Tag Archives: Impressionism

Rainy Day Scenes in Art: Renoir, Prendergast, Constable, Bonnard, Childe Hassam, Henri Riviere

16 Sep

“My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the moldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.”

(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Rainy Day)

Maurice Prendergast, Ladies in the Rain, 1894

In this post I wanted to make a little selection of some lovely rainy day scenes in art, mostly from the nineteenth and early twentieth century art. The first painting of my selection is a dazzling watercolour by the American painter Maurice Prendergast which shows two ladies strolling in the rain. The watercolour has a distinct vertically elongated shape which gives the painting a touch of Japonisme and this shape fits the scene perfectly because it provides space for the two figures of the ladies descending small stairs in some park and for a tree in the background. The colour of their dresses fits the overall mood of the rainy day and yet Prendergast manages to make even the dark blues, black and greys so fun and exciting.

John Constable, Seascape Study with Rain Cloud (Rainstorm over the Sea) (1824-28), oil on paper

Constable’s seascape study “Rainstorm Over the Sea” painted between 1824 and 1828 is a long time favourite of mine. It shows a beach in Brighton in rainy, stormy weather. I love how dramatic and spontaneous the painted clouds are, so mad and so full of rain, ready to pour down all over the beach pebbles and the sea. Interestingly, the sea takes up little space on the canvas while the sky dominates the scene and rightfully so because that is where the sublime moment of nature, the rainstorm, is occuring.

 

Childe Hassam, Rainy Midnight, 1890

Again we have Childe Hassam who seems to have enjoying portraying rain scenes in urban environment, as you may have seen in my last post about his gorgeous watercolour “Nocturne, Railways Crossing, Chicago” (1893). The streetscene is a blurry harmony of blues from the rain and pale yellow of the streetlamps and the only motif here is a carriage by the side of the road; is it waiting for a rich party-goer to leave the party at midnight, or is it already carrying their drunken passangers home after a ball or a theatre evening? Whatever the situation, Hassam creates a stunning play or blues and yellow and paints the excitement of the night life in a big city, even in rainy weather.

Henri Riviere, Funeral Under Umbrellas, 1895, etching

I already wrote a long post about this etching here. In short, what I love about this etching is its strong influence of the Japanese ukiyo-e prints which reveals itself in the diagonal composition, the flatness of the figures and the way the rain, carried by the strong wind, is painted in many thin lines that indicate the direction of it.

Childe Hassam, A Rainy Day in New York City, c 1890s

Another painting by Hassam! “A Rainy Day in New York City” shows an elegant lady dressed in a yellow-beige gown rushing home because of the rain. She has an umbrella, but still she must lift her dress to avoid the puddles. And how will the damp weather affect her hairstyle, ahh…. so many troubles! Her little black boots are stepping on the pavement glistening in blues, yellow and oranges, the puddles reflecting the big city lights. Again, we have the vertically shaped canvas and the figure of the woman is cut-off a little bit, both reveal the influence of Japonisme.

Pierre-August Renoir, Umbrellas, 1883

Renoir’s painting “Umbrellas” always brings to mind the video of the song “Motorcycle Emptiness” by the Welsh band Manic Street Preachers. The video was short in Tokyo in 1992 and in many scenes people are seen walking down the street in the rain, many colourful umbrellas filling the horizon. For some reason, Renoir’s street scene, almost cluttered with umbrellas, not so colourful though but mostly blue and black, always brings to mind that video and the music which matches the sadness of the rain.

Childe Hassam, Rainy Day, 1890

Another fun rainy day scene by the American painter Childe Hassam called simply “Rainy Day”, painted in 1890. The effect of rain is beautifully captured here and the composition is very interesting. The house on the right is visible, but the church with its tall tower in the background on the left is shrouded in the mist. People are rushing down the street, eager to get home fast and escape the rain, notably the two figures of ladies with their umbrellas, which remind me of the ladies in Prendergast’s watercolour.

Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), Rue Tholozé (Montmartre in the Rain), 1897

Bonnard’s painting “Montmartre in Rain”, painted at the very end of the nineteenth century, shows a different view of the rain. Here the rain is seen through the window, and it isn’t a grey and dreary rendition of the rain scene but rather the scene shows the beauty of a rainy night when the yellow light of the lanterns is reflected in the wet pavements dotted with puddles. Black figures with black umbrellas are strolling around and everything is lively and magical.

