The Frick Madison: an unusual and refreshing look at a selection of NYC’s iconic Frick collection, unleashes unsurprisingly, one’s imagination…

Thursday March 18th, 2021- Spotlight on a selection of the Frick collection’s European paintings, temporarily housed at the MET Breuer.

Greetings friends, happy Spring, happy April, and happy Easter to all!

This week, I am writing, yet again, about another beautiful and truly inspiring European paintings collection, the Frick collection, located in NYC. A collection temporarily housed in a significant post-war and unusual concrete location on the Upper East Side, in the MET Breuer’s building, while its usual home, the Frick museum and former Frick residence, undergoes needed building renovations. And while austere, and yet beautiful, its voluminous floor space, makes the MET Breuer building, an inspired choice of venue, if you ask me, to admire differently, and in a refreshing way, this iconic Frick collection, illustrious, for holding many prominent European masterpieces, ranging from the Italian Byzantine era, until the early 20th/XXth century.

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A truly awesome collection, the Frick, which I have had the great privilege recently, to have rediscovered, in person, on opening day, in its new temporary home, currently named, the Frick Madison.

How about that?

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Let me first give a bit of context about this stunning Frick collection: it was founded by Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), a wealthy Pittsburgh coke and steel industrialist, who donated his New York residence and his most illustrious artwork (including paintings, porcelains, enamels, rugs, and silver), to establish a public gallery, for the purpose of “encouraging and developing the study of the fine arts”.

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A few more paintings were acquired over the years, by the Trustees of a Frick endowment, and from gifts and bequests.

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Of course, I will only comment on a somewhat, small selection of the Frick collection European paintings, those I enjoy the most (there are of course, as well on view, many more paintings, as well as sculptures, furniture, porcelains, enamels, tapestries and silver), to encourage you, to visit yourselves, this terrific collection.

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Let’s begin!

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And brace yourselves friends, as the Frick collection holds a huge number of incredible painting works (179, including 48 acquired over the years by Trustees of the Frick endowment and gifts/bequests), you will see that many of those absolutely thrill me; therefore I will be commenting on 40 of them.

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I have organized them by country of origin: 6 from Italy, 3 from Spain, 15 from France (don’t shoot me), 6 from England, 1 from an America born/British resident (guess who?), 2 from Germany, and 7 from the Netherlands.

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Let’s begin in gorgeous Italy, as the Frick holds incredible and important pieces from various eras, and I chose to write about early paintings: 1 work from 14th/XIVth century Italian Byzantine (often a genre that I usually find a tad stiff, but the Frick holds beautiful works from that era), as well as 2 works from 15th/XVth century Early Renaissance, and 3 works from mid 16th/XVIth century Renaissance (from Florence and Venice).

1)With our first painting,”Christ Bearing the Cross with a Dominican friar” painted on poplar panel, in the 14th/ XIVth century, by Barna da Siena (?- 1380), a wonderfully gifted Sienese Byzantine painter, we can admire a truly expressive gem of this Italian Byzantine period, which I find particularly moving.

And even though there is much unknown about Barna de Siena, we do know he worked from 1330 to 1350, in Tuscany, including with many other painters, in San Gimignano; so the following painting date, falls somewhere in that time frame.

And to me, this scene depicts, not only the Christ’s spiritual acceptance of his current challenging fate, to say the least, which makes him a giant compared to ordinary human beings, but also, the absolute devotion and faith emanating from the modest and trusting friar, truly in awe of the Christ’s unconditional goodness, despite his current difficulties, which he accepts, and will transcend.

Wow!

And the contrasting vermillion red of the Christ’s garment symbolizing to me, passion, love, and death, next to the transfiguration-like golds of the Christ’s halo in particular, stops me in my tracks, as does the simplicity of the wooden cross, and the beauty of black and white habit of the Dominican friar.

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1) “Christ Bearing the Cross with a Dominican friar” by Barna da Siena (painted at an unknown date: probably between 1330 and 1350).

Just stunning.

With the following two works painted at unknown date, during the 15th/XVth century’s Early Renaissance period, by Piero della Francesca (1415-1492), an illustrious, and one of the most admired painter of that period (as well as a mathematician and geometer), whose work is often characterized by serene humanism, unique geometric forms and refined and meditative atmosphere; we can admire here, two great examples of Piero’s masterful geometrical and harmonious style, and color choices.

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And these two small, but equally highly expressive and harmonious works painted on poplar panels (presumed to belong to a S. Agostino altarpiece recorded at Borgo Sansepolcro), representing for the first panel, a dignified, austere and meditative, Augustinian friar, and for the second panel, an equally cool, collected, dignified, and even more stern, and meditative Augustinian nun, are just incredibly vibrant and stunning, despite their plainness.

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And here to me, in both panels, we can admire, the simplicity of the expression of faith, knowledge, and austerity of these scholarly religious characters, and what I find most arresting. And to me also, the bible the friar carries, as well as the white scroll of paper the nun holds, represent what they both truly value, their life’s work, and the austerity of these two strict Augustinian characters expressed in their facial expression, and in their back and white habit, in addition to their work, and stunning gold background, particularly move me.

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2) Augustinian friar by Piero della Francesca (painted at an unknown 15th/XVth century date).

3) Augustinian nun by Piero della Francesca (painted at an unknown 15th/XVth century date).

Just amazing.

4) With “St Francis in the Desert” painted on poplar panel in the 15th/XVth century’s Renaissance, around 1467-1478, by illustrious Giovanni Bellini (1424/34-1516), a painter who succeeded his brother Gentile, as painter to the Republic of Venice, and both trained with their father Jacopo, in his studio; we can admire, what is considered by many, as Bellini’s most accomplished masterpiece, and one of Renaissance’s most important works. Firstly, of course, the topic is awe-inducing, as it depicts an episode of the life of founder of the Franciscan order, St Francis of Assisi, a saint who is believed to have received the Stigmata (the wounds of Christ’s crucifixion), in 1224, during a retreat at Mount La Verna, in the Apennines. And to many scholars, it is believed that it is, that particular event, the receiving of the Stigmata, that is being represented by Bellini.

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To me, it is more, an incredibly powerful depiction of St Francis’ strong, happy, simple, exalted and huge spiritual life, which appears to be intense, wonderfully rewarding, joyful and peaceful, filled with the beauty and richness of nature’s various expressions (fauna, flora, rock formations, and beautiful sunlight), and the comfort of his red bible, prayer, and solitude; and his simple, open, trusting, exalted and yet, relaxed posture, and bare feet, symbolize as well to me, St Francis’ virtues of obedience, poverty, chastity (represented as well, by the 3 knots of his simple rope belt, over his equally simple, brown Franciscan habit). The incredible size of this huge painting (124.4 x 141.9) is particularly striking, and to give this painting its proper importance, the Frick Madison has chosen to exhibit it alone in its own room, which also speaks also, to me, about its spiritual power.

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And one can’t help, but admire, Bellini’s mastery of warm (the hazel/walnut tones) and cool coloring (the jade like hues of the rocks in particular), as well as his incredible ease with oil technique, originating from the northern European painters, which is equally astonishing; and literally, takes one’s breath away.

Most probably my favorite Frick masterpiece, for the beauty, serenity, and incredible peace, it exudes.

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4)”St Francis in the Desert” by Giovanni Bellini around 1467-1478.

Just spectacular!

5)With “Portrait of Man in Red Cap”, from 1510, by Titian /Tiziano Vecellio (1477/90-1576), we discover with Titian, one of the greatest Italian High Renaissance painter from the late 15th/ XVth and 16th/XVIth centuries, (alongside Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Michelangelo (1475-1564) and Raphael (1483-1520), probably the most prominent High Renaissance artists ever, in terms of composition, anatomy and choice of color. And hang on to your hat, but believe it or not, Titian was also, Giovanni Bellini’s successor, as painter to the Republic of Venice, as he also studied under him, and under his brother Gentile.

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Titian will later on, in his very long career, then evolve, to create state portraits, religious and mythical paintings of Greek and Roman legends (I particularly enjoy his 1548-49 “Sisyphus” idealized painting, painted 38 years later), and Titian will also come to be influenced by Michelangelo “mannerism”, a deliberate style in which the human body is idealized, often characterized by by complex, and witty composition, and painted at times with unnatural highly vibrant colors.

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Yet here, this “Portrait of Man in Red Cap” is early in Titian’s career, and more pastoral in style. And in this particular portrait of a charming, day-dreaming, richly dressed (young) man in red cap, painted in about 1510 (most painters move away from poplar panels, to oil on canvas by then), this pastoral style is also reminiscent of another Italian painter (Giorgione who had also trained with Giovanni Bellini), as well. And to me this peaceful “Portrait of Man in Red Cap” painting, recalls some of the contemplative, “dreamy”, mysterious mood from (Giovanni) Bellini, while being more anchored to earthly realities of texture (the young man’s garments) and more realistic light (on the young man’s eye, face, neck, garments and gloved hands). And I particularly enjoy his youthful, pensive, and quiet gaze, which makes us wonder about his fleeting thoughts.

