Posts Tagged ‘rococo’

Garden of an Italian Villa (1764)

Catalogue: “the overall spacial fluidity [remarkable] slightly syncopated … the space offers the surprise of a tree-framed aperture at the top of the steps on the left, and easily accommodates the irregular perspective … recalls landscapes of the German artist Friedrich Reclam … “

The Artist in his Studio (c.1763-65)

“The ideas that ruins awaken within me are grandiose. Everything is annihilated, everything perishes, every thing passes out of existence; the world alone remains, time alone endures. How old this world is! I walk between two eternities. Wherever I cast my eyes, the objects surrounding me speak of an end and make me resigned to that which awaits me … ” (– Denis Diderot after seeing a now lost Grande galerie eclairee du fond by Robert)

A loggia in the Villa Medici

Dear friends and readers,

Hubert Robert is such a favorite artist with me that I braved intense heat, a long trip on the Metro for a second day (see first), a crowded city a couple of days after the exhibit opened. I worried lest Metro service get worse, and didn’t trust them to resume regular service on the lines I use in time to see the exhibit.

Seven or eight rooms filled with paintings, drawings, watercolors, an area for sketchbooks take you through the phases of Robert’s impressive career(click on one hour podcast art evaluation as biography to the right). His life takes you through an outline of the history of France: the ancien regime as experienced by the young man lifted well above his original station (his parents were servants in an aristocratic house) in Rome, and shoring up material for later years:

The Colisseum

Loggia at Villa Madama (c.1760)

This painting of the gardens at the Louvre from later in Robert’s career (post-1790) can also stand in for a room of gardens (pre-1790)

The Bastille in the First Days of the Demolition (1789)

Catalogue: “the painting … shows a setting sun illuminating the exaggeratedly huge fortress as it looms against an orange-tinted sky, seems to admirably capture the extraordinary surge of feeling that would lead in just a few weeks to the building’s total destruction …”

Then suspect for his associations and thrown in prison, almost executed,

An inmate at St Lazare

Catalogue: “the identity of the man … is uncertain … [this is] a portrait of a cell with its spartan furnishings, augmented by such comforts as a couple of books, a somewhat ornate chest, and a small mirror. Hanging prominently on the wall is a hat with the tricolor cockade … [this sort of symbol had become] a kind of camouflage, simply to fit in and to avoid problems.”

Women bringing in food at St Lazare

lucky release, and later career this time patronized by the state, involved in the transformation of the Louvre

Hubert Robert Tutt'Art@

The exhibit concentrated on and brought out beautifully the quiet learned and contemplative aspect of the man’s work. You are told how successful he was from a very young age, how hard working, how serious, how he loved to socialize (Vigee-LeBrun doubted he ate at home more than three times a year), how many real friends he had, and that he was certainly good at networking too. I thought to myself he was as much a survivor as Talleyrand or Madame de Genlis.

One of the striking things to me about the exhibit the day I went was it was not crowded. It’s well advertised and large, just the sort of thing that usually draws a crowd. It was a Sunday afternoon; elsewhere I saw lots of people hurrying, scurrying, peering close up. Instead there were people I’d call reading and academic types sitting at a distance from pictures, at the center of a room contemplating what they were looking at. No one stood in my way. However successful in his lifetime, Robert’s is not a popular art. It is not aggressively aimed at the viewer; nothing exaggerated in the psychology of the figures. Tellingly, Robert seems to have done hardly any portraits of recognizable people close up.

I bought the exhibit book (a few essays, a thoroughly detailed chronology, catalogue raisonne) although in hardback (a slight sale) when I was told there would not be a paperback. It disappointed me in how studiedly neutral and unanalytic the essays were. I wondered why. There is fine review by Phllip Kennicott, “Stroll ancient Rome with Hubert Robert as tour guide,” which ends perceptively on the mood the exhibit stirs in a receptive viewer (Washington Post).

