Florence Ada Fuller

Florence Fuller (1867 – 1946)

The artist I am featuring today is the South African-born, Australian portrait and landscape artist Florence Ada Fuller.  She was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa in 1867, one of several children of Louisa and John Hobson Fuller.  As a child, she emigrated with her family to Melbourne.  In 1883, aged sixteen years of age, Florence attended the National Gallery of Victoria Art School and for two years between 1884 and 1886 she worked part-time as a nanny.

Going Out with the Tide by Robert Hawker Dowling (c.1882)

During this period she received artistic tuition from her English-born uncle Robert Hawker Dowling, a painter of orientalist and Aboriginal subjects, as well as portraits and miniatures. He was Melbourne’s most sought-after portraitist of the early to mid 1880’s

Sir Henry Loch by Robert Hawker Dowling(1885)

One of his portraits was the 1885 one of Sir Henry Loch, later 1st Baron Loch of Drylaw, who was Governor of Victoria from1884 to 1889. This portrait was completed by 1885 and shown in exhibitions in that year.

Barak – last chief of the Yarra Yarra Tribe of Aborigines by Florence Fuller (1885)

In 1885, through the good auspice of her uncle, Florence, then eighteen years old, received a commission from Ann Fraser Bon, the Scottish-born philanthropist and a formidable woman who fought strenuously to protect the limited rights of Aboriginal people.  She asked Florence to complete a formal oil on canvas portrait of William Barak, the leader of the Wurundjeri people, who was also an artist, and who became an advocate and leader in the wider Aboriginal community.  The work was acquired by the State Library of Victoria.  It is interesting to note how two art critics viewed the finished portrait.  One complimented the way in which Fuller avoided romanticising Aboriginal people while another critic said that in his opinion the portrait was an idealisation of the man rather than a truthful portrait.

Amy, the Artist’s Sister by Florence Fuller

In 1886, Robert Dowling, returned to England and Florence gave up her work as a governess and decided to concentrate on her art, opening up her own studio in Melbourne.  For all aspiring artists, to get a wealthy patron is an ideal start to their artistic career and Florence Fuller procured one by a strange turn of fate.  Her uncle who had completed the portrait of Sir Henry Loch had started on a portrait of his wife but had not completed it by the time he went on his visit to London.  Sadly, in 1886, aged fifty-nine, he died shortly after arriving in England.  Florence was then asked by Sir Henry Loch to complete his wife’s portrait, which she did and Lady Loch was so pleased with the end result, she became Fuller’s patron.

Dawn Landscape by Florence Fuller (1905)

Florence later received tuition from the Australian landscape painter, Jane Sutherland.  Sutherland, who had been born in New York, emigrated to Sydney, Australia in 1864 when she was eleven years of age.  She was one of the founding members of the plein-air movement in Australia, and a member of the Heidelberg School, an Australian art movement which has often been described as Australian Impressionism.  Sutherland was also one of few professional female artists and had to constantly strive for equality and fought hard to further the professional reputation of female artists during the late nineteenth century.

Weary by Florence Fuller (1888)

In 1888, Fuller completed a pair of realism paintings featuring poverty.  They were entitled Weary and Desolate and both featured child poverty against the backdrop of a ship berthed at the docks in Melbourne. The powerful imagery of the painting, Weary,  depicting a homeless child was a potent declaration on the disadvantaged in sharp contrast to the booming economy of the Australian city and although similar paintings by English Victorian realist artists were common this artistic work of urban realism was a shaming of Australian society and its injustice and as such, was very unusual. Look how Fuller has included the tattered advertising hoarding, its message frayed and in shreds weathered by time and the elements almost making its messages unintelligible.  The title of the work is based on the poem, Weariness, by Longfellow with its opening lines:

“…O little feet! that such long years

Must wander on through hopes and fears,

Must ache and bleed beneath your load…”

Inseparables by Florence Fuller (1891)

At an exhibition of the Victorian Artists’ Society in 1889 Fuller won a prize for the best portrait by an artist under the age of 25. Another portrait of a child by Fuller which has a happier connotation is her 1890 work Inseparables which depicts a child reading her book.  The joy the child gets from reading is depicted in this warm painting.   One of the interesting things about studying a painting is our “take” on it.  A good example of this is how this painting was viewed by two very different experts.  The work was shown as part of The Edwardians exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia and the curator saw the depiction as a “love of reading”.  On the other hand, the Australian art historian Dr Catherine Speck looked upon the work as being all about “subversion” because it portrayed a young woman reading and by doing so “gaining knowledge” rather than the stereotypical role of a family and home maker.

Lady in a Wicker Chair by Florence Fuller

Another of Fuller’s paintings which focused on the enjoyment of reading was her work Lady in a Wicker Chair.  In the depiction, we see the lady leaning forward, as if someone is coming into the room where she is reading. She ensures that she doesn’t lose the place in her book by marking it with her hand. Look how Fuller has made sure the attention of the viewer is solely on the lady by darkening and blurring the detail of the background.

Sydney Harbour (View Across Double Bay from Darling Point) by Florence Fuller (c. 1920)

In 1892, she, accompanied by her married sister Christie, left Australia, and travelled to Cape Town to recuperate from an illness.  She and her sister were the guests of her uncle Sir Thomas Ekins Fuller, a member of the Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope and it was through him that she was introduced to Cecil Rhodes, the British businessman, mining magnate and South African politician, who served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896.   She left South Africa in 1894 but before she went she completed a painting depicting the home of Cecil Rhodes.  Fuller returned in 1899 and had a number of meetings with Rhodes in order to put together studies for five portraits of him.

Whilst Yet the Days are Wintry by Florence Fuller

In 1894 Florence travelled to Europe.  Her first port of call was Paris where she enrolled at the Académie Julian, where one of her tutors was William-Adolphe Bouguereau.  It was at a time when French art schools had just recently opened their doors to women.  This was not a popular move with many of the male artists, who felt threatened and the aspiring female painters were often held in contempt by some of the male tutors.  The female students at the Académie often suffered from lowly and congested conditions.  Whilst there, she exhibited her work at the Paris Salon in 1896 and again in 1897.  Her works were also exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1897 and later in 1904, as well as being hung at exhibitions at the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and the Manchester City Art Gallery.

