Iberia and "Stray Birds"

Robert Motherwell, Iberia, 1958

From Stray Birds
by Rabindranath Tagore

Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.

The grass seeks her crowed in the earth.
The tree seeks his solitude of the sky.

Man barricades against himself.

Your voice, my friend, wanders in my heart, like the muffled sound of the sea among these listening pines.

What is this unseen flame of darkness whose sparks are the stars?

A witness to the Spanish Civil War and its atrocity, Robert Motherwell later devoted a series of abstract paintings to the experience, revolving the theme of black and white, and the inexorable circle of life and death. Was he disappointed in humanity, faithless? As the black so overwhelmingly dominates the canvas. Or was there still hope? As light still shines through the corner. Were children the solution, whose innocence forces history to turn to a new page? Perhaps the answer is just behind the unseen flame of darkness. 

Editor's Note: Students were asked to match a poem to a picture. They could do so with or without comment; they could be serious or playful. We will leave it to our dear readers to make the connection.

  • 7:00 AM

Saint Serapion and "Invictus"

Francisco De Zurbaran, Saint Serapion,1628
Invictus
William Ernest Henley


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul. 

Editor's Note: Students were asked to match a poem to a picture. They could do so with or without comment; they could be serious or playful. We will leave it to our dear readers to make the connection.

  • 7:00 AM

Sonnet 110 and The Kiss

Klimt, The Kiss, 1907
Sonnet 110
WIlliam Shakespeare
Alas! 'tis true I have gone here and there 
And made myself a motley to the view, 
Gor'd mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear,
Made old offences of affections new. 
Most true it is that I have look'd on truth
Askance and strangely: but, by all above, 
These blenches gave my heart another youth, 
And worse essays prov'd thee my best of love. 
Now all is done; have what shall have no end: 
Mine appetite I never more will grind 
On newer proof, to try an older friend, 
A god in love, to whom I am confin'd. 
Then give me welcome, next my heaven the best,
Even to thy pure and most most loving breast. 

Editor's Note: Students were asked to match a poem to a picture. They could do so with or without comment; they could be serious or playful. We will leave it to our dear readers to make the connection.
  • 7:00 AM

Caillebotte and "No Man Is An Island"

Gustave Caillebotte, A Paris Street, Rain, 1877

No Man Is An Island
By John Donne

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

Caillebotte's painting creates the illusion of disunity between its figures, each huddled under their own umbrellas. It undermines poet John Donne's idea that human lives are the sum of their interactions with other people, that each person endures similar joys, hardships, and growth.

Editor's Note: Students were asked to match a poem to a picture. They could do so with or without comment; they could be serious or playful. We will leave it to our dear readers to make the connection.
  • 7:00 AM

Train dans la campagne by Claude Monet and The Valley of Unrest

Claude Monet, Train dans la Campagne, 1853

The Valley of Unrest
By Edgar Allen Poe

Once it smiled a silent dell
Where the people did not dwell;
They had gone unto the wars,
Trusting to the mild-eyed stars,
Nightly, from their azure towers,
To keep watch above the flowers,
In the midst of which all day
The red sun-light lazily lay.
Now each visitor shall confess
The sad valley's restlessness.
Nothing there is motionless --
Nothing save the airs that brood
Over the magic solitude.
Ah, by no wind are stirred those trees
That palpitate like the chill seas
Around the misty Hebrides!
Ah, by no wind those clouds are driven
That rustle through the unquiet Heaven
Uneasily, from morn till even,
Over the violets there that lie
In myriad types of the human eye --
Over the lilies there that wave
And weep above a nameless grave!
They wave: -- from out their fragrant tops
Eternal dews come down in drops.
They weep: -- from off their delicate stems
Perennial tears descend in gems.

Editor's Note: Students were asked to match a poem to a picture. They could do so with or without comment; they could be serious or playful. We will leave it to our dear readers to make the connection. 
  • 7:00 AM

Autograph [c.1900] and Bow and Bid Adieu

Oscar De Mejo, Autograph [c. 1900], 1980

Bow and Bid Adieu
By John Keats

Fame, like a wayward girl, will still be coy
To those who woo her with too slavish knees,
But makes surrender to some thoughtless boy,
And dotes the more upon a heart at ease;
She is a gypsy, will not speak to those
Who have not learnt to be content without her;
A jilt, whose ear was never whispered close,
Who thinks they scandal her who talk about her;
A very gypsy is she, Nilus-born,
Sister-in-law to jealous Potiphar;
Ye love-sick bards, repay her scorn for scorn,
Ye artists lovelorn, madmen that ye are!
Make your best bow to her and bid adieu,
Then, if she likes it, she will follow you.

