Works by Stephen Hansen
Show Dates: November 4 – December 10, 2016
MEET THE ARTIST RECEPTIONS:
Friday, November 4, 4:00-8:00 PM & Saturday, November 5, 2:00-6:00 PM
1429 Iris Street, NW, Washington DC 20012-1409
Back by popular demand, we are excited and happy to present “Great Moments in Art, II”. For 38 years Zenith Gallery has represented Stephen Hansen and his painted papier Mache sculptures. We think of it is our public service to provide humor relief when and where needed. It doesn’t matter if you consider yourself an art connoisseur or someone who has never stepped foot into a gallery or museum, Stephen Hansen gets to the audience, and people love his work.
This show takes famous paintings by the masters and adds the Hansen touch. Stephen’s iconic comic figures are shown actually painting each great master’s work of art in each charming parody. In fact, Stephen not only creates the sculpture of his figure, engaging in the act of painting the masterpieces, he paints the copy of the painting each comic figure is creating. To be able to sculpt and paint with such talent and creativity and make you laugh, is a real gift and demonstrates extraordinary talent to boot! They say it is far harder to make people
laugh than make them cry. Come here and you will laugh so hard you will cry!
Hansen’s work has been shown worldwide over the past 40 years. His pieces are in the collections of Embassies around the world, as well as to be found in many museums, commercial buildings, airports and government buildings. Amongst which includes the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, here in Washington (and boy, do those folks really need a touch of humor!)
Piet Mondrian, painter, theorist, and draughtsman, was an important contributor to the De Stijl (The Style) art movement. He created a non-representational form that he termed Neo-plasticism, which consisted of white ground, upon which was painted a grid of vertical and horizontal black lines and the three primary colors. Mondrian, and the artists of De Stijl, advocated pure abstraction and a pared down palette in order to express a utopian ideal of universal harmony in all of the arts. By using basic forms and colors, Mondrian believed that his vision of modern art would transcend divisions in culture and become a new common language based in the pure primary colors, flatness of forms, and dynamic tension in his canvases.
Mondrian escaped to New York from Europe in 1940 after the outbreak of World War II. He was fascinated by American jazz, particularly boogie-woogie, finding its syncopated beat, irreverent approach to melody, and improvisational aesthetic akin to what he called, in his own work, the “destruction of natural appearance; and construction through continuous opposition of pure means—dynamic rhythm.” In this painting, his penultimate, Mondrian replaced the black grid that had long governed his canvases with predominantly yellow lines that intersect at points marked by squares of blue, red, and light gray, to create paths across the canvas suggesting the city’s grid, the movement of traffic, and blinking electric lights, as well as the rhythms of jazz. Broadway Boogie Woogie not only alludes to life within the city, but also heralds New York’s developing role as the new center of modern art after World War II.
Mondrian’s art was not based on outside artistic influences or on typical techniques, but was instead his interpretation of deeply felt philosophical beliefs. He subscribed to two sets of philosophical beliefs; theosophy, a religious mysticism which sought to help humanity achieve perfection, and anthroposophy, which held that the spiritual world was directly accessible through the development of the inner self. His works were thus aimed at helping humanity through aesthetic beauty and breaking from representational forms of painting. Mondrian chose to distill his representations of the world to their basic vertical and horizontal elements, which represented the two essential opposing forces: the positive and the negative, the dynamic and the static, the masculine and the feminine. The dynamic balance of his compositions reflects what he saw as the universal balance of these forces.
Mondrian is recognized for the purity of his abstractions and methodical practice by which he arrived at them. He radically simplified the elements of his paintings to reflect what he saw as the spiritual order underlying the natural world, creating a clear, universal aesthetic language within his canvases. Mondrian reduced his shapes to lines and rectangles and his palette to fundamental basics pushing past references to the outside world toward pure abstraction. His use of asymmetrical balance and a simplified pictorial vocabulary were crucial in the development of modern art.
This painting was bought by the Brazilian sculptor Maria Martins for the price of $800 at the Valentine Gallery in New York City, after Martins and Mondrian both exhibited there in 1943. Martins later donated the painting to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, Germany
One of the pioneers of abstract modern art, Wassily Kandinsky explored the interrelation between color and form to convey profound spirituality and the depth of human emotion through a universal visual language of abstract forms and colors that transcended cultural and physical boundaries. He developed a pictorial language that only loosely related to the outside world, but expressed volumes about the artist’s inner experience.
Kandinsky’s work was exhibited throughout Europe from 1903 onwards, and often caused controversy among the public, the art critics, and his contemporaries. An active participant in several of the most influential and controversial art movements of the 20th century, Kandinsky is known for his innovative theories on nonfigurative art, set forth in his 1910 treatise Concerning the Spiritual In Art, considered the first theoretical foundation of abstraction.
To Kandinsky, colors on the painter’s palette evoke a double effect: a purely physical effect on the eye as well as a much deeper, spiritual effect causing a vibration of the soul or an “inner resonance.” There are obvious properties we can see when we look at an isolated color and let it act alone. One property is the warmth or coldness of the color. Warmth is a tendency towards yellow, and coldness a tendency towards blue. Yellow and blue combined for the first great dynamic contrast. Yellow has an eccentric movement and blue a concentric movement. A yellow surface seems to move closer to us, while a blue surface seems to move away. Yellow is a typically terrestrial color that can be painful and aggressive. Blue is a celestial color evoking a deep calm. The combination of blue and yellow yields immobility and calm, which is green.
Another property is the clarity or obscurity of the color. Clarity is a tendency towards white, and obscurity is a tendency towards black. White and black form the second great contrast, which is static. White is a deep absolute silence, full of possibility. Black is nothingness without possibility, an eternal silence without hope, and corresponds with death. Any color resonates strongly with its neighbors. The mixing of white and black leads to gray, which possesses no active force and whose tone is near that of green. Gray corresponds to immobility with hope. It tends to despair when it becomes dark, regaining hope when it lightens.
Red is a warm color, lively and agitated. It is forceful, a movement in itself. Mixed with black it becomes brown, a hard color. Mixed with yellow it gains in warmth, and becomes orange, which imparts an irradiating movement on its surroundings. When red is mixed with blue it moves away to become purple, which is a cool red. Red and green form the third great contrast and orange and purple the fourth. All these colors are present in Farbstudie.
For Kandinsky, music and color were inextricably tied to one another. So clear was this relationship that Kandinsky associated each note with an exact hue. The neurological phenomenon Kandinsky experienced is called synesthesia. It is a rare condition in which one sense concurrently triggers another sense. Kandinsky literally saw colors when he heard music, and heard music when he painted. The artist explored these sensations with unconventional color, line, shape, and texture to create a profound visual experience.
