Of Bens & Glens: James Lawton Wingate on Arran

I have a particular fondness for paintings of the Isle of Arran, partly because I spent my formative years looking at the Arran hills, especially the largest peak “Goat Fell”, from where I lived, across the Firth of Clyde, on the Ayrshire coast.

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There is a tradition in Scottish landscape painting of showing the Arran hills in profile from across the Firth. (There is an old joke about it: “If you can’t see Arran it’s raining, if you can, it’s about to rain.”) Some of the best examples are by William McTaggart but the practice continues with contemporary artists, the best of whom might be the architect turned painter John Bell.

John Bell, Arran from Ardrossan North Shore, from my collection

There is also a tradition of artists visiting and living on the island, painting the views of the hills and the glens that surround them.  There is plenty to occupy them. Arran is often described as representing the geography of Scotland in miniature. There is a northern mountainous area but also a gentle rolling hills and almost flat pasture in the south. That variety in a relatively small area makes it an attractive venue for painters.

Despite the range of artists who have tackled the subject my favourite painter of Arran views is still rather obscure. James Lawton Wingate (1846 – 1924) didn’t start out as an artist but ended his days as President of the Royal Academy in Scotland.

He was born in Glasgow and rather than have a formal art education he started to work as a commercial clerk.  He did however attend drawing lessons early in the morning before going to work. Art soon appears to be the passion that takes over his life and by 1864, aged 18, he is exhibiting at the Glasgow Fine Art Institute.

From 1874 he moved to Crieff and later to Muthill (in Perthshire). To be honest I don’t have much time for his early work which is heavily influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites and presents a very romanticised version of harsh nineteenth century Scottish rural life.

Summer at Muthill, James Lawton Wingate

But something happens to Wingate on Arran. Later in life, around the middle of the first decade of the twentieth century, he loosens up – he becomes freer in his handling of paint – he becomes a Scottish impressionist.

This emancipation can probably be best seen in the way his views of Arran change. This is his 1869 painting of Glen Rosa, with its obsessive Pre-Rapahelte attention to detail:

(c) Perth & Kinross Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

And this is another view from the early 1900s:

Sunset over Arran, James Lawton Wingate, from my collection

Suddenly we start to see evocative sunsets and dramatic skies painted with sweeping brush strokes and smears of paint.  There are a whole series of them; sunsets over Goat Fell, the valleys of Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa and the sea and landscapes of Kilbrannan Sound.

In 1910 Lawton Wingate illustrates a book on Arran by MacKenzie McBride called “Arran of the Bens, the Glens and the Brave”. It is a compilation of stories, history and romances about the island. The interest for me though are the sixteen illustrations of Lawton Wingate’s Arran views which show how, by 1910 he had moved to the more fluid impressionist style of his later years.

Cover of “Arran of the Bens, the Glens and Brave” by MacKenzie MacBride with illustrations by J.Lawton Wingate RSA, TN Foulis, Edinburgh, first edition 1910, from my collection.

The first illustration in the book is a view of “Goat Fell from the road between Lamlash and Brodick”

“Goatfell from the road between Lamlash and Broderick” James Lawton Wingate, frontispiece illustration from “Of Bens and Glens, etc.”

I don’t know what happened to the original painting this illustration is based on.  I can’t seem to track it down but last year I did come across and managed to buy this oil sketch:

“Goatfell from the Lamlash to Brodick Road”, James Lawton Wingate, from my collection

“Goatfell from the Lamlash to Brodick Road”, James Lawton Wingate

Detail of “Goatfell from the Lamlash to Brodick Road”, James Lawton Wingate

The view is very similar to that in the book illustration and is recognisable to anyone who has spent time on Arran.  It shows the mountain of Goatfell in the distance and in the foreground a track with a woman and child in Edwardian summer clothes walking down the hill towards the town of Brodick.

My picture may be an oil sketch for the later, more detailed view illustrated in the book. (The view seems to have acquired a telegraph pole in the book version which might suggest that is later.)

