The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck

The Arnolfini Portrait

ArtistJan van Eyck

TitleThe Arnolfini Portrait
Size; 82.2 cm × 60 cm     Medium; Oil on oak panel                        
Date; 1434                      LocationNational Gallery, London
Subject; "Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife"  Genre; full-length Portrait                                

Line; Flowing detail, delicate skin-tones

Tone; Subtle and harmonious throughout the painting

Texture;  fine, smooth from layered paint

Shape;  curvaceous, geometric, elongated

Contrast; Dramatic, subtle, strong

Colour; Vibrant, rich intensity

Description; 

The Arnolfini Portrait or The Arnolfini Wedding, The Arnolfini Marriage, or full title "Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife" is a 1434 oil painting on oak panel by the Early Netherlandish painter Jan van Eyck. It forms a full-length double portrait, believed to depict the Italian merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife, probably in their Flemish city residence in Bruges residence.

It is considered one of the supreme and intricate paintings in Western art. This must be one of the most famous and intriguing paintings in the world. A richly dressed man and woman stand in a private room. They are probably Giovanni di Nicolao di Arnolfini, an Italian merchant working in Bruges, and his wife, in a lavishly decorated room which showcases their opulent wealth. According to Ernst Gombrich "in its own way it was as new and revolutionary as Donatello's or Masaccio's work in Italy. A simple corner of the real world had suddenly been fixed on to a panel as if by magic ... For the first time in history the artist became the perfect eye-witness in the truest sense of the term". The portrait has been considered by Erwin Panofsky and some other art historians as a unique form of marriage contract, recorded as a painting. Signed and dated by van Eyck in 1434, it is, with the Ghent Altarpiece by the same artist and his brother Hubert, the oldest very famous panel painting to have been implemented in oils rather than in tempera. The painting was bought by the National Gallery in London in 1842.

Although the room is entirely plausible, close examination reveals inconsistencies: there’s not enough space for the chandelier, and no sign of a fireplace. Moreover, every piece has been prudently chosen to proclaim the couple’s wealth and social status without chancing.

The man’s hand is raised, seemingly in greeting. On the back wall, a large convex mirror reflects two men coming into the room, one of whom also raises his arm. Directly above it is Van Eyck’s signature. Could the man in mirror be van Eyck himself, with his servant?

At first glance, The Arnolfini Portrait stands out for the intensity of its colour palette. On the left side of the piece, the man dons a heavy blue-black coat with fur trim, and on the right, his wife wears an emerald overdress with textured sleeves. Each article of clothing and piece of jewellery seems to glow on the canvas.

Van Eyck achieved this depth of colour by using the wet-on-wet technique, in which he added layers of wet paint before the previous layers have dried. This allowed him to expertly blend colours and create a sense of three-dimensionality on the canvas. Additionally, the artist applied layers of translucent glazes to the painting to accentuate not only the realism of the figures but also the luxury of the home.

Jan van Eyck was active artist from 1422 until he died in 1441


The Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci

The Mona Lisa
ArtistLeonardo da Vinci
TitleThe Mona Lisa
Size; 77 cm × 53 cm          Medium; Oil on wood panel                        
Date; 1503–1519               Location; The Louvre, Paris
Subject; Lisa Gherardini     Genre; Renaissance portrait art                                

Line; Flowing landscape, delicate portrait.

Tone are; Subtle and muted.

Texture; fine and smooth.

Shape; Organic, curvaceous,  angular

Contrast is; subtle.

Colour; Subtle, earthy, naturalistic

Description; 

The Mona Lisa is presumably the most well-known piece of painted artwork in the  world. It was painted by Leonardo Da Vinci, the famous Italian artist, between 1504 and 1519, and is a half body commission of a lady named Lisa Gherardini. Her husband, Francesco Del Giocondo requested the work by Da Vinci just after the turn of the century. It is maybe the most studied piece of artwork ever known. The subject’s facial expression has been a source of debate for centuries, as her face remains utterly enigmatic in the portrait. It hangs behind non reflective glass in the famous Louvre in Paris.
 
Respected as the archetypal masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance, it has been described as "the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world". The painting's novel qualities include the subject's enigmatic expression, the monumentality of the composition, the subtle modelling of forms, and the atmospheric illusionism.

