Art on Friday - William Bouguereau

Today, one of my all-time favourites. I’m not at all knowledgeable about art, but I do know that I’m more drawn to the classical style. And Bouguereau’s art ticks all the boxes for me. This was the first piece of his that I saw and I fell in love straightaway.

'L'Amour et Psyche enfants' (1889)

'L'Amour et Psyche enfants' (1889)

William-Adolphe Bouguereau was born on 30th November 1825 in La Rochelle, France. He wasn’t born into a family of artists but one of wine and olive oil merchants.

'Portrait of the Artist' (1879)

'Portrait of the Artist' (1879)

The only reason Bouguereau didn’t end up following family tradition was down to his uncle Eugene who was a curate. He not only taught the young boy classical and biblical subjects but also arranged for him to go to high school.

Again, thanks to his uncle, Bouguereau gained a commission to paint portraits of his uncle’s parishioners. It wasn’t just his uncle who helped him; his aunt matched the sums he’d earned from his paintings, enabling Bouguereau to head off to Paris. There, he enrolled at the Ecole de Beaux-Arts.

Bouguereau took his art seriously. To augment his formal training in drawing, he also attended anatomical dissections and studied historical costumes and archaeology.

Fate continued to favour the young man when he was admitted to the studio of Francois-Edouard Picot to study painting in the academic style, which placed great importance on historical and mythological subjects.

In 1850, Bouguereau finally won the coveted Prix de Rome with his third attempt, his painting of ‘Zenobia Found by Shepherds on the Banks of the Araxes’. The prize included a three-year residence at the Villa Medici in Rome, where he had formal lessons and was able to study the life and work of Renaissance artists along with the other category winners.

'Zenobia found by Shepherds on the Banks of the Araxes' (1850)

'Zenobia found by Shepherds on the Banks of the Araxes' (1850)

Quite early in Bouguereau’s career, a reviewer had written: “M. Bouguereau has a natural instinct and knowledge of contour. The eurythmie of the human body preoccupies him, and in recalling the happy results which, in this genre, the ancients and the artists of the sixteenth century arrived at, one can only congratulate M. Bouguereau in attempting to follow in their footsteps… Raphael was inspired by the ancients… and no one accused him of not being original.” (Wissman, Fronia E. ‘Bouguereau’ 1996)
This must have been immensely pleasing for the young painter, to be favourably compared to his favourite, Raphael.

'Idylle' (1851)

'Idylle' (1851)

In 1856, Bouguereau began living with one of his models, 19-year-old Nelly Monchablon. Although they were living out of wedlock, many assumed they were wed. Together, they had five children. The first, Henriette, was born in 1857, followed by Georges two years later. Their third, Jeanne, was born in 1861.

The couple only got married in 1866, which they did quietly. Sadly, eight days later, Jeanne died from tuberculosis.

Their fourth child was born in 1868; although named Adolphe, he was known as Paul.

When the health of 15-year-old Georges started to suffer, Nelly took him out of Paris. Unfortunately, he died in 1875.

In 1876, their fifth child, Maurice, was born. By now, Nelly’s health was suffering, and the doctors suspected she, too, had contracted tuberculosis.

Nelly died in April 1877; two months later, baby Maurice also died.

Before these tragedies, back when he and Nelly began their life together, Bouguereau had started making connections with art dealers, in particular Paul Durand-Ruel who helped clients buy paintings from artists who exhibited at the Salons. Attracting over 300,000 people each year, the Salons provided great exposure for the exhibited artists. And, throughout his working life, Bouguereau exhibited regularly at the Paris Salon.

'All Saints Day' (1859)

'All Saints Day' (1859)

A committed traditionalist, Bouguereau’s paintings were modern interpretations of Classical subjects. He was known for his almost photo-realistic style; that, coupled with his use of traditional methods of working up a painting, appealed to the rich art patrons of the day.

Bouguereau also received commissions to decorate private houses, public buildings and churches. But there was a downside to such commissions – he could not always paint in his own style; there were times he had to conform to an existing group style.

He also made reductions of his public paintings for sale, which added to his burgeoning income. And he was also a successful portrait painter.

