Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Catching Up On Book Reviews!

The middle sister in a celebrated artistic dynasty, Daphne du Maurier is one of the master storytellers of our time, author of REBECCA, JAMAICA INN and MY COUSIN RACHEL. Her success and fame were enhanced by films of her novels and horrifying short stories, Don′t Look Now and the unforgettable The Birds among them. But this fame overshadowed her sisters Angela and Jeanne, a writer and an artist of talent, living quiet lives even more unconventional than Daphne′s own.

In this group biography they are considered side by side, as they were in life, three sisters brought up in the hothouse of a theatrical family with a peculiar and powerful father. This family dynamic reveals the hidden lives of Piffy, Bird & Bing, full of social non-conformity, creative energy and compulsive make-believe, their lives as psychologically complex as a Daphne du Maurier plotline.

My Thoughts
Being an admirer of Daphne du Maurier's writing, having read her books, and treasured them, I was really looking forward to meeting the sisters. Well, meet them I did! Wow, Jane Dunn, doesn't leave anything to the imagination concerning the du Maurier sisters. This was my problem with the book itself. It is far too detailed, almost to the extreme. Not only does Dunn cover the birth to life aspect of all three women which I commend, she includes far too much, ie, weather, detailed fashion clothes, she covers the parents and the grandparents, psychosocial attributes to the du Maurier line. It is an enjoyable read but I could have done without the analysis of tiny tidbits that could have been edited out. The reader can draw their own conclusions.

Her writing style is simple and succinct which is good, especially in a group biography attempt. I would have enjoyed photographs in the book but I read an online version, so maybe that's why. If you want to learn about the 'entire lives' of each sister, including food habits, and the grandparents lives as well, sit down and get ready for quite the familial read! I would probably only give this one three stars! 

 The book cover is a Group portrait of the Du Maurier sisters with their dog Brutus by Frederic Whiting (1918). From left to right: Daphne, Jeanne and Angela

1564: Catholic herald William Harley, Clarenceaux King of Arms, is the custodian of a highly dangerous document. When it is stolen, Clarenceaux immediately suspects a group of Catholic sympathisers, the self-styled Knights of the Round Table.

Francis Walsingham, the ruthless protégé of the queen's Principal Secretary, Sir William Cecil, intercepts a coded message from the Knights to a Countess known to have Catholic leanings. He is convinced that Clarenceaux is trying to use the document to advance the cause of the Catholic Queen.

And soon Clarenceaux enters a nightmare of suspicion, deception and conspiracy. Conflict and fear, compounded by the religious doubts of the time, conceal a persistent mystery. Where has the document gone? Who has it and who really took it? And why? The roots of betrayal are deep and shocking: and Clarenceaux's journey towards the truth entails not just the discovery of clues and signs, but also the discovery of himself

My Thoughts
The Roots of Betrayal is the second book in a trilogy concerning Queen Elizabeth I. You do not have to read the first book, Sacred Treason to enjoy this one because there is a narrative explained that does not negate from the current story line. The plot surrounds a secret document that intends to topple Queen Elizabeth I. I know this has been done before, many times but James Forrester writes well and uses his knowledge of sixteenth century Tudor history in a way that supports not only the cast of characters but the entire storyline as well! I was pleasantly surprised by this. William Harley, called Clarenceux is the document keeper until someone he thought trustworthy enough steals it and the chase begins! It is from here on out that the story takes off and it is an adventure that you must go on!

If you don’t know all the historical figures within Elizabeth I’s privy council/secret service, it shouldn’t be much of a problem. This is a historical adventure story. Go with it! Cecil and Walsingham are featured prominently in The Roots of Betrayal and who knows maybe your interest might be piqued enough to do some research and investigation of your own! 

NOTE:  In lieu of the FTC review situation all three books were provided as online reading by NetGalley. My opinions are solely mine and I stand by them.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Queen Victoria: (Alexandrina Victoria; 24 May 1819 – 22 January 1901)

Alexandrina Victoria was born to the Duke and Duchess of Kent on 24th of May in 1819. Here are just some photographs and paintings representing moments in her life....

