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Jean Beraud - Out of the Theatre (n.d.)

William A. Breakspeare - The End of the Evening (n.d.)

It would seem appropriate to conclude my December Double with ‘Out of the Theatre’ by French painter Jean Beraud and ‘The End of the Evening’ by English painter William A. Breakspeare.

‘Theatre’ takes an otherwise mundane subject and commits it to canvas with many subtle observations that might not immediately register to the viewer. I really enjoy the candid aspect of this piece, as well as the rich details found throughout the scene, notably the orchestra pit, the creases of the stage curtain, and the wonderfully rendered architectural elements of the theatre. As for the two gentlemen in the foreground, I love how they’re captured while putting on their overcoats, and Beraud’s marvelous brushwork lends convincing weight and strain to the fabrics.

While ‘Theatre’ could be described as informal and unassuming, 'Evening' feels more calculated and picturesque, tightly composed within a narrow frame. This piece conveys the weariness that often accompanies the aftermath of a party. Noting his smug expression, the gentleman sitting at the table (or possibly piano) appears satisfied with himself, finishing a glass of Champagne while enjoying his cigarette. His companion is obviously exhausted, and it’s interesting to note that her head is turned away from us, making it difficult for the viewer to identify with her. Though we can’t see her face, we are allowed to observe her hairstyle and adornments, affirming her inclusion in this piece, functioning as little more than a prop--perhaps on the same level as the roses seen scattered on top of the table. The entire painting appears orchestrated to assert the success and wealth of the man. While I don’t admire that chauvinistic sentiment, it does provide some interesting discussion.

I much prefer the scene in the background, that of two men standing over the dining table.
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Guy C. Wiggins - Chicago Blizzard (1948)

Morris Hall Pancoast - Pennsy Train Shed (1917)

Given my forthcoming move from Chicago to the Philadelphia area, planned to happen within the next several months, today's December Double serves as a reminder that I certainly won't be missing out on any messy weather. ‘Chicago Blizzard’ by American painter Guy C. Wiggins and ‘Pennsy Train Shed’ by fellow American painter Morris Hall Pancoast effectively convey the cold and snow accumulation which accompanies the winter months. Take cover!

As testament to the quality of their construction, I find it amazing these city buildings and transport facilities manage to endure year after year of heavy snow, freezing temperatures, and other harsh elements. Likewise, urban dwellers are able to cope through the season, bundling up and taking shelter when necessary.

I’m curious if the subject in ‘Chicago Blizzard’ is a view of the Michigan Avenue Bridge, either a view looking north or south. I love how the palette is restricted to white and grey, with some yellow sparsely used for windows in the background buildings, street lights, and the headlights of the automobile, as well as the faint color applied to the figure in the bottom left. What a beautiful touch! Wiggin’s painting renders the falling snow in sharp brushstrokes, depicting the action of the blizzard as strident and caustic.

Influenced by the Impressionist style of painting, it’s perhaps unsurprising the Pancoast’s depiction of the snow in ‘Pennsy Train Shed’ seems soft in comparison to Wiggin’s, however this approach doesn’t convey the weather as any less troublesome. Thanks to the murky palette of white and dull blues, the scene in ‘Shed’ does not look like an easy chore to commute through. On an added note, this work offers many interesting details, including the automobile tracks in the snow and large plumes of steam from the trains.

My question to you, dear reader, is which scene would you rather find yourself in?
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Isidor Kaufmann - The Bachelor's Birthday (n.d.)

Frederick William Elwell - His Last Purchase (1921)

For today's December Double I would like to share ‘The Bachelor’s Birthday’ by Austro-Hungarian painter Isidor Kaufmann and ‘His Last Purchase’ by English painter Fredrick William Elwell.

The title of Kaufman’s painting specifies our subject to be a bachelor, a curious decision which nevertheless provides an interesting context.  Seated comfortably in his handsome study while enjoying a glass of wine and reading a card which presumably accompanied his basket of gifts, our bachelor appears cherry and content without the companionship of a spouse. That said, why must he spend his birthday alone? Observing the hat and cane resting at the opposite chair, perhaps they belong to a friend who has stopped by to visit, but more than likely they belong to our subject. Pondering this scene, he may have even purchased the basket as a birthday present for himself, though it probably was a gift from a friend or family member. It’s open to interpretation. That being said, our bachelor is happy. Good for him.

