Thursday, November 17, 2016

AN ART HISTORIAN'S LONG RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LONG FORGOTTEN GEORGIAN PERIOD ENGLISH PORTRAITIST RICHARD LIVESAY AND THE MYSTERY OF "THE PELHAM CHILDREN"

During my undergraduate years at University of Miami I became quite taken by an enigmatic portrait that was clearly from the English School and dated from the late 18th Century. It depicted 3 youngsters picking and gathering apples off a tree in the sort of  landscape one often espies in the background of similar outdoor portraits by the likes of artists like Thomas Gainsborough. The portrait has been displayed prominently since the early 20th Century in the former house of the American industrialist James Deering. This magical and ravishing house was named Vizcaya. It is located on the water facing Biscayne Bay in Miami, Florida. And some years after James Deering's death in 1925, his family sold it to Miami Dade County which has operated it as a historic house museum since the mid 1950's. Whoever enjoys historic houses, grand interiors, good taste, fine living, historic period furniture and decorative arts, is missing an exhilarating experience if they are in Miami and don't make it a point to visit this house that has charmed and won over the most discerning of European curators and experts in the decorative arts.  Appropriately, this portrait from the age of George III, Jane Austen, and Sarah Siddons, is displayed to good effect and plays a significant role in setting the tone for Vizcaya's Adam Library, a room that pays tribute to the style of the legendary late 18th Century brother architects from Scotland who defined British Neoclassicism, Robert and James Adam. The library is seen below. In the first view of the room the painting under discussion here is in evidence. The next image is a view of the opposite wall to give you a feeling for the room in which it is displayed.  Both are images scanned from Vizcaya postcards sold in the gift shop in the 1980's.





My relationship with the painting and the months of investigation about the artist who executed it was an early research project that I admit was very exciting at the time when I was an enthusiastic undergraduate student of art history and thrilled with a chance to crack such a mystery and possibly solve it.  To any younger readers, I hasten to remind you all this research was conducted without the advantages of the internet. I really had to hit the books and correspond by letter with English and American scholars and curators - some of whom are legends in the world of art history and now dead such as the late Sir Ellis Waterhouse.  The painting depicting the children under the apple tree is seen below in this recent photo I took in 2014 during a visit to the museum.




Details and additional view are also seen below that I took myself during one of my numerous visits.










Today, the identity of both the artist and the young boys with their sister is well known. When I first undertook to establish the identity of the artist in 1980, the museum curatorial staff had continued to officially attribute the painting to the American master John Singleton Copley, though by that time also unofficially admitting this attribution was questionable. John Singleton Copley emigrated from his native Boston on the eve of the American War of Independence to study the masters of the past, learn their techniques and improve his artistic work. As everyone knows, he settled with his family in London where he spent the rest of his life and career and became an painter of some prominence. He was even awarded 2 royal commissions.  However by 1980, this attribution was seriously in doubt. Professor Jules David Prown of Yale University had published his great definitive 2 volume book with catalog raisonĂ©e about Copley in the late 1960's he had dismissed this portrait, misleadingly entitled "The Pelham Children" as a painting by a Copley contemporary active in England in the 1780's. Professor Prown had no doubt this attribution to Copley was simply not sustainable.  When James Deering acquired the painting via his artistic adviser, the mercurial and brilliant Paul Chalfin, the gallery from which it was acquired sold it to him as "The Pelham Children" by John Singleton Copley in 1916. By the way, this New York based gallery had the rather evocative name of The Louis XIV Shop. It has clearly long ceased to operate. At the time of acquisition, to settle Mr. Deering's possible questions as to whether this had been a sound purchase of an authentic Copley, Mr. Chalfin assured his patron that the papers of authenticity furnished by The Louis XIV Shop were quite satisfactory, according to letters in the museum's archives. The papers of authenticity have never been found at Vizcaya to date however.

The composition of the Vizcaya portrait is very possibly inspired by an entry that Thomas Gainsborough, among the major portrait painter of the 1780's, submitted to the Royal Academy's Exhibition of 1787. This is entitled. The Marsham Children and seen below. My thanks to former Vizcaya Curator of Collections, Ms. Laurie Ossman, for bringing this possible compositional source to my attention.




