Note that to minimise the entries and the opportunity for confusion, the text and image sources are not shown here – do follow the links to the artists or their works and you will find a proper acknowledgement of the sources.
Reynolds, Sir Joshua
George Clive and his family with an Indian maid
The Ladies Waldegrave
|Prosperity permeates this group portrait by Reynolds. Lord George Clive was cousin of Robert Clive, founder of the empire of British India, and made his fortune in that land. Most beautifully painted is the centrally placed Indian nurse, who, kneeling, supports the little girl in Indian courtly attire.|
Reynolds was particularly skilled at choosing poses and actions which suggested a sitter’s character and which also created a strong composition. Here, three sisters, the daughters of the 2nd Earl Waldegrave, are shown collaboratively working on a piece of needlework. The joint activity links the girls together. On the left, the eldest, Lady Charlotte, holds a skein of silk, which the middle sister, Lady Elizabeth, winds onto a card. On the right, the youngest, Lady Anna, works a tambour frame, using a hook to make lace on a taut net.
|The Swing, aka Les hasards heureux de l’escarpolette is Fragonard’s iconic painting, and one of the most emblematic images of 18th c French art. A young woman wearing a lovely pink silk frock is tantalisingly positioned mid-air on a swing between her elderly husband on the right and her young lover on the left. The force of the swing caused one of her slippers to fly off, resulting in a privileged view for her lover whose delight is suggested by the symbolic offer of his hat.|
At the time this portrait was painted, Denis Diderot was one of the most famous literati in Paris. As the editor and publisher of the Encyclopédie, and author of many articles, novels and pieces of art criticism, he had great reputation. From aristocratic Rococo culture to the bourgeois ethic of virtue, his books and articles accompanied the whole of French art production under the ancien regime.
Fragonard’s portrait of Diderot is part of his series of figures des fantaisies, which was being built up at this time and depicts people in particularly inspired moments. Diderot himself had, on the occasion of another portrait, demanded the ‘grace of action’. He wanted an action appropriate to the activity of the sitter, one which characterized him.
Inspiration (Self Portrait) is so different from many of Fragonard’s other paintings in that it is more warm, wistful, and frothy than his other portraits and was produced during the artist’s early years. Fragonard’s intention here is not only to represent himself on canvas, but also to depict the moment when an artist receives inspiration from a subject. By leaving the subject unknown, the painting becomes a source of inspiration itself, in either a common or divine sense.
Progress…:The history of these paintings – one of the most powerful evocations of love in the history of art – is linked with the career of the Comtesse du Barry, the last mistress of Louis XV. For a pleasure pavilion she commissioned from the architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux in 1771. From Fragonard the countess ordered four canvases depicting ‘the four ages of love’ – a flirtatious proposal, a furtive meeting, consummation or marriage, and the calm enjoyment of a happy union. Yet, for all their beauty and passion, Madame du Barry soon returned the canvases to the artist and ordered replacements from another. Were the resemblances between the red-coated lover and Louis XV potentially embarrassing?
The Lock , aka The Bolt, (French: Le Verrou) is one of the most famous paintings by Fragonard. The common interpretation suggests that the scene depicts two lovers in a bedroom, while the man is locking the door.
Inspiration (Self Portrait)
Progress of Love:
Oath of the Horatii
The Death of Socrates
The Death of Marat
The Intervention of the
Napoleon crossing the Alps
The Coronation of Napoleon
|In 1785 visitors to the Paris Salon were transfixed by one painting, Jacques-Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii.|
It depicts three men, brothers, saluting toward three swords held up by their father as the women behind him grieve. No one had ever seen a painting like it. Similar subjects had been seen in the Salons before but the physicality and intense emotion of the painting was new and undeniable. The revolutionary painting changed French art but was David also calling for another kind of revolution – a real one?
In this landmark of Neoclassical painting from the years immediately preceding the French Revolution, David took up a classical story of resisting unjust authority in a sparse, frieze-like composition.
The Greek philosopher Socrates was convicted of impiety by the Athenian courts; rather than renounce his beliefs, he died willingly, discoursing on the immortality of the soul before drinking poisonous hemlock.
At the height of the Reign of Terror in 1793, David painted a memorial to his great friend, the murdered publisher, Jean Marat.
As in his Death of Socrates, David substitutes the iconography of Christian art for contemporary issues. In Death of Marat, 1793, an idealised image of David’s slain friend, Marat, is shown holding his murderess’s (Charlotte Corday) letter of introduction. The bloodied knife lays on the floor having opened a fatal gash that functions, as does the painting’s very composition, as a reference to the entombment of Christ and a sort of secularised stigmata.
David began planning the work while imprisoned in the Luxembourg Palace in 1795.
France was at war with other European nations after a period of civil conflict, during which David had been imprisoned as a supporter of Robespierre. David hesitated between representing either this subject or that of Homer reciting his verses to his fellow Greeks. He finally chose to make a canvas representing the Sabine women interposing themselves to separate the Romans and Sabines, as a ‘sequel’ to Poussin’s The Rape of the Sabine Women.
