Street, Berlin

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Street, Berlin, 1913
Distortion, shadow play, and the focus on portraying raw emotion — German Expressionism embodied art’s use of these techniques in the early 1900s. But no one could foresee the odd series of events that would propel German Expressionism into the realm of modern cinema. Kirchner, his compatriots, and accolades triumphed over discrimination and persecution and brought new styles of expression into the art and film worlds.
Where one sees the most life, one can also feel the loneliest. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Street, Berlin illustrates (in an almost romantic way) how one can get lost in the city while being surrounded by people. Busy city folk encompass the man on the right, but he remains distinctly isolated in his space by the line running through his cane and back. Kirchner carved out a specific little space in Street, Berlin for the man to be alone. German Expressionists loved the idea of alienation and solitude (a reason why Kirchner would later move to Berlin, solely to get lost amongst the crowd, like the man in Street, Berlin). This depiction of loneliness in the city became the origins of the film noir.

Visually, German Expressionist paintings of the city could be snapshots from German film noirs or horror movies, besides the subject’s distorted forms. Both depict the darker side of city life and use shadows to illustrate people’s states of mind. One iconic example would be Fritz Lang’s 1931 film M. Peter Lorre’s character’s (a serial murder of children) shadow becomes a looming presence that bears down on the children he stalks. Another example would be F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922). In this, Max Schreck’s shadow engulfs the vampire’s victims just before he delivers his fatal kiss. But film noir became popular in Hollywood, U.S.A. around the 1940s. German Expressionism would have a larger impact at home before entering the U.S.

Kirchner belonged to a group called Die Brücke (German for The Bridge), which formed in Dresden around 1905. Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter (German for The Blue Rider) were the two schools of German Expressionism. Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky led Der Blaue Reiter in Berlin, while Kirchner and Emil Nolde dominated the Dresden art scene. Der Blaue Reiter had more abstraction and less scenes of city life in their art than Kirchner and his ilk’s. Marc’s works would more influential in works like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (a much more abstract film than M). But both groups would be labeled degenerate art by Germany’s new regime, the Third Reich.

The Nazi’s despised German Expressionism and devoted themselves to eradicating it from the German culture. They confiscated Expressionist works from museums and had all the Die Brückes and Der Blaue Reiters fired from teaching positions at the art academies. The oppression from the Nazi’s Reich would lead to Kirchner’s suicide in 1938. But before Kirchner killed himself, he burnt all of his paintings in his studio for fear that the Nazis would have that pleasure. With Hitler in control, many artists fled Germany such as Paul Klee (a member of Der Blaue Reiter) and Fritz Lang (a German Expressionist film maker). Fritz would go to Paris, and when that became occupied, the United States. Here, German Expressionism was viewed in Fritz’s films and helped influence American cinema. Even to this day, film critics claim Fritz Lang to be the godfather of modern cinema. And German Expressionism itself would again rise to power in the German media after the Nazi’s degenerate art show, which displayed numerous Expressionist works. The Nazis had intended for people to scoff at these paintings, but instead they fell in love with them, creating a cult following of the German Expressionists. After WWII, the German Expressionists would claim their place in art history.

  • 12:10 AM

The Match Seller

Otto Dix, The Match Seller, 1920
As a World War I veteran discharged of service after a neck wound, Otto Dix had first hand experience and exposure to the ugliness of war. As a post-World War I painter, he became known for his artistic criticisms of Weimar society.

Many of his paintings, such as this one, ridiculed the elite and showed the horrible conditions of soldiers and war veterans.

The Match Seller depicts a war veteran who has lost his arms, legs, and sight due to injuries. Despite the service he gave for his country (which was propagandized while the war was going on as a heroic effort that deserves recognition), the only attention he gets is a Daschund urinating on him. While this is going on, the wealthy citizens of Germany are walking around him in all directions as if he is just another beggar. Dix also emphasizes the stark difference in clothing: the legs of the citizens around the veteran depict fancy clothing, while the veteran sits crippled in tattered cloth. This veteran is not getting any respect or recognition.

Just as this match seller is disgraced and stripped of all respect, Otto Dix received the same sort of treatment (at least in a certain period of his life) after the Nazis took power. Hitler hated modern, and Dix drew special attention as a prominent voice in the anti-war movement, because of which he was stripped of his professorship at a German university. His paintings were quickly displayed in the Degenerate Art Museum in Munich. Many of them were later destroyed. After a few years, Otto Dix was drafted into the German military but soon became captured and put into a French facility for war prisoners. This lasted the duration of the Second World War.

After the war Dix did, fortunately, come back into painting and continued working until his death in 1969.

  • 12:00 AM


Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917
That belongs in a bathroom, not a museum.

 Scandalous and controversial, Fountain was rejected by the Society of Independent Artists in 1917; however, the rules of the society stated all entries would be accepted by those who paid the fee. Duchamp was on the committee board and secretly submitted his work. After the work’s dismissal, Duchamp decided to leave to board.

Dada became one of Duchamp’s numerous themes that he chose to incorporate in his work. While in New York, Duchamp gained notoriety within exclusive groups. Although the origins of Fountain are disputed, it is clear the piece instrumental. One story of Fountain’s creation comes from a letter written by Duchamp to his sister. He writes, “One of my female friends who had adopted the pseudonym Richard Mutt sent me a porcelain urinal as a sculpture.” There are two women who are rumored to have fit the description; Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven and Louise Norton.

The problem people saw with Fountain was the fact the artist did not create it. It was simply a urinal turned nighty degrees. Yet, people argued the artist did not need to create his piece; the beauty of it was that he picked it. Duchamp challenged people not to look at his piece and think of a bathroom, but look at it as a piece of artwork. That was the point of many of Duchamp’s ready-mades. Akin to the Dadaist movement that challenges authority, the idea of a ready-made challenged conformity. Unfortunately, Fountain was lost, or as many say thrown away by a janitor at the exhibit. That theory only reinforces Duchamp’s ideas that society was so set in their ways, it was impossible to change. 

