A Bar at the Folies-Bergére

A Bar at the Folies-Bergere, Edouard Manet, 1882

A Bar at the Folies-Bergere is considered Manet's last major work. This painting represents one of the most prominent music halls in Paris at the time. We see through the mirror behind the barmaid that the guests (aka the wealthy white people) are enjoying their time, but the expression of the barmaid tells another story. The painting used the mirror to draw a separation between the bourgeoises with the working class, creating an unsettling composition. As prosperous as the place might seem, the music halls were a common place for elites to pick up prostitutes which spark the question of the barmaid's true occupation. She does not have much expression. In fact, she looks very much dead inside to me. Is she worrying what the rest of the night will be like? If you look closely at her reflection in the mirror, you can see that she is talking to a man. What is he there for? Is he there for some unspeakable business trade with this poor barmaid? Or is he only an innocent guest here a drink and a good time?

A Bar at the Folies-Bergere speaks to me as a frustration of separations between social classes and social injustices.  The mirror is almost like a line between reality and a dream. The barmaid is in a hellhole of reality while the others living beyond the mirror are in fancy attire.
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Rain, Steam, and Speed

Joseph M. Turner, Rain, Steam, and Speed, 1844

This work of art was painted in 1844, in the midst of everything changing -- sometimes for the better, and other times for the worst. During the time in which this was painted, the world was been radically modernized. This is what most people like to call The Industrial Revolution. Things like factories, trains, and mechanical reproduction became possible. 

This painting can be depicted several ways, it just depends on how the viewer is looking at it. The way I see it is the further evolution of technology in the modern world. Others could view it as technology racing towards the destruction of nature, because of the radical changing of the world. 

The blurriness in the background is interesting. It suggests that for some may be the change was too fast for people to keep up with. I guarantee that there were some people who didn't want any of this to happen. But on the other hand, some people were excited about the change, either because they needed it or were tired or bored of the current system. 
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A Peasant Family at Lunch

Albert Neuhuys, A Peasant Family at Lunch, 1895


In the painting A Peasant Family at Lunch, the peasant family is living in a small dirty room having their simple meal. The family members all look at their food and have no eye contact with each other. They reflect the society Friedrich Engels described in his article The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. The family members "selfishly concentrated upon their private affairs." When eating together, the atmosphere in the room should be warm. However, the color tone of the small dirty room and people's facial expression makes the room depressing.

Because of Industrialization, some people can expand their population and reduce heavy labor. Making clothes is easier. As you see in the painting, their clothes look ragged, they have little furniture. They are peasants, and their room is dirty and tight, which is commonly seen in this time period. They are the working class Engels speaks of. 
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Dance At The Moulin De La Galette

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Dance At The Moulin De La Galette, 1876

Renoir's Dance At The Moulin De La Galette remains one of the most preeminent Impressionist paintings. The work displays working class Parisians dressing up for an afternoon at the Moulin De La Galette, a typical place for weekend get togethers with food, wine, and dancing. However, these working class people put on a sort of facade of wealth and prosperity despite their struggles.

Friedrich Engels' The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 points out the truth behind this mirage of wealth. Although Engels writes about London, he explains that "Every great town has one or more slum areas into which working classes are packed. Sometimes, of course, poverty is to be found hidden away..." (125). Engels describes the packed streets of London where people "rush past each other as if they had nothing in common" despite their common characteristics and goals as human beings (124). Great cities such as London and Paris divide their wealthy and "slums" and hide their poverty in attempt to boost their confidence of their own wealth. This leads the working class to struggle and strive to become wealthy enough to move into the nice part of town and wear fancy clothes and throw extravagant parties. 
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Breaker Boys

Lewis Hine, Breaker Boys, 1911


While the Industrial Revolution brought many new and amazing technologies to the world, it also brought some pretty bad things, like child labor. Child labor was widespread and popular because children were great at working in factories. Kids could be paid a laughably small amount of money and do nothing about it. Many kids were sent to factories to work by their own families so they could afford basic necessities like food. While child labor started around the same time the industrial revolution did, it continued on for quite a while after.

The photograph above depicts breaker boys working in a coal mine. Their job was to break larger chunks of coal down into more manageable and valuable pieces. They also sorted out any impurities. This job was extremely detrimental to a child's health. Kids working as breaker boys often suffered from asthma and black lung disease because of all the coal floating around in the air. The mines themselves were also dangerous. Kids would have to climb through the machinery to fix it often leading to their death. 

