Tag Archives: Portraits

Julie Daydreaming by Berthe Morisot

15 May

“They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.” (Edgar Allan Poe)

Berthe Morisot, Julie Daydreaming, 1894

A portrait of a wistful round-faced girl in a loose white gown, with large heavy-lidded dreamy eyes, pouting and gazing in the distance, supporting her face with a delicate white hand; it’s Julie Manet, portrayed here in the sweet state of daydreams in the spring of her life, aged sixteen, by her mother Berthe Morisot.

I have been loving this portrait of Julie, it’s charming and subject of daydreams is very well known to me, but this is just one out of many portraits of Julie that Morisot has done. Julie was her mother’s treasure and her favourite motif to paint since the moment she was born on 14 November 1878, when Morisot was thirty-seven years old. Morisot comes from a wealthy family with good connections and this enabled her the freedom to pursue her artistic career. Another interesting thing is that her mother, Marie-Joséphine-Cornélie Thomas was the great-niece of the Rococo master Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Berthe had art flowing her veins.

Berthe Morisot, Julie with Her Nurse, 1880

Berte Morisot was part of the Impressionist circles, and married Eugene Manet, younger brother of Edouard Manet. Very early on, she had shown interest in painting children and made lots of portraits of her sisters with their children, so the arrival of little Julie enriched both her personal and artistic life, and she was known to have always tried mingling the two together, as explained by the poet Paul Valéry, her niece’s husband: “But Berthe Morisot singularity consisted in … living her painting and painting her life, as if this were for her a natural and necessary function, tied to her vital being, this exchange between observation and action, creative will and light … As a girl, wife, and mother, her sketches and paintings follow her destiny and accompany it very closely.

When Morisot painted other children, those were just paintings, studies, paint-on-canvas, but with Julie it was more than that, it was a project, one we could rightfully call “Julie grows up” or “studies of Julie” because since the moment Julie was born to the moment Morisot herself died, in 1895, she painted from 125 to 150 paintings of her daughter. Degas had his ballerinas, Monet his water lilies and poplars, and Berthe had her little girl to paint. It’s interesting that Morisot never portrayed motherhood in a typical sentimental Victorian way with a dotting mother resembling Raphael’s Madonna and an angelic-looking child with rosy cheeks. She instead gave Julie her identity, even in the early portraits she emphasised her individuality and tended to concentrate on her inner life. This makes Julie real, we can follow her personality, her interests and even her clothes through the portraits. Also, Morisot didn’t hesitate to paint Julie with her nanny or wet nurse, showing her opinion that the maternal love isn’t necessarily of the physical nature, but artistic; she preferred painting over breastfeeding her baby girl.

Édouard Manet, Julie Manet sitting on a Watering Can, 1882

As a lucky little girl and a daughter of two artists, Julie received a wonderful artistic upbringing. She was educated at home by her parents, and spent only a brief time at a local private school. Morisot, who saw her nieces Jeannie and Paule Gobillard as her own daughters, taught all three girls how to paint and draw, and also the history of art itself. Morisot took Julie to Louvre, analysed sculptures in parks with her and together they discussed the colour of shadows in nature; they are not grey as was presented in academic art. Morisot also started an alphabet book for Julie, called “Alphabet de Bibi” because “Bibi” was Julie’s nickname; each page included two letters accompanied by illustrations. (Unfortunately, I can’t find a picture of that online)

Still, Morisot wasn’t the only one to capture Julie growing up, other Impressionist did too, most notably Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Julie’s uncle Edouard Manet who made a cute depiction of a four year old Julie sitting on a watering can, wearing a blue dress and rusty-red bonnet. Julie’s childhood seems absolutely amazing, but her teenage years were not so bright. In 1892, her father passed away, and in 1895 her mother too; she was just sixteen years old and an orphan. The famous symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé, who died himself just four years later, became her guardian, and she was sent to live with her cousins.

Berthe Morisot, The Artist’s Daughter Julie with her Nanny, c. 1884.

