Monday, May 30, 2016

The Feast of Saint John (ca.1875)

Jules Breton: The Feast of Saint John

"I recently saw Jules Breton with his wife and two daughters. Physically he reminded me of J. Maris, though he has dark hair.

When I have the chance I’ll send you a book of his, Les champs et la mer, which contains all his poems.

He has a beautiful painting at the Salon, The Feast of St John, peasant girls dancing on a summer evening round the St John’s bonfire, in the background the village with its church and the moon above it.

    Dance, young maidens, dance,
    As you sing your songs of love!
    Tomorrow, at break of day,
    You’ll go, hastening to ply your sickles."

[Letter from Vincent Van Gogh to Theo Van Gogh, Monday, 31 May 1875]

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Henri Fantin-Latour (1875)

 Henri Fantin-Latour: Large Vase of Dahlias and Assorted Flowers
Henri Fantin-Latour: White Roses

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Alphonse de Neuville (1875)

 Alphonse de Neuville: An Episode from the Franco-Russian War
Alphonse de Neuville: Refreshments

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Beach in Normandy (ca. 1872-75)

Gustave Courbet: Beach in Normandy

During 1869 Courbet had worked along the beaches in Normandy, painting sketches that he later used to produce a number of finished paintings in the studio: "Did I ever earn my bread and butter," he wrote a friend, "I painted twenty seascapes...." Years later, while in exile in Switzerland, he painted more beach scenes, perhaps returning to the same sketches or recalling the landscape from memory.

Recent scholarship suggests that this painting is probably one of the later group. The light and air lack the kind of vivid freshness of Courbet's work done while he was still under his immediate impression of a place. The rocky cliff seems generalized rather than defined by its strong highlights. Still, its bulk attracts our attention; our eyes are drawn by the sheer tactile mass of the pigments there. In many places Courbet painted not with a brush, but with a palette knife. His rough technique, like the unsentimentalized peasant subjects he pioneered, scandalized the art establishment - and helped galvanize the bold style being adopted by younger painters like Manet. Fiercely proud of his rural roots and his country-bred vigor, Courbet retained a forthright and physical connection to the world. He painted the concrete, he said, and he gave what he saw actual physical dimension on his canvas. [National Gallery of Art]

Monday, May 23, 2016

Rouget de Lisle composing The Marseillaise (ca. 1875)

Auguste Pinelli: Rouget de Lisle composing 'The Marseillaise'

On April 20, 1792, revolutionary France declared war against the coalition monarchs of Europe. A few days later, the mayor of Strasbourg, Baron de Dietrich, at a military company that was accustomed to gather evening, regretted that revolutionary France did not have a national anthem can galvanize his soldiers and volunteers committed to defend the "country in danger." Touched by this remark, Captain Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, poet and musician at times, composed on the night of April 25 the words and music of the Battle Hymn of the Army of the Rhine. The song was soon adopted by the Marseille Federated to popularize and establish itself as patriotic and revolutionary song. They also gave it the name, the Hymn of the Marseilles, or the Marseillaise, which became the national anthem by the decree of July 14, 1795 (26 Messidor Year III) which, however, was permanently applied only from 14 February 1879.

The subject and the exact date of this painting are not permanently established. However, it can reasonably be argued that the officer sitting at his desk, pen in hand, inspired and fascinated by the allegory of a victorious France, is Rouget de Lisle, about to compose the Battle Hymn of the Army of the Rhine, which became the Marseillaise. The allegory, inspiration and motivation of the young captain, points to a bright inscription - PRO PATRIA - and revealed before the eyes of the poet a scene of a military charge. The table is punctuated by the colors of the tricolor which respond to each part of the flag proudly held by a victorious France, naked and determined to influence the course of revolutionary history. Besides the patriotic and poetic inspiration, the allegory also marked by its position and its slender expressive face the revolutionary military struggle, the country in danger, foreign armies at the border and committed volunteers, which meet the officer haranguing his men the sword of Rouget de Lisle posed against a chair. The overall composition offers a poetic vision of the creative moment while emphasizing the patriotic elements of an iconic song as much as the revolutionary period of social and political struggles of the nineteenth century. [L’Histoire par L’Image (via Google Translate)]

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Excommunication of Robert the Pious (1875)

Jean-Paul Laurens: The Excommunication of Robert the Pious

Jean-Paul Laurens was one of the last great history painters of the late 19th century, when the genre was in inexorable decline. The author of several very famous paintings in the Salon, widely circulated through reproduction and perfectly symbolised by The Excommunication of Robert the Pious, Lawrence was also an inspired decorator of the Pantheon and the Capitole in Toulouse in particular, and the main illustrator of the Récits des Temps Mérovingiens by Augustin Thierry.

Highly attached to Republican values and ferociously anticlerical, Lawrence chose obscure episodes in medieval history which enabled him to denounce religious intransigence in all its forms. Robert II, known as the Pious, the son of Hugues Capet, was excommunicated for incest by Pope Gregory V after refusing to repudiate his second wife and distant cousin Berthe of Burgundy.

