Liberal Arts Blog — Flag Paintings: Claude Monet (1878), Childe Hassam (1917), Jasper Johns (1954)
Liberal Arts Blog — Friday is the Joy of Art, Architecture, Design, Film, and All Things Visual Day
Today’s Topic: Flag Paintings: Claude Monet (1878), Childe Hassam (1917), Jasper Johns (1954)
What is your favorite flag painting? What is your visceral reaction to it? What is your cerebral reaction? Do they conflict? Today, a look at three paintings and three very different moments in history. What they have in common is that both the French and American flags are red, white, and blue. They also share the fact that they are flags of democracies of which there were few in 1878, many more after World War I, and even more after World War II. Jasper Johns painted 40 paintings of American flags and Childe Hassam 30. Claude Monet did three of the French flag. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
MONET — “Rue Montorgueil, Paris, 1878” — Festival of June 30th (not July 14th)
1. The Festival of June 30th was a one-shot deal connected to the Universal Exhibition of 1878.
2. The celebration was one of “peace and work,” of recovery from the defeat of 1870, and of the establishment of the Third Republic.
3. Monet did a companion painting of the celebration on the Rue St. Denis (see third link below)
NB: Rue Montorgueil extends from the “grand boulevards” to the north to the church of St. Eustache and the Les Halles to the south. It has two famous restaurants (L’Escargot and Au Rocher de Cancale) and the bakery known as the birthplace of the “baba au rhum” La Maison Stohrer which opened in 1730.
CHILDE HASSAM — “Avenue in the Rain, 1917) — actually 5th Avenue, NYC
1. One of six paintings by Hassam in the White House.
2. “This work dates to February 1917, shortly before the United States entered the First World War at a time when patriotic fervor was rising. The previous month, Germany had extended its unrestricted submarine warfare to neutral ships, including American vessels. The Zimmermann Telegram became public knowledge at the end of February 1917 and the country declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.)
3. “The work was donated to the White House in 1963 by Thomas Mellon Evans and hung between the windows in John F. Kennedy’s blue-themed President’s badroom (now a private sitting room, adjacent to the Yellow Oval Room on the second floor). It was in the President’s dining room for many years and hung in the Oval Office during Bill Clinton’s, Barack Obama’s, and Donald Trump’s terms, as well as currently under Joe Biden’s term.” These four guys had something in common after all!
NB: I love Childe Hassam. Check out the fourth link for a little biographical data and a few other of his works — including “July 14th, Rue Daunou, 1910” which features French flags. Parenthetically, there is something about the four undulating dark figures in the foreground above that makes me think of Munch’s “The Scream.” The effect disturbs the patriotic feelings evoked by the flag itself creating a weird tension — somewhere between a happy dream and a nightmare.
JASPER JOHNS, “Flag” (1954) — the McCarthy Hearings, the Pledge Amended, Iwo Jima
1. “He made this work by combining panels, paint, and encaustic — a mixture of pigment and melted wax that captured the paint’s drips, smears, and brushstrokes.”
2. “Beneath the flag’s familiar stripes, we can make out a collage of newspaper scraps whose dates locate this commonplace symbol within a particular moment.”
3. “One night I dreamed that I painted a large American flag and the next morning I got up and I went out and bought the materials to begin it.”
NB: “The US flag was in the news repeatedly in 1954. The McCarthy came to a close on June 17, 1954, only three days after Flag Day. On Flag Day, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an amendment to the pledge of allegiance to add the words “under God.” The New York Times ran article on facts and myths associated with the flag on the day before Flag Day, and then an article on the “discipline” of the flag on Flag Day itself, saying, with reference to a national air-raid drill “we are all soldiers now”…..The Iwo Jima Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, with its large US flag, was dedicated on 11 November 1954. Johns and his father were both named after Sergeant William Jasper, who saved the fallen flag of the Americans at Fort Moultrie in the American Revolutionary War.”
FOOTNOTE — Jasper Johns Flag Paintings
1. The largest is the White Flag (1955), his first monochrome version of the flag.
2. His “Flag 1958” was purchased for $110 million by a hedge fund manager in 2010 — the highest price ever paid for a painting by a living artist. (See final link for details.)
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