Marriage à-la-mode: The Tête à Tête

William Hogarth, Marriage à-la-mode: The Tête à Tête, 1743

William Hogarth's satirical artwork criticizing the 18th century's societal and political flaws became a precursor to today's political cartoons. Magazines like The New Yorker take the same stance of wry humor that Hogarth used to critique social practices and events in his time.

Among Hogarth's most famous works is his six-painting series entitled Marriage à-la-mode. The chronological series follows a marriage based on economic gain rather than love. Hogarth illustrates the scandal and tragedy that can result from this skewed concept of matrimony.

A tête à tête is a private conversation or occurence between two people. However, this scene hardly seems private. The couple sits exposed, with a glowing light illuminating their debauchery in all its glory. Two figures detract from the privacy of this moment as well. On the left, the couple's accountant stands, bills in hand, behind a toppled chair with a face that portrays equal parts shock, disgust, and resignation. A startled butler stands further back, jaw-dropped.

The  saints and cupids hanging on the walls seem to look down judgmentally at the couple, and with good reason. The young woman, reclined on a chair with her bodice noticeably loosened, boasts a smug expression. She holds a mirror in her outstretched hand, perhaps signaling at her lover. Though this lover does not appear in the painting, his implied existence detracts from the intimacy of this "husband-wife" scene. The husband, meanwhile, also boasts several signs of infidelity. A large black syphilis patch on his neck contrasts with his pale skin. The young man also displays a slightly more insidious sign of debauchery dangling from his pocket. A small dog sniffs the woman's bonnet that the husband seems to have hastily stowed in his pocket to hide any evidence of his extramarital activities.

Hogarth's work is filled with snarky and subtle commentary on "modern marriage." He suggests that a marriage based on financial gain cannot lead to a pure, happy life. Alongside several portraits of saints, a mostly covered canvas displays a single nude foot. This suggestion of a distasteful nude portrait, added to the array of tacky figurines on the mantle, imply that the marriage as a whole may be in bad taste and doomed. Additionally, a broken sword in the bottom right corner suggests impotence. Hogarth's inclusion of hidden symbols and details helps his series of moral paintings to convey their purpose.
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The Love Letter

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Lover Letter, 1770


The Love Letter, by Jean-Honore Fragonard, was painted in 1770, is oil on canvas, it's 2 feet x 1 foot, and is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

This piece is very aesthetically pleasing in that the use of all of the different shades of gold and brown helps to bring the focus on the woman in the center. In addition, the flowers, ribbon, and dress also help to bring the piece together. The blue dress she wears is one of the main components of the painting because all of the ruffles, highlights, and shadows make it as realistic as possible. There are several aspects of this painting that help bring it together. This includes line(s), lighting, and subject matter.

With respect to the lines and hidden shapes in the painting, there are several curves, diagonals, triangles, and squares. At first glance, it is hard to see. However, if you take the time to really study and admire the work you'll be able to see the curvature with the drapes, windows, and desk. The harsh straight lines are on the chair, the top of the desk, and the bottom half of the chair.  Within the woman alone there are triangles, diagonal lines, and a circle. All of this gives you a different way to view this rather than just seeing a painting.

The lighting in this is another key component. As you can see, the upper half is significantly darker than the lower half. This is for two reasons. One, to help keep the focus and importance on the woman, by illuminating her face, the letter, and the flowers. Two, because of the position and placement of the window.

Next, the subject matter. The woman in the painting is noticeably wealthy, literate, and classy. We can see her wealth through the dress and bonnet, and her literacy through the letter and desk. It seems as though she has just received a letter from a letter and is preparing to write back. In addition, note the smirk on her face as if the letter has something inappropriate written in it or she is writing something inappropriate back.
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The Lover Crowned

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Lover Crowned, 1771-72


In The Progress of Love series, Fragonard painted this piece The Lover Crowned. In this piece, the light comes from the left bottom corner and directly illuminates the lovers, who are the main focus in this painting. The woman is crowning the young man with a garland. However, the woman is looking away when crowning, which makes the viewers think she was not willing to do so. Take a closer look and viewers can find she is smiling. The woman's left hand is holding the man's hand. Their hands are either facing up or down which symbolize receiving and giving in relationship. The man shows his love as he is looking at the woman instead of looking up at the garland. It is also shown as he was sitting on the floor begging the woman while the woman is sitting on the bench tricking him.

