Thursday, October 27, 2016

An Accident (1880)

Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret: An Accident

After training with Alexandre Cabanel (1823-89) and Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), Dagnan-Bouveret turned from Classical themes to subjects drawn from everyday life. In this scene, a country doctor bandages a boy's injured hand, while his family looks on with varying expressions of concern. The artist witnessed an incident like this while traveling with a doctor friend in the Franche-Comté region of eastern France. When this painting was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1880, it established the artist's reputation as both a perceptive reporter of rural customs and a Realist who explored the psychological states of his subjects. [The Walters Art Museum]

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Parisian Ball (1880)

Jean Béraud: A Parisian Ball

Jean Béraud was born in St. Petersburg, where his father worked as a sculptor, probably one of the many foreign artists commissioned to work on the cathedral of St. Isaac. Béraud studied under the Academic figure painter, Léon Bonnat, but quickly eschewed his master’s idealised compositions for realistic depictions of Parisian daily life. In 1873, he began to exhibit regularly at the annual Salon and soon achieved both commercial and critical success. His Parisian illustrations, painted with scrupulous precision and a discriminating eye, were favorites of an urbane and sophisticated audience. The emblematic canvas A Parisian Ball shows how Jean Béraud grounded a modern and innovative artistic technique, subject matter and composition within an academic tradition, winning him the accolade of Charles Baudelaire, who described him as the “Champion of the Heroism of Modern Life”.

This painting shows the bold and confident handling of artificial light that attracted the admiration of art critics when Béraud first exhibited a soirée scene at the Paris Salon of 1878, who noted that “It is easier to treat one or other of the subjects set for the Prix de Rome than it is to paint a group of fashionable men in tail coats and young ladies in ball gowns standing in a drawing room, by the light of chandeliers and candles…it obviously needs great intelligence and a perfect understanding of chiaroscuro ” (Paul Mantz, « Le Salon », Le Temps, 1878, July 11, p. 2).

No fewer than fifteen sources of artificial light illuminate the ball room and smoking room of this fashionable belle époque Parisian hôtel particulier, where pairs of gas lights shine on every mantle piece and are reflected in large looking glasses, which also reflect the light of the chandeliers. Béraud quipped that he painted “en plein gaz”, rather than “en plein air”, noting that artificial light “simplifies and unifies colors…the great light of lamps and chandeliers produces an effect that is absolutely distinct from day scenes, namely the nearly absolute absence of even shadows. The [modern] profusion of light in nocturnal life eliminates the strong contrasts that have until our day kept painters away from depicting such scenes.” (Letter from Béraud to unknown recipient, Fondation Custodia, Collection F. Lugt, Paris).

“Such scenes” were the nocturnal social life of Paris that interested the artist whether the subjects belonged to dazzling high society or the seedier side of the city, and of which he established himself as an unobtrusive observer. Béraud was particularly interested in depicting activities surrounding the spectacle rather than the spectacle itself, and the present composition places the artist and viewer in a corner of the smoking room, where he can observe the men who have left the ballroom to slouch in the more private, masculine interior. Their relaxed poses and conversations contrast to the stiff formality glimpsed in the ballroom, to which the viewer’s gaze is directed by another observer, the man who stand in this doorway, watching and perhaps preparing his plunge into the crowd of pastel tulle. In the dark, burgundy smoking room, the only feminine presence is the bust on the mantelpiece but women dressed in pink, sky blue and yellow dominate the sky blue, cream and gilded neo-rococo ball room. The artist thus make a wry commentary on the relations between the genders using composition and divisions of color and space. [Galerie Heim]

Friday, October 21, 2016

Jules Bastien-Lepage (1880)

 Jules Bastien-Lepage: At Harvest Time
 Jules Bastien-Lepage: The Beggar
Jules Bastien-Lepage: The Ripened Wheat

Thursday, October 20, 2016

La Marseillaise (1880)

Jean Béraud: La Marseillaise

This spirited work, of Bastille Day in 1880, epitomizes Jean Béraud’s animated tableaux of Parisian life at the height of the Belle Epoque. Chanting the Marseillaise, workers, artists, students and shopkeepers march from the Place de la Bastille west along the tricolore-draped rue Saint Antoine. First celebrated in 1790, Bastille Day commemorated the storming, on 14 July 1789, of the Bastille fortress by the people of Paris, a key inaugural event of the French Revolution. However, celebrating Bastille Day was suppressed by successive French regimes, including by Napoleon himself and by the restored Bourbon monarchy. To mark the Republic's centenary, in 1879-80 the new liberal leaders of the Third Republic re-established the 14th as a national holiday, and Béraud’s painting coincides with a new patriotic and republican sentiment sweeping across the country after the sombre period of introspection following France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War.

