CHARLES SHEELER: American Landscape, c. 1930

March 10, 2016 PowerPoint Humanities Week 27 Charles Sheeler American Landscape1930   Worksheet:  Humanities Week 27 Charles Sheeler Worksheet

The only trace of humanity in Charles Sheeler’s austere American Landscape is a tiny figure scurrying across the railroad tracks. With one arm outstretched, he appears frozen in action, as if in a snapshot, precisely halfway between two uncoupled freight cars. The calculated placement of this anonymous person suggests that he was included in the composition only to lend scale to the enormous factories, which dwarf even the train and displace every other living thing. Sheeler coined the term “Precisionism” to describe this emotionally detached approach to the modern world. Influenced by the mechanisms of modern technology, Precisionist art employs sharply defined, largely geometric forms, and often gauges the landscape’s transformation in the wake of industrial progress.

American Landscape by Charles Sheeler c. 1930

American Landscape toys with our expectations. In a painting of that title, we hope to find a peaceful view of mountains and trees, or perhaps cottages and crops, in the manner of Thomas Cole or Albert Bierstadt. Instead, Sheeler gives us factories, silos, and smokestacks. The work expresses the artist’s view that the forces of human culture, propelled by industrialism, have overtaken the forces of nature that once laid claim to American landscape painting. Here, all that’s left of the natural world is the sky, and not even that escapes the effects of mass production: the smoke rising from a smokestack blends into the clouds, making them just another by-product of industry. Like many traditional American landscapes, this one is organized around a body of water. Yet here, the water is contained in a canal, an artificial channel that controls its flow.

Sheeler earned his living as a professional photographer. In 1927, he spent six weeks taking pictures of the Ford Motor Company’s enormous auto plant west of Detroit. The company commissioned the project as a testament to Ford’s preeminence: the plant at River Rouge was a marvel of mechanical efficiency—with miles of canals, conveyor belts,
and railroad tracks connecting steel mills, blast furnaces, glass plants, and the famed assembly line. Henry Ford himself had invented the term “mass production” to describe his innovation of making workers on a movable production line part of the machinery. If the belt-driven process dehumanized workers, it helped to democratize capitalism by making manufactured goods affordable to a wider public. “There is but one rule for
the industrialist,” Ford declared, “and that is: Make the highest quality goods possible at the lowest cost possible.” To twentyfirst century viewers, American Landscape may appear as an indictment of the machine age, but to Sheeler’s contemporaries, it would have stood for the triumph of American ingenuity.

Sheeler derived American Landscape from the background of one of his River Rouge photographs. To achieve the impersonal effect of the mechanical image, he eliminated every sign of brushwork and any other indication that the painting had been conceived by a distinct artistic personality and made by hand. In this way, Sheeler downplays his own presence, as if he were just as anonymous as the faceless figure stranded on the train tracks. After his time at River Rouge, Sheeler observed that factories had become a “substitute for religious expression.” The stillness and silence of the scene impart an air
of reverence traditionally associated with a place of worship— or, in American painting, some awe-inspiring view of nature. But nature as a divine presence is absent; it is industry, with its cold and indifferent factories, that prevails.

Mark your calendars.  Book report is due for Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington on April 14. If you have not finished reading the book, this coming week (Spring Break) will give you the extra time that you need.  The following is the format to follow for your book report:  How to Write a Book Report

Have a good Spring Break!  – Mrs. S

“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart.”  John 14:27

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MARY CASSATT: The Boating Party, c. 1893/1894

March 3, 2016 PowerPoint Humanities Week 26 Mary Cassatt the boating party    Worksheet  HUMANITIES Week 26 Mary Cassett Worksheet

Mary Cassatt decided to become an artist at age sixteen, when most women of her era and social status were looking forward only to marriage. Defying convention, she studied art in
Philadelphia before heading to Europe and settling in Paris, where she remained for most of her life. As a woman, Cassatt was not permitted to enroll in the École des Beaux-Arts, the leading art academy in France, but she found private instruction and educated herself by copying paintings in the Louvre Museum. Years later, she recalled that her life had changed when she met the artist Edgar Degas, who invited her to join the Impressionist circle. Partly because women were not welcome in the Paris cafés where the  Impressionists often discovered their subject matter, she specialized in domestic
paintings, particularly of mothers and children.

