Tag Archive: artists

Eye Witness

I found his blog by accident on WordPress’s homepage, and love his photography. In this post, I love how he can capture these people so well through their eyes alone. I do believe that “the eyes are the windows into the soul” and you can truly see their souls through these photographs.

Friday Jan 31st was “Inspire Your Heart with the Arts” day, so I was inspired to write another art post, as I haven’t done one since last fall. Sorry for the delay in posting it but with work and real life, I’ve been swamped. I’ve been wanting to write about an art post about John Everett Millais for awhile now, ever since listening to the audiobook biography about his wife Effie Gray and their relationship back in October. I’ve known about his work since my undergraduate career but never really thought too much of it. I mean it was nice, but I preferred Dante Gabriel Rossetti or Edward Burne-Jones more. The audiobook definitely gave me more of an appreciation for his work though, and made me want to study it further.

John Everett Millais was part of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (or PRB). As I have said in a previous post, They called themselves “Pre-Raphaelite” because the artists in the group imitated artwork done in the Medieval through Renaissance style before Raphael. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website on the Brotherhood, it was:

“an art characterized by minute description of detail, a luminous palette of bright colors that recalls the tempera paint used by medieval artists, and subject matter of a noble, religious, or moralizing nature. In mid-nineteenth-century England, a period marked by political upheaval, mass industrialization, and social ills, the Brotherhood at its inception strove to transmit a message of artistic renewal and moral reform by imbuing their art with seriousness, sincerity, and truth to nature.”

One of his most famous paintings done during his time with the PRB, and the one usually recognized by the most people, was Ophelia. Despite the fact that it was rejected by critics when it was originally created, it has been voted the public’s all-time favorite PRB painting in Tate Britain, where the painting currently resides. I personally think there are better more interesting PRB paintings out there but that’s just my opinion. However, I will say that he is excellent at painting the coloring in her face, really makes her look alive (close-up of her face shown here). The subject matter was taken from the Shakespeare play Hamlet. The painting shows the moment that Ophelia has gone crazy after Hamlet, her lover, killed her father Polonius. She has fallen into the water after collecting flowers from a tree hanging over a river, and she starts singing to herself before she drowns. This is not seen by the audience in the play, but rather described by Hamlet’s mother Queen Gertrude.

Ophelia, 1851-52

Ophelia by John Everett Millais, 1851-52

The model for the painting was the famous Elizabeth Siddal, who was the muse and later wife of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, although she modeled for several of the PRB. Ms. Siddal modeled by laying in an antique gown in a slightly-heated bathtub for hours upon hours, resulting in a serious illness that her father demanded the artist pay for (he later did). Millais painted the landscape part of the painting in nature, which was not something usually done during that time period (a technique which was also made famous by the Impressionists in France). By painting in nature, he was able to be incredibly detailed, especially in his depiction of the flowers and plants. Millais’ son John Guille said the flowers were so realistic that “a professor teaching botany, who was unable to take a class of students into the country, took them to see the flowers in the painting Ophelia, as they were as instructive as nature itself.” In fact, according to Tate Gallery, some of the symbolism is taken directly from the play.

“The weeping willow symbolizes forsaken love. The nettle on the willow’s branches represent pain. The daisies floating near Ophelia’s right hand represents innocence. The pink roses symbolize youth, love and beauty. Violets are a symbol of faithfulness and they can also symbolize chastity and death in the young. The pale blue forget-me-nots in the immediate foreground carry the meaning of their name. The red poppy represents sleep and death.”

The second painting I would like to discuss is The Order of Release 1746. The painting’s subject matter is taken from the Battle of Culloden, where the Scottish and Bonnie Prince Charlie were massacred by the English, lead by Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (a younger son of King George II) on April 16, 1746. Here one of the Jacobites is being released from prison. According to the Tate Gallery, “Millais appears to have invented the incident, but may also have been inspired by the novels of Sir Walter Scott, which provided a wealth material for artists and illustrators in the second half of the 19th Century.”

The Order of Release 1746, 1852-53

The Order of Release 1746

The Jacobite soldier is wounded and exhausted from battle, and leans on his wife for support. She, in turn, is cradling her fast-asleep daughter as she hands over her husband’s release papers to the Redcoat guard. Their daughter has brought flowers to greet her father, but they have mostly fallen to the floor in her deep sleep. The dog is overjoyed to see his master and jumps up on him to show it. We can’t quite read the wife’s expression. The Tate Gallery believes that “she appears strangely detached from the action, and the suggestion is that she may have been forced to sacrifice her virtue in order to save her husband.” I don’t know whether that is true or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was. I think she might just be worn out. She looks like most mothers, taking care of  everyone and making sure everything is in order. Being the comforter, supporter, and responsible party is hard work. The cool thing about this painting, according to Sally King, is that “Millais designates primary power to the woman in this picture, contrasting the typically passive female figure he features in many of his paintings. The woman provides the emotional and physical balance to the picture.” Neither the wife nor the husband look out at the viewer has meaning. The husband is almost hiding his head in shame, probably from being defeated in battle, being captured and probably also from being released by his wife.

