Van Gogh on Art and Artists: Letters to Emile Bernard (Dover Fine Art, History of Art)

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The first two stanzas of a poem written by Bernard this same year and dedicated to Hanenah echo similar sentiments:. You, you come from the Orient, you bring me the palms, The roses and the incense of your profound palaces; Your brow is always serene with tranquil voluptuousness, And your eyes have the tepid blue of your skies. Me, I am the Occident, its dreams, its chimeras, And I bring a potent spear to holy combat; My plume is of blood and bitter tears On my helmet struggles a large proud eagle Bernard invested Hanenah with an exotic natural beauty and a calm, seemingly unself-conscious sensual temperament, qualities viewed by Bernard to be the salve he needed for his modern anxieties.

At the same time, Bernard entered into this intimate, cross-cultural relationship from an obvious position of dominance and power; he was the ancient warrior, the helmeted conqueror of old poised with his potent spear, an uncompromising spirit of antiquity. Such an unrealistic fantasy based on dominance and appropriation would seem unstable at best.

Bernard's final departure from Egypt for France in February of did not include Hanenah and their marriage dissolved shortly thereafter. Not only is Fumeuse an oil painting with lush brush work evoking the manner of the Venetian masters Veronese and Tinoretto, it further echoes Manet's presentation of Olympia by presenting a single, exotic subject oddly constructed from elements of nineteenth-century modernism.

Works with or by Paul Gauguin

While the painted portrait did not abruptly disappear with the advent of photography, its status and credibility as an artistic genre were irrevocably altered. It is the increasingly problematic condition of the modern portrait, in particular its self-reflexive questioning of the premises of representation and its stylistic indeterminacy, that makes it worth examining more closely as an aesthetic and social signifier.


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Working within a medium that could remain visually compelling despite its stylistic indeterminacy, portrait painting became the perfect genre for Bernard's Fumeuse project. It allowed him to more easily express his own anxieties regarding personal, artistic, and social questions of identity that not only became threatened by modern life in Europe but were thrown into further crisis by his growing recognition that an Oriental journey could no longer be easily re-presented or framed.

Bernard employed individual portraiture to conceptualize his Fumeuse , but it is the manner in which this stylistic choice intersected with other late nineteenth-century European artistic movements and Bernard's growing dissatisfaction with Egypt that is worthy of closer examination. Bernard's painted image, as late nineteenth-century portraiture, could more readily become a "contested site of representation" 55 or a locus where self-definition and contemporary socio-cultural constructions would be referenced or perhaps even buttressed, but simultaneously called into question. This is a revised and expanded version of a paper originally completed at Northwestern University.

I wish to thank my initial advisors, Susan Hollis Clayson and Jorge Coronado, for their insightful suggestions and their steadfast support for this project. I extend my sincere thanks to Petra ten-Doesschate Chu for her interest in this work and her helpful editorial comments. I also wish to thank Robert Alvin Adler and Martha Lucy for their patience, efficiency, and care in preparing this manuscript for publication.

See e. Bernard's "boundless admiration for Gauguin settled into embitterment when he felt his role in emerging Symbolism slighted by critics who were enchanted by the elder artist's finely developed sense of publicity. All translations are mine unless otherwise noted, but I must thank Joan Fagan and Rachel Eustache Ney for their careful review of this work. Being a member of the Parisian avant-garde of the late s involved a series of gambits to secure a stable position or critical recognition within that wide-ranging group. As Pollock explains: "To make your mark in the avant-garde community, you had to relate your work to what was going on: reference.

Then you had to defer to the existing leader, to the work or project which represented the latest move, the last word, or what was considered the definitive statement of shared concerns: deference. Finally your own move involved establishing a difference which had to be both legible in terms of current aesthetics and criticism, and also a definitive advance on that current position….

It is a structure for the production of art based on a series of chess-like moves: reference, deference and difference. While Rudd carefully documents Bernard's artistic influences, Rudd mentions Fumeuse de Haschisch in only glancing fashion, noting: "…Bernard's exotic subject is oddly overlaid with a memory of nineteenth-century modernism…An uncomfortable disparity arises from the prosaic, frozen pose of the model, suggestive of contemporary photography and the lush [brushwork] Edmund Jephcott New York: Schocken, , — They create a framework in which commodities' extrinsic value is eclipsed.

They open up a phantasmagoria that people enter to be amused. The entertainment industry facilitates this by elevating people to the level of commodities. They submit to being manipulated while enjoying their alienation from themselves and others. Pollock, Avant-Garde Gambits , 8—14, Pollock's work casts earlier travels to Pont-Aven undertaken by Gauguin, Bernard, and other avant-garde artists as a smaller scale version of this later gambit to tour abroad. Employing a travel analysis closely aligned with Timothy Mitchell's, Pollock explains: "A variety of discourses—ethnographic, sociological, literary, economic, political—construct certain territories, peoples, itineraries as objects for tourist experience.