The Mona Lisa, also known as La Gioconda, is the wife of Francesco del Giocondo. Lisa was from a respected family through Tuscany and Florence and married to Francesco Del Giocondo who was a very wealthy silk merchant. The work was to celebrate their home’s completion, as well as a celebration of the birth of their second son. The Mona Lisa is, like all of Leonardo's works, neither signed nor dated.

This figure of a woman, dressed in the Florentine fashion of her day and seated in a visionary, mountainous landscape, is a remarkable instance of Leonardo's  technique of soft, heavily shaded modeling. The Mona Lisa's enigmatic expression, which seems both alluring and aloof, has given the portrait universal fame. As usual, Leonardo procrastinated endlessly over the painting, notably the position of the subject's hands, and continued working on it for up to twenty more years.

The Mona Lisa is a visual representation of perfect happiness and the landscapes illustrated are very important. Another slightly surreal feature of the Mona Lisa is her lack of eyebrows and eyelashes. The background landscape behind the sitter was created using aerial perspective, with its smoky blues and no clearly defined vanishing point.

Valued in excess of $1 billion, the Mona Lisa, perhaps the greatest treasure of Renaissance art, is one of many masterpieces of High Renaissance paintings housed in the Louvre.

It is a visual representation of the idea of happiness suggested by the word "gioconda" in Italian. Leonardo made this notion of happiness the central motif of the portrait: it is this notion that makes the work such an ideal. The nature of the landscape also plays a role. The middle distance, on the same level as the sitter's chest, is in warm colours. There are a winding road and a bridge. This space represents the transition between the space of the sitter and the far distance, where the landscape becomes a wild and uninhabited space of rocks and water which stretches to the horizon, which Leonardo has cleverly drawn at the level of the sitter's eyes.

The Fighting Temeraire

Artist's name:  Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775 - 1851

Title of work: The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838

Dimensions:  90.7 x 121.6 cm   Medium: Oil painting on canvas

Date:  1839     Genre:  Marine art Location: National Gallery, London

Contrast: Dramatically strong. Shipping old and new, or sail and steam.

Lines in this artwork: Flowing sky, delicate river reflections,

Colours are: Bold, vibrant and warm earthy. 

Tones in this artwork: Contrasting and very dramatic.

Description:

The full title of the painting is "The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken up, 1838", but it is often referred to as "The Fighting Temeraire".
The focus of the painting is the HMS Temeraire, a 98-gun ship of the Royal Navy remembered for its influential role in the Battle of Trafalgar, having saved the flag ship HMS Victory from the enemy during the battle.
The painting depicts the final journey of the Temeraire, as the ship is towed by a paddle-wheel steam tug from Sheerness in Kent along the river Thames to Rotherhithe in south-east London, where it was to be scrapped. It is unlikely that Turner witnessed the Temeraire being towed – he may not even have been in England at the time – although he could have previously seen the ship when travelling past Sheerness on his way to Margate.
The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy, London in 1839, a year after it was created. Accompanying it was an excerpt from a poem by Thomas Campbell named "Ye Mariners of England":
"The flag which braved the battle and the breeze,
no longer owns her."
The painting was the favourite artwork of Turner, who refused to sell it during his lifetime. He left the painting to the nation following his death.

Read my book about William Turner which features The Fighting Temeraire

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss is an oil painting on canvas with additional gold leaf, silver and platinum enhancements. Created by the Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt. It was painted between 1907 and 1908, during the height of what scholars call his "Golden Period". It was exhibited in 1908 under the title Liebespaar as stated in the catalogue of the exhibition. The painting portrays a couple embracing each other, their bodies intertwined, dressed in sumptuous beautiful robes adorned in a style influenced by the contemporary Art Nouveau style and the organic forms of the preceding Arts and Crafts movement. The painting now hangs in the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere museum in Vienna, and is established as a masterpiece of Vienna Secession style, Klimt's striking canvas brought the emotion of love and symbolism to the whole world.

Date: 1908

Artist: Gustav Klimt

Location: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Austria

Periods: Vienna Secession, Art Nouveau

Media: Gold Leaf on Oil Paint

Dimensions 70.9 in × 70.9 in 180 cm × 180 cm

The Austrian artist Gustav Klimt shared his “Golden period” to the entire world. He was able to create abundant art works that suggested love, passion and beauty. This can be seen through one of his famous artwork The Kiss.

