Tag Archives: Women in Art History

#FineArtFriday: The Chess Game, by Sofonisba Anguissola ca. 1555

Title: The Chess Game (Portrait of the artist’s sisters playing chess)

Artist: Sofonisba Anguissola

Date: 1555

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 72 cm (28.3 ″) Width: 97 cm (38.1 ″)

 

What I love about this painting:

The colors are vibrant,

Because it is a game of war and strategies for winning a war, chess has historically been considered a predominantly male game. That Anguissola’s sisters are playing it at so young an age is a testimony to the atmosphere of education surrounding the home.

Their features are modern in the way they are shown with a roundness that is unusual in early renaissance portraits, which were often so highly formal that they were visually flat. These girls could be my granddaughters.

Anguissola has captured the emotions and happiness of a family at play. Her sisters’ personalities are clearly shown. The older sister has taken a pawn, the younger fears she might lose the game to a more experienced player. The youngest is enjoying the game immensely, seeing the sister who sometimes bosses her around being handed her own medicine.

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1532 – 16 November 1625), also known as Sophonisba Angussola or Anguisciola, was an Italian Renaissance painter born in Cremona to a relatively poor noble family. She received a well-rounded education, that included the fine arts, and her apprenticeship with local painters set a precedent for women to be accepted as students of art. As a young woman, Anguissola traveled to Rome where she was introduced to Michelangelo, who immediately recognized her talent, and to Milan, where she painted the Duke of Alba. The Spanish queen, Elizabeth of Valois, was a keen amateur painter and in 1559 Anguissola was recruited to go to Madrid as her tutor, with the rank of lady-in-waiting. She later became an official court painter to the king, Philip II, and adapted her style to the more formal requirements of official portraits for the Spanish court. After the queen’s death, Philip helped arrange an aristocratic marriage for her. She moved to Sicily, and later Pisa and Genoa, where she continued to practice as a leading portrait painter.

On 12 July 1624, Anguissola was visited by the young Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck, who recorded sketches from his visit to her in his sketchbook.[25] Van Dyck, who believed her to be 96 years of age (she was actually about 92) noted that although “her eyesight was weakened”, Anguissola was still mentally alert.[24] Excerpts of the advice she gave him about painting survive from this visit,[26] and he was said to have claimed that their conversation taught him more about the “true principles” of painting than anything else in his life.[1][2] Van Dyck drew her portrait while visiting her.

About this painting, via Wikipedia:

Although Anguissola enjoyed significantly more encouragement and support than the average woman of her day, her social class did not allow her to transcend the constraints of her sex. Without the possibility of studying anatomy or drawing from life (it was considered unacceptable for a lady to view nudes), she could not undertake the complex multi-figure compositions required for large-scale religious or history paintings.

Instead, she experimented with new styles of portraiture, setting subjects informally. Self-portraits and family members were her most frequent subjects, as seen in such paintings as Self-Portrait (1554, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna), Portrait of Amilcare, Minerva and Asdrubale Anguissola (c. 1557–1558, Nivaagaards Malerisambling, Niva, Denmark), and her most famous picture, The Chess Game (1555, Muzeum Narodowe, Poznań), which depicted her sisters Lucia, Minerva and Europa.

Painted when Sofonisba was 23 years old, The Chess Game is an intimate representation of an everyday family scene, combining elaborate formal clothing with very informal facial expressions, which was unusual for Italian art at this time. The Chess Game explored a new kind of genre painting which places her sitters in a domestic setting instead of the formal or allegorical settings that were popular at the time.[17] This painting has been regarded as a conversation piece, which is an informal portrait of a group engaging in lively conversation or some activity .


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:The Chess Game – Sofonisba Anguissola.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:The_Chess_Game_-_Sofonisba_Anguissola.jpg&oldid=359367567 (accessed September 12, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Sofonisba Anguissola,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sofonisba_Anguissola&oldid=908120352 (accessed September 12, 2019).

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#FineArtFriday: The Oracle by Marguerite Blasingame


The Oracle – Hawaiian Symbolist by Marguerite Blasingame

Date: circa 1935

Marguerite Blasingame was a Hawaiian artist, world-famous for her sculptures, but less so for her paintings. She painted in a “Symbolist” style, which is very different than surrealism, although the two styles appear to share some commonalities.

About the symbolist style in art, via Wikipedia:

The symbolist painters used mythological and dream imagery. The symbols used by symbolism are not the familiar emblems of mainstream iconography but intensely personal, private, obscure and ambiguous references. More a philosophy than an actual style of art, symbolism in painting influenced the contemporary Art Nouveau style and Les Nabis.

