This week’s look back at paintings from exactly a century ago moves on from the narrative and figurative works I showed last week to a selection of genre paintings, and makes a start on the many landscapes to come.
Although Naturalism and ‘social realism’ are supposed to have faded away by the twentieth century, after the Great War there were still plenty of fine painters who were depicting scenes from everyday life in realist style. Among them was Friedrich Eckenfelder, who reminds us that, while motor taxis may have been crowding the streets of the cities, in the German countryside little had changed.
White Horses with a Jolly Peasant Group in the Wagon is one of Eckenfelder’s largest studio paintings, and shows a merry group of local landsfolk out for a drive in a hay wagon. It captures a happy moment during the interlude between the World Wars, in a Germany that was soon to be changed, first by politics and the rise of Hitler, then by war, and finally by the huge social and economic changes which followed. These fields are now housing estates, the horses replaced by tractors, and the traditional farmers long gone.
Even when Léon Lhermitte was well into his seventies, he seemed able to find time and energy for just one more painting of one of his favourite motifs, in his Gleaning Women.
Among other artists who were looking back fondly at the last decade of the nineteenth century was the former Nabi Édouard Vuillard.
Vuillard’s Madame Vuillard Sewing, shows his mother, who by this time must have been in her early seventies, sitting in her house and sewing quietly. Painted long after the Nabis had split up and abandoned this distinctive style, Vuillard here slips back a quarter of a century.
The Danish Impressionist Anna Ancher makes the most of the sunlight in her Sewing a Dress for a Costume Party. These three women look rather older than the average seamstress, and they’re working with the materials for a single dress, destined perhaps for a daughter or granddaughter. One of them performs the larger-scale sewing at a machine, while the others progress more manual work.
On the other side of the Atlantic, George Bellows painted Tennis at Newport, one of a series he completed in 1919-20 from sketches and studies made during summer tennis tournaments at the Newport Casino in Rhode Island. His interest is less in the sport taking place, and much more in the social event going on around it. This painting is set in the late afternoon, as the shadows grow long and thirst for evening’s drinks becomes strong.
Jean-Louis Forain’s wickedly sarcastic Picture Dealer would have made him no friends among the dealers of the day. A very obese top-hatted dealer is making off with a couple of canvases, presumably bought for a pittance from the dishevelled and underfed painter and his cowering wife.
There were other artists who weren’t part of the headlong rush into Modernism, among them the idiosyncratic Henri Le Sidaner.
He continued to paint post-Impressionist landscape views, such as this richly Golden Morning, as well as adding to his more unusual series showing tables which have been laid up but are deserted.
Like other artists in the early twentieth century, Le Sidaner visited the Mediterranean coast of France. When there in 1920, he took the opportunity to paint this view of Table of the Sea, Villefranche-sur-Mer. This table is laid for one, and beyond its balcony is a small bay. His marks are quite coarse, some consisting of thick daubs of paint, suggesting that this was more of a sketch than the more finished paintings of tables in his series.
Another brilliantly individualist painter who was living not far from there was Pierre Bonnard. Although I’ll show some of his more conventional landscapes in a later article, the painting below is rather different.
Bonnard’s spectacular view of Earthly Paradise frames two naked figures with repoussoir trees. They could perhaps be Adam and Eve, and a third, crouching on the ground to the left, turns out to be a monkey (I’m grateful to @SuperNormaled for correcting my misapprehension that this is the figure of a second woman).
Next week I’ll show more landscapes painted in 1920.