The Stonebreakers by Gustave Courbet

The Stone Breakers by Gustave Courbet (1849)

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.

Barge-Haulers on the Volga by Ilya Repin

Barge-Haulers on the Volga by Ilia Repin (1873)

My blog today continues, as promised, with the Social Realism Movement in art.  Social Realism is a very broad term for painting or literature that comments on contemporary social political or economic conditions, usually from a left-wing viewpoint, in a realistic manner.  It was a way in which artists were able to draw attention to the everyday conditions of the working classes and the poor, and who were critical of the social structures that maintain these conditions.  As I am looking at a work by a Russian painter today it is important that we understand that Social Realism and Socialist Realism are quite different.  Social Realism evolved from the French Realism of the second half of the nineteenth century whereas Socialist Realism never came into being until the mid 1930’s when in 1934 Joseph Stalin made Socialist Realism the official art form of the USSR and later by the other Communist parties worldwide.  Socialist Realism demanded that all art must depict some aspect of man’s struggle toward socialist progress for a better life.   It was important to the communist regimes that Socialist Realism Art emphasized not just realism but the optimism and heroism of the people and the dictate was that all forms of experimentalism in art was to be looked upon as being degenerate and totally pessimistic.

One group of Soviet Realist artists, of which today’s featured painter was one, was the Peredvizhniki, which was also known as The Wanderers or The Itinerants in English.  This group of painters was formed in 1863 in St Petersburg as a protest at the academic restrictions of the official art center, the St Petersburg Academy of Arts.  Sounds familiar?  It should be, as in the past I have talked about the breakaway of artists from Academic control in both France and England.  The St Petersburg Academy, like other Academies in Western Europe, was associated with neoclassicism.   Neoclassicism was based on the ideal of beauty seen in ancient Greek and Roman art and looked to the Italian Renaissance.  The St Petersburg Academy of Arts was no different.  It wanted its student to depict not Russian subjects but more traditional art-historical themes: classical history, legends and myths.  In 1863, fourteen artists broke away from the Academy in protest of the proposed topic for the annual Gold Medal competition, which was to be the mythological subject of the Entrance of Odin into Valhalla. These fourteen painters believed that this subject was too remote from the real life of Russia and that the academic style of neoclassicism was much too constricting.   Having left the Academy, they organized themselves into a society on cooperative principles and developed their own educational program and in 1870 set up a touring group to exhibit their work known as the Society for Travelling Art Exhibitions. The Society maintained its independence from state support and their travelling exhibitions allowed them to take their art, which illustrated the contemporary life of the people from Moscow and Saint-Petersburg, to the provinces.

The artists adopted the style, which could be termed critical realism. Their aim was to depict their homeland and the life and history of their people from a truthful and democratic standpoint. The artists depicted the working class folk in a favourable and often heroic light but at the same time tore into their corrupt upper classes and aristocracy depicting them as oppressors and enemies of the workers.  Their paintings often highlighted the totally unacceptable and unbearable living conditions that the working class people had to endure.  It should be remembered that even though the first Russian Revolution was still more than 30 years away, and that unlike other Western European countries, Russia was a country where the political freedom to express oneself was strictly prohibited. However things were changing.  Tsar Nicholas I died in 1856 and a year later the Russian armies were defeated in the Crimea.  There was a hint of reform in the air but it was only in the arts, whether it be paintings, literature or the theatre that there was an opportunity to express one’s views.  With this in mind the members of the Peredvizhniki believed it was their duty to effect change to the living conditions of the working class. Our featured artist today, Ilya Repin wrote succinctly that artists come from the people and that the people expect art should reflect a clear understanding of conditions and nature.

Today’s featured work is second painting by Repin which I have looked at in a blog.   The first one was a painting, entitled Easter Procession in the Region of Kursk  (My Daily Art Display of August 29th 2011)   Today’s work is entitled Barge-Haulers on the Volga which he completed in 1873.   An alternative title is Burlacks on the Volga.   A burlak was a Russian nickname for a person who hauled barges and other vessels upstream from the 17th to 20th centuries. The word itself came from the Tatar word bujdak, ‘homeless’.  Before us is a river scene. The barge in the painting’s title is relegated to a minor role in the right background and if you look closely you will see in the distance, behind the barge, a small steam-powered boat, which makes us realise that at the time of the painting we were at the onset of the industrial age and the days of using human beings to haul barges was coming to an end.

