William McTaggart. Part 2. The later years.

Self portrait (1852)

William McTaggart’s art was likened to Impressionism and yet he was a forerunner of that genre.  He was a pioneer of Impressionism before it was given a label.  It is true that he was fascinated with nature and man’s relationship with it, and he endeavoured to capture aspects such as the fleeting effects of light on water. He also, like the Impressionists, liked to paint en plein air.  This aspect of his work was discussed in an early edition of the Art Journal:

“…A Scottish Impressionist”, points out that “before the term had been imported from France and Monet and the rest had formulated their creed, Mr McTaggart had evolved for himself a method and style not unlike what they ultimately achieved, but exceeding it in suggestion, significance, and beauty…”

As Happy as the Day is Long by William McTaggart (1880)

After the period when McTaggart depicted idyllic scenes populated with young children he turned to landscape and seascape work, the latter being motivated by the love of the sea as a child when he lived close to Machrihanish and the storm ravaged Atlantic coast, often battered by the great and unforgiving ocean.  William McTaggart would visit Machrihanish and paint the bay and the vast expanse of the sea.  He would paint en plein air at different times of the day capturing the understated appeal of the waves as they rolled towards the long continuous stretch of seashore under sunlight with the white streaks of the breaking waves.  Other works depicted the rocky shoreline with just a hint of colour.  In his works such as Machrihanish Bay, his depiction brings out a feeling not just the powerfulness of the sea but the aloneness, two feelings which he recognised would be in the mind of the fishing folk as they went on their daily voyage.

The Storm by William McTaggart (1890)

His 1890 painting entitled The Storm emphasised the darker side of the sea and the perils waiting for those who chose to underestimate or defy it.  As we look at the painting, we can almost hear the howling wind and the sound of the crashing waves upon the rocky foreshore.

The Fishing Fleet Setting Out by William McTaggart (early 1890’st

It has to be noted that in McTaggart’s later paintings, details became secondary to his desire to depict his personal consciousness of nature and the life around him and the effect of differing light on what he saw before him.  An example of this is his early 1890’s painting entitled The Fishing Fleet Setting Out.  We see the children of the fishermen in the foreground almost camouflaged by the rocks. They are playing in the rock pools.   In the far distance we see the fishing fleet setting out to sea.  A detailed depiction of the children was not important to McTaggart who was more interested in the ever-changing state of the sea and the weather.  He has used a pink/cocoa coloured ground which enhances and gives a hazy warmth to the scene.

The Coming of St Columba by William McTaggart (1895)

McTaggart painted numerous seascapes featuring the waters around southern Kintyre.  In 1895 he completed a work entitled The Coming of St Columba.  St Columba had left Ireland on a missionary voyage to Scotland in 563AD.  He and twelve travelling companions travelled across the Irish sea in a wicker boat known as a currach which was covered with leather.  Legend has it that he landed on the south of Kintyre, close to the small village of Southend before journeying onwards north to the Isle of Iona.  In McTaggart’s depiction of the arrival of the saint he has used The Gauldrons instead, as the setting for the work.   The Gauldrons (Scottish Gaelic: Innean nan Gailleann) meaning “Bay of Storms” is a bay facing the Atlantic Ocean in the village of Machrihanish in Argyll, on the west coast of Scotland, a short distance north of the tip of the Mull of Kintyre.  The figures and boats were added in the studio after the landscape was completed

And All the Choral Waters Sang by William McTaggart (1902)

In 1902, he completed another seascape entitled And All the Choral Waters Sang which comes from a line of verse from the famous Victorian poet, Algernon Charles Swinburne’s poem, At a Months End:

“…Hardly we saw the high moon hanging,

Heard hardly through the windy night

Far waters ringing, low reefs clanging,

Under wan skies and waste white light.

