Anna Lea Merritt: Love Locked Out

Anna Massey Lea Merritt (1844–1930) was an American artist. She painted portraits, landscapes and religious scenes but she is best-known for Love Locked Out. As a young girl, Anna Lea Massey taught herself to paint, but later she studied anatomy at the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia. After moving to Europe with her family in 1865, she took formal art lessons in Italy, Germany, and France, becoming a versatile artist and writer. The Massey family moved to London in 1870 to escape the Franco-Prussian War, and in 1871 she met he future husband Henry Merritt (1822–1877), a noted art critic and picture conservator. They married 17 April 1877 but he died 10 July the same year. She had no children and did not marry again. Merritt spent the rest of her life in England, though with frequent trips to the USA, with exhibitions and awards in both countries.

Anna Lea Merritt ~ Eve ~ 1885

Eve Overcome with Remorse was Merritt’s first success, it won a medal when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy but attracted censure because Eve was nude! There were restrictions during the 19th century for women painting nude figures. Merritt’s strongest works express remorse which seem to reflect the loss of her husband. Eve Overcome with Remorse was the first work by a woman ever purchased by the British government.

Anna Lea Merritt ~ Eve ~ 1887

Anna Lea Merritt ~ Love Locked Out ~ 1890

Merritt painted Love Locked Out in memory of her late husband. She had hoped to have the image done in bronze as a monument, but could not afford it. The single painting brought her considerable fame, a political cartoon reflects how the fame of the work lasted till the 1950’s. When it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1890, it was so well received that it was purchased for the British national collection, Queen Victoria herself was a fan of nude artworks. Aware of her viewers’ delicate sensibilities, Merritt painted Cupid as a nude child instead of an adult to avoid the controversy. But she broke with convention by depicting Cupid without wings. Unfortunately, most of Merritt’s other paintings seemed to have vanished without trace.

The Tate gallery label for Love Locked Out reads:

Cupid, the god of love, is shown here trying to force open the door of a mausoleum. Merritt made the picture in memory of her husband, who died within three months of their marriage. Both Merritt and Cupid face the task of conquering death, which they are bound to fail.

The depiction of the male nude by a female artist was a contentious issue in the late-nineteenth-century art world. Merritt escaped censure by choosing to paint a child, rather than an adult. Children, she believed, were less conscious of nudity and had ‘no sense of shame before artists’.

Merritt Anna Lea Merritt ~ War

Anna Lea Merritt ~ Piping-Shepherd

Anna Lea Merritt ~ Annunci


Annie Swynnerton: New Risen Hope

Annie Louisa Robinson Swynnerton (1844–1933) was an English painter whose work reflects a transition from Pre-Raphaelitism to Symbolism. She trained at the Manchester School of Art and the Académie Julian in Paris. Swynnerton was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite artists George Frederic Watts and Edwards Burne-Jones as well as by the rustic realism of the French artist Jules Bastien-Lepage. She was an active feminist and suffragette and co-founded the Manchester Society of Women Painters in 1876. Although she may have been regarded as “liberal” in her time, her activities as a feminist reflected humanism within the framework of the traditional religious and philosophical view of the world.

Annie Louisa Swynnerton~ Cupid and Psyche ~ 1890

The Manchester Art Gallery is currently holding the first major exhibition of Swynnerton’s work since 1923. One site makes the claim that her work fell into obscurity during the 20th century due to “dominance of male artists, administrators and historians in the art world and prejudices that deemed women incapable of creative thought and vision equal to men”. Such a claim is severe disinformation. Male artists as well as females who expressed the metaphysical tradition in the early 20th century were marginalized by modernist agendas.

As I did research for this post, I found articles on online which placed Swynnerton’s activity within the framework of a socialist class struggle but none which focused on the poetry of her art. The lead sentence for the Manchester Art Gallery Swynnerton exhibit web page claims she “challenged convention in art and life”. Give me a break, Swynnerton’s lovely Cupid and Psyche doesn’t challenge convention any more than  Bouguereau’s figures challenged convention. Yes, there were restrictions during the Victorian period prohibiting women from painting nude figures but the freedom Swynnerton sought was not a transgression against tradition. Many feminist theorists such as Mary Devereaux would regard Cupid and Psyche as an “oppressive text” and would object to Swynnerton’s seeing the world “thought male eyes.” Only feminist doublethink could appropriate Swynnerton’s art.

