Night Effect

Anders Zorn, Night Effect, 1895

I always think of Anders Zorn, a mostly unknown Swedish painter, as the weird uncle version of John Singer Sargent. His brushstrokes are looser, his lighting less pronounced, and his subjects more nude than not. Where Sargent paints beautiful, elegant women, Zorn chooses to paint an inebriated prostitute. Zorn's subject leans against a tree, as if she is incapable of standing on her own. Her face is flushed and set in an unattractive expression. Although some could see this as Zorn mocking the dignified women Sargent paints, I view this piece as comical. Her dress, bright red as an indication towards her profession, is not revealing. In fact, she's rather well covered for a prostitute (disclaimer: I'm no expert on prostitute fashion, they could wear parkas and long johns for all I know). The exposed lacey hem of her underskirt is, perhaps, the most provocative aspect of her outfit.

Zorn creates tension in the painting via the background lighting. The cafe's lights are bright and intense, illuminating our "lady of the night," but they suddenly break off and become inky black. It took me a while to actually notice that there's a man in that darkness. All that can be seen is a vague profile of his face and clothing. To me, the painting seems rushed, especially the background. It's as if Zorn added in the background as an afterthought. The dark and the light push against each other, separated only by the scarlet woman. Zorn's brush strokes are hurried and blurred, as if the viewers own vision is hazy. That always leads me to imagine that when I look at this painting I immediately step into the role of her drinking buddy, stumbling home after last call. Where Sargent takes the viewer into the lives of the bourgeoisie, Zorn takes you to the streets and out for a drink with some rather rough customers.

  • 7:00 AM

The Fifer

Edouard Manet, The Fifer, 1866

A whopping 161 x 97 cm in size, just to portray an ordinary boy, presumably of the military marching band, playing a fife—in his early work The Fifer, Manet here takes a truly modern, unconventional stand that was not particularly appreciated by his contemporaries. One would find it puzzling about what had prompted Manet to pay such close attention to a nameless boy and to paint this sizeable work against the popular taste without seeing Velasquez’s earlier work Pablo de Valladolid. Following a trip to Spain, Manet found himself deeply interested in the style of Spanish painters. Similar to Velasquez’s Pablo de Valladolid, Manet places the boy in a plain, stark setting, surrounded only by the thin air. He employs the impasto technique—the solid black jacket, the thick red pants with a black contour line, and a little shadow—to create a flatness that was unprecedented to French critics. Further more, devoting the entire canvas to a working class boy upset the established “hierarchy of representation.”  The painting was rejected by the Salon of 1866 despite Zola’s strong support. Zola, in his L’Evenement, defended that he sensed a “truly modern feeling” in the work of this early impressionist giant.
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Regatta at Sainte-Adresse

Claude Monet, Regatta at Sainte-Adresse, 1867

Ah, to be a gentlemen of leisure (pronounced as if it rhymes with pleasure). To take pride in your conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption, making sure everyone knows you take pride in doing practically nothing. Nothing doesn’t mean just sitting on the couch all day, although I’m sure that would have been acceptable; rather, it means to take part in activities that seem to suggest there is no need to work, and no need, or time for that matter, to make more money. Such activities include: collecting priceless wine (which you store in your expansive wine cellar), collecting British paintings of hunt scenes complete with hounds and a man in tall boots carrying a rifle, most likely having at least one painting done of yourself or your wife, having a wife whose job it is to look as expensive as possible to support your image of boundless wealth, and, of course, owning a yacht, which you use to travel the world. Now, the key to being a successful gentleman of leisure is making sure everyone around you knows what you do, or what you don’t do. How do you achieve this? By either inviting others to join you on your extravagant activities, hosting parties, inviting people to your summer estate, or immersing yourself into a crowd of other gentlemen of leisure. Essentially, to be a gentleman of leisure, one must participate in unproductive activities and make sure everyone knows about it.

