Archive for the 'Stories' Category

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.

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.

 John Atkinson Grimshaw

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.

 John Atkinson Grimshaw

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.

Travel with Style

October 25th, 2013 | posted by James Gillis

In a time when the Grand Tour was still considered a rite of passage, long voyages on elegant steam ships and in well-appointed railcars were adventures reserved for the wealthy.  These travelers adapted to being away from their usual creature

The silver gilt tops bear the hallmark of London silversmith William Neal, 1863 and the locking mechanism is signed "Bramah, London."

The silver gilt tops bear the hallmark of London silversmith William Neal, 1863 and the locking mechanism is signed “Bramah, London.”

comforts by traveling with the very best luggage and accessories.  In fact, train services such as the Orient Express are still synonymous with luxury- even in today’s technology and efficiency motivated culture. While the Orient Express may have faded from timetables in 2009, it is not too late to relive the heyday of sophisticated travel with some of the items we have right here in the gallery.

This necessaire de voyage would have been the perfect companion on trips through foreign lands.  As you rubbed shoulders with other travelers from the upper echelon, this case’s refined rich coromandel veneer would have served the very important function of impressing new acquaintances.  The cut crystal boxes and jars held within the case are beautifully adorned with engraved silver gilt and mother-of-pearl, showing that your taste goes deeper than mere veneer.

You can’t be too cavalier with your belongings while crisscrossing the globe, however.  No matter how posh your new friends are, or how familiar the exotic locales you frequent begin to feel, anything is still possible.  That is why this necessaire is not all show; it is fitted with locks by Bramah, a company still known for its superior craftsmanship.  And for extra peace of mind, keep your valuables in one of the two secret

Marked "Baucheron A Paris"

Marked “Baucheron A Paris”

compartments that extend from the case, each activated by pressing discreet buttons located within the interior.

If sturdy locks were not quite enough for your adventures abroad, you might have been comforted knowing that this pair of pistols lay within your luggage.

At only 8 ¾ inches long, these weapons were made for travelling.  Sometimes referred to as “carriage” or “coach” pistols, this pair’s fitted case is the perfect size for packing inconspicuously among your belongings.  Additionally, the weapons are cleverly designed so you won’t worry about having forgotten to pack a crucial piece; the ramrods are connected to the bottom with a hinge and the intricately carved walnut stocks each terminate with a hinged end cap that provides storage for extra bullets.

Fantastic conversation pieces, these items are in great condition and ready for your collection. Display them in your home or office and imagine your adventures in another life.

Click on the image on the right to learn more about our collection of travel items.  If you are interested in learning more about our pistols, which are not available on our website, please call us toll-free at (888) 814-7006.

A Masterpiece for the Ages: Laocoön and His Sons

October 18th, 2013 | posted by Bill Rau

Artistic influence comes in many forms through numerous disciplines. One work of art, in particular, has influenced some of the greatest artistic minds in history. Inspired by the writings of Homer and Virgil, admired by Pope Julius II,

This awe-inspiring marble sculpture of Laocoön and His Sons is one of the few pre-1780 renditions not currently in a museum.

This awe-inspiring marble sculpture of Laocoön and His Sons is one of the few pre-1780 renditions not currently in a museum.

Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Rubens, Francis I, and even Napoleon,Laocoön and His Sons is truly a timeless masterpiece.

This incredible 18th-century Laocoön and His Sons is one of only a handful of pre-1780 interpretations ever created, and dates between 1650-1780. With the other known early examples now part of the Uffizi Museum of Florence and the Grand Palace in Rhodes, this is arguably the most important sculpture currently on the market. Crafted of exquisite Carrara marble, this incredible sculpture embodies the dynamic, masterful execution of the original housed in the Vatican.

Standing over five feet high, this imposing work of art captures the powerful emotion of Laocoön, a tale intertwined with the legend of the Trojan Horse. After an unsuccessful 10-year siege of Troy, the Greeks left a supposed “peace offering” outside the city’s gates–a giant wooden horse that was unknowingly filled with Greek soldiers. The Greek soldier Sinon was sent with the horse to explain the unusual gift, and it was Laocoön who was unconvinced of the story, and began to warn the people of Troy with the famed statement “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” It was then that the goddess Minerva sent sea serpents to kill the priest and his sons to assist her beloved Greeks siege of the city.

Heralded by Michelangelo as the “greatest piece of art in the world,” the original Laocoön and His Sons was created circa 35 B.C. on the island of Rhodes and was later discovered in 1506, immediately becoming one of the most famed works of art in the Western world. Pope Julius II purchased the statue and brought it to the Vatican. When the statue was excavated, the figure of Laocoön was missing its right arm, so the Pope summoned all of the famed sculptors of the day, including Michelangelo and Raphael, to submit ideas on how the arm should look. While most believed it should be outstretched, Michelangelo believed it would have been bent. Michelangelo was out-voted, and an extended arm was created to repair the missing appendage. By miraculous circumstances, the original arm, a bent arm, was unearthed. Michelangelo was proven correct over four centuries later!

From his work The Dying Slave and his amazing marble of Moses, to the figures on the famed Sistine Chapel ceiling, all were directly influenced by Laocoön. Michelangelo was far from the only artist to be inspired by this majestic work. Titian, Caravaggio and Rubens all found inspiration in this masterpiece. The sculpture also influenced literary authors from Dante to Dickens, the latter of which includes, in his famed A Christmas Carol, a description of Scrooge “making a perfect Laocoön of himself with his stockings,” rushing to get dressed on Christmas morning.

To view M.S. Rau Antiques’ entire selection of important sculpture, click here.

Why Lacquer?

October 11th, 2013 | posted by Justine D'Ooge

Used to decorate various objects, lacquer has come to be admired for it smooth, polished finish.  The beauty of this versatile material has been heightened with flecks of precious metals, materials such as tortoiseshell and ivory, and has even been set with hardstone and shells.  What many may not realize, however, is lacquer’s utilitarian roots.

Japanese Lacquer Tray.  Circa 1900.

Japanese Lacquer Tray. Circa 1900.

As early as 4,000-3,000 BCE sap was being harvested from the lacquer tree, rhus verniciflua, and used to protect everyday objects.  Finished lacquer is not only impressive in its appearance, but also in its durability; once the complicated task of polishing and burnishing lacquer is completed, it results in an impermeable surface, one that is resistant to moisture, alkali, and even acids.  Less elaborate versions of this tray, for instance, could be used daily without fear of it being ruined.

Turning extracted sap into the fine product you see on pieces such as these is serious business.  In Japan, by 701 AD, laws were made determining how many lacquer trees a household was allowed to grow.  Don’t mistake this to mean that the lacquer industry was easy money! There are over twenty steps required between the preparation of an item’s wood base and the finished work, and this is after the sap is tapped, stirred in the sun for evaporation purposes, and kneaded extensively.  Artisans that worked with lacquer had to be adept with a variety of tools as a myriad of stones, charred woods, and cloths were used throughout the polishing process.

Meiji-Period Lacquer Document Box

Meiji-Period Lacquer Document Box

 Just as porcelain became known as “china” in the West, lacquer became known as “Japan”.  This nomenclature took hold when the appetite for these objects grew following the arrival of the first Portuguese sailors there in the late 16th century.  The time-consuming nature of the process, however, meant that lacquer pieces were never exported at the same rate as porcelain, making these items highly collectable.  No other objects hold quite the same fascination, and luster, as lacquerware- they are true marvels of nature, as refined by man.  Click here to see more lacquer objects.

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