Editor's Note: Students were asked to match a poem to a picture. They could do so with or without comment; they could be serious or playful, profound or goofy. We will leave it to our dear readers to make their own connections.

  • 7:00 AM

The Purification of the Temple and Goodtime Jesus

El Greco, The Purification of the Temple, 1600

Goodtime Jesus
By James Tate

Jesus got up one day a little later than usual. He had been dream-
ing so deep there was nothing left in his head. What was it?
A nightmare, dead bodies walking all around him, eyes rolled
back, skin falling off. But he wasn't afraid of that. It was a beau-
tiful day. How 'bout some coffee? Don't mind if I do. Take a little
ride on my donkey, I love that donkey. Hell, I love everybody.


Editor's Note: Students were asked to match a poem to a picture. They could do so with or without comment; they could be serious or playful. We will leave it to our dear readers to make the connection. 
  • 7:00 AM

A Pardon in Brittany and Spring is like a perhaps hand

Gaston La Touche, A Pardon in Brittany, 1896

Spring is like a perhaps hand
by e. e. cummings

Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window,into which people look(while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.

Editor's Note: Students were asked to match a poem to a picture. They could do so with or without comment; they could be serious or playful, profound or goofy. We will leave it to our dear readers to make their own connections.

  • 7:00 AM

Spectre of Sex Appeal and Howl

Spectre of Sex Appeal, Salvador Dali, 1934

Howl, Part II

By Allen Ginsburg

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!

Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!

Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!

Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb! Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smokestacks and antennae crown the cities!

Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!

Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch!

Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a consciousness without a body! Moloch who frightened me out of my natural ecstasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch! Light streaming out of the sky!

Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations! invincible mad houses granite cocks! monstrous bombs!

They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements, trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists and is everywhere about us!

Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the American river!

Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit! Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years' animal screams and suicides! Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on the rocks of Time!

Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roof to solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the street!

Editor's Note: Students were asked to match a poem to a picture. They could do so with or without comment; they could be serious or playful, profound or goofy. We will leave it to our dear readers to make their own connections.
  • 7:00 AM

Pygmalion and Galatea and Twelfth Night

Jean-Léon Gérôme, Pygmalion and Galatea, 1890

From Twelfth Night
By William Shakespeare

If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more:
'Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe'er,
But falls into abatement and low price,
Even in a minute: so full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical.

Editor's Note: Students were asked to match a poem to a picture. They could do so with or without comment; they could be serious or playful, profound or goofy. We will leave it to our dear readers to make their own connections.
  • 7:00 AM

Procession of Boats with Distant Smoke and Waves

J.M.W. Turner, Procession of Boats with Distant Smoke, Venice, 1845.

Waves 

By Robin Robertson

I have swum too far
out of my depth
and the sun has gone;

the hung weight of my legs
a plumb-line,
my fingers raw, my arms lead;

the currents pull like weed
and I am very tired
and cold, and moving out to sea.

The beach is still bright.
The children I never had
run to the edge

and back to their beautiful mother
who smiles at them, looks up
from her magazine, and waves.

Editor's Note: Students were asked to match a poem to a picture. They could do so with or without comment; they could be serious or playful, profound or goofy. We will leave it to our dear readers to make their own connections.

