dutch genre

trompe l’oeil

One of the earliest things you learn about at art school, is trompe l’œil, a favourite of teachers and students alike it is a celebrated demonstration of artistic talent. Besides, students love the chance to be cheeky. “Rembrandt’s students are reputed to have played a cruel joke on the great master when they painted some highly realistic gold coins on the floor of his studio. The great master was forever poor and much in need of funds, and so his pupils hoped to trick him into scrabbling around on his hands and knees trying to pick them up” 1. As mentioned in a previous article, the illusion of having drapery or a curtain partially covering a work is a time-honoured favourite of many artists. The Dutch Golden Age is a treasure trove of trompe l’oeil curtains, but the tradition dates back through a boom in early Christian artwork, but the origin story is given to us of course, from Ancient Greece, wherein two skilled artists submitted a painting in competition. “Zeuxis produced a magnificent still life, which featured grapes that were so lifelike that a bird flew down to peck at one. Not a bad result. However, Zeuxis unwittingly and by implication admitted defeat when he turned to his rival Parrhasius and asked him to draw back the curtain of from of his own painting in order to reveal its subject in its entirety” 2.

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“Escaping Criticism” by Pere Borrell del Caso, 1874

So in my early art student days I too was enamoured with the illusion and trickery of a trompe l’œil, admiring above all the proficiency of the craftsman to create something in two dimensions which your eye believes is three. Creating, through skill, a challenge of our senses and our perception of the world. There are many fantastic examples of trompe l’œil throughout the ages, one of the most beloved being Escaping Criticism by Pere Borrell del Caso, 1874. However, the example given to me, which sparked a great passion in my heart, and of which I had the utmost privilege of beholding in person recently, The Goldfinch (Carel Fabritius), 1654.

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The Goldfinch (Carel Fabritius), 1654.

When the Maruritshuis was under renovation during my first trip to Holland, I was so disappointed to have missed the opportunity to view some really wonderful artwork. When I returned home I found out that a “treasures” collection had traveled to North America and I considered making the 10 hour drive to get a peek at the collection when it arrived at the Frick. My patience was rewarded last fall, however when I went back to view the entire collection at the newly opened Mauritshuis in the Hague.

On a quick sidenote, I always love looking for digital images of paintings. Ideally you can find an extremely high res version supplied online by the museum, but sometimes it’s quite hillarious to do a google image search. For very famous paintings, you will find all sorts of stuff showing up. For example, if you google image search the Mona Lisa you will find a great number of hillarious chops. But when you search for a small painting which is fairly unknown to the public  but much beloved by art aficionados, this is what you get. Zillions of copies of the same image, uninterrupted. All with slightly varying levels of colour and contrast, depending on who took the picture and what they did to it.

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Spot the difference!

The Goldfinch is a small painting. It’s only 13.2 by 9.0 in (33.5 by 22.8 cm) but I hesitate to refer to it as very small, in context. It is painted on very thick board, which is speculated to have been part of a cupboard door or panel 3. It displays a goldfinch, atop a wall perch, its captivity evident by the thin chain which attaches it. “In the 17th century, goldfinches were popular pets because they could be trained to draw water from a bowl with a miniature bucket. The Dutch title of the painting pertains to the bird’s nickname puttertje, which refers to this custom and translates literally as ‘little weller’” 4.

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Self Portrait (Carel Fabritius), 1645

Fabritius leaves very few paintings to us, perhaps only a dozen. He died young, perishing along with most of his paintings in a magazine explosion 5. However a very distinct personal style was carved out in his few years, the few remaining paintings marked with simple beauty in quiet and solitary moments, beautifully presented in impressive perspective and wonderful palette. Fabritius can be considered the stylistic connection between Rembrandt, his master, and Vermeer, his pupil. Fabritius experimented with perspective and lighting, both expertly executed in the Goldfinch. Though the majority of Rembrandt’s pupils emulated his style, Fabritius was interested in delicately lit subjects with bright, warm backgrounds, while retaining the gestural brushwork of his subjects. The uniqueness of Fabritius’ style which in turn inspired Vermeer is his honest and unembellished observation of the world around him, giving faithful devoted attention to the lighting and feeling of the scene. “Moving away from the Renaissance focus on iconography, Fabritius became interested in the technical aspects of painting. His personal style is “marked by an exquisite feeling for cool colour harmonies and (even though he often worked on a small scale) unerring handling of a loaded brush” 6. “He painted the goldfinch with visible brush strokes. The wing he indicated with thick yellow paint, where he put in with the back of his brush a scratch” 7.

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get back! I’ve got a fully loaded brush!

