Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Head of a Young Woman (Study), c. 1780
From the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
This intensely serious and affecting close-up of a model would have been referred to by Greuze’s contemporaries as an expressive head, or tête d’expression. Although it has been associated with the imploring female protagonist in several of his moralizing genre scenes, it seems to be a free-standing work. The artist’s many paintings and drawings of the kind were the vehicle by which he explored a wide range of expression and emotion.
The question of gender identity isn’t often one that is addressed in a formal way by the artists that come to Elsewhere. Generally the various histories of the space are discussed through the prism of the myriad objects contained in the space, but the history of the manufacturing of heteronormative gender identities through the use of books aimed at teaching young people to read is rarely brought to the fore of issues contained in the space. Norbert Attard’s project does exactly that. Using bas relief sculpture as a platform for meditating on this inscribed and constructed heteronormativity Attard has created four works from toys, ribbon, tacks, marbles and reclaimed mannequin parts. The works are at once sideways glances and deeply inquisitive derives into the use of associativity to create objects rich in metaphorical significance. Using toys typically associated with boyhood like plastic cowboys and miniature racecars Attard juxtaposes the component objects’ associative gender specificities and each piece’s broader gender narrative. His use of gender constructs as materials to be manipulated and reconstructed is freshest when he uses girls fashion dolls to represent male genitals. Beyond being a powerful moment ripe with symbolism, the fact that the penis is a black female fashion doll and the testicles are white and smaller than the black doll is the disquieting signal that this is a point to dive deeper into the conversation brought about by the larger body of work.
Thomas Couture, Reverie, 1840-41
From the Norton Simon Museum:
This delicate painting by Thomas Couture is not a portrait but a tête d’expression: a study of the face intended to evoke a particular state of mind. The practice of infusing the depiction of a model’s face with a dreamy or wistful expression often made its way into portrait painting, particularly in portraits of women. In Reverie, exhibited at the Salon of 1841, a young girl peers suggestively out of the corners of her eyes, sizing up the viewer with adolescent curiosity. Her dewy cheeks, bedroom eyes and exposed décolletage put forth an aura of sexual availability that carried into, if subtly, the more traditional portraits of the mid-nineteenth century. Even though the tête d‘expression was a common academic exercise, Couture’s studies in particular had an impact on the artists of his day. For instance, Gustave Courbet’s moody self-portraits from the 1840s possess the same dreamy undertones. Likewise, Couture’s pupils, among them Édouard Manet and Marcellin Desboutin, were influenced by the veiled feminine seduction at work here.
The portrait in the North (Belgium/the Netherlands)
Jan Van Eyck, Marco Barbarigo (c.1449) | Peter Paul Rubens, Self-Portrait (1623) | Rembrandt, Self-Portrait (1661) | Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Dr Gachet Seated at a Table (1890) | Rene Magritte, Not to be Reproduced (1937) | Michael Borremans, Portrait (2005)
Edouard Manet. Dead Christ with Angels, 1864.
‘After the painting was already on its way to the 1864 Salon, Manet realized that he had made an even greater departure from the text: he depicted Christ’s wound on the wrong side. He wrote to Baudelaire of his mistake, and the critic instructed him to correct the position of the wound in the painting before the exhibition opening, adding, “take care not to give the malicious something to laugh at.”
Manet did not repaint the wound, and the malicious laughed. Only Émile Zola gave the painting the respect it deserved. Zola felt that Manet’s intention was to emphasize the reality of the corpse, even though he called attention to its holiness by including a halo.’
Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
10 Paintings with the Highest Prices Paid at Auctions or Private Sales*
*Prices adjusted for Inflation
- The Card Players — Paul Cézanne. $250 million+
- No. 5, 1948 — Jackson Pollock. $156.8 million
- Woman III — Willem de Kooning. $154.0 million
- Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I — Gustav Klimt. $150.2 million
- Portrait of Dr. Gachet — Vincent van Gogh. $144.1 million
- Bal du moulin de la Galette — Pierre-Auguste Renoir. $136.4 million
- Garçon à la pipe — Pablo Picasso. $124.3 million.
- Nude, Green Leaves and Bust — Pablo Picasso. $110.1 million
- Portrait of Joseph Roulin — Vincent van Gogh. $107 million+
- Dora Maar au Chat — Pablo Picasso. $106.1 million
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
At least four versions of the painting exist, done in various mediums (oil, watercolour, etc.), but this 82 x 69 cm oil on canvas is the most famous.
In his biography of Rossetti, Evelyn Waugh writes that the girl who modeled for the painting was “a young cook whom Rossetti picked up in the streets”(136). This is sort of true, but Rossetti used one of his favourite models, Alexa Wilding, for the final edition of the painting that you see here, having decided that the cook was a little too rough around the edges for this particular painting.
Most of Rossetti’s friends disliked Venus Verticordia, and his patrons refused to buy it because Venus was partially nude. According to Waugh’s biography, Mr. Valpy, one of Rossetti’s buyers, had previously refused to buy a painting of a figure in a sleeveless gown, so you can imagine how they reacted to the bare-breasted Venus.
