Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot


Joseph Nichols Hippolyte Aussandon La Nymphe a Corot

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot ( 1796 – 1875) was a French artist who was a pivotal figure in landscape painting. He was revered in the later part of his life for his poetic landscapes in which nymphs dance in the forest but he was also influential to the development to Impressionism. Corot made many oil sketches from nature, his rendering of outdoor light inspired Monet, Degas and Renoir to work directly from nature. I find this interesting because he inspired a rational representation of nature while in his mature work he spiritualized the landscape. Corot was so admired for his mythical paintings, the artist Joseph Nichols Hippolyte Aussandon painted a nymph weeping as a memorial to him.


Jean Baptiste Camille Corot The Bridge of Narni 1825

Corot’s The Bridge at Narni is a good example of his early work which he painted directly from nature. In a sense, his painting is a recording of the ‘facts’ of the effects of light. H.R. Rookmaaker recognized “The study of landscape was parallel to the observations of science. I say the study of landscape, as there is a marked change here from the seventeenth-century type of landscape as created by Jan van Goyen or by his contemporary Claude Lorrain. Constable was the first to make scientific studies in painting clouds, and many of his landscapes picture actual places”. For example, Claude Monet did a series of paintings of hay stacks, he was interested in the effect of light at different times of the day. Many traditional artists considered the efforts of Impressionists to be absurd because traditional did more than record the effects of light in an aesthetic from, it expressed human truth.


Jean Baptiste Camille Corot Morning: Dance of the Nymphs 1850

Morning: Dance of the Nymphs marks the turning point in development of Corot’s style. It was the first of his atmospheric landscapes which brought Corot fame. His work appealed to an inner need for peace as well as a longing for a better world, his enchanted landscapes can be seen as a counter to the one-sided rationalism of modernism. The figure holding up a cup to the far left of the painting is apparently Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and passion.


Jean Baptiste Camille Corot Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld 1861

So much was lost when artists turned away from myth. This painting shows Orpheus leading Eurydice from the underworld. Orpheus was a legendary poet who had such skill with his lyre he was able to charm all of nature, trees and rocks as well as beasts. He was married to the wood nymph Eurydice, after she died from a snake bite he descended into Hades by the power of his music.


Lorenzo Bartolini

Lorenzo Bartolini (1777-1850) was an Italian sculptor who was perhaps one of the most expressive sculptors of the early 19th Century. Bartolini was a student of David and was later befriended by the young Ingres. Bartolini’s work reflected a transition from Neo-classicism to a more naturalistic Romanticism, due to a faithful rendering from the observation of nature. Napoleon I was an important patron who advanced Bartolini’s vocation considerably.


Lorenzo Bartolini Fiducia In Dio (Trust In God) 1835

Trust in God, is by far Bartolini’s best-known work, it is ’emblematic of Italian sculpture of the generation after Canova’. H.R. Rookmaaker claimed by the early 19th Century depictions of Venus and other subjects which required nudity were a contrivance to represent a nude, while it is true some 19th Century Venus’ were not much more than a centerfold, the context of Trust in God is evidence that the nude was maintained as a genuine spiritual expression. In 1835 Bartolini was commissioned by the Marchesa Rosa Poldi Trivulzio to create a memorial to her late husband. The piece was such a success that essays and odes were written in praise of it. The art historian H.W. Janson wrote, “The adolescent nude girl kneeling with her hands folded in her lap, is clearly not meant to be a personification of Faith. Halfway between childhood and womanhood, she is too young to be a classical nude, and one senses that the artist has used a live model, even thought the forms have been smoothed over and generalized. The nudity itself is symbolic of what all critics of the time felt to be the spiritual message of the work – the Christian soul entrusting itself to the Lord.” Although I agree with Janson concerning the message of the work, the author’s perspective I believe reflects a present-mindedness since in Bartolini’s day the figure would have been perceived as a young lady.


Lorenzo Bartolini Charity the Educator 1842-50

Bartolini’s sculpture of a woman caring for two children personifies the virtue of Charity (love). Inscribed on the boy’s scroll is the moral: ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.’ Charity is traditionally represented as a nursing mother, so the depiction of her as an educator seems to be an innovation of Bartolini’s. The symbolism of Charity the Educator is quite profound because education without love tends to lead to a one sided rationality which is indifferent to human need, as Ruth Nanda Anshen observed, a mind which ‘knows everything but understands nothing.’