Annie Louisa Swynnerton ~ Illusions

I’m sure when Swynnerton’s painting was titled Illusions there was an understood allegorical meaning of the painting. Swynnerton was a symbolist painter, I assume she would have hoped for an interest in her symbolism! I couldn’t find any articles online that interpreted the title of the painting but I did find a site that describes the painting as a “half-length portrait of a young girl with blonde hair, dressed in a suit of armour and chain mail…A bird sits on the girl’s right shoulder with a ploom that extends dramatically to the chest area.” The “bird” that sits on the girl’s shoulder does not have an eye or beak since the feathers are part of the girl’s left wing, part of the other wing can be seen to the left of the girl’s sun lit hair. The girl in Illusions is a painting of what is known to people with traditional beliefs as an angel. As far as the interpretation of the painting, my best guess is that the angel is visiting from the metaphysical realm, she has extended her right hand to touch our world, but fortunately, she is armored against the illusions of materialist perception.

Annie Louisa Swynnerton ~ New Risen Hope ~ 1904

Several of the articles I found on Swynnerton gave attention to the loose brush work of her paintings, comparing her work to the Impressionists. But such a comparison is misleading, English artists had painted with loose brush work since the time of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723 – 1792) founder of the Royal Academy. Reynolds’ loose hand was actually was the source of scorn for the original Pre-Raphaelites. But later Pre-Raphaelites, such as George Frederic Watts painted with looser strokes, in turn, Swynnerton was inspired by Watts’ work. So Swynnerton’s loose hand was certainly not a challenge to convention.

A preoccupation with brush strokes is like reading a poem to enjoy the sound of the words without reflecting on what the words mean. The most “challenging” aspect of Swynnerton’s art is the symbolism of her paintings which is generally ignored. The subtext of New Risen Hope reflects a faith in the innocent subject who has not been disenchanted by the artificial organization of the modern world. Rather than placing faith in the collective progress of intuitions, the painting expresses the sacramental dignity of being human. The semantics of New Risen Hope are in complete opposition to the transhuman arc.

Annie Louisa Swynnerton ~ The Sense of Sight ~ 1895

Annie Louisa Swynnerton ~ Oreads ~ exhibited 1907

Joseph Bouvier: Le Printemps

Laurent-Joseph-Daniel-Bbouvier ~ Le Printemps ~ 1870

Laurent-Joseph-Daniel Bouvier (1841-1901) was a French academic artist. There is literally no biographical information for him on the internet. I came to know of Bouvier from a reference to him in a book covering the figurative work of the American portrait painter John Sinnger Sargent. A reproduction of Bouvier’s charming painting Le Printemps was featured, which honestly, I found the painting more appealing than any of Sargent’s work in the book. William Bouguereau appears to have held the same opinion, he thought Sargent was “a clever youth but on the wrong track.” Although Bouvier was not as advanced in technique as Bouguereau, the composition of the girl sitting in the flowering tree is quite original.

Miss Crab Nebula


This site was created to cover art and culture, but since it is called Celestial Venus, it reasonable to focus on the relationship between science and culture. I’m rather disgusted by the state of science today. When I was a kid, I was a big fan of the Star War films, as a child I imagined we would have huge space stations orbiting the Earth by the 2010’s. It’s 2018 and we are far from having a public space station. Instead of serving society, science is often used as a tool of manipulation by the synarchy.

Playboy Bunny ~ circa 1970

Traditionally, the images of culture nurtured the heart and mind. Beautiful figures of women were rendered to express the highest principles of Western culture. But the radiant torch of culture has been extinguished. The unenchantment of modern times has caused the implosion of the image. Herbert Marcuse brought attention to the “new authoritarianism” which is able to provide “satisfaction in a way which generates submission and weakens the rationality of protest.” Marcuse’ s term for the submission, “repressive desublimation” is an illusion of hedonism. Once Playboy Bunnies hopped their way through every slick movie. Today, Men are given images in more perverse forms to narcotize them into submission, in reality the sexes have become profoundly estranged from each other due to the shackles of corporate life. In actual lived experience, men avoid contact with women for fear of charges of sex harassment.

