Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Famous Paintings, Section 6

The WhiteRock  Family Digital  Art Gallery is presented in sections  containing eight images each of famous  paintings by
great artists.  The works  are arranged  according  to what are  generally  accepted and  what the author  thinks are the
best or the most important by the artists who are themselves presented according to the significance of their respective
contributions to art.

Some factors have to be  considered in order to understand  the criteria of the  selection of the works that are included
in this gallery. Examples of these are the influence of Western philosophy in the development of aesthetic  taste and the
adoption of   Western  values and  culture  in  the selection  of artistic  subjects,  the inspiration  that religious  faith has
provided in the creation of great art and the wealth and power of the Catholic Church to commission the services of the
greatest artists of the Renaissance and beyond.

On the other hand,  the human  form  has always  been a subject of  endless intellectual  speculation and this includes the
creation of tasteful art. Along this line, different cultures also have different standards of defining what is "tasteful."
These factors help explain the exclusion of certain aesthetic values and cultures in this selection as well as its liberality
over the selection of certain subjects that some individuals may otherwise find inappropriate.

Art may be objective, but the process of selecting cannot be but subjective. Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.     

Welcome to The WhiteRock Family Digital Art Gallery.

This section includes works by the following painters:

Joan Miro
Paul Klee
Nicolas Poussin
Sandro Boticelli
Piero della Francesca
Three others soon.

Click on the image to view on black background; the title of the work to go to the source.
The name of the artist and location of work link to sources of more information.


Oil on canvas (1924-5)


The   Harlequin's  Carnival  is  an  oil  painting  rendered  by  Joan  Miró  between  1924  and  1925.   It  is  one  of  the  most
outstanding surrealist paintings of the artist, and it is preserved in the Albright–Knox Art Gallery.

Created between 1924 and 1925,  The Harlequin’s Carnival is one of Joan Miró’s best-known pieces. Harlequin is the name
of a well-known Italian comic theater character that is generally identified by his checkered costume. The ‘carnival’ in
the title of the painting may refer to Mardi Gras, the celebration that occurs before the fasting of Lent begins.

In 1924  poet André Breton  formed the Surrealist movement.  Around the time of the  group’s  formation Miró started
to paint in the surrealist style.  Surrealism focused  on dreams and  the subconscious  as artistic material,  and Miró was
able to draw from these ideas.  He painted the subconscious,  but also his own life experiences and memories.  To combine
these two sources he draws on his imagination to create magical elements in his paintings. 

This painting is centered on a  harlequin at a carnival.  Although the harlequin resembles a guitar, he still retains some
of his harlequin characteristics such as a checkered costume,  a moustache, an admiral’s hat,  and a pipe.  The harlequin in
this  painting  is  sad,  which  could  be  due  to  the  hole  in  his  stomach.  This  detail  may  refer  to Miró’s  personal  life
experiences,  because  at this point  in his  life he did  not have  much money  for food  and was on the brink of starvation.
This is a  painting of  a celebration;  all the  characters  seem to be  happy  due to  the fact  they are playing,  singing,  and

Some  of  the  objects  in  the  painting are  anthropomorphized,  and  some  seem  to be  moving  and dancing  as  well.  One
example is the ladder to the left of the painting, which has an ear and an eye.  According to Miró, the ladder is a symbol
of flight,  evasion, and  elevation.  The green  sphere  to the  right  of the  painting  represents  the globe  because Miró,
according to him,  was  obsessed with the  idea of  “conquering  the  world.".  The cat at  bottom right  represents  Miró’s
actual  cat,  who  was  always  next  to  him  as  he  painted.  The  black  triangle  in the  window  in  the  top  right  corner
represents the Eiffel Tower. The painting includes many other fantastical  and magical elements such as mermaids, fish
out of water, dancing cats,  shooting stars, a creature with wings in a box resembling a die, floating musical notes, and a
floating  hand.  There  are  many  strange  forms  and  squiggly shapes  that  seem  to be  moving or  floating  around  the
canvas.  The beauty of the painting is in its widespread composition;  every corner of the painting seems to be filled with
some object, character, or shape, which makes the entire painting come to life.

In the international peer-reviewed journal JAMA Psychiatry,  James C. Harris, MD,  writes that for Miró, “painting was
a means to  express his  inner life  through  visionary  art."  This is a  reference to  Miró’s style  of painting,  automatism,
essentially  painting  without planning  the subject or  composition.  In this process  the artist paints  whatever comes to
mind,  thereby painting  his subconscious thoughts.  Once the shapes are on the canvas,  the artist is able to create images
out of  the  forms based  on his  imagination.  In  1931,  Miró  said,  “I’m only  interested in  anonymous  art,  the  kind  that
springs from the  collective unconscious."  This quote tells us a great deal about The Harlequin's Carnival,  since it was
Miró’s first surrealist painting. Through this painting  Miró is trying to convey his subconscious,  which inadvertently
reflects on his life experiences.  By analyzing this painting  the viewer learns of  Miró’s sadness,  happiness, and creative
imagination. wikipedia

The Harlequin's Carnival video from Fundacio Joan Miro on YouTube

Ad Parnassum
Paul Klee
Oil on canvas (1932)
Kuntsmuseum, Bern


Ad Parnassum  (1932)  is considered to be Paul Klee's masterpiece  and the best example of his pointillist style;  it is also
one of his most finely worked paintings.  Ad Parnassum was created in the Dusseldorfer period. With 100 x 126 cm (39 x
50 in)  it is one of his largest paintings,  as he usually worked with small formats.  In this mosaic-like  work in the style
of pointillism he  combined  different  techniques and  compositional principles.  Influenced  by his  trip to Egypt from
1928 to 1929,  Klee built a colour field from  individually  stamped dots,  surrounded by likewise stamped lines,  which
results in a pyramid. Above the roof of the "Parnassus" there is a sun.  The title identifies the picture as Apollon's and
the Muses' place.

