Impressionism – Monet and Renoir, La Grenouillére (The Frog Pond), 1869

 

Claude Monet, Bain à la Grenouillère, 1869
Claude Monet, Bain à la Grenouillère, 1869

In the summer of 1869 Monet was living in conditions of extreme hardship with his family at Saint-Michel, a hamlet near Bougival, west of Paris. The two works he had submitted to the Paris Salon that year (The Magpie and  Fishing Boats at Sea) had been rejected, and he was keen to paint a ‘tableau’ (living picture) to submit to the Salon in 1870 that might find fresh mass appeal.

Renoir, also desperately poor at the time,  was staying in the vicinity with his parents, and he and Monet painted together at La Grenouillére (The Frog Pond) a popular meeting place on the river near Bougival, which was easily accessible by train. Here people met to swim, dance and drink.

The restaurant at La Grenouillére, which was located on a barge, was a fashionable place for the emerging middle class to enjoy the new pleasures of suburban Paris.  The small island next to the restaurant, with a weeping willow at its centre, was known as Pot de fluers ( flowerpot) or ‘ the camembert‘.  Accessible by gang planks,  people would meet and talk before progressing to the bar of La Grenouillére.

The name La Grenouillére was based on its double meaning.  It’s not only the French term for frog pond, but it was also used colloquially to describe women who were, as Renoir’s son in his memoir of his father put it, “not exactly prostitutes, but a class of unattached young women, characteristic of the Parisian scene [at the time], changing lovers easily, satisfying any whim, going nonchalantly from a  mansion on the Champs-Elyseés to a garret in the Batignolles“.

He continued, “Among that group Renoir got a great many of his volunteer models. According to him, the grenouilles, or ‘frogs’ were often ‘very good sorts’. Because the French people love a medley of classes, actresses, society women and respectable middle-class also patronised the… restaurant”.

August Renoir, La Grenouillère, 1869
August Renoir, La Grenouillère, 1869

Both Monet and Renoir were living a ‘hand to mouth existence’.  Monet would literally paint until he ran out of colour, then take up sketching in preparation for the next time he could pull together a few francs from his friends in order to continue.  Renoir was being supported by his family. Thankfully the owner of La Grenouillére, Monsieur Fournaise, accepted some of their paintings in exchange for food.

They painted scenes of boats and swimmers and of couples strolling along the water’s edge or crossing the gangplanks. Painting many views of the same scene quickly, they captured the changes in light and atmosphere as the day progressed. In their surviving works from that summer, it is clear that they usually painted alongside each other.

In experimenting with techniques for painting outdoors, they developed a method for capturing the play of light on water. They painted rapidly with short, comma like brushstrokes, and they juxtaposed sharply contrasting, unmixed colours which brought a shimmering life to water. It enabled them to portray the transitory effects of light and atmosphere – goals they had been pursuing for years. Both came to value the sketchy, unfinished quality of the work.

Renoir’s paintings

Details from Renoir’s paintings

Renoir painted huddles of people on the camembert, experimenting with little patches or taches which were indistinct wiggling strokes which he applied by putting one mark next to another, creating subtle colour variations. He also dashed off bright white impasto (thick paint straight out of the tube) across the water, suggesting reflections of bright light and the movement of the water created by the bathers and the boats.

Monet’s Paintings

(It’s considered that the lost painting of La Grenouillére,  photographed above, was his ‘tableau’ which he submitted to the Salon in 1870, but was rejected.)

Details from Monet’s paintings

Monet was also experimenting with new ways of reflecting water – using huge broad strokes of brown, white and blue. His preference for treating forms in bold masses, juxtaposing patches of colour and suppressing unnecessary detail echoed Japanese Ukiyo-e woodcuts. (It appears that he began collecting Japanese woodblock prints as early as 1864–65 and owned volumes of work by Hokusai.)

Monet may have incorporated the innovations into his paintings the most boldly, but it is not possible to say who was the key initiator of the changes they made to their painting styles. However, the discoveries Claude Monet and  Pierre-Auguste Renior made that summer from painting together and sharing ideas, and the techniques they developed, clearly influenced the evolving Impressionist style.

 Photos of La Grenouillére

(See more information about Monet’s painting techniques and his use of complementary colours in the free trial section of my e-course.)

(Also,  you’ll find detailed information about 19th Century Painting Inventions and how they influenced  the painting style of Monet, and other Impressionists,  in the full e-course.)


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art,  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism  through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


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German Expressionism – Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Berlin Street Scenes

Kirchner, Five Women on the Street, 1913
Kirchner, Five Women on the Street, 1913

The early 20th century was a period of great discovery, and this included experimentation with new forms of art.  In Paris, this led to Fauvism and Cubism,  with both of these styles  beginning to explore the elements of design for their own sake.

In Germany, the response was more introspective – with many artists seeking subjective inspiration in creating art, which art historian Paul Fetcher referred to as “the emotional experience in its most intense and concentrated formulation“.  These artists used symbolic colour and linear distortion to express the “visual truth” of an inner life.  Their artistic style became known as Expressionism.

Van Gogh was a significant influence on Expressionism with his use of strong colour and brushstrokes, which express a real sense of emotion and tension.

Van Gogh, The Night Café, 1888
Van Gogh, The Night Café, 1888

Emergence of Expressionism – Die Brücke

In 1905, a group of artists known as Die Brücke (The Bridge)  comprised Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel and Fritz Bleyl, who were architectural students in Dresden, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. They were joined by Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein and the Swiss artist Cuno Amiet in 1906, and by Otto Muller in 1910.

By late 1911, the principal artists of Die Brücke had moved from the relatively genteel city of Dresden to the teeming metropolis of Berlin, which by then was the third largest city in Europe, following London and Paris.

 

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner  (1880 – 1938) was perhaps the most original and dynamic of the group – certainly the most prolific, creating over 2,400 prints, as well as paintings, water colours, tapestry designs and countless drawings.

kirchner photo

More than any other artist in the group, he was aware of the innate capabilities of a particular medium, and worked consistently within its limitations.

As an artist, he was largely self taught. Initially interested in art nouveau, he visited museums where he studied old German masters and discovered the art of the South Seas and Africa.  He was also influenced by van Gogh, Matisse (at that time a leader of Fauvism) and Edvard Munch. He sketched on the streets and evolved a rapid form of drawing –  and by about 1911 he had perfected his own style.

 Kirchner was highly productive until the outbreak of the war, and then again between 1917 – 1924.

He was self-centred and completely dedicated to his art. He had little regard for his subject matter as such, it was merely a framework to make visible his inner conception. However, his primary subjects were city life, street scenes, dancers and nudes.

Kirchner was enthralled by what he called “the symphony of the great city,” and responded to the intensity of the street life he found in Berlin by recording the urban spectacle around him.

In 1937, the year before his death, he wrote ” My goal was always to express emotion and experience with large form and simple colours, and it is my goal today… I wanted to express the richness and joy of living, to paint humanity at work and play in its reactions and inter-reactions, and to express love as well as hatred“.

Street Scenes 

His renowned Street Scenes series, created between 1913 and 1915 in Berlin, is considered by many to be the highpoint of Kirchner’s career.

 

These scenes of city streets and nightlife, in particular the familiar presence of prostitutes, convey a characteristic feeling of Berlin prior to the war, which no other artist achieved.

Kirchner’s scenarios are theatrical – but they reflect the character of city. Women  dressed in elaborate fur coats and hats with plumage are transformed by the green glow of a streetlamp. Black outlines, unusual colour palates, distorted figures, strong vertical lines and acute angles create atmosphere, energy and tension. In particular, note how well he uses small amounts of red so effectively in many of his works.

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Unlike the other Street Scene paintings, where usual signs of city life are kept at the periphery, the monumental Potsdamer Platz (1914) is set in a recognisable spot in early 20th century Berlin—specifically Potsdamer Platz, as identified by the red train station and rounded building housing a café seen in the background. The primary figures of Potsdamer Platz, standing on a traffic island, are reminiscent of mannequins in store windows. (There is a photo of Potsdamer Platz in the Berlin photos above.)

Considering the large number of works on paper related to the Street Scene paintings, it is clear that Kirchner held high ambitions for this series.  As well, the series includes drawings in ink, pastel, and charcoal, along with prints and sketchbook studies.

As he later said: “It seems as though the goal of my work has always been to dissolve myself completely into the sensations of the surroundings in order to then integrate this into a coherent painterly form.”

As part of his working process, Kirchner experimented with patterns of light and dark, combinations of colours, and various surface rhythms achieved through hatching pen strokes, gouges in woodblock, and scratches on etching plates.

In  woodcuts, Five Cocottes (1914) and Women on Potsdamer Platz (1914), Kirchner seems to have closely followed the compositions of the related paintings. But there are significant differences, indicating that printmaking played an important role in Kirchner’s evolving imagery. His woodcuts were not translations of drawings into wood – for Kirchner the concept and the form of the print were closely welded, and the result developed organically as he was working.

Overall, it is Kirchner’s strong sense of the here and now, and his reflection of Berlin at that particular moment in history,  that makes his work for this series so invaluable.

 Later, when speaking of the Street Scenes, Kirchner said: “They originated…in one of the loneliest times of my life, during which an agonizing restlessness drove me out onto the streets day and night, which were filled with people and cars.”

Unfortunately Kirchner committed suicide in July 1938, when he became increasingly upset with the situation in Germany and the rise of the Nazis. Like many of his contemporaries, his work was denigrated as being degenerate,  and all of his artwork in public museums was confiscated.

Sources Include: MoMA, Zigrosser, Carl; The Expressionists, A Survey of their Graphic Art, George Braziller, New York, 1957.

 This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


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German Expressionism – A Brief Introduction

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Potsdamer Platz, 1914
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Potsdamer Platz, 1914

Although most of the modern art movements were centred in France in the early 1900s, one movement which was particularly reflective of the feelings of young artists at this time arose in Germany.

German Expression can be identified by the following features:

  • Focus on inner response to the world;
  • Expression of the human condition;
  • Extreme angles;
  • Flattened forms;
  • Garish or unnatural colours;
  • Distorted views;
  • Great use of print media, particularly woodcuts;
  • Exposure of pain, suffering and immorality of World War I.

The years before World War I (WWI) had seen rapid change across Europe, with the industrialisation of cities, and, as railways began to cross the continent, greater movement within and across countries. Electricity was being installed and other new inventions such as the automobile, gramophone, radio transmission, moving pictures and powered flight were introduced. It was also a period of widespread political change, increased access to education, a breakdown of traditional social classes and the beginnings of women seeking greater independence, including the right to vote.

As a result, many young artists wanted to completely change the meaning and purpose of art.

Around 1904  a group of  student artists in Dresden, including Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff,  Fitz Bleyl, and Ernst Ludwig Kirschner launched the first German expressionist group, Die Brücke (The Bridge). They believed that art could express the truth of the human condition.

They declared in their manifesto “We want to free our lives and limbs from the long-established older powers. Anyone who renders his creative drive directly and genuinely is one of us”.

Die Brücke felt it wasn’t important to reproduce an aesthetically pleasing impression of the artistic subject matter,  but rather to represent vivid emotional reactions by powerful colours and dynamic compositions.

 

Several years later, in 1911, a second group in Munich,  Der Blaue Reiter, (The Blue Rider) was established by Wassily Kandinsky, Gabriele Munter and Franc Marc.  This group placed more emphasis on mysticism and created work in a more lyrical style. They also shared an interest in abstracted forms and prismatic colours, which they felt had spiritual values that could counteract the corruption and materialism of their age.

The name “blue rider” refers to a key motif in Kandinsky’s work: the horse and rider, which was for him a symbol of moving beyond realistic representation. The horse was also prominent in Marc’s work, which centred on animals as symbols of rebirth.

The artists who most influenced the Expressionists were Edvard Munch (for example The Scream), Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, who also sought to express their emotions through their art. However, for the Expressionists, the emotional strength of their subjects was as important at the colour. A number of the artists had also seen Henri Matisse’s Fauvist work, and they sought to incorporate his ideas about colour. You can also see echoes of cubism in some of Kirchner’s angular paintings of city streets.

Other influences were “primitivistic” art and “naive”  Bavarian folk art and the abstracting tendencies of the bold, poster-like forms and flat patterning in Jugendstil (literally, the “young style”) design (the German equivalent of Art Nouveau).

