Monday, October 31, 2016

1744-1818: Anne Vallayer-Coster, French

Alexander Roslin
Portrait of Anne Vallayer-Coster, 1783
Anne Vallayer-Coster was a renowned still life painter in the late 1700s in France.

Still life was not the most prestigious art form, but a nice picture of fruit or table-top objects enhanced a refined home, so there was a steady market for it.

The work for which she was most admired was highly polished flower paintings, bouquets of meticulously rendered blossoms, often in lavish vases.

Background: Anne Vallayer was one of 4 daughters born into an artistic family; her mother painted miniatures and her father was a master goldsmith who worked at the Gobelins company, which produced luxury objects, including the finest tapestry. During Anne's childhood, the family lived on the grounds of the factory.

When Anne was in her teens, the family moved to a more fashionable part of Paris; her father began to trade in jewelry and soon won royal patronage. His elevated status and aristocratic patronage may have helped her overcome some of the restraints that hindered many women artists.

Training: Anne became interested in sketching and painting at an early age and her mother encouraged her by arranging for her to have private tuition from a lady art teacher. She later trained with celebrated marine painter Joseph Vernet.

Career: In 1770, when Anne was 26, her tutors and fellow artists suggested that she apply to become a member of the Royal Academy.  To gain admittance, she submitted two reception pieces,  entitled The Attributes of Painting, Sculpture, and architecture, and The Attributes of Music. Anne's work was highly admired, and she was unanimously elected to the Academy. Anne was one of four women admitted that year, the Academy's previously set limit; they were among the first women to become members, an essential step toward a successful career.

In those days, the Academy admitted artists by category, with history at the top of the heap, and still life at the bottom. Anne was accepted as a painter of still lifes—which meant subjects like baskets of fruit and arrangements of dead game. Anne's work derives from that of Jean Chardin, France's most advanced still life painter, and Chardin, himself, was among the judges when she first applied to the Academy. Her acceptance meant that she was permitted to exhibit at the Academy's Salon exhibitions, which she did regularly until 1817, a total of 46 years.

After she entered the Academy, Anne's popularity expanded rapidly. In addition to still life paintings, she also did portrait commissions.

Anne exhibited her first floral still life paintings in 1775; they were evidently popular, as she tended to specialize in them after that. Some of these designs formed the basis of luxury tapestries.

Anne's popularity with members of the royal court brought her to the attention of Queen Marie Antionette, who became her patron and friend. In 1779, when Anne was 35, Anne was named Painter to the Queen, which entitled her to free lodging at the Louvre.

In 1781, Anne married a wealthy and well-connected lawyer named Pierre Coster. The marriage took place at Versailles, and Queen Marie Antoinette witnessed the marriage contract.

Anne continued to produce portraits, in addition to still life, until 1785, when her figurative work received scathing reviews from critics, who favored the portraits of Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and Adelaide Labille-Guiard. After that, Anne decided to quit competing for portrait work, and concentrate on still life, in which she was superior to her competitors.

Despite her connection to the throne, Anne was able to survive the French Revolution of 1789. She and Pierre moved to the countryside, and her career went into decline. Nevertheless, she continued to make flower paintings, and when the monarchy was restored, she was patronized by Empress Josephine.

My photos of Anne's work:

Attributes of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, 1769
Jan's photo, 2015

Still Life with Plums and a Lemon, 1778
Legion of Honor
Jan's photo, 2017

Internet examples:

Still-Life with Tuft of Marine Plants, Shells and Corals, 1769
Louvre / Internet

The Attributes of Music, 1770

Portrait of a Woman with Violin, 1773
National Museum, Sweden / Internet

The above painting was auctioned March 26, 2015. Estimated value of $300,000 to $400,000.

A still life of mackerel, glassware, a loaf of bread and lemon, 1774

Joseph-Charles Roettiers, 1777
Chateau de Versailles / Internet
Joseph-Charles Roettiers (1692-1779) was a sculptor and engraver.

Vase of Flowers and Conch Shell, 1780
Metropolitan / Internet

Garden Still Life, 1780
Basildon Park, Britain / Internet

Still Life with Lobster, 1781
Toledo / Internet

Madame de Saint-Huberty in the Role of Dido, 1785
NMWA / Internet

Portrait of an Elderly Woman and her Daughter, undated

Roses in a Glass and Grapes, 1804
Private Collection / Internet

Sunday, October 30, 2016

1610-1696: Louise Moillon, French

Louise Moillon was a pioneer in the development of still-life painting in France during the 17th century, specializing in arrangements of fruit.

