A Harvest of Death

Timothy O'Sullivan, A Harvest of Death, 1863
Timothy O’Sullivan’s revolutionary photography of Civil War causalities shocked Northern viewers through its never before seen ability to capture death in such a gritty and realistic way. Many paintings had depicted war before. but none could have the same effect as this simple snapshot of cold, hard reality after the Battle of Gettysburg. The stark contrast between glorified paintings and this image made this photograph stand out in the eyes of the public.

The image manages to capture the nature of the Civil War through its dreary composition. The feeble body and contorted face of the man in the center immediately draws the eye, and is accompanied by the white fog of the background. Some of the men aren’t wearing shoes, a testament to the scarcity of supplies during the Civil War. The strewn-about trash suggests that the men were ravaged for all their possessions, as if bodies left out for vultures, perhaps by the men on horses in the background. Bodies litter the background, but look like nothing more than faceless dark lumps. This gives the picture an eerily silent feel, accompanied by the dreary shades of black and grey. If a photograph were able to stop a person dead in their tracks, even for just a minute, this would be the one.
  • 12:00 AM

The Gleaners

Jean-Francois Millet, The Gleaners, 1857
The realist painter Jean-François Millet honorably glorifies peasant life in The Gleaners (1857). Three women, beautifully depicted with oddly soft, muted colors, scavenge the field in order to pickup remaining wheat missed by the reaping. The women represent the rural working-class. They are so impoverished that they must glean or go hungry. Gleaning comes from ancient Hebrew traditions. In Leviticus 19, God says, “And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest. Thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger.” Protected by the word of God, the women carefully collect small bundles of wheat.

The women happen to stand in age order, youngest to oldest from left to right. The eldest woman, perhaps from years of gleaning, can barely bend down to gather wheat for her bundle. Next to her stands a solidly built woman with a square figure and broad back, capable of bearing heavy burdens. The youngest woman seems to work effortlessly and has a fluid, girlish form. The austerity of their backbreaking work contrasts with the plentiful harvest in the distance. The women meticulously glean the field and seem to live in a world completely separate from the one behind them. Without Millet, the existence of these peasants would go unnoticed. 

Millet does not fear the peasantry like other upper-class citizens in his time. He paints these workers in a glorifying light in order for the audience to more easily identify with them. The angled light of the setting sun accentuates the foreground and gives the gleaners a sculptural look. The light emphasizes their necks, shoulders, backs, and hands and adds vibrancy to the colors of their clothing. Millet proposes the viewers to consider the gleaner’s vantage point.
  • 12:00 AM

Third Class Carriage

Honore Daumier, Third Class Carriage, 1864

The Third Class Carriage by Honore Daumier focuses on the struggles of the lower classes and emphasizes the hard-working people in the picture to create sympathy. Their clothes are worn down and soiled. The family seems exhausted, further adding to the effect of poverty. Their facial expressions, droopy and heavy, exacerbate their condition.

 The background is filled with crowded groups of people, dressed to seem as part of the higher class. Their ignorant expressions show their disregard for the lower classes, further adding to the isolation and heaviness of the group. The painting shows some of the problems sparked by industrialization.  With the radical rise in power that the aristocracy enjoyed, lower classes were forced to make a living by doing hard labor, an unrewarding and gruesome profession. The lighting in the painting mainly comes from the windows where the upper class are sitting.  However, complementary spotlights glow from the grandma and mother, possibly alluding to a hopeful future and further emphasis on the family’s difficulties.
  • 12:00 AM

The Stone Breakers

Gustave Courbet, The Stone Breakers, 1849
Lost in the destruction of World War II, The Stone Breakers was Gustave Courbet’s breakthrough piece exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1851 at a time of revolution and struggle. Concerned with the common people, this politically-influenced painting depicts peasants at work. It shocked the visitors of the Salon because of its ordinary subject matter and abundance of imperfections.

Conservative critics felt off put by its mere size, measuring 1.6 x2.6 m. Courbet did not glamorize the subject matter and the laborers' torn up clothing disgusted many for the accurate depiction of their poverty. The roughness Courbet painted represented the social struggles of the times. The subject was criticized, but its stunning scale that was normally reserved for portraits and historical paintings helped distinguish him from his contemporaries.
Courbet was bold and went against what the ruling class was comfortable with in art. Courbet believed it was impossible to accurately portray the past, and thus he was more concerned with the present and what he saw around him. Courbet challenged society and the comfort zone of the upper class. Known for his sympathy towards to the masses, he introduced the common man as a worthy subject for fine art.
  • 11:58 PM

Ecce Homo

Ecce Homo, Honore Daumier, ca 1853-59
When one looks upon Honore Daumier's works of art, they see blunt satires that critique social inequality. Gargantuan, A Literary Discussion in the Second Balcony, and Celui-là, on peut le mettre en liberté! il nest plus dangereux each portray the upperclass as monstrous villains punishing those inferior on the social pyramid. This anti-elitist theme carries through Daumier's lithographs, then Daumier paints Ecce Homo.