Otto Pippel (German, 1878-1960), Street in rainy weather, Dresden, 1928

German painter Otto Pippel shows us a chaotic rainy day scene in his painting “Street in Rainy Weather, Dresden”, painted in 1928. At first sight the painting is a mess of greys and blues because Pippel painted the scene as if it was seen though a window covered in rain drops and this is really interesting. Everything; buildings, streets, street lamps and people, are painted in a blurry, vague manner.

Sir Muirhead Bone, Rainy Night in Rome, 1913, drypoint

Sir Muirhead Bone’s drypoint “Rainy Night in Rome”, painted in 1913, shows the people leaving the church, I assume after the evening mass. There are rushing with their umbrellas and there is even a carriage waiting for someone too rich to experience a walk in rain. The vertical form of the drypoint where the upper half show the sky and the church and the bottom part shows the church entrance, the street and the people, is great because it shows the flow of the rain, painted in vertical lines.

Childe Hassam – Nocturne, Railway Crossing, Chicago

13 Sep

“…the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain…”

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, What Lips Have I Kissed, And When and Why)

Childe Hassam, Nocturne, Railway Crossing, Chicago, 1893, watercolour

These rainy September evenings awake inside me an inexplicable sadness and so I sit there wistfully by the window and I pine, and whine … and, just like in Edna St Vincent Millay’s poem the rain is also full of ghosts that tap and sigh upon the glass and listen for reply… Very fitting for the wistful mood of my rainy days is this hauntingly beautiful watercolour called “Nocturne: Railway Crossing, Chicago”, painted in 1893 by the American painter Childe Hassam. The watercolour is simple in both colour and composition, and yet rich in its lyrical beauty. The nocturnal scene in the watercolour shows a fragment of urban life; a carriage and a tram are gliding down the road on a rainy night. The motif such as this would otherwise be too urban in its ugliness or simply boring, but in Hassam’s vision the rainy night in the big city is a blue poem. Instead of bustle and noise, Hassam hears a blue sonata coming from the steady beats of the rain and the rhythm of the horse-drawn carriage. The title alone, containting the word “Nocturne”, in a proper Whistler style, is insinuating something poetic and dreamy. The watercolour is amost entirely washed away in this mesmerising blue colour, with soft touche of yellow representing the big city lights. The carriage and the coachman are elegantly painted in black, almost like a silhouette, which only adds to the poetic mysterious mood of this night scene, as the French poet Stephane Mallarme said “to define is to kill, to suggest is to create”. In this watercolour, Hassam is suggesting, rather than defining, the beauty and poetry of the night and I think this is what makes this artwork so hauntingly beautiful. There is a special kind of beauty in wandering aimelessly down the streets of a big city on a rainy night, the bright lights of streetlamps and neon lights reflected in the puddles and wet pavements, passing by life but not being in it. Ahh… as I gaze at this painting more I can see and hear in my mind the jazzy music and Robert De Niro’s monologue from the film “Taxi Driver” (1976).

Berthe Morisot – Julie Manet, Reading in a Chaise Lounge

27 Jun

“But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

(C.S.Lewis)

Berthe Morisot; Julie Manet, Reading in a Chaise Lounge, 1890, watercolor on paper

I discovered this lovely watercolour the other day and for me it is a double treat; firstly because I adore the medium of watercolour, and secondly because I love Berthe Morisot’s paintings of her daughter Juliet. Berthe Morisot was an established painter from the Impressionist circle and she was married to the fellow painter Eugene Manet, the brother of the painter Edouard Manet, and had one child with him, a daughter named Julie. Morisot had painted her daughter Julie on so many ocassions during her childhood and teenage years; Julie reading, Julie with a nanny, Julie with her dog, Julie playing a violin, Julie lost in daydreams… But this is the first portrait that I have seen painted in watercolour and that is something particularly interesting to me. In a simple yet delightful manner Morisot has captured her daughter enjoying some leisure hours by reading a book. Julie was twelve years old at the time this painting was painted.

