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Dec. 21st, 2016

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December Double: Joseph Caraud & Eduardo Zamacois y Zabala

Joseph Caraud - An Interrupted Visit (1867)

Eduardo Zamacois y Zabala - La Visita Inoportuna (1868)

Pardon my intrusion, but for today’s December Double I would like to share ‘An Interrupted Visit’ by French painter Joseph Caraud and ‘La Visita Inoportuna’ by Spanish painter Eduardo Zamacois y Zabala. Oh, what the hell.

I am left to ponder the scene unfolding in an 'Interrupted Visit,' but nonetheless my interpretation is as follows: The man has boldly intruded on the woman in the green dress, and her servant, is looking out on her behalf, is warding off someone from entering the room. The man, greeting her with a kiss on the hand, could either be the woman's secret lover or an unwanted admirer. Whatever the case, observing her terrified expression, the woman's attention is fixated on whoever might be behind that other door, fearing what might unfold if the man is discovered with her in this room. We can only guess. The chair collapsed on the floor indicates that she has indeed been taken by surprise.

I did consider the man might also be kissing her hand goodbye, but I believe it more likely that he is the interrupting visitor for whom the title implies, rather than someone else off canvas. It could be either though, and I find myself going back and forth between these two theories.

For me the most powerful feature of this painting is not the man’s kiss but rather the servants gesture toward the young woman, urging her to stand back.

In contrast to the heavy drama in Caraud’s piece, ‘La Visita Inoportuna’ depicts a more subtle, nuanced scene. In this work a painter is taking a question at the door while his female subject conceals her nudity from the unexpected guest. In this piece she is definitely the center of attention, with her pale body standing out against the green privacy panel, however her face is turned away from us, leaving her identity is a mystery. This provides a neat, candid view the painter's studio in all of its wonderful disarray without urging us to identify with the model on any personal level, which for the artist’s purposes might’ve proved distracting. Who knows. We are granted a view of her shoes, a pair of red heels seen resting together on the platform, though they might simply be just a prop for the painting. Either way, they're a nice touch.

At any rate, ‘An Interrupted Visit’ is carefully orchestrated with a involving narrative, while ‘La Visita Inoportuna’ feels more incidental, perhaps having been taken from observation. Between these two works, I prefer the latter.

Dec. 20th, 2016

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December Triple: Daniel Maclise, Edouard Ender, and Henry Gillard Glindoni

Daniel Maclise - Caxton Showing the First Specimen of His Printing to King Edward IV (1851)

Edouard Ender - Tycho Brahe Demonstrating a Celestial Globe to the Emperor Rudolph II in Prague (1855)

Henry Gillard Glindoni - John Dee Performing an Experiment Before Queen Elizabeth I (n.d.)

For today's December Double I've selected not two but three historical paintings which show noble figures presented with either scientific discoveries or technological advances from their respective time periods. Mind you, just to point out the obvious, these works are dramatic depictions of alleged events which would've taken place hundreds of years prior to them being committed to canvas, so one would regard these paintings as any sort of reliable documentation. That said, I find it neat how all three works share a similar sentiment on this very particular theme.

Of these three works, my favorite is ‘Caxton Showing the First Specimen of His Printing to King Edward IV’ by Irish painter Daniel Maclise. Though very busy and crowded with details, there’s still something very natural in Maclise’s scene. Every time I view ‘Caxton’ I notice something new which contributes to the piece. I imagine this as a large scale historical painting to which a moderately sized jpg file could not to any proper justice.

‘Tycho Brahe Demonstrating a Celestial Globe to the Emperor Rudolph II in Prague’ by Austrian painter Edouard Ender and ‘John Dee Performing an Experiment Before Queen Elizabeth I’ by English painter Henry Gillard Glindoni are both commendable works, and each contain their own rich details which require multiple viewings to fully absorb. Compared to Maclise’s painting though, I’m distracted by the arguably over-regal presentation of Emperor Rudolph in Ender’s work, and something about Glindoni piece fails to resonate with me a dramatic level. In Endor’s painting I’m more interested in the figures in the background, especially that young man, possibly a self portrait of the artist himself, staring out at us from the shadows alongside the staircase. Conversely, the true star in Glindoni’s painting would be that crocodile hanging over the scene!

