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women

Portraits: Diana Low & William Nicholson

… two portraits of an affair …

diana British artist

Diana Low, a student painter, was heavily influenced by William Nicholson. They had a short affair as recalled later by her brother in law.  Continue reading “Portraits: Diana Low & William Nicholson”

Madame Trudaine : Jacques-Louis David

… against a bloody background …

french revolution portrait

I always think of Jacques-Louis David as a history painter and so the delicacy of his portraits take me by surprise.

Painted in 1791-2, this striking young woman is most likely Marie-Louise Micault de Courbeton (1769-1802), the wife of Charles-Louis Trudaine, who was a friend of the artist. The Trudaine family belonged to the liberal “haute bourgeoisie” and they were  initially favourable to the Revolution. Marie-Louise is wearing simple clothes suitable for someone of her political leanings; and her blue sash, white shirt and the red background makeup the new Tricolour flag of France. The portrait was never finished as the Trudaines quarrelled with David over his support for the increasingly violent Terror.

David‘s characteristic “scumbling” of the red background – a technique he used for these portraits – adds a clamour of hysteria to this already nervous, defiant young woman, with her arms folded awkwardly across her body and her half turn towards the viewer. The Trudaine brothers went to the scaffold soon after this. Marie-Louise died ten years later when she was 33 years old. Alas, I can’t find anymore details about her but it can’t have been a very happy life.

David was an ardent supporter the Terror. He organized revolutionary fetes and ceremonials to replace the Catholic festivals and painted many key images of the period such as the pietà of the Revolution, The Death of Marat. David was a member of the Assembly, however, he too was eventually imprisoned. When the artist was released, a couple of years later, David stayed away from direct politics but did become a favourite painter of Napolean.

Portrait of Marie-Louise Micault de Courbeton1891-2, (Louvre) by Jacques-Louis David  (1748 – 1825).

Neither Virgin nor Venus. Five Outstanding Women from Charles I, King & Collector.

… neither Virgin nor Venus …

Among all the Royal portraits and big dramatic pieces in this outstanding exhibition, there are some extremely fine images of women. The Academy rooms are teeming with spectators and the show has 140 works of art on view, so it pays to have an idea of what you are looking for. Here are five I wouldn’t want anyone to miss …

My advice would be to ignore the crowded first couple of rooms and make straight for Gallery VIII which holds pictures from “The Queen’s House” and take a look at this Head of a Woman (c.1630-35) by Orazio Gentileschi. It’s such an arresting work combining beauty and determination in a very penetrating stare – as her former owner said: “She’s no extra!” The painting sold to a private buyer in January 2018 for $1.8 million and there’s a brief Sotheby’s video about her here.

gentileschi royal collection

Then turn around and, diagonally opposite in the same room, is a painting by Orazio‘s daughter’s Artemisia Gentileschi called Allegory of Painting (c.1638-39). Artemisia joined her father and her brothers in London in 1638. Charles and Henrietta already owned at least three of Artemisia‘s paintings by then and she found steady employment here. Some suggest this is a self portrait though it is not listed as such in Court inventories and is perhaps instead a younger, more idealised version of her 46 year old self.  It is probably more a declaration of her remarkable status: as a practising and successful female artist at this time – an image of a working painter not a fanciful allegory.

allegory artist

Travelling back a hundred years to the court of Henry VIII, the next picture is a portrait of Anne Cresacre ( c.1526-27) by Hans Holbein. This piece of fragile wonderfulness can be found in the next room along, Gallery IX, “The Whitehall Cabinet.” Charles’ Cabinet in Whitehall Palace was a private space decorated with more personal items from his collection; the core of which he inherited from his older brother, Henry, including these a set of drawings by Holbein. These sketches were made for a large group portrait of Thomas More‘s family – since lost. Anne was a ward of More’s and became his daughter-in-law around this time. The exquisite delicacy of this chalk drawing is truly arresting. It might just be me … but there’s a resemblance to the actor Louise Brealey who played Molly Hooper in Sherlock in the slight frown about her lips.

