The Princess from the Land of Porcelain by James Abbott McNeill Whistler

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, American Artist, 1834-1903
Rose and Silver: The Princess from the Land of Porcelain (Portrait of Christine Spartali),
1863-1865, Oil on Canvas, 201.5×116.1 cm, Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, USA
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Princess_from_the_Land_of_Porcelain#/media/File:James_McNeill_Whistler_-_La_Princesse_du_pays_de_la_porcelaine_-_brighter.jpg

The sitter’s sister Marie (artist Spartali-Stollman) told Pennell: ‘At first the work went quickly, but soon it began to drag. Whistler often scraped down the figure just as they thought it all but finished, and day after day they returned to find that everything was to be done over again … Mrs. Stillman remembers that Whistler partly closed the shutters so as to shut out the direct light; that her sister stood at one end of the room, the canvas beside her; that Whistler would look at the picture from a distance, then suddenly dash at it, give one stroke, then dash away again … The sittings went on until the sitter fell ill … The head in the “Princess” gave him most trouble … During her illness, a model stood for the gown, and when she was getting better, he came one day and made a pencil drawing of her head, though where it went to Mrs. Stillman never knew. There were a few more sittings after this, and at last, the picture was finished.’ The Princess from the Land of Porcelain by James Abbott McNeill Whistler has more stories to tell… https://www.whistler.arts.gla.ac.uk/correspondence/people/biog/?bid=Spar_C&fbclid=IwAR0Z8K3QjV1wsba9ee8HPO7ax0Ri9r3uvxu9QKVkwZdKKaVn-PSZ6Bpaca8 (Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908, vol. 1, pp. 122-25, 130, 157, 203-04; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer, and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980.)

Image of the Peacock Room featuring the Princess in the Land of Porcelain painting by James McNeill Whistler, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M Sackler Gallery, Washington DC, USA https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Peacock_Room.jpg  

During the 1860s until the final years after the First World War, Japanese Art was all the rage amongst the world of Western Αrt ant Ιntelligentsia. At the time, James Abbott McNeill Whistler was a most fervent Japonist. Inspired by ukiyo-e prints, ancient Greek sculpture, music, and dance, Whistler created works of art of entranced female figures…Japanese and ancient Greek art set the tone. Rose and Silver: The Princess from the Land of Porcelain is one such happy consequence. Painted between 1863 and 1865 with Christine Spartali as the model, and described in 1865 as “unready for display and lacking in substance” by the art critic Gustave Vattier, the painting was not an immediate success. Without a direct buyer, the work changed hands for a few years – at one point landing in Dante Rossetti’s studio – before it was purchased by Frederick Leyland for his dreamed porcelainzimmer! In 1903, the painting was bought by Charles Lang Freer, and today Rose and Silver: The Princess from the Land of Porcelain can be seen in Washington DC, the Freer Gallery of Art, a much-appreciated part of the Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-story-behind-the-peacock-rooms-princess-159271229/ and https://artofdarkness.co/post/137432960224/whistler-princess-from-land-porcelain-gigapixel-details

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, American Artist, 1834-1903
Sketch for Rose and Silver: The Princess from the Land of Porcelain
, between 1863 and 1864, oil on hardboard, 61.3 × 35.1 cm, Worcester Art Museum, MA, USA  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:La_Princesse_du_Pays_de_la_Porcelaine_-_James_Abbort_McNeill_Whistler_-_Sketch.JPG

Whistler’s painting Rose and Silver: The Princess from the Land of Porcelain was part of a series of costume pictures undertaken by Whistler in the mid-1860s in which western models appear in Asian dress, surrounded by Chinese and Japanese objects from Whistler’s own collections. He modeled the princess on Christina Spartali, a young woman of Greek descent who is dressed in a kimono and surrounded by luxurious objects that suggest an imaginary “land of porcelain.” Not intended as a portrait, the painting instead demonstrated a new ideal of beauty, one derived from Japanese ukiyo-e prints and the elongated figures painted on Chinese porcelain. https://asia.si.edu/object/F1903.91a-b/#object-content

Kitagawa Utamaro, Japanese Artist, 1753-1806
Washing and stretching cloth
, 1796-1797, Color woodblock print on paper, Triptych: each sheet 38.1 x 25.4 cm, NY Public Library, USA
https://artvee.com/dl/drying-and-stretching-cloth/

When I teach American Art, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, in particular, I like to compare Rose and Silver: The Princess from the Land of Porcelain to Kitagawa Utamaro’s Washing and stretching cloth print of 1796-1797. The elegant postures of Ukiyo-e Ladies, their body language, grace, style, and refinement captivated Whistler’s imagination, creating… wonderful paintings! https://artvee.com/dl/drying-and-stretching-cloth/ and https://risdmuseum.org/exhibitions-events/exhibitions/women-floating-world

For a PowerPoint on paintings by James Abbott McNeill Whistler depicting European Women wearing Asian costumes, please… Check HERE!

