Archive for Edouard Manet

Et in Arcadia Ego: Still-Life with Strawberries

Posted in Christine Cariati, Contains Video Elements, Drawing, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Flora & Fauna, Painting with tags , , , , , , , on April 27, 2010 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Jean-Siméon Chardin, Wicker Basket with Wild Strawberries, 1761
Oil on canvas
Private collection

Recently, while looking at Chardin’s Wicker Basket with Wild Stawberries, a beautiful, elegiac passage from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited crossed my mind:

At Swindon we turned off the main road and, as the sun mounted high, we were among dry-stone walls and ashlar houses. It was about eleven when Sebastian, without warning, turned the car into a car track and stopped. It was hot enough now to make us seek the shade. On a sheep-cropped knoll under a clump of elms we ate the strawberries and drank the wine—as Sebastian promised, they were delicious together—and we lit fat Turkish cigarettes and lay on our backs, Sebastian’s eyes on the leaves above him, mine on his profile, while the blue-grey smoke rose, untroubled by any wind, to the blue-green shadows of foliage, and the sweet scent of the tobacco merged with the sweet summer scents around us and the fumes of the sweet, golden wine seemed to lift us a finger’s breadth above the turf and hold us suspended.

—Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, Book I, Et in Arcadia Ego

It was Chardin’s strawberries, luxuriating in their rich atmosphere of air and light, glowing with ripeness and warmth from the sun, that I imagined Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder feasting on in their summer idyll—not the bloated, tasteless behemoths that pass for strawberries these days.

So, here is a visual ode to the strawberry, as brought to vivid life in a handful of favorite still-life paintings. I apologize, dear reader, that I cannot deliver a basket to your door—but, by all means, open a bottle of Château Peyraguey, and feast your eyes.

Georg Flegel (1566-1638) Still Life with Pygmy Parrot, n.d.
Water color drawing
Staatliche Museum, Berlin

Adriaen Coorte, Still Life with Strawberries in a Wan-Li Bowl, detail, 1704
Oil on canvas
Private collection

Eloise Harriet Stannard (1829-1915) Birds and Strawberries, c. 1852-93
Oil on canvas

Pierre-August Renoir, Strawberries, 1905
Oil on canvas
Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris

Édouard Manet, Strawberries, 1882
Oil on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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The Still Life Examined: Asparagus in Art

Posted in Christine Cariati, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Flora & Fauna, Food, Painting with tags , , , , , , on March 23, 2010 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Édouard Manet, Asparagus, 1880
Oil on canvas
Musée d’Orsay, Paris

In honor of the arrival of spring, I thought I’d continue my exploration of the art of the still life by concentrating on images which depict that quintessential spring vegetable, asparagus. The subtle whites, mauves, purples and greens of asparagus are beautifully portrayed in this famous image (above)—Édouard Manet’s single white asparagus, which was a gift from Manet to Charles Ephrussi. Manet had just sold A Bunch of Asparagus (below) to Ephrussi for 800 francs. When Ephrussi sent him 1000 francs instead, Manet painted this single white spear and sent it to Ephrussi with the note: “There was one missing from your bunch.”

Édouard Manet, A Bunch of Asparagus, 1880
Oil on canvas
Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne

Through the use of subtle color, volume, atmosphere and light, a beautifully rendered still life takes something that no longer exists—and shows it to us as a palpable, living thing. The Golden Age of still life painting was  1500-1800 and flourished in the Netherlands, France and Germany. Still-life painting was not merely an aesthetic exercise, although technique and composition was extremely important. It was also meant to provide a record of familiar objects—china, flowers, vegetables, fruits, dead birds, game and fish, et al—and to provide reference points for the flow of the seasons, the passing of time and mortality (tempus omnia terminat—time brings an end to all things.) Still life painting also reflected the wealth and social standing of the patrons—and often the sources of that wealth and position were depicted in the work: exotic spices, Venetian glass, porcelain from China.

Cornelis de Heem, Vegetables and Fruit before a Garden Balustrade, 1658
(detail)
Oil  on copper
Städel Museum, Frankfurt

Art historians like to ascribe an iron-clad iconography to still life painting, where every element is depicted for a specific reason, each with absolute symbolic meaning. This may be largely true, but I believe that individual artists also included objects based on aesthetic and personal criteria that superceded the established iconography.

Asparagus has been around a long time. The oldest known recipe for cooking asparagus appeared in Apicius’ De re coquinaria, Book III, in the third century. Since the 17th century, it has been highly valued for its culinary and medicinal properties.

The only painter I have come across, prior to Manet, who made asparagus a primary subject in his work, is Adriaen Coorte (active c. 1683-1707.) This 17th-century Dutch master, whose work was largely unknown until the 1950s, painted many pictures where asparagus is a very important—or sole—element in the composition. This was unusual among his peers, not least because asparagus was a luxury item in the 17th century.

A. Coorte, Still Life with Asparagus and Spray of Red-Currants, c. 1696
Paper on cardboard
Pieter C.W.M. Dreesmann Collection

Adriaen Coorte, A bundle of Asparagus, 1703
Paper on canvas
The Fitzwilliam, Cambridge

Adriaen Coorte, Still Life with Asparagus, Cherries and a Butterfly,
c. 1693-95
Paper on panel
Private collection, Switzerland

Many 17th-century European artists painted asparagus in combination with other still life elements. The painting below is one of almost two identical compositions by German painter Peter Binoit (1590/93-1632/39)—only in this version, he added a squirrel.