The Swan River, Perth by Florence Fuller (c.1904)

She returned to Australia in 1904 and for the next five years lived in Perth, where her sister Amy lived.  Fuller held an exhibition of 41 works in Perth in 1905, and the newspaper proprietor Winthrop Hackett described one of her paintings, Early Morning, which was later purchased for the Art Gallery of Western Australia:

“…it is probably the greatest success in the domain of pure impressionism … because of its pure tone, its admirable perspective and its strongly vivid reproduction of that mysterious and evanescent but always brilliant colouring that is momentarily lent by the sunrise…”

A Golden Hour by Florence Fuller (1905)

In 1905, she completed a painting entitled A Golden Hour.  When the National Gallery of Australia bought the painting in 2013 they described it as:

“…a masterpiece … giving us a gentle insight into the people, places and times that make up our history…”

The depiction is of a tranquil early evening, the end of a beautiful day.  The sun is slowly setting and it gives off a warm glow over the xanthorrhoea, grasses and wildflowers, and lights up the trunks of the white gum trees. In the midground we see a couple walking side by side through the wildflowers towards the valley. Look at the mountains and the sky in the background which have been painted in many pink tones, adding tranquillity to the scene.  If we close our eyes we can sense this calmness, this serenity, and soon our imagination even allows us to hear the sound of birds as they circle the gum trees.  The setting of the landscape is the Darling Ranges in Western Australia, and the couple we see in the painting are John Winthrop Hackett, businessman, philanthropist and owner of the West Australian newspaper, and his new wife Deborah Vernon Hackett, née Drake-Brockman, who had married Hackett in 1905, when she was just eighteen years of age, much to the horror of her family. When exhibited in October 1905 the art critic for The Western Australian newspaper called the painting the pièce de résistance of Fuller’s exhibition. Many of the art critics of the time were also complimentary with regards to the work, citing the expertly balanced composition and the masterful way Fuller had depicted the hills and sky but most of all praised ‘the wonderful light effects which they referred to as ‘the golden glories of late afternoon’.

Deborah Vernon Hackett by Florence Fuller (c.1908)

The lady depicted in A Golden Hour also appeared in another painting by Florence Fuller, entitled Portrait of Deborah Vernon Hackett, which she completed around 1908.  Hackett was born in West Guildford, Western Australia, in 1887, she was the daughter of surveyor Frederick Slade Drake-Brockman and heroine Grace Vernon Bussell and younger sister of Edmund Drake-Brockman.  On August 3rd 1905, at the age of 18, she married Sir John Winthrop Hackett who was forty years her senior much to the annoyance of her family. He was a newspaper proprietor, newspaper editor, and prominent Western Australian politician.  Fuller depicted Hackett compassionately.  The portrayal capturing the young woman’s grace and charm. But she also conveyed the complexity of the twenty-one-year old woman’s character through the contrast between the femininity of her soft, pale-blue dress and the dramatic black hat.  She gazes directly at us.  It is a somewhat piercing expression questioning why we are staring at her.

Girl with a Doll by Florence Fuller (1890)

Florence Fuller joined the local theosophy society in Perth in May 1905, after attending a talk given by the enigmatic theosophist Charles Webster Leadbeater.  Fuller’s time was taken up by the local branch of the society variously holding the positions of secretary, treasurer, and librarian of the local branch.  She went on to paint many portraits of the leaders of the Theosophical Society.  In 1911, she travelled to London and three years later journeyed to India and visited Adyar, the headquarters of the Theosophical Society.

Florence Fuller in her Studio

Later that year Fuller returned to NSW and settled in Mosman where she mainly painted miniatures.  In 1920, the Society of Women Painters in New South Wales established a School of Fine and Applied Arts, with Florence Fuller appointed as the inaugural teacher of life classes.  Fuller began to suffer from mental illness, which deteriorated over time, and in 1927, at the age of sixty, she was committed to Gladesville Mental Asylum where she died nearly two decades later, on July 17th 1946, aged seventy-nine. She was buried at Rookwood Cemetery, New South Wales.

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Sophie Gengembre Anderson

Sophie Gengembre Anderson

The art genre I am highlighting today gets very mixed responses from people  One either loves or hates the depictions. On one hand, the depictions are looked upon as delightful portraits of innocence and on the other they are viewed as mawkish, fluffy, and oversentimental.   As always, the choice is yours, for, as we know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Let me introduce you to a foremost exponent of child portraiture and one whose style has often been compared to the Pre-Raphaelite painters or the French artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau Today my featured artist is the French-born English Victorian nineteenth century painter Sophie Gengembre Anderson.

Landscape by Charles Gengembre

Sophie was born in Paris in 1823. She was the first-born child of Charles Antoine Colomb Gengembre, a French architect, engineer and landscape artist and his English wife. Gengembre’s career as an architect began at the age of nineteen and he worked primarily on municipal commissions, such as the Mint of the City of Cassel, which he designed and helped to build. In 1814, aged twenty-four, he won second place in the Architecture category of the Grand Prix de Rom. In 1830, during the three-day July Revolution (révolution de Juillet), which saw the overthrow of King Charles X, Gengembre suffered a bayonet wound to his leg. This harrowing event occurred on the same day his son and second child, Philip, was born. Following this incident, he decided to take his family out of France and they went to live in London where he worked as an architect for the French Utopian Socialist, Charles Fourier. Gengembre and his family did eventually return to his homeland and they went to live in a small town in a remote part of France with his family, but because of his participation in the earlier revolution he was always under threat.

Its Touch and Go to Laugh or No by Sophie Anderson (1857)

When she was seventeen years of age, Sophie Gengembre Anderson received some art lessons from an itinerant portrait artist who had visited the small town where she lived. In 1843, whilst staying with friends in Paris, she received some portraiture and figurative training from Baron Charles Auguste Steuben, the German-born French Romantic painter and lithographer, but mostly, she was self-taught. In 1845 her brother Henry was born.

The Bird’s Nest by Sophie Anderson

Three years later, in 1848 another French Revolution broke out – this one, sometimes known as the February Revolution, was one of a wave of revolutions that were happening  in Europe at the time and one which ended the Orleans monarchy and led to the creation of the French Second Republic. Fearing for his life and that of his family, the Gengembre family left France and went to live in Cincinnati. Once settled in America Sophie began to earn money by taking on portraiture commissions from well-to-do families around the neighbourhood. Her artistic talent was soon recognised and in 1849 she began to exhibit her work at the Western Art Union Gallery in Cincinnati.  It was while collaborating on an album of portraits of the Protestant Episcopal Bishops of the United States that she met the British artist Walter Anderson.

Historical Collections of the Great West by Henry Howe

Walter Anderson was an English painter, lithographer, and engraver. He was a painter of still lifes, landscapes and genre work and had moved to Cincinnati in 1849 where he met Sophie.   She and Walter collaborated on many illustrative commissions including her work on illustrations for Henry Howe’s Historical Collections of the Great West, which was published in 1851. She also worked for Louis Prang and Company which specialised in chromolithography, a technique for making multi-colour prints.

A Stitch in Time by Walter Anderson (1890)

 Sophie and her family left Cincinnati in 1853, closely followed by Walter Anderson who was by this time engaged to Sophie, and the couple settled down in Manchester, a neighbourhood of Allegheny just north of Pittsburgh. In 1854 Sophie and Walter travelled to England where they married. Whilst there she entered paintings into the exhibitions held by the Society of British Artists and later exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts.

