19th Century Art – Art & Antiques Magazine http://www.artandantiquesmag.com For Collectors of the Fine and Decorative Arts Wed, 29 Aug 2018 17:05:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/cropped-artandantiques_red_icon-32x32.png 19th Century Art – Art & Antiques Magazine http://www.artandantiquesmag.com 32 32 Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2018/01/jan-van-eyck/ Wed, 24 Jan 2018 22:49:27 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=5755 Continue reading ]]> An exhibition explores the impact of Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait on the Pre-Raphaelites.

John Everett Millais, Mrs James Wyatt Jr and her daughter Sarah, about 1850

John Everett Millais, Mrs James Wyatt Jr and her daughter Sarah, about 1850, oil paint on mahogany 35.3 x 45.7 cm.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) William Holman Hunt, The Awakening Conscience, 1853 John Everett Millais, Mrs James Wyatt Jr and her daughter Sarah, about 1850 Jan van Eyck, Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife, 1434 Ford Madox Brown, Take your Son, Sir!, 1851–92 Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Fair Rosamund and Queen Eleanor, 1862 Convex mirror owned by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

In calling themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of rebellious young British artists of the 1840s evoked a sense of mystic medievalism that accords well with the fantastic, otherworldly images they painted. Depicting legends from the Bible, scenes from Dante, or poems by Victorian contemporaries, the works of the PRB combined a look that harked back to the early Italian Renaissance (that is, before Raphael) with a distinctly modern, even proto-modernist, point of view. But with all the images of languishing red-haired beauties and knights of Camelot they created, one would hardly imagine that one of the most important influences on the group was a painting by a 15th-century Flemish, not Italian, master, and that the subject of this painting was no vision of the spiritual realm but a down-to-earth bourgeois couple in an intricately detailed, albeit enigmatic, domestic setting.

A team of art historians at the National Gallery in London contends that Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait (1434) had an important effect on the birth of Pre-Raphaelitism, and beyond that, on four decades’ worth of British art to follow. They are backing this claim with a large-scale exhibition that showcases the Van Eyck—one of the National Gallery’s most prized possessions—amid a rich assortment of Pre-Raphaelite and other Victorian paintings, drawings, prints, and photographs. The exhibition, “Reflections: Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites” (through April 2) not only makes some thought-provoking points about art history but also about the history of culture, the way the past is remembered, and the strange kinship between archaism and modernism.

The original three members of the PRB, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais, started their movement in 1848 in reaction to what they saw as the dry-as-dust teaching methods and ideals of the Royal Academy. Just six years earlier, the Arnolfini Portrait had come into the collection of the National Gallery, purchased from a British army officer, James Hay, who had acquired it some 30 years earlier. The picture, which was in a remarkable state of preservation, was among the spoils of war, probably looted from the Spanish royal family by the Bonapartes during the Peninsular Wars. Hay may have gotten hold of it when Joseph Bonaparte’s baggage train was captured by the Duke of Wellington. In later years, Hay stated that he bought the Arnolfini Portrait in Brussels. Ironically, though it was painted for a bourgeois family, in whose possession is likely remained for several decades, it had passed into aristocratic hands by 1516 and later in the century became the property of King Philip II of Spain. From then until the early 19th century it was in the collection of the Bourbon rulers of that country.

Today, the Arnolfini Portrait is one of the most famous paintings in the world; in the early 1840s, it was hardly known. Still, its acquisition by the National Gallery was a major coup for England. Connoisseurs and critics such as John Ruskin were beginning to discover the merit of Early Netherlandish painting, and the Van Eyck, in addition to being the work of one of the school’s very greatest masters, was (and is) in a remarkable state of preservation. In fact, so fresh were its rich colors, so sharp its details, so smooth its surface, that these features took precedence over its content in the minds of English art-savvy viewers.

The young members of the PRB, only recently graduated from art school, were not immune to this fascination. One of the preoccupations of art teachers and students at the time was the rapidity with which many contemporary and recent paintings fell into discoloration and decay due to bad paint mixing and application. The craftsmanship of Van Eyck—who was credited, erroneously, with the invention of oil painting itself (though he and his brother Hubert did play a major role in refining the technique and moving it forward)—was a reproach to English artists and an inspiration to the PRB to do better. They contrasted Van Eyck’s jewel-like finish with the more slapdash paint handling of Sir Joshua Reynolds (“Sir Sloshua,” as they liked to joke), the Royal Academy’s first president. In dedicating themselves to creating a modern-day version of the sharp-edged, precise, and very brightly colored style of the 15th century, the PRB themselves made some missteps; in one notorious incident, Rossetti painted a fresco (a medium beloved of the Early Italian Renaissance) without having troubled to learn the finer points of fresco painting, with the result that the whole thing flaked off within a few months.

When the Arnolfini Portrait went on view at the National Gallery in March 1843, it was brought to even wider attention by mass-media coverage. In particular, The Illustrated London News, which had been founded the year before, carried an engraved reproduction of the painting that allowed the image to be widely disseminated for the first time in its existence. The article stated: “To every one it is a mystery. Its subject is unknown, its composition and preservation of its colours a lost art.” And speaking of mass reproduction of images, some who had seen the painting in person compared its precision to that of photography, a new art medium that had only been invented some four years previously. A reviewer in The Athenaeum wrote, “The various traceries, the border-and-scroll work, the enriched minor details of the room, seem to be daguerrotyped rather than painted, such is their extreme fineness and precision.”

As for the Illustrated’s statement that the painting’s “subject is unknown,” that is no longer true, although some elements of mystery persist. The man on the left of the composition is believed to be Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini, a merchant from the Italian city of Lucca who traded in Bruges, Belgium. The lady on the right is his second wife, whose name is not recorded. The meaning of the portrait is even less clear. It used to be known as The Arnolfini Wedding, with the understanding that it depicted the couple on the day of their marriage, and the pregnant appearance of the wife lent an air of scandal or at least of conundrum to the picture. Art historians now accept that Van Eyck did not intend to depict the lady as pregnant at all; what we are looking at is actually the folds of her green robe drawn up in front of her. The great art historian Erwin Panofsky went into an elaborate exegesis based on the supposed symbolic significance of various objects in the room, with the intention of proving that the painting was itself a visual marriage contract. In any case, what we can be sure of is that Van Eyck depicted a married couple in their home, and that the painting is probably the first secular domestic interior ever done. Of course, being a 15th-century artwork, created during a profoundly religious era, the Arnolfini Portrait alludes to religious themes—the lady herself and the tightly constrained room with the stained-glass panes to one side are reminiscent of the Virgin Mary in her chamber in Van Eyck’s Annunciation.

The atmosphere of enigma, otherworldly or otherwise, in the painting is crystallized by the convex mirror set into the wall, right in the center of the composition. Above it is written, in Latin, Johannes de Eyck fuit hic—Jan van Eyck was here. And indeed he is here; in an astonishing optical performance, the artist has painted himself into the picture as a reflection standing in the doorway of the room, as if facing the Arnolfinis. In doing so, Van Eyck was certainly showing off to some extent; painting reflections is difficult to begin with, and the distorted rendering of a curved mirror is even harder to pull off. Beyond the tour de force aspect, though, the paradoxical effect of a semi-spherical mirror, contracting and expanding space at the same time, is very much in keeping with 15th-century Northern European philosophical trends. The unique way in which many artists of the period combined a microscopic eye with a telescopic eye resonated with the pronouncement of the German theologian and mathematician Nicholas of Cusa, who described God as “an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”

The organizers of the current National Gallery exhibition are at pains to show that beyond the general influence of the Arnolfini Portrait on Pre-Raphaelite technique, the mirror on the wall had a very specific influence on a number of important paintings of the PRB, as well as on future British artists from outside the movement. One of the most notable is Holman Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience (1853), which places a man and a woman in a lushly appointed, claustrophobic space that recalls the Arnolfini bedchamber—albeit with a much less virtuous air. The woman is not a wife but a mistress or perhaps even a prostitute, and as she rises, seemingly repulsed, from the lap of the debauched-looking man, it is the mirror (flat, not convex) at the rear of the painting that reveals to the viewer what she is seeing in the distance—a green, spring-like outdoor scene that contrasts with the decadent interior. The fact that this is not shown directly may be taken to imply that the most important element of the painting is actually in the mind of its subject. In Ford Madox Brown’s unfinished Take Your Son, Sir! (1851–57), the mirror is a convex, circular one like that in the Arnolfini Portrait, and it likewise depicts the artist in miniature reflected form, entering the room. The woman is Brown’s mistress Emma (they were not yet married at the time), and the infant she proffers to him is their child, Arthur Gabriel Brown.

The convex mirror appears in medieval guise in a painting by Edward Burne-Jones, a later arrival to the PRB. His Fair Rosamund and Queen Eleanor (1862), a scene from the popular English legend of the beautiful Rosamund Clifford, the lover of King Henry II, places the mirror on the rear wall of Rosamund’s secret room, to which her rival, the queen, has followed her by using an ensnaring thread. In Van Eyck’s painting, the frame of the mirror contains ten cartouches featuring tiny scenes of the Passion of Christ. In Burne-Jones’ mirror, there are six subsidiary mirrors around the rim, each of which catches Eleanor’s face from a different angle.

Perhaps the most salient Pre-Raphaelite use of the mirror is in several depictions of Tennyson’s famous ballad The Lady of Shalott (versions from 1833 and 1842). In the legend as elaborated by the poet, the eponymous lady is condemned by a curse to remain perpetually isolated in a room in a castle on an island, weaving into an embroidery illustrations of the procession of life that passes her by. She may not look at these things directly but only in a mirror, her back to the window. In her mirror she eventually sees Sir Lancelot and falls in love with him, leaving her prison to row to Camelot in a boat that, of course, leads her to her death. The story is obviously tailor-made for Pre-Raphaelite sensibilities, and more than one artist tried his or her hand at it. The present exhibition features a very elaborate version by Holman Hunt, done late in his career, over a period encompassing 1886–1905. In this painting, the huge embroidery is held within a circular frame, parallel to the floor, while behind the lady, placed vertically, is the mirror, also in a circular frame. While the reflecting surface is not exactly convex like that of Van Eyck, it still seems to contain more space within it than a normal flat mirror could. The brightness of the scene there reflected contrasts with the heavy darkness of the room.

The connection between the PRB and the Arnolfini Portrait is visible in these paintings, though there is only scant contemporary documentation of their experience of it. That lack of direct evidence makes the argument seem somewhat tenuous at times. However, at least as an emblem of the appeal of the late-medieval world to the early modern world, the Van Eyck–PRB connection makes sense. The paradoxical connection between the early oil painting technique and the photographic technique illuminates the Janus-faced nature of Pre-Raphaelitism itself, suspended between reactionary nostalgia and daring annunciation of the modernist rebellion soon to come.

By John Dorfman

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Frederic Church: A Romantic Traveler http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2017/11/frederic-church/ Thu, 30 Nov 2017 07:49:00 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=5707 Continue reading ]]> A show at the Detroit Institute of Arts puts the spotlight on Frederic Church’s paintings of the Mediterranean world.