Background: Louise was born and raised in Paris, one of seven children. She lived in a neighborhood of Paris that was an enclave of people from the southern Netherlands; from them she could have learned the techniques of still life, a popular form in the Netherlands, and they also provided a ready market for sober depictions of fruits and vegetables.

Training: Louise came from a family of artists and was exposed to the techniques of oil painting from an early age. Her father and stepfather were painters as well as art dealers, and her brother Isaac was one of the earliest members of the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture.

Private Life: In 1640 Louise married a wealthy timber merchant with whom she had three children; that was effectively the end of her painting career.

Career: Although still life was considered a lowly genre in France, Louise made a successful career of painting fruits and vegetables. No one ever painted more luscious fruit, but her paintings tend to look much alike: always a simple, dignified composition with a dark, featureless background. She worked for the highest nobility in France, as well as King Charles I of England.

She sold her first still life—a bowl of peaches—in 1629. It created such a sensation that right away the royalty of France and England commissioned paintings. Her work was much in demand for about 10 years. About 40 works have been identified as hers.

My photos of Louise's work:

Still Life with a Basket of Fruit and a Bunch of Asparagus, 1630
Chicago / Jan's photo, 2010

Still-life with Fruit, c. 1637
Thyssen-Bornemisza / Jan's photo, 2015

Fruit, 1640
Grand Rapids / Jan's photo, 2013

Internet Example:

Moillon, Louise - The Fruit and Vegetable Costermonger - 1631.jpg
Louise Moillon, 1610-1696
The Fruit and Vegetable Costermonger, 1631
Web Gallery from Louvre Museum
Costermonger means street seller.

1609-1660: Judith Leyster, Dutch

Self Portrait, 1630
National Gallery, D.C.
Photo by Jan Looper Smith
Judith Leyster was a successful painter during the Dutch Golden Age, when some of the most beloved old masters were working. She was a major figure in the bustling art scene in Haarlem, even though Frans Hals, about 30 years her senior, was still working there. She had a particular strength in genre pictures, that is scenes of everyday life, as opposed to religious or mythological themes.

For all the acclaim granted Judith Leyster during her lifetime, she almost vanished from memory after her death. Her works were attributed to Hals, or to her husband, who was also a well-known painter, or to "unknown." In 1893, a painting acquired by the Louvre was found to have Leyster’s distinctive monogram (her initials entwined with a five-pointed star) hidden under a false signature reading “Frans Hals.” This discovery led to renewed research and appreciation of Leyster's oeuvre; today as many as 35 works are recognized as hers,

Background: Judith was born in Haarlem, the last of eight children. Her father operated a brewery called the “Ley-ster” (lode or guide star) from which the family took its name.

Training: How Judith got her training is not known. As an adult she was acquainted with Frans Hals, but whether as a student or a colleague is not known. It is clear that she studied and adapted his style and some of his subjects.

Career: By her mid-twenties, Judith was a professional artist in her hometown of Haarlem, with her own studio and three male students. Leyster was one of only two women accepted as a master in Haarlem’s painters’ guild during the entire 17th century. There were more women active at that time as painters in Haarlem, but since they worked in family workshops they did not need the professional qualifications to sign works or run a workshop.

Most of Judith's work dates from 1629-1635—she was 20 to 26—before she was married. The short term of her career makes it all the more remarkable.

Private Life: In 1636 Leyster married Jan Miense Molenaer, a more prolific and more famous artist of similar subjects. In the next eleven years they had 5 children—2 of whom survived to adulthood—and Judith painted very little, although she may have worked collaboratively with her husband.

Here's a link to examples of work by Jan Miense Molenaer

Judith died in 1660 aged fifty.

Wikiart has 22 of Judith's 35 known works: Judith Leyster

Our photos of Judith's work:

The Serenade, 1629
Riksmuseum / Jan's photo, 2015

Man Offering Money to a Young Woman, 1631
Mauritshuis / Jan's photo, 2015

Portrait of an Unknown Woman, 1635
Frans Hals / Jan's photo, 2015

The Gay Cavalier, c. 1639
Philadelphia / Jan's photo, 2012

1593-1654: Artemisia Gentileschi, Italian

Self-Portrait as the Allegory
of Painting, 1639
Royal Collection / Internet
The first truly great woman artist was an Italian Baroque painter named Artemisia Gentileschi. She is regarded as among the most progressive and expressive painters of her time. Her innovative compositions and focus on Biblical heroines set her apart from her male contemporaries and have lead to the celebration of Gentileschi as a painter with a uniquely female perspective.

