This art history module provides first year students with an opportunity to learn about the varied aspects of the collections held at the School of Art. The course includes two writing workshops where students create a short piece for this blog page. This year the theme was portraiture. Each student had the opportunity to choose from a selection of pictures. They only had one week to undertake some research before presenting their drafts. They all worked very hard on these projects so please take the time to view their efforts!
Eleanor Hall – Fine Art
The Fan is a watercolour on paper painted by the artist Pierre Joseph Antoine in 1879. The painting realistically depicts two young women seated on a red chair. The woman on the left is wearing a blue-white dress and hat, whilst her left arm dangles over the armrest with a book in hand. The woman on the right, wearing a grey-white dress, is reclining sideways onto the other woman with hat on her lap. Both are facing the artist but the pose seems quite odd for the era as it is very casual, yet demonstrates a close bond between the two. The informality of it also gives a sense of being at ease with the artist. The sitters may possibly have been sisters as it was common for portraits to be commissioned by families.
The background consists of a patterned rug, striped wallpaper and draping fabric. Some parts look almost unfinished compared to the attention to detail Antoine has paid to other areas, such as the refined delicate detail of the faces and hands. The colours in the surrounding scene are much bolder than those used on the figures. Compared to some of his other works in the Collection, this is reversed with the figures being bolder and the background being more neutral in colour. The fan is present in the bottom left corner. It has the shape of a palm-leaf fan but, as it is decorated, it is more likely to be a Chinese circular fan either made from silk or canvas. This can be interpreted as the girls coming from a family of wealth that have either imported the fan as decoration or travelled.
Antoine (1840-1913) was a Belgian artist who studied at the Academy of Liege. His main subject matter revolved around portraiture, religious and historical subjects. From 1868, he worked in Rome and then lived in Florence for seven years. Later he moved to London, where we believe this painting to have been done. In 1895, he returned to Liege, becoming the president of the Society of Fine Arts. He spent his final years in Schaerbeek, Belgium.
Emma Game – Art History
Simple, elegant and intelligent, the portrait of Evan Evans is a perfect example of a young man in his prime. Dark-haired and with a confident and direct stare, Evans appears powerful and intriguing. The picture, oil on canvas, shows Evans face-on looking directly out of the picture, he is depicted seated holding an open book. This is probably to display his profession as a writer and Welsh translator. Behind him are more books emphasising the importance of his skills in the literary field.
Coming from a farming background, Evans’ reputation and fame came not from his family but from his works. He won the Eisteddfod prize for poetry and became know to other writers. However, the new friends who were to make the strongest impressions on him were men of the church. He was convinced by them to walk the path of a cleric and so the bishop of Chester ordained him in 1826. The artist of this portrait remains a mystery; it is thought to either be Hugh Hughes or William Jones, both claims however are highly disputed.
At the time this picture was created, published writings in the Welsh language were on the rise with poetry, history and Welsh translations of popular literature, such as “Paradise Lost” by Milton translated by William Owen Pughe in 1819. The “Carmarthen Journal” was also founded in 1810 – a significant event as this was the first Welsh language newspaper showing how much the language and culture was starting to emerge. This may have also sparked the need for the artist to create such a portrait. By celebrating Welsh heroes, creating more Welsh literature and overall spreading Welsh culture this piece could be seen as an artefact of an emerging strong Welsh nationalism.
Michael Kirton – Art History
Gertrude Hermes’s self portrait presents the face of the artist in middle age. It is a two-block linocut showing a face-on view of the head and shoulders. Despite the age of the artist, there is youthful exuberance in the stylization of the portrait. Her expression is wise and slightly quizzical and the lines are bold and dramatic.
Gertrude Hermes was born in Kent on the 19th of August 1901. In 1922 she joined a school of painting and sculpture run by Leon Underwood, as her preferred destination of the Slade School of Art was full. Here she was taught life drawing and direct carving and throughout her life she publicly recognized her debt to Underwood for this. She taught herself wood engraving which was not an area covered in the syllabus. Through experimentation she mastered the technique and rapidly developed her own unique style.