Using his influence to open many French art institutions to women for the first time, he also started teaching drawing at the Academie Julian, a co-ed art institution.

'Art and Literature' (1867)

'Art and Literature' (1867)

Bouguereau’s star continued to rise as he gained the honours of the Academy, culminating with being made a Life Member in 1876.

After Nelly’s death, and following a long engagement, Bouguereau married again in 1896. He’d known his second wife, Elizabeth Jane Gardner, for ten years and she had been a pupil and was now a fellow artist.

'Portrait of Miss Elizabeth Gardner' (1879)

'Portrait of Miss Elizabeth Gardner' (1879)

Sadly, tragedy continued to dog Bouguereau’s family; his son, Paul, died in 1900, also of tuberculosis. Of his five children, he’d outlived four, and only the oldest, Henriette, was still alive.

His advancing years didn’t curb Bouguereau’s output. He would still rise at dawn and work for six days of the week, continuing to paint until nightfall.

Near the end of his life, Bouguereau described his love of his art: “Each day I go to my studio full of joy; in the evening when obliged to stop because of darkness I can scarcely wait for the next morning to come… if I cannot give myself to my dear painting I am miserable”. (Wissman, Fronia E. ‘Bouguereau’ 1996)

In his lifetime, Bouguereau is known to have painted at least 822 paintings; sadly, many have still not been found.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau died on 19th August 1905 at La Rochelle. He was heavily mourned in the town of his birth, and a mass was held at the cathedral. His body was then taken by train to Paris for a second ceremony. Bouguereau was buried with Nelly and his children at the family vault at Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.

Bouguereau gained fame in England, Belgium, Holland, Spain and America. Although regarded as one of the greatest painters in the world, he was simultaneously despised by the modernists.

Again, like other more traditional artists of the time, Bouguereau’s reputation suffered due to changing tastes and his own vehement opposition to the Impressionists, who were gaining popularity. Things got so bad that in the following decades, there was absolutely no mention of Bouguereau in encyclopaedias.

In 1974, more as a curiosity than anything else, the New York Cultural Centre staged a show of Bouguereau’s work. It would be another ten years before his paintings would be exhibited again, in a major exhibition, which opened at the Musee du Petit-Palais in Paris. The exhibition then travelled to the Wadsworth Antheneum in Connecticut before concluding at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. So began a long-overdue renewal of interest in Bouguereau and his works.

And now, a look at barely a fraction of his work...

'Moissoneuse' (1868)

'Moissoneuse' (1868)

'Nymphs and Satyr' (1873)

'Nymphs and Satyr' (1873)

'Homer and his Guide' (1874)

'Homer and his Guide' (1874)

'Pieta' (1876) 

'Pieta' (1876) 

The sorrow, especially around her eyes, gets me every time.

'Soul Carried to Heaven' (1878)

'Soul Carried to Heaven' (1878)

'Song of the Angels' (1881)

'Song of the Angels' (1881)

'Dawn' in pencil

'Dawn' in pencil

'Dawn' (1881)

'Dawn' (1881)

'Evening Mood' or 'Twilight' or 'Dusk' (1882)

'Evening Mood' or 'Twilight' or 'Dusk' (1882)

'The Hard Lesson' (1884)

'The Hard Lesson' (1884)

'Jeune fille se defendant contre lamour' in pencil

'Jeune fille se defendant contre lamour' in pencil

'Jeune fille se defendant contre lamour (1885)

'Jeune fille se defendant contre lamour (1885)

'The First Mourning' (1888)

'The First Mourning' (1888)

'Psyche' (1892)

'Psyche' (1892)

'Le ravissement de Psyche' (1895)

'Le ravissement de Psyche' (1895)

'Madame la Comtesse de Cambaceres' (1895)

'Madame la Comtesse de Cambaceres' (1895)

The amount of detail on her gown is stunning!

'Le Saintes Femmes au Tombeau' (?)

'Le Saintes Femmes au Tombeau' (?)