Most of the German Expressionists were interested in print making, and made prolific use of the three leading print mediums of the time – the woodcut, etching and lithograph. In particular, they were attracted to the woodcut’s long tradition in German history (for example, by Albrecht Durer).

The graphic techniques also offered a less expensive, more immediate way of developing their art than painting. The boldness and flatness that they developed in their woodcuts, in particular, helped them clarify their reductive style in painting. Their simplified or distorted forms and unusually strong, unnatural colours were meant to jolt the viewer and provoke an emotional response.

The Expressionists were most active until the outbreak of WWI. A number of both the Die Brücke and Die Brücke were either killed, injured or deeply affected by the fighting.  As the war progressed, artists reflected their responses to the carnage in their art. For example, Käthe Kollwitz was a prolific printmaker who lost a son in the war, and many of her woodcuts showed the impact on families, particularly women and children.

A third group, Die Neue Sachlichkeit (The New Objectivity) was a pseudo-Expressionist movement founded in Germany in the aftermath of the war. Many of the artists were anti-war. It was characterised by a realistic style combined with a cynical, socially critical philosophical stance.

Otto Dix, George Grosz and Max Beckman were the key artists who aggressively attacked and satirised the evils of society and those in power. They demonstrated in harsh terms the devastating effects of WWI on society,  the general population and the physical damage to individuals.


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

In this e-course, you’ll find a full module on German Expressionism.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you are interested in German Expressionist prints, you can find a selection of 1957 reproductions at Kiama Art Gallery.


 

 

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Representations of Venus – 1480 to 1980

This blog is based on a lecture I prepared for art students studying the human figure.

Venus was the Roman goddess whose functions encompassed love, beauty, desire, sex, fertility, prosperity and victory. In Roman mythology, she was the mother of the Roman people through her son, Aeneas, who survived the fall of Troy and fled to Italy. Julius Caesar claimed her as his ancestor. Venus became widely referenced as the embodiment of love and sexuality.

In c1486 Renaissance artist, Sandro Botticelli, gave birth to the painted Venus (the statue on which she was modelled dates back to the 1st Century).

Here she is, the goddess of love, standing demurely in a seashell, and being blown to shore by Zephyr, god of the west wind. There, one of the Horae, goddesses of the seasons, is ready with a cape to clothe the newborn (the shell represents her birth) deity which will transform her into the mother and patron saint of all the forces of creation.

Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, 1846
Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, 1846

It was painted at the time of the Renaissance, when the Italians tried so passionately to recapture the former glory of Rome and classical mythology had become popular.  The mythology of the Greeks and Romans represented a “superior form of truth and wisdom”. It is highly likely that the member of the powerful Medici family who commissioned the work provided the original source of inspiration, and explained the ancient myth of Venus rising from the sea.

Early in the next century there were at several more representations of Venus.

Giorgione , Sleeping Venus , c. 1510, also known as the Dresden Venus
Giorgione , Sleeping Venus , c. 1510, also known as the Dresden Venus

Giorgione painted his Sleeping Venus (also known as the Dresden Venus), in around 1510. This version of Venus is more sensual than that of Botticelli – here Venus denotes not the act of love but the recollection of it. Giorgione’s intention appears to be the expression of remoteness and unselfconscious beauty in this majestic and ideally conceived figure.

The contemplative attitude toward nature and beauty of the figure is typical of Giorgione.  He put a great deal of effort into painting the background details and shadows.

The landscape mimics the curves of the woman’s body and this, in turn, relates the human body back to being a natural, organic object.

The task of completing  the landscape background  after his death fell to Titian who later painted his own version of Venus, Venus of Urbino, in 1538. It was painted for the Duke of Urbino Guidobaldo II Della Rovere as a gift to his bride.

Titian, Venus of Urbino, 1538
Titian, Venus of Urbino, 1538

In this depiction, Titian has domesticated Venus by moving her to an indoor setting, engaging her with the viewer, and making her sensuality explicit. Devoid as it is of any classical or allegorical trappings – Venus displays none of the attributes of the goddess she is supposed to represent – the painting is sensual, perhaps unapologetically erotic.

There are two other painting which we can compare from the 1500s, both of which place Venus back sleeping in the countryside – Girolamo da Treviso, Sleeping Venus painted in 1520, and Bordone’s Venus with Cupid, 1540.

Girolamo da Treviso, Sleeping Venus, 1520
Girolamo da Treviso, Sleeping Venus, 1520
Paris Bordone, Sleeping Venus with Cupid, 1538
Paris Bordone, Sleeping Venus with Cupid, 1538

Girolamo da Treviso was an Italian Renaissance painter who worked in the style of Giorgione.

Paris Bordone worked with Titian for a short period of time. His Venus is sleeping, but he has introduced Cupid into the scene.

Cupid remains in several painting of Venus in the 1600s such as Guido Reni’s, Reclining Venus with Cupid, 1639, and Diego Velaquez’s, Venus at Her Mirror (The Rokeby Venus), 1650. In both these pictures Venus is awake and appears more playful.

Artemisia Gentileschi has also included cupid, but his Venus looks heavily asleep in his Sleeping Venus of 1625.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Sleeping Venus, 1625
Artemisia Gentileschi, Sleeping Venus, 1625

Annibale Carracci decided to include numerous cupids in his idyllic scene of Venus Sleeping painted in 1625.

Annibale Carracci, Sleeping Venus, 1602
Annibale Carracci, Sleeping Venus, 1602

In the late 1800s, Francisco de Goya presented a much more confrontational Venus,  The Nude Maja, (“the naked mistress”) painted in 1792. It was probably commissioned by the then Spanish prime minister Manuel de Godoy to hang in his private collection.

Francisco Goya, Nude Maja, 1792
Francisco Goya, Nude Maja, 1792

French painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres began working on a version of Botticelli’s standing version of Venus in 1808, and he made several changes to the work, Venus Anadyomene, before completing it in 1848. Later that year the painting was sold to Frédéric Reiset, curator of drawings at the Louvre Museum. It was exhibited at the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris, where it was seen by the poet Charles Baudelaire – he argued that the head was inspired by classical sculpture, the narrow torso by medieval sculpture and the head by Raphael.

Edgar Degas, who owned 37 paintings by Ingres, had a great love of his work based on the science of design and selection, rooted in classical tradition. His drawing, Venus (nach Botticelli) show the influence of both Botticelli and Ingres.

In 1863, there were at least two paintings of Venus exhibited in Paris.

Alexandre Cabanel, The Birth of Venus, 1863
Alexandre Cabanel, The Birth of Venus, 1863

Alexandre Cabanel has returned Venus to the sea, in this classically composed painting, The Birth of Venus. His painting, which was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1863, embodies the ideals of academic art with its silky brushwork and mythological subject – it was purchased by Napoleon III for his personal collection.

At the same exhibition, Edouard Manet entered this painting.

Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863
Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863

The painting, Olympia, was described as “Venus with a Cat” by some critics. Even though Manet thought he was honouring the tradition of painting Venus, whilst giving her a modern treatment, the painting was considered to be ugly and inappropriately composed – here Venus is pictured as a prostitute who is more than a demure figure to be viewed at the pleasure of the observer – she is looking right back at them.

Paul Cezanne painted his Modern Olympia in 1873-4.

Paul Cezanne, Modern Olympia, 1873-4
Paul Cezanne, Modern Olympia, 1873-4

 At that time Cézanne’s style was moving towards Impressionism. It was during his stay with Doctor Gachet at Auvers-sur-Oise that, in the heat of a discussion, Cézanne picked up his paintbrush and produced this coloured sketch, thus creating a much more daring interpretation of Manet’s subject. The contrast of the nudity of the woman, uncovered by her black servant, with the elegant attire of the man in black, who looks strangely like Cézanne, and who watches her like a spectator, all contribute to the erotic and theatrical character of the scene. This effect is further accentuated by the presence of a curtain hanging on the left of the picture.

During the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, this somewhat incredible evocation was scorned by both public and critics. In the review L’artiste on 1 May 1874, Marc de Montifaud wrote: “like a voluptuous vision, this artificial corner of paradise has left even the most courageous gasping for breath…. and Mr Cézanne merely gives the impression of being a sort of madman, painting in a state of delirium tremens “.

Not surprisingly perhaps, Picasso has also portrayed Venus in 1905, which clearly references Botticelli’s painting.

Pablo Picasso, Venus, 1905
Pablo Picasso, Venus, 1905

But of course, being Picasso, he created several images of Venus, including Venus and Cupid in 1949 and then Venus and Cupid, (after Lucas Cranach  the Elder) in 1957.

 

Venus doesn’t appear as a subject for many female artists but she was painted by Romaine Brooks, whose best known images depict androgynous women in desolate landscapes or monochromatic interiors, their protagonists undeterred by our presence, either staring relentlessly at us or gazing nonchalantly past. Her subjects during the early 1900s time included anonymous models, aristocrats, lovers and friends, all portrayed in her signature ashen palette.

In 1910, Romaine Brooks painted White Azaleas, which elicited comparisons to Francisco Goya’s Naked Maja and Edouard Manet’s Olympia.

Romaine Brooks, White Azaleas, 1910
Romaine Brooks, White Azaleas, 1910

 

She also painted Weeping Venus in 1917 in  response to the atrocities of World War I – she wrote: ‘Who other than Ida Rubinstein with her fragile and androgynous beauty could suggest the passing away of familiar gods?’. (Russian dancer Ida Rubenstein was a friend and lover of Books.)

Romaine Brooks, Weeping Venus, 1917
Romaine Brooks, Weeping Venus, 1917

In the mid 1900s Henri Matisse gave Venus another makeover, in his cut out style. By this stage in his career he was largely bedridden and unable to paint, but he still created masterpieces using large coloured (painted by an assistant) pieces of paper which he cut into shapes.

Henri Matisse, Venus, 1952
Henri Matisse, Venus, 1952

In 1986 Andy Warhol also portrayed Venus in Shell in his iconic photographic series.

Andy Warhol, Venus in Shell, 1986
Andy Warhol, Venus in Shell, 1986

And then, to finish this series, another of Warhol’s works  Andy Warhol’s, Details of Renaissance Paintings (Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus,1482), 1984.

Andy Warhol, Details of Renaissance Paintings (Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venuse, 1482), 1984
Andy Warhol, Details of Renaissance Paintings (Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, 1482), 1984

Over the past 500 years the mythology of Venus has been interpreted in many ways – she has been portrayed as an innocent and the mother and patron saint of all the forces of creation. She has also been portrayed as the goddess of love, eroticism and fertility. She’s been alluring, playful and suffering, and in all cases nude. We normally find her in either an outdoor idyllic setting, or in a boudoir, and in most instances she has attendants – either playful cupids or assistants to help her to robe, or disrobe.

Venus has been a woman of her time, with each century seeing changes to the way in which she is portrayed, mainly reflecting both the perception of beauty for that period, or the way in which artists seek to deviate from the norm to express their personal artistic development.

In many of her paintings, she is either asleep, or her eyes are demurely averted from the viewer, which invites their uninterrupted gaze. In only a few works does Venus look directly as the viewer, as these are generally perceived to be more unattractive and/or visually confronting.

Since her initial creation as a statue she has been painted in oils, watercolours, and inks. She’s been drawn, cutout and photographed. Her body shape has changed significantly, but she’s remained young.

Because of the nature of Venus, she will always remain appealing to artists as a source of inspiration, and an opportunity for interpretation.


You might like to know more about my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.

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Lucie Cousturier and Grace Cossingtson Smith – Post Impressionist bonds.

I’d like to introduce two artists, one from Paris and one from Sydney, whose work I consider to show remarkable Post Impressionist similarity.  The artists are Lucie Cousturier (1876 – 1925) and Grace Cossington Smith (1892 – 1984).

 

In researching French artist and writer, Lucie Cousturier¹,  for my art history e-course, I came across a painting, Femme Faisant Du Crochet, that immediately reminded me of an iconic Australian painting, The Sock Knitter, painted in 1915 by Grace Cossington Smith.

Grace Cossington Smith, The Sock Knitter, 1915
Grace Cossington Smith, The Sock Knitter, 1915
Lucie Cousturier, Femme faisant du crochet, c1908
Lucie Cousturier, Femme faisant du crochet, c1908

 

The Sock Knitter is considered by many to be the first Australian truly Modernist (Post Impressionist) painting because of the bold forms and use of colour. It’s perhaps all the more remarkable because although she has been drawing for many years, when Cossington Smith painted this at the age of 23, she has only been painting for a year. The painting is of her sister, Madge, and shows her knitting socks for the war effort for the first World War.

