The Painter at the Fountain: Jane Emmet de Glehn

 

John Singer Sargent, The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy, 1907. Art Institute of Chicago, oil on canvas 71.4 x 56.5 cm (28 1/8 x 22 1/4 in.) Signed, lower left: "John S. Sargent" Friends of American Art Collection, 1914.57

John Singer Sargent, The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy, 1907. Art Institute of Chicago, oil on canvas

I’m a little obsessed with this painting of the woman at the fountain.

It is John Singer Sargent’s The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy (1907) from the Art Institute of Chicago. It  has been a favorite painting of mine for decades. I love the idea that Sargent painted a turn-of-the-century woman artist in such a complimentary way.

 

I decided to do a deep dive into the story behind this painting.  It was 1907. The subject of the painting is a female artist in her smock, accompanied by a man who observes her in the act of painting. She is tall, confident, and is looking over the man’s head. She is concentrating on her subject, refusing to be distracted. He is relaxed, scrutinizing the painting in progress. Is he pleased? Is he critical? Is he offering advice? It’s hard to tell. And then there is Sargent, another artist, studying and painting them both. The woman is in the middle. How interesting.

Sargent’s subjects in this painting were his friends and fellow artists Jane and Wilfred de Glehn. Wilfred de Glehn (1870-1951) was a British landscape painter who had studied in London and at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He was 37 years old at the time of this painting.

Jane Erin Emmet de Glehn (1873-1961) was 34 years old, and had been married just 3 years, no children. (It turned out she never did have children.) She was a member of the prestigious Emmet family of New Rochelle, New York, the youngest of ten siblings. Jane’s great-grandfather Thomas Addis Emmet was the Attorney General of New York and one of the top lawyers admitted to appear in from of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jane came from a long line of successful women artists. Her mother, Julia Colt Pierson Emmet (1829-1908) was an artist and noted illustrator. Jane’s older sisters, Rosina Emmet Sherwood (1854-1948) and Lydia Field Emmet (1866-1952) were both successful painters and illustrators, as well as her cousin Ellen (“Bay”) Emmet Rand (1876-1941) from San Francisco. The Emmets were also distant cousins of Henry James and Edith Wharton. Success, talent and privilege ran freely through the Emmet blood.

Jane Emmet began studying art at a young age, following in the footsteps of her older sisters. Rosina and Lydia Emmet had studied at the Académie Julian in Paris for six months in 1884-85, after which they returned to New York to live and work as professional artists. Rosina married in 1887, had five children, and for two decades gave up most of her professional painting projects in favor of informal family portraits. Lydia continued her studies at the Art Students League, studying with such names as William Merritt Chase and Kenyon Cox. Both Rosina and Lydia were actively involved in Chase’s Shinnecock Summer School of Art from 1891-1893, and both of them were commissioned for major works in the Woman’s Building of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.

Jane’s older sisters helped Jane make incredible contacts in the New York art world. Jane got to meet John Singer Sargent in 1890, when she was just 17 years old. Sargent had arranged for the Spanish gypsy dancer La Carmencita to give a private performance and pose for a portrait at Chase’s 10th Street studio. The Emmet sisters were invited, along with a elite group in the New York art world, including William Merritt Chase, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Augustus Saint Gaudens and James Carroll Beckwith. Jane was lucky to be rubbing some pretty legendary elbows at such a young age.

In 1897, Jane followed in the path of her older sisters and went off to Paris to study art. Rosina and Lydia Emmet had been underwhelmed with the quality of instruction they’d received at the Académie Julian in the mid-1880s, so it could have been at their urging that Jane and Bay instead sought to study with the famous sculptor Frederick MacMonnies.

MacMonnies was a renowned American artist who had been living and sculpting in Paris since he arrived to study at L’´Ecole de Beaux Arts in the mid-1880s. (See my post “Musée Bourdelle and its American Connection” about MacMonnies’ studio at 16 Impasse du Maine in Paris.) By the mid-90s, fresh off the heels of his success with a giant commission for the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893,  MacMonnies had began to offer drawing instruction to some of his sculpting protégés such as Janet Scudder. His classes soon became popular with American female painters as well. By 1897, the word was out and the Emmet women wanted in.

Jane and Bay Emmet arrived in Paris in February, 1897 and found “a fine apartment [in Montparnasse], a cut above the lifestyle of most art students, and access to the inner circle of artists and architects.” (An Interlude in Giverny at 67, see below.) Bay was the first of the Emmet women to be invited to join MacMonnies’ Paris class at Académie Vitti, apparently because she had recently met and impressed John Singer Sargent in London, and had arrived in Paris with his hearty recommendation.