I’d struggle if I had to choose a favourite of all Bouguereau’s works, but I’m very partial to these last three…

'La Vierge au lys' (1899)

'La Vierge au lys' (1899)

'La Madone aux roses' (1903)

'La Madone aux roses' (1903)

'The Seated Madonna (Madone Assise)' (?)

'The Seated Madonna (Madone Assise)' (?)

And that is the end of my posts on art… until I discover other artists.

Art on Friday - Lawrence Alma-Tadema

I have loved the art of Alma-Tadema since I don’t know when. The first time I saw his art was on a calendar. Over the years, I’ve collected calendars, postcards and art prints of his paintings.

Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1870)

Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1870)

Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s birth name was Laurens Alma Tadema. He was born on 8th January 1836 in Dronriip, a village in the province of Friesland in the Netherlands. His father, Pieter, a notary, already had three sons from a previous marriage. Laurens was his third and youngest child with Hinke Dirks Brouwer. Their second child was a daughter, Artje; sadly, their first child had died young.

In 1838, the family moved to Leeuwarden. When Laurens was four, Pieter died. Hinke was left with five children; she also looked after her three step-sons. As she had a great love of art, she made sure the children’s education included drawing lessons.

The original plan was for Laurens to become a lawyer. However, in 1851, when he was fifteen, he suffered a physical and mental breakdown. Doctors diagnosed him as consumptive, meaning he was suffering from tuberculosis and gave him only a short time to live. Instead of carrying on with legal lessons, he was allowed to spend what time he had left doing what gave him pleasure, which was drawing and painting. He gradually regained his health and decided to pursue a career as an artist.

The following year, 1852, he entered the Royal Academy of Antwerp in Belgium. During his four years there, he won several awards.

The historical accuracy that Laurens would become known for was thanks to Louis Jan de Taeye; not only was he a painter, he was also a history professor at the school.

Laurens eventually settled in Antwerp and began working with the highly respected Belgian painter and printmaker, Baron Jan August Hendrik Leys. It was under his guidance that Laurens painted his first major work, ‘The Education of the Children of Clovis’, in 1861.

'The Education of the Children of Clovis' (1861)

'The Education of the Children of Clovis' (1861)

The painting took the art world by storm when it was exhibited that same year at the Artistic Congress in Antwerp.

In the mid-1860s, Laurens decided to focus more on the themes of life in Ancient Egypt. In 1862, he left Leys’ studio to start his own career.

Laurens’ mother died in January 1863. In September that same year, he married Marie-Pauline Gressin Dumoulin, the daughter of a French journalist. They had three children. Unfortunately, the oldest, their only son, died of smallpox when only a few months old. Their first daughter, Laurence, was born in 1864 and would become a novelist while Anna, born in 1867, would emulate her father and become a painter. Neither girl would marry.

Anna (front) and Laurence (1873)

Anna (front) and Laurence (1873)

The couple spent their honeymoon in Italy and Rome. This was Laurens’ first visit to Italy, the beginnings of his interest in depicting the life of ancient Greece and Rome, which would inspire him in the coming years.

In 1864, Laurens met Ernest Gambart, the highly influential print publisher and art dealer. At the time, Laurens was painting ‘Egyptian Chess Players’. Highly impressed, Gambart ordered 24 pictures and arranged for 3 of Laurens’ paintings to be shown in London.

'Egyptian Chess Players' (1865)

'Egyptian Chess Players' (1865)

In 1865, after relocating to Brussels, Laurens was named a knight of the Order of Leopold.

Following years of ill health, in May 1869, Pauline died of smallpox; she was 32. Heartbroken, Laurens didn’t paint for four months. Luckily, his sister, Artje, was living with the family, and she looked after her young nieces. She stayed on with her brother until she married in 1873.

Laurens himself started to suffer from a medical problem which the doctors seemed unable to diagnose. Gambart advised him to go to England for medical help, and he did so in December 1869. While at the home of the painter, Ford Madox Brown, Laurens met Laura Theresa Epps. It was love at first sight for him.

In September 1870, along with his daughters and Artje, Laurens relocated to London, his decision influenced by his feelings for Laura Epps and the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War.

It didn’t take Laurens long to propose to Laura, but her father was opposed as she only eighteen while Laurens was thirty-four; he insisted they get to know one another better first.

