Emphatically the first Australian Modernist painter

  • Emphatically the first Australian Modernist painter.

  • And therefore warrants much wider recognition for it.

  • Why not better recognised? Between two stools. Thus was not front rank in Europe. And in Australia was overlooked by parochial conservative tastes.

 

“I am a painter of nature, of nature’s moods, of sunlight and the changing temper of the sea”

FEATURED:  c1905, A Wave Breaking on the Shore, Belle Ile Oil on canvas, 46 x 65 cm Sotheby’s, Sydney.  NOTE: Through the color and coarse brushwork another colorful quasi-abstract work, and Fauvist?

  • John Russell was clearly the first Australian Modernist painter, as such a pioneer within the small Australian pond,  who clearly deserves wider recognition.
  • Why not better recognised? Easy. He fell between two stools.
  • In Australiahe was overlooked by conservative parochial tastes.
  • And at the main game in Europehe was good but not front rank, and also, blessed by family money, he exhibited rarely, did not much promote his own art. Then in 1908 he apparently destroyed c400 works, upset when his wife died at only c40.
  • From the mid 1880s he became the first Australian painter to keenly embrace modern art, ie Impressionism / Post-Impressionism, from the 19thC European revolution out of France, and was far ahead of much better known Australian contemporaries like his friend Tom Roberts, also McCubbin, Streeton etc. And this despite Roberts also visiting Europe quite a bit, as did Streeton, and McCubbin briefly in 1907.
  • Taking advantage of good fortune, he dived into Europe and stayed Europe for c40 years, 1881-1921:engaging the right company at the right time and place, in France in the late 19th C.
  • His art style shifted abruptly c1886 after meeting Monet, absorbing his Impressionism, but his approach was nonetheless distinctive, even pioneering,especially in
    • a/ his Modernist works c1890-92, from a visit to the Antibes area(on French Riviera, just west of Nice), emphasizing light and bold color, and stylised compositions, even proto-Fauvism (eg c1890 landscape with tree, View Antibes);
    • and b/ the turbulent quasi-abstractionin many of his sea paintings at his then home on Belle Ile, off the Brittany coast, eg as early as c1890 (eg Stormy Sky and Sea, Belle-Ile).
  • Like most “Impressionists” Russell’s art was staunchly aestheticin purpose, with no interest in social comment.
  • He painted some portraits to start but overwhelmingly his output was outdoors, landscapes and seascapes. Also he remained a hands on painter, not academic, not a writer / theorist?
  • His early portraits were very good, mid 1880s, in Paris, like his outstanding portrait of Van Gogh (1886), also of friend M Fabian, and a very good self portrait.
  • However his style stagnated, did not move on. Into the 20thC his style stayed stuck in the 19th C, ignored the ongoing fast moving revolution after Fauvism c1905, ie especially Cubism and Abstraction.
  • And also later his subject range remained narrow,and less interesting for it, just landscapes, no more portraits.
  • Meanwhile the physical and athleticRussell, socially easy-going, but with a temper, developed meaningful and influential relationships with famous European First Division artist peers like Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse and Rodin.
  • Thus, 1896 and 1897, he apparently played an important role in provoking Matisse’s interest in less restrained color.

Some of Russell’s pioneering modernist paintings, as an Australian exploring the new styles.

No other Australian painter at this time, c1890 through mid 1910s, came anywhere close to Russell’s modernist style.

 

Riviera, France and Italy

01

c1889 Les Terrasses de Monte Cassino, oil on canvas 65.0 x 81.0 cm, private.

NOTE: Painted while visiting his to-be wife’s family in Italy. No other Australian painters then came anywhere close to this expressive almost unnatural coloration which veers close to Fauvism? Then still about 15 years ahead.

02

1891, In the Afternoon, Oil on canvas, 65 x 65 cm AG NSW, via Sotheby’s, Melbourne.

NOTE. Another important painting from Antibes area. AG NSW: … Russell’s sojourn in Antibes in the winter of 1890-91 produced some of his most beautiful landscape paintings.

Russell had seen Monet’s 1888 Antibes paintings in Paris which he wrote to Van Gogh about, criticising their lack of form but admiring their colour.

In Russell’s own Antibes works he has synthesised Monet’s techniques with an attention to form and is now working with pure colours that he is mixing himself.

The strength of colour Russell experienced in the clear Mediterranean light is embodied in ‘In the afternoon’ where the purple shadowed foreground, orange midground, stripe of blue ocean, mauve and white Alpes-Maritimes, and intense turquoise sky epitomise Russell’s exceptional engagement with colour at this time.

Russell has thickly layered paint in a worked up surface in which colour is also experienced as texture, achieving an overall chromatic and visual intensity.

While many Impressionist paintings appear spontaneous as the artist transcribes particular effects in front of the subject, in reality they are often highly considered and ‘worked’ compositions. In the afternoon is no exception as conservation analysis has revealed an earlier version of this painting underneath in which the colour tones are lighter. Russell has allowed this to dry before painting over it to achieve the more intense colours in the final version. The reworking occurred soon after the first version as it is the colours and composition of the current painting that Russell describes in his letter to Tom Roberts in 1891. The complex interweaving of colours throughout the painting, but particularly visible in the fore and middle grounds, show an artist in full control of his technique to achieve the luminosity he sets out to convey.

‘In the afternoon’ is one of two works that Russell exhibited in London in the New English Art Club exhibition in 1891, alongside ‘In the morning’ (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra) – the two paintings embodying the impressionist interest in the changing effects of light and colour at different times of the day.

In addition to artists working in England such as George Clausen, John Singer Sargent and Walter Sickert, this progressive exhibition included work by French artists Edgar Degas and Monet.

Russell’s paintings were seen as aligned with those of Monet and the reviewer in ‘The Times’ noted the “sunshine, real, genuine sunshine in Mr J.T. [sic] Russell’s ‘Morning’ and ‘Afternoon’ [and] in Monsieur Claude Monet’s ‘Orange and Lemon Tree’. (The Times, London, 30 November 1891, p3)

 

03

C1890-92, The sea at La Spezia (La mer à La Spezia), oil on canvas 60.0 x 72.0 cm Private collection, Melbourne

NOTE: Bold colour again, coarse Impressionist brush textures and a stylised layered composition looking way ahead to Rothko?

04

1891c View Antibes, K Stokes collection.

NOTE: simple painting but bold. Is this not another proto-Fauvist work? About 15 years before summer of 1905 at Collioure.

 

05

1890-1, In the Morning, Alpes Maritimes from Antibes, Oil on canvas 60.3 × 73.2 cm, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

06

1891c, Le Forte d’Antibes, Oil on canvas, 50 x 61 cm The Collection of Sir Leon and Lady Trout, Christies, Brisbane.

AG NSW: In Autumn 1890, John Peter Russell left Belle Île to see the Midi and Riviera, where Van Gogh and Monet had worked.

He crossed France in a cart drawn by two horses and took a house for the winter in the ancient seaport of Antibes.

Enraptured by the landscape of the French Mediterranean peninsula, Russell produced some of the most dazzling canvases of his career. He painted numerous canvases during his time in Antibes, working out of doors in front of his subject in the southern light.

A fine example from this period, ‘Antibes’ demonstrates Russell conviction to pursue pure colour and move away from the restraints of naturalistic form.

 

07

 

1891c, Antibes (View from Hotel Jouve, plage de la Sallis, looking towards the medieval walls and the Grimaldi Castle, Antibes) Oil on canvas, 60.7 x 73.9cm, Queensland Art Gall.

08

1891cView Antibes, old town (houses in Italy), 45 x 45 cm, private, Melbourne.

 

Belle-Ile, Brittany.

09

c1890. Stormy Sky and Sea, Belle-Ile, off Brittany. Oil on canvas, 32 x 40.2 cm. Sotheby’s, Sydney, sold Nov 2007, A$180,000.

SOTHEBYS: Temptuous, colour-saturated Belle-Ile seascapes such as this rank as Russell’s most important paintings; undoubtedly the point at which he came closest to the French Impressionism of Claude Monet. Russell first met Monet in September 1886 when both artists were staying here at the remote island of Belle-Ile off the Brittany coast in north-west France.  Monet assumed that the young Australian Russell was American but found him ‘tres amiable‘, and the two worked together side by side for a time on the rocky Atlantic shore.  It seems likely that seeing Monet’s Belle-Ile series exhibited in Paris the following year was a factor in Russell’s decision to settle on the island with his family in 1888. He would remain there for 20 years – the happiest, both professionally and personally, of his life.  Russell at first did not approve of Monet’s revolutionary technique, with its deliberate lack of distinction between form and colour.  But by the 1890s his own style increasingly came closer to Monet’s.  Stormy Sky and Sea, Belle-Ile, off Brittany”, epitomising all Russell’s passion for the place, is clearly heir to paintings by Monet such as Tempest on the Coast of Belle-Ile. The excitement and vigour of the brushwork, the warm pinks in the sky and icy blues of the seaspray, are also seen in Russell’s larger Rough Sea, 1900, in the collection of Dr Joseph Brown at the National Gallery of Victoria.

10

1900 Rough sea, Belle-Île (Brittany, France), oil on canvas, 63.2 × 63.1 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, per Dr Brown.

NOTE: WHO „invented“ Abstraction? Russell’s Rough Sea (1900) is certainly relevant, as a case of proto-abstraction, about 10 years ahead of Kandinsky? It’s not meant to be abstract, as the title suggests, but a „blind tasting“ might struggle to say what it does depict? Perhaps even a hilly snowscape.

 

11

1905 Storm, Belle-Île, 25.5 x 32.5 cm (sheet), watercolour, gouache on thick buff wove paper, AG NSW. NOTE. Another proto-abstract work. AG NSW: ‘Storm, Belle Ile’ 1905 closely related to .. ‘Mer agitée: tempête Belle Ile’ formerly in the Behan collection, Brisbane.

12

1886, Van Gogh. oil on canvas, 60.1 cm x 45.6 cm, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Van Gogh Museum: “The Australian painter John Peter Russell got to know Vincent at Fernand Cormon’s studio. He painted this portrait of his friend in 1886 in a conventional, realistic style. It is clearly influenced by photography, although the face and the hand still show Impressionist touches.

The portrait was not so dark originally. Another artist, Archibald Standish Hartrick, met Van Gogh at Russell’s studio. He later recalled: ‘[Russell] had just completed that portrait of him in a striped blue suit.’ You can indeed just make out a few little blue stripes at the lower edge of the painting. Analysis has revealed, moreover, that the words ‘Vincent, in friendship’ were painted in red over Van Gogh’s head.

In Hartrick’s view, this was the most accurate portrait of Van Gogh – more realistic than the likenesses done by other artists or any of Vincent’s self-portraits. Van Gogh was very attached to it. Years later, he wrote to Theo: ‘take good care of my portrait by Russell, which means a lot to me.

 

 

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Seven Types of Atheism – Round the bend.

Seven Types of Atheism – Round the bend, a triumph of lazy Invention over laborious Experience

 

FEATURED: Allan Ramsay (1713–1784) 1754. Portrait of David Hume (1711-76). Age 43. Oil on canvas, 76.2 × 63.5 cm, Scottish National Portrait Gallery

 

 

H4  H5

Steve DiBenedetto (born 1958) 2015, Drone Souvlaki (courtesy Steve DiBenedetto/Derek Eller Gallery); Vasili Kandinsky 1942 Intime Message 49.2 x 49.6 cm tempera, cardboard, Pompidou, Paris

ABOVE:                                 Laborious Experience  

Liberal Modernity: messy, generally not pretty, never finished, but it’s actually working.

BELOW:               Lazy Invention

Religion, Nationalism: tidy, complete, pretty as you like, something for everyone, and possibly an after-life thrown in.

 

ROUND THE BEND

Brilliantly written”, but still rubbish! But not the first time.

So John Gray’s argument – when boiled down, the regulus in the crucible – is that the Atheists are all tarred with the same brush, as those they criticise, the believers.

Thus “your atheism is just another belief”. And therefore also a matter of blind faith, not of evidence, of experience.

So that’s that. Pace Robert Graves, we call this playing with words, such that debate becomes meaningless.

For the argument, the believers believe.

The theists believe in a personal or specific god, the Christians in God who “speaks” through the [hands who wrote the] Bible, the Word of God, and the legion of stories therein. And all the Saints’ stories etc.

Deists present a more elusive target, believe in a vague impersonal divine “cause”.

Atheists say there isn’t a God or gods, and agnostics just say who knows, I don’t.

 

Bit like two chaps reach a corner, and cannot see round it.

The believer says, Round the corner is a café serving the best coffee and Portuguese tarts.

How does he know? He doesn’t, he just “believes”.

Could just as well be a brass band, resting between performances. All the same to the believer.

The agnostic says, I don’t know, because I can’t see round the bend.

The atheist says, I don’t know either, but there’s not a café serving the best coffee and Portuguese tarts, which of course he cannot know for sure.

But the believer says, Your statements are all just “beliefs” too.

Which makes debate with the believer meaningless because he dismisses anything anyone says. As beliefs, detached from evidence.

So the believer makes his position untestable.

Which is a hallmark of faith.

