Leonardo, La Belle Ferronnière


Leonardo da Vinci, La Gioconda, 1503-1506, oil on poplar panel, 73 x 53 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

This is possibly the most recognisable painting in the history of art.
In a recent discussion, I said that I preferred a painting, attributed to Leonardo, which is also in the Louvre, but in a less prominent position.


Leonard da Vinci, attrib., Ritrato di Dama or La Belle Ferronnière, 1490-96, oil on wood, 62 x 44 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

The painting’s title, applied as early as the seventeenth century, identifying the sitter as the wife or daughter of an ironmonger, ferronnier, was said to be discreetly alluding to a reputed mistress of Francis I of France, married to a certain Le Ferron. The tale is a romantic legend of revenge in which the aggrieved husband intentionally infects himself with syphilis, which he passes to the king through infecting his wife.
Although the model of the painting La Belle Ferronniere is still shrouded in mystery, she was possibly Beatrice d’Este, wife of Ludovico Sforza,   challenges the portrait’s earlier attribution to Lucrezia Crivelli, a mistress of Ludovico.


Leonardo da Vinci, La Dama con l’Ermelino, 1489-90, oil on panel, 54 x 39 cm, National Museum, Crakow, Poland

The portrait’s subject is Cecilia Gallerani, painted at a time when she was the mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, and Leonardo was in the Duke’s service. It is one of only four portraits of women painted by Leonardo, the others being the Mona Lisa, the portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci, and La belle ferronnière.


Detail from La Dama con l’Ermelino and La Belle Ferronnière

La Belle Ferronnière is attributed to Leonardo, although, as with so many paintings of the time, there is probably more than on hand.

Speaking of attribution, there is now serious concern about the painter of the lately purchased Salvator Mundi


Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi, c1500, oil on walnut panel, 66 x 45 cm, Louvre, Abu Dhabi, UAE

The Louvre Abu Dhabi has indefinitely postponed putting on display the painting bought for a world record price of $450.3m in 2017. Because its authenticity has been the focus of so much speculation, experts are wondering whether there may be new revelations to come about whether or not it is definitely a Leonardo.

And this one is a real mystery:


Unknown, after Leonardo da Vinci, The Isleworth Mona Lisa, date?, oil on canvas, 85 x 65 cm, Private Collection, Switzerland

This version of the Mona Lisa was bought in 1914 by the artist and critic Hugh Blaker, who lived in Isleworth, in West London. Unlike the Louvre’s Mona Lisa, around 1503-19, the painting is done on canvas, whereas the original is on panel. It has columns on the sides of the picture and the landscape is very simple. Blacker reported that the picture had come from a Somerset aristocratic collection. In 1962, the painting was bought by the UK based art collector Henry Pulitzer, who exhibited it very briefly in Phoenix, Arizona, in a commercial gallery. It has now disappeared, but is probably in a private collection, locked away in Basel, Switzerland.

BT, Meeting No27, 16 October, 2018


Juan Miró, “Masterpieces”

These three images were exhibited, believe it not, in the Tate in London in 2013


Joan Miró, Painting on a White Background, for the cell of a recluse, I, II & III, 1968

Look, the Emperor has no clothes!

“These three paintings consist of no more than a single thin black line meandering vaguely diagonally across the dry, smudgy white of a canvas primed with acrylic. The lines reveal themselves to be composed of separate strokes building up shorter segments that thicken and thin as the brush is lifted off the surface and returns to it, resembling the sections of a stem of bamboo rather than a single reed.
Miró’s phrase of the hand breathing again comes to mind and is echoed in the viewer’s physical response as one in turn approaches the surface for a closer look or steps back to experience the rhythm of the threefold repetition of the calligraphic sign.”
Marko Daniel is co-curator of Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape, at Tate Modern.