My immediate question was, Could Grace Cossington Smith have seen the painting by Lucie Cousturier and been influenced by it?

Lucie Cousturier was born in Paris and became interested in painting at the age of fourteen, and studied under Post Impressionists Paul Signac and Henri-Edmond Cross. She was also a close friend of the pointillist Georges Seurat. It’s also obvious from looking at her range of paintings  that she was influenced by Cezanne.

Cousturier first exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Indépendants in 1901, and was to exhibit three to eight oil paintings at the Salon every year until 1920. She exhibited at other exhibitions in Brussels and Berlin, and at the end of 1906 gave her first solo exhibition in Paris. By 1907 she had mastered her technique and use of  colour. In her later paintings, particularly outdoors scenes, her style became increasingly fluid and free, with warm and lively colours. Her work was also exhibited at the Berheim-Juene Gallery in Paris.

As well as painting, Cousturier was an accomplished writer – writing biographies of other pointillist artists such as Georges Seurat, Paul Signac and Henri-Edmond Cross, as well as books about Senegalese soldiers in France and her travel to Africa.  In October 1923, 164 of her drawings and watercolours from her African journey were included in an exhibition at the Galerie de Bruxelles, together with  works by Paul Signac.

The painting which caught my eye, Femme Faisant Du Crochet, was painted around 1908.

You can see a strong similarity in style between the two paintings – both young women in silent contemplation as they go about their craft – both dominate the picture plane. Both paintings are Post Impressionist – Cousturier’s being more in style of Paul Signac and Henri-Edmond Cross with her use of Divisionist brush strokes and Cossington Smith’s being more in the style of van Gogh, with her use of broader choppy brushstrokes to delineate form.  (You can see how she has used a similar technique in her self portrait painted a year later.)

What I do appreciate about the two paintings is that they both reflect a moment in time – Cousturier’s being painted in France in warmer months prior to the first world war, and Cossingston Smith’s being painted in colder months in Australia, not long after the war commenced. Even the colours used in the paintings reflect the mood and relative temperatures.

Both artists have also worked in patterns, and geometry plays a strong part in their composition.

Was there any connection between the two artists?

At this early stage in her career, Cossington Smith was looking to learn as much as she could from European artists.

So, given that she hadn’t travelled to Paris before her painting was completed, is there any way that Cossington Smith would have seen a reproduction of Cousturier’s work?

We know that Cossington Smith travelled to London in 1912, where she had lessons at the Winchester School of Art, and that she also travelled to Germany. Although there isn’t a record of the exhibitions she attended between 1912 and 1914, which is when she returned to Australia, she did state that she was a little disappointed by the Impressionist works she had seen whilst overseas².

In Sydney, Cossington Smith studied art under Dattilo Rubbo.  Rubbo has a great feeling for the colour of the  Impressionists and Post Impressionists including van Gogh, Cézanne, Pissaro, Sisley, Gauguin, Vuillard, Seurat and Italian artist Giovanni Segantini³³³. He placed reproductions of works by these artists in his studio, following a trip he took to Europe for several months in 1906 (before the work by Cousturier was exhibited), and these reproductions certainly did influence his students.

One of these students, Norah Simpson, also travelled to England in 1912-13, and she also brought back a number of reproductions of the Post Impressionists from both England and Europe, which she showed with great enthusiasm to Rubbo’s students.  She and Cossington Smith spoke a great deal about what she had seen whilst she was overseas, and it was only a year later that Cossington Smith began work on The Sock Knitter.

Is it possible that Norah Simpson brought back a reproduction of the work by Lucie Cousturier?  Was the painting included in any of the catalogues for the exhibitions in which her work was shown – for example at the Salon of the Society of Independent Artists, in Paris in 1909, which Simpson may have acquired whilst overseas?

Rubbo also had a practice of inviting artists to talk to his students during their lunch break, so it may have been that a guest speaker introduced the students to the work of Cousturier.

Whether or not Cossington Smith was influenced by Lucie Cousturier, or other artists in her circle, or the similarities are just co-incidental as Cossington Smith sought to develop her own modern style, remains a is a tantalizing mystery, which is a great part of my fascination with art history.


¹ Roger Little, Lucie Cousturier, les tirailleurs sénégalais et la question colonial,  Paris, L’Harmattan2009. ISBN 9782296073487

²Deborah Hart (ed), Grace Cossington Smith, National Gallery of Australia, 2005, p10

³Deborah Hart (ed), Grace Cossington Smith, National Gallery of Australia, 2005, p11

 


 

You might like to know more about my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.

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Symbolism – Odilon Redon; Night and Day

French Symbolist artist Odilon Redon (1840 – 1916) wrote in his journal in 1903;  “I love nature in all her forms … the humble flower, tree, ground and rocks, up to the majestic peaks of mountains … I also shiver deeply at the mystery of solitude.”

A painter, lithographer, and etcher of considerable poetic sensitivity and imagination, his work developed along two divergent lines. Initially his (mostly monochrome) prints explored haunted, often macabre, themes of fantasy. However, in about 1890 he turned to painting vibrant dreamscapes in colour.

Redon’s interest was in the portrayal of imagination rather than visual perception, and like a number of Symbolists, he suffered from periodic depression. Redon’s work represented an exploration of his internal feelings and psyche. He himself wanted to “place the visible at the service of the invisible” so, although his work seems filled with strange beings and grotesque dichotomies, his aim was to pictorially represent the ghosts of his own mind.

Although a contemporary of the Impressionists, he felt that Impressionism lacked the ambiguity which he sought in his work – his artistic roots were more in Romanticism, and, like many others, he was also influenced by Puvis de Chavannes and Delacroix.

Odilon Redon spent much of his childhood at Peyrelebade (in Bordeaux) in France, which became a source of inspiration for his art. In 1863 he befriended artist Rodolphe Bresdin, who later taught him etching. Redon was so influenced by Bresdin that he didn’t use colour in his work for some time and instead worked in black and white. He stated, “black is the essential colour of all things,” and “colour is too capable of conveying emotion.”

After the 1870 Franco Prussian war, Redon settled in Paris where he learnt lithography from Henri Fantin-Latour  and discovered that the unique qualities of this technique enabled him to achieve infinite gradations of tone, fine-line drawing, and rich depictions of light and dark. He was profoundly concerned with the effects of light.

 

Redon drew on varied sources, from Francisco Goya, Edgar Allen Poe, and Shakespeare to Darwinian theory, for his mysterious, disturbing, and often melancholy Noirs lithography, etchings, and drawings. He produced nearly 200 prints, beginning in 1879 with the lithographs collectively titled The Dream. He completed another portfolio in 1882 which was  dedicated to Edgar Allan Poe. Rather than illustrating Poe, Redon’s lithographs are poems in visual terms, themselves evoking the poet’s world of private torment. There is also a link to Goya in Redon’s imagery of winged demons and menacing shapes, and one of his series was the Homage to Goya, 1885.

In 1884 Redon  took part in the Salon des Indépendants, of which he was one of the founders, and in the Salon of the XX in Brussels (in 1886, 1887 and 1890) and in the final Impressionist exhibition in 1886.

After 1890 he began working seriously in colour in both oils and pastels, demonstrating his strong sense of harmony – this changed the nature of his work from the macabre and sombre to the joyous and exquisite. He introduced sensitive floral studies, and faces that appear to be dreaming or lost in reverie, and developed a unique palette of powdery and brilliant hues.

He began to work on large surfaces in 1900-1901, completing around fifteen panels for the château of Baron Robert de Domecy. On that occasion, he wrote to his friend Albert Bonger “I am covering the walls of a dining room with flowers, flowers of dreams, fauna of the imagination; all in large panels, treated with a bit of everything, distemper, “aoline”, oil, even with pastel which is giving good results at the moment, a giant pastel.”

The library at Fontfroide would be Redon’s great decorative work, which he completed in 1911.

Odilon Redon, Night, Library of Fontfroide Abbey, 1910-12
Odilon Redon, Night, Library of Fontfroide Abbey, 1910-12
Odilon Redon, Day, Library of Fontfroide Abbey, 1910-12
Odilon Redon, Day, Library of Fontfroide Abbey, 1910-12

He also designed sets for Debussy’s Ballet, Afternoon of a Faun, which premiered in 1912.

Odilon Redon, design for Debussy's theatre set, 1912
Odilon Redon, design for Debussy’s theatre set, 1912

Redon’s evocative images attracted the praise of many Symbolist writers and admiration from painters as various as Gauguin, Emile Bernard, and Matisse. He was an important influence on a younger generation of artists such as the Nabis, a group of post-impressionist painters whose style incorporated decorative and symbolist elements.


My gallery, Kiama Art Gallery, has a selection of Heliogravures by Odilon Redon, which were produced in 1925, which you may enjoy.


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.

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Jeanne Jacquemin – Symbolist artist and writer

jeanne-jacquemin-photoc-1893

Jeanne Jacquemin, c 1893

Jeanne Jacquemin (Marie-Jeanne Coffineau)  was born in Paris in 1863 to Marie Emélie Boyer and was adopted by Lord Juliette Boyer and Louise Coffineau in 1874. However, details of her upbringing are sketchy and conflicting, and it isn’t known what formal training she may have had in drawing, painting or print making.

In 1881 she married a naturalist illustrator (who was also an alcoholic), Edouard Jacquemin.  After they separated Jeanne lived with engraver Auguste-Marie Lauzet in Sévres on the outskirts of Paris, from about 1893. Through both Jacquemin and Lauzet she met a number of artists (including Puvis de Chavannes) and poets and developed an interest in Symbolism and the occult.

She first became known as a writer, when from June 1890 onwards she wrote commentaries on a number of writers and painters of the time for Art et Critique – she was particularly interested in Symbolist and Decadent literature. Many of the themes and images that she referenced in her writing appeared later in her own pastels.  (Approximately 40 of the works that she exhibited during her lifetime were pastels, and unfortunately few remain.)

Like many other Symbolists, Jacquemin saw a close correlation between literature, music and the visual arts. She responded to the poetic and mystic delights of the texts in her commentaries, saying that “her ear keeps the music of poems long after the reading“. She also wrote that “I see images [from the poems] mount before my eyes” and that she wanted to “try to fix some of her visions“.

From 1892,  with other Symbolists and Post Impressionists, she participated in a series of Peintres Impressionnistes et Symbolistes exhibitions, which were held between 1891 and 1897.

The catalogues of these exhibitions show that Jacquemin was both well represented and well received by some of the most significant critics of the time. Rémy de Gourmont from the Mercure de France wrote that her “overall effect produces something that is full of the new” with traces of “dreaminess” in blue-green luminosities” and impressions of “androgynous figures left to float like the unhealthy, yet adorable haze of desire around those heads so infinitely tired of living“.

Gourmet compares the dreaminess in her work to fellow Symbolists Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon, and her work is similar in style to  Puvis de Chavannes. There is also an echo of Paul Gauguin in some of her works.

Most of her paintings can be easily identified by the sad figures – usually waif-like or gaunt women in anguished or dreamlike states – which appear to haunt her paintings. She mostly used subdued tones in her pastels which adds to their subtlety .

Daydream (or Reverie), above left,  appears to be typical of her work, with a solitary, somewhat melancholic or pensive, figure set in front of a landscape. Blues and purples feature in the background, as do the  strawberry blonde hair and blue-green eyes, which are thought to be similar to the artist’s own features. Does the use of the garland of flowers suggest a Christ like quality? It was not unusual for her male Symbolist counterparts to explore the theme of the self as Christ, and Jacquemin may have also chosen to do so. The second image above ( La Douloureuse et Glorieuse Couronne) is certainly suggestive of this motif, with the crown of thorns and eyes raised to the heavens.

 

One critic, writer and poet Jean Lorrain, was particularly taken by Jacquemin’s art, that he felt might be used to mirror his own interests, which also included the occult. As a result, they collaborated on a short story, Conte de Noel. Written by Lorrain and accompanied by five lithographs by Jacquemin, it was published in 1894. Lorrain’s support for her during the 1890s may assisted in her public recognition. For example, in 1893, she was invited to represent France in the tenth Les XX exhibition in Brussels, where she showed five works. Unfortunately, the close relationship between the two deteriorated and her reputation suffered as a result.

