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Dec. 31st, 2016

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December Double: Jean Beraud & William A. Breakspeare

Jean Beraud - Out of the Theatre (n.d.)

William A. Breakspeare - The End of the Evening (n.d.)

It would seem appropriate to conclude my December Double with ‘Out of the Theatre’ by French painter Jean Beraud and ‘The End of the Evening’ by English painter William A. Breakspeare.

‘Theatre’ takes an otherwise mundane subject and commits it to canvas with many subtle observations that might not immediately register to the viewer. I really enjoy the candid aspect of this piece, as well as the rich details found throughout the scene, notably the orchestra pit, the creases of the stage curtain, and the wonderfully rendered architectural elements of the theatre. As for the two gentlemen in the foreground, I love how they’re captured while putting on their overcoats, and Beraud’s marvelous brushwork lends convincing weight and strain to the fabrics.

While ‘Theatre’ could be described as informal and unassuming, 'Evening' feels more calculated and picturesque, tightly composed within a narrow frame. This piece conveys the weariness that often accompanies the aftermath of a party. Noting his smug expression, the gentleman sitting at the table (or possibly piano) appears satisfied with himself, finishing a glass of Champagne while enjoying his cigarette. His companion is obviously exhausted, and it’s interesting to note that her head is turned away from us, making it difficult for the viewer to identify with her. Though we can’t see her face, we are allowed to observe her hairstyle and adornments, affirming her inclusion in this piece, functioning as little more than a prop--perhaps on the same level as the roses seen scattered on top of the table. The entire painting appears orchestrated to assert the success and wealth of the man. While I don’t admire that chauvinistic sentiment, it does provide some interesting discussion.

I much prefer the scene in the background, that of two men standing over the dining table.

Dec. 30th, 2016

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December Double: Guy C. Wiggins & Morris Hall Pancoast

Guy C. Wiggins - Chicago Blizzard (1948)

Morris Hall Pancoast - Pennsy Train Shed (1917)

Given my forthcoming move from Chicago to the Philadelphia area, planned to happen within the next several months, today's December Double serves as a reminder that I certainly won't be missing out on any messy weather. ‘Chicago Blizzard’ by American painter Guy C. Wiggins and ‘Pennsy Train Shed’ by fellow American painter Morris Hall Pancoast effectively convey the cold and snow accumulation which accompanies the winter months. Take cover!

As testament to the quality of their construction, I find it amazing these city buildings and transport facilities manage to endure year after year of heavy snow, freezing temperatures, and other harsh elements. Likewise, urban dwellers are able to cope through the season, bundling up and taking shelter when necessary.

I’m curious if the subject in ‘Chicago Blizzard’ is a view of the Michigan Avenue Bridge, either a view looking north or south. I love how the palette is restricted to white and grey, with some yellow sparsely used for windows in the background buildings, street lights, and the headlights of the automobile, as well as the faint color applied to the figure in the bottom left. What a beautiful touch! Wiggin’s painting renders the falling snow in sharp brushstrokes, depicting the action of the blizzard as strident and caustic.

Influenced by the Impressionist style of painting, it’s perhaps unsurprising the Pancoast’s depiction of the snow in ‘Pennsy Train Shed’ seems soft in comparison to Wiggin’s, however this approach doesn’t convey the weather as any less troublesome. Thanks to the murky palette of white and dull blues, the scene in ‘Shed’ does not look like an easy chore to commute through. On an added note, this work offers many interesting details, including the automobile tracks in the snow and large plumes of steam from the trains.

My question to you, dear reader, is which scene would you rather find yourself in?

Dec. 29th, 2016

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December Double: Isidor Kaufmann & Frederick William Elwell

Isidor Kaufmann - The Bachelor's Birthday (n.d.)

Frederick William Elwell - His Last Purchase (1921)

For today's December Double I would like to share ‘The Bachelor’s Birthday’ by Austro-Hungarian painter Isidor Kaufmann and ‘His Last Purchase’ by English painter Fredrick William Elwell.

