Friday, February 27, 2009

I knew.....then.....

... that my portrait was done by Gilbert Stuart. It had been a long journey, I had known Absolutely Nothing about pre-post-revolutionary painters.
The family thought that the Portrait was done by Peale (more about this later.)
When I saw this painting (online), there could no longer be any doubt.

Pictured is Edward Stow; 1768-1847.

From Lawrence Park (see entry Feb 20)
A son of Edward and Mary (Belcher) Stow of Boston, but was born in New York City. He married, in 1793, Anna Brewer Peck, and lived for some years in Philadelphia. It was there that he met Gilbert Stuart and his wife and a great friendship ensued. In 1804 he returned to Boston, and from 1813 until shortly before his death, he was clerk or secretary of the new England Mississippi Land Company.
This portrait according to Park was done in 1802-3; this is further confirming evidence that the Portrait of Samuel Meeker was done in the same time frame, and in Philadelphia. The painting style, arrangement, accents (upholstered chair, drapes, papers), color; all strikingly & substantially, the same.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

William Meeker (1622- 1690) , progenitor of all Meekers in the USA

The Meekers: Courageous rebels & active Patriots in the Revolutionary War

William Meeker and sons Joseph and Benjamin were among the first eighty founders (known as Associates) of Elizabethtown, the first English settlement in New Jersey. During the Revolution, a large number of Continental officers came from Elizabethtown and the vicinity. Numerous members of the Meeker family (males of course) were known far and wide for their dedicated participation in this struggle for independence, and were also famed for their “physical strength and moral courage.” The Pictorial Field Book of The Revolution by Benson J. Lossing Vol. 1 chap. 14 p 325 Their significant contribution to the war effort was also well known to Gen. George Washington, as Captain Samuel Meeker (father of the sitter Samuel Meeker) as well as Major Samuel Meeker (first cousin of Captain Samuel Meeker) are mentioned in letters during this time period. [Note the number of “Samuels” –this would pose one of the biggest complexities in my search for the precise identity of the sitter, but more on that later.]

Long before the “Boston Tea Party”, the stage was set for the early Meeker settlers to be defiant of British authority, stemming from a lengthy and bitter contest over town rights. In 1664 a group of 80 hardy colonists (including William Meeker) asked for, and were given permission by the newly installed British deputy governor, to buy a tract of land from the native Indians west of Staten Island. “From a receipt, endorsed on the Deed from the Indians, it appears that the final payment of “four hundred fathom of white wampom” was acknowledged…” History of Elizabeth, New Jersey by E.F Hatfield, (1868) p 37 For many years afterwards, ownership of this land was the source of controversy and dispute between the Associates who based their ownership rights on this purchase from the local native Indians, and the British ‘Proprietors’ who claimed this purchase from the Indians to be invalid. By 1670 the young ‘upstart’ Royal Governor P. Carteret was disregarding the claims of the Associates and even allotted land as a reward to his servant Richard Michel. The townspeople regarded his actions as unwarranted acts of usurpation. William Meeker, Hur Tomson, Samuel Marsh, Sr., Joseph Meeker (son of William), Jeffrey Jones, Nicholas Carter, John Ogden Jr., and Luke Watson tore down Michel's fence, pulled clapboards from his house, and pigs went into Michel's property and destroyed his garden ‘full of necessary garden herbs.’ ” It was a day to be remembered in the annals of Elizabeth; a day for the inauguration of an open and determined resistance to all usurpation, and a manly defense of their vested rights. (History of Elizabeth, New Jersey ) These Americans were viewed as “insurgents” by the British. After this William Meeker, well-known now as the chief actor in this drama, was chosen Constable of the town. Other son Benjamin Meeker became Constable in 1711. “Joseph kept a country store, Benjamin was a carpenter: while both were planters.” (ibid.) Benjamin was the gt grandfather of Captain Samuel Meeker, father of THE SITTER SAMUEL MEEKER AND HIS TWIN SISTER PHEBE.

