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I’m very happy to conclude this year’s Art for the Month of June with American painter Jennie Brownscombe’s ‘Love’s Young Dream,’ located in the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C.

In this piece a young woman of modest upbringing watches a man on horseback while an older couple—presumably her parents—are seated on the front porch of their home. The mother seems concerned for her daughter, while the father is oblivious, absorbed in his book. The title indicates “dream,” therefore I am to assume she is only an admirer of the distant rider—not his partner. Both her feet are positioned toward us as the rest of her body is turned to watch him, which gives me the impression that she was conversing with mother before suddenly finding herself distracted by the man’s appearance.

At the daughter’s feet a kitten playing with mother’s ball of string, perhaps symbolizing futility in the young woman’s preoccupation with the gentleman. Based on the fallen leaves and appearance of the trees, I would guess this scene is set during autumn, which further suggest unrealized opportunities within the realm of love. Yes, cheerful, I know. That said, Brownscombe’s painting has a sentimental touch, offering hope to the daughter.

I can identify with this painting, though not directly with its theme of unrequited love. Rather I interpret Brownscombe’s narrative as a metaphor for unavailing ambition, which could be applied to many different pursuits in one’s life. The mother seems to understand her daughter’s plight, though I get the impression she will wisely refrain from interfering, allowing her daughter to learn from experience as her inevitable heartbreak unfolds. Such is the case when one takes on a new job, buys property, or takes on any other risky endeavor. Some things are doomed from the start, as you stand there with a pitiful bouquet of weeds as your dream emerges before your eyes only to slowly clip-clops out of vision, but that’s part of the process, I guess.

And on that note, I hope you enjoyed this year’s Month of June selections!

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Today’s selection is ‘The Coppersmith,’ a wonderful environmental portrait by American painter Edgar Melville Ward. Delicately holding the kettle to the window light, our tradesman examines the piece for imperfections. Observing him absorbed by this simple item, I would imagine he takes solace in his work. His serious expression communicates his thorough attention for detail and admiration for his own craftsmanship. Mined from the earth, copper provides him his trade and operates as a means of expression, and there’s something harmonious about him using the natural light from the window to inspect new his creation.

Ward also provides a fine rendering of the coppersmith’s workspace. Full of rustic tools and devoid of unnecessary detraction, we can tell this tradesman performs his work solemnly, focusing his attention on the task at hand to achieve the highest quality product. He takes pride in his work and enjoys it as his passion.

Subject aside, I also enjoy this piece for its aesthetic qualities. The point of the anvil is made prominent by use of the shadow from the fallen paper in the background. The mallet is angled elegantly against the lower-right frame of the frame. And all the tools and various project found on the workbench give ‘The Coppersmith’ a special credibility, as if taken from first-hand observation. All these elements in Ward’s painting feel very precise, though the scene maintains the sort of natural quality one might associate with a snapshot.

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‘Just Moved’ by American painter Henry Mosler shows a family relaxing together after having moved their belongings into their new home. Located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this is a wonderfully detailed piece which provides an interesting portrait of its subjects, allowing us to see their most important possessions before they’ve been properly arranged throughout the space. For those who don’t live in a studio, when was the last time you were observed in the same room as your kitchenware, mattress and washer? Folks with the available space usually keep these items these items in separate areas, distributing their activities and necessities throughout their quarters. ‘Just Moved’ presents this family’s belongings in one single image, allowing the range of household items to speak for their tastes and living conditions.

This dwelling could use some repair, but it’s nonetheless acceptable by working class standards. In the far upper left corner we can see broken glass in the transom. Above the coat rack some of the wall appears to be chipping away. And I can’t ignore the black exhaust seen around the hole used for the stove pipe. These are minor damages which could be amended with a little paint and some manual labor, however they provide helpful insight regarding the social status of this family.

The father certainly looks relaxed, sitting on the table while resting his feet on the stove. Having hung up his coat and relaxed down his suspenders, he’s ready to enjoy a beer while sharing a loaf of bread with his family. I find it very quaint how the baby is reached up toward him while cradled in his mother’s arms.