Frederic Church, Syria by the Sea

Frederic Church, Syria by the Sea, 1873, oil on canvas;

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Frederic Church, El Khasneh, Petra Frederic Church, Parthenon at Night, Athens Frederic Church, Standing Bedouin Frederic Church, Syria by the Sea rederic Church, The Urn Tomb, Silk Tomb and Corinthian Tomb, Petra

Frederic Edwin Church is usually thought of as a painter of breathtaking, Romantic views of pristine nature, but there was another side to the Hudson River School master. In the middle and later parts of his career, he devoted himself to depicting the man-made relics of the ancient world, at various locations in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Church’s fascination with ancient architecture and its pictorial possibilities is the subject of a current exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts, “Church: A Painter’s Pilgrimage,” on view through January 15. Not only does the show afford visitors a Church’s-eye view of such icons of antiquity as Petra, the Parthenon, and Jerusalem, it also shows the painter in a relatively informal mode, working sometimes in oil, chalk, and graphite on paper rather than in oil on massive canvases.

The effects Church could get with this technique are really quite astonishing. His study Parthenon at Night, Athens shows the temple of Athena bathed in purple light, which gives the effect of a “son et lumière” show of the type that today’s tourists are treated to. What the source of the violet glow could have been in 1868, before the invention of the electric light, is anyone’s guess; perhaps the color came at least partly from Church’s imagination. Certainly the oil and graphite sketch has a hallucinatory quality. Another work in the exhibition, The Parthenon (1871) is done in a much more finished style, in oil on canvas. Here we see the same structure by the saner light of day, when dreams vanish under the harsh glare of the Mediterranean sun. Church deftly captures the contrast between the direct light on the Parthenon itself and the open shade that occupies the foreground of the composition.

In Jerusalem From the Mount of Olives (1870), another highly finished oil on canvas, Church balances architecture with landscape. The entire walled city, topped by the gold-leafed Dome of the Rock, fits into a stripe of the composition right below the horizon. Above is the vast sky, with a dark squall line approaching from the left, while below it is the scrubby hillside dotted with olive trees. A group of three travelers, accompanied by two camels, stands in the foreground, looking toward the city that they will, presumably, soon enter. Wielding a fine brush, Church manages to convey the vastness and density of Jerusalem while still pointing out that it is contained within, and ultimately dwarfed by, the countryside. As a Romantic artist, perhaps Church felt that holy as Jerusalem was, the true home of divinity was nature.

Church’s journey from the Hudson Valley to the Middle East began with his reading of the great German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt, whose book Cosmos (1845) contained a call for artists to depict the landscape of equatorial South America. In 1853, when he was 27, Church went to Colombia with the backing of the New York businessman Cyrus Field. Four years later, again Field-financed, he went to Ecuador in search of the sublime. These two trips yielded some of Church’s most impressive and crowd-pleasing works.

The travel bug had bitten him, and a couple of years later we find Church on a boat in the North Atlantic between Labrador and Greenland, painting icebergs. But the Old World travels that produced the paintings shown in the Detroit exhibition stemmed from family tragedy. In 1865 he and his wife lost both their children to diphtheria. After two years, seeking spiritual comfort, they embarked on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, in the course of which they explored Rome, Greece, and Syria, as well. Possibly the religious impulse was what turned Church toward the built environment, so rich in sacred sites. Or perhaps it was simply that for the first time in his career, he was painting in a region where the human interest and historical interest loomed even larger than the landscape. The mid- and late 19th century was a time of intense interest among Europeans and Americans in the cultures of the Middle East and their pictorial possibilities, and Church was not immune. One of the works in the Detroit show, Standing Bedouin (1868) qualifies as a bona fide Orientalist picture. The landscape almost fades away as the painter’s eye is captivated by the exotic costume of the Arab figure—keffiyeh above, wildly colorful textiles in the middle, and pointed red shoes beneath.

The sight that inspired Church the most during his artistic pilgrimage was not a Christian shrine but a pagan building complex carved out of cliffs in what is now Jordan—Petra, the “rose-red city half as old as time,” as it was famously described in a poem by the English clergyman John William Burgon. Petra, which was built by the Nabataeans starting in around 1080 B.C. and added to over many centuries, was first revealed to Europeans by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812 and was painted by various artists, including the Scotsman David Roberts, in the ensuing decades. Church’s oil on paper mounted on canvas The Urn Tomb, Silk Tomb, and Corinthian Tomb, Petra (1868) is deeply bathed in rose-red, not only the sandstone but the sky and the land from which it rises. El Khasneh (1868), which shows the Classical-style Roman-era entrance to the treasury of Petra, is a spontaneous-looking oil sketch. The oil on canvas that Church eventually made of the subject was the only large-scale painting that he hung in his self-designed, Oriental-fantasy house in upstate New York, Olana.


By John Dorfman

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Marià Fortuny: Homage to a Catalonian http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2017/11/maria-fortuny/ Thu, 30 Nov 2017 07:48:44 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=5715 Continue reading ]]> A retrospective at the Prado reveals the range and vigor of Marià Fortuny i Marsal, one of 19th-century Spain’s greatest painters.

Marià Fortuny, The Opium Smoker, 1869

Marià Fortuny, The Opium Smoker, 1869, oil on cardboard, 26.5 x 17 cm.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Marià Fortuny, The Old Town Hall in Granada Marià Fortuny, Cecilia de Madrazo, 1874 Marià Fortuny, The Opium Smoker, 1869 Marià Fortuny i Marsal, The Painter’s Children in the Japanese Room Marià Fortuny, The Camel Driver, 1865

Spain, like Italy, is a geography that became a state but struggles to remain a nation. The politically minded identify Spain with its capital, just as Philip II intended. In 1561, Philip moved his court to a small town called Madrid, which was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter but at the center of the map all year round. Romantics, however, locate Spain’s spiritual heart in the south, in the gypsy music and Moorish ghosts of Andalusia. Linguists once said that the pure Castilian in which Velázquez received his commissions survived best outside Spain, in the Jewish communities expelled centuries earlier.

Meanwhile, historians of modern art look north to Catalonia, which has its own language and traditions of self-government. Catalonia is the birthplace of Joan Miró, Antoni Tàpies, and Salvador Dalí. Picasso, too, is an honorary Catalan. He was born in Andalusia and trained in Madrid, but he passed much of his childhood and most of his early career as a painter in Barcelona. When his secretary Juan Sabartes proposed founding a Picasso museum in Spain, it was Barcelona that Picasso chose as the site. That which is most Spanish is also the least Spanish: the gypsy, the Moor, the Jew, the Catalan.

Marià Fortuny i Marsal (in Spanish, Mariano Fortuny y Marsal), the subject of a comprehensive retrospective at the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid (on view through March 18th, 2018), was also a Catalan. Hence Fortuny is a quintessentially Spanish painter, because he saw Spain as something of a foreigner and other countries as a Spaniard. In his short lifetime, Fortuny enjoyed more international recognition than any other Spanish artist, as an all-round prodigy in oil, watercolors, and etchings. Fortuny was born in 1838, when Goya had been dead for 10 years. He died in 1874, seven years before the birth of Picasso. He worked after the Old Masters but before the new ones. His age prized him for his Rococo elegance and topical subjects. Our age prizes him for his incipient Impressionism, and for his putative influence on his son, Mariano Fortuny, who revolutionized women’s fashion in the early 20th century.

Fortuny grew up at Reus, near Tarragona, the future birthplace of the architect Antoni Gaudi. In the 18th century, Reus had become Catalonia’s second city through its liquor and textile production, but Fortuny’s family shared little in this prosperity. As an infant, he lost his father, and at 12, his mother. The orphan had already begun his training. From the age of five, he had learned to carve and paint from his grandfather, a cabinetmaker. Soon, the two of them were touring the towns of Catalonia, displaying a cabinet of wax figures painted and possibly modeled by the boy.

In 1852, the year that Gaudi was born at Reus, the 14-year-old Fortuny left his home town. Short of money, he walked the 130 kilometers to the regional capital of Barcelona, where Fortuny could train at Claudi Lorenzale’s Academy of Fine Arts. At Rome, Claudi Lorenzale had known the Nazarene painters. He had returned to Barcelona hoping to emulate those pious German medievalists and revive the religious and historical roots of Catalan identity. Catalonia was then beginning its Renaixença, a “renaissance” that began in the usual Romantic fashion as a medievalizing cultural movement and was to develop in the usual Romantic fashion into a modern political and separatist movement. Today, its terminal monuments are both unfinished: the political struggle for independence from Madrid, and Gaudi’s design for the last medieval cathedral, the still-unfinished Sagrada Familia at Barcelona.

In 1857, Fortuny won a scholarship to study at the Academia Giggi in Rome and voluntarily entered another typically Spanish condition, exile. More than Ireland or Russia, the cultural achievements of Spain have tended to be created outside Spain. Goya drew The Bulls of Bordeaux (1825) in Bordeaux. Picasso named Guernica (1937) for a Spanish city, but he painted it in Paris. Isaac Albéniz composed his musical argument for Andalusia as the true Spain, Iberia (1905–09), in Paris. Miró spent most of his working life in France, and when he returned, it was to the Catalan island of Majorca. Fortuny returned after two years in Rome, only to leave again.

In 1859, Spain declared war on Morocco. The proximate cause of the war was a Moroccan raid on the Spanish enclave of Ceuta; the broader cause was a Spanish attempt to capitalize upon European conquests in North Africa. The commander of the Spanish expeditionary force, the Count of Prim, had been born in Reus. Catalan volunteers joined Prim’s army, and Fortuny joined Prim’s staff as Catalonia’s war artist. The Spanish victory at Tetuan in early 1860 ended the hostilities, but Fortuny’s brief exposure to Morocco shaped the remainder of his life.

From Morocco, Fortuny went to Madrid. There, he fell in love with his future wife Cecilia Madrazo, the daughter of the painter Federico Madrazo. Proceeding to Barcelona, Fortuny turned his Moroccan watercolors and sketches into his first major commission. Engaged by the Council of the Province of Barcelona to memorialize the victory of the Catalans at Tetuan, Fortuny began a 15-meter canvas that, like the Sagrada Familia for Gaudi, was to remain unfinished at its creator’s death. In scale and narrative, The Battle of Tetuan is conceived as a Spanish analogue to Horace Vernet’s The Taking of the Smala of Abd-el-Kader (1843); the Barcelona government paid for Fortuny to travel to Paris in order to examine Vernet’s depiction of a French triumph in Algeria. The palette also looks to Paris—to the Orientalism of Delacroix.

For the French, Orientalism connected the imperial metropolis to its exotic colonial possessions. For the Spanish, Orientalism connected Spain to Europe. It aligned Spain with larger European empires in the Scramble for Africa, and allowed Spanish painters to use a common European vocabulary. The sensuality and flamboyant license of Orientalism freed Fortuny from the chaste Classicism of his training; the obligatory Odalisque (1861) is plainly aroused by the music of the oud. When Fortuny returned to Morocco, he dressed as an Arab and picked up a few phrases in Arabic.

