Saturday, April 29, 2017

Raphaël Colin - Floréal (1886)

Raphaël Colin: Floréal

Floréal is a modern painting that combines elements of several trends then in vogue. Not resort to mythological or historical issues to justify the display naked body; brushwork used for solving landscape is indebted to the bill of the Impressionists. In turn, the languor of the girl is related to the Symbolist aesthetic of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Collin expanded academic teaching he received from Bouguereau and Alexandre Cabanel in his formative years. Thus, Floréal is exemplary of the exchanges that many artists practiced in the late nineteenth century to endure the academic tradition, especially bare living, gender and many considered exhausted in difficulty.  [Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Argentina]

Friday, April 28, 2017

La Part des Pauvres (1886)

Marius Roy: La Part des Pauvres

The urban population affected by poverty frequently gathered at the gate of the army barracks in the cities. The painting depicts an authentic scene: Sunday, cuirassiers at the door of their neighborhood, presumably located in the Rennes region, give leftover soup to beggars. The painter Marius Roy, appointed drawing master at the Ecole Polytechnique, specialized in the representation of military life in its simplest aspects. This painting, exhibited at the 1886 Salon and at the National and Regional Exhibition of Rennes in 1887, in which is felt the influence of naturalism, shows the bond of solidarity between the army and the population under the Third Republic. Ensuring the defense of the nation, the army is no longer cut off from the people as before, she also wants to be educator, and even charitable as seen here.

This propaganda scene seeks to renew the military’s image. This social vision of the army, very rare in painting, illustrates the egalitarian ideology of the Third Republic. Held responsible for the defeat of 1870-1871 in the Franco-Prussian War, the institution later came to embody social health and represents a bulwark against civil war. Moral recovery of the nation rests with them. [L’Histoire par L’Image]

Monday, April 24, 2017

The End of the Sitting (1886)

Jean-Léon Gérôme: The End of the Sitting

Jean-Léon Gérôme was one of the most famous French painters of his day. In the course of his long career, he was the subject of controversy and bitter criticism, in particular for defending the conventions of the waning genre of Academic painting, under attack by Realists and Impressionists.

Gérôme's fascination with the act of sculpting, with the sculptor's mastery of material and the ability to give it form, drew him to the myth of Pygmalion bringing life to Galatea. This was the image he used when portraying himself as a sculptor in The End of the Sitting, creating an interplay between the redundant presence of the living model and the statue that is taking shape. His works closely combine references from classical mythology with the contingent reality of his studio. [Gandalf’s Gallery]

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Return of Spring (1886)

William Bouguereau: Return of Spring

Few artists embody the ideals of French Academic painting as perfectly as does Bouguereau. This industrious artist covered a variety of themes in his work, ranging from sober Biblical stories to wild bacchanals, peasant girls, and portraits, all depicted in a smooth, seamless style. His impeccable craft and ability to combine realism with idealized form won him many admirers and a long list of honors. As a teacher at the Académie Julian and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Bouguereau was a revered taskmaster and leader of establishment forces against the innovations of modernism.

In Return of Spring, all the qualities that won Bouguereau acclaim are fully apparent. Plainly referring to Raphael’s famous Galatea, the waking nymph is clearly drawn and modeled to a porcelain-like finish. The three trios of cupids that whirl around her in a garland of flying flesh are exercises in anatomical virtuosity, showing essentially the same figure in a variety of poses. Bouguereau pronounced himself “really thrilled with this . . . painting; the attitude and expression of the young woman are, I think, exactly right.” Not everyone shared this view, and some critics accused the painter of “academic formalism, empty of blood and emotion” when the painting was first exhibited in 1886. It has aroused stronger emotions than that on two separate occasions in Omaha. In 1890 and again in 1976 it was attacked by individuals who clearly found the nudity altogether too realistic. [Joslyn Art Museum]

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Traveler (1886)

Ernest Meissonier: The Traveler (Marshal Ney on Horseback Fighting Against the Wind)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Painter's Garden at Saint-Privé (1886)

Henri-Joseph Harpignies: The Painter's Garden at Saint-Privé

In about 1879 Harpignies retired to his property of La Trémellerie at Saint-Privé on the banks of the river Loing (in the département of the Yonne), south-east of Paris. The formal garden there became a favourite subject for the artist. [National Gallery, UK]

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Le Bal de l’Opera (1886)

