Welcome to Part IV (1800-1899) of my survey of art history. The seven Art History 101 lists contain every work of art that was on at least two of the over 30 ‘Best Works of Art’ lists that I collected from the Internet and books. Although most of the resources available to me focused almost exclusively on the art of Western Civilization, the list does identify some of the most significant artworks produced by the artists of Asia, Africa and South America. Each entry includes the date of the work, the artist’s name, the name (or names) of the work, the style or culture associated with the work, and the location where the work was produced. In addition, I have included a brief essay with description (including measurements), artistic materials used, background and interpretation.
Because I believe visuals are essential for discussing the visual arts, I have included images of the art works, In most cases, you can click on the images to enlarge them. (I have tried to use public domain images where possible. In other cases, I believe this is a fair non-commercial use for educational purposes. If there are copyright concerns, please let me know.)
For the rest of the Art History 101 series, click on the links below:
Part IA (Prehistoric Era-399 CE)
Part IB (400-1399 CE)
Part IIA (1400-1499)
Part IIB (1500-1599)
Part III (1600-1799)
Part V (1900-Present)
For a list of the best works of art organized by rank (that is, with the artworks on the most lists placed at the top), go here.
c. 1797-1800: Francisco Goya (Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes): The Naked Maja (La Maja Desnuda) [Romanticism; Spain]
While nude women had been a commonplace of painting and sculpture for centuries, until Goya’s Naked Maja (La Maja Desnuda), artists who wanted to be taken seriously provided a non-erotic explanation for the nudity. The nudity was consistent with the figure’s mythological nature or with the religious of historical subject being depicted; if not, then the subject’s nudity was excusable because she was sleeping, trying to hide or otherwise unaware that she was being observed. With The Naked Maja, Goya caused a scandal because he made no such excuses for the nudity of the woman subject. First, she is a very human model, someone a contemporary viewer might have passed on the street, who is not presented to us as a character from myth or history (see first image). The companion piece with the same model clothed, The Clothed Maja (La Maja Vestida), proves the point (see second image). Second, the subject is very much aware of the artist’s (and therefore, the viewer’s) gaze, and boldly gazes back, perhaps even inviting an erotic encounter. Like real women, she has pubic hair, which Goya presents for perhaps the first time in the history of art. Goya apparently made the painting for Spanish Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy, who placed it in a special room where he kept all his nude paintings, where it was first observed by a visitor in 1800. According to some accounts, de Godoy had rigged the Naked Maja and Clothed Maja paintings so that one first saw the Clothed Maja and then, with a flick of a switch, the Naked Maja appeared in its place, creating the illusion that the woman’s clothing had been removed by some kind of magic. In 1808, the Spanish Inquisition learned about the painting and hauled both the Prime Minister and Goya before the inquisitors to answer for their alleged depravity. Goya’s answers are not recorded, but the painting was subsequently sequestered for years. The terms maja and majo refers to certain members of the lower classes at the time who enjoyed dressing in elaborate outfits that were exaggerated versions of traditional Spanish peasant clothing. Scholars have long debated the identity of the model. Some believe it was the Duchess of Alba, a Spanish aristocrat who featured in a number of Goya’s paintings and who was also linked romantically with Goya. Others believe that Manuel de Godoy’s mistress Pepita Tudó was the model. In either case, according to legend, the model asked Goya to alter her face so she would not be recognized, so we may never know the maja’s name. Both The Naked Maja and The Clothed Maja were made with oils on canvases measuring 3.2 ft. tall by 6.2 ft. long and are now in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
1800: Francisco Goya (Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes): Charles IV of Spain and His Family [Romanticism; Spain]
Critics and scholars have debated for years whether Francisco Goya’s portrait of Charles IV of Spain and 12 members of his family is intended to be a realistic but neutral portrayal of the royals, or some combination of parodic caricature and critical political commentary. If the latter is the case, it would have taken a lot of nerve for Goya, who was essentially the official court painter, to bite the hands that fed him. In fact, it was the king’s idea to have a group portrait. Instead of scheduling everyone to visit Goya in his studio (which is apparently the setting of the portrait, with Goya’s giant canvases on the walls), Goya went to court and sketched 10 portraits separately, then obtained approval from each adult subject for their portrayal. Based on the results, it appears that the royal family was comfortable with being portrayed in a realistic manner – ‘warts and all’, in other words. Goya arranged the figures in a shallow space on the canvas, in what some scholars have described as a frieze. But what appears to be either a straight line of figures or mere chaos, is actually carefully organized according to political realities. Although the queen is in the center (as she would be in a portrait of any Spanish family), the two men closest to the picture plane are the monarch Charles IV, on the right, his head against the lightest background, and, waiting to emerge from the shadows, his son and successor, the future Ferdinand VII, on the left. Other family members are arranged according to importance. Two women family members were not available to Goya so he painted one turning her head and another is seen in profile. While the faces certainly vary in attractiveness, Goya made sure that the clothing, jewelry and medals were all stunning – Goya’s treatment of the light reflecting off the silver of the military medals and jewels creates a royal constellation of gleaming stars from one end of the canvas to the other. Almost all the women are wearing arrow-shaped hairpins, which may have been designed by the court jeweler, Leonard Chopinot. Art historians have noted Goya’s homage to Velázquez’s Las Meninas. He has even included a shadowy self-portrait at a tall easel nearly identical to the one in that earlier portrait of Spanish royalty. A significant difference, of course, is that the king and queen are inside the picture this time, not outside looking in, leading some to wonder if Goya imagined that he and his portrait subjects were all looking out at a mirror that was reflecting back the image Goya was painting. Known by various names, including Charles IV of Spain and His Family, Charles IV and His Family and The Family of Charles IV, the painting was made with oils on a canvas measuring 9.2 ft. tall by 11 ft. wide. It is now in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
1801: Antonio Canova: Perseus Triumphant (Perseus with the Head of Medusa) [Neoclassicism; Italy]
Perseus Triumphant is a larger-than-life-sized marble statue showing Perseus (son of Zeus and Danaë) after decapitating the snake-haired Gorgon Medusa, whose face turned all who looked at it to stone. The original version in the Vatican Museums, known as Perseus Triumphant, was commissioned by tribune Onorato Duveyriez. Canova’s Perseus is based in large part on the Apollo Belvedere (see second image). Medusa’s head is modeled on the Rondanini Medusa (fourth image) (Roman marble copy after a 5th-century BC Greek original by Phidias; Glyptothek, Munich). Some have pointed out that Perseus should not be looking directly at Medusa’s face, as he is in danger of being turned to stone; others note that perhaps this is Canova’s joke on us, as his Perseus is in fact made of stone. After a treaty with France permitted Napoleon to remove the Apollo Belvedere from the Vatican, Pope Pius VII bought Canova’s statue to place it in the vacant spot. The Apollo was eventually returned, but Canova’s statue remains in the Vatican Museums. Polish countess Valeria Tarnowska commissioned a replica of the statue, which Canova completed (with some differences in detail, including the positioning of Medusa’s head) in 1804-1806; the replica, Perseus with the Head of Medusa, is now the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (third image). Both the original and replica measure 7.9 ft. tall by 6.3 ft. wide and 3.4 ft. deep.
1805–1806: Philipp Otto Runge: The Hülsenbeck Children [Romanticism; Germany]
Philipp Otto Runge was one of the foremost proponents of Romanticism in German painting and many of his landscapes and other works include a strong spiritual element. The Hülsenbeck Children, on the other hand, has no such agenda. A portrait of the three children of Runge’s brother’s business partner, the painting explores the nature of childhood in a way that was new and modern. Each child is depicted realistically with a separate personality. The baby grabs hold of a sunflower leaf and stares blankly forward as if to say, “Who, me?” The extroverted older brother performs for the artist – waving his toy whip in the air like a flag – while also attending to his chore of pulling the youngest in his wagon. The oldest child and only girl takes on a parental role, assisting her younger brother with the wagon while also trying to get the attention of the baby, perhaps to scold him for manhandling the garden foliage. As for the sunflowers, art historians have pointed out that the three flowers in the upper left match the three children in their heights, the thickness of their stems and the ways they are facing. Such a correlation between humans and the natural world was a key element of the Romantic program. Critics have noted that Runge pays careful attention to the effects of outdoor light, down to the reflection of sun off the ground and onto the baby’s toes. In order to place the viewer in the childrens’ world, Runge has reduced the fence to child-size so we are viewing the children at their own level. As the fence takes a 90-degree turn at the far right, Runge has an opportunity to engage in significant foreshortening to maintain perspective and create the illusion of a large space behind the children in the foreground. To add to the realistic setting, Runge includes a detailed portrait of a nearby town. The Hülsenbeck Children was made with oils on a canvas measuring 4.3 ft. tall by 4.7 ft. wide and is now in the Hamburger Kunsthalle in Hamburg, Germany.
c. 1804-1807: John Sell Cotman: Crambe Beck Bridge (formerly Chirk Aqueduct)
[Norwich School; UK]
British landscape artist John Sell Cotman came across the Crambe Beck Bridge while traveling through the north English countryside and decided to paint it. His watercolor of the North Yorkshire bridge is now recognized as one of the great English landscape paintings. Built in 1785 by John Carr, the arches of the bridge bear a superficial resemblance to ancient Roman aqueducts. Cotman’s vertical composition is simple: three tall arches of a stone bridge stand in the center of the the canvas, glowing golden in the sunlight, a strip of blue sky above, a natural landscape behind the bridge, and a body of water below where reflections extend the arches to the bottom edge of the canvas. Because Cotman selects an off-center viewpoint that cuts off the bridge on both sides, we imagine a progression of arches to the left and right of the picture frame. Through the arches, we see a run-down split-rail fence, it’s instability a telling contrast to the massive stone structure looming over it, although the bridge, too, is showing signs of decay – some stone facing has fallen off the verticals, exposing the differently colored local stone beneath. For many years, the structure in the painting was misidentified as Chirk Aqueduct in Wales. Scholars have recently concluded that Cotman’s watercolor was made in North Yorkshire instead. The watercolor of Crambe Beck Bridge, which measures 12.4 in. tall by 9.1 in. wide, is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
1807-1808: Caspar David Friedrich: The Tetschen Altar (The Cross in the Mountains)
The Cross in the Mountains (also known as the Tetschen Altar) is a watershed in the history of landscape painting. At the age of 34, German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich dared to raise the art of the landscape to the level of religious and historical paintings by portraying Jesus’s Crucifixion – a central event in the Christian religion – as an almost insignificant element in a dramatic natural landscape (first images). We view Jesus on the cross obliquely from behind, as rays of light flood the sky. The result is to elevate nature itself to an object of religious worship. When Friedrich displayed the work in his studio on Christmas Day, 1808, the overall reaction from those outside Friedrich’s circle of friends was strongly negative, with some accusing the artist of profanity. Friedrich’s friends defended him, and the artist himself published a short defense, in which he explicated the painting’s religious symbols: “Jesus is turned toward the sinking sun, a symbol of the eternal life-giving father. … The cross stands built upon a rock … firm like our faith in Jesus. The fir trees stand enduring through all ages like the hopes of man in Jesus.” (Quoted in Linda Siegel, Caspar David Friedrich and the Age of German Romanticism, Branden Press, Boston, 1978.) Friedrich not only painted the 3.7 ft. tall by 3.6. ft. wide canvas, using oil paints for perhaps the first time, but also designed the frame, with a Gothic arch showing the eye of God and the wheat and vine of the Eucharist (second image). German sculptor Gottlieb Christian Kühn executed Friedrich’s frame design. The original purchaser of the work was Count von thun-Hohenstein, who displayed it in his Tetschen, Bohemia castle. The Cross in the Mountains is now located in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden, Germany.
1808: Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres: The Valpinçon Bather (The Bather; The Bather of
Valpinçon) [Neoclassicism/Romanticism; France]
When French Neoclassical artist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres won the Prix de Rome, he went to Italy to study at the French Academy in Rome. Ingres, a discipline of Jacques-Louis David, told a friend that exposure to the Italian masterpieces required him to “begin my education again.” One of the first works he completed while in Rome was the painting now known as The Valpinçon Bather (after one of its owners), which was originally titled Seated Woman. The Bather, painted with oils on a canvas measuring 4.7 ft. tall by 3.2 ft. wide, is a direct result of the Italian influence on Ingres’ style. Although the work was not praised by contemporaries, its reputation rose after the Universal Exhibition of 1855, when the influential Goncourt brothers compared the color of the nude’s body with Rembrandt’s works. Critics have remarked on Ingres’ ability to paint a voluptuous and sensual woman while still conveying a sense of her chasteness. Ingres balances warm, sensual elements of the painting such as the sinuous curves of the woman’s body, the green curtains, white curtain and bed linens with cooler components: the delicate, diffuse light, the woman’s modest pose and hidden face, the flesh tones and marble bathtub. Critics have also commented on the relative flatness of the figure, in contrast to the more substantial, modeled nudes of the Renaissance or even the Romantic painters. There is no mythological excuse for the nudity, but unlike Goya’s The Naked Maja, the Bather keeps her back to us, allowing the viewer to maintain the illusion that the subject is not aware of being watched, or is turning away out of modesty. Ingres returned to the curve of the model’s back several times in his career, reusing the Bather as the mandolin player in the foreground of The Turkish Bath, from 1863. The Valpinçon Bather is now at the Louvre in Paris.
1811: Caspar David Friedrich: Winter Landscapes [Romanticism; Germany]
In 1811, German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich painted two (possibly three) small winter landscapes with similar elements but some stark differences. Both works embody Friedrich’s belief that landscape paintings may be the source of spiritual power and religious symbolism. Both paintings feature a man with crutches in the snow. In the first painting (first image), entitled Winter Landscape, the man is hunched over amid the craggy branches and trunks of bare trees, with the stumps of cut trees in the background. The man’s condition and the stark elements of the landscape speak allegorically of the inevitability of death. In the second painting, which exists in two nearly identical versions, entitled Winter Landscape and Winter Landscape with Church, respectively (second and third images), the message is not of death but salvation. The man from the first painting has left his crutches in the snow and sits against a rock (a symbol of Christian faith) praying to a crucifix that stands in a small grove of evergreens (also a symbol of faith). In the misty distance rises a Gothic cathedral, real or imagined, a sign of the promise of life after death. Some scholars believe that Friedrich means us to understand that the man with the crutches will die in this holy place. A letter from 1811 provides evidence that the two paintings were meant to be read together as a type of Romantic-era diptych, the panels of which might be called: (1) The Inevitability of Death; (2) The Promise of Salvation. It is not clear why two versions of the second part of the diptych exist. A 19th Century document only lists one, so the other may be a copy. There are differences between the two versions: (1) the version now in the National Gallery in London shows a gateway in front of the church that is absent from the version in the Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte in Dortmund, Germany; (2) grass pokes through the snow in the London version, but not in the Dortmund painting; and (3) the Gothic church in the London painting is rendered in minute detail, while the same church in the Dortmund version is hazy and vague. Some experts have concluded that the Dortmund version is a copy made by Friedrich himself or a pupil while the original was still in Friedrich’s studio. All three 1811 paintings hearken back to an older landscape of Friedrich’s, known as Winter Landscape with Church, or simply Winter, from 1808, in which a monk travels across a snowy scene with bare trees and the ruin of a church. Unfortunately, the painting was destroyed when a fire burned down the Glaspalast in Munich in 1931 (see photograph of the painting in fourth image). The three 1811 Winter Landscape paintings, which were made with oils on canvas are shown above. First image: Winter Landscape, measuring 1.1 ft. tall by 1.5 ft. wide, is in the Staatliches Museum in Schwerin, Germany. Second image: Winter Landscape, measuring 1 ft. tall by 1.5 ft. wide, is in the National Gallery in London. Third image: Winter Landscape with Church (possibly by a pupil), measuring 1.1 ft. tall by 1.5 ft. wide, is in the Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte in Dortmund, Germany.
1808-1812: Francisco Goya (Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes) (?): The Colossus
The Colossus (also known as The Giant, The Panic, or The Storm) portrays a giant with a clenched fist, either standing or striding in a valley through clouds that encircle his waist, while in the foreground people and animals flee in terror (see first image above). The painting is the source of two controversies: first, what does it mean? and second, did Goya paint it? Many scholars believe that the painting is an allegory about the Peninsular War, which began in 1808 when Napoleon’s French armies invaded Spain. Under one theory, the angry giant represents the French behemoth that was invading Spain and terrorizing the public. A second theory holds that the giant stands for the strength of the Spanish people as they rise up to throw out the French invaders and establish their independence. The second theory gains support from the 1810 poem The Prophecy of the Pyrenees, by Juan Bautista Arriaza, which tells of a giant rising from the mountains to defend Spain against Napoleon in the light of the setting sun, clouds encircling his waist, and the Pyrenees reduced to stumps next to his limbs. (Query, though, why the populace is fleeing in terror from a giant who is there to save them.) The artist is working within the Romantic style, and the composition has been described as centrifugal, with elements moving along diagonal lines toward the margins (except for a stubborn mule, who stands motionless). X-ray evidence reveals that in an earlier composition, the giant faced forward, toward the viewer. The Colossus, which was made with oils on a canvas measuring 3.8 ft. tall by 3.4 ft. wide, has much in common with Goya’s Black Paintings and a later Goya etching called The Giant, from 1814-1818 (see second image). Nevertheless, there has been raging debate since at least 2001 about whether Goya painted The Colossus. Some scholars allege that The Colossus shows signs of slow, insecure brushstrokes, inferior colors and materials and mistakes of proportion and perspective that are inconsistent with Goya’s other work. Furthermore, some art historians believe that markings they interpret as the initials “A.J.” indicate that Goya’s assistant Asensio Juliá is the painter. As a result of the dispute, the Museo del Prado, where The Colossus is located, changed its attribution from Francisco de Goya to “Follower of Goya” in 2008. As of the present date, the debate rages on in articles, books and press releases with no end in sight.
c. 1812: Théodore Géricault: The Charging Chasseur [Romanticism; France]
Unlike Jacques-Louis David’s Neoclassical Napoleon on a rearing horse crossing the Alps, Théodore Gericault’s Charging Chasseur – which bears a superficial resemblance to the earlier work – is neither heroic nor noble. Gericault, in his first publicly-exhibited work, presents us not with the glory of war but its horror. The luxuriously appointed officer of Napoleon’s Horse Guards – complete with leopard skin saddle blanket – seems less than completely sure of himself as he turns to look behind him (perhaps to rally his troops). Sword pointed downward instead of held high, he seems to be just barely holding himself together in the midst of carnage and anarchy on the battlefield (which Gericault renders more frightening by blurring the background with smoke and mist). The true nature of the situation is expressed by the horse, whose fear is palpable as he rears away from an unseen opponent to the right of the frame. This is Romanticism, which arose as a counterpoint to the Neoclassicism of David in the early 19th Century. Also known as An Officer of the Imperial Horse Guards Charging, The Chargine Chasseur was painted with oils on a canvas measuring 11.4 ft tall by 8.7 ft wide and is now at the Louvre in Paris.