Background: Artemisia was born in Rome, the eldest of five children. Her mother died when she was twelve. Her father was the celebrated artist, Orazio Gentileschi. (Gen-ti-les-ski)

Training: The reason Artemisia was able to become such a powerful artist was that her father Orazio was one of the greatest artists of his era. Orazio brought Artemisia into his workshop along with her brothers, but she showed more talent.

Since Orazio was painting in the manner of Caravaggio, Artemisia also applied Caravaggio’s aesthetic principles of theatrical lighting and naturalistic portrayal, and soon surpassed her father.

Here are paintings of lute players by all three painters. Notice that Artemisia's version is more realistic and more intimate.

The Lute Player, c. 1600
Hermitage Museum / Internet
Orazio Gentileschi
The Lute Player, c. 1620
National Gallery, D.C. / Internet

Artemisia Gentileschi
Self-Portrait as a Lute Player, c. 1617
Wadsworth Atheneum
Dan's photo, 2013

As a woman, Artemisia could not enter an art academy, so Orazio later hired another painter, his friend and colleague Agostino Tassi, to tutor Artemisia separately.

Private Life: Tassi raped Artemisia when she was 18.  After the initial “deflowering,” Tassi placated Artemisia with a promise of marriage, and thereby had sex with her repeatedly. After Orazio discovered that Tassi was already married, he brought suit against him for rape. During the ensuing seven-month trial, it was discovered that Tassi had engaged in adultery with his sister-in-law, planned to murder his wife, and planned to steal some of Orazio’s paintings. During the trial, Artemisia was subjected to a gynecological examination and torture using thumbscrews to verify her testimony. Tassi was found guilty and jailed for eight months, but Artemisia's reputation was ruined, making it impossible for her to win the aristocratic commissions that were essential to her success.

A month after the trial Orazio arranged for Artemisia to marry a modest artist from Florence. The couple moved to Florence, where they had two daughters. While in Florence, Artemisia also met Francesco Maria di Niccolò Maringhi, who became her life-long lover and financial supporter.

Career: The move to Florence marked the beginning of Artemisia’s independent life as an artist. Admiration for her talents overcame her humble social status and gave her access to intellectual circles, where she met Galileo and other leading cultural figures. In 1614, with the backing of powerful patrons and fellow artists, Artemisia was the first woman to be admitted to Florence’s Academy of Design. Lavish living, and a husband who gambled, caused mounting debts. In 1621 Artemisia returned to Rome, parting from her husband. Here she found new patrons for her portraiture. By the late 1620s she was in Venice; she went to Naples in 1630; in the late 1630s she went to London, either to assist her aging father in some ceiling paintings, or perhaps at the personal invitation of Charles I, a great patron of the arts. She spent much of the rest of her life in Naples and died there in 1654.

Art work: Of Gentileschi’s large body of work, only 34 paintings remain. Her main theme was retelling biblical stories from a woman's perspective.

Artemisia painted her first great work when she was only 17, before the rape. It depicts an apocryphal biblical story in which Susannah, a virtuous young wife, is spied upon by two aging voyeurs while bathing in her garden. Instead of being coy or flirtatious, as many male artists had depicted her, Susanna is vulnerable, frightened, and repulsed by their demands. The men loom large, leering, menacing, and conspiratorial. When she makes her way back to her house, they accost her, threatening to claim that she was meeting a young man in the garden unless she has sex with them. She is saved by the prophet Daniel.

Susanna and the Elders, 1610
Despite her experience of violence, Artemisia was able to express erotic feelings in paint. She was only 19 when she painted Danäe, which has a much more natural treatment of the female nude than her father or any other male artist of her time created. The story in Danäe is that she is a princess in Greek mythology who was shut up in a remote tower by her father because an oracle predicted that he would be killed by his daughter’s son. Perhaps intrigued by the challenge, Zeus managed to visit her in the form of “a shower of gold.” This subject was painted by at least nine major artists, but none depicted the princess’s experience as convincingly as she did.

Danäe, 1612
St. Louis / Jan's photo, 2013

Here's Orazio's treatment of the subject. Notice that it is stagier and less erotic, and the anatomy is less convincing.

