The New Baby. Alexander Mann (1853-1908). Oil on canvas, 53 x 61 inches; 134.6 x 155 cm.

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Commentary by Kenneth McConkey

The New Baby, Mann’s ‘modern nativity’, was probably painted while he was living in Paris, after his enrolment in Julian’s atelier in 1877 and prior to his visit to Venice in 1884. His travels in France during these early years remain obscure. We know from his sketchbooks that he visited the immediate environs of Paris during these years and was for instance in Grez-sur-Loing in May 1879 (see Hopkinson). The rural setting and costumes in the present work suggest that he may have worked in Picardy or Normandy, where peasant women were frequently seen in black cloaks and starched, white bonnets.

It is likely that Mann was impressed by works such as Fernand Pelez’s picture of an indigent family in Sans Asile (unlocated) shown at the Salon of 1883. This monumental canvas places before us a destitute mother with a baby on her lap, surrounded by other beggars. It effectively translates William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s many treatments of La Sainte Famille into a more modern urban naturalist idiom. For Mann, this descent into stark social realism was a step too far and he may have recalled the more elegiac boulannaises of Alphonse Legros in works such as Blessing the Sea, 1872 (Sheffield City Art Galleries). In The New Baby it is clear that he wished to recreate Legros’ devotional elements by showing children kneeling, admiring the new born.

References

Hopkinson, Martin. ‘Foreword’ in Alexander Mann, 1853–1908, Sketches and Correspondence with his wife and family, London: The Fine Art Society, n.d.

McConkey, Kenneth. Lavery and the Glasgow Boys. Exhibition Catalogue. Clandeboye, County Down: The Ava Gallery; Edinburgh: Bourne Fine Art; London: The Fine Art Society, 2010. No. 5.


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Last modified 4 October 2011