Category Archives: #FineArtFriday

#FineArtFriday: The Fall of Phaeton, Peter Paul Rubens

The story: The Fall of Phaeton is a history painting, recounting the myth of Phaeton. A teenage boy seeks assurance from his mother that his father is the sun god, Helios. She tells him the truth, and advises him to turn to his father for confirmation.

Helios promises to grant him whatever he wants, and despite his father’s reservations, the boy insists on being allowed to drive the sun chariot for a day.

Unfortunately, he is unable to control the horses. The earth freezes when the horses climb too high, and then is scorched when they come too near.

To prevent further havoc, Zeus strikes the chariot down with a thunderbolt. Phaeton falls to earth and is killed.

The painting itself is bold and heroic–the entire story is laid out for the viewer to see. Painted in 1604, the Fall of Phaeton demonstrates the style and power that would characterize Rubens’ later work. Nothing is subtle about this composition–this is in-your-face fantasy with a heavy dose of “don’t bite off more than you can chew.”

I have also thought of it as a warning to parents of teenage drivers, lol!

Quote from Wikipedia: The Fall of Phaeton is a painting by the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens, featuring the ancient Greek myth of Phaeton (Phaethon), a recurring theme in visual arts. Rubens chose to depict the myth at the height of its action, with the thunderbolts hurled by Zeus to the right. The thunderbolts provide the light contrast to facilitate the display of horror on the faces of Phaeton, the horses and other figures while preserving the darkness of the event. The butterfly winged female figures represent the hours and seasons, who react in terror as the night and day cycle becomes disrupted. The great astrological circle that arches the heavens is also disrupted. The assemblage of bodies form a diagonal oval in the center, separating dark and light sides of the canvas. The bodies are arranged so as to assist the viewer’s travel continually around that oval.

About the Artist:

Quote from Wikipedia: Sir Peter Paul Rubens  28 June 1577 – 30 May 1640) was a Flemish artist. He is considered the most influential artist of Flemish Baroque tradition. Rubens’ highly charged compositions reference erudite aspects of classical and Christian history. His unique and immensely popular Baroque style emphasized movement, color, and sensuality, which followed the immediate, dramatic artistic style promoted in the Counter-Reformation. Rubens specialized in making altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects.

In addition to running a large studio in Antwerp that produced paintings popular with nobility and art collectors throughout Europe, Rubens was a classically educated humanist scholar and diplomat who was knighted by both Philip IV of Spain  and Charles I of England. Rubens was a prolific artist. The catalogue of his works by Michael Jaffé lists 1,403 pieces, excluding numerous copies made in his workshop.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File: Peter Paul Rubens – The Fall of Phaeton (National Gallery of Art).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_The_Fall_of_Phaeton_(National_Gallery_of_Art).jpg&oldid=197894421 (accessed September 7, 2018).

Wikipedia contributors, “Peter Paul Rubens,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Peter_Paul_Rubens&oldid=858142256 (accessed September 7, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: The Milkmaid, by Johannes Vermeer #laborday

In America, the first Monday in September is Labor Day, the last long weekend of summer. The weather is still warm, and many people will be enjoying the last big holiday of the summer, barbecuing or camping out. Many will be traveling long distances and staying in hotels.

Because Labor Day is a national holiday, many workers will have Monday off. But those who work in the hospitality industry and in food service will be working overtime, making the holiday good for everyone else. People in the retail industry will also be working long hours, as the last big sales before Halloween will be in effect.

Over the course of my life, I have worked in a wide variety of jobs, most of them paying a low wage. By the mid-nineties, things were easier. As a bookkeeper/office manager I made $7.50 an hour (two dollars over minimum at the time) but I worked less than 30 hours a week with no benefits whatsoever. On weekends and holidays, I worked as a hotel housekeeper in a union shop, making $8.50 (three dollars over minimum), working about 20 hours a week. That gave me enough income from the two jobs to live on and provide for my children.

While I was raising my children, no matter what job I had during the week, I kept my weekend job at the hotel, because when other jobs went away, I always had that one to fall back on.

Only hotel housekeepers with the highest seniority will work a forty hour week. The rest average twenty to thirty hours a week because people travel on weekends more than they do during the week, and certain times of the year are less traveled than others. We maids and laundry workers would have had nothing more than minimum wage without the union. Because of the union, we who did the dirty work earned a little more than those who worked at non-union hotels, and we had a few benefits such as health insurance and a 401k to set aside a little money for our retirement.