 

With chafe and change of surges chiming,

The clashing channels rocked and rang

Large music, wave to wild wave timing,

And all the choral water sang…”

The depiction evokes the music of the crashing Atlantic waves on Machrihanish beach. McTaggart’s son-in-law, James Caw, who had married William’s daughter, Anne, said that the work was painted entirely in the open at Machrihanish in June 1902.   In his book, William McTaggart, R.S.A., V.P.R.S.W.; a biography and an appreciation, Caw writes about this work:

“…Both breeze and sunshine pervade the masterpiece, to which Swinburne’s splendidly descriptive line, “And all the Choral Waters sang,” was given as title. Yet, while the mighty music of great waves breaking in many rhythmic chords of thundering surf upon the Atlantic shore is recreated to the imagination by the artist’s wizardry of line and colour and design, one feels as keenly the “Light that leaps and runs and revels through the springing flames of spray.” Looking north-west, the radiant early afternoon sunshine of June falls upon the ordered on-rush of these charging regiments of rearing and plunging white horses sweeping into the long curving bay, and raises their white foaming manes and flying silver tails to a brilliance greater than that of sun-illumined snow. And, between the gleaming lines of racing white, the wind-swept sky throws reflections of vivid changing blues, which, mingling with the lustrous greens amid the leaping waves and the rosy purples and tawnies afloat in the shoreward shooting ripples, make a wonderful and potent colour harmony. Words, however, are woefully inadequate to convey any real impression of this splendid picture — this great sea symphony in colour and light and movement. And, pathetic though “a symphony transposed for the piano” may be, reproduction of such a picture is even more disappointing…”

Playmates, Gracie by William McTaggart

William McTaggart suffered two great losses in 1884.   In November, his mother died, aged 80.  She had been living in Glasgow but had in her latter years returned to Campbeltown.  William had been greatly devoted to his mother and her death had greatly affected him.  During the few days he and his wife had been at Campbeltown his wife’s health, which had been poor, deteriorated.  On returning home they consulted her doctor who recommended an immediate operation and this was carried out immediately.  Sadly, Mrs McTaggart never recovered and on December 15th 1884 she died, aged 47.  William and his children were devastated.  His eldest daughter, Jean, would not let him out of her sight even when he was trying to court his future second wife, Marjorie Henderson.

Belle by William McTaggart (1886)

In 1886 McTaggart completed a portrait of his eldest daughter, Jean.  It was entitled Belle.  She stands before us in a red frock with a lace collar. The painting was owned by Jean’s sisters who later bequeathed it to the National Galleries Scotland in 1991.

Marjorie McTaggart, William McTaggart’s second wife

On April 6th 1886, William McTaggart married Marjory Henderson, who was the eldest daughter of Joseph Henderson, a well-known Glasgow artist, and who, despite their age difference, had forged a close relationship with McTaggart’s eldest daughter, Jean.  William was fifty-one and Marjory was thirty-years of age.  Unfortunately, this large difference in age led to a certain amount of unwelcoming gossip.  However, this second marriage proved an incredibly happy one and, importantly, his new wife was accepted by all the children from his first marriage.  William and Marjorie went on to have a further nine children.  This harmonious atmosphere at home was so important to his progression as an artist

The McTaggart family

By the end of the 1880’s William Taggart’s paintings were selling so well that he started to refuse commissions which meant he was told what to paint.  By doing this he could choose what to depict on his canvases, such as seascapes and landscapes of his choice.  In 1889 all his works held by the art dealer, Dowells, were put up for sale and a total of £4000 was realised, an amazing figure for the time.  In the May of that year he moved from his Edinburgh studio and went to live at Dean Park, Broomieknowe, on the outskirts of Lasswade, Midlothian, some ten miles south east of the Scottish capital.  It was here he built himself a small studio which would last him six years until 1895, at which time, he built a much larger studio/gallery.  He was sixty years old and finally he was able to relax and enjoy semi-retirement.  He lived in an uncomplicated and undemanding manner and often welcomed young aspiring painters to his studio.  He was always supportive and had words of encouragement for them.  William McTaggart died of heart failure, at his home in Dean Park, Broomieknowe, Lasswade on the afternoon of April 2nd 1910 at the age of 75. He had been very poorly during the previous winter but it was still a shock to his family when he suddenly died.  He had spent the last twenty years of his life at his home, Dean Park and although it was somewhat isolated from the artistic hubbub of Edinburgh, William was just pleased to have the company of his large family and visiting friends. 

