Freaks and Geeks and Street Light

Giacomo Balla, Street Light, 1910-11

Freaks and Geeks
debuted in 1999 and only lasted one season. However, in just 18 episodes it defined a generation and became a cult hit. It now features as a regular on most end-of-decade and in-retrospect TV best-of lists. The show, set in Michigan in 1980, deals with the lives of two groups of high school students: the wild, party-loving freaks and the socially awkward freshman geeks. The show embodies everything good about television for teenagers. It’s lovable, it discusses real issues, and most importantly, it’s intelligent enough that the audience can sit through an entire episode without cringing at a contrived plot point or a scene that sounds like it was written by a third grader.

In addition to exploring themes of isolation and coming-of-age, one of the most important recurring elements in the show is the generational gap between the kids and their parents and teachers. 1980 was a time of rapid change for the American cultural landscape; the cultural gap between a 16-year old and a 45-year old has perhaps never been wider than it was then. In Freaks and Geeks, this quickly becomes apparent over the main character Lindsay’s father’s views on music, feminism, and youth culture. For a man born in the great depression, the cultural landscape his son and daughter exist in could not be more alien. On the opposite end of the spectrum is McKinley High School's slightly younger counselor, whose hippie appearance and attitude serve to alienate him from the students and make him at best a type of comic relief. Just like Lindsay’s father, he has been left behind by a rapidly moving generational culture.

Just as a new generation was sweeping through music, film, and the general national mindset in the early 1980s, futurism accompanied the coming of a new unbridled optimism in turn of the century Europe. Before the physical and psychological destruction of World War I, the advent of machinery and increased international integration seemed poised to solve many of the problems that had plagued the world for millennia. And out of this mindset, futurism was born. Artists like Giacomo Balla created out of this spirit of optimism an innovative new art form, which idealized and espoused technology as an exciting new tool for good. Their rejection of all things outdated in favor of a completely new method of interacting with the world parallels—although perhaps with more intensity—the mindset of every new generation taking over its elders. The coming Great War would of course serve to dispel any rosy notions about what the near future might hold in terms of technology, but futurism in itself still serves as an example of the unbridled optimism each generation feels as it begins to shape its world.

  • 7:00 AM

9 Rue de la Condamine

Frederic Bazille, 9 Rue de la Condamine,1870
A failed doctor, Frederic Bazille joined the Impressionists as their token rich boy, befriending each of his fellow artists on quite intimate levels. Exemplified by bright colors, nudity, and lots of men, Bazille’s work is distinct from his friends’ work. Here, he pays homage to their pieces in The Artist’s Studio, 9 Rue de la Condamine.

In the middle stands Bazille, Manet, and Monet chatting in front of a window while Émile Zola stands on the stairs chatting with Renoir while Edmond Maitre, a prominent journalist, plays the piano. On the walls rest many of these artists’ pieces, enlarged so that the space stretches much farther than it really would in person. Bazille does this as a sort of optical illusion to mimic the favorite Impressionist way to paint: en plein air. Doing this, he invokes nature and light into what really may have been a small, stuffy room, instead making it a grand space for artists of many mediums to rendezvous.

This piece is a great compilation of his and his friends’ works. Bazille created this after only starting painting three years prior, so his technique is even more admirable. Having learned bits and pieces of the trade from his friends, especially Monet and Renoir, Bazille has been widely praised as the “Lost Impressionist.” I enjoy this piece because of the massive attention to detail he presents in his own works hanging on the walls. Discipline and practice really show in a manner where he is able to stretch the walls and transform the room while still maintaining natural proportions. Not very far after this piece was finished, the Franco-Prussian war broke out and Bazille was killed in the very first battle, shot in the stomach. It’s a shame to wonder what other great works may have come from him if he had lived past the war.

  • 7:00 AM

The Mother and Sister of the Artist

Berthe Morisot. The Mother and Sister of the Artist. 1869-70.

