Archive for the 'Fine Art' Category

The Marquess of Londonderry’s Portrait of Napoleon III

July 8th, 2015 | posted by Sue Loustalot
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Winterhalter was a favorite of Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie, and completed numerous commissions for the royal couple. (M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans)

M.S. Rau Antiques has spent the past 103 years searching the world for objects that are both incredibly beautiful and one-of-a-kind.  Every now and then, we come across a piece that has that “it factor” of also having a fascinating story to tell…a work of art that’s provenance sounds as if it were taken from an epic legend  rather than the pages of history.  This exceptional Portrait of Napoleon III is just such a historical masterpiece.

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This portrait (upper left) is shown hanging opposite the portrait of Emir Abd-el-Kadr (a part of the same commission) in the Marquess’ ballroom. (Scan from “Londonderry House” by H. Montgomery Hyde, plate IX)

Attributed to renowned royal portraitist Franz Xavier Winterhalter, this portrait of Napoleon III was commissioned and given by the Emperor to the Marquess of Londonderry, Charles Vane, as a gift for his efforts in securing the release of Algerian Emir of Mascara, Abd-el-Kadr. The Emir was unjustly imprisoned by French forces under the rule of King Louis Phillipe after the Algerian ruler led a retaliation against North African invaders. Abd-el-Kadr surrendered in 1847, believing the French would allow him his freedom for defending his homelands. However, the Emir soon found himself behind bars.

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Attributed to famed royal portraitist Franz Xavier Winterhalter, this painting of Napoleon III was commissioned by the Emperor and given to the Marquess of Londonderry, Charles Vane.

The Marquess of Londonderry, who was an ally of the Emir, heard of this mistreatment and asked the King for assistance and was refused. Once Napoleon III took power, and having been a close family friend, the Marquess approached the new Emperor with the plight of Abd-el-Kadr, and together, successfully arranged the Algerian’s immediate release. Abd-el-Kadr would go on to become a great political ally and maintain close ties with Napoleon III and the Marquess.  Napoleon III then commissioned two paintings, one of himself and one of Abd-el-Kadr, to give to the Marquess for his famed Londonderry House. These paintings are well documented and pictured in the house on Plate IX of LondonDerry House by H. Montgomery Hyde.

Napoleon III was a tremendous patron of the arts, and Winterhalter, in particular, was a favorite of both the Emperor and his wife, the Empress Eugénie. The artist completed numerous works for the royal couple.  His most famed is currently housed in the collection of the Chateau de Compiegnes in Oise, France entitled Empress Eugénie, Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting. In terms of stylistic similarities and his masterful treatment of the subjects, the attribution of this portrait to Winterhalter is quite strong.

Beauty, rarity and history. It’s the magic recipe that every collector strives to acquire. To find a work that encompasses all three of these components, especially one of royal provenance, is to find a true treasure.

An Age of Transformation: Women in Nineteenth Century Art

March 26th, 2015 | posted by Bill Rau
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George Morren, Le Renouveau (The Renewal), Circa 1892

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Jéan-Leon Gérôme, Leda and the Swan, Circa 1895

This is the second of a three part series of blog posts preceding our exhibition Innocence, Temptation and Power: The Evolution of Women in Art, on view at M.S. Rau Antiques from March 27 – May 4.

From the mid-nineteenth century, Western Europe and the United States were witness to an extraordinary cultural and social upheaval. Truly a period of transformation, the end of the 19th century can be characterized also as an era of contradiction. As the great generation of French academic painters such as Jean-Léon Gérôme, with their idealized female figures and neoclassical subjects, slowly waned, a new group of radical young artists began to emerge who devoted their oeuvres to a new ideal of modernity. The Impressionists unapologetically painted their impressions of their modern bourgeoisie world, including the women within it, which was undergoing a rapid period of revolution.

While, in many instances, women still found themselves regarded as secondary citizens, it was the onset of industrialization and the corresponding growth of the middle class that began to expand the role of women in society. This provided ample inspiration for late 19th century artists, who themselves contemplated “the woman question” and the changing views of womanhood, femininity and what it meant to be a woman. Henri Toulouse-Lautrec’s La Promeneuse perfectly illustrates the Impressionist treatment of middle-class women during the Belle Epoqué – women who embody a new, avant-garde femininity without being idealized.

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, La Promeneuse, Circa 1892

Indeed, traditional aestheticideals in general began to give way to a more revolutionary, individual artistic voice. In the same way, depictions of women in art slowly began to transform from object to subject in the eyes of the artist and the viewer, and the barrier between the private and public gradually began to descend. Yet, despite these advances, women were still expected to be the upholders of morality and put domestic and home responsibilities central in their lives. George Morren’s Le Renouveau (The Renewal) perfectly illustrates this juxtaposition. Depicting a wet-nurse breastfeeding a child, Morren places his female subject within a traditional “maternal” position, but also, more significantly, within a work scene. The “mother” in the scene is feeding the child not out of “natural” nurturing instinct but for wages, as a member of a flourishing industry. Both mother figure and worker, Morren’s wet-nurse epitomizes the updated, secularized Impressionist woman

Undeniably, as the Impressionists begin to capture their own lived experiences of everyday life, the range and treatment of women as a subject in art similarly expanded, offering viewers a glimpse of the lived experience of the late 19th century woman through the Impressionist canvas. Themes of bourgeois leisure, bohemian spectacle, urban culture, and intimate spaces dominate the genre moving into the 20th century – subjects that will only continue to expand into the modern era.

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.

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.

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