Art History 101 – Part 6: 1800-1899

Welcome to Part 6 (1800-1899) of my survey of art history. The seven Art History 101 lists contain every work of art that was on at least two of the over 30 ‘Best Works of Art’ lists that I collected from the Internet and books. Although most of the resources available to me focused almost exclusively on the art of Western Civilization, the list does identify some of the most significant artworks produced by the artists of Asia, Africa and South America.  Each entry includes the date of the work, the artist’s name, the name (or names) of the work, the style or culture associated with the work, and the location where the work was produced. In addition, I have included a brief essay with description (including measurements), artistic materials used, background and interpretation.

Because I believe visuals are essential for discussing the visual arts, I have included images of the art works,  In most cases, you can click on the images to enlarge them.  (I have tried to use public domain images where possible. In other cases, I believe this is a fair non-commercial use for educational purposes. If there are copyright concerns, please let me know.)

For the rest of the Art History 101 series, click on the links below:
Part 1 (Prehistoric Era-399 CE)
Part 2 (400-1399 CE)

Part 3 (1400-1499)
Part 4 (1500-1599)
Part 5 (1600-1799)
Part 7 (1900-Present)

For a list of the best works of art organized by rank (that is, with the artworks on the most lists placed at the top), go here.

1800-1899

392. Charles IV of Spain and His Family

Artist: Francisco Goya (full name: Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes)
Date: 1800
Period/Style: Romanticism; Spain; royal portraiture
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 9.2 ft. tall by 11 ft. wide
Current location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
goya charles iv and family Court painter Francisco Goya’s unflattering group portrait of Charles IV of Spain and 12 members of his family has baffled critics and scholars for centuries: did Goya intend to create a realistic but neutral portrayal of the royals, or did he have some surreptitious goal of some combination of parodic caricature and critical political commentary? If the latter is the case, it would have taken a lot of nerve for Goya to bite the hands that fed him. In fact, it was the king’s idea to have a group portrait. Instead of scheduling everyone to visit Goya in his studio (which is apparently the setting of the portrait, with Goya’s giant canvases on the walls), Goya went to court and sketched 10 portraits separately, then obtained approval from each adult subject for their portrayal. Based on the results, it appears that the royal family was comfortable with being portrayed in a realistic manner – ‘warts and all’, in other words. Goya arranged the figures in a shallow space on the canvas, in what some scholars have described as a frieze. But what appears to be either a straight line of figures or mere chaos, is actually carefully organized according to political realities. Although the queen is in the center (as she would be in a portrait of any Spanish family), the two men closest to the picture plane are the monarch Charles IV, on the right, his head against the lightest background, and, waiting to emerge from the shadows, his son and successor, the future Ferdinand VII, on the left. Other family members are arranged according to importance. Two women family members were not available to Goya so he painted one turning her head and another is seen in profile. While the faces certainly vary in attractiveness, Goya made sure that the clothing, jewelry and medals were all stunning; the artist’s treatment of the light reflecting off the silver of the military medals and jewels creates a royal constellation of gleaming stars from one end of the canvas to the other. Almost all the women are wearing arrow-shaped hairpins, which may have been designed by the court jeweler, Leonard Chopinot. (See detail in image at left below showing Charles’s daughter María Isabel). Art historians have noted Goya’s homage to Velázquez’s Las Meninas. He has even included a shadowy self-portrait at a tall easel nearly identical to the one in that earlier portrait of Spanish royalty (see detail in image at right below). A significant difference, of course, is that the king and queen are inside the picture this time, not outside looking in, leading some to wonder if Goya imagined that he and his portrait subjects were all looking out at a mirror that was reflecting back the image Goya was painting.
 

393. The Valpinçon Bather (The Bather)

Artist: Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
Date: 1808
Period/Style: Neoclassical (with elements of Romanticism); France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.7 ft. tall by 3.2 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris
ingres valpincon bather
When French Neoclassical artist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres won the Prix de Rome, he went to Italy to study at the French Academy in Rome.  Ingres, a discipline of Jacques-Louis David, told a friend that exposure to the Italian masterpieces required him to “begin my education again.”  One of the first works he completed while in Rome was the painting now known as The Valpinçon Bather (after one of its owners), which was originally titled Seated Woman.  The Bather is a direct result of the Italian influence on Ingres’ style.  Although the work was not praised by contemporaries, its reputation rose after the Universal Exhibition of 1855, when the influential Goncourt brothers compared the color of the nude’s body with Rembrandt’s works.  Critics have remarked on Ingres’ ability to paint a voluptuous and sensual woman while still conveying a sense of her chasteness.  Ingres balances warm, sensual elements of the painting such as the sinuous curves of the woman’s body, the green curtains, white curtain and bed linens with cooler components: the delicate, diffuse light, the woman’s modest pose and hidden face, the flesh tones and marble bathtub.  Critics have also commented on the relative flatness of the figure, in contrast to the more substantial, modeled nudes of the Renaissance or even the Romantic painters. There is no mythological excuse for the nudity, but unlike Goya’s The Naked Maja, the Bather keeps her back to us, allowing the viewer to maintain the illusion that the subject is not aware of being watched, or is turning away out of modesty.  Ingres returned to the curve of the model’s back several times in his career, reusing the Bather as the mandolin player in the foreground of The Turkish Bath, from 1863 (see image below).

394. The Colossus

Artist: The painting was traditionally attributed to Francisco Goya but that attribution has come into question. Some say the artist is Goya’s assistant Asensio Juliá. The label at the Prado says the painting is by a “Follower of Goya.”
Date: c. 1808-1812
Period/Style: Romanticism; Spain
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.8 ft. tall by 3.4 ft. wide
Current location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
the colossus The Colossus (also known as The Giant, The Panic, or The Storm) portrays a giant with a clenched fist, either standing or striding in a valley through clouds that encircle his waist, while in the foreground people and animals flee in terror. The painting is the source of two controversies: first, what does it mean? and second, did Goya paint it?  Many scholars believe that the painting is an allegory about the Peninsular War, which began in 1808 when Napoleon’s French armies invaded Spain. Under one theory, the angry giant represents the French behemoth that was invading Spain and terrorizing the public.  A second theory holds that the giant stands for the strength of the Spanish people as they rise up to throw out the French invaders and establish their independence. The second theory gains support from the 1810 poem The Prophecy of the Pyrenees, by Juan Bautista Arriaza, which tells of a giant rising from the mountains to defend Spain against Napoleon in the light of the setting sun, clouds encircling his waist, and the Pyrenees reduced to stumps next to his limbs.  (Query, though, why the populace is fleeing in terror from a giant who is there to save them.)  The artist is working within the Romantic style, and the composition has been described as centrifugal, with elements moving along diagonal lines toward the margins (except for a stubborn mule, who stands motionless).  X-ray evidence reveals that in an earlier composition, the giant faced forward, toward the viewer. The Colossus has much in common with Goya’s Black Paintings and a later Goya etching called The Giant, from 1814-1818 (see image below).  Nevertheless, there has been raging debate since at least 2001 about whether Goya painted The Colossus. Some scholars allege that The Colossus shows signs of slow, insecure brushstrokes, inferior colors and materials and mistakes of proportion and perspective that are inconsistent with Goya’s other work.  Furthermore, some art historians believe that markings they interpret as the initials “A.J.” indicate that Goya’s assistant Asensio Juliá is the painter. As a result of the dispute, the Museo del Prado, where The Colossus is located, changed its attribution from Francisco de Goya to “Follower of Goya” in 2008.  As of the present date, the debate rages on in articles, books and press releases with no end in sight.

395. The Charging Chasseur

Artist: Théodore Géricault
Date: c. 1812
Period/Style: Romanticism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 11.4 ft tall by 8.7 ft wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris
Gericault charging chasseur
Unlike Jacques-Louis David’s Neoclassical Napoleon on a rearing horse crossing the Alps, Théodore Gericault’s Charging Chasseur – which bears a superficial resemblance to the earlier work – is neither heroic nor noble.  Gericault, in his first publicly-exhibited work, presents us not with the glory of war but its horror.  The luxuriously appointed officer of Napoleon’s Horse Guards – complete with leopard skin saddle blanket – seems less than completely sure of himself as he turns to look behind him (perhaps to rally his troops).  Sword pointed downward instead of held high, he seems to be just barely holding himself together in the midst of carnage and anarchy on the battlefield (which Gericault renders more frightening by blurring the background with smoke and mist). The true nature of the situation is expressed by the horse, whose fear is palpable as he rears away from an unseen opponent to the right of the frame. This is Romanticism, which arose as a counterpoint to the Neoclassicism of David in the early 19th Century. 

396. La Grande Odalisque

Artist: Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
Date: 1814
Period/Style: Neoclassicism (with aspects of Romanticism); France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.9 ft. tall by 5.3 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
Ingres_-_The_Grand_OdalisqueBy 1814, the battle lines were sharply drawn between the Neoclassicists, with their invisible brush strokes and noble subjects, and the Romanticists, who sought to communicate emotional immediacy and human individuality with a style that did not insist on realism. Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, who studied with Neoclassicist icon Jacques-Louis David, identified with the Neoclassicists, but his paintings include elements of Romanticism. La Grande Odalisque is Neoclassical in its almost photorealistic painting style, but the subject matter and presentation are pure Romanticism. (See image below for David’s Portrait of Madame Récamier (c. 1800), also at the Louvre, from which Ingres may have gotten the idea for the pose: the differences are striking.) The viewer sees a nude woman who is presented to us as an odalisque, a concubine and member of a Middle Eastern (then called Oriental) harem. She is gazing at us as if we just walked into the room with a mixture of allurement and disdain. The Eastern furnishings, decorations and jewelry – with a hookah, no less – tell viewers that this is a strange, exotic world completely unlike our own, thus giving them permission to gaze upon the nude female form. The bizarre (and racist) compromise reached by Western Civilization in the early 19th Century was that it was immoral to present nudity in art unless it involved religious or mythological figures (e.g., Titian’s Venus of Urbino) or “exotics”, such as the odalisque. Ingres’ Neoclassicism gave way to his Romantic impulses in painting the nude figure; his desire to create flowing lines and sensual curves overrode his commitment to anatomical realism and so he added five vertebrae to the odalisque’s spinal column, reduced the size of her head, made one arm longer than the other, and placed her legs in positions that no contortionist could recreate. These distortions – criticized at the time as lack of skill – were deliberate attempts by Ingres to transcend the merely real and capture an ideal beauty he saw in his imagination.

397. The Third of May, 1808

Artist: Francisco Goya
Date: 1814
Period/Style: Romanticism; Spain; history painting
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 8.8 ft. tall by 11.4 ft. wide
Current location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
Third of May_Francisco_de_GoyaIn 1808, during the Napoleonic Wars, French troops occupied Spain and placed Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s older brother, on the throne. The French takeover sparked the Spanish War of Independence, which began on May 2, 1808 with an uprising in Madrid, which was savagely put down with massacres on May 3. In 1814, the Spanish finally expelled Napoleon and his French troops after seven years of occupation and war. It was then that artist Francisco Goya approached the provisional government seeking permission to create artworks that, in his words, would “perpetuate …the most notable and heroic actions of our glorious insurrection against the Tyrant of Europe.” Permission granted, Goya chose to create two works: The Second of May, showing the Madrid uprising (see image below), and The Third of May, showing the aftermath. At dawn the day after the uprising, French troops rounded up hundreds of Spaniards to be shot by firing squads. In The Third of May, 1808, Goya imagines one such firing squad. An unarmed man in a glowing white shirt bravely confronts the rifles of the faceless French soldiers. He holds his arms up in a manner that suggests at the same time a gesture of outrage, a willingness to die for a righteous cause, and the posture of Christ on the cross. Goya presents this man to us as a tragic victim of injustice and cruelty, but also as a martyr and a hero. At the time, the painting was misunderstood; war paintings usually dramatized battle heroics, not the pointless and mechanistic slaughter of the defenseless. We see those who have died before, and those waiting their turn – the focus is on just one, nameless man in inexplicable suffering – he is no one and everyone. The style was also ahead of its time: rushed and chaotic brushstrokes bring a sense of the frenzy of the moment. All the technique is secondary to the emotional message – this is a truly Romantic painting, but it also feels very modern.

398. The Raft of the Medusa

Artist: Théodore Géricault
Date: 1819
Period/Style: Romanticism; France; history painting
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 16 ft. tall by 23.5 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
GÉRICAULT_raft of the medusaThéodore Géricault’s immense canvas, The Raft of the Medusa, served multiple purposes: it established the painter as an artist; it took the side of the Romanticists in the ongoing debate with the Neoclassicists; and it made an antigovernment political statement. The painting depicts the denouement of a recent French sea tragedy. The French Naval frigate Méduse ran aground in 1816 due to the incompetence of its captain, who obtained his position through favoritism and patronage. Lack of adequate lifeboats forced at least 147 passengers and crew to crowd onto a makeshift raft, where lack of food and water led to starvation, murder and cannibalism. After 13 days at sea, the 15 who remained alive spotted a rescuing ship (see detail in image at below left); it was this moment that Théodore Géricault, then a relatively unknown 27-year-old French artist, chose to paint in all of its grisly detail. On the ramshackle raft, which looks ready to collapse, a father mourns his dead son; dead bodies lie outstretched. At the pinnacle, a black man (a hint of Géricault’s anti-slavery sentiments) waves a cloth to the tiny ship on the horizon. In researching the painting, Géricault interviewed survivors and constructed a scale model of the raft. He even visited morgues to accurately depict the skin tones of dead human bodies. When Géricault exhibited The Raft of the Medusa at the 1819 Paris Salon, its vivid representation of suffering and death repelled the then-dominant Neoclassicists (who derided it as a “pile of corpses”), but the rising Romanticists found its emotional message powerful and praised its politics. While its painting style, muscular nudes and semi-nudes (who don’t seem to show the effects of deprivation) and careful composition (using diagonals and pyramids to organize the elements and direct the eye) owe much to the Neoclassical tradition, The Raft of the Medusa is now considered a seminal work in the history of French Romantic art. By refusing to bow to the dogma that history paintings must provide an uplifting moral lesson and identify heroic gestures and personalities, the painting focuses instead on the cruelty of nature and the emotions of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Random Trivia: The model for the foreground figure with downturned face and outstretched arm was French painter Eugène Delacroix, a friend of Géricault’s (see detail in image below right).
Medusa_horizon_detail  raft of the medusa delacroix

399. Saturn Devouring His Son

Artist: Francisco Goya
Date: c. 1819-1823
Period/Style: Romanticism; Spain; mythology
Medium: Oil paints on a wall of the artist’s house, later transferred to canvas after the artist’s death
Dimensions: 4.7 ft. tall by 2.6 ft. wide
Current location: Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
Goya Saturn Devouring His Son
In 1819, at the age of 73, Francisco Goya, now completely deaf, moved into a new home. Over the next four years, he created a series of paintings on the walls of the house that due to their dark palette and disturbing subject matter have become known as the Black Paintings. In the 1870s, the paintings were transferred to canvas and put on display in the Museo del Prado, but Goya’s personal visions (or nightmares) were never intended to be seen by the public. On the wall of his dining room, Goya painted a gory mural of Saturn Devouring His Son, the most famous of the Black Paintings. (The work was untitled and unexplained – it received its title from a friend of Goya’s after the artist’s death.) Most scholars believe the painting refers to the Greek myth in which Cronos, one of the Titans (known to the Romans as Saturn), ate each of his first five newborn sons in order to defeat a prophecy that one of them would overthrow him. (His wife gave birth to the sixth son, Zeus/Jupiter, on a secluded island to save him from his brothers’ fate and that son did overthrow his father.) Goya had made a chalk drawing of the same subject in 1796-1797 (see image below left) that referred back to Peter Paul Rubens’ 1636 treatment of the myth, also called Saturn Devouring His Son (see image below right). Goya’s Black Painting of Saturn shows what one art historian called a “cannibalistic ferocity” that is not present in these earlier works: Saturn emerges from the blackness, kneels with hands greedily clutching a headless figure, his eyes bulging, hair askew, and mouth wide open ready to chomp down on an arm. Many have speculated about why Goya returned to this theme late in his life. Some believe it refers to the many children he and his wife lost – only one son survived beyond childhood. Others find political meaning: Saturn as the Spanish government that devours its own children. At least one scholar does not believe the painting depicts the Saturn myth at all, because (1) it lacks Saturn’s iconographical attributes; (2) the figure being eaten is clearly not an infant; and (3) the figure being eaten appears to be female, not male.
goya saturn sketch   Rubens saturn devouring

400. Disasters of War

Artist: Francisco Goya
Date: Goya produced the prints between 1810 and 1820
Period/Style: Romanticism; Spain
Medium: Goya used the techniques of etching, drypoint and aquatint on copper plates, which he then used to make paper prints.
Dimensions: Each print measures 9.9 in. tall by 13.5 in. wide
Current locations: Various collections
Goya Disasters of War-_No._03_-_Lo_mismo  Disasters of War, No. 18 (of 82): Disasters of War No._59_-_De_qué_sirve_una_taza-  Disasters of War No._62_-_Las_camas_de_la_muerte Disasters of War No._71_-_Contra_el_bien_general  Disasters of War-_No._80_-_Si_resucitará- Spanish artist Francisco Goya made a series of over 80 prints between 1810 and 1820 that he called  Fatal Consequences of Spain’s Bloody War with Bonaparte, and Other Emphatic Caprices but which are now generally referred to as The Disasters of War.  The world only learned of these powerful works of art in 1863, long after Goya’s death, because the prints contain such incendiary, unmediated and politically sensitive material that Goya never dared to publish them.  In fact, at the same time that Goya was making The Disasters of War, he continued to paint portraits of Spanish and French rulers and generals in his role as court painter to the Spanish crown.  The underlying events that form the background for the prints were the Dos de Mayo uprising of 1808, the Peninsular War of 1808-1814, and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814. To make the prints, Goya used several different intaglio printmaking techniques, including etching, aquatint, engraving and drypoint, on copper plates. Scholars divide the prints into three thematic groups: Nos. 1-47 focus on the Peninsular war and its impact on soldiers and civilians; Nos. 48-64 address the 1811-1812 famine in Madrid, during the French occupation; and Nos. 65-82 criticize in allegorical fashion the Bourbon restoration, which, with the support of the Catholic Church, rejected Spain’s liberal 1812 constitution and other reforms. The six images above are taken from all three groups: (1) No. 3: Lo mismo (The same) shows an ax-wielding civilian about to cut off a soldier’s head (top row, left); (2) No. 18: Enterrar y callar (Bury them and keep quiet) shows an anguished couple amid a landscape strewn with dead bodies (top row, right); (3) No. 59: De qué sirve una taza? (What good is a cup?) shows a woman offering a cup to one of two starving women (middle row, left); (4) No. 62: Las camas de la muerte (The beds of death) depicts a shrouded woman walking past bodies awaiting burial (middle row, right); (5) No. 71: Contra el bien general (Against the common good) shows a winged devil sitting on a rock writing a book (bottow row, left); and (6) No. 80: Si resucitará? (Will she live again?) shows an allegorical figure symbolizing Truth lying unconscious before a mob of hooded monks while a masked figure beats the ground with a weapon (bottom row, right). Goya produced two albums of proofs but only one was complete.  He gave it to his friend Juan Agustín Ceán Bermúdez, and it is now in the British Museum in London.  The copper plates for the images, which passed from Goya to his son Javier, are now in the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid.  The first edition of 80 prints was published in 1863, of which 500 impressions were made.  Further editions of varying quality were made in 1892 (100 impressions); 1903 (100 impressions), 1906 (275 impressions), and 1937. Approximately 1000 prints have been made from each of the 80+ copper plates. 

