Home » Modern and Post Modern » Modern and Post Modern – Paintings

Modern and Post Modern – Paintings

There is no real course work this week so we are reviewing the work we have done to date. The video lectures were about the visual arts at the time of the writers we have read. Here are my notes from the lectures of Professor Micheal Roth, brilliant lecturer if you ever have the chance to hear him. Some of the notes are my own and the rest are my notes of the Lectures and often direct quotes from Professor Roth.

The visual arts in France

Chopin 1835 : Source: Wikipedia

{here} is some Chopin for while you are looking at theses lovely pictures. The arrival of Romanticism in French art was delayed by the strong hold of Neoclassicism on the academies, but from the Napoleonic period it became increasingly popular, initially in the form of history paintings propagandising for the new regime. There was  a lot in common here with the works of Baudelair and Neitzche that we studied in the last session particularly of art leading to heightened emotions and romanticism. There is more intensity in this work with colours and potent images.

Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix ( April 1798 – August 1863)

Delacroix was considered the leader of the French Romantic school of painting. His use of expressive brush-strokes and  study of  effects of colour  shaped the work of the Impressionists. His passion for the exotic inspired the artists of the Symbolist movement.  He was born as the Age of Enlightenment was giving way to the ideas and style of romanticism.

Death of Sardanapalus 1827 Source : Wikimedia

This picture of the ‘Death of Sardanapalus‘ shows his sense of the exotic  It portrays  exotic romanticism, death and violence. Following his trips to North Africa Delacoix became fascinated in the   non western world. He saw it as a world of heightened vibrancy and violation of decorum full of sexuality.The Death of Sardanapalus depicts the besieged king watching impassively as guards carry out his orders to kill his servants, concubines and animals. The literary source is a play by Byron, although the play does not specifically mention any massacre of concubines.

The Massacre at Chios Source : Wikipedia

The Massacre at Chios is more than four meters tall, and shows some of the horror of the wartime destruction visited on the Island of Chios. The Orientalism shows how westerners pictured non Europeans to reinforce their notions of order and balance and virtue.  This is another example of sexuality, violence and intensity. His depiction of suffering was controversial however, as there was no glorious event taking place, no patriots raising their swords in valour as in David’s Oath of the Horatii, only a disaster. Many critics deplored the painting’s despairing tone; the artist Antoine-Jean Gros called it “a massacre of art”. The pathos in the depiction of an infant clutching its dead mother’s breast had an especially powerful effect.

Romantic history painting. Commemorates the Fr...

Commemorates the French Revolution of 1830 (July Revolution)  Source : Wikipedia)

Liberty Leading the People :1830 Source ; Wikipedia This third picture from Delacroix of Liberty Leading the People is full of emotion. It was painted in  1830 to celebrate the July Revolution of that year. The picture reinforces the ideal that everyone was working together for the good of people and freedom. Marianne, the French emblem of liberty, leads a group of people from all classes and ages. The young boy has sometimes said to be a depiction of Gavroche from Les Misérables. This name has become synonymous for an urchin or a street child. The storming of the barricades encouraged a  revolutionary fervour for class solidarity. The picture was first shown in 1848 and is now on display in the Louvre. It is one of the political romanticism. We can compare the exotic work of Delacriox with the paintings of the  French neoclassical painter :-

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (August 1780 – January 1867)

Napoleon on his Imperial throne

Napoleon on his Imperial throne
Source : Wikimedia

Ingres work is much more controlled than that of Delacriox. He was best known for his portraiture including one of Napoleon.  He was very respectful of the past, and took  the role of a guardian of academic orthodoxy against the ascendant Romantic style represented  Delacroix.

His explained that his paintings were “the great masters which flourished in that century of glorious memory when Raphael set the eternal and incontestable bounds of the sublime in art … I am thus a conservator of good doctrine, and not an innovator.”

His work was not without criticism. His work was criticised as being Gothic  Critics found fault  with the strange discordance of colour, the want of sculptural relief, the chilly precision of contour, and the self-consciously archaic quality.

How, with so much talent, a line so flawless, an attention to detail so thorough, has M. Ingres succeeded in painting a bad picture? The answer is that he wanted to do something singular, something extraordinary … M. Ingres’s intention is nothing less than to make art regress by four centuries, to carry us back to its infancy, to revive the manner of Jean de Bruges

Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet (June 1819 – December 1877)

The Desperate Man Source ;Wikimedia

Courbet was a realist painter. Realism was a reaction against the perceived fake order of classism and against the inauthentic intensity of romanticism. Courbet wanted to see the world more fully and more real. He saw art in the context of unmasking bourgeois sentimentalism on behalf of social change He named his  self-portrait “The Desperate Man” and the picture certainly looks as though he is desperate.

