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Subject: ‘Famous artists’

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The Pre-Raphaelite revolution in English art ended as wallpaper

Posted in Art, Artist, Arts and Crafts, Famous artists, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 19 March 2014

This edited article about the Pre-Raphaelite Movement first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 597 published on 23 June 1973.

W Holman Hunt,  picture, image, illustration
Holman Hunt spent his time painting poor pictures in the Middle East by John Keay

Of the three leaders of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, John Millais was now content to be an orthodox figure of the Art Establishment. The former rebel who had produced such a magnificent painting as Ophelia, was now a respectable artist happy to paint portraits of elegant society ladies. William Holman Hunt had become obsessed by a religious frenzy and had gone to the Middle East where he produced a string of poor paintings; and Dante Gabriel Rossetti had fallen so much in love that he saw little of his friends and, like Millais and Hunt, he veered away from the original Pre-Raphaelite ideals.

Other painters such as Hughes, Brett and Wallis came along and flourished briefly. The movement seemed to be dying in the late 1850s and yet it had some thirty years more to run. This last period was divided into two distinct phases. First, there was the time when most pre-Raphaelite paintings seemed to deal with the nobility of labour, and Ford Madox Brown was the leading exponent of this. His major social painting was simply titled Work. On the right it shows the intellectuals; in the centre are the fine, healthy figures of a group of “navvies,” and on the left is a barefoot beggar. In the background is a full, crowded panoply showing all levels of Victorian life. In Brown’s eyes, all are equally admirable. The workman is just as much of an artist as the artist is so often a workman. It seemed that art had come to the people and only an idealist would consider moving it away again.

After this phase came the final decline towards the decadence of the early twentieth century when the most notable artist of the movement was Edward Burne-Jones. Like William Morris, Burne-Jones was at first greatly influenced by Rossetti who had begun to paint Mediaeval subjects again. The wheel of the Pre-Raphaelite movement had come full circle as the artists turned once again to Medievalism. It was to be the last phase of the movement.

All three artists became deeply involved in the world of medieval romance that has the Arthurian legend as its cornerstone. The lovely Jane Burden, a lady whose beauty typifies the Pre-Raphaelite heroine, married Morris and posed for Queen Guinevere for the painting of the same name (now in the Tate Gallery, London). It was virtually the last painting which Morris produced. He had already begun to realise that his talents lay in the field of design and he went on to become, perhaps, the most famous designer of wall paper and patterns for drapes that England has ever known.

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John Ruskin championed the Pre-Raphaelites

Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

This edited article about the Pre-Raphaelites first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 596 published on 16 June 1973.

Sir Isumbras at the Ford,  picture, image, illustration
Sir Isumbras at the Ford by John Everett Millais

Between 1850 and 1852, the original ideal of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood slowly slipped away. The most influential figure in British Art at that time was the critic, John Ruskin. He wrote a letter to the “Times” newspaper; in it he made clear that he didn’t like everything that the Pre-Raphaelites did, but that he was convinced that they were an enormously important movement which should be taken seriously and not just dismissed with sneers and insults.

The letter did two things. Firstly it gave the P.R.B. the stamp of approval from an influential source – something that had been sadly lacking. By this means, other painters were attracted to the movement and it widened its appeal. On the other hand it brought Ruskin and his pretty young wife, Effie, into contact with the young leader of the P.R.B., John Millais. There followed a tragic and unhappy affair between Millais and Effie Ruskin, culminating in a scandalous divorce. Effie and Millais were married in 1855.

By then, Millais had been elected as an Associate of the powerful Royal Academy – only Sir Thomas Lawrence was elected at a younger age – and this tended to alienate him from his colleagues. Not only did they lose their leader, but the divorce meant that they could no longer rely on the influence and friendship of Ruskin.

From then on, Millais painted only a small number of really noteworthy pictures, including “Sir Isumbras At The Ford” and the famous “Blind Girl” – one of the most popular pictures at the Art Gallery in Birmingham. After that he allowed his great skill to waste away, and he only painted society ladies and an occasional “chocolate box” picture, like the “Boyhood of Raleigh.” His genius simply degenerated. An authority on the Pre-Raphaelite movement, Timothy Hilton, has brilliantly summed up the sad ending of Millais: “England had lost, at the age of twenty-eight, the most talented painter, apart from Turner, that she had ever produced.”

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The critics poisoned their pens for the Pre-Raphaelites

Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

This edited article about the Pre-Raphaelites first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 595 published on 9 June 1973.