The Old Fisherman by William McTaggart,

His funeral was held on April 5th at Echo Bank Cemetery in Newington, Edinburgh and was attended by a large crowd with a procession of some twenty mourning coaches leaving Bonnyrigg for the short journey to Edinburgh.  He lies with both his first and second wives: Mary Holmes and Marjory Henderson. Three of his children who died in infancy and are buried with him. His daughter, Annie Mary who married the art historian Sir James Caw, lies alongside. Joseph’s sons John Henderson and Joseph Morris Henderson also became painters as did his fifth daughter from his second marriage, Eliza (Betty) McTaggart.


A good deal of information for this and the previous blog came from the Bonnyrigg Lasswade Local History website:

bonnyrigglasswadelocalhistory.org/

 

Andreas Achenbach

 

Professor Andreas Achenbach on his 70th birthday by Heinrich von Angeli

When I looked at the life of the Hudson River School painter, James McDougal Hart, I talked about his time at the Dusseldorf Academy and how the Dusseldorf School of painting influenced him. The style of the Dusseldorf School of painting is characterised by its finely detailed, often overstated, and fanciful landscapes that more often than not have some kind of religious or symbolic stories depicted via these landscapes. The leading artists and members of the Dusseldorf style of painting reinforced the need for plein air painting, so that the artist could capture the true nature before returning to their studios and remaking more accurate visual conditions in their work.

Coastal landscape with city view by Anders Achenbach (1875)

The Dusseldorf School of painting principal period was one from 1826 to 1859 when German painter Friedrich Wilhelm von Schadow was the school’s director. He had been professor at the prestigious Berlin Academy of the Arts, and in 1826 he was made director of the Düsseldorf Academy of the Arts, which he reoriented towards the production of Christian art. Twelve-years-old, Andreas Achenbach, is thought to have been one of von Schadow’s earliest pupils at the Dusseldorf Academy. Let me introduce you to this artist, the German landscape and seascape painter in the Romantic style.

Watermill in Westphalia, (1863) by Andreas Achenbach (1847), The Walters Art Museum

Andreas was born on September 29th, 1815 in the Northern Hesse town of Kassel, Germany. He was one of ten children born to Hermann Achenbach and Christine (née Zülch). His father Hermann was a merchant. In 1816 he took over the management of a metal factory in Mannheim. Two years later, in 1818, he moved his family to St. Petersburg, where the father wanted to set up a new venture, that of his own factory, the money for this project emanated from his wife’s “dowry”. Whilst in St Petersburg young Andreas received his first lessons in drawing in a girls’ school. He excelled and his teacher is said to have certified that six-year-old Andreas ‘could already do everything’. His father’s venture failed and, in 1823, he was forced to take his family back to Germany and settle down in the small Rhine Province town of Elberfeld. where family members of the father lived. Andreas’ father then began to earn a living, working as a beer and vinegar brewer and took ownership of an inn, The Black Wallfish, at Jägerhofstraße 34. It became a regular for visiting artists.

On February 2nd, 1827 Christine Achenbach gave birth to her fifth child, a son Oswald who would, in later years, become as greater an artist as his brother Andreas.

Die alte Akademie in Düsseldorf by Andreas Achenbach (1829)

Andreas began his formal academic training, in 1827, at the age of twelve, when he enrolled at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf under Wilhelm Schadow, Heinrich Christoph Kolbe and Carl Friedrich Schäffer. At an exhibition of the Kunstverein für der Rheinlande und Westfalen, which Schadow had co-founded, fourteen-year-old Andreas Achenbach achieved his first major success by being not only the youngest artist with a painting at the exhibition but also that one of his paintings, the painting Die alte Akademie in Düsseldorf, was sold. The setting of the painting was a view from a window in his parents’ apartment in the house Burgplatz 152. It was an unusual subject for Andreas to choose, considering what he had been taught at the Academy. The depiction is a simple restrained cityscape and such “reality” was deemed to be too banal and unartistic at the Academy, which under the leadership of Schadow was dominated by idealistic concepts. It is thought that this work resulted in Achenbach’s name being omitted from the Academy’s list of artists and not appearing until the winter term of 1830/1.

