Friday, September 30, 2016

The Art Lesson (1879)

Henri Fantin-Latour: The Art Lesson

Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) was, at heart, a homebody. While a young man living at home with his family in their Paris apartment he frequently used his parents and two sisters as models. After his marriage he was equally content with his new domestic circle, and used his wife and her sister and their parents as models too. Even the flowers he painted in his well-loved still-lives were often those grown by his wife Victoria Dubourg, who was an avid gardener as well as a respected painter. In this painting Fantin-Latour has painted his two sisters Marie and Natalie drawing and painting a still-life set-up.  Fantin-Latour's father Théodore Fantin-Latour was a professional portrait artist, and probably encouraged his daughters to learn at least the rudiments of art, although nothing is known of their artistic output. [Women in the Act of Painting]

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Weaning the Calves (1879)

Rosa Bonheur: Weaning the Calves

The scene is probably located on one of the high pasturelands of the Pyrenees. Rosa Bonheur took a trip there in 1850 and brought back many studies that she used throughout her career. [Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Monday, September 26, 2016

Portrait of a Lady (1879)

Pierre-Auguste Cot: Portrait of a Lady. Mme H.S.

La Parisienne—the Parisian woman—was celebrated worldwide as the quintessence of feminine beauty, fashion, and taste. Consider the regal sitter here. Formally posed against a richly patterned, painted leather backdrop, she wears an elaborate, Elizabethan-style evening dress with a standing lace collar and quilted, pearl-studded sleeves. Coolly surveying the viewer, she is the ultimate French fashionista—the essence of high-style contemporary chic. [Chrysler Museum of Art]

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Wedding at the Photographer's (1878-79)

Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret: Wedding at the Photographer's

Wedding at the Photographer's is a valuable commentary on the new craze for portrait photographs, which promised to document individuals and formal family occasions for posterity with a degree of verisimilitude hitherto unimaginable. The scene is the inside of a photographer’s studio, where a young man and woman are being photographed in their wedding finery. The anecdotal interest of the work shifts from the couple to several humorous vignettes that occupy different sections of the composition. These include a young girl in blue dress watching poutingly what is occurring inside the studio and the photographer going about his work completely oblivious to everything around him. The painting, as was noted by contemporary critics, responded to the public’s interest in verisimilitude – as documented by its fascination with photography itself. The artist recorded objects in microscopic detail, for example, the mirror at at the left, in which there is a small calling card advertising the photographer and giving his address in Vesoul. This detail would have gone unnoticed except by those close to the artist. Even though Paris is given in the inscription as the place where the work was completed in 1878-79, we know from letters that the painter was spending more and more time in the Haute-Saone region near Vesoul, its capital.

Since Dagnan-Bouveret wrote about the painting in a letter to Anne-Marie in early 1879, it is also known that he researched the theme before beginning the composition. He actually visited the studio of a photographer in Paris and made a small study of the rooms (perhaps more than one), in order to explore the way in which the background could be integrated with his figures. He also had the Parisian photographer take his picture, which he eventually sent to his fiancée along with a photograph of his canvas Manon Lescant. When Wedding at the Photographer's was exhibited at the Salon, it was extremely well positioned and received many compliments. Yet the artist had a nagging sense of doubt about the picture, thinking it perhaps too clever; he was also troubled that the Salon had become too much of a showplace, where artists tried to outdo their peers. [Gabriel P. Weisberg, Against the Modern: Dagnan-Bouveret and the Transformation of the Academic Tradition, Dahesh Museum of Art, 2002, pp. 49-51]

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Champigny, December 1870 (1879)

Édouard Detaille: Champigny, December 1870

In this battle picture, shown in the Salon of 1879, Détaille depicts an incident that he had observed on December 2, 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War. General Faron's soldiers are shown fortifying their new position at the town of Champigny-sur-Marne, near Paris, and breaking openings in the wall for cannons. General Faron is at the left, talking to an old gardener. The artist returned to the subject for a huge panorama of the battle (now destroyed) that he executed with de Neuville in 1882. [Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Friday, September 16, 2016

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Léon Jean Basile Perrault (1879)

 Léon Jean Basile Perrault: Apple Picker
Léon Jean Basile Perrault: La Tarantella

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Joan of Arc (1879)

Jules Bastien-Lepage: Joan of Arc

With the loss of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to Germany in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), the national heroine from Lorraine, Joan of Arc, acquired new symbolic importance among the French. A succession of sculpted and painted images of the medieval teenaged martyr appeared in the Salons of the 1870s and 1880s. At the 1880 Salon, Bastien-Lepage, himself a native of Lorraine, exhibited this painting, which represents the moment of Joan of Arc's divine revelation in her parents' garden. His depiction of the saints whose voices she heard elicited a mixed reaction from Salon critics, many of whom found the presence of the saints at odds with the naturalism of the artist's style. [Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Les Halles (1879)

Jean Béraud: Les Halles
 This is one of Béraud's early street scenes, for which he was famous in the 1880s. So precise is his rendition that this spot can be located on a map. It shows the central market of Paris, Les Halles, on the left and the church of Sainte-Eustache (built 1532-1637) on the right, viewed from the rue Baltard where it meets the pointe Sainte-Eustache. Les Halles, one of the splendid Second Empire projects, was designed by Victor Baltard and employed the most advanced construction technology of the time, iron and glass. "The belly of Paris, " as the market was called by Emile Zola, was one of the symbols of the city's modernity.

