“Napoleon Crossing the Alps”
Oil on canvas, Framed 27″ x 22″
Hippolyte (Paul) Delaroche (French, 1797-1856), Signed lower left, 1848,
Delaroche was a student of the noted French Neoclassical history painter, Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835), and closely allied with one of the most enterprising dealers of the period, the Maison Goupil. For over a decade, in the mid-nineteenth century, Delaroche was considered “the most famous (and consequently the most collected) painter of the day, attracting patrons throughout Europe and beyond” (Stephen Bann). Delaroche’s early works were primarily based on classical themes from the Old Testament, but gradually his interests switched to realistic scenes from English and French history.
In response to Jacques-Louis David’s theatrical and flattering portrait of Napoleon on a rearing stallion, Delaroche was commissioned to paint a more accurate image of Bonaparte’s journey through the Saint-Bernard Pass. Combining his academic training with the emerging romantic style, we see the Emperor cold and bedraggled on the back of a tired mule. Delaroche’s intent was not to undermine the emperor; rather, he wanted people to see Napoleon as a human, not worshipped like a god.
Delaroche, a master of historical painting, produced five versions of Bonaparte Crossing the Alps: One version hangs in the Louvre; a second version, commissioned by the third Earl of Onslow, dated 1850, belongs to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool; the third hangs in Paris’ Musee Frederic Masson; and the fourth was purchased by Queen Victoria and hangs in Buckingham Palace. The painting currently in The Knohl Collection is the only version that remains in private hands and the sole canvas in pristine condition.
In 1984, Elisabeth Foucart-Walker wrote an excellent scholarly article on Delaroche’s painting, Napoleon Crossing the Alps. The article was published in the La Revue du Louvre et des Musees de France. (see Elisabeth Foucart-Walter, Paul Delaroche et le thème du Passage du Saint-Bernard par Bonaparte, La Revue du Louvre et des Musée de France, 1984).
According to the article, in 1982, the Louvre acquired (with the help of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Lutece Foundation) the “Naylor” version of this painting — named after the previous owner, John Naylor, an English collector. After the restoration of the painting was completed, their meticulous research confirmed that the version owned by The Knohl Collection, the “Dillion” version, was executed in 1848, the same year as the original “Naylor” version, now at the Louvre in Paris. It is interesting to note that no one has yet conclusively demonstrated which of the two 1848 versions – “Naylor” or “Dillion” – was painted first. However, it is clear that the painting in The Knohl Collection is the only version that remains in private hands. Though smaller than the version in the Louvre, the painting in The Knohl Collection is “the only canvas in immaculate condition, directly from Delaroche’s brush.”
Elisabeth Foucart-Walter, Paul Delaroche et le thème du Passage du Saint-Bernard par Bonaparte, Musée du Louvre, Department des Peintures, La Revue du Louvre et des Musée de France, 1984
Bann, Stephen, Delaroche, Napoleon and English Collectors, Apollo, October, 2005
Bann, Stephen. Paul Delaroche. Princeton Univ Pr; September 29, 1997
Elisabeth Foucart-Walter is the Curator of French museums and Stephen Bann is Professor of History of Art at the University of Bristol and Professor at CASVA, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. His publications include Paul Delaroche: History Painted (1997).
William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905), La Tricoteuse – translated title: The Little Knitter, oil on canvas, signed lower right and dated 1882, 44″ x 31″
Many artists in the Academy attempted to combine features of Classicism with Romanticism, but few succeeded as successfully as Bouguereau. He trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and exhibited at the Salon to an enthusiastic public. As the Industrial Revolution swept through Europe, Bouguereau made popular the depictions of young peasants personifying hope, innocence, and virtue. During his lifetime, he was recognized as a talented portraitist and awarded at many European expositions. Today, hundreds of museums and institutions around the world have his work on display, celebrating him as one of the most prolific and accomplished French artists of the 19th century.
