Yesterday, I showed you ten early paintings from famous artists of the nineteenth century, and asked you to identify who painted them. Here are the answers.
Painting 1: Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851)
When Turner was making the transition from his initial watercolour topographical views to finished oil paintings, his first success was Fishermen at Sea from 1796. This nocturne shows small fishing boats working in heavy swell off The Needles, on the Isle of Wight, and was his first oil painting to be exhibited at the Royal Academy.
He was following a vogue for nocturnes which had been established by British painters in the late eighteenth century, and like Vernet used the colour contrast between the moon and the relatively feeble lantern in the boat shown in the centre foreground. The horizon is well below the middle of his canvas, and the night sky above vies for the viewer’s eye with the fishing boats and waves below.
Painting 2: Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904)
Gérôme trained in the studio of Paul Delaroche, a great history painter, and for about three months with Charles Gleyre, who later taught Whistler, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, and Frederic Bazille. He joined a group of artists known as the ‘Néo-Grecs’ (Neo-Greeks), who favoured light and witty scenes from the classics, and rejected the serious and sober approach of neoclassicism. His first bid for fame failed, when his entries in the Prix de Rome in 1846 found no favour with its judges. He then painted his first significant work, The Cock Fight, which was exhibited at the Salon of 1847.
This motif had started from a relief showing two adolescent boys facing off against one another. Gérôme felt that he needed to improve his figurative painting, and following Delaroche’s advice decided to develop that image by replacing one of the boys with a girl. In both Greek and English – but not French – the word cock is used for both the male genitals and a male chicken, and the youthful Gérôme must have found this combined visual and verbal pun witty and very Néo-Grec.
There is a curious ambivalence in its reading too: two cocks are fighting in front of the young couple. Is one of the birds owned by the girl, and if so, is it the dark one on the left, which appears to be getting the better of the bird being held by the boy? Either way, it is a lightly entertaining reflection on courtship and gender roles, and a fine debut. It earned Gérôme a third-class medal, and he sold the painting for a thousand francs.
Painting 3: Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet (1819–1877)
Courbet visited the Netherlands and Belgium in 1846-47, where he became committed to a realist approach, and was influenced by Rembrandt and Frans Hals. This inspired him to create his first two successful paintings.
After Dinner in Ornans from 1849 was exhibited that year at the Salon in Paris, and earned him a gold medal as well as being purchased by the French State. It marks the start of Courbet’s series of ‘realist’ paintings of everyday life in his home town. The four middle-class men here have just finished dining together, probably one summer’s evening. As one lights a tobacco pipe, the man at the right plays his violin to entertain them.
A large hunting dog is curled asleep under a chair, and the man lighting his pipe is still wearing his hat and a long coat. Many fine details give the impression of real veracity, although Courbet almost certainly painted it in his studio using local models.
Sadly, Courbet’s most successful and important painting of his early career was destroyed during the Allied bombing of the German city of Dresden in 1945: The Stone Breakers from the same year.
Painting 4: Gustave Moreau (1826–1898)
Moreau’s early Song of Songs from 1853 shows a scene based on a very unusual source, the Song of Songs, a long and quite intensely erotic poem in the Old Testament. Clearly it refers to chapter 5 verse 7; with the preceding and following verses, this reads:
I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone: my soul failed when he spake: I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.
The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me.
I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye tell him, that I am sick of love.
The Shulamite woman who says those verses is the woman in white at the centre of the painting, and is being attacked by the city’s watchmen, who have removed her veil. Other commentators state that this proceeds to rape, which is not even implied in the original text, nor are there any hints of that sequel in Moreau’s painting, which remains a puzzle.
Painting 5: Jacob Abraham Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)
Pissarro painted Two Figures Chatting by a Roadside in 1856, probably on the island of Saint Thomas, where he was born. Soon after completing this, he moved to Paris, where he worked as assistant to Anton Melbye, then a successful artist in the city.
In Paris, Pissarro tried classes at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Suisse, but settled for instruction from the great plein air landscape artist and grandfather to the Impressionists, Camille Corot.
