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Corydon: 2 Shepherds from staffage to social symbol
The first part of this account of shepherds and shepherdesses in paintings looked at their role in stories, from the earliest classical myths to epic English poetry. This second and concluding article looks at paintings of shepherds in landscapes, and in their own right as the motif. Nicolas Poussin,... Read more
Teacher of John Singer Sargent, Edvard Munch, and more: Léon Bonnat
Look through the biographies of the great nineteenth century French painters, often those from the USA and other nations, and you’ll see familiar names appearing as their teachers. These include Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat (1833–1922) and his teacher Léon Cogniet, who was in turn taught by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, whose... Read more
The Story in Paintings: who killed John the Baptist? 3 Salome
By the middle of the nineteenth century, some ambiguity had been developing in the traditional biblical story of Herod’s party, Salome’s dance, and the execution of Saint John the Baptist. Although the underlying story still put Herodias as the driver behind John’s beheading, attention had been steadily transferred to... Read more
Brief Candles: Henri Regnault, the history painter who became history
… Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. (William Shakespeare, Macbeth Act 5, scene 5.) The most famous artist to die in the Franco-Prussian War was the French Impressionist... Read more
The Story in Paintings: Remembering a great general?
Few of us get to write our own obituary, or to determine how we might be remembered in paintings. If you’re a major statesman and general, who commands many thousands of words on Wikipedia, you might hope for paintings showing you leading in battle, or in political debate. But... Read more
Changing Stories: Ovid’s Metamorphoses on canvas, 53 – Pygmalion and his statue
Ovid moves his Metamorphoses on from the commemoration of the dead Hyacinthus in the purple hyacinth flower, to one of his most unusual myths. The vast majority of the myths of transformation which he collected here involve one or more people changing into animals, plants, or inanimate objects. The... Read more
The Eclectic Georges Clairin: elegance, corpses, and frou-frou
We seem to know remarkably little about Georges Jules Victor Clairin (1843-1919), although in his day he was a popular and successful artist. His surviving work is puzzling, in that it spans almost every genre and style, from almost illustrative depictions of society women in the late eighteenth century,... Read more
Plutarch’s Lives in Paint: 0 Introduction to a new series
Literary sources were (and still are) crucial to a great many artists. Until the late twentieth century, most had been thoroughly educated in the Classics and the Bible. Most studios and workshops contained bookshelves with key reference works, including the Bible, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid,... Read more
Surprise, surprise: Paintings with a twist 2
In the first of these three articles about surprise in narrative paintings, I traced the development of techniques to add a surprising twist to stories told in single paintings, from Duccio in about 1300 to the turn of nineteenth century. So far, with the exception of the Masaccio, the... Read more
The Franco-Prussian War: Aftermath
The provisional French government had been very circumspect about capitulating at the end of the Franco-Prussian War in late January 1871, because of their fears of insurrection. The dangers of this were greatest in Paris, where those defending the city had necessarily acted independently of the rest of France... Read more