Completed in four months, from October 1800 to January 1801, it signals the dawning of a new century. After a decade of terror and uncertainty following the Revolution, France was emerging as a great power once more. At the heart of this revival, of course, was Napoleon Bonaparte who, in 1799, had staged a coup d’état against the revolutionary government, installed himself as First Consul, and effectively become the most powerful man in France. In May 1800 he led his troops across the Alps in a military campaign against the Austrians which ended in their defeat in June at the Battle of Marengo. It is this achievement the painting commemorates.
The Coronation of Napoleon is a painting completed in 1807 by David, the official painter of Napoleon, depicting the coronation of Napoleon I at Notre-Dame de Paris.
|In the mythology of William Blake, Albion is the primeval man whose fall and division results in the ‘Four Zoas’: Urizen, Tharmas, Luvah/Orc and Urthona/Los. The name derives from the ancient and mythological name of Britain, Albion. Albion was a Giant son of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. Albion founded a country on the island and ruled there.|
In this work Blake portrays a young and muscular Isaac Newton, rather than the older figure of popular imagination. He is crouched naked on a rock covered with algae, apparently at the bottom of the sea. His attention is focused on a diagram which he draws with a compass. Blake was critical of Newton’s reductive, scientific approach and so shows him merely following the rules of his compass, blind to the colourful rocks behind him.
Nebuchadnezzar: In the prospectus for his book, John Varley (an artist, astrologer and close friend of Blake) announced his intention to include an engraving of Blake’s Nebuchadnezzar. This was never completed but, as with Ghost of a Flea, Varley may have been interested in the transformation of man into beast. The Bible describes how King Nebuchadnezzar was driven mad and forced to live like a wild animal as punishment for excessive pride.
Varley reported in his Treatise on Zodiacal Physiognomy (1882) that Blake once had a spiritual vision of a ghost of a flea and that ‘This spirit visited his imagination in such a figure as he never anticipated in an insect.’ While drawing the spirit it told the artist that all fleas were inhabited by the souls of men who were ‘by nature bloodthirsty to excess’. In the painting it holds a cup for blood-drinking and stares eagerly towards it.
(Portrait by Thomas Phillips)
The Ghost of a Flea
(self portrait, 1795)
The Family of Charles IV
The Third of May 1808
Saturn Devouring his Son
|An image of Venus in the nude, lying on a green velvet divan with pillows and a spread. Legend would have it that this was the Duchess of Alba, but the sitter has also been identified as Pepita Tudó, who became Godoy´s mistress in 1797. It is listed for the first time in 1800 as hanging over a door in Manuel Godoy´s palace, but without its companion, The Clothed Maja.|
‘The King says that as soon as Goya is done with your wife’s portrait he is to come here and do one of all of us together’, wrote Queen Maria Luisa in a letter dated 22 April 1800 and sent from Aranjuez to Manuel Godoy, it was wife, the future countess of Chinchon, that Goya was painting then. At the royal residence of Aranjuez he produced ten portraits of family members.
Back in his Madrid studio Goya assembled the heads as though they were pieces of a puzzle, respecting each one’s dynastic rank.
Attributed to Goya until 2008, new art historical and technical studies led to a reconsideration of the painting’s attribution, particularly following the tentative reading of the marks in the lower left corner as the initials “A. J.”. They may refer to Asensio Juliá, a friend and occasional collaborator of Goya.
In 1807, Napoleon, bent on conquering the world, brought Spain’s king, Charles IV, into alliance with him in order to conquer Portugal. Napoleon’s troops poured into Spain, supposedly just passing through. But Napoleon’s real intentions soon became clear: the alliance was a trick. The French were taking over. Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother, was the new king of Spain. On May 2, 1808, hundreds of Spaniards rebelled. On May 3, these Spanish freedom fighters were rounded up and massacred by the French.
Goya‘s mural paintings that decorated the house known as ‘la Quinta del Sordo’, where he lived have come to be known as the Black Paintings, because he used so many dark pigments and blacks in them, and also because of their somber subject matter. The private and intimate character of that house allowed the artist to express himself with great liberty. He painted directly on the walls. The Baron Émile d´Erlanger acquired ‘la Quinta’ in 1873 and had the paintings transferred to canvas.
Saturn…: This too is a mural painting that decorated the house known as ‘la Quinta del Sordo’.
|Returning from Wales to England by way of Llangollen, Cotman saw with delight the Chirk Aqueduct, the recently completed work of Telford, which crossed the marshy valley in a succession of arches. From his sketches of this work he made, some two years afterwards, two distinguished drawings. However, the V&A website suggests it is in fact Crambe Beck Bridge, near Kirkham, Yorkshire.|
Greta: It was in 1805, on the third of his visits to North Yorkshire to visit the Cholmeley family, that Cotman made the famous sequence of watercolour studies on the river Greta near Rokeby on the Yorkshire-Durham border.