In 1832 the British government questioned adults who had worked in factories as kids. The workers were around the age of ten when they worked in the factories. One kid had to work from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. and only a 40 minute break for dinner. The kids were also often beat if they didn't work fast enough, and on top of all that only got paid around 20 pence a week.
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Brettell's Social Class

Georges Seurat, Bathers at Asnieres, 1884
Georges Seurat, A Summer Sunday on the Island of Grande Jatte, 1884

In Richard R. Brettell’s Modern Art, Brettell argues that Georges Seurat created a direct location link and painted social class division between A Summer Sunday on the Island of the Grande Jatte and Bathers at Asnieres. A Summer Sunday on the Island of the Grande Jatte includes Seurat’s famous strokes of dots technique. Seurat possesed interest with the social class of the Third Republic of France. He includes bourgeois (middle class materialistic) men and women. This painting also includes people of diverse ages. In this painting, both men and women appear. The upper class men and women’s clothing is proper, and their position remain straight and upright. The background displays and relaxing park. However, this painting has always been controversial. The fisherwoman and the women with the pet monkey have been identified as prostitutes because of their attributes. The women reading the book receives relations with the surrounding men. This painting scandalousness deepens because the prostitutes appear on a holy day.

Bathers at Asnieres displays different class, position, background, and activities than A Summer Sunday on the Island of the Grande Jatte. Rather than pastime, the males use the body of water for bathing. Therefore, all of the boys could be homeless or earn scarce income. In the painting, only men bathe. The gender and age of the subjects displays the working class of primarily adolescent boys. The position of the men appears laid back and casual. The setting shows urban details of factory smoke and railway tracks. This painting receives an everyday scene of poverty rather than a Sunday pastime. Brettell believes both paintings confront the difference of social class structure pastimes. 

Brettell argures Seurat’s Bathers at Asnieres is located directly across the river from A Summer Sunday on the Island of the Grande Jatte. The sailboat race acts as the clear link between the two paintings. Both paintings include identical dimensions and similar techniques. The bathers look east to the same Island. A adolescent male in the Bathers at Asnieres appears to call out to a person on the Island of the Grande Jatte. I agree with Brettell’s theory that both paintings focus on the division of social class. However, I believe that Seurat drew inspiration from his first painting, and there’s no direct location link between the two paintings. Although Seurat painted Bathers at Asnieres before A Summer Sunday on the Island of the Grande Jatte, the painting with upper class men and women receives more praise and popularity, even decades later. I think it’s interesting that the painting with the higher class receives more praise, despite the fact that the two paintings use identical techniques.
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The Wave VII

August Strindberg, The Wave VII, 1892


Inspired by William Turner's paintings in London, Swedish writer August Strindberg used a mysterious approach to create an almost undecipherable painting. In Brettell's Modern Art, this work falls into the category of Anti-Iconography, a subject that's supposed to be without interpretation, for it would strip the painting of its purpose as a painting.

Without the need to try and verbally understand this work, "the visual gain greater autonomy from words." View art as it is. Don't spend time searching for a meaning, but rather let a meaning come to you...or not.

The subject is not what makes a painting art, it's the representation of that subject. The enforced meaninglessness of anti-iconography makes it difficult for people to understand why it's a subject in the first place. It serves as a reminder to people that not everything has to have an intention.

Strindberg took a literary-charged subject and stripped it of its narrative. Instead of its representation as a calm or peaceful symbol, The Wave VII is simply a painting. The artist can intensify a subject that he denies.
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On the Bank of the Seine at Bennecourt

On the Bank of the Seine at Bennecourt, Monet, 1868

The flat, vibrant colors covering the canvas in On the Bank of the Seine at Bennecourt render it one of the first truly impressionistic landscapes. Monet's painting depicts a mundane scene on the Seine River, which became a popular subject of impressionist landscapes. In this painting, Monet makes the subject nearly irrelevant and indistinguishable. 

Typically, trees create a sense of space and a visually appealing focal point. However, Monet's trees seem crudely added at the last minute, almost as if in an act of laziness to avoid painting the left third of the canvas. The reflection of the village on the far side of the river seems distorted. Monet paints only the reflection of a building concealed by the trees, and declines to paint reflections for the rest of the buildings on the right side.

The woman seated in the foreground, likely meant to be Monet's wife, is faceless, and her form seems  to have been changed several times. Her stance closes her off from any interpretations of emotion of situation. Monet seems to have removed a second figure from the painting, leaving patches of white and grey that do not blend into their surroundings. 