 

But the simple reality is that the onus is on the believers, to prove their claims on what’s round the blind corner.

Ball is in their court.

Meanwhile among what the atheists / agnostics “know”, based on long Experience, is:

1/ now all the weird and weirder science of the universe;

and 2/ logical psychological reasons for humans ”believing”, as conscious animals, aware of their mortality, reasons for surrendering to seductive encompassing certainties, however they are determined, and however detached from any supporting evidence;

and 3/ most specific “gods”, in all cultures, past and present, are anthropomorphic.

 

MODERN “OPTIMISTS”

In a similar fallacious vein the cheerful John Gray also lays into the modern Optimists, like Pinker, Ridley etc, claims their “humanism”, “liberal democracy”, ”progress” are all “God substitutes”.

So “Gray.. believes… humanists are in bad faith. Most of them are atheists, but all they have done is substitute humanity for God. They thus remain in thrall to the very religious faith they reject..”

Then Terry Eagleton in reviewing Gray’s book calls Pinker et al “wide-eyed optimists”, and “.. just as one-sided as the prophets of doom”.

Which of course is total misrepresentation, fashioning a straw-man.

Per David Hume, the “humanists” views, the Optimists views, are based on laborious never ending sifting of Experience.

Not Invention.

They are based on hard work assembling evidence not on wide-eyed mute submission.

Belief is the triumph of lazy Invention over laborious Experience.

Though Mr Eagleton does at least hold Mr Gray’s feet to the fire, labels him the “card-carrying misanthrope for whom human life has no unique importance”. Spoken like an agnostic. Mr Hume would agree.  And “Gray belongs to a group of thinkers who turn to transcendence without content, epitomised by Hollywood spirituality.” Boom boom.

 

The evidence of the Optimists is extensive, wide-ranging, and emphatic, if necessarily imperfect.

So the modern outcome is also inevitably messy, untidy, always Heraclitean, always changing.

Unlike gods, which arrive box-wrapped, tidy, complete and eternal.

Which is chiefly why believers choose them! No complications.

And so there will always be something to excite that sizeable cohort of Born Worriers, those who will never quite be happy.

 

“PROGRESS”

So Pinker et al are simply addressing evidence, the outcome of Experience.

And they call the outcome “progress” – epitomised by Liberal Democracy – on the evidence, because on average, generally speaking, conditions at point A are demonstrably better than earlier point B. It is what it is.

Thus, stepping right back to get perspective, it’s fair to say approximately say three-quarters of all people in advanced affluent economies today have never had it so good.

And if they are not happy then they have only themselves to blame!

 

But meanwhile in NO way do the “Optimists” ever claim that “progress”, such as it is, will necessarily continue, that it’s somehow inevitable.

Nothing is “fated”, and also they are too aware of their evidence!

Like how the French Revolution was commandeered by the quasi-religious Jacobins, then by Napoleon Inc. rampaging about Europe, “reforming” or “modernising” France chiefly to help resource his military enterprises, in his wake installing family in imperial posts.

Like how the calamitous outbreak of WW1 punctured, shattered many decades of “progress”, when massed reactionary throwback nationalism – alas, and ironically, abundantly armed with the best means modern economies could provide – unleashed two world wars (ie parts 1 and 2 of the same war) and, for good measure, the disastrous Russian Revolution, practical ”Comminism”, the after effects of which still plague the world today.

 

Whatever the “progress” we have achieved, whatever we might keep achieving, the outcome will always be messy, not least because it will always be obstructed by the un-Enlightened Old World, by Tradition loyalties and especially the “religious mindset”, the born believers, broadly defined.

For there will always be the capable and ambitious who see a rewarding career in pandering to this mindset, offering seductive if hollow certainties.

It’s a long honour roll, including: the Pied Piper, Napoleon, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, that Hubbard chap, Jim Jones.

Nietzsche – the Greeks got there first.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900, 56).

  • Overrated.
  • God is dead”? Yes, but the Greeks got there first, and then he only got half way. And the easy half!
  • Less than helpful in what to do next.
  • A reactionary conservative, not remotely in touch with Modernity’s liberal democracy project.

 

FEATURED: Edvard Munch (1863-1944) 1906. Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche, oil, 201 × 160 cm, Thielska Galleriet, Stockholm

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Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) Onions, 1881, Clark Art Institute.

COMMENT: Renoir’s down to earth – grounded – painting is a good antidote for the “brilliant”, intense malady-plagued Nietzsche, epitomising what’s missing from the great thinker’s work, a stroll through a village Monday morning, watching it come to life, pausing for coffee, buying onions on the way home. And garlic.

 In essence.

  • Overrated. Nietzsche was a classic ivory tower intellectual, at home with his tomes, detached from, oblivious to the diverse, complicated fast changing “real world”.
  • God is dead”? Yes, but he only got half way. And the easy half!
  • Furthermore the ancient Greeks (whose works he knew well) got there first, about 2.5 millennia earlier.
  • Thus he left out what’s Man to DO next, sensibly do, after finding there is no God, beyond exercising a strong “will”?! Or the similarly trite, “Become what you are.”
  • In particular he also claimed that with God “dead” there is no right “absolute” answer on what to do, that we are thus completely adrift, facing nihilism, making your / our own rules.
  • He had a dim view of the capacities of the common man, indeed humanity itself, and thus had no regard for the capacity of post-Enlightenment Man to take mature responsibility for running his collective community affairs, once freed of fanciful (Christian) theological guidance.
  • So basically Nietzsche never escaped the philosophical clutches of Tradition, of Man having to seek refuge one way or another in some theological construct. So he was a reactionary conservative, out of touch with, discounting Modernity’s liberal-democratic project, then underway particularly in the English speaking world.
  • Implementing the liberal-democratic project is not easy, is messy, always will be, not least because of self-serving resistance by reactionary, “traditional” interests, especially religious and nationalistic. No quick fix.
  • So end of the day Nietzsche’s greatest failing was irresponsibility, recognising that with freedom comes responsibility (ie the core message of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, restated by G. B.Shaw), ie in particular responsibility for devising sound Government,
  • But at least he saw through Christianity (the Church), how it devalues, demotes Man, for its own ends.
  • So why did he make the big splash, if after all his views really not that radical or novel? Because a/ he had his say at a very opportune time, as the challenges of Modernity were evident; b/ he said it colourfully; c/ he then became famous / infamous after being practically adopted by 20th C Fascist dictators; and d/ his fierce walrus-moustached face.
  • He then became controversial when was keenly appropriated, promoted, exploited by self-serving Fascist forces.
  • Discerning the “real” Nietzsche is harder because of his aphoristic dot point writing style, then his sister’s later self-serving changes to some works, adulteration.
  • He sold poorly in his lifetime but became famous in his after-life.

 

Context historical?

Two key backdrops were;

1/ Germany on the up.

2/ Modernity marching on, the industrial revolution gathering steam.

 

Quick run through.

1/ God is dead. And we killed him! This just means traditional religion fails as an authentic life philosophy.

Also he specially criticised Christianity for its notion of original sin, devaluing Man, including its repression of sexuality.

Also he attacked faith as closing Man’s mind, rejecting curiosity. “Faith, according to Nietzsche, means not wanting to know what is true.”

If you wish to strive for peace of soul and happiness, then believe,’ he wrote to his sister; ‘if you wish to be a disciple of truth, then inquire.’

So rightly he said religion is a cop out, eg faith = closing one’s mind, not wanting to know truth, denying curiosity

BUT the Greeks there long before in undoing gods, a bunch of them were. They saw through the G thing, saw gods merely as Man creations.

 

2/ BUT it worried him because he saw the “death” of God as the end of moral absolutes!?

So regarding a/ rules for living, and b/ meaning in life, he saw all as relative now, hence we are “Beyond good and evil”, facing a “consequent gaping hole in human existence”, thus making ours a nihilistic age.

Thus he discounted any attempts at an objective truth, claimed all knowledge is “contingent and conditional”, always shifting, a view now called “perspectivism.

 

3/ so WHERE to now? Here is Nietzsche’s major error? Lapse.

He just said, tautologically, life is what you make it.

For an authentic life you must DO something, man should TRY.

A favorite motto of Nietzsche, taken from Pindar, reads: “Become what you are.””.

But become what?

The closest he got was to suggest… must have WILL power.  Which is trite? Even self-evident.

The will to power”, ‘live dangerously’ (appealed to Benito Mussolini), as – Übermensch /‘the superman’, ‘Become who you are’, ‘Strife is the perpetual food of the soul(1862).

And will was weak or strong. And “The man of strong will and clear sight was the Übermensch (literally the ‘Overman’ (from Thus Spoke Zarathustra), the man who has overcome himself, often rendered as the ‘Superman’). Such a one was almost a god. “

 

And in DOING something YOU then make own rules/morality.

Since now “no set purpose, and therefore we had to devise our own.”

“‘Man should sooner have the void for his purpose than be void of purpose’; if we have our why we can put up with any how”.

He tried to define good and evil. ‘What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. What is bad? All that proceeds from weakness.’

“..by the mid-1880s, [some see] Nietzsche’s outlook was almost theological, though he had replaced God with the Superman, divine grace by will-power, and eternal life with eternal recurrence. “

This was HIS view, but vague, adds what for common man??

 

So.. “ freedom was the essence of his philosophy – and this, as George Bernard Shaw, a Nietzschean thinker, once wrote, ‘means responsibility’. (He added, perceptively, ‘That is why most men dread it’.)”

Here GB Shaw, for once, was dead right.

 

4/ Nietzsche also stressed the primacy of change, everything always in flux, again borrowed from the Greeks, Heraclitus. And which again is trite? Self evident?

 

5/ so in summary Nietzsche only got half way, and the easy half!

Yes God dead and yes Man should seek truth, an authentic life.

But beyond that he had NOTHING constructive to offer.

And leaving others to misuse his ideas.

 

6/ so in particular he MISSED the whole Modern notion of liberal order, of devising / implementing a collective rules based democratic process, Man running his affairs.

He saw liberalism as “herd mentality”. He did not trust the masses, had “lofty contempt” for them.

“…he decided that liberalism was a product of the ‘herd mentality’” And “He cast scorn on the ‘non-sense of numbers’ and the ‘superstition of majorities’’‘.

 

7/ Basically, fundamentally, Nietzsche never escaped the philosophical clutches of Tradition, of Man having to seek refuge one way or another in some confected theological construct. He was trapped in the past.

7a/ no confidence in Man, the common man.

In particular in looking at implications for wider society he saw “too many people lived inauthentic lives – they were ‘human, all too human’ (meaning weak, cowardly, self-deceptive, petty, selfish, lazy, small-minded, ignorant, dishonest, malicious, pathetic).”

But more than that his thought was antiquated, unscientific, “Nietzsche believes that aristocratic nature is to some degree bred into us, so that some of us are simply born better off than others”.

Are thieves and villains proportionately more common further down the socio-economic ladder?

 

7b/ So  he favoured an elitist anti-democratic take on history. He wrote of “master-morality” and “slave-morality”, former as “good”, coming from “a warrior aristocracy and other ruling castes”, versus the latter as “bad”, “a reaction to master-morality”. He sees “Modern culture is defined by a tension between two kinds of morality”.

“…  it is clear from his own writings that Nietzsche wanted the victory of master morality. He linked the “salvation and future of the human race with the unconditional dominance” of master morality and called master morality “a higher order of values, the noble ones, those that say Yes to life, those that guarantee the future”. Just as “there is an order of rank between man and man,” there is also an order of rank “between morality and morality “.

This is all crazy. Nietzsche stands as a good old fashioned reactionary.

 

8/ Other notions.

8a/ “Eternal return” / “eternal recurrence”

Eternal return” (also known as “eternal recurrence“) is a hypothetical concept that posits that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur, in a self-similar form for an infinite number of times across infinite time or space.” From The Gay Science.

This talks to his preoccupation with change, which he found in the Greeks.

Does this add much?

 

8b/ “Apollonian” versus the “Dionysian

Artistic creation depends on a tension between two opposing forces, which Nietzsche terms the “Apollonian” and the “Dionysian”. From The birth of tragedy. “Apollo represents harmony, progress, clarity and logic, whereas Dionysus represents disorder, intoxication, emotion and ecstasy.

Which the poet Hölderlin had spoken of?

A useful observation.

 

9/ Nietzsche later was appropriated by others for their ends, especially by assorted nationalists, thence 20th C fascist dictatorships.

Yes Hitler read him, then feted Nietzsche’s sister Elizabeth, who did promote her brother’s application to Fascism.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra sold 140,000 copies in 1917.

But Nietzsche didn’t help, eg

You should love peace as a means of new wars,’ he wrote; ‘and the short peace more than the long … I do not exhort you to peace but to victory.’

And “and the man who fired the first shot in the war, the assassin Gavrilo Princip, admired Nietzsche and was given to quoting his works, especially the line: ‘Insatiable as flame, I burn and consume myself’.”

Was he speaking metaphorically? “When Nietzsche had talked of waging war, he had in fact meant fighting against one’s own weaknesses, self-deceptions and follies. He did not expect to be taken literally,”

Maybe.

