Famous Friday // Nighthawks

 

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Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, oil on canvas, 1942, 33 1/8 x 60 in. Location: Art Institute of Chicago.

Nighthawks is not only one of Edward Hopper’s most recognized works of art, but also one of the most renowned American paintings as well. The restaurant depicted by Hopper in this painting is supposedly based off of a restaurant in his neighboorhood of Greenwich Village, in New York City. The restaurant has since been demolished but is reminiscent of any burger joint, coffee shop, or diner that you’ve probably ever been too.

Hopper placed the viewer at just the right angle in order to see the scene transpiring inside, but he didn’t give the viewer a way to enter the building so that we could fully observe what is happening inside. Instead, we see four figures. First, we see a couple, a man and a woman. Are they in a relationship? Are they siblings? Next, we see another man who isn’t facing us. Who is he, and why is his back to us? And finally, we see a waiter. Why does he seem so distressed? None of the people pictured are communicating in any way, and something seems amiss. Hopper isn’t telling a narrative in this work, he’s commenting on modern society and the feelings of isolation that we may feel – especially in relation to city dwelling.

The flatness of Hopper’s work allows the viewer to easily project their current mental state onto the canvas. The image can also be viewed within the schism of days gone by. Viewers are invited into a simpler time in America’s past, which brings up feelings of nostalgia.

Famous Friday // The Birth of Venus

 

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Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, tempera on canvas, 1482-85. Location: Ufizzi Gallery, Florence, Italy.

According to Homer, the goddess Venus was born from the foam of the sea. Shortly after her birth, according to legend, she rode on to the island of Cythera on a giant seashell. This is what Botticelli seems to have depicted in one of the most famous works of art that came from the Italian Renaissance, and was commissioned by a member of the Medici family.

Visually, we see Venus at the center of the painting, being guided by nymphs blowing wind to guide her. She is quickly approaching land where a figure is waiting for her. This figure is known as Pomona, who is the goddess of Spring. Pomona is holding a piece of cloth in order to cover Venus once she arrives on land.

One of the most important things to note about this painting is the obvious nudity of Venus. It was quite rare to depict a nude woman in a painting during the Middle Ages due to prominent Christian ideology. In order to appear more modest, Venus attempts to cover herself using her hair and her hands. This pose is referenced from the Venus de Medici, which Botticelli had the opportunity to study. However, Botticelli attempts to employ humanism techniques into The Birth of Venus. Humanism was a technique that typically referenced Greek and Roman myths. The resurrection of these myths led to the gradual acceptance of nude portraiture that was popular during antiquity.

It’s also important to note that this work was painted on canvas using tempura, which was quite rare for the time. Tempura is a type of paint made with egg whites, which allow for incredible transparency, and visually resembles an Italian fresco.

Famous Friday // Mona Lisa

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Leonardo da Vinci, Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, known as the Mona Lisa, 30 x 21 in, 1503-19, oil on panel. Location: Musée du Louvre.

Now, what list of famous works of art would be complete without the Mona Lisa? None! That’s why I’m including one of da Vinci’s most famous works in our Famous Friday roundup. I’ve seen the Mona Lisa several times at the Musée du Louvre, but none of the times were more underwhelming than the first. Why? Because it’s so small! I was expecting the painting to be grandiose in scale, but it wasn’t! Nevertheless, the Mona Lisa is one of the most recognized images in the world and is one of the major icons of the Renaissance.

It’s hard for us (especially us Millenials) to imagine a world without portraits due to the sheer amount of cameras that we have at our disposal in 2018. But, this wasn’t the case for most of human history. In fact, at one point only the wealthy could afford to have portraits commissioned of them. People who desired to have their portrait painted usually had to sit for several days so that the painter could capture their likenesses in the painting. This is likely what happened in the Mona Lisa. Mona Lisa was probably the wife of a Florentine merchant, who never had her painting delivered. Instead, da Vinci kept it with him when he journeyed to France to work for the king.