  • 12:00 AM

I and the Village

Marc Chagall, I and the Village, 1911
Born in Belarus (then part of the Russian Empire), Marc Chagall studied first at St. Petersburg, then in Paris. Many critics describe his art as full of home imagery striving for Paris. While in Paris, Chagall was inspired by Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, and Surrealism. While his paintings stay true to his home, they are often painted in various different styles.

Chagall's earlier paintings represented the good and bad of human society such as birth, marriage and death. He used bouquets, lovers, crescent moons, chasidish Jewish life in shtetls and the emotional people of his small town in Belarus, as motifs. He is well renown for his stain glass windows at cathedrals such at Metz and Reims and the University Hospital in Jerusalem. Because of his Jewish influences, the Nazis targeted his artwork and put it in their exhibit as "Degenerate Art" where it had opposite effects of what the Nazis originally had in store.

Chagall had his own personal style: avant-garde Paris, and naive and poetic imagery.
At the time he went against mainstream modern notions and returned to the world of illustrating the bible like Fra Angelico. He strayed from the normal biblical imagery and headed more into patriarchs of the Old Yestament. For example he had many paintings of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. Many critics tend to sort Chagall's work into three categories. 1) The founders of Judaism, 2) Nationhood achievement of Joshua, Samson, David, and Solomon and 3) The solitude and integrity of the Prophets. When depicting the bible, Chagall prefers grandiose figures and the festive, joyous, erotic, familial, and miraculous aspects of Judaism. He interprets every verse for himself instead of for the public and draws from his heart and memory.

He tends to stick with bold bright blotches of color. Chagall's characters, while telling the story of a patriarch, also deal with the emotions from the ghettos of his hometown. There is no idealization of the human form, just raw, sincere, lumpy humans with folded hands.

After a lifetime of two marriages, 98 years of life, and religious refuge, Chagall died in France 1985.

  • 12:00 AM

Dennis Miller Bunker at Calcot

John Singer Sargent, Dennis Miller Bunker at Calcot, 1888
John Singer Sargent reached the apex of his fame through his portraiture, becoming a leader of his generation. Dennis Miller Bunker at Calcot, an example of Sargent’s informal studies and landscape paintings, portrays Dennis Miller Bunker in an impressionist style. Although Sargent was not known for impressionist paintings, he pays homage to Bunker by replicating his style. The painting fits into Sargent’s impressionist phase during the 1880s. The painting differs from Sargent’s usual portraits, because it is a genre painting. However, Sargent often painted genre paintings for his friends, the Boits, for example.

Sargent surrounded himself with friends and family. Like Sargent, Bunker enjoyed having a circle of both talented and successful friends. He met Bunker in Boston on his trip to America, where the two painters won commissions from the outspoken of Isabella Stewart Gardner. The two attracted each other with similar interests in portraiture and impressionism. Later, Bunker joined Sargent and his family in Calcot, England during the summer,where they painted together. Pictured are Bunker (left) and Sargent’s sister Violet (right). Sargent studied Bunker’s paintings and worked off  of his style. Similar to the Manet piece of Monet, in a style outside of his comfort zone, Sargent’s comfort level did not extend further than portraits, even though his talent did.

No paintings from this trip by Bunker have survived, presumably he destroyed them out of personal dissatisfaction. The trip allowed Bunker the chance to improve his skills, though,  for his return to Boston saw a series of paintings that displayed his understanding of impressionism. On December 28, 1890, Dennis Miller Bunker died of heart failure caused by meningitis at the age of 29.

  • 11:00 PM

Gustave Courtois in His Studio

File:Sulking - Gustave Courtois in his Studio by Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret.jpg
Pascal Adolphe Bouveret, Gustave Courtois in His Studio, 1880
Gustave Courtois in His Studio by Pascal Adolphe Bouveret features Courtois in his natural habitat. His colorful studio contains palettes, an intricate screen, and a quite eclectic couch. With the vibrant colors and motley assortment of possessions, a dark shape lingers over the dynamic scene. A mysterious woman in black peers knowingly over her shoulder at the reclining artist.

Adding versatility to the piece, Bouveret includes the reflection in the mirror. This reflection contains the opposite of the dark woman on the couch. A woman dressed in white sits, trapped in a frame, trapped in a mirror. She looks down at the other woman. The one in white has an open and inviting face, contrasting the completely veiled face of the lady in black.

To further create contrast, the cream-colored screen on the left opposes the dark brown wood on the right. The beams of light shining through the left-side window play off of the concealed window on the right. Who is this lady in black? Why does she act as a dark cloud overshadowing the rest of the painting? This woman is, in fact,  Gustave Courtois's mother. She was unwed and devoted her life to her son. She colored his life just how she colors this piece.

  • 12:00 AM

Rehearsal of the Pasdeloup Orchestra at Cirque d’Hiver

John Singer Sargent, Rehearsal of the Pasdeloup
Orchestra at the Cirque d'Hiver,
Rehearsal of the Pasdeloup Orchestra at the Cirque d’Hiver represents an abstract and bold work from John Sargent’s early career. The painting depicts a full rehearsal of Jules Etienne Pasdeloup, who conducted the orchestra for nearly three decades. Cabarets, operas and musical events abounded in Paris, and they were particularly popular among visiting American artists such as Sargent. This can be attributed to the lack of a language barrier inherent in music, and the fact that many concerts, such as the ones put on by Pasdeloup, were relatively inexpensive.

Sargent himself was a gifted musician, and his knowledge and feel of music shows through in the painting. The musicians appear darkened and faceless, while the instruments are brighter and stand out. The horns on the right are particularly electrifying, and the smeary brush strokes add to the energy. His rapid strokes of white for the sheets of music, on top of the black of the musicians and warm gray of the background create a sense of sound, as if the notes of the music come right off the canvas. This technique was unique for impressionist artists at the time and testify to his abilities as a multi-talented artist- a painter and a musician.