The Morisot sisters, Edma and Berthe, had the same dream of being an artist. Only they ended up with Berthe as the painter and Edma as the painted. Born in a middle-class bourgeois family in Bourges, France, the sisters had their parents’ support to pursue this rather peculiar profession for women. The two artists enjoyed a close relationship until Edma chose marriage and motherhood over an artistic career. In The Mother and Sister of the Artist, Morisot paints her sister as sad, submissive, and completely blocked by her mother. In the late 19th century, the avant-garde Impressionists gained little appreciation from the public or the critics. This criticism was especially harsh on women painters, one art critic dismissed the Impressionists as "five or six lunatics, including one woman."

Morisot depicted mostly domestic mother-and-child scenes, partly because she wished to show women in their everyday life, also because, as a young bourgeoise, she outright could not be seen at the popular cafes and bars that the males painted.  The situation for Morisot and fellow women painters such as Mary Cassatt is clearly shown in Morisot’s relationship with Edouard Manet. Manet painted Morisot more than twelve times but Manet never posed for her. Morisot, anxious about sending Mother and Sister to the Salon, solicited Manet's advice. Rather than offering verbal suggestions, Manet extensively repainted the whole canvas. Manet's suave shorthand, seen in the mother's features and black dress, differs visibly from Morisot’s light touch in her sister's features. “My only hope is that I shall be rejected,” Morisot wrote to her sister in agony. The painting was accepted. 

Painted during 1969-70, four or five years before the First Impressionist Exhibition, this painting already shows the main features of Impressionism. Unfinished, casual strokes and open contours highlight the artistic qualities that Morisot and her close circle practice. The contrast between Edma’s pearl-colored dress and her mother’s black dress enhances a sense of entrapment, both for Edma and for Berthe. The chair leg is an interesting choice, too, in its simple, almost abstract form. 

  • 7:00 AM

Bonjour Monsieur Courbet

Courbet, Bonjour Monsieur Courbet, 1854

Following several of his previous realist masterpieces that were well received by the Salons, such as the Burial at Ornans, and Stonebreakers, Courbet here again depicted an everyday life scene with realist style. In the painting, Courbet himself, on the right, encounters two strangers in the countryside near his hometown Ornans. The two people, according to historians, the son of a banker, Alfred Bruyas, and his servant in brown suit, presumably just arrived after being dropped off by the carriage in the background. The casual encounter out in the countryside on a beautiful day, however, doesn't seem all that friendly.

While the rich son of the banker takes off his one of his glove and shows Courbet a greeting gesture, Courbet however tilts his head back and kind of “looks down” on the other party as pointed by his “keyed up” beard. It might shed some light on the situation given that Courbet loved and encouraged other artist friends to go out to the country and paint on the sight. The painting captures this moment as Courbet packs up and takes a trip in the country. He presents himself as a self-sufficient and well-prepared old hand of rough terrain, as opposed to the two city boys who got beat-up by travelling in the country. One might go as far as to say Courbet through this painting mocks the industrialized urban life and upholds the value of a life among the nature. Also, known as common people’s artist from works such as the Stonebreakers, Courbet is perhaps showing his disdain towards the “bankers” and those who make their fortune by exploiting working men.

But ironically enough, the death of Courbet was resulted from something he had done for the people, or at he thought he did. In 1871, as president of the revolutionary Paris Commune, Courbet ordered the removal of the Vendome Column. However, the political environment shifted greatly in the next two years. In 1873, the newly elected president Mac-Mahon wanted to resurrect the column, and Courbet was held to pay the expense, which amounted to 323,091 fr and 68 cent.

Courbet then fled to Switzerland to avoid bankruptcy and died from heavy drinking, just a day before the first monthly installment was due. In retrospect, one might look back to this painting and ask, was he so self-sufficient as he depicted after all, and would it hurt to have made friends with a banker? If he had shown little more friendly a gesture, he might not be in so much debt or drink later.