Around 1930  Klee often made  use of this  pictorial  structure,  which recalls the  Pointillism of the  late  nineteenth
century. 'Divisionism' was his name for it. A further geometrical element appears within the 'divisionist' structuring -
a triangle which, with no definite outline,  exists solely by virtue of variations in the tonal gradations applied to the
little squares.  As a result, the picture seems multi-layered, spatial and suffused with light.  One genealog of modern
colour-light  painting  would  progress from  Georges Seurat  to Klee.  However,  Klee was  hardly  interested  in the
theories of colour so  essential to Seurat.  He simply  made use  of a pictorial method which,  although  its possibilities
were soon exhausted, helped him to create a number of masterful works.

The Latin phrase gradus ad Parnassum means "steps to Parnassus". The name Parnassus was used to denote the loftiest
part of a mountain range in central Greece, a few miles north of Delphi, of which the two summits, in Classical times,
were called  Tithorea and  Lycoreia.  In Greek mythology,  one of the peaks was  sacred to  Apollo and the nine Muses,
the inspiring deities of the arts,  and the other to Dionysus.  The phrase has often been used to refer to various books
of  instruction,  or  guides,  in  which  gradual  progress  in  literature,  language  instruction,  music,  or  the  arts  in
general, is sought. wikipedia

Paul Klee: Ad Parnassum, 1932 from MuseumofFineArtsBern on YouTube 

Et in Arcadia Ego
Nicolas Poussin
Oil on canvas (1637-38)
Musée du Louvre, Paris


Et  in  Arcadia  ego  (also  known  as  The  Arcadian  Shepherds)  depicts  a  pastoral  scene  with idealized  shepherds  from
classical  antiquity  clustering  around an austere tomb.  The translation  of the phrase is  "Even in Arcadia,  there am I".
The usual interpretation is that "I" refers to death, and "Arcadia" means a utopian land. It would thus be a "reminder of

During Antiquity,  many Greeks  lived in cities  close to the sea,  and led an  urban life.  Only Arcadians,  in the middle of
the Peloponnese,  lacked cities, were far from the sea, and led a shepherd life.  Thus for urban Greeks, especially during
the Hellenistic era, Arcadia symbolized pure, rural, idyllic life, far from the city.

However,  Poussin's  biographer,  André  Félibien,  interpreted  the phrase  to mean that  "the person buried  in this tomb
lived in  Arcadia";  in other words,  that the  person  too once  enjoyed the  pleasures  of life  on earth.  This reading  was
common in the  18th and 19th centuries.  William Hazlitt  wrote that Poussin  "describes some  shepherds wandering out
in a morning of the spring, and coming to a tomb with this inscription, 'I also was an Arcadian'." wikipedia

The scene  is set in an  atmospheric  landscape,  known as  Arcadia,  where  some  shepherds  have found  a tomb.  Arcadia is
actually a barren,  mountainous region of Greece,  but through references made to it by the  Roman poet Virgil  (whose
Eclogues take place in Arcadia), it became idealized as a blissful pastoral paradise, and a symbol of perfect happiness.

The crouching figure  is tracing the letters  chiselled  into the stone,  "Et in Arcadia Ego".  Most art critics  agree that
the message on the stone has been left by Death,  and the shepherds are coming to  realize that this means that even in a
blissful paradise like Arcadia there is death.  The richly-dressed female figure already understands this truth, and she
looks on sympathetically.

In addition,  the action of  the crouching  shepherd  is believed  to be a  reference to the  origin of painting,  believed to
have occurred in the first tracing of a person's shadow on a wall. Perhaps Poussin wanted to convey that painting is one
of the only ways to record a state of  perfect happiness.  It is possible that the red,  yellow and blue robes of the two on
the right might represent  the primary colours of  painting and be a  sign of hope.  At any rate,  the painting  seems to be
saying that the  discovery of art  was the  creative  response of Man  when he  found out  the shocking  truth  about the
inevitability of his death.

From left to right,  the figures grow in understanding.  The two stooping shepherds pointing to the letters help us to
focus on the central message of this work,  while their knees and elbows balance each other.  The woman,  who could be
an allegorical figure  (representing the art of  painting that is  challenging death's claim to rule over Arcadia),  looks
like  a  figure  from  the  classical past.  Her  face  is  in  profile,  recalling  a Roman  bust  or  statue,  and  her  pose  is  as
motionless as a marble sculpture. Encyclopaedia of Art Education

Nicolas Poussin, Et in Arcadia Ego video on Khan Academy


Sandro Boticelli
Tempera on canvas (c. 1486)
The Uffizi Gallery, Florence


The painting  depicts the  goddess  Venus,  having  emerged  from  the sea  fully-grown  (called  Venus  Anadyomene and
often depicted in art), arriving at the shore.

In the centre  the newly-born  goddess Venus  stands nude  in a giant scallop shell  whose size is purely  imaginary,  and
also found  in  classical depictions  of the subject.  At the left the wind god Zephyr blows at her,  with the wind shown
by lines radiating from his mouth. He is in the air, and carries a young female, who is also blowing, but less forcefully.
Both have wings.  Vasari was probably correct in  identifying her as  "Aura",  personification of a lighter breeze.  Their
efforts are blowing Venus towards the shore, and blowing the hair and clothes of the other figures to the right.

At the right  a female figure  who may be  floating slightly  above the ground  holds out a rich cloak or dress to cover
Venus when she reaches the shore, as she is about to do. She is one of the three Horae or Hours, Greek minor goddesses
of the seasons and of other divisions of time, and attendants of Venus.  The floral decoration of her dress suggests she
is the Hora of Spring.