Julia Margaret Cameron, 1815-1879
Christina Spartali (later Countess Edouard Cahn d’Anvers), 1868, albumen cabinet card, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK
https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/christina-spartali-the-model-for-la-princesse-ca-1865-70-julia-margaret-cameron/qwF4d-HWJ94Gtg

Christina Spartali, the model for Whistler’s Princess from the Land of Porcelain,  was Michael Spartali and Euphrosyne Varsini Spartali’s second daughter. Her father, a prosperous London resident merchant, became Consul-General for Greece in 1866. From 1864, the family lived in London at “The Shrubbery” in Clapham Common, and through their relatives, the Ionides, prominent patrons of the arts, became acquainted with members of the contemporary art world, including James McNeill Whistler. The photographer Julia Margaret Cameron was the Spartalis’ neighbor at Sandford, the family’s estate on the Isle of Wight, where photographs of the Spartali sisters were taken. In 1868, Christina married Count Eduard Joseph Cahen D’Anvers, a Jewish banker from Belgium, moved to Paris, and live the life of an upper-class, apparently not so happy, socialite. https://www.costumecocktail.com/2016/09/26/christina-marie-spartali-ca-1870/ and http://fannycornforth.blogspot.com/2018/12/sunday-16th-december-christine-spartali.html

Five O’Clock Tea with Mary Stevenson Cassatt

Mary Stevenson Cassatt, 1844-1926          
Five O’Clock Tea, 1880, Oil on Canvas, 64.7×92 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mary_Cassatt_-_The_Tea_-_MFA_Boston_42.178.jpg

I believe it is customary in good society to take some slight refreshment at five o’clock… Oscar Wilde humorously wrote in Act 1 of his famous play The Importance of Being Earnest… Five O’Clock Tea with Mary Stevenson Cassatt is how an American painter portrayed, in all seriousness, the same customary ritual with paints. https://www.shmoop.com/importance-of-being-earnest/act-i-full-text-2.html

Cassatt seated in a chair with an umbrella. Verso reads “The only photograph for which she ever posed. Courtesy of Durand-Ruel.”, 1913
Source: http://digitalcollections.frick.org/digico/#/archive/Archives/Images%20of%20Artists%20
Images of Artists Collection. The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mary_Cassatt_photograph_1913.jpg

Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844 – 1926) was a fortunate lady! Born into a prosperous family in Pennsylvania who believed it was important for women to receive an education, she grew up attending school in Philadelphia and traveling to Europe where …Art kept changing. Reaching adulthood, she persuaded her parents that her life’s destination was to be in Europe, and painting professionally was to become her life’s pursuit! It was not easy for her father to accept Mary’s artistic ambition, but after serious deliberation, he came around and… in 1866, with her mother and family friends acting as chaperones, she settled in Paris and was accepted to study Art in the private studios of Jean-Léon Gérôme, Charles Joshua Chaplin and Thomas Couture. She expanded her training with daily copying in the Louvre and trips to the French countryside where she drew from life. Two years later, in 1868, her painting A Mandoline Player, was accepted for exhibition in the Paris Salon. She was noticed as a professional painter, but she was not fully content!

Everything changed in 1877 when she submitted paintings to enter the year’s Salon and was rejected by the committee. When she met Edgar Degas, an artist she greatly admired, Cassatt was disillusioned with academic painting and eager to experiment. The French artist invited her to collaborate with the Impressionists and exhibit with them in 1879, during the 4th Impressionist Exhibition… I accepted with joy, she later recalled as I hated conventional art. She was one of just a few women, and the only American, to exhibit with the group. She was finally happy in an artistic environment that suited her needs… Plein Air painting, vibrant, metallic in some cases, color, in short, dancing brushstrokes, flat space, the discovery of Japanism… and scenes of everyday modern life in Paris – her family, friends, and their children. https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/Education/learning-resources/an-eye-for-art/AnEyeforArt-MaryCassatt.pdf and https://collections.mfa.org/objects/32829/the-tea;jsessionid=20E4DE2A8A06D4816FA7D20AFF171D7C?ctx=884b7166-374f-468a-8909-136f2658e914&idx=7

Mary Stevenson Cassatt, 1844-1926          
Five O’Clock Tea (Details – 2 women), 1880, Oil on Canvas, 64.7×92 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA
https://atsunnyside.blog/2018/08/31/tea-by-mary-cassatt-1880/

In 1880 Mary Cassatt painted Five O’Clock Tea documenting the trendy social ritual of well-to-do women like herself. Paintings of women taking afternoon tea became a popular theme for Cassatt in the late 1870s and early 1880s, and in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Mary Cassatt aficionados can admire three fine examples of this trend, two paintings in oil and a print. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/cast/hd_cast.htm

Mary Stevenson Cassatt, 1844-1926          
The Cup of Tea, ca. 1880–81, Oil on Canvas, 92.4 x 65.4 cm, the MET, NY, USA
Afternoon Tea Party, 1890–91, Drypoint and aquatint, printed in color from three plates, Plate: 34.6 x 26.7 cm, the MET, NY, USA
Lady at the Tea Table, 1883–85, Oil on Canvas, 73.7 x 61 cm, the MET, NY, USA
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/The_Cup_of_Tea_MET_DT88.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Afternoon_Tea_Party_MET_DP819587.jpg
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b5/Lady_at_the_Tea_Table_MET_DT516.jpg  

