FEATURED image: Manuscript 16th century (detail): Queen consort Anne of Brittany (1477-1514) receiving a Book of Hours from her Dominican confessor, Antoine Dufour (d.1509). Montfort L’Amaury returned to the crown of France after Anne of Brittany married Charles VIII “the Affable” (1470-1498) in 1491.
At the north edge of the Rambouillet forest the city of Montfort L’Amaury spreads along the restored ruins of its ancient fortified castle. Founded under the Capetian kings, the city owes its fame to Simon de Montfort (1208-1265), Anne de Bretagne (1477-1514), the Valois royal dynasty, and Henry IV (1553-1610). Its monuments begin in the 11th century, stretch towards exceptional Renaissance stained-glass windows and half-timbered houses as its civilization has attracted writers, artists, and musicians to live there. This would include the house of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) called Le Belvédère where he lived from 1921 until his death and where we were invited to sit at, and play, the piano where Ravel composed Boléro. It was in March 2002 during a visit to Paris and the Île-de France that we ventured through Yvelines by train to Montfort-L’Amaury for a day trip which included a memorable déjeuner in a restaurant that has since disappeared.
The interior of Saint Pierre church is bright and intimate. Like other French monuments, today’s Saint-Pierre was completed over many centuries. Its origin is in the 11th century. A notable reconstruction of the edifice began in the late 15th century by initiative of Queen Consort, Anne of Bretagne. There is a vast ambulatory around both sides of the nave. Since 1840, the church has been an historic monument because of its unique ensemble of 37 stained glass windows. The oldest date from the 1540s and 1570s. The others were installed in the late16th century. That ecclesial project was started by Catherine de Medicis (1519-1589) in 1562. The windows were installed during the time of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) and some of the glass commemorates that event. As none of the glasswork is signed, it is not known whether its painters are from Montfort L’Amaury or elsewhere.
The role of Montfort l’Amaury as a town began to develop in the High Middle Ages when Capetian king, Robert II (976-1031), built a castle there in the forest of Yvelines which was then a royal prerogative. William of Hainaut built the castle whose walls were finished around 1050. Hugues Bardoule was captain of the castle and thus a later 16th century gateway is named after him. It is in the 11th century that L’Église Saint-Pierre and L’Église Saint Laurent begin to be built. Robert II was married three times, and excommunicated by the Catholic Church – one of the early examples of French royals who married as they wished.
In the twelfth century, Bertrade de Montfort (1070-1117), after giving birth to a boy who would become King of Jerusalem, left her husband, the Duke of Anjou, Fulk IV (1043-1109) in 1092. She married the king of France, Philip I “the Amorous” whose spouse, Bertha of Holland, was also still living.
Philip was so in love with Bertrade that he refused to leave her even when threatened and finally excommunicated by Pope Urban II (1035-1099) in 1095. Because of his excommunication Philip was prevented from taking part in the First Crusade (1096-1099).
The ramparts and castle were destroyed by the English during the Hundred Years’ War in the 15th century. After the battle of Agincourt in 1419, the English occupied the French domain and it was during this time that the castle at Montfort was destroyed. The two rebuilt towers were named for Anne of Brittany after she assisted in the castle’s restoration. From this height, the fort overlooked the old Roman road from Beauvais to Chartres.
Also from this place, troops assembled at Montfort L’Amaury in the 12th century as Amaury III raised lords and knights to fight alongside Louis VI (1081-1137) against the Emperor of Germany. Simon IV fought alongside Philippe II Auguste (1165-1223) against the English as well as to the Crusades in the Middle East and the Albigensian Crusade in southern France. The Montforts distinguished themselves especially in this crusade against the Cathars.
At the beginning of the Third Crusade (1189-1192), not wanted by King Philippe Auguste (1165-1223), the future Louis VIII “the Lion” (1187-1226) was looking for companions. Simon IV, Lord of Montfort (1175-1218), embarked on the crusade where victory was equalled by its terror.
In January 1238, Montfort married Eleanor of England, daughter of King John and Isabella of Angoulême and sister of English King Henry III. While this marriage took place with the king’s approval, the act itself was performed secretly and without consulting the great barons. Eleanor had previously been married and swore a vow of perpetual widowhood after her husband died. This vow was broken when she married Montfort and, for that reason, the Archbishop of Canterbury condemned it. The English nobles protested the marriage of the king’s sister to a foreigner who was only of modest rank. Most notably, Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwell, the king’s and Eleanor’s brother, rose up in revolt over the marriage. King Henry III eventually bought off his brother and peace was restored. The marriage brought property to Montfort and when a child was born of the union in late 1238, he was baptized Henry, in honor of his uncle, the king. In February 1239, Montfort was finally invested as Earl of Leicester where he acted as the king’s advisor and became godfather to Henry’s eldest son, Edward, who became King Edward I (“Longshanks”).
From Montfort L’Amaury, the lords continued to assist the French kings in the crusades. After John I, only a daughter allowed the continuity of the Montfort family. Beatrice d’Albidon married Robert, Count of Dreux. The Comté de Montfort was related to the Duchy of Brittany following the marriage of Yolande de Dreux-Montfort (1263-1330) with Arthur II of Brittany (1261-1312) in 1294. It was in the late 13th century that Monfort established a public school in 1298.
Montfort returned to the crown of France after Anne of Brittany married Charles VIII “the Affable” (1470-1498) in 1491. The marriage contract stipulated a union of France and Brittany. If the queen were to die first and childless, the king would inherit all her property. Also in their pre-nuptial agreement, if Charles VIII died first Anne was to marry his successor. This was his cousin, the handsome and seductive Louis XII (1462-1515). By 1550, Brittany and the French Crown finally united under a single sovereign, Henry II (1519-1559).
This union of Brittany and France was beneficial to Montfort as the union with Brittany only was not particularly. In this period the castle ruins were restored and there was construction of a notable staircase to be seen today. The cemetery was relocated outside the city walls. Churches were rebuilt. Meanwhile, Montfort maintained a semi-autonomy from the crown of France.
Under the Valois the Yvelines region of which Montfort is a central part received royal favor. Catherine de Medici (1519-1589) was named the Lady of Montfort in 1561. When the Wars of Religion broke out (1562-1598), the king, Charles IX (1550-1574), offered to the city home-rule in exchange for the reconstruction of its medieval ramparts at his expense. At the end of these wars, the passage of the future king, Henry IV (1553-1610) on the road that led him to Paris to take power, allowed Montfort L’Amaury to prove its loyalty to the new king. Montfort provided Henry Navarre with weapons and later obtained special rights in exchange. During the reigns of the first two Bourbon kings of France, Henry IV and Louis XIII (1601-1643), there are frequent royal visits to Montfort L’Amaury.
A canonized Catholic saint among the Valois- Joan of Valois (1464 – 1505), sister of Charles VIII, and betrothed of Louis XII.
The second daughter of Louis XI (1423-1483) and Charlotte of Savoy (1411-1483), Joan of Valois was a fleeting Queen of France as the wife of King Louis XII following the death of her brother, King Charles VIII. Her marriage was soon annulled so that Louis could, as pre-arranged by contract, marry Charles VIII’s widow, Anne of Brittany.
Joan’s demeanor was characterized by an accepting and placid countenance. When she retired from court politics to become Duchess of Berry, the former Queen of France remarked: “If so it is to be, praised be the Lord.”
In Bourges, Joan of Valois founded a monastic order of sisters and served them as their abbess. In terms of her personality, Joan could be autocratic as an administrator of her nuns, which may have been a vestige of her former high-born role. Joan was canonized in May 1950, almost 450 years after her death.
Le Belvédère: the House of Maurice Ravel from 1921 to his death in 1937 at Montfort L’Amaury.
Jean Anouilh (1910-1987) was a French dramatist who lived in Montfort-L’Amaury in France. Anouilh’s 1944 play, Antigone, was an adaptation play of Sophocles’ play of the same name. The 34-year-old Anouilh’s work was seen as an attack on the Vichy government of Marshal Pétain (1856-1951) in World War II.
Anouiih also wrote Becket. The original French play is titled Becket ou l‘Honneur de Dieu. It was staged in Paris at the Théâtre Montparnasse-Gaston Baty in October 1959 and directed by Anouilh. The play dramatizes historical martyr and Catholic saint Thomas Becket (1120-1170), the Archbishop of Canterbury In England, whose feast day is December 29.
Becket was the best friend to younger King Henry II of England. Cunning and proud, vulnerable and lonely, pent-up King Henry is interested in hunting and women, and not necessarily in that order. Henry is bored with political affairs and as king has his one friend, Thomas Becket, who is his companion in vice and debauchery.
Becket serves his king loyally, without compromise. Wanting to strengthen his power over the Church in England and believing his idea to be an excellent one, Henry appoints Becket as chancellor of England and he later becomes Archbishop of Canterbury. But nothing goes as planned. Becket, on his path to sainthood, finds he cannot serve both king and God.
For Henry the arrangement is one of disillusionment, resentment, hatred, and torn friendship – and, later, repentance. For Becket it is a tale of courage, renunciation, and honor as the archbishop seeks to defend church freedom in England against an ambitious secular power. Such conflict provokes Becket’s murder by the king’s knights in the archbishop’s own cathedral.
Anouilh’s Becket became an international sensation. Successive productions in English translation were mounted in London (starring Christopher Plummer and Eric Porter) and in New York City (starring Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn). In 1964 Becket became a major motion picture starring Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole which won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay.
Montfort L’Amaury de l’an mil à nos jours, Marie-Huguette Hadrot, Paris: Somogy Editions d’Art, 2002.
Montfort-L’Amaury, Le Syndicat d’Initiative des Fêtes et des Arts de Montfort-L’Amaury et ses Environs, 1972.
Montfort-L’Amaury Les Verrières de L’Eglise Paroissiale Saint-Pierre(Yvelines), Laurence de Finance and Marie-Huguette Hadrot, Paris: Centre de Documentation du Patrimoine, 1994.
FEATURE IMAGE: Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Allegory of Rome, 1628, oil on canvas, 330 x 245 cm, Villa Lante (Institutum Romanum Finlandiae Foundation). Villa Lante in Rome is an example of the work of the 16th century Raphael school in the reign of the Medici popes. The Renaissance villa, which was a residence for Roman aristocracy, was purchased in 1950 by the Finnish state. The Institutum Romanum Finlandiae Foundation started operating there in April 1954.
Le Valentin de Boulogne (c.1591/1594-1632), sometimes called Jean Valentin, Jean de Boulogne Valentin, or simply Le Valentin, was a French painter. Born in Coulommiers-en-Brie about 35 miles east of Paris, Le Valentin may have been at least half Italian. His artwork was certainly influenced by Italian painting more than any other though he was familiar with Northern or Flemish painting. Le Valentin may have been in Rome as early as 1612 – German painter and art-historian Joachim von Sandrart (1606-1688) remarked in 1675 that Valentin reached Rome before Simon Vouet (1590-1649) who had arrived around 1614. Whether in 1612 or definitely by 1620 (Le Valentin appears in the census), Le Valentin spent the rest of his life In Rome. In the Eternal City Le Valentin was greatly influenced by Simon Vouet (French, 1590-1649) and Bartolomeo Manfredi (Italian, 1581-1622), a leading Caravaggiste or follower of Carravaggio (Italian, 1571-1610).
Le Valentin’s oeuvre is today around 55-60 paintings, most of them identified by modern scholarship (i.e., Jacques Bousquet; Roberto Longhi). Le Valentin’s major commissions date from the last seven years of his life. Opportunities to acquire his artwork was rare, though avid collectors such as Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661) and Louis XIV collected them.
In Rome Le Valentin forged close ties with other French artists and lived with many of them in and around the Piazza del Popolo to the Piazza di Spagna. Most French painters born in the 1590s made a stay in Rome – and influenced art in France in the 17th century. Reasons young painters fled to Italy in the early 17th century included depletion of opportunity in Paris due to the professionalization of artistic practice in and outside the capital although establishment French art was no longer flourishing. Conversely, Roman art – and not only the schools of Michelangelo and Raphael but new horizons afforded by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609) and Caravaggio (1571-1610) -was at an apex. The Eternal City was drawing international artists from Paris and elsewhere and, between 1610 and 1630, the Roman style became internationalized. The dialogue among artists in Rome in this period was exciting – and its outcomes often unpredictable. The culture of Rome (and the papacy) could actually be liberating for foreign, usually destitute, often libertine talented young artists who had great ambitions for a prominent commission as they were exposed to Rome’s virtue and vice almost equally. Many of these young artists, even ones whose artworks survive, exist today virtually anonymously. Le Valentin de Boulogne is one of the better-known artists of the period, although his precise name is uncertain and his artwork requires connoisseurship based on modern scholarship.
In 1626 Valentin, in Rome several years, was invited by Vouet to organize with Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) the festival of the Accademia di San Luca ‘s patron saint. Around the same age, Vouet led the academy whose artists’ association was founded in 1593 by Federico Zuccari (1539-1609). This appointment signaled that Valentin was an active and respected rising French artist in Rome in these years. Though Caravaggio died in 1610 his influence was still felt very strongly in Rome in the 1620s.
Two of Caravaggio’s masterpieces—The Martyrdom of Saint Peter and The Conversion of Saint Paul—hung in the neighboring church of Santa Maria del Popolo which Le Valentin certainly had opportunity to study. In Italy, Valentin took swift, direct, and enduring inspiration from Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro and realistic depiction of characters drawn from Roman street life, including extensive use of half figures. As one of the young Caravaggisti, Valentin applies these elements to his artwork, whether genre or, later, Biblical subjects.
None of the works from Le Valentin’s earliest Roman years is documented, but it is believed he produced his Card Sharps (Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen), The Fortune Teller (Toledo Museum of Art), and Soldiers Playing Cards and Dice (The Cheats) (NGA) – and probably in this order – between 1615 and 1620.
In Le Valentin’s compositions which often contain several actors in a scene, the French artist’s realism and Caravaggio-inspired technique is often imbued with energetic rhythm in which diagonals and geometric concurrences play a role. This schematic suggests animation in the subject matter while retaining the human figures’ inner reserve and mystery. This creates a psychological quality in his artwork that is unique whichever drama is unfolding in the picture. Louis XIV who was an admirer of le Valentin acquired and hung several of his paintings in his bedroom at Versailles. Cardinal Mazarin, another art collector with a keen eye, acquired works by Valentin, some of which today are in the Louvre.
By way of Le Valentin’s important young patron, Cardinal Francesco Barberini (1597-1679) – made a cardinal in 1624 by his uncle, Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644) – Valentin became a competitor to his artist friend Nicholas Poussin. Le Valentin’s first documented work commissioned in May 1629 and completed in the spring of 1630 called Martyrdom of SS. Processus and Martinian is a compendium to a slightly earlier work by Poussin–both in the Vatican (Poussin’s was a different stylistic statement called Martyrdom of S. Erasmus). Valentin had further won the patronage of Cavaliere del Pozzo (1588-1657), the secretary of Cardinal Francesco Barberini and one of Rome’s leading art patrons. Paid the handsome sum of 350 crowns for Martyrdom of SS. Processus and Martinian , after 1630 Valentin’s artwork continued to command high prices and prestige.