He used his future wife Effie Gray for the model of the wife, though he darkens her hair. He is incredibly detailed in describing the scene, making it almost photorealistic. “Millais’ photorealism upset many of his viewers at first, who could not see the point of rendering such a strange picture with such precision. In fact, it suits the genre of this piece, enhancing its life-likeness and suggesting that the scene actually occurred.” He made sure to copy an actual Order of Release, and took pains to get the tartans on the daughter and father right. According to the Tate Gallery, “For the tartans he consulted Robert McIan’s Highland Clans. The Jacobite wears the Gordon tartan and the little girl the Drummond, presumably the mother’s clan.” The work was greatly received by the public when it was exhibited in the Royal Academy’s Exhibition of 1853, so much so that they had to install a police officer to move the crowds along. It was one of the first paintings of Millais to move away from the Pre-Raphaelite style, which caused Williams Morris (who later helped Dante Gabriel Rossetti revamp the Pre-Raphaelite movement) to dismiss him saying “a genius bought and sold and thrown away”.

Portrait of John Ruskin, 1853-54

Portrait of John Ruskin - Millais

The next painting I would like to discuss is the portrait of John Ruskin. I will admit that I had seen this work way before I knew who the subject was or the story behind it. Ruskin stands on the rocks in front of a waterfall in Glenfinlas, Scotland in the Trossachs (near Stirling). Similar to the way he painted nature in Ophelia, Millais is incredibly detailed. You can almost hear the waterfall falling behind him. Ruskin wanted the picture to be painted outdoors in nature versus being created in a studio because he was hoping Millais would be the next great landscape, like his idol J. M. W. Turner. The portrait was commissioned by Ruskin for his father.

While it is an interesting piece, I think the story behind it is much more interesting. Renowned art critic John Ruskin invited John Everett Millais to Scotland with him and his wife Effie Gray in the summer of 1853. As mentioned above, Effie had posed as the female model for The Order of Release 1746. According to Dr. Rebecca Easley,

“The relationship between the young artist and the established critic began when Ruskin wrote two letters to The Times defending the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1851. Millais wrote to thank Ruskin, and Ruskin discovered a young artist he thought worthy of molding. Millais found the experience of [of painting the portrait] difficult, as Ruskin was an extremely controlling mentor, directing much of the production of the painting. He painted the background landscape of the painting during that summer, but Ruskin did not come to model for the actual portrait until January of 1854, but it was not finished until December 1854 when Ruskin’s father paid for the painting.”

While on holiday in Scotland, Millais and Ruskin’s wife Effie Gray fell in love. Her marriage to Ruskin was not happy. He was very controlling and they ended up annulling the marriage in April 1854 due to the non-consummation of their five year marriage and his “incurable impotence”.  She ended up marrying Millais about a year later and they had eight children together. Being a divorced woman in Victorian times was a huge social stigma, and for Effie this was accentuated by the fact that Queen Victoria herself wouldn’t receive her in court (she later did after a death bed plea from Millais). Thankfully Millais was eventually rewarded for all his hard work by being awarded a barony in 1885 and becoming the President of the Academy shortly before his death.

I  did not remember how much of an influence the painter Manet had on the Impressionists, most of whom he knew. I was reminded of this fact after listening to Christopher Moore’s excellent new book Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d’Art. The  author discussed these two paintings, Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia.  My favorite Manet painting is the The Bar at the Folies-Bergere, which I described in this post from last summer. In order to better explain Manet, I will give some background information on how paintings were exhibited in France in the nineteenth century.

The Academie des Beaux-Arts, or the School of Fine Arts, was the official school of French painting. It was established in 1671, and later merged with the Royal Schools of Painting and Sculpture, Music and Architecture in 1816. According to this website:

“The French Academy (as it is known in art history circles) decided on the ‘official’ art for France. It set the standards under the supervision of a select group of member artists, who were deemed worthy by their peers and the State. The Academy determined what was good art, bad art and even dangerous art! The French Academy protected French culture from ‘corruption’ by rejecting avant-garde tendencies among their students and those who submitted to the annual Salon.”

Famous French painters such as David and Ingres were both members of the Academy. The traditional artwork of the Academy took a  classical approach to paintings, especially in regard to subject matter and technique. The Realists, and later the Impressionists, did not want to be part of the official Salon. In fact, this was one of the reasons why the  Impressionists were such a crazy departure from the norm of French art. The French Realism movement (1840 – 1870s), “was based on direct observation of the modern world. Realists recorded in often gritty detail the present-day existence of humble people, paralleling related trends in the naturalist literature of Émile Zola, Honoré de Balzac, and Gustave Flaubert.” Famous painters from this movement included Gustave Courbet and Jean-Francois Millet.