No Walk Today by Sophie Anderson (1856)

In 1856 Sophie produced one of her best loved and most famous works, entitled No Walk Today. The work is testament to Sophie’s fine attention to detail. It is almost photographic in quality. One cannot help but be mesmerised by the amount of work she has put into the detail of the lace curtains we see behind the child. Look at the child. By the way she is dressed, she appears to be part of a wealthy family. She wears her outdoor clothes as a prelude to setting off on a walk but we can see by her facial expression, all is not well ! The inclement weather has curtailed any thoughts of going out of the house and the sullen and disappointed expression on her face perfectly sums up feelings.

Victorian Painting book cover

The painting was reproduced on the cover of Graham Reynolds’s important 1966 book Victorian Painting. The work was bought in 1926 by David Montagu Douglas Scott, a grandson of the 5th Duke of Buccleuch for fourteen guineas. It was an astute buy as this painting genre at the time had fallen out of favour, hence the low purchase price. In November 2008, the painting was sold at Sotheby’s, London for a world record price, for her work, of more than £1 million pounds.

The Children’s Story Book by Sophie Gengembre Anderson

Her painting Children’s Story Book was one of her works which depicts the joy of everyday life. In this work, we see a group of country children who are reading from a story book. By the way they are dressed and by the holes in the boy’s socks which he pokes his fingers through, we must deduce that they are poor. Despite such poverty we are left in no doubt that they are very happy. The boy fools around craving attention whilst the four female children are reading or listening to a story. I suppose this could be seen as a very stereotypical view ! The tallest and presumably the oldest of the girls is carrying a baby. This type of depiction was popular at the time. For many it was the stereotypical idyllic image of the English countryside, the innocence of childhood and the maintaining of old-fashioned standards. Such utopian ideas were clung to by many in the face of the onset of rapid industrialisation.

Young Girl with Pomegranates by Sophie Gengembre Anderson

The couple returned to Pennsylvania in 1858 for a long visit with Sophie’s family, during which time she exhibited at the Pittsburgh Artist’s Association in 1859 and 1860, and it was in that latter year that she and Walter both had work exhibited at the National Academy of Design. The couple returned to London in 1863 where they remained until 1871.

Take the Fair Face of Woman, and Gently Suspending, with Butterflies, Flowers, and Jewels Attending by Sophie Anderson (1869)

In 1869 Sophie Anderson completed a painting depicting a fairy and the title of the work, Take the Fair Face of Woman, and Gently Suspending, With Butterflies, Flowers, and Jewels Attending, Thus Your Fairy is Made of Most Beautiful Things,  which some believe was based on a passage from a poem by Charles Ede.

Elaine by Sophie Anderson (1870)

In 1870, Sophie completed a work entitled Elaine. The work is based on Tennyson’s cycle of twelve narrative poems by the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King which retells the legend of King Arthur, his knights, his love for Guinevere, her tragic betrayal of him, and the rise and fall of Arthur’s kingdom. In this depiction, it is all about Elaine who fell in love with Sir Lancelot but, sadly for her, he abandoned her in favour of Queen Guinevere. Elaine died of unrequited love and here we see her faithful dumb servant rowing her to King Arthur’s palace at Camelot. In her hand she clutches a lily, representing purity, and a letter expressing her undying love for Lancelot.  It is a large painting, measuring 158 x 241cms (62” x 95”) and it was very unusual in the late nineteenth century for female artists to paint such grand history paintings. The Liverpool City Council selected this painting for purchase at the first of their Autumn Exhibition.

Capri Girl with Flowers by Sophie Anderson (1881)

Because of Sophie’s health problems he and her husband decided to move to a warmer climate and in 1871 relocated to Capri and lived in Villa Castello, a beautiful house with an extensive garden which was an ideal setting for entertaining fellow artists. Capri was a popular location for artists and at some time was home to the likes of Frederic Leighton, John Singer Sargent, and the French artists, Edouard Alexandre Sain, and Jean Benner.

The Song by Sophie Gengembre Anderson (1881)

In 1881, whilst on Capri, she completed a work entitled The Song. In this painting, we see three young women dressed in roman costume in a wooded clearing. All the women are dressed in Greco-Roman style clothes. One is playing a lyre and singing while the others recline and listen attentively. This scene could have  a possible allegorical tone to it or may simply be a scene from every-day Roman life. Whichever is the case, this type of depiction was very popular in the nineteenth century especially with the middle classes who liked to show off their knowledge of Roman and Greek history. There is also a possibility that this depiction had moral connotations as during Victorian times the inclusion of the lyre or harp came to symbolise a faithful woman. The painting was exhibited the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition in 1881.

The Turtle Dove by Sophie Anderson

Walter and Sophie Anderson moved back to England in 1894 and settled into Wood Lane Cottage in the seaside town of Falmouth, Cornwall. They both continued to paint and exhibit their work in London. Sophie Gengembre Anderson died at home in Falmouth, aged eighty, on the 10th March 1903, just two months after the passing of her husband of thirty-nine years, Walter. Their bodies lie together in the same grave at Swanvale cemetery in Falmouth. It is not known for sure whether the couple had any children but it is often speculated that some of her child paintings were depiction of their daughters.

The Last Tribute Of Love by Sophie Anderson

In Victorian days ladies were not expected to have careers but with Walter Anderson’s support Sophie Anderson managed to do just that and, furthermore, was very successful.  So I return to my original question about her art – love it or hate it?

Alice Neel. Part 6. The latter years

 Alice Neel (1900-1984)
Alice Neel
(1900-1984)

Alice Neel had been receiving money for her involvement with the Works Project Administration (WPA).  The WPA was the largest and most ambitious American New Deal agency, employing millions of unemployed people, mostly unskilled men, to carry out public works projects.  The WPA employed musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects.  At its height in 1936, this federal project, the Federal Art Project employed over 5,300 artists. The Arts Service Division created illustrations and posters for the WPA writers, musicians, and theatres. However, with the onset of World War II, mass unemployment ended as millions of men joined the services and so President Roosevelt decided that there was no longer a need for such a national relief programme and the WPA was closed down at the end of 1942.  Alice was out of work and had then to turn to the state for public assistance which she kept drawing on for the next decade.

