Painter on the Road to Tarascon

Vincent Van Gogh, Painter on the Road to Tarascon, 1888 
An Expressionist in the 20th century, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner committed suicide in 1938. The previous year, Kirchner’s art, numbering around 600 pieces, was taken from public museums in Germany. They were all auctioned off or destroyed. All this in the name of the “cleansing of German culture,” which Adolf Hitler implemented when he came into power in 1933. Keen on tracking down corrupt art, including books, Hitler’s movement resulted in the destruction of mass amounts of paintings and literature.

The Entartete Kunst exhibit (the Degenerate Art exhibit) showcased art pieces temporarily spared from the burnings that were meant to provoke greater disgust toward everything unlike the German vision, specifically the Jews. Once labeled as a degenerate artist you were not allowed to paint, a law enforced by Nazi soldiers who would visit artist’s homes. Of the artists deemed degenerate, Kirchner was a victim to Hitler’s strict and enthusiastic control over art within Germany.

Other victims include Ensor, Matisse, Picasso, and Van Gogh. Painted in 1888, the Painter on the Road to Tarascon depicts Vincent Van Gogh, a lonely traveler on an empty road. Thought to be one of most cherished pieces lost in the war, it fell victim to German theft, resulting in its doom. Though it is unknown exactly how it was destroyed, many believe it to be a casualty in the allied bombings of Germany during the war.
  • 12:00 AM

La Goulue Arriving at the Moulin Rouge

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec,
La Goulue Arriving at the Moulin Rouge, 1892 
She walks into the room. Everyone turns their heads. The sound of her swishing skirts seem to drown out the music of the band, the loud salon music that reverberates off of the Moulin Rouge's crowded interior. The Belle Epoque is in full swing, and La Goulue reigns over Paris as its high-kicking queen.

Louise Weber would not have achieved such celebrity without some help from her artistic friends, especially Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. He adopted La Goulue ("the glutton") as his muse, immortalizing her image in paintings that lined gallery walls and posters that littered the streets of Paris, advertising her as the forward dancer with free-flowing skirts. Lautrec glorifies the movement that La Goulue embodies in her dance. This mastery of subject is the product of years spent together, considering he followed the starlet from her debut to the end of her fame. Even when La Goulue isn't dancing in his depictions, Lautrec manages to evoke a sense of lively movement and a certain unrestrained spirit.

Lautrec combines the sense of grand entrance with a spirited personality in La Goulue Arriving at the Moulin Rouge. The lady occupies most of the portrait's space, framed by her gentleman dance partner to the left and her sister to the right. The viewer can admire both her wily red hair and unmissable decolletage from beyond the painting. However, if the viewer dares to stare too long, s/he may encounter the gaze of the subject. Her eyes appear tired, but once combined with the pursed lips, an appearance of a smirk begins to emerge on her famed countenance. In regards to movement, Lautrec achieves a sense of chaos ready for release by painting furiously brushstrokes across the fabric of her dress, criss-crossing every which way. Obviously, La Goulue cannot be contained. Let the entertainment begin.
  • 12:00 AM

Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin, The Midday Nap, 1894
Vincent van Gogh was a post-impressionist painter who was best known for the famous story that is taught in early elementary school art class. Throughout his painting career, he met and painted with interesting artists, including Paul Gauguin. Paul Gauguin was also a post-impressionist painter who specialized in simplified shapes and color harmonies. Gauguin was invited to stay with Van Gogh in Arles. When he arrived, the two artists started to paint vigorously together. They even painted portraits of each other and recreated each others paintings.

In recent years, German art historians claim that the old story of Van Gogh cutting off his own ear is false.  These historians claim that the true story never arose because the two, very close, painters kept a pact of silence. Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans claim that it was a violent sword attack executed against Van Gogh, not Gogh's madness that led him to his death. The old story claims that the artist cut off his own ear, wrapped in cloth, and then handed it to a prostitute the same night Gauguin fled from him after an unhappy visit. The German art historians claim that Gauguin exited Van Goghs house while carrying his fencing sword in hand. Gogh followed Gauguin  and tried to make things right after a recent fight they had which resulted in Gogh throwing a glass dining piece at him. As Gogh starts to approach Gauguin in a rapid pace, these historians claim that Gauguin turned and cut off his ear with his sword, in either a fit of rage, or in self defense. It is not known which story is true, but it is probably safe to say that the classical story most closely represents the actual situation.

  • 12:00 AM

The Card Players

The Card Players, Paul Cezanne, 1890-92 (The First)
Things are not always as they appear – a fact, which is evident in Paul Cezanne’s The Card Players. The painting is simple and beautiful, the colors are captivating, and the composition uses simple lines to create shapes and order in the painting. There are two different versions of The Card Players. The first and simpler version lacks the detail that the second does. It lacks the painting on the wall and the shelf with the vase. There is a young boy present in the second painting that is not in the first.

The Card Playrers, Paul Cezanne, 1890-92, (The Second)
The second painting is better. The colors are far more inviting and the wall makes the painting seem more full. This feeling of fullness contrasts with the child’s empty look. In the second painting the curtain takes on a larger compositional role. The first painting is clearly an unfinished work. Not only are there compositionally necessary parts missing, but also the young man who completes the story that the painting is telling is not present.