The title of Kaufman’s painting specifies our subject to be a bachelor, a curious decision which nevertheless provides an interesting context.  Seated comfortably in his handsome study while enjoying a glass of wine and reading a card which presumably accompanied his basket of gifts, our bachelor appears cherry and content without the companionship of a spouse. That said, why must he spend his birthday alone? Observing the hat and cane resting at the opposite chair, perhaps they belong to a friend who has stopped by to visit, but more than likely they belong to our subject. Pondering this scene, he may have even purchased the basket as a birthday present for himself, though it probably was a gift from a friend or family member. It’s open to interpretation. That being said, our bachelor is happy. Good for him.

At the right side of the painting I can’t help but notice the vacant space on the wall above which a lone nail is found. Perhaps this is meant to symbolize that something is missing from our subject’s life. Who knows. I hope our birthday boy fills that space will all the things that bring him happiness.

As with ‘Bachelor,’ the title of Elwell’s painting, ‘His Last Purchase,’ definitely contributes to the scene, however, here it carries a much stronger emotional resonance. Again, we have an older man seated alone at home amongst his personal possessions, but this work provides a more somber experience. The title indirectly hints at the old man’s mortality, although it also signifies a closure of sorts. That said, he will not be taking this final purchase--or any other prior purchases accumulated over his lifetime--with him upon his departure from this worthy plane. Perhaps we seek out and collect certain material things, such as a decorative vase, only to occupy the mind during our short time here on earth.

As a point of discussion, one could interpret ‘His Last Purchase’ as a cautionary tale for the jolly bachelor depicted in Kaufman’s painting.

In Elwell’s painting I'm also curious about the broken fragments seen on table. Perhaps they're included to signify how even our most cherish possessions, despite all the importance we assign them, are easily prone to destruction.

Dec. 28th, 2016

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December Double: Pierre-Victor Galland & William Henry Midwood

Pierre-Victor Galland - The Bar at Maxim's (1906)

William Henry Midwood - Rustic Courtship (1865)

For today's December Double I've chosen 'The Bar at Maxim's' by French painter Pierre-Victor Galland and 'Rustic Courtship' by English painter William Henry Midwood. I feel these these works provide a neat parallel, showing people from two very different walks of life as they pursue the companionship of another, and they both seem to suggest that our subjects' intentions might be more lustful than romantic--especially 'Rustic Courtship,' wherein our rural woman sits seductively beside her spinning wheel. Growl!

What appeals to me most about 'Bar at Maxim's' is Galland's choice of perspective, which leads the eye directly to the woman's body as she reclines against the bar. Her pink dress, comfortably hugging her figure, definitely stands out against the yellow cast of light which dominates the rest of the interior. The arrangement of this scene is fantastic, providing a real sense of the busy environment while maintaining interest on our two subjects in the foreground. I am too presume that these two are unacquainted, in which case the man has obviously approaching the alluring woman at the bar. I'm sure some readers can elaborate more on this scene, but neverless she's not the type of woman one would take home to their mother.

As mentioned earlier, I feel that Midwood's 'Rustic Courtship' has a cheeky quality that's worth discussion. However subtle, this seemingly quaint scene is not without a sense of humor. Sitting in a relaxed pose beside her spinning wheel, the woman is clearly in command, staring outward at the viewer with a stern, confident expression while the man appears to be signalling for her attention. Good luck to him.

Not to my surprise, many other painters have worked with this theme of "Rustic Courtship," creating works which could be described as far less subtle than Midwood's painting here. Interesting.

Dec. 27th, 2016

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December Double: Jack Lorimer Gray & Louis Charles Vogt

Jack Lorimer Gray - The Battery: Demolition of the Old Produce Exchange Building (1957)

Louis Charles Vogt - The Building of the C&O Railroad Bridge, Cincinnati, OH (n.d.)

