Eugène Galien-Lalou – the painter of Paris

Eugene Galien-Lalou (1920)
Eugène Galien-Laloue (1920)

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.

Paris Street in Autumn by Eugene Galien-Lalou
Paris Street in Autumn by Eugène Galien-Lalou

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

Un 14 Juillet, Place de la Republique by Eugène Galien-Lalou
Un 14 Juillet, Place de la Republique by Eugène Galien-Lalou

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.

Place de Bastille by Eugène Galien-Laloue
Place de Bastille by Eugène Galien-Laloue

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.

Flower Marketby by Eugène Galien-Laloue
Flower Market by by Eugène Galien-Laloue

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.

Théatre de la Ville byby Eugène Galien-Laloue
Théâtre de la Ville by Eugène Galien-Laloue

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!

Illustrated railway poster of the time
Illustrated railway poster of the time

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.

En Normandie by Eugène Galien-Laloue
En Normandie by Eugène Galien-Laloue

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.

Harbour Scene by Eugène Galien-Lalou
Harbour Scene by Eugène Galien-Lalou

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…”

View of the Grands Boulevards by Eugène Galien-Lalou
View of the Grands Boulevards by Eugène Galien-Lalou

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.

Summer Landscape with River by Eugène Galien-Laloue
Summer Landscape with River by 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.

La Madeleine sous la neige by Eugene Galien-Laloue
La Madeleine sous la neige by Eugène Galien-Laloue

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.

River in Normandy by Eugène Galien-Laloue
River in Normandy by Eugène Galien-Laloue

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.

Snow Scene in Paris by Eugène Galien-Lalou
Snow Scene in Paris by Eugène Galien-Lalou

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.

Sortie La Théatre by Eugene Galien-Laloue
Sortie La Théâtre by Eugène Galien-Laloue

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.

Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller and the Biedermeier era

Portrait of the fictitious character Gottlieb Biedermeier from the Munich Fliegende Blatter
Portrait of the fictitious character Gottlieb Biedermeier from the Munich Fliegende Blatter

My blog today starts with a caricature of Gottlieb Biedermeier.  Gottlieb is not the artist of the day.  He is just the lead-in to the star attraction.  Gottlieb Biedermeier, more commonly referred to as Papa Biedermeier, used to appear as a cartoon character in the popular newspaper, Fliegende Blätter, a German weekly non-political humour and satire magazine which appeared between 1845 and 1944 in Munich, and it is through his regular appearance that  this period was actually termed the Biedermeier era, an era which stretched between the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 and the Republican revolts against European monarchies of 1848, which began in Sicily, and spread to France, Germany, Italy, and the Austrian Empire.   Papa Biedermeier was a comic symbol of middle-class comfort. The art of the Biedermeier period came to be characterized by what art critics of the period termed “rigorous simplicity.”   The works of art often had an enamel-like finish that masked individual brushstrokes. Landscape and portraiture grew in importance while history painting declined.  In painting, the Biedermeier style reflected the bourgeois, simple, joyful, affable and conformist environment, enhanced the aesthetics of the natural beauty and has influence on contemporary art and design.

Early Spring in Vienna Forest by Ferdinand Waldmüller (1864)
Early Spring in Vienna Forest by Ferdinand Waldmüller (1864)

In Austria painters during this time portrayed a sentimental and virtuous view of the world but in a realistic way. The German word best describing the emotions derived from the art is gemütlichkeit, which is a space or state of warmth, friendliness, and good cheer. Other qualities of gemütlichkeit include cosiness, peace of mind, belonging, and well-being.  In other words, a “feel good” factor and such comfort, as depicted, emphasized family life and private activities, especially letter writing and the pursuit of hobbies. No Biedermeier household was complete without a piano as an indispensable part of the popularized soiree. Soirees perpetuated the rising middle class’s cultural interests in books, writing, dance, and poetry readings—most subject matter for Biedermeier paintings was either genre or historical and most often sentimentally treated.  The leading Austrian exponent of this type of art is my artist of the day.  He is Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller.

The Girl Antonia Seemann by Ferdinand Waldmüller
The Girl Antonia Seemann by Ferdinand Waldmüller

Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller was born in Vienna in January 1793.  In 1807, at the age of fourteen, Waldmüller studied Fine Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna under the Austrian painter, draughtsman, and well-respected teacher,  Hubert Maurer, who had been teaching art at the Academy since 1785. Waldmüller remained there until 1811. Waldmüller then went to Presburg in Hungary to study portraiture.  Following that he worked in Croatia as a drawing teacher for the children of the Count Gyulay, the governor of Croatia before returning to the Academy in 1813 to carry on with his artistic studies, this time concentrating on portraiture.

Whilst in Vienna Waldmüller would visit the court and municipal galleries where he would make copies of the Old Masters.

Martyrdom of St Andrew by Jusepe de Ribera (1628)
Martyrdom of St Andrew by Jusepe de Ribera (1628)

One example of this is his version of Juseppe de Ribera’s Martyrdom of St Anthony which the Spanish artist completed in 1628 which is now in the Szépmüvészeti Museum in Budapest.   St. Andrew was St Peter’s brother and preached around the Black Sea Area.  According to legend he was crucified on two pieces of wood which formed an “X” which has since become known as the cross of St Andrew.

Martyrdom of St Andrew by Ferdinand Waldmüller (1821)
Martyrdom of St Andrew by Ferdinand Waldmüller (1821)

Waldmüller’s copy of the painting can be seen in the Akademie der bildenden Künste in Vienna. Waldmüller had hoped to sell the copies he made of the paintings of the Old Masters but the income from this venture was insufficient for him to live and support himself.

Katharina Waldmüller (née Weidner) by Joseph Weidner
Katharina Waldmüller (née Weidner) by Joseph Weidner

In 1814, Waldmüller  married a well-known Austrian opera singer, Katharina Weidner and he worked as a scenery designer at the various venues at which his wife was performing.   He took up the role as professor of art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and in 1823 exhibited for the first time at the Vienna Akademie.

Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller Kaiser Franz I (1827)
Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller Kaiser Franz I (1827)

For the next decade he travelled around Europe, enhancing his reputation as a leading portraitist of his time and in 1827.  He received royal patronage following his portrait of the nineteen year old Franz I, who would become the Holy Roman Emperor in 1845.

Portrait of a Young Lady by Ferdinand Waldmüller (1820)
Portrait of a Young Lady by Ferdinand Waldmüller (1820)

His art at the time concentrated on portraiture, an art genre in which Waldmüller excelled.  His portraits had a high smooth-finish and decorative detail and were often compared to the French Neo-classical painter Ingres.  One of his most beautiful portraits is entitled Portrait of a Lady, which he completed in 1820.

Portrait of Beethoven by Ferdinand Waldermüller (1823)
Portrait of Beethoven by Ferdinand Waldermüller (1823)

One of the most famous of his sitters was Ludwig van Beethoven who sat for him in 1823.  The portrait had been commissioned by the Leipzig publishers Breitkopf & Härtel.  According to notes and letters, it was a one-off sitting and even that was interrupted.  So in the short time he had, Waldmüller only portrayed Beethoven’s face, and it was later, back in his studio, that he added the clothes and probably also parts of his hair.  The original was destroyed in 1943 but fortunately, the portrait was so popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that it was reproduced and copied many times.

Julia Comtesse Apraxin by Ferdinand Waldmüller (1835)
Julia Comtesse Apraxin by Ferdinand Waldmüller (1835)

Perhaps, one may consider his portraits of children a little too “syrupy” but this should not detract from the excellent portraits.  In 1835, Waldmüller, whilst living in Vienna, completed a commission to paint the portrait of seven year old Julia Aspraxin, the daughter of  Count Alexandr Petrovich Aspraxia, a serving Russian in Vienna.

Portrait of the Future Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria as a Grenadier with Toy Soldiers by Ferdinand Waldmüller (1832)
Portrait of the Future Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria as a Grenadier with Toy Soldiers by Ferdinand Waldmüller (1832)

In 1832 he painted a portrait of the two-year-old Franz Josef, the future Austrian Emperor entitled Portrait of the Future Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria as a Grenadier with Toy Soldiers.  The child posed for the artist in the uniform of a grenadier along with some similarly dressed Hungarian wooden figures.  It is like a state portrait on a miniature scale. The child, with his blue eyes, looks out innocently unaware of his future role and the disasters that would follow.

Old Elms In Prater by Ferdinand Waldmüller (1831)
Old Elms In Prater by Ferdinand Waldmüller (1831)

Waldmüller painted pictures of all genres and had soon built up his standing as a talented landscape painter.  His beautiful landscape artistry was appreciated by the public and in the 1850’s he became very interested in the depiction of sunlight and the contrast between light and shadow which one realises was a pre-cursor to Impressionism.  I especially like his 1831 paintings featuring the elm trees in Prater, the large park in Vienna.   One was entitled Old Elms in Prater.  Look at the extraordinary detail.

Elms In Prater by Ferdinand Waldmüller (1831)
Elms In Prater by Ferdinand Waldmüller (1831)

The other simply, Elms in the Prater.  His landscape artistry was based on his strong belief that art should be determined by the careful and meticulous examination of nature.  For Waldmüller, a talented colourist and someone who had a great knowledge of nature, it was all about natural observation achieved by plein air painting and not so much the way art was taught in academies. It was, like the Impressionists, fifty years later, about the effect of light.

View Of The Dachstein With The Hallstättersee From The Hütteneckalpe At Ischl by Ferdinand Waldmüller (1838)
View Of The Dachstein With The Hallstättersee From The Hütteneckalpe At Ischl by Ferdinand Waldmüller (1838)

Another beautiful landscape work was his 1838 painting entitled View Of The Dachstein With The Hallstättersee From The Hütteneckalpe At Ischl.

He became the curator of the Gemäldegalerie of the Academy of Fine Arts in 1829, a post he held for almost three decades.  However in 1849 and again in 1857,  he wrote critical papers with regards the Academy and academic teaching of art and,  at the age of sixty-four , was forced to resign from his position at the Academy.

Corpus Christi Morning by Ferdind Waldmüller (1857)
Corpus Christi Morning by Ferdind Waldmüller (1857)

The third “string” to Waldmüller’s artistic bow was his great talent as a genre painter.  His genre paintings shied away from idealisation or pretentiousness and although he would often add historical and religious elements to his depictions he was never afraid to highlight social criticism in the paintings.   Through his depictions of life in the countryside his paintings extolled the virtue of rural life and at the same time highlighting the positivity of family life.  Such joyousness can be seen in his 1857 painting, Corpus Christi Morning.  Life for the peasant class may not all laughing and dancing but for that moment in time life could not be better.  It was a gemütlichkeit time.

Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, Children decorating a Conscript's Hat (1854)
Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, Children decorating a Conscript’s Hat (1854)

Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller completed his painting Children decorating a Conscript’s Hat in 1854. The painting depicts a very poignant moment.  It was an occasion of great importance to rural families.  We see a group of girls, maybe his sisters,  decorating the hat of a young man who has been called up to fight for his country during his compulsory military service. His hat is being decorated with flowers and ribbons. The decorating of the hat is a time of joy and merriment which masks the possible horrors the young man may encounter.  As far as art is concerned, it is a masterpiece of evocative genre painting and, the work is a testament to how Waldmüller depicts the intricate interplay of light and shadow.

The Departure of the Conscript by Ferdinand Waldmüller (1854)
The Departure of the Conscript by Ferdinand Waldmüller (1854)

Another work by Waldmüller, The Depature of the Conscript, shows the family of a conscript saying their farewells and wishing him a safe journey.  His mother places the decorated hat on the head of her son.  Look how the boy wraps one arm around his mother whilst his other hand is held lovingly by his father.  It is now that maybe they realise that the ceremony of decorating the hat will mean nought if their beloved son does not return home.  In the background we see women in tears.  A young man, maybe the conscript’s younger brother, looks back pensively at his older brother wondering when it will be his time to join the military.  The conscript’s young sisters try to cling hold of him, not wanting him to go.  This is not a scene of joy but one of realism, one of foreboding.

