Tag Archives: lantern

Ferdinand du Puigaudeau – Breton Girls with Chinese Lanterns in Pont-Aven

29 May

“… a land of lilies and soft blue nights…”

(Thomas Burke, Limehouse Nights: The Sign of the Lamp)

Ferdinand du Puigaudeau (1864-1930), Breton Girls with Chinese Lanterns in Pont-Aven (Bretonnes aux lampions à pont-aven), 1896

Many late nineteenth century painters such as Paul Gauguin, Emile Bernard, Charles Laval, and Roderic O’Conor found their artistic haven in Pont-Aven; a commune in Brittany in the north of France. The traditional black and white costumes worn by Breton women and the local customs and traditions of the Breton people were a sort of refuge from the cold, calculated and rationalised modern world and the bustling, ever-changing streets of Paris. Many other artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Jakub Schikaneder, Willard Metcalf, Alexandre Benois, and Władysław Ślewiński had also found inspiration in the costumes of Breton woman, their black garments and white headwear, ascetic and simple, removed from time. What the Pre-Raphaelites had found in their idealised visions of the Arthurian legends and the Medieval times, the Post-Impressionist artists had found in the dreamy town of Pont-Aven.

The particular style developed there by Gauguin and Emile Bernard is referred to as the Pont-Aven School, but the painting we are talking about today is something completely different. Ferdinand du Puigaudeau’s painting “Breton Girls with Chinese Lanterns in Pont-Aven” painted in 1896 features the motif of the Breton girls in their traditional garments but this time the motif is combined with Chinoiserie; the European interpretation and imitation of Chinese and other East Asian artistic traditions. Chinoiserie is a term often connected tied with the art of Rococo. In Du Puigaudeau’s painting the Chinoiserie-motif are the Chinese lanterns and the effect is mesmerising. The overall mood of the painting is vivacious, vibrant and playful and brings the otherwise sombre motif of Breton women’s traditional garments to a whole new level. The diagonal composition that starts with the girl at the forefront of the festival parade and ends with a building in the distance with a pagoda-style roof gives a dynamic and playful mood to the painting and reveals the influence of Japanese art on Du Puigaudeau.

The girls, with their flowing garments dancing in the nocturnal breeze, look like fairies. I love the way the glow of the lanterns colours their dresses and the space around them, as if the magic of the lanterns is spilling onto the rest of the scene, as if the light of the lanters is liquid colour spilling like a river onto the space around the girls; blue, red, yellow… I cannot help but think of the stories from Thomas Burke’s short-story collection “Limehouse Nights”, such as “The Chink and the Child” which inspired the film “Broken Blossoms” (1919) starring the lovely moon-faced Lilian Gish, because the element of Chinoiserie is woven into each of these stories and motifs such as lanterns helps evoke the magical, oriental spirit that pervades Du Puigaudeau’s painting as well as Burke’s stories. Another thing that comes to mind is definitelly Debussy’s whimsical “Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp in F Major” which I absolutely adore.

Oda Krohg: A Japanese Lantern

6 Feb

“The true joy of a moonlit night is something we no longer understand. Only the men of old, when there were no lights, could understand the true joy of a moonlit night.”
(Yasunari Kawabata, Palm-of-the-Hand Stories)

Oda Krohg (1860–1935), A Japanese Lantern (By the Oslofjord), 1886, Pastel on paper pasted on canvas

The palpable dreaminess and delicate, lyrical nocturnal ambient is what instantly captivated me about this painting. A woman in a white gown is sitting at the balcony doors and gazing out into the beautiful summer night; the distant moonlight is painting the landscape in whimsical shadows and casting a silver light that transforms the mundaneness of this view from the window into a magical scene. The woman’s face is turned away from us which gives her a mysterious vibe but also puts us in her place; we are not gazing at her, but rather we are seeing what she is seeing. Our view stretches from the lush, murmuring treetops in the foreground to the serene lake bathed in moonlight in the background. Above the woman, a Japanese lantern is hanging from the ceiling, it almost replaces the image of the moon, and its warm, yellowish light is reflected at the ornamental glass of the door.

The title, “A Japanese Lantern”, the cropping, and the motif of a lantern all hint at the Oriental inspiration behind the painting. Alternative title, “By the Oslofjord”, puts the painting in a geographic reality and places the scene near the town of Oslo. Before seeing paintings of Edvard Munch and now this gorgeous pastel by Oda Krohg, I never thought Nordic nights and fjords could have such a magical appeal. The painting, with its hushed, nocturnal and dreamy atmosphere that matches that of Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings, paved a way for the revival of Romantic themes in art; romance, dreams and Symbolism instead of realism. I love how the predominant tonality is blue. The purity of using just this one colour and its different tones to achieve this nocturnal effect is mesmerising. The pastel chalk technique also adds a certain softness that is fitting for the mood.

Oda Krohg was a female Norwegian painter who lived her life like a man; she disobeyed the social norms, went to pubs and cafes unchaperoned, had children out of wedlock and had affairs with many fellow Norwegian artists, but not with Munch though. She was twenty-six years old when she painted this painting and it was her painterly debut. She married the painter Christian Krohg whose painting “The Sick Child” would later influence Munch to paint the same motif of a sickly, dying child. Christian Krohg also painted this charming portrait of his wife Oda in the same year that Oda painted her “A Japanese Lantern” painting. She does look like a cheerful, independant bohemian. With that long flowing hair, vibrant red dress, hoop earrings and the red bonnet I can picture her in a 1960s Godard film, like Anna Karina. And I love her smile.

Christian Krohg, Oda Krohg as Bohemian Princess, 1886