Vision After The Serum

Paul Gauguin, Vision After the Sermon, 1888


In a world of art, there are various styles that define a painter and their methods. Some works of art are defined and crisp while others are soft and blurred. The creation of synthetism was the beginning of fleeing from Impressionist art, and moving into a movement that focussed on thought, idea, and feeling through two-dimensional flat patterns, black outlines, and simple color. The leader of Synthetism, Paul Gauguin, said, “I shut my eyes in order to see.” This goes perfect with the whole concept of synthetism because the artists within this school relied on memory for their beautiful pieces. 

Gauguin established a style that changed European society. He traveled to places such as Pont-Aven, Brittany, and Tahiti to find a different source of inspiration. He was greatly captivated by natives and their culture and would take religious figures and put natives in their place to create a whole new view on things. His love for Tahiti showed through the majority of his paintings and sculptures and eventually became involved with a thirteen year old Tahitian girl who modeled for many of his works. Along with Paul Gauguin, Emilé Bernard and Louis Anquetin were two important artists involved in the school. 

When looking at art within Synthetism, the first thing that draws your attention is distortion of image, line and color. The figures faces are usually blurred and the background seems painted softly, almost cloud-like. Around most object, there is a black outline. It’s funny because Mrs. Hilvitz always says how she does not want to see the contour of our work, yet this style embraced outlines. 

Visions After The Sermon, by Paul Gauguin, displays Breton women in ceremonial headdresses, gazing up Jacob and the Angel fighting in the distance. The first thing that draws your attention is distortion of image, line and color. The figures faces are usually blurred and the background seems painted softly, almost cloud-like. Around most objects, there is a black outline. It’s funny because Mrs. Hilvitz always says how she does not want to see the contour of our work, yet this style embraced outlines. Color does not have dimension or highlight usually. It is mostly flat colors throughout the whole piece. His use of red, blacks, whites, and yellows, made every aspect stand out. This painting is one of Gauguin’s most famous and represents the battle between good and evil and unraveling the way of life.

  • 7:00 AM

The Dream

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, The Dream, 1883

Symbolism, both a literary and artistic movement, lasted from roughly 1880 to 1910. Through these 30 years, art rapidly modernized from its preceding Impressionist and Realist periods. Before Symbolism, artists, such as Courbet, focused on capturing a specific occurrence, event, or scene and moving it onto a canvas. Symbolism contrasted this style and gravitated towards a deeper intent for painting, leaning towards themes of fantasy, darkness, good versus evil, dreams, emotions, and more. The movement explored the inner being and abstract human emotions rather than recreating reality. The artistic side paralleled the literary styles amassing during the movement. Famous artists such as Edvard Munch produced some of the most iconic works in the infant stages of modern art during this time, including the The Scream. This period would be known for its incorporation of abstract art as painters used unconventional methods of producing their deep, emotional works. 

Criticism of the upper class and rapid progression of society also served as two primary reoccurring themes amongst the works. The Dream by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes demonstrates these ideas while encapsulating the Symbolism movement. Painted in 1883, The Dream is one of Chavannes most notable works. The image depicts a wanderer of some sort taking refuge in the cold, bitter wilderness. The mystifying blues in the background help create a dreamlike expirience. The unknown wanderer sees three angels in his dream, each representing a different aspect of society.

1) Love appears to him with the first angel offering the flowers. The wanderer might be amid some emotional issues regarding love, or the painting in general suggests love is something essential to humans and a aspect of emotion key to our existence which some may lack.

2) The second angel wields a sort of crown, representing glory. Society invests in the idea of glory through means of war or progression, which could come to the wanderer as a desire. The stranded fellow might want to achieve glory one day, something that empowers much of society as a whole.

3) Chavannes shows wealth through the third angel dropping what seems to be seeds around the figure. Wealth, something everyone desires, fuels society to move forward as people pioneer new technology and advancements in the pursuit of success.

These three aspects all enclose fundamental ideas about the common state of desire. "Love,glory and wealth" all pose as things this wanderer dreams of having, brought to him by these angels. These things stretch beyond the lonesome man and can truly be applied to most people who struggle in pursuit of these three things. The Dream incorporates the societal critiques found in Symbolism, as well as the emotional and fantastical themes. 
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Factory at Horta de Ebro

Pablo Picasso, Factory at Horta de Ebro, 1909

Picasso was never known for conventionality. His introduction of cubism in 1907 brought his paintings to life through his disregard to perspective. The idea of cubism was to emphasize the three-dimensionality of the object painted, while also promoting the idea that a canvas is two-dimensional. This unique style shown in Factory at Horta de Ebro, painted in 1909, exemplifies Picasso’s straying from the typical approach. This was painted after Picasso’s second visit to the Quiet Southern Spanish village on the Aragon border. He spent seven months with Manuel Pallares in the village for first visit in 1898. The second visit in 1909 inspired him to create this early cubist painting.

Picasso ignores perspective by placing the further buildings above the buildings in the foreground rather than behind. The paintings does not have one set viewpoint, but instead can be looked at from all different angles. It seems to move with the eye instead of representing a snapshot in time. On first glance, the land’s topography fuses together with the architecture, bringing civilization and nature together. He shows no difference in color or style between the ground and the buildings. The boxy feel continues to the sky, diluting any depth behind the mountains and buildings. The palm fronds keep relax the landscape by offering a curved pattern in contrast to the geometric shapes that occupy the rest of the canvas.