They married in July 1871. Laurens’ second marriage was a happy one, which lasted many years. Although they didn’t have any children of their own, Laura was happy to be stepmother to Laurence and Anna.

As Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema, she was a highly regarded artist in her right.

'At the Doorway' ~ Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema

'At the Doorway' ~ Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema

She also appeared in many of her husband’s paintings, the most notable being ‘The Women of Amphissa’ (1887).

'The Women of Amphissa' (1887)

'The Women of Amphissa' (1887)

Laurens would eventually adopt the more English spelling of ‘Lawrence’ and incorporate ‘Alma’ into his surname to ensure that he would appear at the beginning of exhibition catalogues.

Alma-Tadema continued to ride high on his success. In 1873, he was made a British Denizen by Queen Victoria by letters patent; he was the last to be granted the honour. Denizens were allowed certain rights usually only enjoyed by the monarch’s subjects, including the right to hold land.

Six years later, in 1879, Alma-Tadema was granted what was, for him, his most important award – he was made a full Academician. Three years later, a major exhibition was organised at the Grosvenor Gallery in London, showing 185 of his paintings.

One of his most famous paintings, ‘The Roses of Heliogabalus’ (1888), depicts the decadent Roman Emperor, Elagabalus (or Heliogabalus), suffocating his guests at an orgy with a cascade of rose petals. To ensure the authenticity of the rose petals, blossoms were sent weekly from the Riviera to Alma-Tadema’s studio for four months during the winter of 1887-1888.

'The Roses of Heliogabalus' (1888)

'The Roses of Heliogabalus' (1888)

Alma-Tadema was a fun loving, mischievous man who revelled in wine and parties. He was prone to sudden outbursts of temper, which never lasted long. His perfectionism, which encompassed every aspect of his life, and his excellent business sense made him one of the wealthiest artists of the 19th century.

In time, his output decreased, because of failing health and his preoccupation with decorating his new home.

In 1899, he was Knighted in England, only the eighth artist from the Continent to be so honoured.

Despite his age, Alma-Tadema continued to expand his artistic interests, designing furniture and theatrical costumes while still finding time to produce ambitious paintings like ‘The Finding of Moses’ (1904).

'The Finding of Moses' (1904)

'The Finding of Moses' (1904)

In August 1909, aged only 57, Alma-Tadema’s beloved wife, Laura, died, leaving him grief-stricken.

His last major composition was ‘Preparation in the Coliseum’ (1912). In the summer of that year, accompanied by his daughter, Anna, he went to Kaiserhof Spa in Germany for medical treatment.

'Preparation in the Coliseum' (1912)

'Preparation in the Coliseum' (1912)

Lawrence Alma-Tadema died in Germany on 28th June 1912, aged 76. He was brought back to London and buried in a crypt in St Paul’s Cathedral.

Alma-Tadema’s final years saw the rise of modern art, which he didn’t approve of. The changing attitudes of the public and artists led to his paintings being heavily criticised. The art critic, John Ruskin, declared Alma-Tadema “the worst painter of the 19th century”. Following this period, Alma-Tadema faded into obscurity.

One of his most celebrated works, “The Finding of Moses”, illustrates the changing fortunes of the painter’s reputation. In 1935, it was sold for £861; in 1942, for £265; in 1960, it was “bought in” at £252 as it failed to meet its reserve.

In May 1995, that same painting was auctioned at Christies in New York and was sold for £1.75million. In 2010, it was sold at Sotheby’s New York for over $35million, a record for a Victorian painting. And in 2011, Sotheby’s sold ‘The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra’ for $29.2million.

'The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra' (1883)

'The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra' (1883)

Alma-Tadema’s archaeological research was so thorough that the buildings featured in his paintings could have been built using Roman tools and methods. That, coupled with his perfectionism, led to his paintings being used as inspiration by Hollywood directors for films set in the ancient world, like ‘Ben Hur’ and ‘Cleopatra’. For his remake of ‘The Ten Commandments’, Cecil B DeMille was said to have spread out prints of Alma-Tadema’s paintings so his set designers could see the look he was after.