This young boy looks substantially different from the other three men in the painting. His skin is far more pale, and his clothes are not as worn. Cezanne included this boy to create a full circle. Compositionally the boy sits outside the group of men playing, his skin is less worn than the others and he stands out from the background.
He is the predecessor to the lives that these men lead, much like the painting
 without the background and without the wear is the predecessor to the one
with the background and wear.
  • 12:00 AM

The Bad Doctors

James Ensor, The Bad Doctors, 1892
A hysterically violent image of medical blunders and poor bedside manner, The Bad Doctors by James Ensor satirizes practitioners of medicinal "healing." The helpless patient, or rather, victim, sits to the right of the painting on what appears to be a gaudy yellow and blue bed, mouth open in a howl of agony. He raises a single fist to the air, a gesture which typically denotes anger more than pain. Around his neck there seems to be a noose of some sort, which pulls him sharply off toward the right of the painting, and his guts hang out of various open wounds, likely made by the doctors in an attempt to "cure" him of his original ailment.
Meanwhile, the doctors tasked with his treatment argue amongst themselves, brandishing their tools like weapons and involving their assistants in the skirmish. However, some assistants appear more loyal than others. While the nurse to the right attempts to restrain his employer, the one on the left carefully snatches his physician's pocket book. At some point in the brawl the three central participants became tangled in what appears to be the patient's intestines, bringing them to an impasse as the bowels ensnare their legs and feet.

Only two of the figures in the painting appear uninvolved in the proceedings. The appalled physician on the right throws his hands up in indignation at his associates' lack of concern for the patient, shouting in an attempt to calm the storm and redirect attention to the matter at hand. Directly opposite him stands the figure of Death. Death's placement in the painting, as well as his white garments make him easy to overlook amongst the chaos of the rest of the work. He lifts a hand gently, as if in an attempt to interject an opinion through all the commotion, however he goes unnoticed by the other characters in the piece. While certainly a frightening symbol, he does not take an intimidating stance; instead he appears to feel out of place, as if his work may have been cut out for him.

  • 12:00 AM

Bathers at Asnières

Geroge Seurat, Bathers at Asnieres, 1884
During the later parts of the 1870s, Seurat was a student of the French School of Fine Arts. It was this school that taught him to create sketches and drawings of subjects before putting them directly on a painting. It was thought that this method would allow a smooth preparatory phase in which artists could identify issues so that they could fix these problems and make the final painting closer to perfection.

Asnières is an industrial suburb west located at the Seine River. It is west of Paris. Seurat used live models and created 10 drawings as well as 14 oil sketches. Using these as reference, he created the painting. This painting was the first of Seurat's large scale compositions and came out of a long process.

Painted in 1884, Bathers at Asnières was created before Seurat came up with his pointillist technique. However, after a few years Seurat reworking the painting to include several dots of contrasting color to instill a more luminous effect.

  • 12:00 AM

The Death of Marat

Edvard Munch, The Death of Marat, 1907
Jean-Paul Marat has been immortalized on canvas by the likes of Jacques-Louis David, Pablo Picasso, and Edvard Munch. Depicting Marat on his deathbed, these artists see the event with unique perspectives, each bringing inimitable technique, experience, and emotion to the work of art. Munch, in his 1907 painting The Death of Marat, violently depicts the politician’s death, bringing his signature, horrific elements to a hackneyed subject.

At first glance, the blunt nudity of the two subjects is shocking. Never before have Corday and Marat been painted nude. Perhaps adding the infamous knife or sickly skin to Marat would allow the viewer to infer what is occurring in the painting. But without these tell-tale signs or class-defining garments to shroud the subjects, the viewer only sees two naked figures—one female, standing in the center of a room, one male, bleeding on a sheeted bed.

At closer inspection, one feels entrapped in a room of violent chaos. Long, hurried brushstrokes blur the composition. Each stroke escapes basic geometric boundaries, the muted reds and pinks of the coffee table extending past the round edge and into the space of the room. As the colors attempt to fill the entire composition, they are halted by a stark, ghost-like Corday. She halts all movement and pierces the viewer with her stoic gaze. To her left lies the ded Marat—a bleeding corpse tossed on a filthy bed. His arms and legs are fully extended as his head rests on his right shoulder, imitating Christ’s position at the Crucifixion. Munch’s decision to place him in this position further solidifies Marat’s “martyrdom.”

In an unusual yet intriguing depiction of the death of Marat, Munch plays with psychological aspects of art, conscientiously making the viewer feel trapped in a scene of violent bloodshed. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • 12:00 AM

A Modern Olympia

A Modern Olympia, Paul Cezanne, 1874.
The idea of the full-frontal nude painting was nothing new when Edouard Manet created his infamous Olympia. Titian, Giorgione, Goya, and Ingres had also painted a naked female, seductively stretched across a casually disheveled bed. So why did the painting received such brash criticism at its 1865 debut at the Paris Salon? Just like many artists of the period, Manet also sought to depict the life of the lower class, yet he took a slightly different route than the pastoral images of Millet, Courbet, and Daumier. Manet seduced his bourgeois and upper class audiences with an image of an attractive female, who simply happened to be a member of the proletariat. The idea of a poorer woman having such mystery and intrigue as Olympia disturbed viewers of the painting, and many were shocked at the prospect of such a woman having an abundance of partners sending her flowers and gifts.

Cezanne hastily created his response to the scandalous Olympia, painting something that gave the critics what they desired in the original by Manet, yet clearly mocking the level at which the painting was criticized. Though Cezanne's A Modern Olympia still portrays a woman sprawled upon an unmade bed, she seems ashamed of her seductive presence, and cowers in the white, cloud-like sheets. The servant, instead of bringing her flowers from one of Olympia's many lovers, tries to cover the poor, naked woman with the bedsheets, hiding her away from the critics to prevent another attack on the illegitimacy of a sultry member of the lower class.