Although I can always appreciate an attractive, well-executed representation of a newly completed building or facility--usually commissioned by the owner for commercial purposes--I'm much more interested in works that show such structures under construction or during a state of demolition. To me these works signify progress and transformation as the city adapts to serve the needs of community and industry, rather than simply presenting another shining product for the public to consume. A lot of hard work went into planning, building and levelling these structures, and I find it endearing that an artist committed these scenes to canvas, especially at a time when a photograph would've easily sufficed.

Today I present 'The Battery: Demolition of the Old Produce Exchange' by Canadian painter Jack Lorimer Gray and 'The Building of the C&O Railroad Bridge, Cincinnati, OH' by American painter Louis Charles Vogt.

Though Grey lived in New York City for nearly 9 years, his 'The Battery' seems to be one of his few available paintings of the actual city. An accomplished painter of Maine scenes, I presume his ambition with this work was to paint Upper New York Bay, second to the Battery itself and then the Produce Exchange at the bottom. I love his view over the tower in the foreground, exposing the severe damage to the rooftop, which provides a real sense the age and deterioration taking place around the city, validating the need for demolition and reconstruction.

'C&O Railroad Bridge' takes different approach. Known for his numerous pasture scenes, Vogt applies his style to this industrial setting with interesting results, using brushwork which one might associate with the Impressionists. I really like the play of light within those tiny fires and clouds of smoke, as well as the muted colors, effectively capturing the smog of this busy construction site.

Dec. 26th, 2016

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December Double: Frank Bramley & Leonard Campbell Taylor

Frank Bramley - Domino! (1886)

Leonard Campbell Taylor - Patience (1906)

What better way to pass idle time than by occupying oneself with a game, if not one that offers a bit of a challenge? For today's December Double I would like to present 'Domino!' by English painter Frank Bramley and 'Patience' by fellow English painter Leonard Campbell Taylor. Both depict players contemplating their next move in their respective games from which each painting takes its namesake. I love how the artists’ framing and use of body language generate suspense while also providing discussion about the relationship between each pair of subjects.

In 'Domino!' my eyes are drawn to the woman with her back toward us, sitting up in her chair with a domino in one hand while griping her seat with the other, as she tries out-maneuver her opponent, casually hunched over her side of the table and seemingly disinterested in the game that she appears to be winning. Well, at least that’s my interpretation. I enjoy Bramley’s soft rendering of light and color throughout the painting, including that found within the basket of fabric in the foreground, which provides a neat contrast to the hard, rigid edges found on a domino.

From the second painting, Taylor’s ‘Patience,’ I love the artist’s specific placement of objects throughout the scene, most notably the vases in the background and the presentation of the cards on the table in the foreground, all supplied in crisp detail. The young woman’s face appears tranquil, as if she were comfortably meditating on her cards, and there’s an elegance in her posture which commands the viewer’s attention. I also find myself pondering her companion, whether he’s a coach, friend or possibly a lover, but nevertheless, he surveys the scene from above, offering his company though respectfully not interfering in her game.

Dec. 25th, 2016

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December Triple: Robert Walter Weir, Henry Mosler, and Sergey Vasilievich Dosekin

Robert Walter Weir - St. Nicholas (ca. 1837)

Henry Mosler - Christmas Morning (1916)

Sergey Vasilievich Dosekin - Preparation for Christmas (1896)

In observance of the Christmas, today I would like to share not two but three works which capture the spirit of the holiday. Here I present 'St. Nicholas' by American painter Robert Walter Weir, 'Christmas Morning' by fellow American painter Henry Mosler, and 'Preparation for Christmas' by Russian painter Sergey Vasilievich Dosekin.

The most curious of these three is definitely 'St. Nicholas,' which depicts the celebrated childrens' Christmas figure as an impish character looking back at the viewer with a sinister grin as goes to depart up the chimney. Rather than the bearer of toys, one might mistake him for having looted this cozy home. Weir's portrayal of Saint Claus urges us to question the darker, subversive aspects of this holiday tradition. On an added note, the entire work recalls hallmarks of traditional Dutch painting, including the orange and pipe detail on the floor, with operates as a handsome, standalone still life.