But it wasn’t only the epic films of yesteryear that used Alma-Tadema’s paintings as source material. They were the central source of inspiration for ‘Gladiator’, and for the interior of Cair Paravel castle in ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’.

As always, the hardest part for me was choosing which images to include…

'An Audience at Agrippa's' (1876)

'An Audience at Agrippa's' (1876)

'Pandora' (1881)

'Pandora' (1881)

'Sappho and Alcaeus' (1881)

'Sappho and Alcaeus' (1881)

'The Parting Kiss' (1882)

'The Parting Kiss' (1882)

'The Way to the Temple' (1882)

'The Way to the Temple' (1882)

'Welcome Footsteps' (1883)

'Welcome Footsteps' (1883)

'The Roman Potter' (1884)

'The Roman Potter' (1884)

'A Reading from Homer' (1885)

'A Reading from Homer' (1885)

'The Triumph of Titus' (1885)

'The Triumph of Titus' (1885)

'A Dedication to Bacchus' (1889)

'A Dedication to Bacchus' (1889)

'An Earthly Paradise' (1891)

'An Earthly Paradise' (1891)

'A Kiss' (1891)

'A Kiss' (1891)

'Comparisons' (1892)

'Comparisons' (1892)

'Unconscious Rivals' (1893)

'Unconscious Rivals' (1893)

'Spring' (1894)

'Spring' (1894)

'A Coign of Vantage' (1895)

'A Coign of Vantage' (1895)

'The Colosseum' (1896)

'The Colosseum' (1896)

'Among the Ruins' (1902-1904)

'Among the Ruins' (1902-1904)

'Silver Favourites' (1903)

'Silver Favourites' (1903)

Art on Friday - NC Wyeth

Like most of my now-favourite artists, I was drawn to NC Wyeth’s art before I knew anything about the artist. I can’t remember the first time I saw his work – probably ‘Treasure Island’.

Newell Convers Wyeth was born 22nd October 1882 in Needham, Massachusetts. His ancestors fought in the French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the American Civil War. The family history and tradition that was passed down provided rich subject matter for Wyeth’s art.

NC Wyeth (circa 1920)

NC Wyeth (circa 1920)

The oldest of 4 boys, the childhood of Wyeth and his brothers were filled with outdoor pursuits, including hunting and fishing, along with farm chores. Having a naturally sharp sense of observation, he was already showing more than a passing interest in art. His artistic talent was encouraged by his mother, who knew Henry David Thoreau and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. By the time he was 12, Wyeth was already producing beautiful watercolour paintings.

As his father insisted on a more practical use of his talents, Wyeth was enrolled at Mechanics Arts School, where he learned drafting. Thanks to his mother’s support, he was able to move on to Massachusetts Normal Art School, with further study at the Eric Pape School of Art where he learned illustration.

In 1902, aged 20, Wyeth went to Wilmington, Delaware. A couple of his friends had been accepted to Howard Pyle’s School of Art and he was keen to join them. Known as the ‘father’ of American illustration, Pyle not only taught and inspired many, he also used his contacts with publishers and art directors to secure commissions and jobs for his students.

NC Wyeth (1903-04)

NC Wyeth (1903-04)

Howard Pyle’s methods struck a chord with the young Wyeth. Having been Pyle’s student for only a few months, Wyeth landed his first commission as an illustrator – the cover of the February 21st, 1903 edition of ‘The Saturday Evening Post’. What an accomplishment for the 20-year-old.

Cover of The Saturday Evening Post, featuring Wyeth's Bucking Bronco

When ‘The Post’ commissioned him to illustrate a Western story the following year, Pyle encouraged his young student to take himself out West. He always encouraged his students to “jump into their paintings to know the place” they were depicting; basically, to experience the places they intended to paint.

Wyeth headed out to Colorado where he worked as a cowboy alongside the professionals. No stranger to hard work, he also pitched in and helped with ranch chores. He moved on to Arizona where he learned Native American culture from the Navajo. Unfortunately, during his travels, his money was stolen. So, he took a job as a mail carrier to earn enough money to return home.