 

10/ But Nietzsche was mostly not “political”, a nationalist, not an anti-Semite? Rather, per contra, he “hated the German militarism after 1871 Unification”.

The new Reich, he said, is the ‘politicisation and thus destruction of the true German spirit’, which to his mind was cultural.

And 1887, ‘He wrote in February 1887 that ‘I have no respect left for present-day Germany, bristling, hedgehog-fashion, with arms. It represents the most stupid, the most depraved, the most mendacious form of the German spirit that ever was’.”

He “scorned” Wagner’s love of Teutonic myths, his nationalism and anti-Semitism.

So broadly speaking we cannot blame him for the German 20th C rampage.

“ If thinkers are to be held responsible for glorifying war… then those figures – from John Ruskin to Max Weber – who glorified real war must be indicted before N. Nietzsche’s views were not ‘militarism run mad’.. they were individualism run mad.” 

Irony that “his individualism – which in political terms equates with anarchism – would have been even more opposed to the far greater collectivised tyranny of totalitarianism. Nevertheless both Mussolini and Hitler admired him.”

Hitler too was impressed. He read him as a prisoner in Landsberg (‘my university’), or so he said, and later gave Mussolini a copy of the collected works for his sixtieth birthday. … In 1934 Hitler travelled to Weimar to pay his respects to Nietzsche’s sister, Elizabeth Förster-Nietzsche, presenting her with a huge bouquet of flowers and speaking of his ‘unchanging reverence’ for her ‘estimable brother’.

But “the version of Nietzsche of which many fascists approved was that painted by his sister in “The Will to Power”. Elizabeth evidently did have extreme nationalist, racist and fascist sympathies, and her husband more so. “

 

11/ A thought. It seems likely Nietzsche’s big health problems – right through life, including syphilis, which finished him?  – drove, influenced his thought? Eg his affection for Schopenhauer and especially his stress on WILL, on the individual taking the reins.

Perhaps Nietzsche had to cultivate heroic will-power in order to avoid succumbing completely to ill health…. the hero of his great book of 1885, Zarathustra, affirms life nobly, joyfully and sometimes even ecstatically, despite all its problems and disappointments. “

Influence too his idea of ‘eternal recurrence’, “one of his most curious late ideas…”

 

12/ Interesting, Nietzsche’s tale helps remind us that Liberal democracy is very much an English achievement, emerged there, with help from the Dutch. So the whole notion of Democracy was radical in Europe then, offended many conservatives.

Though Greeks were there 2500 years before.

So the real English achievement was developing a practical working replacement for God!

Though the outcome will always be messy, a work in progress, never complete, never come boxed, wrapped and ribboned.

Thus Man can find Meaning, find collective moral standards.

If he works at it.

And arguably these “values” are ABSOLUTE, have universal applicability, are not relative, anything goes.

Thus Franklin Delano Roosevelt was clearly heading in this direction in his famous early 1941 State of the Union “Four Freedoms” speech, free speech, free religion and freedom from want and fear. Not a bad start,

Unfortunately his grand post-war vision (which later included the United Nations) was brutally hijacked after WW2 by not one but two “Communist” dictatorships, first the USSR, giving us the 44 year long Cold War, and second, from 1949, “Communist” China, which famously changed economic direction after Mao’s death, but remains staunchly authoritarian. This sad outcome also gave us the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Both states are of course far more nationalistic than they are “Communist”. Thus their evident observed preoccupations do not extend to liberating the oppressed proletariat.

And around 75 years after WW2 these two antagonistic anti-democratic major powers are still with us, still allergic to liberal-democracy.

 

Influences on Nietzsche?

Greek philosophers, especially pre-Socratic Heraclitus, that all is change, “who stressed competition / emotion rather than mere logic”;

The Greek materialist thinkers, “who denied the existence of anything metaphysical (including a self separate from the body)”; also “Darwin and other evolutionists, who saw no reason to presuppose the existence of a creator”.

Schopenhauer (Mr Pessimism, Schopenhauer, only death will end your misery!) impressed, was a major stimulus to his interest in philosophy, partly because of his pessimistic outlook on life. “It’s best to envisage the world as a sort of penal colony, insisted Schopenhauer: after all, life is ‘a disappointment and a cheat’ (words he wrote in English), death a welcome oblivion”. ‘No rose without a thorn,’ he quipped, ‘but many a thorn without a rose.’

This appealed to the suffering Nietzsche?

Schopenhauer saw us in two worlds, the superficial “world as representation”, which we see, and the “world as will,” which lies behind the senses, and is the “real world”

The other major influence was Wagner, whom Nietzsche met in Switzerland. ‘When I am near him,’ he wrote in August 1869, ‘I feel as if I am near the divine.’ They quarrelled in the late 1870s, like over Wagner’s nationalism and ant—Semitism, but Nietzsche took from him and his music was the “notion of the hero”.

 

LIFE

From a conservative family. He was born in 1844 at Röcken, near Leipzig, in rural Prussian Saxony, son of a Lutheran pastor, both his grandfathers were Lutheran ministers. His father (who died 1849) was a royalist, called him Friedrich Wilhelm after the King of Prussia. Bright early, educated in Naumburg, at Pforta boarding school and at the universities of Bonn and Leipzig. Then, at the young age of 24 (1868), he became Professor of Philology (specialising in classical Greek language and culture) at the University of Basel in Switzerland.

Awkward socially? Contracted syphilis early?

He had suffered migraine headaches and poor eyesight from early years, volunteered to serve as a nursing orderly in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, he soon collapsed from dysentery and diphtheria. He was never really well again.

By 1879 N’s health so poor he retired on a small pension from Basel University, began travelling – to Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France – living simply, incessantly writing.

In January 1880 he was suffering a ‘semi-paralysis which makes it hard for me to talk’ and also ‘furious attacks’ which had him vomiting for three days and nights at a stretch

On 3 January 1889, in Turin, he “saw a cabman beating his horse”, intervened, “when he retained consciousness, he was no longer sane”.

For the last 11 years of his life, from the age of 44, he was looked after by his mother and then his sister, Elizabeth.. for the last two years he could not speak. He died on 25 August 1900”.

Yet even before 1889 there were signs that Nietzsche was becoming unbalanced. Self-obsessed. His short autobiography Ecce Home (‘Behold the man’, words used by Pilate about Christ), published in 1888, contains chapters with the titles ‘Why I am so wise’, ‘Why I am so clever’, ‘Why I write such excellent books’, ‘Why I am a destiny’.

 

Understanding his work?

Problems, 1/ his sister? “The problems of [understanding] N.. compounded by .. his sister edited his surviving notes, containing ideas he’d rejected, into an often misleading work, The Will to Power, published 1901.”

2/ his writing style. “..  in his prime, Nietzsche sometimes wrote in poems, parables, aphorisms, riddles and metaphors which are often difficult to fathom”.

Impressionism: colourful, coarse-brushed aesthetic distraction from modern life

 

 

FEATURED: JMW Turner (1770-1854) The Scarlet Sunset (c1830–40). Watercolour and gouache on paper, Support 13.4 x 18.9 cm, Tate Britain

Surely an Impressionist painting, but from about 34 years before the first Impressionist exhibition.

 

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Claude Monet (1850-1920). 1869, La Grenouillère, oil on canvas 99.7 x 74.6 cm Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). 1869, La Grenouillère, Oil on canvas. 66.5 x 81 cm, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.

Two pioneering “iconic” Impressionist paintings.

 

1/ The essence

  • Impressionism, as an art movement, has two aspects.
    • The historic French experience
    • A generic defintion.
  • It was a subset of Realism, aiming to capture transitory scenes, but with a strong aesthetic purpose.
  • Thus Impressionism was radical in its painting style but not modern in its content.
  • Rather it appealed as a nostalgic Neo-Romantic antidote to then emerging rude Modernity.
  • But avoiding the reality of Modernity in favour of Pretty Pictures was nonetheless a valid response? Remind us not to forget the aesthetic.
  • The main official Impressionist painters were „Impressionist“ in varying degrees.
  • And there were unofficial Impressionists, major painters who painted some Impressionist works.
  • From the Impressionist period arguably some of the best paintings were non-Impressionist? Because they said more.
  • Some earlier painters – proto-Impressionists – pointed to Impressionism? Like JMW Turner.
  • Impressionism spread beyond France. But less than is commonly canvassed. The term is now over-used for marketing purposes.

 

2/ Preamble – Impressionism the first major modern movement

Following Manet’s one man kick start of Modernism Impressionism led the modern art revolution from the mid 19th C, from late 1860s through c1880, for the protagonists as a conscious radical break from then mainstream art, especially as represented by the official Salons.

Thence Modernism marched on, fanned out in the late 19th C in a variety of reactions to Impressionism, first under the broad banner of Post Impressionism (cf Paul Gauguin, Van Gogh, the term coined 1910 by Roger Fry) in the 1880s, thence Neo-Impressionism (the Pointilism of Seurat et al), the Nabis, Symbolism and Expressionism (cf Munch).

 

3/ Dissecting the movement

 

A. Impressionism the historic experience and a defintion.

Impressionism as an art movement, has two aspects.

a/ The historic experience

First it applies to the historic experience, the paintings of a small group of loosely affiliated French artists over a period from the late 1860s to around 1880, but a group diverse in style and subject matter, some of whose art was Impressionist, and who werer united principally by their opposition to the then dominant Salons.

The group of about 9 painters, together with some other artists, exhibited at 7 official exhibitions over 12 years, 1874-1886.

Conventionally the movement concludes around the early 1880s, and was succeeded by Neo-Impressionism, a term coined  by critic Felix Feneon after at the 8th Impressionist show in 1886, where Seurat’s famous „Sunday Afternoon etc“ was hung.

Success came slowly, and especially helped by the single-minded commitment of dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) who held his first Impressionist show in London 1870, 4 years before the official launch. Later he successfully took the brand to New York.

b/ A generic defintion.

Secondly, from the original French experience we can extract a two point generic definition of the movement;

1/ content or subject. Impressionism can be seen as a subset of Realism.

Its essential aim was to depict the ephemeral here and now, the fleeting or transitory moment, especially natural effects outdoora, and especially appealing, stimulating light effects. Hence they mostly favoured outdoors plein air painting.

Their aim in depicting ephemeral scenes was to convey a version of reality, not apply some preconceived interpretation.

The main objective was overarchingly aesthetic, not instructive, not didactic or polemical or narratory. It was art for its own sake.

In a sense the Impressonists can be seen as heirs of the Barbizon Realists, except their main purpose was narrower, being aesthetic, whereas Barbizon painters had a wider mission, instructive, sometimes polemical.

2/ there was clearly an Impressionist painting style.

Pigment application, usually in oils, was 1/ loose, coarse textured, divisionist“.and 2/ generally more colourful.

 

B. Impressionism was radical in its style but not modern in its purpose….

The curious implication of points 1/and 2/ is that while the Impressionist movement was radical in its art style, in breaking from convention – was a modern avant-garde movement through its pioneering relaxed colorful painting style which jarred with the then favoured subdued traditional Salon styles – it was not  modern in its purpose and content.

Thus it did not deliberately seek to depict Modern Life, let alone engage instructively with it, seek to comment on modern life. They did paint some recogniseable scenes from modern life (eg like Monet (1840-1926) and Gare St Lazare in Paris, like Pissarro (1830-1903) in his later street scenes from Paris, also Rouen), but more for the aesthetic possibilities. Also Pissarro painted his many city images later when coping with reduced mobility.

 

C. … rather it appealed as a nostalgic antidote to then emerging, burgeoning rude Modernity.

So in broad terms the purpose of its painting was not modern or progressive, but rather the reverse. Its focus on the aesthetic was fundamentally Neo-Romantic.

And one could go further and argue that for some of its leaders (Monet, Pissarro, Sisley) their aesthetic mission was a reactionary, anti-modern gesture, seeking therapeutic escape from, an antidote to, the blunt noisy disruption caused by emering Modernity, the sudden 19th C eruption and spread of industrial and urban life.

After famously struggling for recognition in the early days, championed by lone figures like the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, eventually Monet and his friends were proved right.

Thus Impressionism‘s eventual success was fanned precisely by avoiding the modern world, the travails of modern life, and rather by dishing up mostly fetching atmospheric rural nostalgia.

The Pretty Pictures were entertaining nostalgic pleasurable visual distractions from the unpleasant side effects of burgeoning modern industrial life, easy to swallow, to „understand“,

And the movement remains widely popular today for the same reason, for aesthetic distraction from the pace and intensity of modern life.

 

 

For some Impressionists the aesthetic mission persisted, grew more important with time, particularly for Monet, the most famous exemplar. Thus his outdoors landscapes generally became less descriptive and more stylised, pursuing the aesthetic criterion, climaxing at Giverny early in the following century. Pissarro also stayed close to the aesthetic mission.

It’s ironic that one reason for the lush colorful floral vegetation at Asnières-sur-Seine,  just north of Paris, evident in Monet’s 1880 painting of his garden at Vétheuil, is the then growing discharge of sewage effluent into the Seine!

 

D. Avoiding reality, Modernity‘s wider impact, was nonetheless a valid response?

Impressionism’s aesthetic preoccupation basically avoided engaging with Modernity, its obvious disruption to traditional life, the costs as well as benefits.