A rich, older man sits on the sofa directly across from Olympia, watching as the servant cloaks the weak woman. Could it be her lover, finished with his work, relaxing on the couch and waiting for his next appointment for the day? Perhaps the man is a critic, happily watching as the low-class courtesan of Manet's Olympia becomes hidden away in the fetal position. The framing of Olympia in Cezanne's version of the painting draws the eye directly to her unclothed, shameful position, and regardless of the backstory of the image, Cezanne proves that the critics and bourgeoisie are still drawn to the mysterious story of the brazen woman originally portrayed in Manet's Olympia.
  • 12:00 AM

Le Suicide

Edouard Manet, Le Suicide, 1877 
"Singer left his luggage in the middle of the station floor. Then he walked to the shop. He greeted the jeweler for whom he worked with a listless turn of his hand. When he went out again there was something heavy in his pocket. For a while he rambled with bent head along the streets. But the unrefracted brilliance of the sun, the humid heat, oppressed him. He returned to his room with swollen eyes and an aching head. After resting he drank a glass of iced coffee and smoked a cigarette. Then when he had washed the ash tray and the glass he brought out a pistol from his pocket and put a bullet in his chest." 
- Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Beautiful in its own morbidity, Manet's Le Suicide significantly departs from the delicate forms of his well known nudes, such as Olympia, and replaces them with a horrific, yet calm, image of self-destruction. The man's position on the edge of the bed, and his decision to fire into his gut as opposed to his head denote a reluctance in the act. However, his facial expression seems to be one of bewilderment, more so than pain or regret. He gazes up at the ceiling, towards the sky, and thus towards "heaven." These elements, combined with what is believed to be a painting of a monk on the back wall, and the placing of his body, have led some to believe that the piece represents the crucifixion of artists, with possible autobiographical sentiments from Manet.

Manet had a fondness for creating portraits of Jesus being accosted, such as in his piece Jesus Mocked by the Soldiers. His fascination with such scenes seemed to go hand in hand with the poor reviews that he received throughout his career. The constant flow of negative reviews and the stress from not meeting expectations led Manet to sympathize with to figures such as Christ, who took on unspeakable pain for others. Manet, some claim, seems to be suggesting through works such as Jesus Mocked by Soldiers and Le Suicide that the burden of the artist was similarly painful. John Singer, the deaf-mute protagonist from Carson McCullers masterpiece The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, feels this same burden when he is given care of the trust, hopes, and downfalls of four people in a Georgia town. In the end, the burden, as well as his loneliness lead him to take his own life. In much the same way, Manet seems to suggest that the burden on artists to create meaningful and popular works creates a weight that few can truly carry.

  • 12:00 AM

The Balcony

Edouard Manet, The Balcony, 1868-1869
Edward Manet’s 1868 oil painting, The Balcony, was first exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1869.  Obvious inspiration comes from Goya’s The Majas at the Balcony, which stems from the themes of class structure. Two intimidating male companions oversee two young and smiling upper-class women.  In The Balcony a stiff and awkward trio replaces the balanced quartette in The Majas at the Balcony. Manet also exchanges Goya’s sinister balcony setting for a spruced up minty green version. He seeks to express the life of the upper class, and succeeds in unveiling the rigidness beneath the poised façade.

The three polished subjects, who were all friends of Manet, seem disjointed, as if they were taken from other works and pasted together on the canvas. Berthe Morisot, on the left, sits like a romantic waiting for her suiter. Her piercing eyes are the most defined, but send gazes away from the viewer and off the painting. Antoine Gilement, a painter, displays a look of indifference and rigidity. Finally, a young violinist, Fanny Claus, seems completely uncomfortable with the entire situation. She stands holding her hand together and on her tiptoes as if she were to leave the scene at any moment. A small boy carrying a tray in the background is Manet’s son, Leon. Born out of wedlock to Suzanne Leenhoff, Leon, posed often for his father and was the subject in many of Monet’s paintings.

Adding Leon in the background of The Balcony slightly taints the sophisticated rigidity of the painting, but offers a connection to the artist that the viewer does not see within the subjects of the painting.

  • 12:00 AM

Day of the God (Mahana No Atua)

Paul Gauguin, Day of the God, 1893
Paul Gauguin returned to France from Tahiti in 1893, his declining health and financial situation greatly impacted his painting in the years to follow. In 1894, Gauguin painted a mere sixteen pictures. One of those paintings was Day of the God (Mahana No Atua), which depicts a Tahitian beach and a religious ceremony.

The painting represents a universal religion, with the idol Hina centered in the middle. The images all derive from Gauguin’s personal experiences in Tahiti and culminate in the landscape. Along the pool’s edge are three women, each representing the “Ages of Man” which include birth, life, and death. The birth stage has the woman in fetal position with her toes barley grazing the water. While, the life stage include the woman sitting up straight and feet fully immersed into the water. Finally the death stage has the woman completely turned away from the viewer, and the source of life in the picture, which is water.

Gauguin doesn’t show the viewer the exact purpose of this painting instead he incorporates numerous symbols and meaning throughout. “Don't paint too much direct from nature. Art is an abstraction! Study nature then brood on it and treasure the creation which will result, which is the only way to ascend towards God - to create like our Divine Master” a quote by Gauguin illustrates that painting was a religious meditation and a way to navigate through the questions he had. He allows for the painting to mean what the viewer wants and doesn’t attempt to impose his own idea on religion and philosophy on the viewer.