Miss Crab Nebula

In the field of science there are other forms of manipulation, which could be called “astronomical repressive desublimation.” The ambitions of space exploration have been forfeited for a spectacle. Here’s the centerfold of Miss Crab Nebula, she’s a gorgeous supernova!

Miss Messier 83

Here’s an other airbrushed beauty, Miss Messier 83. She measures over 40,000 light-years, making her much more petite than our own Miss Milky Way. But she is quite similar to our own galaxy. Both galactic beauties possess a bar across their galactic nucleus.

Miss Sh 2-106 in the constellation Cygnus (The Swan)

Without a doubt, Miss 2-106 deserves her title as the Celestial Centerfold of the Year.

All the previous images, I am sure are actual photographs of heavenly bodies. But like the playmates in Playboy, the cosmic beauties of NASA have become less real as time went by. Of all of the images of celestial centerfolds, the most deceptive are the images of Miss Black Hole. Any images of black holes which are similar to the previous images are fantasies more wild the Barbie Twins. This is due to the nature of black holes, since they are stars that have burned out, illuminating no light. Obviously, a mass no matter how large it is, can not be seen if there no light to illuminate it. Scientists presume these dark stars are in the universe and it is reasonable that they exist. But the only way they are detected is by observing wavelengths with a spectrograph. The ionized magnesium (mg II; blue) represents the mass of the suspected black hole. Since spectrographs of black holes are not going to turn anybody on, they give us CGI fantasy.

Kubricks’s vision of 2001 versus the reality of 2018

NASA’s budget for 2017 was $19.65 billion, I would say that is absurd that taxpayers  get only celestial centerfolds for such an astronomical figure. I suppose NASA must do some practical things, like maintenance on AT&T satellites. But with a budget of $19 billion a year, we should have a REAL space station like the one orbiting the Earth in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. Such a station is within the limits of today’s technology. Compare these two images. The above image is a still image again from Kubrick’s 2001. A group of civilians are seen chatting inside the space station, the Earth can be viewed from the window to the left. This is the kind of relationship people should have to technology. Science should be used as only as tool to effect nature but should not set the values for culture.

The photograph of the Facebook controller Mark Zuckerberg with a crowd wearing virtual reality headsets is a striking image of the actual relation between technology and society. The technology isolates the people from interacting with each other in the real world while providing illusions of reality to narcotize them. It may seem my claim is an exaggeration but why is it that none of the local art galleries show figurative art? The lack of images of human interaction in contemporary art reflects this profound state of alienation. Much of my time is spent trying to wrestle people free from these illusions. I can imagine taking the virtual reality headsets off of one Zuckerberg’s slaves and saying “The images in those headsets can not be trusted, they are not reality. Come and interact with me in the real world. Help me free the others.” But the slave would respond by saying,”Of course you say this doesn’t exist….but your own ignorance is what exists…. absolutely.”

Miss Black Hole’s screen debut in Walt Disney Pictures The Black Hole 1979

For example, an article on the web site of the Smithsonian claims that “the universe could be a hologram, a computer program, a black hole or a bubble…Just like the plot of the Matrix, you may be living in a highly advanced computer program and not even know it.” The first thought that came to my mind after I read that sentence was “they really have lost their sanity!” I am certain the claims are a form of psychological manipulation. Not only the claims of this article, the manipulation is also in the philosophy of materialism that was spread by Stephen Hawking. He supposedly said,”What I meant when I said we would know “the mind of God” was that we would know everything God would know if there was a God, which there isn’t.” The excessive claims of near omniscience made by the gatekeepers is recognized by the artist scientist Miles Mathis as a complete sham. The media often makes claims like ” science is unlocking the final secrets of universe”, the fact is, we are not even close since Mathis found errors in the equations of Albert Einstein. Of course Mathis has been criticized from the gatekeepers but he is beginning to have influence. Mathis wrote an article in response to the notion of all know physics. The google search results for ‘all know physics’ shows Mathis’ article comes 1st before articles on the topic published by Forbes and


