Next Year in Paintings: Rosa Bonheur, Piero di Cosimo, Léon Bonnat and others

Léon Bonnat (1833–1922), An Oriental Barbershop (1872), oil on canvas, 100.5 x 60 cm, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts Музей изобразительных искусств им. А.С. Пушкина, Moscow, Russia. Wikimedia Commons.

Each year I celebrate the lives and work of artists with anniversaries. Although 2022 doesn’t feature any major masters, there should be plenty to interest you in the following.

Antoine Coypel (1661–1722), Alpheus Chasing Arethusa (c 1710), oil on canvas, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

7 January: in 1722, Antoine Coypel died. Born in 1661, he was a French painter who became the director of the Académie Royale and curator of the king’s art collection. His painting of Alpheus Chasing Arethusa from about 1710 is typical of his many narrative works.

23 January: in 1922, the German artist René Beeh died of influenza at the age of only 36. He had been establishing himself as a brilliant member of the avant garde, but because of his early death has been largely forgotten today.

5 February: also in 1922, the major French art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel died. As one of the major dealers to the French Impressionists, he has left his mark in the history of art, although whether that’s good or bad remains strongly contested.

16 February: in 1822, the Dutch watercolour painter Herman Frederik Carel ten Kate was born. Until his death in 1891, he painted many popular history and other narrative works.

19 February: also in 1922, the Swedish artist Karl Isakson died. Like Carl Larsson, he had been brought up in poverty in the slums of Stockholm, and worked as Larsson’s assistant. He went on to become one of the leading Nordic Modernist artists.

16 March: in 1822, the great French animal painter Rosa Bonheur was born.

Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899), Oxen Ploughing (1875), oil on canvas, 68.6 × 101.6 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Bonheur’s later paintings, such as Oxen Ploughing (1875) became slightly looser in brushwork, particularly in vegetation and the background landscape, in response to the influence of Impressionism.

Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899), Weaning the Calves (1879), oil on canvas, 65.1 × 81.3 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Wikimedia Commons.

Her Weaning the Calves (1879) is set in a glorious summer Alpine or Pyrenean landscape, with a dry stone herdsman’s hut at the left. Herdsmen in those mountainous areas lived away from their families, in the mountain grazing lands, for the summer season, with their herds and flocks – the transhumance, a separation which is still remembered by the older populations there.

Of the year’s anniversaries, the most important is on 12 April, which is the 500th anniversary of the death of the major Florentine painter Piero di Cosimo.

Piero di Cosimo (1462–1522), A Satyr mourning over a Nymph (or The Death of Procris) (c 1495), oil on poplar wood, 65.4 × 184.2 cm, The National Gallery, London. Wikimedia Commons.

Although there’s still debate over its subject, Piero’s A Satyr Mourning over a Nymph from about 1495 is one of the great secular works of the Renaissance.

Piero di Cosimo (1462–1522), Andromeda freed by Perseus (c 1510-15), oil on panel, 70 x 123 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Wikimedia Commons.

Piero was also highly skilled at multiplex narrative, as shown in the story of Andromeda Freed by Perseus (c 1510-15). Centred on the great bulk of Cetus, Perseus stands on its back and is about to hack at its neck with his curved sword. At the upper right, Perseus is shown a few moments earlier, as he was flying past in his winged sandals. To the left of Cetus, Andromeda is still secured to the rock by red fabric bindings, and is bare to her waist. The foreground shows Andromeda’s parents and their court mourning her demise at the left, and celebrating her wedding at the right.

After a long break through the summer, anniversaries crowd September.

1 September: in 1922, the English historical and genre painter Edmund Leighton died.

5 September: in 1922, French painter, sculptor and tapestry-maker Georgette Agutte died. She had been taught by Gustave Moreau in his latter years, and became a Fauvist.

Léon Bonnat (1833–1922), Arabian Sheikhs in the Mountains (1872), oil on canvas, 78.5 x 121.5 cm, Hermitage Museum Государственный Эрмитаж, Saint Petersburg, Russia. Wikimedia Commons.

8 September: in 1922, the major French painter and teacher Léon Bonnat died. At the time, his work was praised by Émile Zola. Among his most illustrious students were John Singer Sargent, Gustave Caillebotte, Georges Braque, Thomas Eakins, Edvard Munch and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

24 September: in 1822, the major French landscape painter Achille Etna Michallon died from pneumonia at the age of only 25. Despite such a brief career, his paintings are the link between the plein air oil sketches of Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes and Camille Corot, thus the Impressionist movement.

3 October: in 1722, the leading artist of the Tischbein family, Johann Heinrich Tischbein, was born.

12 November: in 1722, the Dutch painter Adriaen van der Werff died. He established himself a reputation for erotic scenes from mythology.

Adriaen van der Werff (1659–1722), Amorous Couple in a Park Spied upon by Children, or Paris and Oenone (1694), oil on panel, 37 x 30 cm, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Amsterdam. Wikimedia Commons.

Van der Werff’s Amorous Couple in a Park Spied upon by Children (1694) could instead represent the intensely physical relationship between Paris and Oenone.

13 December: in 1922, John William Godward is believed to have taken his own life, as he couldn’t face the Modernist revolution in art.

John William Godward (1861-1922), Mischief and Repose (1895), oil on canvas, 58.4 x 130.8 cm, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA. Wikimedia Commons.

Godward’s Mischief and Repose (1895) is a little more complex than most of his gently erotic portraits of beautiful young women, with two diaphonously-clad women idling away their time, one playing little tricks with the hair of the other.

He ran off to Italy with one of his models, living in isolation from his family, who shunned him because of his behaviour.

John William Godward (1861–1922), A Souvenir (1920), oil on canvas, 89 × 120 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

A Souvenir (1920) was one of Godward’s last paintings made in Italy. It could perhaps have been a ‘problem painting’, encouraging the viewer to speculate on its underlying narrative. But Godward keeps it purely Aesthetic, in showing us the beads, presumably the souvenir of the title, and no other clues which could be used to read in any meaning – the goal of pure Aestheticism.

He returned to London in 1921, becoming increasingly distressed about the advent of Modernism, and of Picasso in particular. He died the following year, a suspected suicide. He is reported to have written a suicide note, containing the fragment “the world is not big enough for myself and a Picasso”.

I hope that you will join me in celebrating the lives and works of these painters in the coming year, and wish you a happy and more successful New Year.