Berthe Morisot, Young Girl with Doll, 1884

Like all Impressionist, Bethe Morisot painted scenes that are pleasant to the eye and very popular to modern audience, but what appeals me the most about her art is the facture; in her oils it’s almost sketch-like, it’s alive, it breaths and takes on life of its own, her bold use of white, her brushstrokes of rich colour that look as if they are flowing like a vivacious river on the surface of the canvas, and her pastels have something poetic about them. Just look at the painting The Artist’s Daughter Julie with her Nanny above, look at those strong, wilful strokes of white and blue, that tickles my fancy! Or the white sketch-like strokes on Julie with Her Nurse.

It was Renoir who encouraged Morisot to experiment with her colour palette and free both the colour and brushwork. It may not come as a surprise that Julie loved her mother’s artworks, in fact the lovely painting of a girl clutching her doll was Julie’s favourite, and she had it hanged above her bed. Imagine waking up to this gorgeous scene, knowing that it was painter by your dearest mama.

Berthe Morisot, The Piano, 1889

Both Renoir and Morisot fancied portraying girl playing piano, and this is Morisot’s version of the motif, made in pastel. The girl painted in profile, playing piano and looking at the music sheet is Julie’s cousin Jeannie, while the eleven year old Julie is shown wearing a light blue dress and sporting a boyish hairstyle. She is here, but her thoughts are somewhere else, her head is leaned on her hand and she’s daydreaming… Oh, Julie, what occupies your mind?

Berthe Morisot, Portrait of Julie, 1889

And here is a beautiful pastel portrait of Julie, also aged eleven but looking more girly with soft curls framing her round face, and a pretty pink bow. There’s something so poetic about her face; her almond shaped eyes gaze at something we don’t see, her face is always tinged with melancholy, even in her photo. Playful strokes of white chalk across her face, her auburn hair ending in sketch-like way…

Berthe Morisot, Portrait of Julie Manet Holding a Book, 1889

Berthe Morisot, Julie Manet with a Budgie, 1890

As you can see, in all the paintings from the “Julie series”, Julie is presented in an individualised way, not like typical girl portraits of the time with golden tresses and clutching a doll, looking cheerful and naive, rather, Morisot painted her reading a book, playing an instrument, daydreaming, lost in her thoughts, or sitting next to her pets, the budgie and the greyhound. Morisot wanted more for Julie that the role of a mother and a wife which was the typical Victorian ideal of womanhood, because as a prolific artist with a successful career, Morisot had also chosen an alternative path in life. There’s a distinct dreaminess and slight sadness about Julie’s face in most of these portraits, which only becomes emphasised as she grows older.

Now the “Julie grows up” element comes to the spotlight. We’ve seen Julie as a baby with honey-coloured hair, we’ve seen her with her pets, playing violin or listening to her cousin playing piano, but Julie is growing up so quickly… almost too quick to capture with a brush and some paint! My absolute favourite portrait of Julie is one from 1894, Julie Daydreaming, which reveals her inner life and her dreamy disposition the best. I love her white dress, her gaze, the shape of her hands, I love how every lock of hair is shaped by a single brushstroke. There’s a hint of sensuality in it as well, and it has drawn comparisons to Munch’s “sexual Madonnas”, which seems unusual at first since it was painted by her mother. I don’t really see it that way though, I see it simply as a portrait of a wistful girl in white wrapped in the sweetness of her daydreams.

I can’t help but wonder what she is daydreaming about. Tell me Julie, whisper it in my ear, I won’t tell a soul; is there a boy you fancy, would you like to walk through the meadows full of poppies, or watch the dew as it catches on the soft petals on roses in some garden far away, do you dream of damsels and troubadours, would you like to fly on Aladdin’s magical carpet, or listen to the sea in Brittany, what fills your soul with sadness Julie? And please, do tell me where you bought that dress – I want the same one!

Berthe Morisot, Julie Manet and her Greyhound Laerte, 1893

Berthe Morisot, Julie Playing a Violin, 1893

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Portrait of Julie Manet, 1894

This portrait of Julie Manet by Renoir is particularly interesting to me; Julie is shown with masses of long auburn-brown hair, flushed cheeks, large elongated blue eyes with a sad gaze, in a sombre black dress against a grey background. The melancholic air of the portrait reminds me of one portrait from 1857 of Millais’ young little model and muse Sophy Gray; the same rosy cheeks, the same melancholic blue eyes and brown tresses.

