society painters

The Van Ghost

The ghost of France was a tortured soul
Through the streets at night he strolls
Painting the dull scene vibrant and bold
As a fantasy unfolds

A starry sky becomes the night
Oil sunflowers blossom bright
With short and dramatic brushstrokes
Fanatically paints the Van Ghost

Lady Helen Vincent, Viscountess d’Abernon
John Singer Sargent (American; 1856–1925)
Oil on canvas
Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama

John Singer Sargent was an Italian-born American painter whose portraits of the wealthy and privileged provide an enduring image of Edwardian-age society.

During his career, he created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings. 

Sargent enjoyed international acclaim as a portrait painter, although not without controversy and some critical reservation; an early submission to the Paris Salon, his “Portrait of Madame X”, was intended to consolidate his position as a society painter, but it resulted in scandal instead.

Biographers once portrayed him as a staid reticent individual; however recent scholarship has suggested that he was a private, complex and passionate man with a homosexual identity that shaped his art.

Sargent had a long and intense romantic friendship with Albert de Belleroche, whom he met in 1882, and who later went on to marry: a surviving drawing hints that Sargent may have used him as a model for Madame X.

And I think that Mr. Sargent  was a very handsome man with a sexy beard.

Francesc Masriera [Spanish. 1842-1902]
Winter 1882

This painting, clearly aligned with anecdotal realism and portraying a girl dressed according to the fashion of the time with muffs to protect her from the rigours of winter, was a great success with critics and public following its first showing at the Sala Parés in March 1882. It comes as no surprise that the painter decided to include it among the works selected to form part of Barcelona’s 1888 Universal Exposition. A similar painting by the Russian Vladimir Makouski, a contemporary of Masriera, has also been located.

The Tortured Artist

With a magnifying glass to his eye
A man with a descending ladder unseen
Watching them all from a cloud in the sky

A tortured artist long ago said goodbye
He paints the morally abhorrent scene
With a magnifying glass to his eye

Nevermore to return, the ladder split spine
He grows mad painting faces so mean
Watching them all from a cloud in the sky

He obsessively captures every outcry
Carefully details malevolent fiends
With a magnifying glass to his eye

The painter’s pallet has slowly gone dry
Regrets resurface of an incautious leave
Watching them all from a cloud in the sky

Yet he shakes in roaring laughter when they die
This artist’s mind is a broken machine
With a magnifying glass to his eye
Watching them all from a cloud in the sky

Flora (1922). Sir James Jebusa Shannon (Anglo-American, 1862-1923). Oil on canvas. Glasgow Museums Resource Centre (GMRC).

Shannon studied in London during the 1880s and remained there, enjoying success as a society portraitist and figure painter. (In 1922 he renounced his United States citizenship in order to accept a knighthood).

Random Musings of the Day: BatB AUs

Aka, the Victorian!AU and the Modern-Day Royals!AU that nobody asked for!

Let’s start with the Victorians:

  • Partially inspired by Robert and Cora Crawley’s backstory on Downton Abbey and this post/book recommendation by @je-suis-em-jee: “A Scot in the Dark” by Sarah MacLean. 
  • Also a result of my frustration over other such AUs that insist on making Belle a maid under Beast’s employ (she’s not Cinderella folks; if you want to do the respectable-but-still-under-your-employment-route take a queue from Jane Eyre and make her a governess to Chip or something), and don’t consider the historical background and social consequences for said actions (to be fair there would still be scandal if a gentleman married his governess, but less so than if he ran off with the maid. Also maids weren’t considered to be educated ladies whereas governesses were, and that bought them some respectability). 
  • Anyway, rant over; let us move on!
  • Setting: London, England c. mid-1880s.
  • Isabelle “Belle” Prentiss is the daughter of famed society painter Maurice Prentiss. She has recently come into an impressive fortune on her mother’s side, as her uncle had no children of his own to leave it to. Great news, right? Wrong! Because said uncle left a condition in his will that she must marry to secure her inheritance, and if not the money will pass to some distant relative. In spite of the recent Women’s Property Acts of 1870 and 1882 that allow women to maintain their own property, Belle has to be legally married to obtain the money in accordance to the will. No exceptions. 
  • Normally Belle would say the Victorian equivalent of “fuck you!” and move on (she’s not going to marry for the sake of money, thank you very much), but the problem is….she needs the money. Business has been bad for her father and now he’s taken ill, which means bills have been piling up. To make matters worse that cursed libertine Captain Lionel Grayson (Gaston) has been making unwanted advances towards her, and has placed her in a position that will leave her in disgrace unless she marries him. It’s bad enough that she even has to consider marriage to save her father, but to Grayson!? Uggh. He’ll never treat her with the love and respect she craves, and will likely try to take control of her inheritance, of this she is certain. What’s a girl to do?
  • Enter His Grace Adam Beaumont (Beast), 9th Duke of Sheffield and master of the dilapidated Balmore Castle. He’s been subjected to a series of high society scandals in his youth, and suffered from an accident a few years back that left him visibly scarred on the left-side of his face. The society to which he rightly belongs might pander to his face because of his name, but behind his back gossip, and baseless rumours about a violent, monster like nature start to spread. Mothers hide their daughters rather than put them in his path as potential wives. Better a live Countess than a savaged Duchess (paraphrased from @romancingthebookworm). These rumours, combined with his quick temper and reclusive nature has earned him the nickname “The Beast of Balmore.” And the sad thing is, Adam has started to believe it. 
  • He’s also land-rich but cash-broke and needs to marry a wealthy heiress to secure the estate for the next generation, else he lose his family’s legacy forever. So he makes the trip to London to mingle amongst the hypocrites of the aristocracy, a society he once so loved, to find said bride.
  • Fate brings our Beauty and Beast together and they….get on as well as two dogs in a bear-baiting ring. 
  • All joking and terrible first-meetings aside, Adam makes a deal with Belle: marry him, help him secure the financial future of Balmore and she can maintain her inheritance, provide for her father, save her reputation and never want for anything ever again. 
  • How can she say no to that?
  • ….Actually, she almost did, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and hey, at least he’s allowing her to keep some of her autonomy. That’s certainly more than what Grayson was offering. Besides, there are no better offers coming her way.  
  • So a secret wedding is hastily arranged and there’s a great deal of muttering about this (there are some particularly salacious rumours that go along the lines of: “My word, what’s going to happen when a Beast takes a bride, wink-wink, nudge-nudge?”), and Belle leaves London as the Duchess of Sheffield to live with her new husband that she barely knows (and is slightly intimidated by) in this crumbling, far-off castle in the Peak District away from any traces of civilization. 
  • But when she actually gets to Balmore, Belle is pleasantly surprised to discover a house that, while in need of repairs, is full of unexpected beauty: decorous rooms, fine galleries, gardens hidden behind stone walls, a library filled with more books than she could ever read in a lifetime.
    • An incident occurs three weeks after her arrival in which she and Adam get into a huge row and she storms out of the house, hitching up her her chosen horse Philippe and heading off into the storm. She rides, faster and faster into the hills, wanting to get away from that gilded cage she’s forced to call home, to get away from that man, that Beast, when she’s suddenly set upon by wolves. She manages to hold them off until Adam arrives, who had followed her out, being more familiar with the surrounding woods than she, and helps her, but also gets injured in the process. She helps him back to Balmore and tends to him, whereupon she finds his scars and learns more about his accident and the cruelty he endured at the hands of his father. It’s not the beginnings of love, or even friendship, but it’s an understanding, and Belle begins to see him in a new light. 
    • Afterwards, while reading to him as he recovers, Belle brings up Romeo and Juliet, and dismayed at the thought of a wife whose tastes are so limited Adam brings her to the library for the first time. The look of joy on her face fills him with such warmth, a strange sort of pleasure through her own pleasure, and he gifts it to her on the spot. That is when the true turning point of their relationship occurs. 
  • She makes friends amongst the household staff: kindly and motherly Mrs. Potts, the housekeeper who always has a fresh pot of tea on hand, and her sweet son Chip; Cogsworth the Butler, who despite his stuffiness keeps the place orderly and is an asset to Belle when she inquires after management affairs; first footman Louis Meir (nicknamed Lumiere) who keeps everyone’s spirits up and knows how to put on a good show; the French maid Pauline Babineaux (nicknamed Plumette, though only by Louis), who becomes Belle’s lady’s maid and closest confidante, helping her adjust to the demands of her new position.
  • Things between her and Adam are still a bit awkward, but gradually the barriers begin to break down as they start to spend more time together, bonding over books and Shakespeare, and taking walks in the gardens or going for rides. Slowly, slowly the monster she initially saw is replaced by a man with gentle blue eyes and an inquisitive mind; one whose emotional pain is as evident as the scars on his face, but not so deep to mar the beauty of his soul. 
    • Other bonding activities include: private dinners, dances, a fancy ball where Belle dresses up in an 1880s bustle version of her yellow ball gown (actually that was one of the reasons I set it in this period. You can’t deny Belle’s dress would be a GORGEOUS as a bustle gown, especially with the design and pleating on the back), and a moment where Adam comforts her during a thunderstorm because Belle. hates. thunderstorms.
    • As for possible sexy-times…..I’ll leave that to @je-suis-em-jee and @dereksprettyboy (I can’t write smut to save my life; they’re so much better with that kind of thing). 
  • Within the year they are truly in love, and things have never been better for the estate or for each other. 
  • They have a second wedding the following spring, followed by a proper honeymoon traversing France and Italy. 

