Thursday, June 26, 2014


Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699-1799)
L'enfant au Toton-1738
Oil on canvas 67 x 76 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris RF 1705
Jean-Étienne Liotard (Swiss, 1702-89)
La Belle Chocolatière, 1743-44
Pastel on parchment  82.5 x 52.5 cm
Gemäldegalerie Alter Meister, Dresden
A boy is spinning a top.  
A young woman is carrying a tray with hot chocolate and a glass of water.
Both are completely absorbed in their activities.
Do you think they notice us?
Has the boy already done his homework?
Is this his real hair or a wig?
Chardin took months to make a painting.  He carefully "composed" his pictures and left nothing to chance.  He had to decide where to place the things on the desk and how far to open the drawer.  He looked for the best spot where the boy would sit in front of the stripy wall covering.
The boy has a sensitive face.  He is fascinated, do you feel his full attention?  For how long will the top spin?
The Chocolate Girl is steadily looking ahead.   She concentrates, so the hot chocolate won't spill.
Find the reflections of a window.
How many different shades of grey and white do you see?
Can you spot the grain of the wood planks?
Take a close look at the hand behind the water glass.
Zoom in and you will see every tiny hair and the intricate lace of her cap.
These pictures were done around the same time as Tiepolo's lavish Banquet of Cleopatra (Old Masters Rock, 5/12/2014).
Chardin and Liotard chose simple settings and few colors.  Their pictures feel more "modern".  They were inspired by Dutch painters like Vermeer and Rembrandt (Old Masters Rock, 5/6/2014).
Both pictures are Genre paintings.  They depict scenes from every day life.
Pastel chalks are made of pure pigment bound by gum or resin.
You can paint fast with pastels colors.  They don't have to dry like oil paints. 
What would happen if you applied many layers of pastel on top of each other?
Parchment is made of animal skins.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


Joseph Wright 'of Derby' (British, 1734-97)
An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump-1768
Oil on canvas 183 x 244 cm
National Gallery London, Presented by Edward Tyrrell, 1863

A traveling scientist is visiting a family to demonstrate a scientific experiment.  
He is pumping the air out of the flask that contains a bird.
Do you think the bird can survive?
What kind of bird is it? (see the correct answer at the bottom)
Who is worried about the bird?  
Who is paying attention?
Who is in love?
Does the scientist remind you of a wizard who is trying to lure you into the scene?
It was the Age of Enlightenment.  Joseph Wright 'of Derby' was interested in science. He met with a group called the Lunar Society (lunar:relating to the moon).  Sometimes even one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin joined them.  
Do you find it exciting?
Why did the artist paint it at night?
Art detectives:  what do you think is in the glass jar on the table?  
What is the boy by the window doing?
Do you like the candlelight and the moon?  
Who owns the bird?
I don't think we have to worry about the bird. The scientist just wants to demonstrate how the bird needs oxygen.
The bird in the picture has always been called a cockatoo.   However, a nine year old bird lover informed me in no uncertain terms that it's a cockatiel.  
Reason: the cockatoo's crest is at the back of the head and the cockatiels at the front.  A cockatoo would also be too large for the flask.
See more Joseph Wright of Derby's pictures:

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


What is the first thing you notice in each face?
How do the people feel about themselves: confident, proud, vain, mean, kind, gentle, funny, powerful?

Piero della Francesca (Italian, 1420-92)
Portrait of Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino-1464-75
Tempera on wood panel
47 x 33 cm
Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Federico (1422-82) was a "Renaissance Man". He was intelligent, learned, supportive of the arts and he knew his place in the world.  
He was a military commander as well and lost his right eye in a jousting accident at a tournament.  His vision was so severely impaired that he had the bridge of his nose removed by a surgeon.  This allowed him to see his enemies approach from either side.  
Why did Piero paint his left side in profile?
He painted the Duke's wife in mirror image. Click and zoom:
Enter the Duke's magical study, "studiolo", in the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Piero della Francesca, was an early Renaissance master.  
When we look at the people he painted we understand how they feel.
He painted the walls of a church in Arezzo, they are wonderful:


Domenico Ghirlandaio (Italian, 1449-94)
An old man and a young boy, circa 1490
Tempera on wood panel
62.7 x 43.2 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
This double portrait was painted in Florence 20 years after Piero's picture.
Does the young boy mind the old man's deformed nose?
How do they feel about each other?
Is their house fancy or simple?  Are they rich or poor?  
He painted many frescoes and was Michelangelo's teacher for a short time.

Jean-Baptiste Dominique Ingres (French, 1780-1867)
Portrait of the Countess of Tournon
Signed and dated center right: Ingres. Rome 1812
Oil on canvas 92.5 x 83.2 cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Henry P. McIlhenny Collection in memory of Frances P. McIlhenny, 1986

She was witty and amusing.
Her bouncy curls seem to laugh.  Are her eyes sparkly?
Did she like fashion?
Spot a big wart:
When the museum was given the picture the varnish was a bit dirty and there was no wart.
The conservators removed the old varnish and out popped the wart.  At some point someone must have painted a bit of flesh color over that spot!
His style is called neoclassical. He admired Greek and Roman art. His pictures are smooth; he did not like to show brushstrokes.
He painted the countess in Rome where her son worked for Napoleon.  

John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925)
Madame X
Signed lower right: John S. Sargent 1884
Oil on canvas
208.6 x 109.9 cm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1916 (16.53)

Virginie Amélie Gautreau was an American living in Paris. She had great style.  Originally Sargent, who was also American, had painted the strap off her shoulder.  People did not like the picture at first, so he called her Madame X.  He changed the strap and kept the picture.  When the Met acquired the picture Sargent said "I suppose it is the best thing I have done".  He painted around 900 pictures.
If you could meet one person for one hour, who would it be?