1: MAKING MYTHS: THE STORIES TOLD BY ARTISTS, CURATORS, COLLECTORS AND CONSERVATORS 2: COLLECTING GAUGUIN: CURATOR’S QUESTIONS 3: RE-INVENTING MYTH: FORM AND FUNCTION IN SOME EARLY MODERN ‘MYTHOLOGICAL’ WORKS FROM THE COURTAULD GALLERY 4: MANET, DEGAS, RENOIR AND THE THEATRE OF EVERYDAY LIFE 5: TAKEN AT FACE VALUE? SELF-STAGING AND MYTH-MAKING IN THE WORK OF GAUGUIN AND VAN GOGH 6: THE MATERIAL LANGUAGE OF PAINTINGS: CONSERVATION AND TECHNICAL ART HISTORY 7: REGARDE! FRENCH LANGUAGE RESOURCE: GAUGUIN ET LA POLYNÉSIE 8: GLOSSARY 9: SUGGESTIONS FOR RESEARCH AND PRACTICAL ACTIVITIES IN THE CLASSROOM 10: TEACHING RESOURCE IMAGE CD
Compiled and produced by Carolin Levitt and Sarah Green Design by JWDesigns SUGGESTED CURRICULUM LINKS FOR EACH ESSAY ARE MARKED IN RED TERMS REFERRED TO IN THE GLOSSARY ARE MARKED IN BLUE To book a visit to the gallery or to discuss any of the education projects at The Courtauld Gallery please contact: e: [email protected]
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The Courtauld Institute of Art runs an exceptional programme of activities suitable for young people, school teachers and members of the public, whatever their age or background. We offer resources which contribute to the understanding, knowledge and enjoyment of art history based upon the world-renowned art collection and the expertise of our students and scholars. I hope the material will prove to be both useful and inspiring. Henrietta Hine Head of Public Programmes The Courtauld Institute of Art
This resource offers teachers and their students an opportunity to explore the wealth of The Courtauld Gallery’s permanent collection by expanding on a key idea drawn from our exhibition programme. Taking inspiration from the 2013 summer display Collecting Gauguin: Samuel Courtauld in the ‘20s, the focus of this teachers’ resource is ‘Making Myths’.
Cover image: Paul Gauguin Maruru (Offerings of Gratitude/ Thank you), from the Noa Noa series, 1893-4. Woodcut print 20.5 x 35.6 cm Image 2: Paul Gauguin (detail) Te Rerioa (The Dream), 1897 Oil on canvas 91.5 x 130.2 cm
Unless otherwise stated all images © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London
Resources are written by early career academics and postgraduate students from The Courtauld Institute of Art with the aim of making the research culture of this world renowned, Specialist University accessible to schools and colleges. Essays, articles and activities are marked with suggested links to subject areas and Key Stage levels. We hope teachers and educators of all subjects will use this pack to plan lessons, organise visits to The Courtauld Gallery and for their own professional development.
Sarah Green Gallery Learning Programmer The Courtauld Institute of Art
1: MAKING MYTHS: THE STORIES TOLD BY ARTISTS, CURATORS, COLLECTORS AND CONSERVATORS Caroline Levitt
In 1910, an exhibition took place at the Grafton Galleries in London that would define not only the British understanding of recent French painting, but also the category by which a certain group of artists has been known almost ever since: Manet and the Post-Impressionists was curated by Roger Fry - critic, painter and friend of Samuel Courtauld. The poster [image 1] used a print of one of Paul Gauguin’s paintings, Poèmes barbares (1896). As a result of the exhibition, Gauguin, Paul Cézanne and Vincent Van Gogh became understood as both ‘Post-Impressionists’ and descendants of the flat, outlined, ‘modern’ painting style of Edouard Manet. The term post-impressionist has proven almost as poorly understood as it has useful, but it is a key example of the ways in which terminology and public understanding can be shaped by the activities of critics and curators. As a collector, Samuel Courtauld had the opportunity to shape the British public’s understanding of the painters whose works he collected, defining and responding to the popularity and value of one artist over another by his choice of acquisitions for both his personal collection and the public galleries for which he purchased works. Collecting as a practice is a central tenet of The Courtauld Gallery’s 2013 summer display Collecting Gauguin, the occasion on which this teachers’ pack is produced. However the myth-making potential of promotional or self-promotional activity from curating, collecting and critiquing, to portraiture and self-portraiture, whether visual or literary - is a theme that emerges and that can be considered in a number of ways. The presence of myths and mythology in painting has an extensive history, which goes back to the depiction of figures and events from epic tales, perhaps as a showcase for the artist’s talent and breadth of understanding, or with the intention of morally educating the viewer: this is the subject of Naomi Lebens’ essay, ‘Re-inventing Myth’. From the use of specific stories such as that of Cupid and Psyche by Sir Joshua Reynolds [see essay 3] to the evocative inclusion of Greek and Roman architectural references by artists such as Rubens, myths, stories and their settings are a vessel for artists (as well as writers) to express ideas that
go beyond simple appearances and that help to build an understanding of human life and thought. Artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have sometimes drawn on the content of ancient myths or on the conventional style of painting used to depict them as a means of either undercutting or exploring earlier ideas: Édouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (c.1863-8) [for the Courtauld version see essay 4] plays on the traditional depiction of nude nymphs cavorting freely in an idyllic landscape, but subverts this with the inclusion of clothed art students alongside modern women, undressed with their clothes strewn around the scene, painted in Manet’s characteristically flat style. The painting caused much controversy when it was first made, and has itself gained almost mythical status as a starting point for the need to be refused from official exhibiting spaces in order to be considered truly ‘modern’. The very fact that Courtauld’s version of the painting is one of at least three copies that Manet himself made of the original is proof of its importance at the time as well as now. So, aside from the literal depiction of myths, we can think about the ways in which the methods of depicting scenes, including the process of staging a scene before painting it, can be considered in terms of making something essentially fabricated seem real and at the same time full of meaning. The essay ‘Manet, Degas, Renoir and the Theatre of Everyday Life’, examines the practice of using models in the work of Renoir and Manet in order to paint scenes that are often considered to function as snapshots of everyday activities in nineteenth century Paris. Far from being straight documents, however, we must consider very carefully the ways in which the artists have set up these paintings to create a specific image of the working and leisure classes of the time. Manet, Degas and Renoir were, in this sense, makers of myth in their own right. The idea of staging and promotional portraiture collide very neatly in Renoir’s Portrait of Ambroise Vollard (1908) [Image 2]. Renoir shows Vollard, one of the art dealers and collectors of himself, Cézanne, Gauguin and Picasso (amongst others) gently caressing a sculpture, quite possibly a small 1900 plaster study of a crouching
Image 1: Poster for the First Post-Impressionist Exhibition 1910. 76.3 x 50.9 cm Image 2: Pierre Auguste Renoir Portrait of Ambroise Vollard, 1908 Oil on canvas 81.6 x 65.2 cm
CURRICULUM LINKS: KS3+ Art and Design, History, Art History, and other Humanities
THE PROCESS OF STAGING A SCENE [...] CAN BE CONSIDERED IN TERMS OF MAKING SOMETHING ESSENTIALLY FABRICATED SEEM REAL AND AT THE SAME TIME FULL OF MEANING.
nude by Aristide Maillol. Vollard, who was described by those who knew him as having ‘bulldog features‘ is shown here quite differently, to be a bourgeois gentleman and a conoisseur, engrossed in the art that he loves and oblivious to his own slightly unkempt appearance - look, for example, at the protruding handkerchief or perhaps even tear in his right jacket pocket. Renoir would have been fully aware of the flattering light in which he was portraying Vollard, who had commissioned the portrait himself, and it would of course have been within Renoir’s interests to please his dealer. The essay, ‘Taken at Face Value?’ will take this theme further, looking at the self-staging of Gauguin and Van Gogh, not only through their own work and writings, but also through their later promotion in popular film and fiction. It is one of the roles of Art History to try to navigate such firmly held biographical and anecdotal myths, extracting what is important in the analysis of artworks from the complex web of promotion, selfpromotion and fiction that often exists. Suggested activities in this pack will help students and teachers to investigate this theme further through practice or research. The practice of painting conservation allows for the investigation of artworks as physical objects, and whilst it can reveal many previously hidden truths, it also
has the ability to shape what we know of pictures, as described by Alysia Sawicka in her essay ‘The Material Language of Paintings’. Conservation should perhaps be considered alongside the work of collectors and curators as a part of the way in which artworks come to us: rarely directly from the artist, but often through the lens of those who have studied and interpreted them in a variety of ways. Ultimately, the essays and activities gathered here are intended to challenge visitors to The Courtauld Gallery to look beyond the surface of paintings, both physically and metaphorically, and to investigate in more depth the ways in which art is made, promoted and received. The notions of authenticity or biography may prove far less important as a result than understanding the rich variety of interpretations that might be possible when different viewers look at a single painting. Finally, one key inspiration for the theme of myth-making is caught up with the content of Gauguin’s paintings themselves. It was, interestingly enough, Ambroise Vollard who first sold Gauguin’s painting Haystacks (1889) [see essay 6] which is itself part of Gauguin’s personal myth-making of place. In an attempt to escape what he saw as the stifling atmosphere of civilised urban Paris, Gauguin famously withdrew first to Brittany and then to the islands of Polynesia. However the lifestyle he discovered in
these places was not always that depicted in his canvases. Indeed, the poet Charles Morice warned viewers of Gauguin’s first exhibition of Tahitian works in 1893 that ‘to find your way around the island his work would make a bad guide, if your soul is not akin to his’. Whilst the women of Brittany would dress up in traditional dress to assist the tourist industry, the practices of farming in that area were in fact more advanced than Gauguin would have us believe in Haystacks. Likewise, the ‘barbarism’ he insisted upon in the South Seas was a rapidly fading fantasy as these islands, French protectorates, were increasingly affected by Catholic missionaries and other marks of colonial rule. The ‘Regarde!’ activity in this pack is designed to help with language learning through looking at the work of Gauguin, but it also highlights the myth-making potential of both imagery and language, in particular that used by Gauguin in his prints. If the 1910 poster for Fry’s Grafton Galleries exhibition can be held responsible for the widespread understanding of Gauguin, Van Gogh and Cézanne as ‘Post-Impressionists’, the painting Poèmes barbares (Barbaric Poems) depicted on it can perhaps also be seen as emblematic of Gauguin’s activity as an artist: his paintings, and those of so many other artists, are like poetry - creating atmosphere and weaving narratives out of pieces of shifting reality. To unpick the narrative of painting completely would be to destroy its beauty and effectiveness; to interpret and better understand its roots and the process by which it has been assembled is one of the aims of Art History.