Excerpt from the Biography of William Bouguereau, by Damien Bartoli and Frederick C. Ross:
“William Bouguereau is unquestionably one of history’s greatest artistic geniuses. Yet in the past century, his reputation and unparalleled accomplishments have undergone a libelous, dishonest, relentless and systematic assault of immense proportions. His name was stricken from most history texts and when included it was only to blindly, degrade and disparage him and his work. Yet, as we shall see, it was he who single handedly opened the French academies to women, and it was he who was arguably the greatest painter of the human figure in all of art history. His figures come to life like no previous artist has ever before or ever since achieved. He wasn’t just the best ever at painting human anatomy, more importantly he captured the tender and subtlest nuances of personality and mood. Bouguereau caught the very souls and spirits of his subjects much like Rembrandt. Rembrandt is said to have captured the soul of age. Bouguereau captured the soul of youth.
Considering his consummate level of skill and craft, and the fact that the great preponderance of his works are life-size, it is one of the largest bodies of work ever produced by any artist. Add to that the fact that fully half of these paintings are great masterpieces, and we have the picture of an artist who belongs like Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Carravaggio, in the top ranks of only a handful of masters in the entire history of western art.
Having died in 1905, we can suppose it best that he was not here to see the successful assault on traditional art that turned the art world inside out and upside down in the decades that followed his death. His fate was to be much like that of Rembrandt, whose work was also ridiculed and banished from museums and official art circles for the hundred years following his death. Rembrandt’s reputation wasn’t resuscitated until the 1790’s (he died in 1669) due to the influence of the founder of the Royal Academy in London, Sir Joshua Reynolds. Even as recently as 1910, Reynolds paintings brought higher prices at auction than Rembrandt. Bouguereau’s re-appreciation can rather accurately be traced from about 1979 when his prices at auction quadrupled that year alone, and then was further catapulted by the 1984 retrospective that traveled from the Petite Palais in Paris, to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Canada and finally to the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford. In 1980 The Metropolitan Museum in New York permanently hung two of his works that been left in storage from early in the century.
Since 1960, his values in the market place have literally exploded, doubling on average every 3.5 years. From works selling for and average $500 to $1500 in 1960, they have accelerated to where in the last three years alone his auction records have been repeatedly broken another 4 times. In 1998 The Heart’s Awakening sold for $1,410,000 at Christie’s New York. In 1999 Cupid et Psyche, Enfants sold for $1,760,000 also at Christie’s to be surpassed the very next day at Sotheby’s when Alma Perens owned by Sylvester Stalone sold for $2,650,00. That record only lasted one year until May of 2000, when Charite sold $3,520,000 back at Christie’s. Over the last 20 years his paintings all over the world have been taken out of their crates, basements, storage rooms and attics, dusted off, many cleaned and expertly restored, and today over a hundred museums and institutions proudly have his works on permanent exhibit. Reproductions of his paintings are selling by the millions in poster shops and gift stores world wide, and there is much evidence that they are even outselling the reproductions of paintings by any of the most famous modernists.
Art Renewal Center Articles about William Adolphe Bouguereau
William-Adolphe Bouguereau and the Craft of Picture-making
Bouguereau’s Legacy to the Student of Painting
William Bouguereau and his Religious Works
Catalog Raisonné on William Bouguereau
Introduction to the Catalog Raisonne of William Bouguereau
Biography of William Bouguereau
Bouguereau at Work
William Bouguereau and The Real 19th Century
Oil on panel, 18 x 14.75
Signed lower right, 1877
Jehan-Georges Vibert (French, 1840-1902 )
Vibert was an Officer of the Legion of Honor and one of the most sought after atelier masters at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. He was a witty French Academic painter who exercised his artistic freedom by poking fun at human foibles, mocking greedy government, and challenging hypocritical clergy. Images that would have led to imprisonment a decade earlier were viewed as a part of the growing democratization of Europe and made him a much-admired artist in his native country as well as in America. Here, we see a lighthearted image of a young musician staring longingly at the balcony above while his companion, crammed into a planter, waits for the sentimental folly to end — perhaps a commentary on the foolishness of sloppy gestures of love.