The Stone Breakers Source : Wikimedia

Courbet was interested in social realism he wanted to show the every day. He wanted to move away from the exotic nature  of romanticist.  He was interested in finding the beauty and power of labour and  work on the land.He  tried to open up the perception of the art going world to ordinary people living in France by showing social class as it existed in France at that time. This picture of The Stone Breakers  was an 1849–50 painting. It is  was a work of social realism, depicting two peasants, a young man and an old man, breaking rocks. The picture was destroyed during World War II, along with 154 other pictures, when a transport vehicle moving the pictures to the castle of Königstein, nearDresden, was bombed by Allied forces in February 1945.

Le Sommeil (The Sleepers) 1866 Source : Wikimedia

This picture of The Sleepers resulted in police report when it was exhibited by a picture dealer in 1872. It and gave him an infamous reputation. His subject matter became more anti bourgeois towards the end of the 1860’s. It was originally commissioned by the Turkish diplomat and art collector, Halil Şerif Paşa, who lived in Paris. The painting was not permitted to be shown publicly until 1988, like a number of his other works such as L’Origine du monde, his most notorious painting of female genitalia.  One of the models for the painting was Joanna Hiffernan, who was the mistress of fellow painter James Abbott Whistler at the time. Whistler’s relationship with Hiffernan ended soon afterwards, and his opinion of Courbet soured. The painting created an impact in 19th century art, because after the public display of Le Sommeil, a number of contemporary artists were influenced by the theme of lesbian couples. Repetition of this theme helped to lower the taboos associated with lesbian relationships. Borderlaire, painted by Courbet, would be interested in this picture, something shocking and out of the ordinary.

A Burial At Ornans 1849–50 Source : Wikimedia

It was this painting entitled A Burial At Ornans that brought Courbet instant fame. It hangs in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. It records the funeral in September 1848 of his great-uncle in the painter’s birthplace. It treats an ordinary provincial funeral with unflattering realism, and on the giant scale traditionally reserved for the heroic or religious scenes, 315 cm × 660 cm (124 in × 260 in). According to art historian Sarah Faunce, “In Paris the Burial was judged as a work that had thrust itself into the grand tradition of history painting, like an upstart in dirty boots crashing a genteel party, and in terms of that tradition it was of course found wanting.” Courbet’s mourners make no theatrical gestures of grief, and their faces seem more caricatured than ennobled. The critics accused Courbet of a deliberate pursuit of ugliness. He said: “The Burial at Ornans was in reality the burial of Romanticism.”  The picture returns the viewers gaze to the ordinary to show attentiveness to surface and the painting itself . It shows a self conscious approach to being a painter.

Édouard Manet (January 1832 – April 1883)

Study of a boat at Argenteuil, 1874. Source : Bandagedear.com

Manet was one of the first 19th century artists to approach modern and postmodern-life subjects, he was a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism. This Study of a boat at Argenteuil  is an example of early impressionism which was inspired by Courbet pursuit of the real and his intense gaze at the ordinary. He tried to simplify ways in which the painter interacted with the world, to show the world and the painter absorbing the world. He showed the impressions of life on him and the canvas.

Music in the Tuileries 1862. Source : Wikimedia

Music in the Tuileries is an early example of Manet’s painterly style. Inspired by Hals and Velázquez, it is a harbinger of his lifelong interest in the subject of leisure. interest in capturing the modern swirl of life . The use of  lots of colours shows how the artist delighted in the multiplicity of living in the modern city. Here Manet has depicted his friends, artists, authors, and musicians who take part, and he has included a self-portrait among the subjects. Included in the image are Manet himself, Charles Baudelaire, Théophile Gautier,Henri Fantin-Latour, Jacques Offenbach, and Manet’s brother Eugène.

The Railway 1873 Source : Wikimedia

The Railway, also known as The Gare Saint-Lazare is set is the urban landscape of Paris in the late nineteenth c century He used his favourite model, a fellow painter, Victorine Meurent who was also the model for Olympia and the Luncheon on the Grass. Here she is sitting in front of an iron fence holding a sleeping puppy and an open book in her lap. Next to her is a little girl with her back to the painter, who watches a train pass beneath them. This picture depicted a scene that was becoming possible as ordinary people interacted with the technology of the time. The growth of rail roads had an impact on ordinary people.  Because of the increased  interaction between the social classes it was not just the upper class dealing with art and technology. The scene depicts a sober acknowledgement of how in the modern city people rub up against one another and confront the new modern world.

Le Déjeuner Sur L’herbe ; (1862 – 1863) Source ; Wikimedia

The Paris Salon rejected Luncheon on the Grass for exhibition in 1863. Manet exhibited it at the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Rejected) later in the year. He   employed model Victorine Meurent, his wife Suzanne, future brother-in-law Ferdinand Leenhoff, and one of his brothers to pose.

He has injected into this scene a renaissance perspective. He shows new aspects of bourgeois life that of taking courtesans prostitutes into the park for a sexual romp.

