Adolphe Yvon: Portraying the Russian invasion

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Marshal Ney Supporting the Rear Guard During the Retreat from Moscow, 1856 
Adolphe Yvon
©Manchester City Galleries

Extreme weather conditions

Adolphe Yvon (1817-1893) was a French artist who was known for his portrayals of the Napoleonic wars of 1803-1815. The wars were between the French Empire, led by Napoleon and opposing coalitions, led by Great Britain. 

Yvon’s painting Marshal Ney supporting the Rear Guard during the Retreat from Moscow,1856, will be included in the up and coming display Natural Forces.  It is a huge painting of a dramatic, snow-covered war scene which depicts the tragic culmination of Napoleon’s Russian invasion of 1815. 450,000 men were led across the River Nieman and were than forced to turn back at Moscow due to the unbearable weather conditions. The temperatures reached below –25°c and this environment, along with the battles, killed a great proportion of the army and by December only 13,000 men remained. Marshal Ney was their commander. He was a skilled commander and trusted associate of Napoleon who fought in a great number of battles during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, including the battle of Waterloo. After the defeat at Waterloo Ney was arrested and sentenced to death by firing squad on December 7 1815.

In the painting Ney is wearing a bicorn hat and stands to the left of centre touching a wounded soldier’s shoulder. Death and tragedy fill the atmosphere around him. Moscow can be seen on fire in the background; the city was set alight by retreating Russian forces who would rather see it burnt to the ground than robbed by the French army. Dead or dying soldiers litter the foreground, half naked and frozen; dead horses are also visible.

 The art of storytelling 

Although the painting is based upon true events, the scene depicted is a semi-fabricated one. In reality the weather was not fully to blame for the large number of deaths. Although it played a key part, so did other factors. Within the painting great emphasis is placed upon the climate; it seems that the failure of the expedition is due solely to the snow and sub-zero temperatures. The cold did have a strong impact on the troops but poor preparation played a role too. The soldiers’ clothing wasn’t fit for winter weather and combined with starvation brought on by lack of supplies, a bad situation was made even worse. 

Yvon doesn’t exactly give us the whole truth!  However the artist’s trying to tell a good story and bring out the heroism and tragedy of the event.  He wants to create a dramatic atmosphere and enhance the visual appeal of the painting so he seems to have manipulated the facts to this end. 

I like the fact that when viewing art it can be like a story unfolding before your eyes and it is up to you to develop the story for yourself. One of the wonderful things about Marshal Ney supporting the Rear Guard during the Retreat from Moscow, is that there is always something new to discover. It is engaging and full of narrative and it is possible to look at it time and time again and notice little features that you missed before.  There are a lot of details; something that I noticed upon closer inspection is the women cradling two, seemingly dying or dead children to the right hand side of the frame. Due to the chaos of the scene it is at times difficult to determine who is dead and who is alive. This makes it an even more memorable painting as you try to work out what is going on.

 Lori Symcox: Collections Access Assistant 

Clarkson Stanfield – Drama at sea

From Sailor to acclaimed Scene Painter & Marine Artist

The content for Natural Forces: Romanticism and Nature is taking shape and I thought I’d tell you all a little bit more about some of the art works which are going to be included in this up and coming display from 12th July.

Two seascapes that have caught my attention are by the artist Clarkson Stanfield (1793-1867). Stanfield began life as a sailor but due to lack of work, as the ship Hope which he was due to join for a voyage to Madrid never set sail. Due to this he needed to forge a different career path to make the money he desperately needed. He became a scene painter in 1818 as prior to being a sailor he had dabbled with painting and even worked as an apprentice to a painter in Edinburgh. Due to these already acquired artistic skills, he soon became regarded as one of the best marine artists during the Victorian era and in 1827 displayed his work at the Royal Academy for the first time.

Shipwrecks

Ships were a highly effective mode of transport during the 19th century and were used to create trade routes and to transport goods, among other things, however; the journeys weren’t without their risks. Pirate attacks and extreme weather conditions were a known danger and these subjects appealed to the public’s sense of curiosity and wonder as well as fear. Artists tapped into this appeal and during the 19th century shipwrecks became a popular and familiar theme within marine art. They were painted to highlight mans struggle against the elements rather than as depictions of real life events.

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The Last of the Crew, 1853 
Clarkson Stanfield 
Manchester Art Gallery, 1920.532 
Image ©Manchester City Galleries 

One of Stanfield’s paintings that will be on display is The Last Of The Crew (1853), which focuses upon a shipwreck scene. Although not as theatrical when compared to some other shipwreck paintings, it has an ominous, though almost calm atmosphere. It is set in the aftermath of a storm and the ship has been thrown against coastal rocks on which there is one sole survivor. Within the scene there is a clear sense of isolation, desperation and foreboding; the lone sailors fate depends upon the viewer’s interpretation of the work. Do you think he survives or is he destined to become another victim of the sea?

