The Heidi Horten Collection at the Leopold Museum

Another in my 2018 European holiday series.

It’s wonderful to discover artworks that you haven’t seen before and the Heidi Horten Collection at the Leopold Museum provided me with another opportunity to do just that.

The Heidi Horton Collection contains more than 170 works spanning a hundred years from Expressionisn through to pop art.

Heidi Goesse-Horton has been expanding her collection since the 1990s and has built one of the most impressive private collections in Europe. It contains over 500 paintings, graphic works and sculptures.

You can see more more about the Collection at and

Luckily the exhibition had been extended from the end of July to early September or I would have missed it. 

The standout pieces for me included the Rothko I saw as I entered the exhibition,

A beautiful Joseph Albers demonstrating his use of colours and design (the photo doesn’t do it justice),

a simple Matisse drawing,

This Kees von Dongen, with its controlled design and muted palette,

and another Expressionist work, this time by August Macke.

And finally a work by Michelangelo Pisteletto, simply because of its creativity (a mirror with two figures appearing to look over a railing). 

Surprised at the Leopold

Another in my 2018 European holiday series.

Today I am in Vienna for my first ever visit. One of my priorities has been to visit the Leopold Museum to see an exhibition of a well known artist – and I am surprised by his beautiful early works which I hadn’t seen before.

I wonder if you know who the artist is from looking at these pics? 

The artist is Gustav Klimt and I think that these beautiful examples demonstrate the depth and breadth of his abilities. 

After studying at the Vienna School of Decorative Arts, Klimt opened an independent studio in 1883 specialising in mural paintings.

His early work had a classical style that was typical of late 19th-century academic painting.

In 1897 Klimt’s mature style emerged, and he founded the Vienna Sezession, a group of painters who revolted against academic art in favour of a highly decorative style similar to Art Nouveau.

Klimt’s most successful works include The Kiss (1908–09) and a series of portraits of fashionable Viennese matrons, such as Fritza Riedler (1906) and Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907). In these works he treats the human figure without shadow and heightens the lush sensuality of skin by surrounding it with areas of flat, highly ornamental, brilliantly composed areas of decoration. Source:

As stated in the Britannia bio above, it appeared that his style began to change from the style shown above to his more recognised style from the late 1890s. The first one below was completed in 1907.

This exhibition was a wonderful surprise, and the surprises kept coming as I discovered the Heidi Horton collection, also at the Leopold Museum – see pics in next blog.

Postscript: here are some photos of the paintings that Klimt was commissioned to do for the Kunsthishistorisches Museum in Vienna which I discovered during my visit.





Red, White and Blue, and Yellow

The next in my 2018 European holiday series – 15 July

Like the French Soccer team, I am on a mission today. I am looking for the Yellow house, at least where it used to stand before it was bombed by the Allies (accidentally) in May 1945. It is the house that Vincent Van Gogh rented and painted in 1888, hoping to start an artist commune in Arles. Paul Gauguin visited for a short time, but this proved to be an unhappy experience for both of them.

VIncent Van Gogh, The Yellow House, 1888VIncent Van Gogh, The Yellow House, 1888VIncent Van Gogh, The Yellow House, 1888
VIncent Van Gogh, The Yellow House, 1888

He rented four rooms at 2 Place Lamartine, on the right wing of the nearest building in the painting. The two ground floor rooms were used for a studio and a kitchen. The upstairs corner room was the guest room for Gauguin, while the one next to it (with one shutter closed) was Van Gogh’s bedroom – the one later painted with the chair and pipe. At a later point, he rented two more rooms upstairs at the back of the house.

On 16 September 1888 Vincent wrote to his sister Wilhelmina describing the house, and his contentment at finding a place where he felt he could think and paint:

“…Also a sketch of a 30 square canvas representing the house and its setting under a sulphur sun under a pure cobalt sky. The theme is a hard one! But that is exactly why I want to conquer it. Because it is fantastic, these yellow houses in the sun and also the incomparable freshness of the blue. All the ground is yellow too. I will soon send you a better drawing of it than this sketch out of my head.

The house on the left is pink with green shutters. It’s the one that is shaded by a tree. This is the restaurant where I go to dine every day. My friend the factor is at the end of the street on the left, between the two bridges of the railroad. The night café that I painted is not in the picture, it is on the left of the restaurant.”

– Letter to Theo (543) dated 28 September 1888

I left the boat and set off for the old section of town – the very helpful Cruise Director had marked the spot that she thought it had been on the map.  However when I found the little square I couldn’t find any plaque or reference to the house, so I asked  a local tour guide who simply laughed and said ‘but it doesn’t exist any more!’ and turned back to her tour participants.

So then with my less than trusty map, I set off to find signs of the house. I firstly came across  a cafe which he painted (where I paid a ridiculous amount for a soft drink).LRG_DSC04573

I then found a small garden where Van Gogh painted  (also now heavily commercialised ) next to the hospital where he had been admitted in Arles.


Then to the local museum which houses several of his works.


Included in the photos below are some close ups of the canvas so you can see how he applied the paint..





After leaving the museum and heading back towards the boat, I found the information centre where another very helpful person produced a new map, and placed a new X – which was about 50 metres from where the boat was moored! I had walked close by when I’d set out on my walk about two hours beforehand.










I also realised that one of his starry night paintings would likely have been done in the vicinity of the boat mooring.