Peter Binoit, Fruit and Vegetables, Roses in a Glass Vase, and a Squirrel, probably 1631
Oil on wood
Private collection

Isaak Soreau, Basket of Fruit and Vegetables, c. 1628
Oil on wood
Private collection

François Habert, Kitchen Bench with Carp, c. 1645-1651
Oil on canvas
Hessiches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt

French artist Louise Moillon (1610-1696) had a long and successful career as a painter of Naturalist still life. She was noted for her sensitive rendering of plants and her exceptional use of chiaruscuro. Moillon was raised in a family of painters and her father also owned a prominent art gallery on the Left Bank.

Louise Moillon, Still Life with a Basket of Fruit and a Bunch of Asparagus, 1630
Oil on panel
The Art Institute of Chicago

Giovanna Garzoni (1600-1670), known as the miniatura (miniaturist)  was an accomplished still life painter who had a long and successful career. Her paintings, mostly gouache or tempera on vellum, were collected by the Medicis and other aristocratic families and were highly prized and valued. This painting, unusual with it’s white background, has an extremely light and contemporary feel. A contemporary art historian, Emanuele Tesauro, wrote that Garzoni had the ability “to penetrate the most minute and subtle causes underlying every subject.”

Giovanna Garzoni, Plate of Asparagus with Carnations and a Grasshopper, undated
Gouache on vellum
Private collection, Italy

I will close my homage to the asparagus with this amusing 18th century etching which I found on Bibliodyssey. Elaborate wigs were all the rage at the time and many satirical artists found it irresistible to parody them. Among the vegetables and herbs adorning this creation, note the large bunch of asparagus at the top.

Wider connections

The Magic of Things, Still-Life Painting 1500-1800, edited by Jochen Sander

The Still Lifes of Adriaen Coorte 1683-1707 by Quentin Buvelot

Venetian Red Bookshelf: Gardens in Art

Posted in Book Review, Liz Hager with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2010 by Liz Hager

Venetian Red Bookshelf is a monthly feature which highlights books of interest from our bookshelves and studio worktables.

By LIZ HAGER

Edward Manet, Music in the Tuileries Garden, 1862
Oil on canvas, 76.2 x 118.1 cm
(Courtesy of National Gallery, London)

In the history of painting all too often the garden has been relegated to backdrop status, playing the role of “exterior décor” in support of the central character—a portrait or depiction of human activity. Unlike its uncultivated cousin the landscape, the garden never caught on as noble subject matter, though Monet’s paintings of Giverny are a notable exception.

Nebamun’s garden
(Fragment of a scene from the tomb-chapel of Nebamun)
Thebes, Egypt; Late 18th Dynasty, around 1350 BC
(Courtesy of The Britsh Museum)

Still, this doesn’t mean that gardens are meaningless. As Lucia Impelluso’s Gardens in Art so well demonstrates, gardens are awash in symbols. Wild nature may have no pre-ordained plan, but gardens necessarily do. With the human psyche as creator of the garden, meaning was accorded beyond the sum of its botanical parts. Thus, the motifs and allegories found in the garden offer a tantalizing reflection of human culture and psychology.

Andrea Mantegna, Madonna of Victory, 1496
(Courtesy of Louvre, Paris)

Gardens in Art is 370-plus pages of pure visual delight. While covering a lot of bases, the book educates without resorting to copious amounts of pretentious text. As with the others in the “Guide to Imagery” series, this volume too is filled a diverse selection of illustrations, ranging from ancient frescoes to contemporary sculpture. The text on each topic is contained within one page and each image is accompanied by three or four carefully chosen points that elaborate on the topic at hand.

Johann Jakob Walther, Dutch Garden, 1650
(Victoria & Albert Museum)

The first part of the book concerns itself with the history of the garden—the concept of sacred and profane gardens in ancient civilizations; the elaborate gardens of Renaissance popes and princes; the regal gardens of the Baroque; the Enlightenment ideals, which liberated the garden from rigid constructs; and the manifestations of the public garden.

It’s no surprise that Baroque gardens were a natural extension of the pomp and circumstance of the aristocracy of the time. But the section on Monastic gardens truly enlightens on the symbolism of the Medieval quadrant-design and the connection of various plants to the Virgin Mary.

Thomas Rowlandson, The Temple of the British Worthies, late 18th century
Pen and watercolor on board, 10 7/8 x 17 inches
(Courtesy Huntington Library)

The second, and longer, section of Gardens in Art guides the reader through chapters on the various elements of the garden—plants and pruning methods, water, statuary, architectural structures. While the elements themselves have have remained remarkably constant through the ages, their expression has changed, depending on the aesthetic requirements of the day.

The book concludes with three chapters on “Life in the Garden,” “Symbolic Gardens” and “Literary Gardens.”

William Blake, Oberon, Titania, and Puck with Faeries Dancing, 1785
Pencil and watercolour on paper support, approximately 18.75 x 26 1/2 inches
(Courtesy Tate, London)

Within the serious discussion regarding the meaning of gardens lie fascinating cultural tidbits, such as,

The circular garden was created in the Medieval era as a reflection of the universe.