I really enjoy Mosler’s rendering of the stove, seen on the floor along with its legs and pipes. Despite the stove’s black finish, within the lights I notice a slight pink reflected from the wife’s dress.

Another detail I admire is artist’s signature, which is seen in the bottom right, written with the perspective if it were etched into the floorboard.

On a final note, I keeping circling back to the scenic painting hung on the wall. I would presume the family put this piece up shortly upon entry—sort of like throwing down an anchor when a ship arrives at its destination—before moving their other belongings inside. Obviously this home offers them new sights from outside their window, but they’ll still have the familiar scenic image seen in the painting, carried over from their former residence.

Or maybe the previous occupants simply left the painting behind for the next poor suckers. With that in mind, who knows how long it’s been hanging in that spot, reluctantly endured by tenant after tenant.

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Today’s selection is ‘New Fairy Tale’ by Russian painter Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky. I love the sight of this group of children huddled together, listening to a new story as their imaginations take them beyond their humble living quarters. I'm most intrigued by the expression of the two kids at the left; they appear mesmerized, absorbing the tale like travelers patiently awaiting their destination. I find myself identifying with those two pairs of eyes, for as adults we experience periods of transition during which our lives undergo drastic changes—both personal and professional—and while we never quite know where we’re headed, sometimes change works in our favor, offering new insights and opportunities.

And, in the case that one were planning their own life-changing event, sometimes, for reasons beyond their control, it never comes to fruition—just another fairy tale, conjured up to occupy their thoughts, effectively distracting them from their present situation. For some it’s a way of coping, I guess.

In a nutshell, that’s how this piece resonated with me.

As for the work itself, Bogdanov-Belsky supplies a vivid rendering of the scene. My favorite details include the cat nested on the stack of books, the modest bed in the background, and the lamb peering in at the doorway, as if it were listening to the little boy read aloud. This room is messy, with books and straw scattered throughout the floor, but I guess that’s to be expect when livestock is allowed to trot and make themselves at home. It’s just a different way of living—a huge contrast to the ultra-sanitized environments we require for children now.

On a final note, the blanket hanging in the background, as well as the scarf worn by the girl, feature a design which is unfamiliar to me, though I’m sure someone more studied in Russian history could identify it.

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‘A Truce’ by English post-impressionist painter Frank Bramley feels like a somber epilogue to an intense argument. I sense that there was a conflict between the two women, as they don’t seem particularly enamored with each other’s’ company. They also appear to be exhausted from their supposed confrontation; one woman is seated at the table, slouching over with her hand at her forehead, while her companion is sitting on the floor—somewhat of an awkward sight—and comforted by a small dog at her side. Behind her head is an open window, and to me this detail represents a release of the tension which recently filled the room. 'Truce' is what one might describe as the uncomfortable calm after the storm. At any rate, whatever transpired between these two subjects has— at least temporarily—been resolved.

The use of light is key to the moody atmosphere of our scene. The blue cast from outside contrasts against with the warm, yellow emission from the right, located directly off-canvas. I like how this interior light source illuminates one side of the woman's face while also casting a deep shadow upon the windowpane. This creates an unsettling ambience, indirectly alluding to a conflict between our two subjects.

And one a final note, I really enjoy the distant landscape glimpsed through the window. I would presume this is morning, but it could also very well be dusk. I would like to think our two subjects argued through the night, finally reaching their “truce” at dawn, itself symbolizing a new beginning.
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Today’s selection is ‘Dancing on the Barn Floor’ by American genre painter William Sidney Mount. First and foremost, this work appeals to me for its jovial spirit as a couple are seen happily dancing in their humble setting. These two don’t need a grand ballroom or even a common tavern; a sturdy floor and a bit of music is all they require to get their groove on. While other folks take more favorable amenities for granted, this couple is making the most from what they have. You can have a rockin’ party anywhere—just stop complaining and use those resources available to you. That’s what this 19th century barn scene signifies to me.

Seriously, all they need is a disco ball hanging from those rafters, and maybe even have that violin player crank out some Donna Summer, and they’d be all set for a hot night!