  • 7:00 AM

L'Absinthe

Edgar Degas, L'Absinthe, 1876

The late 1870s saw a panic in French society. The art-loving nation had just had its army and its pride absolutely crushed by the Franco-Prussian war, and the ensuing political turmoil had done nothing to help the self-esteem of the nation at large. The Third Republic was still in its infancy, and the to many the nation seemed headed on a course towards political and economic ruin. Naturally, people looked for somewhere to lay blame. Political figures came quickly to mind, and turnover in the government ranks was quite high. However, many began to go beyond individual problems and believed that there were deep cracks in French society threatening to tear the nation apart. This is the environment in which Degas painted his L’Absinthe, five years after the end of the Franco-Prussian war. The painting depicts a man and a woman of one might say questionable moral fiber sitting at the table of a bar and staring dejectedly into their drinks. Both look like they have seen better days. The light is doing them no favors, but even without the harsh, dull light in which they are bathed, their skin seems to have an unhealthy pallor about it. The ugliness and depressing nature of this painted relate pretty clearly to fears circling the intellectual and policy circles about the state of French society. The woman—who was actually a model but who many thought to be a prostitute—stares dejectedly into her glass of absinthe while the man stares off into the distance, puffing sadly on his pipe. The isolation in the picture is almost palpable; the couple may sit right next to one another, but they both seem quite alone. The painting feels sad.

Critics of the time missed the boat, as they always seem to do. The picture was slandered as dirty and immoral. For some reason, critics confused depiction with endorsement and thus believed that Degas was propounding this sort of debauchery when he was quite obviously doing the opposite. The public and critical reaction grew so harsh that Degas had to remove the painting from exhibition, and even when he re-showed it 16 years later, it was universally panned.

While it may show the darker side of Belle Epoque Paris, a painting like this is important as a display of Parisian culture nonetheless. Post-Haussmann Paris abounded with bars of this sort where drinking, singing, and other pleasures awaited for just a few francs. While critics of the time may have wished to pretend that life and art consisted of only beautiful things and beautiful people, painters like Degas quite effectively showed the underside of high French society.

  • 7:00 AM

A Certain Type of Woman: Part V of V.


Antonio Canova, Detail of Venus Victrix, 1505-1508
Detail of Venus Victrix
So, let’s take a look at Pauline as Victorious Venus. She lies sumptuously upon the softest bed of marble you’ll even witness. And in her hand she holds the apple prize. 

The work, life size, stuns with its smooth lines, unbelievable detail and charged sensuality.

Her back bows gently, the drapery folds are extraordinary.

And her head seems to me among the most beautiful I can think of in sculpture. She’s as stunning as she is strong. No-nonsense Venus, the “that’s right I’ve won and I shall wear what I want” Venus.

Pauline, of course, loved the sculpture, for it captured her at the height of her allure and beauty. Camillo was appalled, and quickly had taken to Turin where Pierson Dixson tells us, “it was rarely allowed to be seen.” For her part, though, Pauline reveled in the scandal. She told those that asked about posing nude for the sculptor that “Oh, Canova is not a real man,” or else, “Every veil must fall before Canova.” If she was feeling particularly impish, she would claim, “There was a good fire in the room, so I didn’t take cold.”

Now shall we take cold either, since we have built a small fire in the room with these two subversive women and the stories behind their art.

Editor's note: This week's series was adapted from an earlier lecture. 
  • 7:00 AM

A Certain Type of Woman: Part IV of V.

Antonio Canova, Venus Victrix, 1505-1508
By MARK LUCE

There was another woman who cut a swath through Europe. She was outspoken, vain, and once told her first husband she would come back to Paris only if he gave her “100,000 francs.” She was also a serial philanderer, taking men as quickly as Napoleon took territories. After the death of her first husband, and about the time her older brother Napoleon was taking over France, Pauline Bonaparte married Camillo Borghese, a powerful Roman noble who could help Napoleon further his reach.

Only the headstrong Pauline grew to dislike what she saw as the restrictive conventions of life as a Roman princess. So she did what she did best. She acted out, making Roman jaws drop with her promiscuity, bad-mouthing her sister-in-law Josephine, quarreling with her mother-in-law and spending money, oh so much money on the latest fashions. She quickly grew estranged from Camillo, who seemed uninterested in Pauline in any way, and they lived apart from one another. Even Napoleon, her own brother, said this, “Tell her from me she is no longer beautiful, and she will be still less so in a few years, it is important to be good and esteemed.”

In the midst of this social maelstrom, she did what any self-centered, gorgeous but aging Princess would do. She decided to stay beautiful forever by commissioning the greatest living sculptor to portray her as a life-size Venus… nude and reclining. And she got her husband to pay for it.