John Everett Millais, Sophy Gray, 1857

And now Julie is a woman! In May 1900 a double wedding ceremony was held; Julie married Ernest Rouart and her cousin Jeannie Gobillard married Paul Válery. Her teenage diary, which she began writing in August 1893, is published under the name “Growing Up with Impressionists”. What started as just a bunch of notes, impressions and scribbles turned out to be a book in its own right, one which shows the art world and fin de siecle society through the eyes of a teenage girl. Julie died on Bastille Day, 14th July, in 1966.

Photo of Julie Manet, 1894

She looks so frail and sad in the photo, but I can’t help but admire her lovely dress and hat. Sad little Julie, you just keep on daydreaming….

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Margaret Sarah Carpenter – Theobald Sisters

12 May

There are two reasons why I decided to write about this female Victorian painter. Firstly, she was active in the 1840s, and her paintings match the aesthetics of my story. Secondly, she painted in the manner of Sir Thomas Lawrence, and I really admire his portraits.

1840. Miss Theobald - Margaret Sarah Carpenter1840. Miss Theobald (1825-1841) by Margaret Sarah Carpenter

Margaret Sarah Carpenter (née Geddes) was born in 1793, in the city whose cathedral has been immortalised by the Romantic painter John Constable – Salisbury. Although fairly unknown today, Margaret was a renowned painter in her time. She was taught art at an early age by a local drawing-master, and her first art studies were those of a Longford Castle. In 1814, Margaret moved to London where her reputation as a fashionable portrait painter was soon established.

Miss Carpenter painted in the manner of Thomas Lawrence, but her portraits have a more feminine and fanciful aura around them. Delicacy and wistful nature of her sitters is probably what allures me the most. I’ll take the portrait of ‘Miss Theobald‘ for example. The dusky background and the lady’s gaze reveal to us the style of Thomas Lawrence.

Margaret painted three portraits for the Theobald family from 1839 to 1850, and one of them, this, is thought to be Frances Jane Theobald. Now, even before I tell you more about Frances Jane, looking at her portrait might reveal even more. At first sight, she seems delicate, fragile, melancholic and dreamy. She’s obviously very young and innocent, with rosy cheeks, pale skin, and soft blonde hair centrally parted and arranged in a fashionable low bun. Her dress is white and simple, and she’s holding her pet spaniel. This portrait is also called ‘The Morning Walk‘; we can assume that this sweet Jane went for a morning walk with her darling spaniel. But look at her eyes, how reconciled and contemplative they seem? Her gaze isn’t direct or proud. She gazes into the distance, into something unknown to us. Frances Jane died of consumption only one year after this portrait was painted, in 1841, aged only sixteen. The contemplative nature of the portrait is one of its greatest qualities.

I wonder what was she really like? Sweet and delicate, seeing only good in people like Jane Bennet? Or, a thoughtful creature, shy, but an excellent piano player? Perhaps she had the voice of the lark? Perhaps every morning she went out for a walk with her spaniel, she laughed, picked flowers and smelled roses, her dress and petticoat swaying and rustling….. we’ll never know.

1850. Mrs Charles Sabine Thellusson - Margaret Sarah Carpenter1850. Mrs Charles Sabine Thellusson (née Georgiana Theobald, 1828-1883) by Margaret Sarah Carpenter

The portrait above shows Jane’s younger sister Georgiana who was just thirteen when she lost her sister. Tragic, but not uncommon at the time. The face we see is more mature and more serious, but the golden curls are the same. Ten years had passed since the last time Margaret Sarah Carpenter painted a member of the Theobald family. I wonder was Margaret saddened by the news of Jane’s death? Was it strange to paint one sister, knowing that the other one is now lying in a cold grave?

The portrait of Georgiana was painted in 1850, the year she got married to Charles Thelluson, but the absence of the ring indicates that she was still Miss Theobald when the portrait was painted.

