“The colour that seems the softest can often speak the loudest" — Robin Cembalest
Pink, thought to be named after the frilled edge of a small flower of the Dianthus genus, emerged in the 17th century as a gender-neutral fashion choice for Europe’s elite, only becoming associated with femininity when men transitioned into business suits in the 19th century. The colour began to take on a more active role when it became the symbol of various campaigns in the twentieth century. One of these was post-World War II propaganda to lure women back into the kitchen. A more benevolent campaign, however, was that in the fight against breast cancer, with the symbol of the crossed pink ribbon.
From October 2013 to May 2014, the Boston Museum of Fine Art held a phenomenal show, “Think Pink”, charting the history and associations of the colour pink. It juxtaposed clothing (both men’s and women’s), accessories, graphic illustrations, jewellery, and paintings to shed light on changes in style; the evolution of pink for girls, blue for boys, and other colour associations were analysed. Not only all of this, but the exhibition also touched on the topic of breast cancer, and its pink link, including a selection of dresses and accessories from the collection of the late Evelyn Lauder, who was instrumental in creating an awareness of breast cancer by choosing the pink visual reference.
The representation of women in sixteenth-century Italian art with specific focus on Titian's Venus and Adonis
Mythology was frequently used as subject matter during the Renaissance and early Mannerist period due to the ongoing reverence of the Romans and Greeks, and also as a way of escaping from a relatively restrictive ‘devozione’ (religious matter). As the Roman goddess of love and beauty, equivalent to the Greek Aphrodite, the figure of Venus was predominantly depicted in the mask of contemporary good looks, therefore making a commission of a painting depicting her well worth it. This popularity with male patrons made Venus a common subject of artwork, and imbued these works with the outlook of the ‘male gaze’ — a term coined by feminist film critic Laura Mulvey in 1975 to indicate the complex way in which women are presented in the arts as objects of male pleasure, as can be seen most clearly in Edouard Manet’s figure of Olympia. Generally, a figure’s portrayal in the nude allows more experimentalism with the human form by artists, with Titian himself focusing on ‘variare’ (variety) in form. Portrayal in the nude, and the concept of the ‘male gaze’ also hold associations with eroticism. Titian’s Venus and Adonis, or ‘Philip II’s painting’ as it is often called to distinguish it from other similar works, shows a focus on the depiction of form, associations with eroticism, and other, more nuanced connotations. It was commissioned by Philip II of Spain, son of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, as part of a series of poesie (mythological paintings) for an unspecified location in Augsburg. With this commission, Titian assimilated the ideas of poets (hence poesie), particularly Ovid whose Metamorphoses gives the basis for the story, and had the freedom to do, to a certain extent, as he pleased. Now located in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, this work displays political, social, and artistic motives, all of which contribute to its interpretation as an image of Sixteenth-Century Italian art.
The Laughing Cavalier is the example we shall choose to end the International Laughter Day that today has commemorated. The portrait, by Dutch Golden Age painter Frans Hals, depicts the male sitter in a 3/4 stance, face turned as he looks out at the viewer. In the upper right of the painting, upon the rather mundane green background, an inscription can be found. It reads "aetatis suae 26, anno 1624” in Latin, translated to indicate that the painting was completed when the sitter was 26, in the year 1624, somewhat close to the beginning of the famous period in which the Dutch were acclaimed for their mastery of the arts, science and the military.