The theory of conspicuous leisure and consumption was coined by American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen in 1899 when he published his book The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions. Although the date on Monet’s painting does not coincide with the publication of Veblen’s book, Monet’s Regatta at Sainte-Adresse portrays a scene of conspicuous leisure and gentlemen of leisure. A major aspect of Veblen’s gentlemen of leisure is their clothing. Veblen explains, “expenditure on dress has this advantage over most other methods, that our apparel is always in evidence and affords an indication of our pecuniary standing to all observers at the first glance… Our dress, therefore, in order to serve its purpose effectually, should not only be expensive, but it should also make plain to all observers that the wearer is not engaged in any kind of productive labor.” Dressed in well-fitted suits and restrictive dresses, the gentlemen of leisure and their respective companions seem out of place, not meant to be resting on the seaside. Their dress seems to suggest a stroll through the city, possibly to meet other gentlemen of leisure for brunch, not an afternoon watching boat races while sitting in the sand. The people stand out, as if they are in the wrong place, but, then again, that is the whole point of conspicuous consumption and leisure. Everyone passing by the beach would notice the well-dressed men and women who seem to have no worry about getting sand and water on their clothes. If their clothes do end up getting tarnished from this outing, they will just buy more expensive and showy clothes. The men and women appear to be completely at ease with their parasols and top hats, living the blissful life of leisure while spending their time on the shore, doing anything but work, and making sure everyone is aware of their conspicuous presence.

  • 7:00 AM

Young Boy With Cat

Young Boy With Cat, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1868

After browsing through many of Renoir’s works, I originally thought this piece had been attributed to him by mistake. By far the strangest looking piece I have seen, especially by him, it resembles none of his previous works, yet tells the most about the artist. It is striking, glowing with purity and beauty while the highly sexualized scene is diffused by the presence of the lone feline.

The sexuality of this piece reaches out and grabs your attention, his posture and gaze almost trap the viewer. It’s refreshingly intense. In the Baroque style, the similarities between Young Boy with Cat and Caravaggio's Boy with a Basket of Fruit are striking. The highly-eroticised figure bears a basket of fruit while fixating on the viewer with the same mischievous stare. The tension in the stance, the lighting on the body, so similar to the provocative nature of Caravaggio’s boy displaying his bare shoulders. For an “Impressionist” painting, this piece is painted in great detail, especially the pattern of the sheet is incredibly fine and skillful, demonstrating a disciplined stroke.

The lewd tension in this piece is inescapable, but what does the cat in his arms suggest? Looking to other pieces, cats are symbolic of piety and cleanliness, often times the presence of nature and mystery. The pale, stylistic affectation of the boy comes from Renoir sharing a studio with Frederic Bazille, and his obsession with Edouard Manet. The diverse masculinity found in Renoir’s other works is absent here, giving a glimpse into Renoir’s private life with Bazille, that privacy embodied by the cat. Shortly after this piece emerged, Renoir was forced to become a more serious artist after the birth of his first child, leaving this piece - and its meaning - in his past.

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La Promenade

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, La Promenade, 1870

It's a fleeting moment.

Even the technique itself seems blurred, the motion of the piece drawing the viewer up the hill with the lovers. The leaves around them mix into their clothing, making it difficult to discern where the bodies end and nature begins. They dissolve into their surroundings, with the nature around them just as important as their journey up the hill. Renoir draws all attention directly towards the woman. Her companion fades into the greenery, the angle of his body only serving to direct the movement of the piece. She glows through the stretching branches and leaves, the white of her dress striking the viewer immediately. The most important part of this to me is her face. It is lit up as if by its own private sun, her expression gently coy as if she's trying to make her companion think she's shy or even nonchalant about their little climb.

