A Shaded Avenue

Fragonard, A Shaded Avenue, 1773

When I enthusiastically chose Fragonard in class this week, a few key words came to mind: "naughty", "hedonism,", and "trees." I scrolled through pieces like The Swing and the like, blatant eroticism abounding, and then I came upon this. There is nothing blatant about this piece other than Fragonard's pride in his trees. The entire scene is about the distractions around this couple's secret rendezvous, whether that be the girl picking weeds or the statue and those gazing at it in the corner, but especially the overwhelming archway of trees. It is intimate in the cleverest of ways, with the entire piece emphasizing how hard it is for these lovers to be alone with each other, finding the one place they can meet without disapproving eyes. The girl wears a bonnet and apron while her suitor wears a suit, so their class difference is apparent.

But the truly unique aspect of the piece is how inconspicuous every character in it is. There is no emphasis on the couple or the onlookers at all. They are all completely overshadowed by the trees reaching into the heavens. Fragonard uses similar colors all through the piece to blend the characters into these sky-scraping trees, with dark greens and browns giving the scene a far more natural tone than his usual work. Honestly, the colors make every part of the scene seem natural, in both the way of the vegetation and of their romance. Fragonard is awful sneaky...

  • 7:00 AM

Allegory of the Planets and Continents

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Allegory of the Planets and Continents, 1752

If the Rococo movement were a contest to include the most post-Baroque extravagance, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo could easily rest on his laurels.  A fresco spanning nearly thirty square feet, Allegory of the Planets and Continents attempts to encapsulate European perspectives of the entire known universe.  The periphery depicts America, Africa, Asia, and Europe, while in the center a line of classical gods spirals up to the sun beyond Apollo.  In keeping with the Rococo standard of over-embellishment and intense details, Tiepolo creates a graceful setting for nearly one hundred deities, humans, and animals.

On the American side of the fresco gathers a feather- and antler-clad band of natives, with a kingly figure almost mockingly perched upon an alligator, maybe a sign of his false throne.  On the opposite side of the work sits, much more elevated, an imperious-looking European ruler with the laurels of Rome, the greatest ruler in the world.  On the other hand, Asia's leader figure appears to be falling off of an elephant as other humans tumble on the ground and a philosopher gesticulate.  And the "African" representatives glory in wealth and lie lazily against camels.  One could note how the actual African continent is neglected in favor of Middle Eastern culture.  The sky holds Hermes with his trademark caduceus and array of other winged beings on clouds.

Allegory of the Planets and Continents isn't a simple ceiling decoration.  For a moment, stop analyzing.  Just observe.  Count the subjects.  See how the dark border fades into sunlight.  It may not be politically correct, but it is an artistic attempt to capture the world with exquisite detail.  Even if it's a very Eurocentric world.

  • 7:00 AM

Pilgrimage Church Of Wies

Dominikus Zimmermann, Pilgrimage Church of Wies, 1745-54

Is it a palace? Is it a museum? Nope. It’s a church in Steingaden, Germany, and ornate doesn’t even begin to describe this Rococo masterpiece created by Dominikus Zimmermann. From the outside, the building appears to be simple, plain, a place you go to worship, but the closer you get to the door, the more detail you begin to notice. Then, when you open the doors, your senses immediately go into overdrive, as you try to take in every minute detail Zimmermann presents to you. The gold detailing on the columns that lead your eye up. The religious frescos that greet your gaze at the ceiling. The angels that spread their wings in the painted, heavenly sky. The white walls that contrast the lavish and ornate center. These elements make the architecture and design of this church a force to be reckoned with, and it all started with a wooden statue of Christ.

A woman from the town of Steingaden, Germany, claimed to have seen the wooden Christ cry, and when people flocked to pray to the tear-stained statue, the town realized that a small chapel could not host this amount of visitors. Thus, the town decided to erect a church that would be built around the statue.

Zimmermann began the creation of this holy place in 1745, and completed the project in 1754. With the help of his talented brother, Johann Baptist Zimmermann, Dominikus created a sanctuary for not only worshippers, but also those who admire the skills and details that make up the Rococo Period. 

I was immediately drawn to this church as all the bright colors, gold, and detail captured my eye, but I also found it interesting how the Rococo design influenced the building techniques of churches. The Fleming textbook describes the Enlightenment Period, in which Rococo flourished, as a time that “challenged the entrenched power of religion and government with the authority of knowledge,” and if this is so, why did a trending design that was linked to the Enlightenment spread to the church? Zimmerman understood that while some pushed against the church, others still remained loyal, and  Zimmermann attempted to give both groups what they wanted. Zimmerman pushed the boundary between the church and the changing society, using elements of both to create one structure. A church for worship, and an architectural masterpiece to examine for centuries.