The Hireling Shepherd,  picture, image, illustration
The Hireling Shepherd by W Holman Hunt

Three artists provided the world with its first glimpse of the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. These were the leaders of the group; John Millais, William Holman Hunt, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Millais, who was the most determined of the three to bring the Brotherhood’s ideas into practice, exhibited his first pre-Raphaelite painting, called Lorenzo and Isabella, at the Royal Academy in 1849. This was a treatment of an incident from the famous poem by Keats called Isabella or The Pot of Basil. The large and ambitious painting (which can be seen at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) sparkles with freshness and clarity. It contains all the characteristics of Pre-Raphaelite work, particularly in the details of the fabric and the hair which are minutely worked. In its daring and originality it is a true masterpiece.

Hunt lacked Millais’ great natural skill as a painter, but he had a superb eye for natural details and concentrated on the simple portrayal of facts as he saw them. This approach was common to all Pre-Raphaelite work. According to Millais, the Pre-Raphaelites had but one idea: “to present on canvas what they saw in Nature,” and this is why Hunt, like all Pre-Raphaelite artists, rejoiced in natural lighting. Hunt’s painting, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy alongside Millais’, was called Rienzi (which is also at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool today).

The third leader of the brotherhood was Rossetti who had little experience as a painter. But with some guidance from Hunt, he produced the Girlhood of Mary Virgin (now in the Tate Gallery, London). Rossetti, more than anyone else, was responsible for the development of the theory that words can be used to illustrate a picture just as easily as a painting can illustrate text. It was a great step forward towards the acceptance of Art as being of equal importance with Literature.

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The Pre-Raphaelites wanted truth and naturalism in their Art

Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History, London on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

This edited article about the Pre-Raphaelites first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 594 published on 2 June 1973.

Day Dreams,  picture, image, illustration
Day Dreams by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

With most movements in Art it is possible to say when they started, who were members of that movement, what their aims were, why they had the name they did, and when they ended. One of the most interesting things about the Pre-Raphaelite movement in Art is that it’s difficult to answer any of those questions. The one thing that is known with absolute certainty is when it actually began. The rest is confused and often contradictory.

Firstly, let us try and find out exactly why they were called the Pre-Raphaelites. There are a great many theories about this, but these are the three most common. The poet and painter, Rossetti, was impressed by a life of the poet Keats that he had just read and said that he thought that some of the early painters “surpassed even Raphael himself”. Raphael was one of the most famous painters of all time, who died in Rome in 1520. Another painter named Ford Madox Brown claimed that the name ‘Pre-Raphaelites’ was a common art term at the time and the brotherhood just adopted it. Holman Hunt and Millais, two of the founding members of the movement were once criticising a painting by Raphael called ‘The Transfiguration’, when someone who overheard them jokingly commented that if they didn’t like the picture then they must be ‘Pre-Raphaelites’. This last story is so undramatic that it is probably the true reason for the adoption of the name.

Now we know what their name was, let us look at the people who made up this movement and try to find out what their beliefs were. In 1848, three men came together in the home of Millais at Gower Street in London and founded what they called the ‘Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’. Apart from Millais, already an artist of some distinction, they were Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt. These three painters were generally dissatisfied with the dull state of Victorian art and vowed to try and change it by their collective skill. They enlisted Thomas Woolner, a young sculptor, Rossetti’s brother William Michael, another young painter named James Collinson (who was probably only included because he was to marry Christina Rossetti, who herself became a fine poet) and a friend of Hunt’s named Frederick Stephens who had never painted a picture. These were the seven men who planned to revolutionise Art.

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Aubrey Beardsley’s genius flowered in black and white

Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History, London on Monday, 17 March 2014

This edited article about Aubrey Beardsley first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 592 published on 19 May 1973.

Beardsley with Whistler,  picture, image, illustration
Beardsley showing Whistler some of his drawings

Every now and again the world of the Arts produces a young man who flourishes early and reveals a unique and heady genius. Like a rare butterfly on a warm summer’s day, they dazzle the imagination and then perish, leaving behind only a memory of their talent and a legacy of their art for later generations. John Keats and Thomas Chatterton – poets of great brilliance who died young – are two tragic examples that come instantly to mind.

In the world of Art, the finest example of the precocious hot-house orchid – the short-lived genius – is certainly the late Victorian illustrator, Aubrey Beardsley. The critic Arthur Symons has said: “Beardsley ended a long career at the age of twenty-six.” Bearing in mind that he produced very little noteworthy art before the age of twenty, the comment of Symons becomes even more remarkable.

Beyond the fact that he was born in 1872 and was a sickly child, there is virtually nothing of interest in the life of Aubrey Beardsley until we reach the year 1890. Because of his ill-health, Aubrey played very little with other children and was forced into the company of adults. He also read prolifically and widely, developing tastes far in advance of normal young people of that period. This led to his strange maturity which many of his later contemporaries commented on as sitting oddly on his young shoulders.