The facts of work, wage relations, commodity production, colonialism or imperialism are made irrelevant to the desired meanings of the scene. What is seen by the tourist becomes modern precisely because the social relations governing the encounter are displaced by the representation of the concrete social scene as a spectacle , a spectacle of difference, which is, in fact, a way of fetishizing it. The exact name and true nationality of Bernard's first wife is unclear. Other scholars spell her name differently and list her nationality as Syrian.

Reprinted in Aquarelles Orientales , A detailed summary of Bernard's artistic and literary production can be found in Stevens, Emile Bernard , 11— For a discussion of the connections between Bernard's poetry and his art, see, in particular, Ibid. Rudd, The Unwilling Modern , 58— Developing a theme that dates from his early adulthood in France, Bernard's writing in Egypt continues to meld a form of conservative Catholicism with a "wider kind of spirituality" to conclude that the "expressiveness of modern art had been rendered impotent by materialism and secularism.

Le ciel est trop bleu. Photographs dating from the mid-nineteenth century taken by Maxine Du Camp depicting views of modern Cairo in a general state of disrepair followed typical Orientalist representations of the period and legitimized European interventionism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. McPherson examines cultural and aesthetic intersections between photography and mid-to-late nineteenth-century portraiture by "focusing upon the thematization of the portrait as a contested site of representation: … a rguably, the portrait came to function as 'point man' in the age of mechanical reproduction, an era in which concepts of individual and social identity were profoundly altered by industrial capitalism, rapid technological change, and new modes of sociological and psychological inquiry.

Montreal: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, In Symbolist works, woman is either a pure and ideal being the "femme fragile" or a creature of the devil the "femme fatale" while the androgynous figure generally a young male nude becomes a symbol of utopia and social protest as discussed in Pohlmann, "The Dream of Beauty" at — Certainly aware of Olympia's existence, Bernard would have had the opportunity to view Manet's canvas when it was shown during the Exposition Universelle of Pollock, Avant-Garde Gambits , 16— Manao Tupapau was exhibited in Copenhagen and Paris throughout much of ; its existence foreclosed any opportunity for Bernard to create an exotic or "primitive" painting that might also employ a nude while simultaneously referencing Manet's Olympia.

Instead, Bernard was forced to employ a different type of gambit. If he could not present Olympia's antithesis, Bernard aimed to present her colonially-subjugated cousin: the corrupt, venal, tainted, metropolitan woman of foreign streets whose body is a conduit for not only sexual discharge and the flow of money, but also mind-altering, reason-inhibiting drugs. This type of gambit seemed to fit neatly with the growing frustration and disillusionment Bernard experienced in Egypt between and Constructing a narrative to fit this gambit, Bernard needed Fumeuse to both reference Olympia and present a difference; an exotic "other" that could be easily interpreted by European viewers as somehow more venal, more corrupt, and arguably more deserving of denigration than her European counterpart.

As Roger Benjamin notes "[f]ew writers did more to suggest a psychology for European exoticism than Charles Baudelaire. Carrier proposes that for Baudelaire the use of hashish led not to transcendence but a "space-opening" perception of contemporary experience. Edward W. Said, Orientalism New York: Vintage, , — Said specifically discusses Lane's work as a paradigmatic example of Orientalism.

Lane's report notes that women wearing nose rings were often unable to eat without using one of their hands to hold these rings aloft. Lane's use of the camera lucida helped to ensure accuracy, precision of line, and detail. See generally, Leila Ahmed, Edward W. Recent criticism finds this generalization to be particularly suspect, given the fact it appears to be recycled from previous writing by J. Burckhardt published in It is also the kind of "factual" reiteration that stresses the exotic, the erotic, and the bizarre to create imaginary distinctions between the West and the Middle East and does not necessarily contribute to a scholarly understanding of social customs practiced by the ghawazi or the khawals.

Boys and men with cultural affiliations to social groups in addition to the ghawazi , performed dances in female attire in Cairo during the late s.

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These individuals are referred to by Buonaventura as khawals and ginks. Given that Buonaventura relies heavily on Lane for authentication, all of these terms are invoked here with great caution. But see, Toledano, State and Society , Mathews, Passionate Discontent , 29— See also, Pollock, Avant-Garde Gambits , 5— While I argue that Bernard's avant-garde gambit differed from Gauguin's in that Bernard hoped, with Fumeuse , to confirm the denigrating nature of his subject's difference, Pollock's discussion regarding the manner in which sexual, racial, and cultural difference becomes fetishized can also be applied to Bernard's work.

For a discussion of the Orient as a fiction that serves to represent the hidden desires of Western culture, see Said, —90, particularly Said's review of Flaubert's associations between the Orient and sex, — Arat, ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, DelPlato comprehensively reviews Europeans' use of Oriental props such as narghile pipes and jewelry as fetishized accroutrements,— Gilman, Sexuality: An Illustrated History , See also, Dijkstra, Idols of Perversity , —88 and the accompanying discussion regarding the links between race and gender in late nineteenth-century French art.