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5) “Portrait of Man in Red Cap”, by Titian in 1510.

Just charming.

6)With this “Lodovico Capponi” painting, an expressive, unusual, eccentric, refined, elegant, and idealized, unnaturally colorful, highly vibrant portrait, classified as “mannierist” portrait from the 16th/XVIth century; painted between 1550 and 1555, by illustrious Florentine Court painter to Duke Cosimo I de Medici, Agnolo Bronzino (1503-1572), who studied under Pontormo, offers us a fresh, modern, striking new style in portraiture.

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And I find that Bronzino’s stylish “Lodovico Capponi”, depicting a young aristocrat, a page at the Medici court, actually enchants me even more, than contemporary Titian’s “Man in Red Cap”, as Bronzino’s “Lodovico Capponi”‘s striking, strange, yet highly intelligent gaze, amongst such refinement, makes one want to discover more about him.

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I also am captivated by Bronzino’s adroit brushstrokes, to evoke an almost unnatural rich emerald hue, chosen for the seemingly soft and chic drapery background, behind this young page, which to me, adds even more depth, elegance and whimsy to this unusual, vivid, refined and idealized portrait; and am fascinated as well, by Bronzino’s precision and masterful renderings of the young aristocrat’s sophisticated garments (wearing his family’s armorial colors), and of his prominent sword pommel (to symbolize his strength and virility), contrasting with the delicacy of his hands.

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6) “Lodovico Capponi” by Agnolo Bronzino in 1550-1555.

Just beautiful.

After Italy, let’s now move on to admire three incredible pieces from this gorgeous Frick collection, originating from Spain.

7) With this austere and powerful portrait of “St. Jerome”, painted about 1590-1600, in his late years, by masterful, and totally unique, late 16th/ XVIth-early 17th/ XVIIth centuries painter, El Greco / Domenikos Theotokopoulos (1541-1614), we can applaud also, incredible talent. Born in the Venetian dependency of Crete (which gave him his nickname), we can admire also, with El Greco, a highly original style, developed with various Greek and Italian influences, yet so individual, he doesn’t belong to any school; and yet, El Greco is considered to be a precursor to Expressionism and Cubism, by many.

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So before telling you about this, late in his career, St. Jerome painting, let’s turn to El Greco’s earlier life, to understand with more depth, this incredibly original, stern, and powerful portrait.

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El Greco was initially trained as an icon painter, and became a master of Byzantine art in Crete, before traveling to Venice at 26, evolving to become a Titian disciple, and a student of Tintoretto, Veronese, and Bassano, studying perspective and anatomy; and later for a few years in Rome, worked on portraits and devotional paintings from the Farnese Palace, and was influenced by MichelAngelo’s compositional ideals. It is only at 36, after a short stint in Madrid, that he settled in 1577, in Toledo, where he remained for the rest of his life; and produced his most famous works, which were often met with puzzlement at the time, moving away from naturalism, and towards a world of erudite style, or maniera, characterized by elongated, twisting forms including faces and sometimes limbs, radical foreshortening (illusion of projection or extension in space), and unreal colors, evolving thus, towards more expressionism, feeling, and visionary atmosphere, such as in his celebrated gorgeous, lyrical, moody and mystical and powerfully symbolic, intellectual, and spiritual landscape painting from 1599, (painted around the same time as this St. Jerome), with “View of Toledo” or as in his other masterpiece from 1586, a few years earlier, the uniquely visionary “The burial of Count Orgaz”, depicting a miracle, with unusual composition and elongated faces, honoring the Count Orgaz, a long-dead benefactor, at whose funeral, Saints Stephen and Augustine were seen to miraculously appear to assist in the burial, as the Count’s soul is being received into Paradise.

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And with this late stern, sensitive, and stunning portrait from 1590-1600, of St. Jerome, the saint is equally depicted with elongated hands and face, and one can see the various influences aforementioned, in this striking masterpiece. And I am also fascinated by the beauty and intensity of the vermillion hue of the Cardinal’s robe St. Jerome is wearing (symbolizing his powerful spiritual status), as well as the saint’s silky white hair and beard (symbolizing his long earned wisdom), all produced by El Greco’s various soft brushstrokes, in which he has chosen to depict St. Jerome.

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A man, St. Jerome, venerated for his ascetic piety, and monumental translation of the Greek bible into Latin, his life’s work, represented here by the large and ordinary volume, on which St. Jerome respectfully rests his hands, in what I find, a simple, telling, and moving posture.

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And I feel, we can sense as well, El Greco’s tremendous admiration for the intellect, humility (despite his Cardinal’s robe), and spiritual power emanating from St. Jerome.

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7) “St. Jerome” by El Greco painted about 1590-1600.

Just sublime.

8)And with this famous portrait of the “King Philip IV of Spain”, painted in 1644, by one of the most important, if not the most important painter of the 17th/XVIIth century, Diego Velázquez / Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez(1599-1660), one can admire Velázquez’s incredible talent, trained in naturalistic style under Pacheco, and inspired by Venitian (Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese) painters and sculptors (Bernini in particular).

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And Velázquez’s style, evolved over the years, to even more baroque expressiveness, and living likeness, and sometimes unusual perspectives (and I particularly enjoy some of his later portraits, such as his 1650 “Juan de Pareja”).

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And to sum up Velázquez’s style, we can say it is characterized by brilliant, diverse brushstrokes and light effects, subtle harmonies of color, and atmosphere, all of which make Velázquez, as well, according to many, the chief forerunner of 19th /XIXth-century French Impressionism.

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It is also important to keep in mind, that King Philip IV of Spain, was Velázquez’s most ardent supporter, and a lavish patron of the arts and letters, promoting Spanish theater, enlarging royal collections, giving sumptuous parties in various palaces. And at age 24, Velázquez became official painter and a close personal friend of the King, and remained at the Spanish court until his death.

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And the King and Velázquez’ friendship was such that, 12 years later after painting this specific 1644 “King Philip IV of Spain” piece, Velázquez would choose to portray himself as well, pretty predominantly, in his most important masterpiece depicting the Spanish royal family around the young Infanta Margaret Theresa in 1656 (“Las Meninas”), by portraying himself full length, holding a paintbrush, alongside the royal family, to the left of the young Infanta, surrounded by her entourage, and choosing to portray at a much smaller scale, the Queen and the King (via a small mirror on the back wall reflecting fairly small sized upper bodies and heads).

Bold move.

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And I find it interesting, in this earlier, from 1644, more naturalistic “King Philip IV of Spain” painting by Velázquez, that the King decided to get his portrait painted, dressed in the same silver-and-rose costume he wore while campaigning against the French in Fraga, where the King won an important victory against the French, to express his power over Europe; I am even more amazed at how brilliantly and how expressively, Velázquez rendered this beautiful silver-and-rose garment’s symbolic power, to celebrate the King’s might.

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8)”King Philip IV of Spain” by Diego Velázquez in 1644.

Just awesomely majestic.

9) With Goya /Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), we discover as well, another truly influential and versatile Spanish Master, in his prolific artistic expression (paintings/etchings/printmaking) from the late 18th XVIIth-early 19th/ XIXth century, who studied under many teachers: first Luzan, then Anton Raphael Mengs, a German artist who worked as court painter for the Spanish royal family, and finally, Francisco Bayeu.

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Goya had various styles during his life, from Rococo to Romantic, all the way to Grotesque, subversive “Black paintings” genre, which led him ultimately at the end of his life, to leave Spain for France.

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Goya’s legacy represents a unique union of tradition and modernity. And as an Old Master, he honored the works of his predecessors like Velázquez and Rembrandt (more on him later in this post), working in a traditional manner as seen in his many royal and court portraits.

At the same time, his bold departure from the artistic conventions of his day, in his historical, religious, mythological, fantasies works, and his use of satire, to express his feelings towards the social and political events of his time, earns him a place as one of the first Modern European painters.

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In 1792, Goya suffered from from deafness, and around that time, Goya had begun working on “Los caprichos”, a series of etchings published in 1799, to comment socially and politically, on contemporary Spain.

Yet a few years later, from his Romantic painting period, like many, I especially enjoy his more Titian inspired “Naked Maja” from 1797-1800, which later of course, influenced Manet’s iconic 1863 “Olympia”.

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And with this “The Forge” painting by Goya from the Frick collection, painted about 1815-20, we find ourselves, in a completely different context, following a highly tragic historical period in Spain, after its 5 year bloody Peninsula War against Napoléon, during which on March 19, 1808, Spanish King Charles IV had to abdicate, in favor of Napoléon’s brother, Joseph Bonaparte. Fortunately for Spain, a few years later, by 1814, the Bourbon monarchy has been restored, after the final expulsion of the French. And of course, Goya’s style continued evolving.

