I had to undergo surgery this week. Everything went very well, but I have not been able to write since the operation. I hope to return to my normal activities as soon as possible.
Farm at Montgeroult
Here are a few paintings by Paul Cézanne (1839–1906). I tend to associate Cézanne with apples or other fruit. Cézanne painted lovely still lifes. In fact, some of his still lifes feature skulls. Your may remember that during the 17th century, the Dutch Golden Age, still lifes were called Vanitas and often showed a skull, an element depicting the brevity of life (See Pieter Claesz, Wikipedia.)
By and large, an artist’s main frame of reference is art itself, but whether or not Cézanne featured skulls intending to underline the brevity of life would be difficult to ascertain. As a post-impressionist, however, he did attempt to catch the brief moment when the light touches an object, suddenly transforming it. That evanescent moment also points to the brevity of life.
Cézanne also painted landscapes, interesting displays of houses, portraits, people playing cards, nudes, groups of nudes, and works, such as “Curtains,” that constitute a lovely example of intimisme,[i] a private space. Intimisme is often associated with impressionism as an impression is by definition a personal and fleeting view.
Vases with Red Poppies, by Van Gogh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have been doing maintenance work on my posts and ended up reinserting images that had disappeared and revising certain blogs. I also discovered a missing blog on Chaucer & Valentine’s Day and rediscovered Charles d’Orléans.
Charles d’Orléans (24 November 1394, Paris – 5 January 1465, Amboise) was a French Duke who was taken prisoner at the Battle of Agincourt, on the 25th of October 1415, and spent nearly 25 years in England, as a “prisoner.” Because he was a possible heir to the throne of France, the English king, Henry V, would not allow him to leave England.
Charles’ first wife died in childbirth, but their daughter Joan survived. His second wife died while he was a prisoner in England. But when he returned to France, he married 14-year-old Marie de Clèves (19 September 1426 – 23 August 1487). He was then 46. She gave birth to the first of their three children, Marie d’Orléans, in 1457. Their second child, born in 1462, would be Louis XII, king of France. Their third child, Anne of Orleans, was born in 1464.
When Charles was released, in 1440, “speaking better English than French,” according to the English chronicler Raphael Holinshed (Charles d’Orléans, Wikipedia), he had become not only a poet, but an excellent poet. One of his poems is exquisite. It’s about winter: Le temps a laissé son manteau… (The weather left its coat…). It is included in my now relatively old, but updated post. However, for this post, I have chosen a frivolous song.
Claude Debussy (22 August 1862 – 25 March 1918) wrote music based on this poem, but we also have a Dutch song, mixing French and Dutch. Moreover, there is a site that features Charles singing a St Valentine’s song. When he returned to France, Charles d’Orléans made Valentine’s Day known in courtly circles.
It seems Geoffrey Chaucer is the father of Valentine’s day. He wrote that Valentine’s Day was the day on which birds mated. This myth probably existed long before Chaucer, but he made it official, so to speak. It is included in his Parlement of Fowles, 1382.
In his Leviathan (1651), Thomas Hobbes (5 April 1588 – 4 December 1679) opposes what we would call private militias. The families he is speaking of are the Gonzaga family, who ruled Mantua, the Medicis, who ruled Florence, the Sforza family, the rulers of Milan and other rulers.
Niccolò Machiavelli (3 May 1469 – 21 June 1527) knew these factious city-states. He had worked for the Medicis and witnessed a constant struggle for power, a “war of all against all” (Thomas Hobbes), hence his advice to the prince. For Machiavelli, “the end justifie[d] the means.” How could his prince survive other than by being a “fox?” Machiavelli’s Prince was published in 1532. (The Prince is a Gutenberg publication.)