  • 7:00 AM

Monet's Trains

Claude Monet, Railroad Bridge, Argenteuil, 1874
A casual train ride through the countryside can be a relaxing and scenic adventure. You board the train in the bustling, dirty, smoky station, but as the wheels begin to turn and follow the track towards the flowing grass and luscious trees, the sounds of the city fade away and nature embraces the train. Although the train tracks pave their way through nature, uprooting trees and grass to make way for the heavy metal, Monet illustrates a sense of embracing nature in Railroad Bridge, Argenteuil. Yes, the bridge’s support beams rest in the water, and the train passing makes a ruckus, but Monet paints the train’s presence in a graceful manner that suggests a beauty of industry and nature together, rather than one taking over the other.

There is a balance between the presence of colors found in nature, such as the green grass, trees, and reflective blue in the water, and the concrete and metal bridge that has yet to display rust. The use of color seems to draw your eye across the painting, starting at bank on the right side with an array of shades of green and then leads your eye across the bridge to the green on the other side, which meshes with the concrete foundation of the bridge on the bank., suggesting a balance in palette as no color outweighs another. The reflection of the support beams in the water also shows a balance between nature and industry, as the beams stand solid and strong above and below the water, but their reflections flow and ripple along with the current of the water. Even the smoke from the train seems to blend into nature, not appearing as dirty, polluted air, but as fluffy, pure clouds crossing the sky.

Claude Monet, Le Pont de l'Europe, Gare Saint-Lazare, 1877

A few years later, Monet represented the train in another setting – in the heart of Paris. Le Pont de l’Europe, Gare Saint-Lazare depicts trains departing from the bustling, dirty, smoky station to travel out to the countryside. This painting differs drastically from Railroad Bridge, Argenteuil not only due to the subject matter of nature and industry versus solely industry, but also in Monet’s technique of painting. Railroad Bridge, Argenteuil contains a combination of short and long strokes, all in an effort to make the water, grass and trees seem more natural, as if the wind is softly blowing and the water is carrying along the sailboat in its current. The strokes are soft and only really noticeable upon closer inspection, but Le Pont de l’Europe, Gare Saint-Lazare contains more choppy, short strokes. The strokes seem harsher, more striking. It is as if the entire scene has a layer of haze covering it, blurring the train station and the surrounding elements, creating an almost dizzying effect.

Jacques, a liberal critic, explained that Monet’s “brush has expressed not only the movement, color and activity [of the station] but also the clamor; it is unbelievable. Yet the station is full of din – grindings, whistles – that you make out through the colliding blue and gray clouds of dense smoke. It is a pictorial symphony.” While Railroad Bridge, Argenteuil appears complacent and quiet, the sound of Le Pont de l’Europe, Gare Saint-Lazare practically strikes the viewer, a drastic difference between the two works. My favorite difference between the two is the smoke. While the smoke in Railroad Bridge, Argenteuil resembles natural clouds in the sky, the smoke in Le Pont de l’Europe, Gare Saint-Lazare seems more forced and crude. The smoke isn’t billowing, made of more natural strokes; rather, it is harsh and choppy, possibly alluding to the presence of over industrialization in the city. Where as the Railroad Bridge, Argenteuil depicts a balance between nature and industry, Le Pont de l’Europe, Gare Saint-Lazare illustrates a scene where industry has taken over, and both paintings together illustrate the true variety and talent of Claude Monet.

  • 7:00 AM

The Boating Party

Cassatt The Boating Party 1893-1894
In the 1890s Japanese art flowed into Paris. Exhibits displayed the block uses of color and the simplicity of designs, a nice breath of uncomplicated air from the impressionists shows. Cassatt enjoyed these exhibitions and took these techniques to her own art. This piece is a transition from her other more impressionistic pieces with fluid brush strokes, such as Tea painted earlier in 1880.
Cassatt, Tea, 1880 
At the point in her career when she would have painted Tea, she was studying next to Degas and took to more formal situations with woman with scenes such as this, outdoors with children, while women are getting ready (fully clothed and out of the bathtub, unlike Monsieur Degas). The lines on the walls in Tea are less stressed and the color palette is clearly lighter compared to The Boating Party, where Cassatt goes as far as to almost create a shade of black, secretly forbidden by the impressionists.

