Tag Archives: Everyday life

Pietro Longhi – Scenes from Everyday Life

12 Jan

Pietro Longhi is a wonderful Venetian eighteenth century painter who, unlike some of his contemporaries in Venice, devoted himself to portraying the simple beauties of everyday life. These days I enjoy gazing at his genre scenes and let’s take a look at a few interesting ones.

Pietro Longhi, The Painter in His Studio, 1741, oil on canvas, 41 × 53.3 cm (16 1/8 × 21 in)

A painting is a finished work, but in Longhi’s painting “The Painter in His Studio” we see the hidden, mysterious aspect of art and portrait painting; we see what happens behind the curtains, a sweet secret that only the artist, the sitter or the model know. In this work, a painter is painting an oval portrait of a Venetian noblewoman. Her clothes speak of her wealth and importance. I deserve to be captured for eternity on canvas, her gaze seems to say. Her hair is powdered and short, her stays laced, and a little dog is peeking under her lace sleeve. Considering how wide her sumptuous dress is, perhaps there is another dog hiding in there. Their carnivals and their masques, one never knows with these Venetians, what are they hiding, what is real and what a mirage. The man beside her; is he her husband, her brother, a father or a friend, we don’t know. But he also has a Venetian masque on his face, moved to the side though. Maybe he is telling the painter something really important. And look, his hand is about to pull something out of his inner pocket, what is it, a dagger? In case he is displeased with the painter’s work. Or some gold coins, if he thinks the likeness of the two faces, the one on canvas and the one in reality, is astounding. On the left of the painter, we see his painting equipment. The background is painted in muted brownish tones and is empty of details and ornamentation, we don’t see the continuation of rooms or space, which makes these three characters seem like actors on the stage, but then again, aren’t we all?

Pietro Longhi, Fainting, 1744, 50×61.8 cm (19 11/16 × 24 5/16 in)

From a calmness of a portrait sitting painting we are moving on to a more dramatic scene, painted around the same time, 1744, when Longhi was about forty-two years old; it is unsure whether he was born in 1701 or 1702. A lady dressed in a pastel pink gown, deadly pale and weak, is just opening her eyes. Quick, quick, someone call the doctor! The lady had fainted. Oh, she is opening her eyes slowly now. Her one hand is on her breast, the other is hanging limp. A soft pillow was brought so she can lay her head on it, and smelling salts are offered to her delicate nostrils. Do not let this pastel pink sweetness fool you, for this scene is not as innocent as it may seems at first.

The evidence of the crime lays open to our eyes in the bottom left corner; an overthrown little table with a notably Rococo playful and flamboyant chinoserie pattern, cards and a little velvet purse full of coins are scattered on the floor. People have gathered sympathetically around her, but this lady has a card or two up her sleeve. The reason she fainted is not the lack of fresh air, or the stays laced too tight, but rather the fact that she was loosing in the game. What else can she do but stage this silly little incident. Ha, but the man dressed in a long blue cloak and a long dark grey wig on the right doesn’t seem to believe her. His hand is stretched towards her as if he’s asking for the money. Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni praised Longhi’s portrayal of truth on his canvases, portrayal of the real world around them, and the painting “Fainting” most likely inspired Goldoni’s comedy “La finta ammalata or “The Fake Patient Woman” (1750–1751); there’s a scene in which the main character Rosaura had just fainted and she is surrounded by her friend, her suitor, her father and her doctor.

Pietro Longhi, The Game of the Cooking Pot, 1744, 49.8 × 61.8 cm (19 5/8 × 24 5/16 in)

Another charming and slightly confusing scene is presented in the painting “The Game of the Cooking Pot”. The lady in the gorgeous white gown is a sight to behold; her delicate pale face, her tiny pearl earring, a subtle pink flower in her powdered hair, her little white shoe peeking under the dress, all so dainty and doll-like in the typical Rococo way. But then there’s a guy on the right, holding a stick, his eyes tied with a handkerchief so he cannot see, and he is about to hit … the pot? The Game of pentola or The Game of the Pot is yet another one of strange Rococo games played by adults and not children which includes a person who has to strike the pot and smash it in order to find a pleasant surprise underneath. In a fancy Rococo interior carefree and pretty young people are indulging in lighthearted fun, and why would they not? Life is to be enjoyed. In the background, on the left, there’s some wine in jugs and some biscuits, little details that Longhi painted to add his scenes some warmth and domesticity.