Vibert painted a partner piece – Translated title: Why Comes He Not ? Both The Serenade and Why Comes He Not ? were featured in a traveling exhibition called Cavaliers and Cardinals: Nineteenth Century French Anecdotal Paintings that was curated by Eric M.Zafran along with a full color catalog published by the Taft Museum in Cincinnati. It went to 3 museums, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington and the Arnot Art Museum in Elmira New York between June 25, 1992 and January 17, 1993.
Biography of Jean Georges Vibert, source: Art Renewal Center http://www.artrenewal.org
In describing Jehan Georges Vibert, an admirer of his wrote this: “One of the most original artists that Le Roux introduced to me is Vibert [.] He is middle-sized, stout for his age, — for he seems only thirty-five, — has a full, merry, happy, but very shrewd, sensible face; he loves work, and is, as are all these men, an indefatigable, untiring worker, but he loves also to take his play-hours. In the evening he goes to the, theater, and among his friends and himself removes his thoughts from his work and his studio.”The cheerfulness, playfulness, and hint of shrewdness she describes in Vibert’s character are traits that would also distinguish his works and make his reputation.He was born on September 30th , 1840 in France. In his early years he was trained under Barrias and on April 4th, 1857, entered the Ecole des Beaux Arts. During the early part of his career he painted rather serious and dramatic subjects, such as “The Death of Narcissus” and “Christian Martyrs in the Lion pit.” He entered the Salon in 1863; found his first success with a medal at the 1864 salon, and won a financial prize at the universal exposition of 1867.Around 1867, however, his style changed and instead of the dramatic and serious, he started painting “small things and niggling.” Instead of heroic Christians and tragic mythology, he turned to more homey subjects such as The Barber of Ambulart.In 1870, while Paris was under siege to the Prussians, Vibert fought and was wounded at the battle of Malmaison. His courage, though, earned him the honor of being made a Knight of the Legion of Honor.Though he was himself a hero, his growing attraction to the less serious subjects of genre did not ebb. Instead, it was stimulated by his interests in comedy and satire. Not only did he enjoy taking a break from work to go out to plays, but he also wrote several comedies, many of which were successfully produced at Paris theaters such as the Vaudeville. As well as from his own comedies, he gathered subject matter from the French fabulist Lafontaine (of whom he had a bust in his house), and the satirist Jonathan Swift.In 1878 he achieved his first popular success with a huge history painting. “The Apotheosis of Mr. Thiers” was the talk of Paris even before it was completed. However, in spite of the success of this painting, he would spend most of his creative time on the humorous scenes that he enjoyed.During the later part of his life, his interest turned to the clergy. Paintings such as The Fortune Teller, The Diet, and Monk picking radishes satirized the clergy’s irreligious indulgences or depicted them in homey situations to an audience used to seeing the church ennobled in traditional religious and historic works. These would be the paintings that would make his reputation.In 1882, he was promoted to Officer of the Legion of Honor, for his painting this time. This growing reputation would make him one the the most sought after atelier masters at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. This would lead him to being one of the seven most influential artists of his time, along with Bouguereau, Cabanel, Meissonnier, Gérôme, Bonnat, and Lefebvre.He died suddenly of heart disease on July 28th 1902.Looking at his satiric work of the clergy in a broader historical context, one can detect that they are “representative of the liberties emmanating from Enlightenment thinking that led to the world and culture shifting events of the American and French Revolutions. To spoof the clergy,” as ARC Board Chairman, Fred Ross, explains “would have been to risk your life or imprisonment a century earlier, or even currently in Rome where Papal power was still at great strength.””Thus Vibert was part of the growing democratization of Europe in which the artists and writers of the time were exposing the fraud and pomposity of big government and a hypocritical clergy that talked about walking in the shoes of the fisherman, and giving for god all worldly goods, while they themselves lived in the height of oppulance and luxury in great mansions with servants waiting on their every whim.”
“The Fortune Teller (Tireuse des Cartes) is a particularly powerful example. What could be a greater spoof on holier-than-thou clerics, than to have two Cardinals soliciting the services of a prognosticator.” In a late ninteenth century society that was still bearing the fruit of the Enlightenment, it is no wonder that Vibert’s wit and satire could flourish and be valued.