(On route to our adventure of the afternoon – please do check this blog –  we also saw the sunflowers where Vincent would have painted, the hospital at St Remy where he stayed, and the monastery where he painted.)





So, like the French soccer players, mission accomplised, and a great reason to celebrate!


And just to finish, a few pics of the area.




Cezanne and Provence

The next in my 2018 European holiday series 


It may seem small thing, but today included a bucket list event.

On the  bus heading towards Arles where I was to join the cruise we drove past Mount Sainte-Victoire, which Cezanne painted so many times. The bus also stopped  for a rest break where the mountain was still in full sight, so I had the opportunity to take a number of photos, even though it was interesting trying to block out the various signs and structures of the petrol station and I’ve used my iPad to take the pics!

Cezanne is one of my favourite artists because  he was so inspired, and his experiments with shape, form and colour significantly influenced the Modern artists and art styles to follow.  I don’t think that pictures of his work really do him justice, but if you have ever seen his work in the gallery you can see the depth and the relationships between colour and form in a way that will give you many ‘aha’ moments.

In the catalogue for the 1910 London exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists, the art critic and curator Roger Fry wrote that Cézanne ‘showed how it was possible to pass from the complexity of the appearance of things to the geometrical simplicity which design demands’.

So whilst Cézanne focused mainly on the landscape around his home town, he turns this landscape into a study of form and colour.


Whereas the Impressionists painted with thick, short brushstrokes, shimmering colours and no outlines, Cézanne used blocks of strong colour, prominently outlining forms such as the tree trunk and the fields in dark blue.

His interest in form and line is emphasised in the shape of the branches and the way in which they perfectly echo the outline of the mountain behind.

Cézanne’s simplification of the landscape could be interpreted as a return to an era of balanced, harmonious form rather than complex ornamentation, as well as a leap towards Modernism: the structured parallel brushstrokes that fragment the surface of the composition, as well as the bold colours, appealed to younger artists and paved the way towards abstraction. (source: Courtauld  Museum)

Rising to 1011 metres, the massive limestone peak of Mount Sainte-Victoire dominates the countryside around Aix, and the oeuvre of Cézanne.

The artist produced at least thirty canvases and many watercolours, unifying the forms and rhythms of the landscape with short diagonal brushstrokes and patches of colour. In his vast panoramas of the early 1880s he contrasts the mountain and foreground vegetation, exploring ways for Mount Sainte-Victoire to become the compositional focus. In later works, the mountain dominates the entire scene, often merging into the sky. By limiting his palette to greens, blues, grey-violet and cream, Cézanne emphasises the grandeur and gravity of the landscape.

Despite the artist’s constant moves—he only settled permanently in Aix in 1897—and the difficulty of dating many works, Mount Sainte-Victoire imposes a geological consistency and series-like fidelity on Cézanne’s oeuvre. In this painting and others of the first series—Mount Sainte-Victoire and the viaduct of the Arc Valley 1882–85 (p.37) and Mount Sainte-Victoire with large pine c. 1887 being two of the most famous—Cézanne shows details of his sister- and brother-in-law’s property, the walls, fields and neighbouring farmhouses, the Arc River and railway viaduct. He uses the architectural elements to enhance the landscape, as though to ‘contrast the wayward and irregular forms of the natural world with the more orderly geometric shapes of man’s own devising’. By changing his position slightly, Cézanne creates subtle variations in the geometric relationship between the landscape and built environment.

In the early paintings, Cézanne employs trees to frame or interrupt his composition; later, as he ‘subtracts’ these elements, the relationship between mountain and its surrounds is examined in other ways. The wall in the extreme foreground of this painting is a traditional repoussoir device, framing the composition and providing an entrée for the viewer; it forms a parallel with the aqueduct in the valley below, and counterpoint to the pyramid-like mountain. The corner of the wall also announces the point at which the foliage sweeps back, like imaginary theatre curtains, to reveal the grandeur of Mount Sainte-Victoire beyond. Rather than applying the same cross-hatching technique to the whole canvas, as he does in the later series, Cézanne adjusts the direction of his brushstrokes to his forms. The canvas is visible between the spare, quickly worked brushwork. As the artist wrote to his first biographer, Joachim Gasquet:

the blue smell of the pines … must be married to the green smell of the plains which are refreshed every morning, with the smell of stones, the perfume of distant marble from Sainte-Victoire. I have not expressed it. It must be done. And by colours, not literature.

Source : Lucinda Ward  National Gallery of Australia, (NGA)Canberra 2009

And to finish this post, some more pics of our bus trip (still taken on iPad from the window on the bus) and a photo of an amazing sunset, taken on the boat on the first evening – what a great start, and great to meet other passengers including two sisters, also from Australia, in the room next door.


Max Ernst – Cannes


Today it’s Bastille Day,  the 14 of July, and I’m in Cannes. Those few drops of rain were very welcome as it is still very hot and humid. Best to avoid the esplanade and enjoy wandering through the back streets.

It’s fortunate that at least one gallery is open today and I enjoy seeing an exhibition of Max Ernst and his surrealist works.


It’s a lovely little exhibition with works dating from 1929 to around 1972, and I particularly loved his quirky little sculptures, similar to the one below.