It is in our period, so enthusiastic in its research of the past, so intent on garnering even the weakest vestige of what art in its multiple incarnations was able to create in the way of beauty or originality or even of grace, it is in our own period, I say, that we must take up the task of revalorizing one of the oldest and at the same time most charming of the arts.

I am speaking, of course, of Illumination. The calligraphic script and decorated initial are printed over a scene set in a room drawn in a decidedly non-medieval single-point perspective. These efforts to cultivate a bourgeois readership, largely amateur but some with more serious aspiration, may explain the appearance in the L'Enlumineur of numerous articles which appealed precisely to women interested in new professional organizations.

Some of these articles even contradicted the philosophy of the journal, sending a somewhat mixed message to its readership. For example, an article published in October of , "Le sentiment de l'art chez la femme" signed with an obvious pseudonym of "Francillon" made an explicit plea for women to serve on artistic juries and unapologetically argued for their acceptance in the professional art world:.

Certainly among women as among men true talent is rare: but we will only be able to judge this with fairness when women have the same advantages as men, when, like them, they can dedicate their time to creating art without having recourse to a private fortune; finally when all prejudice has been completely destroyed , when cities provide subsidies for women artists, as they do for men artists, to study in Paris.

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This more progressive slant and serious tone may also have been seized upon by Labitte as a way of differentiating his journal from Le Coloriste enlumineur , which van Driesten had begun to publish in fig. Le Coloriste enlumineur continually attempted to mold the taste of cultured young women while reminding them of their indispensable roles in the family and as caretakers of their homes: "The goal of our women is their intelligent participation in this domain.

Every woman, however, yields with a smiling face to the caprices of fashion, and God knows they are extravagant! The wisest ones have adopted, without too much difficulty, the ignoble pouf which has surfaced recently…Be on guard at all times; fashion is tyrannical and powerful, and the day when our readers sacrifice the principles of our art, its charm will evaporate. In contrast to the silly whim of fashion, stood the "loi du Beau" Eternal Law of Beauty of medieval manuscripts: "These recommendations are not for the taste of everyone: the women of the world who have the custom of elegance and the cult of the bibelot would be at pain to deprive themselves of these foolish little trifles.

Indeed, one of the underlying aims of the journal was to position the readers as the elite; to constantly draw attention to their rarity, distinction, and practice of a timeless tradition. Some rare amateurs, who have attempted to retrace their footsteps. Encouraged to develop a distinguished taste, the solidly bourgeois readership of Le Coloriste enlumineur was welcomed into a new aristocracy resting on cultural finesse. The first book would contain the personal events and celebrations of the family, the second important religious events including baptisms, marriages, communions, etc.

The third and fourth books highlighted breeding and genealogy as they included family trees as well as memorials to long-deceased family members. The final book, the "Livre de Raison," contained family history and "everything pertaining to the patrimony of the family. If the haut-bourgeois readers of the journal lacked a polished aristocratic lineage, they could at least create the trappings of one through the validating luxury of the Livre de Famille. As Pierre Bourdieu notes:. Every material inheritance is, strictly speaking, also a cultural inheritance. Family heirlooms not only bear witness to the age and continuity of the lineage and so consecrate its social identity, which is inseparable from permanence over time; they also contribute in a practical way to its spiritual reproduction, that is to transmitting the values, virtues and competencies which are the basis of legitimate memberships in bourgeois dynasties.

The Livre de Famille, like the journals themselves targeted to women, offers a good example of the "democratization" of aristocracy in late nineteenth-century France. Conclusion If the journals did not continue into the twentieth century, it was because they were, at heart, essentially anti-modern. Privileging a medieval aesthetic and pre-industrial system of production, they catered to a yearning for a defunct social hierarchy, an anti-modern vision that was directly woven in the journals with issues of class and of gender. By calling for a new caste of amateur female artists, whose creativity was largely restricted to the home, these journals addressed fears about women's changing social roles.

Women's professionalization as artists was one reflection of these profound changes. If the subject matter and the style of the works proclaimed in L'Enlumineur and Le Coloriste enlumineur were decidedly medieval, their manner of dissemination was not. It is somewhat ironic that both L'Enlumineur and Le Coloriste enlumineur contrasted the glorious art of the manuscript with what they claimed were the vulgar and worthless creations of the printing press.

"The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh" with Ephraim Rubenstein

In a different author echoed this theme: "It was thus that, decked out in all its glory, shining with a splendor unknown until then, the noble and aristocratic illumination was attacked at its height by the dreary and democratic printing press which powered the sentiment of revolt. It is no less ironic, of course, that this discourse is found in printed journals available for 20 centimes a piece. No amount of hand-colored detail could obscure the mass-produced nature of these clip-out manuscripts.

Nor could any amount of medieval finery finally persuade the modern princess to stay locked in her tower.

