VA -- Richmond -- Virginia Museum of Fine Arts -- Europe:
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VMFAEU_140112_011.JPG: Nineteenth-Century Art in Europe:
This small selection of works is part of VMFA's 19th- and early 20th-century art collection scheduled for reinstallation in late 2012. This gallery and the upcoming installation complement VMFA's works of the same period in Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon's collections, located in their own dedicated galleries. Here some of the works, such as William Bouguereau's Younger Brother, will be familiar to frequent VMFA visitors. However, the majority of the works are newly acquired, either through purchases or gifts, with the specific intention of amplifying and illustrating other trends in the art of that period.
Romantic art, already well represented by Theodore Gericault and Eugene Delacroix in VMFA and its Mellon Collections, is enhanced by two new acquisitions: A Boar Hunt in Poalnd by Gericault's teacher Carle Vernet and Military Event by the Lyons-school painter Claude Bonnefond. Franz Xaver Winterhalter's Portrait of Lydia Schabelsky encapsulates the cult of the beautiful in Second-Empire France. Bouguereau's recently purchased early masterpiece Battle of the Centaurs and Lapiths evidences a young academic artist's struggle to reconcile the traditional polarities of classic and romantic, ideal and real, color and design, and ancient and modern. Gustave Dore's A Family of Spanish Poachers is an essay in shocking colors, brushwork, and subject. In Woman in the Studio, Belgian Alfred Stevens developed a quieter manner of painting modern life, subject-matter explored in depth by the Impressionists, though here painted in a highly finished manner as influenced by Dutch 17th-century genre painting. The academic artist Charles Hoguet's landscape is most different from the Impressionist's approach, having been carefully painted in the studio rather than in the open air. Finally, a comparison of Pio Fedi's rough plaster sketch for his monumental sculpture, The Sacrifice of Polyxenia, with Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux's sensuous bronzes is meant to dramatize the great contrasts inherent in 19th-century art.
VMFAEU_140112_174.JPG: Dog urinates on the cathedral wall
VMFAEU_140112_183.JPG: Neoclassicism: The Challenge of the Past:
Although the achievements of classical antiquity were not entirely forgotten in the Middle Ages, it is undeniable that the artists of the European Renaissance and later periods looked to ancient models, particularly sculpture and architecture, with fresh admiration and reverence. This was part of a general sense in these centuries that the past was superior to the present not only artistically but also intellectually and culturally. Artists and their patrons thus sought to highlight their own importance and sophistication by associating themselves with this distant past. In the meantime, regular discoveries of ancient statues and archaeological sites spurred artists, architects, and designers to ever bolder imitations and interpretations. Though these attempts to revive the accomplishments of ancient artists may often today seem more fanciful than archaeologically exact, there is no doubt about the sincerity of those who, like Raphael in the Renaissance and Nicholas Poussin in the Baroque, labored to bring to life the visual language of the long dead cultures of Greece and Rome.
The zenith of the Neoclassical style occurred in the second half of the eighteenth century after the rediscoveries of the nearly intact Roman towns of Herculaneum (in 1738) and Pompeii (in 1748). The quantity and detail in those finds fueled a fad for all things ancient not only in the fine arts but in the decorative arts and fashion as well. The taste for the classical even reached America, where Thomas Jefferson's Virginia State Capitol building of 1788 in Richmond stands as one of the Neoclassical movement's chief monuments. However, despite (or perhaps because of ) the ubiquity of the ancient modes, the style became seen as less serious and less relevant to modern life, notwithstanding an attempt by the French Neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David and his followers to return to a more severe and less frivolous style. Yet over exposure had effectively damaged the dignity of antiquity, and soon after, in the early 19th century, Romantic artists sought to replace the challenge of the past by the challenge of the present.