Jackson Pollock was an influential American painter and a major figure in the Abstract Expressionist movement. He was well known for his unique style of drip painting. During his lifetime, Pollock enjoyed considerable fame and notoriety, a major artist of his generation. Regarded as reclusive, he had a volatile personality, and struggled with alcoholism for most of his life. In 1945, he married the artist Lee Krasner, who became an important influence on his career and on his legacy.
Born in 1912 in Cody, Wyoming, Jackson Pollock moved to New York in 1930 to study at the Art Students League. The socially minded scenes depicted in his representational paintings of the 1930s gave way to more personal, symbolic iconography in the following decade, due partly to his interest in the Surrealist strategy of automatism (drawing, painting, or writing freely to unearth subconscious desires)—an interest shared by many artists associated with Abstract Expressionism—and his experiences with Jungian psychoanalysis. Exhibiting regularly throughout the mid-1940s in New York, Pollock relocated to East Hampton, Long Island in late 1945, a move that provided an opportunity to observe nature directly and to work at larger scales.
After the horrors of World War II, the mood in the United States turned artists away from traditional styles and themes and toward a search for new ways to express themselves. As Jackson Pollock said in 1951, “It seems to me that the modern painter cannot express his age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or any other past culture. Each age finds its own technique.”
In the late 1940s, Pollock began to experiment with the technique for which he is best known—drip painting. He placed the canvas on the floor, stating, “On the floor I am more at ease,” he said. “I feel nearer, more a part of the painting since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting.” His process became an illustration of critic Harold Rosenberg’s idea of the canvas as an arena in which the artist would perform, which is one of the reasons why Pollock’s method is also known as “action painting.” Usually titled numerically, so as to avoid any outside associations, these drip paintings comprise calligraphic, looping cords of color that animate and energize every inch of their compositions.
The result was a combination of spontaneity and control. At first, Pollock said, he worked on a painting without thinking. Then, “after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about . . . I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc. because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.”
Pollock died at the age of 44 in an alcohol-related single-car accident when he was driving. In December 1956, several months after his death, Pollock was given a memorial retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. A larger, more comprehensive exhibition of his work was held there in 1967. In 1998 and 1999, his work was honored with large-scale retrospective exhibitions at MoMA and at The Tate in London.
Crying Girl was one of Lichtenstein’s first ventures into producing enamel-on-steel multiples of the comic-strip imagery he had first introduced in conventional hand-painted canvases. This innovative, industrial means of “mass production” was as ground-breaking as his distinctive subject matter. With other leading American Pop artists, Lichtenstein turned to popular culture and the worlds of commerce and advertising for attitudes and approaches as well as for content. Eliminating any trace of the individual artist’s hand in favor of reinforcing the notion of its mechanical origin, here Lichtenstein emphasized, in rigid dark outlines and the Ben-Day dots of printing, the primacy of the image itself – a sentimental, glamorized and equally “mechanical” idealization of the American girl.
Roy Lichtenstein was one of the first American Pop artists and he became a lightning rod for criticism of the movement. His early work ranged widely in style and subject matter, and displayed considerable understanding of modernist painting: Lichtenstein maintained that he was as interested in the abstract qualities of his images as he was in their subject matter. The mature Pop style he arrived at in 1961, which was inspired by comic strips, was greeted by accusations of banality, lack of originality, and, later, even copying. His high-impact, iconic images have since become synonymous with Pop art, and his method of creating images, which blended aspects of mechanical reproduction and drawing by hand, has become central to critics’ understanding of the significance of the movement.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Lichtenstein – cite_note-rlf-chronology-1in 1961, Lichtenstein began his first pop paintings using cartoon images and techniques derived from the appearance of commercial printing. This phase would continue to 1965.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Lichtenstein – cite_note-rlf-Hendrickson-14 His first work to feature the large-scale use of hard-edged figures and Ben-Day dots was Look Mickey (1961). In the same year he produced six other works with recognizable characters from gum wrappers and cartoons. Leo Castelli started displaying Lichtenstein’s work at his gallery in New York. Lichtenstein had his first one-man show at the Castelli gallery in 1962; the entire collection was bought by influential collectors before the show even opened. Look Mickey set the tone for Lichtenstein’s career. This primary-color portrait of the cartoon mouse introduced his detached and deadpan style at a time when introspective Abstract Expressionism reigned. Mining material from advertisements, comics, and the everyday, Lichtenstein brought what was then a great taboo—commercial art—into the gallery. He stressed the artificiality of his images by painting them as though they’d come from a commercial press, with the flat, single-color Ben-Day dots of the newspaper meticulously rendered by hand using paint and stencils.
Lichtenstein is a figure of monumental importance in the recent history of art. His contribution—the still-potent collision of commercial sources and fine art—defined the enduring legacy of Pop Art. The idea of compositional unity was central to the artist’s thinking. Plastic values such as beauty and balance were of primary importance to Lichtenstein, and reliable formal tropes—outlines, halftone dots, and solid diagonals—were the building blocks of nearly all his compositions.
Mark Rothko was born Marcus Rothkowitz in Dvinsk, Russia (now Daugavpils, Latvia) in 1903, immigrated to the United States with his family in his youth, and they settled in Portland, OR. In the mid-20th century, he belonged to a circle of New York-based artists who became known as the Abstract Expressionists. His signature works, large-scale paintings of luminous colored rectangles, used simplified means to evoke emotional responses.
At the age of forty-six Mark Rothko broke with representational painting and turned to abstraction. From 1950 on he painted floating, monochrome planes focused solely on the impact of color. Along with Barnett Newman he is one of the leading exponents of Color Field Painting of the 1950s. In this painting two rectangles are arranged parallel to one another on a blue background. Through their blurred and hazy contours the forms seem to float in a blue space and to almost disappear in it. As such, the dissolution of the chromatic structure creates a meditative, supernatural effect.
Highly informed by Nietzsche, Greek mythology, and his Russian-Jewish heritage, Rothko’s art was profoundly imbued with emotional content that he articulated through a range of styles that evolved from figurative to abstract. Rothko’s early figurative work—including landscapes, still life’s, figure studies, and portraits—demonstrated an ability to blend Expressionism and Surrealism. His search for new forms of expression led to his Color Field paintings, which employed shimmering color to convey a sense of spirituality. Rothko maintained the social revolutionary ideas of his youth throughout his life. In particular he supported artists’ total freedom of expression, which he felt was compromised by the market. This belief often put him at odds with the art world establishment, leading him to publicly respond to critics, and occasionally refuse commissions, sales, and exhibitions.
In the spring of 1968, Rothko was diagnosed with a mild aortic aneurysm. Ignoring doctor’s orders, Rothko continued to drink and smoke heavily, avoided exercise, and maintained an unhealthy diet. Rothko’s marriage had become increasingly troubled. He and his wife Mell separated on New Year’s Day 1969, and he moved into his studio. On February 25, 1970, Oliver Steindecker, Rothko’s assistant, found the artist in his kitchen, lying dead on the floor in front of the sink, covered in blood. He had sliced his arms with a razor found lying at his side. The autopsy revealed that he had also overdosed on anti-depressants. He was sixty-six years old.