This work owes its name to the Victorian public and press that it first encountered upon making the journey from Paris to London in the early 1870s. The history of it only traces back as far as 1770, when it was sold in the Hague, presumably having been sold a number of times beforehand to Dutch buyers. Eventually it was acquired by Franco-Swiss banker and collector the Comte de Pourtalès-Gorgier in 1822, and his abundant collection was auctioned after his death in Paris in 1865. The man who obtained the work from auction was Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford, who outbid Baron James de Rothschild at more than six times the sales estimate. This was an incredible show of the value of the work, which Hertford hung in his Paris home and called portrait d’un homme. From there, it was moved to England for a large, long-loan exhibition of old master paintings in Bethnal Green. The exhibition has an interesting history to itself, being one of the first of its kind not placed in the West End, with the purpose of attracting the working class to view the works and educated themselves. This work, named A Cavalier at the exhibition, was a hit at the exhibition and is responsible for much of the esteemed reputation that Hals held in England. The painting was cleaned in 1884, and some commented on his expression having changed, most notably a critic in the Athaeneum stating “The man smiles rather than laughs”. Despite this, the name was altered to Laughing Cavalier. The son of Hertford was Sir Richard Wallace, hence why the artwork can now be found in his former house, The Wallace Collection, that was donated to the nation by his widow after his death.
The work has faced much controversy in establishing who the sitter may be. Recorded titles that arose in the Netherlands, England and France in 19th Century suggest he was a military man, or at least an officer in a part time militia. This acknowledgement could simply be due to the prominence of portraits of both individual sitters, and large groups, as in Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. Art historian Pieter Biesboer suggests that the man might be a subject that Hals had utilised beforehand - Dutch cloth merchant Tieleman Roosterman. The detail that Hals has depicted in the costume appears intricate and colourful, imbuing the costume with life and extravagance. We see many significant emblems in the embroidery that John Ingamells sums up cohesively in his Dutch and Flemish Catalogue of the Wallace Collection: “bees, arrows, flaming cornucopiae, lover’s knots and tongues of fire” signify “the pleasures and pains of love”. Obelisks and pyramids can be seen, indicating strength, and Mercury’s cap and staff (caduceus) indicating fortune. All of these virtues are likely to be qualities that a wealthy man buying a portrait might like to display. Upon closer look, the viewer can see Hals is deceiving the eye with the detail, as the brushstrokes are large but swift, mirroring that of emotion — deep-felt but rather fleeting. His true to life depiction is enhanced with small editions that Hals has made such as the soft cream tint on his forehead, giving it a lively sheen and the circular pink brushstrokes on his cheeks give them a blushed tint.
Why has this particular work, that is clearly not laughing in the conventional way, become linked to the idea of laughter in such an overt manner? To begin with, we can attribute it to the mere fact that the sitter is depicted with a smile. Commissioned portraits like this one rarely show the subject with a smile. It was not until the late 18th century that this became common practice, therefore Hals was the exception to a rule. This indicates how conscious a decision of his it was, making the facial expression an important focal point for discussion. The informality of the poses of his characters gives an impression of movement and spontaneity to his work. Another element that is rather inviting about Laughing Cavalier is the liveliness already spoken of. The wrinkles beneath his eyes bulge with vitality, and the typical smiling eyes, or ‘smise’ fad of modern day can truly be experienced. A white twinkle in his right pupil distinguishes his jovial expression from a skeptical squint.
A twinkle in one’s eye, and a smile, albeit it small, is all that’s necessary to participate in World Laughter Day. So make completely certain, even if it’s just when falling asleep, to allow yourself that much, especially today.
First year Art Historian at Cambridge University and intern at Private Art Education.
“After Corot, Claude Monet is the artist who has made the most inventive and original contribution to landscape painting… Among our landscape painters [he] was the first to have the boldness to go as far as the Japanese in the use of colour… Let us now watch Claude Monet as he takes up his brush. To do so we must accompany him into the fields and face being burnt by the blazing sun, or we must stand with him knee-deep in snow — for despite the season he leaves his studio and works outdoors, under the open sky.” Théodore Duret, 1880
Of all Monet's works it is perhaps his effets de neige that most immediately and specifically evoke his known admiration for Japanese prints. It may be simply that certain aspects of Japanese Ukiyo-e woodcuts — their striking compositions, simplified contours, vivid colour, and the immediacy with which they suggest nature in every aspect of every season of the year — find no counterpart in Western painting before Monet. It may also be that the world described by the Japanese artists is the world of everyday life, not symbolic, anecdotal, or burdened with social or political commentary but simply observed. In these observations, no season, no time of day, no aspect of human experience or the natural world went unnoticed.