Dec. 19th, 2016

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December Double: Philip Hermogenes Calderon & Charles Haigh Wood

Philip Hermogenes Calderon - Broken Vows (1856)

Charles Haigh Wood - Love Will Triumph (n.d.)

Today's December Double selections both exhibit romance in distress. ‘Broken Vows’ by English painter Philip Hermogenes Calderon and ‘Love Will Triumph’ by fellow English painter Charles Haigh Wood each depict subjects struggling to cope with the drama unfolding in their respective scenes. It’s fascinating to watch how Calderon and Wood present their stories for the viewer, offering clues—some subtler than others—about what is transpiring. I prefer Calderon’s painting for his wonderful use of light and shadow, however I would say Wood’s work offers a more nuanced scene, providing more room for conversation.

One element I admire in 'Broken Vows' is how Calderon urges us to sympathize with the young woman, placing us on her side of the fence as she overhears to two people on the other side, presumably her lover and another woman he appears to be courting. Given this visual perspective, we see only scant details of this man and woman behind the fence—just enough to convey affection between the two. While we observe the man’s alleged betrayal with our eyes, the woman in the foreground can hear their flirtations, which is surely no less painful for her. I would presume she stumbled upon this scene by accident, perhaps while strolling through the garden. The entire painting is framed around her figure, making her the central character whom we are to identify with. Her overall body language is that of both disappoint and discomfort and I must note how her right hand fingers are resting pensively against the brick wall. Effective.

Unlike Calderon’s painting, the visual narrative in 'Love with Triumph' pays equal weight to all the subjects, laying them out in a fashion which resembles a stage play, lending a theatrical quality to the work which emphasizes its dramatic elements. In this scene an overbearing father is forbidding the young man to see his daughter, seated at the far left right and looking appropriately distraught. I would presume the woman by the father’s side is his wife, perhaps urging him to reconsider his order, or at least mind is temper. Visually the father provides the strongest figure in the room, towering over all the other characters in the scene, and there is a stately quality to his profile which commands him authority. The young man, though not as dynamic of a figure, nevertheless seems composed, with his eyes fixed on his sweetheart’s father in a way which leads me to believe that he will not easily back down from this challenge. Furthermore, the title ‘Love Will Triumph’ guarantees that he will succeed and be united with his partner.

That said, I find ‘Love’ a more intriguing scene than ‘Vows’ simply because how Wood’s subjects are situated throughout his handsome interior compared to Calderon’s quaint garden. In ‘Love’ it’s also interesting to observe their body language with one another, which could lead to different interpretations about the story taking place, while our young woman in ‘Vows’ is central to herself.

Dec. 18th, 2016

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December Double: Christopher Nevinson & Ernest Lawson

Christopher Nevinson - The Strand by Night (1937)

Ernest Lawson - New York Street Scene (n.d.)

Today's December Double, 'The Strand by Night' by British painter Christopher Nevinson and 'New York Street Scene' by Canadian-American painter Ernest Lawson, remind me of my idealistic first impressions of the big city. As a young man I viewed the city with the same awe and majesty that one might identify with a natural wonder; those towering structures and bright city lights represented a whole new world to be explored—and most importantly, an escape from small town life, for better or worse.

'The Strand by Night' offers a side street view of a busy night scene. I love how this action is tightly framed between the two buildings, with the luminescent light just barely contained within those dark, rigid boundaries. I imagine continuing down this side street to finding myself stepping into that bright, magnificent world, bubbling with life and energy, and then losing myself in the city lights.

'New York Street Scene' is a different matter but no less spectacular. Here we have a daytime scene of a busy city street, with our point of view leading directly down the center and settling on a pair of faint buildings in the distance. Lawson's framing of these buildings, towering over our perspective from either side, resembles that of one's view from down within a steep canyon. Fantastic. This painting also recalls my first impression of LaSalle Ave in Chicago while looking south toward the Chicago Board of Trade.

Dec. 17th, 2016

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December Double: Pierre-Narcisse Guerin & William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Pierre-Narcisse Guerin - Morpheus and Iris (1811)

William-Adolphe Bouguereau - Idylle (1851)

For today’s December Double I would like to share 'Morpheus and Iris' by French painter Pierre-Narcisse Guerin and 'Idylle' by fellow French painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau, two works which direct our attention to the beauty and seductiveness of the male form.