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And Goya’ expressive style of painting for “The Forge”, is reminiscent for me, of my favorite painting of his, his celebrated powerful and highly expressive, anti-war statement, “The Third of May 1808” which was commissioned by the provisional government of Spain at Goya’s suggestion, and painted by Goya in 1814; and which commemorated Spanish resistance to Napoléon’s armies during the occupation of 1808, alongside his portfolio of etchings titled “The disasters of War”. A highly important painting “The Third of May 1808”, which will influence a century later Picasso, to paint in 1937, his own anti-war statement: “Guernica”.

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Little is known about Goya’s later years. He moved to a farmhouse on the outskirts of Madrid, La Quinta del Sordo (The House of the Deaf Man). And by 1821, he had completed his iconic 14 “Black paintings” painted directly onto the house’s plaster walls (which are highly subversive and disturbing, in their dark, grotesque imagery), and other disturbing etchings followed made at about the same time (though not published until 1864) entitled “Los proverbios” or “Los disparates” illustrating the absurdities, and various suffering of the times, in nightmare visions and expressionist language.

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And “The Forge” painted in 1815-20, is a a huge painting (181.6 x 125.1), which came at a pivotal time for Goya, a time that been incredibly, and obviously deeply marked, by this tragic Peninsula War (1808-1813/14), and even though, “the Forge” depicts a mythological theme associated with Vulcan, the metalworker of the Olympian gods, Goya has interestingly chosen to depict, sturdy, ordinary working class laborers, running Vulcan’s Forge, instead of Vulcan himself; and in my opinion, this choice of valuing even more, ordinary citizens instead of an Olympian god, can be understood even better, in light of the historical backdrop, during which Goya painted it, after everyday citizens, had to go to war to save Spain.

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And the expressiveness of the intensity, the difficulty and danger of the work for mere humans, with beginnings of grotesque expression for one of the laborers’ head, chosen by Goya, to illustrate the hot, heavy, almost inhuman blazing forge, that needs constant tending for Olympus; alongside with the black, white, and red colors chosen as well for this painting, and associated for me in Spain, with bull fighting, death, suffering, religion, royalty, and of course, power, are not lost on me.

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9) “The Forge” by Goya in 1815-20.

Just awesome.

After Spain, let’s now move on, to admire 16 incredible pieces, from this gorgeous Frick collection, originating from France.

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10) Let’s start with early 18th/XVIIIth century, which slowly, moved away artistically, from church and royal court grandeur, towards appreciation of intimacy and personal pleasures with Watteau; a sensitive, poetic, and highly influential, and innovative “Fête galante” Master: Jean-Antoine / Antoine Watteau (1684-1721).

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Watteau was a brilliant painter from the north of France, for whom, I have always had a soft spot, as he typified the lyrically lively, charming, sensual, graceful, flirtatious, full of frivolity, idealistic, decorative, early Rococo style, which has pervaded so much of French culture to come, and of course, in his time, during the Regency years of peace; after years of European conflicts, liberating the French aristocratic population, to new sensual behaviors, and many parties, after final years of moralistic austerity, set by the Sun King, Louis XIV (1638-1715), in the final years of his unbelievably long reign (72 years), from 1643 to 1715 in France.

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Much of Watteau’s work reflects the influence of many of his early and late protectors and patrons taste, which shaped his style, and Watteau was especially taken with the commedia dell’arte imagery, the opera ballet’s grace, eroticism, and lively musicality, being a great fan of music himself, as well as with the School of Fontainebleau works, filled with various European painters (Italian, French, and Flemish), and Rubens’ (1577-1640) playful Flemish baroque style and coloring.

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And to me, like many, Watteau was one of the most gifted and original artists of the early 18th/XVIIIth century, and had an impact on the development of Rococo art, music, and poetry; in France and throughout Europe; lasting well beyond his lifetime, into the next few centuries.

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Living only until 36, Watteau nonetheless had a very rich artistic life, leaving early on, at 18, small town, Valenciennes, in the North of France, to make a painting career in Paris, to support himself. And through sheer natural talent, determination and hard work, Watteau was introduced early on, to two influential men, who would shape his taste and style, and allow him to find success.

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Around 1705, at 21, Watteau began first working for Claude Gillot (1673–1722), an unconventional man, decorator of theatrical scenery inspired by the commedia dell’arte, and a great admirer of 16th /XVIth century first and second school of Fontainebleau works (led by mostly Florentine painters for the first, and mostly by a few French and Flemish painters for the second, hired to decorate the Château, for the first school, by Francois 1er, then, for the second school, by Henri IV). A man, of pronounced unique taste, Gillot, who abhorred the more trendy grandiose official art of his own time. This rich artistic environment of course, molded Watteau to feature in his paintings, graceful, sensual, and often swooning love birds, at times, happy, and at times, yearning, somewhat nostalgic, often frivolous figures; and all these characters and encounters, were clad in aristocratic and theatrical dress, meeting often, in lush, imaginary and poetic landscapes, in which personal sentiment is often masked, by delicately clever scenes of personal pleasure.

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Gillot also introduced 24 year old Watteau, a few years later, in 1708 to Claude Audran III (1658–1734), a designer of ornament and interior decoration. And working under these two influential masters, Watteau continued developing his soft, nuanced, graceful, theatrical, poetic, erotic, imaginary, and expressive style, increasingly incorporating topics and designs based on ornamented pastoral scenes, that had begun to dominate interior design. At 25, despite his unconventional training, Watteau was permitted to compete for the Prix de Rome at the Royal Academy of painting and sculpture, and won a second-place prize in 1709, but to his great disappointment, was never sent to study in Italy. At 26, he would mostly paint these sensual, lush, charming, frivolous scenes for many patrons, and yet he painted as well, in his early years, a few military landscape works, filled with poetry, nostalgia, and charm, such as this “Portal of Valenciennes” from 1710/11, now belonging to the Frick Collection.

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And later, with the backing of Charles de la Fosse (1636–1716), another fellow admirer of Rubens and Venetian style, which Watteau studied as well, Watteau was accepted at 28, into the Academy in 1712. In 1715, Watteau was introduced to many influential men, including Pierre Crozat, an important patron of his, who held a great collection of Italian and Flemish paintings, and who undoubtedly contributed as well to shape Watteau’s style. Another of Watteau’s dedicated patrons and friends, was Jean de Jullienne (1686–1766), who recorded his drawings as etchings, contributing immeasurably to his fame and influence as a draftsman.

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And my favorite painting by Watteau, is difficult to choose: I equally like “The pleasures of the ball” /Les plaisirs du bal” in 1715 /17, which is wonderfully charming, with strikingly beautiful depictions of aristocratic/theatrical garments, and is particularly lively, dynamic and rhythmical as well, as it is filled with distinguished menuet dancing; as well as his 1717 masterpiece “Pilgrimage /Embarkation to the isle of Cythera”/ “Le Pèlerinage à l’île de Cythère” later called “L’Embarquement pour l’île de Cythère”, which coined the “fête galante” name, for this new, innovative, lively, sensual, flirtatious, refined, pastoral, erotic, and equally stunning and charming painting genre (including in addition to the various dazed love birds being depicted, a series of cute little Rubenesque cupids, playfully bouncing around), definitely a new, incredibly unique, and revolutionary for the times, visual storytelling genre.

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And this particular masterpiece “Pilgrimage /Embarkation to the isle of Cythera”, (Cythera, being Venus’ birth island, an island of delights amidst the enchantment of nature, in which various love birds are enthralled, in various stages of erotic yet metaphorical love), this masterpiece, not only made a lasting impression on many artists across France, but also in Europe, including musicians, during that time (I am sure for example, that Mozart (1756-1791), a few decades later, was inspired and galvanized by Watteau, for many of his provocative operas, I am thinking of course, in particular of his 1787 “Don Giovanni”, or his 1790 “Così Fan Tutte”.

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And this “Cythera” masterpiece did also inspire as as well, in the following centuries, in particular in the late 19th/XIXth-early 20th/XXth centuries, celebrated French classical music composers, such as Claude Debussy (1862-1918), Erik Satie (1866-1925), and Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), who all wrote beautiful musical pearls, about “Cythera”. And personally, I am sure as well, that many French, Italian and German opera composers as well, were inspired by this painting, and Watteau’s works, including Wagner (1813-1883): I especially wonder, if Wagner was equally inspired by “Cythera”, for his 1845 opera “Tannhäuser”, celebrating metaphorical love in various guises (including with Venus), but I digress.

