Winter Landscape with koek en zopie at night by Andreas Schelfhout

Winter Landscape with Cake and Zopie at night by Andreas Schelfhout (1849)

In my last blog I looked at the life of Johan Jongkind.  His initial artistic tuition came when he attended the Drawing Academy of The Hague and it was here that he was taught by Andreas Schelfhout.  Having looked at the life of the pupil I thought it only right to spend some time looking at the life and work of the teacher, so today my featured artist is Andreas Schelfhout.

After the great periods of Dutch art in the Golden Age of the 17th century, there came many economic and political problems which lessened the activity in art in the country. However, the fine arts in the Netherlands enjoyed a revival around 1830, which is a period that is now referred to as the Romantic School in Dutch painting. The style of painting during this period was an imitation of the great 17th century artists. The most widely accepted paintings of this period were landscapes and paintings which reflected national history.   One of the leading painters of this time was Andreas Schelfhout whose works included landscapes, especially winter scenes, and also paintings depicting woodlands and the dunes between The Hague and Scheveningen.

Andreas Schelfhout became one of the most important and influential Dutch landscape artists of the 19th Century.   He was born in The Hague in 1787.  His father owned a gilding and picture framing business and it was here that Andreas worked until 1811.  During this time Andreas painted a number of pictures in his spare time and in 1811 he submitted some of his works at an exhibition in The Hague for amateur artists.  His paintings were well received, so much so, that his father realised that his son may be able to earn a living as an artist and so arranged for him to study art under Joannes Breckenheimer, a painter of stage scenery.   Breckenheimer taught him to paint motifs such as city scenes and landscape but also instructed him in the technical aspects of painting, such as perspective and paint preparation.  Schelfhout, during this time, made detailed studies of the great 17th Century Dutch  Masters of landscape art such as Meindert Hobbema and Jacob van Ruisdael. It was also during this period that he learned to sketch en plein air.   Schelfhout remained with Breckenheimer for four years at which time he decided to go it alone and set up his own workshop in 1815.

In those early days his works were very popular with the art lovers from The Hague but little was known about him in the outlying areas.  Soon however his fame spread to Belgium and with fame, came commissions.  In 1818 he exhibited a set of four paintings depicting the four seasons at an exhibition in Amsterdam and that year he became a member of the Royal Academy for Visual Arts of Amsterdam.  The following year, 1819, he received a Gold Medal at the exhibition in Antwerp and three years later, in 1822, he was named Fourth Class Correspondent of the Royal Dutch Institute and from that moment on his reputation was ensured.  His landscape work was mainly of summer scenes of the countryside, which at that time were far more popular than the winter landscape works.  However this latter type of landscape painting became increasingly more popular with the art buying public and Schelfhout began to exhibit some of his winter landscape paintings in the many exhibitions held in the towns and cities of the Netherlands as well as the Salons in Brussels and Antwerp.  He completed a large variety of paintings over the next few years, winter and summer landscapes, beach scenes, moonlight subjects and a few paintings of animals.  Records show that his annual painting output was about twenty, of which,  over seventy per cent were winter or summer landscapes.

In 1833, Schelfhout decided that it was time to find new landscapes to paint and to travel again so as to increase his knowledge other artistic trends. He first visited France.  Whilst staying in Paris he came into contact with the French Romantic landscape painters and it was after studying their works that his landscape paintings took on brighter colours in comparison to his previous sober palette.  Two years later, he crossed the Channel to visit England where he was able to study the works of the great English landscape artist, John Constable.  Art historians believe, that following these trips, Schelfhout’s palette became warmer and his choice of motifs became more varied.  He taught at The Hague Academy and, as we saw in my last blog, one of his pupils was Johan Jongkind.

He became a member of the Pulchri Studio which was formed in 1847 and which was, and still is, an important art institution and art studio based in The Hague.  The Pulchri Studio was established as there was a growing discontent among the young artists in The Hague about the apparently insufficient opportunities for training and development.  The founders believed that the studio could provide an outlet for art intellectuals to model their work and to exchange thoughts and opinions.  It was in this studio that Schelfhout would complete paintings from the sketches he had made earlier, during his art trips.

The height of his career came in the 1840‘s and 1850’s when his summer landscapes such as Landscape near Haarlem gained him international renown.  However he will probably always best be remembered for his depiction of Dutch winter scenes with their perfect clarity of the ice and the delicate blue wintry tone.  In his later years he became part of the Hague School, which was the name given to a group of artists who lived and worked in The Hague between 1860 and 1890. Their work was heavily influenced by the realist painters of the French Barbizon School. The painters of The Hague school generally made use of relatively somber colors, which is why the Hague School was sometimes referred to as the Gray School.

Schelfhout died on 23rd April, 1870. He was buried in the Eik en Duinen Cemetery in The Hague. His death made a deep impression on the art-loving city and numerous influential figures followed the funeral procession. His death marked the end of the era we now call Romanticism.

Although his portfolio of work included a wide range of themes, he became best known for his winter scenes. He was a Master of the winter landscape genre often embellished with skaters on the frozen waterways.  It was these works of Andreas Schelfhout which continue to be his most sought after works. His skilfully and delicately executed winter landscapes gained him great success and enhanced his reputation both in his home country and abroad.   He became known as the Claude Lorrain of the winter scene.