The subject is not strictly the "Birth of Venus", a title only given the painting in the nineteenth century, but the next
scene  in her story,  where  she arrives  on land,  blown by  the wind.  The land  probably  represents  either  Cythera or
Cyprus, both Mediterranean islands regarded by the Greeks as territories of Venus.

Although  the  pose  of Venus  is classical  and  borrows  the  position  of the  hands  from  Greco-Roman  sculptures,  the
treatment of the figure, standing off-centre with a curved body of long flowing lines, is in many respects from Gothic
art:  "Her differences from antique form are not physiological, but rhythmic and structural. Her whole body follows
the curve of a Gothic ivory. It is entirely without that quality so much prized in classical art,  known as aplomb; that is
to say,  the weight  of the body  is not  distributed  evenly either side  of a central plumb line. . .  She is not standing but
floating. . .  Her shoulders,  for example,  instead of  forming a sort of  architrave  to her torso,  as in the  antique nude,
run down into her arms in the same unbroken stream of movement as her floating hair."

Venus' body is anatomically improbable,  with elongated neck and torso.  Her pose is impossible: although she stands in a
classical  contrapposto stance,  her weight is  shifted too far over the left leg  for the pose to be held.  The proportions
and poses of the winds  to the left  do not quite make sense,  and none of the  figures cast shadows.  The painting  depicts
the world of the imagination rather than being very concerned with realistic depiction.

Botticelli's art was never fully committed to naturalism.  He seldom gave weight and volume  to his figures and rarely
used a deep perspectival space.  Botticelli never painted  landscape backgrounds with great detail or realism,  but this is
especially the case here.  The laurel trees  and the grass below them are green with gold highlights,  most of the waves
regular patterns, and the landscape seems out of scale with the figures. wikipedia

Boticelli, The Birth of Venus, video from Smarthistory. Art, history, conversation on YouTube.

Oil & tempera on panel (probably 1455-60)


The theme  of the  picture  is the  Flagellation  of  Christ  by the  Romans  during  his  Passion.  The biblical  event  takes
place  in  an  open  gallery  in  the  middle  distance,   while  three  figures  in  the  foreground  on  the   right-hand  side
apparently  pay no  attention  to the  event  unfolding  behind  them.  The  panel  is much  admired  for its  use of  linear
perspective  and  the  air of  stillness  that  pervades  the work,  and it  has been  given the  epithet  "the  Greatest Small
Painting in the World" by the art historian Kenneth Clark.

The Flagellation  is particularly  admired for the  realistic  rendering  of the hall  in which the  flagellation  scene is
situated in relation  to the size of the  figures and for the  geometrical order of  the composition.  The portrait of the
bearded man at the front is considered unusually intense for Piero's time. wikipedia

The  painting  measures a  modest 2 feet by 2.5 feet.  Art  experts  believe  that  the  work  was commissioned  in  order to
promote solidarity  between  the Eastern Christian Church  and the Western Church of Rome,  in view of the Ottoman
attack on  Constantinople.  A perfectly  composed  piece of  Biblical art,  it depicts  the scourging  of Christ  before  the
Crucifixion,  a punishment  ordered by the  Roman Governor Pontius Pilate,  who sits on the left  (he is also thought to
represent Emperor John VIII Palaiologos, leader of the Eastern Church in Constantinople).  According to scholars the
painting is set  in the portico of  Pontius Pilate's  palace in Jerusalem,  whose dimensions  and character  were allegedly
carefully researched by the artist.

What is  strange  about the  overall  scene  is that  Christ is  portrayed  as a small  figure in the  background,  while the
three much larger men standing in the foreground to the right  seem far more important.  The exact identity of these
figures remains uncertain,  though the  two older men  are believed  to be  important  political or  religious figures in
Urbino. The younger man in the middle may be an angel,  while the man on the extreme right may be Ludovico Gonzaga,
the ruler  of Mantua.  Note  his  magnificent  damask  robe,  with  its blue  and gold  thread,  which  reveals  the artist's
regard for luxurious fabrics  and for the most fashionable styles  -  quite unlike that of many Florentine painters who
tended to eschew such features entirely. Encyclopedia of Art Education

Meditation on 'The Flagellation of Christ' by Piero della Francesca from Philip Hartigan on YouTube.

Oil on canvas (1849-50)
Destroyed during World War II, Dresden


The Stone Breakers  was a work of social realism,  depicting two peasants,  a young man and an old man,  breaking rocks.
The painting  was first  exhibited  at the  Paris  Salon  of 1850.  It was  destroyed  during  World War II,  along with 154
other pictures,  when a transport vehicle  moving the pictures  to the castle of Königstein,  near Dresden,  was bombed
by Allied forces in February 1945. wikipedia

If  we  look  closely  at  the  painting   (painted  only  one  year  after   Karl  Marx  and   Friedrich  Engels  wrote  their
influential pamphlet,  The Communist Manifesto) the artist's concern for the plight of the poor is evident.  Here, two
figures  labor  to break and  remove  stone  from a  road that is  being built.  In our age of  powerful  jackhammers  and
bulldozers, such work is reserved as punishment for chain-gangs.

Courbet wants  to show what is  "real,"  and so he has  depicted a man  that seems too old  and a boy that seems  still too
young for such  back-breaking labor.  This is not meant  to be heroic:  it is meant to be an accurate  account of the abuse
and deprivation that was a common feature of mid-century French rural life.  And as with so many great works of art,
there is a close affiliation between  the narrative and the  formal choices made by the painter,  meaning elements such
as brushwork, composition, line, and color.

Like  the  stones   themselves,  Courbet's   brushwork  is  rough — more  so  than  might  be  expected    during   the  mid-
nineteenth century.  This suggests  that the way the  artist painted  his canvas was in part a  conscious  rejection of the
highly polished, refined Neoclassicist style that still dominated French art in 1848.