The Barge Pullers

It is a magnificent portrayal of a group of eleven men, dressed in rags and bound with leather harnesses, who struggle with their backbreaking task at hand, the towing of a barge along the waters of the River Volga.  This painting is looked upon as being one of the best works of the Peredvizhniki movement.   The men we see before us are simply human pack mules.  This painting focuses on the difficult life endured by the peasantry at that time.  Look how Repin has portrayed the barge haulers.   It is a hot day and the men seem to be at the point of collapse and exhaustion as they lean forward in a desperate effort to keep the laden barge moving.   The painting is not just a testament to the peasant’s heroic efforts but it is a damning condemnation of the people that have set them this inhumane task.

The young optimist

There is an added touch of heroism.  Look at the line of men.  All but one of them is dressed in drably-coloured clothes.  In the middle of the line one man stands out from the others.  He is a fair-haired young man, dressed in slightly brighter colours.  He is not exhausted and bent over like the others.  He stands upright and proud as he looks out over the river.  He is not humiliated by his menial  and backbreaking task.  His spirit, unlike the others, is not broken.  He scans the horizon and in this gesture we realise he is not just scanning the river, he is looking to the future – his future. 

Repin, who was twenty-six at the time he started this work, formulated the idea for this painting during a summer holiday he spent near Stavropol, close to the river Volga in 1870.  He had spent three months there with his brother Vasily and friends. During that time he took a boat trip down the Volga and watched the gangs of barge haulers. Initially he made many oil sketches of the area and the men working on the riverbanks and the people we see in the painting were real people.  One was a former soldier, one and artist and one a defrocked priest.  The former priest’s name was Kanin, who became a good friend of Repin, and he can be seen as the lead hauler of the group wearing a bandana.  From the dialogue Repin had with the barge haulers he was shocked to find that at one time most of them had held relatively important positions in society but had since fallen on hard times.  Although not shown in this painting, there would often be women employed as barge haulers and the number in a barge-hauling gang would normally be more than the eleven Repin has depicted.

Vladimir Vasilievich Stasov, who was looked upon as the most respected Russian critic during his lifetime, said of the way Repin depicted the barge haulers:

“…They are like a group of forest Hercules with their dishevelled heads, their sun-tanned chests, and their motionlessly hanging, strong-veined hands. What glances from untamed eyes, what distended nostrils, what iron muscles!…’

and of the painting itself, Stasov commented:

“….with a daring that is unprecedented amongst us [Repin] has abandoned all former conceptions of the ideal in art, and has plunged head first into the very heart of the people’s life, the people’s interests, and the people’s oppressive reality… no one in Russia has ever dared take on such a subject…”

Despite its critical message of how the upper classes badly treated its workers, the painting was bought by the Tsar’s second son.   After the Russian Revolution the art collection of the grand duke was nationalized and it is now housed in the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg.

Repin commented on the paintings of the Russian Social Realist artists and what they achieved, saying:

 “…The pictures of those days made the viewer blush, to shiver and carefully look into himself…. They upset the public and directed it into the path of humaneness…”

Salon I by Otto Dix

The Salon I by Otto Dix (1921)

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.

The Trench by Otto Dix (1923)

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.

The War Cripples by Otto Dix (1920)

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.

Unemployed by Ben Shahn

Unemployment by Ben Shahn

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.

A Burial at Ornans by Gustave Courbet

A Burial at Ornans by Gustave Courbet (1850)

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… “

The Innocent gaze

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. 

Girl peeking at grave

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…”

Madonna of the Steps by Nicolas Poussin

Madonna on the Steps by Poussin (National Gallery of Art,Washington) 1648

“..Poussin is without question one of the greatest of all French painters whose influence on the development of European Art from the 17th Century onwards cannot be overstated. Like Titian before him and his contemporaries Caravaggio and Velazquez, he developed a personal, innovative and highly rigorous style of outstanding originality.  His work has been deeply influential on generations of artists up to the present day…”

Richard Knight, International Co-Head of Old Masters and 19th Century Art at Christie’s

My Daily Art Display today once again features a work, in fact two works, by the great French classical painter, Nicolas Poussin.  The two paintings in question are both entitled Holy Family on the Steps or sometimes referred to Madonna of the Steps and both were completed in 1648.  The painting is considered a masterpiece of 17th-century art and the pinnacle of the artists refined classical style.  One is housed in the Washington Gallery of Art and the other in the Cleveland Museum of Art.  They are similar paintings but the Washington version looks somewhat lighter in colour.  The big issue was which gallery had the original and which gallery had the copy.  The painting which is in the Cleveland collection and was purchased in 1981.   X-radiographs, published in 1982, proved that it was the original of the two versions, the other in the National Gallery of Art, Washington must then be the copy.   Up until then, the Washington picture was thought by some art historians to be the original.  The Washington Gallery was far from pleased with the adjudication and in 1994 Earl Powell  III, Director of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, was embroiled in controversy when he delayed the public acknowledgement that the Museum’s  Madonna on the Steps” by Poussin was no longer thought by scholars to be by the master.  It should be said that Anthony Blunt the British historian, art expert and an authority on the works of Poussin believed that the Washington painting was the original.

