Tuesday, February 24, 2009
I couldn't find images of the other Times of Day paintings on the Web but there are several businesses offering prints of Gericault's paintings for sale.
Just do a Google Search!
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
In keeping with the French desire for classification, in 1708 another theorist divided landscape into two categories:Paysage heroique, high-minded and moral; and paysage champetre, bucolic and more naturalistic. The concept of the sublime was introduced to elevate the status of landscape painting's ability to communicate ideas.
What is sublime? According to the critic Diderot: "all that stuns the soul, all that imprints a feeling of terror, leads to the sublime" (in that case many a horror movie could be considered sublime, and about realistic as many of these paintings!) The author of this bulletin further clarifies with "To stun the soul, to stir the mind . . ." (well that has made it clear as mud!)
The increasing interest in artists going outside, sketching and using these sketches as models for paintings instead of examples of previous artists had some some pundits outraged. After all Poussin, Claude and others had done it right and idealized nature, one couldn't do better. By the turn of the nineteenth century many submissions to the official Salons were realistic landscapes instead of idealized, "composed" landscapes. Fearing moral decline because of this, the government created the Prix de Rome for landscape painters to study in Italy for inspiration of the ideal.
The point is that Gericault went against the current trend of looking around him at nature and went to the old practice of using themes and motifs from other artists to create his Times of Day series.
Much of this article is like a treasure hunt in which experts go looking for precedents for the buildings, figures and themes used in Gericault's Times of Day in other artworks, particulary in prints which are easily accessable to the artist and some are known to have been in his possession.
Friday, February 13, 2009
The author (Thompson) has given a brief synopsis of the rankings:
"Since the formation of the French Academy in the mid-seventeenth century, there had been a codification of the relative importance of different types of paintings. Andre Felibien, friend and biographer of the premier French painter Nicolas Poussin, had in 1666 ranked them thus:
1. History, 2. Human Portraits, 3. Animals, 4. Landscapes, 5. Still Lifes. . . . Although our modern impulse is to rate works on their quality and intensity of execution, irrespective of their dimensions, subject matter, or type, the eighteenth century thought quite differently, and there were good commonsense reasons for so thinking. Such grand-size productions were
universally regarded as more important, partly because they were seen as morally elevating but also because they were known by the practitioners to be more difficult to bring off successfully. In the first place, it is much harder for a painter to maintain correct proportions and compositional coherence on a large scale. Furthermore, a history picture often must demonstrate mastery of the other painting types, such as background landscape or foreground still life, in addition to establish the credible dramatic animation and interrelationship
of figures, one of the most difficult tasks of the painter's art and one that most clearly demonstrates the prized power of imagination."
Thursday, February 12, 2009
In 1989, The MMA acquired Gericault's Evening: Landscape with an Acquaduct. This prompted the writing of this article about Gericault's landscape painting in general and the series The Times of the Day in particular. Gericault (1791-1824) is better known for his paintings of horses, soldiers and other human figures. His signature work is The Raft of the Medusa, (1818, 16.3 feet by 23.66 feet). FYI: The Medusa was a French frigate that foundered off of the coast of West Africa. 250 of the officers and crew went into the boats and the 150 civilian passengers were put on a makeshift raft. The raft was supposed to have been towed by the boats but the captain abandoned them. After 18 days, another ship rescued only ten survivors. Two of these survivors were educated men and published an expose accusing the captain of the Medusa of murder, leaving the civilians to death by thirst, starvation, madness and cannibalism. This was sensational and prompted Gericault a reason for a painting to show strong emotions and displays of male anatomy.
Many contemporary critics found it ugly and corrupting, not beautiful and uplifting.
Now back to the Times of the Day series, There are three known paintings by Gericault in this series; Morning: Landscape with Fishermen (Munich, Neue Pinakothek), Noon: Landscape with a Roman Tomb (Paris, Musee du Petit Palais) and Evening: Landscape with an Acquaduct (NYC, Metropolitan Museum of Art). For this series to be complete there should have been a fourth painting for Night, but the only evidence is a statement by a very old art dealer that he sold Night to a collector in Rio de Janiero in 1949, but had no photographs, only a crude drawing as evidence. Research has shown that three canvases matching the dimensions of the known paintings were delivered to the artist's studio in 1818. He may have planned a fourth but got distracted by another project, The Raft of the Medusa. (In my opinion a good thing, The Raft of the Medusa worked to Gericault's strengths and interests, as a landscape painter he is rather mediocre.)
The Times of the Day is not an original idea with Gericault, it was a common theme for paintings and prints during the previous century. Gericault's paintings were the last known series done on this theme.
One thing must be made clear: these paintings were not portraits of any particular location, mostly generalized Italian views. The artist spent two years in Italy, but did very little landscape sketching, most of his time was spent studying works in collections. Indeed, much of the official art of the time disdained working from nature (except for figure drawing) and insisted on using past painters like Poussin, Claude, and others as models. The French were very fond of hierarchy in art by putting history painting at the top with portraits, landscapes and still life at the bottom. Even though to our eyes, The Raft of the Medusa would be considered a history painting, it featured contemporary events in contemporary dress. The pundits of the time insisted that in order to be serious art, contemporary historical figures should be dressed in classical costume and related to ancient history to be legitimate. This has led to curious pieces like George Washington dressed in a toga!