The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Our generation has happily thrown away the accumulated wisdom of the race.”  Norman O. Brown

In 1848 there were political revolutions across Europe. A revolution was avoided in England, but in that year three young artists started a revolution in art that had a profound effect through the rest of the century.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (later known as the Pre-Raphaelites). They called themselves Pre-Raphaelites because it reflected their admiration of the early Italian painters before Raphael. Their motivation came from their absolute rejection of the conventional artistic pretensions of the Royal Academy of Arts, and in particular the mechanistic imitators of Raphael and Michelangelo; especially in the uninspired techniques of the Mannerists adopted by the founder of the Royal Academy: Sir Joshua Reynolds, in whom they saw the epitome of lax composition with little detail and colors, gross and darkened with the use of the despised bitumen. They decided they would approach nature without artifice as the early Renaissance artists for the rejuvenation of spiritual art. The most common subject of the movement were idealized young ladies which reflected the values that were compromised by materialism and bourgeois moral decadence.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti ~ The Girlhood of Mary Virgin ~ 1848-9

The first painting to be exhibited by the Brotherhood was Rossetti’s The Girlhood of Mary Virgin. The painting is full of symbolic content. The haloed dove is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. The child-angel stands beside a pile of books inscribed with the cardinal virtues, she tends to a lily which is a symbol of purity. But contemporary authors grounded in psychological determinism tend to see paintings of this kind as a manifestation of “perversion”. To quote Norman O. Brown,”They have risen to the occasion and have shown that they can be counted on to issue a medical certificate of insanity against genius”.

John Everett Millais ~ The Bridesmaid ~ 1851

Years ago, I came across Bram Dijkstra’s book, Idols of Perversity. The book was filled with illustrations of painting by artists of the Pre-Raphaelite and Symbolists schools, which Dijkstra castigated to prove his premise. At the time, I had never seen most of the works in the book and I became fascinated by the art of the period, despite the intention of the author. Dijkstra claims that artists of the 19th century had an oppressive view of women, that women were expected to play roles that denied their liberty. But Dijkstra’s view reflects a modern sensibility indifferent to the effects of alienation caused by industrialization. I found more sanity in the passages Dijkstra quotes than I did in his one-dimentional perspective. For example, he quotes Sarah Stickney Ellis’ book The Women of England, published in 1839 which became popular in both England and the United States. The passage describes the effects of the dog eat dog marketplace. Ellis wrote:

“There is no union in the great field of action in which he is engaged, but envy, and hatred, and opposition, to the close of the day — every man’s hand against his brother, and each struggling to exalt himself, not merely by trampling upon his fallen foe, but by usurping the place of his weaker brother.”

Ellis emphasized that women needed to counteract the destructive influences on the male’s soul, to preserve the moral values of society. How is this a perversion?

John Everett Millais ~ The Return of the Dove to the Ark ~ 1851

Christopher Lasch observed that contemporary authors grounded in reductionist psychology, “end up by reading out of the historical record everything that fails to conform to modern standards of enlightenment.” Many of the Pre-Raphaelite’s images of women represented virtues, the images were a kind of refuge, a visual antidote to reject the values of Weber’s Iron Cage of bureaucracy. Indeed, women were seen as free if they could remain outside of the artificial man-made bureaucracy, and reject by their very beauty and innocence, its socially driven and pathologically empty ideals of mindless consumption; filled only with avaricious competition with ones fellow-man over ones daily bread.

William Holman Hunt ~ A Cconverted British Family Sheltering a Christian Priest from the Persecution of the Druids ~ 1850

John Everett Millais ~ Red Riding Hood (date unknown)

Eduard Steinbrück: Forest Seclusion

Eduard Steinbrück(1802-1882) was a Romantic German artist known for his paintings inspired by legends and literature. Some biographical information can be found on Steinbrück online but I could find nothing which discussed the content of his work. So I believe this is the first article to discuss Steinbrück’s work in a cultural context.

