Liberal Arts Blog — The Hermitage (III) — Degas, “Place de la Concorde,” Van Gogh, “The Garden at Etten,” Matisse, “The Dance”
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Today’s Topic: The Hermitage (III) — Degas, “Place de la Concorde,” Van Gogh, “The Garden at Etten, “ Matisse, “The Dance”
Today, the third installment on the virtual tour of the Hermitage. First, a Degas.
Today, the Place de la Concorde is the bustling, beating heart, of Paris. It is at the intersection of two axes — one going from Louvre’s pyramid to the Arc de Triomphe, the other from the National Assembly on Left Bank (to the south) to the church of the Madeleine to the north. The traffic on the circle makes it a devil to cross. But the view from its center is incomparable. For me, it’s a real treat to get a glimpse of what the square with the traffic circle looked like a century and a half ago. Second, a Van Gogh, which magically led me a yellow house in Arles, 2 Place de Lamartine, under “a sulfur sun and a cobalt sky” and a famous bedroom above the artist’s atelier, sadly bombed during World War II and subsequently demolished but immortalized in several masterpieces. Third, a Matisse. By far the best known of the three — one of the great milestones in the history of art often associated with both “The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky and “Oberon, Titiana, and Puck with Faeries Dancing” by William Blake. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
EDGAR DEGAS (1834–1917 ) “The Place de la Concorde” (1875)
1. Degas is most famous for his paintings and sculptures of dancers. In fact, “more than half of his works depict dancers.” And most of his other works depict indoor scenes and portraits. This painting, like those of horse racing, was unusual.
2. Often classified an early impressionist, Degas rejected the label preferring that of “realist.” And unlike many impressionists he never painted out of doors — always in his studio “from memory, photographs, or imagination.”
3. “You know what I think of people who work out in the open. If I were the government I would have a special brigade of gendarmes to keep an eye on artists who paint landscapes from nature. Oh, I don’t mean to would kill anyone; just a little dose of bird-shot now and then as a warning.” (Degas)
NB: Degas had a strong impact on Toulouse Lautrec and a close friendship for a time with Mary Cassatt but was apparently quite insufferable as a human being. With age, he grew increasingly anti-semitic. Renoir would say of him: “What a creature he was, that Degas! All his friends had to leave him; I was one of the last to go, but even I couldn’t stay till the end.”
VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853–1890) — “Memory of the Garden at Etten” (1888)
1. The rich range of hues, the sinuous lines, the layers of interest, juxtaposition of figures, their postures, and attitudes! What a multi-faceted jewel!
2. A huge Van Gogh fan, I had never paid attention to this painting before doing research for this post. It is this sort of epiphany that keeps me going.
3. The painting was originally intended for his bedroom in in the Yellow House in Arles (in southern France). Don’t miss the fourth link below which includes van Gogh’s description of the house “in its setting under a sulphur sun and a cobalt sky.”
NB: The bedroom at Arles was the subject of another of Van Gogh’s paintings revealingly entitled, “The Bedroom at Arles.” The seventh link below tells the story of the three different versions of this stunningly beautiful painting and includes a detailed description of the artists’ choice of color and deepest intentions as revealed in a letter from the artist to his brother Theo. Oh the places, the hidden gardens, that research can take you to!
HENRI MATISSE (1869–1954) — “The Dance” (1910)
1. Often considered one of the milestones in the history of modern art, the painting was first exhibited in Paris at the Grand Palais des Champs Elysees for the annual exhibition called the “Salon d’Automne” in 1910.
2. I actually strongly prefer an earlier, preliminary version called “Dance I” which you can see at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
3. The earlier version has fewer details but lighter hues and more striking contrasts, making it more vibrant and luminous. Check out the ninth link below and decide for yourself. Let me know your verdict.
NB: “Dance” is reminiscent of William Blake’s “Oberon, Titiana, and Puck with Fairies Dancing” (1786) which depicts a scene from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1595). The ground-breaking work of Matisse is also strongly associated with its musical equivalent — “The Rite of Spring” by Stravinsky which includes a “Dance of the Young Girls.” The piece, part ballet and part orchestral work, debuted in Paris at the Theatre des Champs Elysees in 1913, just down the road from the Grand Palais and, as it happens, the Place de la Concorde.
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