Thursday, November 19, 2015


Signed and dated lower right: Eug. Delacroix 1830
Oil on canvas
260 x 325 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Can you hear the explosions and the war cries of the people?
Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People is a powerful symbol of Freedom and of the Triumph of the French Republic!
In July 1830 Parisians had taken to the streets when the King suspended the freedom of the press and decreed other restrictive measures. 
Delacroix saw the events, felt the emotions and put it all on a huge canvas. 
How long do you think it too the artist to complete the work, days, months or years? The answer is below!
Since the Roman Goddess Libertas, a woman personifies Liberty. 
Does she look weak or strong in this picture?
Is she a lady who dines with kings and queens or a muscly workingwoman with hairy armpits?  Is she wearing a fashionable French dress or a simple tunic?
Is she worried that her tunic slipped?
In one hand she is holding the tricolored French flag.  Do you remember the symbols of the flag?
 Liberté(freedom: blue), égalité (equality: white), fraternité (brotherhood: red). 
On her head is a “liberty cap” that was worn by freed slaves in Roman times.
Describe what Liberty means!
How would you draw a picture of Liberty?
Can you name a famous symbol of Liberty in the United States?  Do you think the French sculptor of the Statue of Liberty had seen this painting at the Louvre before he made the famous sculpture fifty years after the painting? 
How is the Statue of Liberty different to this painting?
France saw three Revolutions in less than sixty years.  In 1848 France finally became a Republic.  
In Delacroix’s huge canvas, Liberty steps triumphant over the bodies of the fallen soldiers of the monarchy.
Everyone is on the street; factory workers, a bourgeois in top hat, students and street urchins.  They are all fighting the monarchist soldiers.  Can you spot Notre Dame in the background? 
Is the boy on the right who is waving two pistols about your age? Victor Hugo probably based Gavroche in Les Misérables on this boy.
The elegant man with a top hat on the left may be the artist himself. 
The picture is not only a symbol of Liberty, but a revolution in art.  The great Romantic artist painted a real life event that he saw with his own eyes and transformed it into a powerful image, honoring France.
What are the colors in the picture?
He made many sketches and it took him three months to complete the work!
Delacroix and Liberty were on the 100 Franc banknote until the Euro was introduced in 1999.  

Delacroix was the quintessential Parisian. Two years after painting Liberty he traveled to North Africa.  The trip left a profound mark on him and he painted many beautiful Orientalist images thereafter.
Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  No revolution, war or cowardly attack will ever break the spirit of the French people.  Parisians are steadfast and will not be trampled on. Vive la France!

Friday, October 16, 2015


Oil on canvas
181 x 125 cm
Painted 1802-12
Palais des Beaux-Arts, Lille


How are you?
Is that question for us? What do you feel when you look at this painting?
Are you scared or do you laugh?
Which old crone do you pick for Halloween?
The one dressed in black on the left is holding “Que tal?”(“how are you?” in Spanish) for her mistress.  Is the answer good or bad?  Is she showing her a book or a mirror?
Here is a list of what you need for her costume:
A black wig
A mantilla (a lace shawl worn over a high comb by Spanish women)
Lots of make-up
A pig’s snout
A set of fake teeth 
Do you pick the rich one with the blond hair? 
She is dressed like a queen, dripping in jewels.  
Her dress is made of the finest white and gold muslin, tied with playful blue ribbons. Is that dress befitting a young girl or a toothless old bat? What is she holding in her gnarled hands?
Does she even have teeth?
Father Time, hovering behind, is about to sweep them up with his broom.  He has a deep frown line on his forehead.  What is he worried about?
Are they sitting in a palace or in a bare room?  Might it even be a church?
Do the chairs look comfortable?
Are these women vain?
Try and figure out the moral of the story! 
Do these women have a problem growing old gracefully and is time on their side?
Is this a fantasy or reality?
Is this a traditional, life size portrait of a mistress with her maid?  
How did Goya paint it?  In other pictures I have mentioned impasto, thick paint, and glazes, pigment thinned with oil. Is this picture painted with impasto or glazes?
Both are true, Goya built up his paint with glazes.  Thinly applied glazes create the appearance of the dress being transparent for example.  He then daubed on the highlights with thicker impasto.  
Goya painted this picture when he was completely deaf, he had lost his hearing at the age of 47. He lived under the rule of the Spanish kings and of Napoleon.  Throughout his life the church had an iron grip on its people.  Goya recorded the horrors of war and the whims of people.  Nothing escaped his eagle eye and he hated superstitions. 
Goya makes us laugh, cry and be terrified of witches.  He can be brutal and real; dream-like and nightmarish. 

Goya was a radical artist and some would say a crazy, romantic genius. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


ENGUERRAND QUARTON  (French, c. 1410 – c. 1466)
Tempera on panel
183 x 222 cm
Val de Bénediction Charterhouse, Villeneuve-lès-Avignon
Have you ever done a Rorschach test?  Dribble ink in the center of a piece of paper and fold it in half.  You will get two identical sides.  You will then be asked what you see in the image!