The MFA Five O’Clock Tea, modern, intimate, and informal, is my favourite. It displays a contemporary drawing room, sometimes described as Cassatt’s own. The fine striped wallpaper and carved marble fireplace, ornamented with an elaborately framed painting and a porcelain jar, are typical of an upper-middle class Parisian interior, and the antique Silver Tea Service on the foreground table implies a distinguished family history. The truth is that the depicted Tea Service was part of a family Tea Set made in Philadelphia about 1813, of which six pieces (but not the tray) are now in the MFA’s collection. https://collections.mfa.org/objects/32829/the-tea;jsessionid=20E4DE2A8A06D4816FA7D20AFF171D7C?ctx=884b7166-374f-468a-8909-136f2658e914&idx=7 and https://i.pinimg.com/originals/7f/ef/3d/7fef3d6daead8cc0cbed4636a232971f.jpg

Mary Stevenson Cassatt, 1844-1926          
Five O’Clock Tea (Detail Tea Set), 1880, Oil on Canvas, 64.7×92 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA
https://atsunnyside.blog/2018/08/31/tea-by-mary-cassatt-1880/

Mary Cassatt’s Five O’Clock Tea is a testimony to modernity by rejecting several traditional artistic conventions. For example, the artist denies the human form its usual compositional primacy as the tea service seems larger in scale than the women themselves. Taking further steps towards novelty in art, Mary Cassattt renders the depicted guest in the transitory act of drinking. By selecting the only point in the action when her subject’s face is almost completely hidden by the teacup, Cassatt reiterates her modernist creed that her painting is not only about representing likeness, but also about design and color. Furthermore, she uses the oval shapes of cups and saucers, trays, hats, and faces as repetitive patterns, offsetting the strict graphic geometry of the gray and rose striped wallpaper. I am not surprised that J.-K. Huysmans wrote that the Five O’Clock Tea was an excellent canvas. https://collections.mfa.org/objects/32829/the-tea;jsessionid=20E4DE2A8A06D4816FA7D20AFF171D7C?ctx=884b7166-374f-468a-8909-136f2658e914&idx=7

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

Pissarro’s Basket of Pears

Camille Pissarro, French Artist, 1830–1903
Still Life: Pears in a Round Basket, 1872, Oil on Canvas, 45.7 x 55.2 cm, The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation on loan to the Princeton University Art Museum, USA
https://artmuseum.princeton.edu/collections/objects/21437

They are juicy and sweet, can be tart or buttery, soft, or crunchy, they have been around since the 5th millennium BC, they are my favourite winter fruit! We celebrate them on the 5th of December… during World Pear Day! Lamar Cole’s poemIt always made him feel so refreshed and new. / When he tasted pear juice. / On pears he loved to munch. / He loved the sound of their crunch. / He was happy as could be. / Because on his grandma’s farm. / There were many pear trees… sets the tone! Camille Pissarro’s Basket of Pears invites me to contemplate and Enjoy! https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/pears-3/ and https://nationaldaycalendar.com/world-pear-day-first-weekend-in-december/

Camille Pissarro’s Basket of Pears is a rare treat! An exceptional theme for Camille Pissarro, the Princeton Museum painting surprised me… ever so pleasantly, I may add. It dates from the year after his move to Pontoise, a village north of Paris where, in 1872, joined by Cézanne, who regarded Pissarro as a father figure, the artists, often working side by side outdoors, experimented with the Impressionist techniques pioneered by some of their friends. https://artmuseum.princeton.edu/collections/objects/21437

Camille Pissarro, French Artist, 1830–1903
Self-Portrait, 1873, Oil on Canvas, 55.5×46.0 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
https://www.musee-orsay.fr/fr/oeuvres/portrait-de-lartiste-366

According to the experts at Sotheby’s… Pissarro lived in Pontoise, a village located northwest of Paris, between 1872 and 1882, finding great inspiration in its landscapes. Pontoise played an integral role in Pissarro’s work, establishing his reputation as an innovative painter of rural scenes, as well as contributing to the emergence of Impressionism. For this reason, his works painted between 1872 and 1873 are often considered his masterpieces, works that would have a long-lasting influence on both his contemporaries and subsequent generations of artists. The 1877 Musée d’Orsay painting of Orchard with Flowering Trees, Spring, Pontoise, is a wonderful example of how Pissarro, during his ten years at Pontoise, developed his style influenced by Gustave Corot, Claude Monet, and William Turner. Painted en plain air, with short, visible brushstrokes, and colorful cast shadows, the Orsay painting of Flowering Trees, I would like to think of them as Pear Trees! exhibits all the characteristics of the Impressionist style, Pissarro is so famous about. https://www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2021/impressionist-modern-art-day-sale-/lallee-des-vignes-a-pontoise

Camille Pissarro, French Artist, 1830–1903
Orchard with Flowering Trees, Spring, Pontoise, 1877, Oil on Canvas, 65.5×81 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Camille_Pissarro_-_Orchard_with_Flowering_Trees,_Spring,_Pontoise.JPG
Camille Pissarro, French Artist, 1830–1903
Still Life with Apples and Pitcher, 1872, Oil on Canvas, 46.4 x 56.5 cm, the MET, NY, USA
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437317

During his sojourn at Pontoise, in 1872 to be exact, Pissarro painted two, very similar Still Lives, I particularly like. Identical in size, Pears in a Round Basket (Princeton University Art Museum), and Still Life with Apples and Pitcher (the MET, New York), stun the viewer with the artist’s clarity of vision, and simplicity of composition. Featuring the same floral-patterned wallpaper in the background, I love its vertical orientation, floral design, and pastel colour scheme, both paintings clearly expressed forms and subtle manipulation of light. The viewer can only wonder… How much were Cezanne’s Still Life paintings influenced by Pissarro? https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437317

For a PowerPoint on Camille Pissarro’s Basket of Pears, please… Click HERE!