In a letter home, he wrote, “The life is wonderful, strange – the fascination of it clutches at me like some unseen animal – it seems to whisper, ‘Come back, you belong here, this is your real home’.” (‘An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art’)

During his time in the West, he recorded his experiences in detailed drawings. The physical pursuits of his childhood and his astute sense of observation combined to add authenticity to his illustrations. “When I paint a figure on horseback, a man plowing, or a woman buffeted by the wind, I have an acute sense of muscle strain.” (‘An American Vision’)

Wyeth answered the siren call of the West and made another trip 2 years later. These trips inspired him to produce many images of cowboys and Native Americans. His depictions of the Native Americans tended to show them in harmony with their environment.

'In the Crystal Depths' (1906)

'In the Crystal Depths' (1906)

In 1908, Wyeth married Carolyn Bockius. They settled in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, near the historic site of the Battle of Brandywine, fought in 1777, during the American Revolution. No longer with Pyle, Wyeth was kept busy with a continuous flow of commissions. His initial plan had been to earn enough from his illustrations to enable him to afford to paint what he wanted. But he couldn’t turn away from illustration as, ironically, it was the very thing that was earning him comfortable sums. Also, he had a growing family to think of.

Wyeth and Caroline had 5 children, all talented in their own right. Their first child, Henriette, was born in 1907 and became an artist along with her sister, Carolyn, who was born 2 years later. Nathaniel followed in 1911 and became an engineer and inventor; he worked with the team that invented the plastic soda bottle. In 1915, Ann was born; although she, too, was an artist, she preferred music, composing her own. The youngest, Andrew, was born in 1917; he became one of America’s popular artists in the latter half of the 20th century.

Wyeth family photo (1922)

The children’s talents were encouraged in a stimulating home environment. Visitors included writers and actors, like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hugh Walpole and Lilian Gish. Although a strict parent, Wyeth was also patient and he didn’t talk down to his children, according to Andrew. The children were able to follow their own pursuits thanks to the financial freedom afforded by their father’s hard work.

By 1911, Wyeth had started illustrating classic literature, including ‘Treasure Island’ (1911); ‘Kidnapped’ (1913); ‘Robin Hood’ (1917); ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ (1919); ‘Robinson Crusoe’ (1920); ‘Rip Van Winkle’ (1921); ‘The White Company’ (1922); and ‘The Yearling’ (1939).

'Treasure Island' cover
Title page

Title page

Jim Hawkins

Jim Hawkins

Long John Silver

Long John Silver

Blind Pew

Blind Pew

'Kidnapped'

'Kidnapped'

'Kidnapped'

'Kidnapped'

'Robin Hood'

'Robin Hood'

'The Passing of Robin Hood'

'The Passing of Robin Hood'

'The Last of the Mohicans' cover
'The Last of the Mohicans'

'The Last of the Mohicans'

'The Last of the Mohicans'

'The Last of the Mohicans'

'The White Company' cover
'The White Company'

'The White Company'

'The White Company'

'The White Company'

'The Yearling' cover

His illustrations also graced magazines including ‘Harper’s Monthly’, ‘The Popular Magazine’, and ‘Scribner’s’.

'The Popular Magazine'
'The Popular Magazine'
'Imagination' (c.1921) - cover for 'Ladies Home Journal'

'Imagination' (c.1921) - cover for 'Ladies Home Journal'

Wyeth also produced images for posters, calendars and advertisements, including Lucky Strike and Coca-Cola. Interestingly, he also did paintings of Beethoven, Wagner and Liszt for Steinway and Sons.

Coca Cola ad
Beethoven

Beethoven

Mozart and Liszt

Mozart and Liszt

Not content with producing works for books and posters, he also painted murals for banks, schools and hotels, and the National Geographic Society. During both World Wars, he contributed patriotic images.

National Geographic Society mural

National Geographic Society mural

National Geographic Society mural

National Geographic Society mural

1942 poster

1942 poster

Even as he produced his popular, sought-after images, as early as 1914 Wyeth had already grown to abhor the commercialism on which he’d become dependent, and constantly waged an internal battle over his submission.