In his biography of the artist, Waugh complains that Rossetti was bad at painting nudes and that Venus’ hair looks like an “ill fitting and inexpensive wig.” Well, Waugh WOULD say that, but I like this painting anyway. It’s true that Venus is not particularly lifelike, but the painting is still an arresting image that fits very well with the pagan/Christian syncretism that pervades Rossetti’s work. This femme fatale clearly has her roots in both the pagan and Christian traditions. You will notice that the “Venus” in this painting evokes the biblical Eve. For example, it’s hard to mistake that she’s holding an apple, something he draws particular attention to in the first line of the poem he wrote for the painting—“She hath the apple in her hand for thee.” It’s also fairly obvious that Rossetti’s Venus is toying with the viewer’s vision through her rather suggestive grasp on the arrow—a pagan symbol of seduction (think Cupid).
What I love most about this painting is the flowers. They are gorgeous and very life-like. Waugh writes that Rossetti “spent enormous sums of money” on honeysuckles and roses. Eventually “he was obliged to institute a rigid curtailment of his household expenses to pay his florists’ bills”(Waugh, 136). I think it was money well-spent. The honeysuckles are particularly life-like, don’t you think? I also love the butterflies (or are they cabbage moths? I’m not completely sure) surrounding Venus’ head. What an interesting touch.
As had become his custom, Rossetti composed a sonnet in iambic penatmeter to accompany the painting, which he had inscribed on the frame:
She hath the apple in her hand for thee,
Yet almost in her heart would hold it back;
She muses, with her eyes upon the track
Of that which in thy spirit they can see.
Haply, ‘Behold, he is at peace,’ saith she;
‘Alas! the apple for his lips, - the dart
That follows its brief sweetness to his heart, -
The wandering of his feet perpetually.’
A little space her glance is still and coy;
But if she gets the fruit that works her spell,
Those eyes shall flame as for her Phrygian boy.
Then shall her bird’s strained throat woe foretell,
And as far seas moan as a single shell,
And her grove glow with love-lit fires of Troy.
The BBC has an excellent interactive feature for exploring this painting on their website. Check it out!
Source consulted: Evelyn Waugh. Rossetti: His Life and Works. London: The Folcraft Press, 1969.
The Italian Renaissance, starting with the great quattrocento (15th century) trio Donatello, Brunelleschi and Masaccio, is one of the key periods in history of art.The subject of portraiture is an intriguing aspect of the period that is put under the lens.Today we have photos taken regularly, but how many of us go to the painter or sculptor for a portrait? Back in the 15th century, painted portraits or busts were commissioned by the politically or economically powerful. Not much has changed.
Portraiture in the Early Renaissance, both north and south of the Alps, was the crucial developing phase of development of this genre in Europe. It heralded the modern-day portrait. The focus was no longer exclusively on altarpieces, in which man made a timid appearance, as happened in the Middle Ages. Private patrons of means also started to commission portraits which became an important genre of art in its own right.
Some portraits were intentionally small and, thus, portable. Foremost among them were those by miniaturist Jacometto Veneziano. This exhibition (at the Metropolitan, New York) traces the development of portraiture as a genre, beginning with three tempera on panel paintings produced in c. 1440. From this early phase are several portraits of women with ivory skin, seen in profile, and endowed with lavish dress and jewellery. These portraits were probably produced on the occasion of their betrothal. Within this section is a stunning portrait of a woman by Antonio del Pollaiuolo.
Two arresting Sandro Botticelli portraits of Simonetta Vespucci, Giuliano de’ Medici’s lover, have a big presence. In one, the beautiful sitter’s hair is elaborated with pearls, while in the other, her blonde mane is highlighted with real gold, which has a truly glistening effect. A good section of the exhibition is dedicated to the Medici men, the most powerful family of Renaissance Florence. As you would expect, Lorenzo the Magnificent features prominently, with his death mask also being on display.
This then leads you to another section of portraits of prominent Florentines. Among the better known and touching paintings is Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Portrait of an Old Man and a Boy of 1490, where an old man who suffers from rhinophyma, which is why his nose is covered in warts, is recorded in a tender moment with a young boy.
Other rooms tackle further aspects of portraiture, but I will fast forward to the last phases highlighted – to portraits produced in Venice and the Venetia region of Italy. Foremost among these are those by Giovanni Bellini and Antonello da Messina. Antonello’s influence on the development of portraiture in the Veneto (thanks to his being influenced by Northern Renaissance portraiture) was of seminal importance. His achievements were of outstanding importance.
One immediately notices the predilection for the profile views in painting of the early phases of portraiture being reviewed. The practice wavered in the next decades. The use of the profile view may seem archaic when compared to the three-quarter view, that was heralded primarily in countries to the North of the Alps; but there is a good reason for its persistence in Italy – the influence of Roman portrait coins.