1814: Francisco Goya (Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes): The Third of May, 1808
In February 1814, after the Spanish had finally expelled Napoleon and his French troops after seven years of occupation and war, artist Francisco Goya approached the provisional government seeking permission to create a painting that would “perpetuate … the most notable and heroic actions of our glorious insurrection against the Tyrant of Europe.” Permission granted, Goya chose to depict the aftermath of the event that sparked what is known in Spain as the War of Spanish Independence: the uprising of the people of Madrid against occupying French troops on May 2, 1808 (known as Dos de Mayo). It is the events of the day after the failed uprising – May 3, 1808 – that Goya depicts in his famous painting. At dawn the day after the uprising, French troops rounded up hundreds of Spaniards to be shot by firing squads. In The Third of May, 1808, Goya imagines one such firing squad. An unarmed man in a glowing white shirt bravely confronts the rifles of the faceless French soldiers. He holds his arms up in a manner that suggests at the same time a gesture of outrage, a willingness to die for a righteous cause and, as scholars have noted, the posture of Christ on the cross – Goya presents this man to us as a tragic victim of injustice and cruelty, but also as a martyr and a hero. With its non-religious subject, its realistic treatment of war and emotional content, The Third of May 1808 is considered one of the first modern art masterpieces. Made with used oils on a canvas measuring 8.8 ft. tall by 11.4 ft. wide, Goya’s The Third of May, 1808 is now at the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
1814: Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres: Grande Odalisque [Neoclassicism/Romanticism; France]
By 1814, the battle lines between the invisible brush strokes and noble subjects of the Neoclassicists and the Romanticists, who sought to communicate emotional immediacy and human individuality with a style that did not insist on realism. Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, who studied with Ur-Neoclassicist Jacques-Louis David, identified with the Neoclassicists, but his paintings include elements of Romanticism. The Grande Odalisque is Neoclassical in its almost photorealistic painting style, but the subject matter and presentation was pure Romanticism. The viewer sees a nude woman who is presented to us as an odalisque, a concubine and member of a Middle Eastern (then called Oriental) harem. The Eastern furnishings, decorations and jewelry – with a hookah, no less – tell viewers that this is a strange, exotic world completely unlike our own, thus giving them permission to gaze upon the nude female form. The bizarre compromise reached by Western Civilization in the early 19th Century was that it was immoral to present nudity in art unless it involved mythological figures (Titian’s Venus of Urbino, e.g.) or exotics, such as the odalisque. Ingres Neoclassicism gave way to his Romantic impulses in painting the nude figure – his desire to create flowing lines and sensual curves overrode his commitment to anatomical realism, allowing him to add five vertebrae to the odalisque’s spinal column, reduce the size of her head, make one are longer than the other, and place her legs in positions that no contortionist could recreate. These distortions – criticized at the time as lack of skill – were deliberate attempts by Ingres to transcend the merely real and capture an ideal beauty he saw in his imagination. The Grande Odalisque was painted with oils on a canvas measuring 2.9 ft tall by 5.3 ft wide and is now in the Louvre in Paris.
1815: John Constable: Boat-Building Near Flatford Mill [Romanticism; UK]
In English artist John Constable’s preface to English Landscape Scenery, a book of prints of his paintings, he wrote that he wanted “to increase the interest for and promote the study of the rural scenery of England, with all its endearing associations.” Boat-Building Near Flatford Mill, from 1815, certainly achieves that goal. We see a dry-dock near the River Stour in Suffolk, where a barge is being constructed on a warm summer afternoon. It so happened that the dry-dock was owned by Constable’s father. Scholars have noted that Constable treats all the elements of the landscape with equal attention: the building of the barge receives no more or less than the surface of the river or the leaves on the trees in the distance. After Constable received some criticism that some of his earlier works seemed ‘unfinished’, he chose to paint this canvas almost completely outdoors (‘en plein air’). A near-contemporary praised its evocation of a hot summer’s day along the Stour, where the heated air near the ground seems visible. Boat-Building near Flatford Mill was one of the paintings Constable exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1815 in an attempt to gain election to that elite institution, but he was rejected, only being admitted 17 years later under the sponsorship of J.M.W. Turner. Constable’s Boat-Building near Flatford Mill, made with oils on a canvas measuring 1.7 ft. tall by 2 ft. wide, is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
1818-1819: Théodore Géricault: The Raft of the Medusa [Romanticism; France]
The Raft of the Medusa, which is painted on an immense canvas measuring 16 ft. tall by 23.5 ft. wide, depicts the moment when survivors of the wrecked French frigate Méduse finally spied a ship heading in their direction (see first image). The Méduse ran aground in 1816 due to the incompetence of its captain. Lack of adequate lifeboats forced at least 147 passengers and crew to crowd onto a makeshift raft, where lack of food and water led to starvation, murder and cannibalism. After 13 days at sea, the 15 who remained alive spotted their rescuers (see second image) – it was this moment that Théodore Géricault, then a relatively unknown 27-year-old French artist, chose to paint in all of its grisly detail. In researching the painting, Géricault interviewed survivors and constructed a scale model of the raft. When Géricault exhibited The Raft of the Medusa at the 1819 Paris Salon, its vivid representation of suffering and death repelled the then-dominant Neoclassicists, but the rising Romanticists found it powerful and praised its politics. The Raft of the Medusa is now considered a seminal work in the history of French Romantic art. Made with oils on canvas, The Raft of the Medusa is now located in the Louvre in Paris. Random Trivia: The model for the foreground figure with downturned face and outstretched arm was French painter Eugène Delacroix, a friend of Géricault’s (see third image).
1810-1820: Francisco Goya (Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes): Disasters of War (series of 82 prints) [Romanticism; Spain]
Spanish artist Francisco Goya made a series of over 80 prints between 1810 and 1820 that he called Fatal Consequences of Spain’s Bloody War with Bonaparte, and Other Emphatic Caprices but which are now generally referred to as The Disasters of War. The world only learned of these powerful works of art in 1863, long after Goya’s death, because the prints contain such incendiary, unmediated and politically sensitive material that Goya never dared to publish them. In fact, at the same time that Goya was making The Disasters of War, he continued to paint portraits of Spanish and French rulers and generals in his role as court painter to the Spanish crown. The underlying events that form the background for the prints were the Dos de Mayo uprising of 1808, the Peninsular War of 1808-1814, and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814. To make the prints, Goya used several different intaglio printmaking techniques, including etching, aquatint, engraving and drypoint, on copper plates. Scholars divide the prints into three thematic groups: Nos. 1-47 focus on the Peninsular war and its impact on soldiers and civilians; Nos. 48-64 address the 1811-1812 famine in Madrid, during the French occupation; and Nos. 65-82 criticize in allegorical fashion the Bourbon restoration, which, with the support of the Catholic Church, rejected Spain’s liberal 1812 constitution and other reforms. The six images above are taken from all three groups: (1) No. 3: Lo mismo (The same) shows an ax-wielding civilian about to cut off a soldier’s head; (2) No. 18: Enterrar y callar (Bury them and keep quiet) shows an anguished couple amid a landscape strewn with dead bodies; (3) No. 59: De qué sirve una taza? (What good is a cup?) shows a woman offering a cup to one of two starving women; (4) No. 62: Las camas de la muerte (The beds of death) depicts a shrouded woman walking past bodies awaiting burial; (5) No. 71: Contra el bien general (Against the common good) shows a winged devil sitting on a rock writing a book; and (6) No. 80: Si resucitará? (Will she live again?) shows an allegorical figure symbolizing Truth lying unconscious before a mob of hooded monks while a masked figure beats the ground with a weapon. Goya produced two albums of proofs but only one was complete. He gave it to his friend Juan Agustín Ceán Bermúdez, and it is now in the British Museum in London. The copper plates for the images, which passed from Goya to his son Javier, are now in the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid. The first edition of 80 prints was published in 1863, of which 500 impressions were made. Further editions of varying quality were made in 1892 (100 impressions); 1903 (100 impressions), 1906 (275 impressions), and 1937. Approximately 1000 prints have been made from each of the 80+ copper plates; these prints are spread throughout the world’s museums and private collections, including Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain, British Museum, London, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California, Pomona College Museum of Art, Claremont, California. (Note: Not all the museums have the prints on permanent display.)
1821: John Constable: The Hay Wain [Romanticism; UK]
When British painter John Constable presented a landscape entitled Landscape: Noon at the 1821 Royal Academy summer exhibition, it barely caused a stir. Constable, who grew up in the Suffolk countryside and had detailed personal knowledge of the English landscape and the implements of agriculture, painted with a realism that apparently offended those who preferred the idealized landscapes of Claude Lorrain and his school. Three years later, Constable exhibited the same painting, renamed The Hay Wain, at the 1824 Paris Salon (first image). Here in France (home of Claude Lorrain), the work’s true beauty was recognized, and Charles X awarded The Hay Wain the exhibition’s Gold Medal. In the painting, Constable depicts a large farm cart, or hay wain, crossing the River Stour, which forms the border between Suffolk and Essex counties (see detail in second image). Although on the one hand, Constable is presenting a picturesque scene of his beloved English countryside, there are other themes: the effect of the Industrial Revolution on the agrarian lifestyle; finding one’s purpose through working with the land; the idea of England as earthly paradise. As was his practice, Constable made a full-sized oil sketch of the scene on site (the sketch is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London), and then returned to his London studio to paint the final work. The farmer’s cottage at left still stands, although most of the trees are gone, and the spot is now a tourist attraction. The Hay Wain, made with oils on a canvas measuring 4.3 ft. high by 6.1 ft. wide, is now in the National Gallery in London.
1819-1823: Francisco Goya (Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes):
Witches’ Sabbath (The Great He-Goat) (from The Black Paintings)
In 1819, at the age of 73, Spanish painter Francisco Goya moved into a two-story house outside Madrid called Quinta del Sordo (Deaf Man’s Villa). Between 1819 and 1823, Goya painted 14 murals directly on the walls of the residence, using oil paints. The works, which contained dark, disturbing themes and were not meant for public exhibition, have acquired the name The Black Paintings. They were catalogued and named by Goya’s friend, Antonio Brugada, after Goya’s death in 1828. In 1874, the murals were transferred to canvas under the direction of the curator of the Museo del Prado, which purchased them from the owner of the house and brought them to the Prado in Madrid, where they remain. Witches Sabbath, also known as The Great He-Goat, is one of the Black Paintings. Measuring 4.6 ft. tall and 14.2 ft. long, the painting shows Satan in the form of a silhouetted goat presiding in moonlight over a coven of disfigured, ugly and terrified witches (first image). At the far right, a young girl sits on a chair, separate from the group. Art historians have speculated that she is a defiant victim, or someone about to be initiated into the coven. The model for the figure may have been Goya’s maid and probable lover Leocadia Weiss. Goya’s mural explores themes of violence, intimidation, aging and death; one scholar calls it a “satire on the credulity of the age and a condemnation of both superstition and the witch trials of the Spanish Inquisition.” Goya had addressed the subject of a Witches’ Sabbath much earlier in his career in a 1798 oil-on-canvas painting of the same name that is now at the Museo Lázaro Galdiano in Madrid (third image). The original mural included an additional 4.6 ft. on the right, which would have placed the seated girl much closer to the center of the painting. When the painting was transferred from the wall of Goya’s house to canvas, these 55 inches were cut off, allegedly because the paint was badly damaged, although some have speculated that it was an attempt to impose a more traditional composition on the work, without the large empty space. A black and white photograph of Witches’ Sabbath before it was transferred to canvas shows the original design (second image).
1819-1823: Francisco Goya (Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes): Fantastic Vision (Asmodea) (from The Black Paintings) [Romanticism; Spain]
Fantastic Vision (also known as Asmodea), one of the 14 Black Paintings Goya painted in oil on the plaster walls of his house, shows two figures, a man and a woman, hovering or flying over a landscape past a huge Gibraltar-like mountain with a town or fortress on its flat top. Both figures appear distressed and are looking in opposite directions. Based on Goya’s prior iconography, they may be witches. The man points to the mountaintop while looking in a different direction; the woman, in a rose colored robe, looks behind her to the left of the scene. The man’s position and robe are painted in such a way as to create the illusion that he is emerging out of the painting toward the viewer. At the lower right, several soldiers in French army uniforms take aim at the group of people (possibly war refugees) in the lower center. The title Asmodea, given to the work after Goya’s death, refers to a demon king first mentioned in the Book of Tobit; according to this interpretation, the flying woman in red is a female version of the demon. The mural was transferred to a canvas measuring 4.1 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide and is now in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
1819-1823: Francisco Goya (Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes): A Pilgrimage to San Isidro (from The Black Paintings) [Romanticism; Spain]
The Hermitage of San Isidro in Alcalá de Henares marks the site where San Isidro (St. Isodore the Laborer) is said to have dug a well whose waters had healing powers. Every year on May 15, San Isidro’s feast day, pilgrims would travel to the site outside the city of Toledo. In 1788, Francisco Goya painted The Meadow of San Isidro on his Feast Day as a landscape, from the viewpoint of the Hermitage itself – we watch as the gaily-dressed pilgrims climb over the hilltop in the sunshine, with the sights of Toledo arrayed behind them (second image). Goya painted a very different (and more highly regarded) version of the scene on the wall of his house between 1819 and 1823 (first image). A Pilgrimage to San Isidro, one of the 14 Black Paintings, faced the Witches’ Sabbath on the first floor. It portrays the pilgrims, seen in the dark of night, as drunken revelers, profane and slovenly. Goya makes it clear from the variety of clothing and costumes that the pilgrims come from all classes and social strata, including religious figures. The composition dehumanizes the pilgrims by shaping them into a formless mass that oozes over the rocky landscape in a teetering sham of a parade, led by a wailing guitar strummer. Only the individual on the far right, in profile, is separated from the crowd – eyes closed, it is not clear if he is singing along or moaning in pain. The palette, like that of most of the Black Paintings, is full of blacks and grays, applied with free, energetic brushstrokes. The painting was transferred to a canvas measuring 4.6 ft. tall by 47.2 ft. wide in 1874 and is now in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. The Meadow of San Isidro on his Feast Day (also known as San Isidro Meadow) is also at the Prado.
1819-1823: Francisco Goya (Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes): Saturn Devouring His Son (from The Black Paintings) [Romanticism; Spain]
On the wall of his dining room, Spanish artist Francisco Goya painted a gory mural of Saturn Devouring His Son (first image). The most famous of the 14 Black Paintings Goya painted on the walls of his house between 1819 and 1823, Saturn Devouring His Son received its title from a friend of Goya’s after the artist’s death. Most scholars believe the painting refers to the Greek myth in which Cronos (also known as Saturn), one of the Titans, ate each of his first five newborn sons in order to defeat a prophecy that one of them would overthrow him. (His wife gave birth to the sixth son, Jupiter, on a secluded island to save him from his brothers’ fate – Jupiter did overthrow his father.) Goya had made a chalk drawing of the same subject in 1796-1797 (second image) that referred back to Peter Paul Rubens’ 1636 treatment of the myth, also called Saturn Devouring His Son (third image). Scholars note that Goya’s Black Painting of Saturn shows a “cannibalistic ferocity” not present in these earlier works: Saturn emerges from the blackness, kneels with hands clutching a headless figure, his eyes bulging, hair askew, and mouth wide open ready to chomp down on his son’s arm. Many have speculated about why Goya returned to this theme late in his life. Some believe it refers to the many children he and his wife lost – only one son survived beyond childhood. Others find political meaning – Saturn as the Spain that devours its own. At least one scholar does not believe the painting depicts the Saturn myth at all, because (1) it lacks Saturn’s iconographical attributes; (2) the figure being eaten is not an infant; and (3) the figure being eaten appears to be female. The painting, which is also known as Saturn and Saturn Devouring His Children, was made with oils on plaster wall and transferred to a canvas measuring 4.7 ft. tall by 2.6 ft. wide. Like all of Goya’s Black Paintings, it is now at the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
1823-1824: Caspar David Friedrich: The Sea of Ice (The Wreck of Hope)
When German landscape artist Caspar David Friedrich was 13, he went ice skating and fell through the ice into the frigid water. Friedrich’s younger brother Christoph managed to save him, but then Christoph himself drowned before Caspar’s eyes. It is impossible to know if Friedrich’s childhood trauma had any influence on his painting The Sea of Ice, which imagines a shipwreck in the Arctic Sea (see first image above), but it is difficult to look at the jumbled mass of broken ice without thinking of Friedrich’s past. The Sea of Ice was painted in response to a commission by German art collector Johann Gottlob von Quandt, who asked Friedrich to create a painting on the subject of “Northern Nature in the whole of Her Terrifying Beauty.” Friedrich’s painting, which was originally titled An Idealized Scene of an Arctic Sea, with a Wrecked Ship on the Heaped Masses of Ice, was inspired by Sir William Edward Parry’s account of his failed 1819 attempt to find the Northwest Passage, although Parry did not lose any ships on the voyage. In The Sea of Ice, we see the mast and stern of the wrecked HMS Griper, one of Parry’s ships, barely visible in the center right of the canvas (see second image above). The dominant feature of the composition is the ice, piled up in massive sheets that jut at sharp angles into the sky like some prehistoric dolmen or pyramid. While Friedrich had not been to the Arctic, he had made detailed winter sketches of the frozen Elbe River in Dresden. Some critics have interpreted the painting as a statement about nature’s rejection of man’s attempts to intrude on her or tame her. It is worth noting that Friedrich places the viewer in the same position he was in at the age of 13: watching helplessly as the ice and cold, in their cruel inevitability, take another victim. The Sea of Ice (also known as Sea of Ice, Polar Sea and The Wreck of Hope) was considered too radical in composition and subject for Friedrich’s contemporaries and did not sell in Friedrich’s lifetime. Made with oils on a canvas measuring 3.2 ft. tall by 4.2 ft. wide, The Sea of Ice is now in the Hamburger Kunsthalle in Hamburg, Germany.
1823-1824: Eugène Delacroix: Orphan Girl at the Cemetery [Romanticism; France]
French artist Eugène Delacroix believed that color was the most essential element of the art of painting, taking precedence over line, perspective, proportion or chiaroscuro. In a painting from 1823-1824 entitled Orphan Girl at the Cemetery (also known as Young Orphan Girl in the Cemetery and Girl Seated in a Cemetery), Delacroix selected a palette of cold, muted colors that match perfectly the mood of loneliness and isolation conveyed in this composition (first image). A girl, her eyes welling with tears, looks up and to her left. We do not see what, if anything, she is looking at – maybe she is appealing to heaven. We see no one else. The title indicates she has lost both parents but we don’t know when or why – we don’t known if she is at the cemetery for the funeral of a parent or to visit a grave. Every detail emphasizes the painting’s emotional content: the girl is sharply defined against a somewhat blurred background of cemetery markers and distant trees. The background is much darker on the right (where the girl is facing) than the left. Her apparently lifeless hand lies inert on her thigh; even the way her garment pulls off her shoulder signals distress. In spite of Delacroix’s emphasis on color, his expertise in modeling technique is evident in the girl’s neck and the folds of her clothes. Some experts believe the painting was a preparatory work for Delacroix’s Massacre at Chios, from 1824, where a similar figure appears at the far left of the painting (see second image). Orphan Girl at the Cemetery, which was made with oils on a canvas measuring 2.2 ft. tall by 1.75 ft. wide, is now at the Louvre in Paris, where Massacre at Chios can also be found.
1827: Eugène Delacroix: Death of Sardanapalus [Romanticism; France]
In Lord Byron’s telling, Sardanapalus, the last king of Assyria, was at war with the Medes, when he realized that he was facing imminent military defeat. To avoid the humiliation of capture or death at the hands of his foe, Sardanapalus decided to commit suicide by immolation. First, however, he ordered the destruction of all his worldly possessions, including the murder of his many slaves and concubines. French artist Eugène Delacroix’s Death of Sardanapalus depicts the chaotic scene in Sardanapalus’s lush private chambers, as his orders are carried out. While the canvas is full of activity, two of the concubines stand out: one, in the lower right, is being stabbed in the chest by a bearded man in a turban; another, almost in the center, splays her nude upper body on the king’s bed in a last desperate plea for mercy. Sardanapalus, reclining near the top of the canvas in shadow, is nonplussed, his mind made up – he only watches and waits for his turn. Delacroix’s large canvas (measuring 12.1 ft. high by 16.2 ft. wide) is a Romantic feast for the eyes. Full of bold, vivid colors, exotic clothing and decoration (including the elephant heads at the foot of the bed), the painting is essentially tragic. To ensure the emotional reaction he seeks, Delacroix deliberately disorients the viewer: the only visible architecture is the wall on the right – there are no floors or ceilings to anchor us in a solid space. The composition, while carefully organized, has no clear symmetry and seems to pull in many directions at once; the lines of perspective too, are difficult to discern. The unsettling feeling induced in the viewer by the subject matter and the technique contrasts strongly with the numb, silent, motionless and emotionless figure who set all this chaos in motion, Sardanapalus. At first glance, Death of Sardanapalus appears to depict the death of everyone but the titular king. But maybe Delacroix’s title is telling us that, in a way, Sardanapalus is already dead. Delacroix’s Death of Sardanapalus, made with oils on canvas, is now at the Louvre in Paris.