As well as her paintings, Jacquemin also produced a number of charcoal drawings and prints (lithographs) which were not as widely exhibited.

Jeanne Jacquemin, Saint Georges, 1898
Jeanne Jacquemin, Saint Georges, 1898

Perhaps the best known is a colour lithograph, Saint Georges, c 1898, which appeared in L’Estampe Modern that year. The description of print in the magazine read,

This print represents the young and valiant knight of Cappadocia, sweet as a virgin but strong as a lion, who is described in the Golden Legend as fighting and killing the dragon who was preparing to devour the daughter of the King of Libya. Thus, this heroic character inspired the traditions of many peoples, and since the time of the Crusades he has been known as the patron saint of the armies”.

 

It has been said that many of her works are self portraits, and there is certainly a similarity in the facial structure in a several of the paintings and prints shown on this page. Even the Saint Georges lithograph appears, if not female, at least androgynous.

Not a great deal is known about Jeanne Jacquemin or her work from the late 1890’s onwards. After nursing Lauzet until his death in 1898, she married Lucien Pautrier, and perhaps she chose to no longer exhibit, or it may have been the acrimony between herself and Lorrain (including a very public law suit) and the death of Lauzet which resulted in her being hospitalised for a short time that led to her being less interested in art. She divorced Pautrier in 1921, and married occultist Paul Sédir later in the same year, suggesting that she maintained her interest in the occult throughout her life time.

Jacquemin is thought to have died in 1938.

Primary Source: Jeanne Jacquemin: A French Symbolist, Leslie Stewart Curtis, Woman’s Art Journal, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Autumn, 2000 – Winter, 2001), pp. 1+27-35

 This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.

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Henri Rousseau – Tigers and Imagination

 

henri-rousseau-surprised-1891-inset-4
Detail from Henri Rousseau, Surprised! 1891

 

Artist Henri Rousseau (1844 – 1910) used a mix of zoological, museum and artistic sources, combined with a strong imagination, to bring exotic locations and wildlife to life.

Rousseau worked as a toll (tax) collector in Paris and had no formal training in art. As a result, his style is considered to be ‘naïve‘ but he is also considered to be a symbolist artist because of the dreamlike quality of a number of his works.

He never left France, but gave the impression that he had travelled to foreign places and had served in the military in the jungles of Mexico. In fact, during his term of military service he had met soldiers who had survived the French expedition to Mexico (1862–65) in support of Emperor Maximilian, and he listened with fascination to their recollections. Their descriptions of the subtropical country were most likely to be the first inspiration for the exotic landscapes that later became one of his major themes. 

When he painted such subjects, such as The Sleeping Gypsy, he worked from his observations at les Jardins de Paris  which contained botanical gardens, a zoo, and natural history museum. The flora and fauna on display there inspired much of the lush and exotic imagery seen in his jungle paintings. 

Stuffed animal specimens constituted a large portion of its collections – there were some 23,000 bird and 6,000 mammal species on view. Placed in glass display cabinets, they were often positioned in dramatic poses, based both on nature and sculptural tradition.

Rousseau also copied other artists’ paintings at the Louvre as well prints from books.

Henri Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897
Henri Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897

Rousseau’s Tigers

Henri Rousseau, Surprised, 1891
Henri Rousseau, Surprised, 1891

 

Surprised! (or Tiger in a Tropical Storm) was painted by Rousseau in 1891 and was the first of his jungle paintings. It shows a tiger, illuminated by a flash of lightning, preparing to pounce on its prey in the midst of a raging gale. 

The tiger’s prey is beyond the edge of the canvas, so is it left to the imagination of the viewer to decide what the outcome will be, although Rousseau’s original title Surprised! suggests the tiger has the upper hand. Rousseau later stated that the tiger was about to pounce on a group of explorers. Despite their apparent simplicity, Rousseau’s jungle paintings were built up meticulously in layers, using a large number of green shades to capture the lush exuberance of the jungle. He also devised his own method for depicting the lashing rain by trailing strands of silver paint diagonally across the canvas, a technique inspired by the satin-like finishes of the paintings of William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

At this time Parisians was captivated by exotic and dangerous subjects, such as the perceived savagery of animals and peoples of distant lands. Tigers on the prowl had been the subject of an exhibition at the 1885 École des Beaux-Arts and Rousseau’s tiger may have been derived from the drawings and paintings of Eugène Delacroix.

Eugene Delacroix, Royal Tiger, 1829
Eugene Delacroix, Royal Tiger, 1829

Unable to have a painting accepted by the jury of the Academie de Peinture et de Sculpture because he had not been formally trained, Rousseau exhibited the painting under the title Surpris!, at the Salon des Indépendants where it received mixed reviews.

Although Surprised! brought him some recognition, and he continued to exhibit his work annually at the Salon des Indépendants, Rousseau didn’t return to the jungle theme for another seven years, with the exhibition of Struggle for Life (now lost) at the 1898 Salon.

Responses to his work hadn’t changed.  Following this exhibition, one critic wrote, “Rousseau continues to express his visions on canvas in implausible jungles… grown from the depths of a lake of absinthe, he shows us the bloody battles of animals escaped from the wooden-horse-maker“. *

Another five years passed before his next jungle scene was painted: Scouts Attacked by a Tiger (1904). The tiger appears in several more of his paintings: Tiger Hunt (c. 1895), in which humans are the predators; Jungle with Buffalo Attacked by a Tiger (1908); and Fight Between a Tiger and a Buffalo (1908).

 

In 1905 Rousseau was invited to exhibit at the Salon d’Automne where his painting The Hungry Lion (1905) was hung in the same room as the works of the group of avant-garde painters known as the Fauves.  The critics now began to speak of Rousseau in a positive light, and artists such as Matisse, Picasso and Robert Delauney expressed admiration for his style.

 Ambroise Vollard, the most important dealer in modern paintings in Paris at the time, bought Surprised! and two other works from Rousseau, who had offered them at a rate considerably higher than the 190 francs he finally received. 

* Morris, Frances and Christopher Green, eds. (2006 [2005]). Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris. New York: Abrams

One of the things I really enjoy about Rousseau’s paintings is his use of colour, which works so well to create atmosphere. In particular you can see how he has used many shades of green (green is not any easy colour for artists to work with)  to great effect, and I think this is one of the reasons why his art is so enduring. If you like Rousseau’s work, what do you find most captivating?


 This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.

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James Ensor – Symbolist and Expressionist

James Ensor, Shells and Shellfish, 1889
James Ensor, Shells and Shellfish, 1889

James Ensor  recalled that his childhood was spent in “… the midst of gleaming, mother of pearl coloured shells, with dancing shimmering reflections and the bizarre skeletons of sea monsters and plants. The marvellous world full of colours, this super abundance of reflections and refractions made me into a painter who is in love with colour and delighted by the blinding glow of light“.

However, his interest in light did not mirror that of his Impressionist contemporaries, and Ensor’s artistic style can’t easily be categorised, although in the 19th Century his work was seen as both Symbolist and Expressionist.

As eccentric as he was unorthodox, Ensor worked largely in isolation from the main streams of art in that period.   His pictures were largely expressive, often satirical and could be both garish and aggressive.  He is possibly best known for his bizarre masks and masqueraders, however, during his lifetime he also created approximately 900 paintings, 4,000 drawings, and 133 etchings, on a broad range of subjects including portraits and landscapes.

James Ensor was born in 1860 in Ostend, Belgium, which was not only a royal seaside resort, but also a popular carnival town. He grew up in a country whose monarchy was just thirty years old, where the church was struggling for influence and rapid industrialisation  exacerbated tensions between the two main population groups. He would again and again refer to the political, socio-economic and ethnic divisions with Belgium in his art.

Except for a short time studying in Brussels at the at the Académie Royale des Beaux Arts from 1877 to 1880, he lived his whole life in Ostend. However, his time in Brussels was important to his career. Although he complained about  the dry conventional approach  and being “forced to paint from a colourless plaster cast a bust of Octavian, the grandest of all Caesars. This plaster got my goat“, and left the academy after only two years, he met fellow artists who would have a long term influence on him.

Through them he had the opportunity to mix with the progressive minds of Brussels, discussing and debating all manner of contemporary issues. He immersed himself in romantic literature and was particularly attracted to the work of Edgar Allen Poe. He made numerous copies of works by famous masters appearing in art journals – such as Rembrandt, Durer, Goya, Daumier, Rubens and Turner.

Hi earlier works were relatively conventional, with many interior scenes including  paintings of his family, and landscapes of views from his window.  

Gradually he turned away from a realistic, objective view of the world towards a realm of the imaginary and fantastic.  

His mother ran a shop packed full of novelties, sea shells, and carnival items including masks and costumes. Ensor lived above the shop and progressively used these props, along with old clothes, and improvised models from them. With reproductions of art he admired, and a human skull perched on his easel, the sources for his fantasy work were in place. The space was cramped and encouraged up-close, detailed work and led him to develop a method for making large-scale drawings from pasted-together sheets of paper.

 

In 1883, together with these fellow students Willy Finch and Fernand Khnopff and others he  formed an avant-garde group called “Les XX” or “Les Vingt” (The Twenty),  a circle of painters whose goal was to promote new artistic developments throughout Europe. The group, which also saw itself as a revolutionary anarchist artist’s collective,  organised a salon that drew contemporary artists from across Europe, including Monet and Seurat. The group disbanded after 10 years.  

Examples of work from this period include The Scandalized Masks, 1883  and  Adam and Eve Expelled From Paradise, 1887.  

In 1888 Ensor completed his grandest epic, Christ’s Entry into Brussels.  In this painting his titular, ironic subject, the haloed figure of Christ at centre, who is both alone and engulfed by a mob, is virtually hidden from view. It is considered a self-portrait, and the painting’s prospective date,  suggests Ensor’s intent to cast himself as the true prophet of the art to come.

James Ensor, Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889, 1888
James Ensor, Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889, 1888

However,  Les Vingt repeatedly rejected his works and Ensor was acutely sensitive to what he saw as  this wholesale critical rejection of his art. He was described by many of his contemporaries as being irascible and aggressive. Nonetheless, he was recognised for his diversity of subject matter and great originality.  

After the turn of the century, Ensor finally won acclaim and respectability. He was knighted and given the title of Baron. The 1908 publication of a book about his life and works (Verhaeren, Emile; JAMES ENSOR) confirmed his standing and reputation at this time. In later years, he wrote music and designed sets for ballets. He continued to paint until his death at eighty-nine.

The information in this blog is largely sourced from Ulrike Becks-Malorny,  Ensor, Taschen, 2016 which I would highly recommend.

You might also enjoy reading my previous blog about Ensor:

James Ensor – Ensor with Flowered Hat


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.


 

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James Ensor – Ensor with a Flowered Hat

James Ensor, Ensor with Flowered Hat, 1883 - 1888

Looking at this self portrait by James Ensor, when do you think it might have been painted, and what statement do you think the artist is making?

Take a minute to let your eyes look around the painting and find as many visual clues as possible.

Firstly, aside from the highly inappropriate hat, the man himself could almost be from this decade – as beards and moustaches are popular again. But, cover the hat and feathers, and you could easily imagine that the portrait was a serious academic work, painted centuries ago. Certainly the  expression on his face is serious – here is a man who appears both proud and strong, perhaps with a hit of introversion.

Any suggestion of Rembrandt, or Rubens?

But, put the hat on, and the man appears ridiculous.

Perhaps the hat is just a bit of fun, a bit of fancy dress, but as the wearer looks far too serious – and as we know from the title that it’s a self portrait –  Ensor must be intending to make a statement of some sort.

Back to the hat, with the flowers and downward facing plumage, it’s definitely not one we would expect to see worn today, or during Ruben’s time.  It looks like it could be from a century or more ago.  Another close look at the design of the hat, the flowers, the way in which the colours sit together, the loose brush strokes, and the overall  use of light – and what do we think of? Ah, perhaps it’s an Impressionist painting.

But it couldn’t be, because that doesn’t fit with the rest of the artwork!

It’s not obvious when we first look at the picture, but in the background (also suggestive of a period when darker backgrounds were commonly used) there is a hint of a blue circle (frame)  around the edge. When were portraits with circular or oval frames popular? Back to the 17th Century.