The style is sketchy and loose which gives it a fresh and spontaneous feel, but it is clear enough that we can see Julie’s delicate, slightly melancholy face and her dark blue dress. Julie’s face seems tinged with a certain wistfuness, melancholy dreaminess, in most of the portraits of her, even the photograph which you can see bellow. Perhaps that is part of the reason I am so drawn to portraits of her; Julie’s dreaminess speaks to the dreaminess that is within me. I really enjoy gazing at all the shades and strokes of Julie’s blue dress; how dark the colour blue is on the sleeves and how it finishes in a whimsical manner just as the space around Julie is fading away, it’s becoming less and less detailed. The warm yellow colour of the pillow under Julie wonderfully complements the blue of her dress; it’s just a visually pleasing aspect of the watercolour. In the background there some simply sketched plants can be seen.

Julie Manet in 1894

Still, most of the attention in the watercolour is on Julie reading her book. I wonder which book she was reading? Perhaps a fairy tale about a princess trapped in a tower, or a princess waiting for a kiss? Julie herself was like a little Impressionist princess, adored by her mother and always posing for some paintings, but sadly five years after this watercolour was painted Berthe Morisot died at the age of fifty-four. Whenever I gaze at Morisot’s portraits of Julie or think about Julie Manet, I always get overwhelmed by a certain sadness knowing that Morisot died when Julie was just seventeen… The fairytale of Julie’s childhood must have ended at that point. All these paintings and portraits that Morisot made of Julie are the beautiful and last presents from a mother to a daughter and – call me sentimental – but that is what makes these paintings particularly delicate and poignant to me.

Edgar Degas – Russian Dancers

6 Mar

Edgar Degas, Russian Dancers, 1899, pastel

Without a doubt the motif of a female body, nude or dressed, in various different activities, was Degas’ favourite motif to paint. He made series of paintings portraying ballerinas, laundresses, miliners, women bathing themselves, but a very interesting little series is his pastel drawings of Russian dancers made in 1899.

These pastels are characterised by vibrancy and liveliness and that is exactly what instantly appealed to me about the pastels. The colourfully clad figures of these Russian dancers contrast strongly with the dainty and ethereal figures of ballerinas that Degas had painted previously. In all three of the pastels that I have chosen to present here we seen three or more dancers caught in the movement, dressed in their traditional Eastern European garments. The dancers are situated against a background of nature in verdant greens and yellows so it almost seems as if the dancers are peasant girls dancing on a field, or a meadow in the countryside, naturally and spontaneously, stomping on wildflowers and breathing in the fresh spring air while nearby a brook is murmuring and birds are singing. So convincing is Degas’ portrayal of the dancers that we might almost forget that he saw them at the theatre in Paris. The Eastern European dancers had an exotic appeal to Parisians who, instead of actually travelling there, could simply go to the theatres and cabarets and enjoy the vibrant costumes, strange rhythms and majestic dancing. Even though these pastels are named “Russian Dancers”, the dancers were actually from Ukraine which was at the time under the Russian Empire and Tzar Alexander II had a policy of Russification at the time. Also, to fin de siecle Parisians it was probably all the same so the generic title “Russian Dancers” stayed.

Degas does a wonderful job at both capturing the dancers in movement, and also capturing the subtle details of their wonderful and intricate exotic costumes; white blouses, skirts in orange, pink, yellow, lavender and green, their flower crowns and necklaces. We are truly able to observe the details and feast our eyes on them while at the same time feeling as though we are witnesing the dancers in action. Their volumionous skirts are swirling, their legs kicking in the air; what wild energy these pastels exude! Degas called these pastels “orgies of colour”, and it is easy to see why. I mean, just soak in the colours in the pastel bellow; the green and purple skirts, the lobster-pink of the flowers, the orange beads or the necklace, then the soft pink-yellowish tinted sunset sky in the background. The colours are so well-chosen and spectacular. It is truly a colour study of these dancing girls. In the last pastel there is a lovely contrast of the blue trimming on the pink and orange skirts. Not to mention the dazzling colourful ribbons in the dancers’ hair in the first pastel which also features a lovely, clear blue spring sky.