1829: J.M.W. Turner: Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus [Romanticism; UK]
In the Odyssey, Ulysses blinds the giant cyclops Polyphemus, after which he and his men escape on their ships, but not before taunting the furious Polyphemus. During the exchange, the cyclops tricks Ulysses into revealing his name, which the giant later uses to bring down his father Neptune’s wrath on his foe. J.M.W. Turner’s 1829 painting Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus – Homer’s Odyssey shows the giant standing at the shoreline at dawn, throwing boulders into the ocean, while the Greek ships sail away in the foreground. Ulysses and his crew mock the giant from perches on the masts. Details include the sea nymphs pulling the ship, an image of the Trojan Horse on one of the ship’s flags and the horses of the Sun rising above the horizon. Turner’s depiction of Polyphemus as half-living creature, half-landmass, makes him part of the landscape. The light from the sunrise spreads brilliant light throughout portions of the canvas, but also creates dark shadows on the sides of the ships and the cyclops facing away from the sun, allowing Turner to use chiaroscuro to great effect. Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus made with oils on a canvas measuring 6.7 ft. tall by 4.3 ft. wide, is now in the National Gallery in London.
1830: Eugène Delacroix: Liberty Leading the People [Romanticism; France]
French Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix was inspired to create Liberty Leading the People by the July 1830 Revolution that deposed French King Charles X for violating the constitution and replaced him with Louis-Philippe. In this pyramidal composition, Liberty, a bare-breasted woman carrying the French flag and a musket and wearing a Phrygian cap (symbol of freedom in the French Revolution), climbs over the bodies of the fallen to lead representatives of three classes – the bourgeoisie, the students and the urban proletariat – to storm a barricade. Delacroix uses the free brush strokes that characterize the Romantic style to create a sense of energy and forward movement. Because of the incendiary political subject, the work was rarely permitted to be displayed during Delacroix’s lifetime. Liberty Leading the People, made with oils on a canvas measuring 8.3 ft. tall by 10.7 ft. wide, is now in the Louvre in Paris.
1831: John Constable: Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows [Romanticism; UK: England]
A meteorologist may scoff at John Constable’s rainbow as being scientifically impossible in the weather conditions depicted in Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, but the painter was depicting an inner truth. For the rainbow ends precisely at the home of Archdeacon John Fisher, who (with his uncle, Bishop John Fisher) provided a retreat and respite for Constable while he was grieving the the loss of his wife, who died in 1828 at the age of 41. At center foreground, a sheep dog stares at the scene, guiding our eyes to a hopeful future, perhaps. Constable spent much time at the homes of the Fishers and painted the landscape around Salisbury Cathedral in a number of landscape works. Here, we see the tail end of a storm and a farmer with a cart pulled by horses through a stream. The frenzied treatment of the foreground, with thick layers of paint, was disturbing to some contemporaries, who thought it excessive. The rainbow also bothered some people as unnecessarily dramatic or theatrical. Constable, on the other hand, thought that someday this might considered his greatest achievement. Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows was painted with oils on a canvas measuring just over 5 ft. tall by 6.3 ft. wide and is located in the Tate Britain in London.
1830-1833: Katsuskika Hokusai: Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji – No. 1: The Great Wave off Kanagawa [Edo Period; Japan]
Between 1826 and 1833, Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai created 46 different color woodblock prints depicting Mount Fuji in a variety of different contexts. The prints belong to the artistic genre of ukiyo-e, or ‘pictures of the floating world.’ The first 36 prints were published in 1831 under the title Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. They were so popular that Hokusai printed 10 additional views in the following years. The most famous of the original 36 prints is The Great Wave off Kanagawa (also known as The Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa and literally translated as Off Kanagawa, the Underside of a Wave) (first image). It shows three boats being threatened by a large wave, while Mt. Fuji is a relatively small figure in the distance. The boats pictured are oshiokuri-bune, fast boats used to transport live fish to market. Each boat has eight rowers and two other passengers. Based on the typical size of such boats and Hokusai’s reduction of the vertical scale by 30%, scholars have estimated the height of the wave to be 32-39 feet. Copies of the print, which measures 10.1 in. tall by 14.9 in. wide, can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the British Museum in London, the Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, the Guimet Museum in Paris, and the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, among others. Although none of the other prints has attained the fame of The Great Wave off Kanagawa, they are all quite remarkable. Three other prints from the series are shown above: No. 2: South Wind, Clear Sky (also known as Red Fuji) (second image); No. 6: The Coast of Seven Leagues in Kamakura (third image) and (4) No. 21: Nihonbashi Bridge in Edo (fourth image).
1834: Honoré Daumier: Rue Transnonain, le 15 de Avril 1834 [Realism; France]
In April 1834, a series of successively more repressive French laws – particularly a law restricting the formation of labor unions – brought the working classes out to protest en masse. After a sniper’s bullet killed a police officer on April 14, the authorities retaliated on April 15 with a series of gruesome murders, such as those represented in Daumier’s lithograph. The power of the image comes in part from the initial impression that the man in the center wearing nightclothes is sleeping. A second glance makes its clear that this is a tragic scene of death: the blood stains, the unnatural position of his nightshirt, and – most horrifying of all – the small child, possibly the man’s son, lying dead beneath him. The print was published in La Caricature, leading the government to confiscate copies of the magazine and eventually close it down. Prints may be found in numerous museums including the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut and the Art Institute of Chicago.
1834–1835: J.M.W. Turner: The Burning of the Houses of Parliament [Romanticism; UK]
On October 16, 1834, workers in the British Parliament began burning thousands of old talley-sticks (wooden objects used to tally votes until they were banned in 1826) in the basement furnaces of Westminster Palace. The heat generated by the burning sticks destroyed the old, uncleaned copper flues and penetrated into the wooden structure of the buildings, which caught fire and burned to the ground. Thousands of spectators watched the destruction of these symbols of an ancient era. One of those viewing the flames was British landscape painter John Mallord William Turner. Turner managed to borrow a boat during the conflagration so that he could make watercolor sketches of the event from different vantage points. In 1835, Turner produced two oil paintings from the sketches, both entitled The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons (also called The Burning of the Houses of Parliament). One of the paintings shows the flames consuming St. Stephen’s Hall (where the House of Commons met), while illuminating the towers of Westminster Abbey (which would be saved), from across the Thames at the Westminster Bridge (first image). Turner has exaggerated the scale of the bridge, which appears to descend into the flames. This version of The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, which is the more highly-regarded of the two, was made with oils on a canvas measuring 3 ft. tall by 4 ft. wide and is now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The second version, which is the same size canvas but a more distant view and a more symmetrical composition than the first, is located in the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, Ohio (second image).
1833-1836: François Rude: La Marseillaise (The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792)
[Neoclassical/Romanticism; Paris, France]
The Arc de Triomphe was originally ordered by Napoleon Bonaparte to celebrate his military victory at Austerlitz in 1806, but construction halted when the anti-Napoleonic Bourbons restored the monarchy in 1815 and it wasn’t actually completed until after the July Revolution of 1830, when Louis Philippe, Duke of Orléans replaced King Charles X, ending the Bourbon Restoration. (The Arc, which is based on the Arch of Titus in Rome, was designed by Neoclassical artist Jean Chalgrin.) Louis Philippe dedicated the Arc to all those who fought for France in the Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Wars that followed. The four sculptures adorning the base of the Arc indicate a desire to appease several opposing political factions: (1) The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792 (commonly referred to as La Marseillaise) by François Rude, which celebrates the rising up of the French against the monarchy and foreign invaders during a crucial period of the French Revolution; (2) Jean-Pierre Cortot’s Triumph of 1810, showing a victorious Napoleon and celebrating the Treaty of Schönbrunn (second image); (3) Resistance, by Antoine Étex, which honors the French under Napoleon who fought and lost the War of the Sixth Coalition in 1814 (third image); and (4) Peace, also by Antoine Étex, which celebrates the end of Napoleon and the rise of the Bourbons through the Treaty of Paris in 1815. Of the four sculptures, the most highly regarded is that of François Rude. A semicircle of French volunteer soldiers curves around from left to right, while the allegorical figure of Winged Victory stands above them. The sculpture is organized along two sets of symmetries – one dividing the fighters below from Victory above, and the other bisecting the group lengthwise, from Victory’s face down between the two soldiers in the center. At the intersection of these axes is the focal point where the two soldiers look up and realize that Victory is on their side.
1839: J.M.W. Turner: The Fighting Temeraire [Romanticism; UK]
In 1838, John Mallord Willliam Turner was 64 years old and had been exhibiting his paintings at the Royal Academy for 50 years. He had been a patriotic 30-year-old when Admiral Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, with the help of a ship called the Temeraire, later called The Fighting Temeraire. Imagine Turner’s feelings when he learned that the Royal Navy had sold the Temeraire for scrap and was having it towed on its last voyage from one shipyard to another. The result of this event (which Turner may or may not have witnessed) is a painting Turner titled, The ‘Fighting Temeraire’ Tugged to Her Last Berth to Be Broken Up, 1838, but which is usually referred to as The Fighting Temeraire. On the left side, Turner portrays the towing of the ship as a symbol of what one critic called the “demise of heroic strength.” He shows the sailing ship in ghostly white being tugged (the first known use of this word in a maritime sense) by an ugly, smoke-belching steam-powered vessel. Turner frames the Temeraire and several other sailing vessels in a triangle of blue. Balancing the ships on the right is a glorious sunset, symbolically echoing the sunset of the Temeraire’s career, and era of the great sailing ships of the British Navy. While Turner paints the ships meticulously, he uses thick, easy brushstrokes for the sunset in both the sky above and river below, where the dark red of the sun’s rays echoes the tugboat’s smoke. The Fighting Temeraire, made with oils on a canvas measuring 3 ft. tall by 4 ft. wide, was a favorite of Turner’s; her referred to the painting as “my darling” and never sold it. In his will, he gave the painting to his country; it is now in the National Gallery in London. Random Trivia: In 2005, BBC Radio 4 listeners voted The Fighting Temeraire their favorite painting of all time.
1840: J.M.W. Turner: The Slave Ship [Romanticism; UK]
Turner’s original title for The Slave Ship was Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On. The painting illustrates the story of the slave ship Zong, which in 1781 encountered a typhoon. In order to collect insurance payments for slaves “lost at sea”, the captain threw 133 dead and dying human beings into the sea. With the ship in the background, Turner focuses our attention on the human-made misery in the foreground, as abandoned slaves face the churning waves. Made with oils on a canvas measuring 2.9 ft tall by 4.0 ft wide, The Slave Ship is now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
1842: J.M.W. Turner: Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth
The landscape paintings of English Romantic artist Joseph Mallord William Turner, especially those made in his later years, have little in common with traditional landscape art. Instead of bucolic scenes of rural serenity, Turner’s landscapes are full of motion, even chaos. Such is the case with his Snow Storm: Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, from 1842. Legend has it that Turner had himself tied to the mast of a ship to find out what a storm at sea was like. Whether or not the story is true, Turner has certainly captured in this portrait of a storm-tossed ship named the Ariel the essence of man’s inability to overcome the wild power of the natural world. The composition consists of swirls of wind-driven storm clouds and waves that create a vortex, at the center of which, in a pocket of light, is a struggling ship, its white sail a beacon amid the dark forces that surround it. Turner used light brush strokes and a muted palette to achieve this dramatic effect, which would inspire the Impressionists later in the 19th Century. Unfortunately, most contemporary critics (with the exception of the brilliant John Ruskin) were befuddled by the work, one even asking “where the steam-boat is – where the harbor begins, or where it ends- …” Another famously called it “soapsuds and whitewash.” Only after Turner’s death was the importance of his later works fully appreciated. The painting was made with oils on a canvas measuring 3 ft. tall by 4 ft. wide, and is now in the Tate Britain in London. Random Trivia: Turner’s original title for the piece was a mouthful: Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth Making Signals in Shallow Water, and Going by the Lead. The Author was in this Storm on the Night the Ariel Left Harwick.
1844: J.M.W. Turner: Rain, Steam and Speed: The Great Western Railway
The Romantics were known for their worship of nature and spirit; they were generally skeptical of technology and what others called ‘progress.’ So when English painter Joseph Mallord William Turner debuted Rain, Steam and Speed: The Great Western Railway in 1844, he raised a few eyebrows. Many interpreted the work as a tribute to the power and energy of the relatively new railway technology. Others, spotting a hare running for its life on the bridge (impossible to see in most reprints), see a more critical (or perhaps equivocal) message about the impacts of the railway on traditional ways of life. By engulfing the scene in rain and smoke, Turner creates a hazy, almost abstract quality at first glance. Upon closer inspection, many details emerge: the hare, the railroad bridge (identified as the Isambard Brunel-designed Maidenhead Railway Bridge on the Thames), the Thames itself, a fishing boat, a second bridge for carriages, a farmer ploughing his field and locals lining the river bank to cheer the still-novel locomotive. Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway, made with oils on a canvas measuring 3 ft. tall by 4 ft. wide, is now in the National Gallery in London.
1845: George Caleb Bingham: Fur Traders Descending the Missouri
[Hudson River School/Realism/Luminism; US]
Missouri painter George Caleb Bingham spent a great deal of time watching boats on the Missouri River, so it is no surprise that in 1845, when he returned from a winter stay in central Missouri with a number of paintings and sketches, one of them was a genre scene of traders on a canoe (first image). Bingham had named the painting French Trader and Half-breed Son, but the American Art-Union, where he brought it to be sold, changed the title to Fur Traders Descending the Missouri, for fear of causing offense. Painted with oils on a canvas measuring 2.4 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide, the work depicts a trader and his son in a dugout canoe containing a pile of furs, a dead duck and an animal on a leash. The older man wears a liberty cap (popular during the time of the French Revolution) and glares at the viewer. His son, with the rifle that presumably shot the duck, is smiling. Although the water is moving, the entire scene appears still and calm. A number of snags are visible sticking out of the water. As for the leashed animal, there is furious debate about its identity. Most lay viewers believe it is a cat, but most art historians have concluded that it is a bear cub. One website makes a strong case that it is a black fox, which had the most valuable fur of all (second image). Some art historians believe that the trapping lifestyle depicted in Fur Traders Descending the Missouri had passed by 1845 and that Bingham’s canvas recalls an earlier time. Scholars refer to the style of the painting as luminism, an academic term that did not exist in 1845. An offshoot of the Hudson River School, luminism is characterized by attention to detail, focus on the effects of light, aerial perspective, a lack of visible brushstrokes, calm and tranquil scenes, and reflective water. Bingham’s Fur Traders Descending the Missouri, which was made with oils on a canvas measuring 2.4 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide, is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
1847: Adolph Menzel (Adolph Friedrich Erdmann von Menzel): Living Room with the Artist’s Sister [Realism; Germany]
German artist Adolph Menzel is known as a realist who rejected Romanticism, but his palette and treatment of light also make him a precursor to the Impressionists. The painting known as Living Room with the Artist’s Sister (also sometimes referred to as The Artist’s Sister with a Candle or Emilie at the Parlor Door), show’s Menzel’s sister Emilie as she peeks around a door frame into a a room we cannot see. What we can see (and she cannot) is the room behind her, lit by a lamp, where an older woman sits in a chair. The low angle, Emilie’s momentary pause (half in, half out of the room) and the colors all create a sense of a captured moment – something fleeting and ephemeral. Living Room with the Artist’s Sister was made with oil on paper with cardboard backing and measures 18.1 in. tall by 12.6 in. wide. It is now located at the Neue Pinakothek in Munich.
1849: Gustave Courbet: The Stone Breakers [Realism; France] destroyed in 1945
Formerly in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, Courbet’s The Stone Breakers (made with oil paints on a canvas measuring 5.4 ft tall by 8.4 ft wide) was destroyed during an Allied bombing raid in 1945. The scene is one of two impoverished peasants breaking rocks along the side of a road; Courbet is recreating an actual scene he observed, which he described in a letter as “the most complete expression of poverty.” Courbet does not idealize the two men – one old and one young – but presents their dirty, torn clothes and leathery skin as he saw them. Instead of spending more time and energy on faces and hands, as was the custom, Courbet applies the same level of attention to every aspect of the painting.
1851–1852: John Everett Millais: Ophelia [Pre-Raphaelite; UK]
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, when Hamlet kills Ophelia’s father, Ophelia goes mad. While she is gathering flowers by the river, a branch snaps and she falls into the river. Instead of trying to save herself, she sings “snatches of old tunes” while her dress fills with water and drags her under to her death. English Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais chose to paint Ophelia afloat in the river in the act of singing, hands aloft, “as if incapable of her own distress,” in Shakespeare’s words. To do so, he found a spot along the Hogsmill River in the County of Surrey that approximately matched the description in Hamlet. He then painted the landscape, up to 11 hours a day, six days a week, for five months in 1851. In the process, he confronted insects, wind, cold and even a farmer who called the police for trespassing. The result was a brilliantly colorful and botanically accurate depiction of the riverbank. He then brought the picture to his studio, where his model (and future wife) 19-year-old Elizabeth Siddal put on an elaborate silvered gown that Millais had bought and lay in a heated bathtub while Millias painted his Ophelia in the Hogsmill. The resulting work was not immediately accepted as a masterpiece, although it has since developed almost iconic status. Ophelia was made consistent with the principles of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, of which Millais was a founding member: it contains abundant detail, intense colors and a complex composition, and it acknowledges that mimesis, or imitation of nature, is central to art’s purpose. One of the most important technical innovations of the Pre-Raphaelites was to replace the dark background such as bitumen used by most artists with a white ground, or even a wet, white ground, to bring out a shimmering brilliance in their colors. Ophelia, which was made with oils on a canvas measuring 2.5 ft. tall by 3.7 ft. wide, is now in the Tate Britain in London.
1854: Gustave Courbet: The Meeting, or Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet! [Realism; France]
The Meeting (La rencontre) shows French painter Gustave Courbet (at right), with Alfred Bruyas (back left), his patron, and Bruyas’s servant Calas on the road to Montpellier. Bruyas and Calas have come by carriage (seen in the background, at right), while Courbet has been walking, with stick and painting equipment in a backpack. At the first exhibit of the painting, one critic mockingly dubbed it, “Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet!” and the subtitle stuck. The composition is based on the iconography of the Wandering Jew legend, particularly the image in which the burghers of the town speak to the Wandering Jew. The relationship between artist and patron is articulated in the stances and poses of the three subjects. Note that Courbet is the only one who casts a shadow as the patron and his servant stand in the shade of a tree. The Meeting was made with oils on a canvas measuring 4.25 ft. tall by 4.9 ft. wide. It is now in the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, France.
1852-1855: Ford Madox Brown: The Last of England [Pre-Raphaelite; UK]
In 1852, 350,000 emigrants left England for other lands, setting a record. Pre-Raphaelite godfather Ford Madox Brown painted The Last of England after his friend sculptor Thomas Woolner left for Australia. Brown himself was considering a move. The middle-class couple in the oval painting are modeled on Brown and his wife Emma. They sit in the rear of a boat with blank faces as they leave England behind, in hopes of finding Eldorado, as the lifeboat promises. An infant is nestled in Emma’s shawl; her large pink ribbon, tossed by the wind, connects her with her husband (as does the baby: she holds its hand, while he holds its foot and her hand). Their umbrella, which offers little protection against the wind and waves, frames the family on the right. Behind them, we see a steamboat passing beneath the white cliffs of Dover. Ford wrote a poem to go with the painting; it concludes: “…She grips his listless hand and clasps her child,/Through rainbow tears she sees a sunnier gleam,/She cannot see a void where he will be.” To mimic the cold weather on the boat, Brown painted outside in his garden. The Last of England was made with oils on a wood panel measuring 2.7 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide and is now at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in Birmingham, England. Another, later version with a different color scheme is located in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England.
