By 1885, Joaquín Sorolla had settled down to life in Rome but during that year he also spent the spring and summer in Paris. At this time in the French capital, the Impressionists were in the ascendancy after they and their art had been criticised and they had had to survive an initial period of ridicule, commercial failure and outright denunciation. However, the Impressionists had now managed to establish their status some eleven years after they held their first Impressionist exhibition at Nadar’s studios and whilst Sorolla was in Paris he saw much of thire work but it was not the Impressionist painters who would influence him. Whilst in the French capital he visited the retrospective exhibitions of two non-Impressionist painters, the French Naturalist painter, Jules Bastien-Lepage, who had died the previous year, and Adolf von Menzel the German painter who, along with Caspar Davisd Friedrich, was considered one of the two most prominent German artists of the 19th century and was also the most successful artist of his era in Germany.
Sorolla returned to his home town of Valencia on two occasions during the late 1880’s and on the second visit in 1888 he proposed to and married Clotilde Garcia del Castillo the daughter of his mentor, the photographer Antonio Garcia. Joaquín and Clotilda had first met in 1879 when he had started work in her father’s workshop. Joaquín finally returned from Italy and in 1890 the couple settled in Madrid. Sorolla style of painting became more individualistic with him tending towards social realism works.
For a good example of a social realism work by Sorolla one only has to look at his beautifully executed painting entitled Another Margarita which he completed in 1892. He exhibited the work at the Madrid National Exhibition that year and was awarded a first-class medal. This was also Sorolla first major painting to be exhibited in America and it was awarded the first prize at the Chicago International Exhibition, where it was acquired and subsequently donated to the Washington University Museum in St Louis. The story behind the depiction is of a woman who has been arrested for suffocating her small son and Sorolla actually witnessed the woman being transported to jail. There is an air of gloom about the manacled woman as she sits slumped on the wooden bench of the train carriage being watched by her two guards who sit behind her. In contrast to the dark and depressing depiction of the three individuals, the carriage itself is lit up by the warm light which streams through the windows at the rear of the compartment and which bathes the entire space.
His realist art also embraced what the Spanish termed costumbrismo, which was the pictorial interpretation of local everyday life, mannerisms, and customs. This kind of art depicted particular times and places, rather than of humanity in an abstract form. In many instances costumbrismo was often satirical and often moralizing, but it was careful not to offer or even imply any particular analysis of the society it depicted, unlike proper realism art. In less satirical works costumbrismo took on a romantic folklore flavour. A fine example of this type of work was a painting entitled The Return of the Catch which Sorolla completed in 1894 and which received critical acclaim when it was shown at the 1895 Paris Salon. It was subsequently acquired by the Musée du Luxembourg. He painted a number of similar pictures depicting Valencian fisherman at work bathed in the dazzling Mediterranean light such as his 1894 painting entitled Return from Fishing and his 1903 painting, Afternoon Sun.
By 1895 Joaquín and Clotilda had three children. Their daughter Maria was born in 1890, their son Joaquín in 1892 and their youngest child Elena in 1895. In 1899 Sorolla painted what was to become his most famous and most moving picture. It was entitled Sad Inheritance and I talked about this work in My Daily Art Display of Jan 31st 2011. It is a poignant work featuring a monk and a group of children, crippled by polio, who are seen bathing in the sea at Valencia. Sorolla received his greatest official recognition for this work of art, the Grand Prix and a medal of honour at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900, and a year later he received the medal of honour at the National Exhibition in Madrid in 1901.
In my third and final blog about Joaquín Sorolla I will feature some of his family portraits, look at the Sorolla Museum in Madrid and conclude the life story of this wonderful Spanish artist.
For my third look at Realism art and Social Realism art I am going back to the land of its inception, France. The emergence of this form of art came about in France around 1848, the year King Louis-Philippe lost the French crown and was replaced by Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, who became President of the French Second Republic. The monarchy had gone, even if it was just for a few years, as Louis-Napoleon had himself crowned Napoleon III. With the change of ruler came the promise of greater democracy. The French people were excited with the change and were now baying for this pledged greater democracy under the new regime. Realism in art also arrived with the Realist artists who democratised their art by depicting in their paintings subjects from everyday lives of the working class. These painters rejected what had gone before them. They neither wanted to paint idealized pictures, which had no bearing on reality but was what was being taught and expected from the students at the École des Beaux-Arts, the state-sponsored art academy and exhibited at the official Salons, nor did they want to carry on with the exotic themes of Romanticism.
For these Realist artists, they wanted their paintings to be a direct reflection on modern life. The great French painter and leading proponent of Realism art, Gustave Courbet, described what art should be, saying:
“…painting is an essentially concrete art and can only consist in the representation of real and existing things..,”
Gustave Courbet is my featured artist today and I wanted to look at his painting The Stonebreakers. Sadly it no longer exists as it was destroyed by Allied bombing on a transport convoy in February 1945, whilst it was being transported to the Königstein Castle, near Dresden, for safe keeping along with 154 other paintings. When The Stonebreakers was exhibited in Paris at the Salon of 1850, it was attacked as un-artistic, crude, and socialistic, so let us look at why this view was taken by the critics.
