19th and 20th Century American Painting

Asher B. Durand  Kindred_Spirits

Form: This 1849 painting depicts William Cullen Bryant and Thomas Cole in Kaaterskill Clove. 

Iconography: . "Kindred Spirits," which is in the collection of the New York Public Library and
depicts Cole and Bryant conversing on a rock outcropping in the Catskills with their names carved into one of the trees... Cole, Durand and Bryant, Ms. Foshay writes in her catalogue essay, "shared the belief that nature, particularly nature in the New World, resonated with overtones of meaning."  "It was a sacred place, where true communion could bring not only joy in the beauty of the outdoors, but also enlightenment.  With ink and with paint, these artists explored the tangible appearances of the natural world in search of its intangible truths.  They communicated their perceptions in landscape paintings and nature poems that guided the direction of cultural ideas and aesthetic expression in nineteenth-century America," she continued...."These men," Foshay continued, "sought through their writing and painting to embellish and dignify the New World with a culture sown
on native soil.  The resource that they identified to inspire this native art was the American landscape - unique in its richness, variety and wildness.  They emphasized scenery that minimized such intrusions of civilizations as railroads, buildings and farmlands.  This land was God's creation, still fresh from his hand.  It offered spiritual and moral possibilities, these men believed, for those trained to recognize them." Indeed, the purity of most Hudson River School paintings was bathed in the light of "Manifest Destiny," a concept that would actually evolve a bit later when a second generation of Hudson River School artists such as Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran would glorify the natural wonders of the American West while another, Frederic Church, Cole's sole pupil, would carry his explorations even further afield to Central and South America and to the Middle East...The importance of the Hudson River School paintings in helping to forge a national image can not be underestimated especially in the years before photography became popular.  The artists would travel regularly to the Catskills, the Adirondacks, the White Mountains, the coast of Maine and Newport, R. I., and travel in those days was neither easy nor quick and their prolific production of paintings, sketches and engravings would provide many Americans with awe for their country's remarkable, bucolic landscapes..."Unlike his mentor and friend, Cole, Durand was attracted to the 'common details' of nature, spotted in situ.  He sought to study them with a clear eye and reproduce them faithfully.  He did not want to lose the keenness of his first impression….The simple design of these studies is also different from the complex compositions of Cole's allegorical landscapes.  Durand uses nature in the form of a dead tree or a bunch of rocks to compose the picture.  The artist sought to discover design in nature, rather than to rearrange the elements of nature to create a pleasing pictorial design….Wandering through the woods and selecting scenes as he found them was, for Durand, a spiritual journey.  The works that he produced became acts of devotion….In Bryant's poems, Durand found confirmation of his belief that the particulars of nature were the embodiments of God's handiwork.  To study these particulars carefully was a process of enlightenment; to
recreate them in text and image was a religious endeavor.  Durand produced several pictures based on themes from Bryant's verses, including Thanatopsis and Early Morning at Cold Spring, both painted in 1850."

Context: "Asher Brown Durand was born in Jefferson Village (now Maplewood), New Jersey, the eighth of eleven children. His frail health exempted him from working on the family farm; instead, he helped his father, a watchmaker and silversmith. Following an apprenticeship to engraver Peter Maverick from 1812 to 1817,  Durand entered into full partnership with Maverick and ran the New York branch of the Newark-based firm. The partnership dissolved in 1820 in a dispute concerning Durand's acceptance of John Trumbull's commission to engrave The Declaration of Independence, which Durand had apparently taken on without deferring to Maverick's position as senior partner. (Maverick, who interpreted the act as a violation of their partnership agreement, heatedly accused Durand of trying to sabotage his career.) The completion of the work in 1823 established Durand's reputation as one of the country's finest engravers. An active member of the New York art community, Durand was instrumental in organizing the New-York Drawing Association in 1825 (later the National Academy of Design, which he served as president from 1845 to 1861) and the Sketch Club in 1829 (later the Century Association). During the late 1820s and early 1830s, when his interest gradually shifted from engraving to oil painting, he demonstrated a growing competence in portraiture and genre subjects. With the encouragement of his friend and patron Luman Reed, Durand ended his engraving career in 1835. "In 1837, a sketching expedition to Schroon Lake, in the Adirondacks, with his close friend Thomas Cole seems to have determined Durand's decision to concentrate on landscape painting. In 1840, with money advanced by Jonathan Sturges, Reed's son-in-law and business partner, Durand embarked on a two-year European Grand Tour, part of which was spent in the company of the artists John Casilear, John Kensett, and Thomas Rossiter. Durand's annual summer sketching trips in the Catskill, Adirondack, and White mountains yielded hundreds of drawings and oil sketches that he later incorporated into finished academy pieces. These are the embodiment of his Hudson River School style. With the death of Cole, in 1848, Durand was recognized as the leader of American landscape painting. He died on the family property in Maplewood, to which he had retired from active professional life in 1869." 