Though SS. Processus and Martinian is Le Valentin’s most important public work, he also produced many pictures for private commissions. There are several pictures by, or today attributed to, Le Valentin in many of the world’s leading art museums. Le Valentin produced artwork especially for the ruling Barberini family and their circle.
How Le Valentin died in 1632 is not certain though it was sudden and of natural causes. The professional artist who is admired in today’s major art institutions reportedly left no money to pay for a funeral. Identified as a “Pictor famosus” on his death certificate, Le Valentin was buried at Santa Maria de Popolo on August 20, 1632 paid for by Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588-1657).
SELECTION OF PAINTINGS BY LE VALENTIN DE BOULOGNE.
One of the most moving and beautiful stories in the Bible is the judgment of King Solomon in the case involving two disputing harlots over who was the mother of a living child (I Kings).
Both had had a child, though one died and the other lived. To have an offspring was considered a blessing. One harlot claimed that her living child had been taken from her bosom at night by the other harlot. She replaced the child with her dead child after “she had smothered him by lying on him” (I Kings 3:19).
Since this was a case of one harlot’s word against another’s Solomon had no simple and fair resolution at hand. King Solomon said: “Cut the child in two and give half to one woman and half to the other” (I Kings 3:25). Le Valentin shows the viewer what is at stake – a real flesh and blood child. The import of Solomon’s judgment could not be missed. Le Valentin’s women are modeled on those mothers and others the artist observed along Via Margutta.
When one harlot said, “Divide it! it shall be neither mine nor yours!” and the other harlot said, “Please, my lord, give her the living child. Please do not kill it!”, the king’s judgement changed.
Solomon spoke again and said, “Give her the child alive, and let no one kill him, for she is his mother” (1 Kings 3: 16-28). Solomon knew a woman privileged to be a mother would seek to see the child live most of all.
It is this final pronouncement that Solomon appears to give in Le Valentin’s painting, as the complete biblical episode can be readily seen in the gestures and expressions of its characters.
Acquired by Louis XIV at Cardinal Mazarin’s death in 1661, The Judgment of Solomon has long been presented as a counterpart to The Judgment of Daniel. These canvases, which may actually be pendants, share the same format and show examples of just judgment in the Bible. The Judgment of Solomon is dated later than The Judgment of Daniel. There is a variant of it by Le Valentin in Rome at the Barberini Gallery in the same format and oil medium. The Louvre painting was restored in 1966.
The subject is taken from chapter 13 of the Book of Daniel, the book’s addendum. In Babylon, a pair of wicked elders covet Suzanne, “a very beautiful and God-fearing woman” who was the wife of the “very rich” and “most respected” Joachim. After these wicked elders surprised Suzanne in her bath, she refuses their advances and they denounce her for adultery with the intent to put her to death.
Daniel condemns these wicked elders for “growing evil with age” including their past sins of “passing unjust sentences, condemning the innocent, and freeing the guilty.” Daniel interrogates them and, by their own words, shows the assembly they are lying. The painting depicts that moment of judgment.
Le Valentin depicts Daniel in the painting instead of Suzanne in her bath which was a more popular subject. Suzanne is at right, her hands across her chest, “As she wept, she looked up to heaven, for she trusted in the Lord wholeheartedly” (Daniel 13:35). A guard seizes one of the wicked elders as the other shows surprise and incredulity. Young Daniel, at left, is seated on a throne under a red canopy and stretches out his hand in judgment over the scene for their sin. For each judgment by Le Valentin the artist was inspired in some of its details by Raphael’s artwork in Rome. Louis XIV acquired the painting in 1662.
Within iconography that is cyclonic, two Roman soldiers are placed on the rack to be tortured after they refused their commander’s orders to sacrifice to an idol. The soldiers had been converted to Christianity by Saints Peter and Paul when they guarded them in prison. The altar to Jupiter is on the upper left while, at right, the commander clutches his eye with his left hand after God blinded him in retribution for the idolatry. The foreground figures build on 16th century Franco Italian Mannerist style. One has his back to the viewer; another grinds the wheel of the rack; and, a third bends down with his arm outstretched. All are advanced expressions of realistic figural development and rendered in spatial perspective correctly.
Le Valentin’s powerful painting is an artwork with a psychological dimension. To the left, a hooded figure, Lucina, is a Christian woman who encourages the martyrs to be steadfast as an angel out of heaven extends a palm of martyrdom. To the right, realistically portrayed, is a Roman soldier indifferent to another brutal slaying by the authoritarian government in the face of nascent, meddling, heroic, and expanding Christians in their pagan global empire.
With his attention to detail, Le Valentin’s picture accomplishes an exciting imagined drama based on Renaissance-inspired natural world observation and by way of colorful contemporary 17th century formulations that give a viewer visionary immersion into a complex and significant Bible scene.
Some of Le Valentin’s great ambition as an artist is demonstrated by this large format canvas whose composition includes eight realistically delineated figures including 5 musicians and 3 singing youths. The five instruments are depicted accurately as well as the demeanors of the musicians and singers. Instruments have been identified by others as a polyphonic spinet, an alto, a chitarrone, a bass viol and a cornetto.
The painting had been dated at around 1626, though more recent connoisseurship dates it to around 1628 or 1630. It was restored in 1940. It was owned by that avid art collector, Cardinal Mazarin.
Le Valentin painted seven figures gathered around a classical bas-relief. There are a pair of drinkers, one in the foreground, the other in the background; two singers; and three musicians – a violinist, guitarist and lutenist.
The painting, filled with mystery and gravity, is Caravaggesque and not merely telling a story or depicting a genre scene of performance. The painting has been dated to as early as 1622 by some connoisseurs. It was owned by Cardinal Mazarin and restored in 1959. It entered the collection of the Louvre in 1742.
Valentin never ceased producing genre paintings as attested by Concert with Eight Figures and Fortune Teller (both Musée du Louvre, c. 1628), and what is thought to be his very last painting, the Gathering with a Fortune Teller (Vienna, Liechtenstein Collection) in 1632.
This is a tavern scene with impromptu music-making among transitory musicians. They are playing for a pair of drinking soldiers. Le Valentin’s painting is Caravaggesque with its interplay of shadows and light, dark palette, and depiction of realistic figures, and a psychological vivacity that is imbued by Le Valentin. It is by his passion and energy for Caravaggio that Le Valentin helped revolutionize art in 17th century Europe.
In Matthew’s Gospel the Pharisees were plotting to entrap Jesus by his own words. They sent some of their followers along with local government types (“Herodians”) to flatter Jesus as a truthful and humble man. They asked him to reply to a question: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” (Mt 22:17).
Jesus, knowing their motivation, responded hardly very nicely, by calling them “hypocrites.” He asked them to show the coin that paid Caesar’s tax.
Le Valentin’s painting depicts the moment when the Pharisee’s henchmen show Jesus the coin with Caesar’s image and inscription on it. Jesus tells them: ”Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mt 22: 21).
Owned by Louis XIV it was put in his dressing room at Versailles in 1680. The Louvre acquired it during the French Revolution in 1793.
This painting is inspired by Caravaggio’s The Cheats in the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. Le Valentin’s painting, only discovered in 1989, shows a group of soldiers idling in Rome and identifiable by their piecemeal armor and other livery. The crowding of the figures into the picture space adds to the scene’s tension.
In this early painting in Rome, Le Valentin presents a scene of its contemporary street life. These figures are seriously gaming at a table where two players (center and right) roll dice and two others (left and center) play cards. A fifth figure in the background signals to his accomplice what is in the hand of the card player in a feathered hat. It is an early artwork that Le Valentin gives a psychological dimension.
As had been Caravaggio’s practice, the artwork is painted alla prima, that is, directly onto the prepared canvas without under-drawing or any preliminary work which works to give it greater spontaneity. The painting is indebted to Caravaggio not only for its subject, but for its vivid sense of actuality with which Le Valentin invested his protagonists as well as for the chiaroscuro, and a thinly and rapidly-applied brushed execution.
This painting is one of the first genre pictures Le Valentin painted in Rome. It is a pair of figures to which Le Valentin would soon numerically expand in his pictures. The composition is simple and sturdy.
Erminia, the king’s daughter, escapes her persecutors and asks a peaceful shepherd family for shelter. The scene is based on a contemporary (1576) epic poem The Liberated Jerusalem by Torquato Tasso (1544-1595). The picture was a private commission whose patron was likely a Roman art collector and cognoscente. Valentin’s painting combines Caravaggesque chiaroscuro with exquisite coloring. In this realistic depiction of a human encounter between characters who represent contrasting social experiences, the subject matter is rendered psychologically sensitively.
One of the great artworks of Le Valentin’s early phase in Rome, biblical subjects painted before 1620 such as The Crowning of Thorns of Christ were interpreted in the street-life idiom, with expressive protagonists and bystanders resembling the cast of characters in his genre paintings. Although the painting was earlier believed to be by Caravaggio, it may have been a pendant to Le Valentin’s much-later Abraham Sacrificing Isaac (c. 1629) in The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
This is Le Valentin’s most ambitious of 3 such “crowning with thorns” pictures. The artist in horizontal-format depicts Jesus before his going to Calvary. Christ is mocked and tormented; a crown of thorns is pressed onto his head (Matthew 27: 27-31; Mark 15:16-21; Luke 23:11; John 19: 1-3). With its dramatic lighting and shadows, the naturalistic depiction of Christ’s body and soldiers in contemporary costume is Caravaggesque.
Le Valentin’s scene adheres to the Bible episode: a whole cohort of soldiers surrounded Jesus, stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak on him. Henchmen have weaved a crown out of thorns and are placing it on Jesus’s head. Another puts a reed as a faux scepter into Jesus’s right hand. To mock him they kneel before him and say: “Hail, King of the Jews!” The soldiers spit on Jesus and then take the reed away and strike him repeatedly with it. When they were done with these violent actions, the soldiers stripped Jesus of the military cloak, dressed him in his own clothes and led him out to be crucified.
Le Valentin’s Passion theme is a later vertical-format picture of a subject he had painted masterly before. In these last years the subject matter had gained in classical beauty as well as psychological involvement compared to Le Valentin’s earlier artwork. The painting covers over a discarded portrait of Cardinal Barberini which suggests Valentin’s close relationship with the ecclesial prince, very likely being in his employ. What caused the artist to revisit the subject of a brutalized Christ is unclear though it may have been based on the artist’s own struggles or that of his employer whose portrait he painted over.
St. Laurence (d. 258) became a popular early Roman martyr. Laurence has been continually honored by the church since the 4th century and is a patron of Rome.
In the mid 3rd century, Laurence was a deacon to a new pope, Sixtus II (257-258). Sixtus II was martyred along with his seven deacons, including Laurence, during the persecution of Christians by Emperor Valerian (199-264).
Following the pope’s martyrdom, Laurence was arrested and ordered to collect and hand over church treasures to the secular authority. Instead, Laurence distributed any goods to Rome’s poor which infuriated the emperor against him. These paupers appeared in Le Valentin’s painting to the left.
The emperor ordered the Catholic deacon to sacrifice to Rome’s gods which Laurence refused to do (in prison Laurence converted his guard). Laurence was martyred after being tortured and then roasted alive over a fire on a spit. The saint is famously quoted as telling his executioners: “One side is roasted, so you can turn me over and roast the other side.”
In the Prado Le Valentin gives orderly arrangement to a complex scene of 15 figures and a horse. It shows the saint during his martyrdom isolated in the center of the composition. As with Caravaggio’s figures, the soldiers are in modern costume, use of chiaroscuro is evident, and further drama is added by the use of diagonals whose construction suggest movement that add to the tension of the naturally rendered figures. However, Le Valentin uses these derived elements unconventionally.
Dating from the years 1624-1626, le Valentin painted all four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) for the same religious order in Rome whose name is unknown. They entered the collections of the Sun King in 1670.
For his The Last Supper, Le Valentin was, at least through engravings, aware of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (c. 1495–1498) in Milan and Raphael’s Last Supper (1518-1519) in Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican. Le Valentin explores the 12 apostles’ reactions. Commissioned by Asdrubale Mattei (d. 1638), one of Rome’s nobili, to decorate a gallery in his family’s palace, the picture depicts a central event presented in the gospels. The moment that is depicted in these Last Supper paintings is when Christ announces that one of his disciples will betray him. Judas, in the foreground left, was treasurer for Jesus’s disciples and betrayed Jesus for a bribe payment of 30 pieces of silver. The picture, with its simple and monumental composition, so impressed Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) in 1779 that he copied it and sent it from Rome to Paris.
An Old Testament Judge, Samson was born in a miraculous fashion and with an angel telling his mother and father, “No razor shall touch his head” (Judges 13:5). Samson is often depicted with his locks unshorn. As a youth Samson displayed an incredible physical strength attributed to “the spirit of the Lord rushing upon him” (Judges 14:6).
Le Valentin’s picture presents Samson’s legendary strength by showing the solid demeanor of his physical body as well as objects which hold symbolic value of his strength. These include that he killed a lion with his bare hands and liberated the Israelites by slaughtering a thousand Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone (Judges 15: 15-16). The strength of his arm is displayed as his fingers curl under his jaw as his wandering gaze looks off with intense interiority. One contemporary allusion in the painting is Samson’s breastplate which is joined at the shoulder by a clasp in the form of a bee which was the emblem of the Barberini family who commissioned the painting. It is speculated that the facial features of Samson in a picture before his fateful meeting with Delilah (Judges 16), may be a self-portrait of Le Valentin.
The story of Judith in the Old Testament relates of a woman of great beauty and reverence to the God of Israel who is highly respected by her people and its leaders. The nation, desperate for survival, turns to Judith who is given the opportunity to kill their enemy’s military leader which she believes she can and must do and that all believed impossible as Israel’s military defeat by their enemies was a foregone conclusion.
The story has a femme fatale aspect as Holofernes was captivated by Judith’s physical appearance, but the Biblical episode of the execution, while a climax of her mission, pales in comparison with the relating of Judith’s overall dedication to her people and her God, a femme forte, which carries on into her long life of blessedness to her natural death. Le Valentin chooses that sacred element of the Bible book when he shows an iconic Judith, triumphant woman of Israel, holding in her hands the decapitated head of one of Israel’s once-formidable mortal enemies. Judith is shown as a heroic woman with her hand raised as she admonishes: “But the Almighty Lord hath disappointed them by the hand of a woman.”
For Le Valentin’s artwork, Judith is an icon of God’s justice to his obedient people. Purchased for French King Louis XIV from German banker Everhard Jabach, the picture was installed in the king’s bedroom at Versailles to be especially admired.
The picture belongs to Le Valentin’s period of maturity for it displays the artist’s full interpretation of the realism of Caravaggio and Manfredi though, as expressed here, with a new appreciation for colors. The pretext of a Judith who, according to the Bible, had adorned herself in her best finery so not to dissuade Holofernes’s gaze (Judith, 13, 14), allows le Valentin to illuminate the dress’s rich fabrics with monochrome refractions, while the jewels and hair are bathed in ethereal light.