Today, the Pilgrimage Church of Weis, also known as Wieskirche, is under the protection of UNESCO, and will be preserved as a piece of history forever. 

  • 7:00 AM

La Boudeuse

Antoine Watteau,  La Boudeuse, 1718

Looking at this painting I find myself wanting more from it, I want to be lured into it, captured by its beauty and emotion. But all I really get are a couple of misplaced figures in a well-painted meadow. Watteau paints theatrical scenes and sometimes he takes those figures and places them into a colorful backdrop. Clearly these amorous lovers are having a moment, but I feel like I can't connect with it. The woman stares back at you not with passion but rather melancholy and subtle boredom. Even Watteau's technique is nothing stunning - a flat painting at eye level, no real characterized depth and no embracing feeling as you look.

Despite the subject matter this painting is unique and done with great skill. The shadowing on their clothing is some of the most accurate and makes the colors pop. Movement and color were two of Watteau's best allies when it came to painting these scenes. During the Rococo painters figured out that not only did subject matter, but color also really added to the beauty. Mocked up by looking at Venetian furniture and art,Watteau received great praise from critics and common people alike for his luminous palette.

The thing that strikes me is the precision he is able to produce from such large brush strokes. It's as if he can envision not only the shapes, but also the color in such massive steps. I also enjoy how I get more emotion out of those harsh strokes than I do looking at this rosy-cheeked man court this woman. 

  • 7:00 AM

The Dead Soldier

Joseph Wright of Derby, The Dead Soldier, 1790 

The soldier is the focal point, almost in the center of the painting, clad in scarlet. My eyes travel directly to his crumpled figure in brilliant red. But then, like a nightmare, I notice his hand. His hand is green. Cue the blood-curdling scream.

Perhaps even more disturbing than the hand itself is the disheveled woman clasping it, crying into it. Obviously distressed at her husband’s death, she has turned her face away from us. She is having one final private moment with her love. Her baby is the only one whose face we see. It lays in its mothers’ arms, expressionless, placid. It does not mourn its father's death. Instead, it invites us into the makeshift tent. Its hand clasps its father’s, linking the innocence of young life and the corruption of war and death. Those three cannot escape the war. It rages on behind them, fills the sky with smoke. Bursts of red direct our eyes diagonally across the painting deeper into the battle, from the wife’s dress in the bottom left corner, to the scarlet corpse, to the cannon wheel hiding in the shadows, to the flash of pink in the center-right. Red punctures the painting, makes it bleed.

I don’t want to look at this painting anymore. It makes me want to scream, to pull the baby away from its inescapable misery, to let go of the green hand. But I can’t. I have to let this scene live on in eternal turmoil and be thankful that I don’t share its fate.

  • 7:00 AM

The Chinese Garden

Boucher, The Chinese Garden, 1742

While scanning the page of Boucher's masterpieces, I stumbled across this beauty and wondered, How does this painting belong with the others? Why are there such rad colors in this and not the others? Where can I buy that sweet orange hat? What is up with that guy's hair? The more I looked at this, the more I fell in love with it, and the more interesting it became.

When I looked closely at this painting I realized that there were some aspects that were typical of a Boucher, while there were other aspects that were unique to this painting. This change represents Boucher's transition from his traditional work to the chinoiserie style. For example, what initially drew me to this painting was the vibrant blues and oranges. The use of these colors immediately made me realize that this painting was unlike many of the others that Boucher painted, as he traditionally used more pastel colors with intricate gold work. In addition, the background of the painting seems like it could stand alone as a Chinese landscape rather than a lush forest.

The theme of the painting, on the other hand, remained the same. Like many of Boucher's paintings, there is a highlighted woman being pampered. Although there are no distinct rays of light or shadows to draw the eye to one particular person; however, the woman having flowers put into her hair is obviously significant because of how pale her skin is. The lightness of the skin seems to increase with the ranks of the people painted. One detail I thought was interesting was the fact that even though this painting is of a Chinese garden, the women of focus in the painting are wearing clothes that resemble the European women's clothes that Boucher painted in other works. Another similarity in this work is the level of fancy "fluff" in the painting. The flowers put in the woman's hair are similar to the jewels that surround many other women that Boucher painted. 

At first glance, it seems as though this painting does not fit with many of Boucher's other famous works, but in reality, many details stay true to Boucher's traditional style, while others were slightly influenced by the new chinoiserie craze.