As often in Laurens' work it is not the act itself but its eloquent consequences which are portrayed. The painting describes the moment after the announcement of the Pope's decision. The diagonal framing shows us the departure of the priests balanced by the prostration of the sovereigns, left alone to face a cruel, terrifying dilemma. Laurens here mobilizes all his skill in staging, distilling the signs of condemnation in the silence and emptiness which followed the dramatic sentence: the scepter that had fallen from the king's terrified hand and the taper symbolically knocked to the floor. [Musée d’Orsay]

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Marie-François Firmin-Girard (1874)

 Marie-François Firmin-Girard: In Grandmother's Garden
Marie-François Firmin-Girard: Les Fiances

Monday, May 16, 2016

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1874)

 Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot: The Woman in Blue
Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot: Venus at Her Bath

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Susannah at her Bath (1874)

Hugues Merle: Susannah at her Bath

A student of Leon Cogniet, Hugues Merle first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1847 and continued to do so annually until 1880. He was twice awarded the second class medal in 1861 and 1863, and he was made a Chevalier in the Legion of Honor in 1866. Merle was often compared by his contemporaries to the most famous academic artist of the time, William Adolphe Bouguereau, and it was written at the time that the artist 'became a considerable rival to Bouguereau in subject and treatment' (C. H. Stranahan, A History of French Painting from its Earliest to its Latest Practice, New York, 1917, p. 398). Like Bouguereau, Merle was extremely popular among American collectors at the end of the 19th Century and canvases by the artist graced the collections of Robert Sterling Clark and Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Susannah at her Bath is a superb example of Merle's complete mastery of the Academic technique. Executed on a large scale, and surely a Salon entry, this painting was executed by the artist at the height of his career. Precise draughtsmanship and a close study of the human anatomy were considered the foundations of the Academic education and an artist's reputation and career were predicated on his ability to accurately and naturally depict the human form and expression. Choices of subject were clearly important, and in Susannah at her Bath Merle moves away from his usual subject matter of mothers and children and has taken on a subject more monumental and serious. His depiction of Susannah, at the moment that she becomes aware that she is not alone as she rises out of the water of her bath, is a tour-de-force of technique and expression. The young woman wears an expression of anguish and turns her body away from the old men hiding within the trees, trying vainly to cover herself with her chemise. The whiteness of her flesh is offset by the vibrant rose of her dress which hangs from a tree branch. Her golden hair cascades down her back and is painted with multiple layers of the finest glazes. Merle's handling and separation of the textures of female flesh, the linen chemise, the silken robe and the delicacy of Susannah's hands place him squarely in the company of Bouguereau and Munier at the forefront of the proponents of the Academic tradition at the end of the 19th Century. [Christie’s]

Friday, May 13, 2016

Bird’s-Nesters (1874)

Jean-François Millet: Bird’s-Nesters

This haunting and strange picture--brutishly literal yet terrifyingly generic--is the final painting by Jean-François Millet, a remarkable last testament by one of the most profound artists of the nineteenth century. He drew on his own boyhood experiences in depicting the subject of bird's-nesters, who would hunt great flocks of pigeons at night by blinding them with torchlight and then clubbing them to death. By the 1870s Millet's paintings of rural life were among the most famous in France. His subjects are nearly all drawn from the peasantry, done just as the countryside was being depopulated by immigration to the new industrial centers. But unlike many other artists who worked in the very popular specialty of "peasant painting," Millet's great genius was his ability to bond his subjects to their native place while simultaneously elevating them to a level of universal humanity. Much of his success was based on his evocation of a communal memory of a lost rural world that was either arcadian or pathetic or a combination of both. [Joseph J. Rishel, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 197.]

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Schoolboy (1874)

François Bonvin: The Schoolboy

The present work is one of François Bonvin's masterpieces, bearing all the hallmarks for which the artist is best known: a combination of profound sensitivity towards his subject matter, a masterful understanding of chiaroscuro modelling, and a quiet, intimate simplicity in keeping with his humble subject matter.

The almost geometric simplicity and small scale of Bonvin's paintings draw attention to the meticulous detail of the motifs which inhabit them. This technique had its roots in the Dutch and Flemish masters of the 17th century whom Bonvin studied at the Louvre. Epitomised by Vermeer, these artists' works are characterised by sparse interiors, single figures, gentle plays on reflected light, and humble objects, such as glass, earthenware and white linens, in which emphasis is placed on geometric form and texture.

The present work depicts a schoolboy, deep in concentration. Most of the room is in shadow, a muted harmony of greys and browns, through which the rough texture of wood and leather is keenly felt. A small amount of light emanates from an unseen window on the left, picking out a few strikingly described objects and details: an inkwell and quills, the smoothed ball of the chair in the background, the white of the boy's collar -- all set strikingly against the red and blue of the table cloth and smock. The mood is meditative and serene, achieved through simple, yet brilliantly crafted means.

Less obviously, the present painting is also a clear testament to Bonvin's social and political outlook. Although his works were much less rhetorical than those of other Realist artists such as Jean-François Millet, whose firmly Republican beliefs he shared, Bonvin was deeply committed to the cause of the common people. Here he describes the transformative power of education, imbuing a picture of secular learning with with the quiet power of a devotional painting. [Christie’s]

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1874)

 Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot: Landscape at Arleux-du-Nord
Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot: Return of the Hayers to Marcoussis

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Banks of the Nile (1874)

Eugène Fromentin: The Banks of the Nile

Fromentin was a prolific and popular painter of 'orientalist' scenes, set mostly in North Africa. He provided a European clientele with images of an exotic but reassuringly recognisable way of life, as in this placid scene of shipping along the River Nile. [The National Gallery, UK]

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Charles Boutibonne (1874)

 Charles Boutibonne: At the Fountain
Charles Boutibonne: La Préférée