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Jean-François Millet - The Bouquet of Margueritas (1866)

Jean-François Millet - Cooper Tightening Staves on a Barrel (ca. 184/52)

I would like to devote today's December Double to the beautiful work of Jean-Francois Millet, known for his many wonderful paintings of pasture life and perhaps the most popular figure from the French Barbizon School. Both 'Bouquet of Margueritas' and 'Cooper Tightening Staves on a Barrel' transform otherwise mundane subject matter into brilliant, evocative scenes. Millet's characteristically soft brushwork and gentle use of light are exemplified in these two works.

In 'Bouquet' I love the woman's warm expression, cast in shadow while peering out at us from behind the flowers. The sowing materials on the windowsill provide an excellent detail as well.

'Cooper' appeals to me for it's quiet, intimate observation of its scene, and Millet's uses his rustic palette and soft lighting to transform the worker's manual task into a romantic, serene experience for the viewer.
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Robert Auer - Temptation of Saint Anthony (1917)

Luis Ricardo Falero - Faust's Dream (1880)

Today's December Double, 'Temptation of Saint Anthony' by Austria painter Robert Auer and 'Faust's Dream' by Spanish painter Luis Ricardo Falero, respectively use religious and literary episodes as pretense for works which appeal to more worldly sensibilities. Scholarly portrayals of Saint Anthony and Doctor Fausts's experiences probably weren't the driving ambition behind these paintings, as Auer and Falero were arguably more enamored with the sensuality of their nude female subjects, however I don't look on this negatively. On the contrary, their preoccupation with the flesh is so obvious that it feels brazenly honest, whereas a more subdued painting based this same subject matter may contain political or moral agendas on behalf of the artist or his employer. Sometimes naughty works are the most forthcoming.

Between these two painters, both of whom are identifies for their works showcasing nudes, I tend of favor Falero for his imaginative perspectives, atypical compositions, and realistic rendering of form. His primary subject matter seems to have been taken from mythology or inspired by the orient, creating wild, fantastic imagery that feels remarkably modern. By contrast, Auer worked in an Art Noveau style and primarily concerned himself with erotic work. A quick search of his paintings will show that his output often crossed the line into illustrating explicit sexual acts, with varying degrees of tastefulness. His ‘Temptation of Saint Anthony’, abound with lustful figures—some playfully posing for the viewer—seems to capture him at his most restrained.

At any rate, both works would serve as wonderful decorative pieces. Question is, where would you hang them in your home?
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Louis Gallait - Power of Music (1852)

Charles Spencelayh - Failing Memories (1926)

For today's December Double I've selected 'Power of Music ' by Belgian painter Louis Gallant and 'Failing Memories' by English painter Charles Spencelayh. 'Music' depicts a romantic scene of a violinist having soothed a beautiful young woman into his lap, while 'Memories' carries a somber note, showing an old man seemingly lost in thought while holding his instrument in hand. Observing these two paintings together provides a wonderful juxaposition which amplifies the impact their respective subjects.

The artists' use of color and light effectively set the mood for each piece. Whereas 'Music' uses deep shadows and glimmers of sunlight to create a bold, idyllic scene, 'Memories' casts its elderly subject in a hard light, resulting in a more confrontational approach that commands our attention. Furthermore, 'Memories' contains less distractions, featuring not a beautiful mountain landscape such as in 'Music' but instead a stark rendering of the old man's room, with his personal possessions seen throughout, appealing on our sympathies. 'Memories' feels like a very personal portrait while 'Music' could be described as harboring broader ambitions. These works were executed with widely different goals in mind, so it would seem unfair to compare them critically, but nonetheless they do make for an intriguing pair.
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Pierre Bonnard - Narrow Street in Paris (ca. 1897)

Walter Frederick Roofe Tyndale - Water-Melon Seller (1912)

Today's selections, 'Narrow Street in Paris' by French painter and printmaker Pierre Bonnard and 'Water-Melon Seller' by English painter Walter Frederick Roofe Tyndale, share similar vertical orientations in addition to showing people occupying tight spaces within urban environments. It's interesting to watch them navigate around these towering man-made constructs, which for me conjures to mind old photographs of explorers dwarfed by massive trees in the wild frontier. For newcomers the city can be an exciting place, with new discoveries around every other corner, however this setting is not without its limitations, particularly if one enjoys their personal space.