 

But this is a self portrait, so perhaps it isn’t meant to represent a picture frame, but the frame of a mirror?

Ah, now it starts to make more sense.

Perhaps, it was originally intended as a ‘straight’ academic self portrait, based on the artist’s formal academic training, including the study of Rubens, whom he admired greatly. Perhaps along the way he was influenced by other artists, such as the Impressionists, and wanted at a later time to express this influence. And perhaps as an artist highly interested in fantasy and masks, he saw that combining the two in a frame or mirror would represent who he was as an artist. Perhaps he wanted to make it clear that he was an artist who defied convention.

This work by James Ensor, painted originally in 1883 and then added to (yes the hat, and the twirled moustache) in 1888, is a great example of how artists reflect both the influences on their art through formal training and discovery, and their own personality,  to make a statement in an artwork, and why the study of art history is so interesting.

In my next blog, I’ll tell you more about this intriguing Belgian artist and his life story.


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you like to see some of the French and Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page.

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Symbolism – Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893
Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893

Edvard Munch is the painter of The Scream, which is one of the most recognisable works in the history of art.

Both a painter and printmaker, Munch grew up in a household periodically beset by life-threatening illnesses and the premature deaths of his mother and sister.

These tragic events left a lifelong impression on the artist, and contributed to his eventual preoccupation with themes of anxiety, emotional suffering, and human vulnerability. (They were all explained by Munch’s father, a Christian fundamentalist, as acts of divine punishment.)

Much of his work depicts life and death scenes, love and terror, and the feeling of loneliness. He intended that these often open-ended themes would function as symbols of universal significance.

His painting style included the use of contrasting lines, blocks of darker intense colour, sombre tones, exaggerated form and semi-abstraction, which all contributed to create an air of mystery.

In 1879, Munch began attending a technical college to study engineering, but left only a year, and in 1881 he enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design.  Here he studied the old masters, attended courses in the painting of nudes, and was instructed for a time by Norway’s leading artist, Christian Krohg.

His early works were influenced by French inspired Realism.

 

He began a series of new paintings in the mid 1880s which departed from this earlier style. One of these was The Sick Child, which he would finish in 1886.  The Sick Child depicted his feelings about the death of his sister nearly nine years earlier. Munch revisited this subject many times until 1925. (His brother, Andreas, also died young in 1895.)

From 1889 (the year his father died) to 1892, Munch lived mainly in France, funded by State scholarships, and embarked on the most productive as well as the most troubled period of his artistic life. While studying in Paris and in Nice in the south of France, he was influenced by the Impressionists’ fascination with light and by the growing Symbolist movement which inspired his symbolic use of colour and simplification of form. He saw the work of Gauguin and Van Gogh, whose Starry Night he paid tribute to in his own painting of the same name thirty years later.

These works had a liberating effect on Munch. “The camera cannot compete with a brush and canvas,” he wrote, “as long as it can’t be used in heaven and hell“.

Munch’s experimentation with different media and techniques was driven by his expressive needs and he explored the different effects he could achieve by reinterpreting the same theme in a different medium. As a printmaker Munch made drypoints, etchings and lithographs in the traditional manner. However, he developed his own unique technique for colour woodcuts.

Despite suffering from mental illness, Munch was spectacularly prolific, creating an astonishing 1,008 paintings, 4,443 drawings and 15,391 prints, as well as woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, lithographic stones, woodcut blocks, copperplates and photographs. (source: http://www.finearts360.com)

 

It was during the last decade of the 19th Century that he undertook a series of paintings he called the Frieze of Life, encompassing 22 works for a 1902 Berlin exhibition. With paintings bearing such titles as Despair (1892),  Melancholy (c.1892– 93),  Anxiety  (1894),  Jealousy  (1894–95) and The Scream  (also known as The Cry)  Munch’s mental state was fully exposed. His style varied greatly in these paintings, depending on which emotion had taken hold of him at the time.

 

The exhibition was highly successful and Munch became more widely known within the art world. Subsequently, he found brief happiness in a life otherwise coloured by excessive drinking, family misfortune and mental distress. From about 1892 to 1908 Munch spent most of his time between Paris and Berlin.

During a stay in Paris he met a number of Symbolist poets,  which resulted in him designing the sets of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt at the Theatre de l’Oeuvre  (at the same time that his Frieze of Life was being exhibited at the de l’Art Nouveau). In 1906 he designed the sets for another of Ibsen’s productions, Ghosts.

In 1903-4 he exhibited in Paris where it is likely that he saw early Fauvist painting and may have found inspiration in them. When the Fauves held their own exhibit in 1906, Munch was invited and displayed his works with theirs.

As the 1900s began, his drinking spun out of control. In 1908, hearing voices and suffering from paralysis on one side, he collapsed and finally checked himself into a private sanatorium, where he drank less and improved his mental health.

In the spring of 1909 Munch moved to a country house in Ekely (near Oslo), Norway, where he lived in isolation and began painting landscapes. Munch painted right up to his death, often depicting his deteriorating condition and various physical maladies in his work.

Munch’s work, which showed so much raw emotion, greatly influenced German Expressionism in the early 20th century.


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.


 

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Symbolism – Gustave Moreau

 

Gustave Moreau, Oedipus and the Sphinx, 1864
Gustave Moreau, Oedipus and the Sphinx, 1864

Gustave Moreau is recognised as a founder of the Symbolist movement in France, although his paintings in this style began being exhibited some 15 years before the movement is considered to have commenced. His favourite subjects were ancient civilisations and mythological themes which he portrayed in densely worked, encrusted canvasses.

He was chiefly influenced by Romantic painters Eugene Delacroix and Theodore Chasseriau and their use of exotic romanticism, dramatic lighting and bright colours. After Chasseriau’s untimely death at the age of 37, Moreau undertook a two year study trip to Italy from 1857, where he studied Renaissance masters and became convinced of the spiritual value of art. His travel through the towns and cities of Italy also exposed him to the influence of Byzantine enamels, early mosaics, and Persian and Indian miniatures, all of which played a significant role in the evolution of his individual style and in the jewel-like effect of his technique, noted Bennett Schiff in the Smithsonian in August 1999.

Like many other artists in Paris at the time, Moreau was also influenced by Asian art. In 1869, he attended the  Palais de l’Industrie which was the largest and most extensive exhibition of Asian art held in Europe. It consisted of over 1,000 objects from China, Japan, India and Persia. Moreau sketched many of the works which were exhibited and incorporated the style of drawing into many of his works.

At the Paris Salon of 1864 Moreau exhibited his first major work,  Oedipus and the Sphinx, which launched him into prominence. It established his lasting preoccupations with the opposition between good and evil, male and female and physicality and spirituality. To Moreau, the work represented humankind facing the eternal mystery of life with moral strength and self-confidence.

Schiff wrote that “Outstanding examples of psychological and physical detachment can be seen in one after another of Moreau’s paintings… In Oedipus and the Sphinx (1864), for instance, the winged creature – half nude female, half lion, an incubus clawed into Oedipus’ breast – does not seem to inflict pain at all. Instead, the grotesque creature and its placid victim appear to be dreamily engrossed in each other, although Oedipus is soon to answer the Sphinx’s riddle and she, or it, is to fall dead to the ground, finally, having already shredded any number of hapless voyagers unable to answer the riddle. Their bits and pieces are, in Moreau’s superbly rendered canvas, strewn about the foreground.”

In 1876 Moreau exhibited three of his most famous paintings in the Salon: Hercules and the Lernaean  Hydra, Salome Dancing Before Herod, and The Apparition.

 

The Apparition portrays Salome who, according to the Gospels, bewitched the ruler Herod Antipas, the husband of her mother Herodiad, with her dancing. As a reward she was given the head of John the Baptist.

Several influences can be seen in this composition, including his copies of  Japanese prints from the Palais de l’Industrie.

There is also a reference to head of Medusa, brandished by Perseus, in Benvenuto Cellini’s bronze in Florence (Loggia dei Lanzi). The decoration of Herod’s palace is directly inspired by the Alhambra in Granada. Through these various elements, Moreau recreates a magnificent, idealised Orient, using complex technical means such as highlighting,  grattage* and incisions.

After the death of a close female friend in 1890 Moreau’s style altered. “His brushwork became looser and more expressive; his pigment grew thicker, more impastoed; and his forms became increasingly abstract,” Schiff wrote. “The overriding effect of these later paintings was to evoke an emotional response through the use of color, line and form. Some even view his later nonfigurative works as heralds of Abstract Expressionism. Certainly his art inspired a generation of Symbolist painters, poets and writers and had a marked impact on other artists.” 

In 1888, Moreau was elected to the Academie des Beaux-Arts and at the age 65 he became a professor. He was considered by many as the last great teacher there. His influence on younger painters such as Henri Matisse, Albert Marquet and Georges Rouault extended to many art movements (Symbolism, Abstract Expressionism and Fauvism for example).

He didn’t set his pupils on the right road,” Matisse said. “He took them off it. He made them uneasy…. He didn’t show us how to paint; he roused our imagination.” quoted Hilary Spurling in The Unknown Matisse: A Life of Henri Matisse: The Early Years, 1869-1908.
*Grattage is a technique in which (usually wet) paint is scraped off the canvas.


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.


 

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Pierre Puvis de Chavannes – Symbolism and Hope

Symbolist artist Pierre – Cécile Puvis (1824- 1898) was born at Lyon in France.  He later  added  ‘de Chevannes’  to his surname, which originated from his  aristocrat forebears in Burgundy.)

Whilst his contemporaries were Édouard Manet and realist Gustave Courbet, Puvis was more interested in Classicism,  in keeping with academic traditions of the Paris Salon. His subject matter was imbued with religious themes, allegories, mythologies and historical events.

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Peace, 1861
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Peace, 1861

However, Puvis’ interpretation of Classicism gave his work a modern, abstract look which not only appealed to symbolist writers and artists of the time, but also marked him as an avante-garde artist of the period.

Puvis’ formal training during the late 1840s was limited to study trips to Italy and shortlived work in the studios of  Henry Scheffer, Delacroix and Couture.  He also found inspiration in Romantic artist Théodore Chassériau. Preferring to work alone,  he acquired a large studio near the Gare de Lyon and attended anatomy classes at the Académie des Beaux Arts.

Initially Puvis was most interested in painting grand, public paintings which be began exhibiting at the Paris Salon from 1859 onwards. (After achieving public recognition,  he served on Salon juries.)

He was particularly interested in Commissions from the French government and is now mostly remembered for the huge canvases and murals he painted for the walls of city halls and other public buildings in Paris such as the Panthéon, the Sorbonne, and the Hôtel de Ville, as well as buildings in other parts of France and in the USA.

Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, murals in Boston Public Library
Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, murals in Boston Public Library

 

His style developed from painting these large works, and he is known for simplified forms, flatness of the picture surface, rhythmic line, and the use of non-naturalistic and muted colours to evoke mood. As a result, the figures in his paintings seem to be wrapped in an aura of  mystery, as though they belong in a private world of dreams or visions, which is why they are considered to be part of the symbolist style, although Puvis didn’t identify himself as with Symbolist painter. Noneless, he was considered by a younger generation of artists, such as Gauguin, as a leader of the Symbolist movement.

Puvis was keenly in interested supporting a younger generation of artists and was a leading member, and one time President, of the  Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, which  aimed to create a Salon that was more selective, prestigious and noticeably more modern than  the Paris Salon.

His style can be seen not only in works by Gauguin, but also in Picasso’s paintings from his Pink and Blue period, works by Matisse such as The Joy of Life, 1906, and many other artists who followed.

Hope, 1872

Puvis de Chavannes was deeply affected by the Franco-Prussian war and Paris Commune (1870-71)  and he produced several artworks related to the conflict and deprivation brought about as a result of the war.

In particular, in 1872 he exhibited Hope at the Salon (now in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore). The Musée d’Orsay has a smaller version, also painted between 1871 and 1872. In the larger painting, Puvis portrays Hope as a naked girl sitting on a burial mound covered with white drapery. Behind her, a desolate landscape with the ruins of a building and the makeshift crosses of improvised cemeteries evoke the recent war. Dark clouds can be seen in the distance, but are breaking up into a softer hue. Other elements in the painting point to a new era, full of promise. The olive branch in the young woman’s hand symbolises the nation’s recovery from war as does the new growth of flowers from the rocky outcrops, while the white in the dress/drapery suggest the return of lightness.