Ferdinand Hodler

Alongside Arnold Böcklin, Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918) advanced to become the most important Swiss artist of the 19th century. As has been recognized and increasingly stressed in recent times, from an international point of view he ranks amongst the most individual “stylists” of his age and among the great innovators of European painting around 1900. Hodler, who came from the plein air painting of the Barbizon school, subsequently embarked along a more expressive path characterized by a hard, angular manner of painting, a rigorous draughtsmanship and a strongly rhythmical composition. From the late 1880s onwards, line began to assume an ever more prominent role, with the result that Hodler in places approaches the linearity of Art Nouveau; for the most part, however, his works remain more realistic, weightier in their forms. The expression of his figures is often akin to Paul Gauguin’s interest in seeking a harmony with nature in life. The idealistic and symbolic references full of pathos that characterize the themes of Hodler’s art make him one of Symbolism’s chief masters and most striking personalities.

Ferdinand Hodler ~ Night ~ 1890

Ferdinand Hodler ~ The Truth II ~ 1903

Ferdinand Hodler ~ Spring ~ 1901

Ferdinand Hodler ~ Communion with Infinity ~ 1892

Ferdinand Hodler ~ Enchanted Boy ~ 1894

Ferdinand Hodler ~ The Consecrated One ~ 1894

David Hamilton: The Enormous Bliss of Eden

I think it’s quite possible that the 1960s represented the last burst of the human being before he was extinguished and that this is the beginning of the rest of the future now, and that, from now on there’ll simply be all these robots walking around, feeling nothing, thinking nothing.  ~ My Dinner with Andre

David Hamilton (15 April 1933 – 25 November 2016) was a British commercial and fine art photographer. He is best known for romantic soft focus photographs of young girls. Today would have been his 85th birthday. Hamilton’s work reflected the spirit of the 1960’s counter-culture. The dissenting youth of the 1960’s were a mass movement which had its grass-roots in early 19th century Romanticism. The youth rejected the impoverished values of the advancing technocracy: personal peace and affluence. The utopian group understood the total threat of the machine which is now eating up the biological core of humanity. Hamilton has said that his work looks for “the candor of a Lost Paradise”. But his vision of the Garden of Eden is threatened today by political intolerance and a jaundiced eye. I was fortunate to discovered Hamilton’s work when I was fourteen, the same age as many of his models. His tranquil images have been a great influence on me as a painter. If it was not for Hamilton’s enchanting vision, I may have been swept away by the postmodern tide of self annihilation.

David Hamilton ~ The Lost Sheep, Bornholm ~ 1984

I’ll begin with an image that is not common for Hamilton’s work. Could The Lost Sheep be a satire of the aesthetics of formalism? The photograph reminds me of the abstract modernist work of painters like Mark Rothko. When you look at the picture from a distance you can’t see the sheep, just blurry areas of light and dark. This is the sort of thing that is encouraged by the current art establishment. The photograph bares a resemblance to zombie formalism. The formalism reflects an absurd ascetic materialism which has lost contact with emotional and physical life. The lost sheep will invest thousands and in some cases millions of dollars for what?

David Hamilton ~ circa 1980

 I first encountered Hamilton’s work many years ago in the film review magazine Preview. There was advertisements for photography books at the back of the publication. Images from Hamilton’s book were presented with the images of other photographers. I despised the commodification of women reflected in the images of the other photographers. The sentiment of Hamilton’s work was different. I recall, there was an image of group of girls skinny dipping by a misty lake. The image reflected an innocence which is apart from the competitive economic concerns. It is an error to read his work as an expression of the “sexual revolution” which allowed women to be equal partners in the societally sanctioned roles of materialistic conquest.

David Hamilton ~ from Dreams of a Young Girl ~ 1971

My appreciation of Hamilton’s work at a young age is parallel to CS Lewis’ interest in Romanticism. A Pilgrims Regress was an allegory of Lewis’ journey to Christian faith. John, the main character in allegory, has a vision of the home of the Landlord, an ethereal island inhabited by “small-breasted Oreads, wise like gods, unconscious of themselves like beasts.” This brings a painful longing to John, filled with a desire to find the island, he sets out on a quest. Since the story is an allegory, the narrative is to be understood symbolically. The ethereal island is apparently a symbol of heaven and paradise, the home of the God. Much of the great art of Europe was drawn from Greek and Roman mythology, the Oreads were the nymphs of the mountains. Rather than see the nude figures as just an object of lust, very often the figures reflected a desire for the prelapsarian state. In Transposition and Other Addresses, Lewis wrote: “We do not want merely to see beauty… We want something else which can hardly be put into words, to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves.”