 Literary Connections

The second Stanfield painting in the show will be a watercolour on paper, Cutting away the Masts: Illustration to Marryatt’s Novel, ‘The Pirate’ (1836). This is being loaned (for 6 months) from the Whitworth Art Gallery especially for this exhibition, so please come and see it while you can!

Included in the exhibition there will be 6 watercolour art works, grouped in sets of 3, which will be on display for 6 months apiece. The reason for this is because of the risk of light damage to the delicate paper pieces.

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Cutting away the Masts: Illustration to Marryatt’s Novel, ‘The Pirate’, 1836 
Clarkson Stanfield 
Whitworth Art Gallery, D.1887.38 
Image ©Manchester City Galleries

One of the most interesting aspects to this exhibition, to me, is how often art disciplines overlap and you can often find paintings and pieces of art work that have direct links to literature; either a novel, short stories or poetry. This connection can be seen between the novel The Pirate, which was written by Captain Fredrick Marryat and Stanfield’s watercolour. Marryat wrote a series of novels titled The Marryat Cycle in the 1800’s and The Pirate was book eight of the cycle and is about two brothers who go off in search of pirates… and find them.

Although I’m not sure which scene in the novel the watercolour illustrates, the subject matter is immensely theatrical and the stormy weather has created chaos as the men aboard are visibly struggling against the elements. The danger that they face is strongly conveyed by Stanfield. You may also be familiar with Herman Melville’s work, Moby Dick? It was written in 1851 during the same period as these two paintings and again, these classic maritime themes feature heavily.

Hopefully this post will not only inspire you to visit this exhibition but also to think about how different creative practices influence each other and inspire beautifully interlinked works of art.

Lori Symcox, Collections Access Assistant 

Susan Hiller: Blending old and new ideas

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Rough Times, 2010 
Susan Hiller 
Manchester Art Gallery, 2012.63 
Image ©Susan Hiller 

A new display

One of the Victorian galleries is due a refurbishment and I thought that this would be a great opportunity to give a taster of what you’ll be able to see in the new display Natural Forces: Romanticism and Nature from 12th July. This show will feature a mixture of early 19th century paintings by artists such as Turner (more about him in future blog posts) alongside a work by contemporary artist Susan Hiller.

On show for the first time …

Susan Hiller is a new discovery for me and I am already fascinated by her work. Hopefully you’ll understand why when you see it for yourselves! In the new display you will see her piece Rough Times from 2010. This is a recent acquisition to the Gallery’s collection (it was only purchased in 2012) and has never been on show to the public…until now that is.

A closer look at Rough Times

It’s a photographic work made up of a set of 9 panels, with each panel featuring a seascape image. The images originate from recycled ‘Rough Sea’ postcards that Hiller has collected and they are of holiday locations around England, Scotland and Wales. The postcard images have been manipulated and altered by Hiller, such as in the colouring, to create a more contemporary feel. These colours give the work a dreamlike quality which creates a disconnect between what is imagined and what is reality.

When hung in a grid the piece will be fairly large and what I find particularly interesting is that when viewed up close, each image becomes very pixelated and the subject matter becomes unclear until viewed from a further distance. This means that the experience each viewer will have of the piece will be unique, as its impact will be, in part, determined by where he/she is stood and the distance between them and the work.

Rough Times is related Hiller’s Dedicated to the Unknown Artists, 1972- 6 (Tate collection) which is a tribute to the unsung artists and photographers who created the ‘Rough Sea’ postcard images. Hiller is, in a sense, recycling old art to create new art for a different audience. I hope that this post inspires you to come and look at her work when it goes on show; it is really beautiful.

Lori Symcox, Collections Access Assistant

I am an MA student at the University of Manchester studying Art Gallery & Museum studies. At present I am on placement at Manchester Art Gallery in the Collections Access team assisting with Victorian Art related projects. Over the next couple of months, I will be blogging about works in this exciting new display and giving you a behind-the-scenes look at the process of creating a new show. 

It looks like an aviary, doesn’t it? But perhaps this image is not what it seems. It shows the nature study room in the Horsfall Museum in Ancoats in what I estimate is the 1940s. It did strike me as a bit strange to allow live birds in the same room as watercolours, but I just assumed that the curator was very game and the cleaning staff very patient. Now, having actually spoken to two people who remember Horsfall’s museum, it turns out that this aviary was filled with stuffed birds! Still, even a stuffed bird is better than no bird, if you’re a child in Ancoats in the 1940s.
I hope we can share some of these revelations about Horsfall’s Museum with you soon when we edit the interview we had with former visitors Irene and Sandra. They remembered so much about the Museum  - and so fondly. It makes me happy to know that Horsfall’s legacy did make a difference.
Hannah

It looks like an aviary, doesn’t it? But perhaps this image is not what it seems. It shows the nature study room in the Horsfall Museum in Ancoats in what I estimate is the 1940s. It did strike me as a bit strange to allow live birds in the same room as watercolours, but I just assumed that the curator was very game and the cleaning staff very patient. Now, having actually spoken to two people who remember Horsfall’s museum, it turns out that this aviary was filled with stuffed birds! Still, even a stuffed bird is better than no bird, if you’re a child in Ancoats in the 1940s.