The view hasn’t changed much. The modern road takes the same route and you can find where Lawton Wingate must have painted from by looking at google street view:

Comparison of Lawton Wingate view and google street view of A841, Arran

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Art History Book Challenge – No. 1 Emil Mâle “Gothic Art”

My previous post explained my challenge to read the 16 “Books That Shaped Art History” in 2016.  You should consult that book for serious or academic criticism since what follows are simply personal responses to reading these books.

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I grew up with the gothic.  My small Ayrshire town is dominated to this day by a twelfth century Cistercian Abbey.  But, this being a very protestant Scotland and not northern France, the Abbey is in ruins and what decoration there was is long gone apart from a single, heavily worn carving of what may be Adam and Eve.

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Processional arch, Kilwinning Abbey: Detail of “Adam & Eve” carving c.1190

To be fair, as Umberto Eco tells me, the Cistercians were never that keen on over luxuriant church decoration.  There is a Cistercian statute that denounces the misuse of gold, silk, silver, stained glass, sculpture , paintings and carpets.  That sounds remarkably like the views of the church that currently occupies what would have been the main aisle of the Abbey.  And it’s the reformation that Emil Mâle blames for the loss of knowledge about the meaning of 13th century religious art which his book “L’Art religieux du XIIIe siecle en France: Etude sur l’iconographic du Moyen Age et sur see sources d’inspiration” attempts to redress.

For something written by a French academic, in a niche field, in 1898, it is a remarkably accessible book.  The prose is clear, pithy even, and often quotable, starting with the opening line:

“To the Middle Ages art was didactic.”

It then launches into an iconographic study of the stained glass and sculptures on and in the 13th century cathedrals at Chartres, Notre Dame Paris, Amiens, Laon and Sainte-Chapelle.  It is almost exhaustingly immersive.  You are fifty pages in before there is any let up in the – this image means this, it comes from this medieval manuscript – approach.  I find myself taking him at his word since I have no knowledge of the books he refers to and the case he makes does appear compelling.

As the essay by Alexandra Gajewski on the book makes clear, Mâle’s life was dominated by “order, disciple and education” and it is that intense focus that means the book is still in print today.  It is also my main problem with the book.  After a few hundred pages you crave a personal comment, a little human detail or, at the very least, an appreciation of the art rather than a explanation of its meaning.  I want him to say not just “this is a statue of the Virgin standing above the burning bush” but look how serene it is.

Chartres Cathedral, North Porch, The Visitation

Chartres Cathedral, North Porch, The Visitation.

I want to know more about the artists – did they understand what they were portraying and why or did they simply cary out specific commissions from the clergy?  Who decided on the overall plan for the decoration?  Mâle does mention this issue but only, in passing, in the final pages of the book.

I suspect these minor criticisms (I am not, as others seem to be, that concerned that is is so centred on French art) are very 21st century views since this really is a book about iconography and theology.  I have learnt a lot of theology from this book, some of which is very helpful for looking at later religious art.

The book was illustrated and it certainly helps to see examples of what is described in the text but I did find myself looking up images on the internet (I suspect this will be common for these early books).  Modern, high definition, colour reproductions really help appreciate the beauty of the images, especially with the stained glass which, given the limitations of the time, is represented by line drawings.

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“The Sky, Water and Trees” Legend of St Eustace, Chartres

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I’m glad I read this.  I would never have done so without the prompt from the The Books that Shaped Art History. I fear however that the next time I go to Paris and stand at the foot of Notre Dame I will be a very boring person to be near.

Next up: Bernard Berenson “The Drawings of the Florentine Painters”


I read, the still in print, Dover (2000) unabridged “Religious Art in France of the Thirteenth Century” a republication of the work originally published in New York in 1913.

I also read Umberto Eco’s “Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages“, Yale University Press, 1986, originally published 1959.

