Monthly Archives: October 2012



The Dance Class by Edgar Degas 1874

You’re hired!  Now, paint a picture of reality, use color to excite, focus on the effect of light and infuse together in a scene of immediacy.  You might think that these instructions would leave an artist in the 1800’s scratching their head, but you would be wrong.  Considered as the first movement in modern art, Impressionism began during this time in France.  Impressionists were not a formal artistic group but a collaboration of artists seeking recognition for their innovative techniques and approach to using color in art.  Contemporary developments in color theory created more of an exact analysis of the effect of color and light in nature.  To accurately capture the atmosphere of the moment, artists had to work quickly.  Details and outlines had to be sacrificed, instead using strokes of small bright color.  Paintings took on a feel of spontaneity and subject matter was mainly landscape, portrait, still life and figure composition.  The development of photography and Japanese woodcuts influenced the Impressionists style.  I really adore artwork during this time because the minimal detail creates subject with wide-open spaces that are not complicated and easy to absorb.  With this disentangle, I can fully swallow every brush stroke, color and emotion captured in a snapshot of time.

Blue Dancers
by Edgar Degas 1899

Edgar Degas was a French painter that created delicate artwork that I find spellbinding and vivid.  My favorite subjects are the ballet dancers he painted backstage or in rehearsal, highlighting their status as professionals at work.  He was a master at accurately freezing a moment in time while preserving a sense of movement in the subject.  Degas shies away from the Impressionist title, “No art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and of the study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament, I know nothing” (1).  Critics disagree and Degas has earned a place in this movement, “The changes to his palette, brushwork, and sense of composition all evidence the influence that both the Impressionist movement and modern photography, with its spontaneous images and off-kilter angles, had on his work” (1).  I find it rare that an artist subject is seen through the eyes of the spectator.  Unusual viewpoint and angle often give Degas’s paintings a sense of looking at a photograph or real life.

Portrait of Felix Feneon
by Paul Signac 1890

By 1910, “The Post-Impressionists were dissatisfied with the triviality of subject matter and the loss of structure in Impressionist paintings, though they did not agree on the way forward” (2).  Modern urban scenes, landscapes and seashores became the focus of many art pieces during this time.  Systematic use of tiny dots of color called Pointillism was used.  Impulsive mannerisms were refined by using practical guidance to mix color for optimum visual impact and applying brush strokes that were conscientious calculated.  I like that this new style changed the expressive effect of art through unnatural or random colors that were unrestrained, but the subject matter is stale.  French painter Paul Signac’s painting Portrait of Felix Feneon features subject matter that I find mediocre and dormant, but the unusual shapes and colors are hypnotizing.  Signac is a great example of a painter during this time, “he abandoned the short brushstrokes of impressionism to experiment with scientifically juxtaposed small dots of pure color, intended to combine and blend not on the canvas but in the viewer’s eye, the defining feature of pointillism” (3).

The Birth of Venus
by Sandro Botticelli 1486

“Renaissance art sought to capture the experience of the individual and the beauty and mystery of the natural world” (4).  Emerging around the 1400, a perspective art technique was popular, in which parallel lines are represented as converging to give illusion of depth and distance.  Artists studied light, shadow and human anatomy.  Subject matter depicted an appreciation for beauty, fantasy, elaborate religious imagery and historical documentation.  Engaging me into a world of fantasy is what I find most appealing during this period.  The Birth of Venus by Italian painter Sandro Botticelli is a great example of this type of captured illusion.  The elongated neck and torso of Venus may be anatomically improbable, but this leisure visually enhances a feeling of fantasy. The two-dimensionality creates simple effective lines that are easy to following and pleasing to view. The lighter colors appear to emerge from darker areas, creating the illusion of rounded and sculptured detail on flat surfaces.

Venus at her Mirror
by Diego Velazquez 1647-1651

“The appeal of Baroque style turned consciously from the witty, intellectual qualities of 16th century Mannerist art to a visceral appeal aimed at the senses. It employed an iconography that was direct, simple, obvious, and dramatic…” (5). Beginning around 1600, this style emphasized grandeur, political and cultural changes, overt emotional content and realism.  Intense light and dark shading and appropriate colors to create an emotional connection were used.  I find little charm and lure in subject matter that is often engaging in awkward positions that look uncomfortable.  Coloring that gravitates toward dark is depressing and serious.  The overall simplicity of Venus at her Mirror by Spanish painter Diego Velazquez is one gem I found that is revitalizing and attractive.  The skin color of the nude female radiates warmth against black linens, she wears no jewelry and her hair is neatly up.  The dark room is void of distractions, creating intense focus toward the sensual lines of the female.  The intrepid path that Velazquez took in this painting gives me hope that I may stumble upon another painting in this period I find exciting.