Not every union is good, and not every union is reasonable. But I have gratitude that my family and I were protected by a good, reasonable labor organization during those years that were such a struggle for me. Every worker deserves that his/her employer treats them with respect and a fair wage in return for their labor.

As we entered the new millennium, the entry-level job market had improved, and I joined the ranks of Corporate America. Working in the data entry pool for several large corporations over the next few years, I earned enough to give up my part-time job as a hotel maid.

I now have the luxury to live my dream, writing the books that I always wanted to write when I didn’t have the time. And while the world is a different place in many ways than it was in the 1980s, someone still must do the dirty jobs, the work that no one else wants. These people are heroes.

I have nothing but respect for those people who work long hard hours in all areas of the service industry, struggling to support their families. Look around you and see the people who make your life easier just by being there every day doing their job.

Every one of them is a person just like you, a living, caring human being with hopes, ambitions, triumphs, and tragedies. Every one of them has a story and a reason to be where they are, doing the task they have been given. Most love what they do and do the best job that they can.

Take the time to say a little “thank you” to all those women and men who take your unintentional abuse when you are stressed out and “don’t have time to wait,” or are upset by things you have no control over and need to vent at someone who can’t or won’t fight back. Give a little thanks to those who do the dirty work and enable you to live a little easier.


About Johannes Vermeer, the Master of Light (from Wikipedia)

Johannes Vermeer (October 1632 – December 1675) was a Dutch painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life. He was a moderately successful provincial genre painter in his lifetime but evidently was not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death, perhaps because he produced relatively few paintings.

Vermeer worked slowly and with great care, and frequently used very expensive pigments. He is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work.

Vermeer painted mostly domestic interior scenes. “Almost all his paintings are apparently set in two smallish rooms in his house in Delft; they show the same furniture and decorations in various arrangements and they often portray the same people, mostly women.”

He was recognized during his lifetime in Delft and The Hague, but his modest celebrity gave way to obscurity after his death. He was barely mentioned in Arnold Houbraken‘s major source book on 17th-century Dutch painting (Grand Theatre of Dutch Painters and Women Artists), and was thus omitted from subsequent surveys of Dutch art for nearly two centuries. In the 19th century, Vermeer was rediscovered by Gustav Friedrich Waagen and Théophile Thoré-Bürger, who published an essay attributing 66 pictures to him, although only 34 paintings are universally attributed to him today. Since that time, Vermeer’s reputation has grown, and he is now acknowledged as one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age.

About the featured painting, The Milkmaid, also from Wikipedia:

Despite its traditional title, the picture clearly shows a kitchen or housemaid, a low-ranking indoor servant, rather than a milkmaid who actually milks the cow, in a plain room carefully pouring milk into a squat earthenware container (now commonly known as a “Dutch oven”) on a table. Also on the table are various types of bread. She is a young, sturdily built woman wearing a crisp linen cap, a blue apron and work sleeves pushed up from thick forearms. A foot warmer is on the floor behind her, near Delft wall tiles depicting Cupid (to the viewer’s left) and a figure with a pole (to the right). Intense light streams from the window on the left side of the canvas.

The painting is strikingly illusionistic, conveying not just details but a sense of the weight of the woman and the table. “The light, though bright, doesn’t wash out the rough texture of the bread crusts or flatten the volumes of the maid’s thick waist and rounded shoulders”, wrote Karen Rosenberg, an art critic for The New York Times. Yet with half of the woman’s face in shadow, it is “impossible to tell whether her downcast eyes and pursed lips express wistfulness or concentration,” she wrote.

“It’s a little bit of a Mona Lisa effect” in modern viewers’ reactions to the painting, according to Walter Liedtke, curator of the department of European paintings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and organizer of two Vermeer exhibits. “There’s a bit of mystery about her for modern audiences. She is going about her daily task, faintly smiling. And our reaction is ‘What is she thinking?'”


Credits and Attributions:

The Milkmaid, by Johannes (Jan) Vermeer ca. 1658 [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Wikipedia contributors, “The Milkmaid (Vermeer),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Milkmaid_(Vermeer)&oldid=853243011 (accessed August 31, 2018).

Wikipedia contributors, “Johannes Vermeer,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Johannes_Vermeer&oldid=854172655 (accessed August 31, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: Two Photographs, Two Years Apart

As I mentioned in my last post, The Summer Retreat, I am enjoying the last days of summer in Cannon Beach, Oregon. We will go back north to our home tomorrow. This has been a strange year, with unusual heat and a thick, smoky haze that marred the first three days.