Antonio Canova can be considered the greatest sculptor since Bernini, his works certainly define the neoclassical style that dominates the late 18th and early 19th century. [A small aside – Barstow graduate Elyse Nelson, 2005 – is currently working on a PhD at New York University in Art History. Her dissertation is on Canova.] He had commissions upon commissions, and tried to tell Pauline that he was too busy. However, to hear Pauline’s attendant tell it, Canova was so struck by Pauline’s beauty, he started within a month. However, when Canova hinted that Pauline should be portrayed as Diana, the virgin huntress, Pauline retorted “Nobody would believe in my chastity.”

A quick myth break – grumpy goddess of strife and discord and all things chaotic Eris was miffed that she didn’t get an invite to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis (their son is Achilles). Instead of playing nice, Eris crashed the wedding and tossed out a golden apple that said “The Fairest,” or something to that effect. Venus, Juno and Diana all laid claim on the fruit. They wanted Zeus to judge who was the fairest. Zeus, for once, refused to interfere and appointed Paris, a mere mortal, as the judge. He deemed Venus the hottest, thus she got the apple.

Editor's Note: This week's posts are an adaptation of a lecture given in January. Enjoy.
  • 7:00 AM

A Certain Type of Woman: Part III of V

Agnolo Bronzino, Guidobaldo il della Rovere, 1531

Titian, never one to let an opportunity for profit pass (and perhaps on the hint of Aretino) decided to do something rather naughty. He had Angela model for a portrait, the one we now call Venus of Urbino. Titian, perhaps letting his bawdiness get the best of him, thought Ippolito would get a kick out of this souvenier of Ippolito’s presumably enjoyable evening.

Only Ippolito never came to pick up the painting. And thus it sat in the studio for more than five years, until Guidobaldo il della Rovere, the young Duke of Camerino, saw it while sitting for a portrait.

On March 9, 1538 he told his agent in Venice to pick up the portrait and a picture of a nude woman. But there was a catch, Guidobaldo was a bit cash poor, and worried that Titian might sell the work. So he asked his mom for some money – seriously- she agreed and Guidobaldo received the painting before he took over the dukeship of Urbino in October of 1538.
Titian, Detail - Venus of Urbino, 1538

Oh, and another thing, Guidobaldo was married (for political and economic reasons, of course) to Guilia Varano in 1534. He was 20. She was 10. So, could it be possible that this unconventional Venus, the one who stares directly at us and seemingly invites us to sit on her daybed, actually be more an instructional gift from Guidobaldo to his young bride? This, my sweet, is how we do things her. This is how we how we pose artistically. Don’t worry, the servants will get your dresses.

We will never know quite for sure what Guidobaldo wanted with the portrait – whether what Mark Twain deemed high-class smut, or as the matrimonial embodiment of the most beautiful goddess. We do know, however, that our Venus of Urbino cuts a rather broad swath through the next 400 years of Western painting.

Editor's Note: This week's posts are an adaptation of a lecture given in January. Enjoy.

  • 7:00 AM

A Certain Type of Woman: Part II of V

Titian, Detail from Venus of Urbino, 1538 
Even more puzzling: what’s this little pooch doing curled up at the feet of our dear Venus. For you see, dogs in paintings generally serve as a nod to fidelity. So just who is this unconventional woman, this Venus? She’s one Angela del Moro. Also known as Angela Zaffetta.

Angela del Moro was a high-priced Venetian courtesan, not a street walker. She was strong-minded, independent, a businesswoman. This didn’t always sit well with men, and one in particular - bad boy scribbler Pietro Aretino ridiculed her in vulgar verse called La Zaffetta and the 31. Strangely, he also later praised her as one who “embraced virtue and honored virtuous men.” He also said “Angela put a mask of decency on the face of lust.” 
Titian, Ippolito de Medici, 1533
And it was lust that led Cardinal Ippolito de Medici to Zaffetta’s chambers. Ippolito was the bastard son of the Duke of Nemours, Giuliano de’ Medici. By any standard, Ippolito was a rake. Titian’s biographer Shelia Hale refers to him as “a swaggering, spoiled, restless young hell-raiser.” He also refused to wear his vestments of his job and was a dreadful military leader.