What I love about this picture:

The dreamscape is captivating, inviting you to look closer. The water and the land seem to embrace the figures and the plants, and also cradles the sun. It is perfectly balanced. The colors are intense yet muted; the curving sinuous figures seem both familiar and alien. This painting gives the viewer much to think about.

As a writer, I’m attracted to symbolism in art and literature. When an artist goes to the trouble of offering me something of substance to think about, their work stays with me. I find myself thinking about it long after setting the book down or leaving the gallery.

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Marguerite Blasingame (1906 – 1947) founded the Hawaiian Mural Arts Guild in 1934, along with Isami Doi, Madge Tennent, and others. She died young, at the age of only forty one.

On Saturday 15 March 1947, fellow island artist Madge Tennent published the following tribute to Blasingame in The Honolulu Advertiser:

“To her many artist friends she represented a youthful and indomitable vitality in art, which was supported by a capacity for grueling hard work in her chosen field of true fresco and sculptured bas-relief in Hawaiian wood and stone. She was, by almost any way of thinking, too young to die. But the strangely wonderful thing is this, that she has in her sadly short young life, left more important works of art which have been placed where everybody may enjoy them, than any other island artist.”


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Marguerite Louis Blasingame,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Marguerite_Louis_Blasingame&oldid=885666667 (accessed June 27, 2019).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:The Oracle – Hawaiian Symbolist by Marguerite Blasingame.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:The_Oracle_-_Hawaiian_Symbolist_by_Marguerite_Blasingame.jpg&oldid=276120985 (accessed June 27, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Symbolism (arts),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Symbolism_(arts)&oldid=894767208 (accessed June 27, 2019).

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#FineArtFriday: The Boating Party, by Mary Cassatt

What I love about The Boating Party by American artist, Mary Cassatt, is impression of movement, of the life of the water. It has a feeling of contentment, of peace. There is a serenity about this painting that evokes wonderful memories of boating and water sports, of the time when my family still lived on a lake. It reminds me of the sheer joy and freedom of being on the water with no purpose other than to enjoy one’s self.

About this painting, from Wikipedia:

Art historian and museum administrator Frederick A. Sweet calls it “One of the most ambitious paintings she (Cassatt) ever attempted.” His 1966 analysis focuses on the balance of the “powerful dark silhouette of the boatman”, the angle between the oar and the arm that “thrusts powerfully into the center of the composition towards the mother and child” and “delicate, feminine ones.”

Cassatt placed the horizon at the top of the frame in Japanese fashion.

  • In 1890 Cassatt visited the great Japanese Print exhibition at the ecole de Beaux-arts in Paris.
  • Mary Cassatt owned Japanese prints by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806).
  • The exhibition at Durand-Ruel of Japanese art proved the most important influence on Cassatt.

(Influence of) Manet

Frederick A. Sweet suggests that Cassatt may have been inspired by Édouard Manet‘s Boating from 1874.

I hadn’t considered that position of the horizon as being a traditional Japanese style until I read that paragraph. Then I realized that most Western artists place it lower on the canvas. In Western art, the sky (an allegory for God) traditionally dominates the work.

This painting has made me aware of  how greatly the ability to travel the world via ocean liners and contact with other cultures changed the way we produce art. Impressionism was new and daring in its time. The eye of the artist was freed from traditional confines of the various schools (Hudson Valley, etc.) by exposure to the simplicity and elegance of the previously unknown tradition of Japanese art.

Every new painting I come across leads me to another, which often leads me to another country and another tradition of style and form.

My life as an admirer of art is one of constantly finding something new about history and the world around me.

About the artist, Via Wikipedia:

Mary Stevenson Cassatt (May 22, 1844 – June 14, 1926) was an American painter and print-maker. She was born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania (now part of Pittsburgh’s North Side), but lived much of her adult life in France, where she first befriended Edgar Degas and later exhibited among the Impressionists. Cassatt often created images of the social and private lives of women, with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children.

She was described by Gustave Geffroy in 1894 as one of “les trois grandes dames” (the three great ladies) of Impressionism alongside Marie Bracquemond and Berthe Morisot.


Credits and Attributions:

The Boating Party by Mary Cassatt, 1893–94

Wikipedia contributors. “The Boating Party.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 Dec. 2018. Web. 8 Mar. 2019.