Dirty, savage figures glob together in the disgustingly packed foreground. The color pallet chosen by Daumier could be described in one word: brown. The Crucifixion symbolizes a new hope and redemption for mankind, but there is no redemption for Daumier. No aspect of this painting remotely hints towards salvation.

A feeling of guilt overwhelms the viewer. Even the light of Christ fades into the depths of smog and hopelessness. The lowly citizens  that overwhelm Christ's surroundings act as faceless demons clawing towards the main trial. The lack of individuality within the crowd dehumanizes them. Only one man looks back towards the viewer as if to ask "what have we done?"  Everyone else, without an identity, simply add to the writhing chaos that represents the physical manifestation of mortal sins. Daumier's lack of a bright color palette, clouded lighting, and the inhuman appearance of the figures compel the viewer to despise the lower class. This representation completely opposes what Daumier had done with his lithographs. Daumier could be reminding us that those in the upper class and government must remember who has true power. Though Pontius Pilot may have crucified Jesus Christ, it was the common people that forced Pilate's hand.  
  • 12:00 AM

Seaside at Palavas

Gustave Courbet, Seaside at Palavas, 1854
While visiting his good friend, art collector Alfred Bruyas, in Montpellier, France, Gustave Courbet experienced the ocean for the first time. At the age of thirty-five, Courbet became infatuated with the vastness of the water, the freedom and infinite space that stretched between other nations, and the mystery of what could lie in the deep space. All of this is evident in his mid-life work Seaside at Palavas.

The most captivating quality of the ocean, according to Courbet, was the ability of the water to capture the light of the sun and cloud. Therefore, Courbet used a expansive pallet of greens, blues, and whites to encapsulate the brightness of the sky. The clouds in the sky, mirrored by the gentle wave of the ocean, create symbiosis between the heavens and the depths of the Earth. The gradual darkening of the sea simulates the boundlessness of the ocean that Courbet sought to reproduce in the painting. The smoothness of the waves creates a sense of calmness in the sea, making the painting unique in the fact that it portrayed a more inviting element of the water.

The figure in the bottom left corner of the painting is one of its more disputed elements. The fact that the man has removed is hat shows the respect and awe that Courbet felt when he first saw the freedom of the ocean. His charcoal shading blends with the rocks, making him an afterthought compared to the diverse coloring of the ocean. It's probable that Courbet attempted to paint himself, for his catharsis is clearly portrayed in the complexity of the water. Yet the omniscient point of view when looking at the painting could also insinuate that Courbet was an onlooker to the man saluting the ocean.

  • 12:00 AM

Barge Haulers on the Volga

Ilya Repin, Barge haulers on the Volga, 1873
     Ilya Repin spent three months in the Volga River region with his brother, Vasily, and some friends in 1870. One of Repin’s greatest works, Barge Haulers on the Volga, was inspired by this vacation. As he walked down the beach Repin noticed the barges and picnickers on the shore. He had trouble finding people to pose as subjects, even for money, because of the idea that painting took away the soul. Preliminary sketches of the barge haulers included animalistic figures that evolved into real people with individual personalities. Each of the eleven figures represents the diversity of Russia itself with diverse ages, physiques, and backgrounds. Giving faces and emotion to the figures makes the scene relatable and realistic.

While the foreground does not seem out of place in the painting, the scene seems juxtaposed against the warm seascape in a way that taints it. Each of the characters creates a forward thrust through shadows and tension in the hauling harnesses. This headfirst lunge has subjects coming toward viewers and connects onlookers to the painting. All figures but one are in the dark shadows. This youthful figure pushes back against the repression of the ties. Dressed in tattered garments this child similar looks to other figures, but his childlike resistance and energy creates a break in the motion of hauling.

  • 12:00 AM

rue Transnonian by Daumier

Honoré Daumier, rue Transnonian, 1834
Throughout nineteenth century France, rulers heavily censored political satire by stifling the media, composed by the products of the art world. However, the “July-monarchy” of Louis-Philippe advocated liberalism as a method of gaining popularity throughout his reign. In return, angry artists, whose careers were previously strangled by the lack of freedom to expression, retaliated by releasing wave-after-wave of political satires against the contemporary government. With his often-comedic representations of the government as usurpers, Daumier led the political attack, releasing multitudes of paintings that reviewed the government’s inability to empathize with their subjects.

Through his caricature rue Transnonian, Daumier spits at the aristocracy through his depiction of a brutally- massacred French middle-class family. The deceased subjects of his sketch allude to the aftermath of a riot that took place in St. Martin on April 5, 1834. In response to King Louis-Philippe’s new censorship laws,  Parisians violently protested throughout streets. When a governmental decree issued a warning to cut off their attacks through the military, middle-class families quickly constructed a shoddy barricade around their neighborhoods. The protagonists of Daumier’s painting lived on rue Transnonian, the lithograph’s namesake. That particular street was rumored to have housed occupants who shot (and killed) officers during the riots. In consequence to their insubordination, military units purged the building, killing almost over a dozen occupants.

