I didn't forget about my nonfiction/art reading last week. It was just too hot and humid for me to write proper posts. It's still too hot and humid (and I am sorry to say this, but I am ready for summer to be over--at least the sticky weather--bring on August please), so rather than tell you all about those very important pre-Impressionist era painters who rocked the world of art, let me share a few of the paintings that we accept now as a 'given' of genius, but at the time were quite shocking!
"The Raft of the Medusa" by Théodore Géricault (1818-1819)
"Géricault renders the grim human catastrophe of the resulting shipwreck (the captain sailed too close to the shore off Senegal) with unflinching detail. He ups the ante by using a theatrical style of painting much favored by the likes of Caravaggio and Rembrandt called 'chiaroscuro', where bold contrasts between light and shade are accentuated to dramatic effect."
He used as his model Eugene Delacroix--an artist from the upper echelons of Parisian society.
"Liberty Leading the People" by Eugene Delacroix (1830)
Did you know that this Liberty is the one the Statue of Liberty was based? At the time the pro-republican message would have been quite inflammatory.
"Instead of depicting her body with classically clear clean lines, he added great tufts of underarm hair, a touch of truthful representation that is likely to have had the academicians reaching for their smelling salts."
"Liberty Leading the People is a virtuoso display of modern painting techniques with its vivid colors, attention to light, and brisk brush strokes, all of which would be central elements of the Impressionism movement some forty years later."
You can see Gustave Courbet's "Origin of the World" here. Not to be a prude, but to avoid raising any eyebrows (the sexually frank painting wasn't even exhibited in public until 1988), let me just tell you what Will Gompertz had to say about it. You can go look at your own risk.
"Delacroix's Romanticism had introduced vivid color and flair to painting, while Courbet's Realism brought unfettered, non-idealized truth about ordinary life (he boasted he never lied in his paintings). Both artists rejected the rigidity of the Academy and the neo-classicist Renaissance style. But the conditions were not yet right for the Impressionists."
"The year 1863 was a breakthrough one for modern art. The Salon des Refusés (an officially sanctioned exhibition of paintings rejected from the official Salon), Manet's Olympia and the first stirrings of an artistic counterculture all helped to create an environment where the ambitious young painters living in and around Paris could break free."
Along with these artists, it was Baudelaire who put into words what the artists were feeling and he supported them when everyone else seemed against them. I think I will have to look for Baudelaire's groundbreaking essay, "The Painter of Modern Life", this week.
" . . . it was Baudelaire who demanded that art of the present should not be about the past, but about modern life. Many of the ideas he set out in The Painter of Modern Life went on to be embodied in the founding principles of Impressionism. He claimed that 'for the sketch of manner, the depiction of bourgeois life . . .there is rapidity of movement which calls for equal speed of execution from the artist'. Sound familiar?"
This is a really fun and informative book, easy reading that puts it all into perspective. This week I'll be reading about the Impressionists (1870-90). Lots if -isms to get through until I get to "Art Now"!