Friday, February 28, 2014

Modigliani, Amedeo

The Jewess
oil on canvas
55 x 46 cm
Private collection

The woman's head is slightly turned and her face has a contemplative, somewhat mysterious expression. Stylistically reminiscent of Cezanne, the painting held special meaning for Modigliani because it was the first painting he sold after settling in Paris.

“What I am seeking is not the real and not the unreal but rather the unconscious, the mystery of the instinctive in the human race.” (Modigliani)

Amedeo Clemente Modigliani (1884-1920) was an Italian painter and sculptor who worked mainly in France. He was born as the forth and the youngest child in the family, which belonged to the secularized Jewish bourgeoisie. Today, he is known for his paintings and sculptures in a modern style characterized by mask-like faces and elongation of form but during his brief career few apart from his fellow artists were aware of his gifts. He had to struggle against poverty and chronic ill health.

He met the first serious love of his life, Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, when he was 26. Anna was tall with dark hair, pale skin and grey-green eyes, she embodied Modigliani's aesthetic ideal and the pair became engrossed in each other, although in later years they became apart. In 1914, the First World War broke out and he wanted to enlist but was exempted from military service for health reasons. In 1917, he met the 19-year old Jeanne Hebuterne (1898-1920), student of the academy and started to live together. "She was gentle, shy, quiet and delicate. A little bit depressive". She became his major model until his death, he painted her no less than 25 times. In 1918, Modigliani and Jeanne left Paris, which was under the threat of occupation by Germans, and went for the southern coast. In Nice and its environments he produced most of the paintings that would later become his most popular and highest-priced works. In November, 1918 in Nice, Jeanne  gave birth to a girl.

After returning to Paris, by the end of 1919, he became seriously ill with tubercular meningitis, exacerbated by poverty, overwork and addiction to alcohol and narcotics, and he died on January 24, 1920, at the age of 35. When he died, his pregnant wife of nearly nine months was emotionally destroyed by his death. The day after his death, she jumped out of a fifth storey window and killed herself and her unborn child. They were finally buried together in the Pere Lachaise cemetery. Their orphan daughter was adopted by Modigliani’s sister in Florence; later she would write an important biography of her father Modigliani : Man and Myth.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Munch, Edvard

Evening Talk
oil on canvas
size unknown
Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, Denmark

Munch’s lifelong obsession with loneliness and psychologically twisted love relationship began with this painting. This was the first time that he truly played out the theme that more than anything else infused his depictions of human beings “breathing and feeling, suffering and loving,” to use his own words.

In the summer of 1889 Munch settled at Asgardstrand, a fishing village on the west side of the Oslo Fjord already famous for its community of Kristiania bohemians. Here he staged his tale of absence and loneliness with the theatre critic Sigurd Bodtker and his younger sister, Inger, as models. Munch made Inger older than her 21 years. She appears as a disillusioned woman. The painting is an early example of Munch’s break with naturalism.

"Nature is not only all that is visible to the eye... it also includes the inner pictures of the soul." (Munch)

Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was a Norwegian painter whose intensely evocative treatment of psychological themes built upon some of the main tenets of late 19th-century Symbolism and greatly influenced German Expressionism in the early 20th century. Although Munch was interested in painting since he was a boy, his family was not in love with the idea and urged him to acquire a more prestigious and profitable profession. In 1879, at the age of 16, he entered the Oslo Technical College with the idea of becoming an engineer. He pursued this field of study for little more than a year before deciding that his true calling was art and dropping out of the college. Soon thereafter, he enrolled for classes at the Royal Drawing School in Oslo. He was a quick and able student. At the Royal Drawing School, he was considered one of the most gifted young artists of his day.

Munch grew increasingly withdrawn from public life, after 1920, limiting social contacts and carefully guarding his privacy. He lived alone, without a servant or housekeeper, with only several dogs for company, and devoted his days to painting. It was during this period, ironically, that he at last began to gain the recognition that had been denied him previously by both critics and public. In 1940, Germany occupied Norway. He refused to be associated with the Nazis and the Quisling puppet-government they set up in Norway, isolating himself in his country home. Following the USA's entry into the Second World War in 1942, the painter's anti-Nazi stance gained him recognition there as well.

He died on January 23, 1944, at his estate in Ekely. He bequeathed all of his property, which included over 1,000 paintings and close to 20,000 sketches, woodcuts and lithographs, to the city of Oslo. The Munch Museum was subsequently opened there to mark the painter's centenary, in 1963.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Gauguin, Paul

Two Tahitian Women
oil on canvas
94 x 72.4 cm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA

Two Tahitian Women depicts the natives that Gauguin admired because they were uncorrupted by the trappings of European civilization. The woman on the left has been identified as Gauguin's mistress Pahura. The pose of the other woman appears in several works Gauguin executed. The position of her hands derives from carvings in the Javanese temple of Borobudur.

Eugene Henri Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) was a leading French Post-Impressionist artist. In 1870, he began a career as a stockbroker and remained in this profession for twelve years. He was a financially successful stockbroker when he began collecting works by the impressionists in the 1870s. Inspired by their example, he took up the study of painting under Camille Pissarro. In 1882, after a stock market crash and recession rendered him unemployed, Gauguin decided to abandon the business world to pursue life as a full-time artist.

In 1891 his rejection of European urban values led him to Tahiti, where he expected to find an unspoiled culture. Instead, he was confronted with a world already transformed by western missionaries and colonial rule. Gauguin had to invent the world he sought and he interwove the images and mythology of island life with those of the west and other cultures. He lived in among the natives but his health grew poorer; An ankle he had broken in Brittany did not heal properly, and he suffered from strokes. He had to depend on menial jobs (work that is beneath a person's skills) in order to support himself. In 1901 he moved to the Marquesas Islands. He died there, alone, of a stroke on May 8, 1903.

Gauguin’s art was not popular while he was alive. After his death, he was recognized for his experimental use of colors and synthesist style that was distinguishably different from Impressionism. His greatest innovation was the use of color, which he employed not for its ability to mimic nature but for its emotive qualities. He applied it in broad flat areas outlined with dark paint, which tended to flatten space and abstract form. This flattening of space and symbolic use of color would be important influences on early twentieth-century artists. Today, he is regarded as a highly influential founder of modern art. His unusual combinations of objects and people can be seen as forerunners of the surrealist (using fantastic imagery) art of the 1920s and later.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Dali, Salvador

The Sacrament of the Last Supper
oil on canvas
267 x 167 cm
The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., USA

The Sacrament of the Last Supper depicts thirteen figures gathered around a table. This painting was completed during Dali's post-World War II era, which is characterized by his increased interest in science, optical illusion and religion. During this time he became a devout Catholic and simultaneously was astonished by the "atomic age". Dali himself labeled this era in his work "Nuclear Mysticism".

"Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing." (Dali)

Salvador Domenec Felipe Jacinto Dali i Domenech, Marquis de Pubol (1904-1989), commonly known as Salvador Dali , was a prominent Spanish surrealist painter born in Figueres, Spain. After passing through phases of Cubism, Futurism and Metaphysical painting, he joined the Surrealists in 1929 and his talent for self-publicity rapidly made him the most famous representative of the movement.

Dali was a skilled draftsman, best known for the striking and bizarre images in his surrealist work. His painterly skills are often attributed to the influence of Renaissance masters. Dali's expansive artistic repertoire includes film, sculpture, and photography, in collaboration with a range of artists in a variety of media. Dali attributed his "love of everything that is gilded and excessive, my passion for luxury and my love of oriental clothes" to a self-styled "Arab lineage", claiming that his ancestors were descended from the Moors.

He took over the Surrealist theory of automatism but transformed it into a more positive method which he named `critical paranoia'. According to this theory one should cultivate genuine delusion as in clinical paranoia while remaining residually aware at the back of one's mind that the control of the reason and will has been deliberately suspended. He claimed that this method should be used not only in artistic and poetical creation but also in the affairs of daily life.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Matisse, Henri

La blouse roumaine
oil on canvas
92 × 73 cm
Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris, France

The inspiration of the painting was drawn from the Romanian traditional costume.

 "It is only by drawing often, drawing everything, drawing incessantly, that one fine day you discover to your surprise that you have rendered something in its true character." (Matisse)

Henri-Emile-Benoit Matisse (1869-1954) was a French artist, known for his use of color and his fluid and original draughtsmanship. The art of 20th century has been dominated by two men: Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. They are artists of classical greatness, and their visionary forays into new art have changed our understanding of the world. Matisse was the elder of the two, but he was a slower and more methodical man by temperament. Matisse and Picasso helped to define the revolutionary  developments in the plastic arts in the opening decades of the 20th century, responsible for significant developments in painting and sculpture.

Matisse began studying drawing and painting in the 1890s. A student of the masters of Post-Impressionism, Matisse later made a reputation for himself as the leader of a group of painters known as Les Fauves (wild beasts). An ironic label given to them by a critic, the name reflected Matisse's aggressive strokes and bold use of primary colors.
Although he was labeled a Fauve, by the 1920s he was increasingly hailed as an upholder of the classical tradition in French painting. His mastery of the expressive language of color and drawing, displayed in a body of work spanning over a half-century, won him recognition as a leading figure in modern art.

Matisse loved pattern, and pattern within pattern: not only the suave and decorative forms of his own compositions but also the reproduction of tapestries, embroideries, silks, striped awnings, curlicues, mottles, dots, and spots, the bright clutter of over-furnished rooms, within the painting. In particular he loved Islamic art. Islamic pattern offers the illusion of a completely full world, where everything from far to near is pressed with equal urgency against the eye. Matisse admired that, and wanted to transpose it into terms of pure color. Beyond painting, he worked with lithographs and sculpture, and during World War II he did a series of book designs. Later in his career he experimented with paper cutouts and designed decorations for the Dominican chapel in Venice, France.
Picasso destroyed his fear of women in his art, while Matisse coaxed his nervous tension into serenity. Matisse said that he wanted his art to have the same effect as a comfortable armchair on a tired businessman and many of the paintings he left us seem to be the view from that armchair.
"Instinct must be thwarted just as one prunes the branches of a tree so that it will grow better."(Matisse)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de

The Kiss
oil on cardboard
60 x 80 cm
Private collection

The Kiss is a sensual scene of two lesbians kissing on a bed. Towards the end of 1892 Lautrec was commissioned to produce decorations for the salon walls of the Rue d'Amboise brothel, and he decided to design 16 panels in the style of Louis XV, each one centring on an oval portraits of one of the girls. It was during this time that Lautrec had the opportunity to study their lifestyle at close quarters. He was fascinated to discover that many of them were deeply in love with each other, and he frequently made these couples the subjects of his paintings. He thereby succeeded in portraying the genuine depth of these lesbian relationships without exposing the girls' tenderness and helplessness to voyeurism.

"I paint things as they are. I don't comment." "I have tried to do what is true and not ideal." (Toulouse-Lautrec)

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) ,an aristocrat, was born in southern France. The son and heir of Comte Alphonse-Charles de Toulouse, he was the last in the line of an aristocratic family that dated back a thousand years. Today, the family estate houses the Musee Toulouse-Lautrec.

He is a painter and illustrator, whose immersion in the colorful and theatrical life yielded an oeuvre of exciting, elegant and provocative images of the modern and sometimes decadent life of those times. He is known, along with Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin, as one of the greatest painters of the Post-Impressionist period. He observed and captured in his art the Parisian nightlife of the period.

Henri's father was rich, handsome, and eccentric. His mother was overly devoted to her only living child. They themselves were first cousins, and Henri suffered from a number of congenital health conditions attributed to this inbreeding. As a child, Henri was weak and often sick. But by the time he was 10 years old he had begun to draw and paint. At 12 young, he broke his left leg and at 14 his right leg. The bones failed to heal properly, and his legs stopped growing. He reached young adulthood with a body trunk of normal size but with abnormally short legs. He was only 4 1/2 feet (1.5 meters) tall.

Deprived of the physical life that a normal body would have permitted, Toulouse-Lautrec lived completely for his art. He dwelt in the Montmartre section of Paris, the center of the cabaret entertainment and bohemian life that he loved to depict in his work. Dance halls and nightclubs, racetracks, prostitutes - all these were memorialized on canvas or made into lithographs. He was very much an active part of this community. He would sit at a crowded nightclub table, laughing and drinking, meanwhile making swift sketches. The next morning in his studio he would expand the sketches into brightly colored paintings.

