Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Page (1881)

Alexandre Cabanel: A Page

Octave Mirabeau wrote that Cabanel had "a hand accustomed to the conjuring up of forms, to tracing distinctive lines, the soul of a Prix de Rome winner with the eye of a photographer. Such is M. Cabanel." Indeed, along with Gérôme, Cabanel was a determined opponent of the Impressionists, remaining faithful to the academic manner until his death. The subject of the present work may be seen as a conscious statement to this effect: with its stylistic affinities to the fifteenth century, Cabanel was perhaps paying homage to the Renaissance masters he so admired. [Sotheby’s]

Friday, November 25, 2016

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Cemetery of Saint-Privat (1881)

Alphonse de Neuville: The Cemetery of Saint-Privat, August 10, 1870

Alphonse de Neuville, like Edouard Detaille, was one of the main artists to paint episodes from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the theme recurs frequently in his prolific production. At the Salon of 1873, where he exhibited The Last Cartridges, an episode in the fighting around Sedan in September, he was a great success and was promoted to the rank of Knight of the Legion of Honour.

From then on, he produced monumental paintings of various episodes in which the French troops had distinguished themselves, participating in the idea of revenge while defending and strengthening Republican patriotism. Here he evokes the last moments in the battle in the Cemetery of Saint Privat, near Metz, on 18 August 1870, where Marshal Bazaine's army was fighting the first and second corps of the Prussian army.

After visiting the site to familiarize himself with the lie of the land, de Neuville chose a lateral view which confines the spectator in the foreground slightly below the scene of the fighting, facing the last French defenders who can be recognized by their red trousers. The soldiers, surrounded on all sides, are depicted in theatrical poses. The light filtering through the smoke in the upper part of the painting intensifies the dramatic effect. Exhibited in 1881, this painting was a further triumph for its author who was immediately promoted to the rank of Officer of the Legion of Honour. [Musée d’Orsay]

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Le Four a Chaux (1881)

Alphonse de Neuville: Le Four a Chaux - A Study for the Panorama of the Battle of Champigny

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Young Woman Defending Herself Against Eros (1880)

William Bouguereau: Young Woman Defending Herself Against Eros

A young nude woman sits with her arms outstretched, pushing away a winged boy. He is Cupid, the god of love, holding up an arrow to pierce her. The title suggests that the young woman is trying to defend herself, yet she smiles and struggles unconvincingly against the mischievous little god.

Bougereau placed his mythological fantasy in an idyllic, Arcadia-like landscape. In fact, he made this composition in his studio, copying the landscape from the neighboring French countryside and using one of his favorite models. [J. Paul Getty Museum]

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Victor-Gabriel Gilbert (1880)

 Victor-Gabriel Gilbert: A Corner of the Fish Market
Victor-Gabriel Gilbert: The Flower Market

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Mary Magdalene (1880)

Jean-Jacques Henner: Mary Magdalene

The present work is the third large replica Henner completed after his Magdeleine presented in the Paris Salon of 1878 (and now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Mulhouse).  The artist began and completed the work of the Biblical figure in profile, kneeling in prayer between August 1879 and June 1880 after which it was purchased by Sarah M. Hitchcock through George A. Lucas.  According to the artist's diary (Friday, July 2, 1880), Henner refused to promise Lucas that he would not paint another version of the work.   Most likely eight large replicas of the Salon picture were executed in addition to twenty-seven small studies. [Sotheby’s]

Monday, November 14, 2016

La Soupe du Matin (1880)

Norbert Goeneutte: La Soupe du Matin

Showing distribution of soup to poor people - basically a soup kitchen.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Le Carreau des Halles (1880)

Victor-Gabriel Gilbert: Le Carreau des Halles

The central markets of Paris have a long history that begins in the twelfth century, with the creation by Louis VII in 1137 a street market in the locality of Champeaux, on former wetlands outside the walls. The construction of wooden halls (“Les Halles”) under Philippe Auguste and Louis IX and development of the city beyond the marshes girdling it contributed to the main center of commerce and trade in the capital and surrounding areas. A true masterpiece of lightness and transparency, Les Halles, built by Baltard, were soon seen as the symbol of the new metallic architecture in the minds of his contemporaries and became a source of inspiration for writers and artists. One of the first to celebrate the modern Les Halles, even before their completion, was Émile Zola, who devoted his famous novel Le Ventre de Paris to it. Fascinated by the dynamism and energy that overflowed the place, he painted an exciting picture of the daily life in the pavilions, in which he describes in considerable detail the riot of smells, colors and various noises. Following Zola, of whom he was a fervent admirer, the realist painter Victor Gabriel Gilbert also devoted several paintings to this theme in the 1880s, trying to capture the picturesque and colorful atmosphere. One of them is an open air market scene in the main square, the tile, on the side of the Saint-Eustache Church, where gardeners and vegetable growers possessed fixed locations. Shoppers flock around the stalls of various fruits and vegetables guarded by a buxom peasant, her head covered with a scarf. In the background, heavy traffic animates the streets nearby, drowned in a flood of horse carriages and strollers. [L’Histoire par l’Image (via Google Translate)]

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Temptation (1880)

William Bouguereau: Temptation

The title, although ambiguous, suggests a biblical interpretation of the shiny apple that woman holds in her hand. It thus refers to the apple of knowledge and the innocence of the child on the right. The outdoor setting suggests the landscape of Bouguereau’s native La Rochelle, a coastal town in northern France. It has also been described as an Arcadian background, based upon the seventeenth century idyllic representations of the original Peloponnesian pastoral country of shepherds. [Arts Connected]