  • 12:00 AM

Madonna (Conception)

Edvard Munch, Madonna (Conception), 1895-1902
The bare Madonna twists and turns while in the throes of ecstasy. Sperm cells line the red border of the painting. A fetus-Jesus looks on his creation with a melancholy face. Mary has been stripped of all her holiness. What has life devolved into that would even make Christ wish He wasn’t born?

Death walked alongside Edvard Munch his entire life. Laura Catherine Munch, Edvard’s mother, contracted tuberculosis and promptly passed away in 1868. Munch was four years old at the time. Tuberculosis would proceed to take the life of Munch’s sister, the fifteen-year-old Sophia Munch, in 1877. Christian Munch, the father of Edvard, died in 1886. 1895 would see the passing of Andreas Munch, Edvard’s brother. Munch and Death became acquaintances in this time period, but never friendly ones.

Andreas’ death in 1895 coincided with Munch sketching Madonna (Conception). Munch’s tragic life had taken a toll on the artist’s faith. Munch had been raised a devout member of the Lutheran Church, which helped the rest of his family deal with Death’s constant visits though Munch found himself being less and less drawn towards Christianity. Instead, he found pantheism, a belief system where the universe is synonymous with God and possesses the holiness of God. Bordering on agnosticism, Munch wandered through life not giving much merit in Christ’s divinity, but Munch did approve of the overall message of Christianity. Munch’s Christ was one of love, but not divinity.

In 1902 Munch lost one of his knuckles. He had gotten into a fight with a rival artist that resulted in a gunshot wound in Munch’s hand. Tulla Larsen, Munch’s longtime lover, witnessed the fight and soon after left Munch. The couple had been together for many years, but never married do to Munch’s fear of matrimony and anxiety. 1902 was also when Munch had the sketch of Madonna lithographed. Munch then colored in several different versions of Madonna. The work had been finally completed.

Munch leaves Mary with almost no indications of who she is. One subtle hint at Mary’s divinity would be the red halo above her head. Mary, the sperm, and Fetus-Jesus are colored in with a pale white that suggests purity, but white could also indicate frailty. Fetus-Jesus looks starved and unhealthy. The world of unending earthly horrors seems too much for the little guy. Munch wished to impose his own depression on Christ to see if He could take it. In Madonna (Conception), He cannot.
  • 12:00 AM

The Storm

Edvard Munch, The Storm, 1893
In 1893, a large storm hit Aasgaardstrand, Norway causing a huge stir. In a more expressionist, than post-impressionist painting, Edvard Munch recreates this psychologically damaging scene (much like his other paintings). Positioned similarly to The Scream, the women, faceless, stand awestruck in horror, giving off as much coldness as surrounds them. In contrast, the bright windows give "off the only source of light and warmth."

His representational way of painting comes through clearly in the surrounding objects. The woman's hair, a mere slash of oil, blows frantically back with the huge gusts of wind. Perhaps their anguish can come from the society in which they don't want to participate, or are excluded from. Standing apart from sea and the house, almost lost between land and ocean, the women clump together in fear and disillusion. The encasing-like black line that surrounds the further back women make them into one. They blend together, much like society did giving them no more than a name and a husband to care for. As for the woman in white, her dress acts to lift her off the ground and float further away from society and become more refined.

The harsh brush strokes combine both expressionism and symbolism into a rough, but fluid tableau. While the sky is dusk and dreamlike, the harsh strokes still evoke the emotion of dread and fear. The sky mimics the rocky shore leading the viewer still towards away from society with the woman in white. Many later expressionists would later look to Munch for inspiration in a way to manipulate the scenery into jagged emotional trauma.

Munch evokes a nightmarish scene full of personal psyche drama and ideas that may be surfacing from his past and present life.
  • 12:00 AM

On the Banks of the Seine, Bennecourt

Claude Monet, On the Banks of the Seine, Bennecourt, 1868
Claude Monet’s On the Banks of the Seine, Bennecourt marks a shift in what was acceptable to paint. Previously, most art focused around a central theme or concept, often using symbolism to convey ideas. Monet and other impressionist artists broke away from the traditional formula and instead painted scenes of everyday life containing no additional symbols. Instead, they attempted to instill feelings of peace and appreciation towards the simple beauty of one’s surroundings.

This particular painting depicts a young woman enjoying a day of relaxation and boating. Monet’s masterful execution of the reflections makes this painting stand out. The reflected house appears to be shimmering and rippling. The tree branches dominate almost half of the painting, yet Monet manages to prevent them from feeling overbearing or obstructive. On the opposite bank, a couple can be seen, similarly enjoying the day. The beautiful molding of colors and the carefree simplicity of the painting fill me with a feeling of youth and tranquility. Monet shows one doesn’t need complex metaphors or symbols to create a sophisticated work. Nature will do just fine.
  • 12:00 AM

The Garden of Les Mathurins at Pontoise

Camille Pissarro, The Garden of Les Mathurins at Pontoise, 1876
Camille Pissarro was a French Impressionist painter. Although he was born on St. Thomas, an island in the US Virgin Islands, he moved the Venezuela at the age of 21. The Garden of Les Mathurins at Pontoise was painted in 1876, while Pissaro was living in France. This painting is primarily a landscape, noted for its definitive division of color. Joachim Pissarro, Camille Pissarro’s great grandson is a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. With regard to The Garden of Les Mathurins at Pontoise he stated, “Essentially complex, his work made use of a phenomenal imagination, an unusually rich, innovative visual mind, a vast curiosity about techniques of all sorts, a profound poetic sensitivity, and an unquenchable passion for painting, as well as a strongly defined set of intellectual positions.”