The Four Ages of Man is a painting commissioned by Cardinal Barberini. It is an allegorical work whose human figures are painted by Le Valentin in natural poses. Groups of figures around a table were common in the work of Caravaggio and his northern followers. The allegory of the ages of man was a common subject for paintings during the sixteenth and seventeenth century, though its quantity of ages varied.
The allegory presents humanity in four categories of age – childhood (holding an empty bird trap); youth (playing a lute); adulthood (with a book and victor’s laurel); old age (with coins of wealth and delicate glassware).
The theme had its origin in classical literature: Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Dante’s Inferno acknowledged the stages of human life according to physical growth and decline. Contemporary poems were written on the subject that Le Valentin may have known.
In the 17th century, the painting was owned by Michel Particelli, seigneur d’Emery (1596–1650) in Paris. In the 18th century it was in the Orléans collection at the Palais Royal. During the French Revolution and the dispersal of the collection in 1791, the painting was brought to England where it is today.
Le Valentin painted many half- or three-quarter-length figures of saints, prophets and narrative scenes including this painting. The scene of Christ expelling the moneychangers from the Temple of Jerusalem is told in all four gospels of the New Testament. Le Valentin adapted the method of half-length, full size street figures depicted in dark, precisely lighted spaces and emerging in relief from the shadows from the Caravaggistes.
Gospel readers would recognize that the cleansing of the temple was prophesied in the Old Testament as a sign of the ushering in of the Messianic Age (Zechariah 14:21). In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) the episode appears at the close of Jesus’s public ministry and in John’s gospel at the start (2:13-17). The chronology of the episode in Jesus‘ ministry is generally not considered its most important element.
Le Valentin shows the “whip of cords” held by Christ, a detail mentioned only in John (Jn 2:15). There are overturned tables, a bench, and scattered coins. Le Valentin depicts the gestures, movements and emotions of the characters involved, focused on a wrathful Christ and fear of the unrighteous.
While in Synoptics the point of the episode appears to be the dishonesty of the Temple money changers, in John’s gospel Jesus’s wrath is directed to the Temple institution itself. In John’s Gospel Jesus declares the Temple is to be “My Father’s house.” Though not a term unique to John, he uses it more than any other Gospel writer (27 times).
Derived from Caravaggio are the types of ordinary people, distinct contrasts of light and shade and the natural plasticity of the figures involved in the composition.
The painting entered the Hermitage collection in 1772.
The painting’s structural asymmetry lends energy to the scene. With Christ’s raised arm, he is a menace to the money changers. Le Valentin, taking inspiration from Caravaggio, unabashedly renders a scene in grand format of violence in the gospels. The painting was rediscovered in Rome in the mid19th century.
The oil painting called Allegoria d’Italia by Le Valentin was originally called Historia d’Italia. Its massive volumes imbued with inner life are rendered using a brown palette and highlights that retained the Caravaggiste tradition. Le Valentin’s redoubling his commitment to Caravaggio in the late 1620s was on display in this painting as other leading painters, such as Vouet, Poussin, Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647) and Pietro da Cortona (1597-1669), were deploying brighter “modern” colors.
In March 1628 Cardinal Barberini gave Le Valentin the commission for the Extraordinary Jubilee of 1628 and paid 113 crowns for it. This major painting which renewed Caravaggio-inspired technique in the late 1620s attracted greater attention to Le Valentin’s artwork not only by Caravaggeschi but the broader Roman art circles.
A young Roman girl wears an emperor’s cuirass, holds a spear and shield, as the personification of Italy. At her feet are the fruit and nuts of the land’s bounty. Below her image are two male figures, naked and bearded, who represent the Tiber and the Arno, Italy’s great rivers. The figure of the Tiber is joined by Romulus and Remus and the suckling wolf who founded Rome and the later Papal States. The Arno that runs through Florence is joined by its symbol of the lion. In the top left corner, a tree stump with a bee swarm symbolizes the Barberini.
The gospel story that Le Valentin depicts using the typical Caravaggiste method (half-length, full size street figures in shadow and light) is from John 8. The story had been painted by the Flemish and the Venetians. The plump young woman in a torn garment exposing her shoulders and full-formed breasts is taken into custody by soldiers in armor to Jesus. According to the law the woman should be publicly stoned for adultery. The Pharisees lay verbal and other traps repeatedly in the gospels for Jesus to say or do something that is expungable. Jesus’s response moves past their premise. Whereas Jesus will soon be arrested, tried, and condemned by the authorities for his “transgressions,” the focus of le Valentin’s artwork is Jesus showing mercy to the sinful woman. From a theological viewpoint, Jesus’s innovative teaching is again based on the appeal to an extant biblical tradition of God’s anger towards, and forgiveness of, harlotry or unfaithfulness when such sin is repented (Hosea 5:4). Jesus tells her: “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). While the woman’s disheveled look suggests the nature of her sin, she represents humankind and points to Christ, the God-Man and prophesied suffering servant (Isaiah 53). Christ takes the harlot’s place as the arrested agitator and manhandled by soldiers along the Via Dolorosa. In that episode, Christ goes to the cross to shed his blood in the new covenant whose outcome for “adulterous” humankind is eternal forgiveness of sins and rising to new life.
The image of a young soldier singing in armor breastplate a love madrigal is unique in Valentin’s oeuvre. The painting was part of the collection of Cardinal Mazarin, minister to Louis XIV.
One of Jesus’s most famous parables, The Prodigal Son tells the story of a young man who demanded his “full share of [his father’s] estate that should come to [him],” and departed to waste it “on a life of dissipation” (Luke 15). When the lost son falls on hard times, he seeks his father’s house though “only as a hired servant.” The forgiving father who has been on the look-out for his lost son (dressed in rags) since the day of his departure welcomes him back as a son “who was dead and has come back to life.” Which of the other figures may be the older brother who is unhappy about his dissolute brother’s return is not clear. Le Valentin treats the parable as a human story of repentance, forgiveness, and unconditional love.
The attribution to Le Valentin and its dating for this artwork is the result of modern scholarship. Art historians can thereby draw conclusions and make conjectures about the development of Le Valentin’s early artwork in Rome -he uses a larger format, growing complexity of compositional qualities and its subject matter, and the retention of low-life characters and stylistic indebtedness to Caravaggio as he moves beyond him.
A dark tavern filled with low-life characters provides the setting for a scene of fortune and deceit. As a gypsy fortuneteller reads the palm of a young soldier he is looking pensively as she speaks his fate, there are carousers and thieves in the scene. The picture is emblematic of Le Valentin – the techniques of a somber palette and dramatic lighting and tabletop groupings but also a mysterious mood and psychological depth to the complex interplay among its characters.
The prelate is dressed in the robes of a papal chamberlain. Modern scholarship has proposed various individuals as the sitter from cardinals to lawyers.
Moses led the Israelites out the slavery of Egypt into the freedom of the Promised Land during the Exodus. The event is told and retold in the Old Testament and Moses as Liberator and Law Giver is its most significant figure. Le Valentin shows him holding a miraculous rod that he used to open the Red Sea (Exodus 14), struck the rock to produce water (Numbers 20) and, after its transformation into an iron snake, healed the ill (Numbers 21). Moses points to the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments of God (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). This late work by Valentin is characteristic in its dark and pensive tone that is reminiscent of Caravaggio.
The picture is one of Valentin’s last paintings before his death in 1632. Prince Hans Adam Il von und zu Liechtenstein (b. 1945) acquired the work in 2004. Throughout his painting career, Le Valentin never ceased producing genre paintings.
A Dictionary of Art and Artists, Peter and Linda Murray, Penguin Books; Revised,1998.
French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century, The Collection of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue, Philip Conisbee and Frances Gage, Washington, D.C., 2009 pp, 413-414.
Art for the Nation, text by Philip Conisbee, National Gallery of Art exhibition catalogue, 2000.
French Painting From Fouquet to Poussin, Albert Chatâlet and Jacques Thuillier, trans. from French by Stuart Gilbert, Skira, 1963.
FEATURE image: Main Lobby. The Art Institute of Chicago (2014).
The Bunworth harp is inscribed: “made by Iohn Kelly for the Revd Charles Bworth Baltdaniel 1734″. The wire-string harp was made by Catholic instrument maker John Kelly for the Reverend Charles Bunworth, also of Baltdaniel, who was the Protestant rector of Buttevant, County Cork. The many aspects of the instrument—from soundbox, harmonic curve, fore-pillar, tuning pegs, and ornamentation and color— invite interest. Though it may be the female head at the top of the harmonic curve that at first most intrigues. (see – https://harp.fandom.com/wiki/Bunworth_Harp and http://www.earlygaelicharp.info/harpmakers/ – both retrieved October 14, 2021).
Robert Fagan was an Irish painter who was born in London but spent most of his artistic career in Rome and Sicily (Fagan first arrived into Italy in 1781). Though an expatriate, Fagan’s oil on canvas depicts a woman who represents Ireland careessing the strings of the harp, the country’s national instrument and symbol. Seated next to an Irish wolfhound, she holds a scroll that reads: “Ireland Forever” (“Erin go bragh“).
Henry Moore’s 16-foot sculpture was made when the 84-year-old British artist was concerned with the construction of three-dimensional space, internal forms within solid volumes, and placing his work in a natural setting.
Moore had worked primarily in stone but as these formal concerns emerged, he shifted to modeling and bronze casting.
Large Interior Form explores mass and void as well as gravity and growth within a nature-inspired artist-created form.
Swedish sculptor Carl Milles (1875-1955) studied in Paris from 1897 to 1904, working in the studio of Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). Yet Milles departed from the prevailing naturalism that dominated sculpture in the Belle Époque era, and embraced ideas and forms that reflected the artist’s independent spirit, his knowledge and appreciation of classical and Gothic sculpture, and his Nordic roots. Speaking of the fountain, Milles observed: “The great classicists knew that it was impossible to reproduce the appearance of flesh in marble, and they set themselves to create forms of pure beauty that would merely suggest and symbolize the living creature, and then to invest those forms with a meaning that mankind would feel intuitively to be universal and significant. This is what I have tried to do.”
The headdresses at the right and at the left are Gelede headdresses. The headdress in the middle is perhaps a Gelde or Efe headdress. The headdress at the left is made of wood and the oldest of the headdresses. It was made in Nigeria or Benin by the Yoruba community in the late 19th/early 20th centuries.
Gelede headdresses often portray women. The headdresses in the center and at right depict women. One is wearing a head tie and the other is showing a woman with a plaited hairstyle. These were made in Nigeria by the Yoruba community in the early 20th century.
The Gelede festival of the Yoruba community in western Africa is a public spectacle which uses colorful masks that combines art and ritual dance to educate, entertain and inspire worship. Gelede includes the celebration of “Mothers,” a grouping that includes female ancestors and deities as well as the elderly women of the community whose power and spiritual capacity in society is convoked. The Efe is a nighttime public performance held the day before the Gelede.
The artist, born in Sweden, moved with his family to Toledo, Ohio, as a child. Lungren wanted to be an artist but his father objected, wanting him to be a mining engineer. For a brief time, in 1874, Lungren attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor to study his father’s preferred subject. But after two years, Lungren’s father still opposed to his being an artist, the younger Lungren rebelled and prevailed. In 1876 he was able to study under Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) at the Pennsylvania Academy in Philadelphia. In winter 1877 the 20-year-old Lungren moved to New York City. With his first illustration published in 1879, he worked as an illustrator for Scribner’s Monthly (renamed Century in 1881) as well as for Nicholas (a children’s magazine) and as a contributor until 1903. He later worked for Harper’s Bazaar, McCLure’s and The Outlook. Lungren’s illustrations included portraits, and social and street scenes.
In 1882 Lungren traveled to Paris via Antwerp. In a brief stay in Paris he studied informally at the Académie Julian, and viewed French Impressionist artworks. Lungren returned to New York City in 1883 and, soon afterwards, established a studio in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1892 he visited Santa Fe, New Mexico for the first time and, in the following years painted artworks inspired by his contact with American Indian culture and the desert landscape. In 1899 he showed these American desert works at the American Art Galleries in New York and afterwards at the Royal Academy in London and the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.
When Lungren was in London he made pictures of street life and met several artists, including James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903). In late 1900 Lungren traveled to Egypt and returned to New York via London in the next year. Lungren had married Henrietta Whipple in 1898 and they moved to California in 1903, settling in Santa Barbara in 1906. Lungren lived and work in California—including several notable trips to Death Valley—until his death in 1932. Most of Lungren’s artwork, including hundreds of his paintings, were bestowed to what is today the University of California, Santa Barbara.
SOURCE: J.A. Berger, Fernand Lungren: A Biography, Santa Barbara, 1936.
Acquired by the museum in 1966, photographs show that the statue stood in an open location by a garden pool at the museum. In 1991 following a whirlwind of euphoria associated with the successful completion of Operation Desert Storm, a victory celebration at the Mall in June of that year involved hovering military jets and helicopters. Their downdraft sent gravel footpath debris flying in the air that scratched and cracked several statues in the sculpture garden. Though none appeared to sustain damage beyond some repair, the Nymph—Central Figure for the Three Graces suffered the most damage as the nude female statue had pitted indentations on her backside. In 2010 when this photograph was taken, the sculpture was located in front of a protective garden wall. See- https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-1991-06-12-1991163158-story.html
Aristide Maillol’s Nymph at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in June 1975. Fair Use.
The Safety Patrol considers the potential of a group of children as future caretakers of the world led by a boy in a sash with outstretched arms whose duty it is to protect the others.
Bisa Butler uses the technique of appliqué quiltmaking to create her work. For the figures, the artist cuts, layers, and pins together fabrics and arranges them on the ground fabric. This comprises the quilt top. Between this quilt top and a backing fabric is a layer of fiber “batting” or stuffing. These layers are stitched to form the quilt with the thread lines part of the structure, texture and details of the image. Butler seeks to use fabric colors and patterns to contribute to the quilt’s subject and narrative.
When Oskar Kokoschka (Austrian, 1886-1980) painted Lady In Red in the Milwaukee Art Museum he was a starving artist living in Berlin. At 24 years old Kokoschka became associated with Berlin’s avant-garde and its writers, artists, and theatre actors. The artist knew some of the artists and others of Die Brücke and those associated with Der Sturm, the art and literary magazine. But Kokoschka’s involvement with the German Expressionists was limited as the young artist was dedicated to pursuing his own artistic ideas and forms. Commenting on this independence, Kokoschka wrote that he was “not going to submit…to anyone else’s control. That is freedom as I understand it.” (Oskar Kokoschka, My Life, translated from the German by David Britt, New York, Macmillan, 1974, p. 67). As Kokoschka developed the art of “seeing,” with his emphasis on depth perception, the local press saw young Kokoschka’s volatile unpredictability and called him “the wildest beast of all.”