“Gardens of the dead” arose after an 18th-century ban on cemeteries. The concept of the secret garden originated in the Renaissance derived from the Medieval courtly love tradition.

The Versailles garden became a nonpareil “outdoor stage” for theatrical productions, its ever-changing “sets” suggesting infinite dreams and illusions.

The number of exotic plan species in 19th-century England increased considerably after the invention of the Wardian case, a kind of portable greenhouse that made the long sea voyage transport possible.

In the 18th century, it was permissible for high society to strut and “pose” in public gardens.

Sharawaggi, the term for a popular 17th-century asymmetrical garden,which emulated Chinese examples, was a Dutch corruption of a Japanese word.

 

Edward John Poynter, In a Garden, 1891
Oil on canvas, 30 x 20 inches
(Courtesy of Delaware Art Museum)

The book offered me many more reasons for remaining in love with Gainsborough’s portraiture, the Van Gogh irises, Titan, Lucas Cranach, Manet, Arnold Böcklin, William Blake. . . And it introduced me to the work of artists Hans Bol, Sir Edward John Poynter, Hubert Robert (a painter as well as a garden designer), Filarete. All delicious in their own way!

Niki de Saint Phalle, Tarot Garden,
Sculpture park, Garavicchio, Tuscany

My only disappointment with the book is almost its near exclusive focus on Western art. One would have thought there was more to say about Asian garden symbolism than what’s contained in the chapter on “Gardens of Meditation.”

 

Still, it’s a small price to pay for what is on balance is a thoroughly engaging education. I doubt I shall enter another garden without the contents of this book on my mind.

Next on my reading list: Nature and Its Symbols

Wider Connections
Guide to Imagery series
Codex de sphaera (unique feature that allows you to turn the pages of this beautiful Renaissance book)
Tomb chapel of Nebamun
More Gardens in Art

The Paradox of Henri Fantin-Latour

Posted in Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Painting, Printmaking with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2010 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

The canvases of M. Fantin-Latour do not assault your eyes, do not leap at you from the walls. They must be looked at for a length of time in order to penetrate them, and their conscientiousness, their simple truth—you take these in entirely, and then you return. — Emile Zola, 1880

Henri Fantin-Latour, Roses in a Glass Vase, 1873
Oil on canvas
(Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, England)

Recently, I’ve been revisiting the art of the still-life, and that pursuit quickly led me the work Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904). Fantin-Latour is a bit of an enigma—he produced work in three contradictory styles for his entire artistic career. He was an expert and innovative lithographer, a painter of portraits, self-portraits, flowers and still-lifes, but his least-known and appreciated works are what he called his imaginative compositions. These paintings and lithographs, largely inspired by the music of Wagner, Schumann and Berlioz, were considered by Fantin-Latour to be his most important work.

The flower paintings were painted merely for the steady income they provided, but, ironically, it is these paintings, which capture the essence of flowers in all their ephemeral beauty, that made Fantin-Latour famous. In his book, Atelier de Fantin-Latour, published in 1919, Jacques-Émile Blanche wrote:

Fantin studied each flower, each petal, its grain, its tissue as if it were a human face. In Fantin’s flowers, the drawing is large and beautiful; it is always sure and incisive…It is an individual flower and not simply one of a type…

Henri-Fantin-Latour, Roses de Nice on a Table, 1882
Oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon
(National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.)

Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour was born in Grenoble in 1836—his father, a painter, moved the family to Paris in 1841. Fantin-Latour lived in Paris most of his life, and the Louvre became the center of his artistic universe. He often said: “Le Louvre, il n’y a que le Louvre.” (The Louvre, there is only the Louvre.) Beginning when he was fourteen, Fantin-Latour entered a professional drawing school, where he studied under Horace Lecoq-de-Boisbaudran, who believed that memory was a spur to the imagination. He would set up a complicated still-life and discuss it with his pupils in elaborate detail. Then he would dismantle the still-life—and the students would begin to paint it from memory. This discipline informed Fantin-Latour’s work for his entire career.

Henri Fantin-Latour, Self-Portrait, 1861
Oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon
(National Gallery of Art,Washington, D.C.)

In 1854, Fantin-Latour attended the École des Beaux Arts on probation for three months, but was not awarded a permanent place. As a result, when he was 17, Fantin-Latour began to spend his days at the Louvre, copying the work of the masters, a practice he continued for many years. This deep study of Delacroix, Boucher, Fragonard, Rembrandt, Watteau, Giorgione, Rubens, Chardin, Hals, Titian and others shows itself throughout all aspects of his work. The Louvre was Fantin-Latour’s refuge, and in many ways his painting feeds more on other paintings than life or nature.

Louise Moillon, Basket of Strawberries and Basket of Plums, 1632
Oil on wooden panel
(Musée des Augustins, Toulouse, France)

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Basket of Strawberries, c. 1760
Oil on canvas
(Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

Fantin-Latour also made a thorough study of the entire French school of still-life, especially the great 17th century still-life painter, Louise Moillon and the 18th-century master, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin—whose work Fantin-Latour is often compared to. (There are some very obvious and distinct differences between their work. Among other things, Chardin’s still-lifes have a strict frontality, with the elements of the subject at eye level, and the backgrounds are painted in his signature warm brown tones. Fantin-Latour’s work has a cooler tonality, with the table creating a more diagonal line, and tilted forward, towards the viewer.)