One of the reasons that the Mona Lisa is one of the most renowned works of the Renaissance was because of Leonardo da Vinci’s use of sfumato. Sfumato is the technique in which oil paints are blended in such a way that they seemingly melt together without noticeable transitions. His use of sfumato is particularly noticeable around the mouth area as her smile seems to flicker before your eyes.

The Mona Lisa was always highly regarded in the artistic community, but it wasn’t until it was stolen that it rose to acclaim in the non-art community. In 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the walls of the Louvre by an Italian handyman who assumed that the painting wouldn’t be missed. However, the museum noticed the missing painting, and soon images of the Mona Lisa were broadcast across the international news sphere. Two years later, the thief was caught and the painting was returned to the Louvre. This art heist helped make the Mona Lisa one of the most famous images on the planet, but also helps attract millions of visitors to the Musée du Louvre each year.

Famous Friday // The Death of Sardanapalus

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Eugène Delacroix, The Death of Sardanapalus, oil on canvas, 1827, 12′ 10″ x 16′ 3″. Location: Musée du Louvre.

Oh, how I love gigantic paintings! At more than 12 by 16 feet, The Death of Sardanapalus does not disappoint. The work itself is based on the historical tale of the last Assyrian king, Sardanapalus. According to legend, upon hearing the news of invaders in his capital city, the King decided that he would destroy his Earthly possessions instead of facing a humiliating defeat. Not only were his possessions burned, but so were his slaves and concubines as well. Sardanapalus knew that he would place himself upon the funerary pyre upon its completion.

Delacroix depicted this tale in its final moments. He captured as much destruction and chaos as possible, which is characteristic of the Romanticism style that this work was painted in. Beyond the pandemonium pictured, we see the main action of the painting taking place atop a large red bed. Figures are depicted in various disarray. One man wrangles one of the horses, while another lies at the foot of who we assume to be Sardanapalus. Trinkets surround the figures, indicating the wealth of Sardanapalus.

When Delacroix first exhibited The Death of Sardanapalus in 1828, the reviews were not stellar. This was primarily due to the fact that it wasn’t a traditional neoclassical painting with a clear hero. In fact, this work was quite literally the opposite with Sardanapalus playing the role of the anti-hero.

Famous Friday // Red, Orange, Orange on Red

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Mark Rothko, Red, Orange, Orange on Red, oil on canvas, 1962. Location: St. Louis Art Museum.

During the spring semester of my sophomore year, I took my very first art history class. As the semester was coming to a close, we began discussing modern and contemporary art. One day of class was entirely devoted to what appeared to be the professor’s favorite artists – Mark Rothko. Viewing for the first time on a smart board, Rothko’s work appeared to be a haphazard painting of rectangles in a similar color palette. The professor, however, felt much different about this work. He gave us a short anecdote about how the first time he saw a Rothko in person. He was apparently so moved that he couldn’t help but tear up in the museum. Unbeknownst to me at the time, moving viewers to tears was sometimes the goal of Rothko’s artistic vision.

Rothko moved through a variety of different styles that were influenced by abstract expressionism and specifically color field painting. Color field painting, coined by Clement Greenberg, was a trend within abstract expressionism which disregarded the need for figures. Instead, the movement, pioneered by Rothko, took advantages of large swatches of color which was used to envelop the viewer in a world of color.

In Rothko’s work owned by SLAM, the red and orange layers are brought together to mimic sunset for the viewer. Rothko believed in using simplistic forms, like rectangles, in order to convey human emotion.  Continue reading “Famous Friday // Red, Orange, Orange on Red”

Famous Friday // American Gothic

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Grant Wood, American Gothic, oil on board, 1930. Location: Art Institute of Chicago. 

