Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Knight of the Flowers (1894)

Georges Rochegrosse: The Knight of the Flowers

From the moment they were created, the operas of Richard Wagner aroused great admiration, particularly from the artists of the Symbolist generation who took many of his subjects as inspiration for their paintings. Thirsting after an ideal, they were overwhelmed by the power of this musician who brought the great myths and old legends back to life. When Rochegrosse painted The Knight of the Flowers he was pursuing his ambition to move closer to the refined and elitist aesthetic of the Symbolists, and to take advantage of the huge popularity of the English Pre-Raphaelites at that time. In 1894, the year when the The Knight was exhibited at the Salon, he also designed, with Francis Auburtin, the sets for the play The Sleeping Beauty, presented at the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre, with costumes by Edward Burne-Jones. So it is not surprising to see him take his inspiration from Parsifal (1882) for this painting.

Rochegrosse depicts the moment when Parsifal, the chaste hero destined to find the Holy Grail, has just struck down the guardians of the castle of the magician Klingsor. He moves away into the enchanted garden, deaf to the calls of the flower maidens, femmes fatales scantily clad in narcissi, peonies, roses, irises, tulips, violets and hydrangeas.

Compared to the majority of Wagnerian paintings that are often rather dark and tragic, this view is quite unexpected. Perhaps fearing criticism, Rochegrosse explained in the Journal des Débats of 2 June 1894 that he had intentionally distanced himself from the opera libretto in order to represent "the central idea of the scene": this human being who was immune to temptation because he was "obsessed with the ideal". Eventually he received critical acclaim, and the State bought the work for the Musée du Luxembourg. Rochegrosse had adapted his work perfectly to the tastes of the time by painting a picture that looked modern: he tackled a Symbolist subject in a Realist style, adding a touch of Impressionism in his treatment of the landscape and vegetation. Moreover, the very graphic interpretation of temptation gives the whole image a carnal dimension that the public could not have failed to notice. [Musée d'Orsay]

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Priestess of Bacchus (1894)

William Bouguereau: Priestess of Bacchus

Painted in 1894, Prêtresse de Bacchus is a tremendous example of Bouguereau’s virtuosic skill that had brought him such enormous commercial success by this point while anticipating his later compositions. In contrast to his earlier works that illustrate Classical themes, such as La jeunesse de Bacchus (1884) or Nymphes et Satyre (1873) – paintings that intended to convey a particular narrative – Prêtresse de Bacchus features a single model and belongs to a series the artist referred to as “fantasy paintings.” In the present work, Bouguereau isolates his subject within a vast landscape and, without any contextual framework beyond her costume, she becomes representative of a lost, ancient ideal.

The Priestess of Bacchus herself belongs to the iconographic tradition of Maenads, or Bacchantes; mythological women who were popular subjects with nineteenth century artists who favored them for their intrinsic eroticism and ecstatic youthfulness. Although her calm demeanor differs greatly from the usual ferocity of the lascivious Bacchantes, she is clearly identified as a Dionysian devotee by two unmistakable symbols: the ivy wreath she wears on her head, a reminder of her connection to wine and revelry; and the thyrsus she holds in her right hand, a pinecone topped staff originating in Attic vase painting as a symbol of Bacchus and present in several of Bouguereau’s other depictions of Bacchantes.

Bouguereau both acknowledges and modifies his Classical source, presenting this priestess simply as an enduring object of aesthetic contemplation.  The model for this work, an Italian girl who frequently posed for Bouguereau between 1894 and 1895, posed for several such “fantasies” including a companion painting to the present lot of a seated Bacchante (1894), as well as Souvenir  (1894), and Le secret (1894). In his choice of a model with recognizably Italian features, as well as in the work’s mise-en-scene against a cool-colored landscape, Bouguereau draws a comparison between these fantasies of an ideal antiquity and the contemporary Italian peasant women that form so much of his painted oeuvre, implying an unbroken continuum of idealized women from antiquity to his own time.

In depicting this young woman devoid of all other narrative context, Bouguereau guides the viewer’s focus to the figure’s delicate features and remarkable physiognomy; from her elongated neck, suggesting the influence of Bouguereau’s beloved Florentine Renaissance, and to her strong, contrapposto stance that evokes the autonomous beauty of Classical statuary.