402. The Hay Wain

Artist: John Constable
Date: 1821
Style/Period: Romanticism; UK; landscape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.3 ft. tall by 6.1 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK
Constable_The_Hay_Wain 2 When British painter John Constable presented his large Landscape: Noon at the 1821 Royal Academy summer exhibition, it failed to find a buyer and the English public were only mildly impressed. Constable, who grew up in the Suffolk countryside and had detailed personal knowledge of the English landscape and the implements of agriculture, painted with a realism and emotion that apparently offended those who preferred the idealized landscapes of Claude Lorrain and his school. He had the nerve to make a six-foot wide painting with no mythological, historical or religious figures – just ordinary farmers! “The great vice of the present day is bravura, an attempt to do something beyond the truth,” Constable once said. But French artist Théodore Géricault attended the 1821 exhibition and came away with the understanding that Constable was revolutionizing landscape painting with his dedication to realism and his fresh handling of color, texture, and light. (Constable’s study of the new science of meteorology is reflected in his skyscapes.) Three years later, Constable exhibited the same painting, renamed The Hay Wain, at the 1824 Paris Salon, where Delacroix saw it. Here in France, the work’s true beauty was recognized, and Charles X awarded The Hay Wain the exhibition’s Gold Medal. (Seeing Constable’s work in Paris also inspired the landscape painters who would become known as the Barbizon School.) In the painting, Constable depicts a large farm cart, or hay wain, crossing the River Stour, which forms the border between Suffolk and Essex counties (what is now called “Constable country”). The farmer may be stopping in the river to allow the water to cool the wheel rims, which would shrink under the hot sun. The painting style is rough – brush strokes are visible – but the elements of the composition, although they appear to show an actual scene, have been manipulated for the best effect. Although on the one hand, Constable is presenting a picturesque scene of his beloved English countryside, there are other themes: the effect of the Industrial Revolution on the agrarian lifestyle; finding one’s purpose through working with the land; the idea of England as an earthly paradise. Constable was keenly aware that those who viewed the painting in bustling London had less and less contact with this agrarian lifestyle. As was his practice, Constable made a full-sized oil sketch of the scene on site (the sketch, shown in the image below – is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London), and then returned to his London studio to paint the final work. Random Trivia: The farmer’s cottage at left still stands, although most of the trees are gone, and the spot is now a tourist attraction.

403. Portrait of a Woman Suffering from Obsessive Envy (Insane Woman; The Hyena)

Artist: Théodore Géricault
Date: c. 1822
Period/Style: Romanticism; Realism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.4 ft. tall by 1.9 ft. wide
Current location: Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons, France

Although the origin of Théodore Géricault’s series of portraits of mentally ill asylum patients is uncertain, it may have been intended to support two now-discredited psychiatric theories.  The first theory was “monomania”, the idea that certain individuals suffered from a singular fixation that led to aberrant, often delusional behavior.  Physician Jean-Etienne-Dominique Esquirol, whose clinical focus was monomania, made many sketches of patients in an attempt to learn more about the nature of their illnesses. Some of those sketches were on display at the Paris Salon of 1814, where Géricault may have seen them. The second theory was that the study of physiognomy – the physical features of a person’s skull and face – could reveal much information about their personality and even allow the diagnosis of mental disorders.  Étienne-Jean Georget, the chief physician of the Salpêtrière, the women’s asylum in Paris (and a protege of Esquirol’s), ascribed to both theories and he may have commissioned Géricault to make portraits of individuals with particular diagnoses as a way to support the idea that mental illness (as we now call “madness” and “insanity”) is written on the face of the sufferer. (Another theory is that Géricault offered to paint the works in return for Georget’s help with Géricault’s own struggles with his mental health.) Although there is no definitive proof that Georget commissioned the paintings, he did have them in his possession when he died.  All five existing paintings (there is some evidence that five more were made but are missing) are highly realistic, in three-quarter profile, with dark, non-descript backgrounds. In an essay, art historian Ben Pollitt notes, “Critics often remark on the painterly quality of the work, the extraordinary fluency of brushwork, in contrast with Géricault’s early more sculptural style, suggesting that the erratic brushwork is used to mirror the disordered thoughts of the patients.” Regarding the Woman Suffering from Obsessive Envy specifically, the curator of the Lyons museum comments, “By avoiding all hints of the picturesque, the artist has portrayed a true clinical likeness of this madwoman, thereby breaking with the traditional rules of portraiture.” Random Trivia: The four other extant portraits from the series are: A Man Suffering from Delusions of Military Command (Am Römerholz, Winterthur, Switzerland) (see image below left); A Child Snatcher (Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts) (see image below right); A Woman Addicted to Gambling (Musée du Louvre, Paris, France); and A Kleptomaniac (Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent).
 

404. The Sea of Ice (The Wreck of Hope)

Artist: Caspar David Friedrich
Date: 1823-1824
Period/Style: Romanticism; Germany
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.2 ft. tall by 4.2 ft. wide
Current location: Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany
Caspar_David_Friedrich_sea of ice When German landscape artist Caspar David Friedrich was 13, he went ice skating and fell through the ice into the frigid water.  Friedrich’s younger brother Christoph managed to save him, but then Christoph himself drowned before Caspar’s eyes. It is impossible to know if Friedrich’s childhood trauma had any influence on his painting The Sea of Ice, which imagines a shipwreck in the Arctic Sea (see first image above), but it is difficult to look at the jumbled mass of broken ice without thinking of Friedrich’s past. The Sea of Ice was painted in response to a commission by German art collector Johann Gottlob von Quandt, who asked Friedrich to create a painting on the subject of “Northern Nature in the whole of Her Terrifying Beauty.” Friedrich’s painting, which was originally titled An Idealized Scene of an Arctic Sea, with a Wrecked Ship on the Heaped Masses of Ice, was inspired by Sir William Edward Parry’s account of his failed 1819 attempt to find the Northwest Passage, although Parry did not lose any ships on the voyage. In The Sea of Ice, we see the mast and stern of the wrecked HMS Griper, one of Parry’s ships, barely visible in the center right of the canvas (see detail in image below). The dominant feature of the composition is the ice, piled up in massive sheets that jut at sharp angles into the sky like some prehistoric dolmen or pyramid.  While Friedrich had not been to the Arctic, he had made detailed winter sketches of the frozen Elbe River in Dresden. Some critics have interpreted the painting as a statement about nature’s rejection of man’s attempts to intrude on her or tame her.  It is worth noting that Friedrich places the viewer in the same position he was in at the age of 13: watching helplessly as the ice and cold, in their cruel inevitability, take another victim.  The Sea of Ice (also known as The Wreck of Hope) was considered too radical in composition and subject for Friedrich’s contemporaries and did not sell in Friedrich’s lifetime.

405. The Death of Sardanapalus

Artist: Eugène Delacroix (full name: Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix)
Date: 1827
Period/Style: Romanticism; France; history painting
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 12.1 ft. tall by 16.2 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
Delacroix_-_The_Death_of_Sardanapalus In Lord Byron’s 1821 play Sardanapalus, the last king of the ancient Assyrian Empire was at war with the Medes when he realized that he was facing imminent military defeat. To avoid the humiliation of capture or death at the hands of his foe, Sardanapalus decided to commit suicide by immolation. First, however, he ordered the destruction of all his worldly possessions, including the murder of his many slaves and concubines. French Romantic artist Eugène Delacroix’s Death of Sardanapalus depicts the chaotic scene in Sardanapalus’s lush private chambers as his orders are carried out. While the canvas is full of activity, two of the concubines stand out: one, in the lower right, is being stabbed in the chest by a bearded man in a turban; another, almost in the center, splays her nude upper body on the king’s bed in a last desperate plea for mercy. One man has a self-inflicted sword wound; another is attempting to kill a bejeweled horse. Sardanapalus, reclining near the top of the canvas in shadow, is nonplussed, his mind made up – he only watches and waits for his turn. Delacroix’s large canvas is a Romantic feast for the eyes. Full of bold, vivid colors (particularly red), exotic clothing and decoration (including the elephant heads at the foot of the bed), the painting is essentially tragic. To ensure the emotional reaction he seeks, Delacroix deliberately disorients the viewer: the only visible architecture is the wall on the right – there are no floors or ceilings to anchor us in a solid space. The composition, while carefully organized, has no clear symmetry and seems to pull in many directions at once; the lines of perspective too, are difficult to discern. Visible brushstrokes emphasize a sense of movement. The unsettling feeling induced in the viewer by the subject matter and the technique contrasts strongly with the numb, silent, motionless and emotionless figure who set all this chaos in motion, Sardanapalus. At first glance, The Death of Sardanapalus appears to depict the death of everyone but the titular king. But maybe Delacroix’s title is telling us that, in a way, Sardanapalus is already dead.

406. Liberty Leading the People

Artist: Eugène Delacroix
Date: 1830
Period/Style: Romanticism; France; history painting
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 8.3 ft. tall by 10.7 ft. wide
Current location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
liberty leading In July 1830, furious with tyrannical acts by French king Charles X, the people of France rose up against their government. After three days of fighting, the king abdicated, to be replaced by Louis-Philippe, who promised to be a constitutional monarch. The events stirred Eugène Delacroix, who was there in Paris during the tumultuous events, to put aside his historical works and address contemporary history. “Although I may not have fought for my country,” he told a friend, “at least I shall have painted for her.” In Liberty Leading the People, we see an allegorical figure of Liberty leading a band of revolutionaries over a government barricade. She carries the tricolor flag of the revolutionaries (which remains the French flag today) and a musket with bayonet, and wears a Phrygian cap. (In ancient times, such caps were given to freed slaves; at the time of the 1789 French revolution, they came to symbolize freedom generally.) Among the band of fighters are representatives of various walks of life: a working class man with a sabre and a beret; a member of the bourgeoisie, with his top hat and coat, carrying his hunting rifle; and two students, one a student of Ecole Polytechnique (wearing a Bonapartist cocked hat), the other carrying his school bag and brandishing two pistols. (This latter figure, who stands next to Liberty, may have been Victor Hugo’s inspiration for the character Gavroche in Les Misérables.) Beneath the living lie the dead – members of both sides, including government soldiers. In the background, one can just make out a tricolor flag being raised on one of the towers of Notre Dame. Delacroix uses the free brush strokes that characterize the Romantic style to create a sense of energy and forward movement; on the other hand, the work’s pyramidal composition is almost classical in its sense of balance and proportion. The large painting was immensely popular and Louis-Philippe’s government purchased it to display in the palace as a sign of his solidarity with those who put him in power. But when further civil unrest occurred two years later, the king had the painting returned to Delacroix on strict orders that it not be displayed publicly, for fear that it would encourage another revolution. The painting remained in hiding until the revolution of 1848, when it was brought out again, only to be banned again. It finally found its way to the Louvre in the 1870s, where it enjoys a place of honor in the same room as The Death of Sardanapalus and other Delacroix history paintings.

407. Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji

Artist: Katsuskika Hokusai
Date: 1831 (first edition of 36 prints); 1833 (second edition of 46 prints)
Period/Style: Edo Period; Japan; ukiyo-e (“pictures of the floating world”)
Medium: Polychrome paper prints from carved woodblocks
Dimensions: Each print is 10.1 in. tall by 14.9 in. wide
Current locations: Various collections
The_Great_Wave_off_Kanagawa 2hokusai Red_Fuji_southern_wind_clear_morning Edo Period Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai revolutionized the artistic genre of ukiyo-e (“pictures of the floating world”). Prior to Hokusai, ukiyo-e prints primarily depicted two subjects: courtesans and Kabuki theater actors. Hokusai expanded the genre immensely to include landscapes, wildlife and views of daily life in the cities and the countryside. Hokusai fused traditional Japanese painting technique, with its unique perspective system, with lessons learned from Dutch art (mostly prints from engravings) that had been smuggled into Japan during the 18th and early 19th Centuries, such as the adoption of a low horizon line. At 69 years old, Hokusai began his most famous series of woodblock prints: Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. Mt. Fuji, which was visible from many parts of Japan, had important religious and mythological significance in Japanese culture. Hokusai shows the mountain is a variety of settings and seasons; sometimes it is the main feature of the composition, but more often it is a small element in the far distance. The series serves not only as a travelogue of Japanese sights, but also a careful observation of the details of daily life in 19th Century Japan. The first 36 prints were published in 1831; they were so popular that Hokusai printed 10 additional views in the second edition in 1833. The most famous of the original 36 prints is The Great Wave off Kanagawa, which shows three boats being threatened by a large wave (top image). The boats pictured are oshiokuri-bune, fast boats used to transport live fish to market. Each boat has eight rowers and two other passengers. Based on the typical size of such boats and Hokusai’s reduction of the vertical scale by 30%, scholars have estimated the height of the wave to be 32-39 feet. Mount Fuji is seen in the trough of the wave, and appears to be about to be engulfed. Other popular prints include South Wind, Clear Sky (also known as Red Fuji), which shows the mountain turned red from the early dawn light (see image above, middle left), and Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit, with its red streak of lightning (see image above, middle right). Among the more intriguing prints in the series is Mount Fuji Reflected in Lake Kawaguchi, seen from the Misaka Pass: the mountain’s reflection has a snow cap, while the actual mountain does not (see image above, bottom). Is this the mountain as we imagine it? Or as it imagines itself? The popularity of the subject was so great that Hokusai himself published 100 Views of Mount Fuji in 1835. In 1852, another ukiyo-e artist, Hiroshige, revisited the idea with his own Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. Random Trivia: Canadian art photographer Jeff Wall recreated No. 10 in the series, Ejiri in Suruga Province (see below left) as A Sudden Gust of Wind (1993) (see below right).
Hokusai Ejiri_in_the_Suruga_province  

408. Rue Transnonain, le 15 de Avril 1834

Artist: Honoré Daumier
Date: 1834
Period/Style: Romanticism; Realism; France
Medium: Lithographic prints
Dimensions: The image is 11.25 inches tall by 17.4 inches wide on a larger paper sheet.
Current location: Various collections
daumier print Honoré Daumier was well known in France for his caricatures of high society elites, and satirical representations of the justice system and the art world, but his lithographic print Rue Transnonain, le 15 de Avril 1834 was the most anti-establishment image yet, and the establishment was not pleased. In April 1834, a series of successively more repressive French laws – particularly a law restricting the formation of labor unions – brought the working classes out to protest en masse.  After a sniper’s bullet killed a police officer on April 14, the authorities retaliated on April 15 with a series of gruesome murders, such as those represented in Daumier’s lithograph. The power of the image comes in part from the initial impression that the man in the center wearing nightclothes is sleeping. A second glance makes its clear that this is a tragic scene of death: the blood stains, the unnatural position of his nightshirt, and – most horrifying of all – the small child, possibly the man’s son, lying dead beneath him. The print was published in L’Association Mensuelle, leading the government to confiscate copies of the magazine and eventually close it down. The police also confiscated the lithographic stone used to make the prints.

409. La Marseillaise (The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792)

Artist: François Rude
Date: Begun in 1833; completed in 1836.
Period/Style: Neoclassical (with elements of Romanticism)
Medium: Limestone sculpture placed on exterior of triumphal arch
Dimensions: 41.9 feet tall
Current location: Arc de Triomphe, Paris
rude le marseillase
The Arc de Triomphe was originally ordered by Napoleon Bonaparte to celebrate his military victory at Austerlitz in 1806, but construction halted when the anti-Napoleonic Bourbons restored the monarchy in 1815 and it wasn’t actually completed until after the July Revolution of 1830, when Louis Philippe, Duke of Orléans replaced King Charles X, ending the Bourbon Restoration. (The Arc, which is based on the Arch of Titus in Rome, was designed by Neoclassical artist Jean Chalgrin.) Louis Philippe dedicated the Arc to all those who fought for France in the Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Wars that followed. The four sculptures adorning the base of the Arc indicate a desire to appease several opposing political factions: (1) The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792 (commonly referred to as La Marseillaise) by François Rude, which celebrates the rising up of the French against the monarchy and foreign invaders during a crucial period of the French Revolution (see top below); (2) Jean-Pierre Cortot’s Triumph of 1810, showing a victorious Napoleon and celebrating the Treaty of Schönbrunn (see image below left); (3) Resistance, by Antoine Étex, which honors the French under Napoleon who fought and lost the War of the Sixth Coalition in 1814 (see image below right); and (4) Peace, also by Antoine Étex, which celebrates the end of Napoleon and the rise of the Bourbons through the Treaty of Paris in 1815.  Of the four sculptures, the most highly regarded is that of François Rude. A semicircle of French volunteer soldiers curves around from left to right, while the allegorical figure of Winged Victory stands above them. The sculpture is organized along two sets of symmetries – one dividing the fighters below from Victory above, and the other bisecting the group lengthwise, from Victory’s face down between the two soldiers in the center.  At the intersection of these axes is the focal point where the two soldiers look up and realize that Victory is on their side.
SONY DSC  Resistance Arc_de_Triomphe,_la_Résistance_de_1814,_Antoine_Etex

410. The Fighting Temeraire

Artist: J.M.W. Turner
Date: 1839
Period/Style: Romanticism; England; seascape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3 ft. tall by 4 ft. wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK
Turner_-_The_'Fighting_Temeraire' In 1838, John Mallord Willliam Turner was 64 years old and had been exhibiting his paintings at the Royal Academy for 50 years. He had been a patriotic 30-year-old when Admiral Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, with the help of a ship called the Temeraire, later called The Fighting Temeraire. Imagine Turner’s feelings when he learned that the Royal Navy had sold the Temeraire for scrap and was having it towed on its last voyage from one shipyard to another. The result of this event (which Turner may or may not have witnessed) is a painting Turner titled, The ‘Fighting Temeraire’ Tugged to Her Last Berth to Be Broken Up, 1838, but which is usually referred to as The Fighting Temeraire. On the left side, Turner portrays the towing of the ship as a symbol of what one critic called the “demise of heroic strength.” He shows the sailing ship in ghostly white being tugged (the first known use of this word in a maritime sense) by an ugly, smoke-belching steam-powered vessel. Turner frames the Temeraire and several other sailing vessels in a triangle of blue. Balancing the ships on the right is a glorious sunset, symbolically echoing the sunset of the Temeraire’s career, and era of the great sailing ships of the British Navy. While Turner paints the ships meticulously, he uses thick, easy brushstrokes for the sunset in both the sky above and river below, where the dark red of the sun’s rays echoes the tugboat’s smoke. The Fighting Temeraire, was a favorite of Turner’s; her referred to the painting as “my darling” and never sold it. In his will, he gave the painting to his country; it is now in the National Gallery in London.  Random Trivia: In 2005, BBC Radio 4 listeners voted The Fighting Temeraire their favorite painting of all time.  

411. The Slave Ship

Artist: J.M.W. Turner
Date: 1840
Period/Style: Romanticism; England; seascape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.9 ft. tall by 4 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
turner the slave ship Turner’s original title for The Slave Ship was Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On. The painting illustrates the story of the slave ship Zong, which in 1781 encountered a typhoon. In order to collect insurance payments for enslaved people who were “lost at sea”, the captain threw 133 dead and dying human beings into the sea. With the ship in the background, Turner focuses our attention on the human-made misery in the foreground, as the abandoned people – those who are still alive – struggle in the heaving waves. For Frederick Hartt, “The ship itslelf, the occasional figures, and the fish feasting on corpses in the foreground were obviously painted at great speed only after the real work, the movement of fiery waves of red, brown, gold, and cream, had been brought to completion.” The Museum of Fine Arts curator comments, “Turner captures the horror of the event and the terrifying grandeur of nature through hot, churning color and light that merge sea and sky.”