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The Art History Book Challenge

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The other day I started reading “The Books that Shaped Art History” edited by Richard Shone and John-Paul Stonard. It’s a collection of essays on sixteen books which, as the title suggests, were influential in developing new ways of looking at, thinking about or writing about art. Having read the introduction I was just about to start in on the first essay when the idea came into my head that I should read the original books before I read the essays about them.

There are sixteen books listed. I usually read more than 16 art books a year, so how difficult would it be to read the 16 in 2016?  And, I notice skimming the list, I already own and have read a handful of the titles so I’d just have to find them and revisit them. So far, so good.

But now I start to look in detail at the list. Some are not in print, some are long books on what are, for me anyway, obscure topics, and some are in German. But by this time I’m committed to the plan having casually mentioned it on Twitter.

I also mention the idea to some friends – another mistake – since one points out that, to get the real sense of the development of art history, I should tackle them in strict chronological order (as The Books that Shaped Art History does). I can’t really argue with that so reading them in order now becomes a rule. I have however drawn the line at attempting to read the books in their original language. I might have got by in French but the prospect of tackling Wolfflin or Belting in German is just too daunting.

These self imposed rules do still mean the first two books will be a 450 page book published in 1898 on French 13th century gothic art (not really my area) and Berenson’s 3 volumes of “The Drawings of Florentine Painters” which includes one volume which is his very long list of painters. I should have mentioned that another rule requires that I read the book from beginning to end, so no skipping chapters or “copious” lists.

Anyway, now the rules of the challenge are settled I can get underway. I’ll update here on progress and what I think about each book as I finish it.

First up, Emile Male’s “L’art religieux du XIIIe siècle en France: Etude sur l’iconographie du Moyen Age et sur ses sources d’inspiration“…

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Deadlines

I should probably try and sell this before Easter next year..?

   

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The Fire Judges: Sir William Ellys

My earlier posts on John Michael Wright’s portraits of the “fire judges” judges are here:

https://neiljstevenson.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/john-michael-wright-and-john-evelyn-part-3/

and here:

https://neiljstevenson.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/john-michael-wright-the-fire-judges-an-update/

In this mini post I’m simply sharing a photo of the portrait of Sir William Ellys (currently in the Royal Courts of Justice, London) as seen in natural raking light.

You can clearly see the damage and roughness of the surface of the “bed ticking” canvas; bearing in mind this is one of the better preserved of the portraits.

Worth also noting the Sunderland frame that retains some gilding (compare it with the black frames of the portraits in the Temple). Whilst the frame has the Ellys coat of arms at the top, at some point  it has lost the name plaque at the bottom.

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The Swordsman Revealed: An Update

In my earlier post “A Victorian Fencing Master: or, can you help me identify this painting?” I sought help on an attribution for this painting:

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A couple of people were kind enough to read the blog and tell me that they thought the subject probably was the fencing master Henry Angelo and were more confident than I was that the sketch of him in the National Portrait Gallery was consistent with the portrait.

But James Mulraine (who is an expert in identifying portraits – see his excellent website here) went one better and pointed me to the fact that C.R. Leslie had exhibited a portrait of Henry Angelo at the Royal Academy in 1843.

There is a lesson (or two) to be learnt here.  One thing I had done was check the Royal Academy Exhibition listings – you can find them online – but my first mistake was to, stupidly, start looking from 1845 because I’d become fixated on that date.  (This sometimes happens in police inquiries where one supposedly “known” fact derails or distracts the investigation.) But James was of course right and there in the RA Exhibition catalogue for 1843 is this entry:

East Room:

No. 179 Portrait of Henry Angelo Esq.         C.R. Leslie, R.A.

Now I had never considered C.R. Leslie as a possible contender for the artist, first because I have barely heard of him and second because the one thing I did know was that he painted literary scenes from Shakespeare. I didn’t have him down therefore as a portrait painter: my second mistake.

