Friday, July 29, 2016

Le Château de Chillon (1874-77)

Gustave Courbet: Le Château de Chillon

Lord Byron retells the lament of François Bonnivard, the legendary Prisoner of Chillon (1819), who was incarcerated in the dungeons of the medieval fortress from 1532 to 1536. The notorious harshness of Bonnivard’s punishment gains greater absurdity when the splendours of the castle’s natural setting are considered, and the visitor cannot but ponder upon the strange nature of the human kind. Such extremes certainly entertained the great Romantic imaginations of the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Rousseau (La nouvelle Heloise, 1761), Shelley (1816), Alexandre Dumas (1832) and Victor Hugo (1839) sourced their prose and poetry from the castle’s idyllic surroundings and terrible history. Artists were equally mesmerised by Chillon and Turner (1802), Delacroix (Prisonnier de Chillon, 1835) and Courbet are the most distinguished painters to have made significant contributions to the visual heritage of the castle and its history.

As a landmark of the Romantic Spirit, Chillon was to attract Gustave Courbet towards the end of his life. Fleeing a court case in France against the partisans of the Paris Commune - with whom he was accused of calling for the pulling down of the Vendôme Column, Courbet settled in the small town of la-Tour-de-Peilz, on the shores of Lake Geneva, between Vevey and Montreux. He stayed there until his death, on 31 December 1877.

By the second half of the nineteenth century, Chillon had become an important station on the Grand Tour passage from Switzerland and into Italy. The familiarity of Chillon with Courbet’s contemporaries would have been an important element in the artist’s choice of subject. With precarious finances to manage, Courbet must have felt inclined to depict variations on this popular theme. The provenance of the present view of the Chateau de Chillon appears to confirm this suggestion as Jules Budry, the painting’s first owner and keeper of the town’s  Café du Centre, was someone with whom Courbet had a set table arrangement. It would appear that, at the artist’s death, outstanding debts from his meals at the Café were cancelled in exchange for certain paintings. These would have originated from the artist’s studio, where his close collaborator, Cherubino Pata (1827-1899), dealt with posthumous completions.

Courbet’s view of the Chateau de Chillon presents the castle at its most dramatic vantage point, entering the calm waters of Lake Geneva from the very end of a rocky promontory. The solid structure appears at once to float upon the water surface and to dominate the surrounding environs. The overall stillness conveyed in this particular work by the elements of stone/matter, water and air contribute to a vision of space and history transcending all times. [Bonhams]

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Sappho (1877)

Auguste Charles Mengin: Sappho

Sappho was a Greek poet who lived around 600 BC. She wrote about love, yearning and reflection, often dedicating her poems to the female pupils who studied with her on the island of Lesbos. Mengin has chosen to paint a legend narrating that Sappho killed herself by jumping off the Leucadian cliffs for unrequited love of Phaon, a ferryman. This legend is regarded as unhistorical by modern scholars, but it may have resulted in part from a desire to assert Sappho as heterosexual. [World Paintings]

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunday at the Church of Saint-Philippe-du-Roule, Paris (1877)

Jean Béraud: Sunday at the Church of Saint-Philippe-du-Roule, Paris

When this painting was exhibited in the Salon of 1877, it was seen as a document of contemporary Parisian life. Béraud depicts a view of the rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré, which had recently become a fashionable shopping street. The church was designed in the eighteenth century by the architect J.F. Chalgrin. [Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Landscape with a Sunlit Stream (ca. 1877)

Charles-François Daubigny: Landscape with a Sunlit Stream

Daubigny began exhibiting his work regularly at the Salon in 1838, and by the early 1850s he had achieved considerable success as a landscape painter. Water figures prominently in his imagery—notably, in his riverscapes painted from the vantage point of his studio-boat.