  • 12:00 AM

Madame X

John Singer Sargent, Madame X, 1884
John Singer Sargent was an American painter who loved his country but spent most of his life in Europe. Despite his American roots, early in his career he was was mainly active in French. Being the intense hard worker that he was, he focused mainly on portraits and landscapes. He was recognized as the “darling” of Paris until the scandal over the Madame X painting arose.

Madame X was a painting that was going to greatly impact and boost his fame as an artist and help his career. The subject was a Paris beauty named Madame Gautreau. Gautreau was renowned in social circles in Paris for her beauty. She had such tremendous beauty that most artist considered her to be apart of an “elite class” of women. She defined the new type of Frenchwoman, one who was defined by her sophistication.

This painting was hung in the upcoming Paris Salon in 1884. Reception of the painting was not exactly what Sargent was hoping for. The public in Paris could not stop talking about Madame X and the pose of Gautreau, whose right strap of her gown was hanging down off her shoulders. The painting caused outrage, and quickly destroyed Gautreau's public life, as she was mercilessly dogged by newspapers and gossip. After taking it down, Sargent repainted the strap on the subjects folder to face upwards. The scandal and portrait of Madame X did nothing but lower his fame in the city of Paris. It would take him years to get his reputation back.

  • 12:00 AM

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit

John Signer Sargent, The Daughters of Edaward Darley Boit, 1883
When examining The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit by John Singer Sargent, I am initially struck by the openness of the composition and peculiar placement of Boit’s four young daughters.

Sargent’s arrangement of the girls along with the large vases and rug fragments balances the work. The central segment occupies the focus of the painting in two ways. First, the rug creates hard horizontal and vertical lines contrasted by the distinct coloring of the rug and the floor. The rug comprises the majority of the lower right hand of the painting effectively cutting it off from the other parts of the piece. In this section, the youngest child stops playing with her doll and gives her full attention to someone, perhaps her father, facing her.

The second youngest daughter stands completely to the left and is cut off by the hard vertical line between her and the large vase separating the two rooms. Like her sister, she also stares blankly at the viewer. Hidden in the shadows of the back room stand the two eldest daughters. The second eldest daughter reflects her younger siblings body language while the eldest daughter fails to acknowledge anyone who may have just walked into the room and leans against the vase, unconcerned. The roles of the vases are important as they, along with color and placement of figures help to balance the painting. The red room divider balances the red dress of the second youngest girl standing to the left. Furthermore, the stoic expression and lifeless quality of the girls posing reminds me more of a still life than a family portrait. The girls almost blend into the surroundings and become a part of the room rather than individuals living in it. The maid-like clothing of the girls suggests perhaps their future domestic roles and furthers the notion of lifelessness. Sargent’s The Daughters of Edward Boit is more than just a family portrait. Through Sargent’s clever use of space, color, and positioning, he creates a surreal atmosphere leaving the viewer intrigued and oddly mystified.

  • 12:00 AM

Corridor in the Asylum

Vincent Van Gogh, Corridor in the Asylum, 1889
Vincent van Gogh’s painting of Corridor in the Asylum caught my eye with the depth in the center of the painting, which seeming like an endless reach.

This was Van Gogh’s depiction of the asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole in Saint-Rémy, where he spent twelve months near the end of his life and where he painted his oils of olive groves, cypresses and roses. The painting re-kindles the memory I have of my grandmother and how she has affected my life. My grandma was sick and there was nothing I could do. However, she was never negative, always smiling and keeping the mood filled with vitality - despite her age. From the angle in which we see the corridor the front pillars are in brighter and smoother colors; but they darken as the the viewer's sight travels the distance. My feelings of hope for the health  of my grandmother diminished as doctors and others said delivered their verdicts, but she would always find a way to make me think otherwise. 

Hasmukh Amathalal’s poem "Powerless" is my comparison towards this painting and my memories. The poem’s second half especially brings me back to the day’s when my grandmother would speak with me about pursuing my dreams and sticking to my morals. Amathalal writes, “I became powerless when you went somewhere” and “I land in problems when you leave.” My grandmother was my second mother figure, and I could speak to her when my mother was busy with work. She and my grandfather had been through a lot and always made me realize how lucky I am, “You are a great source of strength and power,"  every time I think things are bad I think of my grandparents and siblings and know that things will be okay. Her death had left me in tears and sorrow, but that sorrow was quickly triumphed after speaking with my mother and knowing that my grandmother would want me to use her lessons to strive and succeed.
  • 12:00 AM

Madame Pierre Gautreau

Antonio de la Gandara, Madame Pierre Gautreau, 1879 
I walked up the steps to the small museum, my feet tired from a day of exploring yet my eyes eager for visual delight. Charleston, South Carolina is a beautiful city for outdoor enjoyment, but I was able to drag my family into the seemingly solitary art museum in the state. We entered through the gift shop (Banksy reference intended), not quite sure what to expect of the stately Gibbes Museum, sparsely filled with elderly tourists. I kept an open mind and urged my parents and sister to be patient.

They were featuring Alfred Hutty in their "Artist Spotlight" collection, paying tribute to the local artist through his various watercolors, sketches, and oil paintings. Another part of the museum focused on local modern artists, such as Jasper Johns. We walked some more and stumbled upon more classic paintings, especially portraiture. I yawned and pressed onward. Then, my mother beckoned me. "Isn't this Amelie Gautreau?" she asked me excitedly. I commended her for her temporary art history buff status and attempted to plop myself down in front of Gautreau's stunning figure.