My featured work today is a winter landscape scene by Andreas Schelfhout entitled Winter Landscape with koek en zopie at night, which he completed in 1849.  It combines the artist’s talents as a painter of winter landscapes and a painter of scenes bathed in moonlight.  Koek en Zopie is the name given to small stands that sold hot food and drinks that kept the skaters warm. ‘Koek’ is the generic term for cakes and ‘zopie‘ is an old recipe for a warm mix of beer, rum and spices.  In today’s painting we see the Koek en zopie stand on the bank, to the left of the frozen river, illuminated by some sort of brazier, which will, along with the alcoholic zopie,  help to keep the skaters and the vendor warm.

The painting is part of the Rademakers Collection, which is a private compilation of romantic paintings from the 19th century owned by Jef Rademakers, a former owner of a television production company.   In the eighties he was commissioned to make a series of documentaries about art in Dutch collections. These programs brought him into close contact with the art world: museums, dealers, auction houses and art historians.  From this, he started to realise that besides being an admirer of art, one could also become the owner of art works from the past.   In the 1990’s, Jef Rademakers decided to renounce the world of television and to hand over his production company. From that moment on he started a new life as a fulltime collector of art. Nowadays the Rademakers Collection consists of more than a hundred highly romantic paintings from mainly Dutch and Belgian masters of the 19th century.   The art works in his collection are now often loaned out to foreign galleries and museums.

A Primitive City by Edward Calvert

A Primitive City by Edward Calvert (1822)

When I wander around various galleries, I am often lost in wonderment  when I stand in front of a massive painting.  I can remember when I was in Venice last year and visited the Accademia Galleries and stood before the giant work of Paolo Veronese entitled Feast in the House of Levi.     I was amazed at the magnitude of the work which measured  5.6 metres x 13metres and I could only wonder at how he managed to physically paint such a large scale picture.  How long must it have taken him?  Maybe he had some of his apprentices to help him but still it was an outstanding undertaking.  I find equally impressive miniature paintings and I am always filled with a sense of amazement at how these delicate paintings have been achieved.  My Daily Art Display featured painting today is one such miniature and I want you to feast your eyes on this lovely work of art entitled A Primitive City painted by the English artist Edward Calvert.

Edward Calvert was born in Appledore in the county of Devon in 1799.  His early schooling and art education was at Plymouth but coming from a seafaring area the young Calvert joined the Navy and spent five years serving his country.  A death of a close friend in naval action resulted in him leaving the force and coming ashore.  In 1824 he moved to London and it was here he, at the age of twenty-five, enrolled at the Royal Academy, where one of the professors was the artist, Henri Fuseli.  It was whilst in London that he met the ageing English painter, William Blake.  Blake and his paintings were one of his first great artistic influences and one that would remain with him for the rest of his life.  Blake’s art work inspired a number of aspiring artists and Calvert and some like-minded Romantic artists, who had fallen under the spell of Blake and his work formed an association known as The Brotherhood of the Ancients often simply known as The Ancients.  The leader of the group was Samuel Palmer but one of the most of the most important members of the group was today’s featured artist, Edward Calvert.  Others in the group were George Richmond and John Linnell.  This group of painters, who  all had a love of the spiritual art of the past, would often meet at the home of Blake, which they used to refer reverentially to as the House of the Interpreter.  They would also congregate at Palmer’s house in Shoreham, Kent to discuss Blake’s visionary ideology and to paint pastoral images with a mystical perspective.  They brought a new dimension to Romantic Art.  They brought a wondrous vision of a golden age set in quiet landscapes amidst a pastoral innocence and abundance.

Edward Calvert who was a man of private means left the Academy and concentrated on another love of his, wood-engraving.  He lived with his wife in Dalston in the London borough of Hackney for most of his life.  Calvert’s love of pastoral depictions disappeared gradually but his interest in ancient Greece increased. He visited Greece where he sketched prolifically.  Eventually, he gave up his printmaking and for the rest of his life his art was just for himself and for his own pleasure.  He would work in oil, watercolour and gouache and for his subjects he liked to focus on pagan mythology.  Latterly, Calvert became a recluse and died in 1883, aged 84.

My featured painting today is a tiny watercolour miniature, measuring just 7 cms x 10 cms (not quite 3 inches x 4 inches), entitled A Primitive City, which Edward Calvert painted in 1822.   The quality of this work of art is amazing with its clarity of line and jewel-like colouring and the amount of detail that is shown in such a small space.  It is an evening scene and in the background on the right, we see the waning moon as it hovers behind a distant walled city.  In the right mid-ground we see a peasant leading a donkey which staggers slowly heavily laden with two large baskets of grapes on its back.  Behind the donkey there is another cart, crossing a rickety wooden bridge, being pulled by a bullock, which is loaded with sacks of grain and driven by a woman.  The grapes and grain symbolise the Eucharistic wine and bread.  The pastoral theme is emphasized  by the shepherd and his flock which  we see depicted in the left mid-ground of the work.  If we carefully look at the city itself we see a woman drawing water from a well and above her we see another woman watching her from her viewpoint on the staircase between the two towers.

There is an innocence to the scene and this is accentuated by the beautiful, almost naked, young girl we see to the left of the picture who is about to take a swim in the nearby stream, which runs across  the foreground of the painting.  We can see Calvert’s love and interest in Classical art in the way he  has depicted the woman, as the stance of the scantily-clad young lady is almost certainly derived from the Venus Kallipygos, which is in the Naples National Archaeological Museum.  It could well be that the presence of the river was Calvert’s idea of symbolising the river of life and the nakedness of the young woman symbolic of innocence.  Above the girls head we see that the trees are full of fruit symbolising abundance.

This was Calvert’s vision of the perfect idyll, tranquillity and abundance.  It should be remembered that this work was completed before Calvert went to London and became part of The Ancients , which just goes to show that his ideas for artistic subjects were similar to those of artists he was yet to meet.