Duke of Kent, Queen Victoria's father
Duchess of Kent, Queen Victoria's mother


'Look at her well, for she will be Queen of England' (Victoria's parents)

This portrait has two painters named as the source: A portrait of Princess Victoria as a small girl with her mother, Victoria, Duchess of Kent, c.1824. This portrait was painted by the artist Henry Bone (1755-1834) and was acquired by Queen Victoria c.1861. Also, a portrait painted by William Beechey.  

Baby Victoria (no information provided)

Princess Victoria, age four, by Stephen Poyntz Denning

Princess Victoria by Henry Collen, 1836, Watercolor on ivory laid on card at the Royal Collection Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Victoria with her familyby John Jabez Edwin Mayall,albumen carte-de-visite, 1863,NPG

 Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Queen Victoria and their childrenby John Jabez Edwin Mayall, albumen carte-de-visite photomontage, circa 1861

Queen Victoria and familyby Lafayette (Lafayette Ltd),bromide proof print, April 1900

 Group of fifteen, including Queen Victoria by W. & D. Downey
albumen print, 25 May 1868

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

John Singer Sargent (American,1856–1925) - An American in Europe

I wanted to highlight some of the paintings of one of America's premiere portrait painter's, Mr. John Singer Sargent whose watercolors are on view currently at the Brooklyn Museum.I can't wait to go and see these beautiful paintings in person.  I will link to this exhibit at the end of this post.

John Singer Sargent in his studio with his portrait of Madame X behind him. Archived Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Sargent was born to American parents from Philadelphia,Pennsylvania, and spent most of his life in Europe. He was trained in 1873-4 at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, Italy, and until the end of World War I he spent much of his career in Italy, traveling to Capri, Rome, Florence, Siena, and especially Venice. He spent his last decade on commissions for murals; he did not travel to Italy again.

The foremost Anglo-American portrait painter of his time, John Singer Sargent based his career in Paris and London, although he made several extended trips to the United States. In 1874 he entered the atelier of Carolus-Duran (1837-1917) and was admitted to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Three years later he began exhibiting at the Paris Salon; in 1878 he received much praise for his The Oyster Gatherers of Cancale, 1878, and the next year won honorable mention for his portrait of his teacher, Carolus-Duran. That year he traveled to Holland and Spain to study the portraits of Frans Hals (1580-1666) and Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) and visited North Africa and Venice. Because of the public scandal when his portrait Madame X, 1884 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), was shown at the Paris Salon of 1884, he moved to England and began exhibiting with the progressive New English Art Club. He spent several summers during the 1880s at the Anglo-American colony of artists and writers in Broadway in the Cotswolds and at Giverny, France, with Claude Monet (1840-1926). 

Sargent became known for a cosmopolitan style of portraiture, depicting his sophisticated, wealthy sitters in harmony with their sumptuous surroundings. In late 1889 he visited New England and New York to fulfill several portrait commissions and while there was selected to paint murals for the Boston Public Library. He then traveled to Egypt to gather material for the murals, to be about the history of Judaism and Christianity. In 1897 he was elected to the Royal Academy. By the early 1900s he had become increasingly bored with portraiture, which in 1907 he all but abandoned, making more modest portrait drawings for his clients while devoting himself increasingly to landscape painting. Watercolor had now become his favorite medium. In London in 1904 he exhibited at the Royal Society of Painters in watercolors and in 1907 at the Pastel Society. In 1916, the year he completed the Boston Public Library decorations, he was commissioned to design murals for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The only significant work from his last years was Gassed, 1918-19 painted for the British Ministry of Information. 

One of his most popular portraits and a favorite of mine, I have been blessed to see many times at 'The Met' museum as we locals like to refer to it! 
Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883–84
John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925)
Graphite on off-white wove paper, archived.