Before I turn to the Leslie’s biography I should say that a reference to a RA Exhibition listing wouldn’t be enough to convince me this was the same painting.  But the RA annual exhibition, then as now, was an event.  People commented on it, reviewed it, criticised and gossiped about it and 1843 was no exception.  In “The Art-Union: A Monthly Journal of Fine Arts”,  there is a review of the 1843 RA show which comments on individual exhibits. No 179 gets a not entirely favourable mention:

The Art Journal, Supplementary Number, June 1, 1843, page 165

The Art Journal, Supplementary Number, June 1, 1843, page 165

I probably agree with the criticism that the work is “kept” (as in controlled or in good condition) apart from the head, however I ignored the “too great prevalence of cold tints” because the exciting thing is that the description exactly matches the painting.  The one thing that had always been a problem in linking this painting to other artists – the fact that for a three-quarter length portrait it is quite small at only 60cm tall – turns out to be a helpful identifier.

The identification with Leslie as the artist is also consistent with the T. Brown suppliers mark on the back of the canvas.  Leslie is listed as one of the artists who used Brown’s canvases; his self-portrait in the NPG is one example.  My third mistake.

I’ll come to my fourth mistake in a minute but first a brief mention of the life and career of C.R. Leslie.

C.R. Leslie RA c1850

C.R. Leslie, RA c1850

Charles Robert Leslie was born in London in 1794 to American parents.  From time to time people try to claim him as an American artist and although he spent his childhood in Philadelphia he seems to have considered his home as England.  He arrives in London aged 17 to attend the Royal Academy schools were he wins various prizes.  He is known for cabinet pictures or representations of literary scenes, much like David Wilkie’s.  (As James Mulraine also points out; in a print of Leslie’s painting “Charles Dickens as Captain Bobadil” in the V&A there is a very prominent and detailed sword).

I hadn’t however realised that he also produced a number of formal portraits which he exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy.  He became ARA in 1821 and a full RA in 1826.  He is also quite a distinguished author having published a book on Reynolds (which I have – so that probably counts as mistake no. 5) and in 1843, the year of our painting, his “Memoirs of the Life of John Constable” which is still a valuable source on the artist.  He also publishes (posthumously) his own “Autobiographical Recollections” in 1860.

In 1833 he left England to return to America to become a teacher at the US military academy at West Point.  This may seem surprising that a military academy would have a drawing teacher but anyone who has read about the life of James McNeill Whistler will know he attended the academy where drawing was considered important, albeit because it related to map making and battlefield reports.  There is a further connection between Leslie and Whistler because later, back in London, the young Whistler attended Leslie’s lectures on art at the Royal Academy.  I know this because not long ago I read Daniel E. Sutherland’s book “Whistler: A Life for Art’s Sake” where the lectures, published in The Athenaeum magazine, are mentioned. Had I read all the footnotes to that book I would have spotted that a quote from Leslie  about “the great and unceasing” difficulty facing artists came from a letter he wrote to one Henry Angelo, Esq. on 4th February 1848.  That letter is now in the archive of the Art Institute of Chicago (Box .FF 6.49). So I had on my bookshelf, just yards from the painting, a link between the artist and Henry Angelo.  That was my fourth mistake.

I could mention some other errors: I failed to notice that there are two editions of Henry Angelo Snr’s book of Reminiscences.  The edition I hadn’t looked at has an engraving of Henry Snr (from a portrait by W Childe) which has a striking family resemblance to his son.

Angelo book title page

So, thanks to a very helpful tip-off and the magic that is the internet, I have managed to fill in the key details of the painting that hangs in my hall.  There are still some things I want to do – follow up on correspondence for example – but I feel confident that I can now label this picture:

Henry Angelo Esq, by C.R. Leslie R.A., exhibited 1843

Henry Angelo Esq, by C.R. Leslie R.A., exhibited 1843

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A Victorian Fencing Master: or, can you help me identify this painting?