Was this in a sense irresponsible? Because it avoided ‚reporting the facts“?

But it can be argued this response was valid because firstly it indeed gave the viewers some visual satifaction, relief from the ugliness, and second, it reminded viewers of the importance of having an aesthetic component in a balanced life?

This latter view, the virtue of the aesthetic, was the hallmark of Henri Matisse’s art two generations later.

 

E. The main Impressionists were „Impressionist“ in varying degrees…..

Looking at the cadre of the original French Impressionist painters the generic definition of Impressionism applied to varying degrees to the main protagonists, more to painters like Monet, Pissarro and Sisley, sometimes to Renoir, but less to Degas.

Thus for each painter not all their works were ‚Impressionist‘.

Among the main Impressionists Edgar Degas (1834-1917) was the most different. By far his favourite subject for the „ephemeral moment“ was not a spring hillside or a weather affected sky but a classical dance studio, or performance theatre. He dismissed plein air painting. He painted many people, in portraits or group interiors.

And he never embraced the colorful divisionist Impressionist style of paint application.

Pierre- Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) painted a number of Impressionist masterworks, some Impressionist works till near his end, but also painted lots more people, even Wagner in 1882.

 

F. … and there were two major contemporary painters not labelled Impressionists who painted some Impressionist works.

The important contemporary painter, the transposed American JM Whistler (1834-1903), painted some clearly Impressionistic images in his so-called nocturnes, mainly in London, works which above all were trying to capture an atmospheric moment, if not wholly in the Impressionistic „divisionist“ style. But he was in no way an„officially“ part of the Impressionist movement.

The pionering Modernist Edouard Manet (1834-1903), painted some clearly Impressionist works, but rejected approaches to join the official group. He remained his own man and arguably painted better for it, many of his works having a far wider purpose than boats on the sunny Seine.

 

G. From the Age of Impressionism some of the non-Impressionist works said much more?

Notwithstanding the subsequent popularity of a High Impressionists like Monet, the works of many other contemporary painters – Impressionist and non- Impressionist – were arguably more important and interesting precisely for their non-Impressionist content? Because they said much more.

This includes particularly many paintings by Manet (eg The Railway of 1873), and also by the masterly Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), and Edgar Degas, and also the someime Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte (1848-94).

 

H. Proto-Impressionists? Some earlier painters pointed to Impressionism?

Some work by some precursors might be called proto-Impressionist, particularly by JMW Turner (1775-1851), but also occasionally by John Constable (1776-1837).

Clearly many of Turner’s later atmospheric „ethereal“ works are Impressionist in their aesthetic intent, their capturing evanescent atmospheric effects, and even in their fragmented painting style.

 

Impressionism spread beyond France. But less than is commonly promoted.

Impressionism as a movement was very influential. Many painters beyond France picked up the style to a greater or lesser extent.

Thus there is mention of „Impressionism“ in the US, Britain, even Germany, Australia and Scandinavia.

However the term is often applied too loosley, applied to art which does not really fit the generic definition.

Many so called „Impressionist“ works are more naturalistic, in painting style.

This is basically done for marketing reasons, to take advantage of the now pervasive popularity of the French movement, ironic considering its slow beginnings.

 

I. The original cast…

From the „official“ Impressionist painters, ie who were hung at any of the 7 official exhibitions, the popularly accepted 5 main historic protagonists were Edgar Degas / Claude Monet / Camille Pissarro / Pierre-Auguste Renoir / Alfred Sisley.

And on the periphery were 4 others: Frederic Bazille / Gustave Caillebotte / Alphonse Guillaumin / Berthe Morisot.

However the definitional boundary is grey and beyond the „official“ list other important contemporary artists who also painted Impressionist works were Edouard Manet and Paul Cezanne, and also Dutch landscapist JB Jongkind (1819-91, ie 21 years older than Monet) and JM Whistler (1834-93, 6 years older)

 

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JMW Turner (1775-1851) 1842, Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, oil on canvas, 91 cm × 122 cm, Tate Britain.

A precursor to Impressionism, and abstraction.

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Claude Monet (1840-1926), 1872, Impression, Sunrise, oil on canvas, 48 X 63cm, Muséem Marmottan Monet, Paris.

The painting which gave the cause its name.

 

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Camille Pissarro (1830-1903). c1871, All Saints’ Church, Upper Norwood (London), gouache on paper 18.2 x 22.8 cm, Private Collection

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JM Whistler (1834-1903). c1872-73, Nocturne; Battersea Bridge, pastel on brown paper, 18.1 x 27.94 cm, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Two from London, one by an unofficial Impressionist artist.

 

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Paul Cezanne (1839-1906). 1873-74, A Modern Olympia, 46 x 55.5 cm, Musée d’Orsay.

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Alfred Sisley (1839-1899), 1874, Regatta at Molesey, 66 × 91.5cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris..

Cezanne’s image hung in the inaugural 1874 exhibition and is certainly impressionistic. Sisley was a front rank but narrow official Impressionist painter.

 

a10

Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). Dance in the Moulin de la Galette (Bal du moulin de la Galette), 1876, Oil on canvas, 131 x 175 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

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Giuseppe De Nittis (1846–1884). 1878. Westminster Bridge. Pinacoteca De Nittis, Barletta, Italy

 Renoir liked painting people, and well, far more than some of the others. The Italian painter worked in Paris.

 

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) 1879, Seascape Near Berneval, oil on canvas, 54 x 65.4 cm. Private.

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c 1916, Anenomes, oil on canvas, 14 × 31 cm, Museum of John Paul II Collection (Porczyński Gallery).

 The prolific Renoir painted some landscapes, and later, when old, a number of Impressionist floral scenes.

 

a14

Claude Monet 1891 Poplars on the Banks of the Epte, oil on canvas 100 x 65 cm Private

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Claude Monet, 1899-1901. Charing Cross Bridge, London, Saint Louis Art Museum.

Later Impressionist works by Monet.

 

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Max Liebermann (1847-1935). 1918. The birch avenue in Wannsee Garden, looking west, 85.5x 106cm, Hannover

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Claude Monet, 1920–22, The Japanese Footbridge, 89.5 x 116.3 cm, MOMA

A much later German Impressionist painting, by then nostalgic, by when the avant-garde had raged far ahead, into abstraction and Cubism.

And a very late work by the unrelenting narrowly focussed Giverny-based Monet, now bordering on abstraction.

Camille Pissarro (and friends) – if you could only invite one to tea?

 

The Impressionists‘ engaging aesthetic „special effects“ man.

(Jacob Abraham Camille Pissarro, July 1830- November 1903, 73)

 

FEATURED IMAGE:   1874 Bad Weather, Pontoise, Snow Effect, oil on canvas, 50.5 x 61.6 cm, Private Collection.   COMMENT: textbook Pissarro, from the year Impressionism was formally launched at the first (of 8) official Salon challenging group exhibition in Paris. Thus through bare trees we see some “structure”, and the coarse brushwork captures snow flurried by wind.

If we can choose only two paintings …. .

2  3

1877, The Côte des Bœufs at L’Hermitage (Pontoise) Oil on canvas, 114.9 x 87.6 cm, National Gallery London. COMMENT: this is a relatively large painting, and the reproduction does not do justice to the dense fine impasto texture visible up close. Many paintings he composed around trees. And concealed, camouflaged in the shrubs are two women, near his then home.

1889 Shepherd in a Downpour, tempera on canvas, 60 x 73.3 cm, private Collection. COMMENT: more trademark Pisssaro, after the effect of rain beating a lone shepherd and flock, but through a pared simple zig-zag composition he sometimes used later, after meeting Georges Seurat, .

 

SUMMARY

The gregarious multi-cultural outsider Camille Pissarro (Danish-French, of Portuguese-Sephardic Jewish descent) was important early, played a leading role in formally launching the Impressionists group in 1874, and then showed at all 8 of the group exhibitions to 1886.

Unlike some peers he relaxed creatively so apart from one interesting detour his painting style more or less trod water across 30 prolific years, as variations on Impressionism.

But he left us many „beautiful“ paintings, evident especially in the flesh. And many there were, mostly engaging aesthetic distractions from modern life.

For despite his „anarchist“ proto-socialist political sympathies Pissarro was in practice – like Monet (1840-1926) – a true Impressionist, basically a neo-romantic aesthete, preoccupied with aesthetic purpose.

Even his many cityscapes (especially the various series, painted later when ill health compelled him to paint only from indoors) are more aesthetic than realistic.

He preferred the country, lived near all his life there, and landscapes predominated, often chasing natural outdoors atmospheric “effects”, like snow or fog or frost, but usually built on some manner of compositional structure, especially trees.

But as a sociable person, known for empathetic relations with other artists, he also painted many people, in small or larger groups, particularly later:  family, friends (cf Cezanne), rural workers, and also himself.

Ironically his late 1880s„detour“ to Neo-impresionism produced some of his most „modern“ images.

 

ART

Pissarro’s art

Pissarro, as the oldest in the official group (43 in 1874), and the only one then to show at all 8 exhibitions, is noted for his important role in helping launch Impressionism, especially with Monet, his friend since 1859, and both not long back from London. They, with Degas and Renoir, played a leading role in organising the seminal April 1874 Impressionist show.

The painter credited with first floating the idea of them forming a group, the engaging, generous Frederic Bazille, a close friend of Monet, sadly was killed 1870 in the pointless Franco-Prussian War so never reached the starting line. Pissarro (with Paul Cezanne (1939-1906)) knew Bazille from 1863.

But having become a committed Impressionist painter, Pissarro more or less remained there stylistically for rest of his life, about another 30 years. He toyed with Neo-Impressionist Pointillism in the late 1880s, but only for a year or so, and ignored the Post-impressionists like Van Gogh and Gauguin, then the 1890s Symbolists.

However in later years there was generally more variety in his style and subject. He painted more people (like La Ronde (1884) and the many market scenes), he painted coarse colorful works (View of the Village of Bazincourt (1889), Sunset, Bazincourt Steeple (1890), Flood, White Effect, Eragny (1893), and The Dunes at Knokke (1894)), and he painted subtle subdued works (Valhermeil near Oise – Rain Effect (1881), Shepherd in a Downpour (1889), Rouen, Fog Effect (1898)).

Pissarro liked to build his paintings around some manner of “structure”, using trees in particular, also roads and buildings, and shadows, and sometimes rivers and bridges.

Ironically, his brief detour into Neo-impressionism (Pointillism) after meeting Georges Seurat 1885 produced paintings which are arguably his most „modern“ in terms of painting style and stylised composition, if not modern in subject, like Flock of sheep, Eragny sur Epte (1888). Ile Lacruix, Rouen: Effect of Fog (1888), and Old Chelsea Bridge, London (1890). Some of these works also reflect his interest in Japanese prints.

 

Pissarro was prolific, and landscapes predominated, as for his more famous friend and associate Monet, but his subject span was wider than Monet‘s, more interesting for it. Thus he painted far more people, especially later, after c1880, including himself (leaving four notable self portraits), his family, and many outdoors genre scenes showing working people, mainly women, in villages, markets, the countryside.

Monet’s Rouen cathedral series inspired him to also paint a number of “series”, ie repeated images from the same vantage point, starting 1896 with 16 paintings of Rouen. About then his failing health forced him to work inside, so the “series”made a virtue of necessity. Other series followed, like Dieppe, and in urban Paris, especially of Boulevarde Montmartre, also from his window over Pont Neuf.

 

Pissarro responded to modern life, painted far more views of modern life than Monet, like factories and changing urban Paris. About the 1896 Rouen series he famously wrote (to his son): “what particularly interests me is the motif off the iron bridge in wet weather with all the vehicles, pedestrians, workers on the embankment, boats, smoke, haze in the distance; it’s so spirited, so alive.”

And in Paris, working on his famous Boulevarde Montmartre series, he wrote 15th Dec.1897 to Lucien: “It may not be very aesthetic, but I’m delighted to be able to have a go at Paris streets, which are said to be ugly, but are [in fact] so silvery, so bright, so vibrant with life […] they’re so totally modern!

But nonetheless (and notwithstanding his “it may not be very aesthetic”!) this interest in the “modern” is primarily aesthetic rather than „realistic“ or clinical.

Pissarro’s reaction to „modern“ life contrasts with Fernand Leger’s (1881-1955) for example. The neo-romantic Pissarro was more interested in the aesthetic effects of the „modern“, and the countryside, while Leger on the other hand embraced the modern industrial age, seemed to think modern life was a good idea, despite even after serving at the front in World War 1.

 

Pissarro ultimately may have been less radical than say Monet, more conservative, but in relentlessly pursuing his aesthetic mission he did paint many “beautiful” pictures, particularly among his many landscapes and cityscapes. As often the case this is more evident when seeing some of these paintings in the flesh, when the detail can be better appreciated, as for many other artists (like Jackson Pollock).

 

Monet

Monet, also prolific, was more narrow than Pissarro in his subject matter – painted relatively few people pictures, especially later, and painted very few „modern“ subjects –  but he is now understandably more famous for pushing his aesthetic obsession with landscapes, through the famous „series“ of the 1890s (haystacks, the Rouen cathedral facade, river bank trees, on the Epte) to the legion of later radical large quasi-abstract images from his base at Giverny, many watery, like his early days by the Channel.