I have always loved genre paintings especially when there are numerous characters depicted.  Each time I look at painting like this I discover something different.

In 1851, Waldmüller, aged 58,  married his second wife, 25-year-old Anna Bayer. He carried on exhibiting his work at various exhibitions, including the prestigious World Exhibition in Paris and at the International Exhibition in London. In 1856 he travelled to London where he sold thirty one of his paintings to the royal household and court. By the 1860s, the Academy in Vienna had forgiven Waldmüller’s transgressions and outspoken views critical of their institute and their teaching methods and he was once again welcomed back to the Viennese artistic fold.  He was knighted in 1865, shortly before his death that August, aged 72.

Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, Self-Portrait at the Easel, (1848)
Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, Self-Portrait at the Easel, (1848)

Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller is looked upon as one of the most important Austrian painters of the Biedermeier period.  His superb artistic talent, as a landscape painter, was never questioned.  He was an advocate of plein air painting, putting down on canvas what the eye could see.  This to him was of greater importance than the art taught in academies.  The way in which he achieved an accurate characterisation of the human face took his portraiture to another level.  His genre works which depicted rural everyday life were outstanding.  The depictions, often moralising and socially judgemental would set a marker for future artists who favoured this genre.

I give you Ferdinand Georg Waldermüller.

Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg. Part 2 – Rome (1813 – 1816)

C.W.Eckersberg by Christian Albrecht Jensen (1832)
C.W.Eckersberg by Christian Albrecht Jensen (1832)

In my last blog I talked about Christoffer Eckersberg travelling to Paris in 1810 where he studied under the tutelage of the French painter, Jacques-Louis David.  The year 1810 was an important year for Eckersberg for a completely different reason for it was in this year on July 1st that he married Christine Rebecca Hyssing.  The two had been lovers for a number of years and in September 1808 she had given birth to their son Erling Carl Vilhelm.  It is thought that the reason for the marriage was more to do with expediency and the desire to legitimise their son than love and devotion and it was soon after his marriage that Eckersberg left the marital home to travel to France.

Erling Eckersberg
Erling Eckersberg

The marriage was doomed to be a failure and in 1816 the couple’s divorce papers finally came through whilst Eckersberg was away on one of his travels. In my next blog about Christoffer Eckersberg I will look at his excuisite portraiture.would follow in his father’s footsteps studying at the Danish Art Academy in Copenhagen and at the age of twenty-six he, like his father, received the Academy travelling scholarship for three years and during which time he journeyed to Paris and Parma in Italy.

The Israelites Resting after the Crossing of the Red Sea by Christoffer Eckersberg
The Israelites Resting after the Crossing of the Red Sea by Christoffer Eckersberg

Christoffer Eckersberg left Paris in June 1813 and arrived in Rome in July.  He rented a room in a house which was also home to the Danish sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen.  History paintings continued to be his favoured genre and in 1812 he had received a commission from a Jewish merchant, Mendel Levin Nathanson to depict the crossing of the Red Sea by Moses and the Jewish people and for two years whilst he was in Rome he worked on the painting which was entitled The Israelites Resting after the Crossing of the Red Sea.  This large work which measures 203 x 283cms (80 x 112 ins) can be seen at the National Gallery of Denmark in Copenhagen.  The depiction is not the actual crossing itself but what happened after the event – the Israelites resting after their crossing.   In the book of Exodus (14: 26-29) it was written:

“…The Lord told Moses, “Stretch your arm toward the sea—the water will cover the Egyptians and their cavalry and chariots.” 27 Moses stretched out his arm, and at daybreak the water rushed toward the Egyptians. They tried to run away, but the Lord drowned them in the sea. 28 The water came and covered the chariots, the cavalry, and the whole Egyptian army that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them was left alive. 29 But the sea had made a wall of water on each side of the Israelites; so they walked through on dry land…”

 It is testament to Eckersberg’s artistic ability that he has been able to include such a large group of people in such a natural manner and once again he has added a landscape dimension to the biblical painting in the way the people are shown within a real landscape setting based on his studies and meticulous observations of nature which served as the basis for the depiction of the morning sun and cloud formations.  This methodology was contrary to the teachings he received from his professor,Abildgaard back at the Copenhagen Academy, whose landscape works were often somewhat murky and had no relevance to the time of day of the depiction.

Rome, at the time of Eckersberg’s sojourn, was a hive of artistic activity.  Many young artists had travelled from all over Europe to congregate in the Eternal City to be with like-minded painters and this offered them a chance to exchange views on art.  Many were inspired by what they learnt from their contemporaries who, like themselves, had escaped the clutches of their Academies and the strict academic training.  It was a chance for them to try out new artistic ideas.  For landscape artists it was a vital stage in their education and the one main decision many undertook was to paint plein air.  This technique allowed them to sit before their chosen subject in the open air and paint what they saw rather than just sketching out doors and then taking the sketches back to their studios for completion.  For these artists plein air painting afforded them the chance to capture on canvas the existing weather conditions and observe how that affected the light and shadow.  It also gave artists the opportunity to produce topographically correct depictions rather than idealized versions conjured up in their studios.  One of the founders of this en plein air idea around 1780 was the French painter, Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes who produced many oil studies en plein air, which were not meant for exhibitions but for his own private collection.

The Marble Steps leading to the Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Rome by Christoffer Eckersberg (1816)
The Marble Steps leading to the Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Rome by Christoffer Eckersberg (1816)

At this time in Rome, landscape and cityscape paintings, especially ones with the city’s most famous sights were in great demand with the tourists so much so it was a struggle for these artists to come up with a subject or a point of view of a subject which had not already been recorded artistically by a previous painter.  One of Eckersberg’s plein air paintings featuring a well-known building in Rome is The Marble Steps leading to the Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Rome.  It was completed in 1816 and we can see that he took up a position with his easel at the foot of the Capitoline Hill and that allowed him to produce a composition of vertical and diagonal lines.  From the way and the direction of the shadow cast by the church we know the time of day was around ten in the morning and so Eckersberg would return numerous times at this time to build up the painting on the canvas.

View of the Capitoline Hill with the Steps that go to the Church of Santa Maria] d’Aracoeli) by Paranesi (c.1757)
View of the Capitoline Hill with the Steps that go to the Church of Santa Maria d’Aracoeli by Giovanni Piranesi (c.1757)

It is interesting to note that the structures we see in the painting were real and yet what was untrue about the depiction is what was left out – the omission of Michelangelo’s Palace which was atop the hill to the left of the church.  We know this by looking at Giovanni Piranesi’s etching of the same scene made half a century earlier, one from his collection entitled Vedute di Roma (Views of Rome).

View of the Cloaca Maxima, Rome by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1814)
View of the Cloaca Maxima, Rome by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1814)

Many of Eckerberg’s paintings featuring the city of Rome avoided the iconic locations which featured in many of the other artists’ paintings.  He seemed to favour depicting less famous parts of the capital.  One such work which he completed in 1814 was entitled View of Cloacia Maxima which was bought by the NGA in Washington in 2004.  Cloacia Maxima, which means Greatest Sewer, is one of the world’s earliest sewage systems, thought to have been built around 600 BC as an open air canal.  It is a highly elaborate depiction packed with rich detail.  Some of the buildings we see are very old and many are decaying.  There is no uniformity in the architecture for most of the buildings would have been erected in different eras.  The viewpoint for this painting was the eastern slopes of the Palatine Hill looking towards the Capitoline, one of the Seven Hills of Rome.  It is a painting which depicts the transition from the “countryside” in the foreground which then leads towards the city itself.  It is a realistic depiction for although the foreground is a mass of verdant vegetation, it has been continually crossed by people on foot carving out rough paths.  Our eyes follow the two figures that walk down the path and lead us into the city.

View of the Garden of the Villa Borghese in Rome by Christoffer Eckersberg (1814)
View of the Garden of the Villa Borghese in Rome by Christoffer Eckersberg (1814)

Even when Eckersberg chose a well known location for his painting, he chose to depict a view that in his mind didn’t become “yet another view” of a famous place.  In his painting View of the Garden of the Villa Borghese in Rome which he completed in 1814 he chose to depict part of the decaying and unexceptional 18th century aqueduct rather than the famous gardens themselves.  The ancient reliefs on the wall to the left are foreshortened and are almost unrecognisable. Having said that, it is a beautiful work, which combines a detailed depiction of the angular ruins of the aqueduct in the mid ground.  Our eyes follow the path which runs under the aqueduct arch to an area of the garden albeit it is hidden from view by the ancient arch itself and the trees.   Again, like the previous work, Eckersberg is making the comparison between the harshness of architecture and the softness of nature in a single painting.  The way the artist depicts the sunlit and shaded areas leads one to believe that this was another of Eckersberg’s plein air paintings.

A Courtyard in Rome by Christoffer Eckersberg (1814-16)
A Courtyard in Rome by Christoffer Eckersberg (1814-16) (34 x 28cms)

Another interesting painting during his stay in Rome is one entitled A Courtyard in Rome.  It is a depiction of a nondescript courtyard which could have been in any city so what made Eckersberg paint this one.  There is some conjecture about this and one line of thought is that it is the courtyard of Casa Buti a lodging house in which he and Thorvaldsen stayed.  If that was the reason for painting this scene then it would make it a more personal depiction and one he would have seen every day for three years.  However it and could equally be one he passed by one day when walking around the city and was just a random choice of depiction for the work.   There is nothing breathtaking about the scene and yet it is a beautifully crafted work.  It is interesting to note that the aspect of this scene, the loggia, which could have added colour and variety to the depiction, can barely be seen in the upper background.  The painting is housed in the art museum of the town of Ribe in western Denmark.

A View through Three of the North-Western Arches of the Third Storey of the Coliseum by Christoffer Eckersberg (c.1816)
A View through Three of the North-Western Arches of the Third Storey of the Colosseum by Christoffer Eckersberg (c.1816)

Probably the most famous of Eckersberg’s paintings was one he completed during his three year stay in the Eternal city and is entitled A View through Three of the North-Western Arches of the Third Storey of the Colosseum in Rome, which he completed around 1816.  It is a relatively small work just measuring 32 x 50cms and is currently housed in the Statens Museum for Kunst (National Gallery of Denmark) in Copenhagen.  Eckersberg had depicted the ancient monument in a number of sketches and paintings but he never depicted a view of the outer structure of the amphitheatre in its entirety unlike many other artists.  It was this painting that he will be remembered for.  He set up his easel high up on the third level of the Colosseum looking out across the city which we see through the three arches of the structure.  The background details of the city in the distance are so precise it is thought that he may have used a telescope to ensure accuracy.  Look at the foreground of the painting and the authentic way in which he precisely depicted the crumbling structure.  This aspect of the work encompasses a thoroughness not seen in many landscape works.  This attention to detail serves to highlight the slow disintegration of the ancient monument.   However the greatest attribute to this work is the way he has made the three arches of the Colosseum act as picture frames for the cityscape in the distance.   he painting is sometimes referred to as “The Beautiful Lie” for if we stood in front of the centre arch, as seen in the depiction, then we would not see views of the city of Rome depicted through the other two arches.  To see those views we would have to move to the left or right and look through other arches.  Eckersberg also rid himself of many of the intervening structures which he thought inconsequential and would detract from the beauty of the view.  However this straying from realism does not take anything away from the work.  Eckersberg just wanted his viewers to experience the beauty of Rome as he envisioned it.