412. Snow Storm: Steamboat off a Harbour’s Mouth

Artist. J.M.W. Turner
Date: 1842
Period/Style: Romanticism; UK; landscape/seascape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3 ft. tall by 4 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Britain, London, England, UK
turner snow stormThe landscape paintings of English Romantic artist Joseph Mallord William Turner, especially those made in his later years, have little in common with traditional landscape art. Instead of bucolic scenes of rural serenity, Turner’s landscapes are full of motion, even chaos. Such is the case with his Snow Storm: Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, from 1842.  Turner claimed that he had himself tied to the mast of a ship (at the age of 67) to find out what a storm at sea was like. Whether or not the story is true, Turner has certainly captured in this portrait of a storm-tossed ship (named the Ariel) the essence of man’s inability to overcome the wild power of the natural world. The composition consists of swirls of wind-driven storm clouds and waves that create a vortex, at the center of which, in a pocket of light, is a struggling ship, its white sail a beacon amid the dark forces that surround it. Turner, whose early work as a watercolorist informed his oil painting, used light brush strokes and a muted palette to achieve this dramatic effect, which would inspire the Impressionists later in the 19th Century. Unfortunately, most contemporary critics (with the exception of the brilliant John Ruskin) were befuddled by the work, one even asking “where the steam-boat is – where the harbor begins, or where it ends.” Another famously called it “soapsuds and whitewash.” Only after Turner’s death was the importance of his later works fully appreciated. Random Trivia: Turner’s original title for the piece was a mouthful: Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth Making Signals in Shallow Water, and Going by the Lead. The Author was in this Storm on the Night the Ariel Left Harwick.

413. Rain, Steam and Speed: The Great Western Railway

Artist: J.M.W. Turner
Date: 1844
Period/Style: Romanticism; UK; landscape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3 ft. tall by 4 ft wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK
Turner_-_Rain,_Steam_and_SpeedThe Romantics were known for their worship of nature and spirit; they were generally skeptical of technology and what others called ‘progress.’ So when English painter Joseph Mallord William Turner debuted Rain, Steam and Speed: The Great Western Railway in 1844, he raised a few eyebrows. Many interpreted the work as a tribute to the power and energy of the new railway technology. Others, spotting a hare running for its life on the bridge (impossible to see in most reprints), see a more critical (or perhaps equivocal) message about the impacts of the railway on traditional ways of life. (Turner had previously used the imagery of a hare being chased in at least two prior works, Battle Abbey; the Spot Where Harold Fell (1810s) and Apollo and Daphne (1837). he portraBy engulfing the scene in rain and smoke, Turner creates a hazy, abstract quality at first glance. Upon closer inspection, many details emerge: the hare, the passengers (some wearing top hats) sitting in the open passenger cars of the train, the railroad bridge (identified as the Isambard Brunel-designed Maidenhead Railway Bridge on the Thames), the Thames itself, a fishing boat, a second bridge for carriages, a farmer ploughing his field and locals lining the river bank to cheer the still-novel locomotive. Random Trivia: See below for a photo of the Argus. a Great Westerm Railway locomotive built in 1842.

414. Fur Traders Descending the Missouri

Artist: George Caleb Bingham
Date: 1845
Period/Style: Hudson River School; Luminism; US
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.4 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide
Current location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
fur traders Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham, who was best known in his day as a painter of portraits, is now remembered for an atypical genre painting depicting a man, a boy and an animal in a canoe. Ever since he was a boy, Bingham had spent a great deal of time watching boats on the Missouri River. In 1845, when he came to New York City after a winter stay in central Missouri with a number of paintings and sketches to sell at the American Art Union, one of them was Fur Traders Descending the Missouri. The work depicts a French trader and his son in a dugout canoe containing a pile of furs, a dead duck and an animal on a leash. The older man wears a Phrygian liberty cap (popular during the time of the French Revolution) and glares at the viewer. His son, with the rifle that presumably shot the duck, is smiling. (Bingham called the painting French Trader and Half-Breed Son, but the American Art-Union thought some might be offended, and changed the titled.) The style is known as Luminism, an offshoot of the Hudson River School, and is characterized by attention to detail, focus on the effects of light, aerial perspective, a lack of visible brushstrokes, calm and tranquil scenes, and reflective water. Although the water must be moving, it gives no appearance of doing so – the river could just as easily be a sheet of ice. The entire scene appears still and placid and there is a mild, even light over everything. The dominant horizontals are broken here and there by a number of snags that are visible sticking out of the water and almost appear to be hemming the canoe in. As for the leashed animal, there is furious debate about its identity. Most lay viewers believe it is a cat, but most art historians have concluded that it is a bear cub. One website makes a strong case that it is a black fox, which had the most valuable fur of all (see photo of black fox below). Don’t be fooled into thinking that Bingham’s subject is historically accurate, however. The painting is nostalgic, not realistic; by 1845, the days of solo fur traders was over and large companies had taken over the trade. Bingham’s canvas returns the viewer to that rougher pioneer period and that more romantic lifestyle.
black fox

415. The Stone Breakers

Artist: Gustave Courbet
Date: 1849
Period/Style: Realism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 5.4 ft tall by 8.4 ft wide
Current location: The painting was destroyed in 1945 in an Allied bombing raid.
Courbet stonebreakers Formerly in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden, Courbet’s The Stone Breakers was destroyed during an Allied bombing raid in 1945. The scene is one of two impoverished peasants breaking rocks along the side of a road; Courbet is recreating an actual scene he observed, which he described in a letter as “the most complete expression of poverty.” Courbet does not idealize, glorify or sentimentalize the two men – one old and one young – but presents their dirty, torn clothes and leathery skin as he saw them, with a roughness in the painting style that was unusual at the time. Instead of spending more time and energy on faces and hands, as was the custom, Courbet applies the same level of attention to every aspect of the painting.  Beth Harris and Stephen Zucker comment: “This is not meant to be heroic: it is meant to be an accurate account of the abuse and deprivation that was a common feature of mid-century French rural life.”

416. Ploughing in the Nivernais

Artist: Rosa Bonheur
Date: 1849
Period/Style: Realism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.3 ft. tall by 8.3 ft. wide
Current location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
Was French Realist painter Rosa Bonheur’s Ploughing in the Nivernais inspired by the opening scene in George Sand’s 1846 novel La Mare au Diable, which describes oxen plowing a field? No one knows for sure. The painting, which was commissioned by the French government and won a medal at the Paris Salon of 1849, stars two teams of Charolais oxen; the humans accompanying them play minor roles (see detail in image below). This is the autumn sombrage, which opens up the farmland to aerate the soil during the winter.  The curator of the Musée d’Orsay comments that the painting is “a hymn to agricultural labor, whose grandeur was magnified because, in these post-revolutionary days, it was easy to contrast with the corruption of the city. It is also tribute to provincial regions – here the Nivernais, with its agricultural traditions and rural landscapes.” Random Trivia: Not only was Rosa Bonheur a famous and successful woman artist, she was also a lesbian who was relatively open (for the time) about her sexual orientation. She lived with her first partner, Nathalie Micas, for over 40 years until Micas’ death, and later began a relationship with the American painter Anna Elizabeth Klumpke.

417. Ophelia

Artist: John Everett Millais
Date: 1851-1852
Period/Style: Pre-Raphaelite; UK
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.5 ft tall by 3.7 ft. wide
Current location: Tate Britain, London, England, UK
Millais OpheliaIn Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia goes mad after Hamlet kills Ophelia’s father, Polonius. While she is gathering flowers by the river, a branch snaps and she falls into the water. Instead of trying to save herself, she sings “snatches of old tunes” while her dress fills with water and drags her under to her death. English Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais chose to paint Ophelia afloat in the river in the act of singing, hands aloft, “as if incapable of her own distress,” in Shakespeare’s words. To do so, he found a spot along the Hogsmill River in the County of Surrey that approximately matched the description in Hamlet. He then painted the landscape, up to 11 hours a day, six days a week, for five months in 1851. In the process, he confronted insects, wind, cold and even a farmer who said Millais was trespassing and called the police. The result was a brilliantly colorful and botanically accurate depiction of the riverbank. He then brought the picture to his studio, where his model (and future wife) 19-year-old Elizabeth Siddal, put on an elaborate silvered gown that Millais had bought and lay in a heated bathtub while Millias painted his Ophelia in the Hogsmill. The resulting work was not immediately accepted as a masterpiece, although it has since developed almost iconic status. Ophelia was made consistent with the principles of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, of which Millais was a founding member: it contains abundant detail, intense colors and a complex composition, and it acknowledges that mimesis, or imitation of nature, is central to art’s purpose. The Pre-Raphaelites despised the brown tones that prevailed in many Academic-style landscapes, and one of their most important technical innovations was to replace the dark background such as bitumen used by most artists with a white ground, or even a wet, white ground, to bring out a shimmering brilliance in their colors, as seen particularly in the greens of Ophelia.

418. The Last of England

Artist: Ford Madox Brown
Date: 1852-1855
Period/Style: Pre-Raphaelite; England
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide
Current location: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, England, UK
Brown the last of england In 1852, 350,000 emigrants left England for other lands, setting a record. Pre-Raphaelite godfather Ford Madox Brown painted The Last of England after his friend sculptor Thomas Woolner left for Australia. Brown himself was considering a move. The middle-class couple in the oval painting are modeled on Brown and his wife Emma. They sit in the rear of a boat with blank faces as they leave England behind, in hopes of finding Eldorado, as the lifeboat promises. An infant is nestled in Emma’s shawl; her large pink ribbon, tossed by the wind, connects her with her husband (as does the baby: she holds its hand, while he holds its foot and her hand). Their umbrella, which offers little protection against the wind and waves, frames the family on the right. Behind them, we see a steamboat passing beneath the white cliffs of Dover. Ford wrote a poem to go with the painting; it concludes: “…She grips his listless hand and clasps her child,/Through rainbow tears she sees a sunnier gleam,/She cannot see a void where he will be.” To mimic the cold weather on the boat, Brown painted outside in his garden. Random Trivia: Brown painted another version of the scene in 1860 with a different color scheme but otherwise nearly identical in composition. The later painting is located in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England (see image below).

419. The Gleaners

Artist: Jean-Francois Millet
Date: 1857
Period/Style: Realism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.75 ft. tall by 3.7 ft. wide
Current location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris
gleanersJean-François Millet was one of a group of like-minded French painters who became known as Realists. Reacting against the idealism of the Romantics, the Realists eschewed fantasy and believed in creating art that represented reality as they saw it. In the hands of Millet, Realism meant painting the poor rural and urban workers who sustained the economies of Europe. The Gleaners shows three anonymous peasant women near sunset in a just-harvested field who are exercising their right to glean, that is, to collect grain left behind after the harvesters have worked the field. Millet contrasts their lonely, back-straining work with the wealth and abundance of the landlord farmer, shown in the background. The contrast is emphasized with the lighting: bright sunshine lights the harvesters and their huge piles of grain, while the gleaners (whose outlines do not cross the horizon line) are in shadow. The effect of the late afternoon light on their shabbily-clad bodies is to turn them into three-dimensional sculptures, emphasizing the dignity of their difficulty labor. Millet made many sketches of the gleaners he saw near his home in Barbizon for seven years before creating this oil painting. The critics savaged The Gleaners: to the upper classes, drawing attention to the poverty of the lower classes (who far outnumbered them) was inviting a Socialist uprising; for the bourgeoisie, unkempt peasant women were not a proper subject for art. As time passed, however, the painting proved inspirational, inspiring many similar tributes to the working poor, including French filmmaker Agnes Varda’s documentation of modern salvagers in The Gleaners and I (2000).

420. Cotopaxi

Artist: Frederic Edwin Church
Date: 1862
Period/Style: Hudson River School; Luminism; US
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4 ft. tall by 7 ft. wide
Current location: Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan, US
Cotopaxi American landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church studied under Thomas Cole of the Hudson River School, but unlike other members of the school, Church wandered far from home to find subjects, from Arctic icebergs to ruins in Syria, and volcanoes in South America. Cotopaxi is a volcano in Ecuador that was particularly active during the mid-19th Century. In 1855 and 1857, Church painted the mountain as a sleeping giant, with a snowy peak. (His 1855 painting of the peak is in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas – see image below). His 1862 version lets out all the stops, showing the volcano as it erupts, sending a plume of black smoke and ash to dim the setting sun. Critics have pointed out contrasting elements coexisting in the painting’s world: hot and cold, calm and turbulent, light and dark. Despite Cotopaxi’s fury, the sunshine continues to illuminate the relatively peaceful scene in the foreground. Some have ascribed religious meaning to the work: despite the attempts of the forces of evil to conquer the world, God’s light will continue to shine, providing a beacon of hope in the darkness. Given that Church painted Cotopaxi in 1861-1862, the painting may also refer to the cataclysm of the American Civil War that was erupting back home.

421. The Third-Class Carriage

Artist: Honoré Daumier
Date: The initial watercolor is dated 1862. The two oil paintings are dated 1862-1865.
Period/Style: Realism; France
Medium: (1) watercolor, ink wash and charcoal on paper; (2) and (3): oil paints on canvas. Also prints from engravings.
Dimensions: (1) 8 in. tall by 11.6 in. wide; (2) and (3) 2.1 ft. tall by 2.9 ft. wide Current locations: (1) Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland; (2) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; (3) National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Prints in various collections.
Daumier the_third_class_carriage Honoré Daumier made his living by making prints, usually of a satirical nature, that were published in a variety of publications, but he also aspired to be taken seriously as a painter. Quite a few of his prints depicted life on the newest mode of transportation – the railroad. In 1856, Daumier published a satirical print with the French caption “Voyageurs appréciant de moins en moins les wagons de troisième classe pendant l’hiver” (Passengers are showing less and less appreciation for traveling in the third class carriage in winter) (see second image above). After seeing the print, American art collector Henry Walters commissioned Daumier to create paintings on the theme of railroad travel. Daumier painted a series of three watercolors: (1) The First Class Carriage, (2) The Second Class Carriage and (3) The Third Class CarriageThe Third Class Carriage (see image below left), with its depiction of the least well-off travelers, is the most highly-regarded of the series. All three watercolors, are now in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. At some point before or after creating the watercolors for Walters, Daumier made two attempts at expanding The Third Class Carriage into a larger oil painting. The most well-known version, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is thought to be unfinished (see top image above). A similarly-sized oil painting at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa appears to be more complete (see image below right). All three versions of The Third Class Carriage focus our attention on four people – apparently a family and clearly not well off financially – sitting on the hard bench of a third-class railroad car: a old woman, an adult woman nursing an infant, and a sleeping young boy. The treatment of the subject – in contrast to the print that inspired them – is somber and sympathetic, but with enough realism to avoid veering into sentimentality.
 Daumier The_Third_Class_Carriage Walters Daumier third class carriage canada

422. Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe (Luncheon on the Grass)

Artist: Édouard Manet
Date: 1863
Period/Style: Realism; Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.8 ft. tall by 8.7 ft. wide
Current location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
dejeuner l'herbeÉdouard Manet is a pivotal figure in the history of French painting as his unique style and subject matter moved beyond Realism and into Impressionism. Yet Manet was neither a Realist nor an Impressionist; he was sui generis, and he was not afraid of stirring up controversy. In 1863, two of Manet’s paintings drew fire from traditionalists. The first was Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon in the Grass), which was considered obscene by many contemporaries. This large enigmatic canvas shows four figures in a wooded landscape: two women and two men. One of the women is set far back, as if in another painting, and is bathing while wearing a silky gown. The two men are fully clothed and engaged in conversation. The second woman – who sits with the two men and stares directly at the viewer – is completely nude. (Her clothes may be in the pile next to the still life of a picnic lunch.) There is no indication that the subject is historical, Biblical, or mythological; the scene appears to be fully contemporary, but no explanation is given for the nudity. The 1863 Paris Salon rejected the painting, so Manet exhibited the canvas at the protest exhibition known as the Salon des Refusés. Manet’s utterly new and modern composition consciously relies on more traditional antecedents. He borrowed the grouping of the figures from the lower right side of Marcantonio Raimondi’s engraving of Raphael’s drawing The Judgment of Paris (see image below left). While there is precedent for a group of two men in modern clothing with nude women in Titian’s The Pastoral Concert (see image below right), in that case the nudes are clearly depicted as mythic or heavenly beings, not mere mortals. The idea of a nude woman sitting together with two clothed men in a contemporary setting was scandalous to mid-Nineteenth Century viewers, who would assume that she was a prostitute. Some art historians see The Luncheon on the Grass as Manet’s attempt to upset the establishment and expand the narrow limits of acceptable subjects for painting. But this interpretation fails to account for other puzzling aspects of the work, particularly with regard to the bathing woman. She appears to be lit differently than the rest of the figures, and she is out of proportion, violating the laws of perspective. These oddities have spawned multiple theories. The one I find most convincing is set out in the website everypainterpaintshimself.com. The website author suggests that this scene originally took place in the artist’s studio. A woman modeled for the bather (note that the original title of the painting was The Bath) and when the painting session was finished, she took a break to have lunch with the painter and his friend, removing the silky gown (a prop from the studio) in the process. What we are looking at is the painting of the woman in the background and the luncheoners in the foreground. But Manet decided to place the entire scene outdoors and disguise the true nature of the bather (it is a painting, not a real person). If true, this interpretation raises many fascinating issues about the nature of painted reality vs. actual reality, the relationship between the artist and the model, and the relationship between the participants in the creative process (artist and model) and the viewer.
raimondi judgment of paris  pastoral concert

423. Olympia

Artist: Édouard Manet
Date: 1863
Period/Style: Realism; Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.3 ft. tall by 6.2 ft. wide
Current location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
manet olympia French artist Édouard Manet sought to challenge the prevailing artistic convention that the only subjects worth painting on a large scale were mythological, Biblical or historical. Like the Realists, he thought ordinary life was worthy of artistic representation. To make his point, he took the idea of the classical nude – typified by Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538) and converted it into a scene of contemporary life. The result was Olympia – a painting he exhibited at the 1865 Paris Salon and which provoked outrage. He posed his frequent model Victorine Meurent as a well-to-do courtesan named Olympia (a common name for Parisian prostitutes), who confronts the viewer with a bold stare, ignoring a maid bringing her flowers (a gift from a patron, no doubt). Meurent, who also appeared in Luncheon on the Grass, was well known in Parisian art circles and was herself an accomplished painter. Because Manet refused to idealize the nude figure and instead personalized her as a woman of the world boldly confronting us with her gaze, he forces the viewer to confront her raw sexuality, and not some high-minded allegory of Beauty. French author and critic Émile Zola appeared to grasp Manet’s purpose when he wrote at the time: “When our artists give us Venuses, they correct nature, they lie. Édouard Manet asked himself why lie, why not tell the truth; he introduced us to Olympia, this fille of our time, whom you meet on the sidewalks.” Unlike Titian’s Venus, whose hand coyly invites us, Manet’s Olympia uses her hand to block access (you must pay to play). Instead of Titian’s dog (symbol of marital fidelity), Manet gives us a black cat, symbol of mystical sexuality and nocturnal promiscuity. The figure of the black maid was portrayed by Laure, an art model who appears in several of Manet’s paintings. Her blackness contrasts with the pale whiteness of the nude woman; she would also have invoked a sense of the exotic, recalling paintings of odalisques in foreign settings. (Modern scholars have explored the racist underpinnings of this and other representations of black women as servants and other peripheral figures.) Manet is not only challenging the prevailing conventions in his choice of subject matter, however. His style is also revolutionary. By reducing perspective and presenting the figures in a flat plane against a dark background, by painting with broad, loose brushstrokes, reducing modeling and painting with large flat patches of color, Manet is anticipating modernism, which eventually rejected the idea that the purpose of “good” painting was to create the illusion of three-dimensionality on a two-dimensional surface. Random Trivia: Yasumasa Morimura’s Portrait (1988) engages in a dialogue with Manet’s Olympia by replacing the central figure with a nude man (the artist himself), among other changes (see second image). Morimura has recreated numerous works of art as ironic self-portraits that challenge underlying assumptions about those works.