Perhaps most  characteristic of  Courbet's style  is his refusal  to focus on the  parts of the  image  that would  usually
receive the most attention.  Traditionally,  an artist would spend the most time on the hands,  faces, and foregrounds.
Not Courbet.  If you look carefully,  you will notice that he attempts  to be even-handed,  attending to faces and rock 
equally.  In these ways,  The Stonebreakers  seems to lack  the basics of art  (things like a  composition  that selects and
organizes, aerial perspective and finish) and as a result, it feels more "real." Essay by Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker on Khan Academy

Gustave Courbet's The Stonebreakers video from Courtneydougherty1 on YouTube.

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Famous Paintings, Section 5

The WhiteRock  Family Digital  Art Gallery is presented in sections  containing eight images each of famous  paintings by
great artists.  The works  are arranged  according  to what are  generally  accepted and  what the author  thinks are the
best or the most important by the artists who are themselves presented according to the significance of their respective
contributions to art.

Some factors have to be  considered in order to understand  the criteria of the  selection of the works that are included
in this gallery. Examples of these are the influence of Western philosophy in the development of aesthetic  taste and the
adoption of   Western  values and  culture  in  the selection  of artistic  subjects,  the inspiration  that religious  faith has
provided in the creation of great art and the wealth and power of the Catholic Church to commission the services of the
greatest artists of the Renaissance and beyond.

On the other hand,  the human  form  has always  been a subject of  endless intellectual  speculation and this includes the
creation of tasteful art. Along this line, different cultures also have different standards of defining what is "tasteful."
These factors help explain the exclusion of certain aesthetic values and cultures in this selection as well as its liberality
over the selection of certain subjects that some individuals may otherwise find inappropriate.

Art may be objective, but the process of selecting cannot be but subjective. Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.     

Welcome to The WhiteRock Family Digital Art Gallery.

This section includes works by the following painters:

Paul Gauguin
 Édouard Manet
Marc Chagall
Henri Matisse
El Greco
Piet Mondrian
Mark Rothko
Jean-Michel Basquiat

Click on the image to view on black background; the title of the work to go to the source.
The name of the artist and location of work link to sources of more information.


Tahitian Women on the Beach
Paul Gauguin
Oil on canvas (1892)
 Musée d'Orsay, Paris


Paul Gauguin spent much of his artistic career traveling the world, searching for artistic purity.  With that goal
in mind,  Gauguin obtained permission from the French government to travel to the  French Polynesian islands to
study the cultures, customs and landscapes.  In 1891,  he boarded the ship Océanien and set sail with the third class
passengers. Gauguin was on his way to “escape the European struggle for money - to be "free at last."

After arriving in Tahiti in June 1891,  he painted Tahitian Women on the Beach that summer.  He shows two women
sitting  in  the  sand,  one  facing  the viewer,  one  facing  away.  The young  woman  on  the  left  sits with  her back
towards us,  her head  down,  indifferent  to the  viewer.  She  wears a  red Pareo,  cloth  wrapped  around the body
forming  a skirt,  with a  white  floral  print  and  white top.  Her dark  hair  is tied  back  with a  yellow ribbon,  an
influence  of  western  contact,  contrasted  with a  white  flower  behind  her  hair.  She  leans  on  her  right  arm
creating a  straight hard  edge  within the painting.  The woman on the  right is shown  facing  the viewer  and not
just in a  contemplative stare;  she is  performing  an action.  She  sits  with her  legs crossed  as she weaves  fiber to
start a basket.  Like the woman on the left,  this woman  doesn’t  interact  with the  viewer.  Her gaze  goes beyond.
Unlike  the woman  on the left,  she wears  a full  dress  influenced  by the  missionaries.  Neither  woman  is shown
exactly as she was.  You would  not confuse  Gauguin's  paintings  for photographs.  He shows  them with  distorted
proportions, faces that can resemble masks, and colors separated by dark outlines.

They are both shown  in stark  contrast  against  the  light  sand they sit in.  Behind  them  the  green water of the
lagoon sits  before the  blackness of the sea,  highlighted  with the white  from  the waves  breaking.  The painting
shows duality in both the foreground  and background.  With the two women,  we see the  rich history of Tahiti  –
one  woman   dressed   in  the   traditional   sarong  while  the  other   shows  western   influence.   One  woman  sits
unoccupied by anything,  while the other faces the viewer, performing one of her daily duties, weaving the basket.
Like the women, we have calmness in the lagoon and movement in the sea.

Gauguin went to Tahiti to discover  the primitive and purity in Polynesian life and escape the modern France,  but
he almost immediately found and started painting the melancholy of the women and the colonial influence.
Gaugin Gallery

A Story Based on the Letters of Paul Gauguin Before He Left for Tahiti, video from The Guardian

 A Bar at the Folies-Bergère
 Édouard Manet
Oil on canvas (1882)
Courtauld Gallery, London


This  painting  was Manet’s  last  major work.  It represents  the bustling  interior  of one  of the  most  prominent
music halls and cabarets of Paris,  the Folies-Bergère.  The venue opened in 1869  and its atmosphere was described
as “unmixed joy”.  In contrast,  the barmaid in  Manet’s representation  is detached  and marooned  behind  the bar.

The Folies-Bergère  was also notorious as a place to pick up prostitutes.  The writer Guy de Maupassant described
the barmaids as “vendors of drink and of love”. The Courtauld Gallery

The central figure stands  before a mirror,  although critics  —  accusing  Manet of  ignorance of perspective and
alleging  various   impossibilities  in  the  painting  —  have  debated   this  point   since  the   earliest  reviews  were
published.  In 2000,  however,  a photograph  taken  from a suitable  point  of view  of a  staged reconstruction was
shown to  reproduce  the scene  as painted  by  Manet.  According  to  this reconstruction,  "the conversation  that
many have assumed was transpiring between  the barmaid and gentleman  is revealed to be an optical trick  —  the
man  stands  outside  the  painter's  field  of  vision,  to the left,  and  looks  away  from  the barmaid,  rather  than
standing right in front of her."  As it appears,  the observer should be standing to the right and closer to the bar
than the man  whose  reflection  appears  at the right edge of the picture.  This is an unusual  departure from the
central point of view usually assumed when viewing pictures drawn according to perspective.