David Hamilton ~ The Three Nymphs, Ramatuelle ~ 1988

Frank Schaeffer makes the point in his insightful Sham Pearls for Real Swine that traditional artists working with classical nude themes are caught in a miserable dilemma. Both the Christian fundamentalists and skeptical postmodernists are indifferent to ideas expressed in traditional western art. The mass media’s preoccupation with sexual violence has perpetuated this state of alienation even further. It has become nearly impossible communicate a deep understanding of tradition subjects. Schaeffer gives the following example:

“There are some African languages in which the future tense does not exist. (This linguistically reflects a theological belief in animistic fatalism.) Thus for some tribes there is no way to discuss the future as we would understand it; what the ancestors did of old will be done again tomorrow. An African health worker who is confronted by such linguistic barriers to progress and tries to explain some future project, for instance changing a tribal custom in a way that will be of benefit hygienically, has a nearly impossible task. The very words do not exist with which to describe a different future reality.”

To discuss traditional nude figurative art one is faced with an opposite challenge. Both political sides of contemporary society are alienated from their cultural traditions and rituals of past reality. When I look at this photograph, the first thing that comes to my mind is the classical Greek theme of the Three Graces. The overwhelming beauty of the figures express Milton’s “enormous bliss” of Eden. But to the sham swine and lost sheep, the three girls are just wasting their time, they really should be sitting in school to get a good education to be productive citizens.

David Hamilton ~ circa 1980

Since the cultural traditions have become alien to the collective social conscious, the subtext of Hamilton’s work is often misunderstood. Granted, Hamilton’s work had more acceptance when it was created due to the counter-culture’s attempt to maintain the subjective values of culture. Hamilton said the German Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach was an influence on his work. Cranach’s dainty figures of Eve and Venus resemble some of Hamilton’s standing figures. Schaeffer explained the subtext that many Renaissance artists worked by:

“The Florentine philosophers and theologians during the Renaissance taught that of the two aspects of love, divine and earthly, divine love was superior. To express contempt for the things of this world, they believed that divine love should be symbolized by a naked woman. Earthly love was portrayed as a clothed woman, rich dressed and bejeweled.”

The innocent girls in Hamilton’s work can be interpreted as reflecting a contempt for things of this world. This was the spirit of the dissenting youth who rejected the plastic culture which is poor in its sensitivity to nature and beauty. Of all of Hamilton’s photographs, this is probably my favorite image by him. The sweet girl appears to be writing a heart in the sand with her foot. Such an image is a world apart from the sham swine and lost sheep.

David Hamilton ~ circa 1980

I recall a few occasions when I showed photographs of petite models to friends. I recall my friend complained that Kate Moss was so flat that she look like a twelve-year-old. Then he raved about how breast implants are so great. My other friend responded in a similar way to Guinevere Van Seenus, we were looking at different models in French Photo magazine. He said he liked all the models but then he pointed to the photo of Guinevere and said, “except for that.” I considered Guinevere to be the most lovely of girls in the magazine! These experiences actually infuriated me, many men suffer from a perverted perception of beauty due to mass media images. Not only are young women made to feel inferior if they do not measure up to Hefnarian standards, but men who are attracted to petite women can be made feel there something wrong with their attraction. The beauty of this fair maiden is so overwhelming, it certainly does not matter that she has a little bust.

David Hamilton ~ Mina ~ 1983

Mina was one of the most recognizable models who posed for Hamilton due to the distinctive dimple in her chin. This simple portrait is a masterpiece of form. Such expressions of the heart seem to belong to ancient times.

David Hamilton ~ circa 1980

I am aware that some of Hamilton’s photographs are erotic but my view of beauty was fortunately shaped by his more innocent images that I knew when I was young. This beautiful girl appears as if she is praying. The lost sheep obviously have no tolerance for that. They assume that she should have the privilege of a cell phone with unlimited data, talk and text…… the true path to happiness.




The Collection of the Kermitage


The Green Boy circa 1779

A couple of weeks ago Susan posted sculptures of the Hermitage, is seem appropriate to follow the post with the work of the lesser know Kermitage collection. The museum holds one of most exquisite collections of muppet culture in the world.

