Saturday, March 5, 2011

!00 paintings an artist should know, tricolor edition

51) Liberty leading the people by Eugene Delacroix 1798-1863

This painting was inspired by the revolution of 1848, that toppled King Charles X. Liberty leads the people of Paris over the bodies of some obliging dead soldiers. She carries the French tricolor with it's colors symbolizing liberty, equality and fraternity. This painting is, like the Raft of the Medusa, on display in the Louvre.

From an upper middle class background and well educated Delacroix, entered the studio of Pierre Narcisse Guerin where he met Gericault. He posed for one of the figures in the Raft of the Medusa. Gericault was a lifelong influence on Delacroix who became the leading French romantic painter. He was, like Gericault, strongly influenced by Rubens. His strong color and often violent or morbid themes were often shocking to people of the time. He was also very interested in English culture and read Lord Byron's work, doing many paintings of the Greek war that killed Byron. Delacroix also studied Constable and was an exponent of his art on the continent.

Many of Delacroix paintings are extreme and lurid, Above is the death of Sardanapalus. Inspired by a play of Lord Byron's, which told the story of Sardanapalus an Assyrians king, who upon learning of his military defeat had all of his possessions and a contingent of perfectly good sex slaves slaughtered before he committed suicide. This painting is twelve feet high and sixteen feet long, and is also in the Louvre. As unattractive as the subject matter is, the color is rich and luscious. It always reminded me of an oriental rug.

All of those writhing uncooperative sex slaves and murderous footmen lead the eye about the painting in the manner of Rubens. There are chains of influence that run through our art and here is an obvious one. Sardanapalus rests up on his couch as the mayhem swirls around him.

With Delacroix we have crossed a threshold, between old master painting and the modern. He represents a dividing line in this series of artists I am posting. From here forward we will see a different kind and era of art. Also starting with this era there is controversy concerning which artists are important and which are not. The contemporary school of artists and art historians tend to cherry pick their painters from this time forward. They select those which seem to best lead to the "modern" art of today.

I won't be doing that. I am, of course, a traditional painter, and I will present the painting history appropriate to that prejudice. I am going to present what is admittedly an alternative "take" on the history of painting going forward from this point. I will, for instance, present far more academic painting that Jansen's text. But I am going to attempt to trace the lineage backwards not from contemporary modern painting, but from contemporary traditional painting. A blog is not a standardized text and needn't be approved for great masses of students. It is narrowcasting and can be idiosyncratic. There's the caveat on what is to come. Don't hold your breath waiting for the Fauves.


T Arthur Smith said...

Stape, I always enjoy your posts. The next 50 paintings will be interesting to see.

A few posts back, on your Hans Christian Anderson story, I posted a long comment that I think you may have missed. It's a good story, worth reading.

Libby Fife said...

I have enjoyed the last couple of postings so thank you. Also, thanks for the caveat too. I appreciate that you are going to provide a different viewpoint. I am not one much for constraints or strict interpretations in learning (except for math and English) so other viewpoints are GOOD!

Clem Robins said...

i love a lot of Fauvist painting. it gets some people mad when i admit this.

Philip Koch said...

I for one am absolutely shocked to learn Stape isn't an enthusiast of the Fauves (just kidding). The forthcoming alternative look at Delacrox on art should be fun.

Mary Byrom said...

So glad to hear you are going to present a history of the art world of what was really going on back in the studios and on artists canvases while the big, loud, modern art media movie was running full tilt ... to see who was resisting the current popular trends in the middle of the mess is interesting...

Jim G. said...

So, this whirlwind trip through the history of Western art is going to take a different route than usual? Cool! I'm so looking forward to this.

Ernest Friedman-Hill said...

Looking forward to your "alternative" history. This is brilliant stuff, I hope you [i]will[/i] write a book.

Deborah Paris said...

Interesting point to see Delacroix as that dividing line between old masters and the modern. I think I have always thought of Courbet as the transitional figure. But I can see how a case could be made for Delacroix too.

Can't wait for your revisionist art history!

Deborah Paris said...

Oh, and I won't miss the Fauves (although the coolest thing about them is their name).

Stapleton Kearns said...

T. Arthur;
I read that good story. i only do replies once a day.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The alternative take will start out slowly and increase as we near the 20th century.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am not mad. I am sort of bemused, yeah, that's it, bemused.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The Delacroix post is pretty conventional, but I am going to wallow in the French academics a bit and then eschew the Fauves.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The guys I am going to present were the trend in their day. But they have been buried by art historians because their work didn't fit the narrative that all the great art served as a plynth upon which the avant garde could be built.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Gee, I better make it good!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Someday there will be a book, but not tonight.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Oh I guess that is a good dividing point too. But I chose Delacroix because I just didn't feel comfortable referring to him as an old master. He seems to belong in the next era.

Tim said...

Long time reader of your blog. I am enjoying this series of posts, but I think you have a typo. Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People was painted in 1830 not 1848.