Work by Ford Madox Brown

Work by Ford Madox Brown (1852 – 1865)

Taking 13 years to complete, Work is Ford Madox Brown’s major achievement. After he finished it he exhibited it along with a detailed catalogue describing it and explaining its significance. Wikipedia has a detailed account, but put simply this painting is of workers of all descriptions, both physical and intellectual as well as non-workers – the unemployed and the leisure classes.

Work by Ford Madox Brown

The painting is oil on canvas, held at Manchester City Art Gallery. (Click on image to enlarge.) There is so much to see in this painting, so much activity and social comment!

An ABC Wednesday W post.

ABC Wednesday: V is for Vincent

Vincent Van Gogh

I’ve already posted one of Van Gogh’s paintings in the ABC Wednesday series – I for Irises.  Another painting of his that appeals to me is Church at Auvers-sur-Oise.

What I like about it are the colours and the contrast between the deep blue of the sky, the violet and orange roof of the church and the pastel colours of the divided path and grass in the foreground. I love the perspective, so wonky and wavy, and the details of the church.

This painting featured in the Doctor Who episode Vincent and the Doctor, in which the Doctor discovers a strange and malevolent figure in the painting peering out from one of the church window’s.  An interesting link, I thought – maybe Van Gogh’s depression had a supernatural cause!

R is for Renoir: La Loge

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841 – 1919), French Impressionist Artist

I’m spoilt for choice, but on reflection I think La Loge (1874) is my favourite painting by Renoir.

The ‘loge’ is a box at the theatre nearest the stage. This painting is my favourite Renoir because of its fine detail within an Impressionist painting. I love the precise depiction of the lady’s face and jewellery, the soft fabric of her dress, its flimsy lace bodice and cuffs and the splashes of red against the black and white. She is the focus of the painting with the gentleman behind her in the background, but my eyes are also drawn to him with the light glinting on his opera glasses.

This is a painting that draws our attention to where the people are looking – the gentleman is looking up at other people and the lady has put down her opera glasses and is maybe showing  herself to the audience. There is an ambiguity about this painting, which always has me wondering just what is going on.

There is a detailed description of this painting on The Courtauld Gallery’s website, where the painting is held. I was disappointed it wasn’t on display when I visited a couple of years ago.

An ABC Wednesday post.

ABC Wednesday: P is for …

… Peter Rabbit and Beatrix Potter

Peter Rabbit first made his appearance in 1902 in Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Peter was a very naughty rabbit, who disobeyed his mother, despite being told the terrible fate of his father who had had an accident in Mr McGregor’s garden and was put into a pie by Mrs McGregor. He squeezed under the gate into the garden, ate lots of vegetables and then came face to face with Mr McGregor and escaped by the skin of his teeth.

Helen Beatrix Potter (28 July 1866 – 22 December 1943) was an English author, illustrator, mycologist and conservationist best known for children’s books featuring anthropomorphic characters such as in The Tale of Peter Rabbit which celebrated the British landscape and rural lifestyle. (From Wikipedia)

Her original watercolour paintings and sketches are in the Beatrix Potter Gallery at Hawkshead, Cumbria. Hill Top, the house which she bought with the proceeds from sales of her books and which she used as an artistic retreat from London, is in Near Sawrey, near Hawkshead. She left it to the National Trust. It is open to the public and it remains just as it was when Beatrix lived there.

I love the watercolours in her books and this is my attempt at painting Peter Rabbit, copied from The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Peter Rabbit 002

An ABC Wednesday post.

Library Loot

This is a sign that I’m a hopeless bookaholic. Despite listing books I’ve had for ages and still haven’t read – not mentioning all the to-be-read books all around the house – yesterday I went to the library and came home with these books:

  • The Fanatic by James Robertson is historical crime fiction, described on the back cover as ‘an extraordinary history of Scotland: a tale of betrayals, stolen meetings, lost memories, smuggled journeys and disguised identities.‘ I’d enjoyed his second book The Testament of Gideon Mack a few years ago. And how could I resist bringing this book home when I saw it began in Bass Rock, which is just up the coast from us – see my photo here.
  • Stories of the Railway by V L Whitechurch. From the book cover I learnt that V L Whitechurch was a celebrated crime writer and an expert railway enthusiast. He wrote a large number of crime short stories set in the golden age of Britain’s railways – this selection was originally published in 1912 as ‘Thrilling Stories of the the Railway‘. I’d read about him on Martin Edward’s blog and was pleased to find a copy on the library shelves.
  • The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez. I’d read about this book, a mix of murder and maths and wondered whether my elementary grasp of maths would be enough for me to follow the equations  and cryptic symbols involved in solving this mystery.
  • The London Train by Tessa Hadley. There seems to be a theme here in my choice, following on from the Stories of the Railway. In this book, the London train between Wales and London, connects two stories that are interlinked through ‘a single moment concerning two lives stretched between two cities’.