As for color, even the orange Picasso uses seems monochromatic. Black dilutes the green and gray, and brown dilutes the orange. From left to right, light slowly creeps in and brightens the landscape. The light source seems to come from the right, as gray occupies most of the left sides of the buildings. Though the light patches brighten the painting, the gray overshadow keeps the colors dark and gloomy.

Picasso’s Factory at Horta de Ebro takes an unconventional look at the already unusual cubism style. The perspective takes away any literal depth to the painting, but a viewer can get lost in the complexity for hours. From the form and the geometric shapes to dull colors mixed with fiery orange, Picasso’s painting stands out in the world of cubism. 

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The Black Square

Malevich, The Black Square, 1915 

For the purpose of this blog post I ask you to ignore the Rothko vibe The Black Square gives off and believe in Malevich for a little while. Kazimir Malevich, the artist behind the Suprematist movement, attempted to reduce art to what he called “zero form.”  Malevich started the suprematist movement on the cusp of the Boshevilick Revolution in Russia and painted The Black Square in 1915 to demonstrate the hope he felt communism possessed. 

According to Malevich suprematism existed in three levels black, colored, and white. For Malevich his journey started with black. You may look at his painting and simply see a black square with a white border, but I urge you to imagine more.

Malevich first displayed The Black Square in a Moscow exhibition in 1915. Placing the painting in the corner of the room, a place usually reserved for Russian religious icons. With his strategic placement Malevich made a statement about his geometric art. An opinion that he translated as “only with the disappearance of a habit of mind which sees in pictures little corners, madonnas and shameless Venuses, shall we witness a work of pure, living art”.

To Malevich his white border messed with the perception of the painting, forcing the observer to not find meaning in a single tree or misplaced flower, but to appreciate art in true form.

Unfortunately Malevich’s dreams of communism came to a crashing halt with leaders like Stalin and Lenin. With the new regime eventually banning his artwork after his death. A tragic ending for a man who believed whole-heartedly in their cause.

Today some will critique
The Black Square as piece of communist propaganda or a mediocre Rothko, but then there will be those who recognize the power of the image. The immense amount of hope it possesses and how one man altered the course of modern art with a square and some black paint. 

  • 7:00 AM

Rain on Princes Street

 Stanley Cursiter, Rain on Princes Street, 1913

Vorticism, a British literary and artistic movement, was introduced to the public in the first issue of BLAST. The literary magazine was conducted by Wyndham Lewis with the help of Ezra Pound and many other poets and artists. The first issue, released in 1914, ‘blessed’ or ‘blasted’ a collection of popular ideas and concepts in British culture.

Vorticism resembles a combination of Cubism and Futurism. Although Vorticism resembles Italian Futurism in style and method, the two movements existed in parallel with differing doctrines. In fact, if you were to mention the resemblance to Lewis, he would promptly deny any correlation between the two. Using an extreme urban influence and sharp, defined, shapes to create their works, Vorticism was Wyndham’s attempt to expose culturally isolated England to the different artistic styles of Europe using his own twist.  

Rain of Princes Street was completed a year before Vorticism was publicly introduced, this is evident when looking at the painting because of it’s fluid strokes and movement. Despite the movement having not been fully developed into what it would become in the following years, there is still an industrial feel and qualifying it as a part of the movement.

Through the clear of the umbrellas you see the expressionless faces. A glossy cover makes them appear as if they are made of glass and the clear portion has been shattered. The shattered glass represents the destruction of the economy and general welfare of the British population that World War I. The street lighting contributes to the idea that Rain of Princes Street seems to be foreshadowing the war, as they resemble canons firing.

Vorticism came to an abrupt end at the beginning of World War I, and although short lived it was a pivotal moment for modern art.
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Simultaneous Contrasts: Sun and Moon

Robert Delaunay, Simultaneous Contrasts: Sun and Moon, 1913

Orphism, sometimes considered a one-man movement, began with Robert Delaunay around 1910. He focused on the musical undertones of the world and the ripples, planes, and colors incorporated within. He purposefully strayed from subject matter and stylistic rules. He removed the primary focuses from art, such as illusion of depth, compositional balance, and iconic and textural elements, as much as possible while still retaining the idea of the work. 

The interaction of colors fascinated him. In Simultaneous Contrasts: Sun and Moon, Delaunay depicts the rhythms of the universe, the circular frame representing the universe. He uses an array of reds,oranges, blues, and greens to show the contrast of the sun and moon and the rotation of day and night. Delaunay said that, "The breaking up of form by light creates colored planes. these colored planes are the structure of the picture, and nature is no longer a subject for description but a pretext." Delaunay believed that the fusion and unity of color symbolized the possibility of a harmonic modern world. He did not think of his works as still pieces of art but rather as workls constantly moving with light waves, sound waves, and the tiny particles of the newly prominent scientific ideas of his era. 

Robert Delaunay prided himself in his dissimilar techniques to other artists. Next to Robert Delaunay's signature on Simultaneous Contrasts: Sun and Moon, Delaunay put the date "1912". Viewers now know that the creation of the painting had actually been in 1913, but he dated it earlier to appear avante-garde.
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Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash

Giacomo Balla, Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash, 1912

"Everything is in movement, everything rushes forward, everything is in constant swift change."

While Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash strays from the classic Futurist image of cars, trains or machinery, I think it is one of the strongest works from the school. It does not show the patriotism and glory of war that late works show, but does show "celebration of...speed and city life" (Little 108). Futurists rejected the old and wanted to "make way doe everything new and vital" (Little 109). Dogs live relatively short lives compared to humans, so the Dog on a Leash is rushing through his life as seen by the motion of the brush strokes. Maybe this is a message to Italy that they must move on from their past and evolve, or to young boys that they must grow up from their lives as puppies and become men while fighting in WWI. 

I find Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash interesting because it focuses so much on motion. Other works like The City Rises and Dynamic Hieroglyphic of the Bal Tarbin are busy works. Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash appears basic. It lacks bright colors and only has two subjects. Its not at all basic though. The movement of the walker and the dog is extremely detailed. The painting resembles The Cellist, an early piece of Futurist photography. Balla uses paint to look like a photo that used a slow shutter speed. The painting only shows their outlines, which allows viewers to focus less on the subject and more on the movement. The detailed brush strokes allow us to focus on the movement of the tiny legs of the dog, the wagging tail, and walkers feet, and the movement of the leash. While they are the only two in the painting, it feels like they are rushing through a crowded street in the city. Maybe Balla isolated these two subjects on the crowded street and was able to create the feel of the city without painting the city. Balla uses horizontal and diagonal brush strokes to show the dog's movement down the grey sidewalk. Where are they rushing to? I think they are rushing into the future that Balla promoted so intently. They are leaving the Italian Renaissance behind and hopping feet first into a life of planes, trains, and automobiles. 

  • 7:00 AM

By Design

Robert Schmid, By Design, 2014


A gift to Lin-Manuel Miranda, the twenty-first century’s most revolutionary composer and playwright:

After returning from her first year at Stanford University, Nina Rosario of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights explains that leaving home has changed her perspective, because she never realized the enormity of the world outside of New York City. In “When You’re Home,” she sings, “I used to think that we lived at the top of the world, when the world was just a subway map.” Longing for the simplicity of home after a tumultuous year, she asks, “Can you remind me of what it was like at the top of the world?”

Years after first hearing that song, I now prepare for college and to leave my subway map. With In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda showed me that, despite their differences, home and adventure hold equal importance in life and that one must find a balance between them. In the Heights, Lin’s first show, explores the idea of home and ends with the realization that it is where one is cared for and where one leaves a mark.

In the Heights and Lin’s more recent show, Hamilton, changed my understanding of family, country, and community. These two shows feature types of music that I had never explored, but they have become two of my all-time favorites, nonetheless, because they exhibit the most masterful combination of emotion and music that I have experienced. Despite earning Emmy, Tony, and Grammy Awards, a MacArthur Genius Grant, and his place as a Pulitzer finalist, Lin remains remarkably humble. His passion remains in his music and the reaction that it evokes. Writing about the story of his neighborhood and then the story of his country, Lin constantly attempts to return to his community everything that it has given him.

As the title character of Hamilton as well as the writer of its book, lyrics, and music, Lin must think about every aspect of the show. His humility and genius provide a message as strong as those in the lyrics of his musicals. Preparing for college, I seek the commitment that it takes to work on one project for six years in order to make each line perfect, the humility to return overwhelming praise only with gratitude and a desire to give more, and the generosity to put on a unique show every day for those who cannot afford or find tickets. I admire that Lin begins new projects before he can finish the last one out of a simple desire to give to his audience.

With Moana and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Lin’s music will reach countless new people over the next year, but I will always look back to my first time listening to In the Heights and remembering how much emotion musical theatre can deliver if it has a writer who devotes his heart to the work.

Out of gratitude to Lin-Manuel Miranda, I give him Robert Schmid’s By Design. Schmid paints New York the way I imagine Lin sees it: full of color, promise, and eccentricity. Without directly interacting with each other, the painting’s subjects share this space and all add to its spirit. The subway car feels intimate but somehow not cramped. By Design reminds me of the opening number of In the Heights, wherein Usnavi describes the bustle of New York as “just a part of the routine. Everybody’s got a job; everybody’s got a dream.” I give By Design to Lin-Manuel Miranda because he and Schmid share an ability to reveal beauty in New York streets and subway cars, beauties found only in “the greatest city in the world.”

Editor's Note: User error by the editor left out this fine post back in December. Apologies to all.
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House and Factory of M. Henry in Soissons

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, House and Factory of M. Henry in Soissons, 1833


To live like this is to live brightly and leisurely under an azure sky, in a sun-soaked house, over marmalade hills of dust and delight.

Despite being a factory, there is no labor here. No grimy peasants with bleeding fingers; grinding cogs and squeaking gears. No exhaustion, or desperation, or feelings of futility dripping down the brow. 

Instead, Corot paints a scene of lingering laissez-faire. The sharp perspective and crisp lines curiously convey a dreaminess indicative of Corot's later works. However, known as the last Neo-classicist and the first Impressionist painter, Corot produces works with both the precision of realism and the artistic interpretation of impressionism.

Corot believed deeply that feelings should be an artist's guide in painting and his main goal, early in his career, was to “capture the appearance of the physical world with an unblinking directness." 

The reason I chose this work of Corot's (and not one of his other more hazy paintings) is I've found my taste in art stems from this "unblinking directness." Sharp lines and blocks of color, where there is no confusion, no labor of the mind. Just feelings and folly. 