The intense African light heightened the colors of his Rococo inheritances, and it loosened his brushwork, too. In the first version of The Print Collector (1863), a connoisseur sits in a European genre scene from the 18th century. The background is shadowed with a dark richness that suggests an Eclectic echo of Velázåquez. In the second version of The Print Collector (1866), the connoisseur is older, and the light is sharper. The tapestry on the rear wall is defined by loose Rococo brushwork. The rug on which the connoisseur sits has shrunk, allowing the floor to reflect more light into the room, and its pattern, previously inchoate, is now crisp. As the connoisseur ages, his rug is carrying him towards Impressionism.

In 1866, Fortuny returned to Rome, this time to work on etchings. In 15 months, he produced a series of masterpieces, suggesting his rapid assimilation of the agile and sinuous line of Goya and the shadowing technique of Rembrandt. “The time I spent with Fortuny is haunting me still,” wrote the painter Henri Renault. “He paints the most marvelous things, and is the master of us all. I wish I could show you the two or three pictures he has in his hand, or his etchings and watercolors. They inspired me with a real disgust of my own. Ah, Fortuny, you spoil my sleep!”

After Rome, Fortuny returned to Paris. There, he befriended the Academic painters Jean-Léon Gérôme and Ernest Meisonnier, and signed an exclusive contract with the influential dealer Adolphe Goupil, whose partner, Vincent van Gogh, was the uncle of the painter of the same name. The association with Goupil enriched Fortuny by attracting the patronage of the American sugar baron William Hood Stewart. But this success, and the pressure to replicate the material, kept Fortuny away from the North African scenes that he loved.

Fortuny’s career had carried him to Paris, but it now returned him to Spain. Not to Catalonia, a region whose people and language had more in common with the coastal cities of southwestern France, but to the mythologized Spain—al-Andalus of the Muslims, the Andalusia of the Gypsies. Living and working in Granada, Fortuny was in the curious position of a tourist in his own country, producing paintings for foreign buyers, and of a subject matter that, recognizing the long Muslim presence, had long been taboo in Spain.

Orientalism did not develop naturally in Spain as an aesthetic recollection of Spain’s historical and geographical intimacy with Muslim Africa. Quite the opposite: the Spanish had defined their state, religion, and identity through violent conflict with the Moors. Instead, Orientalism arrived in 1808 as a French import, part of the cultural baggage of Napoleon’s army. When educated Europeans learned about Spain for the first time, their imaginations were fired not by the historical Spain of the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella but by the fictional romance of the Muslim kingdom of Granada: Byron’s Don Juan (1819); Washington Irving’s The Alhambra (1825), in which Irving sets up a “regal household” in the ruined palace; and Chateaubriand’s The Adventures of the Last Abencerage (1826).

According to legend, the Abencerrages were a family prominent in the affairs of the Nasrid court at Granada in the century before its conquest in 1492 by Ferdinand and Isabella. One of the Abencerrages fell in love with a member of the royal family and was caught climbing up to her window. The king had the entire Abencerrage family murdered; the site of the killings is still called the Court of the Abencerrages. Fortuny’s The Slaying of the Abencerrages (1870) avoids the writhing bodies and extravagance of color that had defined Orientalist bloodbaths since Delacroix’s The Death of Sardanapalus (1827–28). The marble floor is spare and clean. There are no flashing scimitars or torn dresses. The killers are leaving the hall, and losing their definition. The bodies are not fully defined, either. It is as though the scene has already entered the vague and ahistorical territory of myth.

Fortuny’s images of Gypsies show a similar ambivalence towards his material. The Gypsies in The Spanish Wedding (1870) are not fully Spanish in Spanish terms, but they are essentially Spanish in the foreign imagination: the priest, the hidalgo with his sword, the ladies in their mantillas, and the gratuitously Goya-like physiognomies. But Carmen Bastian (1870) is a harsh and candid portrait of a real Gypsy. Fortuny found his model, a 15-year-old Gypsy, in the streets of Granada. Lifting her skirt and exposing her pudenda, Bastian looks the viewer candidly in the eye. She was rumored to be Fortuny’s lover. When Fortuny left Granada in 1872 for Italy, she moved to Madrid to model for an English watercolorist. When he abandoned her, she committed suicide.

In the summer of 1874, Fortuny settled at Portici, by the enchanting light and water of the Bay of Naples. He died shortly afterwards from malaria, aged 36. In the same year, John Singer Sargent, then 18 years old, entered the École des Beaux-Arts at Paris. Sargent was to pursue the path that Fortuny had opened, applying the suppleness of the 18th-century style to Orientalism, and integrating it with a highly personal variation on Impressionism. Sargent’s first masterpiece, the Flamenco dancer in El Jaleo (1879–82), begins where Fortuny ended.


By Dominic Green

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Other French Artists http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2017/09/women-artists/ Tue, 26 Sep 2017 18:06:47 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=5567 Continue reading ]]> A new traveling exhibition highlights the achievements of women artists in 19th-century Paris, while acknowledging their struggles for legitimacy.

Marie Bracquemond, On the Terrace at Sèvres

Marie Bracquemond, On the Terrace at Sèvres (Sur la terrasse à Sèvres), 1880, oil on canvas, 35 x 45 in.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Marie Bashkirtseff, In the Studio, 1881 Marie Bracquemond, On the Terrace at Sèvres Louise-Catherine Breslau, The Friends Mary Cassatt, Autumn, Portrait of Lydia Cassatt, Emma Löwstädt-Chadwick, Beach Parasol, Brittany Berthe Morisot, The Sisters

In her inaugural address at the opening of the Union des Femmes Peintres et Sculpteurs in Paris in 1881, Hélène Bertaux, the union’s founder, said, “The woman artist is an ignored, little-understood force, delayed in its rise! A social prejudice of sorts weighs upon her; and yet, every year, the number of women who dedicate themselves to art is swelling with fearsome speed.” At the time of the union’s foundation, women were still barred from the state-sponsored École des Beaux-Arts, and though the academy and the Salon de Paris were slowly losing their once-unyielding grip on the French—and global—art world, it was necessary for women artists to seek alternative means of training and recognition.

As Bertaux noted, in the second half of the 19th century, women—and men—seeking careers as artists flooded Paris. The city of light was also the city of art, where both classical training and avant-garde innovation thrived. In the reverse of what would happen in the event of a sinking ship, not enough room for everyone meant women were left behind, and the lifeboats—academic positions and those in the salons—went to men. Women were often left to band together and create their own opportunities, as with the Union; attend women-only classes; or train in private or artists studios, which were often very costly (training in the École des Beaux-Arts was free). Though these alternative situations allowed women to study, they didn’t always help their work gain acknowledgment—or buyers, for that matter.

Bertaux acknowledged systemic sexism as a “social prejudice of sorts,” which seems like a rather mild way to describe the immense struggles women go through when exerting themselves in any field (let alone art). Inherent sexism has been woven so deeply into the fabric of Western civilization that some of its threads can be difficult to perceive. Others are obvious: Plato, in all his ancient wisdom, thanked the gods that he was born a man and not a woman, a sentiment echoed in the traditional Jewish morning prayer. In Women as Other, the French feminist theorist and existentialist Simone de Beauvoir quotes Aristotle describing women as “female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities,” and saying “we should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness.” St. Thomas Aquinas called woman an “imperfect man” and an “incidental being.”

These notions showed no sign of dissipating in the 19th century. In the typically progressive journal Revue blanche, the writer and painter August Strindberg wrote in 1895, “It is the fate of our age to discover, among other things, that a woman is a scaled-down man, a form whose development was arrested between adolescence and full manhood. This discovery, already anticipated by philosophers from Aristotle to Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Schopenhauer, has been confirmed by scientists such as Darwin, Herbert Spencer, Mill, Haeckel, Virchow, Eduard von Hartmann, Friedrich Nietzsche, the craniologist Welcker, the biologist Letourneau, the physiologist Robin, and the anthropologist Topinard. Woman is inferior to man.”

Yet, there was the idea that women were lesser than men, and then there was the law. In post-Revolutionary France, the status of women’s rights regressed with the implementation of the Napoleonic Code. Under the Code, women owed their husband obedience; were prohibited from selling, mortgaging, or buying property; and experienced other restrictions. Though social advances were made, the Code remained in place in France largely unchanged for some 150 years, with women only gaining the right to work without their husbands’ permission in 1965 and men forfeiting the rights that came with the status of head of the family in 1970.

The Code hindered women’s abilities to make decisions for themselves and to live lives outside the home. In the 19th century, it was still taboo for women to be seen in public unaccompanied by a male chaperone. In her journals, published in 1891, three years after her death from tuberculosis at the age of 25, the painter Marie Bashkirtseff wrote, “What I long for is the freedom of going about alone, of coming and going, of sitting on the seats of the Tuileries, and especially in the Luxembourg, of stopping and looking at the artistic shops, of entering churches and museums, of walking about the old streets at night; that’s what I long for; and that’s the freedom without which one cannot become a real artist.” For the movements that emerged in France in the second half of the 19th century, namely Realism and Impressionism, both social and natural observation were essential. Without the ability to move freely in public, women artists were at a disadvantage.

There was another crucial limitation for women artists. In the Academy, the mastery of human anatomy was central to a painter’s training. The Academy’s foremost genre, the one held in the highest regard in France, was history painting, which required accurate depictions of the nude or draped figure. It was deemed improper—even unsafe—for a woman to be in a room with a nude model (even if it were female). On this basis women were not only barred from the Academy, they were refused the ability to study life drawing in private art institutions, which based their curriculum on that of the French Academy. History painting was the most profitable style of painting at the time, and without access to nude models, women artists weren’t able to execute these “important” works. This had a major impact on their careers: entry into official competitions, such as the Prix de Rome, was out of the question, and state commissions and purchases a pipe dream.

Women were left to paint portraits, landscapes, and genre scenes, typically reflecting domestic life and the interior. Marie Bracquemond, a student of the painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, observed in 1860 that Ingres “doubted the courage and perseverance of a women in the field of painting…He would assign to them only the painting of flowers, of fruits, of still lifes, portraits and genre scenes.” Without the means to paint gallant scenes of history, myth, and religion, women artists and their work were classified as safe, “feminine,” and resoundingly lesser-than. If a painting by a woman received praise from critics, it likely did so for its “tenderness” or “grace.” A great painting by a woman, should one come into being, managed to be great in the face of an inferior intellect and ability. “When someone says of a work of art, ‘It’s a woman’s painting or sculpture,’ what he means is, ‘it’s a weak painting or a mawkish sculpture,” noted the painter Virginie Demont-Breton in 1896.

Still some said even worse. A little over 100 years before Linda Nochlin asked why there have been no great women artists, Henry Harvard—with a rather different point in mind—observed in 1882, “Women have produced no masterpieces in any genre.” The Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau noted, after the publication of Bashkirtseff’s letters, “The large-scale intrusion of women in the realm of art would be a disaster beyond remedy. What will become of us, when creatures whose minds are as practical and down-to-earth as women’s minds are, when creatures so lacking in the true gifts of the imagination, proffer their horrible artistic common sense, supported by claims?…It’s enough to make you flee from art and everything related to it, never to return again.”