Daumier, who supposedly occupied a flat less than three blocks from rue Transnonian, sketched the caricature in his spite against the monarchy. The subjects, left to bleed out within the privacy of their own home, heighten the public’s outrage through bluntly expressing the monarchy’s trespass.
After no time at all, Louis-Philippe immediately revoked all his liberal ideals and replaced them with its predecessor. France was censored once again.
  • 12:00 AM

A Burial at Ornans

Courbet, A Burial at Ornans, 1849-50
Courbet was born in Ornans and was the son of a farmer. As an adult he became one of the founders of the Realist movement, which soon replaced the Romantic phase of art. As a painter, Courbet believed in the significance of an ordinary life and ordinary people.

A Burial at Ornans
(1849-1850) depicts his grandfather's funeral at Ornans. The scene provides a disorganized mass of mourners moving in opposing directions. It is a stark contrast to classical art, which contains a uniform flow that directs viewers' eyes to a specific point or region of the painting. Courbet confidently said, "The Burial at Ornans was in reality the burial of Romanticism."

One of the figures in the foreground wearing teal is a veteran of the 1793 war, slapping the aristocrats who refused to acknowledge the critical role of peasants in the military at that time. In addition, the painting undermines the church authorities (in red hats and overcoats) who have a dazed and almost drunken look to their faces. Truly, this painting entombs the Romantic movement through its massive (10' x 22') portrayal of the funeral of a nameless peasant, an insignificant event shown on such a large scale, and through its illustration of the subjects.
  • 12:00 AM

The Angelus

Jean-Francois Millet, The Angelus, 1857-1859
Commissioned by American art enthusiast Thomas Gold Applegate, The Angelus by Jean-Francois Millet would go on to become one of his most famous and, almost a century later, influential works. The work depicts a man and a woman of peasant class deep in prayer for the afternoon Angelus, a Catholic prayer announced by the ringing of church bells and occurring thrice daily at 6 in the morning, noon, and 6 in the evening. The painting received mixed reception upon it's release, but won over many with its nostalgic and comforting representation of rural life, and even igniting a bidding war between the United States and France which culminated in its purchase for 580,650 francs. Despite its popularity, perhaps none loved or fixated upon the painting as much as the surrealist painter, Salvador Dali.
 Dali was first introduced to the painting in school during his childhood, and he found himself immediately captivated by its imagery connecting the work to two trees that stood outside his classroom. For a time, the image left Dali's thoughts, until 1929 when he once again saw a reproduction of the painting, reinvigorating his interest and allegedly leading to visions of the painting imposed upon the real world. From that point forward The Angelus appeared throughout his works, beginning with his 1933 painting, The Architectonic Angelus of Millet, in which two large white structures stand in the center of a vast surrealist landscape, their placement and form in many ways resembling the original work. However, in this reworking the form representing the female juts out towards the male structure, seeming to attack it. This portrayal of the female form as a malicious thing reflects Dali's own fear of intercourse and sexuality.

 The imagery of The Angelus continued to appear in works such as Gala and the Angelus of Millet Preceding the Imminent Arrival of the Conical Anamorphoses, which depicts Dali's mistress and muse Gala speaking with a balding man within a room in the background, with Millet's painting hanging above the doorway. Dali again associated the painting with Gala in his work The Angelus of Gala, in which the original painting is played upon through it's inclusion within the work and the double portraiture of his muse, positioned perpendicularly to the original composition. However, his obsession with the painting was not resigned to remain within his works. Dali insisted repeatedly throughout his career that the subjects depicted in the painting were not in prayer for the Angelus, but instead for their recently deceased son whom they have buried between them, but that Millet had painted over this to make the work more marketable. At his request the work was X-rayed and seemed to show a geometrical shape that had once been placed at the center of the foreground.
  • 12:00 AM

Le Vapeur

Gustave Le Gray, Le Vapeur, 1857
Reminiscent of Turner's The Fighting Temeraire, Gustave Le Gray's Le Vapeur heralds in a new form of art, the photograph. Baudelaire branded photography "the refuge of every would-be painter, every painter too ill-endowed or too lazy to complete his studies" and saw it as an offshoot of Europe's industrialism. The ability to capture a moment in time without slaving away over a canvas shocked painters. 

The debate over photography's legitimization continued, with notable artists and thinkers contributing to either side. Edgar Allen Poe praised photography's realism by claiming, "If we examine a work of ordinary art, by means of a powerful microscope, all traces of resemblance to nature will dissapear -- but the closest scrutiny of the photographic drawing discloses only a more accurate truth." In a time where painters strove to capture the world around them in the most realistic way possible, this was a high compliment.

Perhaps photography was for those unskilled in the art of painting, but one cannot dispute its inherent magic. These images were the first images ever taken. The photographer taking these images had no idea if they would survive the developing process. That makes each moment, preserved forever on paper, priceless. Painters could complain all they wanted about how easy photography was, but, at that time, a photograph could not be revisited, erased, or added to. That makes works like Le Vapeur captivating. The trailing wisps of the cloud of smoke and the small wake created by the two boats will never be able to be recreated again. The synthesis of all components of that moment will never exist in another form. The uniqueness of photography allows the viewer to be transported to another time and place and experience the fleeting moment exactly how the photographer did. That emotional experience makes photography art. 

