Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 61 x 88 cm
Signed: Lower right: J E Blanche and countersigned on the verso
Private collection, Paris
This study of New College, Oxford focuses on the chapel as seen from the Holywell Quadrangle. I also features the old city walls of Oxford, running in front of the chapel, and the old moat, known as the Slype, is the green area at the foot of the walls. New College was founded in 1379 by William of Wykeham and is the 9th oldest College at the University. The chapel contains medieval stained glass and is considered an excellent example of medieval architecture with the choir stalls being of particular note. New College owns the city walls and William of Wykeham pledged to maintain them in a clause of the original purchase of land for the college. An inspection of the walls by the Lord Mayor and Corporation of the City of Oxford is undertaken every three years to check that New Collage is fulfilling its obligation. The painting also features the bell tower to the right side of the composition, completed along with the cloisters in 1400, it is actually situated outside the city walls and contains one of the oldest rings of ten bells in the country.
Blanche’s talents as a painter of still life, portraits, landscapes beach scenes and the occasional incident from everyday life, earned him considerable wealth and a prominent place in the art world of his time. His friends and social acquaintance ranged from the avant-garde to the upper bourgeoisie and he moved with ease from one group to the other. His many portraits are evidence of the range of his connections and the broad recognition of his talent.
His earliest subjects were chosen from his own family and immediate social acquaintance, but as this broadened so did his clientele. A picture almost certainly correctly identified as being of Mary Cassat (1885, Seligman Collection) was followed by a full length portrait of the aesthete Louis Metman (1888, Dieppe, Château-Musée). His friends and subjects in the literary and musical world included the celebrated writer Stéphane Mallarmé (1889), the pianist Léontine Bordes-Pène (1889-90), the Irish humorist George Moore (ca 1890), the decorative painter Jules Chéret (1892), the poets Pierre Louÿs and Henri de Regnier (painted together in 1893), the Norwegian artist Fritz Thaulow with his family (1895), and the English writer-painter Aubrey Beardsley and poet-critic Arthur Symons (both 1895).
Later he painted other artists including José Maria Sert (1901), Charles Cottet (1902), Rodin (1904), and Ignacio Zuloaga (1900-04). An ardent anglophile, Blanche was welcomed into British intellectual circles, painting several of his fellow artists including Walter Sickert (who eventually joined him in Dieppe), Charles Shannon and Charles Conder. In the early years of the new century he became a close friend of the much younger Jean Cocteau, whom he painted on several occasions, as well as painting André Gide and the Vicomtesse Anne de Noailles (both 1912), Francis Jammes (1917), Paul Claudel (1919), the poet Max Jacob (1921 who was later to die in Nazi custody), Maeterlinck (1931) and James Joyce (1935).
While his art could not be described as progressive, he was nonetheless an open-minded supporter of new talent and critic of moribund academicism. His own origins were respectable and bourgeois, he was the son of a famous alieniste, and his training conventional. He had studied with Gervex and Fernand Humbert, as well as spending time in the more advanced studios of Manet and Degas. His early portraits recall the contemporary style of Tissot as well as Sargent and Zorn, although his later painting style owed more to his early 20th century French contemporaries than these artists. A regular participant at the Salon of the National Society of Fine Arts from 1890, he also frequently exhibited in London at the Leicester Galleries and was given a monographic show at the London National Gallery, a rare distinction for a living painter. During the latter part of his career his style seemed retardataire, harking back to the days of post-impressionism without being touched by the artistic revolutions of the First World War period. Nonetheless, he had many supporters and patrons from the time of his Salon debut until the late twenties. He married Rose Lemoinne, the daughter of John Lemoinne, founder-publisher of the Journal des Debats, but it is said that this alliance may have been more of a convenience than a love match.