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!

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!

Happy Birthday Miss Jones by Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell, 1894-1978
Happy Birthday Miss Jones, Saturday Evening Post cover March 17, 1956, The original oil on canvas painting is part of the collection of filmmaker George Lucas.
https://prints.nrm.org/detail/261035/rockwell-happy-birthday-miss-jones-school-teacher-1956

On the 5th of October, we celebrate World Teachers’ Day, by acknowledging the critical role teachers play in achieving inclusive, quality education for all… and recognizing that during the pandemic …teachers have shown, as they have done so often, great leadership and innovation in ensuring that #LearningNeverStops, that no learner is left behind. Around the world, they have worked individually and collectively to find solutions and create new learning environments for their students to allow education to continue… I would like to celebrate World Teachers’ Day with a Poem, The School Where I Studied, by Yehuda Amichai, and a Painting, Happy Birthday Miss Jones by Norman Rockwell. https://en.unesco.org/commemorations/worldteachersday

I passed by the school where I studied as a boy / and said in my heart: here I learned certain things / and didn’t learn others. All my life I have loved in vain / the things I didn’t learn. I am filled with knowledge, / I know all about the flowering of the tree of knowledge, / the shape of its leaves, the function of its root system, its pests and parasites. / I’m an expert on the botany of good and evil, / I’m still studying it, I’ll go on studying till the day die. / I stood near the school building and looked in. This is the room / where we sat and learned. The windows of a classroom always open / to the future, but in our innocence we thought it was only landscape / we were seeing from the window. / The schoolyard was narrow, paved with large stones. / I remember the brief tumult of the two of us / near the rickety steps, the tumult / that was the beginning of a first great love. / Now it outlives us, as if in a museum, / like everything else in Jerusalem.https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/40662/the-school-where-i-studied

The 17th of March 1956, Saturday Evening Post Magazine Cover Page with Norman Rockwell’s painting Happy Birthday Miss Jones
https://picclick.com/Saturday-Evening-Post-Magazine-March-17-1956-Norman-284335404003.html

On the 17th of March 1956, The Saturday Evening Post published Happy Birthday Miss Jones, one of my favourite Norman Rockwell paintings. The artist had a long-standing collaboration with The Saturday Evening Post, which he considered to be the greatest show window in America. The collaboration started in 1916 when the 22-year-old Rockwell painted his first cover for the magazine and continued over the next 47 years. By 1963, when the collaboration with the Post ended, 322 Rockwell paintings had appeared on the cover of the magazine. https://www.nrm.org/about/about-2/about-norman-rockwell/

Photo half-length portrait of Norman Rockwell, facing left, arms folded, 1921, Library of Congress, USA
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rockwell-Norman-LOC.jpg

I would like to draw your attention to page 82 of Picturing America, and how masterfully the controversy over Rockwell the artist, or Rockwell the illustrator, is addressed… Rockwell had been born into a world in which painters crossed easily from the commercial world to that of the gallery, as Winslow Homer had done. By the 1940s, however, a division had emerged between the fine arts and the work for hire that Rockwell produced. The detailed, homespun images he employed to reach a mass audience were not appealing to an art community that now lionized intellectual and abstract works. But Rockwell knew his strengths did not lie in that direction: “Boys batting flies on vacant lots,” he explained in 1936, “little girls playing jacks on the front steps; old men plodding home at twilight, umbrella in hand — all these things arouse feeling in me.” https://picturingamerica.neh.gov/downloads/pdfs/Resource_Guide/English/English_PA_TeachersGuide.pdf

In 1956 his feelings motivated him to pay tribute to his own 8th Grade teacher who had encouraged him to draw. Using a real Elementary School classroom in his hometown, Stockbridge, as his reference, and local models, Rockwell painted Happy Birthday Miss Jones to popular praise. The composition is highly organized, the colour tones are warm (even the greys), and the light is soft. This is a familiar scene we have all experienced, a moment we cherish, and a Norman Rockwell painting we love!

The original oil on canvas painting is part of the collection of filmmaker George Lucas and was on display at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American Art in 2010. A pencil on joined paper study of the painting, also owned by Lucas, was also on display alongside the original painting. http://www.best-norman-rockwell-art.com/1956-happy-birthday-miss-jones.html#ixzz73lTatp76

It’s worth watching! …a Video on Rockwell’s painting of Miss Jones created by the Saturday Evening Post, on May 22, 2019… https://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2019/05/rockwell-video-minute-happy-birthday-miss-jones/

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!