Thomas Eakins_Portrait_of_Walt_Whitman_1887-88

Form: Oil paint on canvas, portraiture.

Iconography: "Walt Whitman by Thomas Eakins 
The friendship between Eakins and Whitman began in 1887. They had met in Whitman's Mickle Street residence in Camden. A few weeks later, Eakins went to Camden without warning to paint the portrait, a spontaneous act that Whitman much admired (Homer 210). "Much of Whitman's admiration for Eakins centered on the portrait" (Homer 213). In the portrait, Whitman was represented exactly how he was. By 1888, Whitman showed his age. And Whitman appreciated Eakins' portrait because it showed his age, too. There is nothing picturesque about Whitman in the portrait -- he simply looks like an old man (my index page shows the similarities between a photo and Eakins' painting). In admiration of Eakins, Whitman said,"'I never knew of but one artist, and that's Tom Eakins,' he said another time, 'who could resist the temptation to see what they ought to be rather than what is'" (Goodrich 123). It was Eakins' realism that Whitman admired so much -- a realism extending even to the portrait of the aging poet. Whitman contrasted Eakins' portrait to Herbert Gilchrist's, "which is parlor Whitman" (Goodrich 123). Whitman, focused on the realistic aspect of human beings, told Horace Traubel not to glamorize Walt's last days." (www.whitmanarchive.org)

Context: "As a painter, Thomas Eakins had a relationship with Walt Whitman unlike any other. Born in Philadelphia in 1844, Eakins did not meet Whitman until the latter half of the 1880's, but "the two men had a deep respect for each other" (Goodrich 122). In his old age, Whitman had relocated to Camden,
     New Jersey, right across the Delaware and very close to Philadelphia. Eakins "went into the wilds of New Jersey where he found. . . Walt Whitman, in a self-chosen exile of his own. Expelled from the bourgeois world, or so the legend ran, Whitman and Eakins together built the metaphysics for a distinctly American realism -- the poet's ecstatic and high-hearted, the painter's murky and inward-turning" (Gopkin 78). The two men shared not only a friendship and mutual respect, but an artistic vision of American democracy grounded in realism.  Philadelphia-Camden Friendship: Celebrating America  Whitman and Eakins were friends in more than just the sense of acquaintance; in fact, Eakins was one of 32 people invited to a dinner party for Whitman's 72nd birthday (Goodrich 124). They were so close that the day after Whitman died, Eakins went to Camden with some of his students and  made a death mask and hand cast of Whitman (entitled Death Mask of Walt Whitman, 1892, in Houghton Library of Harvard University. Unfortunately, no images were available). When Eakins heard of Whitman's death, he immediately contacted Horace Traubel to make the mask of his friend, a man he admired very much. This illustrates that the relationship transcended a mere respect between two artists.  The two artists had similar ideas of America and art. "Whitman disliked European manners and conventions, and he was passionately devoted to America and to a celebration of the democratic ideal. . . The chief similarity between Eakins and Whitman was their self-sufficient confidence, which allowed them to disregard the conventions of their time. Eakins, like Whitman, insisted on making art in a way that seemed most appropriate and truthful, without giving in to popular or critical opinion" (Homer 217). They were individualists who did not waver in the face of criticism. Both men were artistically rejected in their lives -- though as Whitman aged he gained more popularity. Eakins was scrutinized by the bourgeois Philadelphia society. He paid a high price for his fascination with the nude body. Whitman also had a fascination with the body, but because of the nature of poetry -- words -- was less explicit than Eakins, who painted the body. "Both were democrats, despising forms and conventions which hid the essential human being" (Goodrich 122). The tendency to celebrate the human body was prevalent in both Whitman and Eakins' work. A major difference must be brought to light, though: "Eakins concentrated on the individual; Whitman, on humanity and the cosmos" (Homer 219). 
In spite of this idea, Eakins was still profoundly indebted to the poet. When Weda Cook (who wrote music to O Captain, My Captain!) was posing for Eakins, "the artist talked much to her about Whitman and would sometimes quote his verses" (Goodrich 122). Not only was Eakins fond of Whitman's poems, but "it was the concrete, realistic side of the poet, his observation, and his feeling for the body, that appealed most to the painter, who used to say: 'Whitman never makes a mistake'" (Goodrich 122). It is this admiration that Eakins can be classified as a Whitmanian painter." ( www.whitmanarchive.org)