Writer Owen Edwards has provided some insightful information this work. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-mischievous-st-nick-from-the-american-art-museum-60840/

Our second painting, Mosler's 'Christmas Morning,' has a much warmer emotion, inviting us to share the childrens' view of the family Christmas tree, complete with presents underneath, as they open their bedroom door to reveal the scene. This is the sort of image I would not be surprised to see featured on a Christmas card, however 'Morning' achieves something greater than the empty sentiment one might associate with Hallmark. I love Mosler's use of light, as the candles on the tree create a inviting glow for these two little ones, and his rendering of shadows travelling along the bedroom floor, as well as the light settling on the bedsheets, as a very natural quality which for me contributes an emotional resonance to this work.

Of these three paintings, Dosekin's 'Preparation' feels the most authentic, a slice of 19th century Russian home life taken from observation. Unlike the two other works, there's nothing particularly fanciful about Dosekin's scene, and his technique owes much to the Realist style, which is an interesting contrast to the cheerful depictions of Christmas holiday I'm used to seeing. I admire the artist's casual arrangement of the children throughout the table, with one child's face obscured behind the young girl in front of him, as if the little ones are much too busy to pose for a formal picture. None of the children look particularly overjoyed with thier task of sorting and assembling their ornaments and other decorations, seen laid out of the table before them, but they'll soon enough enjoy the fruits of their labors, as their otherwise drab interior will be colorfully adorned for the holiday. For once it's refreshing to see the hard work behind the streamers and tinsel. And then, of course, it will be time to take down and pack away the decorations, but that's another painting.

Dec. 24th, 2016

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December Double: Jean-Paul Laurens & George W. Joy

Jean-Paul Laurens - The Last Moments of Maximilian (1882)

George W. Joy - General Gordon's Last Stand (1893)

My love for historical painting strikes again with today's December Double! Twice in one week--isn't that a treat! I would like to present 'The Last Moments of Maximilian' by French painter Jean-Paul Laurens and 'General Gordon's Last Stand' be Irish artist George W. Joy.

The subject in oir first painting is Maximillian I, monarch of the Second Mexican Empire, who was offered his throne by Napoleon III of France, and later formally crowned himself Emperor of Mexico in 1864. Unfortunately for Maximilian, the French eventually withdrew their support of this endeavor, and in 1867 opposing forces led by Mexican President Benito Juárez captured and executed the him. Though Laurens's painting shows pity for the former Emperor, it doesn't cast him in a heroic or courageous light, as one might expect in such a narrative. Rather he's depicted with his hand covering his face, unable to face his executors, perhaps indicating that he was unworthy of the throne for which he crowned himself. Whatever the case, this painting shows a man realizing that his life is soon about the end. This work has a very human quality, devoid of Romanticism and owing much to Realism.

The subject for our second painting is Charles George Gordon, a celebrated British Army Officer who was killed in 1885 during the Siege of Khartoum by opposing Sudanese forces. In comparison to the Maximilian painting, Joy depicts Gordon as undaunted by the army of men approaching up the stairway, closing in on him with weaponry in hand and likely to seize him within the next few moments. Gordon, standing at the top of the stair as a figure of dignity and grace, awaits their arrival without showing any fear, which, of course, would only further satisfy the enemy.

Visually, 'Gordon' a remarkable painting, and the composition is fantastic, travelling back and forth between scenes of calm and action, but it lacks that human quality which appealed to me in Laurens's 'Maximilian'. I understand that Joy's aim was to celebrate Gordon while Laurens wanted to depict Maximilian in a more critical eye, but as stand alone works I find 'Maximilian' a more rewarding experience. I'm also partial of Laurens's use of lighting, creating a stark interior scene which heightens the emotional impact of the subject. As I me filmed before, Joy's 'Gordon' is a handsome work, but it fails to resonate with me on a human level; his portrayal of the general shows no cracks of weakness for the viewer to engage directly. Perhaps that wasn't Joy's intent.