Jane Emmet had to settle for painting classes under Raphael Collin at Académie Colarossi at 10 rue de la Grande-Chaumière in Montparnasse, but kept her eye on Bay’s progress with MacMonnies, hoping for the opportunity to join his class.

In May, 1897, Bay was invited to join MacMonnies at his summer studio in Giverny. MacMonnies and his wife, fellow artist Mary Fairchild MacMonnies Low (an American from St. Louis) had began spending their summers is Giverny, well-known both then as now as the home of Claude Monet. The MacMonnies welcomed Jane and Bay Emmet, as well as other young American artists to Villa Bêche, their summer rental in Giverny. Bay returned to Paris in the fall of 1897 and went on to have a stunning career as an American portrait artist. Jane returned to New York, her talent failing to attract the same attention Bay’s or her older sisters.

In the meantime, Wilfred de Glehn left London in 1891 to study painting in Paris at L’´Ecole de Beaux Arts. While still a student, he was hired  to assist John Singer Sargent and Edwin Austin Abbey on their mural commission for the Boston Public Library. Sargent and de Glehn became lifelong friends. Mutual friends said that they both had the same kind of “cosmopolitan attitude.” De Glehn became a part of Sargent’s inner circle.

Sargent, Abbey and de Glehn did all of the work for the Boston murals in England but traveled to Boston frequently to meet with the architects or to supervise the installation of new panels. In 1903, they traveled to Boston to celebrate the installation of one of Sargent’s murals, Dogma of the Redemption.

It is widely believed that Jane Emmet met Wilfred at the Boston Library installation in January, 1903. Others believe it is possible that Jane and Wilfred met during Jane’s trip to London in 1902. In any event, Jane and Wilfred were engaged by the fall of 1903 and married in 1904.

Wilfrid and Jane’s engagement initially caused tension between Wilfred and Sargent. Sargent may have feared Wilfred would be moving to America. This letter from Sargent to Wilfred (whom he calls “Premp,”) is playful and witty, but also reveals a real sense of shock and apprehension at the news:

My Dear Premp,

I have just opened a packet of letters and find your, let us say, communication.

 

My God! what a trick to play to your sincere well wisher. I will up and marry in the attempt to be quits.

 

Well, troglodyte of the Cordilleras. I foresee that the time will come when, this first shock being over, I will spontaneously and sincerely congratulate you – especially when I see and like the lady which I feel I am sure to do – and the sooner the better – at this moment the cold sweat is on my brow. I feel as if a very boon companion has been carried off, probably for his good, but also probably to live in America which means to me personally a great loss. However and whereas and nevertheless.

 

These small and discreditable and ill-mannered whisperings must be stifled, and I will train for better sentiments by reading your letter which is very convincing that you are happy and likely to be permanently so.

All that your fussy and egotistical of friends will want to hang to, is the chance or the power of contributing a little to your happiness.

 

Be as happy as you like Dear Sir, on those conditions.

Don’t be a troglodyte and show this to her and spoil my chance of becoming her friend as well as yours. You may tell her that is my hope and ambition and that I shall be extremely annoyed if she doesn’t like me.

 

Yours ever,

J.S.S.

 

Is it just me, or does anyone else get a Brokeback Mountain “I wish I knew how to quit you” vibe from this letter? The fact is, no one really knows for sure about Sargent’s sexual orientation, although there are many who insist that he was indeed a closeted gay man. After Sargent’s death, French artist Jacques-Émile Blanche claimed that Sargent’s homosexuality “was notorious in Paris, and in Venice, positively scandalous. He was a frenzied bugger.”

This is what a de Glehn relative named John Debruyne has to say about it (which I discovered in the comments on this website):

Sargent always called him Premp and (this is dangerous territory) I think he was possibly romantically keen on his young protégé. When Willie married Jane Emmet he sulked for some months and only finally gave him a wedding present (A secretaire antique desk with a Lowestoft china dining set which I still have) some six months after the wedding.

There are those who say “so what?” and others who say Sargent’s work deserves to be observed and appreciated with a new eye. For my purposes here, I’m just curious (if it is true), what it all might have meant to Jane de Glehn. Did she know? Did she understand? She had been living in an artsy, bohemian millieu for over a decade. She couldn’t have been entirely innocent about homosexuality. Did she turn a blind eye or did she accept that her husband may have had a past? It’s so hard to know.