 

How hard was it! Monet letter 10 March 1879 to Georges De Bellio:

„..I am absolutely sickened with and demoralised by this life I’ve been leading for so long. When you reach my age [39!] there is nothing more to look forward to. Unhappy we are, unhappy we will continue to be.

Each day brings its tribulations and each day difficulties arise from which we can never free ourselves. So I am giving up the struggle once and for all, abandoning all hope of success……

(Richard  Kendall, Monet by Himself, (Macdonald & Co 1989, updated  Time Warner Books, 2004)

 

Influences

Pissarro’s relentless pursuit of the aesthetic is odd in some ways first because he was apparently a “socialist” (see below) and, second, because he was influenced early by the various pioneering French social realists in Paris, particularly the older Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796 – 1875), who tutored him, encouraged him to paint plein-air. He cited Corot as his teacher in the catalogues to the 1864 and 1865 Paris Salons.

The bolder realist Gustave Courbet (1819 – 1877) was important too, also Charles-François Daubigny (1817-78) and Jean-François Millet (1814 – 1875) from the Barbizon school.

So early on he also developed a keen appetite for landscape, which never left. Here he was influenced too by recent older British painters RP Bonington (1802-28) and John Constable (1776-1837). Constable’s work influenced the French Realists, especially after it was shown at the 1824 Salon.  Pissarro was aware too of the then ageing Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863), like his use of color.

 

Like many colleagues from the late 1860s he also became fashionably keen on Japonism, eg through Japanese prints, though this is less obvious in his art than for others?

 

1869-71: Louveciennes and London, forming the Impressionist painting style

Pissarro’s Impressionist painting style clearly emerged when he was based at Louveciennes (about 18km west of Paris, on the road to Versailles) for about a year, from May 1869 through July 1870 when the war with Prussia broke out. Pissarro moved to Louveciennes from Pontoise, was joined in the area by Monet (based at Bougival) and Renoir, then Sisley, also Guillaumin.

During the early 1870s Pissarro, Monet and Sisley [and Renoir?] developed a communal style and collective artistic identity..” (“Camille Pissarro”, catalogue, Art Gallery NSW, 2006).

This area, the Seine below Louveciennes, became an important nursery for developing Impressionism, epitomised by Monet and Renoir famously painting side by side at popular riverside café la Grenouillère (The Frogpond) in summer of 1869, on the island of Croissy, just up the river by Bougival. Their paintings were milestones in the birth of Impressionism.

Oddly for an “Impressionist” Renoir painted a heap of portraits, and not many landscapes.

Pissarro also painted a view of la Grenouillère in 1869 but the style of his image is behind Monet and arguably it was soon after this, painting with Monet at Louveciennes winter 1869-70 (especially scenes of the road to Versailles), that Pissarro’s Impressionist style developed.

The same local scenes were painted repeatedly, in varying conditions, the same scene by the same artist (like the road at Louveciennes by Pissarro), and the same scene by different artists (like Louveciennes by Pissarro and Monet).

One popular feature was the aqueduct for Louis XIV’s Versailles water displays, fed by la Machine de Marly.

Then Franco-Prussian War, erupting July 1870, upended the productive Louveciennes association.

 

Impressionism – making sense of a definition: aesthetic realism

From its problematic formal beginnings in the mid-1870s Impressionism is now one of the most popularly appreciated art movements, though this popularity was hard won.

But it is also a term bringing some confusion?

 

The style is best described as  aesthetic realism“.

It was radical then first because of its unidealistic, frank, informal, everyday realism, striving to paint everyday, mundane landscapes in particular – and sometimes people – „realistically“, as they really appeared.

Some logically extended this approach and painted the same scenes at different times, in different weathers, and they savoured rich visual effects like snowy fields or fog or sunny treescapes or sunsets. Though Renoir did tell dealer Ambroise Vollard “But then, even if you can stand the cold, why paint snow? It is a blight on the face of Nature.”!

The radical nature of their subject matter is quickly evident when compared with typical paintings favoured by the official Salon, mostly still preoccupied with improbable obscure otherworldly history topics, like Gérôme’s The sword Dance (1868), or idealised landscapes.

Second, it was radical in its pioneering coarse, colorful, broad brush, „unfinished‘ painting method.

 

Impressionism’s aesthetic realism“, sometimes then called „naturalism“, stood in contrast to the by then well established and pioneering French school of „social realism“, which dated back to Théodore Géricault’s (1791-1824) Raft of the Medusa (1819), thence through Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796 – 1875), the Barbizon School (Jean-François Millet (1814 – 1875)), then especially Gustave Courbet (1819 – 1877).

The long unappreciated and less well known Barbizon “cattle painter” Constant Troyon (1810-65), who met Barbizon leader Theodore Rousseau in 1843, impressed Monet at the 1859 Salon (with 6 works), and it’s easy to see why, the light and atmosphere, the color and the brushwork (cf The Return). We also see Pissarro in Troyon (cf Road in the woods, mid 1840s, Met NY)

Encouraged by freer thinking after the 1848 political unrest, the Barbizon school painted nature and rural life, including peasants, for its own sake, rather than as a back drop to dramatic events, historic, mythological or otherwise. And they painted the scenes directly, realistically. Thus the Barbizon artists were early advocates of en plein air (EPA) painting, from about the 1840s, ie working outdoors, a method facilitated by 1/ the arrival paint pigments in tubes (versus traditional method of mixing pigment with linsed oil in a studio), and 2/ the portable French box easel, with built in paint box and palette.

Impressionism’s „realism“ by contrast – its artistic mission – was overwhelmingly aesthetic rather having any polemical or moralistic motive.

So it was, above all, essentially a neo-romantic movement, mostly preoccupied with „pretty pictures“, if anything seeking aesthetic distraction from the disruptive turmoil of modern life rather than to comment or reflect on it.

Striking it is that even the „political“ Pissarro, socialist /anarchist, was nothing of the sort in his art (with one isolated exception, below).

Eventually, after a long and arduous battle for popular acceptance, Impressionism succeeded, and then emphatically, because of the demand for “don’t worry, be happy” paintings.

By contrast, for example, the long lived English painter George Frederic Watts (1817-1904), whose work span covered the whole back half of the 19th C, including the birth and slow spread of Impressionism, was hugely popular then for his purposeful painting – visionary, moralising, exhortatory – but is now quite forgotten.

 

Impressionismemergence

From 1862 Monet, Renoir and Sisley, then Bazille from 1863, painted together at Gleyre’s atelier in Paris. Monet had learned much from marine painter Eugène Boudin (1824-98) c1859 at his then seaside home town of Le Havre, then from summer 1862 from Dutchman JB Jongkind (1819-91), another seaside painter.

1863 is famous for the birth of Salon des Refusés, ordered by Louis-Napoleon after wide protest against the intolerant conservative Salon that year. Pissarro and Cezanne showed at Refusés but Manet’s (1832-1883) famous Déjeuner sur l’Herbe caused the real sensation, a candidate for the first important “modern” painting, for its subject depiction not its painting style.

After Gleyre’s studio closed 1864 the quartet painted a time in the Fontainebleau woods, outside Paris, near the Barbizon painters.

As we saw above 1869-70 found a number of the key painters working in the Bougival area west of Paris, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro and Sisley.

In Paris during the 1860s the Café Guerbois on Rue des Batignolles (north of centre, west of Montmartre) became an important socialising venue for some of the group, fostering a semblance of commonality. It was dominated by the quarrelsome Manet, where Degas, Monet and Bazille contributed, also the critics Louis Edmond Duranty and Emile Zola, and Renoir and Sisley perhaps less so. Pissarro and Cezanne appeared only occasionally.

Two group portraits from 1870 celebrated the group’s presence: A studio in the Batignolles quarter by Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) includes Manet, Renoir, Zola (an important supporting art critic, and writer), Bazille, and Monet; and, poignantly, Bazille’s Artists’s studio (Rue de la Condamine) which includes Bazille (“Manet painted me in“), Manet, Edmond Maître, and possibly Monet and Renoir. Bazille added a number of Impressionist paintings on the walls to stress the point.

Then the Franco-Prussian War intervened, claiming Bazille’s life, but persuading both Monet and Pissarro (with Danish citizenship) to decamp, independently, to London by late 1870.

London proved providential for Monet and Pissarro. Fellow refugee French painter, and friend, Charles-François Daubigny, introduced Monet January 1871 to art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922), also sitting out the war, and then setting up a gallery in New Bond St. Durand-Ruel revealed Pissarro’s presence in London to Monet, and he started to buy their paintings, becoming in due course a major supporter of Monet (who before the war was financially struggling) and many other Impressionists.

Pissarro was by then staying in suburban southeast London at Norwood where “I [Pissarro] .. studied the effects of fog, snow and springtime..”. He painted 12 oil paintings in London and, importantly, with Monet viewed the proto-Impressionist art of JMW Turner and John Constable in the museums.

Back in France 1871 Pissarro returned to Pontoise by August 1872 after finding Louveciennes (and many of his works left there) had been trashed in the war. Cezanne joined him a time at Pontoise, then stayed nearby at Auvers.

Monet next settled at Argenteuil (on NW outskirts of Paris, on the north bank of the Seine), till 1878, but he struggled some time for money.

 

Impressionismlaunch.

Monet was the main man in the emergence, launch and progression of Impressionism? And arguably he stayed with the style the whole of his long career, through to the final vast colourful quasi-abstract floral visial meditations at Giverny, beyond WW1.

But oddly it was his close friend Frederic Bazille (1841-1870) who deserves recognition for apparently first thinking out loud about the Impressionists forming a formal group, the articulate, confident and generous young (25) painter who in 1867, after more rejections by the Salon, wrote his mother “So we have resolved to rent a large studio each year where we will exhibit as many of our works as we please. We’ll invite the painters we like to send their paintings….. With these people and Monet, who is stronger than all of them put together, we’re sure to succeed. You’ll see that people will talk about us.” Well known to others in the group, and emerging as a painter of clear distinction (if not by then a full Impressionist) he was – a week off age 29 – sadly killed (28 November 1870) in the futile Franco-Prussian War, triggered by France.

Conditions after the Franco-Prussian War seemed propitious for a time but then 1873 brought a tough financial downturn, which dragged on for 5 years or so, hurting painting sales. And the official Salon remained hostile. Neither Monet nor Pissarro showed at the 1872 and 1873 Salons, and Courbet was excluded from the 1872 official Salon. Then 1873 brought yet another hostile Salon, triggering another Salon des Refuses.

So now Monet revived Bazille’s 1867 thoughts for the loose like-minded group to mount their own exhibition (refer Phoebe Pool’s Impressionism, 1967, Thames and Hudson).

Critic Duret was hostile but Degas keenly supported the idea, despite some clear differences with others in the group. However Corot as an older „social realist“ also resisted, which discouraged the group approaching other „social realists“ like Courbet. Pissarro quickly joined the cause, as a quasi-ringmaster for the disparate group, mashalling the „nucleus of painters“.

Disillusioned with the Salon system the core group (Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Renoir and Degas) began planning a formal launch, then on 27 December 1873 formed the Joint Stock Company of Artists etc (Societe Anonyme Cooperative a Capital Variable des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs etc.) using a charter Pissarro derived from that of the Pontoise bakers. Though Renoir then „successfully opposed this in favour of“ a simpler agreement.

The Society’s  inaugural show (165 works by 39 artists), known as the Realist Salon, opened 15 April 1874, about two weeks before the official Salon. The show’s title was the clumsy Societe Anonyme Cooperative a Capital Variable, not La Capucine (The Nasturtium) as Degas suggested. Pissarro hung 5 paintings and would show at all 8 Impressionist exhibitions, the only one to do so.

Beyond Pissarro the group included Monet, Renoir, the keen Degas, Sisley, Cezanne and the able congenial lady Berthe Morisot (1841-92).

But, notably, it did not include Manet, partly because, despite his travails, his heart still lay with the Salon, and perhaps too because of his distaste for Cezanne, his work and his rough rural dress and manner.

Pissarro, now actively encouraging Cezanne’s work, had to argue hard for Cezanne’s inclusion. Cezanne’s early oeuvre had a dark side, diverse and disquieting. Beyond landscapes, still lives and portraits he added some disturbing dark Expressionist works on religious and life subjects, like The abduction (1867) and The murder (1868), then (1873-74) a riotous sensual take (A Modern Olympia) on Manet’s Olympia: The New Olympia, which as one of 3 paintings he showed at the 1st Impressionist exhibition, surely one of the oddest „Impressionist“ paintings, in a similar vein to the later (1875) Afternoon in Naples. The two others shown 1874 were landscapes from Auvers, one The House of the Hanged Man.

The well connected Morisot more than held her own, studied with Corot from 1960 and by 1864 had two paintings accepted by the Salon. She knew Manet well (married his brother) who urged her not to join the group. She would show all 8 exhibitions except the 4th.

Seven other shows followed, 1876-1877, 1879-1882, and 1886, all in spring.

