five years old, but it could have been “part and parcel” of the poor sanitary conditions of the city at the time. Leickert’s mother Henrietta was left to bring up the family but struggled financially as her poor health meant she could not work. She pleaded successfully with the art academy to give her son artistic tuition for free, a decision which says a lot for Leickert’s talent. With no money to pay the mortgage, the king stepped in and bought the house of his one-time servant and Henrietta, along with Charles and his two sisters, Adelheid and Barbara, moved into rented accommodation. The health of Leickert’s mother continued to deteriorate and she eventually died in 1830.
Charles Leickert’s mother was a great believer in her son’s talent as an artist and she wrote a short poem in one of his sketchbooks as a testament to her belief that one day he would become a great painter. A translated version of her poem is:
Accept this booklet, little Lijket And fill it with sweet studies Improve your judgement, and the little heart That burns with love so sweet for art With little skills, free from small sorrows May life flit by till death draws nigh.
Walk in the little field and in small nature Observe and draw each little hour Every little object, be it great or small And great you shall one day be as artist.
Charles then 14 years of age, Adelheid aged 10 and Barbara aged 12 were placed in the Civic Orphanage. Their older sister Louïze, who was eighteen, had her own home as a live-in domestic. Although being consigned to an orphanage seems harsh, it had its benefits. Sanitation was good, the children were inoculated against infections which were killing many children at the time and they were fed and clothed. Life in fact for the children was quite good, and for Charles, being the son of the former First Chamberlain to the King, he was allowed to carry on his art lessons at the Drawing Academy. Art played a part in the orphanage and the children were encouraged to try out art and the most talented would attend painting classes which were funded by charitable bequests.
It is known, through his biographer, Johannes Immerzeel, that Charles Leickert’s first art teacher was Bartholomeus van Hove who ran a flourishing studio as well as teaching at The Hague Drawing Academy. Whilst under van Hove’s tutelage, Leickert honed his drawing skills and the art of chiaroscuro. The term chiaroscuro derives from the two words chiaro bright (< Latin clārus) + oscuro dark (< Latin obscūrus) and describes the prominent contrast of light and shade in a painting, and how the artist by managing the shadows is able to create the illusion of three-dimensional forms.
…………….. to be continued
Most of the information for the three blogs on Charles Leickert came from excellent 1999 book entitled Charles Leickert 1816-1907: Painter of Dutch Landscape by Harry J Kraaij
Just in case you haven’t read my previous blog featuring the Welsh artist, Sally Moore, let me explain why this blog, like the previous one, is much shorter in length than my usual ramblings.
When I decide on a subject for my blog I look for three criteria to be met. Firstly, and on a personal note, I need to be interested in the person or their art. Secondly, I need to be able to find enough information with regards the life of the artist and their family upbringing and lastly, I need to have enough copies of their works to be able to populate the blog. Without all three criteria, I tend to reluctantly disregard the artist as the subject of my blogs. Having said this blog and the last one featured two artists but did not meet with all the criteria – the missing criterium is the limited information I have about their life, but because I liked their work so much I decided to feature them albeit in much shorter blogs. Today I am looking at the life and work of the nineteenth century Swedish landscape painter, Josefina Holmlund.
Josefina Holmlund was born in Stockholm in 1827. Her parents were Nils Holmlund and Johanna Helena Holmlund (née Torsslow) and she had one sister, Jeanette. Josefina trained as a painter and studied under Teodor Billing, a former student of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm who was a realist landscape painter and who depicted many scenes from Skåne, Lapland and Värmland. Her other tutor in those early days was Olof Hermelin, who was an ardent advocate for national Swedish values and became a prominent portrayer of the domestic landscape mainly in Uppland and Södermanland
In the 1850’s, Josefina attended the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Stockholm where one of her professors was Edvard Bergh who started his career in law but later studied at the Royal Academy in Stockholm. He founded the landscaping school at the Royal Academy and this school was characterised by the Swedish landscape painting of the time. The fact that Josefina studied art at the Academy is unusual as the establishment did not officially allow entry for women before 1864.