While 'Morpheus and Iris' represents both of its subjects in the nude, I find it refreshing to note that the male figure, Morpheus, the unmistakable focal point of this work, is depicted in a sensuous manner with his torso reclining toward us and his arms stretched upward, as if Guerin were inviting us to admire his youthful physique. Iris, on the other hand, is granted some modesty, or at least more than that of her companion. In this painting Morpheus is clearly meant to be the viewer’s object of fancy.

'ldylle' appeals to me for much of the same reasons. I like how the nude man is seated on the ground while looking upward at the clothed women smiling down at him. With his arms and legs wrapped around her body, presumably urging her forward while reciting a poem, there's something very tender and intimate about this painting. She appears to be picking peddles off the flower, perhaps indicating that’s she’s considering his invitation. Also, whether intentional or not, the woodland setting recalls Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Dec. 16th, 2016

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December Double: Floris Gerritsz van Schooten & Clara Peeters

Floris Gerritsz van Schooten - Still Life of Cheese (17th Century)

Clara Peeters - Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels (1615)

My December Double would not be complete without a pair of savory food still lifes by two fantastic Dutch Golden Age painters. 'Still Life of Cheese' by Floris Gerritsz van Schooten and 'Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels' by Clara Peeters both devote our attention to history’s most celebrated dairy product, however each artist offers a widely different approach toward this subject matter.

Van Schooten's painting uses an earthly palette and generous helping of empty space to create a subdued, contemplative scene. By comparison, Peeters's painting could be described as bold and perhaps even a bit overwhelming, using high contrast and occupying all corners of the canvas with food and glassware, leaving little room for the scene to breathe. I prefer van Schooten’s approach, though I do enjoy the amount of excessive detail throughout Peeters’s painting, and apparently the top piece of that orange jug contains a tiny smidge which could be a self-portrait of the artist. This would seem appropriately indulgent considering the spread of foods on display.

Dec. 15th, 2016

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December Double: Johann Baptist Wengler & Jean-Antoine Watteau

Johann Baptist Wengler - Dance in the Tavern (1844)

Jean-Antoine Watteau - Real Joy (n.d.)

Today I would like to share two excellent works which illustrate the pleasure of dancing with a partner, sharing positive energy between one another and relishing the moment for all it's worth. 'Dance in the Tavern' by Austrian painter Johann Baptist Wengler and 'Real Joy' by French painter Jean-Antoine Watteau both capture their subjects in movement, feeling the rhythm of the music while creating a merry spectacle for others to enjoy, even if they don't have the full attention of other's within their respective scenes.

Obviously most of the barflies in 'Tavern' are indifferent to the dancing couple, and even the fiddle player seems more engaged in conversation with his friend than with providing music. At least everyone in the back areas seems in jolly spirit. However, the same cannot be said for the somber young man sitting alone in the table, watching the two dancers with worried eyes. I wonder if he's related to or already acquainted with either of the two dancers. Perhaps he's even the third wheel of their group. Observing their clothes, I find myself looking for clues which might indicate who arrived with whom and so forth, and I would be urged to say that the dancers are a couple. I also note the plate and beer stein resting on bench in the lower left section of the painting, and that mop looks to be in a very questionable spot--primed to knock over the jug on the floor. Maybe all or some items belong to either one of the two dancers? Who knows.

At any rate, the man sitting by himself seems in a woebegone state, and on the wall behind him one can observe a crude drawing of couple kissing, further solidifying his position alone in an otherwise social environment. Poor guy. At least the dancers are having a good time.

Watteau's painting thankfully spares us a languishing spectator for his scene, and I can't help note how artist's delicate use of line and color elevates the subject matter; All the elements within 'Real Joy' are harmonious, as the movement of these dancers is complimented by the Watteau's wonderful rendering of the surrounding foliage and the clouds. As a visual experience, this painting flows like a piece of music. I also like how the fiddle player has his back to us, providing more dimension to the scene.

Dec. 14th, 2016

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December Double: Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier & Pierre Narcisse Guerin

Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier - The Hired Assassins (1852)

Pierre Narcisse Guerin - Clytemnestra and Agamemnon (1822)

For today's December Double I’ve selected a pair of paintings which both depict assassins approaching their intended victims. I proudly present 'The Hired Assassins' by French classicist painter Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier and 'Clytemnestra and Agamemnon' by fellow French painter Pierre Narcisse Guerin. Though these works are derived from widely different subject matter, they share a familiar narrative and generate a comparable level of tension.

