Tahitian Women on the Beach
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.
A Story Based on the Letters of Paul Gauguin Before He Left for Tahiti, video from The Guardian
Oil on canvas (1882)
Courtauld Gallery, London
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
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 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
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
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 www.guggenheim.org
The Complete Works of Piet Mondrian from Tuen Tony Kwok on YouTube.
Untitled (Violet, Black, Orange, Yellow on White and Red)
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 www.gughenheim.org
The Case for Mark Rothko video by The Art Assignment on YouTube
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