This self-portrait was made in 1949 after the breakdown of her marriage to a fellow student of Underwood’s Art School, and her subsequent move with her children to Montreal. I believe it is the work of a mature artist who is comfortable with who she is and where her skills lie. Her woodcut work is generally highly personal and I feel that with this self-portrait she is trying to show the world who she is and how she sees herself.
Whilst living in Montreal she worked as a draughtsman which she said made her “heartily sick of black and white”(1). This is reflected in the fact this is a two-block linocut printed in brown and green ochre on coloured tissue paper rather than simply black on white.
I like the stylistic simplicity of this work and the fact it isn’t excessively detailed. The wandering nature of the lines gives it a living quality, which I enjoy.
(1) – The Sculpture of Gertrude Hermes – Jane Hill and Gertrude Hermes – Page 145
Bethan Edwards – Fine Art and Art History
John Roberts was born in Tredegar, Monmouthshire, an only child of a draper and outfitter. He began his education at Cathay’s High School before attending Cardiff School of Art and then the Royal College of Art between 1939 and 1942 where he began to specialise in printmaking, specifically etching and engraving. His work is permanently on display at the National Museum of Wales but can also be found in the collections of the Welsh Arts Council, Newport Art Gallery, Liverpool University, the National Library of Wales and Aberystwyth University.
Roberts’ etching Sir Cenydd Traherne shows a particular interest in domestic life. All of the furniture and the wallpaper designs suggest a typical 1950’s home. In contrast, the man wears an extremely formal suit, perhaps to evoke his authority, or to convey his level-headed personality. But unlike other commissioned works by Roberts, the subject does not appear over glorified or eccentric. The composition of the etching gives prime focus to the subject, the walls of the room enclose us from all other distractions. Traherne’s armchair at the forefront of the image, with the foreshortening of the subjects arms and legs creates space for the image to exist. Patterned detail is key in this image; soft small marks in close proximity on the arm create the form of the arm in the same way pixels make up the accurate nature of a photograph.
This portrayal of Traherne is perhaps an unconventional portrait as the sitter seems to be unaware of our presence. In my opinion, Roberts is trying to depict a contrast in life styles between formal and informal. This creates an in-balance that challenges the viewer’s perception of the supposed domesticated life of this living room setting.
Amelia Sellers – Fine Art
This print of an Alaskan woman is an engraving by G.W. Hüllman after a drawing by the artist John Webber (1751-1793). Webber was offered the opportunity to join Captain James Cook on his third voyage to explore the Pacific between 1776 and 1780. This voyage helped launch his career as an artist. During his time on the ship, John Webber made numerous drawings of the landscape, fauna and people they came across including a whole series of Alaskan men and women. These drawings were then used as illustrations to Captain James’s Third Voyage book with this print coming from the German edition.
‘’Frauenspersohn Aus der Infel Unalafchka’’ (The Alaskan Woman) is a three-quarter portrait of a young woman. She is wearing what appears to be a tasselled jacket with a collar and her hair is tied in a knot at the back of her head. The woman has tattoos or painted marks on her cheeks and strings which appear to be coming from her nose, over her mouth and then under her chin. Tattoos on the cheeks of Alaskan women were to represent fertility and tattooing the chin was to signal that women and men had reached puberty. As well as this, the chin straps helped to protect women during enemy raids.
This piece of work not only shows the way Alaskan women used to dress but also captures a meeting of ‘civilised’ and ‘native’ ways of life. I feel the engraving evokes the emotion behind the eyes of this Alaskan woman and makes you wonder what she has seen over her life time and what does she think of these strangers who have just arrived by boat.