Orazio Gentileschi,
Danäe, c. 1623

Because of the violence in her life, Artemisia is especially known for her depictions of "Judith Slaying Holofernes." This comes from an apocryphal biblical story in which a Jewish heroine who used her sexual attraction to gain access to an Assyrian general the night before he planned to attack her village. She plied him with drink, and when he had passed out, she decapitated him with a sword. The next day she prevented the battle by showing the Assyrian troops the head of their leader. Judith's heroism is a common theme in painting. It is thought that Artemisia painted her first version of the story during and after the rape trial, and that Judith is her own image while Holofernes is the image of Tassi. Her brow is furrowed in concentration, her forearms are tensed, and blood spurts wildly from her victim’s neck.  It is a masterpiece of Baroque art. Later she painted another version with the same composition but a different color palette.

Artemisia Gentileschi
Judith Slaying Holofernes, 1612-1613

Caravaggio had already treated this subject, but there is disagreement about whether Artemisia could have seen his version before she painted her own. Notice that his version is stagey, with the characters strewn out horizontally, while her version has a more dynamic, engaging composition showing real effort and teamwork, and the scene is much more nitty-gritty.

Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1599

Artemisia frequently treated biblical heroines whose actions saved the people. In the next painting, Esther, a Jewish girl who has married the Persian King without revealing her ethnicity, is now pleading with the King to spare the Persian Jews. She swoons because she fasted for 3 days before her audience with the king.

Esther before Ahasuerus, c. 1622
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2006

1552-1614: Lavinia Fontana, Italian

Self-portrait at the Clavichord with a Servant, 1577
Lavinia Fontana's contribution to the story of art was that she was the first woman who was able to succeed in the marketplace, without a royal patron, in direct competition for portrait commissions as well as works with religious and mythological scenes. In fact, she was the breadwinner for a large family, and, in a reversal of roles, her husband became the first known stay-at-home dad, as well as Lavinia's assistant in the studio. Lavinia's fame spread throughout Italy and beyond.

Background: Lavinia was born in Bologna, Italy, a city which took an exceptionally progressive attitude toward women, symbolized by the fact that the University there accepted women students as early as the 1200s. At least 23 female painters were active in Bologna in the 1500s and 1600s.

Lavinia was the daughter of a prominent painter, Prospero Fontana.

Training: The reason Lavinia was able to achieve such a high degree of success was that her father, Prospero, who had been a successful painter, served as her teacher and promoted her career. He developed her artistic skills, intellectual depth, and social graces.

Career: Prospero had a clear plan for Lavinia's career. One author claims that for the sake of respectability, he decided to marry her to a poor minor nobleman named Gian Paolo Zappi. According to their unusual marriage contract, Zappi, himself an artist, agreed to manage Lavinia's career, with Prospero's guidance, and to share her income with him.

Her first commissions were small devotional pictures on copper and children's portraits. In the late 1570s and early 1580s she painted several portraits of scholars and clerics, as portraits of cultural leaders were popular.

For over 20 years, beginning in the mid-1580s, she was the favorite portraitist for the noblewomen of Bologna. Her portraits combined naturalism with gravity. Her female subjects engage the viewer directly and confidently. For portraits, her strength is high fashion and abundant, exquisite detail.

Portrait of a Lady with a Dog, undated

Later, she executed many complicated multifigure compositions, one of the first women to do so. She was also the first woman artist to paint female nudes.

Bianca degli Utili Maselli and six of her children, around 1614
In 1603 Lavinia and her family moved to Rome at the invitation of the pope. Lavinia thrived in Rome, and the Pope himself was among her sitters. She won numerous honors there.

She produced 135 paintings, of which 30 are still known. At the height of her fame, Lavinia was a wealthy and celebrated woman.

Private life: At age 25, in 1577, Fontana married a fellow painter from a noble family. He acted as his wife's assistant and managed the household; the couple had eleven children; only three outlived their mother.

In her 50s, after Prospero died, Lavinia and her family moved to Rome, where she became portraitist to the Pope and received numerous honors.

My photo of Lavinia's work:

The Holy Family with Saint Catherine of Alexandra, 1581
LACMA / Jan's photo, 2014

Saturday, October 29, 2016

1532-1625: Sofonisba Anguissola, Italian

Sofonisba Anguissola, Self-Portrait, 1554, oil on poplar wood, 19.5 x 12.5 cm (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)
Self-Portrait, 1554
The first woman artist to establish an international reputation was Sofonisba Anguissola. She created her most endearing work early in her career: portraits of her family in informal situations and self-portraits. The fame garnered by these works led to her becoming a court painter in Spain in her 30s; her position required her to work in a more formal manner, with abundant attention to fabrics and textures.