At the right side of the painting I can’t help but notice the vacant space on the wall above which a lone nail is found. Perhaps this is meant to symbolize that something is missing from our subject’s life. Who knows. I hope our birthday boy fills that space will all the things that bring him happiness.

As with ‘Bachelor,’ the title of Elwell’s painting, ‘His Last Purchase,’ definitely contributes to the scene, however, here it carries a much stronger emotional resonance. Again, we have an older man seated alone at home amongst his personal possessions, but this work provides a more somber experience. The title indirectly hints at the old man’s mortality, although it also signifies a closure of sorts. That said, he will not be taking this final purchase--or any other prior purchases accumulated over his lifetime--with him upon his departure from this worthy plane. Perhaps we seek out and collect certain material things, such as a decorative vase, only to occupy the mind during our short time here on earth.

As a point of discussion, one could interpret ‘His Last Purchase’ as a cautionary tale for the jolly bachelor depicted in Kaufman’s painting.

In Elwell’s painting I'm also curious about the broken fragments seen on table. Perhaps they're included to signify how even our most cherish possessions, despite all the importance we assign them, are easily prone to destruction.
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Pierre-Victor Galland - The Bar at Maxim's (1906)

William Henry Midwood - Rustic Courtship (1865)

For today's December Double I've chosen 'The Bar at Maxim's' by French painter Pierre-Victor Galland and 'Rustic Courtship' by English painter William Henry Midwood. I feel these these works provide a neat parallel, showing people from two very different walks of life as they pursue the companionship of another, and they both seem to suggest that our subjects' intentions might be more lustful than romantic--especially 'Rustic Courtship,' wherein our rural woman sits seductively beside her spinning wheel. Growl!

What appeals to me most about 'Bar at Maxim's' is Galland's choice of perspective, which leads the eye directly to the woman's body as she reclines against the bar. Her pink dress, comfortably hugging her figure, definitely stands out against the yellow cast of light which dominates the rest of the interior. The arrangement of this scene is fantastic, providing a real sense of the busy environment while maintaining interest on our two subjects in the foreground. I am too presume that these two are unacquainted, in which case the man has obviously approaching the alluring woman at the bar. I'm sure some readers can elaborate more on this scene, but neverless she's not the type of woman one would take home to their mother.

As mentioned earlier, I feel that Midwood's 'Rustic Courtship' has a cheeky quality that's worth discussion. However subtle, this seemingly quaint scene is not without a sense of humor. Sitting in a relaxed pose beside her spinning wheel, the woman is clearly in command, staring outward at the viewer with a stern, confident expression while the man appears to be signalling for her attention. Good luck to him.

Not to my surprise, many other painters have worked with this theme of "Rustic Courtship," creating works which could be described as far less subtle than Midwood's painting here. Interesting.
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Jack Lorimer Gray - The Battery: Demolition of the Old Produce Exchange Building (1957)

Louis Charles Vogt - The Building of the C&O Railroad Bridge, Cincinnati, OH (n.d.)

Although I can always appreciate an attractive, well-executed representation of a newly completed building or facility--usually commissioned by the owner for commercial purposes--I'm much more interested in works that show such structures under construction or during a state of demolition. To me these works signify progress and transformation as the city adapts to serve the needs of community and industry, rather than simply presenting another shining product for the public to consume. A lot of hard work went into planning, building and levelling these structures, and I find it endearing that an artist committed these scenes to canvas, especially at a time when a photograph would've easily sufficed.

Today I present 'The Battery: Demolition of the Old Produce Exchange' by Canadian painter Jack Lorimer Gray and 'The Building of the C&O Railroad Bridge, Cincinnati, OH' by American painter Louis Charles Vogt.

Though Grey lived in New York City for nearly 9 years, his 'The Battery' seems to be one of his few available paintings of the actual city. An accomplished painter of Maine scenes, I presume his ambition with this work was to paint Upper New York Bay, second to the Battery itself and then the Produce Exchange at the bottom. I love his view over the tower in the foreground, exposing the severe damage to the rooftop, which provides a real sense the age and deterioration taking place around the city, validating the need for demolition and reconstruction.