Disappointed Love by Francis Danby

Disappointed Love by Francis Danby (1821)

Francis Danby was an English painter, born in 1793, in a small village near Waterford, Ireland, where his father owned a farm.  When he was fourteen years of age his father died and he along with his mother and twin brother moved to Dublin.  Whilst living in Dublin, Francis Danby enrolled at the Royal Dublin Society’s Schools of Drawing where he received artistic training.  It was at this establishment that he met the renowned Irish landscape painter James Arthur O’Connor and it was through his mentorship that Danby developed a love of landscape painting. Danby also struck up a friendship with another fellow student, George Petrie, and they along with O’Connor left Dublin in 1813 and travelled to London.  By all accounts the trip had not been well planned financially and their funds soon ran out and they had to head back to Ireland, on foot, but on the way they stopped off in Bristol.  It was in this city that Danby managed to supplement his meagre worth by painting watercolours of the local scenes and selling them to the locals.  At the same time as selling some of his work, he kept back what he considered to be his best paintings and sent them to various London exhibitions.

The works of Francis Danby, which were shown at various London sites, received favourable reviews and were soon in great demand.  It was whilst still living in Bristol around 1818 that Danby joined an informal association of artists based around Bristol, which had been founded by the English genre painter, Edward Bird, known as the Bristol School or Bristol School of Artists.  In 1821, Danby had a painting of his first exhibited at the Royal Academy.  It was entitled Disappointed in Love and is My Daily Art Display’s featured work today.  In 1824 Danby left Bristol and moved to London.  It was around this time that Danby gave up his naturalistic and topographically accurate landscapes and moved towards poetic landscape painting.  Poetic landscapes gave one the geography and architecture of landscapes from a subjective point of view, using elements of myth, fantasy or the picturesque. Claude Lorrain is usually looked upon as the originator of this style and this style of painting culminated in the Romantic landscape of the 19th century.   A Poetic Landscape presents us with an imaginary place and for that reason the artists did not have to worry about topographical accuracy and it allowed them the opportunity to transform the characteristic features of, for example, Italian geography and architecture, and turn them into mythical or pastoral fantasy. This painting genre allowed artists to exaggerate the shape and height of mountains, delete or redesign buildings and objects, insert dramatically placed trees or human figures, and throw strongly contrasted lighting effects over it all. The public liked this style of landscape painting and did not care about the topographical veracity of what they saw.  People, at the time, preferred this style to the topographical landscape with its dryly objective recording of what was actually there.

Another artistic genre Danby began to draw on was the large biblical scenes such as his 1825 painting The Delivery of Israel,  which was exhibited at the Royal Academy and which led to him being elected an Associate Member of the Royal Academy.  In the next two decades Francis Danby produced many large biblical and apocalyptic paintings which were to rival his contemporary and renowned “high priest” of apocalyptic art, John Martin.

Francis Darby, already an Associate Member of the Royal Academy was put up for election in 1829 to become a Royal Academician.  When the votes were counted, he was devastated to find he had lost out by one vote to John Constable,  who was elected instead of him.  This year, 1829, was an annus horriblis for Danby as this was also the year that his marriage to his wife Hannah failed and he took himself a mistress.  Hannah went off with another artist Paul Falconer Poole who had spent some time in the Danby household.  London Society was scandalised by the goings-on at Danby’s household and in 1830 he went into self-imposed exile in Paris along with his mistress.  From 1831 to 1836 Danby worked out of Geneva reverting back to his topographical watercolour landscape art work.

The Deluge by Francis Danby

In 1837 he returned to Paris and a year later went back to living in London.  It was in that year he produced his famous work, The Deluge, which re-established his reputation amongst the art community.  This massive canvas, measuring 2.85m x 4.52m, depicted an area of harsh and violent weather and writhing, diminutive bodies trying to save themselves from the stormy waters.  The painting put Danby briefly back in the limelight.  However for Danby,  life as an artist was becoming too much for him and in 1847, aged 54, he left London and went to live in Exmouth, Devon.

Whilst living in Devon Danby still found time to paint concentrating on landscapes and seascapes but he also took up boatbuilding.  Francis Danby died in Exmouth, in 1861, aged 67.  To the end of his life Danby constantly had money problems and was embittered that he never gained the recognition he deserved from the Royal Academy and was never elected as a Royal Academician.  The final straw came two days before he died when he learnt that his ex-wife’s husband, Paul Falconer Poole had been elected a Royal Academician !

My Daily Art Display painting for today is by Francis Danby which he completed in 1821 and is entitled Disappointed Love.  The painting was the first painting Francis Danby exhibited at the Royal Academy, and it became one of his best-known works. Before us, we see a heartbroken young woman who has just been jilted.  Her hands cover her face as she sits weeping on the bank of a  lily pond surrounded by dark and murky woodland.  The occasional small white flowers, dotted around, struggle to lift the dark green and browns of the undergrowth.  This gloomy undergrowth mirrors the depressed mind of the young girl.   Her long dark tresses hang down over her white dress.   On the ground beside her we see her discarded bonnet, her scarlet shawl , a miniature portrait of her lover and other letters which she has not yet destroyed.    Her sad figure dressed in white is reflected in the water and in some way it seems that the water is drawing her to it so that she can end her life and her misery, in an Ophelia-like fashion.  Floating on the surface of the pond are pieces of a letter which she has torn up and discarded.  Eric Adams wrote a biography in 1973 on Francis Danby entitled Francis Danby: varieties of poetic landscape and he believes the setting for the painting was on the banks of the River Frome on the outskirts of Bristol and that the model for the painting was a model at the Bristol Artists newly founded Life Academy.  There was a lot of criticism of the painting, not so much for the poetical nature of the work but for its technical faults, in particular the lack of proportion of the plants in the foreground.