Große Marine mit Leuchtturm by Andreas Achenbach (1836)

In 1832 and 1833 he took an extended study trip with his father to Rotterdam, Scheveningen, Amsterdam and Riga. The journey of discovery gave him the ideal opportunity to study Dutch and Flemish landscape painting. The works of the seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painters Jacob Isaackszoon Ruisdael and Allaert van Everdingen were to particularly influence his art. Achenbach, as well as painting landscapes also painted seascapes, often depicting terrific storms and it is thought that the stories he heard from his family regarding their treacherous 1818 journey to St Petersburg remained in his mind for many years. His artistic breakthrough came at the 1836 General German Art Exhibition in Cologne at which his painting Großer Marine mit Lighthouse, was on show and up for sale. It was bought by the Prussian governor in the Rhine Province, Frederick of Prussia.

Storm on the sea at the Norwegian coast by Andreas Achenbach (1837) Städel Museum

Following his trips with his father, Andreas Achenbach made many painting trips on his own. In 1835 he made a major trip to Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. And the following year he journeyed to the Bavarian Alps and the Austrian Tyrol. After his tour of Bavaria and the Tyrol, he left Dusseldorf and settled in Frankfurt and, thanks to the assistance of his friend, the German history painter, Alfred Rethel, he was able to open a studio at the Städelsche Kunstinstitut. Despite having his own studio in Frankfurt, Andreas continued with his periodic travels. He returned to Scandinavia in 1839 taking a painting tour of Norway.

Clearing Up—Coast of Sicily by Andreas Achenbach (1847), The Walters Art Museum

He also took more trips to Italy during the period from 1843 to 1845 when he stayed in the Campagna and spent time on the Isle of Capri. and often returned to Scandinavia, often accompanied by his artist brother, Oswald. Ostend was a popular destination for the two brothers.

Hildesheim by Andreas Achenbach (1875)

In 1846 Andreas returned to Dusseldorf and lived on the Flinger Steinweg, a then prosperous middle-class area of the city. He took over the running of his father’s brewery and inn. His father, despite being sixty-three, was glad to hand the business to his son so he could concentrate on being a freelance accountant. Andreas became a member of a number of artistic associations and was one of the founders of the newly formed Künstlerverein Malkasten (Artists’ Association Malkasten), often referred to as The Paint Box, which still exists today. He, together with other wealthy patrons, provided for the purchase of the former Estate of the Jacobi family in Pempelfort and its expansion as a permanent centre of the association, using considerable funds of his own. Andreas wholeheartedly immersed himself in Dusseldorf’s artistic life.

Maximilian Achenbach (Max Alvary)

In 1848 Andreas Achenbach married Marie Louise Hubertine Catharine Lichtschlag and the couple went on to have five children, three daughters, Lucia, Karoline, and Helena and two sons, Gregor, and Maximilian. Maximilian studied to be an architect at Aachen university and graduated in 1871. After working as an architect for a few years, and against the will of his father, he gave up his architectural career, married, and began his vocal studies in Milan and Frankfurt. He took his stage name, Max Alvary. so as not to offend his father and compromise his father’s business. Later Maximilian moved to Weimar and performed at the court opera, where he was very successful. He later appeared at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York and Covent Garden Opera House in London.

Storm by Andreas Achenbach (1898)

In 1848 Achenbach was awarded the Belgian Order of Leopold. In 1853, he was made an honorary member of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, In 1861 the Order of St. Stanislaus, and in 1862 the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan. More honours followed and in 1878 he was awarded the Commander’s Cross 2nd Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of Saint Olav. On 24 January 1881 he was admitted to the Prussian Order of Pour le Merite for Science and the Arts. In 1885 he became an honorary citizen of Düsseldorf, in whose northern cemetery he received an honorary grave, designed by the sculptor Karl Janssen.

Honorary grave of Andreas Achenbach with mourning angel of Karl Janssen, North Cemetery Düsseldorf

Andreas Achenbach died on April 1st 1910, aged 94. He was laid to rest in the Malkasten-Haus, where there was an opportunity to say goodbye to him for several days. The people of Düsseldorf queued to pay their last respects. The funeral procession moved off from the Paint Box heading to Achenbach’s final resting place at Dusseldorf’s North Cemetery and it was commented in the local media that it was akin to a state funeral of a prince.

