• Tag Archives Art History
  • On this Day (In Art History)

    July 18th in Art History

    So as part of the Ultimate Blog Challenge, I am supposed to write an “on this day” post.  Well, not all of the blogs taking part in this challenge are art blogs, so I’m sure a lot of them will posting information information about FDR’s nomination for a third term, or about John Paul Jone’s Death, or if any are racing fans, about Juan Manuel Fangio making his debut in Formula 1.  Some might be posting about some significant American Civil War events… others might have gotten more personal and looked into the History of their own families.

    My blog of course, is going to look into Art History, in order to have a little more to share, I’ll include “the arts” in general, including musical theater, and even film, not just visual art.

    Caravaggio’s Death

    On July 18, 1610,  Caravaggio died at age 38 in Porto Ercole, Italy.  The Circumstances around his death were uncertain, he had a death sentence on his head, but was reportedly on his way to being pardoned.  If you are unfamiliar with him, he was a very talented artist who really was ahead of his time, painting in a style that was not to become popular with other artists for many years.

    He was successful as an artist during his life, rarely lacking in people wanting him to do commissions or people wanting to buy his work, but his personal life was a different story.  He was reportedly often drunk, and got in frequent brawls, one of which resulted in the death of his opponent, which is why he was condemned to death by the Pope.

    Like many painters of his time, Caravaggio’s art focused mostly on classical themes, biblical events, or mythological characters, it differed though in the style in which it was painted.  He painted with a deep and dramatic contrast between the source of light and the shadow, with very little work done in between the two extremes.  So people were often painted with one side of their face brightly lit, and the other in such deep shadow that few details could be seen, with no gradual shading in between.  This was something that was seen in later modern pieces, but Caravaggio was doing it first.  His work even heavily influenced Rembrandt, and in fact, he mastered the use of what later became known as “Rembrandt lighting” before Rembrandt ever picked up a paint brush.

    Caravaggio's David with the Head of Goliath
    Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath


    Musical History

    The art of Music also had a significant event today, The Liberty Song,  America’s first patriotic song was published on this day 1768 in the Boston Gazette.

    The Liberty Song

    Come, join hand in hand, brave Americans all,
    And rouse your bold hearts at fair Liberty’s call;
    No tyrannous acts shall suppress your just claim,
    Or stain with dishonor America’s name.

    In Freedom we’re born and in Freedom we’ll live.
    Our purses are ready. Steady, friends, steady;
    Not as slaves, but as Freemen our money we’ll give.

    Our worthy forefathers, let’s give them a cheer,
    To climates unknown did courageously steer;
    Thro’ oceans to deserts for Freedom they came,
    And dying, bequeath’d us their freedom and fame.


    Their generous bosoms all dangers despis’d,
    So highly, so wisely, their Birthrights they priz’d;
    We’ll keep what they gave, we will piously keep,
    Nor frustrate their toils on the land and the deep.


    The tree their own hands had to Liberty rear’d;
    They lived to behold growing strong and revered;
    With transport they cried, “Now our wishes we gain,
    For our children shall gather the fruits of our pain.”


    Swarms of placemen and pensioners soon will appear
    Like locusts deforming the charms of the year;
    Suns vainly will rise, showers vainly descend,
    If we are to drudge for what others shall defend.


    Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all,
    By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall;
    In so righteous a cause let us hope to succeed,
    For heaven approves of each generous deed.


    All ages shall speak with amaze and applause,
    Of the courage we’ll show in support of our Laws;
    To die we can bear, but to serve we disdain.
    For shame is to Freedom more dreadful than pain.


    This bumper I crown for our Sovereign’s health,
    And this for Britannia’s glory and wealth;
    That wealth and that glory immortal may be,
    If She is but Just, and if we are but Free.


    Theatrical History

    In theatrical arts, on July 18th 1907, Florenz Ziefeld’s “Follies of 1907” premiered in New York City, this was theatrical performance somewhere between what you’d see on true Broadway shows and Vaudeville.


    Follies of 1907 Poster
    Follies of 1907 Poster


    A photograph of the Ziegfeld follies.
    A photograph of the Ziegfeld follies.


    Film History

    On this day in Los Angeles in 1959, the film version Kathryn Hulme’s The Nun’s Story, starring Audrey Hepburnpremiered.