When the painting was put forward to the Royal Academy jurists to see if it should be allowed in to the 1821 Exhibition it was not wholly loved.  An account of the jurist’s comments on seeing Danby’s painting was reported some twelve years later as:

“…An unknown artist about ten years ago sent a very badly painted picture for the exhibition.  The committee laughed, but were struck by “something” in it and gave it admission.  The subject was this.  It was a queer-coloured landscape and a strange doldrum figure of a girl was seated on a bank, leaning over a dingy duck-weed pool.  Over the stagnant smeary green, lay scattered the fragments of a letter she had torn to pieces, and she seemed considering whether to plump herself in upon it.  Now in this case, the Academicians judged by the same feelings that influence the public.  There was more “touching” invention in that than in the nine-tenth of the best pictures exhibited there the last we do not know how many years.  The artist is now eminent…”

To my mind it is a beautiful painting, full of pathos, and one cannot but feel sympathy for the young girl.  It was for this reason that I was surprised to read an anecdote about this painting and the depiction of the girl.  Apparently the Prime Minister at the time, Lord Palmerston, was being shown the painting by its owner, the wealthy Yorkshire cloth manufacturer, John Sheepshanks and commented that although he was impressed by the deep gloom of the scene, it was a shame that the girl was so ugly.  Sheepshanks replied:

“..Yes, one feels that the sooner she drowns herself the better…”

How unkind !

This painting along with the rest of his outstanding art collection was presented to the Victoria & Albert Museum

The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife by Daniel Maclise

The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife by Daniel Maclise (1854)

Today I am moving from France to Ireland for my featured artist.  I will be looking at the life of the Irish painter Daniel Maclise and one of his historical paintings which will allow me to take you back in time to the twelfth century and regale you about a happening at that time in Irish History, but first let me tell you a little about the artist.

Daniel Maclise was born in Cork in 1806 into a poor but thrifty Scottish Presbyterian family. His father, after leaving the British Army, became a shoemaker. Maclise was educated locally in Cork and attended the Cork Institute where he studied drawing.   Whilst still a teenager  he was introduced to the art connoisseur, George Newenham, and the antiquarian and merchant, Richard Sainthill and it was through Sainthill that Maclise became interested in medals, coins, and aspects of heraldry and he would often illustrate coin catalogues for Sainthill.

In 1825, when he was nineteen years of age, Walter Scott the novelist and playwright visited a local bookstore in Cork and Maclise made a sketch of him which was subsequently lithographed and the copies sold.  This was to launch Maclise’s artistic career and enhanced his reputation as a portraitist.

Maclise travelled to London in 1827 and started to put together a portfolio of his work which he submitted to the Royal Academy as part of his submission to become a probationary student.  He was accepted into the R.A. the following year and stayed on for a further three years during which time he was awarded a silver medal and a gold medal for his historical painting, Choice of Hercules.  Whilst in London Maclise mixed in the company of men who appreciated his artistic skills and in particular Dr William Maginn, the founder and editor of Fraser’s Magazine, a general and literary journal for which Maclise contributed portraiture and caricatures.  He became a friend of Charles Dickens and contributed a number of book illustrations for his novels.

In 1848 he was back in London after a period of time spent in Ireland.  He presented a cartoon, sketch, and fresco specimens to the Fine-Art Committee of the Palace of Westminster for their official competition to paint frescoes in the House of Lords.   They liked his work and he was chosen to paint The Spirit of Chivalry for the House of Lords in 1848. One year later he painted a companion fresco entitled The Spirit of Justice.    His big break came along in 1858 when he was commissioned to paint two giant commemorative frescoes for the Royal Gallery of Westminster Palace, The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher and The Death of Nelson. These two mammoth works were to be the greatest achievement of Maclise’s public career but sadly they were also to cause the deterioration of his health.   The two works took Maclise seven years to complete and he worked tirelessly on completing them on time.   The passionate and concentrated effort which he put into these two great historic works affected him badly.   He would shut himself away and shun his erstwhile friends.  The Royal Academy even offered him the Presidency in 1865 but he declined the invitation.  His health declined rapidly and in 1870, aged 64, he died of acute pneumonia.

My Daily Art Display’s featured painting today by Daniel Maclise is entitled The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife and was completed in 1854.  I suppose the first thing you need to know is who are these two characters, Strongbow and Aoife, and why are they the centre of attention in the painting.

Strongbow was the nickname given to Richard de Clare the 2nd Earl of Pembroke who was born in Tonbridge, Kent in 1130.  He was a Cambro-Norman knight, that is to say, he was a descendent of the Norman knights who had eventually settled in southern Wales after the 1066 Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror.  He had become the Earl of Pembroke on the death of his father in 1848 and had lands around Pembroke.

