A Dash of Art History

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George Lambert’s 1910 painting Holiday in Essex stands at a slightly disconcerting crossroads of style.
His handling of paint in the background, especially the grass, betrays a distinctly modern flavor of painterliness—of deliberately and overtly visible brushmarks.
The grand scale, the studied composition, and the vivid lighting, though, all point to a much older influence.
An influence, in fact, that Lambert deliberately courted: the Art Gallery of New South Wales quotes Arthur José’s point that the painting “began as a deliberate attempt to emulate the Spanish (or rather the continental) convention of the days of Velasquez…the placing of the figures and the background, and the lighting of the studio was so arranged as to produce the traditional chiaroscuro of that epoch.”

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George Lambert’s 1910 painting Holiday in Essex stands at a slightly disconcerting crossroads of style.

His handling of paint in the background, especially the grass, betrays a distinctly modern flavor of painterliness—of deliberately and overtly visible brushmarks.

The grand scale, the studied composition, and the vivid lighting, though, all point to a much older influence.

An influence, in fact, that Lambert deliberately courted: the Art Gallery of New South Wales quotes Arthur José’s point that the painting “began as a deliberate attempt to emulate the Spanish (or rather the continental) convention of the days of Velasquez…the placing of the figures and the background, and the lighting of the studio was so arranged as to produce the traditional chiaroscuro of that epoch.”

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To be honest, dear reader, it might have taken me a minute to figure out that Vasily Vereshchagin’s 1887 painting depicts the crucifixion if it weren’t for the fairly self-explanatory title: Crucifixion by the Romans.
(The three crucified figures on the right might, I suppose, have been a tip-off.)
But the scene has none of the usual hallmarks: not only has Christ been relegated to an edge of the painting, but his cross stands no taller, no farther forward, than either of the thieves. His hair obscures his face, and instead of an artful path of blood from the spear-wound in his side, he—like his two fellows—drips blood down his arms and sides, where it soaks into the white cloth at his waist.
Even his mourners, far from being able to stand arrayed at the base of the cross, stand at the back of the crowd with the viewer (on the opposite side of the canvas from him).
By departing so drastically from the usual portrayal, though, Vereshchagin producing a striking commentary on, not just the past, but the present.
 Christie’s writes, of Crucifixion and two other paintings in a series Vereschchagin did on capital punishment in three powerful empires: “[e]ach work symbolically illustrates the moment of the greatest ethical test each empire had faced, lamenting the brutality of the state while poignantly depicting the unchanging humanity that connects people and populations across vast expanses of time and geographical territory.”
Given that context, it makes sense that Christ is pushed to the side, while the crowd around him is depicted with archeological accuracy.
It isn’t about him—it’s about the Roman empire. And, by proxy, the modern empires of the 19th century.

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To be honest, dear reader, it might have taken me a minute to figure out that Vasily Vereshchagin’s 1887 painting depicts the crucifixion if it weren’t for the fairly self-explanatory title: Crucifixion by the Romans.

(The three crucified figures on the right might, I suppose, have been a tip-off.)

But the scene has none of the usual hallmarks: not only has Christ been relegated to an edge of the painting, but his cross stands no taller, no farther forward, than either of the thieves. His hair obscures his face, and instead of an artful path of blood from the spear-wound in his side, he—like his two fellows—drips blood down his arms and sides, where it soaks into the white cloth at his waist.

Even his mourners, far from being able to stand arrayed at the base of the cross, stand at the back of the crowd with the viewer (on the opposite side of the canvas from him).

By departing so drastically from the usual portrayal, though, Vereshchagin producing a striking commentary on, not just the past, but the present.

Christie’s writes, of Crucifixion and two other paintings in a series Vereschchagin did on capital punishment in three powerful empires: “[e]ach work symbolically illustrates the moment of the greatest ethical test each empire had faced, lamenting the brutality of the state while poignantly depicting the unchanging humanity that connects people and populations across vast expanses of time and geographical territory.”

Given that context, it makes sense that Christ is pushed to the side, while the crowd around him is depicted with archeological accuracy.