In 1863, aged thirty-six, she travelled to Dusseldorf and went to live with her sister Jeanette. Jeanette Holmlund who was also a painter had married the Norwegian landscape painter Nils Björnsson Möller. Whilst living with them Josefina became influenced by her brother-in-law’s art. She continued with her artistic studies and became strongly influenced by the “Dusseldorf School of painting”, which referred to a group of painters who either taught or studied at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art in the 1830s and 1840s, when the Academy was directed by the German Romantic painter Wilhelm von Schadow. The work of the Düsseldorf School is typified by finely meticulous yet imaginary landscapes. Such landscapes often had religious or allegorical stories set in the landscapes. Members of the Düsseldorf School were great believers in plein air painting, and tended to use a palette with relatively subdued and even colours. that was a national romantic emphasis that depicted dramatic nature scenes, waterfalls and rapids with rocks.
Josefina captured the starkness of life in the mountains and the ferocity of the rapids in her painting, Mountain Landscape with Rapids in which we see the fast flowing water of the rapids fall spectacularly over a waterfall at the side of which is a small, log-built cottage, with smoke billowing from the chimney. By the side of it a lady, laden with wood she has collected heads home.
The Düsseldorf School emerged as part of the German Romantic movement. Depictions by these artists had a national romantic emphasis that depicted dramatic nature scenes, waterfalls and rapids with rocks. One can see in some of Josefina Holmlund’s paintings the influence of the Dusseldorf School.
She went on to make many trips to Holland, Norway and Scandinavia and the breath-taking countryside she discovered during her many journeys featured in her landscape works.
Josefina Holmlund never married and died in 1907, aged 78.
Many of her landscape paintings featured the breath-taking “V” shaped fjords such as Fjord Landscape with Farm, the one she completed in 1870. There is a beautiful tranquillity about this depiction.
Another painting of hers which I like is one featuring the tranquillity of the fjord which has lost its “V” shape as it is further from its source and closer to the sea. In this work we see a steamer, puffing out smoke from its tall funnel as it chugs across the wide expanse of water. In the right foreground we see a man making his way down to his row-boat. On the bank of the fjord on the right mid-ground of the painting we can just make out a man and woman standing next to their boat and boathouse.
Josefina painted a beautiful and evocative sunset scene in 1879 entitled Kustbild med båt, (Coastal scene with boat). Dark storm clouds almost obliterate the setting sun the rays of which force their way through to create a golden halo on the surface of the fjord. Despite the prospect of an on-coming storm, a small sailing ship in the foreground sets out on its perilous journey. In the left mid-ground we see a small cottage perched on the rocky bank of the fjord. Look at the myriad of colours, such as silver, greys and gold, she has used in depicting the water.
Her ability to depict water with shimmering reflections is palpably shown in her painting entitled On the Bridge.
As well as her paintings of the fjords and lakes she completed many works featuring the countryside. One of my favourites is Sommarlandskap med Gärdesgård Intill en Väg (Summer Landscape with Fence next to a Road) which she completed around 1855.
Often her countryside landscapes featured family life as in the case of her 1879 painting, Stuga vid skogsbryn (Cottage in the Woods) which is a depiction of idyllic life in the woods devoid of the noise and pollution of city life. I think it is her portrayal of what life should be like.
Happiness attained from life in the woods is once again brought to the fore in her painting entitled Kurragomma (Hide and Seek), which combines the beauty and serenity of nature with the laughter and playfulness of three children as they amuse themselves with the game of hide and seek.
Another work of hers which I like for its simplicity is Village Street.
In my next blog I am going to look at the life and works of Charles Leickert, the nineteenth century painter of the Dutch landscape.
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.