'Madame X' was  Virginie Avegno Gautreau (1859–1915), the Louisana-born wife of a prominent Paris banker, Sargent met in the Autumn of 1882.  He was attracted by her eccentric beauty and asked to paint her portrait. Sittings began in winter 1882–83 and continued through the following summer at the Gautreau vacation home in Brittany. Sargent struggled to find the best pose for his sitter, making more studies than he usually did for a portrait. In this drawing, he rendered her seated on an ornate sofa—a pose he may have considered for the oil portrait or perhaps simply recorded between sittings.
 Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883–84
John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925)
Oil on canvas 
 (an unfinished second version of the same pose is in the Tate Gallery in London).

Another favorite of mine, housed at 'The Met' museum is easily recognizable as well as Madame X. I am proud to say, I now recognize the name's Lady Elcho and Mrs. Tennant  as a direct reference of portrait painter G.F.Watts. 
The Wyndham Sisters: Lady Elcho, Mrs. Adeane, and Mrs. Tennant, 1899
John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925)
Oil on canvas 

 Three beautiful daughters of the Hon. Percy Wyndham, a wealthy Londoner, from the left, the sisters are Madeline Adeane (1869–1941), Pamela Tennant (1871–1928), and Mary Constance, Lady Elcho (1862–1937). Rather than conducting sittings at his studio, as he usually did about 1900, Sargent painted the sisters in the drawing room of their family's residence on Belgrave Square. Seen on the dark wall above them is George F. Watts' portrait of their mother, which establishes their genealogy as well as the artist's by reminding the viewer of his ties to painters of the past. Within the bold, asymmetrical composition, Sargent enlisted fluid dynamic brushstrokes to suggest the forms and textures of the opulent white gowns, brocade sofa, and huge white peonies. The elongated figures, so typical of Sargent's style about 1900, enhance the impression of aristocratic elegance. Displayed at the Royal Academy's annual exhibition in 1900, the portrait was hailed by the critics and dubbed "The Three Graces" by the Prince of Wales.

Going back to the current exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, 'Sargent's Watercolors' several of them feature a family member named Rose-Marie Ormond and I wanted to provide just a bit about her here:

Rose-Marie Ormond (1893-1918), was the daughter of John Singer Sargent’s sister, Violet Sargent Ormond, one of his favorite models during his later years. Growing tired of portrait painting, it was around 1908 that Sargent turned to more informal figurative paintings in oil and watercolor. They usually took place while on vacation summering  with the Ormond family in the Alps, near Val d’Aosta and Simplon. Rose-Marie is often draped in shawls, as seen in this watercolor, ‘Rose-Marie Ormond Reading in a Cashmere Shawl’ while the composition is of her reclining in an open landscape. The shawl would have come from Kashmir or from Rose-Marie’s fondness for reading Mughal poetry, Sargent no doubt included the wrap because of its decorative character; and in this watercolor the drape’s ornamental design becomes a maze of loose brush strokes surrounding the figure herself. Sargent found that sketching in watercolor enabled him to combine drawing with painting. Utilizing transparent washes, gouaches, and the white of the paper, Sargent captured the brilliance of reflected sunlight. Rose-Marie’s white dress picks up the blues and browns cast by her surroundings. The colors, flickering sunlight, and mass of zigzag and circular strokes give it an almost circular impression. Sargent gave the painting to Henry Alfred Pegram (1862-1937), a minor English sculptor, and it remained in his family’s possession until acquired by the Los Angeles Country Museum Art Collection in 1991. 

Featured in the exhibit will be:
 John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925) painting Rose-Marie Ormond in Simplon Pass: Reading, circa 1911. Opaque and translucent watercolor and wax resist with graphite underdrawing, 51 x 35.7 cm.

