In the first of these two samplers looking back at articles and paintings published here during this past year, I covered the first six months. With Don Quixote dead, in the summer I turned to the plays of William Shakespeare.
Many of these were painted for Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery around the turn of the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries, but several such as Ophelia from Hamlet have been more generally popular.
John William Waterhouse’s paintings of The Tempest aren’t well known. This shows Miranda, who has just survived the wreck of her ship.
As my series on Paul Signac reached his late paintings, I showed many of his remarkably modern watercolours.
Les Sables d’Olonne is a small port with a beautiful sandy bay, which has long been popular with visitors, situated in the Vendée, about half-way up the Atlantic coast in the Bay of Biscay.
One of the first substantial series I wrote when I started this blog looked at those artists who showed work at the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874, but have since vanished from art history. I wanted to return and do a more thorough job, which I started in the summer.
Some wonderful art and artists have been dropped from all but the most detailed accounts of the history of Impressionism. Adolphe-Félix Cals (1810–1880) was nearing the end of his career, but paintings like his Honfleur Alley (1877) bear re-examination today.
This also gave me the opportunity to show Berthe Morisot’s unusual View of Paris from the Trocadero from 1871-73.
Most weekends, I publish a pair of articles about one of the less-explored corners of art. In August, this told the story of the revolution in agriculture. Among those paintings is this by Albert Rigolot showing an early Threshing Machine.
By the end of the nineteenth century, animals and other sources of power were being used, as shown here. One of the early uses for steam engines was to power similar machines. The next step was to make those engines mobile under their own power, as traction engines.
A fortnight later, we went on a cruise down the River Seine, locating many of the views that had been painted along the way.
Among those was Renoir’s Pont des Arts Paris painted in April 1867. This detailed realist view shows the pedestrian bridge from the left bank of the Seine. It had been the first metal bridge in Paris when it was constructed in 1802-04, and connects the Institut de France, whose dome is prominent at the right, with the Louvre, away to the left.
One of the less known aspects of narrative painting is how little there was in Britain until the eighteenth century, and how slow it was to develop after that. Towards the end of the summer, I embarked on a series to consider why that happened, and trace its history.
It was James Thornhill (1675–1734) who pioneered the genre in Britain. In 1707-08 he painted several walls and ceilings in Chatsworth House, the seat of the Duke of Devonshire (although it’s in Derbyshire, not Devon). Among his finest work there is this ceiling in the Sabine Room, showing Hersilia Presented to Romulus in Olympus or the Assembly of the Gods (1708).
One weekend in October, I brought together portraits of the artist’s wife, and in doing so came across a matching pair.
The sole portrait Thomas Eakins appears to have painted of his wife Susan is The Artist’s Wife and His Setter Dog (1884-89). Interestingly the one work hanging on the walls which can be identified readily is the artist’s sculpted relief of Arcadia, which features Susan as model.
When Thomas died at the age of 71 in 1916, Susan was 65, and immersed herself in painting daily. As her style became brighter, looser, and higher in chroma, she painted this moving posthumous portrait of her husband Thomas.
My latest series, started at the end of September, aims to help us with Reading visual art. Each week, I post one or two articles looking at features you come across which may have hidden or deeper meaning.
In 1605-06, Caravaggio painted what was expected to be a conventional depiction of the Virgin Mary, her mother Saint Anne, and the young Jesus Christ, for the altar of the confraternity of the Papal Grooms, in Saint Peter’s Basilica. What they got instead was his Madonna and Child with Saint Anne, which so shocked that it was only briefly shown in the parish church of Saint Anne in the Vatican, before being sold to Cardinal Scipione Borghese, in whose palace it still hangs.
The Virgin’s low-cut dress was clearly beyond the pale, and Saint Anne is hardly flattered. But look at what Mary’s left foot is doing, with support from Christ’s foot: treading on the head of a snake, a traditional symbol that has since disappeared.
In a later pair of articles, I showed paintings of the evolution of clowns from the commedia dell’arte, explaining Cézanne’s painting of Mardi Gras (Pierrot and Harlequin) from 1888, and subsequent Punch and Judy shows for children.
I look forward to showing you more wonderful paintings in the New Year.