Both paintings use buildings at their right and left sides to squeeze the action toward the center, providing a very limited route of travel for their occupants. These are dense urban spaces, emphasized by the artists' tight framing of the subject matter. I'm sure that to some folks this environment is ideal, preferring the energy and fast pace of the city—even a scene such as in ‘Water-Melon Seller’—while other people, finding themselves cheek to jowl with their neighbors, would quickly feel constrained within these surroundings. To each their own.

Between these two works, I'm partial to 'Water-Melon Seller,' just for its handsome illustration qualities. That's certainly a tight alleyway. 'Narrow Street,' on the other hand, lacks the intimate quality of 'Seller, presenting its scene from a distant, bird's eye view which effectively captures the surrounding buildings.
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Jerome Myers - Wonderland (n.d.)

L. S. Lowry - Childrens Playground (1945)

For today's December Double I would like to share two works depicting children at play, each scene brought to life by the artists' creative style. 'Wonderland' by American Ashcan School painter Jerome Myers and 'Children's Playground' by English painter L. S. Lowry both possess a striking, other-worldly quality, each providing a unique interpretation of their respective subjects. Whereas Myer's work feels fuzzy and dreamlike, with a soothing brushwork and dark blue palette, Lowry's painting has a very rough and uniform approach, with solid, dark lines emphasized against solid white.

One could describe Myer's approach as more inviting and pleasant to the eye, transforming a standard carnival scene into a serene experience, while Lowry's sticklike rendering of the children, lined up one after the other on the ladder leading up to the slide, bears resemblance to widgets traveling through as assembly line, a quality complimented by the ridged city shown in the background. Furthermore, Myer’s painting depicts lighthearted interactions, including a mother and child at the far left and various children either holding hands or frolicking, while a majority of Lowry’s figures don’t seem to be interacting as much as occupying the same space while preoccupied with their own activities.

That’s my interpretation, at least.
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Frederick Daniel Hardy - The Chimney Sweep (1866)

William Frederick Yeames - The Jacobites Escape the Punch Room at Cotehele House, Cornwall (1868-1874)

This Tuesday I would like to present works by English painters Frederick Daniel Hardy and William Frederick Yeames. Hardy’s ‘The Chimney Sweep’ and Yeames’s ‘The Jacobites Escape the Punch Room at Cotehele House, Cornwall’ both utilize a common household construct, the fireplace, as their centerpiece. The vantage points used for these two paintings are remarkably similar, framing the scene within the same general area of the room and even featuring hallways toward the left side, however the tone between these two works, and what the fireplace indicates to their respective subjects, couldn’t be any more different.

Our family shown in ‘Chimney Sweep’ seems more startled than curious about what is taking place in the fireplace, and I’m especially drawn to the two figures comforting each other in front. This is a wonderful painting within which the fireplace operates as a foreboding element, startling the children during the early morning hours. There are plenty of wonderful details throughout this piece, including the sweep’s feet visible from within the fireplace and the delicately rendered knickknacks on the mantle.

While the fireplace in ‘Sweep’ is a source of alarm, our fireplace in Yeames’s painting represents salvation for its subjects. Based on the title, I presume these Jacobites are eluding forces under William of Orange, either before or during the Glorious Revolution. I like how the carpet is crumpled up to make room for the wood, obviously removed from the fireplace to make way for escape. The little girl sitting alone by the doorway and the woman looking out of the window provide some interesting touches to this episode. I also like how the candlelight is allowed space to glimmer against the shadow of the fireplace, perhaps offering a sign of hope to our unlikely subjects.
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Wilhelm Amberg - The Maid (1862)

Gyzis Nikolaos - Pastry Man (1898)

Today's December Double is a nod to the ill-starred hired help. 'The Maid' by German painter Wilhelm Amberg and 'Pastry Man' by Greek painter Gyzis Nikolaos both depict service staff in a less than admirable light. In the former it appears our maid is helping herself to a beverage, probably unbeknownst to her employer, while the latter shows a waiter who has apparently mishandled a couple bottles of wine, for which he'll probably be reprimanded. I must admit, these both strike me as curious subjects to dedicate to canvas, and I ponder the artists' intentions for these works and the audiences they had in mind. Do these painting simply reinforce a viewpoint of service staff as being either untrustworthy or incompetent, or were they meant for us to sympathize with their subjects, encouraging the viewer to reflect on their hardships? Who knows.

