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Showing posts from January, 2013

Pompeo Batoni

Apollo and two Muses, 1719

Giant of the Rococo and early Neoclassicism, Pompeo Batoni was born on January 25, 1708 in Lucca, Italy. Immensely popular in his time, his name sadly is not commonly recognized today because like many Old Masters, his work is not defined by one or two singular masterpieces but by an oeuvre that is overall, incredible. Batoni is something of an anomaly in that he had the midas touch in every genre he worked in, whether portraiture, mythological, and biblical. He trained under a few painters, notably Sebastiano Conca yet he quickly fused his own style together by reinterpreting Classicism with his own vigor for dynamic posing, color and anatomy that he felt was lacking in many artists of the Rococo. His reputation as a portraitist in Rome was highly successful, particularly for many British patrons of the Grand Tour who had heard of Batoni by word of mouth and sought his genius.

In Apollo and two Muses above Batoni seems to conjure mythology and Classicism w…

The Other Bolognese

Death of Cleopatra, ca.1659

Born on January 19, 1601 near Rimini, Italy, Guido Cagnacci was a Baroque painter from the Forlì school and also the Bolognese School, whose contemporaries include Guido Reni, Domenichino, Guercino, and Lionello Spada among others. Considered odd and unreliable, it is unfortunate because his work represents a rare vision on the sensuality of women at a time when the Inquisition did not have an open mind about it. Cagnacci's work is unique from most of his contemporaries for this reason, and his women are unaffected and life-like in a way that is ahead of his time.

In Death of Cleopatra we clearly see the Baroque influence from Caravaggio but here Cagnacci heightens the soft flesh with transparent shadows and bright colored drapery. The asp coils loosely around her wrist and bites the forearm of Cleopatra yet her expression is one of surrender, if not pleasure. Cagnacci groups her closest servants on a horizontal plane yet creates a confined space by pla…

John Singer Sargent

A portrait is a picture in which there is something not quite right about the mouth.
—John Singer Sargent






Portrait of Sarah Choate Sears, 1899




Probably one of the most renown portrait artists of the last century, John Singer Sargent was born on January 12, 1856 in Florence, where his American family lived at the time. Sargent's family travelled extensively throughout his childhood, and it was his Italian influences, namely Tintoretto for his vivid brushwork that would have a lasting impact on the young artist. When Sargent trained under Carolus-Duran, a up-and-coming French painter from Lille, he taught Sargent about alla prima and the lively brushwork of Velázquez and drawing with the brush. This would lead Sargent to travel himself to Spain and study Velázquez up close, subsuming him into what would become Sargent's trademark sort of 'tight' impressionism that is often imitated today by portraitists. Despite this loose and vivacious brushwork Sargent's methods wer…

The Streets of Paris

The Milliner on the Champs Elysées

A lesser-known painter from the Belle Époque era, Jean Béraud was born in Russia on January 12, 1849 but spent all of his career in Paris. Béraud mainly painted street scenes of Paris with a style that ranged from realistic to impressionist, and it is his unique charm and astute observation that merits recognition. What makes Béraud so interesting is his ability to chronicle modern Parisian life while experimenting with color temperatures and lighting conditions, his use of contrast as well as being an observer of fashion and human nature. Moments that we take for granted...crossing the street, sitting on a bench, going for a walk, reading an advertisement...by giving presence to everyday life Béraud makes the insignificant timeless and real.


The woman walking down the street above in The Milliner on the Champs Elysées is a hatmaker, and Béraud depicts her with a confidence and verve typical of the Belle Époque. Note how Béraud divides the painting f…

Simon Vouet

Self-Portrait, 1627


Born on January 9, 1590 in Paris, Simon Vouet was the giant of his era and is credited with introducing Baroque art to France. Coming from a family of painters, his precocious talents lead him to travel at quite a young age and in his early twenties he stopped in Italy and lived there for 13 years, longer than any other European artist at that time. His extensive travels within Italy allowed him to absorb all the major painters and styles with keen fascination, clearly inspired by the rich history of art that was lacking back in his native France. During this period he also became a "principe" at the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, and probably the first non-Italian artist to teach there. Vouet's talent and sharp business savvy led him to a very successful career and a pioneer of the Baroque outside of Italy.

Above is his self-portrait, one of my very favourites for its spontaneity and freshness with skilled brushwork. Painted in his late thirties sho…