424. Power Figures (N’kisi N’kondi; Nail Figures)

Artists: Unknown
Dates: c. 1864-1920
Period/Style: Kongo culture; Democratic Republic of Congo/Angola
Medium: Wooden figures with iron nails and other elements such as glass, ceramics, metal, resin, pigment, and natural fibers
Dimensions: The figures range in height from less than 16 inches to nearly 4 ft.
Current location: Various collections
nkisi nkondi berlin  nkisi nkondi female figure
nkisi nkondi figure Brooklyn_Museum  Nkisi_Nkondi,_Congo,_c._1880-1920
At least as far back as the 16th Century, religious leaders of the Kongo peoples (including the Yombe and Vili groups), who lived in what is now Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola in Central Africa, utilized carved figures known as N’kisi N’kondi to aid their people with their spiritual and physical needs. The figures were carved in the shape of human beings, usually but not always male, and were used to protect the community, prove guilt or innocence, heal sickness, end disasters, take revenge, settle legal disputes, and witness and record vows, treaties and other agreements. The figures obtained their supernatural power from medicinal substances (called bilongo) deposited into cavities carved into the head or stomach of the statue. The nganga (religious specialists) who commissioned the figures and supervised the artists who made them often used reflective glass for the eyes and medicine cavity covers, through which the spirits (n’kisi) of the dead could see potential enemies. When a particular result was achieved or agreement reached, the parties would drive a sharp object into the figure. Beginning in the 1860s, after Europeans brought iron nails to Africa, nails were hammered into the figures to commemorate each important act. The figures’ mouths are usually open to allow them speak the truth, and their expressions, stances and gestures are usually aggressive, to alert viewers that they have the potential to hunt down wrongdoers. (The word ‘nkondi’ comes from the verb ‘to hunt.’). Nineteenth Century Christian missionaries would confiscate and destroy the power figures in an attempt to foster conversion, but after the turn of the century, scholars, anthropologists and art historians began to appreciate the artistic quality and cultural significance of these important objects. Some scholars believe that the tradition migrated with enslaved Africans to the West Indies, where the figures evolved into voodoo dolls and other objects with mystical importance. Six examples are shown:
(1) male figure, made by Yombe people in present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo with wood, iron and ceramic; measuring 3.8 ft. tall, late 19th century-1904, now in the Ethnological Museum in Berlin (top row left above);
(2) female figure, made by Vili people, late 19th Century, now in the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama (top row right above);
(3) male figure, made by Kongo people in what is now Democratic Republic of Congo, with wood, iron, glass mirror, resin and pigment, measuring 2.8 ft. tall by 1.1 ft. wide by 0.9 ft. deep, now in the Brooklyn Museum in, New York (second row left above);
(4) male figure, from what is now Democratic Republic of Congo, c. 1880-1920, now in the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (second row right above);
(5) male figure, made by Kongo people in present-day Democratic Republic of Congo with wood, natural fibers, nails, glass and metal, measuring 15.75 in. tall, 9.75 in. wide, 7.25 in. deep, early 20th century, now at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in Minnesota (image at left below); and
(6) male figure, made by Kongo people in present-day Democratic Republic of Congo or Angola with wood, paint, metal, resin and ceramic, measuring 3.9 ft. tall, late 19th Century, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (image at right below).
71.3  Nkisi_NKondi_Mangaaka

425. Orpheus

Artist: Gustave Moreau
Date: 1865
Period/Style: Symbolism; France; mythological
Medium: Oil paints on wood panels
Dimensions: 5 ft. tall by 3.3 ft. wide
Current location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Like many of his fellow Symbolists, French painter Gustave Moreau was fascinated by the story of Orpheus. According to Greek myth, the gifted musician Orpheus enticed the Maenads (worshippers of Bacchus) with his music, but then refused their amorous advances. In their anger, they tore him apart and threw his head and lyre into a river. In his Orpheus, Moreau added an epilogue of his own devising, in which a Thracian girl retrieves the head of Orpheus and his lyre from the river. In Moreau’s imagined scene, the girl gazes at the face of the dead Orpheus, which is strangely similar to her own, in a bizarre landscape reminiscent of some Italian Renaissance backgrounds. Music-playing shepherds perch improbably on a huge rock formation at upper left (see detail in image below), balanced by a pair of turtles promenading in the lower right near the girl’s bare feet, a possible reference to the legend that a turtle’s shell was used to make the first lyre. The entire image is suffused with a yellowish twilight haze. Some critics have attributed the painting’s dreamlike imagery to the artist’s opium-fueled hallucinations. Orpheus (also known as The Head of Orpheus and Thracian Girl Carrying the Head of Orpheus) is now located at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.  Random Trivia: As a model for the head of Orpheus, Moreau used a cast of the face of Michelangelo’s Dying Slave (1513-1516), which is at the Louvre in Paris.

426. The Execution of Emperor Maximilian

Artist: Édouard Manet
Date: 1867-1869
Period/Style: Realism; France; history painting
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: There are four oil paintings of various sizes, including a preparatory sketch 1.6 ft. tall by 1.9 ft. wide; an unfinished version 6.4 ft. tall by 8.5 ft. wide; a reassembled version that is 6.3 ft. tall by 9.3 ft. wide; and a completed intact version that is 8.3 ft. tall by 10 ft. wide.
Current location: Kunsthalle Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany (completed intact version); National Gallery, London, England, UK (dismantled and reassembled version); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts (unfinished version); Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek, Copenhagen, Denmark (preparatory oil sketch). Paper prints of the lithograph may be found in various collections. Manet execution Manet_-_L'execution_de_Maximilien_(London)  Manet,_The_Execution_of_Emperor_Maximilian,_1867 MFA The Execution of Emperor Maximilian is a painting by French artist Édouard Manet of a contemporary political event. In 1861, Mexican President Benito Juárez imposed a two-year moratorium on loan-interest payments to French, British and Spanish creditors. This action led the Second French Empire under Napoleon III to invade Mexico, depose Juárez, and place Maximilian, the son of Archduke Franz Karl of Austria and Princess Sophie of Bavaria, on the throne as Emperor of Mexico. Forces loyal to Juárez and the Mexican Republic fought a continual civil war, and when France withdrew its troops in 1866, Maximilian’s empire collapsed. On June 19, 1867, the victorious republicans executed Emperor Maximilian and two of his generals. This news led Manet to begin work on The Execution of Emperor Maximilian, which ultimately resulted in three large canvases (one mostly unfinished), a small preparatory study, and a lithograph. Manet’s composition owes much to Goya’s The Third of May, although with distinctly different politics. Goya’s work pays tribute to the Spanish rebels who fought the French Empire under Napoleon I, while Manet appears to sympathize with the deposed emperor, a puppet of the French under Napoleon III, against the republicans. Manet does introduce one ambiguous political note: although the soldiers in the large unfinished canvas wear the uniforms of the Mexican Republican Army, all the other versions feature soldiers wearing 19th Century field dress that was common to many armies, including that of Napoleon III’s France.   The image show: 
(1) Completed, intact version; 1868–1869, 8 .3 ft. tall by 10 ft. wide, at the Kunsthalle Mannheim in Mannheim, Germany (top image above);
(2) Completed version, cut into pieces and later reeassembled; 1867–1868, 6.3 ft. tall by 9.3 ft. wide at the National Gallery in London (second row above, at left);
(3) Unfinished version; 1867, 6.4 ft. tall by 8.5 ft. wide, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (second row above, at right);  
(4) Preparatory sketch; 1867, 1.6 ft. tall by 1.9 ft. wide, at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek, Copenhagen, Denmark (below left);
(5) Lithographic print; 1869 (below right). Manet created a lithograph based on the painting but refused to make prints during his lifetime. An edition of 50 was produced in 1884, after his death.
Manet_-_L'exécution_de_Maximilien_(Copenhagen)  manet execution print

427. La Danse (The Dance)

Artist: Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux
Date: Completed in 1868; unveiled in 1869.
Period/Style: Baroque; Romanticism; France
Medium: Marble sculpture
Dimension: 13.8 ft. tall, 9.8 ft. wide and 4.7 ft. deep
Current location: The original marble statue and the full-size plaster cast it was made from are located at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The version on the exterior of the Palais Garnier is a replica by Paul Belmondo. There is a later full-size cast at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, Denmark.

When Charles Garnier was building his new Opera House in Paris, he selected four Prix de Rome winning sculptors to create statues for the façade, each representing one of the arts. Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux received the commission for The Dance. He designed an exuberant stone group depicting the Spirit of Dance (also known as the Genius of the Dance), a winged youth with a tambourine, encircled by five dancing nymphs or Bacchantes. With their leaning and swaying postures, the figures contain an energy and centrifugal force that seems to push them outside the sculptural space. The figures interact with each other and express their joy with ebullient smiles. The piece has little of the Neoclassical rationality that was prevalent at the time, but hearkens back instead to emotional expressiveness of the Romantic era and the theatricality of the Baroque. As a consequence, Carpeaux’s merry band clashed stylistically with the other three façade sculptures, which were much more reserved, restrained and Neoclassical in form. Conservative members of the public were outraged by the realism of the nude figures; one protester even threw a bottle of ink at the sculpture. The public outcry led the Palais Garnier to ask Carpeaux to produce a more suitable substitute. When he refused, another sculptor was commissioned to provide a tamer version of The Dance. Fortunately for Carpeaux and art history, war with Germany intervened and the plans to remove the sculpture were shelved. The Dance remained at the Opera House until 1964 when concerns over damage from acid rain and other causes led the original piece to be brought indoors.  Random Trivia: Separate bronzes depicting the Genius of the Dance and the child at his feet have also been made.  See image below of statue in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, dated 1864.
genius of the dance

428. Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1: Portrait of The Artist’s Mother (“Whistler’s Mother”)

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1871
Period/Style: Tonalism; US/UK
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.7 ft. tall by 5.3 ft. wide
Current location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
whistler the artist's mother Once artists release a piece of visual art into the world, they have little control over the way the viewing public will treat their work. Such is the case with the 1871 painting by James McNeill Whistler known by its nickname, “Whistler’s Mother.” For Whistler, an American artist living in Europe, the most meaningful aspects of a painting were not the people or objects depicted but the arrangements of color and form on the canvas and the emotions they aroused in the viewer. In an attempt to connect painting with the more abstract art form of music, Whistler often named his works with musical terms: symphony, harmony, nocturne, or, as here, arrangement. The painting Whistler titled Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 explores the tonal gradations of the colors gray and black; as a result, his palette is very limited but precise. Whistler had scheduled a model to pose for the painting but she did not appear and so he asked his 67-year-old mother, Anna McNeill Whistler, to substitute. (Anna had moved in with her son in London in 1864, forcing Whistler to evict his live-in girlfriend and model Jo Hiffernan.) The original plan was for a standing portrait, but Anna was unable to stand for the long periods required and they eventually agreed to have her sit. She is seen in profile, staring into the middle distance, her feet propped on a footrest. (Some critics have noted that Whistler has drawn his mother with abnormally long legs.) Critics have praised the detailed depiction of the lace work, particular on Anna’s sleeves. Behind the sitter on the wall is a framed print of Black Lion Wharf, an 1859 engraving by Whistler himself (see image below). The composition is uncluttered and somewhat static; the only lively element is the purplish curtain with its floral print (including a butterfly) at the left. Whistler did not intend this to be seen as a portrait, but the public disagreed, and exhibitors soon added a subtitle, “Portrait of the Artist’s Mother.” Despite Whistler’s objections, the painting became an iconic portrayal of motherhood. It is his most recognized work. It was purchased by the French government and is considered the most important American painting outside the U.S. After the painting toured the United States in the 1930s, the public fell in love with it, the Postal Service issued a stamp with a likeness of Whistler’s Mother, and a sculptor in Pennsylvania created a three-dimensional version as part of a memorial to mothers. In acquiring iconic status, the painting some have called the Victorian Mona Lisa has acquired a sentimental patina that Whistler surely would have objected to. It ranks with Grant Wood’s American Gothic and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks as one of the most famous (and most parodied) American paintings.

429. Max Schmitt in a Single Scull (The Champion Single Sculls)

Artist: Thomas Eakins
Date: 1871
Period/Style: Realism; US
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 3.8 ft. wide
Current location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Thomas_Eakins_Max_Schmitt_in_a_Single_Scull 2 In 1870, American painter Thomas Eakins returned to Philadelphia after several years studying art in Paris, where realism was then the dominant style. An avid athlete, Eakins soon found himself caught up in the sport of rowing, as part of a sports club that sponsored regular competitions. One of the top solo rowers (or scullers) was Eakins’ boyhood friend, attorney Max Schmitt. Eakins also found artistic inspiration in the sport and began to make sketches and watercolors of scullers and other rowers on the Schuylkill River, working outdoors. After watching Schmitt win the October 1870 championship in the single sculls category, Eakins produced his first oil painting on the subject of rowing. The result is a premier example of an American version of French realism, with multiple perspective points and the use of aerial perspective in the far background. We see a calm, clear autumn day on the river, at a turn in the race course, with Schmitt resting and turning towards the viewer. A series of horizontals (the scull itself, the ripples in the water, the reflections, the two bridges in the background) guide our eyes through the composition. Near the center of the canvas, behind Schmitt, a second rower is straining in mid-stroke; closer inspection reveals that this is a self-portrait of the artist, who has signed the painting by writing his name on the stern of his scull (see detail in image below). Upon exhibition in 1871, the painting received few favorable reviews, some feeling that the sport of rowing was not a dignified subject for a work of art. Eakins eventually gave the painting to Schmitt as a gift. After Schmitt died, his widow sold the painting to Eakins’ widow, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art eventually purchased it in the 1930s, by which point the critical view of the work had improved significantly.
eakins max schmitt detail

430. Barge Haulers on the Volga

Artist: Ilya Repin
Date: Repin first exhibited the work in 1871 but he continued to work on it until 1873.
Period/Style: Realism; Russia
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.3 ft. tall by 9.2 ft. long
Current location: State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
Repin_(1844-1930)_-_Volga_BoatmenA particularly difficult occupation in late 19th Century Russia was that of burlak. Burlaks were men and women – often low in social status and economically deprived – who were tied together and bound with leather harnesses to pull barges up rivers against the current. In Barge Haulers on the Volga, Russian realist painter Ilya Repin depicts 11 burlaks – all men – dragging a barge on the Volga River. Instead of idealizing the haulers or dramatizing their plight to create political propaganda, Repin individualizes his subjects (see detail in image below). Each of the 11 is unique in clothing, manner and attitude. In the center, a young man in lighter clothing strains against the leather harness and stands erect, while the other men lean forward, some almost on the point of collapse. At the rear, a man appears to wander off in the wrong direction. The leader (who, Repin tells us, was modeled on an actual burlak who was also a defrocked priest) stares at the viewer with a serenity that seems almost out of place amid such harsh physical activity. Novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky praised the work for its refusal to abandon realism for the sake of a political message: “Not a single one of them shouts from the painting to the viewer, ‘Look how unfortunate I am and how indebted you are to the people!’ … [I saw] barge haulers, real barge haulers, and nothing more.” Repin had just recently left the Academy and was now one of the Peredvizhniki, or Wanderers, a group of Russian painters who rejected the Academy’s conservative and idealizing philosophy and sought to capture Russian life, people and landscapes realistically and to bring the arts to the Russian people in the provinces. The difficulty of the work is palpable, but Repin manages to capture the dignity of the workers while at the same time implying that they are oppressed – the resemblance to a chain gang may not be coincidental. Repin also adds a note of irony, or perhaps hope: the distant smoke of a steamship tells us that this ancient method of dragging ships is either outdated (and thus even more unjust) or that it may soon become extinct. The painting, which was sent to international exhibitions throughout Europe, made Repin’s name as a master of Russian realism.

431. Impression, Sunrise

Artist: Claude Monet
Date: 1872
Period/Style: Impressionism; France; seascape
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 1.6 ft. tall by 2.1 ft. wide
Current location: Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris, France
claude_monet_impression-sunriseIn 1872, shortly after the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian war, French painter Claude Monet visited the Normandy seaport of Le Havre, the place where he grew up. During the visit, Monet made several paintings of the busy harbor, some from the waterside, others from his hotel window. The most well-known of these works is Impression: Sunrise. Monet worked quickly and the work has an unfinished feeling. He explained later that he was not trying to paint the harbor, but to paint the feeling evoked by the view at that particular moment. For this reason, he called it an impression. After Monet included the small canvas in an 1874 exhibition that included work by Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Berthe Morisot and Alfred Sisley, critics picked up on the word and used it disparagingly against Monet and other ‘impressionists.’ Not cowed, Monet and his cohort adopted the term and began calling themselves Impressionists. The painting shows an orange sun reflected in the water of the harbor (the reflection forms a vertical line). In the foreground, a dark fishing boat – we see the fishermen, then another, further away and less distinct, and a third, still further, still hazier; the three form a diagonal line. In the far distance, we see the smokestacks of steamers and the rigging of tall-masted ships. The rough brushstrokes evoke the haze and mist of early morning, such that the sky and water are barely distinguishable from one another; the dark horizontal marks in the water in the foreground give a sense of depth. Neurobiologist Margaret Livingstone has analyzed the painting in terms of visual perception. Normally, the sun is the brightest source of light in an outdoor scene, but Monet’s orange sun has the same brightness (the technical term is luminescence – brightness separate from color) as the water and sky. It is only the color that sets the sun apart from the rest of the composition. This means the primitive part of our brain that sees brightness does not distinguish the sun from the clouds, while the more advanced part of our brain that perceives color easily picks out the sun: thus setting up a conflict of vision.

432. Snap the Whip

Artist: Winslow Homer
Date: 1872
Period/Style: Realism; US
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 1.8 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide. The preparatory study is 12 in. high by 20 in. wide.
Current locations: Butler Institute of American Art, Ohio. The preparatory study is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY.
homer snap the whip In 1872, when American artist Winslow Homer painted Snap the Whip, the United States was undergoing a number of transitions. The society was becoming more urban and less agrarian. Education reforms threatened the little red schoolhouse of yesteryear; and the nation was reunited after a fierce and devastating Civil War. Some critics see all these themes and more in Snap the Whip, which appears at first glance, to be a simple depiction of eight boys at play during a recess break from school. The game they are playing requires working together as a team and staying connected – possibly a reference to the post-Civil War world. The setting, with its wildflowers, the schoolhouse and watching teachers, an image of order, may evoke a nostalgia for the agrarian ways that were passing by. Homer may also be drawing attention to the growth and development of young boys by contrasting their childish bare feet with their manly suspenders. Homer uses the line of the mountain as an echo of the line of boys. He also divides the painting into two sets of threes: (1) mountains, schoolhouse and boys playing; and (2) three groups of boys: three anchoring on the right; four running in the center; and two falling on the left. Homer made several versions of the subject, including two oil paintings. A smaller preparatory study, which lacks the mountains in the background, is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (see image below).  The larger oil painting is in the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio (see image above).
Snap_the_Whip - Winslow_Homer

433. L’Apparition (The Apparition)

Artist: Gustave Moreau
Date: 1874-1876
Period/Style: Symbolism; France
Medium: There are several versions including two made with oil paints on canvas and one watercolor.
Dimensions: 4.6 ft. tall by 3.4 ft. wide (Musée National Gustave Moreau); 3.4 ft. tall by 2.3 ft. wide (Musée d’Orsay); 1.8 ft. tall by 1.5 ft. wide (Harvard Museums).
Current locations: Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris; Musée d’Orsay, Paris; Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts

The Apparition, by French Symbolist Gustave Moreau, shows King Herod’s daughter Salome, in her dancing costume, at the moment that John the Baptist’s severed head appears to her in a vision. The others in the room – Herod, his wife Herodias and a man who may be the executioner – seem bored. Art historians disagree about whether Salome’s haunting vision takes place before or after she asked for and received the Baptist’s head on a platter. If before, it is an image of Salome’s wish fulfilled; if after, it may be an image of remorse, like Banquo’s ghost. Scholars have traced elements of The Apparition  to Benvenuto Cellini’s Perseus with the Head of Medusa (the head of John the Baptist, dripping with blood), a Japanese print (the halo around the head) and the Alhambra (the interior architecture and decoration). Moreau made multiple versions of The Apparition, all slightly different. Three are shown: (1) the most famous version is the watercolor in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris (formerly in the Louvre) measuring 3.4 ft. tall by 2.3 ft. wide (see image above); (2) the largest version, at the Musée National Gustave Moreau in Paris, is made with oils on canvas,  measuring 4.6 ft. tall by 3.4 ft. wide (see image below left); (3) the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, Massachusetts has a version painted with oils on a canvas measuring 1.8 ft. tall by 1.5 ft. wide (see image below right). Random Trivia: Oscar Wilde was reportedly inspired to write his play Salome (1893) after viewing Moreau’s watercolor, then at the Louvre.
 

434. Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: Painted between 1872 and 1877. Most sources date it to 1875.
Period/Style: Tonalism; US/UK
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 23.7 in. tall by 18.3 in. wide
Current location: Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan
whistler-nocturne_in_black_and_gold
An American artist living in London, James McNeill Whistler believed in “art for art’s sake” – the notion that true art should stand on its own, apart from any moral, didactic, political or utilitarian purpose. Whistler went even further, rejecting the idea that narrative was integral to works of art; instead, he believed the purpose of art was not to represent physical reality but to use visual phenomena as the inspiration for artistic arrangements that plumbed deeper truths and evoked personal emotional reactions. He ridiculed the notion of representational painting in the era of photography, saying, “If the man who paints only the tree, or flower, or other surface he sees before him were an artist, the king of artists would be the photographer. It is for the artist to do something beyond this.” His series of night paintings, or Nocturnes, sought to capture the sense of space and the void that arises in the darkness. Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket was inspired by a fireworks display at Cremorne Gardens in London. Yellow dots and flashes, billowing smoke, water and land, and vague figures all coalesce into an almost abstract impression of a moment that anticipates many of the innovations of modernism, although the first truly abstract paintings would not arrive for nearly 40 years. The palette is restricted, dominated by greens and blues, with spots of yellow for the fireworks. Not all appreciated Whistler’s sense of the void, however. Respected London art critic John Ruskin wrote that, with his Nocturne, Whistler was “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” Ruskin’s opinions tarnished both Whistler’s reputation and the value of his works, so Whistler sued for libel. He eventually won, but received only a token farthing as damages, and the damage had already been done. The loss of reputation and court costs eventually forced him to declare bankruptcy. Whistler recovered from the episode and his reputation rose again in later years. He got his revenge against Ruskin (and anyone else who had crossed him) in his scathing 1890 memoir The Gentle Art of Making Enemies.

435. Portrait of Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic)

Artist: Thomas Eakins
Date: 1875
Period/Style: Realism; US
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 8 ft. tall by 6.5 ft. wide
Current location: The painting is co-owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Eakins The Gross Clinic
Some experts have called The Gross Clinic, by Thomas Eakins, the most important American painting of the 19th Century. The painted scene takes place in the surgical amphitheater of Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Renowned physician and professor of medicine Samuel D. Gross, with bloodstained hands, is conducting surgery on a patient with osteomyelitis of the femur with the assistance of four other surgeons. Eakins personally observed the surgical procedure, a more conservative approach to treating the ailment than the traditional response of amputating the leg. The patient’s leg is exposed and the incision is visible, but it is hard for the viewer to determine the exact position of the rest of the anesthetized patient’s body, or whether the patient is a man or a woman. In the stadium-style seats behind Gross sit medical students, including one who is a self-portrait of Eakins. Behind Gross, a woman, presumably the patient’s mother, covers her face with her hands in anxious distress. Although all acknowledged the excellence of Eakins’ talent, the committee for the 1876 Centennial Exhibition rejected the painting, apparently because of the graphic nature of the images. Others found that the inclusion of the crying mother was overly melodramatic. Modern critics find the contrast between the mother’s emotional reaction and the calm rationality of the doctors sends an important message about the growth and advancement of medicine into a true science. Having been rejected for the Centennial, the painting was exhibited in an army hospital until Jefferson Medical College finally purchased it. Recently, the Medical College was forced to sell the painting and for a time it looked as though it would leave Philadelphia. In response, a public campaign raised enough funds (along with the sales of some lesser known works) to keep The Gross Clinic in Philadelphia as a co-possession of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. The painting recently underwent a significant restoration, in part to undo damage done by a 1917 restoration.

436. Bal du moulin de la Galette (Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette)

Artist: Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Date: 1876
Period/Style: Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.3 ft. tall by 5.7 ft. wide
Current location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
Le_Moulin_de_la_GaletteFrench Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette paints a portrait of a Sunday afternoon at a popular outdoor café and dance hall in Montmartre, then a rural hilltop village an hour’s walk from Paris. The Moulin de la Galette, named after the brown bread made from the flour ground by its historic windmill, was a weekend destination for working men and women, as well as writers and artists. They came dressed in their best clothes to eat galette, drink, dance and gaze down on Paris from a scenic overlook. Like all the Impressionists, Renoir liked to paint scenes of everyday life, but no Impressionist had previously shown average people amusing themselves on such a large canvas, thereby giving an apparently trivial subject heightened significance. Like all Impressionists, Renoir liked to study the effects of light: here, he paints the sunlight filtering through the acacia trees and mixing with lamplight to create a dappled patchwork of bright patches and shadows. Critics then and now marvel at the way Renoir makes the light seem to flicker and dance. Scholars also comment on Renoir’s effective use of bright colors – there is not a touch of black in the canvas – and the resulting tone of carefree celebration. Note that, although Renoir appears to depict a typical crowd at the Moulin, he loaded the canvas with portraits of his friends, as well as a few professional models. One of those friends, writer Georges Rivière (pictured at the table in the foreground), in his review of the 1877 Impressionist Exhibition, described Bal du Moulin de la Galette as a “page of history, a precious and strictly accurate portrayal of Parisian life.” Renoir painted a second, smaller version of the painting (measuring 2.5 ft. tall by 3.7 ft. wide) that is in a private collection; it was purchased at auction for $78 million in 1990.

437. L’Absinthe

Artist: Edgar Degas
Date: 1876
Period/Style: Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3 ft. tall by 2.2 ft. wide
Current location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
Edgar_Degas_-_In_a_Café_
Unlike most of his Impressionist colleagues, Edgar Degas preferred to paint in urban settings, preferably indoors.  The painting known since 1893 as L’Absinthe (prior names have included In a Café, The Absinthe Drinker, and Glass of Absinthe) is set in a Paris drinking spot popular with artists, actors and bohemians, the Café de la Nouvelle-Athènes. Modeling as two cafegoers are actress Ellen Andrée, with a glass of absinthe, and artist Marcellin Desboutin, shown with a pipe and a cup of coffee. At the time, absinthe, a green-colored alcoholic beverage, was quite popular in the bohemian community, a popularity which (along with reports that it contained harmful chemicals) led to its prohibition in the early 20th Century. Degas shows the man and woman off-center, with blank space in front of them and their shadows, black as silhouettes, on the walls behind them. Showing the influence of Japanese prints, Degas is comfortable cutting off figures at the edge of the canvas, as he does here with Desboutin’s hand and pipe. The man and woman neither touch nor look at each other; the woman seems lost in thought or emotion and the man seems distracted. There is no indication that Degas sought to present the viewer with a moral lesson or warning; L’Absinthe is more likely a comment on isolation and alienation in urban life.  Nevertheless, from the first exhibition of the work, in the 1876 Impressionist show, through an English exhibition in 1893, L’Absinthe has been a magnet for criticism and condemnation. Critics called it ugly and disgusting and described the subjects as “shockingly degraded and uncouth.” Degas had to defend Ellen Andrée and Marcellin Desboutin from accusations that they were drunkards. The Victorian English claimed the painting was a sign of moral decay; one overheated critic labeled the woman with the absinthe a ‘slut’ and a ‘whore.’ Another called the painting a warning against absinthe in particular, and the French generally. Not all the commentary was negative. After Émile Zola published L’Assommoir, his novel about the horrors of alcoholism, he told Degas that some of the passages in his book were descriptions of Degas’ pictures. 

438. Paris Street, Rainy Day

Artist: Gustave Caillebotte
Date: 1877
Period/Style: Realism; Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.9 ft. tall by 9 ft. wide
Current location: Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
Caillebotte Paris_Street;_Rainy_Day What would the Impressionists have done without Gustave Caillebotte? Caillebotte was an independently wealthy French artist and collector who provided significant financial support for the French Impressionist artists. He personally bought over 60 of their paintings, funded their exhibitions, and sometimes even paid their rent. But he was also a gifted painting in his own right. Although many scholars group Caillebotte with the Impressionists because of his interests in the effects of light and in painting everyday life, he differed from them in both technique and tone. First, Caillebotte eschewed the characteristic loose brush strokes of the Impressionist style; he tended to paint much more in the Realist style. Second, in contrast to the boisterous partiers of Renoir or the serene landscapes of Monet, Caillebotte’s works often have an unsettling quality. He was not afraid to explore the darker side of human nature. While some see Caillebotte’s most famous work – Paris Street, Rainy Day – as a delightful depiction of a scene of Parisian life, others believe it has a darker side. Since the 1850s, Emperor Napoleon III and his administrator Baron Haussmann had been remaking Paris, tearing down ancient structures and putting up large, geometrical buildings, set along wide, spacious boulevards such as the Carrefour de Moscou (now the Place de Dublin) shown in Paris Street, Rainy Day. Although the painting has the feeling of a snapshot (and in fact does owe a great deal to the new art of photography), Caillebotte deliberately arranged the figures (and their umbrellas) to create an effect of loneliness and alienation. The modernization of Paris, Caillebotte is saying, has a dehumanizing effect on the population. Caillebotte used a large canvas to make his statement. To emphasize the lack of unity, he employed two-point perspective, with two separate vanishing points. He also played with realism by making the boulevard seem broader (and thus more alienating) than it really was. When Caillebotte died in 1894 at age 45, he donated his collection of Impressionist paintings to the French government but Paris Street, Rainy Day remained in the Caillebotte family until 1955. The Art Institute of Chicago acquired the painting in 1964.

439. Three Women in Church

Artist: Wilhelm Leibl
Date: c. 1878-1882
Period/Style: Realism; Germany
Medium:  Oil paints on a mahogany panel
Dimensions: 3.7 ft. tall by 2.5 ft. wide
Current location: Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany
Wilhelm Leibl_3 women in church
Like his friend Gustave Courbet, German painter Wilhelm Leibl was committed to the philosophy of realism – of depicting people and places exactly as they are.  As a result, his highly accurate and detailed paintings of landscapes and peasant life have been compared to the work of Hans Holbein the Younger and other Northern Renaissance artists for their uncanny renderings of reality. In Three Women in Church (also known as Three Women in a Village Church), Leibl presents three women villagers who appear to represent three different generations, sitting in the same pew at church. Each woman wears a lovingly detailed Sunday outfit and each has an individual expression of piety. Scholars have noted that the perspective Leibl has chosen makes the figures’ hands look too large for their bodies. Like the Impressionists, Leibl painted with oil paints directly on the painting surface, with no preliminary drawing. 

440. The Isle of the Dead

Artist: Arnold Böcklin
Date: The original version and the first variation were painted in 1880. Subsequent versions were painted in 1883, 1884 and 1886.
Period/Style: Symbolism; Switzerland
Medium: All but one of the artworks were made with oil paints on canvas. The 1880 version in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is made with oil paints on wood panels.
Dimensions: The first 1880 version is 3.6 ft. tall by 5.1 ft. wide; the second 1880 version is 2.4 ft. tall by 3.9 ft. wide. The 1883 and 1886 versions are 2.6 ft. tall by 4.9 ft. wide.
Current locations: Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland (original, 1880); Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1880); Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany (1883); Museum of Fine Arts, Leipzig, Germany (1886).
Bocklin isle of the dead basel Chances are, if you walked into a middle-class home in Germany in the first part of the 20th Century, you would see a print on the wall of a small boat heading to a strange island. The painting the print was based on was The Isle of the Dead by Swiss Symbolist Arnold Böcklin. Symbolism was a movement of poets, painters and other artists who rejected naturalism and realism in favor of spirituality, the imagination and dreams. In 1880, Böcklin created what he called a ‘dream image’ of a small boat approaching an island on which rocky cliffs and cypress trees surround a number of carved tombs. The painting has a mysterious, mystical quality but without any specific religious imagery. Böcklin did not title his works, but an art dealer, borrowing a phrase from one of Böcklin’s letters, gave the work the title Isle of the Dead. When Böcklin’s patron Marie Berner saw the first version of Isle of the Dead in his studio, she asked the artist to make a version for her, but she requested that he paint a female figure and a coffin in the boat (representing her and her recently deceased husband). Böcklin did so, and added these elements to the original version (see image above). The popularity of the image led him to make three more versions, with variations of time of day and the specific features of the island. Four of the five versions survive; an 1884 version, which hung in a Berlin bank, was destroyed during a World War II bomb attack. Shown below are: (1) the second, somewhat smaller version, painted with oil on wood in 1880 for Marie Berna, now in Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (below left); (2) the third version was painted in 1883, and is now in the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin (below right); (3) the fifth version was painted in 1886 on commission from the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig, where it remains (see third image below). The most popular version is that of 1883; it takes place under lighter skies than the two 1880 versions. When this version came up for sale in 1933, a fan of Böcklin’s named Adolf Hitler purchased it; this version is now in the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin.
 

441. Luncheon of the Boating Party

Artist: Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Date: 1880-1881
Period/Style: Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.25 ft. tall by 5.67 ft. wide
Current location: Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
Luncheon_of_the_Boating_Party 2 Fashionable Parisians liked to take boating trips on the Seine and when they did so, they would often stop at Maison Fournaise in the town of Chatou for lunch and drinks on the second floor outdoor terrace. French Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted one such excursion in The Luncheon of the Boating Party. We see a group of people enjoying a bright summer day, talking, flirting, and generally having a good time. In Renoir’s world, the sun is always shining and no one is ever down in the dumps. As usual, Renoir’s treatment of light is superb: the awning cuts off direct sun, but reflected light bounces off the white shirts and table cloth and onto the rest of the scene. The painting is divided along a diagonal formed by the railing at the left and there is a triangle formed in the foreground – these lines guide our eyes around the canvas, as do the gazes of the standing and sitting figures. Renoir uses his characteristic light touches; just a few brushstrokes define the glasses on the table, for example, or the sailboats on the Seine in the background. But, uncharacteristically, his treatment of the faces and men’s bare arms is more careful, with more attention to detail and modeling. He is using two styles at once. Although the painting has the appearance of a snapshot, Renoir probably sketched out the general composition and then had models pose for the various figures at different times. As usual, he used his friends as models, including: (1) the woman playing with the dog (an affenpinscher) is Aline Charigot, who would later become Renoir’s wife; (2) the woman at the center drinking from a glass is actress Ellen Andrée (the model for Degas’ L’Absinthe); (3) the man in the straw hat on the right is painter and Impressionist benefactor Gustave Caillebotte; and (4) the man and woman leaning against the railing are the son and daughter of Monsieur Fournaise, the owner of the restaurant.

442. The Thinker

Artist: Auguste Rodin (full name: François-Auguste-René Rodin)
Date: The Thinker first appeared in 1880 as part of Rodin’s large piece, The Gates of Hell. In 1881, Rodin made the first plaster cast of the individual figure, separate from the larger piece. He made a larger plaster cast in 1888. The first full-size bronze cast was made in 1902 or 1904.
Period/Style: Realism; Impressionism; France
Medium: Plaster and bronze cast sculptures
Dimensions: Each full-sized cast is 6.2 ft. tall, 3.2 ft. wide and 4.6 ft. deep.
Current locations: There are 28 full-size casts in various locations including: University of Louisville, Kentucky (1904 cast); National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, Japan (1904 cast); Legion of Honor, San Francisco (1904 cast); Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan (1904 cast); Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek, Copenhagen, Denmark (1904 cast); Musée Rodin, Paris, France (1906 cast); Prince Eugen Museum, Waldemarsudde, Sweden (1908 cast).
The_Thinker,_Auguste_Rodin
What is The Thinker thinking about? To attempt an answer to the question, we must look at the origins of the statue. The sculpture now known as The Thinker originated as a small part of a large commission for a set of doors for a new art museum, a project that eventually became The Gates of Hell. To adorn the huge bronze doors, French sculptor Auguste Rodin created a series of figures based on The inferno, part of Dante’s Divine Comedy, including Dante himself, who was depicted thinking about and looking down on his masterpiece from the tympanum over the doors. The figure evolved from a thin Dante in Florentine garb (as he was normally represented) to a more allegorical figure of a nude, muscular Poet, sitting on a rock with his head resting on the fist of a bended arm (see detail of The Gates of Hell, below left). According to one source, workers in Rodin’s studio began to refer to the Poet as “The Thinker” due to his resemblance to Michelangelo’s statue of Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici, Duke of Urbino in the Medici Chapel in Florence. (Michelangelo’s sculpture, shown below right, had acquired the nickname Il Pensieroso, or “The Thoughtful One.”) Soon after placing the Poet on The Gates of Hell (in about 1881), Rodin (perhaps at the request of a patron) made a separate cast of the figure, now called The Thinker. In 1888, he made a 27-inch-tall plaster version (the same size as the Gates of Hell figure) that he exhibited in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was not until 1902-1904 that Rodin made the first larger-than-life-size bronze casts of the statue. He supervised the creation of 10 such statues in his lifetime; another 18 or so have been made (both full size and miniature) since his death. The Thinker displays Rodin’s characteristic rough treatment of the human form – this is no idealized classical body. Like so many of Rodin’s sculptures, there is a blend of styles, so much so that it confused the French art academy, which rejected Rodin’s application three times. The sculptor is looking back to the Baroque and Rococo, and at the same time looking forward to the Modernist style that was just around the corner. Although some perceive The Thinker to be a man of quiet contemplation, an introspective philosopher, others (including Rodin himself) thought of him as a man who is thinking with every muscle of his body (even the clenched toes) and ready to spring into heroic action at the decisive moment. We will never know with certainty what he is thinking, but given his origins, my guess is that he is thinking about the act of creating great and powerful works of art.
gates of hell detail  lorenzo de medici

443. A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

Artist: Édouard Manet
Date: 1882
Period/Style: Realism; Impressionism
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.2 ft. tall by 4.3 ft. wide
Current location: Courtauld Gallery, London, England, UK
Bar_at_the_Folies-BergèreÉdouard Manet loved to upset expectations of the viewers of his paintings – their expectations about their relationship to what is going on in the painting and about the relationships among the figures in the world of the painting. A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, Manet’s last major painting, plays with all those preconceptions. At first glance, the painting seems relatively straightforward: we see a woman behind a bar with a crowd of partiers behind her. But then we notice that she is standing in front of a large mirror and the people we see are actually behind us (that is, behind the viewer) and in front of the barmaid. So, we see what she sees (Manet of course was familiar with the use of mirrors in such works as Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait and Velazquez’s Las Meninas). We even see the feet of an acrobat high up in the air, which gives a taste of the entertainment at the Folies-Bergère. But when we look more closely at the reflection we see that the barmaid’s reflection is not where we would expect it if the painting were being made from the perspective of the viewer. The viewer is standing directly in front of the woman, and so we would expect to see the reflection of both the woman and the viewer (that is, us) directly in front of us. But instead, we see the reflections off to the right side. And there is the reflection of a man in a top hat leaning in to speak to the woman. But where is the man? Is this a massive mistake on Manet’s part? According to one theory (based on a preliminary sketch), the barmaid was originally placed farther to the right, closer to her reflection. According to this theory, when Manet decided to move the woman to the center of the composition, he left her reflection where it was, perhaps to confuse viewers. Another theory is that the reflections make perfect sense if the painter is situated several feet back and to the right of the bar, and then paints what he sees at an oblique angle, with the man just out of the frame on the left. (For a diagram of this theory, see the image below.) The last expectation is about the nature of the woman and the business she is transacting with the top-hatted man. On the surface, it appears that she is selling drinks at a bar. But it was well known that the Folies-Bergère was a place where prostitutes worked, and that at least some of the women working as barmaids were also sex workers. (The bowl of oranges was a symbol of prostitution.) So the conversation between the barmaid and the top-hatted man may have been about a different kind of business transaction. And what of us, the viewers? Are we complicit in the sordid business of sex for money? Or, based on the absence of a reflection in the mirror in front of us, perhaps we don’t exist at all.
bar_diagram_zm

444. The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit

Artist: John Singer Sargent
Date: 1882
Period/Style: Realism; Edwardian; US/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 7.5 ft. by 7.5 ft.
Current location: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
sargent Daughters_of_Edward_Darley_Boit John Singer Sargent and Edward Darley Boit were both American expatriates in Paris, so it was not unusual that in 1882 Sargent would receive a commission to paint the four young daughters of Boit (a lapsed lawyer) and his heiress wife Isa in the foyer of their Paris apartment. What was unusual was the painting that resulted. Despite paying tribute to Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit breaks many of the rules of portraiture: the painting is square, but its composition is asymmetrical (one critic called it “four corners and a void”). Sargent does not place the girls in a formal arrangement but shows them separated from one another and not interacting. Two giant Japanese vases tower over the girls, such that one observer quipped that Sargent had painted a portrait of the vases and a still life of the daughters. Most unsettling are the figures of the two oldest girls: both are partly hidden in shadow, and one is turning to the side, her face obscured. While the white pinafores (worn to protect fine clothes) indicate that the girls may be at play, the overall tone is anything but playful. Some scholars have interpreted the dark space in the center of the painting as adulthood, into whose shadowy uncertainty the girls gradually recede as they age, no longer able to bask in bright sun of childhood. The BBC’s Sister Wendy Beckett has even suggested that Sargent may have intuited the Boit girls’ futures: none of the four ever married (although that is not necessarily a bad thing!), and the oldest two were plagued by mental illness. The painting stayed in the family until 1919, when the daughters of Edward Darley Boit donated it to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; years later, their heirs donated the pair of Japanese vases, which now stand on either side of the painting as silent sentinels (image below).