The Artist’s Daughters, Molly and Peggy
by Thomas Gainsborough 1760

Branching off into many styles is the Classical period beginning around 1700.  Pastel color, curving forms and light pleasant subject matter were popular.  Individual thinking was breaking out and subject matter was serious and praised tolerance.  I find the emphasis on formal composition, historical and contemporary settings to be unvaried and sterile.  But sparks did fly when I discovered an anomaly, “On looking at them, we find tears in our eyes and know not what brings them” (6).  This statement perfectly describes how I felt when I discovered The Artist`s Daughters, Molly and Peggy by English painter Thomas Gainsborough.  I can’t take my eyes off Gainsborough’s portraits; I find them intriguing, sweet and simple.  Every subject displays subtle emotion and their attention appears to be captivated just off-screen.  No matter what portrait I view from Gainsborough’s collection, I get the feeling that every subject has something on their mind.  Questions and mystery, surrounding what is happening at that moment in time, peaks my curiosity and nothing more.

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The Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven


The listening system linked up to his piano used to help, but Beethoven notices the sounds of the acoustic cornet are also fading away.  Suicide is the only solution to, “…the unfairness of life: that he, a musician, could become deaf was something he did not want to live through” (1).  Beethoven did not commit suicide.  Instead he threw himself into his music and proceeded to earn a reputation for being completely untamed emotionally and a fornicator with his students.  Truly a celebrity of his day, Beethoven would have fit in perfectly with the musicians of today.

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in 1770 and died 1827.  His grandfather was a Flemish musician and his son, Beethoven’s father, was also a musician who taught piano and violin lessons.  At an early age, Beethoven showed attentiveness for music, which didn’t go unnoticed. His father had limited musical and teaching talents, but spent his downtime instructing his son.  Beethoven’s first formal training in composition and philosophy came from Gottlob Neefe and before he experienced puberty, he was giving public performances and publishing music, “If he continues like this, he will be, without a doubt, the new Mozart” (2), Neefe once bragged.  At age 14, Beethoven became the appointed organist of the court of Maximillian Franz, the Elector of Cologne.  Becoming financially stable, he assumed the role as provider for his family, moved to Vienna and studied music arrangements with composer Joseph Haydyn.  Beethoven’s life flourished in Vienna.  He studied, taught, composed and published music, becoming the world’s first independent composer.  At age 26, Beethoven experienced turmoil in dealing with tinnitus, a ringing in his ears that created hearing loss.  To aid in his disability, he utilized a piano listening system called acoustic cornets and the metronome to indicate preferred tempo in his music.  In the end, he didn’t cope with his deafness and withdrew from his friends and public life.

Personal standards and government behavior were shifting in this era, creating a rise in the middle class.  People had expendable income and wanted access to music performances in their leisure time.  Catering to demand, Beethoven began to arrange public concerts that transformed music lovers into his biggest supporters, “…at the time certain listeners found the symphony strange, overly extravagant, and even risqué.  This genius, Beethoven, who was still a young, new composer, was already pushing the established boundaries of music” (1).  One of Beethoven’s piano sonatas is The Moonlight Sonata, composed in 1801 in Hungary and published in 1802.  It was dedicated to one of his pupils Countess Giulietta Gucciardi.  It has been suggested that the composition is written about Beethoven’s passion and unshared love with Giulietta.  This composition consists of three unique musical movements.  The first called adagio sostenuto, defined as play slowly, but faster than slow tempo and sustain right foot pedal.  Beethoven instructs performers to play the music with delicacy and without dampers.  This movement opens with a prominent sequence of straight beats that can be easily counted as 1, 2, 3, over again.  This comes together with emphasis placed a certain notes, creating an introspective and foreboding atmosphere.  The second called allegretto, defined as a fairly quick tempo and is short in length.  It has been suggested that it is only a connection between the first and third parts.  The bulk of this movement thins and the atmosphere gradually fades away.  The third is called presto agitato, defined as immediate quickness with an element of magic and excited manner.  It is twice in length as the first two movements and has two themes that are interlaced.  The first theme is turbulent that is built on rapid succession and strong emphasis notes.  Distinctively, the second theme is wildly enthusiastic.

I find it alluring that Beethoven did not follow the traditional classical outline of a sonata in The Moonlight Sonata.  Fast-slow-fast is customary, but slow-fast-fast is a better fit that describes the movement character.  The first introduction to this piece of music approaches my ears softly and methodically, like a slow approaching fog.  Before I know it, my mind is consumed with grumbling ghostlike sound suggesting a dark presence may be approaching.  As my body tenses and braces for impact, the notes transition to a happy and optimistic nature that is unexpected.  I let my guard down and again I am transitioned to ferocity of strong accented notes that force unbridled emotion deep in my bones.  The majority of the composers’ effort and emphasis appear to be saved for the last movement.  Skillful piano playing and a demand for changing emotion appear to be necessary for a musician to recreate this piece.  I find the unaccompanied piano music and transitions within the piece exquisite and I am surprised by Beethoven’s assessment of his work, “They are always talking about the C# minor sonata surely I’ve written better things” (3).  Apparently, an artist is his own worst critic.

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5- (tinnitus)

Listen to The Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven



Venus at her Mirror by Diego Velazquez

In 1914, Mary smashed a protective glass barrier and then stood and stared for several minutes at Venus at her Mirror.  Seemingly mesmerized, she lifted a meat cleaver and slashed the masterpiece.  Why would a 1651 piece of art generate such emotion?  Militant, Mary Richardson said one reason was that is she didn’t like, “the way men visitors gaped at it all day long” (1).  Nude subject matter was rare during the baroque era and Velazquez’s experienced no repercussion to this realism vision.  Could the slashing of this masterpiece be a bit of karma over 200 years later?  No one knows.  Spectators continue attempts to unravel the subtle meaning behind Velazquez’s brief departure from traditional portrait painting.

Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez was born in 1599, in Seville, Spain.  He came from a good family and received fine education and training.  At a young age he showed enthusiasm for art and his talent may have been influenced by several men.  He apprenticed with Francisco Herrera who disregarded Italian influence and Francisco Pacheco’s who emphasized academically correct representations of subjects according to history.  He followed painter Peter Paul Rubens’s recommendation to visit art collections in Italy that he admired.  Velazquez’s paintings mainly focused on portraits of the royal family, commoners and noblemen, scenes from the bible and some landscape and still life.  His painting style recreated reality in the form of a painted photograph.  Captured subjects had a level of dignity and his ability to merge simple colors, light and lines was masterful.  In 1624, Velazquez was paid to create a noble portrait of King Philip IV of Spain and instead created a divine contemporary vision of the monarch.  Impressed and a great lover of art, King Philip IV retained Velazquez and promised no other artist would paint his portrait.  A lifetime involvement, influence and friendship with the Spanish Court began and Velazquez was rewarded with free lodging and medical, plus many royal commissions.  Thanks to King Philip IV, Velazquez was well off and he produced art to suit the monarchy.  “During this time, King Philip was visiting the painter almost daily in his studio in the palace, resulting in some 40 portraits of the king plus portraits of other members of the Royal Family…” (2).

Velazquez painted Venus at her Mirror, which was completed around 1647-1651, during a trip to Italy.  It is also known as The Toilet of Venus, Rokeby Venus or Venus and Cupid.  It is the only surviving female nude portrait painted by the artist.  Nude and brunette, Venus is reclining on a bed and is viewed from her back side.  She has a small waist and curvy hips, which was a departure from the robust nudes of the time.  She is gazing into a mirror held by Cupid and pink silk ribbons are draped on the mirror frame and Cupid.  Composition simply utilized mostly shades of red, white, black and grey.  The creamy, smooth and luminescent white color caressing Venus’ skin is a dramatic contrast to the black, grey and brown accents of the room. The use or portrayal of nude females during this time was frowned upon, paintings could be seized by the Inquisition and artists could be fined or banished.  Void of these fears as painter for King Philip IV, Velazquez, “did indeed lead a life of considerable personal liberty that would have been consistent with the notion of using a live nude female model” (3).  It has been suggested that King Philip IV kept this painting in his personal collection, away from the public eye and possibly the Inquisition.

This private moment of intimacy creates a comfortable atmosphere for viewing and exploring this portrait.  I find the overall simplicity of this masterpiece very refreshing and attractive.  The skin color of the nude female radiates warmth against black linens, she wears no jewelry and her hair is neatly up.  The dark room is void of distractions, creating intense focus toward the sensual lines of the female.  It has been debated that it is physically impossible for Venus to see her own reflection in the mirror and even if she did, her head size is all wrong.  But these anomalies create greater interest for me and bring curiosity as to why every brushstroke was taken.  It took courage for Velazquez to venture outside of his comfort zone, sparking speculation that Venus was his mistress.  Holding the mirror for the beauty of his world, Cupid proves he is a little man and shows his innocence as he is distracted by silky pink ribbon.  The adventurousness that Velazquez painted in this piece only confirms that he was the leading artist of the Baroque era.  This painting is currently on display at the National Gallery located in London, United Kingdom.

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1- Diego Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus by Suzanne Hill, 2008

2- Top Tour of Spain

3- Wikipedia


5- The Venus effect: What we see in the mirror isn’t what would really be there. By Dave Munger, 2009