Category Archives: 1880’s

ORIGINS OF GERMAN EXPRESSIONIST PAINTING: THE EARLY MODERN ART CAREER OF ALEXEI VON JAWLENSKY (1864-1941), RUSSIAN-ÉMIGRÉ PAINTER, FROM 1889 TO THE BLUE RIDER IN MUNICH IN 1911.

Alexei von Jawlensky (1864-1941), Russian-émigré German Expressionist painter.

SUMMARY:

Alexei von Jawlensky (1864-1941), a young Russian-émigré artist to Germany beginning in the mid 1890’s, became one of the most progressive avant-garde modernist artists of his generation. His international search—from Russia to France, England and the Low Countries, as well as his lifelong expatriate base in Munich, Germany—led him to experiment and synthesize unto German Expressionism the main currents of modern art styles before World War One. This included significant borrowings from Impressionism, Post Impressionism, Cloisonnism, Synthetism, Symbolism, and Fauvism. Jawlensky, with Russian compatriot Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) and German painter Gabriele Münter (1877-1962), among several others, pursued a decade-long dialogue of their individual experimentation, particularly in the liberation of color and form, as, in part, an artistic response to a modern society increasingly saturated by industrialization and mechanization. Within the socio-economic context of a rising newly-formed German Empire before World War I, these emergent German Expressionists sought to free the object (and unto the natural world) from its objective fixity and situate it within the inner feelings and spirit of the artist. Within European modernism, Jawlensky developed a wide network of contacts and took especial inspiration from modern painters such as Édouard Manet (1832-1883), Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Henri Matisse (1869-1954), and others. Jawlensky sought in modern art exhibitions and the co-founding of, and participation in, the New Munich Artist’s Association in 1909 and Der Blaue Reiter in 1911, to lead modern art towards representational expressionism and abstraction.

Alexei von Jawlensky, Self Portrait, 1912.

In 1871, the newly-founded German Empire fused together most of the German speaking states in Central Europe under Prussian leadership. Over the next 60 years under several different forms of government—that of Emperor Wilhelm I (1871-1888), his grandson Wilhelm II (1888-1918) and, following World I, the Weimer Republic (1918-1933) —Germany worked to create and define a political and cultural identity all its own.

In World War I (1914-1918), the recent German Empire fought to consolidate its gains but the effort failed—and Central European powers were divided up into smaller states after the war. The German Empire had risen and fallen in less than 50 years.1

Before unification in 1871, German-speaking denizens of Central Europe came from many independent and differing political units. The Kingdom of Prussia, which in 1816 annexed the Kingdom of Brandenburg, was the foremost German power alongside Austria. Long-held liberal dreams based on the French Revolution of 1789, the Napoleonic empire (defeated at Waterloo in 1815) and later mid-19th century pan-European revolutions looked to unify these diverse states into a national union based on self-determination. But these idealistic political aspirations did not reflect all the conditions and facts in these lands.

Napoleon’s invasions into Central Europe in 1806 and 1807 resulted in German state governments that were conservative and anti-constitutional monarchies. When unification came for Germany in 1871, it was not by popular uprisings or democracy. It was the diplomatic handiwork of the six-foot-three-inch Prussian prime minister, Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898).

Prussian prime minister Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898).

In 1849, Otto von Bismarck was elected to the Landtag, or Prussian parliament. Following a decade of government service, König Wilhelm of Prussia appointed Bismarck in 1862 as Minister President of Prussia and Foreign Minister. This gave Bismarck virtual absolute power.

In 1866, Bismarck started a short, decisive war with Austria. It proved Prussia was the dominant force in German territory. The Austrian war led to the Prussians with their allies annexing territories and forming the North German Confederation comprised of 22 German states. Nationalism throughout German-speaking Europe rose significantly after this military victory over Austria which had in the contest lost its dominant power position in Europe.

By 1870, German unification was both cause and effect of German nationalism. Unification was opposed by European nations, particularly France, as well as German expansion. The smaller German kingdoms reacted to the diplomatic opposition by uniting with Prussia. It was France that, since the 17th century, was viewed as the actual destabilizing force in Europe, and not a new Germany.

The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 which started when France was maneuvered by Bismarck to declare war on the North German Confederation, was a disastrous defeat for France. The Prussian victory allowed them to annex Alsace-Lorraine from the French and became another impetus for independent German states to join a united Germany. The German empire was founded and declared on New Year’s Day, 1871. Bismarck crowned Wilhelm as Kaiser Wilhelm I, and Bismarck became Grand Chancellor.

With Austria as an exception, Bismarck ruled the German states as the Second Reich. He brutally censored and repressed any contradictory forces to German nationalism—including the Catholic Church and the Communists and worked to mold scattered German speaking residents into one political and cultural nationality. This nationalistic vision of centralized power—and entangling alliances to support or offset it—led to the mechanized death mill of World War I. In that conflict, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire—the so-called Central Powers—fought the Allied Powers of Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, Japan and, later, the United States.

In this “Great War” the total number of military and civilian casualties on both sides was around 40 million—about 20 million deaths and 21 million wounded. Of the 20 million deaths, it included about 10 million in the military and 10 million civilians. The Allies lost almost 6 million soldiers and the Central Powers lost about 4 million.2

World War I was a dividing point in modern history which also had effects on modern art in Germany. Many young, avant-garde artists were killed in action as soldiers in the war. Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) and Alexei von Jawlensky (1864-1941), both Russian-émigrés, had to flee Germany, only to emerge from the general carnage years later. After the war, German architect Walter Gropius (1883-1969) believed that his work could be picked up precisely where it was left off before the war. But Gropius quickly realized that was not going to happen going forward, as if the worldwide calamity could exclude art-making in its whirlwind.

Prior to World War I, however, the German Empire experienced dynamic activity and prosperity. During Wilhelm II’s 30-year reign (1888-1918), rapid industrialization, population growth, and the growing gap between an increasingly wealthy and politically influential elite and disenchanted working class rippled throughout the empire. Berlin became Germany’s national capital and Europe’s young new city.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, c. 1901, by German painter Christian Heyden (1854-1939).

Antique map of the German Empire in 1900 showing population density.

Within this modern-state commotion, the role of art in Germany became a battle for the nation’s soul: from the pole of freedom to produce outstanding artworks in the modernist spirit to a regressive cultural heritage with proto-fascist overtones. Cultural conservatives argued for turning inward to German sources for the future direction of German art. These conservative critics dismissed French Impressionism as nonacademic, genre painting of modern life. Above all, it was foreign.

Conversely, the Berlin Secession (1898-1934) and Neue Galerie Thannhauser in Munich challenged academic and state-sponsored artwork and introduced international styles. These venues were where Germans went to see post-Impressionists such as Vincent Van Gogh and later Cubists such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

By the dawn of the 20th century, what it meant to be German, and among a culturally diverse citizenry, was a 30-year experimental construct forged by Bismarck using raw power so to achieve a unified empire on the world stage. The fall of that empire and the peace that followed it, helped set the stage for the rise of Fascism leading to World War II.

Modern artists of the key artistic movements of the Wilhelmine period, particularly Expressionist art groups such as Die Brücke (“The Bridge”) in Dresden from 1905 to 1913 and Der Blaue Reiter (“The Blue Rider”) in Munich from 1911 to 1914 — avant-garde forms of modernist abstraction and romanticism — wanted to offset conventional social values based on German industrial materialism by using a contradictory form of self-expression based on the sensual and spiritual.

The issue of what exactly was, or would be, “German” art in the modern age were the stakes for these artists. These artists sought to unify body and soul by expressing internal qualities through exterior appearances and saw this integrated expression as their contribution to that societal and artistic endeavor.3 Progressive artists never dismissed the idea of a German art. They sought its expression in avant-garde artistic elements and forms thereby rejecting its basis on historical and cultural anecdote or nostalgia.

Published in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1900 the map of the Russian Empire is labeled in French with topography relief shown by hachures and Paris as the meridian reference. Transcontinental rail lines in Russia and extend to Paris. Jawlensky, born in western Russia in 1864 was stationed in the 1880’s as a soldier in Moscow and St. Petersburg. As a professional artist in Germany in the 1890’s and afterwards, Jawlensky returned to visit Russia including in the year this map was made. (see- https://www.mapsofthepast.com/russia-empire-kartograficheskoe-circa-1900.html

Alexei von Jawlensky, born in Torzhok in western Russia in 1864, started his career in the military. At 25 years old, in 1889, Jawlensky, stationed in Moscow, requested a transfer to St. Petersburg to study painting at the Academy of Arts. In St. Petersburg, Jawlensky learned about the French Impressionists, particularly the artwork of Édouard Manet (1832-1883) and Alfred Sisley (1839-1899). In 1892, while taking painting lessons with Russian naturalist painter Ilya Repin (1844-1930), Jawlensky met realist painter Marianne von Werefkin (1860-1938) who became his mistress and dedicated patron. In 1893 Von Werefkin invited Jawlensky to her father’s estate in Kovno governorate (modern Lithuania) where Jawlensky met Hélène Nesnakomoff (1881-1965), Von Werekin’s personal maid. In time she became Jawlensky’s mistress, mother of his child and, ultimately, in 1922, his wife.

Jawlensky at 23 years old in his military uniform in Russia in 1887.

Marianne von Werefkin.

After seven years studying art in St. Petersburg, Jawlensky’s request to leave the military was granted. He left in early 1896 with a 20-year half pension and the rank of staff captain. That summer Jawlensky traveled through Germany, Holland and Belgium with Marianne von Werefkin and a female friend. Returning to St. Petersburg by way of Paris and London, Jawlensky viewed and admired artwork of J. W. M. Turner (1775-1851) and living artists, James Whistler (1834-1903) and Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898).

In St. Petersburg, Jawlensky entrusted his possessions with family in Russia. With two young painter friends, Igor Grabar (1871-1960) and Dmitrij Kardovskij (1866-1943), he set off to settle in Munich at the end of 1896. Marianne von Werefkin and Hélène Nesnakomoff joined Jawlensky soon after. From his arrival into Munich, Jawlensky lived, with the exception of World War I, in Germany until his death in 1941. In 1897 Jawlensky, Von Werefkin and Hélène Nesnakomoff took an apartment at Giselastrasse 23, a residential street near the Englischen Garten, where they lived until 1914.

Marianne von Werefkin and Alexej von Jawlensky in their studio at Gut Blagodat, 1893.

In Munich Jawlensky attended Anton Ažbe’s art school where he met other young German artists, and in 1897, fellow Russian artist, Wassily Kandinsky. Anton Ažbe (1862-1905), a Slovene realist painter, was a master of human anatomy. He enforced figure drawing studies in his classes which Kandinsky loathed but Jawlensky had been studying since 1890. Kandinsky did appreciate Ažbe’s expressed view that an artist should never conform to a theory or set of rules. Ažbe, who died at 43 years old of cancer in 1905, said: “You must know your own anatomy but in front of the easel you must forget it.”4

Anton Ažbe, Self portrait, 1886.

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944). Jawlensky met Kandinsky in 1897 in Munich at Anton Ažbe’s art school.

After five months in Munich, Jawlensky traveled to Venice in April 1897. He went with Werefkin, Grabar and Kardovskij, and Anton Ažbe. The next summer, in 1898, Jawlensky returned to Russia with Marianne von Werefkin and Hélène Nesnakomoff to visit family. That autumn the Russian group returned to Munich, where artists continued to draw heads and nudes at Azbé’s school. In 1898 Jawlensky met German Symbolist painter Franz von Stuck (1863-1928) and Kandinsky, in 1900, matriculated in his art class.5 Jawlensky’s conversation with von Stuck was not on the expression of German character in Symbolist art but the technical issue of working in tempura. In 1898 Jawlensky also received a visit from Russian portraitist Valentin Serov (1865-1911).

Franz von Stuck, Lucifer, 1890, oil on canvas, Bulgaria. At the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, critics observed that Franz von Stuck (1863–1928) was “one of the most versatile and ingenious of contemporary German artists.” Jawlensky met the renowned Symbolist painter, architect, designer, and co-founder of the Munich Secession in 1898.  

Valentin Serov (1865-1911). Self portrait, c. 1888.

In 1899, with Grabar and Kardovskij, Jawlensky executed the ambitious project to open their own painting school in Munich which was short-lived. Kardovskij returned to Russia in 1900 to eventually become a professor at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts in 1907. Grabar returned to Russia in 1903 to became director of Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery. Jawlensky, remaining in Munich, was painting still lifes and looking for color harmonies.

Painter Dmitri Nikolayevich Kardovsky, Marianne von Werefkin, Igor Grabar, and Jawlensky in 1900.

Alexei von Jawlensky, Stillleben mit Samowar (Still life with a samovar), 1901.

Jawlensky visited Russia in 1901 with Marianne von Werefkin and Hélène Nesnakomoff. They visited the Ansbaki estate in the Vitebsk governorate (modern Belarus). When Jawlensky fell ill possibly with typhus, he recovered at the Black Sea with Marianne von Werefkin. There he met Kardovskij and his wife, Olga Lyudvigovna Della-Vos-Kardovskaya (1875-1952), a painter who studied at Anton Ažbe’s in Munich in 1898 and 1899.

Olga Lyudvigovna Della-Vos-Kardovskaya, Self portrait, 1917.

The following year, in January 1902, a son, Andreas, was born to Jawlensky and Hélène Nesnakomoff. Jawlensky was continuing to paint still lifes and figural pictures, some of which were influenced by Swedish artist, Anders Zorn (1860-1920). Jawlensky’s pictures featured as models Hélène and her sister, Maria, after she arrived to Munich in November 1902 to aid the new parents. In a visit in 1902, Prussian-born artist Lovis Corinth (1858-1925) advised Jawlensky to send a painting to the Berlin Secession. Jawlensky did so and it was exhibited.