The painter of Vizcaya's portrait was clearly a competent artist. Though admittedly he was not an inspired master of the level of a Gainsborough, a Copley, a Sir Joshua Reynolds or even a Benjamin West, that other admirable American painter who also relocated - even before Copley - to London where he was a resounding success as both a portraitist and (more importantly at the time) a history painter who reached the apex of his career by succeeding Sir Joshua Reynolds as president of the Royal Academy. Not bad for a Quaker youth with no formal training from Philadelphia!  In short, this painting on view in Vizcaya was unquestionably a good representative work of art of the time. However it was obvious it was by the hand of a good artist of the second rank. But what artist? There was no apparent signature. In 1980, at age 20, and full of boundless enthusiasm to decipher this mystery, my objective was to apply art historical research and use my comparative observation of the work of other portrait painters of Georgian Britain to try and reach a conclusion that might establish a plausible attribution...

Then suddenly in 1981, there was an administrative decision to undertake a serious and extensive restoration of the Adam Library on many levels. The portrait was removed from the wall for the first time after having been placed there in the 1910's.  A cleaning and restoration of the canvas was entrusted to Vizcaya's conservator of the time, a swarthy and talented Roman named Emilio Cianfoni. Mr. Cianfoni began his restoration and within weeks something very exciting revealed itself as he began to remove darkened varnish in the lower are of the painting depicting the base of the tree with rocks and grass. He kindly rang me up immediately as he came to the realization that some later over painting he had just removed that was not original to the painting revealed a hidden original signature of the original artist whose name was Richard Livesay with the date of 1787!

It was obvious that the over painted area depicting grass, ground and rocks was a deliberate effort on behalf of an unscrupulous dealer to "upgrade" the painting - now unsigned due to an additional painting - by attributing it to Copley. Investigation put together a plausible sequence of events.  As it turns out, this painting sold as a signed work by Richard Livesay in London, in 1899. That year, at a sale at Christie's in London held on 13 May, this painting was sold as Lot # 99 and described as

"R, Livesay, 1787
Portraits of Anne, Edward and Charles, Children of the Right Hon. Edward Golding, in a landscape climbing a tree and gathering apples, 92 in by 57 in."

We also learn from Christie's archives that the portrait was sold to a buyer named Parsons in the amount of £ 183,15.0.  It would not be amiss to theorize that this portrait would command considerably less in the early 21st Century auction market! 

Also worth nothing was the fact that this sale was also accompanied by the sale of a pendant portrait of the children's mother, Anne who was the wife of Edward Golding. It was offered as Lot # 100 and it sold for £294,0.0 to a buyer named Fischoff. The present whereabouts of this painting is lamentably unknown! 

 Edward Golding was a commissioner of the Treasury and served from November 1803 to May of 1804. He also served as Commissioner of the Board of Control under Lord Lewisham from May of 1801 to July of 1802 and under Lord Castlereagh from July of 1802 until May of 1804. 

This discovery yielded in Christie's archives allows us to learn that after the painting was sold at auction correctly identified in 1899, there followed a nearly 16 year long window of time during which it was deliberately doctored, the signature covered, changed hands, and the painting was almost certainly "upgraded" by attribution to the more important artist John Singleton Copley, to whom The Louis XIV Shop had attributed it.  At the time Paul Chalfin arranged to acquire the painting on behalf of James Deering, the gallery could cite support for it in a scholarly publication published the year before in 1915 about the work of Copley by F. W. Bayley. The book cited the painting as being a portrait of the Pelham Children by the American master.  And an American Art Association auction catalog from 26 - 27 February 1903 could also be cited by the gallery selling this painting to Chalfin on Deering's behalf. In this auction catalog,  the same painting is illustrated and offered as "The Pelham Children" by John Singleton Copley! 

With the identity of the artist and the sitter established, thank to Mr. Cianfoni's superb restoration, I began to roll up my sleeves and research this. I was 21, still in undergraduate school, full of enthusiasm and, looking back on this experience today, am amazed I dug up what I did in a world that had yet to ever imagine the internet!  I lived in the University or Miami library and availed myself of interlibrary loan assistance.  I began a hectic correspondence with curators, scholars and even entered into correspondence with an owner or two of paintings by Richard Livesay. I even had occasion to communicate by letter with the Royal household which was most helpful and pleased to shed light on my inquiries. The most memorable of them was a very cordial ongoing correspondence  with the late Victor Montagu who was formerly the Earl of Sandwich and who had volunteered to renounce his earldom to pursue a career in the House of Commons. He was delightful and most helpful. 

The question: Who was Richard Livesay whose self portrait we see below? 