    The Nun's Story, with Aubrey Hepburn
    The Nun’s Story, with Aubrey Hepburn


    Art Materials Manufacture History

    Last of all, on this day in 1994, Crayola announced the introduction of scented crayons, unfortunately, they had to do away with some of the scents a very short time later after a hoard of complaints came from parents saying that they couldn’t stop their children from eating the crayons if they smelled like candy!

    Crayola's Scented Crayons, unfortunately, most children thought they smelled good enough to eat!
    Crayola’s Scented Crayons, unfortunately, most children thought they smelled good enough to eat!

    So that concludes what took place in art history on July 18th, unless of course you know of something I don’t?

  • Monday Muse #2, Van Gogh’s Starry Night

    In many ways this painting should have been my first Monday Muse, because it is by far higher on my list of favorite paintings than last week’s painting.

    The only reason I listed Monet’s painting first was primarily because of my own struggle painting clouds. I took comfort in the fact that Monet’s clouds were not strikingly realistic either, and yet his painting was still wonderful and breathtaking.  In other words, Monet’s painting inspired me because I saw what I would perceive as a weakness in my own work in his, and saw that despite that “weakness” his painting was still rightly considered great art.

    Here, in Van Gogh’s work however, I am not seeing some weakness that encourages me that my own weakness is acceptable, rather I am seeing a mastery to aspire to.

    VanGogh-starry night
    Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
    In this, and many other of his paintings,  Van Gogh, shows a style that none before him had undertaken.  His brushstrokes, laid side by side, are somewhat reminiscent of the work of the Impressionists like Monet, Manet, and Renoir, but they are thicker, longer, bolder strokes, and he uses them without the strict adherence to realistic portrayal of the properties of light that the Impressionists emphasized.

    Claude Monet, 1873, Camille Monet on a Bench, oil on canvas, 60.6 x 80.3 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
    By Claude Monet (Metropolitan Museum of Art) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons The Impressionists used smaller, more delicate brush strokes, and emphasized the effects of light and its transient nature.

    His thicker, bolder brushstrokes almost mimic the work of Mosaic artists of ancient Rome and Greece, yet without the adherence to the themes of classicism those artists followed, and without the restraints imposed by the shapes of the stones.

    Dionysos Mosaic
    A Greek Mosaic, Mosaic artists used stones, each one a solid color, to make up images, similar to how Van Gogh used bold brush strokes of solid color, also similar to how Impressionism used delicate brush strokes of solid color, and later pointillism used dots of color, but Mosaic artist stayed with classical themes.

    His work somewhat resembles pointillism, such as that done by Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, however,  yet again Van Gogh’s strokes are bolder, thicker, and his paintings seem to have more depth than the works of the pointillists.

    Georges Seurat 031
    Georges Seurat [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Pointillism used thousands of tiny dots to form a picture.

    Van Gogh was undoubtedly influenced all these artists, and many others as well, and yet unlike any of them, he introduced the idea of expressionism in his art.  He didn’t just depict what he saw, but what he felt, and thought.

    Van Gogh predated the expressionists, and his art doesn’t quite fit neatly into that definition either, but rather his art stands, almost as a bridge between impressionism and expressionism, influenced by, but not adhering to the first, and being a harbinger foretelling the development of the second.  Art Historians have labeled him a post impressionist, which I suppose fits, since his work does seem to be a bridge between impressionism and more modern art forms such as abstract expressionism.

    The Scream
    Edvard Munch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. This painting by Edvard Munch is an example of expressionism, an art movement that emphasized expression of feeling rather than accuracy of visual elements. You can see how Van Gogh’s work led to, and heavily influenced the expressionists who came after Van Gogh.

    In this particular painting (Starry Night), Van Gogh is looking out the window of his room at a mental asylum, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where Vincent had voluntarily admitted himself after cutting off a small piece of his own ear (contrary to popular myth, he did not cut off his entire ear, but rather a very small piece of the ear lobe, probably doing less harm to himself than many do through popular forms of body-art today). At any rate, he had admitted himself to the asylum, knowing that his depression was getting the better of him.

    While at the asylum Vincent painted a great many paintings, the Starry Night being among the most famous.  He painted it based on the view out of his window, along with no fewer than twenty other drawings, paintings, and studies, all variations on that view.  Some of those works showed the scene in the day, some were pencil sketches almost identical to Starry Night.