 

However, the lack of any historical detail gives the painting a universal sense of symbolism, so that it could apply to Hope in a variety of contexts. The simplified composition of the work, the use of matte colours and the sense of rhythm are very characteristic of his style.

Paul Gauguin had a reproduction of this painting in Tahiti and it figures in his Still Life with Hope, painted in 1901. As well the subject in his painting Te Aa No Areois from 1892 is seated in a similar fashion to the model in Hope.

Puvis de Chavannes’s Hope was also the inspiration for two later works, painted after the first World War.

In 1923, Pablo Picasso painted Woman in White.  In this painting, his 20th century post-war allegory of hope is less obvious than in the painting by Puvis de Chavannes, as he omits the laurel branch and crosses, and the figure is in a more relaxed pose.

It’s been suggested by Kenneth Silver^ that Picasso presents his figure of hope as a general symbol of cultural endurance and women’s fertility (with maternité  (motherhood) themes being popular with avante-garde painters at the time).

Pablo Picasso, Woman in White, 1923
Pablo Picasso, Woman in White, 1923

 

Romain Brooks’s Self Portrait, painted in the same year as Picasso’s Woman in White, also appears to be a more modern take on Hope, with the foreground placement of a silhouetted woman towering over a distant landscape, the distinctive horizontals in the painting, the general atmospheric effects and the shape and placement of the large ruined building on the right. Brooks, however, most likely had a different theme in mind than either Puvis or Picasso. It is more likely that she was representing hope a new set of post – war possibilities for women, beyond maternité.

Romaine Brooks, Self Portrait, 1923
Romaine Brooks, Self Portrait, 1923

Natalie Barney^^ commented that that Brooks was seeking to explore a range of modern types of women, including a new post-war single woman who rejected motherhood for masculine attire and her own career – a highly controversial theme for the time.

^ Kenneth Silver, Esprit de Corps, The Art of the Parisian Avante-Garde and the First World War, 1914-1924, 1989

^^ Bridget Elliott, Deconsecrating Modernism: Allegories of Regeneration in Brooks and Picasso, in The Modern Woman Revisited: Paris Between the Wars, 2003

 


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.


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Symbolism – A short introduction

James Ensor, The Frightful Musicans, 1891
James Ensor, The Frightful Musicans, 1891

Symbolism was both an literary and artistic movement prominent in the last two decades of the 19th Century, when symbols were used to express the imagination of both poets and artists – with ‘dreaming’ being the essence of their creativity. Musicians were also experimenting with innovative forms, emphasising subtlety, mood and imagination.

Symbolist origins in art can be traced back to the paintings of Gustave Moreau and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes were producing in the 1860s and 70s. Both artists were drawn to Romantic subjects and concepts that focused on emotion and allusion, and subjectivity over objectivity.  While Moreau created theatrical compositions with richly decorative surfaces and great detail, Purvis de Chavannes produced monumental forms with muted colours in order to express abstract ideas. His style led to a preference for broad strokes of unmodulated colour and flat, often abstract forms by future Symbolist painters.

Moreau later said that he did not believe in what he could touch or in what he could see; the only things that he believed in were the things he could not see. *

Symbolist writers such as Gustave Kahn and Jean Moréas,  and poets Paul Verlaine and Stéphane Mallarme, had a significant influence on the development of the art style. At the age of 22 Mallarmé spoke of a new use of language which would “paint not the thing itself but the effect that it produces“.  He considered that straight description had no place in art and  “to name an object“, he wrote in 1891, “is to deprive the public of three quarters of its pleasure…. Guesswork should enter into it. To suggest – that should be the poet’s dream. In suggesting, he makes the best possible use of that mysterious thing, the symbol”. ** 

Paul Gauguin, Day of the Gods, 1893
Paul Gauguin, Day of the Gods, 1893

 

Paul Gauguin also played an important role in the  development of Symbolism. By 1885 both his writing and his painting were reflecting Symbolist interests. He believed that the emotional response to nature was more important than the intellectual; that lines, colours and even numbers communicated meaning; intuition was crucial to artistic creation, and that artists should communicate ideas and feelings derived from nature by means of the simplest forms, after dreaming in front of the subject.

In 1891, in an article about Gauguin, Albert Aurier described Symbolism as the subjective vision of an artist expressed through a simplified and non-naturalistic style. ***

Symbolist artists painted in a highly metaphorical and suggestive manner, using subtle symbols which emphasised the meaning behind the forms, lines, shapes, and colours of their subject matter.

Many symbolists believed that art should reveal absolute truths and that these truths could only be found in either a spiritual or mystical realm, or as a result of personal experience, rather than an purely objective view of the material world.  They emphasised  depicting emotions which were difficult to visualise.

Rather than sharing a single artistic style, they believed that there should be more to art than was encompassed by everyday visual experience.

In 1889 Edvard Munch defined what he saw as the limitations of Impressionism, “I’ve had enough of ‘interiors’ and ‘people reading’, and ‘women knitting’, I want to paint real live people who breathe, feel, suffer and live. People who see these pictures will understand that these are sacred matters, and they will take off their hats, as if they were in church“. ****

The key themes in Symbolist art were love, fear, anguish, death, sexual awakening, and unrequited desire, with women often being the main symbol for expressing these themes, typically either as the virgin or femme fatale.

Inspiration often came from folk tales, biblical stories, Greek mythology, imaginary dream worlds and hallucinatory revelations (as the result of drug use).

Odilon Redon, another early Symbolist, worked almost exclusively in black and white until in his 50s, creating numerous subjects influenced by the writer Edgar Allan Poe. Later works were beautifully coloured.

It is no co-incidence that psychiatry and psychoanalysis were developing at exactly the same time – Sigmund Fraud’s probing into the unconscious and the meaning of dreams resonated with the Symbolists. There was also a general reawakening of interest in spirituality, in both the conventional church and unconventional esoteric cults. It was also a time when interest was developing in vegetarianism, mediation and naturism. *****

Other artists associated with Symbolism are James Ensor, Henri Rousseau, Gustav Klimt and Jeanne Jacquemin.

Of all the major movements of the second half of the 19th Century, Symbolism was the most pervasively European and least focused on France – it had followers in Britain, Belgium, Austria and Scandinavia.


* ** **** John Russell, The Meanings of Modern Art, Thames and Hudson, 1981, pp 72 – 74.

*** Herchel B Chip (ed), Theories of Modern Art, A Sourcebook for Artists and Critics, p89.

***** Symbolism, in The Illustrated Story of Art, Doring Kingersley, London, 2013, pp 298 – 307.

 


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


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Post Impressionism – Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Women on the Beach, 1891
Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Women on the Beach, 1891

Post Impressionist Paul Gauguin is highly recognised for his focus on colour, two dimensional forms, and the symbolic meaning of his art.

Primarily known for his paintings, he was also a printmaker and creator of ceramic sculptures and woodcarvings.

He was a financially successful stockbroker and self-taught amateur artist,  influenced by the avant-garde  art of the 19th Century through his legal guardian’s collection of works by Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Eugene Delacroix, Honore Daumier, Theodore Rousseau and early works by Camille Pissarro, amongst many others.

His earliest recorded major painting to survive is Working the Land, painted in 1873. The brilliant blue of its sky and the brightness and of the greens and yellows in the field were reminiscent of landscapes of the four seasons that Pissarro had recently completed.

Camille Pissarro, The Four Seasons, Spring, 1872
Camille Pissarro, The Four Seasons, Spring, 1872
Paul Gauguin, Working the Land, 1873
Paul Gauguin, Working the Land, 1873

It is probable that his intimate knowledge of Pissarro’s landscapes was a key factor in his interest in the Impressionists, and the 1870s he began collecting their artworks, and then adopting some of their techniques (under Pissarro’s tutelage). He was also influenced by Paul Cezanne’s parallel, constructive brushstrokes.

Paul Gauguin, Banks of the Oise, 1881
Paul Gauguin, Banks of the Oise, 1881

 

Paul Gaugin, Still Life with Fruit Plate, 1880
Paul Gaugin, Still Life with Fruit Plate, 1880

Encouraged by both Pissarro and Edgar Degas, Gauguin contributed to five of the eight Impressionist exhibitions between 1880 – 1882. He also contributed to the debates and discussions that took place between the artists gathering in Montmartre, questioning  the nature and role of art in modern society.

In 1882, after a stock market crash and recession left him unemployed and financially ruined, Gauguin abandoned the business world to pursue life as a full-time artist.

When working in Brittany and Martinique, the year after the final Impressionist exhibition,  he began the artistic transformation to Post Impressionism with which we are more familiar today, and the creator of “primitive” and exotic images overlayed with symbolic meaning.

In 1886, he  first visited  Pont-Aven in Brittany, a rugged land of fervently religious people. Gauguin had received a seminary education in his youth and his religious beliefs never deserted him  – although he increasingly questioned the strictures of the traditional Catholic church. In Pont-Aven he hoped to tap into the expressive potential he believed he would find in a more rural, even “primitive” culture.

Over the next several years he often travelled between Paris and Brittany, and also spent time in Panama and Martinique.

In 1888, he worked with Émile Bernard, Louis Anquetin, Paul Sérusier and others in Pont-Aven,  developing new theories of painting. They adopted a style of painting known as Synthetism.  Synthetism referred to the synthesis of simplified forms and colour schemes with the main idea or feeling of the subject, in order to produce a bolder artistic statement. Essentially the Pont-Aven artists reduced three-dimensional figures and shapes to flatter two dimensional forms with heavy dark outlines (also known as Cloisonnism).

For Gauguin, painting also had a symbolic focus, with a brighter palette designed to express human emotion. The new style was, in part, inspired by Gothic art (particularly stained-glass and enamel work) and Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints (Japonisme), which were in vogue amongst many artists of the Pont-Aven school. A key painting from this period was Vision After the Sermon which became an important Symbolist  work statement.

Gauguin  also worked  alongside Vincent van Gogh (whom he probably met in Paris during the previous year)  in Arles in the south of France in the summer of 1888, at the time that van Gogh was attempting to set up an artists’ colony.

Both artists continued to experiment with compositional techniques derived from Japanese art,  as well as the symbolic ‘language’  of colour, seeking to emphasise subjective feelings and ideas over naturalistic representation. However,  Gauguin and van Gogh argued badly (it was at this time that Van Gogh reportedly cut off part of his left ear) and Gauguin returned to Paris.

In 1891 he moved to Tahiti, where he expected to find an unspoiled culture which was exotic and sensual. Instead, he was confronted with a world already transformed by western missionaries and colonial rule.  He had to  re-imagine or ‘ invent’  the world he sought, not only in paintings but with woodcarvings, graphics, and written works which generally present an image of an intoxicating earthly paradise where the painter lived as a native among the natives.

However, he also struggled with ways to express the questions of life and death, knowledge and evil that preoccupied him, and he interwove the images and mythology of island life with those of the west and other cultures.

He painted such works as Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going To? in 1898. This work was an enormous contemplation of life and death told through a series of figures, beginning with a baby and ending with an old woman, and is surrounded by a dreamlike, poetic aura.

Paul Gaugin, Where do we come from, Who are we, Where are we going, 1897
Paul Gauguin, Where do we come from, Who are we, Where are we going, 1897

After a trip to France from 1893 to 1895, Gauguin returned to the South Seas. However, by this time he was suffering  from illness and depression. In 1901 he moved to the Marquesan island of Hiva Oa, still searching for a lost paradise. “I think the savage element there, together with complete solitude, will revive the fire of my enthusiasm before I die, give new life to my imagination and bring my talents to a fitting conclusion.” He died there in 1903.


In this blog I have focused on Gauguin’s artistic achievements, but commentaries on his personal life are not so complimentary. A key question you may wish to consider is whether your knowledge of an artist’s personal life influences how you feel about their art.


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.


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Post Impressionism – Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh, Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers, 1888
Vincent van Gogh, Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers, 1888

Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh’s first job  was working in the Hague branch of an  international art dealing firm, Goupil & Cie.  It was 1869 and he was just 16.

He was reasonably successful in the firm so he was then was transferred to the London branch in 1873 and then later to Paris. However, he lost interest in the role, which led to his dismissal in 1876.