 John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925) painting Rose-Marie Ormond in The Cashmere Shawl, circa 1911. Translucent watercolor and touches of opaque watercolor and wax resist with graphite underdrawing, 50.7 x 35.5 cm

Check out this exhibit as well as more watercolor landscapes by John Singer Sargent at, The Brooklyn Museum

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

G.F. Watts at Little Holland House: The Bohemian Years (1850-1904) Part II

Little Holland House

It seems that Sara Prinsep was looking for a larger house to entertain her friends during her literary salons. When she mentioned this in passing to Watts, he remembered that just a few days prior, Lord Holland had invited him to stay at his ‘Little House’for a few days. Watts wanted to but knew he could never afford it. So, he introduced Sara and her husband Thoby Prinsep to Lord Holland who showed the couple around. Little Holland Housewas a rambling gabled house in an idyllic rural setting, with lawns and stately arching trees, located just off Kensington High Street. Two miles from Hyde Park Corner, the house suited Sara perfectly. The Prinsep’s signed a twenty-one year lease for two hundred pounds per annum on Christmas Day 1850. What was supposed to be a three day stay for Watts, in the New Year, turned out to be a close to thirty year stay… thus beginning ‘the Bohemian years!’


 Watts was right on all fronts. It seems that Little Holland House benefitted everybody. Once moved in, the literary salons began, parties were thrown, and word spread like wild fire about the Prinsep and Pattle families and this man named Watts. Sara’s reputation was now solidified and her name reflected glory! Her place in society was surely sealed.  As for our Young Watts, well, he yearned to broaden the spectrum of his art, still his reputation for portraiture at this time attracted commissions but he preferred to avoid them.  Watts was about to meet one of the two most important women known for their beauty. Henry Bruce, Lord Aberdare recalled, ‘Oh, how in love with her we all were!’ Virginia Pattle lived with her married sister Sara Prinsep in Chesterfield Street, near Watts’ studio. The artist was tempted, but had no time to make new acquaintances. Later he would confess that his first concentrated love, ‘began and encouraged and developed before I knew the living object.’
One morning Watts saw two robed women with heavy lidded eyes and hair parted in the middle as if floating down Regent Street, leading a small boy. Watts was mesmerized; he knew at once they were Virginia with her sister and nephew. Immediately he went home and wrote a note to Fleming, ‘You cannot be more anxious to introduce than I am to know Miss Pattle, she is beautiful.’ He was to meet the sisters during the winter of 1849 at Eastnor Castle. The sisters were equally intrigued by his charisma, humility and genius. They quickly became regular visitors to his studio. 
 Virginia Pattle drawn by G.F. Watts, 1849 (private collection)
Watts was deeply in love with Virginia and began drawing tender silverpoint studies of her in the soft grey cloak she wore that first day. He pared down its graceful lines for a full-length almost monotone portrait which he exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1850. The Art-Journal commended his portrait of Virginia Pattle for its rare, elevated sentiment. Virginia stands like a pilgrim on the stone terrace, ‘her hair simply braided, and a long grey coat of nun like simplicity falling round her. She has no curls, no frills or furbelows, no jewels; she is as God made her; a perfectly beautiful woman.’ as her great niece Laura Troubridge observed. 
 Another drawing full-face of Virginia Pattle by G.F. Watts, undated
Even though Virginia encouraged Watts and drove him to distraction, he never declared his love to her believing himself to be unworthy of her and that he had nothing to offer her.  Whether or not this was one of his biggest and deepest regrets is not known but his decision was to benefit Charles, Viscount Eastnor, the future Earl Somers, enchanted by her portrait on Watts’ studio dresser, proposed marriage and she accepted. Watts was devastated explaining, ‘It became wrong for me to love.  I nearly died but I conquered it. My existence became a blank.’  He made a large chalk drawing, the strongest image yet of her oval face, heavy lidded eyes and firmly modeled throat.  He painted The Vanished Spirit, returning for a last look upon the world, with Eastnor Castle and a book inscribed ‘Finis.’