Feuds Of Private Families
“In all Common-wealths, if a private man entertain more servants, than the government of his estate, and lawfull employment he has for them requires, it is Faction, and unlawfull. For having the protection of the Common-wealth, he needeth not the defence of private force. And whereas in Nations not throughly civilized, severall numerous Families have lived in continuall hostility, and invaded one another with private force; yet it is evident enough, that they have done unjustly; or else that they had no Common-wealth.” (Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Part II, xxii)
The Leviathan was published in 1651. So Hobbes’ foresight amazes me. His analysis of society, here a divided society, is as insightful and valid today as it was in 1651. I should think that the common denominator is human nature. It doesn’t change.
The US has militias and Canada has its indépendantistes. Pierre Elliott Trudeau ended terrorism on the part of séparatistes in October 1970 when, at the request of the alarmed premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa, and the Mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau, he sent in the troops. There had been deaths throughout the 1960s: bombs placed in mailboxes and during the October Crisis, Pierre Laporte, Quebec’s Minister of Labour, was kidnapped and killed.
However, former Quebec Premier Jean Charest (born John James Charest on June 24, 1958), a member of the federalist Liberal Party, was defeated by Pauline Marois’ Parti Québécois in the Quebec General Election, held on 4 September 2012. So, there may be yet another referendum: “to separate” or “not to separate.” I fully understand that we French-speaking Canadians should protect our heritage, but…
Canada is not about to enter into a Civil War. The citizens of Quebec would not agree to this kind of disorder, but I no longer live in Hobbes’ “Common-wealth.” It was bilingual, bicultural, hospitable and, under Pierre Elliott Trudeau leadership, “[t]here [was] no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” (Omnibus Bill, 1967). Quebec is a unilingual province. Immigrants to Quebec have to learn French, which is not too problematical. However, the citizens of Quebec must pay taxes to both the Quebec Government and the Federal Government and a Quebecker‘s health-insurance card does not cover visits to a doctor outside Quebec. Fortunately, it covers hospitalization. These restrictions would not exist if, in 1982, Quebec had signed the patriated Canadian Constitution.[i] So, to a certain extent, Quebec is a country within a country.
President Obama has been criticized for this and criticized for that, but President Obama is the kind of leader who allows not just the United States but the world to feel safer. We breathed a huge sigh of relief when he was re-elected to the Presidency of the United States of America. I’m not saying that he is perfect, no one is. For instance, I would like him to be quite ruthless with respect to gun ownership and the presence of militias. In other words, I would like him to use his authority as commander-in-chief of the armed forces to the fullest extent.
Let us hope, with respect to gun-control, that Congress will not be divided, but if it is, President Obama may have to use whatever mechanisms he may use as commander-in-chief to ensure the security of Americans. Between the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the militias, the United States has armies within armies as well as its official armed forces, the only legitimate army. A house divided…
Barack Obama was re-elected to the Presidency of the United States, despite near certainty on the part of members of the Republican Party that Mitt Romney would emerge a winner. However, Americans knew that President Obama was the better candidate. So I believe that the persons who have re-elected him also know that the better decision is to take the guns away and will support him in his effort to curb and perhaps end the massacres, the staggering number of deaths by gun and the presence of militias, Hobbes’ factious “private force.”
However, there is one thing I noticed about Vermeer that seems particularly interesting. The background of his interiors borrows from the main color in the garment people are wearing. This process creates a degree of continuity to his paintings. However, here, the white hat and cape are major factors in the manner Vermeer shapes the canvas and gives the whole painting the pale or bright area it requires.
In this painting the red of the dress colors some of the floor tiles. Yet, the white wall is suddenly blue. The way Vermeer allows the light to touch here and there brightens up the painting considerably.
This painting is nearly monochromatic, but that is because it is a detail. The detail looks like a gold and black painting. The darkened wall makes the girl’s face stand out. This is a common technique, but would that more of us could do this so well.
When I first introduced to “genre” painting, the word “genre” intrigued me and it still does. Theoretically, “genre” paintings depict people going about their everyday activity. Such a definition suggests a very broad range of paintings. For instance Hendrick Avercamp (January 27, 1585 (bapt.) – May 15, 1634 (buried)), who painted winter lanscapes, is also a “genre” artist in as much as his paintings show people going about their daily chores or skating, or playing golf on ice.