But alas, sit and stare I could not. There were no benches to be had. In fact, I had missed the painting in the first place because of its awful corner location. This larger-than-life portrait with its impressive contrast and notable subject wasn't even the focal point of the exhibit. Antonio de la Gandara had painted it in 1897, years after the Madame X ordeal. He made great effort to flatter the then 38-year-old social butterfly by placing emphasis on her distinct facial features and graceful being, rather than her aging body. For this reason, Antonio de la Gandara's Madame Pierre Gautreau became Amelie's favorite that she hung in her room. Ironically enough, this socialite who had once been the center of the Parisian universe has been reduced to a corner of a small museum in South Carolina. Madame X must be rolling in her grave about that horrific faux pas.
  • 12:00 AM

Muddy Alligators

John Singer Sargent, Muddy Alligators, 1917
John Singer Sargent was the leading portraitist in both Great Britain and the United States at the turn of the 19th century. But, by 1917, when Muddy Alligators was finished, Sargent’s propensity for portraiture had dwindled. During the decrescendo of his portraiture output, Sargent began to pull away from his usual medium, oil, in favor of experimenting with watercolor. Watercolor seemed to be more emotional for the artist; in fact he suspended his work on a commission for John D. Rockefeller just to paint Muddy Alligators, arguably to provide him with some sort of relief from his perceived banality of oil.

In accordance with Sargent’s virtuoso approach, he sketched this painting four times prior to the final. These alligators, encrusted with mud and clay, presented an extremely difficult subject to depict. The creatures appear to be wriggling, frightening, and famished. Sargent would attempt to bring these large reptiles to life by cutting the canvas to accentuate their teeth, use a wax applicator to denote texture – think scales – and liberally coat the canvas with broad strokes to highlight tree trunks.

We must also explore the political bent Sargent could arguably be taking with these six muddy alligators. Sargent painted this in 1917, nearing the end of The Great War. He paints six alligators, as well as six representatives for the European superpowers: Russia, Austria, England, Italy, France, and Germany. Furthermore, it is acceptable to argue that he uses mud to allude to the birth of a new warfare, trench warfare. Quite literally these alligators are coated in mud, presumably like the many soldiers who fought in WWI, and the shadows of the alligators are “crossing the pond” at the foreground – much like the tentacles of this war did.

  • 12:00 AM

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, John Singer Sargent, 1885-1886
John Singer Sergeant, an Italian-born painter, considered himself an American artist. The day before the Paris Salon of 1884 began he sat in a café imagining how his fame would skyrocket after the showing of his most famous work Madame X. Unfortunately for Sargent his portrait was not well-received and his obsolesce began. In the underwhelming wake of Madame X Sargent left for London, where he spent the summer rebuilding his image and career.

During his sabbatical in England, Sargent spent a considerable amount of time painting children playing in the summer. The outcome, of the months of contemplative and emotional time he spent observing the children, was his redeeming work Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. Sargent, who had established himself as a portrait painter in France and other parts of Europe began a departure form the norm in Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. In the present day Sargent’s style varies widely with a display of incomparable talent in each work. However, in 1887 when he showed the work at the Royal Academy in London, it was the beginning a massive display of technical range that we now associate with John Singer Sargent.

The painting radiates innocence. The two girls light lanterns in the early evening of a summer day in the English countryside. The flowers and their white dresses speak to a softer more vulnerable side of Sargent. While the Madame X painting rose to fame through its sexual undertones and dark colors, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose took a different path. Sargent was in a state of confusion. He expected to be making thousands for his portrait servies, but instead found himself in social and cultural exile hiding from the disgust and shock that followed the 1884 Salon.

From Sargent's shame and vulnerability came one of his most beautiful works. The flowers, the colors, and the aura the painting displays creates an experience rather than just a painting. Furthermore, Sargent’s emotional state while creating this masterpiece facilitated a more emotional and open painting. It is rare to see an artist with his guard down.

  • 12:00 AM

Henri Regnault Mort

Carolus-Duran, Henri Régnault Mort, 1871-1872

Just outside the great city of Paris the bodies of young French men are piled. All of the faceless soldiers rot as if forgotten. Amongst these uniforms in Buzenval Park lays an artist. Henri Regnault is that artist.  Henri Regnault did not live an extraordinary life. An aspiring artist born in Paris that studied hard and won Prix de Rome art award. Regnault’s many works all were attempts to recreate realistic likeness. Work’s like Automedon show Regnault’s skill through his muscular and wild depiction of his horses. His incredibly observant mind captured images as if it were an expressive camera.  The once-unique mind shredded by a single bullet, and Henri Regnault sinks slowly into a pool of blood, sweat, and sludge. War reduced the creator of Automedon to another dead soldier. The Franco-Prussian War ended Henri Regnault, but it did not erase his memory. Henri Regnault lives on through his creations and through the paintings and music devoted to him by his close friends and colleagues. Carolus-Duran paints Regnault shortly after his final moments. The painting is not violent or heroic. The scene appears peaceful. This is no soldier dying in a final stand against the enemy. This is a man who died before his time. We look upon this painting as if Carolus-Duran were giving us a glimpse into Regnault’s funeral. Duran opens the casket of the battlefield and there lies his fellow artist, Henri Regnault.  


  • 10:57 PM

The Kiss

Carolus-Duran, The Kiss, 1868
Embracing in a newlywed kiss, Carolus-Duran, painted himself kissing his wife in 1868. Carolus-Duran became well known for his portraits, this painting, however, has a particular uniqueness to it. It’s not a common subject matter, married life has never been much of a topic in European art. 

Typically, if couples are portrayed, they are displayed later in their relationship in a placed arrangement or in separate but matching portraits. This painting depicts the couple in an early and spontaneous moment in the relationship, as seen by the obviously thrown bouquet in the lower right-hand corner. The feeling of spontaneity comes when viewing this painting and therefore adds to the youthful romanticism taking place.

Carolus-Duran was a French painter and art instructor best known for his portraiture, many of whom were of women.  He studied at the Lille Academy and then at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In 1861 he visited Italy and Spain, and became influenced by the old masters, especially Velázquez. After returning to France, Carolus-Duran's first major success came with "The Assassination" in 1866, "The Kiss" followed in 1868. But, his most significant painting would be "Lady with a Glove," painted in 1869, which brought him fame, and launched his career as a successful portrait painter.