But, remarkably, this period of time wasn’t all bad. The second half of the 19th century was a time of incredibly progress for women artists in Paris. Despite their struggles, there was much gained. In the 1870s, life drawing classes became more readily available to women, and all-women classes were held at Charles Chaplin’s and the private Académie Julian. While the Academy’s stronghold on the art world loosened, and the first avant-garde movements (Realism, Symbolism, Impressionism) and their stars (Courbet, Manet, Monet) gained momentum, Rosa Bonheur received the Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur in 1865; the aforementioned Union des Femmes Peintres et Sculpteurs was founded in 1881; and the Women’s Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago was created in 1893. In 1897, as the century gasped its last breathe, the École des Beaux-Arts admitted 10 female students.

“Women Artists in Paris, 1850–1900,” an exhibition organized by the American Federation of Arts and curated by Laurence Madeline, opens on October 22 at the Denver Art Museum, where it runs through January 14 before traveling to the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Ky., in February and to the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., in June. The show features over 80 paintings by 37 artists drawn from prominent international collections. Instead of telling the discouraging story related above, it celebrates the women who studied, made, showed, and lived art in Paris in the 19th century.

Madeline’s early conception for the show came when she was working with a particular museum collection. “Quite a long time ago, I was working at the Musée d’Orsay, and I was wondering about the works by women artists kept in the collection. They were never exhibited,” she says. “Today, women artists have established places in biennials, they win top art prizes, and more and more they are gaining recognition. I wanted to know what the story was for 19th-century women artists.” Madeline acknowledges that this is an important moment for shows revolving around art made by women: “I think that obviously everybody is wondering about the situation of women, not just women artists but women in general—how women can create, work, live, and so on.” This general interest actually made organizing the show a bit more challenging. “In 2008, when I was trying to put together a good checklist, works by women artists of this period weren’t being displayed in permanent collections,” says the curator. “But when I started asking for the works, museums were having the same idea, and all of a sudden were willing to show their collections of women artists.”

For Madeline, the exhibition isn’t just about gaining visibility for little-shown paintings by women, it’s also about adding depth to the image of art in France after 1850. “Art history was made around big male artists,” she says, “but when you start looking at the 19th century more closely, it’s not just those same figures, and there were ways of painting that weren’t just Impressionism.” Madeline notes that when one looks at the actual artistic production of the period, “it’s possible to look at works that are different not just because they’re by women, but because they’re not what’s mainstream.”

Rosa Bonheur experienced perhaps more mainstream success during this period than any other woman. She received copious honors during her lifetime, most notable the Legion of Honor of France, which was never before awarded to a woman. She won a gold medal at the Salon of 1848 for Cows and Bulls of the Cantal, and her painting The Horse Fair (1852–55) was exhibited at the Salon of 1853. She became a bona fide critical and financial success when the latter sold to an American collector in 1857. The painting was eventually gifted to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1887.

Trained by her father, Raimond—a drawing teacher, landscape painter, and his daughter’s staunch supporter—Bonheur became known for her contributions to the popular genre of animal painting. Plowing at Nivernais, an 1850 oil on canvas and one of Bonheur’s most famous paintings, will be on view in “Women Artists in Paris.” The painting, which shows two teams of Charolais oxen plowing land in the area of Nevers, France, was commissioned by the French government for 3,000 francs. It also won Bonheur a medal at the Salon of 1849.

But part of Bonheur’s success was due to the fact that she didn’t live her life as a traditional French woman. She had closely cropped hair and even gained special permission from the police department to wear men’s trousers, so that she could survey the stables, slaughterhouses, and fields without being noticed. “She had an actual career, she could sell, and she had paintings bought by the French state,” says Madeline. “But at the same time, she behaved like a man and lived like a male artist. Perhaps it was a good strategy.”

Madeline is quick to note that Bonheur never had children or married. Marriage could be a divisive factor in the careers of women artists. Marie Bracquemond, whose 1880 painting On the Terrace at Sèvres (Sur la terrasse à Sèvres) comes to the exhibition from the collection of the Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva, eventually gave up her career due to the discord it caused between her and her husband, the painter and etcher Félix Bracquemond.

For Edma and Berthe Morisot, two sisters who studied under Joseph-Benoit Guichard, marriage had different effects: it led Edma to abandon her aspirations as a painter, while Berthe’s union with Édouard Manet’s younger brother Eugène substantially helped her career. Berthe has several paintings in “Women Artists in Paris,” but The Sisters, an 1896 oil on canvas, sticks out. The painting, which is in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., truly embodies the domestic sitting-room scene women artists were routinely chastised for. Morisot lavishes the image’s textiles, hairstyles, and décor with sumptuous detail. It is “soft,” not because it is lacking in technical ability, but because it excels in its ability to elicit a visceral sense of touch-ability. The sisters’ expressions are incredibly nuanced, tacitly conveying a sense of boredom, perhaps even frustration.

Morisot was an intrinsic member of the Impressionist group—the only one to participate in every show (well, she missed one in 1879, the year she gave birth to her only child). In fact, to some, Morisot embodied the movement’s true essence, in part because critics found the style “feminine” but also because of her palette and feather-like brushstrokes. After her death in 1895, Camille Mauclair declared the movement dead, saying, “It was done for, that shimmering Impressionism, an art so feminine that an admirable woman, Mme. Berthe Morisot, could by her works alone encapsulate all efforts.” Not surprisingly, some critics pit Morisot and Mary Cassatt against each other. Though they were both associated with Impressionism, the comparison is unnecessary.

Cassatt is perhaps the best-known American woman who lived in Paris during the 19th century. Like Bonheur, she never married and enjoyed a substantial amount of freedom. She trained in Chaplin’s studio and maintained a close friendship with Edgar Degas, who invited her to show with the Impressionists in 1879. She was substantially wealthy and well-connected, which was the case for the majority of women who gained traction in the French art world during this period (though this is also true of artists of both genders and most time periods).

Cassatt is best known for her depictions of mothers and children, as well as for her domestic subjects and portraits. Autumn, Portrait of Lydia Cassatt (1880), which will be featured in “Women Artists in Paris,” depicts Mary’s sister Lydia bundled up in an extravagant red coat that matches her red hair, sitting on a park bench. The subject of several Cassatt paintings, including Woman Reading and The Cup of Tea, Lydia was given a voice in Harriet Scott Chessman’s 2001 novel Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper. Lydia died of a kidney ailment the year after Autumn, Portrait was painted, and there’s something comforting in knowing that the gaze in this picture was not male but sisterly. Perhaps, that’s “soft,” “emotional,” or “feminine,” but it’s meaningful.


By Sarah E. Fensom

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Orientalist Paintings: Behind the Veil http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2017/01/orientalist-paintings/ Tue, 24 Jan 2017 23:01:43 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=5054 Continue reading ]]> An exhibition of Orientalist paintings examines Western attempts to depict the lives of 19th-century Muslim women.

Théodore Chassériau, Woman and Little Girl of Constantine with a Gazelle

Théodore Chassériau, Woman and Little Girl of Constantine with a Gazelle, 1849.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Frederick Arthur Bridgman, Morning on the Bosphorus Théodore Chassériau, Woman and Little Girl of Constantine with a Gazelle Édouard Louis Dubufe, Lady of the Harem Jean Joseph Benjamin Constant, The Scarf Dance

Of all the exotic subjects sought by the European painter-travelers now known as Orientalists, none was as seductive—or as elusive—as the harem. The word, imported from Arabic via Turkish, literally means a forbidden zone. Figuratively, it signifies that portion of an Islamic household reserved for women and children, off-limits to any men who are not close relatives. In the Indian subcontinent, it is called zanana (women’s quarters), and in a sense the concept of the harem is as much architectural as it is religious and social. An upper-class Ottoman home, for example, was divided into two parts—the haremlik (inner, private space) and the selamlik (outer, public space). Only the latter would have been accessible to foreign men, so we can say with certainty that not one of the harem paintings that form such an important part of the canon of Orientalism—a subset of 19th-century Academic realism—could possibly have been done from life.

Nevertheless, at least some of these artists aspired to accuracy and based their paintings on contemporary eyewitness accounts of harem life, supplemented by their own observations of the material culture of the Muslim world. Others unabashedly dealt in exploitative fantasy, creating lurid scenes replete with over-the-top luxury, nudity, belly dancing, eunuchs, and suggestions of sexual servitude. This duality in the representation of harems reflects the tension in Orientalist art in general between two motivations, one reportorial and even ethnographic, the other sensationalistic and myth-mongering. For both categories of artists (though sometimes both motivations were at work in one artist, and even in one painting), it was precisely the mystery and strangeness of the harem, from a Western point of view, that made it such an attractive subject. And while attitudes have changed since the era of colonialism, the harem theme retains some of its fascination for today’s viewers, and there may even be renewed interest in light of our current need, born of political realities, to understand Islamic social practices.

Considering the importance of the harem in art, one would imagine that a dedicated exhibition would have been mounted long ago, but in fact the first one ever just opened late last month, at the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum in Palm Beach, Fla. “Harem: Unveiling the Mystery of Orientalist Art” (through April 16) puts on view some 30 paintings and sculptures, as well as more than 15 related photographs, documents, and ephemera that clarify the role of harem imagery in elite and popular culture during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Flagler, an American oil, railroad, and hotel tycoon, shared the taste of his fellow Gilded Age collectors for Orientalism and owned at least six harem paintings, all of which are in the current show. Tracy Kamerer, chief curator at the Flagler, explains that she came up with the idea for the show in the course of studying the history of Henry Flagler’s collections; eventually she tracked down the six harem paintings and arranged for them to be loaned. Five were housed in a former Flagler hotel building and are owned by his descendants, while the sixth is owned by the Flagler System and is normally on display at The Breakers in Palm Beach; it used to hang outside the resort’s seafood bar, according to Kamerer. “I wanted to gather these paintings together and provide some context on why they were appreciated,” she says.

She also wanted to shed some light on the gap between harem myth and harem reality. One of the Flagler-owned paintings in the show, The Sultan’s Favorite (1886), by the Spanish painter Juan Giménez Martín, “has everything, the whole myth,” says Kamerer. A fair-skinned, dark-haired beauty reclines on a divan amid marble columns and archways, whiling away the time with embroidery as the turbaned monarch approaches, treading a red carpet unrolled just for him. In the flower-strewn foreground, an incense burner dispenses its aromatic fumes, while a leopard skin, with head attached, draws the eye to the center of the picture. The woman, while she indulges in pleasures of her own, clearly exists for the pleasure of the Sultan.