This is the view of Tillamook Head as seen from Ecola Creek on August 13, 2016. That was a year of fabulous sunsets, deep blue skies and perfect kite flying winds.

This following image is the shot I took of  sunset three days ago on the same beach, with a more southern angle–the sea stacks are to the right, just out of the frame. At the time the photo was taken, the sun was still an hour above the horizon, and it should have been full daylight instead of twilight.

The brown haze is so thick, it looks as as if the image is grainy and overexposed, but as you can see by the red sun, it is just smoke obscuring the view of the ocean, hiding the rocks, and nearly hiding the sun. That was a difficult day for those of us with asthma, as the sun was obscured for most of the day, despite the intense humidity and 90 degree heat. The surf looks unreal, as if it were a badly composed painting.

Today the brown haze cleared and the temperatures dropped to the normal high 60’s to mid 70’s–which is perfectly comfortable. Not breathing the smoke from the West Coast Wildfires is a relief, although I suspect we will return to that misery once we return to our own inland valley.

Nevertheless, it will be good to be home. We love this place and this beach and return every year. And every sojourn here is  so different, so unique, always with something new to enjoy. Even when, as it was this year, it is a strange, nearly post apocalyptic year.


Credits and Attributions:

Images and text © 2018 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved

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#FineArtFriday: Rembrandt as Shepherd with Staff and Flute, by Govert Flink 1636

About the artist: Born at Kleve, capital of the Duchy of Cleves, which was occupied at the time by the United Provinces, Govert Flinck was apprenticed by his father to a silk merchant, but in 1627 he was sent to Leeuwarden, where he boarded in the house of Lambert Jacobszoon. Jaobszoon was a Mennonite (one of the historic peace churches known for their commitment to pacifism). While Jacobszoon is better known as a preacher, he was a talented painter and an excellent teacher.

While studying there, Flinck met some of Jacobszoon’s neighbors, relatives of Saskia van Uylenburgh, who had married Rembrandt in 1634. That same year he began studying with Rembrandt.

Flinck is acknowledged as one of Rembrandt’s best pupils.

I really enjoy this romantic painting of Rembrandt dressed as a shepherd, holding a flute, and thinking about…what? Rembrandt’s contemplative expression seems peaceful.  The details are wonderful – from the finely worked trim on his garments down to the jewel dangling from his right ear, a gem that softly glows. The grains of the wood in both the flute and staff are subtle and real. The light falls perfectly – Flinck captured the personality of the master as a handsome young man during the happiest time of his life, and it seems as if Rembrandt himself enjoyed posing for it.

For more than a decade, Flinck’s work echoed that of Rembrandt, clearly influenced by the master’s style in the work which he executed between 1636 and 1648. As time passed, he began to desire to be a history painter, a genre in painting that  is defined by its subject matter rather than artistic style, and turned to the work of Peter Paul Rubens. In later years, Flinck had great commercial success, receiving many commissions for official and diplomatic paintings.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Rembrandt als herder met staf en fluit Rijksmuseum SK-A-3451.jpeg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Rembrandt_als_herder_met_staf_en_fluit_Rijksmuseum_SK-A-3451.jpeg&oldid=225225289 (accessed August 16, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: Perseid Meteor Shower; Aug.11, 2015, by Brad Sutton

This weekend, August 11th through the 13th, 2018, is the annual show of lights known as the Perseid Meteor Shower. My husband and I will watch them as we always do. Sometimes I fall asleep before they appear, but I always try to be awake for them. After midnight is the best time.

The National Park Service photographer, Brad Sutton, caught this dreamscape perfectly. The Joshua trees are black against the  sky and he managed an exposure that was perfect: the meteor was captured yet the brilliance of the stars and the color of the night wasn’t washed out.

That, my friends, is no easy trick. I know a little about photography, having worked as a darkroom tech during the 1980s. Processing and printing is a digital no-brainer now, but in those days it was a worthy career. During my time in that line of work, I was privileged to handle the work of many fine professional nature photographers, and have retained my appreciation for the art-form.

About the scene portrayed in this image:

From Wikipedia, the Fount of All Knowledge: The Perseids are prolific meteor showers associated with the comet Swift–Tuttle. The Perseids are so called because the point from which they appear to hail (called the radiant) lies in the constellation Perseus.

The other thing of beauty in this wonderful image is the setting, Joshua Tree National Park. It is an alien landscape to my northern eyes. The silhouettes of the Yucca against the clear, star-strewn sky calls to me in some lonely way.