Winslow Homer Gulf_Stream_1899

Form: Oil painting, using the theme of a 'storm tossed boat.'

Iconography: Many artists use themes such as "storm tossed boat" or in the case of the trancendentalists, towering vistas that are meant to represent God, in nature. The theme of the boat in a stormy sea is meant to convey the futility of human struggle against the awesome forces of nature, as written on the site island-of-freedom.com,  "A stay in England from 1881 to 1882, during which Homer lived in a fishing village, led to a permanent change in his subject matter. Thereafter he concentrated on large-scale scenes of nature, particularly scenes of the sea, of its fishermen, and of their families. Taking up solitary residence on the Maine coast at Prout's Neck, he produced such masterpieces of realism as Eight Bells (1886, Addison Gallery, Andover, Massachusetts); in it the drama of the sea scene is imbued with an epic, heroic quality that symbolizes the dominant theme of his maturity: human struggle with the forces of nature. In his Gulf Stream (1899; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City), the black sailor lying on the deck of a small, dismasted boat is dramatically highlighted at the center of a ring of predatory sharks. "

Context:  (Originally published in the Tennessee Tribune 3/9/00 ) "I have liked Winslow Homer's painting, The Gulf Stream, for many years, but I would never have understood what makes it so beautiful, nor that it can teach men and women about our own lives, had it not been for my study of Aesthetic Realism. Eli Siegel, who founded the education of Aesthetic Realism, defined what beauty is and pointed to its importance for every person's life in this principle: "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves."  People have been pained at not being able to make sense of their desire for energetic activity on one hand, and for rest or repose on the other. Aesthetic Realism teaches that we can learn from art how to put these opposites together in our lives. Homer’s painting — in its composition and technique shows that we can feel truly reposeful and energetic at once. It has in it a man on a boat whose mast has been broken and swept away by a hurricane, adrift in the restless sea, and surrounded by sharks. I once thought it justified my feeling that the world was cruel and battered one about.  I learned this was not what this painting is about, or why I liked it. Homer's The Gulf Stream met my deepest hope — to like the world honestly — because it puts opposites together in a way that shows the world makes sense.  At any age people can want to get away from things, and older people tend to go more and more for rest. At 88, I am grateful to continue to learn about this drive in myself and humanity in classes and public seminars at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, a not-for-profit educational foundation in New York City. In "Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites?" Eli Siegel asks about Repose and Energy: Is there in painting an effect which arises from the being together of repose and energy in the artist's mind? — can both repose and energy be seen in a painting's line and color, plane and volume, surface and depth, detail and composition? — and is the true effect of a good painting on the spectator one that makes at once for repose and energy, calmness and intensity, serenity and stir?The tumultuous sea and whitecaps, the sharks, broken boat and waterspout in the distance on the right — all have motion and turbulence. Yet  the man seems strangely at ease as he rests on his elbow, looking out. Homer’s composition shows that both man and world are a relation of "repose and energy, calmness and intensity, serenity and stir."  Before I met Aesthetic Realism I shuttled between feverish, exhausting activity in work or sports, to getting home, pulling down the blinds and going to sleep. I felt these different directions in myself had to fight. It was my good fortune that in 1947 I began to study it. In the thousands of Aesthetic Realism Lessons which Eli Siegel gave to people, he saw each person with the deep comprehension humanity hopes for, because
 he saw every person as an aesthetic situation of opposites.  When I told Mr. Siegel in a lesson, of a frightening dream about being on a train, on a stretcher, he explained:  You want to be on the move, but while being on the move you're afraid that something in you wants to be very quiet and take it easy. While you're on the train something in you would like to take it easy and be in the hospital. The opposites which were fighting in me, are made beautifully one in The Gulf Stream. There is the activity of the waves, the waterspout, the sharks, as the boat is tossed about, while the schooner in the distance on the left is moving calmly. There is motion in the waves as they roll and peak, but there is ease at the same time because of the definiteness of the shapes and the rhythm of the curves. I believe that is why watching the ocean makes for composure in people. As the man reclines on the boat he is not taking it easy, as I once did, to get away from the world — his mind is alert as he looks out steadily for help. I understood more why this painting moved me, when I read this sentence by Mr. Siegel: "If we look at a desperate and controlled sea painting of Winslow Homer, we can see passion and control given to black muscles." Aesthetic Realism understands anger, which I was so pained about and unable to control. In a lesson Mr. Siegel said: While you jump from being sweet to angry you'll be tired. You want to like people and also hate them, and you go from hot to cold.While you play around with this you're going to be tired. This fight in me and so many men is resolved in The Gulf Stream. Look at the relation between the open mouth of the shark with its teeth and the dark opening of the boat’s hold from which sweet sugar cane extends. The cane represents a world giving the man sustenance. The fierce and the sweet do not jump from one to the other, as they once did in me. I learned my anger came from wanting to feel that people were against me; that I was in a hostile world I should be separate from. As Homer separates things, he also joins them and shows they are not against each other. The curve of the back of the boat is like the curve of the shark’s tail fin and body on the right, and the curves of waves and sharks are alike. Homer has bathed the man and boat in light and they seem to be safely nestled in a trough of waves. Does this say the world can be comforting? I believe Homer's work shows his hope to make sense of wanting to see the world as an enemy and as a friend — the fight Eli Siegel so kindly explained in me. Aesthetic Realism taught me that repose and energy do not have to fight, and saved me from a life of anger and loneliness. This is a hopeful and beautiful painting because it composes repose and energy, the fierce and sweet, in such a way that shows the world makes sense. We can all learn from it." 