Courbet wanted to depict the lifestyle of working class people in his paintings. However, he wanted to depart from the idealized depiction of these poor farm workers and peasants who in the past had always been depicted smiling happily as they got on with the most arduous and often dangerous jobs, for little remuneration. The problem of course with this artistic style was although it appealed to people who sympathised with the lot of the working class, the buyers of art were often the rich and upper classes, who through association were the very people who treated their workers badly. His Realism art works were looked upon as being anti-authoritarian and politically threatening. When he put forward two of his large paintings A Burial at Ornans and The Painter’s Studio for inclusion in the 1855 Salon, the Salon jurists rejected them. Courbet was so angered by the jurists’ decision that he withdrew his eleven accepted submissions and displayed the paintings privately in his Pavillon du Réalisme, not far from the official international exhibition. In his exhibition catalogue, which described his works, he wrote an introduction which, in essence, was a Realist manifesto. He stated:
“…his goal as an artist was to translate the customs, the ideas, the appearance of my epoch according to my own estimation…”
The realist paintings of Courbet found no favour with the Establishment. Courbet’s critics firmly believed that he was bringing about an artistic and moral decline by painting what they deemed distasteful and inconsequential subjects on a grand scale. They accused him of nurturing a “cult of ugliness” against much beloved concepts of Beauty and the Ideal. His critics even went as far as to state that this Realism was nothing less than the enemy of art. However there were some high placed supporters of Courbet’s work. The French socialist politician at the time, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, an advocate of workers’ associations and co-operatives as well as individual worker / peasant possession over private ownership or the nationalization of land and workplaces, saw The Stonebreakers painting and commented:
“… The Stonebreakers was an irony directed against our industrialized civilization … which is incapable of freeing man from the heaviest, most difficult, most unpleasant tasks, the eternal lot of the poor...” The Stonebreakers was painted by Gustave Courbet in 1849 and shows two peasants breaking rocks into gravel to be used as a base in the construction of roads. One appears to be in his sixties and the other much younger. The painting could not be described as colourful. Courbet has used monotonous colours and by doing so has reflected the languishing tone of the painting. We are not distracted by a colourful landscape. Our eyes are fixed upon the two men as they carry on with their backbreaking work. In no way was Courbet’s depiction of the men idealized or romanticized. What we see is the gritty uncompromising truth. The job of a stonebreaker was considered the lot of the lowest in French society. Their differing ages symbolizes the circle of poverty, which will haunt the lower classes throughout their lives. Those born into poverty would remain so for the rest of their life. It is a glimpse into the world of the rural unskilled labourer. The workers are dressed in ragged clothes. Their ragged clothes and the little meal laid out in the right midground of the work underline their impoverishment. Look how Courbet has depicted the boy as he struggles with the heavy basket of gravel. It is almost beyond the boy’s strength while the old man exhaustedly bends his knee to work. One is now too old and almost lacks the strength to wield the hammer whilst the other is almost too young and almost lacks the strength to carry his burden. This is realist art at its finest. Courbet has not resorted to ancient heroes for his portrayal of heroism he has taken two simple men whose lot in life was manual labour and who were carrying out their task as best they could.
Despite Realist art not being favoured by the bourgeoisie or the Academies, it found an audience in France who was showing an interest in the plight of the working poor especially following the labourers uprising against the bourgeois leaders of the newly established Second Republic in 1848. Their demands were simple – a redistribution of property and better working conditions. The labourers’ uprising lasted just three days and many lives were lost. They did not achieve their demands but suddenly the plight of the working class labourer was centre stage and Courbet’s painting which came a year after the failed uprising could not have arrived at a more fortuitous time.
Today I am looking at a painting by an artist whose work has frequently shocked the public. His art often focused on the First World War and the aftermath of it on the people of Germany. It was not his intention to shock people with what was depicted in his paintings. It was simply his intention to tell the truth through his art and ensure that people would not ever forget the price citizens had to pay when their governments took them to war. Of his controversial paintings, he said:
“I’m not that obsessed with making representations of ugliness. Everything I’ve seen is beautiful.”
“I did not paint war pictures in order to prevent war. I would never have been so arrogant. I painted them to exorcise the experience of war.”
“People were already beginning to forget, what horrible suffering the war had brought them. I did not want to cause fear and panic, but to let people know how dreadful war is and so to stimulate people’s powers of resistance.”
My featured artist today is the German painter and printmaker Otto Dix. Dix was born in December 1891 in Untermhaus, Germany, which is now a part of the city of Gera. He was the eldest son of Franz Dix, an iron foundry worker and Louise Dix, who was a seamstress and amateur artist. His mother had also written poetry in her youth. Otto had a cousin, Fritz Amann, who was a portrait and genre painter and so, from an early age, Otto Dix was exposed to the world of art. At the age of fifteen Dix started a four year apprenticeship with the landscape painter Carl Senff and it was whilst at Senff’s workshop that Dix started painting his first landscapes. At the end of his apprenticeship in 1910 he enrolled at the Dresden School of Arts and Crafts and supported himself financially by painting portraits and selling them to local people. Whilst there he studied under Richard Guhr, the painter and sculptor and Dix attended his figurative and decorative painting classes.
World War I broke out in 1914 and Otto Dix enthusiastically enrolled in the German army. His first assignment, as a non-commissioned officer, was to join up with a field artillery regiment in Dresden. In the autumn of 1915 he was assigned as a non-commissioned officer of a machine-gun unit in the Western front and took part of the Battle of the Somme. He was seriously wounded on a number of occasions. In 1917, his unit was transferred to the Eastern front where he remained until the end of hostilities with Russia. He then returned with his regiment to the western front and took part in the German Spring offensive. He earned the Iron Cross (second class) for valour and reached the rank of vice-sergeant-major. By the end of the conflict, he had been wounded on five separate occasions. Dix was horrified and very much affected by the horrific sights he had witnessed during the four years of the war and these visions caused him to have many persisting nightmares well after the end of hostilities.
It was these nightmares and his traumatic experiences during the fighting that comes through clearly in many of his subsequent works, including a portfolio of fifty etchings called War, published in 1924. At the end of the war, Dix returned to Gera, but in 1919 he moved to Dresden, where he studied at the Dresden Art Academy. It was whilst studying art in that city that he met the Expressionist painter, Conrad Felixmüller, who was one of the youngest members of the New Objectivity movement. Felixmüller was also a member of the Communist Party of Germany and his paintings often dealt with the social realities of Germany’s Weimar Republic. He became a mentor to Otto Dix and managed to bring together Dix and a number of like-minded Expressionist artists to form the city’s most radical art group, the Dresden Secessionist Group. A year later Dix met George Grosz and it was around this time that Dix began to integrate collage aspects into his work.
In 1922 Dix moved from Dresden to Dusseldorf where he found a more lucrative market for his works of art. A year later, in 1923 he completed a painting which shocked the public and establishment alike. It had been commissioned by the city of Cologne and was entitled The Trench. It depicted dismembered and decomposed bodies of soldiers after an overnight battle in a German trench. For many, it was a gruesome and offensive depiction of death in the trenches. He began the painting it in 1920 whilst he was living in Dresden but did not complete it until three years later. Such was the uproar that the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne, which had commissioned the work, had to hide it behind a curtain. The mayor of Cologne at the time and the future German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, cancelled the city’s purchase of the work and the Museum director, Hans Secker, was sacked.