The Turkeys by Claude Monet

Claude Monet, 1840-1926
The Turkeys, 1876, oil on canvas, 1876 174×172 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
https://www.musee-orsay.fr/fr/oeuvres/les-dindons-1109  

On Thanksgiving Day remember Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882) and Give thanks for each new morning with its light, / For rest and shelter of the night. / For health and food, / For love and friends, / For everything they goodness sends… and feast your eyes with The Turkeys by Claude Monet.  https://www.musee-orsay.fr/fr/oeuvres/les-dindons-1109and https://www.southernliving.com/thanksgiving/thanksgiving-poems

Claude Monet was a prolific painter, an innovator, and an astute businessman. He painted over 2.000 paintings, disillusioned with the Académie and the Salon system, along with friends like Degas, Renoir, Manet, Pissarro, and others, he founded the Impressionist movement, and despite popular belief, he became quite independently wealthy. Early on, at Le Havre, where he grew up, the15 years old Monet was quite known and popular as a caricaturist, charging the local buyers 10 to 20 francs for his art, signed O. Monet, as his first name is Oscar. As a teenager, Monet was also introduced to painting at Plein Air by his mentor and friend Eugène Boudin, who instilled in him a deep appreciation for the play of light on natural forms… If I have become a painter, it is entirely due to Eugène Boudin, Monet later acknowledged. It is interesting to know that in 1861, at the age of twenty, Monet was drafted into the First Regiment of African Light Cavalry and served for one year in Algiers where, upon later reflection, he believed that the impressions of light and color that he received there…contained the germ of his future researches. https://www.sothebys.com/en/articles/21-facts-about-claude-monet

In 1876, Monet painted The Turkeys, a unique theme for his artistic repertoire as Monet hardly ever painted birds. The painting was originally commissioned, along with three more canvases, by Ernest Hoschedé, his wealthy patron at the time, but soon changed owners until 1947, when the Princess Edmond de Polignac bequeathed the painting to the State of France to be exhibited in the Louvre Museum, and in 1986, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The Turkeys, not a particularly known painting by Monet, was first exhibited in 1877 at the 3rd Impressionist Exhibition at the Durand-Ruel Gallery. It was also part of major early 20th century Exhibitions like the 1910 Universal and International Exhibition in Brussels, and the first, 1931, Claude Monet: Retrospective Exhibition at the Orangerie Museum in Paris. The last grand Exhibition, this very unique Monet painting was presented, was the 2018-2019 Orsay as seen by Julian SchnabelExhibition at the Orsay Museum. https://www.musee-orsay.fr/fr/oeuvres/les-dindons-1109 and https://www.leparisien.fr/archives/grandeur-et-decadence-du-mecene-de-monet-31-01-2015-4493225.php

Claude Monet, 1840-1926
The Turkeys, 1876, oil on canvas, 1876 174×172 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
Museum View
Photo Credit @scribeaccroupi
https://scribeaccroupi.fr/visite-privee-collection-depeaux-musee-des-beaux-arts-rouen/

The Turkeys, or Les Dindons, in French, exhibit all of Monet’s visual aesthetics and the driving characteristics behind them. His asymmetric, diagonal composition, in Japanism style, is set in a serene, lush, French countryside landscape. Painted en Plein Air,  Les Dindons use a palette of vibrant whites and fresh greens with splashes of red to create an atmosphere of radiance. Finally, Monet’s brushstrokes, a key feature of all of his paintings, are short, fast, turning and twisting, quick to portray the reflective power of the bright morning sun.

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

First Steps by Georgios Iakovidis

Georgios Iakovidis, 1853-1932
First Steps, 1889, Oil on Canvas, 64×50 cm, Averoff Museum of Neo-Hellenic Art, Metsovo, Greece https://www.averoffmuseum.gr/%cf%84%ce%b1-%cf%80%cf%81%cf%8e%cf%84%ce%b1-%ce%b2%ce%ae%ce%bc%ce%b1%cf%84%ce%b1/

World Children’s Day was first established in 1954 as Universal Children’s Day and is celebrated on the 20th of November each year to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare. …Mothers and fathers, teachers, nurses and doctors, government leaders and civil society activists, religious and community elders, corporate moguls and media professionals, as well as young people and children themselves, can play an important part in making World Children’s Day relevant for their societies, communities and nations. …World Children’s Day offers each of us an inspirational entry-point to advocate, promote and celebrate children’s rights, translating into dialogues and actions that will build a better world for children. This is how the United Nations describes this important Celebratory Day… First Steps by Georgios Iakovidis will be my humble contribution. https://www.un.org/en/observances/world-childrens-day

Iakovidis’s Painting of a Child taking his First Steps in the Averoff Gallery is one of my all times favourite 19th-century Greek Paintings. It touches me in a very personal way. It reminds me of my father’s love and unconditional devotion to my son, his Grandson… Του παιδιού μου το παιδί, δυο φορές παιδί (My child’s child, is twice my child), he used to say, and looked at him with unbelievable tenderness… First Steps, a circa 1889 painting executed in Germany where the artist resided at the time, is much admired, for the artist’s first, tentative steps towards aspects of luminosity in art… and much loved for the sentimentality of its theme.