'C&O Railroad Bridge' takes different approach. Known for his numerous pasture scenes, Vogt applies his style to this industrial setting with interesting results, using brushwork which one might associate with the Impressionists. I really like the play of light within those tiny fires and clouds of smoke, as well as the muted colors, effectively capturing the smog of this busy construction site.
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Frank Bramley - Domino! (1886)

Leonard Campbell Taylor - Patience (1906)

What better way to pass idle time than by occupying oneself with a game, if not one that offers a bit of a challenge? For today's December Double I would like to present 'Domino!' by English painter Frank Bramley and 'Patience' by fellow English painter Leonard Campbell Taylor. Both depict players contemplating their next move in their respective games from which each painting takes its namesake. I love how the artists’ framing and use of body language generate suspense while also providing discussion about the relationship between each pair of subjects.

In 'Domino!' my eyes are drawn to the woman with her back toward us, sitting up in her chair with a domino in one hand while griping her seat with the other, as she tries out-maneuver her opponent, casually hunched over her side of the table and seemingly disinterested in the game that she appears to be winning. Well, at least that’s my interpretation. I enjoy Bramley’s soft rendering of light and color throughout the painting, including that found within the basket of fabric in the foreground, which provides a neat contrast to the hard, rigid edges found on a domino.

From the second painting, Taylor’s ‘Patience,’ I love the artist’s specific placement of objects throughout the scene, most notably the vases in the background and the presentation of the cards on the table in the foreground, all supplied in crisp detail. The young woman’s face appears tranquil, as if she were comfortably meditating on her cards, and there’s an elegance in her posture which commands the viewer’s attention. I also find myself pondering her companion, whether he’s a coach, friend or possibly a lover, but nevertheless, he surveys the scene from above, offering his company though respectfully not interfering in her game.
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Robert Walter Weir - St. Nicholas (ca. 1837)

Henry Mosler - Christmas Morning (1916)

Sergey Vasilievich Dosekin - Preparation for Christmas (1896)

In observance of the Christmas, today I would like to share not two but three works which capture the spirit of the holiday. Here I present 'St. Nicholas' by American painter Robert Walter Weir, 'Christmas Morning' by fellow American painter Henry Mosler, and 'Preparation for Christmas' by Russian painter Sergey Vasilievich Dosekin.

The most curious of these three is definitely 'St. Nicholas,' which depicts the celebrated childrens' Christmas figure as an impish character looking back at the viewer with a sinister grin as goes to depart up the chimney. Rather than the bearer of toys, one might mistake him for having looted this cozy home. Weir's portrayal of Saint Claus urges us to question the darker, subversive aspects of this holiday tradition. On an added note, the entire work recalls hallmarks of traditional Dutch painting, including the orange and pipe detail on the floor, with operates as a handsome, standalone still life.

Writer Owen Edwards has provided some insightful information this work.

Our second painting, Mosler's 'Christmas Morning,' has a much warmer emotion, inviting us to share the childrens' view of the family Christmas tree, complete with presents underneath, as they open their bedroom door to reveal the scene. This is the sort of image I would not be surprised to see featured on a Christmas card, however 'Morning' achieves something greater than the empty sentiment one might associate with Hallmark. I love Mosler's use of light, as the candles on the tree create a inviting glow for these two little ones, and his rendering of shadows travelling along the bedroom floor, as well as the light settling on the bedsheets, as a very natural quality which for me contributes an emotional resonance to this work.

Of these three paintings, Dosekin's 'Preparation' feels the most authentic, a slice of 19th century Russian home life taken from observation. Unlike the two other works, there's nothing particularly fanciful about Dosekin's scene, and his technique owes much to the Realist style, which is an interesting contrast to the cheerful depictions of Christmas holiday I'm used to seeing. I admire the artist's casual arrangement of the children throughout the table, with one child's face obscured behind the young girl in front of him, as if the little ones are much too busy to pose for a formal picture. None of the children look particularly overjoyed with thier task of sorting and assembling their ornaments and other decorations, seen laid out of the table before them, but they'll soon enough enjoy the fruits of their labors, as their otherwise drab interior will be colorfully adorned for the holiday. For once it's refreshing to see the hard work behind the streamers and tinsel. And then, of course, it will be time to take down and pack away the decorations, but that's another painting.
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Jean-Paul Laurens - The Last Moments of Maximilian (1882)

George W. Joy - General Gordon's Last Stand (1893)

My love for historical painting strikes again with today's December Double! Twice in one week--isn't that a treat! I would like to present 'The Last Moments of Maximilian' by French painter Jean-Paul Laurens and 'General Gordon's Last Stand' be Irish artist George W. Joy.