An undated Odalisque by the French Academic master Jean-Léon Gérôme also hits the high spots of the harem myth. The very term “odalisque” exemplifies the journey of everyday Near Eastern social roles to the status of fantasy-art fodder. The Turkish original, odalik, literally means something to do with a room (oda); by extension, a chambermaid. Such a person wouldn’t go about her work naked, but in Western art from Ingres to Matisse, the odalisque is usually a nude, or at least a half-nude. This sexualization is brazenly evident in Gérôme’s example; not only is the figure unclothed (except for a headband), but she holds a hookah mouthpiece in one hand and gives the viewer an inviting look. Gérôme, as Kamerer points out, knew his market and delivered the goods. Still, he had the realist’s impulse to paint what he saw and an eye that was irresistibly drawn to details. In Odalisque, it seems almost as if he is looking past the lady to focus on the intricate Islamic tilework behind her.

As to the reality of the 19th-century harem, writers are generally better guides than painters, if for no other reason than that at least some of them were women. Julia Pardoe, an Englishwoman, traveled to Constantinople in the 1830s with her father, a major in the army. Her book Romance of the Harem (1839), despite the title, aimed to tell British readers the plain truth. “She laid it all out there,” says Kamerer. “Women in harems had rights, owned property, weren’t sex slaves, and were probably transgressed upon less than Western women.” Another book with almost the same title, Romance of a Harem, published anonymously (in French) in 1901 but set in the 1870s, offered readers a journey even further behind the scenes, purporting to be the memoir of a Circassian girl who lived in the harem of an Ottoman prince. “I grew up in the peace of the harem, loved and respected,” writes the author. “The respect and deference with which men treat women in the harem might well serve as an example to many men in civilized nations.” She describes the women of the harem as spending their days mainly socializing with each other, playing music, singing, and engaging in other cultural activities, and taking part in political intrigues.

The more reportorially inclined Orientalists, traveling throughout the Near East and North Africa, came close to this version of harem life. “There were also artists who represented what the reality really was,” says Kamerer. “The harem was a feminine sphere, due to the dictates of Islam, but it was not a scandalous sphere, and these women were not powerless. Most people didn’t want to see that, though; they wanted the romantic titillating stuff.” The Flagler exhibition includes paintings that, while they definitely partake of Orientalism’s predilection for sumptuous surfaces, depict their subjects more accurately and sensitively.

Sometimes it is quite subtle touches that give the lie to the myths. Édouard-Louis Dubufe’s Lady of the Harem is fully clothed, in textiles so eye-catching that at first one might not fully absorb the fact that she is reading a book. Engaging in a solitary intellectual pursuit, this educated woman is improving her mind instead of prostituting her body. Morning on the Bosphorus, by the American artist Frederick Arthur Bridgman, depicts an ordinary pleasure trip on a boat rowed by male servants, in which the women are simply relaxing and enjoying their leisure. One trails her hand in the water while another plucks a stringed instrument. Benjamin Constant’s Scarf Dance, also an outdoor scene, shows a group of women amusing themselves on the roof of a building by the seaside. The fresh colors are a relief from the dark and murky interior lighting of so many harem pictures, and the dance itself is simply joyous rather than seductive. Kamerer contrasts Constant’s painting with one by Gérôme, Dancing Girl (circa 1863), which was not able to travel but is represented at the Flagler show by a print version. This composition, says Kamerer, “is dark and mysterious, with men lurking in the shadows, and the woman looks as if she were in a drug-induced trance.”

The ephemera section of the exhibition features rare books, sheet music (like Irving Berlin’s 1913 number In My Harem), and souvenir photos aimed at tourists. Many of the more stereotypically exotic of these views weren’t even taken in the Near East, while others, produced locally, show Muslim women fully covered and doing ordinary things. “The information was out there, about what the situation in the harem was really like,” says Kamerer. “People chose for different reasons to focus on the mythology instead of on the reality. Was it about imperialism? Yes, but it was also about patriarchy. Making the women look immoral served a patriarchal society in the West that wanted to keep women down.” However, the harem’s impact on Western popular culture went both ways. In the early years of the 20th century, Kamerer points out, harem pants were adopted by the suffragettes, who wore them as a “sign of liberation.”


By John Dorfman

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Claude Monet: First Impressions http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2017/01/claude-monet-paintings/ Tue, 24 Jan 2017 19:24:52 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=5033 Continue reading ]]> A current exhibition charts the beginning of Claude Monet’s career.

Claude Monet, The Pointe de La Héve at Low Tide

Claude Monet, The Pointe de La Héve at Low Tide, 1865, oil on canvas;

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Claude Monet, canvas; On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt Claude Monet, House by the Zaan at Zaandam Claude Monet, left: La Grenouillére Claude Monet, The Pointe de La Héve at Low Tide Claude Monet, La Porte d’Amont, Étretat

In 1865, Oscar-Claude Monet was accepted into the Paris Salon on his first try. The painter, who was 24 at the time, showed two works. One of them was Pointe de la Hève at Low Tide (1865), a stormy coastal landscape depicting a beach near Le Havre, Monet’s hometown. The painting, which is nearly five feet wide, is based on a canvas half its size (now in the collection of The National Gallery, London). Painted the previous year, the initial work was created at the site of the scene. In the months leading up to the Salon of 1865, Monet painted the bigger work in his studio, largely duplicating the landscape, while changing the figures and adding an ominous sky. Monet found inspiration in Charles-François Daubigny’s submissions to the 1864 Salon, which like much of the Barbizon painter’s output since the 1840s, was painted outside in nature. Though Monet’s formal submission was created in the studio, painting en plein air, a hallmark of the group of painters that would become known as the Impressionists, was becoming an increasingly important part of the artist’s practice.

Pointe de la Hève at Low Tide, a jumping-off point of sorts for Monet’s career, was also the starting point for “Monet: The Early Years,” a current exhibition organized by the Kimbell Art Museum in collaboration with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The painting, which was purchased by the Kimbell Art Foundation in 1968, five years before the Kimbell Art Museum opened in Fort Worth, Tex., in 2014 inspired the idea for an exhibition about the artist’s early career. The exhibition, which includes some 60 paintings, many of them loans from institutions such as the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., opens at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco on February 25, after having finished its run at the Kimbell. It will be on view through May 29.

The show defines Monet’s formative years as the period between 1858 and 1872. In 1858, the artist is 17. He paints View Near Rouelles (on loan from Marunuma Art Park, Saitama Prefecture, Asaka Kamiuchimagi, Japan) in response to a trip to Rouelles with Eugène Boudin, his mentor. Later that year, it is shown in an exhibition in Le Havre—his first piece on public view. In 1872, Monet, age 31, has just returned to France after a year in exile during the Franco-Prussian War. He settles in Argenteuil, a town near Paris, along the Seine. A suite of paintings in the exhibition, such as Argenteuil and The Port at Argenteuil (both 1872), which capture riverside views of Argenteuil at different times of day, forecasts the Monet that today’s viewers are most familiar with. Impression, Sunrise (1874, and thus outside the purview of the show), the most famous of the Argenteuil port paintings, would prompt the name of the Impressionist movement.

In the intervening years, Monet has a child and marries, faces rejection from the Salon, leaves his home country, and struggles with money. He also hones significant parts of his practice and paints quite a few good paintings. However, in the epic that is Impressionism, “Monet: The Early Years” is not part one, but the prequel. “Monet starts developing the style that will later give a name to the movement, but the I-word should not be used,” says Esther Bell, curator in charge of European paintings at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and a curator of the show. “The show is not about Impressionism; it’s about a young struggling genius of an artist and how he finds his way.”

Despite his early success, Monet’s way, as it were, was spotted with professional struggle. However, the paintings that gave the artist difficulty are some of the most exciting in the exhibition. Following the critical acclaim of Pointe de la Hève at Low Tide in 1865, Monet set out to create a monumental painting for the 1866 Salon. Luncheon in the Grass, took its influence from Édouard Manet’s painting of the same name, which was presented at the Salon des Réfusés in 1863 to critical derision. Though Monet’s final iteration of Luncheon in the Grass did not include the shock value of the nudes in the Manet painting, the younger artist was attempting to capture a similar picture of modernity. The painting also found inspiration in the Rococo revival of the mid-19th century, and Monet looked to the work of Jean-Antoine Watteau and the 18th-century tradition of fêtes galantes to create an image of fashionable, sylvan leisure. He painted his subjects—including his wife Camille Doncieux, and artists Gustave Courbet and Frédéric Bazille—in the latest fashions, which were replete with Rococo details. In fact, while working on the painting, Monet even updated his subjects’ clothing as new trends came along. It was in 1863 that Monet visited the Fountainebleau forest, an important site for innovation in realist art and the site of the painting’s scene, for the first time as a professional painter. With all of these influences bubbling in his head, Monet began work on the painting in 1865: a vernal cool-kid picnic painted to mimic the effects of light en plein air. The ambitious piece was never finished. Monet hocked it to a landlord in place of rent, and when he bought it back the canvas was molded. The artist cut the painting into pieces, and the two that survive are on view in the exhibition.

In 1867, two paintings in a similar style were rejected by the Salon upon submission. The Magpie, a standout of “The Early Years” and a painting Bell refers to as “a tour de force,” was rejected by the Salon in 1869. However, this painting—a sparse yet rather large winter landscape depicting a single bird perched on a fence—is a stunning example of the artist finding his footing. Monet’s desire to capture nature and its various moods led him on daring excursions. During this period, Monet, clearly willing to suffer the cold to properly capture a scene, painted a suite of four winterscapes, all depicting the same stretch of road in Saint-Simeon.

The detail and contrast Monet could capture in snow are only trumped by his facility with reflecting bodies of water or light through trees. Museumgoers will delight in the lightly rippling water in La Grenouillère (1869) and the cloud patterns and shadows in The Bridge at Bougival (1870). And for those hungry for the rest of Monet’s story, “Monet: The Late Years” hits San Francisco in 2019.


By Sarah E. Fensom

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La Belle Époque: Poster Pioneers http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2017/01/la-belle-epoque/ Tue, 24 Jan 2017 19:05:05 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=5047 Continue reading ]]> The French Belle Époque brought the world the fine-art advertising poster, creating a collecting mania that hasn’t subsided since.

Alphonse Mucha, Cycles Perfecta, 1902.

Alphonse Mucha, Cycles Perfecta, 1902.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Alphonse Mucha, Cycles Perfecta, 1902. Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, Motocycles Comiot, 1899; Alphonse Mucha, Princess Hyacinth, 1911 Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, La Rue, 1896. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Ambassadeurs Aristide Bruant dans son Cabaret, 1892

She leans over her bicycle like a queen surveying the lands that she rules. She needs no crown; her hair is crown enough. It radiates from her head in dreamy, curling tendrils that show that reality has no power in her world. Her locks arc, waft, and splay in every direction, and yet they somehow avoid tangling themselves in the spokes of her front wheel. The legend above her head reads “Cycles Perfecta,” but the artwork leaves no doubt that she is the perfect one here.