However notwithstanding who is right and who is wrong the painting dating from Poussin’s mature period is a beautiful work of art.  The arrangement of the figures harks back to works by the High Renaissance artists such as Raphael Sanzio and Andrea del Sarto.  The painting is a merging of the Classical, with its architecture and the Christian with its religious theme.  The figures are placed in a triangular format with the heads of Mary and the Christ Child at its apex. Before us,  we see, seated on the steps, Mary, holding the Christ Child, Saint Elizabeth holding her son John the Baptist and seated behind them, Joseph.  Poussin has included some symbolic features to the painting.  To the left of the seated figures we see an urn overflowing with water which is symbolic of the stream of life and the passing of time and our inevitable death.   Behind the urn we have an orange tree which is regarded as a symbol of purity, chastity and generosity and is often depicted in paintings of the Virgin Mary.    On top of the walled side of the staircase we have a myrtle bush which has been, since early times, used as the symbol of love.  In Roman mythology the myrtle was considered sacred to Venus, the goddess of love.

At the front of the painting, on a lower step we see the gifts Mary has received from the three Magi at the time of the birth of the Christ child.  Usually when the Christ Child holds an apple it is symbolizes the fruit of salvation.  There is also a connection with Christ and Adam going back to the passage from the Song of Solomon (2:3):

 “…As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste…”

The passage has been interpreted as an allusion to Christ.  As Christ is the new Adam, so, in tradition the Virgin Mary is the new Eve and for this reason an apple being placed in the hands of Mary, symbolises salvation.

Joseph sits on the steps behind Mary.  He is almost completely lost in the shadows.  By Joseph’s foot we see a measuring stick which in some ways indicates that Joseph was not just a humble carpenter but more of an artisan.  The steps which they are all resting on can be interpreted as the stairway to heaven and the light of God is shining brightly above the summit of the steps.  There are actually a number of light sources in this painting which cast various shadows.

McSorley’s Bar by John Sloan

McSorley's Bar by John Sloan (1912)

I have looked at many paintings which have featured inns and taverns but they have been mainly been depictions of rural scenes with peasants in the Netherlands and Flanders and were painted by the Dutch and Flemish painters centuries ago.  Today, for a change, I am looking at a genre painting of a tavern scene but this is not really a tavern, more what we British would call a pub or Americans would term a bar or a saloon.  The title of the painting is McSorley’s Bar and was painted by the American artist John French Sloan.  Sloan was originally a member of a group of artists who had the strange collective name of The Eight and later he became a leading figure in the Ashcan School of realist artists.  I have featured works by these artists in earlier blogs and if you enter either Ashcan School or Robert Henri or George Bellows into the “Search” function at the right of this blog it will give you a little bit of history about these artist groups.

John French Sloan was born in New York in 1871.  His father James had had an interest in art, but as only as a hobby but he did encourage his children to draw and paint during their early years.  Sloan’s father struggled to find gainful employment moving from one job to another without ever making a fortune.  He married, Henrietta, a girl who had come from a much more financially prosperous family and who was a teacher.  James Sloan suffered a mental breakdown when John was seventeen years of age and consequently was unable to work and the burden of supporting the family fell on to the shoulders of the seventeen year old John.  For this reason, John Sloan had to leave school and find a job in order to bring in some money for the family.

Sloan was employed in a local bookstore as an assistant cashier.  The job was not very taxing and the young man had time to read the books that were on sale at the emporium and also spend time studying the artistic prints that it also held.  It was during this time that Sloan started to make pen and ink copies of some of the prints and the store owner liked them so much that he allowed Sloan to put them up for sale in the store.  Two years later in 1890 Sloan moved on to work in a stationery store where he used to design calendars and greeting cards.  Sloan had now found the joy of art and enrolled in an evening art class.  Buoyed by his artistic successes he left the stationers and set himself up as a commercial artist but his well-intentioned venture failed and he took a job as an illustrator at the local newspaper offices of The Philadelphia Enquirer, later he would work for the rival newspaper, The Philadelphia Press.    He continued his artistic tuition in the evenings by enrolling at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.  It was here he met and became friends with fellow artists such as William Glackens and Robert Henri who became Sloan’s mentor, sending him reproductions of works by the French Impressionists and the leading European Renaissance painters, for him to copy.