His self-loathing over commercialism didn’t prevent Wyeth continuing to experiment throughout his life. His style constantly changed, which was especially evident in his portrait and landscape paintings. He worked rapidly, and was able to conceive, sketch out and paint a large painting in as little as 3 hours!

On 19th October 1945, NC Wyeth’s car stalled on a railroad crossing near his Chadds Ford home; his grandson, Newell (first child of Nathaniel Wyeth), was with him. Both were killed when the car was struck by a milk train.

At the time of his death, Wyeth had created over 3000 paintings and illustrated 112 books. Here are a few more of my favourites; wish I could include them all. Some aren't dated as I can't find the year they were painted.

'Legends of Charlemagne' cover
from 'Legends of Charlemagne'

from 'Legends of Charlemagne'

'The Boy's King Arthur' cover
'The Boy's King Arthur' title page

'The Boy's King Arthur' title page

'Merlin taking away the infant Arthur'

'Merlin taking away the infant Arthur'

'And when they came to the sword that the hand held, King Arthur took it up'

'And when they came to the sword that the hand held, King Arthur took it up'

'Lancelot defeats Sir Mador'

'Lancelot defeats Sir Mador'

'Lancelot and Guenever'

'Lancelot and Guenever'

'The Death of Arthur and Mordred'

'The Death of Arthur and Mordred'

'The Death of Guenever'

'The Death of Guenever'

'Indian Fishing'

'Indian Fishing'

(1914 - can't find the title)

(1914 - can't find the title)

Captain Nemo - 'Mysterious Island'

Captain Nemo - 'Mysterious Island'

'Captain John Paul Jones' - Naval commander in the American Revolutionary War

'Captain John Paul Jones' - Naval commander in the American Revolutionary War

'George Washington' (1932)

'George Washington' (1932)

'Paul Revere's Ride' (1922)

'Paul Revere's Ride' (1922)

'All Birds Shall Have Homes' (1928)

'All Birds Shall Have Homes' (1928)

'Winter Death'

'Winter Death'

Art on Friday - John William Godward

Very little is known of this English painter. He was estranged from his wealthy family who disapproved of his artistic career; on his death, they destroyed his papers, and there are no known surviving photographs of him.

John William Godward - possible self-portrait; detail from 'Waiting for an Answer'

John William Godward - possible self-portrait; detail from 'Waiting for an Answer'

'Waiting for an Answer' (1889)

'Waiting for an Answer' (1889)

It’s mainly thanks to one person – Vern Grosvenor Swanson – that we know what we do about John Godward. Swanson interviewed three (not direct) family members and pieced together what Godward’s life must have been like; the result was ‘JW Godward: The Eclipse of Classicism’ (published 1998)

John William Godward was born on 9th August 1861 to John and Sarah Godward, the eldest of five children. His father was an investment clerk at the Law Life Assurance Society in London, and the family eventually lived in Wimbledon.

Being the firstborn and the oldest son, it was assumed that Godward would follow his father into the world of insurance. Even though Godward was already showing more interest in his creative side, he found himself training to be an insurance clerk.

Realising that his son would, most likely, not continue in the insurance profession, and to take advantage of his artistic side, Godward’s father arranged for him to train as an architect – a much more lucrative, respectable career than a simple artist.

Between 1879 and 1881, Godward studied under William Wontner, a family friend who was also an architect and designer. But all was not lost, for Godward worked alongside Wontner’s son, William Clarke Wontner, himself a painter who would go on to become a popular painter of landscapes and murals.

As for Godward’s own artistic training, it’s not known where he trained and with whom. There are no records of him at the Royal Academy Schools. However, it could be that Godward was helped in some way by William Clarke Wonter who, in 1885, was teaching at the St John’s Wood Art School, whose students typically went on to the RA Schools.

Mary Frederica 'Nin' Godward - Godward's only sister, painted 1883

Mary Frederica 'Nin' Godward - Godward's only sister, painted 1883

His first work dates from around 1880, and in 1887, Godward had one of his paintings, ‘The Yellow Turban’, accepted at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. One can only imagine how thrilled he must have been. But that probably wasn’t enough to satisfy his parents’ hopes that their oldest son would make something of himself. He must have been under tremendous parental pressure, which took a mental toll.