1852-1855: Rosa Bonheur: The Horse Fair [Realism; France]
In the 1850s, the Paris horse market was held on the Boulevard de l’Hôpital, and twice a week for over a year French painter Rosa Bonheur would dress as a man and go to the market to sketch the horses and the men buying and selling them. Dressed this way, Bonheur received no unwanted attentions from the men and was free to create. Begun in 1852, The Horse Fair was exhibited at the 1853 Paris Salon but the artist reworked it extensively until 1855. It is Bonheur’s most highly-regarded work. Painted with oils on a canvas measuring 8.0 ft tall by 16.6 ft wide, The Horse Fair, which Bonheur described as her “Parthenon frieze”, is now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
1855: Gustave Courbet: The Painter’s Studio [Realism; France]
After being tagged as a ‘realist’, French artist Gustave Courbet began to paint works that did not fit within the box the art world had placed him in. One of the most challenging of these works was a piece with the full title, The Painter’s Studio: A Real Allegory of a Seven Year Phase in my Life as an Artist, but most often referred to as The Painter’s Studio or L’Atelier (first image). The Paris Salon of 1855 rejected the work and several other Courbet offerings, so he set up his own exhibit with the goal of showing art that draws its essence from the artist’s individual liberty, art that is alive. Scholars have written many pages trying to identify the ‘real’ and the ‘allegory’ in Courbet’s sprawling canvas, which measures nearly 12 ft. tall by 20 ft. wide. The central group consists of the bearded Courbet, in profile, painting a Realist landscape, a young boy to our left, looking at the painting, a nude woman with drapery (presumably a model) looking at the painting over Courbet’s shoulder, and a playful white cat (see detail in second image). We might interpret this scene as follows: the painter must have knowledge of classical forms (the nude), but the best judge of his work is the common man. A more sarcastic interpretation: even a little boy could appreciate great art better than the professional critics. Looking to the right, we see a group of well-dressed individuals, many of whom have been identified as supporters of Courbet’s art, including his patron Alfred Bruyas, critic Champfleury, writers Georges Sand and Charles Baudelaire and philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. These are the individuals Courbet has relied on as friends and business associates in his career. On the left, we see Emperor Napoleon III as a hunter, some stereotypical characters, including some in Spanish dress, a number of poor and perhaps mentally ill folks, a skull, and a nude man hanging from a wooden contraption. These may be the people who have been left behind by France’s Revolution, or perhaps characters from the paintings that have inspired Courbet. Art historians have recognized Courbet’s debt to Spanish painters such as Ribera and Velázquez, particularly Las Meninas, in organizing and lighting this complex composition. Courbet’s The Artist’s Studio, which was made with oils on canvas, is now in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
1850-1857: Ren Xiong: Self-Portrait [Shanghai School; Qing Dynasty; China]
In the late 19th Century, a group of Chinese painters based mostly in Shanghai rejected the traditional Literati painting style, with its emphasis on symbolism, in favor of a style that emphasized visual content, exaggerated forms and bright colors. One of the proponents of this new Shanghai School was Ren Xiong, from Xiaoshan, who was known for his bold and innovative style. In Ren Xiong’s defiant Self-Portrait, from 1850-1857, he combines two very different styles – his face and upper body are rendered naturalistically, while his clothing is painted in a more traditional, linear style. Scholars have suggested that the contrasting styles symbolize the tension within the Chinese painting community between an attachment to traditional forms and a desire to represent reality in a more natural or realistic way. In the written inscription at the left of the painting, Ren describes his feelings of frustration and disillusionment. His Self-Portrait was made using ink and color an a hanging paper scroll measuring 5.8 ft. tall by 2.6 ft. wide, and is now in the Palace Museum in Beijing.
1857: Jean-François Millet: The Gleaners [Realism/Naturalism; France]
Jean-François Millet was one of a group of like-minded French painters who became known as Realists. A reaction against the idealism of the Romantics, the Realists eschewed fantasy and believed in creating art that represented reality as they saw it. In the hands of Millet, Realism meant painting the poor rural and urban workers who sustained the economies of Europe. The Gleaners shows three peasant women in a just-harvested field who are exercising their right to glean, that is, to collect grain left behind. Millet contrasts their lonely, back-straining work with the wealth and abundance of the landlord farmer, shown in the background. Millet made sketches of the gleaners he saw near his home in Barbizon for seven years before creating this oil painting. The critics savaged The Gleaners: to the upper classes, drawing attention to the poverty of the lower classes was inviting an uprising; for the bourgeoisie, unkempt peasant women were not a proper subject for art. As time passed, however, the painting proved inspirational, even leading French filmmaker Agnes Varda to document modern salvagers in The Gleaners and I (2000). Millet’s The Gleaners, which measures 2.75 ft. tall by 3.7 ft. wide, is now in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
1862: Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres: The Turkish Bath
While reading Letters from the Orient, Lady Mary Montagu’s 18th Century memoir of life in the Ottoman Empire as the wife of a British diplomat, French painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres was intrigued by a description of the women’s baths in Adrianople and copied it into his notebook. Many years later, Ingres created a painting on the theme entitled The Turkish Bath. Instead of using live models, Ingres borrowed from his past works, both finished paintings, such as The Bather of Valpinçon, who sits at front left with a musical instrument, and sketches, such as an 1818 image of his wife Madelein Chapelle, which served as the model for the woman in right front. Ingres identifies the setting as Oriental by means of the musical instruments, censer and scattered ornaments, but he seems more interested in the acres of female flesh. Ingres, proud of his virility, added the words “at age 82” to the signature. The Turkish Bath was made with oils on a wood panel measuring 3.5 ft. high by 3.5 ft. wide and is now in the Louvre in Paris.
1862: Frederic Edwin Church: Cotopaxi [Hudson River School/Luminism; US]
American landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church studied under Thomas Cole of the Hudson River School, but unlike other members of the School, Church wandered far from home to find subjects, from Arctic icebergs to ruins in Syria, and volcanoes in South America. Cotopaxi is a volcano in Ecuador that was particularly active during the mid-19th Century. In 1855 and 1857, Church painted it as a sleeping giant, with a snowy peak (see 1855 painting in second image). His 1862 version lets out all the stops, showing the volcano as it erupts, sending a plume of black smoke and ash to dim the setting sun (first image). Critics have pointed out contrasting elements coexisting in the painting’s world: hot and cold, calm and turbulent, light and dark. Some have ascribed religious meaning to the work: despite the attempts of the forces of evil to conquer the world, God’s light will continue to shine, providing a beacon of hope in the darkness. Despite Cotopaxi’s fury, the sunshine continues to illuminate the relatively peaceful scene in the foreground of this large oil-on-canvas work, which measures 4 ft. tall and 7 ft. wide. Given that Church painted Cotopaxi in 1861-1862, the eruption may also refer to the cataclysm of the American Civil War. The painting is located at the Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit, Michigan. The 1855 version is in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas.
1863: Édouard Manet: Olympia [Impressionism/Realism; France]
French artist Édouard Manet shocked the crowds at the 1865 Paris Salon with his sensational portrait of a well-to-do courtesan (Olympia was a common name for prostitutes in Manet’s Paris) in a classical pose that seems to mock Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538). Because Manet refused to idealize the nude figure and instead personalized her as a woman of the world boldly confronting us with her gaze, he forces the viewer to confront her raw sexuality, and not some high-minded allegory of Beauty. His style, too, rejects the illusions of Renaissance and Classical art and instead begins to hint that a painting is two dimensional – a very modernist notion – by reducing modeling and flattening some of the three-dimensionality of the figures. Olympia was made with oil paints on a canvas measuring 4.3 ft. tall by 6.2 ft. wide. It is now in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
1863: Édouard Manet: Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe (Luncheon on the Grass)
Originally titled La Bain (The Bath), Édouard Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon in the Grass) was considered obscene by many contemporaries. The 1863 Paris Salon rejected the painting, so Manet exhibited the large canvas (6.8 ft. high by 8.7 ft. wide) at the Salon des Refusés. Manet borrowed the grouping from the lower right side of Marcantonio Raimondi’s engraving of Raphael’s drawing The Judgment of Paris (second image) and there is precedent for a group of two men in modern clothing with nude woman in Titian’s The Pastoral Concert (see third image), but in that case the nudes are clearly depicted as mythic or heavenly beings, not mere mortals. Multiple light sources, the out-of-proportion bather and other oddities have spawned multiple explanations. Some theorize that the figures are not outdoors but in the artist’s studio. The website everypainterpaintshimself.com goes further, positing that the bathing woman is not a three-dimensional figure but a painted canvas and the nude woman boldly gazing at us is the model, relaxing after her work. Manet’s oil painting is now in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
1862-1864: Honoré Daumier: The Third-Class Carriage [Realism; France]
Honoré Daumier made his living by making prints, usually of a satirical nature, that were published in a variety of publications, but he also aspired to be taken seriously as a painter. Quite a few of his prints depicted life on the newest mode of transportation – the railroad. In 1856, Daumier published a satirical print with the French caption “Voyageurs appréciant de moins en moins les wagons de troisième classe pendant l’hiver” (Passengers are showing less and less appreciation for traveling in the third class carriage in winter). After seeing the print, American art collector Henry Walters commissioned Daumier to create paintings on the theme of railroad travel. Daumier painted a series of three watercolors: (1) The First Class Carriage, (2) The Second Class Carriage and (3) The Third Class Carriage. The Third Class Carriage (see third image), with its depiction of the least well-off travelers, is the most highly-regarded of the series. All three watercolors, each of which measures approximately 8 in. tall by 11.6 in. wide, are now in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, which gives them the date of 1862. At some point before or after creating the watercolors for Walters (1862-1865), Daumier made two attempts at expanding The Third Class Carriage into a larger (2.1 ft. tall by 2.9 ft. wide) oil painting. The most well-known version is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (see first image). Measuring 2.1 ft tall by 2.9 ft wide, it is thought to be unfinished. A similarly-sized oil painting at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa appears to be more complete (see fourth image). All three versions of The Third Class Carriage focus our attention on four people – apparently a family and clearly not well off financially – sitting on the hard bench of a third-class railroad car: a old woman, an adult woman nursing an infant, and a sleeping young boy. The treatment of the subject – in contrast to the print that inspired them – is somber and sympathetic, but with enough realism to avoid veering into sentimentality.
1864: Édouard Manet: The Dead Toreador [Impressionism/Realism; France]
When Manet exhibited a large canvas called Episode from a Bullfight in 1864, critics mocked the proportions, saying the toreador was too big and the bull too small. In response, Manet cut the painting into two pieces, separating the dead bullfighter from the rest, repainting the background and presenting it as a separate work, The Dead Toreador. (also known as The Dead Terero.) The resulting portrait depicts a fallen hero, head thrust into the viewer’s space, the body foreshortened, filling up almost the entire frame. Experts have noted Manet’s indebtedness to Velázquez in both subject and style. Made with oils on a canvas measuring 2.5 ft. high by 5 ft. long, The Dead Toreador is now at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Manet also reworked the top portion of the original piece into The Bullfight (second image), which is now at the Frick Collection in New York.
1852-1865: Ford Madox Brown: Work [Pre-Raphaelite; UK]
English artist Ford Madox Brown’s Work is a manifesto in oil paint that seeks to revolutionize the way we see social strata. The central figures, standing in strong sunlight, are the laborers digging a drainage tunnel on London’s Hampstead Road. The second tier includes philosophers, including Carlyle (at right), and possibly unemployed laborers. Further down the ladder are a proselytizing woman and her society friend, and a flower seller and possible criminal. Victims of the system are symbolized by the orphan children in the foreground. In the far background, obscured by shade, are two aristocrats on horseback who are unable to pass. The painting was commissioned by Pre-Raphaelite collector Thomas Plint in 1852, but he died before Brown finished in 1865. Brown prepared an elaborate written guide to Work for its first exhibition. The style of Work is consistent with the Pre-Raphaelite program: Brown pays close attention to detail and uses clear light with no chiaroscuro. Work was made with oil on canvas measuring 4.5 ft. tall by 6.5 ft. wide. It is now in the Manchester Art Gallery in Manchester, England.
1865: Gustave Moreau: Orpheus [Symbolism/Fauvism; France]
Like many of his fellow Symbolists, French painter Gustave Moreau was fascinated by the story of Orpheus. According to Greek myth, the gifted musician Orpheus enticed the Maenads (worshippers of Bacchus) with his music, but then refused their amorous advances. In their anger, they tore him apart and threw his head and lyre into a river. In his Orpheus, made with oils on a wood panel measuring 5 ft. tall by 3.3 ft. wide, Moreau added an epilogue of his own devising, in which a Thracian girl retrieves the head of Orpheus and his lyre from the river. In Moreau’s imagined scene, the girl gazes at the face of the dead Orpheus, which is strangely similar to her own, in a bizarre landscape reminiscent of some Italian Renaissance backgrounds. Music-playing shepherds perch improbably on a huge rock formation at upper left, balanced by a pair of turtles promenading in the lower right near the girl’s bare feet, a possible reference to the legend that a turtle’s shell was used to make the first lyre. The entire image is suffused with a yellowish twilight haze. Some critics have attributed the painting’s dreamlike imagery to the artist’s opium-fueled hallucinations. Orpheus (also known as The Head of Orpheus and Thracian Girl Carrying the Head of Orpheus) is now located at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Random Trivia: As a model for the head of Orpheus, Moreau used a cast of the face of Michelangelo’s Dying Slave (1513-1516) (second image), which is at the Louvre in Paris.
1868: Édouard Manet: Luncheon in the Studio [Impressionism/Realism; France]
Édouard Manet’s Luncheon in the Studio infuriated contemporary critics, who found it well-painted but lacking in unity, logic and rational explanation of its many elements. Some scholars believe that Manet’s intent was a mash-up of various genres and styles. The figure in front is modeled on the 16-year-old son of Manet’s wife, whose father was probably either Manet or Manet’s father. The seated man smoking was modeled on both Manet and another painter, Auguste Rousselin. The figure on the left staring at the viewer and painted with rough brushstrokes is a servant. Is this a portrait? A group portrait? If so, why cut off the seated man as in a photograph or Japanese print? The work also contains elements of a Dutch still life, including lemons, oysters, a knife, a vase, and a large plant, and in an apparent nod to history painting or the Romantics, a suit of armor lies unused at the far left. Some of the items extend past the table edge and into the picture plane. A black cat sitting on a chair may refer to either a Japanese print by Hiroshige, the recently deceased writer Baudelaire or the cat from Manet’s own Olympia. The same elements that frustrated critics in 1869 are the things that fascinate many present-day critics, one of whom said that Luncheon in the Studio depicted “a moment of aimless distraction” in which “the ephemeral and the permanent are present … as an indissolubly fused whole.” (www.manet.org/luncheon-in-the-studio.jsp). Luncheon in the Studio was made with oils on a canvas measuring 3.9 ft. tall by 5 ft wide and is now in the Neue Pinakothek in Munich.
1865-1869: Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux: The Dance (La Danse) [Romanticism; France]
When Charles Garnier was building his new Opera House in Paris, he selected four Prix de Rome winning sculptors to create statues for the façade, each representing one of the arts. Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux received the commission for The Dance. He designed an exuberant stone group, measuring 13.8 ft. tall, 9.8 ft. wide and 4.7 ft. deep, depicting the Spirit of Dance (also known as the Genius of the Dance), a winged youth with a tambourine, encircled by five dancing nymphs or Bacchantes (see stone sculpture in first image and original plaster version in second image). With their leaning and swaying postures, the figures contain an energy and centrifugal force that seems to push them outside the sculptural space. The figures interact with each other and express their joy with ebullient smiles. The piece has little of the Neoclassical rationality that was prevalent at the time, but hearkens back instead to the theatricality of the Baroque. As a consequence, Carpeaux’s merry band clashed stylistically with the other three façade sculptures, which were much more reserved, restrained and Neoclassical in form. Conservative members of the public were outraged by the realism of the nude figures; one protester even threw a bottle of ink at the sculpture. The public outcry led the Palais Garnier to ask Carpeaux to produce a more suitable substitute. When he refused, another sculptor was commissioned to provide a tamer version of The Dance. Fortunately for Carpeaux and art history, war with Germany intervened and the plans to remove the sculpture were shelved. The Dance remained at the Opera House until 1964 when concerns over damage from acid rain and other causes led the original piece to be brought indoors. Both the stone sculpture and the original full-size plaster cast are now in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, while a replica by Paul Belmondo occupies the original location at the Opera House. Random Trivia: A cast of the full group is in the collecton of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, Denmark. Separate bronze casts of the Genius of the Dance are located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (see third image) and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.
1867-1869: Édouard Manet: The Execution of Emperor Maximilan (series) [Impressionism/Realism; France]
The Execution of Emperor Maximilian is a painting by French artist Édouard Manet of a contemporary political event. In 1861, Mexican President Benito Juárez imposed a two-year moratorium on loan-interest payments to French, British and Spanish creditors. This action led the Second French Empire under Napoleon III to invade Mexico, depose Juárez, and place Maximilian, the son of Archduke Franz Karl of Austria and Princess Sophie of Bavaria, on the throne as Emperor of Mexico. Forces loyal to Juárez and the Mexican Republic fought a continual civil war, and when France withdrew its troops in 1866, Maximilian’s empire collapsed. On June 19, 1867, the victorious republicans executed Emperor Maximilian and two of his generals. This news led Manet to begin work on The Execution of Emperor Maximilian, which ultimately resulted in three large canvases (one mostly unfinished), a small preparatory study, and a lithograph. Manet’s composition owes much to Goya’s The Third of May, although with distinctly different politics. Goya’s work pays tribute to the Spanish rebels who fought the French Empire under Napoleon I, while Manet appears to sympathize with the deposed emperor, a puppet of the French under Napoleon III, against the republicans. Manet does introduce one ambiguous political note: although the soliders in the large unfinished canvas wear the uniforms of the Mexican Republican Army, all the other versions feature soldiers wearing 19th Century field dress that was common to many armies, including that of Napoleon III’s France.
(1) 1868–1869, oil on canvas measuring 8 .3 ft. tall by 10 ft. wide, now at the Kunsthalle Mannheim in Mannheim, Germany. This is considered the best of the series.
(2) 1867–1868, oil on canvas. An earlier, larger version, it was cut into pieces after Manet’s death; the remaining portions were reassembled and are on display at the National Gallery in London.
(3) 1867, oil on canvas, measuring 6.4 ft. tall by 8.5 ft. wide, now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. This is the most unfinished version.
(4) 1867, oil on canvas, measuring 1.6 ft. tall by 1.9 ft. wide, now at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek, Copenhagen, Denmark. This is a small preparatory study for the final painting.
(5) Lithographic print (1869). Manet created a lithograph based on the painting but refused to make prints during his lifetime. An edition of 50 was produced in 1884, after his death. Examples may be found in various locations, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois; British Museum, London, and Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts.
c. 1868-1870: Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot: Woman with a Pearl
[Realism/Barbizon School; France]
French painter Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot was working in his studio near the end of his long career as a artist and leader of the Barbizon School (a realist reaction to Romanticism), when he decided to have his model, Berthe Goldschmidt, try on a peasant dress he had brought back from a trip to Italy. In the session, Goldschmidt also wore a veil with a small leaf over the top of her forehead. When Corot gave the painting a title, he named it The Woman with the Pearl, or Woman with a Pearl, even though Corot painted no pearls on his model. Was this an homage to Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, in which a model also dressed in a foreign costume? No one seems to know. Also, did Corot intend the model’s pose to resemble that of the Mona Lisa? Once again, the jury is out. Critics seem to agree, however, that Corot’s portrait manages to capture the individual while at the same time depicting a type. Artist and art critic John Goodrich described The Woman with the Pearl as “graceful gravity … where purpose and personality are one.” The Woman with the Pearl was made with oils on a canvas 2.3 ft. tall by 1.8 ft. wide and is now in the Louvre in Paris.