Pissarro had a unique set of interests and talents that are all apparent in The Garden of Les Mathurins at Pontoise, the most interesting of which is his imagination. This scene is breathtaking, the use of color, and the whimsical nature of the subject matter all allow the viewer to be swept into a world of wonder and beauty. The woman who stands in the right half of the painting twirls what seems to be a fan. This is the most captivating part of the composition. The mystery that it creates in the painting kept me sitting in front of it at the Nelson for hours. It could be simply a fan that shows the woman’s status in society, or it could be a ball that symbolizes the mystery of 19th century French life. The circle glows and creates an aura around the woman that is paralleled in the sky, which only adds to the light feeling of the painting.

It seems that at any moment the woman could place the mysterious circle above her head and fly away, leaving all her worries behind. Her feeling of freeness and serenity in the moment of flight would be much like the feeling of calm and relaxation I felt sitting with this work.
  • 12:00 AM

Lydia Leaning on Her Arms, Seated in Loge

Mary Cassatt, Lydia Leaning on Her Arms, Seated in Loge, 1879
But is it? Speculation exists as the to identity of the woman in this pastel by Mary Cassatt, created two years after the young artist's family settled in Paris. Lydia, the supposed subject of this painting, moved with Mary to Paris a few years before their parents to act as Mary's chaperone. She changes, however, from painting to painting. She's pictured first as a brunette with fringe bangs and a frown, then as a strawberry blond with an expectant face, and lastly as an aged spinster with tight, light brown curls.

So what does Marry Cassatt's sister actually look like? The answer may lie in Cassatt's final portrait of her sister before Lydia's death. Painted in 1881, Lydia at a Tapestry Loom illustrates a sickly, worn-out Lydia, bent over her work with an almost desperate concentration. Knowing she was to die, perhaps Lydia wished to produce as much as she possibly could before leaving her sister. She didn't possess the talent for painting like her sister did, and had no way of enshrining herself in her work. 

Lydia suffered from an illness that deteriorated her kidneys. A slow and painful death, Mary most likely saw her sister suffer for the beginning part of her painting career. Symptoms might have shown up as early as 1879, when Lydia Leaning on Her Arms, Seated in Loge, was created. Perhaps Mary's use of a model was purposeful. The subject looks happy, expectant, and completely at ease. Surrounded by the close confines of the theater box, Lydia thrusts herself into the light in order to be seen instead of slinking back into the shadows. Mary could be showing the world the Lydia she knew, before the onset of her illness. By using a model that captured not Lydia's form, but her spirit, Mary pays tribute to her sister in the only way she knows how. 

  • 12:00 AM

At the Races in the Countryside

Edgar Degas, At the Races in the Countryside, 1869
Back in the 1870s day, Cassatt and Degas were a dynamic duo. The American full of spitfire and creative urges fell in love with his paintings and later wrote, “The first sight of Degas’ pictures was the turning point in my artistic life.” The two maintained a lasting friendship that provided artistic and mental support, despite their often clashing personalities.

Degas inspired Cassatt, who continued to venerate his work throughout her own artistic career. This becomes evident in Driving (1881), a painting that draws heavily upon Degas’ At the Races in the Countryside (1869). Cassatt’s interpretation focuses on the family within the carriage, carrying her maternal motif, while Degas incorporates more of the surroundings.

The key difference between the two pieces is color. Cassatt creates a dark background, keeping her figures light and rosy, while Degas paints a light and airy background contrasted by the dark horse and carriage. Degas’s light blue and pea green are superior to Cassatt’s dark tones. Additionally, Degas expands the painting and including more than just the main subjects, creating a more interesting composition. Unfortunately for Cassatt, the grasshopper has not surpassed the master.
  • 12:00 AM

Luncheon on the Grass

Edouard Manet, Luncheon on the Grass, 1863
Édouard Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass stands out to me as one of the finest examples of impressionist era pieces because of Manet’s freshness, attention to his audience, juxtaposition of figures and setting, and willingness to paint the taboo. French citizens first got a taste of Manet’s thought-provoking, scandalous work in 1863. Two finely dressed gentlemen sit back comfortably, immersed in discussion, seemingly unmindful of the two naked women that encircle them.

The brilliance of this work, like most impressionist era paintings, stems not from the technical precision of the composition, line, perspective, form or figures like the classical masters delivered. Rather, the work's raw brushstrokes, harsh lighting and rough qualities seem to provoke and shock the viewer, who Manet intends to catch off guard.         

The painting, ironically, exudes a level of tranquility that seems unfit considering the subject matter. Manet juxtaposes the figures by clothing the men while scantily dressing the woman bathing and leaves the works foremost figure completely bare. Manet challenges the audience to judge the women, as if they are saying, “Yes, we are enjoying our perfectly peaceful picnic naked, what are you going to do about it?” By choosing a serene forest scene, Manet illustrates that the real abnormality comes from the clothed men. Indeed the nude women seem to belong more in this setting.
  • 12:00 AM

Gare Saint Lazare

Claude Monet, Gare Saint Lazare, 1877
Gare Saint Lazare, with its iron beasts emitting clouds of smoke and steam, was an ideal location for Monet to paint the effects of light on surfaces. Monet painted the station differently from his contemporaries, although the technique of painting subjects at different times was not implemented until the 1890s. Monet painted at least seven canvases of Gare Saint Lazare at different angles. The Paintings appeared in the third impressionist exhibition in 1877.