Jane is in my thoughts the entire day, had she lived, what would become of her? If she had lived, she’d probably be married and surrounded by children. Nothing exciting awaited her anyways. Still, the heroine of my story (set in 1842!) is sixteen years old. A thought crossed my mind; what if she died of consumption, right now, I can write it, it’s my story. Well, she’d miss out on the fantastic life I have created for her, and her love interest would have to find another lady. Just the thought makes me sad, and I’m talking about a character, and Jane was a real person, living real life, how sad.

Thomas Lawrence – ‘Always in Love and Always in Debt’

14 Apr

How strange that Thomas Lawrence’s romantic and dreamy paintings were on my mind yesterday, when in fact he was born on 13 April 1769. I thought to myself, this must be the voice of art telling me to write about Thomas Lawrence, and that’s exactly what I decided to do.

?????????????????????????1795. Portrait of Sally Siddons (Daughter of Sarah Siddons) by Thomas Lawrence

Thomas Lawrence belongs to ‘the golden age of British portrait painting’; the age of Gainsborough, Reynolds, Beechey and Romney. Although today his paintings may be regarded as too sentimental or too decorative, their romantic flamboyance was all the rage in Georgian London.

He was born in Bristol, the son of a tavern-keeper, and showed his artistic talents early on. His parents considered him a child prodigy and laid all their hopes in him. Fortunately, all their expectations came true. Lawrence’s success was rapid; one moment he was a ten year old boys making drawings and pastels at his father’s tavern, and the other he was a respectable young painter in London. He arrived in London sometime before his eighteenth birthday, in 1787, and settled himself near the studio of Joshua Reynolds who advised the handsome and lively young painter to study nature, and forget the Old masters.

Thomas’ ability to charm and seduce cleared his way to success. Polished manners and kind demeanor, along with obvious artistic skills and individualistic approach, made him popular among young Regency ladies who all wanted to be captured for eternity in Lawrence’s romantic and dazzling style. He happily plunged into the Regency world of aristocracy, fashion, theatre and art. Still, his painting style sometimes proved to be a tad too modern for the audience accustomed to more classical aesthetics. His free brushstrokes, thickly applied paint (especially when painting clothes) and strongly contrasted colours all differed him from the smoothness and feather-light touch of Reynolds or Gainsborough.

1790. Sir Thomas Lawrence - Elizabeth Farren, later Countess of Derby1790. Sir Thomas Lawrence – Elizabeth Farren, later Countess of Derby

As much as for his artistic talents, Lawrence was known for being ‘Always in love and always in debt’. He himself said –  ‘I have never been extravagant nor profligate in the use of money. Neither gaming, horses, curricles, expensive entertainments, nor secret sources of ruin from vulgar licentiousness have swept it from me’. Exactly what he spent his money on, and he had a great deal of it, remains a mystery. It is likely, however, that his generous nature compelled him to financially help his friends and relatives, and he did enjoy collecting works of old masters.

Thomas Lawrence led a life of romances, debts and art. He was a charming and flirtatious lad, and although he never married, his name was romantically linked to many beauties of the day. Two sisters, fragile and sickly ladies, Sally and Maria Siddons, the eldest daughters of the famous actress Sarah Siddons, caught his eye in the 1790s. He first fell in love with Sally, then transferred his affections to Maria, then broke with Maria and returned to Sally. But Maria died in 1798 and Sally promised her on her deathbed that she would not see Mr Lawrence again, and she kept her promise until her own death in 1803.

1793. Selina Peckwell, later Mrs. George Grote by Sir Thomas Lawrence1793. Selina Peckwell, later Mrs. George Grote by Sir Thomas Lawrence

There is a reason why these charmingly beautiful Lawrence’s portraits were on my mind: I’m re-reading my favourite novel by Jane Austen – Sense and Sensibility. Since it is set in late 1790s, I can not help imagining Marianne dressed in one of those splendid yet simple white dresses. Thomas Lawrence is the only painter who could capture Marianne’s romantic idealism, vivaciousness and excessive sensibility. In my imagination Marianne would be portrayed with a book in her hand (Shakespeare’s sonnets of Cowper’s poems), with eyes full of ‘life, a spirit, an eagerness which could hardly be seen without delight.‘ May I add that Thomas Lawrence enjoyed reading Jane Austen’s works too, which I find rather strange.

