Tag Archives: 1790s

Fragonard and Goya: The problem of leisure, what to do for pleasure?

9 Dec

Jean-Honore Fragonard, A Game of Hot Cockles, 1775

Jean-Honoré Fragonard was a master when it came to turning fantasies into realities, in the realm of his canvas at least, he wasn’t a magician or a magic fairy. Fragonard, a pupil of Boucher, brought elegance and youthful playfulness into Francois Boucher’s sumptuous and slightly erotic compositions. Whereas Boucher intertwined mythological scenes with the unrestrained lives of the wealthy nobility, Fragonard painted worlds which are neither real nor mythological, but his own dreamy havens. His is the world where love never dies and sun never sets. The painting “A Game of Hot Cockles” isn’t even the finest example, his series called “Progress of Love” is the height of romantic escapism in that fanciful kingdom of love and dreams.

In the painting above the figures occupy just a small portion of the canvas, while the tall trees stretch on and on. He paints trees in a variety of shades, from the warm green-yellowish leaves in the foreground to the gentle hazy blue-greens in the background. The mysterious park is like a theatre stage where games take place. The inspiration for the dazzling landscapes in the background of his painting came from his travel to Rome in 1756, and so does the vibrant colour palette. In contrast to the greenness, the figures are dressed in vibrant jewel coloured clothes; ruby red, sapphire blue, amber yellow, pink as rose quartz.

Detail of Fragonard’s painting

In a dreamy park surrounded by woods a dreamy group of silk-clad figures are enjoying their leisure time and playing a game, and not just any game, but a very Rococo one called “game of hot cockles” which was a popular game for the Christmas time even in the nineteenth century. The game includes one person placing their head in someone’s lap while a third person is hitting their bottom, and the person has to guess who spanked them. A man had a unique opportunity to place their head in a pretty woman’s laps, and ladies had a chance to do the same. Such a silly and naughty game with an erotic undertone instantly became a hit with the indolent French nobility. One could intentionally name the wrong person so that this “wicked game” continues. The group is playing the game, but what are the lady in a red dress and the man in blue doing in the far left corner? Perhaps he’s telling her ‘Hey, I would like to spank you, but it needn’t be part of the game.’ To which she disapprovingly replies ‘Oh, please, can’t you see my dog is listening’.

Lyrics from the Gang of Four’s song ‘Natural’s not in it’ come to mind:

“The problem of leisure
What to do for pleasure
Ideal love a new purchase
A market of the senses….
Renounce all sin and vice
Dream of the perfect life
This heaven gives me migraine”

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, Blind Man’s Buff (La Gallina Ciega), 1788

The works that Goya is known for today, the imaginative, but dark and disturbing “Los Caprichos” are in the start contrast to his earlier works painted for the court. “Blind Man’s Buff” belongs to Goya’s court phase or his Rococo phase. Both the theme and the colour palette are lighter, and he was influenced by Watteau in this period. It is part of the series that Goya painted for the Royal Palace of El Pardo in Madrid. The painting shows a group of young people playing the game of blind man’s buff.

The man in the middle is blindfolded and trying to touch the other players with a long wooden spoon. I remember playing that game when I was little, but we never used a spoon, how funny! One man, the one on the right, is dressed in an elegant French attire while the other three men and the women are all showing off their vibrant Spanish costumes which they chose to wear in order to emphasise their nationality and culture. In this detail you can see the wonderful vibrant colours, that red and that yellow are so eye catching! It all looks so dreamy and naive, which goes in tune with the spirit of Rococo and its never ending pursuit of pleasure and love for enjoying life.

The Straw Manikin (La Marioneta) by Francisco Goya, 1791-92

Here is another painting from the same royal series by Goya, painted a bit later though, called “The Straw Manikin”. I already wrote about it here. Times are getting darker and Rococo is in demise, and here an innocent outdoor game is taking a twisted touch. Girls are throwing a straw doll in the air, but look at his face expression; so passive, so resigned, they can do whatever they want with him. He is powerless in the hands of females.