La Marseillaise brings together many fascinating details evocative of the period. The front rank of marchers represents the types of people rebuilding France after the war. On the left the older man in the long tan coat is perhaps a syndicaliste or labor leader, flanked by men and boys in the short blue smocks still worn by tradesmen in France today. In the center are two men in black who, by their unconventional dress, appear to be artists or writers. One wears a red cummerbund instead of a belt, while the other sports a flamboyant pink cravat and a tall hat typical of the dandyism and bohemianism in French art circles in 1880. Between them walks a pregnant woman, representing the future of France. While to the right, three teenagers of differing persuasions – a lycéen with a leftist republican viewpoint, a military cadet with a more moderate-conservative view, and a church student with the Ultra-Catholic party - stride united towards tomorrow. [Sotheby’s]

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1880)

Luc Olivier Merson: Rest on the Flight into Egypt

Emptiness resounds throughout Luc Olivier Merson’s oil painting Le Repos en Egypte. A desert vastness stretches to the horizon; the night sky fills the immensity of the horizontal picture plane. Positioned not centrally but almost to the very left of the canvas, the sphinx amplifies the sense of desolation which is iterated by the sand-swamped pedestal on the stone plateau.

In the depths of the desert night, everyone is sleeping. Between the paws of the sphinx lies a veiled woman, a child nestling in her arms. At her feet is a man in slumber - wrapped in blankets, spread out on the sand. Even the smoke from the extinguished fire rises sleepily upwards like a final breath, while the donkey’s pose is one of languor - one hind leg is slightly bent, and his head is low. The saddle rests on the ground, and the long day’s journey is over. The Holy Family has found a place to rest on its journey into Egypt. [Liesbeth Grotenhuis, “Lying in the arms…: the origins and reception of Luc Olivier Merson’s ‘The rest on the flight to Egypt’]

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Chariot of Love (1880)

Jacques Clement Wagrez: Chariot of Love

There's something rather disturbing about this painting...

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Émile Munier (1880)

 Émile Munier: A Bowl of Milk
Émile Munier: May I Have One Too?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Sons of Clovis II (1880)

Evariste Luminais: The Sons of Clovis II

This demonstration of parental discipline of the Merovingian period remains shocking more than a century after its completion. It says much for the grotesquery of nineteenth-century Salon painting, of which it is so spectacular an example, that The Sons of Clovis II is still a collection favourite. Alarmed by her sons' rebellion against their absent father, King Clovis, their mother - the regent Sainte Bathilde - has their tendons cut before sending them, immobilised, downstream on a barge to their fate. Though Luminais foreshadows the salvation of the malefactors in the distant shape of a Benedictine monastery, he is clearly more concerned with their present gruesome predicament. His great success with this painting in the Paris Salon of 1880 was not repeated, its cadaverous sensationalism proving a hard act to follow. [Art Gallery NSW]

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Defense of Rorke's Drift (1880)

Alphonse de Neuville: The Defense of Rorke's Drift

The so-called Zulu War came at the moment of greatest British imperial presence in South Africa. Though understood differently today, in 1879 - the year of the event depicted in de Neuville's famous canvas - the violent exchange was seen in terms of Britain's rightful defense of its own colonial prestige. Rorke's Drift was a small outpost on the banks of the Buffalo River in Natal Province. A large Zulu force, having slaughtered around 900 troops and native levies at nearby Isandlhwana, set upon the eighty soldiers of the Warwickshire Regiment stationed at Rorke's Drift. The defenders managed to hold off their attackers, usually characterized as an undisciplined horde, in a bloody hand-to-hand battle of Boys' Own proportions. The subsequent awarding of eleven Victoria Crosses confirmed the heroic dimension of the skirmish, though it hardly explains the interest of a Parisian Salon painter in this quintessentially English subject. De Neuville based his pre-cinematic version of events on military reports and survivors' accounts.  [Art Gallery NSW]

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Good Samaritan (1880)

Aimé-Nicolas Morot: The Good Samaritan

Born into a modest, actively Republican family, Aimé Morot pursued an exemplary career after receiving an academic training in the studio of Alexandre Cabanel. Winner of the Prix de Rome in 1873, he used his stay at the Medici Villa as an opportunity to explore the Roman countryside on horseback.

On his return from his period of residency in Rome, the young Morot drew inspiration from the Gospel according to Luke to paint his Good Samaritan. The painting was exhibited in Paris at the Salon des Artistes Français, where he was awarded the medal of honor by his peers.

Heavily influenced by Spanish art of the 17th century, Morot treated the parable of the Samaritan helping the wounded man with grave realism. His vigorous style found favor with contemporary critics who paid tribute to the virtuosity of this fine painting. Marie Bashkirtseff wrote enthusiastically in her diary: “This is the painting which has given me the most complete pleasure in my entire life. Nothing jars, everything is simple, true and good”.