No matter what history Wilfred had with Sargent, it appears clear that Sargent became a big fan of Jane, at least according to de Glehn family legend:

Eventually he came to value Jane who was a capable American matriarch of the type he appreciated. He liked tough women.

The three of them grew closer after the de Glehns moved to their new home at 34 Cheyne Walk in London, just around the corner from Sargent’s Tite Street studio. Jane became known for being an excellent hostess to the artsy set of London. As is evident from Wilfred’s painting below, their new home was charming.

 

Wilfred de Glehn, Jane on the Staircase, Cheyne Walk, c. 1905

Wilfred de Glehn, Jane on the Staircase, Cheyne Walk, c. 1905

 

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As soon as they were married, Jane and Wilfred began traveling with Sargent, starting with their honeymoon in Venice in 1904. All three would paint on their travels, Jane less prolifically than the two men. Sargent loved painting Jane. It would have given them long, leisurely hours to get to know each other. Jane wrote home that she found Sargent’s paintings of her to be “delicious” and “clever.”

Jane Emmet de Glehn, Wilfred Sketching in a Gondola, 1904

Jane Emmet de Glehn, Wilfred Sketching in a Gondola, 1904. Can you imagine a better souvenir of your honeymoon than this? Jane is very talented, clearly not just a dilettante.

John Singer Sargent, In a Gondola (Jane de Glehn), watercolor on paper (1904)

John Singer Sargent, In a Gondola (Jane de Glehn), watercolor on paper (1904).  This painting is from Jane and Wilfred’s honeymoon in Venice in 1904. Jane wrote home to her mother: “We went out sketching with Sargent the other day and he made a water colour of at the end of the gondola. Awfully clever. There is really no face. It is all white veil and hat, but it is deliciously done.”

 

 

In the summer of 1907, the de Glehns ventured out on a grand tour of Europe, starting in the Swiss Alps with Sargent, then traveling south to Florence, Perugia and Assisi  before meeting up with Sargent in Rome in September. Jane posed and painted.

Wilfred de Glehn, Jane by the Stream, Purtud, Val d'Aosta, 1907

Wilfred de Glehn, Jane by the Stream, Purtud, Val d’Aosta, 1907. In 1907, the de Glehns traveled with Sargent to the Swiss Alps. Jane posed for Sargent in the morning and for her husband in the afternoon. Notice Jane’s hat and scarf. It’s the same one she will be wearing when Sargent paints her again that fall for The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jane, Wilfred and Sargent arrived at Villa Torlonia in the village of Frascati in the fall of 1907. Frascati, also known for its white wines, is about 15 miles from Rome. They stayed at the Grand Hotel in Frascati (possibly the Villa Tuscolana today?) and as Jane said in her letters home, “found endless things to paint in the gardens of the Villa Torlonia.”

Wilfred de Glehn, Fountain at the Villa Torlonia, Frascati, oil on canvas, 1907

Wilfred de Glehn, Fountain at the Villa Torlonia, Frascati, oil on canvas, 1907, private collection. This is what Wilfred was working on before he took a break to rest beside his wife’s easel. Clearly, de Glehn and Sargent had similar painter sensibilities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But back to Jane and Wilfred in front of the fountain. Apparently, Sargent was already painting Jane at the easel, when Wilfred took a break beside his wife. That was when Sargent got the idea to put Wilfred in the painting too. According to

The odd pose of Willie lounging beside Jane was an afterthought. “Stay there Premp.You look like her gigalo, I’ll paint you in.” Uncle Willie said it was agony after a while because the stone balustrade cut into his back.

 

http://www.jssgallery.org/Paintings/The_Fountain_Villa_Torlonia_Frascati.htm

Jane wrote home about the painting and the pose. Her letter reveals that the friendship between the three of them had developed nicely. You can tell Jane is a good-natured woman who could be teased without being threatened:

He [Sargent] has struck Wilfred in looking at my sketch with rather a contemptuous expression as much as to say ‘Can you do plain sewing any better?’………Wilfred is in shirt sleeves, very idle and good for nothing and our heads come against the great panache of the fountain.

So according to Jane, the look on Wilfred’s face (the same face I have been struggling to replicate, argh) is a conscious pose designed by Sargent to tell a story.

