Monday, August 31, 2015

Woman with a Parrot (1866)

Gustave Courbet: Woman with a Parrot

When this painting was shown in the Salon of 1866, critics censured Courbet's "lack of taste" as well as his model's "ungainly" pose and "disheveled hair." Yet the provocative picture found favor with a younger generation of artists who shared Courbet’s disregard for academic standards. Manet began his version of the subject the same year; and Cézanne apparently carried a small photograph of the present work in his wallet. [Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Young Brittany Girl Knitting (1866)

Jules Breton: Young Brittany Girl Knitting

As a result of government-sponsored ethnographic studies in the nineteenth century, Brittany, France’s northwestern province, was deemed a rustic, if not entirely archaic, region; its people held firmly to the language, religion and cultural traditions of their sixth century Celtic ancestors. This inspired thongs of travelers curious to experience the uniquely preserved culture firsthand.  One such visitor was Jules Breton, who visited Brittany for the fist time in 1865, staying in and around the Baie de Douarnenez, notable for its tuna and sardine fisheries (Annette Bourrut Lacouture, Jules Breton, Painter of Peasant Life, exh. cat., New Haven, 2002, p. 137-139). During his stays, Breton explored the sandy beaches, observing washerwomen and other hard-working peasants, recording their daily tasks in classically inspired arrangements on large canvases. Yet, as demonstrated by the present work, the artist was equally compelled by the darker thickets of Douarnenez, filled with craggy granite rocks, dense patches of moss, and twisted roots.  It is this environment of mottled deep greens and shifting tones of brown in which Breton places his Young Brittany Girl Knitting, wearing the crisp white bonnet and apron emblematic of the regional costume, coupled with a dress made up of three distinct, somber color blocks of deep red-brown, blue and black.  Her knitting rests in her lap, temporarily forgotten as her glance is directed to the left, unaware of the viewer’s presence and thus available for close study. The girl’s unselfconscious yet studied pose arose out of Breton’s fascination with the specific physiognomy of Brittany’s women. As he explained “there are those with straight profiles, prominent brows and chins, big lips, powerful square jaws, blue eyes and eyelids slit to the brow; there are the Gallo-Roman type so beloved of Michelangelo.  Then there is the gazelle with the supple neck… slanting eyes with pupils set like black diamonds in brilliant white enamels; fine features etched firmly in olive-toned bronze.  The first reminded one of the dolmens of the Celtic forest, the others of the harems of the Orient” (Jules Breton, La Vie d’un artiste, Art et Nature, Paris, 1890, p. 300, as quoted in Bourrut Lacouture, pp. 143-144).  While Breton is careful to record the knitter’s unique physical characteristics, his portrait does not reduce her to an ethnic stereotype or impersonal genre character. Rather, the artist’s naturalistic handling of paint and intimate composition provide for an individualized expression of youthful beauty. [Sotheby’s]

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Odalisque Couchée (1866)

Joseph Fortuné-Séraphin Layraud: Odalisque Couchée

"Odalisque" was a term for harem slave. Odalisques were a popular subject for artists (guess why?).

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Monday, August 24, 2015

Gustave Courbet (1866)

Gustave Courbet: Deer Taking Shelter in Winter
 Gustave Courbet: Shelter of the Roe Deer at the Stream of Plaisir-Fontaine, Doubs
Gustave Courbet: The Weir at the Mill

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Twilight (1866)

Charles François Daubigny: Twilight

During the 1860s, Daubigny began regularly painting moonlight scenes, evoking a mood of melancholy that his biographer Frédéric Henriet attributed to his advancing age. He cruised up and down the Seine River in his studio-boat in search of subjects such as this view near the village of Andrésy. The picture was probably completed in the studio over several sessions and exhibited at the 1867 Paris Salon. [The Walters Art Museum]

Friday, August 21, 2015

Wedding Feast at Yport (1866)

Albert Auguste Fourié: Wedding Feast at Yport

This charming illustration of life in Normandy in the second half of the 19th century is as fresh today as when it was painted. Despite its commonplace subject – although some have discerned complex sociological thinking in this wedding scene – the painting has acquired immense celebrity over the years.