Lorenzo Bartolini Tutt'Art@

Lorenzo Bartolini The Nymph and the Scorpion 1845

The Nymph and the Scorpion is a good example of how a Romantic artist could bring tension to animate a tranquil subject. The girl’s face shows the signs of pain from the scorpion’s sting. The work was apparently popular since there are a number of copies to be found in various museums around the world.


Lorenzo Bartolini Portrait of Napoleone Elisa Baciocchi 1810-1812

Bartolini was commissioned to sculpt a portrait of Napoleon’s niece, Napoléone Elisa Baciocchi, daughter of the Grand-Duke of Tuscany. The girl’s nudity may startle some today but in the 19th Century, the nudity of a child in art was understood to emphasized purity and innocence. Sculptures of nude boys representing Cupid were very common at that time, while nude figures of young girls were still rare at the beginning of the century. The work reflects the spirit of Romanticism which extended the range of subjects. While the pet dog add charms to the work, it alludes to Greek mythology, it is a reference to Diana the goddess of the moon and hunt.


Lorenzo Bartolini Portrait of Napoleone Elisa Baciocchi (back) 1810-1812

Lorenzo Bartolini Fiducia in Dio - Faith in God, 1835

Lorenzo Bartolini Fiducia in Dio (Trust in God) detail 1835


Lorenzo Bartolini Charity the Educator at Galleria Palatina (PalazzoPitti), Florence


François Jouffroy


Francois Jouffroy Harmony (Paris)

François Jouffroy (1806 – 1882) was a French sculptor who had success as an artist in his lifetime but is hardly known today. Winner of the Prix de Rome in 1832, Jouffroy exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Françaises in Paris from 1835. As a sought-after artist, Jouffroy received several public commissions such as the group representing the Harmony for the façade of the Paris Opera or the allegories of Punishment and Protection for the Palais de Justice in Paris. But I find these works to be rather dry and uninspired. Which in fairness to Jouffroy may have been due to the demands of his patrons.


Francois Jouffroy First Secret Entrusted to Venus 1839

Jouffroy’s claim to fame is his marvelous sculpture First Secret Entrusted to Venus, which is in the collection of the Louvre Museum. The charm of the work come from the fact that Jouffroy captured the personality of a young lady of about fourteen. The herm of Venus is rather unusual since most herms represent Hermes. Such a work would likely be frowned upon today but in more sane times such work was revered. Jouffroy won the gold medal in 1839 for First Secret Entrusted to Venus, which preserved its place in the Louvre.


First Secret Entrusted to Venus (photo by Yvan Lemeur)

I’ve noticed that photographs I find of sculptures often have artistic merit in themselves, as in this charming image by the photographer Yvan Lemeur. If you are the photographer who created an image of a sculpture found on Celestial Venus, let me know and I will give you credit for your photograph.


Francois Jouffroy First Secret Entrusted to Venus 1839 (in Louvre)



Francois Jouffroy First Secret Entrusted to Venus 1839 (back)


Sir Joshua Reynolds


Sir Joshua Reynolds The Age of Innocence circa 1788

I had not intended to cover work of the 18th Century but the art of the period reflected changing attitudes toward children which is relevant today.

The portrait artist Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792) had a dramatic influence on British art. He was a founder and first president of the Royal Academy of Arts, and was knighted by George III in 1769. Reynolds is known for continuing the style of English portraiture established by Sir Anthony Van Dyke (1599-1641) but his playful images of children were often inspired by French sources.


Sir Joshua Reynolds Marlborough Family 1778

Reynold’s portrait of the Marlborough Family is consider his most ambitious work, J.W. Waterhouse called it the ‘most monumental achievement of British portraiture’. Art historians tend to focus on the interaction of the Duke with his son on the left side of the painting with little attention to the group of children to the right of the painting. Although the contrast between “adult formality and childish playfulness” has been noted of the figures of the opposite sides of the painting, I have found nothing accounting for the symbolism of the girl holding the mask.