However, we can narrow down the field to people going about their daily tasks indoors and in courtyards rather than outdoors, which leads us back to the Dutch Golden Age and, in particular, to the art of Johannes Vermeer (1632, Delft – December 1675, Delft).[i] Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring,” a 1665 portrait, is now a favorite. Yet, Vermeer, a Dutch Golden Agepainter, who lived in Delft, specialized in everyday interior scenes and his paintings of domestic scenes are now considered the standard reference.
Hendrick Avercamp may still qualify as a genre painter and the same is true of the Limbourg brothers, the miniaturists who illuminated Jean de France, duc de Berry’s Très Riches Heures(1412-1416), one of the most extraordinary “Books of Hours.” These paintings feature individuals performing everyday activity or, in the case of Jean de France’s Très Riches Heures, seasonal activities,
Diversity in “Genre” Painting
Yet within the narrower field of interiors, there is diversity. One of Vermeer’s better-known paintings is “The Procuress,” c. 1656, a brothel scene in which Vermeer himself is probably portrayed (first person to the left). “Genre” works may also depict merrymakers in taverns. The “Procuress” is a legitimate genre painting, as are the paintings of drunken deer drinkers. But such paintings may not be purchased by a bourgeois housewife who would prefer to look at an interior resembling her own or one she would like to live in, which is not an insignificant factor.
The Procuress, by Johannes Vermeer, 1656
“The Procuress” is a relatively early work. In fact, by 1656, Vermeer was beginning to paint the luminous interiors, such as the ones featured below, all of which may have been painted in the same two rooms of Vermeer’s well-to-do’s mother-in-law’s house in Oude (Delft). With respect to these somewhat intimiste paintings, it may be helpful to read a few sentences from the Encyclopædia Britannica‘s entry on Vermeer.
Beginning in the late 1650s and lasting over the course of about one decade—a remarkably brief period of productivity, given the enormity of his reputation—Vermeer would create many of his greatest paintings, most of them interior scenes. No other contemporary Dutch artist created scenes with such luminosity or purity of colour, and no other painter’s work was infused with a comparable sense of timelessness and human dignity[ii]
Characteristics of Vermeer’s Interiors
Chief characteristics of Vermeer’s interiors are black and white flooring leading to a vanishing point, leaded and at times colored windows on the left side of the canvas, heavy rugs on tables, musical instruments, virginals in particular, jugs, and, in “The Milk Maid,” a baseboard made of blue Delft tiles (see below). In his “Lady at a Virginal with a Gentleman,” you may have noticed that the mirror above the virginal echoes the floor. Vermeer was influenced by the Utrecht Carravagists (see chiaroscuro) who enjoyed paintings-within-paintings.
Vermeer’s interiors are clean and his characters, neatly dressed. These are rooms that suggest a degree of comfort and are a pleasure to look at as well as a collector’s dream. Vermeer, a Delft artist, sold at least 21 of his paintings to Jacob Dissius, a Delft collector. Pieter van Ruijven, a baker, also bought two paintings by Vermeer. As a result, Vermeer was not well-known outside Delft and, given that he worked slowly, there are only about 34 to 36 paintings indisputably attributed to him. He was, after all, the busy father of eleven children and an art-dealer, as was his father. From his father, he had also inherited an inn.
Although Vermeer seems to have stayed in Delft most of his life, he did not work in isolation. He was a member of The Guild of Saint Luke, which he joined on 29 December 1653. He was elected head of the Guild in 1662, and was re-elected to the same position in 1663, 1670, and 1671, which is a tribute to the exceptional quality of his paitings and esteem on the part of Dwelft painters. He was influenced by Carel Fabritius, Leonaert Bramer, Dirck van Baburen (c. 1595 – 21 February 1624) and Gerrit von Honthorst, an Utrecht Caravaggist. He may have tutored Pieter de Hooch and Nicolaes Maes, but these artists competed with him.