  • 7:00 AM

Portrait of Marie Antoinette (à la Rose)

Madame Vigée LeBrun, Portrait of Marie Antoinette, 1779

LeBrun painted portraits of the rich and influential in France, eventually becoming the portrait painter for Marie Antoinette herself and developing a close friendship with her. And, of course, Madame Vigée LeBrun was a highly skilled and successful woman painter at a time when fine art was still largely a men’s world. Married to a husband who took the majority of her profits for himself, slandered in gossip for no better reason than her gender and her talent, she nevertheless was highly in demand as a Rococo portrait painter in eighteenth-century French court circles, and for good reason.

Marie Louise Elisabeth Vigée was taught the basics of painting by her father, also a painter, who encouraged his daughter when she began showing her talents as young as six or seven-years-old. At school, she was constantly getting into trouble for drawing in her schoolbooks and even the walls of her dormitory. Later, after the death of her father, she and her mother visited art galleries and private collections to distract herself from her grief, admiring the works of Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, and other masters. When the strain of supporting her family became too much, she married a rich jeweler and regretted it, since he claimed nearly all the profit she made from her portraits. A witty and beautiful young woman, she often had to endure noblemen commissioning a painting in order to flirt surreptitiously during sittings. Her solution was to paint the young man looking away and scold him every time he attempted to look toward her with a sharp, “Now I am doing the eyes!” Good for her.

Madame LeBrun and Marie Antoinette were around the same age, and, despite the difference in social class, they maintained, if not a true friendship, respect and gratitude for each other. LeBrun admired the queen’s beauty and poise; in turn, Marie Antoinette appreciated her skill and her company. This particular portrait, from 1779, was the first that Madame LeBrun painted for her; it was commissioned as a gift for Emperor Joseph II, the queen’s brother. She was pleased enough with the finished product to ask for two more copies, one for herself and one for the Empress of Russia. Rosy-cheeked and elegantly dressed, the twenty-four-year-old Marie Antoinette smiles enigmatically at the viewer, holding up a rose and extending one delicate pinky. The shading, the rich colors, and the textures of fabric, ribbon, lace, and skin add up to a vision of beauty and grace in fine Rococo style, smooth and glowing, and done by a woman’s hand. Despite the adversity Madame LeBrun encountered in her public and private life, she was always cheerful and optimistic until her death at eighty-seven. She never stopped painting.

  • 7:00 AM


Caravaggio, Narcissus, 1597-99
'Whitey was standing... his fists doubled up, tears streaming down his face. "I'm no good," he said. "I'm no good. Can't anyone understand I don't know what I'm doing?"' -- William S. Burroughs

There's a difference between wanting to look at yourself and having to look at yourself. When you want to, you see your regular flaws and problems,  but you say, "Not too shabby... I mean you did put on pants today.". When you have to look at yourself, things that previously felt invisible are now glaring problems. You change your clothes twenty times, beat that one unruly piece of hair into submission...
"Why are you even putting on pants today?" Aware of these flaws, your eyes flit back and forth across your reflection, primping and fixing until the person staring back is recognizable again.

Burroughs explores this cycle of emotion in Junky, a largely autobiographical account of his time with junk. It is clinical and unforgiving, explaining addiction in ways so matter-of-fact that he could be talking about what he had for breakfast. He mirrors himself with words and blunt honesty, giving the reader a brutal look into addiction. This may be by choice, but his honesty is raw. Caravaggio, on the other hand, explores this idea of a mirror visually, giving the story of Narcissus a darker light, the water below losing any liveliness or movement and instead becoming a dark mirror for Narcissus to stare into. He escapes into his ego, the mirrored depths his escape. His posture is that of a doting lover, his gaze and facial expression gentle but intense. Caravaggio manipulates the light in the piece to bathe Narcissus in light and remove any background. It is unnecessary. His only focus is his reflection.

As a fresh new senior, this cycle is far too familiar to me. The feeling of walking through these doors for the last first time was not lost on me, someone not very sure if she can make ramen noodles without making them explode in her microwave, let alone being able to look at myself and think I'm ready for the journey of the year ahead. Everything is about to change. Now, that's not to say I want to gaze at myself as lovingly as Narcissus... I don't. His end doesn't appeal to me. Looking to the year in front of me, there is an overwhelmingly bittersweet mood throughout it. I hope upon looking back at it that I will be proud and ready to go on with the next adventure. As long as there's no junk, I think I'll be all right.

