John da Costa - The story of the Belle époque in one portrait
John da Costa (1867-1931, England)
oil on canvas signed John da Costa and dated -02 canvas size 57.87 x 33.46 inches (147 x 85 cm) frame dimensions 62.99 x 38.58 inches (160 x 98 cm)
Provenance: Possibly sold at Liverpool Dicksee & Co 1902 (see label), they were both frame makers and art agents; Christie's, sale 707 GF according to a stencil on the back of the painting; English collection until sold to Sweden 1936; Aquired 1936 by Ingrid and Seth Molander, Sweden; A private collection Sweden until acquired by Classicartworks Stockholm in the summer of 2021.
The story of the Belle époque in one portrait
When it comes to glamour, no period in the history of art can compete with the Belle époque. A generation of highly talented artists developed new styles of portraiture that not only showed fashionable taste and elegance – but also the tensions and changes to come that lured behind the surface of this glittering age. One of them was John da Costa (1867–1931) also – involuntarily – known as “The John Singer Sargent of children’s portraits”.
The time period between the Franco-Prussian war of 1871 and the outbreak of the first world war of 1914 was an unusually peaceful and prosperous one – at least on the surface. The decades leading up to the largest and most destructive war the world had ever seen were characterized by a combination of industrial boom, cosmopolitan life, the birth of modern art and literature and political movements that eventually would change society forever. In other words, it was a melting pot for many phenomenon and societal transformations that we still today are affected by, not least in the form of art.
Breaking away from the more conservative academic traditions, new styles of painting of varying radicality emerged and both chocked and delighted audiences. When it comes to portraiture, names like John Singer Sargent and Anders Zorn conquered international audiences with their electrifying paintings of high society, politicians and celebrities of the era. Their erringly light brushwork created an almost dreamlike atmosphere where everything from the sheerness of dress fabrics, subtle lights of ballroom evenings and dense psychological facial expressions vibrated with the zeitgeist. Initially controversial and breaking with traditional expectations, eventually it was this kind of portraits that became the “dernier cri”, a hallmark of good taste and ultimately the very essence of the Belle époque. And it is here, in the vibrant field of portraiture, that John da Costa finds his place and artistic calling.
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