And what a story. The possible tensions between a husband and wife with equal or similar talent; the joy in artistic friendships, the surprising camaraderie of the three of them. Jane and Wilfred’s heads are both up against the powerful “panache” of the fountain, united but yet separate in their desire and effort to create art out of life. United yet separate in their friendship with Sargent.

They continued to paint and travel together until World War I broke out. In September 1909 Wilfrid and Jane joined Sargent, his sister Emily and Eliza Wedgwood in Venice and Corfu. They discovered the dazzling gardens of the Villa Soteriotisa in Corfu, where Sargent would paint In the Garden, Corfu.

John Singer Sargent,

John Singer Sargent, In a Garden, Corfu, oil on canvas, 1909. This painting was included in the Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of New York, and features Jane de Glehn in a blue gown surrounded by Sargent’s sister Emily and their friend Eliza Wedgwood.

Although Jane enjoyed posing for Wilfred and Sargent, she never gave up her own painting. Here is a lovely painting from a trip to Florence in 1910:

Jane Emmet de Glehn, Loggia of the Villa Toree Galli, Florence, oil on canvas, 1910

 

The truth is that Jane painted for pleasure, but her husband painted to make a living. Wilfred became a celebrated British painter, exhibiting widely and receiving numerous awards. He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1932. His exhibit history spans from 1894 to 2002. His paintings appear in dozens of museums today, from London to Australia to Washington, D.C. Jane would occasionally exhibit with him.

Jane would never have children and would never achieve the same success as her older sisters Rosina and Lydia or her cousin Bay. She would never be invited to paint the portrait of a sitting president, as Bay was. She would never experience the domestic pleasures of her sister Rosina, who after many years as a successful artist and illustrator, painted numerous portraits of her own five children.

And yet. She continued to paint nearly her entire life for the sheer joy of it. Here is a painting by Wilfred that shows her painting alongside the river Avon in 1943, at the age of 70. If you look closely under the tree on the right, you can see a woman in a white hat and white artist’s smock in front of an easel.

Wilfred de Glen, Jane de Glehn Painting by the River Avon, c. 1943

Wilfred de Glen, Jane de Glehn Painting by the River Avon, c. 1943

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Sargent’s passing in 1925, Jane and Wilfred’s marriage took them through two World Wars. Wilfred would pass away in 1951, Jane in 1961.

I would like to think she found great happiness. There is something very powerful and inspiring about her image as the painter at the fountain. An accomplished painter in her own right, a woman who painted for companionship and joy, not for fame and fortune, a true friend to John Singer Sargent, and not just a woman in the middle.

Jane and Wilfrid de Glehn in the mid-1940s

Jane and Wilfrid de Glehn in the mid-1940s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources and Recommendations for Further Reading:

The Emmets- A Family of Women Painters by Martha J. Hoppin (1982)

 

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An Interlude in Giverny by Joyce Henri Robinson and Derrick R. Cartwright (2000)

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John Sargent by Evan Charteris (1927)

John Sargent by Evan Charteris

And for a wealth of biographical material on Wilfred de Glehn, see: www.deglehn.com.  For John Singer Sargent, see www.johnsingersargent.org.

In the Conservatory with Madame Bartholomé

Albert Bartholomé, Dans la serre (1881), a portrait of his first wife Prospérie

Albert Bartholomé, Dans la serre (1881), a portrait of his first wife Prospérie. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, on loan to the Impressionism, Fashion & Modernity exhibit currently at the Art Institute of Chicago.

This painting, called Dans la Serre (In the Conservatory) is getting a lot of well-deserved attention in the Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity Exhibit currently on display at the Art Institute of Chicago (June-September 22, 2013).

In spite of the snippy things the New York Times had to say about it (“wide miss” and “cloying”), in my experience, this painting draws some of the biggest crowds at the exhibit, from Paris to Chicago. Behind it lies a tragic but fascinating story.

Albert Bartholomé (1848-1928) painted this portrait of his first wife Prospérie de Fleury (the daughter of the Marquis de Fleury) in 1881. She posed in a fashionable  dress in the conservatory of their home, which was located at 8 rue Bayard in Paris.

 

The dress of Prospérie Bartholomé, Musée d'Orsay

The dress of Prospérie Bartholomé, Musée d’Orsay.

 

 

 

The painting is large and captivating, but when exhibited right next to the very dress that Propérie (“Périe”) wore while she posed, it’s a show stopper. The detailing of the dress is as remarkable as its petite size. Seriously, I think I could have worn that dress in sixth grade.

