Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Jean-Léon Gérôme (1870)

 Jean-Léon Gérôme: A Moorish Bath
 Jean-Léon Gérôme: A Moorish Bath
 Jean-Léon Gérôme: Almehs playing Chess in a Café
Jean-Léon Gérôme: Interior of a Mosque
 Jean-Léon Gérôme: The Harem in the Kiosk

Monday, December 28, 2015

Interrupted Reading (1870)

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot: Interrupted Reading

Interrupted Reading is among the most compelling of Camille Corot’s late figure paintings. Corot almost never exhibited these studies of the human form, preferring instead to publicize the idyllic landscapes that were his specialty. To emphasize the private nature of Interrupted Reading, Corot enclosed his model within the protective environment of the artist’s studio. The mood of the painting is introspective and somewhat melancholic, the very essence of the Romantic sensibility. The muselike image of a woman reading a book was a popular one in nineteenth-century art, but Corot chose to show his model pausing, looking up from this activity. A lover of everything Italian (he spent a number of years there), the artist often furnished his models with Italianate costumes such as the one worn here. Whereas Corot’s subject matter is traditional, his technique is not. With direct and bold brushwork, he explored the human form as a construction of masses that support and balance one another. This broad handling is complemented by the artist’s obvious delight in detail—the ribbon in the model’s hair, the delicate earrings, the deep folds in the skirt. Here he combined a profound sense of formal structure with the dreamy softness and intimacy that characterize his most famous landscapes. [Art Institute of Chicago]

Sunday, December 27, 2015

An Egyptian Peasant woman and her Child (1869-1870)

Léon Bonnat: An Egyptian Peasant woman and her Child

Bonnat is said to have studied this peasant woman and child from life while he was in Egypt for the opening ceremony of the Suez Canal in 1869. The painting was praised at the Paris Salon the following year and again when it was first exhibited in New York in 1876. When Catharine Lorillard Wolfe bequeathed the picture to the Metropolitan it was deemed "a true and vital portrait of two clearly realized individuals [with] a wonderful dignity, sobriety, strength, and beauty." [Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Greek Girl (ca. 1870)

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot: The Greek Girl

A combination of confident presence and haunted vulnerability makes this painting by Camille Corot one of the most lyrical examples of 19th-century art in America. It hangs — amid splendid company, including three Manets and a Monet — in the Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial Building at Vermont’s Shelburne Museum.

Corot is known as one of the greatest and most sensitive landscape painters of his time. He spent many years in Italy, where he was one of the first to take up plein air painting. His approach to light, his taste for ordinary, quotidian scenes, and his handling of paint all greatly affected the Impressionists, who came into their own soon after his death.

But Corot also painted figures, and his series of imposing but ineffably tender portraits of women, often dressed in peasant costumes, constitutes as great a contribution to French painting as his beloved landscapes.

One of the qualities that make the best of them (and The Greek Girl is among the very best) so appealing is Corot’s way with shadows. You notice this deft shadow-play all through his Italian landscapes, too, carving out palpable space and volume in pictures that would otherwise appear sun-bleached and flat.

Here, notice the way the girl’s gentle face is made all the more luminous by the dark shadows that encircle her eyes, touching also her nose, lips, and chin. Her fingers, below, are lost in darkness. But emphatic modeling in light and dark is absent from most of her costume. Only her collar and sleeve get two more sharp slivers of shadow.

Everything else about the painting is so close-toned and harmonious that these points of darkness catch you off-guard. They have, I can’t help feeling, an emotional correlative: something like the effect of simple loveliness intermittently pierced by the hidden depths that may churn up strife or lead on to love — or both.

Despite the title and the traditional folk costume, the model was not, in fact, Greek. Her name was Emma Dobigny, and she was a young French woman who posed not only for Corot but also for the younger Edgar Degas. Corot (and he was hardly alone in this in the annals of French painting), relished having his models play dress-ups. But his heart was only half in the game. He was interested in painting, in emotion and presence — not in anthropology. [The Boston Globe]

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Wave (1870)

Gustave Courbet: The Wave

During the summer of 1869, Courbet stayed at Etretat, the small Norman town where Delacroix, Boudin and Jongkind had already spent time painting the sea. The chalk cliffs, the subtle light, along with both the violent storms and the calm of the waves in this region of changing skies, offered Courbet new subjects.

Here, the artist offers an intense vision of the stormy sea, tormented and disturbing, with all the savage power of natural forces at work. "His tide comes from the depth of ages," Paul Cézanne would later comment. Applying thick paint with a kitchen knife, Courbet succeeded in conveying an impression of eternity. He composed his picture in three horizontal bands: the shore, where two fishing boats lie, the waves, painted in a range of dark greens highlighted with the white of the foam, and the lowering sky.