Sir Joshua Reynolds Marlborough Family 1778 detail

Before the 18th Century social attitudes were different toward children, there was no separate culture for children, they shared the same games and fairy stories with adults. The view of children 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. In this period, the idea of children’s innocence appeared which should not be confused with the innocence of the garden of Eden, I think the 18th Century view of children’s innocence is comparable to the idea of the “noble savage”. Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) accounted for the effects of alienation from industrialization long before Karl Marx, he 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.”

I belive the grotesque mask the girl holds which frightens the youngest girl symbolizes the mask one is expected to wear in adulthood.


Carle Van Loo Allegory of Painting 1753

Because the roles of adulthood were increasingly artificial, childhood came to be sentimentalized. There weren’t many cute paintings before the 18th century but by the 19th Century it was a genre by its self. It seems the French artist Carle Van Loo (1705-1765) was the first to paint children playing adult roles. Loo’s Allegory of Painting shows a little muse of painting inspiring a young artist. The boy has finished painting the head and shoulders on the canvas which is quite an impressive rendering for such a young artist!


Sir Joshua Reynolds The Infant Academy 1782

Reynold’s The Infant Academy is obviously a paraphrase of Loo’s painting, but Reynold’s young artist rather than representing the little girl as the muse of painting instead paints her portrait as a lady wearing a fashionable hat. Robert Rosenblum observed,”The witty mixture of high seriousness (the classical architecture and statue fragment; the study of the nude) and the ture-life facts the learned artist confronted with the perpetual demand for high-style portraiture, is virtually a comment, couched in French rococo language, on the amusing disparity between the lofty intentions of the Royal Academy and the realities of British patronage and practice.”








Louis Hersent


Jacques-Louis David Mars Disarmed by Venus and the Three Graces

The Neo-classicical school is often represented as a failure but I believe it’s because modern art historians are rather unfair. Very often, some of the worst examples are given and criticized from a perspective of political agendas, a point Roger Kimball makes in his book The Rape of the Masters. A painting like David’s Venus and the The Graces Disarming Mars is what usually finds in art history books to represent nude figurative work of the period. Even conservatives tend to misjudge the period, H.R. Rookmaaker claimed that Venus died in the 18th Century, although there were a lot of tacky nudes painted after the 18th Century, I believe Venus was alive and well until the early 20th Century.


Louis Hersent Pandora private-collection

Since the development of the internet it is possible to discover things which have remained obscure. The brilliant work of the French artist Louis Hersent (1777-1860) is good example of the kind of work modern critics tend to ignore. Hersent was a pupil of David but the mood of his best work is more Romantic than Neo-classical. I think Hersent’s Pandora is more beautiful than anything David painted.


Louis Hersent Daphnis and Chloë 1817

While its true many of the 19th Century nudes were not much more than a Playmate of the month centerfold, it equally true many artists painted sensitive and tender nudes in the period which are unfairly dismissed as kitsch. The expression of love in Hersent’s paintings of Daphnis and Chloë is comparable to Rembrandt’s Jewish Bride.


Louis-Hersent Daphnis and Chloë 1817



Louis Hersent study


Cupid and Psyche


Cupid and Psyche Bertel Thorvaldsen 1807

I often wonder what private thoughts and feelings were for intimate subjects in earlier times. Because the feelings were private, they were not openly expressed in culture, rather the feelings can only be detected in art in a subliminal form. It is apparent from art that attitudes before modernization were very different from they are today. Unfortunately, people today are unaware of how much industrialization as alienated the perception of life.

In Western art, along with the subject of Adam and Eve, Cupid and Psyche was the most common image of a nude couple. In early Greek mythology Eros (Cupid) created life in the world by shooting his life-giving arrows into the earth. Eros was one of the four original gods but in later myths his stature was in a sense reduced to the image of Cupid to represent human love. The narrative of Cupid and Psyche was not a Greek myth but an ancient fairy tale by Lucius Apuleus written in the 2nd century A.D. Psyche was a beautiful maiden who aroused the envy of Venus. Cupid was sent by the goddess to cause Psyche to love a common mortal but he fell in love with her himself.