 

 

 

The setting of Dans Le Serre reflects the couple’s wealth and standing. The garden in the background reminds me of the beautiful gardens of the Musée Nissim de Camondo near Parc Monceau in Paris, another home of great wealth and history (a home I like to call the “Downton Abbey of Paris.”)

Backyard gardens of the Musée Nissim de Camondo in Paris.

Backyard gardens of the Musée Nissim de Camondo in Paris.

The Bartholomé home wasn’t in the fashionable Parc Monceau neighborhood, but it was located on an equally beautiful block in the “Golden Triangle” of the 8th arrondissement between the Seine and the Place de François 1er. This is what their block looked like back then:

Place François 1er before 1909, source: wikipedia.

Place François 1er before 1909, source: wikipedia.

Fontaine de la Place François 1er, Paris. Source: wikipedia

Fontaine de la Place François 1er, Paris. Source: wikipedia

 

 

 

And here is the Place de François de 1er now, including the beautiful fountain you might recognize from the opening montage in Midnight in ParisThe Google Map Street View will give you a good glimpse of the structure that stands at 8 rue Bayard today.

 

 

 

 

 

According to the Musée d’Orsay, the Bartholomés enjoyed hosting salons for their artistic circle of friends (including Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt and Jacques-Emile Blanche) with free-ranging intellectual discussions about music, painting and books.

Two years after he painted Périe’s portrait in Dans le Serre, Bartholomé drew a pastel portrait showing her reading on the couch in front of a bookshelf. Clearly, their home was full of books. Périe is dressed in another fashionable dress, this one with black ruffles and resembling some of the other fashions in the Impressionism and Fashion exhibit, particularly Manet’s Parisienne. She seems to be wearing the same gold bracelet that she did in Dans le Serre.

Albert Bartholomé, The Artist’s Wife, Reading, pastel and charcoal (1883), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection.

Two years later, Albert and Périe became the subject of a joint portrait by Edgar Degas, a painting started in 1885 called The Conversation. Once again, Périe’s outfit (in which her bustle resembles the tail plume of a turkey) seems to be the focus of the composition.

Edgar Degas, The Conversation (1885-1895), Yale University Art Gallery, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon.

Edgar Degas, The Conversation (1885-1895), Yale University Art Gallery, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon. Image: Yale Art Gallery e-catalogue.

Unfortunately, Prospérie was in poor health and would die in 1887, just two years after they posed for the Degas painting. Bartholomé was so overwhelmed with grief that he preserved the dress that Périe wore in the Dans le Serre. I’m not sure how it became the property of the Charles and André Bailly Gallery in Paris, but it was subsequently gifted to the Musée d’Orsay in 1991.

As if the Bartholomé story wasn’t sad enough, Périe’s death caused Albert to give up painting altogether. On the advice of his friend Edgar Degas, he took up sculpting instead. Maybe the highly physical act of molding large-scale plaster and bronze was more cathartic than painting with a brush.

His first sculpture was for his wife’s tomb in front of a church in Bouillant, France, near Crépy en Valois. Not only did Bartholomé express his own raw grief, he also captured his young wife’s likeness. She has the same delicately pointed nose that she does in the painting Dans la Serre.

Bartholomé sculpure on his first wife's tomb in Bouillant, France.

Bartholomé’s sculpture for his first wife’s tomb in Bouillant, France. Image: Parismyope.blogspot.com.

From that point on, Bartholomé’s entire oeuvre consisted of grief sculptures. He is probably best known for his Monument aux Morts at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris (1888-1889), which is heart wrenchingly sad.

Albert Bartholomé, Monuement aux Mortsu cimetière du Père Lachaise (1889-1899). Image: parismyope.blogspot. com.

Albert Bartholomé, Monuement aux Morts du cimetière du Père Lachaise (1889-1899). Image: parismyope.blogspot. com.

Despite Bartholomé’s deep and long-lasting grief, he did manage to remarry in 1901. I wish I knew the whole story, but all I can find is that his second wife Florence Letessier (18xx-1959) had been a model before their marriage, so presumably that’s how they met. Bartholomé would have been in his 50s at the time of his second marriage but Florence was much younger.

Bartholomé sculpted Florence in 1909, but it doesn’t look as though her youth and serenity captured his imagination as much as the memory of his first wife. Florence’s face looks full and healthy but her expression and posture are utterly bland.