FURTHER READING: John House (ed.), Impressionism for England: Samuel Courtauld as Patron and Collector (London: Courtauld Gallery, 1994) Karen Serres (ed.), Collecting Gauguin: Samuel Courtauld in the 20s (London: Courtauld Gallery, 2013)
2: COLLECTING GAUGUIN: CURATOR’S QUESTIONS Karen Serres
Q: Tell us a bit about your job as curator? A: At The Courtauld, I am responsible for the care and display of paintings from 1200 to 1900, so roughly up to the end of the period called Post-Impressionism. In addition to making sure that all of the works are in good condition, I decide which ones go on public display, where and how they should hang. An important part of my job is also undertaking research on the paintings and making sure we know as much as possible about the circumstances of their creation, their meaning and their subsequent history. One way to present our findings is through exhibitions and displays, such as Collecting Gauguin. Q: What do you enjoy most about being a curator? A: I enjoy the fact that no two days are alike and that it requires engagement in equal parts with the works in my care, with colleagues – particularly those in conservation – and with the public. Q: What was the inspiration for the Gauguin display in particular? A: The Courtauld Gallery has the largest collection of works by Gauguin in the UK, comprising three important oil paintings, two drawings, ten prints and Gauguin’s only signed marble sculpture. These were purchased by Samuel Courtauld, one of the founders of The Courtauld Institute of Art, in the span of a few years in the 1920s, a key decade for the collecting of PostImpressionism in Britain. Q: How long has it taken to plan? A: Visitors are always surprised by how much time exhibitions take to organise; there is a lot of work involved so their preparation can take anywhere from three to five years. The Summer Showcase displays focus more on our permanent collection so they take a little less time to plan. However, this display includes two outside loans, key paintings that once belonged to Samuel Courtauld but were not given to The Courtauld. We approached their current owners, the Barber Institute of Fine Arts and the National Galleries of Scotland, a year and a half ago; their support was crucial and Collecting Gauguin could not have happened without it.
Q: Can you tell us about the process of putting on a display like this? A: After determining the focus of the display, we put together a list of objects that we want to exhibit and sent out loan requests for works coming from outside the Gallery. We made sure that all the works were in good enough condition to be placed on view. We decided, for example, to change the mats on the prints as they were slightly discoloured. At the same time, I carried out research and prepared the publication, as well as the didactic material that accompanies the works in the display space (introductory panel, labels, etc.). Final decisions concerned the colour of the walls, the placement of the works in the space and, last but not least, their lighting. And voila! Q: Have you faced any particular challenges? A: One challenge was the arrangement of such an array of works (paintings, works on paper, sculpture, in addition to some archival material such as invoices and letters). How do you make sure such a disparate group doesn’t clash within the same space? However, the range of objects on view is also what makes the display particularly interesting. The second challenge was the accompanying booklet, which is a new format for us. It is smaller than our exhibition catalogues and we hope that it will appeal to a wide audience while maintaining the same level of scholarship that characterised our previous publications. Q: Do you have any interesting stories about the works that were uncovered during research? A: The focus of the display is not only on Gauguin the artist but also on the reception of his work in Europe in the decades following his death. To examine the twists and turns of the reputation of a now canonical artist is fascinating. What surprised me was that, in the early twentieth century, Gauguin was deemed less controversial than Van Gogh and even Cézanne because he was a ‘decorative painter’. Then he was considered too frivolous and critics turned on him. The booklet accompanying the display also publishes two previously unknown
photographs from the 1910s and 1920s showing how Gauguin’s works were displayed by their first owners. One depicts the Gallery’s wonderful Te Rerioa in a very formal study filled with neo-Rococo furniture. The other represents Martinique Landscape in a simple white frame, which is how Gauguin wanted his paintings to be shown. It seems quite strange to us now, although the ornate frames chosen by later collectors still on the works today would probably shock Gauguin. Q: Which of the pieces in the exhibition is your personal favourite and why? A: I am always surprised by the power of Nevermore. It is such a stunning and disquieting work. The elongated format, the sinuous lines, the beautiful modeling of the nude figure and the pops of yellow and red on either side make it a very appealing work, and yet Gauguin has left its meaning ambiguous. The foreshortening of the woman’s left foot, coming into our space, is both impressive and intrusive. Q: To what extent do you think Courtauld’s collection of Gauguin’s works has shaped the public understanding of his art? A: In the 1920s, Courtauld was amongst a small group of wealthy art lovers who overcame public institutions’ mistrust of modern French art and began collecting the best examples of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism with the view of giving them to the nation. He provided exposure to these paintings to the British public and legitimised them as works of art. His sense of the importance of art as a force for social good is admirable.
Image: Paul Gauguin Two Tahitian women, viewed from the rear (verso) 19th Century Graphite, gouache (dilute) on paper 27.25 cm x17.8 cm
CURRICULUM LINKS: KS3+ Art and Design, History, Art History, and other Humanities
THE FOCUS OF THE DISPLAY IS NOT ONLY ON GAUGUIN THE ARTIST BUT ALSO ON THE RECEPTION OF HIS WORK IN EUROPE IN THE DECADES FOLLOWING HIS DEATH.
3: RE-INVENTING MYTH: FORM AND FUNCTION IN SOME EARLY MODERN ‘MYTHOLOGICAL’ WORKS FROM THE COURTAULD GALLERY Naomi Lebens
The term ‘myth’ is notoriously difficult to define. Distinct from history, but not always simple fiction, myths occupy an ambiguous space between the two. However, when used to describe a genre in the visual arts, the term ‘mythological’ is more distinct. It usually refers to a specific category of subject-matter. The imagery of ‘mythological’ works typically draws upon stories or ‘myths’ from Greek and Roman antiquity. Frequently concerning the exploits of pagan gods, these myths are best known through the surviving work of ancient authors. Common themes of mythological paintings include the adventures from Ovid’s epic poem Metamorphoses; the exploits of the demigod warrior Achilles from Homer’s Iliad; and the legendary story of the hero Aeneas from Virgil’s Aeneid. Subjects like these are most commonly found in the visual and decorative arts of early modern Europe. One major reason for this is the attention paid at the time to the culture of classical antiquity. From the closing decades of the fifteenth century until the eighteenth century (and even beyond), a great cultural emphasis was placed upon the remnants of the classical world. Particularly in noble, intellectual and artistic circles, classical histories, literature and art provided an important focus for learning. Exact attitudes towards these sources changed over the centuries. However, there was a continual hope that they would train early modern minds and societies to emulate ancient splendour and success. As well as familiarising themselves with subjects from antique literature, early modern artists would therefore study surviving examples of ancient sculpture and architecture. This was seen as particularly important for the development of proper proportion, balance and beauty in their work. Classical myths would have been immediately relevant to artists and patrons engaging within this intellectual world. Seeing a painting representing an episode from a classical myth, often done all’antica, would conjure up memorable scenes from Greek and Roman tales in the early modern mind. But, crucially, this wasn’t all it could achieve. Emulation and knowledge of the ancient world provides a basic context through which we can begin to understand
‘mythological’ subjects in early modern visual arts. Yet we must also ask more specific questions of individual works. Why did the artists and/or patrons choose to make particular myths the subject of their representations? What stylistic and compositional decisions did the artists make? How far might these decisions have been informed by the specific functions the works were intended to perform? These sorts of questions are vital when exploring mythological works. Far from simple imitations or visual ‘re-tellings’ of known classical stories, the following case studies demonstrate how myths in the early modern visual arts operated as active sites for invention. The Death of Achilles by the seventeenthcentury Flemish artist, Peter Paul Rubens, is interesting in this regard [image 1]. Never intended as a stand-alone painting, it is a modello made by Rubens and his studio in the 1630s in preparation for a series of eight tapestries representing the life of Achilles. Enlarged from an earlier sketch of the same subject, the Courtauld’s Death of Achilles is the culminating scene. It depicts the moment in the Achilles story in which Paris kills him by shooting an arrow through his heel. Shown here in the temple of Apollo at Thymbra, this occurred whilst Achilles was making a sacrifice in honour of his forthcoming marriage to Polyxena, Princess of Troy. Achilles was a demi-god warrior who fought for the Greeks in the Trojan War. This broke out after Paris, Prince of Troy, abducted the beautiful Helen, wife to the Greek King Menelaus. Thetis, Achilles’s sea-nymph mother, dipped her son in the river Styx to make him invulnerable during battle. Only the heel by which she held him remained a weak point, famously dubbed his ‘Achilles’ heel’. The way in which Rubens staged his designs for the tapestry demonstrates that he intended to use the subject of Achilles as a ground upon which to emphasise his own creative genius and learning. Particularly noticeable is how the action of the Death of Achilles is contained upon a receded platform, set back from the immediate foreground of the painting. This platform is then framed in the foreground by classical terms at either side, and by a cartouche, two putti and two festoons at
Image 1: Peter Paul Rubens Death of Achilles 1630-5 Oil on panel 107.1 x 109.2 cm Image 2: Johann König Latona Changing the Lycian Peasants into Frogs, 1610-13 Oil on copper 18.5 x 25.4 cm
THE PEASANTS OF OVID’S STORY ARE THE NATURAL INHABITANTS OF AN IDYLLIC RUSTIC LANDSCAPE, DESCRIBED IN GREAT DETAIL IN OVID’S NARRATIVE.
the top. The use of these motifs, common to classical architecture, immediately advertises Rubens’ wider knowledge of the antique world. But, by incorporating these seemingly decorative elements, he also managed to add another layer of significance to the content of his design. The classically-styled terms, for example, clearly represent the Greek gods, Venus and Apollo. These figures are significant with regards to the story of the painting. Venus, the goddess of love, and her companion, Cupid allude to Achilles’ love for his wife to be, Polyxena. Apollo, the deity of the Trojans, guided Paris’ arrow in killing Achilles. In the centre foreground of the painting, in the gap created before the receded platform, Rubens also included a motif of a fox devouring an eagle. This additional device neatly encapsulates what Rubens wanted to express as the moral of the tale: cunning overcomes strength. In the myth, Paris, the inferior warrior, overcomes Achilles by underhanded means. Through giving all of his designs for the Achilles series theatrical frames, and presenting their action on stagelike constructions, Rubens effectively emphasised his own role as the director of a new production of the Achilles myth. Each represented episode acts like a freeze-frame of a single scene in a play. In the Death of Achilles, the exact moment Rubens decided to ‘freeze’ further demonstrates his creative skill. Achilles is shown at a precise moment in between life and death; the arrow is firmly lodged through his ankle as he struggles to get to his feet. His companions at the temple are caught in the immediate throws of reaction whilst Paris and Apollo, to the left background of the composition, have not yet turned to make their escape. Through compositional decisions like these, Rubens clearly strove to present a scene of the utmost possible dramatic tension.
their subject. A prime example is Latona changing the Lycian peasants into frogs (1610-13) [image 2]. This small cabinet painting is attributed to Johann König, a little-known German painter active in the early seventeenth century. It represents a myth from Ovid’s Metamorphoses where the goddess Latona, mother of Jupiter’s twins Apollo and Diana, flees from Juno, Jupiter’s wronged and vengeful wife. Whilst wandering the earth trying to find refuge, she attempts to drink water from a pond in Lycia. The peasants there refuse her access. In revenge, Latona turns them into frogs and forever condemns them to swim in the murky waters of ponds and rivers. A relatively unusual subject in the visual arts, other instances in which this subject is represented often put a great emphasis upon the landscape. The peasants of Ovid’s story are the natural inhabitants of an idyllic rustic landscape, described in great detail in Ovid’s narrative. In König’s version of the myth, the vast majority of the composition is similarly dedicated to an intricately detailed rendering of a forest clearing at night. Bathed in moonlight, the heavenly illumination of the eerie clearing heightens the drama of the action, which is isolated in the centre foreground of the image. The potential offered by this setting to experiment with a landscape theme may well have been one of the reasons that the myth of Latona was chosen as the subject of König’s painting. It was painted with oil on copper, which provided a glossy surface particularly suitable for landscape painting with meticulous detail and dramatic lighting effects.