Portrait of Sally Siddons, shown all the way up, is my favourite portrait by Thomas Lawrence. It appeals to me for many reasons. First of all; it portrays his love interest – Sally Siddons which gives it a level of emotional honesty. Secondly, her pose was always very captivating to me; she seems very thoughtful, dreamy and confident at the same time. Thirdly, her dress is painted so beautifully, those gathers captured so exuberantly, especially if you consider that white is the hardest colour to paint. Then there’s that dreamy atmosphere to all of Lawrence’s portraits, a remarkable theatrical sensibility, and a provocative touch. His sitters always seem caught in the moment.

Jeanne Hébuterne – Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice

6 Apr

Amedeo Modigliani’s muse and the love of his life was born on 6 April 1898 in Paris. Her delicate demeanor and strange beauty quickly attracted many starving-artists, among them the handsome and charismatic Jewish Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani who turned out to be her great love and eventually the cause of her downfall. The tale of Modigliani and Jeanne’s love is perhaps the most tragic love story in the world of art.

1916. Jeanne Hebuterne at 19 Years, photoPhoto of Jeanne at the age of 19, taken in 1917.

Jeanne Hébuterne met Amedeo around her nineteenth birthday, in April 1917, in the cultural center of Paris at the time – Montparnasse. The two soon fell deeply in love and Jeanne moved in with Modigliani, despite the objections from her parents, strict middle-class Catholics. This is the beginning of the story that ends with death, on both sides.

Jeanne and her older brother André, showed artistic talents from an early age. Despite the conservativeness of her parents, Jeanne was allowed to enroll at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs and to take classes at the Académie Colarossi. The Colarossi was on the Avenue de la Grande Chaumiere; the very center of Montparnasses’ avant-garde culture. What a coincidence that the young Jewish Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani, known as ‘Modi’, also lived on that street.Although it was not far from Jeanne’s home, Montparnasse was culturally and ideologically a completely different place; in the context of Jeanne’s strict and sheltered existence in which she had been raised, it was an entirely different universe. At the Académie, Jeanne befriended other female artists such as Chana Orloff and Germaine Labaye who introduced her to Cafe life, particularly at ‘La Rotonde’ where she may have met Amedeo.

Despite her own artistic aspirations, and the fact that she was a proficient painter in her own right, Jeanne’s position as a painter rather than a painter’s muse is often overlooked, as it is the case with many female artist/models. Along with Jeanne, Elizabeth Siddal and Victorine Meurent are one of the best examples of overlooked talents.

1918. Portrait of the Artist's Wife (Jeanne Hebuterne) - Amedeo Modigliani1918. Portrait of the Artist’s Wife (Jeanne Hebuterne) – Amedeo Modigliani

Jeanne possessed a strange beauty which gained her many admirers at Montparnasse. Her eyes were bright blue and her hair was long and auburn. She was nicknamed ‘Noix de Coco‘ (‘Coconut’) due to the shape of her head and her very pale skin. All together her striking features created a ‘gothic appearance’, as it was described by one sculptor who had met her.

Along with her beauty, Jeanne possessed a sedate demeanour and was described as ‘gentle, shy, quiet and delicate. Slightly depressive.‘ With her calmness and youthfulness she was a perfect balance for Amedeo; habitual drinker, drug-user and womaniser who was fourteen years her senior. Due to these contrasts, Jeanne is often seen as a ‘pure girl’ who saved Modigliani. The situation reminds me of ‘Crime and Punishment’ where the pious and self-sacrificing Sonia saved moody Raskolikov. In addition to drawing and painting, Jeanne was known for being musical; she played the violin and she also designed and sewed her own clothes which can be seen in Modigliani’s portraits of her.

It does not surprise me at all that Jeanne was Modigliani’s muse. What other demoiselle, what other face could possibly reveal to us the meaning behind Modigliani’s art?

1917. Amedeo Modigliani 'Jeanne Hebuterne with Hat and Necklace'1917. Amedeo Modigliani – Jeanne Hebuterne with Hat and Necklace

For Modigliani, the future of art was in woman’s face. He painted Jeanne no more and no less than 26 times. Every single one of those portraits is like a love letter: very delicate, lyrical, spiritual and calm. Modigliani painted her lost in her thoughts, distant from reality, place and time, and extraordinary beautiful. Claude Roy said of these portraits ‘Modigliani is speaking here almost in a whisper; he murmurs his painting as a lover murmurs endearments in the ear of his beloved.