And it is true, this slice of life is full of lively appeal. At the time, the painter, Albert Fourié, was accused of having worked in his studio from a photograph. But as it happens, there is a photograph of the artist, outdoors, standing by his unfinished painting. The story is a good example of how far photography had become a rival to painting at the time. Another indication of this was the suggestion that Fourié had placed his canvas beneath the trees – as in the above-mentioned photograph – in order to more effectively render the effect of light falling through the leaves in patches on the table where the guests are eating. In any event, the painter certainly came close to photography in his desire to capture the faces and attitudes in an instant, directly reflecting this technique.

Faced with this competition, many painters turned to Impressionism. But Albert Fourié was not one of them. A pupil of Jean-Paul Laurens at the Académie Julian, he remained faithful to tradition, taking inspiration from photography, while giving his work undeniable charm through a soft, mellow style quiet different from the direct and forceful rendering of a mechanical image. [Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen]

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Les Oranges (1865)

William Bouguereau: Les Oranges

The image of a mother and child is a symbol of universal relevance. It exists and is celebrated within every culture, throughout its respective history. Through iconic works like Les Oranges, Bouguereau has made an enduring contribution to this fundamental canon of imagery and he continues to have a profound impact on how such images are produced and received to this day.

The present painting is among Bouguereau's greatest achievements. His virtuosity is apparent in every element of the painting, which was executed at the height of his genius. His debt to the Renaissance masters is evident here and the religious overtones of this painting are subtly underlined by the inclusion of the oranges, recognized in symbolic terms as a substitute for the apple in the hand of the infant Christ.

In his biography on the artist, Marius Vachon discusses the artist's mother and child paintings, which are greatly instructed by the fifteenth-century Italian paintings of the Madonna and Child. He writes: "From the outset, the paintings of the Italian masters revealed to the artist the beauty inherent in youth, the seduction in a smile, the grace in simplicity. Above all he paints young mothers, with their children. This theme, which had been interpreted in an inexhaustible variety of ways, and always with new eloquence, inspired him to paint works of an infinite charm, in the figure types were generally borrowed from the Italians" (as translated from Marius Vachon, W. Bouguereau, 1900, p. 90). [Sotheby’s]

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sheep by the Sea (1865)

Rosa Bonheur: Sheep by the Sea

Rosa Bonheur created Sheep by the Sea following a trip through the Scottish Highlands in the summer of 1855. In painting this complacent flock of sheep settled in a meadow near a body of water, Bonheur captured a placid moment. Sheep by the Sea demonstrates the artist’s commitment to direct observation from nature. The thickly applied paint provides texture that conveys the lushness of a verdant landscape at water’s edge. The informality of this rustic scene belies the detailed physiognomic studies of animals that Bonheur frequently sketched before executing a work in oil paint.

Although the Empress Eugénie of France commissioned Sheep by the Sea, Bonheur exhibited the painting at the Salon of 1867 before it entered her collection. The empress (like her contemporary, Queen Victoria) also patronized the renowned British artist Sir Edwin Landseer, whose sentimental paintings of domestic animals became popular among the upper classes in England and France. Yet, unlike Landseer’s animals, which play out human dramas, Bonheur’s animals appear within their natural habitats, not subjected to human laws and emotions. [National Museum of Women in the Arts]

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Woman in a Podoscaphe (1865)