In 1903, Klimt travelled two times to Ravenna, where he saw the mosaics of San Vitale, whose Byzantine influence was obvious. The use of gold harked back to Klimt's own past, to the metal work of his father and younger brother Ernst, who had both died a decade earlier. Klimt's awareness in the Byzantine period also symbolized a move towards greater stability, through static, inorganic forms; signifying a search for refuge after the artist's exploration of the instinctual powers of archaic Greece. The Kiss signifying the apex of his "Golden Period," this concludes parallel thematic studies during his career, such as The Beethoven Frieze, and The Tree of Life. Each work aids the final understanding of the story, which represents the mystical union of spiritual and erotic love and the absorption of the individual with the eternal cosmos.

Claude Monet, Impression Sunrise

Claude Monet, Impression Sunrise was first presented at what would become known as the "Exhibition of the Impressionists" in Paris in April 1874. The painting is attributed to inspiring the name of the Impressionist movement. It illustrates the port of Le Havre in France, Monet home town. It is one of a series of paintings based on Le Havre painted about the same time. The series was exhibited at the "Exhibition of the Impressionists". Some of the other artists who exhibited alongside Monet were Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Paul Cézanne, Berthe Morisot and Edgar Degas.

Date completed: 1872

Artist: Claude Monet

Periods: Impressionism

Location: Musée Marmottan Monet

Subject: Le Havre

Genres: Marine art

Art critic Louis Leroy wrote about the exhibition in the newspaper Le Charivari and used the term "Impressionism" to mock the loose and tranquil nature of the paintings. But, despite the anticipated criticism, the artists adopted the term as the name of the movement, Impressionism. Here is an extract from Leroy's article, which takes the perspective of two sceptical viewers discussing Monet's painting: "Impression I was certain of it. I was just telling myself that, since I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it — and what freedom, what ease of workmanship! A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more finished than this seascape."

Monet depicts a mist, in which a hazy background is set in French harbour of Le Havre. The orange and yellow hues in the sky contrast luminously with the dark tall ships, with not much detail, is proximately visible to the audience. It is a remarkable and candid work that shows the smaller boats in the foreground almost being thrust along by the movement of the water. This has been achieved by unconnected tonal brushstrokes that also show various colours "sparkling" on the sea.

From the 15th April to 15th May 1874 Monet and what became known as the impressionist exhibited their works. Of all those displayed there, this is probably the most famous picture, not so much because of any crucial status within Monet's oeuvre, but rather for the criticism it attracted from the reviewers, which gave rise to the name of the movement. Most visitors were offended and even outraged over such “graffiti”. The focus of this painting is almost entirely on colour and light. The brushwork is loose, the detail is simple and the composition is fairly basic. But the use of colour to depict light is enough to make this painting work.

Most of the painting is made up of dull oranges, blues and greens, which form the backdrop for the dark green/blue boats and the vivid orange sunrise.

Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte painted from 1884 to 1886, is both the best-known and largest painting Georges Seurat ever created on a canvas. It is a prominent example of the pointillist technique, executed on a large canvas. Seurat's composition includes many Parisians at a park on the banks of the River Seine, which was a popular haven for the middle and upper class of Paris in the 19th century. “Bedlam,” “scandal,” and “hilarity” were among the epithets used to describe what is now considered Georges Pierre Seurat’s greatest work, and one of the most remarkable paintings of the nineteenth century when it was first exhibited in Paris.

Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

Date completed: 1886

Artist: Georges Pierre Seurat

Periods: Pointillism · Post-Impressionism

Location: Art Institute of Chicago

Media: Oil painting

The 'Ile de la Grande Jatte' translates as 'Big Bowl Island' and the immense work by Georges Pierre Seurat perfectly depicts its character. The island itself is a mile long and located on the Seine in the Neuilly-sur-Seine section of Paris and represented a high-class escape for the Parisian community.

The essential sense of A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte is far from clear. In its remote location, Seurat was able to capture an interesting glimpse of wealthy Parisian life in the 19th century. However, art critics consider that it should be interpreted in comparison to its sister work Bathers at Asnieres. They believe that ‘La Jatte’ represents the French bourgeoisie, a decaying class that has fallen victim to lust and corruption, and which is now in the shadows. In contrast, the sun is shining on the working class bathers of Asnieres, who symbolise the bright future of France. The painting sparked numerous interpretations and was criticized for being too mathematical. Upon its exhibition, however, it was mostly heralded as a grand work of meticulous proportions.

The painting and the life of its artist were the basis for the 1984 Broadway musical Sunday in the Park with George by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. Subsequently, the painting is sometimes referred to by the misnomer “Sunday in the Park”.

Seurat himself told a sympathetic critic, Gustave Kahn, that his model was the Panathenaic procession in the Parthenon frieze. But Seurat didn’t want to paint ancient Athenians. He wanted ‘to make the moderns file past . in their essential form.’ By ‘moderns’ he meant nothing very complicated. He wanted ordinary people as his subject and ordinary life. He was a bit of a democrat a “Communard,” as one of his friends remarked, referring to the left-wing revolutionaries of 1871; and he was fascinated by the way things distinct and different encountered each other: the city and the country, the farm and the factory, the bourgeois and the proletarian meeting at their edges in a sort of harmony of opposites.

The planning and cast of Grande Jatte were notorious as complex as the work itself and Seurat went through many sketched drafts before he arrived on the final plan for the painted piece. The cast comprised three dogs, eight boats and 48 people as they congregated for a Sunday afternoon in the sunny park.

Salvador Dalí, The Persistence of Memory

The Persistence of Memory is a landscape by artist Salvador Dalí, and one of the most recognizable works of Surrealism. It was completed in 1931 and is considered one of Dali's most famous works. It possibly derives its meaning from Sigmund Freud's work on psychoanalysis because Dali painted it during his psychoanalytical era of painting. First exhibited at the Julien Levy Gallery in 1932, since 1934 the painting has been in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, given by an anonymous donor. It has been exhibited in galleries worldwide and is the symbol of Dali’s work. The painting is widely recognized and frequently referenced in popular culture and on occasion referred to by more descriptive titles, such as "Melting Clocks", "The Soft Watches" or "The Melting Watches".

Date completed: 1931

Artist: Salvador Dalí

Style: Surrealism

Location: Museum of Modern Art, New York

Media: Oil painting, 9 1/2 by 13" inch (24.1 x 33cm)

This iconic and regularly reproduced painting depicts time as a series three melting watches surrounded by swarming ants that suggest decay, an organic progression in which Dali held an unshakeable absorption. The Persistence of Memory contains an upper blue skyline, which gradually diminishes downward from blue to yellow then almost white across the top quarter of the painting. Under the skyline is a body of water. The body of water traces the skyline until it interacts with adjoining mountains to the right. In front of the mountains, there is a single pebble.

On the left close to the water, Dali places a reflective, blue, elevated, rectangular platform with dark brown trimming around the edges. Placed in front of this platform, there is another single pebble. A lifeless tree with a hollow top, is in front of it, missing all of its leaves and branches but one. The single branch holds a silver pocket watch which appears to be melting on the end of the branch showing the numbers three through nine. Only one hand of the watch is shown, pointing at the 6. The tree is located on top of a light brown square object that looks desk-like. The brown object takes over the bottom left corner of the painting and even goes off the canvas. On this object, two more pocket watches are residing. One of them is gold and melted, hanging halfway off the light brown cube. The hands of the gold watch are stopped at five of seven and there is a fly on the face near the 1 o’clock mark. The fly is also casting a very small shadow, which is shaped more like a human. The other pocket watch is bronze and shut. The exterior of the pocket watch is covered with a swarm of black ants. Unlike the other clocks, this is shut, and the only one that is not warped or melted of the four.

Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night

Date completed: 1889
Artist: Vincent van Gogh
Location: Museum of Modern Art · New York City
Media: Oil painting Size: 29 x 36 1/4" (73.7 x 92.1 cm)
Period: Post-Impressionism
Subject: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

The Starry Night is an oil on canvas painting by Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh. Painted in June 1889, it depicts the view from the east-facing window of his asylum room at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, just before sunrise, with the addition of an ideal village. It has been in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City since 1941, acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest. Regarded as among Van Gogh's finest works, The Starry Night is one of the most recognized paintings in the history of Western culture. The painting is dominated by a night sky roiling with chromatic blue swirls, a glowing yellow crescent moon, and stars rendered in impasto as radiating orbs. The cypress trees, which are flame-like, tower over the foreground to the left, their dark branches curling and swaying to the movement of the sky. Amid all this movement, the village Saint-Rémy-de-Provence sits on the lower right of the canvas. Straight controlled lines make up the small cottages and the towering slender steeple of a church, which rises as a beacon against rolling blue hills. The glowing yellow squares of the houses with welcoming lights of peaceful homes, creating a calm corner amid the painting’s turbulence.