Gerard Francois Pascal Simon Cupid and Psyche 1798

Cupid was the son of Venus and Ares, he did not grow to be a man but remained a youth, so he is always represented as a child or adolescent in art. I always found this interesting, that the god of love would be represented as a boy. The psychologist Rollo May claimed this was due to the deterioration of the archetype of love but I disagree. In love one becomes vulnerable, a macho man wouldn’t seem vulnerable, but youth seems tender. Sister Wendy Beckett, the popular art historian has insight into the work of the 20th century artist Ken Kiff, which can be applied to images of Cupid and Psyche. Kiff painted a Man Greeting a Woman several times, Beckett observes, “It is both alarmingly simple, innocent to heart and yet bears a great weight of psychic power. The centre of the picture is the man, because Kiff himself is male, and the humble, almost infantile forms of both creatures prevent us seeing any macho emphasis in this. The eye of the man (the “little man” who appears so often in Kiff’s work, his symbol for himself and all mankind summed up in his weakness) is the centre of an invisible, almost, circle that curves to include the woman’s body.” The boyish image of Cupid should not be interpreted as reflecting immaturity but rather the vulnerability required by love. But unfortunately, in recent times the expression of vulnerability is rare in art.


Francois Edouard Picot Lamour et Psyche 1817

In many of the representations of Cupid and Psyche, the figures appear to be between the ages of 12 to 15, Psyche tends to look older than Cupid but that may reflect the fact that girls usually start puberty two years before boys. In recent times this may be a source of frustration for boys due to the capitalist development of the consumer/competitor orientation. But before industrialization, values tended to be colored by a matriarchal perception, erotic attraction was heart felt as well as physical. With the development of capitalism individuals are conditioned to be competitors ruled by self-interest. Which has the effect of isolating individuals, everyone is expected to be so independent. The vulnerability required by love is a threat to the corporate armor. Rollo May observed the alienation from love in langauge as a defense against the anxiety of intimacy,”Instead of making love, we “have sex”; in contrast to intercourse, we “screw”; instead of going to bed, we “lay” someone or (heaven help the English language as well as ourselves!) we “are laid.” This alienation has become so much the order of the day that in some psychotherapeutic training schools, young psychologists are taught that it is”therapeutic” to use solely the four-letter words in sessions; the patient is probably making some repression if he talks about making love; so it becomes our righteous duty — the new puritanism incarnate! — to let him know he only fucks.” Rather than being an expression of love, sexuality is regarded as an activity of brute sensation, which explains why some people are uncomfortable with the images of Cupid and Psyche.


Canova Antonio Cupid and Psyche ca.1800

In Antonio Canova’s sculpture, Psyche holds a butterfly by pinching its wings as Cupid holds out his hand. The butterfly was a Greek symbol of the soul, Psyche is the Greek word for soul which explains why she is sometimes represented with butterfly wings. So Canova’s figures may symbolize the metamorphosis of the soul in love. When I first saw Canova’s sculpture, I didn’t know of the symbolism of the butterfly, instead, I couldn’t help but notice there seems to be a metaphorical relation between the butterfly and cupid’s little penis.


Hugh Douglas Hamilton Cupid and Psyche in the Nuptial Bower 1793

The small penises of traditional statues is sometimes a source of humor today but from the time of the Greeks a different perspective prevailed. For example, almost everyone knows Eros is the Greek word for love but few know their term for sex which is derived from the zoological term “phylon.” For the Greeks Eros was the subject of art, while sex was the subject of zoology. A large penis was regarded as vulgar, an indication a male was closer to animals, so for the Greeks a small penis identified the ideal or intellectual aspect of the human male. The nude human form in art reflected a man was more than a brute animal. The Greek left a standard for representing in terms of painting and sculpting genitals which continued into the 19th Century. Only in recent times has society became preoccupied with large penises which is due to the representations unusually large organs in pornography which reflects the consumer/competitor orientation. The representations in pornography I believe has distorted people’s perception of how an average size penis appears. If one compares medical photographs of males to traditional male nudes one will find that the flaccid penis found in art is not actually that small, very often the traditional art reflects an accurate representation of a male organ.


Antonio Canova Psyche Revived by Cupids Kiss 1786-93

The tender images of Cupid and Psyche could have therapeutic effect for a culture alienated by the violence of pornography. The zoological spectacle has left many men insecure about their sexuality. Males are portrayed as brutes in contemporary culture which is only a modern stereotype, it is apparent from art that males can be romantic. Very often, females are also represented in a negative context as well, by accident I came to a porn site called viper girls, the associations with a viper are very different with those of a butterfly.