In Gil Blas on 28th September 1886, Guy de Maupassant recounts a visit he made to Courbet during his stay at Etretat: "In a huge, empty room, a fat, dirty, greasy man was slapping white paint on a blank canvas with a kitchen knife. From time to time he would press his face against the window and look out at the storm. The sea came so close that it seemed to batter the house and completely envelope it in its foam and roar. The salty water beat against the windowpanes like hail, and ran down the walls. On his mantelpiece was a bottle of cider next to a half-filled glass. Now and then, Courbet would take a few swigs, and then return to his work. This work became The Wave, and caused quite a sensation around the world". []

Friday, December 18, 2015

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Turkish Bath (1870)

Jean-Léon Gérôme: Turkish Bath

Among the most commercially successful artists of the nineteenth century, Gérôme built his reputation as an Orientalist, painting scenes of an imaginary place that combined characteristics of North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean with his own fantasies and inventions. Here Gérôme afforded his viewer a glimpse into the private world of a woman’s bath, a scene he surely never witnessed. The pale, red-headed nude—perhaps meant to suggest a Circassian slave from the far reaches of the Ottoman Empire—forms a striking contrast to her African attendant in the sun-dappled interior of an Islamic bathhouse. [Museum of Fine Arts, Boston]

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Stragglers (1870)

Augustin Pierre Bienvenu Chenu-Fleury: The Stragglers, Snow Effect

When at the Salon of 1870 Fleury Chenu submitted a vast landscape of snow painted with meticulous technique and simple and effective composition, the painting was acquired by the state for the high price of 8000 francs.

The landscape is flat and sinks toward the horizon, stumbling upon a village almost indistinct in the background. Occupying only one-third of the height, the snowy landscape dominated by white and brown is summoned yellowish gray sky, heavy with threats, which stands just a veiled moon and orange swirl where the ominous crows. The only colorful animation between these icy worlds is in the center of the lower part, on the road that traces a gray trench where "grenadiers escort a cart in which lies a sick soldier and led by a peasant" (Théophile Gautier). Despite the animation introduced by the military group with varied attitudes and the anecdotal and sentimental presence of a dog, the snow that covered everything imposes on the whole composition a wall of silence. [L’Histoire par L’Image (via Google Translate)]

Monday, December 14, 2015

Salomé (1870)

Henri Regnault: Salomé

Regnault initially represented this Italian model as an African woman, but later enlarged the canvas at the bottom and right and transformed it into a representation of Salomé. She is shown after having danced for her stepfather, Herod Antipas, governor of Judaea. The platter and knife allude to the reward she claimed for her performance: the severed head of John the Baptist.

Regnault was killed during the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), just months after this picture was exhibited to great acclaim at the Salon of 1870. For years, the painting was considered a masterpiece of contemporary art. In 1912, when it was announced that it would be sold from a private collection, Baron Henri de Rothschild initiated a campaign to keep it in France. He was unsuccessful; Salomé was presented to the Metropolitan by one of the Museum's trustees in 1916. [Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Friday, December 11, 2015

Merrymakers (1870)

Carolus-Duran: Merrymakers

During the second half of the 1800s, Paris, France, likely had more artists than any other city in the history of the world. We most often think of the Impressionists during this period, but really, they made up a very small percentage of the more than 12,000 working artists during that era. The vast majority, mostly trained in Paris' famed Ecole des Beaux Arts, were what we call today "Academicians." The best of them taught at the school, the rest only wished they could. The best of them painted history, mythology, allegories, lots of naked goddesses, and the occasional naked god. The rest of them only tried. Some of the artists from that period have all but become household names--Monet, Manet, Sargent, Whistler, Cezanne, Cassatt, but not Charles Auguste Émile Durand. Even the name he was known by, professionally, Carolus-Duran (no "d" on the end), doesn't set off any chimes. Yet, second only to John Singer Sargent, Carolus-Duran was likely the most highly regarded portrait artist in Paris during the fading years of the 19th century.

Although Carolus-Duran painted more than his share of pretty pretentious paintings, and his portraits were, at best, "stylish," it's the artists' peripheral work I find most interesting. His The Merrymakers, though the artist might hate the term, is really quite "modern." It doesn't sink to the level of genre (the bottom rung in the painting hierarchy at the time) yet it seems endearing, a restaurant, a playful child, a doting, laughing mother and her friend--a scene played out daily all around the world, both then and now. [Art Now and Then]

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Gypsy Girl at a Fountain (1865-70)

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot: Gypsy Girl at a Fountain

Known as a landscape painter, Camille Corot exhibited only four figure paintings during his lifetime, yet after his death more than 140 figure studies were found in his studio. Familiar to only a handful of close friends and collectors, Corot's figure paintings astonished the public when they became more widely known around 1900. Younger generations of artists, including Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso, admired and recognized them as some of the most progressive figural paintings of the nineteenth century. Edgar Degas once admitted that he thought Corot even better in his figures than his landscapes, and Mary Cassatt advised American collectors to purchase these rather than Corot's landscapes. Made after 1859, when Corot was troubled by gout and could no longer travel, the studies are remarkable for being studio compositions. Employing young Italian women who lived in his neighborhood as models and using costumes and props in his collection, Corot painted exquisite portraits set in romantic Italian landscapes. Gypsy Girl at a Fountain, with its gentle, creamy brushwork, is a sumptuously painted picture of a woman paused in a moment of reverie. [Philadelphia Museum of Art]