Czech-born artist Alphonse Mucha signed the Cycles Perfecta poster in its lower right corner, but he didn’t need to. Only his women look like the nameless tousle-headed bicyclist. Starting on February 11, she will grace the landing of a staircase at the Driehaus Museum of Chicago, as part of the exhibition “L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters” (on view through January 7, 2018). Drawn entirely from the Driehaus collection, the show features posters from France’s famed Belle Époque, with emphasis on Mucha, Jules Chéret, Eugène Grasset, Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

The exhibition is one of several events that prove the staying power of the best Belle Époque posters. On January 26, Swann Galleries of New York auctioned the largest private collection of Mucha works ever to come to market, including pieces that have never been auctioned before. In February, Skira published Alphonse Mucha, a new book by Mucha Foundation curator Tomoko Sato. And on February 4, the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., opens “Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque,” an exhibition that will continue through April 30.

The “L’Affichomania” posters appear among the Gilded Age fittings of the grand home that hosts the Driehaus, but they were not designed for interiors. They were meant to enliven the grey 19th-century streets of Paris and catch the eyes of the masses who walked past them. “Until the 1870s, most of the posters put up in the city were mostly text,” says Jeannine Falino, curator of the Driehaus exhibition. “When Chéret began working in lithography, he saw the potential for use in large posters. In so doing, he was able to create very bright images on the streets of Paris.” Bright colors were not merely pretty, but strategic. “They [poster designers] knew their work was ephemeral,” Falino says. “What was up one day could be covered the next day. They had to jump out.”

Chéret earned credit as the father of modern poster design, and he was incredibly popular in his day and long after. His images of joyful women rendered in bold primary colors were famous enough to gain their own name—Chérettes—and Chéret fans held costume parties where they would dress as their favorite poster characters. But leading dealers and auctioneers agree that Chéret’s market has faded in the last few years. There’s no single obvious reason why, and the state of affairs seems more baffling when you consider that his preferred theme, beautiful young women having the time of their lives, is usually a bulletproof artistic subject. Maybe his style is not Art Nouveau enough. Maybe there’s too much Chéret out there—he made at least 1,000 different poster designs.

Fortunately, this market lull does not hold true for Chéret’s most sought-after posters. “The images he did that will stand out and maintain a fairly high price level are the Folies Bergère poster of Loïe Fuller and the Palais de Glace series,” says Mark Weinbaum, a Manhattan-based poster dealer. “They seem to resonate with a lot of people, where a lot of others he designed seem to have fallen on hard times in terms of price level.”

Eugène Grasset did far fewer posters than Chéret, and his style is more Arts & Crafts than Art Nouveau—his women look like sisters of the women in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s paintings. This makes his 1897 Dix Estampes Décoratives series of prints that much more odd and compelling. The Driehaus show includes two original watercolors from the series of 10: Anxieté and Coquetterie. Grasset’s stated intention for the Estampes was to explore the “character of women with emblematic flowers,” but his choice of subject matter ventured into bizarre and shocking territory. La Vitrioleuse depicts a woman holding a pot of liquid and glaring at the viewer. The pot probably holds acid, but the look of pure hatred on her face is enough to burn anyone to the bone without tossing toxic chemicals. Swann Galleries’ house record for Grasset belongs to a La Vitrioleuse that fetched $13,500 in 2005.

If Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen’s Le Chat Noir isn’t the best-known poster image from the Belle Époque, it must be a close second. “Every schoolchild has seen it,” says Nicholas D. Lowry, president of Swann Galleries. “It’s like Mickey Mouse.” Le Chat Noir tackles a theme beloved of Toulouse-Lautrec—Parisian nightlife—but it includes a winking reference to a different poster-designing contemporary of Steinlen’s, Alphonse Mucha. Steinlen ringed his black cat’s head with an elaborate Mucha-style halo.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is in a class by himself. “We would know about Toulouse-Lautrec if he never did a great poster. You can’t say that about the others,” says Jack Rennert, president of Poster Auctions International and Posters Please, a gallery, both in Manhattan. It’s a good thing that Toulouse-Lautrec did choose to create posters, because his first try, Moulin Rouge: La Goulue, of 1891, launched his reputation. “He was little-known as an artist until his first poster,” says Renée Maurer, associate curator at the Phillips. “It had scale, and it had a modernity to it.”

Ask a Belle Époque poster expert to talk about the merits of Moulin Rouge: La Goulue and they will happily oblige, each with their own genuine appreciation of Toulouse-Lautrec’s achievement. “It was just something different,” says Maurer. “People were stopped in their tracks, enchanted by the image. People talked about it.” Lowry comments, “Toulouse-Lautrec couldn’t give a crap about the critics. He was not looking for validation from the art community. That’s one thing that makes it so appealing.” Rennert adds, “For Toulouse-Lautrec, it was his first attempt at lithography. That he succeeded so brilliantly at a medium that he never practiced before is a minor miracle. He gets the swirl of the can-can. You really feel you’re there, that you’re part of the silhouettes in the background. You really feel you’re watching this.”

The Phillips Collection’s Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition allows viewers to see how he shaped his famous Moulin Rouge: La Goulue image by showing it with a unique black and white trial proof. The Phillips also displays a complete, three-sheet version of the poster, which often lost its top sheet because dealers in 1890s France found it tedious to wrangle an image that measured more than six feet long and almost four feet wide in full. “It’s very, very hard to find an original three-sheet Moulin Rouge,” says Rennert. “If you gave me one million dollars today, I’m not sure I could find it for you.” Lowry has handled only one Moulin Rouge, but it was a three-sheet. Swann sold it in December 2008, during the depths of the worldwide financial meltdown, for $300,000, a house record.

While there was a time in the 20th century when Mucha was out of favor, he leaped back into pop culture with the psychedelic designs of the 1960s and has never left. “It’s such an appealing style. People are attracted to it,” says Lowry of Mucha. “Very few people go, ‘Ew, that turns me off.’”

Mucha’s poster debut was as dramatic as a superhero’s origin story. In December 1894, Sarah Bernhardt, the most famous actress of the time, happened to call on the printing firm where he worked, and asked for a poster to promote her new play, Gismonda. Mucha put his Christmas plans aside and produced a stunning design that thrilled Bernhardt and cemented an artist-muse relationship that endured for years.

Gismonda displays many of the details that characterize Mucha: the Byzantine mosaic details at the top, the halo around Bernhardt’s head, and the singular focus on a beautiful woman. The extremely vertical composition made it extra-novel to Parisian passersby. But Rennert points out that while Gismonda is elaborate, it’s not as heavily detailed as his later poster designs. Bernhardt’s form is sandwiched by large expanses that Mucha leaves empty. “In almost all his other artworks, every inch of the paper is filled with something,” he says. “Because he was in a hurry, he didn’t fill it in.”

Swann’s Mucha-heavy sale contained iconic posters that every Mucha collector has to have, such as Zodiac/La Plume from 1896 and Princenza Hyacinta from 1911, both estimated at $15,000–20,000. Its rarities include Krinogen, a 1928 poster that is among the last he ever made (estimated at $2,000–3,000), and a set of advertising images he created in 1907 for Savon Mucha, an American soap that carried his name (estimated at $3,000–4,000). Both made their auction debuts at the Swann sale. Another poster, Bleuze Hadancourt Parfeumeur, printed circa 1899 (estimated at $15,000–20,000), has only come to auction four times. “Serious collectors cannot wait for this to come up,” Lowry says of the scarcer pieces. “This might be their only chance.”

Lowry’s advice applies to great original Belle Époque posters in general, because the chances to own them are decreasing. “I used to go to Europe every month. Now I go six times a year,” Rennert says. “In the old days—the 1960s, ’70s, and ‘80s—I’d come back with 15 or 20 posters. These days, if I come back with two or three, it’s an achievement.”


By Sheila Gibson Stoodley

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John James Audubon: Bird Man http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2016/03/john-james-audubon-prints/ Tue, 29 Mar 2016 17:22:56 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=4464 Continue reading ]]> With incredible persistence and artistic skill, John James Audubon made birds and other animals come to life on the printed page.

John James Audubon, Brown Pelican, plate 421 from The Birds of America.

John James Audubon, Brown Pelican, plate 421 from The Birds of America.

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) John James Audubon, Mallard Ducks John James Audubon, Canada Goose John James Audubon, Flamingo John James Audubon, Snowy Owl

To understand why we’re bewitched by the work of John James Audubon, turn to page eight of Joel Oppenheimer’s 2013 opus, The Birds of America: The Bien Chromolithographic Edition (W.W. Norton, $350.00). The Chicago-based dealer wrote it to redeem the reputation of the Bien edition of Audubon’s Birds of America, an ill-fated folio produced in the mid-19th century by the artist’s son, John Woodhouse Audubon. Page eight tells you all you need to know about why Audubon’s masterwork keeps its mastery, and why the luxuriant, sprawling (the paper measured 26 1/2 inches by 39 inches) double elephant folio produced in the 1820s and ’30s by Robert Havell holds the record for the most expensive printed book ever auctioned.

The page features three hand-colored engravings of the Carolina parrot by three ornithological artists. The first was rendered by Englishman Mark Catesby circa 1739, the second by Scottish-American polymath Alexander Wilson and dating to 1808–12, and the last by Audubon, finished in 1826. Catesby’s and Wilson’s satisfy the minimum requirements; their images are meant to record the Carolina parrot, and they do. Audubon goes so much further. He portrays seven of the colorful birds on branches. They lift their feet, they spread their wings, they open their beaks to squawk. One looks directly at the viewer. Audubon’s vision is scientifically accurate, but his birds are alive in a way that the Catesby and Wilson versions simply aren’t. Audubon’s sensitivity and deftness is that much more poignant now that the Carolina parrot is extinct. His vibrant, carefully observed group portrait does the vanished bird justice and helps us understand what we have lost. “Alexander Wilson was the most famous ornithological artist before Audubon,” says Oppenheimer. “If you look at his work, it looks like it’s from the 17th or 18th century. When you look at Audubon, it looks like it’s from the 20th century. It’s such a leap, stylistically.”

This talent for capturing not just the scientific facts of the bird but its behavior and its personality elevates Audubon’s illustrations to fine art. Bill Steiner, a birdwatcher, collector of Auduboniana, and author of Audubon Art Prints: A Collector’s Guide to Every Edition (University of South Carolina Press, $29.95) knows firsthand what a genius Audubon was. Speaking of his Red-tailed Hawk, a dramatic and violent plate showing two predators battling in mid-air for possession of a freshly-caught hare, Steiner says, “I have seen that scene in nature three times. It was straight out of Audubon. He got it right.”

Audubon achieved this feat by venturing into the wild with his sketchbook and absorbing what nature showed him. The birds he shot aided his memory, but he had no photographs or video to help him in his labors. He also had no kerosene lamps, no SUVs, and no whiz-bang modern fabrics to keep him warm and dry. “I’m a nature freak. I’ve camped in the dead of winter in the woods. It’s kind of stunning what he had to put up with to accomplish what he did,” says Steiner. “You sit here today and look back and wonder how he did it.” Audubon was equally at home in the most elite settings imaginable, including the White House, where he dined with President Andrew Jackson in 1830. He sold the elites subscriptions to The Birds of America, convincing them to purchase a tome that cost $1,000, or as much as a handsome house did at the time. “Very few did everything as Audubon did,” says Oppenheimer. “He was an artist; he drew it. He was an entrepreneur; he sold it. And he published it.”