Form: Oil paint on canvas, a genre scene.

Iconography: In the Victorian era, women were kept like caged birds, something beautiful to look at, but not meant to roam freely. It was, in fact, a scandal if a woman left her home for the outside without the company of a male escort.  "At the turn of the century, New Yorkers began to frequent roof gardens—nightspots built on the roofs of buildings to escape the summer heat. This is Hammerstein's Roof Garden at the corner of Seventh Avenue and 42nd Street. At the top of the image, the painter—William Glackens—shows you a woman in a blue dress performing a tightrope act. Entertainment at roof gardens was on the seedy side: acrobats, exoticdancers, mermaids in glass tanks. Like the blockbuster movies we now flock to see during the summer, it was trashy but fun. It was also a tribute to technology. Audiences were carried to the roof on newfangled elevators. Electric lights lit the stage. A roof garden was held to be one of the crowning achievements of the modern city. Look at the people seated at the bottom of the canvas. The well-dressed women with their backs to you seem quite respectable. But the way the tables and chairs are jumbled together, it's hard to tell who is with who. Does the man in the group actually know any of these women? Have they been introduced? Will they speak to each other? The public mingling of the sexes you see here was new, just as new as light bulbs and elevators. The women are walking a tightrope of their own—the fine line between Victorian values and a new modern sensibility." (www.whitney.org)