Now, let’s look at the painting. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you look at this painting?
Can you guess how many people are in the picture?
Why are the large figures hovering above the small crucifixion? 
The colors?

If you were to fold the photo of the picture down the middle, would both sides seem almost identical? This is called symmetry!
Spot the differences!
Psychologists say that when we look at a picture or house, the first thing we look for is symmetry.
Where else can you find symmetry?
Hint: look in the mirror!

The two male figures on either side of the Virgin represent God the Father and God the Son.  The dove, which is nestled in the crown, is the symbol of the Holy Spirit.   These three represent the Trinity in the Catholic faith. People visiting the church in Villeneuve in 1454 knew exactly who was who in the picture. 
Is the Virgin being crowned on earth or in heaven? 
The wings of the dove are touching the lips of the Father and the Son.  Is this a secret code or a message to be quiet?
Why is the Virgin so much larger than her crucified Son below? 
Is she sitting on a throne or hovering above earth on some puffy clouds?
Can you see the cream-colored silk lining of the Virgin’s cloak in some areas?
Are there any shadows?

If you were an angel would you be an elegant red Seraphim or a chubby-cheeked blue Cherub? You can choose to be a large angel with blue wings.  You could also be the pink angel who is helping people into heaven on the lower left.  Or would you want to be throwing people into hell on the lower right? Can you think of a bully in your school that should spend some time down there?

Find a monk wearing a white habit.  He is kneeling by the crucifix.  This monk asked Quarton to paint this picture for his monastery in the south of France.  He had previously traveled to Rome (shown here on the left) and to Jerusalem (shown on the right). 
What favorite places would be in your painting?

The motto of the monk’s religious order is:  “The Cross is steady while the world is turning”.  Does Quarton convey the spirit of this motto in this painting?  The Carthusian monks live like hermits, in silence, within their monasteries called charterhouses.
Like Fouquet, “The Queen of Heaven”, Quarton was a 15th century French painter and illustrator of books.  Only a handful of paintings survive today.
Fun Fact:  The painting is still hanging in the same Charterhouse for which Quarton painted it in 1453-4.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


JEAN FOUQUET (French, Tours circa 1420-1481)
Painted around1452
Oil on panel
94,5 x 85,5 cm
Antwerp, Royal Museum of Fine Arts

When you play kings and queens do you wear a crown, a robe and sit on a throne giving orders?
Would you shave your hairline to give the impression that you have a very high forehead? 
Name the jewels in the crown!
Are the tassels of the throne made of real gold thread? Ermines have little dark tails and make up the fur lining of the white silk coronation robe. How does Fouquet manage to make the gauze veil look so transparent?
Does the Virgin look like a real person or did Fouquet invent that perfectly beautiful face?  She was real and her name was Agnes Sorel.   They say Agnes was the most beautiful woman in the world and she was a close friend of the King.
Jesus seems to be floating on the folds of the cape.  Instead of drinking milk, he is showing us something to the left. 
The Madonna makes up the right half of a Diptych.  A diptych (from the Greek word for the number two) is an altar that is small enough for travel. It is made of two same size panels that are hinged together and that can be folded and shut. The left half represents Saint Steven with Etienne Chevalier, the Treasurer of the King. He had commissioned Fouquet to paint the diptych.  The diptych was taken apart in the 18th century.  (The other half is in the Gemäldegalerie Berlin, look for “the Melun Diptych” on the Internet!)
Cherubim guard the heavenly throne. We don’t see the bodies of the blue cherubs; only one little foot is peeking out on the right edge.  In medieval times blue was the symbol of heaven.
Seraphim (Hebrew: “the burning ones”) carry the throne.  They normally have six wings, two to fly and two to cover their eyes.  Spot an extra wing on the seraphim who is looking demandingly at us. Fouquet paints these angels in “burning” red, the color of love! 
Can you spot the reflection of Fouquet’s studio window on the two balls of the throne?
Does the skin tone of the mother and child resemble white marble or real skin?
What are the three main colors in the picture?
Hint: the king’s coat of arms was made of red, white and blue!
Fouquet worked for Charles VII and also illustrated beautiful books.  Joan of Arc had put Charles on the throne at the end of a war that lasted one hundred years.  Charles had a wife but his true love was Agnes.
Agnes had already died by the time Fouquet painted her, but her beauty was unforgettable. 