Otto Dix’s work, like that of his friend and contemporary George Grosz was extremely critical of the present-day German Weimar society. His paintings would draw attention to the more miserable side of life and the hopelessness felt by the ordinary German people following on from their defeat in war. The depictions seen in his paintings often graphically showed prostitution, violence, old age and death. He also focused his attention on the German veterans of the war who would wander the streets of Berlin physically disfigured and mentally unable to cope with life. These were the forgotten men who had served their purpose and who were now abandoned by society. These paintings of his were somewhat sad and depressing and yet realistic.
When the Nazis came to power in Germany in the early 1930’s they regarded Dix as a degenerate artist and his depictions of the defeated German soldiers and his portrayal of the low-life of Berlin were considered unpatriotic and for this reason they had him sacked from his post as an art teacher at the Dresden Academy. He later moved to live on the shores of Lake Constance. In 1937, in Munich the Nazis held an art exhibition of what they called Entartete Kunst or Degenerate Art. The purpose of the exhibition was to let the Germans know that some forms and pieces of art were not accepted by the “highest race”, and that this art was “degenerate”. It was often termed Jewish or Bolshevistic art. During the “Entartete Kunst” campaign over 20 thousand works by more than 200 artists of that time were confiscated. Dix’s 1923 painting The Trench and his 1920 work entitled, Kriegskrüppel (War Cripples) were shown at that exhibition. They were later burned. Dix was forced to join the Nazi-controlled Imperial chamber of Fine Arts in order to be able to work as an artist at all and had to promise to paint only landscapes. However, he still painted an occasional allegorical painting that criticized Nazi ideals. In 1939 he was arrested on a trumped-up charge of being involved in a plot against Hitler but was later released. During World War II, Dix was conscripted into the Volkssturm. He was captured by French troops at the end of the war and released in February 1946. Dix eventually returned to Dresden. After the war most of his paintings were religious allegories or depictions of post-war suffering. Otto Dix died in Singen, Germany, in 1969, aged 77.
For My Daily Art Display featured painting today I have not chosen one of his gruesome but telling war paintings but a painting which looks at the fall-out from war for individuals, in this case females of the defeated nation. The painting is entitled The Salon I and was completed in 1921, just three years after the end of World War I, Dix had often examined the life of women in the aftermath of war, many of whom desperate for money to feed themselves and their family turned to prostitution. In his painting we see four such women, garishly dressed, sat around a table which is covered with an expensive tablecloth, which evokes middle-class décor. Except for one, they are all passed their prime.
These four scantily dressed prostitutes, decked out in bangles, necklaces and other cheap trinkets look bored. They sit there in silent contemplation. In the short term they wonder who their next client will be and how will they be treated. In a longer term they wonder what will eventually happen to them and how was it possible that they have been reduced to this way of life. The female to the left of the painting is overweight and was a character often seen in Dix’s works. She gives us an inviting smile as she supports her breasts giving them an uplift which may make them more tempting to her next client. The woman to the right of the painting is pitilessly depicted by Dix. Her best years are far behind her and no amount of make-up can hide the wrinkles of old age. Her diaphanous negligee does little to hide her sagging breasts. Next to her wearing a red band and bow around her forehead is a young woman. We ask ourselves why somebody with her looks and manner should end up in this brothel. Her eyes and facial expression hide the truth from us. We are left to decide for ourselves what necessitated her to sell her body.
All in all, it is a depressing work of art but before we condemn Otto Dix for choosing such a subject we need to remember why he did it. At the very beginning of this blog I gave you his reasoning behind his often gruesome and shocking art. He was horrified by what he experienced during his four years at war and he fervently hoped that it would never happen again and in his own way he needed to remind everybody about the horror of war or as is the case in today’s featured painting, he wanted to remind people about the terrible aftermath of war especially for the defeated. Maybe we should consider again his reasoning for his art. Dix wrote:
“People were already beginning to forget, what horrible suffering the war had brought them. I did not want to cause fear and panic, but to let people know how dreadful war is and so to stimulate people’s powers of resistance.”
Sadly nobody really paid attention to the horrors of the First World War as twenty years later we stumbled blindly into yet another major conflict.
My featured artist today was quite unknown to me. I came across him and his paintings when I was flicking through an art book looking for information regarding another painter. One painting stood out from the rest and I have made it My Daily Art Display featured painting of today. There was something very haunting about the picture with its great sense of realism and I had to find out more about the work and the artist, Ben Shahn.
Ben Shahn was at the forefront of the American Social Realist art movement of the 1930s, a grouping, which included the likes of artists of the Ashcan School, many of whom I have featured in earlier blogs. Social Realism is a term used to describe visual and other realistic art works which record the everyday conditions of the working classes and mainly feature the life of the poor and deprived and how they had to live. The works are a pictorial criticism of the social environment that brought about these conditions. Social Realism has its roots back in the mid-19th century and the Realist movement in French art. Twentieth century Social Realism refers back to the works of the French artist such as Courbet and his painting Burial at Ornans or Millet’s great work The Gleaners. Social Reailsm art became an important art movement in America during their Great Depression of the 1930’s.
The art of the Social Realist painters often depicted cityscapes homing in on the decaying state of mining villages or broken-down shacks alongside railroad tracks. Their art is about poverty and the hardships endured by the ordinary but poor people. Often the works would focus on the indignity suffered by the poor and how they would work hard for little recompense. The depiction of this inequality of course implied a criticism of the capitalist society and capitalism itself. The Social Realist painters of America did not want their works to focus on the beauty of their country as portrayed by the likes of the Hudson River School painters. For them, to get their message across to the public, their works needed to depict the industrial suburbs with its grime and unpleasantness or the run-down farming communities with their broken-down buildings. Occasionally these artists would depict the rich in their paintings but they were only included for satirical reasons.
Ben Shahn was born in Kovno, Lithuania in 1898 and was the eldest of five children of an Orthodox Jewish family. His father, Joshua, was a woodcarver and cabinet maker. In 1902, probably because of his revolutionary activities, his father was exiled to Siberia. His mother, Gittel Lieberman, and her children moved to Vilkomir, which is now the Lithuanian town of Ukmerge. Four years later, in 1906, Shahn’s mother and three of her offsprings emigrated to America and settled in Brooklyn with Joshua who had already fled there from Siberia. Ben Shahn original artistic training was as a lithographer and then as a graphic artist.
At the age of twenty-one Shahn went to New York University and studied biology. Two years later he transferred to City College of New York to study art and then moved on to the New York National Academy of Design which is now known as The National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts.