Monet’s representations of Gare Saint Lazare depict his turn to urban landscapes while painting the modern life that Zola encouraged artists to portray. Before moving to England, Monet lived in the suburbs of Paris and took the train into this station. He attempted to create the atmosphere that he felt in the presence of this new industrial terminal. Monet focused less on the iron of the building or train, but showed the altered light of the skylights reactivity with its surfaces amongst the steam. Eliminating line and details, Monet focused most on capturing the smoke that escaped the trains' furnaces.

Although Monet would later paint structures, Gares Saint Lazare was his last depiction of an urban setting. He would continue to experiment with the effects of light on his subjects until his death.
  • 12:00 AM

Père Tanguay

Vincent Van Gogh, Père Tanguay, 1886
Van Gogh's painting of Julien "Père" (or father, as he was called by younger artists) Tanguay shows an elderly man sitting in his shop's gallery of art.

The wall contains quite the collection of Japanese art, which Tanguay loved. In his shop, Tanguay sold a multitude of objects to artists. These included canvas, paints, brushes, and other materials. Vincent Van Gogh, through the help of Julien Tanguay, met a variety of famous painters, such as Seurat, Cezanne, and Gaugin (with whom he formed a much discussed friendship).

Tanguay sometimes even helped Van Gogh and other financially limited painters by giving them art supplies. Van Gogh always appreciated and respected Tanguay, and thus painted him as a kind-hearted man living life in a laid back style.

Van Gogh actually painted Julien Tanguay three times. Critics said of the first painting that it makes Tanguay look like a workman rather than an art dealer, as Van Gogh primarily used brown throughout the painting to create Tanguay's image along with a touch of red on his lips and green on his apron.

Van Gogh later started to experiment with brighter colors and applied this new trend to his second and third paintings of Tanguay. Julien Tanguay himself decided to keep the first of the paintings, perhaps due to a preference for the use of brown. He may have seen himself as a workman.
  • 12:00 AM

The Gardener

Georges Pierre Seurat, The Gardener 1882
Dying at the age of 31, Seurat had a short career. He was meticulous, well-planned out, and slow working, due to these reasons he created only 10 major works throughout his career. One of which, The Gardener, painted in 1882, displays impressionist brush strokes from his earlier work. Like other impressionist, Seurat deviated from the typical “rules” of painting. He tackled paintings more freely, executing them without much use of lines to guide him.
              In classic impressionist fashion the subject matter of The Gardener is one of an everyday peasant life. The brush strokes are thin but visible, depicting the light accurately. There is little mixing of the colors throughout the strokes, adding to the lightness of the painting. The strokes create movement throughout and ordinary scene.

The way in which color is depicted in impressionist paintings changed as well. The introduction of the primary and complimentary colors influenced Seurat and other impressionist painters. Later in his career, Seurat breaks down color schemes in a letter. He explains how red compliments green, orange compliments blue, and yellow compliments violet. In The Gardener, yellows and purples are used throughout to complement each other. Although Seurat is often thought of as a post-impressionist painter, his early work certainly shows much influence of classic impressionism. 
  • 12:00 AM

The End of the Working Day

Jules Breton, The End of the Working Day, 1886-1887

Just who in the hell is Jules Breton?

I certainly didn’t know when I stumbled across his work in a book laden with masterpieces from heavyweights Millais and Courbet. Though much less famous, Breton’s realist paintings have a certain element that those of Millais and Courbet lack: accurate depictions of rural life tinted by humble genre techniques. This combination thoroughly moves me in The End of the Working Day.

Much like his subjects, Breton labored tirelessly, although in a much less physical manner. Born and raised in northern French countryside, the prodigy traveled to places like Ghent and Paris so he could develop his skills among the most talented. As a young adult, Breton experienced a rude awakening provided by cosmopolitan Paris and its flourishing artists. Poor Breton struggled to find his place with the city-folk, which caused him to dwell upon his provincial past.

His upbringing comes to life in The End of the Working Day, a simple yet stunning tribute to the toils of farmers. Millet’s gleaners may personify the backbreaking work, but Breton’s workers emerge bathed in the colors of dusk, triumphant after a day filled with drudgery. The flowers, the composition, the palette—all combine to form an utterly peaceful painting. It was this piece that occupied my thoughts as I sat at my grandfather’s funeral. It reminded me of him in many ways, from the diligent work ethic of the peasants to the idyllic countryside, similar to the Kansas farm his family owned. Most of all, the beautiful rays that permeate the artwork brought to mind my grandpa’s love of sunsets. I listened to the minister talk about my dad and granddad, and how the two of them would admire those stunning skies together, even from hospital windows. Breton’s The End of the Working Day celebrates that precious moment: the calm and lovely flash when nature bids farewell. 

  • 12:00 AM

Paris Street; Rainy Day

Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877.
With the rise of Realism and photography in the realm of nineteenth century art, painters turned to what they knew to create: miraculous works of art. This is exactly what Gustave Caillebotte executed with his 1877 oil-on-canvas piece Paris Street; Rainy Day. The painting portrays a couple walking along the rue de Turin in Paris, France, located just around the corner from the Saint-Lazare train station. Not so coincidentally, this spot could be viewed from the window of Caillebotte's Paris study.