Edgar Degas, Russian Dancers, 1899, charcoal and pastel, on tracing paper, mounted on cardboard, 62.9×64.8 cm

Edgar Degas, Russian Dancers, 1899, pastel

Roofs Under Snow in Art: Caillebotte, Georg Pauli, Henri Martin, Edmund Dulac, Claire Carpot

23 Jan

A few weeks ago I (re)discovered Caillebotte’s painting “Roofs Under Snow” and immediatelly afterwards I started seeing more paintings of snowy roofs. This seemed to be a recurring pattern and I decied to write a post about it because the theme seemed fitting for these lonesome and cold January days. In this post we’ll take a look at five paintings that feature the motif of roofs covered by snow, by the following artists: Caillebotte, Georg Pauli, Henri Martin, Edmund Dulac and Claire Carpot.

Gustave Caillebotte, View of Roofs (Snow Effect) or Roofs Under Snow, 1878

Caillebotte painted many views of Parisian streets and balconies in his typical precise and slightly cold and detached manner, but in the painting “View of Roofs (Snow Effect)”, painted in 1878, he approached the subject in a more laid-back, sketchy, Impressionist style. Using only a few colours, white, grey, blue and just a little bit of orange-brown, Caillebotte managed to capture a view from his window that appears realistic and atmospheric both at once. I love the way the attic windows of the building in the foreground are painted in a more detailed way while at the same time the objects in the distance are fading away in a dreamy blueish mist. That’s the way winter afternoons often die; in a blueish mist. The shutters on the windows are closed and uninviting. There is no joy or vivacity or winter magic in this scene.

Georg Pauli (Swedish, 1855-1935), Winter Evening at Söder, Stockholm, 1889

Swedish painter Georg Pauli’s painting “Winter Evening at Söder” from 1889 offers a warmer and dreamier rendition of the same motif. The roofs of Stockholm are covered with a thick white layer of snow. In the foreground the snow has blueish undertones but as our eyes move on to the distance we see that the streetlamps are casting a warm, golden glow on the freshly fallen snow. See what an effect the yellow and orange colours and the light have on the mood of the painting; the serious drabness that we have seen in Caillebotte’s painting is replaced by a golden veil of magic and coziness. The view from the window is, despite the obvious winter’s coldness, warm and inviting. In contrast to Caillebotte’s painting, here a yellow and red light is coming from the windows which makes us wander: who lives there and what are they doing? Sipping tea or eating biscuits, daydreaming their winter away… The light in the window indicates the presence of people and thus the scene appear more lively and inviting, even if we don’t directly see a human figure.

Henri Martin, The Roofs of Paris in the Snow, the View from the Artist’s Studio, 1895

“The Roofs of Paris in the Snow” is a rather realistic motif for Henri Martin whose work consists of more mystical, Symbolist motifs. Even his seemingly plain landscapes are flowery, warm and bathed in soft light. Parisian roofs covered in snow is an unlikely motif for Martin but it speaks of the artist’s hommage to Caillebotte. The cityscape of snow covered roofs and trees is built entirely out of little dots and dashes of colour which is typical for Martin’s Divisionist technique. It’s interesting to see how many dots of different colour on the same area produce something seeminly incoherent but that our eyes easily translate into an object; a roof, a building, a tree. Also, this technique creates a vibrant painting surface which seems flickering and lively and this goes great with the subject matter because that is indeed how the scene would have looked like with snow falling. How else to capture snow but in little dots and dashes of white?

Edmund Dulac, The Snow Queen Flies Through the Winter Night, 1911

French artist Edmund Dulac was known for his whimsical fairy tale and Shakesperean scenes and it is no surprise then that a winter night takes on a magical character when captured by his brush. “The Snow Queen Flies Through the Winter Night” is found in a book “Stories from Hans Andersen(Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1911) and it shows a scene from the fairy tale of the same name by the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen. The Snow Queen is seen flying above the rooftops of a sleepy town on a winter’s night and she appears ghostly and ephemereal, the colour of her dress, hair and face is the same grey-blueish colour that the roofs are painted in. The light in the windows and the colourful glass on the cathedral add some liveliness to the scene and the effect of snow falling is stunning.

Claire Carpot (1901 – 1992), Christmas (Noel), 1949

And finally we have this very lively and very snowy painting called “Christmas” by a French painter Claire Carpot. What immediately captivated me about this painting is the way the snow was painted, and the quantity in which it was painted! I mean, there is just so much of it. So many snowflakes covering the canvas from top to bottom. Watching snow falling is definitely one of the bright sides of winter and this painting perfectly conveys this joy of seeing snow falling.