Context: Glackens was born in Philadelphia in 1870. He attended Central High School, where John Sloan was a classmate. With a keen eye and a natural gift for drawing, he landed a position as staff illustrator for the Philadelphia Record in 1891. The  next year he moved to the rival Press, where Sloan was in the art department along with Everett Shinn, and, after 1893, George Luks. At the same time, he took night classes under Thomas Anshutz at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. About 1894 Glackens met the magnetic Henri, who was then teaching at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. The two men shared a studio later the same year. Then in the spring of 1895, Glackens, Henri, and another Philadelphia artist-friend, Elmer Schofield, traveled eighteen months through France, Holland, and Belgium. Henri was particularly impressed upon seeing the work of Franz Hals, Rembrandt, Diego Velasquez, Francisco Goya, and Edouard Manet, and he led in adapting for his own expressive ends the dark-toned, freely brushed method of those earlier Europeans. By the time the party returned to America in late 1896, Glackens was confirmed to the Henri approach. Resettled in New York City, Glackens found that Shinn and Luks had transferred from Philadelphia. Luks, then with the New York World, gave him a job to create comic drawings for the paper's Sunday supplement. Shortly, Glackens also began illustrating for the Herald. Glackens and Luks shared a room and studio for several months, during which time Glackens is acknowledged for having provided Luks crucial encouragement to pursue painting seriously. In 1898 the national illustrated magazine, McClure's, sent Glackens to Cuba to cover events of the Spanish-American War. After the important 1906 European trip, and after having been elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design the same year (he was not raised to full membership until 1933), he concentrated more and more on painting. He gave up illustration altogether in 1914. As one of the Henri circle, Glackens had six pictures in the showing by The Eight at New York's Macbeth Gallery in 1908. In 1910 he helped organize and participated in the first large no-prerequisite (only a modest entry fee), no-jury, no-prize show in the United States, the controversial Exhibition of Independent Artists. It was also in 1910 that Glackens was re-acquainted with an old high school friend, Dr. Albert C. Barnes, a wealthy manufacturer and the inventor of the antiseptic compound, Argyrol. Barnes heretofore had been a diletante art collector, acquiring little of note or value. But he wanted to improve his holdings significantly, and to that end sought Glackens' help. In February 1912, Barnes sent Glackens to Paris with a sizeable amount of money to buy for him whatever paintings he thought worthwhile. Glackens purchased twenty French modern works, including pieces by Cézanne and Renoir. Later Glackens counseled Barnes in buying paintings by each of The Eight. These two ventures established the nucleus of what would eventually become the esteemed Barnes Foundation Collection in Merion, Pennsylvania. Later in 1912 Glackens joined the planning group for the prodigious Armory Show, held in New York the following year. He served as chairman for the selection of American art, and, somewhat modestly, included only three of his own works in the exhibit. In 1916 Glackens was a founding member and the first president of the Society of Independent Artists. Throughout his New York years, he taught periodically at the Art Students League. After 1925 the artist and his wife divided their time between  America and Europe. Abroad, he resided mainly in France, a country he very much loved. In the mid 1930s, his health gradually deteriorated. While visiting in the Westport, Connecticut, home of long-time friends, artist Charles Prendergast (brother of Maurice) and his wife, in May 1938, Glackens died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was sixty-eight.
-- William Henning, Jr. & Ellen Simak (http://www.huntermuseum.org/williamglackens.htm)

Bellows, George
Stag at Sharkey's
Oil on canvas
36 1/4 x 48 1/4 in. (92.1 x 122.6 cm)
The Cleveland Museum of Art

Thomas Eakins Between Rounds 1899
Oil on canvas 50.125 x 38.25
in Philadelphia Museum of Art

Excerpted from:
PAINTINGS of George Bellows, The (Exhibition)
 Source: Time, 8/3/92, Vol. 140 Issue 5, p68, 2p, 1c
 Author(s): Hughes, Robert
ENERGETIC, FULL OF JUICE, BRILliant m flashes but in the long haul a most uneven talent, George Bellows died of appendicitis in 1925 at the age of 42 with a reputation among-Americans that was not going to survive. 

He appealed to "sound" taste in his day--and then got flattened from behind by the avant-garde as it developed after the 1913 Armory Show, which he had helped organize: road kill, as it were, on art history's Route 66. He didn't quite have the empirical genius of the older Winslow Homer, to whom his early work strongly relates; nor did he quite possess the visionary force of Marsden Hartley, with whom he shared a love of romantic, elemental images--sea, rock, the buffeting air of Maine. 

What he did have (but began to lose in his early 30s) was an abundant response to the physical world, a libidinous sense of fat-nuanced paint, sure tonal structure and a narrative passion for the density of life in New York City. 

If these attributes couldn't turn him into a major modernist, they certainly make him an artist worth revisiting. Hence the retrospective of paintings jointly organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, which runs at the Whitney Museum in New York City until the end of August. 

Bellows studied at the New York School of Art under Robert Henri, the American realist disciple of Frans Hals and Edward Manet. "My life begins at this point," he said of his apprenticeship to Henri. He soon developed a tough, pragmatic repertoire based on realist drawing and tonal composition. He was by far the most gifted younger member of the Ashcan School, a loose group that included John Sloan, George Luks and William Glackens. Not one of them ever painted an ash can, but they did believe, in a general way, that the artist should work from life as it was lived in the big dirty city and stay away from highfalutin symbolism. 