19th c Pickersgill

Lot 48

English School, circa 1840

Portrait of a gentleman, three-quarter-length, in black costume, standing beside a table

Oil on canvas, 60 x 50cm (23 9/16 x 19 5/8in)

Not the most illuminating auction catalogue entry.  A man wearing black standing in front of a table – so far, so obvious. Probably English, maybe around 1840, that is it on additional hedging by the auction house.  Despite the lack of information I liked the painting and I thought it wouldn’t be too hard to work out who the subject was.  So I bought it and now, although I’ve got so far, I’m now stuck on identifying both the subject and the artist.  What follows is what I know, some desperate speculation and a plea for help.

The first thing that struck me about this painting was that, unlike so many early Victorian portraits that come up for sale, this was by quite a skilled hand.  The details of the face for example are beyond the ability of the average provincial painter:

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But what really intrigued me are the details the auction listing doesn’t mention;  the sword lying on the table on top of that odd diagram. My first thought was that those objects must be significant and would surely would help identify the sitter.

They are worth a closer look:

sword man detail

Take the sword first.  It didn’t take long on the internet to find out that sword designs relate to specific years.  On reflection that is not so surprising but it is helpful – up to a point.  So the first thing I now know is that this is a British infantry sword (that “English School” is therefore probably right).  Dating the sword is slightly trickier because you can’t see all of it but there is enough to narrow this down to two years: 1822 or 1845.   (Everything else about the painting suggests the later date.)  These swords are actually quite common (you can pick one up on eBay for a few hundred pounds) and well documented, so comparing a photo with the painting shows how accurate the painter was:

1845swordcompare

A sword like this appearing in a portrait would suggest the sitter is a British Army officer.  This is the first real problem, or possibly a clue.  If he is an officer why isn’t he wearing a uniform?  Or, even assuming there is a uniform under the black cloak, why isn’t it obvious he is a soldier?  If he isn’t a soldier why does he have a British army sword so prominently displayed?    I think the answer to that problem relates to the diagram on the table.

The artist renders the diagram in surprising detail:

diagramcompare

It is actually quite easy to identify what this diagram is.  It is obvious it relates to fencing and an internet search for “fencing diagram” immediately identifies this as an illustration from a book entitled “Infantry Sword Exercises” by Henry Charles Angelo.

The book is actually a manual of fencing exercises which were published as handbook for the British Army in 1817 and again in 1845 (the second time that 1845 date has cropped up).  The book is still available as a reprint and a scanned copy of the original is online:

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The author, Henry Charles Angelo was a part of the Angelo family of fencing masters.  The dynasty was founded by Domenico Angelo (1716-1802) an Italian who moved to London and set up a fencing school in London around 1759.  The school became popular and had a number of high profile pupils including the Prince of Wales (the future George III).  Domenico also published a book, a treatise called “Ecole des Armes” in 1763.

Domenico’s son, Henry Charles Angelo (1760-1839) took over the business and published another treatise with illustrations by Rowlandson. His son, Domenico’s grandson, also called Henry Charles Angelo (1780-1852) is the author of our book “Infantry Sword Exercises”.  The book was adopted by the British Army and became a standard manual in 1817. Henry Charles was appointed “Superintendent of Sword Exercise” for the Army in 1833 – a role he retained until his death.

So could the sitter be Henry Charles Angelo?

There are a number of reasons why that is a compelling suggestion.  It explains the sword, the diagram and the military role but without the uniform.  Following that line of inquiry I went looking for further details on Henry Charles Angelo and that is where things start to slow down.

There isn’t it seems much to learn about Henry. He gets a mention in a short book about the Angelo fencing dynasty “The House of Angelo” by J.D. Aylward, where he is described as:

“Unlike his father, Henry was not a Bohemian, for he is described as “a model man, in stature, in mien, in looks, in dress, and in manners.””

I’m not sure that helps link Henry with the sitter in this portrait although he does appear to have a certain noble bearing.

Other things are however slightly troubling.  Assuming a painting date of 1845 or after, Angelo would be at least 65 years old.  Is that the face of a 65 year old?   Possibly.