Monday, November 7, 2016

Sulking, Gustave Courtois in his Studio (1880)

Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret: Sulking, Gustave Courtois in his Studio

In 1880, when Dagnan-Bouveret completed this painting, an important, captivating, and until now completely unknown work characteristic of the artists early genre manner, was establishing himself as a recorder of Parisian scenes populated by a broad range of Parisian types. Whether in his The Bird Charmer in the Tuileries Garden, 1879 (brown ink drawing, Chrysler Museum of Art) or in the painting of an exhausted washerwoman resting along the Quai near the Seine (The Laundress, 1880) Dagnan-Bouveret was moving away from traditional academic themes to embrace contemporary life made popular by the writings of Alphonse Daudet and Emile Zola. Undoubtedly, Dagnan-Bouveret was also inspired by the discussions he was having with artistic colleagues from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, including his long-time friend, the romantic academic painter Gustave Courtois.

In the painting we see a well-appointed atelier, with a bearskin rug on the floor, and a screen decorated with flowers. The elegantly dressed painter, holding his palette and mahl-stick, is relaxing on a sofa; at the other end of the sofa sits a young woman, dressed in black, who is separated from the artist both in actuality and in demeanor. Exactly what the relationship is between these two participants remains unclear. Although they don't seem to be communicating with one another, and they each exist in their own worlds, there is a distinct possibility that the scene represents a painter and his model or subject. There is also little or no doubt that the painter is Dagnan-Bouveret's friend Courtois in his own atelier resting during a posing session with his model. Another portrait of Courtois by Dagnan-Bouveret (1884) strongly suggests this. If Bouderie is the true title of the work it could it be that the woman is the one sulking because she is unhappy with her likeness. Another proof that the work is a portrait of Courtois is that the painting reflected in the large mirror, in the central part of the composition, closely recalls a work that Courtois was completing at this moment in time, Portrait of Mme Rochetaillie (1877). [Christie’s]

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Cain Flying Before Jehovah's Curse (1880)

Fernand Cormon: Cain Flying Before Jehovah's Curse

This painting illustrates the miserable destiny of Cain, the elder son of Adam and Eve, who after the murder of his younger brother Abel was condemned to perpetual wandering. A haggard Cain is doggedly leading his tribe. On the wooden stretcher carried by his sons sits a bewildered woman with her dazed children. Chunks of bleeding meat are hung on the stretcher. Other men, the hunters, are trudging alongside. One is carrying a young woman in his arms and stray dogs bring up the rear. Fear of Jehovah's sentence is written on every face.

Cormon has lengthened the shadows as if the light of truth were pursuing the guilty through the bleak plain. He uses earthy colours and vigorous brushstrokes, plastered like Courbet's. The artist insisted on anatomical accuracy and had live models pose in his studio for each figure.

As well as a Biblical story and a grandiloquent epic, the work is an anthropological reconstruction. It introduces a new field—prehistory—at a time when Palaeolithic rock paintings were just being discovered. Lacking documents, Cormon speculates on life in those remote times, on barbarians struggling to survive, going barefoot with tangled hair and coarse skin. As a subtitle, he quotes the opening lines of Conscience, a poem by Victor Hugo's from La Légende des siècles (1859):

"When with his children clothed in animal skins
Dishevelled, livid, buffeted by the storms
Cain fled from Jehovah,
In the fading light, the grim man came
To the foot of a mountain in a vast plain..."
[Musée d’Orsay]

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Charlotte Corday and Marat (1880)

Jules-Charles Aviat: Charlotte Corday and Marat

This incident has been featured here before, directly and indirectly.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Snake Charmer (1880)

Jean-Léon Gérôme: The Snake Charmer

Jean-Léon Gérôme's painting The Snake Charmer is a sleazy imperialist vision of "the east". In front of glittering Islamic tiles that make the painting shimmer with blue and silver, a group of men sit on the ground watching a nude snake charmer, draped with a slithering phallic python.

This is one of the French paintings lent by the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, to the Royal Academy for its exhibition From Paris: A Taste for Impressionism. Yet Gérôme is no impressionist. Painted in about 1879, this is a glitteringly cinematic slice of orientalist fantasy. Gérôme was the kind of painter the impressionists were rebelling against – a pristine purveyor of high-gloss dreams.

Yet his pictures are weirdly compelling: a pupil of the historical painter Paul Delaroche, whose Execution of Lady Jane Grey hangs in London's National Gallery, he painted detailed, brilliantly lit spectacles such as gladiators fighting in the ancient Roman arena. Gérôme's Roman empire fantasies had a direct influence on early Hollywood and still echo in modern blockbusters like Gladiator.
However, the painting by him I know best is The Snake Charmer, because it is on the cover of an old paperback copy of Edward Said's famous book, Orientalism, which I bought ages ago as a student and happened to be looking at the other day. The Snake Charmer is such an obviously pernicious and exploitative western fantasy of "the Orient" that it makes Said's case for him. Gérôme is, you might say, orientalism's poster boy. In this influential work, Said analyses how Middle Eastern societies were described by European "experts" in the 19th century in ways that delighted the western imagination while reducing the humanity of those whom that imagination fed on. In The Snake Charmer, voyeurism is titillated, and yet the blame for this is shifted on to the slumped audience in the painting. Meanwhile, the beautiful tiles behind them are seen as a survival of older and finer cultures which – according to Edward Said – western orientalists claimed to know and love better than the decadent locals did. [The Guardian]