In order to join in the Montmartre life - as well as to fortify himself against the crowd's ridicule of his appearance - he began to drink heavily. By the 1890s the drinking was affecting his health. He was confined first to a sanatorium and then to his mother's care at home, but he could not stay away from alcohol. He died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis at the age of 36, at the family chateau of Malrome. His last words were: "Le vieux con!" ("The old fool!", although the word "con" can be meant in both simple and vulgar terms). This was his goodbye to his father. Since after his death, his paintings and posters - particularly the Moulin Rouge group - have been in great demand and bring high prices at auctions and art sales. His mother contributed funds for a museum to be created in Albi, his birthplace, to house her deceased son's works. The Toulouse-Lautrec Museum now owns the world's largest collection of works by the painter.
His debt to the Impressionists, in particular the more figurative painters Manet and Degas, is apparent. His style was also influenced by the classical Japanese woodblock prints which became popular in art circles in Paris.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Picasso, Pablo

Breakfast of a Blind Man
oil on canvas
95.3 x 94.6 cm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA

This man has deeply sunken eye as a result of ocular trauma or failed ocular surgery. "I am painting a blind man at the table. He holds some bread in his left hand and gropes with his right hand for a jug of wine." (Picasso)

The first of Pablo Picasso’s major movements is the Blue Period. Comprised mainly in his late teens it is imperative to keep in mind the living conditions of Picasso at this time. Soon after Picasso left Barcelona for Paris, he began painting using a strong presence of blue. Not only was Picasso living in a new city, with little financial resources, away from his home and family for the first time, many of the influences of this more depressing style of painting can be traced to the suicide of his friend, Casagemas. Prostitutes, beggars, acrobats, harlequins and blindness are all common themes depicted within the paintings of the Blue Period.
The painting is not merely a portrait of a blind man; it is also Picasso's commentary on human suffering in general. The meager meal of bread and wine invites references to the figure of Christ and the principal dogma of Catholic faith, whereby bread and wine represent Christ's body and blood, sacramental associations that Picasso as a Spaniard would have known.

"My mother said to me, 'If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.' Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso." (Picasso)

"Pablo Diego Jose Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santisima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso", known as Pablo Picasso, (1881-1973) was a Spanish painter and sculptor, born in Malaga on the southern coast of Spain. One of the greatest, dynamic and most influential artists of the 20th century, he is widely known for co-founding the Cubist movement, the invention of constructed sculpture, and for the wide variety of styles that he helped develop and explore.

He was exposed to art from a very young age by his father, who was a painter and art instructor. After studying at various art schools between 1892 and 1896, including academies in Barcelona and Madrid, he went on to the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid during the winter of 1896-1897. Picasso soon became bored with academics and set himself up as an independent artist. In Barcelona in 1899 Picasso’s circle of friends included young avantgarde artists and writers who traveled between Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris. Picasso also visited these cities and absorbed the local culture. His early works were influenced by old masters such as El Greco and Velazquez and by modern artists including Paul Gauguin, Edgar Degas, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Picasso moved to Paris in 1904 and settled in a dilapidated section of Montmartre, a working-class quarter. This area was home to many young artists and writers, and he was gradually assimilated into their stimulating intellectual community. Although Picasso benefited greatly from the artistic atmosphere in Paris and his circle of friends, he was often lonely, unhappy, and terribly poor.

Picasso demonstrated extraordinary artistic talent in his early years, painting in a realistic manner through his childhood and adolescence. During the first decade of the 20th century his style changed as he experimented with different theories, techniques, and ideas. His revolutionary artistic accomplishments brought him universal renown and immense fortune, making him one of the best-known figures in 20th century art. Based on sales of his works at auctions, he holds the title of top ranked artist. He was also a prolific artist with estimates of 50,000 works of art production in his lifetime, including paintings, drawings, sculptures, etc..

For the last three decades of his long life Picasso lived mostly in south of France. He worked up until the day he died at age 91; literally painting till 3 am on Sunday, April 8th, which was just hours before his death. He died while he and his wife Jacqueline Roque entertained friends for dinner. Jacqueline prevented his children Claude and Paloma from attending the funeral. Picasso was interred at the Chateau of Vauvenargues near Aix-en-Provence, a property he had acquired in 1958 and occupied with Jacqueline between 1959 and 1962. Devastated and lonely after the death of Picasso, Jacqueline took her own life by gunshot in 1986 when she was 59 years old. Picasso's final words were “Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can’t drink any more.”

Friday, February 21, 2014

Gogh, Vincent van

Landscape at Twilight
oil on Canvas
50 x 101 cm
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Vincent wrote to his brother, Theo, in April 1885, "One of the most beautiful things by the painters of this century has been the painting of DARKNESS that is still COLOR." This was how Vincent described the evocative landscape he painted shortly after sunset in the surroundings of the chateau at Auvers. During the final months of his life, he painted a number of works in this striking format, twice as wide as they were high - ideally suited to broad landscape views.

"I dream of painting and then I paint my dream." (Gogh)

Vincent Willem van Gogh (1853-1890) was a Dutch post-Impressionist painter whose work, notable for its rough beauty, emotional honesty, and bold color, had a far-reaching influence on 20th-century art. He spent his early adulthood working for a firm of art dealers, traveling between The Hague, London and Paris, after which he taught for a time in England. One of his early aspirations was to become a pastor and from 1879 he worked as a missionary in a mining region in Belgium where he began to sketch people from the local community.

In 1885, he painted his first major work The Potato Eaters. His palette at the time consisted mainly of somber earth tones and showed no sign of the vivid coloration that distinguished his later work. In 1886, he moved to Paris and discovered the French Impressionists. Later, he moved to the south of France and was influenced by the strong sunlight he found there. His work grew brighter in color, and he developed the unique and highly recognizable style that became fully realized during his stay in Arles in 1888. After years of painful anxiety and frequent bouts of mental illness, he died at the age of 37 in 1890 from a gunshot wound, generally accepted to be self-inflicted (although no gun was ever found). His work was then known to only a handful of people and appreciated by fewer still.

Gogh did not begin painting until his late twenties. He completed many of his best-known works during his last two years. In just over a decade, he produced more than 2,100 artworks, consisting of 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolors, drawings, sketches and prints. His work included self portraits, landscapes, still lifes of flowers, portraits and paintings of cypresses, wheat fields and sunflowers. The extent to which his mental health affected his painting has been a subject of speculation since his death. According to an art critic, his late works show an artist at the height of his ability, completely in control and "longing for concision and grace".

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Renoir, Pierre-August

Young Girl Combing Her Hair
oil on canvas
size unknown
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA

"Go and see what others have produced, but never copy anything except nature. You would be trying to enter into a temperament that is not yours and nothing that you would do would have any character."  (Renoir)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) was a French artist who was a leading painter in the development of the Impressionist style. As a celebrator of beauty, and especially feminine sensuality, it has been said that Renoir is the final representative of a tradition which runs directly from Rubens to Watteau.