After The Boating Party, Cassatt furthered her exploration of Japanese art and produced pieces such as Under the Horse Chestnut in 1898. The transformation of these three paintings show her progression in her career away from classic Impressionism. In Under the Horse Chestnut the block color look and light color palete is displayed. There is no depth, just strong, bland colors and lines that force you to focus on the shapes of the characters. Her clothing and her arms are done beautifully and her study of women with Degas shows through those aspects as she removes the shadows and colors, and the baby's body is also beautifully done with this new style as well.

Cassatt, Under the Horse Chestnut, 1898
I chose to focus on the middle transition piece because it shows her master of both Impressionist art and the beginnings of her Japanese influence. Her water is still smooth, but the man's coat and the boat begin to show the blocks of color, and the darkness of the man surprised many because, as I said before, black was never the choice color of impressionist painters, and this was a risky move and told viewers that Cassatt was in the process of going in a different direction.

The new direction took Cassatt on world adventures and finally to Egypt in 1910. There she saw true historical art and had an "art crisis," where she had a freak out about creating new art when the old art she was seeing near the pyramids and other artifacts. This forced her to question her art, and she remained in her "art crisis" but kept painting until 1914 when she went blind and had to put up her paint brushes.
  • 7:00 AM

La Grenouillère

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, La Grenouiller, 1869

Renoir was not only influenced by the great painters before, such as Titian and Raphael, but also many of the artists with whom he spent a great deal of his time. Renoir was not married until he was 49 and used much of his free time with the "impressionist clique" of whom he was a part. Other members of the group whom Renoir was particularly close were Monet and Bazille. The three men frequently painted each other, and occasionally alongside each other. The men lived together and spent most of their time together, so it is not surprising that they sometimes chose the same scenes. One example of this similarity in scene is in 
La Grenouillère, painted here by Renoir and Monet. Though it appears the paintings were done at different times of day, with different arrangements of the boats, it is thought that the two set up their easels right next to each other when they painted these.
Claude Monet, Bain a la Grenouillere, 1869

The paintings epitomize what the Impressionists were trying to accomplish. Both paintings use blurred brush strokes to capture a moment in time, yet Renoir seems to focus on the clothes of the elite people enjoying a day on the river. Monet takes a different approach by focusing on the look of the water and boats. Though both paintings are of the same scene, Renoir’s seems cluttered and weighed down by the blue-green shade he used in the trees, while Monet’s scene seems to be a further out view of the same scene. Because of this, Monet shows the top of the tree line in the distance, which removes the feeling of weight to the viewer.

Though both paintings highlight different aspects of the scene, I prefer the Monet because it highlights the happy feeling the people on the lake are feeling during their afternoon of leisure. Renoir’s use of dark colors, though it fits with his blue motif, seems to give an unnecessarily dark feeling to the image that I don’t like.

  • 7:00 AM

Women With A Pearl Necklace In A Loge

Cassatt, Women with a Pearl Necklace in a Loge, 1879

One of Cassatt's most noted works, Women With a Pearl Necklace in a Loge depicts what is said to be her sister, Lidia, at the Paris opera house in a private box. The style of this piece is normal of Cassatt's impressionist side with the light brush strokes and casual lines that make the piece laid back and less formal of a piece for the quite formal occasion. Her high class is obvious and demonstrated by her seat at the opera and her clothes with her playful fan, dress, and flowers.

Formal scenes and domestic images were mostly Cassatt's subjects because she was a woman artist. Although she came from wealth, her father refused to support her artistic career and would only pay for her living expenses and not her art supplies or classes, which after the Pennsylvania School of Fine Arts her classes became sparse when she moved to Paris because women couldn't participate in the academies. Because of this, Cassatt found herself working in private studios with some of the greatest talent. She favored, of course, Degas' private studio time (though nothing romantic, with Degas' purely visual sexual behavior). After training with some of the Impressionist masters, she began working in these domestic scenes, or outings in which women could attend, such as this painting.  