  • 12:00 AM

El Jaleo

John Singer Sargent, El Jaleo, 1882
Ole! The man tilts his head back and yells. Everyone spell bound by the beautiful dancer in the middle of the room. The dance has reached its height, as the audience is unable to turn away. This is El Jaleo, painted in 1882 by John Singer Sargent. The painting engulfs the viewer in its gigantic dimension - 93 x 138 inches, to be exact.

The scene focuses on the elegant and poised dancer, clad in Sargent’s famous white. She uses her skirt to mirror a matador’s cape. The room exudes sexuality and pride of being. The woman and men all succumb to the rhythmic steps of the dance, and unable to take their eyes of the fiery woman in the center. The low light illuminating the room only adds to the dream like quality of the painting. It's a beauty.

Sargent had accomplished his goal with this painting. He wished to bring his experience of the dance onto canvas. The scale of the painting gives the viewer a wonderful look into the art of Flamenco. Throughout his life, Sargent has a fascination with Spanish music and culture. Sargent loved the concept behind this painting, and was incredibly proud to display it at the Salon. His passion for art and dance collide in this as Sargent’s tells people to look beyond his portraiture career, The feeling in the painting is contagious; there is a care-free air about the entire thing. Although the figures are intense, they simply are absorbed in what they are doing. They, like Sargent, have fallen in love with this moment in time.

  • 12:00 AM

Lady with the Glove

Carolus-Duran, Lady with the Glove, 1869.
What comes to mind when you think "portraiture?" Perhaps you yawn, nonplussed by the thought of another painting of a rich woman sitting in her mansion. Maybe you laugh, finding pleasure in the uncomfortable facial expression of a subject that seems to be fighting his sheer agitation from the artist's time-consuming attention to detail. Prior to the late-nineteenth century enhancements to the realm of portraiture, this art form seemed boring in comparison to Titian's whimsical cherubs or David's intricate battle scenes. Yet suddenly, portraits became much more than simply a payment opportunity for struggling artists.

Portraiture became a mysterious glimpse into one's private life, bringing with it a story that intrigued viewers of every class. But the question remains: how did the artist reveal the subject without straying away from the intention of the painting? A painted portrait was the ultimate status symbol, and an artist could not reflect his subject in a bad light. Additionally, the unveiling of Manet's Olympia sparked a paranoia among affluent women - sparking controversy did not serve as a mark of popularity in the elite circles of European society.

Thus, only a truly skilled artist could execute a portrait that (a) met the expectations of its commissioner, and (b) had a distinct quality that instigated interest and acclaim. Carolus-Duran's Lady with the Glove serves as the perfect example of enlightened portraiture. The practically empty background draws the viewer to the beauty of its subject (which happens to be Duran's wife), and allows his gifted technique to shine in the intricacy of her dress and the life-like glint in her chestnut eyes. Yet what distinguished this portrait from the hundreds of others that had been submitted for entrance to the 1869 Paris Salon? Answer: a glove. The woman has mysteriously shed a pearly white glove from her right hand, and seems to be caught in the act of removing the other, as a single red flower lies on her tiny wrist. Suddenly, this seemingly somber image transforms into the epitome of seduction. Lady with the Glove provides the same sexy intentions of Olympia without offending the Parisian artistic community - a mark only given to the most skilled portraits. 

Though Carolus-Duran's portrait of his wife received praise, the sign of a truly revolutionary painting is the attempt by other artists to mimic its artistic inventiveness. Lady with the Glove was no exception to this. John Singer Sargent, Carolus-Duran's most skilled pupil, used the ideals of Lady with the Glove to complete his portrait of Amelie Gautreau. Sargent produced numerous sketches of Paris's most-celebrated American socialite, yet only one captured the same intoxicating combination of tact and seduction portrayed in Carolus-Duran's work. The simple slipping of a dress strap revealed the sexual liberty of Madame X. Despite its intense controversy, Sargent honed in on the qualities of nineteenth century portraiture exhibited in Lady with the Glove - simplicity tinged with one small attribute that left audiences guessing. 

  • 12:00 AM

Arrangement in Black

Arrangement in Black by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 1882- 1884.
Janey Sevilla, popularly referred to as Lady Archibald Campbell, followed in the footsteps of every woman who married into high society by declaring her prosperous reputation through a series of portraits. Encouraged by her husband’s friendship with the artist, Lady Campbell posed against a black velvet backdrop in James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s studio for over six hours, only to ensure her complexion is perfectly portrayed in the most aristocratic light. Draped in furs, Whistler’s portrayal of Lady Campbell boasts her reputation through her eyes, clearly gesturing to the warm fabrics that she cradles toward her body while simultaneously melting into the luxury of her background. The combination of her black dress with the identical shade of her surroundings shields her sexuality by confusing the feminine outline of her body with the shadows in the drapes.

In early May of 1884, Whistler wanted to display the portrait at the Grosvenor Gallery in Paris, only to be spited by the Campbell family, who claimed the portrait likened Lady Campbell to that of a common prostitute. Lady Campbell explicitly rejected the painting, refusing even to admire it after her husband’s expression of disappointment. Whistler evaded the Campbell’s distaste and submitted the painting to Paris’s 1889 Exposition Universelle, where it won the organization’s most commendable prize- the gold medal. Degas even sang his praises for the work, claiming that the painting should “go into the cellar of Watteau.”

Strangely, the painting was mounted in the forefront of the Campbell household within the next year. Lady Campbell claimed her initial misinterpretation of the painting was due to the day’s wiles, and that her disappointment was not an accurate representation of her sentiments.

Lord Campbell made no remark towards the painting, but quickly renewed his friendship with Whistler shortly after his wife issued the formal apology.  