Eduard Steinbrück ~ Die-Nymphe der Düssel ~ 1837

Eduard Steinbrück ~ Die-Nymphe der Düssel ~ 1837

Steinbrück’s The Nymph of the Düssel is comparable to Ingres’ The Source , both figures holds vases of running water. The figure in Ingres’ painting represents a spring which in Greek classical literature, is sacred to the Muses and a source of poetic inspiration. The interpretation of Ingres’ painting seems appropriate for Steinbrück’s painting as well. I think Steinbrück’s picture is much more beautiful than The Source. The nymph’s figure is more natural and appealing. The rendering of her hair and the running water are unsurpassed.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres ~ The Source ~ 1856

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres ~ The Source ~ 1856

Eduard Steinbrück ~ Children Bathing

Eduard Steinbrück ~ Children Bathing

Steinbrück painted a few charming pictures of children bathing. Many Romantics considered childhood an ideal state which is lost by disenchantment due to the demands of the modern world. The influential philosopher Friedrich Schiller wrote:

“Our childhood is all that remains of nature in humanity, such as civilization has made it, of untouched, unmutilated nature. It is, therefore, not wonderful, when we meet out of us the impress of nature, that we are always brought back to the idea of our childhood”.

Eduard Steinbrück ~ Bathers

Eduard Steinbrück ~ Little Red Riding Hood

Steinbrück turned to fairy tales, as did many of his German contemporaries, to revive the enchantment of childhood. It was not a coincidence that when the Brothers Grimm were collecting their fairy tales, painting also turned to this genre. The term “Waldeinsamkeit” (forest seclusion) comes from Ludwig Tieck’s fairy tale Blond Eckbert. The term express the need for spiritual refuge. In fairy tales the mysterious forest is rich in symbols, a source of wonder and as well as fear.

Eduard Steinbrück ~ Marie among the Elves ~ 1840

Marie with the Elves depicts a scene from Ludwig Tieck’s fairy tale The Elves. Marie was running a race with her friend Andres but ran in a different direction than him and came upon the enchanted garden of the elves. In Steinbrück’s painting, Marie is delighted by the whimsical activities of the bathing elves.

Eduard Steinbrück ~ Marie among the Elves ~ 1840 (detail)

As Max Weber noted, the industrial revolution had the effect of disenchantment, in previous cultures spirits were thought to live in the trees, but the rationalism of the Enlightenment dismissed such views. In the absence of such spirituality, nature was exploited for profit. At the end of Tieck’s story, Marie returns to her family and the elves leave the forest which had a devastating effect:

“The same year there came a blight; the woods died away, the springs ran dry; and the scene, which had once been the joy of every traveller, was in autumn standing waste, naked and bald; scarcely showing here and there, in the sea of sand, a spot or two where grass, with a dingy greenness, still grew up. The fruit-trees all withered, the vines faded away”.

It seems the Elves leaving the forest is symbolic of modern man’s disenchantment. All of nature withered because it was perceived to be without spirit. Romanism was a reaction to such a view. In more recent times there has been a renewed respect for nature by environmentalists as chronicled in James William Gibson’s book A Reenchanted World. But I wonder if there is a true reenchantment trend? The belief in the spiritual realm was expressed though enchanting human figures, but magical paintings like Steinbrück’s hardly a trend in contemporary art. Not only is nature perceived to be without spirit in the modern view but so is humanity. The dismissal of the human soul devalues everything, there must be a reenchantment in human realm. We should return to the secluded forest to be inspired by the spring of the muses.

 

Jules Joseph Lefebvre: The French Pre-Raphaelite

Jules Joseph Lefebvre (1836-1911) was French Romantic artist and educator. He won prestigious awards and was a member of the French Academie des Beaux-Arts. His nudes were so famous in his time that his only rival was considered to be Bouguereau. But like most of the contemporaries of Bouguereau, he is hardly remembered today. Lefebvre was sympathetic teacher who taught more than 1500 pupils. Among his famous students were Fernand Khnopff, Kenyon Cox, and Felix Vallotton.

Jules Joseph Lefebvre ~ Pandora ~ 1872

In Greek mythology Pandora, the ‘all-gifted’, was the first woman on Earth. She was fashioned from clay by Vulcan and was endowed with various gifts from the gods. She was sent to Earth by Jupiter and was presented to Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus. When she opened her box, all the evils which have since beset mankind flew out. Pandora quickly closed the box but all that remained inside was Hope. The Golden Age came to an end. This was Jupiter’s punishment to the human race for the theft of fire by Prometheus.

Lefebvre’s Pandora walks from the fiery forge of Vulcan, presenting the fateful box to humanity.

Jules Joseph Lefebvre ~ Ophelia ~ 1890

It seems that Lefebvre was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites in his choices in subjects and models. Ophelia was a character from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, she was a popular subject among the English painters. Lefebvre’s Ophelia walks into a pool of water lilies to drown herself. She appears to be lost in thought.