Anders Zorn (1860-1920), Self portrait, 1896.

Lovis Corinth (1858-1925), Self-portrait with Skeleton, 1896, Lenbachaus, Munich. Corinth is a leading figure painter marked by draftsmanship and brushwork. Like Jawlensky, Corinth pursued his artistic training throughout Europe, including in Munich and Paris, and settled permanently in Berlin in 1902. (https://www.kimbellart.org/collection/ap-201701.)

Jawlensky, Hyazinthentöpfe (Haycinth-pots), oil on canvas, 1902. (https://www.artsy.net/artwork/alexej-von-jawlensky-jacinthes

Jawlensky, Stillleben mit orangen (Still Life with Oranges), 1902, oil on canvas.

Jawlensky, Cottage in the Woods, 1903.

Between 1903 and 1907, with Munich as his base, Jawlensky spent much time in France, including in Paris, Brittany and Normandy. In 1903, as Marianne von Werefkin and Georgian artist Alexander Salzmann (1874-1934) traveled in Normandy, Jawlensky was in Paris where he was fascinated with the color and texture of Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890). That same year, in Munich, Jawlensky attended lectures on aesthetics by Theodor Lipps and met the young, eccentric Austrian printmaker Alfred Kubin (1877-1959). Lipps’ theory of aesthetics involved the overlap of psychology and philosophy creating a framework for the concept of Einfühlung (“empathy”) which, defined as “projecting oneself onto the object of perception,” became a key component of Expressionism.5

In 1904, an over-worked Kubin married Hedwig Gründler, an older widow. In early 1906 Jawlensky painted her portrait in his Munich apartment before the Kubins left Munich to live in Austria. In the 23 x 30 inch, oil-on-cardboard portrait, Jawlensky’s colors and modeling of the face showed the influences of French Impressionism and emergent Fauvism.

Jawlensky, writing after his visit to France in 1903. (Dube, p.114).

Jawlensky, Porträt Hedwig Kubin (Portrait of Hedwig Kubin), 1906, oil on cardboard.

Jawlensky stayed in Reichertshausen in the summer of 1904. A woody hamlet 15 miles east of Heidelburg, Jawlensky painted a series of landscapes. In 1905 he followed up with a series of landscapes at Füssen. Jawlensky made friends with Wladimir Bechtejeff (1878-1971), a young Russian painter who relocated to Munich in 1904 in admiration of Jawlensky. Like the older artist, Bechtejeff stayed in Munich until 1914. When Jawlensky visited the 38-year-old German composer Felix vom Rath (1866-1905), son of a wealthy industrialist, Jawlensky saw for the first time at his home a painting by Paul Gauguin (Riders on the Beach of Tahiti, 1902, Essen). At Vom Rath’s home, Jawlensky also met pianist Anna Langenhan-Hirzel (1874-1951).7

Gauguin, Riders on the Beach, 1902, Essen. Jawlensky saw this, his first Gauguin, in a private collection in Germany in 1904.

Jawlensky, Selbstbildnis mit Zylinder (Self-portrait with a top hat), 1904, private collection.

Jawlensky, Hélène im spanischen Kostüm (Hélène in Spanish costume), 1904, Wiesbaden.

Jawlensky, Stilleben mit Weinflasche, 1904.

Jawlensky, Marianne von Werfekin, 1905, Switzerland.

Jawlensky, Portrait de Madame Sid, 1905.

Jawlensky, The Hunchback, 1905.

The middle years of the first decade of the 20th century—1905, 1906 and 1907—were key to Jawlensky’s artistic development. It is likely that Jawlensky traveled to France in 1905. He exhibited six paintings in the Paris Salone d’Automne in 1905, the exhibition which gave birth to the Fauves.

In January 1906 Jawlensky returned to St. Petersburg to exhibit nine paintings. As evidenced in his correspondence, he traveled to France in 1906. He visited Paris and Carantec in Brittany which was region where Gauguin had worked. That same year Jawlensky exhibited ten paintings at the Paris Salone d’Automne in the newly-formed Russian Pavilion organized by ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929). At the salon, either in 1905 or 1906, Jawlensky met Henri Matisse (1869-1954) whose Fauvist artwork Jawlensky unreservedly admired. During Jawlensky’s visit to France in 1906 he also met Russian painter Elisabeth Ivanowna Epstein (1879-1956) and studied the artwork of Gauguin, Paul Cézanne (who died in October 1906), and Maurice de Vlaminck (1872-1958). Over the next couple of years, Jawlensky wrestled with Cézanne’s influence on his art.8

Jawlensky, writing after his visit to France in 1905 or 1906.

Jawlensky, Stillleben mit Blumen und Früchten, c. 1905.

Jawlensky, Bretonische Bäuerin, 1905.

In 1905 and 1906 Jawlensky painted landscapes and character studies, mainly heads. Following the 1906 exhibition in Paris Jawlensky traveled to the Mediterranean resort town of Sausset-les-Pins outside of Marseilles to continue to paint landscapes. Jawlensky returned to Munich by way of Geneva where he visited Swiss Symbolist artist, Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918).

Ferdinand Hodler, Self Portrait, 1900.

Jawlensky, Self portrait, 1905.

Jawlensky spent the fall of 1906, as evidenced in correspondence, in Wasserburg am Inn outside of Munich. He painted landscapes and portraits. The next year, in 1907, he returned to Wasserburg for a shorter stay with his 5-year old son, Andreas. That fall with Hélène Nesnakomoff and Andreas, he went to Paris to view the Cézanne retrospective at the Salon d’Automne in Paris. He also visited at Matisse’s studio. Near Marseilles to paint landscapes, Jawlensky believed that he achieved his primary goal to use color that was autonomous from the object and based on the artist’s inner feeling. This was a major breakthrough for his painting. Jawlensky’s Mediterranean Coast became his talisman for landscapes going forward.9

Jawlensky, Mittelmeerkűste (Mediterranean Coast), 1907, oil on hardboard, Munich.

Jawlensky, Wasserburg am Inn, 1907, oil on board.

Jawlensky, Wasserburg am Inn (Melancholy in the Evening), 1907, oil on cardboard.

The landscape Wasserburg am Inn (Melancholy in the Evening) provides insight into Jawlensky’s artistic development at this time. Painted at Wasserburg Am Inn outside Munich in 1907, Jawlensky experimented with applying the techniques of French post-Impressionism, especially Van Gogh, Gauguin and Henri Matisse. The painting expresses Jawlensky’s goal of making unnatural color harmonies and giving visual form to the artist’s inner nature or spirituality. In the manner of Van Gogh, Jawlensky used chisel-like brush strokes and, like Gauguin, thick outlining to achieve a rhythmic, flat, two-dimensional landscape.

Back in Munich after Christmas, Jawlensky met Dutch Symbolist artist Jan Verkade (1868-1946) in early 1908. Verkade was a Dutch post-Impressionist and Symbolist painter who was a member of the French Nabis under Gauguin in Brittany. Verkade taught Jawlensky and Marianne Weferkin about Gauguin’s ideas on Synthetism. A convert to Catholicism in the mid1890s, Verkade became a Benedictine monk and lived at a monastery in nearby Beuron. In 1907 and 1908 Verkade stayed in Munich and at times painted in Jawlensky’s studio. Jawlensky also learned from Verkade about the writings of French theosophist Edouard Schuré (1841-1929) who influenced the Nabis’ art. In 1908 Jawlensky met Paul Sérusier (1864-1927) who painted The Talisman, an icon to Gauguin’s ideas of Synthetism. 10

Jan Verkade, Self-portrait, 1891.

Paul Sérusier, The Talisman, 1888, Musée D’Orsay.

In Munich in 1908 Jawlensky met other significant figures for his art, including the acquaintance of German painter Karl Caspar (1879-1956) and 22-year-old Alexander Sacharoff (1886-1963). Sacharoff was one of Europe’s most innovative solo dancers. Jawlensky formed a lifelong friendship with Sacharoff and painted his portrait several times between 1909 and 1913. Jawlensky’s 1909 portrait of Sacharoff was painted spontaneously one evening when Sacharoff arrived to Jawlensky’s studio before a performance. In his full theater costume, Jawlensky’s portrait of Sacharoff is notable in that it was one of the first examples of the painter’s motif of wide, piercing eyes.11

Jawlensky, Alexander Sacharoff, 1909.

Jawlensky, Girl with Peonies, 1909. Von der Hevdt Museum.

Vincent Van Gogh, La Maison du père Pilon, 49 × 70 cm, May 1890.

In 1908, with the help of Theo van Gogh’s widow, Jawlensky acquired a Van Gogh painting, La maison du Père Pilon. Jawlensky spent the next three summers—in 1908, 1909 and 1910—in southern Bavaria at Murnau am Staffelsee with Hélène Nesnakomoff, Andreas, Marianne von Werefkin, Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter (1877-1962).

In 1909 Jawlensky met Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), Baltic German painter Ida Kerkovius (1879-1970), and German Expressionist painters Erma Barrera-Bossi (1875-1952) and August Macke (1887-1914). These were all notable figures to the formation of avant-garde expressionism. Jawlensky also met the Ukrainian brothers and avant-garde artists David Burliuk (1882-1967) and Wladimir Burliuk (1886-1917).

Jawlensky’s summer visits to Murnau led to significant development in his painting, This was especially true for his large format portraits. In 1909, his Murnau landscape is a highly stylized reduction of the subject of mountains, trees, and pathway into flat, geometrical forms and harsh, contrasting and unnatural colors influenced by French Cloisonnism and French Cubism. The painting, Murnau landscape, is another example of Gauguin-inspired Synthetism with its high degree of stylization and artificial bright colors. Some of the experimental nature of the painting is indicated by the color samples in the lower righthand corner of the painting.

Jawlensky, Murnauer Landschaft, (Murnau landscape), 1909, oil on cardboard.

It was Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter who discovered Murnau in the spring of 1908 on a bicycle tour. They told Jawlensky about it who visited that summer with Marianne von Werfekin and wrote to Kandinsky to join them. In 1909 Münter and Kandinsky bought a house in Murnau which they called “The Russia House.” The importance of the Bavarian landscape as an inspiration to these artists’ work cannot be underestimated. The Murnau years of 1908 to 1910 was the start and bonding of artists that evolved in 1911 to the formation of The Blue Rider. In 1908 it was Jawlensky’s sharing of his new ideas gained from his visits to France that made him the progressive leader of the group in this period. Accompanied by Marianne von Werfekin, Jawlensky returned to this market town several times where he stayed at Gasthof Griesbräu.12

Jawlensky, Vue de Murnau, c. 1908–1910.

Jawlensky, Skizze aus Murnau (Murnau Sketch), 1908-09, oil on cardboard, Lenbachhaus.

Jawlensky, Weisse Wolke (White Cloud), summer 1909, oil on textured cardboard mounted, Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California.

Jawlensky, Kiefer (Pine Tree), summer 1909, Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California.

Jawlensky, Sommerabend in Murnau (Summer Evening in Murnau), 1908-09, oil on cardboard, Lenbachhaus.

The painting Summer Evening in Murnau is marked by intense colors, dark contours, simple drawing, and a reduction of form reflecting Jawlensky’s understanding of Gauguin’s “Synthetism.” Sérusier had observed that “art is above all a means of expression.” Within the embryonic Blue Rider group of artists before 1911, Gauguin’s “Synthetism” meshed to Wassily Kandinsky’s idea of “inner necessity.” Intense colors and imaginary reduction of forms that marks German Expressionism had its nascent development in Jawlensky’s paintings at Murnau.13

In March 1909 Jawlensky co-founded Neue Künstlervereinigung München (“New Munich Artists”), an exhibition organization to counteract the inability of official academic art to accommodate avant-garde practice in a new century and counteract the Munich Secession, one of the oldest breakaway modern art groups founded in 1892. Before the first NKVM exhibition in Munich in December 1909, Jawlensky, Kandinsky and other artists resigned from the Munich Secession.14

In 1909 Jawlensky. Kandinsky, Gabriele Münter, and art historian Oskar Wittenstein and Heinrich Schnabel elected Kandinsky as NKVM president and Jawlensky as vice-president. German magic realist painter Alexander Kanoldt (1881–1939) was appointed secretary and German painter Adolph Erbslöh (1881–1947) was made chairperson of the association’s exhibition committee. German painter and printmaker Paul Baum (1859-1932) joined as did Russian painter Wladimir Bechtejeff (1878-1971), and German painters Erma Barrera-Bossi (1875-1952) and Carl Hofer (1878-1955). Alexander Sacharoff, Austrian Symbolist printmaker Alfred Kubin, and East European artist Moissey Kogan (1879-1943) soon joined this German avant-garde secession.

The NKVM hosted, in Munich, three annual exhibitions—in 1909, 1910, and 1911. These Munich shows then traveled around Germany. On December 1, 1909 the first New Munich Artists (NKVM) show opened at the Neue Galerie Thannhauser. It included ten painters, one sculptor, one printmaker and other invited artists. Though half of the exhibitors were Russians, these visual artists showed no similarity in style.15 The first show traveled to Brünn, Elberfeld, Barmen, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Wiesbaden, Schwerin, and Frankfurt am Main. It was greeted almost universally with jeers by the public. The critics called it a “carnival hoax” and saw their art as evocative of bad French Impressionism.16

Designed by Kandinsky, the poster advertising for the first exhibition by the Neue Künstlervereinigung München, December 1909. Lenbachhaus, Munich.