All translations, unless otherwise indicated, are those of the author. There is an enormous body of literature on this phenomenon. For an excellent introduction to these issues see the collected volumes of Studies in Medievalism ; Claire A. Brewer, ; Kevin L. For a full biography on this subject, see Emery and Morowitz. The medieval exhibits at both the and Expositions Universelles were so designed. The exhibition was recently "recreated" at the Louvre.

See the essays in Elizabeth Emery and Laurie Postlewate, eds. Publications on medieval collectors abound in this period. Huysmans: Medievalist," Modern Language Studies 30, no. Kelly, , Jesse G. Swan and Richard Utz, vol. For the link between women and the arts of the home in this period see Deborah S. Jonathan J. I am grateful to Dr. The practice of selling individual leaves can be traced back to the sale of Abbate Celotti on May 3, at Christie's.

They erroneously refer to Labitte as "Albert". See for example the cover of the popular women's journal La Famille , 11 January Laurens, Alphonse seems to have been preceded in this field by an older relative, Adolphe, likely his father, who published several books on medieval manuscripts in the s. Quelques rares amateurs essayant de marcher sur leurs traces. Van Driesten's assumptions were of course false, as proven by numerous studies on the work of female artisans and the manuscripts of mystics such as Hildegard von Bingen.

Bonnie G. The ad appears in numerous issues of the journal. Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction , trans. The Prodigy provides this sensation. The young woman in the painting stares directly into the viewer's space, her eyes open so wide that the whites show in their entirety. We know with some certainty who this painting portrays: Marie Fowler, a girl whom Eilshemius fancied while a student at Cornell University, and never forgot.

He wrote about Marie in the diary he kept at the time, and in a lengthy romantic poem he dedicated to her more than forty years later. During the course of conversation, Marie goes to the piano, and he notes that he has brought about an "effect" on her attempted to mesmerize her , although she eventually laughs at him:. Soon we are alone.

Eyes to eyes, and more affectionate the conversation becomes. She evidently is getting excited. Had I perhaps produced an effect upon her, that young soul.

Learning Journeys

She gets up, and with excited manner seats herself at the piano She now and then looks at me. Will you come with me to the circus? I ask. She is astonished and says 'No, no, that would not be proper; and laughs me in the face.

Instructors

It may be that Eilshemius, at this later date, used the painting to "rewrite" the visit so that it ended on a more favorable note—with Marie, rather than rebuffing him, successfully mesmerized, not resisting him, in his power. Eilshemius also self-published several works of fiction and poetry that received little critical attention and are, due to their amateurish approach and biographical thrust, primarily valuable for the insight they provide into the artist's paintings.

For more on the reception of Eilshemius's paintings in the s, and Eilshemius's reaction to it, see chapter 5. See Sidney Janis, ed. An introduction to the concept of the new woman and her reception in American culture found in Jean V. Dee, For a discussion of Eilshemius's views of empowered women, his difficulties relating to women in general, and the theme of unrequited love as it appears in Eilshemius's writings, see Chastain, "The 'Eilshemius Pendulum,'" 29— Also see writings by Eilshemius on these subjects in n.

Eilshemius, The Art Reformer 2, October, , 8. Eilshemius wrote and self-published The Art Reformer , which only lasted for a handful of issues. Eilshemius was in his forties when his artistic style and personality changed. At her death, Eilshemius's mother expressed her concern for her son's well-being and requested that the family housekeeper watch over him. For a discussion of the possibility that Eilshemius was mentally ill, see Chastain, "The 'Eilshemius Pendulum,'" 40— Eilshemius's indication that October 28, was a Saturday was an error; it was actually a Sunday.

I cite diary page numbers instead of microfilm frame numbers because the microfilm is unmarked. See pages 97— Eilshemius's pamphlet resembles several late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century tracts so closely that it appears that he copied them. London: W. Foulsham, after ; A. Drake, n. These tracts and many others from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are found in the Houdini Collection of the Library of Congress's Rare Book Collection. In Parry's words, "In Florida, there was a railroad station, obscure under the name of Macon, which boomed into a prosperous town as soon as Henry B.

Plant, the railroad magnate and a Du Maurier fan, renamed it Trilby…The realtors took their hint from Plant and named the streets of the new town after the heroes of Du Maurier's studio…Businessmen the country over, rushed to cash in on the craze. A Broadway caterer in New York made 'Trilby Foot' ice cream, a Chicago firm made Trilby shoes, a Philadelphia concern issued Trilby sausage, brazenly advertising it as a fulfillment of a long-felt want. Other wide-awake gentlemen christened a scarf-pin, a cocktail, a bathing suit, a cigar, a cigarette, and a restaurant after Trilby.

There were many yachts with 'Trilby' proudly lettered on their sterns and bows. Quotes from Sweetbriar are found on , —96, , and Sidney Janis, foreword to Janis, High-Kitsch. Quotes from unnamed critics are found in Louis M. David L. Painting as wish-fulfillment is a theme that surfaces often in psychoanalytic literature on art. See, for instance, Aaron H. Louis Eilshemius, The Art Reformer , 1, no.