Pierre-Paul Prud’hon


Pierre Prud’hon Love Seduces Innocence (detail) 1809

Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1758 – 1823) was a French painter and draughtsman whose work reflected a transition from late 18th Century Neo-classicism to a more poetic Romanticism. When Prud’hon was 26, he traveled to Italy to study and was impressed with the work of Leonardo da Vinci and Correggio. The work of these masters inspired him to render his figures with the softer Sfumato lighting effect which was different from the sculptural style of his Neo-classical contemporaries. The soft light gave many of his works a dream like quality.

Pierre Prud'hon Empress Josephine at Malmaison 1805

Pierre Prud’hon Empress Josephine at Malmaison 1805

In the early 19th Century there was a fad for the women of the French elite to have their portraits painted sitting on Neo-classical furniture in flowing robes which imitated ancient Greek fashion. What I find interesting about this, the fad may have been the first time in history that culture became fetishism, went production to reproduction, which in more recent times led to the death of culture. Prud’hon’s Romanticism, his allegories may have been a response to the superficial culture of his contemporaries. Prud’hon’s portrait of Napoleon’s wife Empress Josephine differs from the portraits of his French contemporaries, he painted the Empress away from civilization reclining before an enchanted forest.


Pierre Prud’hon The Torch of Venus 1808

I think Prud’hon’s The Torch of Venus must be the most charming painting of the early 19th Century, the putti party is reminiscent of Titian’s Worship of Venus. Venus gestures to a blindfolded little girl to come a torch she holds which is set aflame by Cupid. A burning torch held by Venus symbolizes the passion of love. I believe the allegory represents Venus encouraging the girl to follow the passion of love even though love may be blind.


Pierre Prud’hon Innocence Preferring Love to Wealth 1804

Many modern critics would likely dismiss Prud’hon’s work as sentimental kitsch but if one looks closely at the content of his work, there is considerable substance. Prud’hon was active at the time of the emergence of industrialization. Thinkers of the time such as Frederick Schiller recognized that life was alienated due to the effects of the modern process, the priorities of life were becoming imbalanced. I believe Prud’hon was influenced by his environment to paint Innocence Preferring Love To Wealth. The maiden Innocence affectionately places her arm over the youth Cupid as Wealth fails to persuade her with a box of jewelry. Obviously, Prud’hon’s patrons were very wealthy, so his painting essentially refuted the culture he was working in. I find Prud’hon’s work more “challenging” than anything created by todays provocateurs. What does Damien Hirst’s I’ll Love you Forever and Jeff Koons’ Hanging Heart tell us? The images only mirror the loveless contemporary culture, they do not challenge it.


Pierre Prud’hon The Union of Love and Friendship 1793

Philipp Otto Runge

I’ve been distracted from posting here for some time because I spent much of my blogger time on another site which has become misdirected due to a gross naturalistic prejudice which confuses Eros and sex. I made comments to redirect the site to a genuine interest in art but the authors were caught up in the consumption of work which reflects the alienated values of mass culture. The authors of the site seemed to resign themselves to an amusement park reality principle, they tended to trivialize the concept of innocence in nude figurative art without accounting for the forms of innocence, they presumed art was a contrivance to look at pretty girls without an understanding of its emotional and symbolic depth. A common view today which disgraces art.

When I created this site, I had intended to present the work in chronological order, to give a history but I became interested in ideas associated with the work of different artists and presented work at random. At this point the posts will give a history of the development of the counter art tendency which could be called Jugend.

Philipp Otto Runge The Great Morning 1809-10

Philipp Otto Runge The Great Morning 1809-10

Philipp Otto Runge (1777 -1810) was a Romantic German artist, his work has been compared to the visionary spiritual images of the elder English artist and poet William Blake (1757-1827). Runge had great devotion, he could have easily become a Lutheran pastor, he died at 33, leaving the fragments of an artist of great vision. Runge was influenced by the philosophy of his contemporaries to a great extent, he was in close contact with the poet Goethe. The thought of Spinoza which influenced Runge through Goethe was in a sense a response to the effects of the Protestant Reformation. The intention of the Reformation was to reserve devotion to God alone, but the loss of intimacy through culture which reflects nature led to a rational explanation of nature which in turn led to a skepticism in God. Although Spinoza took mysticism too far, to pantheism, claiming the physical world is God’s body, his thought was a counter to the development of rationalism with rejects God.