But König’s representation of the Latona myth also deserves attention for the presentation of its central action. Essentially, König assimilates all of the important points from the tale into a single picture. Latona, who appears serene in this scene, is shown being refused a drink at the same time as the peasants are turning into frogs. According to the narrative, Unlike the modello, which belongs to a series of works representing a single story, a these things should happen sequentially, great number of early modern mythological one following another. Where Rubens was able to present different episodes of his paintings were stand-alone treatments of
artist using the preliminary space of the paper to experiment with the best way to represent Marsyas. In the study to the left, he is sprawled on the floor, arms outstretched, with one leg tied to a tree trunk represented by a few faint lines. In the central study he is in a similar position, though this time with his leg held aloft by another figure, presumably Apollo, who bends over him to begin his unsavoury task. In the final small study, in the upper right hand corner of the sheet, a very sketchy Marsyas is presented upside down as he would appear fully suspended from the tree. At this stage Cigoli was clearly undecided about the exact moment of the story to represent. These rapid studies on paper made with pen, ink and wash, were crucial in helping him to develop his ideas.
myth in independent works, König, in his visual ‘invention’ has tried to put as much information as possible into a single scene. In other cases a single moment of a chosen myth may suit an artist’s needs, with little or no further need for explanation. This is demonstrated by Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Cupid and Psyche (c.1789) [image 3]. An influential eighteenth-century English painter and theorist, Reynolds had strong views on the appropriate choice of subject for any given painting. He claimed that subjects should be ‘full of grace and majesty’ and commented that the painter’s theme ‘is generally supplied by the Poet or Historian’. But he warned that ‘as the Painter speaks to the eye, a story in which fine feeling and curious sentiment is predominant, rather than palpable situation, gross interest and distinct passion, is not suited to his purpose’. A story from the Latin novel, A Golden Ass, the myth of Cupid and Psyche tells how the god Cupid is enraptured by the beautiful mortal Psyche and arranges a lover’s tryst with her in his palace at night to hide his true identity. The following evening Psyche secretly creeps into her lover’s bedchamber where she finds him asleep. However, Cupid is awoken by a drop of oil which spills from her lamp. Enraged, he flies away and it is only after a series of arduous trials that the lovers are reunited. A story full of human appeal, raw emotion and dramatic suspense, Cupid and Psyche obviously fulfilled Reynolds’s criteria as a subject fit for a painting. Yet his Cupid and Psyche further isolates the exact moment during which Psyche discovers the true identity of her lover. Surrounded by darkness we see Psyche holding a candle and looking at Cupid, at the point directly before the drop of wax alerts him to her presence. Why did Reynolds freeze this particular moment? One likely reason is that at that particular time, around 1789, Reynolds was preoccupied with the representation of
light and colour. The moment of Psyche’s discovery of Cupid by candlelight therefore offered him the perfect opportunity to experiment with contrasting colours and sharp chiaroscuro. Inspired by Venetian masters of the sixteenth century, such as Correggio, we see Reynolds focusing the light in his picture upon his subjects, highlighting the pearlescent skin of the sleeping cupid. One contemporary critic commented that Cupid and Psyche was ‘full of every beauty that flesh, colours and contrast can give’. He further suggested that the narrative subject of the myth, of lesser concern, was not strictly adhered to by Reynolds: ‘Psyche is, perhaps not Psyche, but the charm of Cupid, and the play of tints on his body are divine’.
To add a final emphasis to this sense of artists engaging in a creative process with myths, one more work is worth briefly including here. The Three Studies for the Flaying of Marsyas, attributed to the Florentine painter Cigoli, is a drawing probably made in preparation for a painting [image 4]. According to the Ovidian myth, the satyr Marsyas unwisely ventured into a musical contest with the god Apollo. When he lost, he suffered the gruesome consequence of being tied to a tree and flayed alive. Next to nothing is known about the exact circumstances in which this drawing was produced. But, crucially, it does demonstrate some of the work that went into developing a mythological subject into an original composition. We see the
This discussion has attempted to illuminate how Greek and Roman myths, frequently encountered in the early modern visual arts, were not just visual recitations of oft-rehearsed tales. Even within a broader context of knowledge about the culture of classical antiquity, early modern artists and patrons approached mythological subjects inventively. By focusing upon the above works from The Courtauld Gallery, we have seen some of the different ways in which artists could treat mythological subjects in an original manner and use them to serve their own, often diverse, purposes.
Image 3: Joshua Reynolds Cupid and Psyche c.1789 Oil on canvas 139.8 x 168.3 cm Image 4: Cigoli Three Studies for the Flaying of Marsyas 16th-17th century Pen and ink, watercolour and chalk on paper 13.6 x 20.2 cm
CURRICULUM LINKS: KS3+ Art and Design, History, Art History, and other Humanities
4: MANET, DEGAS, RENOIR AND THE THEATRE OF EVERYDAY LIFE Caroline Levitt
THE PRIVATE MAN’S DRAWING ROOM WAS A BOX IN THE THEATRE OF THE WORLD WALTER BENJAMIN, 1935
It is a widespread myth that Impressionist paintings were all completed rapidly, without preparatory studies, in the open air and in front of the subject they depict. It is another myth that Édouard Manet was an Impressionist. In fact, Manet was of a slightly older generation than the group of young artists who exhibited together for the first time in 1874 and who were to become known as ‘Impressionists’; whilst he influenced and encouraged their practice, he never exhibited alongside them. Impressionism was a movement that encouraged the depiction of the moment, whether that meant the effects of light at certain times of day or the class-bound daily life of late nineteenth-century Paris. Several of the key Impressionist painters, notably Pierre Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas, worked predominantly in their studios, often from sketches produced rapidly in front of the subject which were then developed and combined to create canvases that may look like momentary snapshots but that have been carefully composed to give that impression. This does not take away from the fact that Impressionist painting aimed in its technique as well as its subject matter to emulate the characteristics of modern life: whilst the speed of the modern city may be reflected in the sketchiness of Impressionist brushwork, the theatricality of modern life, with different costumes and activities standing for different social groups, and spectatorship or ‘people-watching’ the recognised activity of the flIaneur, is reflected in the practice of using models as the actors and actresses on the sets of Impressionist paintings. This is true also of the work of Manet. Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863) [image 1], was mentioned in the introductory essay to this pack as a painting
that was both controversial and reflective of the way in which Manet sought to challenge artistic convention. Aside from the shock factor of including naked women alongside clothed men, critics took offence at the sketchily-painted background of the composition and the inelegant body and confrontational gaze of the woman in the foreground. The fact that the nude was an accepted and highly regarded subject of painting and that nude figures could only be rendered if naked models posed for clothed (usually male) artists and art students, was an irony that would not have gone unnoticed by the jury of the annual Paris Salon, who rejected the painting. Manet often used close friends and relatives as models in his work, reinforcing the notion that the world in which we live is a form of theatre. The nude woman in the foreground is a composite of Manet’s wife, Suzanne Leenhoff, and his favourite model, Victorine Meurent, whilst Manet’s brother, Gustave, and his future brother in law, Ferdinand Leenhoff, posed for the male figures. Manet’s last large painting, undertaken when he was practically an invalid, saw him once again affiliated with the official Parisian art world: A Bar at the FoliesBergère (1881-2) [image 2] was shown in
the 1882 Salon. Beautifully painted bottles of Champagne, chandeliers, well-dressed Parisians and round moon-like electric lights tell us that this painting is set in an opulent, bustling, modern interior. The Folies-Bergère was the largest venue of its kind in Paris, and we are probably given a view into a café-concert, an evening of entertainment provided alongside a meal, with drinks available all evening from various bars. Manet’s choice of viewpoint may initially be confusing. Where is the barmaid standing, what is the large band of pink that cuts across the composition behind her, and what exactly are the two green marks in the top left corner of the canvas? Manet has focused in on one of several bars, which is situated at the back of a section of a horseshoe-shaped theatre, with tiered balconies but no fixed seating: the pink band is a gallery. In fact all the activity behind the barmaid is a reflection in a vast mirror, at the bottom edge of which is a gilt frame, parallel to the marble bar. The evening’s entertainment appears to be a circus act, and the two green marks are the feet of a trapeze artist. However Manet suggests that the real spectacle is this interchange between the barmaid and a client – he allows us to see both figures as a result of the reflection, the accuracy of which has been much disputed.