Alfred Sisley – Fog, Voisins

13 Jan

Every day the fog gets thicker and thicker around the house. It has now covered the trees whose branches brush against the edge of the terrace. Last night I dreamed that, through the cracks of the doors and windows, the fog was slowly leaking into my room, diminishing the color of the walls and the furniture, filtering into my hair, and sticking to my body, as it dissipates everything, absolutely everything…

(María Luisa Bombal, The Final Mist)

Alfred Sisley, Fog, Voisins, 1874

What a drab month January is! These lonesome and cold winter days I find myself captivated by Alfred Sisley’s dreamy and atmospheric painting called “Fog, Voisins”, painted in 1874.

In 1871, Sisley settled in the little village of Voisins which is situated near Louveciennes which, interestingly, is the place where Anain Nin had lived with her husband at the time she met Henry Miller in 1932. “Fog, Voisins” has none of the love and drama that is found in Anais Nin’s life and diary, for Sisley wasn’t the painter of intense emotions and dramatic scenes. Instead, he devoted his life to portraying landscapes in all their changing beauty. This dreamy landscape shows a garden in fog; trees, bushes and flowers all arising from the veil of mist that covers everything. The contours of objects conceal more than they reveal, they are merely hints of what is there, ghostly and ephemereal. The colours Sisley uses here are a harmony of greys and blues, with only the pink and yellow flowers in the bushes in the foreground being the only exception. The tree on the right is painted in dark grey tones but the trees on the left are painted in even paler shades of grey, fading away even more, escaping our sight, vanishing into the fog… The figure of a woman working in the garden probably wasn’t something that Sisley saw directly that day in the garden. It’s more likely that the figure was taken from his other sketches of peasants working in nature.

Fog transforms even somehing as mundane as a garden into something poetic and profound. Even in real life, walking through the fog and seeing the distant treetops or a road disappearing, adds a mystical elements to otherwise boring scenery. Bellow you can see some details from the painting. I am continually amazed how just a few careful brushstrokes can create a figure or a tree; a few simple strokes and instantly something very recognisable. Sisley here presents us a typical Impressionist motif; nature, garden, trees, but the real protagonist of this painting aren’t the trees of the peasant woman but the fog itself which envelops the garden with its silvery-blue gauzy veil, hides and distorts, coats the everyday into the magic of dreams. Alfred Sisley, the somewhat neglected Impressionist, stayed true to the spirit of the Impressionism and didn’t stray away like other Impressionists (I’m looking at you, Renoir). This painting is a wonderful exercise in capturing the atmosphere and Sisley did a great job at capturing something as vague as fog. I’m sure it’s hard to paint the effect of fog but Sisley makes it look effortless. Sisley painted many wintery snow scenes, as did other Impressionists, but paintings of fog are perhaps more rare.

Camille Corot: Orpheus and Lot’s Wife: Don’t Look Back…

3 Dec

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld, 1861

Two paintings – one painter and one motif that binds them; looking back and disobeying the given command. “Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld” is one of those gorgeous, ethereal and dreamy landscapes that Corot (1796-1875) painted later in his career. The scene depicts the mythology tale of the musician Orpheus who loved his wife Eurydice, who had died from a snake bite, so much that he even dared to visit the Underworld just to bring her back. His music teacher was the God Apollo and he played the lyre so beautifully that it charmed everyone who heard it and even made the trees dance. After Eurydice had died, Orpheus was inconsolable and wandered around desperate and mournful, playing heart-breakingly sad songs on his lyre, music so sad that it touched the hearts of all the nymphs and gods who urged him to go look for Eurydice in the kingdom of Hades. And so he did. Hades and Persephone were touched by his story and told him that he can bring Eurydice back to the world, but he musn’t look back until the leave the Underworld. Let us remind ourselves that Persephone herself had been in a similar situation to Eurydice.