The subject in oir first painting is Maximillian I, monarch of the Second Mexican Empire, who was offered his throne by Napoleon III of France, and later formally crowned himself Emperor of Mexico in 1864. Unfortunately for Maximilian, the French eventually withdrew their support of this endeavor, and in 1867 opposing forces led by Mexican President Benito Juárez captured and executed the him. Though Laurens's painting shows pity for the former Emperor, it doesn't cast him in a heroic or courageous light, as one might expect in such a narrative. Rather he's depicted with his hand covering his face, unable to face his executors, perhaps indicating that he was unworthy of the throne for which he crowned himself. Whatever the case, this painting shows a man realizing that his life is soon about the end. This work has a very human quality, devoid of Romanticism and owing much to Realism.

The subject for our second painting is Charles George Gordon, a celebrated British Army Officer who was killed in 1885 during the Siege of Khartoum by opposing Sudanese forces. In comparison to the Maximilian painting, Joy depicts Gordon as undaunted by the army of men approaching up the stairway, closing in on him with weaponry in hand and likely to seize him within the next few moments. Gordon, standing at the top of the stair as a figure of dignity and grace, awaits their arrival without showing any fear, which, of course, would only further satisfy the enemy.

Visually, 'Gordon' a remarkable painting, and the composition is fantastic, travelling back and forth between scenes of calm and action, but it lacks that human quality which appealed to me in Laurens's 'Maximilian'. I understand that Joy's aim was to celebrate Gordon while Laurens wanted to depict Maximilian in a more critical eye, but as stand alone works I find 'Maximilian' a more rewarding experience. I'm also partial of Laurens's use of lighting, creating a stark interior scene which heightens the emotional impact of the subject. As I me filmed before, Joy's 'Gordon' is a handsome work, but it fails to resonate with me on a human level; his portrayal of the general shows no cracks of weakness for the viewer to engage directly. Perhaps that wasn't Joy's intent.
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Laurits Tuxen - Male Nude in the Studio of Bonnat (1877)

Martin Ferdinand Quadal - Life Class in the Vienna Academy (1787)

Strike a pose! For Today’s December Double I’ve selected two works which show models at work, ‘Male Nude in the Studio of Bonnat’ by Danish painter Laurits Tuxen and ‘Life Class in the Vienna Academy’ by Moravian-Austrian painter Martin Ferdinand Quadal.

Let’s begin with ‘Studio of Bonnat.’ Tuxen's vertical composition is framed to accommodate the model, who is turned away from our vantage point while posing toward the sunlight, providing a wonderful highlight of his figure and effectively casting his backside in shadow. This is a great, dramatic rendering of the nude form, though Tuxen piece also directs our attention the painters in the background, seen creating their own works from this same subject standing before us. I love how the model towers over everyone within the scene, including that of our own vantage point, commanding this nude figure an admirable power, as he were a beautiful Apollo gracing his presence amongst the mortals. By use of perspective and light, Tuxen grants his nude an almost godlike stature.

Quadal's painting, on the other hand, demonstrates use of a more flattened perspective, representing his subjects from a distance so that one does not dwarf the other, as illustrated in Tuxen's piece. Though this approach by Quadal has a traditional, formal quality, his use of lighting, which to me resembles that of a movie studio—complete with crew gathered around the actor—gives a very modern feel to this 18th century painting. When first viewing 'Vienna Academy', this took me completely off guard. I would assume this space, designed specifically for figure study, was constructed to let natural light down in through the ceiling, or perhaps there's a more reasonable explanation, but nonetheless this work inadvertently achieves the look of modern interior lighting, and I think that's fantastic.

On an added note, the presentation of our model in 'Vienna Academy' strikes me as almost clinical, as if he were a specimen on observation. Given his role as model, perhaps that’s not too far off the mark. Whether or not this detached quality within the painting was intended by the artist, I find this notion fascinating and a great topic for discussion.
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Gifford Beal - Elevated, Columbus Avenue, New York, (1916)

Francis Luis Mora - Subway Riders, New York City (1914)

In the developed world so much of our lives are spent in commute, and for many folks that means taking public transit, an experience enjoyed by some and loathed by most everyone else. As part of my commute into work, I take both a bus and train, and despite occasionally having to deal with an offensively drunk passenger, it sure beats the alternative of driving down into the Chicago Loop each weekday morning.