The pamphlet for the foundation of the artist association stated, “Our starting point is the idea that the artist not only receives new impressions from the world outside from nature, but that he also gathers experiences in an inner world. And indeed, it seems to us that at the moment more artists are again spiritually united in their search for artistic forms. They are looking for forms that will express the mutual interdependence of all these experiences and which are free from everything irrelevant. The aim is that only those elements which are actually necessary should be expressed with emphasis. In other words, they are striving for an artistic synthesis This seems to us a solution that is once again uniting in spirit an increasing number of artists.”17

Jawlensky, Schwebende Wolke (Floating Cloud), 1909-10, oil on cardboard, 32.9 x 40.8 cm, Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California.

In 1909 and 1910, working in Murnau am Staffelsee, Alexei Jawlensky took outings into the foothills of the Bavarian Alps to paint. It was a manageable walk for the 45-year-old artist into surrounding mountains and woods. Floating Cloud is one painting that is part of a group of artworks from this period that evokes mountains, clouds and trees. The painting is undated so there is no irrefutable proof it was painted in 1910 — Jawlensky’s final summer stay in Murnau — but its varied and discordant colors and tendency to synthetic composition points to having been created in 1910 or summer 1909.

Its foreground green, dark trees, pink clouds, and orange sky are formal elements found in landscapes from the period. The painting had been later discarded by the artist though under exactly what circumstances is unclear. When World War I began in August 1914, Russian-émigré Jawlensky had to leave works behind in Munich to be retrieved in 1921 and 1922. Floating Cloud was brought to the United States in 1924 by its owner, Galka Scheyer (1889-1945). Jawlensky began his series of monumental heads by 1910 that defined his artwork in the years ahead.

In Floating Cloud, shapes are precisely delineated; the chain of the pine trees’ triangular forms are echoed in the repetition of the mountain chain’s pointed shapes in the background. The clearly defined planes of foreground, middle distance, and background are parallel to the picture plane but compressed into a narrowed, stage-like area. Jawlensky also began many figural drawings of the female nude in 1910 though he did not use them for paintings much. Its formal properties as well as subject is similar to paintings of Henri Matisse in this time period.18

Jawlensky, Sitzender Weiblicher Akt (Seated female nude), c. 1910 oil on cardboard.

Jawlensky, Girl with the Green Face, 1910, oil on hardboard, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Meanwhile Kandinsky’s Blue Mountain in 1908-1909 continued to demonstrate his direction towards abstraction. In the picture, a blue mountain has a yellow and a red tree on each side of it. A procession of human figures and horses crosses in the foreground. Their faces, clothing, and saddles are composed of bold colors, with little linear detail. The flat, contoured colored shapes indicate French Fauvist influences.

Kandinsky, Der Blaue Berg (Blue Mountain), 1908-1909, Guggenheim, New York.

Kandinsky, 1908, oil on card, Murnau, Landschaft mit Turm (Murnau Landscape with Tower Centre), Pompidou, Paris.

Floating Cloud was exhibited by Jawlensky, along with ten other of his paintings, in the important second exhibition of the New Artists’ Association which opened in September 1910 at the Neue Galerie Thannhauser. In that second show, Jawlensky also exhibited Child with Doll (Kind mit Puppe). In that painting, the sitter was a local school girl in Murnau. In 1912 Jawlensky returned to the subject of a girl with doll and gave one such picture to Franz Marc.19

Jawlensky, Kind mit Puppe (Child with Doll), c. 1910, oil on paper mounted on cardboard, Norton Simon.

Heinrich Thannhauser (1859-1934) opened his gallery in Munich in 1904. In 1908 it hosted an important exhibition of over ninety works by Vincent van Gogh. The Neue Galerie Thannhauser became the leading proponent of international modern art in Germany in the 1910’s exhibiting French Impressionist and post-Impressionist art as well as German and other international modern artists. Designed by Paul Wenz in the glass-domed Arcopalais developed by Georg Meister and Oswald Bieber at Theatinerstraße 7 in the heart of Munich’s shopping district, several rooms of the Neue Galerie Thannhauser were set up as fashionable domestic environments. With Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc in December 1911, Thannhauser organized the first exhibition of Der Blaue Reiter.

Lovis Corinth, Portrait of the Art Dealer Heinrich Thannhauser, 1918, Kimbell.

The second NKVM exhibition is important in that it was the world’s first modern art exhibition that assembled an estimable scope of international artists represented by Germans, French, Russians, and others.

The second exhibition expanded to include French Cubists, including Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, Postimpressionists, and Fauvists, such as Henri Le Fauconnier, Andre Dérain, Maurice Vlaminck, and Kees van Dongen.20 The historic showing at the Neue Galerie Thannhauser afterwards traveled to Karlsruhe, Mannheim, Hagen, Paul Cassirer Berlin, Leipzig, Galerie Arnold Dresden, Munich Weimar, and the Neue Secession Berlin. The exhibition was the precursor of future great international shows such as the Cologne Sonderbund in 1912 and New York Armory Show in 1913. The Armory Show, in which Neue Galerie Thannhauser participated, introduced European Modernism to the United States.

The Munich gallery occupied over 2,600 square feet of the glass-domed Arcopalais and was divided between two floors. Nine exhibition rooms were on the ground floor with a skylit gallery on the floor above. Similar to the first NKVM exhibition, the Munich public derided the offerings of the second. The German press called for its closure as the artists were “anarchists.” A small group of sympathizers gathered to support the avant-garde exhibitions including other modern artists and some German curators, one of whom was afterwards dismissed from his official curatorial posts because he espoused contemporary nonacademic views.21

Picasso, Head of a Woman, spring 1909, gouache, watercolor, and black and ochre chalks, manipulated with stump and wet brush, on cream laid paper. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Gabriele Münter, Landschaft mit weisser mauer (Landscape with a White Wall), 1910, oil on hardboard, Hagen.

The second exhibition catalog had five articles and was illustrated by Picasso’s Head of a Woman. In addition to Jawlensky’s 11 art works, Gabriele Münter exhibited 7 art works, including Landscape with White Wall from 1910. Kandinsky had carefully defined his different categories for a painting—an impression; an improvisation; and a composition.22 Kandinsky exhibited examples of all three at the second NKVM show in September 1910, including Composition no.2 of early 1910 and Improvisation no.12-The Rider painted in summer 1910.

Kandinsky, Improvisation no. 12 The Rider, summer of 1910.

Karl Ernst Osthaus (1874–1921), an important German patron of European avant-garde art, founded the Folkwang Museum at Hagen, Germany, in 1902. Following the second New Artists’ Association exhibition, Osthaus organized an even larger exhibition of Expressionist painting with works by Jawlensky and Kandinsky.

Ida Gerhadi, Portrait of Karl Ernst Osthaus, 1903.

By 1910, with 20 years of art practice, Jawlensky had built up and continued to expand his circle of collectors. His friendship with Cuno Amiet (1868-1961), a pioneer of modern art in Switzerland, likely started in 1909. In Still Life with Vase in 1909 Jawlensky painted in simplified forms, vivid colors, and decorative lines, following the example of Henri Matisse.23 From 1906 to 1911, Jawlensky’s still lifes were influenced by Matisse who Jawlensky met in Paris. In 1909 and 1910 Jawlensky painted still lifes that are among his finest works. Starting in 1911, Jawlensky focused increasingly on the human face. Regarding his still lifes, Jawlensky observed that he was not searching for a material object, but by way of form and color, “want[ing] to express an inner vibration.”24

Jawlensky, Stilleben mit Vase und Krug (Still Life with Vase and Jug), 1909, oil on Hardboard, Museum Ludwig, Cologne.

Jawlensky, Stilleben mit Früchten, (Still Life with Fruit), c. 1910, oil on cardboard.

In late 1909 and into early 1910 Marianne von Werefkin visited family in Lithuania. Since the early 1890’s, Alexej von Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin were a pioneering artist couple of the avant-garde. With the founding of the Neue Künstlervereinigung München in 1909, from which The Blue Rider emerged in 1911, individually and as a couple they advanced modernism as a conceptual and creative force making a significant contribution to early 20th century modern art. Each had found the other’s soulmate in which their interpersonal relationship was intense and complex. Lily Klee (1876-1946), wife of painter Paul Klee, wrote in her memoirs that Jawlensky and von Werfekin were “no marriage” but rather “an erotically platonic friendship love.” Though their domestic partnership ended, they remained loyal partners and art colleagues. A wealthy, Russian aristocrat, Von Werfekin was, as a painter and knowledgeable supporter of their theories and ideas, an influential force in the NVKM and Blaue Reiter that benefitted these progressive artists’ work.25

Marianne von Werefkin, Selbstbildnis I (Self portrait I), , c. 1910, tempera on paper on hardboard, Städtische Galerie am Lenbachhaus Munich.

In 1910, Jawlensky met German painter and printmaker Franz Marc (1880-1916) and, in 1911, after seeing the second exhibition of the Neue Künstlervereinigung, Marc joined NKVM. Pierre Girieud and Henri Le Fauconnier also joined. That same year Kandinsky, Marc, and others in the NKVM resigned and founded Der Blaue Reiter.

The approach of Le Fauconnier’s painting influenced by Gauguin and Emile Bernard greatly influenced Jawlensky’s work in this period. Kandinsky’s mediation led to Jawlensky exhibiting 6 paintings in Vladimir Izdebsky’s salon in Odessa and Kiev from December 1909 to February 1910 and again in Odessa at the same venue in December 1910. Jawlensky also exhibited at the Sonderbund Westdeutscher Künstler in Düsseldorf. In 1911 Jawlensky visited Franz Marc in Sindelsdorf, south of Munich and spent that summer with his family and Marianne von Werefkin in far northern Germany. At Prerow on the Baltic Sea he painted landscapes and large figural works in bright strong colors. The artist considered his time at Prerow as “a turning point in my art.”

Jawlensky, Blonde, c. 1911, oil on carboard. The time Jawlensky spent in the summer of 1911 on the Baltic coast was a turning point in his art.

Jawlensky, Blühendes Mädchen (Blossoming Girl), c.1911. Norton Simon. The precise date and the sitter are unknown, and the work was titled much later and not by Jawlensky.

Jawlensky, Turandot I, 1912, Privatsammlung.

In Fall 1911 Jawlensky traveled to Paris with von Werefkin where he saw Matisse, visited with Pierre Paul Girieud (1875-1940) and met Kees van Dongen (1877-1968). Later that year Girieud stayed with Jawlensky in Munich where Heinrich Campendonk (1889-1957) visited him in the studio in November. In December 1911 Kandinsky, Marc, Münter, Kubin and Macke resigned from the Neue Künstlervereinigung and Kandinsky and Marc founded Der Blaue Reiter.

The fault line between NKVM and The Blue Rider was over the degree of artistic importance of representation (Kanoldt and Erbslöh) versus nonrepresentation (Kandinsky, Marc, Kubin, Münter) in avant-garde German expressionism. The resignations came after Kandinsky and Marc had forcefully advocated for a jury show and, then, having overcome some other members’ intractable resistance, one of Kandinsky’s large format pictures was rejected by the jury for the 1911 NKVM show.26

Adolf Erbslöh, Mädchen mit rotem Rock (Girl with Red skirt), 1910, Von der Heydt Museum.

Alexander Kanoldt, Nikolaiplatz, 1910-13.

Jawlensky, Yellow Houses, 1909.

Kandinsky in 1910 produced the first painting, a watercolor, that was completely nonrepresentational—Untitled in the collection of the Pompidou in Paris. In late 1911 Kandinsky, seeing his painting as a triumph of art over the external object, published his art theories in a major treatise entitled Über das Geistige in der Kunst (“On the Spiritual in Art”). Kandinsky, who was informed on European modern art currents, synthesized and personalized ideas that were broadly available at the turn of the 20th century—one, that there is an order of pre-eminent human experiences; second, that all artworks possess spiritual or expressive qualities to be researched, expanded to the sensory faculties and refined to and superseded by physical and psychological effects; and, third, that the essential nature of art makes it autonomous of naturalistic external appearances.

Modern, specifically abstract, art, through the artist’s practice of relaying his emotive and spiritual qualities can, within the broad engagement of culture as well as art that possesses an autonomous spiritual-expressionist nature, can become a barometer for social progress and gauge the spirit of the age.

Since art is the embodiment of spirit or expression, Kandinsky postulated no specific formal or stylistic language—form is meaningless apart from the expression, the making visible, of the artist’s inner reality. This is true for the “great” avenues of realism or abstraction. The immediate use of Cubist and Futurist forms dematerialized further into a spiritual significance of colors and nonrepresentational forms in Abstract Expressionism.27

The third and final NKVM show was held in December 1911 at Neue Galerie Thannhauser. It featured 58 paintings and 8 illustrations by eight of the original and early member artists, namely, Jawlensky, Adolf Erbslöh, Alexander Kanoldt, Erma Barrera-Bossi, Wladimir von Bechtejeff, Moissey Kogan, Pierre Girieud and Marianne von Werefkin. It was hardly mentioned in the German press.

The show closed on January 12, 1912 and likely did not travel though scheduled to do so. In the same month of December 1911 and in the same gallery Der Blaue Reiter hosted its first exhibition. Though Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin sympathized with Kandinsky and der Blaue Reiter, they did not follow into the group until 1912.

Neither did Jawlensky follow Kandinsky into nonrepresentational abstract art. He continued with representational motifs. Jawlensky was more concerned with synthesis—a term and practice with a broad, diverse, and even contradictory definition. For Jawlensky, synthesis occurred between impressions of the outer world and experiences of the artist’s inner world. In terms of his art, it involved the “outer” object and “inner” expressive, unnatural colors. It involved the “outer” pictorial composition and “inner” colors and forms, with these categorical elements being fluid in terms of their opposition.

Kandinsky, Untitled, 1910, watercolor, Indian Ink and pencil on paper. Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Reputedly the first nonrepresentational (abstract) painting.