HER FACIAL EXPRESSION SEEMS MELANCHOLY, AND HER HANDS ARE UN-GLOVED, A SIGN CERTAINLY OF HER POSITION AS A WORKING GIRL AND PERHAPS ALSO OF AVAILABILITY
” The writer Guy de Maupassant visited the Folies-Bergère and described seeing ‘a painted tribe of prostitutes on the prowl’. Whilst there would indeed have been actual prostitutes seeking custom, many sections of modern Parisian society are represented here. The barmaid is of a lower class than the people she serves, and is dressed up in the costume provided for her by her employers - in fact, the model was a genuine employee of the establishment, named Suzon, and she posed for Manet in his studio behind a carefully reconstructed bar. Her costume in one sense allows her to fit in with her surroundings; however her cheeks are reddened by her evening’s work, her facial expression seems melancholy, and her hands are un-gloved, a sign certainly of her position as a working girl and perhaps also of availability. She leans towards the top-hatted man, who may simply be purchasing a drink, but may very well be seeking to purchase a little more for later in the evening: barmaids, artists’ models and prostitutes were considered similarly to one another as girls who sold either goods or themselves. In light of this, the bar that cuts across the foreground and makes the woman unattainable seems to be an ironic and fragile barrier. Far from being quickly and spontaneously painted, this is the result of careful preparatory studies, and the reconstruction of the bar that Manet set up in his studio was an elaborate solution to painting ‘from life’. However that is not to say that Manet did not make changes as he went along. In an earlier sketch, the barmaid’s arms are crossed in front of her body, a gesture that might have suggested patient waiting for the customer to make up his mind. In an x-radiograph of the final canvas, we can see that Manet initially painted the barmaid clasping her left hand with her right hand well above the wrist, a gesture that emphasised her glovelessness, but that concealed her sexualised tightly corseted torso. The final pose of her hands could suggest a gesture of impatience, vulgarity, forwardness and confrontation. The woman with a lorgnette in the background, just to the left of the barmaid’s left shoulder,
was also a late addition, and her active looking is a challenge to passive femininity. Thus we can see that Manet went through a process of refinement to reach his final composition, which is the most daring of all the options he had conceived. If the theatre is a slightly hidden theme in Manet’s Bar, two earlier Impressionist paintings, both painted and exhibited in 1874, deal with the subject head-on. Renoir’s La Loge (The Theatre Box) [image 3] was included in the first Impressionist group exhibition at the studio of the photographer Nadar, on the Boulevard des Capucines, Paris, whilst Degas’ Two Dancers on the Stage [image 4] was shown at the dealer Durand-Ruel’s London gallery. The Boulevard des Capucines was one of the new Grands Boulevards elegantly constructed as part of the modernisation plans of Baron Haussmann between 1853 and 1870. It ran into the Place de l’Opéra, the site of the new opera house known as the Palais Garnier, completed in 1875 after fifteen years of building. As such, it is a street that resonates with the Impressionist agenda: the spectacle of the opera blends neatly with the spectacle of the pavement. Whilst neither Renoir’s theatre box nor Degas’ dancers could have been set in the Palais Garnier, which was inaugurated the year after the paintings were completed, they too include this blending of spectator and spectacle. Indeed, the theatre was an intensely modern pastime, often attended by a well-heeled audience and performed by a lower class of actors and dancers. A large number of famous operas and ballets were written in this period: Verdi, for example, composed La Traviata in 1853 and Aida in 1871, whist Bizet wrote The Pearl Fishers for the Theatre-Lyrique in 1863, and Carmen was first performed at the Opéra Comique on March 3, 1875. Degas’ Two Dancers on the Stage gives us an insight into the ‘real’ spectacle: the stage area of the theatre. For his models, he used actual dancers, whom he observed backstage and during rehearsals thanks to specially purchased permits. We see the stage not straight on, but from above and
FURTHER READING: Walter Benjamin, Paris: Capital of the Nineteenth Century (1935), available online at: http://nowherelab. dreamhosters.com/paris%20capital.pdf Bradford Collins (ed.), Twelve Views of Manet’s Bar, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996). Belinda Thomson, Impressionism: Origins, Practice, Reception (London: Thames and Hudson, 2000) Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen and Barnaby Wright (eds.), Renoir at the Theatre: Looking at ’La Loge’ (London: Courtauld Gallery, 2008) Image 1 Édouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, c.1863-8 Oil on canvas 89.5 x 116.5 cm Image 2 Édouard Manet A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1881-2 Oil on canvas 96 x 130 cm Image 3 Pierre Auguste Renoir La Loge, 1874. Oil on canvas 80 x 63.5 cm Image 4 Edgar Degas Two Dancers on a Stage, c.1874. Oil on canvas 61.5 x 46 cm
the performance, the gentleman looking around the theatre through his opera glasses, perhaps perusing other women who sit, like the lady in Renoir’s box, ready to be scrutinised and appreciated but demurely refusing the opportunity to actively look back. The woman rests her opera glasses on the cushion of the box, a sign of passivity rather than confrontation. This couple, it seems, could not be further removed from the figures in Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe. However, this too is a construct, and the figures are once again actors drawn from Renoir’s own entourage: the woman is modelled by Nini Lopez, one of Renoir’s favourite models from Montmartre who was nick-named ‘fish-face’, and the man is Renoir’s brother, Édouard. Renoir picks up on the fact that theatre boxes were as much places to sit in order to be seen as they were places from which to watch a performance: a lot could be understood about the social status, availability and public face of those who sat in boxes by observing the type of box they had rented, who they were with and the outfit they were wearing. For example, the visibility of this well-dressed couple, the woman carefully made up and presented, is in stark contrast to the effect of looking at one of the side-on boxes with a grille across the front, which may have held a couple who could not acceptably be seen in public together.
to the side, as though we are sitting in a box. This angle not only lends the painting a snapshot quality, but also immediately involves us in the image, suggesting Degas’ depiction to be real rather than carefully set up. However a sense of posed theatricality is at the heart of Degas’ subject matter, and he could not have completed this canvas in the theatre itself, but back in his studio after the event. Whilst these dancers are clearly costumed and mid-dance, a third figure, who does not seem to be part of the main action, is partially visible at the far left of the canvas, implying that this is an image of a dress rehearsal rather than a final performance, and that Degas’ interest lies not in the polished finished product, but in the process of creating it and in the incidental activity of those involved. Degas’ composition teeters between being casual and carefully constructed, as do the dancers themselves: in spite of their exquisite costumes, these are probably young working-class dancers from the corps de ballet as opposed to principals as, according to contemporary ideas of physiognomy in which Degas was greatly interested, their features suggest poverty. For many years it was assumed that Degas’ depiction of two dancers on the stage was non-specific, and that the ballet in which they perform was unidentifiable. However recent work has shown that the costumes of the dancers, especially the one on the right, match the bell-shaped tutus with dark flower sepals falling from the waist
and the rose hairpieces of dancers from the Ballet des roses, a ballet section added to Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni (1787) for performances by the Paris Opera from 1866 onwards. The stage flats suggest foliage, which would have been appropriate to the garden setting of the Ballet des roses.
Renoir gives us a view of the other side of theatrical activity: that of the spectators, in this case apparently an aristocratic couple in an expensive box from which the stage could be seen straight-on. However, this impression is undercut in a number of ways. Firstly, the couple seems disinterested in
Renoir’s couple seems to stand for a type of spectator, as opposed to being a specific portrait, and this lack of specificity perhaps in one sense separates his canvas from Degas’ Two Dancers, with its identifiable ballet. Theatre itself is a genre that draws often on types, represented by fictional characters, who may have much to reveal about reality but who are a guise rather than an explicit critique of anyone in particular; it is for this reason that theatre has often been used as a ‘safe’ form of political satire. More than this, the theatre provided a space not only for the entertainment of a staged performance, but also for the more spontaneous social entertainment provided by the activities and interactions of different classes and genders. Renoir, with his carefully constructed and intricately painted canvas, plays on this sense of spontaneity, using props, costumes and set to suggest general ideas about the nineteenth-century Parisian public. For Manet, Degas and Renoir, then, painting was an opportunity to stage a version of everyday life that could appear so real that it has often been taken as document, when in fact it is a means of constructing an impression of real life as seen by the artist. The ‘reality’ of Impressionist painting is yet another story for us to unravel.
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5: TAKEN AT FACE VALUE? SELF-STAGING AND MYTH-MAKING IN THE WORK OF GAUGUIN AND VAN GOGH Caroline Levitt
In 2010, two major exhibitions took place in London. The one, Tate Modern’s Gauguin: Maker of Myth, sought to self-consciously examine the ways in which Gauguin was a storyteller, not only in the way he wove a narrative through his paintings, but also in the way he presented himself and lived his life. The show was conceived as an antidote of sorts to what the catalogue described as the ‘embarrassment’ of former critics at the way in which Gauguin perpetuated a myth of Polynesia that was inaccurate and fantastic. It included woodcarvings and writings that demonstrated the extent of his interest in ‘making a myth’ with his paintings and activities. The second exhibition, The Royal Academy’s The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters drew on a vast collection of correspondence, especially between Van Gogh and his brother Theo (who was Vincent’s tenacious dealer-cum-sponsor) to suggest a form of documentation of the artist’s life that could somehow transcend perpetuated myths of a tortured genius in order to present the viewing public with a more accurate picture of the man and his work. The Tate exhibition was driven by the works that Gauguin produced and the themes that cut across these; the Royal Academy show was driven by an interest in biography, and an attempt to uncover the man beneath what are generally considered to be intensely ‘expressive’ canvases. The introduction to the catalogue for the Royal Academy exhibition conceded: Van Gogh’s correspondence, however captivating in many respects, should not be read as a diary - just as a self-portrait, no matter how good the likeness, should not necessarily be regarded as a faithful reflection of its maker. Both letter-writer and artist seek to achieve an effect, to show a consciously chosen side of themselves. As seen in the previous essay, ‘Manet, Degas, Renoir and the Theatre of Everyday Life’, nothing can be taken at face value, and what we understand by the term ‘real’ is by no means straightforward. The ‘real’ Van Gogh was as much a myth-maker as was Gauguin. Both Gauguin and Van Gogh have long been painters whose lives have held a certain appeal for the viewers of their
paintings, and it is perhaps for this reason that two intriguing sources, regarded as coming from the context of popular culture rather than ‘Art History’, are available to us: Vincente Minnelli’s film Lust for Life (1956) and Martin Gayford’s novelistic account of the period that Van Gogh and Gauguin spent working together in 1888, The Yellow House (2006). The two artists are often presented as outsiders in modern society, despite their affiliation with other artists of the time, and as driven by a passion for creativity in spite of a constant haunting sense of inadequacy. They are the two out of the Post-Impressionist trio
who seem most sensational and romantic; Cézanne, by comparison, is characterised as a balanced classicist, and his paintings tend to be examined more for their formal qualities than for the biography behind them. In fact both form and biography are essential to the understanding of all three painters, and this essay seeks to break down the image of Gauguin and Van Gogh as depicted by popular culture and their own paintings and writings and to comprehend the extent to which all these things can be seen as ‘myths’ that often conceal as much as they reveal about the paintings themselves.
ON THE LEFT, A BLANK CANVAS SUGGESTS THAT THERE IS MORE WORK TO COME FROM THIS ARTIST, AS INDEED THERE WAS, AND A JAPANESE PRINT ON THE RIGHT RELATES TO ONE OF HIS GREAT ENTHUSIASMS, THIS IS A MANIPULATED COPY OF A REAL PRINT BY SATO TORAKIYO
Image 1: Vincent Van Gogh Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889 Oil on canvas 60.5 x 50 cm Image 2: Sato Torakiyo Geishas in a Landscape, c.1870-80 Woodcut 60 x 43 cm
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Minnelli, in Lust For Life, portrays Van Gogh as a misunderstood, tortured artist, a failed preacher, gentle and genuine at heart and yet driven mad by the pressure of self-expression. In October 1888, Gauguin moved to Arles to join Van Gogh in what was to be known as ‘The Yellow House’, which Van Gogh had rented and was using as a home and studio. Vincent had written several times to Theo of his desire to encourage Gauguin down to the south and how he dreamt of setting up an artists’ community there; the nine weeks that Gauguin and Van Gogh eventually spent in each other’s company have become infamous. Both Minnelli and Gayford present Van Gogh as a nervous host, intimidated by the forthright attitude of his visitor. The one passionately engrossed in nature and irretrievably irrational, the other pedantically tidy and obsessed with the imagination, it seems that in spite of their similarities, the differences between the two men were never to be overcome. As panning close-ups of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings fill the screen at relevant
moments in the film version, dramatic music heralds impending doom, such that even the periods of exuberant activity show signs of ending in tears - or rather in the famous slicing of Van Gogh’s left ear. Was it the debate over the importance of nature versus imagination that caused Van Gogh to mutilate his ear on 23 December 1888? If Minnelli’s film is to be believed, it was this that tipped the already unstable Van Gogh over the edge and that caused Gauguin to decide to spend the night in a hotel, only returning the following morning to discover his friend’s violent actions. Films often condense events for reasons of length and convenience, and Gayford in The Yellow House elaborates further, describing the way that Van Gogh presented the mutilated part of his ear to a local prostitute, Rachel, and surmising that one possible significance of his actions in Van Gogh’s mind might have been the biblical link to Saint Peter’s mutilation of the centurion’s ear in the garden of Gethsemane. Gayford, however, also makes it clear that the events of the night can only be pieced together
A SNOW-CAPPED MOUNTAIN IN THE BACKGROUND SEEMS TO RECALL MOUNT FUJI. EVEN THE MOST APPARENTLY DESCRIPTIVE OF LANDSCAPES CANNOT BE VIEWED STRAIGHTFORWARDLY
” from two slightly conflicting accounts provided, retrospectively, by Gauguin himself. Early on in his book, Gayford comments that ‘One thing [Gauguin and Van Gogh] had in common was an intense fantasy life in which their own real lives merged with their reading.’ Their reading included the Bible and ancient myths, as well as more contemporary French fiction such as Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables and the novels of Émile Zola; of course both Hugo and Zola could themselves be read as drawing on biblical or mythological themes to in turns heroise and ridicule their characters. Thus the books that seem to have informed Gauguin and Van Gogh’s lives and work are caught up in this multi-layered process of myth-making that seems so impossible to unpick. Another even more sinister explanation for Van Gogh’s presentation of his ear to Rachel could be related to the Japanese custom of shinju, a culture of refined prostitution based on the mutual exchange of love tokens. This escalated from love letters, often sealed with drops of blood, to snippets of hair, finger nails and even severed fingers. Van Gogh described the part of his ear that he handed to the prostitute Rachel as a ‘precious’ object to be treasured. It is hard to know whether Van Gogh can have been aware of this link, but the importance of Japan to his art is something that cannot be ignored and that can best be seen by looking at the paintings themselves. Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear (1889) [image 1] depicts the artist in the January following the events of December 1888, a point at which Van Gogh seems to wish to reinstate himself as a painter, blank canvas at the ready and caught between the studio indoors and the natural world that so inspired him outside. However even here, we are presented not so much with an accurate depiction of Van Gogh in his studio, but with a series of clues and symbols. The self-portrait was painted shortly after Van Gogh returned home from hospital and the prominent bandage
shows that the context is important. Van Gogh seems almost proud of his actions, and it is true that today he is almost as well-known for cutting his ear as for the motifs of his most famous paintings. Van Gogh is wearing his overcoat and a hat: is it cold in the studio, or is this a sign of a lack of permanence? His facial expression is still and melancholy, as though he is contemplating his position as an artist, and yet the composition is confidently, almost defiantly, constructed. On the left, a blank canvas suggests that there is more work to come from this artist, as indeed there was, and a Japanese print on the right relates to one of his great enthusiasms. This is a manipulated copy of a real print by Sato Torakiyo [image 2], which Van Gogh owned and had pinned up in his studio. In order to fit his own face into the composition, Van Gogh has shifted the figures and Mount Fuji across to the right. Japan, much like Arles, was an exotic place of escape in Van Gogh’s imagination, and the two are condensed here, much as they are in The Crau at Arles: Peach Trees in Blossom (1889) [image 3], also in the Courtauld’s collection, in which a snow-capped mountain in the background seems to recall Mount Fuji. Even the most apparently descriptive of landscapes cannot be viewed straightforwardly. Similarly, when Gauguin claims in a letter to his friend and dealer Daniel de Monfried that with Nevermore [image 4] he intended to use a ‘simple nude’ to suggest ‘a certain savage luxuriousness of a bygone age’, we have to ask what exactly is ‘simple’ about this composition. The figure is Pahura, Gauguin’s Tahitian wife - he had left behind his European family, including his wife Mette, when he embarked for Polynesia, and his stiff sculptural depiction of Mette [image 5] could not be further removed from his painting of Pahura. What does the expression on Pahura’s face stand for? Who are the two figures in the background, and of what are they speaking? The whole composition suggests a narrative that is not explained, and takes on a sinister air, especially given its title. ‘Nevermore’ is a
FURTHER READING: Nienke Bakker, Leo Jansen and Hans Luijten, ‘Van Gogh’s letters: Windows to a Universe’ in The Real Van Gogh (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2010). Roger Fry, ‘The Post-Impressionists’ (1910) in: A Roger Fry Reader, Christopher Reed (ed.) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), pp. 81-5. Paul Gauguin, Noa Noa (1893-4) available to download in the 1919 English translation at http://manybooks.net/titles/ gauguinpother06noa_noa.html Martin Gayford, The Yellow House (London: Penguin, 2006) Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven (1845), viewable online as an e-book, with parallel French and English and illustrations by Manet at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ files/14082/14082-h/14082-h.htm Belinda Thomson, ‘Navigating the myth’ in Gauguin: Maker of Myth (London: Tate, 2010). FURTHER VIEWING: Vincente Minnelli, Lust for Life (1956) (available on DVD)
recurring line, spoken by a raven who visits a poet on cold winter evening in Edgar Allen Poe’s poem The Raven (1845). The poem had been translated into French, first by Charles Baudelaire and then by Stéphane Mallarmé, and would have been part of Gauguin’s repertoire of reading. Whereas the bird in Poe’s poem represents the poet’s melancholy remembrance of his lost love, Gauguin literally translates it into a colourful, toy-like creature that sits in the window frame; he described it as ‘the Devil’s bird’. Perhaps the young girl who lies in the foreground is being visited by unpleasant memories and overheard snippets of conversation. Perhaps, in fact, she stands almost as an allegory for the discomforting nature of Tahiti, where Gauguin had arrived for the first time in 1891. Gauguin wrote in his poetic account of his exotic travels, Noa Noa (1893-4) that: Life at Papeete soon became a burden.It was Europe - the Europe which I had thought to shake off - and that under the aggravating circumstances of colonial snobbism, and the imitation, grotesque even to the point of caricature, of our customs, fashions, vices, and absurdities of civilization. Was I to have made this far journey, only to find the very thing which I had fled?
Papeete was the capital of the island of Tahiti, yet Gauguin describes it here with disdain, as a French colony, and far from an innocent and idyllic place of escape. Despite his translation of Poe’s tale into a colourful and decorative setting in Nevermore, Gauguin seems to have been unable to shake off the sinister melancholy sense of the original poem. Later in Noa Noa, however, Gauguin writes of the fecund natural landscape of the island, with its topless women and their appealing closeness to nature. Reflecting on his own place in this society, he comments: Here was I, a civilized man, distinctly inferior in these things to the savages. I envied them. I looked at their happy, peaceful life round about me, making no further effort than was essential for their daily needs, without the least care about money. To whom were they to sell, when the gifts of Nature were within the reach of every one?
Was it, then, Gauguin or the island that had been spoilt by the ‘absurdities of civilisation’? To what extent can we understand Gauguin’s attempted escape to a new place as an attempt to flee the very self which seemed to weigh so heavily also on Van Gogh? Perhaps the ‘real’ link between these two artists is not their designation as Post-Impressionists, nor their troubled attitude to life, but the fact that their mythical self-presentation is almost impossible to extricate from what we know of the facts of their paintings. It seems that one of the few routes left open to us for navigating this selfpresentation is that of form after all. Stylistically, both Gauguin and Van Gogh distanced themselves from the Impressionists. As Roger Fry put it in his catalogue essay for the 1910 Grafton Galleries exhibition Manet and the PostImpressionists, ‘the Post-Impressionists consider the Impressionists too naturalistic’. By this, he meant to emphasise the ways in which Impressionists such as Monet had sought to depict exact moments of the day or season, prioritising the effects of lighting sometimes to the detriment of clear shapes and outlines. Gauguin, Van Gogh and indeed Cézanne, on the other hand, were more interested in defined outlines and in the expressive qualities of colour and brushwork than they were in painting a picture that seemed ‘accurate’ in terms of depicting an exact moment. Gauguin’s flat areas of colour outlined in black, Van Gogh’s swirling brushwork and Cézanne’s multi-faceted surfaces created using a square brush or palette knife are the characteristics that most define them. If the Impressionists sought to capture what they saw around them with as much exactitude as possible, the PostImpressionists sought to digest what they saw around them and paint it in a way that would analyse and internalise it, subjecting it to the possibilities of either symbolism (in the case of Van Gogh and Gauguin) or near-abstraction (in the case of Cézanne). In so doing, these three artists were being incredibly modern - indeed they have been seen as amongst the first in a long line of painters, following Manet, who began to emphasise the flatness of the canvas and the qualities of paint over content, thus being realistic about the limitations of painting. Canvases were no longer supposed to trick the viewer into thinking that a real event was unfurling before them, but were to provide the viewer with
space to contemplate the extraordinary characteristics of the canvas as a physical object; Alysia Sawicka’s essay will examine further the ways in which Gauguin’s The Dream, for example, is as interesting for its surface texture and pigments as for the picture painted on that surface. Neither Gauguin nor Van Gogh ever sacrificed subject matter completely, but this does not mean that we should see the intense if fantastic narratives of their paintings as an ‘embarrassment’. On the contrary: their willingness to paint in such an honest manner, being transparent about the fact that what we are looking at is in no sense ‘real’, perhaps lends some authenticity to the multi-layered myth that we have been trying to unravel.
