Tag: art history

art appreciation: understanding the qualities of great art

Learn what makes a painting great: Video #1 Part 1

In this first video in the series you’ll learn about some of the greatest works of art, art movements, ideas and artistic elements. This video will help you understand and appreciate the qualities of great art, especially painting created before the 20th century. Feel free to share the video with your friends on Facebook!

Video Notes:
Overview:

Art Movements 0:42

Art Patrons 1:49

Art Education & female artists 2:21

Why do artists create art? 3:26

Artistic Elements : Story & Subject

Story & Subject 4:29

Biblical Scenes 5:16

Historical & Mythological Painting 9:03

Formal Portraiture 14:42

Landscape art 20:33

Genre art & Dutch still life 23:13

Kramskoy, portrait of a stranger, 1883

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Next video: Video #1 | Part 2

In my next video you’ll learn about major artistic elements that artists use to design their paintings. They include composition, emotion, color, and the use of shapes, space and some painting techniques.

Painting detail of angels, art in Turin, Italy

Complete video series:

Video #1 Part 1 – Learn what makes a painting great – you’re here!

Video #1 Part 2 – Learn what makes a painting great, part 2

Video #2 Contemporary Art – coming soon!

Video #3 How to take care of your art collection – coming soon!

Video #4 How to frame art – coming soon!

Video # 5 Why you don’t need an interior designer to buy and display art in your home – coming soon!

Hand, painting detail, art in Turin, Italy
Bibliography:

The Metropolitan Museum of art, http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection

History of Art, 5th edition, H.W. Janson

The gilded age, E. Prelinger

Rhythmic Form in Art by Irma Richter, Dover Publications

Wikipedia & tons of art history classes in college! 🙂

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mona lisa art supplies, how to take care of art

Reasons why da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is still here: use your art supplies wisely

Technical reasons why Mona Lisa is still here

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was a scientist and an inventor. In his mind, his remarkable abilities to perfect the technique of painting took a back seat in favor of many other interests he devoted most of his time to. Therefore, very few of his artworks exist today, and the artist’s mindset about art remains as elusive as his paintings. Tall, handsome, and charming Leonardo was great at finding patrons for his military, scientific, theatre and art projects, projects that had never ended in his creative mind, and most he had never finished.

As an inventor, he also loved to experiment with his art materials, using new, untested methods and processes that led to a number of disasters. His greatest surviving achievement, the “Last Supper” mural painted inside a church in Milan began to chip off the wall during his lifetime. He abandoned the traditional fresco technique and painted the picture on a dry wall instead of a wet plaster, and experimented with oil and tempera and other materials that Leonardo combined in a new, untested method, flaking off his deliberate, masterful composition to dust almost as soon as he painted it. The mural has endured a number of renovations since then, but only restored and computer-generated models can show us his genius: perfectly sculptured figures in triangular sub-compositions.

 

It’s not a surprise that da Vinci experimented with “Mona Lisa” (started in 1503) as well.  Obviously, this artwork had held a very special place in Leonardo’s heart since it had never left his hands until his death. Da Vinci’s drawing of the figure was absolutely perfect, and his creation of a soft landscape behind her, (the sfumato technique) was his signature invention. I’m not going to talk about the mystery of the sitter, the beauty of this composition, or the artist’s preoccupation with the painting. There is numerous literature written about these topics. Rather I’d like to illustrate the importance of art materials used in the process of painting.

The artist played with the technical aspects of the painting itself that deteriorated its surface at a much faster pace than it normally would. The exposure to light and humidity darkened and discolored the pigments. Fine details in the face got lost as dyes mixed with the paint faded. Her brightly colored attire changed to shades of browns and black that we see today. Further applied varnishes during the early restorations darkened the painting even more, and today it has a rather colorless appearance of yellowed browns.

Italian painter, Giorgio Vasari was the first to write a comprehensive book about famous artists preceding his generation that he titled “lives of the most excellent painters, sculptors, and architects.” In his notes he reviewed the “Mona Lisa” as follows:

“The eyes had that luster and watery sheen always seen in life … the nostrils, rosy and tender, seemed to be alive … The opening of the mouth seemed to be not colored but living flesh.”

These are the words that describe the mastery of the artist that we sort of see here, only if we could take the sunglasses off to see the real colors.

So what happened to the painting? Because the artist painted on a poplar panel (soft, non-durable and susceptible to insect attack wood) that was removed from its original frame, the surface couldn’t withstand the changes in humidity, it warped and cracked. In the 18th century the braces were added in the back of the painting to stabilize the crack, and later the added frame and cross braces helped to stop the continuous warping of the panel. Over the years the panel has actually shrunk!

Today you can see the painting in the Louvre that’s kept in a bulletproof glass case. It’s rather small (21×30”) and it’s hard to enjoy the beauty of it, jumping over the heads of so many tourists surrounding it with the selfie sticks. To preserve the priceless artwork, this painting is kept in a climate-controlled room with a 50% (+\-10%) humidity and 18-21C (68-70F) temperature. To compensate for fluctuations in relative humidity, the case is supplemented with a bed of silica gel treated to provide 55% relative humidity (Wikipedia)

These are computer-generated models of the famous painting showing us true colors it probably had when Leonardo had just painted it. In these models we can see the pinks and the blues that Vasari mentioned and that have faded over the centuries.

 

 

Source for the images: World Mysteries at http://blog.world-mysteries.com/science/digital-restoration-of-leonardo-da-vincis-mona-lisa/

Other sources: Art history lessons | the Natural Pigments at http://www.naturalpigments.com/blog | Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mona_Lisa

Mona Lisa in the Louvre

If you’re interested to learn more, the Louvre museum website is a great source. Here you can see Mona Lisa up-close and personal going through the digitized images completed by the Louvre museum:

Close ups: http://focus.louvre.fr/en/mona-lisa/

Overview: http://focus.louvre.fr/en/mona-lisa/understand/most-famous-painting-world

Scientific tests: http://focus.louvre.fr/en/mona-lisa/compare/scientific-tests

If you paint

Here you’ll find some good information relevant to the process of painting that affects conservation. The longevity of your artwork greatly depends on the environment you place it in. The best conditions you can set in your home or office include constant room temperature and low humidity levels. Don’t expose your artwork to the extreme sunlight, heat, oxidation, or humidity (water) – these are the main causes for the artwork’s deterioration. Don’t wash the surface with water.

1.     Don’t paint on glossy surfaces.

2.     Don’t use a lot of medium, it dilutes and weakens the paint. Use just a little bit of oil to help the paint flow.

3.     Paint with lead white, not titanium white, or worse flake white.  Lead white holds up everything together like a glue and minimizes cracking.

4.     If you don’t paint large, stick to painting on professional panels, the surface of which doesn’t fluctuate as much as the canvas does.

5.     Have strong stretcher bars and frames that keep the painted surface flat and unchanged.

6.     Use linseed oil to form the most durable oil paint film, although it yellows more than the walnut oil. (The walnut oil is your second best option. It yellows less but dries much slower).

7.     Always paint on a previously dried layer!

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19th Century Russian Artists and Genre Art the Itinerants movement

19th Century Russian Artists and Genre Art: the Itinerants movement

19th-century Russian Genre Art

As Russian art is not studied in most art history classes in the U.S., I’d like to introduce you to Peredvizhniki movement, a group of realist painters. 19th century is a fascinating time period in art history of Western Europe, because the Church and the State lost their former influence in the patronage of the arts, which allowed for the birth and development of several artistic movements in Europe. While Russian art remained quite reserved, developing new ideas slowly in comparison to the Western Europe, it did break away from cold Academic painting in its depiction of common people and the countryside.

Peredvizhniki (the itinerants) appeared in 1863. It was the group of male artists who organized traveling shows and painted common folk, Russian landscape, and portraits. Their aim was to bring the arts to its people. Russian artists refused to depict the Bible scenes and Greek mythology, and focused on painting the world around them instead. They often showed inequality between the rich and the poor, the noble men and the inferior women. They also brought to people’s attention a widespread abuse of children, who often engaged in hard manual labor.  As a result of such movement, Russian art preserved its traditional approach to painting in terms of the technique but changed its themes drastically.

Here are a few great Russian genre paintings completed by the Peredvizhniki.

Ilya Repin (1844-1930)

Russian art, Repin
Ilya Repin, They Did Not Expect Him, 1884-88, The State Tretyakov Gallery

Ilya Repin grew up in poverty and hardship, living among the military. (His father served in the military). He showed passion for art at 13 and began to take art classes at a studio of a local artist. Soon, he became so good that he received commissions to paint the icons, which gave him financial freedom to fulfill his dream. In 1863 the artist travels to St. Petersburg to study art at the Academy. Not admitted the same year, he works on his drawing to get admission next year. Repin becomes quick at gathering medals and awards for his studies and achieves great success with his final Academic project. At the same time he completes a commissioned piece – “Barge haulers.” After his travels in France, he comes back home to paint with the Itinerants.

Repin believed in moral and social purpose in his art and painted peasant life like no other artist of his time. He depicted daily struggles and overwhelming poverty of workers and peasants who lived in stark contrast to well-dressed high society. In this painting of Barge Haulers we see the never-ending bank of the Volga river where the blinding sun  is as strong as the people below it.

Russian art_Repin
Repin, Barge haulers on the Volga river, 1870-1873

 

Pavel Fedotov (1815-1852)

Pavel Fedotov was born in a large and poor family in Moscow and spent his childhood years among his neighbors. His parents put him into the cadet corps at eleven years of age where the artist showed himself as a brilliant student. He began to sketch the caricatures of his teachers and teacher aids on the pages of his notebooks as well. When he graduated as the ensign of the Finnish regiment, he was found of music and poetry, translated articles from German and sketched his friends. Being very poor, he couldn’t participate in his friends’ parties and continued to work on portraiture and caricature. After a considerable conviction of his friends, he left the service and entered the Academy to study art.

His art instructors doubted his talent because Fedotov ignored the academic principles of battle painting composing horses and soldiers, and spent his evenings painting genre scenes remembered from his childhood. Poor, the artist lived very modestly, sending part of his service pension to his family back home. However, his sense of humor never let him give up on himself and eventually his talent got noticed by a famous Russian fabulist Ivan Krylov, who wrote him a letter asking to give up the Academy and work on his genre painting.

Pavel Fedotov left the Art Academy, and in 1847 showed his first painting “Just knighted. Morning of the official who received his first cross.” The artist loughs at a proud clerk who is shown after his party, living in devastating poverty. The second painting “The Picky Bride” followed the same year to impress his former teachers from the Academy.

Russian art, Fedotov
Just knighted. Morning of the official who received his first cross, 1848, oil on canvas, 48x42cm, The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

 

Fedotov, Widow, 1851

Fedotov, choosy bride, Russian art
Picky Bride, oil on canvas, 37x45cm, TheState Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, 1847
Pavel Fedotov, Matchmaking of a major, oil on canvas, 58 x 75 cm, 1848, The Tretyakov State Gallery, Moscow

The artist exhibited his masterpiece titled “The Matchmaking of a Major” in 1848 that prompted him an honor award of the Academician.  He depicts a beautiful bride running out of the living room as soon as she saw her future groom appear in a doorway. Richly dressed, her mother catches the bride by her gown. This paining brought the artist fame and financial success. Fedotov wished to travel to England to study genre art, but his friends noticed a change in the artist in 1852. Soon, he was placed in the asylum where he died the same year.

In his short life, the artist left tremendous legacy in Russian art by opening a new direction in Russian genre painting. Most of his oil paintings, sketches and portraits can be seen at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

 

Vasily Perov (1834-1882)

Vasily Perov  received his school education from a local deacon, who taught the boy math, language and the Bible. The boy showed great success in calligraphy and his teacher named him Perov (‘Pero’ sounds similar to a ‘feather’ in Russian).  Perov’s parents didn’t allow their son to enter a local art school, but let him take some art lessons privately nevertheless. Thanks to one of his relatives, Perov enters the art school later in 1852 and studies there to receive awards. After his graduation, he spends two years in Paris but ‘unable to paint anything worthwhile’ in his words, he begs the Academy to let him come back home. (Best artists received scholarships to spend 1-2 years in Western Europe after their graduation at the Academy).

Besides masterful portraits, Perov paints great genre paintings that capture the reality of Russian life and its people. His art explores the disparity between the rich and the poor as well as hypocrisy of the church clergy. Despite his fantastic abilities and successful exhibitions, the artist didn’t consider himself worthy of attention. He lived modestly and died in poverty. Most of his paintings can be found at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

russian art, perov
Vasily Persov, Easter rural procession, 1861
Perov, Three students carrying water, 1866

Here the artist depicts children carrying water in freezing conditions of Russian winter.

Russian painting
Perov, The drowned woman, oil on canvas, 68 x 106 cm, 1867, The State Tretyakov Gallery

In this painting, the artist shows an indifferent policeman sitting and smoking over a dead body of a poor woman (presumably a prostitute) that happened so often that the officials expressed no interest in the lives of the disadvantaged.

Makovsky, to the marriage, 1894

There are more Russian artists who contributed to the legacy of Russian art in the Itinerants movement that included Ivan Kramskoy, Vasiliy Polenov, Vasiliy Surikov,  Vladimir Makovsky, Mikhael Klodt, etc. Female painters were nonexistent until the 20th century in Russia.

veronica winters

To read about the 19th-century Russian portrait painting, please click on the image.