Carl Teufel, 1845-1912
Gerorgios Jakobides in his studio in Munich, 1883, Photograph, Collection: Bildarchiv Foto Marburg, Marburg, Germany
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jakobides-atelier-m%C3%BCnchen.jpg

Georgios Iakovidis painted the theme of a child taking his/her First Steps twice. The oldest painting (1889), part of the Averoff Collection at Metsovo, portrays a grandfather assisting an enthusiastic child walk towards the open arms of a seated, equally enthusiastic sister. The second painting (1892) at the National Gallery in Athens, favors a grandmother as the child’s First Steps assistant. Both paintings were created while the artist resided in Munich… both paintings have similarly structured compositions… yet, the Averoff painting shows changes in the way the artist is rendering light and colour. According to the Averoff Gallery experts… The light that permeates the room is diffused throughout the space, giving a special glow to the places where it falls – the baby, the girl’s head, and hands – and deleting the contours. On the other hand, the chiaroscuro precisely models the details of the faces, the clothing, and the furniture. It is interesting how these first, timidly attempted changes, led the artist into a freer, more luminous painting style, connecting him to the most progressive painters in Germany – the so-called German Impressionists. https://www.averoffmuseum.gr/the-first-steps/?lang=en

A Video (in Greek) on Georgios Iakovidis’s life and artistic achievements… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMUrZPQOZR0

For a PowerPoint on Paintings of Children by Georgios Iakovidis, please… Check HERE!

Georgios Iakovidis, 1853-1932
First Steps, 1892. Oil on canvas, 140×110 cm, National Gallery, E. Koutlidis Foundation Collection, Athens, Greece
https://www.nationalgallery.gr/en/painting-permanent-exhibition/painting/the-bourgeois-class-and-its-painters/genre-painting/first-steps.html
First Steps, 1889, Oil on Canvas, 64×50 cm, Averoff Museum of Neo-Hellenic Art, Metsovo, Greece
https://www.averoffmuseum.gr/%cf%84%ce%b1-%cf%80%cf%81%cf%8e%cf%84%ce%b1-%ce%b2%ce%ae%ce%bc%ce%b1%cf%84%ce%b1/

Angels in the Palatine Chapel by John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent, American artist, 1856–1925
Angels, Mosaic, Palatine Chapel, Palermo, 1897 or 1901, watercolor gouache, and graphite on off-white wove paper, 25×35.5 cm, the MET, NY, USA https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/df/Angels%2C_Mosaic%2C_Palatine_Chapel%2C_Palermo_MET_50.130.83f.jpg

John Singer Sargent’s watercolours of Sicilian Monuments reveal an extraordinary sensitivity to the unique beauty of Norman churches and their Byzantine mosaic decoration. The artist’s paintings communicate the character of these churches far better, I humbly believe, than modern photography. They create a visual experience I find difficult to describe… yet, seen, these watercolours of shimmering Sicilian mosaics, together or individually, manage to transport me to places of pure magic! The watercolour of Angels in the Palatine Chapel by John Singer Sargent is undoubtedly my favourite!

John Singer Sargent, American artist, 1856–1925
Self-Portrait, 1892, oil on canvas, 53.3×43.2 cm, National Academy of Design, USA
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9f/John_Singer_Sargent_-_Self-portrait_%281892%29.jpg

During the early months of 1897, Sargent was in Sicily exploring its monuments and preparing for the Boston Library Murals, a project that will keep him busy for twenty-nine years! Cappella Palatina, with amazing Byzantine mosaics, one of the finest works of art of its kind in Italy, was for Sargent an obvious shrine to investigate. https://www.bpl.org/blogs/post/the-origins-of-a-masterwork/

Cappella Palatina, 1132-1143, mosaic decoration, Palermo, Italy
https://gr.pinterest.com/pin/303500462386852490/

Today’s presentation focuses on the mosaic decoration of the sanctuary’s dome, which, in a typical Byzantine manner, presents the bust of the Pantokrator and a chorus of eight, majestically dressed, guardian Angels. Sargent chose to depict the Cappella’s Dome as seen from the nave of the chapel and off to one side, choosing to concentrate his attention more so on the Angels than Christ, whose head is rather obscure. He also pays meticulous attention to three of the Archangels, Raphael, Michael, and Gabriel, their ornate costumes and the inscriptions, in Greek, that identify them. It is interesting how Sargent is acting in this case as a researcher, attentive to specific elements and to issues of style that he could apply to his… Boston Library commission. It has been, on several occasions mentioned, how the Cappella Palatina mosaics in Palermo influenced Sargent’s rendering of the Frieze of Angels, at the south end of the Special Collections Hall at the Boston Public Library, installed in 1903. American Drawings and Watercolors in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, John Singer Sargent, by Stephanie L. Herdrich and H. Barbara Weinberg with and an essay by Marjorie Shelley, The Metropolitan Museu of Art, New York, 2000, Page 293 and https://www.jstor.org/stable/3047256?read-now=1&refreqid=excelsior%3A8d742d266060fbf70ed292204c17b202&seq=3#page_scan_tab_contents

