Thursday, May 19, 2011

Favorites from the Art Institute of Chicago - European Art before 1900

During my stay in Chicago back in March, I had a wonderful opportunity to visit the Art Institute of Chicago.  The following are the works and their museum labels that drew my attention in the galleries of European Art before 1900.  Please keep in mind this is a very personal tour of the works of art that appealed to me, I found interesting or relevant.
Prints And Drawings Gallery 216 A

A Young Lady with a Parrot, c. 1730

Pastel on blue laid paper, mounted to laminated paper board

600 x 500 mm
(Although this is a small work, I felt I had to put it up in a bigger size in order to do it justice)

In 1720 the great financier and collector Pierre Crozat persuaded the renowned Venetian pastelist Rosalba Carriera to visit him in Paris. Her one-year stay carried her immediate admission to the French Academy and the reputation of having brought the art of pastel portraiture to France.  this vivacious pastel demonstrates the style and techniques for which Carriera was famous; exquisite details of flowers, lace, and jewelery, executed with wet chalk; a vaporous hint of diaphanous materials, created in a dry manner; and the poised yet piquant suggestiveness of the young woman's pose, which captures the spirit of the Rococo as it would develop in France.

Self-Portrait in a Fur Cap, 1765/68

Monochrome pastel (grisaille) on blue-gray laid paper

425 x 295 mm

Joseph Wright was a leading figure in support of the development of the portrait as a central genre in 18th-century England.  Influenced by the mezzotints of his contemporary Thomas Frye, he produced a number of dramatically lit self-portraits, both in oil and in monochrome pastel (grisaille), during the mid-1760s.  In this example, Wright used an exotic black hat and nocturnal lighting to evoke the melancholic tradition of portraiture.  Indeed, he seems to have delighted in his talent for evoking mood through light effects, depicting himself in the role of the deeply pensive artist.
Medieval to  Modern European Painting and Sculpture 
Gallery 216

Portrait of a Man, 1768/70
Oil on canvas
80.3 x 64.7 cm (31 5/8 x 25 1/2")

Best known as a painter of light-hearted, amorous scenes, Jean-Honore Fragonard also occasionally turned his hand to history painting and portraits.  This canvas belongs to a group of at least 15 works known as "figures of fantasy," which are related by their sketchlike quality and fanciful presentation.  Mainly depicting Fragonard's friends, and rapidly executed to demonstrate his technical skill, these paintings depaerted radically from formal portrait tradition, adapting costumes and poses from earlier centuries in a manner that displayed the artist's virtuosity.  According to a contemporary account, Fragonard executed such works "in one fell swoop for a louis[d'or (a gold coin)]."

Medieval to  Modern European Painting and Sculpture 
Gallery 218

Lady Sarah Bunbury Sacrificing to the Graces, 1763–65
Oil on canvas
95 1/2 x 59 3/4 in. (242.6 x 151.5 cm)
As the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts, Sir Joshua Reynolds urged his fellow artists to paint edifying subjects based on the art of antiquity and the Renaissance.  Since he made his living largely as a fashionable portrait painter, he developed a grand style that flattered his sitters by giving them classical attributes and poses.  Here the Three Graces seem to be looking favorably upon Lady Sarah, who is dressed in a vaguely classical robe. Beautiful and well connected, she attracted the attention of the future King George III shortly before he ascended the throne.  He was persuaded not to marry an Englishwoman, however, and instead made a sensible and happy match with a German princess.  Lady Sarah's marriage to Sir Charles Bunbury was not so fortunate.

Medieval to  Modern European Painting and Sculpture 
Gallery 219

The Gulf of Salerno, 1783/85
Oil on canvas

16 3/8 x 23 3/8 in. (41.6 x 59.4 cm)
Inscribed on original stretcher: Gulf of Salerno painted by Jos. Wright/exhibited 1785

British, 1741-1825
Sketch for "Oath on the Rütli," Female Figure (verso), 1779/81; 1785/90 (verso)
Oil on canvas
stretcher: 29 15/16 x 26 9/16 in. (76 x 67.5 cm); irregular edges of the original canvas: 28 5/8 x 22 3/4 in. (72.7 x 57.8 cm); edges of the Oath on the Rütli image: 25 5/8 x 21 3/8 in. (65.1 x 54.3 cm)
Although Henry Fuseli spent most of his career in England, he was born Johann Heinrich Fussli in Zurich, a city that fostered early Romantic ideas.  His first important commission was for the large painting The Oath on the Rutli in the city hall of Zurich. This sketch is a preliminary study for that work.  It depicts the oath sworn on the Rutli meadow in 1292 by representatives of three Swiss cantons (territories) against the ambitions of their Habsburg overlords.  Fuseli's dynamic, elongated figures, which were strongly influenced by Mannerist art, are less an accurate representation of the historical past than they are an expression of the universal desire for freedom.

Medieval to  Modern European Painting and Sculpture 
Gallery 219 A

Winter Scene, c. 1786
Oil on canvas
13 1/2 x 14 in. (34.3 x 35.6 cm)

Medieval to  Modern European Painting and Sculpture 
Gallery 220 A

Le Silence, 1842/43
Diameter: 40 cm (15 3/4 in.)
The roundel known as Le silence was created for the tomb of Jacob Robles (1782-1842) in the Jewish section of the Parisian cemetery Pere-Lachaise.  Abandoning traditional funerary imagery, Auguste Preault fashioned an enigmatic and mysterious evocation of death in this skeletal face, which is shrouded in drapery with a finger touching its lips.  In part, the image drew upon the traditional monastic symbol for silence in the cloisters, but here the sculptor also conveyed a sense of ambiguity by leaving open whether the figure is living or dead.  When Preault exhibited a bronze cast of Le silence in 1849, it was hailed as a "one of the representative works of modern art" and became an icon of Romanticism.
Medieval to  Modern European Painting and Sculpture 
Gallery   220 

Madame de Pastoret and Her Son, mid-1791/mid-1792
Oil on canvas
129.8 x 96.6 cm (51 1/8 x 38 in.)