One detail that Audubon did not anticipate has shaped the market for the Havell double elephant folio: thanks to legwork by Waldemar Fries and other dogged scholars, we know that at least 171 complete, four-volume double elephant folio sets exist (or, in some cases, did exist), and we have a decent estimate for how many loose prints are floating around (about 91,000), issuing mainly from the 41 sets that were deliberately broken up during the 20th century. Breaking sets was common until 1989, when the Havell double elephant became more valuable as a whole. Only one has been broken and auctioned since then, and the outcome ensured that it will almost certainly be the last. Dubbed the Sachsen-Meiningen set after its owners, a German royal family who consigned it to Christie’s in 2004, it lacked 11 of the 435 images that comprise a complete set, which influenced the decision to sell its plates individually. But Steiner and Harry Shaw Newman II, co-owner of the Old Print Shop in New York and Washington, D.C., recall that a multimillion-dollar offer for the whole arrived not long before auction day. Whether the purchase was refused or the family decision-makers ran out of time to consider it, the sale went ahead as planned. Each man recalls different sums for the offer, but both numbers were larger than the $5.7 million auction total. “I predicted no one would ever break up a set again,” says Steiner. “I was wrong, but they paid for it.”

The Havell double folio of The Birds of America accounts for much of Audubon’s fame, but it is not his sole worthy endeavor. In 1839 Audubon released the first octavo edition of The Birds of America, a smaller version aimed at those with less-than-princely budgets; individual octavo prints today range from $50 to $2,500. The aforementioned Bien edition, named for its initial printer, was one of the earliest casualties of the Civil War; John Woodhouse Audubon spent much of the year 1859 traveling the South and signed up 70 subscribers there, only to see those accounts destroyed by the hostilities. The unfortunate turn of events forced the Audubon family to declare bankruptcy, and with it, they lost control of the rights to the late John James’ book (he had died in 1851). Subsequent publishers weren’t nearly as devoted to quality control as the Audubons were, and their slipshod product reflected poorly on the Bien. Prints from the Bien now range from $500 to $48,000, and whole Bien sets (a total of 150 plates, enough for a single volume, were produced before the war began) are about as scarce as Havell double elephant folios. Oppenheimer estimates that perhaps 10 of those Havells, and maybe half a dozen Biens produced before the Audubon bankruptcy remain in private hands.

Audubon also published a book on American mammals. Titled The Viviparous Quadrupeds of America and produced between 1845 and 1848, it features 150 hand-colored lithographs on imperial folio size (22 by 28 inch) paper of beasts such as the Rocky Mountain goat, the common flying squirrel, and the wolverine. It was the yield of Audubon’s last great artistic journey, an 1843 trip along the Missouri river in the company of his son, John Woodhouse, who ended up doing a fair amount of the work on the Quadrupeds after his father’s health began to fail. Its prints sell for between $800 and $35,000.

Other rarities emerge now and then. About two years ago, Newman handled an original watercolor of long-tailed ducks that Audubon had painted for The Birds of America and later rejected. It had remained with a Boston family from the 1840s onward, and was perhaps the only original preparatory watercolor for The Birds of America outside of the collection of the New-York Historical Society, which acquired them in 1863 from Audubon’s widow, Lucy, for $4,000. “It was a wonderful thing,” says Newman. “It sold very quickly for seven figures.” Steiner helped identify the watercolor. “I figured out where he painted it and why he went with a different painting of the same bird,” he says. “It was easy to authenticate. There was a signature on the back. With Audubon, in general, there are no grey areas. People who freak out over spending on anything other than real estate will calm down about it.”

Restoration and conservation, in contrast, is full of grey areas. Audubon conceived of his birds as parts of a multi-volume reference book, not as individuals printed for framed display. Even if he had hit upon the notion of presenting and selling the plates in that manner, his was an age before climate control and UV-resistant glass. For these reasons, a worn, torn, faded, or otherwise injured Audubon print isn’t automatically dead in the eyes of the market. “There is no line that can be absolutely drawn. It’s a question of representation and misrepresentation and how well things are done,” says Oppenheimer, who offers conservation and restoration services through his gallery. “You have to know what you’re doing and know what’s appropriate and what isn’t.”

Rescuing and rejuvenating Audubons can be a crapshoot. Newman recalls buying four prints that had been stored in a bank vault, including a much-coveted roseate spoonbill whose delicate pinks are vulnerable to fading over time. It had been mounted on board at some point in its past. “I gave it to my most competent restorer. She got it off without losing color,” he says. “We gambled and won, but it was still a gamble.”

Purists might grumble about repaired and recolored prints, but not Steiner, who asserts that “damn near anything” is acceptable when it comes to rescuing ailing Audubons. “If he saw the condition of some of the prints today, he’d be horrified and want somebody to fix them and bring them back,” he says. “The alternative is to throw it in the trash or display it in a compromised form, which would piss off Audubon. I like the guy. I want to do what he’d probably want to do.”

By Sheila Gibson Stoodley

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The Black Arts: 19th-Century French Drawings and Prints http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2016/01/the-black-arts/ Tue, 26 Jan 2016 19:25:39 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=4336 Continue reading ]]> The Getty Museum shines a light on some dark works.

Théodore Géricault, Sailboat on a Raging Sea, about 1818 – 1819

Théodore Géricault, Sailboat on a Raging Sea, about 1818 – 1819, brush and brown wash, blue watercolor, opaque watercolor, over black chalk, 15.2 x 24.7 cm (6 x 9 3⁄4 in.).

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) Georges Seurat, Indian Holy Man Georges Seurat, Madame Seurat, the Artist’s Mother (Madame Seurat, mère) Théodore Géricault, Sailboat on a Raging Sea, about 1818 – 1819 Gustave Courbet, Head of Sleeping Bacchante, 1847

The second half of the 19th century in France, a period associated with black suits and black soot, was also a time when black came to the fore in drawing and printmaking. Perhaps it was a reflection of the zeitgeist—the fevered horror of Edgar Allan Poe was finding particular favor in France—but the black that became increasingly basic to the works of artists including Redon, Bresdin, Courbet, and Seurat was also the product of changing artistic technology, argue the curators of “Noir: The Romance of Black in 19th-Century French Drawings and Prints,” a fascinating new exhibition at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles (on view February 9–May 15). Around 1850, charcoal (fusain), a medium that had been used for centuries by the Old Masters to create erasable underdrawing, was adopted as a fitting technique for finished works. Why? According to Getty drawings curator Lee Hendrix, who spearheaded the show, the answer is simple: Fixative. The invention of a chemical process that could coat a drawing so as to prevent the charcoal marks from dusting off the paper motivated artists to push charcoal to new levels of expressiveness. And the achievements of the fusainistes inspired other artists to seek similarly dark, brooding, and mysterious effects in printmaking media such as etching and aquatint.

As Hendrix writes in the catalogue, the seed of the exhibition was planted more than a decade ago, when the Getty acquired a charcoal landscape by Maxime Lalanne, a fairly conservative artist. Castle Overlooking a River, circa 1860s–70s, breaks no particular compositional ground, but its dreamy, soft-focus effect epitomizes a style that was becoming extremely popular among French landscape artists. In 1862 Lalanne published a charcoal-drawing instruction manual which made him the progenitor of a whole school of fusainistes. Soon artists with more avant-garde ideas would adopt Lalanne’s techniques and use them to create moodier, more dramatic, and more mysterious effects. And the taste for heavy deployment of black spread to include other drawing media such as conté crayon and black chalk, as well as the printmaking techniques of etching and aquatint. For Hendrix and her colleagues, the donation of the Lalanne sparked a long exploration of the aesthetic, technical, and optical properties of so-called black media. The show was sourced from Getty holdings and from drawings and print collections in the Los Angeles area, facilitated by what director Timothy Potts refers to as “a support group of drawings enthusiasts known as the Disegno Group,” which was formed by the Getty’s Drawings Department in 2012 and funded the acquisition of a number of works in this show.

The works on view use black media to evoke a wide range of emotions, from the serene to the macabre. Seurat’s Poplars (circa 1883–84) takes the backlit effect of Castle Overlooking a River and blows it up to the point where the boundary between the landscape and the paper it’s drawn on becomes obscured. Seurat’s trees start to emerge from a shimmering mist only to fall back again. Distinction of foreground and background becomes meaningless. Another Seurat drawing in the show, Madame Seurat, the Artist’s Mother (circa 1882–83), uses the charcoal and the way it interacts with the paper’s texture to create a subtle, glowing quality. Odilon Redon, a Symbolist artist, coaxed a spiritual, otherworldly black light from charcoal in Apparition (circa 1880–90). In this drawing, the faintly smiling head of a bearded man, wearing a crown or jeweled headdress, is surrounded by what may be clouds and rays of light or perhaps representations of thought-forms and creative energies. He may be an ancient king, or he may be God himself. In any case, the black radiance of this visionary drawing is made possible by the medium used. As Hendrix puts it, in reference to a good number of the works on view, “The cosmic fantastic nature of the subject matter has everything to do with the black medium.”

An earlier drawing, Millet’s The Cat at the Window (circa 1857–58), in conté crayon and pastel, also treats fantastic subject matter. It illustrates a fable of La Fontaine in which a man wishes for his beloved cat to become a woman so that he might marry her. Though the fable is humorous, Millet’s image is eerie.

The light coming through the mullioned panes, the cat rendered as a silhouette except for its glowing eye, the curtain opening inward as if pushed by a ghostly hand—or paw—all give the drawing a quality of delightful weirdness that couldn’t be achieved in color. Hendrix speculates that the harsh new socioeconomic realities of the mid- to late 19th century caused many in France to want to “retreat from the industrial world into a dream realm.” The grit spewed into the air by the factories becomes the grit of the charcoal that French artists applied to paper to create their dream worlds, whether of wonder or of horror.

By John Dorfman

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Pierre Bonnard: Trouble in Paradise http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/2016/01/pierre-bonnard-paintings/ Tue, 26 Jan 2016 19:14:08 +0000 http://www.artandantiquesmag.com/?p=4329 Continue reading ]]> Pierre Bonnard’s search for Arcadian bliss may have been frustrated in life, but it yielded a harvest of color that endures in art.

Pierre Bonnard, Self-Portrait, c. 1904

Pierre Bonnard, Self-Portrait, c. 1904, oil on canvas, 18.125 x 18.75;

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) Pierre Bonnard, Self-Portrait, c. 1904 Pierre Bonnard, The Work Table, 1926-37 Pierre Bonnard, Women in the Garden Pierre Bonnard, Nude in an Interior, 1935 Pierre Bonnard, Women in the Garden: Woman in Dress with White Dots, 1890-1891

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” John Keats wrote in Ode on a Grecian Urn (1819). In the 20th century, however, the philosophical marriage of truth and beauty came apart. Eternal Neoclassical ideals became stage props for political theater, and the intuitions of Romantic optimism dissolved in an empty cosmos. Modernism, born in the 19th century and buried in the 20th, described this disenchantment. In an age of hard truths, ugliness seemed next to honesty, and a manifesto better than no hope at all. And where did that leave Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947), an idiosyncratic colorist in an age of terrible simplifications, a private, modest man in an age of public art and self-publicizing artists?