Lloyd Goodrich in John I. Baur, ed. Du Maurier, Trilby , , When not mesmerized, "Truth looked out of her eyes Ruth L. She makes the case that his frames, which were "a common device in Eilshemius's painting after about ," suggest that he "viewed [his] artwork as a distinct and elevated level of reality. Herbert et. Mina Loy, "Pas de Commentaires! Louis M. Eilshemius," The Blind Man 2, May , The exception to Loy's statement may be Eilshemius's painting The Demon of the Rocks , Museum of Modern Art , in which a horned devil bearing a realistic self portrait of Eilshemius terrorizes two women, who flee for their lives.

In relation to works such as Eilshemius's Girl in a Swing c. This idea goes a long way toward providing an explanation for much of Eilshemius's otherwise inaccessible art. For further analysis of Duchamp's spectacle see Chastain, chapter 6. All articles are available as PDFs. When last checked the page no longer existed at its original location. Volume 18, Issue 1 Spring Page A. Conley on Emile Bernard in Egypt. Welcome to the 10th issue of Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide! We are proud to have not merely survived but flourished during the first five years of our existence and we thank you all for you contributions, your encouragement especially financial , and your "hits.

It has always been our goal for Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide to attract the broadest possible audience—geographically as well as sociologically, and we have tried hard to appeal to all the "communities" from which Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide draws its strength—academics, collectors, dealers, and museum curators. With that in mind, we started, in our last issue, a new rubric that we hope will broaden our already broad appeal: "New Discoveries" highlights unpublished works of nineteenth-century art that recently have appeared on the market or have been acquired by a museum or private collector.

We strongly encourage all readers of Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide to bring important new discoveries in nineteenth-century art to our attention, be they paintings, sculptures, prints, or works of decorative art. It is not necessary to provide us with a text but a good photograph of the work is essential.

Edgar Degas, Woman with Bandage , Oil on canvas. We do not know exactly where or when Edgar Degas painted his small and elegant Woman with Bandage of —73 fig. While it is common to date pictures using a span of time, the chronological, and in this case geographical, distance between and has been quite significant to the scholarship about this image, much of which is speculative and concerned with identifying the sitter and setting.

Knowing whether the picture was painted in Paris, or in New Orleans during Degas's five-month stay with the Creole branch of his mother's family between October and March , could possibly help us to identify the model. However, being able to conclude whether the sitter is Degas's American cousin and sister-in-law Estelle, who was by then nearly blind, another family member or friend, a household servant, a casualty of the Franco-Prussian war, or a woman at an oculist's office in Paris—all have been suggested—does little for ultimately parsing the amalgamation of issues inscribed in the painting.

It seems to me that whomever it represents, the picture opens up larger interpretive issues about family, disease, and the fragility of vision. The evidence of the painting itself, Degas's letters, and those of his contemporaries suggest that, using the motif of the bandaged eye in tandem with complicated brushwork and dramatic changes in pigment densities, Degas visualizes, probably subconsciously, his anxieties in relation to his failing eyesight. Indeed, two related narratives are generated by this image, both of which allow Degas to address through a kind of subterfuge—the very act of representation—the unrepresentable complex of trauma associated with his and Estelle's premature ophthalmologic declines.

He wants to come, but I haven't pushed him; if the trip harmed his eyes, I wouldn't want to have myself to blame for it. Degas's letters from the time are also filled with references to his eye problems. In , he wrote to his close friend, the artist James Tissot: "I have just had and still have a spot of weakness and trouble in my eyes. It caught me at Chatou by the edge of the water in full sunlight whilst I was doing a watercolour and it made me lose nearly three weeks, being unable to read or work or go out much, trembling all the time lest I should remain like that.

My right eye is permanently damaged. Indeed, friend and fellow artist Walter Sickert reported in Burlington Magazine that "from '83 [] onwards, he [Degas] should sometimes have spoken of the torment that it was to draw, when he could only see around the spot at which he was looking, and never the spot itself. The real source of Degas's early eye troubles remains unclear.

According to a popular contemporary manual of family health, "At night, during sleep, one should avoid being exposed to cold air upon the eyes. Letters from other friends and family members are similarly punctuated by speculation about, and gloomy reports of, Degas's failing eyesight. Unfortunately he has very weak eyes, he is forced to take the greatest precautions. That Degas suffered from eye troubles has fascinated scholars of art history and medical doctors alike.

Noting the abundance of images that address in some way the process of seeing or ways in which sight may be compromised, Kendall writes: "His [Degas's] monocular vision and 'blind spot' continually emphasized the unorthodox nature of his own eyesight and contributed to an exceptional awareness of the perceptual act. While never the slave of his eyesight, Degas had more reason to challenge, more opportunity to evaluate and more need to give expression to the nature of visual experience than most artists of his or any age. The fact that he empathized with her condition is articulated over and over in the letters he wrote both before and during his stay in Louisiana.