However fate was to take a hand in his destiny.   King Henry I of England died in 1135 and his only surviving offspring was his daughter Matilda, who at the time was pregnant in Normandy with her third child.  This gave her cousin Stephen of Blois, grandson of William the Conqueror, the chance he needed to usurp the English throne and he became King Stephen I of England and ruled until his death in 1154.  On his death, Matilda’s eldest son Henry was crowned King Henry II of England.   Unfortunately for Richard de Clare he made a bad decision in 1135 as instead of supporting Matilda’s claim to the English throne he supported Stephen’s claim and when Matilda’s son became King Henry II of England he took his revenge on Richard de Clare by stripping him of the title of the Earl of Pembroke.  Unbeknown to Richard his future lay entwined in what was happening across the Irish Sea as in 1167, Dermot MacMurrough, the king of Leinster, was defeated by Turlough O’ Connor, the king of Connacht.   Dermont hastily rushed to England and asked King Henry II for help .  Henry could not send troops but asked Dermot to approach Richard de Clare to help him in his war against Roderic.   Richard agreed to help on condition that he was allowed to marry Dermont’s daughter, Aoife and succeed Dermont as King of Leinster on his death.  With Richard de Clare’s help, Dermot was able to defeat the king of Connacht’s forces, who poorly armed with only slings and stones, where no match for  Richard de Clare’s army which relied heavily on Welsh archers, which is why Richard, who was an expert bowman,  received the nickname ‘Strongbow’.   Richard married Aoife in 1170 and when Dermont died the following year he became the new king of Leinster.   However back in England King Henry II was concerned with their power Richard now exerted in Ireland and so in late 1171 Henry and his troops crossed the Irish Sea and Strongbow was forced to surrender Leinster to Henry. The land was later returned to Richard de Clare in return for the service of 100 of his knights.

My Daily Art Display featured painting today is the large romantic historical oil painting (309cms x 505cms) entitled The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife which was completed by Daniel Maclise in 1854 and is housed in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.   It depicts the ruins of the captured city of Waterford, which is the setting for the arranged marriage of the daughter of Diarmuid Mac Murrough the King of Leinster to Richard de Clare. In the foreground of the painting we see bodies of the vanquished enemy heaped on top of each other.  To the left we see the broken-stringed harp, the instrument which symbolises Ireland.   In the central midground we see Richard and Aiofe.  The victorious Richard de Clare takes his bride’s hand whilst we see his foot on top of a Celtic cross, symbolising the crushing of the Irish enemy.  This would be the start of a long period of subjugation by the English for the people of Ireland.  Facing Richard is Aoife, his bride-to-be, behind who stand a line of her bridesmaids.  Facing us in the central midground is the local religious dignitary who, with his hand raised heavenwards, blesses the couple.  The father of the bride, Diarmuid Mac Murrough, King of Leinster, stands to the right of the priest.  In the background above the ruins of the city we see wounded men and bodies being carried away by their colleagues whilst women weep and mourn the loss of their men folk.

A truly remarkable painting with so much going on.   It is one of those paintings which every time you revisit it, you see something that you had not noticed before.

Susanna at her Bath by Francesco Hayez

Susanna at her Bath by Francesco Hayez (1850)

For an artist to have two favourite subjects for his paintings, biblical stories and female nudity, one would have thought combining the two would be somewhat difficult, if not risky.  However my featured artist today, the leading Romantic painter and portraitist of his time, Francesco Hayez, has, on a number of occasions, achieved that very thing.

Francesco Hayez was born in Venice in 1791.    He was the youngest of five sons.  His father was a French fisherman originally from Valenciennes and his mother, Chiara Torcella came from island of Murano, situated in the Venetian lagoon.  He was born into an impoverished household but fate took a hand in his life as Francesco was brought up in the household of his mother’s sister whose husband, Giovanni Binasco was a wealthy antiquarian and an avid art dealer and art collector.  It is more than likely that his uncle’s love for art transferred to his nephew, who in his childhood days developed a love of drawing.   Hayez’s uncle further developed Francesco’s love of art by gaining him a position as an apprentice in a studio of an art restorer.  His uncle then arranged for Francesco to study art under the tutelage of the Italian historical and allegorical painter, Francesco Maggiotto where he learnt about the Neo-Classical style of painting.  From the age of eleven to fifteen he studied the use of colour in classes run by the Bergamo painter, Lattanzio Querena, a skilful portraitist and copyist of 16th century Venetian paintings.

At the age of seventeen, Francesco Hayez was able to be enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia where he studied under the historical and portrait painter, Teodoro Matteini.  It was whilst at the Academia that he won a painting competition, the prize being the chance to study for one year at one of the leading art establishments, Academia di San Luca in Rome.  Although his prize was for a one-year study period, Francesco Hayez, remained in the Italian capital for almost five years and spent much time studying the works of Raphael in the four Stanze di Raffaello (“Raphael’s rooms”) in the Vatican Palace.   He then moved on to Naples in order to fulfill a commission he had received from Joachim-Napoléon Murat, who at the time was the King of Naples, and brother-in-law to Napoleon Bonaparte.

Hayez moved to Milan in 1823 when he was thirty two years of age.   He was appointed Professor of Painting at the Accademia di Brera and soon became part of the academic and aristocratic life of the city.  It was around this time that he concentrated his art work on history paintings and portraiture and regularly exhibited his works at the annual Brera exhibitions.  In the mid 1830s he attended the famous Salon, which became known as the Salotto Maffei, as it was hosted by Clara Maffei, a leading Milan society hostess of the time.  Salon was the name given to gatherings of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste and increase their knowledge of the participants through conversation.  Clara’s salon was always well attended by well-known writers, artists, scholars, musical composers such as Verdi and people who were pro-Risorgimento (the political and social movement that wanted all the different states of the Italian peninsular united into one single state of Italy).  Hayez received many commissions from the men in the forefront of the fight for Italian independence and unification, one of these was his good friend Teodoro Arese, who in Hayez’s 1828 painting, Count Francesco Teodoro Arese in Prison, he depicted Arese in chains as a reminder of Arese’s imprisonment in 1821, as a result of his struggle against the government.