Someday, I will travel to the American Southwest and see this place, and more. Perhaps I will see the Perseids from there. As all new experiences do, the feelings and emotions these places and events inspire will find their way into my work. I have been so privileged to see and touch the alien beauty that is our Planet Earth.

Also, from the Fount of Knowledge: Straddling the border between San Bernardino County and Riverside County, the park includes parts of two deserts, each an ecosystem whose characteristics are determined primarily by elevation: the higher Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. The Little San Bernardino Mountains traverse the southwest edge of the park.

Looking further into Wikipedia:

In a 2001 paper published in the journal Ecosystems, Joshua trees are one of the species predicted to have their range reduced and shifted by climate change. There is concern that they will be eliminated from Joshua Tree National Park, with ecological research suggesting a high probability that their populations will be reduced by 90% of their current range by the end of the 21st century, thus fundamentally transforming the ecosystem of the park. There is also concern about the ability of the species to migrate to favorable climates due to the extinction of the giant Shasta ground sloth (Nothrotheriops shastensis) 13,000 years ago; ground sloth dung has been found to contain Joshua tree leaves, fruits, and seeds, suggesting that the sloths might have been key to the tree’s dispersal.


Credits and Attributions:

Perseid Meteor Shower; 8-11-15 by Brad Sutton for the National Park Service. Taken in Joshua Tree National Park. © CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia contributors, “Perseids,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Perseids&oldid=853424957 (accessed August 9, 2018).

Wikipedia contributors, “Joshua Tree National Park,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Joshua_Tree_National_Park&oldid=852008844 (accessed August 9, 2018).

Wikipedia contributors, “Yucca brevifolia,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Yucca_brevifolia&oldid=854060539 (accessed August 9, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: Don Quixote in the Library, by Adolf Schrödter

An area of art I haven’t discussed, but which has often been a primary reason why I buy books, is the illustrations. The artwork that went into many books in the 19th and early 20th centuries was sometimes exquisite. Yet, these illustrators remained unknown for the most part and unsung. Today’s image is from Wikimedia Commons and is by a German artist, Adolf Schrödter.

Little is known about Schrödter other than he was born on June 28, 1805, and died Dec. 9, 1875, and was a genre painter of the Düsseldorf school of painting. According to Wikipedia, the Fount of All Knowledge:

The Düsseldorf School had a significant influence on the Hudson River School in the United States, and many prominent Americans trained at the Düsseldorf Academy and show the influence of the Düsseldorf School, including George Caleb BinghamDavid Edward CroninEastman JohnsonWorthington WhittredgeRichard Caton WoodvilleWilliam Stanley HaseltineJames McDougal HartHelen Searle, and William Morris Hunt, as well as German émigré Emanuel LeutzeAlbert Bierstadt applied but was not accepted. His American friend Worthington Whittredge became his teacher while attending Düsseldorf.

However, some of Schrödter’s art survives in the form of illustrations and a few prints have been sold at auctions.

In today’s image what impresses me is the level of detail. Here we see Alonso Quixano reading, lounging in a room that is clearly a book lover’s sanctuary. He is a descendant of the family of “Gutierre Quijada” by direct lineage and is proud to be part of a long and noble tradition of knights. In the first part of the book, Alonso, later Don Quixote de la Mancha, is a dreamer, preferring to imagine himself as a superhero, living out a knightly story.

Books are strewn everywhere, beautiful, heavy leather-bound tomes. Schrödter shows him in a relaxed pose, deep into a book. The light of the room comes from a large window. He is a very human, ordinary middle-aged man, relaxing in the most cherished place in his universe: his library.

Alonso Quixano, the protagonist of the novel (though he is not named until much later in the book), is a retired country gentleman nearing fifty years of age, living in La Mancha with his niece and housekeeper. Although he is mostly a rational man, his excessive reading of books of chivalry has produced a skewed view of reality and what we might consider dementia. In keeping with the theories of the time, not sleeping adequately—because he was reading—has caused his brain to dry.

I love that notion.

As a result, Alonso is easily given to anger and believes every word of these fictional books of chivalry to be true. Don Quixote’s niece commits, what is to me, the most heinous crime–she and the Parrish curate burn his library, and lie to him, telling him it was the work of an evil magician.

He descends completely into his fantasy world and decides to become a knight-errant in search of adventure. Schrödter has captured the essence of the making of Don Quixote in this painting—the man who loves books is in his element, the one place where he fits. When that is taken from him, the story begins.