Franz Marc, Pferd in Landschaft (Horse in a Landscape), 1910, oil on canvas, Folkwang Museum, Essen.

Jawlensky, Hügel (Hills), 1912, oil on hardboard, Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund.

Jawlensky, Landschaft mit gelbem Schornstein (Blue mountains landscape with yellow chimney), 1912, Museum Wiesbaden.

Jawlensky, Jünglingskopf (Head of a Young Man, called Hercules), 1912, oil on hardboard, Dortmund.

Kandinsky, Der Blaue Rider (The Blue Rider), 1903, private collection.

NOTES

1. German Unification – Confronting Identities in German Art: Myth, Reactions, Reflections, Smart Museum, Chicago, 2002, pamphlet.

2. World War I casualties- http://www.centre-robert-schuman.org/userfiles/files/REPERES%20%E2%80%93%20module%201-1-1%20-%20explanatory%20notes%20%E2%80%93%20World%20War%20I%20casualties%20%E2%80%93%20EN.pdf

3. Idea of German art–https://www.britannica.com/place/Torzhok

4. Ažbe Quote- Boehmer, Konrad, Schonberg and Kandinsky: An Historic Encounter (Contemporary Music Studies), Routledge, 1998, p. 209.

5. matriculated at von Stuck’s- Watson, Peter, The German Genius: Europe’s Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth Century, HarperCollins, 2010, p. 515.

6. Trip to Paris and Brittany– Clemens Weiler, Jawlensky: Heads, Faces, Meditations, Pall Mall Press, 1971.; Theodor Lipps– Encyclopedia Britannica.

7. Hedwig Kubin—Hoberg, Annegret, The Blue Rider in the Lenbachhaus, Munich, Prestel, Munich, 1989. Wladimir Bechtejeff —https://www.kreisbote.de/lokales/garmisch-partenkirchen/schlossmuseum-murnau-zeigt-bilder-wladimir-bechtejeff-9688996.html

8. Paris Salone d’Automne and Matisse- Donald Gordon, Modern Art Exhibitions 1900-1916, Munich, 1974.

9. On Mediterranean Coast painting- Elger, Dietmar, Expressionism: A Revolution in German Art, Taschen, Cologne, Germany, 1998, p.166.

10. Melancholy in the evening –https://mfastpete.org/obj/wasserburg-on-the-inn-melancholy-in-the-evening/; Verkade- http://www.peterbrooke.org/art-and-religion/denis/intro/beuron.html

11. Sacharoff portrait—Hoberg, Blue Rider in Lenbachhaus.

12. Murnau art colony—Watson, German Genius, pp. 516-518; progressive artist- Hoberg, Blue Rider in Lenbachhaus; Barnett, Vivian Endicott, The Blue Four Collection at the Norton Simon Museum, 2002, p. 84.

13. Hoberg, Blue Rider in Lenbachhaus.

14. Selz, Peter, German Expressionist Painting, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1974. p.185.

15. ibid., p 186 and 191.

16. First NKVM exhibition travel cities– Hoberg, not paginated; carnival hoax—Selz, German Expressionist Painting, p. 191.

17. Elgar, Expressionism, p. 168; Selz, German Expressionist Painting, p 191; Watson, German Genius, p. 516.

18. Selz, p. 195; Barnett, p. 86.

19. Barnett, p. 90.

20. Hoberg (not paginated); Selz, p.193.

21. Selz, p. 196.

22. “An impression is a direct impression of nature, expressed in purely pictorial form. An improvisation is a largely unconscious, spontaneous expression of inner character, non-material nature.  A composition is an expression of a slowly formed inner feeling, tested and worked over repeatedly and almost pedantically. Reason, conscious, purpose, play an overwhelming part. But of calculation nothing appears: only feeling…” Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, quoted in Selz, p.196.

23. Elgar, Expressionism, p. 169.

24. Hoberg, not paginated.

25. Elgar, Expressionism, p.177.

26. Selz, p. 197.

27. Harrison, Charles & Paul Wood, Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford U.K. and Cambridge, MA, 2000, p 86); Chipp, Herschel B., Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1971, pp. 126-127; Kern, Stephen, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1983, p. 203).

Bibliography

Barnett, Vivian Endicott, The Blue Four Collection at the Norton Simon Museum, 2002.

Boyle, Nicholas, German Literature: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford New York, 2008.

Chipp, Herschel B., Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1971.

Dube, Wolf-Dieter, Expressionism, Oxford University Press, New York and Toronto, 1972.

Elger, Dietmar, Expressionism: A Revolution in German Art, Taschen, Cologne, Germany, 1998.

Harrison, Charles & Paul Wood, Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford U.K. and Cambridge, MA, 2000.

Hoberg, Annegret, The Blue Rider in the Lenbachhaus, Munich, Prestel, Munich, 1989.

Kern, Stephen, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1983.

Koldehoff, Stefan and Chris Stolwijk, editors, The Thannhauser Gallery: Marketing Van Gogh, Mercatorfonds, Brussels, 2018.

Selz, Peter, German Expressionist Painting, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1974.

Taylor, A.J.P., Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman, Vintage Books, New York, 1967 (originally 1955).

Watson, Peter, The German Genius : Europe’s Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth Century, HarperCollins, 2010.

https://www.academia.edu/44447406/ORIGINS_OF_GERMAN_EXPRESSIONIST_PAINTING_THE_EARLY_MODERN_ART_CAREER_OF_ALEXEI_VON_JAWLENSKY_1864_1941_RUSSIAN_%C3%89MIGR%C3%89_PAINTER_FROM_1889_TO_THE_BLUE_RIDER_IN_MUNICH_IN_1911

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925): Portraits of the 1870’s and 1880’s.

By John P. Walsh

The following works by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) in oil, watercolor, and pastel begin to present Sargent’s professional output during his formative years in France and England and his trips to the United States.

While Sargent’s early portrait subjects range from famous people such as writer Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) and actress Ellen Terry (1847-1928) in her role as Lady Macbeth, Sargent’s first portraits were mostly of family and friends. These included artists, writers, musicians, and some of the artist’s romantic interests.

Sargent’s artistic practice developed within a swiftly expanding social circle of prominent American expatriates and Europeans which included portrait commissions from business, military, legal and medical practitioners. His portrait work extended to their wives and children. It was during this creative period that Sargent painted his well-known group portrait The Daughters of Edward D. Boit (1882) and the portrait of the exotic and controversial Madame X (Mme. Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau).  

Each of the following works of art are specifically identified in its brief caption. Captions include the artwork’s title (usually the sitter’s name), date created, and dimensions, markings and location, when known. Further, it often discusses how the sitter knew Sargent as well as the historical context of the artwork and some provenance and exhibition history.

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VIOLET SARGENT, c. 1875, oil on panel, 27.7 x 23.5 cm (10 ½ x 9 ¼ in.), private collection. Originally inscribed across the top “Violet” but removed in a later cleaning. The sitter was the artist’s youngest sister (1870-1955).


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Resting, c. 1875, oil on canvas, 8½ x 10 9/16 in. (21.6 x 26.8 cm), inscribed upper right: John S. Sargent, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Informal pose and setting, bold treatment of light, this is one of the artist’s early outdoor works. The identity of the sitter is unknown.


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MRS. EMILY SARGENT PLEASANTS, c. 1876, oil on canvas, 55.8 x 40.6 cm (22 x 16 inches), private collection. The artist’s aunt (his father’s sister). Dr. Pleasants (Emily’s husband) visited the artist’s family in France in 1875, but it is not known if she came along. The next year the 20-year-old American artist, born in Florence, Italy,  visited the United States for the first time and went to the Pleasants home in Radnor, Pennsylvania. The high-backed rocking chair in the painting points to this portrait being done there.


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FRANK O’MEARA, c. 1876, oil on canvas, 44.5 x 39.5 cm (17½ x 15½ inches), inscribed upper left: John S. Sargent. Inscribed upper right:1875. Typewritten label on reverse signed by Austin Strong, 14/5/1931, The Century Association, New York. O’Meara was an “impecunious and dreamy” Irish art student with Sargent in Carolus-Duran’s atelier. Sargent painted it for O’Meara to give to an American girl during a summer romance. Then Isobel Osbourne (1858-1953) returned home and married somebody else.


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MRS. CHARLES DEERING, c.1877, oil on canvas, 55.8 x 43.2 cm (22 x 17 in.), Rhode Island School of Design. The family of Annie Rogers Case (1848-1876) met the Sargents in Florence in the 1860s. Her father (“the Admiral”) owned a Sargent Salon picture and dined with them on Christmas Day 1874. In 1876 JSS visited with the Deerings at Newport, Rhode Island,  but did not paint Annie’s portrait. Mrs. Deering died the next year in childbirth. In the Sargent-Deering letters preserved at Chicago the artist agreed to the widower’s request to paint a posthumous work of his wife.


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VIOLET SARGENT, 1877, oil on canvas, 34.9 x 25.4 cm (13 3/4 x 10 in), inscribed upper right: Violet 17th May 1877/7 years old. Location unknown. Sargent’s younger sister, the later Mrs. Frances Ormond. It had been owned by French Academic painter Auguste-Alexandre Hirsch (1833 -1911).


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HARRIET LOUISE WARREN, 1877, oil on panel, 26.7 x 21 cm (10 1/2 x 8 1/4 in), inscribed lower right: JSS/Jan 18 1877. Private collection. Harriet Louise Warren (1854-1919) and Sargent were early friends. Later, in 1890, the artist painted her daughter, Beatrice.


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EMILY SARGENT, c.1877, oil on canvas, 31.1 x 22.9 cm (12 ¼ x 9 in.), private collection. Six siblings comprised the FitzWilliam and Mary Newbold Singer Sargent family. John was the second oldest and only boy. Of his five sisters only two lived to adulthood. This is JSS’s sister Emily (1857-1936) born one year after him. About 20 years old in this painting, the two were inseparable at home and roamed Europe and America together. Emily was a watercolorist and naturally cheerful.


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Eugène JUILLERAT, c. 1877-78, oil on canvas, 40.6 x 31.1 (16 x 12 ¼ in.), inscribed upper right: à mon ami Juillerat/J.S. Sargent. Inscribed on label on back by sitter on April 19, 1927. Private collection. Juillerat and Sargent were the same age and both studied under Carolus-Duran in Paris. Juillerat was an award-winning lithographer and sculptor receiving medals at the Salons of 1895 and 1899 and at the Exposition Universelle in 1900.


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Head of an Italian Girl, 1878, oil on canvas, 45.7 x 38.1 (18 x 15 in.), Inscribed upper center: To my cousin Kitty Austin/ John S. Sargent; upper left: 1878. The Sargents had roots in New England yet resettled in Philadelphia where JSS’s father was a surgeon and married JSS’s mother. With the death of their firstborn, the Sargents left for Europe and stayed. JSS was born in Italy in 1856. He first visited the U.S.A. at 20 years old. This painting’s whereabouts and sitter’s identity are unknown.


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MARY TURNER AUSTIN, oil on canvas, 45.7 x 38.1 (18 x 15 in.), Inscribed upper left: to my friend, Mary, John S. Sargent. The Christopher Whittle Collection. The Austins, like the Sargents, were American expats in Europe. Dr. Sargent mentions the Austins in correspondence and writes that the girls are “quite attractive.” Mary was an art student. Chicago artist J.C. Beckwith at dinner with the Sargents hoped to see “the pretty Miss Austin.” French artist Auguste Hirsch owned this portrait.


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Head of an Italian woman, c. 1878-1881, oil on canvas, 45.7 x 38.1 (18 x 15 in.), Inscribed upper right: J. S. Sargent. The Arkell Museum, Canajoharie, New York. Gift of Bartlett Arkell. Hair piled at the nape of the neck is a typical mid1870s woman’s hairstyle, though the dress is less fashionable. The model may be a Sargent cousin – a later Mrs. Wurts – who owned this picture in 1926.


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Portrait Sketch, c. 1910, graphite on thin, slightly textured off-white laid paper (tissue) 10 x 9.1 cm (3 15/16 x 3 9/16 in.). Gift of Mrs. Francis Henry Taylor, The Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts. Dated c.1910, this drawing had been only recently identified as the same model as “Head of an Italian Woman” painted by Sargent sometime between 1878 and 1881 and today in the Arkell Museum.


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CARMELA BERTAGNA, c.1879, oil on canvas, 59.7 x 49.5 (23.5 x 19.5 in.), inscribed upper L: à mon ami Poirson; upper R: John S. Sargent; lower L: Carmela Bertagna/rue du/16 Maine. Bequest F.W. Schumacher. The picture’s history is muddled by the sitter’s questioned identity (a professional model, possibly Carmela B.), its stylistic clues (no later than 1880), diverse inscriptions (to later friends) and exactly from whom it was acquired before it was given to the Columbus Museum of Fine Arts.


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Mme. François BULOZ, 1879, oil on canvas, 54 x 46.2 cm (21.25 x 18.25 in.), Inscribed lower L: à mon amie Me Buloz/John S. Sargent/Ronjoux 1879, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Mme. Buloz was from a family of writers and musicians. In summer 1879, Sargent was in the Savoy to paint her daughter Marie’s full length portrait for her marriage. Madame complained that this portrait, painted in haste, made her look ten years older than she was.


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MARIE-LOUISE PAILLERON, 1879, 38.7 x 45.1 cm (15.25 x 17.75 in.), Inscribed, upper R: à ma petite amie Marie-Louise/John S. Sargent 1880, private collection. Daughter of Marie (Buloz) and Edward Pailleron, Sargent’s first important patrons. Two years after this portrait, Marie-Louise (1870-1950) was the subject of an important double portrait with her brother Edouard.