But, it gets worse:


“With a blank white background punctuated by a grey line, to the untrained eye, Joan Miró’s masterpiece could be mistaken for a slightly cracked wall.” (my highlights)

And it appears that one visitor to a Miró exhibition at Tate Modern may have been so mistaken, damaging a £20 million painting when steadying himself with both hands against the work after tripping and falling. The slip up cost the tax payer more than £200,000. Painting on White Background for the Cell of a Recluse I, 1968, one of five rare triptychs by the Catalan artist that were shown together for the first time at a recent retrospective of his work, underwent emergency repairs after the incident, which is believed to have caused dents and marking on the picture’s surface.
The acrylic on canvas triptych was on loan to the Tate from the Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona. The Government has paid out £203,000 to the Foundation, to cover the repair costs and the painting’s loss in value following the damage.

Well, I never!

Here are two paintings of Miró, dating from a period when his work made sense:


Joan Miró, Les cartes espagnoles, 1920, oil on canvas, 64 x 70 cm, Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN, USA


Joan Miró, Caballo, pipa y flor roja, 1920, oil on canvas, 83 x 75 cm, Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA, USA

But, go back almost a hundred years. Were these paintings ridiculed in the same way?

BT, Meeting No27, 16 October, 2018

Laura Knight, Gypsies

Laura’s friends from the circus, Ally and Joe Bert, introduced her to the spectacle of a race meeting, both from the perspective of the spectators in the stands and the gaily attired gypsy fortune-tellers. After Joe’s death Knight continued to accompany his widow Ally to the races and on one occasion Mrs Bert introduced her to Mr Sully, who owned a Rolls Royce that had driven Joe’s coffin to his funeral. The car was also used to take bridal parties to church at weekends but as it was available during the week, Knight suggested that Sully should drive her and Ally to the races every day during the racing season or to the gypsy camp at Iver to paint the wrinkled visage of Granny Smith or the beautiful raven-haired Beulah. On race days the spacious vehicle was parked on the slopes of the race-track and its elevated position and commodious interior allowed Knight to work on canvases as large as A Dull Day at Epsom, protected from inclement weather or glaring sunshine.

KnightLDullDay Laura Knight, A Dull Day at Epsom, c1940, oil on canvas, 64 x 76 cm, Private Collection

This picture, painted from the open door of Sully’s Rolls Royce circa 1940, captures the excitement of race-day, with one spectator standing on the roof of her car to watch the horses as they gallop past and another scrambling up the back of his vehicle with binoculars clasped to his eyes. The grandstand and its crowd dominates the background but the empty foreground behind the line of cars parked behind the press-tent, demonstrates Knight’s ability to place herself in a more backstage setting, just as she did when she painted ballerinas and circus performers in their dressing-rooms or behind the curtain of an auditorium. These pictures convey the more intimate scenes that Knight was able to witness, as an accepted part of the peripheral life of the racing community and not simply an observer viewing from a physical and social distance.

While at Newlyn, Alfred Munnings often went to country horse fairs and sometimes went off with the gypsies he met. Because of his love of horses, Munnings was also a regular at the race meetings at Ascot and Epsom. He suggested to Laura that these would be good places to go to find subject matter. Laura liked horses and and had painted many during her circus days, but she found that is was the people in the race day crowds which interested her most, especial the gypsies who moved among them, telling fortunes and selling trinkets.

Top left: Laura Knight, Ascot Finery, 1936-38, oil on canvas, Art Gallery, Dundee, UK
Top right: Laura Knight, Epsom Downs, 1938 & Laura Knight, Gypsies at Ascot, 1933, oil on canvas, Museum & Art Gallery, Hereford, UK
Bottom left: Laura Knight, Gypsies on Epsom Downs, oil on canvas, Dumfries, UK
Bottom right: Laura Knight, Romany Belles, 1938, oil on canvas, Art Gallery, Aberdeen, UK

The press took delight in her eccentricity and made her headline news.

Responding to the circumstances, Laura was employing a more sketchy technique than is evident in many of the Circus paintings. The Gypsy paintings are as fresh and bright today as the finery worn by her subjects on those auspicious race days. They were willing to stand and pose for their portraits, that is, if she crossed their palms with silver!