Jules Joseph Lefebvre ~ Vittoria Colonna ~ 1861

Lefebvre’s technical skill is most evident in his striking portrait Vittoria Colonna. The context of the painting is puzzling, since Colonna was an Italian 16th century noblewoman and poet.

Maidens with long red hair were common subject of the Pre-Raphaelites, so if didn’t know better I would assume this was the work of an English artist. Lefebvre did a number of paintings of girls who resemble the model for Vittoria Colonna, it is uncertain if the same model inspired the other paintings.

Jules Joseph Lefebvre ~ Lauretta

Jules Joseph Lefebvre ~ L’amour blesse (Love Hurts)

Jules Joseph Lefebvre ~ Mignon (Cute)

Émile Munier: Happy Little World

Émile Munier ~ Her Best Friend ~ 1882

Émile Munier (1840 –1895) was a talented French academic artist who is best known for his light-hearted paintings of children. Munier was a student of Bouguereau, which is evident in his adoption of Bouguereau’s subjects, compositions and style. The artists were close friends, Munier often visited Bougereau’s studio; Bouguereau refered to him by the nicknames “La sagesse” and “Le sage Munier”.

Bob Ross Create your own happy little world c.1980

The work of Bouguereau’s circle is often dismissed as Kitsch: the epitome of bad taste, but such an attitude I believe misses the essence of art. When I was searching the web for craft supplies I happened to come across this amusing Bob Ross t-shirt with the message: Create your own happy little world. Most would take it as a shallow statement made just to make a person feel good, but the curly haired master’s attitude actually reflects more wisdom than what is predominate in the philosophy of culture today. After all, Herbert Marcuse stated “Whether ritualized or not, art contains the rationality of negation. In its advanced positions, it is the Great Refusal- the protest against that which is”. To accept the world as it is as “reality” is to be without hope of a better world. Traditional art refuted the state of the world in its ugliness by creating an image of a better world. This is due to the fact that western art was rooted in the Messianic tradition. So I believe Munier’s art is a higher art than work which is a slavish copy of nature or work which is like an aesthetic tick tack toe game or work which reflects an ironic detachment from life. Like many artists, Munier’s art reflects the wisdom of childhood.

Émile Munier ~ Armistice (A Truce) ~ 1883

The title of this painting is rather interesting; Armistice (A Truce). The title implies that these cupids were fighting and have made peace. The subject of the painting seems to be an invention of Munier’s, since I have not seen a truce of cupids before. If the painting was an allegory of events in Munier’s time, the reference remains obscure.

Émile Munier ~ Feeding the Rabbits ~ 1888

Émile Munier ~ Le Sauvetage (The Saving) ~ 1894

Émile Munier ~ Mother and Child ~ 1892

Émile Munier ~ The Bather ~ 1882

Elizabeth Gardner Bouguereau: The Imprudent Girl

Elizabeth Gardner Bouguereau at her easel

Elizabeth Gardner Bouguereau (1837 – 1922) was an American expatriate artist who lived in Paris most of her life. She studied in Paris with the artists Huges Merle and Jules Lefebvre before studying with William Bouguereau. After Bouguereau’s wife died, Gardner became his lover and after the death of his mother, who did not approve of the union, they were married in 1896. Gardner adopted Bouguereau subjects, compositions and style so successfully that most of her work might be mistaken for his. She was quoted as saying, “I know I am censured for not more boldly asserting my individuality, but I would rather be known as the best imitator of Bouguereau than be nobody!”

Elizabeth Gardner Bouguereau ~ The Imprudent Girl ~ 1884

However, I find Gardner Bouguereau’s The Imprudent Girl more interesting than most of her husband’s work because of the ambiguity of the subject. Since there are two girls in the painting, one wonders which of the girls is imprudent and how she is imprudent? The younger girl lies limp on the ground, the stem of a flower lies across her hand. Is the little girl ill from eating a flower? The older girl leans over her to care for her? I’m aware that moderns would certainly make a different reading of the painting.

Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau ~ Daphnis And Chloe

Gardner Bouguereau’s skill was so great that I wonder if she worked as an assistant to her husband. Many masters of the past employed assistants to paint the background details of a work, while the master would complete the main figures in the painting. Bouguereau painted so many refined works in his life (822 known) I’ve wonder how it would be humanly possible, by comparison, the great Dutch artist Vermeer only painted about 40. I found no record of it, but is a good question.