It isn’t about him—it’s about the Roman empire. And, by proxy, the modern empires of the 19th century.

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While Sotheby’s calls this painting by Robert Koehler The Old Sewing Machine, I strongly suspect that’s a change from the original title.
I was reading a newspaper review of an exhibition by the Society of American Artists earlier today when I came across a description of a work by Robert Koehler, painted in 1882. I don’t recall the exact verbiage, but in essence it described a woman having brought a piece from her sewing machine to a blacksmith’s shop.
Indeed, here we see what looks to be a widow and her young daughter, looking on while the top part of her treadle sewing machine is carefully examined.
And, if I’m correct in linking the two, there’s even an explanation for the concern in the lines of her face and the position of her hand: this piece has the evocative title of Her Only Support.

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While Sotheby’s calls this painting by Robert Koehler The Old Sewing Machine, I strongly suspect that’s a change from the original title.

I was reading a newspaper review of an exhibition by the Society of American Artists earlier today when I came across a description of a work by Robert Koehler, painted in 1882. I don’t recall the exact verbiage, but in essence it described a woman having brought a piece from her sewing machine to a blacksmith’s shop.

Indeed, here we see what looks to be a widow and her young daughter, looking on while the top part of her treadle sewing machine is carefully examined.

And, if I’m correct in linking the two, there’s even an explanation for the concern in the lines of her face and the position of her hand: this piece has the evocative title of Her Only Support.

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John Vanderlyn’s technically impressive Panoramic View of the Palace and Gardens of Versailles (an oil on a cylindrical canvas) became even more impressive to me when I found out that—when he painted it in 1818 and 1819—Vanderlyn was in New York.

Of course, he worked from detailed sketches he’d made in Versailles. (But still.)

It’s accurate enough that the Metropolitan Museum can compare it to “Adam Perelle’s seventeenth-century prints (20.41.126) [to show]…that, in spite of the slightly barren look of the grounds and lack of floral detail in parterres, the layout of the garden remains essentially as André Le Nôtre designed it in the late seventeenth century.”

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Looking at The Man in the Chair (1876), you probably won’t find the British Museum’s comment about Henri de Braekeleer to be a revelation: “Strongly influenced by seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish genre painting.”
Certainly the bright, clear light streaming in through the open windows—and the red chair (with its brass studs and turned legs) that the light falls on—evoke the Dutch Golden Age.
The gilt-leather wall hangings, called Cuir de Cordoue, practically quote Pieter de Hooch:

Interestingly, though, a few elements of the scene stand clearly (and deliberately) anachronic to that influence.
Most obvious, of course, is the tired—and modern—subject seated in the chair.
Directly above him, though, is a painting that says “Titian” more than it says “de Hooch.” And above that, a sculpture of a saintly bishop that more than likely predates the Protestant Reformation.
Now, either or both could easily be original to a 17th-century Dutch interior: an interest in the art of the past didn’t spring up, whole and unprecedented, in the middle of the 19th century.
But they do suggest an awareness, on de Braekeleer’s part, of his own work’s resonance with the past he evokes.

Large (Wikimedia)

Looking at The Man in the Chair (1876), you probably won’t find the British Museum’s comment about Henri de Braekeleer to be a revelation: “Strongly influenced by seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish genre painting.”

Certainly the bright, clear light streaming in through the open windows—and the red chair (with its brass studs and turned legs) that the light falls on—evoke the Dutch Golden Age.

The gilt-leather wall hangings, called Cuir de Cordoue, practically quote Pieter de Hooch:

Pieter de Hooch, Interior with Figures, 1663–1665

Interestingly, though, a few elements of the scene stand clearly (and deliberately) anachronic to that influence.

Most obvious, of course, is the tired—and modern—subject seated in the chair.

Directly above him, though, is a painting that says “Titian” more than it says “de Hooch.” And above that, a sculpture of a saintly bishop that more than likely predates the Protestant Reformation.

Now, either or both could easily be original to a 17th-century Dutch interior: an interest in the art of the past didn’t spring up, whole and unprecedented, in the middle of the 19th century.