Max Ernst was born on April 2, 1891, in Brühl, Germany. He enrolled in the University at Bonn in 1909 to study philosophy, but soon abandoned this pursuit to concentrate on art. At this time he was interested in psychology and the art of the mentally ill. In 1911 Ernst became a friend of August Macke and joined the Rheinische Expressionisten group in Bonn. Ernst showed for the first time in 1912 at the Galerie Feldman in Cologne. At the Sonderbund exhibition of that year in Cologne he saw the work of Paul Cézanne, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent van Gogh. In 1913 he met Guillaume Apollinaire and Robert Delaunay and traveled to Paris. Ernst participated that same year in the Erste deutsche Herbstsalon. In 1914 he met Jean Arp, who was to become a lifelong friend.

Despite military service throughout World War I, Ernst was able to continue painting and to exhibit in Berlin at Der Sturm in 1916. He returned to Cologne in 1918. The next year he produced his first collages and founded the short-lived Cologne Dada movement with Johannes Theodor Baargeld; they were joined by Arp and others. In 1921 Ernst exhibited for the first time in Paris, at the Galerie au Sans Pareil. He was involved in Surrealist activities in the early 1920s with Paul Eluard and André Breton. In 1925 Ernst executed his first frottages; a series of frottages was published in his book Histoire naturelle in 1926. He collaborated with Joan Miró on designs for Sergei Diaghilev that same year. The first of his collage-novels, La Femme 100 têtes, was published in 1929. The following year the artist collaborated with Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel on the film L’Age d’or.

His first American show was held at the Julien Levy Gallery, New York, in 1932. In 1936 Ernst was represented in Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1939 he was interned in France as an enemy alien. Two years later Ernst fled to the United States with Peggy Guggenheim, whom he married early in 1942. After their divorce he married Dorothea Tanning and in 1953 resettled in France. Ernst received the Grand Prize for painting at the Venice Biennale in 1954, and in 1975 the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum gave him a major retrospective, which traveled in modified form to the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, in 1975. He died on April 1, 1976, in Paris. (Source: Guggenheim Museum).

Below are a few examples of the style of work in the gallery.



Of course, I thought I should also include a photo of the Cannes festival theatre as well as a few local pics.


This evening I start my cruise along the Rhône river.

Picasso Museum – Antibes

E6146851-AF11-46D8-8094-6C6048C11D97Over the next  few weeks I’ll be sharing with you some images from the galleries that I visit during my European holiday.  Please forgive the fact that I haven’t attempted to edit most the photos in any way..2510C766-6940-47CB-8E4F-B0094355D706

After leaving a very wintry Sydney with heaters turned up high, I arrived in Nice where it was 30° and so  humid I showered three times on the first day!

One of my favourite places in France is Nice,  and I had a fantastic apartment in place Massena which is so central to both the beach and the old section.

As well as visiting old family friends the highlight of my visit this time was a trip to Antibes, about 15  minutes from Nice, and in particular to the Picasso Museum.

Musee Picasso Antibes
Musee Picasso Antibes

According to Antibes– Juen-les-Pins, Musée Picasso is founded on the ancient acropolis of the Greek city of Antipolis, Roman castrum, which was the residence of the bishops in the Middle Ages (from 442 to 1385).

A castle was built on the site in 1385 by the Monegasque family who gave it its name of the Grimaldi castle. It later became the residence of the governor  and then the town hall from 1792. In 1820 it became a military barracks  before being established as a museum by Professor Romuald Dor de la Souchere in 1923.

Professor of French, Greek and Latin at Lycée Carnot in Cannes, Romuald Dor Souchère began his archaeological research in Antibes in 1923. In 1924, he created the Friends of the Museum of Antibes, in order to found a Historical and Archaeological Museum and to display the history  of the region.

In 1925, the Grimaldi castle was bought by the city of Antibes and became the Grimaldi museum, with Romuald Dor de la Souchère as its first curator.

According to this website, Picasso visited the Museum in September 1945 (just a few months after the end of the Second World War) and stayed until sometime in 1946 when  Dor de la Souchère offered him the use of part of the castle as a studio.


Picasso, enthusiastic, worked at the castle and created many works, drawings and paintings. Following his stay in 1946, Pablo Picasso left 23 paintings and 44 drawings in the city of Antibes.


September 22, 1947 saw the official inauguration of the Picasso room on the first floor, accompanied by a first hanging of the works of Antibes. On September 7, 1948, an exhibition was extended to include 78 ceramics made at the Madoura workshop in Vallauris. On September 13, 1949, on the occasion of the inauguration of the exhibition “French tapestries”, new rooms dedicated to Picasso’s paintings, ceramics and drawings were opened to the public.
And on December 27, 1966, the city of Antibes paid homage to Pablo Picasso and the Grimaldi castle  when it officially became the Picasso museum – the first museum dedicated to the artist. Finally, in 1991, the Jacqueline Picasso authorised extensions to the Picasso collection.
To my absolute delight I turned into a room of ceramics. Some years ago I bought pictures of these ceramics so it was fantastic to see two walls of these great works.




To finish with, just a few more photos of the gallery space and Antibes …
(You might also enjoy this article by the Guardian)

Learning to Appreciate Art – My Accidental Journey

Arthur Streeton, The Purple Noon's Transparent Might, 1896
Arthur Streeton, The Purple Noon’s Transparent Might, 1896

I grew up in just outside a country town in NSW in Australia in the 1960s – no galleries nearby, few art books and no conversations about art at the dinner table.