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Marianne Dashwood – A Romantic Heroine

18 Apr

Marianne’s abilities were, in many respects, quite equal to Elinor’s. She was sensible and clever; but eager in everything: her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable, interesting: she was everything but prudent. The resemblance between her and her mother was strikingly great.

jane austen sense and sensibility book cover 1

‘Sense and Sensibility’ was Jane Austen’s first published work and is my favourite novel by Jane Austen. Both the movie Sense and Sensibility (1995) and the novel are amusing and interesting, a real nourishment for imagination. Even if you throw out the romance, you’re still left with witty dialogues, interesting Regency fashion, insight into social customs and daily life in Regency era. There’s something so exciting in imagining that perhaps there once was a Marianne Dashwood out there, with all her romantic adventures and sensibilities!

The character of Marianne Dashwood is probably the main reason why I love this book so much. I feel I can relate to her, much more than I can to Elizabeth Bennet, despite the general admiration and affection readers usually have for Miss Lizzy. I think Marianne is a very interesting character, a typical heroine of Romanticism. Embodying the ‘sensibility’ of the title, Marianne is spontaneous, impulsive, idealistic, excessively sensitive, amiable and generous; she’s everything but ‘sensible’. Marianne’s romantic and passionate nature has shaped her interests and hobbies, as well as her attitudes towards love and life; she loves reading poetry, playing pianoforte and singing, living passionately in general, long strolls, romantic adventures, and, keeping in touch with Romanticism, she loves nature. Like Marianne, I am exceedingly romantic, because I’ve listened to Chopin’s Nocturnes one too many a time, read too many Victorian novels, and I daydream too much.

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No voice divine the storm allay’d,
No light propitious shone;
When, snatch’d from all effectual aid,
We perish’d, each alone;
But I beneath a rougher sea,
And whelmed in deeper gulphs than he.

       The Castaway, 1799, lines 61–66 (William Cowper)

Marianne is particularly fond of William Cowper who is considered one of the forerunners of Romanticism. His thoughtful and emotional celebration of the beauty of nature was very appealing to Jane Austen herself. I think it’s very appropriate that they included a recitation of Cowper’s poem in the movie because it perfectly demonstrated the difference between two sisters, their worldviews and qualities they value. During discussions about Edward Ferrars, Marianne proclaimed: ‘I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every point coincide with my own. He must enter in all my feelings; the same books, the same music must charm us both.

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Kate Winslet is the only Marianne Dashwood for me! She perfectly embodied Marianne’s romantic idealism, spontaneity, and passion for wild flowers and poetry! I have not doubted for a moment that who I’m watching on the screen is a real Marianne Dashwood coming to life. Even her appearance coincided with my own vision of Marianne! Kate’s appearance in the movie was pure embodiment of the word ‘romantic’; her sparkling eyes, golden curls and heart-shaped lips were all perfectly suitable for the image of a romantic heroine.

Every romantic heroine needs a romantic hero. Marianne’s first romantic adventure began the moment Mr Willoughby carried her to the house, in the rain, after she had sprained her ankle. The next morning he brought her wildflowers, and the two bonded over the shared love of poetry. Still, the story would have been too perfect if it had stopped there. Willoughby had secrets of his own. It seemed sad to me at first, but after finding about Willoughby’s immoral behavior and corruptible nature, I was delighted that he abandoned Marianne for I would not want a person like that to be her husband.

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Even though some, or rather, most of the readers have expressed disappointment on Marianne falling in love and marrying Colonel Brandon, I actually liked the ending. Willoughby seems a better partner for Marianne at first; he’s young, handsome and charming, but it is maturity and wisdom of Colonel Brandon that enabled him to deeply love and appreciate Marianne in a way Willoughby never could. It’s just my opinion though, perhaps somewhat shaped by the fact that Brandon was portrayed by Alan Rickman in the film, and I like him, and his voice.

In the end, Marianne realised that Colonel Brandon was very much capable of falling in love or inspiring love in someone else. I think it’s very romantic how he fell in love with Marianne at first sight, as she reminded him of his unforgotten love Eliza, without even hoping or expecting Marianne to return his feelings.