Corot’s painting shows this scene of Orpheus, with his omnipresent lyre, leading Eurydice by the hand, through the dreamy landscapes of the world of dead, undoubtedly dreamier in Corot’s version that in reality. Corot doesn’t show the horrible moment when Orpheus, out of curiosity or insecurity perhaps, turned around to look at his beloved Eurydice who then vanished forever… That would have been an interesting painting, I imagine Eurydice’s ghostly figure fading away. Was she angry or disappointed, I wonder? No need to punish Orpheus, for later on he met an equally tragic fate… Baudelaire praised Corot’s “simplicity of colour” and called his landscapes “seductive”. An interesting choice of a word, but I must agree. I mean, just look at how seductively magical his painting of Orpheus and Eurydice is! The trees look so ephemereal and dreamy, as if they truly don’t belong on this earth. Eurydice looks ghostly enough in her gauze dress. In the background forlorn souls are lamenting their state.

Camille Corot, The Burning of Sodom (formerly ‘The Destruction of Sodom’), 1843/57

In the painting “The Burning of Sodom” you can see Corot’s earlier style which is more sombre and moody, the colours are heavy and earthy, and the overall mood is not that of dreaminess and softness. Corot painted this in 1843 and made some adjustments in 1857, that is, he cut off some of the canvas. The cloudy sky used to be bigger but for some reason Corot thought it would be better to get rid of it. The scene shows an Angel leading Lot and his daughters to safety after God had decided to destroy Sodom, and we all know why. Only the righteous ones are to be saved. Paintings that depict this motif typically focus on Lot and his daughters after they had escaped, but Corot here focuses on the crucial moment. Who is that still, dark figure in the right? It is Lot’s wife, of course. God had turned her into a pillar of salt after she had disobeyed his command of not looking back.

One scene is mythological, the other is Biblical; one is Corot’s earlier work and the other is a later one, but they both deal with the motif of disobedience to God(s). The tale of Lot’s wife shows us that you cannot save people against their will, and that is something to remember in life. You cannot open their eyes to truth if they refuse to see, if they are looking without seeing and listening without hearing, then better leave then behind, leave them in their Sodom, perhaps that is a punishment enough. Out of sadness, regret or pity, Lot’s wife disobeyed the Angel’s command and she turned around to glance at the burning city for one last time. Yearning to save another soul – she lost her own. It’s a very profound and deep message for these times as well.

Manet and Emile Durkheim- The Suicide

23 Nov

the best often die by their own hand
just to get away,
and those left behind
can never quite understand
why anybody
would ever want to
get away
from
them.”

(Charles Bukowski, Cause and effect)

Edouard Manet, The Suicide, 1877-81

Painting “The Suicide” is an unusual one in Manet’s oeuvre. Scenes of murder and violence do appear here and there in his paintings, for example in the paintings “The Dead Toreador” (1864), “Bullfight – The Death of the Bull” (1865-66), and “The Execution of Emperor Maximilian” (1868). What makes the painting “The Suicide”, just like Degas’ painting “Interior” (1868-69), stand out is its lack of context which makes it intriguing. We don’t know who the man in the painting is, and we don’t know why he decided to kill himself, nor what led up to that moment. We are brought to this tragic scene without knowing what had happened before. We are confused, bewildered, shocked, and saddened. The closely-cropped scene shows an interior with a bed, a painting (or half the painting) hanging over the bed and some furniture. The man’s lifeless body is lying on the bed; a gun in his hand, a bloody stain on his white shirt, and the puddle of blood on the floor are visual hints at what has happened. “Different colours, different shades/ Over each mistakes were made/ I took the blame/ Directionless so plain to see/ A loaded gun won’t set you free… so you say”, the lyrics (and the music) from Joy Division’s song “New Dawn Fades” instantly comes to mind.

Some art critics thought the painting represents Manet’s assistent who had killed himself some years before the painting was painted, and others, not knowing how to interpret the painting, simply concluded that it has no meaning, that it is merely an exercise in colour and light. I am of an opinion that even if we can’t decipher the painting, interpret it and pinpoint its symbolism or meaning, it doesn’t mean the painting has no meaning. I definitely don’t think this is just a painterly exercise. When Impressionists wanted to play with colours, and with the effect of light and shadow, or simply use the left-over paint from their palettes, they painted gardens and flowers, just like Klimt did, not suicide scenes. There are many reasons why someone might commit a suicide, but this painting made me think of the sociologist Emile Durkheim’s book “Suicide: A Study in Sociology”, published in 1897, just twenty years after this painting was painted.