Fabritius also experimented with spatial effects and forced perspective. A major goal of Dutch paintings at the time, especially those to be hung in homes for personal use, was to blend with the room. We can imagine the work hanging on the wall, or perhaps inlaid into a cabinet door, hearkening at the simple homely visual of the captive pet, the thick paint vibrating with intensity in emulation of the birds little heart, the glint of light off its round eye, and streak of black and yellow a familiar visual cue. The gestural application of the paint and the commonality of the subject matter gives the viewer the impression the painting hanging on the wall is instead a glimpse of the real thing. Like the wall calendar by the phone in the kitchen, it’s a familiar and homely element, something we are used to seeing out of the corner of our eye without taking time to observe it closely.

1, 2 Green, Malcom. “Book of Lies” London: Essential Works, 2005.

3 Frederik J. Duparc, “Carel Fabritius (1622-1654) His Life and Work” in Carel Fabritius 1622-1654, Zwolle, 2004.

4, 7 http://www.mauritshuis.nl/nl-nl/verdiep/de-collectie/kunstwerken/het-puttertje-605/

5 http://www.the-art-world.com/history/fh_fabritius.htm

6 http://www.essentialvermeer.com/dutch-painters/masters/cfabritiusbase.html

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bedriegertje

Continuing with some more Dutch Reformation Interior church paintings, there is another one at the Louvre which caught my eye, but not because of what you could see, but what you couldn’t.

rideau

Intérieur d’église à demi masqué par un rideau
(Hendrick Cornelisz van (der) Vliet), 1660

The small work depicts another Protestant church interior, again with people chatting, dogs running around, graves being dug, but painted in the absolute foreground is a curtain, covering the rightmost area or the scene. The piece itself is painted so that it appears to be an arched panel with the curtain on top, covering the work. The arch helps to give the curtain that extra boost to make is seem like it’s really not part of the scene, but resting on top like something someone would add later. It hearkens at the tradition of covering paintings with curtains to protect them from sunlight and dust, only drawn to observe briefly and then covered again.

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i have to provide photo credits for things not in the public domain. lame. (below)

The technique is called a trompe l’oeil, deceiving the eye, an object painted in a way to trick you into thinking it’s in three dimensions. You’ve probably seen many examples before, such as chalk art, wall murals or stuff like faux leather or marble.

Interior of the Nieuwe Kerk, Delft, with the tomb of William the Silent, by Hendrik van Vliet

The interior of the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft with
the Tomb of Prince William the Silent of Orange (1533-1584)
(Hendrick Cornelisz van Vliet) 1660

Van Vliet used this trick in many of his works, especially ones depicting interior church scenes, though van Vliet was definitely not the first to employ the trompe l’oeil curtain. It has its roots in religious paintings, as “can be observed on miniatures and bas-reliefs from late Antiquity and which became a topos of representations of Mary” 1.

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I’ll take “creepy faces in paintings in the background
that are bad for late night blogging
” for 400

You might recognize the famous cherubs in Raphael’s Sistine Madonna (1512), but the whole work itself is quite lovely, and the curtains act as a rich and velvety frame for the posed figures, but not as part of the scene. The curtains are depicted as hanging on a thin rod, which is bending under the weight of the drapes. This realistic touch adds to the idea that the curtains aren’t part of the scene. If they were they would be idealized, quite like the rest of the work.

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let’s play find baby Jesus. hint : in this one he’s a bird

The curtains containing the scene hearken at the practice of having the ciborium or other parts of the church covered by curtains to be revealed at certain points during services. Another example of this is the leftmost panel in the second state of Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece, “the Annunciation” (1515), though, in this scene the curtains are painted into the scene with two panels used to frame the scene, and to indicate the altar.

van_Vliet-InteriorOudeKerk_PietInterior of the Oude Kerk, Delft, with the Tomb of Piet Hein.
(Hendrick Cornelisz. van Vliet) 1653

The curtains also serve as a way to literally draw attention to a particular section of the work, to frame it. They can act as a vignette to create emphasis on the interior of the picture, or to highlight elements to which your attention should be placed. “The drawn curtain and drape have obvious theatrical associations. Both imitate the curtains over the central archway of the Renaissance stage, which are suddenly pulled back at key moments in the drama to reveal important scenes and characters. Dutch painters often used the curtain to suggest dramatic revelation without actually reproducing a theatre” 2.

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“allowing him only the parerga, the indicators of the representation,
in the feigned frame, curtain, and the internal spectator” 3

The curtain in Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window (1659) is a similar effect to the Church Interior in that it serves to hint at the preciousness of the scene as a cherished artwork would be protected by a curtain, but also helps to provide some shelter and seclusion to the scene as if we are peeking in at a quiet or intimate moment. Similarly, Metsu’s Woman Reading a Letter (1666) uses the curtain as a way to provide details about the scene, as we get to experience the moment when the curtain is drawn.

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“A lady sits reading a letter that her maid has presumably just delivered. The maid explicitly calls attention to the seascape on the wall by pulling aside the curtain that covers it. The maid’s quasi-explanatory gesture suggests a connection between the seascape and the contents of the letter” 4. The curtain helps us to gather some information about context or the situation the work depicts.