Round about 1890, the painter Whistler met a tall, painfully thin young man with a large, beaky nose. Dressed impeccably, almost in the dandified manner of the famous Beau Brummell who had died some 50 years earlier, the youth introduced himself as Aubrey Beardsley and produced some sketches. The irascible artist was impressed with the potential that the drawings revealed, but was also critical of the masses of flowing lines and intricate designs that covered every inch of the pictures. He said: “He (Beardsley) has far too much hair on his head and even lets it flow all over the paper.”

Despite his comments, Whistler was aware that the young Beardsley had real talent, and he encouraged him accordingly. After a year or so of scratching around on the fringes of the artistic circle that was so influential in London at that time, Beardsley had a couple of successes that were to prove crucial. The young and enterprising publisher, J. M. Dent offered him a contract to provide 350 designs for a new edition of Sir Thomas Malory’s “Morte D’Arthur.” This led him to discipline his wayward art and become pre-eminent in his mastery of the medium of Indian ink. Apart from one venture into oil paints, which is in the Tate Gallery, Beardsley devoted himself to black and white illustrations for nearly everything he ever drew.

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Louis Wain devoted his tragic life to his dying wife and to cats

Posted in Animals, Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History on Friday, 7 March 2014

This edited article about Louis Wain first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 583 published on 17 March 1973.

Cats taking tea,  picture, image, illustration
Cats taking tea by Louis Wain

At the end of the Victorian era, no child’s Christmas was complete without a Louis Wain Annual. No nursery or bedroom was without at least one of his amusing and beautifully drawn pictures of cats, dressed as people getting up to all sorts of antics. Sadly, the man who gave so much amusement and happiness to so many children, was not blessed with a happy life.

He was born on August 5, 1860, and was followed by five sisters. He was afflicted with a harelip which made him a shy and withdrawn boy, and his only real pleasure came from drawing and painting. In 1877, he decided to make use of his talent for art to enter college. He was so successful that he became a lecturer at the college – the West London School of Art – in 1881.

Shortly after this, Louis Wain had the pleasure of seeing his work in print for the first time. His drawing was of chaffinches and appeared in the Christmas number of the “Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News.” Unfortunately, a printer’s error marred his superbly accurate picture, which appeared captioned as “The Robins’ Breakfast.” Although the mistake gave Wain a great deal of embarrassment, it did not prevent him from doing more work for the journal. In fact, he was so successful that he was able to give up his teaching job in 1882 and join the magazine’s staff as one of their full-time team of artists.

Only one year later, he had his first drawings of cats published.

In 1884, Louis Wain met and fell in love with Emily Richardson, who had been employed in the Wain household as a governess. His own family were greatly opposed to the match, as Emily was some ten years older than Louis – an extremely unusual situation in Victorian England, when the average husband was four or five years older than the average wife.

Sadly, the happiness of their marriage was to be short-lived. Not long after the wedding, Emily became ill, and finally died childless in 1887. The effects of this tragedy on Louis Wain were almost incalculable. Although he was fast becoming something of a celebrity in the art world, he began to look increasingly inwards. It was as though all of his self-confidence had died with Emily and his family became the centre of his life.

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The first Impressionist exhibition was considered an insult

Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 27 February 2014

This edited article about French Impressionism first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 572 published on 30 December 1972.

The Impressionist exhibition,  picture, image, illustration
The notorious Impressionist exhibition in 1874 by Andrew Howat

He wanted to paint fogs, but the critics, apparently blind to the vivid colours to be found in shades and mists if you really looked, objected. So Claud Monet decided to paint Africans fighting in a tunnel!

However, he dropped that idea and chose instead the Gare St Lazare, one of the railway stations of Paris. The smoke there was so thick that hardly anything could be seen!

As usual Monet was penniless, but he dressed himself in his best clothes and called on a railway chief, announcing himself as the painter, Claude Monet. The official fortunately knew nothing about Art and assumed that he was a lion of the Salon, Paris’s Royal Academy, which hated Monet and his friends like the plague. He said he would stop all the trains for Monsieur Monet, empty all the platforms, and have every engine filled with coal so as to get the maximum amount of steam and smoke. Monet thanked him and was bowed out of the building.

The result was a masterpiece, the “Gare St Lazare” of 1877, but it was hailed by most critics as an insult to the public. That was the usual fate of Monet and his fellow Impressionists in the 1870s and 80s, though now many of their pictures are worth king’s ransoms.