Sofonisba's major contribution to the story of art is that she modeled the possibility that a woman could succeed as a professional artist. She was an important as a role model during her life, and is now revered by women artists as their earliest ancestor.

Very little of her work is shown in museums. Much was lost in a fire; much is in the Royal Collection at the Prado Museum. Some remains in Italy.

Background: Sofonisba was the eldest of seven children, six of whom were girls. Her family had noble heritage but was relatively poor. They lived in Cremona, an intellectually progressive town in northern Italy.

Training: The reason Sofonisba had the opportunity to develop and use her artistic talent was that her ambitious and progressive father, Amilcare, supported and guided her. Amilcare ensured that his daughters had a humanist education and encouraged them to cultivate their talents.

From age 14 to 17, Sofonisba, and one of her sisters apprenticed and boarded with a prominent local painter, Bernardo Campi, which was unprecedented at the time. When he moved, Sofonisba studied with another painter.

Bernardino Campi
Adoration of the Shepherds, 1574

At the age of 22,  after she had been painting professionally a few years, Sofonisba traveled to Rome. There she met Michelangelo, who immediately recognized her talent, and trained her informally for about two years, critiquing her work by mail.

The Chess Game, 1555
Sofonisba's sisters playing chess.
Career: As a woman Anguissola was not allowed to study nude models, so she could not undertake the large scale scenes that had the most prestige. Instead she experimented with new styles of portraiture: she posed her subjects in informal ways such as playing chess or holding animals.

Amilcare quickly noted her talent and bolstered her career by widely promoting her work in Italy and abroad.

While beginning to earn a living, Anguissola trained 3 of her younger sisters to paint. She no doubt needed their help; artists needed studio assistants to handle the many tedious tasks, such as grinding and mixing pigments.

At age 27, when she was already well known, Anguissola went to Milan, where she painted the Duke of Alba. He in turn recommended her to the Spanish king, Philip II.

The following year, Sofonisba was invited to join the Spanish Court, which became the turning point in her career. For fourteen years she served as a court painter and lady-in-waiting to the new queen, Elizabeth of Valois, Philip II’s third wife, who was only 14 at the time. Sofonisba soon gained the esteem and confidence of the young queen and spent the following years painting many official portraits for the court. Many of her court paintings were destroyed by a fire; others are in the Royal Collection at the Prado museum.

After the queen's death in childbirth at the age of 24, Philip II endowed Sofonisba with a generous pension. She moved to Sicily, and where she continued to be a leading portrait painter.

Financially independent, internationally recognized for her talent, and respected for her creativity and intelligence, Sofonisba was a true Renaissance woman. Sofonisba's great success opened the way for larger numbers of women to pursue serious careers as artists.

Private life: Sofonisba married twice. After his young queen died, Phillip arranged a marriage for her to the viceroy of Sicily. She was 38. She moved to Sicily and continued to paint. Her husband was said to have been supportive of her career. He died in 1579.

Two years later, while traveling to Genoa by sea, Anguissola fell in love with the ship's captain, a wealthy sea merchant; they married in 1580, when Sofonisba was 48. Her husband was considerably younger than she, but he was devoted to her and supported her artwork, and the two had a long and happy marriage.

Anguissola painted her final self-portrait in 1620, and died in Palermo in 1625, at the age 93.

Although I have seen her work at the Milwaukee Museum of Art, I don't have my own photos to share.


Self-portrait at the Easel Painting a Devotional Panel, 1556

Portrait of the artist's family:
her father Amilcare, sister Minerva, and brother Asdrubale,

Sofonisba Anguissola (Italian, 1532–1625) The Artist's Sister Minerva Anguissola, ca. 1564 Oil on canvas 33 1/2 x 26 in. (85.09 x 66.04 cm) Layton Art Collection, Gift of the Family of Mrs. Frederick Vogel, Jr. L1952.1 Photo credit P. Richard Eells
The Artist's Sister Minerva Anguissola, c. 1564
Milwaukee, Internet

The Artist's Sister Minerva Anguissola, c. 1564
Photo by Dan L. Smith

Philip II, 1565

Portrait of a Spanish Prince as Hunter (Philip II?), 1573
San Diego, Photo by J. L. Smith