Houckgeest-InteriorOudeKerk1548Interior of the Oude Kerk Delft, with the Pulpit of 1548
(Gerard Houckgeest) 1651

Like other Dutch paintings from this time, the clues in the work are given to help the viewer translate the work into a story, so the curtain acts not only as a visual element but gives information to the viewer. Protestant reformation in the Netherlands influenced the inspiration and content of artworks, which transitioned from the sacred and public works to a more private and secular audience. This shift also influenced the connotations of the painted curtain. “The trompe-l’oeil curtain gradually loses its sacred connotation, retaining only that of metapictorality”5.

FlowerCurtainart jokes : priceless

The painted curtain in Dutch genre paintings was sometimes referred to as “ bedriegertje” (little trickster) from its ability to trick the viewer into thinking it’s a real curtain covering the work. A very fine example of pure trickery is the “Trompe l’oeil Still Life with Flower Garland and Curtain”, a work co-created by Adrian van der Spelt & Franz van Mieris in 1658. Van der Spelt was said to be an expert at painting realistic floral still lifes, and van Mieris an expert at painting fabric textures, so the two got together to create a work of visual richness, and is one of my all time favourite works. Not because it says something important per se, but that these guys decided it would just be really cool to make this painting.

eavesdro-maes

you bedriegertje !

The curtain could also be used to draw attention to the fact that it indeed hides aspects of the work permanently from the viewer. For example, Eavesdropper with a Scolding Woman (Nicolaes Maes), 1655, is a interior scene quite typical of the times, peering in to someone’s everyday life. We can see partially up the stairs into a corridor, where a woman appears to be scolding someone but a great amount of the work (including the subject of her fury) is hidden by the painted curtain. “By opening the curtain, the painter literally reveals a badly managed household: the maid spends more time listening than working, and the mistress does not create domestic harmony” 6. So, not only does the curtain act to draw attention to the remaining figures and literally hides certain elements of the scene, it also helps us to gain information by what is missing.

Interior of the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft with the Tomb of William thTomb of William the Silent in the Nieuwe Kerk, Delft, with an Illusionistic Curtain
(Emanuel de Witte) 1653

1, 3, 5 Van Eck, Caroline and Stijn Bussels. Theatricality in Early Modern Art and Archetecture.  Chichester, West Sussex: Blackwell Publishing, 2011.

2, 4 Hollander, Martha. An Entrance for the Eyes : Space & Meaning in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002.

6 http://www.wga.hu/html_m/m/maes/eavesdro.html

Photo credits

truck : Karine Magaton http://apndv.free.fr/Sculpture%20geante.htm

flatiron building, Toronto : 1000thingstoronto http://1000thingstoronto.com/14-flatiron-building/

marble : biphut deco http://hiphutdeco.com/blog/tag/faux-marble/

painting : Andrea Mantegna : Oculus on the ceiling of the Spouses Chamber, castle of San Giorgio in Mantoa, Italy

le chant interrompu

Usually, long after my SO has gone to bed, I’m up late blogging or editing photos or working working on some kindof arty thing. Unfortunately the little time we have to share together gets minimized when I sleep in and miss breakfast. So after staying up past 4am I woke up around 7:30 with my SO to try and adjust my schedule. Yeah. So to keep myself from lounging around and being sleepy I decided it would be a good idea to go out and see the sights!

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After passing by a few vélib stations that only had seriously broken-down bikes I finally found a mostly usable vélo and made my way downtown. I’m kindof getting the hang of the street layout, but I have to make a serious effort to bear right more than I think I should have to. Otherwise I always end up in the west end. Alas, as they say; All roads lead to.. the Bastille.

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giant lampost-baby mocks your pathetic sense of direction! muhaha!

Oh well. I ditched my vélo and tried to find a landmark that I knew was nearby : Place des Vosges. I had read about it that morning, but didn’t really look into it because I didn’t think I would be in that end of town. After a little searching, we found each other. Places des Vosges is the oldest planned square in Paris, built in 1612 by Henri IV. There is a fine statue of Louis XIII, erected in 1818 to replace the original which was melted down during the Revolution. The surrounding buildings are all the same, made of red brick with white stone stripes and vaulted arches.

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look at the trees! they match the square’s perfect squareness!

The garden’s weren’t really that impressive, they were tidy but very modest, and all of the fountains were turned off. Even so there were still hordes of art students sitting in the grass drawing the fountain fixtures and possibly the maintenance workers. On my way out I passed a number of expensive restaurants and small art galleries, one of which featured the same kind of optical illusion I saw in the Escher museum in Amsterdam. I love those!!