The wooded slopes and winding paths close to the river in Rokeby Park inspired what one author has described as ‘the most perfect examples of pure watercolour ever made in Europe’. Cotman uses pure, translucent wash layers and minimum shadow. He defines shape with the crisp edges of his washes rather than with outline
Cotman, John Sell
On the Greta
(Bridge in Yorkshire)
Storm on Yarmouth beach
Napoleon I on
His Imperial Throne
The Valpinçon Bather
The Grande Odalisque
The Death of
Leonardo Da Vinci
The Turkish Bath
Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII
|The painting shows Napoleon as emperor, in the costume he wore for his coronation, seated on a circular-backed throne with armrests adorned with ivory balls. In his right hand he holds the sceptre of Charlemagne and in his left the hand of justice. On his head is a golden laurel wreath, similar to one worn by Caesar. He also wears an ermine hood under the great collar of the Légion d’honneur, a gold-embroidered satin tunic and an ermine-lined purple velvet cloak decorated with gold bees. The coronation sword is in its scabbard and held up by a silk scarf. The subject wears white shoes embroidered in gold and resting on a cushion. The carpet under the throne displays an imperial eagle.|
One of the more conservative figures in 19th century French painting, Ingres had trained under Jacques-Louis David before winning the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1801. But despite his outstanding drawing, his style of neoclassical painting – which borrowed from Northern Renaissance art as well as Italian Renaissance – proved to be out of step with the views of the French Academy and critics alike. The Valpincon Bather (La Grande Baigneuse), Ingres’ first great nude – was originally entitled ‘Seated Woman’ before being renamed after one of its 19th century owners. It was one of the three paintings Ingres was required to submit for adjudication to Paris, while studying at the French Academy in Rome during his Prix de Rome. It was a slightly unusual choice of subject and critics were unimpressed. It was not until 1855 that The Valpincon Bather received the acclaim it deserved.
Ingres returned to Neoclassicism after having first rejected the lessons of his teacher David. He could even be said to have laid the foundation for the emotive expressiveness of Romanticism. At first glance this nude seems to follow in the tradition of the Great Venetian masters, see for instance, Titian’s Venus of Urbino of 1538. On closer examination, it becomes clear that this is no classical setting. Instead, Ingres has created an aloof eroticism accentuated by its exotic context.
The Death of Leonardo da Vinci aka Francis I Receives the Last Breaths of Leonardo da Vinci shows the painter dying, with Francis I of France holding his head.
Turkish Bath: the painting depicts a group of nude women at a pool in a harem. It has an erotic style that evokes both the Near East and earlier western styles associated with mythological subject matter.
Joan of Arc: In 1851, M. de Guisard, the state’s Director of Fine Arts, gave Ingres a commission of 20,000 francs for a painting of a subject of Ingres’s choosing. Ingres offered instead to fulfill the commission by finishing two paintings already in progress, Joan of Arc and a Virgin with a Host. Both were subjects he had depicted in earlier works.
|Winter: this was the first painting by Friedrich, one of the principal figures of German Romantic art, to enter a British public collection when it was purchased by the National Gallery in 1987.|
A man, having cast aside his crutches, lies against a large boulder in a snowy landscape as he prays in front of a shining crucifix protected by three fir trees – a trinity that recalls the Christian Trinity of God the Father, Christ and the Holy Ghost. The silhouette of a German Gothic cathedral or church looms in the mist, its facade and spires echoing the shapes of the trees.
Fog: In the foreground, a young man stands upon a rocky precipice with his back to the viewer. He is wrapped in a dark green overcoat, and grips a walking stick in his right hand. His hair caught in a wind, the wanderer gazes out on a landscape covered in a thick sea of fog.
In the middle ground, several other ridges, perhaps not unlike the ones the wanderer himself stands upon, jut out from the mass.
Through the wreaths of fog, forests of trees can be perceived atop these escarpments. In the far distance, faded mountains rise in the left, gently leveling off into lowland plains in the right.
Moon: Pausing on their nocturnal walk through a mountain forest is a couple on a rise beside a dramatically contorted, uprooted oak. Darkness envelops the strollers; their eyes are raised to the reassuring celestial light of the moon that permeates the atmosphere with a solemn stillness. Deep in the moonlit night the trees and rocks acquire strange, almost eerie, dimensions and importance. The two figures are united by their shared experience of the natural world confronting them with an awareness of their transience; together they face the mystery of the unfathomable.
Friedrich, Caspar David
(Portrait by Gerhard von Kügelgen)
Wanderer above the Sea of Fog
Man and Woman gazing at the Moon
(1818-1835 – disputed)
The Charging Chasseur
The Raft of the Medusa
Portrait of a Kleptomaniac
|Chasseur: The painting was Géricault’s first exhibited work and it is an example of his attempt to condense both movement and structure in its art. It represents French romanticism and has a motif similar to Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps, but non-classical characteristics of the picture include its dramatic diagonal arrangement and vigorous paint handling.|
Medusa: This is an over-life-size painting that depicts a moment from the aftermath of the wreck of the French naval frigate Méduse, which ran aground off the coast of today’s Mauritania on 2 July 1816. On 5 July 1816, at least 147 people were set adrift on a hurriedly constructed raft; all but 15 died in the 13 days before their rescue, and those who survived endured starvation and dehydration and practiced cannibalism. The event became an international scandal, in part because its cause was widely attributed to the incompetence of the French captain.