    Interestingly, Van Gogh regarded this, perhaps his most famous painting, as a failure.  He referred to it in a letter to Emile Bernard this way, “When Gauguin was in Arles, I once or twice allowed myself to be led astray into abstraction, as you know. . . . But that was delusion, dear friend, and one soon comes up against a brick wall. . . . And yet, once again I allowed myself to be led astray into reaching for stars that are too big—another failure—and I have had my fill of that.”

    It seems that later, he came around to appreciating abstracted style a little more though, because he later wrote about it (in reference to the Starry Night) to his brother Theo, “Despite what you say in your previous letter, that the search for style often harms other qualities, the fact is that I feel myself greatly driven to seek style, if you like, but I mean by that a more manly and more deliberate drawing. If that will make me more like Bernard or Gauguin, I can’t do anything about it. But am inclined to believe that in the long run you’d get used to it.”  Then at other times he again expressed dissatisfaction with the painting, so it seems he was somewhat ambivalent in his feelings about it.

    Regardless of whether he loved this painting, or continued to think of as a failure, the fact remains that this stylized sky is one of his greatest works. Perhaps, his struggle to accept this painting isn’t so hard to understand though. Perhaps, as he looked at the beauty of God’s creation, as he looked on the vastness and grandeur of the universe, and tried to depict it with mere paint and canvas, he simply felt discouraged by the impossibility of the task.

    I think that while his depiction no doubt falls short in comparison to the real majesty of the heavens, his swirling brushstrokes at least give a nod to their glory, and that is the best that any artist can ever hope to do.

  • Monday Muse #1 View of Vetheuil in Summer, by Monet

    I’ve decided that each Monday I should post about a “Muse”.  For my purposes a Muse can be any thing or person that brings me inspiration.

    Today’s Muse is this painting, by Claude Monet:

    Monet - Ansicht von Vetheuil im Sommer
    Claude Monet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
    Why did I pick this painting as my Monday Muse?

    Well, as my readers know, I find it very difficult to be satisfied with my renderings of clouds.  I have produced a few paintings where I was genuinely satisfied with the clouds.  However, those paintings are the exception, and I certainly seem unable to reproduce the results at will.  Its more a matter of “luck” than skill when I produce a sky I am truly happy with.  Sometimes grueling hard work gives me results that I find acceptable, but not really pleasing.  Well today, I was doing something I frequently do, browsing paintings online.  I started looking closely at many of the impressionists’ work, particularly their skies.  What I was seeing was encouraging to me.  These paintings are beautiful, but if I isolate the sky like this:

    Monet_-_Ansicht_von_Vetheuil_im_Sommer (2)

    I see brush strokes of blue, white, some yellow, a little that is kind of dirty yellow-gray…  What I don’t see is photograph-like realistic clouds.

    In fact, the closer you look, the less cloud like they become:
    Monet_-_Ansicht_von_Vetheuil_im_Sommer (3)

    Monet_-_Ansicht_von_Vetheuil_im_Sommer (4)


    To me this is a wonderful encouragement, because the overall picture is amazing, even the sky is amazing.  No person knowledgeable about art would say that Monet didn’t know how to paint.  Yet when I look at the sky closely I realize that if I had done it myself, I would not have been satisfied.  It is showing me that perhaps I need to step back and look at my paintings from further back.  It’s okay for them to not look like photographs.  The are PAINTINGS.  I am my own worst critic of course, because when i saw this, at first I wasn’t thinking anything negative, I was admiring the beauty of the painting.  The reason I looked closer at the sky was to see how he did it, and that’s when I realized that I would not have liked it if I did it, but I loved it when Monet did it.

    Now does that mean that I will stop trying to improve my skies?  No.  It does mean though that I can stop stressing every time I fail to make it look exactly like what I see.  I don’t necessarily have overwork my sky to the point of frustration, it is OKAY to put in brushstrokes that give the impression of clouds, especially when the sky isn’t the central point of the painting, but merely a backdrop for the rest.

    I really don’t know why I didn’t grasp this concept before, after all, the artists I admire most are Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, neither of which are particularly preoccupied with Photorealism in their paintings.  In fact, one of my frustrations with other aspects of paintings is that I find it difficult to loosen up enough, and yet with clouds, I was refusing to loosen up.  I was trying so much to control every aspect and get the EXACT image held in my mind.