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Making my way through the fifth, I ended up on Rue Étienne Marcel and biked around for a while looking for a vélib station that had a free spot. My next stop was the Jardin des Tuileries, the much hyped-up 70 acre palace gardens originally created by Catherine de Medici in 1564. The gardens here are absolutely massive and highly manicured. All trees are clipped to a certain size, the flowers are grown in neat rows deposited smack in the middle of neatly trimmed perfectly carpeted grass.. and of course there’s a little fence around anything growing so you cant ever go near it.

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This place is so perfectly organized  I find it a bit stressful rather than relaxing. However the locals seem to love it and there’s no lack of green chair to sit and relax. I don’t know if today was fountain cleaning day or what, but there weren’t any fountains on, except for one you could smell a mile away. It was one of those boring ones where a jet just shoots some water straight into the air, so of course there are lots of tiny particles of water misting around the area. Normally, this would be kindof nice but this was the most disgusting fountain I have ever seen. I believe it was originally some type of koi pond because there were almost imperceptible orange blobs swimming around in the brown muck. It smelled like a stagnant pool /hobo bath house.

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That being said, if you can find a tiny building to duck into on the west end of the garden, it contains a nice garden-related bookstore! I managed to find a book written by a rosa-horticultural genius David Austin discussing the various types of heirloom roses and their history! Awesome! David Austin roses are my favourite and someday… someday I will grow my own!

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you’re welcome for not taking a picture of the hobo bath house

For a garden there was very little beauty of nature. However, there were some nice statues, and the Louvre peeking out at the end of the garden isn’t a bad thing to look at. Also, I really like all the street crossings nearby because you can tell who has been walking around the Tuileries due to the dusty white footprints they leave on the pavement.

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My favourite new saying is “c’est parfait!”. I usually say it as a nicety when people do things for me, like put together my order at the boulangerie, bag my purchases at the magasin, or help me mail things at the post office. I’ve been saying it so much, I even say it when bad things happen, like when the strap on my purse gets caught around a barrier-post and I nearly go flying, or when I get wedged in some inescapable bike lane between trucks and some douche has parked his motorbike directly across the whole lane. C’est parfait! Granted I’ve been known to be a little insincere.

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 Moving on, I then biked down the eastern part of Ave. Champs-Élysées, checking out some nice canal views, while trying to bike as rule-abidingly as I could infront of the massive amounts of police for some reason, and eventually found my way to the Petit Palais. It’s exactly what you might think. It’s a little palace. It’s across the street from a bigger palace. But down the road from the even bigger palace. I don’t know what in Paris wasn’t once a palace.

IMG_6972wait, thats the petit palace? ok don’t look across the street then.

Everything in that neighborhood is just enormous grand architecture built by some king-or-another and probably has some cool history with the revolution(s). I don’t know if you’re meant to tour Paris this long.. because eventually it all just mashes itself into one big fancy building and I’m not impressed anymore. Well, not entirely. If you get tired of looking at nice buildings from the outside, just head on in because damn it’s nice inside too!

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The Petit Palais is now an art gallery and admission is free. Always. There was lots of Courbet, whom I never liked, but I got to spend some time in the courtyard imagining what it might be like to live in a place like this, and in the basement found some really nice paintings made by people I’ve never heard of.

Carries

The first painting that really caught my eye was “Jean Carriès dans son atelier” (Louise Breslau), 1887. Breslau was a German-Swiss painter who achieved much success in Paris until the First World War, and afterwards in Switzerland. She won the World Fairs gold medal in 1900 and in 1901 became a Knight of the Legion of Honor, the third woman and first foreign woman to do so. The subject of her painting was a young artist, Carriès whose imaginative and often horrific sculptures captivated much attention. Carriès’ work is said to be a “junction between tradition and modernity [… and that he] spent his life pursuing an artistic ideal that the plastic covers genuine metaphysical event” 1. The thing that struck me most about this painting is the light and lively treatment of the subject matter, and the depiction of the artist’s process. I don’t know how you can depict creativity, but she’s done it!

ophelia

Another lovely work is “Ophélie” (Paul Albert Steck), 1894. The story of Ophelia (Hamlet) is romantic and tragic, and is one depicted frequently in paintings. The majority of these paintings show the drowned (or drowning) Ophelia from above the waterline, however Steck’s depiction is completely submerged, allowing the viewer to be more involved in the experience. The treatment of the underwater scene is gentle and flowing, the tendrils of aquatic plants mimicking her long hair as if to indicate her impending anchoring to the bottom of the lake. The attention paid to the texture of the bubbles, fabric and flower petals is really as lovely as it is haunting.