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First Leaves Near Mantres

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, First Leaves Near Mantres, 1855

Two wanderers stroll towards the village of Mantes, France, as the bare trees hang over them. Painted in 1855, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot’s First Leaves Near Mantes invokes feelings of calamity and peace. Throughout his life, Corot kept a strong relationship with his parents. Their countryside house in Ville-D’Avray inspired him to paint scenes of French country sides. During a time of political turmoil, this was just the kind of artwork the people wanted. As realism was on a steady rise, so was Corot’s artwork. In the 1850s, he shifted to dreamier paintings with lighter brushstrokes, as demonstrated in First Leaves.

The background uses soft brushstrokes and yellowish green for the trees, adding a certain warmth which follows along with the feathery grass in the foreground. In contrast with this warmth, the trees take over the painting, adding structure with a more precise brushstroke. The trees frame the wanderers into the painting and form an arch, while the laborer on the bottom right side of the painting blends in with the grass. Corot used brownish colors for the people that blend in with the trees and grass to show humans and nature as one. In the distance, the town of Mantes clearly shows civilization but the countryside seems to overtake it with trees.

The curved tree represents the beauty in nature through its imperfections. Without the curved tree, the painting would lack depth and would seem one-dimensional.  Corot invites the viewer to stop and spend time with the people in the painting. The scene seems to come to life, and without words or movement, Corot paints the people as unhurried and leisurely. Though they stay two-dimensional and unmoved on the canvas, Corot evokes these emotions to make the image come to life. He invites you to take a break from your busy life and join the pair on their unhurried journey to Mantes.
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Portrait of Dmitry Mendeleev Wearing the Edinburgh University Professor Robe

Portrait of Dmitry Mendeleev Wearing the Edinburgh University Professor Robe, Ilya Repin, 1885

Ilya Repin used art as a ticket out of his native Ukraine, but during his studies in St. Petersburg and voyages to Western Europe he always painted the common people who reminded him of his upbringing. After receiving a taste of notoriety, Repin abandoned the themes of the Realists to create portraits of Russian nobility. Repin shifted theme again later in his life and began to paint artists of all kinds, be they composers, painters, authors, or scientists. With Portrait of Dmitry Mendeleev Wearing the Edinburgh University Professor Robe, Repin formed a comparison between himself and the Siberian-born creator of the modern Periodic Table.

With a blank background and the company of only books, Repin conveys that Mendeleev’s entire life revolves around academia. His robe colors belong to a specific university, but the graduation cap applies more universally to the academic world. While the books and cap—Repin’s representations of scholarship—exist in black and white, Mendeleev himself is bright and adorned with color. The scientist provides the painting’s light, and his ingenuity stands out from dark surroundings. Repin only needs to give Mendeleev a blank background because the scientist’s genius and achievement fill the canvas on their own.

Repin often painted musicians and academics as a statement that all who add to the world fit into the same category. Painters, composers, and scientists who push the boundaries of their fields and share creations have a common purpose and gift. With the somehow emotional black background and vibrant robes, Repin tells his audience that Mendeleev’s endeavors are beautiful; they are art.

Repin does not need magnificent landscapes in the background to prove his subject’s greatness, because the painting’s radiance lies in Mendeleev's facial expression and its depth within his mind. The scene may initially feel melancholy, but, if one looks at Mendeleev’s face with enough attention, one sees that his mind contains more than the average person can experience. The painting’s viewers are not meant to pity him for his isolation in a dark room, because the light exists within him. If anything, we viewers should envy Mendeleev.

Repin draws out beauty and depth from a scene with the potential to bore. Through this act, Repin proves that he does in fact liken to Mendeleev, because the two men share the genius of innovation.

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Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld, 1861

Ah, nothing quite like a trip to the underworld. Fiery pits, bone-filled deserts, and the cries of the dead — a truly unforgettable, inescapable place. Or not.

Only the most charming musician can charm Hades, and that musician is Orpheus. He had just married the love of his life, Eurydice. Unfortunately, not even hours after the wedding, she strays from Orpheus and gets bitten by a snake. Virgil's version of the story blames Aristaeus, keeper of the bees, for chasing Eurydice as she denies his affections. Pretty uncool, considering she literally just married another guy. Ovid's telling simply states she went to pick flowers with her bridesmaids. Either way, Eurydice dies tragically, leaving a brokenhearted Orpheus. Unable to cope with the death of his late wife, he decides to ask Hades, "Hey, can I have my wife back?" in song form, and it actually works. There's only one catch: Orpheus must lead Eurydice and cannot look back at her until they have reached the surface.

We watch the reunited couple as they ascend on their trek upwards. The scenery is lush, a harsh contrast to the blazing inferno that we usually associate with the underground. Yet, tension overpowers any semblance of hope.

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The Lion at Home

Rosa Bonheur, The Lion at Home, 1881

From sheep to wild cats, Rosa Bonheur painted her way through Paris in her manly trousers. As a young girl, Bonheur exhibited a rather disruptive and boisterous attitude that led to numerous school suspensions. Alas, these suspensions shoved Bonheur into the world of art and helped her emerge as one of the few female artists of the 19th century. Bonheur’s passion for animals comes from none other than her muse and flame, her MOM. In order to furthermore perfect her anatomical endeavors, Bonheur sought permits that allowed her to observe animals in their silent habitat, aka, the butcher shop. After mastering the numerous domestic animals in Paris, Bonheur moved to the leader of the animal kingdom.