What is clear is the fact that even though all of the portraits show a likeness of the sitter and capture the sitter’s character, it is the Northern Renaissance artists who apply a tradition of harsh realism which they inherited from the Gothic Style. The inclusion of a Portrait of a Man with a Roman Coin by Hans Memling emphasises this point.
Beautifully curated and providing a brilliant nostalgic journey to a time of prime importance in the history of civilisation, we are given a unique opportunity to be transported back to the Renaissance and to relive its people’s loves and ambitions, even if for a little while. [x]
Zinaida Serebriakova (1884-1967) was among the first female Russian painters of distinction. She belonged to the artistic Benois family. Her grandfather, Nicholas Benois, was a famous architect, chairman of the Society of Architects and member of the Russian Academy of Science. Her uncle, Alexandre Benois, was a famous painter, founder of the Mir iskusstva art group.
From her youth onwards, Zinaida Serebriakova strove to express her love of the world and to show its beauty. Her earliest works speak eloquently of this search, and of her acute awareness of the beauty of the Russian land and its people.
After the October Revolution, inhabitants of private apartments were forced to share them with additional inhabitants, but Serebriakova was lucky - she was quartered with artists from the Moscow Art Theatre. Thus, Serebriakova’s work during this period focuses on theatre life.
In the autumn of 1924, Serebriakova went to Paris, having received a commission for a large decorative mural. Eventually she took French citizenship, and it was not until Khruschev’s Thaw that the Soviet Government allowed her to resume contact with her family in the Soviet Union.
Zinaida Serebriakova’s works were finally exhibited in the Soviet Union in 1966, in Moscow, Leningrad, and Kiev, to great acclaim. Her albums sold by the millions, and she was compared to Botticelli and Renoir. However, although she sent about 200 of her works to be shown in the Soviet Union, the bulk of her work remains in France today.
Nefertiti Bust, Limestone. 1345 BC 18th Dynasty, discovered in 1912. Neues Museum, Berlin Germany.
The Nefertiti Bust is a 3300-year-old painted limestone bust of Nefertiti, the Great Royal Wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten and one of the most copied works of ancient Egypt. Due to the work, Nefertiti has become one of the most famous women from the ancient world and as an icon of feminine beauty. The work is believed to have been crafted in 1345 BC by the sculptor Thutmose.
- Liberty Leading the People, 1830, Eugene Delacroix.
- Napoleon on the Battlefield at Eylau, 1808, Antoine-Jean Gros.
- Raft of the Medusa, 1818-‘9, Théodore Géricault
Delacroix’s corpses owe a lot to Jean Gros’ bodies, a favourite artist of Napoleon. An exhibition of his paintings had opened just as Delacroix had started working on his masterpiece. Since the downfall of Napoleon, these canvases had been suppressed, but now they had a new impact. Delacroix was astonished by Gros’ painting of Bonaparte on the battlefield on the edge of Russia. He wrote in his journal - Gros dared to make real corpses, he knew how to paint sweat, and piles of bodies amidst the dirt. The artist reveals an abandoned rifle, with a rusty bayonet, which is covered with tiny, blood-stained crystals of ice. One of the things that Delacroix was particularly interested in was the way in which Gros could take the stuff of everyday life, like military uniforms, or dead bodies, and turn them into a kind of poetry.
Another influence was that of Theodore Gericault. Before he died at the age of 32, Gericault was convulsed by gruesomely realistic vision. He gave his young friend Delacroix a part in his masterpiece - a portrait of the artist as a corpse, in a spectacular maritime disaster. The model for this figure, face down with a splendid mane of hair was Eugene Delacroix. Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa, painting in 1819, depicted the aftermath of a scandalous shipwreck involving crimes ranging from inept seamanship to cannibalism - a news story, but raised by Gericault to a new spiritual dimension.
The equivalent news story for Delacroix turned out to be a revolution nobody expected. For six years, Charlex X had ruled France at the head of a reactionary royalist government. When he tried to abolish the freedom of the press and dissolve the newly elected Assembly, Paris exploded. [x]
Portrait of Heliodoros, from the House of the Scribes, Synagogue, Dura-Europos, 200–256 CE. Yale University Art Gallery.
I have to say, being rather apprehensive of any subject that has anything to do with organised religion, I am finding the Paleochristian & Byzantine Art class rather oddly fascinating. Basically, in Roman times there was this Dura-Europos, a barricaded Syrian city (under Roman/Parthian rule) in which Christians, Jews, and Mithraists (worshippers of Mithras- a Persian divinity who should be familiar with ardent viewers of QI) had their respective ‘temples’ and could worship/live with moderate freedom. This is obviously unique and interesting
(for nerds like me, I mean) because we all know of the infamous Roman persecution of Christians. Aside from this, Dura-Europos is also famous because it is one of the first sites in which Christian art was found, albeit with huge influence from pagan/Hellenic imagery.
Haters of art history (are there even such people, especially on tumblr, the academic hipster centre?) should just unfollow, since I’ll probably be posting such brief, in-a-nutshell posts on a regular basis, for both the personal way I try to approach my studies and the general, common interest.