Runge intended to complete four large paintings, the Four Times but only finished the first of the paintings, The Great Morning before he died. The Great Morning was cut up by one Runge’s descendants but was later reassembled. Runge seemed to revive a sense of wonder for nature which is often lost with an over developed rational conscience, many of his paintings feature an infant gazing up to the sky, the infant is an allusion to the Christ Child. Venus arises gracefully from the horizon as delightful children dance through a luminous sky, at first glance the children appear to be cherubs but they are earthly children since they have no wings, however unlike Blake, Runge did believe in angels. Breaking with classical conventions, some of the children are depicted as girls. The composition has the symmetry and formality of traditional religious art. The painting is like an altarpiece to the Joy C.S. Lewis later described.

Philipp Otto Runge The Small Morning 1808

Philipp Otto Runge The Small Morning 1808

Runge contributed to the development of color theory, he designed the first color solid, a three-dimensional spherical color model ordering all the tints, shades, and hues of colors, he used color in his painting to symbolize religious belief. He also expressed himself with words as well as art, he wrote;

The feeling of the whole universe with us; this united chord which in its vibrations touches every string of our heart; the love which keeps us and carries us though life… each leaf and each blade of grass teems with life and stirs beneath me, all resounds together in a single chord… I hear and feel the living breath of God who holds and carries the world, in whom all lives and works; here is the highest that we divine —God!

Philipp Otto Runge study to The Morning 1805

Philipp Otto Runge study to The Morning 1805



Philipp Otto Runge study for Times of Day: Day 1805

The Divisions of Culture

Victorian Trading Co catalog 2015

Victorian Trading Co catalog 2015

When I was looking trough a Victorian Trading Co catalog that was sent to my mother, I noticed some art prints of work I admire by Romantic artists. The catalog was obviously marketed toward women, it was filled with cute knickknacks, bunny dolls in dresses, baseball caps covered with patterns of roses and Art Nouveau jewelry. This gave me an insight, our culture has been compartmentalized into feminine and masculine culture. I never considered the romantic art I love to be feminine . Because of the current divisions, important aspects of life can not find expression, because they fall outside the cultural boxes. It is fair to say in the past there was just “culture”, Romantic painters like Bouguereau were not painting for a segregated male or female audience.

Neil Swaab Mr.Wiggles 2001

Neil Swaab Rehabilitating Mr.Wiggles 2001

A great book I recently found, Addicted to Mediocrity by Franky Schaffer, accounts for the effects of utilitarian attitude of culture. Schaffer focuses on the current Christian communities’ abandonment of the arts due to a view which regards aesthetic enjoyment unspiritual. I find the current situation to be ironic, one would assume the decline of Christian influence would result in a period of Dionysian culture, but that is obviously not the case. This is due to the fact that creativity and emotions which were once respected as God-given are now viewed with suspicion because they are thought to be merely the expressions of brute animal nature. In the past, Christianity colored culture, today culture is characterized by a skeptical mean-spirited temperament, due to the loss of warmth from the Christian view. A fine example of postmodern culture is the comic strip Rehabilitating Mr.Wiggles, the creator of the comic describes it as the adventures of a child-molesting teddy bear. The transgression of the cartoon is due to a conformist acceptance of the cultural boxes. Mr.Wiggles claims in this cartoon “we’re witnessing the birth of a new Renaissance”, when in fact, it is a manifestation of a dark age.

Henri Privat-Livemont Auto Club de France 1903

Henri Privat-Livemont Auto Club de France 1903

This beautiful Art Nouveau poster for the Automobile Club de France was made at a time before the macho auto culture. One would expect a poster for an auto club to include some cars! The poster, besides being feminine, appears to be influenced by Christian iconography since the figure sits on a throne like Virgin Mary or the allegorical figure of Charity. I never could relate much to contemporary male culture, the macho persona, the crude language and the derogatory view of women and sex, what C.S. Lewis called the “dark ages of boyhood”. In the forming of the personality boys go through a stage when they are embarrassed by feminine things because they are insecure about their masculinity. However, Lewis believed boys experience a personal Renaissance when puberty is complete, as young men they allow for an appreciation of beauty and for a feminine perception of life. But the current division of culture makes such a Renaissance a near impossibility. Our modern aesthetics are built upon this state of immaturity, the transgressions of Duchamp, Bacon and Hirst are little more than the expressions of an immature 13-year-old boy who is insecure before the power of beauty.