Rosa Bonheur could paint impeccable oxen, as seen in Ploughing in the Nivernais; however, her lions are particularly exotic. In Lion at Home, her newly mastered subject matter appears in the midst of thick foliage and other identifiers of nature. The light source appears to highlight the lions as they lay alongside one another. They appear in an oval formation and their position remains no coincidence. As an avid critique of 19th century society,  Bonheur seems to be outlining the traditional family order. The male and female gaze in different directions, and have their sights on different things. The mother shelters the young cubs with her tail crossed in, while the father lies above them, his tail positioned away. Lion at Home directly coincides with the family mold present in the late 1800s where the male lives as the breadwinner and the female as the homemaker. Bonheur represents the “New Woman” in this time period and utilizes Lion at Home in order to compare the supposed intellectual human to the wild lion. I find her attitude to be refreshing and one particular quote of hers resonated with me, “The epithets of imbeciles have never bothered me.” RAWR.
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The Artist's Studio

The Artist's Studio, Gustave Courbet, 1855

The title itself suggests the complexity of Courbet’s thoughts. The contrasting definitions of the words “real” and “allegory” in the title leads the viewer to believe some aspects of the painting might have a double meaning. In a letter to a friend, Courbet even says, “It’s pretty mysterious. Good luck to anyone who can make it out!” For example, the landscape on the back wall could be argued as either paintings or windows, so are they real or a representation?

Courbet himself can be seen in the middle of the painting with his signature beard jutting out in an abnormal angle, as seen in Bonjour Monsieur Courbet. Standing by Courbet’s side is a little boy who is literally looking up to Courbet and his painting. Children are known for their lack of exposure to the real world, so their innocence is still preserved. Courbet always strived to see the truth of the world, an ability children tend to have. Courbet could have possibly included the child to portray his skill, something some artists lack.

The painting is divided into two groups of people. To the left, the people are more ragged and represent the world of commonplace life, while the people on the right are more well-dressed and seem more wealthy. Courbet once said, "It's the whole world coming to me to be painted. On the right, all the shareholders, by that I mean friends, fellow workers, art lovers. On the left is the other world of everyday life, the masses, wretchedness, poverty, wealth, the exploited and the exploiters, people who make a living from death." Among the wealthy in Courbet’s painting is Charles Baudelaire, Courbet’s close poet friend, who is painted in the same location Michelangelo puts Satan in The Last Judgement. Behind the easel, there is a crucified figure. Courbet sometimes referred to himself as a martyr in his paintings, such as Self-Portrait as Wounded Man, because of his “suffering” at the metaphorical hands of the French art critics. With the wealthy behind Courbet, it could signify the wealthy are supporting him in the back, while he focuses on his subject of interest, the common world.

After the completion of the painting, Courbet attempted to present it at the Paris World Fair, but due to the size of the painting, which is around 11 feet by 20 feet, the painting not displayed. As a solution, Courbet took about 39 other paintings and created his own exhibition.

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Self Portrait with Black Dog

Gustave Courbet, Self Portrait with Black Dog, 1842

Gustave Courbet, a pioneer of the Realism movement, produced numerous stunning works throughout the mid 19th century. He grew up in an established family amid the rural lands of Doubs, France. Courbet spent much of his later life in Paris, though he constantly returned to Doubs for its beautiful landscapes and inspiration. He thoroughly enjoyed the outdoors, which resonates in his art. Scenery and nature are common subjects for his works, as well as self portraits. Courbet painted numerous self portraits including El Desperado, one his most famous works. 

Self Portrait with Black Dog depicts himself hiking back through his homeland of Doubs. He painted this during his younger days in 1842. The image incorporates two major components of Courbet's life: his origins and the present. First, his past, which shows through the sliver of land in the distance on the right-hand side. The composition places the majority of attention on Courbet and his dog, but in the distance there lies a forest landscape. The symbolism behind this stems from Doubs, his boyhood home. He grew up in rural, farm lands in contrast to the busy, developed Paris. The reason Courbet placed the section of scenery in the distance could be because that portion of his life was in the past. It adds a unique and symbolic element to the composition, though the main focus lies in the front, which shows Courbet's present state. 

The formal garments he has on contrast his humble past. He depicts himself as such to demonstrate his current elite social status. The black he wears and the darkness of the dog help center attention onto him contrasting the light with the somber hues of tan and blue that encompass him. The book beside him has unknown contents, but it clearly shows Courbet's intelligence or lust for knowledge. Also, the pipe in his hand helps further stratify his social status. 

Courbet paints this image beautifully, using colors which help exemplify him in the middle. He possesses an aura of swagger with his posture and demeanor. His flowing hair and stern look help project him as one cool, intellectual dude, but they also make him somewhat resemble the dog. Courbet and the dog create a strange composition. They create a square or trapezoidal shape when you trace around them, which is uncommon in comparison to triangle or circle compositions. Courbet implements unique elements to help outline his life, incorporating the current and the past. All around, I found this to be his best self portrait out of the many he did.
  • 7:00 AM

Girl with White Headscarf

Leibl, Girl with White Headscarf, 1876


The first time I met The Girl with White Headscarf I did not appreciate her. I thought she was just another portrait painted by another German. In reading into Leibl’s life I saw the familiar pattern of an artist quitting the academy to find their own way, which is commendable but by this time in our art history journey seems a bit redundant.

