ten works

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Ten works not to be missed at the Dreams & Reality: Masterpieces Of Painting, Drawing And Photography exhibition

STARRY NIGHT, 1888-1889

By Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)

Oil on canvas, 72.5x92cm

The 19th-century Dutch master enjoyed the starry night skies of the Midi region in southern France and he wanted to ‘paint the stars’. The banks of the river Rhone provided the perfect setting for this composition where the night light and its reflections allowed him to capture the elements of the sky, earth and water. The sky, painted in cobalt blue, dominates this. You can see the constellation of The Great Bear and the stars are painted in strokes with thick white highlights at their centre. These were believed to have been applied straight from the paint tube.

STUDY OF A FIGURE OUTDOORS: WOMAN WITH A PARASOL LOOKING TO THE RIGHT, 1886

By Claude Monet (1840-1926)

Oil on canvas, 131x88cm

Monet, who is famous for his paintings of water lilies, dedicated himself almost exclusively to landscapes from the mid-1870s. He returned to figure painting from 1886 to 1888. However, he was interested in a figure within a landscape. In the summer of 1886, he painted this picture, the model for which was his step-daughter Suzanne Hoschede. He enhanced the composition’s decorative character while heightening the impression of movement. Everything in this painting seems to quiver, with the figure enveloped in light and air.

THE BIRTH OF VENUS, 1863

By Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889)

Oil on canvas, 130x225cm

The was one of the great successes of the 1863 Salon, where it was bought by Napoleon III. Typical of Cabanel’s style, this painting is regarded as a perfect example of popular and official artistic taste of the period. The mythological theme, though, is simply a pretext for the portrayal of a nude figure who, though idealised, is depicted in a suggestive pose complete with an alluring gaze.

WAR OR THE CAVALCADE OF DISCORD, 1894

By Henri Rousseau (1844-1910)

Oil on canvas, 114x195cm

When French artist Rousseau presented this painting at the 1894 Salon des Independants, it received mixed reactions. Some criticised its heavy-handed appearance while others embraced its independent style. Taking inspiration from popular imagery, and Italian painter Uccello’s battle scenes, this expressive work looks at the futility of war. The painting is dominated by black and red, the colours of mourning and blood portraying the grief caused by any war.

M. AUGUSTE RODIN, 1906 (ORIGINAL NEGATIVE), 1911

By Edward Steichen (1879-1973)

Heliogravure from the original negative, 23.9×16.5cm

Steichen wanted to take portraits of the artists and writers of his time. He had dreamt of meeting the sculptor Rodin prior to his arrival in Paris in 1900, and his dream was realised a year later. This portrait appeared on German poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s pioneering monograph of the sculptor in 1908.

THE CARDPLAYERS, 1890-1895

By Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), Oil on canvas, 47.5x57cm

Using local farmhands as models, the French painter is said to have drawn inspiration for this Provencal genre scene from a painting of the same theme by the Le Nain brothers that was in the museum in Aix. Depicting just two card players, Cezanne does not paint too many details in the surroundings. This lends the painting a timeless effect which is enhanced by the range of colours rendered with wide brushstrokes.

KATHERINE, 1905

By Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946)

Heliogravure from the original negative, 20.7×16.8cm

Stieglitz, the son of a self-made man of German-Jewish origin who had settled in New York, trained in Europe where he witnessed the birth of the Pictorialist movement. This movement was composed of amateur photographers who considered themselves artists in the same way as the painters and sculptors around them. They rejected the point-and-shoot approach to photography and embraced labour-intensive processes which involved hand-coating artist papers with home-made emulsions and pigments, or making platinum prints, which yielded rich, tonally subtle images. Katherine is one of the many superb portraits produced by Stieglitz of his only child by his first wife, whom he married in 1893. Her soulful gaze inspires reflections about her troubled childhood.

VARIATIONS IN VIOLET AND GREEN, 1871

By James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

Oil on canvas, 61×35.5cm

The influence of Japanese prints, which had arrived in Europe from the mid-19th century, helped Whistler move away from his traditional training. This painting features the characteristic Oriental flattened perspective, with water dominating the middle section. Whistler concentrates on light effects late in the evening which are captured through rapid strokes of colour.

SEMIRAMIS BUILDING BABYLON, 1861

By Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Oil on paper on canvas, 26.5×40.5cm

In his early years, French impressionist Degas aspired to be a history painter. This painting depicts a mythological scene featuring Semiramis, a legendary queen of Assyria. Determined to surpass her predecessor, she summoned architects and workers from all over to build the city of Babylon. In accordance with the Neoclassical academic tradition, the figures were drawn separately, first nude, then draped with care.

From the 1850s until about 1862, Degas worked on a large version of this piece. Just a few aspects differentiate this detailed oil work from the final version.

A BOX AT THE THEATRE DES ITALIENS, 1875-1878

By Eva Gonzales (1849-1883), oil on canvas, 98x130cm

The inspiration for this painting came from Gonzales’ teacher Edouard Manet and his painting The Balcony (1869), focusing on the isolation of the characters. But Gonzales, a key female Impressionist painter, demonstrates her own style and approach in her abundant use of black and the light touch that gives life to the gossamer covering the young woman’s neckline and arms.

About the Impressionists

* Impressionism is one of the most important artistic movements of the 19th century and the first of the Modern Movements.

* It developed in France between 1867 and 1886. The artists who made up the Impressionist school shared a similar approach to art.

* Key Impressionist artists include famous names such as Claude Monet, Pierre Renoir, Alfred Sisley and Camille Pissarro.

* These artists placed great emphasis on capturing reality through the effects of light and colour.

* The Impressionist aesthetic was different from the traditional school of art which emphasised subjects and themes. For the Impressionists, the subject did not matter as much as the artist’s manipulation of colour, tone and texture.

* In the 1860s and 1870s, the Impressionists painted aspects of modern life as they saw it. They captured its energy, its exhilaration, its possibilities for leisure and its exploitation of nature and people.

* In their search for the ultimate way to represent reality on canvas, the Impressionists developed techniques and beliefs which paved the way for Post-Impressionism.

* Major post-Impressionist exponents included Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Paul Cezanne.

* These artists preferred and highlighted geometric forms which led to the development of early modernism and abstract expressionism.

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