In 1924 Shahn married Tillie Goldstein and the two set off on a long journey of discovery taking in North Africa and the traditional artist pilgrimage of the capital cities of Europe taking in the works of the great European modern artists of the time such as Matisse, Picasso and Klee. He had not been won over by their art or the European Modernist art scene and soon felt less influenced by their work and preferred to follow the style of the Realists painters especially those who showed a concern for the plight of the downtrodden. Shahn was inspired by the likes of the photographer Walker Evans, the Mexican communist painter Diego Rivera and the French Realist painters. It was with Rivera that Shahn worked on the public mural at the Rockefeller Centre, which was to cause such controversy and had to be hidden from public view and eventually destroyed.
As a political activist Shahn became interested in newspaper photography. Photography was to act as his source material for some of his paintings and satires. During the 1930’s he was engaged in street photography himself, recording the lives of the working-class and immigrant populations and the hardship of the unemployed. Over the years Shahn, with his trusted 35mm Leica camera, built up a large collection of photographs which poignantly recorded the horror of unemployment and poverty during the Depression years.
My Daily Art Display featured painting is simply entitled Unemployment and was completed by Shahn in 1934. Shahn exhibited many paintings and photographs which highlighted the plight of the unemployed and homeless especially during the time of the Great Depression. Before us stand five men, all purported to be out of work. They look down on their luck. Their black eyes stare out at us. They stand upright trying to muster a certain amount of dignity despite the hopelessness of their situation. In some of their faces we see a look of desperation and fear of what their future may hold. The man in the right foreground has his arms folded across his chest. His look is more defiant almost questioning the viewer about what they intend to do about his plight. One man has a makeshift patch on his eye which makes him look even more vulnerable. I suppose Shahn and other Realist painters believed that through the moving nature of the subjects of their works it would help remind everybody of the horrors of life we could face and counsel us to avoid similar pitfalls in the future. Sadly, as in the case of war with its tragedies and horrors, we rarely learn by our mistakes and seem to always repeat our mistakes. There seems to be little we can do but shake our heads sympathetically as we view these Social Realist paintings and can only hope that we ourselves are never touched by similar tragedies.
In an earlier blog (November 14th) I looked at the life of Courbet and his painting The Artist’s Studio. If you have just arrived at today’s blog it would be worth going to the earlier one to read about Courbet’s life and his artistic principles. I mentioned in that earlier blog that when he had tried to get his three large painting into the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1855 they were rejected because of their size. My Daily Art Display featured painting today entitled A Burial at Ornans was one of the three. This work was even bigger than the The Artist’s Studio, and measures 3.1metres by 6.6 metres and was completed by Courbet in 1850. Both paintings are housed at the Musée d’Orsay.
Gustave Courbet was born in Ornans in 1819 and this huge painting depicts the funeral of his great uncle at the town in September 1848. The depiction of the funeral and the laying to rest of the dead is unlike the usual way it would have been portrayed in Romantic or Academic art, where we would expect to see angels of the Lord carrying the soul of the deceased heavenwards. Gustave Courbet was a realist painter. In fact he was in the forefront of the Realism art movement, which was a grouping of artists who believed that they should represent the world as it is even if that meant breaking with artistic and social conventions. Realist artists painted everyday characters and situations all in a true-to-life manner. These artists wanted to rid art of the theatrical drama, lofty subjects and the classical style and in its place they wanted to depict more everyday commonplace themes. Courbet was once asked to incorporate angels in a painting he was doing of a church. He rejected the request saying:
“….I have never seen angels. Show me an angel and I will paint one… “
This realist art we see before us is exactly as Courbet would want. It is a funeral scene, warts and all. It is an unflattering yet dignified scene, but more importantly to Courbet, it is a realistic scene. There is a stillness and serenity of what we see before us. There is no attempt to glorify the setting with a grandiloquent and ostentatious depiction of descending angels with God seated on a throne in the clouds above. In the foreground there is an open grave awaiting the coffin. The funeral procession approaches from the left. In the procession we see the pallbearers slowly following the priest and altar boys as they close in on the gaping hole in the ground and the gravedigger, who is on bended knee by the grave. The figures in red are officials of the church, who assisted at religious functions. If you look closely at the edge of the grave, you can just make out a skull which presumably was exhumed when the grave was dug out. The mourners fill the middle ground of the painting. Grief-stricken women, with handkerchiefs fending off their tears, circle the grave. It is interesting to note that Courbet did not use models for this scene, which would have been the norm in historical narrative paintings. Instead he used actual villagers who were at the ceremony, including his sister and mother, and this again highlights his desire for realism. This is not an en plein air painting for the depiction of the people was done in his studio at Ornans. Look how Courbet has depicted the young at this event.
See how the young altar boy, who is standing behind the priest, stares up at one of the pallbearer. Courbet has managed to perfectly capture the look of innocence in the boy’s face. Cast your eyes to the right foreground of the painting and see if you can spot the face of a small girl who is peeking out at the grave. We just see her face. The rest of her is almost lost amongst a sea of black clothing. Look at the way Courbet has kept the heads of the mourners and officials level with the tops of the cliffs and the land in the background. Observe how only the crucifix reaches reaches above that level into the pale sky, as it is held aloft by an attendant. Just a coincident or has a little piece symbolism crept into Courbet’s work?
In Sarah Faunce’s biography of Courbet she talked about the reception this painting received from the public and critics. She wrote:
“….In Paris the Burial was judged as a work that had thrust itself into the grand tradition of history painting, like an upstart in dirty boots crashing a genteel party, and in terms of that tradition it was of course found wanting…”
The critics seemed to miss the histrionics and exaggerated gestures of grief they had been used to seeing depicted in great historical funeral paintings of the past. They thought this painting was ugly and presumably missed the beauty of angels, puti and the presence of the figure of God sitting aloft awaiting a new entrant to his kingdom. Another aspect of the painting which disturbed the critics was the fact that Courbet painted this huge work, similar in size to grand historical paintings of the past, centred, in their opinion, on a subject of little consequence – a burial of a family member. As far as the sophisticated Parisians were concerned paintings of rural folk should be confined to small works of art and they were very critical of Courbet’s decision to afford these folk such a large space of canvas. The fact that he did was looked upon as a radical act. However Courbet said of the painting “it was the debut of my principles”. For the critics, if an artist was going to paint such an enormous work, then they expected the subject to be an idealized grand narrative and not just an ordinary every day event.