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Studio at Batignolles (1870)

Henri Fantin-Latour: Studio at Batignolles

Les Batignolles was the district where Manet and many of the future Impressionists lived. Fantin-Latour, a quiet observer of this period, has gathered around Manet, presented as the leader of the school, a number of young artists with innovative ideas: from left to right, we can recognise Otto Schölderer, a German painter who had come to France to get to know Courbet's followers, a sharp-faced Manet, sitting at his easel; Auguste Renoir, wearing a hat; Zacharie Astruc, a sculptor and journalist; Emile Zola, the spokesman of the new style of painting; Edmond Maître, a civil servant at the Town Hall; Frédéric Bazille, who was killed a few months later during the 1870 war, at the age of twenty-six; and lastly, Claude Monet.

Their attitudes are sober, their suits dark and their faces almost grave: Fantin-Latour wanted these young artists, who were greatly decried at the time, to be seen as serious, respectable figures. Only two accessories remind the spectator of the aesthetic choices of the new school: the statuette of Minerva bears witness to the respect due to the antique tradition; the Japanese style stoneware jar evokes the admiration of this entire generation of artists for Japanese art.

In this group portrait exhibited at the Salon of 1870, each man seems to be posing for posterity. The painting confirms the links between Fantin-Latour and the avant-garde of the time and Manet in particular. It echoes Zola's opinion of Manet: "Around the painter so disparaged by the public has grown up a common front of painters and writers who claim him as a master". In his diary, Edmond de Goncourt sneered at Manet, calling him "the man who bestows glory on bar room geniuses". [Musée d’Orsay]

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Marine, The Waterspout (1870)

Gustave Courbet: Marine, The Waterspout

Courbet first witnessed a waterspout at Trouville, a village on the Channel Coast, in 1865 or 1866. This dramatic phenomenon, a tornado at sea, occurs when temperature differences in the air create a whirling spiral of wind and water. Courbet first painted the subject in 1866 (Philadelphia Museum of Art). The present picture features the cliffs of Étretat, as does a second, undated version of the composition. [ Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Death of Francesca de Rimini and Paolo Malatesta (1870)

Alexandre Cabanel: The Death of Francesca de Rimini and Paolo Malatesta

In The Death of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, Cabanel shows us Dante’s murdered lovers draped across a sofa while their assailant, Francesca’s husband, peers out at them from between the curtains at the back of the room, grasping a bloody sword. An abundance of richly patterned fabrics, delicately colored and accented with shining bits of gold, envelops and surrounds the nearly motionless figures. Cabanel gives us no action to speak of and no gaze directed at us.

The critics of 1870 perceived that Cabanel’s Death of Francesca substituted surface effects for narrative structure. Ménard regretted that the incoherent vivacity of Cabanel’s colors negated dramatic unity, while Castagnary called The Death of Francesca a deplorable package of fabrics. Similarly, Lafenestre complained that the first impression of the painting, instead of conveying grief and terror, suggested “a spread of fabrics in the display window of a store.” After sorting out the scene, Lafenestre continued, one finally noticed the timid drops of blood, but still the figure of the husband, compressed between curtains at the back of the composition, failed to respond properly to the logic of the composition: “he has the air of a sightseer coming to take a look rather than a murderer fleeing.” Likewise, Astruc characterized the painting as all skin and surface and careful execution, remarking that Cabanel paid more attention to fabrics than flesh and wondering why he emphasized “the ridiculous figure of the husband, stuck like a piece of cardboard between two curtains.” [Dianne W. Pitman, Bazille: Purity, Pose, and Painting in the 1860s, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998, pp. 23-24]

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Genius of America (ca. 1870)

Adolphe Yvon: Genius of America

In 1858, Irish-American entrepreneur Alexander Turney Stewart originally commissioned a modest-sized painting entitled The Genius of America, from French painter Adolphe Yvon. Stewart requested that Yvon execute a significantly larger version of the same painting c. 1870, for which he reportedly paid $100,000.

When the mural was completed, the 29.5 feet x 18 feet, 600-pound canvas would not fit in Stewart’s New York City mansion. It wasn't until 1876 that the painting was properly displayed when it was hung in an ornate, one and a half foot-wide gold frame in the grand ballroom of Stewart's Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga Springs, New York.

When the famous hotel was demolished in 1952, The Genius of America was given to the New York State Education Department by Siegel Brothers, the contractors who razed the building. In the spring of 1953, the mural was restored and installed in its current location at the rear of the stage of Chancellors Hall in the State Education Building. [New York State Education Department] [Symbolism of the painting]

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Dream of a Believer (1870)

Achille Zo: The Dream of a Believer
Jean-Baptiste Achille Zo, usually known as Achille Zo (1826, Bayonne - 1901, Bordeaux) was a French painter of Basque origin. He painted in the academic style with many historical works and genre scenes, especially from Spain.