  • 12:00 AM

The Studio of the Painter: a Real Allegory Summing Up Seven Years of My Artistic Life

Gustave Courbet, The Studio, 1855
Proud of his accomplishments and his own point of view, Courbet believed "the people who want to judge [The Studio] will have their work cut out for them."

In 1855, France had their first Universal Exposition to show off all of the accomplishments that took place under Napoleon III. Because the art exhibition, the Salon of 1854, got canceled, there would be a grand art exposition to compensate. While pieces by Ingres and Delacroix were front and center, Courbet failed to make the cut. Napoleon believed Courbet was not "in any way a part of [Napoleon's] government; and that [Courbet] was too a government," (written in a letter from Courbet to Bruyas re-telling the story of Courbet's luncheon with the Comte de Nieuwerkerke) defying the law.

In attempt to gain exposure in the Exposition alongside his fellow painters, he painted the large 11 x 20 ft. The Studio of the Painter: a Real Allegory Summing Up Seven Years of My Artistic Life (The Studio) in just six months. The Studio, however, got rejected, and instead, Courbet organized a private exhibition, the "Pavilion of Realism," on the opposite side of the road from the entrance of the Exposition, charging only ten sous. Among the low amounts of attendees and critics, Delacroix came to admire, and later wrote in his diary, "I think all these machines are very depressing...Afterwards I went to the Courbet exhibition...and discovered a masterpiece in the picture they rejected."

The Studio separates two different groups of people. On the right, "his various artistic and bohemian friends," in his Parisian life, such as Baudelaire, Champfleury, and Bruyas. And on the left resides people from his home life in Ornans such as "the people, misery, poverty, wealth, the exploited and the exploiters, [and] the people who live off death." Some of these people include Louis Napoleon, the Minister of State Echille Fould, Lazare Carnot, some European Revolutionaries such as Garibaldi, Kassuth and Kosciuszko, and a Jew. In the middle of the painting, Courbet paints in his studio with the admiring youth and a nude model.

Against most male painters of the time and possibly "an instance of modernism," the woman does not represent "a muse," but a mere model, not to be heightened to any sexual fantasy such as Ingres.
  • 12:00 AM

The Bellelli Family

Edgar Degas, The Bellelli Family, 1858-1867
The Bellelli family works as a portrait as well as a perfect description of this dysfunctional family. Painted between 1858-1867, it is one of the masterpieces of Degas’ youth. The family in the painting is Degas’ aunt, her husband, and their two girls. The painting appears strangely cold, and there lingers a feeling of sorrow. This feeling may be evoked because before the painting was done, Degas’ grandfather had passed away. A portrait of his grandfather hangs on the wall behind the family

His passing would explain why the family is clad in black. The feeling between the family also provokes tension. No one in the family directly looks or connects with each other. There are no loving gazes or any ounce of tenderness.

The mother stands astute and incredibly dignified. She stands connected to her two daughters; while the only man in the house sits with his back turned. Although the man is supposed to be the head of the house, it appears the woman has clearly taken control. She faces the same way as her dead father’s portrait to demonstrate her keeping the line going. One daughter clearly stands out as her mother’s child. Giovanna, sits alone in the middle of the room caught in her own thoughts. Her face is angled in the same fashion as her mothers. Unlike Giulia, who stands meagerly in her mother’s shadow and whose hair matches her shunned father’s, Giovanna has carved a place for herself in the family. The portrait speaks for itself and describes the family perfectly. The mother is a control freak. The father has no voice. The girls are split between their polar opposite parents. Each member of the family plays a key role in the melodrama that is the Bellelli family. 
  • 12:00 AM

The Haymakers

Jean-Francois Millet, The Haymakers, 1849
Exhibited at the Salon of 1850, The Haymakers, by Jean-François Millet, was one of Millet’s first major works. It was also an earlier piece of a series of paintings that exemplified Millet’s focus on peasants and scenes glorifying the family life of hard working farmers.
Millet’s works often were criticized with the argument that his paintings withheld a political statement. The works he received the most criticism for included The Gleaners, The Sower, and The Haymakers. Critics accused Millet of depicting labor, through highlighting the ragged clothes of peasants and putting focus on the misery and pain of the workers, as a horrifying nightmare. It took quite a bit of time before people came to the realization that Millet had no political intentions.

 Millet says of his subject matter, "To tell the truth, the peasant subjects suit my temperament best; for I must confess, even if you think me a socialist, that the human side of art is what touches me most."
Like in many of Millet’s work, the faces of the characters in The Haymakers can’t be seen. Yet, their emotions still convey struggle but strength. The light source of the painting highlights the backs of the men, enhancing their work but also defining their muscles and strength. Millet's, The Haymakers is an example displaying the hardship of peasant life, while also glorifying it.
  • 12:00 AM

The Cotton Exchange at New Orleans

Edgar Degas, The Cotton Exchange at New Orleans, 1873
Painters such as Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet used new scientific discoveries and in industrial life to create new subject matter, and new points of view. While Honore Daumier’s painting Third-Class Carriage provides an apparent social criticism of new customs and labor practices, Edgar Degas paints a different picture in The Cotton Exchange at New Orleans.