Vincent wrote “This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big,” In a letter to his brother Theo, Vincent describes his inspiration for one of his well known paintings, The Starry Night.

Van Gogh lived well in the hospital; he was allowed greater freedoms than any of the other patients. He could go out for the day with an attendant; he was allowed to paint, read, and was even given a studio. While he suffered from the infrequent relapse into paranoia and fits. He began to suffer hallucination and have thoughts of suicide as he plunged into depression. As a result there was a tonal shift in his work. He returned to using the darker colours from the beginning of his career and Starry Night is an example of that shift. Blue dominates the painting, blending hills into the sky. The little village lays at the base in the painting in browns, greys, and blues. Even though each building is clearly outlined in black, the yellow and white of the stars and the moon stand out against the sky, drawing the eyes to the sky.

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Pablo Picasso, Guernica

Guernica is a highly potent painting by Pablo Picasso. It is one of the world's greatest anti-war paintings. The painting is gigantic and illustrates the bombing of the Spanish town of Guernica in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War.

Guernica, oil on canvas by Pablo Picasso, 1937; in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. 3.49 × 7.77 m.

Date painted: 1937
Artist: Pablo Picasso
Subjects: Spanish Civil War · Suffering · War
Location: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
Genre: Narrative Art
Media: Oil Paint

Guernica, a large black-and-white, bold linear oil painting dramatically executed by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso following the German bombing of Guernica, a city in Spain’s Basque region. The complex geometric painting received mixed reviews when it was shown in the Spanish Republic Pavilion at the world’s fair in Paris, but it has became an icon following it's tour around the world in the ensuing years.

Spain was six months into its civil war, a military rebellion undertaken by the Nationalists against the government and the Republicans. Several months later, German aircraft, on the request of the Nationalists bombed the metropolis of Guernica on April 26. The three-hour long blitz nearly annihilated the town and killed or wounded nearly one-third of the population. Picasso completed this substantial painting in just under a month.

Picasso had lived in France since 1904. An expat who was vocal about his opposition to the militant autocracy of his home country, Picasso crafted the tribute to the war-torn Spanish city without having set foot within the nation’s borders since 1934. He would never return to Spain.

Picasso once treated a German Gestapo officer to a sharp responce in reference to the painting’s depiction of the atrocities of fascism and war. When asked by an officer about the painting, “Did you do that?” Picasso is said to have replied, “No, you did.”

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Edgar Degas The Dancing Class

Edgar Degas, The Dancing Class, ca. 1870

Date: ca. 1870
Medium: Oil on wood
Dimensions: 7 3/4 x 10 5/8 in. (19.7 x 27 cm)

Durand-Ruel, a Paris dealer bought this painting from the artist in January 1872. After a few trading with other artists, the painting was purchased by Captain Henry Hill, Brighton 1875 or 1876. On his death his estate sale held by Christie's, London on May 25, 1889, this painting no. 26, titled "A pas de deux," sold for 41 guineas to Wallis. Later the painting sold on December 5, 1916, through the artist Mary Cassatt to Havemeyer. Then by Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 to The Met, New York. were it is on view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 815

This early Edgar Degas ballet class painting is drafted in his studio because he has not yet secured permission to paint at the theatre, as are the later painting of the ballet. The dancers are posed in his studio along with the props. It is interesting to see other dancers in the mirror but not in the painting. Many of the dancers are posed at an angle to show drama and action. The green watering can in the lower left corner is possible to the dampen the dusty floor and is a similar colour as reflected in the mirror of the wall not in the picture to the right, and on other walls throughout the painting. Notice how the main dancer has the brightest white to make her stand out against the eleven figures composed in a triangle in the picture. All the dancers practicing have pink ballet shoes and most are wearing a pink bow around their waist, the principle dancer being the exception.

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The brothel culture of the ballet was so pervasive, as historian Lorraine Coons remarks in her essay “Artiste or coquette? Les petits rats of the Paris Opera ballet,” that even successful dancers who did not resort to prostitution would likely have been suspected to have done so anyway.