Skip to comments.ART Appreciation "class" #1: Manet and Homer
Posted on 05/25/2005 6:27:04 AM PDT by Republicanprofessor
Well, now that exams are over, grades are in, Id like to bring some Art Appreciation ideas to Free Republic. Unfortunately, as artists have become more and more abstract, it really does take some study and/or education to understand what their ideas are. One doesnt always need a snotty PhD art historian to do so, however. Once a person learns how to look at artworks, one can make ones own decisions about form and content. (One can't just "appreciate" the blue in a painting to really understand what the painting is about.)
Form and content: thats what I emphasize in all my classes. What is the artist trying to say and what forms (colors, lines, shapes, etc.) does he use to convey that message? Another fun thing about abstraction is that different people can have different interpretations, that the pieces can work on different levels. Im hoping we can have some fun discussions here on FR about these works. (I didnt get all this stuff right away; Ive been studying it for decades.)
So, here goes.
The camera was invented in 1839. While I am not going to deal with the history of photography, whats important is that at this point artists are freed to go beyond realism. The camera can take normal portraits and all kinds of realistic images. The artists can begin to explore abstraction.
In the late nineteenth century, Maurice Denis said this A picture--before it is a a war horse, a female nude, or some anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors in a particular order. Thus the artist is now free to do what he wants on the painting. Whistler won a court battle for this at the end of the nineteenth century.
So lets begin with Eduoard Manet (1832-1883) Here is his Olympia 1863 in contrast to the older (more realistic) image of Titians Venus of Urbino from the early sixteenth century.
Can you see the differences between these? What has Manet done to update Titian? Hes made the lady flatter and bolder; she is definitely a prostitute, and a rather successful one at that (judging by the flowers from an admirer).
Manet is a part of the movement called Realism from about 1860-75 or so. This includes Courbet, but Im going to spare you his more socialist works. This does not mean that the works look realistic, but that they are exploring a new, more modern and flattened style of realism. What is real in this world? That question is discussed in this famous work by Manet, Dejeuner sur lHerbe (Luncheon on the Grass) which is another reworking of another Venetian Renaissance work, this time by Giorgione Pastoral Symphony.
Manet Dejeuner and Giorgione's Pastoral Symphony
Notice that, in the earlier painting, these ladies are not prostitutes. Notice also, in Giorgiones work on the right, that those men are not even paying attention to these ladies. Thats because the women are muses. The large, golden size is inspiring to the men as they compose music; one woman dips into the well of inspiration, while the other plays a flute-like instrument. This is also one of the first luscious landscapes, with a beautiful golden sky typical of artists from Venice.
Manets work has often bothered me. Why the larger, dressed woman who is bathing in the background? She actually completes a compositional triangle that has been seen frequently in art history. The other woman is blatantly looking at you, and is not looking slyly to the side as in Giorgiones nudes. She is also not dressed, in contrast to the dressed woman who is bathing. And again the men are not looking at her. Why? One idea that I subscribe to is that the men (who are artists themselves) are discussing how to portray a nude. And one says he would paint her flatly, as if in real light, and not with the veiled allusions of the past. He would paint her directly and realistically, and voila, there she is. Manet is also saying that he can do whatever he wants in a painting. That means he can play with our heads, just like he does here and at the Bar at the Folies-Bergere.
Now I want to end by looking at Winslow Homer (1836-1910) our great American painter from the end of the nineteenth century and a contemporary of Manet. Manet has a tremendous world-wide reputation, but Homer is seen more regionally. But what do you think? Who is better?
Homers The Gale and Fog Warning
Perhaps Homer just appeals to me because Im a New Englander, and I love the ocean and think he captures that life and death struggle of the ocean very well. I also like the way the stories of his paintings are open-ended. Will her husband return from the sea? Will the fisherman make it back to his boat?
These works will always move me more than Manet. And both men have a wonderful way with the brush. Things look nicely detailed from a distance, but up close you see just a sweep of a brush here and there. That brushwork, what we call painterly, is even more important in Impressionism and thereafter.