He was born in Limoges and brought up in Paris, where his father, a tailor with a large family, settled in 1845. From the age of thirteen he worked as an apprentice painter, painting flowers on porcelain plates. This early apprenticeship left a certain trace on his art, which was always decorative in spite of its later realism. After machines for coloring ceramics had been introduced, he had to switch to decorating fans and screens. Having saved some money, in 1862 Renoir entered the Atelier Gleyre and there made friends with Monet, Sisley and Bazille; some time later he met Pissarro and Cezanne.

Renoir's work is characterized by a richness of feeling and a warmth of response to the world and to the people in it. His early works were typically Impressionist snapshots of real life, full of sparkling color and light. By the mid-1880s, however, he had broken with the movement to apply a more disciplined, formal technique to portraits and figure paintings, particularly of women.

Renoir is perhaps the best-loved of all the Impressionists, for his subjects - pretty children, flowers, beautiful scenes, above all lovely women - have instant appeal. His paintings present a vision of a forgotten world, full of sparkling color and light. He was so passionate about painting that he even continued when he was old and suffering from severe arthritis. He then painted with the brush tied to his wrists. He died in the village of Cagnes-sur-Mer, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur on 3 December 1919 and was buried in Essoyes, next to his wife Aline. "The pain passes, but the beauty remains."  "Shall I tell you what I think are the two qualities of a work of art? First, it must be indescribable, and, second, it must be inimitable."  (Renoir)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Guillaumin, Armand

oil on canvas
size unknown
private collection

Armand Guillaumin (1841-1927), was a French impressionist painter and lithographer. Born in Paris in a working-class family, he worked at his uncle's lingerie shop while attending evening drawing lessons. In 1860 he was engaged as employee on the Paris-Orleans French government railway line. From 1868 on, he worked as a night working employee in order to be able to paint during day time.

At the beginning of the 1870s, he worked with Pissarro in Pontoise, a village of farmers hardly affected by industrialization where Pissarro had settled, sharing with him his love for landscapes and making his Pissarro's style and carefully constructed pictorial composition. Cezanne settled in Pontoise in 1872 to better follow the instructions of his mentor, Pissarro. Cezanne made a portrait of Guillaumin entitled "Guillaumin at the Hanged man".

Guillaumin maintained lifelong friendships with Pissarro and Cezanne. While he never achieved the stature of these two, his influence on their work was significant. Cezanne attempted his first etching based on Guillaumin paintings of barges on the River Seine. In 1886 he became a friend of Vincent van Gogh whose brother, Theo sold some of his works. He was finally able to quit his government job and concentrate on painting full-time in 1891, when he won 100,000 francs in the state lottery.

Noted for their intense colours, Guillamin's paintings are represented in major museums around the world. He was called the leader of the Ecole de Crozant, a diverse group of painters who came to depict the landscape in the region of the Creuse around the village of Crozant.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Signac, Paul

Breakfast in the Dining Room
oil on canvas
89 x 115 cm
Kroller-Muller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands

Signac's oil painting "Breakfast in the Dining Room" (1887) echoes Seurat's "Sunday in the Park on the Island of Grande Jatte" (1884). The two most dominant women (the maid and the woman with the parasol) in these paintings are very similar in stature, placement on the canvas and appearance. This may lead one to believe that Signac and Seurat had a hand in each other's work, or the work of other lesser-known Pointillism students of the time.

Paul Signac (1863-1935) was a French neo-impressionist painter.He is one of the principal neoimpressionist painters worked with Georges Seurat in creating pointillism (or divisionism). He followed a course of training in architecture before deciding at the age of 18 to pursue a career as a painter after attending an exhibit of Monet's work.

Unlike Seurat, he had virtually no formal training; he taught himself to paint by studying the works of Claude Monet and others. After he and Seurat met, they developed their technique of painting with dots (points) of colour, which led to the name pointillism. As Signac explained, they used the pure impressionist palette but applied it in dots that were to be blended by the viewer's eye. What Signac called "muddy mixtures" were to be banished from painting and replaced by luminous, intense colours. Many of Signac's paintings are of the French coast. He loved to paint the water. He left the capital each summer, to stay in the south of France in the village of Collioure or at St. Tropez.

As president of the annual Salon des Independants (1908-34), Signac encouraged younger artists by exhibiting the controversial works of the Fauves and the Cubists. At the age of seventy-two, he died on 15 August 1935 in Paris from septicemia. His body was cremated and buried at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Denis, Maurice

Female bathers at Perros-Guirec
oil on canvas
98 x 122 cm
Petit Palais, City of Paris Fine Art Museum, Paris, France

 "Yes, it's necessary that I am a Christian painter, that I celebrate all the miracles of Christianity, I feel it's necessary." (Denis)

Maurice Denis (1870-1943) was a French painter and writer, and a member of the Symbolist and Les Nabis movements. His theories contributed to the foundations of cubism, fauvism, and abstract art.

He was born in Granville, Manche, a coastal town in the Normandy region of France. Waters and coastlines would remain favorite subject matter throughout his career, as would material drawn from the bible.

The Denis family was affluent, and he attended both the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Academie Julian. At the Academie, he met painters and future Nabi members including Pierre Bonnard; through Bonnard he also met the future Nabis painters. In 1890, they formed The Nabis. They chose "Nabi" - Hebrew for "Prophet" - because they understood they would be creating new forms of expression. He was among the artists to insist on the flatness of the picture plane - one of the great starting points for modernism, as practiced in the visual arts. In his famous proposal for the definition of painting, offered in 1890, he stated: "Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a nude, an anecdote or whatnot, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order." The Nabi group would split apart by the end of the decade, and would influence the later work of Bonnard, as well as non-Nabi painters like Henri Matisse. Denis died in Paris of injuries resulting from an automobile accident in November 1943.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Tissot, James

Hide and Seek
oil on wood
73.4 x 53.9 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA

James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902), painter and graphic artist, was born in Nantes in a seaport on the French coast. Tissot was the son of a very prosperous, successful shopkeeper, who was a devout Roman Catholic. He spent much of his career in Britain. His pictures are distinguished most obviously by his love of painting women's costumes. He also had a gift for wittily observing nuances of social behavior.

Early in his career he painted historical costume pieces, but in about 1864 he turned with great success to scenes of contemporary life, usually involving fashionable women. Following his alleged involvement in the turbulent events of the Paris Commune in 1871 he took refuge in London, where he lived from 1871 to 1882. He was just as successful there as he had been in Paris.