In the 18th century, due to the profits of lily pad agriculture and the growing security of government finances, a large class of frogs felt secure in their wealth as never before. And there was an even more subtle factor at work: the beginning of what we would now call consumer capitalism. This environment of prosperity allowed the Kermit family to acquired an impressive collection of paintings. The Green Boy is a masterful full-length portrait of the museum’s founder — the image is not just remarkable for the sitter’s presence, but his lavish costume as well, which flashes from the surface with grandeur, confidence, and status. The aesthetic of youthful frog in his 17th century apparel is regarded as homage to Anthony van Duck.

The Smooch circa 1898

It must be one of the frankest – and most popular – images of carnal muppet love in the history of art. The monumental marble sculpture The Smooch has elicited vibrant applause from its admirers and the most disparaging remarks from its critics. With sleek and supple bodies, which provide a striking contrast to the roughly chiseled rock on which they sit, the sweethearts appear timeless and idealized: a universal representation of sexual infatuation, oblivious to all else.

The Birth of Piggy circa 1485

In the Birth of Piggy, a celebrated masterpiece, Sandro Porkicelli depicts the Goddess of Hams vividly as she floats across the green sea on a silver shell gently blown by the grumpy old men. On the shore ready to clothe her in flowery mantle is her frog. The coloring of the picture is as cool as called for by a classical subject. The fluttering drapery of the side figures creates a sense of lightness and movement and leads the eye toward the head of Piggy, which is surrounded by an aura of golden hair. The clarity of outline, the ballet like choreography of lines, the pattern of linear rhythms recalls the technique of relief sculpture.


Sculptures in the Hermitage

Antonio Canova ~ Amor and Psyche ~ 1786-93

When I was searching for images for this blog, I noticed many Romantic sculptures were in the collection of the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg Russian. Since I had not covered these sculptures in previous posts, I decided to post on them together.

John Gibson ~ Psyche Carried by the Zephyrs ~ 1837

Feminist groups often express grief over the nude images of women exhibited in museums. For example, the Guerrilla Girls claim that 85% of the nudes in the Metropolitan Museum are female. I’m very doubtful of such claims. When I was collecting images of sculptures in the Hermitage, I could not help but notice that many of the sculptures were male nudes. It seems that there were as many male nudes in the collection as there were female.

Boris Ivanovich Orlowski ~ Faun and Bacchante ~ 1837

To refute the feminist’s claims of exploitation, it should be noted that the nude males in sculpture tend to be more exposed than females. Women in Romantic works are often draped from the waist, while males are usually completely nude. The primary fault of most feminists is historical ignorance, they make the error of interpreting past culture within the context of today’s capitalist consumer culture.

Antonio Canova ~ The Three Graces ~ 1817

Luigi Bienaimé ~ Telemachus Arming ~ 1835

Luigi Bienaimé ~ Shepherdess ~ 1852


Mary Cassatt: Nurturing the Soul

Mary Cassatt ~ The Young Bride ~ 1875

Mary Cassatt (1845-1927) was an extraordinary young woman, the daughter of a wealthy Pennsylvania family, who against her parents’ wishes began studying painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, at the early age of fifteen. She made her studies from 1861 through 1865, the duration of the American Civil War. Among her fellow students was the rustic realist Thomas Eakins. She went to Paris to continue the study of painting, since women could not yet attend the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Cassatt studied privately with the highly regarded master Jean-Léon Gérôme. Cassatt’s early work, Young Bride, with its somber pallet of earth tones is similar in mood to the work of her contemporary Eakins.

Mary Cassatt ~ Little Girl in a Blue Armchair ~ 1878

The work of Edgar Degas made a powerful impression on Cassatt when she encountered them in an art dealer’s window in 1875. Degas later invited her to exhibit her work in Impressionist show, planned for 1878, which (after a postponement because of the World’s Fair) took place on April 10, 1879. Only three years after Young Bride was painted, Cassatt painted her lovely Little Girl in a an Armchair. Cassatt was not an imitator of Degas or of anybody else. She developed her own distinctive style of precisely defined form, which she combined with impressionist informality of subject and composition. It is customary to say about any woman painter, as if it were the ultimate compliment, that she paints with almost the vigor of a man. But the beauty of Cassatt’s art is its femininity, which in her case is not to be confused with weakness, indecision, or an only partial achievement of a masculine standard. One would not want to “strengthen” Little Girl in a an Armchair any more than one would want to endow its lovely sitter with the muscles of a wrestler.