Phebe (Meeker) Brookfield is my gt gt gt gt grandmother.
~Captain Samuel Meeker is my
gt x 5 grandfather.
~William Meeker is my gt x 9 grandfather.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Basics 101; Every person in this nation knows the work of Stuart

George Washington (the Athenaeum portrait), 1796

Gilbert Stuart’s second and most important portrait of George Washington was executed three years after returning from England. Best known as the image on the one-dollar bill, it is considered the most famous painting of the first president. The portrait was painted when the president was 64 years old; and is known as the “Athenaeum portrait” because it was acquired by the Boston Athenaeum just after the artist’s death. (Today it is owned jointly by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.)

This famous 'head' of Washington was left unfinished by Stuart (another different, full length portrait was commissioned in its stead) and kept by the artist during his lifetime, enabling him to make, later, numerous replicas.

Monday, February 23, 2009

more on Benjamin West, Stuart ...& Trumbull

We all adore the hyacinth, but do we know the tradition of how this lovely, sweet smelling flower came to be? According to Greek myth, the beautiful youth Hyacinth was friends with the sun god Apollo and one day the two were out playing with the discus. Looking jealously on, the god of the west wind Zephyr blew on the discus causing it to strike the head of Hyacinth. Where his blood flowed and soaked the earth, is where this lovely flower sprang up.

The Death of Hyacinth, oil on canvas by Benjamin West 1771
Swathmore College, Philadelphia
To refresh the memory: As troubles began to mount between England and its colonies Stuart, 19, sailed off to England disembarking (most likely) in London 1775. Hardy and self-confident he arrived with no 'letters of introduction', found himself a job as an organist, but finally wrote Benjamin West pleading for assistance. West hired him as a resident assistant to help finish the backgrounds of his large (primarily historical) paintings.

The following anecdote dates from this time-period: "Stuart and Trumbull were both pupils of West, and at the same time. Stuart was the senior pupil, and having made greater progress than his friend, thought it incumbent on him to assist his fellow-pupil in his studies. This he did, to their mutural advantage. Trumbull had the use of but one eye, and, singularly enough, Stuart found it out in this way. The story was told by Sully, who had it from Stuart, who, having been puzzled by one of Trumbull's drawings, said to him: "Why it looks as if it had been drawn by a man with one eye;" to which Trumbull, who appeared much hurt, replied: "I take it very unkindly, sir, that you should make the remark." Stuart, not understanding him, asked him what he meant. "I presume, sir," answered Trumbull, "that you know I have lost the sight of one eye, and any allusion to it in this manner is unkind." "Now," said Stuart to Sully, "I never suspected it, and only the oddness of the drawing suggested it."
The Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart by George Mason p 14

Sunday, February 22, 2009

a smile on my face

Today, yes, I had a big smile on my face when I noticed ..........A NEW FOLLOWER! horay, I am becoming a legitimate member of the blog society. A couple of days ago, I must have spent over an hour in what I would call "blog surfing", and went from one link to the other--and found two that I really felt I could enjoy. Its like being at the flea market, lots of stuff, requiring thorough, but fun, discriminating action to determine what might be WORTHY! There is SO MUCH out there! Willow manor I saw so many things that were similar to my interests; books, romanticism, ancestry, playing with words, art, nature..... and at Piano Posts, there was something about her writing, her photos, that went to my heart. So lets see where it all goes....
With the parenting of my lovely daughter Lily, my editing work, running of a household, and last but not least MY EXERCISING, I think I have enough to follow for the time being..............! oh and I can't forget this BLOG, working on my two guys of interest, Gibby and Sam. I just wish I knew more about Phebe Meeker (twin sis of the sitter Samuel, and my gt gt gt gt grandmother), who dared to get a divorce in the early 1800s in Philadelphia, after a FANCY WEDDING. What I would give, to have her diary....