445. The Kiss

Artist: Auguste Rodin
Date: The sculpture first appeared as a relief sculpture in about 1882 as part of Rodin’s large piece, The Gates of Hell. Rodin first made a separate sculpture of the group in the round in 1887. The French government commissioned the first life-size marble version in 1888, which was not completed until 1898.
Period/Style: Realism; Impressionism; France
Medium: Sculptures made from plaster, marble or bronze
Dimensions: The full-size version is 6 ft. tall, 3.7 ft. wide, and 3.8 ft. deep. There are also smaller versions.
Current location: Full-size marble versions are located in various museums, including the Musée Rodin in Paris (original version), the Tate in London, and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, Denmark.
 
Rodin’s massive sculpture The Gates of Hell – intended to become the doors of a new art museum – generated several spin-offs. The first was The Thinker, which arose from the figure of The Poet who sat at the top of the doors. The second spin-off was The Kiss, which originated as a depiction of the story of Francesca da Rimini. According to Dante’s Divine Comedy, Francesca was a 13th Century Italian noblewoman who fell in love with her husband’s younger brother Pablo while they were reading the story of Lancelot and Guinevere together. Before they could consummate their love, Francesca and Pablo were discovered and killed by Francesca’s husband. At some point, Rodin decided to rework The Gates of Hell and remove the relief sculpture of Francesca and Pablo. But he salvaged the piece by recreating it as a stand-alone sculpture in the round, still called Francesca da Rimini. Rodin shows the two nude lovers embracing, about to kiss, in the moments before their murder. The lovers’ lips never touch and Pablo still holds the book in his hand. After seeing the small version of the sculpture, the French government in 1888 commissioned Rodin to create a larger-than-life-size marble statue, which Rodin finally completed in 1898. When the piece was exhibited for the first time, critics suggested the more generic title The Kiss, which emphasizes the universal nature of the emotions depicted without tying the piece to a particular place and time. Rodin himself was not impressed with the work, calling it “a large sculpted knick-knack following the usual formula”, but the public felt differently. Although some initially were offended by the open eroticism of the sculpture, many more were impressed by its tenderness (without sentimentality), its feminism (the woman and the man are equal partners in their loving embrace), and its ability to convey human sensuality realistically without any hint of baseness or obscenity.

446. Portrait of Madame X

Artist: John Singer Sargent
Date: 1884
Period/Style: Realism; Edwardian; US/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 7.7 ft. tall by 3.6 ft. wide
Current location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Sargent Madame_X_1884
It is difficult to imagine today, but in 1884, the painting of a strap on a dress scandalized Paris, tarnished the reputation of an American socialite, and caused painter John Singer Sargent to relocate to London. The strap in question belonged to Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, the beautiful young American in Paris who was married to French banker Pierre Gautreau. Provocative, outgoing and reputed to have “modern” ideas about sexuality, Mme. Gautreau was targeted by a number of up-and-coming painters as the portrait that would make their reputation. It was John Singer Sargent, another expatriate American, who had acquired a good name as a portraitist, who scored the coup. Mme. Gautreau agreed to allow Sargent to paint her portrait, but the process was a difficult one. She refused to have the work done in Paris, and required Sargent to wait until the family moved to their summer place in Brittany. Once there, Mme. Gautreau proved an extremely difficult sitter: she disinclined to stay still long enough to be painted, needed frequent breaks and complained of how boring the process was. After some preliminary studies, Sargent was able to produce what he believed was his best work: a dramatic standing pose showing Mme. Gautreau, her skin porcelain-white, in profile in a stunning black dress, one strap dangling provocatively from her shoulder. Sargent presented the painting at the 1884 Paris Salon, but instead of glory, he received humiliation: the critics savaged the picture, which was considered overly erotic and lacking in decorum. The painting was interpreted as a shameful representation of Mme. Gautreau’s “loose” morals and sexual promiscuity. Mme. Gautreau’s mother told a friend that her daughter could no longer show her face in Paris society. In an attempt to respond to his critics, Sargent repainted the strap in its usual position, but it was no use – the damage was done. Soon thereafter, he moved to London. It was not until many years later that the painting’s excellence – particularly its rendering of the skin tone, the dress and the handling of color – was recognized. It is now considered by some to be Sargent’s best work. The initial reception of the piece still stinging, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased the portrait many years later, Sargent insisted that they not identify the subject, leading to the painting’s enigmatic title, Portrait of Madame X.  The images below show:  (1) An unfinished 1884 study (now at the Tate in London) without the right shoulder strap (see image below left); (2) A watercolor of Mme. Gautreau that Sargent painted in 1882-1883 (now at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston), titled Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast (below middle); and (3) An 1883-1883 Sargent drawing of Mme Gautreau with the same dress sitting on a couch, which is in the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, Massachusetts (below right).
   Madame X sketch

447. Bathers at Asnières

Artist: Georges Seurat
Date: 1884
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; Pointillism/Divisionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.6 ft tall by 9.8 ft wide
Current location: National Gallery, London, England, UK
Seurat_bathers Asnières was a working class suburb close to Paris and Seurat signals to us with clothing and the industrial scene in the background that his subjects are working class people enjoying a day of leisure along the River Seine. To emphasize the social class of the bathers, Seurat depicts some wealthier folks (with top hat and parasol) taking a boat ride from a working class man. In contrast to the “capturing a fleeting moment” quality of Impressionism, Seurat (working here with a number of innovative brush techniques but before his invention of what we now call pointillism) brings a classical sensibility to the composition that renders it timeless rather than momentary. The placement of the figures, with echoes of posture and color, the diagonal line of the river bank, along with the heat haze that covers all, contribute to this sense that we are transcending time. Not long out of art school, Seurat dutifully made over a dozen preparatory sketches and oil paintings for this major work (see Conte crayon drawing of figure, now at Yale University Art Gallery, below left, and Black Horse, from 1883, a study in oils now at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinbugh, below right). Its new style and sensibility were considered problematic by critics, and it was rejected by the Paris Salon. In protest, Seurat joined with other rejected painters to found the Groupe des Artistes Indépendants, which exhibited the painting at its own, alternative Salon. Random Trivia: X-ray analysis reveals that Seurat reworked the painting in the years after its initial exhibition in 1884, adding some pointillist dots to some areas, changing the position of the legs of one figure and possibly adding another figure to balance the composition.
seurat prep for bathers  seurat black-horse-study-for-bathers-at-asnieres-georges-seurat

448. The Potato Eaters

Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
Date: 1885
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; The Hague School; The Netherlands
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.7 ft. tall by 3.7 ft. wide
Current location: Vincent Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
van gogh potato eaters For those used to seeing Vincent Van Gogh’s brightly-colored landscapes from the last years of his life after he moved to France, the dark interior of The Potato Eaters, his first major work, may come as a shock. Van Gogh wanted to show the dignity and hard life of the peasants without sentimentalizing them, so for his portrait of a peasant family eating dinner, he deliberately chose unattractive models. He also chose to show his family of peasants – three women, one man, and a girl, standing as was customary- eating a dish of potatoes and drinking coffee at dim table. A gas lamp provides weak illumination for this almost sacramental scene. The predominantly brown tone arises from Van Gogh’s desire to create what he described as “something like the color of a really dusty potato, unpeeled of course.” At this early stage in his career, Van Gogh had not been exposed to Impressionism; he was much influenced by the artistic movement known as the Hague School, especially the work of Jozef Israëls, whose 1882 painting Peasant Family at the Table, with its dark tones and similar subject, may have been a model for Van Gogh’s Potato Eaters (see image below left). Van Gogh deliberately chose the challenging setting and multi-figure composition to establish his name as a painter, but unfortunately, the result was criticized for its limited tonal range and a number of anatomical errors. The year after painting The Potato Eaters, Van Gogh left The Netherlands and moved in with his brother Theo in Paris. There he discovered the work of the Impressionists – and bright colors; he would never go back to these dark tones. Random Trivia: Van Gogh was an avid collector of prints and believed that the emotional impact of such smaller works could be great, while large canvases could leave the viewer cold. Before completing the oil painting, Van Gogh created an engraved version of The Potato Eaters, one of his few experiments with the medium (see image below right).
  

449. Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World)

Artists: Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (statue); Gustave Eiffel and Maurice Koechlin (internal structure); and Richard Morris Hunt (pedestal).
Date: Work on the statue began in the mid-1870s and was completed by 1884. The pedestal was completed by 1886 and the statue was dedicated on October 28, 1886.
Period/Style: Neoclassicism; France
Medium: The exterior of the statue is made from sheets of copper.
Dimensions: The distance from the ground to the tip of Liberty‘s torch is just over 305 feet, including the 65-ft. tall foundation, the 89-ft. tall pedestal by Richard Morris Hunt and the statue itself, which measures slightly more than 151 ft. tall.
Current location: Liberty Island, NY (formerly Bedloes Island)
statue_of_liberty   Officially titled Liberty Enlightening the World by its French designer, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French government to the American people. The idea of such a monument was first proposed by French abolitionist and politician Édouard René de Laboulaye, who thought it was appropriate to celebrate the America founded on the principle that “all men are created equal” now that slavery was abolished. Bartholdi envisioned an immense statue standing at the gates of the New World, raising a torch for freedom. Liberty had frequently been depicted as a woman in both France and America, so it made sense to make the figure female. Lady Liberty is a Neoclassical-style allegorical figure, dressed in the stola and pella (gown and cloak) worn by Roman goddesses, and crowned with a seven-rayed diadem. (Bartholdi rejected the pilaeus head covering of the French revolution as too controversial.) In her right hand she raises a torch (symbol of progress) and her left hand holds a tabula ansata inscribed with the date of American independence in Roman numerals. She stands on a broken chain, a detail not visible from ground level. The dimensions of the work are on a colossal scale. As a result, Bartholdi limited the amount of detail, reducing the design to its simplest elements. As Bartholdi wrote at the time: “The model, like the design, should have a summarized character, such as one would give to a rapid sketch.” The exterior of the massive statue consists of copper sheets (which have developed a greenish patina over time), with an internal support structure and spiral staircases designed by Gustave Eiffel and Maurice Koechlin (see image below). Although Laboulaye and Bartholdi conceived of the idea in the early 1870s, it took many years to fund and realize the project. During a visit to New York, Bartholdi himself selected the site, a piece of federal property then called Bedloes Island (now Liberty Island). (President Grant quickly approved the project.) He oriented the statue to face ships arriving from the Atlantic Ocean. After Bartholdi designed and built the statue’s right arm with its torch in 1876, he brought it to Philadelphia to exhibit in the Centennial Exhibition, after which it stood for several years in New York City’s Madison Square Park before returning to France. Work on the statue was completed in 1884; it was then disassembled and shipped to New York, but it could not be reassembled until the Americans raised funds for and built the granite and concrete pedestal, designed by Richard Morris Hunt. The pedestal was completed in April 1886; reassembly of the statue took several more months. With Bartholdi standing by his side, President Grover Cleveland dedicated the monument on October 28, 1886. In honor of the occasion, Emma Lazarus, a poet who had been working with European refugees, wrote the famous sonnet, The New Colossus, which is engraved on a plaque in the museum at the base of the statue. 

450. A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

Artist: Georges Seurat
Date: 1886
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; Pointillism (formerly Divisionism); France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 7 ft. tall by 10 ft. wide
Current location: Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
A_Sunday_on_La_Grande_Jatte,_Georges_SeuratUnlike Impressionism, Post-Impressionism is not a consistent artistic style but is instead a catch-all term for a number of artists – including Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Georges Seurat – who rejected the Impressionist style that dominated France in the 1870s and 1880s. Seurat’s work was in many ways the antithesis of Impressionism. He based his painting on complex scientific theories about color and he did considerable preparation, including many sketches and preparatory oil paintings, before commencing a major work. Such a work is A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte, a large canvas depicting an assortment of Parisians in a park on the Seine. At the time the work was painted, the island of Grand Jatte in the Seine was far from the center of Paris and was known as a recreational retreat for the bourgeoisie. The painting forms a companion piece to the large Bathers at Asnières from two years earlier, which shows working class Parisians on the banks of the Seine across from Grand Jatte (see image below). One of the boys in Bathers at Asnières is calling over to Grand Jatte, creating a link between the two paintings. But what exactly are all these people doing with their leisure time? A man is playing a musical instrument; a woman is fishing; people are wearing the latest fashions; there are plenty of children and dogs (and one pet monkey). But the mood is not festive. There is little sense of movement, no expressions of emotion; in some ways, these figures feel like statues. It is not surprising to learn that one of Seurat’s inspirations for the painting was the Parthenon frieze, with its parade of static, immobile figures frozen in stone. Our only way to pierce the impenetrable veil is the little girl in white (one of the few figures who is not in shadow). She stares directly out at the viewer, as if silently asking us: Who are all these people? Where do they come from and where are they going? A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte is the most famous example of pointillism (also called divisionism), a technique in which Seurat used small dots of complementary colors (usually unmixed) instead of brushstrokes, which the eye would then perceive at a distance as figures and other shapes. Seurat’s style actually changed during the two-year period he was working on the project, going from small dabs of paint to tiny dots. Even after exhibiting the work in 1886, he continued to work on it, adding a painted border consisting of tiny dots in inverse colors in 1888-1889, which gives the viewer the impression that the picture is unraveling from the outside in. Random Trivia: In the John Hughes film Ferris Bueller Day’s Off (1986), one of the characters engages in a cinematic dialogue with the painting that ends with a staring contest with the young girl in white.

451. The Models

Artist: Georges Seurat
Date: 1886-1888
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; Pointillism/Divisionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.6 ft. tall by 8.2 ft. wide
Current location: Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Seurat_-_The Models The Models was the third large painting Georges Seurat made using the technique of pointillism. He had been challenged by someone who said that the tiny dots of paint were fine for outdoor scenes, with trees, grass and water, but that Seurat’s method could not accurately represent the nude human form. Seurat met this challenge with The Models, which depicts three nude female figures in the artist’s studio, in front of Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte. It is not clear whether there are three separate models or one model painted in three poses: standing, sitting drying off, and sitting taking off or putting on her stockings. Scholars have found precedents for all three poses: Venus Pudica (Aphrodite of Cnidus) for the standing pose; Ingres’ Valpinçon Bather for the first sitter and the Hellenistic Boy with Thorn for the other sitter. The presence of the earlier painting and the numerous props scattered about (hats, shoes, parasols, a basket of flowers) imply that the model or models are or were posing for the Grand Jatte painting. Taken as a whole, the painting raises issues about the nature of truth and artifice in art.  Random Trivia: Seurat also made a much smaller version of The Models measuring 1.3 ft. tall by 1.6 ft. wide, that is in the private collection of Paul G. Allen (see image below).

452. The Parade (Circus Sideshow)

Artist: Georges Seurat
Date: 1887-1888
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; Pointillism/Divisionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.3 ft. tall by 4.9 ft. wide
Current location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Seurat parade Having shown that pointillism could work for outdoors daytime scenes with Bathers at Asnières and A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte, and indoor scenes with The Models, Seurat tackled a nocturnal scene in The Parade (also known as Circus Sideshow and La Parade de Cirque). The setting is a working class district of Paris in 1887. Fernand Corvi’s traveling circus has come to town. In order to entice citizens to buy tickets, the circus put on a free sideshow of music and acts in the evening. We see the circus performers raised on a stage beneath a row of gaslights. Front and center, on a plinth, is a trombone player with a strange conical hat, looking both passive and confrontational. Behind the trombonist are three other musicians, spaced evenly and wearing identical clothing. At the right, the ringmaster stands at attention (see detail in image below showing pointillist technique). In the foreground, only their heads and hats visible, is the audience, lined up, as one art historian put it, as if in an Assyrian relief. A wry humor pervades the scene, with the matching musical trio in the background and the row of hats at the lower edge. Seurat exhibited The Parade at the 1888 Salon des Indépendants in Paris. Three years later, Seurat returned to the theme in The Circus.

453. Sunflowers

Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
Dates: Van Gogh made four sunflower paintings in Arles in August 1888. In January 1889, he made three copies of two of the paintings.
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; The Netherlands/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas Dimensions: The seven paintings vary in size. The largest (now destroyed) was 3.2 ft. tall by 2.3 ft. wide. The smallest is 2.4 ft. tall by 1.9 ft. wide.
Locations: (1) Private collection; (2) Destroyed in US air raid on Osaka, Japan on August 6, 1945; (3) Neue Pinakothek in Munich, Germany; (4) National Gallery in London. There is a copy of (3) in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and copies of (4) in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Sompo Japan Museum of Art in Tokyo.
  “The sunflower is somewhat my own,” Vincent van Gogh once wrote to his brother Theo. Van Gogh painted numerous paintings of sunflowers in his short career. He portrayed sunflowers in all stages of growth, from full bloom to withered stalks. While in Paris in 1886-1888, he painted four paintings of sunflowers that have run to seed. In August 1888, in Arles, he painted four paintings of sunflowers in vases with different numbers of flowers and different color schemes, and then in January 1889 he painted three copies of two of the August 1888 paintings. Van Gogh’s arrival in France in 1886 and his exposure to the paintings of the Impressionists had broadened his palette from the dark tones of his earlier work to the much brighter and lighter shades of his last years. The invention of new synthetic yellow pigments allowed Van Gogh to paint a multitude of shades of yellow; he could now represent sunlight, sunflowers, and wheat fields with a vibrancy and shimmer that had not been seen before. August 1888’s quartet of sunflower paintings was created in anticipation of a visit from painter Paul Gauguin. Van Gogh dreamed of creating an artists’ colony, but his difficult personality meant that no one volunteered to join him when he left Paris for Arles. Gauguin agreed to stay with Van Gogh as a favor to Theo, who had helped sell Gauguin’s art. The four sunflower canvases from August 1888 are: (1) Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers (blue green background) (above left); (2) Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers (yellow background) (above right); (3) Three Sunflowers in a Vase (turquoise background) (below left): and (4) Five Sunflowers in a Vase (royal blue background) (below right). Van Gogh signed (1) and (2) and hung them in the room where Gauguin was to stay. The visit was cut short when Van Gogh was hospitalized for cutting off almost all of his left ear after a quarrel with Gauguin. In analyzing Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings, art historians point to the influence of Japanese woodblock prints, which were an obsession with Van Gogh, as well as floral still life paintings from the Dutch Golden Age, which were often taken as memento mori – reminders of man’s mortality. Van Gogh’s powerful spiritual beliefs may be on display here: we see the sunflowers in various states of living and dying, with the seed heads containing the rebirth of the next generation, a symbol perhaps of resurrection.
 