Their gods were Manet, Daumier, Goya and Hals; among Americans, Homer and Eakins. None were more direct than Bellows, who in the peak years of his youth became the entranced recorder of New York, the "real" city of tough mud larking kids, of crowded tenements and teeming icy streets, of big bridges and sudden breaks in the wall of buildings that revealed tugboats and a dragging tide. 

Bellows' most powerful image of the city as compressor of violence was the boxing ring. Prize fighting was made illegal in New York State in 1900. But that did not dispose of the semi-clandestine "club nights," with battling pugs drawn from the hard, desperate edge of Irish, Polish, Italian and Jewish street gangs--kids who would pound each other to hash for a purse under the eyes of a flushed, yelling house. The sport was barely a notch up from the bareknuckle slugging of Georgian England. 

Starting in 1907, Bellows made a small series of boxing pictures, of which the most gripping is Stag at Sharkey's (1909), an image of orgiastic energy, the boxers' faces reduced to speed blurs of bloody paint, the bodies starkly gleaming under the carbide lights, locked m a triangle, the strain of muscles so assimilated into the physical life of the paint strokes that the pigment runs over their contours. Bellows' contemporaries found such images "Hogarthian," but the closer ancestor of Stag at Sharkey's is late Goya. In particular the frieze of spectators' heads, yelling, gaping, sly, stupefied, brings to mind the faces in Goya's Witches' Sabbath or his Pilgrimage to the Miraculous Fountain of San Isidro. 
PAINTINGS of George Bellows, The (Exhibition)

Hairdresser’s Window John Sloan(1907) 
Form:" The Ashcan artists—George Bellows, William Glackens, Robert Henri, George Luks, Everett Shinn, and John
Sloan—recorded the vitality and diversity of life in New York at the turn of the last century. Each had to come to terms with the dynamics of modernity, including changing definitions of public and private life and evolving norms of conduct for men and women. Of all these artists, Sloan, was the most attentive to women's roles in urban society, and in his etchings, paintings, and drawings between 1905 and 1908, he created images of women of different ages and social classes at work and play."(http://nmaa-ryder.si.edu/journal/v15n2/weintraub.html)

Iconography: "In 1908 Sloan continues to explore the relationship between audiences and pictures. His Hairdresser's
Window, which art historians Robert W. Snyder and Rebecca Zurier describe as "a witty arrangement" that makes "visual equations between the rectangular window, the placards that punningly advertise hair products, and the flat, frontal canvas itself," can be interpreted as a reflection on the pervasiveness of pictorial spectacle and advertising. In a 1908 drawing, Sloan portrays people watching a billboard painter. In an etching of the same year, he depicts a crowd studying an artist who reproduces a painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art." http://nmaa-ryder.si.edu/journal/v15n2/weintraub.html

Context: " In focusing his gaze on women, Sloan (1871–1951) exercised the traditional male artist's prerogative and pictured them as alluring objects and the stimulus of "visual pleasure." But he was also an idiosyncratic and self-conscious observer who invested much of his work with a critique of spectatorship itself. Although Sloan  portrayed both men and women gazing at moving pictures (the precursors to today's motion pictures), shop windows, and billboards, one of the most telling features of his work is his depiction of women in the act of looking ,which became a theme in his early images, along with the related issue of commercial display and the culture of mass consumption. A new reassessment of Sloan's pictures can benefit from recent studies in both the history of cinema and art history that reveal the emergence of female spectatorship as an essential aspect of the unfolding of modernity. Such studies have also discussed new forms of advertising geared primarily toward women. Some scholars have suggested that there is a uniquely modern female onlooker who is analogous, in some respects, to the Parisian flâneur, or male stroller, of the mid-nineteenth century, who Charles Baudelaire described as anonymously, yet passionately, moving through the city in search of the distinctive quality that defines modern life. However, this new woman is born as a consumer. In her analysis of Edouard Manet's Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1881–82), art historian Ruth Iskin asserts that the painting marked "a shift of pictorial codes of representation from an exclusive single male gaze to an accompanying female spectatorial gaze and a new paradigm of crowd spectatorship that includes some women alongside men." Sloan's early work illustrates the relevance of this argument to early twentieth-century American art." 