“Painting Arcadia,” at the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco from February 6–May 15, is the first major international presentation of Bonnard’s work to be mounted on the West Coast in half a century. (The exhibition, which originated at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, will also be mounted from September 11 at the MAPFRE Foundation in Madrid.) Featuring more than 60 works from every phase of the artist’s long career, the show demonstrates why Bonnard seemed out of step among his cohort, even as he looked south to the mythical Mediterranean like Matisse and Picasso. It also suggests how, as Fairfield Porter recognized, Bonnard opened for representational art a different, and still underexplored, pathway between Impressionism and Abstraction.

It was Bonnard’s misfortune to be born into a respectable family—his father was a senior civil servant—and to have enjoyed an unremarkably happy childhood in an affluent suburb of Paris. Trained as a lawyer, he practiced as one briefly, and then, defying the canons of artistic biography, became a professional painter without offending his parents. In his 20s, he had the temerity to produce decorative work in various media: dreamy drawings, posters, and book illustrations bearing the influence of Odilon Redon, Art Nouveau, and Japanese prints. Then, in a momentary aberration, Bonnard joined his friends Paul Ranson and Édouard Vuillard in an avant-garde movement.

The Nabis—the name meant “prophets” in Hebrew—were in the tradition of the Nazarenes, Ancients, and Pre-Raphaelites: an extended group of friends, bound as much by youth and ambition as by common aesthetic goals. And just as Ruskin’s defense of the Pre-Raphaelites made better reading than Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s verse, so the most memorable Nabi statement came from a journalist, Maurice Denis, who described a painting as “a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order.”

The flatness was Japanese by inspiration, the ordering of the colors Impressionist, and the purpose spiritual in the post-Symbolist manner, with aspirations toward the energetic clarity of primitivism; Henri Bergson’s vitalism was the philosophy of the day. From the contemporary ukiyo-e prints that Bonnard bought in large quantities from Parisian department stores, he learned how to depict “light, form, and character using nothing but color.” This was a constructive misunderstanding: although Bonnard’s Nabi nickname was le Nabi très japonard, he did not know that his Japanese contemporaries achieved these effects by using imported European aniline pigments, rather than traditional plant-based paints.

Maurice Denis described the young Bonnard as an Edo-style “artist of the floating world,” but Bonnard’s 1890s paintings are also the aperçus of a Baudelairean “artist of the modern world,” a flâneur gathering erotic impressions and opiated images on the seamy side of the boulevard. In The Two Carriages (1901), the illusionary merging of two moving vehicles both anatomizes a moment of violence and suspends its consequences. In the foreground of Walking at the Lake (circa 1900), two women walk in opposite directions along a path. The tension between them seems to pull the composition in half. Behind them, a declivity in the park gives the impression of other walkers, all apparently female, being cut off at the waist.

In Dancers (1896), another all-female image, the corps de ballet hold fixed postures that are technically natural but physically painful; the women float on a gray stage, its surface mottled like the pond at Giverny. In The Omnibus (1895), a woman, fashionably dressed with a cinched waist and a lapdog on a leash, is poised before the bus’s bright yellow wheel, itself momentarily halted. The foreshortening of the artist’s flattened world and the raising of her leash hand give her the appearance of a sinner attached to some Dantean device or the wheel of death in a circus.

Bonnard’s capture of unique and impossible moments recalls Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs of the horse that might pull the omnibus and the way photography intensified the ancient challenge of depicting movement in stillness. But the implications of suffering and isolation in these pictures evoke another horse from modernist mythology, in another street scene from the 1890s: the carthorse in Nietzsche’s apotheosis at Milan, flogged to death by its furious owner and embraced by the philosopher. In Bonnard’s early compositions, the truth of beauty is psychologically cruel, the violence as much prolonged as deferred; as in the Decadent novelist Octave Mirbeau’s 1899 story Torture Garden, which depicts civilized society as a Nietzschean playpen for sadists and masochists.

Mirbeau cast his dog as the hero of a late novel, Dingo (1913). Bonnard, who reserved expressions of personal emotion for his pets, was already looking for a way out of the urban maze. In Twilight (1892), the restrained, amiable croquet players are hedged in by massing green shrubbery, courtesy of Paul Gauguin’s Tropical Gardening Service. Beyond the shadowed players, a circle of white-clad maidens wheel in a modest dance of tribute to Nature as the sun gently sets. The wheel is both mobile and stable; disturbing forces are, like the horse in The Omnibus, outside the frame—or on their way out. In the Normandy pastoral of The Large Garden (1895), a small girl runs away from her apple-picking younger siblings. She is already halfway out of the image: her face has left the canvas, and her body is blurred in motion: she is a presence, not a personality. The alert posture of the family dog—its face rendered in profile—hints at unseen and un-shown dangers.

In the early 1900s, Bonnard expunged the modern world from his paintings—even cars, which he liked. After a few slow years during which he seems to have confronted his Impressionist masters by imitation, in 1910 he left the gloomy north for Keats’ “warm south.” The Côte d’Azur was the Arcadia of modern painting, where searing light met scenic peasant life, and the amenities of bourgeois civilisation the ruins of its Greco-Roman precursor. One of the decorative panels that preceded Bonnard’s departure—Water Games, or The Voyage (1906–10) is a dreamlike decorative journey into the past, the moving figures as solid as marble.

“Nature,” Schopenhauer wrote, “covers all her works with a varnish of beauty.” The massive triptych The Mediterranean (1911) was commissioned by the collector Ivan Morozov. Shaded by olive and oak trees, Bonnard’s nephews and nieces play in the sun, while his lifelong model Martha de Méligny sits in the shade with a cat. The shadows are purple like grapes, the sunlit gently pinkish. Through the trees, red-tiled roofs zigzag discreetly down to a mild blue sea. Painted as a single composition, The Mediterranean was divided to fit around the Ionic columns of the staircase landing in Morozov’s Moscow townhouse: modern douceur de vie in a Neoclassical frame.

Yet, as the art historian Erwin Panofsky showed, the modern vision of Arcadia was not that of Virgil and the Renaissance pastoral, in which the fullness of Nature includes the tragic. In Poussin’s The Arcadian Shepherds (1637–38), the memento mori skull is outside the frame. This encouraged a creative misreading of the tag on the tomb: Et in Arcadia ego became the last testimony of the tomb’s inhabitant—“I, too, was in Arcadia”—instead of the original and grammatically accurate reminder of death’s unlimited jurisdiction, “Even in Arcadia, I am here.” The erroneous reading, Panofsky wrote, suggests that the Arcadians “are not so much warned of an implacable future as they are immersed in a mellow meditation of a beautiful past.” The accurate reading warns of the transience of beauty and personality. “Even in Arcadia,” wrote Panofsky, “there existed the two fundamental tragedies of human life, inextricably connected with one another: frustrated love and death.”

If Bonnard went back to the garden seeking Gauguin’s fiction of innocent beauty, he found Arcadia’s cruel truth. The biography has the terrible clarity of myth. Bonnard’s companion, the model Marthe de Méligny, was a depressive, a joyless analogue to Baudelaire’s muse, Jeanne Duval. In 1918, Bonnard fell in love with her much younger friend, the artist Renée Monchaty; she, not Marthe, is the model in Naked Girl by the Fireplace (1919) and also appears to be the recumbent nude who completes The Earthly Paradise (1916–20). If Bonnard proposed marriage, he lost his nerve; few self-portraits are as self-mocking as the spindly coward in The Boxer (1931). In 1925, Bonnard married Marthe. One month later, Renée committed suicide. Like an Intimiste Ophelia, she shot herself on a hotel bed strewn with flower petals.

“Poor Marthe has become completely misanthropic,” Bonnard confided to Berthe Signac in 1932. “She no longer wants to see anyone, not even her old friends, and we are condemned to absolute solitude.” In Paris, Bonnard had depicted the seamy Intimisme of rented rooms and troubled sleepers. As Marthe became an invalid, the artist with a plein air palette was entombed in the impersonal intimacy of spa rooms and rented villas near hot springs—grotesque parodies of pagan shrines and temples. Bonnard worked from written notes and memory, carefully building his spontaneous instants. His interiors are prone to phantasmal effects, tricks of Arcadian light, and excess effulgences of color. Alfred Jarry, for whose 1898 play Ubu Roi Bonnard created figurines, described the grotesque as “that other form of the beautiful.”

“The passion excited by beauty,” wrote Edmund Burke in The Sublime and the Beautiful (1756), “is nearer to a species of melancholy than to jollity or mirth.” Bonnard’s endless and tender nudes of Marthe are invariably beautiful and invariably melancholic. Her face is often turned away; she never looks him in the eye. “Solitude,” reflects the protagonist of Mirbeau’s Diary of a Chambermaid (1900), “does not consist of living alone; it consists in living with others, with people who take no interest in you.” If Bonnard, unlike Picasso, respects his subject’s distance, he also blurs her into the water of her baths and the wallpaper of their home. In Nude in the Bath (1936–38), Marthe is depersonalized and cut in half, with only her legs visible. “For me,” Mirbeau’s chambermaid says, “all crime, especially murder, has secret ties with love.”

In Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s sickly masterpiece, The Roses of Heliogabalus (1888), the decadent emperor delights and then stifles the guests at his banquet by having rose petals tipped onto them in such quantities that some of them asphyxiate. In Bonnard’s The Abduction of Europa (1919), the decorative surface almost masks the sexuality and violence of the mythic narrative: the endless sea, not the tragedy on the shore, is the story.

“To name an object,” Mallarmé wrote in 1891, “is to suppress three-quarters of the enjoyment of the poem, which is made to be divined bit by bit: to suggest it, that is the dream.” Like Peer Gynt, transported in multiple dreams of his life, Bonnard escaped into fiction, fleeing sorrow and restriction for boundless lyricism. He was not a Nabi without honor in his own country: he was modern enough, and more than French enough. But he was not entirely respected. Picasso mocked him as quaint and twee. When the historian Christian Zervos dismissed him as “insipid,” a spectacle of Impressionism in decline, Matisse corrected Zervos: “Bonnard is a great artist for our time and for posterity.” Bonnard himself admitted feeling “outpaced” by the “evolution” of early 20th-century art. “Society welcomed Cubism and Surrealism before we could reach what we had considered our goal… It was as if were left suspended in space.”

Jean Clair, curator of the 1984 exhibition at the Centre Georges-Pompidou that greatly aided the revival of Bonnard’s critical standing, said that perception itself is Bonnard’s true subject—color suspended in space and time. Bonnard’s infinitude of color, the proof of beauty, adorns and blurs the deeper resonances of an Arcadian memento mori. Keats said that the dream of Arcadia may “tease us out of thought / As doth eternity: Cold pastoral!” Bonnard, asked about the relationship of truth and beauty, gave an Arcadian reply: “Many small lies yield a great truth.”

By Dominic Green

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