Laura visited the gypsy camps on many occasions and painted people in their own home. Her subjects were often suspicious of her but her friendliness and honesty usually won them over. These were painted at Iver, in Buckinghamshire, a few miles away from Ascot.

Left: Laura Knight, Gypsies at Home, oil on canvas, 76 x 97 cm, Private Collection
Right: Laura Knight, Gypsy Waggon & Tent, date?, oil on canvas, Private Collection & Laura Knight, The Little Beggar, 1947, oil on canvas

Perhaps the most poignant and important paintings of this time are her gypsy portraits, which form a unique record of the people she met in the camps.


Laura Knight, Hop-Picking Granny Knowles, an Old Hand, 1940

The family she came to know best were the Smiths, With Granny (Lilo) one of her nine sons, Gilderoy, and his daughter in law, Freedom, whom Laura chose to call Beulah

Left: Laura Knight, Old Gypsy Woman, 1938, oil on canvas, Private Collection
Right: Laura Knight, Fine Feathers or Gypsy Splendour, 1939, oil on canvas, 102 x 76 cm, Castle Museum & Art Centre, Nottingham, UK

On the right, Granny Smith is dressed ready to go to Ascot. Laura lent her the hat.


Laura Knight, The Gypsy, c1937, oil on canvas, 61 x 41 cm, Tate Gallery, London, UK.

This is Gilderoy.  Laura wrote on 15 November 1957: “He, a gentleman called Mr Smith, one wet day, at Iver, Bucks, in the camp there near the railway, posed for me in a little lean-to tent – just a corner in shelter, crowded by a big double bed where an old gipsy and his wife slept. I painted it in 3 or 4 hours. … I haven’t anything more to say about that Mr Smith except that he figures in several other pictures I painted at Iver – one in particular, his whole family which is somewhere in Scotland – wife, three children and his mother, a beautiful old Romany, queen of the camp.”

Left: Laura Knight, Beulah on top of the Hills, 1959, oil on canvas, 119 x 66 cm
Right: Laura Knight, Beulah, the Gypsy Girl, oil on canvas, 76 x 61 cm, Private Collection

“Beulah’s wagon, shared with her husband, was a picture of shiny ornamental looking-glass, inlet panelling, white bed linen and polished brass and copper – all spotlessly clean. Many wet days I spent inside at work, crouched in a corner close against a lot of hanging garments. I never tired of painting Beulah, typical of her race in her aloofness and resignation to whatever happened: as an animal does not look ahead but takes whatever comes. Her body and limbs were primitive in column of muscle and bone, in movement and relaxation. To say she was beautiful is not enough: apart from perfection of mould, she bore the mark of tragedy as well. Hard would be the clench of those white teeth; and right to the bone they would bite. Although I painted her so much, I never heard her history.” (The Magic of Line, The Autobiography of Laura Knight D.B.E., R.A., 1965, p. 253)

And lastly, three portraits of Freedom Smith:

Laura Knight, Beulah, oil on canvas, 62 x 39 cm, Private Collection
Laura Knight, Beulah No2, oil on canvas, 60 x 38 cm, Private Collection
Laura Knight, Beulah No3, oil on canvas, 61 x 39 cm, Private Collection

BT, Meeting No27, 16 October, 2018

The Newlyn School

There are a considerable number of well-known painters who are said to have joined the artists’ colony. I am talking today about the artists who worked there for several consecutive years before the place was “known”, that is to say, before it was flooded with painters and speculative building.
After that time, the “swells” came down for holidays, calling themselves artists, taking all the available lodgings, and almost crowding out the working artists. As a result, the character of the little fishing port was changed for ever.
It was two artists from Birmingham that first discovered Newlyn. Why Newlyn? The longing for clean air and light saw the flowering of painting “en plein air” movement in England. In the early 1880s, it was becoming fashionable to paint in this manner (but also daring and rebellious), where the object was to paint natural colours and tones directly from life, with the inherent problems of the changing light through the days and seasons, and with the practicalities of carrying easels, canvases and equipment to the chosen subject.
As Norman Garstin said, “your work could not be any good unless you caught a cold doing it”.