Now in his mid-20s, with a painting accepted by the RA, Godward had to decide which path to pursue, and that path was art. He chose to paint in the Victorian Neoclassical style; a style inspired by the art and architecture of Classical Greece and Rome.

Godward greatly admired the leading Classicists of the time; Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s influence can be seen in Godward’s use of marble and textiles, and that of Sir Frederic Leighton can be seen in the glossy finish of his paintings.

Like Alma-Tadema, who was not only a painter but also an archaeologist who visited historical sites, Godward, too, meticulously studied details such as architecture and dress to give his work authenticity. He also painstakingly studied any feature he used in his paintings, from wild flowers to animal skins.

Godward’s father died in 1904. The following year, Godward made his first visit to Italy, which he found captivating.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Godward had always preferred privacy and anonymity. In 1912, he left for Italy with one of his models (the one in ‘Dolce Far Niente’). Outraged, his family severed all contact with him.

'Dolce Far Niente' (1904)

'Dolce Far Niente' (1904)

By 1921, with his health failing, suffering from depression and no longer enchanted with Italy, he returned to England. But the country he returned to was no longer interested in the Classical style. In fact, it proved to be nothing short of hostile toward his style of art. As the world’s artistic preference started to embrace modern art, Godward would become one of the last, best European Classical painters.

Although not as prolific as he had been, Godward continued painting. What was possibly his last completed work, titled, ‘Contemplation’, was sold to a firm of art dealers. He died soon after.

'Contemplation' (1922)

'Contemplation' (1922)

Godward chose to end his life on 13th December 1922. According to the newspaper report of his death, the cheque for that last painting had been left pinned to his door.

Although saddened by his death, his family also felt disgraced; no Godward had committed suicide before, and to have it so publicly reported, with the accompanying inquest, left them more angry than sad. His mother, Sarah, literally cut his image from family photographs, and his personal papers were destroyed. If he was mentioned at all, it was only in whispers.

The only one who spoke openly about him was his only sister, Mary Frederica, known as ‘Nin’; she called him, “my brother, the artist”. But the one thing even she never spoke about was the manner of his death.

For many years after his death, Godward’s paintings held little value. They couldn’t be found at art dealers; between the 1940s and 1960s, many of them had passed their Godwards to Harrod’s to sell. By the end of the 1970s, Godward the painter and his art had faded into obscurity.

Happily, interest in Godward’s art has since seen a resurgence. One of his paintings, ‘A Fair Reflection’, which would have been worth about £5,000 in 1979, sold for £900,000 in New York in 2012.

'A Fair Reflection' (1915)

'A Fair Reflection' (1915)

The paintings I've included here barely scratch the surface of his output; the man was a prodigious painter; between 1880 and 1922, he painted more than 133 works!

'Ophelia' (1889)

'Ophelia' (1889)

'The Sweet Siesta of a Summer Day' (1891)

'The Sweet Siesta of a Summer Day' (1891)

'A Classical Beauty' (1892)

'A Classical Beauty' (1892)

'The Betrothed' (1892)

'The Betrothed' (1892)

'Idleness' (1900)

'Idleness' (1900)

'With Violets Wreathed and Robe of Saffron Hue' (1902)

'With Violets Wreathed and Robe of Saffron Hue' (1902)

'Summer Flowers' (1903)

'Summer Flowers' (1903)

'Amaryllis' (1903)

'Amaryllis' (1903)

'Violets, Sweet Violets' (1906)

'Violets, Sweet Violets' (1906)

'Sabinella' (1912)

'Sabinella' (1912)

'An Offering to Venus' (1912)

'An Offering to Venus' (1912)

'The Belvedere' (1913)

'The Belvedere' (1913)

'A Congenial Task' (1915)

'A Congenial Task' (1915)

 

I won’t be posting next week as the call of the sorting/tidying is now so deafening, I can’t ignore it any longer. Hopefully, I’ll be back on Tuesday, 12th September.