Following this, he briefly became a teacher in England, and then, deeply interested in Christianity (his father was a Protestant Minister), a lay preacher in a mining community in southern Belgium. He was also dismissed by the church, but his future artwork was heavily influenced by his spiritual beliefs.

Largely self-taught, van Gogh began his study as an artist by meticulously copying prints and studying nineteenth-century drawing manuals and lesson books. He believed that it was necessary to master working with black and white before working with colour, and  that it was important to concentrate on learning the rudiments of figure drawing and rendering landscapes in correct perspective.

Van Gogh’s admiration for the  Realist Barbizon artists, in particular Jean-François Millet, whose work he’d seen in London, influenced his decision to paint rural life.  During 1884 – 85, while again living with his parents in Nuenen in the Netherlands,  he painted more than forty studies of peasant heads, which culminated in The Potato Eaters.  Van Gogh wrote that he wanted to express that they “have tilled the earth themselves with the same hands they are putting in the dish”.

 

His style underwent a major transformation during a two-year stay in Paris from 1886 to 1888. During this period he took lessons in the studio of Fernand Cormon – an artist who was very popular with foreign students. It was here that he met fellow students Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Emile Bernard. Vincent’s brother Theo was by this time the manager of Goupil and Cie in Paris,  and he was able to introduce Vincent to the light filled work of prominent Impressionist artists such as Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro.  Vincent also saw the latest technical innovations (pointillism) by Post Impressionists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac.

Vincent discovered a new source of inspiration in Japanese woodcuts, which sold in large quantities in Paris. Both he  and Theo began to collect them. The influence of the bold outlines, cropping and colour contrasts in these prints showed through immediately in his own work.

He used brighter colours and developed his own style of painting using short brush strokes. The themes he painted also changed, with rural labourers giving way to cafés and boulevards, the countryside along the Seine and floral still lifes. He also tried out more commercial subjects, such as portraits. However, Vincent mostly acted as his own sitter,  as models were relatively expensive,  and he painted more than twenty self-portraits.

By 1888 Vincent began to tire of the frenetic city life in Paris. Unfortunately his mental health  began its decline, resulting in violent mood swings, depression, and drunken and erratic behaviour. He longed for the peace of the countryside, for sun, and for the light of ‘Japanese’ landscapes, which he hoped to find in Provence in the South of France, and so in February 1888 he moved to the “little yellow house” in Arles.

He hoped his friends would join him and help found a colony of artists.  Paul Gauguin did join him for a short period of time, but with disastrous results. Van Gogh’s nervous temperament made him a difficult companion and night-long discussions combined with painting all day undermined his health. It was at this time that he cut off part of his left ear with a razor. Penniless, he spent his money on paint rather than food,  living on coffee, bread and absinthe.

His ongoing depression caused him to seek periodic refuge in a nearby asylum at St Remy.  Over the course of the next year, he painted some 150 paintings, including many still lifes and landscapes.  He also painted copies of works, using black-and-white photographs and prints,  by such artists as Delacroix, Rembrandt and Millet. He described his copies as “interpretations” or “translations”, comparing his role as an artist to that of a musician playing music written by another composer.

In May of 1890, his mental health appeared to have improved and he moved to Auvers-sur-Oise under the watchful eye of Dr. Gachet. Two months later he was dead, having reportedly shot himself “for the good of all”.

Van Gogh’s finest works were produced in less than three years – in a technique that grew more and more impassioned in brushstroke, in symbolic and intense colour, in surface tension, and in the movement and vibration of form and line.

During his brief career he sold only one of his paintings. However, by 1890, van Gogh’s work had begun to attract critical attention. His paintings were featured at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris between 1888 and 1890, as well as in Brussels in 1890, and articles about his work began to appear in major newspapers.

 

Read more, and see a full range of images at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en.


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.


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Henri Toulouse – Lautrec and his Lithographs

photo of toulouse latrec

Aristocratic and wealthy,  painter and printmaker Toulouse Lautrec inherited a genetic disorder that left him with stunted growth, after two accidents in which he broke both legs as a teenager. Whilst he was recovering, Lautrec turned to drawing and painting, both of which he developed a great love for.

The young Henri moved from Albi to Paris in 1882 to study art, where he met the artists Emile Bernard and Vincent van Gogh, and was attracted by the work of the Impressionist artist Edgar Degas (as can be seen in his lithographs of jockeys and horses, for example).

His career, which lasted just over a decade, coincided with two major developments in late nineteenth-century Paris: the birth of modern printmaking and the explosion of a nightlife culture. As well as paintings and other forms of prints, he produced over 300 lithographs, many of which were advertising posters.

Lautrec lived in the Montmartre section which was the nightlife quarter of cabarets, cafes, restaurants, sleazy dance halls and brothels. Here he became a part of the bohemian community.

In the evenings, he could be seen chatting with friends and drinking, and at the same time drawing sketches on paper. Then the next day, he would transform the sketches into paintings and lithographs.

Lautrec created his first lithograph in 1891. When he was commissioned to create a poster advertising the Moulin Rouge, he elevated the lithograph as a popular medium for advertising to the realm of high art.

Over three thousand copies of his Moulin Rouge, La Goulue were pasted on the walls around Paris, prompting an outpouring of popular and critical acclaim and turning the young artist into an overnight sensation.

Moulin Rouge, La Goulue, 1891
Moulin Rouge, La Goulue, 1891

The style and content of his posters were heavily influenced by  Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints by artists such as Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) and Ando Hiroshige (1797–1858), which typically feature areas of flat colour bound by strong outlines, silhouettes, cropped compositions and oblique angles.

 

Using new innovations in lithography developed during the late nineteenth century, Lautrec was able to produce larger prints, use varied colours, and introduce nuanced textures which conveyed the rapid pace of contemporary life.

He frequently used the spattered ink technique known as crachis, seen in his series of prints depicting Miss Loïe Fuller. Fuller was an American famous in fin-de-siècle (end of century) Paris for her performances combining dance, multi-coloured artificial lights (her nickname was the “Electric Fairy”) and music. As she twirled and bounded across the stage enormous lengths of fabric would billow outward from her body and reflect the coloured lights which created a spectacular effect.

Lautrec executed about sixty versions Miss Fuller dancing, in a variety of coloured inks, including gold and silver, which evoke the effect of her performances.

Another of Lautrec’s favourite café/concert stars was Yvette Guilbert, who was known as adiseuse or speaker because of the way she half-sang, half-spoke her songs during performances. She had bright red hair, thin lips, a tall gaunt physique, and wore black elbow-length gloves. Although her head is cropped by the top edge of the composition, her elongated body and trademark gloves in the upper left corner of the poster Divan Japonais leave no doubt as to her identity.

Similarly, the pinched features and aloof demeanour of the singer Jane Avril, seated in the foreground of the image wearing one of her famously outlandish hats, is also clearly representative of Lautrec’s style.

As well as his representation of the Paris nightlife, Lautrec is also known for his lithographs of jockeys and horses – horse racing was seen then, as now, as a pleasurable pass-time.

With his lithographs, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec influenced French art through his ability to capture the essence of a subject with economical means, his stylistic innovations, use of large areas of flat colour, and promotion of the use of prints as a popular (and affordable) form of artwork.

 

Unfortunately his career was short lived, as he died at age thirty-six due to complications from alcoholism and syphilis.

Lithographic prints are based on the principle that water and oil repel one another. To create a lithograph an artist draws on a hard, flat surface, usually a pre- flattened stone such as limestone, with an oil-based material such as lithographic crayon. The stone is then washed with water, which covers the blank areas of the surface but is repelled by the oil based image. Greasy printing ink is rolled over the stone which adheres only to the image. Finally, paper is laid on the surface and pressure is applied to create the lithographic print, which is a mirror image of the original drawing. To create colour lithographs, the artist uses a separate stone for each colour and the image is gradually built up. Lautrec used no more than eight colours in his lithographs (so they never appear too “busy”). The introduction of the steam press allowed for rapid production, multiple colours, and large scale lithographic prints.


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.


 

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Georges Seurat – A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte, 1884, 1884-86

 

1920px-A_Sunday_on_La_Grande_Jatte,_Georges_Seurat,_1884

Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte, 1884,  1884

Seurat is best known for his scientific approach to painting – in particular the optics of  colour – which lead him to develop a particular style of placing small dots of colour next to each other, which became known as either Divisionism or Pointillism.

Although Seurat embraced the subject matter of modern life preferred by the Impressionists, he went beyond their focus on capturing the accidental and instantaneous qualities of light in nature.

He wanted to evoke permanence in his work by referencing art from the past, especially Egyptian and Greek sculpture and even Italian Renaissance frescoes. As he explained to the French poet Gustave Kahn, “The Panathenaeans of Phidias formed a procession. I want to make modern people, in their essential traits, move about as they do on those friezes, and place them on canvases organized by harmonies of colour.” (source: http://www.artic.edu)

A key work in which he sought to combine all of these features was A Sunday Afternoon on  Grande Jatte which he commenced work on in the summer of 1884. The painting, which measures two by three metres (seven by 10 feet),  shows members of each of the social classes at a popular park at the island of La Grande Jatte, participating in various activities a  sunny Sunday afternoon.   The work comprises 48 people,  three dogs and eight boats.

It took him two years to complete.

He spent much of his time in the park sketching in preparation for the work, including a smaller version, Study for A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884–1885). However, he also completed a number of his studies in the studio.

The planning and choice of characters for La Grande Jatte was as complex as the work itself and Seurat undertook many sketched drafts before he arrived on the final plan for the painted piece. Overall, his painting of the work involved 28 drawings, 28 panels and three larger canvases. (I think that the drawing sketches for this work are exquisite.)

To achieve the effect he was seeking, Seurat began developing the painting with a layer of small horizontal brushstrokes of complementary colours. He later added small dots, also in complementary colours, that appear as solid and luminous forms when seen from a distance. The tiny juxtaposed dots of multi-colored paint allow the viewer’s eye to blend colours optically, rather than having the colours physically blended on the canvas. In comparison, the juxtaposed touches of colour that are woven together with short, patchy brushstrokes in the Study are more systematically applied, with discrete daubs of paint, in the final work.

On Pissarro’s advice, Seurat painted the final canvas with a  zinc chromate yellow pigment  that he hoped would properly capture the highlights of the park’s green grasses however it proved unstable and soon lost its luster. As a result, the Study for A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte provides a vital record of the chromatic intensity he had hoped to achieve, which is not evident in the final painting.

George Seurat, Study for A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884
George Seurat, Study for A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884

Seurat’s style came to be known as Pointillism (from the French word “point,” or “dot”), but he preferred the term Divisionism—the principle of separating colour into small touches placed side-by-side which is meant to blend in the eye of the viewer. (Note: This style is also sometimes referred to a Neo Impressionism.) He felt that colours applied in this way—not mixed on a palette or muddied by overlapping – would retain their integrity and produce a more brilliant, harmonious result.

The painting was criticised by some for being too mathematical. However, when it was exhibited, it was mostly heralded as a grand work of meticulous proportions. Suerat intended it to be exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants of 1885, but the exhibition was cancelled. The change in plans meant that he went back to add details to the work which  mainly consisted of his most recent thoughts on colour and its use in paintings. He also changed the shapes of some of his figures in order to create more sinuous rhythms.

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte was eventually exhibited in the eighth Impressionist exhibition of May 1886, but its style marks it as a Post Impressionist work.

(The final changes were made to La Grande Jatte in 1889. Seurat re-stretched the canvas in order to add a painted border of red, orange, and blue dots that provides a visual transition between the interior of the painting and his specially designed white frame.)

 

 


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

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If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.


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Post Impressionism – Paul Cézanne

Paul Cezanne, Still Life with Jar, Cup and Apples c.1877

One of the most influential artists in the history of 20th century painting, Paul Cézanne inspired generations of modern artists.

Generally categorised as a Post-Impressionist, his unique method of building form with colour, and his analytical approach to nature influenced the art of Cubists, Fauvists, and successive generations of avant-garde artists.

Cézanne sought to introduce greater structure into what he saw as the unsystematic practice of Impressionism. In his paintings objects appear more solid and tangible than in the works of Impressionist artists.

However, despite this, Cézanne often destabilised the integrity of form through subtle distortions and seeming inaccuracies in his many still-life paintings. Objects don’t rest comfortably on their bases, vases seen from the front have rims seen from above, and the horizontal edges of tables sometimes don’t seem to not match up. It is almost as if Cézanne was dismantling the very solidity he meant to reintroduce to the depiction of objects.