The word Impressionist was originally meant as an insult. The group of friends who became known by that name staged their first exhibition in 1874 and, short of actually destroying the pictures, both critics and public did their best to kill the movement stone dead by their sneers and abuse. The critics in particular had a field day, dipping their pens in venom to describe what now seems the greatest single day in the history of modern art when, in a photographic studio turned gallery, over 160 works by Monet, Sisley, Cezanne, Degas, Pissarro, Manet, Renoir and others were publicly shown for the first time.

Surpassing even the critic who described what he had seen as the work of four or five lunatics – though actually 39 artists contributed pictures – was a writer called Louis Leroy. He stared at a haunting, evocative picture by Monet called “Impression: Sunrise,” a study of morning mist on water with two boats in the foreground, masts barely visible in the background and a red sun breaking through. Then he returned to his paper.

In his article, having first made offensive remarks about the picture being suitable for wallpaper, he coined the word “Impressionist,” and it stuck. Impressionism became one of the great movements in the history of Art.

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Bernard Palissy – the Protestant potter who died in the Bastille

Posted in Arts and Crafts, Famous artists, Historical articles, History, Religion, Royalty on Tuesday, 25 February 2014

This edited article about Bernard Palissy first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 568 published on 2 December 1972.

Bernard Palissy,  picture, image, illustration
Bernard Palissy burning furniture to heat his furnace by Planella

Bernard Palissy could so easily have lived and died without leaving any trace of his existence on the pages of history if it had not been for a chance meeting which changed the course of his whole life. He had begun his career as a portrait painter and a glass painter, and as such he was a good, solid craftsman, capable of earning himself a reasonable living as a travelling workman. In this capacity, he had travelled extensively through the Low Lands and the Rhine Provinces of Germany, as well as having seen more of his homeland of France than most of his fellow countrymen.

In the year of 1559 he returned to France and settled in the little town of Saintes, where he supported himself as a surveyor, a skill he had acquired as a youth. There he might have lived out his years in happy obscurity if he had not had the misfortune to meet a gentleman named Pons who had returned to France after spending many years in Italy. He had brought back with him, among other things, a piece of white enamelled pottery. He showed it to Palissy who was enchanted by it. What a thing of beauty it was. Palissy held it in his hands, almost reverently. Where was it made? And how had the potter who had made it, managed to achieve that beautiful white glaze?

Alas, Pons did not know the answers to either of those questions. But it did not matter, or so Palissy thought at the time. He himself would find the answers – and in the most practical way. He would first become a potter himself. Then he would apply himself to finding the secret formula for the glaze. A knowledge of the potter’s craft, hard work and a determined spirit would surely produce results.

First, Palissy went to the neighbouring village of La Chapelle-des-Pots, where he mastered the craft of peasant pottery as it was practised in the 16th century. His workshop where he had once peacefully painted his commissioned portraits of the local worthies, now became a madman’s lair, as he toiled day and night, striving to recreate that fantastic white glaze which had so haunted his imagination.

Week after week, month after month, year after year, Palissy toiled away, making experiments with pieces of common pots over which he spread the different mixtures he had made. These pieces, he tells us in his autobiography, “I baked in a furnace, hoping that one of these mixtures would produce a colour.”

For nearly sixteen years, Palissy laboured ceaselessly, sacrificing everything, even the happiness of his wife and children in order to achieve a goal which always seemed to elude him. It was not enough that they should live in the direst poverty. The amount of wood needed to feed his furnace was enormous, and when Palissy could no longer afford to buy it, he chopped down all the trees and bushes in his garden. When the garden had been stripped bare, he turned his attention to the contents of the house. Before the horrified eyes of his wife, he took an axe and chopped up all the furniture for firewood. When that was gone, he set to work on the floorboards.

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John Leech’s cartoons of Louis Napoleon were banned in France

Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History, Illustrators, News, Politics, Royalty on Friday, 21 February 2014

This edited article about British art first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 562 published on 21 October 1972.

Shakespeare Punch Cartoon by Leech,  picture, image, illustration
‘Clever Juvenile (loq.) "Shakespeare? Pooh! For my part, I consider Shakespeare a very much over-rated man"’ – Punch cartoon by John Leech

France was first in the field of social and political magazine journalism, with the magazines, “La Caricature” and “Le Charivari.” Britain was quick to seize upon a good thing.

“Punch, or the London Charivari” was born in 1841, and was directly inspired, as its sub-title suggests, by the French satirical weekly. In fact, however, “Punch” was predated by the “Monthly Sheet of Caricatures,” a lithographed journal put out by publisher Thomas McLean as early as 1830. John Doyle was the best of McLean’s artists, a statement which says much for the decline of the British political and satirical cartoon since the heady days of Gillray and of Cruikshank. John Doyle was a dull portrait painter who turned to producing dull cartoons of the statesmen of his day, in situations that made trite and stuffy comment on some political happening or other. It was a long cry from the acid pens of the great caricaturists of yesteryear.

