A Dash of Art History

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When I first read the title of Sir Edwin Landseer’s 1868 Rent-Day in the Wilderness, I assumed that it depicted some intrepid—if not particularly bright—tenants attempting to escape rent collection by vacating their farms. Or, more tragically, wandering after being turned out of their farms.
Instead, though, it records a somewhat more complicated historical moment: according to the catalogue from an 1874 exhibition at the Royal Academy, “Colonel Donald Murchison, to whom the Earl of Seaforth had entrusted his confiscated estates after the defeat of the Stuart army at Sheriffmuir in 1715, defended them for ten years, and collected the rents, which he transmitted to his exiled relative.”
Currently he hides—armored—from the army across the river, noting down rents in a carefully kept book even so.

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When I first read the title of Sir Edwin Landseer’s 1868 Rent-Day in the Wilderness, I assumed that it depicted some intrepid—if not particularly bright—tenants attempting to escape rent collection by vacating their farms. Or, more tragically, wandering after being turned out of their farms.

Instead, though, it records a somewhat more complicated historical moment: according to the catalogue from an 1874 exhibition at the Royal Academy, “Colonel Donald Murchison, to whom the Earl of Seaforth had entrusted his confiscated estates after the defeat of the Stuart army at Sheriffmuir in 1715, defended them for ten years, and collected the rents, which he transmitted to his exiled relative.”

Currently he hides—armored—from the army across the river, noting down rents in a carefully kept book even so.

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Even if the striking young subject of Antonio Mancini’s 1879 Il Saltimbanco weren’t himself captivating, the luminescence of Mancini’s painting would be: as the Tate writes, Mancini was adept at “glittering effects of light and thick impasto, even incorporating tin-foil in some of his later pictures.”
He applied his impressive technique primarily to fairly humble subjects: as did the Verisimo, whose goal, according to Christie’s, “was to represent, in their prose, the real essence of society: daily scenes of the lower classes. Antonio Mancini was able to recreate in paint what poets were writing about.”
That didn’t prevent, however, Mancini’s including fairly sophisticated symbolism: “deriving the pose of the figure,” as the Philadelphia Museum of Art puts it, “from traditional representations of Christ bound and displayed to the public.”
He echoes the link with the subtly cross-like decorations behind the acrobat.

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Even if the striking young subject of Antonio Mancini’s 1879 Il Saltimbanco weren’t himself captivating, the luminescence of Mancini’s painting would be: as the Tate writes, Mancini was adept at “glittering effects of light and thick impasto, even incorporating tin-foil in some of his later pictures.”

He applied his impressive technique primarily to fairly humble subjects: as did the Verisimo, whose goal, according to Christie’s, “was to represent, in their prose, the real essence of society: daily scenes of the lower classes. Antonio Mancini was able to recreate in paint what poets were writing about.”

That didn’t prevent, however, Mancini’s including fairly sophisticated symbolism: “deriving the pose of the figure,” as the Philadelphia Museum of Art puts it, “from traditional representations of Christ bound and displayed to the public.”

He echoes the link with the subtly cross-like decorations behind the acrobat.

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti painted A Christmas Carol in 1867.
It is, in some ways, an unusually pious painting from Rossetti—Sotheby’s writes, “[u]nlike his depiction of amorous sirens or courtesan minstrels that he painted in other pictures of female musicians, he here depicted Ellen [his model] as singing a holy song in celebration of Christ’s birth, her head upturned to Heaven and her face almost touching the silver icon of the Holy family.”

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti painted A Christmas Carol in 1867.

It is, in some ways, an unusually pious painting from Rossetti—Sotheby’s writes, “[u]nlike his depiction of amorous sirens or courtesan minstrels that he painted in other pictures of female musicians, he here depicted Ellen [his model] as singing a holy song in celebration of Christ’s birth, her head upturned to Heaven and her face almost touching the silver icon of the Holy family.”

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Charles Martin Hardie’s 1899 painting Curling at Carsebreck may look like an undifferentiated crowd scene. However, each of the curlers in the foreground actually represents a specific member of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.

As the National Galleries of Scotland write, “[i]n 1899 the Royal Caledonian Curling Club celebrated its Diamond Jubilee. This picture was commissioned to celebrate the event.”

And celebrate they do—visible on the edge of the ice is a basket full of bottles of wine.

But first a game; two houses—the concentric-ringed “targets” on either end of the playing sheet—are just visible, etched into the ice. On the farther of the two, a thrower has just thrown the stone; on the nearer, a skip marks the point his teammate should aim for with his broom.

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While technically from the Orientalist painting tradition, The Tortoise Trainer has been handled both more decisively and more directly (look, for example, at the exposed brick) than is usual for the genre.
That’s not without a cause, however. Indeed, Osman Hamdi Bey was a Turkish painter, albeit one with French training. And, as Christie’s points out, “Hamdi Bey’s paintings are typically rendered with a realism born from native experience, and which have little of the drama or voyeurism associated with western artists working in the genre.”
He painted The Tortoise Trainer in the first decade of the 20th century.

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While technically from the Orientalist painting tradition, The Tortoise Trainer has been handled both more decisively and more directly (look, for example, at the exposed brick) than is usual for the genre.

That’s not without a cause, however. Indeed, Osman Hamdi Bey was a Turkish painter, albeit one with French training. And, as Christie’s points out, “Hamdi Bey’s paintings are typically rendered with a realism born from native experience, and which have little of the drama or voyeurism associated with western artists working in the genre.”