I end today with two quotes from the artist on his artistic upbringing and his pursuit of Realism and what he tried to achieve.
“…I have studied, apart from any preconceived system and without biases, the art of the ancients and the moderns. I have no more wished to imitate the one than to copy the other; nor was it my intention, moreover, to attain the useless goal of art for art’s sake. No! I simply wanted to draw forth from a complete knowledge of tradition the reasoned and independent understanding of my own individuality…”
“…To know in order to be capable, that was my idea. To be able to translate the customs, idea, the appearances of my epoch according to my own appreciation of it [to be not only a painter but a man,] in a word to create living art, that is my goal…”
And finally his hope for how he would be remembered…………….
“…When I am dead, let it be said of me: ‘He belonged to no school, to no church, to no institution, to no academy, least of all to any regime except the regime of liberty…”
Jean-Desiré-Gustave Courbet was born in Ornans, a rugged area in the Franche-Comté region close to the France-Swiss border in 1819. His father Règis Courbet and his mother, Sylvie were landowners, who owned a vineyard in Flagey, ten miles outside of Ornans. They were a prosperous family but despite that Courbet’s parents held left of centre, anti-monarchist views. This was probably a long held passion as his mother’s father had fought in the French Revolution. At the age of twelve he attended a seminary in Ornans and it was during his time there that, according to his friend and art critic, Jules-Antoine Castagny, he came up before the priest to confess his sins and to have them forgiven. According to Jack Lindsay in his biography of the artist, Gustave Courbet: His Life and Art
“…The sins he revealed to his confessor so monstrously exceeded, in number and in kind, the iniquities appropriate to his tender age that nobody was willing to give him absolution…These successive rejections began to affect his reputation…To make sure he had forgotten nothing, Courbet had compiled a list of all the sins it would have been possible to commit, from the most trifling peccadillo to the darkest of crimes…”
This was an early sign of Courbet’s rebellious nature which would remain with him for the rest of his life. When he was eighteen years of age his father arranged for Gustave to attend the Collège Royal at Besançon to study law. At the same time he attended lessons at the Académie and studied painting under the tutelage of Charles-Antoine Flageoulet, who had once been a pupil of the great neo-classical artist Jacques-Louis David. Courbet left Besançon and moved to Paris. His father still believed that this move was to further his legal studies but Gustave had other ideas. Whilst there, he became great friends with Francois Bonvin, the French realist painter and the two would frequent the Louvre and study the Masters. He also attended the atelier of Steuben and Hesse on the Île de La Cité. He set about a series of self portraits in the 1840’s, one of which, Self portrait with Black Dog, he submitted to the Salon Exhibition of 1844 and was accepted while the rest of his submissions did not pass the jury’s scrutiny. This was the start of a long running battle Courbet was to have with the Salon’s juries and lead to many vociferous comments by the artist against what he believed was the Salon jurists’ petty vindictiveness against himself.
The following three years saw Courbet travelling around Belgium and Holland. His art was very popular in the Low Countries and he had built himself a large wealthy international clientele. It was through these connections that his fame as an artist spread throughout Europe. Courbet was in the forefront of the Realism art movement, a grouping of artists who believed that artist should represent the world as it is even if that meant breaking with artistic and social conventions. Realist artists painted everyday characters and situations all in a true-to-life manner. These artists wanted to rid art of the theatrical drama, lofty subjects and the classical style and in its place they wanted to depict more everyday commonplace themes. Realism was starting to be popular not only in art but in literature. Strictly speaking realism in literature denoted a particular kind of subject matter, especially the representation of middle-class life. In literature, like in art, realism was a reaction against romanticism. Realists focused their attention, in the main, on the immediate, the here and now, the specific action, and its verifiable consequence.
Courbet used to meet his fellow realists in the Brasserie Andler, which was only a few steps away from his studio at 28 rue Hautefeuille in Paris. He would rub shoulders with writers such as Champfleury and Proudhon and the poet Beaudelaire. Max Buchon, his old school friend from Ornans would also be there. Fellow artists, such as the caricaturist and painter Honoré Daumier and Alexandre Décamps were also regulars who congregated at the brasserie. Courbet had carved himself a leading role within this group of Realists. The biographer Jack Lindsay quoted in his book Gustave Courbet his life and art, the words of the 19th century French journalist and writer Alfred Delvau, who described Courbet’s role within this circle of friends and his realist philosophy, saying:
“….And in this temple of Realism, where M. Courbet was then the sovereign pontiff and M. Champfleury the cardinal officiating, there were then, as the public of boozers, students, and wood engravers understood, only realists and non-realists…”
Courbet’s many pictures of peasants and scenes of everyday life established him as the leading figure of the realist movement of the mid nineteenth century. He was an outspoken opponent of the French government and it was during the short lived Paris Commune that he took part in the destruction of the Vendôme Column in 1871 during the uprising in Paris which followed after France was defeated in the Franco-Prussian War. Courbet expressed his reasoning for the removal of the Vendome column, saying:
“…In as much as the Vendôme Column is a monument devoid of all artistic value, tending to perpetuate by its expression the ideas of war and conquest of the past imperial dynasty, which are reproved by a republican nation’s sentiment, citizen Courbet expresses the wish that the National Defense government will authorise him to disassemble this column…”
The uprising was chiefly caused by the disaster of the war and the growing discontent among French workers. For Courbet the Column was totally devoid of artistic value but more importantly he was against what it stood for. For his part in the pulling down of the column he was sentenced on 2 September 1871 by a Versailles court martial to six months in prison and a fine of 500 francs. In 1877 the estimated cost of rebuilding the Vendome was finally established as being 323,091 francs and 68 centimes. Courbet was told he must pay for it to be rebuilt and he was to pay a fine in yearly installments of 10,000 francs for the next 33 years meaning the final payment would be when he had reached the age of 91. On July 23rd, 1873 Courbet, through the assistance of a few friends, fled France for Switzerland as he could not, nor did not want to pay his fines. On December 31st 1877, in La Tour de Peilz in Switzerland where he was living in exile, a day before the payment of the first installment was due, Courbet died, aged 58, of a liver disease probably due to his bouts of heavy drinking,
In My Daily Art Display today I have featured one of Courbet’s greatest painting entitled The Artist’s Studio which he completed in 1855 and which had a secondary title: A Real Allegory of a Seven Year Phase in my Artistic and Moral Life. It was an enormous painting, 3.61 metres tall and almost 5.98 metres wide and can be seen in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Courbet submitted this painting with thirteen others to the Exposition Universelle of 1855. The Exposition Universelle was an International Exhibition held on the Champs Elysées in Paris from May to November in that year. This Paris exhibition came four years after London had held their Great Exhibition of 1851. To Courbet’s horror, three of his paintings were rejected on the grounds that they were far too big for the exhibition as space was restricted. One of these was today’s featured painting and one of the others was his mammoth work, A Burial at Ornans, which was 3.14metres tall and 6.63 metres wide. However Courbet was not to be denied and decided to withdraw all his paintings and with the help of his patron Alfred Bruyas set up a rival exhibition with forty of his works in a rented hall next door to the official exhibition, which he called The Pavilion of Realism. It did not prove to be a great success as attendances and sales were poor and many just came out of curiosity, but for fellow artists, Courbet’s gesture was inspirational and his standing in the artistic community rose. He was now acclaimed as a hero of the French avant-garde and an inspiration to the young up and coming artists. In some ways this alternate exhibition running alongside the official exhibition was a forerunner of the Salon de Refusés, which came into being as an alternative to the Salon exhibitions in Paris in 1863 and again in 1874 during the Imressionist era.