She bears it in an incomparable manner; she needs scarcely any help about the house. She remembers the rooms and the position of the furniture and hardly ever bumps into anything. And there is no hope! In fact, his own medical history bears a striking similarity to hers. Both suffered profound loss of vision in each eye, with one preceding the other by a few years. Pencil and pastel.


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Private Collection, The Bahamas. Degas first got to know Estelle, a young war widow who had fled in , with her baby, ailing mother, and sister, to Bourg-en-Bresse, France where she remained during the occupation of New Orleans at the time of the American Civil War, until In the small c.

With her left arm, she clutches the edge of the blanket that is draped over her lower body. She looks with such sadness back at the viewer, her cousin Edgar, the man with the pencil who, through every iteration of graphite on paper, seems to consider the depth of Estelle's grief her husband, Lazare David Balfour, a major in the Confederate Army, had been killed in a battle in Corinth, Mississippi on October 4, , while she was pregnant with their daughter Josephine. Somehow, through the most delicate smudging of pencil and pale grey pastel, he is even able to conjure up the sense of a reddened nose—again, perhaps the result of crying.

In a letter to his Uncle Michel, Estelle's father who had remained in America during the war, Degas expressed, this time in words, his sorrow for his cousin: "As for Estelle, poor little woman, it's hard to look at her without thinking that her head has hovered before the eyes of a dying man. Edgar Degas, Estelle Musson Balfour , Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. Even the way that Degas represents Estelle in the small and poignant oil painting Estelle Musson Balfour from fig.

Here, Estelle's lips are pale and pulled tightly into an expression that approximates anger, even rage. Her not-yet-ill eyes seem to presage their useless future as deeply shadowed patches of green and brown pigment almost blot them out. Her skin is permeated by a sallow and dull olive pallor, an off rhyme to the more cheerful and fresh green of the small grassy area in the distance. A copse of scraggy bare trees formally frames Estelle's head and augments the overall sense of desolation and sadness that pervades this empathetic picture.

These trees—which unexpectedly echo in shape Estelle's startlingly unkempt hair—also have the curious visual effect of looking like prison bars that we imagine could encircle Estelle. Degas crops his image tightly, forcing our eye to dwell on the scumbled painted flesh of this young widow's disconsolate face, to sink into the hollowness of eyes, mouth, and nostrils. There is no visual relief from the relentlessness of grief in this painting. Neither the thin slip of white pigment that separates the top of Estelle's cloak from her neck nor the restfully pearlescent body of water beyond the trees does much to mediate the austerity of it all.

Described by literary scholar Christopher Benfey as a "turn-of-the-century mood piece," this picture conjures up so much more than the tenor of a time. Indeed, Benfey even goes so far as to call Estelle "[Degas's] figure for the suffering American South; his representations of her face and body are his indictment of the violence afflicted on his own motherland …" 23 Perhaps this is true, but I suspect that the workings of this painting are specifically related to Estelle and not to a generalized conception of the suffering American South.

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. No one, including Degas, has commented on why the artist made the long and taxing journey to New Orleans in One of the primary reasons for his trip probably had to do with Degas's long-established empathy for and friendship with Estelle, but perhaps another was to connect with his mother; something he could do in the place of her birth and through members of her branch of the family. Degas painted Estelle several times during his stay in New Orleans, suggesting her vision impairment in some way in each image.

Seated awkwardly on one end of a chaise longue, Estelle takes up a good part of the left side of the canvas. Her nervous expression and uneasy posture are perhaps visual articulations of her discomfort as a person who is becoming blind and who has not yet learned to adapt fully. The lower half of the right side of the picture is filled with the other end of the chaise, above which spreads a starkly vacant wall.

While Degas often decentered his compositions, purposefully finding the least stable viewpoint and using yawning compositional gaps to evoke a palpable tension, there is something different going on here. Indeed, the emptiness of the right side of this canvas seems to utter the blankness of Estelle's view, its tragic nothingness. Her off-center placement, which leaves the space beside her conspicuously unfilled, is another poignant reminder of this profound vacuity. That she was pregnant at the time of this sitting is not apparent. Edgar Degas, Woman with a Vase of Flowers , The model in Woman with a Vase of Flowers , also of —73 fig.

Locked into place by the edge of the table, a dark wall, and what is probably a chaise longue, diminished in size by the excessively large vase of flowers that looms up in the right foreground, Estelle looks blankly out of the picture plane. It is hard to tell whether she is sitting, standing, or reclining.

Regardless of her posture, what we can see is that the back of the chaise is larger than it should be. Degas freely manipulates scale; he makes Estelle, in her pale yellow dress, too small in relation to the plush brown piece of furniture upon which her fingers are tensely poised in a position not unlike the one required for reading a text in Braille.