Of course, he was a good friend with our cad poet Aretino, who then persuaded Ippolito to sit for Titian when Ippolito visited Venice on October 16, 1532.  


One could also safely assume that it was Aretino who arranged for an assignation between La Zaffetta and Ippolito on October 20, 1532.

Editor's Note: This week's posts are an adaptation of a lecture given in January. Enjoy.
  • 7:00 AM

A Certain Type of Woman: Part I of V

Titian, Venus of Urbino, 1538
By MARK LUCE

Titian had been painting certain kinds of women since he was an apprentice with Venetian master Giorgione, who also painted certain kinds of women. Only most of Titian’s commissions were for women with names like Mary, Virgin Mary, Madonna, Mary Magdalen, or simply Mary. While Titian was not only a shrewd businessman, but also an incredibly talented painter - one who felt at home painting the Annunciation, the mythic Danae, or even portraits of high-society Venetians, Popes and Kings. While Titian’s brushwork and colors can be incredibly bold, it wasn’t until the early 1530s, that he painted what would become, posthumously, his most brazen work.

In polite company we call her Venus, as it’s okay to look at people without clothes if they are mythic and nude. No less a humorist than Mark Twain had a chuckle at such attitudes when in Tramp Abroad he wrote, "There are pictures of nude women which suggest no impure thought -I am well aware of that. I am not railing at such. What I am trying to emphasize is the fact that Titian's Venus is very far from being one of that sort. Without any question it was painted for a bagnio and it was probably refused because it was a trifle too strong. In truth, it is a trifle too strong for any place but a public art gallery.While Twain has a chuckle at the expense of museums, on some level he’s right. For you see Titian’s Venus of Urbino, well, she’s certainly an unconventional woman.

Over the years I have learned more than a few varying accounts of the commissioning and purpose of the painting, most of them claiming the painting was explicitly for a gentlemen’s pleasure, perhaps of his mistress, or his favorite courtesan - or both.

But if that’s the case, then why do servants pull clothes from a marriage chest, a traditional gift of matrimony? Even the most callous philanderer wouldn’t have a painting commissioned that showed his mistress reclining nude in his wife’s boudoir. Or would he?

Editor's Note: This week's posts are an adaptation of a lecture given in January. Enjoy.
  • 7:00 AM

Petite Pologne, destruction pour le boulevard Malesherbes

A. P. Martial,  Petite Pologne, destruction pour le boulevard Malesherbes, 1861

The period 1853-70 marked the renovation of Paris by the Baron Haussmann, a favorite of the Emperor Napoleon III who decided to reorganize his city to include large, grid-like boulevards. The baron looked to cities like New York for inspiration, envisioning a highly-organized city whose many avenues would display the most prominent monuments and views. One major criticism of his process was that he displaced so many people from the heart of Paris, banishing them to its meager outskirts. Haussmann himself estimated the number to be around 350,000 citizens, a significant portion of the population. The etching above, Little Poland, destruction by the boulevard Malesherbes, shows the demolition of an immigrant neighborhood to make way for the luxuriant new roads.

All about the etching lies a sentiment of decay.  The neighborhood stands looking empty and desolate, its inhabitants forced to abandon it.  Tall rocks stand like forgotten megaliths by the roadside, helpless in the face of modernity. The living road swarms forth to engulf the edges of the painting with little regard for its victim culture. Paris's citizens and unique form of civilization pale in comparison to the need to renovate and usher in the new.

But this etching most convincingly portrays the new boulevard as a primordial power, like a force of nature.  It could almost be mistaken for a turbulent river. The question remains, then: will the Haussmannization of Paris revitalize the city, giving life to a modern utopia? Or will it simply destroy dependent subcultures and displace the poor? While present-day visitors stand in awe of Haussmann's modern Paris, contemporary critics mourned the capital's loss of identity and its transformation into a clone of lesser cities. The Paris inconnu of former generations had diminished to display its most beautiful perspectives glaringly like tacky, forward postcards, losing its sense of wonder and discovery.  Paris was reborn, but maybe not for the better.