Mount’s vantage point in ‘Dancing’ places a significant distance between us and our merry subjects, supplying a spacious view of the barn’s interior as well as the exterior wall to the left, thus allowing the environment to dominate the canvas, emphasizing its importance. I really like the use of empty space between both bright and shadowy areas, which together create a striking composition. Also, the wooden planks of the barn construct a geometric setting that stands in contrast to the loose, relaxed movement of the dancers.

I really enjoy the amount of detail in this painting too. The scene is full of subtle nuances, which seem as if they were first-hand observations by the artist, granting this piece a special authenticity. Though I’m sure Mount took some liberties with his art, ‘Dancing’ nonetheless feels like a genuine snapshot of early 19th century American life.

On an odd note, my mother owns an old magazine rack which features ‘Dancing on the Barn Floor’ on one side and ‘Dance of the Haymakers,’ another painting by Mount, on the other. Neat!

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Hubert Robert was a French painter best known for his capriccios, picturesque architectural fantasies often depicting real and imagined structures in ruins. One of the most popular examples of this genre is his ‘Imaginary view of the Gallery of the Louvre as a Ruin,’ which actually hangs in the Louvre itself.

Visually these imaginative 18th century capriccios could be considered a precursor to 20th century Cyber-punk dystopias. Speaking for myself, Robert’s ruins carry a mystique similar to that of the crowded cityscapes featured in the film ‘Blade Runner.’

As a Chicagoan I must also add that the Art Institute of Chicago has four large scale capriccios by Robert—‘The Old Temple,’ ‘The Obelisk,’ ‘The Landing Place,’ and ‘The Fountains’—which create an imposing spectacle when exhibited together in a single gallery with one at each corner.

Like his painting of the Louvre, I assume that today’s selection, ‘Stable in Ruins of the Villa Giulia,’ was another capriccio depicting a popular, existing structure in battered condition. I have little information about the Villa Giulia, a 16th century building in Rome which now operates as the National Etruscan Museum, and I don’t believe a throughout historical knowledge of the villa is necessary to appreciate the timeless quality of this piece. As seen here, this elaborate work of architecture, a sign of wealth and prestige, now serves these common peasants as a stable—obviously not the building’s intended purpose. Either way, they’ve made good use of the hall, constructing hayracks and rounding up their livestock behind those wooden gates fixed up against the columns. That long ladder adds a nice touch to this scene as well.

Robert's 'Stable' encourages me to consider how man-made spaces change over time, sometimes dramatically, as is the case here. I get the impression these peasants happened upon this abandoned structure and then simply adapted it for their purposes. They’ve completely taken over the villa, humbly utilizing every nook and cranny available. In spite of their residency, this building maintains its majesty through Robert’s elegant use of light. I like to believe that this light is the artist's personal voice, and that through this voice he's offering his approval of this grand villa's imaginary fate.

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Today I would like to share ‘A Carriage to the Ball’ by English painter William Bromley. I find this work charming because it shows a group of children as they pretend to travel to a grown up event. Presuming these four youngsters are siblings and that this cozy interior is their home, they are obviously from a wealthy family, and I imagine they have either seen their parents leave to attend formal balls or have read about them in stories. Whatever the case, it’s endearing to see them engage their imaginations in this manner, taking on adult roles in their little fantasy.

The young man, excitedly riding his toy horse, seems dedicated to getting his companions to the ball on time. His wooden steeds are tied to the decorative chair which operates as a carriage for the two angelic girls, while another young lady stands up from behind to sound a horn, signaling their arrival. This is a really wonderful painting, exhibiting the playfulness of youth and childrens’ fascination with grown up activities.

I also find this work appealing because as adults even we sometimes have to stay home, forgoing the grand party that a waits elsewhere in favor of minding our responsibilities. In those instances I can identify with our little companions in Bromley’s painting.

On a final note, the amount detail in this piece is incredible. Throughout the scene you’ll find a several different textures—including those supplied for the carpet, wallpaper, and the wooden horse—all rendered delicately by Bromley’s brush. Take some time to examine images below. You’ll also notice various items on the fireplace mantle, a curious painting hanging on the wall in shadow, and an angel figurine held by the girl in blue.