Though Kokoschka studied art of the past masters to develop a unique individual style, he and Die Brücke did interact on ideas and formal problems which generated an artistic atmosphere in Berlin and Vienna. In 1912, Kokoschka started a disastrous affair with Alma Mahler (1879-1964), the widow of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). Its ending led to Kokoschka volunteering for the front lines in World War I and being seriously wounded in Russia in 1915.
The Expressionists’ emotional involvement with world events affected each of their creative processes. In these experiences of personal and social upheaval, Kokoschka maintained that as an artist – and he viewed this role as an existential fact more than a choice – his life had less to do with often prefabricated ideologies, programs, and parties and, rather, with searching and crafting his unique outlook as a creative individual. “There is no such thing as a German, French, or Anglo-American Expressionism!” Kokoschka would argue, “There are only young people trying to find their bearings in the world.” (Kokoschka, My Life, p. 37).
Kokoschka’s individualism made him one of the supreme masters of Expressionism, an -ism he defied. His tempestuous canvases with harsh colors and disjointed angles produced compositions that were emotionally aggressive and meant to prod the viewer into discomfort and rage. As Kokoschka eschewed the main modernist movement of Expressionism for the discovery and practice of his own unique style, he became one of the few major artists (Max Beckmann is another) who will often not appear in the annals of mainstream 20th century modernism, though this exclusive outcome is likely what would satisfy “the wildest beast of all.”
St Patrick’s Hall had long been a key location for Ireland’s political, military and social elite to gather (B. Rooney, Creating History, Stories of Ireland in Art, 2016, p.179). These dance proceedings are overseen by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and his wife visible at the end of the hall.
The 1840s was a period of fashion indulgence. The social ball with attendees in sumptuous costume took place during the period of the Irish famine (1845-1849) where approximately one million people died. Another one million or more emigrated out of the country at the same time, many to the United States.
Court dress for gentleman allowed personal expression in fabric and style for the waistcoat. Military officers and political office holders wore court uniforms indicating their position and rank. For ladies, to signal their marital situation, unmarried women wore jewelry and fresh flowers in their hair. Conventionally-minded single ladies added two ostrich feathers behind one ear. Matrons sported a third ostrich feather in their hair and wore lace ribbons.
African Chief in The Art Institute of Chicago was recently exhibited in a 2017-2018 monographic retrospective at the Prado in Madrid. The show, simply entitled “Fortuny (1838-1874),” reflected the Prado’s holdings of many of this artist’s masterpieces. The Prado’s collection is due to their own acquisitions but mainly the generous bequests of the artist’s oils, watercolors, and drawings by late 19th century Mexican collector Ramón de Errazu (1840-1904) as well as the painter’s son, Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo.
Fortuny’s artwork is often Orientalist in style that reflects the many trips he made to North Africa. In his career, Fortuny was noted for his precision of anatomy and archaeological scrupulousness though African Chief tends to the modern broken brush style for which the Spanish artist was prescient following his many trips to Paris.
Pompeo Batoni was a leading 18th-century Roman painter. The artist was known for his portraits and commissioned large format historical and religious paintings. The painting entitled “Allegory of Peace and War” represented the mythological figure of the god Mars being restrained by a semi-nude embodiment of peace. Peace lays her hand on War’s sword and bears to him an olive branch.
The painting was the result of Batoni’s own invention – no one commissioned this artwork – and it stayed in the artist’s studio until at least the early 1780s.
Statue of Aphrodite, called Venus de Milo because it was found on the Greek Island of Milos in the Aegean Sea. It dates from around 150 B.C. In the Louvre in Paris, the Venus de Milo is one of the most famous statues in the world. Its soft, sensual handling of the marble was characteristic of the late Hellenistic period. She is monumental – the topless, armless Venus de Milo stands, independent of her base and pedestal, six feet five inches in height.
In the course of the second half of the 19th century, the Venus de Milo became a favorite statue of Parisians and its visitors. It was around 1875 that it was moved away from the wall which it stood against and placed in the middle of a 17th century room so that it could be viewed completely around. It was accorded this baroque effect first used at Versailles at the start of the 18th century so to isolate monumental sculpture for display to produce maximum impact and enjoyment of the artwork.
SOURCES: Masterpieces of the Louvre, Marcel Brion, NY: Abrams; Creators Collectors and Connoisseurs, Niels Von Holst, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
In September 2016 the Musée Maillol re-opens in Paris following its unfortunate closure due to poor finances earlier in the year. Under the new management team of M. Olivier Lorquin, president of the Maillol Museum, and M. Bruno Monnier, chairman of Culturespaces, the museum’s new schedule calls for two major exhibitions each year which will look to honor the modernist legacy of the artist, Aristide Maillol (French, 1861-1944) and the museum’s founder, Maillol’s muse, Dina Vierny (1919-2009).
This photographic essay called “Encountering Maillol” is constituted by 34 photographs taken by the author in The Art Institute of Chicago from 2013 to 2016 of the artistically splendid and historically notable sculpture Enchained Action by Maillol and random museum patrons’ reactions when viewing it. The impressive bronze female nude from 1905 stands almost four feet tall atop a plain pedestal which greets every visitor who ascends the Grand Staircase from the Michigan Avenue entrance. Enchained Action is one of Maillol’s earliest modernist sculptures and is doubtless filled by a dynamism not encountered anywhere else in his oeuvre.1
Modelled in France in 1905 by a 44-year-old Maillol who by 1900 had abandoned Impressionist painting for sculpture (first in wood, then in bronze) Enchained Action is one of the artist’s most impressive early sculptures. From the start of his sculptural work around 1898 until his death in 1944, the female body, chaste but sensual, is Maillol’s central theme. What can be seen in Enchained Action expresses the intensity in his early sculptural work which is not found later on—particularly the artist’s natural dialogue among his experimental works in terracotta, lead, and bronze each of which is marked by an attitude of robust energy expressed in classical restraint and modernist simplicity. Enchained Action exhibits Maillol’s early facility for perfection of form within a forceful tactile expression which deeply impressed his first admirers such as Maurice Denis (1870-1943), Octave Mirbeau (1848-1917) and André Gide (1869-1951) and cannot fail to impress the museum goer today.2 By force of this new work in the first decade of the twentieth century, Maillol started on the path of becoming an alternative to and, dissonant heir of Auguste Rodin (1840-1917).3
Maillol’s early sculptural work is important for what it is—and is not. Modeled around three years after he completed his first version of La Méditerranée in 1902 in terracotta and for which his wife posed—a major modernist achievement of a seated woman in an attitude of concentration—and whose radically revised second version was exhibited at the 1905 Salon d’Automne, Enchained Action forms part of Maillol’s revolution for sculpture starting around 1900. Maillol made a radical break with neoclassicism and stifling academicism with its strange blend of realism and mythological forms—and with a rising generation of young sculptors such as Joseph Bernard (1866-1931), Charles Despiau (1874-1946) and Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929)—blazed a new path for sculpture. Except for Maillol, all these young sculptors worked in menial jobs for Rodin. Because of Maillol’s chosen artistic distance from Rodin’s work, Maillol did not need to react to it and so rapidly achieved his own new style as soon as 1905, the year of Enchained Action.
Maillol’s concept and primary approach to the beauty of the human body was to simplify and subdue forms. This pursuit began in early 1900 and advanced until the artist’s first time outside France on his trip to Greece in 1908 with Count Kessler (1868-1937). An important early sculpture—Recumbent Nude, 1900—was cast with the help of his lifelong friend Henri Matisse (1869-1954). This friendship had ramifications for the Art Institute’s Enchained Action in that it was purchased from Henri Matisse’s son, art dealer Pierre Matisse in 1955 right after his father’s death. While it would prove quaint for The Art Institute of Chicago to install Maillol’s limbless torso of Enchained Action on The Grand Staircase to pay homage or evoke the Louvre’s Winged Victory or Venus de Milo, it is historically significant so to embody Maillol’s artistic outlook in 1905 for his new sculpture, of which Enchained Action is an example. In the years between 1900 and 1908, Maillol searched beyond realism and naturalism to create sculpture with an abstract anatomical structure that jettisoned the sign language of physical gestures which are emotional and where limbs could be problematic for Maillol’s end design. The human torso of Enchained Action foregoes limbs and head to alone embody and convey the artist’s import for it.4
On The Art Institute of Chicago’s Grand Staircase Enchained Action displays Maillol’s sensitive surface modeling capturing human flesh’s animation and sensual power more than its suppleness as found in Italian masters such as Bernini –such difference serves Maillol’s purpose for his subject matter. The torso is differently pliant—toned, muscular, and strident. It displays the humana ex machina whose stance and posture express the modern hero’s defiance and whose nakedness retains the beauty uniquely imbued in the female human body. Enchained Action is a different work altogether than every work Maillol modeled and cast up to 1905. His art progresses in experimentation by its direct interface with politics. Enchained Action is not only an artwork but a political artwork where Maillol empowers both spheres. For today’s viewer who reacts to nudity in art with the shame of eroticism, they may see (or avoid seeing) its sprightly breasts, taut stomach, and large buttocks of Enchained Action only in that mode. The museum limits such visitors to this narrow viewpoint because they do not explain to them Maillol’s artful technique, conceptual artistic revolution by 1905, or unique political and socioeconomic purpose for this imposing artwork in plain view.
With an aesthetic interest established for Enchained Action—for it signals a break with the artistic past and the birth of modern sculpture in its abstraction – a question is posed: what are the political and socioeconomic purposes for this work? Its original and full title reveals a radical social implication: Torso of the Monument to Blanqui ([En] Chained Action). Abbreviated titles—and such appear at The Art Institute of Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Torso of Chained Action) and in the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris (L’Action enchaînée)—neatly avoids or even voids the sculpture’s original radical social message. Maillol’s Enchained Action is dedicated it to the French socialist revolutionary Louis Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881).
In 1905 Maillol’s Enchained Action was a public monument honoring the centenary of Blanqui’s birth and consolidation of the French socialist movement that same year into the Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière (SFIO), a single leftist political party that was replaced by the current Socialist Party (PS) in 1969. Given this background a visitor may simply stare at or bypass the torso but perhaps for reasons of politics rather than eroticism. The title omission—first promoted by André Malraux in 1964 for the Tuileries’ copy—does disservice to Maillol’s accomplishment and its full title should be restored. The Metropolitan has an incomplete title but on thee label includes information on Blanqui and clearly states their version was cast in 1929. The Art Institute of Chicago’s casting date for the torso is obscure. For a better appreciation of the artwork, familiarity with its social and political historical context is important to locate the intended nature of the energy expressed in it. Torso of the Monument to Blanqui ([En] Chained Action) is a figure study of a strident naked female torso and an expression of radical politics in France at the turn of the last century.
By 1905 Maillol’s new sculptural work attracted important collectors. Rodin introduced Maillol that year to Count Kessler at the Paris gallery of Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) and to other progressive writers, art critics, and painters. Maillol’s work was a new art form for a new century. It was in 1905 that Paris friends, among them Anatole France (1844-1924), Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929), Gustave Geffroy (1855-1926), Jean Jaurès (1859-1914) and Octave Mirbeau, approached Maillol to persuade the avant-garde artist to accept a commission for the politically sectarian Blanqui monument. It would be a tribute très moderne to a fierce socialist revolutionary but and the entire Blanqui family tradition which had voted to guillotine Louis XVI in the French Revolution and plotted against each ruling regime in France afterwards. Immense confidence was placed in Maillol by these bold turn-of-the-century intelligentsia and by the artist himself who came from a generation that came to believe they were the torchbearers of a new art.
In France public opinion was frequently divided on art matters. When Rodin agreed to Maillol’s commission—he wanted Camille Claudel to do it, but she had become seriously psychotic by 1905—the older sculptor admired and purchased Maillol’s new sculpture—in addition to experiencing his own deep familiarity with the vagaries of creating public monuments. Committee members, by and large left-wing sympathizers, made a favorable impression on Maillol who agreed to do the work. On July 10, 1905, Maillol promised Georges Clemenceau, “I’ll make you a nice big woman’s ass and I’ll call it Liberty in Chains.”5 After that, Maillol’s new sculpture—a symbolic monument to a political revolutionary erected in October 1908 under protest of town leaders on the main square of Blanqui’s native village of Puget-Théniers in the south of France—became the subject of unending intense scrutiny. How to respond to a large and powerful standing figure, tense and in motion where human struggling is borne to the edge of absorbing mute serenity by restraint of chains symbolizing Blanqui’s thirty years in jails by successive French governments?6 In the first ten days of working on the new commission, Maillol made three small sketches and two maquettes of an armless torso followed by other preliminary work. He finished a final clay version in 1905 whose contemplative intimacy reflected socialist Jean Jaurès’sagenda for political life: “We are inclined to neglect the search for the real meaning of life, to ignore the real goals—serenity of the spirit and sublimity of the heart … To reach them—that is the revolution.”7 Sixty-five-year-old Rodin whose critical judgment of the new sculpture which undertook to streamline art forms to the point of austerity against Rodin’s “monstrous subjects, filled with pathos” remarked tersely on Enchained Action.8 Although Maillol saw this public monument as more reliant than ever on Rodin’s concepts, M. Rodin after seeing it was reported to ambiguously mutter: “It needs looking at again.”9
It may be better to judge Enchained Action inside its historical moment. Former Metropolitan curator Preston Remington (1897-1958) praised his museum’s copy of the torso calling it “splendid” and “impeccable” in its observation of the human form. Yet he concludes that it is “essentially typical” of the sculptor for it “transcends the realm of visual reality.”10Enchained Action displays none of the delicacy, awkwardness, luminosity, or calm of the artist’s earlier sculptures and predates major developments in Maillol’s oeuvre after 1909 which differs extensively from that of Enchained Action11 and for which is based much of the artist’s legacy, even by 1929 when Remington is writing. Is it fair to identify Enchained Action as “essentially typical” even as it sublimates form? Viewed in 1905—a watershed year for modern art, including an exhibition of Henri-Matisse’s first Fauvist canvases at the Salon des Indépendents and at the Salon d’Automne—Enchained Action became that year Maillol’s largest sculptural statement to date. The commission, while relying on Rodin’s concepts in its depiction of strenuous physical activity—a quality Preston Remington recognized as “exceptional” in the torso and yet as a critical judgment ambiguous as to whether it refers to Maillol’s reliance on Rodin—afforded Maillol further confidence to execute his monumental art after 1905 for which today he is famous. While for Mr. Remington the representative quality of Enchained Action was what he sought for a museum collection, its exceptional qualities in values that are literally not “essentially typical” for the sculptor.
The complete final figure of Monument to Blanqui([En] Chained Action)—and not only the torso that is displayed on the Grand Staircase of The Art Institute of Chicago—depicts a mighty and heroic woman struggling to free herself from chains binding her hands from behind. Both of these “complete” versions are in Paris and found in the Jardin des Tuileries and in the Musée Cognacq-Jay. Maillol’s later studies for Enchained Action commenced without its head and legs that expressed a heightened anatomical intensity in place of Rodin-like strife.12 Chicago and New York each have a bronze replica of the torso. The Tate Britain has one in lead. Following the Great War, Maillol’s Monument to Blanqui ([En] Chained Action) standing for 14 years in Puget-Théniers’ town square was taken down in 1922 so to erect a monument aux morts. During World War II fearing that the extant original sculpture would be melted down for Nazi bullets, Henri Matisse purchased it from Puget-Théniers and gave it to the city of Nice. The original bronze was saved and now stands in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris.13
Dynamism not anywhere else in his oeuvre – “Maillol/Derré,” Sidney Geist, Art Journal, v.36, n.1 (Autumn 1976), p.14.