Throughout his life Tissot retained an affinity and fascination with all things nautical, and his marked ability to accurately paint rigging and shipboard scene paintings must have come from his boyhood. For many years after his death Tissot was considered a grossly vulgar artist, bug there has been a recent upsurge of interest in him.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Whistler, James Abbott McNeill

Caprice in Purple and Gold: The Golden Screen
oil on wood panel
50.1 x 68.5 cm
The Smithsonian's Museum of Asian Art, Washington, DC, USA

In the painting a young woman, dressed in a Japanese kimono, is looking at oriental woodblock prints. The woodblock prints are probably by Ando Hiroshigi. Whistler was a great collector of oriental art and porcelain and sometimes used items from his own collections in his paintings. There was a great deal of Japanese influence on art and decoration in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The model is a red haired Irish beauty who was Whistler's mistress and the model in several of his paintings. Whistler designed the frame and decorated it with Asian motifs, including badges of palm leaves and paulownia blossoms, in imitation of Japanese family crests.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834?1903) was an American-born, British-based artist, active mainly in England. He made copies in the Louvre, acquired a lasting admiration for Velazquez, and became a devotee of the cult of the Japanese print and oriental art and decoration in general. As a leading proponent of the credo "art for art's sake", he walked his own path from the Realism of Courbet to an aesthetic approach. Egotistical, abrasive, and yet extremely talented, he stands as an isolated figure in art history, never directly associated with a specific style or school of painting. As a result, Whistler's work has in modern times rarely received the attention it deserves.

Whistler's art was characterized by a subtle delicacy, while his public persona was combative. Finding a parallel between painting and music, he titled many of his paintings "arrangements", "harmonies", and "nocturnes", emphasizing the primacy of tonal harmony.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sickert, Walter Richard

Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford
oil on canvas
76.5 x 63.8 cm
The Tate Gallery, London, UK

Minnie Cunningham was a popular music hall performer of the 1890s whom Sickert admired. He first exhibited this picture with the subtitle “I’m an old hand at love, though I’m young in years” - a quotation from one of her songs.

Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942), born in Munich, Germany, was a painter, printmaker, teacher and writer who was a member of the Camden Town Group in London. He was an important influence on distinctively British styles of avant-garde art in the 20th century. He is often called a painter's painter, appealing primarily to artists working in the figurative tradition; there are few British figurative painters of the 20th century whose development can be adequately discussed without reference to Sickert's subject-matter or innovative techniques.

After several years working as an actor, in 1882 he became an assistant to James Whistler, and the following year he met the French Impressionist Edgar Degas in Paris; these artists greatly influenced his work. In particular, he was indebted to Degas for the ability to establish a situation merely through the attitudes of his figures. In his later work he increasingly used photographs, rather than live models, as the basis for his work. He also occasionally wrote art criticism for the leading journals of the day. His active career as an artist lasted for nearly 60 years. His output was vast.

He was a cosmopolitan and eccentric who often favoured ordinary people and urban scenes as his subjects. His oeuvre also included portraits of well-known personalities and images derived from press photographs. He is considered a prominent figure in the transition from Impressionism to Modernism.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sargent, John Singer

Miss Beatrice Townsend
oil on canvas
79.4 x 58.4 cm
The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), the son of American expatriate parents, was the most successful portrait painter of his era, as well as a gifted landscape painter and watercolorist. He was considered the "leading portrait painter of his generation" for his evocations of Edwardian era luxury.

Sargent was born in Florence, Italy to American parents. His father was a doctor and his mother came from a very wealthy family in Philadelphia. He grew up in Europe, and studied painting in Italy and Germany, and then in Paris under Emile Auguste Carolus-Duran (whose influence would be pivotal), then at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Carolus-Duran's atelier was progressive, dispensing with the traditional academic approach which required careful drawing and underpainting, in favor of the alla prima method of working directly on the canvas with a loaded brush, derived from Diego Velazquez. It was an approach which relied on the proper placement of tones of paint. In 1884 at the Paris Salon, his painting of of a young socialite, exhibited as Madame X, the portrait of the 23-year-old, caused sensation and people complained that the painting was provocatively erotic. The scandal persuaded Sargent to move to England, and over the next few years established himself as the country's leading portrait painter.

During his career, Sargent created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings. His oeuvre documents worldwide travel, from Venice to the Tyrol, Corfu, the Middle East, Montana, Maine, and Florida.From the beginning his work was characterized by remarkable technical facility, particularly in his ability to draw with a brush, which in later years inspired admiration as well as criticism for a supposed superficiality. His commissioned works were consistent with the grand manner of portraiture, while his informal studies and landscape paintings displayed a familiarity with Impressionism. In later life Sargent expressed ambivalence about the restrictions of formal portrait work, and devoted much of his energy to mural painting and working en plein air.

Sargent lived most of his life in Europe. He died in his sleep in 1925 at home in England having suffered a heart attack. He was buried in Brookwood Cemetery near Woking, Surrey.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Monet, Claud

San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk
oil on canvas
65.2 × 92.4 cm
National Museum Cardiff, Wales, UK

Monastery-island of San Giorgio Maggiore was a favorite subject for painters, including the proto-Impressionist Turner.
Monet and his wife stayed at the Hotel Britannia in Venice until December. He was 68 when he first viewed the splendid sunset which are unique in the world. Monet painted San Giorgio Maggiore in six various lighting conditions. With this technique, the paintings focused on the ‘nature of experience.’

"I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers." (Monet)

Claude Monet (1840-1926) was a founder of French impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement's philosophy of expressing one's perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air landscape painting. Monet found subjects in his immediate surroundings, as he painted the people and places he knew best. He rejected the traditional approach to landscape painting and instead of copying old masters he had been learning from his friends and the nature itself. He observed variations of color and light caused by the daily or seasonal changes.

One day in 1871, legend says, Claude Monet walked into a food shop in Amsterdam, where he had gone to escape the Prussian siege of Paris. There he spotted some Japanese Ukiyo-e prints being used as wrapping paper. He was so taken by the engravings that he bought one on the spot. The purchase changed his life - and the history of Western art. Monet went on to collect 231 Japanese prints, which greatly influenced his work and that of other practitioners of Impressionism, the movement he helped create. Under the new Meiji Emperor, Japan in the 1870s was just opening to the outside world after centuries of isolation. Japanese handicrafts were flooding into European department stores and art galleries. Japonism, a fascination with all things Japanese, was soon the rage among French intellectuals and artists, among them Vincent van Gogh, Edouard Manet, Camille Pissarro and the young Monet.