Friday, February 20, 2009

Sketch of Gibby (Gilbert Stuart) ...&, who is Lawrence Park

The sketch is drawn by Benjamin West, first American artist to win a wide reputation in Europe, and founder of the Royal Academy of Arts, London 1768. West did this sketch while sitting for Stuart for his own portrait. Stuart worked in West's studio in London for about 5 years, before setting off on his own (shortly after exhibiting The Skater [entry Feb 1]).
Yesterday I received a precious package; a box containing the four large volumes by Lawrence Park documenting and depicting a large number of GS paintings. Indeedy quite the splurge. "Through his death the small group of acknowledged authorities on early American painting lost a member who, in the opinion of many, had the most thorough and critical knowledge of Colonial and early Republican portraiture. Equipped with all the faculties of mind and intellect necessary for research work in the filed of art, with an unusual capacity for detail and with an intuition that hardly every failed him, Lawrence Park accumulated a knowledge which comes to its finest manifestation in his present catalogue raisonné." (Park was not able to find all of Stuart's work, nor are all the identities of the sitters known.) George Mason was the first to list GS works, 1894.
Lawrence Park 1873-1924
The quote above is from Volume I, Gilbert Stuart; An Illustrated Descriptive List of his Works Compiled by Lawrence Park, New York, William Edwin Rudge, 1926

Thursday, February 19, 2009


& the importance of Art in the suitable upbringing of a 'lady', & an introduction to family lines of interest in the tale of the Portrait, & ...Elocution?...

My gt grandmother was Bessie (Elizabeth [Edelen] Leavitt b. Oakland, Ca 1879-1956). Her daugher Susan Leavitt married Benjamin Cory (Pops, who requested my mother to “hang the old Gentleman” entry Feb 17). Benjamin’s mother brought the Meeker portrait from NJ to CA.
In Bessie’s DIARY she writes of her grandmother (Gammie) and the connection to the Qunicy family of Boston (entry Feb 18). Bessie, sister Susan, mother Emma and grandparents Hannah and Henry lived in San Francisco. (Emma was divorced at age 20, 1880, in San Francisco, from Lemuel Edelen~)

“Gammie (Hannah Marsten Francis b. about 1832) hailed from New England and was inordinately proud of the fact she boasted some of the best connections in Boston—the Qunicys, no less.
A cousin, Henrietta Quincy often came west to visit us. (c. late 1880s to 90s, I have not traced the precise identity of Henrietta Quincy nor her relationship Hannah, but they were clearly close for ‘Etta’ to feel comfortable taking such a lengthy trip from Boston to San Francisco more than once.) She was a rare soul bent on improving herself and all others with whom she came in contact. On her first visit to us she was absorbed in painting. She had studied art abroad and Gammie always insisted might have made a name for herself as an artist except for her other manifold interests. They included the study of French, German and Italian, elocution, photography, piano, banjo, mandolin and guitar. Under Cousin Etta’s supervision we girls (Bessie, sister Susan) gained a smattering of French, German, elocution and music very early in life.
We always loved having Cousin Etta visit us, she was so unpredictable. One winter she would go touring the country painting the missions, on another she would cover the same territory photographing them (in 1889, George Eastman invented film with a base that was flexible, unbreakable, and could be rolled). One year she would be completely engrossed in the study of foreign languages, the next she’d spend all her spare time tinkering with some instrument.
So we never knew whether our house would be in its customary apple pie order or littered with painting paraphernalia, the equipment for developing blue prints, sheet music text books or the equipment needful for any other pet hobby our cousin might be riding at the time. Of one thing we could be reasonably certain, some time during the day we girls would be called upon to find Cousin Etta’s glasses! But in spite of her eccentricities our Boston relative was an endearing person and she fitted so well into our menage that she really seemed like one of us, and she was always welcome to come and go at her own sweet will."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More on color, and theory of shadow

Below is an excerpt from a letter written by a young lady whose family members (Qunicy) were painted by Stuart.
'I asked if he had any particular mode or rule for mixing his colors: He said, 'No, I mix them as I put sugar in my tea; according to my taste. The whole theory of shadow may be taught by a billiard ball--the simplest object I can think of. Lay it on a table and draw it. You first sketch a circle; you then look at it, and see there is one light, one shadow, and one transparent reflection; on the gradation of these all painting depends. My rule for a portrait is, one-third light, one third dark, and one-third demi-tint.'