Sketches, maquettes, final version – Lorquin, p. 57-58.; Jaurès quoted in Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870-1920, James T. Kloppenberg, Oxford University Press, New York & Oxford, 1986, p. 297.
“A Newly Acquired Sculpture by Maillol,” Preston Remington, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 24, No. 11, Part 1 (Nov., 1929), pp. 280-283.
Such works as Night (1909), Flora and Summer (1911), Ile de France (1910–25), Venus (1918–28), Nymphs of the Meadow (1930–37), Memorial to Debussy (marble, 1930–33; Saint-Germain-en-Laye) and Harmony (1944) which are composed, harmonious, and monumental nude female figures often labeled “silent” by critics.
Enchained Action was first modeled with arms. The story of how the first limbless final version came about involving Henri Matisse – see Lorquin, p.58.
The photograph above depicts the three versions of Van Gogh’s “Bedroom” in Arles, France, in this blockbuster exhibition’s penultimate gallery.
From the collections (left to right) of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris (1889), The Art Institute of Chicago (1889), and the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (1888).
The three masterworks were gathered together side by side in North America for the first time in art history.
By John P. Walsh. May 6, 2016.
I saw the Van Gogh’s Bedrooms exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago (February 14-May 10, 2016) on the last Friday afternoon before the show closed. The museum that day was drawing a large crowd and it was challenging to navigate through the multi-room art show in a mass of frequently immobile art lovers. Exactly for what cause some stationary patrons might be transfixed could only be speculated upon but often no art was present. No one I think comes to art shows to be caught in a logjam of people yet that recurrent phenomenon in Van Gogh’s Bedrooms soon became one of its unpleasant features. The expansive exhibition space—striking for its illogical reasoning to display three relatively small masterpieces—proved impractical, or at least a two-edged sword, in terms of containing its throngs.
Those three featured paintings are this show’s raison d’être and prove a marvelous highlight after reaching them by way of a dozen or so high-ceiling galleries. Once arrived to the show’s penultimate room, my eyes settled on the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam’s version as the most intriguing of the three superficially identical works. The other two versions are from the collections of The Art Institute of Chicago and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
When 35-year-old Van Gogh painted his The Bedroom series starting in October 1888, the Dutchman had been an artist only a short while: about 7 years. This had followed a variety of other occupations, although Van Gogh began his professional life as an art dealer. By late 1888—less than two years before his death by self-inflicted gunshot in Auvers-sur-Oise in July 1890—Van Gogh had traveled long and far from his beginnings in North Brabant. He arrived into Paris in 1885 to paint and join his brother Theo who was an avant-garde art dealer in the Rue Montmartre. Looking to sell more of his artwork, he began painting in the bright Impressionist style for which Van Gogh is probably most famous today. By February 1888 Van Gogh relocated to Arles in the South of France on account of his health and to possibly start an art colony. Still quite poor and alone, this roughly 15-month period in Arles proved to be prolific for the artist’s production when Van Gogh completed 200 paintings, and over 100 drawings and watercolors. Many of Van Gogh’s most famous works were created in this fecund period—for example, his portraits of Eugène Boch (Musée d’Orsay), Postman Joseph Roulin and Augustine Roulin (both Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and Madame Ginoux (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) among several others; sunflowers and irises such as Still Life: Vase with Fourteen Sunflowers (National Gallery, London), Still Life: Vase with Fourteen Sunflowers (Neue Pinakothek, Munich) and Irises (Getty Museum, Los Angeles); 15 canvases of cypresses; and his iconic Self-Portrait Dedicated to Paul Gauguin in the Harvard Art Museums.
None of these contextual artworks were in the Chicago show but demonstrate the range and depth of Van Gogh’s artistic vision in the same time period that The Bedrooms—which shared his body of work’s intoxication with color and decorative strategies—were painted.Despite its title—Van Gogh’s Bedrooms—this show is not content to let their presence in Chicago suffice. Instead, much of the other parts of this massive show were from the Art Institute’s permanent collection of mostly Barbizon and Impressionist artwork. Perhaps if they had been left on whatever museum walls from which they had come, these fine artworks might have maintained an even greater impact for themselves and this show’s ultimate purpose than crowding them onto walls into this special exhibition space. That said, the condensed interpretive curatorial exercise of parts of the permanent collection in this show could prove interesting for visitors who are not willing or able to visit other parts of the museum. In a show that took on the formula of a typical Regenstein Hall blockbuster, its propensity for Impressionist rehash (“delve” was the museum’s word) had a boring art textbook’s sensibility. That the show dipped into the museum storehouse to retrieve the life-size maquette of the Yellow House from AIC’s vastly superior exhibition Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South in 2001, produced a dispiriting effect on at least one viewer who recognized it.But so far I am quibbling: this AIC exhibition brings together the powerful canon of all three versions of Van Gogh’s The Bedroom for the first time in North America which is very special and undoubtedly sufficient to any museum goer’s time and interest. I don’t believe, however, that their full artistic power was best served by being able to see these objects intensely advertised in the media markets and then only hung at the show’s virtual end following a cacophony of mostly extraneous art historical resources however severely earnestly presented. Instead, a surfeit of front-loaded artistic riches labors to obscure these significant Van Goghs that finally appear in the second to last gallery, all of which are jam-packed with art, people, various filmic explorations, somewhat bloviating wall texts, whole house reconstructions, etc.
Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam, October 1888. 72.4 x 91.3 cm.
Chicago, 1889. 72.4 x 91.3 cm. Version Van Gogh painted in the asylum at St. Rémy.
Paris, 1889. 57.5 x 74 cm. Destitute bachelor artist Van Gogh gave this version to his mother and sister to assure them in part that he was working..
It is certainly obvious that Van Gogh’s Bedrooms possibly could have benefited by not pulling out all the stops (AIC: “in-depth study”) but to focus on the three colorful masterpieces uniquely gathered in their essential power. If one wants to read blow by blow explanations of virtually every curatorial application in the show, one might turn to other reviews cited in “Further Reading” below. The equitably in-depth appreciation of this trio of Van Gogh works—and minus the Disney World trappings—might be advanced using timed tickets (as done for Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South) and within a pared down and simpler exhibition scope. The way things are constructed by the show’s curator Gloria Groom, Chair of European Painting and Sculpture at The Art Institute of Chicago, the exhibition transmits encyclopedic knowledge while largely missing a tangible evocation of bachelor Van Gogh’s humble petit boulevard persona who produced in Arles in 1888 and in Saint-Rémy in 1889 these bold canvases of his simple bedroom and even gifting one of the versions (the one now in Paris) to his aged mother and sister to reassure them in his destitution. For Van Gogh the motif of his private and hard-featured bedroom in Arles continued his bold self-expression in a tightly woven and complex painting composed in broad outlines using a many-hued post-impressionistic palette in thick impasto. Despite Van Gogh’s reputation as mad—he mutilated his ear in this bedroom in December 1888—he soon carried on painting two more versions of The Bedroom (the last one slightly reduced) with the apparent added intention to express to his family and friends that the artist was as stable and restful as his artistic subject.
What should an exhibition advertised as Van Gogh’s Three Bedrooms wish to have its spectators looking for and come away with? By the time a visitor reaches Van Gogh’s three paintings after plowing through the aforesaid gauntlet of people and well-known Chicago art resources, the exhibition almost runs the danger of displaying these highly-prized artworks not as denouement but incidental. These Van Gogh paintings are hardly allowed to speak freely for themselves. Of course they have a fascinating history but to what degree should these particular artworks’ written history be simultaneous to their exhibition? Thinking of the viewer, does the display of three paintings of an artist’s bedroom (albeit Vincent Van Gogh’s) that when placed side by side measures the whole of about ten feet across merit thousands of cubic feet of mostly academic groundwork before a viewer can even see them? To what degree are artistic exhibition and their intellectual exposition necessarily complementary since many museum art shows follow this tactic?
The final gallery after the display of the three bedrooms continued Van Gogh’s Bedrooms’ devotion to comprehensive information and theatricality—although a side-by-side blow-up of the bedrooms’ diverging painterly details was perhaps the most useful techie display so to appreciate the artist’s handling of the individual paintings. Yet it begged a question: could this orientation to detail, to seeing the painting, somehow serve as the exhibition’s primary or sole introduction, such as in a film theater? This last gallery then led directly to the ubiquitous and depressing gift shop hosting the galleries’ multitude disporting themselves basically as they did in and among the art. Hearing its timbre I wondered if a unique opportunity to view together these three Van Gogh bedroom paintings—“the first time in North America”—had under- or overplayed its hand? As its elemental objective, had the exhibition Van Gogh’s Bedrooms rightly oriented and imparted to its viewers an intimate and perhaps personally revealing look into these three sensitive treasures of Van Gogh’s oeuvre? Or had the artist Van Gogh merely omitted to paint into his own scene the proverbial kitchen sink?
FEATURE image: Paul Gauguin, Oviri (Savage),1894, stone, 75 x 19 x 27 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Public Domain.
By John P. Walsh
By 1887 French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) had created over 50 ceramic sculptures and carved several decorative panels. So it may be expected that during his interlude in Paris between 1893 and 1895 that he would create a woodcut based on his most recent and important discovery of this Paris interval—the hideous Oviri.
Gauguin made a large ceramic of Oviri (fig. 13) in the winter of 1894-1895. The Tahitian name translates as “wild” or “savage” and, a more recent interpretation, “turned into oneself.” The artist submitted it to the annual exhibition of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts for April 1895.
Submitted, Rejected, Overridden
The ceramic, envisioned by the artist as a modern, savage funerary monument (fig.14), was rejected by the judges for inclusion into the salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Gauguin’s latest Tahiti-inspired art was deemed too ugly even by an organization of artists that, since its renewed inception in 1890, is seen as Europe’s first Secessionist movement. Although Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) was a founding member of the group and since 1891 working on his commission from the Société de Gens Lettres for a Paris Balzac statue (that “obese monstrosity”), it was ceramist Ernst Chaplet who insisted on Gauguin’s admittance.56
When Gauguin discovered this mysterious figure who holds a blunted she-wolf, crushing the life out of her cub — occasionally understood as a symbol of female sexual potency — he did not let her go.55 In the print impression — and he made 19 prints from the same wood block, none of which are exactly alike — Gauguin’s Oviri is encountered in the primeval forest as inky blackness.
Where exactly the ceramic Oviri was displayed in the salon is unclear, but its subsequent route into the collection of the Musée d’Orsay in 1987 is highly circuitous.57 Gauguin often exploited favorite images by repeating them in various media — and the ceramic transposed to the print depicts his idol showering a black light that blots out most of the natural reality around her.
In another Gauguin print from the time period that can fit in the palm of the hand, the artist offers a splendor of darkness, the mystery of a palm frond forest, and a stark confrontation with Oviri who is, as Gauguin described to Stéphane Mallarmé on the poet’s version of the print, “a strange figure, cruel enigma.”58
“turned into oneself” – Anne Pingeot, “Oviri,” in Gauguin Tahiti, George T.M. Shackelford and Claire Frèches-Thory, MFA Publications, 2004, p. 140; “symbol of female sexual potency” – Mathews, p. 203; Gauguin’s ceramic and carved panel output -Barbara Stern Shapiro, “Shapes and Harmonies of Another World,” in Gauguin Tahiti, George T.M. Shackelford and Claire Frèches-Thory, MFA Publications, 2004, pp. 117 and 126.
19 prints from one wood block – Shapiro, p. 126; savage, modern funerary monument – Mathews, p.208; first secessionist movement – Hans-Ulrich Simon, Sezessionismus. Kunstgewerbe in literarischer und bildender Kunst,: J. B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Stuttgart ,1976, p. 47; Gauguin and the 1895 Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts salon – Mathews, p. 208; “obese monstrosity” – Grunfeld, Frederic V., Rodin:A Biography, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1987, p. 374.
Anne Pingeot, “Oviri,” in Gauguin Tahiti, George T.M. Shackelford and Claire Frèches-Thory, MFA Publications, 2004, pp. 136-138.
FEATURE Image: Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Idol-The Goddess Hina, 1894/95 – woodcut in black ink, over ochre and red, with touches of white and green inks, on tan wove paper, 5.78 x 4.72 inches (147 x 120 mm). The Art Institute of Chicago, Edward McCormick Blair collection.
By John P. Walsh
To take a look at a selection of three prints produced in Paris by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) that were inspired by his long trip to Tahiti from 1891 to 1893—and followed by his return there in 1895 until his death in 1903— elucidates both his artistic ideas and methods and techniques he used to produce them in this time period unique to his career.
Ever the consummate craftsman—even Gauguin’s modern art critics largely conceded his graphic arts expertise—his traced monotypes (also called watercolor transfer drawings or printed drawings) employed a simple but creatively unique process to offset his watercolor or gouache designs onto paper.
The first step in Gauguin’s process was to place slightly damp paper over his hand-drawn design and with the pressure he exerted from the back of an ordinary spoon the moisture in the paper and the water-based medium worked to transfer the reverse image of the design onto the paper. Gauguin could then reprint his design so that each would be variable images, imparting a pale, soft value to the work — outcomes that the artist sought for these Tahitian pieces.
By 1898, having returned to Tahiti, Gauguin created a new print medium which was essentially a reversal of early Renaissance silverpoint. His new technique required Gauguin to apply a coat of ink to one sheet of paper, place a second sheet over it, and draw on the top sheet with pencil or crayon. The pressure of the drawing instrument transferred the ink from the first sheet of paper onto the back or verso side of the top sheet. Gauguin greatly admired his technical discovery and considered it an expression of “childlike simplicity.”
In the first print to be seen, Tahitians Fishing is a small work (fig. 1). Its figures are flat, with little modeling or detail. The impact created is one of a dream. Gauguin presents a primitive world that is half-naked and childlike. In its Synthetist elements, it is reminiscent of a major painting he completed the year before, Fatata te Miti (By the Sea) (fig.2). It shares its flat colors, abstract shapes, and unbroken curves uniting to make an integrated decorative pattern.
Yet Tahitians Fishing is a sketch. It is divided into distinct zones like Day of the Gods (Mahana No Atua) (fig.3) created by Gauguin in the same years in Paris. The print shows a grassy foreground and sea/vegetation/sandy shore that creates two horizontal zones. These are bisected by a dominant vertical (a tree) that divides the piece into informal quadrants. The tree, a powerful element, is a void―a space of black ink―while its branches and roots are delineated with the same facile modeling as the rest of the composition. The pair of main roots and twelve or so ancillary roots sit ambiguously atop the grassy foreground with its childlike delineation of blades and sinks into sandy soil. The tree surrounds a naked squatting female, her bare breasts exposed. Is she hiding herself from a second woman working with a net in the area of sand and sea? This second worker is aided by three others who are perhaps completely nude figures that stand waist deep in water. Two are male but the third figure’s sex is uncertain as s/he is turned so the viewer sees only a naked back. There is very little personality to the figures. They are, instead, composition elements like cartoons.