In 1902 an important technical book was published by Vibert call La Science de la Peinture. Very hard to find, this book is one of several from the period that is widely sought by contemporary realists who are trying to resuscitate the techniques and accomplishments of the past, so that future creativity and experimentation can be built on the solid foundation of the masters.
“His works are in the collections of many major and minor museums including: Bordeaux, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Glasgow, Melbourne, New York, Rochefort, Saint Louis, Troyes, Versailles and Washington D.C. He was recently one of several featured artists (including 30 of is works) in a traveling exhibition called Cavaliers and Cardinals: Nineteenth Century French Anecdotal Paintings that was curated by Eric M.Zafran along with a full color catalog published by the Taft Museum in Cincinnati. It went to 3 museums, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington and the Arnot Art Museum in Elmira New York between June 25, 1992 and January 17, 1993. His paintings can be found in many important private collections, including three works in that of the [ARC] Board Chairman and his wife, Fred and Sherry Ross.” (FR)
Footnote 1: Letter from Mrs. Brewster of Rome. Artists of the Nineteenth Century and Their Works. Clara Erskine Clement and Lawrence Hutton. 1969 (originally 1877), North Point Inc., St. Louis.
Footnote 2: Bryan’s Dictionary of Painters and Engravers. M. Bryan. 1910, George Bell and Sons, London.
Footnote 3: Published speech by Fred Ross. Originally given at the University of Memphis, December 1st, 1998. Source: Biography of Jean Georges Vibert, Art Renewal Center http://www.artrenewal.org/museum/v/Vibert_Jean_Georges/page2.html
Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (German-born American, 1816-1868), The Knight of Sayn and the Gnomes (1849), oil on canvas, 57″ x 44 ¾”
Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze is a German-born American historical painter who is best remembered for his painting Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), one of the most popular and widely reproduced images of American history. Another important work by Leutze is Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (1861), a 20-by-30-foot mural in the United States Capitol building illustrating the settlement of the Far West.
Leutze was born in Wurttemberg, Germany in 1816. His parents moved to the United States in 1825 to avoid political persecution. They settled first in Virginia and then Philadelphia. After his father’s death in 1831, Leutze was forced to abandon his schooling so he could help support the family. For a short time, he worked as a traveling portrait painter, earning up to $5 a picture.
In 1834 he started studying under the London born painter and printmaker John Rubens Smith (1775-1849). Two years later, he received his first serious commission. He was asked to paint portraits of famous figures for publication in the National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans. Unfortunately, he was unable to complete the project. Luckily, the few history paintings he made at this time attracted considerable praise, and he was encouraged to continue his studies in Europe. Supported by generous patrons, he returned to Europe in 1841.
After a short stay in Amsterdam, he enrolled in the Düsseldorf Royal Art Academy, which was famous for its teaching of historical painting and landscape painting. Between 1842 and 1844 he studied under the romantic artist Wilhelm von Schadow (1789-1862) and the celebrated romantic painter Carl Freidrich Lessing (1808–80). In 1842, he unveiled his Return of Columbus in Chains to Cadiz, which bought him fame and a gold medal at the Brussels Art Exhibition. He quickly became disillusioned with the rigors of the Academy and embarked on a study-tour of Germany, Switzerland and Italy. He returned to Düsseldorf in 1845 and established his own studio. Soon after, he became one of the most popular American artists living abroad.
Leutze began his first version of Washington Crossing the Delaware in 1849. This massive work (12 feet high and 21 feet wide) depicts the moment when General George Washington led the American revolutionaries across the Delaware River (1776). Many believe that his famous portrayal of the American Revolution is influenced more by the Rhine River in the northern part of Düsseldorf, than the Delaware River on the Atlantic coast of the United States.
In 1850, a fire in Leutze’s studio damaged the original Washington Crossing the Delaware. Although restored and acquired by the Bremen Kunsthalle, this version was destroyed again in a bombing raid in 1942.
Leutze began a new version of Washington Crossing the Delaware, which was finished and placed on exhibition in New York in October of 1851. At this showing Marshall O. Roberts bought the canvas for the then-enormous sum of $10,000. The Washington Crossing the Delaware that currently hangs in the Metropolitan Museum, a gift of John Stewart Kennedy (1897), is Leutze’s 1851 copy of his original work damaged by fire in 1850.