In the late 1880s, when Cassatt was well established in her career, she fell under the influence of Japanese prints and dramatically altered her own style of painting. Abandoning the feathery brushwork, pastel colors, and insubstantial forms of Impressionism, Cassatt began to create bold, unconventional patterns of flat color and solid forms. The Boating Party, painted on the south coast of France, exemplifies the change. Rather than attempting to capture a fleeting visual impression, Cassatt arranged abstract shapes in a shallow space using saturated areas of color that may have been inspired by the brilliant Mediterranean light. To heighten the decorative effect, she flattened the scene, placing the horizon line at the top of the composition in Japanese fashion. From our unusual vantage point, the three figures look like paper dolls pasted on a vivid background.

"The Boating Party" by Mary Cassatt c. 1894-1895

The Boating Party is among Cassatt’s most ambitious canvases. The composition is controlled by visual rhymes. The boat’s yellow benches and horizontal support echo the horizontals of the far-off shoreline. The billowing sail echoes the curve of the boat, creating a strong visual movement to the left that counteracts the broad angle formed by an oar and the boatman’s left arm. Without the sail for balance, the large, dark figure of the boatman would weigh the picture to the right, and the boating party would lose its equilibrium.

At first glance, the painting seems a straightforward depiction of a nineteenth-century middle-class outing. Yet the artist included subtle hints about the figures’ relationships to one another that complicate this interpretation. Although Cassatt usually explored the familiar theme of mother and child, in this rendition the foreground is dominated by a male figure whose form is pressed against the picture plane and cast in silhouette by the sail’s shadow. In contrast, the female element of the composition— the woman and her child—appears in soft, pastel shades that reflect the summer sunlight. The boatman, bending forward to begin another stroke of his oar, braces himself with one foot, while the woman maintains her stable position only by planting her feet on the floor of the boat. The sprawling baby, lulled by the rhythm of the water, looks liable to slide right
off the mother’s lap. This slight awkwardness is a result of the boat’s movement, and the glances of the mother and child toward the boatman’s half-hidden features and back again suggest a complex, personal relationship, adding psychological tension to this pleasant excursion on a sunny afternoon.

Cassatt’s many paintings of mothers with children invariably recall the Renaissance theme of the Madonna and Child. Here, the woman appears enthroned in the prow of the boat, the child’s sun hat encircles its head like a halo, and the man bows before them like a supplicant. In referring to this traditional image, Cassatt invests an everyday scene of contemporary life with a sense of reverence—perhaps to express her view of women as powerful forces of creativity (and procreativity). Yet the painting’s meaning remains open to interpretation. Perhaps Cassatt touches on a truth that must have been evident to a woman painter who so closely observed the strictures of late nineteenth-century society; if the woman is elevated and admired, she may also be confined to the shallow space behind the oars, a passive participant without the power to control her own destiny.

Again, please note the class syllabus:

  • Mar   10           Charles Sheeler, American Landscape, 1930

 **  Spring Break  MONDAY MARCH 14 – FRIDAY MARCH 18, 2016 :  Finish Reading: “Up From Slavery”

  • Mar   24         William Van Alen, The Chrysler Building, 1926 – 1930
  • Mar   31          Edward Hopper, House by the Railroad, 1925
  • Ap      7           Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater, 1935 – 1939
  • Ap     14          Jacob Lawrence, Migration Series, c. 1940    Book Report Due
  • Ap     21          Thomas Hart Benton, The Sources of Country Music, 1975
  • Ap     28          Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, 1936
  • May     5          Norman Rockwell, Freedom of Speech, The Saturday Evening Post, 1943

Reminder:  Book report is due for Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington on April 14.  The following is the format to follow for your book report:  How to Write a Book Report

Have a good week! -Mrs. S

“Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”   – Matthew 11: 28 – 30

 

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LOUIS COMFORT TIFFANY: Autumn Landscape—The River of Life, 1923–1924

February 25, PowerPoint Humanities Week 25 Louis Comfort Tiffany The River of Life   Note taking Worksheet:  HUMANITIES Week 25 Tiffany Worksheet

Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of the founder of the New York City jewelry store that still bears the family name, took no interest in his father’s business. Instead, he trained as a painter in Paris, and upon returning to New York decided to channel his talents into the decorative arts. “I believe there is more in it than in painting pictures,” he declared. By the 1890s, Tiffany was exploring the possibilities of colored glass, a medium that had remained virtually unchanged since the Middle Ages. In the late nineteenth century, it was experiencing a revival, owing to the large number of churches under construction in prospering American cities. Gradually, stained glass made its way into secular settings,
with biblical subjects giving way to naturalistic motifs and woodland themes. These luminous windows worked like landscape paintings to introduce a sense of natural beauty into an urban home. Their dense designs had the added advantage of blocking views of dirty streets and back alleys that an ordinary window might reveal.