And now the Modern Royals:

  • I don’t have this one nearly as well-thought out, other than it has a sort-of ‘Princess Diaries’ vibe to it. If anyone wants to add on please do. 
  • The Beast is His Serene Highness Jean Mathieu Yvain François Adam de Montmorency (once again, with the exception of the last bit, is curtesy of @je-suis-em-jee), Sovereign Prince of Bergerais. Bergerais is a fictional European Principality situated between France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany (you get the idea), and one of the few that managed to survive the chaos of two World Wars and the general upheavals of the twentieth century. 
  • That being said, the Princely Family doesn’t have the greatest reputation at the moment; it’s one rife with scandal and intrigue caused by Adam’s father (and later through him), but now that he’s ascended to the throne it’s time for him to clean up his act. 
  • Isabelle “Belle” Dubois comes into the Prince’s life one way or another (college? a high society event? she gets hired as tutor/governess to his younger brother Chip? or as a new addition to his PR team? IDK) and as typical of all BatB stories they don’t hit it off immediately
  • But shit happens and they become friends, then they slowly begin to fall in love; then Adam proposes and Belle has to adjust to life as a future Princess Consort in the twenty-first century with the aid of Plumette, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Lumiere, maybe even Madame Garderobe, and maybe special guest appearances from other Disney Princesses. 

James Hazen Hyde
Théobald Chartran (French; 1849–1907)
Oil on canvas
New-York Historical Society, New York

Forgotten Artists: Paul César Helleu

Paul César Helleu (17 December 1859 – 23 March 1927) was a French oil painter, pastel artist, drypoint etcher, and designer, best known for his numerous portraits of beautiful society women of the Belle Époque.

Helleu’s family struggled finacially after his father, a customs inspector, died while the artist was in his teens. Nevertheless, Helleu was blessed in meeting all the right extremely talented and well-connected people at the right time.

In 1876, at age 16, he was admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts, beginning academic training in art with Jean-Léon Gérôme. Helleu attended the Second Impressionist Exhibition in the same year, and made his first acquaintances with John Singer Sargent, James McNeill Whistler, and Claude Monet. He was struck by their modern, bold alla prima technique and outdoor scenes, so far removed from the studio.

To survive following graduation, Helleu took a job hand-painting fine decorative plates. At this same time, he met Giovanni Boldini, whose facile, bravura style strongly influenced his future artistic style.

When he was 18 years old, Helleu established a close friendship with John Singer Sargent, four years his senior, that was to last his lifetime. Already becoming established, Sargent was receiving commissions for his work. Helleu had not sold anything, and was deeply discouraged almost to the point of abandoning his studies. When Sargent heard this, he went to Helleu and picked one of his paintings, praising his technique. Flattered that Sargent would praise his work, he offered to give it to him. Sargent replied, “I shall gladly accept this, Helleu, but not as a gift. I sell my own pictures, and I know what they cost me by the time they are out of my hand. I should never enjoy this pastel if I hadn’t paid you a fair and honest price for it.” With this he paid him a thousand-franc note.

Helleu was commissioned to paint a portrait of a young woman named Alice Guérin in 1884. They fell in love, and married two years later, on 28 July 1886. Throughout their lives together, she was his favourite model. Charming, refined and graceful, she helped introduce them to the aristocratic circles of Paris, where they were popular fixtures.

-Portrait of Alice Guérin

On a trip to London with Jacques-Émile Blanche in 1885, Helleu met Whistler again and visited other prominent artists of the age. His introduction to James Jacques Tissot, an accomplished society painter from France who made his career in England, proved to be a revelation. From Tissot, Helleu saw, for the first time, the possibilities of drypoint etching with a diamond point stylus directly on a copper plate. Helleu quickly became a virtuoso of the technique, drawing with the same dynamic and sophisticated freedom with his stylus as with his pastels. His prints were very well received, and they had the added advantage that a sitter could have several proofs printed to give to relations or to friends.