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And of course, in matters of 19th/XIXth century poetry, one of Paul Verlaine’s 1844-1896, (illustrious French lyric poet associated with the Parnassian style, and leader of the Symbolist poets), most famous poetry book, from 1869, “Les fêtes galantes”, influenced by these two Parnassian and Symbolist writing styles, pays a wonderful rhythmical homage to Watteau’s lively, sensual, erotic, refined, pastoral, frivolous, yet nostalgic, and charming “fête galante” new painting genre.

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A new painting genre, Watteau’s “fête galante”, present in most of his works, which will be followed closely, and thoroughly shape other 18th/XVIIIth century illustrious painters, such as for the French: François Le Moyne (1688–1737), François Boucher (1703-1770), and Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806).

Yay! and wow!

And let’s now get back to our poetic, charming, sentimental and nostalgic “The portal of Valenciennes”, from the Frick collection, painted at 26, still early on in Watteau’s short career, in (1710/11), depicting a military scene, of a resting guard. And although of a military genre, we can also see in “The portal of Valenciennes”, the apparent influence of his “fête galante” trademark style, soft colored, charming, graceful, nostalgic, poetic and theatrical, even in this different (military) genre. I particularly enjoy as well, the atmospheric and almost sepia mood, enhanced by the delicate garment depictions, and generic grand theatrical sets, which could be taking place anywhere in the world, and which remind me of course, as well, of various potential opera sets: from Bizet’s “Carmen”, to Massenet’s “Manon”, to Puccini’s “Tosca”, to Rossini’s “Guillaume Tell”, or Rossini’s “Le Comte Ory” or Donizetti’s “La fille du Régiment”, or even, Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’amore”. You get the picture.

Yay! and wow!

10)”Portal of Valenciennes” by Antoine Watteau in 1710/11.

Just charming.

11)With François Boucher (1703–1770), perhaps the most celebrated “late/mature Rococo” French painter and decorative artist of the 18th /XVIIIth century, known for his idyllic and voluptuous paintings on classical themes, decorative, passionate, charming and erotic mythological allegories, and pastoral scenes, we are also in the presence of great talent, who also influenced many artists around Europe, over the next centuries.

And as you can tell, from this next series of of four canvases, painted in 1755, in his mature period, celebrating “The Four seasons”, Boucher took inspiration from artists such as Flemish artist, Rubens (1577-1640) and and French artist, Watteau (1684-1721).

Yay! Yay! Yay!

From a humble background, Boucher initially supported himself as a printmaker and designer of book illustrations, and his talent as an illustrator, would later influence countless important French illustrators, including in the 20th/XXth century, illustrators such as Marcel Marlier, and his “Martine” series, to help French children learn to read (for example “Martine à la Montagne”), which is still a cherished and relevant series in France today, in part, for its old fashioned Boucher/ Rubenesque visual affiliation. And Boucher’s depiction of his “Winter girl” (seen below in his “Four seasons” series), particularly reminds me of Marlier’s 20th/XXth century illustration style.

Yay! and wow!

Around 1726–28, Boucher was employed by Jean de Jullienne (1686–1766) making etchings, after drawings by Watteau. These eventually financed Boucher’s trip to Italy in 1728, where his interests seem to have been largely focused on masters of the Baroque, yet the influence of the Italian countryside and Dutch landscape artists, can also be felt. Returning to Paris around 1731, Boucher increasingly turned his attention to large-scale mythological painting, and soon found official recognition in the form of royal commissions and membership at the Royal Academy, which he became a member of, in 1734.

Wow!

Extremely popular, Boucher had a wide-ranging clientele, from King Louis XV, to Madame de Pompadour, and many other patrons and collectors. And in 1765, Boucher was appointed to the two highest positions in the French arts establishment: first painter to the King, and director of the Royal Academy.

Wow!

And my favorite Boucher, from around the same period, in 1751, is probably, “La Toilette de Vénus” for its frivolous charm, innocence, and elegance.

Yay!

And here, with this example of Boucher from the Frick collection (the Frick has many more Boucher wonderful works), what amuses me especially, with this charming, frivolous, “Four seasons” series by Boucher, painted in 1755, for Madame de Pompadour, as overdoors for one of her residences, is that Boucher chose to innovate from the traditional labors, performed for each of these seasons, often depicted by painters to illustrate each season, and chose instead, to illustrate each season, with simple, pleasant, charming, and delightful pastimes of his times, in lush, beautiful landscapes, in homage to Watteau’s “fête galante” genre.

Wow! and Yay!

I particularly enjoy “Spring”‘s old fashioned and charming, amorous flowers crown making, “Summer”‘s lethargic sun bathing and water joys amongst young women, Fall’s amorous grape picnic, instead of harvesting them for wine, and Winter’s joyful amorous sled riding.

Yay! Yay! Yay!

“Spring” by François Boucher painted in 1755.

12) “Summer” by François Boucher painted in 1755.

13) “Autumn” by François Boucher painted in 1755.

14)”Winter” by François Boucher painted in 1755.

Just delightful.

15) With Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), another amazing talented and incredibly influential, and prolific 18th/XVIIIth century late French Rococo painter and print maker, who studied under “still life” and “genre” painter Jean Siméon Chardin (1699-1779) and “late/mature Rococo” painter François Boucher (1703-1770), we can also be awestruck by incredibly romantic, charming, hedonistic works, and as well, some truly exceptional historical and biblical works.

Yay! Yay! Yay!

And the Frick’s iconic romantic and whimsical 1771/72 “The Progress of love” four canvasses cycle, is one of the most beautiful examples of charming, late rococo decorative works, from the middle of Fragonard’s career.

Yay!

But before discussing these incredible “Progress of Love” decorative canvasses, let’s first, get to know Fragonard and his historical context: by the time he was 20 years old, Fragonard won the Prix de Rome, a scholarship to the French Academy, with his 1752 biblical painting “Jeroboam Sacrificing to the Idols” (which of course reminds me of Camille Saint-Saëns’ later 1877 “Samson et Dalila” opera).

Wow ! and Yay! Yay! Yay!

Fragonard later entered the École des élèves protégés in Paris, a school established to train the most promising students of the Académie royale. There, Fragonard studied history and the classics, with Carle Van Loo (1705-1765), one of the leading painters of the day, known for his elegant portraits of European royalty and fashionable society, and who also influenced Fragonard’s style.

Yay!

Three years later, he moved to study at the French Academy of Art in Rome, where he was influenced by the romantic gardens, temples, grottos, terraces, and fountains.

Yay!

My favorite painting of his, is difficult to choose: I have always loved his early, charming, and sensual 1767 “The Swing”/ “L’escarpolette” for its joyful, hedonistic and happy atmosphere, favored as well, by wealthy patrons and members of Louis XV’ court. (Louis XV(1710-1774) being Louis XIV’ grand son. And as his grandfather, Louis XV reigned for many years, 59 years, from 1715 to 1774 in France, after 15 years of Regency controlled by the Duke of Orleans.

Yet, I also equally admire the intense, intimate passion and eroticism which pervades Fragonard’s later work, in 1776-79 “The Bolt”: an equally mesmerizing and lascivious painting, deemed by many, to be a true masterpiece.

Wow! and Yay!

And this particular work, “The Bolt” was painted in 1776-79, under different historical circumstances: during Louis XVI’ reign (1774–92). Louis XVI (1754-1793) was Louis XV’ grand son; and was to be the last king of France in the line of Bourbon monarchs. In 1770, Louis XVI married Austrian archduchess, Marie-Antoinette. And after a series of governing missteps over the next few years, Louis XVI brought the French Revolution of 1789. Louis XVI was guillotined on January 21, 1793, followed by Marie Antoinette, nine months later.

Wow!

Fragonard remained wildly popular until the French Revolution (in 1789), but the French revolution deprived Fragonard of his patrons, many of whom, were either guillotined or exiled.

Wow!

Let’s get back to more levity, with the 1771/72 “Progress of love” cycle canvasses commissioned by Madame du Barry (1743–1793), under Louis XV’ reign, for her country retreat at Louveciennes. Yet, she changed her mind, and the canvasses were returned to the artist, and Madame du Barry replaced them with newly trendy, neoclassical “antique” compositions by Joseph Marie Vien (1716–1809).

Wow!

And a decade later, during the French revolution (1789), Fragonard left Paris for his native Grasse, taking with him the “Progress of love” canvasses, which he reassembled there, and painted two more canvasses, four overdoors with cupids, and four panels with delightful hollyhocks: all great achievements of French decorative 18th/XVIIIth century painting.

Wow! and Yay! Yay! Yay!