In the background, the trees are doing the same pose as the lovers. The big tree in the middle is like the woman crowning the weak tree on the left. Before the trees, there is an angel statue looking down at the lovers, wishing them good luck. On the right bottom corner of the painting, an artist is sketching the lovers on his sketch book. By lining up the lovers, viewers can see the angel statue and the artist are symmetrical. The painter used complementary colors such as green and red to highlight the red in the painting which emphasize the theme love. Also, elements like flowers, music, and angel all symbolize the beauty of love in this painting. The hue in this painting is thick but because of the use of nature and warm light in this painting makes the painting looks comfortable.
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The Fountain of Love

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Fountain of Love, 1785

Painted in 1785 by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Fountain of Love depicts a young pair of lovers leaning toward a fountain preparing to drink water from it. The water will make the young couple fall in love. The "Fountain of Love" was a popular theme in Rococo era paintings and art. Fragonard's paintings often had sexual undertones and played with the feeling of falling in love. Generally, Fragonard painted portraits of wealthy noble people, but this particuarly painting was right before the French Revolution and political tensions were high.

There are two versions of The Fountain of Love, the one pictured above was the original. Fragonard also painted a second, more refined version later the same year. This version actually has two layers, the first layer has the man looking at the woman. Fragonard changed his mind and repainted the two lovers heads giving an interesting look at his artistic process.

Despite the painting being about love, the colors used are quite dark and dull, which is in contrast since most of Fragonard's paintings are quite colorful. The only light is on the lovers and cupids, which brings the focus to them and also creates a contrast between love and hate. The lover's bodies create strong parallel lines giving them swift movement to the left. A line starting at the cupids in the bottom left and running through the woman's right arm gives the painting visual balance.
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The Triumph of Venus

Francois Boucher, The Triumph of Venus, 1740


When I first absorbed Francois Boucher's Triumph of Venus, I was originally bombarded with chaos. However, Boucher uses overwhelming motions of nymphs, dolphins, and baby cupids to convey the intense praise that Venus receives. Movements of the different subjects overwhelms Venus. After I processed the abundance of naked bodies, I then began to appreciate Boucher’s complexity. 

The multiple subjects convey an abundance of emotions, with each character’s eyes wandering somewhere different. Despite the surplus amount of humans, Venus acts as the main subject. Venus is the god of love, sex, beauty, and fertility. Although Venus is the same shape and size of the other women, she stands out to me. Her position is higher above the other humans, which portrays status. Boucher also plays with light by illuminating Venus. Dolphins, nymphs, and cupids bombard and honor Venus. According to Greek mythology, Venus was born in the sea out of a clam. In the painting, Venus receives pearls inside of a clam, which alludes to her birth. Boucher honors and pays tribute to Venus’s beauty and love. The notions of love and nature perfectly contribute to the Rococo movement.

Boucher paints his well-known circular motions in Triumph of Venus. The circular motions are displayed in the fabrics held by the cupids. Boucher includes both wind and wave circular motion. The waves creates drama with circular motion. The motion continues towards the top of the canvas up the sharp cliff. The circular brushstroke make Venus the center of the movement. Furthermore, Boucher’s circular brush stroke movements pays tribute to Venus. 

Boucher plays with light and dark. The dark waters complement and place a glowing effect on Venus and the other naked humans. The lighter complexion of the human’s skin makes them stand out from the darker waters. The light and dark clouds distinguishably set a horizontal separation of the painting. The light and dark blue colors create a distinct composition of the landscape. The delicate blues in the waters and clouds set a satisfying and lighthearted tone. The light blues contribute to the playful Rococo qualities. Boucher plays with fantasy and imagination. Boucher perfectly combines traditional mythology with a twist of playfulness and sexual elements.
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Blind Man's Bluff

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Blind Man's Bluff, 1751


Fragonard's Blind Man's Bluff, captures a scene where two lovers share a sensual, yet humorous moment. The flowers and greenery flourishing around the couple are reminiscent of Boucher's nature-filled compositions. The movement in the piece keeps the lovers in a carefree mood, almost as if they are playing a game. The relationship isn't specified, but it can be assumed that they are in a period of courtship, due to the blindfold being loose on the females face. She can slightly see from under the fabric, which implies a more carefree feel between the two lovers. The act of not being completely blinded shows that the female isn't being seduced blindly, but she is aware of her relationship status with the man.

The piece contains all elements of Rococo art. The French affinity for sensual experience and rural yet, fancy clothes blend together to form a piece that caters specifically towards aristocratic viewers of the 18th Century. The ornamental flowers and trees move the piece towards a more passionate relationship rather than a lustful one. Overall, Fragonard's ability to blend both sensual elements with nature showcase the recurrent themes in Rococo pieces in the 18th Century.
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Rinaldo and Armida

François Boucher, Rinaldo and Armida, 1734

Boucher's Rinaldo and Armida elevates the classic figures from the 16th century epic poem. Rinaldo and Armida are the two central characters in "Gerusalamme Liberata"( Jerusalem Delivered) written by Torquato Tasso. Gerusalamme Liberata takes place during the first crusade. An army captain, Rinaldo, was spotted by the king's sorceress, Armida, she in turn kidnaps him and takes him into the Garden of Pleasure. In the Garden of Pleasure, Armida places Rinaldo under a spell to fall in love with her. Rinaldo's General and his brother decided to save Renaldo by finding a hermit to break the spell. The hermit gave them a diamond mirror that was percieved to cure Rinaldo's infatuation. The two soldiers found the hidden garden and broke the spell, leaving Armida heartbroken for eternity. 