These are artists of the Newlyn School in order of their arrival there.

Walter Langley, 1852-1922


The artist in his studio

Son of a Birmingham tailor, he arrived in Newlyn in 1881 after training at South Kensington where he studied design. He recorded life in the fishing community, painting, unusually, mainly in watercolour.  He was politically left wing and was noted for his socialist/realist portrayals of working-class figures, mainly fishermen and their families.
In 1878 he was invited to hang a self-portrait in The Uffizi to hang alongside Raphael, Rubens and Rembrandt in their collection of great artists.


Walter Langley, Carrying the Catch


Walter Langley, The Fisherman, 1891


Walter Langley, The Greeting, 1904


Walter Langley, A Cornish Village Maiden, 1883


Walter Langley, Among the Missing, 1883


Walter Langley, Between the Tides, 1901


Walter Langley, Touch of a Vanished Hand, 1888


Walter Langley, Waiting for the Boats, 1885

Edwin Harris, 1855-1906


Stanhope Forbes, Portrait of Edwin Harris, 1890

Born in Ladywood, Birmingham. Studied at BSA where Walter Langley was also a student.  They were to remain lifelong friends. After BSA attended Veriat’s Academy, Antwerp.
Arrived in Newlyn 1883, staying for twelve years. He interpreted his surroundings with a lighter touch than his friend Langley.
After leaving Newlyn he set up his own studio in Birmingham where he concentrated mainly on portraiture.


Edwin Harris, Apple Blossom


Edwin Harris, Under the Cornish Cliffs


Edwin Harris, Fisherman


Edwin Harris, An Old Fisherman


Edwin Harris, The Lesson


Edwin Harris, Mother & Daughter Reading a Book


Edwin Harris, A Pinch of Snuff


Edwin Harris, Gathering Sticks

Ralph Todd, 1856-1932
Moved to Newlyn in 1883. As a painter, he struggled. Some charming works, but others downright poor.


Ralph Todd, Primrose Day

Leghe Suthers, 1855-1929
Very little recorded of his life. Clearly, he spent a considerable amount of time in Newlyn, bu the dates are unknown.


Leghe Suthers, Newlyn, from Audit Lane, c1886

Fred Hall, 1860-1948
Studied at Lincoln School of Art before Veriat’s Academy in Antwerp. Arrived in Newlyn about 1883 to 85, and stayed until 1898.


Fred Hall, A Newlyn Cottage, c1910

Stanhope Alexander Forbes, RA, 1857-1947
Son of an English railway manager. Studied at Lambeth School of Art and the RA Schools.
Arrived in Newlyn in 1884, and is sometimes known as “the father of the Newlyn School”.
In 1889, he married his second wife Elizabeth Armstrong, also an artist (see below)
Died in Newlyn and buried nearby in Sancreed churchyard.


Stanhope Forbes, Mousehole, near Newlyn, 1919

Frank Bramley, 1857-1915
Like Fred Hall, he studied at Lincoln School of Art and Antwerp. He arrived in Newlyn in 1884.
In contrast to most of the Newlyn colony, he painted many interiors.
He was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy. He left Newlyn in 1895 and settled in Grasmere.


Frank Bramley, Eyes and no Eyes, or The Hopeless Dawn, 1887, Tate, London

Percy Robert Craft, 1856-1934
Arrived in Newlyn in 1885 and left in 1899.
Attended UCL and the Heatherley’s and the Slade.


Percy Craft, Tucking a School of Pilchards, 1897

Thomas Cooper Gotch, 1854-1931
The son of a shoemaker, he studied in London and Antwerp, and arrived in Newlyn in 1887. Painted naturalistic pastoral scenes before immersing himself in the Pre-Raphaelite school, and is best known for his work at that period.
Like Forbes, he was also buried in Sancreed churchyard.


Thomas Gotch, Portrait of Phyllis Gotch

Albert Chevallier Tayler, 1862-1925
Studied at Heatherley’s School of Art and the RA Schools.
He arrived in Newlyn in 1884 and stayed twelve years.