ChantInterromptu

man, I didn’t know santa was a dutch woman

Farther on down the basement corridor there is a small chamber adorned with plenty of nice Dutch paintings including “The interrupted song” (Frans van Mieris “the younger”), 1671. The small painting depicts a young woman who previously was preoccupied with singing a song (as indicated by the sheet music in her lap) but is interrupted by a man offering her a drink. There are a number of fine elements in this painting painted in delicate and loving detail, such as the vase of flowers, the sleeping dog on the cushion, the twinkle of light on the glass, and the satiny texture of her gown. The inclusion of a dog in Dutch paintings often is meant to indicate fidelity, and the husband offers his wife a symbolically full glass. Indeed, the entire work is very finely crafted with much love and devotion. “This style of painting has undertones of gallantry, with the association of music and love so common in Dutch painting of the 17th century representing the artist and his wife Cunera van der Cock (1629/1630 – 1700). It also illustrates the theme of the five senses” 2.

ChantInterromptudetail3

After my palais excursion I decided it would be a good idea to start heading back towards downtown, while following the Seine of course. There are a number of nice parks and greenspace surrounding the petit and grand palais to check out. Included was a nice bas relief with (non smelly) koi pond.. and birds!

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I also managed to find a bagel shop that has fantastically amazing bagels. They also have humerous photos on the wall and signed pictures of celebrities, which I think are jokes because the majority of them just has a funny caption written on. They also say they’ve been in business since 1789 and if you check that out on their website they have a hilarious family tree of “bagelsteins” with photos ranging from astronauts to folks in straight jackets.. and enviably many “paninis” and “sandweeches” married in to the family. Awesome atmosphere, even awesomer food… I managed to get mine just before the queue exploded.

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Oh, and I also managed to find a very cool floral archway. The florists were busy not only creating it but taking pictures for people who wanted to pose with it. I opted for an OP-less photo.

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1 http://www.latribunedelart.com/jean-carries-la-matiere-de-l-etrange

2 http://www.petitpalais.paris.fr/en/collections/interrupted-song

obtenez-vous la blague ?

On the top floor of the Louvre, in the corridor opposite the escalators lives many famous and celebrated Dutch paintings. Of these, there are many fine examples of the ever cultivated Dutch Genre painting, which is characterized by detailed realism, moralizing overtones, and simple depictions of common life. Painting in the Netherlands underwent a great change in the 17th century, due in part to the demands of the growing middle class. As trade routes were opening up, and industrial and agricultural advancements allowed for more income and more free time, many people were moving to the cities, especially for commerce. At the same time, the invention of the printing press allowed more accessible eduction, faster and more broad sharing of ideas, and giving a voice to the individual. This, coupled with the Protestant reformation rapidly changed the types of artwork desired and being produced.

The Protestant Reformation, sparked by Martin Luther’s ninety-five point manifesto against the corruption of the Catholic church, namely the sale of “indulgences” (buying a pass to get into heaven). The questioning of corruption and abuse prevalent in the church lead to a split in Christianity into Roman Catholics and Protestants. The reformation took strong roots in northern Europe, where radical changes to churches took place, such as the destruction of any idolatry, ie) sculpture, stained glass, paintings, frescoes, and basically anything that an artist made a living on and generally devoted their life to. Religious works were suppressed, if not banned and works were thoroughly and violently destroyed. This iconoclasm, or “beeldenstorm” led therefore a huge reduction in the amount of religious art created for places of worship. However, one of the principle elements of the Protestant reformation, and largely due to the printing press’ influence, was developing a personal relationship with God rather than relying on a intermediary body to direct you. Therefore a demand grew for private icons and the depictions religious ideals through allegory.

The rise of the middle class and the emergence of Protestantism allowed for a plethora of artists to emerge to create a wide array of works of a considerably different in subject and execution. The Calvinist rejection of iconography all but eliminated the church-funded commissions that were historically an artist’s bread and butter. More and more artists turned to the middle class, who chose to spend their extra income on home furnishings, or commissions of a personal nature (ie. Portraits). An interesting note is that with the rise in literacy and the distribution of personal literature, many 17th century Netherlanders had access to what were called “emblem books” : emblematic images with corresponding text. These emblem books allowed for the average person to be able to interpret visual cues into ideas, or more commonly, moral lessons. Most modern people aren’t able to decipher these mnemonic devices and sometimes it can be hard to “get” the point or appreciate the irony of the works. That being said, there are still a number of works that are pretty obvious in their scathing depictions of debauchery.  One fine example is “La Mauvaise compagnie” (Jan Steen), 1670.

badcompany

Voor herberg, achter bordeel

In addition to his practice as an artist, Steen also kept a tavern. “As well as additional income, this provided him with a rich source of material based on the behavior and characters of his customers. In this painting, the depiction of contemporary manners is combined with a serious underlying theme: the biblical parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32), who squanders away his inheritance on licentious living and prostitutes”1. The scene is laid out fairly clearly; the inebriated man falling into the lap of his enabling companion as he drunkenly gropes for his dropped pipe. The poor fellow gets pickpocketed  by the other lady of the evening, and evidence of their debaucherous stint litters the floor : empty oyster shells, playing cards, cigarette butts and his dropped and subsequently forgotten hat. Yet as the fellow reaches his limit for the night, there is no indication that the activity stops there. There will always be more music, more thieving, more drunken revelry.