So what makes Leibl different? Why remember him? Why remember The Girl with White Headscarf? What makes a Bavarian farm girl from 1876 extraordinary?

My answer. Everything.

With time she works her way into your heart occupying your thoughts. Her perfectly-flushed cheeks appear in your head as you make your way through crisp January days, and Leibl's rough strokes remind you that unlike porcelain dolls she possesses real skin with imperfections.

Leibl paints a girl simply as she is, not adding elaborate embellishments with color or texture, but focusing on her profile with stark contrasts of white and dark pigments. In 1876 when Leibl revealed his painting, many would of refused to recognize this girl as art. Her simplicity would make her unappealing and ordinary, yet upon taking the time to truly admire the girl she would come alive.

One would see the life behind her eyes. The uncertainty she might of felt as a man who knew nothing of her life attempted to paint her. Leibl’s later works mark his vow to paint the people and our girl demonstrates the beauty in the ordinary.

He captures humanity with simplistic style. Leibl’s painting reflects that even though we may construct arbitrary limits of wealth, class, and race in the end we all are human. We all have smiles, eyes, and thoughts. Our farm girl possesses all the beauty and grace of Madame Pompadour. Her rawness makes her worthy of our attention and our respect.

Leibl made me see simple beauty and for that I thank him.
  • 7:00 AM

Death and the Woodcutter

Jean-Francois Millet, Death and the Woodcutter, 1859

Jean-Francois Millet pushes the boundaries of realism with this painting: one of serious nature that incorporates a religious aspect of death. The composition of the painting shows a great amount of detail in the foreground, allowing us to view the contours of Death’s bones; but the work lacks sharp lines in the background. This style relates to the literal world as objects are clear up close but lose focus as they are farther away. Millet’s other pieces show lower-class workers as the subjects, but this painting is the only that explicitly displays death. A white robe cloaks Death, against popular belief that Death wears black. Possibly Millet viewed death as pure and clean so he dressed this figure in all white. After all, people have never corroborated that death possesses an evil spirit, but rather our fear of its enigmatic nature generates a nefarious personality about it.

The ditch the woodcutter lies in bears no life, only rocks and brown dead space. He might have fallen down the side of the ditch from the green and alive, wooded area. In the Bible, people would climb mountains in order to be physically closer to God, such as when Moses climbs Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. Death may be leading the woodcutter to the mountain that rests in the distance, so that he may ascend into heaven.  
As the earliest recorded evidence of the phrase: “Time flies,” Millet’s Death and the Woodcutter displays an awesome but startlingly-realistic aspect of life as death approaches us unexpectedly. The woodcutter appears to be finishing up after a long, toilsome day of collecting branches for which he most likely sells as his livelihood. The Reaper’s scythe represents how each life is like one stalk of wheat in the field of the world. It ends each life cycle as it marks the end of the annual harvest. Each branch the man holds is each year acquired over his life span. As Death pulls him, he loses his grip on the branches, signifying how he has lost his grip on the world. 
  • 7:00 AM

Spurl on the Hunt

Wilhelm Leibl, Sperl on the Hunt, 1895

Wilhelm Leibl entered the Munich Academy of Fine Arts in 1864 and by 1869 had set up a studio in Munich. In the same year, Courbet exhibited a collection of his in Munich. This exhibit introduced Leibl to his painting style, Alla Prima. This unique style requires quick work and deft hands as the paint is applied on top of the still wet layer below. In order to further refine his work Leibl set out for Paris in 1870. This short lived trip lasted nine moths due to the Germans and French doing what they have always done to each other - try to kill each other. After fleeing Paris and the French, Leibl returned to Bavaria, deciding to live in the numerous small villages dotting the countryside. Most of Leibl's typical paintings are made during this time: Usually portraits of peasants with minimal detail, save for the face, against a dark background. Leibl took a very un-German approach to his painting, choosing to paint without sketching the subject first; this freehand style is typical of impressionist painters.

Spurl on the Hunt, does not exemplify Leibl's typical form of painting. The background mountains are very light and have magnificent attention to detail. Peasants, while present, are not the subject of the painting; instead Leibl has chosen himself and fellow painter Johann Sperl as the subjects. The hard edge of the farmland divides the painting horizontally. The color of the mountains and clouds almost makes them appear as one object. The angle that the man in black (probably Leibl) creates a triangle with the figure of Sperl. 

  • 7:00 AM


Palette, Rosa Bonheur, 1863



Avella. Sometimes in toothpaste when drops crust up in the corners of my mouth. Sometimes on the olive-tip nose of a dog. Sometimes on the middle bits of fluorescent lights, where grey feigns silver before turning. Things never just are my color, like grass is green, like shit is brown. Things turn. Avella sparkles harder when I squint; then it burns. I dare you to strike a match and find the yellow. Only the yellow. Do you feel that oppressive blur, that sharpness like a migraine? It splinters your mind; here the yellow emerges, escapes, flickers in, flits out. This is how I meet my color-- like a memory of joy rendered traumatic by a harsher now. I cannot quite face avella for the pain.

Still I search for that hard shimmer in all things. I search in line behind the Kwik checkout counter, but first I examine the candies nestled together in boxes labeled 0.99!!. That's two exclamation points. Two breaths of ink wasted. I think about how stupid everyone is. Then I think my girl might like a Twix-- she’s at home with her friend Sadie-- but I hate the way she eats them. The wrappers drive me mad with their crinkling, which sounds shiny and pretty. There's nothing worse than trash trying to sound pretty.