Painting 6: Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919)
In 1860, Renoir began copying paintings in the Louvre, standard practice at the time for those aspiring to paint. The following year, he started at Charles Gleyre’s academy, where he later (1862) met other Impressionists-to-be, including Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille. They remained close until Bazille was killed in the Franco-Prussian War. In April 1862, Renoir was successful in gaining admission to the École des Beaux-Arts.
That year, his Return of a Boating Party is a bold attempt at a complex composition including bathers, the boating party, and a marine background, which was probably painted on the north coast of France. Two years later, in 1864, Renoir had his first painting accepted for exhibition at the Salon in Paris, although it wasn’t until 1868 that he achieved any recognition there.
Painting 7: Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844–1926)
When she was studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Mary Cassatt persuaded her family to allow her to study in Paris, even though the École des Beaux-Arts didn’t yet admit women students. Chaperoned by her mother and others, she became a pupil of Jean-Léon Gérôme in 1866, and started copying in the Louvre. At the end of that year, she began classes with Charles Chaplin (the genre artist, not the silent movie star), and in 1868 studied with Thomas Couture.
She had early success with The Mandolin Player, which was one of the first two works by American women artists to be accepted for the Salon, in 1868.
Painting 8: John William Waterhouse (1849–1917)
Waterhouse started training in sculpture at the Royal Academy Schools, London, in January 1871, at the age of twenty-two, but attended little instruction there, and gradually drifted into painting. He first exhibited in 1872, when three of his paintings were accepted by the Society of British Artists.
His first success at the Royal Academy was Sleep and His Half Brother Death, exhibited in 1874, and received favourable reviews. This shows the Greek personification of sleep, Hypnos, and Thanatos, the personification of death. Although a painting with a mythical theme, it appears to have been more influenced by the Aesthetic Movement, which was becoming popular with the decline of Pre-Raphaelite principles.
Painting 9: Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
Japonisme was all the rage at the time that Pierre Bonnard started to paint. He came to admire panelled screens which were widely shown at the time, and which he adopted for several of his first significant works. Among the earliest of these is this exquisite three-panelled screen of The Stork and Four Frogs completed around 1889. To mimic the appearance of east Asian lacquerware, Bonnard painted this in distemper on red-dyed cotton fabric.
Its story is, though, thoroughly European, based on the fable retold by Jean de la Fontaine of The Frogs who Demand a King. This has a long pedigree, being first recorded by Phaedrus in the first century CE, and attributed to Aesop.
The version retold by La Fontaine centres on a colony of frogs, who ask Jupiter for a king. The god’s first response to their request is a laid-back and gentle leader, whom the frogs reject as being too weak to rule them. Jupiter’s second attempt is a crane, who kills and eats the frogs for his pleasure. When the frogs complain to Jupiter, he then responds that they had better be happy with what they have got this time, or they could be given something even worse.
Bonnard’s panel is traditionally interpreted not as showing the evil crane of the second attempt, but the first and gentle ruler. Extraordinarily, Bonnard didn’t try to exhibit this screen, but gave it to his sister.
Painting 10: Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863–1923)
In 1892, Sorolla had his first great success with a gold medal at the National Exhibition in Madrid, for Another Marguerite! This went on to win first prize at a Chicago International exhibition.
A young woman sits, hunched up and dejected, with chains around her wrists and her possessions tied up in a small bundle next to her. Sat behind her in the cattle-class compartment of the railway train are two armed National Guards, near-identical figures who are escorting her in custody to face trial. She appears already to be sitting in the cell which awaits at her destination.
Sorolla’s title, with its reference to Gounod’s opera Faust (1859), explains that it’s based on Goethe’s Faust. There, Marguerite was seduced by Faust, made pregnant, and then killed her baby. The artist was apparently inspired to paint this in Valencia during that summer by a real-life episode in which he had seen a woman being transported in custody to face a tribunal for an identical charge.
Ten wonderful paintings which helped launch ten successful careers, although the paintings by which we know those artists today are quite different.