Today's December Double, 'Elevated, Columbus Avenue, New York' by American painter Gifford Beal and 'Subway Riders, New York City's by fellow American painter Francis Luis Mora, both provide insightful observations of passengers using the city's transit system. I love how these two paintings complement each other, providing different, captivating views of this to-to-day activity.

Let's begin with Neal's painting. Shaded beneath the train tracks, Framed within a rigid structures of iron and steel, 'Elevated' shows passengers traveling up and down the stairways while others walking alongside the street. The vertical beams and rectangular windows on the buildings in the background provide an orderly, geometric environment for our human subjects. I also enjoy Beal's observations of people on the street, including the two gentlemen helping each other at the far left.

On the other hand, the 'Subway Riders' painting has a more human quality, and I'm immediately drawn to the young woman looking outward at our point of view, presumably that of a fellow passenger. Sitting down with crane in hand, she has elegance and grace about her while riding this crowded train car. The other passengers are immersed in their newspapers, catching up on current events, but this young woman has maintained awareness of her surroundings, and for reasons unknown has directed her attention toward us. This work wonderfully captures a moment of connection, however fleeting, between two passengers.

Oh, and don't think I didn't notice the man with the package in his lap in the far left. That's another story in itself.
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Joseph Caraud - An Interrupted Visit (1867)

Eduardo Zamacois y Zabala - La Visita Inoportuna (1868)

Pardon my intrusion, but for today’s December Double I would like to share ‘An Interrupted Visit’ by French painter Joseph Caraud and ‘La Visita Inoportuna’ by Spanish painter Eduardo Zamacois y Zabala. Oh, what the hell.

I am left to ponder the scene unfolding in an 'Interrupted Visit,' but nonetheless my interpretation is as follows: The man has boldly intruded on the woman in the green dress, and her servant, is looking out on her behalf, is warding off someone from entering the room. The man, greeting her with a kiss on the hand, could either be the woman's secret lover or an unwanted admirer. Whatever the case, observing her terrified expression, the woman's attention is fixated on whoever might be behind that other door, fearing what might unfold if the man is discovered with her in this room. We can only guess. The chair collapsed on the floor indicates that she has indeed been taken by surprise.

I did consider the man might also be kissing her hand goodbye, but I believe it more likely that he is the interrupting visitor for whom the title implies, rather than someone else off canvas. It could be either though, and I find myself going back and forth between these two theories.

For me the most powerful feature of this painting is not the man’s kiss but rather the servants gesture toward the young woman, urging her to stand back.

In contrast to the heavy drama in Caraud’s piece, ‘La Visita Inoportuna’ depicts a more subtle, nuanced scene. In this work a painter is taking a question at the door while his female subject conceals her nudity from the unexpected guest. In this piece she is definitely the center of attention, with her pale body standing out against the green privacy panel, however her face is turned away from us, leaving her identity is a mystery. This provides a neat, candid view the painter's studio in all of its wonderful disarray without urging us to identify with the model on any personal level, which for the artist’s purposes might’ve proved distracting. Who knows. We are granted a view of her shoes, a pair of red heels seen resting together on the platform, though they might simply be just a prop for the painting. Either way, they're a nice touch.

At any rate, ‘An Interrupted Visit’ is carefully orchestrated with a involving narrative, while ‘La Visita Inoportuna’ feels more incidental, perhaps having been taken from observation. Between these two works, I prefer the latter.
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Daniel Maclise - Caxton Showing the First Specimen of His Printing to King Edward IV (1851)

Edouard Ender - Tycho Brahe Demonstrating a Celestial Globe to the Emperor Rudolph II in Prague (1855)

Henry Gillard Glindoni - John Dee Performing an Experiment Before Queen Elizabeth I (n.d.)

For today's December Double I've selected not two but three historical paintings which show noble figures presented with either scientific discoveries or technological advances from their respective time periods. Mind you, just to point out the obvious, these works are dramatic depictions of alleged events which would've taken place hundreds of years prior to them being committed to canvas, so one would regard these paintings as any sort of reliable documentation. That said, I find it neat how all three works share a similar sentiment on this very particular theme.

Of these three works, my favorite is ‘Caxton Showing the First Specimen of His Printing to King Edward IV’ by Irish painter Daniel Maclise. Though very busy and crowded with details, there’s still something very natural in Maclise’s scene. Every time I view ‘Caxton’ I notice something new which contributes to the piece. I imagine this as a large scale historical painting to which a moderately sized jpg file could not to any proper justice.