Perhaps the greatest gift Japan gave Monet, and Impressionism, was an incandescent obsession with getting the play of light and shadow, the balance of colors and the curve of a line, just right - not the way it is in reality, but the way it looks in the artist's imagination, like Hokusai's Ukiyo-e. At Giverny where Monet built a Japanese bridge over a Japanese pond in a Japanese garden, he spent the rest of his life painting the private paradise, his water lilies of the pond, again and again, until he lost his eyesight in quest of an elusive, transcendent perfection that might best be called Japanese. "I have slowly learned about the pattern of the grass, the trees, the structure of birds and other animals like insects and fish, so that when I am 80, I hope to be better," Hokusai wrote 16 years before his death at age 89. "At 90, I hope to have caught the very essence of things, so that at 100 I will have reached heavenly mysteries. At 110, every point and line will be living."
"For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at any moment." (Monet)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Seurat, Georges

Circus Sideshow (Parade de Cirque)
oil on canvas
100 x 150 cm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA

Circus Sideshow is one of six major figure paintings that Seurat produced during his short career. On a balustraded stage, under the misty glow of nine twinkling gaslights, a ringmaster (at right) and musicians (at left) play to a crowd of potential ticket buyers, whose assorted hats add a wry and rhythmic note to the foreground. Seurat made on-site sketches in the spring of 1887, he then developed the composition through several preparatory studies. Circus Sideshow represents the first important painting Seurat devoted to a scene of popular entertainment.

Georges-Pierre Seurat (1859-1891), Post-Impressionist painter, born into a very rich family in Paris, is one of the icons of 19th century painting. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and his teacher was a disciple of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Young Seurat was strongly influenced by Rembrandt and Francisco de Goya.

Seurat is the founder of the 19th-century French school of Neo-Impressionism whose technique for portraying the play of light using tiny brushstrokes of contrasting colors became known as Pointillism. He spent his life studying color theories and the effects of different linear structures. He is the ultimate example of the artist as scientist. Using Pointillism technique, he created huge compositions with tiny, detached strokes of pure color too small to be distinguished when looking
at the entire work but making his paintings shimmer with brilliance. In 1883, panels from his painting Bathing at Asnieres were refused by the Salon. After his painting was rejected by the Paris Salon, Seurat turned away from such establishments, instead allying himself with the independent artists of Paris. In 1884 he and other artists (including Maximilien Luce) formed the Societe des Artistes Independants. There he met and befriended fellow artist Paul Signac. Seurat shared his new ideas about pointillism with Signac, who subsequently painted in the same idiom.

Before actually painting the picture, he would sketch out parts of his artwork so that the models would not have to wait forever while he found the exact color. He took to heart the color theorists' notion of a scientific approach to painting. He believed that a painter could use color to create harmony and emotion in art in the same way that a musician uses counterpoint and variation to create harmony in music. He theorized that the scientific application of color was like any other natural law, and he was driven to prove this conjecture. He kept his private life very secret. On 29 March 1891, Seurat unexpectedly died. The cause of his death is uncertain. His last ambitious work, The Circus, was left unfinished at the time of his death.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Bernard, Emile

Still Life with Flowers
oil on canvas
50.2 x 61.0 cm
Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA, USA

In 1886 Bernard became friends with Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh and began studying the paintings of Cezanne. Bernard conceived this still life in the synthesist style he developed with Gauguin.

Emile Henri Bernard (1868-1941) is known as a Post-Impressionist painter and writer. He was the son of a cloth merchant. Relations with his parents were never harmonious, and in 1884, against his father’s wishes, he enrolled as a student at the Atelier Cormon in Paris. There he became a close friend of Toulouse-Lautrec.

Bernard theorized a style of painting with bold forms separated by dark contours which became known as cloisonnism.
His work showed geometric tendencies which hinted at influences of Paul Cezanne, and he collaborated with Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh.
In 1892 he organized the first French retrospective of the work of van Gogh, who had died in 1890. His close association with Gauguin had ended bitterly in 1891. Having abandoned plans to travel abroad with Gauguin, Bernard went instead to Italy in 1893 and thence to Egypt, where he lived until 1903, concentrating mainly on painting scenes of street life in Cairo.
On his return to France in 1904 Bernard set up home in Tonnerre. Having already published a selection of his letters from van Gogh in the mid-1890s, he resumed his art historical work: he visited his revered hero Cezanne, by then an old man, in Aix-en-Provence, and their carefully structured conversations and correspondence constitute an important first-hand account of Cezanne’s ideas on art and working methods. In 1905 Bernard founded a new art journal, Renovation Esthetique, which he edited until 1910.

Bernard had a complex and anxious personality, and his stylistic shifts and equivocations have been taken as signs of weakness. After World War I he produced innumerable female portraits and nudes in a slick, highly finished manner that belied his avant-garde origins.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Bazille, Jean-Frederic

Reunion de famille (Family Reunion)
oil on canvas
152 x 230 cm
Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France

Jean Frederic Bazille (1841-1870) was a French painter who as friend, benefactor, and colleague of the Impressionists, played an important role during the movement’s formative years. Many of Bazille's major works are examples of figure painting in which Bazille placed the subject figure within a landscape painted en plein air.

He was born in Montpellier, France, into a wealthy Protestant family. He became interested in painting after seeing some works of Eugene Delacroix. His family agreed to let him study painting, but only if he also studied medicine. He began studying medicine in 1859, and moved to Paris in 1862 to continue his studies. There he met Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley, was drawn to Impressionist painting. After failing his medical exam in 1864, he began painting full-time. He was just twenty-three years old when he painted several of his best known works. His close friends included Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Edouard Manet. Bazille was generous with his wealth, and helped support his less fortunate associates by giving them space in his studio and materials to use. As a painter he combined a certain naivete with a delicate feeling for nature and an exquisite sense of color. His landscape figures are strangely immobile and have a sculptural, hard-edge quality.

