Saturday, October 28, 2017

Lady Godiva (1891)

Jules Joseph Lefebvre: Lady Godiva

Exhibited at the 1890 Salon (official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris), this immense (6.2 x 3.9m) oil painting dated 1891 portrays the story of Lady Godiva, a famous 11th century English princess. Married to Leofric, the Earl of Mercia and lord of Coventry, she begged her husband to relieve the townspeople of the oppressive taxes and tolls. He refused, unless she agree to ride through the town naked on horseback. Out of respect for their lady, it is said, the townspeople stayed indoors during her ride. Jules Lefebvre’s painting shows Lady Godiva during her ride through the deserted town. [Amiens]

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Cast Shadows (1891)

Émile Friant: Cast Shadows

In 1891, Friant presented four paintings at the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. One of these was Cast Shadows which he was careful to place prominently when submitting his works. He had already depicted young couples, outdoors and indoors, always carefully building his composition around an interplay of looks and hands. He did the same in 1891 but in a much more radical way. The protagonists are placed in front of a wall. The frontal light source, directed upwards, highlights the hands and faces. Beneath the dark clothes, their bodies are reduced to silhouettes. This treatment recalls an extract from Pliny's Natural History recounting how painting was invented: "[Dibutade] was in love with a young man; when he left for foreign lands, she traced the shadow of his face, projected on to a wall by the light of a lantern".

But Friant equally turned to the current research of the time. Degas' work in particular comes to mind, with the effects he achieved using unusual light sources, capable of changing the perception of colour and chromatic harmony. [Musée d’Orsay]

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Émile Munier (1891)

Émile Munier: At the Fountain
Émile Munier: Messenger of Love

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Reception of Louis XVI at the Hotel de Ville (1891)

Jean-Paul Laurens: The Reception of Louis XVI at the 
Hotel de Ville by the Parisian Municipality in 1789

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Vive L'Empereur (1891)

Edouard Detaille: Vive L'Empereur. The Charge of the French 4th Hussar 
Regiment at the Battle of Friedland, June 14th 1807

The Battle of Friedland (June 14, 1807) was a major confrontation of the Napoleonic Wars between the armies of the French Empire commanded by Napoleon I and the armies of the Russian Empire led by Count von Bennigsen. Napoleon and the French obtained a decisive victory that routed much of the Russian army, which retreated chaotically over the Alle River by the end of the fighting. The battlefield is located in modern-day Kaliningrad Oblast, near the town of Pravdinsk, Russia.

The engagement at Friedland was a strategic necessity after the Battle of Eylau earlier in 1807 had failed to yield a decisive verdict for either side. The battle began when Bennigsen noticed the seemingly isolated corps of Marshal Lannes at the town of Friedland. Thinking he had a good chance of destroying these isolated French units, Bennigsen ordered his entire army over the Alle River. Lannes held his ground against determined Russian attacks until Napoleon could bring additional forces onto the field. By late afternoon, the French had amassed a force of 80,000 troops on the battlefield. Relying on superior numbers, Napoleon concluded that the moment had come and ordered a massive assault against the Russian left flank. The sustained French attack pushed back the Russian army and pressed them against the river behind. Unable to withstand the pressure, the Russians broke and started escaping across the Alle, where an unknown number of them died from drowning. The Russian army suffered horrific casualties at Friedland–losing over 40% of its soldiers on the battlefield. [Wikipedia]

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Restoration (1891)

Édouard Dantan: A Restoration

Dantan was especially drawn to painting the interiors of the artist's studio. His father, Antoine-Laurent Dantan, was a well-known and acclaimed sculptor and would have involved him in his studio practice and, consequently, fostered an ambition for Edouard to develop his own. He would go on to document the professional artistic landscape of the late nineteenth century and is most celebrated for his paintings of working studios and exhibition spaces. His submissions to the Paris Salon in 1880 (L'Atelier de mon père), 1887 (Un moulage sur nature) and in 1891 (Une restauration, the present lot) depicted the interiors of an artist's studio. Of these, Une restauration shows Dantan at his very best through the virtuosity of paint handling, attention to detail, complexity of compositional arrangement and relative monumentality. It would later be exhibited at Chicago's Columbian World's Exposition in 1893.

There is a longstanding tradition of presenting the artist's studio as either allegory or anecdote. Masterpieces like Diego Velazquez's Las Meninas (1656), which later influenced Gustave Courbet's The Artist's Studio (1855), set important precedents that Dantan, and  innumerable other artists, would draw from. The Salon jury would have been especially receptive to this subject, and because his 1880 submission was well-received and much talked about, Dantan would have been prompted to submit more of the same genre.

Immediately evident in this painting is the tremendous attention to detail, as Dantan is careful to convey a vision of the artists' studio while he is in the act of creation. Marble is prized for its malleability and skin-like translucency but remains an extremely unforgiving medium given that it is a subtractive process. One foul blow of the mallet or careless placement of the chisel could spell ruin for a masterpiece.

The sculpture is likely based on Antoine Houdon's masterpiece, La frileuse (1787), which is an allegory for winter and translates to a woman who is susceptible to the cold. As in many of his works, Dantan maintains a sense of humor and play of irony. Here, the artist's fully clothed sculpture is an exaggeration of Houdon's half naked Frileuse, and while the bare branches seen through the window indicate winter, his bared model shows no susceptibility to the cold.

In the present work, Dantan's artist is chiseling at the drapery of his subject which is carefully propped on a series of wood blocks so that his area of occupation is at eye level and close to his body. Chisels and spatulas are carefully hung and ordered under shelves that house studies and maquettes, as well as incomplete works and broken fragments. Friezes hang on the walls and earthenware vessels and woven baskets sit on the floor. Interestingly, and a sign of Dantan's ambition, there are two light sources implied in the artist's bright studio. The window shown diffuses light that illuminates the model from behind, and the drapery that she is enveloped in seems to glow. The surfaces of each object are given an extreme amount of consideration, and the result is an artistic tour de force. [Sotheby’s]

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

William Bouguereau (1890)

 William Bouguereau: Calinerie [A Little Coaxing]
William Bouguereau: L'Amour et Psyché, enfants

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Bohemian Girl (1890)

William Bouguereau: The Bohemian Girl

The Bohemian is a painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau completed in 1890. It depicts a barefooted young woman sitting on a concrete bench on the south bank of the Seine across from Notre Dame de Paris resting a violin in her lap. Her right arm is resting on her thigh while the palm of her left hand is pressed down on her left knee so that she does not lean on the violin. Her hands are clasped with the fingers pointing forward while her shoulders are wrapped in a shawl dyed maroon and light green, and she is wearing a gray dress that extends to her ankles. The bow of the violin has been stuck through diagonally under the fingerboard. To her right is a maple tree. [Wikipedia]