More from the same letter;
"The rest of the family were satisfied with the portrait painted in 1806, but I thought there ought to be another, at the age of fifty-two years. My father (Josiah Qunicy) complied with my request, promised to give me the portrait, and in November, 1824, I accompanied him to the house of Mr. Stuart, in Essex street, Boston. ... His canvas was ready on his easel, a bold outline was sketched in chalk, and while conversing rapidly, Mr. Stuart began to put on his colors apparently at random, but of course every touch told. Presently a bright shade of blue appeared in the upper part of the canvas, and Mr. Stuart said to me, 'Your father is an active man, and likes to be in the open air ; he shall have blue sky behind his head. Few artists would attempt to give effect to a portrait with such a light background. It is a bold effort; but I will try it."

~from The Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart by George Mason, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1894, p 243
the image is of Josiah Quincy, age 52, painted 1824-25--The oil on canvas resides at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It was a gift from Miss Eliza Quincy, from whose letter above the extract is quoted.
My gt-gt-gt grandmother was related to the QUINCY family; from Boston she moved to San Francisco after marriage to Henry Francis c. late 1850s.
From my gt grandmother's diary... "A cousin, Henrietta Qunicy often came west to visit us..."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A first memory of the Portrait

I have a first, vague memory of seeing the Portrait. Back in the 1960ies, my family must have visited Aunt Edith, sister of my mom’s father Ben Cory, on a sunny day in Clovis California; she moved there after selling the huge Victorian Cory family house in Fresno. She ushered us into a large room, there was a piano, she pointed to the Portrait and told mom she would inherit it ‘and some silver’. I suppose everyone would have been more pleased if something more “substantial” had been indicated.
Fast forward to 1979. Mom and Dad returned from Bombay India and settled in Menlo Park California. Within months Ben (mom’s father) had moved in. My grandmother Susie had passed away, Edith was long deceased, and Pops was alone in Carmel. Soon enough Pops asked Mom if she would please hang the “old gentleman.”
The Portrait was unwrapped and saw the light of day after several years, and thereby really for the first time, the portrait became known to my family; but his identity was unknown, the artist was said (by the family) to be Peale (who?), and no one really cared about the old-fashioned quirky portrait except for Pops. I figure it brought memories of his childhood in Fresno, when the portrait hung in the Victorian. Probably in the parlor.
Hanging in the tiny sitting room, the Portrait was not my mother’s typical décor, which consisted mainly of unusual and prized Japanese art— 3 antique gold-leafed screens, two Tansu chests, a fine bronze sculpture of a lion, vases, netsuke….my father John had been born in Kobe Japan, his father took the family there in the 30s because of the Japanese green tea business. My own family had lived in Tokyo and Ashiya from 1962-67.
In Menlo Park the Portrait caused little excitement over the years. I married and moved to Germany. We would all laugh when mom’s dog Sophie would sometimes bark up at Samuel in the light of dusk.
When I returned to the USA in 2004, I began to research family lines, the Portrait, and the identity of the artist. Time-lines for Peale worked in the beginning, but as I identified the sitter more precisely and studied the different artists, I realized that Samuel Meeker had been painted by no other than….Gilbert Stuart.

From my cousin Craig Marshall, artist and teacher of illustration at the Academy of Art University, San Francisco 2/10/09:
Beth! The blog is way cool! Do you know that I have ALWAYS felt deep down that the portrait of Samuel Meeker by Gilbert Stuart reminded me of the Cory side of your family! This is totally amazing. Thank you for confirming what has been at the back of my mind for many years. I have always admired Stuart's skill. You are quite the sleuth. This could be a start to a new profession; lineage tracing to famous and not so famous paintings. …..

Saturday, February 14, 2009

I have TWO FOLLOWERS on this day, Valentines 09

And they are Emikk, and Vince. I don't mind at all having ONLY two followers, for I am writing this blog only for myself, it allows me to jot down all that I have WANTED TO over the years, about this, or that, German cultural stuff, and now thoughts about my portrait, and its creator.
I do not 'perform' for others, but only for myself. Its like a special place that I can go to, a pretty place where I can express myself.

