Home Language & Literature Families, Status and Dynasties: 1600-2000
Virtually all artists and intellectuals in the Bloomsbury and Tuusula groups came from non-artist families, as was true of the cream of Impressionists included in Masterpieces of Western Art. However, the Modernists who came after them were different in this respect: 22 per cent of their fathers were artists. In eighteenth-century Covent Garden, the Bohemian ‘village’ of artists, craftsmen and shopkeepers in London, the profession of artist was passed down from father to son in 27 per cent of all cases, but a great many of them were engravers, a profession located somewhere in between craftsmen and artists (Catrell 2013, 389-417). These figures assume weak dynasticity among artists; in this light the Strauss musical dynasty was a rarity. Importantly also, a vast majority of the artists in the Finnish Tuusula and the Bloomsbury circles came from relatively high- status families, including families with noble or knighted fathers, higher civil servants and professionals such as judges, doctors and architects. Furthermore, some of them came from merchant families. In Finland, the father of one was a priest and two came from smallholder families. In Bloomsbury the father of one member was a teacher, but none of them came from farmer or clerical families. Annan (1990, 87) concludes that the Bloomsberries belonged to the intellectual aristocracy; this was also true for the Tuusula artists to a considerable extent.
Masterpieces of Western Art would be an important source of additional information about artists’ family backgrounds, but it contains no biographies of Impressionists and Modernists. For my purposes here Wikipedia (see footnote a in Table 2.1) is a good enough source as it provides the necessary information for two-thirds of Impressionists and for Modernists as well. On the basis of this information, 40 per cent of Impressionists came from families of businessmen—their fathers were bankers, industrialists, merchants or stockholders—while 30 per cent of the fathers were professionals, most of them with an academic degree. One Impressionist was of noble origin. In all then, some 70 per cent of the Impressionists came from the same kind of birth background as the Bloomsberries, but in one respect they were different: 20 per cent of the Impressionists were sons of craftsmen, including one worker and one soldier. Conspicuously, virtually none of the prominent Impressionists came from a noble, clerical, peasant or worker family. The social backgrounds of the Modernists included in Masterpieces of Western Art are quite similar to those of Impressionists: 40 per cent of their fathers were merchants and other businessmen, while 20 per cent were civil servants, accounting in total for 60 per cent, slightly less than in the case of the Impressionists (70 per cent). The proportion of craftsmen was low, 13 per cent, including one worker and another ‘from poor circumstances’. As mentioned, 22 per cent of the fathers of Modernists were artists in different fields. No Modernist came from a clerical, noble or farmer family.
Taken together then, the prominent harbingers of modern art mainly came from the two social segments that were to play a pivotal role in the nineteenth-century transformation: businessmen and professionals, though typically not from the highest ranks. It was into these two rising and well-to-do, self-confident segments that a small group of men coming from craftsman families fused in order to find fame and status in the field of the arts. However, the picture changes when we take into account the social backgrounds of the artists living in and around Covent Garden in the latter half of the eighteenth century. In their cases, too, information about fathers’ social backgrounds is only available for two-thirds of the artists (Catrell 2013, 390-416). These early Bohemian artists, most of them unknown, came from significantly different family backgrounds than the artists we examined earlier. Only 7 per cent of their fathers were professionals, while 6 per cent were businessmen, mainly merchants. These two higher social segments, 13 per cent in total, account for much smaller proportions than the figures recorded for Impressionists (70 per cent) and Modernists (60 per cent). Most commonly, Covent Garden artists came from craftsman families (30 per cent); 27 per cent came from artist or engraver families; 13 per cent of the fathers were small businessmen, mostly shopkeepers, innkeepers and print-sellers; 5 per cent were soldiers, including one captain; and 4 per cent were workers. Faberge jewellery smiths in nineteenth-century St Petersburg, whose rise from the status of craftsman to that of artist owed to the popularity of their jewellery works in the Russian imperial court, were of even lower origin (Tillander- Godenhielm 2011): four-fifths of the Finnish jewellery smiths at Faberge came from craftsman, crofter and worker families. In this low- ranking assembly, Hjalmar Armfelt, a nobleman, was a conspicuously deviant case.
The marked status differences seen in artists’ birth families indicate that there were two main routes to the profession of artist, one from higher-status families, the other from craftsman and small businessman families. In craftsmen communities engraving was passed on from father to son: this was common artistic work as long as there was a demand for book illustrations using this method (Letheve 1972, 158-67). The same was true at Faberge in St Petersburg (Tillander-Godenhielm 2011): the jewellery craft was passed on to the next generation for as long as members of the imperial family and noble and bourgeois families were attracted to their masterly products—although in this case it was the Russian Revolution that forced Faberge to close down their workshops. Despite their exquisite quality, Faberge products did not achieve the same kind of status as painters’ masterly works of art, that is, artists who mainly came from businessmen and professional homes.
As the figures above show, dynasticity was not distinctive of prominent artists in the nineteenth century; it was more common among artists who descended from engraver or other craftsman trade families.