According to Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, Livesay was born in the middle of the 18th Century. He is first cited as having been a lodger of William Hogarth's widow in Leicester Fields.  He later became a pupil of the legendary Benjamin West.  As West was on very good terms with King George III, it's possible (though not certain) that he may have had some influence in procuring for Livesay a position as drawing master to the King's children. George III also commissioned this work from him depicting the reception of his future daughter in law, Frederica, Princess Royal of Prussia, to his son the Duke of York seen below. It is in the Royal Collection.




While in Windsor, Livesay made quite a niche for himself as a painter of small - mostly bust length - portraits of students at Eton. One is seen below represents these intimate, evocative, but hardly consummate works of George III period portraiture. It depicts the young Francis Gervais. 




 Livesay was also engaged to paint portraits of Etonians dressed in a picturesque costume for a very colourful and archaic festival held at Eton until the middle of the reign of Queen Victoria known as Montem. Montem is believed to have been initially held in 1581. It was held annually. But by Livesay's time of residence in Eton, it had become the custom to hold it less often and it was held very 3 years. Part of this festival's features was a procession to Salt Hill along which route, young Etonians acted as "servitors" or "runners" and accompanied by "salt-bearers" in whimsical costumes. It was in the costume of a salt bearer that the young George Montagu, afterward 5th Earl of Sandwich, posed for Livesay in 1790.  We see him decked out in his salt-bearer's costume with a plumed hat, white coat and stockings and a pink kilt. In the background, is Eton College Chapel. It is signed and dated clearly "R. Livesay, 1790". We see it below. It is still in the possession of the current Earl of Sandwich.





The portrait of George Montagu is Livesay at his best. His style was clearly influenced by the painterly style of Gainsborough and sense of theatre  of Sir Joshua Reynolds on some occasions to an extent. It was very representative of the period, infused with some charm, but not greatness. 

Livesay painted some other notable subjects like this full length portrait of James Caulfield, the Earl of Charlement. It can be seen in the National Gallery, London. It is seen below. We see the influence of Reynolds with the column and fluttering red drapery to create what the time believed to be essential in the execution of a painting of a highly socially positioned patron. 




Livesay eventually relocated to Portsea where he took up another appointment as drawing master to the Royal Naval College.  It was while there he painted other portraits of naval officers such as this one seen below of George Murray. 




Another notable group portrait from these years is this one depicting Captain Richard Grindall (1750-1820) and his family. It is seen below and is in the collection of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, UK. I hasten to point out that in this well executed group family portrait, Livesay has demonstrated an admirable handling of painting the very busy and colourful pattern of the carpet.




However while there, Livesay seems to have had a hand in more ambitious panoramic scenes depicting naval reviews such as this one depicting one such event in which the Worcester Regiment was reviewed by Major-General Whitelocke. It is seen below. 



In 1800, he was commissioned by the Marquis of Salisbury to undertake the painting recording an occasion when George III came to visit Hatfield House, his country seat,  to take part in a military review of which Livesay has left posterity this delightful record. It is seen below and in still at Hatfield House in England.




One thing worth noting about the portrait of the Golding Children is that it is among the few portraits by Richard Livesay that seem to have been executed on the scale of life. Most of his portraits are small and quite intimate in scale. This one below is a more typical example. It is a portrait of the 21 year old Lord Morpeth. It is dated 1794 and it is currently being offered for sale in November of 2016 when this blog was published by an eBay seller with a provenance from Lady Reading, followed by the Miles Wynn Cato Gallery and measures only 9.50 x 8.25 inches. 






Richard Livesay was not a giant of his time. But he did move in very high artistic circles and enjoyed the patronage of the most influential and powerful men of his country and age. To be under the patronage of the King himself was certainly something of which this little known master of the second rank should have been justifiably proud.  Today, Livesay has been nearly forgotten. His portraits fetch modest sums at auction compared to works by Reynolds, Romney, Gainsborough and other portraitists of that circle in the Royal Academy of the day. However he does deserve his day and a hearing. I hope I've been able to accord him the recognition and respect he merits for having very charmingly recorded the gentlemen and ladies of the age of Jane Austen!







Thursday, September 4, 2014

FORGOTTEN TREASURE TROVE IN CORAL GABLES, FLORIDA: THE KRESS COLLECTION DONATION TO THE LOWE ART MUSUEM.