Autumn Landscape – The River of Life by Louis Comfort Tiffany c.1923 – 1924

Autumn Landscape was commissioned by real estate magnate Loren Delbert Towle for his Gothic Revival mansion in Boston. The window was meant to light the landing of a grand staircase, and, by presenting a landscape view that receded into the distance, it would offer the illusion of extending a necessarily confined space. But even in domestic interiors, stained glass never entirely lost its religious overtones. Tiffany divided this composition into lancet windows reminiscent of a medieval cathedral. In keeping with the American landscape tradition, the theme of Autumn Landscape—The River of Life also invites a spiritual interpretation. Tiffany generally reserved the traditional subject, in which a mountain stream flows through the rocks and cascades into a placid foreground pool, for memorial windows in churches and mausoleums; here, the season enhances the symbolism of a lifetime winding to a close, with the sun sinking low on a late autumn afternoon. As it happened, the window did become a memorial of sorts, for the Boston client died before it could be installed in his residence. Autumn Landscape was subsequently sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where, divorced from its intended setting of a private interior for the privileged few, it became a work of art available to the public.

Tiffany’s ambition was to use glass to create the effect of oil or watercolor painting, without resorting to the application of enameled decoration. To this end, he developed new techniques for producing and manipulating colored glass, and he eventually achieved a range of visual and tactile effects that would have been impossible with paint alone. Autumn Landscape, one of his later productions, makes use of nearly every method in Tiffany’s extensive repertoire: mottled glass for the dusky sky; confetti glass (with thin flakes of colored glass embedded in the surface) for the shifting colors of the autumn
foliage; marbleized glass for the boulders; rippled glass for the foreground pool. To deepen the color and enhance the depth of the distant mountains, Tiffany applied layers of glass to the back of the window, a technique called “plating.” But as he would have been aware, the full effect of the window depended on the intensity of the natural light that shone through it to magically alter the landscape throughout the day and the year.

As a window that resembles an elaborately framed easel painting, Autumn Landscape fulfills the aesthetic movement’s mission of introducing art into daily life. Tiffany concerned himself with the entire range of a room’s decorative effects, weaving them into a single, harmonious design. He found countless ways to give his art a practical purpose, designing everything from books to furniture; however, in any medium, he said, his primary consideration had always been simply “the pursuit of beauty.”

On the class syllabus, I had our Spring Break dates wrong.  The following is a corrected Spring schedule.

  • Mar   3             Mary Cassatt, The Boating Party, 1893-1894
  • Mar   10           Charles Sheeler, American Landscape, 1930

 **  Spring Break  MONDAY MARCH 14 – FRIDAY MARCH 18, 2016 :  Read: “Up From Slavery”

  • Mar   24         William Van Alen, The Chrysler Building, 1926 – 1930
  • Mar   31          Edward Hopper, House by the Railroad, 1925
  • Ap      7           Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater, 1935 – 1939
  • Ap     14          Jacob Lawrence, Migration Series, c. 1940    Book Report Due
  • Ap     21          Thomas Hart Benton, The Sources of Country Music, 1975
  • Ap     28          Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, 1936
  • May     5          Norman Rockwell, Freedom of Speech, The Saturday Evening Post, 1943

Have a great week. Pursue beauty! -Mrs. S

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. “   Philippians 4:8

 

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WALKER EVANS: The Brooklyn Bridge, New York, 1929

February 18, 2016 PowerPoint:  Humanities Week 24 Walker Evans The Brooklyn Bridge   Worksheet:  Humanities Week 24 Walker Evans Brooklyn Bridge

When the Brooklyn Bridge opened to traffic in 1883, it was the largest suspension bridge in the world, and its towers were the tallest structures in the Western Hemisphere. As the years went by, that triumph of engineering and architecture began to lose its power to inspire awe. By 1929, when Walker Evans began to photograph it, the bridge had become merely the unexciting link between the New York boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan; it
was hardly even noticed by the harried commuters who crossed it every day. Evans’s gift was to perceive something familiar as if it had never been seen before and therefore to restore the Brooklyn Bridge’s original wonder.