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“er.. jes hanggon a sec…onf.. I drop..ped my pipe.. “

To go off on a tangent, these paintings remind me of punk music. Strangely enough, they follow a similar pattern; to compose a song or painting, which on the surface glorifies a atrocious thing, but in it’s obvious horror we see the irony. I’m not really saying they’re the same thing.. punk music prides itself on pushing buttons and making jokes. But the irony of these paintings is pretty evident. Coming very quickly after a time in which only the most revered and beautiful subjects were committed to paint, is it not strange to turn the corner and suddenly all the pictures you see are of drunken bumbling fools, hookers and riffraff?

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© Amos Kennedy

What does it mean to commit something to paint? For many years if you weren’t Jesus or kings or some kind of Greek mythology, you weren’t good enough to go on canvas. Then later, if you were rich enough, you could afford it. Nowadays I have seen all manner of things committed to paint that it seems there is no low too low. It’s within the context of the “joke” that makes these paintings really special, and more importantly worth looking at even though the times have changed quite a bit since their day. The moral lessons of Dutch genre painting often depict interior scenes of loose women and drunken fools, a common occurrence as indicated by the Dutch proverb Voor herberg, achter bordeel.. or, Inn in the front, brothel in the back. Even without knowing historical or biblical stories, or the context of emblems and other iconography, we can read these images like a book and glean a pretty full moral story from it. Don’t get wasted with a bunch of strange women at a party or you might get your pockets picked. No offense, ladies.

Genre painting also depicted scenes from everyday life, such as sprawling landscapes, simple peasant life or seemingly banal personal actions such as pouring milk, reading a letter or taking a stroll. Artists in the 17th century Netherlands “elevated what was critically regarded as a humble form to heights of desirability rivaling more classically esteemed subjects. […]  Indeed, a large facet of a genre scene’s appeal was the opportunity it afforded to gaze into a private interior much like the one in which it might have hung and, in many cases, to identify with the values expressed by the subject”2. Another fine example of Dutch genre painting is “Joueurs de cartes dans un riche intérieur” (Pieter de Hooch).

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“looking at ones cards is a crutch for players who rely on skill”

This painting is very small, but very rich and velvety in its treatment of the paint, the shining marble floor, imposing fireplace and rich velvet drapes absolutely dripping with luxury. This rich and decadent interior mirrors the indulgent lifestyle the room provides, where they can “discreetly enjoy the company of accommodating young ladies. […] Here, love is a game that may be cheated at like any other, as the hand proudly displayed by the beautiful courtesan – four aces – seems to suggest”3. The young men are eager to engage the ladies, either in a game of cards or a intimate moment by the window, but the simple young maid, timidly waits to fill their glasses and hesitates at interrupting their goings-on. Indeed the technical expression of opulence lends itself to the interpretation of the sumptuous lifestyle of the young people and the hesitation of the simple maid.

1 Lessing, Erich and Vincent Pomarède. The Louvre All the Paintings. New York : Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2011.

2 http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/gnrn/hd_gnrn.htm

3 http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/card-players-opulent-interior

bons amis et nouveaux amis

Today began with another vélib trip downtown. The vélib is a really nice way to start the day. For some reason (probably because we’re on a hill) there usually aren’t any bikes available right by our house. Fortunately it’s a short walk to the next station and it really doesn’t take long to find an available bike. So after a nice short stroll we set out on our journey, with a vague idea of what route we should take. We got lost a few times, but I can’t really say that I mind.

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There were a lot of neighbourhoods and stores I’ve made a mental note of to check out later. We were having a grand old time until we crossed the Seine and started going uphill. Whoo boy! I mean, I know I’m out of shape, but I almost died of fatigue. Not really how I want to feel on vacation! Also, we went over our time and got fined 1 EUR. Not a big deal, but we weren’t allowed to rent any more bikes until we paid up.. and you can only do that at certain locations. Oh well! So we parked our vélos and decided to check out what this crazy long line stretching around the square was all about. It was the line for the catacombs, which unfortunately is where we were headed today! Oh well. The good news is we can just come back another day. It’s just too bad I killed myself cycling to get there. So from there we stopped in the nearest brasserie to quench our thirst with lovely Grimbergen (Belgian) bière. Wow. Super delicious. And not just because I biked for an hour and 15.

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bi……ère……

Next, we popped into a nearby cemetery, presumably to satisfy our macabre appetite that should have been satiated at the catacombs. Paris cemeteries are very different than back home. The plots are often raised tombs, or even big vaults, as opposed to Canada where they are predominantly garden-based with generously spaced plots and few raised markers. That being said, space is at a premium here and its no surprise everything is tightly fit to accommodate the millions of deceased. Even though, the large (read: tall) vaults are beautiful and ornate, offering family a quiet and private space to enter, pray, and leave flowers. Many have stained glass and wrought iron, ostensibly tiny chapels. They have an air of quiet melancholic beauty and sad, wistful elegance. We wandered around and found the tomb of Henri Poincaré, who was a mathematician who made fundamental contributions to the field as well as physics and celestial mechanics. The IHP, which is holding the session for which SO is attending, is named after him.