Elizabeth Gardner Bouguereau ~ Young Girl holding a Basket of Grapes

Elizabeth Gardner Bouguereau ~ Bubbles

Elizabeth Gardner Bouguereau ~ Across the Brook (lost)

Léon Bazille Perrault: Love and Innocence

Léon Bazille Perrault (1832-1908) was a French master of genre and mythological subjects. He was a student at Bouguereau’s  atelier, which deeply influenced the style of his paintings. Rather than dwell on encyclopedic information, lets look at his paintings….

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Léon Bazille Perrault ~ Love and Innocence ~ 1884

Love and Innocence shows a multitude of expressions in just one look; as the young subject looks at once pensive, yet also daydreaming, then contemplative as well; and yet present with the viewer…. and this is why we are captured by the direct gaze of the young woman.

In her lap sleeps a Cupid, but this can perhaps indicate she is also thinking of engaging a lover for herself in the not-to-distant future. She is holding the sleeping Cupids hand, but this hand is placed on her lap in a manner at once innocent but quite telling as being the cause of the faraway look in this maidens eyes… they are innocent eyes…but they seek knowledge….

Is this the symbolic rendering of a virgin contemplating the events which will lead to her awakening as a woman to the mysteries of love???

This the real question asked in the painting

Léon Bazille Perrault ~ Cupids Arrows ~ 1882

Cupids Arrows had the  unpleasant property of making those pieced by them to fall in love with the first person they saw…with sometimes tragic result, as one can imagine.

Here we see Cupid having just let fly his arrow at the heart of yet another victim of his deadly aim…

The fact that so many of these angelic Cherubs were painted and placed in positions with women that suggest intimacy without the taint of sensual love proves that the artists were quite aware of the fact that Lucifer is mentioned in Isaiah as “the anointed cherub” who was in paradise…

This but proves that the delightful cherubs the artists manifested in their frames were not at all fallen; and were part of our innocence in paradise that was there at the beginning before the Fall; as they were the original guardian angels in Eden to protect Adam and Eve from straying into rebellion and breaking the commandment of God…

Léon Bazille Perrault ~ La cigale ~ 1893

In presenting the true nature of man seen in this very beautiful woman that is revealed in nude portraiture, we are at once struck by the somewhat bold and challenging look of out lute player wearing her flowered crown as showing us one of the Muses of Parnassus; perhaps as of the one called Harmonie, as she was known…

Is she singing?? In this total realism of the figure we are struck by the unheard melody but can only surmise it is as captivating as she herself….

It seems she is accompanying her song with her own hand; which is placed in an a position of holding itself in an obvious chord of some intricacy; which shows she is no novice to the skill she here evinces…

That he seems to be holding forth in the bucolic surroundings of the forest only add to her natural charms.

For some this would certainly remind them of the refined realism of the Pre-Raphaelites

I see the intrusion of actual Realism…..but such is the luxury of not affording oneself an opinion….

Léon Bazille Perrault ~ Maternal Love

 The baby seems removed from the painting, even as the centerpiece. Yet this theme is not as easy to portray as one might think,  for to define Motherhood as this painting does requires deftness and restraint….the distinction is subtle, but the interplay between mother and child here is devotionally  touching.

Léon Bazille Perrault ~ Nude Child with Dove

The Virgin Child, as the Dove was associated with absolute purity. For her to represent herself as symbolic of the Innocence of the Dove is fairly straightforward.

I would ask the viewer if the child holds the gaze of the calm expression as one of coy acceptance or sweet adoration….of the Dove itself.??? Or is it more ambiguous as to the real object of worship??

Léon Bazille Perrault ~ Young Flōra

Flora signified Nature, and this child represents the Eden or Untouched Land of Promise. That is why this child bears the signatories of Nature as seen in the wearing it’s emblems.  

The color of pink is exploding  in the skin tone here as well; if one would compare this  with the rather harder lines in the work of Bouguereau, his teacher and mentor. But here we see a gentle sensibility missing in others contemporaries and his teacher as well…

Here it can be seen that Perrault does not use a finer line than seen in the work of Bouguereau: but employs a finer perspective….

Perhaps this is why after his death they raised a statue in his honor.