Photograph of Alice Neel sitting before her paintings which was used in the inviation to the exhibition
Photograph of Alice Neel sitting before her paintings which was used in the inviation to the exhibition

In March 1944 Alice held a solo exhibition at the New York Pinacotheca Gallery run by Rose Fried.  This was her first solo exhibition since 1938.  There were twenty-four of her works on display. The exhibition received mixed reviews.  An article in the prestigious art magazine, ArtNews, described her work:

“…Neel’s paintings at Pinacotheca have a kind of deliberate hideousness which make them hard to take even for persons who admire her creative independence … Nor does the intentional gaucherie of her figures lend them added expression. However, this is plainly serious, thoughtful work and in the one instance of The Walk, it comes off extremely well…”

As Bob Dylan once said The Times They are a-changin and this was the point in time that Alice Neel found herself.  After the 1944 Alice Neel’s retrospective exhibition at the Pinacotheca, gallery director Rose Fried never showed anything with a figure in it.  According to Neel, Rose had become a pure abstractionist and the works that Alice produced were no longer wanted.  The art world was changing; it had almost completely turned its back on Social Realism which had been the art form that had made Neel’s work so popular in the 1930’s.  So, Alice had to change but as another famous lady politician once said, “this lady is not for turning” and Alice likewise would not change her artistic style to suit others. In an interview with Eleanor Munro for her 1979 book Originals, American Women Artists, Neel is quoted as saying:

“…I never followed any school.  I never imitated any artist.  I never did any of that…”

Sam and Hartley By Alice Neel
Sam and Hartley By Alice Neel

For Alice Neel, she knew what she wanted to paint and nobody or nothing was going to alter her artistic desires even though New York was now awash with European émigré artists who were leaders in the world of Cubism, Dadaism and Surrealism such as Max Ernst, André Breton, Marcel Duchamp and Salvador Dali, all of who had fled across the Atlantic to avoid the rise of Nazism.  Alfred Barr had founded the MOMA and in October 1942, millionaire, Peggy Guggenheim, who was married to Max Ernst, had arrived in New York from war-torn Europe had opened a new gallery/museum.   It was called The Art of This Century Gallery.  The Art of This Century Gallery was situated at 30 West 57th Street in Manhattan and occupied two commercial spaces on the seventh floor of a building that was part of the midtown arts district which included the Museum of Modern Art, and three of the four galleries were dedicated to Cubist and Abstract art, Surrealism and Kinetic art, with only the fourth, the front room, being a commercial gallery.

During the 1950’s Alice Neel was kept under surveillance by the FBI.  In a memo from their Miami office based on a 1954 letter sent to them by an informant they concluded that Alice Neel was:

“…a muddled romantic, Bohemian type Communist idealist who will carry out loyally the Communist sympathiser type of assignment, including illegal work if ordered to do so…”

Their file on her and her activities remained open until the early 1960’s.

My Mother by Alice Neel (1952)
My Mother by Alice Neel (1952)

In March 1953, Alice’s mother comes to live with her in her Spanish Harlem apartment.  Sadly a year later Alice snr. aged 86, died from complications brought on by a broken hip.  For Alice, this was yet another traumatic moment in her life  She had always had to battle with depression and the death of her mother triggered the onset of the debilitating malaise for the next few years.  Physically she put on weight and sought the comfort of alcohol.

Alice often complained that she could not get any gallery space for her works of art.  She painted prolifically but still wanted to exhibit them.  The problem was that her genre of art had lost its appeal with the public.  She was going through a difficult period with mental health issues and was attending therapy sessions with a psychologist, Dr Anthony Sterrett.  He spent time with her trying to make her become more self-confident and self-assertive and it was he who persuaded Alice to contact Frank O’Hara to see if he would sit for her.  O’Hara was an American writer poet and art critic who was working as a reviewer for the prestigious art magazine, Artnews, and who, in 1960 was Assistant Curator of Painting and Sculpture Exhibitions for the Museum of Modern Art.  This position at the MOMA made him a prominent figure in New York City’s art world. He was looked upon as a leading figure in the New York School, which was an informal group of artists, writers and musicians who drew inspiration from jazz, surrealism, abstract expressionism, action painting and contemporary avant-garde art movements.

Frank O'Hara by Alice Neel (1960)
Frank O’Hara by Alice Neel (1960)

Alice completed two portraits of O’Hara in 1960 and they were looked upon as her breakthrough works.  In the painting, Frank O’Hara, Alice has beautifully and faithfully captured his distinguishing and unique profile.  The side view is hawk-like which is softened slightly by the bunch of lilac behind his head.

Frank O'Hara No.2 by Alice Neel (1960)
Frank O’Hara No.2 by Alice Neel (1960)

In stark contrast, the second portrait, Frank O’Hara No.2 is a more shocking depiction of the man.  Our eyes are immediately drawn to his bad teeth, which looked like tombstones, his sharp nose and somewhat wild eyes.  To be brutally honest, at first, he comes over as being ugly, even, dare I say, repulsive, but there is a vulnerability about Neel’s depiction of him.

Six years later, in the early morning hours of July 24, 1966, O’Hara was struck by a jeep on the Fire Island beach, after the beach taxi in which he had been riding with a group of friends broke down in the dark.  He died the following day.

Kate Millett by Alice Neel (1970)
Kate Millett by Alice Neel (1970)

In America, the 60’s was dominated by the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War with its protests which swept the country.  It was also a time when the second wave of the modern feminist movement emerged.  It was a time when there was the growing cry for equal opportunity for women and it soon became one which could not be ignored.   Enter Katherine Murray “Kate” Millett, best known as Kate Millett.  She was an American feminist writer, educator, artist, and activist. She attended Oxford University and was the first American woman to be awarded a postgraduate degree with first-class honours by St. Hilda’s.  She is probably best known for her ground-breaking 1970 book Sexual Politics, which was her doctoral dissertation at Columbia University.

Time magazine cover
Time magazine cover

This book became a bible for feminism and feminist protest was such a hot topic that in August 1970, Time magazine decided that Kate would be the face of the feminist movement and therefore should appear on the cover of their magazine.  Millet was unimpressed by the way she was heralded as the embodiment of the movement and refused to pose for a painting by Alice Neel which would be used for the cover.  She believed that no one person could presume to represent the objectives of the feminist movement.  Time magazine was not to be put off by her refusal and instead asked Neel to complete the portrait, using a photograph.  After the publication of the magazine Alice Neel and her art was always linked with the feminist movement but as Alice once quipped, she had been a feminist before there was feminism!