Henri Gervex: Le Bal de l’Opera

Henry Gervex made his name during the 1880s as one of the boldest of the young artists who took Parisian social life and fin-de-siècle manners for their focus. In Le Bal de l'Opéra, painted in 1886, Gervex combined an immediately recognizable venue, the luxuriously grand foyer of Garnier's new Paris Opéra House, with an even more distinctly French social event, the masked balls that enlivened the winter season and fascinated French and foreign audiences alike. With his dramatic cropping of the foreground figures (which brings the viewer right onto the famous Opéra staircase amid the departing revellers) and his strategic emphasis on the pervasive black suits, top hats and walking sticks of his stylish male figures, Gervex deftly acknowledged the Impressionist example of his close friends Manet and Degas. At the same time, his complex staging of intriguing story lines and careful attention to architectural details kept Gervex and the risqué subject matter of Le Bal de l'Opéra within the expectations of the still powerful academic establishment. [Galerie Heim]

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Kiss (1886)

Auguste Toulmouche: The Kiss

Twenty years after The Reluctant Bride and only 4 years before his death Toulmouche painted The Kiss, another work which for me shows some “grit” in the ideology of the licked surface of French academic painting. Once again the painter creates his trademark- an elaborate and opulent interior in which to enact the work’s narrative.

The scene occurs in a private dining salon... In the center of the room is a small square dining table covered with a creamy white tablecloth with long fringe and a cutwork inset. The table is laden with a gorgeous still-life of fruit in a china compote. There are crystal glasses, other china dishes and a large bottle of champagne. A second bottle in a silver ice bucket sits on the rug next to the table leg. Two typically French upholstered gilt wood chairs are also partially visible.

And who are the players on this beautiful stage? They both wear costumes rather than the everyday clothes of the 1880’s. Perhaps they have attended a costume ball and have now slipped away from the crowd for a private dessert tête-à-tête. The man on the left wears the white satin outfit of a French Pierrot, a character from the French Commedia dell’ Arte. But this is no sad clown pining for love. This clown is kissing the object of his desire. He wins his Columbine.

She is a beautiful object with dark hair and porcelain skin. She wears a pale pink silk dress with a fitted bodice and a tiered ruffled skirt in a slightly deeper pink. The skirt has an overlay of tulle-like fabric embroidered with shiny silver flowers. A bouquet of pink roses appears to fasten and gather the tulle creating a sort of bustle. She completes her coquettish look with delicate pink shoes and a jaunty white hat with a white feather.

I do not recognize her costume. Is she a courtesan, a prostitute, a mistress? A courtesan like Zola’s Nana? But, this painting is many years after Napoleon III though Nana set in the Second Empire was written in 1880, so perhaps there is a connection. Otherwise, it is unclear.

What is evident is the passion of their kiss. The painting captures a fevered moment. It is as if suddenly seized by desire in this private space, the man and woman push back their chairs and take the shortest route to each others' lips - across the table, leaning forward on their palms. They kiss above the compote overflowing with colorful fruit. There is a visual (oral) slippage between the fruit - ripe, juicy, ready to be eaten, ready to satiate the eater and give him/her pleasure and the kiss - the touching of moist lips, mouths wet with saliva, mouths and tongues ready to enjoy and be enjoyed, the pleasure of a physical connection with a desired individual in a darkened, intimate and private room.

The Kiss is a passionate painting devoid of sentimentality but brimming with the desire that all of us experience and have experienced being in a room alone with someone we fancy, sharing a glass of champagne with him and some good food and delighting in that first kiss, that first touch. This painting is unlike the sappiness of other Toulmouche works like The Love Letter or the type of academic painting that verged on soft core pornography such as Love on the Lookout by William-Adolphe Bouguereau from 1890. (In the Bouguereau, idealization ends and creepiness begins.) In this way, therefore, The Kiss disrupts the ideology of the licked surface and its notion of the ideal and the thought- represent LOVE not love. Though the figures in the Toulmouche are costumed, they are grounded in a reality of passion and desire and not an evocation of an abstract idea through a mythical or historical subject. [The Great Within]

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Edouard Debat-Ponsan (1886)

 Edouard Debat-Ponsan: Corner of a Vineyard, Languedoc
Edouard Debat-Ponsan: Preparing the Flower Arrangement

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Retour du Bal (1886)

Alfred Roll: Retour du Bal

In the nineteenth century, the ball is a significant form of recreation for all layers of society. In autumn and winter, the social season is punctuated by a number of private balls, reserved for high society, whose most important function is the preparation of matrimonial alliances. The decline of public balls from the Second Empire coincides with the rise of taverns along the Seine and Marne. While the old dance halls established at the gates of Paris disappear, the villages as Charenton, or Chatou (with the famous Maison Fournaise immortalized by Renoir) invite a Parisian clientele to their dances to taste joys of a more or less fictitious nature .

