In the first of these two articles about artists who exhibited paintings at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, I looked at some of the major participants and their most acclaimed art. This article concludes with the work of other painters who were represented in the Exposition, but I can’t be as confident which painting(s) of theirs were shown there.
For most of Jean Geoffroy’s career, he had painted children: in school, at play, during lunchbreak and class. The Exposition recognised his devotion to this by awarding him a gold medal. The previous year he had painted The Nursery, one of very few images to show modern approaches to the early rearing of children under the Third Republic. Hospitals developed a rigorous almost military approach to nurseries and feeding which endured well into the twentieth century, and separated mothers from their infants for much of the time.
I’m more confident that one of Elizabeth Nourse’s paintings exhibited there was probably her best-known Head of an Algerian (Moorish Prince) from about 1898. Her brushwork is wonderfully loose in her sitter’s clothing.
Like Geoffroy, Émile Friant had made his name with Naturalist paintings, but in 1899 he painted Journey to Infinity, an extraordinary flight of fancy in a balloon, soaring high above a bank of grey clouds (or possibly a rugged mountain ridge). That contains the forms of five nude women, one of them apparently performing a handstand. This may have been made for Marie Marvingt (1875-1963), an athlete, mountaineer, and pioneer aviator, who had moved to Nancy, where Friant lived, in 1889.
Although Lawrence Alma-Tadema didn’t move to Britain from the Netherlands until 1870, he was knighted in 1899 and one of the main organisers of the art section of the British Pavilion at the Exposition in 1900. He exhibited two paintings of his own, which may have included Spring (1894), one of his largest and most complex paintings, which took him four years to complete. It shows the spring celebrations in honour of the goddess Flora, the April Florialia.
Hidden in its extravaganza of flowers, marble, pretty girls and young women, are some rather ruder references. The banner at the back of the procession, hung from a balcony, contains verse addressed to Priapus, the god of fertility. This was amplified by attached lines from the contemporary poet Swinburne, which continued by referring to the budding of sexual love in the spring, although those lines remained unquoted here. Finer details on some of the instruments and other objects in the painting show couples frolicking in a state of undress, and there are herms concealed in other parts.
Henri-Jean Guillaume Martin is now little-known, but in his day had been one of the new wave of Impressionists, and by this time was painting in a distinctive post-Impressionist style. His The Shepherd and His Three Muses (1900) shows his unique combination of Symbolism, narrative painting, landscape, and Divisionism.
This modified ‘pointillism’ enabled him to use intense colour, as in The Arbour (1900).
The year after the Exposition, Émile Claus formally co-founded the Brussels Cercle Vie et Lumière, with James Ensor, Anna Boch, and others, and his light-rich style became known as ‘luminism’. This is a good example of his style at the time, and may have been one of the paintings he exhibited in Paris.
The Swedish artist Anders Zorn had established himaself an international reputation for portraiture, painting Oscar II, the Swedish King, in 1898, and the following year the US ex-President Grover Cleveland and his wife. He was commissioner of the Swedish art exhibition for the Exposition, and won its Grand Prix as both painter and print-maker.
My final artist should have been represented at the Exposition, but circumstances conspired against him, to the point where he died the previous year. Giovanni Segantini was an Italian who, through no fault of his own, lived much of his life as a stateless person in Switzerland. In 1897, he was commissioned by a group of Swiss hoteliers to paint a vast panorama of the Engadin Valley for a special round pavilion at the Exposition. Early the following year a more modest proposal was abandoned because of its cost. After further reductions in scale, Segantini started work on a triptych in early 1899, but even that was refused for the Exposition. He therefore created three large panels to form a triptych.
Life (1898-99), the left panel, shows the last rays of daylight on the high plains near Soglio. The small pool reflects part of the moon. At the left, a mother nurses her child at the foot of a tree which provides repoussoir. On the path crossing the canvas, a man is beating a calf to the consternation of its mother, and two women are carrying their children on their backs. This marks the beginnings of all life.
The centre panel is Nature (1898-99). The sun has just set behind the distant peaks, as a farmer and his wife take their livestock back to the barn for the night. The woman draws a young calf along, its mother following. The low horizon follows the Golden Ratio, and emphasises light as the primordial force in nature.
Segantini’s third painting, the right of the triptych, is of Death (1898-99). Even the earth is stiff and dead, buried under several metres of snow, which is the shroud of death. A small group of women are gathered to mourn a child, who is brought out of a house wrapped in a shroud. A doleful horse stands ready with a sled to take the mortal remains to the graveyard. Above them, a peculiar cloud appears to embrace the mourners with its nebulous angelic wings.
Alas, in September 1899 Segantini set off to work on its central panel, Nature, on the Schafberg Mountain, when he became ill with acute appendicitis. He died of peritonitis later that day. He was only posthumously given Swiss citizenship, and his triptych was never taken to Paris.