Henri Fanin-Latour, Roses in a Vase, 1872
Oil on canvas
(Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

It was at the Louvre that Fantin-Latour first met Édouard Manet, James McNeill Whistler, Berthe Morisot—and his future wife, artist Victoria Dubourg.

In 1859, Whistler invited Fantin-Latour to London, where he introduced him to John Everett Millais and other Pre-Raphaelite painters, as well as to Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Edwards. The Edwards bought many of Fantin-Latour’s flower paintings, and found other buyers among their circle, securing him a regular and steady income. Between 1864 and 1896 Fantin-Latour painted over 800 floral portraits, and almost all were purchased in England.

Henri Fantin-Latour, Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Edwards, 1875
Oil on canvas
(Tate, London)

Fantin-Latour painted roses more than any other flower, but he also painted an enormous variety of old-fashioned cottage garden flowers, such as petunias, hollyhocks, tulips, dahlias, larkspur, forget-me-nots, peonies, sweet peas, hyacinths and cherry blossoms. He favored whites, yellows and pinks because he loved the luminosity of the pastel flowers. He had a deft hand with arranging flowers in a balanced yet naturalistic way, and the paintings, with the flowers silhouetted against a subdued background, have an enveloping atmosphere. They have a musical quality—a harmony of value, color and tone—that creates contrast and depth. Fantin-Latour also beautifully captures the contrasting surfaces of the vases, whether Chinese porcelain, enamel or clear glass.

Henri Fantin Latour, Peonies in a Vase, 1864
Oil on canvas
(The Hermitage, St. Petersburg)

Henri Fantin-Latour, Petunias, 1881
Oil on canvas
(Detroit Institute of Arts)

Fantin-Latour’s painting career was about perfecting and expanding upon his original ideas. Unlike his friends Degas, Manet, Renoir, and Monet, he had no desire to move forward into new styles: he was content to be a Realist. Fantin-Latour had an essentially different approach to painting from his friends who were experimenting with the melding of technique and subject matter that became Impressionism. Fantin-Latour saw technique as something apart—not an end in itself, or something to be integrated into the subject. Fantin-Latour believed that technique was to be mastered before you approached your subject and that it gave an artist the freedom to delve deeply. In this he was influenced by Courbet, who wrote:

Imagination in art consists in knowing how to find the most complete expression of an existing thing, but never in inventing or creating the thing itself.

Fantin-Latour’s paintings were an eclectic mix—Realism tempered with Naturalism and a deep Romanticism—and a small dose of Impressionism. He also took some ideas from Japanese art and photography, both of which were so influential at that time. From the work of his friend Whistler, he learned about cool harmonies, the use of gray backgrounds, and to occasionally incorporate some Japanese elements.

Henri Fantin-Latour, Still Life with Roses and Torso, 1874
Oil on canvas
(Private Collection)

James McNeill Whistler, Symphony in White #2, 1864
Oil on canvas
(Tate, London)

In addition to still-lifes and flower paintings, Fantin-Latour painted many portraits and five well-known group portraits. He also painted 21 self portraits, about which he wrote:

He is a model who is always ready, who offers all the advantages, he is punctual, co-operative and one knows him before beginning to paint.

Fantin-Latour was a bit of a loner—in fact, after his marriage he was content to stay in his family circle, joined only by a few close friends. He no longer frequented the artist cafés on the Boulevard St. Germain where he had spent so much time previously. His aloofness often affected his subjects, in some of his portraits you sense a cool distance. However, the portraits of his friends and those within his family circle are especially lovely, particularly his early portraits of his mother or sisters Natalie and Marie, and later his wife’s family. These familial works are dignified, serene and beautifully evocative.

Henri Fantin-Latour, The Two Sisters, 1859
Oil on canvas
(Saint Louis Art Museum)

Henri Fantin-Latour, Charlotte Dubourg, 1882
Oil on canvas
(Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

Henri Fantin-Latour, Portrait of Manet, 1867
Oil on canvas
(The Art Institute of Chicago)

Fantin-Latour painted five large group portraits, four of which still exist.  The painting below, Homage to Delacroix, was painted a year after the great Romantic painter’s death. Like all of Fantin-Latour’s group portraits, its composition and color palette is a nod to the great 17th century Dutch portraitists, particularly Franz Hals. Among those grouped around a painted portrait of Delacroix (done from a photograph taken ten years before his death) we see Fantin-Latour, in white, and his friends, the poet Charles Baudelaire—who called Delacroix “the most suggestive painter of all”—James Whistler and Édouard Manet.

Henri Fantin-Latour, Homage to Delacroix, 1864
Oil on canvas
(Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

The group portrait below includes many of the important poets and writers of the later 19th century, many from the Parnassus poetry group, including (seated, left) Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud. Missing is Charles Baudelaire, who died in 1867, and Albert Mérat, who, the story goes, refused to be depicted with the transgressive Rimbaud and Verlaine, and was replaced by a large bouquet of flowers.

Henri Fantin-Latour, The Corner of the Table, 1872
Oil on canvas
(Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

An Atelier in the Batignolles, below, depicts Fantin-Latour, Claude Monet, Emile Zola, August Renoir and others, gathered around Edgar Manet, seated at his easel—the central figure in what was to become the Impressionist movement. Zola, who was a staunch defender of Manet and his circle against the rampant criticism of the day, wrote:

Around the painter so disparaged by the public has grown up a common front of painters and writers who claim him as a master.