GAUGUIN’S STIFF SCULPTURAL DEPICTION OF METTE, HIS EUROPEAN WIFE, COULD NOT BE FURTHER REMOVED FROM HIS PAINTING OF PAHURA, HIS TAHITIAN WIFE
Image 3: Vincent Van Gogh The Crau at Arles: Peach trees in Blossom, 1889. Oil on canvas 65 x 81 cm Image 4: Paul Gauguin Nevermore, 1897 Oil on canvas 60.5 x 116 cm Image 5: Paul Gauguin Portrait of Mette Gauguin, 1877 Marble 34 x 26.5 x 18.5 cm
6: THE MATERIAL LANGUAGE OF PAINTINGS: CONSERVATION AND TECHNICAL ART HISTORY Alysia Sawicka
The reflection of reality has occupied many artists for centuries. It could be argued that this pursuit links the studious application of Leonardo da Vinci (who sought to understand the complexity of the human anatomy through dissection in order to accurately depict it) with, conversely, the Impressionists’ experimentation with colour and tone in their plein air sketching (an attempt to capture a fleeting moment in perpetually changing nature). However, art historians have long argued for an understanding and exploration of paintings that goes beyond an oversimplified perception of artworks as representations of reality. They have reasoned that paintings are complex documents that can be read in multiple ways as opposed to straightforward technical exercises in reflecting reality. Paintings provide an insight into the intentions and preoccupations of the artist who executed them and into those of the patron who commissioned them. They also serve as a commentary on contemporary society, revealing through the choice of subject matter and the manner of its depiction, political, philosophical, religious and socio-economic context. What’s more, paintings are not simply two-dimensional images. They are three-dimensional physical objects whose materiality is tantamount to our experience of paintings ‘in the flesh’. The materials from which paintings are created can tell us much about the accessibility of substances and technological innovations, which broadened the variety of materials on offer to the artist. In short, every painting is endowed with a wealth of information that can be unlocked through careful, technical study and interpretation. It is the role of a paintings conservator not only to structurally stabilise paintings and preserve them for future generations, but also to present paintings in a way that enables viewers to decipher contextual clues that are hidden to the naked eye. In order to make informed treatment decisions, technical analysis is often undertaken to better understand the material object. The methods of analysis employed enable us not only to understand the surface of the object, but also to discover what lies beneath uncovering information that can help us to understand
Paul Gauguin Image 1: Te Rerioa (The Dream), 1897 Oil on canvas, 91.5 x 130.2 cm Image 2: X-radiograph of Te Rerioa Image 3: The Haystacks, 1889 Oil on canvas, 92 x 73.3 cm
Paul Cézanne Image 4: Man with a pipe, 1892-6 Oil on canvas, 73 x 60 cm Image 5: Infra-red reflectogram of Man with a pipe
LIKE MANY ARTISTS OF THE PERIOD, GAUGUIN’S GENERAL PREFERENCE WAS FOR ABSORBENT GROUNDS COMPOSED OF CHALK AND GELATIN
” the artist’s process and how the painting has altered through the years. The appearance of any painting is not simply governed by the finishing strokes of paint. It is also dependent on the buildup of materials beneath, each layer of which contributes to the appearance of the final surface. Even the first step that an artist takes when starting a painting, the choice of support, affects the final surface. Typical options are canvas or a wood panel, though artists have used a range of supports according to cost, availability, and desired effect. In most instances, the simple task of examining the reverse of the painting will clarify the support chosen though there are often complicating factors such as the alteration of the original support or its adhesion to a newer secondary support. This is precisely the case in Paul Gauguin’s Te Rerioa (The Dream, 1897) [image 1] which has been adhered to another lining canvas in a past conservation treatment. In this instance it is possible to examine the support and its preparation through x-radiography [image 2]. In the x-radiograph one can clearly see the pronounced weave of the coarse, open weave canvas, dotted with large dark spots indicative of the slumps of poor quality canvas. Though Gauguin had made a conscious choice when he and Van Gogh had experimented with ‘very strong canvas’ during a painting trip at Arles, the choice for Te Rerioa, painted in Tahiti during the artist’s time in the South Seas, was likely also dictated in part by availability and cost; lack of supplies may well have caused the artist to turn to locally available sacking material. Without the luxury of commercially produced canvases, Gauguin had to prepare his own makeshift canvases for painting. In the x-radiograph, regular arcing strokes that do not correspond to the composition evidence Gauguin’s use of a lead white ground, which has been vigorously and unevenly applied with a knife. These arcs, most visible in the lower right corner, are caused by the scraping of the knife and the variation in their direction indicates that Gauguin turned the canvas or changed position whilst applying the ground. Whilst Gauguin could
have used the preparation of the canvas as an opportunity to smooth out the rough texture of its coarse surface, he instead appears to exacerbate its texture with this uneven application, suggesting his engagement with the differing qualities of the unusual support.
Like many artists of the period, Gauguin’s general preference was for absorbent grounds composed of chalk and gelatin, as was used for Haystacks (1889) [image 3]. The use of a lead white oil ground in this instance may suggest that the artist wanted to use the opacity of lead white to show off the colours of the subsequent paint layers to their best advantage; alternatively it may be that the material was more readily available at the time. The latter provides a convincing explanation in light of the fact that Gauguin executed the work in only ten days, when he took advantage of a ship’s delay to paint and send back another picture. Once the support is chosen, an artist can turn to constructing the composition of the painting, which is often initially sketched out on the support before colours and forms are blocked in. This initial sketch is typically executed in a carbon-containing material, such as graphite, ink or paint, in which case it can be visualised with infrared reflectography. The way in which the underdrawing corresponds to the final appearance can be particularly helpful in terms of understanding the artist’s working
process, as illustrated by the study of Cézanne’s paintings.
In Man with a Pipe (1892-6) [image 4], infrared reflectography reveals a series of sketchy lines, roughly indicating the positioning of the man’s features and the contours of his clothing [Image 5]. These lines are most prominent in the man’s left eye, which includes two distinct straight pencil lines marking the top of the sitter’s eyelids, whilst broader, blacker lines correspond to the shadow between the man’s nose and his left eye. This demonstrates that Cézanne used both graphite pencil and thicker charcoal stick as drawing media, corroborated by the presence of fine, unbound black pigment particles directly on top of the ground layer.
Relating this initial sketch to the subsequent layers of paint, it is evident that whilst some drawing lines are obliterated by opaque paint layers others, such as the contour line indicating the join of the waistcoat, were reiterated a number of times in the painting stages. Edges are repeatedly adjusted as the painting proceeds so that what were originally black contours later consist of greens, blues and reds. Cézanne’s practice blurred distinctions between drawing and painting, colour and line [image 6]. In this way, his working methods can be seen to challenge the notions of drawing in nineteenthcentury France, as advocated by the École des Beaux-Arts (from which Cézanne was twice rejected): academic theory insisted on invisible execution and the dominance of line over colour.
Progression from the initial drawing stage to completion of the painting can vary widely, not only due to artists’ individual working practice but also due to the nature of each specific painting. In another of Cézanne’s paintings, The Card Players [image 7], relatively little dry underdrawing can be positively identified from the infrared imaging [image 8]. This painting is one of five ‘Card Player’ paintings produced sometime in the period between 1890 and 1900, for which numerous related studies of particular sitters and objects in the composition exist. Other versions of the composition show free and sketchy underdrawing and numerous alterations and adjustments that the Courtauld Card Players lack; therefore we might reasonably conclude that Cézanne was surer of himself by the time he painted the Courtauld piece and that this is possibly the last of the series.
much later stages of execution. Further examination of Gauguin’s Haystacks reveals a number of pentimenti. Notably, a number of changes were made to the backs of the two cows in the foreground: a profusion of lines is visible with infrared reflectography, and there was originally an additional woman standing upright to the left of the pair of women on the right [image 9].
With infrared it is possible to make out her eyes and even the top of her nose, seen in three-quarter profile, suggesting that the figure was established with detail. This appears to be corroborated with the evidence provided by an x-radiograph which demonstrates that Gauguin initially painted in the figure and thus had to apply an opaque layer of paint – probably a mixture of lead white and chrome yellow – in order to block out the figure.
Alterations to a painting’s conception do not only occur in the initial stages of drawing and modelling, but also at
Connecting the available evidence, which suggests that such changes were made at a fairly late stage of the painting’s development, it is possible to assess what effects such alterations have had on the final appearance of the painting and conjecture as to Gauguin’s motives. Changes to the cows evidence the formulation of ideas on the canvas,
as Gauguin searched for a harmonious composition, abandoning some aspects at the drawing stage (such as the leg beneath the neck of the blue cow) and some aspects during the painting process (interestingly cross-sectional analysis reveals that the blue cow was also originally red). In response to the final arrangement of the cows, much lower than originally designed, it may be suggested that Gauguin altered the standing figure to make compositional sense of the picture. The effect of these alterations, with the oblique angles of the cows’ backs and the lyrical arcs of the women’s arms, is to place emphasis on the surface of the painting, flattening the image and accentuating pattern across the picture plane. This reflects Gauguin’s development of a new decorative style in art based on areas of pure colour, strong lines and an almost two-dimensional arrangement of parts. He referred to the style as Synthetism, by which he meant a style of art in which the form (i.e. colour, planes and lines), is synthesized with the major idea or feeling of the subject. In stark contrast, examination of Nevermore [see chapter 5 for image] demonstrates no visible changes from the underdrawing to the finished work, perhaps unsurprisingly given that Gauguin reported that like Te Rerioa he painted Nevermore
Paul Cézanne Image 6: Man with a pipe, 1892-6 (close-up) Oil on canvas, 73 x 60 cm Image 7: The Card Players, c.1892-6 Oil on canvas 60 x 73 cm Image 8: Infra-red detail image of The Card Players Paul Gauguin Image 9: Infra-red image of The Haystacks
BENEATH NEVERMORE LIES A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PAINTING...
” quickly in order to send it back to France with another set of paintings and feared that, despite a good finish, it was painted rather badly as a result. However, what the x-radiograph does reveal is that beneath Nevermore lies a completely different painting [image 10]. Forms of what appear to be trees are visible across the centre of the canvas, whilst horizontal lines in the upper right may indicate a receding landscape, similar to that depicted in Te Rerioa. Samples from the painting analysed in cross-section illustrate that Gauguin applied a lead white ground over this landscape painting to provide a blank support on which to execute Nevermore.
This reuse of the canvas is indicative of Gauguin’s restricted access to materials as previously discussed. When attempting to unravel the intricate network of information that paintings hold scholars can look to the physical object for some form of truth about how artists worked and why. However even beyond the artists’ interaction with a painting, it will continue to be subject to physical changes that give it a unique history that impacts upon the way we see it today. Most obvious might be human intervention, ranging from repeated cycles of cleaning to tears, losses and other damage, either
accidental or as the result of vandalism. Consequently, paintings often have a secondary physical history of restoration. However even without such interventions, paintings perpetually change. From the moment the artist applies a paint stroke complex chemical interactions occur between the paint film, pigment particles, medium and atmospheric components, which in the short term allow the painting to dry but in the long term can lead to degradation. As oil paint ages, it becomes more transparent, resulting in the greater visibility of underlying layers as in the pentimenti in the cows’ backs in Haystacks. Pigments themselves can also discolour, sometimes leading to radical changes in appearance. For example examination of Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear [see chapter 5 for image] reveals that two kinds of yellow pigment have been used in the painting - appearing grey or black respectively when viewed under ultraviolet light [image 11]; both have deteriorated. The chrome yellow paint of the background appears grey at the surface whilst the deeper yellow used in the Japanese print has browned, particularly at the tips of impasto areas, due to a conversion of the yellow cadmium sulphide pigment to brown cadmium oxide and other cadmium products. The materiality of paintings contains a wealth of information to be unlocked, deciphered and interpreted, which can tell us about the ways a painting has evolved, from the artist’s initial preparation to the present day. The materials and techniques employed provide a window into contemporary reality, supplementing conclusions drawn from other types of art historical study that might focus on content or form. It is critical that we learn to understand through a combination of close visual study and the tools of technical analysis what it is we are seeing in our contemporary context. Only then can we accurately translate material language and engage fully in the dialogue which each painting offers.