Though the setting of the painting provides interesting historical background, the technique makes the painting incredibly captivating. At first glance, the brushstrokes differ drastically from the strategically placed geometric splotches of Cezzane or the smoothed figures of Degas, yet his sweeping brushstrokes (as evident in the cobblestone road) uniquely emphasized the exactness of the Parisian architecture.  However the most interesting aspect of the painting is his use of focus to simulate photography with his painting. Caillebotte creates symbiosis between the architectural accuracy of the scene (such as the detailed scaffolding of the newly renovated buildings in the background) and experimentation with optics. The couple in the foreground of the painting has a slightly unfocused appearance, drawing the eye to the other complexities of the painting.

Caillebotte's Paris Street; Rainy Day represents a bold response to the changing artistic realm, and brought an interesting and wildly different perspective of a modernizing Paris. The painting strayed away from many of the brightly colored paintings of the Impressionist movement and instead used a fisheye effect to create complexity. As far as many reactions to photography were concerned, Paris Street; Rainy Day epitomized this Impressionist goal.
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Le Chahut

Georges Seurat, Le Chahut, 1888-89

Le Chahut, by Georges Seurat, spotlights a group of burlesque, can-can dancers. The artist emphasizes the frail femininity of the female dancers by starkly outlining their slim forms and exaggerating their movements by using subtle blues to draw attention to the folded creases in their dresses. To compose his image, Seurat combines contemporary Parisian culture to heighten the aristocratic aura of Le Chahut. After thoroughly studying Charles Henry’s novel, Introduction to a Scientific Aesthetics, Seurat combines the author’s philosophical discussion of color and movement into his burlesque-themed painting. Henry contends that a painting’s upward movement heightens the happiness of its audience by literally "uplifting their sentiments."Similarly, he asserts that the transformation of cool to warm colors has a similar sentimental effect. Seurat highlights the poise of his dancers and the focus of light on his stage by arranging cool blues and downplayed yellows in a composed fashion throughout his piece. Seurat’s admiration of Degas, as emphasized by the audience’s perspective from behind the orchestra, also summarizes contemporary, high-class Parisian trends.

In response to Seurat’s rendition of Parisian culture, the painter received vehement curses from journalists who condemn the painting for its lack of religion and propriety. Modern day scholars revisit the piece and critique Seurat’s lack of grace in incorporating movement into his painting referring to the dancing as overbearing and escalating in gaudiness. Others see Seurat’s work as a stroke of genius, commending the neo-impressionist for reincorporating movement into impressionism.
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The Millinery Shop

Edgar Degas, The Millinery Shop, 1879-84
In The Millinery Shop, Edgar Degas looks through a window at a young girl busy at work. Just like his other paintings of dancers, jockeys and laundresses, Degas gazes into the world of an average person doing an extraordinary thing: living life. Both Degas and his subject become fully invested in their artistic job.

Between the 1860s and 1890s Paris was facing a financial crisis in part due to the Franco-Prussian War. The sinking popularity of small specialty shops to larger mall-type stores caused millinery shops such as these to shut down. This large period of change transformed Paris into what it is today, even going from 12 to 20 arrondisements. Leading up to La Belle Epoque was full of demolition as seen in photos by Charles Marville and reconstruction.

Setting up the scene for Degas's Millinery Shop, X-rays show that Degas had first starting painting the girl as a fancy dressed customer. By, instead, setting the girl as a working class hat maker with pride, Degas shows the pride in the progress of Paris, and it doesn't hurt to say that Degas thought that hats were the utmost sign of the bourgeois woman. The making of hats for the bourgeois in a failing economy shares a unity between the past and the future. Like both Paris and the painting, what was once all egocentricity, becomes "creation and consumption."

By the 1870s, Degas's eyesight began to fail him, and he used more pastels. He did a series of millinery and jockey paintings, but this one gained the most recognition. The two contrasting sides, the finished hats on display and the girls unfinished work, have a beautiful flow of progress. In The Millinery Shop, Degas scraped and repainted the girls hand and hat-in-the-making multiple times to put it in motion. Sort of like the painting, neither piece of work gets completely finished.
  • 12:00 AM

Hide and Seek

Berthe Morisot, Hide and Seek, 1873

Berthe Morisot was not only a career woman, but also a loving wife and mother. Unlike many female artists who were forced to give up either their careers or hopes of a family, Morisot had the best of both worlds. In her painting, Hide and Seek she depicts a mother playing with her child. The mother is Berthe’s sister Edma, and the child is her daughter. Both Edma and Berthe were given painting lessons at a young age and both went on to paint, yet once Edma became pregnant she decided to leave her painting behind. Some critics infer that Berthe at times envied her sister’s freedom, as oxymoronic as it is. Berthe was given the freedom to be a painter,yet longed at times to be a mother to her daughter and a wife to her husband. She did not want the pressure she felt as a painter to effect her home life, and keeping business and family separate was a daunting task. 

The painting is characteristic of Morisot, and many other women impressionists, a loving bond between a mother and child. The impact her friendship with Manet had on her painting style is clear here. She met Manet in 1868, and this was painted in 1873. The mother and her child are camouflaged in nature; the viewer cannot tell where the grass ends and her dress begins. In Morisot’s fashion the brushstrokes are quick and almost whimsical. The feeling of the painting is very serene and peaceful. It encompasses Morisot’s feelings about motherhood and painting, pure joy. Morisot is a remarkable painter, more talented than anyone could have given her credit for. 

  • 12:00 AM

Parade de Cirque

Georges Seurat, Parade de Cirque, 1887-88

Seurat’s Parade de Cirque (1888) is the third to last canvas in his short career. Inspired by sketches he made when visiting Fernand Corvi’s traveling circus in the spring of 1887, Parade de Cirque stunningly depicts a circus tableau at night.