Kurt Mitchell Addicted to Mediocrity cover illustration 1981

Kurt Mitchell Addicted to Mediocrity cover illustration 1981

A sane society would not compartmentalize the spheres of life, much of the great art of the past which is regarded today as “politically incorrect” is actually only technocratically incorrect, the work falls outside of the utilitarian needs of society. The divisions of culture I believe are the source of much of the violence in the world, only by allowing for expressions in areas of life which fall outside the utilitarian boxes can our society ever find harmony. H.R. Rookmaaker acknowledged that “love and beauty were not just man’s feelings and man’s subjective taste; they were really there: if he did not follow them, hate and ugliness would be the result.”

Maxfield Parrish : From Archetypes to Disneyland®

Maxfield Parrish Easter Cover for Collier's 1905

Maxfield Parrish Easter Cover for Collier’s 1905

Maxfield Parrish (1870–1966) was the most popular American illustrator in the early 20th Century. Time magazine reported in 1936 that “as far as the sale of expensive color reproductions is concerned, the three most popular artists in the world are van Gogh, Cezanne, and Maxfield Parrish.” His ethereal paintings of girls on rocks were an influence on my early work. My earliest memory of Parrish comes from when I was in a gifted and talented art program in high school. The teacher asked us to find a work of art that reflected the idea of rebirth. I choose Parrish’s illustration for the cover of Collier’s Easter issue of 1905. In retrospect, I find it a bit amusing. What publisher today would feature a nude lad on the cover of an Easter issue of a magazine? I suspect a bunny with Easter eggs would be a more likely choice. But I think Parrish’s image is a better image to represent Easter than bunnies and eggs. Although the figure doesn’t look like Christ, Christ was most likely not wearing any clothes when he was crucified and he is depicted as nearly nude in many paintings of the Resurrection. This would have been understood in 1905, homosexuality would not have been even considered, this was before the media was saturated with images of Disneyland.

Maxfield Parrish Evening (Life magazine cover) 1921

Maxfield Parrish Evening (Life magazine cover) 1921

My favorite painting by Parrish is probably Evening, which was used for the cover of the October 1921 issue of Life. I find the painting to be more mystical and sublime than the paintings of the Hudson River School, a school of painting which sought to reflect God’s presence in nature. I think Evening is more effective because of the figure gives the viewer a person to empathize with, one can imagine being in the serene place. The girl appears to be the spirit of the water, she could be an image of the anima archetype. Carl Jung proposed that archetypes are primordial images which are in the reservoirs of the collective unconscious, these images are not gained by experience, rather they are inherited from one’s ancestral past. The archetypes reflect aspects of one’s personality, the anima archetype is the feminine side of the male psyche. It should be understood that when artists painted female figures, very often they were in a sense painting their soul.

Daybreak_by_Parrish_(1922) Venus Header

Maxfield Parrish Daybreak 1922

Of Parrish’s paintings, his painting Daybreak was by far the most popular, it has been estimated that 1 in 3 American homes had a reproduction of Daybreak during the 1920’s. What accounted to its popularity? The image is not just an “everyday” scene, one would not drive past a barn on a country road to find this scene. It functions like great art of the past, it creates an other dimension of reality as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescos. Every culture has its idea of the archetypal paradise, like the garden of Eden, in which humanity existed in peace and harmony, a paradise which once existed and will exist again. This archetype gave society a standard of what the world ought to be like, an image in opposition to the “dog eat dog” world. To lose faith in this archetype can only have tragic consequences. Jean Baudrillard recognized,”the soul of Art– Art as adventure, Art with its power of illusion, its capacity for negating reality, for setting up a ‘other scene’ in opposition to reality, where things obey a higher set of rules– in this sense, Art is gone’.