I am also wondering: do you see these works as pornographic? Why or why not? Pornography seems to be an issue in art nowadays. When did that start? What is pornography? (I have my definition....I want yours.)
Why do you say she is definitely a prostitute?
cool thread prof. I look forward to the rest of the lecture series. Thanks.
Well the figures on these ladies are definitely more in line with what this middle aged woman would call "realism", LOL!
For the first two for example, when I look at the top one from the corner of my eye, it looks more "realistic" than the second one from the corner of my eye. Similarly for the next set, with the "less realistic" of the pair looking "more realistic" at a glance.
I'm not sure why...
Because that's what "they" say in all the art texts. She is also looking at the viewer directly, as if saying how much she charges. She's got the flowers from an admirer (so she must be good). She also has a dulled expression on her face; is not modest; and has "a working class body" (or so "they" say).
Prostitution was up and coming in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Victorian age. Sex in the marriage bed was for procreation only. Men went elsewhere for "fun." And women were said to be shocked by this painting, and others by Manet, which highlighted prostitution.
Interesting post. Certainly the paintings aren't pornographic (although like the Supreme Court I can't define pornography but know it when I see it). The depiction of the female nude has a long history in art, and so, for that matter, does the male nude. Does anyone consider Michelangelo's David porn? The very question is absurd.
THANK YOU, PROFESSOR! I'm tempted to frivolously define pornography as "I know it when I see it", but to be serious for a second these paintings are not pornographic because they do not arouse or titillate anyone other than adolescent boys (and let's face it, there's no hope for THOSE turkeys :^)). I'll read the rest of your kind submission later, I've got to get ready for work. Thank you again.
Well, after having several children myself, I do like looking at other "beauties" in art history. The standards of art change completely in time. Are you familiar with Rubens and his "Rubenesque" nudes?
The slip-on mules. "Ladies" did not wear those.
The jewelry is also not appropriate for a lady.
I do not know the story in France, but it was fashionable in a slightly earlier period in London for ladies of the demi-monde to have African servants.
But really, the direct gaze at the viewer is the giveaway. A jeune fille de bonne famille would blush, turn away, and hide her face.
Have to run out for a while...the last few pings on various art threads, you've made some points that I want to address...if I can find the time to freep!
And from the paintings, many seemed to be saying to themselves, "How many ways can I think of to paint nekkid women?" :o)
I'm just kidding. I strongly prefer the realism to abstract. I have no idea why. Maybe it's an indication of very linear thinking..."It doesn't look like...something. So I guess it's really...nothing." Of the painings herein, my favorite is Titians Venus. My favorite is still Edward Hopper.
Wow! Could you please add me to your ping list? I'm not sure my 13 year old homeschooler is ready for some of this, but I don't want to lose these threads.
I do not believe these are pornographic. There needs to be some kind of lewdness to it that I just don't see here. I know many Christian ladies who would consider this porn merely because of the nudity, but it's missing something... I guess I'm not so puritannical about art. :)
For me the acid test is watercolor, because it can't be worked over or corrected. What you see is what you get, and Homer is brilliant in the medium:
Hard to believe that last one IS a watercolor . . .
"Deconstructing Manets Olympia: Foucault has Nothing on Me, Bee-yotch
Obviously, in comparison to earlier nudes, the use of a prostitute shows us all that we must be sexually liberated. Manet understood that you must do it in the street. And did you see how lovingly the other woman is looking at the woman on the divan? This indicates that Manet was well ahead of his time, and understood that one day gay marriage would replace Christianity, which is supported by the lack of any religious symbols in the painting. Of course, the other woman is African, so Manet could have been a racist, but definitely not a sexist or a homophobe, unlike the warmongering, Chimp Bush, who is all three.
How did I do?
A larger question would be: Can we see the beginning of European decadence and decline in their choice of subject matter? One notices that the American artists of the same period do not limit themselves to "nekkid ladies" and seldom do they seek to shock their audience.