Painted initially in a large format, the work was reduced on all four sides by the painter in order to refocus the composition on the two men depicted life-size. An enthusiast of animal subjects, Morot adds a moving dimension to the figure of the donkey laboring under its burden. [Petit Palais]

Saturday, October 8, 2016

One Morning Outside the Door of the Louvre (1880)

Edouard Debat-Ponsan: One Morning Outside the Door of the Louvre

Édouard Debat-Ponsan, born in 1847, was an Academic artist, a student (or victim) of Alexander Cabanal. Much of his work is trite Academicism, mythology, nudity for the sake of nudity, and portraits in the category of what modern-day journalism refers to as "puff pieces." Yet in amongst the melange of mediocrity are some surprising hits. His One Morning Outside the Door of the Louvre from 1880 is one such work. It's not history glorified but history stripped naked, cutting to the core of man's inhumanity to man. Debat-Ponsan may actually have been drawing a not-so-subtle reference to the then more recent (1871) Paris Commune and the bloodbath resulting from that. History painting is at its best when it deals, even obliquely, with recent events. [Art Now and Then]

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Birth of Venus (1879)

William Bouguereau: The Birth of Venus

The Birth of Venus (French: La Naissance de Vénus) is one of the most famous paintings by 19th-century painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau. It depicts not the actual birth of Venus from the sea, but her transportation in a shell as a fully mature woman from the sea to Paphos in Cyprus. She is considered the epitome of the Classical Greek and Roman ideal of the female form and beauty, on par with Venus de Milo.

For Bouguereau, it is considered a tour de force. The canvas stands at just over 9 ft 10 in (3.00 m) high, and 7 ft 2 in (2.18 m) wide. The subject matter, as well as the composition, resembles a previous rendition of this subject, Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, as well as Raphael's The Triumph of Galatea.

At the center of the painting, Venus stands nude on a scallop shell being pulled by a dolphin, one of her symbols. Fifteen putti, including Cupid and Psyche, and several nymphs and centaurs have gathered to witness Venus' arrival. Most of the figures are gazing at her, and two of the centaurs are blowing into conch and Triton shells, signaling her arrival.

Venus is considered to be the embodiment of feminine beauty and form, and these traits are shown in the painting. Her head is tilted to one side, and her facial expression is calm, comfortable with her nudity. She raises her arms, arranging her thigh-length, brown hair, swaying elegantly in an "S" curve contrapposto, emphasizing the curves of her body.

The model for Venus was Marie Georgine, princess of Ligne. In 1861, she was on a short holiday in Paris with her lover. Together, they modeled for Bouguereau's Abduction of Psyche and Flora and Zephyr. He worked out Venus and other sketches and paintings later from photographs he took of the couple. Some of Bouguereau's other works, like La Nuit, are also based on her. Marie was also painted by Léon Bonnat and photographed by Antoine Samuel Adam-Salomon. [Wikipedia]

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Monday, October 3, 2016

Morning Glory (1879)

Jules Joseph Lefebvre: Morning Glory

LeFèbvre was known for his allegorical portrayals of the female nude and the popularity of his paintings rivaled that of William Bouguereau. Most famous for his portraits and genre scenes, as well as his championing of the traditional cult of beauty, LeFèbvre's atelier at the Academie Julien, where William-Adolphe Bouguereau taught as well, attracted many of the finest young artists of the time, including the American Elizabeth Jane Gardner (who later married Bouguereau). LeFèbvre, who had honed his skills in Italy by copying works of the Italian Mannerist painter Andrea del Sarto, emphasized precise drawing skills in his teaching. One reviewer wrote in 1881, 'It is sufficient to just mention his name in order to immediately evoke the memory and the image of the thousand adorable creatures of which he is the young father... An unusually skilled draftsman, Jules LeFèbvre better than anyone else caresses, with a brush both delicate and sure, the undulating contour of the feminine form.'

As can be seen in the quality of the present picture, LeFèbvre's work is executed with a high degree of finish. True to his academic training, he was a superb draughtsman, and paid particular care to the rendering of figures. His familiarity and appreciation for the classics is evident here in the dress and the gesture of the figure, particularly the way in which she stands.

In Morning Glory, despite the mythical atmosphere and dress of the figure, LeFèbvre has created a sense of realism with the figure's expression and specific sense of youth. Her ripe age - she is just recently a woman - and the impressive presence granted her by the size of the canvas suggest an incredible potential power in her position at the very beginning of her grown-up life, one which the intensity of her gaze suggests she is just beginning to recognize and harness. [Christie’s]