Boucher places the two subjects in the Garden just as the two soldiers are about the break Armida's spell. The artists places the lower and the cherubs in a circular composition. The red fabric engulfing the two lowers shows their infatuation with one another. The piece is lit by a singular white cloud, while the rest of the background's grays are meant to symbolize the impending doom for Armida. Boucher splits his work by using many diagonals. These diagonals give focus to the two main subjects by creating staging for the piece. 

The realistic fabrics are true characteristics of Boucher's works and the Rococo movement. The Rocco movement showcased the life of the aristocracy. The incredibly wealthy were often well read and this portrait portraying classic literature and architecture are other example of the movement. Boucher's masterful portrayal of "Gerusalamme Liberata"showed the best of Boucher and the Rococo time period.
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The Secret Message

The Secret Message, Francois Boucher, 1767

Francois Boucher was a French painter that worked with the Rococo style of art. Most of his painting have similar structures with a small opening for the sky on the left hand side with the subject normally in the middle. Boucher also chooses to incorporate animals and a blue tarp, which is seen on the left under the woman's straw hat. The painting depicts a dove bringing a woman a message in the woods most likely from a lover of hers. With the title, the action in the painting becomes more clear. It adds an actual substance or meaning to the paper the woman is holding. The way the woman is staring at the dove, it forces the feeling of love upon the viewer.

In the painting, Boucher seems to have intentionally made the background get darker the further you look from the subject. The woman's body is well lit and you are able to see every single one of her features, which is the point. But, as you looks around the edges of the canvas, it gets harder and harder to make out what is around her. The blue tarp is so poorly shown it almost looks like it is just a part of the woods. The balance between the light and dark sides of the canvas make for an easy to look at picture. The balance allows your eyes to easily glide across the different colors and shades from the foreground, all the way to the subject.
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Watteau, Pierrot, 1719

Watteau painted this life-size portrait, which he originally titled Gilles, using oil paints. A museum later changed the name to Pierrot, meaning actor or buffoon, to help others relate to the work. Many critics appoint Watteau as the pioneer of Rococo painting,  and his work ischaracterized with faded colors and details, soft lines, and common themes of youth, love, and nature. Despite the cool tones and depressing expression on the subject's face, the painting leaves me feeling content despite the obvious story.

The subject is assumed to be the artist, sad because his lover left him for another man. The natural lighting in the scene directly shines primarily on the subject and then on the other people. The bright white draws the eye to the centered subject surrounded by the circular composition which the subject and some trees intercept. 

The background is lighted much darker than the rest except the sky. The people in the foreground show movement with the wind and their actions. On the left, another clown rides a donkey while the boss, on the right, instructs them. The two lovers watch the secondary clown and the subject appears ignored. I initially looked at the subject's uniform, and then at the secondary people, adding to the concept of people ignoring the subject through his face and expression. Overall, I enjoy this painting because despite its sad story, it remains an aesthetically appealing painting that leaves me feeling carefree as opposed to stressed.
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A Portrait of Madame Pompadour

François Boucher, A Portrait of Madame Pompadour, 1756


For someone who knows nothing about the French Rococo style might think that A Portrait of Madame Pompadour is another portrait of some rich lady painted long ago. However, the portrait represents more than money and fame. It celebrates the success of an unlikely woman and incorporates the beauty of Boucher's artistic methods. 

The woman in the painting is Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, the chief mistress of Louis XV. Known modernly as an undesirable title, Madame de Pompadour took the name and made it her own. She commissioned François Boucher to paint a number of her portraits, and her fame grew within French royalty.

Boucher uses blue and pink, both popular colors of the Rococo style, to catch the attention of the viewer and direct it to the most important part of the portrait, the dress. They contrast with the gold curtains positioned next to the woman, creating this center focus on her. Boucher uses light to further focus the attention on the woman by shining the light from the window to focus on the woman's chest and face. Her pale skin shines. She sits in a relaxed position, looking away from the viewer, creating an air of importance about herself. The dog beneath her represents a symbol of loyalty, fidelity, yet its use seems ironic considering it's featured in a portrait of a mistress.

I was attracted to the slightly curved lines. The lines create the intricate ruffles of the dress, a beautiful way to bring its elegance to life. My eyes follow the ruffles of the dress and notice that they form a triangle at the bottom of the dress. Each line directs your attention to a different part of the woman's body. After looking at the portrait so many times, I realized that the background is actually a mirror, yet it does not picture the artist. The exclusion of the artist from the painting further proves the point that the mistress is the only focus. 

Although the portrait focuses on the importance of the woman, Boucher's famous use of a blue tarp in most of his paintings serves as a signature of his and informs the viewer that this work is his own.
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