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Today selection, ‘The Homecoming’ by popular American artist Norman Rockwell, is an illustration used for the cover of “The Saturday Evening Post,” May 26, 1945. Featured toward the end of World War II, this piece’s historical significance is obvious. As with many works by Rockwell, ‘Homecoming’ has a strong narrative and creates an environment rich with detail. I love the observations throughout this piece—the clothesline with various garments, the man repairing the roof of that rickety porch, the children hanging in the trees, the weather-beaten bricks of the building, ect. This scene feels as real to me as any that I might encounter on the street.

In addition to those details, I also enjoy the expressions of emotion by the mother, neighborhood children, and other people throughout the scene as the soldier returns home. Even the dog is excited to see him. You’ll also notice a young woman, presumably his girlfriend or an admirer, hidden from the others behind the corner of the building, adding a curious drama to this “homecoming.” Perhaps she is not on good terms with his family, or maybe she’s simply avoiding the big hurrah, preferring to give him a more personal welcome home after the dust has settled.

In his time Rockwell achieved much commercial success, and he continues to be one of the 20th Century’s most popular and recognizable artists, though his work was and is still often dismissed by art critics, probably because they appeal to sentiments which could be described as light-hearted and All-American. That’s a shame because whether or not you find those qualities admirable, there’s still so much which can be appreciated in Rockwell’s extensive catalogues of beautiful paintings and illustration work.

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I’ve long admired the paintings of Pre-Raphaelite Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. His works are known for their highly idealized views of the Roman Empire, usually depicting his subjects lounging within marble villas, temple interiors, and other luxurious settings. Possessing an ambiance which could be described as serene, obviously these paintings don’t represent the brutality of the Empire, but that was hardly the artist’s intended purpose. If anything these works reflect the 19th century’s renewed interest in classical antiquity, often under the banner of a lively, decadent party.

Flipping through Alma-Tadema’s catalogue of works, paintings like ‘The Roses of Heliogabalus’ and ‘The Finding Of Moses’ stand out as grand, elaborate spectacles, however I’m more drawn to intimate pieces such as his ‘A Silent Greeting.’ The woman is fast asleep in what appears to be a public, indoor setting. Laying back on a pair of pillows and with a cushion at her feet, she seems quite comfortable. A bouquet of flowers is found in her lap, presumably delivered by the young soldier who seems to be pulling away. For me the most intriguing piece of body language is his right foot, delicately arched as he tries to sneak off without waking her.

I find his leaving the bouquet to be a very endearing, whether this man is her lover or a complete stranger. Since our title specifies “greeting,” I would assume he is the latter. Oh, I’m sure contemporary viewers would view this as an invasion of her personal space, but within the context of Alma-Tadema’s painting it appears nothing more than a tender, romantic gesture. Unlike Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous photograph ‘V-J Day in Times Square,’ which some have scrutinized as celebrating a public sexual assault, our solider in ‘Greeting’ is merely leaving a token of affection.

But who knows, this Roman dude could totally be creepy stalker, harassing women with unwanted bouquets.

Lastly, I’m intrigued at the notion of one’s admirer approaching them during sleep, as if they were appearing to them in a dream. I’d like to imagine that the soldier’s gesture is interacting with the woman on some unconscious level. It adds another charming dimension to this lovely painting.
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Today’s selection is ‘Study of Flesh Colour and Gold,’ a pastel by American artist William Merritt Chase. He was an exceptionally talented man whose versatility never ceases to amaze me. Not only did Chase work in oil paint, pastel, and watercolor, but also he excelled at a wide variety of subjects, including portraiture, landscape, and still life. Whatever subject matter he chose, Chase’s work always demonstrates his gift for composition and unique perspective. His depiction of light owes much to the Impressionists, though his works have a viewpoint which strikes me as very American.