I teach Art and Music Appreciation at a local technical college. My first lecture is a paraphrase of the federal jurist's comments about pornography...you can't really define good art but you know it when you see it. I send my students to visit local galleries and art exhibits and write about what piece or pieces they liked. I have had many students who had never seriously visited an art gallery before come back and write how moved they were by a ceratin piece and were surprised how much they enjoyed seeing serious art for the first time.
Maurice Denis said this A picture--before it is a a war horse, a female nude, or some anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors in a particular order.Does the word "flat" have different meanings. I understand the first use of the word ("essentially a flat surface"), but I'm not sure I follow its usage through the rest of it.
Hes made the lady flatter and bolder
more modern and flattened style of realism
And one says he would paint her flatly, as if in real light,
Other than the obvious, what does "flat" mean?
You might indicate that. However, at one time beginning hundreds of years earlier the artists thought there was a beauty to painting nudes. That did not go out of style. However, with these more modern day paintings of nudes in the park with fully clothed men, you might have a point.
Excellent post, could I be put on your ping list?
Personally, I like the older, more realistic style better. Particularly in the Titian example. It seems to me that the more realistic the viewer's overall impression is, the greater the artist's skill. I.e., Titian exhibits more artistic skill than Manet, Manet exhibits more skill than Van Gogh, Van Gogh exhibits more than Picasso, Picasso exhibits more than Jackson Pollack.
Caveat: I am basing this on my impressions of their works most familiar to me; it's entirely possible, for instance that Picasso had an artistic ability greater than any of the others, but (IMO) did not employ it much in his more famous pieces.
Also note that by 'realistic' I don't mean to disparage surreal works like Magritte's, just that whatever content there is looks better with realistic textures, shadows, perspective, etc.
Not sure about the pornographic issue.
Well, this may not be the "great discussion" you're looking for, but I'll say, "Art is cool!" :)
My Grandpa had "Fog Warning" on his wall for decades. He also liked Andrew Wyeth, and I inherited his print of "Groundhog Day," which I love.
I don't know much about art, but I'm looking forward to your views on the Impressionists, as I love that style of painting. I also like Sargent, so hopefully you can get to him, too?
I tend to like Homer better than Monet myself. There is a regionalism and reality to Homer's work that seems richer than Manet/s work. Manet's work, such as Olympia is indeed very important as it breaks certain taboos about representation.
Nudes prior to Olympia were either muses or portrayed as coy. In Olympia the woman is staring directly at the viewer. She is not shy at all, and is a prostitute.
Thank you! I feel like a learned a few things today.
Fabulous! Thanks for posting those.
I, myself, am taking classes in watercolor. If I could paint like that.....
He may be referring to how the lighting is idealized in the earlier works. Single source light, such as direct sun, flattens the shadows. To model a subject, multiple sources of light will backfill and bring definition. Usually, this is a "key light" of reflected light, coming from the side and rear.
You're making this way too complicated. Plus, you don't even know how to spell "Manny". I think you did that on purpose, just for a highbrow excuse to post the naked chick pictures (even though most of them are kinda chunky). ;-)
I like Homer's energy and motion--- you can almost feel the waves and the whip of the wind.
Manet has a stark realism that comes off as a bit brutal in a way. Like you just walked up and caught someone unaware, and not in a good way, totally.
The older paintings have a soft blur to them that makes them seem dreamlike and sweet. Like you are peeking through guazey window sheers.
None of the paintings appear pornographic to me. I did get a bit of "Oh my! They all have my hips and tummy! WHO'S BEEN IN MY BATHROOM!" in my gut reaction. ;)
Ah, as for the first woman being a prostitute, she's wearing heels in bed. ;)
Makes sense. Thanks.
Yes, and a funny thing.
My son is enrolled in a Western Humanities online course for the summer semester.
He has all kinds of links to site in his course material, and the other day he was pulling up pictures of "Rubenesque" figures.
I glanced over at the screen and said, "Now those are my kind of women." He laughed.
We live not far from the Ringling Art Museum. They have a wonderful collection of Rubens.
Have a good day, and the very best to you and yours.
Cool post. Do you have a ping list for future lectures? I'd like to be on it.
Titian balanced his painting by showing both "binge" and "purge".
But seriously, could you please add me to this ping list? Molto obrigado.
In the first pair of pictures. I far prefer the Titian as the image is far more appealing to me. (art is what looks good over the sofa). I've seen better art than the Manet in comic books.
The woman in the Manet is a hooker. Heels in bed and the choker, as well as the look that says "next". Can't determine if the flowers are from an admirer or just to cover up poor hygiene
While both are looking directly at the viewer the Titian nude seems to be looking at a lover vice a customer, her look is softer (beyond the different styles) and the placement of her left hand leads to a more sensual feeling to her. The sleeping dog (puppy) also lends to that easy carefree relaxed feeling while the alert cat in the Manet gives a more active feel to the scene.
Second set. Don't really care for either of these. Neither would go over the sofa.
The bathing chick is totally out of place. The extra figures in the Giorgione seem to set the park-like (or perhaps estate) atmosphere of the piece. They 'fit' where they are. The bathing chick looks like she was added just to fill that space. She doesn't connect to the rest of the piece.
To a lessor degree the other nude doesn't really fit either. She is obviously of the same 'period and place' as the two men but seems to have no connection to them. Kind of like a girl hanging out at a gay bar.
The whole peice just doesn't have any harmony.
Contrast that to the nudes in the Giorgione. They don't seem to have the same temporal connection to the men so it is easier to overlook the lack of relational connection to them. G manages to maintain harmony through the whole work even though the nudes aren't connected to the men. Somehow they fit.
Again the style of the G is much better than the style of the Manet but neither would go over the sofa
I can take or leave the Homer's. The Gale is too narrowly focused to attain visual appeal with such a limited color choice and Fog Warning doesn't do a thing for me. I've never been a seascape person. Again neither one goes over the sofa.
So in this roundup only the Titian passes the first test of art.
BTW, none of these are pornographic. the one that perhaps comes closest would be the Titian (I hope that doesn't say anything bad about me) as it's the only one that sets the appropriate mood for sex. The first Manet sets the mood for business and the middle set don't set a mood at all. (Of course some would say that the Homers tread the line but those folk are probably sexually depraved anyway. :^) )
By the storm torn shoreline, a woman is standing
The spray strung like jewels in the air
And the sea near the rocks, near that desolate landing
As though it had known, she stood there
For she had come down, to condemn that wild ocean
For the murderous loss of her man
His boat sailed out, on Wednesday mornin'
And its feared she's gone down, with all hands.
from "The Fisherman" by Silly Wizard
All these women need to take of at least 15 pounds and work on their abs.
"he would paint her flatly, as if in real light, and not with the veiled allusions of the past."
I disagree that real light gives a flat appearance, quite the contrary. Photographs give a flat appearance though, although some photograpers manipulate this in the darkroom, pushing the darks and lights. I understand that the Impressionists went for the flat appearance in an effort to portray realism through impressions of light and color, rather than strict representation. Did they also have some colors that were unavailable to the old masters? Of course, IMO, all artists, even the old masters, have altered reality in one way or another in order to portray a personal reality that they wished to share with others.
Homer is one of my favorites, I far prefer him to anyone else in your post - he catches a reality that, as an outdoorsman and former professional seaman, I can seriesly identify with.
From what few actual works by Titian I have seen, portraiture was something at which he excelled, though I believe Anthony Van Dyke has been the real master at that.
Great work, Prof.~! What a nice idea
This watercolor amazes me, by Baro:
What is the deal with the young girl praying in the background of the Titian, under the (apparent) watchful eye of what looks to be a nanny or governess?
My untutored guess: it is the woman as a child, begging forgiveness for her first lustful thoughts, in which she has just indulged as an adult woman.
Thanks for the ping. I prefer Homer to Manet. They appeal more to my sense of beauty.