It was only at the third show (1877) that adopted the title Impressionist, lifted from critic Louis Leroy’s scornful review of the first show, suggesting wallpaper was „more finished“ than Monet’s Impression, Sunrise.

 

Impressionism – reception?

Critic Theodore Duret warned Pissarro (eg in a letter Dec.1873) not to run with Societe Anonyme, “not to think of Monet and Sisley”, advised staying with the Salon.

And so it was that critical reception was harsh, and Pissarro was cited by some critics as one of the “ringleaders”, along with Monet, Degas, Cezanne, Sisley etc. “The scandal.. proved a catastrophic setback for sales.. Pissarro was now seen as part of a nihilist, hooligan fringe…” (op. cit AG NSW), which hurt him financially.

But history since has voted differently.

Back in Paris in 1871, after the war with Prussia, Durand-Ruel continued to support the wave of new art, despire battling criticism of the Impressionist style for years. But he persisted. He bought 23 paintings by Manet for 35,000F. Then 1885 his major breakthrough came in discovering what would become the enthusiastc and lucrative US market. Later, in 1895 back in London he mounted one of the largest ever Impressionist shows (c315 paintings).

As the National Gallery London (cf Inventing Impressionism, 2015 exhibition), “Despite rejection from the art establishment, the visionary Durand-Ruel was the single most powerful driving force making Impressionism the household name worldwide it is today and one of painting’s best-loved movements.” In the 89 year old dealer said in 1920, “At last the Impressionist masters triumphed … My madness had been wisdom. To think that, had I passed away at sixty [1891], I would have died debt-ridden and bankrupt, surrounded by a wealth of underrated treasures…”

 

Pissarro the person

By comparison with other founding „French“ Impressionists Pissarro was somewhat of an outsider, Jewish, hailing from the Caribbean Danish Antilles, and then keeping his Danish citizenship despite (for the most part) residing in France.

Also while he served time in the cultural cauldron of Paris he was not a city person, preferred the countryside, and that’s where he lived most of his last 36 years. He was also a keen family man.

However the sociable Pissarro was well known for engaging with other artists, “Pere Pissarro”, working with them (like organising the Impressionist shows), and helping them. And they were a diverse group.

He was closer to the irascible Cezanne than most, met him early (1861) at art school, knew him in Paris in the 1860s, then painted with him, eg after the Franco-Prussian War, 1872-74, at Pontoise, then 1881 when Cezanne stays near Pontoise. Both were „outsiders“.

Monet he obviously knew well, painted with. Degas he met and worked with later too. American Mary Cassatt (ie another non-French citizen) (1844-1926) he was close to over a long period commencing 1870s. She was also close to Degas but later preferred the easier going Dane. Later he mentored Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), and he worked with Seurat a time in mid 1880s.

Both Cezanne and Gauguin later recalled Pissarro with feeling. In a June 1902 catalogue Cezanne called himself „a student of Pissarro.”

 

The ‘political’ Pissarro?

A member of a diasporic Sephardic Jewish family“, Pissarro is billed as a lifelong, engaged „socialist“ /„anarchist“, keen on „the writings of the French proto-anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and of the Russian émigré prince and anarcho-communist Peter Kropotkin“, so his political views seemed important to him. “A committed supporter of anarchism, he was friendly with the leading representatives of the movement in France, such as Jean Grave and Élisée Reclus, and was well-versed in anarchist literature. His concern…  illustrated in…lithographs.. for Grave’s anarchist journal Les temps nouveaux, and, more privately, in Turpitudes sociales, a series of drawings he made for his nieces to educate them in the horrors of modern capitalist society.…” (Richard R. Brettell, 2011, catalogue, Pissarro’s People, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute).

But Turpitudes sociales is the rare exception. In broad terms these views do not reflect in his art, which seems overwhelmingly aesthetic in its purpose, not polemical or even realist? And again this is despite the clear early influence of the „social realist“ Barbizon painters.

Yes there are many rural figurative scenes, eg showing working ladies, but mostly conveying the “charm” of rural life not the harsher “reality”, the long hours labouring monotonously in all weathers.

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Impressionist paintings sites

 

LIFE

Early

Pissarro was born 1830 on the island of St Thomas in the Danish West Indies (Danish Antilles), of French and Portuguese Jewish extraction.

He was schooled near Paris 1842-47 (age 12-17), there encouraged in art by the headmaster.

Back home c1850, to work in his parents’ shop, he met a young Danish painter, Fritz Melbye (1826-1869), 4 years older, then travelled with him to Venezuela (Caracas and La Guaira) where they lived and worked two years, painted watercolours.

 

Paris

Pissarro’s father agreed he could return to Paris to train, which he did October 1855, fortuitously during the World Expo (Exposition Universelle). He took classes at École des Beaux-Arts 1856 then 1859 he was finally accepted by Charles Suisse (at Acadamie Suisse) where he met Monet and later Cezanne (1861) and Guillaumin (1862).

Meanwhile his parents arrived Paris 1860. He partnered with their servant, Julie Vellay, and was evicted from home. The couple later married in London, 1871, and would have 8 children, 1863-1884, Lucien being the first, born 1863.

1863 to April 1866, he lived with Julie Vellay and children mostly at La Varenne-St-Hilaire, southeast of Paris, where he painted, and nearby villages like Varenne-Saint-Maure and Chennevières-sur-Marne. He also painted at La Roche-Guyon, on the north bank of the Seine, NW of Paris.

He long struggled financially, not helped then by rearing a large family, but remained determined throughout.

Nov. 1862, after military service 1861-62, Monet returned to Paris, to join Gleyre’s atelier, there met Renoir and Sisley, and (March 1863) Frederic Bazille (“..my friend Monet.. is quite good at landscapes..”).

Pissarro (with friend Cezanne) first met Bazille and Renoir in 1863 when Bazille worked from a studio in Batignolles rented by Renoir.

After having a painting accepted at the 1859 and 1861 Salons Pissarro then showed in the famous inaugural 1863 Salon des Refusés (three landscapes, with Cezanne), then the Salons of 1864, 1865, 1866.

His 1863 work was well received by critics like JA Castagnary, Leroy and Desnoyers.

In the mid 1860s he met Zola, became part of the Café Guerbois set in Paris, when Zola was writing as critic for l’Evenement where in 1866 he praised Pissarro’s Banks of the Marne (1866) for its unfashionable “naturalism”.

 

Outside Paris

In April 1866 he settled at the Hermitage at Pontoise, north-west of Paris, north of the Seine, on the Oise flowing south into the Seine.

1869 he moves before May to Louveciennes, due west of Paris towards Versailles, now south of the Seine.

1870 with outbreak of Franco-Prussian War (July 1870-May 1871) he moved to London by start of December. He would return to London 1890, 1892 and 1897 after his son Lucien moved there in 1883.  They then corresponded frequently.

1871 he married Julie Vellay July in Croydon, London, returned to Louveciennes end of that month, but found many paintings left there had been damaged or destroyed during the war, so moved back to Pontoise in August 1872.

1872-74 he again worked closely with Cezanne, now based near Pontoise at Auvers-sur-Oise.

1874-77 he painted in Brittany.

He met Paul Gauguin (c20 years younger) in 1877, mentored him, painted with him at Pontoise 1879, invited him to hang at the 4th Impressionist show (1879).

Around 1880 he “collaborated” with Degas making prints.

1882 he moved to Osny, near Pontoise.

1883 Durand-Ruel organised a one-man show for Pissarro, also an Impressionist show in London.

1884 he moved to Eragny-sur-Epte, NE of Paris in Normandy, south of Pontoise, near Gisors, and near Monet’s Giverny and where he now stayed. Monet painted trees along the Epte.

In 1885 he met Seurat and Signac (and also Theo van Gogh) and became interested in the Neo-Impressionists’ Pointillist style and ideas, tried them, but reverted back by 1890.

1886 was the final Impressionist show, and he met Vincent van Gogh.

1887 he showed in Brussels with the Group of 20 (Cercle de XX), with Seurat, but Durand-Ruel caused trouble, rejected his Pointillist images.

Late 1889 he developed an eye infection which thereafter stopped him painting outdoors, but encouraged him to paint many urban scenes, from windows, particularly Paris, also Rouen, Le Havre and Dieppe.

  1. 1890. he visited London again, c10 paintings there. And again in 1892 and 1897.

1892 Durand-Ruel gave him a 100 painting retrospective exhibition (and 1893 bought many paintings) which finally brought some financial relief, and critical acclaim, “[1892].. when the tide of critical opinion turned decisively in Pissarro’s favour..” (op. cit AG NSW).

Then 1894reprisals against Anarchists” forced him briefly back to Belgium. But 7 paintings entered the Musee du Luxembourg.

But 1896 “new financial problems”. Series of paintings in Rouen.

But 1898 another Durand-Ruel gallery show was again very well received, “critics and collectors were thrilled…” (op. cit AG NSW)

November 1900 he settled back in central Paris, in an apartment on the west end of Ile de la Cite, looking out on Pont Neuf, and continued painting, now from windows, including many from home.

He died in Paris 13 November 1903.

some works……….

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1870, Châtaignier à Louveciennes, vers 1870, 41 x 54 cm, Musée d’Orsay. COMMENT. Here Pissarro is drawn by the structure of the skeletal bare trees in this one of his earliest Impressionist style paintings.

6c1884, La Ronde, thinned oil on paper mounted on canvas, private Collection

71888, Flock of sheep, Eragny sur Epte, 1888

81889 View of the Village of Bazincourt oil on panel, 15.4 x 23.8 cm, private Collection

91890, Old Chelsea Bridge, London, oil on canvas, Smith College Museum of Arts, 59.69 x 71.12 cm (old Battersea Bridge under construction at high tide).

101889–90.Suicide of an Abandoned Woman,” from Turpitudes sociales, Pen and brown ink over graphite drawings on paper pasted in an album, sheet: 31 x 24 cm, Collection of Jean Bonna, Geneva

111898 Boulevard Montmartre, night oil on canvas 53.3 x 64.8 cm  The National Gallery, London

12901 The fair, Dieppe: sunny afternoon, oil on canvas, Philadelphia Museum of Arts, PA

 13 14

1873. Self portrait, oil on canvas, 56 x 47 cm. Musee d’Orsay.

c1898 Self-portrait, oil on canvas 53 x 30.5 cm, Dallas Museum of Art, Texas

15  16

1900, Self portrait. oil on canvas 35x32cm. Private Collection

1903, Self portrait, oil on canvas, 41×33,3 cm, Tate, London

George Ault – Art Therapy with no safety belt

George Copeland Ault

(Oct. 1891 – Dec. 30, 1948, 57 years)

Another magnetic peripheral American Modernist painter: a hard life that late throws up a clutch of pearls.

 ART

George Ault was a gifted but life-troubled American Modernist painter, “a retiring and misanthropic painter”, who nursed an implacable creative imagination, and who left striking realist landscape / cityscape images from the 1930s and 1940s which may reflect on those hard times but were certainly refracted through his personal difficulties.

He is now rightly hailed for his later night scenes, his four night paintings of Russells’s Corners (1943, 1946, 1946, 1948), four different views of the same intersection, each lit by the one light – all pregnant with heuristic visual possibilities – and one in daytime (1944), to highlight why the night mattered.

Our eye is drawn to the spectral light-fingered (telegraph) wires, the sharp planes (walls of buildings) exposed by the light and floating in the blackness, and the lone light, which might mimic a star, or a life principle, or the moment’s focus.

He was a neo-romantic, disabused of the modern world, his images redolent of unease, disquiet, “psychic distress”, using a quiet Surrealism that might recall (yes) de Chirico, also Dali (like Memories of the Coast of France  (1943)).

Superficially he fits with the Precisionists like Charles Sheeler but only in method, sharing a similar of-centre sharp-edged geometric realist painting style.

Ironically his best work came in his final and personally toughest decade, as he wrestled drink and poverty.

And his death was fittingly poetic, slipping into an icy watercourse one night late December, straggling home after another bender. So was it suicide or mishap, who knows, but it fits, embellishes an already inscrutable dark personal story.

 

LIFE

He was born into a well off family, lived London as a boy, trained in art at the Slade no less (so overlapped with some famous English name?).

But back in the US in 1911 alcohol took hold in the 1920s after his mother died in a mental home, and all three brothers suicided?! Some after the 1929 Crash cruelled the family fortune. His father, who died 1929, was a conventional painter who frowned on his son’s shift to Modernism.

1937 he moved to Woodstock, NY with Louise Jonas, who would become his second wife, and there tried to retrieve something, put his difficulties in the past. They lived a penurious reclusive existence in a small simple rented cottage, and there oddly Ault created some of his finest paintings, but yes had difficulty selling them, though partly because of his “hostile attitude to potential buyers”.

Note: refer Feb./April 2011 exhibition, To Make a World: George Ault and 1940s America, Smithsonian American Art Museum

 

2

1921 The stairway. COMMENT: Surrealist hint.

3

1944, Daylight at Russell’s Corners, Collection of Sam Simon. COMMENT: daytime another world.

4

1944, Memories of the Coast of France, Oil on canvas.

COMMENT: wife Louise on the shore. He holidayed there as a boy, was distressed later by its exposure to WW2.

