The Art of Portraiture

Portraits are often considered to have little value if one does not know the sitter or the artist. In the previous chapter we looked at a photographic portrait of Edward VII. This chapter concerns another portrait but in this case a hand drawn portrait. The portrait is of two young people. I would guess their ages at 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 years. One positioned slightly forward of the other with the arm of the older child protectively across the breast of the younger. The portrait is unsigned and undated, no watermark or any other identifying marks can be found. From the age and browning of the paper I would suggest first half of the 19th century.

Even though this is a stunningly beautiful work – it has sustained some damage. So why keep it?

Here, I am going to suggest that this piece, even though unsigned, is by a very important artist and that this portrait is of two very well known people. This of course is all conjecture. But. What if.

The positioning of the two young people is very reminiscent of a family portrait done in watercolour of the children of Count Wladislaw and Countess Elsbieta Krasinski. This watercolour was painted by #FranzXaverWinterhalter (Winterhalter was a very renowned portrait painter). But these are not those children. I think that these two young people are Vicky and Bertie. Queen Victoria’s two oldest children. That would date this work to 1843/44 – within my estimate for the age of the paper.

The quality of the work is evident. The subtle shading, the minimal use of colour, the white outlining of the children’s bodies only adds to the focus on the faces of the two sitters. And two very finely done faces they are.

I apologise for the speculating but every once in a while I like to think ‘what if’.

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Carl Vandyk, Photographer to Royalty

I don’t usually collect photographs but I couldn’t resist this one. It is a portrait of a fine looking gentleman sitting at an amazing table in a wonderful chair. On the mount just below the picture is the name C. Vandyk. #CarlVandyk (1851-1931) was born in Bunde, Germany. He opened a photographic studio in London in 1882 on Gloucester Road. In 1901, he opened a second studio on Buckingham Palace Road. He was a royal photographer, taking portraits of Queen Victoria, Edward VII, George V as well as notables such as Alexander I of Yugoslavia, Christian X of Denmark, Buffalo Bill, and Enrico Caruso. Vandyk is associated with 659 portraits in the #NationalPortraitGallery in London. This portrait does not appear in the NPG catalogue. His two brothers were also photographers with their own studios and his son carried on his studios after his death.

Also on the verso is a small hand-written note in regards to when this portrait was framed. The date appears to be March 1st, 1906 with the framers signature and place of framing below. So here is the portrait itself. I believe the sitter to be #KingEdwardVII. I have yet to find another copy of this portrait anywhere. The verso carries no image/copy number in the place provided. My research continues.It is a superb image of a man very comfortable in his surrounding. The image is so good, one can read the title of the unopened book (The House Annual – 1903), make out that the gentleman is reading German poetry, that his suit is of superb quality, and that he is wearing an Albert chain to his pocket watch. A very fine portrait indeed.

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Thomas Faed artist

I recently purchased a drawing which I think is both artistically and historically important. The charcoal drawing is of a young woman sitting in a graveyard on the shore. The oil painting of this scene hangs in Manchester Art Gallery. The title of the piece is #Evangeline. It was drawn to #WilliamWadsworthLongfellow’s romantic poem Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie. The poem follows an #Acadian girl on her search for her love, Gabriel. It is set during the expulsion of the Acadians (1755-1764). It follows her travels across America in search of Gabriel – sometimes close, sometimes not – until they meet again after many years of separation. Evangeline, now working as a Sister of Mercy nurse in Philadelphia and an old woman, meets Gabriel during an epidemic and he dies in her arms. She later also passes. A bit of a North American Romeo and Juliet. #ThomasFaed (1826-1900) was born in Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland. He and his siblings were all artists. Educated in Edinburgh, he eventually moved to London and found fame as a painter of domestic genre scenes.

The drawing which is presented here is very old. So much so that the paper has deteriorated. There are areas where pieces have flaked off and even two very small holes. Even so, the quality and precision of this work prove to me – at least – that it is the work of Thomas Faed. The technique and materials used are very similar to Thomas’s portrait of his brother, James, which hangs in the Kirkcudbrightshire Gallery. It also passed through the hands of high end London picture framer Sebastian D’Orsai.The sublime technique presented here certainly displays the virtuosity of the artist. It is said that Thomas Faed was to Scottish art what Robert Burns was to song. I believe this is the image from which Thomas’s brother James created the mezzotints and engraved prints. Even with all its’ small flaws and imperfections, it is an amazing work to look at. The photographs don’t really do it justice.