Asserting  the presence  of the mirror has been  crucial  for many modern interpreters.  It provides a meaningful
parallel  with  Las  Meninas,   a  masterpiece  by  an  artist   Manet  admired,   Diego  Velázquez.   There  has   been  a
considerable development of this topic since Michel Foucault broached it in his book  The Order of Things (1966).

The art historian Jeffrey Meyers  describes the intentional play on perspective and the apparent violation of the
operations   of  mirrors:   “Behind  her,   and  extending  for  the  entire  length  of  the   four-and-a- quarter-foot
painting,  is the gold frame of an enormous mirror.  The French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty has called a
mirror  ‘the instrument of a  universal magic that changes things  into spectacles,  spectacles into things, me into
others,  and  others into me.’  We,  the viewers,  stand opposite  the barmaid on the  other side of the  counter and,
looking at the reflection in the mirror,  see exactly what she sees...  A critic has noted that  Manet’s ‘preliminary
study shows her placed off to the right, whereas in the finished  canvas she is very much the centre of attention.’
Though Manet shifted her from the right to the center, he kept her reflection on the right. Seen in the mirror,
she seems engaged with a customer; in full face, she’s self-protectively withdrawn and remote.”

The  painting  is rich  in  details  which  provide  clues to  social class  and  milieu.  The  woman  at the  bar is  a real
person,  known as Suzon,  who worked at the  Folies-Bergère in the early 1880s.  For his painting,  Manet posed her
in his studio.  By including  a dish of oranges  in the  foreground,  Manet  identifies  the  barmaid  as a  prostitute,
according to art historian Larry L. Ligo, who says that Manet habitually associated oranges with prostitution in
his paintings. wikipedia

Manet's  A Bar at the Folies-Bergère video from zczfilms on YouTube.

I and the Village
Marc Chagall
Oil on canvas (1911)
Museum of Modern Art, New York


Famous  Russian-Jewish artist  Marc Chagall  was born in Belarus,  but later became a  naturalized  Frenchman in
1909.  The fact that he grew up in a small village would play a prominent role in many of his paintings,  including
his well-known creation I and the Village painted in Paris in 1911.

Clearly exhibiting aspects of Cubism,  I and the Village is a lively composition of various objects, human features
and  animal  components  that  are  fragmented,  superimposed,  and  randomly  assembled  to produce  an abstract
arrangement. The colours are vibrant and a stark contrast exists between the red, the green and the blue. It is a
painting that provides multiple viewpoints and distinctive perspectives.

Influenced   by   a   childhood   spent   in   rural   surroundings,    Chagall’s   I   and   the   Village   is   a   dreamlike
representation  of goats,  pastures,  a farmer,  a violinist,  and  simplistic  images of  houses,  some  of them  upside-
down. The whole could be viewed as a jigsaw puzzle extracted from a child’s imagination.

The  painting  possesses a  significant  amount of  intrigue  and  symbolism.  In the  foreground  of the  painting,  a
green-faced man,  wearing a cross around his neck,  a cap on his head,  and holding a glowing tree, stares directly
across at the head of a goat, which encompasses another smaller goat being milked.  In the background,  a row of
houses, an Orthodox  church,  and a man dressed  in black  carrying a scythe  hurries past an  upside  down woman
playing what appears to be a violin.

The  geometric  shapes and  symbols  grab the  viewer’s  attention.  The small  and large circles  have been  said to
represent  three spatial  phenomena:  the sun’s revolution  in orbit,  the earth’s  revolution around the sun,  and
the  moon’s  revolution  around  the earth.  Some  have  interpreted  the  smaller  circle  in the lower  left-hand
corner as an  eclipse.  I and the Village  illustrates  the  give and  take  between  beings  and the  vibrant natural
world  surrounding  them.  It is a  powerful  display  of the  mutual  relationship  between  humans,  animals and

The significance  of  the  painting  lies  in  its  seamless   integration  of  various  elements  of   Eastern  European
folktales and culture,  both  Russian and  Yiddish.  Its clearly defined  semiotic elements  (e.g.  The Tree of Life)
and  daringly  whimsical  style  were  at the  time  considered  groundbreaking.   Its  frenetic,   fanciful  style  is
credited to Chagall's  childhood  memories  becoming, in the words of scholar  H.W. Janson,  a "cubist fairy tale"
reshaped by his imagination, without regard to natural color, size or even the laws of gravity. wikipedia

Marc Chagall I and the Village video from Museum of Modern Art

The Dance
Henri Matisse
Oil on canvas (1910)
The Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg


The pair of panels known as  "The Dance and Music"  (also in the Hermitage)  are amongst Matisse's most important -
and most  famous  -  works of  the period 1908 to 1913.  They were  commissioned  in 1910 by one of the leading Russian
collectors of   French late  19th and early 20th-century art,  Sergey Shchukin.  Until the  Revolution of 1917,  they
hung on the  staircase of his  Moscow mansion.  Both compositions  belong to a group of works  united by  the theme
of "the golden age" of humanity, and therefore the figures are not real people but imagined image-symbols.

The  sources  of  Matisse's  "The  Dance"  lie  in  folk  dances,   which  even  today  preserve  something  of  the  ritual
nature - albeit not  always comprehended today - of pagan times.  Before this canvas,  the theme of  the dance passed
through  several  stages  in  Matisse's work.  Only  in  this  composition  of  1910,  however,  did  it acquire  its famous
passion  and  expressive  resonance.   The  frenzy  of  the  pagan  bacchanalia  is  embodied  in the powerful,   stunning
accord of red,  blue and green,  uniting Man,  Heaven  and Earth.  How  rightly has  Matisse  captured the profound
meaning of the dance, expressing man's subconscious  sense of involvement in the rhythms of nature and the cosmos!