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!

Lansdowne Portrait of George Washington

Gilbert Stuart,  American Artist, 1755–1828
Portrait of George Washington, the Lansdowne Type, 1796, oil on canvas, 243.8×152.4 cm, National Portrait Gallery , Washington, DC https://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.2001.13

My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth… George Washington once said… and every 4th of July I think how foresighted he was… every 4th of July the Lansdowne Portrait of George Washington comes to my mind and I pay my respects to a great man! https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/george_washington_118910

Sarah Goodridge, American Artist, 1788-1853
Portrait of Gilbert Stuart, c. 1825, watercolour on ivory, 83×71 mm, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC, USA

When I can net a sum sufficient to take me to America, I shall be off to my native soil.  There I expect to make a fortune by [portraits of] Washington alone.  I calculate upon making a plurality of his portraits, whole lengths, what will enable me to realize; and if I should be fortunate, I will repay my English and Irish creditors. To Ireland and English, I shall be adieu. What a plan Gilbert Stuart had… and he was fortunate to accomplish it! It was early May of 1793 when the artist arrived in New York City, and he immediately put his plan to work. In 1794 a letter of introduction by John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, an old acquaintance since Stuart’s London days, and a close political confidant to George Washington, was provided, and the rest is history. Gilbert Stuart painted three different types of portraits of the 1st American President and dozens of subsequent copies. The “Vaughan Type” shows Washington facing slightly to his left, the “Athenaeum Type” shows the first president facing to his right, and the “Lansdowne Type” is a full-length portrait. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-americas/british-colonies/early-republic/a/gilbert-stuarts-lansdowne-portrait

Although I particularly like the Athenaeum Portrait, I find the full-length Lansdowne Type best befitting its purpose… grand and imposing, the portrait of a distinguished representative of the new American Democracy. The portrait was commissioned by Senator and Mrs. William Bingham of Pennsylvania as a gift to the Marquis of Lansdowne, an English supporter of American independence. Standing in front of the Lansdowne Portrait remember that the Smithsonian experts ask the viewer to consider three filters exploring this American treasure. Each one of these three different filters – symbolic (consider the represented objects surrounding the Portrait), biographic (Washington’s achievement and character are of the utmost importance), and artistic (let us not forget Stuart’s artistic abilities and personality) – will provide unique information and a distinct interpretation. https://www.georgewashington.si.edu/portrait/non-flash.html

Gilbert Stuart,  American Artist,1755–1828
Portrait of George Washington, the Lansdowne Type – Details, 1796, oil on canvas, 243.8×152.4 cm, National Portrait Gallery , Washington, DC, USA
https://georgewashington.si.edu/portrait/sword.html
https://georgewashington.si.edu/portrait/inkwell.html
https://georgewashington.si.edu/portrait/chair.html

In an advertisement for the first exhibition of the Lansdowne portrait in 1798, we read…  He (George Washington) is surrounded with allegorical emblems of his public life in the service of his country, which are highly illustrative of the great and tremendous storms which have frequently prevailed. These storms have abated, and the appearance of the rainbow is introduced in the background as a sign. No doubt, all embellishments presented by the artist were chosen to further stress symbolic ideas to viewers.

He is the best and the greatest man the world ever knew… Neither depressed by disappointment and difficulties nor elated with temporary success. He retreats like a General and attacks like a Hero. Wrote the composer Francis Hopkinson as a reference to the president’s character. All you have to do is look at his relaxed posture, his expended hand, and unpretentious attire to understand Washington’s character and political strength.

Gilbert Stuart,  American Artist, 1755–1828
Portrait of George Washington, the Lansdowne Type – Details, 1796, oil on canvas, 243.8×152.4 cm, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC, USA
https://georgewashington.si.edu/portrait/rainbow.html
https://georgewashington.si.edu/portrait/books2.html
https://georgewashington.si.edu/portrait/clouds.html

Finally, let’s not forget the artist of the Portrait, Gilbert Stuart… the man Abigail Adams described as… Genius and Eccentric, the man you do not know how to take hold of… nor by what means to prevail upon him to fulfill his engagements.

For a PowerPoint, please… Check HERE!