In my next blog I will look at the life and works of Andreas’ brother, Oswald Achenbach.

Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky

Self-portrait of Ivan Aivazovsky (1874)

Two weeks ago, I went on a four-day city break to Moscow. I had always wanted to visit the Russian capital and especially visit the famous Tretyakov Gallery which houses the largest collection of Russian art in the world. I had read books about the wonders it had to offer and I knew I had to go and see it first-hand. Recently I wrote five blogs on the museum and the works of its leading proponents of portraiture, including Repin, Serov and Kramskoy but in the next few blogs I want to concentrate on lesser known artists (that is lesser known to me!) whose works also graced the walls of this outstanding Gallery.

Sunset in Crimea by Ivan Aivazovsky (1865)

As I have mentioned before, I live on the coast and a large number of paintings by local artists feature seascapes or marine paintings. My featured artist today is looked upon as one of the greatest maritime and seascape painters of all time and regarded as one of the most successful Russian painters of the 19th century. His work was admired by many seascape painters such as Turner. Let me introduce you to the Russian Romantic painter, Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky.

Odessa by Ivan Aivazovsky (1840)

Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky was born on July 29th 1817. At his baptism at the local St. Sargis Armenian Apostolic Church, he was given the name of Hovhannes Aivazian. His father, Konstantin, was an impoverished Armenian merchant whose family originated from the Polish region of Galicia, a historical and geographic region between Central and Eastern Europe.  In the early 1800’s Aivazosky’s father settled in the Black Sea port of Feodosia in the Crimea and it was here that he met a local girl, Ripsime, who later became his wife. They had five children, three daughters and two sons. Ivan’s elder brother, Gabriel, was to become an important historian and an Armenian Apostolic archbishop. Ivan began his education at Feodosia’s St. Sargis Armenian Church school and it was also during this period that he received his first tuition in art. His tutor was Jacob Koch, a local architect. In 1830, at the age of thirteen, he moved with the Taurida governor, Alexander Kaznacheyev’s family to Simferopol, the Crimean capital, where, through the good auspices of Jacob Koch, he was enrolled at the city’s Russian grammar school. Three years later, in 1833, having now established himself as a talented painter, sixteen-year-old Ivan transferred to the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts where he joined the class of the landscape painter, Maxim Vorobiov. He was a model student and progressed well. In 1835, he was awarded the silver medal for his painting Air over the Sea.

The Roads at Kronstadt by Ivan Aivazovsky (1836)

In 1836 the French artist Philippe Tanner arrived in St Petersburg to teach at the Academy and was immediately impressed by the talent of nineteen-year-old Ivan. Tanner’s forte was his marine paintings and during the time Aivazovsky worked as his assistant, he taught the young man marine painting techniques. In the autumn of 1836 Ivan had five of his works shown at art exhibitions, including his painting, The Roads at Kronstadt. Soon Ivan’s work was noticed and praised by both the press and the art critics alike.

Frigate under sails by Ivan Aivazovsky (1838)

In 1837, Aivazovsky joined the battle-painting class of Alexander Sauerweid and participated in Baltic Fleet exercises in the Gulf of Finland.

Yalta by Ivan Aviazovsky (1838)

In October 1837, he graduated from the Imperial Academy of Arts with a gold medal and received the official title of artist. He left the St Petersburg Academy in 1838 to carry out a commission to paint views of several Crimean towns and to do this he moved back to his home town of Feodosia in the Crimea where he set up a shop and started painting vistas of the Crimea and his beloved Black Sea. He would paint en plein air carefully recording the elements and then return to his studio to put the finishing touches on his masterpieces. He remained in his homeland for two years.

The Landing at Subashi by Ivan Aivazovsky (1839)

In 1839 Ivan Aivazovsky was invited to participate in a Navy operation which was taking place off the Crimea shores. There he took part in military exercises off the shores of Crimea, and where he met prominent Russian admirals Mikhail Lazarev, Pavel Nakhimov and Vladimir Kornilov and soon a long friendship blossomed between the artist and the military men. His canvases depicting sea battles were remarkably true to fact and so full of accurate details that they are now considered as illustrations of naval attack tactics.  One of his paintings depicting a naval battle was entitled The Landing at Subashi.