Bazille joined a Zouave regiment in August 1870, a month after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. On November 28 of that year he was with his unit at the Battle of Beaune-la-Rolande when, his officer having been injured, he took command and led an assault on the German position. He was hit twice in the failed attack and died on the battlefield at the age of twenty eight. His father travelled to the battlefield a few days later to take his body back for burial at Montpellier over a week later. Bazille, who seemed destined to occupy a prominent place among the Impressionists, was killed in the Franco-German War. His best known painting is Family Reunion.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Fantin-Latour, Henri

Un Coin de Table (A Corner Table)
oil on canvas
160 x 225 cm
Musee D'Orsay, Paris, France

left to right, seated: Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Leon Valade, Ernest d'Hervilly, Camille Pelletan
left to right, standing: Pierre Elzear, Emile Blemont and Jean Aicard.
Poets all.
Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) was a French painter who is best known for his flower paintings and group portraits of his friends Parisian artists and writers. He was particularly renowned for his highly controlled style of delicate, meticulously detailed still-life and flower paintings. He often spent his summers painting floral still life-s with his wife, also an artist. He reportedly produced more than 800 flower paintings in response to the tremendous demand for such works in France and Britain.

Although he befriended several of the young artists who would later be associated with Impressionism, including Whistler and Manet, Fantin's own work remained conservative in style. He exhibited with the Impressionists but never shared their passion for outdoor painting. But his paintings inspired by imaginative themes, revealing his romantic passion for Wagner, Berlioz and Schumann, strongly influenced the symbolist movement of the late 19th Century.

He died of lyme disease and was interred in the Cimetiere du Montparnasse, Paris, France. In 1879 He was awarded the Legion d’Honneur medal. Marcel Proust mentions Fantin-Latour's work in In Search of Lost Time.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Morisot, Berthe

Nude shepherdess reclining
oil on canvas
57.5 x 86.4 cm
Private Collection

Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) was a French painter and was the first woman to join the circle of the French impressionist painters. She was described as one of "les trois grandes dames" of Impressionism alongside Marie Bracquemond and Mary Cassatt.

Born into a family of wealth and culture, Morisot received the conventional lessons in drawing and painting. Having studied for a time under Camille Corot, she later began her long friendship with Edouard Manet who became her brother-in-law in 1874 when she married his brother Eugene, and was the most important single influence on the development of her style. Unlike most of the other impressionists, who were then intensely engaged in optical experiments with color, Morisot and Manet agreed on a more conservative approach, confining their use of color to a naturalistic framework. Morisot, however, did encourage Manet to adopt the impressionists' high-keyed palette and to abandon the use of black. Her own carefully composed, brightly hued canvases are often studies of women, either out-of-doors or in domestic settings. Morisot and American artist Mary Cassatt are generally considered the most important women painters of the later 19th century.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Gonzales, Eva

Morning Awakening
oil on canvas
82 x 100 cm
Kunsthalle, Bremen, Germany

Eva Gonzales (1849-1883) was a French Impressionist painter. Her concepts and techniques were decisively influenced by Edouard Manet, whom she greatly admired. She was the daughter of the novelist Emmanuel Gonzalez, a Frenchman of Spanish descent. She has had little success with art lovers and critics to this day.

She met Manet in 1869, and was to become his student, colleague and model. Like her teacher, Manet, she never exhibited with the Impressionist painters, but she is considered part of the group because of her painting style. She was Manet's only formal student and modeled frequently for several members of the Impressionist school. Until 1872, she was strongly influenced by Manet but later developed her own, more personal style. Her career was cut short when she died in childbirth at the age of thirty-four, six days after the death of her teacher, Manet.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Degas, Edgar

L'Entree des Masques (The Entrance of the Masked Dancers)
19.25"x 22 .5"
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute at Williamstown, MA, USA

Most of his ballet scenes were composed of diverse elements extracted and combined from a multitude of unrelated sketches made in the rehearsal rooms and stages of the Paris Opera. Nevertheless, the subject of this painting is believed to be taken from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni.

"Art is vice. You don't marry it legitimately, you rape it." (Degas)

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) was a French artist famous for his work in painting, sculpture, printmaking and drawing. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism although he rejected the term, and preferred to be called a realist. A superb draughtsman, he is especially identified with the subject of the dance, and over half his works depict dancers. These display his mastery in the depiction of movement, as do his racecourse subjects and female nudes. His portraits are considered to be among the finest in the history of art.

Early in his career, his ambition was to be a history painter, a calling for which he was well prepared by his rigorous academic training and close study of classic art. In his early thirties he changed course, and by bringing the traditional methods of a history painter to bear on contemporary subject matter, he became a classical painter of modern life.

Certain features of his work remained the same throughout his life. He always painted indoors, preferring to work in his studio, either from memory or using models. The figure remained his primary subject; his few landscapes were produced from memory or imagination. It was not unusual for him to repeat a subject many times, varying the composition or treatment. He was a deliberative artist whose works were prepared, calculated, practiced, developed in stages. They were made up of parts. The adjustment of each part to the whole, their linear arrangement, was the occasion for infinite reflection and experiment.  "In art, nothing should look like chance, not even movement." (Degas)

In company he was known for his wit, which could often be cruel. He was characterized as an "old curmudgeon", and he deliberately cultivated his reputation as a misanthropic bachelor. Profoundly conservative in his political opinions, he opposed all social reforms and found little to admire in such technological advances as the telephone. He fired a model upon learning she was Protestant. "The artist must live alone, and his private life must remain unknown." "In painting you must give the idea of the true by means of the false." (Degas)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Cassatt, Mary

Woman with a Pearl Necklace in a Loge
oil on canvas
81 x 60 cm
Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA, USA

This is one of the several theater scenes which Cassatt painted in the late 1870s. "Cassatt created a series of theater scenes in the late 1870s, displaying an interest in city nightlife shared by many of the Impressionists. This work, showing a woman (often said to be her sister Lydia) seated in front of a mirror with the balconies of the Paris Opera House reflected behind her, demonstrates the influence of Cassatt’s friend Edgar Degas, particularly in the attention paid to the effects of artificial lighting on flesh tones. This painting was shown in Paris at the fourth Impressionist exhibition in 1879, where it was singled out for much praise." (Museum of Art, Philadelphia)

"The first sight of Degas' pictures was the turning point of my artistic life. " (Cassatt)

Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844-1926) was an American painter. She was educated at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, in Philadelphia. From there she went to Europe to further her studies. After a time, she settled in Paris an became involved with the Impressionist school of art. She first befriended Edgar Degas in France, one of the leaders of the Impressionist movement, who had seen her paintings exhibited in Paris. Degas invited her to join their group. Degas respected Cassatt's work, seeing in her careful compositions an approach to art that was deliberate and well thought out. She found her niche with the Impressionist approach, also became friends with Manet, another member of the movement.
The Impressionists concentrated on painting and pastel art, taking scenes from real life. This school of art used brighter colors and broader brushstrokes than the old masters. She often created images of the social and private lives of women going about their everyday life, with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children. She was described as one of "les trois grandes dames" of Impressionism alongside Marie Bracquemond and Berthe Morisot.