Chase’s ‘Colour and Gold’ is a beautiful figure study which possesses the aesthetics a traditional still life, observing on the brilliancy of light and shadow upon its subject. Indeed, this woman’s body is presented as if it were a remarkable treasure out on display; I could easily see an antique vase or ivory carving sitting in her place against that golden Oriental screen. This study does not sexualize the subject but rather meditates on the graceful quality of the light. Chase’s use of color is vibrant yet strangely soothing—almost sensual in how it caresses the skin. And also I love his minimal use of shadow, found primarily around the contours of the woman’s body and the within the folds of the blanket at her waist.

For me the most identifiable aspect of this painting are the subject’s ears. With her face turned away from us, we can’t help but notice those ears. While most of ‘Colour and Gold’ was rendered with soft brushstrokes, the ears possess a delicate sharpness which calls to my attention. This is a very distinct pair of ears too, the kind of ears which you’d use to characterize a person. Perhaps Chase was a close companion of the model.

Furthermore it’s not often in paintings that you’re granted a view of the space behind one’s ears. If you think about it this is a very intimate perspective from which to study your subject.

Hell, I wouldn’t recognize the back of my own ears! My friends and family could probably point them out in a photograph, but of obvious reason I’d be at a loss to identify my own from someone else’s. It’s one of many attributes about myself I’m unfamiliar with—literally because I do not have eyes in the back of my head!

Wow. This entry really went off track!
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‘A Friendly Warning’ by American painter Thomas Hicks is another domestic scene that provides an interesting conversation piece. Exactly what is taking place is open to interpretation, but I assume that the man in the top hat, accompanied by the disreputable fellow to his right, are issuing the “friendly warning” to the seated man at the center. With his hands relaxed behind his head, I would guess this setting to be either his home or place of business, and the young man seen at the far left is probably his son or apprentice. Out of these four people we only see the faces of two men at the center and left, thus we’re urged to identify with them. Who knows what the “friendly warning” might actually be; this might sound stereotypical, but citing the gentleman in the top hat I’d guess that this premises stands in the way of the railroad that’s planned to be built through the area.

The room appears sparse and ill-kempt, indicating the owner is either poor or extremely modest. There’s a lot of open space in this room, allowing us to concentrate our attention on the occupants. Above the mens’ heads I notice there are several papers posted on the wall, perhaps adding further clues to the scene.

I like the presence of the stove; in addition to functioning to keep our occupants warm, it also suggests a simmering tension to the conversation. I really like that effect. If you look closely, in front of the stove there’s also a dog curled up, looking outward at the viewer.

On a final note, this piece is owned by the Art Institute of Chicago, which I’ve visited dozens of times, however I’ve never seen this out on display.

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Today I would like to share two environmental portraits which show their subjects occupying drinking establishments. ‘Girl in a Bar’ by Spanish painter Ramon Casas and ‘A Minstrel with a Wine Glass in a Tavern’ by German painter Ferdinand Keller both depict individuals whom I would assume are no stranger to their surroundings. Call them “barflies” or “regulars,” if you will. As odd as this may sound, these two world-weary nightlife veterans strike me as vaguely familiar, as if I’ve encountered them before during my own years in the scene. That aside, these two wonderful works are elegantly framed and exhibit a fine attention to detail.

The woman in Casas’s painting strikes me as pensive, slouching over her table while looking sharply off canvas. Perhaps she is waiting for her party to arrive, searching for her companion in the distance, or maybe she’s just while people-watching. Having ordered a drink and lit up a cigar, she’s obviously not in any rush to leave, but nonetheless she seems worried, perhaps hoping to avoid a certain someone. I can’t help but notice that her left hand appears stressed, as if she were nervous about something, while her expression looks both exhausted and sullen. This probably isn’t the best night for her.

Her demeanor aside, the vibrant red of her blouse certainly stands out--breathing life into what would otherwise be described as a somber portrait dominated by dreary blue-green hues.

The scene in the background outside the window provides some context, featuring a woman wearing a decorative headpiece, perhaps indicating a higher social classes of people than that of our subject, but that might be a stretch. At any rate, the scene outside serves to emphasize the loneliness of our subject.
Moving to our second piece, the gentleman in Keller’s painting seems much more comfortable in his environment. Our violin player appears to have taken a break from his instrument to mind something with his hands—something which I can’t completely make out. I get the impression this musician has sat at this bench before, night after night playing his music for the tavern patrons. The position of his legs and feet also indicate that he’s at ease in this particular spot.