‘Tycho Brahe Demonstrating a Celestial Globe to the Emperor Rudolph II in Prague’ by Austrian painter Edouard Ender and ‘John Dee Performing an Experiment Before Queen Elizabeth I’ by English painter Henry Gillard Glindoni are both commendable works, and each contain their own rich details which require multiple viewings to fully absorb. Compared to Maclise’s painting though, I’m distracted by the arguably over-regal presentation of Emperor Rudolph in Ender’s work, and something about Glindoni piece fails to resonate with me a dramatic level. In Endor’s painting I’m more interested in the figures in the background, especially that young man, possibly a self portrait of the artist himself, staring out at us from the shadows alongside the staircase. Conversely, the true star in Glindoni’s painting would be that crocodile hanging over the scene!
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Philip Hermogenes Calderon - Broken Vows (1856)

Charles Haigh Wood - Love Will Triumph (n.d.)

Today's December Double selections both exhibit romance in distress. ‘Broken Vows’ by English painter Philip Hermogenes Calderon and ‘Love Will Triumph’ by fellow English painter Charles Haigh Wood each depict subjects struggling to cope with the drama unfolding in their respective scenes. It’s fascinating to watch how Calderon and Wood present their stories for the viewer, offering clues—some subtler than others—about what is transpiring. I prefer Calderon’s painting for his wonderful use of light and shadow, however I would say Wood’s work offers a more nuanced scene, providing more room for conversation.

One element I admire in 'Broken Vows' is how Calderon urges us to sympathize with the young woman, placing us on her side of the fence as she overhears to two people on the other side, presumably her lover and another woman he appears to be courting. Given this visual perspective, we see only scant details of this man and woman behind the fence—just enough to convey affection between the two. While we observe the man’s alleged betrayal with our eyes, the woman in the foreground can hear their flirtations, which is surely no less painful for her. I would presume she stumbled upon this scene by accident, perhaps while strolling through the garden. The entire painting is framed around her figure, making her the central character whom we are to identify with. Her overall body language is that of both disappoint and discomfort and I must note how her right hand fingers are resting pensively against the brick wall. Effective.

Unlike Calderon’s painting, the visual narrative in 'Love with Triumph' pays equal weight to all the subjects, laying them out in a fashion which resembles a stage play, lending a theatrical quality to the work which emphasizes its dramatic elements. In this scene an overbearing father is forbidding the young man to see his daughter, seated at the far left right and looking appropriately distraught. I would presume the woman by the father’s side is his wife, perhaps urging him to reconsider his order, or at least mind is temper. Visually the father provides the strongest figure in the room, towering over all the other characters in the scene, and there is a stately quality to his profile which commands him authority. The young man, though not as dynamic of a figure, nevertheless seems composed, with his eyes fixed on his sweetheart’s father in a way which leads me to believe that he will not easily back down from this challenge. Furthermore, the title ‘Love Will Triumph’ guarantees that he will succeed and be united with his partner.

That said, I find ‘Love’ a more intriguing scene than ‘Vows’ simply because how Wood’s subjects are situated throughout his handsome interior compared to Calderon’s quaint garden. In ‘Love’ it’s also interesting to observe their body language with one another, which could lead to different interpretations about the story taking place, while our young woman in ‘Vows’ is central to herself.
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Christopher Nevinson - The Strand by Night (1937)

Ernest Lawson - New York Street Scene (n.d.)

Today's December Double, 'The Strand by Night' by British painter Christopher Nevinson and 'New York Street Scene' by Canadian-American painter Ernest Lawson, remind me of my idealistic first impressions of the big city. As a young man I viewed the city with the same awe and majesty that one might identify with a natural wonder; those towering structures and bright city lights represented a whole new world to be explored—and most importantly, an escape from small town life, for better or worse.

'The Strand by Night' offers a side street view of a busy night scene. I love how this action is tightly framed between the two buildings, with the luminescent light just barely contained within those dark, rigid boundaries. I imagine continuing down this side street to finding myself stepping into that bright, magnificent world, bubbling with life and energy, and then losing myself in the city lights.