Evans became interested in photography as a child, when he collected penny postcards and took pictures of his friends and family with an inexpensive Kodak camera. As a young man, he developed a passion for literature, and he spent 1927 in Paris as an aspiring writer. Upon his return, he began to revisit his childhood hobby, hoping to apply literary concepts such as irony and lyricism to photography. As the technical possibilities of the medium had expanded, photography had grown from its original documentary and commercial functions (and its function as a popular pastime) into a form of fine art. It was still an art that had not entirely freed itself from the rules of nineteenth-century Western painting. Evans’s European experience, however, had converted him to the strict geometries of modernist art. He disliked the preciousness of “art photography,” and endeavored to capture the sincerity of a snapshot in his own work.

From the windows of the rooms he rented in Brooklyn Heights, Evans had a fine view of the Brooklyn Bridge. Inspired to take a closer look, he recorded his impressions with the simple camera he habitually carried in his pocket. The resulting series of photographs
captures the bold forms of the bridge in stark, arresting, geometric designs. These images helped to establish the Brooklyn Bridge as an emblem of modernity, and to popularize
its use as a motif among modern American artists.

The Brooklyn Bridge by Walker Evans c. 1929

Previous photographers had focused on a lateral view of the bridge, taking in the bold shapes and sweeping scallops of the structure as a whole, and keeping the Manhattan skyline visible in the distance.

Brooklyn Bridge at night picture

Evans takes an altogether different perspective, shocking the viewer out of complacency. In this photograph, the enormous piers and arches are shown through a web of steel cables. The only immediately identifiable element in the composition is the lamppost on the right, which gives the picture a sense of scale, yet appears strangely separate from its setting. At first, the pattern of radiating lines is disorienting, but once our eyes grow accustomed to the photographer’s point of view, we discover we are on the central pedestrian walkway of the Brooklyn Bridge. The composition is slightly asymmetrical, which suggests that Evans had taken his picture standing just off-center of the bridge’s walkway. The sharp angle of perspective, emphasized by the quickly receding lines of the cables, suggests that he set the camera low, perhaps even on the ground.

This clever calculation includes no sign that the Brooklyn Bridge serves any practical purpose. Normally vibrant with the commotion of twentieth-century transportation, the thoroughfare here appears quiet and eerily depopulated, an object meant to be appreciated only as a work of art. The unusual vantage point also eliminates the expected views of city and river, so that the bridge appears to float in an empty sky. Because Evans has detached it from its urban context, the Brooklyn Bridge also appears removed from its own time: the heavy forms and medieval-style piers and arches recall the gates of an ancient fortress, while the pattern of steel cables hints at some untried, futuristic technology. In this remarkably compact image (the print is no larger than the vest pocket that held his camera), Evans presents us with two new and substantial concepts that would forever alter our perception of the Brooklyn Bridge: as an icon of modernity and as a monument that already belongs to history.

Book Report:  Begin reading Up From Slavery, by Booker T. Washington.  

Have a good week! -Mrs. S

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”   1 Peter 2:9

 

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CHILDE HASSAM: Allies Day, May 1917, c. 1917

February 11, 2016 PowerPoint Humanities Week 23 CHILDE HASSAM allies Day May 1917    Worksheet: HUMANITIES Week 23 Childe Hassam Worksheet

One month after the United States officially entered the First World War, the city of New York festooned Fifth Avenue with flags. As a welcoming gesture to the British and French war commissioners, the Stars and Stripes hung alongside the Union Jack and the French tricolor to create a patriotic pattern of red, white, and blue. Childe Hassam, an American of British descent who had studied and worked in Paris, took personal pride in the new military alliance.

Allies Day, May 1917 is not Hassam’s only flag painting, but it quickly became (and has remained) the most famous of the ensemble. Hassam began the series in 1916, when thousands of Americans demonstrated support for the Allied cause by marching up Fifth Avenue in the Preparedness Parade. Moved by this and other war-related ceremonies, he eventually produced some thirty views of New York streets bedecked in banners. Because Hassam was influenced by French Impressionism, he was naturally drawn to the sun-struck spectacle of those colorful, celebratory occasions. But the flag paintings transcend the pageantry to express Hassam’s conviction about the moral and financial supremacy of the United States.