John Singer Sargent, American artist, 1856–1925
Dogma of the Redemption; Trinity and Crucifix, Frieze of Angels, ca. 1895–1903, mural – oil on canvas, Boston Public Library, USA
https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:sq87dv73s

John Singer Sargent is the par excellence representative American artist of the Gilded Age. His life represents its very characteristics! He was born in Florence, Italy, to expatriate American parents…  He had a nomadic childhood, spending winters in Florence, Rome, or Nice and summers in the Alps or other cooler locations. Early in his life, he realized what he wanted to do in life was to become an artist, and supported by his mother, Mary Newbold Sargent, who was herself an accomplished amateur watercolorist he accomplished it. Sargent and his mother carried sketchbooks throughout their extensive travels across Europe, and he developed a quick eye and fast reflexes for recording his impressions of the landscape. Eighteen years old, under the tutelage of the painter Carolus-Duran, who encouraged him to paint directly onto the canvas, without any preparatory drawing, and to study the Old Masters, John Singer Sargent developed his skills, exhibited both landscapes and portraits to much acclaim, and developed a reputation as a fine society portraitist on both sides of the Atlantic. What a life… Brooklyn Museum – Teaching Resource: Special Exhibition – John Singer Sargent Watercolors – April 5–July 28, 2013, p. 2

Sargent wanted more… He grew restless at the height of his career, and sought escape from the constraints of the studio and the demands of his patrons for society portraits. What he did was to travel to remote spots, choose his own subjects, and paint without distraction inspirational watercolours… of landscapes, genre scenes, friends, and family. After 1900 Sargent spent his summers traveling throughout Europe, painting both oil paintings and watercolors. What a life… Brooklyn Museum – Teaching Resource: Special Exhibition – John Singer Sargent Watercolors – April 5–July 28, 2013, p. 2

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

End of the Season by William Merritt Chase

William Merritt Chase, American painter, 1849-1916
End of the Season, c. 1885, Pastel on Paper, 35 x 45 cm, Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley https://www.wga.hu/support/viewer_m/z.html

The familiar rhythm of the cricket’s chirps / Create the soundtrack for each day, / Echoing Summer’s end / And that Autumn’s on her way.     /     The stifling heat of the summer sun / Is now tempered by the clouds. / Those fluffy, cotton August clouds, / That soft breezes push about.     /     Shadows falling everywhere / As the sun plays peek-a-boo. / Losing her strength with each new day, / A sure sign that summer is through…     /    But there’s also a haunting sadness sometimes. / That I feel when those dark shadows fall. / And that my greatest adventures in life / Are just memories, now aroused by those sweet cricket calls. The end of summer, carefree days, is fast approaching… the beginning of the new School year is right in the corner…  and I think of Patricia A. Fleming’s Poem for Kids The Summer’s End and the End of the Season by William Merritt Chase. I feel melancholic… just like the lady in the painting! https://www.momjunction.com/articles/poems-about-summer-for-kids_00720909/

I like how perceptively William Merritt Chase’s ideas on how Idle Hours should be depicted is described in the article William Merritt Chase and modern leisure, and presented in ANTIQUES, back on August 29, 2016. Furthermore, an introduction to his life is more than essential to understand his style… That aura of pleasure suffuses Chase’s work and belies the effort he put into creating innovative paintings of modern life. He worked hard to make his art look easy. Born to a middle-­class family in Indiana, Chase cobbled together the support of local businessmen to finance his art education in Munich. From 1872 to 1878 he studied at the Royal Academy there, mastering the dark, gestural brushwork of the Munich school and studying the work of the old masters. He sent his paintings back to New York for display, earning admiration even before he returned to the United States in 1878. He immediately took rooms in New York’s most prestigious studio space, the Tenth Street Studio Building, where he established himself at the center of the city’s art world and created an eclectic, European-­inspired studio space that announced his reputation as a well-traveled bohemian and an imaginative, creative artist. Soon thereafter, he began to explore modern subjects of relaxation in an innovative style. https://www.themagazineantiques.com/article/idle-hours-william-merritt-chase-and-modern-leisure/

Spending my summers in a Greek sea-front small village, being a teacher who treasures my last days of summer bliss, I feel very close to the End of the Season, by William Merritt Chase in Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. It is one of his early paintings depicting a scene at the beach at the end of the summer season. A woman in fashionable summer greyish attire sits comfortably, leaning over the empty table, at the right side of the composition. She is looking at the distant fishermen whose boat rests on the strand… and the fresh, choppy sea… There are more tables in the composition, the chairs tipped up against them… empty now of holiday visitors. No wonder the title is End of the Season.  http://museums.fivecolleges.edu/detail.php?t=objects&type=ext&id_number=MH%201976.9

William Merritt Chase probably painted the End of the Season during a summer visit to Holland as a tribute, according to a critic, to a “Continental watering-place, with  chairs and tables upset by the seashore, and a single lonely figure.” This is one of the artist’s earlier pastel paintings, a medium much admired for its dry powdery finish and brilliant colors. Pastel painting was a declaration of modernism in the period, admired by the avant-­garde for the way in which its sketch-­like character called attention to the artist’s hand. Chase, the cofounder in 1883 of the Society of Painters in Pastel, was a master of it. https://www.themagazineantiques.com/article/idle-hours-william-merritt-chase-and-modern-leisure/

For a Student Activity, please… Check Here!