Andy Warhol by Alice Neel (1970)
Andy Warhol by Alice Neel (1970)

The year 1970 was also the year that Alice Neel painted one of her most famous works, a depiction of Andy Warhol.  The painting can be found at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and rather than me trying to describe the painting I have reproduced the words of the museum’s audio-guide which was put together by Trevor Fairbrother, an independent curator and writer:

“…It’s an interesting year for both of these artists. Alice Neel was seventy years old when she painted it, and in a sense, was just hitting her stride as an important American realist. She’d had an incredible career since the thirties, but she hadn’t really had much recognition until the wave of feminist interest in the arts in the sixties. And suddenly she was a forebear for a whole new generation of feminist artists and writers.  The late sixties were much harder on Warhol. He’d been shot two years before Neel painted this portrait—an attempted assassination by a member of his artistic circle. In posing shirtless for Neel, he exposes the corset that he was required to wear for the rest of his life. He also bares his aging body, his chest sagging so that he almost appears to have breasts.  She shows him—I think it’s this kind of essence of loneliness and vulnerability, but at the same time I think she knows that he knows that everybody is looking at him. He was very much invested in famous artists. He wanted to be a kind of brand-name Pop artist, and he certainly is that now, long after his death. He, Warhol, in a sense is rising to her challenge to sit for her, to be painted and to take his clothes off. And so, in a sense, he’s doing a brave thing, but he’s also―he’s getting through it by shutting his eyes and being very focused internally.  I think part of the soulfulness of this picture is the fact that it might seem unfinished. I wouldn’t say it’s unfinished. I think she decided she had what she needed, and she stopped where she was ready to stop. The picture doesn’t need more…” 

Fame came to Alice Neel late in life and she believed she had the right to bask in the glory.  Her son Hartley recounted his mother’s feelings about this sudden fame:

“…She felt it was something she deserved.  She basked in it.  She really enjoyed it.  When we were young, she struggled, waiting around for some critic to review her work, up or down.  All of the sudden they were saying good things about her.  Her paintings were on the walls, and people were buying her work.  It was all different.  She wasn’t bitter.  She had a very upbeat attitude toward the whole thing…”

Self-portrait by Alice Neel (1980)
Self-portrait by Alice Neel (1980)

On October 14th 1980 at the Harald Reed Gallery on East 78th Street in New York a benefit dinner for the Third Street Music School Settlement was being held at which was the debut of an art exhibition entitled Selected 20th Century American Self Portraits, one of which was Alice Neel’s nude self-portrait which she had begun five years earlier.

She looks out at us completely oblivious or unconcerned about what we are thinking about why an eighty-year-old woman would want to depict herself naked.  Does she feel vulnerable?  There is no sign of that in her facial expression, in fact Neel’s steely gaze rivets us.  She exudes an air of self-confidence, despite her less than picture-perfect body.  We see her sitting regally in an upholstered chair with its hard vertical-striped arms which tend to accentuate her yielding and bounteous rolls of flesh.   It is a “warts and all” portrait.   She does not hide the visible signs of aging.  Instead she has decided to reveal herself with characteristic truthfulness and somewhat defencelessness. Yet there is also a sense of pride in this depiction.  In her right hand she holds a paintbrush whilst her left hand grasps a rag and, as we see no easel or canvas in the depiction, the two serve as artistic elements. The only personal accessory depicted is the presence of her eyeglasses which may have been added by her to remind us of her frailty and that she has passed her prime.

The painting was of course controversial and caused a stir but it also was testament that it was an audacious work by an artist who at the time was at the top of her form.  The other unusual aspect of this work was that beside a few pencil-sketched self-portraits, it was her first self-portrait painting.  The painting now resides at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington.

Loneliness by Alice Neel (1970)
Loneliness by Alice Neel (1970)

In 1970 Alice completed a work entitled Loneliness, which she ironically referred to as a “self-portrait”.  It was about this time that her younger son Hartley had married Ginny and moved to Massachusetts.

Ginny in a Striped Shirt by Alice Neel (1969)
Ginny in a Striped Shirt by Alice Neel (1969)

Throughout her life Alice continued with her portraits of her family.  Her future daughter-in-law, Hartley’s wife, Ginny featured in her 1969 work, Ginny in a Striped Shirt.  Ginny was a feminist who looked upon Alice as a role model and they became good friends even before she became involved with Hartley.

Pregnant Woman by Alice Neel (1971)
Pregnant Woman by Alice Neel (1971)

Her other daughter-in-law, Nancy, Richard’s wife and Alice’s assistant during the last two decades of her life, was depicted in Alice’s 1971 painting, Pregnant Woman.  In the work, we see an image of her husband looming in the background.

In 1980 Alice Neel’s physical health takes a turn for the worse and after a series of tests it is decided that she had to be fitted with a pacemaker to regulate her heart rate. Four years later in 1984, during a routine visit to the Massachusetts General Hospital to have her pacemaker checked, X-rays indicate that she has advanced colon cancer which has already spread to her liver. She immediately undergoes surgery and afterwards returns to Vermont to stay with Hartley, Ginny and their children while she recuperates.

From the Spring to the Summer of 1984 she returns to New York and Spring Lake. With the help of her son and his wife, Richard and Nancy, and despite her rapidly deteriorating health, she continues with her busy schedule including an appearance on the Johnny Carson Show

Among her many commitments, interviews for the ArtNews article continue, and, on June 19th, she makes a second appearance on ‘The Tonight Show’ during which she insists that Johnny Carson visit her in New York to sit for a portrait. In July, she had to receive chemotherapy which further weakened her.  Despite her weakened condition, she continues to paint.

Alice Neel died in her Upper West Side Manhattan apartment on October 13th 1984 surrounded by her family and was buried in a private burial ceremony at a cemetery near her studio in Vermont.  On February 7th 1985, a memorial service for her is held at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

My look at the life and works of Alice Neel has been a long journey stretching over six blogs and yet I know I have missed so much out about her life and because she was a prolific artist I know I have only scratched at the surface with regards her works of art.  I have been careful not to be judgemental with regards her lifestyle which probably added to her problems but she had a difficult and often sad life which often was beyond her endurance.  She however always wanted to do her own thing and I leave you with one of her quotes:

“…”I had a very hard life, and I paid the price for it, but I did as I wanted,” Miss Neel said then. ”I’m a high-powered person…”  

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I have used numerous internet sources to put together this and the other blogs on the life and art of Alice Neel and I am currently reading a fascinating book about the artist by Phoebe Hoban entitled Alice Neel: The Art of Not Sitting Pretty. It is a very interesting read and one I can highly recommend.

Alice Neel’s art is being shown at several exhibitions in America but there are also a series of exhibitions of her work travelling around Europe at the current time including one I am due to visit next month:

Gemeentemuseum, Den Haag, Holland

(November 5th, 2016 – February 12th 2017)

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 3. Patrons and portraiture

In May 1816, Christoffer Eckersberg left Rome and headed home to Copenhagen.  During his homeward journey he stopped off at Dresden where he met up with the German Romantic painter, Casper David Friedrich.  Eckersberg finally arrived back in Copenhagen in August 1816.  His reputation as a leading painter of his time was all he could have wished for and soon commissions were rolling in.  Probably the most prestigious of these was a commission to paint four large works for the Throne Chamber of the magnificent baroque palace of Christiansborg which showed scenes from the history of the House of Oldenburg.  This commission earned him the nomenclature of “court painter”.