At his side on the bench I notice a small glass, perfectly highlighted and elegantly displayed for the viewer. This is one of my favorite qualities of this painting, and if you look closely you can find another glass at the table seen in the background.

I also love Keller’s rendering of wood and stone throughout this piece, supplying a special character to this grey environment. For better or worse, this establishment has the feel of a cavern, holed away from the outside world while sunlight from a faraway window softly fills in the rough elements of its rugged interior.

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Today’s Art for the Month of June selection, ‘The Egyptian Expedition under the Orders of Bonaparte’ by French painter Leon Cogniet, can be found on the ceiling of Lourve. I have yet to visit the famous museum, and this is one of many beautiful paintings which I would love to experience there in person. Cogneit’s magnificent work has so many rich detail to absorb, which you can inspect behind the cut, included below

First off, ‘Egyptian Expedition’ is a far cry from Antoine-Jean Gros‘s ‘Bonaparte Visiting the Plague Victims of Jaffa’ and other blatant propaganda pieces commissioned under the French Consulate. Painted nearly 13 years after Napoleon’s death, Cogniet’s portrayal of the rising general seems relatively neutral—all except for the chaos shown amongst his soldiers. While the ambitious commander-in-chief’s presence is unmistakable, he is only glimpsed in the background, cast in shadow under a canopy while surveying the scene in the foreground. Indeed, the many interactions between the French troops and the Egyptians are the focus of this piece.

I’m sure students of the era may find numerous historical and cultural commentaries with ‘Egyptian Expedition,’ as Bonaparte’s campaign in the East—even in his own time—was regarded as a failure, however I can enjoy this work simply for its human observations within Cogniet’s busy narrative. On the right is a Frenchman scolding a slave his feet. To the lower left is a group of people who seem to be discussing a map. And at the bottom center are two Egyptians and a French solider carrying up a sarcophagus, obviously one of many treasures pillaged during the Napoleon’s occupation. These parties do not appear to be working on the same frequency, possibly operating with their own interests in mind.

Found at the center are our two foremost figures, a French General alongside a white-clothed Egyptian, and judging by their body language neither seem particularly satisfied with the expedition. In fact, I would argue that the viewer is urged to identify with the reluctant expression of the Egyptian.

Above all I enjoy how elegantly these subjects are represented throughout the scene, possessing all the aesthetic qualities and subtle nuances I’ve come to expect in old master paintings of the era.

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Referencing yesterday’s piece, Hans Thoma’s mournful ‘Auf der Waldwiese,’ I’m not ready to leave the gloomy meadows quite just yet. ‘One World’ by Austrian painter Maximilian Lenz is also set within a pasture and conveying a sense of melancholy, but aside from those similarities these two works couldn’t be any more different. While ‘Waldwiese’ is firmly set on our worldly plane, ‘One World’—for me, at least—has a mystic quality that speaks to the spirt.

Upon first viewing ‘One World’ I noted its murky use of the color as well as the lively dancing on display by the group of ladies in the background. These elements create a wonderful contrast, presenting us both joy and sadness as a reminder that one is often accompanied by the other. That said, the drab palette seems better suited to reflect the emotional state of our gentleman in the foreground, who appears deep in thought as he strides through grass with cigarette in hand. Based on his clothing and demeanor, his presence in this grassy field strikes me unusual though not entirely implausible. Whatever the case, he seems to be a stranger passing through unfamiliar territory.

One would think that this man was oblivious—or perhaps even ignoring—the four beautiful women approaching him to his left. These four are wearing transparent dresses which are a lighter shade of blue than those worn by the other women in the background. They are also holding wreaths over their heads, which leads me to believe they are having a pagan celebration, or that their role in this painting is meant to symbolize the natural world. They appear both alluring and vibrant, while the man seems to have coldly retired within himself.