It is such an approachable piece, one where you can almost hear their footsteps on the ground, bodies pushing past crinkly leaves and feet snapping branches. Renoir exhibits an amazing ability to create an entire scene with his work, from the part that can be viewed to the part the viewer can feel, smell, and hear in their own minds. In many other Impressionist pieces, the work is beautiful and moving but also very confined. Here, the piece extends beyond its boundaries and encourages the viewer to look beyond their own as well.

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The Night


Ferdinand Hodler, The Night, 1890

Hodler’s painting is creepy. The setting is unclear. A group of men and women lie sleeping together. In their midst is a terrible figure who crouches on top of the artist, seemingly preying on him. The figure is obviously anthropomorphic, but it is unclear exactly what it is. Of course, its position on the man undoubtedly brings a question of sexual anxiety into play.

Does the figure represent death, a nightmare, or something far different? This painting immediately brings to mind Fuselli’s Nightmare. However, there is of course one key difference. Fuselli’s piece was born of a jealous rage; the painting was created in revenge against a love who had spurned his advances. In that work, the monster is Fuselli, and he crouches on top of the woman’s sleeping form. In this one, the identity of the monster is unclear. The only certainty is that Hodler himself is the victim.

Every bit as disturbing as the black shrouded creep is the way in which Hodler paints his subjects. The bodies seem at first glance accurate. They are also in unbelievably good shape. However, whenever I look at them I feel uncomfortable. There is something about the way in which the man in the back is contorted, or the way the flesh lumps in certain places on the sleeping figures—particularly the women—that creates in me a feeling of malaise. The men and women may on the surface appear to be the image of health, but their interesting sleeping arrangement and creepy bodies hint at something a little darker lying just beneath the surface.

I think that’s why this painting has stuck with me since I first saw it. I think it puts Fuselli to shame—it’s pretty much the most frightening painting I’ve ever seen. The French certainly thought so—to no one’s surprise, this painting was blackballed and Hodler was forced to exhibit it privately—even some of the radical painters at the avant-garde of the late 1800s lambasted the work. It would be another decade before Hodler was accepted into the fold of Parisian painters by his contemporaries.

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Summer Scene

Jean Frederic Bazille, Summer Scene, 1869

Frederic Bazille, a short-lived, early impressionist painter, painted the Summer Scene in 1869, just a year before he was killed in Franco-Prussian War. A close friend of Claude Monet, Bazille was among the few forerunners of the Impressionist movement. However, unlike Monet, who devoted himself entirely to his art, Bazille never applied himself completely to a career as a painter. Perhaps due to the finical support from his father, art merely remained a hobby to him, never something to pursue relentlessly. Nevertheless his work, which centered around the emerging idea of “modern” then, represented the cutting edge of the yet-to-coin Impressionist movement.

The subject matter of the painting was familiar yet unusual at the time. Its familiarity lies in the popularity of the theme picnic, or Dejeuner sur I’Herbe, that was frequently depicted by contemporary artists. In fact, Bazille posed for Monet in one of his Le Dejeuner. However, Summer Scene reflects something more than just the idea of modern leisure and the interactive relationship of men and nature. The subject matter of a group of male bathers in a world where female nudes dominated the body discourse, was rare and little-recognized. The depiction of bathing scenes makes it guiltless and acceptable for the viewers to engage in a form of voyeurism without necessarily associating its nudity with sexual act. Robert Brettell says, “Bathers are nude because they have to be; they are merely engaged in a cleansing ritual.” Similarly, the borrowing of classic poses for his modern figures allows Bazille to access the subject of male nudes without violating the conventional bourgeois morality. The modern Saint Sebastian in the foreground, and the wrestling nudes in the background which recalls traditional Greek gymnasium, suggest viewers that this is a modern form of Arcadia, an idealistic life of brotherhood that resembles the ancient Greeks, not necessarily a depiction of homosocial (or sexual) discourse.

The painting was well received and accepted by the Salon of 1870. To me it presents something unique and inspiring comparing to his contemporaries. If Bazille weren’t killed in the following year, he might find his own direction and certainly add variety to the gallery of 19th century paintings.