When Sloan was twenty-seven he was introduced to a young woman with a somewhat chequered history, Anna Maria Wall, known affectionately as Dolly.  Sloan, who was very naive, very self-conscious and lacked the social graces which would gain him female companionship, met Anna at a brothel.  Although she worked in a department store during the day, she supplemented her meagre income by working in a brothel at night.  She needed the extra money to feed her other vice;  she was also an alcoholic but despite all this he fell in love with her and they started, what one can imagine, was a “challenging” relationship.

Their relationship did prove difficult as Anna not only suffered the effects of excessive and prolonged alcohol intake, she suffered from alcohol-related mental problems  and insecurity often believing Sloan was about to leave her.  In 1906 Sloan sought medical advice and was advised that he needed to constantly support Anna and show how much he needed her.  Between them they devised a plan by which Sloan would keep a dairy and in it he would write down each day how much he loved Anna and wanted to be with her and then leave the diary somewhere where she was bound to find it and surreptitiously read his journal entries and by doing so put her mind at rest.  He wrote daily entries for seven years until 1913.   Despite these problems, Sloan’s artistic work continued well and he was producing numerous oil paintings.  In 1904 he moved to New York and went to live in Greenwich Village and although relying on money he received from his freelance work for The Philadelphia Press newspaper, he supplemented that with money he earned for his book and magazine illustrations.   It was whilst living in New York, in 1912, that he painted today’s featured work McSorley’s Bar.  He exhibited it at the 1913 Armory Show, an exhibition of modern art which had been organised by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors.  This turned out to be a landmark exhibition which opened the eyes of the New Yorkers to this new modern art and the likes of cubism, who up till then had been accustomed to realistic art.   Sloan’s painting never sold and in fact remained unsold until 1932 when the Detroit Institute of Arts purchased it.  This was the first painting by Sloan to be part of a museum collection and was probably one of his best.

This painting was very typical of works by John Sloan in which he liked to depict the energy and life during the early years of the twentieth century of New York City and its inhabitants.  Sloan was a socialist and a member of the Socialist Party and had great empathy with the less well-off and their demanding and troubled existences.  His paintings would show the city’s people in different places and situations on the city streets and occasionally, like today’s painting, he would depict people in interior settings, such as cafés or bars as they discussed among themselves their everyday existence.

The painting today shows the interior of McSorley’s Bar with its clientele standing at the bar.  John Mc Sorley opened his Manhatten establishment on East Seventh Street in 1854 and during its existence in the nineteenth century, was an all-male bar.  From around 1912 it became a regular haunt of John Sloan and his Ashcan School artists.  The bar Sloan depicted was somewhat rough and inhospitable. It was always frequented by a great mix of people of various social classes and even today carpenters and mechanics rub shoulders with Wall Street brokers and local politicians.  John Sloan completed five paintings of the interior of the bar between 1912 and 1930 and these certainly increased the popularity of the establishment.   Today, McSorley’s bar draws visitors from around the world.    Its fame as New York’s oldest bar assures its survival and a 1970 court order guarantees that women are as welcome as men!   It’s a museum-like place. One can go there to drink a pint of ale and survey relics of a past era.

In 1943, Sloan’s  wife, Dolly, died of coronary heart disease. The next year, Sloan married Helen Farr, who is responsible for most of the preservation of his works. Part of this was the diary he wrote between 1907 and 1913 for his first wife, Dolly, to read and which were lovingly collated and published in 1965.  They gave a marvellous insight into Sloan’s life and his thoughts during those turbulent times.

On September 7, 1951 John Sloan died at the age of 80, of cancer in Hanover, New Hampshire.  John French Sloan was a leading figure in the Ashcan School of realist painters and was somebody who embraced the principles of socialism and allowed his artistic genius to be used to benefit those fervently upheld values.  His paintings sadly rarely sold during his lifetime and teaching at the Art Students’ League, of which he became its director in 1931, was his principal income.

To learn more about McSorley’s Bar why not go to their website:

http://www.mcsorleysnewyork.com/

The Floor-scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte

The Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte (1875)

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 !

Hard Times by Sir Hubert von Herkomer

Hard Times by Sir Hubert von Herkomer (1885)

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 !