Amedeo moved to Nice in March 1918, hoping to sell his paintings to wealthy art experts who wintered there, and that the warm climate would have soothing effect on his fragile health, burdened with heavy drinking and substance abuse. Jeanne followed him, and on 29 November their daughter was born in Nice, out of wedlock. Little girl was named Jeanne after her mother. Although very little is known about their time spent in Nice, it is known with certainty that Modigliani was planing to marry Jeanne as soon as he got his papers.

1916. Self portrait by Jeanne Hébuterne1916. Self portrait by Jeanne Hébuterne

Sadly, he had no time to fulfill his promise. Amedeo Modigiani died on 24 January 1920 of tubercular meningitis. Jeanne was deeply affected by his death, and the next day, eight months pregnant with their second child, anguished and distraught, she committed suicide by trowing herself from the window of her parents’ apartment. With deep affection for Modigliani, Jeanne could not imagine life without him. The artist and his muse were united in death. Jeanne was only twenty-one years old.

Her epitaph read ‘Devoted Companion to the Extreme Sacrifice’.

Modigliani’s Muse

15 May

‘Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice.’

1918. Hébuterne by Modigliani

Jeanne Hebuterne, described as gentle, shy, quiet and delicate, was introduced to to the artistic community in Montparnasse by her brother Andre. There she met charismatic Amedeo Modigliani in spring of 1917. The two had an affair and they soon fell deeply in love. Despite the strong objection from her parents, she soon moved in with him and they got married.

As a beautiful young lady fit for Modigliani’s ideal of beauty, Jeanne instantly became the principal subject for Modigliani’s art. The portrait you see above is the portrait of Jeanne, painted in 1918, just two years prior to Amedeo’s death. Well known for his nudes and paintings of elongated faces, Modigliani was stubborn in not letting his art be labeled as Cubism, Dadaism, Surrealism or Futurism, though he worked in a fertile period of ‘isms’. He insisted upon being an individual artist for himself, and his art indeed had its own direction. his nudes, influenced by the Italian Renaissance, were sensual, with elongated features but also quite objective. They were simultaneously abstracted and erotically detailed at the same time.

His portraits are simple, at first glance, but they have an appealing depth to it. I’ll take a portrait of Jeanne for example; that elongated face, full lips, dark eyes full of liveliness that gaze, not at he viewer, but into the distance, softness of her hair that falls on the shoulders, rosy cheeks. Her eyes seem so dark, thoughtful and dreamy but her gaze is full of unbearable sadness, sadness that is realistic, perhaps the sadness caused by the cruel realty which she cannot escape from. Melancholic spirit captivates all his portraits and nudes. Long-faced, sad beauties,that gaze thoughtfully at their dreary and lonely surrounding. Their gaze is not direct, they’re not asking the audience to rescue them from their sad worlds, quite the opposite, they seem to be an inherent part of that world, trapped in it for eternity.

1917. Jeanne Hébuterne in Red Shawl by ModiglianiJeanne Hebuterne in Red Shawl

1918. Portrait of a Young Woman by ModiglianiPortrait of a Young Woman

1918. Seated Nude by ModiglianiSeated Nude

1917. Dedie Hayden by ModiglianiDedie Hayden

1917. Nude Sitting on a Divan (The Beautiful Roman Woman) by Amedeo ModiglianiNude Sitting on a Divan

Modigliani died in 1920, aged thirty five, from consumption he masked with alcohol for many years. His epitaph read ‘Struck down by Death at the moment of glory’. Amedeo was a charismatic man who attracted the attention of females. Actually, many of his painting are now lost due to giving them to his girlfriends of the time. With only one solo exhibition held in 1917, which caused a lot of controversy among Parisians, Modigliani, who never longed his work to be regarded as avant-garde, became the epitome of the tragic artist and a posthumous legend of him was created.

Modigliani was an artist who created and painted not in an attempt to shock the audience or outrage, but to say ‘This is what I see.’