Cassatt's own works were very favourably received by the critics and contributed not a little to the acceptance of Impressionism. Despite her admiration for Degas, she was no slavish imitator of his style, retaining her own very personal idiom throughout her career. Her earlier works were marked by a certain lyrical effulgence and gentle, golden lighting, but by the 1890s, largely as a consequence of the exhibition of Japanese prints held in Paris at the beginning of that decade, her draughtsmanship became more emphatic, her colors clearer and more boldly defined.

In 1893, Cassatt was commissioned to paint a mural for Chicago’s World Fair. Ironically, after all those years abroad, this mural, entitled Modern Woman, made her well known in her home country. She worked hard to encourage American museums to develop collections of Impressionist art. From all accounts, the Modern Woman title of the mural, applied equally well to the artist, herself. She was a great practical support to the movement of Impressionism as a whole, both by providing direct financial help and by promoting the works of Impressionists in the USA.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Caillebotte, Gustave

Rising Road
oil on canvas
100 x 125 cm
private collection

Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) was a French painter, member of artists known as Impressionists group, though he painted in a much more realistic manner. He was a painter of great originality. Like the Impressionists, he pursued an instant of vision, recording it with a fullness of truthful detail. He, however, attempted to portray the rhythms of an industrial society with his regimented figures and the clock-like precision of his Paris. In 1875, wishing to make his public debut, he submitted a painting to the Salon jury, which rejected it. That work was probably the Floorscrapers, which Caillebotte then decided to exhibit in a more hospitable environment, that of the second Impressionist group exhibition of 1876. His work, highly acclaimed, stole the show and helped to make the second exhibition far more of a popular success than the first.

Caillebotte was born into a wealthy family who had made their money in textiles and real estate during the redevelopment of Paris in the 1860s. Wealthy and generous, Caillebotte financially supported his Impressionist friends by purchasing their works at inflated prices and underwriting many of the expenses encurred for the exhibitions. In 1876 he drew up a will providing money for an Impressionist exhibition to be held after his death, and bequeathing his collection of Impressionist paintings to the State. This bequest was made on the condition that the paintings should first be exhibited in the Luxembourg (the museum dedicated to the work of living artists), and later to the Louvre. He intended that the State should not hide the paintings away in an attic or provincial museum.

He was an engineer by profession and a generous patron of the Impressionists, whose own works, until recently, were neglected. His reputation as a painter was superseded, for many years, by his reputation as a supporter of the arts. His art was largely forgotten until the 1950s when his descendents began to sell the family collection. Art historians began reevaluating his artistic contributions, seventy years after his death. His striking use of varying perspective is particularly admirable and sets him apart from his peers who may have exceeded him in other artistic areas.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sisley, Alfred

In winter, snow effect (En hiver, effet de neige)
oil on canvas
46 x 55 cm
Musee des Beaux-Arts, Lille, France

Winter landscapes were particularly attractive to Sisley, Pissarro and Monet, because of the challenge of capturing the quality of the light and of mastering shadows. Snow scenes were an ideal motif for them: the softening and blurring of forms and the dense atmosphere required a muted palette to capture the myriad tones of reflected light and the softened contours of the landscape.

"Though the artist must remain master of his craft, the surface, at times raised to the highest pitch of loveliness, should transmit to the beholder the sensation which possessed the artist." (Sisley)

Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) was an Impressionist landscape painter who was born and spent most of his life, in France, but retained British citizenship. He is one of the creators of Impressionism. He was exclusively a landscape en plein air (i.e., outdoors) painter, who, in the line of Corot, and with Monet, best sought and succeeded in expressing the most subtle nuances of nature in Impressionist landscapes. He retained a passionate interest in the sky, which nearly always dominates his paintings, and also in the effects of snow, the two interests often combining to create a strangely dramatic effect. He never deviated into figure painting and, unlike Renoir and Pissarro, never found that Impressionism did not fulfill his artistic needs.

Sisley did not promote himself in the way that some of his fellow Impressionists did, and it was only towards the end of his life, when he was dying of cancer of the throat, that he received something approaching the recognition he deserved. His death at the very end of the nineteenth assumes a symbolic resonance. It signals the dissolution of the kind of Impressionism to which he had devoted his working life.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Pissarro, Camille

Apple Picking at Eragny-sur-Epte
oil on canvas
73 x 60 cm
Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, Texas, USA

In the 1880's Pissarro moved from Pontoise to nearby Osny, and then to Eragny, a small village much further from Paris. In 1885, at a time when he was dissatisfied with his work, he met both Signac and Seurat. He was fascinated by their attempts to replace the intuitive perceptions of the Impressionists with a scientific study of nature's phenomena and by a "divisionist" technique based on optical laws. Despite the fact he had reached his middle fifties, he did not hesitate to join the two young innovators. The following year he passed this new concept on to Vincent Van Gogh who had just arrived in Paris and was keen to learn of the most recent developments in art.

"Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing." (Pissarro)
"He was a father for me. A man to consult and a little like the good Lord." (Cezanne)

Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) was a French Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painter born on the island of St Thomas (now in the US Virgin Islands, but then in the Danish West Indies). His father was of French-Jewish origin, his mother was a Creole. Pissarro saw a subject and its light source as inseparable. He fought daunting criticism for most of his life, while trying to achieve validation for his revolutionary style. His mature work displays an empathy for peasants and laborers, and sometimes evidences his radical political leanings. He mentored Paul Cezanne and Paul Gaugin when they were aspiring artists, and vastly contributed to Impressionist theory.

His importance resides in his contributions to both Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. As a stylistic forerunner of Impressionism, he is today considered a father figure not only to the Impressionists but to all four of the major Post-Impressionists, including Georges Seurat, Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. His influence on his fellow Impressionists is probably still underestimated; not only did he offer substantial contributions to Impressionist theory, but he also managed to remain on friendly, mutually respectful terms with such difficult personalities as Edgar Degas, Cezanne and Gauguin.

Pissarro married Julie Vellay, a maid in his mother's household. Of their eight children, one died at birth and one daughter died aged nine. The surviving children all painted. He died in Paris on 13 November 1903. During his lifetime, he sold few of his oil paintings.