In the book Durkheim explains his theory that all suicides fall under four categories: egoistic, altruistic, anomic, and fatalistic. Looking at the time when the painting was painted, the French society at the time, and thinking of the books which I’ve read from that time period, I would say that the motif of the man’s sucide was either egoistic or anomic. The reason for egoistic suicides is that the person is overly individualised and is not connected to any social group, not tied to it by well-established social values, traditions and norms. The lack of integration leads to a state of apathy, pointlesness and melancholy, and this type of suicide, according to Durkheim, is most common in umarried men. Anomic suicide comes in times when society is in disorder and hence a lack of social direction, a lack of moral regulation is present. This leaves the person feeling unsure of where they belong or how they should act, they are carried by the wind of life in all directions, scattered, confused and lost. This type of suicide also occurs when a great change happens, whether in society or in the person’s personal life, and the person just cannot adapt to the new situation.

Now, just to mention the other two types of suicides: altruistic suicides happen in societies which are too integrated and the collective openly demands from the individual to sacrifice its individualism, its rights and freedoms, even to die for the collective (something we are sort of experiencing nowadays, this raging collectivism). And fatalistic suicide, according to Durkheim, exists only in theory, only as a concept. It is a type of suicide that happens when the society is so oppresive and has such control over the individual that the person feels as if his passions and his future are destroyed and he would rather die than live on. Durkheim may have thought this type of suicide exists only in theory, but later on dystopian novels such as George Orwell’s “1984”, or Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”, have shown that the types of societies that oppressive actually exist and our own times are revealing to us the same thing. Our world is indeed becoming more and more a place from which the only escape is death because all joys and freedoms are being crushed to dust. Now, I don’t know what the man in the painting was feeling or what was going on in his life, but I thought it was interesting to connect the painting’s theme with the sociological perspective on it.

Miroslav Kraljević – Olympia (Homage to Manet)

15 Sep

A few months ago I wrote a post about the Croatian painter Miroslav Kraljević’s Parisian phase (1911-12) and today let us take a look at one particular painting from that phase called “Olympia” (1912). It is a direct homage to Edouard Manet’s controversial female nude “Olympia” (1863). Decades later, a painter from a provincial Austro-Hungary (now modern Croatia) had been so inspired by Manet’s painting that he had to paint his rendition of it. This just goes to show the immense influence of Manet on modern art.

Miroslav Kraljević, (Great Female Nude) Olympia, 1912

In 1911, after having spent awhile studying abroad in Munich where he had encountered the newest trends in art, the Croatian painter Miroslav Kraljević was back home in a town called Požega. In the peaceful and idylic small-town environment, Kraljević painted many self-portraits and landscapes, but still he was restless, perhaps slightly claustrophobic as well, and there was something his heart desired, a shiny red apple of sin he wanted to grab from the branch and sink his teeth into; Paris, with its vivacity, art, and the bright lights. He turned his fantasies into a reality in September 1911 when he travelled to Paris; the it place for an artist. He had been looking forward to seeing the works of the finest French painters, especially those of Edouard Manet. Apart from museums and galleries, Kraljević visited parks, cafes, bistroes and infamous places such as Moulin Rouge. As appropriate for the city he found himself in, his favourite motif in his Parisian phase was – the woman, more often than not nude or wearing very little clothes. And of course, as a hommage to his idol, Kraljević painted his own “Olympia” in 1912.

Female nude has been a popular motif in art for a long time, but when Edouard Manet painted his nude Olympia, it was seen as brash and shocking to the audience and critics. Why? Well, firstly because Manet didn’t bother to dress his painting up in mythology and allegory, and secondly because of the manner in which he painted her; realistic rather than idealised and highly eroticised. Inspired by Titian’s “Venus of Urbino” (1532-34), Manet’s Olympia is visibly less sensuous and inviting. She looks like a dull, flat, paper doll. In fact, she looks uninterested, as if she’s saying “oh, it’s you again, ah well…” Olympia isn’t a Roman goddess that every man would desire, she is a realistic looking courtesan that was well-known to Parisian men of the upper classes. Manet stirred the waters of Parisian society by directly pointing out the hypocrisy and serving some hot realism on a platter.