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MARIE-LOUISE PAILLERON, 1879, watercolor on paper? Dimensions? Untraced. Sargent did other wash drawings of Marie-Louise that are better documented. The head on the left has a halo or other decorative design. This image was taken from a photograph the sitter made available in 1948 when the sketch was in her house at Ronjoux.


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FANNY WATTS, 1877, oil on canvas, 105.7 x 83.5 cm (41.5/8 x 32.7/8 in.), inscribed upper R: John S. Sargent. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Following money reverses in the U.S.A., Fanny’s New York family traveled in the 1860s to Nice and Florence and met the Sargents. JSS and Fanny began a romance in 1876 that was nixed by Mrs. Sargent. The portrait is the artist’s attempt to reminisce about their time together. Dr. Sargent thought it his son’s “first serious work” and showed it at the Salon. Fanny and JSS stayed lifelong friends.


21fixed

CAROLUS-DURAN, 1879, oil on canvas, 116.8 x 95.9 cm (46 x 37 3/4 in.), inscribed upper R: à mon cher maître M. Carolus Duran, sur élève affectioné/John S. Sargent 1879. Clark Art Institute, Massachusetts. Portrait painter and teacher Carolus-Duran (1838-1917) had a profound influence on JSS’s artistic practice in the mid to late 1870s. The sitter wears a red ribbon of the Légion d’honneur in his buttonhole. Being JSS’s second portrait exhibited at the Salon, this painting received critical praise in Europe and America.


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EDOUARD PAILLERON, 1879, oil on canvas, 127 x 94 cm (50 x 37 in.), Inscribed lower L: John S. Sargent. Musée d’Orsay. Edouard Pailleron (1834-99) was JSS’s first major patron. How the 45-year-old famed poet and playwright met the unknown 23-year-old painter is a mystery. One impetus may be the favored portrait of Carolus-Duran at the Salon of 1879. This casually posed portrait of studied bohemianism was painted in Paris in  summer 1879 and soon paired with one of Mme. Pailleron.


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MADAME EDOUARD PAILLERON, 1879, oil on canvas, 208.3 x 100.3 cm (82 x 39.5 in.), Inscribed lower R: John S. Sargent/Ronjoux 1879. National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. JSS’s first full length portrait depicts Mme. Pailleron (1840-1913). It was painted at her parents’ house at Chambéry in the Savoy. She posed at the entrance to the allée des Tilleuls with house and garden behind. At the Salon of 1880 critics remarked that the black satin dress was out of place in an outdoor setting.


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Robert de Cévrieux, 1879, oil on canvas, 84.5 x 48 cm (33.25 x 18.875 in.), inscribed lower L: John S. Sargent, 1879. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Salon of 1879 was a watershed for JSS’s artistic career. Out of it came six portrait commissions in Paris including presumably this 6-year-old and his terrier. Carolus-Duran, by now JSS’s former teacher, painted children holding pets which were exhibited in mid1870s Salons. The child wears a velvet suit with no pant legs and matching jacket.


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JEANNE KIEFFER, 1879, oil on canvas, 43.2 x 35.6 cm (17 x 14 in.), inscribed upper right: John S. Sargent 1879. Private collection. By his early 20s JSS was seen by some as an artist of “great talent and a real future” but also described as “practically starving.” This portrait is quirky for the direct frontal pose of the sitter and that the pink dress was an afterthought. The artist had originally painted the 7-year-old sitter in a black velvet dress.


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Le Vicomte de Saint-Périer, 1879, oil on canvas, 61 x 50.5 cm (24 x 19.875 in.), inscribed upper L: John S. Sargent. Musée d’Orsay. JSS was paid 1500 francs – nearly a year’s wages for a typical French worker – for this portrait of a well-connected professional soldier. The expressive realism of the head recalls his recent portraits of Edouard Pailleron and Carolus-Duran.


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HENRY St JOHN SMITH, 1880, oil on canvas, 62.2 x 49.5 cm (24.5 x 19.5 in.), inscribed upper R: John S. Sargent 1880. Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Boston lawyer St. John Smith (1852-1896) graduated from Harvard in 1872 and went to Europe virtually annually. In 1880 he was a most eligible bachelor. Smith saw JSS’s studio in Paris and didn’t like it but friends Augustus Jay and Boston artist Francis Brooks Chadwick intervened and this head-and-shoulders portrait earned JSS another 1500 franc commission.


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PETER AUGUSTUS JAY, 1880, oil on canvas, 45.8 x 37.5 cm (18 x 14.75 in.), inscribed upper L: John S. Sargent 1880. Private collection. The future U.S.A. Ambassador to Argentina is painted when he was a 3-year-old with golden shoulder-length hair and dressed in a bibbed white blouse. It was when Henry St John Smith was with the boy’s father Augustus “Gussie” Jay at JSS’s Paris studio as Smith was having his portrait painted that the commission for the child’s portrait probably originated.


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ELEANOR JAY CHAPMAN, c.1881, oil on canvas, 43.8 x 53.3 cm (17.25 x 21 in.), inscribed upper L: John S. Sargent. Private collection. In 1881 Eleanor was the 16-year-old daughter of a stockbroker and, through her mother, a descendant of John Jay, first Chief Justice of the U.S.A. She and her younger sister Beatrix had their portraits painted by JSS in Paris (Beatrix’s was later destroyed). There is no evidence for how the Chapmans met JSS, but it happened before the father’s financial collapse in 1882.


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EDWARD BURCKHARDT, 1880, oil on canvas, 55.2.x 46.4 cm (21.75 x 18.25 in.), inscribed lower L: To my friend Valerie/John S. Sargent Paris June 1880. Private collection. JSS was an intimate friend of Swiss businessman Edward Burckhardt (1815-1903) and his American wife and their family. This portrait – which has inspired little positive critical commentary – was painted in Paris in May 1880.


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MRS. JAMES LAWRENCE, oil on canvas, 61 x 45.7 cm (24 x 18 in.), inscribed upper R: John S. Sargent 1881. JSS painted companion portraits of Boston’s James Lawrence (1853-1914) and new wife Caroline Estelle Mudge (1850-1920). Neither portrait has survived – both were destroyed by fire in Hingham, Massachusetts, in 1939. In 1888 it was noted that the sitter wore a black dress in front of a red background.


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The Pailleron Children, 1881, oil on canvas, 152.4 x 175.3 cm (60 x 69 in.), upper right: John S. Sargent. Des Moines Art Center. Édouard (b.1865) and Marie-Louise (b.1870), children of JSS’s first patron, are seated on a bench, the boy dressed in suit with Eton collar and silk bow tie and she, hair up, wearing a satin dress with lace trim. Only after Carolus-Duran calmed Marie-Louise did she cooperate during the 83 sittings for this work done in JSS’s studio and exhibited at the Salon of 1881.


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MARIE-LOUISE PAILLERON, c.1881, watercolor, 27 x 20 cm (10.625 x 7.875 in.). Private collection. Aside from a couple of dabs of blue, the portrait is executed nearly in one color, that is, en grisaille. Marie-Louise wears her hair “down” unlike in the formal portrait with her older brother done at the same time where the 10-year-old was exasperated by the artist’s insistence that she wear her hair “up.”


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MARIE-LOUISE PAILLERON, c.1881, pen, ink and wash on paper, 23.2 x 18.1 cm (9.125 x 7.125 in.), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. A second monochrome facial study of 10-year-old Marie-Louise by JSS. The work has a playful aspect in that the paper’s back side (or verso) has a child’s drawing of a house.


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DR. POZZI (or DR. POZZI AT HOME), 1881. Oil on canvas, 204.5 x 111.4 cm (80 ½ x 43 7/8 in.). Inscribed upper right: John S. Sargent 1881. UCLA at the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center, Los Angeles.


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DETAIL of the left hand -DR. POZZI, 1881.


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MADAME Ramón SUBERCASEAUX, c. 1880-81, oil on canvas, 165.1 x 109.9 cm (65 x 43 ¼ in.). Inscribed, lower right: John S. Sargent. Private collection.


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Madame Ramón Subercaseaux, c. 1881, sepia wash, 22.2 x 32.4 cm (12 ¾ x 8 ¾ in.), inscribed, lower right: John S. Sargent. Private collection. This is not a study for the painting but a derivation from it. The artist made it for the painting’s reproduction in the Salon catalogue.


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MRS. JOHN JOSEPH TOWNSEND, 1881, oil on canvas, 124.5 x 83.8 cm (49 x 33 in.). Inscribed, upper right: John S. Sargent Paris 1881. Location unknown. Catherine Rebecca Bronson (1833-1926) was from a family of U.S.A. politicians and married a New York businessman. The Bronsons were part of the same American expat community in Florence and Venice as the Sargents. This is JSS’s first portrait of the old family friend. She sits on a low couch, right elbow on pillows and holds a swan’s-down fan.


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MRS. JOHN JOSEPH TOWNSEND, c. 1882, oil on canvas, 69.9 x 56.5 cm (27½ x 22¼ in.). Inscribed, upper left: to my dear friend Mrs Townsend/John S. Sargent. Location untraced.


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JOHN JOSEPH TOWNSEND, 1882, oil on canvas, 128.9 x 86.4 cm (50 ¾ x 34 in.). Incribed, upper right: John S. Sargent/Paris 1882. Private collection. Mr. Townsend (1825-1889) was a New York lawyer who served in the State Assembly. A Columbia University trustee and Union Club president, he married Catherine Bronson, an old Sargent family friend, in 1854.


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BEATRICE TOWNSEND, c. 1882, oil on canvas, 81.9 x 58.4 cm (32 ¼ x 23 in.). Inscribed, upper center: to my friend/Mrs. Townsend/John S. Sargent. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (Mellon Collection). (Eleanor) Beatrice Townsend (1870-1884), born in New York, was the sixth of seven children of Mr. and Mrs. Townsend. The teenager died tragically of peritonitis, an abdominal disease.


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MR. AND MRS. JOHN FIELD, 1882, oil on canvas, 111.8 x 82.5 cm (44 x 32½ in.). Inscribed, upper right: John S. Sargent, Paris 1882. Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Phil. Gilbert Stuart painted the father of Mrs. Field (Eliza Willing Spring Peters, 1820-1897) and she was painted by Thomas Sully in 1841 and now by JSS. Europe travel led Mr. Field (1815-1887), a trader, into art collecting. In a June 1882 letter, British writer Vernon Lee noted that it was either the Fields or Townsends who were nonstop talkers.


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Isabel Vallé, 1882, oil on canvas, 132.1 x 81.3 cm (52 x 32 in.). Inscribed, upper left: John Singer Sargent; upper right: Paris 1882. Private collection. Likely exhibited at the third exhibition of the Cercle des arts libéraux in 1882 on rue Vivienne in Paris. Isabel Vallé (1864-1947) became Mrs. Austin but later divorced. The three-quarter-length portrait of the 18-year-old possesses a “soft, liquid beauty.”


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Mrs. Jules Félix Vallé, 1882, 50.8 x 40.6 cm (20 x 16 in.), Inscribed, upper right: John S. Sargent/1882. Lost. Mrs. Vallé was Isabel Vallé’s mother.


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MRS. DANIEL SARGENT CURTIS, 1882, oil on canvas, 71.1 x 53.3 cm (28 x 21 in.). Inscribed, upper left: Venice 1882; upper right: John S. Sargent/to his kind friend Mrs Curtis. Spencer Museum of Art, KS. Ariana Randolph Wormeley (1833-1922) was from a family of writers and linguists. At 20 years old she married Dr. Sargent’s cousin and moved from Boston to a palazzo in Venice where she established a fashionable salon. JSS called her the Dogaressa and was a frequent guest in later years.


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MADEMOISELLE BOUSSENET-DUCLOS, 1882, oil on canvas, 55.6 x 46 cm (21 7/8 x 18 7/8 in.). Inscribed, upper left: John S. Sargent; upper right: 1882. Verso: Mr. John Sargent/ 8….. Private collection. The whereabouts of this portrait of a young woman dressed in a black outdoor coat with fur edging, was unknown until it reappeared in public in 1988.


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MADAME ALLOUARD-JOUAN. c. 1882, oil on canvas, 74.9 x 55.9 cm (29½ x 22 in.). Inscribed, upper left: à Mme Allouard Jouan/témoignage d’amitié; upper right: John S. Sargent. Musée du Petit Palais, Paris. Shown at French art dealer Georges Petit’s 1882 exhibition the portrait was described as being painted “with verve by the hand of a master…”


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MME. PAUL ESCUDIER, 1882, oil on canvas, 128.3 x 90.2 cm (50½ x 35½ in.). Inscribed,lower right: John S. Sargent 1882. Private collection. Louise Lefevre (1861-1950) married Paul Escudier (1858-1931), a sometime French entertainment lawyer. This informal portrait with a beautiful subject and setting in delightful light, the sitter’s identity is not certain. Sometimes compared to Belgian artist Alfred Stevens, the work’s reflection in the mirror seems to evoke Jan Van Eyck.


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MME. PAUL ESCUDIER, c. 1882, oil on canvas, 73.2 x 59.5 cm (18 ¾ x 23 ½ in.). Inscribed, upper left: à Madame Escudier/John S. Sargent. Clark Art Institute, Massachusetts. The sitter is dressed in a black coat and diamond pin – ready possibly for a soirée – wearing a fashionable white-ribboned black hat for a finish.


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LOUISE BURCKHARDT (or LADY WITH A ROSE), 1882, oil on canvas, 213.4 x 113.7 cm (84 x 44¾ in.). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


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DETAIL of the right hand-LOUISE BURCKHARDT (or LADY WITH A ROSE), 1882.