Gustave Courbet: Woman in a Podoscaphe

By 1865, the first summer that Courbet spent at Trouville, the harbor town and its close neighbor Deauville had become fashionable resorts for a Parisian and international clientele. Strolling and picnicking on the sands and even bathing in the sea had become stylish pastimes during the Second Empire; this was the life documented in the beach scenes by Courbet's older colleague Eugene Boudin. Sea bathing was still rather a decorous activity, however, and therefore the artist (and others) were much struck by the spectacle of a young woman who went out into the waves by herself, clothed only in a simple sleeveless shift and with her long hair blowing in the wind, propelling a kind of catamaran structure she called a "podoscafe." Courbet referred to her as the Amphitrite moderne, and set about making a large painting of her. Though it was never shown at the Salon, the ambitious scale of the work leads one to believe that it was originally conceived as a Salon painting. It was characteristic of Courbet to seize upon such a subject, unmistakably modern yet with classical overtones: a modern Venus not rising from the sea but dominating it. It is even possible that he might have initially conceived the painting as a kind of challenge or reproof to the trite pandering of Cabanel's Birth of Venus, shown at the Salon of 1863.

This female figure is certainly not presented in terms of sexual passivity, but of independence and prowess. She fills the pictorial field, brought as close to the viewer as she can be without having her interesting vessel and her long, double-ended oar cut off by the edge of the painting. Her position on the structure is easy and confident. (Doubtless, it was quite impossible in actual fact without a harness of some kind, but she posed for him on land and Courbet was not concerned with literalism.) The loose, flowing hair, always so attractive to Courbet, was at the time a conventional signal of sexual availability, but seems here rather to rhyme with the waves through which this sea nymph plies her craft. The surface of the painting was not completely finished, and this fact together with restorations undergone sometime in this century, contributes to the unusual flatness of the figure. Nonetheless her conception and her placement in the vast space of the sea make this an unforgettable image, one that only Courbet would have had the bold naivete to create. []

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1865)

 Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot: The Banks of the Seine at Conflans
 Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot: The Eel Gatherers
Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot: The Pierreaux Torrent, Twilight

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Breton Laundress (1865)

Jules Breton: A Breton Laundress

This work is one of a series of paintings Breton completed during his first summer visit to Douarnenez, Brittany in 1865.  The identity of the model remains unknown but she does appear drawn in a similar pose in the artist's sketch book (now held in the Breton Archives).  Unlike Breton's sunfilled compositions of laundresses on the Brittany seashore, the present work is set behind the beach in the dark woods.  Here the artist captures how the forest's filtered light highlights the laundress' white bonnet, tanned face, and strong hands in contrast with the darker tones of her blue apron, red linens, and the green and gray landscape. [Sotheby’s]

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Jean-Léon Gérôme (1865)

 Jean-Léon Gérôme: Prayer on the Rooftops of Cairo
Jean-Léon Gérôme: The Muzzein

Friday, August 7, 2015

Gustave Courbet (1865)

A trio of seascapes.

 Gustave Courbet: Rocky Seashore
 Gustave Courbet: The Beach at Trouville
Gustave Courbet: The Fishing Boat

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The End of a Game of Cards (1865)

Ernest Meissonier: The End of a Game of Cards

Two gentlemen in Louis XIII attire have fought a fatal duel over a game of tarot. One lies dead with his head resting on an overturned chair and the other, clasping his chest, expires in the background. Strewn across the floor are the cards with the two swords and three coins visible in the right foreground. The setting is actually Meissonier's richly furnished studio at Poissy. This picture illustrates Meissonier's mastery of foreshortening and his ability to express dramatic action in a miniature scale. [The Walters Art Museum]

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Charles François Daubigny (1865)

 Charles François Daubigny: Boats on the Oise
Charles François Daubigny: Washerwomen at the Oise River near Valmondois

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Madame Proudhon (1865)

Gustave Courbet: Madame Proudhon

The Portrait of Madame Proudhon evokes the thinker’s companion and merits an in-depth study. Her pose, with head bent and slightly turned, as well as her furtive look do not correspond to the stereotyped model found in many other portraits. The crimped hairdo, with amazingly delicate blues by this master from Ornans, is more than just the adornment of a philosopher’s wife or a bourgeoise, and appears as an accessory whose meaning is both obvious and dissembling at the same time. [The Art Tribune]

The lady's husband and children were also painted by Courbet.