A Hermit praying in the ruins of a Roman temple (1760) — one of his many many capriccio

Detail from A Hermit in a Garden (c1790 — not in the exhibit)

So a few thoughts. The exhibit emphasized the capriccios, how much that we see is learned fantasy. His art is also playful, comic, with unexpected salaciousness (which I doubt Austen would have liked and might have complained about to Cassandra). He can pander to patrons. Take the Hermit in his Garden: it’s an illustration of an incident from La Fontaine’s “L’Ermite”, itself from an anti-feminist medieval bawdy tale. A friar lusts after a girl, tricks her deluded mother into leaving her daughter with him, impregnates the girl who just loves the experience (see Joseph Baillio, A Hermit in a Garden: A new acquisition for the Speed Art Museum, 2001). Study the Laundress and Child:


There is something very mean in this fall of Madame du Barry — she was guillotined later; some of his patrons had resented her because she was lower class: “How the mighty are fallen?”

She did not go gentle into that long night but fought ferociously on the guillotine scaffold

It may be that Robert never tired of company whose variety he never found uncongenial, but over a lifetime of long working hours, weeks, months, years, the pictures he produced focus on moments of stillness, solitude, study, vulnerability, people at work.

The Fountain focuses on a disabled man

He doesn’t just juxtapose ordinary people going about their lives in these ruins as counter cheerful images, the wittiest of which may be the famous Ponte Salario whose upper center in woman trying to rescue her cat:


womanandcat (Mobile)
I hope through the blur the viewer sees how she’s risking toppling herself down as she reaches out

He pays attention to poor and middle class people: the first is about the woman and her child in the Roman landscape:


Catalogue: “the speed of the execution is especially evident here in the quick nervous delineation of the tree that takes up most of the page. In many ways it is a more intricately wrought ornament to serve as a framework for the two figures walking through the countryside than a product of nature … composed with great ingenuity and spirit … “

Not in this one but others have people bathing tired feet

Catalogue: that he chose to draw such modest places is stressed.

This fantasy Fountain at Vauclause combines sublime mountains with small Chardin-like figures:


This is a wild concatenation of images, and meditation on Poussin

Hubert Robert – private collection. Title: Le pont sur le torrent. Date: mid 1780s. Materials: oil on canvas. Dimensions: 416 x 616 cm. Auctioned by Christie’s in New York, on January 27, 2007. Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hubert_Robert_-_Le_pont_sur_le_torrent.jpg. I have changed the contrast of the original photo.
Le pont sur le torrent (mid 1780s).

He studied the materials from which buildings and cities were made:

Demolition of Houses on the Pont-du-Change (1788)

From Age of Watteau, Chardin and Fragonard: “fascinating social and historical documents, charting with considerable topographical and human detail major developments in urban renewal in Paris. The city appears in its dual identity of social space and human construction …. chaos and the temporality of human endeavour prevail … [when he makes the people puny in comparison he shows the still lingering influence of] Giovanni Piranesi [but it] unheroic and against the grain of the celebratory ….

It’s a mood and stance that connect it to this fantasy Remains of the Palace of Pope Julius


which forms a pair unexpectedly with

Colonade and Gardens at the Villa Medici with Gentleman Sketching (c. 1759)

He is just so varied. Here is a rare sketch of his wife, Marie Suzanne Girouet-Roslin, “Madame Robert Sewing:”


He often shows people creating art, involved somehow, and the charm here (there is no other word for it) is to see the people studying patterns for classical monuments while they sit inside one just going up as a ruin:



I like best the small unnoticed details, rich coloration and drawing, and figures of people who can’t be brought into anything schematic: first the old man, how he’s dressed, from the Garden of the Italian Villa (the first picture way above)


Then this small passage in one of his garden scenes — the original is much much greener, many shades of dark rich green:


He draws Madame Geoffrin drawing for lunch:


Many red chalk drawings were there and they are so appealing (hardly any watercolors though); some waiting to be “worked up” later into paintings; others curious visions in themselves, by no means all classical:


I close on a portrait of Robert reprinted far less often than the robust figure Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun caught earlier in life:

Robert in 1799 by Jean-Baptist Isabey


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Chardin, The Attributes of Music (1765)