Allies Day, May 1917, by Chile Hassam, c. 1917

Although it may appear as casual as a snapshot, Allies Day is meticulously composed. To paint it, Hassam set up his easel on the balcony of a building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fiftysecond Street, which allowed a view of springtime foliage north toward Central Park. Flags are everywhere, but they cluster on the right and bottom edges of the canvas, making a colorful frame for the buildings lining the west side of the avenue. In the immediate foreground the emblems of the Allied nations hang neatly in a row (the Union Jack appears on the Red Ensign, the unofficial flag of Canada) to establish the theme that Hassam varies and repeats. With different patterns but matching colors, the flags represent the harmony of three nations joined in a single cause—“the Fight for democracy,” as Hassam himself defined his painting’s significance. But in this flurry of symbolic meaning, only one banner hangs entirely clear of other flags and flagpoles. Hassam’s contemporaries would have instantly recognized his purpose in placing the Stars and Stripes at the pinnacle of the composition, set against a cloudless sky.

If Allies Day portrays a historic occasion and symbolizes the nationalistic temper of the times, it also offers a telling description of landmarks on Fifth Avenue, known at the time as Millionaire’s Row. The façades are all bathed in morning sunlight, but the brightest façade in the row, Saint Thomas Church, is also the newest, constructed in the Gothic-revival style and consecrated only the year before this work was painted. Beyond it stands the University Club, recalling a Renaissance palazzo, beside an expensive hotel called the Gotham (now the Peninsula). Next to it, just barely visible, is the sloping façade of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. Many of the flags point toward these buildings as if to identify them as the subject of the picture; all served the richest, most prominent members of New York society, linking them to the nation’s prosperity. Hassam may have featured the two ecclesiastic structures— particularly Saint Thomas, which gleams in the sunlight—in order to suggest that the new alliance of the United States with the Old World nations of Britain and France had even won divine approval.

As Hassam’s most patriotic picture, Allies Day, May 1917 became instantly famous through the sale of color reproductions to benefit the war effort. The flag paintings were exhibited
together for the first time four days after the armistice was declared in November 1918, to document the story of the American entry into the Great War and to commemorate its
victorious conclusion.

Have a great week!  -Mrs. S

“You are the light of the world.  A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let you light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”     Matthew 5:14 – 16

 

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James McNeill Whistler: The Peacock Room

Class Attends Cosi fan tutte by Mozart at Sarasota Opera.

Sarasota Opera House

Sarasota Opera House

Our class had the special treat to be able to attend Cosi fan tutte by Mozart at the Sarasota Opera House on February 4, 2016.  Thank you Sarasota Opera! 

Even though we did not meet for our class this past week, I wanted to include  JAMES MCNEILL WHISTLER’s, [b. 1834 –d. 1903], The Peacock Room, c. 1876–1877.  If you have visited the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, you may recall walking through  magnificent rooms of the Astor Mansion Salon and Library.  The two 19th century historic interiors installed in Galleries 19 and 20 are from the Astor mansion originally situated at 840 Fifth Avenue at 61st St. in New York City. The home was built between 1893 and 1895 by the Gilded Age architect Richard Morris Hunt for Mrs. William Backhouse Astor and her son, Col. John Jacob Astor IV, following the death of her husband in 1892. John Ringling purchased these rooms at the 1926 sale of the residence prior to its demolition.  Caroline Schermerhorn Astor (1830-1908), known as “The Mrs. Astor,” was one of the most powerful society women America ever produced, and was responsible for the “Four Hundred,” a list of families and individuals whose lineage could be traced back at least three generations.

Astor Salon at the Ringling Museum

Astor Salon at the Ringling Museum, Sarasota, Florida

Born in Massachusetts, James McNeill Whistler went to Paris at the age of twenty-one with the ambition to become an artist. He established his professional life in London and never returned to his native land. Over the years, he became one of the most artistically progressive painters of the nineteenth century. As an expatriate, Whistler was not influenced by the American tendency to endow art with moral purpose. In fact, he went so far as to embrace the philosophy of aestheticism, or “art for art’s sake,” which recognizes beauty as the only justification for art. During the 1870s, at the height of his career, Whistler was concerned with the presentation of works of art. He designed frames for his paintings and sometimes even orchestrated the exhibitions in which they were displayed.