Dec. 23rd, 2016

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December Double: Laurits Tuxen & Martin Ferdinand Quadal

Laurits Tuxen - Male Nude in the Studio of Bonnat (1877)

Martin Ferdinand Quadal - Life Class in the Vienna Academy (1787)

Strike a pose! For Today’s December Double I’ve selected two works which show models at work, ‘Male Nude in the Studio of Bonnat’ by Danish painter Laurits Tuxen and ‘Life Class in the Vienna Academy’ by Moravian-Austrian painter Martin Ferdinand Quadal.

Let’s begin with ‘Studio of Bonnat.’ Tuxen's vertical composition is framed to accommodate the model, who is turned away from our vantage point while posing toward the sunlight, providing a wonderful highlight of his figure and effectively casting his backside in shadow. This is a great, dramatic rendering of the nude form, though Tuxen piece also directs our attention the painters in the background, seen creating their own works from this same subject standing before us. I love how the model towers over everyone within the scene, including that of our own vantage point, commanding this nude figure an admirable power, as he were a beautiful Apollo gracing his presence amongst the mortals. By use of perspective and light, Tuxen grants his nude an almost godlike stature.

Quadal's painting, on the other hand, demonstrates use of a more flattened perspective, representing his subjects from a distance so that one does not dwarf the other, as illustrated in Tuxen's piece. Though this approach by Quadal has a traditional, formal quality, his use of lighting, which to me resembles that of a movie studio—complete with crew gathered around the actor—gives a very modern feel to this 18th century painting. When first viewing 'Vienna Academy', this took me completely off guard. I would assume this space, designed specifically for figure study, was constructed to let natural light down in through the ceiling, or perhaps there's a more reasonable explanation, but nonetheless this work inadvertently achieves the look of modern interior lighting, and I think that's fantastic.

On an added note, the presentation of our model in 'Vienna Academy' strikes me as almost clinical, as if he were a specimen on observation. Given his role as model, perhaps that’s not too far off the mark. Whether or not this detached quality within the painting was intended by the artist, I find this notion fascinating and a great topic for discussion.

Dec. 22nd, 2016

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December Double: Gifford Beal & Francis Luis Mora

Gifford Beal - Elevated, Columbus Avenue, New York, (1916)

Francis Luis Mora - Subway Riders, New York City (1914)

In the developed world so much of our lives are spent in commute, and for many folks that means taking public transit, an experience enjoyed by some and loathed by most everyone else. As part of my commute into work, I take both a bus and train, and despite occasionally having to deal with an offensively drunk passenger, it sure beats the alternative of driving down into the Chicago Loop each weekday morning.

Today's December Double, 'Elevated, Columbus Avenue, New York' by American painter Gifford Beal and 'Subway Riders, New York City's by fellow American painter Francis Luis Mora, both provide insightful observations of passengers using the city's transit system. I love how these two paintings complement each other, providing different, captivating views of this to-to-day activity.

Let's begin with Neal's painting. Shaded beneath the train tracks, Framed within a rigid structures of iron and steel, 'Elevated' shows passengers traveling up and down the stairways while others walking alongside the street. The vertical beams and rectangular windows on the buildings in the background provide an orderly, geometric environment for our human subjects. I also enjoy Beal's observations of people on the street, including the two gentlemen helping each other at the far left.

On the other hand, the 'Subway Riders' painting has a more human quality, and I'm immediately drawn to the young woman looking outward at our point of view, presumably that of a fellow passenger. Sitting down with crane in hand, she has elegance and grace about her while riding this crowded train car. The other passengers are immersed in their newspapers, catching up on current events, but this young woman has maintained awareness of her surroundings, and for reasons unknown has directed her attention toward us. This work wonderfully captures a moment of connection, however fleeting, between two passengers.

Oh, and don't think I didn't notice the man with the package in his lap in the far left. That's another story in itself.

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December 2016


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