Reading visual art: 54 Music B

Georgios Jakobides (1853–1932), Παιδική Συναυλία (Children's Concert) (1894), oil on canvas, 176 × 250 cm, Εθνική Πινακοθήκη-Μουσείο Αλεξάνδρου Σούτζου National Gallery of Greece, Athens, Greece. Wikimedia Commons.

In the first of these two articles showing paintings of musicians playing music, I had reached Degas’ painting of the Orchestra at the Opera from 1870. With the rise of Impressionism in France, interest in depicting music waned; on the other side of the Channel, though, the Aesthetic Movement brought more paintings showing other arts and senses, particularly music.

Marie Spartali Stillman (1844–1927), Fiammetta Singing (1879), watercolor, gouache and graphite on paper, 74.6 × 100.3 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Marie Spartali Stillman’s Fiammetta Singing (1879) is based on Boccaccio’s sonnet Of Fiammetta Singing, probably using Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s verse translation. Fiammetta, in red at the left, is singing to the accompaniment of a lute. Like Moore’s painting in the previous article, this is associated with the Aesthetic Movement.

Valentine Cameron Prinsep (1838–1904), The Mandolin Player (date not known), oil on canvas, 98 × 56 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

I don’t have a date for Valentine Cameron Prinsep’s Mandolin Player, but suspect that his portrait of a woman playing from sheet music also comes within this aesthetic period in British art.

Fritz von Uhde (1848–1911), Family Concert (1881), oil on canvas, 187 x 253 cm, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud, Cologne, Germany. Wikimedia Commons.

Musical concerts remained a favourite home entertainment well into the twentieth century, as shown in Fritz von Uhde’s Family Concert from 1881. Only the disconsolate crow in the foreground doesn’t appear to be enjoying the music.

Anders Zorn (1860–1920), Girl Playing a Mandolin (1884), watercolour on paper, 49.5 x 31 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Anders Zorn’s marvellous watercolour of a Girl Playing a Mandolin was most probably painted when he visited Madrid in 1884, well after the Exposition Universelle of 1878 in which the mandolin first took Europe by storm.

Henry Lerolle (1848–1929), The Organ Rehearsal (1885), oil on canvas, 236.9 x 362.6 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Gift of George I. Seney), New York, NY. Wikimedia Commons.

Henry Lerolle’s masterpiece shows The Organ Rehearsal, and was completed in 1885 and exhibited at the Salon that year. A very large canvas, it shows the choir loft of the church of Saint-François-Xavier in Paris. One of the artist’s sisters-in-law is rehearsing there with the organist, and a small audience drawn from Lerolle’s family and friends.

Kamal-ol-molk (1847–1940), فارسی: عمله طرب، نوازندگان و رقصندگان عصر ناصری (a Music Group in Naser al-din Shah Ara) (1886), further details not known. Photo by مانفی via Wikimedia Commons.

Paintings were also made as records of concerts in different cultures. Kamal-ol-molk’s فارسی: عمله طرب، نوازندگان و رقصندگان عصر ناصری shows a Music Group in Naser al-din Shah Ara in Iran, in 1886. Although I recognise among their instruments a santur, a type of dulcimer, at the right, I have no idea what this group might have sounded like. It’s worrying, though, that the large red-haired man at the back, on the left, appears to be brandishing a knife.

François Flameng (1856–1923), Concert at Versailles (date not known), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

A few artists continued to paint historical scenes showing music among the nobility of the past. This is François Flameng’s undated painting of a Concert at Versailles.

The late nineteenth century also saw the rise of the musical celebrity, particularly singers who would tour the cities of Europe or the US captivating their audiences.

Thomas Eakins (1844–1916), The Concert Singer (1890-92), oil on canvas, 191 x 137.9 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA. Wikimedia Commons.

Thomas Eakins’ portrait of the singer Weda Cook (1867-1937) as The Concert Singer (1890-92) was his first full-length portrait of a woman. She was known for her powerful contralto voice, and Eakins reduced distractions so that the painting is almost exclusively about her. There’s just the glimpse of a potted palm, a disembodied conductor’s hand and baton, and a bouquet of roses thrown at her feet.

Georgios Jakobides (1853–1932), Παιδική Συναυλία (Children’s Concert) (1894), oil on canvas, 176 × 250 cm, Εθνική Πινακοθήκη-Μουσείο Αλεξάνδρου Σούτζου National Gallery of Greece, Athens, Greece. Wikimedia Commons.

Children’s concerts are usually more spontaneous, less disciplined, and far more fun, as shown in Georgios Jakobides’ Παιδική Συναυλία (Children’s Concert) from 1894.

Pompeo Massani (1850–1920), The Orchestra Rehearsal (date not known), oil on canvas, 70 x 100 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Pompeo Massani’s The Orchestra Rehearsal from around 1900 also captures this well, but I don’t find this as vivid an evocation as Jakobides’ children.

Teodor Axentowicz (1859–1938), Kołomyjka, Oberek Taniec ludowy przed domem (Oberek Folk Dance in Front of a House) (1895), oil on canvas, 85 x 112.5 cm, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie, Warsaw, Poland. Wikimedia Commons.

When Teodor Axentowicz was painting the Hutsuls in the Carpathian Mountains, he pictured them dancing vigorously to folk music. This painting’s title is a little confusing, as it names this dance as the Oberek, the second most popular Polish folk dance after the polka. However, the first word makes it clear that this is what’s now known as kolomyika (Ukrainian: кoлoмийкa). That’s the combination of a fast and vigorous folk dance with music and rhymed verse. It originated in the Hutsul town of Kolomyia in Ukraine, but has also become popular in north-eastern Slovenia and parts of Poland.

Julius Schmid (1854-1935), Schubertiade (1897), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Among the more highbrow paintings of concerts is Julius Schmid’s Schubertiade. This was painted in 1897 to celebrate the Austrian composer’s centenary, and shows him performing to a packed audience in the early years of the century.

Édouard Vuillard (1868–1940), Morning Concert, Place Vintimille (1937-38), distemper on paper laid down on canvas, 85.1 x 98.7 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Between 1908-26, Édouard Vuillard lived in a fifth floor apartment in Rue de Calais, Paris, overlooking what was then known as Place Vintimille, now Place Adolf-Max. In his Morning Concert, Place Vintimille from 1937-38, a trio of friends are playing for the artist in that apartment.

Wonderful though these paintings are, I find few evoke any music in my head, largely because so few give any clue as to the music that’s being played, or the sound that I should expect to hear. My earworm test is only successful in a few, including Degas’ Orchestra at the Opera (c 1870), because I can imagine the bassoon passages in Swan Lake. I can also hear the joyful cacophony of children, but most of the rest fail to trigger anything other than vague sounds.

This does have its parallel going the other way: the most intensely visual music often comes with cues in the title. Perhaps more specific cues are needed in paintings.