Although Fantin-Latour had not joined Manet and the others in their move towards Impressionism, by painting his Portrait of Manet and this group portrait, which showed these radical young artists to be sincere and respectable, Fantin-Latour was making a strong statement of support.

Henri Fantin-Latour, An Atelier in the Batignolles, 1870
Oil on canvas
(Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

Fantin-Latour’s intense interest in music began when he first heard Richard Wagner‘s Tännhauser, and it inspired his first image of a musical scene, the first of many done on Wagnerian themes. In 1864 Fantin-Latour said “Schumann is, with Wagner, the music of the future.” When Fantin-Latour traveled to Bayreuth in 1876 to hear one of the first performances of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, he considered it one of the most important events of his life.

Henri Fantin-Latour, Scene from Tannhäuser, 1864
Oil on canvas
(Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

Henri Fantin-Latour, Finale from Das Rheingold, c. 1877
Lithograph

Fantin-Latour’s imaginative compositions—the fantasies, allegories and myths, as well as the work inspired by the vocal music of Wagner, Brahms, Berlioz, and Schumann—are the least appreciated of his work. These intensely romantic works carried the most significance and meaning for Fantin-Latour, and it was a sorrow to him that the work got such a mixed reception. The visions that music inspired were also related to color, which he said was “procreative in its nature, giving birth to a thousand things which the eye cannot see and distinct from their cause,” and that spoke “to that region of the imagination which is supposed to be under the exclusive dominion of music.”

On the subject of the musical works, I cannot be objective—the first time I saw Tannhäuser, as a young girl, was for me, as for Fantin-Latour, a life-changing event. As an ardent Wagnerian, I find the images deeply evocative and full of meaning—I can hear the music when I look at them.

Henri Fantin-Latour,Wagner and His Muse, c.1892
Charcoal on paper
(The Louvre, Paris)

Critics complained that the allegorical and mythological works were re-workings of compositions by the old masters and added nothing new. There is no doubt that Fantin-Latour drew on his visual memory from those years spent in close observation at the Louvre when creating these works. I do agree that the accomplished, innovative techniques of the lithographs make them somewhat more interesting than the paintings done in this style. However, it is ironic that while Fantin-Latour’s oeuvre is often criticized for being too much of his time, for not breaking any new ground, these neglected musical and allegorical works were in a sense a pre-cursor of the French Symbolist school of the late 19th century. I hope that even those immune to the charms of these pieces will acknowledge that they are beautifully and skillfully rendered.

Henri Fantin-Latour, The Commemoration, 1876
Oil on canvas
(Musée de Peinture et de Sculpture, Grenoble)

I find the eclectic, paradoxical career of Fantin-Latour to be extremely interesting and refreshing. I admire his idea that painting should not be about schools and movements but individual expression. He is considered a secondary painter because he didn’t found a movement or have a major impact on art history—our contemporary standard of accomplishment or “genius”—but I believe his ability to give shape to what he observed and felt with such clarity and elegance definitely deserves our profound respect and gratitude. His paintings may never have been extolled by the art critics, but he was certainly highly lauded by the writers of his time—including Claudel, Baudelaire, Huysmans and Proust—who praises the paintings of Fantin-Latour in The Guermantes Way. Paul Claudel wrote:

A ravishing still-life by Fantin-Latour; a pitcher of blue glass and fresh-cut flowers; each painting bears a hushed silence that bids us still the inner voice.

Ten plus One from the Musée d’Orsay

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2009 by Christine Cariati

Inspired by your “Fortune Smiles” blog post, I took myself on a tour of the collection of the Musee d’Orsay. I thought it would be impossible to choose, but it was easier than I imagined. There were ten clear winners–well, with an 11th thrown in for sentimental reasons. There were also a few I’d love to see as runner-ups, all oddities for one reason or another. Vuillard’s Au lit–a completely monochromatic, pattern-free study, more like a Morandi than a Vuillard. Tissot’s Faust and Marguerite, a quite wonderful pastiche that somehow combines the monumental quality of a procession from Piero della Francesca with the formality of a history painting—all in a theatrical format. And then there is Renoir’s portrait of my favorite composer, Wagner, odd because it has a softness and tentativeness so uncharacteristic of Wagner and so unlike any portraits or photographs of him that I have seen. As a curiosity, I’d be interested to see August Strindberg’s painting, Vague VII, predictably moody, dark and filled with anxiety. And I have to admit to a fondness for Gustave Moreau’s Galatea. It’s a bit overwrought but it has that quality of myth turned psychological study that I like.

