Tag Archives: 1877

Pretty Girls Make Graves – Beautiful Corpses in Art: Part II

5 Nov

At last, the Part II of the post about interesting and beautiful female corpses in art. You can read the part I here.

John Atkinson Grimshaw, The Lady of Shalott, 1875

I finished the first part of this post with Walter Crane’s painting “Lady of Shalott” painted in 1862, and in this post I am continuing with the theme of a beautiful and doomed Lady of Shalott with a painting by John Atkinson Grimshaw. Nature surrounding the poor, pale and dead Lady of Shalott seems mystical and dreamy, almost sepia coloured, like a primordial swamp with its dreamy distant trees, slow murky water and water lilies, all ready to take the poor Elaine to the castle where her knight in shining armour is. The trees tops cast shadows on the surface of the water and it creates a slightly surreal atmosphere where one doesn’t know what is real and what illusory, what is alive and what but a shadow. Grimshaw is more known for painting street scenes of towns in the Northern England where he brilliantly captured the atmosphere of wet and gloomy autumn. So this painting of Lady of Shalott is a very different theme for Grimshaw, but he painted it with equal emphasis on the atmosphere. Sweet dead Elaine looks lovely like a doll with yellow hair.

Gabriel von Max, The Anatomist, 1869

In comparison with Grimshaw’s dreamy portrayal of the Lady of Shalott floating slowly toward eternity in her little boat, painting “The Anatomist” shows a more realistic portrayal of a female corpse. The title “Anatomist” places the man in the centre; we see the world through his eyes, we see the dead woman’s pale body through his eyes. He has slowly removed the white sheet that covers her, exposing her breast, and he seems deep in thought. Behind him are skulls and books which remind us of transience and also of his scientific, intellectual occupations. She looks very still and serene, but is she really? Will she open her eyes, will her lips move and speak? I must say, that after gazing at this painting for some time, it brought to mind a short horror film called “Kissed” which I stumbled upon this summer. You can check it out here, it’s six minutes long.

 

William Frederick Yeames, The Death of Amy Robsart, 1877

In “The Death of Amy Robsart”, William Frederick Yeames took a real historic event and portrayed it in a romantic way. Poor dead body of a Elizabethan era lady Amy Robsart has just been discovered at he bottom of the stairs leading up to her bedroom; I assume because we can see the bed in the room upstairs and she is dressed in her informal attire. Amy is mostly remembered in history for being the wife of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester; the favourite of the Queen Elizabeth, and for dying in suspicious circumstances by falling down stairs. Victorian painter William Frederick Yeames has taken this historical event and portrayed it with a very Victorian sense for tragedy; we instantly feel pity for Amy, just as we do for the poor Lady Jane Grey or Joan of Arc in other Romantic and Victorian paintings which romanticise the historical tragedies. I love the way the creases of her nightgown are painted, in that lying pose she almost looks like a sculpture.

Claude Monet, Camille Monet on her Deathbed, 1879

This painting by Monet is a really intimate portrayal of a painful moment in the painter’s life: the death of his first wife Camille. It’s almost like a visual diary entry. The painting looks as if it is covered with a thin blueish gauze, a thin line which separated the real world . The painting reminds me of a passage from María Luisa Bombal’s novel “La amortajada” or “The Shrouded Woman” where the woman is dead but she can still see and hear everything, including her burial and she remembers her entire life throughout the novel: “And after it had gotten dark, her eyes opened. But just a little, very little. It was as if she wanted to look, while she was hidden behind her long eyelashes. At the flame of the tall candles that leaned over to keep watch on her, and to observe the cleanness and transparency of the border of the eye that death had not been able to cast a pall over. Respectfully dazzled, they leaned over, not knowing that She was able to see them. Because, in fact, She could both see and feel. And that is how she looked, motionless, lying face up on the spacious bed now covered with embroidered sheets that were scented with lavender—that were always kept under lock and key—and she is wrapped in that white satin robe that always made her look so graceful. Her hands can be seen, gently crossed over her chest, pressing on a crucifix; hands that had acquired the frivolous delicacy of two peaceful doves.

Enrique Simonet Lombardo, The Autopsy (Anatomy of the Heart; She had a Heart!), 1890

Enrique Simonet’s painting “She had a heart!” is as realistic as it is poignant. The dead woman’s body and the interior of the morgue are painted with finest precision, and yet the coroner’s gesture of holding the woman’s heart makes her more humane in his eyes and in our eyes. She is not just another dead body that he is doing an autopsy on, she was a real person with a beating heart eager to love and be loved in return. Simonet gained fame and recognition with this painting and he painted it whilst studying in Rome. We can conclude that the dead woman was a prostitute because of her lavish coppery hair, red hair being symbolic of moral weakness, and also, bodies of women found in the river Tiber usually belonged to prostitutes. The real model for the woman was a dead body of an actress who committed suicide because of a heartache. The real tragedy behind the painting also adds a poignant touch to the painting.