La Belle Époque, which literally means “Beautiful Age” is a name given in France to the period from the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and the start of World War I in 1914. So why was this termed a beautiful age? Probably the reason for naming this period thus was because, for the middle and upper classes in France, the standards of living and security increased in comparison with the dark days that went before. The devastation and death toll of the Franco-Prussian War and the short-lived but bloody battles of the Paris Commune were over. Napoleon III’s period of power had ended and a Third Republic was declared. It was a period free of wars affecting France. It was a period of economic affluence and an era of many new innovations both cultural and technological. For many it was a good time which needed to be savoured. My artist today is one who lived and painted during this time and his Parisian street scenes of the time depicted an opulence which many, but the poorer classes, could enjoy. Let me introduce you to the French painter Eugène Galien-Laloue. He was a consummate draughtsman. His depictions of fin-de-siècle Paris architecture was of an amazing standard and yet he was not just a cityscape painter as he was equally adept with his landscape work in which he brought to life the rural French countryside.
In his tiny gouaches Galien-Laloue rendered every detail of fin-de-siècle Parisian architecture with absolute precision, but in his landscape works he was more attuned to the painterly tradition of the Barbizon School and the Impressionists, recording life in the rural French countryside in light-filled canvasses. Galien-Laloue painted with great delicacy a wide variety of subjects. Eugene
Eugène Galien-Laloue was born in Montmartre, Paris, on December 11th 1854, almost a year after his father, Charles Laloue, an artist and set designer, married Eugène’s mother, Endoxi Lambert in December 1853. Eugène was the eldest of nine children and the large family lived on Rue Leonie in the Montmartre, which at the time was an artistic community where many of the Parisian artists and freethinkers lived. Eugène, even as a child, demonstrated his artistic ability and almost certainly his early training from his father, who liked to paint, and being a set designer was a talented draftsman. Charles Laloue died suddenly in 1869 when Eugène was fifteen years old and the family, which only just made ends meet when he was alive, struggled to survive financially. Eugène, was forced to leave school so that he could find work and help his family and his mother secured him a job as an assistant to a notary.
In 1871, aged seventeen, filled with a sense of patriotism and nationalism, Eugène joined the army but to do so he had to lie about his age. The war with Prussia was a short but deadly affair which France lost. Fortunately, Eugène came through the bloody war unscathed and once the war ended he left the army and returned to civilian life. His one aim in life was now to become a professional artist. For an aspiring artist in Paris there was just one course one had to take to reach that ultimate goal. One had to become a member of the prestigious L’Académie des Beaux-Arts, which was looked upon as the hub of the Parisian art world. Some of the artists of this French Academy also served on the jury that selected paintings for the well-respected Salon de Peinture et de Sculpture, held at the Palais de l’Industrie on the Champs-Élysées, at which more than a thousand artists and sculptors had their works of art and sculptures displayed. Unlike today there were only a small limited number of galleries where artists could show their work and so gaining access to the Salon was crucial for their success as painters and getting approval from the Salon hanging jurists was critical.
In order to be nominated to the French Academy, an artist followed a well-tread course of instruction. Students attended either the official school, the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris, or if they or their parents were affluent, received instruction in the private atelier of an established artist, often one who had connections with luminaries of the Salon. Academic learning in the nineteenth century to become an artist was not an easy process. The tuition was laborious albeit meticulous and it started off with the students learning draughtsmanship by copying engravings and sketching Roman and Greek sculpture, which was known as “working from the antique,” which translated, meant sketching black and white tonal studies from classical marble statuary or casts. If the student had mastered that task, then the tutor would allow them to progress to the next phase of learning. Advancement from one phase of instruction to another was based on the aspiring young artist mastering what they had been taught. Progression was not based on an indiscriminate period of instruction. They would then move on to drawing nude models using just graphite or charcoal.