What were the Venetians up to in the 1740s. This is sort of like an Instagram of their day and age; everything is smooth and perfect, there’s no smallpox, pimples, sadness or a bad hair day. Everyone is “caught” on the canvas having so much fun, like in a group selfie, a big smile everyone! And of course they are having much more fun than you are. Pietro Longhi’s focus on painting genre scenes led the art critics to compare his work to that of his English contemporary, the famous brutally satiric William Hogarth. This comparison isn’t true at all. They both placed their focus on the everyday life on their age and area, but Hogarth’s work tends to be harsh, his wittiness turns to sarcasm, whereas Longhi’s world is delicate and dainty, and figures in his paintings look like actors on stage, their face expressions and movements carefully devised to tell the tale. Pastel colours, fine brushstrokes, Longhi shows both the refined and frivolous past times of Venetians around him; gambling, playing games, sitting for portraits, reading letters, dancing, taking music lessons, receiving visitors. Every canvas is a scene from life. Also, the notable small size of these interior scenes is another thing which connects Longhi’s art with that of Vermeer and other seventeenth century Dutch painters who portrayed daily life, though with more modesty, mystery and coldness, they are after all people from the dark, rainy, and gloomy North.

Pietro Longhi, The Letter, 1746, oil on canvas, 61 x 49.5 cm (24 x 19 1/2 in)

In this painting I love the detail or a washing line with the white garments painted in such loose, feathery soft, almost ghostly strokes, it just looks so delicate, and adds to the aura of gentleness which matches the pale pretty girl’s pastel pink gown and a sweet round face.

Pietro Longhi, The Music Lesson, 1760, oil on copper, 44.6 x 57.6 x 0.2 cm (17 9/16 x 22 11/16 in)

Since when is holding hands crucial for learning the notes? Hmmm…. The music teacher’s profile alone, with the wide wicked smile and those eyebrows indicates a lecherous Faun-like nature. And look at the way the little dog is observing it all, with his paw in the air.

Beauty of Journaling

9 Sep

“The diary is my kief, my hashish, and opium pipe. This is my drug and my vice. Instead of writing a novel, I lie back with this book and a pen, and dream, and indulge in refractions and defractions… I must relieve my life in the dream. The dream is my only life. I see in the echoes and reverberations, the transfigurations which alone keep wonder pure. Otherwise all magic is lost. Otherwise life shows its deformities and the homeliness becomes rust…. All matter must be fused this way through the lens of my vice or the rust of living world would slow down my rhythm to a sob.” (Anais Nin)

Picture by Svetlana Zdrnja, found here.

I love reading diaries, or journals, how ever you wanna call them. Journal of Anais Nin in particular because it’s so full of feelings, sincerity and imagination, and because there is so many volumes of it. Franz Kafka’s diary entries are fascinating as well. Journals, letters, memoirs, I am getting more and more interested in this intimate, introspective, raw side of writing. And… I also enjoy journaling!

I have been writing in my diary regularly since the beginning of 2015 and it was one of the best decisions in my life. It started by accident; I had gotten a diary from a family member with one page for one day, and it occurred to me to perhaps start writing in it every day, but I hesitated because, being an introvert and a dreamer that I am and being a person who spends most time in her bedroom like young Morrissey, I didn’t want to be confronted by seeing how boring my life actually is. I don’t hang out with people, I don’t go places, I don’t travel… what is there worthy of writing? That is how my thoughts went on, but I started writing it nonetheless; I consciously wrote it in a way that would eliminate feelings because feelings are passing, changeable and may be embarrassing to read later on. I chose instead to focus on things which are beautiful! I wrote down quotes from books I read, or quotes which I found inspiring, I wrote about flowers that I’ve seen or picked for my vase, my daydream or a real dream, sometimes I would sketch something simple, like a cloud, cottage, an apple pie my mum made, or Ophelia floating down the river, I recorded the films I saw and the stories or paintings I was working on, which 1960s style icon fascinated me that day, what was the sunset like, what scents were in the air that April morning, something that made me laugh. 2019 is the fifth year that I have been keeping this kind of journal and it has changed my life in the best possible way!

First of all, writing in the journal made me aware of the beauty of everyday life which surrounds me; beauty of simple things, walks by the river, birds, flowers, beauty of changes and passing of seasons. Also, reading Rilke’s letters further inspired me to seek Beauty all around me, here is something he wrote in “Letters to the Young Poet”: ”If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.” And then, after being aware of all the beauties around oneself, a wave of joy and gratitude overwhelms you. Even if I feel sad or melancholy, I still rejoice in the fact that I am capable of feeling it, that I am alive to experience it. Writing in my journal also showed me how special my life actually is, how rich and filled with art, beauty, joy, new discoveries and creativity. And through that, I ceased to be envious of other people’s lives, imagining they are better. Well, I still do that from time to time, but keeping a journal made me put more effort into living my life because if my day is boring and empty, I won’t have something to write about. So, I started making everything special, turning a boring afternoon in my room into a glamorous occasion. I made it special, no one else did, it didn’t come from outside and therefore it cannot be taken away from me. It was in me all along; the power to transform my seemingly boring reality into a magical one. In my writing, I created a world for myself, where I could live and breath, the way Anais Nin says, and I stopped expecting something to happen from the outside world.