1871: Thomas Eakins: Max Schmitt in a Single Scull (The Champion Single Sculls)
In 1870, American painter Thomas Eakins returned to Philadelphia after several years studying art in Paris, where Realism was then dominant. An athlete and rower, Eakins began to sketch the scullers on the Schuylkill River, including his good friend and top rower Max Schmitt. On October 5, 1870, Eakins sketched while Schmitt won the singles championship. A year later, Eakins exhibited his first (and arguably best) rowing painting, then titled The Champion Single Sculls, more commonly known as Max Schmitt in a Single Scull (first image). The painting, which was made with oils on a canvas measuring 2.7 ft. high by 3.8 ft. wide, is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Random Trivia: Eakins added a self-portrait to the painting: he is the rower in the middle distance, closer to the bridge, and the boat he is rowing bears his signature (see detail in second image).
1871: James McNeill Whistler: Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1: Portrait of the Artist’s Mother [Tonalism; US/UK]
For James McNeill Whistler, the important aspects of a painting were not the people or objects depicted but the arrangements of color and form on the canvas and the emotions they aroused. In an attempt to connect painting with the more abstract art form of music, Whistler often named his works with musical terms: symphony, harmony, nocturne or as here, arrangement. (Whistler only added the subtitle “Portrait of the Artist’s Mother” after complaints from exhibitors.) Known colloquially by the nickname Whistler’s Mother, the painting was made with oil paints on a canvas measuring 4.7 ft tall by 5.3 ft wide and is now at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Contemporary critics were upset with the unsentimental portrait, the spare palette and the lack of ornamental detail, but the painting has become an icon, acquiring along the way a sentimental patina that would Whistler would have certainly objected to. Random Trivia: Framed on the wall is one of Whistler’s prints, Black Lion Wharf (1859) (see second image).
1872: Winslow Homer: Snap the Whip [Realism/Naturalism; US]
In 1872, when American artist Winslow Homer painted Snap the Whip, the United States was undergoing a number of transitions. The society was becoming more urban and less agrarian. Education reforms threatened the little red schoolhouse of yesteryear; and the nation was reunited after a fierce and devastating Civil War. Some critics see all these themes and more in Snap the Whip, which appears at first glance, to be a simple depiction of eight boys at play during a recess break from school. The game they are playing requires working together as a team and staying connected – possibly a reference to the post-Civil War world. The setting, with its wildflowers, the schoolhouse and watching teachers, an image of order, may evoke a nostalgia for the agrarian ways that were passing by. Homer may also be drawing attention to the growth and development of young boys by contrasting their childish bare feet with their manly suspenders. Homer uses the line of the mountain as an echo of the line of boys. He also divides the painting into two sets of threes: (1) mountains, schoolhouse and boys playing; and (2) three groups of boys: three anchoring on the right; four running in the center; and two falling on the left. Homer made several versions of the subject, including the two oil paintings shown above. One is a small study, measuring 12 in. high by 20 in. wide, which lacks the mountains in the background (second image). It is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. A larger painting, measuring 1.8 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide, is in the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio (first image).
1872: Bertha Morisot: The Cradle [Impressionism; France]
One of the leading Impressionists, French painter Berthe Morisot was descended from Rococo artist Jean-Honore Fragonard. She studied with Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot although, because she was a woman, she was not supposed to draw or paint nudes. In The Cradle, Morisot paints her sister Edma watching over her infant daughter Blanche. In addition to Morisot’s command of Impressionist brush techniques and vibrant colors, scholars have praised her composition. The mother’s left arm and the baby’s left arm are mirror images. Also, the mother’s gaze and her left arm connect with the baby’s eyes to create a diagonal connecting mother and child. The mother has pulled away the curtains so that she can see her baby clearly, but we cannot, which creates a sense of protective intimacy. The Cradle is the first of many works by Morisot concerning motherhood, a subset of her general interest in the activities of contemporary women. Made with oils on a canvas measuring 1.8 ft. tall by 1.5 ft. wide, The Cradle is now in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
1872: Claude Monet: Impression, Sunrise [Impressionism; France]
French painter Claude Monet barely sketched in the details of this view of Le Havre harbor at sunrise. He explained later that he was not trying to paint the harbor, but to paint the feeling evoked by the view at that particular moment. For this reason, he called it an impression. After Monet included the small canvas in an 1874 exhibition, critics picked up on the word and used it disparagingly against Monet and other ‘impressionists.’ Not cowed, Monet and his cohort adopted the term and began calling themselves Impressionists. Neurobiologist Margaret Livingstone has pointed out that Monet’s orange sun has the same brightness, or luminescence, as the sky and clouds – in contrast to reality – so that the primitive black-and-white portion of our brains does not see the sun, while the color-perceiving primate portion of our brain does, setting up a conflict of vision. Monet also uses aerial perspective to create a sense of depth – note the three boats along a straight line, each farther away, each lighter in color. Impression: Sunrise was made with oils on a canvas measuring 1.6 ft. tall by 2.1 ft. wide and is now in the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris.
1870-1873: Ilya Repin: Barge Haulers on the Volga [Realism; Russia]
In Barge Haulers on the Volga, Russian realist Ilya Repin depicts 11 men dragging a barge against the current on the Volga River. Repin had just recently left the Academy and was now one of the Peredvizhniki, or Wanderers, a group of Russian painters who rejected the Academy’s philosophy and sought to capture Russian life and people realistically. Instead of idealizing the haulers or dramatizing their plight to create political propaganda, Repin individualizes his subjects. Each of the 11 is unique in clothing, manner and attitude. In the center, a young man strains against the leather harness and stands erect, while the other men lean forward, some almost on the point of collapse. The difficulty of the work is palpable, but Repin manages to capture the dignity of the workers while at the same time implying that they are oppressed – the resemblance to a chain gang may not be coincidental. Repin also adds a note of irony, or perhaps hope: the distant smoke of a steamship tells us that this ancient method of dragging ships may soon become extinct. Barge Haulers on the Volga was made using oils on a canvas measuring 4.3 feet high by 9.2 ft. long; it is now in the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
1873: Claude Monet: Wild Poppies Near Argenteuil [Impressionism; France]
Claude Monet went to England in 1870 to avoid being conscripted into the army for the Franco-Prussian War. When he returned in 1871, he lived in Argenteuil, then a rural village near Paris. During his seven years in Argenteuil, Monet practiced painting en plein air (outdoors). His 1873 painting Wild Poppies Near Argenteuil (also known as Poppies; Poppy Field; Poppies, Near Argenteuil, and Poppy Field Near Argenteuil) shows a woman and a small boy (probably Monet’s wife Camille and son Jean) walking through a field of tall grass next to a hillside covered with red poppies. Another woman and boy is walking at the top of the hillside, farther back. They appear to be the same two people, or two different people wearing the same clothing as the foreground mother and son. The two sets of people create a diagonal line that divides the painting into two color zones – one mostly red, the other bluish green. Consistent with the Impressionist agenda, Monet uses mere splashes of color to depict the poppies, which are also much larger than if drawn by a realist. Monet exhibited Wild Poppies Near Argenteuil at the 1874 Impressionist Exhibition, along with Impression: Sunrise. The painting, which was made with oils on a canvas measuring 1.6 ft. tall by 2.1 ft. wide, is now in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
1874: Edgar Degas: The Dance Class [Impressionism; France]
The paintings of French artist Edgar Degas often look like snapshots – as if he has captured a spontaneous moment in time – but in fact works such as the two paintings titled The Dance Class, both from 1874, were the result of careful planning and attention to the placement of figures. Both versions of The Dance Class feature Jules Perrot, a famous ballet master, teaching the class and the old Paris Opera (the Salle le Peletier), where the class is being taught. (The paintings have a nostalgic value, as the Salle le Peletier was destroyed by fire in 1873.) Both paintings break narrative and compositional rules by their asymmetry, by having large empty spaces in the lower right corners and by cutting off figures at the edge of the canvas. In the painting shown in the first image, Perrot watches a dancer perform an “attitude” as an examination. The other ballerinas (and their mothers) either wait to perform (in the background) or have already finished (in the foreground). A mirror reflects not only the dancers but also the window on the right side of the room and the cityscape outside. Degas portrays some of the waiting dancers as less than graceful. The ballerina closest to the foreground appears to be adjusting her tutu with the aid of the dancer behind her, and another dancer – only the top portion of her body rising from a sea of three heads – is biting her nails. As a tribute to Jean-Baptiste Faure, the opera singer who commissioned the work, Degas has included a poster on the wall for a production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell in which Faure sang. Degas exhibited the work at the 1876 Impressionism exhibition. The version of The Dance Class in the first image was made with oils on a canvas measuring 2.7 ft. tall by 2.5 ft. and is located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The version of The Dance Class in the second image shows all of the dancers waiting – although one appears to be next. Perrot is closer to the center, and the dancers in the foreground have their backs to the viewer. Instead of a mirror, there is a grand doorway into another room. The version of The Dance Class in the second image was made with oils on a canvas measuring 2.8 ft. tall by 2.5 ft. wide and is now located in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
c. 1875: James McNeill Whistler: Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket
American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler believed the purpose of art was not to represent physical reality but to use visual phenomena as the inspiration for artistic arrangements that plumbed deeper truths and evoked personal emotional reactions. His series of night paintings, or Nocturnes, sought to capture the sense of space and the void that arises in the darkness. Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket was inspired by a fireworks display at Cremorne Gardens in London. Yellow dots and flashes, billowing smoke, water and land, and vague figures all coalesce into an almost abstract impression of a moment that anticipates many of the innovations of modernism. Not all appreciated Whistler’s sense of the void, however. Respected London art critic John Ruskin wrote that, with his Nocturne, Whistler was “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” Whistler sued for libel but won only a token farthing – the loss of reputation and court costs eventually bankrupted him. Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket was painted with oils on a canvas measuring 23.7 in. tall by 18.3 in. wide and is now in the Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit, Michigan.
1875: Thomas Eakins: The Gross Clinic [Realism; US]
Some experts have called The Gross Clinic (also known as Portrait of Samuel D. Gross), by a then-relatively unknown Thomas Eakins, the most important American painting of the 19th Century. The painted scene takes place in the surgical amphitheater of Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Renowned physician and professor of medicine Samuel D. Gross, with bloodstained hands, is conducting surgery on a patient with osteomyelitis of the femur with the assistance of four other surgeons. Eakins personally observed the surgical procedure, a more conservative approach to treating the ailment than the traditional response of amputating the leg. The patient’s leg is exposed and the incision is visible, but it is hard for the viewer to determine the exact position of the rest of the anaesthetized patient’s body, or whether the patient is a man or a woman. In the stadium-style seats behind Gross sit medical students, including one who is a self-portrait of Eakins. Behind Gross, a woman, presumably the patient’s mother, covers her face with her hands in anxious distress. Although all acknowledged the excellence of Eakins’ talent, the committee for the 1876 Centennial Exhibition rejected the painting, apparently because of the graphic nature of the images. Others found that the inclusion of the crying mother was overly melodramatic. Modern critics find the contrast between the mother’s emotional reaction and the calm rationality of the doctors to send an important message about the growth and advancement of medicine into a true science. Having been rejected for the Centennial, the painting was exhibited in an army hospital until Jefferson Medical College finally purchased it. Recently, the Medical College was forced to sell the painting and for a time it looked as though it would leave Philadelphia. In response, a public campaign raised enough funds (along with the sales of some lesser known works) to keep The Gross Clinic in Philadelphia as a co-possession of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. The oil-on-canvas painting, which measures 8 ft. high by 6.5 ft. wide, recently underwent a significant restoration, in part to undo damage done by a 1917 restoration.
1874-1876: Gustave Moreau: The Apparition [Symbolism/Fauvism; France]
The Apparition, by French Symbolist Gustave Moreau, shows King Herod’s daughter Salome, in her dancing costume, at the moment that John the Baptist’s severed head appears to her in a vision. The others in the room – Herod, his wife Herodias and a man who may be the executioner – seem bored. Art historians disagree about whether Salome’s haunting vision takes place before or after she asked for and received the Baptist’s head on a platter. If before, it is an image of Salome’s wish fulfilled; if after, it may be an image of remorse, like Banquo’s ghost. Scholars have traced elements of The Apparition to Benvenuto Cellini’s Perseus with the Head of Medusa (the head of John the Baptist), a Japanese print (the halo around the head) and the Alhambra (the interior architecture and decoration). Moreau made multiple versions of The Apparition, all slightly different. Three are shown above: (1) the version in the Louvre in Paris is a watercolor measuring 3.4 ft. tall by 2.3 ft. wide; (2) the Musée National Gustave Moreau in Paris has an oil painting on canvas measuring 4.6 ft. tall by 3.4 ft. wide; (3) the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, Massachusetts have a version painted with oils on a canvas measuring 1.8 ft. tall by 1.5 ft. wide.
1876: Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette [Impressionism; France]
French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Bal du moulin de la Galette (also known as Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette and The Ball at the Moulin de la Galette) paints a portrait of a Sunday afternoon at a popular outdoor café and dance hall in Montmartre, then a rural hilltop village an hour’s walk from Paris. The Moulin de la Galette, named after the brown bread made from the flour ground by its historic windmill, was a weekend destination for working men and women, as well as writers and artists. They came dressed in their best clothes to eat galettes, drink, dance and gaze down on Paris from a scenic overlook. Like all the Impressionists, Renoir liked to paint scenes of everyday life, but no Impressionist had previously shown average people amusing themselves on such a large canvas (4.3 ft. tall by 5.7 ft. wide), thereby giving an apparently trivial subject heightened significance. Like all Impressionists, Renoir liked to study the effects of light: here, he paints the sunlight filtering through the acacia trees and mixing with lamplight to create a dappled patchwork of bright patches and shadows. Critics then and now marvel at the way Renoir makes the light seem to flicker and dance. Scholars also comment on Renoir’s effective use of bright colors – there is not a touch of black in the canvas – and the resulting tone of carefree celebration. Note that, although Remoir appears to depict a typical crowd at the Moulin, he loaded the canvas with portraits of his friends, as well as a few professional models. One of those friends, writer Georges Rivière (pictured at the table in the foreground), in his review of the 1877 Impressionist Exhibition, described Bal du Moulin de la Galette as a “page of history, a precious and strictly accurate portrayal of Parisian life.” The work, which was made with oils on canvas, is now in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Renoir painted a second, smaller version of the painting (measuring 2.5 ft. tall by 3.7 ft. wide) that is in a private collection; it was purchased at auction for $78 million in 1990.
1876: Edgar Degas: L’Absinthe [Impressionism; France]
Unlike most of his Impressionist colleagues, Edgar Degas preferred to paint in urban settings, preferably indoors. The painting known since 1893 as L’Absinthe (prior names have included In a Café, The Absinthe Drinker, and Glass of Absinthe) is set in a Paris drinking spot popular with artists, actors and bohemians, the Café de la Nouvelle-Athènes. Modeling as two cafegoers are actress Ellen Andrée, with a glass of absinthe, and artist Marcellin Desboutin, shown with a pipe and a cup of coffee. At the time, absinthe, a green-colored alcoholic beverage, was quite popular in the bohemian community, a popularity which (along with reports that it contained harmful chemicals) led to its prohibition in the early 20th Century. Degas shows the man and woman off-center, with blank space in front of them and their shadows, black as silhouettes, on the walls behind them. Showing the influence of Japanese prints, Degas is comfortable cutting off figures at the edge of the canvas, as he does here with Desboutin’s hand and pipe. The man and woman neither touch nor look at each other; the woman seems lost in thought or emotion and the man seems distracted. There is no indication that Degas sought to present the viewer with a moral lesson or warning; L’Absinthe is more likely a comment on isolation and alienation in urban life. Nevertheless, from the first exhibition of the work, in the 1876 Impressionist show, through an English exhibition in 1893, L’Absinthe has been a magnet for criticism and condemnation. Critics called it ugly and disgusting and described the subjects as “shockingly degraded and uncouth.” Degas had to defend Ellen Andrée and Marcellin Desboutin from accusations that they were drunkards. The Victorian English claimed the painting was a sign of moral decay; one overheated critic labeled the woman with the absinthe a ‘slut’ and a ‘whore.’ Another called the painting a warning against absinthe in particular, and the French generally. Not all the commentary was negative. After Émile Zola published L’Assommoir, his novel about the horrors of alcoholism, he told Degas that some of the passages in his book were descriptions of Degas’ pictures. L’Absinthe was made with oils on a canvas measuring 3 ft. tall by 2.2 ft. wide; it is now in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
1877: Gustave Caillebotte: Paris Street, Rainy Day (Paris Street – Rainy Weather)
Independently wealthy French artist Gustave Caillebotte provided significant financial support for the Impressionists. He bought their paintings (over 60 of them), funded their exhibitions, and sometimes even paid their rent. Although many scholars group Caillebotte with the Impressionists because of his interests in the effects of light and in painting everyday life, he differed from them in both technique and tone. First, Caillebotte eschewed the characteristics loose brush strokes of the Impressionist style; he tended to paint much more in the Realist style. Second, in contrast to the boisterous partiers of Renoir or the serene landscapes of Monet, Caillebotte’s works often have an unsettling quality. He was not afraid to explore the darker side of human nature. Paris Street, Rainy Day may be the best example of Caillebotte’s dark side. Since the 1850s, Emperor Napoleon III and his administrator Baron Haussmann had been remaking Paris, tearing down ancient structures and putting up large, geometrical buildings, set along wide, spacious boulevards such as the Carrefour de Moscou (now the Place de Dublin) shown in Paris Street, Rainy Day. Although the painting has the feeling of a snapshot (and in fact does owe a great deal to the new art of photography), Caillebotte deliberately arranged the figures (and their umbrellas) to create an effect of loneliness and alienation. The modernization of Paris, Caillebotte is saying, has a dehumanizing effect on the population. Caillebotte used a large canvas, measuring 6.9 ft. tall by 9 ft. wide, to make his statement. To emphasize the lack of unity, he employed two-point perspective, with two vanishing points. He also played with realism by making the boulevard seem broader (and thus more alienating) than in actuality. Caillebotte died in 1894 at age 45; he donated his collection of Impressionist paintings to the French government but Paris Street, Rainy Day remained in the Caillebotte family until 1955. The Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois acquired the painting in 1964.
1877-1878: Edgar Degas: Prima Ballerina (The Star – Dancer on the Stage
Edgar Degas once told Ambrose Vollard, the noted art dealer, “People call me the painter of dancing girls. It has never occurred to them that my chief interest in dancers lies in rendering movement and painting pretty clothes.” (Quoted in Smithsonian Magazine, April 2003.) Degas may have been a ballet spectator even before he became a ballet painter. He became a familiar presence in the Palais Garnier at lessons, auditions, rehearsals and, as seen here, performances. Degas gives us a box seat view presents a view from a box seat of a solo ballerina, on pointe, either performing an arabesque on stage or perhaps taking in a round of applause. True to his word, Degas pays loving attention to the dancer’s movement and apparel. The painting displays both the Classical and Impressionist side’s of Degas’ style: he pays tribute to the lines and forms of Classical sculpture yet treats the light as would an Impressionist. Degas adds a dark note to the overall sense of joyful beauty and celebration by showing us a dark figure – symbolically decapitated by the curtain – watching from the wings. He is an abonné, one of the rich men who held subscriptions to the ballet and used their access to socialize with and offer patronage to the pretty, young and often desperately poor dancers. Made with pastels on paper and measuring 1.9 ft tall by 1.4 ft wide, Prima Ballerina, The Star – Dancer on the Stage, or simply The Star, is now at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Random Trivia: Prima Ballerina is one of three works of art seen aboard the doomed ocean liner Titanic in James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster of the same name. Fortunately for art lovers, the story is fictional and the Degas masterpiece was not on the ship.