In my next blog about Christoffer Eckersberg I will look at his exquisite portraiture.

Samuel Palmer. Part 2 The Shoreham Ancients, William Blake and later life

Samuel Palmer by George Richardson (1829)
Samuel Palmer by George Richardson (1829)

Samuel Palmer was seventeen years old when he met the painter John Linnell and they would remain friends for life, a period stretching almost sixty years, albeit on occasions their relationship was somewhat strained during Palmer’s marriage to Linnell’s daughter. Linnell was born in London in 1792.  His background was very different to the middle-class prosperity of Palmer’s family.  His father, although a respectable carver and gilder, was not a wealthy man and whereas Palmer, who lived in the semi-rural outskirts of London, and was indulged and pampered by his parents, Linnell had to survive the murkiness of the depressing bleak streets of Bloomsbury.   Linnell was a landscape artist and portrait painter who found himself constantly in competition with the great John Constable.  At the time Linnell met Palmer the latter had rather lost his way artistically. Palmer wrote honestly about his worries regarding his art:

“…by the time I had practised for about five years I entirely lost all feeling for art … But it pleased God to send Mr. Linnell as a good angel from Heaven to pluck me from the pit of modern art…”

John Linnell inspired Palmer.  He offered artistic advice and instruction.   He took him to art galleries and introduced him to other artists, most notably William Blake who was to have a profound influence on Palmer.

The Rising of the Lark by Samuel Palmer (c.1839)
The Rising of the Lark by Samuel Palmer (c.1839)

Linnell’s mentoring of Palmer was of great importance as it was Linnell who brought to the attention of Palmer  the artists of the late Gothic and early Renaissance periods, such as Albrecht Dürer, and the fourteenth century muralists, Francesco Traini, Buonamico Buffalmacco and Benozzo Gozzoli who were responsible for decorating the cemetery, Camposanto Monumentale in Pisa, Italy.

Interior hallway of Campo Santo showing restoration work of some of the murals
Interior hallway of Campo Santo showing restoration work of some of the murals

This magnificent building was said to have been built around a shipload of sacred soil from Golgotha, brought back to Pisa from the Fourth Crusade in the 12th century.  An inscription near the right gate tells us that the construction of the Camposanto started in year 1277 and finished in the late 15th century.

Another influence on Palmer around this time was the works of art of Henry Fuseli.  The National Gallery in London was not built until 1824 so Palmer would spend time at the Dulwich Gallery (opened in 1817) copying the works of the Masters and was fortunate to be allowed to view the private collection of the German merchant and insurance agent Carl Aders which included many works by artists of the Primitives movement.  However one of the greatest influences on Palmer was William Blake.  Blake was introduced to him by Linnell in 1824, who at the time, because of his art work, was viewed by many of the art establishment as an obscure and impoverished figure and thought to be just a harmless madman.  Palmer had always been a visionary and this was enhanced once he entered the world of William Blake

Early Morning by Samuel Palmer (1825)
Early Morning by Samuel Palmer (1825)

In 1824, Palmer’s health once again deteriorated.  He suffered from asthma and bronchitis, and so he decided to follow his mother’s old remedy of leaving London and heading to the South Coast.  He visited the Kent village of Shoreham, and two years later he moved there permanently, buying himself a small run-down house, which he called Rat Abbey maybe because of his fellow dwellers in the old building!  A short time later, his father sold up his book selling business and left London and joined his son in Shoreham.  He rented half of a large house with the name Waterhouse which was situated on the banks of the River Darent.  Samuel Palmer’s nurse, Mary Ward, and his brother William joined Samuel snr. and also came to live there. The Water House proved to be of use to Samuel as it often housed visiting guests and fellow artists when there was no room at Rat Abbey.  Finally in 1828 Samuel Palmer left his small house and went to live with his father at Water House and stayed there for the rest of his time in Shoreham and it was during those heady days in Shoreham that Samuel first encountered John Linnell’s daughter Hannah whom he would later marry.  Palmer loved his new home and we can witness his contentment shown in his autobiographical letter published in The Portfolio art journal of that time.  He wrote:

“…Forced into the country by illness, I lived afterwards for about seven years at Shoreham, in Kent, with my father, who was inseparable from his books, unless when still better engaged in works of kindness. There, sometimes by ourselves, sometimes visited by friends of congenial taste, literature, and art and ancient music wiled away the hours, and a small independence made me heedless, for the time, of further gain; the beautiful was loved for itself …”

It was during his time in Shoreham that he founded, along with George Richmond and Edward Calvert, an artistic group of painters that were all inspired by William Blake.  The group were known as The Ancients or the Shoreham Ancients.  They were an artistic brotherhood who would meet both in Shoreham at Palmer’s home and at Blake’s apartment home in London.  This like-minded group of painters were followers of William Blake and were attracted to archaism in art, a style which has the deliberate intention to emulate a style of the past to suit contemporary vision.  With the exception of Palmer, most of the members of the “brotherhood” were former students of the Royal Academy, who had broken away from the confines of academic teaching and concentrated on their idealized vision of the past.

Samuel Palmer by George Richmond, watercolour and body colour on ivory, 1829
Samuel Palmer by George Richmond, watercolour and bodycolour on ivory, 1829

The Ancients were in existent around the same time as another art group was formed in Rome by some nineteenth century German painters.  They were known as the Nazarenes a derisory title which was used against them by detractors because of the biblical manner in the way they dressed and their Christ-like long hair and beards.  Samuel Palmer used to wear revivalist-type clothes and in a portrait in the National Portrait Gallery in London we see him with long hair and a full beard wearing a round-necked pleated smock under a coat.  It was during this time that critics believe that Samuel Palmer created his best works of art.  They were small landscapes which were almost composed of just a single colour using watercolour or ink. The depictions enforced Palmer’s religious belief which identifies God with the universe, or regards the universe as a manifestation of God and all the food derived from the fields were gifts from God.

An example of a Samuel Palmer painting of this time and type is one he completed in 1825 entitled The Valley Thick with Corn which is part of the six so-called Oxford Sepias, a group which now belongs to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.   The six pictures were completed between 1825 and 1835 at a time when Palmer found inspiration in the landscape around his home village of Shoreham.  The area was inspirational for him and it allowed him to produce, what some believe to be, some of the greatest English pictures of the 19th century.

The Valley Thick with Corn by Samuel Palmer (1825).
The Valley Thick with Corn by Samuel Palmer (1825).

The Valley Thick with Corn is a beautiful brown ink pen drawing which has been finished off with a layer of varnish.  This coating has aged over the years and has now given the work a rich yellow-brown finish.  The setting for the painting is undulating cornfields.  The darkness of the picture suggests it is late evening with the full moon rising over distant rounded hills and a tall thin church spire. A horse drawn cart can just be made out in the top left of the picture, as it trundles up a steep track.   In the foreground we see an elderly bearded man dressed in what looks like Elizabethan clothes lying on the ground surrounded by ears of corn.  He is stretched out and rests on his elbow.  On his lap lies an open book so he could be reading, albeit he looks as if he has fallen asleep.  Behind and to the right of him we see two cows slowly making their way through the cornfields.  To the left, in the mid ground, we see upright sheaves of corn which have been harvested and awaiting collection and behind them are sheep tended by the shepherd who sits under a tree and plays music to them on his pipes.

In a Shoreham Garden by Samuel Palmer (1830)
In a Shoreham Garden by Samuel Palmer (1830)

In 1829 Palmer completed his work entitled In a Shoreham Garden.  It is a wonderful work at a time which is looked upon as the height of Palmer’s achievements. The picture is a small watercolour heightened with gouache on stiff smooth cardboard often referred to as Bristol Board.  The work, measured just 28 x 22 cms and remained in Palmer’s own collection, no doubt in memory of Shoreham, the village he had loved so much.   It now resides in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum.  It is full of light and colour with the dominating feature being an apple fruit tree in full blossom on the end of a path within a walled garden.  The tree is loaded with flowers.  In fact, besides the side of a wooden building in the right foreground the picture is an abundance of colourful flowers, bushes and trees which reach up to the sky.  In the background we see a lady wearing a long flowing red dress gazing out to something out of view to the right of the painting.  It is thought that the painting was a scene from the garden of his and his father’s Water Garden house.  It is now part of the V&A collection.

The Magic Apple Tree by Samuel Palmer (1830)
The Magic Apple Tree by Samuel Palmer (1830)

What is thought to be a companion piece to In a Shoreham Garden is one of his other 1830 works, The Magic Apple Tree.

Cornfield by Moonlight, with the Evening Star by Samuel Palmer (c.1830)
Cornfield by Moonlight, with the Evening Star by Samuel Palmer (c.1830)

Around 1830, Palmer also completed a work entitled Cornfield by Moonlight, with the Evening Star.  It was a small painting measuring just 19 x 30cms.  The painting is now considered one of Palmer’s finest moonscape paintings.  We see a man carrying a staff, dressed in a long smock and wearing a wide brimmed hat walking through a cornfield with his dog.  In the foreground there are again sheaves of corn.  The sky is dark, lit up by a waxing sickle moon and an evening star, which could be, because of its brightness, the planet Venus.  The light emitting from the moon is probably much stronger than it would be for such a moon but it serves to illuminate the land.  There is no documentation to tell us the location of the scene but the rolling hills we see was characteristic of the Shoreham area.

In 1835, after ten years in the Kent village, Palmer left Shoreham and went to live back in London.   He had hoped to earn some money by selling some of the work he had accumulated whilst at Shoreham and he also hoped that he would be able to make some money by teaching art in the capital.

Samuel Palmer and Linnell’s eldest daughter, Hannah, married on 20th September, 1837 after an engagement which lasted several years.  Linnell had always been supportive of the match unlike his wife who was somewhat opposed to the liaison.  Samuel Palmer, funded by his new in-laws, and his new wife Hannah set off on their honeymoon to Italy in October 1837, a journey which would last two years and one that Palmer’s mother-in-law was vehemently opposed to..

 Dream in the Apennines by Samuel Palmer (1864)
Dream in the Apennines by Samuel Palmer (1864)

A later painting by Samuel Palmer, one of his largest watercolours measuring 94 x 130cms, may have come from sketches he made during the honeymoon.  It was exhibited in 1864 and entitled Dream in the Apennine.  The depiction is a view of Rome as seen from the south-east.  It is now owned by the Tate in London.  When it was first exhibited it came with a note which read:

“…Suddenly, at a turn in the mountain road, we looked for the first time on that Plain; the dispenser of law, the refuge of philosophy, the cradle of faith. Ground which Virgil trod and Claude invested with supernatural beauty was sketched – but with a trembling pencil...”

In the foreground we see a young girl peering over the edge of a stone wall at the fast flowing river below.  She is throwing stones into the valley below.  There are goats standing behind her which may well be in her charge.  Behind and to the left of the girl we see a fully laden cart being pulled by a pair of mighty oxen which are being controlled by a young man.  A small child rushes towards the cart to add a few more bunches of flowers to the already filled large wicker baskets.  In the distance, on the plain we can see the Eternal city and the dome of St Peter’s Basilica.

The Lonely Tower by Samuel Palmer (1879)
The Lonely Tower by Samuel Palmer (1879)

The last work of Samuel Palmer which I am looking at was an etching which he completed in 1879 entitled The Lonely Tower.  The scene before us was first exhibited as a watercolour at the Watercolour Society by Palmer in 1868.  Along with the watercolour there was a quotation from Il Penseroso (The Serious Man), a poem by Palmer’s favourite poet, John Milton.