454. Café Terrace at Night

Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
Date: September 1888
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; The Netherlands/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.6 ft. tall by 2.1 ft. wide
Current location: Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands

Van Gogh was living in Arles, France in 1888, when he became attracted by the idea of painting en plein air (outdoors) at night. He had read a passage by Guy de Maupassant describing the bright cafés on the boulevard in Paris and was inspired to translate that imagined scene onto canvas. A café on the Place du Forum in the Arles village center, with its large outdoor seating area and bright yellow lamp that lit up even the cobblestones in the road, seemed like the perfect spot, so one day in September 1888, van Gogh set up his easel. The result is the painting known as Café Terrace at Night (or The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night). “Here you have a night painting without black,” van Gogh announced in a letter to his sister. The dark blue sky with swirling stars above is van Gogh’s first attempt to paint the night sky as he envisioned it, a project that would lead him to The Starry Night a year later. At first glance, Café Terrace at Night appears to be a random, snapshot-like rendering, but at least one art historian has theorized that the composition (with a cross in the background and 12 figures, a tall waiter with long hair) is meant to refer to the Last Supper, when Jesus (the waiter?) ate his last meal surrounded by his disciples (with Judas the dark figure leaving through the door) (see detail in image below with annotations from the blog think.IAfor.org). Other scholars, less religious minded, have pointed out that the configuration of the stars in the sky is so accurate it can be used to date the painting. Tourists may now visit the spot, which has been restored to its 1888 appearance and has changed its name to Café Van Gogh.

455. The Night Café

Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
Date: September 1888
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; The Netherlands/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.4 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide
Current location: Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut
Van Gogh The_Night_Café In September 1888, Vincent Van Gogh was in debt to the owners of Café de la Gare in Arles, where Van Gogh was renting a room in the back. Van Gogh described the place to his brother Theo as “a ‘café de nuit’ (they are fairly frequent here), staying open all night. ‘Night prowlers’ can take refuge there when they have no money to pay for a lodging, or are too drunk to be taken in.” On three successive nights, Van Gogh stayed up all night (sleeping during the day) to paint the café interior, with owner Joseph-Michel Ginoux standing next to the pool table under the agitated yellow lights of the ceiling lamps. Van Gogh shows the night prowlers, drinking or asleep, but he made no attempt to represent the colors accurately. Instead, Van Gogh anticipates the Fauvists and Expressionists by choosing colors for their emotional effect, as he himself explained in another letter: “I have tried to express the terrible passions of humanity by means of red and green. The room is blood red and dark yellow with a green billiard table in the middle; there are four lemon-yellow lamps with a glow of orange and green. Everywhere there is a clash and contrast of the most alien reds and greens… .” The simplified composition and large swaths of a single color are reminiscent of Van Gogh’s beloved Japanese woodblock prints, but the swirling maelstroms of light around the lamps are pure Van Gogh. Van Gogh also created version of the scene using watercolors (now in a private collection) that is even more stripped down in its composition (see image below). Joseph-Michel Ginoux and his wife eventually accepted the oil painting to settle Van Gogh’s debt, at the time a gesture of faith in a then mostly unknown artist.

456. Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889

Artist: James Ensor
Date: 1888
Period/Style: Symbolism; proto-Expressionism; Belgium
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 8.3 ft. tall by 14.1 ft. wide
Current location: Getty Center, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California
ensor christ's entry Although Belgian Symbolist  James Ensor was an atheist, he identified with Jesus as both an advocate for the poor and oppressed and as another humiliated visionary. In the controversial Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889, Ensor imagines a near future in which the coming of Jesus to Belgium becomes an excuse for a parade of horribles: a sea of gruesome masked faces representing the herdlike masses and their opportunist leaders almost completely obscures the figure of Jesus (an Ensor self-portrait) riding on a donkey (see detail in image below). Ensor’s parents owned a store that sold, among other things, Shrove Tuesday masks, which played an important role in his mature work – here it is difficult to distinguish the masks and the faces beneath them. Leading the parade is atheist social reformer Emile Littré, dressed as a bishop, with a drum major’s baton. Also visible are Belgian politicians, Ensor’s friends and family, and historical figures, including the Marquise de Sade at lower right. Slogans on banners and posters praise Jesus but also cynically promote political agendas and commercial products (including a brand of mustard!). The message is the second coming of Jesus would become a tawdry spectacle manipulated by those in power for their own purposes. Ensor’s style is often deliberately crude, especially in the foreground figures. Ensor opposed the latest trend of pointillism and chose instead to use palette knives, spatulas and both ends of his brush to slap on large patches of color. The heads of the crowd, which become smaller and smaller as they fade into the background, mock the tiny dots of Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte, which had recently visited Belgium. Disgusted with traditional art societies, Ensor had joined the more radical Les XX, but that group had fallen under the spell of French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism and rejected Ensor’s masterpiece. Instead, Ensor hung the enormous canvas (measuring) in his studio. Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889 was not displayed publicly until 1929, when it was recognized as a precursor of Expressionism. 
ensor christ's entry detail

457. The Lady of Shalott

Artist: John William Waterhouse
Date: 1888
Period/Style: Pre-Raphaelite; England
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 6.0 ft. tall by 7.4 ft wide
Current location: Tate Britain, London, England, UK
Waterhouse_-_The_Lady_of_Shalott According to a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the Lady of Shalott was woman from the time of King Arthur who lived in a tower and was forbidden to look out her window, lest she die. Instead, she looked at the outside world through a mirror, and made tapestries all day. One day, she sees handsome Sir Lancelot in her mirror and turns to look at him from her window. The mirror cracks and the curse begins. She hastily brings some belongings to a canoe to find Lancelot, but she dies before she makes it to Camelot. Waterhouse shows his tragic heroine as she is about to let go of the chain tying the boat to the bank. Two of the three candles on the boat have gone out, a metaphor (along with the crucifix) for her impending death. The colors, theme and attention to nature are consistent with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s tenets, although Waterhouse’s brushwork is more apparent than in earlier Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

458. Vision after the Sermon

Artist: Paul Gauguin
Date: 1888
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.4 ft tall by 3.0 ft wide
Current location: National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK
gauguin vision after the sermon Gauguin’s painting shows Breton women after church services witnessing a vision of Jacob wrestling with the angel, a story from the Bible that symbolizes human struggles with faith. Gauguin rejects many traditions here: he draws a dark line around large flat patches of color to delineate form, instead of using tonal shading. He breaks the rules of perspective, which would have made the foreground women smaller. The tree trunk and branches organizes the composition, with the vision on one side and the congregation on the other, but his decision to make the Biblical story so small relative to the entire canvas perplexed contemporary viewers. Art historians have recognized the influence of Japanese prints in Gauguin’s painting, including Hokusai’s Sumo Wrestlers (17901793) (see image below left) and Hiroshige’s Flowering Plum Tree (which was copied by Van Gogh in 1887, see image below right).
   

459. The Burghers of Calais

Artist: Auguste Rodin
Date: Rodin received the commission in 1884; he completed the original sculpture in 1889 and it was unveiled in Calais in 1895.
Medium: Sculptures cast in bronze
Dimensions: The sculptural group measures 6.6 ft. tall, 6.7 ft. wide and 6.4 ft. deep.
Current locations: There are 12 full-sized bronze casts in various locations, including: Calais, France (original 1889 cast); Glyptoteket, Copenhagen, Denmark (1903 cast); Royal Museum, Mariemont, Belgium (1905 cast); Victoria Tower Gardens, London (1908 cast); Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA (1919-1921 cast); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (1959 cast); Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (1985 cast). A full-size plaster cast from 1889 is located in the Musée Rodin in Paris.
During the Hundred Years’ War, English troops under King Edward III laid siege to the port town of Calais, France for over a year, while King Philip VI of France ordered the city not to surrender. By 1347, the people of Calais were starving and ready to give in. According to legend, Edward offered a compromise: he would spare the city if six citizens would surrender to him by walking out of the gates bareheaded, wearing nooses around their necks and carrying the keys to the city. Eustache de St. Pierre, a wealthy town leader, was first to volunteer (see detail showing St. Pierre below); five other burghers soon joined him. The six walked out the city gates together, believing they faced certain death. Instead, Queen Philippa convinced Edward to spare their lives. In 1884, when the leaders of Calais voted to erect a monument to Eustache de St. Pierre, sculptor Auguste Rodin surprised the selection committee by making a model honoring all six burghers, which won the competition. Rodin delivered the first full-sized bronze cast of The Burghers of Calais to the town of Calais in 1889. Seeing the six burghers not as heroes but as ordinary citizens who acted out of a sense of duty, Rodin specified that the sculpture be placed at ground level, so that ordinary citizens could meet the burghers eye-to-eye. Instead, Calais’ town leaders initially placed the statue on a high pedestal, consistent with standard practice. It was not until 1926 that the sculpture was brought down to earth with a low pedestal, as Rodin had specified. Three additional bronze casts were made during Rodin’s lifetime, and eight more since Rodin’s death in 1917, reaching the maximum of 12 casts allowed under French law. Casts of individual members of the group have also been made. Some of Rodin’s contemporaries criticized the sculpture because it did not glorify the heroes and did not include allegorical figures and other classical indicia of heroism, but modern scholars and critics have praised the work for its humanism, its individualized treatment of each figure and its rendering of the burghers’ weary anguish and resignation as a form of heroic self-sacrifice. Over time, Rodin’s unsentimental rendering of ordinary people rising to meet extraordinary circumstances has become an icon.

460. The Starry Night

Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
Date: June 1889
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; The Netherlands/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.4 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Van_Gogh_-_Starry_Night A few months after cutting off almost all of his left ear, Vincent Van Gogh checked himself into a sanitarium in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in southern France in an attempt to cure his ever-worsening mental illness. He was allowed two rooms – one to sleep in and one to paint in – and was permitted to go outside to paint en plein air with supervision. He painted The Starry Night in June 1889 – it is a night scene with a crescent moon and swirling stars over a quiet town that is all straight lines and sharp edges. The scene is imaginary: it contains some of the elements of the view from Van Gogh’s window, but the town is invented (it could be based on a sketch Van Gogh made of Arles or a memory of a Dutch village) and while there were cypress trees in the field outside his window, none of them was so close to the sanitarium. Van Gogh was disappointed with the painting; he felt it was too abstract, too much of the imagination and not enough of nature. (He and Gauguin had often argued about this very dichotomy, with Van Gogh taking the side of nature against Gauguin’s imagined worlds.) Many have found signs of Van Gogh’s mental state in the turbulent swirls in the night sky. Others see religious imagery: the man-made church steeple attempts to breach the gap between the earth and the heavens, but it is only the cypress that truly connects the two realms. Thus nature, not church, is the true pathway to the eternal. Note also that in many parts of Europe, cypress trees were commonly planted in cemeteries and were associated with mourning, death and eternal life. The stars were also symbols of eternal life to Van Gogh, who once wrote that, just as we take a train to travel on Earth, “we take death to reach a star.” Others have analyzed the starry night in astronomical terms. There was no crescent moon that night in June, they note (it was gibbous), but Van Gogh preferred to have one. The brightest star in the sky is not a star at all but the planet Venus. And some point to recently-published drawings of telescopic images from far away galaxies (then called nebulae) to account for the swirling image at the center of the sky.

461. Self-Portrait

Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
Date: September 1889
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; The Netherlands/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.1 ft. tall by 1.8 ft. wide
Current location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

In December 1888, while living in Arles, France with fellow painter Paul Gauguin, Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh was experiencing a mental breakdown; after an argument with Gauguin, Van Gogh cut off almost all of his left ear. After several hospital stays to recover from the ear injury (and the massive loss of blood), he committed himself to a mental asylum in Saint-Rémy in May 1889. He began painting again in September 1889, but remained at the asylum (with a number of visits to Arles) until discharged in May 1890. On July 29, 1890, he committed suicide. During the last 10 years of his life, Van Gogh created at least 43 self-portraits. A form of visual diary, the paintings record the changes in Van Gogh’s painting style as well as his physical and mental decline. Scholars have noted the critical self-analysis and questioning of identity that Van Gogh undertakes in these highly revealing portraits. Van Gogh’s letters indicate that he was consciously seeking to capture something in these painted works that could not be captured by photography, then a relatively new technology. He looked to the brutal honesty of his fellow countryman Rembrandt’s self-portraits as a model. Van Gogh painted the September 1889 Self-Portrait nine months after he cut off his ear and four months after he arrived at the asylum. Unlike Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe (see image below left) and Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (see image below right) from January 1889, which draw attention to the self-mutilation, here he paints himself from the left, hiding the injury. He wears a suit, not his usual working pea jacket. There is an anxious inward stare in his eyes; as one art historian put it, he has the look of “a man trying to hold himself together.” The dominant green and turquoise blue, normally calming colors, conflict jarringly with the blazing orange of his beard and hair, whose undulations are amplified by the churning energy of the swirls of the background, which are reminiscent of the turbulent sky in The Starry Night.
 

462. Wheat Field with Crows

Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
Date: July 1890
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; The Netherlands/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 1.6 ft. tall by 3.4 ft. wide
Current location: Vincent Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
van gogh wheatfield with crowsDuring the final months of his life, Vincent Van Gogh entered into a period of unusually high artistic productivity, sometimes finishing a canvas every day. He had moved to Auvers-sur-Oise in May 1890 and was working closely with Dr. Paul Gachet. Using unconventionally-shaped double square canvases, Van Gogh painted Auvers and its environs, including the wheat fields outside the town. He painted Wheat Field with Crows in July 1890, the last month of his life. We see turbulent fields of wheat under an equally turbulent sky. Dozens of crows fly above the wheat, although it’s unclear where they are going, if anywhere. There are three separate paths – the two in the foreground seem to come from nowhere and lead nowhere; the central path enters the wheatfield but it is not clear where or whether it will end. Most scholars now reject the theory that Wheat Field with Crows was Van Gogh’s final painting. Nevertheless, Van Gogh’s suicide has led some to interpret the turbulent sky as Van Gogh’s mental state; the dead-end roads as the end of his life; and the crows as death and/or resurrection. A letter Van Gogh wrote at the time mentions two paintings – one of which might have been Wheat Field with Crows – that he describes paradoxically as embodying “sadness and extreme loneliness” yet also showing the “health and restorative forces of the countryside.” On the afternoon of July 27, 1890, while out painting in the countryside, Van Gogh shot himself in the chest. He was able to walk back to the lodging house where he was staying in town and died there 30 hours later, in the early morning hours of July 29th, his brother Theo by his side. According to Theo, his last words were, “The sadness will last forever.”

463. The Card Players

Artist: Paul Cézanne
Date: Series of five paintings made between 1890 and 1895
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: The five paintings in the series range from 1.5 ft. tall by 1.8 ft. wide (smallest) to 4.4 ft. tall by 5.9 ft. wide (largest).
Current locations: Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Courtauld Institute of Art, London; Musée d’Orsay, Paris; private collection.
The playing of card games has been a subject for painters since at least the early Baroque. Caravaggio painted a card game, as did Georges de la Tour, the Le Nain Brothers and Dutch Golden Age painters. In the 19th Century, French artists such as Daumier, Caillebotte and Degas painted card players. Most of these earlier paintings create drama around the game itself; a common theme is to show one player trying to cheat another.  When Paul Cézanne took up the subject matter in about 1890, he stripped away the narrative elements, choosing instead to focus on the formal elements of the work: color, shape, texture and composition.  He made five versions of The Card Players in a five or six year period, although art historians are undecided on the order. There are two versions with three players and three versions with two players. (Some experts believe the three-player versions came first; others disagree.) Cézanne did not paint a card game directly, but painted the individual figures – most of them were workers on his family’s estate – in separate studies, then painted them together onto the final canvas. As Neil Collins notes, the painting “conveys a sense of timeless tranquility.” “Cézanne’s peasants are all studiously intent on the card game in front of them, and make no attempt at conversation. There is no excitement or melodrama.” X-ray studies indicate that the smaller three-person version in New York may have been a preparatory study for the larger version in Philadelphia.  That version is unique for having the most figures (five), who imitate the X-shape made by the cards on the table (see image above).  In the two-person versions, as Dr. Ben Harvey notes, “The details of the game have receded still further and life has been stilled.” (See image below, showing the version in the Musée d’Orsay.) This stillness arises in part from the way that Cézanne paints the figures. As Dr. Harvey points out, “Cézanne’s card players, like many of his figures, occupy a space somewhere between the painting of figures and the painting of objects.”  The five versions are:
(1) (1890-1892?) Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 4.4 ft. tall by 5.9. ft. wide (see image above):
(2) (1890-1892?) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY 2.1 ft. tall by 2.6 ft. wide;
(3) (1892-1893?) Private collection, 3,1 ft, tall by 4,2 ft, wide;
(4) (1892-1895?) Courtauld Institute of Art, London 1.9 ft. tall by 2.3 ft. wide; and
(5) (1894-1895?)  Musée d’Orsay, Paris 1.5 ft, tall by 1.8 ft. wide (see image below).

464. Rouen Cathedral

Artist: Claude Monet
Date: Monet painted over 30 canvases in the series between 1892 and 1894.
Period/Style: Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: The canvases are approximately 3.3-3.5 feet tall by 2-2.5 ft. wide.
Current location: Various collections
 
 
Claude Monet’s lifelong mission as a painter was to represent not merely the way that objects and people look but the way that light itself looks when it illuminates those objects and people. In his maturity, he experimented with capturing the essence of light by painting the same or similar subjects multiple times: poplars, haystacks, water lilies and, between 1892 and 1894, the Gothic Cathedral at Rouen. He painted over 30 canvases using oil paints showing the facade of the cathedral at different  times of day, in different kinds of weather and different times of year. Monet often worked on multiple canvases at one time, switching from one to the next as the light changed. He liked to exhibit all the paintings in a series at one time in one place. The images above show:
(1) Rouen Cathedral, Full Sunlight, 3.5 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide; Musee d’Orsay, Paris;
(2) Rouen Cathedral, West Façade, Sunlight, 3.3 ft. tall by 2.1 ft. wide; N
ational Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.;
(3) Rouen Cathedral, Façade and Tour d’Albane, Morning Effect, 3.5 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston;
(4) Rouen Cathedral, Façade, Evening Harmony in Brown, 3.3 ft. tall by 2.1 ft. wide; Pola Museum of Art, Hakone, Japan.