The paintings of Hayez were often dominated by biblical themes but Hayez had also developed an interest in the history of his country and began to incorporate contemporary political and social figures in historical backgrounds.  The sense of patriotism which he depicted in his portraiture was always well received by his patrons.   In 1850 he was appointed the director of the Academy of Brera and it is the Pinacoteca di Brera (“Brera Art Gallery”) which now houses one of the most famous of Hayez paintings, The Kiss (see My Daily Art Display Jan 6th 2011).

As I stated at the start of this blog, besides his love of historical and  biblical paintings, one of his other favourite themes was that of the semi-clothed, or the naked female. He often incorporated these within oriental themes or scenes from harems, such as his 1867 painting, Odalisque. By doing this he and other artists were able, in some way, to counter any possible negative comments by people offended by naked flesh.

Penitent Mary Magdalene by Francesco Hayez (1825)

What was more controversial was his 1825 portrayal of a naked repenting, Mary Magdalene, entitled Penitent Mary Magdalene, which surprisingly depicted such a well-known religious figure in a full-frontal nude pose.  Hayez’s reasoning behind such a depiction, which was not the normal portrayal of Mary Magdalene recanting her sins, was that it was to remind us of Mary Magdalene’s somewhat erotic and dubious past.

My featured Hayez painting today has also religious connotations but is unlike many similar depictions.  The work, which he completed in 1850, is entitled Susanna at her Bath and is housed in the National Gallery, London.  It has allowed the artist to combine his love of biblical stories and the portrayal of a well-endowed female nude.  The story of Susanna and the Elders comes from Chapter 13 of the Old Testament Book of Daniel

The story revolves around a Hebrew wife named Susanna who was falsely accused by two lecherous voyeurs.  Whilst bathing one day in her garden and having dispensed of the services of her attendants, two lustful elders secretly observe her.  On making her way back to her house, they accost her, threatening to claim that she was meeting a young man in the garden unless she agrees to have sex with them.  She is horrified at their suggestion and refuses to be blackmailed.  The two lechers carry out their threat and inform the authorities about her affair with an illicit lover.  She is arrested and about to be put to death by stoning for promiscuity when a young man named Daniel interrupts the proceedings, shouting that the two elders should be questioned to prevent the death of an innocent. The two men are questioned separately and their stories do not agree. The court then realises that the two elders have made false accusations against Susanna.   The false accusers are put to death and virtue triumphs.

The Susanna in Hayez’s painting is the same Susanna but unlike other depictions of the event we do not see the two elders and accordingly Hayez has not included the words “the Elders” in the title of his work.  Hayez has preferred to concentrate all his artistic ability in his depiction of the nubile and beautiful young woman.  Although the two men are not seen by us we notice the accusatory expression on Susanna’s face as she looks over her shoulder and catches a glimpse of her voyeurs.  It is a truly beautiful painting and Hayez’s portrayal of the voluptuous Susanna with her pale skin and pursed lips is remarkable.  Look into her eyes.  It is as if she is looking straight through us.  We ourselves feel accused of staring at her naked flesh.  We can just imagine her unwavering stare as she browbeats the two old lechers.  The background to the right is dark and contrasts with the pale white skin of her leg and this chiaroscuro effect adds to the painting.

Susanna and the Elders by Artemisia Gentileschi (1610)

This painting depicting the biblical scene portrays Susanna’s character as being quite hard, determined and dare I say slightly brazen.  If you want to see a slightly different depiction of Susanna, in which she is shown as being vulnerable, frightened and devastated by the overtures of the two lechers then you must look at the painting Susanna and the Elders by my favourite female artist, Artemisia Gentilesschi.  She completed the work in 1610 and rather than showing Susanna as a coy or flirtatious person as often depicted by male artists, including Hayez, Artemisia looks on the event from the female perspective and deftly portrays the vulnerability of Susanna, showing her as being both scared and repulsed by the demands of the two men who menacingly loom over her.  It is one of the few Susanna paintings showing the sexual assault by the two Elders as a traumatic event. Artemisia Gentileschi at the time of her painting was having a torrid time with her boyfriend who two years later would rape her and Artemisia had then to endure the trauma and mortification of the rape trial.

Winter Landscapes by Caspar David Friedrich

When I visited the National Gallery in London last week I knew I only had an hour to spare so decided to try and sensibly limit what I wanted to see rather than rush around trying to see as much as I could in the allotted time and end up really seeing nothing.  I decided to visit the Impressionist paintings which were housed in rooms 43 to 46.  They were awash with works by Degas, Monet, Manet, Renoir and the likes.  I spent some time in front of The Large Bathers by Cézanne as I knew I was going to write about the Philadelphia Museum of Art version of the painting which is very similar to the one in the National Gallery.  (See My Daily Art Display for March 13th).  The reason for mentioning all this is not that I am featuring another Impressionist work today but that having passed through these rooms I arrived at Room 41 which was simply entitled The Academy.

So why label this room as such?  The answer is that It goes back to the first half of the 19th century and the academic teachings of École des Beaux-Arts, which was the official art school in Paris. The training that young aspiring artists received at this establishment was very taxing and their tutors made them spend long periods drawing.  The students started by copying plaster cast statues and then later they would join the life classes. In some ways there art was regimented.  It had to conform to the rules of The Academy.  Their tutors only wanted to have them deliver what we now term academic art.   I had thought that the title of this room would mean that it would be full of works by French painters but it was not.  It was more to do with the style of paintings than the nationality of the artist and although there were a large number of works by famous French artists such as Corot, Delacroix, Géricault, and Jaques Louis-David there were some non-French contributors such as the Spanish painter, Francesco Hayez, the Danish painter Christen Købke and the German painter, Johann Philipp Eduard Gaertner.  However I came across a painting in this room, entitled Winter Landscape,  by one of my favourite artists, Caspar David Friedrich and it is this painting along with two of his other works, which are connected to this painting that I want to feature in My Daily Art Display blog today.   Caspar David Friedrich studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts at the end of the eighteenth century.  This Academy is the oldest and most renowned place of higher learning in Denmark.