This painting displays Degas’ interest in unusual angles of vision and staging. Degas was born in Paris in 1834 and died in 1917. He is known for his painting, sculpting, and drawing. However, unlike his contemporaries (make a minor change to the dates and add a new name and you have a basic description of any realist, impressionist, or post-impressionist painter in the previous two sentences), Degas took a special interest in the role of geometry in art. This is not to say that he studied hours upon hours of mathematics and then painted numbers, but that his paintings use line and perspective unlike any of his contemporaries.
This aspect of Degas’ style is apparent in The Cotton Exchange at New Orleans. Although he was born in Paris, his mother’s side of the family were native to New Orleans, and on an extended stay in the city, Degas observed a multitude of things that sparked his creative interest. The Cotton Exchange at New Orleans was painted in 1873, ten short years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. As manufacturers adjusted to their new labor standards, i.e. the use of paid labor instead of slaves, Degas observed them.

Compositionally, the painting is unparalleled. The lines are exact, and each person sits, leans, or stands in their own frame. This meticulous separation of characters creates a story for each man in the painting. While some read casually, others are working intensely. This creates a character dynamic within the painting. Most impressive is Degas ability to catch each man in a vulnerable moment. Each person's character is revealed in one brush stroke, much like Dega's character is revealed more and more in each painting.

Although towards the end of his career Degas identify with the Impressionist movement, his keen eye for line and perspective never changed.
  • 12:00 AM


John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1851-52

Millais’ Ophelia depicts Hamlet’s Ophelia at the brink of her poetic death. Painted singing afloat on the Denmark River, Ophelia is the embodiment of the “tortured female.”  As Shakespeare’s tragedy progresses, Ophelia begins losing her mind, haunted by inner demons. At the time Hamlet was written, medical professionals believed that melancholy was a disability of the intellect expressed in males. Women with similar symptoms were assumed to be afflicted by not melancholy, but erotomania, a type of delusion in which the person affected truly believes that another person is in love with him or her. Millais might be alluding to this presumption in the facial expression of Ophelia.

Mouth agape in the release that accompanies death, Millais’ Ophelia evokes comparison with Bernini’s St. Theresa in Ecstasy. In addition to her erotic facial expression, Ophelia lies in a position that is almost saint-like: arms elongated, palms upward toward the heavens. She sinks into a garden of foliage, immaculately painted by Millais. Each flower adds to the meaning of the painting—the poppies signal the coming of death, the white flowers possibly referring to the song Ophelia sings to Hamlet about a maiden loosing her virginity. Influenced by the foliage on the riverbanks of London and Shakespeare’s words, Millais’ Ophelia has inspired many other works following its creation, such as the song “What the Water Gave Me” by Florence and the Machine and the cinema poster for Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, featuring Kirsten Dunst in a similar Opheliaesque pose. 
  • 12:00 AM

Wood Rafts on the Rhine

Gustave Brion, Wood Rafts on the Rhine, 1855
Romanticism had been destroyed in the same fire that fueled the new Realist Movement. This fire lay in the boilers of the factories that commoners labored in. The Realists were tired of seeing the grand landscapes and extravagant themes of the Romantics, so Realists shifted art’s focus to these laborers. The commoners, laborers, and peasants finally had their time to shine in the Realist paintings of the 19th Century, while Romanticism had ignored the commoner altogether and catered to the more upper and intellectual classes. Despite their frustration with the Romantic Era, some Realists held onto what they had learned from the Romantics.

Gustave Brion’s Wood Rafts on the Rhine pays homage to the Romantics. The sailors on the rafts are Brion’s main focus in the painting, but he uses the Romantic landscape to enhance the laborers' plight. The sailors struggle to cross the Rhine River and possess the usual tired and haggard look that Realist paintings give to their laborers. Then, Brion dims the atmosphere with the dark and gloomy landscape that bears down on the workers. The laborers’ job becomes all the more overwhelming with this sinister riverside nearby. Wood Rafts on the Rhine also bears striking similarity to the Romantic painting The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault. The two paintings have similar triangular compositions created by the oars, sailors, masts, and rafts. Brion’s and Géricault’s paintings give off the same sense of impending doom with their ominous backgrounds. Of course, Brion focuses on the sailors while Géricault puts more effort in his scenery. The end result of Brion’s fusion happens to be the more realistic and sympathetic sailors and the harsh depiction of their laborious task.