On our walls we had quite lovely, but predictable, paintings of landscapes (usually with rivers – see the Streeton above as an example). I remember that in my shared bedroom there were also two prints; one of an oriental lady in muted green and orange, and a brightly coloured clown.  I don’t remember paying them much attention as I was much more interested in playing outside on the farm, or reading books, and more books.

My first visit to a gallery was when I was about 12 when my French grandmother (who was then living in Sydney) took me to the Art Gallery of NSW. Sadly, about all I recall other than perhaps more landscapes, was being approached by a boy about my own age who wanted to know the time. As he was wearing a watch, it was clear that he wasn’t much interested in art at that age either.

At my high school you had a couple of choices – you followed the academic stream or the not so academic stream (which included such subjects as woodwork, home economics and art). Bookish me followed the academic stream, so I had no exposure to art – except for obligatory prints of the Queen in full regalia, and landscapes by Hans Heysen and aboriginal artist, Albert Namatjira, which hung prominently near the Principal’s office.

Then after school it was more study (Professional Writing), marriage, children and work as a career public servant in Canberra.

So I remained blissfully unaware of the joy of art until just before I turned 40.

When my parents sold the farm and retired into town I borrowed a camera and took photos for future memories. Lots of photos of paddocks, trees and gardens, fence lines, outbuildings and the interior of our home (sadly now mostly filed away somewhere ‘safely’).

Beaufort c1990
“Beaufort” c1990

I had by then discovered that I had an interest in DYI and woodwork, and decided that rather than buying expensive frames I would either do up old ones, which was great fun, or make them myself, so off to the hardware store for timber, saws and router. I developed such a love of framing that I began framing for friends (later in life I left the public service for a year and  bought a framing business and learnt professionally).

early framing
Early restoration framing

Taking photographs and framing taught me how to “see” pictures. I learnt about composition and colour by looking carefully at how I could best present a scene in front of me, or the bring out the best in a picture I was framing. Over time, I found I could tell when a picture appeared balanced, how it drew the eye in and around, whether the colours were harmonious or didn’t appear to work together. I could work out how to crop a photo so that it didn’t contain elements that didn’t add to the overall effect. I was learning intuitively;  it was trial and error.

Although I’ve tried from time to time, I’ve discovered that I have no talent whatsoever for drawing or painting artworks (although I’ve pretty good at painting walls) so I am much happier just working ‘around the edges’ of visual art.

Not surprisingly by my 40s I was interested in visiting galleries. Like most ‘new comers’ to art appreciation I was primarily interested in pictures I could relate to and which appeared to be ‘easy on the eye’ so mostly landscapes, and Australian landscapes. Bookish me has always loved learning so it was with much enthusiasm that I read as much as I could about the Heidelberg School and Impressionism in Melbourne – Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Charles Condor and  Frederick McCubin (there wasn’t anything much written about the female Impressionist artists that I can recall, although in fact there were several prominent ones such as Clara Southern, Jane Sutherland and Alice Bale).

I also worked for a number of years at the Australian National University (ANU) and the Australian collection to be seen in offices throughout the campus was amazing and eclectic. So now I was starting to look at Modern and Contemporary art – intrigued, but not really understanding it, and this led to my search to appreciate what I was seeing in earnest.

Grace Cossington Smith, Interior in Yellow, 1962
Grace Cossington Smith, Interior in Yellow, 1962


I’m indebted to Roy Forward who conducted a number of evening adult education programs on art appreciation at the uni. I absolutely lapped up all the information he had to give and my eyes were really opened by the range of paintings he showed. So many ‘a ha’ moments!

Marcel Duchamp Nude Descending the Stairs 1912
Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending the Stairs, 1912

Another watershed moment. My eldest son, Michael, was living in London in the early 2000s, and as a birthday present he gave me a ticket to travel overseas to visit him. So, travelling with a friend from art appreciation class, I set off for Italy, France and England. I don’t remember how many galleries we visited, but can you imagine going to Rome, Florence, and Venice  for the first time and seeing centuries old paintings that we simply have no access to in Australia.  It was a sensory overload, and we were awestruck. We saw religious iconography, beautiful portraits with luscious colours, heroic painting of battles, idyllic scenes, workers toiling in the fields – masterpiece after masterpiece. Our first stop was Rome and it was perfect for setting the historical context for what was to follow. One artist that I particularly recall seeing at the Florence Uffizi was Bronzino – the detail in the costumes he painted in the 1500s was incredible.

Bronzino, Eleonora of Toledo with Her Son Giovanni
Bronzino, Eleonora of Toledo with Her Son Giovanni

And then to Paris. Now we were standing in front of the actual paintings we’d seen in Roy’s classes – soft pretty impressions, cubist shapes, explosions of bold colours, distorted faces and objects.

Degas, Little Dancer
Degas, Little Dancer

In London, on my own, I visited an exhibition and remember the disdain of a fellow visitor when I remarked on Degas’ beautiful little dancer sculpture (see more images in the link), mispronouncing his name, but I couldn’t help but express my delight at seeing this exquisite work, with a real fabric tutu and bow around her hair. I personally think it’s great when you are standing next to some-one at a gallery who is just so impressed by what they are seeing that they need to tell a fellow enthusiast (and mostly they are forgiving if you aren’t sure about pronunciation).

At the Tate Modern I stood in absolute awe for about five minutes in front of a Rothko painting – it was a really large painting and almost totally black. I had to tell the young student next to me how the paint layers created the most beautiful lights and shadows. I’m so pleased that he did stop and look before racing off to find his friends.