Duke Adolf declines the offer to be Danish king by Christoffer Eckersberg (1821) (43 x 39cms) Private collection
Duke Adolf declines the offer to be Danish king by Christoffer Eckersberg (1821)
(43 x 39cms)
Private collection

One of these works was Duke Adolf declining the offer to be King of Denmark which he completed in 1819.  The story behind this event is that in January 1448, King Christopher of Denmark, Sweden and Norway died suddenly and had no natural heirs. His death resulted in the break-up of the union of the three kingdoms, with Denmark and Sweden going their separate ways. Denmark had now to find a successor to the vacant Danish throne and so the Council of the Realm turned to to Duke Adolphus of Schleswig, as he was the most prominent feudal lord of Danish dominions. However Adolphus, who by that time was forty-seven years old and childless, declined the offer but instead supported the candidacy of his sister’s son, the Count Christian of Oldenburg.  Christian was elected King Christian I of Denmark and his coronation followed a year later in October 1449. In the painting we see Duke Adolphus declining the offer as he points to the portrait of his nephew, Christian, which is hanging on the wall in the background.

Mendel Levin Nathanson by Christoffer Eckersberg (1819) (32 x 28cms) Museum of National History at Fredericksborg Castle
Mendel Levin Nathanson by Christoffer Eckersberg (1819)
(32 x 28cms)
Museum of National History at Fredericksborg Castle

In October 1817 Eckersberg became a member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.  This allowed him to apply for any position as professor at the Model School of Charlottenborg, which was the home of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.  Whilst Eckersberg had been travelling around Europe he had been funded by a number of patrons and on his return home he decide to repay their generosity by completing portraits of them and their family.  One of Eckersberg’s most important and generous benefactors was Mendel Levin Nathanson.   He had arrived in Copenhagen aged twelve as a poor Jewish immigrant.  Nathanson rose to become a wealthy Danish merchant, editor, and economist who from an early age established himself in business.  At the age of twenty-six he became associated with the large Copenhagen banking firm of Meyer & Trier.  He was also a leading patron of the arts.   He was an author of books on economics as well as the country’s mercantile history but was probably best known for his advocacy of the Jewish cause. Nathanson was editor of the Berlingske Tidende one of the big three national newspapers from 1838 to 1858 and from 1865 to 1866.  Eckersberg completed the portrait of Nathanson in 1819.

The Nathanson Family by Christoffer Eckersberg (1818) (126 x 173cms) Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen
The Nathanson Family by Christoffer Eckersberg (1818)
(126 x 173cms)
Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Another of Nathanson’s commissions for Eckersberg was to get the artist to complete a group family portrait, a task he completed in 1818.  The depiction was of Nathanson, his wife and their eight children.  It was simply entitled The Nathanson Family and the portrait was the most densely peopled and involved work ever attempted by Eckersberg.  Nathanson was quite specific about what he wanted the painting to reveal about himself and his family.  It was to be a depiction which would tell of his affluence and status in the country.

The Nathanson Family (Preliminary sketch) by Christoffer Eckersberg (1818)
The Nathanson Family (Preliminary sketch) by Christoffer Eckersberg (1818)

Eckersberg’s original idea, as seen in a preliminary sketch, was to depict the whole family dancing, highlighting a close and harmonious family connection,  a family who enjoyed each other’s company but this idea failed to satisfy Nathanson.  For Nathanson the depiction must depict a family of stature and wealth.  It was paramount to depict his own prominent position in Danish society as a merchant and an integrated Jew.  He again spoke to Eckersberg to remind him how he wanted the family to be depicted.   The family members in the finished painting are shown, in a line, blatantly parading themselves before us in a stage-like manner.  On the left hand side the depiction focuses on the private life of the children, at play, dancing and one daughter is seen playing the piano.  The children’s activity is interrupted by the arrival home of Nathanson and his wife from an audience with the Queen having enjoyed the family tradition of some royal entertainment.  There is a sartorial elegance about the velvet-like clothing Nathanson and his wife are wearing and this of course brings home to the viewer of the painting the social and financial class of the couple.  The whole scene is a juxtaposition of two visual aspects of Nathanson’s life – the loving husband and father with his happy children and the successful businessman who has access to the Royal Court.  In the portrait Nathanson stares out at us inviting us into his house to witness all that belongs to him.  His wife stands next to him, somewhat aloof, as the children, who have  interrupted their playing to run and greet her.

Bella and Hanna. Mendel Levin Nathanson's Elder Daughters by Christoffer Eckersberg (1820) (125 x 85cms) Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen
Bella and Hanna. Mendel Levin Nathanson’s Elder Daughters by Christoffer Eckersberg (1820)
(125 x 85cms)
Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen

In 1820 Eckersberg completed another portrait for Nathanson.  This time it is one depicting his two daughters, Bella and Hanna.   For many artists who have been asked to complete a portrait the decision as to how the sitter should be portrayed is a question which has to be carefully answered.  Should it be an en face depiction or a profile depiction?  In this work Eckersberg has solved the problem by having the daughter, who is standing, portrayed en face whilst the seated daughter is shown in profile.   Although it would not be that unusual to see the likeness of the two daughters in this case, could it be that Eckersberg has emphasized the similarities to such a degree that it almost looks as it is the portrait of a single person seen from two different angles.  On the table we see a parrot in a cage.  Is this just an additional ornamentation which lacks meaning?  Actually many believe it is symbolic and that it is all about the two young ladies who are at an age when marriage is on the horizon whilst other believe there is a definite similarity between the shape of the cage and the shape of the girls’ faces

Hans Christian Ørsted by Christoffer Eckersberg (1822) (53 x 43cms) Danish Museum of Science and Technology, Helsingør
Hans Christian Ørsted by Christoffer Eckersberg (1822)
(53 x 43cms)
Danish Museum of Science and Technology, Helsingør

Another of Eckersberg’s interesting portraits is Hans Christian Ørsted which he  completed in 1822.  It is a medium sized head and shoulder portrait which can now be found at the Danish Museum of Science and Technology in the eastern Danish town of Helsingør.  This is a good example of Eckersberg’s ability as a portraitist as to how he precisely and truthfully depicts his sitter.  It is a realistically accurate depiction of the man, as confirmed by his wife. The depiction of Ørsted facial expression is one of contemplation which concurs with the views that Ørsted was a great “thinker”.  Other than that expression on Ørsted’s face, it disregards the modus operandi of many portrait artists past and present who feel the need to incorporate into the portrait their perceived notion of the sitter’s psychological persona and by doing so they are happy to lose some of the physical accuracy of the person.   I know I am in the minority when I say, that for me, a portrait needs to be real and recognisable.   I am often told that as I am not an artist I do not understand portraiture !