Off the harbor by Ioannis Altamouras

Ioannis Altamouras, 1852-1878
Off the harbor, 1874, oil on paper mounted on cardboard, 23.3 x 30.5 cm, Bank of Greece
https://museum.bankofgreece.gr/topoianaforas/modern_greek_art/501_Altamouras_en.html

Emily, / A ship is floating in the harbour now, / A wind is hovering o’er the mountain’s brow; / There is a path on the sea’s azure floor, / No keel has ever plough’d that path before; / The halcyons brood around the foamless isles; The treacherous Ocean has forsworn its wiles; / The merry mariners are bold and free: / Say, my heart’s sister, wilt thou sail with me? / Our bark is as an albatross, whose nest / Is a far Eden of the purple East; / And we between her wings will sit, while Night, / And Day, and Storm, and Calm, pursue their flight, / Our ministers, along the boundless Sea, / Treading each other’s heels, unheededly… wrote for Epipsychidion, Percy Bysshe Shelley back in 1821. Off the harbor by Ioannis Altamouras is a small painting that reminds me of Shelley’s description… A ship is floating in the harbour now… https://www.poetrysoup.com/famous/poem/epipsychidion_(excerpt)_5166

Ioannis Altmouras, an accomplished representative of the Seascape painting genre, is one of my favourite modern Greek painters. Born in Italy, his parents were both artists, Ioannis Altamouras was of Greek/Italian descent. He was the son of Saverio Altamura, an Italian Painter, and Professor at the Naples School of Fine Arts, and Eleni Boukouri from the island of Spetses, who, daringly dressed as a young man, studied Art in Italy, at times, under the tutelage of her future husband Saverio. Between 1857 and 1859 his parents separated, and Eleni took her two older children and returned to Greece, where she raised them teaching Art to prominent members of the Athenian society, including the Greek Queen, Olga. Eleni was Altamouras’s first Art Teacher, who, in 1871-72, coached by Nikephoros Lytras, studied at the School of Fine Arts in Athens. Between 1873 and 1876 Ioannis Altamouras was in Denmark, on a scholarship from King George I, where he continued his studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts at Copenhagen, close to the great painter of the time, Carl Frederick Sorensen. During the summer of 1876, Altamouras’s revolutionary spirit took him to the fishing village of Skagen, where 40 Danish painters had created the well-known “Skagen Colony”. It was at Skagen where the ideas of Impressionism in his art, took roots, as he spent time outdoors observing, the Skagen open horizon and the interplay of different colors in natural light. Sick with tuberculosis, Altamouras returns to Greece and tragically young, he died, six years later, in 1878. https://www.nationalgallery.gr/en/painting-permanent-exhibition/painter/altamouras-ioannis.html

Off the harbor by Ioannis Altamouras is a small painting in the Art Collection of the Bank of Greece, rarely seen by the public but nicely documented as it was exhibited in the 2018 Exhibition at the Benaki Museum, titled Frames of Reference from the Bank of Greece Collection. I like how it is described… A dull, rainy, and humid seascape is revealed in front of us. Small boats are scattered here and there, schematically defined, somewhat vaguely against the background. A little to the fore, we see a few boats painted in dark colours and contrasting the overall blue-white landscape. Their cross-like shape makes them a point of reference for the entire composition. Sea and sky appear united, in the absence of a clear separating line for the horizon. https://museum.bankofgreece.gr/topoianaforas/modern_greek_art/501_Altamouras_en.html

For a PowerPoint Student Activity on Altamouras’s Seascapes, please… Check HERE!

Homer’s Summer Night

Winslow Homer, American Artist, 1836-1910
Summer Night, 1890, Oil on canvas, 76.7×102 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/03/winslow-homers-summer-night-examined-at-harvard-art-museums/

Harvard Art Museums’ Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director Martha Tedeschi, discussing in an interview Homer’s Summer Night said: One of the things that I think is so successful in this picture, and that I love about Homer in general, is that it evokes things that he could not have possibly painted into the picture, like sound. There are two young women dancing on a porch. That immediately implies that there’s probably music playing. And in fact, an early title of this picture was “Buffalo Gals” after the popular song. So with that title in mind, and looking at the women dancing, you could almost start humming that song to yourself and the lines “Buffalo gals won’t you come out tonight, and we’ll dance by the light of the moon.” There is also the silhouetted group of people to the right of the picture who appear mesmerized by the sound of the crashing waves and the light flickering across the surface of the water. Homer conjures the sound of relentless splashing and churning. You can feel the spray, you can feel that cool breeze coming across that moonlight sea… https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/03/winslow-homers-summer-night-examined-at-harvard-art-museums/m