1880: Auguste Rodin: The Thinker [Neoclassical; France]
The sculpture now known as The Thinker originated as a small part of a large commission for the entrance of a new art museum that eventually became The Gates of Hell. For that project, French sculptor Auguste Rodin planned to create a series of figures based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, including Dante himself, The Poet, who would be depicted thinking about and planning his masterpiece. In about 1880, Rodin sculpted a small plaster statue in of The Poet, a sitting figure with his head resting on the fist of a bended arm, which would occupy a prominent place in the center of the top register of The Gates of Hell (see second image). Because The Poet would be seen from below, Rodin made the arms and shoulders larger than anatomy required. At some point, Rodin decided The Poet should have a life of its own, outside The Gates of Hell. He reworked the figure, removed its robes, making it a nude, and renamed The Thinker, in part because of its resemblance to a Michelangelo work with that nickname. Rodin eventually made a larger plaster version, which he first exhibited in 1888. In 1902, Rodin supervised the first of a number of full-sized bronze casts, which now sits in front of Grawemeyer Hall at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. Over the years, 28 bronze and plaster casts have been made, although fewer than 10 were completed before Rodin’s death in 1917. The casts are scattered in museums and universities around the globe. Each full-sized cast of The Thinker is 6.2 ft. tall, 3.2 ft. wide and 4.6 ft. deep. The size of the plinth beneath the statue is a matter up to the owner’s discretion. Random Trivia: Rodin’s Thinker reminds some of Michelangelo’s statue of Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici, Duke of Urbino (1530s) in Florence, which acquired the nickname “Il Pensieroso” (The Thoughtful One) (see third image).
1876-1880: Edward Burne-Jones: The Golden Stairs [Pre-Raphaelite; Aestheticism; UK]
Walter Pater, critic and godfather of the Aesthetic Movement, once stated that “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.” In The Golden Stairs, Pre-Raphaelite artist and Aesthetic Movement adherent Edward Burne-Jones may have created a work of art that, like much music, evokes a mood or emotional reaction without telling a story. Although the 18 nearly identical young women walking down the golden stairs are representational, their coloring (whites, golds and silvers) and patterning have an abstract quality. The bland beauty of the faces, their classical-ish gowns, and the muted palette create the impression that they or we (or both) are dreaming. Taking Pater’s statement to the next level, Burne-Jones makes sure that if The Golden Stairs is about anything, it is about music. Many of the women carry (but do not play) musical instruments, and the passage of their feet on the stairs forms a scale or set of keys that divides up space the way that musical notes divide up time. On such a dramatically vertical canvas (at 8.8 ft. tall by 3.8 ft. wide, it is more than twice as high as it is wide), the narrative follows the spiral of the stairs and the women’s inexorable movement down and around until the it reaches the leader, who stops and looks back at the viewer before entering a doorway leading we know not where. The Golden Stairs was made with oils on canvas and is now located in the Tate Britain in London.
1880-1881: Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Luncheon of the Boating Party
French Impressionist painter Renoir often painted his friends into his artworks, and The Luncheon of the Boating Party is no exception. For example, (1) the woman playing with the dog is Aline Charigot, who would later become Renoir’s wife; (2) the woman at the center drinking from a glass is actress Ellen Andrée (from L’Absinthe); and (3) the man in the straw hat on the right is painter Gustave Caillebotte. The setting for the luncheon is the balcony of the Maison Fournaise along the Seine in Chatou, France. Critics have praised Renoir’s treatment of light, which enters from the area between the two figures leaning on the railing and then reflects off the white shirts and tablecloth to fill the composition, leaving no room for darkness or gloom. The Luncheon of the Boating Party, made with oil paints on a canvas measuring 4.25 ft. tall and 5.67 ft. wide, is now at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.
1878-1882: Wilhelm Leibl: Three Women in Church [Leibl Kreis; Realism; Germany]
Like his friend Gustave Courbet, German painter Wilhelm Leibl was committed to the philosophy of realism – of depicting people and places exactly as they are. As a result, his highly accurate and detailed paintings of landscapes and peasant life have been compared to the work of Hans Holbein the Younger and other Northern Renaissance artists for their uncanny renderings of reality. In Three Women in Church (also known as Three Women in a Village Church), Leibl presents three women villagers who appear to represent three different generations, sitting in the same pew at church. Each woman wears a lovingly detailed Sunday outfit and each has an individual expression of piety. Scholars have noted that the perspective Leibl has chosen makes the figures’ hands look too large for their bodies. Like the Impressionists, Leibl painted with oil paints directly on the painting surface, with no preliminary drawing. Three Women in Church was made with oils on a mahogany panel measuring 3.7 ft. tall by 2.5 ft. wide. It is now in the Hamburger Kunsthalle in Hamburg, Germany.
1882: Édouard Manet: A Bar at the Folies-Bergère [Impressionism/Realism; France]
Manet’s last major painting, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère has sparked lively scholarly debate for its treatment of perspective, as well as its implications regarding the relationships of men and women. The central character is a barmaid, who is standing in front of a huge mirror that reflects her, a customer and the rest of the establishment. The bowl of oranges on the bar may symbolize prostitution, which was common at Folies-Bergère. Although some have stated that the reflections are physically impossible – where is the man we see in the mirror facing the barmaid? – a reenactment of the scene proved that the painting is accurate if the viewer is standing off to the side and not in the center. A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, made with oils on a canvas measuring 3.2 ft. tall by 4.3 ft. wide, is now located at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.
1882: John Singer Sargent: The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit
John Singer Sargent and Edward Darley Boit were both American expatriates in Paris, so it was not unusual that in 1882 Sargent would paint the four young daughters of lapsed lawyer Boit and his heiress wife Isa in the foyer of their Paris apartment. What was unusual was the painting that resulted (first image). Despite paying tribute to Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit breaks many of the rules of portraiture: the painting is square, but its composition is asymmetrical (one critic called it “four corners and a void”). Sargent does not place the girls in a formal arrangement but shows them separated from one another and not interacting. Two giant Japanese vases tower over the girls, such that one observer quipped that Sargent had painted a portrait of the vases and a still life of the daughters. Most unsettling are the figures of the two oldest girls: both are partly hidden in shadow, and one is turning to the side, her face obscured. While the white pinafores (worn to protect fine clothes) indicate that the girls may be at play, the overall tone is anything but playful. Some scholars have interpreted the dark space in the center of the painting as adulthood, into whose shadowy uncertainty the girls gradually recede as they age, no longer able to bask in bright sun of childhood. Sr. Wendy has even suggested that Sargent may have intuited the Boit girls’ futures: none of the four ever married, and the oldest two were plagued by mental illness. The painting, which was made with oils on a canvas measuring 7.5 feet square, stayed in the family until 1919, when the daughters of Edward Darley Boit donated it to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; years later, their heirs donated the pair of Japanese vases, which now stand on either side of the painting as silent sentinels (second image).
1880-1883: Ilya Repin: Religious Procession in Kursk Province [Realism; Russia]
Every year, Russian Orthodox Catholics carried the 14th Century icon known as Our Lady of Kursk from the Korennaya Monastery to the nearby city of Kursk, which lies near the Ukrainian border in the west of Russia. Russian painter Ilya Repin used the depiction of this procession to skewer the rich and powerful. In the procession, the segments of society are clearly delineated: the bloated rich, especially the woman carrying an icon, display false piety; pampered priests primp themselves; and soldiers use violence to control the crowd. The peasants are not idealized – some, including one of the men holding the icon’s shrine, appear to be drunk – but our sympathies go out to an impoverished hunchback boy who is being kept from getting too close to the shrine of the icon by a man with a stick. He seems more human than the rest of the characters, and it is no surprise to learn that Repin made a number of preliminary studies of the boy, including an 1881 oil painting known as The Hunchback (see second image), which is in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Known by various titles (including Religious Procession in Kursk Province, Easter Procession in the District of Kursk, A Religious Procession in Kursk Gubernia and Krestny Khod in Kursk) the painting was made with oils on a canvas measuring 5.7 ft tall by 9.2 ft wide and is now at the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Random Trivia: Before art collector Pavel Tretyakov bought the painting, he asked Repin to replace the young servants holding the empty box (in which the icon was usually placed) with a beautiful maiden experiencing spiritual rapture, but Repin refused. Tretyakov bought the painting anyway.
1884: John Singer Sargent: Portrait of Madame X [Realism/Edwardian; US/France]
In 1883, John Singer Sargent scored a coup: Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, the beautiful young American in Paris who was married to French banker Pierre Gautreau, agreed to the suggestion of Sargent – another expatriate American – that he paint her portrait and display it at the Paris Salon. The process was a difficult one, as Madame Gautreau was disinclined to stay still long enough to be painted, but after some preliminary studies, Sargent produced what he believed was his best work: a dramatic standing pose showing Mme. Gautreau in profile in a daring black dress, one strap falling from her shoulder. Sargent presented the painting at the 1884 Salon, but instead of glory, he received humiliation: the critics savaged the picture, which was considered overly erotic and lacking in decorum. In an attempt to respond to his critics, Sargent repainted the strap in its usual position, but it was not until many years later that the painting’s excellence – particularly its rendering of the skin tone, the dress and the handling of color – was recognized. Portrait of Madame X or simply Madame X, was painted with oil paints on a canvas measuring 7.7 ft tall by 3.6 ft wide, is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The second image shows unfinished 1884 study (now at the Tate in London) without the right shoulder strap. The third image is a watercolor of Mme. Gautreau that Sargent painted in 1882-1883 (now at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston), titled Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast. The fourth image is an 1883-1883 Sargent drawing of Mme Gautreau with the same dress sitting on a couch, which is in the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
1884: Georges Seurat: Bathers at Asnières [Post-Impressionism/Pointillism; France]
Asnières was a working class suburb close to Paris and Seurat signals to us with clothing and the industrial scene in the background that his subjects are working class people enjoying a day of leisure along the River Seine. To emphasize the social class of the bathers, Seurat depicts some wealthier folks (with top hat and parasol) taking a boat ride from a working class man. In contrast to the “capturing a fleeting moment” quality of Impressionism, Seurat (working here with a number of innovative brush techniques but before his invention of what we now call pointillism) brings a classical sensibility to the composition that renders it timeless rather than momentary. The placement of the figures, with echoes of posture and color, the diagonal line of the river bank, along with the heat haze that covers all, contribute to this sense that we are transcending time. Not long out of art school, Seurat dutifully made over a dozen preparatory sketches and oil paintings for this major work (see Conte crayon drawing of figure, now at Yale University Art Gallery, in the second image, and Black Horse, from 1883, a study in oils now at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinbugh, in third image). Its new style and sensibility were considered problematic by critics, and it was rejected by the Paris Salon. In protest, Seurat joined with other rejected painters to found the Groupe des Artistes Indépendants, which exhibited the painting at its own, alternative Salon. Made with oils on canvas measuring 6.6 ft tall by 9.8 ft wide, Bathers at Asnières is now at the National Gallery in London. Random Trivia: X-ray analysis reveals that Seurat reworked the painting in the years after its initial exhibition in 1884, adding some pointillist dots to some areas, changing the position of the legs of one figure and possibly adding another figure to balance the composition.
1884: Edward Burne-Jones: King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid [Pre-Raphaelite; UK]
According to a legend relayed in an Elizabethan ballad and reworked by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in the 19th Century, African King Cophetua had no interest in marrying until he met a beautiful beggar maid named Penelephon, whom he brought out of poverty to make his queen. Burne-Jones uses a vertical composition to show the beggar-now-queen placed above her king, although the look in her eyes does not appear to show happiness at her new-found elevation of rank. Burne-Jones made several preparatory works in which he experimented with the placement of the figures (as in the second image, an 1883 gouache sketch owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber) and the lighting (see third image, a full-size cartoon from 1884 using colored chalks, at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, UK). Made with oil paints on a canvas measuring 9.6 ft tall by 4.4 ft wide, King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid is now at Tate Britain, in London.
1885: Vincent Van Gogh: The Potato Eaters [Post-Impressionism; The Netherlands]
Vincent Van Gogh wanted to show the dignity and hard life of the peasants without sentimentalizing them, so for his portrait of a peasant family eating dinner, he deliberately chose unattractive models. At this early stage in his career, Van Gogh was much influenced by the artistic movement known as the Hague School, especially the work of Jozef Israëls, whose 1882 painting Peasant Family at the Table (see second image), may have been a model for Van Gogh’s Potato Eaters. Made with oil paints on a canvas measuring 2.7 ft. tall by 3.7 ft wide, the work is now in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Random Trivia: Van Gogh was an avid collector of prints and believed that the emotional impact of such smaller works could be great, while large canvases could leave the viewer cold. Before completing the oil painting, Van Gogh created an engraved version of The Potato Eaters (see third image), one of his few experiments with the medium.
1880-1886: Arnold Böcklin: The Isle of the Dead [Symbolism; Switzerland]
Symbolism was a movement of poets, painters and other artists who rejected naturalism and realism in favor of spirituality, the imagination and dreams. In 1880, Swiss Symbolist Arnold Böcklin created what he called a ‘dream image’ of a small boat approaching an island on which rocky cliffs and cypress trees surround a number of carved tombs. Böcklin did not title his works, but an art dealer, borrowing a phrase from one of Böcklin’s letters, gave the work the title Isle of the Dead. Böcklin eventually painted five versions of Isle of the Dead, four of which are shown above: (1) the first, made with oil on canvas in 1880, is now in Kunstmuseum Basel in Basel, Switzerland; (2) the second, somewhat smaller version, painted with oil on wood in 1880 for Marie Berna, is now in Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; (3) the third version was painted in 1883, and is now in the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin; (4) the fourth version, which is not pictured above, was painted in 1884 and hung in a Berlin bank, but was destroyed during a World War II bomb attack; and (5) the fifth version (fourth image) was painted in 1886 on commission from the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig, where it remains. When Böcklin’s patron Marie Berner saw the first version of Isle of the Dead, she asked the artist to make a version for her, but she requested that he paint a female figure and a coffin in the boat, in memory of the recent death of her husband. Böcklin did so, and included these elements in all future versions of the painting, as well as adding them to the original version. Beginning with the 1883 version, Böcklin also began painting his initials on one of the burial chambers on the right side of the island.
1886: Edgar Degas: The Tub [Impressionism; France]
Edgar Degas painted seven pictures with pastels in the mid-1880s on the theme of women bathing, several of which he exhibited at the last Impressionist exhibition in 1886. These pastels treat the nude in a new way: instead of regularity of proportion and grace of movement, Degas seeks to isolate the accidental gestures of women who are not aware they are being observed, “as if you are looking through a keyhole”, as Degas himself described the effect. This voyeuristic element has disturbed some; even Degas wondered if he had treated the women, many of them prostitutes, fairly. The Tub shows a woman bathing in a shallow metal tub. The point of view is preciptitous, as we appear to look almost straight down from above, in the manner of Japanese prints. The woman’s pose is reminiscent of the Crouching Venus figures of antiquity, which show Venus (or Aphrodite) startled in her bath. The difference here is that we do not see the model’s face, and her body is real, not idealized. A startling aspect of the painting is the still life of toiletries on the shelf that occupies a third of the canvas on the right. The perspective is highly dramatic, such that at first it is difficult to understand where the shelf belongs in space. The haphazard placement of the objects creates a sense of realism, such that the viewer has an urge to reach out and push the brush handle back onto the counter, lest it fall. The Tub was made with pastels on cardboard measuring 2 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide and is now in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
1886: Edgar Degas: Woman in the Bath [Impressionism; France]
In Edgar Degas’ Woman in the Bath, also known as The Tub, we see a nude woman bathing in a shallow round tub from a viewpoint above her. Her pose hides her face from us, but it also directs our eyes downward along her back and arm to the sponge. The sheets, curtains and towels surrounding the bather contain arrow-like folds and shadows pointing up, to counteract the overall downward movement. As with Degas’ other bathers, this woman is completely absorbed in her ablutions and so the viewer becomes a voyeur, with all the ethical complications such a role brings. Degas shows the effects of light coming from the upper left and traveling to the lower right, with the brightest region on the bather’s back. Even though many aspects of the work draw from Japanese prints, Degas has refused to render the figures with the flatness of those prints and instead includes a significant amount of modeling, chiaroscuro and outlining in the figure of the woman, giving her a sensual substantiality. Woman in the Bath, from 1886, was made with pastels on a cardboard measuring 2.3 ft. square and is now located at the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Connecticut.
1886: Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi: Statue of Liberty [Neoclassical; France]
Officially titled Liberty Enlightening the World, by its French designer, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French government to the American people. The dimensions of the work are on a colossal scale: the distance from the ground to the tip of Liberty‘s torch is just over 305 feet, including the 65-ft. tall foundation, the 89-ft. tall pedestal by Richard Morris Hunt and the statue itself, which measures slightly more than 151 ft. tall (see first image, showing statue and pedestal and second image image, showing statue). The exterior of the massive statue consists of copper sheets (which have developed a greenish patina over time), with an internal support structure and spiral staircases designed by Gustave Eiffel and Maurice Koechlin (see third image). Lady Liberty is a neoclassical-style allegorical figure, dressed in the stola and pella (gown and cloak) worn by Roman goddesses, and crowned with a seven-rayed diadem (see fourth image). In her right hand she raises a torch, symbol of progress (see fifth image) and her left hand holds a tabula ansata inscribed with the date of American independence, July 4, 1776. She stands on a broken chain, a detail not visible from ground level. Although Bartholdi conceived of the idea in the early 1870s, it took many years to fund and realize the project. Bartholdi himself selected the site, a piece of federal property then called Bedloes Island (now Liberty Island), during a visit to New York; he oriented the statue to face ships arriving from the Atlantic Ocean. After Bartholdi designed and built the statue’s right arm with its torch in 1876, he brought it to Philadelphia to exhibit in the Centennial Exhibition, after which it stood for several years in New York City’s Madison Square Park, before returning to France. Work on the statue was completed in 1884. It was then disassembled and shipped to New York, but it could not be reassembled until the Americans raised funds for and built the granite and concrete pedestal, designed by Richard Morris Hunt. The pedestal was completed April 1886; reassembly of the statue took several more months. President Grover Cleveland dedicated the monument on October 28, 1886; Bartholdi was present but did not speak. In honor of the occasion, Emma Lazarus, a poet who had been working with European refugees, wrote the famous sonnet, The New Colossus, which is engraved on a plaque in the museum at the base of the statue. Major renovations to the aging statue took place in 1984-1986.
1886: Georges Seurat: A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte (sometimes called A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte – 1884) is the most famous example of pointillism, a technique in which Seurat used small dots of color instead of brushstrokes, which the eye would then perceive as figures and other shapes (first image). At the time the work was painted, the island of Grand Jatte in the Seine was far from the center of Paris and was known as a recreational retreat for the bourgeoisie, with its own prostitutes, possibly symbolized by the woman fishing in the lower left. The painting forms a companion piece to the large Bathers at Asnières from two years earlier, which shows working class Parisians on the banks of the Seine across from Grand Jatte. One of the boys in Bathers at Asnières is calling over to Grand Jatte, creating a link between the two paintings. In contrast to Bathers at Asnières, which is set in glaring sunlight, the people on Grande Jatte are often in shade. One of the few people who is not in shadow is a young girl dressed in white who stares directly at the viewer and seems to be silently questioning us. A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte, made with oils on a canvas measuring 7 ft. tall by 10 ft. wide, is now in the Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois. Random Trivia: Seurat painted a border made of red, orange and blue dots around the painting (see detail in second image).