Having fallen in love with all the places I’d visited, it was time to start saving for future trips, and I also started to collect art on my visits, not many paintings because they were too expensive, but beautiful and unusual prints. My French grandmother and her sister had both been both fashion designers and Tante Jeanne worked for Gallery Lafayette in Paris for most of her career, so over time my collecting extended to French fashion design from the early 1900s – these beautiful prints I mostly found on-line.

Gazette Du bon Ton, 1921 No 3 Plate IX Costume, de Worth c
Gazette Du bon Ton, 1921

What was still missing in my discovery was a clear understanding of art history and how and why one art style progressed from the ones before and who influenced whom. Though Roy’s classes I  had realised that it was Modern Art (the period between the late 1800s and mid 1900s) that I was most drawn to, but his primary focus had been on artists and individual images. Just like my need to understand Australian Impressionism, I started reading as much as I could to put what I was seeing in context.

And it was also time to find an on-line art history program. I found one run by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and it all started to click into place. I could now understand the progression from Romantic art in Europe through to Abstract art.  I was also learning so much more about the personal stories of the artists and their interrelationships. Their lives and loves are as interesting as any of the ‘celebs’ you might read about today.

I’ve mentioned that I had begun to collect art, and also that I loved picture framing, so as I was nearing “retirement” from my professional career, I decided I would open my own small gallery. But firstly, more study. This time in Museum Studies at Deakin University, where I learnt about art museums, curating, the importance of conservation and responding to audience needs.

chris and I
Kiama Art Gallery, with my son Chris

Having the gallery in a coastal town in NSW opened up a whole new world in art for me. I met lots of local artists (whose work I also included in the gallery) and became involved in the local arts scene. I was invited to judge several art shows, served on the local art society committee, established the local arts trail, co-conveyed a major arts festival to celebrate iconic Australian artist Lloyd Rees, and co-project managed a major arts restoration project – again, it was all more learning and very rewarding!

Back in my early public service days, I had conducted lots of management training programs, so I knew about adult learning  and I enjoyed giving presentations, so now I was able to start conducting my own art appreciation programs through local art and community bodies – both on Modern European art and Australian Impressionism. My approach was different from Roy’s at ANU – as I combined art appreciation with art history.

Because I enjoy writing, the next logical step was to turn my eight week evening European course in to an on-line e course –  and I set myself the goal of equalling or bettering the quality of the MoMA program I’d completed.

I knew what I wanted to achieve. I want my readers to have the ‘a ha’ moments I had had when I did Roy Forward’s classes so many years before, combined with the social, political and economic context for the evolution of art, plus some information on the elements of art, that might assist in critical ‘seeing’ and evaluation of paintings.

I had learnt through my research, not surprisingly, that artists are products of their time. The social, political, industrial and economic circumstances had a huge impact on the styles that artists adopted, as did scientific discoveries. As a simple example, Impressionism largely occurred when it did because artists were able to travel by train to the country side, with portal easels and paint in paint tubes.

Revolutions and wars encouraged artists to rebel against norms and express their responses to the political turmoil, to the extent that they needed to find new ways to present their artworks, which were entirely unsuitable to be displayed in the established exhibitions such as the Paris Salon.

Claude Monet, La Grenouillere, 1869
Claude Monet, La Grenouillere, 1869

Also, generally, artists don’t work alone; they meet, discuss art, share theories and make discoveries together, in the same way that we all tend to move in and out of communities at different points in our lives.  For example, I think that Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir had a major influence on how artists reflect the light after they painted together at La Grenouillére.

Many of the avant-garde artists were attempting to present their theories, or manifestos through their art, such as Wassily Kandinsky who sought to explore the relationship between visual art and music, and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti who developed the Futurist Manifesto in 1909. He also declared that “Art […] can be nothing but violence, cruelty, and injustice.”  Futurism disappeared after the first World War, as artists decided they’d had enough of violence.

Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913
Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913

Art is also intimately linked to an artist’s emotional state, and perhaps one of the best example of that is van Gogh, or Edvard Munch (the Scream).

Part of the challenge of writing the course has been to put aside knowledge of artist’s personal life and focus on the quality of the work that they produced – Gauguin is one such artist whose relationship with his family and then later natives in Tahiti left a lot to be desired.  It’s always led to an interesting debate in class when I’ve questioned whether knowing about  an artist’s personal life affects the appreciation of their art.

Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Idyll, 1902
Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Idyll, 1902

Whilst the visual impact of paintings must persuade us of their merits in order for them to endure, I’ve found that understanding where they sit in history adds to my enjoyment and appreciation of my favourite works.

It took me over a year to do sufficient research and writing to finalise Introduction to Modern European Art. I knew I had come a long way in my art appreciation journey when I read statements on-line and knew they just weren’t correct.

If you’ve ever done serious research on the internet you will have very quickly realised that there are a lot of contradictory ‘facts’, so I found that the most reliable sources were art museum (gallery) websites, hardcopy texts (what a wonderful excuse to visit bookshops),  and a few art websites that appeared to be consistently accurate. I had also been accumulating some early 1900 periodicals that had some particularly articles of their time. As well, I included a few visits to gallery libraries.

Writing the program not only expanded my knowledge and appreciation of art, I also discovered I needed to know about designing websites, SEO, social media, YouTube, marketing … the list goes on and on.