  • 12:00 AM

Fumée d'Abre Gris

John Singer Sargent, Fumée d'Ambre Gris, 1880
The ability to shape columns and drape fabric from one color - white - intrigued and delighted Salon critics. Heralded early on for his dynamism and already breathtakingly diverse range, John Singer Sargent used Fumée d'Ambre Gris as a key card into higher social circles. When describing this painting in her book Strapless, Deborah Davis calls to the reader's attention an interesting bit of trivia about the origins of the smoke curling up in tendrils around the "magnificently dressed Arab woman['s]" face. Davis contends that the substance, "ambre gris," is "derived from whale sperm [and] is said to act as an aphrodisiac when inhaled or ingested." This fun fact brings an element of grittiness and privacy as well as exotic elegance to the painting. 

However, a brief inquest into the history of ambre gris tells a different story. The leading ingredient in many perfumes during Sargent's time, ambre gris originates not from the sperm of a whale, but from sperm wales, as explored in detail in Herman Melville's
Moby Dick. Melville comments on the hypocrisy of the whole business by posing the question "Who would think, then, that such fine ladies and gentlemen should regale themselves with an essence found in the inglorious bowels of a sick whale!" While whaling was considered a putrid trade, the musk scent of whale vomit ironically pleased the women of society.

 Fumée d'Ambre Gris doesn't try to subvert the image of the whaling trade or promote the sales of perfumes. Sargent had a knack for capturing fleeting moments in time and space with perfection. Making critics sit up and take notice, Fumée d'Ambre Gris teased Sargent's audience with a taste of what was yet to come. 

  • 8:30 AM

The Merrymakers

Carolus-Duran, The Merrymakers, 1870
Not much credit goes to the wildly talented Carolus Duran, teacher of world-renowned John Singer Sargent. In The Merrymakers, the brushwork and attention to facial detail shows where Sargent got his style. If I didn't know any better, I would say this painting was done by the hands of Sargent.

A comment on society and a view on women of La Belle Epoque, three women sit down to lunch with an infant. The entire meal seems to serve for the child as they provide her with food, origami toy animals, and a parrot. The baby girl draws in all focus except for the woman chuckling up to the ceiling. The chilling part of this painting is what lays ahead in the baby's future. While the women all shield her from her surroundings, just a hand breaking away from the pastels of their dress, they also will raise her and keep her away from a frivolous lifestyle until she develops into a young adult and is encouraged to marry wealthy. The bread and wine at the table, serving as a Christian religious reminder calls for their 'completely kosher' setting. While the baby wears tans and white, she also has no white in her eyes and wears a delicate red ribbon around her bonnet. Her almost demonic eyes give her perfectly tubby face a dark side.

Her parental figures want to give her the perfect little girl upbringing with happiness and toys and eclairs galore, but drink wine and enjoy the joy that comes in tantalizing animals. It seems an odd detail to blatantly show the other grey woman's wedding ring, but hide the younger tan females hands. Maybe an illegitimate child that will be used to serve as a social redeemer for the family, they will raise her with nurses, toys and nice clothing until she can find a wealthy 40-year-old man to provide.

  • 12:00 AM

The Misses Vickers

John Singer Sargent, The Misses Vickers, 1884
John Singer Sargent focuses once more on the fantasy of the femme fatale in his 1884 painting The Misses Vickers commemorating the eldest sister’s 21st birthday. In this pseudo-Velazquez work, Sargent brings the dark palette, depth, and eeriness used in The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit to the canvas.

Even though the dark background screens out the detail of the room the three sisters are posing in, the viewer can tell by the hint of light in the upper right corner that the room extends quite far back. Yet Sargent does nothing with this space he has created, randomly placing a few reflective objects here and there. But such is the mystery of a Sargent painting—three sisters, huddled together in a pitch-black room with eyes of innocence and lips concealing sin. The eyes immediately converge on Evelyn, the sister to the far left.

The only young lady dressed in a light, pastel dress, seems to illuminate against the stark background. The middle sister looks villainous in black with a hint of pink emerging from her bosom. And finally, Mildred, the sister to the far right, has a beige tint to her skin and wears a brown dress to match the cushion of the chair she awkwardly sits in. This cacophony of colors, fabrics, and positions certainly makes the foreground appear disjointed, but also succeeds in highlighting the individuality of each sister. Yes, they are painted as a group, but this is as much a solo portraiture as it is a trio snapshot.

We cannot know everything about this painting—which secrets have not been told, what lies behind the spot-lit women—but we do know that Sargent’s technique is one to be admired and not one to be imitated, for he truly demonstrates his mastery of conveying mystery and seduction in The Misses Vickers. 

  • 12:00 AM

Portrait of Mademoiselle de Lancey

Carolus-Duran, Portrait of Mademoiselle de Lancey, 1876 
Carolus-Duran was not only “sought after as a portraitist because he knew how to make his subjects look attractive and important but not at all boring or conventional,” (Davis 65) but he expressed their sexuality in an acceptable fashion. He chose that Mademoiselle de Lancey follow the lead of Titian’s Venus of Urbino and Manet’s Olympia. Her lounging position and direct eye contact lure the viewer inside the frame. Although there are two major alterations from the preceding masterpieces that boosted her reputation: clothing and isolation.

Paris was at the height of fashion in the later parts of the 19th Century. Mademoiselle de Lancey chose a flamboyant and risqué ensemble, exposing her enticing bust and slender crossed ankles, to illustrate both her financial stability and personal confidence with her place at the height of society. The white (or in her case dirty white) sheet of virginal beauty does not lie beneath her, but wraps around her tiny corseted frame. Similar fabric folds and bunching of the train lead viewers gaze toward her, ahem, mid-section. Her isolation commands all of the attention as she resumes responsibility for her actions. Without the watchful eye of a maid or family member, she is free to act as she pleases during afternoon visiting hours.

The alluring sexuality exudes from the hand gestures of the women. Mademoiselle de Lancey does not need to cover herself like Olympia and Venus of Urbino. Instead her right hand grasps a fan and places it suggestively ­­below her waist. The left does not rest at her side, which would create a barrier between her and the viewer, but rather supports her head with an enticing expression. One finger points up as a “come here” gesture, ensuring the command of her invitees.