Mhitarists on the Island of St. Lazarus, Venice by Ivan Aivazovsky (1843)

In 1840 the Imperial Academy of Arts of St Petersburg sent Aivazovsky to increase his knowledge in art by going and studying in Europe. His first stop-over was Venice which he reached after travelling through Berlin and Vienna. In Venice he went to San Lazzaro degli Armeni, a small island in the Venetian Lagoon which has been home to the monastery of the Mekhitarists, an Armenian Catholic congregation, since 1717. This was the home of Aivazovsky’s elder brother Gabriel.

The Bay of Naples by Ivan Aivazovsky (1841)

Whilst here, Aivazovsky studied Armenian manuscripts and familiarised himself with Armenian art. From Venice he travelled across Italy and arrived in the Tuscan city of Florence and later took in the sights of Amalfi and Sorrento. He took up residence in Naples and stayed there until 1842. In that two year period in Italy, Aivazovsky fell in love with Italian art. Among the people he met whilst in Italy was the Ukranian-born Russian writer Gogol and the Russian Neoclassical painter Aleksandr Ivanov.

View of Amalfi by Ivan Aivazovsky (1843)

Aviazovsky returned to Russia in 1842 and he was given an official title within the General Naval Office. As such, he was allowed to join Russian research and science expeditions which travelled to Turkey, Greece, Egypt, America and Asia. From these journeys Aivazovsky was able to bring home hundreds of sketches which he later turned into his famous paintings.

The Bay of Naples at Moonlit Night. Vesuvius by Ivan Aviazovsky (1840)

He then visited Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands and Britain, where he met English painter J. M. W. Turner who, was so impressed by Aivazovsky’s painting, The Bay of Naples on a Moonlit Night that he dedicated a rhymed eulogy in Italian to Aivazovsky.

“…Like a curtain slowly drawn
It stops suddenly half open,
Or, like grief itself, filled with gentle hope,
It becomes lighter in the shore-less dark,
Thus the moon barely wanes
Winding her way above the storm-tossed sea.
Stand upon this hill and behold endlessly
This scene of a formidable sea,
And it will seem to thee a waking dream.
That secret mind flowing in thee
Which even the day cannot scatter,
The serenity of thinking and the beating of the heart
Will enchain thee in this vision;
This golden-silver moon
Standing lonely over the sea,
All curtain the grief of even the hopeless.
And it appears that through the tempest
Moves a light caressing wind,
While the sea swells up with a roar,
Sometimes, like a battlefield it looks to me
The tempestuous sea,
Where the moon itself is a brilliant golden crown
Of a great king.
But even that moon is always beneath thee
Oh Master most high,
Oh forgive thou me
If even this master was frightened for a moment
Oh, noble moment, by art betrayed…
And how may one not delight in thee,
Oh thou young boy, but forgive thou me,
If I shall bend my white head
Before thy art divine
Thy bliss-wrought genius…”

The Golden Horn, Turkey by Ivan Aivazovsky (1845)

In 1845, Aivazovsky travelled to Istanbul upon the invitation of Sultan Abdülmecid. He would return to this Turkish city many times during his lifetime. He became court painter to the Ottoman Sultans Abdülmecid, Abdulaziz and Abdulhamid, and thirty of his commissioned works are still exhibited in the Ottoman Imperial Palace, the Dolmabahce Museum and many others at various other museums in Turkey.  One of his paintings from this time was The Golden Horn.  The Golden Horn is a horn-shaped estuary which divides the European side of Istanbul and is one of the best natural harbours in the world.  The Byzantine and Ottoman navies and commercial shipping interests were centred here.