“…Or let my lamp at midnight hour,

Be seen in some lonely tower,

Where I may oft outwatch the Bear,

With thrice great Hermes…”

Palmer and his family were living at Furze Hill House in Reigate and from his study he could look out towards Leith Hill and the folly, built in 1765 which is at its summit.  It could be this that he saw when he painted The Lonely Tower.    It is a depiction of a remote hilltop tower standing on the edge of a cliff with its single light shining out against a darkening sky.  It is now the remains of what once had a greater purpose.  We see a crescent moon against a horizon which is filled with clouds and stars which sparkle brightly.   Below and to the left of the light we see a man struggling to get his ox-cart up a steep track.  On the opposite side of the deep ravine we see two shepherds gazing up at the light and the night sky.  Flying over the ravine we see a barn owl. It is such an atmospheric and haunting picture. The Irish poet W B Yeats referred to the work in his poem Phases of the Moon:

“…He has found, after the manner of his kind,

Mere images; chosen this place to live in

Because, it may be, of the candle-light

From the far tower where Milton’s Platonist

Sat late, or Shelley’s visionary prince:

The lonely light that Samuel Palmer engraved,

An image of mysterious wisdom won by toil;

And now he seeks in book or manuscript

What he shall never find…”

This was by far the most evocative of Palmer’s late works.

Leith Hill Folly
Leith Hill Folly

Hannah and Samuel’s first son was born on January 27th 1842.  He was named Thomas More Walter George Palmer, Thomas More, after the famous fifteenth century statesman and philosopher who was councillor to Henry VIII, and George after Samuel’s good friend George Richmond.  He was a boy who grew to be a studious young man during which time he survived many boyhood scrapes whilst in Grammar school prior to going to Oxford University.  Sadly his father’s dream that his son would get to Oxford was dashed when the young man’s health deteriorated in 1859 and eighteen months later, after a long and painful illness, died on July 11th 1861.  He died at the tender age of nineteen.  Both Hannah and Samuel were devastated.  Samuel Palmer never got over his loss.  In his work The Lonely Tower the Great Bear star constellation depicted in the sky in the background is said to be as it was on the night his son died and as he looked skyward in grief. It was forever engraved on his mind.

The couple had another son Alfred Herbert Palmer who was born in 1860.  He went on to publish a biography of his father The Life and Letters of Samuel Palmer in 1892.

Samuel Palmer's grave in St Mary Magdalene Church Reigate
Samuel Palmer’s grave in St Mary Magdalene Church Reigate

Samuel Palmer died on May 24th 1881 aged seventy-six.  Palmer’s father-in-law and mentor John Linnell died six months later.  Palmer’s wife Hannah died twelve years later and the two are together in a cemetery in St Mary Magdalene churchyard in Reigate.  A strange twist to this story is the fact that in 1909, many of Palmer’s Shoreham works were destroyed by his surviving son Alfred, who burnt a great quantity of father’s sketchbooks, notebooks and original works. His reasoning behind the destruction was that he believed that nobody would not be able to make head nor tail of the material and that he wished to save it from a more “humiliating fate”.   Alfred Herbert Palmer died in 1931.

Samuel Palmer in Old Age by John Linnell
Samuel Palmer in Old Age by John Linnell

There is so much about Samuel Palmer I haven’t included in the two blogs but I hope that there is enough in them to tempt you to read more about the artist and I recommend an excellent book which will tell you all you about the great man.  It is written by Rachel Campbell-Johnston the chief art critic and poetry critic for the Times.  The book is entitled Mysterious Wisdom.  The Life and work of Samuel Palmer.

Samuel Palmer Part 1. The Early years, portraiture and the rural idyll

The Prospect by Samuel Palmer (1881)
The Prospect by Samuel Palmer (1881)

My featured artist today is one of the great English landscape painters, draughtsmen and etcher of the nineteenth century.  He was a major player in the art of Romanticism.  His landscape works were special, conjured up by his inventive and far-sighted imagination.   There was a magical feel about his work.  Palmer was not just an ordinary every day painter; his works were poetical and he himself, through his art, seemed to have the ability of a mystical seer. Let me introduce you to Samuel Palmer.

At the time of Samuel Palmer’s birth there was a worrying tension brought on by conflict.  It was a troubling time.  It was a time of tumult in Europe.  Sixteen years earlier France had been affected by the storming of the Bastille and the fall of the rich and the nobility of the ancient regime.  Initially, there was probably a delighted sense of schadenfreude in the minds of many in England, including the “establishment” at the fall from grace of what they perceived was the cruel and greedy French aristocracy but soon that enthusiasm dwindled with the thought that such revolutionary behaviour may cross the English Channel.  In 1793, twelve years before Samuel was born France declared war on Britain, a war which would last more than two decades.  Although the battlefields were not in England Napoleon Bonaparte used another weapon against the British by blockading European ports and by so doing deprive Britain of lucrative trade.  The war however proved fortuitous to Samuel’s family who were hatters and hats were in great demand since the government, to add to their much needed war chest, had imposed a hair powder tax and this ended the era when elegantly puffed and powdered coiffures which were once de rigueur, now could not be afforded.  The fashion was now for the “topper”, the nickname given to top hats.

Portrait of Samuel Palmer by Henry Walter (1819)
Portrait of Samuel Palmer by Henry Walter (1819)

Samuel’s father, also named Samuel, had set forth to study to become a surgeon but his squeamish nature put an end to that dream and he ended up in his father, Christopher Palmer’s, millinery business.  Samuel Snr. was somewhat of a dreamer and this along with his love of books led him to forego the safe and lucrative job as a hatter to set himself up as a bookseller.  This decision did not go down well with his family as the trade of a bookseller seemed a lowly trade not fit for a “gentleman”.  Samuel Snr. was, besides being a dreamer, a very determined person and cared little about status and the financial position of his family.

Samuel Palmer Snr. met and fell in love with Martha Giles and they married in October 1803.  Samuel Palmer, their first child, was born in Newington, London on winter Sunday morning, on January 27th 1805.  The couple lived in Surrey Square in Newington, which at the start of the nineteenth century, was a semi rural area populated with lush gardens, fields and orchards.  It was a haven for those who loved the countryside; a love young Samuel would have all his life.  It was a time when survival at birth was somewhat of a lottery with a third of babies not surviving to see their first birthday and amongst the poor and deprived the survival rate would drop even further.  However Samuel Palmer was lucky in as much as he was born into a prosperous middle-class family.

Early Morning by Samuel Palmer (1825) Pen and ink and wash, mixed with gum arabic, varnished,
Early Morning by Samuel Palmer (1825)
Pen and ink and wash, mixed with gum arabic, varnished,

Samuel was not a healthy child and his mother and grandmother would often take him to the Georgian seaside resort of Margate in the hope that sea air would improve his health.  This once fishing town was a favourite of Turner.  It was during his boyhood stays in Margate that he would listen to his grandmother’s tales of ghosts and restless spirits who wandered around the town.  Stories of such apparitions would remain with Samuel and would interest him all his life.  His mother’s continued concern about her son’s physical health led her to employ a live-in nurse, Mary Ward, who set about improving his health by improving his diet.   It was also this lady who was to have such an influence on the young boy.  Unlike most servants who were illiterate Mary was well read with the Bible and Jacob Tonson’s pocket illustrated book of Milton’s poems being her favourites.  She, like Samuel’s father, loved books and would often read Milton’s poems to Samuel.  When Mary died she bequeathed the book of poems to Samuel who would carry it round with him wherever he went.  Of Milton’s poems, Samuel wrote:

“…I am never in a “lull about Milton”…….nor can tell how many times I have read his poems… He never tires….I do believe his stanzas will be read in heaven…”

Samuel gained a brother in 1810 with the birth of William, who was to be the only other surviving child of Samuel Snr. and Martha.  Samuel Palmer did not have many boyhood friends as he was more than satisfied to immerse himself in his books, including works by Dickens, which featured the English capital.  It was a trait, which delighted his father.  Samuel would often go for walks on Dulwich Common with either his father or his nurse during which they would often read to him as they strolled the countryside.  His love for reading and the joy books brought him can be seen in one of his letters (The Letters of Samuel Palmer – Raymond Lister, 1974) in which he wrote:

“…There is nothing like books of all things sold incomparably the cheapest, of all pleasures the least palling, they take up little room, keep quiet when they are not wanted and, when taken up, bring us face to face with the choicest men who ever lived at their choicest moments…”

Samuel, maybe because of his poor health, tried to avoid the necessity of going into the heart of London with all its pollution from coal fires and the often dank fogs emanating from the Thames.  He was a lover of the countryside and being of poor health abhorred the polluted city life.

In May 1817, at the age of eleven, Samuel was sent to Merchant Taylors’ public school.  This was a prestigious institution founded back in 1561 but for Samuel it was a nightmare.  Samuel who had been cosseted by both his mother and nurse and had a quiet solitary home life, which suited his nature, suddenly was thrust into a maelstrom of lively and loud boys in which a pale-faced asthmatic boy fared badly.  Samuel disliked the public school system with all it entailed and in another of his letters he wrote:

“…the fag crawls to be kicked, and, in his turn, kicks the fag who crawls to him………it perfectly represents and so admirably prepares for the requirement of public life for what is statesmanship but successful crawling and kicking….”

His time at Merchant Taylors lasted only six months as his pleading to come back home was answered in the Autumn of 1817.

The death of Samuel’s mother in 1818 came as a harsh blow to her thirteen year old son.  He struggled to cope with the loss and shed many tears.  The loss of his mother came at the same time as he and his father considered what career he should follow.  Samuel favoured becoming an author.  He had already written some prose and poetry and although the latter never attained the quality required to have them published his stylistic prose gave him hope of a fulfilling career.  However it was not to be as his father believed, because of his son’s early talents as a draughtsman that the visual arts should be the career his son should follow.  The family’s decision that Samuel should follow a career in art was thought to have been down to a belief that it was what his mother would have liked her son to do.

Entrance of the Meuse: Orange-Merchant on the Bar, Going to Pieces; Brill Church bearing S. E. by S., Masensluys E. by S. by J W Turner (1819)
Entrance of the Meuse: Orange-Merchant on the Bar, Going to Pieces; Brill Church bearing S. E. by S., Masensluys E. by S. by J W Turner (1819)

The family employed William Wate, a run-of-the-mill landscape artist, to tutor Samuel.  In 1819, when Samuel was just fourteen, he made his first visit to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.  He was amazed by the colour in Turner’s painting of the Entrance of the Meuse and fascinated by Turner’s Liber Studiorum, a series of his landscape and seascape compositions which were published as prints in etching and mezzotint, has been once described as perhaps comprising of ‘the pith of all that is best in his life and work’.

At this time Palmer was just a developing artist who was still learning the basic skills of art through Wate’s tuition.