And I particularly admire in this “Progress of love” cycle, the poetry of the romantic gardens and fountains depicted, the beautiful lush and majestic trees and optimistic blue skies, the charm of the sweet cupids and stunning roses, the theatrical postures of the delightful, endearing, timid and romantic, and well/beautifully lit characters clad in aristocratic garments, as well as the old fashioned depiction of metaphorical love, including in its French original title: “Les progrès de l’amour dans le coeur d’une jeune fille” for these four huge and splendid decorative canvasses (317.8 x 215.5) for “the Pursuit”, (317.5 x 243.8), for “The Meeting”, 317.8x 243.2 for “The Lovers Crowned”, and (317.1 x 216.8) for “Love Letters”.

Wow! and Yay! Yay! Yay!

15) “The Pursuit” by Fragonard painted in 1771/72.

16) “The Meeting” by Fragonard painted in 1771/72.

17) “The Lover Crowned” by Fragonard painted in 1771/72.

18) “Love Letters” by Fragonard painted in 1771/72.

19)With Jacques Louis David (1748-1825), the most celebrated “Neoclassical” French artist of the late 18th/ XVIIIth century, we discover Neoclassical reaction to the Rococo style. And David’s work, as well as his political convictions, became a symbol of the French revolution, and of Napoléon Bonaparte, (who became Napoléon I, Emperor of France from 1804 until 1814, and again in 1815). A military leader, Napoléon, who had risen to prominence during the French revolution, and led several successful campaigns, and who, as Napoléon I, dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade, and ruled over continental Europe, before his final collapse in 1815, at the battle of Waterloo; and later, Napoléon died exiled, in 1821).

Wow!

As a painter, Jacques-Louis David wanted artwork to be political. He often painted heroes from myths or history that he believed represented worthy ideals: such as strength, brotherhood, and virtue. His paintings are very realistic and often portray heroes from Ancient/Antique Greece and Rome, and yet, he was also, a successful portraitist. 

Wow!

He competed four times for the Rome Prize, beginning in 1771; and with beautiful neoclassical “Antiochus and Stratonice”, and finally, in 1774, won the prize. In Rome from 1775 to 1780, masters of the Italian High Renaissance and early baroque influenced him to eliminate from his works all traces of Rococo style. And a few years later, sponsored by Vien, he was admitted to full academy membership in 1783.

Wow!

And my favorite painting of his, commissioned by Napoléon I in 1804, and finished 1808, is the “Sacre de Napoléon”, for its beauty, and its awesome size imposing dimensions, (33 ft) wide by (20 ft) tall, and especially for the beautiful depiction of the awesomely stunning imperial garments, worn by Napoléon, his bride Joséphine, and the elegant court.

Yay! and Wow!

And I particularly enjoy knowing that this particular portrait of the Comtesse Daru, was painted secretly in 1810, as a surprise gift for the Comte Daru, as the Count had previously helped David collect payment, for his 1808 “Sacre de Napoléon” painting. How wonderful! And I particularly admire the incredibly realistic, vivid and superb depiction of the Comtesse’s garments and shawl, jewelry and decorative flower headpiece,(skin) complexion, and unique reserved smile, all of which are just stunning.

Wow! and Yay!

19)”Comtesse Daru by David painted in 1810.

Just incredibly charming.

20)With Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), we can admire another most important French “Neoclassical” painter, after the death of his mentor, Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825). As a monumental history painter, Ingres sought to perpetuate the Classical tradition of Raphael and Nicolas Poussin. 

Wow!

Early on, in 1802, after winning top prize at the 1801 “Prix de Rome”, as Ingres waited a few years, to depart for Rome, Ingres was introduced to Italian Renaissance paintings, particularly the works of Bronzino (1503-1572) and Pontormo (1494-1552), which Napoléon (1769-1821) had brought back from his campaign in Italy. Ingres assimilated their clarity and monumentality into his own portrait style. In the Louvre, there were also masterpieces of Flemish art (van Eyck), which the French army had seized during its conquest of Flanders. The precision of Renaissance Flemish art became part of Ingres’s style. Ingres’s stylistic eclecticism, represented a new tendency in the art world.

Wow and yay!

In 1808-27, Ingres painted one of my favorites of his works, with “Oedipus and the sphinx”: a highly engaging mythological image, that demonstrates his knowledge of the canon, as well as his command of the nude male, a staple in the neoclassical Académie. He continued receiving over the years many public and private commissions.

Yay!

Yet in 1834, he finished a large religious painting, “The martyrdom of Saint Symphorian”, depicting the first saint to be martyred in Gaul. Ingres conceived the painting as the summation of all of his work and skill, and worked on it for ten years, before displaying it at the 1834 Salon. He was surprised by the response, as the painting was attacked by both the neoclassicists and by the romantics. In anger, Ingres announced that he would no longer accept public commissions, and that he would no longer participate in the Salon.

Wow!

By the end of 1834, Ingres returned to Rome to become the Director of the Academy of France. Ingres remained in Rome for six years, and there, devoted much of his attention to the training of the painting students. Ingres also devoted considerable attention to music, one of the subjects of the academy, being himself an accomplished violinist. He welcomed Liszt, and formed a long friendship with him. Composer Charles Gounod, who was a pensioner at the time at the Academy, described Ingres’s appreciation of modern music, including Weber and Berlioz, and his adoration for Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart and Gluck. And Ingres joined the music students and his friend Paganini, in playing Beethoven’s violin works.

Wow! and Yay!

Ingres’ anger against the establishment did not abate, yet Ingres did complete a small number of works which he sent to patrons in Paris. One was “The Odalisque and her slave”/”L’Odalisque et l’esclave”, (1839), a portrait of a blonde odalisque, or member of a harem, who reclines languorously while a turbaned musician plays, fitted into the popular genre of “Orientalism”, which is actually, one of my favorites of his, for its wonderful sensuality. In April 1841, he returned definitively to Paris.

Yay!

And with this beautiful 1845, Ingres portrait owned by the Frick, of the “Comtesse d’Haussonville”, a writer, including of the life of Byron (1788–1824), one of the greatest English poets from the late 18th/XVIIIth/early 19th XIXth century, and one of the leading figures of its Romantic movement, Ingres took his time. It took him 3 years to finish this highly expressive, stunning and subtle portrait: we can admire Ingres’ huge sensitivity, and his eclecticism uniting realism, with the wonderful precise Flemish renderings, and striking, Italian colors, giving a lot of personality to the evidently bright and beautiful Countess/Comtesse. I especially enjoy the reflection in the mirror of her provocative red ribbon, and the wonderful peace, direct gaze, and quiet charm, that her face exudes.

Wow! and Yay! Yay! Yay!

20)”Comtesse d’Haussonville” by Ingres painted in 1845.

Just wonderful.

21) With Claude Monet (1840-1926), one of the most important French 19th/ XIXth/early 20th/XXth centuries painter, founder of French “Impressionist” painting, and prolific outdoor “plein-air” landscape painter, we enter a modern era.

Yay! and Wow!

The term “Impressionism” is derived from the title of his 1873 epic and revolutionary painting, presented at an independent exhibition in 1874, and characterized by spontaneous, unique, and free brush strokes, to capture his own perception of nature’s beauty; the painting was called “Impression Sunrise”/ “Impression, Soleil levant”.

Yay! and Wow!

Throughout his long career, Monet consistently depicted landscape and leisure activities of Paris and its suburbs, as well as the Normandy coast. Monet undertook his first drawing lessons from Jacques-François Ochard (1800-1870), a former student of Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825). And on the beaches of Normandy, at around 16 years old, Monet met fellow artist Eugène Boudin (1824-1898), who became his mentor, and taught him to use oil paints. Boudin taught Monet as well, outdoor “plein air” techniques for painting.

Yay! and wow!

When he was twenty-two, Monet joined the Paris studio of the academic history painter Charles Gleyre (1806-1874). His classmates included Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870), and other future Impressionists. Monet enjoyed limited success in these early years, with a handful of landscapes, seascapes, and portraits accepted for exhibition at the annual salons of the 1860s. Yet, rejection of many of his more ambitious works, inspired Monet to join Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and Edouard Manet (1832-1883), Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), Renoir, and others in establishing an independent exhibition in 1874. “Impression Sunrise”/ “Impression Soleil levant “(1873) was one of Monet’s contributions to this exhibition. It drew particular scorn for the unfinished, free appearance of its loose handling and indistinct forms. Yet the artists saw the criticism as a badge of honor, and subsequently called themselves “Impressionists” after the painting’s title, even though the name was first used derisively.

Wow! and yay!

Monet often painted the same site, landscapes, ordinary family life scenes, haystacks, cathedrals, again and again, recording thus, how its appearance changed with the time of day.

Wow and yay!

And in the 1910s and 1920s, Monet focused almost exclusively on the picturesque water-lily pond that he created on his property, at Giverny.

Wow!

And my two favorite Monet paintings are probably his early paintings: in 1869 “The magpie”/”La pie”, for the beauty of the wintery light, silence and serenity; as well as his 1875 “Woman with parasol””La femme à l’ombrelle”, for its modern informality, its natural sense of movement, its cloudy, active beautiful skies, as if we were standing in the wind, next to the characters, who happen to be his wife and son.