But what about the creation of dynasticity in the next generation? The short Wikipedia biographies of Impressionists and Modernists are symptomatic of the declining significance of dynasticity: virtually no information is made available about their children. But there is also no mention of father-son pairs in Masterpieces ofWestern Art, indicating that artists, at least at the very highest level, were lone achievers. Yet it is useful to search for facts that can help unravel the nature of dynasticity, if it ever existed in artist families, stemming from the common belief that artistic talent is hereditary. In this search it is useful to turn again to the Bloomsbury and the Tuusula circles of artists.
The Tuusula artist community (Halonen 1952) offered a very favourable environment for children’s socialization into the arts. There were frequent exercises for children interested in music, painting and creative writing as well as theatre rehearsals, and house concerts and well-prepared theatrical performances were popular. The painter Venny Soldan-Brofelt ran a drawing school for the children in the community. Into this artistic community of eight families were born 34 children (Carpelan 1958, 569-89; Jarnefelt 1982; Koivulehto 1987; Arjava 2008a; Arjava 2008b; Konttinen 2013). No occupational information is available for nine of these children; for the most part, they were housewives. About half of the remaining children followed more or less in the footsteps of their artist fathers or mothers. In Bloomsbury, according to my calculations based on biographies and histories of this group, less than half of the members produced children. If Professor Bertrand Russell’s children are included, the total number of children was 16 (Woolf1940; Gadd 1974; Schulkind 1986; Spalding 1998; Holroyd 2005; Skidelsky 2005). Information on occupation was only available for ten children. Six of them became artists or just about artists. In the latter case, artistic work in both communities was limited to writing a book about a father or mother, for instance, or they were journalists or art teachers. Likewise, in both communities children did not necessarily come to work in the same field as their fathers or mothers, but generally absorbed the artistic atmosphere which inspired them to try their wings in different fields. A few painters’ children became painters, but eventually found their way to the theatre or photography. Or, as in Jean and Aino Sibelius’s family, one daughter became an actress, the other a ceramist.
In the Bloomsbury group (Spalding 1998, 485-6), Vanessa and Clive Bell’s younger son became a poet—his mother Vanessa was a painter— and their elder son was a professor of history, but he was also an author. Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s out-of-wedlock daughter Angelica was a second-generation Bloomsberry, but her husband, David Garnett, was a first-generation Bloomsberry. Their eldest daughter Amaryllis (1943-73) was an actress, but she suffered from mental health issues and also had difficulties in her theatrical career, and she died in 1973 at the age of just 30. Henrietta (b. 1945) became a writer, and Nerissa (1946-2004) started out as a painter but moved on to photography and pottery. Her career was cut short by severe depression. Her twin sister Frances (b. 1946) runs a farm in France. It seems that the children of artists who, moreover, lived in artistic communities were attracted to the arts in general, in a word, to the kind of creative work in which they had seen their parents immerse themselves and that had brought them fame. In the Jean Sibelius family and some other branches, musical talent was passed to the third generation—three of Conductor Jussi Jalas’s children are or were professional musicians. Jussi Jalas (originally Blomstedt) was the husband of one of Jean Sibelius’s daughters, while another daughter, a ceramist, married an architect, Aulis Blomstedt, who was Jussi’s brother. This marriage brought several other architects and artists into the family.
In the case of artists it was not dynasticity but fame that greatly determined the duration of the family’s heyday. In the case of lateral affiliation, the community’s heyday was short, lasting more or less one generation. The future Tuusula community was formed in the 1890s through close interaction and several marriages. Moving to the Tuusula village intensified this interaction among families, giving the impression that this was their heyday period. Juhani Aho and his wife moved out of Tuusula as early as 1911, but this did little to unsettle the community; the remaining families continued to stage their home concerts, theatre performances, May Day and Midsummer festivals (Halonen 1952). Nonetheless, the community’s heyday was now drawing to an end as the original members were getting older and withdrawing into privacy. This happened by the early 1930s (Konttinen 2013, 321). Bloomsbury’s heyday also lasted for no more than a single generation. Virginia Woolf describes the period from 1904 to 1914 as the Old Bloomsbury (Schulkind 1986, 240-67), which can also be regarded as the first heyday of Bloomsbury, when marriages were contracted within the group. The heyday of Bloomsbury was revived after the First World War with regular meetings; the founding of the Memoir Club in 1920 was significant in this respect (Schulkind 1986, 215). It was also during this period that the members gained increasing fame and recognition as writers, painters, art critics, publishers and scientists. For example, the publication in 1918 of Lytton Strachey’s book Eminent Victorians made him a prominent writer in the eyes of his contemporaries—a triumph he had always longed for (Schulkind 1986, 133). Virginia Woolf in turn won international fame after the publication of her bestseller Orlando in 1928 (Gadd 1974, 163).
The heyday of the two artist circles began to wane with the ageing or death of their most prominent artists and central figures. But the descendants in the next generation wanted to extend the good old days of the past and to treasure their parents’ artistic legacy by publishing memoirs and biographies and by lecturing and taking part in a whole range of activities arranged in their parents’ honour. This was closely akin to what happened in the Wagner and the Strauss dynasties, showing that, in the end, dynasticity always tended to shine through in families of well-known artists.
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