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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Hope you enjoyed the read!

 

 

 

 

Russian 19th century art

The 19-th century Russian genre art, the Peredvizhniki (Itinerants)

russian art
Fedotov, choosy bride, 1847

As Russian art is not studied in most art history classes in the U.S., today I’d like to blog about the Peredvizhniki, the 19th-century Russian artistic movement.

This is a very fascinating time period in the history of Western Europe, because the Church and the State lost some of its former influence in their patronage of the arts, which allowed for a new blast of creativity and the development of many art movements. While Russian art remained reserved, developing new ideas somewhat slowly in comparison to France for instance, it did set cause to break away from the Academy as well. The country gave birth to a new movement-the Peredvizhniki (the itinerants) in 1863. It was a group of artists who organized traveling shows, painted common folk, and brought the arts to the people.

These were artists who refused to depict the accepted scenes from the Bible or the Greek mythology, and focused on painting the contemporary world around them instead. They often showed the inequality between the rich and the poor, the noble men and the inferior women. They also brought to attention the widespread abuse of children, who did hard manual labor.  As a result of such movement, Russian art preserved its traditional approach to painting, drastically changing the themes. (Besides the genre painting, artists also created a large body of work in landscape and portrait tradition. I will include their artwork in my next post).

Here are some of the genre paintings completed by the Peredvizhniki.

russian art
Perov, tea party in Mitischi, near Moscow, 1861

 

Perov, Three students carrying water, 1866
Repin, Unexpected, 1886

 

Makovsky, Meeting, 1863
Fedotov, Widow, 1851
Fedotov, Matchmaking of a major, 1848
Perov, Barge haulers on the Volga river, 1870-1873

 

Perov, Easter rural procession, 1861

Perov, Easter rural procession, 1861

 

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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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