Shortly before his death, Rothko and his financial advisor, Bernard Reis, had created a foundation intended to fund “research and education” that would receive the bulk of Rothko’s work following his death. Reis later sold the paintings to the Marlborough Gallery at substantially reduced values, and then split the subsequent profits from sales to customers with gallery representatives. In 1971, Rothko’s children filed a lawsuit against Reis, Morton Levine, and Theodore Stamos, the executors of his estate, over the sham sales. The lawsuit continued for more than 10 years and became known as the Rothko Case. In 1975, the defendants were found liable for negligence and conflict of interest, were removed as executors of the Rothko estate by court order, and, along with Marlborough Gallery, were required to pay $9.2 million in damages to the estate, a fraction of the eventual value of the works.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was of aristocratic ancestry, but opted to become an artist. Sickly from childhood, and dwarfish in stature, he was a fixture of the bawdy nightlife of Montmartre, rendering its stars and denizens with an honesty that was sometimes cruel. Influenced by Degas, as well as by artists in Gauguin’s circle, Lautrec staked out an aesthetic terrain between illustration and high art, producing a body of work that consolidated the reputation of bohemian Paris as a center of the sexual outlawry and adventurism.
Equestrienne (At the Cirque Fernando), a depiction of a performance at a permanent circus in Montmartre, was Lautrec’s first important painting, probably executed in haste for the fifth exhibition of Les Vingt, held in Brussels in February 1888. The work’s skewed perspective and cropped figures derive from the art of Degas and from Japanese prints, while the limited palette, spare composition and linear economy anticipate Lautrec’s well-known lithographic posters of the 1890’s.
The artist was also inspired by compositional aspects of Japanese prints and photography. For example, the center of the image is empty, and the picture is instead structured around the sweeping arc of the ring. This curve is repeated throughout the scene: in the powerful haunches of the horse, in the ring and gallery, and in the billowing trousers of a clown at the top of the picture. Lautrec was also influenced by Cloisonnism, a style based on medieval enameling techniques, using heavy dark outlines to bring out areas of flat colors, similar to Japanese wood block prints that used the same heavy outlining technique.
In Equestrienne (At the Circus Fernando) the subjects are not glamorous. The close-up view ironically removes the viewer from the spectacular nature of a circus performance and concentrates attention instead on the details of the performers’ interactions. The faces of the rider and ringmaster evoke a complex relationship based on power and tension. The artist’s tight lens also allows one to notice the garish color of the rider’s makeup and costumes as well as the stolid nature of the horse’s anatomy, playing against what is usually portrayed as glamorous and exciting. Instead, the tight focus on the ringmaster, rider, and horse, captures both their relationship and the sense of their being in motion. The large rump of the horse, its raised hind leg, in addition to the billowing skirt of the rider, suggest that the horse is moving at a fast clip around the ring. The few well-dressed spectators aren’t looking at the scantily dressed rider, but seem to gaze at some elements of the rehearsal outside of the painting’s space.
As a frequent visitor to the permanent Le Cirque Fernando in Montmartre, Henri knew the ringmaster he depicted, the Monsieur Loyal. It is thought his friend Suzanne Valadon, a painter, former circus performer, and artists’ model, modeled for the figure of the bareback rider. Equestrienne (At the Circus Fernando) was purchased by the owner of a soon-to- be-famous Montmartre nightclub, the Moulin Rouge, where it hung in the grand entrance hall.
Lautrec continued to paint and to incorporate new ideas into his work. He went on to become one of the most well-known visual chroniclers of Parisian life in the late 1800s. Sadly, his health never robust, he died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis at his family estate in Malrome, just short of his 37th birthday.
A contemporary of Picasso, Joan Miró was born in 1893 in Catalonia and moved to Paris in 1920, where he remained for the duration of the Spanish Civil War. He permanently relocated back to Spain in 1940. While in Paris, he became known for his paintings with a personal system of signs and symbols. Miró consistently exercised his personal freedom in his work which, in the face of political turmoil, was infused with tragedy and anger as much as joy and tenderness. Brilliantly inventive, the artist continually pushed the boundaries of art and embraced entirely new techniques and used new forms of media. His artistic career may be characterized as one of persistent experimentation and a lifelong flirtation with non-objectivity.
Miró signed the manifesto of the Surrealist movement in 1924, and the members of the group respected him for the way he portrayed the realm of unconscious experience. From the 1930s onwards, Miró expressed contempt for conventional painting methods as a way of supporting bourgeois society, and famously declared an “assassination of painting” in favor of upsetting the visual elements of established painting. In the ’40s, Miró lighted the path to abstract expressionism in America through his advocacy of automatism. Using this approach, the artist was freed from the methods of traditional picture-making through the intercession of the subconscious, which guided the brush in seemingly random directions. Despite this, Miró held on to certain representational referents, notably women, birds and stars.
Figures and Dog in Front of the Sun is comprised of a painterly ground, fine lines that stand out from it, and freely formed organic shapes. The lines and forms are done in deep shades of red, blue, black, green and yellow. They’ve been organized so that they look like the depiction of an imaginary figure. References to figurative art are evident in the figure outlined on a neutral background. The composition focuses on an essential figure of Miró’s symbolism: the woman, which refers to the link of human beings and their roots in the land. Miró used the color palette of the traditional whistles from Mallorca, siurells.
In joyful rebellion against conventional painting methods, Miro’s art exudes an uninhibited childlike freedom of expression. Drawing inspiration from 1920’s Paris’ counterculture, his art is filled with wonderful absurdity. Miro’s use of primary colors, neutral colored background, as well as organic shapes conveys a lively, energetic zest for life – a playground of the artist’s subconscious mind.
In 1794, with a letter of introduction from John Jay in hand, Gilbert Stuart went to Philadelphia to request sittings with George Washington. Painting his portrait was a shrewd business move, for depictions of Washington were in demand on both sides of the Atlantic. Stuart’s established technique for finding appropriate expressions and poses for his subjects was to engage them with lively banter. When he encountered Washington, however, he found the president to be a difficult subject. Stuart’s usual charm and repartee failed to enliven this reserved man. According to Washington’s grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, Stuart finally succeeded in engaging his subject by discussing horses, a favorite topic of the president, who was an accomplished equestrian.