It’s your life, your only life and you’ve gotta to make it special, you’ve gotta fill it with beauty, for no one else will do it for you. It’s on you to put on rose-tinted glasses and see the world in a rosier shade. I am not promoting shallow artificial happiness but rather a more sensitive awareness to both beauty and transience of our lives; no matter how much we weep, we cannot save a flower from withering, but we can enjoy its beauty with a smile, and enjoy it with the same rapture every time. I encourage you all to take a notebook and filled it with beauty! It’s a moment of contemplation every day, just five minutes is enough, but as pages fill and fill, you will see how rich your life actually is. When I flip through my old journals from time to time, I see how I turned my past into a fairytale by finding beauty in each day. Of course, there are empty pages, where the skies were grey or my heart felt gray, but that is life too.

Working Class Heroines of the Rococo

4 Dec

Earlier this year I wrote a post about Dolce Far Niente and the paintings which feature pretty girls doing nothing. Well, in this post we’ll take a look at some 18th century paintings where pretty girls are not daydreaming and lounging around in flimsy dresses but ironing, doing the laundry, carrying tea, soaping linen…

Philip Mercier, Girl with a Tray, c. 1750

Rococo is an often overlooked era in the history of art. It’s deemed as kitschy, pink and frivolous, but if you scratch the surface you’ll discover many wonderful artistic inventions. After the extravagances of Baroque which favoured sacral themes, dramatic lightning and chiaro-scuro, in Rococo painters shifted their attention from saints and kings to everyday life with its everyday pleasures and pursuits. If Baroque is a dark night with blazing thunderstorms, then Rococo is a quiet morning full of lightness and possibilities. If Baroque is a turbulent stormy sea, then Rococo is a serene lake whose surface reflects the blueness of the clouds. Baroque is extravagant, grandiose, serious; Rococo is lighter, gentler, simpler. Rococo brings as in intimate spheres of people’s lives, but at the same time it’s not realistic, it doesn’t portray the harsh reality, the hard working conditions of the underprivileged and poor. Rococo idealises and lies, it doesn’t mirror the truth but instead offers a world of dreams and escapism. There is such a fragility about Rococo and especially about the paintings of Antoine Watteau which started the movement in the first place: it is so beautiful that it cannot last. Dreams always end.

Rococo is typically full paintings that present luxury and pleasure; handsome men and charming women in silk gowns lounging in gardens of everlasting spring, nudes, “fete galante”, Venuses and angels, painting such as Fragonard’s The Swing… The paintings in this post are something different. My fascination with the subject started when I saw Mercier’s girl bringing tea on Pinterest. I liked it a lot and I noticed a series of paintings from the same time period which feature the similar theme: girls doing a domestic work such as ironing, bringing tea or washing the laundry. These ladies are maids and not duchesses and yet they are worthy enough to occupy a canvas. This intrigued me. So, I envisaged this post as a brief overview of eight paintings by four different French and British painters, not as a detailed study of each painting. Also, I have to say that there is a parallel between these Rococo paintings and Dutch Baroque art of Vermeer: he also painted everyday women in simple interiors. Nothing posh, nothing luxurious.

Jean-Baptiste Greuze, The Laundress, 1761

Greuze shows us a rosy-cheeked Rococo maid who happens to be washing the laundry but has lifted her gaze towards us. One can sense a quiet curiosity in her eyes. And look at her mules; they were a very popular form of shoes for women in the eighteenth century. The wall behind her is grey, in the upper left corner red bricks are seen. From 1759 to about 1770s, there was a craze for Greuze’s genre paintings in the Parisian art circles.

Jean-Baptiste Greuze, The Wool Winder, c. 1759

Another painting by Greuze shows a very young girl dressed in gentle blue and white gown winding wool. She looks so young and dreamy with her pale face and fine blonde hair hidden underneath a white cap. The gentleness of her face reminds me of Raphael’s faces. She looks as if her skin was silky soft and her neck smells of lily of the valley. I sense wistfulness, a quiet melancholy in her blue eyes. The cat, on the other hand, seems amused by the thread of wool, you can tell just by looking at its eyes and the tail turned upward. As I gaze at the girl who, to me, exudes such chastity and naivety, I am thinking about her name; for me it’s Justine. It just dawned on me that perhaps she is the same girl who is sitting in her attic flat abandoned by a lover in Greuze’s painting The Complain of the Watch of which I’ve written earlier this year. I will imagine that she is. This painting is becoming dearer and dearer to me.

