In the first of these two articles I showed some of my favourite portraits painted of the wife of the artist, from Rubens and Rembrandt to Signac and Hodler in the 1890s. Here I conclude my selection with those from the final years of the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries.
Louis Welden Hawkins moved in radical circles, living for a while with Camille Pelletan, before he met the Italian Raffaela Zeppa; the couple lived together, their daughter being born in 1892. They married in 1896, after Hawkins had adopted French nationality (in the previous year), and it was presumably afterwards that Hawkins painted her in pastels in this Portrait of the Artist’s Wife.
One of the most magnificent of all these paintings is Laurits Andersen Ring’s full-length portrait, At the French Windows. The Artist’s Wife painted in 1897. I feel sure that this was as successful with her as it was with the jury in Paris.
In 1897, Franz von Stuck married an American widow who was well-known in Munich arts circles, Mary Lindpaintner (née Hoose, 1865-1929), who was already the guardian of the artist’s first daughter. He painted her portrait as Pallas Athena in 1898.
Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, craft, and war, was a flattering choice for his wife. She is dressed in the armour, complete with its distinctive helmet, characteristic of the goddess, and her breastplate bears the image of the head of a Gorgon, making it a form of Aegis. She also holds the shaft of what must be a long spear in her left hand.
These days we are rightly concerned about relationships between teachers and their students. When Lovis Corinth, then aged 43, opened a school of painting for women, he married his first student, then Charlotte Berend, who was twenty years younger than her teacher. Far from this being the disaster that might be supposed, it was the making of Corinth, both then and when he suffered his severe stroke nine years later.
Corinth and Berend, then his fiancée, first appear together in his ribald re-invention of Rembrandt, Self portrait with Charlotte Berend-Corinth (1902). Berend, in the role of Saskia, looks quiet and calm, against Corinth/Rembrandt’s alcohol-fuelled mirth.
Bacchante Couple (1908) is another self-portrait with his wife, apparently enjoying their wild lifestyle at the time, probably at a birthday celebration.
Corinth painted many other fun and informal portraits of his wife, but the only work in which I have seen her with a baby is this rather starchy group portrait of The Artist and his Family from 1909. All dressed up for what may have been intended to be a more formal group portrait, Charlotte sits calmly cradling daughter Wilhelmine, then just five months old, as the artist seems to be struggling to paint them. Their son Thomas, aged five years, stands on a desk so that he can rest his hand on mother’s shoulder.
Two years later, it was Charlotte who both nursed him back to health and supported him while he learned to paint again.
In the early years of the twentieth century, portraits of the artist’s wife turned more towards harsh, even tortured, reality.
Appropriately, Paul Sérusier painted this portrait of his wife Marguérite, who was an accomplished decorative artist, using glue tempera for Madame Sérusier with a Parasol in 1912.
Egon Schiele’s Portrait of the Artist’s Wife Seated, Holding Her Right Leg, from 1917, uses just black crayon and gouache.
This late Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne is one of the last Amedeo Modigliani made of his partner. Her parents were conservative Catholics, who were understandably greatly concerned at the artist’s reputation, and his extremely bohemian lifestyle. The artist committed himself in writing to marry Hébuterne, but her parents resisted, and the matter was soon overtaken by events.
By the start of the following year (1920), Modigliani was in a very bad way, and died from tuberculous meningitis on 24 January. Jeanne Hébuterne was distraught: their daughter was only just over one year old, and she was pregnant again. Two days after Modigliani had died, she threw herself from a fifth-floor window and died, together with her unborn child.
Of all these portraits of wives, though, it was Pierre Bonnard who was the most obsessive. Soon after meeting the mysterious Marthe de Méligny (1869-1942) in 1893, the couple were living together.
In Bonnard’s finished Woman Dozing on a Bed or Indolence of 1899, Marthe lies relaxed on a double bed, her right hand tucked behind her neck and her left hand below her right breast. As her right foot dangles off the side of the bed, her left almost grips her lower right thigh, spreading her legs and exposing her sex. A brown blanket lies at the foot of the bed, it and the sheet wrinkled where the couple had been in bed together. The artist makes his presence known by wisps of blue smoke from his pipe, which are scattered around the edges of the painting.
Marthe obsessed him. She took long baths apparently to help some medical condition, and Bonnard photographed and painted her undressing, bathing, and in almost every other of her activities. Here, in 1908, she is in The Bathroom (The Dressing Room with Pink Sofa).
Nude in Bathtub (c 1938-41) is the culmination of the changes which took place in Bonnard’s painting in the years between the wars. Its colours are brilliant and visionary. The form of the bath adopts itself to that of Marthe within, curving around her legs in its asymmetry. The shimmering patterns of the floor and the curtain are quite independent of their orientation. Beside the bath, Marthe’s dog looks up at the viewer, as if knowing where this is all heading.
On 26 January 1942, Marthe Bonnard died in their villa at Le Cannet. Pierre was devastated.
There are far fewer portraits of the artist’s husband, but there are two that I’m particularly fond of.
Christian Krohg’s wife Oda painted this wonderful Portrait of Christian Krohg in about 1903. Although made during their years in Paris, it shows the artist by the Grand Café on Karl Johan Street in the centre of Oslo, as a military band marches along the tramlines. Few of her other paintings appear to have survived, sufficient to demonstrate that she should be much better known.
In the previous article, I showed Thomas Eakins’ portrait of his wife, Susan Macdowell Eakins, another talented painter who has sadly been neglected.
When Thomas died in 1916, at the age of 71, Susan was 65, and immersed herself in painting daily. Some of her first works then inevitably worked through her grief, with titles such as Anguish (1916). But her style quickly became brighter, looser, and higher in chroma. The one painting of hers from this period which I have been able to locate is her most remarkable: her posthumous portrait of her husband, Thomas Eakins (c 1920-25).
Of all these moving portraits of partners, this is the one that brings tears to my eyes.