Wow! and Yay!

And with this particular “Vétheuil in winter” piece owned by the Frick, painted in 1878/79, it is the cold, wintery, snowy, static, poetic, and panoramic background atmosphere, contrasting with the brisk oars movement in the small rowing boat, which particularly appeals to me.

Yay! and wow!

21) “Vétheuil in winter” by Claude Monet, painted in 1878/79.

Just stunning.

22)With Edgar Degas (1834-1917) a truly influential 19th/ XIXth/early 20th /XXth centuries painter who seems never to have reconciled himself to the label of “Impressionist”, he saw himself as a “Realist” or an “Independent.” Nevertheless, he was one of the group’s founders, an organizer of its exhibitions, and one of its most important core members. Like the “Impressionists”, he sought to capture fleeting moments in the flow of modern life, yet he showed little interest in painting “plein air” landscapes, favoring scenes in theaters, dance studios, or horse racing, using light, to clarify the contours of his figures.

Degas began by copying Italian Renaissance paintings at the Louvre, and trained in the studio of Louis Lamothe (1822-1869), who taught in the traditional academic style. Degas was also strongly influenced by the paintings and frescoes he saw during several trips to Italy, in the late 1850s. Degas also began to paint scenes of leisure activities, as horse racing, café-concert performers, and ballet dancers, which became a favorite topic of his, in the 1870s. And Degas’s choice of subject matter, reflects his modern approach.

Yay!

In 1872, Degas also spent several months in New Orleans, and later traveled in England, and North Africa.

Degas’ portraits are thus, far from traditional portraits, and focus rather, on human body movement, exploring the physicality and discipline of the characters, (especially when dancers), through various athletic postures and unexpected vantage points.

Yay!

By the late 1880s, Degas’ eyesight had begun to fail, perhaps as a result of an injury suffered during his service in defending Paris, during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. After that time, he focused almost exclusively on dancers and nudes, increasingly turning to sculpture, as his eyesight weakened.

Wow!

And here, in this compelling and intimate (middle of career) 1878/79 “Rehearsal” painting, the importance of getting lost in music, in its rhythm while rehearsing, the active listening it requires, the lovely violin sound, the discipline and group cohesion that are well apparent here; are all, what particularly move me, in this lively painting.

Yay!

22) “The Rehearsal” by Edgar Degas, painted in 1878/79.

Just wonderful.

23) With Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875), we discover one of the leading French 19th /XIXth century painters of the Barbizon school (which recognized landscape, and pleasure in nature, as an independent subject). Corot is a pivotal figure in “dreamy” landscape painting, and his vast output references the Neo-Classical tradition, as well as anticipates the “plein-air” innovations of “Impressionism”.

In his late 20’s, Corot spends 3 years in Italy in Rome and its countryside, which were highly formative years for him, in terms of painting technique, and use of light: Corot usually mixed and blended his colors, to get his “dreamy” effects.

Yay! and wow!

When out of the studio, Corot traveled throughout France, mirroring his Italian methods, and concentrated on rustic landscapes. He returned to the Normandy coast and to Rouen, the city he lived in, as a youth.

Between 1829 and 1833, Corot spent a lot of time with other Barbizon school painters near Fontainebleau (Rousseau (1844-1910), Millet (1814-1875), and Daubigny (1817-1878). And by the mid-1850s, Corot’s increasingly impressionistic style, began to get the recognition that fixed his place in French art. 

Yay!

In the 1860s, Corot was still mixing peasant figures with mythological ones, mixing Neoclassicism with Realism, and human figures were often set in idyllic “rêveries”.

Yay!

With his success secured in the 1870’s, Corot gave generously of his money and time. He became an elder of the artists’ community, and would use his influence to gain commissions for other artists.

Wow! and Yay!

23) And this poetic mature “The Lake” piece, painted in 1861, is one of my all time favorite of his; for its calm, still, “dreamy”, beautiful, bucolic, serene quietness, which particularly speak to me.

Yay! and wow!

23) “The Lake” by Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, painted in 1861.

Just awesome.

24) With Edouard Manet (1832-1883), we discover a pivotal, French, 19th/XIXth century painter, transitioning from “Realism” style to “Impressionism”. Edouard Manet was an influential, provocative painter, who left his own unique, and modern mark, on the art world. Early on, Manet was allowed to start art lessons under the academic and French history painter Thomas Couture (1815-1879), who had him copy the works of the great masters in the Louvre. Young Manet was also incredibly impressed with by Dutch master Frans Hals (1582-1666), and Spanish masters, Diego Velázquez (1599-1660), and Francisco Goya (1746-1828).

Wow! and yay!

In 1856, in his early thirties, Manet met the painter Berthe Morisot (1841-1895), who exposed him to her circle of “Impressionist” painter friends, including Claude Monet (1840-1926), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), and Edgar Degas, (1834-1917) and their “plein air” painting techniques. Many of Manet’s works revolved around depictions of leisure activities, including observations of social life in all of the classes, from bourgeois horse racing, to prostitutes drinking, to the streets of Paris and boating scenes, many of which were made from sketches done on the spot, and pretty avant-garde, for the time.

Wow ! and yay!

And Morisot would later on, marry Manet’s younger and less renown painter brother, Eugène, in 1874, who actively supported Morisot’s career.

Wow ! and yay!

In 1863, Manet especially shocked the art world with two paintings: 1) “Luncheon on the grass” / “Déjeuner sur l’herbe”: a large, provocative painting, depicting clothed men picnicking outdoors with a naked woman, a social comment about the times, was rejected by the jury. When it was finally shown publicly that same year, it elicited a similarly negative response, from the masses. 2) Manet waited two years before submitting in 1865 to the Salon, his other provocative and modern masterpiece “Olympia”, also painted in 1863, depicting a reclining nude woman, attended by a maid and a black cat, gazing mysteriously and directly at the viewer. The objections to “Olympia” had more to do with the realism of the subject matter (acknowledging the reality of prostitution), than the fact that the model was nude. In the painting, the maid offers the prostitute/courtesan a bouquet of flowers, presumably a gift from a client, not the sort of scene previously depicted in the art of the era. Viewers weren’t sure of Manet’s motives, yet Manet was simply depicting another example, of Paris’ “hedonistic” life.

Wow!

In 1875, some of Manet’s paintings were also included in a book-length edition of Edgar Allen Poe’s (1809-1849), 1845, “The Raven”.

Wow!

Finally in 1881, one year before his death, public recognition, came to him, as he was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government.

Wow! 

24) And in 1864, a year before painting his 1865 “Olympia”, Manet exhibited this magnificent “Bullfight” painting, in the Salon of 1864, under the title, “Incident at the Bullring”. Badly reviewed, by the art critics of the time, even though to me, it is undeniably, one of my favorites of his, Manet cut out two separate compositions from the original canvas, and reworked them: the lower and larger portion now entitled “The Dead toreador”, a stunning and unique depiction, with unusual perspective, of the toreador’s death, is simply awesome; as is this “The Bullfight”, which also attest(s) to Manet’s enthusiasm, as many, in this/these painting(s) as well, for unique and compelling visual storytelling perspectives, bold and bright colors to signify (in my mind) Manet’s admiration for Spain and its bullfighting traditions, and his admiration especially, of the toreador’s courage when facing potential death, as for, as well of course, his admiration for Velázquez and Goya.

Wow! and Yay! yay! yay!

“The Bullfight” by Manet painted in 1864.

Just spectacular.

Let’s now move on to England, with a few paintings from four captivating artists belonging to the Frick collection.

25)Let’s start with English 18th/XVIIIth century brilliant portraitist painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), who dominated English artistic life, and whose style is characterized by “Grand Style”, which idealized their “models”, (artists would perceive their subjects through idealization rather than simply copying the sitter). And with the founding of the Royal Academy in 1768, Reynolds was elected its first president, and knighted by King George III.

Wow!

Having shown an early interest in art, Reynolds was apprenticed in 1740 to the fashionable London portraitist Thomas Hudson (1701-1779) a prolific and successful artist, who held a collection of Old Master drawings, including some by Italian Baroque painter Guercino(1591-1666), of which, Reynolds made copies.

Wow and Yay!

In 1749, Reynolds visited Lisbon, Cadiz, Algiers, and Minorca. From Minorca he travelled to Livorno in Italy, and then to Rome, where he spent two years, studying the Old Masters and acquiring a taste for the “Grand Style”.

Yay!

After traveling to Florence, Bologna, Venice and Paris, in 1752, Reynolds established himself in London, for the rest of his life, and became the most fashionable portraitist of his time. Alongside ambitious full-length portraits, Reynolds painted large numbers of smaller works, and even a few landscapes later in his career.