Gauguin’s visual image and text searches and reflects European Symbolism and Tahiti to create a new hybrid
In the time Gauguin was making Tahitians Fishing, he was working on the text and suite of ten wood block prints for his book Noa Noa. Tahitians Fishing also involves text and the visual image. Gauguin places a verse by living French Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) into a visual work about Tahiti. This artistic admixture could be part of Gauguin’s reaction to one of Symbolist art’s major indictments by naturalist modern art critics ― that it is preoccupied with ideas and should be subsumed exclusively into the domain of literature.41
Gauguin’s literary career began in the midst of this critical argument that predated his first departure to Tahiti and maintained itself at his return. From an artist who confronted disparate parts to create something new, Tahitians Fishing is a hybrid piece of Symbolist literary and visual elements using Gauguin’s obsession with Tahiti as its unifying theme. It indicates that the artist was reflecting on his Tahitian art, if not searching for more. Many Paris critics believed his art confused East and West. Gauguin gives validity to that belief by putting a poem at the top of the sheet in its own artistic “zone” and not straying into the visual image itself or making letters into art. While his pillaging from the Western world could set Gauguin’s critics alight, sympathizers saw his juxtapositions as a productive and creative artistic strategy.42 Verlaine’s nature poem ― “Qu’as-tu fait, ô toi que voilà/Pleurant sans cesse./Dis, qu’as tu fait, toi que voilà/De ta jeunesse?”43 ―provides another facet to Gauguin’s imposition of the Edenic dimension of good and evil onto the image.
Tahitians Fishing tested Gauguin’s powers to illustrate text which he was working on for Noa Noa, a phrase that means “perfume.” The Man with the Ax (fig.4), a print from this Paris period (1892/94) is a complex of thinned gouache and pen and black ink over pen and brown ink on dark tan wove paper and laid down on cream Japanese paper. At approximately 12 x 9 inches it is – by virtue of its tripartite landscape, stooping figure and monumental and vertical figure enclosed in Cloisonnist dark contour – a retrospective of work done in Tahiti between 1891 and 1893.
Tahitians Fishing is new as it reflects Tahiti and adds a contemporary French Symbolist text. It contains similarities in composition, theme, and figures to the forward-looking painting Day of the Gods. Both share the image of a “Savage Eve” figure which obsessed Gauguin throughout 1893 to 189544 and both have a dominant central vertical―a tree in Tahitians Fishing and an idol in Day of the Gods. Each has distinct horizontal zones and ground-and-water block-like forms. Even the amoeba-shaped waters in Day of the Gods are reflected in the steeply pitched water-as-sky in Tahitians Fishing. Maurice Denis identified Gauguin by his bright, unnatural colors45, but this exercise piece is more than that. It explores compositional forms and themes of his Tahitian and Synthetist works and includes avant-gardist French Symbolist verse. Gauguin’s work in these pieces is not always simply, as Julien Leclerq wrote in December 1894, “(the) transposing into another medium motifs from his Tahitian works.”46 Gauguin may have used this particular Verlaine poem if he was anywhere outside Paris, but it seems less likely. He continued to experiment with mixing text and visual image, a courageous act in the face of conservative critics who, with artists Edgar Degas and Paul Cézanne, castigated Gauguin for the repetitive elaboration and recombination of pictorial ideas. On the recto side of this work no signature of any sort is detectable.
As Belgian critic Emile Verhaeren saw him, Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903) produces “child art.”47 The artist’s anagram “P.Go.” looms large in the lower left hand corner making it plain that the 46-year-old Gauguin made this print. Gauguin’s use of color and form are significant as they build up the image of five women in a landscape―two foreground figures more fully defined than the three figures merging into the background. It is ambiguous whether it is a channel of water or grass that separates the two foreground women who appear to perform a rite of worship and a trio in conversation or, as Richard Brettell interprets, dancing.48 As the Seine flows through Paris where Gauguin created this print, there exists in Tahitian Landscape (fig. 5) a commentariat on the Right Bank and artisans spilling blood in their offerings on the Left Bank. Modeling of the three women has affinities with Ta Matete of 1892 (fig.6) as Gauguin uses the same flat, static figures that have been traced to Egyptian painting with the ethnological implication that the Polynesians’ origins are in mankind’s oldest civilizations.49
Continual rhythm or “musicality” of bodily contours with intervening empty space gives Tahitian Landscape a Synthetist sensibility to the figures while its overall Symbolist ambiguity is a result of pale color and de-emphasized form. The figure of the woman on her knees to the right is engaged in a ritual bathing as Brettell believes or may be bowing before a vague natural stone construct (Brettel, however, denies any hint of religion).A pool of red flows at, or under, her chest that may represent bathing water as Brettell offers or perhaps a hint of light or shadow or, more intensely, the figure’s blood. Red appears again in one of the three dancing figures. In this landscape Gauguin allows for several possible interpretations.
Gauguin presents a scene of bewilderment, ambiguity, and mystery
Under close examination the artist seems to encourage bewilderment by producing a scene of ambiguity and mystery. If Gauguin acted as an ethnologist―as art critic and historian Roger Marx compared him in November 1893 – it would be impossible for the artist to depict an authentic blood sacrifice in Tahiti since, in the 1890s, it was prohibited by French law. The artist then dreams a scene in a Tahitian setting of a woman and her associates offering a savage blood sacrifice to a stone god. This piece asks questions about Gauguin’s attitude for Tahiti and sheds light on some of his deepest desires in Paris. The formulation of the sky, waters, and ground create a Synthetist landscape but it is the Symbolist figures and the mystery surrounding their presence that is the central power of the work. This use of mysterious figures in a landscape is found in Gauguin’s previous work in Martinique (“the land of the Creole gods”50 he wrote in a letter) and in Brittany (figs. 7 and 8).
In Tahitian Landscape, on the other side of the green, blue, and peach-color chasm heavily outlined on the right and halted by a built-up “shore,” the three dancing women who are barely modeled or detailed appear to be observed by an idol figure. It lies in blue shadow in dense foliage and is nearly invisible. As in Tahitians Fishing (see part 2 of “Savagery in Civilization…” ) it is by way of foliage, boulders, and rounded forms of the landscape that there emerges a similarity with the jigsaw puzzle-like lagoon in that same year’s Day of the Gods. However, the forms in Tahitian Landscape are flatter and less organic-looking. As popular graphic art methods could not produce the deliberately pale character of the surface Brettell proposes that this image was made as a transfer or counterproof on wetted paper from a now lost watercolor matrix.51
3- Tahitian Idol-The Goddess Hina
For some pieces of graphic art Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903) uses the moniker “P.Go.” to sign them.52 In Tahitian Idol-The Goddess Hina (fig.9, at top of the blog post), the moniker is present in the lower left corner slightly on its side. While Day of the Gods, painted in Paris in 1894 at the same time as the woodcut, received a simple signature of “Gauguin” (the painting was not exhibited in the artist’s lifetime), Gauguin sometimes used these new graphic art works as “image translations” to explain his Tahitian art to the Parisian public. This may explain the pretension of the anagram here.53
Artist’s obsession with representations of the primitive and “savage”
Gauguin’s obsession with the primitive, the savage, is evident in this work. The small woodcut is an image of a Tahitian goddess where the composition’s diverse elements congeal to a single mask to be held in the palm of one’s hand. Goddess Hina, immobile and august, is fitted into the composition as a first among equals. A tree fills the left border like a totem with a V-formed sprout. At the woodcut’s top border – and peering out of a branch at the tree trunk’s crux – is a profile of an evil spirit represented by a head. The grassy hair of the goddess fills about half the background and falls to nestle by her left arm. Gauguin uses several stock elements in different attitudes or positions. For example, he used the evil head in the 1892 painting Parau na te Varua ino (Words of the Devil) (fig.10) and this woodcut’s symbolism likewise remains complex. In the woodcut, to Goddess Hina’s right and immediately below the malevolent spirit who materializes in strange and frightening humanoid forms, appear abstracted forms of a coiled snake and other ceremonial visages. Goddess Hina is primitive and statuesque whereas the evil head possesses a sinister aspect with circles that serve as open eyes.
When Gauguin wrote from Tahiti in March 1899 to Belgian Symbolist poet and critic André Fontainas with reflections on the South Seas, he expressed strong feelings of awe, personal vigil, and dream-like vision. Such qualities must have been experienced on his first Tahiti trip for they permeate a work like Tahitian Idol – The Goddess Hina:
“Here near my hut, in utter silence, I dream of violent harmonies in the natural fragrances that exhilarate me. A pleasure heightened by an indefinable sacred awe which I divine towards the immemorial. In bygone days, an odor of joy that I breathe in the present. Animal figures in statuesque rigidity: something inexpressibly old, august, religious in the rhythm of their gesture, in their rare immobility. In dreaming eyes, the cloudy surface of an unfathomable enigma. And here is nightfall – everything is at rest. My eyes close in order to see without understanding the dream in the infinite space that recedes before me, and I have a sense of the doleful march of my hopes.”54
In a work of approximately 5 x 4 inches―and its small size in no way diminishes its artistic force―Gauguin achieves in Tahitian Idol-The Goddess Hina a craftsman’s unity of good and evil in nature. Before his first visit to Tahiti Gauguin already had familiarity with this theme of nature’s duality for he uses it in his 1889 painting Self-Portrait (fig. 11) where halo and snake vie within and for creation.
Salvesen, p. 51.
“What have you done – you who are Forever crying? Speak! What have you done – you who are so young?” – my translation.
quoted in Barbara Stern Shapiro, “Shapes and Harmonies of Another World,” in Gauguin Tahiti, George T.M. Shackelford and Claire Frèches-Thory, MFA Publications, 2004, p.131.
Thomson, Gauguin, p. 130.
Brettell, p. 359.
Thomson, Gauguin, p. 152.
Brettell, p. 80; “denies any hint of religion” and “bathing water”- Brettell, p. 359. Brettell’s denial here of Tahitian religion does not preclude his proposing that the bowing figure may be an adaptation of the naked and penitent Magdalen at the foot of the cross, which is part of Catholic tradition.
Ibid., p. 359.
Brettell., p. 330.
Ibid., p. 330.
Delevoy, Robert L., Symbolists and Symbolism, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York, 1982, page 54.
FEATURE image: Allegory of Venus and Cupid, c. 1600, Imitator of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio, Italian, c. 1485/90-1576), oil on canvas, 51 1/8 x 61 1/8 in. (129.9 x 155.3 cm). Charles H. and Mary F.S. Worcester Collection, 1943.90.
By John P. Walsh
The pleasant if heavily-restored late 16th century allegorical painting in the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago is today called Allegory of Venus and Cupid and dated to around 1600. Attributed to an “imitator” of Titian it remains in museum storage (“Not on Display”).
When this same painting was “rediscovered” around 1930 it was hailed as a Titian masterpiece and over the next 15 years was talked of that way in the general press and in some quarters of the art press. It delighted crowds who came to see it hang on the walls of The Art Institute of Chicago and The Cleveland Museum of Art. Called The Education of Cupid and dated to the 1550s, it was compared favorably with Titian’s famous allegorical subject paintings in Paris’s Louvre and in Rome’s Galleria Borghese.
The painting through the Great Depression and World War II was labeled “Titian,” but among expert connoisseurs there existed a longstanding dismissal of that attribution ever since its first known “resurfacing” in the mid1830s at Gosford House in Scotland.
In Italian his name is Tiziano Vecellio, but in English the artist is famously known as Titian (1485-1576)
Titian was part of a family of artists who had been civic leaders in 13th-century and 14th-century Italy, such as mayors, magistrates, and notaries. Offspring of two Vecellio brothers in the fifteenth century became artists. One of the brothers was ambassador to Venice where the family had a timber trade there. The ambassador’s grandsons became Venetian-trained painters. The younger grandson was the great Titian.
Titian became the leading painter in Venice and an influential artist throughout Sixteenth-century Italy. His cousin Cesare Vecellio (1530-1601) was an engraver and painter trained in Titian’s workshop. These Vecellio cousins and their sons became artists and were allowed to use the appellation “di Tiziano” which would bring them attention. Yet these family members were, along with later followers of Titian, artistic mediocrities.
The painter of The Art Institute of Chicago’s allegory entitled Allegory of Venus and Cupid is only identified as an “imitator” of Titian. Its allegorical motifs share similarities with Titian’s and this is perhaps partly why this Old Master painting by an unknown follower of Titian was mistaken for the master himself when it resurfaced on the art market in 1927.
Called The Education of Cupid and dated to the 1550s, it traded back and forth to the dealer for almost a decade until it was bought in 1936 by a well-connected Chicago couple who collected sixteenth-century Venetian paintings. The Wemyss ‘Allegory’ (named for its former British owner, Lord Wemyss) came to Chicago out of what amounted to be a Scottish attic.
It gained ready acclaim as a rediscovered Titian and since its subject was reminiscent of Titian’s Allegory of Marriage (1533) in the Louvre and a Titian subject allegory in the Galleria Borghese, the Wemyss ‘Allegory’ in Chicago was hailed as completing a triumvirate of Titian’s greatest allegorical compositions.
The problem was that this Chicago Titian was not a Titian at all, although it took about 10 years for that fact to gain modern acceptance.
After the purchase, the new owners immediately lent their Titian to The Art Institute to mount on its gallery walls. It would hang next to the collector couple’s verifiable Tintoretto, Veronese, and G.-B. Moroni. The museum eventually acquired the Wemyss ‘Allegory’ in 1943, but not before it toured The Cleveland Museum of Art during their “Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition” in 1936 and viewed with enthusiasm as a Titian.
The collector purchase and subsequent loan to the Art Institute was front page news in Chicago. The director of the museum at the time, Robert Harshe, compared the work in importance to only two others in The Art Institute at that time – El Greco’s Assumption of the Virgin (1577-79) and Girl at the Open Half Door (1645) attributed to Rembrandt. Curiously, this painting first attributed to Rembrandt has been itself increasingly questioned in terms of its high authorship. One of the first historical European paintings to enter the museum’s permanent collection, Girl at the Open Half Door is today identified with the moniker “and Workshop” to indicate the possibility that it was created by a student under the master’s supervision.
Soon after its acquisition by The Art Institute, the Titian attribution was loudly critiqued in print and eventually dropped. The subject of the painting is of a girl who appears before Venus to be initiated into the mysteries of Love. At the girl’s right are Venus and the boy Cupid with an arrow. In the background two satyrs raise items such as a basket with two doves and a bundle of fruit.