Hans Christian Ørsted was an acclaimed international scientist born in 1777 who made the discovery that electric currents created magnetic fields which would later be known as Ørsted’s Law.  Eckersberg tells us more about the man, not by the way he “adjusts” the portrait but by using the tried and trusted method of including items in the portrait which relate to the man.  In his hand we see Ørsted holding a metal Chladni plate on which is sprinkled powder.  The powder has now formed a pattern on the surface of it, which is the result of a violin bow,  which can be seen on the table in the left foreground, being scraped against the edge of the plate.  The catalogue raisoneé of Eckersberg works does not indicate any payment for the portrait and it was probably a gift from Eckersberg to Ørsted as the two endured a long friendship after they had met in Paris years earlier.

Portrait of Bertel Thorvaldsen wearing the habit and Insignia of the San Luca Academy by Christoffer Eckersberg (1814) (91 x 74cms) The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts
Portrait of Bertel Thorvaldsen wearing the habit and Insignia of the San Luca Academy by Christoffer Eckersberg (1814)
(91 x 74cms)
The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts

When Eckersberg stayed in Rome we know he stayed in a lodging house which also accommodated the great Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen and the two became good friends.  One of Eckersberg’s most famous and inspired portraits, which he completed in 1814, was of Thorvladsen.  It was entitled Portrait of Bertel Thorvaldsen wearing the habit and Insignia of the San Luca Academy.  At the time, Thorvaldsen was regarded as the most important sculptor in Rome and in 1804 he became a member of the Florence Academy of Art and a year later a member of the Danish Art Academy.  In this portrait, we see Thorvaldsen bedecked in the official robes of the Academia di San Luca in Rome, of which he had been a member since 1808. This prestigious academy was founded in 1577 and as such  is among the oldest academies in Europe with its roots being traced to the first statutes written in 1478 for the guild of painters named Compagnia di San Lucca. The robes we see Thorvaldsen wearing provide the portrait with the nuance of an artist who is continuing the work of a long Roman tradition.  There is no doubt that the message we can take from the way Eckersberg depicted his friend is the artist’s great admiration for the sculptor and all that he had achieved.  Eckersberg, like many admirers of Thorvaldsen, looked upon him as a visionary and the artist has tried to capture that aspect in the sculptor’s contemplative facial expression.  Such admiration for Thorvaldsen’s work can be seen by the way Eckersberg has included Thorvaldsen’s most famous piece of sculpture, the Alexander Frieze, which can be seen in the background.  Eckersberg was so happy with the finished portrait that he sent it to Denmark as a gift to the Copenhagen Academy.  This generous gesture probably had a more ulterior motive, that of proving of his artistic ability to the academicians.

The Double Portrait of Count Preben Bille-Braheand his second wife Johanne Caroline neé FalbeZ by Christoffer Eckersberg (1817) (61 x 50cms) Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek
The Double Portrait of Count Preben Bille-Braheand his second wife Johanne Caroline neé FalbeZ by Christoffer Eckersberg (1817)
(61 x 50cms)
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

Eckersberg’s many portraits were not just of male sitters.  Portraiture was a great way of making money and many commissions came to him when he returned to Copenhagen.  The next painting I am showcasing is The Double Portrait of Count Preben Bille-Braheand his second wife Johanne Caroline neé Falbe which he completed in 1817 and is now housed in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen.  Eckersberg had been awarded the Academy’s Gold Medal in 1809 and with it came funds to cover the cost of European travel.  However the money did not become available to him until 1812 but he wanted to set off to Paris immediately and so had to turn to some wealthy sponsors to lend him the money he needed to start his journey.  One such benefactor was Count Preben Bille-Brahe, a wealthy Danish landowner.  On his return to Copenhagen Eckersberg repaid Count Preben Bille-Brahe’s generous support for his European journey by painting a double portrait of the count and his second wife, Double Portrait of Count Preben Billie-Brahe and his Second Wife, Johanne Caroline, neé Falbe.  Although their social status was to be part of the aristocracy, Eckersberg has managed a more commonplace depiction of the couple, which he used when he depicted the middle-class in his portraiture, enhancing the view that they were just real people.  Having said that, the male sitter with the ruddy cheeks looks resplendent in his brown tailcoat, the buff waistcoat with its lower fastening unbuttoned.

Jesus and the Little Children by Christoffer Eckersberg (c. 1810) Altarpiece for the Home Church at Funen
Jesus and the Little Children by Christoffer Eckersberg (c. 1810)
Altarpiece for the Home Church at Funen

Eckersberg had met Count Preben Bille-Brahe in 1810 during the first part of his European journey to Paris.  He stopped off at his benefactor’s estate on the island of Funen and received a commission from Count Preben Bille-Brahe to create an altarpiece for the Home Church which was part of the estate.  Eckersberg completed the painting for the altar whilst in Paris.  It was a biblical scene entitled Jesus and the Little Children.

Home Church Funen
The interior of Home Church Funen

In my fourth look at the life and work of Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg I will concentrate on some of his female portraiture and his large number of nude paintings.

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.

Félix Vallotton. Part 1- The early years and portraiture

Self portrait by Félix Vallotton (1897)
Self portrait by Félix Vallotton (1897)

The artist whose paintings I am looking at in this blog is the Swiss-born artist and printmaker Félix Edouard Vallotton.

Vallatton was born in Lausanne, on the shores of Lake Geneva, in December 1865, three days before the New Year. His parents  and grandparents hailed from the little town of Vallorbe in the Swiss canton of Vaud.   His family’s social status was given as conservative middle class.  Félix’s father, Adrien owned a chandlery and grocery shop and would later branch out as a chocolatier and own and run a chocolate factory.   Félix and his older brother Paul lived at the family’s home in Lausanne, situated in the centre of town in the small town hall square, the Place de la Pelouse.  Family memories of the young Félix Vallatton told of him being a very delicate and sensitive child and because of this and the presence of the smallpox epidemics, which had ravaged Europe, he was probably cosseted by his family.  Félix, as a young boy enjoyed to draw and paint and besides his normal scholastic subjects, he attended evening classes for drawing.