Caspar Friedrich was one of the leading artists of the German Romantic movement.  He specialised in landscape painting but with a difference.   His aspiration as a landscape artist was not to be a topographical artist portraying true representations of what he saw but he wanted his paintings, as he once said, “to reflect the artist’s soul and emotions in the landscape”.  He endowed his landscape works with symbolism and the natural elements in his work often took on a religious connotations.

There is something about all Friedrich’s paintings which make them so evocative.  I find his works of art breathtaking and I stood before this painting and marvelled how such a painting could exude an overwhelming feeling of both wonderment and awe.  As we have seen with other artists, they would often paint a number of versions of the same subject.  In some cases the difference between the various versions would be very noticeable in others the differences would not be so obvious. Two of today’s painting fall into the latter category.  The two paintings, Winter Landscape and Winter Landscape with Church look almost the same, but not quite.  To confuse things slightly I am also going to look at another work of his, also entitled Winter Landscape, which is almost a prequel to the other two.  Sounds confusing?  Let us take a look at each of the works.

Winter Landscape by Caspar David Friedrich (Schwerin) 1811

The oil on canvas painting, above, entitled Winter Landscape, can be found in the Staatliche Museum in Schwerin and was painted by Friedrich in 1811.   This painting has an intense feeling of solemnity and pathos as we look out at a bleak winter scene with a snow covered ground stretching out as far as the eye can see.  This melancholic depiction before us, with its threatening dark grey sky features a tiny old man, bent over and leaning on his two wooden crutches. He is standing between two gnarled tree trunks and into the distance we can see the stumps of trees which have been cut down.  Some art historians would have us believe that we should interpret this as being symbolic of the end of life and see the painting as an allegory for the aged man coming to end of his life as the landscape and vegetation also have reached the end of their life cycle.   So looking at this work are we to believe there is no hope for this man?  Probably so, but then Friedrich decided to paint a companion piece.  In fact that same year, 1811, he painted two companion pieces which follow up the story of the little old man. These two works depicted a tale of the old man’s salvation.

Winter Landscape by Caspar David Friedrich (National Gallery, London) 1811

One of the companion paintings was again entitled Winter Landscape and is housed in Room 41 of the National Gallery, London.  This work was discovered in a private collection in 1982, and was acquired by the National Gallery five years later.   The second one, thought to be a copy of the London painting, is entitled Winter Landscape with Church, and can be found in the Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte (Museum of Art and Cultural History) in Dortmund.   In both of these paintings we see that Friedrich has introduced, for the first time in his art work, a Gothic church, which can just be seen emerging out of the misty backdrop with the somewhat red-streaked threatening winter sky overhead.   In the mid-ground we see a man leaning back against a boulder and is probably the same man we saw leaning on his crutches in the previous work.  He had arrived at the end of his journey and we see him gazing up, in prayer, at the crucifix which is positioned in front of a cluster of young fir trees. The figure of Christ on the cross looks down upon him.  In the foreground we see his crutches lying in the snow, which we presume he has discarded.  The abandoned crutches and the man looking up devotedly at the crucifix are interpreted as the man’s blind faith in his Christian beliefs and his feeling of security he has derived from those dearly held values.

In the first painting we looked at there is little to see but dead trees and stumps of once large ones.  We felt for the crippled man as he stood bent over his crutches in that wintry landscape and in a way we grieved for his unwanted solitude and wretchedness.  However in this scene before us now we see him in prayer and for him, we begin to realise he has reached the place he wants to be.   The mood of the painting is so different from the previous one.  The snow is the same. We still almost feel the coldness of the scene but the atmosphere has changed.  The once hopelessness has been replaced with a degree of hope.  The figure of Christ on the cross is symbolic of the hope that his resurrection would bring.  No longer does the man feel the necessity of wooden sticks to act as crutches.  The only support he wants is that given to him by his belief in Christ.

Looming on the horizon we see the facade of the spires of the grand Gothic church which reach toward the heavens, the silhouette of which has a marked similarity to that of the fir trees.  These trees along with the rocks we see appearing from beneath the snow in some ways symbolise faith and the large Gothic church, which appears to be rising from the ground, is symbolic of our belief that there is life after death.

Friedrich used few colours in these two paintings as he was more interested in the graduating tones of the few colours he used.  On a close examination of the actual paintings we are able to see that the misty but iridescent background has been achieved by stippling.  Stippling, in this case, is the creation of shading by using small dots.  The dots are made of a pigment of a single colour, and for this work the artist has used, the blue pigment, smalt, and has applied it with the point of a brush.

Winter Landscape with Church by Caspar David Friedrich (Dortmund) 1811

The London version of the painting is different to the version in Dortmund in as much as Friedrich has shown small blades of grass pushing up through the melting snow.  This symbolises hope and rebirth.   Also in the London version of the painting Friedrich has added an arched gateway in front of the church.

In November 1811 Friedrich sent these three works along with six others to an exhibition in Weimar.  This was the largest group of works shown by Friedrich so far.  The works were admired by a number of critics and poets, writers and famous figures like Goethe and Ludwig Tieck but they had their detractors who were opposed to the way Friedrich treated religious subjects and landscapes.