Wow!

Reynolds was one of the earliest members of the Royal Society of Arts, helped found the Society of Artists of Great Britain, and in 1768 became the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts, a position he was to hold until his death. In 1769, he was knighted (Reynolds being only the second artist to be so honored), by George III (1738-1820), who was King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1760 until the union of the two kingdoms on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death in 1820. Reynolds’ unique “Discourses”, a series of lectures delivered at the Academy between 1769 and 1790, are remembered for their sensitivity and perception, and shaped British aesthetics.

Wow and yay!

In his mature years, Reynolds suffered from deafness, although this did not impede his lively social life (he used an ear trumpet).

Wow and yay!

And I particularly enjoy this 1766 portrait of “General John Burgoyne”, as a memento of their 1762 Portuguese campaign (a main military episode of the wider Seven Years’ War in which Spain and France were heavily defeated by the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance with broad popular resistance), for the contrast between the dark skies and the beautiful vermillion uniform, alongside the unusual 3/4 stern profile, conveying authority, as does his striking weapon, held in his hand. And what wonderful garment detailing. Just awesome.

Yay! and wow!

25) “General John Burgoyne” by Sir Joshua Reynolds, painted in 1766.

Just stunning.

And I enjoy as well, a few years later, from 1786, and also by Reynolds, his “Selina, Lady Skip” portrait, also found at the Frick, for her formidable powdered hair, extravagant blue and feathered hat, otherworldly pale skin complexion, contrasting with the naturalness of her pose, in a pouffy yet delicate, and evidently corseted white dress, wearing a lovely cameo bracelet and wearing /holding exquisite gloves, and adorned and beautified naturally as well, by a few small pink roses in her proper “décolleté”, posing in front of a delightful garden, bathed in equally dark skies, with a mysterious yet gentle gaze. A complex woman undoubtedly, who had a reputation as a skilled horsewoman.

Wow! and yay!

26) “Selina, Lady Skipwith” by Sir Joshua Reynolds, painted in 1787.

Just charming.

With Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), another illustrious English portraitist and landscape artist, considered alongside his rival Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), to be one of the most important British artists of the second half of the 18th/XVIIIth century, we can also admire incredible talent.

Yay!

The feathery brushwork of Gainsborough’s mature work and rich sense of color, contribute to the enduring popularity of his portraits. Unlike Reynolds, he avoids references to Italian Renaissance art or the Antique, and shows his sitters, in fashionable contemporary dress.

Yay!

He was a founding member of the Royal Academy, though he later bickered with the Academy, over the hanging of his pictures. He became a favorite painter of George III and his family.

Yay! and wow!

Gainsborough trained in London, and set up in practice in Ipswich around 1752. In 1759, he moved to Bath, a fashionable spa town, attracting many clients for his portraits. Gainsborough finally settled in London in 1774. His private inclination was for landscape and rustic scenes, and his amusing letters, record his impatience with his clients’ demands for portraits.

Wow!

And with this delightful 1757, early portrait of “Sarah, Lady Innes”, it is Gainsborough’s delicate renderings of the garment beautiful various fabrics which I particularly admire, as well the innocent graceful gaze, of this lovely young woman, surrounded by a fragrant and lovely rose bush, which has just started to bloom, a young woman also adorned with a soft feather in her hair, and holding a budding, and clipped, sole pink rose stem in her fingers, which to me speak of her youth and charm, and lovely burgeoning femininity.

Yay! and wow!

27)”Sarah, Lady Innes” by Thomas Gainsborough, painted about 1757.

Just charming.

And with this other portrait by Gainsborough of “Grace Dalrymple Elliott”, painted 25 years later, it is Gainsborough’s sensitive depiction of this remarkably tall, confident, seemingly gentle, beautiful and striking woman, which I admire, as well as the sparkling earrings depicted, adorning her beautiful face and high colored cheeks. I am also of course, amazed by the sexy and feminine dress with its deep”décolleté”, playfully enhanced by a gorgeous pink ribbon, and a huge splendid emerald brooch, she chose to wear for this sitting.

Wow!

And what modernity in her direct gaze.

Wow! and Yay!

28) “Grace Dalrymple Elliott”, by Gainsborough, painted in 1782.

Just beautiful.

And with this landscape painting by Gainsborough, one year later, in 1783, it is the almost “Watteau” like expressive inspiration of high society life, which I particularly admire, alongside the beautiful garments and hats, these ladies are all wearing, as well as the joyfulness of the happy young dog, which amuses me.

29) “The Mall in St. James’ Park” by Gainsborough, painted in 1783.

Just delightful.

30)With Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), we discover one of the most fashionable, and successful English portraitist of the late 18th/XVIIIth and early 19th/XIXth centuries, portraying most of the important personalities of the day, in his polished and flattering style, and thus, earning him a highly praised and formidable reputation.

Wow! and yay!

He was a child prodigy and largely self-taught; at the age of 10 he was making accomplished portraits in crayon. He was influenced by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), during his youth, and his style developed very little throughout his life.

Wow!

Lawrence took to painting in 1786 and became a pupil at the Royal Academy school in 1787; in the following year, at the age of 19, he exhibited his first portrait. In 1794 he became a member of the Academy and Painter-in-Ordinary to the King (George III) on the death of Reynolds in 1792. He was knighted in 1815, and became President of the Academy five years later. He was also a collector, and formed one of the finest collections of Old Master drawings ever known.

Wow! and yay!

And this absolutely gorgeous portrait, painted and exhibited in 1827, was proclaimed to be among “the highest achievement of modern art”.

Wow!

It apparently was inspired by a Rubens painting from 1622-1625 “The Straw hat”/”Le chapeau de paille” which Lady Peel, (wife of statesman Sir Robert Peel, who twice served as Prime Minister), owned, in which the older sister of Rubens’ second wife is probably being portrayed (it may be Susanna Lunden), wearing the same kind of stylish black straw hat.

Wow!

I actually way prefer, the Lady Peel portrait, by Lawrence, for the striking beauty of Lady Peel’s face, her soft expression, and in particular, the gorgeous statement jewelry pieces, Lady Peel is wearing on her wrist, and ring finger, whose piling up, intricacy, weight and size, contrast beautifully with her simple, natural, soft and charming, face features, and soft, shiny, silky, and white left arm sleeve, as it does also, with the red feathered hat piece, and natural red rose (or camellia), pinned on her “décolleté”.

Wow!

30) “Julia, Lady Peel” by Sir Thomas Lawrence, painted in 1827.

Just gorgeous.

31) With James Mc Neill Whistler (1834-1903): an illustrious 19th /XIXth century American-born and British based painter, whose style was characterized by subtle delicacy, and was influenced by French Realism leader, Courbet (1819-1877) and Dutch Baroque Period painter, who specialized in domestic interior scenes, Vermeer (1632-1675), we can also admire, unique talent.

In his teenage years in 1851, Whistler was admitted to West Point, the U.S. Military Academy, where his father had taught drawing, which was not suited to his personality.

A few years later, Whistler realized he wanted to be an artist in Paris, and arrived in Paris in 1855, rented a studio in the Latin Quarter, and quickly adopted the life of a bohemian artist. Whistler never returned to the States.

In 1858, Whistler befriended French painter, Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) who introduced him to a host of important French painters and artists: Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), Carolus Duran (1837-1917), and later a teacher as well, of American painter, John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Alphonse Legros, (1837-1911), and Edouard Manet (1832-1883).

Wow!

Also, in this group belonged French poet, Baudelaire (1821-1867) whose ideas and theories of “modern” art, influenced Whistler. Baudelaire challenged artists to scrutinize the brutality of life and nature, and to portray it faithfully, avoiding the old themes of mythology and allegory. French novelist Théophile Gautier (1811-1872) one of the first, to explore commonalities among art and music, may have inspired Whistler to view art in musical terms.

Wow! and Yay!

Whistler’s art thus, was marked by a subtle delicacy, while his public persona was combative. He found a parallel between painting and music, and entitled many of his paintings “arrangements”, “harmonies”, and “nocturnes” as he was particularly enthralled with the notion of harmony.

Wow!

in 1859, Whistler moved to London, which he adopted as his home, while also regularly visiting friends in France.

Whistler’s famous butterfly signature was first developed in the 1860s out of his interest in Asian art. He studied the potter’s marks on the china he had begun to collect and decided to design a monogram of his initials. Over time, this evolved into the shape of an abstract butterfly. By around 1880, he added a stinger to the butterfly image to create a mark, representing both his gentle, sensitive nature and his provocative, feisty spirit.

Wow!

Whistler had been disappointed over the irregular acceptance of his works for the Royal Academy exhibitions and the poor hanging and placement of his paintings. In response, Whistler staged his first solo show in 1874. The show was notable and noticed, however, for Whistler’s design and decoration of the hall, which harmonized well with the paintings.

