Quick Jot and Quibble

My classmates and I are braving the rugged north, and by that I mean internet access is hard to come by at the moment. Expect a better update once we emerge (at Cambridge) on Thursday. We’re winding through the Peak District as I write this, on our way to our second day at Chatsworth. To tide you over, here are some snaps from my phone of Calke Abbey and Broughton Castle gardens.


Uppark, Petworth; Notes from the Road

The stately home you can see through my wildly flailing limbs may be my favorite thus far. Uppark, so named because it is quite literally “up the park,” suffered a devastating fire in 1989. The 17th century house was very nearly destroyed, save the outer walls you see behind me. The National Trust runs the property with quiet efficiency, and the thoughtful restoration of the house is nothing short of spectacular given the news footage I saw in their orientation video.  [Side note: there’s nothing more pitiful than a room full of museum professionals watching a documentary about a historic house fire. Wasn’t a dry eye in the house.]

On to Petworth:

We spent a full day at Petworth (eight hours), which makes sense when you consider the fact that I couldn’t stand back far enough to fit the whole house into a photo. Here you see Andy, Petworth’s energetic Site and Collections Manager, telling us a bit about the facade. We approached the house from the South in the very early morning; guests are generally ushered through the back entrance these days, but we got to experience the house as a 17th century visitor would have. The sun rises around 4:00 AM in England, so by 8:00 AM (if it isn’t raining) everything is bathed in a lovely golden glow. Our approach to Petworth was one of my favorite experiences so far: a herd of fallow deer dashed across our path as we hiked across the enormous lawn, Andy opened the enormous french doors to greet us, the yellow gold facade stretched 100 feet on either side, and the cool marble entrace hall took my breath away:

[Apologies for the wonky image sizing; I’m operating a very British computer. Click to enlarge and enjoy!]

Everything That Happens Began in the Past

If there was ever a view that could move me to rapturous hyperbole it is this one. Behold: a grainy cell phone photo of the view from my bedroom at West Dean College in Sussex, my home for the next five days. Every part of my Jane Austen-obsessed heart wants to call this photo the view from my bed chamber; and now that I think about it, I believe that term is completely adequate for a room that boasts a marble fireplace (check), eighteen foot ceilings (those too), a medieval carved wardrobe (perhaps leading to Narnia), and a bathtub deep enough to turn a flip (splashed quite a bit of water on the floor in the attempt). Needless to say: West Dean is a marvelous English country house and I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to be here.

My room is on the second floor, four over from the left

West Dean, much like the Hermitage, has endured several phases of expansion and reinvention. It is easy to understand Mrs. Sloane’s penchant for rearranging the layout of her home when you learn how common the practice was amongst her 19th century predecessors. English country homes were rarely left untouched by the lucky families who inherited them, and the result is usually a pastiche of architectural movements and (occasionally dubious) taste. Successive generations altered their homes to reflect their increasing status (or lack thereof in the case of certain Dairymaids who married certain elderly Dukes — but more on that anon), and newer styles were often built around the carcasses of older, smaller homes like a shell.

West Dean is no exception, and is essentially a decorative Gothic shell (constructed primarily of local knapped flint) over a timberframe Elizabethan core. The house has existed in some form since as early as 1086, evidenced by its mention in the Domesday Book — the comprehensive survey of England drawn up for Charles I following the Norman Conquest.

This from class notes:

The present house was built in 1804 for James Peachey, 1st Baron Selsey (d. 1808), on the site of an Elizabeth house largely rebuilt around 1622 by John Lewkenor. The newest house was designed by James Wyatt (1746-1813), Surveyor General to George III, who also remodelled nearby Goodwood House.

William Dodge James (1854 – 1912) purchased West Dean in 1891, shortly after his marriage to renowned society beauty Evelyn Forbes. The pair quickly commissioned extensive alterations and enlargements to the house from the famous architectural practice of Sir Ernest George (1839 – 1922) and Alfred Bowman Yeates (1867-1944) with the landscape and garden designer Harold Ainsworth Peto (1854-1933). A new and greatly enlarged entrance portico and central tower were constructed, the east wing added, a second storey raised, and the tower increased in height. James’s house and garden were intended to suit the requirements of lavish country house parties given by the social group surrounding the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). Between 1893 and 1902 alterations to the interior were carried outby the London decorators Charles Mellier & Co. of Cavendish Square, one of the foremost furnishing and decorating companies of the period. Suitably lavish furniture abounds.