Paul Cézanne, Still Life with a Ginger Jar and Eggplants, 1893–94
Paul Cézanne, Still Life with a Ginger Jar and Eggplants, 1893–94

Beginning to paint in 1860 in his birthplace of Aix-en-Provence and subsequently studying in Paris, Cézanne’s early pictures of romantic and classical themes are imbued with dark colours and executed with an expressive brushwork in the tradition of Romantic artists such as Eugène Delacroix. His dramatic tonal contrasts and thick layers of pigment (often applied with a palette knife) exemplify the vigour in which Cézanne painted during the 1860s, which is especially apparent in the portrait series of his Uncle Dominique Aubert, variously costumed as a lawyer, an artist, and a monk. (This kind of costume piece is reminiscent of Édouard Manet’s Spanish paintings of the 1860s.)

Paul Cézanne, Antoine Dominique Sauveur Aubert (born 1817), the Artist's Uncle, 1866
Paul Cézanne, Antoine Dominique Sauveur Aubert (born 1817), the Artist’s Uncle, 1866

In his still-life paintings from the mid-1870s Cézanne abandoned this approach and began to look at the technical problems of form and colour by experimenting with subtly gradated tonal variations, or “constructive brushstrokes,” to create dimension in his objects. Still Life with Jar, Cup, and Apples is an example of Cézanne’s development into a refined system of colour scales placed next to one another. The light of Impressionism resonates in this work, but signs of a revised palette are especially apparent in his muted tones.

 

 

From about the same time, Cézanne ignored the classical laws of perspective and allowed each object to be independent within the space of a picture, for example in such still-lifes as Dish of Apples and in his landscapes. The relationship of one object to another took precedence over traditional single-point perspective.

In single point perspective, things appear to get smaller as they get further away, converging towards a single ‘vanishing point‘ on the horizon line. It is a way of drawing objects so that they appear three-dimensional and realistic – see the section on art terms in my e-course.

From 1882, he painted a number of landscape pictures of his native Aix and of L’Estaque, a small fishing village near Marseille, in which he continued to concentrate on the pictorial problems of creating depth. He used an organised system of layers to construct horizontal planes, which creates dimension and draws the viewer into the landscape. This technique is apparent in Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valley and The Gulf of Marseille Seen from L’Estaque. In Gardanne, he painted the landscape with intense geometric rhythms, which is most pronounced in the houses. (This picture anticipates the Cubism of Georges Braque (1882–1963) and Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), especially Braque’s impressions of L’Estaque of about 1908.)

 

In 1890, Cézanne began a series of five pictures of Provençal peasants playing cards. Widely celebrated as among the finest figure compositions completed by the artist, The Card Players demonstrates his system of colour gradations to build form and create a three-dimensional quality in the figures.

 

Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses, ca. 1890
Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses, ca. 1890

Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses, a mature work from the early 1890s, reveals Cézanne’s mastery of this style of building forms completely from colour and creating scenes with distorted perspective. The objects in this painting, such as the fruit and tablecloth, are painted without use of light or shadow using extremely subtle changes in colour.

In 1895, the dealer Ambroise Vollard held Cézanne’s first solo exhibition at his gallery in Paris. Although the exhibition met with some scepticism, Cézanne’s reputation as a great artist grew quickly, and he was discussed and promoted by a small circle of enthusiasts, including the art historian and critic Bernard Berenson American painter Mary Cassatt. Posthumous exhibitions at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune and the Salon d’Automne in 1907 in Paris established Cézanne’s artistic legacy (see module on Cubism).

Cézanne was interested in the simplification of naturally occurring forms to their geometric essentials – he wanted to “treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere, the cone” (for example, a tree trunk could be conceived of as a cylinder, an apple or orange a sphere).

Additionally, Cézanne’s desire to capture the truth of perception led him to explore how our vision, where  two separate images from our two eyes are successfully combined into one image in the brain,  works graphically, rendering slightly different, yet simultaneous visual perceptions of the same phenomena. This provides us with an aesthetic experience of depth which was different from those of earlier, classical ideals of perspective, and in particular single-point perspective.

(source:http://metmuseum.org/)


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery


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Post Impressionism – A Short Introduction

Van Gogh, The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night, 1888
Vincent Van Gogh, The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night, 1888

By the last Impressionist exhibition in 1886, a number of artists were seeking a shift in focus. Key amongst these were Paul CezanneGeorges Seurat Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gaugin.

Some felt that the Impressionists had allowed their preoccupations with technique and the effects of natural light to overshadow the importance of subject matter. (You can see examples of Impressionist works below and read more about Impressionist artists in earlier blogs.)

These artists developed independent styles for expressing emotions rather than simply painting optical impressions, concentrating on themes of deeper symbolism.

Through the use of simplified colours and definitive forms, their art was also characterised by a tendency towards abstraction – that is, not painting their subjects as they actually appeared. However, in doing so, they also created a sense of intrigue about the artist was trying to portray.

 

Paul Gauguin, M Loulou, 1890
Paul Gauguin, M Loulou, 1890
Eventually these dissenting artists became known as the Post-Impressionists, a term coined by British art critic Roger Fry in 1910 following an exhibition in London. Other artists recognised as post-impressionists include:

There is no style or manifesto of aims common to the artists but generally Post-Impressionists continued to use the vivid colours, thick application of paint and real-life subject matter favoured by the Impressionists, but were more inclined to emphasise geometric forms, to distort form for expressive effect, and to use unnatural colours.

You can see, for example, the way in which Paul Gauguin painted large areas of flat colours, whereas Georges Seurat introduced a method of ‘scientific’ painting using small dots known as Divisionalism. Cezanne played with picture planes and geometry and Van Gogh used strong colour to evoke emotion. It was period of great exploration that encouraged the idea that there was no limit to experimentation in the way in which artworks could be painted.

Post-impression provided a vital and creative link between the Impressionist revolution and the founding of all the subsequent major art movements of the 20th century, which I will be exploring further.

In my next post I will talk about one of my favourite artists – Paul Cezanne

One of the most influential artists in the history of twentieth century painting, Paul Cézanne inspired generations of modern artists. Generally categorised as a Post-Impressionist, his unique method of building form with colour, and his analytical approach to nature influenced the art of Cubists, Fauvists, and successive generations of avant-garde artists.

This is an excerpt from my interactive online modern art appreciation program  http://www.modernartappreciation.com where you will be able to see the full context for Post-Impressionism in Modern Art, and contribute through exercises and discussion.

Édouard Manet – Olympia, 1863

Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863
Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863

As he had in Luncheon on the Grass, Manet again used paintings by respected artists as a basis for the painting Olympia, 1863. The painting was a nude in a style not unlike early studio photographs, but the pose was modelled on Titian’s Venus of Urbino, 1538.

Titian’s painting is in fact not dissimilar to an earlier work, The Sleeping Venus, painted by the Italian Renaissance artist Giorgione, and it now generally accepted that the landscape and sky were completed by Titian after Giorgione’s death in 1510.

The painting is also reminiscent of Francisco Goya’s painting The Nude Maja,  1800, and Ingres’ La Grand Odalisque, 1814.

Manet began the work after being challenged by the Paris Salon to submit a nude painting. His  depiction of a self-assured prostitute was accepted by the Salon in 1865, but  it created a scandal. According to French journalist and politician Antonin Proust, “only the precautions taken by the administration prevented the painting being punctured and torn” by offended viewers.

The painting was controversial partly because Olympia is wearing some small items such as an orchid in her hair, a bracelet, a ribbon around her neck, and slippers – all of which accentuated her nakedness, sexuality, and comfortable courtesan lifestyle. The orchid, upswept hair, black cat, and bouquet of flowers were all recognised symbols of sexuality at the time.

However, this modern Venus is thin, which was counter to prevailing standards, and so the painting’s lack of idealism rankled viewers.

The painting’s flatness, inspired by Japanese wood block art, serves to make the nude more human and less voluptuous. Olympia’s body,  as well as her gaze, is unabashedly confrontational. She defiantly looks out to the viewer as her maid offers flowers from one of her male suitors. Although her hand rests on her leg, hiding her pubic area, the reference to traditional female virtue is ironic; a notion of modesty is notoriously absent in this work.

A  critic denounced Olympia’s “shamelessly flexed” left hand, which seemed to him a mockery of the relaxed, shielding hand of Titian’s Venus. Similarly, the alert black cat at the foot of the bed strikes a sexually rebellious note in contrast to that of the sleeping dog in Titian’s portrayal of the goddess in his Venus of Urbino.

As with Luncheon on the Grass, the painting raised the issue of prostitution within contemporary France and the roles of women within society.

Olympia was the subject of caricatures in the popular press, but was championed by the French avant-garde community, and the painting’s significance was appreciated by artists such as Gustave Courbet, Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, and later Paul Gauguin.

What reaction do you have this painting, when compared with earlier works of similar subjects?

This is an excerpt from my interactive online modern art appreciation program http://www.modernartappreciation.com

Édouard Manet – a pivotal artist in transitioning to a Modernist approach

Edouard Manet, Young Flautist, or The Fifer, 1866
Edouard Manet, Young Flautist, or The Fifer, 1866

Édouard Manet was one of the first 19th-century artists to paint modern life, and a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism. His early works, The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l’herbe) and Olympia, both  painted in 1863, caused great controversy and served as rallying points for young painters who would introduce Impressionism. Today, these are considered watershed paintings that mark the genesis of modern art.

Manet put great emphasis on acceptance by the Paris Salon. In fact, he believed that success as an artist could only be obtained through recognition at the Salon.

Spanish Guitar Player, painted in 1862, reflected the Parisian love of “all things Spanish” and was one of Manet’s first works to be accepted by the Salon, however  it was not this painting which brought  his much sought after recognition (notoriety) but the rejected Dejeuner sur l’herbe.

He became friends with the Impressionists Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro through another painter, Berthe Morisot, who was a member of the group and drew him into their activities. She is credited with convincing Manet to attempt plein air painting, which she had been practicing since she was introduced to it by another friend of hers, Camille Corot.

Although his own work influenced and anticipated the Impressionist style, he resisted involvement in Impressionist exhibitions, partly because he didn’t wish to be seen as the representative of a group identity, and partly because he wanted the prestige of exhibiting at the Salon.

He was influenced by other Impressionists, especially Monet and Morisot. Their influence is seen in Manet’s use of lighter colours, but he retained his distinctive use of black, uncharacteristic of Impressionist painting. He painted many outdoor (plein air) pieces, but always returned to what he considered the serious work of the studio.

Some of Manet’s best-loved works are his café scenes. His completed paintings were often based on small sketches he made while out socializing. These works, including At the Café, The Beer Drinkers and The Café Concert, amongst others, depict 19th-century Paris. He sought to illuminate the rituals of both common and bourgeoisie French people. His subjects are reading, waiting for friends, drinking and working. In stark contrast to his café scenes, Manet also painted the tragedies and triumphs of war.

In my next blog more about Manet…

 

 This is an excerpt from my online art appreciation program http://www.modernartappreciation.com

Impressionism – Marie Bracquemond

Marie Bracquemond, Pierre Bracquemong as a Child, 1878
Marie Bracquemond, Pierre Bracquemond as a Child, 1878

Born Marie Quiveron, Marie Braquemond (1840 – 1916) was one of the four key women associated with the Impressionists. She was included in their exhibitions three times; in 1879, 1880 and 1886.

As a young woman she was admitted to Ingres’s studio and worked with two of his students. Although, according to Bracquemond, Ingres “doubted the courage and perseverance of a woman in the field of painting … [and] … would assign to them only the painting of flowers, of fruits, of still lifes, portraits and genre scenes…”, her work was accepted at the Paris Salon from 1857 (when she was only 17).

Marie Braquemond
Marie Braquemond

She began receiving commissions, including one from the court of Empress Eugenie, the Empress of France and wife of Napoleon III. Bracquemond was also commissioned by Count de Nieuwerkerke, the Director-General of French museums, to copy more important paintings in the Louvre.

It was here she met her husband, Félix Bracquemond. He introduced  Marie to his artist friends, such as Millet, Corot, Degas, and Rodin and through them she received more commissions. She also became involved in his work for the Haviland Limoges factory, where he was artistic director.