Edouard Manet was the bridge between the Realist painters and the Impressionists. Though during his lifetime, he considered himself to be a Realist painter, he has been called the father of Impressionism (though he never joined the movement). Manet did not coin the term “Impressionism“; that was taken from a 1872 Monet painting where he used “quick, visible brushstrokes of unblended color, which was adopted as a stylistic hallmark of the movement.” But let’s back up a few years to talk about the Salon des Refuses. In 1863, the French Academy rejected  over half of the 2,000+ painting submissions it received for the Salon (the annual exhibition given by the Academy) which ended up in a separate exhibit called “The Salon des Refuses,” or the Salon of the Refused, being created to display all the work that the Academy deemed unfit. Manet submitted Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) to the Academy that year and it was rejected, but made it into the Salon des Refuses, where it caused a humongous scandal.

The Luncheon on the Grass by Edouard Manet,  1863


The painting was supposedly denied to the original Salon of 1863 due to it being too immoral, the then-emperor Napolean III saying “It offends against modesty.” It is interesting to note that the artist considered the nude to be worthy of painting because it was the way to gain fame within the Salon. He originally titled the painting The Bath. Manet wanted to do the nude a different way and, according to this article,

“was clear that he meant to include the people who bathed in the Seine.  These would have been the urban poor who had no other recourse for cleanliness or recreation than the city’s river. Manet was also familiar with Giorgione’s Fête champêtre  (1508), a country or rustic scene with a theme of humans living in harmony with nature.  Apparently, Manet combined the ideal rustic scene with the actual and current way in which ordinary people used nature.”

He was also influenced by Raphael’s drawing The Judgment of Paris, which he most likely had seen from the engraving done by Marcantonio Raimondi. The right bottom grouping of people are the ones he modeled his figures after. In his painting, Manet showed two fully clothed men, most likely students or artists, and one completely nude woman in front with another female bathing in her undergarments in the background. He used Victorine Meurent as the model for both this painting and Olympia, however, as it is explained in this article, “it is clear that it is her head in the painting but it is definitely not her lithe body; it is more likely that the [nude] body belongs to the more curvaceous and ‘love-handled’ Suzanne Leenhof, his wife.”

Not only was it taboo for the woman to be naked with two clothed men, she’s also staring straight out at the viewer. It’s also interesting that the two men seem to be paying no attention to her whatsoever and are in the middle of a vigorous discussion. According to the Musee D’Orsay (where the painting now resides),

“The presence of a nude woman among clothed men is justified neither by mythological nor allegorical precedents. This, and the contemporary dress, rendered the strange and almost unreal scene obscene in the eyes of the public of the day. The painting became the principal attraction [of the Salon des Refuses], generating both laughter and scandal.”

I’m never quite sure if the nude woman is a prostitute or just very confident. Scholars disagree on this point as well. I think, as others have suggested that the women are instead highlighting the prostitution problem in Paris’s parks, a topic that was not discussed in public. If you go off of Christopher Moore’s interpretation, the nude woman just had her way with the two men who are now just going about their day.


Olympia, which was shown two years later in the actual Salon, caused even more scandal. According to PBS, which produced a documentary on the painting, “Many scholars believe that Olympia was admitted to the Salon because jurors didn’t want to be accused of censorship following the strong negative reaction to Déjeuner. Instead, they decided to expose the artist and his work to the wrath of the real critics — the public. As expected, Manet was vilified by Salon-goers. Guards have to be stationed next to it to protect it, until it is moved to a spot high above a doorway, out of reach.”

Manet used one of Titian’s most famous pieces, Venus of Urbino, as well as Goya’s Maja Desnuda as his guide in creating Olympia. The woman in Manet’s painting is a courtesan, and she is portrayed as a real woman of the time period and not as an idealized female, as women were usually portrayed in French Academic art. To better understand the difference between a common prostitute and a courtesan, check this link. In both The Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia, the nude woman stares directly at the viewer. However, in this  painting, it is in a faintly disinterested way as if to say “This is what I am, what of it?” Her black servant has brought her a bouquet of flowers from a client but she isn’t even paying attention to it. She lies on top of a embroidered Oriental shawl and a little black cat at the end of the bed. It wasn’t only the subject matter that disturbed the public and art critics, but also the way Manet handled the paint. “Rejecting his traditional art training, Manet chose instead to paint with bold brush strokes, implied shapes, and vigorous, simplified forms.” He contrasts the bright body of the nude courtesan and the white sheets of her bed, with the complete darkness of the rest of the room. All in all both paintings were ones that challenged the Academy and the way the French people looked at art, and paved the way for the Impressionists.