But they do suggest an awareness, on de Braekeleer’s part, of his own work’s resonance with the past he evokes.

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Charles Dana Gibson: that great American name, synonymous with the height of style in the late 19th- and early 20th-century—and with blatant sexism.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum writes that Gibson’s, well, “‘Gibson Girl’ was the model of American womanhood in the 1890s and into the 20th century.” In Studies in Expression: When Women are Jurors (1902), we have one such shining example of his womanly ideal: turning a slightly arch expression towards the exaggerated shock (and exaggerated dress) of her neighbor, she displays her artfully gathered hair and tastefully understated clothing to excellent effect. 

Meanwhile the (artificially fashionable) woman in a white boa delights in the opportunity to pass judgment…on her fellow juror.

The doe-eyed creature behind is clearly paying more attention to the case—she has shed a single tear, a sentiment shared by the surprised young woman on the far right. The older women book-ending the front row are sincerely skeptical of the proceedings, though.

The piece may have offered Gibson an excellent opportunity for exercising his considerable talents for capturing character and expression, but very much at the expense of the genericized women he mocks.

And, unfortunately, the joke isn’t even on him—it wasn’t until astonishingly late in the 20th century (and I mean late: Taylor v. Louisiana in 1975) that American women in all of the states were evenhandedly called on to serve as jurors.

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Johan Christian Dahl painted the aptly titled View of Dresden by Moonlight in 1839.
According to the Metropolitan Museum, “Johan Christian Dahl was [Caspar David] Friedrich’s friend and upstairs neighbor in Dresden from 1823 on…Dahl adopted from Friedrich the mysterious, mood-enhancing effects of dusk, fog, moon, and twilight.”
That suggests, though, a more dramatic scene than View of Dresden.
True, there’s an element of mystery in the bright, but partially obscured, moon—especially in contrast to the red-orange glow of the illuminated windows on the far bank and the fires on the near—but the scene is unusually matter-of-fact.
A close look, for example, at the domed building in the distance reveals precise and neatly delineated architectural details: the antithesis of enigma. The women hanging laundry in the near left corner add to the prosaic effect.
Yet the very concessions Dahl makes to concreteness also make the scene as compelling as it is. The disunity of color between the sky and the iced-over river, at first perhaps seeming to reflect a disappointing unwillingness to idealize, produces conflict in an otherwise largely uniform piece.
And there is a sort of pathos—given the temperature that the ice and the hour imply—in the comparison of the washerwomen, elbow-deep in damp laundry, to the buildings across the river (which glow with warmth, and with occupants).

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Johan Christian Dahl painted the aptly titled View of Dresden by Moonlight in 1839.

According to the Metropolitan Museum, “Johan Christian Dahl was [Caspar David] Friedrich’s friend and upstairs neighbor in Dresden from 1823 on…Dahl adopted from Friedrich the mysterious, mood-enhancing effects of dusk, fog, moon, and twilight.”

That suggests, though, a more dramatic scene than View of Dresden.

True, there’s an element of mystery in the bright, but partially obscured, moon—especially in contrast to the red-orange glow of the illuminated windows on the far bank and the fires on the near—but the scene is unusually matter-of-fact.

A close look, for example, at the domed building in the distance reveals precise and neatly delineated architectural details: the antithesis of enigma. The women hanging laundry in the near left corner add to the prosaic effect.

Yet the very concessions Dahl makes to concreteness also make the scene as compelling as it is. The disunity of color between the sky and the iced-over river, at first perhaps seeming to reflect a disappointing unwillingness to idealize, produces conflict in an otherwise largely uniform piece.

And there is a sort of pathos—given the temperature that the ice and the hour imply—in the comparison of the washerwomen, elbow-deep in damp laundry, to the buildings across the river (which glow with warmth, and with occupants).

