Tag Archives: 1905.

Frank W. Benson – Children in Woods

12 Apr

“Saturday proved an ideal day for a picnic. . .a day of breeze and blue, warm, sunny, with a little rollicking wind blowing across meadow and orchard. Over every sunlit upland and field was a delicate, flower-starred green.” (L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea)

Children in Woods, Frank W. Benson, 1905

The painting shows three female figures in nature; three girls in white and pink gowns with ribbons in their soft hair are enjoying a warm sunny day of late spring or early summer. The figures are closely-cropped and take a lot of space on the almost square-shaped canvas. This enriches the scene with an intimate mood; we feel that we are close to the girls, part of their summery picnic in the woods; we can almost hear their giggles and whispers as they confide their secrets to each other. The limited colour palette of white, pink and green lulls us into this sweet and serene summery mood where the innocence of childhood, indolence of summer and freedom of the woods all become intermingled.

In this simple and lovely outdoor scene Frank Benson, an American Impressionist who was born and died in Salem, Massachusetts, managed to capture the fleeting mood of a summer day. Gazing at the painting takes you there to those woods; just look how beautifully he painted the play of sunlight on their white gowns, the trembling of the evergreen trees in the background, the breeze that plays with the girls’ soft honey-coloured hair. You can almost smell the pine and fir trees. Benson was an active, outdoorsy person, particularly in his youth; loved wildlife and sports. Many of his paintings feature wildlife themes such as birds and woods, but Benson was a family man too. When his career was established he married Ellen Peirson who appears in some of his paintings. The couple had a son George and three daughters: Eleanor (born 1890), Elisabeth (born 1892) and Sylvia (b. 1898).

Painting “Children in Woods” isn’t just a charming Impressionist scene but a work of a loving father; a memory of his girls growing up, a window to his private life. It shows his daughters in the woods near their summer retreat in North Haven, Maine. Eleanor remembers: “When we were in North Haven, Papa would often have us put on our best white dresses and then ask us to sit in the grass or play in the woods. We thought it was silly and the maids made such a fuss when they saw our clothes afterwards.” Benson’s paintings are sometimes compared to Claude Monet’s outdoor scenes, and it’s true that he was inspired by Monet, but the genteel intimate mood of this painting reminds me more of Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot’s paintings of family and children.

This beautiful summery painting reminded me of a scene from the novel “Anne of Avonlea” by L.M.Montgomery where Anne and her friends go for a picnic in the woods and here is a fragment of their delightful dreamy conversation:

“I wonder what a soul. . .a person’s soul. . .would look like,” said Priscilla dreamily.

“Like that, I should think,” answered Anne, pointing to a radiance of sifted sunlight streaming through a birch tree. “Only with shape and features of course. I like to fancy souls as being made of light. And some are all shot through with rosy stains and quivers. . .and some have a soft glitter like moonlight on the sea. . .and some are pale and transparent like mist at dawn.”

“I read somewhere once that souls were like flowers,” said Priscilla.

“Then your soul is a golden narcissus,” said Anne, “and Diana’s is like a red, red rose. Jane’s is an apple blossom, pink and wholesome and sweet.”

“And your own is a white violet, with purple streaks in its heart,” finished Priscilla.

Kees van Dongen – Femme Fatale in Wild Colours

7 Sep

On the 31st October 1903. an exhibition called Salon d’Autumne first opened and showed works of Edouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse, Felix Vallotton, Henri Manguin, and with an homage to Gauguin who died seven months earlier. The exhibition was held the next year too but in 1905. rather different works were shown; most of the paintings exhibited were painted in bold, vibrant colours and the simplification of form was evident; Fauvism was born.

1905. Kees van Dongen, Femme Fatale1905. Kees van Dongen – Femme Fatale

Kees van Dongen, a Dutch painter who lived and worked in Paris, was famous for his sensuous and garish portraits of Parisian beauties. Growing up in the outskirts of Rotterdam, van Dongen studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in his hometown and there he worked with J. Striening and J.G. Heyberg. From the age of fifteen he was likely to be seen at docs, painting sailors, ships that came from afar and also prostitutes. In 1897. he came to Paris and stayed there for seven months. In December 1899. he came to Paris again, this time for good.

His name became well known after he exhibited three of his works at the controversial Salon d’Autumne in 1905. His paintings, displayed right next to the ones of Matisse, were boldly coloured, sensual and provocative. The exhibition was very well received, and despite some of the critics who deemed the painters as fauves (wild beasts), this proved to be merely a beginning for this new rising art movement – Fauvism. In those times van Dongen, as part of the new wave of avant-garde artists, thought that art needed to be updated, considering it stuck in neo-impressionism. However, Fauvism originated from an extreme development of Van Gogh’s Post-Impressionism fused with Seurat’s Pointillism (other Neo-Impressionists’ pointillist tendencies, such as Signac’s, were influential). Soon Fauvism was transformed from a new avant-garde to a mainstream art movement until the Cubism became dominant, despite the comment of an art critic Camille Mauclair ‘A pot of paint has been flung in the face of the public.

From all of van Dongen’s pots of colour, his Femme Fatale is the most appealing to me. Just look at those vivid reds, warm orange and yellow tones, hints of purple and magnificent greenish flesh; as if this femme fatale was an absinth fairy, enchanting and fatal to its consumers. The way she is holding her green toned breast with those long, jewellery decorated hands and gazing thoughtfully yet seductively at the viewer. Femme is dressed sumptuously in vivid red dress that is uncovering her so wanted treasure and despite all of those feathers in her raven coloured hair and all the heavy makeup and jewellery, she seems highly unimpressed. Centuries earlier gentleman were admiring sensual and plump Boticelli’s beauties, later they hopelessly gazed at Rembrandt’s, Fragonard’s and Winterhalten’s dames but this lady, this early twentieth century Femme Fatale is a modern women; sensuous, startlingly beautiful and – uninterested. This is the femme fatale from the same named song by Velvet Underground ‘Here she comes, you better watch your step/She’s going to break your heart in two, it’s true/It’s not hard to realize/Just look into her false colored eyes/She builds you up to just put you down, what a clown…‘ As everything in art ever was, at least for its time, this was provocative, this was the femme that real ladies were not expected to be, this femme was above social norms and classes, this femme belonged to van Dongen – his Femme Fatale in wild colours.