Exaggerated shadows, like the one produced by the vase, seem almost to take the place of actual objects; to read like blurred versions of tangible, seeable things. Estelle's head also casts an unusually dark and unfocused shadow onto the dull green wall behind her, the reflection of which marks the right side of her sad face. This strip of unmodulated brownish black paint effectively slices through her right eye, like an arrow, calling further attention to its reddened lid. The other eye is equally red and puffy, a dark and emphatic flicker of shadow beneath it. A black eyebrow hovers above this clearly ill eye like a punctuation mark luring us to it.

Richly painted, seemingly touchable, golden yellow gloves lie intertwined on the right side of the table. The gloves visually supply the "fingertips" of Estelle's left hand, the front of which is cut off by the edge of the vase, and are another reference to the importance of the sense of touch especially to someone who is becoming blind. The exploding mass of red flowers, their animated leaves splayed in the foreground, contrasts dramatically with Estelle's dull pallor, her lack of vitality, the very impossibility of her ever seeing this vivid floral display.

The thin bands of frayed gold that lie in the vase's pool of shadow on the table further remind us of Estelle's compromised vision. Bracelets perhaps, these two roundish consolidations of pigment, though closer to us than anything else in the image, are less focused, less palpable as concrete and recognizable objects. And yet, the foregrounded one is somehow tangible, solid, tactile, especially to someone who is blind and for whom touch may be the most dramatic and critical of the senses. Here, Degas clearly reveals Estelle's pregnancy, as a pale pink camellia follows the curved arc of her stomach.

While Degas does not overtly represent the fact of Estelle's blindness, he does invoke it through the burnished shadow that cloaks her left eye as well as through the scrubbed, almost visceral, surface of the painting itself. We see the wall behind Estelle as if through compromised vision as it expands into a loamy field of shifting browns. The view out of the window is equally imprecise, an incoherent muddle of grassy green and dry brown. When Degas left New Orleans in , he took with him, among other things, the three portraits he made of his cherished Estelle.

To this one, he later added thin strips of canvas, hoping to expand the field of the picture, to enlarge the—Estelle's; his own? The strips, which were meaningless to others, were later removed when the picture was sold following the artist's death. That his ocular troubles were very much on Degas's mind during his stay in New Orleans is clear from the letters he wrote while there to family and friends in Paris, many of which describe his extreme sensitivity to the Louisiana sunlight.

He complained to long-time friend, collector and amateur painter Henri Rouart, on December 5, , "The light is so strong that I have not yet been able to do anything on the river. My eyes are so greatly in need of attention that I scarcely risk them. To go to Louisiana to open one's eyes, I cannot do that. And yet I kept them sufficiently half open to see my fill. The sensitivity to light, or photophobia, that Degas characterized in his letters corresponds with contemporary medical text explanations of various kinds of ophthalmia and conjunctivitis. In their Ophthalmic Therapeutics , Drs.

Timothy Allen and George Norton discuss in detail the "dread of light" that so many victims of conjunctivitis and ophthalmia experience. In he wrote to Tissot: "My eyes are fairly well but all the same I shall remain in the ranks of the infirm until I pass into the ranks of the blind. It really is bitter, is it not? Sometimes I feel a shiver of horror.

If I had my old eyes. While in New Orleans, Degas painted mainly pictures of family members, usually indoors where he could control the light that so troubled his eyes. As I have already noted, the more specific subject of most of his pictures from this time are ill women—several are of Estelle, some of other family members or friends, others unidentified.

I would even go so far as to say that Degas's interest in representing sickness, indeed, his need to repeat the theme no less than seven times, is likely linked to his association of this place and these relatives with his mother. Edgar Degas, The Pedicure , Essence on paper mounted on canvas. Not overtly an image of maternal illness or any other type of illness, The Pedicure of fig. Joe's feet are tended to by a doctor because her mother, the family member who would have been charged with the health and hygiene of the child, was almost blind by this time and therefore probably unable to perform the task; so even a painting of a young girl having her feet cared for is infused with the fact of her mother's eye disease.

While the picture suggests a domestic interior with lush green walls, art, foot tub, settee, and knick knacks, the context itself evokes a decidedly medical situation. The part of Joe's lower leg that is exposed is rendered in a peculiarly chalky, bloodless white, and is a stark contrast to the rosy healthiness of her heel and the underside of her toes. Her unanimated pale body, along with the bandage-like effect of the sheet upon it, also promotes a scene of ill health.

Paul Getty Museum. Glassy eyed and depleted, this sitter wears the costume of an ill person, a billowy sleeping garment with a deep brown robe on top. The ends of a lighter brown scarf or shawl that fall limply upon the model's chest direct our eye and the composition downward, further adding to the overall sense of fatigue and despair that pervades the picture. The full weight of the woman's head is borne by a hand that seems to yield to some great pressure.

Even the corners of her mouth turn slightly downward. Her red-rimmed eyes stare off unfixedly, the furrowed line of her brow punctuating her despondency. Behind the sitter, a rich flurry of thick, almost lustrous strokes of whitish paint coalesces as the edge of a bed. While the beds in so many of Degas's bather scenes engender a narrative that includes a sexual encounter, the bed here serves to underline the fact that this is a picture of convalescence, its unmade, rumpled appearance a further indication of the bed's usefulness to the weary woman in the foreground.