Philip Mercier, Portrait of a young woman, 1748

Philip Mercier was a French painter who was born in Berlin and died in London and he is well-known for making some portraits of the royals. This is the painting that started my fascination in the first place and it is my favourite painting out of all that I’ve presented here, and a rather simple one too; just a girl with porcelain skin and large dark eyes holding a tea tray. She is dressed in a light green dress. The model was possibly the artist’s maid Hannah. I like her straightforward gaze. Now something that I am interested in: who is the lucky person to be served by this beauty?

The painting below is Mercier’s work again and its dramatic light reminds me of Baroque. It shows two girls, perhaps sisters; one is sewing and the younger one is sucking her thumb.

Philip Mercier, A Girl Sewing, 1750

Jean-Baptiste Chardin, Woman peeling turnips, 1740

Chardin’s portrayal of the working class life is perhaps the most realistic, both in terms of style and content. Painted in dark, muted colours and earthy tones and presenting a gritty image of reality instead of silk-clad idealism of the previous paintings, and it lacks the glamour and sparkling colours of Mercier’s girls bringing tea. In “Woman peeling turnips”, Chardin presents us with an intimate and realistic scene of a woman sat on a chair, peeling turnips in her kitchen, dressed in simple garments. The wall behind her is bare and grey, and she is surrounded by things you’d normally find in a kitchen, pots and a pumpkin. Something distracted her for a moment and she is looking to the right. It looks as if Chardin really was in her kitchen. Chardin was a keen observer of everyday life and his paintings emphasise the values such as industriousness, loyalness to ones family and honesty, and this struck a cord with the middle-class buyers. Speaking of turnips, whoever is a fan of Blackadder will know that Baldrick loved them. Ha ha.

Henry Robert Morland, A Laundry Maid Ironing, c. 1765-82

A London-based painter of genre scenes, Henry Robert Morland, presents us here with two pretty ladies dresses in sumptuous silks perhaps too sumptuous for the position of a maid, but then again all these paintings, apart from Chardin’s woman peeling turnips are just dreamy idealised portraits of domestic scenes, and why portray reality when it was so gritty? The girl above is shows ironing and is very focused on her task, while the girl doing laundry in the painting below had to stop for a moment to show us her smile.

Henry Robert Morland, Lady’s Maid Soaping Linen, c. 1765-82

Although artistically these paintings hold importance within their art movement, thematically we should embrace their light-heartedness. Unlike similar genre paintings of Victorian era, these Rococo portraits of beautiful working class heroines were not meant to convey a social message or serve as a social critique.

How Rilke Taught me to Find Beauty in Everyday Life

6 Oct

A few weeks ago I picked up a book in the library that changed my perspective on some things, and pulled me out of sadness and restlessness that had been torturing me for weeks. The book I’m talking about is Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, first published three years after Rilke’s death, in 1929 in Berlin, by a ‘young poet’ Franz Xaver Kappus who corresponded with Rilke for six years (1902-1908). Kappus and Rilke never met in person, but instead opened their souls through the letters.

1900. The Precious Stones (Ruby, Amethyst, Emerald, Topaz) - Alphonse Mucha1900 The Precious Stones (Ruby, Amethyst, Emerald, Topaz) – Alphonse Mucha

Rilke’s letters are distinguished by a beautiful and inspirational style that reveals the rich inner world of this poetic genius, his thoughts and remarks, his attitudes towards world, people, art and artists. His letters are a place where the real life and art meet, because to Rilke writing poetry was a path towards self-realization. These ten letters contain Rilke’s opinions not only of art and poetry, but also of life itself, the importance of childhood as the wellspring of inspiration, then his thoughts about love and passion, earnestness, responsibilities of husband and wife, friendships and kindness, as well as his opinions of death and religion. As a collection of letters, rather than a fictional novel, this book appears so intimate and while reading it I felt, just like any other reader, that they were directed to me, like a letter from a far away friend I occasionally long for…

1900. Waterlily, a portrait of Barney's cousin Ellen Goin, was one of the illustrations for Quelques Portraits-Sonnets de Femmes.(Waterlily, a portrait of Barney’s cousin Ellen Goin, was one of the illustrations for Quelques Portraits-Sonnets de Femmes, 1900)

”If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that
you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.”

I thought a lot about this quote, and it helped me because I’m a person that’s very unsatisfied with everyday life, with the banalities, neighbours, same street and houses… I know quite well what provincial claustrophobia means. Any other place or time seems better to me. Rilke’s words made me ashamed. So, in search of beauty in everyday life, I sat on the balcony and observed. Rain was falling gently. The road was getting more and more wet. One neighbour left his laundry outdoors. Day was very peaceful and silent. Gardens were sleepy, and apple trees were dreaming. Distant laugh through the morning fog. Last marigolds smiled at me from their flowerpots, and occasionally birds graced the sky and then quickly flew away. It was cold and it started pouring but I found Beauty, right in front of me, it was here all along, the problem was in me: I was not poet enough to call forth the richness of my daily life.

Do you see beauty in your daily life?