Throughout his career as a landscape painter, Camille Pissarro produced just over one hundred canvases during winter in which snow, or a variant of snow such as hoarfrost, white frost, or ice, plays a major role in the composition. Some of these works depict quiet village roads with townspeople on their way to or from their homes while others concentrate on the heavy, peaceful quality of a large snowfall on an isolated farm. These views were painted in a variety of locations, including Louveciennes, London, Pontoise, Montfoucault, Osny, Eragny, and Paris, and include suburban, rural, and city images of life in the late nineteenth century. Pissarro began this long series of works during the winter of 1868-69, and he continued to address the many complex issues of representing snow on canvas with oil paint for over thirty years, until the end of his life in 1903. Despite the wide variety of content and composition, these winterscapes have in common Pissarro's enduring love of nature, his great fascination with light and shadow, and his interest in humanity; in virtually every painting he includes a reference to human-kind — a house, a fence, or a small figure.
The Impressionists are, of course, best known for their landscapes of late spring and summer, full of lush foliage and fragrant flowers. However, this group of modern painters also explored these landscape on less pleasant days of the year, when weather conditions were cold and uncomfortable. Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Pissarro were the three Impressionist artists who produced the most snowscapes. Despite the relatively large number of winter paintings in Pissarro's oeuvre (approximately eight percent of his entire output), he is not best known for his snowscapes, and little has been written about them. He was, however, extremely proud of his effet de neige compositions and exhibited at least nine views of winter at the eight Impressionist exhibitions held periodically from 1874 to 1886. With relatively few breaks over the course of his career, probably caused by warmer weather conditions (1880-81, 1883, 1896) or by changes in painting style (1886-88), Pissarro painted a least one canvas each year that celebrated the quiet and serene quality of a frosty winter day, and therefore he can be considered the most dedicated winter painter of the Impressionists. These views vary from true effets de neige, with substantial amounts snow on the ground, to lighter forms of winter precipitation, such as frost.
l'effet de neige
Christmas falls in the Winter, which, for the Northern Hemisphere, is a fairly chilly period. With the cold, comes snow (..eventually). And with snow, comes cosy evenings spent inside, reading books and blogs, about music, and history, and art. Thanks to Philip Wilson's wonderful folio on Impressionists in Winter, this article encompasses all of these ideas, so mull some wine, plonk down in a green velvet armchair, and absorb the sublime effet de neige.
The history of snowscapes in European painting reaches back at least as far as the Limbourg Brothers' Les Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry of about 1415. Of course, winter landscapes with snow often play a part in paintings that depict the cycle of the four seasons, especially in Northern European painting of the seventeenth century. Indeed, as Wolfgang Stechow has observed:
"In many ways the winter landscape is the Dutch seventeenth-century landscape par excellence. Here there is no competition from Italy or France, and little from Flanders, although Flemish sixteenth century antecedents were of decisive importance in its genesis. There is not even much competition in later centuries, with the exception of some works by Caspar David Friedrich, Claude Monet and a few others."
Stechow's subtle nod to the Impressionists is probably the first acknowledgment by a major scholar that the winter landscapes of the Impressionists constitute a significant accomplishment. As this exhibition indicates, Monet and several of his colleagues produced a body of work that is at least the equal of seventeenth-century Dutch winter landscapes. Other than the often-reproduced image of the page illustrating the month of ‘February’ in Les Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry, the best known early snowscape is Pieter Brueghel's Hunters in the Snow, from 1565. With extraordinary accuracy, the painter captured the light, atmosphere, and feeling of a winter landscape not long after a snowfall. The colour of the overcast sky, the quiet, the atmosphere, and the sensation of tranquillity that pervades the landscape seem remarkably accurate. Moreover, the landscape is imbued with an unmistakable beauty that is the result of the snow. As much as the hunting party, the village, and the panoramic view of the valley, the subject of the painting is the transforming effect of the snow.