Thursday, 23 June 2011

A Passion for Paxton

While searching out images for another post, I stumbled across a picture by an American artist, William McGregor Paxton which left me swooning for more.  I immediately thought he was a sublime blend of Whistler and Millais, with a splash of Brickdale and a dash of Watts, and felt the need to gather some of his delicious images together and do a piece.

The picture I saw that made me clasp a hand to my chest and sigh was The Album...

The Album (1913)
 Look at the utterly amazing green of the dress and hat, together with the darling little cherries.  The flat space behind her brought to mind images like The Blue Bower, as Paxton seems to use the closing of space utilised by the Pre-Raphaelites.

The Blue Bower (1865) D G Rossetti

There couldn’t possibly be anything as beautiful as this picture, I thought, but lo and behold, look what the kind Mr Paxton had provided me with…

The Green Dress (1913)
 That is an impressive bustle.  It reminded me of G F Watts image of Mrs Nassau Senior, displayed at Wightwick Manor.  The vivid colour and clarity of light is astonishing, the almost artificially bright green kicks against the subtle colours of the Japanese figurine.  In case you are worried about the figurine, fear not, here it is again.
The Figurine (1921)
The figures and pots appear again in The Housemaid and a Whistler-esque figure in Japanese dress is seen in The Yellow Jacket.

The Housemaid (1910)
The Yellow Jacket

That lady reminds me of paintings such as La Princesse du Pays de la Porcelaine and Caprice in Purple and Gold and to a lesser extent The Blue Bower again.  

La Princesse... (1864) J M Whistler
Caprice in Purple and Gold (1864) J M Whistler


Paxton was working fifty years later than Rossetti and Whistler on these paintings, so on occasions the Edwardian style distracts from the similarities, for example take The Shade Hat of 1912.

The Shade Hat (1912)
She is a fashionable young lady in contemporary dress, adjusting her whooping-great-big hat in front of a backdrop of gold and grey-green wallpaper.  Just concentrating on the Edwardian Lady, it is easy to miss that she is essentially a half-length female figure in front of a patterned wall, like Rossetti’s Regina Cordium (1866).  The wallpaper that covers her background reminds me of the paper in Isabella, the gold and grey flourishes covering the wall.
Detail of Isabella (1848-49)      J E Millais

Regina Cordium (1866) D G Rossetti

While we’re on the subject of Rossetti, take Paxton’s image of Girl Combing Her Hair:

Girl Combing Her Hair (1909)
 Where do I start?  OK, well we have Rossetti’s image of Fanny Cornforth doing the same, but also Fazio’s Mistress is relevant, as she gazes at her mirror, doing her hair.  The girl actually reminds me of Jo, The Beautiful Irish Girl by Courbet, 'Jo' being Jo Hiffernan, Whistler’s mistress. 

Fazio's Mistress (1863) D G Rossetti
Jo, The Beautiful Irish Girl (1865-6) G Courbet

Glow of Gold, Gleam of Pearl, Paxton’s dazzling nude echoes Rossetti’s Spirit of the Rainbow (only better, shhh, don’t tell Rossetti).

Spirit of the Rainbow (1876) D G Rossetti
Glow of Gold, Gleam of Pearl (1906)

I find the portrait of Enid Hallin to be a beautiful companion to William Holman Hunt's Dolce Far Niente, a title that would do just as well for Paxton's lovely lady.

Dolce Far Niente (1866) W Holman Hunt
Portrait of Enid Hallin

Paxton is linked with the light and interiors of Vermeer, but I think his work equally should be linked with the aesthetic movement in 1860s England.  Described as an ‘American Impressionist’, his art can be related to Courbet, but I can see his work being included in turn-of-the-century post-Pre-Raphaelite reference, like Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale.  His Japonisme echoes Whistler and Rossetti, and his subjects speak of all the Pre-Raphaelites.  Possibly, it would be nearer to liken Paxton to G F Watts, the Impressionist Pre-Raphaelite, and when comparing The Green Dress with Mrs Nassau Senior, the similarities are striking.   

Either way, I am delighted to have another artist to swoon over and now want a hat with cherries on it.

1 comment:

  1. Really love "Girl Combing her Hair". And the first image is just amazing...I can see why it caught your eye. That perfect shade of green really socks it to you, doesn't it? But there's also something so very "real" about the figure...a captured essence, if you will. Hard to describe...


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