Soon, Helleu was displaying works to much acclaim at several galleries. He was encouraged by Edgar Degas. Robert de Montesquiou, the poet and aesthete, befriended Helleu and bought six of his drypoints to add to his large print collection. Montesquiou later wrote a book about Helleu that was published in 1913 with reproductions of 100 of his prints and drawings. This volume remains the definitive biography on Helleu. Montesquiou introduced Helleu to Parisian literary salons, where he met Marcel Proust, who also became a friend. Proust created a literary picture of Helleu in his novel Remembrance of Things Past as the painter Elstir.

Later in his career, Helleu began a series of paintings and color prints of cathedrals, stained glass windows, landscapes, and harbor views for the port of Deauville.

In 1904, Helleu was awarded the Légion d'honneur and became one of the most celebrated artists of the Edwardian era in both Paris and London. He was an honorary member in important beaux-arts societies, including the International Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers, headed by Auguste Rodin, and the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.

On his second trip to the United States in 1912, Helleu was awarded the commission to design was the ceiling decoration in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. He decided on a mural of a blue-green night sky covered by the starry signs of the zodiac that cross the Milky Way. Although the astrological design was widely admired, the ceiling was covered in the 1930s. More than sixty years later, in 1998, it was completely restored and millions of visitors and passengers at the station still marvel at Helleu’s ceiling mural today.

Among many of Helleu’s friends was Coco Chanel, who picked beige as her signature colour upon the advice of the artist—the colour of the sand on the beach of Biarritz in the early morning. Both his son Jean Helleu and his grandson Jacques Helleu became artistic directors for Parfums Chanel.

Helleu died in Paris in 1927 at the age of 67 of peritonitis following surgery.


James Shannon (1862–1923, United States/England)

Shannon was an Anglo-American painter, was born in Auburn, New York, and at the age of eight was taken by his parents to Canada before settling in England at sixteen.

He was a popular portrait artist in his time, one of many Academic painters to bridge the Victorian and Edwardian periods. His style is loose, angular and highly virtuoso, reminiscent of fellow society painters Sargent and Boldini. One element quite distinct to himself, however, is a tendency towards symbolism in some of his works.

Stories I Will (Probably) Never Write: BatB (2017) Victorian!AU

Inspired by personal headcanons and @dereksprettyboy‘s fic “We Loved with a Love That Was More Than Love.” 


London, 1887–Miss Isabelle “Belle” Prentiss, the daughter of a struggling society painter, is everything that a young lady of the middle classes ought not to be: independent, outspoken, and desirous of a life beyond marriage and childbearing. When she unexpectedly finds herself the recipient of a distant uncle’s fortune, Belle is delighted over the prospect of having the means to leave the city and support her ailing father; yet a pre-existing condition in her uncle’s will which states that Belle may only obtain her inheritance “upon the happy occasion of her marriage” threatens her hopes for independence and her father’s welfare. 

Adam, Duke of Thornborough–alternatively known as the “Beast of Balmore”–finds himself in a similar financial predicament: with the revenues from his estate falling into decline he needs to marry an heiress or risk losing his family’s ancestral home. But the scandalous reputation of the reclusive aristocrat, along with his personal aversion to matrimony, makes this task more difficult than he initially thought. When an evening at the Opera brings him into the company of Miss Prentiss, the beastly Duke and the headstrong beauty do not hit it off, but over the course of their acquaintanceship during the Season they learn of the other’s situation and eventually agree to marry–he for this security of the estate and its occupants and she for her father’s comfort. 

Love was never intended to be part of this arrangement, yet amongst the gilded halls, towering bookshelves and hidden gardens of Balmore Castle, something begins to change between the Duke and his bride. Genuine emotion starts to emerge and leaves each party with the hope that maybe, just maybe, they can make their strange marriage work after all. 

Portrait of Grace Stettauer, aged 5 years. Solomon Joseph Solomon (British, 1860-1927). Oil on canvas.

As ‘history’ pictures, usually with literary or religious themes, went out of fashion, Solomon was fortunate in that he had a genuine talent for portraiture, helping to found the Society of Portrait Painters in 1891 and establishing a distinguished and varied clientele. His sitters included King George V.


Obnoxiously High Res Photos. “Wonderboy WIP” 22 x 42 in

Here’s a 7 hour work in progress of an Oil painting I made Saturday night.. Better believe I’ll be posting a high res demo once I finally finish.