In the next part of my bog looking at the life and works of Ivan Aivazovsky I will be looking at his beautiful depictions of the ferocity of the sea and its devastating affect on the seagoing fraternity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balkeby  1860-70
Balkeby
1860-70

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rocky Seascape with Shipwreck by Clakson Frederick Stanfield

Rocky Seascape with Shipwreck by Clarkson Frederick Stanfield
Rocky Seascape with Shipwreck by Clarkson Frederick Stanfield

In my last blog I featured a painting of a lighthouse by Edward Hopper and talked about how these structures over the years had helped seafarers find their way around coasts and enabled them to safely navigate treacherous waters.  However sadly for some they were not enough to prevent maritime disasters and all too often ships would, because of mechanical failure, horrendous weather conditions or human error, suffer the indignity of being grounded on rocks.  I remember all too well an Atlantic port we used to sail into, which had a very tricky entrance to it and was often pounded by the ferocious ocean waves.  As a stark reminder as to the care in which the entrance had to be approached there was an abandoned wreck of a ship on the sandbank at the mouth of the river entrance,  which did not quite make it and which was being gradually eaten away by sea and wind erosion.  I often thought, as I helped to steer the ship along the curving channel with a ferocious following sea lifting the ship’s stern in all directions, what must have been going through the minds of the people on the bridge of that abandoned ship that day, as they realised they were not going to make it safely into the tranquillity and safety of the harbour.  So today I have decided to feature a painting of a shipwreck by one of the great Victorian artists, Clarkson Frederick Stanfield.  Although there is a majestic beauty about this seascape, there is also a sense of sadness as I look at the plight of the sailors.

 The artist who painted today’s featured work is Clarkson Frederick Stanfield, who was born at the end of 1793 in Sunderland, England.   He was the youngest of five children.  His parents were James Field Stanfield and Mary Hoad.   His father was born in Dublin and initially trained for the priesthood in France, but abandoned his “calling” and returned to Liverpool and became a merchant seaman.  He sailed on a ship which was engaged in the slave trade and after his experience on the slave ship, which he described as “a floating dungeon”, he quit the life at sea, came ashore and became both an actor and playwright and an energetic supporter of the campaign to abolish the slave trade.   It is documented that he was the first ordinary seaman involved in the slave trade to write about its horrors.  In 1788 he wrote vividly describing his experiences on the voyage from Liverpool to Benin in West Africa and it was published as a series of letters addressed to Stanfield’s friend and a leading anti-slavery campaigner, the Reverend Thomas Clarkson.  It was from him that young Stanfield received his Christian name.  Clarkson Stanfield’s mother, Mary, who was both an actress and artist, taught painting and must have instilled the love of drawing into her son but sadly she died when he was just seven years old.  His father remarried to Maria Kell, a year later.

 In 1806, Clarkson Stanfield worked as an apprentice to a heraldic and coach painter in Edinburgh but left that employment two years later and, at the tender age of fifteen, decided to go off to sea and joined a small coal-carrying merchant vessel.  Four years later in 1812 he was press-ganged into the Royal Navy.  For some reason, during his stint in the navy he used the alias “Roderick Bland”.  Whilst in the Navy, Stanfield managed to keep his hand in artistically by painting theatre scenery for some naval productions as well as some painting and sketches.   In December 1814 he fell from the rigging of a naval vessel he was working on and had to be discharged from the Navy as being “unfit for duty”.    The following year he returned to sea on a merchant navy ship and sailed to China.  After returning home on leave, he had every intention of carrying on with his sea-going career but for some reason it never materialised.

 It was now 1816 and he found himself without a job and needing to earn some money and so he reverted back to his artistic work and managed to get employment at London’s Royalty theatre as a scene painter.  Soon after working in the theatre he met Mary Hutchinson whom he married in 1818 and the couple went on to have two children, a son, Clarkson William and a daughter, Mary Elizabeth.  Within a month of the birth of her daughter Mary Hutchinson died.   Clarkson Stanfield married again in 1824.  This time his wife was Rebecca Adcock and they went on to have ten children, eight sons and two daughters.  His second son from this marriage, George Clarkson Stanfield, was a pupil of his father, and painted the same type of subjects.