Albert Bartholomé, Bust, Madame de Bartholomé, Née Florence Letessier, Second Spouse of the Artist (1909). Image:http://www.culture.gouv.fr/public/mistral/joconde

Albert Bartholomé, Bust, Madame de Bartholomé, Née Florence Letessier, Second Spouse of the Artist (1909), Musée d’Orsay. Image: http://www.culture.gouv.fr/public/mistral/joconde

Sometime after their marriage, Bartholomé and Florence moved to 1 rue Raffet in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, where he would have a sculpting studio right next door to their home. The home and studio are still standing, as you can see from Google Maps Street View. Today, the studio at 1 bis rue Raffet rents out separately from the apartment building next door.

On a side note, Bartholomé’s art studio on rue Raffet became part of a huge art controversy in the 1950s. Apparently, Degas allowed his good friend Bartholomé to make plaster casts of some of his sculptures for Bartholomé’s private collection, including a plaster cast of Little Dancer, Age 14. Florence inherited the plaster casts in upon Albert’s death in 1928, but they didn’t go on the art market until she was placed in an asylum in the 1950’s, creating a big controversy.

In any event, you shouldn’t miss the chance to go see Bartholomé’s portrait of his wife Périe in Dans le Serre at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity Exhibit. Just look into Périe’s eyes, and you can almost imagine their sad story. It’s anything but a wide miss.

 

 

 

 

 

Say Yes To The Dress: Claude and Camille and Fashion

So, I have to admit I’m a little nuts about the Impressionism and Fashion Exhibit at the Musée d’Orsay. In my last months in Paris, I went four times. I had a lot of American visitors who wanted to go, but I truly did want to keep going back. Each time I found something new.

One of my favorite rooms of the exhibit was the last room, decorated to look like a park. That’s where you could find Monet’s oversized plein air paintings with Camille in her huge, fabulous dresses. I grabbed my visitors, and said, that’s Camille! Like I knew her.

But I kind of do. A couple of years ago, I read Claude and Camille: A Novel of Monet by Stephanie Cowell, and I even hosted Stephanie at a literary luncheon at the Downtown Glen Ellyn BookFest, an annual event sponsored by my local library and bookstore. The book is all about Claude Monet and his first wife Camille. How they met, how she posed, where he painted.

So when I saw this painting (below) at the exhibit, a study of Bazille and Camille (1865), on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C., I stopped and gaped. It was Camille and Bazille, shortly after she’d met Claude. I’d read about their summer trip to Fountainbleu in Claude and Camille. How the 18 year-old Camille had snuck out of the house without her parents’ permission, bringing along her older sister as a chaperone.

Claude Monet, Camille and Bazille (Study for Luncheon on the Grass) 1865. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

This painting was just a study, painted quickly en plein air in the Fountainbleu Forest, but I think it’s almost better than the final painting, Luncheon on the Grass (1865-66), shown below. It feels fresh and immediate, as if you’re standing right there spying on this couple from the dappled shade behind the bushes. According to the article Fashion En Plein Air by Birgit Haase in the Exhibit Catalog, the dress that Camille is wearing would have been a highly fashionable outfit for women on trips to the countryside that year. Camille, who left her corset at home, is the perfect model for modern leisure wear in 1865. Monet obviously said yes to this dress – the embroidery, the cut and draping of the back of the dress and jacket seems to be the focus of the whole painting.

After the summer in Fountainbleu, Monet went back to Paris with the plan of turning his small plein air studies into a bold large canvas suitable for the Paris Salon. He made all kinds of changes to the dresses and the poses, but was so dissatisfied that he abandoned the project. What is left of the final painting appears in two giant panels at the Musée d’Orsay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story of how this celebrated painting got divided into separate panels is a good one. In Stephanie Cowell’s novel, Monet struggled all winter trying to paint Luncheon on the Grass, but he was so disappointed with the result that he decides not to enter it in the next Salon:

What he had seen so clearly on a summer’s day in the forest was not on the canvas before him. People were clumsily placed; the brushstrokes were all wrong. It had been repainted many times and he had never found the balance of human form and light, It was not a masterpiece at all. How could he not have seen it before? How could he have made such a mess of it?

In the novel Claude and Camille, Monet rips the canvas off the frame, rolls it up and moves on to the next painting. Thanks to the Musée d’Orsay, we have Monet’s own explanation for what happened next:

I had to pay my rent, I gave [Luncheon on the Grass] to the landlord as security and he rolled it up and put in the cellar. When I finally had enough money to get it back, as you can see, it had gone mouldy.