Credits and Attributions:

Don Quixote in the Library, by Adolf Schrödter, 1834 PD|100, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wikipedia contributors, “Düsseldorf school of painting,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=D%C3%BCsseldorf_school_of_painting&oldid=822264175 (accessed August 3, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: Imogen, by Herbert Gustave Schmalz

Herbert Gustave Schmalz (1856–1935) was an English painter who named himself Herbert Gustave Carmichael in 1918. He is counted among the Pre-Raphaelites , and Imogen, which was painted in  1888 is a classic example of the hyper-romanticized Pre-Raphaelite style.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood produced some spectacularly beautiful work, as well as some rather awkwardly posed, overly sentimental pieces. Schmalz was famous for his romantic pictures depicting medieval scenes, Arthurian scenes, and vignettes from Shakespeare’s work.

Schmalz turned his brush to portraiture in his later work, as that was where the money was.

From Wikipedia:

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (later known as the Pre-Raphaelites) was a group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman HuntJohn Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The three founders were joined by William Michael RossettiJames CollinsonFrederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner to form the seven-member “brotherhood”. Their principles were shared by other artists, including Ford Madox BrownArthur Hughes and Marie Spartali Stillman.

A later, medievalising strain inspired by Rossetti included Edward Burne-Jones and extended into the twentieth century with artists such as John William Waterhouse.

The group’s intention was to reform art by rejecting what it considered the mechanistic approach first adopted by Mannerist artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo. Its members believed the Classical poses and elegant compositions of Raphael in particular had been a corrupting influence on the academic teaching of art, hence the name “Pre-Raphaelite”. In particular, the group objected to the influence of Sir Joshua Reynolds, founder of the English Royal Academy of Arts, whom they called “Sir Sloshua”. To the Pre-Raphaelites, according to William Michael Rossetti, “sloshy” meant “anything lax or scamped in the process of painting … and hence … any thing or person of a commonplace or conventional kind”.[1] The brotherhood sought a return to the abundant detail, intense colours and complex compositions of Quattrocento Italian art. The group associated their work with John Ruskin,[2] an English critic whose influences were driven by his religious background.

The group continued to accept the concepts of history painting and mimesis, imitation of nature, as central to the purpose of art. The Pre-Raphaelites defined themselves as a reform movement, created a distinct name for their form of art, and published a periodical, The Germ, to promote their ideas. The group’s debates were recorded in the Pre-Raphaelite Journal.


Credits and Attributions

Wikipedia contributors, “Herbert Gustave Schmalz,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Herbert_Gustave_Schmalz&oldid=829134407 (accessed July 27, 2018).

Wikipedia contributors, “Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pre-Raphaelite_Brotherhood&oldid=846744412 (accessed July 27, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: Joos van Craesbeeck

Joos van Craesbeeck (c. 1605/06 – c. 1660) was an interesting character, standing out among the many interesting characters of the seventeenth century Flemish art community. He was a Flemish baker and an artist, a friend and contemporary of  Adriaen Brouwer. They most likely met while Brouwer was jailed in the citadel of Antwerp, although why he was imprisoned is unknown. But the bakery in the Antwerp citadel was operated at that time by Joos van Craesbeeck.

Van Craesbeeck was fascinated with the portrayal of violence and the senses of taste and smell. He painted the dissolute side of life, shocking in its intensity and honesty. Death is Violent and Fast: Quarrel in a Pub, is an excellent example of his almost brutish depiction of peasants brawling. Blood flows, one man lies dead, and in the lower right hand corner, Death smiles, pleased with that night’s work.

He often painted himself, as is seen in The Smoker, a self-portrait that was at one time attributed to Adriaen Brouwer, depicting the senses of smell and taste. He shows himself clutching both a bottle of hard liquor and a pipe, as if they are the dearest things to him. He exhales a stream of smoke, savoring it.

He also painted his own self-portrait as the central nightmare from which other nightmares spawn in the Temptation of St. Anthony. Note the way his mouth is full of little demons entering and leaving, and his head is open to reveal an artist painting beneath wild dark hair in which geese nest. St. Anthony himself is small, placed to the right, almost unnoticed in the onslaught of demons and temptations, both physical and moral. A cacophony of violence and evil rages as Anthony clings to the scriptures. This is a revealing portrait of how the artist viewed himself and the demons he battled, in my opinion.

The work of Joos van Craesbeeck is not comforting or warm. It is always allegorical, showing us something we don’t like about the world we live in. Violence and vice were as much a part of life in his time as they are today, and perhaps will always be.