I hope we can share some of these revelations about Horsfall’s Museum with you soon when we edit the interview we had with former visitors Irene and Sandra. They remembered so much about the Museum  - and so fondly. It makes me happy to know that Horsfall’s legacy did make a difference.

Hannah

Tags: horsfall

I’m just finishing putting my sheep and cattle together for Wednesday.

We’re having a small-scale yet top-quality academic ‘workshop’ here at the Gallery this Wednesday and it’s exciting. Well, it’s exciting for me, anyway - I’ve spent a lot of time on the subject of Victorian Scottish painting, so ‘Looking to Scotland’ will, I’m hoping, answer some of my questions. It’s organised by MALAG (the Manchester and Liverpool Art Group), and has three excellent speakers (book tickets for ‘Looking to Scotland' on eventbrite and you'll see what I mean). Frances Fowle is going to talk about Rosa Bonheur's tour of the Highlands - I wonder if Bonheur really did give lessons to the Liverpudlian animal artist William Watson (see his cattle picture above)? So rumour has it - I'll have to ask Frances. And Paul Barlow will give us Millais's view of Scotland. Bit worried Paul will think it's mad of me to have left our two massive Millais Scottish paintings just outside the 'Highland Romance' room. Nicholas Tromans is coming to talk about Wilkie's Scotland. I wonder if he'll mention our Wilkie? Hope so.

Anyway, I’ll be kicking all this off with a quick run through of the whys and wherefores of our display ‘A Highland Romance: Victorian Views of Scottishness’ . Come, if you’d like to - it’s free! Now, back to ordering my cows and sheep.

Hannah

Booking

Book tickets for Looking to Scotland at Eventbrite.

I think it’s time you met Mr Horsfall. Here he is, painted by Frederick Beaumont, courtesy of The Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester, who own the painting.
I must admit, I was reluctant to start blogging about our Art for All exhibition with this image. I suppose I just thought that if you saw this oil painting of a sloping-shouldered, white-moustached gentleman in his plain black jacket, waistcoat and necktie, you would judge him hastily. He looks so defeated by his pile of pamphlets, I thought that you might write him off as one of life’s failures. I thought you might lump him in to the category of Victorian worthies (he was one, there’s no doubt) without thinking about what he did for Manchester.
However, now that you know that this man was a passionate lover of nature and of beauty, that he was a tireless campaigner for social justice, for decent homes for poor people and for good art education, I hope you can look past the dull suit and the stern face. I think though you do get a sense from the portrait that Mr Horsfall was not an ethereal character, nor cerebral. He was a committee man, a pragmatist, who knew that to get things done you need to do the paperwork.
Which reminds me - back to the admin emails.
Hannah Williamson, Curator: Collections Access

I think it’s time you met Mr Horsfall. Here he is, painted by Frederick Beaumont, courtesy of The Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester, who own the painting.

I must admit, I was reluctant to start blogging about our Art for All exhibition with this image. I suppose I just thought that if you saw this oil painting of a sloping-shouldered, white-moustached gentleman in his plain black jacket, waistcoat and necktie, you would judge him hastily. He looks so defeated by his pile of pamphlets, I thought that you might write him off as one of life’s failures. I thought you might lump him in to the category of Victorian worthies (he was one, there’s no doubt) without thinking about what he did for Manchester.

However, now that you know that this man was a passionate lover of nature and of beauty, that he was a tireless campaigner for social justice, for decent homes for poor people and for good art education, I hope you can look past the dull suit and the stern face. I think though you do get a sense from the portrait that Mr Horsfall was not an ethereal character, nor cerebral. He was a committee man, a pragmatist, who knew that to get things done you need to do the paperwork.

Which reminds me - back to the admin emails.

Hannah Williamson, Curator: Collections Access

Tags: Horsfall

Meet Year 5 from St Augustine’s CE Primary, the co-curators of Art for All: Thomas Horsfall’s Gift to Manchester.


They have been working with us since January to help select and interpret the works on display. This has involved them visiting our art-store and conservation studios as well working with a specifically designed data base to start creating links between the collection. One of the pupil’s Leah Byrne, age 10, sums it up perfectly “We have been lucky to see so many excellent paintings. Working with people from the gallery, we have put them together to help others look at them in different ways.”
The exhibition has labels written by many of the pupils who took part. Come along and take a look at them, they may just give you a whole new way of seeing.

