Tag Archives: Impressionism

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

Jean-Louis Forain – Ballerinas and Their Admirers

22 Feb

Jean-Louis Forain, Intermission on Stage, 1879, watercolour, gouache, india ink and pencil on wove rag paper

Jean-Louis Forain’s watercolour “Intermission on Stage” is a wonderful example of the artist’s fascination with ballerinas; a fascination which he inherited from his friend and protégé Edgar Degas: the ultimate painter of ballerinas. Degas even invited the eighteen years younger Forain to participate in the Impressionist exhibitions that were taking place at the time, from 1879 to 1886. Even though both artists chose to portray the same motifs of Parisian nightlife; the balls, theatres, and cafes, they focused on completely different things. While Degas used ballerinas merely as a beautiful motif to further explore the problems of composition and perspective, Forain found good material for social satire whilst observing the social dynamics of the world of dancers, the harsh and ugly reality of their off the stage life.

“Intermission on Stage” is a great example because it shows the ballerinas and their admirer. It is easy to see why the critics at the time praised Forain’s work for its vibrant colour and vigour, I mean, just look at the ballerinas in their vibrant emerald tutus which are painted in swift, quick strokes and thus give the impression of something sketchy, immediate and exciting. A rich, older gentleman is seen eyeing the ballerina in the foreground who is adjusting her shoe, or rather, he is eyeing her perky white breasts peeking from her revealing dance costume. The gentleman is an abonné; a well-off older gentleman who can afford to pay a subscription which would allow him to spend time with the ballerinas behind the stage and enjoy their beauty and charms from close up. He almost looks like a caricature, his big nose, mustache hiding his mouth, his protruding belly, well certainly it isn’t his looks that the turquoise ballerina is after.

Jean-Louis Forain, The Admirer, 1877-79, oil on canvas, mounted on wood

Painting “The Admirer” shows the same thing, just this time the setting is a well-lit cozy spot with red velvet sofa and the gentleman is handing out a big, lush bouquet of red roses to the ballerina who doesn’t look too receptive of his offers. Her gaze seems to say “Oh dear…”, her hands aren’t stretched out eagerly to take the splendid gift. Hmm I guess money cannot buy everything now, can it? That is certainly how the gentlemen in Forain’s paintings felt when they used their money and status to gain access to young ballerinas who otherwise wouldn’t have even glanced at them. Forain was very observant of what goes on society around him and that is what the satire and caricatures interested him so much.

And even when he is not drawing a caricature, he is still imbuing his paintings with some satire and mockery, but there is also a pinch of moralizing here too which reflects his fight for justice and hatred for hypocrisy. It is easy to see why he was such good friends with the poet Arthur Rimbaud with whom he almost shares a birthday; Forain was born on 23th October 1852, and Rimbaud on the 20th October 1854. The two free-spirited men, both young and full of life, even shared a room for a few months and their bohemian lifestyle was certainly a slap in the face to the proper society and its values, or lack of thereof. Forain’s chatty and witty nature easily made him a friend of other writers and poets as well, such as Paul Verlaine and Joris-Karl Huysmans. He seems to have been a vivacious and important part of the artists group at the time and it is a shame that he isn’t more popular today.

Jean Louis Forain, Dancer in Her Dressing Room, c.1890

Jean Louis Forain, In the Wings, 1899

Edgar Degas: I can see that you are lonesome just like me

6 Dec

“I can see that you are lonesome just like me
And it being late, you’d like some company
Well I turn around to look at you, and you look back at me
The guy you’re with, he’s up and split, the chair next to you’s free
And I hope that you don’t fall in love with me…”

(Tom Waits, I hope that I don’t fall in love with you)

Edgar Degas, L’Absinthe, 1876

Muted colour palette of greys, beige and browns instantly conveys the drab and depressing mood of the café. The café portrayed is the Café de la Nouvelle Athènes; a famous meeting place for the Impressionists and many other artists and composers such as Erik Satie and Ravel. The angle from which the man and the woman sitting in the café are seen also adds to the mood of the painting; it’s almost like a film scene and we are in the place of the camera, we see the lonesome pair as if we are sitting at the table across of them, we are the voyeurs observing them, trying to untangle the tale of their lonesomeness and detachment. The model for the pipe-smoking man with a hat and a beard was Marcellin Desboutin, a fellow artist, and indeed he has a bohemian, untamed look to him. The woman is dressed in a more fashionable way and the model for her was the actress Ellen Andreé who posed for other Impressionist artists as well.

