Today was our last Art and Architecture class and we spent our class time presenting different works that we have studied during the course of the module. It was actually a really great review for the final and helped to clear up some confusion about the abundance of art and architecture knowledge that we have accumulated over the semester. The presentations spanned from Renaissance artwork to modern art and were a great review. The presentation that I found most helpful was that on David’s neoclassical painting, “The Oath of Horatii.” I found the review of this oil on canvas painting to be most helpful because it reminded me of the story behind “The Oath of Horatii.” I completely forgot about the battle between the brothers which is the reason why the brother killed his sister. Having seen so many paintings throughout this course, it can all become a blur so I found the review to be very helpful.
Additionally, I would just like to say that I chose to take this course because I thought it would make me fall in love with Paris and with art. Up to this point in my life I was never the biggest fan of art. I was never one of the people who could go and spend an entire day at an art museum but this course has definitely given me a new appreciation for art. I like that I can now look at a painting or sculpture and analyze it correctly. I love the fact that I can walk into a cathedral and know that I am standing in the nave and that the roof is comprised of ribbed vaults. I am really glad that I took this class; I enjoyed it and I was right, it did make me fall in love with Paris and it opened my eyes to different styles of artwork.
After having thoroughly enjoyed our first day at the Musee D’Orsay I expected to feel likewise today… and I did! Today the works we studied seemed to focus on one general reoccurring theme: nude versus naked. I never realized that there was a difference in these seemingly identical terms but I was wrong. A subject is nude when they are being idealized in the painting, generally if one subject is nude then all subjects are nude. A subject is nude when he/she is portrayed in a tasteful manner meaning that the viewer does not pay attention to the fact that they are not wearing clothes; nude appears to be a state of being, not a choice. Naked, on the other hand, is a choice. The subject is often portrayed covering him or herself and there are frequently piles of clothes on the floor. Additionally, an artist may only portray one subject as naked and the others as clothed to further demonstrate the fact that the subject is naked and not nude. Such was the case in Edouard Manet’s “Olympia” circa 1863. This realist oil on canvas painting was featured in the Salon of 1865 because of its avant-garde but beautiful nature. Olympia is clearly naked because you can see her clothes laying beneath her. Additionally, she is covering herself further demonstrating that she is naked. Her hand is the clearest part of the painting and the most in focus which draws the viewer’s attention to exactly what she is covering. The fact that her handmaid is clothed only further exacerbates Olympia’s nakedness. Additionally, Manet used a play on words and some seriously twisted-humor by adding a cat to the painting to further draw the viewer’s attention to Olympia’s nakedness. Every brush stroke was done with intent to purposefully make this painting shocking. I really like this painting because not only is it beautiful but it also clearly demonstrates the difference between nude and naked subjects in artwork.
Today was our first day at Musee D’Orsay and I honestly did not know what to expect; we had seen both Renaissance and modern art and from my understanding the works at the Musee D’Orsay were to be the happy medium between the two ends of the spectrum. We did see a great deal of art that seemed to be the bridge between classical and modern artwork. The piece that I found most interesting was an oil on canvas painting entitled, “Plowing the Nivernais” by Rosa Bonheur. I was initially drawn to this piece when I heard it was created by a female artist (Bonheur is the only female artist we have seen through the entirety of this course). I was even further drawn in when I learned that unlike many of her male counterparts, Rose Bonheur had no classical training and never attended any sort of art school meaning that her gift was natural and she made her work what she wanted it to be and not what she was told it was supposed to be. This realist painting is just that, real. The dirt looks dirty, it has an almost touchable quality to it. The oxen look real and tired. My only non-realistic comment is that the white of the oxen is perfectly clean even though they are trekking through dirt. When I look at this painting I feel like I am on a farm and working in the field. The fact that this painting is based on natural talent makes it all the more amazing. It is a great piece that almost looks like a photograph; it is a natural scene that could be happening at any point and time. Bonheur was able to capture everyday life and make it seem exquisite. For these reasons, I found “Plowing in the Nivernais” to be so incredible.
Today was a more architecture based day as we walked around the Opera Garnier and examined the Beaux-Arts style. First off, I love architecture! I find it so much more fascinating than artwork because of its functionality. I found the Opera to be incredibly beautiful and interesting because it is the embodiment of Beaux-Arts style. Beaux-Arts architecture is characterized by symmetry, statues, subtle polychromy or the use of color in an unexpected way and eclecticism; it is a very cool mix of both old and new styles of architecture that make an amazing end result. The Opera Garnier itself was amazing because it featured classical columns with vivid colors such as pinks, purples and greens. It also featured a great deal of gold and marble (classical) but once again, the marble was lavishly colored. Also the Opera is ornamented with Roman style statues (classical) but instead of being made out of marble, they are made out of cement (modern). Additionally, one of these statues, Carpeaux’s “The Dance,” was quite scandalous at the time of its unveiling because of its sensuous and happy nature. Parents did not want their children to see this statue and someone actually tried to deface it by throwing ink at it. I think that the story behind “The Dance” only made it more interesting because as a modern art observer I can not fathom the idea that a statue would be ill-received because the subjects appear too happy. People thought it was inappropriate but I personally found the controversial statue to complement the building nicely. I imagined that the Opera would be very classical-looking, and it was, but it also had a fun and modern twist on it as well which is why I liked it so much.