Envy: Mental aberration and irrational states of mind interested artists against Enlightenment rationality. Géricault, like many of his contemporaries, examined the influence of mental states on the human face and shared the belief, common in his time, that a face more accurately revealed character, especially in madness and at the moment of death. He made many studies of the inmates in hospitals and institutions for the criminally insane, and he studied the heads of guillotine victims. Géricault’s woman, her mouth tense, her eyes red-rimmed with suffering, is one of several portraits he made of the mentally ill.
Kleptomaniac: Perhaps the greatest achievement of his last years were his portraits of the insane. There were ten of them originally. Only five have survived. It seems likely that the women were painted in the women’s hospital Salpêtrière, while the men were selected from among the inmates of Charenton and Bicȇtre.
|Dido: Turner’s painting of the North African city of Carthage, founded by Dido its first queen, was inspired by Virgil’s epic poem, the Aeneid. The figure on the left dressed in blue and wearing a diadem is Dido herself, visiting the tomb that is being built for her dead husband, Sychaeus. The man in a cloak and helmet standing before her is probably Aeneas, the hero of the poem, with whom she will fall in love.|
The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons is the title of two oil on canvas paintings by J. M. W. Turner, depicting the fire that broke out at the Houses of Parliament on the evening of 16 October 1834. Along with thousands of other spectators, Turner himself witnessed the Burning of Parliament from the south bank of the River Thames, opposite Westminster. He made sketches using both pencil and watercolour in two sketchbooks from different vantage points, including from a rented boat, although it is unclear that the sketches were made instantly, en plein air.
Temeraire: Turner’s painting shows the final journey of the Temeraire, as the ship is towed from Sheerness in Kent along the river Thames to Rotherhithe in south-east London, where it was to be scrapped. The veteran warship had played a distinguished role in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, but by 1838 was over 40 years old and had been sold off by the Admiralty.
The Slave Ship, originally titled Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhoon coming on, is a painting by the British artist J M W Turner, first exhibited at The Royal Academy of Arts in 1840.
Snow Storm: Turner painted many pictures exploring the extreme weather at sea. Here, the steam-boat is shown at the centre of a storm. There is a story that Turner was tied to the mast of a ship during a storm so he could paint the event from memory. This is now thought to be untrue, but it has been used as an example of Turner’s direct engagement with the world around him.
Norham: the town sits on the river Tweed in Northumberland, on the English side of the Scottish border. Turner visited Norham in 1801 and 1831, creating work after each visit. Turner made this unfinished canvas late in his career. He uses colour to express the blazing light that merges the building and the landscape. It is one of a group of paintings Turner based on compositions from his ‘Liber Studiorum’ (‘Book of Studies’) a set of seventy engravings he had made from his watercolour compositions.
Turner, J M W
Dido building Carthage
The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons
The Fighting Temeraire
The Slave Ship
Snow Storm: Steamboat off a Harbour’s Mouth
Rain Steam and Speed:
The Great Western Railway
Norham Castle, Sunrise
The Hay Wain
from the Meadows
|Boatbuilding: shows the construction of a barge at a dry-dock owned by Constable’s father. It is based on a tiny pencil drawing in a sketchbook at the V&A. Constable painted the landscape entirely in the open air. |
Hay Wain: The view is of the millpond at Flatford on the River Stour. Flatford Mill was a watermill for grinding corn, operated by the Constable family for nearly a hundred years. The empty wagon is making its way through the shallow water to cross to the meadow on the other side where haymakers are at work.
Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, which Constable began painting in 1830, shows the cathedral from the north-west, looking across the River Nadder from a point near a footbridge known as the Long Bridge.
Salisbury: A team of three horses pulls a cart across the river from the left; cattle graze in the meadows in the right distance; and the centre foreground is occupied by a black and white sheepdog whose intent gaze is turned inwards towards the cathedral as if to direct the viewer towards the building or the storm that sweeps over it. A magnificent rainbow arches over all, promising that the storm will pass.
|Orphan Girl at the Cemetery by Delacroix depicts a young girl visiting a cemetery, most likely located in the French countryside. Her tearful eyes are directed upward, toward heaven. Is she questioning God’s will? Does she look to understand why her loved one was taken from her? Her expression conveys not only sadness, but also emotional pain. The young girl’s posture implies resignation.|
The Death of Sardanapalus is based upon the tale of Sardanapalus, the last king of Assyria, from the historical library of Diodorus Siculus, ancient Greek historian, it is in the era of Romanticism. This painting uses rich, vivid and warm colours, and broad brushstrokes. It was inspired by Lord Byron’s play Sardanapalus (1821), and in turn inspired a cantata by Hector Berlioz, Sardanapale (1830), and also Franz Liszt’s opera, Sardanapalo (1845–1852, unfinished).
Delacroix depicts an event from the July Revolution of 1830, an event that replaced the abdicated King Charles X with Louis Philippe I, the so-called Citizen King. This uprising of 1830 was the historical prelude to the June Rebellion of 1832, an event featured in Victor Hugo’s famous novel, Les Misérables and the musical and films that followed.
Orphan Girl in a Cemetery
The Death of Sardanapalus
Liberty Leading the People
Thirty-six views of
The Great Wave
|Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji is a series of landscape prints by the Japanese ukiyo-e artist|
Katsushika Hokusai. The series depicts Mount Fuji from different locations and in various seasons and weather conditions. The success of the publication led to another ten prints being added to the series.
Fine Wind, Clear Morning (top image here) and Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit (middle image). The bottom image is Shore of Tago Bay, Ejiri at Tōkaidō.
But the most famous is the first of Hokusai’s series published 1829-1833 in the late Edo period. The wave is threatening three boats in Sagami Bay, Kanagawa Prefecture, with mount Fuji in the background. It is often considered to be a tsunami, but experts suggest it is more likely a rogue wave. It is considered to be the most recognizable work of Japanese art in the world.
|The Bridge at Narni is the Ponte d’Augusto at Narni by Corot. It was painted in September 1826 and was the basis for the larger and more finished View at Narni, which was exhibited at the Salon of 1827. The view was not a novel one: in 1821 Corot’s teacher, Achille-Etna Michallon had drawn the same scene, as had Corot’s friend Ernst Fries in 1826. Art historian Peter Galassi describes Corot’s study as a reconciliation of traditional and plein air painting objectives.|
Oak Trees: Corot painted this study in the summer of 1832 or 1833 in Bas-Bréau, part of Fontainebleau forest that was famous for its immense oak trees. It was executed in the naturalistic style that he had previously developed in Italy. The tree reappears in Hagar in the Wilderness, the large canvas he exhibited at the 1835 Paris Salon. Improbably, in his realization of that biblical scene, Corot transplanted the oak from northern France to the Palestine desert.
Woman: This picture is one of the depersonalised figures that Corot painted in the third part of his career. The position and the expression of the sitter, Berthe Goldschmidt, posing in an Italian dress that Corot had brought back with him.
It is almost a pastiche of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The small leaf standing out on the young girl’s brow, formerly thought to be a pearl, gave it its title.
Bridge at Narni
Fontainebleau: Oak Trees at Bas-Bréau
Woman with a Pearl
von Amerling, Friedrich
Portrait of Holy Roman Emperor Francis II
|Francis II was the last Holy Roman Emperor from 1792 to 1806 and, he reigned as Francis I, the first Emperor of Austria from 1804 to 1835. He assumed the title of Emperor of Austria in response to the coronation of Napoleon as Emperor of the French.|
Soon after Napoleon created the Confederation of the Rhine, Francis abdicated as Holy Roman Emperor. He was King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia. He also served as the first president of the German Confederation following its establishment in 1815.
|The full title is Painting of Human Figures, the History of a Burial at Ornans. Courbet took his inspiration from group portraits of Dutch civic guards in the 17th century while the sumptuous blacks recall Spanish art. The nuances of colour produces an austere tone, his technique gives the people and the natural elements density and weight. The rigorous frieze-like composition and the gaping grave strewn with bones invite us to think about the human condition. He used a canvas of dimensions usually reserved for history painting, a ‘noble’ genre, to present an ordinary subject, with no trace of idealisation, which cannot pretend to be a genre scene either.|
The enormous Studio is without doubt Courbet’s most mysterious composition. However, he provides several clues to its interpretation: It’s the whole world coming to me to be painted, he declared, on the right, all the shareholders, by that I mean friends, fellow workers, art lovers. On the left is the other world of everyday life, the masses, wretchedness, poverty, wealth, the exploited and the exploiters, people who make a living from death.
Courbet, who paved the way for Realism in the mid-19th century, remained on the fringes of official art. He asserted his originality through his depictions of women in particular. Nudes with lifelike flesh shocked visitors to the Salon who were used to the white, smooth nymphs of academic painting. This painting, one of Courbet’s masterpieces, that jubilantly celebrated the beauty of the body.
Courbet, Jean Désiré Gustave
Burial at Ornans
Studio of the Painter:
A Real Allegory
Man with a Hoe
|True to one of Millet’s favourite subjects – peasant life – this painting is the culmination of ten years of research on the theme of the gleaners. These women incarnate the rural working-class. They were authorised to go quickly through the fields at sunset to pick up, one by one, the ears of corn missed by the harvesters.|
The painter shows three of them in the foreground, bent double, their eyes raking the ground. He thus juxtaposes the three phases of the back-breaking repetitive movement imposed by this thankless task: bending over, picking up the ears of corn and straightening up again.