 

Émile Lévy: Dizzy Spells

For the next month or so, I’ll be covering the work of French Romantic artists who were the peers of Bouguereau. Little information is available on the internet on these artists which is likely due to the neglect of their work in the 20th century.

Émile Lévy (1826– 1890) was a talented Romantic painter, he won the first-class medal in the Salon of 1878. Some biographical information can be found on Levy online but I could find nothing which discussed the content of his work. Unfortunately, I couldn’t even find the dates of many of his works. But I estimate that the works discussed in this article were painted sometime in the 1870’s by comparing them to works of which the dates could be found.

Emile Levy ~ The Splinter

Lévy’s The Splinter is a charming image of a young couple. Their clothes imply they are from the ancient Greek or Roman times. The boy tenderly removes a splinter from the young maiden’s foot, they seem to be in their teens. If there is symbolism in the gesture, it is unknown to me. The face of the girl is the same as the next painting of interest so keep her in mind.

Emile Levy ~ The Dizzy Spell

The Dizzy Spell is an interesting painting because one wonders what the relationship is between the figures. The girl seems to be very young, which seemed to rule out that they were lovers. So one could presume they are brother and sister. But what is the source of the girl’s dizziness? If you recall the face of the girl in the splinter, I noticed the face of the girl in The Dizzy Spell is identical. Apparently, Lévy used the same model for both paintings. I know from experience as an artist that a painting can make a girl look younger or older than they are depending on the rendering of the shadows on the face. I later found that The Dizzy Spell has an other title, The Elopement, so they are lovers after all. In the upper right of the painting there is a tiny figure in the distance between the trees, perhaps the girl became dizzy from running from the distant figure?

Emile Levy ~ The Vertigo Idyll

The Vertigo Idyll shows a young couple at edge of a cliff, the maiden looks below with concern while the young man seems indifferent to the danger. The definition of vertigo is, “Episodes of dizziness and a sensation of spinning with certain head movements.” Lévy certainly had a thing with dizziness! I actually find Lévy’s paintings tend to be more interesting than Bouguereau’s because of his unusual narratives. It’s a shame, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m the first to write about his work in a hundred years.

Emile Levy ~ The Education of Cupid B&W

The Education of Cupid shows a woman guiding the arms of Cupid as he aims his arrow. presumably, the woman is Venus but what is the target she is directing Cupid to shoot at?

I found two images of The Education of Cupid, one in black and white and an other in color. The color version censors Cupid’s genitals with a narrow cloth. The existence of the black and white image indicates that Lévy  intended Cupid to be nude. If Lévy  later censored his work or if it was later censored by someone else is unknown.

Emile Levy ~ The Education of Cupid

Emile Levy ~ A Cooling Draught

Emile Levy ~ Aimer le et Les Fleurs des Champs

Charles Chaplin: A Song Silenced

Charles Chaplin (1825 – 1891) was a French painter who is best known for his elegant images of young women. Chaplin was a peer of Bouguereau (they were both born in 1825) yet the hazy backgrounds of Chaplin’s paintings reflected the style of Rococo. Chaplin held art classes just for women at his studio. The important Impressionist Mary Cassatt was among his students. He was one of the most famous painters in France but like Bouguereau his work was neglected in the 20th century. In 1922, one of his paintings was sold at an auction in Paris. The panting achieved an unexpectedly high price because the most of the bidders believe the painting was the work of the famous actor Charlie Chaplin. The New York Times reported the sale, “The disappointment of the ultimate buyer may be imagined when it was discovered that the picture was by an almost forgotten artist …”

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Charles Chaplin ~ A Song Silenced

Even today, I find that real understanding and appreciation for Chaplin is sadly lacking. Here is a perfect an example: The Art Renewal Center is a rather well-known establishment website that features the work of artists in the order of what the editors believe to be the artist’s best work. The site’s listing features A Song Silenced on Chaplin’s last page, I think this choice to be one reflecting poor judgment, since I consider it to be Chaplin’s best painting if not one of the most important paintings of the period.

The young maiden of A Song Silenced appears to troubled, she seems to be only about fourteen. The strings on the lyre are loose, indeed; they are broken. This evokes the story of a Zen priest who cut the strings of his harp when his friend died. Cupid rests his head on her arm weeping. Why’s Cupid crying?