"Emikk", or Eric, is an artist extraordinary--I met him in my exercise class, of all places. A very unextraordinary guy, when I first met him; although my age (50 something) he was working as a "pizza delivery boy." Now I know...he was experiencing life.... this was a new aspect to explore. Anyway, that didn't last too long, he now works on his boat, and his wonderful comic strip about Bill and Sandy. Plus other things which I simply don't know of.

My other follower, Vince, is Steven Vincent Meeker. Yes, he is my cousin, but who knows how far back.... I presume WAAAAAAAAAAAAY back. But he descends from that great family, of whom I will have more to say here in following entries in the future. Vince lives in Germany, which also endears him to my heart. I have never met him. A couple of summers back I made plans for a return to Germany, but these plans were dashed when I developed pneumonia.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The frame is original, and typical for this time period.

The original frame is exemplary of a late 18th century gold leaf portrait frame with “a triple reeded top molding with cross straps occurring at 12” intervals, a plain deep cove, a bead and flat liner” .
Description in quotes is from R. Reynolds in a report on the frame of the G.S. Lansdowne portrait on file 1985; I use it because I couldn't describe this any better in my own words!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Colors of a Palette; Johanna Schopenhauer painting

“An der Esplanade, in der nähe des Theaters, hatte sie eine Wohnung gemietet; sie wird als äußerst geschmackvoll eingerichtet beschrieben, mit warmen Teppichen, seidenen Vorhängen, großen Spiegeln und schönen Mahagonimöbeln. Hier traf man sich schon bald regelmäßig, unterhielt sich beim Tee, zeichnete, spielte Klavier und sang dazu.“
Weimar 1806. The widow Schopenhauer moved to Weimar with the express intent of carrying on a 'salon' which would be frequented by Goethe, knowing that contact with this famous man would insure eternal fame. She was right. At this moment Goethe married his maiden, Johanna was the first to 'invite' Christiane to tea. By this small action she gained Goethe's eternal gratitude.
Art, music, conversation; all were required elements of a good upbringing in German/European/American upper-class society at this time. The exchange of personal sketches was part of every-day life. Certainly gifting a Stuart portrait was ....beyond compare....
In the current slow-down of this economy, should we try to get back to these basics? YES!

Painting "Johanna und Adele Schopenhauer" is by Johanna's personal friend Caroline Bardua. Quote (my translation) "On the esplanade, near to the Theatre, she rented an apartment; it could be described as being decorated extremely tastefully, with warm carpets, silk draperies, large mirrors and beautiful furniture of mahogany. Soon all would meet here regularly, talking over tea, drawing, playing piano as well as singing." from Weinachten bei Goethe Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt Stuttgart Munchen 1999, p. 82

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mixing Colors & The Artist's 'Sanctum Sanctorum'

"The order of Stuart's palette was as follows: Antwerp blue, Kremits-white, vermilion, yellow ochre, lake, Vandyke brown (with him a favorite color), and burnt umber--the latter used sparingly. All these colors were mixed more or less with white. He never glazed his pictures, nor ever attempted in this way to strengthen his shadows, for he thought it a trick. He was always particular to keep his palette in order, and if an artist brought to him one that was not up to a proper standard, he would address to him words clearly expressive of disapprobation. He also took great pains with his pencils, and would never allow any one to touch his easel, or its surroundings; indeed, during the latter years of his life he would never allow any one to go into his painting room when he was not present. If any one touched a pencil, or moved a picture, he would be sure to find it out; so that it became a settled thing in the house that it was best to abstain altogether from going into his sanctum sanctorum, unless invited to do so."

as related by the daughter of the Artist in The Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart by George Mason, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1894, p 39

Monday, February 9, 2009

Into Legend: "Who are you, sir? ...Where are you from?"

