Thursday, May 29, 2014


Édouard Manet (French, 1832-83)
The Railway
Signed and dated lower right: Manet 1873
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Gift of Horace Havemeyer in memory of his mother, Louisine W. Havemeyer, 1951.10.1 
Can you hear the thundering train approaching?  Is the train blowing off steam?  Where is the train?
Are we disrupting the woman in her reading?  The puppy does not seem to mind the noise.

Manet did this picture in the backyard of a friend's house.
You can see the windows of his studio in the upper left corner.
He painted this picture with quick, single brushstrokes.  The contrasts are sharp.  If he did not like something, he wiped the wet paint off with a cloth.  Zoom and you will see the raw canvas in some areas.

Manet was not an Impressionist!  He was friends with the Impressionists and they influenced each other. Manet and Monet were not related.
Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926)
The Saint-Lazare Station
Signed and dated lower right: 1877 Claude Monet
Oil on canvas, 75 x 105 cm
Pairs, Musée d'Orsay, Gustave Caillebotte Bequest, 1894
Monet was an Impressionist.
He sat inside the Saint-Lazare train station with his canvas and painted what he saw on the spot (en plein air).  How fast did he have to paint?  He was not interested in small details.  His picture is all about atmosphere, colors, light and the steam.  There are no hard edges and the colors blend.  
He painted this train station twelve times in different light and from various angles:

The First Class Carriage-1864
Watercolor, ink wash and charcoal on wove paper
20.5 x 30 cm
The Second Class Carriage-1864
20.5 x 30.1 cm
Watercolor, ink wash and charcoal on wove paper
The Third Class Carriage-1864
Watercolor, ink wash and charcoal laid paper
20.3 x 29.5 cm
All three Daumier watercolors:
Commissioned from the artist by William T. Walters;
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore MD, Henry Walters Bequest
Daumier liked to make fun of people.
What kind of mood are these passengers in?  Are they rich or poor?
In which carriage would you travel?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Caspar David Friedrich (German, 1774-1840)
The Sea of Ice
Painted 1823-4
Oil on canvas, 97.6 x 126.9 cm
Kunsthalle Hamburg, Germany
Frederic Edwin Church (American, 1826-1900)
The Icebergs
Signed and dated lower left: F.E. Church 1861
Oil on canvas, 164 x 286 cm
Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Norma and Lamar Hunt
No one owns it.  
The North Pole is in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. There is no land, only ice.
The Arctic sea ice keeps the global climate balanced and cool.

Icebergs break off from iceberg producing land glaciers.  This is called calving.  
Large chunks of ice are called floes.  When floes collide they form a jagged line of ice chunks.
Navigating in the Arctic ocean is dangerous. The ice is constantly moving. 
The Titanic struck icebergs near Newfoundland on it's maiden voyage to New York in 1912.
Watch a large iceberg calving:
In which painting are chunks of ice colliding?
Why did both artists paint shipwrecks?
Who is stronger, nature or man?
Which picture was done first?
Friedrich never went to the North Pole. 
He read about Parry's 1819 Arctic expedition in search of the Northwest Passage (connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans). 
During a cold winter in Dresden he saw large packs of ice floating on the river Elbe. 
This inspired him to create the painting.
Kunsthalle Hamburg
Church went to Newfoundland and Labrador where he made sketches.  
He used very small brushstrokes so the picture would look more "real".
He painted Icebergs in 1861 the year of the onslaught of the American Civil War.
People loved the Icebergs and a British man bought it.  It disappeared until it was found in 1978 in a boy's boarding school in Manchester, Britain.  