This painting's flickering brushwork and lightened palette relate it to the works of the Impressionists, whose influence on Daubigny grew out of his contact with Pissarro and Monet in the 1860s and early 1870s. [Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Battle of Bender (1877)

Charles Édouard Armand-Dumaresq: The Battle of Bender

The Skirmish at Bender was devised to remove Charles XII of Sweden from the Ottoman Empire after his military defeats in Russia. It took place on 1 February 1713 on Ottoman territory, in what is now the town of Bender, Moldova. After the Swedish defeat at the battle of Poltava on 27 June 1709 and the surrender of most of the Swedish army at Perevolochna three days later, Charles XII of Sweden fled together with a few hundred Swedish soldiers and a large number of Cossacks to the Ottoman Empire, where they spent a total of five years. The events of the Skirmish at Bender officially began on 31 January 1713 with the firing of Turkish artillery on the Swedish camp. On 1 February the Ottoman forces, commanded by the Serasker of Bender, attacked the camp. The fighting lasted for over 7 hours and the Ottomans eventually used both artillery and fire arrows when the initial assaults were beaten back and the later method proved to be effective. The fire arrows caught the building's roof on fire and forced the defenders to abandon it, the fighting then came to an abrupt end when the king tripped on his own spurs while exiting the burning house. He was assaulted by scores of Ottoman soldiers who managed to capture him and the remaining fighters. After some time as a prisoner, Charles XII and his soldiers were released when news about the Swedish victory in the Battle of Gadebusch reached the Ottomans. [Wikipedia]

Friday, July 15, 2016

Auguste Toulmouche (1877)

 Auguste Toulmouche: A Garden Stroll
Auguste Toulmouche: Dolce far niente

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Attack at Dawn (1877)

Alphonse de Neuville: The Attack at Dawn

Alphonse de Neuville served as an officer in the Auxiliary Sappers and as aide-de-camp to General Callier during the Franco-Prussian War. He closely studied locations of battles and weaponry to recreate battle scenes. The Attack at Dawn is a recreation of a Prussian assault on a French village. To the left of the painting, a bugler sounds the alarm. French troops rush from the inn, their uniforms identify them as turcus or Algerian rifleman and mobiles or members of the Garde Mobile. The mountain in the background helps to identify the location of the scene as a village near the Jura Mountains, located near the Swiss border. The paintings of de Neuville attempt to glorify France's heroic resistance rather than its military defeat. [Wikipedia]

Monday, July 11, 2016

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Punishment for Adultery (1876)

Jules-Arsène Garnier: Punishment for Adultery

Jules Arsene Garnier was born in Paris in 1847. He was a pupil of Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), a teacher who insisted on the highest standards of figure drawing. Although Garnier did not travel to the East, he did visit Spain and Holland, perhaps with Gérôme in 1874 to study the work of Frans Hals.

Les Supplice des Adultères was shown at the Salon in 1876. One of 2095 paintings selected for the show, Garnier was in the company of Clairin, Puvis de Chavannes, De Nittis and Gérôme. Their entries were inspired by Sarah Bernhardt, Ste. Genevieve, the Pyramids and Arabia. Les Supplice des Adultères was a result of a quote from Ludovic Lalanne (1815-1898). Lalanne was the author of Curiosities des Traditions, des Moeurs et des Legendes in which he described the punishment of discovered adulterers, who were disrobed and censured before the village. Garnier looked to literature for inspiration.

It is these illustrative qualities that give Les Supplice des Adultères its visual excitement. Attention to costume and architectural detail transfers us to another time and place. The critic Victor De Swarte, in his review of the Salon, complimented Garnier in his high-spirited interpretation of the punished adulterers, and "...un specimen exact de l'architecture du Moyen Age." [Christie’s]

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Citizen Pinel Orders Removal of the Chains (1876)

Tony Robert-Fleury: Citizen Pinel Orders Removal of the Chains of the Mad at the Salpêtriére

Philippe Pinel (20 April 1745 – 25 October 1826) was a French physician who was instrumental in the development of a more humane psychological approach to the custody and care of psychiatric patients, referred to today as moral therapy. He also made notable contributions to the classification of mental disorders and has been described by some as "the father of modern psychiatry". An 1809 description of a case that Pinel recorded in the second edition of a textbook on insanity is regarded as the earliest evidence for the existence of the form of mental disorder known as dementia praecox or schizophrenia in the 20th century by some although Kraeplin is accredited with its first conceptualisation.

Soon after his appointment to l'Hôpital Bicêtre, Pinel became interested in the seventh ward where 200 mentally ill men were housed. He asked for a report on these inmates. A few days later, he received a table with comments from the "governor" Jean-Baptiste Pussin (1745-1811). In the 1770s Pussin had been successfully treated for scrofula at Bicêtre; and, following a familiar pattern, he was eventually recruited, along with his wife, Marguerite Jubline, on to the staff of the hospice.