'New York Street Scene' is a different matter but no less spectacular. Here we have a daytime scene of a busy city street, with our point of view leading directly down the center and settling on a pair of faint buildings in the distance. Lawson's framing of these buildings, towering over our perspective from either side, resembles that of one's view from down within a steep canyon. Fantastic. This painting also recalls my first impression of LaSalle Ave in Chicago while looking south toward the Chicago Board of Trade.
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Pierre-Narcisse Guerin - Morpheus and Iris (1811)

William-Adolphe Bouguereau - Idylle (1851)

For today’s December Double I would like to share 'Morpheus and Iris' by French painter Pierre-Narcisse Guerin and 'Idylle' by fellow French painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau, two works which direct our attention to the beauty and seductiveness of the male form.

While 'Morpheus and Iris' represents both of its subjects in the nude, I find it refreshing to note that the male figure, Morpheus, the unmistakable focal point of this work, is depicted in a sensuous manner with his torso reclining toward us and his arms stretched upward, as if Guerin were inviting us to admire his youthful physique. Iris, on the other hand, is granted some modesty, or at least more than that of her companion. In this painting Morpheus is clearly meant to be the viewer’s object of fancy.

'ldylle' appeals to me for much of the same reasons. I like how the nude man is seated on the ground while looking upward at the clothed women smiling down at him. With his arms and legs wrapped around her body, presumably urging her forward while reciting a poem, there's something very tender and intimate about this painting. She appears to be picking peddles off the flower, perhaps indicating that’s she’s considering his invitation. Also, whether intentional or not, the woodland setting recalls Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
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Floris Gerritsz van Schooten - Still Life of Cheese (17th Century)

Clara Peeters - Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels (1615)

My December Double would not be complete without a pair of savory food still lifes by two fantastic Dutch Golden Age painters. 'Still Life of Cheese' by Floris Gerritsz van Schooten and 'Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels' by Clara Peeters both devote our attention to history’s most celebrated dairy product, however each artist offers a widely different approach toward this subject matter.

Van Schooten's painting uses an earthly palette and generous helping of empty space to create a subdued, contemplative scene. By comparison, Peeters's painting could be described as bold and perhaps even a bit overwhelming, using high contrast and occupying all corners of the canvas with food and glassware, leaving little room for the scene to breathe. I prefer van Schooten’s approach, though I do enjoy the amount of excessive detail throughout Peeters’s painting, and apparently the top piece of that orange jug contains a tiny smidge which could be a self-portrait of the artist. This would seem appropriately indulgent considering the spread of foods on display.
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Johann Baptist Wengler - Dance in the Tavern (1844)

Jean-Antoine Watteau - Real Joy (n.d.)

Today I would like to share two excellent works which illustrate the pleasure of dancing with a partner, sharing positive energy between one another and relishing the moment for all it's worth. 'Dance in the Tavern' by Austrian painter Johann Baptist Wengler and 'Real Joy' by French painter Jean-Antoine Watteau both capture their subjects in movement, feeling the rhythm of the music while creating a merry spectacle for others to enjoy, even if they don't have the full attention of other's within their respective scenes.

Obviously most of the barflies in 'Tavern' are indifferent to the dancing couple, and even the fiddle player seems more engaged in conversation with his friend than with providing music. At least everyone in the back areas seems in jolly spirit. However, the same cannot be said for the somber young man sitting alone in the table, watching the two dancers with worried eyes. I wonder if he's related to or already acquainted with either of the two dancers. Perhaps he's even the third wheel of their group. Observing their clothes, I find myself looking for clues which might indicate who arrived with whom and so forth, and I would be urged to say that the dancers are a couple. I also note the plate and beer stein resting on bench in the lower left section of the painting, and that mop looks to be in a very questionable spot--primed to knock over the jug on the floor. Maybe all or some items belong to either one of the two dancers? Who knows.

At any rate, the man sitting by himself seems in a woebegone state, and on the wall behind him one can observe a crude drawing of couple kissing, further solidifying his position alone in an otherwise social environment. Poor guy. At least the dancers are having a good time.

Watteau's painting thankfully spares us a languishing spectator for his scene, and I can't help note how artist's delicate use of line and color elevates the subject matter; All the elements within 'Real Joy' are harmonious, as the movement of these dancers is complimented by the Watteau's wonderful rendering of the surrounding foliage and the clouds. As a visual experience, this painting flows like a piece of music. I also like how the fiddle player has his back to us, providing more dimension to the scene.
againstathorn: (Studio pic - pencil shaver)

Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier - The Hired Assassins (1852)

Pierre Narcisse Guerin - Clytemnestra and Agamemnon (1822)

For today's December Double I’ve selected a pair of paintings which both depict assassins approaching their intended victims. I proudly present 'The Hired Assassins' by French classicist painter Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier and 'Clytemnestra and Agamemnon' by fellow French painter Pierre Narcisse Guerin. Though these works are derived from widely different subject matter, they share a familiar narrative and generate a comparable level of tension.

