Sir Edward John Poynter (1836– 1919) was an English artist who is best known for his refined scenes of antiquity. Poynter’s work is characteristic of Victorian art which appealed to the bourgeois taste for the exotic. Poynter studied painting in Paris at Charles Gleyre’s studio, where many of the young artists who were to become major Impressionists had their early training. But he was not himself drawn into the vortex of the new movements in art in France. In Britain, the Impressionists were regarded as amateurs who hardly knew how to draw. Poynter devoted himself to refined drawing and classical themes, and thus found favor with the British art-buying public. He became an R A in 1876 and was knighted in 1896.
The French artist Jean-François Millet (1814 – 1875) along with Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot ( 1796 – 1875) were founders of the Barbizon movement. Instead of working only in the studio, they established a tradition of painting (plein air) outdoors. Millet is best known for sympathetic paintings of rustic peasant farmers. The public was often unenthusiastic, even hostile, to Millet’s paintings exhibited at the French Salon since the artist’s political sympathies were suspect. I find this difficult to understand because Bouguereau often painted peasants as well. Millet’s work was a great influence on Vincent van Gogh and later in the 20th century, Salvador Dali had a pathological obsession with his painting The Angelus.
Since Millet is known for painting peasants, it was a pleasant surprise to discover his romantic painting Spring (Daphnis and Chloë). The subject of Daphnis holding a nest of baby birds as Chloë tries to feed them reflects a great originality as well as tenderness. Apparently, Millet must have been familiar with ancient literature for him to paint this rather obscure subject. Occasionally, 19th century artists painted Daphnis and Chloë but I have not seen other works depicting this charming scene. The tale of Daphnis and Chloë is attributed to the ancient Greek poet Longus. The tale concerns two abandoned children who are raised by herdsmen and grow up to fulfill their mutual love.
I’m rather impressed with Millet’s rendering of the figures, since his peer Corot never fair well with them. The contrasted warm and cool flesh tones of the girl make her stunning. The hatching strokes show a deep understanding of how to model a figure. It’s a great shame that Millet didn’t paint more Romantic figures.
Millet’s Goose Girl is the only other nude figure I know of by the artist. This painting seems to be better known but I don’t think it’s as impressive as Daphnis and Chloë. The bathing girl resembles Chloe, perhaps Millet painted the same model for both paintings.
Arthur Hughes (1832 – 1915) was an English painter who was associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Hughes is best known for his painting Ophelia which was painted in the same year that Everett Millais painted his Ophelia. Although Hughes had known Hunt and Rossetti of the Brotherhood for some time, it’s interesting that Hughes did not meet Millais until they both had paintings entitled Ophelia in the Royal Academy exhibition. Hughes met him in front of the picture and later recalled that Millais ‘had just been up a ladder looking at my picture, and that it gave him more pleasure than any picture there, but adding very truly that I had not painted the right kind of stream.’
Ophelia is an unusually powerful and haunting picture. This detail shows how refined Hughes technique was, he painted the individual strands of the maiden’s hair. The mood of the landscape, its misty greens and dusty reds, reflect the of the sadness of Ophelia.
Hughes’ The Nativity is a good example of a work which reflects the influence of the early Renaissance. The geometric forms of the composition recall the work of the early Italian masters.
In 1855 Hughes married Tryphena Foord who was the model this painting and many others.The title of this painting was inspired by the fact that Hughes had to wait five years before he could marry Miss Foord.
“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.
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”.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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 …”
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?
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.”