  • 2:55 PM

Black On Dark Sienna on Purple and Being Dead

Mark Rothko,Black on Dark Sienna on Purple, 1960

"He didn't carry with him any of that burden which makes the human animal so cumbersome,the certainty that death was fast approaching and could arrive at any time, with its plunging snout, blindly to break the surface of the pool. its only those who glimpse the awful, endless corridor of death, too gross to contemplate, that need to lose themselves in love and art" - Jim Crace, Being Dead.

Joseph and Celice’s corpses lie on the beach, decomposing and becoming part of nature once more. Their battered, blood-covered bodies decompose while sandhoppers surround them, reclaiming their bodies. The text tells their story, the story of the two lovers' bodies as time captures them washing away slowly. The two bodies lie there frozen, the heat of their blood gone, the movement run out, their vision gone black, their minds left blank. Jim Crace brutally throws their harsh and painful deaths at the reader, all too similarly to Rothko. The struggle between their lives and their deaths ends in this text, the slithering black consuming everything once more. As the beauty of the world fades, the red of life and passion fades away, leaving nothing behind but two carcasses. 
Mark Rothko depicts this everlasting tension between life and death in his piece Black On Dark Sienna on Purple. The red and black battle with each other, uneven lines bleeding into the other in final attempts to beat the other. Eventually, the black overwhelms the red, eating away the color just as death inevitably does to life. In this piece especially, the color disparity is violent and desperate. The black void consumes the flesh of the red. Both float in an open space, the depth not understood unless stared into without distraction, a disrupted pool of color. Rothko’s pieces have a way of washing over the viewer. This piece especially does that to me. The colors are dark, their struggle is unsettling. I know which color will win in the end. Rothko’s own fear of death is evident in every stroke of this painful piece. I now feel it, too.

  • 7:00 AM

The Dance Class

Degas, The Dance Class, 1873

"The image of Time brought thoughts of mortality: of human beings, facing outwards like the Seasons, moving hand in hand in intricate measure: stepping slowly, methodically, sometimes a trifle awkwardly, in evolutions that take recognizable shape: or breaking into seemingly meaningless gyrations, while partners disappear only to reappear again, once more giving pattern to the spectacle: unable to control the melody, unable, perhaps, to control the steps of the dance."- Anthony Powell

Edgar Degas, a French painter, was known for his dance subjects. He is also considered a founder of impressionism. However Degas disregarded the term "Impressionism" and called his work "Realist". He was taught in painting historical and classical art. But he soon switched to more modern subject matter and used his classical technique in his work, becoming a "classical painter of modern life."

The Dance Class was created in the middle of Degas' career. The diagonal of people pushing towards the dancer by the music stand is the major flow in this scene. Also the touches of red, the man wearing the coat in the background, the other man in the middle-ground, and finally the red carnation in the dancer's hair, pushes the eye foreword.

The viewer obtains a sense of stress and hurriedness from the dancers in the background and in the foreground. If you draw your attention to the dancer in the middle, the gracefulness of her arabesque calms the viewer. As your eyes progress to her hands, you can feel her reach. Her head leaning back, you can breathe in with her, making the painting feel strong, and composed in the middle of chaos.

  • 7:00 AM

Landscape Near Menton - Midsummer's Night Dream

Pierre Auguste Renoir, Landscape Near Menton, 1883

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.
--William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which Oberon describes the Fairy Queen Titania's bower, where she sleeps.

At first glace, Renoir’s Landscape Near Menton is a calm, picturesque bank, much like Queen Titania’s in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, much like Midsummer, nothing is really as it seems. The violent brushstrokes give the painting a frenzied sense of movement. Wind whips through the turbulent grasses, flowers bend against their will, even the way the colors seem to crash against each other in a permanent state of agitation. The dark blues, greens, and blacks rebel against their pastel counterparts. This painting lives in polarity, constantly contradicting itself. A typically placid view suddenly transforms into a colossal mess.

And that brings us to Midsummer, the love story gone so wrong, it’s actually right. Midsummer admits that love is tumultuous, chaotic even. Throughout the whole play, Shakespeare mocks the concept of true love. He plays games with the actors and the audience and leaves both groups helpless against his will. The play moves swiftly, but leaves us unsettled. It never progresses, just wavers back and forth for three acts, a whirlwind of plot, until finally Shakespeare gives us the happy ending we were hoping for.  Like Landscape Near Menton, Midsummer is not static. We like to think we know what we are seeing, be it a love story or a landscape, but we probably don’t. I chose Landscape Near Menton because I thought it portrayed Titania’s bower, but it did so much more. The painting is the essence of the play: a pretty picture full of chaos, making you appreciate it so much more once you realize you didn’t understand it at all.

  • 3:09 PM