White Ships by John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent, American artist, 1856-1925
White Ships, circa 1908, Translucent and opaque watercolor and wax resist with graphite underdrawing, 35.6 x 49.2 cm, Brooklyn Museum, NY, USA https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/20397

Strange flight, the body / Held at a threshold / And never quite freed    /    Or quite revealed— / One wing taut with wind, / One wing concealed    /    Until the wind grows calm / And it shimmers in a shadow-world, / The shape of a sail, yet softer—    /    The drifting boat / A bird half in air, / Half in water… writes Heather Allen, and I think of White Ships by John Singer Sargent and a perfect day in the sea… anywhere in the world! https://www.tweetspeakpoetry.com/2017/02/09/top-10-ship-sail-boat-poems/

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

John Singer Sargent, American artist, 1856-1925
Self-Portrait, 1906, oil on canvas, 70×53 cm, the MET, NY, USA https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sargent,_John_SInger_(1856-1925)_-_Self-Portrait_1907_b.jpg

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

Painting the characteristic Mediterranean sailing boats and fishing vessels was a favourite theme of Sargent’s watercoloures. The Brooklyn White Ships is by far my favourite. The subject matter is purely “marine,” the lines communicate energy and the colours bask on summer chaleur! The artist focuses on the sails, the mast and the prow of each boat, the blue of the sky and the reflections on the seawater. Controlled tones of blue and white suggest subtle shadows while brushstrokes of colour on the water create an interaction of light a shade. How more summery can it get!

When I discuss John Singer Sargent’s Watercolours with my Students I always give them a copy of the Brooklyn Museum – Teaching Resource: Special Exhibition – John Singer Sargent Watercolors – April 5–July 28, 2013. It is a great source of information and provides many sources for Student Activities.

For a PowerPoint on John Singer Sargent’s Watercolours, please…  Click HERE!

Idle Hours by William Merritt Chase

William Merritt Chase, American painter, 1849-1916
Idle Hours, 1894, oil on canvas, 90.17×64.77 cm, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Texas

“The first lily of June opens its red mouth. / All over the sand road where we walk / multiflora rose climbs trees cascading / white or pink blossoms, simple, intense / the scene drifting like colored mist.    /    The arrowhead is spreading its creamy / clumps of flower and the blackberries / are blooming in the thickets. Season of / joy for the bee. The green will never / again be so green, so purely and lushly    /    new, grass lifting its wheaty seedheads / into the wind. Rich fresh wine / of June, we stagger into you smeared / with pollen, overcome as the turtle / laying her eggs in roadside sand.” More Than Enough is a lovely poem by Marge Piercy. Idle Hours by William Merritt Chase is a wonderful painting to make us dream of summer days… https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/42466/more-than-enough

My God, I’d rather go to Europe than go to heaven… William Merritt Chase apparently said back in 1872 when a group of St. Louis businessmen offered him the financial support to study in Europe. He was a young, talented man from Indiana, and the Royal Academy in Munich, Germany, was his choice for Art studies. Less distracting… compared to Paris, he probably thought… but the more Academic Munich Art scene did not keep Chase from exploring the latest in European Art. The flashy brushwork and dramatic chiaroscuro espoused by Wilhelm Leibl, Gustave Courbet‘s German friend and stylistic alter ego was what he espoused in Munich along with the painterly realism of old masters such as Peter Paul Rubens and Frans Hals. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/chas/hd_chas.htm

William Merritt Chase, American painter, 1849-1916
Self-Portrait, 1915-16, oil on canvas, 133.3×161.2 cm, Richmond Art Museum, Richmond, IN, USA

I intend to have the finest studio in New York… he told a friend… and in 1978, back in New York, he did… by renting a small studio in the prestigious Tenth Street Studio Building in Greenwich Village. That studio became the perfect setting for the elegant, debonair image he contrived for himself. He traveled back and forth to Europe, visited the latest art shows, meeting artists and collectors, exploring the modern look, experimenting with subjects of relaxation in an innovative style,  and set himself to become the finest members of the American artistic community.  https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/chas/hd_chas.htm

Archival  Photographs of the Shinnecock Summer School on Long Island
https://aaqeastend.com/contents/the-art-village/

In 1891 William Merritt Chase became the leading Art Teacher of the prestigious, but equally popular and fashionable, Shinnecock Summer School on Long Island. He was happy at Shinnecock as he was able to practice open-air painting for twelve consecutive summers in an elegant environment he enjoyed. He taught two days every week and then… I imagine him in his veranda… overlooking the ocean, among members of his family, content and overwhelmed by the changing effects of light, creating some of his finest, vivid landscapes.  