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Next, we biked up to the Louvre to pop in and see more stuff. Cause, why not! The thing that is crazy about the Louvre, well one thing, is that it was a crazy 12th century fortress/Royal palace. You cannot walk down the surrounding boulevard without being completely in awe of it. Forget the pyramid, this place is awesome!

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So after taking however many billions of steps it takes to actually get around the courtyard and into the building, we headed this time to the 1st floor. Now, remember when I said this place was a crazy 12th century fortress/royal palace? Well you can’t go very far without seeing some amazing original architecture and decor. Sometimes, when you’re looking at a really nice painting, just let your eyes wander up to the ceiling where you will see an equally amazing thing! We also got to see the Winged Victory of Samothrace’s new badass pedestal, on the bow of a ship as she was originally displayed in 200BC. Lookin’ good!

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Royal Quarters, Winged Victory of Samothrace, Sculpture Hallway, and Badass Armour

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just look up. i dare you.

We also checked out some good friends : La Jeune Martyre (Delaroche), La nuit ; un port de mer au clair de lune (Vernet), Magdalena-Bay, vue prise de la presqu’ile des tombeaux, au nord do Spitzberg ; effet d’aurore boréal (Biard), and Atala au tombeau (Girodet de Roussy Trioson). We also said hello to some new friends : Jeunne homme nu assis au bord de la mer (Flandrin), Le Tricheur (La Tour), Le Pandemonium (Martin), Pygmalion et Galatée (Girodet de Roussy Trioson), and Vue d’intérieur / Les Pantoufles (Hoogstraten). We also stopped for sushi dinner halfway thru that big list. Benefits of having a membership!

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La Jeune Martyre always draws me in from across the room. There is so much darkness in this painting, literally, it almost swallows everything within; save the heavenly illumination of her fine halo.  The light glows on her beautiful face, warming what is a chilling scene and giving you a sense of warmth and comfort blanketing the girl. In addition, the light the halo provides extends and reflects in the depths of the water and the soaked folds of her gown in such a sadly realistic way it makes you want to cry. I have viewed this piece before and was equally drawn in before, but what I noticed this time was in the top left corner there is a shadowy figure of some people, just barely visible in the faintest glow of the sunrise, and a hint of the bow of a small boat.

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Remember in that other post when I said I loved painted night scenes with one light source? Yeah, La Nuit is another reason why. Granted you could argue there are two light sources but I would tell you that I think the faint light of the bonfire literally and metaphorically fades quickly and pales in comparison to the brilliant and far-reaching luminescence of the full moon. This painting is a beautiful thing, but is also a dichotomy almost literally split in two. On the right, the figures are turning away and ignoring the moon and it’s gifts, instead huddling around the fire to glean some comfort from its temporal existence. On the other side, the figures are preoccupied with savouring the helpful glow : navigating ships, fishing off the dock. Literally, food and transportation. Also they don’t seem very cold as if the provision they receive are sufficiently fulfilling… . The quality of light in this piece, to which no jpg could do it justice, is absolutely captivating and illuminates the world in a very complete way. I might be out to lunch : it might just be a nice painting of some moonlit activities and people enjoying a bonfire, but thinking about different relationships within a work is kindof fun!

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Magdalena-Bay is horrifying. At first, when you see it across the room, you see lots of nice sweeping contrasts and brilliant cyan hues and you think to yourself, ooh that looks pretty! However, when you get up close you behold the horror of this work! One of the amazing things about paintings is the ability to tell a story without using any words, so let’s look at what this painting says. It’s cold, it’s very cold and windy and icy. Oh, look there are some people on the shore, oh wait, all of them are dead except one. Hey, what’s that in the water? Oh yeah its a shipwreck. How horrifying would it be to 1) be shipwrecked in a horrible place 2) all your shipmates are dead except for you. That being said, there is a single file of footprints leading off the painting to the right, indicating that one of their crew has gone for help and this poor soul is left to wait with the dead. The snow has begun to pile up on the corpses, indicating that some time has passed. I wonder if the friend with ever come back alive? This business of perpetuity in painting is both fascinating and horrifying. There is no indication of something happening, or going to happen, it’s just this poor soul doomed to forever sit in the freezing cold and wait for help. Help will never come, and there will be no reprieve from his situation. /shudder.