Jasmine Bearman – Art History
Heinz Koppel was born into a Jewish family in Berlin in 1919. With the emerging Nazi regime, Heinz’s parents had the good sense to leave Germany and by 1933 they were in Czechoslovakia. After a short period Heinz moved to Britain with his father, leaving his mother behind – she died in the Holocaust. They settled in Wales where Heinz’s father found work in a Pontypridd factory. He was able to support his son to study art at a London art school and by 1944 Heinz had settled with his wife, Pip, at Dowlais, South Wales. They were to have five children. Here he continued to paint drawing inspiration from the people, industry and nature around him in the Welsh valleys. He also eagerly taught art to whoever wanted to learn in this working class community. Heinz lived and painted in Wales right up until his death in 1980 though he did occasionally leave his wife and children to seek work in Liverpool and London.
The lithograph Head of a Young Man features the sitter staring angelically at the artist. This is one of a series of portraits Koppel made in the 1950s and ‘Portrait of a Young Man’, also in the University Collection, similarly shares the same technique of shading around the face to leave the important features like the nose and the eyes standing out.
I believe that this series of prints was created as a reaction to the War which he had experienced as a young man. Koppel’s use of black and white lithographs allow him to produce images that represent a bleak time in history and, more importantly, represent his own thoughts and feelings about it. Head of a Young Man, therefore, could be a self-portrait, a smiling young man because he had luckily survived the War? Or is it a fond memory, a retrospective glimpse, of his boyhood innocence before leaving a troubled Germany?
Suzanne Fortey – Art History
Portrait of the Artist: in a hat by Augustus Edwin John (1878-1961) is an etching with drypoint which is signed in pencil. It was made in 1902, early in John’s career while he was teaching at Liverpool University. It was included in a solo exhibition of his work in 1906. This was during his main period of etching production, becoming well known later for his painted works, especially his portraiture.
The etching shows the artist at his desk with the copper plate and needle used to make the etching with John looking out towards the viewer and also studying his own face. This is what drew me to choose this piece, giving it a natural and intimate feel, his later work being praised as ‘psychological portraits’, capturing people as they are in their own lives as opposed to a staged portrait. What also makes this etching stand out from the other portrait works is the clothes John wears, a wide brimmed hat and a draped jacket. Although a small work showing an everyday activity, the outfit gives the etching a feel of a costumed, posed scene and reflects the artist’s reportedly ‘eccentric’ personality.
After seeing the print I had wondered if the use of dramatic lighting, with almost the whole lower left quarter of the work being in shade, was the artist drawing inspiration from the work of Rembrandt and after researching the artist I found that this comparison had been made numerous times. I also found that he had travelled to Holland, where he could have seen Rembrandt’s etchings first-hand. He even named his autobiography Chiaroscuro, after the lighting technique favoured by Rembrandt and visible in this work.
This work was probably made to practise in a medium he had only been working with for a year as well as to publicise himself as part of his first London solo exhibition. The qualities of the etching resembling Rembrandt might be the artist experimenting by trying techniques he would have seen in other etchings but could also be him drawing comparisons between the work of a great master and himself as a burgeoning artist.
Kate Osborne – Art History
Carlo Bevilacqua was born in 1900 near Goritzia on the Italian-Yugoslav border. He was deaf. From 1942 photography became a hobby that he could engage fully with despite the relative isolation he experienced due to his deafness. He remained an amateur throughout his life although he won numerous awards for his work. There may have been an underlying thought that it is simpler for an amateur to remain true to himself. Although untrained, Bevilacqua was uncompromising in his own standards of artistic integrity and become the “maestro” of the dark room. His photographs were highly manipulated both by darkroom processes and the staging of the scene. He liked to ‘act out’ the image; create a view; stage the event. The strength of the subject determined the amount of manipulation he would apply in the darkroom – the stronger the subject, the less he would modify it.
In Sad Memories, the man looks fondly upon the statue’s face, perhaps remembering a lost love or perhaps the passing of youth? The statue has golden hair, perhaps denoting beauty, yet her eyes are sightless. Her face is unnaturally white, smooth, flawless, she must have been created by man. In contrast the man’s face is ‘lived in’, created by life. Perhaps the man is visualising old age and subsequent death – cold, un-responsive, un-seeing?
