Archive for the ‘portrait’ Tag

To Motherhood   Leave a comment

One of the most vivid images I encountered at the Art Institute of Chicago museum actually fits quite well with today being Mother’s Day.

Perhaps you are well acquainted with the work of artist Mary Cassatt, and if not, she is definitely worth some investigation.  Having been born in 1844 into a fairly prosperous Pittsburgh family, it was certainly not her parents’ intent for her to make a career as an artist.  As you might imagine, in those times it was not quite considered a proper path for a young lady….or rather it was considered a more unusual path.  However, Mary was a very determined and independent soul and pursued her art and art training without much moral support from her family in the early part of her career.  She moved to Paris, where she felt most at home and where she could study the great pieces in the museums. She suffered the usual problems faced by many of the accomplished women artists of her time: difficulty in obtaining inclusion into the male dominated, but all important world of the Salon exhibits…and a general view at the time that womens’ artwork rarely equaled that of  their male counterparts.  Obtaining quality art training for women was also a thorny path at times.  Still she did not give up, but kept working. With her unusual talent, she did manage later on to gain entrance into the Salons,  and a friendship and working relationship (but not a romantic one by all indications )with Edgar Degas proved to be a catalyst for further career development and acclaim.  She traveled in and exhibited with the Independent circle of what we now call the Impressionists, and counted Monet, Berthe Morisot and others as her friends. Still, she stayed true to her own artistic vision and style.

Mary”s best known works are executed in oils, pastels, or through printmaking techniques. A major body of work, and perhaps her most famous, consists of portraying the world of women and children and the tender relationships between the two.  The piece of work that commanded my attention at the Art Institute of Chicago is one that is often reproduced, but like all the really great pieces of artwork, is really unreproducible.  I was struck by that obvious fact as I stood transfixed.  The piece truly seemed alive.  Although I did my best to photograph it, just like in all the textbook depictions, it defies being captured on film.  One just cannot capture the life of the paint itself and the three-dimensionality of the image. I have seen other Cassatts in other museums, but this one is a masterpiece…in composition, color and technique.  Here is my meager attempt to show you what it looks like….

Entitled “The Bath”, it was painted in 1892, executed in oil.

Below is a detail of the upper torsos of mother and child.  As I said, the palpable tenderness between woman and child, as well as the vivacity of the brushwork just cannot truly be captured.

A further detail of brushwork in the linens….

I hope at some point you will have the opportunity to see this work in person. It certainly captivated me!

Another group of feminine images I found during my museum visit, were the Figures From the Scarf Dance, done in what I would assume to be porcelain in Sevres, France. Although I only photographed two of them, as I remember there were at least two more.  Each of them stood approximately 14 to 16 inches in height and each had exquisite detail.  They date from 1901-1902, and were of course behind glass!  Very beautiful.  So much motion and grace in the figure below…

A closer look…

The second figure…..

And a closer look… much attention to detail, magnificent craftsmanship.

Whether these figures are soft-paste or hard-paste porcelain, I do not know.  Hard-paste perhaps, because of the date.  But I do know that Sevres porcelain was a favorite of the French King Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour!

And now….

A final look at a tender image of mother and child from long ago….a daguerreotype from about 1850, from the George Eastman House Collection.

Here’s to remembering all mothers…..past and present.

Have a great day.


Rediscovering Some Thomas Gainsborough   Leave a comment

I’ve been dipping into a book recently about the artist Thomas Gainsborough.  At the time I studied painting at school, most of the emphasis was placed on studying modern or contemporary work.  Classical painting was not particularly in fashion and it seemed more time was spent studying late 19th and 20th century masters…in particular the 20th century masters.   Nowadays classical painting is making a comeback and  I see a renewed interest in investigating artists of colonial times and earlier periods.

Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1728) was a British portrait and landscape painter whom I had always associated only with his painting titled The Blue Boy, but who in fact produced many more sensitive and intriguing works throughout the 18th century.  I particularly like the naturalistic portrayal of  Henrietta Vernon, Countess of Grosvenor….seen below.  Although women of the time often powdered their hair or wore wigs, she is shown with neither. Her gaze imparts intelligence and composure.

Although an unfinished sketch, I especially enjoy the direct gaze of the artist’s daughters in the work below, The Painter’s Daughters with a Cat, which is part of the collection of the National Gallery in London.  There is an energy about the piece that I find appealing as well.

The portrait below, of Mary, Countess Howe, shows precision and skill in the rendering of her garments and in conveying a sense of strength in the face of the subject as well.  She is shown out for a walk, striking a pose similar to that shown in works by Van Dyck and other artists.

These are just a few examples of Gainsborough’s work that I admire.  His work, even though it was executed over 200 years ago, still retains an immediacy about it which gives life to the subject matter and enables the viewer to connect with the gaze of a person living in the eighteenth century.  At times I feel as if I am seeing a contemporary person, but one who is just dressed in clothing of another time.