A student of Gérôme and Bonnat, Alfred Roll is by no means an academic painter or conventional; like the Impressionists, he is greatly attracted to scenes of modern life. Back From the Ball can legitimately be compared to Renoir’s Dance in the City and Dance in the Country - among Renoir’s most famous paintings. Renoir and Roll seem to look at the theme of the ball as a metaphor of the new pace to the French imposed by the modernization of the country after 1850. While the development of the railway makes possible the discovery of speed, the ball appears as the metaphor of a constantly changing society, where everyone is condemned to turn in the circle assigned to it. When this movement stops, as in this painting by Roll, it seems to lead only to boredom and emptiness - in this case the gray view mirror which reflects the face she undresses. [L’Histoire par L’image]

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Femme au Coquillage (1885)

William Bouguereau: Femme au Coquillage

Beginning around 1880, Bouguereau gradually began to favor the production of paintings inspired by Greek and Roman mythology and poetry. He called these pictures Tableaux de Fantasie or Paintings of the Imagination, and retained a fondness for the genre for the rest of his career. Femme au Coquillage, or Girl with a Shell, belongs to the important category of “bathers” which appeared throughout Bouguereau's oeuvre.

This painting offers a credible example of the “anachronistic antique” which was dear to the artist’s heart. Bouguereau gives free rein to sensuality by choosing a superb and original pose for his model, imbued with the classical grace of the Grand Tradition, and offering us his personal interpretation of the Venus Callipyge.

Femme au Coquillage was painted in 1885 in Paris, as a letter from Bouguereau to George Vicens indicates, “Since my return (from La Rochelle), I have placed four paintings at St. Vincent-de-Paul, you know them, then I finished the five paintings from La Rochelle and the two that I commenced in Paris: Love Disarmed and Girl with a Shell.”

This picture marks the second appearance of the young Italian model, Antoinette Cataldi, who had already posed for Bouguereau’s Woman and Captive Love. Admittedly, the artist modified the model’s hair color, but he maintained approximately the same pose. [Sotheby’s]

Friday, April 7, 2017

Paris Market (1885)

Victor-Gabriel Gilbert: Paris Market

The energy surrounding the exchange of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and flowers at the various place des marchés in the bustling city of Paris enamored Victor Gilbert and prompted the works for which he is most celebrated. The enormous meat and produce market in north-central Paris, Les Halles, was a frequent subject for Gilbert, and it also served as the backdrop for Emile Zola’s Le ventre de Paris (1873).

In the present work, a soft afternoon light beaming through skylights brightens a corner of this small indoor market, illuminating the various wares. On full display are Gilbert’s skills as a master of still life.  With a meticulous attention to detail, he expertly renders every detail from a glass pitcher, to straw baskets, to the poultry and game in the stalls, and even to the customer’s hat being finely fashioned with blooms from the flower stand.

Gilbert likely included this work at the 1885 Paris Salon, as a contemporary journal describes his market scene in which the customers have all left and the merchants are left to take a break. The butchers have turned over their stall in order to make a game table and play the card game piquet. A little further, a spirited young woman and her fellow market tenants play a game of palets, a drinking cap game, with a wager likely made on the poultry pieces, game, leg of lamb and vegetables that Gilbert has been so careful to paint. [Sotheby's]

Monday, April 3, 2017

Le Point du Jour (1885)

Louis-Jules Dumoulin: Le Point du Jour

This work depicts Le Point du Jour, a river port on the Seine to the West of Paris which, once bustling with cafes and bars, was popular with artists and literati in the last decades of the 19th Century.

The artist, Louis Dumoulin, is now primarily remembered for painting in Japan and the Far East where he spent much of his adulthood. In his lifetime he was more well-known, a respected artist and the founder of La Societé Coloniale des Artistes Français - a significant force in the transmission of artistic ideas into the French colonial territories at a time of intense international political and cultural competition. He was also an intimate of some great figures of the period, including Eduard Manet and Paul Verlaine. As a young painter, he made visits to Manet's studio and was taught to observe closely different aspects of Paris. Manet later introduced him to the painter Henri Gervex, who also played a role in Dumoulin's artistic development.