I will be the first to admit that I am not the biggest fan of modern art; I find it weird and blatantly inartistic so I can truthfully say that I will less than thrilled when I learned that we would be visiting the Pompidou Centre. Fortunately for me, although the Pompidou did feature art that I would never consider art (i.e Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain”) it also featured works that I would enjoy. One piece that I found particularly interesting was the Primitive sculpture “Two Negresses” by Henri Matisse. This piece was sculpted in 1907-1908 and speaks to the idea of gender. When you first look at it it looks like a man and a women gazing into each other’s eyes. Upon closer investigation however, the viewer sees that both figures in this sculpture are female. Matisse is specifically speaking to the idea that gender is an illusion and that humans posses both masculine and feminine traits regardless of gender. Additionally, the fact that the sculpture is not smooth and a bit rough around the edges only further demonstrates that gender is not a black and white issue and that there is room for interpretation. I found this to be a very progressive and modern idea for the early 1900’s. I also found this piece so interesting because Matisse was also a painter yet, I find this piece to be done with so much intent that I would think he would solely be a sculptor. This is probably one of my favorite pieces that I have seen during this course which is ironic because as aforementioned I do not generally like modern art. In my opinion, “Two Negresses” blows Matisse’s paintings out of the water; there is simply no comparison. I just find it to be a remarkably interesting piece.
On our last visit to the Louvre we saw many interesting pieces, however the one that stood out most to me was Eugene Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People.” Delacroix is a famed Romantic painter partly because he was able to use his pieces to make political statements. Such is the case in this oil on canvas painting. It commemorates the French Revolution of 1890. Due to the fact that I am taking a revolutions class I found this piece particularly interesting because it speaks volumes about this Revolution. For example, Lady Liberty is standing on a pile of men holding a musket; this symbolizes the fact that Liberty will prevail through the struggle and that it is an ongoing fight for liberty. Also, the pile of men which Liberty is standing on represents all the different social classes involved in the Revolution. Delacroix understood that a revolution requires the unification of many social classes not just the elites and was able to illustrate this in his painting. Furthermore, the expression on the characters’ faces truly demonstrate the zeal and vigor they had in fighting for their liberty and implementing a successful revolution. Revolution is an ongoing uphill battle; in many ways, the struggle never ends and Eugene Delacroix understood this. I also like the fact that Liberty is bare-breasted. I think that this is symbolic of the fact that revolution truly is a no-holds-barred situation. Anything goes as long as the successful completion of a revolution is implemented. Overall, I really enjoyed this piece because it is actually very accurate to the study of revolution. It is more than just a lovely painting; it really does speak volumes about the struggle of the Revolution of 1890 and I just found it very interesting.
Today we spent another day at the Louvre however, instead of focusing on the Italian Renaissance paintings that we had previously studied, we moved on to Northern and French Renaissance paintings. Northern and French Renaissance artwork differ from Italian Renaissance artwork in that they are characterized by being extremely realistic, very detail oriented and utilized a great deal of symbolism to convey a story. The Fontainbleau school oil on canvas painting entitled “Presumed Portrait of Gabrielle d’Estrees and Her Sister the Duchess of Villars” is a perfect example of classic French Renaissance artwork. Gabrielle d’Estrees was the mistress of King Henry IV and they had children together. They were engaged to be married however she died during childbirth and the wedding never went through. The painting is believed to be a wedding gift for Gabrielle from Henry IV. Art historians believe this because Gabrielle is holding a ring which symbolizes her upcoming nuptials. Additionally, in the higher levels of society it was quite common for portraits, such as this one, to be given as wedding gifts. the fact that her sister is pinching her nipple is symbolic of motherhood and breastfeeding (Gabrielle was pregnant Henry IV’s child in this painting). In the background, a woman is sowing baby clothes which further demonstrates that Gabrielle is carrying the King’s child. Gabrielle and her sister both look very high-class due to their small lips, drawn-on eyebrows and receding hairlines which is ironic because although Gabrielle looks classy she is still an adulteress. I really found this painting quite unique and interesting not just for the obvious reasons, but because it was also about to tell a story in an avant-garde fashion.