That said, while the expression of our poor fellow in the Nikolaos painting is absolutely priceless, if I had to choose between these two works I would have to pick Amberg's 'Maid'. I really enjoy the painterly quality throughout this piece, and the floor tiles have a marvelous depth of field, adding dimension to the work as crisply detailed element recede into soft focus. Observing the cabinet, stairway, and floor tiles, Amberg's perspective is precise and mathematical, demonstrating a realistic sense of space and an orderly framework within which our subject should feel obliged to help herself to another round.
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Everett Shinn - Nightclub Scene (1934)

Henricus Antonius "Han" van Meegeren - The Actress Clara Vischer-Blaaser in a Tea Room (1927-1932)

My selections for today's December Double are an intriging pair. In both 'Nightclub Scene' by American painter Everett Shinn and 'The Actress Clara Vischer-Blaaser in a Tea Room' by Dutch painter Henricus Antonius "Han" van Meegeren, our attention is immediately drawn to a woman seated alone at a table, presumably waiting for her company to return, if they haven't arrived already. Although Shinn's painting was executed as an environmental scene and Van Meegeren's painting as a more traditional portrait, they each resonate the same with me, as the two women exhibit a strikingly familiar body language and also appear comfortable with their position alone in these busy, social environments.

That said, these two scenes are rendered drastically different from one another, with 'Nightclub' presenting a much darker palette, creating an alluring, dramatic appeal. Van Meegeren's portrait supplies less information within its background, effectively maintaining our attention on the subject, and I like the luminescence of the table lights, which charge the scene with a ghostly quality.

Between these two works, I prefer 'Nightclub' for its artistry. After all, Shinn was a member of the Ashcan School, and his style owes much to realism, so it's only natural that I side with his work. That said, when I selected Van Meegeren's portrait I was unaware of the artist's significance, as he's remembered as the infamous 20th forger who specialized in coping works from the Dutch Golden Age. His portrait I selected for today's December Double was apparently an original by him. Not bad, considering.
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Silvestro Lega - La Curiosa (1866)

Rémy Cogghe - Madame Recoit (1908)

Now here's a suspicious pair. For today's I've selected two works which show their subjects engaged in some degree of eavesdropping.

Italian painter Silvestro Lega's 'La Curiosa' depicts a woman peeking through the window blinds, spying a daytime scene from a comfortable, dim interior. Whatever is holding her attention, it’s obviously not occurring in private, given it appears to take place outside, however, for reasons unknown to us, she has chosen to observe from this concealed vantage point. This affords a certain mystery regarding our subject and what might be transpiring in her life; she might be spying the betrayal by a close friend or lover, a drama brazenly unfolding in the open where everyone can see, or perhaps she’s witnessing a crime or conspicuous exchange between two dubious parties.

Or maybe she’s simply a nosy neighbor. We can’t have too many of those.

I really enjoy the use of light and color throughout 'La Curiosa'. The murky green of the window shades and the dark brown of the panels and floor create a very subdued palette, allowing our eavesdropper to stand out in he natural light coming through the window,

Moving on to our next painting, 'Madame Recoit' by Belgian-French painter Rémy Cogghe shows two subjects, a male and female servant, peeking through a keyhole to spy on someone behind the door, presumably the Madame Recoit from which this work takes its namesake. I would assume Madame is their employer, or at least the employer's wife, however I’m intrigued at the top hat and cane which rests on the chair outside the door. The specificity of the title leads me to consider that these items belong to someone other than Monsieur Recoit, if you know what I mean. Perhaps that's part of the reason these two servants seem so amused by the scene behind the door.