Kinkade, Lamplight Bridge 2

Thomas Kinkade Lamplight Bridge

The tremendous shift in our culture is revealed by comparing Parrish’s Evening and Daybreak to a typical painting by Thomas Kinkade. Kinkade is famous for his paintings of cozy cottages with windows and lampposts aglow. Kinkades paintings may not seem very different from Parrish’s in their charm, but they reflect very different philosophical subtexts. Instead of depicting an other dimension of reality as Parrish and the old masters, Kinkade acts as if the world can be transformed into Eden by the power of one’s bank account. As long as we pay the electric bill to keep the lampposts glowing, everything will be alright. The Cranach blog featured an article by Daniel Siedell on the danger of Kinkade’s work,”the Edenic world Kinkade projects is pretty much the fallen world without the dirtiness of the city and the inconvenience of other people, a weekend getaway in the country. All we need to do to return to Eden, is to get our lives in order.”

C.G. Jung The Undiscovered Self cover

C.G. Jung The Undiscovered Self cover

Kinkade’s work is an example of work is an example of what I call persona culture. The word persona originally referred to a mask worn by an actor in a play, in Jungian psychology, the persona is the role one plays, the way one presents oneself to be accepted by society. In our advanced industrialized society, the expectations are so high for the persona, the actual soul of a man, the anima, remains underdeveloped. Since the yoke of the persona cuts one-off from the significance of the archetypes, there is a loss of faith in truth, everything in the culture is just a sales pitch. The persona culture is a banal conformist culture in which images are taken for their exchange value, not for their symbolic content. Cultural objects are not valued for meaning or for actual aesthetic enjoyment but rather, for how they make one appear to the crowd.

Baudrillard claimed that,”Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of hyperreal and of simulation.” America is represented by local media, as in the paintings of Kinkade, as a utopia of cottages, barns, old mills, and lampposts. I’m an artist who lives outside of Bucks County Pennsylvania, the area is known for landscapes painting, many artists have made a career of painting a Disneyland of barns. I painted some landscapes for the local scene but keep the landscape pure without any buildings. I did a painting of a young girl walking into a field, a year later I learned that the girl who had modeled for the painting had developed an anxiety disorder because she was afraid to go to school, since girls in her class had bullied her. She is only 10. We live in a good area, actually one of the best in the US but even the local schools are still violent. Our society is falling apart due to the impoverishment of symbols, but artists like Kinkade continue to perpetuate a facade utopia. Every thing will be alright as long as we pay the electric bill to keep the lampposts glowing.

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Maxfield Parrish Stars 1926

The only solution I see for the arts, is a return to archetypal images, to represent an other dimension of reality. Baudrillard claimed that Disneyland is a no exit world of self referring hyperreality. But I am certain there is hope, the very fact that Parrish was able to create some art with soul at the time of mass-production and that some souls like myself are inspired by him many years later, is proof. Parrish’s daughter Jean modeled nude for Stars when she was about 15, the fact that many people today would criminalize this, reflects their alienation. Since the mass media, the persona culture has saturated the conscience with sexual images we have lost contact with aspects of the anima, such as storge. Storge is unconditional love one usually has for family members, a developed anima in a male artist enables him to paint with the sensitivity of a mother.

Jean Parrish posing for Stars 1926

Jean Parrish posing for Stars 1926

I think there is a sweetness in the photograph of Jean posing for Stars which is lost in the painting, this may be due to the technical problem of making the figure stand out from the sky. I find images like this to be the most precious in the universe. I recall showing my great-aunt Betty a painting I was working on with a figure similar to Jean in Stars, my aunt Betty died years ago, if she were alive today, I think she would be 108. When I show her the painting I recall how she was delighted by it, she thought it was warm and beautiful. I know a lot of artists who go to paint local landmarks, like the Phillips Mill but they only do it because everyone else is doing it, they are so out of touch with their humanity because of the persona culture, they never could create a painting like Stars. They are like the sad tourists in Don Delillo’s novel White Noise who follow the “MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA” signs.

Maxfield Parrish Old Mill 1942

Maxfield Parrish Old Mill 1942

In the mid 1930’s Parrish stopped painting “girls on rocks”, as he called them, to focus on landscapes. Although his landscapes never went as far into Disneyland as Kinkade’s paintings, there was something he lost when he stopped painting the figures. His paintings with buildings are for the one-dimensional man, paintings like Daybreak refute this reality and give us an other dimension, an ideal for us to live up to.

Graydon Parrish is a descendant of Maxfield’s, in my opinion, he is one of the greatest artists living, his work can be found here.