By the mid-19th century and the coming of “Punch,” wood-engraving had begun to take over from copper-plate etching as a means of large-scale graphic reproduction. Cruikshank’s cartoons were worked directly on to the copper plate by the artist himself. But not every draughtsman had this special skill. Moreover, printing from a block is altogether cheaper than printing from an etching; so it was that a whole generation of new craftsmen appeared; professional wood-engravers, who did nothing but transfer other men’s drawings onto engraved blocks of wood for printing. Some of these engravers were good (one of the best was Edward Whymper, the first man to climb the Matterhorn), and some were not so good. The difference between the good and the not so good accounts for the flat, dull and “wooden” appearance of so much of the graphic work of the period. Thumb through any illustrated book or magazine of the period, and you will see it for yourself.

John Leech was a caricaturist in the great tradition; indeed he collaborated with George Cruikshank at one stage, and his style of drawing and choice of subjects greatly resembled those of the older artist.

It was Leech who first applied the word “cartoon” in its modern meaning, and it happened this way. In 1843, there was a big exhibition of designs submitted for the frescoes to be painted on the walls of the new Houses of Parliament, and these were correctly called “cartoons,” as finished working drawings had been so-called since the days of the Old Italian masters.

Finding most of the Houses of Parliament cartoons to be pretentious and ludicrous, Leech satirised them in a series of “cartoons” of his own. The name stuck, and remains stuck to this day, to this particular type of work.

Though he never attempted the grotesque excesses of Gillray, nor the near-criminal libellings of Cruikshank during his period with “The Scourge,” John Leech was a caricaturist who believed in giving his subjects a rough ride. He attacked the Prime Minister, Lord Russell, for his handling of the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill, in a cartoon that was said to have contributed to Russell’s subsequent fall from power.

He reserved his strongest venom, however, for foreigners, especially the French. He attacked Louis Napoleon on many occasions. Thanks largely to his efforts, “Punch” was twice banned from France.

His dislike of foreigners did not blind Leech to the shortcomings of his own people. When the British government’s treatment of Little Greece exceeded the bounds of the precepts taught on the playing fields of Eton, he drew Mr Punch holding an extremely sneaky-looking lion by the ear and saying: “Why don’t you hit someone your own size?”

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French caricaturists dominated mainstream political journalism

Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, News, Politics, Royalty on Friday, 21 February 2014

This edited article about French art first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 561 published on 14 October 1972.

Caricature of King Louis Philippe,
Pears; caricature of King Louis Philippe I of France, 1833 by Charles Philipon

For cartoon and caricature to have “bite” – that is to say the ability to fulfil the pen’s purpose of being mightier than the sword – they must be brought to the notice of a considerable number of people, in other words they must be published.

The British caricaturists whom we have been talking about so far – those of the 18th and early 19th centuries – were all published, or their works were published, by print-sellers. Gillray had his Mistress Humphrey, Rowlandson his Ackermann, and so on.

We have to look to France for the first real move that lifted caricatures and cartoons from the chancy business of the print-seller’s shop to the wide and popular medium of magazine journalism. And it was a move that was sparked off by the discernment of one man.

Charles Philipon was born in 1806, and at the age of seventeen he learned the lithographic process and started to draw caricatures – which, on account of his fine draughtsmanship, keen sense of satire and lively political awareness, he did uncommonly well.

In 1830, Louis Philippe was proclaimed king of the French. The rule of this undistinguished monarch (his gimmick was to walk the streets in a sober suit, carrying a rolled umbrella, and shaking hands with all and sundry) was marked by a political hurly-burly notable, even, for France. And poor old Louis Philippe, who was fat and unattractive, was criticised and lampooned by almost everybody.

It was in 1830 that Charles Philipon founded a journal of political satire which he called “La Caricature.” The career of this publishing squib was meteoric, influential – and cruelly brief. Philipon drew what amounts to a strip cartoon showing Louis Philippe in the process of transformation into a pear, and this pear symbol was used by all “La Caricature’s” artists to represent the king. Summonses for libel arrived at the magazine’s offices by nearly every post, but it was a lithograph of the king in the role of Gargantua (a monstrous character from the author Rabelais) that finally sunk “La Caricature.” It was suppressed.

The artist who made the Gargantua caricature, and the magazine’s most distinguished contributor – as well as one of the finest draughtsmen that France has ever produced – was Honore Daumier.

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