This exercise is a bit of a Rorschach test. As I review my choices, the dominant themes seem to be the enclosed space and pattern. Clearly, I am drawn to interiors—the dark inhabited space—at home, in the theater, even the outdoors—or a portrait that draws you in to someone’s soul; they all have an element of drama and psychology—something has happened and we’re not sure what.

bonnard
Pierre Bonnard
, Dejeuner sous la Lampe (Lunch by Lamplight)

Love the dark and light, it is tender and funny and I love the way he framed the image, it is so intimate, you’re right there, in the space…

cezanne
Paul Cezanne, Portrait of Madame Cezanne

I know this is heretical, but I have never been drawn to Cezanne’s landscape and still life paintings. But I love his portraits. This one is a different type of interior, we enter into her stillness, her sense of peace, tranquility. The simplicity, the ethereal color palette, every brush stroke of this painting is in the service of creating a deep moving portrait, he must have loved her.

corot
Camille Corot, Une Matinee, danse des nymphes (The Dance of the Nymphs)

Very drawn to the inhabited landscape. This painting is mythological in its inspiration but doesn’t get stuck there. The humans and the landscape are one, distinctions blurred—it manages to co-exist on two levels—it is almost like a stage set and yet has a very primeval landscape-as-memory quality.

courbet
Gustave Courbet, Le ruisseau noir (The Black Stream)

Another interior landscape. It is dark and intimate, no panoramic views, nothing larger than life that causes you to simply step back and admire. This is a path you could walk in solitude or quiet companionship. Gorgeous rendering of foliage, so evocative with such a light touch.

degas
Edgar Degas, La Famille Bellelli

This painting is wonderfully subtle and sinister, so much tension and discomfort. A family portrait, yet everyone is so separate. The father, somewhat indifferent, turning his back to us; the mother so cool, her right hand on her daughter’s shoulder conveys no more affection than her left hand placed on the table. That daughter is already the image of her mother—the other girl looks ready to run off with the dog. I love the way he divided up the room, angles and partial glimpses of doorways–makes you feel that much more hemmed in. And then, there’s the wallpaper…

fantin-latour
Henri Fantin-Latour, La liseuse (Woman Reading)

What a beautiful painting. I love Fantin-Latour’s portraits. Here is an interior within an interior. She is so absorbed in her book, it is so peaceful, meditative. The whole image is so beautifully framed, the pile of books, the painting on the wall, the hint of detail in the wallpaper–and then that gorgeous curve of the sofa, its deep red, the only really warm color, enveloping her. Not only the reader, but every object in this painting seems to have an interior life.

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Eva Gonzales, Une loge aux Italiens (A Box at the Theatre des Italiens)

Here we are, another enclosed space, another mystery. I am not familiar with Gonzales’ work but I see from this painting that she learned her lesson well from Manet—present the relationship, don’t explain, leave the storytelling to the viewer. Beautifully painted curtain and flowers, wonderful light and dark. I love the way her arm is resting on the edge of the box, just the right amount of pressure, and the luminously painted skin, glove and jewelry just glow against the rich, dark velvet.

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Gustav Klimt, Rosiers sur les arbres (Rosebushes under the Trees)

I’ve only recently become an admirer of Klimt’s landscapes. I love the shimmering, decorative quality and the subtle way the greens play against the pinks and mauves of the roses. It comes so close to abstraction but still keeps you firmly grounded in landscape. Especially like the patterns on the tree trunks and the little patch of sky in the upper right corner.

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Edouard Manet, Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass)

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Edouard Manet, L’asperge (Asparagus)

Ideally, I would include every Manet in the world in this list, so I could not limit myself to a single one—so it’s a tie for my ninth pick.
I had to choose Dejeuner because the first time I came face to face with it, at the Jeu de Paume, I was absolutely thunderstruck by its beauty and power. I thought that a childhood and young adulthood spent gazing at masterpieces at the Frick, the Met and other great museums of New York had inoculated me from being knocked off my feet by seeing in person a painting I had so admired in reproduction. I can’t add anything to the volumes written about this painting, except to say that the crazy theatricality, the abstract light and dark, the sense of it being out of time and place, all combine to make it a painting you can never tire of looking at, there is always another mystery to unravel.

L’asperge is to me one of the most beautiful paintings ever made. In a way it has the quality of his late flower paintings, the still lifes painted as he was dying. Not their elegiac quality exactly, but the sense of clarity and light in every stroke of those flowers, is here in this asparagus. The luminous, infinite tones of white, the way it is hanging off the edge of the marble towards the dark wood of the table—it is one of those small paintings that manages to combine an amazing intimacy with a sense of monumentality, like a Turner seascape.

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Edouard Vuillard, Le salon aux trois lampes, Rue Saint-Florentin (Interior with Three Lamps)

This painting has it all—pattern everywhere you look, a wonderfully theatrical sense of space, lights and darks, an ambiguous mood. The figures are in repose but the room is animated with energy,  light and pattern. There are all these wonderful angles, recesses, a wonderful cool palette, set off by the glow of those three lamps. If they send this one, I am going to have to steal it.

Fortune Smiles: Thoughts on Musée d’Orsay and Picasso Collections at the deYoung

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting, Photography, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Last week’s breaking news that both the Musées d’Orsay and Picasso will be sending a part of their collections to the de Young next year, while they renovate their facilities. The news made me want to shout for joy. How lucky can a provincial metropolis be?  Praise be to John Buchanan and Dede Wilsey for closing the deal.

The prospect of this once in a lifetime exhibition set me to dreaming. No doubt only a small number of the choice holdings will come our way. Still, if by some stroke of unimaginable luck, I were to have a say in the matter, which of the works in these glorious collections would I include?

I’m aching to see my best loves again, Manet’s Olympia for starters. Further, all things being equal, I’d prefer to view works from artists not generally well represented in the Bay Area. That is why there are no Rodins on my list, even though he counts as one of my favorite sculptors. Also, I’d want lesser known works from well-known artists included, which is why there aren’t any Picasso Cubist pieces on the list. (OK, I’ll admit: while I always found Cubism intellectually exciting, actually enjoying the work has always been challenging.)  Though it’s hard to limit the list, for the purposes of this space, limit I must.