Meet Year 5 from St Augustine’s CE Primary, the co-curators of Art for All: Thomas Horsfall’s Gift to Manchester.
They have been working with us since January to help select and interpret the works on display. This has involved them visiting our art-store and conservation studios as well working with a specifically designed data base to start creating links between the collection. One of the pupil’s Leah Byrne, age 10, sums it up perfectly “We have been lucky to see so many excellent paintings. Working with people from the gallery, we have put them together to help others look at them in different ways.”
The exhibition has labels written by many of the pupils who took part. Come along and take a look at them, they may just give you a whole new way of seeing.

Tags: Horsfall

Look what we missed out!

These three Helen Allingham garden watercolours are mounted and framed together, but we couldn’t quite fit them in to the Horsfall exhibition. They were bumped for the Edith Martineau ‘June Riches’ garden scene. The Martineau is bigger, and has more impact, but I think a subconscious reason was also that the ‘Art for All’ exhibition (NOW OPEN!) is all about getting out unknown things from our collection. And who’s heard of Edith Martineau? Not many people. She was a bit of a pioneer though - one of the first women to get her art education in the Royal Academy Schools (in 1862, aged 20).

Hannah Williamson, Curator: Collections Access

Tags: Horsfall

This is Cherry Blossom and Fruit, by Edward Burne-Jones, probably 1863. It’s a watercolour in Manchester City Galleries’ collection, with a really interesting provenance. I’m just trying to work out an exact date for it, but I don’t think I can get better than ‘probably 1863’. It’s the final thing (I think!) I have to check for the labels for works going in to the Art for All: Thomas Horsfall’s Gift to Manchester.

Here’s the story:

The work was originally owned by Mary Bradford, a pupil and later teacher at a girls’ school in Cheshire called Winnington Hall. She sold it, along with 11 drawings by John Ruskin, to Thomas Horsfall in 1878, when he was setting up the Manchester Art Museum. The drawings are largeish and rather simple in outline, as if they were teaching aids - we know that Ruskin took a great interest in the girls’ curriculum, and persuaded his friend Burne-Jones to visit the school with him a couple of times in 1863.

It gives you the shudders a bit to read about Ruskin and Burne-Jones visiting these school girls, playing hide-and-seek with them and ‘falling helplessly in love’ with several at once. Still, I keep telling myself - don’t judge with your jaded modern sensibility. Perfectly fine in 1863 for bearded gentlemen to cultivate the acquaintance of oval-faced blond young ladies. Perfectly above board. Innocent. And all that.

Hannah Williamson, Curator: Collections Access

This is Cherry Blossom and Fruit, by Edward Burne-Jones, probably 1863. It’s a watercolour in Manchester City Galleries’ collection, with a really interesting provenance. I’m just trying to work out an exact date for it, but I don’t think I can get better than ‘probably 1863’. It’s the final thing (I think!) I have to check for the labels for works going in to the Art for All: Thomas Horsfall’s Gift to Manchester.

Here’s the story:

The work was originally owned by Mary Bradford, a pupil and later teacher at a girls’ school in Cheshire called Winnington Hall. She sold it, along with 11 drawings by John Ruskin, to Thomas Horsfall in 1878, when he was setting up the Manchester Art Museum. The drawings are largeish and rather simple in outline, as if they were teaching aids - we know that Ruskin took a great interest in the girls’ curriculum, and persuaded his friend Burne-Jones to visit the school with him a couple of times in 1863.

It gives you the shudders a bit to read about Ruskin and Burne-Jones visiting these school girls, playing hide-and-seek with them and ‘falling helplessly in love’ with several at once. Still, I keep telling myself - don’t judge with your jaded modern sensibility. Perfectly fine in 1863 for bearded gentlemen to cultivate the acquaintance of oval-faced blond young ladies. Perfectly above board. Innocent. And all that.

Hannah Williamson, Curator: Collections Access

Ash Dieback

We’re just preparing for a visit this afternoon from the class of year 5 children who are working with us on the Horsfall exhibition. We’re getting out a good few things from the store for them to look at - including these two ash trees painted in 1883 by James Hey Davies. I wonder if any of the inner city children who saw these paintings in Thomas Horsfall’s museum in the 1880s had any idea what an ash tree looked like? Or if our children do? In the light of the ash dieback that’s been in the headlines recently, these paintings have a different resonance today - personally I find them less restful than I did: they make me anxious for the future. An image of an ash tree now makes me think about how human behaviour puts species at risk - especially after listening to the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The Long View’ on the subject: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01p0fpb I wonder what these trees will inspire our class of children to think? We’ll find out later today…

Hannah Williamson, Curator, Collections Access, Manchester Art Gallery

Tags: Horsfall