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I noticed when I was shopping last week that full cases of Valentine’s Day Card boxes for children on clearance. It seemed hardly any cards were sold. Out of curiosity, I did a google search and discovered that Valentine’s Day is actually banned in many schools. Most of the articles claimed that is due to the fact that Moslems are offended by the holiday, but I believe that is clever excuse for those governed by a utilitarian ideology to suppress an important ritual. It reflects the temperament which charged a six-year-old boy who kissed a lovely classmate with the charge of “sexual harassment.”

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Charles Chaplin ~ The Letter

I suspect that Chaplin and some of his peers were aware of the traumatic shifts in culture which were caused by the industrial revolution, at least on a subconscious level. So A Song Silenced may not be just a poetic image of the lost love of one girl but rather a metaphor for the suppression of romantic love which began in the 19th century. The view of romantic love changed as a result of social need, with the industrial revolution the Western world became more complex, demanding more skilled and trained men for professions. Until the 18th century, the average age of marriage for a girl was about 14, to presume this is a form of domination only reflects an acceptance of the grand cultural imperative of technocracy, which isolates and exploits individuals for the economy while actually suppressing the deepest human needs by trivializing romantic love, and the ideals of human fidelity and affection. Life has been subordinated to the needs of the techno-economy, so ethics become confused with the new scientific ideology, which serves technocracy. Theodore Roszak wrote:

“It is not of supreme importance that human being should be a good scientist, a good scholar, a good administrator, a good expert; it is not of supreme importance that he should be right, rational, knowledgeable, or even creatively productive of brilliantly finished objects as often as possible. Life is not what we are in our various professional capacities or in the practice of some special skill. What is of supreme importance is that each of us should become a person, a whole and integrated person in whom there is manifested a sense of the human variety genuinely experienced, a sense of having come to terms with reality that is awesomely vast.”

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Charles Chaplin ~ Beauty

I would rather not bring up these social political issues and simply admire Chaplin’s work but unfortunately there is a whole culture which has been dogmatized to assume Chaplin’s charming paintings are some form of “oppression.” The current economically driven culture is cold indeed: openly hostile to the artistic expression of love warmly shared between the sexes, and views classic traditions of romance like fidelity, beauty, and innocence, as a demoted rival to the new paradigm: the Love of Money. Everyone is expected to be so independent in the modern world with a focus on being a “good expert” that other areas of experience are marginalized. Chaplin’s work reflects a deep human need, love is part the vast reality Roszak spoke of, for only a true experiencing and understanding of love; built on a solid foundation of mutual respect and trust between men and women, shows this basic realization of our own nature is necessary for any individual to become an actual compassionate and ultimately caring person.

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Charles Chaplin ~ Young Girl with a Dove

Bouguereau: Salt of the Earth

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William Bouguereau in his studio 1898

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825 – 1905) needs little introduction since
he has regained fame in recent years after a period of neglect in the
twentieth century. He was the quintessential French salon painter of the
nineteenth century, so consequently he was scorned by the avant-garde.
His range of subject matter was diverse, his oeuvre included portraits,
genre scenes, mythological nudes and religious pictures. Fronia E.
Wissman noted he often showed in one exhibition paintings that
contrasted each other to demonstrate his mastery of subjects. For
example, in 1880 Salon he showed Young Girl Defending Herself against
Eros and The Flagellation of Christ.

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William Bouguereau Young Girl Defending herself Against Eros 1880

 

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William Bouguereau The Flagellation of Christ 1880

Several years ago a saw an exhibit of religious works from the collection of the Uffizi in Florence, all of the works in the exhibit were from the Renaissance or the Baroque. I could not help but notice that Christ was nearly nude in every painting, either nude as an infant with Mary or nearly nude on the cross.

How very different are contemporary depictions of Christ!

For example, I’ve seen modern paintings of the baptism of Christ, which depict him fully dressed, when it makes sense that he would wear the loin clothe seen in Renaissance paintings. H.R. Rookmaaker recognized this perception was a result of mysticism, “the synthesis of biblical thought with that of neo-platonism” which held, “This life is of no value. The material is sinful. “There are no grounds for this view in scripture, but unfortunately it had a profound effect on culture. Franky Schaeffer accounted for the effects of the mysticism on the Christian view of the arts, he writes:

“When our Christianity is allowed to become merely spiritual and inward
without the incarnation and outward expressions of God’s presence in the
world, our faith is no longer meaningful in all areas of life. This
indeed is what happened to Christianity during the twentieth century.”