Observing these two works together, 'Madame Recoit' depicts a more outright act of voyeurism, but however naughty this act might seem, the work has a humorous quality which takes off the edge. 'La Curiosa,' on the other hand, carries a more serious, dramatic weight, and as mentioned earlier, the object of this woman's curiosity is left completely ambiguous, leaving us only to wonder.
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Colin Campbell Cooper - Randolph Street, Chicago (1903)

Colin Campbell Cooper - Glass Train Shed, Broad Street Station, Philadelphia (ca. 1910)

As a special treat, for today’s December Double I would like to present two works by Colin Campbell Cooper, ‘Randolph Street, Chicago’ and ‘Broad Street Station, Philadelphia’. Cooper was an American painter who created many wonderful views of New York City and other notable metropolitan areas. He worked in an Impressionist style which he used to render the city’s steam and smoke in a beautiful light. I always enjoy seeing these techniques used for distinctly American views. The murky blue background in 'Glass Train Shed' reminds me of a classic Monet, and ‘Randolph Street’ utilizes a vibrant orange, allowing one building to prominently stand out against the muted grey of the surrounding structures, among them a station serving the city’s famous elevated train line. Both of these paintings capture the atmosphere of the city while exhibiting the artist's unique talent for light and color.

Cooper's works also demonstrate a natural understanding of city spaces. While 'Randolph Street' is rigidly framed within its architectural elements, recalling Canaletto's views of Venice (for which painter utilized the camera obscura), Cooper’s composition in 'Glass Train Shed' is more relaxed, centering the subject while providing room for observation around the centerpiece building. I’m intrigued by all the details included within this painting, particularly the different modes of transport, such as the single car riding on the otherwise empty dirt road alongside the train shed. Works such as this serve as a wonderful capsule of early 20th century life.
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Robert's Note: Each day for the month of December I'll feature two paintings selected by yours truly. Feel free to contribute and discuss. Enjoy!


James Hayllar - At the Theatre (1866)

Giovanni Paolo Bedini - The Reading (1885)

I would like to start my December Double my sharing ‘At the Theatre’ by English painter James Hayllar and ‘The Reading’ by Italian painter Giovanni Paolo Bedini, two works which depict individuals engaged in the arts. We see neither the performance enjoyed by the ladies in Hayllar’s painting, nor are we provided any information about the book in Bedini’s, but as the viewer we can at least observe the subjects’ reactions to each piece, which is second to experiencing them for ourselves. In ‘At the Theatre’ the woman in the center looks intently though her binoculars, absorbed in the act onstage, while her companions, flanked at either side, are equally captivated by the show. All three women are on alert, commanding a feeling of urgency to the scene. By contrast, our woman in Bedini's watercolor has leisurely propped a large book in her lap, an almost comical sight complimented by the satisfied expression on her face.

I can't help but point out that these two paintings share narrow orientations—one horizontal and one vertical. The balcony curtains draped at either side of the three patrons in Hayllar's painting effectively frames the action, and the playbill laid before them on the ledge is a nice touch, firmly establishing the scene. I would assume a higher resolution file of this painting would yield more information within this playbill, but in this image it is unreadable.

Bedini's watercolor has a very different composition, providing empty space both above and below the subject. The open area above our cheerful woman allows plenty of room for the large, open book to breathe, suggesting that its contents are worthy enough to symbolically occupy this empty space. I would argue that more tightly framed scene, cropped just above and below the woman, would yield a much different, less interesting painting.

More importantly though, that's some fine, handsome wallpaper!
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Happy Thanksgiving!

As always, this week's eight shuffle selections are behind the cut.

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As always, this week's shuffles are behind the cut!

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"Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free

Like a worm on a hook
Like a knight from some old-fashioned book
I have saved all my ribbons for thee

If I, if I have been unkind
I hope that you can just let it go by
If I, if I have been untrue
I hope you know it was never to you

For like a baby, stillborn
Like a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out for me
But I swear by this song
And by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee

I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch
He said to me, "you must not ask for so much"
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door
She cried to me, "hey, why not ask for more?"

Oh, like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free"
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This week's shuffle selections behind the cut.

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This week's shuffles behind the cut!

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As usual, this week's eight shuffle selections are behind the cut.

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This week's shuffle behind the cut.

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December 2016

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