The produce market next to the enclosed sheds is alive with activity and brightly colored vegetables. As is usual in Béraud's painting, a pretty woman in fashionable dress is an important focal point. The artist's attention to the individuality and movements of the other customers and workers reveals differences in character and behaviour, while class distinctions are clearly indicated by clothing. The confrontation of the hefty peasant woman and top-hatted gentleman, to the left, and the maid of a few steps behind her mistress, in the center, are cases in point.

Beyond the market itself, Béraud offers glimpses of the bustling streets, where pedestrians mingle with horse-drawn vehicles. In the center is an omnibus, a mode of public transportation introduced to Paris some forty years earlier.

Like the Impressionists, Béraud was interested in showing specific time and place. This, upper-class people wear the latest fashions, trees are sparsely leafed, suggesting early spring, and umbrellas are held, some open, some closed, implying that a light rain has just ended or is just begining. [Haggin Museum]

Monday, September 5, 2016

Favorite of the Emir (1879)

Benjamin Constant: Favorite of the Emir

By the mid-1870s, Benjamin-Constant had established a reputation as painter of orientalist subjects, ranging from grim and occasionally violent genre scenes, to opulent and visually alluring harem scenes. The Favorite of the Emir, painted in 1879, is typical of the latter category. Like many of his contemporaries, Benjamin-Constant was an admirer of Eugéne Delacroix. Benjamin-Constant's first teacher, Jules Garipuy, had been a student of Delacroix. In this painting, Delacroix's influence is evident not only in the subject matter but also in the lush palette and painterly surface. Benjamin-Constant puts his own distinctive stamp upon the work, however. This is most notable in the spatial construction of the painting and the sharp contrast he established between the rich patterning of the fabrics displayed in the foreground and the flat planes of vivid color in the background.

Benjamin-Constant took great delight in the juxtaposition of the richly embroidered fabric against the smooth pale flesh of the women's arms and chests and the subtle variations between the two women. On the right, the darkhaired woman gazes directly at the viewer while her companion is shown fully in repose, her body relaxed and her eyes closed as if lulled to sleep by the musician seated behind her. The paleness of her skin and her rich auburn hair suggest that she is not a native. Playing upon contemporary fantasies of European beauties who have been spirited away to lead the pampered, cloistered life of a courtesan in a harem—the inclusion of the man standing guard in the background at the far right of the composition serves as a reminder of the locale—Benjamin-Constant introduced an erotic charge into this exotic and visually seductive painting. This painting, the first by the artist to enter the Gallery's collection, is a gift of the United States Naval Academy Museum. [National Gallery of Art]

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Defense of Longboyau's Gate (1879)

Alphonse de Neuville: Defense of Longboyau's Gate, 
Château of Buzenval, on October 21st 1870

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Nymphaeum (1878)

William Bouguereau: The Nymphaeum

According to a writer for the Chicago Evening Post in the 1920s, Bouguereau's reputation in America was built upon his paintings of nudes. When Bouguereau's 1884 painting The Bathers came up for bid at a sale of 1886, it received applause and was promptly bought for a New York saloon for eighteen thousand dollars. Critics may have quibbed over whether his nudes were erotic or chaste, but clearly the public adored them.

The Nymphaeum was created as an exhibition piece, like many of the artist's most important works. Displayed at the 1878 Universal Exposition in Paris, its complex composition, with no fewer than fifteen figures, was meant to prove Bouguereau's superiority as an established master. By exhibiting it alongside his religious, allegorical, genre, and portrait paintings (twelve in all), he demonstrated his versatility and won a medal of honor.

The subject of thirteen stark-naked nymphs cavorting in a secret woodland grotto, with a satyr and Greek youth peeping through the bushes, is, of course, pure fantasy, meant to transport the viewer from the day-to-day cares and boredom of modern urban life into a serene daydream of classical Arcadia, where there swell not flesh-and-blood women, but visions of perfection. Their impossibly smooth skins, their harmoniously proportioned bodies, their liquid movements, establish a kinship with classical sculpture and the paintings of Titian and Poussin.

While such paintings usually are considered to be out of the mainstream of modern art, Bouguereau's classical fantasies evoke interesting connections with the poetry of the Parnassian Heredia and the Symbolist Mallarme. The lines of the latter's famous "Afternoon of a Faun" (1876, 1877) closely parallel The Nymphaeum:

     These nymphs, I would make them endure.
     Their delicate flesh-tint so clear,
     it hovers yet upon the air
     heavy with foliage of sleep.

[The Haggin Museum]