All of Stuart’s portraits of Washington (about 100 in all) are based on one of the three life portraits. Washington first sat for Stuart in 1795, but the result of that early session, a portrait showing Washington facing right, is known only through replicas that are identified as the Vaughan type (named for the first owner of one of the replicas). That first portrait was so successful that Martha Washington commissioned Stuart to paint a pair of portraits of her and her husband for their Virginia home, Mount Vernon. She convinced the president to sit again because, according to artist Rembrandt Peale, she “wished a portrait for herself; he therefore consented on the express condition that when finished it should be hers.” Stuart began what would become his most reproduced image, a depiction of Washington facing left, now called the Athenaeum portrait for the Boston library that acquired it after Stuart’s death. Although he never finished the original itself, he used it throughout his career to make approximately seventy-five replicas. The image, carefully built up with contrasting flesh tones, is one of Stuart’s most accomplished portraits. This image served as the basis for the engraving of Washington on the one-dollar bill.
Stuart’s image of Washington has been considered very dramatic and forceful since the time it was painted. The artist depicted Washington with a distinct wide-jawed look, commenting that “When I painted him, he had just had a set of false teeth inserted, which accounts for the constrained expression so noticeable about the mouth and lower part of the face.” John Neal, an early-nineteenth-century writer and art critic, wrote: “Stuart says, and there is no fact more certain, that he [Washington] was a man of terrible passions; the sockets of his eyes; the breadth of his nose and nostrils; the deep broad expression of strength and solemnity upon his forehead, were all a proof of this. Though a better likeness of him were shown to us, we should reject it.”
Lascaux (Lascaux Caves) is the setting of a complex of caves in southwestern France famous for its Paleolithic cave paintings. The caves are located near the village of Montignac, in the department of Dordogne. They contain some of the best-known Upper Paleolithic art. These paintings are estimated to be 17,300 years old. They primarily consist of images of large animals, most of which are known from fossil evidence to have lived in the area at the time. In 1979, Lascaux was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.
On 12 September 1940, the entrance to Lascaux Cave was discovered by 18-year-old Marcel Ravidat. Ravidat returned to the scene with three friends, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel, and Simon Coencas, and entered the cave via a long shaft. The teenagers discovered that the cave walls were covered with depictions of animals. The cave complex was opened to the public in 1948.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lascaux – cite_note-timeline_of_france-8 By 1955, the carbon dioxide, heat, humidity, and other contaminants produced by 1,200 visitors per day had visibly damaged the paintings and introduced lichen on the walls. The cave was closed to the public in 1963 to preserve the art. After the cave was closed, the paintings were restored to their original state and were monitored daily. Rooms in the cave include the Hall of the Bulls, the Passageway, the Shaft, the Nave, the Apse, and the Chamber of Felines.
The cave contains nearly 2,000 figures, which can be grouped into three main categories; animals, human figures and abstract signs. Most of the major images have been painted onto the walls using mineral pigments although some designs have also been incised into the stone. Of the animals, equines predominate . There are 90 paintings of stags. Also represented are cattle, bison, felines, a bird, a bear, a rhinoceros, and a human. Among the most famous images are four huge, black bulls or aurochs in the Hall of the Bulls. One of the bulls is 17 feet (5.2 m) long – the largest animal discovered so far in cave art. Additionally, the bulls appear to be in motion. There are no images of reindeer, even though that was the principal source of food for the artists. A painting referred to as ‘The Crossed Bison’, found in the chamber called the Nave, is often held as an example of the skill of the Paleolithic cave painters
Since 1998, the cave has been beset with a fungus, variously blamed on a new air conditioning system that was installed in the caves, the use of high-powered lights, and the presence of too many visitors. As of 2008, the cave contained black mold which scientists were, and still are, trying to keep away from the paintings. In January 2008, authorities closed the cave for three months even to scientists and preservationists. A single individual was allowed to enter the cave for 20 minutes once a week to monitor climatic conditions. Now only a few scientific experts are allowed to work inside the cave, and just for a few days a month. The efforts to remove the mold have taken a toll, leaving dark patches and damaging the pigments on the walls.
Lascaux II, a replica of the Great Hall of the Bulls and the Painted Gallery, located 200 meters away from the original, was opened in 1983 so that visitors may view the painted scenes without harming the originals. Reproductions of other Lascaux artwork can be seen at the Centre of Prehistoric Art at Le Thot, France.
Vincent van Gogh was a major Post-Impressionist painter whose work had a far-reaching influence on 20th-century art. Van Gogh drew as a child but did not paint until his late twenties. He completed many of his best-known works during the last two years of his life. In just over a decade, he produced more than 2,100 artworks, including 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolors, drawings, sketches and prints.
Van Gogh was born to upper middle class parents and spent his early adulthood working for a firm of art dealers. He traveled between The Hague, London and Paris. He was deeply religious as a younger man and aspired to be a pastor. In 1879 he worked as a missionary in a mining region in Belgium, where he began to sketch people from the local community. In 1885 he painted The Potato Eaters, considered his first major work. His palette then consisted mainly of somber earth tones and showed no sign of the vivid coloration that distinguished his later paintings. In 1886, he moved to Paris and discovered the French Impressionists. Later, he moved to the south of France and was influenced by the strong sunlight he found there. His paintings grew brighter in color, and he developed the unique and highly recognizable style that became fully realized during his stay in Arles in 1888.
After years of anxiety and frequent bouts of mental illness, he died aged 37 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The extent to which his mental health affected his painting has been widely debated by art historians. Despite a widespread tendency to romanticize his ill health, modern critics see an artist deeply frustrated by the inactivity and incoherence wrought through illness. His late paintings show an artist at the height of his abilities, completely in control, and according to art critic Robert Hughes, “longing for concision and grace”.
Irises were painted while Vincent van Gogh was living at the asylum at Saint Paul-de-Mausole in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France, in the last year before his death. Working from nature in the asylum’s garden, each one of Van Gogh’s irises is unique. He carefully studied their movements and shapes to create a variety of curved silhouettes bounded by wavy, twisting, and curling lines. The painting’s first owner, French art critic Octave Mirbeau, one of Van Gogh’s earliest supporters, wrote: “How well he has understood the exquisite nature of flowers!” There is a lack of the high tension which is seen in his later works. Van Gogh called the painting “the lightning conductor for my illness,” because he felt that he could keep himself from going insane by continuing to paint. The painting was influenced by Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, like many of his works and those by other artists of the time. The similarities occur with strong outlines, unusual angles, including close-up views, and also flattish local color, not modeled according to the fall of light.
Van Gogh considered this painting a study which is probably why there are no known drawings for it. Theo, Van Gogh’s brother, thought better of it and quickly submitted it to the annual exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants in September 1889, together with Starry Night Over the Rhone. He wrote to Vincent of the exhibition: “(It) strikes the eye from afar. The Irises are a beautiful study full of air and life.”
In Hopper’s paintings, figures—usually women, and often alone—are seen undressing, reading, dining, gazing out windows, or simply lost in thought. When Hopper depicts more than one figure, viewers encounter ambiguous relationships fraught with tension. Conversation and movement are suspended, and there is the sense of having stumbled upon some sort of drama; Hopper, however, never divulges the narrative details.