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DAUGHTERS OF EDWARD D. BOIT, 1882, oil on canvas, 221.9 x 221.6 cm (87 3/8 x 87 5/8 in.). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1882. The group portrait depicts the four daughters of JSS’s friend and fellow American painter, Edward Boit and wife, Mary Louisa. In Europe the Boits lived in Rome and in Paris where this painting, directly influenced by Velázquez, was painted in the family flat on Avenue de Friedland. Exhibited at G. Petit and the Salon. The Japanese vases remain in the family today.


John Singer Sargent, Judith Gautier, 1883-85

Judith Gautier, c. 1883-1885. Detroit Institute of Arts, oil on panel. 39 x 24 1/2 in., (99.1 x 62.2 cm)

JSS, Judith Gautier or Gust of Wind, c, 1883-1885, private collection, oil on canvas, 24 1/8 x 15 in. (61.3 x 38.1 cm).

Judith Gautier or Gust of Wind, c, 1883-1885, private collection, oil on canvas, 24 1/8 x 15 in. (61.3 x 38.1 cm).

John Singer Sargent, Mrs. Henry White, 1883

Margaret Stuyvesant Rutherfurd White (Mrs. Henry White), 1883, oil on canvas, 225.1 × 143.8 cm (88 5/8 × 56 5/8 in.), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. , from Corcoran Collection , 2014.

REFERENCE: John Singer Sargent, Complete Paintings, Volume 1: The Early Portraits by Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, Yale University Press/Paul Mellon Centre, 1998.

REVIEW: “Van Gogh’s Bedrooms,” The Art Institute of Chicago, February 14 to May 10, 2016.

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Van Gogh’s Bedrooms at The Art Institute of Chicago, February 14 to May 10, 2016. The photograph depicts the three versions of Van Gogh’s “Bedroom” in Arles, France, in this blockbuster exhibition’s penultimate gallery.

From the collections (left to right) of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris (1889), The Art Institute of Chicago (1889), and the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (1888).

The three masterworks were gathered together side by side in North America for the first time in art history.

By John P. Walsh. May 6, 2016.

I saw the Van Gogh’s Bedrooms exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago (February 14-May 10, 2016) on the last Friday afternoon before the show closed. The museum that day was drawing a large crowd and it was challenging to navigate through the multi-room art show in a mass of frequently immobile art lovers. Exactly for what cause some stationary patrons might be transfixed could only be speculated upon but often no art was present. No one I think comes to art shows to be caught in a logjam of people yet that recurrent phenomenon in Van Gogh’s Bedrooms soon became one of its unpleasant features. The expansive exhibition space—striking for its illogical reasoning to display three relatively small masterpieces—proved impractical, or at least a two-edged sword, in terms of containing its throngs.

Those three featured paintings are this show’s raison d’être and prove a marvelous highlight after reaching them by way of a dozen or so high-ceiling galleries. Once arrived to the show’s penultimate room, my eyes settled on the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam’s version as the most intriguing of the three superficially identical works. The other two versions are from the collections of The Art Institute of Chicago and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

When 35-year-old Van Gogh painted his The Bedroom series starting in October 1888, the Dutchman had been an artist only a short while: about 7 years. This had followed a variety of other occupations, although Van Gogh began his professional life as an art dealer.  By late 1888—less than two years before his death by self-inflicted gunshot in Auvers-sur-Oise in July 1890—Van Gogh had traveled long and far from his beginnings in North Brabant. He arrived into Paris in 1885 to paint and join his brother Theo who was an avant-garde art dealer in the Rue Montmartre. Looking to sell more of his artwork, he began painting in the bright Impressionist style for which Van Gogh is probably most famous today.  By February 1888 Van Gogh relocated to Arles in the South of France on account of his health and to possibly start an art colony.  Still quite poor and alone, this roughly 15-month period in Arles proved to be prolific for the artist’s production when Van Gogh completed 200 paintings, and over 100 drawings and watercolors. Many of Van Gogh’s most famous works were created in this fecund period—for example, his portraits of Eugène Boch (Musée d’Orsay), Postman Joseph Roulin and Augustine Roulin (both Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)  and Madame Ginoux (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) among several others; sunflowers and irises such as Still Life: Vase with Fourteen Sunflowers (National Gallery, London), Still Life: Vase with Fourteen Sunflowers (Neue Pinakothek, Munich) and Irises (Getty Museum, Los Angeles); 15 canvases of cypresses; and his iconic Self-Portrait Dedicated to Paul Gauguin in the Harvard Art Museums.

None of these contextual artworks were in the Chicago show but demonstrate the range and depth of Van Gogh’s artistic vision in the same time period that The Bedrooms—which shared his body of work’s intoxication with color and decorative strategieswere painted. Despite its title—Van Gogh’s Bedrooms—this show is not content to let their presence in Chicago suffice. Instead, much of the other parts of this massive show were from the Art Institute’s permanent collection of mostly Barbizon and Impressionist artwork.  Perhaps if they had been left on whatever museum walls from which they had come, these fine artworks might have maintained an even greater impact for themselves and this show’s ultimate purpose than crowding them onto walls into this special exhibition space.  That said, the condensed interpretive curatorial exercise of parts of the permanent collection in this show could prove interesting for visitors who are not willing or able to visit other parts of the museum. In a show that took on the formula of a typical Regenstein Hall blockbuster, its propensity for Impressionist rehash (“delve” was the museum’s word) had a boring art textbook’s sensibility. That the show dipped into the museum storehouse to retrieve the life-size maquette of the Yellow House from AIC’s vastly superior exhibition Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South in 2001, produced a dispiriting effect on at least one viewer who recognized it. But so far I am quibbling: this AIC exhibition brings together the powerful canon of all three versions of Van Gogh’s The Bedroom for the first time in North America which is very special and undoubtedly sufficient to any museum goer’s time and interest. I don’t believe, however, that their full artistic power was best served by being able to see these objects intensely advertised in the media markets and then only hung at the show’s virtual end following a cacophony of mostly extraneous art historical resources however severely earnestly presented. Instead, a surfeit of front-loaded artistic riches labors to obscure these significant Van Goghs that finally appear in the second to last gallery, all of which are jam-packed with art, people, various filmic explorations, somewhat bloviating wall texts, whole house reconstructions, etc.

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Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam,  October 1888. 72.4 x 91.3 cm.

CHGO Vincent van Gogh. The Bedroom, 1889. The Art Institute of Chicago, Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection.exh_vangogh_bedroom_main_480

Chicago, 1889. 72.4 x 91.3 cm. Version Van Gogh painted in the asylum at St. Rémy.

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Paris, 1889. 57.5 x 74 cm. Destitute bachelor artist Van Gogh gave this version to his mother and sister to assure them in part that he was working..

It is certainly obvious that Van Gogh’s Bedrooms possibly could have benefited by not pulling out all the stops (AIC: “in-depth study”) but to focus on the three colorful masterpieces uniquely gathered in their essential power. If one wants to read blow by blow explanations of virtually every curatorial application in the show, one might turn to other reviews cited in “Further Reading” below. The equitably in-depth appreciation of this trio of Van Gogh worksand minus the Disney World trappingsmight be advanced using timed tickets (as done for Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South) and within a pared down and simpler exhibition scope. The way things are constructed by the show’s curator Gloria Groom, Chair of European Painting and Sculpture at The Art Institute of Chicago, the exhibition transmits encyclopedic knowledge while largely missing a tangible evocation of bachelor Van Gogh’s humble petit boulevard persona who produced in Arles in 1888 and in Saint-Rémy in 1889 these bold canvases of his simple bedroom and even gifting one of the versions (the one now in Paris) to his aged mother and sister to reassure them in his destitution. For Van Gogh the motif of his private and hard-featured bedroom in Arles continued his bold self-expression in a tightly woven and complex painting composed in broad outlines using a many-hued post-impressionistic palette in thick impasto. Despite Van Gogh’s reputation as madhe mutilated his ear in this bedroom in December 1888he soon carried on painting two more versions of The Bedroom (the last one slightly reduced) with the apparent added intention to express to his family and friends that the artist was as stable and restful as his artistic subject.

What should an exhibition advertised as Van Gogh’s Three Bedrooms wish to have its spectators looking for and come away with? By the time a visitor reaches Van Gogh’s three paintings after plowing through the aforesaid gauntlet of people and well-known Chicago art resources, the exhibition almost runs the danger of displaying these highly-prized artworks not as denouement but incidental. These Van Gogh paintings are hardly allowed to speak freely for themselves. Of course they have a fascinating history but to what degree should these particular artworks’ written history be simultaneous to their exhibition? Thinking of the viewer, does the display of three paintings of an artist’s bedroom (albeit Vincent Van Gogh’s) that when placed side by side measures the whole of about ten feet across merit thousands of cubic feet of mostly academic groundwork before a viewer can even see them? To what degree are artistic exhibition and their intellectual exposition necessarily complementary since many museum art shows follow this tactic?

The final gallery after the display of the three bedrooms continued Van Gogh’s Bedrooms’ devotion to comprehensive information and theatricalityalthough a side-by-side blow-up of the bedrooms’ diverging painterly details was perhaps the most useful techie display so to appreciate the artist’s handling of the individual paintings. Yet it begged a question: could this orientation to detail, to seeing the painting, somehow serve as the exhibition’s primary or sole introduction, such as in a film theater? This last gallery then led directly to the ubiquitous and depressing gift shop hosting the galleries’ multitude disporting themselves basically as they did in and among the art. Hearing its timbre I wondered if a unique opportunity to view together these three Van Gogh bedroom paintings“the first time in North America”had under- or overplayed its hand? As its elemental objective, had the exhibition Van Gogh’s Bedrooms rightly oriented and imparted to its viewers an intimate and perhaps personally revealing look into these three sensitive treasures of Van Gogh’s oeuvre? Or had the artist Van Gogh merely omitted to paint into his own scene the proverbial kitchen sink?

FURTHER READING:

God Cherishes Simplicity: A Brief Account of the Life of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (French, 1873-1897).

Thérèse Martin at 8 years old in 1881.

Thérèse Martin at 8 years old in 1881 with her sister Céline. The Martin family had moved from Alençon to Lisieux to be with the Guerin relatives.

By John P. Walsh

October 1 is the feast day of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (French, 1873-1897), one of only four women “doctors” in the Roman Catholic Church, and popularly known as The Little Flower of Jesus.  Her religious name is Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face and, with St. Francis of Assisi, she is one of today’s most popular saints. For a young Norman woman who died at 24 years old in an obscure convent in northern France that is a surprisingly solid list of titles and accolades.

Yet, when she died on September 30, 1897, the Carmelite nuns in her community at the Carmel in Lisieux didn’t think they had any accomplishments to cite for her obituary. Her sister Céline (1869-1959), a nun in the same convent as Thérèse, observed: “In general, even in the last years, she continued to lead a hidden life, the sublimity of which was known more to God than to the Sisters around her.”1

Born Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin in 1873, she was the youngest of five sisters and lively and precocious. She lost her mother Zélie Martin (née Guérin, 1831-1877) to breast cancer as a four-year-old. The next decade – according to Thérèse’s journal (The Story of a Soul, begun in 1895) – was the most “distressing” years of her life.

Thérèse’s mother was the breadwinner in the Martin house and after she died little Thérèse naturally turned to her father Louis (1823-1894) for nurturing along with her four older sisters — especially the second eldest, Pauline.

For the rest of the 1870s and into the 1880s, Thérèse was the high-spirited baby sister in the family home called Les Buissonnets in the Normandy town of Lisieux.

Blessed Azélie-Marie “Zélie” Martin née Guérin (1831 -1877). mother of Thérèse. With her husband Louis, she will be canonized on October 18, 2015.
Louis Martin (1823 –1894), father of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.

St. Azélie-Marie “Zélie” Martin née Guérin (1831 -1877). mother of Thérèse. St. Louis Martin (1823 –1894), father of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. They were canonized together on October 18, 2015.

As three of Thérèse’s sisters left the family homestead to enter convents -– two of them to a Carmelite convent (“Carmel”) in Lisieux and another later to a Visitation convent in Caen– the two youngest sisters, Céline and Thérèse, remained at home with their father.

Although Louis adored Thérèse and called her his “little flower,” Thérèse was headstrong and obstinate and she seemed to do chores with the attitude like she was doing the household a big favor. The young child also began to have panic attacks. Though intelligent and educated, at ten years old Thérèse believed she saw a statue of the Blessed Virgin given to her by her mother in her bedroom smile at her. While unusual, from that point forward, the girl’s nerves calmed. These early tantrums left a mark on her reputation. They, along with some of her later writings in journals, letters, and poems, left the future saint prey for others in her lifetime and after her death to be called “immature” and “sentimental,” even “neurotic.”3  

Doubtless some of Thérèse’s thoughts sound naïve, though she writes profoundly: “At times when I am reading certain spiritual treatises in which perfection is shown through a thousand obstacles…my poor little mind quickly tires; I close the learned book that is breaking my head and drying up my heart and I take up Holy Scripture. Then all seems luminous to me; a single word uncovers for my soul infinite horizons, perfection seems simple to me, I see it is sufficient to recognize one’s nothingness and to abandon oneself as a child into God’s arms.”4

Marie (1860-1940), the eldest Martin sister. After she entered the Carmel in Lisieux, she was called Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart.

Pauline (1861- 1951). Thérèse’s favorite sister. When she entered the Carmel in Lisieux her name was Mother Agnes of Jesus.

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Léonie (1863-1941). Entered the Visitation Sisters in Caen and took the name Sister Françoise-Thérèse.

Céline (1869-1959) was four years older than Thérèse and closest in age. She entered the Carmel in Lisieux after Thérèse and took the name Sister Geneviève of the Holy Face.