5

1946, Festus Yayple and his Oxen, oil on canvas, 61.6 x 91.4 cm Hinman B. Hurlbut Collection

6

CROSSROADS 1943, Black Night at Russell’s Corners, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia

7

CROSSROADS 1946, Bright Light at Russell’s Corners, oil on canvas, 19 5/8 x 25 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum

Smithsonian: The painter, featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s new exhibition [2011], is presented through his work as a channeler of the anxieties and uncertainties collectively forgotten about the country’s war years.

Louise chose a quotation from the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to describe her husband: “Unless there be chaos within, no dancing star is born.”

8

CROSSROADS 1946, Night at Russell’s Corners, Oil on canvas, Collection of C. K. Williams II

“Returning to paint the same set of buildings from different angles, Ault treated Russell’s Corners as though it were the special center of a personal universe.  In this place of lucid calm amid the darkness, the telephone wires extend into the night like the scratches of a cat..” (Smithsonian)

9

CROSSROADS 1948, August Night At Russell’s Corners, oil on canvas, 45.7 x 61.0 cm, Joslyn Art Museum.

Manierre Dawson: Intriguing pioneering American abstract artist, now mostly forgot because he quit and grew cherries.

Manierre Dawson (Dec. 1887 – Aug. 15, 1969, 81)

Intriguing pioneering American abstract artist, now mostly forgot because he quit and grew cherries.

  • Pioneering young American abstract painter from 1910, clearly one of first in Western art.
  • His Prognostic triptych of early 1910 clearly anticipates work of the later great Kandinsky.
  • But age 27, despite a remarkable busy and productive start, the retiring outsider curiously hung up his brushes after 4 years to farm cherries. Did not stay in, play the game.
  • This seems astonishing given his propitious start, including a visit in 1910 to Paris, of all times and places.
  • Striking too is he came from nowhere, from minimal formal training in art, notwithstanding Europe 1910.
  • Why did he quit despite the promising start? Basically not the fire in the belly?
  • But most oddly, despite his achievement, and being American, he was completely omitted from MOMA’s 2013-14 “comprehensive” Inventing Abstraction, 1910-25 exhibition.

 

FEATURED IMAGE:  1910, Prognostic (centre panel). Oil on canvas, triptych, 85.7 × 90.8 cm, Milwaukee Art Museum

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1910. Coordinate Escape, Oil on Composition Board, 48.3 x 36.8cm, Collection of Lynda and Stewart Resnick, Beverly Hills, California

COMMENT: striking abstract paintings from early 1910, from a young (22) untrained artist, without doubt near the earliest abstract paintings in Western art, and clearly derived from his maths training meeting a keen artistic mind.

3

1913 Wharf under mountain, 45.72 x 55.88 cm, Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach, Florida.

COMMENT:  striking is how different from his other work is his abstraction approach, both the imagery and bright bold colors. But is it abstract? Some will say there is clearly a ship there. Maybe sea below, a mountain behind, and green fields above that?

Famously it was his surreptitious entry to the Chicago (March/April 1913) version of the seminal 1913 Armory Show.

4

1913, Figure Party-Colored, Oil on board, 44 x 36 inches.

COMMENT:  another quasi-abstract Cubo-Futurist work, but more colourful.

 

SUMMARY

Dawson was a curious pioneering American modernist, an outsider, now largely forgot.

Though in his painting he struck abstraction / non-objective gold early – like from 1910 – he was completely omitted from MOMA’s 2013-14 “comprehensive” Inventing Abstraction, 1910-25 show.

This seems astonishing for a number of reasons.

First, not only was he clearly the first US abstract painter he was one of the first abstractionists in “Western” art, alongside the big names of Kandinsky, Kupka, Picabia et al in Europe.

Second, astonishing is that his Prognostic triptych of early 1910 clearly anticipates later work of the lauded Kandinsky. And some of his geometric abstraction motifs might even look ahead further to some Abstract Expressionists?

Third, he then mined this seam busily for about 4 years, fashioning his own take on Cubo-Futurist quasi-abstract modernist figuration.

So while his post 1911 Cubo-Futurist work is indeed derivative, and while his effective active career was only a brief 5 years or so, overall he left a remarkable and distinctive, if truncated, body of work, abstract and quasi-abstract.

Moreover one of his 1913 abstract works was hung in the Chicago showing of the seminal 1913 Armory exhibition.

Striking too is how, compared with peers, he came from nowhere. In 1910 he was young (23), had just finished an engineering degree and was painting part-time, working as a first year employee with an architects firm, had no formal training in art (but for one class in high school), and no exposure by then to the dynamic modern art scene.

 

Born and raised in Chicago, he started painting during his engineering degree (1905-09). Early 1910 he painted his first fully abstract works, then visited Europe for about 5 months in the back half of 1910.

But after painting keenly for about 4 years, after showing at the Armory in 1913, and in two significant exhibitions in 1914 (where he also sold some works), despite this achievement and his apparent passion, at 27 he quit full time art for good, disappeared to rural Michigan, his art with him, to become a full-time cherry farmer, and only an occasional artist.

 

Why did he abruptly abandon ship after such a promising start?

Dawson will remain something of an enigma.

Basically it appears he simply lacked the fire? He was not hungry and determined enough? Thus while he obviously recognised the importance of the 1913 Armory show he was timid in his response. Invited to show by the main organiser he refused, then when pressed by Pach he agreed to show a work in the Chicago viewing (ie his home town) but it went in late (so was omitted from the catalogue) and, at his request, was anonymous.

So he succumbed to short term domestic circumstances. Summer 1914 he met his future wife, from a family near his family’s country farm, the area where he then settled down, marrying July 1915.

Interesting too  is that, despite signs in 1912, he never really persevered with his pioneering bolt-from-the-blue 1910 abstraction approach. He was perhaps too distracted by the Cubo-Futurism he met in Europe 1910.

 

He was not to be “discovered” for about 50 years, until well after WW2, near the end of his life, after the ageing artist contacted a nearby Florida museum.

 

ART

Startling abstraction in Year 0: 1910

Manierre Dawson leaves quite a story.

There is no doubt this man (first name is his mother’s maiden name) from 1910 became a pioneering “Western” abstract painter, working keenly in Chicago for about 4 years, up there with the relevant big names in Europe, like Delaunay, Kandinsky, Kupka, Malevich, Mondrian, and Picabia.

In 1910 appear six fully abstract paintings.

The most striking is Prognostic (1910), a triptych with a big centre panel 86 x 91cm) and two wings about 2/3 as big (62 x 51cm). The abstraction motifs are clearly prescient of Kandinsky, as also is the smaller Differential complex (1910). (“Differential” referring to calculus), but before Kandinsky by some years, even 10 years? Kandinsky’s abstraction is far denser, more intricate and colourful, but anticipate him Dawson clearly does.

The primary inspirational source of his abstraction – the lines and circles – is commonly associated with his engineering education (1905-09), called “geometric”, and that certainly fits his 1910 work, like Xdx, Co-ordinate escape, and Discal Procession (showing a nest of curves). Prognostic is more complex, seems to use both maths and natural landscape references?

Colour was not a preoccupation with Dawson. Most of his works were subdued, monohromatic. All his abstraction is subdued, in monochromatic browns / oranges.

 

Why abstract for him?

Interesting is that his motivation for going abstract, after a brief (2-3 year?) figurative phase, was not spiritual (as the Whitney exhibition text of 1988 claimed) or philosophical (like for Kandinsky, Mondrian, Malevich) but simply curiosity stemming from his academic engineering training, especially the mathematical content.

This seems entirely valid for mathematics is certainly abstract, yet also profoundly important, “real”, because maths is the universal language used to express the underlying laws of physics which describe, underlie, the visible world, and which apply across our known universe.

 

Dawson on where his art comes from?

Dawson wrote in April 1911: “In trying to answer the questions that are repeatedly thrown at me, “What does it mean?” “What does it represent?” I have to start with a statement that sometimes helps. Art is a human invention.

In nature there was no art except that all creations of the Almighty are part of that Almighty.

“Art” as a word for us to use describes the invention of that part of creation that is man.

All nature is bearing down on us day after day. We cannot avoid it. Every form that we could use is there.

But away from nature and in the seclusion of the mind we can invent arrangements to be found nowhere else. One answer to the question, “What is it?” is to point to the picture and say, “It is that. It exists nowhere else.”

This doesn’t seem to say much?

Yet “we can invent arrangements to be found nowhere else” seems the essence?

 

Outsider?

As an artist he was, like some other pioneers, an outsider. He was largely self-taught, driven by his powerful interest.

Yes he was exposed early to Europe and some of its art, like about 23, and there briefly touched Paris, meeting Gertrude Stein.

And yes back then in the US he engaged with Arthur B Davies et al in New York, which led to his 1913 Armory appearance, but he was never formally trained in art, and after his brief early brush with the industry (including being shown in two exhibitions in 1914) he basically disappeared to fruit farming in Michigan.

He never pursued a full time career in art, cultivating support from dealers and museums.

So he remained little known till well after WW2, only near the end of his life. So “the first real recognition.. [finally came].. 1966 ..a retrospective .. by the Grand Rapids Art Museum [Michigan]..”. Exhibitions followed 1967 in Florida, catching the attention of Robert Schoelkopf who showed his work in New York in April 1969 and March 1981.

 

Why overlooked so long – despite his obvious contribution?

Easy. After striking gold early, for about 4 years, he just disappeared, to work full-time as a farmer.

So the art scene –which end of the day is a business, is about selling products (art works, museum and galley visits) to make money – passed him by for about 50 years, did not re-engage with him till the mid 1960s.

 

But omission from MOMA’s 2013-14 “Inventing Abstraction, 1910-25” seems absurd?

There is no doubt Dawson’s omission from MOMA’s 2013-14 Inventing Abstraction, 1910-25 exhibition was an egregious oversight, especially as an American who (after first declining an invitation to the NY show) was famously hung in the Chicago chapter of the important 1913 Armory show which showcased leading modernist European painters. His entry of Wharf under a mountain (1913) – the only abstract painting there by any American – hung alongside Duchamp, Picasso, Matisse and Kandinsky etc.

Also, unlike the German Otto Freundlich (1878-1943), another stunning omission from MOMA’s blockbuster, Dawson’s abstract oeuvre, from 1910, was prolific and substantial, creative and diverse, in the pioneering 4 year period to 1914.

Certainly he made it hard for the art scene to notice him, disappearing after only about 4 years. But that’s no excuse. And certainly by 2013 Dawson had been noticed by many in the field.

Thus his omission is even harder to understand given a 334 page catalogue raisonné (Ploog, Bairstow and Boyajian) of Dawson’s work was published 2011 by The Three Graces and Hollis Taggart Galleries.

The curators of Inventing Abstraction seem either careless or lazy, or perhaps possessed of some obscure political resistance to acknowledging this painter.

 

Arthur Dove (1880-1946), 7 years older, and who visited Europe and its art 1907-09 (ie before Dawson) is often cited as the first US abstract painter. He painted abstract early, motivated mainly by Nature, natural forms, and he was important, but he was not the first, clearly beaten by Dawson, in time (just) and also in terms of emphatic output, Dawson executing 6 meaningful such works in 1910.

But both Dawson and Dove were among the first abstractionists in Western art.

Dove is far better remembered simply because art remained his full time job, so he stayed painting, and he evolved. Returning from Europe in 1909 he was keen to stay in art and in this was strongly supported in New York by the keen photographer and pivotal modern art promoter Alfred Steiglitz, and his 291 gallery, where Dove showed 1910, again 1912 in a one man show.

 

Dove was included in MOMA’s Inventing Abstraction, along with Marsden Hartley (1877–1943), another important American modernist who also contributed to abstraction early on, from around 1912.

 

Another important American modernist painter, briefly mentioned in MOMA’s Inventing Abstraction, and who also showed in- made a splash in – the Armory, was Joseph Stella (1877–1946). Also supported by Steiglitz he contributed Futurist abstract images by 1914, but was energetic and imaginative across a wide range of styles.

 

What if?

The outcome invites speculation, like how might his art have evolved had he made it a full-time career – say in Chicago and maybe beyond, like NY – and how might his evolving output have impacted other artists?

Unfortunately we’ll never know, but we know he was industrious, committed and creative when for a short time he was focussed on art.

 

His path:  the first abstract painter in the US and one of first in Western art.

Pre 1910

Dawson started painting c1906, executed a few realist works before 1910, simple figurative outdoor scenes, a vase of flowers, and a modernist Still life (1908).

December 1908 he wrote in his journal, “This winter I am very hard at work . . . on several arbitrarily constructed paintings of arranged figures, blocking things out without rhyme or reason other than to make the picture look right.”.

1910 opened with two distinctive quasi-abstract paintings in monochrome browns, one (Rocky Pool) a landscape .

 

1910: abstraction

Then suddenly in 1910 appear six fully abstract paintings.

 

1911: after Europe, Cubo-Futurism

But still young (23), his 5 month trip to Europe abruptly shifted his art. He discovered Cubism, presumably in Paris and from 1911 he applied his version to interpreting a number of Classical subjects and Old Masters paintings, what Dawson himself referred to as his “museum paintings”.