Cassatt paints her at intermission and looking at her from her box seat, the viewer sees the rest the audience in the background, making this piece essentially addressing the audience as the performers. The show itself is at a pause and Cassatt takes a moment to capture the audience in action from the perspective of standing on the stage, looking up at her sister and the mirror image of the entire crowd. The reflection is done pretty well I'd say. Cassatt removes herself from the reflection, even though she would be seeing herself in the mirror as well from this view. She does this to further illuminate the audience as the performers and call attention to their act while they gather to watch the ballet. The viewers of a certain class int eh box seats must come to the ballet with a casual and elegant attitude, like Lidia displays, and be with friends and only concerned with themselves as Cassatt shows in the other boxes and by removing herself.    

  • 7:00 AM


Honore Daumier, Gargantua, 1831

If you have the appetite for snarky satire that this king has for peasants and bags of money, then you may end up liking the works of Honoré Daumier. Although the Marseille-born artist certainly has more sinister works (see Trasnonain Street for proof), Daumier cloaks his more caustic gibes in humorous political cartoons.

Daumier bases his study on novelist François Rabelais's character Gargantua, an obscenely large man of certain repugnant (here unmentionable) habits with which a king would not have wanted to be associated. The unflattering image shows citizens with baskets of currency lining up before a walkway to feed their insatiable king. Daumier created this lithograph in response to the king's allowing himself an unreasonably high salary at the expense of more humanitarian expenditures, and he represents the government that absorbs the lower class's money and destroys their livelihoods.  The figure, King Louis-Philippe I, clearly overrules the policymakers in his request, although a little pyramid of competitors for favor has formed beneath the walkway, reflecting the government's fickle sliminess.  Many, incidentally, seem to sport his same garb and triangular hairstyle.  Unfortunately, Daumier's cartoon did not amuse the French authorities who ordered his arrest and subsequent six-month imprisonment. Their timely arrival on scene stopped the work's publication in the satirical subversive humor magazine La Caricature.

The art here resembles that of Monty Python's cartoons, with their strange, often voluptuous body shapes, liberally applied shadows, and almost grotesque facial expressions. The king has strange hair and body shape and a somewhat vacant look.  All other subjects in the painting pale in comparison to his deformed largess. If the scrambling mini-politicians are idiots, then he is the king idiot. Daumier shows an absent, stupid leader who even in dress is no different than the avaricious politicians below him. The platform propped upon the potbelly slopes strangely to supplement the surrealism of the rest of the painting, underscoring that the institution shown is unnatural and must be corrected. While not aesthetically perfect, Gargantua takes its own eccentricity in its stride to portray Daumier's ridiculous world of bourgeoisie rule.

  • 7:00 AM

Jesus Mocked by Soldiers

Jesus Mocked by Soldiers, Edouard Manet, 1865

The hanging of Olympia in the 1863 Paris Salon and its surrounding controversy has become one of the most famous incidents in all of art history and is considered by many to be a foundational moment for later avant-garde movements such as Impressionism, which sought to break the mold of artistic expression at their time. However, many forget the painting, almost equally reviled in its time, which hung next to the famous courtesan. Jesus Moqué par les Soldats, or Jesus Mocked by the Soldiers, was painted around the same time as Olympia. Manet also won its entry to the 1865 Salon, and it hung next to Olympia around eye level in room. During the exhibition, people struggled to crowd like sardines into the chamber to get a glimpse at the two paintings. They were the laughing stock of Paris. The situation grew so bad that the Salon’s directors, partially out of pity for Manet and partially out of a desire to get people to look at the rest of the artwork, moved the two paintings to an inconspicuous position high above a doorway where they could do no more harm.

The painting itself is not quite the masterpiece that Olympia was, but it stands alone as a nice early work. Jesus sits plaintively on a chair, surrounded by the cruel soldiers of the Empire. He stares upward. Manet draws his body rather unusually. Jesus is often depicted in pain, of course, but he is generally shown to be a physically strong, robust man. Here, he seems small. It seems as though the soldiers have won. Manet’s painting generated quite a bit of controversy for depicting Jesus as completely human. His typically minimalist style shines through here, and in a way similar to Olympia he makes the men seem grimy. There’s not a lot of hope in this painting. I think that’s why it created such a stir. Jesus doesn’t seem like the usual beacon of hope and dignity. He kind of seems like he’s already dead.