Degas's most well known completed work from this period is his only one that includes men; A Cotton Office in New Orleans , of , depicts the interior of his uncle's failing cotton office which would within the year be bankrupt. Still, it was the theme of femininity and its convergence with ill health that seemed to occupy much of Degas's work time in New Orleans. Added to the images that I have already described are two more paintings— The Nurse and Woman in a Garden —that similarly engage the fusion of sickness with the female subject.

For here, the model and the very means of representation seem both literally and metaphorically manifestations of Degas's worries about his own and Estelle's weakening eyesight, melded with a nineteenth-century understanding of ophthalmologic diseases and his apparent interest in painting the convergence of illness with Creole femininity. It depicts a woman in profile wearing a white bonnet, an eye bandage, and what appears to be a loosely-fitting dressing gown. Her arms are crossed over her chest, her hands and sleeve cuff roughly outlined by a dry graze of gray paint.

Below this lies the upper part of a dark blanket which extends out and down to the edge of the canvas to cover what we imagine is the reclining or seated lower half of the model's unseen body. Behind her head is a mysterious object that has been interpreted as being either a glass possibly of absinthe or a coffeemaker. This object pushes and pulls, jumps out at us and then recedes. Blaque rated it it was amazing Mar 20, Andrea Dam rated it it was amazing Sep 23, Ana rated it it was ok Jan 01, Ro rated it really liked it Dec 13, Jeevankumar Damodaram rated it it was amazing Jul 05, Creative rated it really liked it Nov 10, Alvaro Dicealgo rated it really liked it Nov 22, Salam Arrar rated it really liked it Apr 29, Malihs rated it liked it Nov 26, Muhammad Fayed rated it really liked it Apr 21, Miguel Rollison rated it it was amazing Dec 05, Mar rated it really liked it Oct 30, Jess rated it liked it Oct 10, Karam Albataineh rated it it was ok Aug 02, Ed Abbott rated it it was amazing Jan 19, Vincent Locading rated it it was amazing Mar 06, Anelecia rated it really liked it Dec 28, Tiffany Skrocki rated it really liked it Jan 13, Camryn Brown rated it it was ok Oct 23, Guljan rated it it was amazing May 13, Nova Dj rated it it was amazing Jan 30, Julie rated it liked it Aug 18, Mostapha rated it really liked it Feb 13, Ameera rated it really liked it Oct 20, Rhonda Megargel rated it it was amazing Jul 10, Somaye Rakhshinezhad rated it it was amazing Dec 05, There are no discussion topics on this book yet.

About Vincent van Gogh. Vincent van Gogh. Vincent Willem van Gogh , for whom color was the chief symbol of expression, was born in Groot-Zundert, Holland. The son of a pastor, brought up in a religious and cultured atmosphere, Vincent was highly emotional and lacked self-confidence. Between and , when he finally decided to become an artist, van Gogh had had two unsuitable and unhappy romances and had worked unsuccessfully as a cle Vincent Willem van Gogh , for whom color was the chief symbol of expression, was born in Groot-Zundert, Holland.

Between and , when he finally decided to become an artist, van Gogh had had two unsuitable and unhappy romances and had worked unsuccessfully as a clerk in a bookstore, an art salesman, and a preacher in the Borinage a dreary mining district in Belgium , where he was dismissed for overzealousness.

He remained in Belgium to study art, determined to give happiness by creating beauty. The works of his early Dutch period are somber-toned, sharply lit, genre paintings of which the most famous is "The Potato Eaters" In that year van Gogh went to Antwerp where he discovered the works of Rubens and purchased many Japanese prints. In Paris, van Gogh studied with Cormon, inevitably met Pissarro, Monet, and Gauguin, and began to lighten his very dark palette and to paint in the short brushstrokes of the Impressionists.

His nervous temperament made him a difficult companion and night-long discussions combined with painting all day undermined his health. He decided to go south to Arles where he hoped his friends would join him and help found a school of art. Gauguin did join him but with disastrous results. In a fit of epilepsy, van Gogh pursued his friend with an open razor, was stopped by Gauguin, but ended up cutting a portion of his ear lobe off.

Van Gogh then began to alternate between fits of madness and lucidity and was sent to the asylum in Saint-Remy for treatment. In May of , he seemed much better and went to live in Auvers-sur-Oise under the watchful eye of Dr. Two months later he was dead, having shot himself "for the good of all. Van Gogh's finest works were produced in less than three years in a technique that grew more and more impassioned in brushstroke, in symbolic and intense color, in surface tension, and in the movement and vibration of form and line.

Van Gogh's inimitable fusion of form and content is powerful; dramatic, lyrically rhythmic, imaginative, and emotional, for the artist was completely absorbed in the effort to explain either his struggle against madness or his comprehension of the spiritual essence of man and nature.


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