I have to kneel to consider the Twix and when I stand again the back of someone's ropy ponytail hits me in the nose. I blink hard. There it is-- a flickering in her hair, northern lights cast along those gossamer strands. A sheen distant and vivid as the sun. Avella. Never before have I seen its diaphanous hues taint a human being. Plus this stranger (such a sexy word! stranger) is young and probably beautiful. I touch her shoulder.

She turns around. She is young. She is kind of beautiful.

“What,” says the woman.

“Nice hair.”

“Lots of men like my hair.”

She's at the machine now, pressing her fingertips against the glass. Her nails are crescent moons.

“I like your hair more,” I say. “It’s a color only I can see.”



She slides a box of Plan B beneath the scanning light. 

A guilty shiver scampers, uninvited, from the base of my neck up into my eyes, those half-burning sockets, and it is horrible, I mean it is horrible that nobody ever really knows anybody. I was feeling good, too. I'd taken a shower that morning.

She pays. There's that avella dancing up and down in electric bursts beneath her fat orange hair tie, which in comparison is ordinary to the point of repulsion.

Perhaps I should get the Twix.

By the time I've bought Advil for my headaches she's halfway out the door, ogling an assortment of flowers in the window. There's no wind but the petals shake. She does not look at me. She moves to let me by. She moves in silence.

“I’m sorry,” I say.


She waits for me to leave.

“How are you,” I say.

...Now she is looking at me.

II [later]

More than a hug. My girl’s hands are all over my cheeks, the back of my neck. Little circles. She keeps dipping slightly beneath my shirt-- you know how they do it, try to lasso your entire ego with a few dextrous lashes of friction. But I am bigger than the world; like the sky I have no surface. Avella fireworks burst in the periphery of my vision, skirting the line between sleep and wakefulness, sanity and sheer madness. The ponytail is still there. It swings like a pendulum in the back of my mind. I damn near choked at the mercy of that brightness. Spiderweb threads, as they say, are stronger than steel.

“You didn’t get me any,” she says.

I emit some sort of sound. Raise the end to make a question.

“Any Twix.”

“I’m sorry,” I say.


A certain silence. Then my girl puts her hands in her lap and I become an itch forever unscratched, a wave felled too swiftly by the wind.

“Nick,” she says.


“You aren’t here.”


“You went somewhere new and you haven’t come back.”

I want to tell her. When we were dating in high school I’d tried to explain avella a million ways. It’s blue, but it’s not. It’s standing at the top of a mountain and looking out in every direction at once. It’s the prickly chill before a sneeze. It’s falling, I mean it’s flying, I mean it’s--!, I would say. My exes would tell her, It’s something he made up to feel special. Little rich boy in his cold marble castle. Nothing left to earn but love. Except I really saw it. Avella. Undeniable as dawn, skirting the edge of every cloud. And it was worse, maybe, that I saw it.

Here’s all I know about people: What we want is understanding. The only true permutation of love. But if that’s impossible--always, with kids-- we need to be needed. That’s not love; that’s survival. A lone self grows inadequate when rushed to stillness in the infinite onslaught of years. Women train themselves to like mystery for mystery’s sake.

But not my girl.

She asked me to find the avella in everything, stared at each quasi-empty spot with the desperately rapt yet evasive gaze of a sinner watching for God.

So it went, so it goes.

We are ordinary with each other. We know each other, almost. Still mystery lives; still deception lives; in myself; in you. I strike it and it lives. I await the fresh cracking of vertebrae, a snap like a gunshot, and all I get is a feeble blink. It lives. Deception is ambiguity, a hundred shadows leeched upon a light-boned face in a phantasmagoria of decay. And I cannot tell how much of this darkness is a remnant of deception’s own rot, that asphyxiated flesh turning to graphite-- or rather a product of the candle on its nightstand, which grows weak in the embrace of its own slime. Deception blinks and I throw her down again. The candle jumps in its metallic socket; the whole room rattles; her body makes no sound. Deception is dead. Mostly. She is dead and looking at me.

I am trying to hold my girl’s hands.

“Don’t be stupid,” I say. “I’m right here, I’m inches away.”

“There’s more than one kind of distance.”

She refuses to be touched.

This makes me angry.

“I met a girl,” I say. “I mean a woman.”

No response.

“We were in line at the checkout. Her hair was avella.”

More quiet. Then: “What did you do.”

I blink. “Don’t be stupid.”

“What did you do.”

“Two years and you still don’t trust me.”

“That’s not--”

I’m in her face now, grabbing her jaw with one hand. “You want to see the painkillers? Huh? Want me to save all my damn receipts? Is that what you want?”

She shakes her head and I can sense her teeth clenching up beneath her cheeks. “Sorrysorrysorry.” She clings to me once I let her go. In the sweet rush of skin I can breathe again. Now she pulls at my clothes; somehow this is the natural progression of things. I wonder, irrationally, whether I smell like flowers. “Find something avella,” she says as my thoughts start to unwind. I point out a tiny fissure in the ceiling.

When I look back she has taken her shirt off.

I squint.

It’s the light, I think. It has to be.

But I feel them, I feel them as I run my fingers across her collarbone, the moons, little crescent moons of red like stationery made for children, and they are slightly wet, and they are elegantly placed, and more, I see more now, along the softness of her stomach, her breasts--

“What’s this,” I say. My voice barely holds. “What’s this, sweetheart? Huh? What did you do?”