Peacock Room 1

The Peacock Room

His desire for an aesthetic that embraced everything was finally realized in the dining room he decorated for the London residence of the British ship-owner, Frederick Richards Leyland, his principal patron. That decoration, now known as the Peacock Room, strengthened Whistler’s reputation as an artist whose aesthetic flair went well beyond the boundaries of a picture frame. To Whistler’s way of thinking, the dining room should complement the frame of one of his own paintings, The Princess from the Land of Porcelain, which held the place of honor above the mantelpiece.

The Peacock Room at the Freer is exposed to the light on its' monthly shutter opening in Washington, DC.

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 21: Whistler’s Princess from the Land of Porcelain at center of the north wall of the Peacock Room at the Freer after its’ monthly shutter opening on March, 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Whistler had painted it a dozen years earlier, when he was seized by a passion for blue-and-white Chinese porcelain. According to his mother, he considered the porcelain among “the finest specimens of art,” and The Princess was conceived to celebrate the beauty of the figures that adorned it. Leyland himself possessed a large collection of blue and white china, and his dining room had been designed for its display, with an elaborate latticework of shelving that provided a beautiful “frame” for each pot.

Yet, Whistler was unsatisfied with Leyland’s room of porcelain, and with his patron’s permission he began to make modest changes to the original decoration. Eventually, his creativity ran wild. He went so far as to paint over costly gilt-leather wallhangings, creating an uninterrupted field of peacock blue above the shelving (which he gilded). By the time he had finished, every inch of the room was covered in his designs. Except for the greenish-blue walls, every surface shimmers with gold and copper leaf; even the places half-hidden by the shelving bear a rich, tapestry-like design to set off the gleaming surfaces of the porcelain. Whistler imagined the Peacock Room as a painting on a grand scale and in three dimensions, a work of art that could be entered through a door.

Peacock Room 4

The Peacock Room, Freer Gallery, Smithsonian Museum, Washington, D.C.

The overall aesthetic effect — which can never be adequately conveyed in words or pictures — has been likened to the beauty of a Japanese lacquer box. Although Whistler was famously disdainful of nature (its “song,” he complained, was almost always out of tune), he admitted that the natural world could sometimes serve as a source of decorative motifs and color schemes. For the Leyland dining room, he adopted the natural patterns and iridescent coloration of a peacock feather. But for the peacocks themselves, he found models in art, rather than nature. The magnificent, life-sized birds adorning the floor-to-ceiling shutters allude to the bird-and-flower prints of the Japanese artist Hiroshige; the pair of golden peacocks on the broad wall opposite The Princess are copied from the ornamental birds Whistler had seen adorning Japanese vases. The mural has a story to tell. Halfway through the project, Whistler quarreled with Leyland over payment for the decoration. Eventually he settled for half the amount he had originally demanded in exchange for Leyland’s promise to stay away while he finished the room to his satisfaction. Although Leyland would seem to have had the better part of that bargain, Whistler ensured that posterity would remember the offending patron as a rich man who couldn’t bear to part with his pennies, even in exchange for an immortal masterpiece. The proud peacock on the right, faintly ridiculous with his ruffled feathers, represents Leyland, whose fondness for ruffled shirts Whistler suggested with the silver feathers on his neck. At his feet lie the coins he had so carelessly cut out of Whistler’s fee. The put-upon bird on the left, crowned with a single silver feather, represents the artist, with his signature shock of white hair. Titled “Art and Money,” the Peacock Room mural was meant as a cautionary tale with a moral at the end — that riches may be spent, but beauty endures.

Have a good week. -Mrs. S

The Peacock Room 3 James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Harmony in Blue and Gold-The Peacock Room. 1876-77. The Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Inst., Washington DC

 

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JOHN SINGER SARGENT: Portrait of a Boy, c.1890

January 28, 2016 PowerPoint Humanities Week 21 John Singer Sargent Portrait of a Boy, 1890   Work sheet: Humanities Week 21 John Singer Sargent Portrait of a Boy Worksheet

In December 1889, the expatriate artist John Singer Sargent, accompanied by his younger sister Violet, arrived from London at New York harbor. Not yet thirty-four, Sargent was approaching the highpoint of his fame on both sides of the Atlantic as a portraitist.
His previous American visit, an eight-month trip undertaken in 1887–1888, had resulted in an enthusiastic reception, many new commissions, and the promise of future contacts in Boston, Newport, and New York.

