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Teacher of John Singer Sargent, Edvard Munch, and more: Léon Bonnat
Look through the biographies of the great nineteenth century French painters, often those from the USA and other nations, and you’ll see familiar names appearing as their teachers. These include Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat (1833–1922) and his teacher Léon Cogniet, who was in turn taught by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, whose... Read more
Painting Reality: 6 Science and technology
The height of Naturalist painting, between about 1880-1910, coincided with a period of prodigious scientific and technological advance. In almost every field touched by these, major changes transformed people’s lives, from fast high-speed travel by train and new industrial processes to general anaesthesia for surgery. Although Naturalism had originated... Read more
Spinning in paintings: 2 Meanings
In addition to its role as a staple and everyday activity of women, spinning has acquired some specific meanings which have been depicted in paintings. In this second and final article, I will look at some of these. The Spinster In a number of paintings, spinning is shown as... Read more
Spinning in paintings: 1 History
Of all the many and varied activities that women did and do, one of the most characteristic was spinning. Not only that, but it was socially acceptable for women of all ranks, from queens to laundresses. It was far more purposeful and productive than most of the pursuits of... Read more
Into the Light: Enrique Simonet, Death and the countryside, up to 1900
Think of painting in Spain around 1900, and we tend to envisage the vast golden canvases of Sorolla’s eternal summer. Glorious though they are, he was by no means the only famous painter active in Spain at that time. Allow me to introduce you to Enrique Simonet Lombardo (1866–1927).... Read more
Thomas Eakins: the centenary of his death
The year 1916 was pretty grim. In Europe, the Great War had been raging two years, at a prodigious cost in human life, and looked set to continue until all the fathers and sons in Europe lay dead in the icy mud. In the US, which did not enter... Read more
Into the Light: Susan Macdowell Eakins, more than the artist’s wife
Like many artists, Thomas Eakins (1844–1916) married another artist, Susan Hannah Macdowell (1851–1938), better known under her married name of Susan Macdowell Eakins. Like many artists’ wives, their lives, careers, and works have been largely forgotten. Indeed, several authoritative sources assert that “after her marriage, Susan Eakins gave up... Read more
The spontaneous or methodical: Chase and Eakins at work
William Merritt Chase was born just five years later than Thomas Eakins, and they both had the benefit of a European training. Yet their paintings and working methods were so different. Chase seems to have painted Impressions – generally direct or alla prima, straight onto the canvas, working progressively... Read more
Skiffs, sculls, and rowing regattas
When first shown to the public in Philadelphia in 1871, Thomas Eakins’ astonishing painting The Champion Single Sculls (often known as Max Schmitt in a Single Scull) (1871) was described by one critic as “peculiar”. The public seemed unprepared to see such a modern sport portrayed in a work... Read more
Into the Light: Cecilia Beaux’s perceptive portraits, 1 – to 1898
Thomas Eakins was a very different teacher from William Merritt Chase. Although she was one of his most famous and successful students, Cecilia Beaux (1855–1942) could perhaps foresee the trouble that was coming, and in her words “a curious instinct of self-preservation kept me outside the magic circle.” Eliza... Read more