And last but by no means least two books on watercolour painting, because this is now taking up some of my reading time. On Thursdays I go to a local art group and dabble in paint. I mentioned this a while ago on my blog and people asked to see some of my paintings. Here are two I don’t feel too embarrassed to show:

ABC Wednesday – I is for Irises

Irises by Vincent Van Gogh, 1889

Van Gogh painted Irises after he committed himself to the asylum at Saint Paul-de-Mausole in Saint-Remy, France. He began the painting only one week after he entered the asylum. He was probably influenced by Japanese woodblock prints; the black outlines in Irises is typical of the Japanese prints.

Irises is on the list of the most expensive paintings ever sold, selling for 54 million dollars in 1987.

It’s beautiful.

ABC Wednesday – H is for Hunt

William Henry Hunt (1790 – 1864) was an English watercolourist. This is one of my favourite paintings – Primroses and Bird’s Nest.

Hunt specialised in still life compositions, mainly fruit, flowers, nests and eggs – he was known as ‘Bird’s Nest’ Hunt. This is one of his bird’s nest paintings, measuring just 7½ inches by 10¾ inches. I saw a variation of this painting at the Royal Academy of Art ofThe Great Age of British Watercolours 1750 – 1880 exhibition several years ago. The catalogue describes Hunt as an outstanding technician. His work was admired by many, including John Ruskin who took lessons from him in 1854 and 1861.

There are a few details about Hunt in The Pre-Raphaelites by Timothy Hilton, including a reproduction of this painting. Amazingly, Hunt said:

I feel really frightened every time I sit down to paint a flower.

I think his paintings are just so beautiful. For more information on Hunt’s method of painting see Craig’s comment below.

See more ABC Wednesday posts.

Book Review: The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe

Non-fiction books often take me a while to read and Sue Roe’s The Private Lives of the Impressionists is no exception; not however, because it’s difficult to read or boring, but simply because I decided to read it slowly. The Impressionists were a mixed bunch, including Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Cezanne, Renoir, Degas, Sisley, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, and Caillebotte. I feel I got to know some of them more than others and have only just skimmed the surface of their lives, which is understandable in a book covering so many people.

The Private Lives of the Impressionists tells how the early leaders of the group met when students in the studios of Paris. There was Monet, from an affluent family background originally from Normandy, Pissarro a Portuguese Jew from a very different background, born in the Dutch West Indies, Cezanne, a strange and intense student from Aix-en-Provence. The group widened with the addition of Renoir, from a working family (his father was a tailor from Limoges), Sisley the son of an English merchant and a Frenchwoman, and Bazille the son of a wealthy Montpellier wine-grower. They rebelled against the Salon and were pilloried and criticised for their work. They struggled to make a living, although now their paintings sell for millions.

Manet, whose father was a judge and mother the god-daughter of  the King of Sweden, was not really a part of their group , although over the years he supported them but never exhibited at the Impressionists exhibitions. To say that Manet was a complex character is an understatement and I’m going to read a biography devoted to him alone at some point. I’d also like to know more about Pissarro, Berthe Morisot and Renoir in particular.

This book follows their lives and loves and how their art developed over 26 years between 1860 when they first met and the introduction of their work to America in 1886. The Epilogue summarised what happened to each artist as the end of the century approached and the Paris art scene changed completely.

I now feel rather sad to have come to the end but there is a bibliography, essential for non-fiction books in my view, listing other books on the artists. If I’m being picky I’d criticise the bibliography because it’s arranged a-z by author – I’d prefer it to be arranged the individual artists. I’d also have liked more illustrations, but there are plenty of books on Impressionism.  I’d also love to travel the world to see their paintings – in London, Paris, and the US – well maybe I’ll manage the London galleries.

These are some of my favourite paintings, some of which are in this book.

Bar at the Folies Bergere by Manet
Red Roofs, 1877
La Loge by Renoir

This is the  eleventh library book I’ve read this year – still on target to complete the Support Your Local Library Challenge.