The most obvious difference between these two works is that Guerin's painting provides a view of the assassin target, otherwise known as Clytemnestra’s husband Agamemnon, whereas in Meissonier's painting the target is located out of sight behind that handsome wooden door. The inclusion of Agamemnon himself, shown sleeping comfortably in his bed, generates sympathy for him and perhaps even contempt for the Clytemnestra as well as her accomplice, Aegisthus, who is shown pushing her forward. This interaction between Clytemnestra and Aegisthus certainly stands out, amd this area of the painting is emphasized by the bright light illuminating behind the curtain.

Similarly, Meissonier's painting shows interaction between his two assassins, as the man surveying through the keyhole urges his eager companion to stand back. This is a very simple yet effective use of body language between the men, their posture and gestures complimenting each other to create a composition which comfortably guilds the eye from left to right through light and shadow. Meissonier's approach actually feels much more nuanced than that shown in Guerin's painting, adding intrigue to this otherwise ambiguous scene.

Dec. 13th, 2016

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December Double: Ditlev Blunck & Leo Putz

Ditlev Blunck - Nightmare Scene (1846)

Leo Putz - Vanitas (1896)

Today's December Double is a sublime pair of paintings which appeal to darker sensibilities. 'Nightmare Scene' by Danish painter Ditlev Blunck and 'Vanitas' by Tyrolean painter Leo Putz are both unsettling, cryptic works, crafted to place the viewer on guard with imagery which contains both sensual and disturbing elements.

Upon first viewing, 'Nightmare Scene' made to do a double-take. That creepy, dark-toned rabbit creature, perched on top of the young woman’s chest, was not immediately apparent to me, with its torso hidden against the shadow of the background. When I spotted it though—notably those wicked ears—this painting made me jump back. Furthermore, the sight of this creature looming over the woman’s exposed breast while watching her sleep is very unnerving. She certainly doesn’t seem to have experiencing a nightmare, but she surely will once she wakes up and finds herself face-to-face with that demonic creature.

The threat in 'Vanitas' is more atmospheric, noting that omnibus face and accompanying figures looming in the background. Griping her head, the nude woman is turned away from us, not inviting the viewer to share her torment. This is a pain she will have to endure alone. The title of this work refers to a genre of Dutch still-life painting containing symbolism pertaining to death and the inevitability thereof. Make of that what you will.

As with ‘Nightmare Scene’, the antagonist in ‘Vanitas’ is shrouded in darkness, lurking in the shadows like a predator in wait for its prey. Furthermore, the white bedsheets in each scene stand out against the otherwise dark palettes, perhaps indicating the purity of the female victims. Both paintings also seem to utilize the nudity as a source of vulnerability.


Dec. 12th, 2016

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December Double: Andre-Henri Dargelas & Ralph Hedley Laing

Andre-Henri Dargelas - Around The World (ca. 1906)

Ralph Hedley Laing - Barred Out (1896)

It's reassuring to know that kids have always been rambunctious, sometimes even outright unruly, during times when they'd much rather play. It does operate against a young person's nature to easily comply with authority—in this case contently sitting still through their teachers' dry classroom lectures. Today's December Double, 'Around the World' by French painter Andre-Henri Dargelas and 'Barred Out' by English painter Ralph Hedley Laing, both illustrate this rebellious spirit of youth, though the end result is more whimsical than alarming. These works don't ask us to condone their little ones' actions, but they do invite us to see their seemingly drab, institutional surroundings through their eyes. Children in masse are a powerful force, and are perhaps wiser than given credit for.

Of these two paintings, I prefer ‘Around The World’ for its strong narrative and the rich detail throughout the scene; The children situated at different points within the classroom, along with the various books and other items seen on the desks and the floor, create a more intriguing story than the more straight-forward scene depicted in ‘Barred Out’. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare these two works, given their widely different styles, but that’s how I feel. On an added note, the outlay of the classroom in ‘Barred Out’ seems extremely flat compared to that of ‘Around the World’. I also enjoy sense of weight Darfelas supplies to the hanging globe as the youngsters push and pull it across the room. Wonderful painting!

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December 2016


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