The Disaster: France invades the Dutch Republic
Until the invasion of the Dutch Republic by French troops, in 1672, the Dutch Republic had been a prosperous nation. But it was suddenly severely impoverished. During five years or so, members of the middle-class could not purchase art and, by extension, artists could not sell their art, not to mention that Vermeer worked slowly and used expensive pigments (lapis lazuli, ultramarine, cornflower blue, etc). When he died, in 1675, aged 43, probably of meningitis or encephalitis, then called “frenzy,” Vermeer left behind eleven children and debts to pay. Furthermore, he would be forgotten until rediscovered in the nineteenth century by Gustav Friedrich Waagen and Théophile Thoré-Bürger.
So let this be our introduction to “genre” painting. The Vermeer paintings shown above are interiors and it could well be that focussing on life indoors or in courtyards is the chief characteristic of “genre” painting. Furthermore, we had the privilege of seeing some of the most beloved “genre” pieces in European history.
I must close. So, at this point, let the paintings speak for themselves.
Having admired a number of Dutch paintings last week, leaving the subject is very difficult. In the Fine Arts, I should think it would be difficult to find so many masters living in one area of Europe during what seems a hundred years.
Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (28 June 1577 – 30 May 1640) was active in the early part of the seventeenth century, and he is an accomplished artist and was a fine diplomat. He was not Dutch, but how does one not mention him?
But let us focus on Holland. Dutch artist Rembrant van Rijn (15 July 1606 – 4 October 1669) is usually considered the most prominent artist of the seventeenth century in Holland. However, it is a question of degrees. Johannes Vermeer (1632 – December 1675) is also a Dutch Master. The same is true of Jacob Isaackszoon van Ruisdael(c. 1628 – 14 March 1682), Franz Hals (c. 1582 – 26 August 1666).
Some excelled at portraiture (Vermeer, Hals), others painted landscapes (the Ruisdaels) but Rembrandt was the most eclectic. He painted portraits, the Jewish population of Amsterdam, seascapes, biblical subjects and the very large Night Watch (1642), housed in the Rijksmuseum, in Amsterdam. Vermeer was also a “genre,” painter. He painted interiors where individuals are going about their everyday activity.
A Young Man in a Large Hat, by Frans Hals, 1626/1629[i]
The Girl with the Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer, 1665
The Windmill at Wijk bij Duurstede, by Jacob Isaackszoon van Ruisdael, c. 1670
The above is a mere backdrop or introduction. However, it is quite acceptable. We have identified four Dutch Masters, possibly the most prominent Dutch Masters of the seventeenth century, the Dutch Golden Age. We have linked each of them to subjects they depicted which, by an large, are not religious subjects.
In this regard, a potential gallery of the Dutch Golden Age paintings would contain portraits, seascapes, depiction of Jews in a tolerant Holland, and depictions of rather large groups of people. On the subject of Jews, I should note that the citizens of seventeenth-century Holland were a tolerant society.
As a result, there was considerable emigration to Holland. Not all stayed, but many did, some of whom were artists. Jewish and Mannerist artist Gillis van Coninxloo emigrated to Holland.
I have explored the life and times of several Golden Age Dutch artists, but realize I am now too tired to continue my work. I will have to rest. So I may not post blogs for a few days. However, I will try to catch up with messages and comments.That is very important.
We explored the ballet de cour, an example of which is Louis XIII‘s Ballet de (la) Merlaison, and we know that the composers of this period wrote Suites or Ordres, asFrançois Couperin named his Suites. Among these dances is the passacalle (from passar),or pasacaille, or passacaglia.
I am including two related blogs, but posts dealing with the flamenco are not listed. This post is about dance music and more specifically music for ballet, such as Louis XIII Ballet de la Merlaison, and musical works consisting of a series of dances: the Suite or Masque.
We have therefore identified two dances: the passacaglia (the chaconne) and the fandango, both of which are dances akin to the dances of Suites, one of which, the fandango, is related to the flamenco.