Having been brought up in Coral Gables, FL, my first exposure to old master paintings for which I began to develop an inclination in my teens, not surprisingly came by my first visits to the Lowe Art Museum in Coral Gables which is located on the Campus of the University of Miami. I studied art history there as well.  Fortunately for me - and the S FL community - The Lowe was one of the many regional repositories of specially chosen by the Samuel Kress Foundation to receive the gift of an assembled collection of old master paintings. The Kress legacy to the Lowe is a cornucopia of fine paintings and a few sculptures from Italy, the German speaking world as well as Flanders. As any visitor to Miami knows, the so called wide and diverse "art scene" is emphatically more concerned and focused on 20th Century and Contemporary Art. If that's your inclination, there are Museums like PAMM which recently opened to great fanfare. But if you are from the dwindling ranks of the more soft spoken, well read, admittedly somewhat bookish and historically inclined category of art lover who enjoys the way an old master painting can suddenly lure you briefly - but intensely - into a lost world of self satisfied but jovial Dutch merchants who delight in being immortalized on canvas surrounded by the luxuries money and success bring, Flemish ladies and gentleman of fine comportment in the middle of a stately courtship, Italian revelers playing out a scene from the Old Testament, or French royalty promenading in the gardens of a fine chateau in the company of their seemingly endless attendants, the Kress Collection at the Lowe Art Museum is for YOU!

The collection was donated in the 1950's when the Museum was then just known as the Joe and Emily Lowe Gallery. The museum has since had this distinguished collection of Continental European paintings displayed in two adjoining galleries separated by a passage that is punctuated by a carved stone Italian arch overhead carved in Florence in about 1500 by a Tirolese master in the manner of Michael Pacher. It has upper corner medailions depicting the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child.


The chronological beginnings of the collection start with late Medieval - Early Renaissance works of art by contemporaries of Cimabue and Giotto - more accurately - artists who were more likely slightly younger than these giants who began to employ the prior masters' contributions of space, emotion, and volume with regard to the figure in art. Since the legacy was given to the Lowe over 60 years ago, museum curatorial staff and other independent scholars have updated much of the information with more recent research and findings.  Most notable among the independent scholars is the very capable Professor Perri Lee Roberts, Ph. D.,  who is also a University of Miami professor of art history, an adjunct Lowe Museum curator, an occasional guest curator for Museum exhibitions at various other institutions, who justly ranks as a world respected authority on Early Renaissance Italian painting, and is author of  a scholarly monograph on Masolino di Panicale (Oxford University Press, 1993). Professor Roberts has been a valued colleague, friend and mentor who I frequently consult with confidence and with whom working on any project is always rewarding and just plain fun!  Professor Roberts has made significant updates in terms of attribution to various paintings in the Kress Gallery which can be read in the Museum's standard guide book from which I was able to note the dates, attributions and general background information on the art herein being shared.  At the same time, the old original Kress Collection catalog remains a valid reference for this collection well worth consulting in spite of that fact that some of the scholarship of Kress Foundation experts who put it together is partially dated.  This is not in any way unusual. Art historians are always investigating and finding new information as a result of which attributions to artists are changed and elusive subjects in allegorical paintings become more clear. Often research on portraits reveal an entirely different identity of the subject.

I hope to return another time to discuss more of the works in this fine small regional museum collection in the coming months and years in more detail in and in which I intend to focus on a single work or art of a small group of works sharing a common thread. However, this inagural blog essay is an introductory selection of some of the paintings in the Lowe's Kress Galleries that have captured my fancy for their quality of execution, historical importance or simply their charm.

Among the earlier works offered in this collection which has a majority of Italian painting are two paintings of note that represent the early appearance of the human figure that seem to depart from Medieval styles by the depiction of figures that increasingly seem to occupy a pictorial illusion of 3 dimensional space.  This increasing tendency in Italian painting was seen as early in the work of artists like Cimabue and especially later Giotto who also added a notable amount of emotion in his more weighty solid figures.  This three part and very rare altarpiece by Lippo Vanni who was active in Italy from 1341 to 1375 was a royal commission from Queen Elizabeth of Hungary who is discernible in the right of the central main panel as a donor. The painting is tempera and gold leaf on wood, as was often the case.


About the same time in Tuscany, and notable for its undeniably more 3 dimensional aspect that indicates the irrefutable influence of Giotto is this engaging small tempera on wood panel depicting The Crucifixion by an unknown Tuscan painter who painted it during the 2nd quarter of the 14th Century. A small intimate scaled work to be sure... But it's no less visually powerful as the larger scale altarpiece


The 15th Century brings more prosperity and interest in Humanism that bursts like a dam in the 16th Century. Consequently, there is an increasing market for secular portraiture in which the figure is progressively treated more spatially. At the same time, artists of the time sought to portray their subjects and clients with a greater measure of psychological insight.   The Kress galleries have a great array of portraits spanning the early Renaissance to the more mature Mannerist period.  One of the best is this Portrait of Bartolomeo Cepolla attributed to Jacomo Veneziano who was active from about 1472 until 1497. The subject was an eminent jurist. He's clearly nobody's fool either!


