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]

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Biblis (1884)

William Bouguereau: Biblis

Classical subjects and Greek myths provided Bouguereau with inspiration throughout his career. The resulting narrative paintings were accessible to contemporary audiences and earned him great acclaim as his submissions to the Paris Salon, including compositions such as Nymphs et Satyr (1873), Flore et Zéphyre (1874), and La Jeunesse de Bacchus (1884), painted the same year as the present work, which is the réduction of his Salon submission of 1885, Biblis (1884). The classical subject also provided a veil under which Bouguereau could present the nude, a strategy that many Academic artists employed as well.

In Greek mythology, Biblis, daughter of Miletus, fell in love with her twin brother, Caunus. Though she realized that her feelings were taboo, she could not help but try to woo him and sent him a letter citing examples of incest among the Gods. Repelled and afraid, Caunus fled, driving Biblis mad and prompting her to shed her clothes and chase him through Greece and Anatolia, crying incessantly. Exhausted by grief and sorrow, she collapses, perishes and is transformed by nymphs into a spring, or according to other acccounts, is simply consumed by her tears and becomes a fountain. In either outcome, Bouguereau represents Biblis in her penultimate moment.

Bouguereau writes: “Among my paintings, Biblis is one that I love the most, one that I most enjoyed painting; this even though it was inspired by an incident in the atelier. One of my female models had just asked to rest from a tiring pose; when the young woman was in the process of standing up, she instinctively found herself in a pose so beautiful that I stopped her with a gesture and a shout, begging her to hold the pose for just an instant longer. I sketched her immediately, very quickly… I had seen my Biblis. It is one of my best paintings” (as translated from the French, Vachon, p. 115). [Sotheby’s]

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Song of the Lark (1884)

Jules Breton: The Song of the Lark

She’s not pretty; she’s a little bit mannish, actually— her feet are a little too large, her hands too strong on the handle of the scythe, her eyes too dark behind heavy brows. The empty field where she stands is harsh, with flat dirt extending for a long way before touching a green border far in the background. A mottled red sun rises behind her, heralding the dawn, but even that has little inherent beauty.

Yet the look of searching wonder in her face is touching, even breathtaking. All the emotion of The Song of the Lark by Jules Breton is imbued with the implied things outside the canvas, lending the dull, mundane scene a romantic tinge.

This 1884 painting is an example of the Realist movement, the quiet browns, dim greens and lazy reds somehow given life by the thin white of the girl’s shirt. Rough textures that resemble Courbet’s The Stonecutters surround her, but the smoothness of her dirt-smudged skin clearly marks her as more important than the background.

Many paintings from the 19th century address the topic of ordinary peasant life, but the specific focus makes this one special. Whereas other artists chose to portray ordinary tasks, full of people going about their daily work in a brightly colored country scene, The Song of the Lark depicts a rare quiet moment at the very beginning of the day. The lull between night and dawn is the most peaceful time; looking at the solitary girl in the half-light gives off a sense of relaxation, not unlike lying in bed just after waking, watching the light slowly edge up the wall. [Columbia College Chicago]

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Portrait of Madame Marie Toulmouche (1884)

Jules Elie Delaunay: Portrait of Madame Marie Toulmouche

Marie Lecadre, daughter of a magistrate of Nantes, seems to possess all the qualities of beauty and intelligence. She married the painter Toulmouche and became, when they stay in their property in the Nantes countryside, the host of a coterie of friends, including the painters Gustave Doré, Puvis, Eugene Picou, Jules-Elie Delaunay himself, and the poet Jose Maria Heredia. We see in the background of the painting the place of these meetings, the Abbey of White Crown.

They talk about art and literature, and she sings and plays music. Numerous art critics enthusiastically commented upon this exhibited portrait at the Salon of 1885 in Paris, then in Nantes next year. It is considered one of the masterpieces of the artist. []

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Les Communiantes (1884)

Jules Breton: Les Communiantes

At the beginning of the nineteenth century grand Salon submissions of religious subjects were encouraged, reinforced by the monarchy’s mutual support of church and state. Breton had tried his hand at large religious canvases while he was a student, including Saint Piat prêchent dans les Gaules (1846), an unfinished Chemin de Croix (1847) and Baptême de Christ (1851), all of which have since disappeared, but as the French political environment changed, so did the expectations of official artists. Large biblical narratives were abandoned by artists who instead sought to represent the Divine through humanity and the everyday. To this end, the representation of working people in rural France, and especially their religious rituals, pageants and processions, took on a special significance. If the abrupt and radical Realism of Gustave Courbet’s 1850 Salon submission, Burial at Ornans did not ignite a broader movement in Realist art, it can be used, retrospectively, as a mid-century pivot point that happens to coincide with the initiation of Breton’s formidable career as an artist. Reexamination of Breton’s oeuvre, accolades and commercial success reveals that he was answering the call of the Realist and Naturalist movements while simultaneously participating in the Academic system, and Les Communiantes gives clear evidence.

As the self-proclaimed "peasant who paints peasants," Jules Breton achieved recognition from his first Salon entry in 1849, and quickly earned recognition from his peers including Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Constant Troyon and Vincent Van Gogh, among others.  Breton’s inspiration came from the real working people of rural France, and he achieved great commercial success by imbuing his subject with a certain amount of the ideal. Throughout his career, the theme of religious traditions allowed him to explore the spiritual heart of rural communities, notably in Brittany and Courrières, where he lived. One of the earliest paintings to explore the subject of communicants is Les Premières Communiantes à Courrières (circa 1860), and foreshadows his inclination to the present subject which would be conceived more than twenty years later in response to a commission from the influential American agent, Samuel P. Avery. [Sotheby’s]

Friday, March 3, 2017

On the Road in Winter; Artois (1884)

Jules Breton: On the Road in Winter; Artois

Sur la route en hiver; Artois poetically illustrates how Jules Breton, a self-proclaimed “peasant who paints peasants,” drew artistic inspiration from the working people of rural France.  In the present work, as with much of his painting in the period, villagers from Courrières serve as models: Bibi (the daughter of a mine worker) and Henry (one of Breton’s favorites).  Just as the harvesters returning from late summer’s golden fields, these winter wanderers are elevated to icons of country life.

As recorded in his wife Elodie Breton’s diary entries, the artist began Sur la route en hiver; Artois on March 17, 1881, after a harsh winter had left the fields of Courrières covered in snow.  Although other projects diverted his attentions, Breton completed this work by February 1884 and exhibited it to great acclaim at the Salon of that year.

Just as the present work inspired critics to wax poetic, it also inspired Breton, a poet himself, to write three stanzas, which he exhibited alongside the painting at the Salon: 
Boundless as the sea, a mantle soft and new,
Across the landscape, a snow all virgin lies;
Emerging far beyond, to heavens lone and blue,
A vision tender, soft, golden green in hue
In dazzling beauty, see fair Diana rise!
In western skies, slow sinking to his night’s repose,
Out from the conch which filmy mist enfolds,
The radiant sun his countless gleaming javelins throws;
Beneath his ancient kiss the boy, pale moon now glows,
As, shrinking, she that ruddy face beholds.

The lily white expanse, so sparkling, billowy, vast,
Takes from th’illumining flood a rosy stain;
White purplish, pallid shade the countless hummocks east;
And seems the bounty of a thousand Aprils past,
To shower the glistening, efflorescent plain.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Slave Markets (1884)

Two views of Roman slave markets from Jean-Léon Gérôme.

 Jean-Léon Gérôme: A Roman Slave Market
Jean-Léon Gérôme: Slave Market in Rome