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Atala is another one that tugs at the heart strings. The subject is from Chateaubriand‘s romantic novel Atala, or the Loves of Two Savages in the Wilderness; a story of the half-caste Atala who falls in love with Chactas, a native man (America) but Atala has taken a vow to remain a virgin and a Christian, so she commits suicide by poison. I could go on about the unbelievable quality of the persons painted in this scene, how the light and shadow is so masterfully done you believe in your heart you are gazing at the event.. but I could do that about basically anything from this era. The thing that I love about this painting is how quietly painful it is. Father Aubry is trying to do his job and bury this poor lady while Chacatas cannot let her go. Again there is no indication of the passage of time, or that he is just giving her a quick hug before she goes. He will hold on forever.

“The exoticism, the defense of the innocence of primitive peoples and the religious sentiment that characterized the novel are all transposed into the picture. Girodet has not merely illustrated a single scene from Chateaubriand’s novel, he has synthesized several passages.”1

The scene is very quiet but there is definite tension : the old man’s hands pressing in to her sides, attempting to pull her away, her lover clinging with a very tight and unrelenting grip. Even the arrangement of the piece gives you this feeling – the lover curled up in a heavy, stationary form, low to the ground and rooted at the bottom of the painting, and the lady and old man in a light and flowing form, drifting away to the top right, sweeping or floating out of the painting, balanced and anchored also by the tomb archway with the glow of light and the cross – salvation and redemption encompassed in perpetual light.. it indicates balance, permanence and steadfastness.

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The jeune homme is a painting I recognized from some art history years passed, but had never taken the time to hang out with it in person. It is a simple painting; the boy quietly sitting by the sea, head down in simple posture in deep rest and contemplation. Yet the sea is a tiny tiny part of this painting. Overwhelmingly, the boy is the main subject matter. Firstly, the quality of the painting is fantastic but moreover it gives an audience to a quiet moment.“The young man shows introspection in deep timelessness“.2 It elevates the importance of man, of his greatness, of his self-analysis, of contemplation, of loneliness and of rest.

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Le Tricheur is a nice storytelling piece and allegory. The main figure gets tipped off by the barmaid that her opponent is cheating, as we the viewer gets to see him slip an ace out of his sash. The other guy  has no idea what’s going on. He’s a fish. His dress is grand and opulent yet he is young, hinting that he is naïve; proud of the wealth that he spreads out on the table, and becomes drawin into the game by the other players, only to be cheated. The scene dictates a contrast between innocence and vice, and dichotomy of the detailed opulence vs unfinished quality of their physical appearance, yet opposite in their wiles. There are some aspects of this painting that are really fantastic, the layout for example is balanced evenly, the table completely parallel to the edge of the painting with an empty seat, as if you, the viewer, are part of the scene. You literally come to the table and get to see the tricheur showing you his hand, almost smirking while the woman becomes suspicious but insofar is getting away with it. At first glance, the fact that some parts of this painting feel unfinished seems to take away from the experience, as the majority of works in the Louvre are finished to such fine detail, yet it is in the contrast of finished and unfinished that we are given information and guidance to the quality of the characters, their intentions, their downfalls and their fates.

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Pandemonium. This one’s fire and brimstone spewed at me from down a hall I didn’t intend on going down today. But if this painting doesn’t capture attention, I don’t know what will. It’s based on Milton’s Paradise Lost, it “denominates the capital of hell created by Satan (literally in Greek, pandemonium means “all the demons”) Satan is held here in the council chamber and presides over the assembly of demons”.3 Huge boiling pits of  fiery lava, big sheets of dark cloudy rain, army of millions marching from a giant fortress of evil commanded by a crazy looking Satan with a pike. Yowza.

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Pygmalion and Galatée is the Greek story of how the sculptor, Pygmalion, falls in love with the statue that he created. He makes offerings at the altar of Aphrodite, and quietly wishes for a bride to be the living likeness of the ivory statue. When he returns home, he kisses the statue and discovers she is warm to the touch and Aphrodite has granted his wish. Not only is this kindof a nice story, but the soft but perfectly clear application of paint is simply delightful. The gentle but deliberate attention to the faces is what makes this painting perfectly charming, not to mention the brilliant bright light and soft clouds, almost a fog that is bringing Galatée to life.

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Vue d’intérrieur – Dutch paintings are the best, the quiet simplicity of everyday life is brilliant. I always find much comfort in these paintings as they spend time with and lovingly record the mundane, but that which we are familiar : the comforting view of our home from the front door, the keys still dangling from the lock, the gentle afternoon glow from the window greets us and says welcome home. The hanging linens, the broom leaning up against the wall, the candle in the holder still askew the way you left it, the reassuring and familiar view of your favourite picture on the wall. Just kick off your shoes and come on in. How nice is that?

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Apollo takes a selfie.. with a vanquished serpent. Apollo takes the best selfies.

1 http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/entombment-atala

2 http://www.archivesdefrance.culture.gouv.fr/action-culturelle/celebrations-nationales/2009/arts/hippolyte-flandrin

3 http://musee.louvre.fr/bases/doutremanche/notice.php?lng=0&idOeuvre=1899&f=2100