A detail from The Diligent Mother

A second detail from same picture

Here you are again, you great magician, with your mute compositions — Diderot

“Who ever told you one painted with colors? One uses colors but one paints with sentiment — Chardin

Dear friends and readers,

It should go without saying that my love for art — and many art books in my library — which has led me to start a series of blog-essays on woman artists, encompasses many male artists too. And those favorite schools of art women participated in or created are often the same ones I find my favorite male artists in too. I have long loved Chardin’s pictures and Diderot’s meditative reviews on them. Above is a reproductive image of one of a copy of one of Chardin’s paintings that I have on one of the walls in my house. I was attracted to Francois Duparc (1726-1778) and Anne Vallayer-Coster (1744-1818) because their art reminded me of his. The latter for their shared area of food:

Basket of Peaches, Glass of Water (sometimes called Wine), a Knife, and Walnuts (1768)

So when I was offered a chance to review Paula Radisich’s Pastiche, Fashion, and Galanterie in Chardin’s Genre Subjects: Looking Smart (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2014), I delightedly looked forward to reading a book which would deepen my appreciation of the man’s vision, artistic techniques, place in the philosophical and aesthetic currents of his era.

Young Student Drawing (1734)

Alas, the book was a disappointment but I reviewed it as best I could on its own terms, and am using this blog to announce the publication of my review in the Intelligencer for March 2014, po 40-44. Rather than quote from or paraphrase it, I will make the review available soon. As I read it I realized Radisch was determined to turn Chardin into a marketplace man satisfying a frivolous elite, performing away for prestige and money, with his models mediocre and salacious Dutch and French pictures. She says that above all Chardin wanted to be seen as a gentleman.

She didn’t include this pastel self-portrait

She chose to cover only the years 1737-52 and only those paintings which could be viewed as genre scenes and places them in the context of the commercial most fashionable paintings (often from a slightly earlier era), trade cards, with a framing taken from the brief half-flippant comments by buyers, collectors, contemporary curators of shows. She concentrated on the famous young gentleman making houses of cards, a very Watteau-like young gentlemen and male servants at billiards, and fashionable ladies in enigmatic poses.

Game of Billiards

Domestic Pleasures

Radisch’s way of reading Domestic Pleasures implies that Chardin assumed we might ask (salaciously, as so much fun), Is she waiting for a man to come and fuck her? or is her guilty secret that she just finished masturbating? Of course it’s all too well-bred (and snobbishly elitist) to make this explicit.

In such “le gout moderne” readings, Radische makes much of the gestures of Chardin’s subject’s feet and shoes (fetishes you see) too:

dilligent motheratherfeet
A third detail from The Diligent Mother – this time her feet and shoes

Radisch dismisses Diderot’s Salons (his readings of Chardin) as hypocritical, shaped by a political agenda. Radisch turns Chardin into a marketplace man satisfying a frivolous elite, performing (quiet smut) away. Her book belongs to a conservative backlash encountered in so many recent scholarly books; another one I reviewed just such another on films, Nora Gilbert’s Better Left Unsaid.

The Morning Toilette fits this time span and typology — its enigmatic symbols can be allegorized according to the eye of the beholder

So too

Saying Grace (with a detail from the painting enlarged) — very like the diligent mother in feel and mood — because of a similar patterning is then drawn into the mould.

Studying the paintings once again with a context just as historical — Chardin’s contemporary peers and predecessors like Watteau in France, what we find in novels and plays and poetry of the era — I begin to see again that Chardin’s superiority is real and resides in his doing genre paintings of a depth & beauty with a naturalism and quiet ethical feel in the central figures hard to get into words. A number of years ago my husband and I went to one of these gargantuan wonderful exhibits at the National Gallery, The Age of Watteau, Chardin and Fragonard, edited by Colin B. Bailey, also an exhibition catalogue (Yale University Press and the National Galley of Canada, 2003), which contains a number of essays by the finest art scholars and long close readings of many many paintings from the best and typical painters of the era (just about all men in this book): I bought the book and had many times sat looking at its many color plates and used to share thoughts about them with Jim. I went through them again over a few weeks in late summer. The monkey pictures that interest me were left out of Radisch’s book.

XIR188756 The Monkey Antiquarian, 1740 (oil on canvas) by Chardin, Jean-Baptiste Simeon (1699-1779) oil on canvas 81x65 Louvre, Paris, France Lauros / Giraudon French, out of copyright

XIR188756 The Monkey Antiquarian, 1740 (oil on canvas) by Chardin, Jean-Baptiste Simeon (1699-1779)
oil on canvas
Louvre, Paris, France
Lauros / Giraudon
French, out of copyright

I recommend to my reader interested in Chardin, Frédéric Ogée, “Chardin’s Time: Reflections on the Tercentenary Exhibition and Twenty Years of Scholarship, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 33:3 (Spring, 2000):431-450. Ogée ends his essay with some thoughts by Michael Podro on an essay by Proust on Chardin which I find applicable to what Radisch finds in Chardin:

we do not merely confront them but occupy them with our thought and adjusting our attention and following the connections they afford … Critical description never properly or adequately corresponds to the interest and force of a painting, both because our interest is irreducibly bound to our perceiving and because what we describe takes on its force for us only in the context of innumerable other recognitions in which it is embedded and which lie beyond the scope of describing.

From my point of view (which I didn’t put into my review but is appropriate in blogs), morally, naturalistically, what do we see feelingly?

A Rabbit, Two Thrushes and Some Straw on a Stone Table — poor creatures, victims of man’s ferocity and cruel indifference afterward

I like to think Austen would have liked Chardin’s genre scenes. She would have seen the what the above picture shows. In her letters when she mentions the sport of shooting among her brother and their friends, she uses the term slaughter, when she has characters in her novels out shooting, they are ridiculously frivolous in their words presenting themselves as if about a serious task (I think of Tom Bertram).


Here I am, you see, staring at a picture. I can never get by this shop without stopping. But what a thing is here by way of a boat. Do look at it. Did you ever see the like? What queer fellows your fine painters must be, to think that any body would venture their lives in such a shapeless old cockleshell as that. And yet, here are two gentlemen stuck up on it mightily at their ease, and looking about them at the rocks and mountains as if they were not to be upset the next moment, which they certainly must be — Admiral Croft to Anne Elliot, Austen’s Persuasion

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Antoine Watteau, fellow painter (1721) — with withdrawn look (the banner for this blog comes from one of Watteau’s paintings)

A Self Portrait as Winter (pastel 1731)

Dear friends and readers,

For the first round within the long 18th century for my project I’ll cover three women painters: the era is one of the focuses of this blog; its social worlds fostered many women painters, and a number of individual careers outside of the woman’s family life — though (alas) successfully discouraging most women (not all) from landscape and history painting. I’ve chosen one obscure (Francoise Duparc), one whose still-lifes are unfamiliar to many (Anne Vallayer-Coster), and one known whose work has been likened to Chardin’s: Rosalba Carriera. Her work is also a product of the Venetian culture she was part of, its tone, outlook, art genres.

The three for this time excel in 2 types of painting typically done by women in this era: the portrait, sometimes of themselves or unknown people and the still-life. Genre and conversation scenes and Roman and Greek classical figures are found more in the French (e.g, Marguerite Gerard, Angelica Kauffmann) and British (e.g., from Diana Spencer, View of Windsor, to Amelia Hotham in the 1790s, real landscape and watercolors, some inspired by travel far abroad, viz., Lady Anne Barnard from India). I will blog not just on separate women artists but kinds of art especially when the woman left only one or two paintings or really little is known about her. (My books include this sort of approach too.) In the 18th century women artists profited from the what has been (exaggeratedly) called the “reign of women” (in Paris people sometimes neglect to add); but if they did not reign, they were seen as central to social life, encouraged when artistic, and in Paris had Marie Antoinette to patronize those who came near her court. Carriera was a portraitist and painted herself movingly and frankly at different stages of her life and one of her beloved sisters.


She advanced the technical possibilities of pastel portraiture: oil pigments were mixed with filler, bound with gum, allowing for a fuller range of delicate nacreous effects, a fuller range of shades — she could paint very quickly too. She is said to have inspired Maurice Quentin de la Tour.

A young girl — my favorite of all her pieces, a miniature


Her miniatures were noted particularly for severe accuracy of drawing, united with rare softeness and delicacy of touch; they had the perfection of proportion, and the brilliancy and warmth of coloring for which her pastels were remarkable. Her tints were blended with great tenderness; her heads had a lovely expression of truth and nature (quoted in Fine, p 20)

Like Gentileschi and Van Hemmensen, she was a successful painter. Born October 7, 1675, daughter of a poor public official and lace-maker who she drew patterns for, painted miniatures and decorated snuff-boxes, which attracted a clientele. It’s for this kind of work her career took off:


Her extraordinary talent was noticed and developed. She took lessons from Guiseppe Dalmantini, Antonio Balestra, later the miniaturist, Coll, was accepted in the Accademia San Luca in 1705. Her likeness to Chardin is not only in her use of elegant taste (“le gout moderne”) and decorums of the era, but her depiction people also with expressive features, unassuming, warm and involved in their own activities. This made her popular when she went to Paris. Urged to come by a prominent French banker and art collector, Pierre Crozat; it was a triumphant year in which she met famous French artists (Watteau), did a portrait of Louis XV. It did not hurt that she played the violin. She was unanimously elected to the Royal Academy of Painting in 1720; this was not startling as four women had been elected in the 1720s (e.g., Sophie Cheron). She was said to be shy, and stayed within her family except when invited to fetes. Across her life, she is recorded as traveling, receiving commissions from rulers of Bavaria, the Palantine, Denmark, Saxony, Vienna, Dresden, Stockholm. There are more than 150 pastels in the Dresden Gemaldegalerie.

She moved back to live permanently in Venice from 1721 on. She chose never to marry and remained close to her family and sisters; Giovanna was a constant companion and assistant. Angela married a painter met through her sister. It was in 1738 that after the death of Giovanni from TB, that Rosalba became gravely ill. It seems her sister’s death precipitated some kind of[psychosomatic crisis, and she lost her sight (1745), from which she partially recovered but not enough to paint again. By 1747 she had undergone some operations (including cataract surgery) to try to restore her sight, but these failed by 1749, leaving her depressed. She died 8 years later (April 15, 1757). She had kept a journal of which some survives, called “curiously untelling;” in her will she asked that her private papers be burnt.

A haunting late life portrait when she might have been becoming blind (1745-47?)

I offer a few images to suggest something of her range and limitations: psychological depth and particularity in the face, flattery and banal acceptance:

Charles Duke of Dorset — while on tour, posing, full of himself

A naturalistic portrait of an elderly lady, warm colors, relaxed but clearly sees herself as a distinguished personage —

Her allegorical figures are serene, with delicate tones, rococo in style, but daring in conception:

Flora — her breasts bared; Venice was known for its courtesan milieus

America (!), with suggestive feathers in her hair, arrow in her hand, intricate Venetian jewelry; she has a quizzical expressiveness and looks strong (this probably does not reflect a squaw’s life at all; indeed a real squaw’s life is far from Carriera’s mind)

Carriera’s portraits of particular people show a careful use of color, meticulousness for their clothing, a flattering of their faces (which sometimes flattens them so they lose individuality): she had a real financial need.

She supported herself by her portraits.

Cardinal Melchior de Poignac (1732) — a dignified figure on a brown background

Young woman of the Leblond family (?1730) — she painted many women, here we have a young girl in a boy’s outfit (the way Marie Antoinette was later painted) — smooth fleshy skin, wispy wig, cool

Louis XV as a boy

Her appeal for me is in (as Elsa Honig Fine puts it) “her capacity for interpreting the human face with an often brutal honesty” (especially I’ll add of herself):


Borzello says of the above this is among the first portraits by a woman artist of a woman in older age; I suggest this comes out of the era’s look into the natural self; another is by Anna Dorothea Therbusch (Polish, 1721-82), also of herself



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