Is Bevilacqua the male figure? I don’t think he is. This photograph is a stage-managed set representing two contrasting facial textures. The viewer is left to decide what they may represent.
Myfanwy Powell – Fine Art
Sir Joshua Reynolds, founding member of the Royal Academy, has painted Louis Philippe de Bourbon as a man of great status, value and wealth. The original oil painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in the summer of 1786 and was soon to be owned by the Prince of Wales. It was later severely damaged by a fire at Carlton House.
The artist clearly wanted Louis Philippe de Bourbon to be seen as a man of high importance. Bourbon actually became a supporter of the French Revolution after accusing the King of illegal behaviour before Parlement in 1787, despite having royal blood himself. He also voted for the execution of his cousin Louis XVI but Louis Philippe too succumbed to execution in the Reign of Terror in 1793.
This full length portrait of Bourbon shows him wearing military uniform that includes a blue sash, brilliant red knee-high boots and cummerbund, along with an elaborate gold and blue tunic and a sword in a scabbard. His pose is curious; he is glancing into the distance instead of holding the eyes of the painter, not showing any distinctive relationship with the painter or viewer. He holds what seems to be a plumed hat, and in the background is the cloudy sky with sunset, bringing Bourbon further forward against the contrast of the dark sky and ruins. A moustached soldier leads a horse below him. To see Bourbon dismounted in this way is unusual as it was more conventional for the sitter to be mounted elevating the rider within the picture and so reflecting their stature in society.
This painting, and the sitter, are very much part of the Enlightenment period where new ideas in philosophy, science and politics all helped bring the French Revolution to fruition.
Emily Smyth – Art History
‘Portrait of Goya, Portuguese [sic] Painter of Grotesque’ by Francisco Domingo Marques, drawn in 1865-1882, features an elderly Goya wearing a jacket painting at an easel. We have a three-quarter view of him sitting in front of this canvas with a paint pallet in his left hand and a paint brush in his right. He has a content expression. The drawing is made with pencil and crayon on a white wove paper. Marques’ early drawing style was similarly sketchy. He uses the tones boldly outlining Goya as a crisp white against a dark grey background. Moreover, I think Marques’ use of bold drawing suggests that Goya was an artist-genius, ‘a true reflection of Spanish society’ as espoused by Adelaide de Montgolfier about Goya in 1831.
Marques’ relationship with Goya was one that was purely based on what Marques had read or seen of Goya’s works, as Goya had died 37 years prior to the creation of this drawing. Marques, in his early years, was heavily influenced by the Spanish Romantics who in turn were influenced by Goya’s print work. Similarly, Goya’s work was heavily romanticised after his death and perhaps therefore Marques began to see Goya as ‘a master of the Romantic juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness’ like other romantic painters of the time.
Bronwen Pritchard – Fine Art
‘Teddy Boy’ by Ron McCormick is a silver print photograph taken in the 1970s. The subject is standing in front of an amusement arcade. He is wearing a cardigan and a button down shirt, the latter held open at the chest to reveal a large tattoo and a string of crucifixes. Teddy boys were a 1950s British sub culture, typically identifiable by their clothing and hair styles. Young men would wear clothes that were partly inspired by the styles worn in the Edwardian period. This started in London and spread across the UK quickly, becoming strongly associated with ‘rock and roll’.
Ron McCormick’s work is based in the UK and is concerned mainly with ‘post war reconstruction and development’. He believed that this was being done with no particular strategy and instead represented the commercial interests of the day. His photographs are meant to reflect the mundane realities of the everyday, and the complexities of such a quickly changing time. Perhaps this is why he decided to create a portrait of this new fashion/sub cultural. It makes me feel as though there is a story to be told about this young man in this photograph and why McCormick chose to record working class culture. However, as a little known photographer there is little literature to lead to an explanation of his work and it is left to the viewer to decide what this image means.