Samuel Palmer a Self-Portrait (1826)
Samuel Palmer a Self-Portrait (1826)

I recently attended a portraiture workshop at which the guest artist and presenter talked about how the portrait he would produce would not necessarily be a photographic image of the sitter but how he envisaged the model.  With those words still in my head I gaze at Samuel Palmer’s self portrait which he completed around 1826 when he was twenty years of age.  Is this how he envisioned himself?  There is something quite disturbing about this self-portrait.  Palmer gazes directly towards us but it is a blank stare as if he is looking through us.  The question that immediately springs to mind is what is he thinking about.  What is going on in his mind as he looks into the mirror?   It is not an image one would associate with an aspiring artist who is looking forward to the future.  What is troubling him?  Look at his physical appearance.  He has not readied himself for the painting.  It is more of a “this is who I am, take it or leave it” stance.  He is unshaved.  His thick hair looks uncared for.  The collar of his shirt is crooked but he knows all this as he puts brush to canvas.  Maybe he wants us to disregard his physical appearance and concentrate on what could be on his mind.  We are looking at the face of a troubled dreamer.  We are looking at a man whose vivid imagination would influence his art and those who view some of his imaginative paintings will be transported into a magical world which in her book Mysterious Wilderness, The Life and Work of Samuel Palmer, the author Rachel Campbell-Johnston describes the artist and some of his works:

“…It is a place in which magical shines through the material, in which nature and heaven are intertwined, in which God in all his mildness blesses man’s harvests and the darkness of night can be innocent and day.  This is not the haunt of any workaday painter.  It is the home of the artist as mystic and seer and poet…”

The Shearers by Samuel Palmer (1834)
The Shearers by Samuel Palmer (1834)

One of his best known works is The Shearers which he completed in 1835.  It is a painting which is rich in colour.  There is the juxtaposition of golden sparkling light and gloomy shadow.  I have already said the Palmer was looked upon as a seer and this painting was his vision of paradise.  Raymond Lister in his book, Catalogue Raisonné of the works of Samuel Palmer describes the work and a similar one entitled The Sleeping Shepherd which uses the same setting of the entrance to the barn we see in the above work:

“…A group of richly textured and abundantly coloured paintings of this period includes some of Palmer’s greatest and most attractive work. Such work reached its ultimate expression in The Shearers and The Sleeping Shepherd…”

Geoffrey Grigson, in his 1960 book Samuel Palmer’s Valley of Vision, wrote of the work:

“…Great richness of technique was used to realise The Shearers. In this Palmer combined oil and tempera so as to render every nuance of texture from the light on the distant hills and in the sky to the detailed depiction, almost Dutch in its realism, of the group of implements on the right. There is also an advance in the drawing of the figures, the shearers and their helpers; rarely if ever before this had Palmer portrayed figures so convincingly in movement…”

The setting of the painting is the great barn,  the doors of which are open and we look out at the scene before us.  The doors and the roof beam in some way form a frame for the painting.  A group of six people work in the shade of the trees outside the barn, three men and three women can be seen in the mid-ground.  The men are in the process of shearing the sheep whilst the women collect and bag the wool.  In the background we see an expanse of rolling hills which are lit up by the rays of the sun which light up the beautiful countryside.  Samuel Palmer never forgot his walks with his father over the hills and through the fields of Dulwich.   The idea for the painting must have been in his mind years earlier because he once wrote about his plans for depicting such a scene:

“…A group of different sex and age reaping, might be shewn in the foreground going down a walk in the field toward the above cottage island, and over the distant line that bounds this golden sea might peep up elysian hills, the little hills of David, or the hills of Dulwich or rather the visions of a better country which the Dulwich fields shew will to all true poets…”

Still life detail
Still life detail

In a way the painting is not just a rural landscape scene but part is also a still-life work in the way Palmer has painted the farming equipment inside the barn which we see on the right hand side along with a wide brimmed straw hat which the artist’s son, Alfred, said was one of his father’s most cherished possessions and an item which would appear in many of Samuel Palmer’s works.

In my next blog I will continue to look at the life of Samuel Palmer and explore the help he received from the landscape artist and portraitist John Linnell and  how he was so influenced by William Blake, the poet and painter who was an influential figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age.

Arnold Böcklin. Part 1 – early years and landscape painting

Self Portrait by Arnold Bocklin (1862)
Self Portrait by Arnold Bocklin (1862)

Paintings can elicit all kinds of feelings from the observer.  Some of the realist and critical realist paintings elicit a feeling of sadness and guilt.  Some paintings extract from us a sense of fear, whilst others bring forth a feeling of wonderment when we look upon a beautiful landscape or the portrait of a beautiful woman.  The artist I am featuring in my next two blogs produced a painting, which, to me, was one of the most haunting and evocative paintings I had ever seen.  The artist is the Swiss-born painter, Arnold Böcklin and the painting was entitled Die Toteninsel (Isle of the Dead).  He completed five versions of the work between 1880 and 1886.  I will look at this work in the second part of this blog.

Another reason for looking at some of the works by Böcklin is because I just returned from a three-day trip to Munich and instead of visiting the city’s major galleries such as the Pinakothek der Moderne and the  Alte Pinakothek, I headed for the Schack Gallery which houses a notable collection illustrating the development of German painting in the 19th century. The history of the gallery is that its founder, Count Adolf Friedrich von Schack, was a generous patron of the arts, purchasing and commissioning numerous works by many leading 19th-century German painters including Moritz von Schwind, Carl Spitzweg, Franz von Lenbach, and the Swiss born artist, Arnold Böcklin. Von Schack’s collection now forms part of the Bavarian State Collection.  This small gallery is a little gem and has an amazing collection of copies of works by the likes of Titian by German painters.

Ruined Castle by Arnold Böcklin (1847)
Ruined Castle by Arnold Böcklin (1847)

Arnold Böcklin was born in October 1827 in Basel.  In 1841, aged 14, Böcklin went to art school at the Zeichenschule Basel, which was run by the painter, Ludwig Adam Kelterborn.   A Zeichenschule was a drawing school where pupils were given the technical and artistic training of Craft Trade Association  His father was Christian Frederick Böcklin, who worked in the silk trade and his mother was Ursula Lippe.  In 1845, Böcklin, aged 18, studied art for two years at the Düsseldorf Academy under Johann Wilhelm Schirmer, the German historical landscape painter.  Böcklin initially painted landscapes and one of his early works was entitled Ruined Castle which he painted in 1847 and which is now housed in the Nationalgalerie, Berlin.

Das Hünengrab by Arnold Böcklin (1847)
Das Hünengrab by Arnold Böcklin (1847)

Another atmospheric landscape work Böcklin completed in 1846 was one entitled Das Hünengrab (Megalithic Grave).

Böcklin excelled in his studies during his time at the Düsseldorf Academy and he was sent off on painting trips to Belgium with his friend and fellow student Rudolph Koller, where he was tasked with copying paintings by the Flemish and Dutch masters which were housed in museums in Antwerp and Brussels.  One of his favourite painters was said to be Peter Paul Rubens.  He returned home to Basel and then went to Geneva where he worked alongside the Swiss painter Alexandre Calame, a landscape artist, who specialised in Alpine scenes.

From Basel he set off on another painting trip, this time to Paris, where he remained for several months, sharing an apartment with his friend and fellow artist, Rudolf Koller.  Whilst here, he busied himself copying works of the Old Masters and some of his contemporaries, which were held in the Louvre.   He was influenced by the works of Thomas Couture and the landscapes of Jean-Baptiste-Camille-Corot.   However the year was 1848 and Paris was not the safest place to be because of the February and June revolutions and so Böcklin left the French capital.

After a short spell of military service Böcklin got married.  His bride was Luise Schmidt but sadly she died before their first wedding anniversary.  In February 1850, heartbroken following the death of his wife, Böcklin travelled to Rome.  It was here that he was befriended by the Dresden-born artist Heinrich Franz-Dreber who introduced him to a group of German artists living in Rome, who called themselves the Tugenbund   (the League of Virtue).  He also became friends with Oswald Achenbach, who at the time was looked upon as one of the leading European landscape painters and Anselm Feuerbach, the German Neoclassical painter.

Landscape from the Alban Hills by Arnold Böcklin (1851)
Landscape from the Alban Hills by Arnold Böcklin (1851)

During his stay in Italy, Böcklin would spend the summers with some of his fellow artists in the Alban Hills, some forty-five kilometres east of the Italian capital, and it was there that they set up home in the village of Olevano.  One of Böcklin’s first painting he completed in Italy was Landscape from the Allban Hills which he completed in 1851.  This work of art is now housed in the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Karlsruhe.

Roman Landscape (Römische Landschaft) by Arnold Böcklin (1852)
Roman Landscape (Römische Landschaft) by Arnold Böcklin (1852)

The following year, 1852, Böcklin produced another landscape painting featuring the Roman Campagna.  It was entitled Römische Landschaft (Roman Landscape), which can now be seen at the Brooklyn Museum.   Unlike some of his contemporary landscape artists, who had sketched and painted views of the Roman countryside, Böcklin overcame the urge to add famous landmarks.  He believed that such an addition detracted from flora and fauna and it was his intention to enhance the view of nature.  This painting was a simple landscape work with a small figure of a woman, seen in the middle ground, undressing prior to going for a swim in the pool.  She is just a mere white dot in the painting which gives viewers an idea of the enormity of nature with its huge old trees and cloud-filled sky.  He wanted his painting to be all about details of the foliage and rock formations.  It is believed that earlier studies for this painting included more than one bather and a satyr but Böcklin decided that these extra figures detracted from the “message” and so he painted over them.  Böcklin wanted viewers to understand the immenseness of nature and how light and shade can alter tonal qualities .

In 1853, three years after arriving in Rome, Böcklin married for the second time.  His second wife was a young Italian woman, Angela Rosa Lorenza Pasucci, the daughter of a papal guard.  The couple went on to have fourteen children.

Böcklin changed his style of painting in the mid 1850’s when he began to include themes from Classical mythology and whereas his painting before concentrated on what he had seen they began to be about what he imagined.  Some believe that there was another reason for this change of style – money, or lack of money.  Böcklin needed to sell more of his paintings to survive and so he had to focus on what travellers passing through Rome wanted to see in his works.  These travellers wanted to buy paintings featuring Classical Roman sites.

Pan in the Reeds by Arnold Böcklin (1858)
Pan in the Reeds by Arnold Böcklin (1858)

In 1859 Böcklin was in Munich and exhibiting some of his works at the Munich Kunstverein.   It proved to be a great success for Böcklin as one of the works which he had completed the previous year, his second version of Pan im Schilf  (Pan in the Reeds), was bought by King Maximillian II, the ruler of Bavaria.  Fourteen of his other paintings were purchased by Friedrich Graf von Schack, the Munich art collector.   Furthermore, in 1860, through the auspices of von Schack,  Böcklin was offered the post of Professor of Landscape Painting at the newly founded Kunstschule in Weimar

In my next blog about Arnold Böcklin I will look at the paintings he completed later in his life which designated him as a Symbolist painter.  Symbolism is defined as an art genre characterised by a rejection of direct, literal representation in favour of evocation and suggestion.  Symbolism produced imaginary dream worlds populated with mystifying figures from biblical stories and Greek mythology as well as unbelievable, often monstrous, creatures.

Mr and Mrs Wachtel and their Californian dreams

Elmer Wachtel
Elmer Wachtel

I often come into contact with American tourists who stay at my Bed & Breakfast and I always ask them where is the best place in America as far as climate is concerned and I nearly always get the same answer – the area around the coastal town of San Diego.  In my blog today I am looking at two landscape artists, husband and wife, who concentrated their work around the beautiful areas of Southern California.  Let me introduce you to Mr and Mrs Wachtel.

Spring Landscape by Elmer Wachtel
Spring Landscape by Elmer Wachtel

Elmer Wachtel was the older of this married couple, born in Baltimore, Maryland on January 21st 1864 but it was not until 1882, when he was eighteen years of age and had completed schooling, that he crossed country to live in California.  His new home was to be San Gabriel, California where his brother was foreman of the Rose Ranch.  He had married the sister of the artist Guy Rose.  Guy Rose was a student of John Bond Francisco who had settled in Los Angeles. Francisco had become a major cultural figure, performing as a violinist, painting, teaching and entertaining in his home and his studio on Albany Street. He combined his two great loves art and music and helped form the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra in 1897 and served as their first concertmaster.  Studying with Francisco, Elmer had found the ideal “fit” as he was interested in art and was also an exceptionally talented musician, having taught himself to play the violin.  In fact he was such a talented musician that he at one time was the first violinist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, which was founded by William Andrews Clark, Jr., a millionaire and amateur musician.

