Girl with a Pearl Earring (circa 1665)-Johannes Vermeer
In my life, three paintings have had a profound impact on me. This painting was the first of the three. It is hard to explain what impacted me so, but if I were to try, I would say that it is the strange combination of her knowing eyes and parted lips…
She is distant, yet she seems almost within reach. She teases the viewer into wanting more, all the while protecting herself by slightly thrusting her shoulder forward. She is aware of her power and uses it to her advantage. She even goes as far as admitting it with her eyes, thus rendering herself vulnerable. This vulnerability is even further pronounced by how much of her face she allows us to see. But make no mistake… This is a tango and she leads the dance.
She is a tease. Her head is covered, as if seeing her hair would be a sin… Yet she allows us a glimpse of her luxurious pearl earring and thus confirms her coquette nature…
Her lips are parted; she is waiting for a response… After all, it takes two to tango.
Self Portrait (1887) by Vincent van Gogh
Vincent Willem van Gogh (30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890) was a Dutch post-Impressionist painter whose work had a far-reaching influence on 20th century art for its vivid colors and emotional impact. He suffered from anxiety and increasingly frequent bouts of mental illness throughout his life, and died largely unknown, at the age of 37, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound*.
In the years since his early and tragic self-inflicted death in 1890, Vincent van Gogh has become synonymous with massively distributed art and commercial success. Many of his paintings are featured on the list of most expensive paintings. His art has even inspired an Yves St-Laurent collection. The 2003 Julia Roberts Movie, Mona Lisa Smile, features a storyline greatly dependent upon the irony of van Gogh’s success as an artist.
He is a mythological creature, famous for his ear incident, a romantic ideal of the starving artist. Vincent Van Gogh has come to symbolize passion, vivacity and dedication to one’s art. And dedicated he was: during his short 10 year career, Van Gogh produced nearly 1,000 paintings and quite as many drawings. His best work was produced in a three year period.
You would think that Vincent van Gogh would have been recognized in his time for the genius he truly was. Yet, History dictates otherwise: during his entire life, van Gogh sold exactly one painting.
The Red Vineyard At Arles (1888) by Vincent Van Gogh. This is the only painting van Gogh ever sold and it was purchased for the modern equivalent of 351$.
The Birth of Venus (1879) by William Adolphe Bouguereau
“William-Adolphe Bouguereau (November 30, 1825 – August 19, 1905) was a French academic painter. Bouguereau was a staunch traditionalist whose realistic genre paintings and mythological themes were modern interpretations of Classical subjects with a heavy emphasis on the female human body. Although he created an idealized world, his almost photo-realistic style was popular with rich art patrons. He was very famous in his time but today his subject matter and technique receive relatively little attention compared to the popularity of the Impressionists.” ¹
Although many of his paintings are well known, Bouguereau is sadly obscure to the modern public. Eclipsed by the ones he despised, his slicked and ethereal figures embody a grace that is lost to our century. Whether just or not, his refinement of the world and smooth canvases (or licked finish) were harshly criticized by the Impressionists for being symbols of the rigid past. Though it must be said that Bouguereau did not revolutionize the art world with new techniques or shocking depictions, he did however excell in the traditional academic style that was his.
He was influenced by the artists of the Renaissance, having stayed and studied at the Villa Medici in Rome and was condemned for his muses. A comparison with one of his favorites, Raphael, delighted him.
“M. Bouguereau has a natural instinct and knowledge of contour. The eurythmic of the human body preoccupies him, and in recalling the happy results which, in this genre, the ancients and the artists of the sixteenth century arrived at, one can only congratulate M. Bouguereau in attempting to follow in their footsteps…Raphael was inspired by the ancients…and no one accused him of not being original.”
William helped advance the cause of women artists and devoted his life to his passion. He is quoted with saying that if he could not give himself to his painting, he was miserable.
A perfect example and symbol of the eternal quarrel between lovers of the past and lovers of the future, William Adolphe Bouguereau, once hailed as the embodiment of taste and elegance, has fallen into oblivion. Recent efforts to resurect his name have left him with a slightly larger audience though he is still very far from attaining in death the fame he enjoyed whilst living.