Brion may have looked back to the Romantic Movement because of his own feelings for the Rhine River. Around 1855 (the year Wood Rafts on the Rhine was painted), Brion started visiting the Alsace-Lorraine area on a regular basis. He fell in love with the province, and soon most of his paintings could be tied to Alsace-Lorraine. Brion’s love of the area coincided with Emperor Napoleon III’s attempts to install French Nationalism in Alsace-Lorraine, so Brion’s paintings were widely circulated. Sadly, the Emperor’s attempts would fail. Germany took back Alsace-Lorrain in the Franco-Prussian War. Brion had lost his home away from home. He then slipped into seclusion and died soon after. Brion’s romance with Alsace-Lorraine led to him create a blend of the Romantic and Realist movements.
  • 12:00 AM

The Monk by the Sea

Caspar David Friedrich, The Monk by the Sea, 1808-1810
Albrecht Durer had a piece of turf and Caspar David Friedrich had a frozen sea. Though from different eras, these German artists embodied their people’s appreciation of nature. Durer lived in Luther times, an era that ushered in an emphasis on experiencing God through the wonders He created, not the man-made artifices of the Catholic Church or worldly sinners. Friedrich revives a similar sentiment in The Monk by the Sea, kickin‘ it German Romanticist style.

Born in 1774, Friedrich matured beside the Baltic Sea. Though a summer destination for some, the winters at this body of water arrive laden with ice and storms, transforming into a dark and desolate landscape. Friedrich embodies this feeling in The Monk by the Sea, a dramatic homecoming portrait. A faithful servant confronts nature on his own, empty grey skies and churning surf meeting his solitary figure. This pared down painting illustrates a nature-based approach to religion, one that emphasizes the realization that humans truly remain alone except for their God. Depressing, sure;  but simultaneously liberating.

Heinrich von Kleist describes Friedrich’s mesmerizing work best: "Nothing could be more sombre nor more disquieting than to be placed thus in the world: the one sign of life in the immensity of the kingdom of death, the lonely center of a lonely circle. With its two or three mysterious objects the picture seems somehow apocalyptic, like Young’s Night Thoughts, and since its monotony and boundlessness are only contained by the frame itself, contemplation of this picture gives one the sense that one’s eyelids have been cut away."
  • 12:00 AM

Ovid Among the Scythians

Eugène Delacroix, Ovid Among the Scythians, 1862
In the later period of his life, Eugène Delacroix worked primarily as a decorator of sorts for many public buildings in France. Commissioned to paint for the Palais Bourbon, Delacroix resorted to a portion of Ovid’s biography for inspiration.

In the last work before he died, Delacroix depicts the last years of the life of Ovid after being exiled from Rome by Augustus. Living in the Black Sea port of Tomis in Scythia Minor, the poet was treated well by the Scythian in comparison to the Romans. The patch of land that contains the action in the composition is green and lush, seemingly untouchable by the resting volcanoes surrounding it—an oasis. Amid previous canvases of destruction and violence, Ovid Among the Scythians itself serves as a similar relief to Delacroix.  Other parallels can be drawn between Ovid and Delacroix. Nearing death, both artists sympathize with the notion that the romantic artist is misunderstood by his own people—a common belief among French romantic intellectuals of the mid-nineteenth century.

Delacroix first premiered the work at the 1859 Paris Salon. The unusual composition and questionable scale of the figures in the “first draft” Ovid (1859) evoked criticism from the art world. In his second, more complete version of Ovid Among the Scythians (1862), Delacroix more closely integrated the figures and landscape and resolved his problems with scale. 

  • 12:00 AM

Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway

J.M.W. Turner, Rain, Steam & Speed, 1844
Art and invention battled it out in the industrial revolution, fighting for their opposing positions in modern society. But what if someone could reconcile these two seemingly contradictory concepts?

Enter J. M. W. Turner, landscape painter extraordinaire. Those familiar with Mr. Turner might imagine breathtaking watercolors of natural wonders upon hearing the artist’s name. Indeed, most of Turner’s renowned works feature stunning seas and golden waters, highlighting nature’s prowess. Despite his fascination with nature, Turner did not eschew the inventions of the industrial revolution. One in particular caught his eye: the steam engine.

Seven years after retiring from his professorship, Turner toured Switzerland for the last time. In 1844, he was 69 years old, seven years away from his death. The railway business remained at its peak during Turner’s latter years. This boded well for the wandering artist, an elderly man who relished the comfort and speed trains offered. Turner enjoyed a leisurely lifestyle, despite the rapidity of the machine. Rain, Steam and Speed is just that—a marriage between relaxed landscape and impressive innovation. To look at the painting is to share an experience with Turner. Stick your head out of the window and savor the wind of speed.
  • 12:00 AM

The Cross in the Mountains (The Tetschen Altarpiece)

Casper David Friedrich, The Cross in the Mountains, 1807
Perhaps the first Where’s Waldo of the nineteenth century, Casper David Friedrich’s first majorly publicized work left viewers agape at the relative insignificance of Christ’s figure in a depiction of the Crucifixion.

The Cross in the Mountains, painted by Friedrich at the age of 34, was originally intended to be an altarpiece for the Swedish King, Gustav IV. Confined to a frame made by Friedrich himself, the work was coldly received by the public when it was exhibited on Christmas Day of 1808. Friedrich perches the cross on a mountain surrounded by grand firs. When looking at the painting from afar, the cross almost appears to blend in with the landscape as just another fir. Upon inspection, we discover the cross to be in the center of the composition, reaching higher than the surrounding firs. Hanging on the cross is Jesus in the traditional crucifixion pose. But the savior does not face out toward the viewer. Instead, Friedrich positions Him to mirror the setting sun.