The work before us today was looked upon as an allegory of Courbet’s life as a painter and the various figures depicted are allegorical representations of various influences on his life. So who are all the people? In some ways the work is a kind of triptych with three distinct sections. On the left hand side of the painting are various figures from the different levels of French society. To my mind the left hand side includes things and people Courbet disliked and sums up what he believes was wrong with society, such as religion and poverty, while on the right of the painting he has presented us with things and people he holds dear.
Let us first look at the grouping on the left hand side of the painting. On the ground sprawled beside the canvas sits the figure of a starving peasant. More than likely Courbet is depicting an Irish peasant, as the Great Irish Famine had taken place only a few years earlier. To the left of the peasant there are several other figures. This strange grouping appears to include a priest, a prostitute, a grave digger and a merchant. In the far left of the painting we see the standing figure of a Jewish Rabbi and seated on a chair before him is a hunter with several dogs. This depiction of this man is quite interesting as it is thought by use of x-ray analysis that the figure of the man was added later and was not mentioned in Courbet’s letter to Champfleury when he wrote about the details of the work. So what was so important to cause this late addition. Art historians would have us believe that he is an allegory of the then current French Emperor, Napoleon III. He has been identified as such because of his famous hunting dogs and also by his twirled moustache which he was famous for. So why place the French ruler on the left side of the painting? The answer probably lies in Courbet’s early upbringing in an anti-monarchist household and Courbet’s inherent dislike of the emperor. It was Courbet’s belief that Napoleon III was no better than a thief having stolen the country from its people. In the centre of the work, behind Courbet’s landscape canvas we see a nude male model, on the floor we see a guitar, dagger and hat, and on the table a skull. These were all accoutrements of traditional academic art which Courbet loathed.
In the middle, taking centre stage and thus the centre of our attention, we see the realist artist himself sitting before his easel working on a landscape. He has placed himself as the main focus of the painting and maybe it was his way of projecting himself as the leader of the Realist movement. Behind Courbet, and being ignored by him, is a nude model, which symbolises academic art tradition which Courbet disliked so much. Standing in front of Courbet, looking totally mesmerised by what Courbet is doing, is a small boy. It is believed that Courbet included the boy as a symbol of the innocent eye of the artist but of course the mesmeric admiration of the boy for what Courbet has painted may just be something artists crave. By the boys feet there is a white cat.
On the right of the painting is another group of people. This grouping is a selection of his friends, associates and admirers. It is possible to identify some of these figures. The man standing and looking across to the left hand side, with a beard, is Alfred Bruyas a long-time patron of Courbet. Standing behind him, facing us, is Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, politician and socialist philosopher and another friend of the artist. Moving away from those two and towards the foreground we see a man seated. This is the French novelist Jules Husson, whose non de plume was Champfleury and who was a greater supporter of Courbet’s realist art. The man at the extreme right of the painting, reading a book, is the French poet Beaudelaire and we know that Courbet’s depiction of him is from a portrait he did of him seven years earlier. Beaudelaire at the time had a quadroon (mixed race) mistress and Courbet had included her in the painting just to the left of Beaudelaire (as we look at him) but Beaudelaire was not happy with her inclusion and persuaded Courbet to paint her out of the scene. The presence of Beaudelaire’s mistress was only discovered recently when the painting was cleaned and x-rayed. Standing quite prominently in the group, in front of Beaudelaire, is a well dressed bourgeoisie lady with a brown-patterned shawl and her companion. Art historians have not come to a definitive agreement as to who they are but one theory is that it is Christine Ungher and her husband François Sabatier, another of Courbet’s patrons. Notwithstanding what art historians believed to be the message of the painting Courbet expressed his thought process behind what he had achieved with this magnificent work in a letter to Champfleury. He wrote:
“….It’s the whole world coming to me to be painted, on the right are all the shareholders, by that I mean friends, fellow workers and art lovers. On the left is the other world of everyday life: the masses, wretchedness, poverty, wealth, the exploited and the exploiters, people who make a living from death…”.
Ilya Efimovich Repin was born in 1844 in the town of Chuhuiv, now part of eastern Ukraine. His parents were a family of military settlers. Military Settlements in thise days were places which allowed the combination of military service and agricultural employment. At the age of twelve, his art training took the form of an apprenticeship with the local icon painter, Ivan Bunakov and throughout his life religious representations remained of great importance to him. When he was 19 he entered the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts and studied portraiture. It was whilst at that artistic establishment that the Rebellion of the Fourteen took place in September 1863 The rebellion consisted of fourteen young artists who left the Academy in protest against its rigid neoclassical dicta and who refused to use mythological subjects for their diploma works.. The rebel artists insisted that art should be close to real life and they formed the Society of the Peredvizhniki to promote their own aesthetic ideals. In order to reach the widest audience possible, the society organized regular travelling exhibitions throughout the Russian Empire. Later, Repin would be become a close friend and associate with some of them and fifteen years on after returning from Europe he would join the group. But for the time Repin remained at the Academy and in 1871 won the prestigious Major Gold Medal award and received a scholarship to study abroad.