In 1929 West Dean Park was inherited by the multi-millionaire Edward James (1907 – 1984), the only son of William and Evelyn James. James decorated the house in the most progressive Modernist style and filled West Dean with his superb collection of Surrealist art, including woven images of his wife’s footprints in the carpet, fruitwood overdoors designed by Rex Whistler, and with an extraordinary collection of decorative objects including an enormous Giraffe head and a lobster phone.

And now a bit about the gardens, for Yolima: West Dean’s formal gardens cover over 9 acres, with a further 49 acres of arboretum. The earliest plan to survive in the archives dates from 1768 and shows plans for a large kitchen garden, pleasure garden, and an “arranged” landscape in the park. The back of the house boasts a 300-foot long rose pergola built in 1911, and a Gazebo with a floor mosaic made of knapped flint and horse molars.

Since I started writing this post we have already visited Uppark, Cowdray, and Arundel Castle. I have over 28 pages of notes from three days, and two lectures left this evening! If we continue at this pace I will either die or request some sort of two-handled trophy at the end. Tomorrow: Petworth. Huzzah!

London Calling

Well hello! First things first: if you thought the blog was going to lie fallow while I traveled around England you’ve got another thing coming. Thanks to my blackberry and the technological acumen of my trusty sidekick Colin, I’ll be posting bits and bobs from the Attingham trail as I go along.

I’m on the train to Chichester as I write this; I’m joining the course there this afternoon at West Dean House. As for the image above: whereas some might post an image of Apsley House (where we visited yesterday), I only managed to take a picture of my dinner. I promise more art as I go along, but trust me: the breading on that slab of haddock was a work of ART.

Charles Hawthorne

By Colin, in Lauren’s absence:

One of the greatest joys of working in a museum is getting to spend time with those who equally appreciate the arts.  At the Hermitage there is no better example of this than our docents and volunteers.  Aside from giving tours and helping guests, docents at the Hermitage are engaged in research that benefits not only their knowledge of the house and its collection, but the entire staff as well.  One of our star docents, Donna Dodenhoff, recently presented and exceptionally well researched piece on the artist Charles Hawthorne.  This insightful scholarship on the artist and his works is a refreshing reminder of how compelling and masterful Hawthorne was as a painter.  So if you have not already visited the site and seen his works on display in our Mend Our Broken Art exhibit then this will hopefully draw you in, and for those who have perhaps this will bring you back for a better look!

Charles Webster Hawthorne

Introduction: Charles Webster Hawthorne’s reputation as a “painter’s painter” sums up his place in American art as both a major early twentieth century painter and teacher of painting. Hawthorne once noted that “The world is waiting for men with vision—it is not interested in pictures.“ The bold originality of his work has challenged art historians’ efforts to classify influences on his art ranging from the European Impressionists, the subsequent Modernists, or Abstractionists, and even earlier Dutch masters like Franz Hals, whose influence Hawthorne himself acknowledged. How modern or innovative was Hawthorne during his productive years, a period spanning 1894 until his death in 1930? Some art critics had declared him passé by the time he exhibited at the Armory Show, the landmark exhibition of modern art held in New York in 1913. Others see his work as a bridge linking developments in Western art of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as his worked progressed from a more Impressionistic to Abstract painting style.

Yet perhaps one of  the most important influences on Hawthorne’s paintings is their vernacular quality. As the art critic Hans Hoffman has noted, Hawthorne’s “art [was] rooted deeply in American life,” making it “robust and provocative” rather than being slavishly committed to “taste and design.” His paintings of  Cape Cod people and places particularly suggest his affinities with major American painters who succeeded him as, for example,  Edward Hopper, Ben Shahn and Andrew Wyeth. Like the work of these diverse painters, Hawthorne‘s work  embodied an original vision rooted in place and honed by an individualistic style that simultaneously captured both the essence of place settings and a more complex interior landscape. Certainly the inwardly directed gaze of his portrait subjects, one of the signatures of Hawthorne’s  portrait painting, is reminiscent of the still, lonely atmosphere of paintings by Hopper and Wyeth.

