Tuesday, October 27, 2009

09/10 Academic Decathlon French Revolution Art Selection #12 - Stormy Coast Scene after a Shipwreck

Stormy Coast Scene after a Shipwreck, Horace Vernet , Oil on canvas, 23 1/4 x 28 3/8 in. (59 x 72 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This painting is chilling...also painted by Émile-Jean-Horace Vernet, it is a scene of people rescuing victims from a shipwreck that are washed up on the rocky shore. The waves are dominating the image, and the people are tiny in comparison. The Romanticists were enthralled with this idea of the raw power and destruction of nature, and this painting is evident of that interest. A woman is limply being fished out of the sea, either unconscious or dead; the viewer is not sure which it is which adds to the drama. Another man is swimming to shore and grabs at the rocks as he tries to get back on land. If you have ever spent time on a coast and witnessed the power of a storm, you may have a glimpse into this artwork. This vulnerability of man in nature is a common theme in Romantic painting.

The right side of the painting is made up of the rocky shore. I have had my own dramatic event on a rocky shoreline; while snorkeling off the coast of Cozumel, I got caught in a strong surf which pushed and pulled me to and from the rocks (the coast is not a sandy beach, but made of lava rocks as sharp as razor blades). As I was pushed towards the sharp rocks, I tried to grab for them, but then the swell would pull me away back to sea. This happened about 3 or 4 cycles when my husband recognized my precarious situation and called for me to swim back to him, which I did. We both swam back down the shoreline until we found a better place to access a friendlier part of the beach. I will tell you, when I got back on land my legs felt like Jello!! I knew that I had been in a situation that was beyond my swimming skills and without his help I might have had a different outcome. I truly felt as though he had saved my life.

What is interesting about Vernet's painting, is that he shows a tiny slice of the aftermath of the shipwreck. We don't see the ship or any other survivors, so we are left wondering about the rest of the story. What kind of ship was it? Where was it headed? Were there other people on the boat? Are they still drifting about in the sea? When we view art, we may have an obvious connection as my own story above relates. There can be parallels in our lives with the great art we see. By keeping a painting's narrative open and ambigous we are invited to construct our own story or even recall a life event of our own that parallels the picture. I love rocks and though they are beautiful, they can be deadly to our fragile existence. Perhaps you can conjour your own story about this painting; I know I have tasted salt water and felt fear in a vulnerable moment at sea, and it is a feeling and moment I will never forget.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

09/10 Academic Decathlon French Revolution Art Selection #11 - The Start of the Race of the Riderless Horses

The Start of the Race of the Riderless Horses, 1820, Horace Vernet, Oil on canvas, 18 1/8 x 21 1/4 in. (46 x 54 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I just love this painting! It is full of drama and excitement (elements of Romanticism) - the horses are portrayed with power and glory. The artist, Horace Vernet, grew up in an aristocratic French family, the son of another famous painter, Carle Vernet. His career was jump started as a result of his heritage and financial means, and he sprang onto the art scene exhibiting his first artwork at the Salon when he was 23. From the beginning of his career he was known for his paintings of horses, images of soldiers and large scale battle scenes, which were widely popular. He was skilled at capturing battles as a journalist would, including details that might be left out by other artists. He was a very successful artist whose patrons included the kings and emperors of France as well as wealthy members of the upper-middle class.

This scene, the race of the riderless horses, was an event that took place in Rome alongside the annual Carnival celebration in Rome. Much like the running of the bulls in Paloma, Spain, the festival and the race attracted tourists from all over Europe. Barberi horses, a breed of small, fast horses from the coast of northern Africa, were the horses who ran the race. They would race over a mile without jockeys, spurred on by irritating bits of metal attached to their bodies as well as the setting off of firecrackers and loud, boisterous crowds. And, like the running of the bulls, once the horses let loose, people on the streets could be crushed by the raw power of the horses, so many spectators watched from the safety of balconies above the street level.

Vernet is showing the moment before the race has begun, when the grooms are trying to control the huge animals which are decorated with ribbons for identification purposes. The drama of being in such close quarters with such powerful animals is displayed in the center - a black horse has fallen on a groom and there is terror in his face as he realizes he could be trampled to death in a moment. Another groom, muscles rippling with effort, is trying to contain the wild beast. There is yet another groom in the background adding his strength to control the situation. We see spectators in the balconies that are hung with red drapery for the celebration. Some are not even interested in the scene below, but are looking off to some other happening in the distance.