In 1852 Leutze returned to Düsseldorf and was awarded a number of important commissions. He gained a reputation among his German colleagues as a leader of the nonacademic artists’ community. In spite of his fondness for life in Germany, Leutze thought of himself as an American. He returned to the United States in 1858, and won a commission by the U.S. Congress to decorate a stairway for the meeting chambers of the House of Representatives. He established a studio in New York and began working on his mural Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way, still visible in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
Leutze spent much of the remainder of his life in America. He remained active in the arts and was a strong advocate of the National Academy of Design. Leutze died in 1868 from heatstroke, at the age of 52.
The Knight of Sayn and the Gnomes is a scene from a German ballad in which Ermengarde, daughter of a squire, is promised to Kuno of Sayn if he can ride his horse up the rocky cliff to her father’s castle. With the gnomes help, the knight completes the journey and the fair Ermengarde is his forever!
Washington Crossing the Delaware
Paul Emile Boutigny (French, 1854‐1929), Napoleon Rendant Visite aux Blesses (Napoleon Returns to Visit the Wounded), c. 1890, oil on canvas, 38″ x 50″
Boutigny was trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and was decorated with the Legion of Honor in 1898. His painting, Napoleon Rendant Visite Aux Blessés (Napoleon Returns to Visit the Wounded), is a perfectly orchestrated propaganda piece with the emperor portrayed as a calm, compassionate, and commanding hero bestowing comfort to his friend, Marshal Jean Lannes, who was seriously wounded in the 1809 Battle of Aspern-Essling. Napoleon, oddly unsoiled with blood, is bathed in light, not unlike a saint or savior with the miraculous power to heal.
Marshal Jean Lannes, lying on the ground with one leg amputated, was injured on May 22, 1809 while he was engaged in the brutal battle of Aspern-Essling. The French were battling the Austrian army in an attempt to cross the Danube.
Lannes was in the company of his mentor, General Pierre-Charles Pouzet. As the two men discussed the battle, a cannonball struck Pouzet in the stomach and killed him instantly. Reeling from the shock at watching his close friend die so violently, the dazed Lannes stumbled to the edge of a ditch and sat down. As he gathered his thoughts, shrapnel from a second cannonball tore through his legs, smashing the knee of one and badly injuring the other. Although Lannes told witnesses that his injuries were not as bad as they seemed, he was unable to stand. He was rushed to the well-known military medic, Dominique Jean Larrey (pictured in the painting), surgeon-in-chief of the Napoleonic armies for 18 years. Larrey initially amputated one leg, but ultimately was forced to amputate Lannes’ second leg too.
When news of Lannes’ injuries reached Napoleon, he rushed to his friend’s side. Under Napoleon’s instruction Lannes was moved to the comfort of a house in Kaiser-Ebersdorf, but there was nothing that could be done to save the injured man. Instead Lannes lingered on for a week, and died on May 31, 1809. Napoleon ensured that his confidante and dear friend was buried at the Pantheon, where he rests to this day.
Thomas Ralph Spence, RA (1855-1918), The Surrender of Capua, 210 BC – Passing Round the Poisoned Cup, initialed and dated lower right 1903, oil on canvas, 53.5” x 80.5” – displayed at Royal Academy in 1903
Painting inspired by the final scene in Fate of Capua, a play written in 1700 by Thomas Southerne.
Thomas Ralph Spence was born into a Yorkshire family of cabinetmakers and builders. Following in the family tradition, Spence began his training as an architect, but later excelled in painting, stained glass, and metalwork.
Spence moved to London in 1885, where he became a successful painter of architectural scenes. In the 1890s, Spence exhibited 11 works at the Royal Academy, including A Breezy Morning, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Surrender of Capua, 210 BC. He also exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery and the New Gallery, and was responsible for the decorative painting in Manchester Cathedral. His more ambitious classical subjects consisted of Greek and Roman subjects, most likely inspired by Alma-Tadema. In 1910, he was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Fine Art Society.