It’s Tuesday – Where Are You?/Teaser Tuesday


Today I’m in Paris in the 1860s with the Impressionists. Paris is overrun with art students  wanting to exhibit their paintings in the annual exhibition in the Salon des Beaux Arts. Today it’s 17 May 1863 and everyone is crowded into the exhibition of rejected works called the Salon des Refuses, where people are shocked by the paintings, jeering and hooting with laughter. But the painting that has completely stolen the show is Edouart Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe.

It’s Tuesday – where are you? is hosted by raidergirl3.

Now the teaser (tteaser-tuesdayo see more teasers click on the button). The ‘official rules’ are to select a page at random in the book you’re currently reading and pick two sentences between lines 7 and 12. My teaser is a bit longer than two sentences, not random and not from lines 7 – 12. It’s from page 28 of Sue Roe’s The Private Lives of the Impressionists. 

Edouard Manet, who had exhibited at the Salon before, was this year exhibiting a monstrosity. Everyone stared in horror at Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe, an outrageous depiction of a naked woman, brazen and unashamed, staring straight out at the viewer and seated on a riverbank between two clothed men. Behind her, a second, lightly draped woman, up to her ankles in water, stoops in the distance. This bold display was shocking enough in itself, but what really astounded the public was the modernity of the scene. The men were grouped casually, in modern dress: the painting seemed to be about the present day.

It wasn’t the nudity that was shocking, but the casual style and the fact that the painting looks so real. It was seen as “an obscene, provacative taunt, doubly shocking by virtue of its ordinariness.” The critics complained that Manet appeared to have no sense of harmony, light or shade and thought that the colours were brash and harsh – garish and jarring!

I don’t think so – what do you think?


The Pre-Raphaelites

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was first formed in the summer of 1848. From the start their work had no common denominator – the painters called “Pre-Raphaelites” were all individual and their paintings show great contrasts. Pre-Raphaelitism cannot be defined; there are as many differences between the paintings as there are similarities. The original members of the Brotherhood were James Collinson, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, Frederick Stephens and Thomas Woolner. Other artists became more or less loosely associated with the movement.

This isn’t a post about art history or about individual artists. I just wanted to record some of my favourite paintings that can be defined, somewhat loosely in some cases, as Pre-Raphaelite.  I love looking at these, mainly for the colour and style of the paintings. In no particular order of preference they are as follows.

Millais Ophelia blog

Ophelia by John Everett Millais 1851 – 1852, showing the drowned Ophelia from Hamlet. This reproduction doesn’t do justice to the original, which is held by the Tate Britain, currently part of the Millais Exhibition on display in Japan -in the Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art from 7 June to 17 August 2008, and The Bunkamura Museum of Art, 30 August to 26 October 2008. For more infomation click here. I particularly like the detail in Ophelia’s dress and flowers which are all symbolic.

William Dyce blog
Pegwell Bay, Kent, a Recollection of October 5th, 1858 by William Dyce 1859 – 1860, (Tate Britain). The figures in the foreground are members of Dyce’s family, dwarfed by the chalk cliffs behind. Again it’s the detail and colour that I love in this painting. It doesn’t show in the reproduction below but in the sky is the trail of Donati’s comet.
Rossetti_beata beatrix

Then an absolute favourite  – Beata Beatrix by Dante Gabriel Rossetti c. 1863, (Tate Britain). This was inspired by Dante’s poem La Vita Nuova about his love for Beatrice. This is Rossetti’s portrait mourning the death of Lizzie Siddell in a trance-like state. The white poppy because she was thought to have been poisoned with opium and the sundial pointing to 9 relating to the meeting of Dante and Beatrice when he was 9 years old. I think this is such a beautiful, powerful painting – Rossetti described it saying Lizzy was ‘rapt from earth to heaven’.


Work by Ford Madox Brown, 1852 – 1865 (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery). It’s the movement and gestures of the figures that I like in this painting and the contrasts in the characters. There are the workmen digging and drinking as they work, a beggar, the figures of Carlyle and F D Maurice (the ‘brain workers’), the rich, dogs and children. There is so much to see in this painting.

Little is known about Henry Wallis, who painted Chatterton, 1856 (Tate Britain). I like the pathos in this painting and the contrast between the illuminated figure of Chatterton as the dawn light strikes the dark background of the attic room where he had killed himself. Peter Ackoyd’s novel Chatterton tells the story of the artist’s suicide.

The paintings are copied from Wikipedia where there is a list of paintings by Pre-Raphaelite artists and artists associated with the Pre-Raphaelite style. The Pre-Raphaelites by Timothy Hilton is a very good source of information, with many reproductions of the paintings mainly in black and white, but with a few in colour. I haven’t included all my favourites – more to come in another post, maybe.