Following several years of drawing the young artists would begin to paint. This would be carried out under the direction of a time-honoured master and, when he believed his scholars to be ready, they would be allowed to submit their work to the Salon. Having been trained by an established and well-respected painter would count for a great deal with the Salon’s jurists. Not only did the jurists control which paintings would be exhibited they also decided on the placement of the paintings on the monumental and crowded wall of works. A good placing of an artist’s painting (at eye level) ensured that they would be noticed by the buying public. In the days of Eugène Galien-Laloue the Academy favoured large figurative works and looked on painting landscapes as a mere hobby one did when holidaying in the many artist colonies!
Records do not show whether Eugène attended the Academie des Beaux-Arts or any other academy, such as L’Academie Julian but when one of his works appeared at the Salon it was noted in the catalogue that he was artistically trained by his uncle, Charles Laloue, but of course this was also the name of his father, so maybe there was some confusion as to who did train Eugène. In life, everybody needs a good break, a stroke of luck, and for Eugène it was the seemingly unbounded industrial enlargement of La Belle Epoque and one aspect of this was rapidly developing rail network which was growing westward from Paris. Eugène was hired as an illustrator for the French railways, the Chemins de Fer de l’Ouest. The Compaigne de l’Ouest was formed in 1855 through the merger of several smaller railways operating in the western suburbs of Paris, largely serving Normandy and Brittany. Destinations served included London and Jersey (through ports in Normandy and Brittany), as well as Rouen, Dieppe, Saint-Germain, Mont St. Michel, Mers-les-Bains, Treport, and other outlying places. Illustrators, like Eugene, were employed to illustrate the sights that awaited passengers on their rail journeys and these were used to seduce potential passengers to find out more about what lay at the end of the line. To carry out his job as a railway company illustrator Eugène had to travel to all these “exotic” places out West and sketch the rural landscape along the way.
Eugene exhibited his work for the first time in 1876 at the Museum of Reims, where his work Le quai aux fleurs par la neige (Flower Market Along the Seine Under the Snow) was shown. The following year he exhibited for the first time at the annual Parisian Salon, showing En Normandie (In Normandy) as well as two other gouaches. He preferred executing gouaches since they were less time consuming as his oils and, in fact, brought comparable prices.
After some time, Eugène Galien-Laloue decided to become self-employed and set himself up in his own Paris studio in rue de Clignancourt. He spent a lot of his time alone which did not seem to bother him. Acquaintances described him as a loner, an introvert, who was never happier than when he was working alone in his studio or sitting quietly managing his business. Modern city life with all its gaiety did not appeal to him. Maybe he became somewhat crotchety as it was said of him that he was a loner and someone who did not suffer fools gladly, and because of this characteristic people found it very difficult to befriend him.
The French Art Expert, Noe Willer, who was author of Galien-Laloue’s catalogue raisonné wrote of this aspect of Galien-Laloue’s character:
“…He was not eccentric but always conservative, practically a royalist. He was obsessed with his painting. In his private life he found simplicity alluring: he married three sisters, one after the other (beginning with the youngest and ending with the oldest). They had all lived next door to him. He lived a monastic life. All worldly pursuits, games, alcohol, the pleasure of the flesh were not for him. Riding his bicycle to places in Paris to paint was his only physical exercise…”
The cityscape of Paris was changing rapidly during Eugène Galien-Laloue lifetime. It all began around the 1830’s when Parisians were complaining about the condition of their city. The city was overcrowded. The streets with their open sewers were narrow and dark. Paris had become a very dangerous and unhealthy environment to live in and the people were not happy with the government. A whiff of revolution was once again in the air. Tampering with the problem was not helping and so Napoleon III, in 1854, and his interior minister brought in Georges Eugène Haussmann, known as Baron Haussmann, to oversee the “rebuilding” of the city. He had the slums torn down and the narrow streets were turned into wide avenues. Large parks were created as were small villages on the periphery of the city. A new theatre was built and the Paris Garnier opera house was completed in 1875. The cit,y after many years of change, became a desirable place to live and it was this revitalisation of Paris which became the subject of the many Belle Epoque artists such as Eugène Galien-Laloue.