Mary Cassatt ~ Mother and Child ~ 1899

Regardless of Cassatt’s inventiveness with form, her subject matter remained traditional. Most of her paintings are tender portraits of women and children. Cassatt’s admiration for Italian Renaissance paintings, particularly Sandro Botticelli, inspired Mother and Child. The woman’s adoring look and the boy’s sweet face and contrapposto stance suggest images of the Virgin and Child, a connection reinforced by the oval mirror that frames the boy’s head like a halo. Cassatt’s colleague Degas perceived her references to the Renaissance, telling her that the painting “has all of your qualities and all your faults—it’s the Infant Jesus and his English nurse.” The Havemeyers, who purchased the canvas for their collection, referred to it as “The Florentine Madonna.”

Mary Cassatt ~ The Family ~ 1893

Although contemporary critics usually revere Cassatt for her professional life as an artist, many have difficulty accepting the vitality of her paintings. Often absurd interpretations are made of the works to suit postmodern ideological tastes. When I was enrolled in a humanities program I had to endure courses offered such as, “The Great Mother: Archetype or Stereo-Type?” After years of reflection, I have come to the conclusion that the negative reaction to the warm sentiments expressed in art are symptoms of soul murder. The Swiss psychologist Alice Miller had profound insight into understanding the roots of discord in society. She believed the prominent source of violence was caused by the abuse or neglect of children. To deprive the child of his or her own identity and ability to experience joy in life, is to commit soul murder. In her book For Your Own Good, she gives an account of how a mother can nurture a soul:

Once I was sitting on a park bench in a strange city. An old man, who later told me he was eighty-two, sat down beside me. My attention was caught by the attentive and respectful way he spoke to some children playing nearby, and I struck up a conversation with him….His mother “loved life,” he said. Sometimes in the spring she would wake him up in the morning to go with her and listen to the birds singing in the woods before he went to school. These were his happiest memories, When I asked whether he had ever been given beatings, he answered, “Hardly ever; my father’s hand may have slipped occasionally. That made me angry every time, but he never did it in my mother’s presence; she would never have permitted it. But you know,” he went on, “once I was severely beaten by my teacher. In the first three grades, I was the best pupil, then In the fourth we got a new teacher. One, time he accused me of something I hadn’t done. Then he took me aside and started hitting me and kept on hitting, shouting like a madman the whole time, “Now will you tell the truth?’ But how could I? After all, I would have had to lie to satisfy him, and I had never done that before because I had no reason to be afraid of my parents.”

Miller gave the narrative to illustrate how a child who had the good fortune of a mother who by loving life was able to respect her son’s well-being. The old man’s story reflected that since he was held in such esteem by his mother that he was able to express his feelings and was aware of being angry when his teacher beat him and asked him to tell a lie. Children who are less fortunate, are harshly disciplined by their parents without reason or are neglected. The child who lacks confidence in his or her self to make judgments will grow up to accept figures in authority without question. The child will not be aware of his or her feelings as the old man was as a child. Someone who has renounce feelings at a tender age will have loss the ability to experience pleasure, in turn seek to project their aggression onto an object. Such people who lack a love of life can find an outlet for their frustrations by joining an authoritarian collective. Miller saw that institutionalized abusive child-rearing in Germany was necessary for the development of fascism, she wrote,”Every ideology offers its adherents the opportunity to discharge their pent-up affect collectively while retaining the idealized primary object, which is transferred to new leader figures or to the group in order to make up for the lack of a satisfying symbiosis with the mother.”