William Merritt Chase, American painter, 1849-1916
Idle Hours (detail), 1894, oil on canvas, 90.17×64.77 cm, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Texas
https://gallerythane.com/products/william-merritt-chase-fine-art-print-idle-hours

To celebrate the Summer Solstice of 2021, I chose to present the 1894 painting Idle Hours by William Merritt Chase exhibited today at Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Texas. The painting shows the artist’s wife in a red bonnet with two of her daughters and possibly his sister-in-law. The group enjoys a perfect day of sunshine and sea breeze while indulging in the idyllic pastime of reading outdoors. The Shinnecock dunes and beach, the yellowy, summer greens of the landscape and the flickering light, create a painting of summer bliss I particularly enjoy… and hope, you will enjoy as well… https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/idle-hours-william-merritt-chase/aAGRt5_rnKp-qw and https://www.wga.hu/html_m/c/chase/idlehour.html

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

Constantino Brumidi

Constantino Brumidi, 1805-1880
The Apotheosis of Washington, 1865, Fresco, 4,664 square feet, United States Capitol Building’s Rotunda, Washington, DC

Myrtle Cheney Murdock, the wife of John R. Murdock, the elected congressman from Arizona, was a teacher and an enthusiastic tour guide at the United States Capitol. She was amazed and dismayed at how little was known about Constantino Brumidi, the Greek/Italian/American artist of the Apotheosis of Washington on the Capitol’s Rotunda Dome. She frequently asked, “How can countless exquisite frescoes and paintings adorn our Capitol Building and yet the American people have little or no knowledge of their existence?” Researching for her Monograph on Constantino Brumidi, Michelangelo of the United States Capitol, she discovered the artist buried in an unmarked grave in Glenwood Cemetery. Myrtle Cheney Murdock’s research and dedication to Constantino Brumidi led to a posthumous appreciation of the artist’s artistic achievements and a commemorative plaque placed over his tomb in 1952, inscribed with a wish allegedly expressed by Brumidi back in 1855: “I have no longer any desire for fame and fortune. My one ambition and my daily prayer is that I may live long enough to make beautiful the Capitol of the one country on earth in which there is liberty.”     https://www.washingtonpost.com/gdpr-consent/?next_url=https%3a%2f%2fwww.washingtonpost.com%2flocal%2fbrumidi-study-of-capitol-dome-painting-to-go-to-smithsonian%2f2012%2f03%2f05%2fgIQAclhhtR_story.html     and     https://www.senate.gov/reference/reference_item/Michelangelo_of_the_US_Capitol.htm

Constantino Brumidi, 1805-1880
The Apotheosis of Washington, 1865, Fresco, 4,664 square feet, United States Capitol Building’s Rotunda, Washington, DC

Constantino Brumidi’s father was Stavros Brumidis from Filiatra in the Peloponnese, who, after the 1770 Orlov insurrection, a major precursor to the Greek War of Independence in 1821, and fearing Ottoman repercussions,  fled Greece for Italy. Stavros Brumidis settled in Rome, married  Anna Bianchini, opened a coffee shop to support his family and in 1805 became the father of a boy named Constantino. The boy was artistic and talented, studied Art for fourteen years at the Academy of St. Luke in Rome and became quite successful as a fresco painter working for the Vatican. In 1849 he was caught up in the Italian Risorgimento, he was arrested, accused of serious crimes and sentenced to eighteen years in prison. The Pope pardoned him but his only hope for freedom was to leave Italy for the United States.     https://www.aoc.gov/explore-capitol-campus/art/constantino-brumidi

Constantino Brumidi, 1805-1880
The Apotheosis of Washington (detai), 1865, Fresco, 4,664 square feet, United States Capitol Building’s Rotunda, Washington, DC

Brumidi reached the United States in September 1852 and for the next two years he worked, on private or church commissions in New York, Massachusetts and Mexico City. In December 1854 he met with Captain Montgomery C. Meigs, the Army Corps of Engineers officer who was supervising the construction of extensions to the Capitol. Impressed with Brumidi’s credentials, Meigs offered him the opportunity to paint for the United States Capitol through the 1860s and the 1870s. His major contribution  is the 1865 Apotheosis of Washington and the frieze of the new Capitol Dome.

For a PowerPoint on the Apotheosis of Washington, please… check HERE!

Constantino Brumidi, 1805-1880
The Apotheosis of Washington (detail), 1865, Fresco, 4,664 square feet, United States Capitol Building’s Rotunda, Washington, DC