I go to college in a tiny town in northern Missouri. Kirksville is home to three colleges, but there still aren’t many non-school sanctioned activities to do in town. One of the most common pastimes for Truman students is going to a bridge outside of town known as train bridge, where, you guessed it, trains cross. Sure, there are great views of the nighttime sky at train bridge, but train watching is a strange hobby for college students. However, a little more than an hour north of lovely Kirksville is another small town called Eldon, Iowa. Eldon is home to the Dibble House, which is most famous for being the backdrop to one of the most famous American paintings of the 20th century – American Gothic. This painting also launched Grant Wood as one of the pioneers of the American Regionalist movement. The Regionalist movement aimed to represent America as it truly was, without the cosmopolitan cities. Because of this, art like Wood’s resounded with the Midwestern population because for the first time the Regionalist movement was for them rather than for those living on either coast.

The artist, Grant Wood, is a native Iowan himself, and he found himself in Eldon where he found the farmhouse which he painted in his his most famous work. The farmhouse was built in the style of carpenter gothic. In North America, home carpenters used the abundance of wood around them to construct arches and towers reminiscent of the European Gothic style. By painting this home, Wood recognized the family home as being the physical symbol of the family which resonated with many at the time of its publication.

He used his sister, and his dentist as models and painted them in clothes resembling what he saw in his old family photo albums. Although the two figures appear together in Wood’s painting, the two never sat together for their portraits to be painted. Instead, Wood worked with them individually and created sketches which he used to craft American Gothic. Their posing resembles that of the Northern Renaissance Style probably because Wood had previously studied art in Europe. And was particularly interested in the works of Jan van Eyck like the Arnolfini Portrait pictured below. The Arnolfini Portrait pictured below also deals with domesticity in portrait form, which Wood may have drawn inspiration from.

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Jan van Eyck, Arnolfini Portrait, oil on oak, 1434. Location: National Gallery London. 

 

At first glance, Wood’s painting seems to truly represent what life in the Midwest may have been like during the 19th century. However, scholars have debated alternate meanings, and suggested satirical explanations for the seemingly odd composition.

Continue reading “Famous Friday // American Gothic”

Famous Friday // Water Lilies

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Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 200 x 426 cm, oil on canvas, 1915-26. Location: St. Louis Art Museum

I think that it’s so cool that SLAM has the centerpiece of one of Monet’s triptychs from his famous water lilies series (the other two pieces can be found at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art). Known as the Agapanthus Triptych, these three paintings were united briefly in 2011 at the Nelson-Atkins, in 2012 at SLAM, and then in 2015 at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see the triptych together, but I have spent some time admiring the central piece located at SLAM.

Visually, we see clumps of water lilies floating atop a blue and violet toned waterscape. Towards the bottom of the canvas the blues and purples begin to transform into greens and yellows. The painting itself is massive, and meant to be displayed with the other portions of the triptych so that the viewer could be fully enveloped into the watery landscape.

This is a familiar scene to us as Monet has painted over 250 different works of his backyard in Giverny, France. Each painting is different, and focuses on a distinct portion of his massive garden in each work. He also experimented with painting during different time of day, which is why much of his works from the series look vastly different. Monet focused on painting his outdoor garden for nearly the last 30 years of his life as cataracts were interfering with his vision. The garden itself was grown by Monet, himself, as well as several hired gardeners. Together they worked for years to control the garden in order to mimic a Japanese scene.

Today, these works in Monet’s Water Lilies series can be sold for more than $50 million and greatly contributed to not only the impressionism movement at the time, but also modern art.

Famous Friday // Sunflowers

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Vincent Van Gogh, Sunflowers, oil on canvas, 1889. Location: Van Gogh Museum – Amsterdam.

Several summers ago when I was in Amsterdam I found myself dashing into the nearest museum in order to escape an approaching thunderstorm. Luckily for me, the closest museum was the Van Gogh Museum! We spent what seemed like hours touring the floors of the museum, but I couldn’t help but be drawn to this sunflower painting in particular. Of course, the museum was filled with so many other masterpieces by Van Gogh, but I felt as if this one was most characteristic of Van Gogh’s work.

Van Gogh created several similar works in his Sunflowers series, and had intended to give them as gifts to Paul Gauguin. In total, 12 paintings were created for this series which were painted from 1887-1889. Due to the discovery of new yellow pigments during the 19th century, Van Gogh was able to create vivacious yellow hued flowers, like the ones we see here.