  • 7:00 AM

The Floor Scrapers

Gustave Caillebotte, The Floor Scrapers, 1875

At the 1875 Salon, The Floor-Scrapers was rejected as too vulgar - a semi-nude painting of the urban lower class at work. Gustave Caillebotte was criticized for his choice of subject matter and his frank interpretation of the male figures. Critics claimed the shirtless men were too thin, their chests too narrow, and their proportions simply not idealized enough. Louis Enault proclaimed, “Do the nude, gentlemen, if the nude suits you…. But either make your nude beautiful or leave it alone.” Caillebotte, a wealthy lawyer and engineer with an inheritance from his parents (who sold blankets to the French army), could afford to ignore the whims of the Salon judges and take up the philosophy of Impressionism.

The unusual perspective of Caillebotte’s painting traps the workers, weighing down on them, but the men themselves appear unconcerned. Two of them have casually turned their heads to converse with each other, and a bottle of alchohol sits off to the side. The long, sinewy arms of the workers are better suited to labor than the impressive physique of classical statuary. They are scraping a layer of older varnish off the floor in order to clean and prepare it for a new coat, in long, regular strokes. The discarded shavings curl and twist in a manner that echoes the metalwork of the door in the upper-right corner. The tilted floor, with its horizon line almost at the top of the painting, is characteristic of Caillebotte’s style, an affectation borrowed from the newly developing art of photography. 

Caillebotte’s engineering training may have contributed to his precise treatment of perspective and architecture. In addition, he worked together with his brother, Martial Caillebotte, who was a photographer. Although no concrete evidence has been found, art historians speculate that some of Caillebotte’s tracing paper sketches, done on paper the same size as a photograph, may be studies traced from his brother’s photographs. The strangely detached paintings his methods produced, which imitated photographic depth of field and looked from unusual angles, were different from the main body of Impressionist work, but nevertheless valuable.

  • 7:00 AM

The Boulevard Montmartre at Night

File:Camille Pissarro, The Boulevard Montmartre at Night, 1897.jpg
Camille Pissarro, The Boulevard Montmartre at Night, 1897
Camille Pissarro, in the late 1880s, rented a room at the Grand Hôtel de Russie in Paris. This provided him with a view of the Boulevard Montmartre, which is one of the grand four boulevards in Paris. While the painting above depicts the street at night, Pissarro painted and painted this same view multiple times. In a series of works done in 1897, Pissarro painted the Boulevard Montmartre at four different times of day; morning, noon, evening, and night. Whether Pissarro marathoned all four of these paintings and finished them in one day or if they were all done separately, I don't know. Perhaps a bit of Monet's all-at-once painting technique had rubbed off on Pissarro. (If so, then I can understand why the brushstrokes on The Boulevard Montmartre at Night were more hurried than the rest. A man's gotta sleep, after all.)
File:Camille Pissarro - Boulevard Montmartre, morning, cloudy weather - Google Art Project.jpg
The Boulevard Montmartre, Morning, Grey Weather, 1897


In his later years, Pissarro suffered from a reoccurring eye infection that confined the previously en plein air painter indoors. Thus, Pissarro worked from the inside looking out -- or down, rather -- from hotel rooms in Paris, as well as London. This change in venue also made Pissarro change his subject matter from that of Millet-esque peasants and nature to city streets. A vast and difficult change for any painter, but that's what I appreciate about Pissarro. He has the innate ability to switch painting styles and subjects at the drop of a hat. I can't say that Pissarro has any set style, one that would uniquely define him as a painter. He switched from watercolors to Impressionist, to pointillism, to Impressionist again. Thus, the day begins with The Boulevard Montmartre, Morning, Grey Weather. I wish I could present this in the intended size (Wikipedia has a quality, zoom-in-able version of this painting. I would recommend looking it up). Although collectively grey, it's extremely colorful and lively. Overcast weather is usually portrayed as melancholy and dull, but the small flecks of color in the people and buildings bring vitality to the canvas. A hint of red, a blip of yellow; Pissarro manages to somehow breathe life into this painting with the small things.

The Boulevard Montmartre: Afternoon, in the Rain, 1897
The overcast skies have now given way to rain. The Parisians on the boulevard, made up of multicolored smudges and blobs, have their umbrellas out. This painting is slower than its predecessor. There's also a sort of buoyancy to this painting. The Boulevard Montmartre, Morning, Grey Weather is dense and heavy. The air seems thick and so does the paint. In The Boulevard Montmartre: Afternoon, in the Rain, it feels like a deep sigh, a weight has been lifted. The brushstrokes are smoother, blending together like water and dirt to make mud.