Other portraits from Renaissance and Mannerist Italy include this affable oil on panel portrait of a gentleman formerly attributed by the Kress Foundation to Giovanni Bellini. Though in past recent years that attribution was cautiously set aside. Attributions to whatever artist notwithstanding, it is a very successfully representative  Venetian portrait from the early 16th Century and a portrait I have always found to be infused with quiet serenity and poetry. This sitter clearly knows his place in the world.


Another oil on panel portrait that has always engaged my attention has been this enigmatic portrait of a lady painted most likely in Parma by an artist who was clearly influenced by Correggio... Can't miss that sfumato! The chiaroscuro is quite in place too!


And talk about a singular distinction... When I was a young child, I remember vividly that this large festive and curious tondo painting on wood measuring 48.50 inches diameter by Bernardino Fungai was on the cover of a National Geographic issue in which the main feature cover story was a report on the Kress Foundation and its collections. What a whimsical gathering it is! No wonder art historians hammer out a new thesis about this painting generation after generation.  Here we see a Christ child being fondly touched by Mary- Ecclesia symbolizing the marriage of Christ to the Church. A Mary Magdalene covered in her blonde locks of hair looks on while the angels steady the Christ child they are holding aloft. The eccentricities don't stop there and continue in the background which includes chatty witnesses and an implausibly challenging landscape in which I would not care remotely to live.


Other amusing and engaging later Renaissance paintings from Italy include this wistful allegory depicting a young man who is confronting the inevitable choice foisted upon the young of pursuing a life pleasure seeking (represented by the blonde who is very disheveled and possibly a prostitute) or pursuing a life of study and serious purpose. Wouldn't the viewers of this charming Venetian school oil painting on canvas painted in the 1st quarter of the 16th Century like to know which path he eventually chose?


No less mysterious is this tempera on wood painting depicting a what Professor Roberts has listed in the Lowe guide book as "The Ship of Love" and which she attributes to an anonymous master active in Northern Italy in the late 15th Century. The stylized waves echoed by the billowing flags , the stubby little Cupid, the younger lady dreaming of love resting her head on the lap of the more sage older upright seated lady holding the cup of constancy and fidelity, the small statue of fortune atop the canopy over the seated lady under whose protection this sea voyage is being undertaken, the inscription on the canopy from Ovid basically stating that love is won with gold, all add to the mystery, provide clues, but in the end, leave the viewer with no clear answer.


However the Kress is not just Italian paintings. The Northern Renaissance is also represented - and represented admirably!

Below is a truly glowing masterpiece of a donor portrait in a 2-panel devotional piece of oil on wood panel. The artist is Adriaen Isenbrandt who was active in Flanders from about 1510 to 1551. This devotional piece dates from 1513.   Professor Roberts had identified the subject as a member of the Hillensberger Family of Hanover thanks to the family arms appearing on the verso of the right hand wing. The colours pulsate, the detail is relentless - especially in the back ground.  A tour de force!


The collection is rounded out by a breathtaking depiction of the Judgment of Paris by the hand of the noted Flemish master and contemporary of Rubens - Jacob Jordaens (1593 to 1678). I do not hesitate a moment to declare this is probably the finest painting in the The Lowe's Kress Collection or the museum's itself.  I plan to discuss this painting as the subject of a future essay in more detail later. It is sumptuous!

  

Returning to the Italian School as we wind down this bird's eye cursory visit to these lovely rooms, I can't bring our visit to an end without sharing an endearing pair of canvases by Leonardo Coccorante that have always amused me and that embody much of the artistic milieu of 18th Century Naples at a time that city was under Bourbon rule enjoying a true golden age in the arts. Coccorante's pair of pendant paintings depicting the port of Ostia in calm and then again in a storm are pure theatre! 



What an enticing note on which to wind up our visit to the Lowe Art Museum's Kress Galleries!

If you're ever in Miami, it's worth the visit. If you come for Art Basel and want a respite from the endless pretentious parties and overload on Contemporary art, it's worth the drive to Coral Gables from Miami Beach just to see these lovely works of earlier masters which are well displayed in galleries that are seldom crowded. The Lowe Museum is located at 1301 Stanford Drive on the campus of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL 33146. The telephone is 305. 284. 3535. The museum is closed on Mondays.