Desert, River, Mountains by Elmer Wachtel
Desert, River, Mountains by Elmer Wachtel

It was not until 1894 that Elmer decided to enrol at an art establishment to learn more about drawing and painting and he moved back east to New York where he joined the Art Students League which had been founded in 1875 by a group of artists, both male and female.  They had all been students at the National Academy of Design in New York City.  Many of these aspiring artists decided to break away from the Academy citing the reason that the Academy’s art tuition was too conservative and unsympathetic to their new and modern ideas about art.  Whilst here, Wachtel studied under William Merritt Chase, the American painter and leading American exponent of Impressionism.

Valley Afternoon by Elmer Wachtel (c.1910)
Valley Afternoon by Elmer Wachtel (c.1910)

Elmer returned to California in 1896 and stayed at the San Francisco home of William Keith, the Scottish-American painter who was famous for his Californian landscapes and in fact was often referred to as the “Dean of California painters”.  Elmer Wachtel eventually left San Francisco and returned home to Los Angeles.  During this period, he supplemented his income as an artist and an art teacher and by playing his violin in a number of orchestras.

California had been opened up to folk from the East by the Santa Fe railroad in the late nineteenth century and many of these travellers from the East were artists who wanted to experience the beautiful Californian landscapes and the natural light which bathed these lands.  One such visitor was Marion Kavanaugh.

Marion Kavanagh Wachtel
Marion Kavanagh Wachtel

Marion Kavanaugh was born on June 10th 1876 in Milwaukee.  She came from an artistic background.  Her mother, Jean, was an accomplished and well respected artist and her great grand-father a Royal Academician.   She received the most thorough art education studying in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago under John Vanderpoel, the Dutch-American artist and teacher and was tutored in New York, like Elmer Wachtel, by William Merritt Chase.  Following the completion of her studies she taught art in some Chicago public schools and later attained a post as tutor at the Art Institute of Chicago where she taught for two years but life in the classroom was not for Marion.  Slowly she built up a reputation as a portraitist and an accomplished painter of child portraits.  Marion Kavanaugh had now built up a reputation as one of America’s great watercolourist and her skill as a landscape artist and tonalist was much admired.  Tonalism is a style of painting in which landscapes are depicted in soft light and shadows, often as if through a coloured or misty veil.

Foothill Eucalyptus Landscape by Marion Wachtel
Foothill Eucalyptus Landscape by Marion Wachtel

In 1903, Marion received a commission from one of the vice presidents of the Santa Fe Railroad to paint murals of Western landscapes for the company’s San Francisco ticket offices, in return he offered free passage to California on one of the company’s trains .  To achieve that commission she travelled west and visited many sites all the time making sketches along the way which she found would be conducive for her commission.  She stopped off at New Mexico, Arizona and California. Whilst in California she called in at the Cooper Ranch in Santa Barbara where she stayed for several months as a guest of the owner, the entrepreneur and agriculturist, Ellwood Cooper.  Cooper commissioned her to paint some landscape scenes around his ranch.  It was during this commission that she began to paint the eucalyptus trees which were found close by and it was these beautiful trees that were to appear in many of her works of art.

Brook in Sierra Landscape by Marion Kavanagh Wachtel
Brook in Sierra Landscape by Marion Kavanagh Wachtel

Many of the paintings she completed for Ellwood Cooper were exhibited and they won critical acclaim.  One person who viewed her work was none other than William Keith.  Some believe that Marion Kavanaugh worked for a short time with him and that he suggested she visited Elmer Wachtel in Los Angeles and studiywith him.  She agreed to the suggestion and so in 1903 Marion Kavanaugh and Elmer Wachtel met for the first time.  Even though the circumstances of their first meeting may be just conjecture, what is certain is that there was a definite chemistry between the two artists for one year later in 1904, forty-year old Elmer Wachtel and twenty-eight year old Marion Kavanaugh married in Chicago.   After her marriage to Elmer, Marion took his name but also added her maiden name after dropping the “u” from it and became known as Marion Kavanagh Wachtel.  The couple returned to California and settled down in the Mount Washington area, close to Pasadena where they built themselves a home and a studio.  The couple lived in the Mount Washington area of Los Angeles until 1921.  They then moved to the Arroyo Seco area close to Pasadena.

Monterey Coast by Marion Kavanagh Wachtel
Monterey Coast by Marion Kavanagh Wachtel

They spent almost twenty-five years travelling around together painting, en plein air, the various landscapes in the south west of the United States. Often they would be seen painting and sketching the awe inspiring Southern California landscape and they travelled great distances to capture the views and light conditions which they translated into spectacular paintings.  They traversed and painted the coastline between Gaviota and Conception Lighthouse (just north of Santa Barbara, California), the Cooper Ranch (north of Santa Barbara), Matilija Canyon and Ojai, California. They would head further south to the San Luis Rey River and the Cerisa Loma Ranch which was close to San Diego and in 1908 they hiked their way across the arid deserts of Arizona and New Mexico availing themselves of the opportunity to capture on canvas the historic pueblo villages on the Moki and Navajo reservations.

Lake Mary, Sierra Nevada by Marion Kavanagh Wachtel
Lake Mary, Sierra Nevada by Marion Kavanagh Wachtel

Marion worked in watercolours unlike her husband who worked in the medium of oils.  She was a member of many art societies such as the American Watercolour Society and the California Watercolour Society and on two occasions in the 1920’s Marion Kavanagh Wachtel was granted one-woman exhibitions at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art.

Their happy marriage came to an abrupt end in August 1929 when Elmer Wachtel died, aged 65, while on a Mexican painting trip in GuadalajaraFollowing her husband’s death, Marion gave up painting  and exhibiting for a number of years.  When she returned to her beloved art, besides using her favourite painting medium, watercolours, she began to dabble in oils, the favourite medium of her late husband.  She exhibited her works on both coasts of America and became a very popular and revered landscape artist.

Marion Kavanagh Wachtel died at her home in Pasadena on May 22nd 1954.

Henry Herbert La Thangue – the pictorial documenter of rural life

Henry Herbert La Thangue  (photo c.1893)
Henry Herbert La Thangue
(photo c.1893)

A few blogs ago I looked at the life and works of George Clausen and termed his art as rustic realism and today I want to delve into the life and the art work of another such painter, the English realist rural landscape artist Henry Herbert  La Thangue.

Henry Herbert La Thangue was born in Croydon, Surrey on January 19th 1859. He attended the renowned public school, Dulwich College, where two of his contemporary school friends were fellow aspiring artists Stanhope Forbes and Frederick Goodall. He enrolled briefly at the Lambeth School of Art in 1873 before enrolling on a five year course at the Royal Academy schools in 1874. The culmination of his studies at the Academy came in December 1879 when he won a gold medal for his work as well as a three year travelling scholarship to study in Paris at the studio of Jean-Léon Gérôme at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts.  It was during this time, whilst staying in the French capital, that he became influenced by the works of Whistler and the many paintings he saw at the Salon by artists who favoured rustic naturalism. He was also influenced by the landscape works of the en plein air artists of the Barbizon school. So how did the Barbizon School come into being ?

The Last Furrow by Henry Herbert La Thangue (1895)
The Last Furrow by Henry Herbert La Thangue (1895)

As far as the French Academy was concerned aspiring artists should be taught in the Neoclassical tradition and copy the style of the painters of the Renaissance and Classical era.  Landscape art was not looked upon as an important genre unless the landscape , usually an idealized version, was combined with some historical connotation.  In 1816 the Academy even encouraged this genre by introducing a Prix de Rome in paysage historique (landscapes with a historical nuance), the winner of which would travel to Rome to live and paint at the Villa Medici.  By making this award the Academy had hoped to encourage artists to paint not just landscapes but by adding the historical aspect to the work it would ensure history painting would not die.  It actually had the opposite effect as many artists turned to simple landscape work and this desire was further enhanced when in 1824 John Constable’s landscape works were exhibited at that year’s Salon.

The Plough Boy by Henry Herbert La Thangue (c.1900)
The Plough Boy by Henry Herbert La Thangue (c.1900)

In the warm summer months artists would leave the French capital and move to the tranquillity of the Parisian countryside around the Forest of Fontainebleau with its dense forest and meadowlands.  Small hamlets were situated around the periphery of the forest which made ideal stopping-off places for the artists and one such hamlet was Barbizon which proved to be the ideal temporary home for many landscape painters, such as Théodore Rousseau and Constant Troyon, who had rejected the Academic tradition of historical landscape painting and embraced a more realistic representation of the countryside and life in the country.  Later in the 1840’s, artists such as Jean-François Millet and Charles-François Daubigny came to Barbizon.

The Boat Builder's Yard by Henry Herbert La Thangue (1881)
The Boat Builder’s Yard by Henry Herbert La Thangue (1881)

In 1881 after completing his studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, La Thangue travelled to Brittany, another popular region with landscape painters, and worked alongside the English landscape painter, Stanhope Forbes.  Whilst here, he met the renowned master of rustic realism, Jules Bastien-Lepage.  That year, he visited the small coastal commune of Concale, east of St Malo and completed his painting entitled The Boat Builder’s Yard. He remained in Brittany until mid 1882 and the following year he travelled south to the Rhone Valley commune of Donzère with his friend, the sculptor James Havard Thomas.

Resting after the game, Kate La Thangue by Henry Herbert La Thangue
Resting after the game, Kate La Thangue by Henry Herbert La Thangue

When he returned to England in 1884, La Thangue first lived at South Walsham on the edge of the Norfolk Broads before moving to Rye in East Sussex for a brief time in 1885.   This was an eventful period in La Thangue’s life for in 1885 he married the actress, Kate Rietiker.  It was also at this juncture in his life that he became interested in politics surrounding art and art establishments.  La Thangue was a radical thinker and believed fervently that the Royal Academy had to change.  La Thangue proposed that it should be a more democratic society open to all and based on the principles of ‘universal suffrage’  Much was written about his views in the press but ultimately nothing changed.  La Thangue remained unhappy with the administration of the hallowed society and so he, along with a number of his like-minded contemporaries, having failed in their attempt to revolutionise the establishment, founded the New English Art Club in London in 1885 as an alternate venue to the Royal Academy

Portrait of the Artist's Wife by Henry Herbert La Thangue
Portrait of the Artist’s Wife by Henry Herbert La Thangue

In 1886, despite his misgivings surrounding the Royal Academy, he continued to exhibit works at the art establishment.  The Royal Academy was not the sole outlet for his works as the paintings were also exhibited Royal Society of British Artists and the Grosvenor Gallery, which had opened in 1877 by Sir Coutts Lindsay, and was a welcoming home for those painters, such as Edward Burne-Jones and Walter Crane, whose works the more conservative Royal Academy shunned.  His paintings could also be seen at the New Gallery which was founded in Regent Street in 1888 by Comyns Carr and Charles Edward Hallé who had once been co-directors of the Grosvenor Gallery but because of all the Grovesnor Gallery problems, had resigned and set up this new gallery.  The New Gallery was also a home for the works of the Pre-Raphaelite and  Aesthetic movement artists and artists such as Lawrence Tadema-Alma, William Holman Hunt, Lord Leighton and George Frederic Watts exhibited works at this establishment.  La Thangue also exhibited at the Royal Institute of Painters which he had joined in 1883.

The Return of the Reapers by Henry Herbert La Thangue (1886)
The Return of the Reapers by Henry Herbert La Thangue (1886)

In the summer of 1886, La Thangue  moved home to the Norfolk countryside and the small fenland village of South Walsham.  During these years La Thangue produced head studies of farm hands and fisherfolk and it was whilst living here that he completed his landscape painting entitled Return of the Reapers.  This was a typical example of La Thangue’s rustic realism style.  La Thangue was probably influenced by the works of the French artists Jules Bastien-Lepage and Gustave Courbet and the en plein air works of the French Impressionists.