Now that Watts was living amongst The Prinsep’s, he was thought of as a family member. They felt funny calling him Mr. Watts and he hated being called, ‘George’ so a nickname was definitely in order. Sara Prinsep’s youngest sister Sophie, who was married to an East India Company civil servant John Dalyrmple, named him ‘The Signor.’ This was not overly familiar yet respectful, it suited Watts.  In brotherly affection he nicknamed Sophie ‘Sorella.’ Gradually the prefix was dropped and he became simply ‘Signor,’ and was never called ‘George’ again.

 Lady Sophie Dalyrmple by G.F. Watts, oil on canvas 1851-53

Enter the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood - a revolutionary new art movement led by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman-Hunt during the summer of 1848. They believed in a purity in British painting and wanted what they called a ‘Truth to Nature’ put back into painting. They looked to Watts for guidance and help in attainment. For in his paintings they saw how he had an ability to bring forth a light that shone on each entire canvas, even illuminating the shadows. At the time, the PRB, as they wrote on their canvases, were horrifying the art establishment with their ‘realistic’ versions of paintings of biblical scenes. However, a Mr. John Ruskin, critic at the time, became enraptured, as he explained in ‘The Stones of Venice’,

‘We have, as far as I know, at present among us, only one  painter, G.F. Watts, who is capable of design in colour on a large scale. He stands alone among our artists of the old school, in his perception of the value of breadth in distant masses, and in the vigour of invention by which such breadth must be sustained; and his power of expression and depth of thought are not less remarkable than his bold conception of colour effect. Very probably some of the Pre-Raphaelites have the gift also; I am nearly certain that Rossetti has it, and I think also Millais; but the experiment has yet to be tried.’ 

It was during the year 1856 after William Holman-Hunt visited Watts at his studio in Little Holland House that another two important visitors arrived in true style. Rossetti lured his apprentice who explains further, ‘I am going with Rossetti to be introduced to a lot of swells who’ll frighten me to death, twenty-three year old ‘Ned’ Jones wrote to his father Edward Coley Burne-Jones:
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1st Bt
by Cundall, Downes & Co, or by John Watkins
albumen print on card mount, published 1864

‘Gabriel took me out in a cab…we drove and drove until I thought we should arrive at the setting sun – and he said, ‘You must know these people, Ned; they are remarkable: you will see a painter there, he paints a queer sort of pictures about God and Creation.’ So it was he took me to Little Holland House. It was a very strange society, foreign in its ease and brilliancy.’
Portrait of Edward Burne-Jones by G.F. Watts, 1870, (Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery)

Introduced by Rossetti as ‘the greatest genius of our age,’ Ned Jones, spoke little; but when he did, the young man with grey-blue eyes and fair hair straggling over his broad forehead, impressed the company. Mrs. Prinsep, spotting his unease, swept him under her wing. He warmed to Watts, admired his pictures and came from a similarly modest background, with a hint of Welsh blood. His father was a failed tradesman, his mother died shortly after he was born, and he himself was lovable, unassertive and delicate-William Michael Rossetti observed in Some Reminiscences that he also suffered weak health, though, he never said so to Watts.

 The illustrator George du Maurier described Little Holland House as : ‘A nest of proeraphaelites, where tutti quanti receive dinners and incense, and cups of tea handed to them by these women almost kneeling.  Watts, who is a grand fellow, is their painter in ordinary; the best part of the house has been turned into his studio, and he lives there and is worshipped till his manliness hath almost departed, I should fancy.’  Invited to dine, du Maurier was advised not to wear a dress coat. As he wrote to a friend, ‘Instead of dressing for dinner there, you undress.’ Watts wore a velvet coat and slippers, and in the music room afterwards stretched full length on the sofa, while everyone sat in a circle and listened to du Maurier singing Schubert lieder. The worship I got. I wonder if they are sincere.