Albert Tayler, Feeding Time, 1888

Henry Edward Detmold, 1859-1921
Born into a merchant family of German origin. He came to Newlyn in 1885, after studying in Düsseldorf, Brussels, Munich and Paris? Specialised in Landscape and marine subjects.
He was buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.


Henry Detmold, An Old Fisherman

Frank Wright Bourdillon, 1851-1929
Born in India. Studied at the Slade and later in Paris. He arrived in Newlyn in 1887, and after five years he returned to India as a Christian missionary.
He used the “square brush technique”, where the flat of the brush is used to lay down squarish strokes of colour directly on to the canvas, unblended, in the form of a jigsaw puzzle.


Frank Bourdillon, The Jubilee Hat, 1887

Elizabeth Forbes (née Armstrong), 1859-1912.
A Canadian, she married Stanhope Forbes (above) in 1889. Having studied at South Kensington, now the Royal College of Art, she became an artist of considerable merit.


Elizabeth Forbes, School’s Out, 1889

William Banks Fortescue, 1850-1924
Also from Birmingham. He studied in Paris and Venice. Not very prolific, but. exhibited surprisingly frequently.


William Fortescue, Old Newlyn Harbour

Norman Garstin, 1847-1926
Studied in Antwerp and Paris.
Contributed greatly to the “Newlyn experience”.


Norman Garstin, In a Cottage

MH, Meeting No27, 16 October, 2018

Laura Knight, The Circus

Laura received a letter from Major Evelyn Atherley, who had read of her studies of the circus in the papers. He asked her to paint a picture for her. His first request was for a portrait of the clown, Whimsical Walker, standing astride, with his dog, Blinkers standing in front of him. He then asked for another clown, Joe Craston, to be included, and then for something else, and the for something else. The requests multiplied, and Laura agreed to them all, and accepted the commission.

Harold thought she was mad.

This is the result.


Laura Knight, Charivari, also known as The Grand Parade, 1929, oil on canvas, 99 x 125, cm, Museum & Art Gallery, Newport, UK

She and the major became lifelong friends and he died shortly before the publication of her first autobiography.

The circus was a popular national entertainment in the 1920s, and Laura visited both Fossett’s Circus at the Islington Agricultural Hall and Bertram Mills’ Circus based at Olympia. Mills invigorated the British circus tradition by presenting a polished, glamorous show with international performers that attracted a celebrity audience, including Sir Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw. For Laura, the physically audacious performers in spectacular costumes were irresistible subjects.

When her painting Charivari, a depiction of multiple performers at Mills’ Circus, was exhibited at the Royal Academy it was criticised and lampooned in the press. Undeterred, Laura joined Mills and his company when they embarked on a national tour in partnership with Great Carmo’s circus. She shared temporary lodgings with the clowns and acrobats, drawing and painting the performers at work and rest over an intense four month period. The more reflective portraits made at this time show a deep understanding of the life and experiences of the travelling performer.
In “Oil Paint & Grease Paint”, she says “I was as much a part of the circus as anyone in the show, used to putting up with anything, living solely in its atmosphere.”


Laura Knight, Major Atherley, 1932, pastel & watercolour, 46 x 52 cm, Private Collection

She painted the major’s portrait. She invented the pictures behind him, so that he could have more for his money. Top right is the lion tamer Togare, preparing to wrestle with Paris, and on the left is Blinkers, the major’s dog.


Laura Knight, Circus Matinee, c1938, oil on canvas, 84 x 114 cm, Perth & Kinross Council, Perth, UK

A scene at Bertram Mills’ Circus. The clown is Joe Bert; he and his wife Ally were friends of Laura. The acrobat is Herbert Hanson. The horse in the centre is the Knapstroper horse Hassan, and on the right Sulliman.


Laura Knight, The Rosinbacks, oil on canvas, 78 x  64 cm, The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, UK

The Rosinback is distinguished by a broad back on to which resin is sprinkled, to give the performer a firm foothold.