Study of a Boy with a Black Hat, before a Cornfield by Henry Herbert La Thangue

Five years later La Thangue left Norfolk and moved home south to the neighbouring county of Suffolk and the coastal village of Bosham just a few miles from the town of Chichester.  He carried on painting rural scenes, often large-scale works, with their realism connotations.

I

The Man with the Scythe by Henry Herbert La Thangue (1896)
The Man with the Scythe by Henry Herbert La Thangue (1896)

n 1896 he completed a work The Man with the Scythe, which is now housed in the Tate Britain gallery in London.  This proved to be a controversial work.  At first glance one ponders as to the reasoning behind the title.  However, look closely and in the background you can make out a man carrying a scythe but this is not just a country scene with a man off to work in the fields whilst the mother tends her daughter.  This is a more solemn and symbolic piece,  as what we are witnessing is a mother horrified to discover that her young daughter has died,.  At the very instant of her tragic discovery a man arrives at the gate carrying a scythe, which is one of the traditional symbols of death, often referred to as the ‘grim reaper’.    This tragic and somewhat melodramatic depiction by La Thangue was a definite change in his subject matter and may have been influenced by the pair of paintings by Frank Holl in 1877 entitled Hush and Hushed (See My Daily Art Display Feb 9th 2012)

The March Month by Henry Herbert La Thangue
The March Month by Henry Herbert La Thangue

His English base from 1898 and into the early 1900’s was in the West Sussex village of Graffham.  His painting motifs still concentrated on rural life.  His works, depicting both arable and livestock farming, documented life in the fields from the harrow and the harvest, to  animal husbandry and fruit growing.  He was always searching for the perfect portrayal of the countryside and countryside practices during the different seasons.  In his painting entitled The March, completed around 1900,  he depicted the orchard near his house which was also used as nursery areas during lambing time.   We see the farmer scattering turnips from his cart which would feed the sheep and fatten up the lambs.  It could be that this depiction by La Thangue was influenced by the famous novelist and gentleman-farmer Rider Haggard, a contemporary of the artist, for in his 1899 book A Farmer’s Year  he talked about fattening lambs:

“….’The flock is being penned at night on the three-acre [field] with a view to improving the bottom of his young pasture which has grown somewhat thin. In the daytime they run out to one or other of the meadows, where root is thrown to them, and every night they are shut in a new fold on the three-acre and receive a ration of corn, hay and beet…”

Selling Chickens in Liguria by Henry Herbert La Thangue (1906)
Selling Chickens in Liguria by Henry Herbert La Thangue (1906)

At the turn of the century La Thangue became more and more interested with the work of the French Impressionist painters and their fascination with light and in 1901 he travelled to Provence.  From 1903 to 1911 he spent much of his time in the Italian region of Liguria building up a large collection of work. Despite La Thangue’s earlier outspoken criticism of the Royal Academy he became an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1898 and became a full Member in 1912.

Violets for Perfume by Henry Herbert La Thangue (ca. 1913)
Violets for Perfume by Henry Herbert La Thangue (ca. 1913)

His diploma work for the Royal Academy was one entitled Violets for Perfume.  The notable English artist, George Clausen (see My Daly Art Display May 30th & June 8th 2015) wrote about La Thangue’s work:

“…Sunlight was the thing that attracted him: this and some simple motive of rural occupation, enhanced by a picturesque surround…”

This work stemmed from his time in Provence and depicts a woman tipping a basket of freshly picked violets onto a muslin sheet in preparation for perfume making. All through his artistic career La Thangue developed his subject matter from labourers working in fields, vineyards and orchards. The depiction of the lady working in this work highlighted the back-to-basic work practice.  Gone was the mechanised practice of harvesting which La Thangue disliked and which he saw creeping into the rural life of England, destroying the old-fashioned rural practices which he had so loved to paint.

A Mountain Frontier by Henry Herbert La Thangue (1910)
A Mountain Frontier by Henry Herbert La Thangue (1910)

In 1914, just prior to the beginning of the Great War, the Leicester Galleries in London  staged a one-man exhibition of La Thangue’s southern European landscape works,  which concentrated on his paintings completed whilst he was in Provence and Liguria.  One of the works exhibited was entitled A Mountain Frontier which La Thangue completed around 1910.  The exhibition was a great success and praised by the critics.  The artist William Sickert wrote about La Thangue’s skill as a painter in the May 1914 issue of the British literary magazine The New Age stating:

“…What renders La Thangue’s work particularly interesting is that while using the language of the day in painting, that is to say an opaque mosaic for recording objective sensations about visible nature, he is using it in a personal manner…”

Sickert went on to write that La Thangue, through his talent at developing relations of colour with a warm colour at the base,  was able to build on it a series a series of beautiful and interesting sensations of nature which is what he,  and not somebody else, had to say.

A Ligurian Bay by Henry Herbert La Thangue
A Ligurian Bay by Henry Herbert La Thangue

In the 1920’s after the Great War had ended La Thangue returned to Liguria and the motif of his paintings changed from the arable land of the English countryside to the sunlit orange groves and gardens of Italy.  La Thangue spent those days in southern Europe painting en plein air directly on to large canvases.  This belief is based on the fact that very few smaller versions of his paintings or sketches exist.

Wreck of the S.S. Manuka December 16th 1929
Wreck of the S.S. Manuka December 16th 1929

Henry Herbert La Thangue died on December 21st 1929, just a few weeks before his seventy-first birthday.  Less than a week before his death La Thangue had been devastated and depressed when he was given the news that a vessel, the S.S. Manuka, during a voyage from Melbourne/Bluff/Dunedin was wrecked on Nugget Point near Long Point, South Otago.  Part of the cargo on the vessel was two of La Thangue’s paintings.  La Thangue was never to know, that five days after his death, the paintings were recovered and said to have been in “reasonable condition”.

 His wife Kate died in 1941.

Peder Balke. Part 2 – The great Norwegian journey and disillusionment

Winter Landscape. Near Vordingborg, by Johan Christian Dahl  (1827)
Winter Landscape. Near Vordingborg, by Johan Christian Dahl (1827)

Balke returned to Christiania in 1830 and stayed with Professor Rathke and in that May travelled to Copenhagen and was fortunate to be able to view royal collections of art.  Of all the works he saw, Balke was most impressed by a winter landscape painted by Johan Christian Dahl, entitled Winter Landscape. Near Vordingborg, which he completed in 1827.  The large (173 x 205cms) work of art depicts a somewhat oppressive atmosphere with its undertones of death, symbolised by the dolmen behind the lifeless branches of the two oak trees. A dolmen is a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb, usually consisting of two or more upright stones supporting a large flat horizontal capstone.  Nature is depicted in the form of its icy winter garb.  He wrote of the painting to Rathke saying that it was the most life-like painting he had ever seen.  The fact that he had managed to see the works of the great Masters at the royal collection, although influencing him, also depressed him somewhat as to his own ability.  He wrote:

“…I sometimes felt a certain heaviness of heart and lack of courage when I compared my own insignificance with these true masterpieces; quietly and I admit somewhat superficially I calculated how much I would have to learn and how many ordeals I would have to go through before I would be able to achieve a mere fraction of the perfection in aptitude and skill in execution exuded by these paintings…”

North Cape by Peder Balke (1945)
North Cape by Peder Balke (1945)

Balke was determined to succeed and in the summer of 1830 having returned to Norway from Copenhagen he set off on foot on an artistic journey through the Telemark region and over the mountains to western Norway and then north to Bergen returning to Christiania via the Naeroydalen valley and the town of Gudvangen.  He later recalled his short time spent in the area around Gudvangen, writing:

“.. I first arrived late at night, because I became so engrossed in admiring the sublime beauty of Naeroydalen that I hardly knew whether what surrounded me was real or supernatural.  So fascinating and uplifting did my youthful imagination, with its passion for the beauties of nature….”

From North Cape by Peder Balke (c.1860's)
From North Cape by Peder Balke (c.1860’s)

Two years later, in April 1832, Balke set off another artistic journey.  This time, setting off in his own carriage he went to Trondheim where he was to catch a boat to the north of the country.  His planned journey hit a snag when he arrived late in Trondheim and missed the boat.  He had to wait a further seven weeks for the next boat but spent the time sketching the town and the surrounding areas.  Peder Balke finally embarked on his northbound boat trip, passing the Lofoten Islands and arrived at Tromso.  From there the boat went further north to Hammerfest and then proceeded around the North Cape to Vardø and Vadsø.  He was the first Norwegian painter to record the harsh beauty of the northern landscape.  Eventually Balke and the boat returned to Trondheim.  During the long journey Balke had completed a large collection of sketches of the places he had seen and many were used in his many seascape and moonscape works of art which he worked on when he returned to Stockholm.  He sold many of his paintings to wealthy Norwegians and Swedes as well as members of the royal family.  In 1834, now, financially secure, Peder married Karen Eriksdatter, the woman he had been secretly engaged to for several years, but had been too poor to marry.

The Severn Sisters by Peder Balke (1847)
The Severn Sisters by Peder Balke (1847)

The couple settled in Christiania and Balke, now accepted, not simply as a decorator but as a landscape artist, tried to establish himself and sell his artworks.  However competition at the time was too great and the sales he had hoped for never materialised.  However, in 1835, he managed to sell another of his works to the king and with that money he decided on fulfilling his dream of travelling to Dresden and work with the Norwegian artist, J C Dahl.   Many Norwegian artists had trodden this path, including Thomas Fearnley (see My Daily Art Display November 24th & 28th 2012).  With help from a friend, Balke set off for Germany and reached Berlin in the winter of that year.  He remained in Berlin for several weeks and was able to visit the Royal Museum and whilst in the German city he saw paintings by the German romantic landscape painter, Casper David Friedrich.  It was this artist who was going to have a great and lasting influence on Balke.

Ship in Breaking Waves by Peder Balke (c.1849)
Ship in Breaking Waves by Peder Balke (c.1849)

Balke left Berlin and travelled to Dresden via Leipzig.  He received a great welcome from Johan Dahl who helped him find accommodation.  J C Dahl introduced Balke to Casper David Friedrich and Balke was able to watch the two great artists at work.  In a letter to Rathke, dated March 29th 1836, he wrote about watching J C Dahl at work:

“..to see Dahl paint, I know with which colours and have seen how he uses them, and though I at present cannot proceed successfully in the same manner I hope that with time I will also reap the benefit.  What I regret most is my lack of studies from nature.  Dahl certainly has several thousands of them, of all kinds.  He has told me there is no other way to become a real painter than by painting from nature, which admittedly has been my intention, and I shall now try to see whether I can make up for what I have hitherto neglected, in Norway, though not in Germany – there is no nature here…”

Sami with Reindeer Under the Midnight Sun by Peder Balke, (c.1850)
Sami with Reindeer Under the Midnight Sun by Peder Balke, (c.1850)

Balke left Dresden but returned in the 1840’s to work once again with J C Dahl.  Landscape art was popular in Norway and Balke managed to sell many of his works but things were to change when a number of young Norwegian landscape artists having returned from studying at the Dusseldorf Academy, which at the time was looked upon as the most modern art-educational institute.  The teaching of landscape art was more to do with what was termed “cautious Realism” rather than Balke’s Romantic landscapes which suddenly became less fashionable.  He had to endure much criticism with regards his work which had once been loved by his people.  In an article in a 1944 edition of Morgenbladet, the eminent art critic Emil Tidemand scathingly wrote about Balke’s paintings:

“… There is no question here of a grandiose, poetic perception: no not even the simplest technical demands of drawing, perspective, clarity, strength and depth of colour have been met……………….This is not a representation of nature – his whole production is merely the mark of a dirty palette handled without discrimination…”

Old Trees by Peder Balke (c.1849)
Old Trees by Peder Balke (c.1849)