The Reader of Novels by Antoine Wiertz

The Reader of Novels by Antoine Wiertz (1853)

In recent posts I have looked at the works of William Etty, which featured nudity and the controversy they caused.  I have also recently looked at works by William Blake the subjects of which caused many to question his mental stability.  Today I am going to look at a work by a Belgian Romantic artist and sculptor whose works also caused some controversy and whose mental state was also questioned.  He was looked upon as one of the great eccentrics in the history of art.  His name is Antoine Joseph Wiertz and I was requested to look at his very unusual painting entitled La Liseuse de Romans (The Reader of Novels) which he completed in 1853.

Wiertz was born in Dinant, Belgium in 1806.  At the age of fourteen, having shown a modicum of artistic talent, he enrolled at the Antwerp Art Academy.  Here he studied under Guillaume-Jacques Herreyns, the Flemish painter who was considered the last of the school of Rubens and Mathieu Ignace van Bree, the Belgian painter and sculptor.   Having come from a relatively poor family environment Wiertz was fortunate to receive an annual stipend from King William I of Netherlands through the good auspices of Wiertz’s protector, the politician, Pierre-Joseph de Paul de Maibe.

In 1829, aged twenty-three Wiertz moved to Paris where he stayed for three years and spent a great deal of his time studying the old masters at the Louvre.   It was whilst in the French capital that he also came into contact with the French Romantic painters, such as Théodore Géricault and it was through him that Wiertz began to appreciate and admire the works of the Flemish master, Pieter Paul Rubens.  Wiertz idolised Rubens. 

Having come second with his entry in the 1828 Grand Concours for the Belgian Prix de Rome, organised by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp, he tried again in 1832.  This time Wiertz’s efforts proved successful and he was awarded the cherished Prix de Rome prize which came with an annual bursary and the chance to stay at the Palazzo Mancini in Rome for three to five years and all the costs of this stay were paid for by Belgian State.

Wiertz travelled to Rome in 1834 and stayed for three years.  Here he studied the works of Michelangelo and Raphael.   It was also during that time that his artistic leaning changed.  He virtually abandoned his landscape works and his paintings which depicted life in the Italian capital and focused on Roman and Greek mythological subjects.  In 1836 he completed one of his major works entitled Les Grecs et les Troyens se disputant le corps de Patrocle (The Greeks and the Trojans Contesting the Body of Patroclus) in which  he portrays a scene from Homer’s book, Iliad.  The way he depicted the musculature of the men vying for the body of Patroculus won great favour with the art critics and this painting was to prove a turning point in Wiertz’s career.  It was a somewhat violent scene and it was said that children on looking at the painting ran from it in horror.

 Wiertz returned to Belgium in 1837 and set up home with his mother in Liège.  Buoyed by the success of this painting when exhibited in Rome he sent it to Paris to be included in the 1838 Salon but it was received too late and was included in the following year’s exhibition.  However, much to his annoyance the painting was not placed in a favourable position in the Salon and it went unnoticed by the public, worse still it did not receive the plaudits from the French art critics and was criticised in the French press.  Wiertz was devastated by the treatment his painting received and never forgave the French for this snub.

Following on from this debacle, Wiertz’s artistic style changed and the subjects of his works became somewhat more excessive.  Tragedy struck in 1844 when his mother died and Wiertz was badly affected by her death.  He left Liège the following year and went to live in Brussels where he remained until his death.  In 1850, just twenty years after the formation of Belgium, the new Belgian government was in search of national idols and so when Wiertz, who had become famous in the country for his massive works of art, offered them to the State in return for them building him a huge comfortable and well lit studio.  His offer was accepted and the government agreed to display his works in the building during and after his lifetime.  They also agreed that the works would never be moved, loaned or placed in storage, but should remain “invariably fixed” to the walls of the studio Belgium had built for him.

Wiertz died in his studio in 1865, aged fifty-nine.   His remains were embalmed in accordance with Ancient Egyptian burial rites and buried in a vault in the municipal cemetery of Ixelles.  Wiertz was an artist with an arrogance which bordered almost on madness and which convinced not only his contemporaries but also himself of his own genius.

The painting featured in today’s My Daily Art Display is entitled La Liseuse de Romans (The Reader of Novels) which he completed in 1853 and is housed in the Wiertz Museum in Brussels.  When I was asked to feature this painting, I investigated the artist and the painting thinking there would have been a lot written about the elements of symbolism in the painting and that many art historians would have written their interpretation of what is before us.  However I was wrong as despite hours of research I can find little written about this work of art.  I was tempted to discard this blog entry because of the this lack of information but because the painting fascinates me I thought maybe if I published the blog somebody may come up with some background to it.

I suppose the first thing I should do to try and fathom out what is happening in the scene is to state what I see before me.   We see before us a naked woman lying on her back with her thighs slightly parted holding a book above her head to allow her to read it.  Next to her is a mirror which reflects her nudity.  Besides her on the bed are more books and we can see someone or something in the act of either placing a book on the bed or about to remove one.

I get the impression that the woman is enjoying what she is reading.  Dare I suggest that the book is in some way titillating her and maybe the contents of the book are of a sexual nature?  Look closely at the figure, which is surreptitiously moving his hand towards the books on the bed.   Am I imagining that he has “horn like” structures on his head?  Am I to conclude that this is actually a satyr and that he is supplying the woman with books of a sexual nature which she is finding so arousing?  Are we looking at a scene of temptation and corruption?

I do apologise for not having any firm answers as to what is going on in the painting but then again we must remember that they would only be opinions and interpretations by third parties and who is to say they are correct in their assumptions.  So what is your opinion on what we are looking at in today’s featured painting?