Clarkson Stanfield continued to work in various London and Edinburgh theatres and he gained a reputation as one of the finest scene painters in the land.   The Times reviewed his work in December 1827 stating:

  “…When our memory glances back a few years and we compare in “the mind’s eye”, the dingy, filthy scenery which was exhibited here – trees, like inverted mops, of a brick-dust hue – buildings generally at war with perspective – water as opaque as the surrounding rocks, and clouds not a bit more transparent – when we compare these things with what we now see, the alteration strikes us as nearly miraculous. This is mainly owing to Mr. Stanfield. To the effective execution of the duties belonging to the scenic department, he brought every necessary qualification – a knowledge of light and shade which enabled him to give to his scenes great transparency and a ready and judicious taste for composition, whether landscape, architecture or coast, but more especially for the last…”

 Despite most of his time being taken up working in the theatres he never gave up his painting of pictures.  He first exhibited some of his seascape work in 1820, and was immediately recognised as a marine painter of great promise.   When the Society of British Artists was founded in 1823, he was one of the founder members and later in 1829 became its President.  It was also in that year that he submitted his first painting to the Royal Academy, of which he was elected Associate of the Royal Academy and a Royal Academician in 1832 and 1835 respectively.  He loved to exhibit his work and, in all, he exhibited over a hundred works at the Royal Academy, and forty-nine at the British Institution from 1844 to 1867.

 In late 1834 he resigned as scene painter for Drury Lane and from then on devoted most of his time to his own paintings.   His output included works in both oil and watercolour and he specialised in shipping, coastal and river scenes.  Sadness struck the Clarkson household in 1838 when his eldest son from his second marriage, Harry, died just short of his twelfth birthday.  It was a terrible blow to Stanfield and many believe that his turning to the Roman Catholic religion was partly down to his search for solace and inner peace after his son’s death.    He made a number of European trips taking in Holland, France and Italy and while travelling, he would build up a large and extensive collection of sketches.  During this period, he completed many paintings depicting views of Venice and Dutch river scenes.

 During the last decade of his life he was beset with poor health. His rheumatism and bad leg often prevented him from going out of his house and the pain was so intense that for long periods he was unable to work.   He died in Hampstead, London in May 1867 aged 73.  One of his last visitors to call on him the day he died was his great friend Charles Dickens who he had met thirty years earlier.  After Clarkson Stanfield died, Dickens wrote of him, paying this glowing tribute:

 “…He was the soul of frankness, generosity and simplicity.  The most genial, the most affectionate, the most loving and the most lovable of men. Success had never for an instant spoiled him . . . He had been a sailor once; and all the best characteristics that are popularly attributed to sailors, being his, and being in him refined by the influence of his Art, formed a whole not likely to be often seen…”

The depth of friendship between Dickens and Stanfield can also be seen in a passage from a letter Dickens sent to Stanfield’s son, George shortly after his father’s death.  He wrote:

“…No one of your father’s friends can ever have loved him more dearly than I always did, or can have better known the worth of his noble character…”

The featured painting today is entitled Rocky Seascape with Shipwreck which is held at the Glasgow Museum.   In it we see dark storm clouds above the ferocious seas which are buffeting the large stricken sailing ship which has grounded on the rocks at the foot of a steep cliff, atop of which is a fort.  This structure could have been at the mouth of the river, which lead inland to the safety of a port.   A smaller sailing boat stands off from the stricken vessel,  probably trying to assist any sailors who are adrift in the choppy seas.  In the foreground we see two sailors desperately clinging on to what looks like the remnants of a sinking boat which may have once belonged to the large grounded vessel.  One of the sailors hangs on to the mast and is struggling to keep out of the water.   Three men perched on the rocks in the foreground are trying to pull this small boat towards them to give the unfortunate sailors a chance to leap onto the rock.  A woman also stands nervously on the rock, her hands covering her eyes, not daring to view the attempted rescue.  Maybe one of the men in peril is her husband or son.  A man kneels on the rock in front of her peering down at the stricken seaman, probably shouting words of encouragement.

The sea, in many ways, is something to fear and I have spent many times on ships which have been battered unmercifully by huge seas during ferocious storms and I end this blog with a quote from Joseph Conrad’s book The Mirror of the Sea in which he wrote:

“…The sea has never been friendly to man.  At most it has been the accomplice of human restlessness…”