Watch what lies beneath the ice:

Monday, May 12, 2014


Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Venetian, 1696-1770)
The Banquet of Cleopatra, 1743-4
Oil on canvas, 250.3 x 357.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia
Fenton Bequest, 1933 (103-4)
The kingdom of Egypt was nearing its end. Queen Cleopatra was ruling Egypt alongside the Roman general Mark Antony.  They got married and spent too much time and money on parties and other pleasures.
Mark Antony was known for his lavish taste in food and wine.  Cleopatra bet that she could throw an even fancier banquet than Mark Antony.  For the occasion Cleopatra wore earrings with the largest, most precious pearls in the world.  At first the meal was simple.  Mark Antony laughed at her and thought he had won the bet.  Then came desert.   She took off one earring and dropped the pearl in a glass of vinegar.  The pearl dissolved and Cleopatra drank it.  Lucius Plancus seated next to Mark Antony at the table was the referee.  He declared Mark Antony the loser.   
(From Pliny the Elder's Natural History, AD77-79)
Rome declared war on Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Rome won the war and Egypt became part of the Roman Empire.

For closer viewing copy and paste this link:

It's huge: 2.5 x 3.75 meters.  
Which moment of the story did Tiepolo paint?
Do you know anyone who'd swallow a precious pearl over a silly bet?
Are you surprised that it was the end of Egypt?
Is the scene set in Egypt or in Venice? Hint: look at the architecture and the dresses.
What could the servants be whispering to each other?
On the balustrade people are pointing fingers and playing music.
Look for people behind the pillars.
Can you see Mark Antony's face?
What is their body language telling us?

The Venetian Giovanni Battista Tiepolo was a super star. His pictures are like theater sets.  Like Mark Antony and Cleopatra, Venetians in the 18th century were big spenders. Together with his son, Giandomenico, he painted glorious ceilings in castles.  He painted more of the story of Mark Antony and Cleopatra in the Palazzo Labia in Venice (closed to the public).  The most dazzling ceiling is in Würzburg, Germany, Apollo and the Continents, 1750-3:

Our painting made an interesting journey.  It belonged to Augustus III of Saxony, King of Poland and then to the Tzars of Russia.  It was sold by the Soviets to the museum in Melbourne in 1932. After 200 years of travel I suspect it has found it's final home.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606-69)
The Kitchen Maid, 1651
Oil on canvas, 78 x 64 cm
Nationalmuseum Stockholm
Johannes Vermeer (1632-75)
The Milkmaid, c.1660
oil on canvas, 45.5 x 41 cm
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
Two of the greatest artist of all time lived 64 km apart from each other and probably did not know one another.
Both painted household maids instead of princesses in fancy silk dresses.
Rembrandt was 45 when he painted The Kitchen Maid in 1651 in the bustling metropolis of Amsterdam.  
About nine years later the 28 year old Vermeer painted The Milkmaid in the small town of Delft. The Netherlands was a very rich country then. More people could read there than in any other place in the world.  

Do the two young women look content?
In one painting the woman looks straight at us and it feels as though one could talk to her.
In the other painting the woman looks down on her chore with a little smile.  
Would you like to taste the bread pudding the milkmaid is preparing?
Both women have big, strong hands.  Who's hands are sunburned?
Which picture was painted on a dark ground and which one on a light ground?   
How many colors does each artist use? 
Rembrandt placed this painting in the window of his house to trick passersby.   He wanted them to think it was a real person.  Do you think his trick worked?
Where does the golden light come from? The brushstrokes are swift and sure and create a warm atmosphere.  She is leaning forward and relaxing her head in her hand.  Is she tired from her work?
There are three tiles behind a foot warmer.  Find one of Cupid and one of a single man.   Could those tiles be a hint that the milkmaid is in love? Is the kitchen elegant or simple?
Zoom in on a broken window pane and the holes in the wall. 
The light shining through the window casts it's shadow and creates contrasts.  Can you see the outside?
Vermeer applies many layers of paint.  At the end he dabs thick dots of highlights.
Rembrandt painted 600 paintings and Vermeer painted 32.  Both were poor at the end of their lives. Do you like one painting more than the other-why? Who took longer to paint his picture?
Let me know how you feel on: