Archive for the 'Fine Art' Category

Innocence, Temptation, and Power: The Evolution of Women in Art

February 16th, 2015 | posted by Sue Loustalot
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Giovanni dal Ponte, Madonna and Child, Circa 1420

A mystifying creature with the ability to nurture, seduce, create and conquer, women have served as an endless source of inspiration for history’s  most iconic artists, representing archetypes of ideal beauty, model behavior, and the ultimate temptation. These canvases invite viewers to peel back their many layers, each telling a different story about the woman it depicts, the artist who painted her, and the times in which they lived. At times empowering and others objectifying, these images offer a visual narrative of the evolution of women’s roles throughout history.  The story begins here with one of the most recognizable images of woman: the Madonna.

Arguably one of the most widely depicted women in the history of art is the Virgin Mary, a woman who has bore numerous roles over the centuries. Traditionally represented as the Madonna figure, as in Giovanni dal Ponte’s early 15th century work, she stands as the pinnacle of motherhood, womanhood and religious devotion. At a time when the Church was the largest patron of the arts, representations of women in art served primarily as allegories for religious virtue, and these images would perpetuate the Christian ideal of womanhood for centuries to come.

 

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Portrait of Mary Townshend by Sir Joshua Reynolds

 

 

 

 

Along with virtue, innocence and beauty remain constants in the representation of ideal womanhood throughout the history of art. Even after the Church rescinded its role as major patron of the arts to the aristocracy, the model of the virtuous woman would remain consistent, particularly in portraits of the aristocracy. Rather than religious subjects, 18th-century portraitists turned their focus to social roles, which, for women, were largely dictated by their fathers and husbands. The elegance of a woman, both in art and in life, served as an affirmation of the status of her family, and an opulent, well-executed portrait stood as a demonstration of wealth and status.

This notion is clearly seen in the elegant portrait of Mary Townshend by the legendary Sir Joshua Reynolds. Rendered with an air of quiet dignity, the work provides a glimpse into 18th-century London society through the figure of Mary. While the viewer garners no real sense of her character through the work, the family’s wealth is very much on display in her opulent clothing, and the pearls that she clutches are a testament to her virginal innocence. Considered little more than a possession herself, the figure of Mary, in her virtue and beauty, serves as a visual symbol of the status of the Townsends.

Portraits of the upper class such as this expose a high culture that was defined by the Church and the male aristocracy, who largely ascribed qualities such as truth, innocence, morality and virtue to the ideal of womanhood. It would take another century before women were considered in a new light by artists and society alike, with the roots of women’s suffrage towards the end of the 18th-century signifying tremendous changes ahead.

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Jan van Kessel the Elder, Allegory of Europe, Circa 1670

To learn more about the story of women in art, please join us for Innocence, Temptation and Power: The Evolution of Women in Art, on view at M.S. Rau Antiques from March 27 – May 4.

A Lasting Impression: Rembrandt’s Incredible Etchings

January 16th, 2015 | posted by Bill Rau
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“St. Jerome in a Dark Chamber” displays the stunning artistry and emotional depth for which Rembrandt is renowned.

 

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The quality and paper of this etching entitled “Joseph Telling His Dreams” indicates it is a lifetime print of a subject he explored in both his etching and painting.

Rembrandt is one of the greatest artists in history, with his name alone being synonymous with fine art itself.  His portraits and genre scenes are iconic, enriched with a level of realism that gives them an exquisite ethereal quality unmatched by any other artist before or since. Yet, few realize that Rembrandt was also a master etcher, and is responsible for not only creating some of the most amazing etchings in history, but he also evolved and gave new life to the entire process of printmaking.

Rembrandt’s painting and etching careers run parallel, and in many cases, it was his etchings that propelled his tremendous popularity during what scholars call the Golden Age of Dutch Painting.  Between 1626 and 1660, the artist created some 300 etchings, with only about 79 known in existence today. Since he owned and operated his own printing press, he was able to experiment with etching techniques and continuously push the envelope often treating them the same way he would his canvases. In fact, his findings are so important, that many of his techniques continue to impact printmakers to this day.