And then, when the course was finally completed, I was advised that a particularly useful way to advertise it was to start ‘blogging’ and this has lead to my series Stories about Modern Art which has proved to be pretty popular. I’ve included snippets from the course in my blog, but re-written them slightly so that each subject is a stand-alone story.

Is that the end of my art appreciation journey?

No, I’m keen to start on my next e-course soon, and not surprisingly it will be about Australian art. (postcript – please see link to this website)

An additional challenge for both programs is the inclusion of women artists, as they have largely been excluded from so many texts. It’s not that they didn’t exist, or that their work wasn’t worthy of being recorded, it’s simply a reflection of what was important to (mostly male) art historians at the time. I just have to dig deeper into historical records so that I can share their work and stories. So, I hope my journey will never end.

Funny to think that it all began with a borrowed camera, a handful of photos, and some handmade picture frames. Now I wonder how different my art appreciation journey might just have been if I’d chosen to study art as school as well!

Andrea Hope

icon-ecourse        icons-visit-gallery


Australian Art History


What has been your art appreciation journey and what has influenced you most in the way you learn?


Henri Rousseau – Tigers and Imagination


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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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:


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

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

Recognised as a leading Symbolist artist Pierre – Cécile Puvis de Chevannes’ interpretation of Classicism gave his murals and large grand paintings a modern, abstract look which not only appealed to other symbolist  artists and writers of the time, but also led to him being acknowledged as an avant-garde artist from the mid to late 1800s.

He was keenly interested in supporting a younger generation of artists, and although his work is not so well know today, Puvis de Chavannes was a key influence on many artists including Picasso, Gauguin and Matisse.

He was also 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 painting Hope, from 1872, was his response to the Franco-Prussian war – and the style and theme of this painting can be seen in the work of a number of later painters.

Purvis De Chavannes, Hope, 1872
Purvis De Chavannes, Hope, 1872


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. Independently wealthy, he was able to pursue art without relying on patronage^.

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.

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.)

Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, Between Art and Nature, ca. 1890–95
Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, Between Art and Nature, ca. 1890–95

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.

Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, Death and the Maidens, 1872 (sketch)
Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, Death and the Maidens, 1872 (sketch)

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.

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.

Throughout his career, he  had frequently aimed to adapt allegory in modern society to his art, as means to express concepts and  abstract principles in a human form, particularly  in his  mural commissions, and he did this again in his paintings in response to the conflict. 

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.

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

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).

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

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.

^ Aimée Brown Price, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010

^ ^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.

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

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



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:

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.


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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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.

Marie designed plates for dinner services and executed large Faience (tin-glazed earthenware) tile panels entitled The Muses, which were shown at the Universal Exhibition of 1878. The preliminary sketch used for the design was shown at the Impressionist Exhibition of 1879, and Edgar Degas was among its greatest admirers.

In an article in the 1904 magazine Women in the Fine Arts,  Clara Erskine Clement, author of Women in the Fine Arts from the Seventh Century to the Twentieth Century AD, wrote about Marie Bracquemond’s ability:

“…Madame Bracquemond had the facility of employing the faience colours so well that she produced a clearness and richness not achieved by other artists.  The progress made in the Haviland faience in the 70’s was very largely due to Madame Bracquemond, whose pieces were almost always sold from the atelier before being fired, so great was her success…”

From the late 1870s Bracquemond’s style had began to change. Her canvases grew larger and her colours intensified. She began sketching and painting en plein air, and Monet, Renoir  and Degas became her mentors. Her fascination with the colouristic effects on sunlight on white resulted in paintings such as Woman in White and the more fully realised On the Terrace at Sévres, both of which appeared in the 1880 exhibition.

The “woman in white”, which was captured outdoors in a garden or at the seashore, soon became an archetypal Impressionist motif around the world. Many artists found it a perfect vehicle for the investigation of the formal properties of reflected light and colour.

Bracquemond also experimented with different light effects, moving from work which explored natural daylight, such as Tea Time, to paintings under artificial light, such as Under the Lamp.


In 1886, Félix met Paul Gauguin through Impressionist artist Alfred Sisley, and brought the impoverished artist home. Gauguin had a decisive influence on Marie and he taught her how to prepare canvases. Unlike many of her Impressionist contemporaries, Bracquemond spent a great deal of effort planning her pieces. Even though many of her works have a spontaneous feel, she prepared them in a traditional way through sketches and drawings before starting on the canvas.

Bracquemond was an artist who is considered to have approached the interpretation of her human subjects with particular empathy for their individuality. Her models were usually family members, such as her son, sister and close friends, including Sisley and his wife.

The greatest challenge in her career proved to be the discouragement of her husband, and by 1890 the domestic conflict that her painting provoked led her to giving up paintings almost completely. Her son Pierre recorded in La vie de Félix and Marie Bracquemond the pain and difficulties that his mother suffered and his father’s jealousy of her talent.

However, she remained a fervent defender of Impressionism “Impressionism has produced… not only a new, but a very useful way of looking at things. It is as if all at once a window opens and the sun and air enter your house in torrents“.


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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.


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 (French for ‘spots’) 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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Impressionism – The Influence of Japonisme

Mary Cassatt, Woman Bathing  c. 1890–91
Mary Cassatt, Woman Bathing c. 1890–91

A major influence on Impressionism was Japanese art prints (Japonisme).