The five  figures have  firm outlines,  while the  deformation  of  those figures  is an expression  of their  passionate
arousal and the power of the all-consuming rhythm.  The swift,  joint movement fills  the bodies with untamed life
force and the red becomes  a symbol of inner heat.  The figures dance  in the deep blue of the  Cosmos and the green
hill is  charged  with  the energy  of the dancers,  sinking  beneath  their  feet  and then  springing back.  For  all its
expressiveness, Matisse's "The Dance" has no superfluous emotion, other than that required by the subject.

The very organisation  of the canvas  ensures that.  Instinct and  consciousness  are united into a harmonious whole,
as we can feel in the  balance between  centrifugal and centripetal forces,  and in the  outlines of the figure on the
left, strong and classical in proportion. The State Hermitage Museum

Dance II by Henri Matisse, video from Art in 60 Seconds on YouTube

The Burial of the Count of Orgaz
El Greco
Oil on canvas (1586)
Iglesia de Santo Tomé, Toledo, Spain


The Burial of the Count of Orgaz is widely considered among El Greco's finest works. It illustrates a popular local
legend of his time.  An exceptionally  large painting,  it is divided into two sections,  heavenly above  and terrestrial
below, but it gives little impression of duality. The upper and lower sections are brought together compositionally.

The theme of the painting is inspired from a legend of the 14th century.  In 1312,  a certain Don Gonzalo Ruíz,  native
of Toledo,  and  Señor  of  the  town  of Orgaz,  died  (his  family later  received  the  title  of  Count,  by  which  he  is
generally and  posthumously known).  The Count of Orgaz  was a pious man who,  among other charitable acts,  left a
sum of money for the  enlargement  and adornment  of the church of Santo Tomé  (El Greco's parish church).  He was
also a philanthropist and a right-thinking Knight. According to the legend, at the time he was buried, Saint Stephen
and  Saint  Augustine  descended  in person  from the  heavens  and  buried  him  by  their  own  hands in  front  of the
dazzled eyes of those present.

The painting was  commissioned  by Andrés Núñez,  the parish priest  of Santo Tomé,  for the side-chapel of the Virgin
of the church of Santo Tomé,  and was executed by El Greco between 1586–1588.  Núñez, who had initiated a project to
refurbish the Count's burial chapel, is portrayed in the painting reading.

Already in 1588,  people  were  flocking to  Orgaz to see  the  painting.  This  immediate  popular  reception  depended,
however, on the lifelike portrayal of the  notable men of Toledo of the time.  It was the custom for the eminent and
noble men  of the town  to assist the burial of the  noble-born,  and it was  stipulated in  the contract  that the scene
should be represented in this manner.  El Greco would pay  homage to the  aristocracy  of the spirit,  the clergy,  the
jurists,  the poets  and the scholars,  who honored  him and his art  with  their esteem,  by immortalizing  them in the
painting.  The Burial of the Count of Orgaz  has been admired  not only for its art,  but also because it  was a gallery
of portraits of the most eminent social figures of that time in Toledo.

The scene of the  miracle is  depicted  in the  lower part  of the composition,  in the terrestrial  section.  In the upper
part, the heavenly one, the clouds have parted to receive this just man in Paradise. Christ clad in white and in glory,
is the  crowning  point  of the  triangle  formed  by the  figures  of  the  Madonna  and  Saint  John  the Baptist  in the
traditional Orthodox  composition of the Deesis.  These three central figures of  heavenly glory are surrounded by
apostles, martyrs, Biblical kings and the just (among whom was Philip II of Spain, though he was still alive).

Saints  Augustine  and Stephen,  in golden  and  red  vestments  respectively,  bend  reverently  over the  body  of the
count,  who is clad in magnificent armour  that reflects the yellow and reds of the other figures.  The young boy at
the left is El Greco's son,  Jorge Manuel;  on a handkerchief  in his pocket is  inscribed the  artist's  signature and the
date 1578,  the year of the boy's birth.  The artist himself can be  recognised directly  above the raised  hand of one of
the mourners immediately above the head of Saint Stephen.

The  painting  has  a  chromatic  harmony  that  is  incredibly  rich,  expressive  and  radiant.  On  the   black  mourning
garments  of  the   nobles  are   projected  the  gold-embroidered  vestments,    thus   creating  an  intense   ceremonial
character.  In the heavenly space there is a predominance of  transparent  harmonies of iridescence and ivoried greys,
which harmonize  with the  gilded ochres,  while in the  Madonna's  maforium  (mantle)  deep blue is  closely combined
with  bright red.  The  rhetoric  of the  expressions,  the  glances  and the  gestural  translation  make the  scene very

The Burial of the  Count of Orgaz  is regarded  as the  first  completely  personal  work  by the  artist.  There  are no
longer any references to Roman or Venetian formulas or motifs.  He has succeeded in eliminating any description of
space.  There is no ground, no horizon,  no sky and no perspective.  Accordingly,  there is no conflict,  and a convincing
expression  of a  supernatural  space  is achieved.  According  to  Harold  Wethey,  the  supernatural  vision  of  Gloria
(“Heaven”)  above  and  the  impressive  array of  portraits  represent  all  aspects  of this  extraordinary  genius's  art.
Wethey  also  asserts  that  "El Greco's  Mannerist  method of  composition  is nowhere  more  clearly  expressed than
here, where all of the action takes place in the frontal plane". wikipedia

The Burial of the Count Orgaz by El Greco video by Anna Klimenko on Daily Motion.