A man and a woman are reciting the Angelus, a prayer which commemorates the annunciation made to Mary by the angel Gabriel. They have stopped digging potatoes and all the tools used for this task – the potato fork, the basket, the sacks and the wheelbarrow – are strewn around them. In 1865, Millet said: ’The idea for The Angelus came to me because I remembered that my grandmother, hearing the church bell ringing while we were working in the fields, always made us stop work to say the Angelus prayer for the poor departed’
Hoe: Man with a Hoe caused a storm of controversy. The man in the picture was considered brutish and frightening by Parisian bourgeoisie. The Industrial Revolution had caused a steady exodus from French farms, and Man with a Hoe was interpreted as a socialist protest about the peasant’s plight. Though his paintings were judged in political terms, Millet declared that he was neither a socialist nor an agitator. This farmer is Everyman.
|Bellelli: Between the ages of 22 and 26, Edgar Degas completed his training in Italy, where part of his familly lived. Here he painted his father’s sister, Laure, with her husband, the baron Bellelli and her two daughters, Giula and Giovanna. Masterpiece of Degas’s early years, this portrait evokes the family tensions isolating each member of the family. The imposing dimensions, the sober colours, the structured games of open perspectives (doors and mirrors), all converge in strengthening a climate of oppression.|
Dancing Class: This work and its variant in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, represent the most ambitious paintings Degas devoted to the theme of the dance. Some twenty-four women, ballerinas and their mothers, wait while a dancer executes an ‘attitude’ for her examination. Jules Perrot, a famous ballet master, conducts the class.
The imaginary scene is set in a rehearsal room in the old Paris Opéra, which had recently burned to the ground.
Cotton Office: Degas depicts the moment when his uncle Michel Musson’s cotton brokerage business went bankrupt in an economic crash, according to Michael McMahon of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The firm was swamped by the postwar growth of the much larger Cotton Exchange.
In the painting, Musson is seen examining raw cotton for its quality while Degas’ brother Rene reads The Daily Picayune. It carried the bankruptcy news. Another brother, Achille, rests against a window wall at left while others, including Musson’s partners, go about their business.
L’Absinthe: In a cafe, a fashionable meeting place, (La Nouvelle Athènes in place Pigalle) a man and a woman, although sitting side-by-side, are locked in silent isolation, their eyes empty and sad, with drooping features and a general air of desolation.
The painting can be seen as a denunciation of the dangers of absinthe, a violent, harmful liquor which was later prohibited.
Prima Ballerina: Edgar Degas was a French artist famous for his work in painting, sculpture, printmaking and drawing. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism although he rejected the term, and preferred to be called a realist. This painting shows his mastery in depicting movement. His portraits are considered to be among the finest in the history of art.
Little Dancer: At the sixth impressionist exhibition in the spring of 1881, Edgar Degas presented the only sculpture that he would ever exhibit in public. The Little Dancer Aged Fourteen has become one of the most beloved works of art, a student dancer of the Paris Opera Ballet. Marie van Goethem, the model for the figure, was the daughter of a Belgian tailor and a laundress; her working–class background was typical of the school’s ballerinas. Young, pretty, and poor, the ballet students were also potential targets of male ‘protectors’.
Bourse: what might at first be taken for a simple scene of Parisian life is essentially a portrait, that of the banker Ernest May (1845-1925), a collector and an admirer of Degas. Seemingly chaotic, but with great evocative power, the composition relies on a solid and ingenious structure. The painter observes his subject with a certain distance. As the son of a failed banker, Degas knew the world of money makers but refused to be involved in it.
Cassatt: Among the most technically complex of Degas’ prints, this view of Mary Cassatt and her sister in the galleries of the Musée du Louvre was intended, like Pissarro‘s Wooded Landscape at L’Hermitage, Pontoise (21.46.1), to appear in the first issue of the prospective journal Le Jour et la Nuit, on which the two artists collaborated with Cassatt and Félix Bracquemond.
Ironing: Degas often made portraits of his family and friends but he was also an attentive observer of the working world in millinery workshops or laundries. Only Daumier before him had taken an interest in washerwoman, who became one of Degas’s favourite subjects between 1869 and 1895. At first he painted single figures seen against the light, picked out sharply against the white linen. Then, about 1884-1886, he dwelled more heavily on the subject, this time depicting two women in a laundry.
Comb: In this version (one of two), Degas used a new technique, applying pastel in so many successive layers that the pigment became burnished and the underlying paper rubbed to such an extent that the fibers were loosened and now project from the surface like many little hairs. Degas also emphasized anti-natural chartreuses and greens in modeling the figure’s pink flesh, perhaps inspired by the play of complementary color contrasts in the work of such younger contemporaries as Seurat or Van Gogh.
The Bellelli Family
The Dancing Class
Cotton Office in New Orleans
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen
Portraits at the Bourse
Mary Cassatt at the Louvre: The Etruscan Gallery
Woman combing her hair
Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe
The Dead Toreador
Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets
La rue Mosnier aux Paveurs
Bar at the Folies-Bergère
|Dejeuner: Rejected by the jury of the 1863 Salon, Manet exhibited Le déjeuner sur l’herbe under the title Le Bain at the Salon des Refusés where it became the principal attraction, generating both laughter and scandal. Yet in Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, Manet was paying tribute to Europe’s artistic heritage, borrowing his subject from the Concert champêtre – a painting by Titian attributed at the time to Giorgione (Louvre) – and taking his inspiration for the composition of the central group from the Marcantonio Raimondi engraving after Raphael‘s Judgement of Paris. Classical references were counterbalanced by Manet’s boldness. The presence of a nude woman among clothed men is justified neither by mythological nor allegorical precedents.|
Olympia: With Olympia, Manet reworked the traditional theme of the female nude, using a strong, uncompromising technique. Both the subject matter and its depiction explain the scandal caused by this painting at the 1865 Salon.