The term Japonisme was coined by the French journalist and art critic Philippe Burty in an article published in 1876 to describe the strong interest for Japanese artworks and decorative items.

After Japanese ports reopened to trade with the West in 1854, shiploads of  oriental bric-a brac began pouring into France.  In 1862, a Far Eastern curio shop called Le Porte Chinoise opened near the Louvre Museum, attracting artists visiting the gallery. It sold fans, kimonos, lacquered boxes, hanging scrolls, ceramics, bronze statuary and other items.

In 1867,  Japan held its first formal arts and crafts exhibition at the Paris Exposition Universelle. The exhibition attracted a great deal of interest and resulted in all things Japanese becoming stylish and fashionable. Shops selling Japanese woodblock prints, kimonos, fans and antiquities popped up in Paris like mushrooms.

In the images below, you’ll see paintings by Edouard Manet and James Tissot, indicating that artists visited the 1867 and later expositions, as well as the shops selling Japanese items.

Siegried Bing, who is known as the founder of L’Art Nouveau, began collecting Oriental art and design from the mid 1870s and by the 1880s, after a year long visit to the Orient, he was running no less that three stores in Paris and had become one of the most influential dealers of Japanese art in Europe. In 1890 he organised an exhibition of Japanese woodcuts.

Bing also published a richly illustrated journal, Le Japon Artistique, between 1888 and 1891 which was intended to promote the principles of Japanese design amongst European artists.  He argued that the art of the two nations was united by “ a bond of kinship born of the same love of beauty“*.   Louis Gonse had already published a comprehensive study of Japanese art in two volumes entitled L’Art Japonais in 1883.


These and other similar publications increased the knowledge and interest in Japanese art.

On the crest of this wave of interest in all things Japanese were woodcut prints by masters of the Ukiyo-e  ‘Floating World’ school of printmaking. The subject matter of the Ukiyo-e in 18th and 19th Centuries was drawn from everyday life, it celebrated the non-heroic and was based on the idea that all is transient. These prints were mass-produced as woodcuts and were cheap enough for the average Japanese person (or Parisian) to afford. Three master printmakers from the period were Utamaro, Hiroshige and Hokusai.


The key features of Ukiyo-e prints were that they:

  • had limited depth (flattened picture plane)
  • emphasised shapes
  • used a dark outline
  • generally had asymmetrical composition
  • used flat areas of colour (ie, not modulated or varied)
  • had little or no use of strong contrasts between light and dark (chiaroscuro)
  • could have unusual viewpoints
  • often used a diagonal emphasis in composition
  • focused on everyday subject matter
  • often includes calligraphy
  • were identified by the artist’s stamp
  • had quite large production runs (100+)

Examples of Impressionist and Post Impressionist paintings and prints.

Many of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists experimented with Japanese techniques in painting and  printmaking, with a number of artists emulating the Ukiyo-e style.

For example,  Claude Monet painted a number of bridges over ponds in his Waterlily series. He praised the quality of Japanese art that “evokes presence by means of shadow, the whole by means of a fragment“.

Mary Cassatt was particularly interested in print making, often using women and children as her subjects. Edgar Degas reflected many of the compositional styles in his drawings and pastels. Van Gogh was also highly influenced by Japanse design and  both Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec are renowned for their large areas of flat colour.

In the painting by Manet below, you can see the Japanese prints and screen in the background. To him, these prints brought proof that you could dispense with perspective and limit yourself to flat colours and lines and still do justice to subject matter – even to subject matter drawn from contemporary life. Manet was amongst a number of the artists of the time who collected Japanese prints and other items for their personal appreciation.


Artists such as Toulouse Lautrec saw the value in printmaking and posters not just in terms of composition, but also as a way to create multiple copies of works at a reasonably inexpensive cost.

Like photography, the style of these prints also contributed significantly to the “snapshot” angles and unconventional compositions which would become characteristic of this movement.

Japonisme transformed Impressionist art by demonstrating that simple, transitory, everyday subjects could be presented in appealingly decorative ways. The Impressionists, and Post-Impressionists, admired the use of flat, decorative shapes, bright colours, and asymmetrical compositions which assisted them in exploring new ways of painting and printmaking.

*  S Bing, in Salon Annuel  des  Japonais, Premiere Anee, 1883

 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.

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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Modern Art Appreciation – Influences on artists’ styles

Andre Derain, Madame Matisse au Kimono, 1905
Andre Derain, Madame Matisse au Kimono, 1905

Artists, writers and composers alike respond to the world around them, acting as mirrors to established cultural norms, and challenging the way society behaves and proposing new or different ways of relating to the outer and inner world.

Conflict can be created for artists as they seek to find a balance between making a living by painting as society expects, and in developing new styles of art unrelated to the norm.  Those with the most influence in setting the standards for what is acceptable art are the decision makers about what will be hung in art museums and other public places and taught in art schools; art critics; patrons; dealers and buyers.

Generally, people are most comfortable with what they already know, so rapid and unexpected change often meets with disapproval. People with limited exposure to art are generally more likely to prefer art with which they can readily identify, such as landscapes and portraits etc, painted using traditional methods.

The issues of societal norms and having sufficient funds for living has particularly been an issue for women, who have not had the same artistic freedom as their male counterparts. At the same time, art critics and historians have tended to define art (particularly of domestic scenes) by female artists as ‘feminine art’ and of being of lesser value than painting by men. In large measure, particularly up until this century, art by women has  mostly been invisible in galleries and publications.