I started looking for other images of Henry Charles to compare with the portrait.  I’ve only be able to find one and again I’m not sure it helps. There is a drawing in the National Portrait Gallery by W.H Nightingale:

Henry Charles Angelo by W.H. Nightingale, National Portrait Gallery London

Henry Charles Angelo by W.H. Nightingale, National Portrait Gallery

There are two problems with the drawing. The first is that a profile doesn’t help much when comparing it to a frontal view. Second, it is dated 1839, 6 years or so before the painting and yet this looks like a much younger looking man than our subject.  The sideburns are pretty much ubiquitous at the time so not much of a clue there and the hairline would have recede somewhat in the next 6 years to match our man.  So the drawing doesn’t help much but, like so much in this research, it also doesn’t rule out Angelo as the sitter.

My only other line of inquiry with Angelo was checking any references to an obituary and to a will.   There is an obituary in The Gentleman’s Magazine of November 1852 and a copy of his will in the National Archives.   On odd occasions either of those can mention portraits.  In this case they don’t.

So, I’m half convinced this is a portrait of Henry Charles Angelo of around 1845.

If it isn’t Angelo who else could it be? Looking through portraits of the same period I found one person who bears a passing resemblance to our sitter but this quickly falls apart as an idea because that person was the arctic explorer John Franklin.    Franklin is portrayed several times (notably by Thomas Philips) and there are a few photographs of him that allow us to make comparisons.

Unknown Man (left), Sir John Franklin (right)

Unknown Man (left), Sir John Franklin (right)

But apart from being bald men of similar age they don’t actually look that alike. Franklin is almost invariably portrayed wearing his naval uniform so why wouldn’t he be doing so in this portrait?  There is no reason he’d be painted with a British army sword and not a naval cutlass and he has no apparent interest in swordsmanship. Finally and possibly fatally, he sails off on his ill-fated attempt to find the North West Passage in May 1845 so there would be little time to paint him anyway.  So even wild speculation hasn’t yet thrown up any other contenders for the sitter. But maybe someone will know better?

The Artist

There is no  discernible signature on the painting although for a while I thought I could just about make out something (possibly “James…”) under UV light but which could equally be just some scrapes on the surface:

SwordmanUV

The only other (non stylistic) clue to a possible artist is the stamp on the back of the canvas:

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That reads: “T Brown, 163 High Holborn, London” and relates to the artists’ colourman Thomas Brown.  The stamp also helps (very slightly) with dating since Thomas Brown took over the business in 1805 and was based in High Holborn until 1853.   Brown was however a leading supplier of canvas and painting materials (they were the first to provide collapsible metal paint tubes) to many important artists including Turner, Constable and Thomas Lawrence.  All of those I can rule out on obvious stylistic grounds or because they were dead by 1845.  But there are a list of Brown’s clients (and others) that could be our artist.

At various times I have considered artists from this list: Henry William Pickersgill; John Watson-Gordon; George Hayter; John Wood; Samuel Laurence; Frederick Richard Say; John Partridge; John Linnell; Richard Rothwell and Francis Grant.

The problem is I can’t really make a very convincing argument for any of them and I can find issues with all of them (for example the format is wrong for Pickersgill, the style not right for Hayter etc).  From time to time I favour one over the other; e.g. John Partridge for a while. Some on that list may seem surprising.  Francis Grant for example, since Grant’s portraits always seem to me to be painted with a palette of brighter tones and he seems to make everything and everyone, well, shiny.  But then something comes along to make me reconsider, in Grant’s case it was walking past  his portrait of Sidney Herbert (of 1847) in the NPG and noticing the similarity with the way he’d painted a hand holding a cane:

Fencing Master detail (left) Portrait of Sidney Herbert by Francis Grant detail (right)

Fencing Master detail (left) Portrait of Sidney Herbert by Francis Grant detail (right)

This is of course mere conjecture – seeing similarities that just aren’t there.  I have nothing concrete to base an attribution on. That is why I need help.  Have I missed something obvious?  Is the portrait in the  recognisable style of an artist I haven’t considered?  If you can help or if you want to add to the speculation please do comment below or you can find me on twitter @NJStevenson.

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