On April 9, 1888, a 15-year-old Thérèse entered the Carmel de Lisieux on Rue du Carmel, less than a one-half mile walk from Les Buissonnets. Younger than a typical postulant, exceptions had to be made. She received the habit after some delay mostly because of her father’s declining health in January 1890. Although her profession was also postponed, Thérèse’s spiritual life was deepening through her reading of another Carmelite, St. John of the Cross (1542-1591).

St. Thérèse of Lisieux as a young nun read deeply of Saint John of the Cross who said many beautiful things about having a close relationship with Jesus. 

In due time, despite difficulty in prayer and doubts about becoming a nun, Thérèse received the black veil in September 1890. In early 1891 the 18-year-old Thérèse was made sacristan’s aide, a duty she carried into 1892 as her father lay slowly dying. During this time her reading and prayer transitioned to the Gospels and she began to write poems for which she had talent. Founded in 1838 as a “progressive” convent so that by the 1890’s the nuns were allowed to practice photography within its walls, the Carmel was also a working-class foundation comprised of daughters of shop-keepers and craftspeople brought up to expect a day’s work for a day’s wage. Thérèse, like another young French mystic saint, St. Bernadette Soubirous, sought to be useful.

When Thérèse’s favorite sister Pauline was elected prioress in early 1893, Thérèse was appointed novice master (though a novice herself) and embarked on her artistic avocation of picture painting. Scheduled to graduate from the novitiate in September 1893 it was postponed in part due to convent politics. The duty of doorkeeper’s aide was added to Thérèse’s tasks.

In the spring of 1894 Thérèse began to experience chest pains and a hoarse throat that grew worse by that summer. After her father died in July 1894, Céline entered the Carmel six weeks later. It was at that time that Thérèse began to seriously formulate her “little way” of seeking holiness of life based on scripture passages. Before 1894 had ended, her sister Pauline (Mother Agnes Of Jesus) ordered her to begin to record her life story in a journal (The Story of a Soul). The novice composed her journal in segments in her free time over the next two and a half years.

Early in 1895 Thérèse voiced the first prediction of her death as her prayer life was working out an idea for what she would dedicate her life to. It would be a life with God whom she called Merciful Love. Thérèse confided these spiritual developments to Céline so that by summer 1895 Thérèse recommended the same devotion to more nuns in the community.

Throughout 1895 Thérèse continued to write–composing poems and giving them as gifts on special occasions, writing plays and painting pictures. Her spirit was characterized by humility.

Thérèse wrote: “How shall she prove her love since love is proved by works? Well, the little child will strew flowers, she will perfume the royal throne with their sweet scents, and she will sing in her silvery tones the canticle of Love.”(the emphases are Thérèse’s).

Therese at 3 years old

Taken in July 1876, Thérèse is 3 1/2 years old. As a child she was stubborn and headstrong.

Therese Feb. 1886

Thérèse at 13 years old taken in February 1886. At Christmas 1886 she made her first Holy Communion and at once her nervous childhood sensitivity stopped. In December 1886 she wrote about these occurrences, stating: “I felt love enter my soul, and the need to forget myself — and since then I have been happy.”

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A pretty and well-dressed Thérèse at 15 years old in a photograph taken in October 1887. At the time of this photograph Thérèse was seeking permission from the bishop at Bayeux to enter the convent of Carmel. She entered on April 9, 1888.

Carmel Lisieux

Carmelite convent (Carmel) where Thérèse Martin entered at Lisieux in April 1888 in a recent photograph.

saint-therese-of-lisieux07Photograph of Carmel taken by Céline in September 1894. Thérèse stands on the steps, third from the right.
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Thérèse as a novice in Carmel in a photograph taken in January 1889. She was 16 years old and in the convent nine months.

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Thérèse as a novice in January 1889 in a photograph taken by Fr. Gombault, bursar of the minor seminary.

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Thérèse in January 1889 in a photograph taken by Fr. Gombault.
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Late 1894.
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Thérèse (right) was one of five Martin sisters who became religious nuns. This photograph was taken by Céline in late 1894 or early 1895.

Therese late 1894/95.

Detail of a photograph of Thérèse taken in late 1894 or early 1895. This image became the basis for an oval portrait painting done by Céline.

Therese oval portrait painting

This is a photograph of the original oil oval portrait painting of Thérèse by Céline based on a photograph of Thérèse around Christmas 1894. Céline claimed that this image captured the real Thérèse. Photograph by author.

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In this series of photographs taken by Céline between January 21 and March 25, 1895, in the convent courtyard, Thérèse is dressed as Joan of Arc. It was for a part she played in her own play called “Joan of Arc Accomplishing Her Mission.” Joan of Arc, patroness of France, was later canonized on May 16, 1920.

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Therese as Joan of Arc

Close up of a photograph taken by Céline of Thérèse dressed as Joan of Arc in 1895.

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Community of 23 Carmelites in a photograph taken by Céline on Easter Monday, April 15th, 1895. First row left to right: Geneviève of the Holy Face (Céline). Second row left to right: Mother Agnès of Jesus (Pauline) and Thérèse of the Child Jesus.

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Easter Monday, April 15, 1895.


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Photograph taken by Céline for the feast of the Good Shepherd, April 27 or 28, 1895. Thérèse is at right between to white-veiled novices.

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After July 3, 1896, photograph taken by Céline.

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July 1896.

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Photograph taken by Céline July 1896.


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Detail in the garden July 1896.
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Photograph taken by Céline in early-mid November 1896 of her sisters and cousin showing the work of the sacristan. Thérèse stands at right.

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The second pose of three posed photographs taken by Céline in the sacristy courtyard on June 7th, 1897. Thérèse was just beginning to complete the last section of A Story of a Soul.

Circumstances were growing more difficult for Thérèse in terms of her health and spirituality. In 1896 a new prioress of Carmel confirmed Thérèse’s role in the novitiate where she could continue to teach her “little way” and work in the sacristy and the laundry room. In addition to finding it difficult to pray, in April 1896 she began to spit blood, a sure sign of the seriousness of her illness. These last eighteen months of her life proved a dark period for the normally vivacious five-foot three-inch Norman young woman. Her physical pain was often unrelenting and the dreams she had of becoming a foreign missionary to Vietnam had to be abandoned. Yet, the priest in charge of foreign missions, Father Adolphe Roulland (1870–1934) whom Thérèse had met in July 1896 as he was going to China, asked her to be a “spiritual sister” to the mission priests. This charge meant not only to pray for the priests but in her correspondence with them to “console and warn, encourage and praise, answer questions, offer corroboration, and instruct them in the meaning of her little way.”6

In 1896 Father Adolphe Roulland (1870-1934) of the Society of Foreign Missions asked the Carmel of Lisieux for a
In 1896 Father Adolphe Roulland (1870-1934) of the Society of Foreign Missions asked the Carmel of Lisieux for a “spiritual sister.”

In a letter from Thérèse to Fr. Roulland she wrote: “Reverend Father… I feel very unworthy to be associated in a special way with one of the missionaries of our adorable Jesus, but since obedience entrusts me with this sweet task, I am assured my heavenly Spouse will make up for my feeble merits (upon which I in no way rely), and that He will listen to the desires of my soul by rendering fruitful your apostolate. I shall be truly happy to work with you for the salvation of souls. It is for this purpose I became a Carmelite nun; being unable to be an active missionary,  I wanted to be one through love and penance just like Saint Teresa, my seraphic Mother….I beg you, Reverend Father, ask for me from Jesus, on the day He deigns for the first time to descend from heaven at your voice, ask Him to set me on fire with His Love so that I may enkindle it in hearts. For a long time I wanted to know an Apostle who would pronounce my name at the holy altar on the day of his first Mass….I wanted to prepare for him the sacred linens and the white host destined to veil the King of heaven…The God of Goodness has willed to realize my dream and to show me once again how pleased He is to grant the desires of souls who love Him alone.”7

The year 1897 was defined on the one hand by Thérèse’s physical decline because of tuberculosis and, on the other hand, her personal joy expressed in her conversations and poems. It was on the feast day of St. Joseph, March 19, 1897, during a personal novena to St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552), that Thérèse asked St. Joseph to obtain from God the favor of “spending her heaven doing good on earth.” She asked St. Francis Xavier for the same intercession.8

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682), St. Joseph and the Child Jesus, Glasgow.

St. Francis Xavier baptizing, 18th century, Mexico City.

By April 1897 Thérèse was gravely ill and in May 1897 was relieved of all work duties and community prayer. Thérèse continued to write in her journal but abadoned it, too weak to write. In August 1897 Thérèse’s suffering was so great she confessed to the temptation of suicide. After August 19, 1897 Thérèse was too physically weak to even ingest the consecrated communion wafer. On September 30, 1897, Thérèse died in the convent infirmary. She was 24 years old. 

In her last hours Thérèse said: “Oh! It is pure suffering because there are no consolations. No, not one! O my God…Good Blessed Virgin, come to my aid! My God…have pity on me! I can’t take it anymore! I can’t take it anymore!…I am reduced…No, I would never have believed one could suffer so much…never! never!…I no longer believe in death for me…I believe in suffering…O I love Him. My God I love you…”These last words of the dying nun were reported by more than one witness.

Sick Thérèse one month before her death, August 30, 1897.

An infirm Thérèse on August 30, 1897, exactly one month before her death.


At the centenary of her death in 1997, St. Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) made Thérèse a “Doctor of the Church,” one of only thirty-three such credentialed. By elevating Thérèse’s example of simple love, the Polish pope, himself called out from behind an Iron Curtain and lived to see it fall, clarified what may constitute a Church Doctor’s character and purpose.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux was beatified on April 29, 1923 and canonized on May 17, 1925. She is co-patron saint of all church missions with St. Francis Xavier and co-patron saint of France with St. Jeanne d’Arc (1412-1431). Thérèse is patron saint of AIDS sufferers, pilots, florists, bodily ills (particularly tuberculosis), and the loss of parents.

USE OBIT

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux’s obituary was printed in “Le Normand.” An English translation of it reads: “It is with a spirited feeling of sadness that we learned Thursday evening of the death at the Monastery of Our Lady of Mount Carmel of a young person who gave the most beautiful years of youth to a life of prayer and sacrifice. Miss Marie-Francoise-Thérèse Martin, renounced the world at fifteen years of age and consecrated herself to God as Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus. She departed after ten years of angelic life in the shadow of the cloister, and we have sweet confidence that death which put an end to long and cruel sufferings has come to take this youth in her bloom and already placed on her head the immortal crown, the goal of all our earthly aspirations. The funeral will be celebrated Monday morning at 9 o’clock in the Carmel chapel. Le Normand offers to the family of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and to the Prioress and all the Carmelite sisters the tribute of its respectful condolences.”

On the evening of December 25, 1895, Thérèse created a ceremony for her community of sisters that celebrated the birthday of the Christ Child. During the celebration each sister selected a folded note from a basket and handed it to an “angel” (one of the other sisters). The “angel” then opened the note and sang its prayerful verse. Each sister was then asked to offer to Jesus her best self in the coming year. The ceremony included a crib and wax figure of the infant Jesus for which Thérèse designed and, with her novice, hand made this costume. The light-blue dress with lace trim was on temporary display at the The National Shrine of St. Thérèse in Darien, Illinois, in spring 2018. Photograph by the author.

ENDNOTES:

  1. St. Thérèse of Lisieux: her last conversations, translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1977, pp. 18-19. Her complete obituary printed in Le Normand reads: “It is with a spirited feeling of sadness that we learned Thursday evening of the death at the Monastery of Our Lady of Mount Carmel of a young person who gave the most beautiful years of youth to a life of prayer and sacrifice. Miss Marie-Francoise-Thérèse Martin, renounced the world at fifteen years of age and consecrated herself to God as Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus.  She departed after ten years of angelic life in the shadow of the cloister, and we have sweet confidence that death which put an end to long and cruel sufferings has come to take this youth in her bloom and already placed on her head the immortal crown, the goal of all our earthly aspirations.  The funeral will be celebrated Monday morning at 9 o’clock in the Carmel chapel. Le Normand offers to the family of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and to the Prioress and all the Carmelite sisters the tribute of its respectful condolences.”
  2. see Story of a Soul: the Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux,  translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1996, pp. 51-67.
  3. The Hidden Face: A Study of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Ida Friederike Görres, London, 2003, p. 83.
  4. Letter from Thérèse to Father Roulland, LT 226, dated May 9, 1897, Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Volume II, translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1974, p. 1094.
  5.  Story of a Soul, p. 196. For this paragraph’s chronology see Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Volume II, 1297-1329.
  6. Görres, p.189.
  7. Letter from Thérèse to Father Roulland, LT 189, dated June 23, 1896, Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Volume II, translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1974, pp. 956-957.
  8. see footnote 11 in Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Volume II, p. 1074.
  9. Last conversations, pp. 204-205; 230; 243.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Story of a Soul: the Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux,  translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1996;

Light of the Night: The Last Eighteen Months in the Life of Thérèse of Lisieux, Jean-François Six, University of Notre Dame Press, South Bend, Indiana, 1996;

St. Thérèse of Lisieux: her last conversations, translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1977;

Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux,Volumes I and II, translated by John Clarke O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C., 1974;

The Hidden Face: A Study of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Ida Friederike Görres, London, 2003;

http://floscarmelivitisflorigera.blogspot.com/2010/06/praying-for-priests-with-st-therese.html.

http://www.archives-carmel-lisieux.fr/

Eluding “Terrible Monsieur Degas”: Gustave Caillebotte’s Retro-Style Vision for the Seventh Impressionist Exhibition of 1882.

By John P. Walsh

The Third Impressionist Exhibition held in April 1877 is known as “Caillebotte’s Exhibition.” It is the highlight of the eight Impressionist exhibitions held between 1874 and 1886.