Mary Cassatt ~ The Caress ~ 1902

An example of the kind academic discourse that surrounds the work of Cassatt can be found in the book Idols of Perversity written by Bram Dijkstra:

“Late nineteenth-century art witnessed a development of the conventional mother-and-child image which directly reflected the new evolutionist dictum that a mother and her children were essentially coextensive and formed a “primitive and natural unity.” These paintings tended to portray a mother and her child, or children, as virtually glued to-gether—jammed into the space of the image as if they were bound together by an almost visible mental and even physical coherence. Sometimes such paintings showed the mother sitting stoically in the center of the image while her brood crawled all over her, sat in her lap, hung on her neck, leaned on her shoulders, and so on, in the fashion of Bouguereau’s Alma Parens. But often, especially in the work of women painters who specialized (as most did) in painting women, this “spiritual conjunction” between woman and child was depicted as if it were a sign of a riveting “intuitive” bond. Many of Mary Cassatt’s works / reflect this specific affectation. For example, her painting Caress shows a mother and her two children, their heads jammed together in such a way that those of the two children and that of their mother seem to have an almost physical bond—as if we have here an entirely new form of Siamese linkage.”

The above passage was taken from the chapter Evolution and the Brain. Dijkstra claims Darwinian theory influenced writers and artists to believe women were less evolved than men, therefore, it was presumed that women should be represented as “brainless” in “their primitive and natural unity”. While there is truth in that Darwin’s bigotry did influence some artists, Thomas Theodor Heine’s painting The Flowers of Evil is a good example, Dijkstra’s reading of Cassatt’s Caress is delusional. I see Caress as an intimate portrait of a mother with two children which may have been inspired by Renaissance paintings of the Madonna. I do not see a portrait with ” heads jammed together” that was painted by Cassatt to appeal to Darwinian ideology which perceived women as “brainless” creatures. Because I had the good fortune to have a loving mother I am able to experience the work without resentment.

Mary Cassatt ~ Mother and Child (Baby Getting Up from His Nap) ~ 1899

Miller believed sanctioned abusive child rearing creates a psychological state in which fascism can prosper. However, I tend to think that the neglect of children is the prominent issue. Ashley Montagu studied the tactile behavior in different cultures and found the contact within families of the United States and Great Britain was much less than in other cultures. The conclusion of the studies was that the amount of contact and expression of love American mothers give their babies and young children was not adequate for their physiological and emotional needs. The mothers observed in a study were more concerned with controlling the behavior of their children then giving affection. Montagu thought that a higher degree of closeness within the family beginning with the mother-child affection would help Americans to feel more anchored in the family. He concluded his book Touching with the following passage:

“The contemporary American family constitutes only too often – an institution for the systematic production of mental illness in each of its members, as a consequence of its concentration on making each of them a “success.” Which, in practice, means that the individual is gradually converted into a device with a built-in design for achievement in accordance with the prevailing requirements, entailing the suppression of emotion, the denial of love and friendship, the ability to trade with whatever serves one for a conscience, while conveying an unvarying appearance of rectitude. Towards this end, parents feel that they -must not give their children “too much” affection, even in the reflex and affectionate stages when children, so much in need of it, literally cannot receive too much affection.”

Mary Cassatt ~ The Crochet Lesson ~ 1913

It should not be a surprise that soul starved individuals who never experienced the necessary level of love from their parents would be swept into postmodern deconstruction to assault tradition and the family. Miller recognized how Hitler was able to manipulate the hatred for the Jews for his own purposes. In our time, technopoly is manipulating a soul starved society’s hatred of the family for its own ends. Current postmodern agendas seem to have a predecessor in the writing of B.F. Skinner who thought autonomous man was a construct which must be abolished for civil order to be maintained in society. Such a program can only be described as fascist. A friend just recommended Wilhelm Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism, it appears Reich supports my argument.

To counteract this destructive trend could not be more difficult. We live in a post-historical age in which people are narcotized by the mass media present. Western culture is rapidly losing touch with its symbols for expression. The only solution I see is to respect the expressions of eternal, ageless, human themes in culture before they are lost.

Mary Cassatt ~ The Long Gloves ~ 1889



Flying Baby with Weapons?

Bruce Tinsley ~ Mallard Fillmore ~ 2018

I came across this comic by Bruce Tinsley that makes humor of the current state of hyperconsciousness which is alienated from cultural traditions. Much of the ugliness in current culture is due to this impoverished state of mind. In the 19th century no one would think twice about an image of Cupid. The comic is rather in insightful in showing how the media can manipulate perception and how that perception can effect individuals’ lives. Cupid should not be forced to find a new line of work and neither should artists.