Kraljević’s Olympia is equally pale and uninterested, looking directly in the viewer, without a trace of shame or shyness. She doesn’t have a waterfall of long, golden hair to sensually cover her nudity like a Baroque martyr would. Nope, she is flaunting her body, but, just like Manet’s Olympia, she is wearing dainty slippers; God forbid some madman with a foot fetish gets a thrill from looking at her feet, oh no. Kraljević painted her pale flesh in the same way he had approached his earlier portraits, with more visible brushstrokes and a sense of volume than Manet had done it. Around her are a few vibrant coloured cushions and we can see a bouquet of purple flowers on the right, echoing the flowers that the servant is presenting to Olympia, most likely a gift from a client. Colours in Kraljević’s painting are more warm and muted, which makes it seem more like a budoir scene whereas Manet’s painting shows Olympia as a doll in the shop-window. I wonder what Manet would have thought of this homage?…

Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863

Japonism in Claude Monet’s “On the Boat”

27 Apr

Claude Monet, On the Boat, 1887

Japanese artists regularly used all sorts of unusual perspectives and compositions to enrich the artwork and excite the viewer. In ukiyo-e prints we can often see a figure or an object cut out in a strange way, but our eye instantly fills in the part that is missing, we are instantly engaged and we build the rest of the scene with our imagination. This artistic technique was normal in the art of Far East but was perceived as something most unusual and outrageous in European art circles. German painter Franz von Lenbach in particular expressed his intense dislike of the cut-off technique, he wrote: “The Impressionists – those choppers-off of necks and heads – despise the closed form of the human body which has been taught to us by the Old Masters.” In retrospective it is almost amusing how such a little thing would be so provocative. The train of art was moving fast, vanishing in a cloud of smoke and Franz von Lenbach was still on the train station, completely stuck in the dusty, old and boring art routines. The western art traditions favoured symmetry and harmony and the ideal placement of the object portrayed was the centre of the painting. More conventional nineteenth century painters such as Alexandre Cabanel or Adolphe William Bouguereau followed this traditional composition but the Impressionists, and the art movements that followed, were a rebellious bunch who liked to do things their way and didn’t care about anyone else’s approval or praise.

Mizuno Toshikata, 36 Beauties – Viewing Snow, 1891

One of the most popular cut-off objects in the last nineteenth century and early twentieth century art was the boat and we can find many interesting examples of this in the art of the Impressionists such as Claude Monet, Edouard Manet and Berthe Morisot, amongst others. A beautiful example of this is Monet’s painting “On the Boat” from 1887. The dreaminess of the painting is almost unbearable, overwhelming to say the least. Gazing at those soft, airy shades of blue feels like gazing at the clouds on a lovely spring day – ethereal. The rich colouration of the water surface and the reflection of the two figures in the water is splendid. The atmosphere is beautifully conveyed. Two ladies seen sitting in the boat in the middle of the river Epte are Suzanne and Blanche, the daughters of Mrs Hoschedé.

They are dressed in white gowns but it seems the colour of the river is reflected on the dresses and vice versa. The boat is cut-off but as you can see, this composition works beautifully because we don’t need to see the whole boat for the scene to be beautiful and also, this cut-off composition may sound harsh and dynamic but it can actually work well in serene scenes such as this one. In a way it almost looks like a dreamy film scene, as if the camera is just capturing the boat slowly gliding down the river. It feels like a moment captured in time, rather than a staged scene. Bellow you can see other examples of cut-off boats which are interesting but not as dreamy; Monet used darker shades of green and blues in those paintings and the white dresses of the girls contrasts more strongly with the colour of the surrounding nature.

Also, I’ve chosen a few examples of cut-off boats in ukiyo-e prints and, as you can see from the dates, some date back to the eighteenth century and some were created even after Monet’s paintings which shows that Monet and the Impressionist bunch were not only inspired by the Japanese art of the past but that both the artists of the West and of the East were creating exciting new artworks at the same time. Scenes of two lovers in a boat and Ariko weeping are particularly lovely to me. These examples all show that an ordinary object such as a boat can be visually exciting if seen and portrayed in a new and different way; it’s all about how something is painted and now what is painted, I feel.

Claude Monet, The Pink Skiff, Boating on the Epte, 1887

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, Ariko weeps as her boat drifts in the moonlight, Print 38 from A Hundred Aspects of the Moon, 1886

Claude Monet, In Norway The Boat at Giverny, 1887

Okumura, Masanobu, Two Lovers in a Boat, 1742

Berthe Morisot, Summer’s Day, 1879