I am to guess these four ladies are inviting him to join their gathering, though he doesn’t seem particularly interested, or is trying to resist. The colors green and blue, which I normally identify with earth and life, are muted throughout in this painting, perhaps indicating that our gentleman has tuned out the natural world. Maybe the four women, bearing that beautiful light-blue which gently illuminates through the gloominess of the pasture, are offering to pull him back out of his despair.
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Translated as “On the Forest Meadow,” ‘Auf der Waldwiese’ is a simple yet highly effective piece by German painter Hans Thoma. As might have been intended by the artist, the woman’s presence within the scene is ambiguous. My interpretation is that she is laying a bouquet of flowers in remembrance of the departed loved one. Perhaps she is knelling before a small grave, or maybe this is actual site where someone passed away. With that in mind, this is somber painting which signifies a deep, personal loss. The considerably drab palette complements this feeling.

Whatever the case, I hardly believe, as one might assert, that she’s merely picking flowers in the meadow. Still, as mentioned earlier, this is all left open to interpretation.

The way the woman is centered in the composition, bookending her between two wide areas of empty space, obviously draws our attention to her. This framing, however, feels very deliberate, adding a sense of uneasiness to the painting. I’m also intrigued by Thoma’s choice of vantage point, which seems taken from eye-level rather than from a more dramatic perspective. This eye-level view makes me feel as if I were an actual witness to the scene, granting the work an eerie authenticity.

Other details throughout this work catch my eye. In the background one can see the rocks of a cliff peeking through the trees, and within the grass you’ll also notice a tiny stream, perhaps meant to symbolize one’s journey into the afterlife.
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Sanford Robinson Gifford was an American painter and member of the famed Hudson River School. His landscape work is absolutely breathtaking, and today’s piece, ‘Hunter Mountain, Twilight,’ is a great representation of his work. Many of his paintings have long, horizontal compositions and often capture natural light illuminating the scene from a distance, two attributes which always aid me in singling out his work from that of his contemporaries. Even his paintings of grand, spacious landscapes still possess an intimate observation of the topography while accompanied by his soft, luminous lighting. Really wonderful work.

While ‘Hunter Mountain’ depicts a strikingly beautiful view with subject, it occurs to me that this sight would not be possible without human intervention having cleared out the trees in the foreground. Perhaps this was not intended by the artist, but those tree stumps stand out as if they were the exposed nerves of the forest, remnants from man’s development of the land. If I may state the obvious, it really feels as if something had been unnaturally removed from the scene. This piece is both a representation of man’s progress and the emptiness left behind in his path.

That aside, I really enjoy the little details throughout this painting. At the center you may observe a gathering of cows drinking from tiny stream, and toward the right you’ll also see house nestled below the trees as well charming, ramshackle fence.

‘Hunter Mountain’ is owned by the Terra Foundation for American Art, and was featured in the Terra Museum before its closure in 2004. Circa 2003 I worked at the Chicago Place Mall on Michigan Avenue, only a block away from the Terra, and during my lunch breaks I would occasionally stop in to see the collection. This is when I first saw ‘Hunter Mountain,’ and to this day it remains one of my favorite Giffords. After the Terra closed many of the museum’s paintings, including ‘Hunter Mountain,’ were placed on long-term loan to the Art Institute of Chicago, and I became used to visiting this work there as well. It’s amusing that I’ve now followed this painting around two different homes. I still miss the intimacy of the Terra.

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Today’s Art for the Month of June selection is French painter Eugene Ernest Hillemacher’s ‘The Dying Anthony is Brought to Cleopatra.’

Viewing this piece, we already know the fate of Anthony, and also what will soon become of his lover Cleopatra. What draws me to this painting is how effectively Hillemacher conveys the urgency of the moment as the Egyptian servants and Romans under Anthony’s command work to deliver the dying consul to the pharaoh. If you look closely even Cleopatra herself appears to be helping as she clutches one of the ropes while lamenting the tragedy below. These figures are represented in a dramatic—almost theatrical—manner that reminds me of the late work of the Baroque painter Caravaggio. Furthermore, the way Anthony’s body is positioned, hoisted upward with his arms outreached, might be interpreted as his spirit ascending from this worldly plane.