Self-Portrait, c. 1778, oil on canvas, Redwood Library and Athenaeum, Newport, Rhode Island
"The artist was traveling by stage in England. His fellow-passengers were a number of gentlemen who were strangers to him, and who, finding him very amusing, ventured to ask him who he was, and what was his calling.
Mr. Stuart answered with a grave face and a serious tone, that he sometimes dressed gentlemen's and ladies' hair (at that time the high-craped pomatumed hair was all the fashion). 'You are a hair-dresser, then?' 'What! said he, do you take me for a barber?'
'I beg your pardon, sir, but I inferred it from what you said. If I mistook you, may I take the liberty to ask what you are, then?'
'Why, I sometimes brush a gentlman's coat, or hat, and sometimes adjust a cravat.'
'Oh, you are a valet, then, to some nobleman?'
'A valet! Indeed, sir, I am not. I am not a servant,--to be sure, I make coats and waistcoats for gentlemen.'
'Oh, you are a tailor?'
'Tailor! Do I look like a tailor? I assure you, I never handled a goose, other than a roasted one.'
By this time they were all in a roar. 'What the devil are you, then?' said one.
'I'll tell you,' said Stuart. 'Be assured all I have said is literally true. I dress hair, brush hats and coats, adjust a cravat, and make coats, waistcoats and breeches, and likewise boots and shoes, at your service.'
'Oh, a boot and shoe maker after all!'
'Guess again, gentlemen; I never handle boots or shoes but for my own feet and legs, yet all I have told you is true.'
'We may as well give up guessing.'
After checking his laughter, and pumping up a fresh flow of spirits by a large pinch of snuff, he said to them very gravely: 'Now gentlemen, I will not play the fool with you any longer, but will tell you, upon my honor as a gentleman, my bona fide profession. I get my bread by making faces.' He then screwed his countenance, and twisted the lineaments of his visage in a manner such as Samuel Foote or Charles Mathews might have envied. When his companions, after loud peals of laughter, had composed themselves, each took credit to himself for having all the while suspected that the gentleman belonged to the theatre, and they all knew he must be a comedian by profession; when, to their utter surprise, he assured them that he was never on the stage, and very rarely saw the inside of a play-house, or any similar place of amusement. They now all looked at each other in blank astonishment.
Before parting, Stuart said to his companions: 'Gentleman, you will find that all I have said of my vaious employments is comprised in these words; I am a portrait painter."

"While taking a parting glass at the inn, they begged leave to inquire of their pleasant companion in what part of England he was born; he told them he was not born in England, Wales, Ireland, or Scotland. Here was another puzzle for John Bull.
'Where then?'
'I was born in Narragansett.'
"Where's that?'
'Six miles from Pottawoone, and ten miles from Poppasquash, and about four miles from Conanicut, and not far from the spot where the famous battle with the warlike Pequots was fought.'
'In what part of the East Indies is that, sir?'
'East Indies, my dear sir! it is in the State of Rhode Island, between Massachusetts and Connecticut River!' "

"as related by Dr. Waterhouse, who probably had it direct from Stuart." Published in The Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart by George Mason, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1894, p 60-61

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Goethe (by Tischbein), physically & stylistically similar to William Grant (The Skater)?

Goethe in der Campagna, oil on canvas 1786-88 by Wilhelm Tischbein-- (detail)
Click on The Skater in entry before this to see the physical resemblance between the two men.

Yes, this portrait was done a few years after The Skater by Stuart. But, at the time that William Grant commissioned his painting, Goethe was THE CULTURAL SUN radiating all over the globe, after his literary success of young Werther. (This is the story of unrequited love which drives the sensitive young man to suicide; what?! the notion that men can experience emotion?!!! a novel, revolutionary suggestion at the time.) I suggest that Stuart and Grant being, at the time, cultural nobodies, that the earlier painting by Stuart was strongly influenced by the style and social philosophies as then embodied by Goethe. It can easily be speculated that Suart, upon seeing Grant, was startled by Grant's physical similarities to Goethe (or also likely William Grant mentioned that others indicated physical similarities to G>), which led to conversation on the German super-star, possibly leading to the suggestion-Very Unusual as an Arrangement- that Grant be depicted enjoying sport out on the ice on a chilly wintery day!
Also, Goethe hadn't yet let his love-life taint his reputation.
To refresh your memory, how did Goethe tarnish his own celebrity? He COHABITED with an unmarried maiden by the name of Christiane Vulpius, he DID NOT marry her until many years later! This poor lady was snubbed by the "high society" in Weimar, but some condescended to "receive" her, to please Goethe.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Gilbert Stuart painted The Skater and later Samuel Meeker; how old were our charaters of interest?