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Seascape

August Strindberg, Seascape, 1894

The harsh brushstrokes of Strindberg feel static, unmoving in the middle of what should be a tumultuous scene. After looking at the piece and taking it all in, I feel the current of these static waves pulling me upwards into the sky, carrying me through the waves. The piece itself is quite fluid even though it’s made up of such solid brushstrokes. Even the sky, horizon, and sea all blend together as one. Similar to Rothko’s work, each segment of the painting fights for its space on the canvas, drowning out the light and devouring any space left on the canvas.

Seascape reminds me of a certain scene in Being Dead, where Crace describes “a bay… subject - famously - to the wind. There was a constant drift of the air that ran along the coast, west - east, so that the dunes were sculpted and aligned like resting seals. Most days the dunes would hum as the wind hugged the scarp and dip across the bay.”

This type of motion presents itself in this piece, the movement of such solid lines making it all come to life. The darkness contrasted with the amber of the sun is striking, drawing the viewer in to such a chaotic scene. When I look at this piece I don't see a rough sea, but rather union, natural forces working together. This piece is fused together even by the methods used to burn the canvas. The corners blacken and deepen the contours, mimicking nature's power. For me, this is what makes this piece beautiful: the preparation, diligence and dedication to “ the creative forces in nature that we must all adhere to."

  • 7:00 AM

The Sweet One

Hannah Höch. The Sweet One (Die Susse). 1929.
Collage, a technique now frequently seen on popular social media like Tumblr, had its origins in Germany after World War I. Hannah Höch, among other Dadaists, developed techniques of collage and photomontage as a response to the instability of the Weimar years. In Germany after the Great War, life restored and soldiers returned home to their wives, but there was no joy—streets were filled with crimes and senseless gunfights. Germans felt the humiliation of losing the war and suddenly faced six thousand millions of reparations that had to be squeezed out of their pockets. Post-war confusion haunted every German’s mind, including the avant-garde artists who chose to attack all established institutions, the only way they thought would better the society.

Hannah Höch’s photomontages depicted the turbulence and violence of the era with reassembled pieces and expressive watercolor backgrounds, but above all, she addressed the experience of the modern woman. Her longtime companion and fellow Dadaist Raoul Hausmann, despite his revolutionary “feminist” theories, was psychologically violent to Höch during their relationship. In The Sweet One (Die Susse), the distortions of the female body express Höch’s struggle to establish her identity in her relationship as well as in a society that called for the “new woman.” She took images of beautiful and subservient women from newspapers and cut them up, then recombined them to show their true fragmented, powerless state. 

By violating the integrity of the body, Höch criticized society for the perception of women as literally the sum of their parts. Created in 1929, The Sweet One was a product of “The Golden Years” in Germany. In the late 20s, the price of the war had gradually faded beneath the surface of prosperity. Germans, aware that this artificial abundance wouldn’t last for long, celebrated their overdue peace with excessive spending. As nightlife flourished, women enjoyed more sexual liberation than in past decades of restrictive governance, but also became increasingly objectified by men. Hannah Höch promoted a artistic revolution in body representation and provoked a question that is still relevant today, whether female identity can exist independently of the male gaze.

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Man at His Bath

Gustave Caillebotte, Man at His Bath, 1884

Caillebotte is most known for his scenes of urban life with strong perspective such as Paris Street, Rainy Day. In this piece, Caillebotte changes his style drastically. The rainy blue palette is quite similar to his other works, but this piece is far more intimate than the others. Viewing it has a distinctly voyeuristic feel to it, mostly due to the view from behind the man as if we had come through a door and interrupted him.

