Saturday, January 16, 2010

09/10 Academic Decathlon French Revolution Art Selection #18 - Princesse de Broglie

Princesse de Broglie, 1851–1853, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Oil on canvas; 47 3/4 x 35 3/4 in. (121.3 x 90.8 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Jean-August-Dominque Ingres is one of my favorite artists! In one of my early drawing classes in college, my professor had us select a work of Ingres' to copy. For some reason I chose one with LOTS of draped fabric, and so I began to imitate his mastery. I was humbled from this exercise but bonded with him in a big way. His approach is so beautiful, flawless and radiant it almost leaves me speechless.

His Neoclassical style comes naturally as he studied under the great Jacques-Louis David, France's premier painter during the Revolutionary period. Raphael became another great influence in his art - Ingres blended the idealism and naturalism of this great Renaissance artist. He explored many themes of history and mythology, but he thought of himself as a history painter. He also painted some of the most important female nudes, some of which are influenced by the exoticism of the Orient that the Romantic artists loved.

Ingres was also an important portrait artist. These are the works that he is most famous for. He was unbelievably prolific! His portraits have dates ranging form 1800 - 1867, the year he died. And though he thought of himself as a history painter, he displayed his portraits alongside his other paintings throughout his career. Remember, the Academy held history painting as the most important subject matter, so it's no wonder he wanted to be known for that genre. He painted many wealthy patrons throughout Europe as well as Napoleon Bonaparte. Before each portrait, he created detailed drawings that included tiny details, though some of his drawings were finished artworks.

This beautiful painting of Princesse de Broglie is stunning. His approach is so detailed and perfect, it is photo-realistic. The Princess was a reserved woman who came from a wealthy Catholic family. She was well educated and wrote a book about Christian virtues that her husband published after her early death at 35. She is shown in this painting in three-quarter length pose. Her gown is made of blue satin with lace trim at the sleeves and neckline. The gold pendant she wears was chosen carefully to communicate her wealth and refinement, but she also wears pearl earrings, a ruby and diamond bracelet and an additional pearl cuff necklace as a bracelet.

She is calm and serene and leans casually against a gold damask armchair in the family's sitting room. The room is kept deliberately simple to allow the focus to be on the Princess. A fan, gloves and shawl are draped across the back of the chair as if she is about to leave for the evening. This portrait was highly lauded and the family quite pleased with the end result. Five years after it was completed, her husband put it behind curtains after her death from tuberculosis. It must have been very sad to curtain this beautiful image, she is so much alive in her portrait.

Self-portrait of Jean-August-Dominique Ingres.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

09/10 Academic Decathlon French Revolution Art Selection #17 - Bust of Voltaire

Bust of Voltaire, (1778), Jean-Antoine Houdon, Marble, H. 18 7/8 in. (47.9 cm)

Jean-Antoine Houdon's most famous works are busts of the men and women of the Enlightenment, both in the United States and France. He was highly sought out for commissions of famous men and women. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson helped him receive a commission for a sculpture of George Washington. He was especially skilled in creating beautiful, realistic sculptures of people because of his high skill in representing the human form. He studied under a surgeon who trained his students by having them study from cadavers - a huge benefit for understanding the human body.

This piece, Bust of Voltaire, was made just before his death in 1778. Voltaire was an important figure during the Enlightenment. Both a philosopher and writer, he produced poetry, plays, novels, essays, books, and pamphlets on a wide variety of topics. He was one of the leading figures in intellectual thought and had a large influence on the American independence movement as well as the French Revolution. Because of his criticism of the French government and of organized religion, he was exiled from Paris and lived abroad for many years. He returned to France about 20 years before his death, and returned to Paris in 1778 to sit for this portrait.

This sculpture is referred to as "tête nue," or bare headed (without wearing a customary wig). His torso is nude, and is lacking the clothing and hairpiece of a contemporary man. Houdon uses great verism (realism) in portraying this man at 83 - his face is wrinkled, his face drawn, his closed taught smile hints at toothless gums and his eyes have a penetrating gaze. There is certainly a reach back to classicism in this sculpture - look at Greek and Roman busts - and has a balance between naturalism and idealism. But he is careful to record the individual characteristics of the man in a way that would represent his spirit beyond his lifetime, goals in keeping with those of the Enlightenment.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

09/10 Academic Decathlon French Revolution Art Selection #16 - Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, Mademoiselle Marie Gabrielle Capet (1761–1818)...

Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, Mademoiselle Marie Gabrielle Capet (1761–1818) and Mademoiselle Carreaux de Rosemond (died 1788), 1785, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, Oil on canvas, 83 x 59 1/2 in. (210.8 x 151.1 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the business of art, it is refreshing to find a woman who has made her mark in a male dominated world. Adélaïde Labille-Guiard was able to break into the profession during pre-revolutionary France. Her work focused on portraiture and she was quite successful. Portraiture and still-life painting were deemed appropriate for female artists. Grand history paintings included the male figure and it was culturally unacceptable for women to study the male nude. She married in 1769 but was divorced by 1776 (no doubt also frowned on by society!). Despite these societal obstacles, Labille-Guiard was able to support herself as a teacher and portrait painter.

She set up her studio in the early 1780s and by 1783 had eight female students. She painted members of the aristocracy and the royal court as well as male members of the Royal Academy. She was honored by being admitted to the Royal Academy as a member, but she was not allowed to study or teach at the institution. Just because she was accepted doesn't mean all of the male members were happy about it. She must have had good self-esteem and perseverance, because she was constantly gossiped about and even accused of not painting her work herself!

You can see her self-confidence in this self-portrait; she is in the center of the painting, seated in her studio at work on a large canvas. Her students look on with appreciation and excitement. By dressing in an elaborate and expensive gown, Labille-Guiard represents herself as a painter and a woman of society. Her posture emphasizes her shapely figure and her gown is arranged to be shown at its best advantage. Her studio is also portrayed to be large and luxurious - it is appointed with fine furniture as well as sculptures letting the viewer know that she was financially well off.

We see the back of the canvas, but not what she is painting. Art historians have three ideas about what that painting could be of: (1) it could be the self-portrait that we are looking at, (2) it could be a portrait of one or both of her students, or (3) or there could be another subject outside the scene we see who is having their portrait made. By including other people in her self-portrait, she demonstrates her ability to portray groups of people in one painting. This opened her commissions to patrons who might want to have family groupings immortalized. She was a clever entrepeneur: she used the painting as an advertising tool so the viewer of this painting could imagine themselves as her subject. Her direct gaze at the viewer is enticing and inviting: why not let me paint YOUR portrait!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

09/10 Academic Decathlon French Revolution Art Selection #15 - Portrait of a Young Man

Portrait of a Young Man, ca. 1760–65, Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, Oil on canvas, 97 1/8 x 69 1/4 in. (246.7 x 175.9 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pompeo Girolamo Batoni was an accomplished artist who painted altarpieces, historical and allegorical paintings and portraits. He painted portraits of many important dignitaries in Europe - patrons from Austrian and Russian courts, royal courts of Europe and portraits of Pope Clement XIII and Pope Pius VI. Since he was located in Rome, it was not unusual for these aristocratic patrons to pop into his studio when they visited Rome. You might say he was a favorite stop on the Grand Tour. He painted portraits of them posed in standing positions, leaning against an antiquity, decked out in their royal finery. His skill is seen in these portraits - even though he painted many, each one was unique.

This young man is not identified, but it is thought that he is French. He is shown in a luxurious space. The objects shown in the painting were deliberately selected to show that the subject was not only educated about the discoveries of the time, but also had the tools in his possession. Books, paper and pens are strewn casually demonstrating this devotion to studies and writing. The people of this time period were enthralled with the work of the Romans. We see guidebooks to Rome in the painting. Rome was an essential stop on the Grand Tour - the city and its history were pivotal to a well-rounded education. Word got around. His reputation became inexorably linked with the Tour, and the wealthy patrons were led to his studio where hundreds of people sat for their portraits and contributed to his illustrious career.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

09/10 Academic Decathlon French Revolution Art Selection #14 - Young Jewish Woman of Algeria

Young Jewish Woman of Algeria, Seated, 1846, Théodore Chassériau (French, 1819–1856), Watercolor over graphite, sheet: 11 3/4 x 9 1/8 in. (29.8 x 23.3 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Théodore Chassériau (called the Unknown Romantic in an exhibit at the Metropolitan) has quite an artistic lineage. He entered the studio of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres at the age of eleven. (Remember that Ingres was a former student of David and was a classicist) which resulted in Chassériau having a strong classical approach to his work. But that was not the only influence he had - he also was interested in the rich colors and romantic themes of the work of Delacroix. He ended up, like Delacroix, traveling to exotic places like northern Africa and the Middle East.

He died young at the age of 37 after an illness, but he produced a large number of paintings, murals and drawings, many of which were portraits or studies of historical, religious or literary subjects. Before his death, the new movement of Realism was on the rise and his work began to be viewed as establishment. His reputation declined and perhaps this contributed to this nomenclature of "the unknown romanticist".