465. At the Moulin Rouge

Artist: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Date: 1892-1895
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4 ft. tall by 4.6 ft. wide
Current location: Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
Toulouse-Lautrec At_the_moulin_rouge_ Born into an aristocratic family, but disabled by childhood injuries to his legs, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec found solace in his art and the company of the entertainers and others who frequented the clubs in the somewhat seedy Paris neighborhood of Montmartre. Toulouse-Lautrec was a regular at several night clubs and cabarets in Montmartre, including the Moulin Rouge, a cabaret that opened in 1889. At the Moulin Rouge introduces us to the club’s demimonde of singers, dancers, artists and hangers-on, but does so with a caution: the viewer is barred from entry by the balustrade that cuts off the left lower corner of the painting, yet also leads the eye into the center of activity. We are outsiders looking in, hoping to become one of the chosen few. The technique is familiar from Japanese ukiyo-e woodcut prints, which were highly praised and imitated by Parisian artists at that time. On the other side of this barrier, we see on the right English dancer May Milton, her half-face (another ukiyo-e motif – the human figure cut in half by the border of the picture) lit an eerie green from below by the new electric lights. The face is so startling in its ugliness that after Toulouse-Lautrec’s death, an art dealer cut off that section of the painting, believing that it would be more likely to sell without the green-faced monster. Fortunately, the separate pieces were rejoined, allowing us a full sense of the artist’s vision of the nightclub’s ambiance. In the center, a group of artists and entertainers – including the orange-haired dancer Jane Avril, with her back to us, and several other identified Moulin Rouge habitués – converse together at a table well stocked with drinks. In the right background, the cabaret’s star dancer, La Goulue (Louise Weber), fixes her hair in a mirror. In the center background, we see a self-portrait of the artist, accompanied by his very tall cousin Gabriel Tapié de Céléyran. Toulouse-Lautrec was not only a customer of the Moulin Rouge and other Montmartre nightclubs, he also sketched there, bringing the sketches back to his studio to create the finished products. Sometimes those creations were oil paintings, such as At the Moulin Rouge, but he also created a number of highly regarded advertising posters for several of the venues (including the Moulin Rouge), many of them featuring the same characters (Jane Avril, La Goulue, etc.), but in a more abstract style (see his 1891 poster for the Moulin Rouge featuring La Goulue in image below).  toulouse lautrec moulin rouge poster

466. The Child’s Bath

Artist: Mary Cassatt
Date: 1893
Period/Style: Impressionism; US/France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 3.3 ft tall by 2.2 ft wide
Current location: Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois

It was fellow Impressionist Edgar Degas who reportedly suggested that Mary Cassatt – an American living in Paris – should do a series of artworks featuring mothers and children. Cassatt, who never married and had no children, liked the idea; The Child’s Bath is one of a number of works exploring the theme. Like Degas, Mary Cassatt was fascinated with Japanese prints. The compression of space, the overhead point of view, and the blocks of color that characterize forms familiar from those prints all find their way into this major work – a genre painting of a mother giving her daughter a bath. We look down at the tender domestic scene, with its many points of physical connection and echoes of gesture, just as the mother and child look down at the tub of water. Art historian Frederick Hartt comments, “The intimate Impressionist point of view is strengthened by a superb sense of color and design, the three-tone stripes of the mother’s dress serving as a kind of architectural enframement for the sturdy little girl, fascinated at having her feet washed.”

467. The Scream

Artist: Edvard Munch
Date: The first and second versions were created in 1893. A third version was made in 1895 and a fourth in 1910.
Period/Style: Symbolism; Expressionism; Norway
Medium: Version 1: tempera and crayon on cardboard. Version 2: crayons on cardboard. Version 3: pastels on cardboard. Version 4: tempera on cardboard.
Dimensions: Version 1: 3.1 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide. Version 2: 2.1 ft. tall by 1.8 ft. wide. Version 3: 2.6 ft. tall by 1.9 ft. wide. Version 4: 2.7 ft. tall by 2.1 ft. tall.
Current locations: Version 1: National Gallery, Oslo, Norway. Versions 2 and 4: Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway. Version 3: Private collection.
The_Scream
In 2012, a private art collector paid $120 million for one of four versions of Edvard Munch’s iconic image, The Scream, setting a record at the time. This version, made in 1895 (two years after the first two versions) was unique in having a poem by Munch etched into its frame. The poem describes the moment that gave birth to The Scream:

I was walking along the road with two friends. The Sun was setting – The Sky turned a bloody red And I felt a whiff of Melancholy – I stood Still, deathly tired – over the blue-black Fjord and City hung Blood and Tongues of Fire My Friends walked on – I remained behind – shivering with Anxiety – I felt the great Scream in Nature.

Munch painted four versions of The Scream between 1893 and 1910, two with tempera, one with pastels, and one with crayons. Each version contains the same basic elements, but some of the details differ. The version considered definitive is the second one from 1893, which is now in the National Gallery in Oslo (see image above). The three versions in public collections are in Norway. Munch also made approximately 45 black and white prints of the image from a lithographic stone he made in 1895, some of which Munch painted. The Scream influenced art history, notably Expressionism, as well as popular culture. It resonates with so many because it expresses the deep dread that seemed to seep into society about the time it was painted. As art curator Jill Lloyd explained in a 2016 interview, “It presents man cut loose from all the certainties that had comforted him up until that point in the 19th Century: there is no God now, no tradition, no habits or customs – just poor man in a moment of existential crisis, facing a universe he doesn’t understand and can only relate to in a feeling of panic.” The image has now become a pop culture icon, which apparently makes it more attractive to thieves: First, the 1893 version was stolen from the National Gallery in 1994, but was recovered a few months later. Then, in 2004, the 1910 version in the Munch Museum was stolen, but was recovered in 2007.  Shown below are:  at left  version 1, from 1893, now in the Munch Museum in Oslo; at center, version 3, from 1895, now in a private collection’ amd at right, version 4, from 1910, also at the Munch Museum. Random Trivia: The 1895 version of The Scream is not the only one with writing on it. Penciled into the sky of the 1893 version of The Scream in the National Gallery are the words (in Norwegian), “Could only have been painted by a madman.” No one knows who scribbled the message there, but Munch never removed it. 
 
munch the scream 3  The Scream by Edvard Munch  Munch_-_The_Scream_-1910 tempera

468. Mahana No Atua (Day of the God)

Artist: Paul Gauguin
Date: 1894
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; France/French Polynesia
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.2 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide
Current location: Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
Gauguin - Day of the God After leaving his native France for Tahiti in 1891 to escape “everything that is artificial and conventional”, Paul Gauguin visited France between 1893 and 1895, after which he returned to the South Seas, where he remained until his death in 1903. Gauguin spent much of his visit to France working on an account of his experiences in Tahiti. He also made some paintings, including Day of the God (Mahana No Atua), which may have originated as an illustration for his book. Gauguin divides his canvas in thirds.  In the top register, a statue of the Polynesian god Hina or Taaroa is the focus of a religious ceremony that appears to involve two women in white carrying offerings, a man in white playing a flute, and two women in red dancing. In back of them, a couple in white embraces and another woman in white moves to the left. Gauguin arranges all nine figures (including the statue) so they create a frieze or procession. In the middle register, three nude figures are arranged symmetrically at the water’s edge; one immerses her feet in the water, another just dips her toes, while the third retreats from the water entirely; they may represent birth, life and death. In the foreground, what appear to represent colorful reflections in the water possess the unnatural flatness of color fields in abstract painting. Random Trivia: Gauguin was disappointed with the stone architecture and sculpture of the Polynesians (much of which had been destroyed by Christian missionaries), so he often used other sources as models for statues in his Polynesian paintings. The statue in Mahana No Atua is based on relief sculptures at the Buddhist temple at Borobudur in Indonesia. Gauguin kept a collection of photographs with him in Tahiti that included Borobudur reliefs as well as art and architecture from India, Egypt and other parts of Southeast Asia.

469. Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry

Artist: Paul Cézanne
Date: 1897
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 2.1 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide
Current location: Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland
Cezanne - Mont_Sainte-Victoire_Seen_from_the_Bibemus_Quarry_1897 French painter Paul Cézanne was a pivotal figure in art history. Early in his career, while based in Paris, he embraced Impressionism. In the 1880s, however, he returned to his birthplace in the south of France and began his more experimental Post-Impressionist phase. He became fascinated with local peak Mont Sainte-Victoire as a subject; he painted the mountain and its surrounding landscape at least 60 times. In 1895, Cézanne discovered the abandoned Bibémus Quarry, known for its orange stone. The same year, he climbed Mont Sainte-Victoire for the first time. In 1897, Cézanne rented a stone cabin at the quarry and began painting from there. The quarry is the setting for his 1897 work, Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry. Cézanne sought to render the shapes of objects so as to capture their true essence, without regard for what he saw as the superficial truth of realism. Consistent with this philosophy, Cézanne rejected traditional one-point perspective in favor of what scholars have called “primitive emotional perspective.” In Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry, he creates the appearance of one plane with a vertical axis by using the same size brush strokes for the orange rocks in the foreground, the mountain in the background, and the trees throughout. To emphasize the importance of the mountain and the illusion that the entire landscape is close to the picture plane, Cézanne paints Mont Sainte-Victoire leaning forward (not back, as in photographs), outlines it in blue, and makes it twice as large as it actually appears from the quarry. Curiously, according to art lovers who have visited Bibémus Quarry, there is no spot where both the quarry rocks and Mont Sainte-Victoire are visible, raising the likelihood that Cézanne has created a composite of two separate views. For a fascinating experiment in recreating Cézanne process using photographs, see Phil Haber’s blog (link in the comments). (https://philhaber.com/2011/11/27/in-the-footsteps-of-cezanne-part-iii-the-bibemus-quarries/)

470. The Sleeping Gypsy

Artist: Henri Rousseau
Date: 1897
Period/Style: Outsider Art; Primitivism; France
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.2 ft. tall by 6.6 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Rousseau - The Sleeping Gypsy Henri Rousseau was an amateur. A toll collector, he knew nothing about perspective, anatomy, or the various artistic movements. Yet without knowing any of this, he managed to create some truly fascinating, often beautiful paintings. Art historians label him a primitivist, a practitioner of outsider art, who did not fit into any particular category. At the same time, they note that his work has elements of the work of Paul Gauguin, as well as hints of Symbolism, Surrealism and Cubism, the latter two of which hadn’t even begun in 1897! The avant-garde artists of fin-de-siècle Paris eventually discovered Rousseau and adopted him as one of their own, but at the time of The Sleeping Gypsy, he was essentially an unknown. The painting is a fantasy: a Gypsy woman (from a culture now known as Romani) lies asleep (but with teeth showing!) on the bare earth, her mandolin and water bottle by her side, her walking stick in her hand, and a colorful cloth under her head. There is an eerie full moon and a bleak treeless landscape. And there is a lion, who appears to sniff her but doesn’t seem intent on harm. Is she dreaming of the lion or is he really there? Some have even suggested that he is the woman’s traveling companion and protector. Rousseau creates stylized figures with odd geometries whose relationship to real things in our world is sometimes tenuous. But the viewer is nevertheless drawn into these fantasy-scapes and their haunting sense of symbolism, even if we can never quite discern what is being symbolized. To the curator at the Museum of Modern Art, which owns the painting, Rousseau is looking both backward and forward: “With its flat planes of pure color, simple geometric forms, dreamlike atmosphere, and exotic subject, The Sleeping Gypsy at once conjures a desire for a preindustrial past and asserts its status as a new kind of modern art….” 

471. Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Artist: Paul Gauguin
Date: 1897-1898
Period/Style: Post-Impressionism; Symbolism; France/French Polynesia
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: 4.6 ft. tall by 12.3 ft. wide
Current location: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
gauguin where do we come from When French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin was a young man attending Catholic school in Paris, his religious catechism contained the following three questions: “Where does humanity come from?” “Where is it going to?” and “How does humanity proceed?” Many years later, Gauguin was living in Tahiti, part of French Polynesia, having left decadent and bourgeois France (abandoning his wife and children in the process) in order to create art in a more “primitive and savage” environment. Unfortunately, by 1897, Gauguin’s Tahitian experiment was going badly. He was suffering from a number of serious ailments (including something he called eczema but which many now believe was syphilis), he was deep in debt, and he was no longer as productive artistically as he had been. He decided to paint a masterpiece, a culminating artistic statement, and then end his life. Echoing his childhood catechism, the large canvas (his largest ever), entitled Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, Incorporates aspects of local Tahitian custom and mythology as well as references to other “primitive” cultures, the painting should be read from right to left, like an ancient scroll. At the far right, we see infancy, followed by young adult life, and finally on the left an old woman reconciled to death, with a white bird that, according to Gauguin, “represents the futility of words.” The blue idol at rear left represents The Beyond (see detail in image below). (Most of the statues depicted in Gauguin’s Tahitian works are based on photographs of Buddhist and Hindu statues from Asia; indigenous Polynesian religious imagery had been almost completely eradicated by Christian missionaries by the time Gauguin arrived.) The painting is symbolic, not naturalistic; anticipating the Fauvists, the bold colors are designed to evoke emotional reactions and access deeper truths, not represent superficial surface reality. The same can be said of the figures, who are not grounded, but appear to float about without paying attention to the rules of perspective. When he was finished, Gauguin was pleased; he described the painting as a “philosophical work on a theme comparable to that of the Gospel.” The work is considered a masterpiece, but it was not a final statement. Gauguin did attempt suicide soon after completing the piece by taking arsenic, but he was unsuccessful (although some believe it was a publicity stunt); he lived on until 1903, when he finally succumbed to syphilis.

472. Boy Kneeling at the Spring (The Kneeling Youth) and The Fountain of Kneeling Youth

Artist: George Minne
Date: 1898
Period/Style: Symbolism; Belgium
Medium: Statues and statuettes made from bronze, marble, or plaster
Dimensions: Most of the individual figures are approximately 30-31 inches tall. A smaller version at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is just under 19 inches tall. The figures in the full-sized Fountain of Kneeling Youth are life size; there are also smaller versions.
Current locations: Versions of the single Kneeling Youth sculpture are located in various collections, including: Musee d’Orsay, Paris (bronze); Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands (bronze); Neue Galerie in New York (marble), Museum of Modern Art, New York (plaster); National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia (plaster), and Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent, Belgium (plaster). Full-size versions of The Fountain of Kneeling Youth are located at the Folkwang Museum, Hage, Germany (marble); the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent (bronze) and in a public garden in Brussels, Belgium (bronze).
george-minne youth kneeling
Belgian Symbolist sculptor George Minne made numerous bronze and plaster statuettes of a boy or youth kneeling, known as Kneeling Youth or, sometimes, Boy Kneeling before a Fountain. Minne also made a group of five identical kneeling figures to be placed around actual fountains, called The Fountain of Kneeling Youth (sometimes nicknamed The Narcissus Fountain, although there is no evidence Minne intended to represent the mythical Narcissus). In the individual piece, a young nude man kneels, his head bent forward as if weighed down by some emotional burden, his arms wrapped around himself. The pose is self-contained and introspective and owes much to the tradition of medieval and Gothic religious carvings, with their elongated torsos and limbs and representation of states of spiritual contemplation and suffering. But Minne’s style, which abstracts the figures and nearly reduces them to a series of lines, also anticipates the Expressionists of the next century, who sought to express not the superficial realism of the body, but its emotional reality. According to the curators of the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent, the kneeling figures represent “the externalization of a complex emotional condition, in which self-protection, internalization and narcissism blend together.” These qualities are emphasized in The Fountain of Kneeling Youth by having the figures facing away from the viewer and toward the center of the fountain. They are not there for us, but are wrapped up in their own sorrow and, perhaps, self-healing. Random Trivia: The locals in Brussels, where a cast of The Fountain of Kneeling Youth is located in the garden behind the Parliament building, have a somewhat different perspective: their nickname for the statue is “the five pissers.”

473. The Japanese Footbridge

Artist: Claude Monet
Date: 1899
Medium: Oil paints on canvas
Dimensions: There are 12 paintings in the series of varying sizes (1.3-3 ft. tall and 1.5-3.3 ft. wide), with either horizontal or vertical orientation.
Current locations: Paintings in the series may be found in museums around the world under a variety of titles, including: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies); National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (The Japanese Footbridge); Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA (Japanese Footbridge and the Water Lily Pool, Giverny); National Gallery, London, England, UK (The Water-Lily Pond); Musee d’Orsay, Paris, France (Water Lily Pond (Green Harmony)); National Gallery of Australia, Melbourne (The Japanese Footbridge); and Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ (Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge).
  In addition to being a painter, Claude Monet was an amateur horticulturalist and landscape architect. In 1883, he moved with his family to Giverny (about 50 miles northwest of Paris) and after several years was able to buy a parcel of land that included a swampy area, where he worked for years, using his own detailed designs, to create a man-made paradise. He obtained permission from local officials to divert a stream into the swamp, creating a pond. He then designed a garden, bringing in bamboo, water lilies and other flora; as a finishing touch, he had a Japanese-style wooden bridge built across the pond. Monet thus created an artificial natural environment to his own specifications that served as the subject of at least 250 paintings in the last decades of his life. The series of paintings of the water lily pond was the culmination of a particular technique that Monet began experimenting with in the early 1890s. Instead of painting a scene once, he would choose a subject and paint it multiple times: at different times of day, in different kinds of weather, or in different seasons. He began with the haystack series in 1891, then Rouen Cathedral in 1892-1894 and continued this method until the end of his life. Monet often worked on multiple canvases at a time – he would work on the morning light painting until the light began to change, then he would switch to the afternoon light canvas. When a series was complete, Monet liked to exhibit the paintings all together, so viewers could compare the changing effects of light and the seasons on the underlying subject matter, whether stacks of hay, a cathedral, the Houses of Parliament in London, or a pond of water lilies. His series of water lily paintings is so large that there are mini-series within the series. One of those subsets is a group of 12 paintings Monet made of the Japanese bridge in 1899. Each painting differs in lighting, time of day and sometimes time of year; some are horizontal, others vertical. The Japanese bridge divides the canvas into two sections: the foliage above and the pond below, with its lily pads, flowers and reflections. We see the line where the pond meets the land, but we don’t see the sky. The bridge is pictured in the top half of each painting; in at least one case (the version in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.) the arches reach almost to the top of the canvas (see image at left above). Each painting shows Monet’s mature style: unmixed colors applied with short thick brushstrokes in layers, creating a three-dimensional effect when seen up close. Monet made paintings of the water lily pond showing the bridge both before and after this series, but the 12 paintings from 1899 were meant to be considered as a whole – Monet exhibited them together at the Durand–Ruel gallery in Paris in 1900. They are now scattered around the world in various collections.  The images above show:
(1) at the top, Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge, at the Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ;
(2) above left, The Japanese Footbridge, from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and
(3) above right, Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Random Trivia: The image below is a 1917 photograph (using the autochrome color process) of Claude Monet at Giverny with the Japanese footbridge.

For Art History 101, Part 7 (1900-Present), go HERE.

4 thoughts on “Art History 101 – Part 6: 1800-1899

  1. Julie

    I am grateful for all your research and that you have shared it with us!
    One suggestion: See this site—http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Slave_Ship
    M.W. Turner painted The Slave Ship, Zong, in 1840, as “133 slaves are being thrown overboard so that insurance payments could be collected.”—(The captain had 8 ports he could have stopped to gather supplies and water. The captain claimed that he threw the newly captured slaves overboard because the ship and crew was running out of water.) Also, see the movie, “Bell” that deals with this incident and the English Courts, finally, outlawing such inhumane practices. I think this one painting, of 1840, is similar to Picasso’s, Guernica, of 1937, because had such a strong political effect at that reverberates today. I know, often, Art History instructors see the other paintings as more “note-worthy”—and, certainly, Rain, Steam and Speed, IS one of the many that is a precursor to abstract painting and a sign of the industrial speed to come. I think, though, that The Slave Ship has had more effect on so many, and is only overlooked because it is printed so small, in texts and we can not comprehend that the people have been thrown over—it looks like a storm has taken everyone that is in the water.
    It would be very difficult to make such a comprehensive Web site that would summarize ALL the paintings of importance! I appreciate what you have done!!!!…and, perhaps when you have time to revise some of the pages, you might look into adding this painting.
    Tonight, was the first time that I happened to have run into your Web/Blog–I will, certainly, try to put aside some time to find it again! You are inspiring!! THANK YOU!

    Reply
    1. beckchris

      Julie, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment! I agree that The Slave Ship is a major work of Turner’s and its emotional and political impact are significant. I am fortunate to have seen the original many times in my visits to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and it is all you say. Unfortunately, my meta-list technique does not permit me to impose my own personal views on the lists – I merely search for lists of ‘best art’ and then publish the results of my search. In this case, I did not find The Slave Ship on enough “Best Art” lists to allow me to include it here. As you can see, there are many Turner paintings that were included on multiple “Best Art” lists, but for some reason (perhaps as you noted – that it needs to be seen close-up, not in a small reproduction in a book), The Slave Ship was not included many of the lists I found.

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