Maybe it was the vitriolic criticism which made Balke realise that there would be no hope of becoming financially secure through his art sales in Norway and so in 1844 he, along with his pregnant wife and three young children, left their homeland and travelled to Paris via Copenhagen and Germany  There was also another reason to visit Paris and this was that Balke was well aware that the country’s ruler Louis-Philippe had, as a young prince in exile in 1795, travelled along the Norwegian coast from Trondheim to the North Cape just as he had done.  As Balke did not speak French he asked a friend to write a letter on his behalf to the king in which he reminded the king of his exile and his Norwegian journey and that his nine sketches of the area would remind the king of that journey.  Louis-Philippe was intrigued and summoned Balke to the palace.  Balke and the king immediately became close and the two would meet regularly and reminisce about their travels to the North Cape

A View of the Sarpsfoss Waterfalls, Norway by Peder Balke (c.1859)
A View of the Sarpsfoss Waterfalls, Norway by Peder Balke (c.1859)

Louis-Philippe commissioned a set of paintings derived from the sketches.  Balke’s financial future seemed to have been rescued and he set to work on the commission.  Alas fate was to take a hand in the form of the February Revolution of 1848 which saw the downfall of Louis-Philippe.  Balke realising the dangers of being close to the unpopular ruler decided in late 1847 that he and his family would have to hurriedly leave Paris which meant he had to abandon, what was to have been a very lucrative commission.  Balke moved back to Dresden.  Shortly after his arrival in the German city in 1848 his young son Johann died.  His death came around the same time that his wife gave birth to their daughter Frederikke.  Sales of his art in Dresden were hard to come by and so he decided to leave his family with a friend and head back to Christiania.  He managed to sell some of his work, one of which was The North Cape by Moonlight but still the Norwegian people favoured the Dusseldorf School of landscape painting and so Balke returned to his family in Dresden.  In the Spring of 1849 he and his family moved to London where Balke believed his art would be more appreciated.  London had fallen under the spell of Joseph Mallord William Turner and his marine paintings and so Balke believed his works of art would do well.  He was proved right and managed to sell more of his works of art.

Balkeby  1860-70
Balkeby
1860-70

In the autumn of 1850 Balke and his family moved back to Christiania.  In 1855 his good friend and benefactor Professor Rathke died and left Balke a sizeable amount of money which Balke used to buy eight acres of land just outside the city limits at a place known as Vestre Aker.  He virtually abandoned his career as an artist of large scale landscape works, concentrating on small scale paintings which he believed would be bought by the middle class.  He now concentrated on his property portfolio and in particular the development of housing for workers in his newly attained property in the suburb of Balkeby, He dabbled in local politics championing the cause of pensions for men and women, and also of grants for artists. His painting was now just a hobby and for his own pleasure.

The Old Bridge by Peder Balke (c.1869)
The Old Bridge by Peder Balke (c.1869)

Balke, as you may realise, was an unlucky man and more bad luck came in June 1879 when his beloved Balkeby went up in flames.  Nearly every house, including his own, was burnt to the ground.  Four years later Balke suffered a stroke, and he died in Christiania on February 15th 1887 aged 82.  The obituaries that followed after his death were all about his political work and little was said about Balke the artist.  Maybe his penchant for ignoring criticism and sticking to what he believed in was apparent in the obituary which appeared in the magazine Verdens Gang in March 1887.  It emphasised Balke’s pugnacity:

“…Fearless and straightforward as he was, it would never occur to him to defer to people in an argument.  He considered only the matter in hand and did not bother in the least about who was for or against him.  This does not always result in popularity…”

I can recommend an excellent book about the artist and his work entitled Paintings by Peder Balke, from which I derived most of my information about this Norwegian painter.

Peder Balke. Part 1 – His early life and struggles to become a painter

Peder Balke (1804-1887)
Peder Balke
(1804-1887)

I suppose if you are a landscape or seascape artist it is ideal to be living amongst glorious scenery or rugged coastlines which inspire you to paint and is much better than having to move to an artist colony in some idyllic area to find inspiration.   The artist I am featuring today was fortunate enough to come from a country of amazing natural beauty which he often depicted in his works of art.  Today let me introduce you to the nineteenth century Norwegian painter, Peder Balke, who specialised in landscape and seascape paintings with a romantic and dramatic connotation.

Peder Balke was the younger son of Anders Thoresen and Pernille Pedersdatter and born August 28th 1804.  He was christened Peder Andersen on November 4th.  Information about his early years was given by Balke in a dictated version of his life story, seventy years later.  He reminisced:

“… I was born on the island of Helgøya, in Nes in the country of Hedmark on 4 November 1804 in poverty, my situation in life being therefore less than enviable.  Yet the nearly influence of an affectionate and conscientious mother with constant good advice and exemplary admonitions was of the greatest benefit to my youthful and perhaps exceptionally lively temperament – for it is in these years of one’s development that the seeds are sown of both good and evil, though only later in life does one value their significance correctly…”

Christiania Viewed from Ekeberg by Peder Balke (c.1829)
Christiania Viewed from Ekeberg by Peder Balke (c.1829)

He did not have an easy start to life his family being part of the lowest ranks of the peasant society.  His parents were simple farm labourers working on a farm called Svennerud on the island of Helgøya, which lies in the middle of Lake Mjøsa, , some 60 kilometres north of Christiania (now Oslo)  and is Norway’s largest and one of the deepest lakes in the country.  The family owned nothing.  They had no lands to grow their own crops.  They were simply impoverished land-less servants of the farmer.   The family predicament was one his father could not tolerate and when Peder was young, he abandoned the family and is never mentioned in his son’s dictated autobiography.  In 1812, when Peder was eight years old, because Norway and Denmark were in an alliance with France, their ports were blockaded by the British, as part of Britain’s war against Napoleon.  This prevented much needed corn from entering the country and this, along with a severe and early frost of 1812 which destroyed the Norwegian corn harvest, meant that for the next two years the country suffered a terrible famine.  This severe time was remembered well by Balke who wrote:

“….wretched times, when war and years of hardship oppressed people and it goes without saying that this suffering and national scourge affected the poor most severely.  My mother, who had to look after herself and two children- for I had a brother who was seven years older than me ……like so many others we had therefore to resort to substitutes which are less easy for humans to digest, and I and my brother went into the forest to remove bark from the trees, which was dried and ground and Mother baked bread with it.  It goes without saying that food of this kind resulted in disease such as dysentery etc…”

The Mountain Range 'Trolltindene' by Peder Balke (c.1845)
The Mountain Range ‘Trolltindene’ by Peder Balke (c.1845)

Being from such a peasant class there was no possibility of schooling for Balke but his mother taught him to read and write.  When he was old enough he would try to earn some money for the family by helping out on the neighbourhood farms, but pay was poor, and he would also go fishing to bring food to the table.

It was thought Peder’s maternal grandfather was an painter/decorator and that was the first influence on him.  Another relative, Anders Skraedderstuen, who had a nearby smallholding was also a painter and took on seventeen year old Peder as an apprentice for two years.  Peder was employed to paint but also learn the skills involved in fine interior decorations.  There was always work for him as the farm owners were becoming richer and building themselves large homes which they needed decorating.  Peder travelled extensively from farm to farm to carry out commissions.  One such farm was the Vestre Balke farm at Toten which was owned by Anders Balke.  The Balke family took to Peder and soon he was not just looked upon as a workman but as a son.  This close tie pleased Peder and it was at this time that he changed his surname to Balke.  Although now living with his “new family” he always remembered to go back and visit his mother and help her out financially.

Landscape with Mill and Rapids by Peder Balke (1840)
Landscape with Mill and Rapids by Peder Balke (1840)

In winter there were no commissions to be had so it was then that Balke travelled to Christiania to buy paints, stencils and the latest in ornaments ready for the following summer.  At this time there was no place in the capital where Balke could study art but he did manage to find rooms in a house owned by Ole Nielsen in Gudbrandsdalen.  Nielsen was a talented painter and over a period of seven months he taught Balke the fundamentals of drawing and painting.  Balke recalled the time later in his autobiographical notes:

“…From this kind man I received many tips hitherto unknown to me that had an appreciable effect on my later evolution in the profession of painter…”

Moonlight on the Coast at Steigen by Peder Balke (1842)
Moonlight on the Coast at Steigen by Peder Balke (1842)

Life and business were good for Peder Balke, so much so, he employed several apprentices but as in life itself there were always ups and downs and the “down” at this time was the threat of military service.  Balke did not want anything to do with this and tried all sorts of ploys to get himself out of fighting for his country.  His eventual get-out was by becoming a qualified craftsman and seeking citizenship in Christiania.  So, in 1826, aged twenty-two, Balke left Toten and moved to the capital and was accepted as a journeyman by the Lubeck-born painter and engraver, Heinrich August Grosch and studied to become a master painter of the town, thus acquiring citizenship and best of all, be exempt from military service providing he completed his two year course to the satisfaction of Grosch.   Balke tired of working for Grosch switched to working for Jens Funch.  In 1827, with the money he had saved, he enrolled in an elementary drawing class at the Royal School of Drawing and received tuition at the Kongelige Tegneskole from the former military officer and painter Captain Jacob Munch, who was pleased with Balke’s progress.  With his savings almost gone, Balke returned to Toten and asked his benefactor Anders Balke for some financial help.  Anders and two other farm owners decide to financially back Balke, in the form of a letter of guarantee for a sum of money which Balke needed to continue his studies and in return he promised to decorate their farm buildings.

Winter Landscape. Near Vordingborg, by Johan Christian Dahl  (1827)
Winter Landscape. Near Vordingborg, by Johan Christian Dahl (1827)

Balke returned to Christiania and with the letter of guarantee met with Professor Jens Rathke a renowned natural scientist and professor at the university who was well known for his generosity.  He agreed to take the letter of guarantee and lend Balke the funds he needed.   Balke was to late recall that he was never asked to repay the sum he had borrowed and commented on Rathke’s invaluable support:

“… For that as well as for all the other kindnesses that man bestowed on me I have always been and always will be grateful to him…”

Jens Rathke also persuaded Balke to take a trip around large parts of central Norway in order to study nature.  Balke first toured the Telemark area in the south east of the country an area which he later recalled had awakened his profound interest in Norway’s wonderful natural life, and the astonishing beauty it reveals in all directions.  Later he explored central Norway and the Gudbransdalen Valley.  He continually recorded his travels with a large number of sketches which he would later combine in his paintings.

Seascape by Peder Balke (c.1860)
Seascape by Peder Balke (c.1860)

In 1829, military service still loomed large as Balke had not managed to qualify as a painter-decorator within the prescribed two year period.  His only course of action to avoid military service was to try and enrol at an academy and study landscape painting.  Rathke advised Balke to apply to the Stockholm Academy and agreed to finance Balke’s application.  Balke studied for a short time under the Swedish landscape painter, Carl Johan Fahlcrantz.  Whilst in Stockholm Balke visited the summer residence of the country’s ruler Karl Johnan in Djurgärden where he viewed the king’s art collection and was much enamoured by a painting by the German landscape painter, Johan Christian Ezdorf.  Ezdorf, who was also a student of Fahlcrantz, had a great love for the Nordic scenery and often depicted it in his works of art.

Balke was enjoying life in Stockholm and in his memoirs he wrote:

“…I used the time to pay frequent visits to the city’s art academy and art galleries, as well as a number of private collections of paintings where I was made welcome, and I also executed some small paintings which I had the satisfaction of selling…”

In my next blog I will continue to look at the life and works of Peder Balke and examine the reasons why he gave up being a professional artist in favour of politics.

I can recommend an excellent book about the artist and his work entitled Paintings by Peder Balke, from which I derived most of my information about this Norwegian painter.