The choice of a vertical composition complements the action within the scene, allowing our two key subjects to dominate our attention. I also note how the white sheet or robe is seen draped down onto the ground, as if his blood were pooling from a fatal wound.
Other details which catch my eye include the various hieroglyphics and motifs seen throughout the building wall and the obelisk seen in the background, all of which provide the necessary backdrop for this historical scene.
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Today’s Art for the Month of June selection is ‘Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden’ by Scottish painter John Faed. Located in the Cleveland Museum of Art, I don’t remember seeing painting upon my visit several years ago. That’s unfortunate.

Anyway, ‘Expulsion’ is an incredible piece, though this not your average depiction of the famous biblical scene. Faed’s portrayal of the exiled couple is adequate, however my attention is focused not on their tragic loss but rather the beautiful, classically rendered angel casting them out of the garden. Title aside, I believe this painting is a portrait of the angel, himself the embodiment of brilliance, centered in the middle while Adam and Eve are supplied as mere secondary figures. I’m unsure if the angel is meant to depict the Jophiel or Gabriel, but regardless it’s a strong representation body language and form. I admire the power which emanates from his forceful gesture which evicts the couple from their worldly paradise. This painting swiftly communicates to the viewer that they will never be welcomed back.

I also admire this work for its aesthetic qualities. The light radiating down from the left is bright and bold, casting a dramatic shadow over everything it touches, contributing to the mournful scene. The shape of the angel’s wings are complemented by that of the trees, while the circle created by the coiling snake could be likened to the aforementioned light, both balancing the composition to draw the eye toward the center.
againstathorn: (Studio pic - pencil shaver)

Today’s selection, ‘The Masked Ball’ by Swiss painter Frédéric Dufaux II, caught my attention for a couple reasons. First off, it’s a beautiful painting with vibrant colors and a lively atmosphere. The narrative is simple yet this work very pleasing to view and easily guides the eye though its composition. I especially enjoy how the pink of the roses complement the ballroom curtains in the distance. And the light casting down on the fashionable woman, causing her to stand out against the dark shadows in the background, gives this work a very chic and glamorous vibe. I’m sure you’ll agree that ‘Masked Ball’ epitomizes a successful, rock star level party.

Secondly, this piece retains its classiness in spite of what I perceive to be its bawdy subtext. I’ve never attended a masquerade function, and though many people regard them a typical costume parties, I tend to associate them with a particular naughtiness, probably due to movies like ‘Eyes Wide Shut,’ and ‘Masked Ball’ does little do to counter that notion.

The title identifies the theme of the event but leaves us to ponder the situation between our three subjects in the foreground. This ambiguity, of course, raises all sorts of questions as to what might be taking place. I’m intrigued by the couple seated on the couch who have their backs turned toward us, leaving their identities a mystery—perhaps for good reason. The man appears to be leaning in toward the lady, maybe to give her a kiss or share something ribald, much to the approval of their companion, the beautiful woman who seems unabashed and relaxed as she seats herself on the table. Wouldn’t it be more mannerly of her to use the nearby chair? Oh, nevermind. Perhaps she is the hostess of the party, but anyway I love how she’s portrayed—proud, somewhat brazen, and above all, confident.

That said, out of all the people in ‘Masked Ball,’ I find myself identifying not with the beautiful woman at the table but rather the lady seen at a distance in the ballroom. Her face is indistinguishable, yet she is obviously looking in the direction of our three lounging subjects, perhaps attempting to spy on their activities, if not only out of innocent curiosity. Even given our more intimate vantage point of the scene, I feel more connection with her perspective as an outsider.

Ah, yes. To quote Oingo Boingo, I’ve always been “on the outside looking in.”

On a final note, I really enjoy the ambiance of this relatively empty room, sectioned off from the rest of the party for reasons unbeknownst to the viewer. I’m most drawn to the painting in the upper right which depicts a mythological scene occupied by several nude women and a cupid. This is a really nice touch which contributes to the suggestive atmosphere of the room. ‘Masked Ball’ is far from a masterpiece but it achieves something significant in creating a vivid environment for its occupants.

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December 2016

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