VMFAEU_140112_190.JPG: Joseph Mallord William Turner
The Devil's Bridge, St. Gothard, 1803-4
VMFAEU_140112_206.JPG: Francisco de Goya: 1746-1828
Francisco de Goya was Spain's leading artist of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, achieving renown throughout Europe as the painter who most reflected the philosophy of the Enlightenment and, later, Romanticism. He was prolific as both a painter and a printmaker. His prints -- such as this selection from Los Caprichos -- castigate the folly, superstition, and cruelty of humankind, whereas his paintings range from lighthearted images to dark and deeply disturbing subjects. The artist's sometimes-unflattering portraits demonstrate great insight into the human potential for both good and evil; and his scenes from contemporary history show an unusual empathy for the victims of political suffering. After serving under various political regimes, Goya ended his career creating the so-called black paintings for his own house, Quinta del sordo (House of the Deaf Man). These works have been said to express the darkest vision of human life ever imagined.
VMFAEU_140112_227.JPG: Los Caprichos:
In 1799 Goya published Los Caprichos, the first of many print series he would produce throughout his career. The title, which translates as "The Caprices," emphasizes that the subjects sprung from the artist's imagination rather than observed reality. These prints are intentionally disturbing, bizarre, and sometimes obscene. Goya satirizes a wide range of social groups and demonstrates exceptional disgust for corrupt ecclesiastical officials and the aristocracy -- two targets that shocked contemporary viewers. He also underlined his departure from the realm of reason by populating his scenes with supernatural characters, monsters, witches, and other-worldly animals. Considered a high point in the history of satire and the graphic arts, these prints have exerted an influence beyond their immediate audience to subsequent artists seeking powerful transgressive art. More recently, contemporary artists Yasamasa Morimura (Japanese, born 1951) and the brothers Dinos and Jake Chapman (English, born 1962 and 1966), have created their own versions of Goya's works, thus proving their enduring relevance and dark appeal.
VMFAEU_140112_243.JPG: European Art -- An Age of Contrasts: The Eighteenth Century:
The 18th century, known as the Age of Reason or the Enlightenment, also saw the acknowledgement if not the discovery of the irrational, the latter clearly evident in the works of William Blake and Francisco Goya. This was a century of dramatic and sometimes violent change in which institutions of every kind were questions, including religion. In government, the century began under absolute rule and ended with revolutions in the American colonies and in France. In science, Sir Isaac Newton and his followers discovered natural laws that would make the technologies of industrialism possible. At the same time as these scientific discoveries determined the court of human history, philosophers like Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau extolled of the individual, and David Hume and Immanuel Kant explored the inner workings of the mind. Consequent to these new understandings of human nature, women and children took a new place in society and new attitudes toward love emerged. An explosion of travel and exploration brought tourists and scientists in contact with amazing natural phenomena as well as foreign (including colonized) peoples -- thought these were often exploited through slavery. In sum, this was an age in which people related to themselves, to each other, to institutions such as state and church, and to nature itself in new and exciting ways, raising issues that are still a matter of great debate even today.
VMFAEU_140112_258.JPG: Eruption of Vesuvius, ca 1780
The volcano Vesuvius, which destroyed the ancient cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii in AD 79, was active throughout the 17th and 18th centuries and excited intense interest among travelers because of its unique combination of scientific and historic associations. Artists from all over Europe, representing different aesthetic approaches, also traveled to southern Italy to observe and paint Vesuvius. Some of them recorded the eruptions to illustrate the new science of geology, some emphasized the awesome and terrifying powers of nature they represented, and some simply painted the volcano's picturesque aspects.
Pierre-Jacques Volaire settled in Naples, not far from Vesuvius, where he became famous for his "sublime" depictions of the volcano. In this painting, the power of Vesuvius with its fiery lava and exploding gases dwarfs the figures watching in the foreground. Volaire not only painted a volcano, but also humanity's encounter with this majestic and mysterious spectacle of nature.
VMFAEU_140112_271.JPG: Hubert Robert
The Finding of the Laocoon, 1773
The ancient sculpture known as the Laocoon is one of the most famous antiquities in existence. It was unearthed in 1506 in a vineyard that had been planted over the ruins of Nero's Golden House in Rome; the excavation was attended by the young Michelangelo, who immediately recognized it as the famous lost work.
Hubert Robert, however, has placed the event in an immense imaginary vaulted ruin. Robert created this elaborate allegory on art and collecting for the Comte de Vaudreuil, a great collector whose portrait by Elisabeth-Louise Vigee-Lebrun is also in the museum's collection and can be seen nearby.
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