Edward Moran’s ethereally beautiful The Valley in the Sea, which he painted in 1862, is (as the title suggests) a landscape of a very unusual sort.
Full of beautiful little details, The Valley in the Sea depicts the floor of the ocean in eerie jewel tones reminiscent of nothing so much as Max Ernst’s Napoleon in the Wilderness.
While it isn’t surprising that—what with the 19th-century taste for dramatic landscapes in exotic locales—someone hit on the idea of depicting the ocean floor, the Indianapolis Museum of Art makes the intriguing suggestion that “Moran may have been inspired by underwater exploration related to the laying of the first successful telegraph cable in 1858.”
As the Walters Art Museum writes, “[t]he tulip, originally imported from Turkey in the 16th century, became an increasingly valuable commodity [in the Netherlands]. By 1636/7, tulipomania peaked, and, when the market crashed, speculators were left with as little as 5 percent of their original investments.”
That wouldn’t necessarily sound like fodder for an engaging painting—but with The Tulip Folly, in 1882, Jean-León Gérôme may have pulled it off.
It’s kind of hysterical, at first: soldiers stomping (some gleefully, some lumberingly) through a field of tulips while a nobleman defends a tiny potted plant with his sword.
But considering that the effort was meant to bring the price of tulips down—and, with any luck, to salvage as much as possible of the countrywide investments—the image takes on a sort of futile tragedy, as well.
(It is worth noting, though, that some economists do contest the severity of the economic impact.)
The Tate writes that Sir Hubert von “Herkomer painted a number of pictures that revealed his sympathy for the poor and disadvantaged, a characteristic fostered in part by his own humble origins.”
That is, I think, a misleading (if absolutely correct) appraisal, however.
Often, when an artist is described as having “sympathy for the poor and disadvantaged,” it means he or she paints scenes of pretty but tattered flower-sellers (or orphans) looking mournfully out at the viewer.
Herkomer, however, portrays the women in his 1878 painting Eventide: A Scene at the Westminster Union with incredible dignity and subtle personality.
Certainly he conveys the difficulties of their conditions: one bespectacled woman near the front bends closely over her work, and I can only imagine handling thread with the arthritis-thickened joints of a few of the others.
But each of them also conveys a clear sense of self, and—as they hunch together over their work—a clear sense of companionship.
(It’s also worth mentioning, though unrelated, that Herkomer was closely involved with the early development of British film.)