These Belle Epoque artists were pleased to depict the reality of the newly refurbished French capital with its cafés, parks and buildings. More importantly this now beautiful city was a magnet to tourists, visitors from Great Britain and the United States came to Paris while they were partaking of the “Grand Tour” and Galien-Laloue had a ready market for his work which concentrated on depictions of the city. These depictions were just the treasured mementos the American tourists wanted to take home with them for it is known that many of Galien-Lalou’s cityscapes made their way across the Atlantic and into the collections of wealthy Americans from New York, Boston and Chicago.
One of Galien-Laloue’s favourite subjects was, L’église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine; less formally known as La Madeleine. This Roman Catholic church, looking more like a Roman temple, occupies a commanding position in the 8th arrondissement of Paris and was originally designed as a temple to the glory of Napoleon’s army. Galien-Lalou depicted the building and the area surrounding it in both summer with the flower markets brightening up the grey buildings and in winter with snow on the ground and people rushing to get to the warmth of their destinations.
In complete contrast, many people, who moved from the countryside in search of work and went to live in the bustling and noisy city, hankered after a more tranquil life in the countryside they had left behind and wished to be reminded of their rural idyll of the past. Paintings depicting rural landscapes became popular and Galien-Laloue and the Barbizon painters of the time filled the void in the market for those people who wanted a landscape painting to remind them of the peaceful serenity of nature they had left behind. Galien-Laloue had cornered both markets – Parisian street scenes and his rural landscape works which he made when he journeyed around the roads and villages of the Ile-de-France Region and the riverside views along the tree-lined banks of the rivers Seine and Marne.
In the early 1900’s Eugène and his family left the city of Paris and went to live at Fontainebleau, a town fifty kilometres south east of Paris which is surrounded by a large and scenic forest. Eugène now fifty years of age was probably drawn to this area because of its beautiful and quiet environ and the slower pace of life such an idyll afforded.
In 1904 he once again put forward a painting which was exhibited at that year’s Salon. It had been fifteen years since Galien-Laloue had exhibited at the annual Salon due partly to the politics of the Salon and maybe because his sales were so good that he no longer needed the Salon to be a sales vehicle. World War I broke out in August 1914 and the ever-patriotic Galien-Laloue put himself forward to fight for his country but, at that time, he was sixty years of age and he was considered too old for military duty.
Eugène Galien-Laloue married three times which in itself is not unusual but the extraordinary thing was that his three wives were sisters. He married Flore Bardin in the 1880’s and they had one child, a son, Fernand. She died in 1887 and five years later he married her elder sister Ernestine. This second marriage lasted thirty-three years until she died in 1925. They had a daughter Flore. A short time after the death of his second wife he married for a third time this time to another of the Bardin sisters, Claire. Claire died in 1933 and Eugène, now almost eighty years of age, moved back to Paris to live with his daughter Flore, her husband and his grandchildren.
Galien-Laloue never stopped painting but his output of pictures decreased. Despite living with his family, he became even more introverted and lived a rather solitude lifestyle. When the German army moved towards Paris in 1940, the family left their city home and went to their summer residence in their country at Chérence in Val d’Oise. During this flight from the French capital Eugène broke his arm which curtailed his ability to paint.
Eugène Galien-Laloue died at Chérence on April 18th 1941, aged 86.
Many of his paintings also bore other names such as “L.Dupuy”, “Juliany”, “E.Galiany”, “Lievin” and “Dumoutier”. The reason for this is thought to be that he had a sales exclusivity contract with certain galleries that gave them the exclusive right to sell all his works and so to get around this he may have decided to sell some of his works under a different name ! So why those pseudonyms? J. Lievin’ was the name of a soldier he met during the Franco-Prussian war, ‘E. Galiany’ is an Italianized version of his own names, and ‘L. Dupuy’ was the name of a neighbour, Dupuy Léon. Although he signed the paintings, very few of them showed a date and art historians have found it difficult to actually date them.