Still Life with Gingerpot I
Piet Mondrian
Oil on canvas (1911)
Gemeentemuseum, The Hague


Piet Mondrian  was born  in 1872 in  Amersfoort in the  Netherlands,  the second  of his parents' children.  His father
was a qualified drawing teacher,  and, with his uncle,  Fritz Mondriaan  (a pupil of Willem Maris of the Hague School
of artists), the younger Piet often painted and drew along the river Gein. After a strictly Protestant upbringing, in
1892,  Mondrian entered the Academy for Fine Art in Amsterdam.  He already was qualified as a teacher. He began his
career  as a  teacher  in  primary  education,  but  he  also  practiced  painting.  Most  of  his  work  from  this  period  is
naturalistic or Impressionistic, consisting largely of landscapes. wikipedia

For more than a decade after  graduating from art school in 1897,  Piet Mondrian  created naturalistic drawings and
paintings  that  reflect  a  succession  of  stylistic  influences  including  academic  realism,  Dutch  Impressionism,  and
Symbolism.   During  this  period  and  intermittently  until  the  mid-1920s  Mondrian  created  more than a  hundred
pictures of flowers.  Reflecting years later  on his attraction  to the  subject,  he wrote,  “I enjoyed painting flowers,
not bouquets,  but a  single flower at a time,  in order  that I  might  better express  its plastic  structure.” The  heavy
crooked line of  Chrysanthemum  suggests  Mondrian’s  debt to Post-Impressionism,  specifically the  work of  Vincent
van Gogh.  In 1909 Mondrian  became interested  in theosophy,  a type of  philosophical  mysticism that seeks to disclose
the concealed essences of reality.  “I too find flowers beautiful in their exterior beauty,” he wrote a few years later,
“yet there is hidden within a deeper beauty.”

Mondrian was inspired by  Paul Cézanne’s  method of  breaking down  compositional elements  into  facets of color. In
Still  Life  with  Gingerpot  I   Mondrian began  to  employ such  avant-garde  techniques  as  passage  (brushwork  that
continues beyond the designated  edges of  objects)  and a  generally  looser  handling of paint.  Although muted,  the
palette of  Still Life with Gingerpot I  repeats the buoyant  blues  and roses of  Mondrian’s  earlier works,  as well as
their more  naturalistic  style  of representation,  exemplified  by the  retention of  traditional  perspective  and the
coherent integrity of the components of the still life such as the glass and saucepan.

Still Life with Gingerpot II  takes the  artist’s  first depiction  of this  motif to a  much greater  level of  abstraction.
The grid framework now interpolates the objects on the tabletop, and no vestiges of the glassware, stacked canvases,
or window frame  of the earlier  composition remain.  Mondrian’s works  of this period are  characterized by a strong
central motif (here the gingerpot)  around which the rest of the picture revolves in a symmetrical fashion.  While in
later paintings Mondrian developed a more dispersed field, his overarching concern for balance and order remained
constant. Jennifer Blessing on

The Complete Works of Piet Mondrian from Tuen Tony Kwok on YouTube.


Untitled (Violet, Black, Orange, Yellow on White and Red)
Mark Rothko
Oil on canvas (1949)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York


Mark Rothko was born Markus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz on September 25, 1903 in Dvinsk, Vitebsk Governorate, in the
Russian Empire  (today in Latvia).  His father was a  pharmacist  and an intellectual  who provided  his children with a
secular and political, rather than religious, upbringing. According to Rothko, his pro-Marxist father was "violently
anti-religious".  In an environment where Jews were often blamed  for many of the evils that befell Russia,  Rothko's
early  childhood  was  plagued  by  fear.   Rothko's  family  emigrated  to  the  United States  in  1913.   They  arrived  as
immigrants at  Ellis Island and from there they crossed the country to Portland,  Oregon.  His father's death,  a few
months later, led Rothko to sever his ties with religion.

Markus had started school in the  United States in 1913,  quickly accelerating from third to fifth grade.  In June 1921,
he completed  the secondary level,  with  honors,  at the age of  seventeen.  Rothko received a  scholarship to Yale.  At
the end of his freshman year in 1922,  the scholarship was not renewed,  and he worked as a waiter and delivery boy to
support his  studies.  While  visiting  a friend at the  Art Students  League of  New York,  he saw  students  sketching a
model.  According to  Rothko,  this  was the  beginning  of his  life as  an artist.  He later  enrolled in the  Parsons The
New School for Design.

In 1936,  Rothko began  writing a book,  never  completed,  about  similarities  in the  art of  children   and the work of
modern  painters.  According  to Rothko,  the work of modernists,  influenced by  primitive art,  could be compared to
that of children in that "child art transforms itself into primitivism,  which is only the child producing a mimicry of
himself."  In this manuscript, he observed that "the fact that one usually begins with drawing is already academic. We
start with color."  Rothko was using  fields of color in his  aquarelles and city scenes.  His style was  already evolving
in the direction of his renowned later works.

Rothko's work later  matured from  representation and  mythological  subjects into  rectangular fields of color and
light, culminating in his final works for the Rothko Chapel. Between his early style of primitivist and playful urban
scenes,  and  his  later  style  of  transcendent  color  fields,  was a  long  period  of  transition.  This  development  was
marked by two important events in his life:  the onset of World War II,  and his reading of Friedrich Nietzsche.  wikipedia

With paintings such as Violet, Black, Orange, Yellow on White and Red,  Rothko arrived at his mature idiom.  For the
next 20 years he would explore the expressive potential of stacked rectangular fields of luminous colors. Like other
New York  School artists,  Rothko  used  abstract  means  to express  universal  human emotions,  earnestly striving to
create an art of awe-inspiring intensity for a secular world.