Hopper’s compositions capture ordinary moments that few observers would stop to notice. For Hopper, real drama was found in the overlooked. He avoided signs of the noise and commotion of urban life, imbuing his portrayals of the city with a disquieting stillness. Hopper borrowed numerous theatrical devices and translated them to his canvases to create dramatic scenes. Strong light and high contrasts recall theatrical lighting as well as film-noir movies.
Hopper’s paintings invite endless interpretation and have been described as representations of loneliness, alienation, melancholy, or solitude. Hopper cast doubt on such readings, noting, “The loneliness thing is overdone.” He offered several explanations for his paintings, “Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world.”
Hopper began New York Movie in December of 1938 after a protracted dry spell in his work. For unknown reasons, Hopper had unusual difficulty developing the work, resulting in 54 preliminary drawings, more studies for a single painting than any other in his career. He visited several movie theaters, including the Strand, Globe and Republican, before settling into a more extensive period of sketching at the Palace Theater on West Forty-Sixth Street (now the Lunt-Fontanne Theater).
Like most of his fellow Americans, Hopper was an avid moviegoer, and by the late 1930’s both movies and cinematic effects occasionally made their way into his paintings. New York Movie features an attractive usherette, absorbed in her own thoughts. Like many of Hopper’s paintings, it explores the melancholy and isolation that so many people experience while living in a city. The usherette was modeled after Hopper’s wife, fellow artist Jo Hopper, who also served as the model in the Nighthawks. The ensemble that Jo is wearing was based on the wide-legged jumpsuits actually worn by the Palace’s stylish female staff.
One of the more unexpected details is the vignette featured on the screen, which Hopper described as snowy mountaintops. The scene is thought to be taken from the 1937 blockbuster movie Lost Horizon, directed by Frank Capra. In the opening titles, the film poses the question, “In these days of wars and rumors of wars-haven’t you ever dreamed of a place where there was peace and security, where living was not a struggle but a lasting delight?” This quote from the Capra film seems an appropriate analogue to the isolation evoked in the painting itself.
Paul Cezanne was a Post-Impressionist painter who created the bridge between Impressionism and Cubism, and is said to be the artistic father of both Matisse and Picasso. Although he was dissuaded by his father at an early age to pursue his passions in painting, he left his hometown of Provence for Paris in 1861. It was there that he met Camille Pissarro, a popular Impressionist painter, who served as his mentor and guide. He began painting in the Impressionistic style, but later began to structurally order what he saw into simple planes of color. He also began to simplify the objects he painted into basic shapes.
Unlike many of the painters of his day, who focused on one or maybe two subject styles, Cezanne concentrated on still lifes, portraits, landscapes, and nude studies. He began slowly in Paris, as all of his submissions to the Paris Salon between the years of 1864 and 1869 were rejected. He finally successfully entered a submission into the Paris Salon in 1882, which was also his last. In 1895, there was an exhibition held of all of his own works, signifying his growing success as an artist, but that same year he moved back to his hometown of Provence, where he continued to work in isolation.
Cezanne was depicted as a rude, shy, angry man, given to bouts of depression, and later in his life he withdrew into his paintings, spending long periods of time a recluse, painting in solitude. Although his paintings were not well-received by the public, who supposedly reacted with hilarity, outrage and sarcasm, and laughed at his art, young artists held him in high esteem, and often sought after him. Cezanne’s legacy is that he developed the practice of fracturing forms, which most immediately influenced the development of cubism, and later the foundation of modern art.
Cézanne’s work demonstrates a mastery of design, color, composition and draftsmanship. His often repetitive, sensitive, and exploratory brushstrokes are highly characteristic and clearly recognizable. He used planes of color and brushstrokes that build up to form complex fields, both a direct expression of the sensations of the observing eye, and an abstraction of observed natures. In this painting, along with the apples and the lemon, an unusual object is shown: a small metal flowerpot, or can, with some wilted plant. In all probability the artist introduced into his still life another form, the cylinder, and another color, grey, setting off the pure tones of the apples and the lemon.
Apples were at the center of Cézanne’s attention for a number of reasons. Not only are they beautiful in color, but in comparison with other fruit they are more varied. The artist was attracted to the simplicity and completeness of their form. There was also a practical reason important to him: apples do not spoil quickly. With his prolonged work he had to take this quality into consideration. Yet it is not enough to cite the practical or artistically formal reasons for such a predilection. At some level the motivating factor for the use of the apples was the meaning hidden in them. The apple is a symbol of Venus and is associated with Eve. The passions that had from youth tormented Cézanne, a fear of women that was almost pathological, found expression in a number of his works.
This is one of four paintings of sunflowers dating from August and September 1888. Van Gogh painted a total of twelve of these canvases, although the most commonly referred to are the seven he painted while in Arles in 1888-1889. The other five he had painted previously while in Paris in 1887. The flowers are built up with thick impasto that evokes the texture of the seed-heads.
Van Gogh was living in Paris and discovering the palette of the French Impressionists when he began painting the sunflowers. Around a year later, living alone and isolated in Arles, he produced the most extraordinary pictures of the sunflowers. Van Gogh embarked on these on Monday, August 20, temporarily forced to work indoors by a Mistral wind which, he complained, blew over his canvas and easel when he painted outdoors. By August 26, he had finished four sunflower pictures, which in itself is a token of the dangerous velocity at which he was moving at that point. The final one was the boldest of all, because it depicted yellow flowers in a yellow jug against a yellow wall, a symphony in ochres, golds and yellows.
The Sunflowers is one of the most popular paintings in the National Gallery and was also the picture that Van Gogh was most proud of. Looking back on his work of 1888, Van Gogh felt it was characterized by a “high yellow note”, by which he meant both the bright color and also the manic mental moods he had experienced while painting. It was painted during a rare period of excited optimism, while Van Gogh awaited the arrival of his hero, the avant-garde painter Paul Gauguin. The lonely and passionate Vincent had moved to Arles, in the South of France, where he dreamed of setting up a community of artists with Gauguin as its mentor. Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo in August 1888, “I am hard at it, painting with the enthusiasm of a Marseilles eating bouillabaisse, which won’t surprise you when you know that what I’m at is the painting of some sunflowers. If I carry out this idea there will be a dozen panels. So the whole thing will be a symphony in blue and yellow. I am working at it every morning from sunrise on, for the flowers fade so quickly. I am now on the fourth picture of sunflowers. This fourth one is a bunch of 14 flowers…it gives a singular effect.”
After the death of Vincent in 1890, followed by that of his brother Theo early the next year, almost all Van Gogh’s works and the bulk of his correspondence ended up in Amsterdam, in the possession of Theo’s widow, Jo Bonger. In 1923, Harold “Jim” Ede, then working at the National Gallery, Millbank (subsequently renamed the Tate Gallery) visited Bonger in Amsterdam. Ede saw many masterpieces in her apartment. He wrote to Bonger, “What touches me most directly are the golden sunflowers.” He asked if she might sell the picture. She insisted the picture would always stay in the family. However, the next year, after further pleas, Bonger unexpectedly gave in. She had felt she could not bear to part with this painting, but in the end decided to make the sacrifice. She wrote, “No picture would represent Vincent in your famous Gallery in a more worthy manner than the Sunflowers. He himself, ‘le Peintre des Tournesols,’ ‘the Painter of Sunflowers’ as Gauguin had called him, would have liked it to be there.”
Jean Dubuffet was born on July 31, 1901, in Le Havre, France, into a middle-class family that distributed wine. Although he was well-educated, he came to reject his studies, preferring to educate himself by reading the work of Dr. Hans Prinzhorn, who drew comparisons between the art of asylum inmates and the artwork of children. Based on these observations, Prinzhorn stated that it was savagery, or base animal instinct, that lead to universal harmony, arguing that it was the primal instinct, not intellectual theory or analysis that connected all living things. This concept had a strong influence on Dubuffet’s later career.
Dubuffet disliked authority from a very early age. He left home at 17, failed to complete his art education, and wavered for many years between painting and working in his father’s wine business. He would later be a successful propagandist, gaining notoriety for his attacks on conformism and mainstream culture, which he described as “asphyxiating.” He was attracted to the art of children and the mentally ill, and did much to promote their work, collecting it and promulgating the notion of “Art Brut”. His early work was influenced by that of outsiders, but it was also shaped by the interests in materiality that preoccupied many post-war French artists associated with the Art Informel movement. In the early 1960s, he developed a radically new, graphic style, which he called “Hourloupe,” and would deploy it on many important public commissions, but he remains best known for the thick textured and gritty surfaces of his pictures from the 1940s and ’50s.
Dubuffet was launched to success with a series of exhibitions that opposed the prevailing mood of post-war Paris and consequently sparked enormous scandal. While the public looked for a redemptive art and a restoration of old values, Dubuffet confronted them with childlike images that satirized the conventional genres of high art. And while the public looked for beauty, he gave them pictures with coarse textures and drab colors, which critics likened to dirt and excrement. The emphasis on texture and materiality in Dubuffet’s paintings might be read as an insistence on the real. In the aftermath of the war, it represented an appeal to acknowledge humanity’s failings and begin again from the ground – literally the soil – up.
Dubuffet’s heady experience in the country and rejection of art education is evident in The Cow with a Subtle Nose. The heavily textured surface depicts a cow, rendered in the child-like innocence of patients held in psychological facilities. The uninhibited, savage approach to the canvas exemplifies the concepts of what Dubuffet termed Art Brut. The image seems entirely unschooled in the traditions of landscape. It is thus at odds with the notions of ‘high art’, and approaches art making from the direction of artistic purity uninfluenced by cultural advancement.
The Creation of Adam is a fresco painting by Michelangelo, forming part of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted circa 1511–1512. It illustrates the Biblical creation narrative from the Book of Genesis in which God breathes life into Adam, the first man. The fresco is part of a complex iconographic scheme and is chronologically the fourth in the series of panels depicting episodes from Genesis. It is the most well-known of the Sistine Chapel fresco panels, and its fame as a piece of art is rivaled only by the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.
Michelangelo began painting The Creation of Adam, commencing the west half of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, in October 1511. After a fourteen-month break from painting, he had been able to see the first half of the ceiling from the ground and realized his method had to be slightly altered. Because the ceiling of the chapel is over sixty-five feet above the floor, the earlier figures were difficult to see. On this second half, the figures would become taller and the compositions would be less complex, making them easier to see from the ground. With his main ally, Pope Julius II, going in and out of failing health, Michelangelo knew that he would have to work faster to ensure that he would be able to finish the fresco. In fact, the entire scene of God creating Adam took less than three weeks to complete.
God is depicted as an elderly, white-bearded man wrapped in a swirling cloak while Adam is completely nude. God’s right arm is outstretched to impart the spark of life from His own finger into that of Adam, whose left arm is extended in a pose mirroring God’s, a reminder that man is created in the image and likeness of God. Adam’s finger and God’s finger are not touching, giving the impression that God, the giver of life, is reaching out to Adam who has yet to receive it; they are not on the same level as would be two humans shaking hands.
Many hypotheses have been formulated regarding the identity and meaning of the figures around God. The person protected by God’s left arm might be Eve due to the figure’s feminine appearance, but was also suggested to be Virgin Mary, Sophia, the personified human soul, or an angel of feminine build.
The Creation of Adam is generally thought to depict the excerpt “God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him” (Gen 1:27). The inspiration for Michelangelo’s treatment of the subject may have come from a medieval hymn called Veni Creator Spiritus, which asks the ‘finger of the paternal right hand’ (digitus paternae dexterae) to give the faithful speech.
The image of the near-touching hands of God and Adam has become iconic of humanity and has been reproduced in countless imitations and parodies. Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam are the most replicated religious paintings of all time.
Georges-Pierre Seurat was one of the most famous Post-Impressionist painters of the 1880s in France. The short-lived, shy, reclusive artist is noted for his invention of the colorist technique known as Pointillism, a form of Divisionism. In so doing, he pioneered the new style of Neo-Impressionism. As a response to Claude Monet’s Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism lasted only a few short years (1886-1891), but, thanks to Seurat and his contemporary Paul Signac, it had a major influence on Italian Divisionism, and on several other styles of Post-Impressionist painting, notably the Synthetism/Cloisonism of Paul Gauguin; the Expressionism of Vincent Van Gogh; and the Fauvism of Henri Matisse.
Born in Paris, to a wealthy family, he first studied drawing with the sculptor Justin Lequien at night school and was accepted into the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1878. After two years, he completed a year of service in the military and then returned to Paris. He moved into his own studio and spent the next two years mastering the technique of black and white drawing.
Seurat was fascinated by a range of scientific ideas about color, form, and expression. He believed that lines tending in certain directions, and colors of a particular warmth or coolness, could have particular expressive effects. He also pursued the discovery that contrasting or complementary colors can optically mix to yield far more vivid tones that can be achieved by mixing paint alone. He called the technique he developed ‘chromo-luminism’, though it is better known as Divisionism (the characteristic style in Neo-Impressionist painting defined by the separation of colors into individual patches which interacted optically), or Pointillism (a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of color are applied in patterns to form an image, that were crucial to achieve the flickering effects of his surfaces).
Seurat’s innovations derived from new quasi-scientific theories about color and expression, yet the graceful beauty of his work is explained by the influence of very different sources. Initially, he believed that great modern art would show contemporary life in ways similar to classical art, except that it would use technologically informed techniques. Later he grew more interested in Gothic art and popular posters, and the influence of these on his work make it some of the first modern art to make use of such unconventional sources for expression. His success quickly propelled him to the forefront of the Parisian avant-garde. His triumph was short-lived, as after barely a decade of mature work he died at the age of only 31.
Seurat was inspired by a desire to abandon Impressionism’s preoccupation with the fleeting moment, and instead to render what he regarded as the essential and unchanging in life. Nevertheless, he borrowed many of his approaches from Impressionism, from his love of modern subject matter and scenes of urban leisure, to his desire to avoid depicting only the ‘local’, or apparent, color of depicted objects, and instead to try to capture all the colors that interacted to produce their appearance.
René François Ghislain Magritte was born at Lessines, and studied at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Brussels from 1916-18. Magritte settled in Brussels and made his living for a time by designing wallpaper and drawing fashion advertisements. He became very friendly with poets and writers who shared his interest in evoking mystery and were later the founders of the Belgian Surrealist group. Magritte turned away from his early Cubist–Futurist experiments in 1925. He began to explore ways of creating a poetic, disturbing effect by depicting recognizable objects in alien settings, by startling juxtapositions or combinations of objects, by inversions of scale and so on. His first one-man exhibition was at the Galerie Le Centaure, Brussels in 1927. Afterwards Magritte lived from 1927-30 at Perreux-sur-Marne, a suburb of Paris, where he met Miró, Arp, Tanguy, Dali, Buñuel, Eluard and Breton. In 1930 he returned to Brussels, where he spent the rest of his life. He died in Brussels in 1967.
Frustrated desires are a common theme in Magritte’s work. In The Lovers, a barrier of fabric prevents the intimate embrace between two lovers, transforming an act of passion into one of isolation and frustration. Some have interpreted his work as a depiction of the inability to fully unveil the true nature of even our most intimate companions. Enshrouded faces were a common motif in Magritte’s art. The artist was 14 when his mother committed suicide by drowning. He witnessed her body being fished from the water, her wet nightgown wrapped around her face. Some have speculated that this trauma inspired a series of works in which Magritte obscured his subject’s faces. Magritte disagreed with such interpretations, denying any relation between his paintings and his mother’s death.
Magritte’s earliest paintings, which date from about 1915, were Impressionistic in style. From 1916 to 1918, he studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, but found the instruction uninspiring. The paintings he produced during the years 1918–1924 were influenced by Futurism and by the figurative Cubism of Metzinger. In 1922, Magritte married Georgette Berger, whom he had met as a child in 1913. In 1920, Magritte served in the Belgian infantry in the Flemish town of Beverlo. From 1922–23, he worked as a draughtsman in a wallpaper factory, and was a poster and advertisement designer until 1926, when a contract with Galerie ‘Le Centaure’ in Brussels made it possible for him to paint full-time. In 1926, Magritte produced his first surreal painting, The Lost Jockey, and held his first exhibition in Brussels in 1927. Critics heaped abuse on the exhibition. Depressed by the failure, he moved to Paris where he became friends with André Breton, and became involved in the Surrealist group. The illusionistic, dream-like quality is characteristic of Magritte’s version of Surrealism. He became a leading member of the movement after leaving his native Belgium in 1927 for Paris, where he stayed for three years. Galerie ‘Le Centaure’ closed at the end of 1929, ending Magritte’s contract income. Having made little impact in Paris, Magritte returned to Brussels in 1930 and resumed working in advertising. He and his brother Paul formed an agency which earned him a living wage.
With his highly cerebral Surrealist imagery, René Magritte breathed new life into seemingly conventional subject matter. He painted everyday objects out of context, in juxtapositions forcing the viewer to reconsider things normally taken for granted.
Henri Rousseau became a full-time artist at the age of forty-nine, after retiring from his post at the Paris customs office – a job that prompted his famous nickname, “Le Douanier,” “the toll collector.” Although an admirer of academic artists such as William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Jean-Leon Gerome, the self-taught Rousseau became the archetypal naïve artist. Rousseau remarked that Jean-Léon Gérôme had advised him: “If I have kept my naivety, it is because Monsieur Gérôme always told me I should keep it.” His amateurish technique and unusual compositions provoked the derision of contemporary critics, while earning the respect and admiration of modern artists like Picasso and Kandinsky for revealing “the new possibilities of simplicity.” Rousseau’s best-known works are lush jungle scenes, inspired not by any firsthand experiences of such locales, but by frequent trips to the Paris gardens and zoo.
Rousseau was a self-taught painter who harbored dreams of official approval. Although he never achieved recognition from the French academy, he was embraced by early 20th-century avant-garde artists, including Picasso and the Surrealists, for his departures from conventional style, which included broad, flat planes of color, stylized line, and fantastic landscapes. While he painted exotic locales, Rousseau never left France. His jungles are the dreams of a city dweller, constructed from visits to the botanical gardens, the Paris zoo, and colonial expositions, and culled from prints and reproductions.
One of the most striking aspects of Rousseau’s style is the flattening of his subjects. Whether he was echoing his Impressionist contemporaries, who were concerned with surface, or simply following his own vision, the artist’s jungle paintings lack solidity, as if they were representations of theatrical décor, the gigantic leaves and petals minimally contoured so as to create the effect of overlapping cutouts. Moreover, his creatures seem deliberately subdued by a deadpan treatment that identifies each more as outline than as a tactile form.
Although he had ambitions to become a famous academic painter, Rousseau instead became the virtual opposite: the quintessential “naïve” artist. Largely self-taught, Rousseau developed a style that evidenced his lack of academic training, with its absence of correct proportions, one-point perspective, and use of sharp, often unnatural colors. Such features resulted in a body of work imbued with a sense of mystery and eccentricity. The untutored and idiosyncratic character of Rousseau’s art was derided by many early viewers of his work. Yet this quality resonated with modern artists who saw in Rousseau’s work a model for the sincerity and directness to which they aspired in their own work.
Influenced by a combination of “high” and “low” sources – academic sculpture, postcards, tabloid illustrations, and trips to the Paris public zoo and gardens – Rousseau created modern, unconventional renderings of traditional genres such as landscape, portraiture, and allegory. The fantastic, often outrageous, imagery that resulted from these hybrid influences was celebrated by the Surrealists, whose art valued surprising juxtapositions and dream-like moods characteristic of Rousseau’s work.
The three figures in this painting resemble characters from the Commedia dell’Arte tradition. This Italian theater form began in the 16th century and was still being used in the early 20th century. Its hallmark was to feature well-known stock characters, who were usually masked. The blue and white clarinet player on the left is Pierrot, a naive clown who is always falling in love and getting his heart broken. His love interests often prefer the handsome trickster Harlequin, seen here in the center wearing the red and yellow colors of the Spanish flag and playing a guitar. As a suave, intelligent servant, Harlequin’s character stands in stark contrast with the melancholic clown. On the right is a singing monk. Although there is not a specific monk character in Commedia dell’Arte, they were often included in these theater performances. Sometimes the stock characters would wear the brown robes of a monk as a disguise. If you look carefully, you can see one more figure in the painting; a dog sprawled underneath Pierrot’s chair. Although its face is hidden, you can see parts of its body peeking out from behind the musicians’ legs and its shadow on the wall behind the musicians.
The previous year, Picasso had been hired to design costumes and sets for a ballet by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky called Pulcinella, which was based on a Commedia dell’Arte text from the 1700s. It is likely that the inspiration for Picasso’s use of Commedia dell’Arte characters in this painting came from this project.
Picasso also created this work as a tribute to two close friends. The Pierrot represents Guillaume Apollinaire, a poet who is considered a father of the Surrealist movement. Apollinaire was a World War I veteran who was wounded in battle and died of Spanish influenza in 1918, three years before this painting. The monk is a representation of Picasso’s former roommate, Max Jacob, another poet who had introduced Picasso and Apollinaire. Jacob had entered a Benedictine monastery earlier in the same year Three Musicians was painted. The Harlequin represents Picasso.
This work is an example of Synthetic Cubism, a movement created by Picasso and another artist named Georges Braque. It grew out of the more general trend of cubism, an avant-garde technique characterized by analyzing concrete objects, breaking them up, and then reassembling them in an abstract way. Objects are presented from different viewpoints, and the representation of these viewpoints is more important than a realistic representation of the subject itself. Synthetic cubism has these qualities as well, but was a simpler, more decorative, and flatter style than earlier cubist works.
Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge represents two of Monet’s greatest achievements: his gardens at Giverny and the paintings they inspired. In 1883 the artist moved to the country-town Giverny, near Paris but just across the border of Normandy. This was a time when he was enjoying increasing financial success as an artist, and he immediately began to redesign the property.
In 1893, Monet purchased an adjacent tract, which included a small brook, and transformed the site into an Asian-inspired oasis of cool greens, exotic plants, and calm waters, enhanced by a Japanese footbridge. The serial approach embodied in this work—one of about a dozen paintings in which Monet returned to the same view under differing weather and light conditions—was one of his great formal innovations. He was committed to painting directly from nature as much as possible and whenever weather permitted, sometimes working simultaneously on eight or more canvases a day. Monet’s project to capture ever-shifting atmospheric conditions came to be a hallmark of the Impressionist style.
In 1889 Monet painted a bridge that went over the pond in his garden. He revisited the subject many times. Throughout 1889 and 1890, Monet painted several canvases depicting the bridge and its surroundings. In each painting in the Japanese Footbridge series, a bridge is the focus of the composition. In most of these paintings, the bridge spans the entire width of the picture dividing the canvas in half. The color of the bridge varies in each depiction depending on the light in which it was painted. It is always an arched wooden bridge with a handrail mirroring the arched horizontal of the walking planks held up by a few vertical supports. In some, the bridge appears dark, showing the color of the dark wood in the shadows of the surrounding willow trees or under the shade of a passing cloud. In others, it is a vivid blue, purple, or pink reflecting the light in the atmosphere bouncing off the flowers along the banks of the pond. The top half of the painting shows what is behind the bridge, away from the viewer. The top is dominated by the leaning branches and leaves of the willow trees. It is almost entirely made up of shades of green occasionally with some blue or yellow. On the bottom of the paintings Monet shows his pond. Later in his life the Water Lilies would become among his most well-known paintings. Like the bridge, the color of the water, lilies, and other flowers change. In some they are a deep red or orange. In others they are a vibrant green, soft blue, or highlighted with pinks.
Like Monet’s other series of paintings, the subject matter, in this case the actual bridge, is not what makes these the important works that they are. Monet did something very new at Giverny. Instead of painting the beauty of nature as it is, he made nature into what he wanted and then painted it. His paintings of his gardens, including the Japanese Footbridge, are paintings showing how he sculpted nature. Monet meticulously cultivated the garden to his specifications. He brought in a craftsman to construct the bridge, traded plants to get the best rare varieties he could find, and diverted a stream to supply his pond with water. His garden at Giverny would provide the inspiration for what would become his biggest influence on the art world.
Pablo Picasso met Marie-Thérèse Walter, the subject of this portrait, in 1927 when she was 17 years old. They began an intense love affair, but concealed it from the public for many years as she was a teenager and the artist was married. By 1931, Marie-Thérèse’s fecund, voluptuous body and blond tresses were explicitly referenced in works such as Woman with Yellow Hair. Marie-Thérèse became a muse and constant subject for Picasso. He portrayed her reading, gazing into a mirror, and sleeping, the most intimate of depictions. A single, curved line delineating Marie-Thérèse’s profile became an emblem and appears in numerous sculptures, prints, and paintings. Woman with Yellow Hair is rendered in a sweeping, graceful, curvilinear style that is a radical departure from his earlier portrayals of women. This painting of graceful repose is not so much a portrait of Marie-Thérèse the person, as it is Picasso’s abstract, poetic homage to his young muse.
Although painted nearly 20 years after the artist’s initial experimentation with Cubism, Picasso’s simplification of Marie-Thérèse’s voluptuous figure into primary shapes can be traced back to that painterly technique. The undulating lines, rounded organic shapes, and saturated hues attest to the artist’s appreciation of contemporary developments in painting such as Surrealism. As an honorary member of the Surrealists, Picasso was influenced by their investigation into dreams as a portal to the subconscious, and the bright, playful colors he has chosen for this portrait may represent dream imagery.
Marie-Thérèse’s potent mix of physical attractiveness and sexual naivety had an intoxicating effect on Picasso, and his rapturous desire for her brought about a number of images that are among the most sought after of his long career. Picasso continued to create familiar and tranquil images of Marie-Thérèse until the end of the decade even though Dora Maar had gradually replaced her. In Picasso’s paintings, Marie-Thérèse appears as blonde, sunny, and bright, in contrast to his darker portrayal of Dora Maar, whom Picasso painted as the tortured “weeping woman“.
Picasso’s relationship with Marie-Thérèse was kept from his first wife Olga until Olga was told of Marie’s pregnancy. Picasso and Olga later separated, although they remained married until she died in 1955, so Olga would not receive half of Picasso’s wealth. Marie-Thérèse and Picasso had a daughter, Maya (Maria de la Concepcion) in 1935. When Picasso started to fall in love with Dora Maar in 1936, a year after Maya was born, Marie-Thérèse understandably became jealous. Fifty years after their first meeting, Marie-Thérèse took her own life. She died by hanging herself in 1977, four years after Picasso’s death.