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Winslow Homer painted the beautiful-but-eerie painting Summer Night in 1890.
As the Musée d’Orsay writes, “[a]fter a stay in Paris, Homer used an Impressionist palette for a while then developed a personal style midway between Realism and Symbolism[, and]…Summer Night perfectly expresses this synthesis.”
There’s nothing overtly symbolic about the piece, and it’s not impossible by any means to imagine this scene actually occurring. Yet there’s something about the silhouettes watching the sea—and by comparison the stage-like lighting on the two women dancing on the platform in the foreground—that suggests something a little more deliberately performed.
If so, though, the two women probably should have rehearsed a little more—although they are clearly dancing one of the circle dances that were increasingly popular by the 1890s (like the polka and the waltz), their form is so sloppy it’s impossible for me even to guess which. (Their arms are stuck straight out, but droop at the end!)
Anyone else have a theory?

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Winslow Homer painted the beautiful-but-eerie painting Summer Night in 1890.

As the Musée d’Orsay writes, “[a]fter a stay in Paris, Homer used an Impressionist palette for a while then developed a personal style midway between Realism and Symbolism[, and]…Summer Night perfectly expresses this synthesis.”

There’s nothing overtly symbolic about the piece, and it’s not impossible by any means to imagine this scene actually occurring. Yet there’s something about the silhouettes watching the sea—and by comparison the stage-like lighting on the two women dancing on the platform in the foreground—that suggests something a little more deliberately performed.

If so, though, the two women probably should have rehearsed a little more—although they are clearly dancing one of the circle dances that were increasingly popular by the 1890s (like the polka and the waltz), their form is so sloppy it’s impossible for me even to guess which. (Their arms are stuck straight out, but droop at the end!)

Anyone else have a theory?

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While it’s perhaps a slightly precarious way to get a meal, these two women seem perfectly comfortable perching on a marble ledge to harvest their grapes.
The sky behind them is shockingly blue, but there’s something oddly cool in the quality of light, as though it presages a winter to come.
And perhaps it does—after all, grapes are best harvested in the fall. Indeed, as the leaves on the marble suggest, and the title of Francis Davis Millet’s 1892 work confirms, this is an Autumn Idyll.

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While it’s perhaps a slightly precarious way to get a meal, these two women seem perfectly comfortable perching on a marble ledge to harvest their grapes.

The sky behind them is shockingly blue, but there’s something oddly cool in the quality of light, as though it presages a winter to come.

And perhaps it does—after all, grapes are best harvested in the fall. Indeed, as the leaves on the marble suggest, and the title of Francis Davis Millet’s 1892 work confirms, this is an Autumn Idyll.

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One of the most delightfully incongruous factors in François Boucher’s impossibly Rococo style is its (comparative) innocence.
Not, of course, in the content—as the Metropolitan Museum aptly points out, “Boucher’s most original contribution to Rococo painting was his reinvention of the pastoral, a form of idealized landscape populated by shepherds and shepherdesses in silk dress, enacting scenes of erotic and sentimental love”—but in the way he presents said scenes.
Where, for example, Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s subjects engage in a theatrical, splay-armed abandon, Boucher’s retain an innocent earnestness—even at their most immoderate.
In Boucher’s 1755 The Four Seasons: Winter, though, the composition itself lends itself somewhat to their quiet (if slightly stupid) dignity.
And interestingly, the Frick writes that “[a]lthough the content and style of Boucher’s art suggest a sybaritic character, the artist often worked twelve hours a day.”

Large (Wikimedia)

One of the most delightfully incongruous factors in François Boucher’s impossibly Rococo style is its (comparative) innocence.

Not, of course, in the content—as the Metropolitan Museum aptly points out, “Boucher’s most original contribution to Rococo painting was his reinvention of the pastoral, a form of idealized landscape populated by shepherds and shepherdesses in silk dress, enacting scenes of erotic and sentimental love”—but in the way he presents said scenes.

Where, for example, Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s subjects engage in a theatrical, splay-armed abandon, Boucher’s retain an innocent earnestness—even at their most immoderate.

In Boucher’s 1755 The Four Seasons: Winter, though, the composition itself lends itself somewhat to their quiet (if slightly stupid) dignity.

And interestingly, the Frick writes that “[a]lthough the content and style of Boucher’s art suggest a sybaritic character, the artist often worked twelve hours a day.”