This portrait of Madame de Pastoret, begun in 1791 by Jacques Louis David in the midst of theFrench Revolution, reflects the changing image of the aristocracy during this turbulent period. Rejecting the sumptuous clothing and stately environment that many aristocrats had preferred in the past, Adelaide de Pastoret appears instead as a modest image of maternal virtue, with unpowdered hair and an informal white cotton morning dress. The youthful mother looks up warmly at the viewer, as if her sewing has just been interrupted. The crib at her left suggests that she raised her son, Amédée David, at home rather than send him away to a wet nurse, a customary practice at the time. The top of her gown is unbuttoned, implying that she breastfed her son, a practice that had recently gained acceptance among upper-class women. Madame de Pastoret was known for her interest in child rearing: she was an active philanthropist and the founder of the first daycare system in Paris

Jacques Louis David was one of the most influential artists working in the Neoclassical style at the turn of the 19th century, and he often put his art in the service of contemporary politics. David was, at the time he painted this work, an ardent revolutionary and antiroyalist. The political differences between David and Adelaide’s husband, the Marquis de Pastoret, who was a staunchroyalist, may explain why this painting remained unfinished. The loose brushwork of the background and Adelaide’s hair reveal the initial paint layers before the artist applied the more highly finished final layers that are typical of his work. The marquis refused the portrait during the artist’s lifetime, and it was not until after David’s death that Adelaide’s son purchased the work.

Valley of Aosta: Snowstorm, Avalanche, and Thunderstorm, 1836/37
Oil on canvas
36 1/4 x 48 in. (92.2 x 123 cm)

Turner, "the painter of light", was the master of light and atmosphere decades before Monet.  As a matter of fact, it is strongly argued that Monet was influenced by Turner after seeing his works during his stay in London at the time of the Franco-Prussian war.  Turner is such an interesting character as well as an innovative artist that I think I will probably do a post on him specifically in the future.  This space or the information they had on this work does not do him justice.

Stoke-by-Nayland, 1836
Oil on canvas
49 5/8 x 66 1/2 in. (126 x 169 cm)

This large dramatic landscape by John Constable reveals the artist’s appreciation for rural life. Although he lived in London for many years, Constable maintained a lifelong fondness for the landscapes of the English countryside in which he spent his childhood. This painting is based upon sketches the artist made while visiting an aunt in Stoke-by-Nayland, a small farming town a few miles from his native village of Suffolk. Like many other painters of the time, Constable would first make open-air sketches at a specific site and then produce finished works in the studio. This particular painting, however, is considered unfinished. Depicting an early summer morning, the scene features lush greenery that sparkles with the dampness of a light summer rain. Emphasis on the profusion of water reinforces the fertility of the land. Amidst the overwhelming beauty of the surroundings, the people and animals at work on this farm seem small. The rough surface is largely the result of Constable’s use of a palette knife to apply pigment, and the vigorous marks visible in the paint illustrate the excitement with which the artist composed the scene. 

Although frequently associated with the Romantic movement, Constable strove to depict nature with more careful observation from life than his contemporaries. His ability to render the sense of direct experience and his bold brushwork inspired French contemporaries such as Eugène Delacroix and was an inspiration for artists of the Barbizon school and Impressionistmovement.

The Valley of Les Puits-Noir, 1868
Oil on canvas
43 3/4 x 54 1/4 in. (111.1 x 137.8 cm)
Inscribed lower right: G. Courbet '68

Some works of art should definitely be seen in person, and this is one of them.  Nothing of its magic, its appeal comes through in this image.  I decided to include my own photo of it as well since the one from the museum's website is so dissatisfactory.  This was one of the first paintings that caught my eye on my first visit.

Mère Grégoire, 1855 and 1857/59
Oil on canvas
50 3/4 x 38 3/8 in. (129 x 97.5 cm)

Mère Grégoire is a character from a popular song written in 1820 by French lyricist Pierre Jean Béranger. As described by Béranger, she was the portly proprietress of a Parisian brothel. Here, Courbet represents the madame behind a counter, negotiating with an unseen client. With one hand, she offers a tri-colored flower, a symbol of love, and possibly an allusion to French Republicanpolitics. (The red, white, and blue of the flower match the colors of the French flag.) Her other hand, open and expectant of payment, rests on a ledger. The madame will sell the “flower” for money and then ring the small bell to call over a female companion for the client.

Courbet began painting Mère Grégoire in 1855. At the time, the painting was only a small portrait of a woman’s head. In the following years, Courbet gradually enlarged the composition to include the half-length figure and the interior setting. In choosing to depict Mère Grégoire, Courbet aligned himself with the revolutionary beliefs of the poet Béranger and others of his generation, for whom Mère Grégoire represented the rights to freedom in love and life that were forbidden under the repressive French government of Napoleon III’s Second Empire (1852–1875). Courbet’s Mère Grégoire serves as an example of Realism because it depicts a common woman, a madame no less, as its subject, with no attempt to embellish or idealize her appearance or conceal her occupation. As the artist bluntly noted in his remarks on Realist philosophy, “The art of painting can consist only in the representation of objects visible and tangible to the painter.” Courbet’s image is uncompromising: the common subject is represented through somber tones and roughly applied pigment, often laid down by the artist with a palette knife.

I think this might be a good place to stop for now.  There is so much more that I will have to post later.  All the information is from the gallery labels and Art Institute's websites.  I am including the links below. I hope you enjoy these as much as I did. (art access- a more detailed examination of some of the works)

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