The passacaglia is Spanish in origin, but it quickly spread to other countries.According to theEncyclopaedia Britannica, “[t]he dance’s original name survives in thepassacalle,a lively folk dance for couples popular in western South America.” As it first appeared in 17th-century Spain, “[it] was of unsavoury reputation and possibly quite fiery.”[i] However, “[i]n the French theatre of the 17th and 18th centuries it was a dance of imposing majesty.” The passacaglia is almost identical to the chaconneand as a chaconne it can be part of a Suite.
As for the fandango, the EncyclopædiaBritannica tells that it is an “exuberant Spanish courtship dance and a genre of Spanish folksong. The dance, probably of Moorish origin, was popular in Europe in the 18th century and survives in the 20th century as a folk dance in Spain, Portugal, southern France, and Latin America. Usually danced by couples (men), it begins slowly, with the rhythm marked by castanets, clapping of hands, snapping of fingers, and the stamping of feet; the speed gradually increases.”[ii]
In Italian-born Classical composer Luigi Boccherini‘s répertoire, we find traces of the music of the land where he lived and worked: Iberia (Spain and Portugal). The fandango is an Iberian dance and is related to the Andalusianmalagueña and flamenco.
Jean-Honoré Fragonard (5 April 1732 – 22 August 1806). Today, the news are the main content of my post. However, above and to your right, there are paintings by Fragonard and a video on Fragonard, at the bottom of the page.
Born in Grasse, in the Alpes-Maritimes where his father was a glover, Jean-Honoré first articled to a Paris notary when his father experienced financial difficulties. Jean-Honoré then apprenticed first with François Boucher who quickly gave him a different master: Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. He was extremely talented and won the Prix de Rome in 1752, but before leaving for Rome, he also apprenticed with Charles-André van Loo, a native of Nice.
Jean-Honoré was a Rococo artist, but during his lifetime Rococo art was all but eclipsed as Neoclassicism became the art of the day. Moreover, Fragonard was not spared the French Revolution. It deprived him of patrons, most of whom were guillotined or went into exile. He then took refuge in his native Grasse, where he remained until the 19th century. When he returned to Paris, he had become a forgotten artist.
His productivity is stunning. His legacy numbers 550 or so works, excluding etchings and drawings. Etchings are more affordable than paintings since several copies, limited and numbered, can be made. Moreover, the actual etching can be executed by an assistant who copies his master’s drawings.
Fragonard best-knowing works are associated with a contained form of Rococo art. According to Wikipedia, Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s work is charactered by exuberance and hedonism, which are Rococo features. Fragonard also produced genre paintings “conveying an atmosphere of intimacy and veiled eroticism.” (Wikipedia) “Veiled eroticim” is also a characteristic of François Boucher’s works, Fragonard’s first teacher. Louis XV is often described as a libertin king and libertinage is expressed in the art created during his reign.
Madame de Pompadour was a patron to François Boucher and Madame Du Barry, a patron to Fragonard. She became a royal mistress, and was guillotined on December 8th, 1793.
François Boucher (29 September 1703 – 30 May 1770) “was a Frenchpainter, a proponent of Rococo taste, known for his idyllic and voluptuous paintings on classical themes, decorative allegories representing the arts or pastoral occupations, intended as a sort of two-dimensional furniture. He also painted several portraits of his illustrious patroness, Louis XV’s official mistress, Madame de Pompadour.” (Wikipedia)
News of his talents quickly reached Versailles. He worked for the queen and for Mme de Pompadour, Louis XV’s chief mistress. “He became a member of the Royal Academy in 1734 and then became the principal producer of designs for the royal porcelain factories, as well as director of the Gobelins tapestry factory. In 1765 he became director of the Royal Academy and held the title of first painter to King Louis XV.”[ii]
Rococo art, decoration and architecture are characterized by movement. It is a busy and often features a profusion of fabrics. It followed the baroque, a more restrained style. Rococo æsthetics is in fact an extreme that called for a return to sober depictions and more serious contents that would reflect the intellectual endeavour of the Encyclopédistes. For instance, although Jacques-Louis David was a student of François Boucher, he is a neoclassicist. As for Boucher, his art typifies the lightheartedness that preceded the French Revolution. We see opulence and hear laughter, but a storm is approaching. In this regard, Boucher’s art resembles that of Antoine Watteau (1684 – 1721) and Jean-Honoré Fragonard 1732 – 1806).