This nocturnal scene by the sea transcends observed reality through a keen sense of poetry and mystery… this is how the Musée d’Orsay experts describe Homer’s Summer Night. The light and shade effects blur shapes, the experts continue while the ghostly silhouettes of two women dance on the shore. Although it may well have been influenced by Courbet’s Waves, the lyricism tinged with mysticism expressed by Homer helped develop a feeling for nature that is peculiarly American. https://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/search/commentaire/commentaire_id/summer-night-2970.html

Winslow Homer, American Artist, 1836-1910
Summer Night (detail), 1890, Oil on canvas, 76.7×102 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France https://twitter.com/linshangon/status/1016569875190374400/photo/1

Winslow Homer is one of the finest 19th century American Artists. His career started as a graphic reporter during the American Civil War with paintings like Home, Sweet Home, and Sharpshooter on Picket Duty, of 1863, or Prisoners from the Front, of 1866 defining his early career. The late 1860s and the 1870s were, however, the artist’s finest years of artistic experimentation and prolific and varied output. Living and working in New York, but traveling to Paris, in late 1867, for the exhibition of two of his Civil War Paintings at the Exposition Universelle, Homer came face to face with the French avant-garde, and although there is little likelihood of influence, the artist shared their subject interests, their fascination with serial imagery, and their desire to incorporate into their works outdoor light, flat and simple forms (reinforced by their appreciation of Japanese design principles), and free brushwork. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/homr/hd_homr.htm

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

A Meissen Figurine of La Chocolatière

A Meissen Figure of La Chocolatière, circa 1870, porcelain, 36 cm, Private Collection https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/13951/lot/103/

I hate milk chocolate, don’t want clouds / of cream diluting the dark night sky, / don’t want pralines or raisins, rubble / in this smooth plateau. I like my / black, my beer from Germany, wine / from Burgundy, the darker, the better. / I like my heroes complicated and brooding, / James Dean in oiled leather, leaning / on a motorcycle. You know the color. / Oh, chocolate! From the spice bazaars / of Africa, hulled in mills, beaten, / pressed in bars. The cold slab of a cave’s / interior, when all the stars / have gone to sleep. / Chocolate strolls up to the microphone / and plays jazz at midnight, the low slow / notes of a bass clarinet. Chocolate saunters / down the runway, slouches in quaint / boutiques; its style is je ne sais quoi. / Chocolate stays up late and gambles, / likes roulette. Always bets / on the noir. Barbara Crooker, the author of More, wrote Ode to Chocolate and my mind travels back in time when Chocolate was… all the rage… and A Meissen Figurine of La Chocolatière the latest in the Art of Porcelain! https://www.tweetspeakpoetry.com/2014/02/12/8-chocolate-poems-love-chocolate/

Jean-Baptiste Charpentier the Elder, 1728-1806
The family of the Duke of Penthièvre called la tasse de chocolat, 1768, oil on canvas, 176×256 cm, Palace of Versailles, France https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:La_famille_du_Duc_de_Penthi%C3%A8vre_dit_la_tasse_de_chocolat.jpg

Three hundred years ago drinking Hot Chocolate was the latest fab in fashionable cities like Paris, London or Bath… At home, or in trendy chocolate houses the elite of Europe would gather and indulge on the silkiest smooth, most aromatic, succulent chocolate from Latin America… Chocolatières could make, and money could buy! Recipes varied by adding vanilla or cinnamon, nutmeg, milk and sugar so as every chocolate drinker’s palette be satisfied. And that was not enough… The grandest porcelain factories in Europe competed to produce the finest, most stylish, and expansive tableware this delicate, mouthwatering drink demanded! Chocolate pots had shorter spouts and lower handles than coffee pots and often had hinged finials to allow the molinet (a wooden ridged stick to roll and mix grated chocolate)  to be inserted. Two handled chocolate cups with their matching covers and saucers were distinctively different in style to tea or coffee cups and increasingly elegant designs were manufactured by leading porcelain factories such as Meissen in Dresden, Sevres in France or Worcester in England. https://museumofbatharchitecture.org.uk/hot-chocolate-in-the-18th-century/

Jean-Étienne Liotard, 1702-1789
The Chocolate Girl, 1744, pastel on parchment, 82.5×52.5 cm, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, Germany https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jean-Etienne_Liotard_-_The_Chocolate_Girl_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

The Meissen Figurine of La Chocolatière is a wonderful Rococo-inspired example of the European Chocolate fashion of the 19th century. The figurine copied Jean-Étienne Liotard’s pastel painting of The Chocolate Girl exhibited today in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden. Described by the Bonhams porcelain experts… the maidservant stands wearing a lace-trimmed bonnet, her dress decorated with colourful floral sprigs, holding a rectangular tray out before her, set on a square rocky base… This is a beautiful figurine to remind us of the small pleasures in life and help us celebrate World Chocolate Day! https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/13951/lot/103/

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

François Boucher, 1703-1770
Le Déjeuner, 1739, oil on canvas, 81.5 x 61.5 cm, Louvre Museum, Paris, France https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fran%C3%A7ois_Boucher_002.jpg