Pastoral Concert – circa 1509 Source : Wikimedia

It showed life as it was not usually displayed for public consumption. The bourgeois found it shocking when they who went to see the exhibitions. The naked woman is looking directly out at you implicating the viewer into the picture. One amusing comment from a viewer was they found it shocking that “he has not even thought to remove his ugly cloth cap.” The painting would have shocked further had it retained its original title “The Playful Foursome”.  One of the things that most shocked the bourgeois was that there are two fully dressed men which draws attention to the nakedness of the women. Manet’s inspiration for this painting, Le  Concert Champêtre (Pastoral Concert)  by Tiziano Vecellio ( Titien) painted in circa 1509,  had caused no such scandal and was happily displayed at the Louvre.

This is exactly the sort of image Baudelaire was calling for as early as 1845. He wanted a new style of painting that would show ” how great and poetic we are in our neckties and polished boots.”

The painting, with its abbreviated, sketch-like handling, is calling attention to itself as a painting.  It is playfully disturbing our realist expectations. The courtesan reminds us that the paining is an object to be beheld and not a window on the world she calls attention to the viewer. The picture was the inspiration for a number of works including Monet’s painting of the same name.

Olympia – 1863 Source : Wikimedia

The picture that caused the greatest disturbances when it was shown at the salon was Olympia. It was found to be immoral and vulgar. The crowd found that the painting calls attention to the figure’s nakedness. The unashamed gaze of Olympia offended them as the courtesan defiantly stares out at her viewers. Her hand, stretched across her pubic area, was said to be a sign, not of modesty, but one of shamelessness. The black servant with flowers from a suitor adds to the lack of  romanticism. Details in this image call out connections to prostitution. The name “Olympia” was one often used by prostitutes of the time. The orchid in her hair, her bracelet, pearl earrings and the oriental shawl on which she lies are all symbols of wealth and sensuality. The casually cast off slipper only adds to the markings of a woman who has undressed rather than a classical nude to be looked at from afar.

The Venus of Urbino (1538) another painting by the Italian master Titian was the inspiration for “Olympia.” Venus has a little dog which was a symbol of  fidelity this was replaced by a black cat for Olympia, a detailed that called out to Baudelaire.  Venus also has her hand over her pubic area but with a more delicate, modest, gesture.

The picture is not a smooth idealised nude. It draws attention to its own painterliness with its broad, quick brush-strokes, studio lighting that eliminates mid-tones, large colour surfaces and shallow depth. The perspective is not there to promote a sense of depth or realism but to give the picture the  status of  a work of art as a painting.

La Loge de l’opéra by Constantin Guys. Source :Wikimedia .

Modernism in painting is often identified as a movement in aesthetics that calls attention to the artwork as a work of art rather than a look at the world. Part of the modernist stream into the middle of the 20th century was the exploration of painting itself.

This picture of the Opera by Constantin Guys (1802-1892) shows how everyone was looking at everyone. People were out to see and be seen. Their criss cross gazes emphasises how they want to know who is looking at whom.  Baudelaire called him the “painter of modern life,” and wrote a long essay on Guys in which he extensively praised his works, under the pseudonym “Monsieur G”  This was just what Baudelaire loved about modernity, unexpected interactions. Guys was not idealistic or romantic but he was interested in the ‘monsters’.

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère), 1882

 A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882)  was Manet’s first major work exhibited at the Paris Salon. In it he captures the sadness, detachment and melancholy of a pleasure spot, a crowded bar where  middle class men go to look at scantily dressed dancers. The man’s reflection is out of synch with gaze of  the girl. There have been several interpretations of why this should be. The model is Suzon who worked at the Folies in the 1880’s. She is dressed to please. He is suggesting that she a commodity  like the things in front of her, to be bought and sold in the spectacle of modern entertainment. The oranges in front of her were often associated with prostitutes in Manet’s paintings. Is this picture also a commodity?

Again we have the idea of the looker being looked at. We can be sure we will be looked at as we looked at others. It is hard to get out of that criss cross of gazes and reflections. Everyone except Suzon has their front reflected in the mirror. There is even a man with binoculars in the background. She is as detached from the rest of the bar as she is from her job and her role, grounded by the solidity of the bar which she clings to. The reflection of her back shows a woman shorter, with wider hips and duller hair. Is the Suzon in the picture the real person or the persons she displays for the customers pleasure?


  1. angela says:

    A wonderful post- you make me feel guilty for I just started listening a bit ago… alas, I dislike the Romantics, so I find blog catchup more interesting.
    Btw- seems we are taking a lot of the same courses, ergo, you may enjoy “Justice” at edX – another philosophy course and with an amazing lecturer!

    • Louise Taylor says:

      Thanks for dropping by. I find that making notes like this and reading around the subject helps me to understand the lectures. Passive listening, I’m afraid even with a lecturer as animated and interesting as Mr Roth, just doesn’t sink in.
      I will look out for that MOOC, thank you. At the moment I am also doing The Ancient Greek Hero with Harvard so I can’t take on another just yet:)

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