More significant, in the context of this painting, is his relationship with Paul Verlaine - who in 1884-85 published a volume of poetry entitled Jadis & Naguere. It contains an important work, 'L'Aube a L'Envers' ('Dawn in Reverse'), dedicated to Louis Dumoulin and commencing, 'Le Point du Jour avec Paris au large'.

In their book, Dictionnaire des Petits Maitres de la Peinture 1820-1920, Gerald Schurr and Pierre Cabane write that Dumoulin 'was linked to Verlaine who wrote a sonnet, 'L'Aube a L'Envers' after one of his works (Le Point du Jour)'. They provide no indication as to the whereabouts of this work but it seems possible (given the inscribed date of 1885) that this could be the painting that provided the inspiration for Verlaine's now celebrated poem of around the same date.

The positioning of shadows in the picture further supports a direct linkage to the poem. 'L'Aube a L'Envers' relates to the pattern of activity in the late afternoon at Le Point du Jour - and the painting represents life at the river port at around that time with the sun in the West and the shadows lengthening. [Christie’s]

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Death of Chilperic (1885)

Evariste Luminais: The Death of Chilperic

Chilperic I is not to be confused with the better-known Childeric I (440-481/2) who was the father of Clovis I. Just to make matters more complicated, there was also a Chilperic I who was the king of Burgundy from 473 until about 480. I believe that this painting shows King Chilperic I of Neustria (or Soissons), born in around 539, crowned in 561, and murdered in September 584.

Although they were not entitled, Chilperic’s brothers forced him to share his kingdom, with his eldest brother Charibert becoming king of Paris until he died in 567, when Paris was shared between the four brothers. Unpopular with the church, he was returning from a hunting expedition to his royal villa of Chelles when he was stabbed to death. [Eclectic Light]

Friday, March 31, 2017

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Mother and Daughter on the Beach (1885)

Ernest-Ange Duez: Mother and Daughter on the Beach

Increasingly as the 19th century progressed, aristocrats and bourgeois alike discovered the pleasures of holidays by the sea. Sea-bathing was held to have health-giving qualities; but even sitting in groups on the beach, clothed and of course with parasols, became the norm, as can be seen in the many paintings by Boudin, especially those of Trouville in the 1860s. Many artists portrayed this new subject-matter. Monet also painted holiday-makers on the beach at Trouville in 1870. Manet showed his brother and his wife on the beach at Berck in 1873. While Degas depicted bathers, holiday-makers and ships on the horizon as a young girl has her hair brushed by her maid on the beach.

These were modernist painters, generally lumped together as Impressionists. But more conservative artists also discovered the beach and its pleasures. Among these juste milieu artists was Ernst-Ange Duez. On this medium-sized canvas, Duez gives us a slice of a Channel beach: Northern certainly, slightly overcast, but with parasols playing a symbolic game. Other symbols of leisure on the beach are included: buckets and spades, sandcastles, some gentle sea-fishing by children, simple, Spartan chairs (some abandoned); and beyond a dividing fence, sea-bathers. The center of attention is the woman seated in the foreground watching her child with a protective glance: is she perhaps a widow? Oddly no adult males can be seen.

This rather sad image, painted in 1885, seems at the opposite pole to the Impressionists. Brushstrokes are tightly controlled; colors are subdued, essentially producing a tonal harmony of greys, browns and blacks (only the little girl breaks the harmony by wearing red stockings and even more strikingly a red bow in her hat). Blacks -and browns- were banished from the palette of most of the Impressionist painters (Manet and Renoir apart). And Duez's figures are highly finished, quite distinct from the surrounding sand, sea and sky. Duez, indeed, would appear justifiably to be a juste milieu artist, perhaps more academic and more Salon-inclined than naturalist or impressionist.