My “Fortune Smiles” Top 10 list (in priority order):

#1.
Manet—Olympia

Edouard Manet,Olympia, 1863,
Oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay.

Of the French painters at d’Orsay, Manet will always top the list for me. Olympia is the most fetching of his works—the first truly-naked nude in the history of art. That brazen stare says it all.

#2.

Bonnard—Croquet Game

Pierre Bonnard, Twilight (or The Croquet Game), 1892,
Oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay.

Ever since reading Michael Kimmelman’s essay on Bonnard (“Introduction” to The Accidental Masterpiece), I’ve been hooked on Bonnard’s unique ability to make great art out of the seemingly monotonous details of his life.

#3.

Gustave Caillebotte, The Floor Scrapers, 1875,
Oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay.

The technical aspects of this painting—the perspective, the sheen of light captured as reflection off the floor and backs of the worker, the interacting poses of the workers, the stripes of the floor broken up by the circular curls of shaved wood. . . Stop me,  I could go on forever about this painting! And, on top of it all, a groundbreaking example of urban “realism,” to counter all those rural Courbet scenes.

#4.

Pablo Picasso, Two Women Running on the Beach (La course), 1922,
Gouache on board, Musée National Picasso.
I’ve always loved Picasso’s big chunky, neo-classical figures the most. Though thoroughly weighty, these two nymphs move with the spriest of strides.  They are joy personified.

#5.

Degas—The Tub

Edgar Degas, The Tub, between 1886-1889,
Bronze, Musée d’Orsay.

There are lots of Degas paintings around the Bay Area, but one of his sculptural works would certainly make my d’Orsay list. Not the young dancer—she’s everywhere—but a bather, another of his other emblematic themes. Like da Vinci, this form is squeezed elegantly into the circumference of a circle. See how her toes gently violate the frame. . .

#6.

Whistler—Variations in Violet & Green, 1871

James Abbott McNeill Whistler,Variations in Violet and Green1871,
Oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay.

Whistler’s place in the pantheon of great artists is finally assured. Bets are that the de Young will want his more famous Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, known colloquially as Whistler’s Mother, but I’m hoping the d’Orsay sends this one instead. Since viewing Whistler’s Six Projects at the Freer, I’ve been inexorably drawn to his more ethereal works.

#7.

Gauguin—Portrait of the Artist with the Yellow Christ

Paul Gauguin, Portrait of the Artist with the Yellow Christ, 1890-91,
Oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay.

The d’Orsay doesn’t own the original Yellow Christ (luckily, however, this painting is at the Albright-Knox and Buffalo is not nearly as far as Paris), but I hope we will get the next best thing, Gauguin’s self-portrait with the Yellow Christ.  I never tire of Gauguin’s palette, which gave a later generation of artists—Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter in particular—the permission to go wild with color.

#8.

Gabriel Loppé—TheEiffel tower struck by lightening, 1902

Gabriel Loppé, The Eiffel Tower Struck by Lightening, 1902,
Paper print photograph, Musée d’Orsay.

The French were instrumental in the birth of the photography, so it seems only fitting to include a representative of this medium on the Top 10. Loppé’s photograph achieves several aims—it uniquely speaks to to the role that photography played in the 19th century in documenting the natural sciences; it portrays this most most French of icons in all its majesty (the Tower built in 1889 was the tallest man-made structure until 1930); and ultimately it depicts unending the battle between the hand of man and the forces of nature.

#9.

Pablo Picasso, Groupe de Saltimbanques, 1905,
Pen, ink, gouache and traces of charcoal on vellum, Musée National Picasso.

I like the Picasso renderings of the Saltimbanques (acrobats), but frankly any of Picasso’s drawings would do nicely as demonstrations that the artist was in fact a master draftsman. Picasso famously noted that he spent a lifetime learning how to paint like a child.

#10.

Henri Rousseau—Portrait of Madame M 1895-97

Henri Rousseau, Portrait of Madame M., 1895-97,
Oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay.

In this case, Le Douanier’s naive style of painting reminds me of the rigid and unpretentious folk portraits created by itinerant painters of 18th century Colonial America. Rousseau’s stylized treatment of the flora gives this painting a naively decorative quality not found in most other paintings of his day.

The (Other) 20th-Century Spanish Virtuoso

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting with tags , , , on April 29, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

. . . Nothing but a painter! If you had been able to follow my life, step by step, at my side all the way, you would be convinced that I have never wanted to be, nor do I want to be, nor will I ever want to be anything but a painter. . .

—Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, 1913 interview

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Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, Segovian Figures, 1912, oil on canvas, approximately 78 x 80″ (Museo Sorolla).

Though widely popular in Europe and America at the time of his death in 1923, Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla (y Bastida) has been largely ignored since then by art critics and historians outside his native country.  A follower of Manet, Sorolla’s reputation hasn’t sustained a similar level of acclaim, which is curious, for to this artist’s eye he was in every way as accomplished a painter as Manet. Many other painters of note, including Sargent and Thiebaud, have been influenced by Sorolla’s lyrical brushwork, broad but harmonious color palette, and virtuosic depictions of light. Indeed, the Sorolla techniques visible in many a contemporary realist painter.