Self portrait by Félix Vallotton (1885)
Self portrait by Félix Vallotton (1885)

In 1882, at the age of sixteen, having completed his school education, he persuaded his father to take him to Paris so that he could learn more about painting and drawing.  He had passed the entrance exam to the École des Beaux Arts but decided that he would prefer to attend the Académie Julian because of its teaching of real art and naturalism.  His father managed to have his son enrol at the prestigious academy, which at the time had the most respected art tutors.  Félix was to study under three great French figure painters, Jules Joseph Lefebvre, Guillaume Bougereau and Gustave Boulanger.  As a student he was known to be hard working but very reclusive.  His tutors looked upon him as a model student and had great hopes that he would win the Prix de Rome prize as the outstanding student of the year.  For young Vallotton life was not all fun and games and monotony had begun to set in, even at this early stage.  He wrote to his brother Paul;

“…So far I have not seen much apart from some museums.  The botanical gardens, which did not make much impression on me, one or two theatres, which I visited with father, the Pantheon, which is magnificent and which affords a marvellous view on a fine day.  Every day I follow the very same route and see the very same things…”

In an early letter to his brother there is a hint of lack of self-confidence when he tells his brother how things are developing academically.  He wrote:

“…The professor is pleased with me, but I am not pleased with myself and sometimes feel sad……My heart sinks when I think of what I am about to study and realise that I am nothing compared with the great artists who startled the world at the age of fifteen…”

Vallotton may not be confident in his own ability but one of his tutor’s assessment of him was quite different.  Lefebvre told Vallotton’s father that:

‘…Monsieur, I hold your son in high esteem, and have only had occasion to compliment him up to now.  I think that, if I had such a son, I would not be worried about his future at all and would unhesitatingly be prepared, with the bounds of possibility, To make sacrifices over and over again, in order to help him…”

Lefebvre ended the conversation with a prediction:

“…I am so interested now in those who are prepared to work – your son is one of those and I repeat he will bring you fame…”

People who suffer from lack of self confidence, often need somebody to be there to boost their morale and Vallotton had that in the person of Charles Maurin, a fellow student at the Académie Julian, albeit eight years his senior.  Vallotton and Maurin became friends and part of a letter from Maurin to the younger Vallotton highlights the elder artist’s moral support.  He wrote to Vallotton:

“…Whatever you lack it is certainly not artistic flair.  It is rather some quality of character (please allow me to mention this to you).  (I would like you to be as open with me).  From your last letter it emerges that you lack strong will and you are creating difficulties for yourself.   But that is not the case.  You do have willpower but it does not manifest itself…”

Life as an art student in the big city was a struggle for Vallotton.  He had constantly to turn to his father for money to pay for lodgings, to buy food and pay for models.  He tried to find some work to help his financial situation but it was never enough.  In 1888 Felix wrote to his parents bemoaning his lot in life and one can sense an air of depression

“…I practically never go out.  I work from seven in the morning until five in the afternoon.  This has not produced any great results so far, everything must work out soon…”

Portrait of Monsieur Ursenbach by Félix Vallotton (1885)
Portrait of Monsieur Ursenbach by Félix Vallotton (1885)

In 1885, at the age of nineteen, Vallotton’s luck changed.  It was due to his portrait of one of his neighbours, Monsieur Ursenbach, a mathematician and Mormon.  That year, he submitted the Portrait of Mr Ursenbach to the Salon jury and with his former tutor, Jules Lefebvre, one of the jurists, the work was accepted and subsequently displayed.   It is an interesting work.  The setting for the portrait is the sitter’s colourless and featureless room.  Ursenbach can be seen sitting in his armchair in a stiffly upright pose, looking uncomfortable with a stern expression on his face.  His hands rest steadily upon his knees as he stares off to the left of the painting.  It is this unusual demeanour of Ursenbach which probably caught the eye of visitors to the Salon exhibition.  Critics were divided on its merits but for Vallatton himself when he later listed all his paintings in chronological order, this was the first on the list.

The Artist`s Parents by Félix Vallotton (1886)
The Artist`s Parents by Félix Vallotton (1886)

Like many portrait artists before him, the young artist completed many portraits of his own family members.  His family portraits, such as the 1886 one of his parents, The Artist`s Parents,  featuring Alexis and Mathilde, were tender and showed the closeness he was to his parents.

Paul Vallotton by Félix Vallotton (1886)
Paul Vallotton by Félix Vallotton (1886)

In the same year that he completed the portrait of his parents he completed a portrait of his brother Paul.

Self portrait by Félix Vallotton (1891)
Self portrait by Félix Vallotton (1891)

Over the years, he also painted many self portraits and one of my favourites is his 1891 painting, Mon portrait.  Portraiture was a way Vallotton began to earn money and he completed many commissions in Paris and back in his home town of Lausanne.  Many of his Paris commissions were attained through his Swiss ex-patriot friends who were living in the French capital.  One such friend and fellow student was the Swiss artist, Ernest Bieler and it was he who persuaded the artist and close acquaintance, Auguste de Molins, to write a letter of introduction on behalf of Vallotton to Renoir and Degas.  De Molins had known the Impressionists as he had exhibited works at the First Impressionist Exhibition.  In his letter to Degas, de Molins wrote:

“…My protégé is absolutely alone in Paris without any connections at all apart from his contacts at the studio, which is far from enough to satisfy his intellectual needs.  The studio is all very well, but there comes a time when close relations with a master are somewhat more important even far more important…”

Vallotton never used the letters of introduction.

Felix Jasinski in His Printmaking Studio - Felix Vallotton (1887)
Felix Jasinski in His Printmaking Studio – Felix Vallotton (1887)

In 1886 Vallotton met Felix Jasinski, an engraver and painted his portrait, entitled Felix Jasinski in His Printmaking Studio.  Jasinski went on to teach Vallotton all about the art of engraving and the two would work together on many projects.   Vallotton’s own catalogue of works began to list his engravings from 1887 and according to a letter to his parents in late 1889 he told them that he had begun to work on commissions for a publisher.  Money was to be made through his engraving work and by 1891 the amount of wood engravings completed by Vallatton was almost more that the number of paintings he had completed.

The Port of Pully by Félix Vallotton (1891)
The Port of Pully by Félix Vallotton (1891)

His early works were not restricted to portraiture. Vallotton, being Swiss-born, loved to paint landscapes featuring the mountains and views of his homeland, especially around Lausanne and Lake Geneva.  Often they were for commissions given to him by Swiss people but often he would keep them for himself.  In 1891 he completed a painting, Port of Pully, one of the eastern suburbs of the city of Lausanne.  The painting depicts the lake front  located on the shores of Lake Geneva.

Outskirts of Lausanne by Félix Vallotton (1893)
Outskirts of Lausanne by Félix Vallotton (1893)

Another beautiful landscape work by Vallotton was completed in 1893 and was entitled Outskirts of Lausanne.  In the painting we view Lake Geneva from a meadow.  The yellow and greens of the foreground are in contrast to the still blue water of the lake in the background.  There is an air of tranquillity about this depiction.  One can imagine sitting in the meadow, which is bathed in sunlight, and just relaxing and leaving the cares of the world behind.

The reason for me writing a couple of blogs about Félix Vallotton was that I was fascinated by the heading of a 2007 article in The Guardian newspaper by Julian Barnes which shouted out:

Better with their clothes on

The neglected, enigmatic Swiss artist Félix Vallotton was a fine painter of still lifes, landscapes and portraits. Shame about his dreadful nudes, writes Julian Barnes.

and so in my next blog I will continue with Vallotton’s life story and look at more of his paintings including some of his “dreadful nudes” !!!

Much of the material I have used for this blog came from an excellent book entitled Félix Vallotton by Nathalia Brodskia, an art historian attached to the hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.