In  order  to  explain  the  power  of  his  canvases,   some  art  historians  have  cited  their  compositional  similarity  to
Romantic landscape painting and  Christian altar decoration.  For Anna Chave,  mature paintings such as Violet, Black,
Orange,  Yellow  on  White  and  Red  metaphorically  encompass  the  cycle  of  life  from  cradle  to grave,  in  part  by
harboring an  oblique reference to both  adorations and entombments.  The stacked rectangles may be read vertically
as an abstracted  Virgin bisected by horizontal divisions that indicate the supine Christ.  It is clear that Rothko hoped
to harness  the grandeur of  religious  painting.  The principles of  frontality and  iconic imagery  in his mature works
are common to traditional altarpieces,  and both formats have similar  dimensions and proportions. Often larger than
a   human   being,    Rothko’s  canvases   inspire   the   kind   of   wonder  and   reverence   traditionally   associated   with
monumental religious or landscape painting.

It was Rothko’s  euphoric  veils of  diaphanous  pure color  that led  critics to  praise him as a  sensualist  and a colorist,
which pained him  because he believed  that his champions  had lost sight of his serious intentions.  For him the canvases
enacted a violent  battle of opposites — vertical versus  horizontal,  hot color  versus cold — invoking the  existential
conflicts of  modernity.  The Black Paintings,  begun in the  year before  the artist’s  suicide,  confirm  Rothko’s  belief
that his work encompassed tragedy.  The desolation of  canvases such as Black on Grey,  drained of color and choked by
a white border — rather than suggesting the free-floating forms or veiled layers of his earlier work—indicate that,
as Rothko asserted, his paintings are about death. Jennifer Blessing on

The Case for Mark Rothko video by The Art Assignment on YouTube

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Acrylic, oilstick, spray enamel, metallic paint on canvas (1982)
Sold to Malaysian financier Jho Low for $48.8 million at Christie's New York in May 2013


Jean-Michel  Basquiat  (December  22,  1960  – August  12,  1988)  was an  American  artist.  Born in Brooklyn  to a  Haitian
father and  Puerto Rican  mother,  Basquiat  first achieved  notoriety  as part of an  informal  graffiti  duo who  wrote
enigmatic epigrams in the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the late 1970s where the hip hop, post-punk, and street
art movements had coalesced.  By the 1980s,  he was exhibiting  his neo-expressionist paintings in  galleries and museums
internationally. The Whitney Museum of American Art held a retrospective of his art in 1992.

Basquiat's art focused on "suggestive dichotomies",  such as wealth versus poverty,  integration versus segregation, and
inner   versus   outer   experience.   He  appropriated   poetry,   drawing,   and   painting,   and   married  text   and   image,
abstraction,    figuration,   and   historical   information    mixed   with   contemporary   critique.    Basquiat   used   social
commentary  in his  paintings  as a  "springboard  to deeper  truths  about  the  individual"  as  well as  attacks  on  power
structures and  systems of racism,  while his poetics were  acutely political  and direct in their criticism  of colonialism
and support for class struggle. He died of a heroin overdose at his art studio at age 27. wikipedia

On May 15 (2013),  Christie's Evening Auction  of Post-War &  Contemporary Art  will present a  major  painting by Jean-
Michel Basquiat.  Executed in 1982  at the height of  his creative development and fame,  this ambitious work can be seen
in  both  its  scale  and  ambition  as its  epitome  of  his  signature  style.  Painted  with  a combustive  palette,  Dustheads
becomes an intuitive,  gestural whirlwind made during  the pinnacle of the artist’s practice.  With an estimate of $25-35
million,  Dustheads  will  likely  break  Basquiat’s  record of  $26.4 million,  which  was  just  achieved  last November in
New York.

Set against  a backdrop of intense,  inky blackness,  the brightly colored  figures in  Dustheads  represent  the ultimate
tour-de-force  of  expressive  line,  color  and  form  that  has  come  to  embody  Basquiat’s  iconic  painterly  oeuvre.   An
acknowledged masterpiece, this painting demonstrates his unique ability to combine raw, unabashed expressive emotion
whilst displaying a draughtmanship that was unrivalled in modern painting. Housed in the same private collection for
almost 20 years,  Dustheads  was included  in the  seminal  exhibition  of the  artist’s work  organized  by the  Fondation
Beyeler,  Basel in 2010  (and which later  travelled to Paris)  and is widely referenced  in the cover of the catalogue to
the 2006 Basquiat  retrospective organized by the  Fondazione La Triennale di Milano.  This painting  displays  the full
force  of  Basquiat’s  emotive  power  as an  artist  and  provides  ample  evidence  of  his  unique  painterly  language  — a
language that came to define a generation and one that is still heard loudly today.

“Basquiat  had   always  been   considered  an  outsider   by  the  art  world   establishment,   yet  the  everlasting  power,
relevance and integrity of his work have gradually identified him as the creative leader of his generation. Only since
Pollock has a painter  come to personify  such artistic freedom and irreverence.  Dustheads,  a portrait of  two figures
doped up on  “angel dust,”  exemplifies Basquiat’s  artistic  creation with  “no strings  attached.”  The work  is one of his
best paintings and perhaps  the last masterpiece to  come to auction”  declared Loic Gouzer,  Specialist of Post-War and
Contemporary Art.

Monumental,  yet  intensely  personal,  Dustheads  captures  the  vitality  and  vivacity  of  Basquiat’s  artistic  practice
during this key period of his career.  The pair of ghost-like figures  is composed of a rich symphony of brushstrokes and
marks that Basquiat draws together  into an opus of line,  color and form.  Composed of broad  brushstrokes of acrylic
paint,  entwined  with  expressive  scrawls  of oilstick  plus  accents of  spray  enamel  and metallic paint,  the resulting
marks  vary   greatly  in  their variety,  depth  and   rhythmic  clarity.   Expressionist  in  its  exuberance,   the  frenetic
brushwork acts as the framework for the rest of the composition. Christie's

Jean-Michel Basquiat video from born2cheer4lyf's channel on YouTube

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