Image 10: X-radiograph image of GauguinThe Haystacks Image 11: Ultraviolet image of Van Gogh Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear
CURRICULUM LINKS: KS3+ Art and Design, Science, History, Art History, and other Humanities
7: REGARDE! GAUGUIN ET LA POLYNÉSIE FRENCH LANGUAGE RESOURCE: Alice Odin
En quête de liberté artistique et de calme exotique, Gauguin s’embarque pour Tahiti en 1891. Laissant derrière lui une Europe qu’il qualifie d’artificielle et conventionnelle (ainsi qu’une situation financière et maritale désastreuse), il s’installe a Tahiti où il s’acharne à trouver un style de peinture plus pur. S’inspirant de l’exotisme de la Polynésie, des couleurs, de la lumière, du paysage mais aussi de la population, des mythes et des légendes locales, Gauguin approfondit sa recherche artistique. Jusqu’à sa mort en 1903 dans les Iles Marquises (dans l’Océan Pacifique, à environ 1600 km de Tahiti), il esquisse, peint et sculpte ce ‘paradis primitif’, malgré une santé de plus en plus fragile. Gauguin entretient une relation ambiguë avec la Polynésie et ses habitants. La correspondance qu’il maintient avec ses amis en métropole, ainsi que les essais qu’il rédige pendant cette période dessine un portrait ambigu de Gauguin qui continue de nos jours à intriguer. D’une part, il critique sévèrement la politique française de colonisation, ainsi que la présence de missionnaires catholiques, et se présente comme défenseur du peuple Tahitien, embrassant les coutumes et le mode de vie locaux. D’autre part, il cultive des liens avec ces mêmes pouvoirs français et se montre parfois peu respectueux des traditions et coutumes locales. Sa vie personnelle fait encore débat de nos jours.
et The Dream (1897) [image 2] mettent en scène des personnages aux caractères physiques visiblement polynésiens par exemple, dans des espaces aux couleurs vives. Mais c’est dans le détail des décors (le lit sur lequel la jeune femme est allongée, le berceau dans lequel le bébé dort, motifs décoratifs gravés dans le bois ou encore les couleurs du ciel) que le ton polynésien est donné.
Il est bien difficile de résumer en quelques paragraphes les dynamiques de l’oeuvre de Gauguin à la fin de sa vie, en Polynésie. Cependant, les oeuvres présentées dans l’exposition Collecting Gauguin mettent en lumière son voeu d’ancrer son art dans un langage esthétique et formel typiquement Polynésien. Nevermore (1897) [image 1]
Dans la série de gravures sur bois présentées dans l’exposition, Gauguin ancre ses images dans l’espace alentour, en utilisant des mots tahitiens pour intituler ses oeuvres. Il est d’ailleurs aujourd’hui difficile de connaître le sens précis de certains de ces mots, car le Tahitien n’était pas encore une langue uniforme à la fin du 19e siècle et il n’est pas certain que Gauguin maîtrisait la langue parfaitement. Quoiqu’il en soit, l’utilisation que Gauguin fait du Tahitien illustre sa volonté de donner à ses oeuvres une dimension encore plus locale, peut être plus exotique, loin du français qu’il utilise dans sa correspondance ou dans le titre d’autres oeuvres. Ces mots gravés, ont néanmoins une place à part entière dans la composition; ils sont utilisés dans le cadre même de la gravure (et non pas seulement en bas, dans le titre), comme s’ils résonnaient dans le paysage Tahitien. Noa
Noa (qui signifie simplicité et harmonie mais aussi odorant) ou encore Maruru (merci) sont des mots chargés d’un sens important et visuellement très poétiques (étant courts et formés de nombreuses voyelles), rehaussant l’exotisme et la composition visuelle des ces gravures [image 3]. Ces mots permettent à Gauguin de communiquer son amour pour cette terre d’adoption non seulement visuellement mais aussi par le langage. ACTIVITÉ: En utilisant les gravures sur bois présentées dans l’exposition Collecting Gauguin, recréez une histoire mettant en scène les personnages, les paysages mais aussi les mots tahitiens représentés par Gauguin. Mettez chaque gravure dans l’ordre que vous voulez. Soyez encore plus créatifs, et recréez en groupe une histoire unique où chaque membre du groupe, choisit une image et écrit quelques lignes de l’histoire. Mettez ensuite vos quelques lignes en commun pour créer une histoire certainement originale ! Les gravures sont disponibles sur le CD ci-joint, ou en ligne.
7: REGARDE! FRENCH LANGUAGE RESOURCE TRANSLATION: GAUGUIN IN POLYNESIA Gauguin sailed for Tahiti in 1891, in search of artistic freedom and exotic peace. Leaving what he called an ‘artificial and conventional Europe’ (as well as disastrous financial and family situations), he settled in Tahiti where he strove to find a purer style of painting. Polynesia’s exoticism, its colours, lights, landscapes, people, myths and local folklore inspired him and helped him broaden his artistic quest. Until his death in 1903, in the Marquesas Islands (in the South Pacific Ocean, about 1600 km away from Tahiti), Gauguin painted, drew, sketched and sculpted this ‘primitive paradise’, despite his failing health. Gauguin had a complex relationship with Polynesia and its inhabitants. The many letters he wrote to his friends back in France, and the essays he wrote during his time there, depict a controversial man, whose opinions and personality are still debated today. On the one hand, he criticises the French colonial policies and the Catholic missionaries’ influence, and sees himself as the defender of the Tahitian people, taking up local traditions and ways of life. On the other hand, he cultivates strong ties with the local French powers and does not follow local customs when it does not suit him. His personal life remains a sore and much debated topic. It is therefore very difficult to summarise in a few sentences Gauguin’s works at the end of his life in Polynesia. However, the works in the Collecting Gauguin display highlight his wish to embed his artworks in an aesthetic and formal language strongly redolent of his Polynesian vision. Nevermore (1897) [image 1] and The Dream (1897) [image 2] for example show characters with typical Tahitian features,
in colourful locations. The details in those paintings are even more evocative of a Polynesian setting: the bed on which the young woman is lying, the wooden crib in which the baby is sleeping, the carved motifs on the furniture or painted on the walls and the colours in the sky reveal the sense of a Tahitian backdrop. Gauguin also roots his woodcut prints, on show in the exhibition, in a local Tahitian setting by using words from the Tahitian language in his works. It is still nowadays difficult to know precisely what these words actually mean, as the Tahitian language was not unified at the end of the 19th century, with many dialects still in use. It is also not very clear how well Gauguin mastered the language. Yet, Gauguin’s use of the language is another way for him to give a deeper, more exotic feel of the Polynesian (or in this case the Tahitian) to his work, very remote from the formal French he uses in his correspondence or in some of his other works’ titles. These carved words are rather unusually featured in the prints themselves: they are used within the actual prints (and not merely as titles) almost as if they echoed within the Tahitian setting displayed. Noa Noa (which means ‘simplicity’ and ‘harmony’, but also ‘fragrant’) or Maruru (which means ‘thank you’) for example, are powerful words with a strong visual impact [image 3]. These short words made of multiple vowels, and written in sharp but rounded fonts, sound and look very poetic. In this respect, they heighten the exoticism and the visual composition of the prints and enable Gauguin to communicate his love for this adopted land in a strong visual and poetic language.
ACTIVITY: Using the prints on display in the Collecting Gauguin exhibition, recreate a story using the landscapes, the characters and the Tahitian words depicted. Put each print in whichever order you want. Make it slightly more unusual by recreating this story in a group, with each person choosing a print and writing a few lines about his/her chosen print. Try and link everyone’s stories together! The prints are available on the attached image CD, or online at: http://www.artandarchitecture.org. uk/search/results.html?ixsid=125iVm_ UAIP&qs=G.1948.SC.182
Image 1: Paul Gauguin (detail) Nevermore, 1897 Oil on canvas 60.5 x 116 cm Image 2: Paul Gauguin (detail) Te Rerioa (The Dream), 1897 Oil on canvas 91.5 x 130.2 cm Image 3: Paul Gauguin Maruru (Offerings of Gratitude/ Thank you), from the Noa Noa series, 1893-4. Woodcut print 20.5 x 35.6 cm
CURRICULUM LINKS: KS4+ MFL French, Art, Art History and other humanities.
ABSTRACTION: A development in art during the twentieth century that saw painters rejecting subject matter and freeing themselves from the need to represent objects. Abstract paintings are typically made up of shapes and colours, without recognisable forms, and it could be said that painting itself is the subject in abstract art.
CONNOISSEUR: A person with a great deal of knowledge in a particular subject area, often considered to be an expert judge of taste in that area. The term can sound pretentious and be used with irony.
ALL’ANTICA: Emulating the manner or style of the ‘ancients’ - that is of ancient sculptors, artists or writers.
CRITIC: A person who judges, interprets and comments on something, such as art, often presenting their viewpoint through writing or lecturing.
ALLEGORY: A story, poem, or picture which can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one.
CORPS DE BALLET: The ‘chorus’ in a ballet company - dancers of the lowest rank who dance as a group rather than as soloists.
ANECDOTE: A short amusing or interesting story about a real incident or person, which may be unreliable.
CURATOR: A person who is responsible for the permanent collections and/or temporary exhibitions of a museum or gallery, taking responsibility for caring for the collection and choosing which artworks to hang and how.
ANTIQUITY: The ancient past, especially the period of classical and other human civilizations before the Middle Ages.
DEMI-GOD: A term commonly used to describe mythological figures with one divine and one mortal parent.
BOURGEOIS: An adjective applied to a person or group of people (especially in France) who exhibit characteristically ‘middle-class’ attitudes. As a class of people, the Bourgeoisie are often positioned against radical, progressive groups and are generally thought to operate according to materialistic values and from a conventional or conservative political position.
EARLY MODERN: In history, the Early Modern period follows the late Middle Ages. Although the chronological limits of these periods are open to debate, the timeframe is usually taken to span from the late 15th to the late 18th century.
CARTOUCHE: In architecture a cartouche is an oval or oblong form, often with a slightly convex surface. It is typically edged with ornamental scrollwork and is used to frame another painted or sculptural design.
FLÂNEUR: Coined by Charles Baudelaire in The Painter of Modern Life (Le Peintre de la vie moderne, 1863), the term flâneur comes from the French verb “flâner” (to stroll) and describes a man who strolls through the city at his leisure, looking at whatever and whomever he pleases.
CHIAROSCURO: The contrast of light and shadow in a drawing or painting. CLASSICAL: Relating to or inspired by ancient Greek or Roman literature, art, or culture. The classical period is hard to define, but is often taken to begin with the earliest poetry of Homer, around the 7th-8th century BC, and to end with the rise of Christianity and decline of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. COLONIAL RULE: The power of one country over another, whereby full or partial political control is held over the ‘colonised’ nation, which is usually occupied with settlers and exploited economically.
FESTOON: A chain or garland of flowers, leaves, or ribbons, hung in a curve as a decoration.