However, these changes likely had no affect on the meaning of the painting. The boat against the shore signals that the woman likely rowed across the river. Two groups of figures on boats in the background bring only the knowledge that the woman is not entirely alone. Otherwise, they fail to add to a narrative and are too abstractly painted to hint at any activity or story.

With each brushstroke, Monet seems to deliberately suppress emotion and narrative. Although the pleasant weather is obvious, little more can be gleaned from the painting. Monet purposely makes this painting say nothing. In Bretell's Modern Art, he suggests that "the most persuasive way to interpret the picture is as an image about painting as representation."  

On the Bank of the Seine at Bennecourt, according to this interpretation, is simply a painting, nothing more and nothing less. Viewers can choose to read into the landscape, but the most satisfying way to to view this painting is to simply appreciate the presence of paint on the canvas, the mixing of greens, blues, and browns.

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The Artist's Father

Paul Cezanne, The Artist's Father, 1866


In Richard Brettel's Modern Art 1851-1929, the author examines a shift in art technique and subject matter. Brettel discusses the concept of fetishism and how it specifically appears in a number of Cézanne’s pieces. Brettel describes fetishism as, "to involve the view in the process of artistic creation by fetishizing their major mater, paint." Cézanne's work showcases palette knife techniques, giving little depth to the piece and creating large gaps among brush strokes, which are characteristic of fetishism. The fetishism movement stemmed from the advent of photography. Because photography allowed for truly real imaging, the role of art changed from a necessary means of documentation to a method of appreciating the mere act of painting, rather than the subject it portrays. Cézanne accomplishes fetishism by flattening the piece to serve as un unrealistic artistic work rather than a realistic portrait. 

While Cézanne portrays the tumultuous relationship he had with his banker father. The artist illustrates this with thicker dark layers placed on the figure. One can interpret this rendering as an assertion of independence on the part of the artist from his overbearing father. Cézanne rejected his father's vision of his future as a successful banker or an attorney to study art. The painting in the background is of a still life Cézanne painted prior, symbolizing his success. The newspaper, L'Evénement refers to Emile Zola, a childhood friend of Cézanne and a renowned art critic, who encouraged Cézanne to study art in Paris. 

In addition to the meaning behind the subject and his execution of fetishism, The Artist's Father contains dark hues with a frequent use of shadows. The artist creates a modern painting while maintaining elements of classic portrait such as focusing the subject in the foreground. Although Cézanne intended to depict his father in a certain way, his work exemplifies Brettel's definition of fetishism through the use of the paint. 
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White Cross

Wassily Kandinsky, White Cross, 1922

In his book Modern Art Richard Brettell claims White Cross serves as a primary example in Brettell's analysis of nationalism in abstract artwork through through the early twentieth century. Brettell argues that "nationalism is among the most powerful forces in modern society" as it can be seen at the root of most substantial political events. Yet in spite of ever growing globalixation, the history of modern art remains largely a sequence of national histories written in national languages by historians who viw art as belonging to a specific set of national values. Brettell believes that this is the box Kandinsky's work has been placed in, thus limiting its value. 

Kandinsky was truly an innovator in his time. His background as an economist and a lawer provided him with a unique perspective as he painted his experiences as a participant in the "Great Utopia." The "Great Utopia" was a revolutionary period of artistic transformation in Russia that foreshadowed the impeding political upheavals of the early twentieth century.

In this painting, Kandinsky evokes, rather than describes war, and elicits a more musical expression of his understanding of conflict. On this large canvas, Kandinsky compiled a catalogue of elements observed and invented by himself during his years in Russia. This piece would eventually become emblematic of his style. Though Kandinsky left for Berlin to escape political turmoil when he created this painting, art historians have classified it as a "uniquely Russian artwork."

It is in this classification that Brettell believes the potential of this painting is limited. Brettell notes that "every modern art museum teaches us that place is as important to art as time" and it serves as the primary mode or organization. Modern art museums are segregated by geopolitical fences through which time flows. As viewers, we see pieces produced in the same place at vastly different times, but never work produced at the same time in different places.  

However, as the world became more cosmopolitan, art historians began to understand the value in classifying artwork beyond the physical place in which it was created. This, Brettell argues, opens the door for more thoughtful consideration of artwork such as Kandinsky's. Now, the ability to succeed in a multilingual artistic society is seen as essential for a modern artist, and those who were able to cross such boundaries remain successful today.  In this way, Kandinsky was ahead of his time. Through his use of abstraction, he appealed to all viewers, regardless of language or nationality. The feelings prompted by his compositional an color choices are universal. 
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