London’s Courtauld Gallery is an impressive place, not just because of the building itself…
…but also because of the collection of art contained within:
A Bar At The Folies-Bergere, 1881-82
This famous image was Manet’s last major work. It was first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1882 and its subject has been debated ever since. A barmaid faces us from across the counter in one of Paris’s most famous theater-cafes. Behind her a vast mirror reflects the marble top of the bar with assorted bottles and the audience that has gathered for the evening’s entertainment. Part of the show may be glimpsed in the upper left-hand corner, where the legs of the trapeze artist are just visible.
The painting is full of spatial complexities and ambiguous relationships. The rear view of the barmaid, seen at the right, is too far from her reflection, while the customer who leans closely toward her should occupy the position of the viewer, who is in fact at some distance from the central figure. The barmaid’s detached, melancholy expression also jars with the general air of merriment and entertainment around her.
Study For “The Chahut”, 1889
The Chahut was the name of a provocative dance performed in the Parisian music halls at the turn of the last century. The line of the dancers’ legs is echoed in the instrument held by the musician in the foreground. To his left the conductor points his baton in a manner calculated to emphasize the erotic nature of the entertainment.
Monet spent the winters of 1884 and 1888 on the Mediterranean coast searching for new subjects and different light effects. He described the work he produced there as “pure, gentle sweetness: some white, some pink and some blue, and all surrounded by the fairylike air.”
This luminous view across the Golfe Juan to the distant Esterel mountains is one of a set of seven Mediterranean paintings which include trees along the shore. The composition, with its silhouetted tree and open sides, is reminiscent of the Japanese prints which Monet avidly collected and hung in his house at Giverny.
Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson
Blackfriars Bridge, London, 1927
Nevinson takes a vantage point at the junction of Blackfriars Bridge and the Embankment to create this dramatic v-shaped composition, looking along the Thames to old Waterloo Bridge. He captures the frenetic activity of the city in its various aspects, from the bustle of commuters on foot and in trams, to the heavy river traffic and the smoking chimneys of the industrial docks along the South Bank. Visible through the smog in the upper left are the towers of the Palace of Westminster.
What at first seems an idyllic Tahitian scene is full of psychological tension and ambiguity. The turn of the woman’s eyes implies that she is aware of the two clothes figures behind her and the ominous bird watching from the window sill. Describing his intentions, Gauguin wrote: “I wish to suggest by means of a simple nude a certain long-lost barbarian luxury.” The painting may consequently represent the loss of innocence, specifically the corruption of “primitive” Polynesian culture.
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