There are some major anniversaries of artists this year, most notably the five hundredth since the death of Leonardo da Vinci, the bicentenary of the birth of Gustave Courbet, and centenary of the death of Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Here’s how the year is looking.
9 January: 200th anniversary of the birth of William Powell Frith, died 1909
Frith was a quintessentially Victorian painter who probably captured the spirit of the time better than any other visual artist. He’s best known for his panoramic views of crowds, such as The Railway Station (1862), which shows a view of a crowded and busy Paddington railway station in London. His association with Charles Dickens conveniently extends my Dickensian Christmas theme.
22 January: centenary of the death of Carl Larsson, born 1853
Larsson is today best-known for his more illustrative watercolours of family life, which were published in best-selling books from the end of the nineteenth into the twentieth centuries. But he was an accomplished painter in Impressionist style and one of the major Nordic artists of the day. His Self-Portrait (In the new studio) shows him late in his career, just before he became mired in controversy over what he considered to be his finest work.
8 February: 200th anniversary of the birth of John Ruskin, died 1900
Ruskin was a minor watercolour painter who rose to become the most influential art critic of the Victorian era. A promoter of the Pre-Raphaelites in particular, he shaped British art during the latter half of the nineteenth century, laying down aesthetic principles which made the careers of some artists and destroyed others.
16 February: 200th anniversary of the death of Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes, born 1750
Although not well-known today, Valenciennes was a pioneer landscape painter who developed outdoor oil sketching, preparing the way for Corot and ultimately the Impressionists. His outstanding oil sketches, such as that shown above, are one of the treasures of the Louvre in Paris.
24 February: 400th anniversary of the birth of Charles Le Brun, died 1690
Le Brun was a successor to Nicolas Poussin, and the court painter to Louis XIV. He was one of the founders of the Gobelins, which produced the finest tapestries in Europe. He is now best-known for his history paintings, such as the Suicide of Cato the Younger (c 1646) above.
2 May: 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, born 1452
Leonardo da Vinci was the greatest polymath of the southern renaissance, very few of whose drawings and paintings have survived. Each of those works is greatly revered for innovations such as sfumato, and his writing on painting still has currency.
2 May: 200th anniversary of the death of Mary Moser, born 1744
Moser was one of the two women (the other being Angelica Kauffman) who were founding members of the Royal Academy in 1768, and specialised in portraits and floral paintings.
13 May: centenary of the death of Helen Hyde, born 1868
Hyde was an American etcher and engraver who studied and worked in Japan. Hence her wonderful prints from the turn of the nineteenth to twentieth centuries were influenced by Japanese woodcuts.
3 June: 200th anniversary of the birth of Johan Jongkind, died 1891
Jongkind was a pre-Impressionist landscape painter from the Netherlands whose marvellously painterly views of the 1850s and 60s enjoyed critical success but never became popular. Invited to join the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874, he declined, and slowly succumbed to depression and alcoholism.
10 June: 200th anniversary of the birth of Gustave Courbet, died 1877
Courbet was one of the most important and influential French painters of the middle of the nineteenth century, who rebelled against previous Romanticism with a more unemotional realism. His early paintings in particular made bold social statements which led to the social realism of Jean-François Millet and Naturalism. He also painted many fine landscapes and seascapes, such as The Wave (1869), above. His art and life were nothing if not controversial.
28 June: 200th anniversary of the birth of Henri Harpignies, died 1916
Harpignies was a French landscape painter whose work and career has unfortunately been eclipsed by Impressionism. A member of the Barbizon School and close friend of Camille Corot, he enjoyed success at the Salon during the 1860s.
20 September: 200th anniversary of the birth of Théodore Chassériau, died 1856
A pupil of JAD Ingres who was also influenced by Delacroix, Chassériau was a brilliant history painter who sadly died when he was only 37. He also painted Orientalist works, and his Tepidarium (1853) shown above strays into Orientalist eroticism from a very classical subject inspired by the ruins at Pompeii.
19 September: 300th anniversary of the death of Jan Weenix, born 1642
Weenix is a bit of a mystery, an all-round painter from the late Dutch Golden Age who is best-known today for hunting scenes which are outdoor still lifes. It also appears that some of the works attributed to him were more probably painted by his son. His Allegory of the Sense of Smell above is a good example of his unusual cross-genre motifs.
5 November: 400th anniversary of the birth of Philip de Koninck, died 1688
De Koninck was another landscape painter from earlier in the Dutch Golden Age, who is alleged to have trained in Rembrandt’s workshop. Curiously, he invested the money he made from his art into a shipping business, whose barges operated in the countryside which he featured in his paintings.
2 December: centenary of the death of Henry Clay Frick, born 1849, founder of the Frick Collection
Frick was a controversial American industrialist who started in coke manufacturing before moving into steel and finance. He used some of his wealth to amass a collection of old master paintings which, on his death in 1919, became the Frick Collection in Manhattan, New York City.
3 December: centenary of the death of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, born 1841
Renoir was one of the founding French Impressionists. He met Monet, Bazille and Sisley when they were studying together at the Gleyre Academy in Paris, following which he had modest success at the Salon. Most popular for his paintings of beautiful women, he was also a very accomplished landscape painter.
19 December: 200th anniversary of the birth of Arthur Gilbert, died 1895
Gilbert was a Victorian landscape painter, a member of the Williams family who were prolific painters of views of Britain.
at some time: 700th anniversary of the death of Duccio di Buoninsegna, born about 1255–1260
It is extraordinary to think that the pioneer Siennese painter Duccio died seven hundred years ago, in either 1318 or 1319. A major figure in the evolution of Italian painting from the Byzantine to the early Renaissance, little is known about his life, but his surviving paintings are remarkable views into the distant past.
at some time: 200th anniversary of the completion of Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa
Géricault completed and exhibited this enormous and influential painting in 1819, a milestone in European art.
In addition to celebrating those anniversaries, I will be completing my series on paintings of the stories in Boccaccio’s Decameron, continuing that on the history of Naturalist painting, starting my new series on Goethe’s Faust, and am researching their successor series looking at the painting of important narratives.
Another project which I am working on, for a series of articles starting later this year, is the life and work of Diego Velázquez. I have long been fascinated by the controversies surrounding the reading of some his finest works, including Las Meninas (1656) and Las Hilanderas (1657), shown below.