The Romanticists loved to focus on the power and uncontrollable aspect of nature and the interest in horses was a favorite subject in their paintings. This particular scene was especially exciting: it showed a time when the power and fury of these magnificent beasts was set free and could also be seen as a symbol of freeing human spirits from the bondage of modern civilization.

Self-Portrait, Emile Jean Horace Vernet, 1835, Oil on canvas, 47 × 39 cm (18.50 × 15.35 in)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

09/10 Academic Decathlon French Revolution Art Selection #10 - Evening: Landscape with an Aqueduct

Evening: Landscape with an Aqueduct, 1818, Théodore Gericault, Oil on canvas, 98 1/2 x 86 1/2 in. (250.2 x 219.7 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Géricault is considered to be one of the most important painters in the movement of Romanticism. He studied under Carle Vernet, but broke away from formal study, copying Renaissance and Baroque painters. He was an independent artist interested in exploring is own artistic vision. He worked across many genres and was not only a painter but a talented printmaker. He painted scenes of contemporary events as well as portraits, horses, genre scenes and landscapes. He died young, at age 32, after sustaining an injury and disease that rapidly shortened his life. One of his landmark paintings is the Raft of the Medusa.

Evening: Landscape with an Aqueduct is one of his largest paintings. The scene is romantic, with its dramatically lit sky and grand view of river and the countryside. The Roman aqueduct is the focal point in the center of the composition - the sky is a dramatic backdrop highlighting this antiquity with its rounded arches. There are bathers in the foreground, but there seems to be no narrative that they are involved in save washing the dust off from their day. This painting seems to be nothing more than a glorious landscape, perhaps paying homage to the Roman aqueduct which could allude to the passage of time.

Check out the essay found on the Met's website about Romanticism.

Self portrait, 27 x 37 cm (10,6 x 14,5 inches), Oil on canvas

Sunday, October 04, 2009

09/10 Academic Decathlon French Revolution Art Selection #8 - The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus

The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus, 1789, Carle Vernet (Antoine Charles Horace) (French, 1758–1836), Oil on canvas, 51 1/8 x 172 1/2 in. (129.9 x 438.2 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This panoramic painting by Carle Vernet is a monumental history painting over 14' wide. The size alone would have gotten a lot of attention from the Salon, but he also displays a confident technical ability. He painting this piece as the Revolution was garnering strength and hoped that it would gain him full membership in the Academy.

The subject comes again from Roman history as described by the Roman historian Livy. The composition shows a throng of people witnessing the triumphant arrival of Amelius Paulus in Rome. Paulus, seated on the right side in a golden chariot, the men and women lauding him upon his return to Rome. The light is dramatically focused on Aemilius Paulus with the background full of examples of classical architecture. Because there are many monuments in this painting, the work is reminiscent of the vedute that people loved buying during their Grand Tour.

09/10 Academic Decathlon French Revolution Art Selection #9 - Minerva Protecting the Young King of Rome

Minerva Protecting the Young King of Rome, 1811
Joseph-Antoine Romagnési, Plaster, painted to resemble yellowish stone; green marbleized wood (frame only)
45 1/2 x 29 in. (115.6 x 73.7 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ah, Roman mythology! The Neoclassical artists loved nothing more than to revisit these stories and see how well they could create the ideal aesthetic. In this relief sculpture, Minerva, the Roman Goddess of war and wisdom, is sheltering the child of Napoleon who he named as his heir and the King of Rome. Her pose is a classical stance from Greek and Roman sculpture, the contrapposto pose. The boy has his arm draped around a she-wolf which reminds the viewer about the legend of Romulus & Remus, the two brothers who were the founders of Rome, suckled and raised by a protective she-wolf.

This sculpture was created commemorating the birth of François-Chrles-Joseph, known as Napoleon II. Finally Napoleon had an heir to his empire. This piece is highly propagandistic - Napoleon wanted to have art and symbols tying his son to the glory of Rome and the empire that leaders continued to try to emulate.

Not a lot is known about Ramagnéi's early career. He became a professional artist after the Revolution. The sculpture, though created in plaster, was painted to look like the more lasting material stone. Marble was more costly, so it also made it look more expensive and precious. It was common for sculptors of this time to complete their designs in plaster and then take it to a professional stone carver to complete it in stone. This work was never realized in marble.