While scholars agree that the Third Impressionist Exhibition was in every sense “glorious,” the show’s first euphoria was short lived.  Two weeks after the show closed, as hope for picture sales was high, there was a Constitutional crisis in the French government. This political turmoil resulted in the consolidation of Republican power against Royalists which led to a severe national economic recession. The Impressionist group, conceived and carefully built to a unity by Gustave Caillebotte, resorted to squabbling as the artists jostled to survive in a receding financial tide.

Gustave Caillebotte’s efforts for a fourth impressionist exhibition in 1878 were stymied. The next exhibitions would be under Degas’s rule. In 1879 Degas would exclude Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne and Alfred Sisley and, in 1880, Claude Monet. The irony of the intramural politics that created these developments was not lost on Caillebotte. 

For the April 1877 Third Impressionist Exhibition Caillebotte built the group’s brand largely on  “broken brush” impressionists. For the next three impressionist shows in 1879, 1880 and 1881, he worked with Edgar Degas and an artistic coterie that effectively excluded the broken brush contingent. It was prior to the opening of the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in 1881, that Caillebotte finally departed the Degas-led organization, citing a managerial difference on an advertising issue.

Caillebotte’s withdrawal from arts organization was a short one.

The 32-year-old Caillebotte led the offensive for a retro-style vision for the next impressionist exhibition in 1882. With his emerging partner — 51-year-old Impressionist art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) — Caillebotte promoted his vision.

But the changing art market in the 1870’s had taken a financial toll on the art dealer. Durand-Ruel had to re-tool his business plan to focus not on large-scale group shows but small shows of individual artists. Overall the French economy had sunk into hard times and big shows cost more money. Following the disastrous Hôtel Drouot auction in 1875—which Durand-Ruel believed was an attempt by his critics to discredit him as an art dealer—the well-stocked Impressionist art dealer reluctantly agreed to go forward with Caillebotte’s exhibition plan for 1882 which the artist-art show organizer had crafted to likely realize a small profit.

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P.A.-Renoir, A Luncheon at Bougival, 1881, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

Caillebotte’s main hook was to re-integrate the excluded “broken brush” or “strict” impressionists including Renoir and Claude Monet. Degas and his faction of artists including Mary Cassatt stayed away from this Seventh Impressionist exhibition though Paul Gauguin was represented. Also missing was the artist of Aix, Paul Cézanne, who was off experimenting in the south of France. Cézanne would not be seen again in a Paris art show until 1895 when a huge body of his work was featured in an exhibition at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery.

Caillebotte’s first move was to secure the popular Renoir for the upcoming March 1882 show. Renoir sent 24 new works, including his iconic large-format A Luncheon at Bougival (Un déjeuner à Bougival). Durand-Ruel insisted on a standardized presentation, including simple white frames for every work. In addition to Monet and Renoir, the seventh show hailed a triumphant return for Alfred Sisley. Camille Pissarro displayed several paintings of peasant girls. His tiny pseudo-pointillist brushstrokes overlaid now and then with dabs of thicker paint, built up an uneven surface that integrated the figure and background and worked to visually mimic the textures of the sitter’s wool clothing.

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Caillebotte, Rising Road (Chemin Montant). 1881.

Caillebotte sent 17 works to the show. The Bezique Game (Partie de bésigue) painted in 1880, was joined by Rising Road (Chemin Montant) painted in 1881. This latter work’s path hardly rises—a feature that contributed to the canvas’s mystery. The question was asked whether it was a reprise of the “enhanced perspective” that aggravated critics in 1876 when they saw it in The Floor Scrapers.

Rising Road is painted with a free handling of colors in the loose brushwork style of Monet and Renoir whose closer re-acquaintance Caillebotte made. One critic poked fun at the painting’s mysterious pair as viewers wondered with him who is “the conjugal couple…seen from the back” ? Their identities and location are uncertain although speculation has put Caillebotte in the painting with his lifelong companion Charlotte Berthier.

Rising Road (Chemin Montant) has had only two owners since 1881. It sold in 2003 for nearly $7 million ($6,727,500) at Christie’s in New York City,

Gustave Caillebotte, Balcon (Balcony), 1880, oil on canvas, 26 1/4 x 24 in. (68 x 61 cm). Private Collection, Paris. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Paul Gauguin, A la Fenêtre, nature morte (At the Window, Still Life),1881, oil on canvas, 7.5 x 10.625 in (19 x 27 cm), Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Jean-Baptiste-Armand Guillaumin, Paysage (fin octobre) (Landscape, End of October), c, 1876, oil on canvas, 17 7/8 x 48 1/8 in. (180 x 123 cm), Nasjonalgallereit, Oslo. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Claude Monet, Soleil couchant, sur la Seine, effet d’hiver (Sunset on the Seine, Winter Effect), 1880, oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 59 7/8 (100 x 152 cm), Musée du Petit Palais, Paris. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Camille Pissarro, Jeune paysanne prenant son café, (Young Peasant Woman Drinking Her Coffee), 1881, oil on canvas, 65.3 × 54.8 cm (25 11/16 × 21 9/16 in.), The Art Institute of Chicago. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Jongleuses au Cirque Fernando, (Jugglers/acrobats at the Cirque Fernando), 1879, oil on canvas, 131.2 × 99.2 cm (51 ½ × 39 1/16 in.), The Art Institute of Chicago. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Alfred Sisley, Saint-Mammès, temps gris (Saint-Mammès, Cloudy Weather), c. 1880, oil on canvas, 21 5/8 x 29 1/8 in. (54.8 x 74 cm), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

SOURCES: Charles S. Moffett, The New Painting, 1986; Anne Distel, Urban Impressionist, 1995; http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=4181485

A Bridge Too Far: Gustave Caillebotte and the Fourth (1879), Fifth (1880) and Sixth (1881) Impressionist Exhibitions.

By John P. Walsh

In the five years between the “balanced and coherent” Third Impressionist Exhibition that took place in April 1877 and the exhibition of Gustave Caillebotte’s The Bezique Game in the penultimate Seventh Impressionist exhibition in March 1882, many significant changes had occurred in the art world.

Two major developments were especially impactful for the band of independent and ever-varying avant-garde artists known as the “impressionists.” The first was that, after 1877, the group had fallen apart.

The Third Impressionist Exhibition in 1877 organized by Caillebotte and Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) demonstrated the benefit of a marketing plan within a professional arts organization. Caillebotte attempted a follow-up impressionist exhibition for 1878 but failed to get it off the ground.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. In 1877 Caillebotte could measure success by 18-count modern art artists under a new brand name, their 230 works, and attendance numbers up from previous shows by almost four fold. Picture sales were up.

In less than one year, the enterprise had devolved into nothing tangible mainly because of a lack of collective coherence and cooperation among the artists themselves. The seeds of destruction for the klatch of avant-garde artists began to sprout during the 1877 show.

Caillebotte’s genius in that show was to ignore the necessary problems. He adeptly avoided a train wreck of antagonistic and divergent creative forces by keeping them literally physically apart. 

There were two major factions. The first was the classically-trained Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and his realist urban figure drawing and the second was the nonacademic broken-brush innovators such as Claude Monet (1840-1926).

For the duration of the Third Impressionist exhibition, all of Degas’s 25 beach and ballet works hung in a room of their own. 

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 EDGAR DEGAS (1834 – 1917).

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CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926).

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GUSTAVE CAILLEBOTTE (1848-1894).

If in business one cannot argue with success, the caveat for the impressionist shows is: unless you are “the terrible Monsieur Degas.”

The circumstances surrounding Degas’s dispute with Caillebotte’s show was not entirely of Degas’ making, though his disputatious character was. The ensuing personal and political battle after 1877 between Degas and his group of artists and Monet and his, affected every impressionist show up until and including the last one in 1886.

The catalyst for their dispute and division was their different understandings of what was the second major development to affect the modern artists.

Despite the Salon leaders after 1863 continuing to be anti-democratic, the trend by the late 1870’s was towards a liberalized Salon. In 1881, the French government divested itself of the Salon completely. Before that, in 1878, the government allowed the “broken brush” Impressionists like Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) to participate in their “Exhibition of Living Artists.”

Édouard Dantan, Un Coin du Salon en 1880 (A Corner of the Salon in 1880), 1880, oil on canvas, 97.2 x 130.2 cm (38.2 x 51.2 in.). Private collection.

Biggest art show in Paris.

Whatever its drawbacks, the Salon remained the biggest art show in Paris. While the Third Impressionist Exhibition in 1877 attracted 15,000 visitors in its one month run—the Salon attracted 23,000 visitors per day. The Salon displayed around twenty-three times more art than the Impressionist show and attracted fifty times more visitors. Opportunities for sales and new clients at one of these nineteenth-century warehouse events was immense. After years of fighting for greater participation in the Salon, in 1878 innovative Impressionists were allowed to hang their artwork in an annual show that for hundreds of years was the domain of the Paris art world’s institutional elite.

In terms of the next impressionist show, Degas devised an ingeniously small-minded idea that he presented ennobled by principle.

Despite the opening to the Salon to young avant-garde artists—Monet and Renoir were in their late 30’s, Degas in his mid 40’s—the older and more financially secure artist insisted that impressionists must make a choice. Either they exhibit in the Salon or with the Impressionists.

Degas ultimatum was crafted to pressure the “broken brush” impressionists such as Renoir, Monet, Sisley and Cézanne to break ranks so to improve their sales and reputations in a rapidly changing art market.

Degas’s wedge prevailed. By 1880, the “broken brush” impressionists were purged from the Impressionist exhibitions by their own decision to exhibit in the Salon.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919).

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919).

Paul Cézanne (French 1839-1906) and Camille Pissarro (French, 1830-1903).

Paul Cézanne (French 1839-1906) and Camille Pissarro (French, 1830-1903).

Alfred Sisley (British, born France, 1839-1899).

Alfred Sisley (British, born France, 1839-1899).

This situation helped secure the Impressionist shows of 1879, 1880, and 1881 under the leadership of Degas.

These three exhibitions featured Degas and his favorite artists. It was in these Degas-led shows that the public had their first in-depth look at Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) and Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), among others.

Not all of the Impressionists’ founding members decided to exhibit in the Salon. Camille Pissarro and Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) chose to stay loyal to the independent art group and would continuing doing so through all eight shows. Gustave Caillebotte had invested his talent, reputation and resources into the independents since 1876 and continued to organize and exhibit with them in 1879 and 1880. Before the 1881 show, Caillebotte broke with the impressionist exhibition as he and Degas had a dispute over a minor business issue.

As quickly as the calendar proclaimed a new decade, a set of new opportunities for Impressionist exhibitions began percolating in Caillebotte’s head as he painted The Bezique Game (1880) of and within a constantly shifting artistic environment.

Gustave Caillebotte, The Bezique Game (Partie de bésigue), 1880, private collection.

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844 –1926) in later years.
Mary Cassatt (American, 1844 –1926) in later years.
Édouard Manet (French, 1832-1883).
Édouard Manet (French, 1832-1883).
Berthe Morisot (French, 1841-1895) in 1875.
Berthe Morisot (French, 1841-1895) in 1875.

Card games.

The game of Bezique is a 64-card game for two players and curiously French. In the game two singles players sit across the net to compete to 1000 points. The rest are score keepers or observers. As the game carries on, card “tricks” pile up on the table.

Some art critics viewing Caillebotte’s contemporary subject of a popular game identified the painting as a “legible and tightly ordered” image out of the long-held pictorial tradition of card playing. Yet idiomatic clichés related to card playing such as “playing one’s cards right” or “holding one’s cards close to the chest” may be read into the painting. It is one of the canvasses painted by impressionist artists during this time that relate to the Impressionist group’s recent and ongoing exhibition experiences.

Nineteenth-century art critics usually grouped together the artwork of Caillebotte and Degas, Neither artist was among the “strict” impressionists such as of Monet and Renoir. Several critics wondered aloud in the newspaper why Caillebotte would even have dealings with those “broken-brush” daubers now at the Salon with Édouard Manet.

Edgar Degas, Chevaux de course (Jockeys before the Race), 1869-1872, oil, essence, pastel on paper, 107 x 73 cm, 42 1/8 x 28 3/4 in., The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham. The Fourth Impressionist Exhibition-1879.

Gustave Caillebotte, The Skiffs, 1877, oil on canvas, 88.9 x 116.2 cm (35 x 45 3/4 in.), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The Fourth Impressionist Exhibition-1879.

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Mary Cassatt, Femme dans une loge (Woman in a Loge), 1879, oil on canvas, 80.3 x 58.4 cm (31 5/8 x 23 in.), Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Fourth Impressionist Exhibition-1879.

Edgar Degas, Miss Lola, au Cirque Fernando, 1879, oil on canvas, 117 x 77.5 cm ( 46 x 30 1/2 in.), National Gallery, London. The Fourth Impressionist Exhibition-1879.

Claude Monet, Jardin à Sainte-Adresse (Garden at Sainte-Adresse), 1867, oil on canvas, 38 5/8 x 51 1/8 in. (98.1 X 129.9 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Fourth Impressionist Exhibition-1879.

Jean-Louis Forain, Café Interior, c.1879, gouache on paper, 12 7/8 x 10 in. (32.8 x 25.5 cm). The Fourth Impressionist Exhibition-1879.

Federico Zandomeneghi, Portrait of M. Diego Martelli, 1879, oil of canvas, 28 3/8 x 36 1/4 in. (72 x 92 cm), Galleria D’Arte Moderna, Florence. The Fourth Impressionist Exhibition-1879.

Sources: Charles Moffett, The New Painting, 1986; Anne Distel, Urban Impressionist, 1995; Ross King, The Judgment of Paris: The Decade that Gave Us Impressionism, 2006; John Milner, The Studios of Paris, 1990; Alfred Werner, Degas Pastels, 1998.

John P. Walsh