Allegories were popular in Italian Renaissance art to convey social, political, economic and religious messages using historical and mythological figures. This painting’s figures, however, appear to be derivative of specific Titian works. Further, it possesses little of the technical brilliance or psychological revelations found in Titian’s work such as in Triple Mask or Allegory of Prudence (c. 1570, London, National Gallery). For example, Titian’s imitator gives the figure of the girl the same dramatic hand gesture found in Titian’s Venus with a Mirror (c. 1555, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. ). Insofar as the girl’s skyward gaze and flowing hair, the imitator cites The Penitent Magdalene (1531-33, Florence, Palazzo Pitti).
In addition to the painting’s derivative character of well-known Titian works, what most connoisseurs recognized by 1945 was what they called its “very modern” execution. This referred to its sharp color contrasts and figurative forms which developed only after Titian’s time. Connoisseurs also noted that Titian differentiated sharply between hair and ornament and that his female figures’s hair is neatly braided, whereas the hair is “in a mass” in the Wemyss ‘Allegory’.
These characteristics pointed to the picture being related less to authentic Titians in Paris and Rome and more to those attributed dubiously, even spuriously, to Titian in Munich and at the Durazzo Palace in Genoa. Though this inauthenticity of Chicago’s Wemyss “Allegory” could have been questioned at the start of its appearance in Chicago in 1936, the museum was not adhering closely to the historical connoisseurship.
Sir Joseph Archer Crowe (British, 1825-1896) and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle (Italian, 1819-1897) had seen all three of the spuriously attributed Titians in Munich, Genoa, and at Gosford House which was now in Chicago. It was well known the pair excluded all three from their Titian catalog except to note that they were imitations which had been notably damaged and restored. Chicago museum research in the late 1930s was also aware of Crowe and Cavalcaselle’s attributive work for they cited them in official publications on the Wemyss ‘Allegory,’ but overlooked their conclusions.
With the museum’s acquisition of the Wemyss ‘Allegory’ in 1943 Crowe and Cavalcaselle’s negative attribution for it was no longer ignored or denied. About its reworking in England one tempting and likely wishful speculation was that the Wemyss ‘Allegory’ was restored by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) but that claim remains unsubstantiated. Further facts contextualized in the deft historical hands of modern connoisseurship left the Wemyss ‘Allegory’ out in the Titianesque cold as an imitator. In the case of the Chicago painting it was by historical comparison with compositional arrangements in known Titians that the compositional arrangements in the Munich and Chicago paintings were deemed by Crowe and Cavalcaselle to be done by imitators. Historically for Titian it would be nonsensical or “unique” for Titian to have manipulated the figures in that way at that time.
By the mid1940s the Chicago painting was searching for a new name attribution, since Crowe and Cavalcaselle did not give it one. The notion that it was done by Damiano Mazza (active after 1573), an obscure 16th century artist and student of Titian, was proposed but later dismissed.
Some of the confusion over the attribution to Titian of the Wemyss ‘Allegory’ is based on erring connections made using erring extant evidence. For example, the conjecture of Vienna School-trained art historian of Venetian art Hans Tietze (Czech, 1880-1954) that a sketch by Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)–which Tietze wrongly believed was made at Chatsworth House of a painting once attributed to Titian–shared similar motifs with the Wemyss ‘Allegory’ is a thin thread for possible attribution to Titian. It may be argued that the Wemyss ‘Allegory’ shares very little with the Van Dyck sketch except for the satyr lifting a basket. Further, the painting which Van Dyck sketched is no longer attributed to Titian and has long been in the Galleria Borghese in Rome as a minor Venus and Cupid with Satyr Carrying a Basket with Fruit now attributed to Paolo Veronese. It was in Rome where Van Dyck must have made his sketch, not England, and it was there he misidentified it as Titian. It is a tenous trail of misleading evidence that became the prompt to a connoisseur’s mistaken thought.
One persuasive conclusion on attribution today for the Wemyss ‘Allegory’ was offered by Hans Tietze’s wife, the historian of Renaissance and Baroque art, Erika Tietze-Conrat (1883-1958). Tietze-Conrat believed that The Art Institute painting resides in a pool of works done by assistants and imitators who combined varied elements of Titian’s allegories as found in the Louvre’s Allegory of d’Avalos (the aforementioned Allegory of Marriage) and the Borghese’s Education of Cupid.
Erwin Panofsky (German, 1892-1968) postulated that those known Titians were nuptial paintings. Building on that premise, Tietze-Conrat postulated that numerous reproductions were made by Titian followers so to create nuptial paintings for their patrons to suit their needs. The derivative works shared the intimacy of a private format with a recognizable cast of 16th century depictions of mythological actors and the evocation of a Titianesque mood.
Today the Art Institute of Chicago has renamed their Wemyss “Allegory” as Allegory of Venus and Cupid and dated it to “around 1600.” The museum removed Titian and every other named attribution. Attribution has been returned to the term that connoisseurs Crowe and Cavalcaselle gave the painting in 1881, namely, “imitator.”
“The execution here is very modern,” the pair wrote in their Life and Times of Titian in 1881. “It is greatly injured, but was apparently executed by some imitator of Titian.” Their late 19th century judgment hold fast today.
“ready acclaim as a rediscovered Titian…”; “lent their Titian to The Art Institute to mount……”; “Cleveland… ‘Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition’ in 1936…” – “A Great Titian,” Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago (1907-1951) Vol. 31, No. 1 (Jan., 1937), p. 8; “Famed Titian Work Acquired by Chicagoans,” Chicago Tribune, October 20, 1936, p. 28; “The Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Worcester Gift,” Daniel Catton Rich, Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Mar., 1930), pp. 29-31 and 40. The Chicago collectors were Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Worcester, a museum Vice-President and lumber and paper manufacturer.
“…director of the museum… compared the work in importance to El Greco’s ‘Assumption of the Virgin’ and Rembrandt’s ‘Girl at the Open Half Door’” – “Famed Titian Work Acquired by Chicagoans,” Chicago Tribune, October 20, 1936, p. 28.
“little of the technical brilliance or psychological revelations found in…Triple Mask…” – H. E. Wethey, The Paintings of Titian: Complete Edition, vol. 2, The Portraits, Phaidon, New York, p. 50.
“its ‘very modern’ execution”; “in a mass” – The Wemyss Allegory in the Art Institute of Chicago, E. Tietze-Conrat. The Art Bulletin Vol. 27, No. 4 (Dec., 1945), p. 269.
“It was widely known the pair excluded all three from their Titian catalog…” – “A Great Titian Goes to Chicago,” Art News 35, 5 (1936), p.15 (ill.).
“Chicago museum research in the late 1930s was aware of Crowe and Cavalcaselle’s attributive work… overlooked their conclusions…” – Footnote #4, The Wemyss Allegory in the Art Institute of Chicago, E. Tietze-Conrat. The Art Bulletin Vol. 27, No. 4 (Dec., 1945), p. 269.
“…restored by Sir Joshua Reynolds…” – The Wemyss Allegory in the Art Institute of Chicago, E. Tietze-Conrat. The Art Bulletin Vol. 27, No. 4 (Dec., 1945), p. 269.
“done by Damiano Mazza…” Ibid., p. 270.
Conjecture of Hans Tietze; Erika Tietze-Conrat’s postulation – Ibid., p. 271.
“the execution here is very modern… It is greatly injured, but was apparently executed by some imitator of Titian.” – Crowe and Cavalcaselle, Life and Times of Titian, London, 1881, II, p. 468.
FEATURE image: Picasso, Bust of a Woman, late 1909, Watercolor and gouache on cream laid paper, laid down on buff laid paper, 363 x 278 mm overall. The Art Institute of Chicago.
Armory Show, International Exhibition of Modern Art. The Cubist room, Gallery 53 (northeast view), Art Institute of Chicago, March 24–April 16, 1913. On the long wall are three of seven Picasso artworks included in that landmark exhibition. None are in “Picasso and Chicago” in 2013.
By John P. Walsh.
Almost as long as Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was making his art, there have been bragging rights on the Catalan artist that have come from others. Even 40 years after the artist’s death at 91 years old, media talk in 2013 for Picasso and Chicago, a large art exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago from February 20 to May 12, 2013, revolves around American collector “firsts” associated with Picasso.
Which institution collected Picasso first? The Art Institute of Chicago in 1923.
Which institution collected Picasso most? The Chicago Renaissance Society by 1930.
Which institution had the first Picasso exhibition? The Arts Club of Chicago in 1923.
Which institution had the first Picasso retrospective? The Wadsworth Atheneumin Hartford, Connecticut in 1934.
The Art Institute of Chicago is able to put imagination aside and quote itself in Picasso and Chicago. Nearly all of the same inventory of Picasso artwork in this 2013 show were assembled and displayed in the exact same order in a previous exhibition at the museum called Picasso in Chicago held from February 3 to March 31, 1968. According to the museum director writing at that time, that exhibition had been inspired by the dedication of the Picasso sculpture on August 15, 1967, a five-story Cor-10 steel Chicago icon that still stands enigimatically in Daley Plaza. If public attention is what Pablo Picasso craves, then he should have no worries.
In the summer of 1906, during a working sojourn to Gósol in the Spanish Pyrenees, Picasso painted his mistress and muse, Fernande Olivier (French, 1881-1966).
Image above and below: Pablo Picasso, Nude with a Pitcher (detail).
Fernande Olivier and Pablo Picasso in 1905 in Paris.
The pairs of figures are related by both being involved in intimate activities, but represent two different subjects Picasso studied months apart. One dates from 1905 and the other from 1906. The pair on the right is a study for a major painting, La Coiffure, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
There are several excellent reasons to see Picasso and Chicago in 2013 and they don’t always revolve around his art. It is a matter for city pride to know that Chicago possesses within its own collections the breadth of art resources to showcase, in chronological order, this Picasso show comprehensive of every major period. In these tight economic times kudos goes out to museum curators who have effectively displayed a vast amount and range of artwork by Pablo Picasso to produce a blockbuster show. The chronological exhibition of Picasso’s art includes works from The Art Institute of Chicago, The Arts Club of Chicago and The Renaissance Society and is front loaded providing for immediate pleasures.
The visitor is greeted nearly at the door by The Old Guitarist painted by Picasso in 1903-1904—a revered Blue Period painting in the Art Institute—and for the viewer to be edified by its presence is worth any exhibition’s admission price though there was no special exhibition fee beyond the price of general admission to the museum.
If front-loaded, does the rest of the show retain the same high interest? The answer is: yes and no. For all future Picasso shows in Chicago, curators can find several avenues to whittle away at the volume of artwork on display for Picasso and Chicago to present its most interesting parts. That downsizing opportunity intimates this show’s arguable shortcoming: as it displays the Spanish master’s later, increasingly commercial artwork, the Art Institute of Chicago’s 500 Picasso works in all mediums begins to reveal the challenges of building a seamlessly qualitative collection of contemporary art even when the artist is Picasso.
In late May 1901 Picasso came to Paris with three weeks to prepare for an exhibition at Vollard’s gallery. The exhibition was arranged by a Catalan dealer who roomed with the 19-year-old Picasso on the Boulevard de Clichy. Crazy Woman with Cats is one of the 64 paintings and several drawings Picasso prepared for the show.
Robert Allerton, a museum trustee since 1918, began to acquire Picasso drawings in 1923 with the sole purpose of donating them to the museum. Sketch of a young woman was Allerton’s first Picasso drawing purchase and museum donation in 1923 purchased in Chicago from Albert Roullier Galleries.
By the end of 1906 Picasso stopped painting and instead started to fill sketchbooks for a new major composition: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) today in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Picasso, Two Nudes, Standing, fall 1906 Graphite, with stumping, on cream laid paper (detail).
In the early 1920’s as Chicago started a buying frenzy of Picasso, another young Spanish painter twelve years younger than Picasso arrived into Paris and was immediately overtly critical of the great Picasso’s work at that time. That younger painter was Joan Miró (1893-1983).
Miró’s criticism of Picasso as well as of Henri Matisse (1869-1954)— it was more a kind of disgust—was basically that the pair, once young avant-gardists, were making all their art for their dealer. In other words, the older artists were making contemporary art mainly for the money. Such may be an inherent risk in making art that meets a market demand in that the artist is tempted to, after a fashion, sell-out. Miró knew at first look—and history has proven him basically correct—that the future of contemporary painting no longer rested in Picasso’s hands after about 1920. This is partly the reason why Miró turned to the “nonsense” art of the Dadaists for the future of his own painting.
Keeping Miro’s judgment in one’s mind at Picasso and Chicago one sees that, notable exceptions made, an earlier Picasso painting—from the Blue Period after 1901 to Picasso’s period of synthetic cubism until around 1920—offers cohesive artwork that contains a germ or seed of progress. The art collection in Picasso and Chicago, much of it produced following Miró’s critical judgment of Picasso, shares his problematic.
The Red Armchair of 1931 is hung at what is about the show’s halfway point. At this point, I might have exited. Yet where Miró’s critical judgment lags for me is that Picasso’s art is never incompetent or boring. His art is perceptibly linear and, despite its erotic themes, often contains qualities which satisfy and cleanse an art-hungry eye. Picasso’s art is ever ancient and ever new, and distinctly European. For me, seeing a Picasso connotes a stroll in Paris or feeling a sunburn on the face after revelry and reverie along some Mediterranean coast. Quite readily the show produced these kinds of vicarious experiences for me as i soaked up a plethora of Picasso’s later, lesser work in utilitarian Regenstein Hall.
Just before leaving Paris in September 1920, Picasso made a series of drawings of the Greek myth of the abduction of Hercules’ bride Deianira by the centaur Nessus. With this, Picasso became fascinated with Greek mythology and continued to make artwork using its themes.
Paintings and drawings by Picasso in winter 1909-10 continued to explore Cubism as it related to the human face and figure and its surroundings.
The painting (at left) of a Head of a Woman is one of the early Cubist artworks in “Picasso and Chicago.”
This painting dates to one of the most productive and inventive periods of Pablo Picasso’s career, a summer stay in the town of Horta de Ebro (now Horta de San Juan) in Spain, which lasted, with minor interruptions, from May to September of 1909. In these months, Picasso produced a series of landscapes, heads, and still lifes that are among the most highly acclaimed achievements of early Cubism. Fernande Olivier, Picasso’s mistress, was the model for the series of heads that the artist produced at this time.
This work is Pablo Picasso’s first large Cubist sculpture and represents the distinctive physiognomy of Fernande Olivier, who was the artist’s model and mistress from 1905 to 1912. Before making the bust, Picasso produced countless drawings and gouaches to explore the specific form and structure of his subject’s facial features. Her hair is in a coil and a topknot; her bulging jaw; her well-defined depression in the center of her upper lip. The Fernande series’ evolved from an agility of facial expression to fixed signs of its individual features.
German-born Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1979) opened an art gallery in Paris in 1907. In 1908 Kahnweiler began representing Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and introduced him to Georges Braque (1882-1963). Kahnweiler championed these artists’ revolutionary experiment with Cubism and purchased most of their paintings between 1908 and 1915. Kahnweiler sat for Picasso up to thirty times for this portrait.
Portrait photograph of Pablo Picasso, 1908.
