Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Artist’s Affinity: Depictions of Artists’ Work in the Studio

“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.” 
– Oscar Wilde

Throughout history artists have held an affinity for translating their feelings and opinions about the world into an artistic manner that can be comprehended by those around them. Some are painters, others musicians or dancers. My exhibit – “The Artist’s Affinity” displays several paintings from many different eras of art history. Although each of these paintings is made in a different style and time period, the subject matter is still similar. The paintings display a common theme of the artist working in their natural habitat, the studio, and exhibit the artist displaying what they are passionate about through their art.

The focal piece of my exhibit “Pygmalion and Galatea” portrays the zenith of an artist’s passion towards his work. Pygmalion and Galatea’s embrace illustrates the unique relationship between the artist and his work. The surrounding pieces in the exhibit portray similar themes of the artists’ affinity – ponderous musicians, fervent dancers, and inspired painters. They are ordered in a manner that compliments the color and compositions of the paintings adjacent to them. As the observer views the paintings in their displayed order the colors of the paintings should progressively become richer and darker. In the same way, their composition becomes more rendered and elaborately detailed. My hope is that in viewing these pieces the observer will not only become more aware of the passions of past artists, but that they will also be able to experience the artists’ affinity for themselves.

Vincent van Gogh, Self Portrait as a Painter, 1888
Oil on canvas, Van Gogh Museum, F522

Van Gogh’s “Self Portrait as a Painter” displays in a finished form his own career as an artist. Although Van Gogh had painted many self-portraits, this portrait is one of the few in which he has depicted himself as an actual artist. While many of Van Gogh’s former self-portraits seem unfinished and imprecise, his “Self Portrait as a Painter” is complete and detailed.  Van Gogh labored much longer on this portrait than many others. Could it be that Van Gogh highly valued the way that others saw him in at work in his studio? 

Edgar Degas, The Rehearsal of the Ballet Onstage, 1874
Oil, turpentine, watercolor, pastel, ink on paper over Bristol board, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 29.160.26

Art is not merely limited to the easel or the canvas, it can be expressed in many ways – one of them being movement. The dancers in Degas’ “The Rehearsal of the Ballet Onstage” exhibit an aura of passion and fierceness. Compared by some to the central figures of Degas’ painting, “The Spartans” these young artists of finesse portray a unique passion for their art. In the same way that they display a love for dance, Degas seems to have acquired a fascination with it as well. Commonly known for his paintings of dancers, Degas exhibits once more in this painting his arduous love for the art of movement.

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656
Oil on canvas, Museo del Prado Madrid, Spain, P01174

Artistic affinity should not only be defined as an artist’s passion for his work, but also an artist’s passion for being recognized for creating his work. Velázquez’s royal portrait emulates the superiority and importance of the portrait painter. Velázquez not only illustrates the royal family’s young predecessor, but also exhibits himself in the act of the painting her portrait. Velázquez strategically creates a painting in which he has a strong relationship to the royalty involved in the portrait. While the king and queen are exhibited in a blurred mirror on the back wall, Velázquez stands proudly proclaiming the importance of his work as not only royal portrait painter, but as an artist. This piece won him not only artistic recognition, but also his knighthood. 

Marie Denise-Villers, Charlotte du Val d’Ognes, 1801
Oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 17.120.204

The history of painting can also contribute greatly to the relationship between the artist and their work. Originally this piece was attributed to Jacques Louis David; it was viewed as a piece of masculine artistic pride. In 1955 this piece was finally officially credited to Marie Denise-Villers. The artwork’s entire premise for its popularity diminished. What once was a work of the famous David, now was attributed to a “no-name” female artist. The subject of the portrait is still uncertain although commonly it is believed to be a portrait of Charlotte du Val d’Ognes. Many others have also claimed it is actually a self-portrait or a portrait of Denise-Villers’ sister. The piece’s history portrays just how important the artist is when defining and valuing art. Denise–Viller’s modest portrayal of the artist and setting along with her peculiar use of backlighting promote the captivating quality of this painting.

Jean-Leon Gerome, Pygmalion and Galatea, 1890
Oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 27.200

Pygmalion, the artist of extreme passion, is wild for his created sculpture. The tale goes that Venus, having mercy on Pygmalion and his love for the statue Galatea, sent cupid to shoot her with his arrow and bring her to life, completely in love with her creator. What I find interesting about this painting is not only Pygmalion’s relationship to Galatea, but also Jean-Leon Gerome’s relationship to her. Gerome signs his name on the base of her statue placing himself as her artist and therefore representing himself in the place of Pygmalion. Throughout his career Gerome seems to have an obsession with painting and sculpting portraits of the tale of Pygmalion and Galatea. Could it be that he himself is just as passionate about the story as Pygmalion is about Galatea?

Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio, The Musicians, 1595
Oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 52.81

The artists of song in Caravaggio’s painting portray a much deeper meaning than what is initially observed. The far left figure, a cupid holding grapes, impacts the deeper meaning of this work. His presence changes this artwork of music into an allegory of love.  Another figure to consider is the second male musician on the right. Many have believed this musician to have actually been Caravaggio’s self-portrait. This being the case, it is evident that Caravaggio has placed himself in the act of the art of music. Caravaggio’s presence in the painting creates an interesting relationship between the musicians surrounding him and himself. What is their secret? What is their passion and why is this painting considered an allegory of love?

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