Portrait of Julia Margaret Cameron by G.F. Watts, 1850-52,
National Portrait Gallery, London

The Pattles were too highly charged to be reticent: excruciating as it may have been, their praise was genuine. Julia Cameron could be seen reciting Tennyson’s latest poem to the vulnerable Whig statesman, the Marquess of Landsdowne under the shade of a tree. Ruskin’s former wife, Effie, abhorred the Tennyson and Watts worship at Little Holland House and reported that her new husband, Millais, hated the adulation he received. Nevertheless, he remained an habitué, and du Maurier returned on occasion for the intellectual society.

Hearing that Tennyson was in town, Sara Prinsep swept out in her robe and forced the protesting Poet Laureate back to Kensington, where she placed him in Hunt’s charge and sat him down to dinner, a defeated lion. ‘In this company there ought to be Lady Somers, whose beauty I have heard much extolled. I can’t see her anywhere, is she here?’ Tennyson roared and crushed Hunt’s discreet reply. The Laureate was facing savage abuse from the public over Maud, his epic poem against falsehood and tyranny. He arrived, distraught, one evening, with an anonymous letter-‘Abhorred Sir, Once I worshipped you, now I loathe you, I hate you. You beast!...Yours in aversion’ – which he showed to each guest, asking, ‘What would you do if you got a letter like this?’ He refused to be comforted.  

It was during another visit to Little Holland House that Tennyson composed ‘Guinevere’ for ‘Idylls of the King’, his recreation of the Arthurian legend, while pacing the lawns and grumbling out loud, ‘Gone-my lord! Gone thro’ my sin to slay and to be slain’  He explained to Watts how Arthur represented conscience and his knights the sentiments, impulses, feelings, ‘the more animal qualities that man has to contend with’ while sitting for his first of many portraits. 

One year later, in 1859,Tennyson  returned to Little Holland House to sit for his second portrait of which this time Lady Tennyson approved of. She did not like the first one because it did not capture his poetic imagination and asked Watts if he would do another one. Watts obliged. Tennyson asked Watts, ‘what was in the artist’s mind at the start of a new portrait?’ Watts explained, ‘how he didn’t want to highlight every wart and wrinkle but instead hoped to encourage his sitters to reveal their inner nature; he would talk to them, draw out each train of thought, and immerse himself in his subject to reproduce the face as ‘the window of the mind. ‘ 
 Alfred Tennyson, Poet Laureate, by G.F. Watts, 1859
Original painting is in private collection at 
Eastnor Castle Collection. 
Archived at Watts Gallery is this print photogravure by
Sir Emery Walker after GF Watts

 After the painting session wrapped up, the friends gathered for a chat session and this situation occurred:  John Ruskin was in the room overheard by Tennyson saying, ‘Jones, you are gigantic!’ dubbed Ned ‘Gigantic Jones.’ Watts had recommended ‘Ned’ to design stained glass windows for James Powell and sons and described him to everyone he knew as a ‘genius!’ Ruskin who now regarded Watts as ‘a man of great imagination and pathetic power,’  could see Watts lying on the sofa, with the 1857 Moxon edition of Tennyson’s poems open on his knee. Behind him stood the poet laureate, his face quivering with indignation as he explained, over his shoulder why the Pre-Raphaelite illustrations did not suit the poems. Ruskin, sitting at Watts’s side, looked up, deprecating Tennyson’s criticisms on the artist’s behalf, ‘feeling very cowardly in the good cause-yet maintaining it in a low voice:

Painter’s ought to attend to at least what the writer said if they couldn’t, to what they meant while Watts and I both maintained that no good painter could be subservient at all: but must conceive everything in his own way that no poems ought to be illustrated at all but if they were the poet must be content to have his painter in partnership not a slave.’ 

That summer, Idylls of the King, published to critical acclaim, and established Tennyson among England's finest poets, as Watts acknowledged when Emily sent him a copy of the poems: 'I feel happy to have lived at the time of their production, and proud of being acquainted with the Poet.'
One of the last photographs of 'Signor' G.F. Watts, 1903-4

A review of Fifteen Wild Decembers by Karen Powell

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