 

19th century Russian Art & Portrait Painting: eyes are the window to the soul

The infamous fate of some famous artists

card players by Cezanne

All artists strive for acceptance and appreciation. However, the meaning of appreciation may be unique to each artist. Most of us want our artwork to win in shows or receive recognition via sales as a fair validation of our talent and hard work. I don’t think anyone wishes to perish in obscurity without the proper acknowledgment of his or her gift.

It’s interesting to learn that numerous artists famous today often struggled riveted by poverty and seclusion back then. Studied in art history classes, admired in art museums, and owned by few wealthy collectors today, many were virtually unknown during their lifetime, and only after their death they found proper recognition.

A. Gros, Napoleon in the Pesthouse at Jaffa, 1804

Before the 19-th century, some male artists and virtually two or three female painters got immortalized on the pages of art history books. Those artists worked on public works, commissioned by either the Church, the State, or the wealthy.

In the 19-th century Paris, the Salon was the most prestigious official outlet to exhibit contemporary art. Sponsored by the French authorities, the Salon became the annual event since 1737. It was the only important exhibition held in the country. Receiving acceptance into its annual show was crucial to the artist’s success and career. The Salon’s jury process was controlled by the Academicians and thus resisted innovation. The Impressionists broke from that tradition and became the first modern movement to organize their own, separate shows in Paris.

As the importance of getting commissions from the Church and the State vanned around that time, it catapulted the artistic creativity and freedom of expression. That’s the reason why during this time the art world exploded with so many different styles and movements. The traditional, academic style of painting was suddenly losing its ground to the impressionism, post-impressionism, neoclassicism, romanticism, social realism, American realism, the pre-Raphaelites, pointillism, symbolism, art nouveau, and even photography. The freedom of artistic expression flourished in the 20-th century with fauvism, cubism, expressionism, European avant-garde, surrealism, futurism, dada, collage, fantasy, abstract expressionism, and so on.

Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Women

Although artists became independent from the State and the Church, which dramatically changed the subject matter and the painting style, many lived in extreme poverty. The amateur painter, Vincent Van Gogh struggled both financially and emotionally throughout his life and only his brother Theo recognized his talent. Classically trained Antoine-Jean Gros started out brilliantly with his painting Napoleon in the Pesthouse at Jaffa, 1804, but drowned himself in a river after 30 years of haunting criticism and artistic failure. An engraver, painter, and poet, William Blake was discovered only a century later after his death. Honore Daumier painted most of his life, but received recognition as a painter during his first solo show at the age of 70.

Driven by the need to paint, Paul Gauguin abandoned his family, left France, and spent his last years in Tahiti. A cocktail of poverty, alcoholism, and syphilis brought him death at the age of 55. His fusion of symbolic imagery with the post-impressionist style became influential only after his death, discovered and promoted by the influential art critic in Paris.

William Blake, Urizen, the Ancient of Days

One of the most influential painters of modernity, Cézanne (1839-1906) had submitted his artwork to the Salon in Paris for 20 consecutive years. His paintings were not accepted into a single show even once. Self-taught, the post-impressionist painter, Paul Cezanne enjoyed the process of painting in isolation. Out of frustration, with introspection, and in search of perfection, Cezanne had a habit of throwing away his artworks, painting out in the country. Like a number of artists, Cezanne had a very difficult relationship with his father who wanted the artist to become a lawyer. In his thirties, he settled in with a young woman whom he never married. Although they had a child together Cezanne was afraid to lose his father’s financial support by marrying her. Like so many others, Cézanne got famous after his death.

Today his artwork sells for millions of dollars per painting. The Gulf nation of Qatar purchased Paul Cézanne’s painting The Card Players (the 5th version) for a record-breaking $250 million. (By the way, there are more Cezannes in Philadelphia than in France, because of private collectors’ acquisitions). One day the painter got ill, after being out in a thunderstorm. Cezanne spent his last few days of life painting, achieving what he always wanted to do – to paint until the end…

A landscape by Cezanne

You may ask what’s the point of this post? We all are aware of the “talented but poor artist” stigma. My point is that even if you’re talented and have something to offer to this world, the artist’s success is often not accidental. It’s not only hard work, but also the ability to connect with many people and being able to promote yourself tirelessly.

  • Still to come “Most successful artists of all times”
  • Originally published in 2012

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