Even though Manet quoted numerous formal and iconographic references, such as Titian’s Venus of Urbino, Goya‘s Maja desnuda, and the Grande Odalisque with her black slave, already handled by Ingres among others, the picture portrays the cold and prosaic reality of a truly contemporary subject. Venus has become a prostitute, challenging the viewer with her calculating look.
Toreador: This painting was produced during a period in which Manet was strongly influenced by Spanish themes and painters such as Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Goya and bullfighting.
On 14 September 1865, Manet wrote to Baudelaire:
‘One of the most beautiful, most curious and most terrible spectacles one can see is a bull hunt. On my return, I hope to put on canvas the brilliant, flickering and at the same time dramatic appearance of the corrida I attended’.
Morisot: Manet was profoundly marked by the Franco-Prussian war and the Commune, throughout which he had remained in Paris, serving in the garde nationale, and unable to paint. Towards the end of 1871, he resumed his work taking up his former models including Berthe Morisot, a young painter with whom he shared a deep friendship and who would marry one of his brothers a few months later. Rather than using the uniform light he often employed in his portraits, Manet chose here to light his model vividly from the side so that Berthe Morisot’s face seems to be all light and shadow.
La Rue: Manet depicts Road-menders in the Rue Mossnier, now the Rue de Berne, which was overlooked by Manet’s studio at 4 Rue de Saint-Pétersbourg. It was painted from an upstairs window.
Folies: This celebrated work is Édouard Manet’s last major painting, completed a year before he died, and exhibited in 1882 at the Salon. This would have been a startling painting for Salon visitors in many ways, not least because it seems to follow the traditional format of portraiture but does not name its subject. Indeed, the barmaid appears as just another item in the enticing array on offer in the foreground: wine, champagne, peppermint liqueur and British Bass beer, with its iconic red triangle logo.
|Garden: In 1866, Claude Monet started painting a large picture in the garden of the property he was renting in the Paris suburbs. He faced a two-fold challenge: firstly, working in the open-air, which meant lowering the canvas into a trench by means of a pulley so he could work on the upper part without changing his viewpoint; and secondly, working on a large format usually used for historical compositions. But his real aim was elsewhere: finding how to fit figures into a landscape and give the impression that the air and light moved around them.|
Monet found a solution by painting the shadows, coloured light, patches of sunshine filtering through the foliage, and pale reflections glowing in the gloom.
Bain: During the summer of 1869, Monet and Renoir set up their easels at La Grenouillère, a boating and bathing resort on the Seine River, not far from Paris.
Monet noted on September 25, ‘I do have a dream, a painting, the baths of La Grenouillère, for which I have made some bad sketches, but it is only a dream. Renoir, who has just spent two months here, also wants to do this painting’.
Among their various depictions of the subject, this composition closely resembles one by Renoir in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.
Trouville: this painting and eight others he made in the summer of 1870 show Trouville as a holiday destination, with wide sandy beaches, bracing air and impressive seaside architecture. Monet painted it during the weeks he spent at Trouville with his wife Camille and their son Jean.
Camille and a female companion are shown in close-up, their figures apparently casually arranged and cropped by the picture frame, rather like a snapshot.
Poppy: Claude Monet painted The Poppy Field in 1873 on his return from the UK when he settled in Argenteuil with his family until 1878. It was a time that provided the artist with great fulfillment as a painter, despite the failing health of Camille.
Sunrise: Monet depicts a mist, which provides a hazy background to the piece set in Le Havre, the French harbour. The orange and yellow hues contrast brilliantly with the dark vessels, where little, if any detail is immediately visible to the audience. It is a striking and candid work that shows the smaller boats in the foreground almost being propelled along by the movement of the water.
Rouen: Monet painted more than thirty views of Rouen Cathedral in 1892–93.
Moving from one canvas to another as each day progressed, he painted the facade with highly textured brushstrokes that convey the aspect of sculpted stone and make the atmosphere and light palpable. Monet later finished the works in his studio at Giverny, carefully adjusting the pictures both independently and in relation to each other. Hence, most are signed and dated 1894, as is this example.
Bridge: In 1893, Monet, a passionate horticulturist, purchased land with a pond near his property in Giverny, intending to build something ‘for the pleasure of the eye and also for motifs to paint’. The result was his water-lily garden. In 1899, he began a series of eighteen views of the wooden footbridge over the pond, completing twelve paintings, including this one, that summer.
Green Harmony: This landscape painting was done at Giverny more than fifteen years after the Impressionist group had started to drift apart. During the last thirty years of his life Monet devoted himself to a series of famous landscape paintings of his water gardens at Giverny.
Japanese Bridge: Among his Water Lilies paintings (1897-1926) was a smaller series of eighteen views of the wooden Japanese footbridge over his pond, which he began in 1899.
Houses of Parliament: Between 1899 and 1901, Monet produced nearly a hundred views of the Thames River in London. He painted Waterloo Bridge and Charing Cross Bridge from his room in the Savoy Hotel and the Houses of Parliament from Saint Thomas’s Hospital across the river. In 1904, this work and thirty-six others were shown at Durand-Ruel’s gallery in Paris.
Women in the Garden
Bain à la Grenouillère
Beach at Trouville
Poppy Field (Argenteuil)
Cathedrale de Rouen, The Portal, Sunlight (part of series)
Bridge over a Pond of Water Lillies
Water Lily Pond:
Water Lillies and Japanese Bridge
Houses of Parliament, The (Effect of Fog)
Young Boy with a Cat
Dance At The Moulin De La Galette
(Bal du Moulin de la Galette)
The Swing (La Balancoire)
Luncheon of the Boating Party
(Le Dejeuner des Canotiers)
|The Young Boy with the Cat has not given up all its secrets. This male nude has no equivalent in Renoir’s work. The identity of the model seen from the back cuddling the cat is unknown. His sly glance at the spectator remains mysterious. The scene does not seem to have any mythological reference. Renoir painted it in 1868, a turning point for the artist who was still at the beginning of his career. After being refused at the Salons of 1866 and 1867, he had at last tasted success with a large female portrait in the open air, Lise with a Parasol, now in the Folkwang Museum, Essen.|
Dance: This painting is doubtless Renoir’s most important work of the mid 1870’s and was shown at the Impressionist exhibition in 1877. Though some of his friends appear in the picture, Renoir’s main aim was to convey the vivacious and joyful atmosphere of this popular dance garden on the Butte Montmartre. The study of the moving crowd, bathed in natural and artificial light, is handled using vibrant, brightly coloured brushstrokes. The somewhat blurred impression of the scene prompted negative reactions from contemporary critics.
Swing: A young man seen from the back is talking to a young woman standing on a swing, watched by a little girl and another man, leaning against the trunk of a tree.
Renoir gives us the impression of surprising a conversation – as if in a snapshot, he catches the glances turned towards the man seen from the back. The young woman is looking away as if she were embarrassed. The foursome in the foreground is balanced by the group of five figures sketchily brushed in the background.
Luncheon: Hailed as ‘one of the most famous French paintings of modern times’ when it was first exhibited, the Luncheon of the Boating Party was flanked by Alfred Sisley’s Snow at Louveciennes (above) and Banks of the Seine at the Phillips Memorial Gallery in December 1923. At the time, Phillips had intentions of forming a unit of Renoir’s works; however, as the painting came to serve its purpose as a magnet attracting to the museum ‘pilgrims to pay homage from all over the civilized world’, Phillips realized that the Luncheon of the Boating Party was the only major work by the artist that he would need.
|Venus: The woman in this picture is Venus, the Roman goddess of love and this painting is full of symbols of lust and love. The arrow she holds in her hand is poised ready to pierce hearts, the apple represents the fruit that tempted Eve and the roses and honeysuckles are symbols of desire. The painting’s title is taken from a poem by the Roman author, Ovid, and translates as ‘Venus, turner of hearts’. The original model for the work was an unnamed cook who worked at Portland Place, London. The painting did not sell so Rossetti repainted Venus with the face of Alexa Wilding, one of his favourite models.|
Prosperine: The subject was suggested to the artist by William Morris, whose wife Jane was the model for this and many other works by Rossetti. Her own life bore similarities to that of the captive goddess, and the painting could be seen as much a portrait of Jane as a representation of Proserpine.
By all accounts, Mrs Morris was not a happy woman and Morris was a cold husband. Jane enjoyed an intimate relationship with Rossetti which spanned decades. Rossetti painted Proserpine while staying with the couple at Kelmscott.
Rossetti, Dante Gabriel
Repin, Ilya Yefimovich
Илья Ефимович Репин
1844 – 1930
Barge Haulers on the Volga
Autumn Day in Abramtsevo
Ivan the Terrible and his Son
|Barge Haulers: In 1868, when sailing on the River Neva in St Petersburg, Ilya Repin caught his first glimpse of men hauling barges. He was stunned at the sight of these unfortunate people in harness, in contrast to the elegant public promenading on the embankments.|
After two trips to the Volga and a direct acquaintance with many barge haulers, he painted this monumental canvas. One of the leading works of Russian painting, Barge Haulers on the Volga ushered in a whole new era in the history of genre painting.
Abramtsevo: Ilya Repin wrote to a friend in 1877. ‘I am inclined to think that Abramtsevo is the best dacha in the world – almost ideal’, this was during one of his first visits to the estate near Moscow belonging to his friend the industrialist Savva Mamontov. The following year, in a letter to the critic Vladimir Stasov, Repin described his life there, ‘I have been living with my entire family at the Mamontovs’ for more than a month. Our life is very easy – the air is magical, there are all kinds of pleasures for body and soul’.
Ivan: Ilya Repin was a renowned Russian-Ukrainian realism painter. He had a long and successful career, credited with bringing attention to Russian art and culture. Repin was skilled at depicting real people in real situations and preferred to paint for moral and social purposes. While he did not normally paint historical pieces or ones with violence and bloodshed, Ivan the Terrible and his Son is a major exception.
Note that to minimise the entries and the opportunity for confusion, the text and image sources are not shown here – do follow the links to the artists or their works and you will find a proper acknowledgement of the sources.