I love this piece because of the delicate vulnerability it has. There is an air of voyeurism, clearly, but it doesn't feel very naughty at all. On the contrary, it feels rather intimate. Caillebotte's attention to detail, from the wet footprints on the floor to the tension in the towel, amplifies the emotions of the piece instead of distracting from them. The stark white curtain highlights the man, almost cutting the piece in half; one side is him and the other side is his bath and some strewn towel on the ground. He is separate from the small space, though I can't place my finger on how.

  • 7:00 AM

The Street

George Grosz, The Street, 1915

Undeniably unsettling, this painting seems eerily reminiscent of a Tim Burton movie (aside from the lack of Johnny Depp.) The crooked buildings, violent sky, and macabre figures tell a story of degeneration; you will not find a heart-warming skeleton love story here.

The painting style spurs from Dadaism, a movement that came out of World War I and protested cultural and intellectual conformity while embracing chaos and absurdity. George Grosz, a prominent Dada artist, adopted the style after returning from his service in the war. He had come to hate the war and detested the world and its inhabitants, especially Germans. He lived in Berlin for many years, despite seeing his fellow German city-dwellers as ugly, obese, and retrograde. Grosz especially hated cities, which to him exemplified the debauchery and corruption of the modern world. His art reflected his pessimism and antipathy with often appalling subject matter and depraved implications.

This painting depicts the nefarious happenings of a city block in the middle of the night. Ghastly figures, floating heads, and Peeping Toms exist under the bloody sky. There are just two women in the scene, one baring all and one concealed behind a larger man. Grosz often painted salaciously, however here he only hints at the indecorous conduct occurring. The people in the windows only add to the scandalous nature of the painting. Although the scene is in public, their featureless faces seem to intrude and scrutinize. There is no privacy in the city, only bad characters and worse intentions.

Besides the people, I can’t help but feel there are bigger monsters at hand. The skyline in the background looks peculiarly like teeth. Black, jagged teeth, in a gaping mouth, enclosing the whole city in the jaws of some bigger evil. If Grosz is trying to tell us that humanity is vile and vulgar, well, he’s done a pretty good job. I feel exposed looking at this painting, yet it captivates me. Like a Rothko, the deeper I look, the more I find. I don’t think I’ll ever figure out what is quite going on here, and I think I’m okay with that.

  • 7:00 AM

Christ's Entry Into Jerusalem

Stanley Spencer, Christ's Entry Into Jerusalem, 1920

Something about this painting is intriguing- weird and a little confusing- but intriguing. The title of the painting gives me a mental image nothing like this painting, but it's definitely an interesting interpretation of a story told throughout the ages. The painting is Spencer's interpretation of Palm Sunday type scene. The story starts with Jesus entering Jerusalem, which takes places just a few days before he was crucified. He descends from the Mount of Olives and enters Jerusalem, where people placed palms leaves at his feet as a sign of respect for the Messiah. In the story, Jesus rides on the back of a mule through crowds of people who have come to catch a glimpse of the man they have heard stories about. Within the next week of this scene, Jesus is accused of blasphemy, crucified, buried, and resurrected.

The man standing upright wearing a billowy white robe is Jesus. The layout of the painting is interesting, as it differs greatly from a traditional Palm Sunday scene. Though it appears that some people are bowing to Jesus, there are also many who have their backs turned to him, symbolizing the near future where the world turns its back on Him. The buildings and clothing are also contemporary, which became a style of choice for Spencer. The composition of the painting is interesting, as it seems that everyone but Jesus is floating. This feeling of being grounded adds to the somberness that Jesus seems to be expressing, through his tilted down head and thoughtful expression. Spencer's interpretation takes into account the events to come, and doesn't only focus on the happiness that the people felt who were getting to see their Messiah.

One of Spencer's two main styles of painting is to reconnect religious scenes to current times. This painting, like many of Spencer's others, is supposed to take place in the small English city where he grew up. This revitalization of old stories was categorized into a genre known as neoprimitivism, of which Spencer played a role in England.

  • 7:00 AM

The Crowd


Wyndham Lewis, The Crowd, 1914-1915. 