Biography: Hawthorne was born in Lodi, Illinois in 1872 and grew up in Richmond, Maine, a small New England town on the Kennebec River. In 1894 he moved to New York City and worked in a stained glass factory while studying painting at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League. The most dominant influence during this period was that of William Merritt Chase, the mentor with whom Hawthorne shared a passion for teaching, for lush colors, and for plein air figure painting. Hawthorne worked as  both pupil and assistant to Chase. In 1898 he moved to Holland as Chase’s assistant and lived there a year. During this period he fell under the influence of the Dutch master  Frans Hals, whose paintings Hawthorne admire for their contrasting tonal qualities. In 1899, on his return to the United States, Hawthorne opened the Cape Cod School of Art in Provincetown, Massachusetts and guided the school’s art program for 30 years, until his death in 1930. The Cape Cod School of Art was modeled after Chase’s Shinnecock, Long Island school in its focus on outdoor figurel painting. During weekly talks and Saturday critiques of his students’ work, Hawthorne guided them but did not impose his own painting techniques or methods. At the school students were drawn back to the fundamentals of painting.  Above all he urged his students not to make “pictures” but rather to create unfinished studies that were open-ended inquiries. As he repeatedly insisted, “A great painter is always a student, always seeing more until he has to send the canvas for exhibition.“ The school became a large art colony during the spring and summer months it operated. Among Hawthorne’s talented students were the artists Ben Shahn, John Noble, Richard Miller, Max Bohm and Norman Rockwell. Although he spent the fall and winter months in New York City, Hawthorne was very much involved in Provincetown’s community life as a founding member of the Provincetown Art Association. He was a music enthusiast who played the cornet and cello and was a member at various times of chamber music ensembles. His son Joseph saw Hawthorne’s love of music as influencing his father’s approach to painting. As Hawthorne himself put it, “Beauty in art is the delicious notes of color one against the other.”

Widely recognized as a major American artist during his life time, Hawthorne’s paintings  today hang in such major museums as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Brooklyn Museum  and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He received awards from the National Academy of Design, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, as well as a string of prizes, including: the Hallgarten, the Thomas P. Clark, the Isadore Gold Medal (twice), the Benjamin Altman, Andrew Carnegie and Proctor prizes. He was a full member of both the National Academy of Design, exhibiting annually there, and the Societe Nationale des Beaux Arts.

Development of Hawthorne’s Style:

As expressed in his critiques of his students’ work, Hawthorne held that color values were the fundament principle of painting: “Have the courage to set down the colors” he urged his students, and then the form “takes care of itself if color is right.” He stressed that “ Composition is color fusing with form.”  In this way the painting could surpass the limits of calculation and construction. As he told his students: “You are here to represent by color, by separating of color, by exacting matching of color, what you see, and thereby learn to see.”

On his return from Holland, Hawthorne disciplined his painting style by painting for a time solely with a palette knife in order to relegate detail to a larger vision; details were to be suggested rather than elaborated, giving the viewer more opportunities to explore what the painting suggested but left undeclared. “My plea is for something big and fine and honest,” he said. Much more than obsessing with technical skill and painted detail, good painting, Hawthorne believed, hinged on the mindset of the painter. Hawthorne emphasized that the largeness and boldness of the subject lay not in the value social conventions attributed to it but in the artist’s ability to see beauty in the commplace and even ugly. As an exemplar of his own teaching principles Hawthorne sought ways to express in his paintings his fascination with the places and people of Cape Cod. As his son Joseph noted, the seacoast afforded Hawthorne an open field for exploring contrasts of sea, sand and sky and the dignity of those common folk who made a living off the sea,

While his exploration of color values and plein air painting were acknowledged Impressionist influences, his representation of plane relationships through color values, that is  layers of paint, his compression of spatial relationships and his preference for pared down, suggestive representations of forms are impulses more akin to the twentieth century Modernists movement. Above all he shared every artist’s timeless impulse to create paintings of transcendent beauty. As  he told his students, “painting must resonate with joy, the glory of creation, the thrill of seeing the thing for the fist time. Art is necessity, beauty we must have in the world.“

The fundamental precepts of artistic creation Hawthorne discussed with his students can certainly be applied to his own artistic production.

