Saturday, November 7, 2009
Yes, I’m doing it. I’m breaking with tradition, and you will love it. Instead of comparing two different artists who have different names and are in fact two different and distinct people, I’m going to compare the same man, who in this case is two different artists.
Henri Rousseau was a self-taught painter who went from obscurity and the mocking tirades of the critics to “receiving tributes from such considerable admirers as Picasso, who bought several of his paintings and later gave them to the Louvre. In 1908 Picasso held a banquet in Rousseau’s honour at the Bateau-Lavoir in Paris, which confirmed his standing among the younger generation of artists who viewed his work with varying degrees of affection and seriousness.” 1
Carnival Evening 1886
“Carnival Evening” from early in his career shows very clearly the fantasy atmosphere of Symbolism and undeniably illustrates that “the task of Symbolist visual and verbal artists was not to see things but to see through them to a significance and reality far deeper than what superficial appearance gave.” 2
But here in this painting, there is a grittiness and hard edge that smoothed out in later works. Note the lines of the trees and the roughness of the texture in the sky. Also important here is his use of color. It is a night scene so one would expect grayed tones but it’s as if, to further emphasize the dream-like quality of his vision, he dramatized the darks so he could juxtapose the brilliant outfits worn by the two people at the top of the ridge. Who are they? What are they doing there? What is the thing in the painting’s left half that resembles a pavilion? Where is the carnival? What is that mask hanging in the tree? This painting is stark in its reality and forces, with brute strength upon the viewer, the notion that there is another world right along side ours if we dare open to it.
The Sleeping Gypsy 1897
In “The Sleeping Gypsy” we now see a refined and mature technique. Gone is the ragged and rough feel of “Carnival Evening” and in it’s place is an elegant sophistication; a rarified dream vision of a dreamer. Notice now how his brush has calmed and all the lines are smoother. His palette, while not changing drastically, is muted but at the same time, richer. Of note also is how his depth of field has changed in these eleven years since “Carnival”. Here we see a flatness and much more of a modernistic take on form and structure. Whereas the trees in “Carnival” were very realistic, nature as portrayed in this painting is almost childlike and in my opinion, this has a dreamy, fantasy quality that set a new tone for Symbolism.
Henri Rousseau, who painted because that’s what his dreams told him to do, taught the learned scholars and trained artists of his time what passion truly is. From collecting tolls in Paris, to hanging on the walls of The Louvre, he followed his dream, and the world rejoices.
1. Roger Cardinal From Grove Art Online © 2009 Oxford University Press
Museum of Modern Art website - http://bit.ly/34A9SE
2. Fred S. Kleiner and Christin J. Mamiya Gardner’s Art Through the Ages – A Concise History of Western Art, page 365
Friday, November 6, 2009
If Neoclassical art was an attempt to break free of the constraints of the previous movement of the Enlightenment, then Impressionism not only broke free, it galloped off at speed and could not be reigned in. And much like a charging bronco, its disregard for the rules of art made many people uneasy.
“In 1874, a group of artists called the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers, etc. organized an exhibition in Paris that launched the movement called Impressionism. Its founding members included Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Camille Pissarro, among others. The group was unified only by its independence from the official annual Salon, for which a jury of artists from the Académie des Beaux-Arts selected artworks and awarded medals. The independent artists, despite their diverse approaches to painting, appeared to contemporaries as a group. While conservative critics panned their work for its unfinished, sketchlike appearance, more progressive writers praised it for its depiction of modern life.” 1
Let’s start at the beginning with this painting – the one that started the revolution.
Impression: Sunrise, 1872
Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926)
In this prime example of Impressionism, Monet seems to give hints at what he’s painting, without really painting it, at least in the way critics and the general public expected to see a picture painted.
The art critic who denounced the painting, saying that is was an “impression” of a painting rather than the real deal, spawned the term “Impressionism”. Other artists, who understood this new way of rendering color and light, and in defiance of the critics, started refining their techniques to follow in Monet’s footsteps and proudly began calling themselves Impressionists.
Just three years later, hard evidence that society as a whole did not understand Impressionism and was in fact quite daunted by it arose from a court case involving James Abbot McNeill Whistler.