With an unstable family life Wyndham Lewis, found his balance in painting. His parents were born from different countries and later divorced. Having to deal with switching houses a few times a week, with understandable complaints of not seeing a parent too much, try divorced parents in different countries. Lewis lived with his mother in England where he went to school and learned how to play rugby and paint. There are no recollections if he had a relationship with his father. Once out of school Lewis traveled around Europe for the most of his career.

Before World War I, Lewis found a balance through geometric designs of cityscapes. He and his fellow Vorticism painters denounced cubism because they could not feel movement. With their take, it does create movement. The Crowd gives a sense of falling, like in Alice in Wonderland, falling through different levels and seeing different shapes. 

In class we read through Brettell's bool on modern art. In that this piece was in black in white with gave it more of a balance between structure and chaos. With this color palate all the different shades of brown and orange remind me of a stereotypical 1970s home. I can see the bright orange carpet, the dark brown furniture and the weird yellow-ish curtains. While the white pieces - through all the muddy shades of brown - fight for attention. 

  • 7:00 AM

The City by the Sea

Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, The City by the Sea, 1919

Where’s the sea? I see the city, its obvious - cramped streets overshadowed by a jumble of structures, people, roads, walls, but no sea. There is a presence of water – a strip solely marked by a few ships – but the other elements of the painting loom above it, seeming to engulf the only possible respite from the bustling city. The strip of water doesn’t pave its way through the city, splitting the canvas between city and nature, but appears to be part of the urban scene, integrated into the rapidly industrialized environment. Not only is the water being surrounded by an urban setting, but it also appears to be industrialized itself. The dock has items to be shipped and a crane (or at least something that looks like a crane) in the distance, and the ship closest to the dock resembles a modern barge in comparison to the other ships. The water, or rather the items within the water, are being used to spread urbanization, taking the elements of the city out to the sea (wherever that may be). However, does it even matter that it is the sea? Without the ships, the water would resemble a road, an object that serves a similar purpose – spreading items and ideas. However, there is one major difference; while a road spreads ideas within a nation, a ship holds the power to spread ideas across the world. Thus, Adrian-Nilsson isn’t just commenting on the urbanization of one city, but the connection of urbanization between cities across vast oceans. 

Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, a Swedish artist and writer during the 20th century, is credited with having a major impact in the development of modern art in Sweden through his paintings. The City by the Sea fuses elements of Cubism and Futurism together, compiling elements of one city onto one layered and chaotic canvas. When looking at the painting, your eye attempts to comprehend the angles, trying to locate a reference point that makes the rest of the canvas make sense, but to no avail. There isn’t a reference point that links each element of the painting together. The people range in sizes, the streets would not be navigable by a Garmin GPS, and somehow one of the buildings is missing a wall, but the people in the living room don’t seem concerned. The painting is a hodgepodge of scenes from the city, views from different streets, different levels, different rooms, different corners, all compiled together to present a complete representation of a single city. Richard R. Brettell describes, “the surface is no longer a field of vision, but a field of action or compressed observation.” Each movement of your eye is a jump from one side of the city to another, a completely different perspective that takes a moment to adjust to. But, this is the artistic appeal of Cubism - confusion. 


Cubism always confused me. I would look at the painting, speculate what I thought the subject was, and then read the title and feel as if I missed the whole point. How could something that just looked like a random assortment of lines actually be a person walking down a flight of stairs? However, The City by the Sea finally cracked the barrier between Cubism and my analytical view. The viewer isn’t supposed to connect the lines to form a single snapshot, but rather take in each individual line as one moment and follow the lines as they create a timeline or a compilation of multiple places. So, maybe the sea really is in this painting, it just isn’t depicted how I expected it to be. The sea isn’t a vast area that has a specific barrier between it and the city in the painting, it is that single strip of water caught in-between two other parts of the city, engulfed by urbanization and being used to spread industry and ideas across the world.

 
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