John Singer Sargent Daughters_of_Edward_Darley_Boit 1882


Iconography: "Edward Darley Boit (1840-1915) “ was an ideal patron, a man quivering on the outskirts of art who encouraged John by the sheer force of his administration. He was, down to his toes, a Bostonian – Boston Latin School, Harvard, Secretary of Hasty Pudding, Freshman crew, tall, poetic, athletic, confident, and rich (richer still for having married a Cushing – Charlotte Louisa, known as “Iza” – the only daughter of a vastly wealthy merchant whose estate “Belmont” gave the town its name) – with a very curious difference. In 1868 he saw the work of Corot, and at that instant discovered painting in a blinding flash and spent the rest of his life in service to that revelation… John liked them (the Boits) for somewhat more basic, straightforward reasons. They were educated. They were musical, and also ardent Wagnerians. They were agreeably uncomplicated, and Edward Boit’s order for a group portrait of his young daughters interested John a great deal.” (John Singer Sargent. His Portrait. by Stanley Olson. Macmillan London Ltd. 1986. p 97) The Daughters of Edward D. Boit: Jane, aged twelve, stands facing forward; Florence, aged fourteen, is immediately to her right, in profile looking left, her hands folded in front; Mary, aged eight, is next to Florence, her arms clasped behind her back; Julia, aged four, is sitting, playing with a doll."  (www.abcgallery.com) What made this painting stand out from the other portraits which Sargent was commisioned to do was the unique composition. A recent exhibition of his work in Boston still has the art critics exclaiming over this, " Portraits became Sargent's most popular works, although, at first, critics weren't always happy with them. For example, "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit," which Sargent painted in 1882, is not a traditional portrait. It is a masterful composition with the four girls seemingly caught as if by snapshot during a quiet day of play. The youngest sits on the floor looking wistful. Another girl is standing on the sidelines. Her white apron catches the light. Half hidden in the shadow of a doorway stand two others, towered over by a large Japanese vase. A red screen at the right beside a matching vase perfectly balances the composition." (http://www.capecodonline.com/cctimes/archives/1999/june/26/sargent26.htm)

Context: "Sargent's works as a whole share an inherent sensuality. His love of paint -- its colors, textures and variety of light effects -- and the erotic charge given off by his subjects attest to Sargent's own intensely sensual nature. Although obviously attracted to women, Sargent never married. He remained energetic, somewhat naïve, poorly educated beyond the arts and devoted to his family and friends, who traveled around Europe with him. In contrast to current practice, he was unfailingly discreet about his private life. Always proud of his American heritage, Sargent was born to peripatetic Americans in Florence and studied briefly as they traveled, principally in France
at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He did not arrive on these shores until he was 20, when he visited Philadelphia, his parent's hometown, to see the Centennial Exhibition. Sargent was already fluent in four languages and moving in a variety of social spheres. In 1879, his portrait of Carolus-Duran, in whose studio he had worked for five years, was awarded an Honorable Mention at the Salon. Sargent had painted his teacher while assisting him with a mural for the Luxembourg Palace, one
 reason why he admired and esteemed mural painting all his life. From Carolus-Duran, he also learned to admire Velasquez and employed that master's balance of black versus white with flair through out his life. With his Salon triumph at age 23, Sargent's career was off and running.  The Corcoran's show of drawings is titled with the artist's own words "Sketch Everything and Keep Your Curiosity Fresh." Sargent honed his talent razor sharp by drawing throughout his constant travels and by sharing his love of art and music (he was an accomplished pianist) with a close circle of friends. Artists, of course, were included in his coterie, and some of his best pieces capture them at work. The Fountain, Villa Tolonia, Frascati, Italy from 1907, for instance, shows Jane de Glehn painting. What makes the painting pop is the combination of a picturesque setting with a serious portrait study activated by the effects of sunlight. Although he knew Monet, collected his paintings and lightened his palette under his influence, Sargent was no Impressionist. He was part of an international movement at the turn of the century that combined realism with powerful, often slashing, brushwork and high-keyed color."( www.artnet.com)


Sargent Street_in_Venice 1882

Form: Oil on wood panel.