M.S. Rau Antiques acquired one such print, titled St. Jerome in a Dark Chamber, in which Rembrandt extends his mastery of chiaroscuro (the sharp contrast between light and shadow) to impart the emotional and spiritual element into this resplendent religious scene. It is believed that he experimented creating such dramatic effects by leaving deposits of ink on the etching, then wiping away excess in spots he wanted to illuminate. Every etched line is visible, yet the appearance that the forlorn saint is the focus of the sunlight is simply stunning. Rembrandt typically kept his printmaking and painting separate, seldom creating an etching of one of his completed paintings. However, this etching in the Rau fine art collection, Joseph Telling His Dreams, is one of the handful of rarities in which he created both the oil on canvas and the etching.

The art of etching allowed Rembrandt to explore techniques simply impossible to do with paint. And, because he had his own press, he had the freedom to rework and experiment with his subjects, giving his prints a level of quality that has inspired artists for over 300 years.

To see more from M.S. Rau Antiques’ selection of Rembrandt etchings, click here.

Woven Masterpieces: Aubusson Tapestries

November 3rd, 2014 | posted by Bill Rau
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This incredible Aubusson tapestry is modeled on the work Les constructeurs sur fond bleu by Fernand Léger

At the ateliers of Aubusson, tapestries are woven today in the same way they were hundreds of years ago. An art both ancient and modern, the tradition of Aubusson woven masterpieces experienced a modern revival in the early twentieth century. Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall – these are just some of the master artists of the 1930s who contributed their works to the ancient art.

From the 13th century, tapestry making was a flourishing art in France. At a time when the upper echelon of society resided in large, expansive estates, tapestries were used to create portable partitions, keep rooms free from drafts, and decorate vast, bare walls. By the Renaissance, tapestries based on painted masterpieces came into vogue, and works by the Old Renaissance Masters were translated into colossal woven masterworks boasting incredibly complicated designs, some incorporating upwards of 600 different colors. The practice continued through the Baroque period, when works by in-demand artists such as François Boucher were commonly re-worked into woven form, often under the guidance of the artists themselves. Yet, by the end of the 18th century, the art of the tapestry experienced a brief decline in popularity, and these grand works and master ateliers would spend the next century fighting for survival in the industry.

The 20th century brought with it a revived interest in the Old Renaissance Masters, and with it an increase in popularity for tapestries from this age. Collectors and art lovers alike snatched up these woven recreations of much loved Renaissance masterworks, which became incredibly valuable on the market. This sudden uptick in interest in Renaissance Aubusson tapestries led some to question why works by the modern masters were not also being translated into the ancient art. It took just one incredibly important and impassioned woman reacting to this question to begin a new history for the Aubusson ateliers.

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This remarkable French tapestry celebrates the artistry of the famed François Boucher

With the aim of reviving the declining Aubusson ateliers, art collector and patron Madame Marie Cuttoli began commissioning designs from masters of the modern movement. Her greatest contribution was her ability to break the Aubusson houses of their traditional designs, heralding in a new era during which contemporary artists were engaged with designers for the first time in two centuries. Artists such as Picasso, Miro, Braque, Matisse and Léger worked with Aubusson cartoonists and designers to translate their most important works into the medium, creating monumental woven wonders of modern design. In the early 1930s, these tapestries were exhibited side by side with the paintings that had inspired them, and often times the tapestries yielded higher prices than the originals.

One of the most enthusiastic of these collaborative artists was French painter Fernand Léger. Léger’s epic cubist works, such as his monumental Les Constructeurs series, lend themselves well to the art of the tapestry. The expressions of color, the mechanical and geometric elements of his compositions, and the carefully wrought characters of man as engineer all shine through these meticulously woven masterpieces. Delighted by the collaborative process of tapestry design, Léger continued to lend his distinctive geometric designs to Aubusson weavers until his death in 1955.

John Atkinson Grimshaw: Truth to Nature

September 18th, 2014 | posted by Bill Rau

The consummate, self-taught Victorian artist John Atkinson Grimshaw possessed an unquestionable gift for painting. The influence of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement is apparent throughout Grimshaw’s oeuvre, and he worked these ideals to create awe-inspiring land and cityscapes unlike any artist before or since.

Disappointed by the “mechanized” ideologies of academic art, the Pre-Raphaelites utilized exacting details, luminous palettes and sincerity to subject that ushered in a new era of expression in the 19th-century British art world. Grimshaw took their teachings and used them to craft amazing nocturnal scenes and landscapes, which bear striking photographic qualities unmatched by any other artist. Tranquil urban lanes with leafless trees and ports with the still figures of docked ships silhouetted against the moonlit sky have become synonymous with this incomparable talent.

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The ethereal light of the moon cast a glow upon this nocturnal dock scene painted by John Atkinson Grimshaw in 1883 entitled “Whitby.”

 

Whitby, executed in 1883, displays Grimshaw’s mastery of atmosphere and light, with a stark contrast between the moonlight and the gas lantern light of the shops lining the dock. A gentle fog can be seen over the water, while the clouds attract the moonlight like a magnet, glowing with an ethereal realism. His moonlit scenes were so majestic that James Abbott McNeill Whistler, a famed nocturne artist in his own right, stated “I considered myself the inventor of nocturnes until I saw Grimmy’s moonlight pictures.” The soft glow of the setting sun illuminates his home, Knostrop Hall, in All in the Golden Twilight. The artist captures the ephemeral moment of the sun setting, presumably in fall, utilizing a palette of yellows, greens, browns and reds to convey the fleeting essence of time itself.

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This serene landscape, entitled “All in the Golden Twilight,” captures the artist’s home at dusk, and exemplifies John Atkinson Grimshaw’s tremendous eye for detail and composition.

 

Since Grimshaw worked primarily for patrons, his works have historically been held in private collections. It is only recently that his paintings have earned the acclaim and appreciation of the broader art world. Considered among the most prestigious and important Victorian painters, Grimshaw’s works are undeniably distinctive and are some of the most highly sought-after 19th-century British artworks on the market.

A Commanding Presence: The Art of William Bouguereau

April 7th, 2014 | posted by Bill Rau
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This portrait beautifully demonstrates the master’s ability to capture nuances of personality and mood.

“For me a work of art must be an elevated interpretation of nature. The search for the ideal has been the purpose of my life. In landscape or seascape, I love above all the poetic motif.”  –William Bouguereau

The name William Bouguereau is synonymous with some of the greatest paintings in turn-of-the-century fine art. Known for his technical prowess and loyalty to the academic style of painting, it is hard to imagine that such an artistic giant was relegated to obscurity for over 70 years.

With a character of sincerity and modesty, Bouguereau became one of the most decorated artists of the 19th century. A student of the great Neoclassical artist Ingres, his painting technique boasts an unsurpassed degree of finish and luminous coloration, hallmarks of the French Academy. His handling of women and children is perhaps his greatest achievement. In this work, entitled Jeannie, Bouguereau imparts an expression of untampered purity upon his subject’s face, effectively reminding the viewer of the fleeting innocence of childhood.

Bouguereau enjoyed tremendous success during his lifetime. He received medals from the Salons and Universal Expositions, successive ranks, including Grand Master, of the prestigious Legion of Honor, and was the leading member of the Institute of France and President of the Society of Painters, Sculptors and Engrav

ers. His art never deviated from the basic principles of Academic training, and he so dominated the Salons of the Third Republic that the official Salon became known unofficially as Le Salon Bouguereau.

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This portrait of a beautiful young lady selling gilliflowers is a rare work painted during the few weeks the artist spent in Menton near the Italian border.

Bouguereau’s works were eagerly bought by fine art connoisseurs world-wide who considered him the most important French artist of the 19th century. By 1920, Bouguereau fell into obloquy, with his staunch rivals being the Modernist avant-garde, including the Impressionists. To this modern regime, the artist was a competent technician

needlessly holding on to tradition. Artists such as Monet and Degas coined the pejorative “Bougeuereaute,” a term used to describe any artistic style bound by idealism and academic restriction.

As a result, Bouguereau fell out of appreciation for a majority of the 20th century, and became a name only the most studied 19th-century art scholars might recognize. However, beginning in the early 1980s, museums began to “re-discover” this long underappreciated and forgotten artist. Today, Bouguereau’s paintings have once again come into their own, and his works are held by over an estimated 100 museums throughout the world, including the Louvre, and the Museé d’Orsay in Paris, the National Gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Rising triumphantly to reclaim his rightful place in the pages of art history, Bouguereau’s paintings are some of the most coveted in the world. And, on the rare occasion they come onto the market, the opportunity to acquire one of his breathtaking canvases isspectacular indeed.

View more masterpieces and learn more about William Bouguereau.

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