Carolus-Duran accomplished portraying Madamemoiselle de Lancey with “an increased sense of life and personality” (Davis 79). His inspiration drew from Titian’s Venus of Urbino, and Manet’s Olympia where he succeeded in suppressing the naked sexuality and replacing it with sensual silks. A draping of red, which reveals the passion, appears in each of the four works. This beneath the innocent (or not so innocent) white fabric succeeds in making each woman alluring.

  • 12:00 AM

Portrait of Carolus-Duran

John Singer Sargent, Portrait of Carolus-Duran, 1879
By age 13, John Singer Sargent spent much time studying paintings in museums. Everywhere he went, he took his notebook to sketch and paint what he saw. Mrs. Sargent (John's mother) had friends who encouraged her to arrange professional training for her son. It was a result of this early interest that Sargent met Carolus-Duran.

Sargent first met Carolus-Duran in 1874, when his parents enrolled him in École des Beaux-Arts, an art school in Paris. Carolus-Duran, after assessing Sargent's portfolio, decided to let him study art as his pupil. According to Carolus-Duran, Sargent was to unlearn certain methods he had acquired, but expressed optimism at the young boy's natural talent.

He quickly became one of Carolus-Duran's best students and gained the respect of his peers through his sheer innate ability. The school emphasized the importance of drawing as the foundation of visual art, while Carolus-Duran had his own ideas. He focused on manipulating the paint sensuously. Carolus-Duran held that artists should paint in a fluid way.

Originally, Sargent was interested mainly in landscapes (which explains his numerous sketches of mountains and seas). However, after studying under Carolus-Duran, he developed an interest in creating art out of the people he met. It was with Carolus-Duran's guidance that Sargent started his career in portraiture and gave him an interest in the subject.

  • 12:00 AM

Dr. Pozzi at Home

John Singer Sargent, Dr. Pozzi at Home, 1881
“But everybody wants some,
I want some too.
Everybody wants
Baby, how ‘bout you?”
-Van Halen, “Everybody Wants Some”
Dr. Samuel Jean Pozzi, Ph.D. in love, became interested in more things than gynecology in his career. Innovative doctor, socialite, and all around ladies man, the good doctor pleasured his guests with his dazzling good looks and friendly mannerisms. All of the ladies wanted him, and he obliged them. Inspiring such nicknames as the Siren, Doctor of the Stars, Dr. Love, and even Dr. God, Dr. Pozzi ruled the world of Parisian socialites.

Dr. Pozzi’s suave aura and wealth attracted many women and even a few men. John Singer Sargent came to one of Dr. Pozzi’s parties trying to find an established patron, but instead heard the enticing call of the siren. When talking to Dr. Pozzi about a portrait of Pozzi’s indifferent wife, Sargent suggested that he paint Dr. Pozzi. The doctor instantly fell head over heels for this idea. Sargent soon started on what would become Dr. Pozzi at Home, but found himself drinking Dr. Love’s love potion.

Sargent may have developed a crush on Dr. Pozzi. Pozzi’s hand unlacing his bathrobe certainly makes the painting scandalous, along with the scarlet background and robe. Sargent came from an American family, despite being born and raised in Europe, and often appeared proud of it. In the famous American novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the Puritan courts force an adulterous, Hester Prynne, to wear an embroidered scarlet A as punishment for her crime so everyone immediately recognizes her as a sinner. Unsurprisingly, Dr. Pozzi appears all right with being drenched in scarlet paint. He even seems to revel in it, which seems natural since he would later found a social club named the Cercles des Amis de la Rose (basically a place where rich men could live out sexual fantasies). Sargent had also been known to have crushes on his subjects, like Madame Amélia Gautreau, Albert de Belleroche, and Judith Gautier.
Dr. Pozzi, with his Ph.D. and dashing good looks, enticed the wealthy of Paris while also making ground breaking discoveries in the field of gynecology. Sargent’s portrait cemented Dr. Love into the world of art history. Now, no one can ever forget why everyone in Paris, even Sargent himself, wanted some. 

  • 12:00 AM

After Death: study of the head of a corpse and The Tell-Tale Heart

After Death: study of the head of a corpse, Theodore Garicault, 1819
Theodore Gericault became one of the most influential French artists during the Romantic period. He began to succeed early in his artistic career when his first painting, The Charging Chasseur, was displayed in a Paris Salon in 1812. This was just the start to his success in the arts. Only a couple years later, still youthful in the game of art, he painted Wounded Cuirassier, which displayed in the same salon in 1814. In 1819, Gericault painted a not so successful painting, After Death: study of the head of a corpse.
Edgar Allan Poe wrote in "The Tell-Tale Heart": “I talked more quickly -- more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men -- but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed -- I raved -- I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder --louder -- louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not?”

Guilt is an emotional state in which a human being regrets an action that one completed, but believes that it should not have been done. This emotion also has the power to motivate human beings to make amends and attempt to fix what they feel guilty about. A person can be driven mad by the thoughts that go through their head, making them see and hear things that might not be there. “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe displays a perfect example of the unique power that can almost control a guilty human entirely.

  • 1:30 AM

Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 and Slaughterhouse-Five

Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2, 1912
"And Billy traveled in time to the zoo on Tralfamadore. He was forty-four years old, on display under a geodesic dome. He was reclining  on the lounge chair which had been his cradle during his trip through space. He was naked. The Tralfamadorians were interested in his body- all of it." - Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

The gears turned, thoughts formed, and inspiration took hold. I looked at the Duchamp, then at the bookshelf, then at the Duchamp, then back at the bookshelf. To my surprise neither was on a horse. Pop-culture references aside, I felt sincerely relieved as I walked to the shelf and picked up a favorite: Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. After weeks of procrastination and second guesses, I had found a connection that I wished to explore. Now I just had to write about it...

Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2  captures in one image a concept that Vonnegut spends an entire novel exploring: The perception of time. Duchamp carefully illustrates the nude figure at each point in its stroll downstairs, allowing the viewer a perspective impossible to the naked eye. This investigation of the subject's mechanics, form, and the "fourth dimension" is similar to Vonnegut's use of the Tralfamadorian's ability to see time as a narrative technique. Just as the aliens study Billy Pilgrim and Montana Wildhack in the zoo on Tralfamadore, Duchamp's work explores the human body at several points in time in a single work, obscuring the figure to barely identifiable abstraction. While the painting shocked the public when shown at the Armory Show in 1913, Trafalmadorians would likely note that the figure had always descended the stairs, would always descend the stairs, and descends the stairs even as I type these words. While staggering, concepts such as these defined the early Cubist movement.

  • 12:00 AM

The Death of Socrates and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

The Death of Socrates, Jacques-Louis David, 1787
“We must never allow the future to collapse under the burden of memory.” 
- Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting  

Milan Kundera published The Book Of Laughter and Forgetting in 1978. The novel, which tells the story of multiple people in seven integrated parts, provides a new approach to life. Kundera, born in the Czech Republic, became a writer in the midst of communist invasions and life-altering events such as the Prague Spring. Because of his experiences with government and the course of  history in his country, his writing crackles with historical information and political irony. The common line in Kundera’s works goes beneath the surface of examination to explore the unknown aspects of life and to challenge conventional thoughts on topics that seem otherwise mundane. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting explores the burdens of the lives of six people. Kundera says, “We must never allow the future to collapse under the burden of memory.” Aside from the obvious message to progress with life and let memories be in favor of creating a future, Kundera personalizes memory. He gives memory agency.

In Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Socrates memory must give way to the future. As the story goes, Socrates was put on trial for his political philosophies in the wake Peloponnesian War and the Athenian decline in the face of Spartan power. In addition to his near technical perfection in The Death of Socrates, David creates a story as heartbreaking as it is brave. Socrates, who would rather poison himself than rescind his beliefs, displays unparalleled bravery that consumes the foreground of the painting. While bravery claims the foreground of the painting, heartbreak and memory fill the background. Socrates wife, escorted up the stairs by two men, waves goodbye to her beloved. As Socrates’ followers lament the coming death of their mentor he moves into the realm of memory that Kundera speaks of. The burden of memory similarly consumes thoughts of the future.

While these memories seem to be all that remains of Socrates, and of the times and people of the past, we must move on. The future cannot collapse under the burden of memories.

  • 12:00 AM

The Rehearsal and Tiny Dancer

Edgar Degas, The Rehearsal, 1878
"Blue jean baby, L.A. lady, seamstress for the band
Pretty eyed, pirate smile, you’ll marry a music man
Ballerina, you must have seen her dancing in the sand
And now she’s in me, always with me, tiny dancer in my hand."

- Elton John, “Tiny Dancer”

The tiny dancer in Degas’ hand was the paintbrush that wisped across the canvas, capturing the softness of the ballet with his color pallet and strength of their performance with his brushstrokes. Ballerinas took center stage as Degas became infatuated by their beauty and elegance. Degas not only enjoyed painting them, but also liked the company of the dancers, who would share gossip with him as they posed. But, Degas kept his boundaries, unlike his brother Achille, who had an affair with a ballerina. He viewed them as beautiful and inspirational characters that could be fashioned to fit the canvas.

Ballet and opera were fashionable parts of Parisian culture, and Degas more that likely was part of the audience before he began painting the ballerinas. His first works featured the audience and orchestra as much as the dancers on stage. Degas quickly grew out of that habit and developed a passion for portraying the entertainers not only in recitals, but also in life behind the scenes. The Rehearsal demonstrates Degas’ determination and ability to weasel his way backstage and experience a dancer’s life from a new point of view. Elton John’s Tiny Dancer also explores new perspectives. As the band traveled to the United States, Bernie Taupin, lyricist of the song, was inspired by the warmth and beauty of the women. California in the fall of 1970 was full of sunshine and free spirits. Taupin’s ballerinas were those lounging on the beaches and dancing in the sand, while Degas portrayed his ballerinas with the tiny dancer in his hand.

  • 12:00 AM

Garden at Vaucresson and The Beautiful and Damned

Edouard Vuillard, Garden at Vaucresson, 1920
Edouard Vuillard's obvious nod to Monet depicts a mademoiselle enshrouded in carnation pink touring her gardens. Barely visible through the foliage lies a gardener bowing beneath the flowers and to her noble employer. The soft brushstrokes and pastel shades give the work a certain level of daintiness, but is there a more interesting story behind this pretty spring scene?

Take, for example, F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1922 novel The Beautiful and Damned. Cast in the light of the sparkling Jazz Age, Anthony Patch and his wife Gloria float through New York atop champagne bubbles, committed to no vocations other than waiting around for inheritance and improved societal standing. Gloria eschews traditional roles in favor of cherishing her days as a flirtatious flapper, even after her nuptials. Fitzgerald best sums up Gloria's perspective in the following passage:

"The reality, the earthiness, the intolerable sentiment of child-bearing, the menace to her beauty--had appalled her. She wanted to exist only as a conscious flower, prolonging and preserving itself. Her sentimentality could cling fiercely to her own illusions, but her ironic soul whispered that motherhood was also the privilege of the female baboon." 

This preservation of beauty that occupied the minds of Jazz Age women not only appeared in Fitzgerald's characters, but also in pieces by artists such as Vuillard. As females sought independence within society, they championed new ideals of youth and physical appearance. The subject of The Garden at Vaucresson chooses the path that leads to elegant aging and a charmed life, rather than the route of the laborer. Perhaps this era of luxury and sophistication appear most evident in such refined works as The Garden at Vaucresson and The Beautiful and Damned, embodiments of Fitzgerald’s 1920s.

  • 5:00 PM