1886-1888: Georges Seurat: The Models [Post-Impressionism/Pointillism; France]
The Models was the third large painting Georges Seurat made using the technique of pointillism. He had been challenged by someone who said that the tiny dots of paint were fine for outdoor scenes, with trees, grass and water, but that Seurat’s method could not accurately represent the nude human form. Seurat met this challenge with The Models, which depicts three nude female figures in the artist’s studio, in front of Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte (first image). It is not clear whether there are three separate models or one model painted in three poses – standing, sitting drying off, and sitting taking off or putting on her stockings. Scholars have found precedents for all three poses: Venus Pudica (Aphrodite of Cnidus) for the standing pose; Ingres’ Valpinçon Bather for the first sitter and the Hellenistic Boy with Thorn for the other sitter. The presence of the earlier painting and the numerous props scattered about (hats, shoes, parasols, a basket of flowers) imply that the model or models are or were posing for the Grand Jatte painting. Taken as a whole, the painting raises issues about the nature of truth and artifice in art. The Models was made using oils on a canvas measuring 6.6 ft. tall by 8.2 ft. wide and is now in the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A much smaller version of The Models measuring 1.3 ft. tall by 1.6 ft. wide is in the private collection of Paul G. Allen (second image).
1887-1888: Georges Seurat: The Parade (Circus Sideshow) [Post-Impressionism; France]
Having shown that pointillism could work for outdoors daytime scenes with Bathers at Asnières and A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte, and indoor scenes with The Models, Seurat tackled a nocturnal scene in The Parade (also known as Circus Sideshow and La Parade de Cirque). The setting is a working class district of Paris in 1887. Fernand Corvi’s traveling circus has come to town. In order to entice citizens to buy tickets, the circus put on a free sideshow of music and acts in the evening. We see the circus performers raised on a stage beneath a row of gaslights. Front and center, on a plinth, is a trombone player with a strange conical hat, looking both passive and confrontational. Behind the trombonist are three other musicians, spaced evenly and wearing identical clothing. At the right, the ringmaster stands at attention (see detail in second image showing pointillist technique). In the foreground, only their heads and hats visible, is the audience, lined up, as one art historian put it, as if in an Assyrian relief. A wry humor pervades the scene, with the matching musical trio in the background and the row of hats at the lower edge. Seurat exhibited The Parade at the 1888 Salon des Indépendants in Paris. It was made with oils on a canvas measuring 3.3 ft. tall by 4.9 ft. wide and is now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Three years later, Seurat returned to the theme in The Circus.
1888: James Ensor: Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889 (The Entry of Christ into Brussels) [Les XX; Belgium]
Although Belgian Symbolist James Ensor was an atheist, he identified with Jesus as both an advocate for the poor and oppressed and as another humiliated visionary. In the controversial Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889 (first image), Ensor imagines a near future in which the coming of Jesus to Belgium becomes an excuse for a parade of horribles: a sea of gruesome masked faces representing the herdlike masses and their opportunist leaders almost completely obscures the figure of Jesus (an Ensor self-portrait) riding on a donkey (see detail in second image). Ensor’s parents owned a store that sold, among other things, Shrove Tuesday masks, which played an important role in his mature work – here it is difficult to distinguish the masks and the faces beneath them. Leading the parade is atheist social reformer Emile Littré, dressed as a bishop, with a drum major’s baton. Also visible are Belgian politicians, Ensor’s friends and family, and historical figures, including the Marquise de Sade at lower right. Slogans on banners and posters praise Jesus but also cynically promote political agendas and commercial products (including a brand of mustard!). The message is the second coming of Jesus would become a tawdry spectacle manipulated by those in power for their own purposes. Ensor’s style is often deliberately crude, especially in the foreground figures. Ensor opposed the latest trend of pointillism and chose instead to use palette knives, spatulas and both ends of his brush to slap on large patches of color. The heads of the crowd, which become smaller and smaller as they fade into the background, mock the tiny dots of Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte, which had recently visited Belgium. Disgusted with traditional art societies, Ensor had joined the more radical Les XX, but that group had fallen under the spell of French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism and rejected Ensor’s masterpiece. Instead, Ensor hung the enormous canvas (measuring 8.3 ft. tall by 14.1 ft. wide) in his studio. Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889 (also known as The Entry of Christ into Brussels) was not displayed publicly until 1929, when it was recognized as a precursor of Expressionism. The oil-on-canvas painting is now in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
1888: John William Waterhouse: The Lady of Shalott [Pre-Raphaelite; UK]
According to a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the Lady of Shalott was woman from the time of King Arthur who lived in a tower and was forbidden to look out her window, lest she die. Instead, she looked at the outside world through a mirror, and made tapestries all day. One day, she sees handsome Sir Lancelot in her mirror and turns to look at him from her window. The mirror cracks and the curse begins. She hastily brings some belongings to a canoe to find Lancelot, but she dies before she makes it to Camelot. Waterhouse shows his tragic heroine as she is about to let go of the chain tying the boat to the bank. Two of the three candles on the boat have gone out, a metaphor (along with the crucifix) for her impending death. The colors, theme and attention to nature are consistent with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s tenets, although Waterhouse’s brushwork is more apparent than in earlier Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Made with oil paints on a canvas measuring 6.0 ft. tall by 7.4 ft wide, The Lady of Shalott is now at the Tate Britain, in London.
1888: Paul Gauguin: Vision after the Sermon [Post-Impressionism; France]
Gauguin’s painting shows Breton women after church services witnessing a vision of Jacob wrestling with the angel, a story from the Bible that symbolizes human struggles with faith. Gauguin rejects many traditions here: he draws a dark line around large flat patches of color to delineate form, instead of using tonal shading. He breaks the rules of perspective, which would have made the foreground women smaller. The tree trunk and branches organizes the composition, with the vision on one side and the congregation on the other, but his decision to make the Biblical story so small relative to the entire canvas perplexed contemporary viewers. Art historians have recognized the influence of Japanese prints in Gauguin’s painting, including Hokusai’s Sumo Wrestlers (see second image) and Hiroshige’s Flowering Plum Tree (which was copied by Van Gogh, see third image). Made with oil paints on a canvas measuring 2.4 ft tall by 3.0 ft wide, Vision after the Sermon is now at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh.
1888: Vincent Van Gogh: Sunflowers (series) [Post-Impressionism; The Netherlands/France]
“The sunflower is somewhat my own,” Vincent van Gogh told his brother Theo. Van Gogh, a Dutch artist living in France, painted numerous paintings of sunflowers in his short career. He portrayed sunflowers in all stages of growth, from full bloom to withered stalks. The invention of new yellow pigments allowed Van Gogh to paint a multitude of shades of yellow. While in Paris in 1886-1888, he painted four paintings of sunflowers run to seed that are not held in vases. In August 1888, in Arles, he painted four paintings of Sunflowers in vases with different numbers of flowers and different color schemes. Most dramatic was the royal blue background (second image), but most sublime was the painting of yellow flowers in a yellow vase against a yellow wall (fourth image). Van Gogh signed the two he liked best (images three and four) and hung them in the bedroom where Paul Gauguin would stay for several months. In January 1889, possibly to fulfill a request from Gauguin, Van Gogh painted three copies of the August 1888 paintings, but with variations on the color schemes. The four paintings from August 1888, shown in the images above, are: (1) Three Sunflowers in a Vase, oils on a canvas measuring 2.4 ft. tall by 1.9 ft. wide, in private collection; (2) Five Sunflowers in a Vase, oils on a canvas measuring 3.2 ft. tall by 2.3 ft. wide, formerly in private collection in Japan, destroyed by fire on August 6, 1945; (3) Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers, oils on a canvas measuring 2.9 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide, at the Neue Pinakothek in Munich, Germany; and (4) Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers, oils on a canvas measuring 3 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide, at the National Gallery in London. A replica of (3) is located in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Replicas of (4) are located in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Sompo Japan Museum of Art in Tokyo.
1888: Vincent Van Gogh: Café Terrace at Night [Post-Impressionism; The Netherlands/France]
Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh was living in Arles, France in 1888, when he became attracted by the idea of painting en plein air at night. He had read a passage by Guy de Maupassant describing the bright cafés on the boulevard in Paris and was inspired to translate that imagined scene onto canvas. A café on the Place du Forum, with its large outdoor seating area and bright yellow lamp that lit up even the cobblestones in the road, seemed like the perfect spot, so one day in September 1888, van Gogh set up his easel. The result is the painting known as Café Terrace at Night or The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night. “Here you have a night painting without black,” van Gogh announced in a letter to his sister. The dark blue sky with swirling stars above is van Gogh’s first attempt to paint the night sky as he saw it, a project that would lead him to The Starry Night a year later. Café Terrace at Night was made with oils on a canvas measuring 2.6 ft. tall by 2.1 ft. wide and is now in the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, The Netherlands.
1888: Vincent Van Gogh: The Night Café [Post-Impressionism; France]
Van Gogh joked that he painted this all-night café, where he had a room, as “revenge” for the owner taking so much of his money. In a letter to his brother, Van Gogh described the establishment as one where ” ‘night prowlers’ can take refuge … when they have no money to pay for a lodging, or are too drunk to be taken in.” The artist stayed up all night for three nights and slept during the day to create The Night Café. Made with oils on a canvas measuring 2.4 ft tall by 3 ft wide, it is now in the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut. Van Gogh also painted a watercolor of the interior of the same café, which is in a private collection (see second image).
1888: Vincent Van Gogh: Starry Night Over the Rhône [Post-Impressionism; The Netherlands/France]
Vincent Van Gogh was fascinated by the challenges of painting night scenes, and in particular the dazzling effect of the night sky. The scene depicted here was only a few minutes’ walk from Van Gogh’s rented house in Arles, France. Van Gogh described Starry Night Over the Rhône to his brother Theo in a September 1888 letter this way: “Included a small sketch of a 30 square canvas – in short the starry sky painted by night, actually under a gas jet. The sky is aquamarine, the water is royal blue, the ground is mauve. The town is blue and purple. The gas is yellow and the reflections are russet gold descending down to green-bronze. On the aquamarine field of the sky the Great Bear is a sparkling green and pink, whose discreet paleness contrasts with the brutal gold of the gas. Two colorful figurines of lovers in the foreground.” Careful observers have pointed out that the Great Bear (Ursa Major, also known as the Big Dipper) would actually have been in the sky behind, not in front of the viewer. Starry Night Over the Rhône was painted with oils on a canvas measuring 2.4 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide; it is in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
1888: Vincent Van Gogh: Van Gogh’s Chair [Post-Impressionism; The Netherlands/France]
When Vincent Van Gogh was looking at old issues of The Graphic, an illustrated British magazine, he was struck by an 1870 illustration by Samuel Luke Fildes titled The Empty Chair. Charles Dickens had died that year and Fildes showed his study, desk and chair – the emptiness of which paying tribute to the absent author (see second image). In November 1888, while pursuing his dream of a writers’ colony in Arles, France, Van Gogh decided to paint two of the chairs in his house – his and that of his housemate Paul Gauguin. The paintings were begun in late 1888 before the two argued and went their separate ways (following Van Gogh’s cutting off his ear), but were finished after the split. Van Gogh’s chair is rustic and simple; it sits in a sunny tile-floor kitchen where onions are sprouting, a pipe and tobacco rest on the yellow seat (see first image). Gauguin’s more comfortably bourgeois chair is shown at nighttime in dark greens and reds, with a candle burning and two novels on the seat. The contrast between the chairs represents the contrast of personalities and sensibilities of the two men; perhaps it hints at the reason their artistic partnership dissolved. Van Gogh’s Chair (also known as Vincent’s Chair or simply Chair) was made with oils on a canvas measuring 3 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide and is now in the National Gallery in London. Paul Gauguin’s Armchair is in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
1884-1889: Auguste Rodin: The Burghers of Calais [Impressionism; France]
During the Hundred Years’ War, English troops under King Edward III laid siege to the port town of Calais, France for over a year, while King Philip VI of France ordered the city not to surrender. By 1347, the people of Calais were starving and ready to give in. According to legend, Edward offered a compromise: he would spare the city if six citizens would surrender to him by walking out of the gates bareheaded, wearing nooses around their necks and carrying the keys to the city. Eustache de St. Pierre, a wealthy town leader, was first to volunteer; five other burghers soon joined him. The six walked out the city gates together, believing they faced certain death. Instead, Queen Philippa convinced Edward to spare their lives. In 1884, when the leaders of Calais voted to erect a monument to Eustache de St. Pierre, sculptor Auguste Rodin surprised the selection committee by making a model honoring all six burghers, which won the competition. Rodin delivered the first full-sized bronze cast of The Burghers of Calais, measuring 6.6 ft tall by 6.7 ft. wide by 6.4 ft. deep, to the town of Calais in 1889 (first image). Seeing the six burghers not as heroes but as ordinary citizens who acted heroically, Rodin specified that the sculpture be placed at ground level, so that today’s ordinary citizens could meet the burghers eye-to-eye. Instead, Calais’ town leaders initially placed the statue on a high pedestal, consistent with standard practice. It was not until 1926 that the sculpture was brought down to earth with a low pedestal, as Rodin had specified. Three additional bronze casts were made during Rodin’s lifetime, and eight more since Rodin’s death in 1917, reaching the maximum of 12 casts allowed under French law. (See detail in second image a full-sized bronze cast made in 1908 and placed in Victoria Tower Gardens in London in 1915.) Casts of individual members of the group have also been made. Scholars and critics have praised the work for its humanism, its individualized treatment of each figure and its rendering of the burghers’ weary anguish and resignation as a form of heroic self-sacrifice, although some of Rodin’s contemporaries criticized the sculpture because it did not glorify the heroes and did not include allegorical figures and other classical indicia of heroism. Over time, however, Rodin’s rendering of ordinary people rising to meet extraordinary circumstances has become an icon.
1889: Vincent Van Gogh: Self-Portrait [Post-Impressionism; The Netherlands/France]
In December 1888, while living in Arles, France with fellow painter Paul Gauguin, Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh was experiencing mental breakdown; after an argument with Gauguin, Van Gogh cut off a portion of his right ear. After several hospital stays, he committed himself to a mental asylum in Saint-Rémy in May 1889. He began painting again in September 1889, but remained at the asylum (with a number of visits to Arles) until discharged in May 1890. On July 29, 1890, he committed suicide. During the last 10 years of his life, Van Gogh created at least 43 self-portraits. A form of visual diary, the paintings record the changes in Van Gogh’s painting style as well as his physical and mental decline. Scholars have noted the critical self-analysis and questioning of identity that Van Gogh undertakes in these highly revealing portraits. Van Gogh’s letters indicate that he was consciously seeking to capture something in these painted works that could not be captured by photography, then a relatively new technology; he looked to the brutal honesty of Rembrandt’s self-portraits as a model. Van Gogh painted the September 1889 Self-Portrait (catalogue number F627) nine months after he cut off his ear and four months after he arrived at the asylum. Unlike Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe and Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear from January 1889 (the latter painting shown in the second image), which draw attention to the self-mutilation, here he paints himself from the left, hiding the injury. He wears a suit, not his usual working pea jacket. There is an anxious inward stare in his eyes; as one art historian put it, he has the look of “a man trying to hold himself together.” The dominant green and turquoise blue, normally calming colors, conflict jarringly with the blazing orange of his beard and hair, whose undulations are amplified by the churning energy of the swirls of the background. Painted with oils on a canvas measuring 2.1 ft. tall by 1.8 ft. wide, this Self-Portrait (also known as Portrait of the Artist) is in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
1889: Auguste Rodin: The Kiss [Impressionism; France]
The marble sculpture by Auguste Rodin now known as The Kiss originally bore the title Francesca da Rimini. According to Dante’s Divine Comedy, Francesca was a 12th Century noblewoman who fell in love with her husband’s younger brother Pablo while they read the story of Lancelot and Guinevere together, but were discovered and killed by Francesca’s husband before they could consummate their love. Rodin initially created a small sculpture of the two nude lovers embracing, about to kiss, for The Gates of Hell, a large-scale work based on The Divine Comedy and intended for the doors of a new art museum. The lovers’ lips never touch and Pablo still holds a book in his hand, implying that they were interrupted by their murderer. At some point, Rodin decided to exhibit the piece separately. In 1888, the French government commissioned a life-size marble version of Francesca da Rimini. When the statue was first exhibited in public in 1893, critics substituted the more generic title, The Kiss. The eroticism of the figures was controversial at first, but eventually the piece became so popular that Rodin received commissions to make numerous marble copies and bronze casts, which may be found in museums around the world. The original life-size marble version of The Kiss, measuring nearly 6 ft. tall, 3.7 ft. wide and 3.8 ft. deep, is now at the Musée Rodin in Paris (first and second images). Other large-scale marble versions made in Rodin’s lifetime are located at the Tate Modern in London and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen.
1889: Vincent Van Gogh: The Starry Night [Post-Impressionism; The Netherlands/France]
Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh painted The Starry Night in June 1889 while staying at a sanitarium in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in southern France in an attempt to cure his ever-worsening mental illness. The swirling turbulent sky contrasts with the peaceful sleeping town below. Some have interpreted the painting as an expression of hope, while others see it as a symptom of Van Gogh’s illness. The Starry Night shows the view from Van Gogh’s sanitarium window, although he invented the cypress tree, presumably to balance the composition. Instead of painting at night, Van Gogh painted the scene during the day from memory. While Van Gogh’ treatment of the night sky depicts an emotional reality instead of a literal one, his observations of the moon and stars were accurate enough to allow modern astronomers to determine the date of the painting and pinpoint Van Gogh’s location. The Starry Night was made with oils on a canvas measuring 2.4 ft. high by 3 ft. wide and is now located at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
1889-1890: Ferdinand Hodler: The Night [Symbolism/Art Nouveau; Switzerland]
Swiss Symbolist Ferdinand Hodler’s best known painting, The Night, shows a nude man (a self-portrait of the artist) expressing terror as he wakes to find a black hooded figure, perhaps Death, crouching before him. Around this central event (or nightmare) are seven nudes, three men and four women, sleeping in a rocky outdoor landscape. At least one of the men appears to be another self-portrait of Hodler. The women include Augustine Dupain, with whom Hodler had a son, and Bertha Stuckie, who was Hodler’s wife from 1889 to 1891. Consistent with the Symbolist program, The Night, painted in a hyperrealist style, does not represent any particular night, but a universal Night. Hodler explores the blurring of the lines between sleep and waking, dream and reality, and between the unconsciousness of sleep and that of death. To emphasize the point, Hodler wrote on the other side of the canvas, “More than one man has gone to sleep calmly in the evening not to wake up again in the morning.” The Night also embodies Hodler’s philosophy of parallelism, which was both a compositional technique of repeating symmetrical elements according to a rhythm that took precedence over rules of perspective and proportion, as well as a conceptual principle holding that nature is based on repetition of similar forms and that all men resemble one another. Despite the philosophy behind The Night, what upset the Geneva establishment were the realistic nude figures. The Beaux-Arts exhibition rejected The Night in 1891 and it was not until 1900 that his work received recognition (a gold medal at the Universal Exhibition). The Night was made with oils on a canvas measuring 3.8 ft. tall by 9.8 ft. long; it is located in Kunstmuseum Bern in Bern, Switzerland.