  • 7:00 AM

The Ballet from "Robert le Diable"

Edgar Degas, The Ballet from 'Robert le Diable, 1871

Edgar Degas was born in Paris into a moderately wealthy family. When old enough, his father wanted Edger to pursue a life in the courtroom. So they compromised, Degas went into the Faculty of Law of the University of Paris in November 1853. Since he did not enjoy the world of the lawyers, he decided to not apply himself. He soon met Ingres who told him, "draw lines, young man, many lines."Shortly after Degas received admission to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he found his way through the school developing a style similar of Ingres.

Degas is known for his graceful paintings of ballerinas from an angle that is off to one side of the stage.  The Ballet from "Robert le Diable" comes from an angle in the audience. In this scene Degas depicts the third act of Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera Robert le Diable. The ghosts of dead nuns have been resurrected and greet one another amid the ruins of a moonlit monastery. While analyzing this painting, it reminds me of the ballet Dracula (preformed by the Kansas City Ballet) where Dracula resides in an abandoned abbey and frequently dances under the cover of moonlight (classic vampire stuff). 

Degas featured himself in this painting, right in the center of the audience. He is completely oblivious to the performance on the stage and his eyes wander off - much like the other students whom were seeing the inside of the Kauffman center for the first time. Degas paints  The Ballet from "Robert le Diable" with three harsh verticals; the edge of the audience, the arms of the dancers, and then the rail coming off from the archways in the monastery. There is not a good indication of a center, the column splits the painting just to the left, Degas' head just to the right, and the dancers are awkwardly sliced through the center of those two. 

The Ballet from "Robert le Diable" hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I have walked through the halls of the Met, however I did not get to see this painting. I saw other pieces by Degas, which is where my appreciation of his works started. 

  • 7:00 AM

Portraits in an Office: The Cotton Exchange, New Orleans

Edgar Degas, Portraits in an Office: The Cotton Exchange, New Orleans, 1873. 

Edgar Degas visited family in New Orleans in 1872. His brother, René, coerced Degas to stay for a longer time then Degas imagined. During his long stay, Degas created The Cotton Exchange where he included his family within the painting. This painting was popular back in France where it was the only painting of Degas' that was purchased in the Pau Museum. 

Although it does not look like it, Degas encapsulates a moment of devastation. This scene is the exact moment when his uncle Michel Musson's cotton brokerage business went bankrupt in an economic crash. Musson is depicted in the painting near the pile of cotton, examining the cotton.  Degas' brother René is rather lazy, so it is fitting that Degas painted him just sitting and reading the paper. 

Finding out that Degas painted his family members in this piece, it became more interesting. First I thought it was boring and that Degas should stick to horses or dancers. But this painting proves that Degas has talent to spare even in the face of losing his eye sight. 

Compositionally, the painting is okay. I think the perspective is a little off, as the room does not look exact. The painting is split into thirds vertically - cut by the bookshelf in the back and Uncle Musson. The pillar on the left could be left out but I find it nice to balance the man on the right at the desk. It also serves as a painted frame to encase the people on the left more into the painting. The movement is cutting through the painting diagonally starting at the door in the back and ends at the older man sitting in the front. 

I enjoy how Degas has created a serene painting at the time of chaos. Edgar Degas has painted this in the earlier part of his career, and it shows the promise of many great works to come.

  • 7:00 AM

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

Edouard Manet. A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. 1882.

Edouard Manet completed A Bar at the Folies-Bergère during the last two years of his life in 1882. The subject of the painting, the bar, is depicted through a reflection behind the barmaid. This incredibly modern approach creates much mystery and ambiguity that its meaning is still debated among art historians. The big question lies in the inconsistency between reality and reflection. From the way the barmaid’s eyes meet the viewer’s gaze, the viewer should be standing directly facing her, yet the reflection of her and the male customer seems to suggest the viewer’s position is much more to the left. In fact, in Manet’s preparatory sketch of the painting, the reflection adheres more to reality. Manet changed the work substantially from the sketch; was he trying to convey something entirely different through the placement of the mirrored figures? 