Although Pinel always gave Pussin the credit he deserved, a legend grew up about Pinel single-handedly liberating the insane from their chains at Bicetre. This legend has been commemorated in paintings and prints, and has lived on for 200 years and is repeated in textbooks. In fact, it was Pussin who removed the iron shackles (but sometimes using straitjackets) at Bicêtre in 1797, after Pinel had left for the Salpêtrière. Pinel did remove the chains from patients at the Salpêtrière three years later, after Pussin joined him there. There is some suggestion that the Bicetre myth was actually deliberately fabricated by Pinel's son, Dr Scipion Pinel, along with Pinel's foremost pupil, Dr Esquirol. The argument is that they were 'solidists', which meant then something akin to biological psychiatry with a focus on brain disease, and were embarrassed by Pinel's focus on psychological processes. In addition, unlike Philippe, they were both royalists. [Wikipedia]

Tony Robert-Fleury’s painting turned a historical incident in the all-male Bicêtre of 1793 into a saltier version at the women’s asylum of the Salpêtriére, sometime after 1795. As reported by Pinel’s son, his father had been confronted by Georges Couthon, an official of the Commune during its Reign-of-Terror phase. Couthon was seeking “hidden traitors” to bring to trial. Pinel led him to the cells of the most seriously disturbed, where Citizen Couthon’s attempts at interrogation were greeted with “disjointed insults and loud obscenities.” It was useless to prolong the interviews. Couthon turned to Pinel and asked:

“Now, Citizen, are not you mad yourself to think of unchaining such animals?” Pinel replied:

“Citizen, I am convinced that these lunatics have become so unmanageable solely because they have been deprived of air and liberty….” “Well, then do as you like with them, I give them up to you. But I fear you may become victim of your own presumption.”

The official left, and Pinel removed the chains. He freed twelve of the most violent as an experiment, but, as a safeguard, took care to have made an equal number of “long-sleeved waistcoats fastened at the back” (later to be called straightjackets) should the freed lunatics prove unmanageable. His plan worked, and when Pinel moved his operation from the Bicêtre to the Salpêtrière in 1795, his novel mixture of carrot and stick went with him. He launched the asylum model of firm but supportive care, a model that had the rights of man as its base.

A degree of liberty, sufficient to maintain order, dictated not by weak but enlightened humanity, and calculated to spread a few charms over the unhappy existence of maniacs, contributes, in most instances, to diminish the violence of the symptoms, and in some, to remove the complaint altogether. [FASEB Journal]

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Barber of Suez (1876)

Leon Bonnat: The Barber of Suez

“One of the best examples of an Orientalist painting that appears homoerotic, at least to a modern viewer, is The Barber of Suez, painted by Leon Bonnat in 1876, a few years after his trip to Egypt…A comely young man sits cross-legged on a rug, his robe open at his neck, while another well-muscled man, wearing only a loin cloth, stands behind him, leaning over to shave his chin. The sitting man, with a look of plenitude, nestles his head into the barber’s crotch. Hugh Honour remarks on the photographic nature of the picture in which ‘these two motionless figures [are] completely absorbed into one another, sealed off in their own world, observed but unobserving’. The contact between head and genitals, the tenderness and intimacy of their barber’s gesture, as he spreads the fingers of his free hand over the side of his client’s face and the blissful look of the man being shaved, combined with the general portrayal of handsome partially unclothed black men, might well have struck responsive chords in the homosexual viewers. - Robert Aldrich, "Colonialism and Homosexuality” [This Negroe Speaks of Rivers]

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Boulevard de Clichy under Snow (1876)

Norbert Goeneutte: The Boulevard de Clichy under Snow

Goeneutte painted this snowy scene at the age of only twenty-two. At the time he lived very close to the Boulevard de Clichy in Paris, and he was to make a number of paintings and etchings of the buildings and people on this busy thoroughfare. The painting can be seen as a quiet celebration of the metropolitan elegance of Paris, but its title shows that Goeneutte saw the wintry weather as important element in the composition. The artist admired Manet and was a friend of Renoir in this period. In later years, however, his choice of subjects and style were both relatively traditional. [Tate]