Monet retrieved the painting in 1884 and cut it into separate panels. Two of the three panels have survived and are included in the Impressionism and Fashion Exhibit.

After abandoning Luncheon of the Grass, Monet decided to ask Camille into pose again, this time in a green and black striped taffeta silk dress with an enormous train. Art historians don’t know exactly where this dress came from. They speculate that because of its sumptuous fabric and fur, it would have been beyond the financial means of either Monet or Camille. Stephanie Cowell imagines that Monet’s friend Bazille rented it for a painting of his own, and was willing to loan it to Monet. In fact, there is evidence to support Stephanie’s theory. In an 1866 letter to his mother, Bazille mentions a green satin dress that he had rented.

Wherever it came from, it was a dress that inspired a painting. In the novel, Claude whispers to Camille: “I could make an unforgettable picture of you in that dress.”

Claude Monet. Camille (1866). Kunsthalle Bremen, on loan to the Impressionism and Fashion  Exhibit in New York and Chicago.

Camille said yes to the dress. She added with a fur-trimmed jacket and empire hat, and posed as if she was heading out the door. Once again, she appeared to lack a corset, a sign of independence and modernity.

Stephanie Cowell’s book goes on to describe the days that Monet spent in his studio, painting Camille in the green dress, the attraction between them building each day. Claude and Camille would later marry over the strong objections of her parents. Camille died in 1879 at the age of 32.

The painting would become known as Camille, The Green Dress (1866). It was accepted at the 1866 Salon.

This painting did not appear in Paris, but it will travel to New York and Chicago as part of the Impressionism and Fashion Exhibit, along with a real green tafetta dress from 1865, thanks to the costume collection of the Manchester Gallery of Art in England.

I can’t imagine a better book club pick than Claude and Camille, paired with a field trip to see the Impressionism and Fashion Exhibit at the Musée d’Orsay (September 25, 2012 – January 20, 2013), the Metropolitan Museum of New York (February 26- May 27, 2013) or the Art Institute of Chicago (June 26- September 22, 2013).

Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity: Highly recommended

Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell: Highly recommended

Luncheon of the Boating Party: A Day in Chatou

Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880-1) makes me want to pull up a chair, sit down next to Gustave Caillebotte (right foreground) and pour myself a glass of wine. Maybe I would even feed the doggie some grapes and chat with Aline Charigot, Renoir’s future wife (the pretty woman in the red-flowered hat).

This is an accessible, sunny painting that reflects a leisurely Sunday afternoon at one of Renoir’s favorite hang-outs, Restaurant de la Maison Fournaise, just outside Paris in Chatou on the Seine. Did you know that you can still go there today? As Renoir said himself: “You won’t regret the trip, I assure you. There isn’t a lovelier place in all Paris surroundings.”

For a long time, the restaurant suffered from neglect and deterioration. As Renoir’s son Jean said in his book, Renoir, My Father (1962):  “I paid a visit to the place last year. How depressing it was! Nothing but factories, mounds of coal, blackened walls and dirty water. The leprosy of modern industry has eaten away the little woods and luxuriant grass.”

Maison Fournaise before renovation. From the restaurant’s website.

From 1984 to 1990, the restaurant was completely renovated with a combination of art grants and philanthropy. Today, the scene is much improved.

Maison Fournaise today

Renoir’s balcony still stands, complete with the orange striped awning. 

The view from Renoir’s easel. 

“The place was delightful; a perpetual holiday. . . . At night there was always someone about who volunteered to play the piano for dancing. The tables on the terrace were pushed back into a corner. . . . the music floated out through the open window.” – Jean Renoir, in Renoir, My Father

I even brought out my own pastels and tried to capture the scene, but alas, I’m no Renoir.

My art bag and I were here. . . . I just wish some “Midnight in Paris” magic would transport me back to the day. . . .

Restaurant de la Maison Fournaise is easily reached by car or by train. You can take the same route that Renoir did from Paris to the Chatou-Croissy station via the RER A1 Line (Zone 4), where it is only a few minutes walk to what is now called “Ile des Impressionistes.”

It was this easy access that made the restaurant Renoir and Aline’s favorite meeting place back in 1880. According to Jean Renoir: “It was easy to reach. . . . There was a local Saint Germain train, every half hour, that stopped at the Chatou bridge station. At the Fournaises’ [my parents] found a group of friends who seemed to watch over their idyl with tender interest. The painter Caillebotte looked after Aline Charigot like a younger sister.”