This painting is especially noteworthy for its exemplary flesh-tones. Well-painted skin was considered both the greatest challenge and the most important painterly quality in much of nineteenth century Academic discourse. By depicting the priestess with her arm raised, he demonstrates the subtle play of color running down her arm, with hues of blue and purple paint overlaid by translucent layers of warmer tones. Indeed, the same principle of translucency that gives warmth to her skin informs the diaphanous handling of her drapery, which hints at the body beneath. [Sotheby’s]

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Portrait of Princess Zinaida Yusupova (1894)

François Flameng: Portrait of Princess Zinaida Yusupova 
with Two Sons at Arkhangelskoe

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Forge (1894)

Fernand Cormon: A Forge

This is an unusual work for Cormon who was known above all for his history painting and large decorative works such as those at the chateau of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. In keeping with the movement towards naturalism and pacifism promoted by the Third Republic, in this painting he turned for inspiration to the industrial world of his time. It recalls the works of François Bonhommé (1809-1881) who had devoted the majority of his life to depicting the industrial worker and his work place.

The scene in this painting was certainly observed from life. We know, in fact, that Cormon made highly detailed studies from actual models for the gestures and expressions of his characters in order to make his scenes more true to life. However, the title, A Forge, as it appeared in the brochure of the 1894 Salon, does not specify a location, thus giving it a generic character.

A Forge presents a heroic view of industrialisation. Each stage of the ironworking process is represented through different groups of workers throughout the forge, which takes on the grandeur of a cathedral through the remarkable effect of the slanting rays of sunlight. The interplay of light and shade glorifies the heroism of the work, skillfully avoiding any reference to the noise, heat and harsh conditions of this murderous activity condemned by Zola. [Musée d'Orsay]

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Family Reunion (1893)

Marcel Andre Baschet: Family Reunion at the Home of Madame Adolphe Brisson

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Carved rock crystal ewer (1893)

Blaise Alexandre Desgoffe: Carved rock crystal ewer 
and precious objects on red velvet

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Mordecai (1892)

Jean-Jules Antoine Lecomte du Noüy: Mordecai, second in power to the King

The present work depicts Mordecai, from the Book of Esther. Mordecai was the adoptive father of Esther, the beautiful Jewess who became queen to the king Ahasuerus. Mordecai held an office in the king's court. After Esther was chosen as queen, he exposed a plot to assassinate the king. Later, Haman the Agagite was appointed to the highest position in the kingdom, but Mordecai refused to bow to him. Haman became so infuriated that he devised a plan to destroy not only Mordecai, but all of the Judeans in the empire. The king was unaware of the nationality of his beloved queen and gave Haman the authority to execute his plan. Haman had letters sent to every governor of every province that on a certain day they would coordinate the total annihilation of every Judean man, woman and child. Mordecai learned of this evil plan and notified Esther of Haman’s plot. Esther revealed the plot to the king and Haman was hanged and the plot stopped.

The subject is unusual for Lecomte du Noüy, who is primarily known for his Orientalist subjects. Although he exhibited religious and historical paintings at the Salon beginning in 1863, after 1872 when Lecomte du Noüy made an extended trip to Greece, Egypt, Turkey and Asia Minor, Orientalist themes dominated his oeuvre. Even among his religious compositions, Jewish themes were rare. He did complete an image of Judith (1875), depicting the profile of a woman in exotic dress and the traditional head-dress worn by married women from Bethlehem, as well as a composition Rabbis Commenting on the Bible on Saturday (1882). Additionally, Lecomte du Noüy’s first wife was the grand-daughter of Adolphe Crémieux, the former French Minister of Justice who withdrew from political office to become president of the Alliance Israélite Universelle in the 1860s. Lecomte du Noüy painted a portrait of Crémieux (1878), now at the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme in Paris. [Schiller and Bodo]

Monday, November 13, 2017

Thursday, November 9, 2017

François-Alfred Delobbe (1982)

 François-Alfred Delobbe: Sisterly Love
François-Alfred Delobbe: The Offering

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Bathers (1892)

Etienne Dinet: The Bathers

Etienne Dinet (March 28, 1861 - Paris, December 24, 1929) was a French orientalist painter. Compared to modernist painters such as Henri Matisse, who also visited northern Africa in the first decade of the 20th century, Dinet's paintings are extremely conservative. They are highly mimetic, indeed ethnographic, in their treatment of their subject. Dinet's understanding of Arab culture and language set him apart from other orientalist artists. Surprisingly, he was able to find nude models in rural Algeria. [Gandalf’s Gallery]

Thursday, November 2, 2017

William Bouguereau (1891)

It is clear that in these two paintings Bouguereau not only used the same model, but she is also wearing the same outfit!

 William Bouguereau: The Earrings

William Bouguereau: Work Interrupted