1890: Vincent Van Gogh: Wheatfield with Crows
[Post-Impressionism; The Netherlands/France]
During the final months of his life, Vincent Van Gogh entered into a period of unusually high artistic productivity, sometimes finishing a canvas every day. He had moved to Auvers-sur-Oise in May 1890 and was working closely with Dr. Paul Gachet. Using unconventially-shaped double square canvases, Van Gogh painted Auvers and its environs, including the wheat fields outside the town. He painted Wheatfield with Crows in July 1890, the last month of his life, We see turbulent fields of wheat under an equally turbulent sky. Dozens of crows fly above the wheat, although it’s unclear where they are going, if anywhere. There are three separate paths – the two in the foreground seem to come from nowhere and lead nowhere; the central path enters the wheatfield but it is not clear where or whether it will end. Most scholars now reject the theory that Wheatfield with Crows was Van Gogh’s final painting. Nevertheless, Van Gogh’s suicide on July 29, 1890 has influenced some to interpret the turbulent sky as Van Gogh’s mental state; the dead-end roads as the end of his life; and the crows as death and/or resurrection. A letter Van Gogh wrote at the time mentions two paintings, one of which might be Wheatfield with Crows, that he describes paradoxically as embodying “sadness and extreme loneliness” yet also showing the “health and restorative forces of the countryside.” Wheatfield with Crows was made with oils on a canvas measuring 1.6 ft. tall by 3.4 ft. wide; it is now at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
1890-1891: Georges Seurat: The Circus [Post-Impressionism/Pointillism; France]
The late 19th Century saw the arrival of new art form – the poster – and painters began to draw inspiration from these vividly colored advertisements for nightclubs, festivals and circuses. The premier French poster artist was Jules Cheret (see Cheret poster in second image). Post-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat drew from the posters of Cheret and others in creating The Circus. The canvas is divided into two worlds: (1) the circus artistes with its curves, spirals, and dynamic tension, and (2) the audience, with its rigid geometry and motionless figures. On the side of the circus performers, we see a red-headed clown in the foreground, the ringmaster to the right, a tumbling acrobat, and the featured attraction, a young woman standing on a galloping horse (probably a reference to Mazeppa’s Ride, a popular circus attraction at the time). Like all of Seurat’s work, The Circus is a symbiosis between artistic creation and scientific analysis. According to chromoluminarianism, bright luminous colors evoke positive feelings. The dominant colors in The Circus are red, yellow and orange. According to divisionism (or pointillism), a painter can obtain brighter hues of non-primary colors by placing dots of the two primary colors next to each other, instead of mixing them (for example, a red dot placed next to a yellow dot will create a brighter hue of orange than mixing red and yellow together). Seurat painted a dark border directly onto the canvas and then added a flat frame in same shade of blue – some experts believe the frame is an integral part of the work. Seurat became ill before he could finish The Circus, but it was exhibited at the 7th Salon des Independents in its unfinished state. Seurat died shortly after the Salon opened. After Seurat’s death, he was accused of plagiarizing one or more circus posters for the figures and composition. The Circus was painted with oils on a canvas measuring 6.1 ft. tall by 4.9 ft. wide; it is currently located at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
1893: Mary Cassatt: The Child’s Bath [Impressionism; US/France]
Like her fellow Impressionist Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt was fascinated with Japanese prints – the compression of space, the overhead point of view and the blocks of color that characterize the form find their way into this major work – a genre painting of a mother giving her daughter a bath. We look down at the tender domestic scene, with its many points of physical connection and echoes of gesture, just as the mother and child look down at the tub of water. Made with oil paints on a canvas measuring 3.3 ft tall by 2.2 ft wide, The Child’s Bath is now in the Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois.
1893: Winslow Homer: The Fox Hunt [Realism/Naturalism; US]
A fox moving through deep snow stops and looks up, while crows gather menacingly. A few red berries cling to a branch, while the sea is visible not far off. Winslow Homer painted the scene during a Maine winter, using a dead fox (or fox pelt) as his subject. Commentators have noted the “survival of the fittest” theme, but whether the hungry fox will survive is a question Homer does not answer. The Fox Hunt, which was made with oils on a canvas measuring 3.2 ft tall by 5.7 ft wide, is in the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
1893: Edvard Munch: The Scream [Expressionism; Norway]
Norwegian Expressionist Edvard Munch said that he painted The Scream of Nature, now known as The Scream, to commemorate an incident in which the clouds turned blood red and he “sensed a scream passing through nature.” The painting has now become a pop culture icon. Munch painted four versions of The Scream between 1893 and 1910, which are shown above: (1) The Scream, 1893, made with tempera and crayon on cardboard, measuring 3.1 ft. tall by 2.4 ft. wide, now in the National Gallery in Oslo, Norway: (2) The Scream, 1893, made with crayons on cardboard, now in the Munch Museum in Oslo; (3) The Scream, 1895, made with pastels on cardboard, measuring 2.6 ft. tall by 1.9 ft. wide, now in a private collection (sold at auction for $120 million in 2012); and (4) The Scream, 1910, made with tempera on cardboard, now at the Munch Museum in Oslo. Munch also made approximately 45 black and white prints of the image from a lithographic stone he made in 1895. Thieves stole the 1893 version from the National Gallery in 1994, but it was recovered a few months later. The 1910 version in the Munch Museum was stolen in 2004 and recovered in 2007. Random Trivia: Penciled into the sky of the 1893 version of The Scream in the National Gallery are the words (in Norwegian), “Could only have been painted by a madman.” No one knows who scribbled it there, but Munch never removed it.
1892-1894: Claude Monet: Rouen Cathedral (series) [Impressionism; France]
Claude Monet’s lifelong mission as a painter was to represent not merely the way that objects and people look but the way that light itself looks when it illuminates those objects and people. In his maturity, he experimented with capturing the essence of light by painting the same or similar subjects multiple times: poplars, haystacks, water lilies and, between 1892 and 1894, the Gothic Cathedral at Rouen. He painted over 30 canvases using oil paints showing the facade of the cathedral at different times of day, in different kinds of weather and different times of year. Shown above are four of the paintings: (1) Rouen Cathedral, Full Sunlight, Musee d’Orsay, Paris, (2) Rouen Cathedral, West Façade, Sunlight, 3.3 ft tall by 2.1 ft wide, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (3) Rouen Cathedral, Façade and Tour d’Albane, Morning Effect, 3.5 ft. tall by 2.4 ft wide, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; (4) Rouen Cathedral, Façade, Evening Harmony in Brown, 3.3 ft. tall by 2.1 ft wide, Pola Museum of Art, Hakone, Japan.
1894: Edvard Munch: Ashes [Expressionism; Norway]
On a lithographic print of his painting Ashes, Edvard Munch wrote, “I felt our love lying on the earth like a heap of ash.” At the time, Munch was having an affair with the wife of a distant cousin. Here, two lovers are in post-coital despair. The man is dejected and faceless, his identity lost; the woman, her hair draped over her lover’s head and shoulders, appears to feel anguish but also a sense of victory. The forest in the background has paradoxical implications: it is dark and mysterious, but also natural. Scholars have debated the identification of the object in the lower foreground that appears to run up the edge of the painting on the left. One critic called it a stylized tree trunk. Ashes was made with oils on a canvas measuring 3.9 ft. tall by 4.6 ft. wide. It is now in the National Gallery in Oslo, Norway.
1894: Edvard Munch: The Madonna [Expressionism; Norway]
In The Madonna, Edvard Munch links the conception of a child through sexual relations to Christian iconography of the Virgin Mary. The red halo indicates passion, and the undulating lines form an aura around the woman in the midst of sexual ecstasy, as she conceives a member of the next generation. Munch made numerous versions of The Madonna, also called Loving Woman, which represents, in his words, “The pause during which the entire world halts its orbit.” The version of The Madonna in the first image was made with oils on a canvas measuring 2.9 ft. tall by 2.2 ft. wide and is now in the Munch Museum in Oslo. Random Trivia: Munch’s frame for the original oil painting was decorated with swimming sperm and a fetus, which can still be seen in some lithographic prints (second image).
1894: Paul Gauguin: Day of the God (Mahana No Atua) [Post-Imressionism; France]
After leaving his native France for Tahiti in 1891 to escape “everything that is artificial and conventional”, Paul Gauguin visited France between 1893 and 1895, after which he returned to the South Seas, where he remained until his death in 1903. Gauguin spent much of his visit to France working on an account of his experiences in Tahiti. He also made some paintings, including Day of the God (Mahana No Atua), which may have originated as an illustration for his book. Gauguin divides his canvas in thirds. In the top register, a statue of the Polynesian god Hina or Taaroa is the focus of a religious ceremony that appears to involve two women in white carrying offerings, a man in white playing a flute, and two women in red dancing. In back of them, a couple in white embraces and another woman in white moves to the left. Gauguin arranges all nine figures (including the statue) so they create a frieze or procession. In the middle register, three nude figures are arranged symmetrically at the water’s edge; one immerses her feet in the water, another just dips her toes, while the third retreats from the water entirely; they may represent birth, life and death. In the foreground, what appear to represent colorful reflections in the water possess the unnatural flatness of color fields in abstract painting. Day of the God (Mahana No Atua) was made with oils on a canvas measuring 2.2 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide. It is now located in the Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois. Random Trivia: Gauguin was disappointed with the stone architecture and sculpture of the Polynesians, so he often used other sources as models for statues in his Polynesian paintings. The statue in Mahana No Atua is based on relief sculptures at the Buddhist temple at Borobudur in Indonesia. Gauguin kept a collection of photographs with him in Tahiti that included Borobudur reliefs as well as art and architecture from India, Egypt and other parts of Southeast Asia.
1892-1895: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: At the Moulin Rouge [Post-Impressionism; France]
Born into an aristocratic family, but disabled by childhood injuries to his legs, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec found solace in his art and the company of the entertainers and others who frequented the clubs in the somewhat seedy Paris neighborhood of Montmartre. Toulouse-Lautrec was a regular at the Moulin Rouge, a Montmartre cabaret that opened in 1889. At the Moulin Rouge introduces us to the club’s world of the singers, dancers, artists and hangers-on, but does so with a caution: the viewer is barred from entry by the balustrade that cuts off the left lower corner of the painting, yet also leads the eye into the center of activity. On the other side of this barrier, we see on the right English dancer May Milton, her half-face lit an eerie green by the artificial lights; in the middle, a group of artists and entertainers conversing together at a table; in the right background, the cabaret’s star dancer, La Goulue (Louise Weber), fixing her hair, and, in the left background, the artist himself, accompanied by his cousin Gabriel Tapié de Céléyran. At the Moulin Rouge, made with oils on a canvas measuring 4 ft. tall by 4.6 ft. wide, is located at the Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois. Random Trivia: Toulouse-Lautrec was not only a Moulin Rouge customer; he also designed and painted advertising for the venue, including a famous 1891 poster, La Goulue at Moulin Rouge (second image). Of the original posters (approximately 3,000 were made), many are now in the collections of museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, Indiana, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
1896: Paul Gauguin: Te Arii Vahine (The King’s Wife) [Post-Impressionism; France/French Polynesia]
Paul Gauguin was dissatisfied with life in France so traveled to Tahiti in 1891 seeking a more pure, primitive lifestyle. But European culture had permeated French Polynesia to a significant extent, leading Gauguin to return to France in 1893. His return experience only reminded him of why he left in the first place, and in 1895 he returned to the South Pacific, where he died in 1903. Te Arii Vahini was painted during his second stay in Tahiti and is probably a portrait of Gauguin’s Tahitian wife, who was 14 years old at the time they were married. The painting appears to be in dialogue with the European tradition of reclining nudes, beginning with Giorgione and Titian’s Sleeping Venus (1510). There is also a reference to the Book of Genesis, with the serpent encircling what may represent the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Te Arii Vahini was painted with oils on canvas measuring 3.2 ft. tall by 4.3 ft. wide and is now at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow, Russia.
1897: Paul Cézanne: Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry
French painter Paul Cézanne was a pivotal figure in art history. Early in his career, while based in Paris, he embraced Impressionism. In the 1880s, however, he returned to his birthplace in the south of France and began his more experimental Post-Impressionist phase. He became fascinated with local peak Mont Sainte-Victoire as a subject; he would paint the mountain and its surrounding landscape at least 60 times. In 1895, Cézanne discovered the abandoned Bibémus Quarry, known for its orange stone. The same year, he climbed Mont Sainte-Victoire for the first time. In 1897, Cézanne rented a stone cabin at the quarry and began painted from there. The quarry is the setting for his 1897 work, Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry. Cézanne sought to render the shapes of objects so as to capture their true essence, without regard for what he saw as the superficial truth of realism. Consistent with this philosophy, Cézanne rejected traditional one-point perspective in favor of what scholars have called ‘primitive emotional perspective.’ In Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry, he creates the appearance of one plane, with a vertical axis by using the same size brush strokes for the orange rocks in the foreground, the mountain in the background, and the trees throughout. To emphasize the importance of the mountain and the illusion that the entire landscape is close to the picture plane, Cézanne paints Mont Sainte-Victoire leaning forward (not back, as in photographs), outlines it in blue, and makes it twice as large as it actually appears from the quarry. Curiously, according to art lovers who have visited Bibémus Quarry, there is no spot where both the quarry rocks and Mont Sainte-Victoire are visible, raising the likelihood that Cézanne has created a composite of two separate views. For a fascinating experiment in recreating Cézanne process using photographs, see Phil Haber’s blog here. Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry was made with oils on a canvas measuring 2.1 ft. tall by 2.7 ft. wide; it is now located in the Baltimore Museum of Art in Baltimore, Maryland.
1897: Henri Rousseau: The Sleeping Gypsy [Naïve Art; France]
The avant-garde artists of fin-de-siècle Paris were drawn to the work of Henri Rousseau, a toll-collector and self-taught artist whose painted fantasies possessed the sharp colors and precise outlines of popular prints. Here, an African woman sleeps beneath a full moon in a bleak treeless landscape next to her water jar and mandolin. A lion passes by (in reality or a dream) without harming her. Perhaps, as some bloggers have suggested, the lion is the gypsy’s traveling companion and protector. The Sleeping Gypsy was made with oils on a canvas measuring 4.2 ft. tall by 6.6 ft. wide and is now in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
1897-1898: Paul Gauguin: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? [Post-Imressionism; France/Tahiti]
Having moved to Tahiti from France to live like a primitive, by 1897, French post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin was a penniless outcast, suffering from syphilis and a debilitating case of eczema. He intended Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? to be his masterpiece and final statement, after which he would commit suicide. He did make an unsuccessful suicide attempt soon after completing the piece, but survived until 1903, when he finally succumbed to the syphilis. The canvas, which incorporates aspects of local Tahitian custom and mythology, should be read from right to left: first infancy, then young adult life, and finally an old woman reconciled to death, with a white bird that, according to Gauguin, “represents the futility of words.” The blue idol at rear left represents The Beyond. The three questions inscribed at the top left of the painting echo those of a Catholic school catechism Gauguin had studied as a boy in Paris: “Where does humanity come from?” “Where is it going to?”, “How does humanity proceed?” Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? was made with oils on a canvas measuring 4.6 ft. high and 12.3 ft. wide; it is now located in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
1898: George Minne: Boy Kneeling at the Spring (The Kneeling Youth) [Symbolism; Belgium]
Belgian Symbolist George Minne made numerous bronze and plaster statuettes of a boy or youth kneeling, apparently before a fountain, known as Kneeling Youth or Boy Kneeling before a Fountain. Minne also made a group of five kneeling figures to be placed around actual fountains, called The Fountain of Kneeling Youth (sometimes nicknamed The Narcissus Fountain, although there is no evidence Minne intended to represent the mythical Narcissus). The pose is self-contained and introspective. According to the curators of the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent, the kneeling figures represent “the externalisation of a complex emotional condition, in which self-protection, internalisation and narcissism blend together.” These qualities are emphasized in The Fountain of Kneeling Youth by having the figures facing away from the viewer and toward the center of the fountain. Versions of the single Kneeling Youth sculpture are located at the Musee d’Orsay, Paris (bronze); Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands (bronze); the Neue Galerie in New York (marble), Museum of Modern Art, New York (plaster); National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (plaster), and the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent (plaster). Versions of The Fountain of Kneeling Youth are located at the Folkwang Museum, Hage, Germany (marble); the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent (bronze) and in a public garden in Brussels, Belgium (bronze). Random Trivia: The Fountain of Kneeling Youth located in the garden behind the Parliament building in Brussels is known locally as “de vijf pissers.”
1899: Winslow Homer: The Gulf Stream [Realism/Naturalism; US]
In The Gulf Stream, American artist Winslow Homer depicts a black fisherman in a small rudderless boat, its mast broken, seemingly adrift on rough seas (first image). In the foreground, we see numerous sharks; on the right, there is a small school of flying fish and, farther back, a waterspout. In the upper left, on the horizon, is a large sailing ship. The scene is based on Homer’s numerous sailing voyages to the Bahamas and Florida. Some have found in it an allegory about the perilous state of African-Americans at the time. Others note that it was painted the year after Homer’s father died, and may reflect the artist’s sense of abandonment or vulnerability. After Homer exhibited The Gulf Stream at the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts in 1900, he reworked it considerably, making the sea more dramatic, adding a break in the starboard gunwale, the sail and the red patch on the port side of the boat near the water’s edge. He reworked the name of the boat (Anna-Key West) to make it more legible, and, adding a touch of hope to the desolate scene, painted a large sailing ship on the horizon. (The second image, from about 1900, shows Winslow Homer with the original version of The Gulf Stream.) When a viewer expressed concern about the outcome of the desperate scenario, Homer sarcastically replied, “You can tell these ladies that the unfortunate negro who now is so dazed & parboiled, will be rescued & returned to his friends and home & ever after live happily.” Other viewers expressed not concern but ridicule. A contemporary Philadelphia reviewer noted that some viewers laughed at the “smiling sharks” who were “waltzing around … in the most ludicrous manner.” Even John Updike criticized the painting’s “overkill of sharks and waterspout.” The Gulf Stream was made with oils on a canvas measuring 2.3 ft. tall by 4.1 ft. wide. It is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
1899: Claude Monet: The Water Lily Pond (The Japanese Footbridge) (series)
Beginning in 1899, Monet made 18 oil paintings of the wooden Japanese footbridge over his water lily ponds in his gardens at Giverny. As with his other series, he was exploring the different qualities of light by using the same subject at different times of day and year and varying types of weather. The paintings completed in the first year of the series include: The Water-Lily Pond at the National Gallery in London (2.9 ft tall by 3.0 ft wide) (first image); Bridge over a Pond of Waterlilies, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (3.0 ft tall by 2.4 ft wide) (second image); The Japanese Footbridge, at the National Gallery of Australia, Melbourne; and Water Lily Pond (Green Harmony), at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. The third image is a 1917 photograph (using the autochrome color process) of Claude Monet at Giverny with the Japanese footbridge.
c. 1899: Paul Cézanne: Still Life with Apples and Oranges [Post-Impressionism; France]
Paul Cézanne’s Still Life with Apples and Oranges (also known simply as Apples and Oranges) is considered one of his greatest achievements in the genre. The painting exhibits his mastery of light, color and composition. The objects – fruit, bowl, plate, pitcher, white tablecloth and printed cloths – are arranged in a deliberately unnatural way in the artist’s Paris studio. No home decorator would have splayed these objects on the table this way; the goal is not to represent a scene in a fashionable home but to create art from everyday objects. The arrangement of shapes and colors creates a sense of order amid chaos. A lone apple sits at the center of the canvas. The fruit, while apparently haphazardly organized, forms a rough triangle, with an orange in the bowl at the apex, while other triangles occur throughout the work. The Still Life has aspects of both Cézanne earlier (more traditional) and later (more experimental) styles. On the one hand, the artist is clearly committed to representing three-dimensionality, showing the fruit receding into the background and modeling the white cloth to show its folds and how it hangs over the table edge. On the other hand, Cézanne has abandoned many of the anchors that keep us grounded in realism: he does not show us a floor or any walls, and the table itself is so covered with cloth that it is not clear where it is located or which direction it is facing. Still Life with Apples and Oranges was painted with oils on a canvas measuring 2.4 ft. tall by 3 ft. wide and is located at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
For Art History 101, Part V (1900-Present), go HERE.