(see earlier entries to follow this story, note that all are PEERS)

At the time of the The Skater 1782
Gilbert Stuart 27
Phebe Meeker 19
Samuel Meeker 19
Johann Wilhelm von Goethe 33
Charlotte von Stein 40

At the time of the Meeker portrait 1803
Gilbert Stuart 48
Phebe Meeker 40
Samuel Meeker 40
Goethe 54
Charlotte von Stein 61

dl dl dl dl dl dl dl dl dl dl dl dl

Goethe’s age when he ran away from Charlotte 37

Note that scandal had not yet tainted the fame of Goethe when The Skater was conceived.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Before photography and rather than the expensive oil portrait--there was the Silhouette

This is Goethe in front of his house (given to him by the Duke) in Weimar. In the background, to the left, is the house of the Duke and Duchess,
next to it is the house of Charlotte von Stein, and the structure to the right is the house of Goethe. This would date the silhouette to later than 1782, the year he moved in.

Goethe's house is still standing today, with his own original carriage in the garage. It is now a museum. A lovely garden graces the back of the house.

The silhouette just below is Charlotte von Stein's family (von Schardt) enjoying a game of chess. Her father stands behind her mother, who is playing the game with her brother. Note the formality. Eventually the confines of this world motivated Goethe to finally take off on his two year trip to Italy.

Charlotte von Stein. (1742-1827)

Charlotte endured very difficult times immediately after the Napoleonic conquest of Germany in the Battle of Jena in October of 1806. French troops went rampaging through the town of Weimar, pillaging and plundering. Charlotte was left with not much more than her pet birdies. Goethe, on the other hand, who was also at home, utilized his close connection to Napoleon (they had met in Erfurt), and French troops entered his house, but he was spared any plundering. Connections! How little has changed it seems.

From a letter describing von Stein: "Frau Kammerherrin, Stallmeisterin und Baronesse von Stein aus Weimar; Sie hat ueberaus grosse schwarze Augen von der hoechsten Schoenheit. Ihre Wangen sind sehr rot, ihre Haare ganz schwarz, ihre Haut italienisch wie ihre Augen. Ker Koerper mager. Ihre Stimme ist sanft and bedrueckt. Ernst, Sanftmut, Gefaelligkeit, leidende Tugend und feine, tiefgegruendete Empfindsamkeit sieht jeder Mensch beim ersten Anblick aus ihrem Gesichte."

Goethe left on his trip to Italy (1786) in a very secretive manner; while taking a 'cure' in the same time and place as Charlotte, he left before daylight without telling anybody. Charlotte was not only hurt and shocked, but humiliated. They corresponded, but the 'relationship' never resumed the same level of intimacy as once existed, and was finished when Goethe returned (two years later) and within months took a young lover, whom he did not marry until 1806 (in the middle of the Battle of Jena). The entire train of events set off a non-ending, bone-rattling scandal.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

In 2003, the first Christmas market was held at the villa, now part of "Weimar Classics"--This is how the Schloss looks today.

Helen, mila, and myself were lucky enough to be able to drive out to Gross-Kochberg on one chilly wintery day, with the expectation of a day imbued with culture; for this is where Charlotte von Stein, aristocrat in the court of Weimar (don't forget, a miniscule dukedom back then but already on the map of the GRAND TOUR) would retreat to escape from the strict etiquette characteristic of the nobility of the time. A Christmas market in a historically genuine spot! Music! Costumes! Lovely gardens! Local/traditional crafts! lets see, whats the name for the German quickly we forget......
Well. It was a freezing day, unfortunately. That meant that for the most part everyone and everybody tried to cram into the (small) cellar, where the craft booths were. I lost my friends. It was hot, stuffy, the crafts were..... nichts. na ja. Suddenly, across the sea of heads, I saw the smiling face of Michael, my mila. Ahh!! l It was the first event at the Schloss. mila helen and I ended up out in the garden, mature, tall trees, covered with a sprinkling of snow...but it was just too darn cold. That was our day at the Schloss Kochberg. The expectations were more charming than the reality. But I would have never forgiven myself, if we had missed it...