The Surrender of Capua, 210 BC – Passing Round the Poisoned Cup is based on the play Fate of Capua, a tragedy written in 1700, by Thomas Southerne. Fate of Capua takes place during the Second Punic War (218 to 201 BC), a war between Hannibal, leader of the Carthaginians, and the Romans. The citizens of Capua, a city in southern Italy, abandoned their alliance to the Roman Republic and allowed Hannibal to make Capua his winter quarters. The Romans, attempting to regain control of southern Italy, staged a siege on the city of Capua. In response to the Roman assault, Hannibal marched his soldiers to Rome, hoping the Romans would decide to abandon the siege on Capua and rush to defend their home city. However, only part of the besieging force left for Rome, and under continued siege, Capua fell. The Romans declared the territory Roman domain, and the citizens of Capua were either killed or brutally punished.
The Surrender of Capua, 210 BC, a monumental image displayed at the Royal Academy in 1903, depicts the climactic scene in Southerne’s play. The Senate of Capua is finishing up their final feast and are in the process of passing around a cup of poisoned wine; collectively they have decide to end their own lives, choosing dignity and death rather than suffer dishonor and torture at the hands of the Romans.
James Sant, R.A., Principal Painter in Ordinary to Queen Victoria, (British, 1820 – 1916), Enoch, Phillip and Annie in the Cave, signed with monogram, oil on canvas, 52″ x 42″ — displayed at the 1866 Royal Academy & exhibited at the 1904 St. Louis Universal Exhibition
James Sant was born in South London and first showed artistic inclination at the age of eight, when he became obsessed with copying a sketch by Landseer, a British painter who was famous for his paintings of animals. In 1840, at the age of twenty, Sant entered the Royal Academy Schools and quickly became a popular portrait artist. In 1872 Sant was appointed Principal Painter in Ordinary (official portraitist) to Queen Victoria and the royal family, producing many pictures of the Royals and the aristocracy. He lived to the age of 96 and produced an astonishing number of canvases for exhibition at the Academy, some 250 of them. He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1870, but resigned in 1914 to “make room for younger men.”
In addition to his portraits, Sant produced a large number of allegorical paintings based on romantic literature and poetry. James Sant’s painting Enoch, Philip, and Annie in the Cave is based on the epic poem Enoch Arden, published in 1864 by Alfred, Lord Tennyson during his tenure as England’s Poet Laureate. Enoch Arden is a somber poem based on a true story of a sailor who is thought to be drowned at sea, but returns home after many years to find his wife remarried. In Tennyson’s poem, Enoch Arden, Philip Ray and Annie Lee grow up together. The hero of the poem, Enoch Arden, is a fisherman turned merchant sailor. Enoch, leaves his wife Annie and three children to go to sea with his old captain, who offers him work after he had lost his job. During his voyage, Enoch is shipwrecked on a desert island, and remains lost and missing for ten years. When he returns home, he finds his wife, who believed him dead, happily married to his childhood friend, Philip, who has loved Annie since they were children. Enoch’s life remains unfulfilled, with one of his children now dead, and his wife and remaining children now being cared for by his onetime rival. Tragically, Enoch never reveals himself to his wife and children; he loves her too much to spoil her new happiness. He eventually dies of a broken heart.
Thomas Kennington (British, 1856-1916), Pandora, 1908, oil on canvas, signed and dated lower left, 80 ½” x 56 ½”
Kennington attended several prestigious schools, including the Academy Julian, where he trained alongside Bouguereau. Exhibiting frequently at the Royal Academy, he became a respected portrait artist, painting Queen Victoria in 1898. Passionate about social reform, he established an independent institution that provided exhibition opportunities for artists rejected and discouraged by the dictatorial Academy. Pandora is a compelling portrait of human suffering, an allegory for the looming catastrophe ‐ humanity at the brink of a modern age. It is interesting to note that at the height of Academic painting, nudes were only permissible in the form of mythological beings, with genitalia hidden from view.
