ABC Wednesday: D is for Degas

Edgar Degas (1834 – 1917) was a French artist and is perhaps most well known for his paintings of dancers; ballerinas were his favourite subject:

This is The Dance Class, oil on canvas, 1874 (the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art). Here the dancers are in various poses at the end of a rehearsal. You can see the exhaustion on their faces and in their figures – see the girl at the front scratching her back, the girls at the back sunk to the floor, and the girl on the right, her arms folded, shoulders rounded and her head drooping down. I love the contrast between them and the rigid figure of the ballet master.Their flimsy tutus stand out so well against the hard diagonal floorboards.

I also like painting L’Absinthe, also called The Absinthe Drinker, A Sketch of a French Café,  or Figures at Café. It’s oil on canvas, 1876 (Musée D’Orsay). It’s a melancholy painting of a forlorn couple in the Café de la Nouvelle-Athènes in Paris.

They are drowning their sorrows. She is drinking absinthe, ‘the Green Fairy’, a lethal drink that was later banned. She is seen staring into space, sad, and desolate, lost in her own world. He is also in his own world, detached, his head turned away from her, as though they aren’t together. Degas’s models for the painting were Ellen Andre, an actress and Marcellin Desboutin, an engraver and artist. They were both annoyed by the painting, which depicted them as alcoholics and Degas had to state publicly that they were not.

I like it just because it tells a tale. It is so expressive and the detail is so fine, the slump of her shoulders, her air of exhaustion and his desire not to be there come over to me so powerfully. It gives the impression that Degas painted this from real life, but actually he painted it in his studio, with the pair carefully posed.

An ABC Wednesday post.

ABC Wednesday: B is for …

Beata Beatrix by Dante Gabriel Rossetti c. 1863, (Tate Britain)Dante Gabriel Rossetti  was one of the original members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Beata Beatrix was inspired by Dante’s poem La Vita Nuova about his love for Beatrice, but it is actually a painting about Rossetti’s wife, Lizzie, mourning her death.

In 1850 Rossetti had fallen in love with Lizzie Siddal, a milliner’s shop assistant, who had agreed to pose for William Deverell, another member of the Brotherhood. She became a favourite model of all the members, including posing for hours in a tepid bath as Millais’s Ophelia. Rossetti, though, became increasingly possessive about her and they lived together and eventually married in 1860. But he gave her a hard time, neglecting her and was unfaithful. They lived in dark, cold and  damp rooms at Chatham Place, near Blackfriars Bridge. Lizzie’s health deteriorated. She was frail and depressed, and became addicted to laudanum. After her child was stillborn, Rossetti came home late one night in 1862 he found her dead, with an empty phial by her side. The official verdict was accidental death but to Rossetti it felt like suicide (which was illegal and immoral at the time and would have barred her from a Christian burial).

Rossetti’s portrait mourns Lizzie’s the death, showing her in a ecstatic, trance-like state. The haloed red dove, the messenger of Love, carrying a flower has become the messenger of Death and the flower is a poppy, the symbol of sleep and death and also the source of opium (laudanum), the drug which killed her.

I think this is such a beautiful, powerful painting ‘“ Rossetti described it saying Lizzy was ‘˜rapt from earth to heaven‘.

Linked to ABC Wednesday.

ABC Wednesday: A is for The Artist’s House at Argenteuil

Another round of ABC Wednesday began today. Amazingly it’s been going for around 5 years and this is Round 11.

A is for The Artist’s House at Argenteuil by Claude Monet, one of my favourite Impressionist paintings. It’s oil on canvas painted in 1873, now held in the Art Institute of Chicago.

Monet moved to Argenteuil in 1871 and lived there until 1877. This was a prolific period for him – he was happy and well-off during that time. It was whilst he was living there that he developed a passion for gardening, influenced by fellow artist Gustave Caillebotte. This painting shows the first house he lived in at Argenteuil, with beds of red, white and blue flowers in front of the house, a creeper covering much of the wall and potted plants in large blue and white tubs on the gravel drive.

I especially like this painting because of the colours and also the figures adding personality – the little child with a hoop is Monet’s five-year old son, Jean, whilst his wife, Camille is seen in the doorway.

C is for Chaffinch

There are countless numbers of chaffinches in our garden. It’s the second commonest breeding bird in the UK, so perhaps it’s not surprising that there are so many around. They eat insects and seeds, but they prefer to eat the seeds that have fallen to the ground rather than from the bird feeders.

We have put a tray of seeds on a garden table outside our kitchen patio doors and can watch them at quite close quarters as they come to eat the seeds. Whilst they crowd together on the ground they’re more cautious closer to the house and they only come one at a time to the table. David took these photos. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

I think this one is so lovely. It’s a female chaffinch that has just landed on the rail of the decking and the wind is ruffling her feathers.

In this next photo her feathers have settled down:

Then a male chaffinch arrived. He likes the sunflower seeds.

I love his colours.

An ABC Wednesday post for the letter C.

Around the House and Garden

For this round of ABC Wednesday I’m focussing on various objects in our house and garden, beginning with

A for Asiatic Pheasants and also B for Blue and White Porcelain.

This is an oval meal dish in the Asiatic Pheasants design, which was popular during Queen Victoria’s reign. It’s an English design based on an oriental original and is a much lighter blue than the Willow pattern.

It’s large and very heavy, and I’m rather fond of it. It has a cartouche on the back, which identifies the manufacturer as James Beech 1877 – 1889 in Tunstall Staffordshire.

U is for Umbrellas

‘The Umbrellas’, a painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir c. 1881 – 85 an oil painting on canvas, held in the  National Gallery in London, shows an urban landscape – a crowd of fashionable Parisians in the rain under their umbrellas with a little girl in the foreground carrying a hoop. I like the contrast between the feathery brushwork of the people in the background and the harder outlines of the umbrellas and the precise drawing of the woman and little girl in the foreground. I also like the composition with the figures at the sides cut off as in a photograph and the way the painting conveys such a sense of the movement  of the bustling crowd.

An ABC Wednesday post illustrating the letter U.

La Terrace à Sainte-Adresse by Claude Monet

I love this bright, colourful painting by Monet of the terrace of his aunt’s house, near Le Havre. Monet painted it in 1867 whilst he spent the summer there. The high horizon with its line of boats and distinct bands of colour shows the influence of Japanese art. The painting almost has a 3-D effect, but most of all I love the contrast of colours and the delicate portrayal of the flowers and figures.

 It was not such a happy time for Monet as his father, shown seated in the painting, was about to cut off his allowance because of his affair with Camille Doncieux, who had just given birth to Monet’s son.

The painting, oil on canvas, is now held at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. I wish I could see the original!

This post is a contribution to ABC Wednesday for the letter T.


S is for Smailholm Tower and Sir Walter Scott

I took these photos of Smailholm Tower, near Kelso in the Scottish Borders on a grey day in November last year. It’s open to the public, but in the winter it’s only open at the weekends  and we went on a weekday! We keep meaning to go back and see the inside.

I think it’s an impressive sight!

It’s a peel tower perched on top of a rocky crag, originally built in the 15th/16th centuries to protect its occupants from English raiders. It’s now a Scheduled Ancient Monument in the care of Historic Scotland.

Although the Tower now stands alone on the crag it was once the centre of a small castle toun. Sir Walter Scott stayed with his grandparents who lived at Sandyknowe Farm in the hollow near the Tower, where his parents hoped his delicate health would improve. It was there that his love of the Borders began as his aunt and grandmother recited to him ballads and Border tales and legends.

For more S posts visit ABC Wednesday.