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Edouard Manet, The Fifer, 1866, oil on canvas, 63 x 38 5/8 ” (Musée d’Orsay).

Sorolla’s only crime may have been that, unlike his equally-prolific compatriot, Pablo Picasso, he resolutely chose not to live in Paris. France’s stranglehold on Western connoisseurship lasted more or less from the Baroque period until the mid-20th century, when the Abstract Expressionists managed to make New York the working center of the world. During this period a fistful of non-French artists have found their way to the eternal spotlight. Perhaps this was due to talent or sheer persistence, but often too the dumb luck of being in the right place at the right time (and purchased by the right collector). What else would explain Sorolla’s present absence from the group of recognized world Masters?

Despite a recognized Spanish artistic tradition, which included the significant accomplishments of Velázquez, El Greco (an immigrant from Crete), and Goya, as well as his own considerable talent, Sorolla likely abdicated some measure of posthumous fame, by choosing to remain in Spain while the turn-of-the-century spotlight shined on Paris.

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, The Horse’s Bath, 1909, oil on canvas, approximately (Museo del Prado).

Still, reputations can be remade. (One is reminded of Caravaggio.) And Sorolla’s lesser status in the annals of art history doesn’t diminish the grandeur of his achievement. Like the Impressionists, Sorolla was a dedicated plein-air painter. His signature style—thick and aggressive application of paint contrasted with areas of exposed canvas and virtuosic rendering of light and atmospheric effects—was closely linked to the Impressionists.

Diego Velázquez, Pope Innocent X,  1650,  oil on canvas. (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome).

Like his contemporaries, the Post-Impressionists, Sorolla aimed for a modern type of painting, although he found his way to that through the naturalist tradition, rather than increasingly-abstract means. It was this proclivity for naturalism that led first led Sorolla to Velázquez. But one suspects that it was also Valázquez’s exquisite treatment of light that captured the young artist’s attention.

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Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, Sewing the Sail, 1904, oil on canvas, approximately 36.5 x 51 ” (Colección Masaveu).

Though linked to these movements, Sorolla remained staunchly aloof from them.  Still one cannot deny that the artist pushed the depiction of light and color to vertiginous heights.

Born in Valencia in 1863, Sorolla showed early artistic talent. In a prophetic tale, he is reputed to have doodled endlessly during school, rather than learn his lessons. Formally trained from the age of 14, at 18 Sorolla left Valencia for Madrid, where he relentlessly copied Old Masters in the Prado. He is recorded as having made 16 copies alone of Velázquez paintings. He went on to study in Rome. Despite the early formal training, Sorolla didn’t hit his artistic stride until the 1890s. One sees the artist’s progression plainly in the chronology of the paintings in the Museo Sorolla collection.

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Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, View of Avila, 1912, oil on canvas, 58 x 84 cm (Museo Sorolla).

Although best known for his luscious, luminous seaside scenes, Sorolla was a versatile painter, who rendered portraits of the high-bred and low-brow, everyday street scenes, and loads of landscapes. His works from 1904 onward display a prodigious command of a wide color palette.  His portraits of Spanish folk are at once a solemn and joyful chronicle of a uniquely Spanish tradition that look almost anthropological today. To make his folk depictions authentic, Sorolla often delved deeply into local customs and insisted upon personal accessories.

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, La Siesta, 1911, oil on canvas, (Museo Sorolla).

John Singer Sargent too admired the work of Velázquez.  Sargent and Sorolla most likely met in 1900 at the Universal Exposition in Paris, where both were awarded medals for their work. Sorolla inscribed a small sketch for his painting Triste Herencia (Sad Inheritance), one of the most popular at the Exposition, to Sargent. Sargent returned the favor by sending a small watercolor. In the work of both, one sees the similar insistence on hearty brushwork and close attention to capturing effects of light on their subjects.

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John Singer Sargent, Nonchaloir, 1911, oil on canvas, 25 1/8 x 30″ (National Gallery of Art, Washington).

In the first decades of the 20th century,  Sorolla exhibits attracted huge crowds, both on the continent and in the United States. A special exhibition of  his paintings at the Gallerie Georges Petit in Paris in 1906 led to his appointment as Officer of the Legion of Honour. Wide introduction to the American public came in 1909 with a massively successful exhibit staged at the Hispanic Society in New York. The show, featuring more than 350 (!) of his works, reputedly drew 160,000 visitors over the course of its opening month.

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Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, The Cathedral of Burgos in the Snow, 1910, oil on canvas, approximately 41 x 32.5″ (Museo Sorolla).

In fact, many consider Sorolla’s crowning work to be panoramic series of paintings in the Hispanic Society of America (New York), completed in 1920 just before a paralytic stroke ended his ability to paint. The work depicts the 49 Provinces of Spain, through their specific scenery, costumes and customs.

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Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, Rainbow, El Pardo, 1907, oil on canvas, approximately 24.5 x 36″ (Museo Sorolla).

This summer, Madrid’s Prado will present the first comprehensive solo exhibit of Sorolla’s work since 1963. Perhaps the reputation of the other 20th-century Spanish virtuoso will at last be secured.

Wider Connections

Sorolla in American collections: San Diego Museum of Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Sargent/Sorolla Exhibition (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, 2006)

Miles Mathis on Sargent/Sorolla

Edmund Peel—The Painter Sorolla

Mary Elizabeth Boone—Vistas de España

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