They both look lonely and despite being physically close, they seem emotionally distant from one another. They are both silently staring into the distance. The man is smoking a pipe, only a half of which is painted because Degas used the very popular Japanese ukiyo-e style method of strange angles and perspectives and the result is a more intimate, direct and natural scene. They don’t look like they are posing, they look like they were caught in their natural habitat. There is a glass of absinthe on the table in front of the lady, but she seems to be thinking of something other than her drink. They both look tired; tired from life in general and perhaps tired from the night before. In contrast to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s vibrant, lively and garish scenes from cafés and cabarets, this painting has a grey, party is over, hangover mood. The grey morning after which doesn’t have the flashy lights and vibrant colours that the evening parties have. I spent a lot of time gazing at this painting lately and two songs kept coming to my mind, especially the lyrics, Tom Waits’ “I hope I don’t fall in love with you” and Johnny Cash’s song “She used to love me a lot”. First the lyrics to Tom Waits’ song:

Well I hope that I don’t fall in love with you
‘Cause falling in love just makes me blue
Well the music plays and you display your heart for me to see
I had a beer and now I hear you calling out for me
And I hope that I don’t fall in love with you

(…)
Well if you sit down with this old clown, take that frown and break it
Before the evening’s gone away, I think that we could make it
And I hope that I don’t fall in love with you

Well the night does funny things inside a man
These old tomcat feelings you don’t understand
Well I turn around to look at you, you light a cigarette
I wish I had the guts to bum one, but we’ve never met
And I hope that I don’t fall in love with you…

And now very similar lyrics of Johnny Cash’s song “She used to love me a lot”:

I saw her through the window today
She was sittin’ in the Silver Spoon cafe
I started to keep going
But something made me stop
She used to love me a lot

She looked lonely and I knew the cure
Old memories would win her heart for sure
I thought I’d walk on in
And I give it my best shot
She used to love me a lot

I sat down beside her and she smiled
She said where have you been it’s been awhile
She was glad to see me
I could almost read her thoughts
She used to love me a lot…

Camille Pissarro – Impressions of Parisian Streets

27 Nov

Camille Pissarro, Rue Saint Lazare, 1893

Pissarro is a somewhat neglected Impressionist and understandably so; his private life wasn’t rife with scandals and excesses, and his art wasn’t scandalous and fleshy either. It’s easy to see why the dandyish Monet, Degas; the painter of ballerinas, or Renoir with his pretty girls are more popular, but Pissarro’s oeuvre shows both steadiness and experimentation. Pissarro lived in the countryside most of his life and thus most of his paintings are scenes from the countryside. Still, due to health reasons, he moved to Paris near the end of his life and there he continued paintings plein air but his motifs weren’t the meadows, trees and haystacks of his beloved countryside, but the bustling streets of a big city. These delightful urban landscapes are the crown of Pissarro’s painterly career. These paintings remind me of that wonderful feeling; when you find yourself in the midst of a bustling city, on a square or walking on the pavements, and suddenly feel yourself detaching from all the noise and bustle, and simply observing it all. Seeing the people, walking fast or walking slow, cars and trams gliding down the streets, show windows and neon shop signs.

I named this post the “Impressions of Parisian Streets” because this series of paintings that Pissarro had painted throughout the winter of 1897/1898 marks not only the end of Pissarro’s oeuvre but also his final return to a more free, sketchy Impressionist style after he spent a few years flirting with pointillism and learning from Signac and Seurat. These urban landscapes are Pissarro’s “impressions” of the streets he saw from the window of the hotel in the place du Théâtre Français. Seen from afar, these impressions of Parisian streets look like a vibrant and bustling place, but if you look at the paintings from up close you see that the carriages, trees and people have all turned into blurry dots, dashes and dabs of colours. The Impressionist desire to paint plein air and to paint the real world around them reminds me so much of sociology because both basically observed society and world around them. Pissarro basically sketched what he saw in these urban scenes, and even though the style is very free and subjective, he pretty much portrayed the objective truth that was before his eyes.

Camille Pissarro, La Place due Théâtre Français, 1898

Camille Pissarro, Rue Saint-Honoré in the Afternoon, Effect of rain, 1897

Camille Pissarro, Boulevard Montmartre, 1897

Camille Pissarro, Place du Théâtre Français, Paris – Rain, 1898

Camille Pissarro, Boulevard Montmartre, Morning Mist, 1897

Claude Monet, Boulevard des Capucines, 1873-74

I also decided to include this painting by Monet just because it’s so beautiful and captures the same motif.