Left, Laura Knight, Haifa and Hassan, 1930, oil on canvas, 61 x 51 cm, Private Collection
and right, Laura Knight, Elsie on Hassan, 1929-30, oil on canvas, 69 x 76 cm, City Museum, Nottingham, UK

Laura painted Fred Carmo’s troupe of beautiful spotted acrobat’s horses several times at Bertram Mills’ Circus, on this occasion in 1930. The breed was called ‘Knapstroper’, peculiar to Eastern Germany and Russia.


Laura Knight, A Musical Clown, 1930, oil on canvas, 76 x 64 cm, Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston, UK

Left, Laura Knight, Three Clowns, c1930, oil on canvas, 76 x 64 cm, City Museum, Leicester, UK, and right, a sketch of Joe Craston.

As we have already seen, Laura was fascinated by the ballet, and the excitement of the circus was another passion. She had a gift for entering the lives of the performers and was friends with many of them. Her introduction behind the scenes was via her friend, Alfred Munnings, who asked the circus owner, Bertram Mills, if she could paint and sketch, much as she had done in the ballet.
After the death of Whimsical Walker, of whom more below, Joe Craston became the principal clown in Bertram Mills Circus.


Laura Knight, Joe Craston & Buffer, scene from a circus , 1929, charcoal, pencil & watercolour, 36 x 26 cm, Private Collection

Buffer is the generic term for a clown’s dog. A performing dog is a Slanging buffer.
Joe is shown here in the guise of a Joey, the white faced sad clown, named in honour of the great Grimaldi, who died in 1837. He is known for the expansion of the rôle of Clown in the harlequinade that formed part of British pantomimes.


Laura Knight, Whimsical Walker, coloured crayon and gouache over traces of pencil, 37 x 27 cm, Private Collection

Whimsical Walker from Charivari


The Whimsical Walker (1851-1934), who wore this costume in the 1920s, worked as a clown in both circus and pantomime. Born Thomas Walker, he first appeared in 1865 and subsequently worked in England and America. In 1886, he appeared by royal command before Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle. The donkey misbehaved and the Queen was not amused.
Walker’s act was popular with generations of children. In 1928 Dame Laura Knight recorded his appearance in her oil painting, The Whimsical Walker and His Buffer, which shows him in this costume with his circus dog or ‘buffer’. The artist and performer met and made friends in the 1920s when Walker was working at Olympia for Bertram Mills’ and Carmo’s circuses. Walker’s props were those of the traditional clown: a string of sausages, a goose, and a red-hot poker.


The Whimsical Walker’s costume, displayed in the London Museum

Laura cared for his widow, and took his costume and wig, which was hired from Clarkson’s and which she bought for 2/6d, to the London museum. Note the string of sausages, one of Whimsical Walker’s trademark acts.


Laura Knight, Goliath, c1930, crayon and pencil, 25 x 35 cm, Private Collection

This is the dwarf Goliath from Charivari. His best trick was to place his hat on the ground, bend over, put his head in the hat, and stand up again.
Boom! Boom!


Left,  Laura Knight, Two Clowns, c1929, watercolour & charcoal, 50 x 34 cm, Private Collection, and right, Laura Knight, Clown’s Refreshment, c1929, watercolour & charcoal, 36 x 27 cm, Private Collection

As with the ballet, Laura was interested in what went on behind the scenes. The couple on the right are probably Joe Craston and his wife, with whom Laura established a close friendship.

Left, Laura Knight, Circus People, oil on canvas, 61 x 51 cm, Private Collection, and right, Laura Knight, The Finishing Horse, 1951, oil on canvas, 74 x 69 cm, Private Collection


Laura Knight, The Last Act, 1929, oil on canvas, 140 x 107 cm, Art Gallery & Museum, Dundee, UK

Put them all together again:
Togare, the lion tamer with Paris; the pig who spelled his name, “Happy”; Joe Craston on the left; and Major Atherley, with his dog and an unknown woman.

BT, Meeting No26, 20 October, 2018