The most obvious difference between these two works is that Guerin's painting provides a view of the assassin target, otherwise known as Clytemnestra’s husband Agamemnon, whereas in Meissonier's painting the target is located out of sight behind that handsome wooden door. The inclusion of Agamemnon himself, shown sleeping comfortably in his bed, generates sympathy for him and perhaps even contempt for the Clytemnestra as well as her accomplice, Aegisthus, who is shown pushing her forward. This interaction between Clytemnestra and Aegisthus certainly stands out, amd this area of the painting is emphasized by the bright light illuminating behind the curtain.

Similarly, Meissonier's painting shows interaction between his two assassins, as the man surveying through the keyhole urges his eager companion to stand back. This is a very simple yet effective use of body language between the men, their posture and gestures complimenting each other to create a composition which comfortably guilds the eye from left to right through light and shadow. Meissonier's approach actually feels much more nuanced than that shown in Guerin's painting, adding intrigue to this otherwise ambiguous scene.
againstathorn: (Studio pic - pencil shaver)

Ditlev Blunck - Nightmare Scene (1846)

Leo Putz - Vanitas (1896)

Today's December Double is a sublime pair of paintings which appeal to darker sensibilities. 'Nightmare Scene' by Danish painter Ditlev Blunck and 'Vanitas' by Tyrolean painter Leo Putz are both unsettling, cryptic works, crafted to place the viewer on guard with imagery which contains both sensual and disturbing elements.

Upon first viewing, 'Nightmare Scene' made to do a double-take. That creepy, dark-toned rabbit creature, perched on top of the young woman’s chest, was not immediately apparent to me, with its torso hidden against the shadow of the background. When I spotted it though—notably those wicked ears—this painting made me jump back. Furthermore, the sight of this creature looming over the woman’s exposed breast while watching her sleep is very unnerving. She certainly doesn’t seem to have experiencing a nightmare, but she surely will once she wakes up and finds herself face-to-face with that demonic creature.

The threat in 'Vanitas' is more atmospheric, noting that omnibus face and accompanying figures looming in the background. Griping her head, the nude woman is turned away from us, not inviting the viewer to share her torment. This is a pain she will have to endure alone. The title of this work refers to a genre of Dutch still-life painting containing symbolism pertaining to death and the inevitability thereof. Make of that what you will.

As with ‘Nightmare Scene’, the antagonist in ‘Vanitas’ is shrouded in darkness, lurking in the shadows like a predator in wait for its prey. Furthermore, the white bedsheets in each scene stand out against the otherwise dark palettes, perhaps indicating the purity of the female victims. Both paintings also seem to utilize the nudity as a source of vulnerability.

againstathorn: (Studio pic - pencil shaver)

Andre-Henri Dargelas - Around The World (ca. 1906)

Ralph Hedley Laing - Barred Out (1896)

It's reassuring to know that kids have always been rambunctious, sometimes even outright unruly, during times when they'd much rather play. It does operate against a young person's nature to easily comply with authority—in this case contently sitting still through their teachers' dry classroom lectures. Today's December Double, 'Around the World' by French painter Andre-Henri Dargelas and 'Barred Out' by English painter Ralph Hedley Laing, both illustrate this rebellious spirit of youth, though the end result is more whimsical than alarming. These works don't ask us to condone their little ones' actions, but they do invite us to see their seemingly drab, institutional surroundings through their eyes. Children in masse are a powerful force, and are perhaps wiser than given credit for.

Of these two paintings, I prefer ‘Around The World’ for its strong narrative and the rich detail throughout the scene; The children situated at different points within the classroom, along with the various books and other items seen on the desks and the floor, create a more intriguing story than the more straight-forward scene depicted in ‘Barred Out’. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare these two works, given their widely different styles, but that’s how I feel. On an added note, the outlay of the classroom in ‘Barred Out’ seems extremely flat compared to that of ‘Around the World’. I also enjoy sense of weight Darfelas supplies to the hanging globe as the youngsters push and pull it across the room. Wonderful painting!


againstathorn: (Default)

December 2016

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