“What did I do?” She blinks. “Don’t be stupid.”

I cannot breathe.

She is smiling. There’s a noise outside, a honk, somebody’s car, and a dull ache pulls behind my eyes, and the whole room goes avella for a second, and then it is bland and hard, and she is still smiling.

Breathe, Nick.

In. Out.

“That’s Sadie,” she says. She slips her shirt back on.


“Sadie’s car,” she says. She sits up straight.


“Sadie’s here.”

  • 7:00 AM

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

Honoré Daumier, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, 1864-1865

Allow me to introduce you to my newest friend, Honoré Daumier, the 19th century art world’s jack of all trades. You need a sketch? He can do it. A caricature? He’s on it. A painting? Just give him a subject. An unflattering bust of an important person on painted raw-clay? He’ll accentuate his ugly nose. With his astonishing talent and spot on political snark, Honoré Daumier can do anything. This made picking the subject of this post nearly impossible. I spent an hour and a half flipping through pages and pages of his work on ArtStor, only to come up with fifteen odd paintings, sketches, and sculptures that I absolutely adored. Then I stumbled onto his Don Quixote series.

Later in his affluent life, Daumier became enthralled with Don Quixote, painting upwards of 17 works based upon this famed hero narative. During this period, Daumier was becoming incredibly interested in impressionism, but he was also losing his eyesight. This mixture is reflected in each of his Don Quixote paintings. Many have the same organization and positioning of the subjects, but Daumier varies them by playing with his strokes, colors, and figures, discovering how to continue to paint inside of his disability. By combining realism and the up-and-coming impressionism, he learned to convey the same emotive nature and inventive flair in his paintings without the detail.

This version of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza stuck out at me from the fray. With the same earthy color palate as the realists, it shares the indistinct and abstract brush strokes of the impressionists. In this painting, Don Quixote, the gallant knight persona of a delusional, ordinary man, travels with his ignorant but sane sidekick, Sancho Panza. The two trek along a rocky desolate road in the middle of nowhere, with no markers of landscape other than the rocky crag and the beaten down road. Sancho Panza trails in back, hunched over and exhausted by the journey. He appears as a regular man, embodying the heart of the realist movement, incredibly human even in the way his rides his horse. Don Quixote, the valiant hero, rides ahead, alert, lance poised, as if charging off into a battle that does not exist. Even his form is fluid and fantastical, differing from the outlined figures that Daumier usually paints. Metaphorically, this shows Don Quixote as out of touch with reality, living entirely in a fantasy while literally riding off into the sunset. Although we relate to Sancho Panza as the working class man, he is not the focus. The use of the sun as a light source highlights Don Quixote as the subject. It's a circular beam in composition it creates a spotlight on the magical, right down to the mystic clouds lingering at the edges of the sunset. This light bubbles over with warm colors that fade to dark shadows as you reach Sancho Panza's realm of realism. Sancho Panza is in the dark about Don Quixote's identity, literally and metaphorically.

This work divides diagonally along the rock face, separating the two worlds. Don Quixote's ideal fantasy, the subject, the hope, the dream we all long for and Sancho Panza's real life, the one we relate to, the grounded, and the dark. There are many interpretations of what these two worlds represent including, hope versus despair, live versus afterlife, two portions of Daumier's personality, and realism moving to impressionism, all equally valid and clear in their execution. Regardless of which interpretation you choose, this painting has a way of explaining the duality on earth in a way that hooks the audience and moves us to feel the split in our own lives. Despite its unexceptional appearance from a distance, the more you study this painting the more you relate to it, and in that way it's one of the most intimate works I've ever seen. 
  • 7:00 AM

The Unexpected Visitor

Ilya Repin, The Unexpected Visitor, 1888

The Unexpected Visitor portrays an intellectual prisoner returning home unannounced from an evidently long imprisonment. The most admirable part of Repin's work on this painting is his ability to exhibit the emotions of six different individuals impacted by this event on a singular canvas. In Repin's original drawing of The Unexpected Visitor, he painted the visitor as a female, but changed it to a male in attempt to mimic reality. He also does this in order to make the visitor not only male, but a son, husband, and father simultaneously. 

The returning prisoner draws the eye of the viewer, due to Repin's meticulous use of linear perspective in the floorboards. The eye then wanders to the grandmother standing weakly in shock, and the daughter glaring in confusion and fear. To the right, the older child, a son, looks up excitedly, recognizing his father's return. Unlike the daughter, his age allows him to remember his father, giving the viewer a hint into how long the man's imprisonment lasted. We notice the wife's preoccupation with playing the piano has shifted to staring in utter confusion and no doubt joy for her husbands return. In the back the maid does her duty politely waiting to see the processions. The maid's eye are fixed on the prisoner questioning his identity as well as his intentions. The cook, equally as dark as the man, peeks from behind the maid, intrigued as any bystander in this situation would be. Repin shows the Tsar's rules effects on a family in the late 19th century, and how it individually impacts each person.

The door divides the painting into two halves. One half contains the wealthy family sitting around the table together, surrounded by chairs, paintings, photographs, a map, and a piano. The other half, that the man stands in, is left completely bare, besides the window offering a light source. The door isolates him from his family and brings him down in the social sphere, including him with the working class of maids and cooks. 
  • 7:00 AM