Olga Khokhlova (1891-1955) in Picasso’s Montrouge studio, spring 1918. Olga married Picasso on July 12, 1918, at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Paris. On February 4, 1921, she gave birth to their son Paulo (1921-1975). After that, Olga and Picasso’s relationship deteriorated though they never divorced. Olga died in Cannes in 1955.
Picasso, Still Life, February 4, 1922, Oil on canvas 32 1/8 x 39 5/8 in. (81.6 x 100.3 cm), Dated, u.l.: “4-2-22-.” Ada Turnbull Hertle Endowment, 1953. Picasso produced a series of Cubist still lifes in 1922 that are simplified to flat planes in a patterned framework. Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) bought this canvas in 1923 to add to her collection of more than 30 Picasso paintings and even more of his drawings and watercolors. This still life was Stein’s last purchase of a painting by Picasso.
In late summer and fall of 1932, Picasso and Marie-Thérèse Walter (French, 1909-1977), the artist’s mistress from 1927 to 1935, were together in Boisgeloup. Picasso made three drawings on the same day on a theme of lovers serenading one another.
Marie-Thérèse Walter and Pablo Picasso. Their relationship began when she was seventeen and Picasso was 45 years old and married to Olga Khokhlova.
Picasso transforms the bullfighting theme where the half-man and half-bull Minotaur is the aggressor in the ring terrorizing a horse.
Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) met Picasso in 1936 at the Café des Deux Magots in Paris. Her liaison with Picasso ended in 1943.
About making portraits of his mistress Dora Maar weeping, Picasso explained: “For years, I’ve painted her in tortured forms, not through sadism and not through pleasure either – just obeying a vision that forced himself on me.” At the end of their relationship Picasso confessed, “I can only see her weeping.”
Gilot was lover and muse to Picasso from 1943 to 1953. In the early 1990s I met Françoise Gilot accompanied by her husband, Jonas Sauk (1914-1995), when she was the featured speaker at the Alliance Française in Chicago. That evening Gilot made it perfectly clear upfront that she was not going to talk about Picasso.
Jacqueline Roque was muse and second wife of Pablo Picasso. Their marriage lasted 11 years until his death, during which time he created over 400 portraits of her, more than any of Picasso’s other loves.
Picasso and Jacqueline, his second wife. Pablo Picasso met Jacqueline Roque (1927-1986) in 1953 when she was 26 years old and he was 72. He romanced her until she agreed to date him. Only in 1955, when Picasso’s first wife Olga Khokhlova died, did Picasso decide to marry Jacqueline in Vallauris in 1961. They were married until Picasso’s death in 1973.
There are 250 items on display in Picasso and Chicago—including paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, and ceramics—and only begins to manifest the prodigious genius of Pablo Picasso.
Picasso and Chicago may have closed, but many, if not most, of these works in Chicago’s cultural institutions and private collections can be savored with the simplicity of a museum visit. A visitor can do no better than visit The Art Institute of Chicago and see Picasso’s The Old Guitarist and The Red Armchair. By that begins one’s own new adventure of absorption of the Spanish master’s artwork whose home is Chicago. The 2013 show is over but more than a few of its best parts are on display right now in these institutions’ permanent collections.
FEATURE image: P.A.-Renoir, A Luncheon at Bougival, 1881, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition – 1882.
By John P. Walsh
In the five years between the “balanced and coherent” Third Impressionist Art Exhibition in April 1877 and the penultimate Seventh Impressionist Art Exhibition in March 1882 which included Gustave Caillebotte’s The Bezique Game, significant changes had occurred in the art world.
One major development that was especially impactful for the band of independent and ever-varying avant-garde artists known as the “impressionists” was that, after 1877, the group had fallen apart.
The Third Impressionist Exhibition in 1877 organized by Caillebotte and Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) demonstrated the benefit of a detailed marketing plan within a professional arts organization. Caillebotte’s attempted follow-up to host an impressionist exhibition in 1878, however, failed to get off the ground.
It wasn’t for any lack of his trying. In 1877, Caillebotte could measure success in the Third show by 18-count modern artists under a new brand name, along with 230 works. Show attendance numbers were up from the first and second exhibitions almost four fold. Picture sales were up.
In less than one year, the enterprise devolved to nothing tangible. This was because of a lack of collective coherence among the artists in terms of artistic and business outlook. Seeds of destruction among this klatch of mostly young, avant-garde artists became increasingly evident during the “glorious” 1877 show.
Caillebotte’s genius in the Third Exhibition was to know strengths to promote and problem to ignore. He avoided the veritable train wreck coming from associated artists who were antagonistic creatively by keeping them mostly literally physically apart.
The Impressionists had two major factions. One was led by classically-trained Edgar Degas (1834-1917) with his realist urban figure drawing. The other was the nonacademic, “broken-brush” innovators or strict impressionists such as Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) who explored the effects of light.
For the duration of the Third Impressionist exhibition, all of Degas’s 25 beach and ballet works hung in a room of their own.
As a business seeks popular and financial success, a caveat towards that objective for the third and upcoming 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th impressionist art shows was “the terrible Monsieur Degas.”
Although Degas had an argumentative personality, major reasons for Degas’s dispute with Caillebotte’s impresionist show were not Degas’ making. After 1877, the battle line which ensued between Degas and his group of trained artists and Monet and his nonacademic group affected every next impressionist show up to the 8th and last one in 1886.
The catalyst for the Impressionists’ artistic divisions was their different understandings of what became another major development to affect the art world and all contemporary artists.
Throughout the 1860s, the Salon continued to be anti-democratic. By the late 1870s, there was a clear trend towards a more liberalized Salon. In 1881, the French government took itself out of the Salon. Even before that, in 1878, the year of the scrapped 4th Impressionist show, the government allowed strict or “broken brush” Impressionists like Monet and Renoir to participate in their “Exhibition of Living Artists.”
Biggest art show in Paris.
Whatever its drawbacks, the Salon remained the biggest art show in Paris.
While Caillebotte’s Third Impressionist Exhibition in 1877 attracted 15,000 visitors in its one month run—a remarkable statistic—the Salon attracted 23,000 visitors per day.
The Salon displayed around 23x more art than the Impressionist show and attracted 50x more visitors. Opportunities for sales and new clients at one of these nineteenth-century warehouse events was immense.
In 1878, after years of fighting for greater participation in the Salon— the Salon des Refusés took place in 1863—innovative Impressionists were finally allowed to freely hang their artwork in an annual show that for hundreds of years had been the institurional enclave of the Paris art world’s elite.
Yet, In terms of the 4th impressionist art show, the bourgeois Degas devised an ingeniously small-minded idea that he presented ennobled by some principle.
Despite this historic opening of the Salon to young avant-garde artists—Monet and Renoir were in their late 30’s, Degas in his mid 40’s—the older and financially secure artist insisted that all impressionists must make a choice.
Either exhibit in the Salon or with the Impressionists.
Degas’s ultimatum was crafted to pressure the “broken brush” impressionists such as Renoir, Monet, Sisley and Cézanne to break ranks to the Salon—and likely improve their sales and reputations in a rapidly changing art market—and leave the impressionist art organization to Degas and his followers.
Degas’s wedge actually worked. By 1880, the “broken brush” impressionists were purged from the Impressionist exhibitions by their own choice to exhibit in the Salon. Though they saw no conflict with the Impressionist art organization per se that broken brush artists helped found, Degas’s ultimatum had been permitted to stand for the 4th, 5th, and 6th impressionist art shows and helped secure these Impressionist shows of 1879, 1880, and 1881 under the leadership of Degas.
The 4th, 5th, and 6th exhibitions featured Degas and his favorite artists. It was in these Degas-led shows that the public had their first in-depth look at Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) and Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), among others.
Not all of the Impressionists’ original members and strict impressionists decided to exhibit in the Salon. Camille Pissarro and Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) chose to stay in the independent art group and continued doing so for the eight shows. (Morisot had a baby during the 4th and didn’t participate).
Gustave Caillebotte had invested his talent, reputation and resources into the independents since 1876 and continued to organize and exhibit with them in 1879 and 1880. Before the 6th show in 1881, Caillebotte himself finally broke with the Degas regime in a dispute nominally over a advertising issue.
As the calendar proclaimed a new decade, new opportunities for Impressionist exhibitions began percolating in Caillebotte’s head as he painted The Bezique Game (1880) within the shifting artistic environment.
The game of Bezique is a 64-card game for two players and curiously French. In the game two singles players sit across the net to compete to 1000 points. The rest are score keepers or observers. As the game carries on, card “tricks” pile up on the table.
Some art critics viewing Caillebotte’s contemporary subject of a popular game identified the painting as a “legible and tightly ordered” image out of the long-held pictorial tradition of card playing. Yet idiomatic clichés related to card playing such as “playing one’s cards right” or “holding one’s cards close to the chest” may be read into the painting. It is one of the canvasses painted by impressionist artists during this time that relate to the Impressionist group’s recent and ongoing exhibition experiences.
Nineteenth-century art critics usually grouped together the artwork of Caillebotte and Degas, Neither artist was among the “strict” impressionists such as of Monet and Renoir. Several critics wondered aloud in the newspaper why Caillebotte would even have dealings with those “broken-brush” daubers now at the Salon with Édouard Manet.
Competition between Degas’s partisans and the mostly younger strict impressionists such as Claude Monet, Renoir, and others, resulted in a schism in 1879. In addition to himself, Degas recruited talented newcomers such as Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), Jean-Louis Forain (1852-1931), and Federico Zandomeneghi (1841-1917) for the 4th.
The Third Impressionist Art Exhibition held in April 1877 is known as “Caillebotte’s Exhibition.” It is the highlight of the eight Impressionist exhibitions held between 1874 and 1886. While scholars agree that the Third Impressionist Exhibition was in every sense “glorious,” the show’s euphoria was short lived. Two weeks after the show closed, as hope for picture sales grew high, there was a Constitutional crisis in the French government. The political turmoil resulted in a consolidation of Republican power defeating Royalists which led to a national economic recession. The Impressionist group, conceived and carefully built to unity by Gustave Caillebotte, resorted to squabbling as the artists jostled to survive in receding good times.
Gustave Caillebotte’s efforts for a fourth impressionist exhibition in 1878 were stymied and the next 3 exhibitions would be under Degas’s rule. In 1879 Degas exclude the “broken brish” artists Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne and Alfred Sisley. In 1880, Degas cast out Claude Monet. The destructive outcome of these intramural politics was not lost on Caillebotte.
Caillebotte built the group’s brand in the Third Impressionist Art Exhibition in 1877 largely on “broken brush” impressionists nwho were excluded from Degas’s shows. Caillebotte, however, worked with Edgar Degas and his artistic coterie in 1879, 1880 and 1881. Oy was before the opening of the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in 1881 that Caillebotte finally departed the Degas-led organization. Caillebotte cited differences on an advertising issue.
Yet Caillebotte’s nonparticipation with the Impressionists was short lived.
The 32-year-old Caillebotte looked to a retro-style vision for an Impressionist Art Exhibition in 1882. His emerging partner was 51-year-old Impressionist art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922).
The Fifth exhibition lost Monet to the Salon which per Degas’s ultimatum excluded the figurehead through which the term “impressionism” received its label in 1874 from exhibiting with the group of independents in 1880. Other broken or free brush painters such as Camille Pissarro and Berthe Morisot did continue to exhibit in the 5th show. Ironically, critics responded to the truncated, Degas-led show, by wondering out loud what made this Impressionist show any different than a recently liberated Salon. While Morisot and American Mary Cassatt’s artwork received especial attention and praise in the 5th show, the month-long April 1880 show also introduced important newcomers to its Paris audience such as Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) and Jean-François Raffaëlli (1850-1924).
Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot continued their impact as the most progressive impressionists according to critics during the 6th Impressionist show in 1881. Morisot’s Nurse and Baby was startlingly abstract to viewers of the 1881 show. Zandomeneghi’s Place d’Anvers quietly inspired artists to explore anew early Renaissance Italian mural painting. Raffaëlli, displaying over 30 works in the 6th show, made a huge impact for his realist, socially aware artwork. The 6th show’s centerpiece was Degas’ statuette of the ballet student in a fabric tutu that put impressionism in 3D and affected modern sculpture going forward. Gustave Caillebotte who had participated in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th impressionist exhibitions (and would the 7th) as well as organized the 3rd, 4th, and 5th (and would the 7th), bowed out of participating at all in the 6th show.
The Seventh Impressionist Art Exhibition: Caillebotte and Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922)
The changing art market in the 1870s had taken a financial toll on the art dealer’s modern art business. Durand-Ruel re-tooled his dealership to focus not on large-scale group shows but small shows of individual artists. Overall the French economy had sunk into hard times and big shows cost more money. Following the disastrous Hôtel Drouot auction in 1875—which Durand-Ruel believed was an attempt by his critics to discredit him as an art dealer—the well-stocked Impressionist art dealer reluctantly agreed to go forward with Caillebotte’s exhibition plan for 1882. Caillebotte convinced the dealer that the Seventh show would earn a small profit.
Caillebotte’s main hook was to re-integrate the excluded “broken brush” or “strict” impressionists including Renoir and Claude Monet. Degas and his faction of artists including Mary Cassatt stayed away from the Seventh Impressionist exhibition though Paul Gauguin was represented. Also missing was the artist of Aix, Paul Cézanne, who was experimenting with volumes in the south of France. Cézanne would not be seen in a Paris art show until 1895 when a huge body of his work was featured in a landmark retrospective exhibition at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery.
Caillebotte’s first move was to secure the popular Renoir for the upcoming March 1882 show. Renoir sent 24 new works, including his iconic large-format A Luncheon at Bougival (Un déjeuner à Bougival). Durand-Ruel insisted on a standardized presentation, including simple white frames for every work. In addition to Monet and Renoir, the seventh show hailed a triumphant return for Alfred Sisley. Camille Pissarro displayed several paintings of peasant girls. His tiny pseudo-pointillist brushstrokes overlaid with occasional dabs of thicker paint, built up an uneven surface that integrated the figure and background which worked to visually mimic the textures of the sitter’s wool clothing.
Caillebotte sent 17 works to the show. The Bezique Game (Partie de bésigue) painted in 1880, was joined by Rising Road (Chemin Montant) painted in 1881. This latter work’s path hardly rises—a feature that contributed to the canvas’s mystery. The question was asked whether it was a reprise of the “enhanced perspective” that aggravated critics in 1876 when they saw it in The Floor Scrapers.
Rising Road is painted with a free handling of colors in the loose brushwork style of Monet and Renoir whose closer re-acquaintance Caillebotte made. One critic poked fun at the painting’s mysterious pair as viewers wondered with him who is “the conjugal couple…seen from the back” ? Their identities and location are uncertain although speculation has put Caillebotte in the painting with his lifelong companion Charlotte Berthier.
Rising Road (Chemin Montant) has had only two owners since 1881. It sold in 2003 for nearly $7 million ($6,727,500) at Christie’s in New York City,
Gustave Caillebotte and Impressionist art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel organized the exhibition which marked the triumphant return of the broken-brush or strict Impressionists, such as Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. In many ways it was Renoir’s wide-ranging artwork that was the star of the 7th show.