Iconography:  "I have little doubt that what we see here is Venice, not in how the tourist might see it, but in how the locals see it in everyday life in the year 1882. This is street-life on a chilly day in the fall or winter with men in top coats and the woman in a warm wrap, on an old narrow street with locals who talk to their neighbors.  The National Gallery of Art, where this painting hangs, indicates this was painted at Calle Larga dei Proverbi, a back alley north of the Grand Canal and behind the church of SS. Apostoli (Linda Ayres, Patricia Hills Book, P. 56). They seem to think it was painted during siesta because, as you can see, the shop doors are closed and there are few people on the street. Though the tonality is very dark, and the shadows deep, which might give it a moody feeling, the subject is far from what the mood might indicate. If you compare Sortie de l’église, Campo San Canciano, Venice (1882) with Street in Venice you will see women headed home (from church no less) in roughly the same outfit as the young woman in Street in Venice. This is what women wore and how they wore it.  
 I am reminded of a famous photograph of a street in Paris in the 1940's which showed a beautiful young woman that had passed a group of young men all of whom are admiring her. Boys will be boys -- though I’m not sure it’s politically correct to say that. Remember, Sargent is 26 years old when he paints this, and I don’t think it beyond him to also enjoy the sight of a beautiful woman in a fleeting moment. But more importantly, I think you need to keep in mind that this was done in the vernacular of the great Spanish Master  Diego Velazquez (1599-1660), whom John admired greatly and was influenced by. In 1629, at the age of 30, Velazquez took a trip from Spain to Italy and studied the  masters and painted there for two years. He visited, among other places, Venice, Florence, and Rome. In 1882, Sargent travels to Venice, Florence, Siena, and Rome at a relatively similar time in his life, and I don't think this was lost on him. During this period, Sargent is actively studying and experimenting with the great Master's form and style. What Velazquez was able to capture was the deep, deep tonality of earthy colors, almost monochromatic in some cases, and the ability to freeze or capture the instantaneousness of people, of expressions, of movement. Velazquez was living at a time when the Spanish empire was near bankrupt and beginning to crumble and his paintings could be often moody in a dark tonal sense. In 1883, Sargent sent A Street in Venice to the Societe Internationale des Peintres et Sculpteurs, Rue de Seze, Paris. One critic called Sargent's work "banal and worn-out". " M. Sargent leads us into obsure squares and dark streets where only a single ray of light falls. The women of his Venice, with their messy hair and ragged clothes, are no decendents of Titian's  beauties. Why go to Italy if it is only to gather impressions like these." (Arthur Baigneres, critic for the Gazette des beaux-arts; Ratcliff, Carter, John Singer Sargent. Abbeville Press, New York, 1982. 
This is the real Venice on a cool autumn or winter day. And knowing Sargent, though it might not be pretty at first impression, it is probably a very accurate depiction of local  life.  
 By: Natasha Wallace, Copyright 1999.( http://www.jssgallery.org/Paintings/Street_in_Venice.htm)

Context:  "In the last quarter century of his life, weary of catering to the whims of sitters, Sargent largely abandoned portraiture to concentrate on oil and watercolor landscape, Alpine figure studies, architectural pictures of gardens and parks and fountains and statues, and genre scenes and mural work. Much of his time after 1900 was devoted to extended painting forays to diverse locales in France, Italy and Switzerland, often accompanied by the family of his sister, Violet Ormond, and other friends, who frequently acted as models. In an exquisite, highly expressive oil, "Group with Parasols (A Siesta)" (1905), he depicted several male and female friends jumbled together in a dreamy, shared siesta. Sargent featured two favorite traveling companions, British painter Wilfred de Glehn and his American-born artist-wife, Jane Emmet, in the setting of one of his beloved haunts, in the magnificent "The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy" (1907). The de Glehns also appear in another fine oil, "Villa Torre Galli: The Loggia" (1910), in which Jane reads in the foreground as Wilfred paints at an easel in the background of the villa where the Sargent party stopped on the outskirts of Florence.
Sargent returned often to Venice, where he reveled in depicting canals, campos and palace facades from different angles and under varying light conditions, in both oils and watercolors. Some of his finest watercolors were executed during these sojourns, notable for their spontaneity, freedom, luminosity and limpid style. Among the best, both painted from the vantage point of a gondola, are "Scuola di San Rocco" (circa 1903) and "On the Grand Canal" (circa 1907). Similar scenes, painted in oil, such as "The Rialto, Venice" (circa 1911) and "Corner of the Church of San Stae, Venice" (circa 1913) demonstrate Sargent's versatility in portraying his favorite Italian city in different media."