Most well known artists are part of a wider artistic community, who support, challenge, and learn from each other. Being part of a community, however loosely, also provides artists with greater access to exhibitions and other methods of promoting their work. Such communities also included patrons, dealers, art schools, and other creative groups, such as writers, designers, composers and musicians etc, all of whom influence the direction of art from their particular perspective.

Art and art styles have also been very much a reflection of established norms in the physical act of applying paint (or other media) to a surface, and in  advances in technology over time, such as new types of paint, the introduction of paint tubes, portable easels, and new bristles on bushes. These, together with responses to other advances in technology, such as photography and printing processes, have enabled artists to be more creative, more mobile (for example, being able to move out from the studio and paint outdoors) and be able to replicate images and produce multiple copies of artworks.

Paintings are also a response to the individual artist’s own environment, and their psyche.  A number of artists spend many years in formal study and  continually strive to improve their professional technique, and to explore such things as composition, form, colour and the other elements of art to create ‘works of art’ which reflect their unique style.  Other artists are more influenced by the need for creative self expression, in response to religious or other beliefs, or as a way of dealing with personal issues. Some artists have used alcohol and/or drugs to heighten their approach to expression.

Artists tend to be ‘products of their time’, responding subtly or overtly to the broader political,  economic and technological environment that marks the point in history in which they are living and working.

Edouard Manet A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (Un Bar aux Folies-Bergère), 1882
Edouard Manet A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (Un Bar aux Folies-Bergère), 1882
Édouard Manet
Édouard Manet

This is an excerpt from my on-line art appreciation program

Art Appreciation – Modern Art

Claude Monet, la Grenouillère, 1869
Claude Monet, la Grenouillère, 1869

I wish I could paint, but I can’t – so you know what they say, those who can’t do, teach.

I’m not teaching how to paint, but rather art appreciation.

My favourite art period is around the turn of the 20th Century – that is, that Modernist period, and I particularly love French art.

Years ago, I started attending face-to-face art appreciation programs, and had lots of ‘ah ha’ moments as I saw such interesting images and heard stories about the artists and their lives and communities. I also did an on-line program through the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and read, read, read. Finally, after opening an art gallery, and becoming part of our local arts community in a serious way, I began conducting my own face-to-face art appreciation programs. Then last year, I wrote my first on-line program. Lots of work, lots of learning, and lots of serious fun.

Why the Modern Art period?

Because so much changed in the art world (reflecting the changing society) in such a short period of time.

The birth of Modern art in Europe can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution, from about 1760 up until about the mid 1800s. This period saw rapid changes in manufacturing, transport, technology and scientific development which profoundly affected the social, economic and cultural conditions of those living at that time.

Inventions during this time included the telephone, the electric light, the combustion engine and x-rays. 1918 saw the first powered flight. Darwin produced his Theory of Relativity and Sigmund Freud wrote his Introduction to Psychoanalysis.

Urban centres boomed, with greater migration to cities (particularly as industrial jobs increased), as the railroad, steam engine and subway opened new opportunities for people to move greater distances. It also became possible for people and goods to travel between countries with greater ease, leading to greater exchanges of ideas.

However, the period from the mid 1700s also saw great political upheaval in France, with a number of revolutions and wars, up until about 1871 (The Franco-Prussian war), which resulted in the Seige of Paris and subsequently the Paris Commune, where workers unsuccessfully attempted to take power through the formation of communes, or workers’ councils.

From the mid 1800s, Emperor Napoléon III appointed Georges-Eugene Haussmann  to make major changes to Paris. He was directed to ‘bring air and light to the centre of the city, unify the different neighbourhoods with boulevards, and the make the city more beautiful’.  The centre of Paris up until this time was overcrowded, dark, dangerous and unhealthy, with traffic circulation being a major problem. Although his changes met with a great deal of opposition and the displacement of many people, they did result in a more modern, industrious and vibrant city.

Then, from 1871 up until World War I, Paris became a relatively peaceful city which attracted large numbers of writers and artists. The turn of the 20th century was termed La Belle Époque, or “the beautiful era”, in part because of the  cultural development that occurred at that time. Entertainment for the general public was a fairly new phenomenon – in cafés, cabarets, the theatre and at the Moulin Rouge, for example.

Paris became ‘the’ city to come to, and as a result was the primary force for change in the art world, until about the 1930s, when many artists fled to America to escape the coming war. Other centres, in Germany, Italy and Russia, also saw the rise of avant-garde art.

This new era created an environment where artists felt freerer to experiment, and you can see changes to the way colour is used, work becoming increasingly more abstract, different techniques being used to apply paint (and other media) to a surface and a changing response to the purpose of art.

For some it meant exploring ‘art for arts sake’ (including design and decoration),  for others it meant adopting a more scientific approach to art, or responding to the inner world of dreams and feelings, or relationships to other artistic forms, such as music or sculpture.  Others responded to new developments in psychology.

From about World War I, many artists responded to the conflict and destruction and what they saw as meaningless of life, by producing ‘meaningless’ art, or using art as propaganda. A number of artists who were directly involved in the war sought to express their own inner turmoil.

From a historical viewpoint, it is such as interesting period overall, and I don’t think there have been such significant change in painting styles since that time.

This is an excerpt from my online art appreciation program, Introduction to Modern European Art