Portuguese Fisher Girl, 1927

In the Portuguese Fisher Girl, painted toward the end of his career, Hawthorne’s bold, simple composition features the fisher girl in the foreground against a backdrop of blue-green sea and a sky burnished to a copper sheen by the late afternoon sun. With broad flat brush strokes, and a sky more densely painted than the sea itself, Hawthorne suggests with few details a calm sea at late afternoon with little evidence of commercial fishing activity other than the faint outline of a trawler at one corner of the horizon. The contrasting color values of sea and sky, cool and warm values, blend in spots with a hint of the dark blue-green of the sea bleeding into the more solid dark green of the girls’ jacket along a streak of her right jacket arm. Perspectival color planes are further fused  by linking the tonalities of sky with the large copper bowl inserted into the foreground of the painting, with the tonalities of the girl’s left hand blending the outline of her hand into the copper bowl. The composition exemplifies Hawthorne’s principle of relying on contrasting color values and tonalities to inform compositional form, theme and atmosphere. A lighter blue sky or a sea of  blues and greens rendered with thicker layers of paint would have emphasized the expanses of sea and sky, blanching the girl’s flesh tones and the solidity of her figural presence. Instead the contrasts of darker and lighter color values detaches the girl from her background. The solidity of her form rendered with a dark green jacket and bright white shirt against the luminescent flesh tones of her face and neck endow her with the solemnity of a force of nature more powerful than the sea and sky.

The bold simplicity of the composition invites, in fact teases, the viewer’s exploration. Her stillness and repose, her unsoiled, simple yet formal attire, and her unblemished youthful beauty and vitality do not suggest an exploited worker drained of vitality. The absent mindedness with which she holds the bowl suggests she is both completely at one with the world of commercial fishing and yet detached from it. Moreover, the tonalities of sky and sea evoke a transitional atmosphere from a workaday world of toil to the more reposeful time of early evening. Is she attending a community festival? What are the visually captured but unarticulated thoughts that have directed her stoical gaze to an inner landscape?

Hawthorne once said of his mission as a portrait painter, “I want to express something about the humanity of my time that will live.” In this portrait Hawthorne can be credited with affirming the dignity and humanity of  a working class minority. The strong central focus of this Cape Cod landscape is a beautiful, self-possessed Portuguese fisher girl. She was a member of a southern European minority that 1920s U.S. immigration and citizenship restrictions had relegated to the margins of mainstream American life. For affluent tourists increasingly flocking to this resort town, its Portuguese fisher folk would have been little more than background local color. It took the passionate eye of  a gifted  artist to bring the fisher girl from a peripheral to a central field of vision.



Hawthornes, Hawthorne on Painting: From Students’ Notes Collected by Mrs. Charles W. Hawthorne (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1960, paperback edition)

Richard Muhlberger, Charles Webster Hawthorne (Massachusetts: Chameleon Books, Inc., 1999)

Worldwide Web Sites:

Smithsonian Institution: aaa.si.edu/collections/collection/hawtchar.htm

Wikepedia: Charles Webster Hawthorne, wikepedia.com

Butler Art Museum: butlerart.com/pc_book/pages/charles_webster_hawthorne_1872.htm

University of Kentucky Art Museum: uky.edu/ArtMuseum/luce/19thcentury/Images/pages/Hawthorne_jpg.htm


An additional reminder to those reading:

Both of our Charles Hawthorne works are still up for adoption.  The prices for which are:

Portuguese Fisher Girl – $1800

Girl with Pitcher – $1500