December 26, 2011

Art history lesson

For the past few weeks I've been working on a freelance writing project, which takes me to unexpected periods on the art history timeline. As an undergraduate art history major who didn't start painting until several years later, I studied the paintings from an academic perspective, so stumbling across these old familiar images now that I've been painting for a while is exciting. The information about the the artists' lives and their roles in the history of art seems so much more alive and useful. Here are a few things I learned this week.


 In the 15th Century, people payed to see the Ghent Altarpiece--sort of like a feature film. Painted by the van Eyck brothers, Hubert and Jan, in 1432, at the Cathedral of Saint Bavo, in Ghent, Belgium, the alterpiece was  more realistic than earlier paintings because the van Eycks used oil paint. They were among the first Early Neatherlandish painters to use oils, developing new glazing techniques that gave their work a more realistic sense of light, shadow and depth than previous paintings.


 In Venice on 27 August 1576, Titian, an old, wealthy, and respected artist, died of the plague. Here's an image of The Rape of Europa (1562), one of his most famous paintings, which was unusual for its a bold diagonal composition that's almost Baroque in its blurry atmospheric effects, swirling colors, and visible brushstrokes.

Father of fourteen kids (four died as infants), Johannes Vermeer, a slow, methodical painter who only produced 34 paintings during his lifetime, died of stress created by financial pressure when the art market collapsed in 1675. For financial reasons, he worked as an inn-keeper and art dealer, which helps  explain why his output was so slim. Although respected during his lifetime in his hometown of Delft in the Netherlands, Vermeer's work sank into obscurity for hundreds of years until it was rediscovered in the 19th Century.  Now Vermeer is considered one of the finest painters of the Dutch Golden Age. Above: Vermeer's The Milkmaid, c. 1658.

Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, court painter for Marie Antoinette, was the most famous female artist of the 1700s. Unfortunately, when the Revolution went down in 1789, she and her young daughter Julie had to flee the country. She lived in Italy, Austria, and Russia, where her experience working with with an aristocratic clientele was still useful. Above:  Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Portrait of Marie Antoinette, 1783.

American painter Francis Davis Millet died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912. He had an amazing career before that, which included founding the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Above:Francis Davis Millet,  An Autumn Idyll, 1892. At the Brooklyn Museum.

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