Yay! and wow!

In 1872, Whistler credited his patron, a major art collector, Frederick Leyland, an amateur musician devoted to Chopin (1810-1849), for his musically inspired titles.

Wow! and yay!

And with Whistler’s 1871-74 wonderfully romantic portrait of Mrs Frances Leyland entitled “Symphony in Flesh Color and Pink”, from the Frick collection, and one of my favorites of his, one can admire his great unique technique.

And I particularly admire, in addition to the dreamy, peaceful, mysterious and perhaps a tad stern, gaze emanating from Mrs Leyland, I admire as well, the fact that Whistler designed himself, Mrs Leyland’s ravishingly unusual and elegant gown; and paints her portrait, with an exquisite and subtle melancholy and softness, while focusing mostly, on her simple and natural standing posture (echoing the natural beauty of the white flowered bush she is standing next to), with hands behind her back, thus showing off, her beautiful silhouette viewed from behind, to enhance even more, the originality of the delightful garment, as well as her youthful, romantic and feminine, profile and hands.

Wow!

And personally, I also think this particular painting from Whistler, may have later influenced Austrian painter, Klimt’ (1862-1918) soft sinuous brushstrokes, found in his iconic portraits of women such as Emily Floge, Sonja Knips, and in particular, Serena Pulitzer Lederer, if you ask me.

Yay!

31)”Symphony in Flesh Color and Pink” by James Mc Neill Whistler, painted in 1871-74.

Just stunning.

32) With Hans Holbein the younger, 1497/98-1543: we can admire one of the most accomplished German portraitists of the 16th/XVIth century. He spent two periods of his life in England (1526-28 and 1532-43), portraying the nobility of the Tudor court. Holbein’s famous portrait of Henry VIII dates from the second of these periods.

Wow!

Holbein was taught by his father, Hans Holbein the Elder. He became a member of the Basel artists’ guild in 1519. He travelled a great deal, and is recorded in Lucerne, northern Italy and France. During that time, he produced woodcuts and fresco designs, as well as panel paintings.

Wow!

With the spread of the Reformation (a major movement within Christianity, in 16th-century Europe, that started Protestantism and what is now the Roman Catholic Church), demand for religious images declined, and artists sought alternative work. Holbein first travelled to England in 1526, with a recommendation from the scholar Erasmus (1466-1536), a Dutch philosopher and Christian scholar (who is widely considered to have been one of the greatest scholars of the northern Renaissance), to offer his painting services to Thomas More (1478-1535): an English lawyer, judge, social philosopher, author, statesman, and noted Renaissance humanist, who also served Henry VIII as Lord High Chancellor of England from October 1529 to May 1532, and who was beheaded for refusing to accept King Henry VIII, as head of the Church of England, and later canonized as a saint).

Wow!

Thomas Cromwell(1485-1540), Lord Great Chamberlain in 1539, under Henry VIII, was largely responsible for the execution of Thomas More.

Wow!

And in 1540, Cromwell fell from Henry’s favor, and was himself accused of treason, and beheaded.

Wow!

And what is incredible, is that Holbein painted a few years apart, both “Sir Thomas More” in 1527, and “Thomas Cromwell” in 1532-33, portraits, which the Frick now owns. And both of these stately paintings, to me, speak to the intellect and power of these men, with intelligent gazes and decorative jewelry (More’s chunky gold necklace, and ring, and Cromwell’s ring). The modern and striking colors of both paintings are also incredibly beautiful, in particular More’s burgundy velvet sleeves, as is, Cromwell’ s round table/ pouf seat interesting red velvety fabric.

Wow!

32) “Sir Thomas More” by Holbein the younger, painted in 1527.

33) “Thomas Cromwell” by Holbein the younger, painted in 1532-33.

Just awesome.

34) With Frans Hals (1582/83-1666), we can admire a Dutch Golden Age 17th / XVII th century painter, especially famous for portraiture. He is notable for his loose painterly brushwork, and helped introduce this lively style of painting, into Dutch art.

Yay!

Hals practiced an intimate realism with a radically free approach. His pictures illustrate the various strata of society: banquets or meetings of officers, guildsmen, local councilmen from mayors to clerks, itinerant players and singers, gentlemen, fishwives, and tavern heroes. The faces are not idealized, and are clearly distinguishable, with their personalities revealed in a variety of poses and facial expressions.

Yay! and wow!

Hals is believed to have studied with Flemish painter Carel van Mander (1548-1606), and joined the Painters guild of Haarlem in 1610, and painted until his death, mainly, portraits.

And with this portrait, it is the lively expression of this man’s gaze that I admire, his jovial personality, clearly coming through his precisely depicted open face, alongside the precision of the hand depiction standing on a piece of furniture/ a chest perhaps.

Yay! and wow!

34)”Portrait of an elderly man” by Frans Hals, painted about 1627-30.

Just stunning.

35)With Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641), we discover the most important Flemish painter of the 17th century after Rubens (1577-1640), whose works influenced the young Van Dyck. He also studied and was profoundly influenced by the work of Italian artists, above all, Titian (1490-1576).

Yay!

Van Dyck was an extremely successful portraitist and painter of religious and mythological pictures in Antwerp and Italy. However, he is now best remembered for his elegant and authoritative representations of Charles I (1600-1649) King of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1625 until his execution in 1649, setting a new standard for English portraiture.

Wow!

Van Dyck was born in Antwerp. A precocious artist, his first independent works date from 1615-16, when he would have been about 17. In 1621, he was in the service of James I of England, but left to visit Italy, where he remained until 1627. His aristocratic rendering of Genoese patricians, were very well received in that city. After a second period in the Netherlands, greater success awaited Van Dyck when he settled at the English court in 1632.

And I particularly like the two following portraits of Frans Snyders and of Margareta de Vos (Frans Snyders ‘wife), both from 1620, which reflect well the friendship that links Van Dyck to his friends, Frans and Margareta.

Wow! and Yay!

35)”Frans Snyders” by Van Dyck painted in 1620.

36) “Margareta de Vos” by Van Dyck, painted in 1620.

Just beautiful.

37) With Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606-1669), simply called Rembrandt, we can admire the greatest artist of Holland’s 17th /XVIIth century “Golden Age.” Rembrandt worked first, in his native Leiden and, from 1632 onward, in Amsterdam, where he had studied briefly with the influential history painter Pieter Lastman (1593-1633). Rembrandt never went abroad, but he studied the works of Northern artists who had lived in Italy. However, a crucial aspect of Rembrandt’s development was his intense study of people, objects, and their surroundings. Rembrandt’s direct observation skills were exceptional, continued throughout his career, and made Rembrandt a great teacher.

And I particularly enjoy the incredible skin rendition/ definition, on this Rembrandt portrait owned by the Frick, depicting “Nicolaes Ruts”, an Amsterdam merchant, from 1631, and the beautiful rich furs he wears, with dramatic contrasts and lightings, and great detailed renderings of the merchant’s garments.

Wow!

37) “Nicolaes Ruts” by Rembrandt in 1631.

Just awesome.

38) And with this late “Self portrait”, painted in 1658, 27 years later, it is the much softer, warmer, diffused light illuminating Rembrandt’s body and only 3/4 of his face, as well as Rembrandt’s broad brushstrokes, which I particularly admire.

Wow!

38)”Self portrait” by Rembrandt in 1658.

Just stunning.

39) With Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), alongside Rembrandt (1606-1669) and Frans Hals (1580-1666), we can admire another 17th/ XVIIth century Dutch Master. Vermeer being especially famous for his domestic, beautifully lit, interiors. Interestingly, Vermeer was much less well known in his own day, and remained relatively obscure until the end of the nineteenth century. The main reason for this, is that he produced a small number of pictures, perhaps about 45 (of which 36 are known today), primarily for a small circle of patrons in Delft. Almost half of Vermeer’s works was acquired by local collector Pieter van Ruijven.

Wow!

And in the two next and last paintings, belonging to the Frick collection, which I will comment on, I particularly admire the dazzling study of light, of these domestic interiors, the dramatic tension between the two characters, in both paintings, as well as the beautiful renderings of garments, and light sparkle on various objects, in particular on a window pane, for the first painting, or the mistress’ pearl earring, in the last painting.

Wow! and Yay!

39) “Officer and laughing girl” by Vermeer, painted about 1657.

40) “Mistress and maid” by Vermeer, painted about 1666-68.

Just stunning.

And to conclude this long “voyage”, during which we admired wonderfully harmonious masterpieces, let me share a short, awesomely beautiful and harmonious chorale, from Bach’s “St John’s Passion”, about cheer and rejoicing.

Yay!

Enjoy!

Until next time friends!

Soft…

Fluttering…

Sunny…

Joyful…

Happy…

Loving…

Eternal butterflies 😊