Nocturne in Black and Gold, 1875
James Abbot McNeill Whistler (American 1834-1903)
“…the critic John Ruskin writes, "I never expected to hear a coxcomb ask 200 guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face." 2
The painting is a great example of Whistler’s attention to light and to capturing “a fleeting moment – not in the absolutely fixed, precise sense of a Realist painting but by conveying the elusiveness and impermanence of images and conditions.” 3
Whistler, in retaliation took Ruskin to court for libel. Although he won the case, the judge awarded him one dollar and had him pay all court costs, which bankrupted him and forced him to leave Paris. In one simple act, the sentiment of society was no longer in question. Society loathed Impressionism.
1. Samu, Margaret. "Impressionism: Art and Modernity". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/imml/hd_imml.htm (October 2004)
2. "Great Britain and Ireland, 1800–1900 A.D.". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/10/euwb/ht10euwb.htm (October 2004)
3. Kleiner, Fred S. and Mamiya, Christin J. “Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: A Concise History of Western Art.” 2008 Wadsworth, Cengage Learning Page 355
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
This experiment is my first attempt to change that. I'm back in school now, with the Art Institute of Pittsburg Online Division. I'm in a Bachelor's program for Web and Interactive Media Design and I'm toying with the idea of an MFA after that.
I'm going to start posting the papers I'm writing for school, as articles. This first batch is from my Contemporary Art History class and I'll post one a day. If you read these, and have anything at all to say, please comment and let's discuss.
Q1 – Was the Neo-Classical period truly inspired by the spirit of the Greek and Roman period, or were the works produced unique to 18th Century and the first part of the 19th Century? Was Neo-Classical art really Classical at all? Please use specific art examples.
For one to gain an understanding of Neoclassicism, one must first seek to understand the period known as the Enlightenment. The two are seemingly and at first glance at opposite ends of the spectrum in that Enlightenment is based on “using reason to reflect on the results of physical experiments and was grounded in empirical evidence.” Fred S. Kleiner and Christin J. Mamiya make this observation in their book “Gardener’s Art Through The Ages: A Concise History of Western Art”. Neoclassicism they state (in referring to the origins of the style, as characterized by the excursions aristocrats were taking through Europe in the early parts of the 18th century coined the “Grand Tour”) is “a movement in art that encompassed painting, sculpture, and architecture. The geometric harmony and rationality of classical art and architecture seemed to embody Enlightenment ideals. In addition, classical cultures represented the height of civilized society, and Greece and Rome served as models of enlightened political organization.”
Start erasing the lines of separation that seem to delineate these two movements and you find that Neoclassicism is a refinement of the ideas and ideals of the Enlightenment. Both were born from the classical Greek and Roman arts yet Neoclassicism breaks free from the shackles of reason and the need to fully define anything that wanted to be studied and understood. It raised the bar to the lofty ideals of emotion as shown clearly in Angelica Kauffmann’s brilliant painting, “Cornelia Presenting Her Children as Her Treasures” http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/forum/kauffmanngracchi.jpg . Paying homage to Roman history and style through her use of clean lines and sparse interior, she sets the tone as classical while at the same time, working in an “example or model of virtue” as she tells a story of a woman who presents her children as her jewels in response to the seated woman’s display of her necklace. The look on the seated woman’s face is pure surprise and in my opinion, not without a hint of embarrassment. As a fine example of the earlier Neoclassical paintings, circa 1785, this painting paved the way for other great works to follow.
Jacque-Louis David’s “The Death of Marat”, http://smarthistory.org/david-death-of-marat.html , painted in 1793 continues to refine the Neoclassical style with clean, sparse lines, and an invitation to the viewer to participate in the stark reality of his assassination while in his bath. It was a battle cry for patriotism and sacrifice that David felt was “integral to classicism [and] would prove effective in dramatic, instructive paintings.” Further, “David vividly placed narrative details – the knife, the wound, the blood, the letter with which the young woman gained entrance – to sharpen the sense of pain and outrage and to confront viewers with the scene itself.” This exemplifies Neoclassicism's appeal to “morality, idealism, patriotism, and civic virtue”.
Kleiner, Fred S. and Mamiya, Christin J. “Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: A Concise History of Western Art.” 2008 Wadsworth, Cengage Learning