The luminescent sun rays carry great significance in the work. The earth can no longer hold onto the light of Christ. The rays seem to fade as the sun descends and the flesh of Christ grows closer to death. The mountain, immovable, demonstrates the unyielding power of faith, even if the visible rays no longer shine. Faith endures the test of time, as do the firs surrounding the ultimate symbol of Christianity.
  • 12:00 AM

Lord Byron in Albanian Dress

Thomas Phillips, Lord Byron in Albanian Dress, 1813
Thomas Phillips was an English painter during the Romantic period, well known for his portraits of high profile individuals. Among Phillips' more well known subjects were chemist Michael Faraday, and poets, Samuel Rogers and Walter Scott. However, perhaps his most distinguished client, Lord Byron's portrait stands out among the crowd, if only due to the extravagant outfit which he donned for the painting. Lord Byron, it seems, always had a fascination with Albania, ever since traveling there on a trip in 1809. Indeed, references to Albania appear in his Cantos the Second, where in he declares,

"Land of Albania! let me bend mine eyes
On thee, thou rugged nurse of savage men!
The cross descends, thy minarets arise,
And the pale crescent sparkles in the glen,
Through many a cypress grove within each city's ken."

      On this eye opening trip, Byron at some point acquired several items of Albanian clothing that he chose to don when posing for his portrait to be painted by Phillips. The poet took great lengths to fully display his love for Albanian culture, even cradling a sword of the country's make in his arms. After Phillips painted the portrait, Byron did not hold on to the costume much longer, instead sending it off to a wealthy Scottish woman by the name of Mercer Elphinstone. The outfit eventually made its way to the Museum of Costume in Bath, where it was shown for just two years, before being returned to the family who had allowed it to be exhibited. Three different copies exist of the painting: The original piece which hangs in the British Embassy in Athens, a 1/2 length piece painted in 1835 and hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in London, and a second, full-length copy which is still owned by Byron's old publishing company.
  • 11:54 PM

Abbey in an Oak Grove

Casper David Friedrich, Abbey in an Oak Grove, 1809
Caspar David Friedrich was a 19th-century Romantic painter. His paintings predominantly emphasize themes of barren weather, turmoiled nights and gloomy surroundings filled with gothic ruins, symbolic of the ruin of society. Religion influences Friedrich’s style, as shown by the recurring symbols of church and nature. In Abbey in an Oak Grove, the church, visibly decayed a, dominates a scene consumed by dark colors and foreboding imagery. Given the fact that religion once offered people a purpose, the church from Friedrich’s painting now brings people to their final resting area, a cemetery.

To Friedrich, this scene could simultaneously stand for multiple things. One way to look at the painting is the decline of the old Church, leaving behind only monuments of the faith that once sustained it. At the same time, nature reclaims its place as it once was. The trees now grow where gardens and chapels once stood. Doomsday has arrived. Friedrich loved to paint scenes set with reminders of mortality, giving the painting a mystical feel through death. It’s no wonder David d’Angers, a famous french sculptor, said Friedrich had “discovered the tragedy of landscape”.
  • 8:07 AM

Destruction of Sodom

J.M.W. Turner, Destruction of Sodom, 

 Joseph Mallord William Turner was an English painter notorious for his original stylings. He travelled widely in Europe, and his landscapes became increasingly Romantic as he aged. Turner loved the paintings of Nicolas Poussin.. Poussin, a classical French artist, painted clear works that continued to inspire contemporary artists, including David, Ingres and Cezanne. Turner was first introduced to Poussin’s work through French Salons, which exhibited the late master’s work for contemporary artists to admire. While traveling around Europe and Britain, Turner would record the effects of sea, sky, mountain, and plains in water color. He continued to produce a series of water color studies, which were used as engravings, throughout his life, exemplified through his works the Rivers of France and Rivers of England. He became professor of perspective at the Royal Academy from 1807 and deputy president in 1845.

The story of Turner’s painting is inspired by Book of Genesis. It shows Lot and his two daughters fleeing the city of Sodom as “the Lord rained brimstone and fire” (19:24) in retribution for his people’s sins. People deteriorate and visibly melt into the smoky and ashy background. Even the sky geometrically collapses onto the fallen citizens, further pushing perspective closer to the crumbling ground of Sodom.
  • 8:02 AM

The Raft of the Medusa

Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa, 1818-1819
Géricault contemplates alone for hours over his newest work. The year is 1819, and Géricault has just returned from a long trip to Italia. He has viewed many artistic wonders by Michelangelo that have inspired him, but he cannot seem to find an event worthy of his talent. Suddenly inspiration strikes Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa. Waves crashing, figures begging and praying, hope just over the horizon, this horrific drama truly captures the eye of the public. The Medusa was a clumsy 40-gunned French frigate that was decommissioned and converted into a ferry. Of course this misfit ship needed a captain, who better than Hugues Duroy de Chaumarevs, who had not been at sea in over 20 years. Needless to say, Chaumarevs was a little rusty at the whole captain thing. On his journey to Senegalese he commanded the Medusa and a convoy of other ships carrying a load of citizens. The goal was to return to Senegal after its return to French control.