Quote from Wikipedia: Van Craesbeeck painted at least five portraits which are presumed to be self-portraits and in which he depicts himself in a ‘dissolute’ manner. The dissolute self-portrait was a genre that had taken root in Dutch and Flemish genre painting in the 17th century. It was an inversion of the Renaissance ideal of the ‘pictor doctus’: the artist as an intellectual and gentleman. This ideal was replaced by the new model of the prodigal artist who is characterized by his creative inspiration and talents. These self-portraits emphasized the artists’ dissolute nature by creating associations with traditional moral themes such as the Five Senses and the Prodigal Son in the tavern. Van Craesbeeck painted himself four times in low-life guises depicting the sense of Taste.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Joos van Craesbeeck,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Joos_van_Craesbeeck&oldid=823865809 (accessed July 20, 2018).

Death is Violent and Fast: Quarrel in a Pub, painting by Joos van Craesbeeck, ca. 1630 – 1635 PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Smoker, Joos van Craesbeeck ca.1635 – 1636 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Temptation of St Anthony, Joos van Craesbeeck ca. 1650 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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#FineArtFriday: Young Peasant with Sickle, Vincent Van Gogh

This week, for some reason I have been quite interested in Vincent van Gogh’s earlier work.  This painting is the earliest from his art-book, which is dated 1881. The mediums he used in this study were black chalk, charcoal, grey wash, and opaque watercolor on laid paper, a type of paper having a ribbed texture, that is especially good for watercolors.

I have been contrasting the preciseness of this early work with his later expressionism and imagery. I’m fascinated with the evolution of his choice of colors, from muted, yet somehow intense, in his early work, to brilliant and vibrant in his later pieces. In a way, it’s like reading the early works of a favorite author. You see everything you love about their work in that book written in their youth, but greatly admire the way their voice and style evolves in their later, more mature work.

Fortunately, Van Gogh was a prolific writer of letters, many of which have survived. Through his correspondence with his brother Theo Van Gogh, and to Anton van Rappard, a Dutch painter and draughtsman, we have a window into Vincent’s life.

Quote from Wikipedia: Theo kept all of Vincent’s letters to him;[10] Vincent kept few of the letters he received. After both had died, Theo’s widow Johanna arranged for the publication of some of their letters. A few appeared in 1906 and 1913; the majority were published in 1914.[11][12] Vincent’s letters are eloquent and expressive and have been described as having a “diary-like intimacy”,[9] and read in parts like autobiography.[9] The translator Arnold Pomerans wrote that their publication adds a “fresh dimension to the understanding of Van Gogh’s artistic achievement, an understanding granted us by virtually no other painter”.[13]

There are more than 600 letters from Vincent to Theo and around 40 from Theo to Vincent. There are 22 to his sister Wil, 58 to the painter Anthon van Rappard, 22 to Émile Bernard as well as individual letters to Paul SignacPaul Gauguin and the critic Albert Aurier. Some are illustrated with sketches.[9] Many are undated, but art historians have been able to place most in chronological order. Problems in transcription and dating remain, mainly with those posted from Arles. While there Vincent wrote around 200 letters in Dutch, French and English.[14] There is a gap in the record when he lived in Paris as the brothers lived together and had no need to correspond.[15]

Vincent’s comments regarding this picture, as quoted on Wikmedia Commons:

Letter 172 to Theo van Gogh. Etten, mid-September 1881. Vincent van Gogh: The LettersVan Gogh Museum. “Prompted as well by a thing or two that Mauve said to me, I’ve started working again from a live model. I’ve been able to get various people here to do it, fortunately, one being Piet Kaufmann the labourer… Diggers, sowers, ploughers, men and women I must now draw constantly. Examine and draw everything that’s part of a peasant’s life. Just as many others have done and are doing. I’m no longer so powerless in the face of nature as I used to be.”

Letter 178 to Anthon van Rappard. Etten, Wednesday, 2 November 1881. Vincent van Gogh: The LettersVan Gogh Museum. “Today I again drew a digger, and since your visit a boy cutting grass with a sickle as well.”


Credits and Attributions:

Young Peasant with Sickle, Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia contributors, “Vincent van Gogh,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Vincent_van_Gogh&oldid=845634731 (accessed July 6, 2018).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Van Gogh – Kauernder Junge mit Sichel.jpeg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Van_Gogh_-_Kauernder_Junge_mit_Sichel.jpeg&oldid=286066347 (accessed July 6, 2018).

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