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Goethe's love of nature is evident in his sketch of Schloss Kochberg, country estate of his mentor Charlotte von Stein

Charlotte von Stein was friend and patron of the young Goethe after his arrival in Weimar. She helped him gain entry into the "court", later their devotion to each other would transform into an idealized love. Goethe finally broke the increasingly smothering bonds of this relationship and took a two year trip to Italy. In Rome he spent much time with the celebrated young Swiss/Austrian artist Angelika Kauffmann. Angelika was reputed to have had a crush on Benjamin West, when he also was in that mecca of the art world, Rome.

German Influence on Stuart

This full length portrait of William Grant, called The Skater, was submitted by Stuart to the Royal Academy exhibition in 1782 and created a sensation, drawing much attention to the hitherto relatively unknown painter and significantly boosting his reputation. Stuart had travelled to England in 1775 and while at first jobbing as an organist, he managed to apprentice with Benjamin West (famous on both sides of the Atlantic), and this was his first venture outside of those bounds.
Various influences have been attributed to the coloring and style of this painting, including of course that of West and also, of the English school, Joshua Reynolds.
Others have suggested more obscure theories for his unusual (for Stuart) choice of colors. Evans has ascribed Stuart's interest in a theory of music/color he developed himself as has having a possible influence; writing "Stuart arrived at his own plan for "associating" pure colors and musical chords. ....Stuart's spectrum, based like Newton's on the prism, differed in that Stuart used two values of red to make eight colors, while Newton had seven colors and eight divisions corresponding to notes....." (The Genius of Gilbert Stuart by Dorinda Evans, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ 1999) Whatever one wants to make of this particular line of thought, what must strongly strike the viewer of the Skater, is the German influence.
Within a few years of this painting, Wilhelm Tischbein would gain world-wide fame with his full length portrait of the German literary poet and philosopher Goethe. The two men not only, in these two portraits, wear somewhat similar clothing (in particular the wide brimmed hat slightly lifting up on one side), but also share similar facial features. A strong wide face, sharp nose and dimple in the chin, the hair almost exactly the same, both can be described as having a robust physique. Goethe was the literary sun of the time, his influence after publishing the work Die Leiden des junger Werthers in 1774 radiating all over the world. Goethe then chose to throw off his chosen profession of law, to settle in the small dukedom of Weimar. Here was a postage-sized cultural jewel, loacated in the deepest countryside, yet the fame of the circle of the Duke Ernst August and his Duchess Anna-Amelia already well-established by the time Goethe arrived in 1776. He was, in all senses, a true celebrity of the time.
Goethe was a lover of nature, of exercise, in addition to his literary pursuits. The freedom of a cold water swim, or a frozen surface inviting vigorous movement, these were both favorite elements of Sturm und Drang. It is well established how Goethe taught the court the pleasures of ice-skating in nature (while composing poetry!) Afterwards he organized skating parties, filling all those participants with his joyous sense of bon vie!
Back to The Skater. It is well known that Stuart loved to talked to his customers, in an effort to draw out the personality to help capture the essense of the sitter. Would it not be likely that Gilbert was struck by the physical resemblance of Grant to Goethe, perhaps helping to strike up a conversation about the new cultural super-star; it is more than plausible that both were fans of Goethe and his novel and poetry, of Goethe's ability to depict emotion in literature, of his love of nature... and in fact, of his passion for ice-skating outdoors...
And perhaps sitter and artist were discussing the commission on a such a cold, grey, wintery day!

'Eis-Lebens-Lied' (Life Song on the Ice) by Goethe 1776

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