Friday, 20 October 2017

Frits Thaulow

Today is the 170th birthday of the Norwegian painter Frits Thaulow, who settled in France in the 1890s and was for several years an ornament of Dieppe society. He and his Amazonian wife Alexandra presided over a hospitable household to which all were welcome – including Oscar Wilde, at a time when he was being ostentatiously cut by le tout Dieppe (with a few noble exceptions).
  The Thaulows also befriended Aubrey Beardsley and the young Australian painter Charles Conder, an alcoholic with a severe case of nostalgie de la boue. The Thaulows, seeking to keep him safe and occupied, insisted that he move in with them and paint murals on the walls of their villa. Alexandra also commissioned him to decorate some plain white evening gowns for her, as he was particularly skilled at painting on silk. John Rothenstein, who of course was there, remembered how ''visitors were enchanted at the sight of this Brynhilde, dressed in white silk, standing majestic in her drawing room, while Conder fluttered round her, brush in hand, until the white silk was no more, but coloured like a field of flowers'.
 Alexandra was also one of the daring Dieppe ladies who took up the fashionable pastime of bicycling. 'With her enormous thighs encase in knee-breeches,' writes Simona Pakenham (in Sixty Miles from England), 'she mounted her "iron steed" and went for trips to Arques on a tandem, sometimes carrying the diminutive figure of John Rothenstein, who came on holiday visits to Conder, behind her.' If only Max Beerbohm (another ornament of Dieppe society) had been there to draw that...
 The painting above is Jacques-Emile Blanche's bravura portrait of Frits Thaulow somehow managing to paint en famille and en plein air, while smoking a cigarette. Thaulow's own paintings were quieter affairs, documenting his love of the Norman countryside, its pastures and old farm buildings, trees, rivers and millponds. The play of light – especially declining light – on water particularly fascinated him, and he became known as a specialist in watery scenes, like the one below. Not a great painter perhaps, but a very good one – and, by all accounts, a rather fine human being.



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