Yet Duez was an artist who knew and admired Edouard Manet; who owned paintings by Claude Monet (one of which he actually lent to the fourth Impressionist exhibition of 1879) and Berthe Morisot, as well as one of Degas's fans. Duez was not an Impressionist in his own painting. But he was liberal enough to acknowledge the significant breakthrough made by the Impressionist artists in the 1870s. That adds another dimension to this modest-sized painting. Duez may be closer to the Belgian artist Alfred Stevens and to the Italian De Nittis, yet again, each of these artists owned works by Monet and Degas. [Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza]

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Funeral of Victor Hugo (1885)

Jean Béraud: The Funeral of Victor Hugo

The twentieth century could not wait fifteen years for a round number; it was born, yelling, in 1885. It all started with a wake and funeral such as Paris had never staged even for royalty. In May, 1885, four months after an immense state banquet to celebrate his eighty-third birthday, Victor Hugo died. He left the following will: “I give fifty thousand francs to the poor. I desire to be carried to the cemetery in one of their hearses. I refuse the prayers of all churches. I ask for a prayer from all living souls. I believe in God.” Four years earlier, during public celebrations of his eightieth year of vigor, the Avenue d'Eylau, where he lived, had been officially renamed in his honor. Now his remains lay in state for twenty-four hours on top of a mammoth urn which filled the Arc de Triomphe and was guarded in half-hour shifts by young children in Grecian vestments. As darkness approached, the festive crowd could no longer contain itself. The night of May 31, 1885, night of vertiginous dreams, dissolute and pathetic, in which Paris was filled with the aromas of its love for a relic. Perhaps the great city was trying to recover its loss. . . How many women gave themselves to lovers, to strangers, with a burning fury to become mothers of immortals! What the novelist Barres here describes (in a chapter of Les déracinés entitled "The Public Virtue of a Corpse") happened publicly within a few yards of Hugo's apotheosis. The endless procession across Paris the next day included several brass bands, every political and literary figure of the day, speeches, numerous deaths in the press of the crowd, and final entombment in the Pantheon. The church had to be specially unconsecrated for the occasion. By this orgiastic ceremony France unburdened itself of a man, a literary movement, and a century. [Indiana University Bloomington]

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

William Bouguereau (1884)

William Bouguereau: L'Etoile Perdue [The Lost Pleiad]
 William Bouguereau: Le Jour
William Bouguereau: Seated Bather

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Youth of Bacchus (1884)

William Bouguereau: La jeunesse de Bacchus [The Youth of Bacchus]

William Bouguereau was born in La Rochelle and spent some of his youth in Bordeaux, where his father was established as a wine merchant. After four years of studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1850. He rapidly became an artist known to and appreciated by the public. He was an academic artist who preferred Greco-Roman mythological subjects, such as The Youth of Bacchus, which were ideal pretexts for representing unclothed bodies in perfect anatomical detail.
Bouguereau signed an exclusivity contract with Adolphe Goupil. The latter, who also owned an art gallery, became the painter's preferred dealer and his workshops used the various techniques of the period to reproduce practically all of the painter's works. For example, the painting The Youth of Bacchus has been reproduced as a photoengraving. Photoengraving is a modern photomechanical reproduction procedure which combines the accuracy of photography with the image stability of a traditional engraving. Often produced in colour, these widely distributed images were employed in the decoration of middle-class apartments. [Musée d’Aquitaine]

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Paul Louis Narcisse Grolleron (1884)

Paul Louis Narcisse Grolleron: A Seated Foot Soldier
Paul Louis Narcisse Grolleron: Soldier Taking Aim

Friday, March 17, 2017

Hamlet and the Gravediggers (1884)

Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret: Hamlet and the Gravediggers

Among the most creative students of the renowned academician Jean-Léon Gérôme, Dagnan-Bouveret staunchly maintained the academic tradition while modernizing it with contemporary themes and organizing his compositions with photographic techniques. Officially recognized and honored, Dagnan-Bouveret was named Officer of the Legion of Honor in 1891 and member of the Institut de France in 1900. Hamlet and the Gravediggers depicts the famous passage from Act V, Scene I of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, when the Danish prince discovers the skull of Yorick the Jester and contemplates the fate of all mankind. Dagnan-Bouveret’s friends, the artists Gustave Courtois and Karl von Steffen, posed for the figures of Horatio and Hamlet and the artist himself appears at the lower right, photographically cropped and facing the action. Painted in the lighthearted and somewhat satiric “troubadour style,” Dagnan-Bouveret’s naturalist tendencies are most clearly seen in the ragged figures of the gravediggers, depicted with his characteristic exactitude. First exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1884, it was popularized through reproductions published the same year. The artist gave Hamlet and the Gravediggers to his teacher, Gérôme, and a subsequent owner, the American banker George F. Baker donated it to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. [Dahesh Museum of Art]