Some critics have complained Dawson fell so madly for “Cubism” after Europe, “became a follower rather than a leader” (LACMA, Nov.2013), veering away from his distinctive abstraction. “He seems never to have been the same after Paris..” (Roberta Smith, NY Times August 1988). Thus there were no pure abstract works in 1911.

This is perhaps unfair, but is at least unfortunately he did not pursue his pioneering stark geometric abstraction of 1910.

His style did evolve, but mostly never far from variations on Cubo-Futurism?

So he painted a number of quasi-abstract figures, all in a distinctive modernist fractured monochromatic Cubo-Futurist style. And he did return to abstraction, albeit Cubist derived.

His Futurist reminds us of the approaches of some European modernists like Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) in France / US, also the Englishman David Bomberg (1890-1957), cf Island of Joy (c1912).

Madonna (1911) apparently refers to Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks. Other Cubo-Futurist figurative works of Classical subjects are Hercules, The Three Graces, Lucrece, and Birth of Venus (1912).

In 1912 he applied the dynamic Cubist style many times, now including three larger paintings, all around 1.5 x 1.2 metres, like The Three Graces, Desdemona.

 

1912: more abstraction

Interestingly 1912 Dawson returned to abstraction, in a number of ways.

Two simple works – the subdued simple glyphic Painted wood relief, and the “geometric” Untitled (Study #30) – do recall his “geometric”1910 approach.

Untitled abstraction is more colourful and is again in the vein of Kandinsky

Blue complex moves on, is busier, denser.

And Personal Presentation is abstract after Cubo-Futurist.

Also in 1912 he suddenly paints a more colourful modernist quasi-abstract landscape, Red mur, but the lines of which clearly relate to his abstract works.

And in 1912 we again see a number of figurative Cubo-Futurist paintings, like Figures in Action (Struggle).

 

1913: more abstraction

1913 is another busy year, sees his style meaningfully evolve, him execute some major works, mostly abstract, now less figuration.

It includes a suddenly different abstract / quasi-abstract work, the colourful Wharf under mountain which was hung in the Armory (Chicago) show, though only after Walter Pach insisted Dawson show it. Dawson wrote 4 April 1913, “Walter said he had no trouble getting the painting hung.” It’s a bolder, darker, more Expressionist painting, lots of royal blue and some green and an intriguing title.

Essay in Brown (1913) clearly advances his abstraction, shows a tumble of jagged “objects” apparently against a rectilinear background.

Afternoon II is again monochromatic but denser, more intricate, seems to blend geometric and Cubist abstraction? And Compages of Classical Figures and Conversation also shift his abstraction.

We see a lot more Cubist abstraction (like Arroyo, Ascension, Figure Party-Colored (more colourful than usual), Meditation, Observation, The gate, and Thirteen).

And we see much less Futurist figuration (eg the larger Hercules I and II, and Trio), still in subdued monochromatic pale orange-brown tones.

Finally, different, we see two small Arthur Dove-like quasi-abstract paintings, Night flower and Beech.

 

1913: Armory (Chicago, Mar. 24-Apr. 15, 1913)

Dec.1912, Arthur B Davies invited him to participate in the International Exhibition of Modern Art (now known as the Armory Show) in New York (Feb. 15-Mar. 15, 1913) but he declined! He said he had nothing handy (recent) worth hanging, and worried that in winter he could not transport paintings in time, from their location at the family farm, ie his earlier 1910 paintings, which even he knew then were more important.

For the Chicago show Walter Pach persuaded Dawson to change his mind. There too he visited the show a number of times, and bought two paintings: Marcel Duchamp’s’s Nu (esquisse) (Nude [study]) now known as Jeune homme triste dans un train (Sad Young Man on a Train) (1911-12?) and Amadéo de Souza Cardoso’s Return from the Chase.  Dawson was impressed by Duchamp’s work, not surprising because it chimes with his own. The painting he bought it now hangs in Guggenheim Venice because he had to sell ir not long after to pay the bills.

Chicago’s offering was a cut down version (634 works) of New York (where approx. 1300 works showed). Much of the American art was gone, most of the radical European art remained.”. The show was championed by a few, condemned by many. But “Scandal and outrage bred interest” and 189,000 visited in 23 days, averaging about 8,200 per day, a higher outcome than NY.

 

Around the time of the Armory in Chicago (April 1913) he left his job, and wrote:

Since I left Holabird and Roche I’ve had a glorious time painting. Hanging over the mantel in the library is the Duchamp. I am having a good look at it. These three paintings I am doing now, Hercules I, II, III, may show D’s influence. I am contemplating more colorful things to come.

Did his viewing the Armory show (eg seeing Duchamp) change his art? Not significantly? Thus his Cubo-Futurist style – evident after Armory in Hercules – was well established by then.

But 1913 was a big year for his art and he did evolve.

 

1914: Dawson bails from full time art, but still evolving.

1914 also sees some variety, and shifts, and a fateful emphatic career move.

Meanwhile his abstraction motifs evolved, like in the more colourful Equation, and like Figure in Pink and Yellow.

Letters and numbers is what it seems, shifts again, has a Stuart Davis feel.

The darker Futurist Night figures again recalls David Bomberg, while geometric derived Untitled (Pictogram II) again recalls Kandinsky, but showing Dawson’s finger prints.

Then there are two similar figurative works, one much larger, both showing Futurist friezes of groups of people, Seven and Configuration.

Then mid 1914 he suddenly quits full time art.

 

After 1915 Dawson, now farming full time, executes far fewer works, paints little, though is still valid, still moving, especially the colourful quasi-abstract Figure by the window.

His Loft (1918) seems another pioneering work, an abstract image carved from laminated wood then painted, again monochromatically.

Then the more colourful quasi-abstract glyphic Untitled(c1920) is different but still Dawsonian.

Later too he began to sculpt, using materials encountered through his work.

He struggled financially and Rauschenberg-style began to make art from whatever was lying around, “cement, scraps of lumber, pieces of plywood”. Sculptures he made from “sheets of composite wood .. laminated together ..”

 

Discovery

Dawson disappeared from the art world for 52 years, 1914 to 1966, when he showed at Grand Rapids Michigan, then 1967 at the John and Mable Ringing Museum in Sarasota, Florida, near his then home. There he was noticed by a NY dealer (Robert Schoelkopf) who showed him there 1969 and 1981.

He was shown in a 1977 retrospective at MCA Chicago, and 1988 at the Whitney.

 

Exhibitions

Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings, Montross Gallery in New York, February 1914; the Detroit Museum of Art, March 1914; Cincinnati Museum of Art, March / April 5, 1914; and the Peabody Institute, Baltimore, April / May 1914.

Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture in ‘The Modern Spirit,’ Milwaukee Art Society, April 16–May 12, 1914.

Manierre Dawson, Milwaukee Art Institute, Jan. 1923.

Retrospective Paintings by Manierre Dawson, Grand Rapids Art Museum, Michigan, April 1966.

Manierre Dawson: Paintings 1909-1913, Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida November 1967, Norton Gallery and School of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida, January / February 1968.

Manierre Dawson, Robert Schoelkopf Gallery, New York, April / May 1969

A Retrospective Exhibition of Painting, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1977. Indiana University Art Museum

Manierre Dawson: Paintings 1910-1914, Robert Schoelkopf Gallery, New York, 1981

Manierre Dawson: American Modernist Painter, Tildon-Foley Gallery, New Orleans, May / June 1988.

Manierrre Dawson Early Abstractionist, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, July / September 1988.

Manierre Dawson American Pioneer of Abstract Art, Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York, October 1999.

Manierre Dawson American Pioneer of Abstract Art, Swope Art Museum, Terre Haute, Indiana, December 2000.

Manierre Dawson: New Revelations, Hollis Taggart Galleries, Chicago, May / June 2003.

Manierre Dawson: A Startling Presence, Illinois State Museum, Springfield, March / August 2006.

Manierre Dawson, Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York, April 2011.

 

LIFE

Manierre Dawson was the 2nd of 4 sons born to George Dawson and Eva (Manierre) Dawson in Chicago, a middle class family, father a lawyer, who supported the arts but as a hobby but not a career.

Dawson’s only formal art training came from classes with Miss Dorothy Dimock at high school in Chicago. Here he met Arthur W. Dow’s instruction manual Composition (1899). Dow favoured “beauty over representation.”, which can be read as “let your mind go.”

Dawson really discovered art during a 4 year civil engineering degree course at the Armour Institute of Technology [he wrote: “All these days of hard study at Armour Tech, where I am taking a course in civil engineering, are brightened by continuing the making of pictures on week-ends.”] so when he graduated 1909 he quickly switched to painting, commencing his first abstract paintings as early as spring of 1910, in this apparently influenced by some of his engineering training (analytic geometry?), while a first-year employee at the Chicago architectural firm.

But granted 6 months leave he departed in mid-June 1910 for his one and only trip abroad, to Europe. He travelled across England to France (Paris), south through Germany, across Switzerland to Italy (in Siena meeting John Singer Sargent), back north for a second stay in Paris, and around northern Germany, leaving for home late-November. On his 2nd visit to Paris he met Gertrude Stein (who reportedly bought a painting), saw paintings by Cézanne (and others?) in Ambrose Vollard’s gallery.

In NY, on the way home, he met painter Arthur B. Davies who introduced him to Albert Pinkham Ryder, another painter.

Inspired by Europe – and meeting Davies? – he painted keenly 1911 through 1914

Dec.1912, Davies invited him to participate in the Armory Show) in New York (Feb. 15-Mar. 15, 1913). He initially declined but did show one work in Chicago.

April 1913 he left his architectural job.

In 1914, Dawson participated in two group exhibitions. One called “Fourteen”, meaning 14 current American artists, was organized by Arthur B Davies and Walter Pach, sponsored by the Montrose Gallery in NY, highlighting abstract painting, and went to Detroit, Cincinnati and Baltimore (Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University).

The other, in Milwaukee, Paintings and Sculptures in “The Modern Spirit”, organized by the forerunner of the Milwaukee Art Museum (by a high school friend there) sold two paintings to collector Arthur Jerome Eddy. “The exhibition was a sort of recap of the Armory Show. It opened in April and included contemporary European and American work from Midwest collections.

Early he spent summers at the family farm in at Ludington, Mason County, Michigan (about 2/3 the way up the east side of L Michigan), where he also painted a lot.

Mid 1914 he quit full time art.

He wrote April 1914, “I know there is work to be done on a farm in winter, yet I have the hope that if the bridge is crossed I can find painting or carving time in that season..

Summer 1914 he met Lilian Boucher, the daughter of a local farmer, then by autumn 1914 had decided, and with help from his father, he moved permanently to lakeside Ludington, and July 1915 married Lilian, thereafter raising three children.

In the mid-1950s he and his wife began wintering in Sarasota, Florida. There, after diagnosed with cancer in 1968, he died August 1969 (25 days after Armstrong walked on the moon).

some works………

 

1910

 
5

1910, Xdx, Oil on paperboard attached to particleboard, 19 1/8 x 14 7/16 in. (48.6 x 36.7 cm). Brooklyn Museum

 

6

1910, Discal Procession, oil on wood 30 1/2 x 24 7/8 in. (77.5 x 63.2 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC

 

7

1910, DIfferential complex, Oil on canvas, 40.6 x 30.cm, Tilden-Foley Gallery, New Orleans

 

 

1913

 

8

1913, Essay in Brown, oil on cardboard, 45.7 x 66.0cm, Illinois State Museum

COMMENT: Illinois State Museum, “Employing a now-familiar palette, Dawson created a group of paintings in 1913 which were completely abstract ….. With Essay in Brown the artist creates visual tension by contrasting a series of rectilinear shapes in the background with a cascade of overlapping forms that tumble from right to left. …… The interlocking and floating elements of this might be compared with Willem De Kooning’s Excavation (Art Institute of Chicago), created 37 years later.”

1914

9

1914, Equation , oil on cardboard, 91.44 x 70.17 cm, Joslyn Art Museum

 

1915

10

1915, Figure by the Window, oil on canvas, 76.2 x 61.0cm, Illinois State Museum

COMMENT: Illinois State Museum,”…  1915 was momentous for .. Manierre Dawson… decide to commit himself completely to farming…. t married Lillian Boucher, a neighboring farm girl ten years his junior….  We see a female looking out a window. …  a classic theme. … Randy Ploog, in his 2003 essay “Metaphor and Autobiography in the Art of Manierre Dawson”, posits that Dawson borrowed major compositional elements of his Figure by the Window from Johannes Vermeer’s Young Woman with a Water Pitcher (1660-67). Certainly Dawson has shifted the ambience of the picture. Vermeer’s young woman is a picture of calm composure. In Dawson’s treatment, an aura seems to emanate from the woman’s central position outward, like waves of energy affecting everything they encounter. The space folds and refolds until it is almost unrecognizable. Perhaps this is a visual metaphor for the newlyweds’ relationship.’

 

11

 

1920. Desert, oil on canvas. 22 by 28 inches, Illinois State Museum

 

12

 

Manierre Dawson, 1950s?

COMMENT: Still gripped by his trademark lightning bolt Cubo-Futurist motifs