Edouard Manet. Oil Sketch for A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. 1881-82.
One argument could be made that the mirrored image is an alternate reality. The barmaid dresses in the standard attire with the revealing neckline that the job requires. In the late 19th century, rapid modernization in Paris led to massive development of the entertainment industry, played out in various bars and nightclubs. The barmaid’s face reveals a profound sadness and blankness as she is trapped in her job and in life; she is exposed, distanced and vulnerable. On the contrary, her reflection indicates the way she is supposed to act, leaning in, intimate and responsive to her male customers.  Therefore the mirrored image contains more than physical but the psychological reflection of the barmaid’s world. In the alternative world, she stands back, meditating on the events that led her to this clearly miserable job. We as viewers are drawn to the sensual, as well as emotional aspect of the painting, wanting to help her escape from reality. Manet conveys his sympathy for the unnamed barmaid, suggesting that women like her are the victims of the bar culture. 

  • 7:00 AM

Paris Street, Rainy Day

Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877

Caillebotte was an outsider among the Impressionists; a lawyer from a wealthy family who espoused the ideals of the Impressionist movement, but whose flat, exacting style of painting had more to do with Realism. Living off a large inheritance from his parents, he pursued painting and gardening as hobbies while buying artwork from his colleagues, amassing a sizable collection of Impressionist work. His own paintings were influenced by the growing art of photography, using tricks like cropping, tilted floors, and high vantage points to create unusual and precise perspectives.

Paris Street, Rainy Day prominently showcases the new boulevards and changes to the cityscape taking place during this period. The “Haussmanization” of Paris meant great leaps forward in urban planning, bringing new public parks, monuments, facilities, and more. The sharp, geometric buildings of this intersection near the Gare St-Lazare tower over the disproportionately small people in the streets. As the scene extends back into the distance, it blurs, mimicking the limited depth of field of a photograph. The flatness of the shading evokes, more than anything, more modern artists like Edward Hopper, not Impressionism. The unusually detached crowd move like sleepwalkers, none of them making eye contact. In fact, the three people in the right foreground are about to unwittingly collide. The overall effect comes off as carefully planned, but still amazingly spontaneous; the viewer feels as though they have stepped outside on a rainy day in Paris to marvel at the grand façades of their modern city.
  • 7:00 AM

The Spanish Singer

Edouard Manet, The Spanish Singer, 1860

The Spanish Singer was Manet’s first widely accepted work. Exhibited in the Salon in 1861, it represented a major step forward for Manet, who would until his untimely death at the hands of syphilis and/or gangrene, remain obsessed with the Salon. For a man who lived to push the boundaries of what was acceptable to depict as art, he was quite obsessed with obtaining pats on the back from the establishment. This painting, however, had little of the incendiary potential exhibited by his later, more famous works such as Déjeuner sur l’Herbe or Olympia. Instead of putting naked ladies in revolutionary new places like fields or couches, this painting depicted only a heavily-inebriated young Spanish crooner strumming on his guitar. When he paints this, Manet is only 27 or 28. Although some of his distinctive style makes itself visible in this painting—his heavy use of black is quite exaggerated here—his sketch-like painting style and heavy use of black outline have yet to reach maturity in this early work. However, a hint of the playful subversion in which Manet so loved to engage appears here—the discarded butt of some sort of smoking material and open wine jug lie on the floor in front of him to show us that this young singer has been enjoying himself as he cranks out music for the children to dance to. 

His crappy shoes and ragged shirt belie his less-than-ideal social status. His guitar, on the other hand, is top notch. This painting also reveals the heavy influence of Velasquez that weighed on Manet’s distinctive style early in his career after his visit to Spain. The way Manet forms his lines and particularly the way he draws the singer’s face obviously shows good old Diego’s influence on young Edouard. 

I don’t think this painting is by any means a masterpiece. However, it is a good early example of Manet’s technical mastery of painting, and it helps to show why Manet was the first artist to successfully break the mold in the stuffy aristocratic art world of the mid-19th century.

  • 7:00 AM