He painted The Tortoise Trainer in the first decade of the 20th century.

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Lawrence Alma-Tadema painted Women of Amphissa in 1887.

Guy Hedreen wrote a full account of the anecdote from Plutarch’s writings that inspired the work in an article in the Journal of the Walters Art Gallery: essentially, a group of Thyiades (priestesses of Dionysus), became lost while performing a rite and ended up in Amphissa, a town near Delphi. In lieu of a better spot, they all slept in the marketplace—where the women of the town found them in the morning. Concerned for the priestesses’ safety in a time of war, the Amphissan women encircled the sleeping priestesses until they awoke—at which point the women of the town fed them, and then led them out of town.

Though the Dionysian priestesses all possess an air of self-assured languor, taking up space and making bold eye contact (even, in one case, with the viewer), the expressions of their demure proctectresses run the gamut from maternal to wary. One woman bends smilingly to talk to a cross-legged Thyiad, while another—also bending, in her case to proffer food—looks watchfully across the market.

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Emile Auguste Carolus-Duran painted The Merrymakers in 1870.
Of course, the work itself is certainly charming. The open laughter of the woman in grey and the glee of the infant fully live up to the title of the painting, while the ruffled bird, its paper twin, and the rabbit and flowers in the lower right corner set the tone.
Carolus-Duran is especially interesting, though, because (as the Smithsonian American Art Museum writes) “he taught many aspiring artists, among them the American painter John Singer Sargent.”
And certainly they share an ability to convey a great deal of personality.

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Emile Auguste Carolus-Duran painted The Merrymakers in 1870.

Of course, the work itself is certainly charming. The open laughter of the woman in grey and the glee of the infant fully live up to the title of the painting, while the ruffled bird, its paper twin, and the rabbit and flowers in the lower right corner set the tone.

Carolus-Duran is especially interesting, though, because (as the Smithsonian American Art Museum writes) “he taught many aspiring artists, among them the American painter John Singer Sargent.”

And certainly they share an ability to convey a great deal of personality.

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Asking the Cards, which the academicist Édouard Bisson painted in 1889—though a lovely thing—is more interesting for the novelty of its subject than for anything else.
After all, these women aren’t playing cards—they’re reading them.
Now, fortune telling is actually not an unheard-of subject in 19th-century painting. But generally speaking the reader is portrayed as old, rural, Romany, or some combination of the three.
Here, though, they are two rather fashionable young women, in a relatively urbane setting.

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Asking the Cards, which the academicist Édouard Bisson painted in 1889—though a lovely thing—is more interesting for the novelty of its subject than for anything else.

After all, these women aren’t playing cards—they’re reading them.

Now, fortune telling is actually not an unheard-of subject in 19th-century painting. But generally speaking the reader is portrayed as old, rural, Romany, or some combination of the three.

Here, though, they are two rather fashionable young women, in a relatively urbane setting.

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To continue the theme of trompe l’oeil from yesterday, here is a much earlier—and even more convincing—example.
Painted in 1670 by Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts, Trompe L’Oeil: The Reverse of a Framed Painting can pretty much be summarized by its title.
As the Statens Museum for Kunst writes, “[w]hen viewing the picture from afar, we are truly cheated into believing that the artist has left a painting behind on the floor with its reverse facing outwards.”
And it might well have worked even better in situ—it was originally placed in the Royal Danish Cabinet of Curiosities, where one might well expect to find a painting waiting to be revealed.

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To continue the theme of trompe l’oeil from yesterday, here is a much earlier—and even more convincing—example.

Painted in 1670 by Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts, Trompe L’Oeil: The Reverse of a Framed Painting can pretty much be summarized by its title.

As the Statens Museum for Kunst writes, “[w]hen viewing the picture from afar, we are truly cheated into believing that the artist has left a painting behind on the floor with its reverse facing outwards.”

And it might well have worked even better in situ—it was originally placed in the Royal Danish Cabinet of Curiosities, where one might well expect to find a painting waiting to be revealed.

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I’ll admit, dear reader, that Raphaelle Peale’s Venus Rising from the Sea—A Deception is rather less effective on the screen than it probably is in person.
After all, it’s fairly obvious that Peale hasn’t leapt from his grave and run to your current location and draped his napkin discreetly over your phone, tablet, or computer in order to save your delicate eyes from an indelicate scene.
In the early 1820s when he painted it, though, it might have been more convincing. Not that I think too many viewers were actually fooled by the trompe l’oeil—but the concept would have been more familiar.
After all, even through the end of the 19th century it was not altogether uncommon for the owner of a painting that might be considered risqué to drape it with a curtain.

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I’ll admit, dear reader, that Raphaelle Peale’s Venus Rising from the Sea—A Deception is rather less effective on the screen than it probably is in person.

After all, it’s fairly obvious that Peale hasn’t leapt from his grave and run to your current location and draped his napkin discreetly over your phone, tablet, or computer in order to save your delicate eyes from an indelicate scene.

In the early 1820s when he painted it, though, it might have been more convincing. Not that I think too many viewers were actually fooled by the trompe l’oeil—but the concept would have been more familiar.

After all, even through the end of the 19th century it was not altogether uncommon for the owner of a painting that might be considered risqué to drape it with a curtain.