FLAY: Peel the skin off (usually a corpse or a carcass, but sometimes a live being as a form of torture). FORM: The shape, appearance or structure of something, be it an object, artwork or piece of writing or music. FORMAL: Concerned with the form, shape, composition and appearance of a painting, as opposed to its content. ‘Formalism’ is a particular way of thinking about art that stresses these physical characteristics. GRANDS BOULEVARDS: Literally ‘large
streets’. A term used to refer to the straight, widened streets instated by Baron Haussmann (under Napoleon III) as part of his plans to renovate and modernise the city of Paris between 1853 and 1870. Such boulevards often gave an excellent view of an important building at the end of them. GROUND: The ground is a layer used to prepare a support for a painting or drawing; its colour and tone can affect the chromatic and tonal values of the paint or wash layers applied over it. Traditionally a ground would have been gesso (a gluebased plaster compound) for a panel piece or an undercoat of paint on a canvas. IMPASTO: A painting technique that involves a thick application of paint (usually oil) and makes no attempt to look smooth. IMPRESSIONISM: A nineteenth-century art movement that originated with a group of Paris-based artists that chose to break away from the traditional style of painting taught at the Fine Art school (École des BeauxArts). The name came from the title of Monet’s 1873 painting Impression, Sunrise, shown at the first group show in 1874, and the artists involved were interested in depicting their impression of the world around them, from landscapes to modern social activity, often in a style that was considered sketchy. INFRARED REFLECTOGRAPHY: Whilst seemingly similar to x-radiography, the use of infrared beams to photograph a painting can reveal slightly different information. Infra-red beams have a longer wavelength than x-rays and penetrate deeper, meaning that the upper, thinner or lighter layers of paint appear transparent whilst deeper or darker layers can be clearly seen. LORGNETTE: A pair of glasses or opera glasses held in front of a person’s eyes by a long handle at one side. MASQUERADE: From the word ‘mask’ - a false show or pretence. To masquerade as something is to pretend to be something other than what is true. MATERIALITY: The state of being a physical thing, composed of matter. MEDIUM: The liquid element of paint in which pigment is embedded: common
media include oil, egg white (the basis of egg tempera), gum arabic and water. MODELLO: From the Italian, the term modello is often used to describe a study or model made in preparation for another work of art or architecture. MODERN: Up to date; relating to the present rather than the past. In art, ‘modernists’ are artists who reject the past in subject matter and/or technique. For example, Manet rejected classical subjects, choosing to paint what was around him, and at the same time painted in a style that was flat and strongly outlined, very different from the carefully finished, smooth, threedimensional appearance advocated by the Fine Art school. MOTIF: A dominant or recurring idea or image. MYTHOLOGICAL: Relating to, based on or appearing in myths, usually of ancient Greek or Roman origin. The term can be used to mean something that is made up or based on a story or the imagination as opposed to documented or based on fact.
PLASTER STUDY: Before a sculpture can be made in a permanent material such as bronze or marble, sculptors often produce a plaster version, which can then either be cast into bronze or copied into stone if the sculptor so wishes. Whilst plaster is a fragile material, it is also easier to work with and cheaper than other materials. PLEIN AIR: Literally, open air. The term is used to refer to the practice of certain artists, notably some of the Impressionists, of painting out of doors in front of the subject they were depicting. POST-IMPRESSIONISM: A term coined by Roger Fry in 1910 to describe the work of Cézanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin. Literally meaning ‘after Impressionism’, Post-Impressionist painting uses some of the ideas invented by the impressionists but moves on significantly in terms of style, being more interested in the qualities of form and colour that in the accurate representation of subjects. PROTECTORATE: A state that is controlled and protected by another (as in a system of colonial rule).
NYMPH: A mythological spirit of nature imagined as a beautiful maiden inhabiting rivers, woods, or other locations.
PUTTI: Figures in a work of art depicted as chubby male children, usually nude and sometimes winged.
PAGAN: A broad term typically pertaining to indigenous and historical religious traditions, and primarily those of cultures known to the classical world.
SATIRE: The use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues: literature is a key medium for satire.
PARIS SALON: The annual (or later biannual) official exhibition connected to the Académie des Beaux Arts (Fine Art school) in Paris. It began in 1725 and its glory years were 1748-1890. In order to exhibit, artists had to have their works accepted by a jury with strong ideals, and participation was a mark of honour. In 1881, the government withdrew official sponsorship from the annual Salon, and a group of artists organised the Société des Artistes Français to take responsibility for the show, at which point it became somewhat more forward-thinking. PATRON: A person who gives financial or other support to a person, organization, cause, or activity. In art historical writing the term ‘patron’ is frequently used to describe the person who commissioned a specific work, or employed an artist on a regular basis. MENTI: A visible trace of earlier painting beneath a layer or layers of paint on a canvas. PHYSIOGNOMY: A person’s facial features or expression, especially when regarded as indicative of character or ethnic origin. PIGMENT: The coloured element that forms the basis of paint, usually ground into a powder. This must be mixed with a medium to make paint. In the past, pigments were usually derived from natural sources, such as the pinky-red cochineal that comes from beetles, although nowadays many artificial pigments are available.
SUPPORT: The support of a drawing or painting is the object or material on which the work has been executed, for example canvas, wood panel or paper. SYMBOL: Something that represents or stands for something else, either in pictorial or textual form. TERM: In classical architecture, a term is a human head and bust that then turns into a pillar-like form. TERMINOLOGY: A body of words (terms) used to talk about a particular subject. TYPE: A person or thing exemplifying the ideal or defining characteristics of something - a generalised understanding based on group characteristics rather than a specific person. X-RADIOGRAPHY: The process of photographing an object using x-rays, which pass through objects opaque to light and are absorbed to different degrees by different materials. The resultant picture, an x-radiograph, is able to show what is underneath the surface of a painting (or indeed under the skin when photographing a body).
Image: Paul Gauguin Noa Noa (detail), 1893-4. Wood engraving 20.6 x 36.5 cm
9: MAKING MYTHS: SUGGESTIONS FOR RESEARCH AND PRACTICAL ACTIVITIES IN THE CLASSROOM
Paintings are often carefully constructed, however true to life they may seem. Sometimes an artist will paint a space that appears very ‘realistic’, but within that space there may well be objects that provide clues as to the era and type of setting, or perhaps that draw attention to certain characteristics of the sitter if the picture is a portrait. We could say that such clues are ‘symbols’, as in Rubens’ Death of Achilles (see the essay ‘Re-inventing Myth’), where the statue of Venus stands for the concept of love. Symbols may be intentionally included by the painter, in a made-up image that is imagined rather than drawn from life. Or they may already be part of the scene, included by the artist because they are part of the ‘real’ setting, but having a symbolic purpose in that scene. Art Historian Erwin Panofsky wrote about this in a 1934 article on the famous painting by Van Eyck, The Arnolfini Portrait (1434, National Gallery). He called symbols that initially appear to be simply part of the scene ‘disguised’, being deceptively ordinary but having a ‘hidden significance’. In other words, things that seem to fit perfectly well into a scene without needing explanation might in fact be there for a very important reason. Art Historians are always looking out for this kind of ‘hidden significance’ in paintings, and if you look carefully enough, you will find that many of the pictures on show at The Courtauld contain ‘disguised’ symbols.
FURTHER READING: Panofsky’s article is available to download at http://www.ithaca.edu/faculty/wells/201/ set3/panofsky1.pdf
Image: Paul Gauguin Nevermore 1897 Oil on canvas 60.5 x 116 cm
CURRICULUM LINKS: KS3+ Art and Design, History, Art History, and other humanities.
RESEARCH ACTIVITY Choose one of the following paintings, on display at The Courtauld, or pick another of your choice: • Peter Paul Rubens, Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1613-15 • Edouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1881-2 • Vincent Van Gogh, Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear, 1889 • Paul Gauguin, Nevermore, 1897 What clues, or ‘disguised symbols’ can you find in these paintings that can help to tell you more about either the setting, the people in that setting or the intentions of the artist? You could print a copy of the picture and then draw arrows to the objects, costumes or other details you find to be important. Some of these paintings are included in the essays in this pack, so could use those to help you. Images can be found on the attached Image CD, or online at www. artandarchitecture.org.uk
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY When artists paint self-portraits, they often ‘stage’ themselves using a setting, costume or props that will make a statement about who they are. Renoir staged the couple in La Loge (1874) to show them to be rich theatre-goers, using the setting of an opulent theatre box, props such as opera glasses and costumes that included lace and pearls. Create your own self-portrait, surrounding yourself with objects and clothing that will create a specific image of yourself. These might be things you naturally have in your room that help to define your personality; or you might want to suggest that you have a different personality from the one you usually display! You could choose to paint or draw the portrait, to have someone photograph you or even to create a short film of yourself or your surroundings. Be creative in thinking about the various ways you can tell a story about yourself using images but no words.
10: TEACHING RESOURCE IMAGE CD
This CD is a compilation of key images from The Courtauld Gallery’s collection related to the theme ‘Making Myths’. The Power Point presentation included in the CD aims to contextualise the images and relate them to one another. All the images (and an accompanying image list) are also included individually in the ‘images’ folder. FURTHER DETAILS: • All images can then be copied or downloaded: • PC users: right-click on the image and select ‘Save Target As…’ Then choose the location to which you want to save the image. • Mac users: control-click on the image and select ‘Save Image As…’ Then choose the location at which you want to save the image. All images © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London unless otherwise stated. THE CONTENTS OF THIS CD ARE FOR EDUCATION PURPOSES ONLY: Please refer to the copyright statement for reproduction rights.
IMAGE CD COPYRIGHT STATEMENT 1. The images contained on the Teaching Resource CD are for educational purposes only. They should never be used for commercial or publishing purposes, be sold or otherwise disposed of, reproduced or exhibited in any form or manner (including any exhibition by means of a television broadcast or on the World Wide Web [Internet]) without the express permission of the copyright holder, The Courtauld Gallery, London or other organisation (as stated in the teachers’ resource pack or accompanying image list). 2. Images should not be manipulated, cropped or altered. 3. The copyright in all works of art used in this resource remains vested with The Courtauld Gallery, London or other organisation (as stated in the teachers’ resource pack or accompanying image list). 4. All rights and permissions granted by The Courtauld Gallery and The Courtauld Institute of Art are non-transferable to third parties unless contractually agreed beforehand. Please caption all our images with ‘© The Courtauld Gallery, London’. 5. Staff and students are welcome to download and print out images where the copyright belongs to The Courtauld Gallery, London, in order to illustrate research and coursework (such as essays and presentations). Digital images may be stored on academic intranet databases (private/internal computer system). 6. Please always contact relevant lenders/ artists for images to be reproduced in the public domain. For a broader use of our images (internal short run publications or brochures for example), you will need to contact The Courtauld Gallery for permission.
To download a pdf of this teachers resource please visit www.courtauld.ac.uk/ publicprogrammes/onlinelearning CURRICULUM LINKS: KS2+ Art and Design, History, Art History, and other humanities.
PLEASE CONTACT US AT: Courtauld Images, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN. [email protected]
, Tel: +44 (0)20 7848 2879.
TEACHERS’ RESOURCE MAKING MYTHS THE COURTAULD GALLERY First Edition Teachers resources are free to full time teachers, lecturers and other education and learning professionals. To be used for education purposes only. Any redistribution or reproduction of any materials herein is strictly prohibited.
Sarah Green Gallery Learning Programmer Courtauld Institute of Art Somerset House, Strand LONDON, WC2R 0RN 0207 848 2705 [email protected]
All details correct at time of going to press.