Part of me loves that fact that Pissarro painted the same boulevard fifteen times (that's not an exaggeration, it's an approximation), but it also drives me up the wall. The only difference to each painting is the the position of the people, the weather, and the trees. The man was obsessed. This always reminds me of Monet and his paintings of the Rouen Cathedral. He painted this same subject eight times (don't quote me on that), becoming obsessed with how the different times of day would light the cathedral walls. But he was never satisfied with his compositions, so much so that the cathedral haunted his dreams, giving him so many nightmares that he had to leave Paris. Did Pissarro ever dream of the Boulevard Montmartre? I'll come back to that thought.

Boulevard Montmartre, Sunset, 1897
So, now the clouds are mostly gone, and the sun shines golden light through Pissarro's boulevard. People pack the streets, a noticeable carriage traffic jam up ahead; everyone is heading home for the day. The crowded boulevard and noticeably shorter buildings make the Boulevard Montmartre, Sunset look weighted. It's not as smudgey as the afternoon, but not as detail oriented as the morning. Here, I think Pissarro struggles to find that balance, an equilibrium if you will, in his painting style. As I mentioned earlier, Pissarro's style often changed, and while that I see that as dexterity, I also see that as confusion. This caused many an "artistic crisis" for Pissarro, causing him to struggle to find his own signature style.

In The Boulevard Montmartre at Night, I believe he finds that. My favorite of the Boulevard series, The Boulevard Montmartre at Night is so different from the other three paintings that it hardly looks like the same artist. Returning to this idea, I believe Pissarro had to have dreamed about his boulevard. Looking at the painting, it's too dreamlike from him to not have. Except, unlike Monet, it wasn't a nightmare. The sky is dark and starless. Pissarro, instead, brings that celestial quality to the ground. The streetlights, previously lost in the commotion of the day, have their own star-like quality. It's no longer about the people or carriages that crowded the street, it's about the Boulevard Montmartre itself. He shows his love for the Boulevard Montmartre through these paintings, like a love affair (objectively, of course). And I have to admit, I'm obsessed.

  • 7:00 AM

La Meridienne and La Sieste

Jean-Francois Millet, La Méridienne, 1866

Jean Francois Millet, famous for his paintings of farmers and field workers, sets a different tone in this painting, The Nap. The turmoil and hardships of France’s lower class agricultural workers is often depicted in Millet’s paintings through his own experiences. The paintings, which shocked the upper class that viewed them from the comfort of cushy Paris art galleries, displayed workers in the midst of their labor. The Nap shows a couple resting in the shade of a bale of hay as the day wears on. Tools for haying lay next to the couple as well as the man’s shoes. The scene seems almost intrusive, as if somehow we have stumbled upon the sleeping workers on their bed of hay and should back away slowly as not to wake them.

The most striking this about this painting is how un-striking it is. The muted colors and the hazy quality make for a peaceful sight. The style of the painting is similar to typical Impressionist style, with that characteristic out of focus haziness and defined brushstrokes. Millet painted the painting towards the end of his life at the age of 51 (he only lived to be 60) and the influences of other prominent Impressionists can be seen in his brushstrokes. The qualities of La Meridienne are a far move from his earlier works (such as The Gleaners, in which the figures are much clearer and brushstrokes less defined). Millet’s move towards typical Impressionism does not make his work any less unique; he still is among the only Impressionists to paint domestic laborers.
Vincent Van Gogh, La Sieste (d'après Millet), 1889
Vincent van Gogh had always been an admirer of Millet, often writing letters about his fondness for Millet’s subjects, and Millet’s influences can be seen in van Gogh’s early work. While committed to an insane asylum in the late 19th century, van Gogh made copies of twenty-one of Millet’s works. In this particular copy of Millet’s The Nap, van Gogh has made the painting his own with more saturated colors and more prominent brushstrokes, as well as switched the composition of the painting. Both paintings are beautiful, whether viewed separately or alone, however something about van Gogh’s vibrant rendition is even more captivating than Millet’s original sleepy creation.
  • 7:00 AM