The best of 2022’s paintings and articles 2

Caravaggio (1571–1610), Madonna and Child with Saint Anne (c 1605-06), oil on canvas, 292 x 211 cm, Galleria Borghese, Rome, Italy. Wikimedia Commons.

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 (1849–1917), Miranda (1916), oil on canvas, 100.5 x 137 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

John William Waterhouse’s paintings of The Tempest aren’t well known. This shows Miranda, who has just survived the wreck of her ship.

The Tempest

As my series on Paul Signac reached his late paintings, I showed many of his remarkably modern watercolours.

Paul Signac (1863-1935), Les Sables d’Olonne (c 1929), watercolour, 29.9 x 45.7 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Paul Signac: Watercolours 1925-35

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.

Adolphe-Félix Cals (1810–1880), Honfleur Alley (1877), oil on canvas, 43 x 59 cm, Private collection. The Athenaeum.

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.

Berthe Morisot (1841–1895), View of Paris from the Trocadero (1871-73), oil on canvas, 46 x 81.6 cm, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA. Wikimedia Commons.

This also gave me the opportunity to show Berthe Morisot’s unusual View of Paris from the Trocadero from 1871-73.

Sunrise on Impressionism: Introduction
Adolphe-Félix Cals
Berthe Morisot

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.

Albert Rigolot (1862–1932), The Threshing Machine, Loiret (1893), oil on canvas, 160 x 226 cm, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen, Rouen, France. Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Paintings of the revolution in agriculture 1
Paintings of the revolution in agriculture 2

A fortnight later, we went on a cruise down the River Seine, locating many of the views that had been painted along the way.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919), The Pont des Arts Paris (1867-68), oil on canvas, 60.9 x 100.3 cm, Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA. Wikimedia Commons.

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.

A Weekend on the River Seine in paintings: 1 Saint-Mammès to La Grande Jatte
A Weekend on the River Seine in paintings: 2 Argenteuil to Le Havre

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.

James Thornhill (1675–1734), Hersilia Presented to Romulus in Olympus (Assembly of the Gods) (1708), ceiling in the Sabine Room, Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, England. Image by Daderot, via Wikimedia Commons.

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).

Painted stories in Britain: Introduction
Before Hogarth

One weekend in October, I brought together portraits of the artist’s wife, and in doing so came across a matching pair.

Thomas Eakins (1844–1916), The Artist’s Wife and His Setter Dog (1884-89), oil on canvas, 76.2 x 58.4 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Susan Macdowell Eakins (1851–1938), Thomas Eakins (c 1920-25), oil on canvas, 127 x 101.6 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA. The Athenaeum.

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.

Portrait of the artist’s wife 1
Portrait of the artist’s wife 2

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.

Caravaggio (1571–1610), Madonna and Child with Saint Anne (c 1605-06), oil on canvas, 292 x 211 cm, Galleria Borghese, Rome, Italy. Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), Mardi Gras (Pierrot and Harlequin) (1888), oil on canvas, 102 x 81 cm, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts Музей изобразительных искусств им. А.С. Пушкина, Moscow, Russia. Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Reading visual art: Introduction
Virgin of the Snake
Punch and Judy

I look forward to showing you more wonderful paintings in the New Year.