You can read an imagined story of the couple’s developing romance in Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland, who said that she had often admired the painting and wondered about the models. Who were they, and why did they pose like they did?  “I saw tremendous story potential in these appealing characters, flushed with pleasure and enjoying a summer day on a terrace overlooking the Seine.” Vreeland imagines a love triangle between Renoir, Aline, and another woman in the painting, Alphonsine Fournaise, the daughter of the restaurant owner.

You can enjoy your own toast to Renoir and his women at the restaurant, where they offer an apertif called “The Alphonsine,” made of orange juice, champagne and grenadine.

My own book club back in Chicago read and enjoyed Susan Vreeland’s book, which I highly recommend. Right now, I am in the middle of Renoir, My Father by Jean Renoir, and I am pleasantly surprised what a good read it is. Jean’s memory was incredibly good, his writing is thoughtful, and the stories his father used to tell him make captivating history.

If you or your book club can’t get to Paris, maybe you can schedule a visit to the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. to see the original painting. At the Art Institute of Chicago you can see another of Renoir’s paintings from Chatou called Lunch at the Restaurant Fournaise (The Rower’s Lunch) (1875).

At the very least, you can enjoy some art history at the website of Maison Fournaise here.

Stealing Magic in Paris

I have a special treat for the kids back home in the States: a photo tour of the Paris scenes in one of their favorite books, Stealing Magic (Random House 2012) by Marianne Malone.

In addition to  my year-long adventure in Paris, I am also a bookseller back in the United States. Some of my bookstore’s most popular children’s books are by Illinois art teacher and author Marianne Malone, including 68 Rooms and Stealing Magic.

Malone’s books start out in the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. During a field trip to the “68 Rooms” at the Art Institute, Malone’s young characters find a magical key that enables them to shrink and time travel through the miniature rooms.

In Stealing Magic, the children time travel through Thorne Room E-27, French Library of the Modern Period, 1930s, and find themselves in Paris during the 1937 World’s Exposition. They tour the fairgrounds located at the feet of the Eiffel Tower and befriend a young Jewish girl named Louisa. When Ruthie and Jack time travel back to the United States, they realize they must return to 1930s Paris to warn their friend Louisa about the rising Nazi threat in Europe. It’s a wonderful story with a blend of history, danger, art and adventure.

Thorne Room E-27, French Library of the Modern Period, 1930s, Art Institute of Chicago.

As a treat for all of the 68 Rooms fans back in the States, I mapped out the scenes in the book, and took my camera to the Trocadéro neighborhood for a Stealing Magic literary tour of Paris.

rue Le Tasse, the location of Louisa Meyer's apartment in Paris. Louisa and her family lived on a quiet, private street in a very nice neighborhood. So nice, in fact, that dogs are prohibited from "doing their business" (les chiens faire leurs ordures) on the street.

After Louisa meets Ruthie and Jack, she shows them where she lives: "She pointed across the park to a row of beautiful buildings." . . . "Number seven, rue Le Tasse. Second from the end. . . ." From rue Le Tasse you have a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower.

See all of the fancy decoration on the building facade? Doesn't it look just like the illustration in the book? Louisa waved at Ruthie and Jack from her balcony of her apartment at 7 rue Le Tasse (p. 175).

The view of the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadéro. Jack and Ruthie would have seen many more buildings near the base of the Eiffel Tower than we see today, including the German and the Soviet pavillions that were build for the 1937 fair. Most of the buildings from the World's Exposition were torn down afterwards.

Ruthie and Jack's view of the Jardins du Trocadéro and the Eiffel Tower. "A long, rectangular fountain ran down the center of the gardens, its jets spraying water dramatically into the air. The ground sloped to the Seine River and a bridge that people walked across to the Eiffel Tower."

Marianne Malone does a wonderful job of portraying Paris life in the 1930s, from the baguettes in the bicycle baskets to the fashionable women in their high heels and skirts. I couldn’t help but smile when she described the small elevator in Louisa’s apartment building: “the accordion-style metal gate . . . only big enough for two,” because for me, that lovely little detail seems to capture the essence of Paris apartment life, whether it’s 1937 or 2012.

Stealing Magic also teaches grade school children about Nazism and the Holocaust in an  age appropriate way. When Louisa’s mother expresses her disbelief about the danger and says: “But surely Hitler can’t control Paris,” we are reassured that Ruthie and Jack know better. It makes for a good story, and at the same time, a valuable learning opportunity.

I highly recommend Stealing Magic and I hope you enjoyed the photo tour.