Walter Crane, The Journey to Eternity, 1902

I am finishing this post with another very beautiful painting by Walter Crane called “The Journey to Eternity” which shows a nude angel and a beautiful redhead dead young woman lying in the boat as they both glide towards eternity. A dead lady in a little boat adorned with lilies and roses is awfully similar to the theme of the Lady of Shalott. Everything has a blueish tinge in this painting and it really adds to the mystical mood. The water looks incredibly vibrant and is painted in many shades of blue, and the blue is echoed in the angel’s wings as well. Also, the Angel’s head is covering the full moon so it almost looks as if the moon is his halo. The dead lady is comfortable on a soft pillow, she is holding a pink rose in her right hand and her journey to eternity seems as romantical as it can get. If I could die that way and travel to eternity in a boat adorned with roses, I would gladly.

This is the autumn: it — just breaks your heart!

19 Oct

A poem by Nietzsche published in 1884, and the original draft written in 1877.

Antoon Van Welie, Douleur, 1895

In German November

This is the autumn: it — just breaks your heart!
Fly away! fly away! —
The sun crawls along the mountain
And rises and rises
And rests with every step.
How the world became so withered!
Upon worn, strained threads
The wind plays its song.
Hope fled —
He soughs to her.

This is the autumn: it — just breaks your heart.
Fly away! fly away!
Oh fruit of the tree,
Shaken, you fall?
What lone secret did the night
Teach you,
That icy horror upon your cheeks,
Upon your crimson cheeks? —

You are silent, do not answer?
Who still speaks? — —

This is the autumn: it — just breaks your heart.
Fly away! fly away! —
“I’m not beautiful”
— That’s what the starflower says —
“But I love people
And I comfort people —
They should see flowers now,
Bend down to me
Alas! and break me —
Memory then shines
In their eyes,
Memory of things more beautiful than I: —
— I see it, I see it — and thus die.” —

This is the autumn: it — just breaks your heart!
Fly away! fly away!

Translation and the German original both found here.

James McNeill Whistler’s ‘Nocturnes’

22 Dec

When James McNeill Whistler first exhibited his Nocturne series in 1877 at the Grosvenor Gallery in London, he enraged John Ruskin who wrote of the exhibition that Whistler was “asking two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face”.

Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge circa 1872-5 by James Abbott McNeill Whistler 1834-1903James McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Blue and Gold; Old Battersea Bridge, 1872-75

Whistler sued Ruskin, and their little ‘art quarrel’ reached the court in 1878. Ruskin couldn’t understand why Whistler asked for 200 guineas for a painting which needed merely two-days work. On that question Whistler cunningly replied that the amount of money wasn’t for the two-days of work, but for the knowledge he had been acquiring all his life. This is a wise thought which could easily be applied to all artist; all the emotions, memories, thoughts and associations which the artist imbued in his artwork will forever remain a mystery. What is known, what I write here, is only scratching the surface, and endless interpretations which are subjective. Just like Marcel Proust said: ‘An hour is not just an hour, it is a vessel full of perfumes, sounds, plans and atmospheres.‘ (In Search of Lost Time) A painting is all those things as well.

Another thing that angered Ruskin, and majority of art critics, were the titles of the paintings, such as ‘Nocture’ in this case. Other typical Whistler-style names were ‘harmony’, ‘symphony’, ‘study’ and ‘arrangement’. In 1872, he wrote to Frederic Leyland, an amateur musician who inspired Whistler for his musically inspired titles: I say I can’t thank you too much for the name ‘Nocturne’ as a title for my moonlights! You have no idea what an irritation it proves to the critics and consequent pleasure to me—besides it is really so charming and does so poetically say all that I want to say and no more than I wish. As for the composition, it was clearly derived from Japanese woodblock prints which Whistler loved just like his contemporaries, the Impressionists.

This case symbolically represents the deep gap that divided artists in the second half of the 19th century. Ruskin, who was older, hoped he could raise an awareness of beauty among people by appealing to their morals, while Whistler, who later became the leading figure in ‘aesthetic movement’, argued that the artistic sensibility is the only thing in life that has value. As the 19th century progressed, both viewpoints gained in importance. Which viewpoint is more your cup of tea?