“Thus people’s lives as Christians became compartmentalized. This thing
was spiritual, that one was not. The arts, creativity, enjoyment of beauty, enjoyment of God’s beauty, even an enjoyment of God’s Word in the Bible for itself, were set aside. The arts were regarded as unspiritual, unfit, and secondary to those high and spiritual goals now set forth for Christians to achieve.”

William Adolphe Bouguereau Temptation

William Bouguereau Temptation 1880

Since Christians withdrew from the mainstream culture, they abandoned many vital aspects of life which came to be defined in secular terms which ironically reflect the temperament of mysticism. Following the naturalistic presumptions of Sigmund Freud, all the manifestations of culture were explained away as having roots in sexual drives.

Although Carl Jung attempted to rehabilitate Freud’s theories, Freud’s vulgarized perceptions of human agency remain dominant in the current world-view. Beauty and nudity, which in the past were a potential subject for a wide range of creative expression, were rejected in the twentieth century as mere kitsch, which only appeals to a gross sentimentality bereft of any transcendent meaning.

The tendency to affirm the mind at the expense of the
body is apparent in the neo-platonism of high modernist painters like
Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, who refuse to represent the physical and postmodernists like Mark Ryden and John Currin who have come to in vogue. In their reductionist vision and Freudian standard of sexuality we see artists whose secular views make a mockery of the flesh. This diminution of the human body and devaluation of the inherent divinity of the Image of God caused the negation of the Ideal of the Act of Love. It was denied to then have any innate or “spiritual” meaning at all.

Thus we were witnessing the “dead end” of the sterile reductionist view of Freud, and the impact on the Arts of his secular “cure” of religious dogma by his contemptuous brand of psychoanalysis. The “Salt of the Earth” spoken of in the parable of Christ, was thrown out of the marketplace of artistic ideals.

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William Bouguereau Inocencia ca.1880

What is wonderful about Bouguereau is that he was active before the
split between the rational and the physical, his figures are so lifelike
one is given the presence of the soul in the flesh. His technical skill
was so great he was able to incarnated the spirit in the body. His work
reflects a reverence for life.

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William Bouguereau The Youth of Bacchus 1884 (detail)

Thorough out his lifetime, Bouguereau painted Venus and Cupid, Nymphs
and Fauns as archetypal figures in Arcadia while many of his Academy peers, under the spell of a “blind” positivism painted the ancient world as a historical account.

As the alternative voice of what came to be called holistic or “depth” psychoanalysis, in which Carl Jung noted that,”Every society has its idea of the archetypal paradise or golden age that, it is believed, once existed and will exist again.” Unfortunately, postmodern culture has lost contact with these archetypes which is reflected in pessimism of the culture. It is my unswerving belief that much of the turmoil in our world is due to the fact we have lost contact with the archetypes so well exemplified and exalted in Bouguereau’s art.

Far more than an aesthetic balance of form and color, I find peace of mind in his realm of eternal beauty. It is this vision which needs to be once again given its “Day” to heal mankind and western culture of it’s tragic artistic “fall” into the present post modernist decline seen in the arts.

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William Bouguereau Song of the Angels 1881

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William Bouguereau Baigneuse Assise 1879

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William Bouguereau La Bourrique 1884

 

Chaponnière’s Daphnis and Chloe

John-Étienne Chaponnière (1801 -1835), also known as Jean-Étienne Chaponnière, was a Swiss sculptor active in Italy and France. After he studied in Pairs with the sculptor James Pradier he moved to Florence where he lived with Lorenzo Bartolini, I suspect Bartolini’s influence accounts for the naturalism of Chaponnière work. Little information about Chaponnière is available on the web which may be due to the fact he died rather young. However, Chaponnière had a considerable amount of success in his lifetime, receiving a number of important commissions.

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John Etienne Chaponniere Daphnis and Chloe 1828

Chaponnière’s Hunting and Fishing Group which was later renamed Daphnis and Chloe, seems to be his best known work. There is a tenderness in Chaponnière’s piece which was lacking in Neo-Classical sculpture. I have come to admire works of this kind because they celebrate romantic love which has come under scrutiny in recent times, which due to the conflict between the abstract systems of technocracy and the freedom to be human. It is presumed the birds and bees will go on, but as bees are dying as a result of industrial pollution so is the romantic love between male and female.

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John Etienne Chaponniere Daphnis and Chloe 1828

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John Etienne Chaponniere etude for Daphnis and Chloe