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#FineArtFriday: The Proposition by Judith Leyster 1631

What I love about this painting is how honest Judith Leyster is when detailing the realities of life in her time and in her city. Here, a young woman is pressured to enter into a relationship with a man she has no interest in. He clearly feels he has the right to compel her to sell her virtue, and she clearly ignores him.

Male artists of the time, Leyster’s husband, Jan Meinse Molenaer included, rarely painted genre pictures of young women other than in taverns or other low-life situations. Commissioned portraits of noble and merchant class women they painted in great abundance, but simple, modest women of good virtue? Rarely.

Leyster, on the other hand, had both the talent and because she was a woman, she had the freedom to paint whatever she wanted. As long as she managed the house and raised the children, she could paint whatever moved her.

The artistic talent of women has been so disregarded historically that, despite her signature, her art and her talent were attributed (after her death) to her husband and to Franz Hals.

About the Painting (Via Wikipedia):

“The Proposition” is a genre painting of 1631 by Judith Leyster, now in the Mauritshuis in The Hague, who title it “Man offering money to a young woman.” It depicts a woman, sewing by candlelight, as a man leans over her, touching her right shoulder with his left hand. He is offering her coins in his right hand, but she is apparently ignoring the offer and concentrating intently upon her sewing.

The man wears dark clothing, and the dark tones, as well as his shadow cast behind him and across his face from the angle of the candlelight, give him a looming appearance. In contrast, the woman is lit fully in the face by the candlelight and wears a white blouse.

It is an early work by Leyster, who was only 22 years old in 1631.

Also, From Wikipedia:

(The painting’s) most distinctive feature is how different it is to other contemporary Dutch and Flemmish “sexual proposition” paintings, many falling into the Merry company genre. The convention for the genre, a common one at the time, was for the characters to be bawdy, and clearly both interested in sex, for money. The dress would be provocative, the facial expressions suggestive, and sometimes there would be a third figure of an older woman acting as a procuress. Indeed, in The Procuress by Dirck van Baburen, an example of the genre, that is exactly the case.

In contrast, in The Proposition the woman is depicted not as a whore but as an ordinary housewife, engaged in a simple everyday domestic chore. She isn’t dressed provocatively. She does not display her bosom (but rather her blouse covers her all of the way to her neck). No ankles are visible. And she displays no interest in sex or even in the man at all. Contemporary Dutch literature stated the sort of activity in which she is engaged to be the proper behaviour for virtuous women in idle moments.[2] Kirstin Olsen observed that male art critics “so completely missed the point” that the woman is, in contrast to other works, not welcoming the man’s proposition that they mistakenly named the painting The Tempting Offer.

The foot warmer, whose glowing coals are visible beneath the hem of the woman’s skirt, was a pictorial code of the time, and represented the woman’s marital status. A foot warmer wholly under the skirt indicated a married woman who was unavailable, as it does in The Proposition. A foot warmer projecting halfway out from under the skirt with the woman’s foot visible on it indicated one who might be receptive to a male suitor. And, a foot warmer that is not under the woman at all, and empty of coals, indicated a single woman. This code can also be seen in Vermeer’s The Milkmaid and Dou’s The Young Mother.

About the Artist:

Judith Jans Leyster (also Leijster) (c. July 28, 1609[1]– February 10, 1660) was a Dutch Golden Age painter. She painted genre works, portraits, and still lifes. Her entire oeuvre was attributed to Frans Hals or to her husband, Jan Miense Molenaer, until 1893 when Hofstede de Groot first attributed seven paintings to her, six of which are signed with her distinctive monogram ‘JL*’. Misattribution of her works to Molenaer may have been because after her death many of her paintings were inventoried as “the wife of Molenaer”, not as Judith Leyster.

She signed her works with a monogram of her initials “JL” with a star attached: JL* This was a play on words; “Leister” meant “Lead star” in Dutch and was for Dutch mariners of the time the common name for the North Star. The Leistar was the name of her father’s brewery in Haarlem.

(Only occasionally did she sign her works with her full name.)

She specialized in portrait-like genre scenes of, typically, one to three figures, who generally exude good cheer, and are shown against a plain background. Many are children; others men with drink. Leyster was particularly innovative in her domestic genre scenes. These are quiet scenes of women at home, often with candle- or lamplight, particularly from a woman’s point of view


Sources and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “The Proposition (painting),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Proposition_(painting)&oldid=851982429 (accessed February 1, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Judith Leyster,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Judith_Leyster&oldid=820769951(accessed February 1, 2019).

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