Seurat uses pointillism as a way to cast a thin mist over the scene, giving it a show like, perhaps sleazy, quality. Under the glow of the stage gaslights, a performance unfolds. In his first nocturnal painting, Seurat does a fantastic job using light, or the lack thereof, to his advantage. The facial details of the stage performers are indistinguishable in the light of dusk. The highlighted characters are the spectators, each with a gentle angelic glow around their heads. The hats of the audience give the foreground a buoyant feel, the eye bopping along from one bowler hat to the next. A parallel effect is exhibited by the gaslights above, light exploding in small, powerful bursts. This joyful feeling in the top and bottom of the composition is balanced by the somber and faded colors of the center backdrop.
The painting itself appears to have been stolen from an actual circus, the colors and texture mirroring a late nineteenth century canvas circus advertisement. Seurat’s Parade de Cirque is the first of his series on scenes of popular entertainment. Each painting in the series feels vibrant and alive as each character feeds off the energy of his surroundings. In this sense, Parade de Cirque ultimately allowed Seurat to solidify the technique of capturing of live entertainment and led to the magnificent Le Chahut of 1890. 
  • 12:50 PM

Morning on the Seine near Giverny

Claude Monet, Morning on the Seine near Giverny, 1897

Light pierces the tree line, but the shadows of night linger over the river.  Trees move according to the morning breeze.  The waters of the Seine capture all these in nature’s mirror.  The world has awakened. 

Claude Monet painted Morning on the Seine near Giverny in 1897 on a boat that he had converted into a maritime studio.  Monet worked on the Seine River series from 1896 to 1897. He would leave his house, located in Giverny, France, before the sun rose and go out on his boat to paint the same spot over and over again.  These paintings of the Seine showed Monet just how much light affected his art because each painting looks unique,despite their common background and composition. 

All paintings in the Seine series possess Monet’s blurry brushstrokes.  This out of focus collage of trees and water was typical of the Impressionist painters that Monet led.  The trees in Morning have no definite outlines and end in blobs of color.  This technique conveys the motion of the scene.  The trees shake in the wind and the river ripples as Monet’s boat and other forces disturb the water’s surface.  In Morning, Monet captures the constant movement and liveliness of nature.  The blurred movement in Impressionist paintings received inspiration from the newly made technology of photography.  When one moved while taking a photo, the picture would become blurred, ruining the photograph.  Impressionists saw a photographer’s mistake and used it to represent movement in art. 

Monet’s Morning on the Seine near Giverny may act as one in a series, but its use of light and shadows make it unique.  The early sun in Morning illuminates the top right hand corner.  The light pierces through the trees in a triangular shape, causing for a divide in the shading of the trees.  Where the light strikes the trees, the shadows that obstruct the onlooker’s view of the finer details in the trees disappears.  These aspects are also mirrored in the water’s reflections of the scene.  The final outcome happens to be a lack of the blurriness in the triangle of light that allows the viewers to find the literal end of the branches.  Monet’s experiment in lighting resulted in unique pictures of the same scene that all possess a staple of the Impressionist movement.
  • 12:45 PM

Parade de Cirque

Georges Pierre Seurat, Parade de Cirque , 1887-1888
One of Seurat's only night paintings, Parade de Cirque, or Circus Sideshow, explores Parisian circus life, a subject of many paintings and sketches at the time.  Using his trademark pointillist technique, Seurat documents the scene in an almost scientific fashion, as if he somehow knew that light exists in the form of tiny particles and wavelengths and wanted to document its effect on the crowd. 

Each dot serves to illustrate the smallest part of such a larger whole. The performers seem to glow from the halo of spots that emanate from the gaslights placed above them. The audience falls under the shadow of the stage, enthralled with the show of spectacular music and skill unfolding before them. The performers give off a haughty, almost distant, tone, like they truly are elevated above those watching them from below. This scene pulsates in front of the viewer in a hazy form, like a lens slightly out of focus. 

Pointillism embodies an almost obsessive search for the perfect color combinations. The act of painting in this style is geared entirely towards the viewer. The artist takes it upon himself to construct the most visually stimulating scene with pinpoint accuracy. The amount of energy and perseverance that goes into creating such a piece is mind-boggling. Viewing a painting like this, one can't help but feel grateful for the opportunity to witness such genius and innovation. In an age of automatic results, effort like this is sometimes lost on those who view it. But thumbing through any color theory textbook, one can see that ever dot of color is there for a purpose, and it's relative to those colors around it. Seurat's skillful management of such a busy medium garners him rightfully earned acclaim. He challenges the viewer to not only study the details, but also appreciate the big picture. 
  • 12:00 AM

The Ransom

John Evertt Millais, The Ransom, 1860
Sir John Evertt Millais was a major Pre-Raphaelite painter. Millais, D.G Rossetti, and William Holman Hunt founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) in 1848. The PRB can be seen as one of the most important art movements during the nineteenth century, even though it only lasted a couple years. Millais points to the new movement of the PRB by displaying a lack of emotion and rich colors that are exhibited in the painting.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood set certain goals such as emphasizing precise, almost photographic display of even still life objects, attempting to transform realism. They also focused on groupings of figures This was perfectly displayed in his painting The Ransom. Millais paints extraordinary detail on the subjects and focuses most of them on the center knight. A second part of Pre-Raphaelitism grew from the first part. The second part focused mostly on pictorial techniques that helped develop a more realistic atmosphere in the painting.
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