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An Unexpected Pleasure

This past week saw me purchase a small artwork. I went to the local Saturday market at which there are several dealers of curios. One of them had a number of old prints and some watercolours. But a small black and white image caught my eye. I had a cursory glance at the piece and liked what I saw. The stall holder said it was an etching and that he had been unable to decipher the signature. I will state here that so far I also have failed but since I liked it and the price was right I acquired it.I took it home and as you can see it is a fine work with a great degree of finesse but here is the hook. It is not an etching. After a better study of this piece, I have come to the conclusion that it is actually an original #pencil/graphite drawing. This certainly makes the piece more interesting. It is done with very little shading but is worked with lines. This style of work is called #crosshatch. The more lines you add the deeper the tone. This can be and is very tedious work. ‘Shading’ or ‘colouring in’ is possibly the norm. One tends to find this type of work in etchings/engravings (often not to this degree of finesse) and is not as popular as a drawing technique.

I attach an image of the signature, in the hopes that my readers might have better luck than I at deciphering the signature. In the second image, one can see the myriad of fine lines which are used the give the drawing depth and tonality. A superb #drawing, even if I don’t know who the artist is. And I can’t shake a feeling that I should know who this artist is.

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Cyril Edward Deakins artist

Most will not recognise the artist of today’s chapter for to me he is a local man. #CyrilEdwardDeakins (1916-2002) was an artist who worked in many mediums – oils, tempera, watercolours, wood-engraving and etching. His technique was sound and his output was considered traditional – landscapes, figures, flowers, still-life, and architectural drawings. He loved painting East Anglia with all of it’s many wonderful faces.k

The Adam and Eve Pub, Norwich

Deakins was easy-going by nature. He didn’t strive for fame. He was satisfied to be considered a capable jobbing artist. The ‘Adam and Eve’ shows, I think, that he was better than your ‘average’ artist. The feeling this painting evokes feels right – friendliness, joy, warmth, and camaraderie. Love the old locals out front.

The #AdamandEve is the oldest pub in Norwich. The building is a former monastery brewhouse with a history which goes back to 1249 and possibly older. The watercolour shows the pub as it was in 1952. A place where drinking was secondary and socialising was paramount. You can still have a pint drawn – so when in Norwich take the time to visit and consider through what times this place has lived.

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Thomas Bush Hardy artist

We visit an artist known as a marine artist. #ThomasBushHardy (1842-1897) was born in Sheffiel, England. Amazingly, he was mostly self taught and even so he is regarded as one of the finest marine water-colourist.

The watercolour in my collection has little to do as a marine painting. It is a view of Beaugency in the Loire Valley in France and hence the water in the image is the Loire River. We stand on the river bank and look along the 12th century stone bridge (it has 26 arches) toward the village. We see the tower of the Eglise Norte Dame and the Tower of Caesar, Place Dunois. The four bells of Saint-Fermin bell tower play the Orleans, Beaugency, Norte-Dame de Clery, Vendome. A tune you will be whistling soon after your arrival here.

An important place, historically, as it was a main crossing point on the Loire River. Joan of Arc led her French troops in defeating the English here in 1429.

The watercolour is signed, titled, and dated on the lower left and here we will take note of the year in which this was painted. It reads 1897. This might have been the last work which Hardy created since he died in 1897.

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David Cox the Elder

The Today, we visit an English landscape painter known for being one of the most important members of the ‘Birmingham School‘. We visit #DavidCox the Elder (1783-1859). Cox studied in Birmingham and started his working career painting miniatures. From there he progressed to painting backdrop scenes for theatres. This brought him to London, where he decided to turn professional. Cox’s talents peaked around 1841. His works were a precursor to Impressionism. He simplified his works by decreasing detail and combining it with abstraction. Cox used this generalisation to focus on the overall effect of the work. Cox painted with a boldness and pushed the boundaries of technique leading to the later impressionist.

This step into something new can be seen in the second artwork shown – #EtonCollege. Here we see the lack of detail – the slight abstraction of the image – the reliance on the overall effect to produce a satisfactory artwork. The first work shown uses less abstraction but does show Cox’s concern with the depiction of light, atmosphere, and weather. Cox was known for his use of chalk as his drawing material rather than graphite and his use of a rough and absorbent ‘Scotch’ wrapping paper. Both of these assisted his development of a rougher and freer painting style.

Cox did paint in oils but he is best known for his watercolours.