Like Gilbert Stuart before him (see George Washington, Lansdown Portrait, c. 1796), Sargent painted formal portraits for the Gilded Age’s patrician class in the manner of European aristocratic portraiture. He also brought with him a fresh, new way to depict a subject that was popular in both England and the United States—children—at a time when childhood was being singled out as a critical period in human development (and in national progress). Because children were understood to be the direct link to the future, they warranted special attention. From the widespread manufacturing of special books, toys, and clothing to child protection laws, the later nineteenth century ushered in what writer Sadakichi Hartmann called, in a 1907 article for Cosmopolitan magazine, the “age of the child.”

Dismissing his contemporaries’ sentimental approach to childhood as a period of lost innocence, Sargent approached his youthful sitters directly, painting them naturalistically and with a keen, psychologically penetrating eye. His many portraits of the young heirs of America’s upper class also helped to further the artist’s career, pleasing conservative critics and reassuring future patrons who might harbor some lingering doubts as to whether they wanted wanted to submit themselves to Sargent’s forceful brushwork
and bravura technique.

Sargent’s portrait of the young Homer Saint-Gaudens, the son of the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (Robert Shaw Memorial, c. 1884 – 1897), and his mother Augusta, a cousin of Winslow Homer (Veteran in a New Field, c. 1865), is an intimate portrait for a friend, not a commission that paid the bills. Sargent first encountered Saint-Gaudens in Paris in 1878. When the artists met again in New York in 1890, Saint-Gaudens expressed interest in sculpting an image of Violet, and the painting was done in the spirit of an exchange. Nonetheless, the fact that Sargent preferred a generic title, Portrait of a Boy, to the specific name of the child, and excluded his mother’s name entirely may indicate the artist’s desire to elevate his depiction of Homer Saint-Gaudens to a universal statement about the nature of boys (or perhaps just American ones).

                                  Portrait of a Boy by John Singer Sargent, c. 1890

In Portrait of a Boy, ten-year-old Homer confronts the artist and viewer head-on and eye to eye with a bored, yet penetrating glance, while behind him, and painted in a more summary manner, Augusta is absorbed in reading. Homer is dressed (uncomfortably,
it appears) in a “Little Lord Fauntleroy” suit, an outfit based on the title character from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s wildly popular, serialized story of Cedric, an American boy who, through Yankee ingenuity and the wisdom imparted by his mother, was able to lay
claim to his aristocratic English heritage. Cedric’s costume, derived from the attire worn by Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy of c.1770, was so popular with mothers that, by the turn of the century, wearing it became synonymous with being a “mama’s boy.”

           Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough, c 1770

Homer, however, wearing his fancy suit, does not appear to be the obedient child listening to his mother’s every word. We know from Homer’s adult recollections of these sittings that Augusta was vainly attempting to entertain her son with the story of a naval battle from the War of 1812. Sargent expressed the boy’s impatience and nervous energy not only through his pose but also through the structure of the composition. The child slumps sideways in the ornate studio chair. And while his right foot turns languidly inward, his left foot is braced against the rung, ready to spring. The latent energy of his spread, bent fingers matches the complexity of the swirling pattern of the red carpet, and this unease is intensified by Homer’s pose, which is at a slight angle to both the viewer and to his mother.

As with Sargent’s more ambitious pictures, the portrait of Homer and his mother was conceived with an eye to enriching the painter’s reputation. Critics were quick to praise the
immediacy of the subject: “The exquisite truth of its pose and the rare vitality of every line of the body, not less than the beautiful face itself reveal the power of a master.” The painting won a gold medal at the Art Club of Philadelphia the year it was painted, and was one of the works Sargent chose to exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

IMPORTANT:  There will be no Humanities class on on Feb. 4. Those of you who have signed up for the Opera at the Sarasota Opera House, Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte will be leaving Co-op at 10:30 am. We will have to be in our seats for the opera by 11:45 am. If you need a ride from co-op, I now have 5 seats left in my car.  Plan to bring your lunch and eat in the car as we drive there.  There will be one intermission, and no food will be able to be purchased.  The performance will be over around 3:45 pm.  Parents pick up your student in front of the opera house at that time.  If other arrangements need to be made, please contact me. Thank you.

Have a good week! -Mrs. S

“But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”        Matthew 6: 33

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