Allegory, Boy Lighting Candle in Company of Ape and Fool by El Greco
El Greco (1541 – 7 April 1614)
This painting was inserted in my last post and was supposed to grow larger when one clicked on the picture. It didn’t. So I have reintroduced El Greco’s “Allegory” as it is a fascinating example of candlelight chiaroscuro.
El Greco’s manneristic paintings are characterized by elongated and occasionally distorted elements, such as somewhat mishapen body limbs. His paintings are also busy, which is not case with neo-classical works. Moreover, in the painting featured above, El Greco uses a form of chiaroscuro, but mannerism, a movement, does not have to feature chiaroscuro.
Caravaggio (29 September 1571 – 18 July 1610)
Caravaggio(le Caravage) is the artist who introduced chiaroscuro, and there are degrees of chiaroscuro. Tenebrism is its strongest expression. I suspect, however, that the historical importance of Caravaggio lies more in his effort to give objects relief or dimensionality, which was a chief concern of Renaissance realism and which situates the introduction of chiaroscuro at a specific moment in history.
The moment is the Renaissance. The Renaissance is its birthplace, as it is the birthplace of the point de fuite or the vanishing point. But it remains that, as a technique, chiaroscuro will be a lasting legacy, as will the vanishing point and perspective in general, whereas movements will follow the whims of fashion. To a large extent, chiaroscuro will in fact be a matter of choice, which differentiates it from perspective, a more permanent feature. Yet, it remains a technique.
Other artists are associated with the use of chiaroscuro (light-dark, or vice-versa). The following is a quotation from the Encyclopædia Britannica: “The single most important painter in the tradition was the Frenchman Georges de La Tour, though echoes of Caravaggio’s style can also be found in the works of such giants as Rembrandt van Rijn and Diego Velázquez.” [i]
So there are forms of chiaroscuro. There are paintings where a light emanating from a candle makes an area of the painting light. Georges de La Tour uses this technique frequently, but he is not a mannerist.
As indicated in the Encyclopædia Britannica, the use of chiaroscuro is prevalent in the paintings of Georges de la Tour (1593-1652). But La Tour is a realist. Moreover, here we are looking at the above-mentioned candlelight chiaroscuro. On an excellent internet site devoted to La Tour’s realism, Misty Amanda Vandergriff, writes that La Tour is also considered “to be a follower of Caravaggio [29 September 1571 – 18 July 1610] due to his dependency on specific elements of the Caravaggesque style (most notably the use of chiaroscuro and tenebristic techniques).” [ii]
In other words, the history of Fine Arts presents similarities with the history of literature and with history in general. When Caravaggio introduced chiaroscuro, he was innovating. Renaissance imperatives called for as faithful a depiction of reality as could be achieved. This led to the development of certain techniques, some of which ended up overriding the moment and movements.
We have long left the Renaissance, but the use of chiaroscuro has lasted. Moreover, we still have the grisaille, a monochrome, chrome meaning colour, form of chiaroscuro. But, the time has come to close this post. So let’s look at David’s use of chiaroscuro andalso look at one of his grisailles and then walk away from the computer.
Jacques-Louis David (1748 – 1825)
Jacques-Louis David‘s (30 August 1748 – 29 December 1825) “Death of Marat” does indeed demonstrate the enduring usefulness of chiaroscuro. “The Death of Marat” dates back to 1793. The years had therefore madechiaroscuroone of many tools used by artists to achieve an aesthetic goal. In the case of Jacques-Louis David’s depiction of the “Death of Marat,” chiaroscuro lends drama to David’s painting and serves to explain why “La Mort de Marat” is considered a masterpiece. But, I am also including “Patroclus,” a grisaille by David, where chiaroscuro is achieved to a large extent by the use of a beam of light, another form of chiaroscuro.