These sunflowers, along with his self portraits, helped define his characteristic style of bold and dramatic brushstrokes. It is quite uncommon for exhibitions featuring Van Gogh to not include at least one of his works from his Sunflower series.

Famous Friday // Marilyn Diptych

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Andy Warhol, Marilyn Diptych, acrylic on canvas, 2054 x 1448 mm, 1962. Location: Tate Modern

During the Fall 2017 semester, I enrolled in a Contemporary Art course simply because it was taught by one of my favorite art history professors. I haven’t had that much of an interest in contemporary art because I thought that I didn’t understand it, or that it wasn’t real art. Several years ago I even walked through a few floors of Tate Modern, in London, hoping to further understand the topic. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t appreciate the contemporary art that was at Tate. But now, after taking a course on Contemporary art I feel much differently. So get ready for this week’s Famous Friday featuring one of Warhol’s most recognized work of art – Marilyn Diptych.

Marilyn Diptych is made on two silver screened canvases. Warhol screen printed 50 images of Marilyn Monroe onto each side of the canvas. This form looks very familiar to Christian iconic diptychs. This could potentially be referencing the way that society places celebrities on a pedestal in a similar way that Christians apotheosize Jesus and the Virgin. Check out an example below:

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Jan Gossaert, Diptych of Jean Carondelet, 1517.

Christian diptych art wasn’t the only art movement that Warhol was referencing in this piece. For example, Warhol was acknowledging the works of Jackson Pollock and the abstract expressionism movements. This can be seen in the all over composition of the work as well as in the carelessness of the application of the paint. And of course, another connection between the two can be drawn in the fact of the monumental scale of the diptych.

However, like all of Warhol’s works his Marilyn Diptych was not simply trying to critique Christianity, but instead was attempting to critique all of modern and contemporary life. We know that the image that Warhol appropriated was from Niagara in 1953. Warhol is a distinguished illustrator and could have easily drawn his own image of Marilyn. Instead, he appropriated a press release image in order to comment on the consumer society which we live in.

Famous Friday // A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

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Georges Surat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884-86, oil on canvas, 3079.75in x h2076.45in. Location: Art Institute of Chicago.

Over this past summer I took a writing intensive course for my degree about chess. The class culminated in a long research paper comparing and contrasting chess to something else. For my essay, I chose to write about chess and art. Long story short, I used Surat’s oil painting to help convey the similarities between art and chess – perks of going to a liberal arts school!

Anyways, on to the art we go! This work is Surat’s largest and most famous work of art, and one of the best examples of pointillism technique. The work itself depicts a relaxing afternoon on an island on the outskirts of Paris.

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See where the island is located outside of Paris!

Seurat spent many afternoons sitting and drawing in the park to perfect the form of his figures. At first glance we see a variety of individuals relaxing. To the right, a couple is on a leisurely stroll. To the left, we see a woman fishing, as well as people sailing along the Seine River. With further inspection, however, the viewer is able to see that not everything is as it seems in the painting. The woman who appeared at first glance to be on a leisurely walk with her husband is actually walking a monkey. It was uncommon for women of this time to go fishing, so the woman depicted fishing was possibly an euphemism for prositution. A young girl in a white dress stands in the center of the work. She is asking possibly the viewers what will become of the individuals, and the class of people who are represented in this image.

Seurat was highly influenced by scientific studies of color theory and in particular by the work of Michel-Eugène Chevreul. Together with several other artists, Seurat developed the technique of pointillism. Pointillism breaks down colors into their respective hues in order to simulate natural light in the eye of the viewer. This is the technique that Seurat used in A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Pointillism makes Seurat’s work particularly interesting because of how he was able to manipulate color and light.

In most paintings shadows are depicted by using black, however this is not the case with Seurat’s work. Seurat was instead able to trick the viewers eye into thinking that it was viewing shadows by defining these darker areas with the colors that they come into contact with instead of a solid black.