Fouquet had traveled to Italy to see great art.  He also admired Jan van Eyck (see previous blog)who was a bit older.  His style of painting represents the transition between the late Gothic and Early Renaissance.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


WINSLOW HOMER (American, 1836-1910)
Signed lower right: WINSLOW HOMER N.A./1877
Oil on canvas
50,8 x 76,2 cm
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
It’s a gorgeous Independence Day, time to get ready for the parade!   On this 4th of July, 1877 temperatures in Virginia may climb to the 90’s.  What time of the day is it? People are getting ready early in the morning while it’s still cool.
Will you make your own costume or does someone have to sew you into your outfit?  Would you like dress as a Harlequin?  What is a Harlequin anyway; a sort of clown?  What are the colors of the Harlequin’s costume? 
His costume is usually made of red, blue and yellow patches. The Harlequin is the funny character from the 16th century Italian Commedia del’ Arte, (Comedy of Art), a vagabond troupe that traveled from village to village to entertain people with funny stories.  If you want to be the Harlequin your role will be to play tricks on people, especially your master.  
One kid is prepared for the heat and is carrying a straw fan.  Did the kids buy that fan or make it themselves?  
The dazzling light is throwing patches of highlights on the group.  What does the Harlequin have in his mouth?  Will the woman who is smoking the pipe catch the butterfly?  The woman on the left is sewing a button on the Harlequin’s costume.  What is the little girl on the left holding?  Do you think she is standing by herself because she wants to be the first to go to the party?  
The kids are not wearing shoes, even though there may be snakes in the grass.  Are their clothes new or are they also made of patches and rags?
In 1877 African Americans have only been free from slavery for twelve years and they are very poor.  
For the Carnival, people dress up in costumes and party. 
Junkanoo was a festival that was celebrated during times of slavery.
The 4th of July is the day Americans celebrate Independence from Great Britain.   
How many flags can you spot?
Do you think this picture is a mix of all three celebrations?  Will everyone have a great time?
En plein air is French for “in the open air”.  Do you think Homer painted this picture en plein air with his easel propped up in the fenced-in garden?   
During the Civil War Homer worked for a magazine as an illustrator.  With the help of Homer’s pictures people could find out what was going on in the war from the magazine.  After the war ended and slavery was abolished Homer returned to Virginia to see how people lived.  He originally called this picture:  Sketch-4th of July in Virginia.
Homer had been to Paris in 1867.  He wanted to develop his own way of painting but might have seen the work of Édouard Manet (p..) and other French artists.
Many think that Homer is the greatest American artist of the Nineteenth Century.  In addition to oil paintings he made some stunningly beautiful watercolors.  

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Signed and dated lower left:  A L Girodet f.cit an V.
Oil on canvas
159,5x 112,8 cm
An is French for year and the Roman numeral V stands for the 5th year in the French revolutionary calendar. It is the year 1796 in our Gregorian calendar.
Château de Versailles
Do you think Monsieur Belley has had a hard life or an easy life?
Is he young or middle-aged?
Is he proud or modest, foolish or wise? 
Can he be easily bullied?
Has he done manual labor? Look at the veins in his hands and the marble of the pedestal!
Is he done fighting or must he continue?
Imagine being born about 270 years ago in Senegal, West Africa.  You are two years old when you are being sold as a slave to Saint-Domingue, present day Haiti.  You arrive in the French colony in the Caribbean, far away from Senegal.  You are one of 500,000 slaves who speak many different African languages. You cannot always understand each other.
Dawn to dusk you toil away in the sweltering heat.  You harvest coffee and sugar cane.  This puts coffee and sweets on the dining tables of Europe.
You save up your earnings to buy your freedom.   
You become an infantry officer and fight in a revolution on the island.  You then travel to Paris and represent Saint-Domingue in France.  Do you think people always treated you with respect?  
You are the elected deputy from Saint-Domingue.   Your name is Jean-Baptiste Belley and you are at long last a free citizen of France.
Belley is leaning on a pedestal with a white marble bust. Raynal had written in favor of the abolition of slavery.  Even though Raynal’s head is much bigger than Belley’s, they are on the same level. Are they equals?
The Revolutionary Wars are raging in Europe. A young artist Anne-Louis Girodet (he is a man, despite his first name) has been asked to paint the achievements of the Revolution. Does Girodet paint Belley in his studio or on top of the hill?  Does the landscape look French or Caribbean?  Spot some smoke coming from a burning building!  This may remind us of the revolution Belley fought on the island.
We are looking up at Belley who is gazing at the sky.  Do you feel like tapping his muscly arm so he turns around and looks at you?  Why is he wearing a shiny gold earring?   In Roman times a freed slave who advanced to the rank of knight was allowed to wear a gold ring and run for public office. 
The tricolored silk sash is tied around the waist of his uniform. The uniform shows that you represent the people.  This is the first painting of an African-born man as a powerful western ruler.  Do you know the three colors of the French flag?
 “Liberty-Equality-Fraternity” is the motto of Haiti and of France!
In 1802 Napoleon reinstates slavery. Together with Napoleon’s brother-in-law, Belley returns to Saint-Domingue in 1802.  There he is arrested and brought back to France where dies in prison three years later. In 1848 France once again abolishes slavery, a crime against humanity.