Repin went abroad in 1873 travelling around Italy before settling in Paris. It was whilst he was in Paris that he came in contact with the Impressionists and their works which had a lasting effect upon his use of light and colour and he witnessed their first exhibition in 1874. Although he never joined the group and was often critical of their style, which he considered too distant from reality, he was greatly influenced by some of the artists’ en plein air style of painting. In 1876 he left Paris and returned home to Russia, settling down in Moscow. During his period in Moscow he visited the country estate of Abramtsevo belonging to Savva Mamontov a wealthy Russina patron of the arts (See Valentin Serov – My Daily Art Display Feb 24th). Following the Bolshevik Revolution Repin went to Kuokkola, Finland to live in the estate he had built and which he called Penates. Repin produced his greatest works during the latter two decades of the nineteenth century although he continued painting well into the twentieth century. Repin died in 1930 in Kuokkla, at the age of 86. After the Winter War between Russia and Finland and the Continuation War between the two countries between 1939 and 1944, Kuokkala became Russian. In 1948, it was renamed Repino in honor of today’s artist Ilya Repin
My Daily Art Display featured painting today is entitled Religious Procession in Kursk Province and was completed by Repin in 1883. This massive oil on canvas painting measures 175 x 280cms. The setting for the painting is a time of drought and we see a large group of people crossing the parched earth. The leaders of the procession carry aloft a miracle-working icon to a church which lies nearby. What is interesting about the procession is that there is a great mix of people of various social standing in the community. Scan the painting, look at the various characters Repkin has depicted. He, by his portrayal of how the people are dressed, stresses the difference in their social status and highlights life’s inequalities. Some are in rags whilst others are bedecked in rich caftans. We focus our eyes on the young hunchback as he struggles along with his makeshift crutch totally focused on the icon, which is being held on the shoulders of the monks. To him, it may mean salvation. To him, life cannot get any worse and for him this procession will lead him to a better existence. Compare that with the posture of the cavalry officer atop of his horse who oozes a kind of sanctimonious piety, his attitude appears to be of one who only half believes in the power of the icon and who probably, unlike the hunchback, needs little that the icon can possibly offer anyway. This is a “them and us” scene, a “have and have not” scenario, which Repin liked to depict in his realist paintings. This was part of a slow build up to the revolution which would take another twenty years to arrive with its 1905 initial uprisings leading eventually to the ultimate revolution in 1917 which finally destroyed the Tsarist rule and the inequalities of life. For Repkin this procession we see before us in this painting maybe an allegory for the slow but unyielding forward advance of the working classes towards social change.
Repin was a Realist painter and focused much of his work on the social dilemmas of his country. He was aware of the inequalities of the Tsarist system and although that same system treated him well, he was aware that for a vast majority of his people, life was unfair. Ivan Kramskoi, the Russian artist and critic and leading light of the Society of the Peredvizhniki of which Repin was a member, said of his Repkin’s perception of life’s inequalities:
“…Repkin has a gift for showing the peasant as he is. I know many painters who show the moujik [Russian peasants], and they do it well but none can do so with as much talent as Repin…”
The painting hangs in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and I would so like to stand in front of the painting and absorb the atmosphere that Repkin has conjured up in this magnificent work.
Although I am sure people love to see the paintings of the so-called “Masters”, I believe it is good to look at the works of lesser known artists and by doing so, one can discover hidden gems. After Renoir’s famous painting Luncheon of the Boating Party,which I featured yesterday, I decided today that I would look for a painter, who until yesterday had been unknown to me. However, I do understand that this may be due to my simple lack of artistic knowledge and in fact the artist is well known to you, if so, I apologise!
It is often the case that when I am researching a painting I come across another artist, whom I have never heard of, and that is the reason for my choice of artist today. Amongst the guests at Renoir’s luncheon was his friend and lesser known Impressionist, Gustave Caillebotte and I decided to make him my artist of the day and I want to look at his unusual painting entitled Les raboteurs de parquet [The Floor Planers].
Caillebotte was born in Paris in 1848 and brought up in a very respectable and very wealthy upper-class family environment. His father, Martial had inherited the family textile business. Martial Caillebotte had been widowed twice before he met and married Gustave’s mother, Céleste. When Gustave was eighteen his father moved the family home from Paris to the town of Yerres, a south-eastern suburb of Paris on the Yerres River, an area which was familiar to the family as they had spent many summers there.
Gustave studied law when he was twenty years old and passed all his exams two years later. That year, he was drafted into army to fight in the Franco-Prussian War. It was after the war and on leaving military service that Gustave wanted to concentrate on art and study painting. He set up an artist’s studio in the family home and in 1873 he entered the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The following year his father died and in 1878 his mother passed away, at which time the three brothers shared the family fortune. It was also around this time that Gustave met and became friends with Edgar Degas and came into contact with the Impressionists, a group of artists who had rebelled against Academicism art and academic painters, whose works were exhibited in the Paris Salon. This group of artists had their own Impressionist exhibitions, the first of which was held in 1874.
In 1876 the Impressionists held their second exhibition and Caillebotte exhibited eight of his paintings including today’s featured work, The Floor Scrapers, which he completed in 1875. The style of this work belongs to the Realism genre but unfortunately for Gustave the art establishment only considered peasants and farmers from the countryside as acceptable subjects in works of art which highlighted the realism of working-class life.
The Floor-scrapers, sometimes known as The Floor-strippers was painted in the artist’s family home. It is a painting which depicts working class people hard at work and although that in itself was not an unusual subject for French paintings as it had been done many times before but the difference was that in previous French paintings, the depiction of the hardships of the working class was all about working class farmers or country peasants. This painting depicts the urban working class and as such it was one of the first such representations. Caillebotte presented his painting for the exhibition at the Paris Salon in 1875 but it was rejected. The Jury of the Salon were shocked by its crude realism and some went so far as to describe it as being vulgar and offensive. The artist was both disappointed and angered by their stance and decided that exhibiting his works at the Paris Salon was not going to be the future course for his paintings. Instead, he decided to align himself with another group of French artists, who like him, were disillusioned by the narrow views of the academics and had formed themselves into their own artistic group – the Impressionists.
The work of art today is simply a painting depicting men hard at work. Here we see three men stripping the varnish off the floor of the artist’s new apartment. There is neither a moralising message nor is there a left wing political message. Caillebotte is merely showing the men hard at work carrying out a strenuous task. This is why the artist was looked upon as one of the most gifted French realist painters of his time. Look how Caillebotte has depicted the musculature of the upper body of his three workers as they perform their back-breaking task on their hands and knees. See how the artist has made the light of the late afternoon streams through the long balcony window and illuminate their backs. It harks back to the heroes we saw centuries earlier when we looked at the paintings of the heroes of Antiquity. France, like Britain, had just gone through an Industrial Revolution and with urbanization came a new social class which was termed la classe ouvrière or working class and it was in complete contrast to the bourgeoisie. The hard working men we see in Caillebotte’s painting may have been brought up in the countryside and therefore they were used to exhausting and strenuous work and had moved to the city to seek their fortunes.
At the time of this painting, France was in its Second Empire stage and Paris was undergoing massive change under the Haussmann’s Renovation of Paris which was the great modernisation plan for the city which had been commissioned by Napoleon III. The project encompassed all aspects of urban planning, both in the centre of Paris and in the surrounding districts: streets and boulevards, regulations imposed on facades of buildings, public parks, sewers and water works, city facilities, and public monuments. The planning was influenced by many factors, not the least of which was the city’s history of street revolutions. This was a time of great change and in a way Caillebotte wanted to change art and what had been previously unacceptable, he wanted to be accepted but he was a little ahead of his time as far as this painting was concerned. There is a great contrast in colours used in the painting from the light blue walls to the dark browns of the floor and the men’s clothes. I note that a bottle of wine and a glass has been added – a French prerequisite to help with a day’s work !
My featured artist today is the German painter Hubert von Herkomer. He was born in 1849 in Waal, a small town in southern Bavaria. He was an only child. His father Lorenz was a talented wood carver and his mother was a talented pianist and music teacher. At the age of two he and his family emigrated to America and settled in Cleveland Ohio. Their stay in America was comparatively short for in 1857 they returned to Europe, settling down in Southampton, England. Herkomer first art tuition came from his father and later in life he often said that his father had been one of the most important and positive influences on his career. He went to school in Southampton and began his art education when he attended the Southampton School of Art. One of his fellow students was Luke Fildes who was to become one of the greatest English Social Realism painters (see My Daily Art Display, May 17th). When he was sixteen years old his father took him back to Bavaria where he attended the Munich Academy for a short time. In 1866 he returned to England and enrolled at the South Kensington Schools which we now know as the Royal College of Art and at the age of twenty he exhibited, for the first time, at the Royal Academy.
Herkomer left Kensington Art School and 1867 and started a career as a book and magazine illustrator. However he found most of the work tedious and so being a young man with radical political opinions he was excited by the news that the social reformer, William Thomas, intended to launch an illustrated weekly magazine called the Graphic. Herkomer immediately fired with enthusiasm sent Thomas a drawing of a group of gypsies. The magazine owner, Thomas, was delighted with the drawings and the following week it appeared in his magazine. Over the next few years Herkomer supplied Thomas with more drawings which were published. He applied to join the staff of the magazine but was both annoyed and disappointed when his application was turned down by Thomas. Herkomer had no choice but to remain as a freelance contributor. Although devastated by the refusal he was later to recall that this rebuff was to be the making of him as an artist. He wrote about his belief that he had an obligation to pictorially depict the hard times of the poor and the importance of such magazines like the Graphic, saying:
“…It is not too much to say that there was a visible change in the selection of subjects by painters in England after the advent of the Graphic. Mr. Thomas opened its pages to every phase of the story of our life; he led the rising artist into drawing subjects that might never have otherwise arrested his attention; he only asked that they should be subjects of universal interest and of artistic value. I owe to Mr. Thomas everything in my early art career. Whether it was to do a two-penny lodging-house for St. Giles’, a scene in Petticoat Lane, Sunday morning, the flogging of a criminal in Newgate Prison, an entertainment given to Italian organ grinders, it mattered little. It was a lesson in life, and a lesson in art. I am only one of many who received these lessons at the hands of Mr. W. L. Thomas….”
(Spartacus Educational Hubert Von Herkomer)
A number of his engravings which were used in the Graphic were later reworked by Herkomer into large scale oil paintings. In 1879 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy and became an Academician in 1890.
In 1880 Herkomer started to concentrate on portraiture which, at the time, was the most lucrative art genre. His fame grew and he spent time in America where he completed thirteen portraits during his ten week stay and for them he received the princely sum of £6000. His wealth grew rapidly and he could now afford a luxurious lifestyle. Despite the lucrative portraiture market he never lost his love of Social Realism art which drew attention to the atrocious conditions of the poor. It was in the late nineteenth century that he produced some of his great Social Realism paintings such as Pressing to the West in 1884; today’s featured painting Hard Times in 1885 and On Strike in 1891. In 1883 Herkomer started his own art school at Bushey in Hertfordshire, at which he oversaw some five hundred would-be artists. He served as Slade Professor of Art at Oxford University between 1885 and 1895 and was knighted by the King in 1907. Herkomer died in 1914 aged 65 and is buried in St James’s Church, Bushey.
The featured painting in My Daily Art Display is entitled Hard Times and was painted by Herkomer in 1885. It now hangs in the City Art Gallery of Manchester. The artist was dedicated to bringing the social problems of the poor to the eyes of the public through his oil on canvas paintings. He never forgot his early impoverished childhood and his health problems. The author Lee Edwards, who wrote extensively about Herkomer, commented:
“…Herkomer painted a number of pictures that revealed his sympathy with the poor and disadvantaged, a characteristic fostered in part by his own humble origins…”
This painting was one of his most famous works and was one of many of his paintings which featured rural scenes. His inspiration for this painting was probably the impoverished migrant workers he had seen near his home in Bushey. Herkomer actually used a real family for his painting, getting an a working labourer, James Quarry and his wife Annie to pose with their two sons Frederick George and his brother James Joseph as unemployed workers and their children. The setting for this painting was called Coldharbour Lane, a long and winding road in the Hertfordshire countryside. The outdoor setting was painted en plein air but the characters in the painting were painted later, indoors at his Art School.
The wife who sits with her children by the roadside looks sad and dejected. On the other hand, the man looks down the road and his face is one of hope and possibly optimism that something will “turn up soon” and the tools of the man’s trade lie before them signifying that strength would eventually overcome hardship. It is interesting to note the difference in Herkomer’s portrayal of the effect hardship had on men and women. So should we view this painting as one of hope or one of destitution?
I suppose the answer lies with ourselves and whether when we face problems we believe our glass is half full or half empty !