This work, Young Jewish Woman of Algeria, Seated is a small work of graphite on watercolor paper. There are some notes on the right side of the drawing leading one to think they may have been for a later work. I love this piece. The young woman is looking directly at the viewer, and is in an informal posture. Her face is drawn with more detail than the rest of her body. Her clothing and the environment she is in is handled in a sketchy way. The fact that she is sitting on the floor is unconventional for French thinking - it would have been unseemly for a woman to be sitting on the floor; in French society she would have been sitting on furniture. This scene, which is somewhat voyeuristic, would have been appealing to those interested in romantic subjects. To my eye, it is beautiful and she is lovely. I am enchanted with so much beauty described in so few lines.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

09/10 Academic Decathlon French Revolution Art Selection #13 - Royal Tiger

Royal Tiger (Tigre Royal), 1829, Eugène Delacroix, Lithograph, second state of four; image: 12 15/16 x 18 7/16 in. (32.8 x 46.9 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Eugène Delacroix could be considered the most important of the French Romantic painters. He also was born in a wealthy and educated family. This was an advantage he had throughout his illustrious career. He was trained in the classical tradition by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin who followed in the footsteps of David. Delacroix was more connected to contemporary writers such as the poet Lord Byron. He was attracted to literary subjects and used them as subjects for his paintings. His first work presented at the Salon of 1822 was Dante and Virgil and was inspired by the epic poem The Divine Comedy.

One of my personal favorites of Delacroix is the emotional and dramatic painting, The Death of Sardanapualus, which resides at the Louvre Museum in Paris. The Last king of Nineveh has learned of the fall of his kingdom into enemy hands, and he orders all of his property (including his concubines) be destroyed. He watches with a certain distance, and yet there is a melancholy air to the King. This painting epitomizes the Romantic movement, full of color, richness, passion and the message that man is not in control, not even kings.

Far off exotic places were favorites of the Romanticists, and Delacroix took a trip to North Africa in 1832 which had a tremendous impact on his art. The exotic costumes, people, geography and wild life caught his attention and he produced thousands of oil paintings, pastels, watercolors, lithographs, drawings and sketches.

Royal Tigeris a lithograph. Lithograph comes from the Greek for stone (litho) and mark (graph). The artist draws on a stone with a greasy crayon. When the stone is inked, it bonds to the crayon and is repelled by the damp, clean stone that surround the image. Romanticists liked lithography because it was a direct method of working, drawing directly onto the stone, and allowed a spontaneous working method.

Delacroix was very interested in not only horses, but also lions and tigers. However, this drawing was based on his observations of a dead tiger treated through taxidermy, not a living tiger in the wild. He did, however, attempt to illustrate the tiger as if he was seeing it in its natural habitat. There is no narrative to this scene; you see the tiger in great detail and see the light variations on its coat. Lions and tigers appealed to the romanticists as they were exotic - they were, after all, powerful animals that man had no control over except if hunted. Delacroix was interested in going beyond man's ideas and liked to imagine the world through the eyes of the wild animal believing that it would enable him to have greater understanding of not just the animal's primitive nature, but man's as well.

Self-Portrait, Oil Paint, Eugene Delacroix, 1837, 21.26 inch wide x 25.59 inch high

Friday, January 01, 2010

A Post to the Artist Formerly Known as a Weaver

Copper Temple, Christine Miller, 2005, Mixed Media

Wow! A new Year and a new Decade (capitalization for emphasis). A lot of life is behind me (I'm 55), and a lot is ahead (God willin' and the creek don't rise!). This year, more than ever is a time to take stock. I have been a textile artist - knitter, sewer, crocheter, embroiderer, needlepointer, stitcher, basketmaker and weaver - 43 out of the last 55 years of my life. The last five years (which have coincided with my becoming a classroom art teacher) have been devoid of my former self. It has caused me puzzlement and consternation. How could this be? How could this have happened when I continued to create, sell and exhibit my work no matter what came my way during the bulk of my life? How has this job of "teacher" usurped my lifelong passion of being a textile artist? What in the world am I going to do now? Where do I start? These are questions I never worried about - one project after another would present themselves to me and I would follow the path. But now they haunt me - taunting me, demanding answers I don't have.

So - this post is personal and I hope transformational. I am rededicating myself to my former self. I have rejoined my local fiber organizations - the Dallas Handweavers & Spinners Guild and the Dallas Area Fiber Artists. I have attended one meeting of the DH&SG in October. I haven't woven a lick in 4 1/2 years, but it is time to get back on my horse and ride. My studio is a mess, my idea jar empty and the fire in my heart a simmering flame, but hope springs eternal. I am adding a new category for these posts - Artistic Journey - and I will use it to relight my fire. Thanks for listening...