BIOGRAPHY – reprinted from The Art Renewal Center – http://www.artrenewal.org
Born in Grimsby England on April 7,1856, Thomas Benjamin Kennington trained at an impressive line of schools including the Liverpool School of Art, the South Kensington School of Art, and finally at the Academy Julian with William Bouguereau, Jules Lefebvre, and Tony Robert-Fleury. Throughout his life he exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and his work was also seen at the Royal Society of British Arts and the famous Grosvenor Gallery. His work was well appreciated and he even won a bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1889.
Kennington was a social activist who cared deeply about the poor and believed strongly in the artists’ community. He was a founder and first secretary of the New English Art Club whose purpose was to provide exhibition opportunities for artists who were not accepted to show at the Royal Academy or who were dissatisfied with its supremacy. Kennington was also a founder of the Imperial Arts League, which still exists today as The Artists’ League of Great Britain. The Artists’ League was founded in 1909 with the purpose of protecting and promoting the interests of artists in matters of business such as copyrights, contracts, and insurance. Kennington often painted, like many of his contemporaries, the plight of the impoverished and destitute in order to draw attention to the need for social reform. As well, he was a painter of beauty and scenes from everyday life. He also became a well-established portrait artist, painting Queen Victoria (1819-1901) in 1898.
Kennington died in London, December 10, 1916. Today, his paintings can be found in many museums and in public locations throughout England and Australia, including in England, the Tate, Alfred East Art Gallery Permanent Collection, Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, Atkinson Art Gallery Collection, Royal Shakespeare Company Collection, Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester, the Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, Grimsby Town Hall, Museum of Lincolnshire Life, Royal Society of Medicine, The Royal College of Surgeons of England , The Royal Society of Musicians of Great Britain, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, North East Lincolnshire Museum Service, Retford Town Hall, Bassetlaw District Council, and The Foundling Museum, and in Australia, the Art Gallery of South Australia, Bendigo Art Gallery, and the Christchurch Art Gallery in New Zealand.
Hugues Merle (French, 1823-1881), Afternoon Dreaming, c. 1865, oil on canvas; 37 ½” x 45 ¼”
Hugues Merle, born in southeast region of France, was a talented painter known for his idealized and sentimental genre themes, which were prominent during the middle of the nineteenth-century. Merle was accepted as a student at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he enrolled in the studio of Léon Cogniet (1784-1880). Works from early in Merle’s career reflect Cogniet’s influence. Many of his paintings were politically-charged pro‐Empire historical narratives or mythological history paintings — the kind that students at the École were trained to produce.
Later in his career, Merle developed his own painting style that distanced him from Cogniet. He transitioned away from heroic scenes that appealed to aristocratic tastes or political agendas, and began to paint for the upwardly mobile French middle classes. Merle painted images of domestic family life and narratives celebrating traditional French values. Rather than multi-figured scenes, he began to fill his canvas with one of two figures. As the figures grew, sometimes larger than life, they became more idealized with an emphasis on line over color.
He began exhibiting at the Salon in 1848 with remarkable success. He was awarded second-class medals in 1861 and 1863, and in 1866 he was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. Since the Salons attracted over 300,000 people annually, they provided valuable exposure to exhibited artists. Merle’s achievements in the Salons of the 1860s provided him international recognition, particularly with American collectors. He built a very lucrative business painting portraits for the British and the Americans, and became known for his work as an interpreter of major literary romantic figures. Nathaniel Hawthorne, upon seeing a photo of Merle’s interpretation of the Scarlett Letter, is purported to have said: “It is the most true representation of my work I have ever seen.” Although Merle did not win the coveted Prix de Rome, he had the distinguished honor of entering the competition in 1849.
Merle is often compared to William Bouguereau. Born two years apart, they both graduated from the École de Beaux-Arts, were members of the French Academy and regularly exhibited at the annual Paris Salon. Their mutual fascination with mythical, allegorical and literary scenes, combined with their mastery of the human figure, made them competitors for the same pupils, positions, prizes and patrons.
The Magazine of Art, Volume 4, 1881, edited by Marion Harry Spielmann
Proceedings of the Academy of Fine Arts: 1845-1849, edited by Jean-Michel Leniaud (The minutes of the Academy of Fine Arts during the 1845-1849)
Forgotten Masters: Hugues Merle (French, 1823-1881) – http://beardedroman.com