429px-Anne_Cresacre_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger

The next work executed about the same time but leagues apart in tone and handling. If there’s a Bronzino in a gallery I’m in front of it. The work is in “The Italian Renaissance” Gallery V and its understated elegance could be overlooked as there are Titians in the same room. There is some debate over whether Portrait of a Women in Green (c.1530-32) is actually a Bronzino or possibly a del Piombo or a Sarto. I have my doubts too – it’s not quite good enough but …. it could be a youthful work. Her direct gaze is typical of Bronzino’s portraits and she is an arresting example of a confident and self assured Renaissance woman.

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The final painting in my selection is the Rembrandt. Again in any other exhibition, a work of this quality would be centre stage but again she is in a corner of Gallery IV, “The Northern Renaissance” and could easily be over looked. This Portrait of an Old Woman (c. 1627-29) is also called The Artist’s Mother as Rembrandt often used his mother, Neeltgen Willensdr, as a model at the beginning of his career. The painting is not a portrait but a tronie (a generic term for ‘face’). Such tronies move beyond imitation and become imaginative exercises using carefully chosen costume and dramatic illumination – a cross between a portrait and a historical painting. I was fascinated by the interplay between the lines on her face with the gorgeous lace and fabric detail, both picked out with a warm Northern European light. It is an amazing painting.

rembrandt portrait royal collection

So there you are: my top five paintings of women from Charles I, King and Collector. Which paintings caught your eye?

Charles I, King and Collector at The Royal Academy, London runs until 15 April 2018.

With all exhibitions of this size and popularity, it is worth getting the catalogue first to scope out what you want to see before plunging in. It’s a wonderful book with over 200 colour illustrations, essays to put the exhibition in context, and detailed notes on provenance. Softback £28. Hardback £40.  A link to the Royal Academy bookshop is here.

Head of a Woman c.1630-35 (Private Collection)  Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639)

Allegory of Painting c.1638-39 (Royal Collection) Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652/3)

Anne Cresacre c.1526-27 (Royal Collection) Hans Holbein the Younger (c.1497-1543)

Portrait of a Women in Green c.1530-32 (Royal Collection) Agnolo Bronzino (1503-72)

Portrait of an Old Woman c. 1627-29 (Royal Collection) Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69)

Berthe Morisot : Édouard Manet

… sassy, confident and alive …

berthe_morisot_by_manet

How I love this portrait of Berthe Morisot! She looks sassy, confident and alive. It was painted by her friend, colleague and perhaps lover, Edouard Manet, in 1873 when she was 32 years old.

In 1868, the year they met, Edouard was eight years old than the 27 year old Berthe and he was already married. He joked in a letter to Fantin-Latour: “The young Morisot girls are charming. It’s annoying that they are not men…they could serve the cause of painting by each marrying a member of the French Academy & sowing discord in the camp of those dotards, though that would be asking for considerable self-sacrifice.”” * She married his brother, Eugene, in 1874 .

Berthe Morisot (January 14, 1841 – March 2, 1895) was a leading pioneer of Impressionism though her work and her influence lacks the attention of her peers because of the social context of her time and also the prejudices of later art criticism. She chose to use her maiden name and exhibited regularly alongside her more famous colleagues.  In 1890, Berthe Morisot confided in a notebook: “I don’t think there has ever been a man who treated a woman as an equal, and that’s all I would have asked, for I know I’m worth as much as they.” **

morisotphoto

In fact her story is so intriguing, Berthe has taken over this post – which I thought was going to be about the painter, Manet. (Photo, c. 1870)

Portrait of Berthe Morisot1882, (Marmottan Monet museum) by Édouard Manet (23 January 1832 – 30 April 1883)

There is a very interesting and detailed blog about Berthe and her relationship with Manet at Julie Schauer’s Artventures.

The Marmottan Monet museum’s website is http://www.marmottan.fr/

* Jeffrey Meyers: The Impresionist Quartet: The Intimate genius of Manet and Morisot, Degas and Cassat.

** Review by: Therese Dolan in Woman’s Art Journal, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Autumn, 1994 – Winter, 1995), pp. 40-43 – Perspectives on Morisot by Teri J. Edelstein; Berthe Morisot by Anne Higonnet; Berthe Morisot’s Images of Women by Anne Higonnet.

 

 

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