Tag Archives: yellow colour

Jan Vermeer: A World of Tranquillity and Silence

3 Jul

Dear readers, you’re about to enter a world of tranquillity, silence and mystery, the world of Jan Vermeer; the master of light and the master of colour blue, the artist loved by Marcel Proust, the artist forgotten for three long centuries and then rediscovered in the mid 19th century, and above all – a painter who gave beauty to everyday activities.

1658. Jan Vermeer van Delft - Girl reading a Letter at an Open Window Jan Vermeer van Delft, Girl reading a Letter at an Open Window, 1658

I was seduced by the silent beauty of this everyday scene. Day is slowly coming to an end. The last rays of sunlight are piercing through the window and bathing the room with a soft yellow hue. A girl is standing by the window, solemnly reading a love letter. Everything is so light, warm and tender. We can see her reflection in the window. The sunlight spilt its charms across her chamber and everything appears soft and luminous, as if Vermeer himself was dreaming of the warm Mediterranean colours; from her blonde ringlets, rosy cheeks and yellow dress, to the wall and the greenish-yellow curtain on the right. Looking at that soft transitions of colour, you can imagine the rapture Vermeer felt while painting it.

Writing a letter *oil on panel *39 x 29.5 cm *signed b.c.: GTB *ca. 1655

Gerrit ter Borch, Woman Writing a Letter, 1655

On the other hand, the girl seems sombre and lost in her own thoughts. Her eyes are fixated on the letter, her lips closed together. She’s dressed in a fine yellow and black silk, her hair nicely arranged, and she’s surrounded by luxurious fabrics and a bowl of fruit. In this cosy bourgeois interior, this young woman is facing an inner turmoil. The letter is most certainly implying the beginning of a secret love affair, which would be a very risky move in the seventeenth century. Some art historians have implied that the painting shows a young married woman who is about to engage in an affair. There are some elements in the painting that prove this; firstly the letter, then the bowl of apples and peaches, and we know that Eve tempted Adam with an apple, and also the colour of her dress, yellow, was considered a colour of adulteresses and whores, along with crimson red of course.

1669-70. The Love Letter (Dutch De liefdesbrief) by Jan Vermeer

Jan Vermeer, The Love Letter (Dutch: De liefdesbrief), 1669-70

For example, in the 16th century, courtesans in Florence were required to wear a yellow veil, and ‘a letter from 1688‘ notes that ‘whole streets fill’d with Ladies, easily distinguish’d from others by their Habits, being dressed in red and yellow, with naked breasts and painted faces…‘* While I agree that the letter is a hint of a possible love affair, I don’t think this lady is a married one. In my view, she could be a daughter of a wealthy merchant or something similar, who just received a letter from a man her parents might not have had in mind as a possible husband for her. This lady in a yellow dress, reading a mysterious letter in a room brightened up by the gold sunset, feels isolated and trapped by social customs. The open window could symbolise her longing to get acquainted with the outside world. After all, freedom is the sweetest of all the gifts.

1660-62. Woman Reading a Letter - Gerard ter Borch

Gerard ter Borch, Woman Reading a Letter, 1660-62

I’ve chosen some other genre paintings by Vermeer (1632–1675) and Gerrit ter Borch (1617–1681) with similar subject; ladies writing or reading a love letter. Gerrit ter Borch’s Woman Writing a Letter (1655) is especially interesting because it possesses a certain delicacy. Just think about it, these ladies, with their porcelain white skin, their rustling silk dresses, pearl earrings and aloof smiles, have spent four centuries writing and reading the letters we’ll never be able to read. Their longings and inner turmoil hidden underneath an ice-cold blonde facade will forever stay a mystery, but the beauty of the moment that Vermeer and Borch have so delicately captured is here for everyone to enjoy.

1650s Gerrit ter Borch - Messenger (unknown), date unknwon to me

Gerrit ter Borch, Messenger (unknown),1650

I’ve been thinking lately that I lack variety on the blog, and, well, I decided to write about an artist that I’ve never written about before. Vermeer’s paintings that depict everyday scenes with subtle beauty somehow intrigued me and I hope you enjoyed this post.

***

*Williams, Gordon, Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature

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Marc Chagall – The Mystical Seven

10 Feb

1913. Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers is an oil painting by Belarusian painter Marc Chagall,Marc Chagall, Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers, 1913

Despite the luminous yellows and deep red colours dominant in Chagall’s self-portrait, it’s impossible not to notice that his left hand has seven fingers, which means there’s two fingers too many, unless you’re in a psychedelic state of mind. There are many interpretations that explain why he painted seven fingers, but truth is, only Chagall knew. I believe it is connected to his fondness of number seven, and belief it its mystic qualities. Officially, Marc Chagall was born in Liozna, near Vitebsk, on 7 July 1887.

It’s likely that Chagall’s father modified the year of Chagall’s birth, changing it from 1889 to 1887, because in that case Chagall’s older brother would receive some kind of benefits. Chagall himself wrote that he was seventeen years old when he arrived in St. Petersburg in 1906, which could serve as an argument for this thesis, but he eventually decided to keep the year of his birth which was written in his passport, 1887 that is. And I believe that he modified his date of birth just for the additional number seven. I think he was actually born on 6 July, but wilfully changed it to 7 July. His real name was Moishe Segal, but, upon changing it, he added a second ‘l’ – Chagall, which makes it seven letters long. That mystical seven!!!

Marc Chagall painted this self-portrait during his ‘Paris Years’, in times when he ‘flirted’ with Cubism and tried to incorporate its elements, such as geometrical shapes and multiple points of view, in his work. Still, the mood of the painting isn’t Cubist. Warm, vibrant colours evoke his childhood, and his home town Vitebsk, a ‘picturesque city of churches and synagogues’. We can see Eiffel Tower through the window, while the right side shows a scene from Vitebsk, small wooden houses and a synagogue. Torn between two worlds, he even inscribed ‘Paris’ and ‘Russia’ in Hebrew letters on the top of the canvas, right above his head. Belorussia and his family were in his mind always. Even if we didn’t know that this was Chagall’s ‘official’ self-portrait, we could recognise his slightly feminine features, his curly hair, large eyes and long nose.

In this orgy of colours, yellow stands out. Luminous, radiant, translucent yellow. This potent yellow could only be compared to Vincent van Gogh’s yellow. Whereas his yellow had an undertow of franticness, like an eerie laughter, Chagall’s yellow is energetic and cheerful. And it dominates, almost shining through the artist, peeking from his shirt, appearing on his trousers, invading the palette. An the most beautiful wooden floor; a bit crooked and surreal luminous yellow floor. Cover 0f Syd Barrett’s ‘The Madcap Laughs’ evokes the allure of Chagall’s floor.

And if you’re wondering which painting is Chagall pictured painting, it’s the one called ‘To Russia, Donkeys and Others’, painted in 1911.

Marc Chagall, To Russia, Donkeys and Others, 1911

…more of that luminous, radiant, translucent yellow…

1950-52. La Danse by Marc ChagallMarc Chagall, La Danse, 1950-52