In attempt to arrive at a reasonable time, Chaumarevs steered the Medusa far ahead of the other ships in the fleet. In addition to this, Chaumarevs conceived the brilliant idea to beach the ferry on a sandbar far from the African coast. Finally Chaumarevs re-thought his brilliant plan. “Well, I guess we should fix this,” Chaudmarevs probably said to the crew who were certainly overjoyed with the situation. Many attempts to free the ship failed, so a makeshift raft was constructed as transport to the shore. Like the captain of the ship, this raft couldn’t do its job. So when a storm begins to hit, the people panic. The few lifeboats are taken and the raft is filled. Seventeen men stay behind on the Medusa as the raft bobs to its doom. Only 15 suvivors are found from the raft. This chaotic tragedy was just what Géricault needed. When one views one of Géricault’s greatest works they can feel the suspense of rescue. Unfortunately, hope doesn’t come for everyone.

  • 12:00 AM

Death of St. John the Baptist

Eugene Delacroix, Death of John the Baptist, 1858
Eugene Delacroix learned how to paint in an interesting way. He was self taught by traveling to the Louvre in Paris and copying famed work. The amount of work that he created during his lifetime well exceeds 3,000 pieces, including Death of St. John The Baptist. The setting of this painting was to be about the beheading of St. John the Baptist  The Gospel of Luke states that the birth Jesus was announced by the angel Gabriel, and John's mother was but three months from giving birth to John.

St. John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod Antipas. Herod imprisoned John because John criticized Herod for divorcing Phasaelis, his wife, along with stealing Herodias, Herod's sister in law. A party was thrown in celebration for Herod's birthday. Herodias' daughter, Salome, entertained the king and his guests by dancing in front of them. Through Herod's drunkeness, he promised Salome one thing that he wished for, and he said he would fulfill it. It was then that her mother, Herodias, told her daughter to ask for the head of St. John. Herod agreed to this request and followed up his promise by executing John.
  • 12:00 AM

The Fifth Plague of Egypt

                J. M. W. Turner, The Fifth Plague of Egypt, 1800
Exhibiting his first work at the Royal Academy at the age of 15 in 1790, J. M. W. Tuner showed several pieces at the Academy before being elected as a member in 1802. Like many of his early works, the motive behind The Fifth Plague of Egypt may have been to impress and display his talent to the academy. It was the twenty-four-year-old’s first historical painting and the largest canvas he had attempted, measuring at four feet by six feet. 

The Fifth Plague of Egypt was the extermination of Egyptian livestock, sparing the cattle that belonged to the Israelites, depicted at the bottom of the canvas. Turner’s portrayal has led several people to believe that it has been mis-titled because it contains elements of the sixth and seventh plague. The sixth plague, Plague of Boils, involves Moses taking two handfuls of soot and spreading them into the sky, which seems to be depicted at the bottom-right of the painting. Turner’s stormy sky could also hint to the seventh plague, hail. 

Many arguments have been made, both sides using the Bible as evidence. The light which spots the cattle at the bottom center of the painting helps the argument that the piece is titled properly, that the fifth plague is coming to a close and the sixth plague, where Moses spreads soot, prepares to take place, while the stormy sky acts more as a foreshadowing of the hail to come.
  • 1:00 AM

All Souls

John Nash, All Soul's, 1822-1824
In the latter-most part of his architectural career, John Nash designed two churches of entirely different stylistic constitutions. The church that would receive the brunt of the criticism from his contemporaries, All Souls, would later find itself critical acclaim. Now, in the modern view, we can recognize the transcendence All Souls realized. Not only does Nash’s All Souls provide architectural ingenuity in its construction, but also in its ability to marry the two streets of Regent and Portland Place. It is through this adept marriage of the two streets that Nash exhibits his prowess.

At first glance All Souls’ primary vistas sharply tuck away the body of the church. But this “tucking away” effect has been achieved and compounded through the making of an ideal link beginning with the steeple and portico. All Souls’ steeple can be best described as the corrugated tapered kind, and is enclosed by peristyle of Corinthian columns.

Alternately, the capitals of the portico are comprised of an intricate meshing of the Ionic order. The capitals’ material consists of Coade’s pale terra cotta. An interesting removal of the structure’s original balustrade still leaves critics at a quandary, but it should be noted that the balustrade was made of similar material as the capitals – this can be discerned since the balustrade was removed shoddily.

All Souls’ interior adheres to the customary design of its contemporary Classical churches. Yellow marble columns meet its cornice while the gallery covers three sides. The high ceiling has a coffering effect about it and has been elaborately decorated with plaster moldings and sizable rosettes. The organ case, marble font, and Communion balusters can all be attributed to Nash’s original plan.

Around the middle of the Second World War, a bomb crashed through the roof of All Souls. This crash effectively destroyed the church’s interior and smashed the uppermost section of its spire. Credit for its repair should be given to restoration artist, H.S. Goodhar-Rendel.
  • 1:00 AM