The first artwork ‘Landscape near Martigny’ is attributed to David Cox while the second ‘Eton College’ is signed and titled on the verso. Two works which show the wonderful skill and artistry of a man at the acme of his skill and art.

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Van Gelder Zonen papermaker

In my collection is an etching which is today’s subject. The etching itself is a fine impression of a 19th century street scene. It is most likely a Dutch or Belgium city. Although the words on the shop front are definitely French – the picture has a Dutch feel to it. It is expertly etched with good tonal difference and architectural/perspective accuracy. Other than the image there is no clue as to whom the artist is. But that is not today’s consideration.

I wish to look at the watermark which lies in the bottom right corner. Like most watermarks, they are invisible until the paper is backlit. We also find the letters ‘olland in the top right corner. I take it that the ‘H’ has been cut off. So the paper is from a Dutch paper mill.

As you can see there are no lines on the paper so it is not ‘laid paper. It appears to be rag paper. Rag paper was hand-made in trays (up to 48″ x 60″) by workers in factories. When looked at closely, it is very fibrous. This would mean the paper is certainly 19th century or earlier. From the early 1880s, most paper being made came from wood pulp – except for specialty papers.

The watermark is for #VanGelderZonen – paper makers in Holland since 1685. The company closed in 1982 after going through several re-formations. The Van Gelder’s became the owners of the paper mills in 1783. They had four factories – Wormer, Velsen, Apeldoorn, and Renkum. Most often seen of their watermarks is their name ‘Van Gelder Zonen’ which first appeared in 1845.

This brings us a bit closer to identifying the artist. It gives us a bit more context and a narrowing of the timeline in which I need to look.

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Chinese Rose Medallion

In the few pieces of porcelain I have collected there is a piece of #rosemedallion from China. It was most likely made around 1830 to 1840 for the European export market. The classic Rose Medallion decoration usually includes a number of panels painted (depending on the size and shape of the piece) with depictions of people, birds, and flowers. The predominant colours being green, pink, blue, yellow, black, and gilt. You, of course, will notice that my piece was broken and has been repaired. Repairs were once done quite differently than today with our modern adhesives.Repairs to such things as porcelain were not easy. So, repairs were done to items which were valuable in some sense. The tools used would have been similar to dentist tools. A small drill, diamond sparks, metal files, pliers, hammer, wire, solder, plaster, and cement. Tiny holes were drilled into the porcelain (not completely through) and staples would be inserted after a fine layer of plaster or cement was placed onto the broken edges. Repairs were done this way because until our epoxy resin adhesives were invented all adhesives were made of natural materials and thusly water soluble.

This type of repair looks, to our eyes, quite crude but by doing it this way it ensured that the repaired crockery would withstand the regular cycle of use and washing up required by any item of tableware in the kitchen.

This piece was once a loved member of a dining set. To be repaired as it has been shows the value it held to its’ then owner. I know it can be repaired, today, to the extent that you would not know it had been broken if you were not told. But I think their is an argument for keeping it as it is and not mending it.

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Chinese Scrimshaw

Since we have been in the Far East for a number of the past few chapters, I thought we might look at something that is more folk art from there. #Scrimshaw is the art of carving or engraving on bone or ivory.

It was originally practiced by sailors who carved whale bone to make crude tools. In their leisure time they carved pieces as artworks and less utile objects. Whale bone is ideal for carving as it is easy to work and was plentiful in years past. Sailors used rough needles which would likely have been used to mend sails. Often the etched images would be rubbed with candle black/soot/tobacco juice or ink to bring the etching into view. Today, scrimshanders (those who work with bone and ivory) use fine tools derived from dental instruments to work their etchings/carvings and even ink their pieces in various colours.

We often think about ivory when talking about scrimshaw. Trade in ivory is – on the most part – illegal, today. Pieces which might come up for sale need to be antique. Often, people will donate their pieces to a museum to avoid any hassle.

Scrimshaw is often found as part of jewellery whether bracelet, necklace, or brooch.

My collection has two small water buckets which are decorated with scrimshaw.

As far as I can tell, the scrimshaw is bone not ivory and the pieces are definitely old. They stand 5 1/4″ (135mm) and are 2 1/2″ (64mm) in diameter. Each rectangular piece of scrimshaw is roughly 1″ (25mm) by 1 1/4″ (33mm). Alas, one rectangular piece was missing when I acquired the small buckets. Even so, nice pieces.

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