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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Anton Mauve

Isn't this just about the most gorgeous specimen of bovine flesh you ever saw?                 
Note the Realism--it drools.                       

Anton Mauve's portrait of a sheep.
If one were to take a survey, I'm guessing you'd find that there are literally thousands of wildlife artists living and working today, just here in the United States. By the same token, I wouldn't be surprised if there were a similar number (or even greater) of what I guess you'd call "home life" painters--pet artists. What you likely would not find is any appreciable number of "farm life" artists. If you want to find that kind of specialization, you'd best check out the Dutch "Golden Age" painters, though neither pets nor wild animals were a major staple in the repertoire of most Dutch painters, regardless of the era. The Dutch did love to paint their barnyard life, though. Today, any such demand for paintings of domesticated livestock would likely fall into the bailiwick of the pet artist. The market for barnyard art today is, to say the least, rather thin. I mean, who'd want a cow in their living room? Okay, maybe a rancher.
Making Hay, Anton Mauve
Anton Mauve Self-portrait
Yet, approximately a hundred and fifty years ago, such art was quite popular in Europe, and perhaps even more so in America. And one of the best when it came to meeting this demand was the Dutch artist, Anton Mauve. Mauve's embraced Realism. Notice that's "Realism" with a capital "R." Man, that term has had a tortured existence in art down through the centuries. As an adjective, realism describes to varying degrees much of the art done past, present, and very likely in the future. Saying Mauve was a realist, might also imply that he looked upon life honestly, with a pragmatic streak. He probably did, but insofar as his art is concerned, that's neither here nor there. More precisely, being a realist painter during the middle of the 19th-century in Europe meant that he or she did, in fact, paint in a realistic manner (Rosa Bonheur, for example). But it also meant such artist totally eschewed the pretentious, the fanciful, and the mythological content of the upper classes, and for the most part, the nudes, biblical scenes, and elegant still-lifes of the emerging bourgeois (middle classes).
Grazing, Anton Mauve
So, if the Realists painted none of that, what did they paint. Well, in Mauve's case, sheep...lots and lots of sheep. And if the French liked his sheep paintings, the Americans loved them, even paying a premium price for sheep coming over sheep going. I guess I couldn't blame them for that, looking at the south end of a flock of sheep never particularly appealed to me either. The French, and especially the Dutch loved their cows even more than sheep, so Mauve painted lots of them too. Moreover, such rural scenes were "in" regardless of the livestock involved. Mauve's Morning Ride Along the Beach (below) from 1876, may have been intended for a British market across the channel. They were much more "into" horses than the French. Again, notice the realism, the trail of droppings left behind in the sand.
Morning Ride Along the Beach, 1876
Anton Mauve was born in 1838. His father was a Mennonite chaplain. A year after Anton's birth, the family moved from Zaandam (northern Holland) to Haarlem where he grew up. There he was apprenticed to a succession of artists, mostly landscape painters who later became known as the "Dutch Barbizon" painters after their French cousins who delighted in painting outdoors. In 1872, Mauve moved to The Hague where he settled down, opened a studio and became a leader in the Hague School. He worked tirelessly in watercolor, seeking to bring what had, until then, been considered simply a color sketching medium, up to a level on a par with oil painting.
Portrait of Ariëtte (Jet) Carbentus, the Artist's Wife. in the Dunes, Anton Mauve

Snowy Landscape,
1885-87, Anton Mauve
Mauve was associated with the French art marketing firm, Groupil and Cie. It may have been through them that Mauve first met Vincent van Gogh. Van Gogh worked for them at the time. In any case, he and Mauve became close friends; and around 1881, van Gogh spent three weeks in Mauve's studio, the older artist teaching him to paint in oils for the first time. They may also have known one another through family ties in that Mauve was married to Ariëtte (Jet) Carbentus, a cousin of van Gogh on his mother's side. Later, Mauve and van Gogh had a falling out thought to have been over Vincent's brief love affair with a pregnant prostitute. Vincent's association with Mauve was typical of that which van Gogh had with other artists, such as Paul Gauguin. None of them "played well with others." Despite their separation, van Gogh continued to hold Mauve in high regard, referring to him frequently in his letters to his brother, Theo. Van Gogh was especially distraught when he learned of Mauve's sudden death in 1888.

Return of the Flock, Laren, Anton Mauve
I think I should take a moment at this point to answer a question which I'm sure has been going through your mind as you've read about the barnyard exploits of Anton Mauve. Did Mauve invent the color "mauve"? Although I'm sure he was aware of the connection between his name and the color, I can find no references at all connecting the man with the color, much less his having "invented" it. Actually the color mauve was named after the mallow flower and first mentioned in the Oxford English Dictionary as far back as 1796-98, some forty years before Anton Mauve was born. Did he paint much using the color mauve? That's hard to say in that there are some thirty different shades of lavender using the word mauve in some context. So, the answer to that is, probably, though just as probably he was probably not aware of it at the time.

The Brink in Laren with Children Playing, Anton Mauve. Sheep were not all Mauve painted. He also painted kids at times (and I don't mean young goats).


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