Saint Catherine of Siena icon

Today is the Feast Day of St Catherine of Siena. She was canonized in 1461.  She is considered one of the two patron saints of Italy, the other being St. Francis. In 1999, she was named one of the patron saints of Europe. She is also the patron saint of  firefighters,  illness, miscarriages, nurses, people ridiculed for their piety, against sexual temptation and sick people. She lived from 1347-80, and was considered a mystic, a tertiary (layperson not in a religious order who has done good works but is allowed to wear certain items of that order) of the Dominican Order and a Doctor of the Church. According to this  iconography website, she was known for being a ” persuasive mediator who negotiated peace between Florence and the papacy [in the event called the War of the Eight Saints]and who was behind Pope Gregory XI’s decision to return the papal court to Rome after its long stay in Avignon,” thus ending the Great Schism. All of her mystical writings have been gathered in a book known as the Dialogues, which includes 381 letters and 26 prayers, which can be found here. It is through her mystical writings that artists got inspirations for paintings depicting her receiving the stigmata, her vision of symbolically marrying Christ, and him giving her Communion. In art, she is usually pictured with a crown of thorns, lilies and a book, or a heart (which refers to the legend that she switched hearts with Christ).

Alessandro Franchi and Gaetano Marinelli, The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine, 1896

Alessandro Franchi and Gaetano Marinelli - The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine - 1896

She was buried at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, where the first painting is located. Well at least most of her is. According to this story from Wikipedia,

“The people of Siena wished to have St. Catherine’s body. A story is told of a miracle whereby they were partially successful: Knowing that they could not smuggle her whole body out of Rome, they decided to take only her head which they placed in a bag. When stopped by the Roman guards, they prayed to St Catherine to help them, confident that she would rather have her body (or at least part thereof) in Siena. When they opened the bag to show the guards, it appeared no longer to hold her head but to be full of rose petals. Once they got back to Siena they reopened the bag and her head was visible once more. Due to this story, St Catherine is often seen holding a rose. The incorruptible head and thumb were entombed in the Basilica of San Domenico, where they remain.”

Catherine of Siena was known to be anorexic, which seems to be an effect of her mystical visions and fasting to be closer to God. I found an interesting article on the subject today while looking for research material. For today and tomorrow’s poetry, I would like to use two prayers done by the saint.

My Nature is Fire

Prayer 12 (XXII)*

In your nature,

eternal Godhead,

I shall come to know my nature.

And what is my nature, boundless love?

It is fire,

because you are nothing but a fire of love.

And you have given humankind

a share in this nature,

for by the fire of love

you created us.

And so with all other people

and every created thing;

you made them out of love.

O ungrateful people!

What nature has your God given you?

His very own nature!

Are you not ashamed to cut yourself off from such a noble thing

through the guilt of deadly sin?

O eternal Trinity,

my sweet love!

You, light,

give us light.

You, wisdom,

give us wisdom.

You, supreme strength,

strengthen us.

Today, eternal God,

let our cloud be dissipated

so that we may perfectly know and follow your Truth

in truth,

with a free and simple heart.

God, come to our assistance!

Lord, make haste to help us!


*Taken from The Prayers of Catherine of Siena. 2nd edition. Suzanne Noffke, OP, translator and editor.
(San Jose.: Authors Choice Press, 2001) (Roman numerals indicate the number of the prayer in
the critical edition of G. Cavallini).

Prayer of Saint Catherine of Siena to the Precious Blood of Jesus
Precious Blood,
Ocean of Divine Mercy:
Flow upon us!

Precious Blood,
Most pure Offering:
Procure us every Grace!

Precious Blood,
Hope and Refuge of sinners:
Atone for us!

Precious Blood,
Delight of holy souls:
Draw us! Amen.

Library of Congress

My options for things to post today were pretty much Administrative Professionals Day (which I wholeheartedly support being on and knowing how vital they are in an office) or the International Mariachi Conference in Tucson, which I was only vaguely interested in. But then I stumbled upon this little gem. The Library of Congress was established on this date in 1800 by Congress, which is basically the National Library for the entire US. It was initially given a budget of $5000 and housed in the new Capitol Building until it had to be moved in 1814, when, according to the Library of Congress’s webpage,

“invading British troops set fire to the Capitol Building, burning and pillaging the contents of the small library. Within a month, retired President Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library as a replacement.In January 1815, Congress accepted Jefferson’s offer, appropriating $23,950 for his 6,487 books, and the foundation was laid for a great national library. The Jeffersonian concept of universality, the belief that all subjects are important to the library of the American legislature, is the philosophy and rationale behind the comprehensive collecting policies of today’s Library of Congress. Ainsworth Rand Spofford, Librarian of Congress from 1864 to 1897, applied Jefferson’s philosophy on a grand scale and built the Library into a national institution. Spofford was responsible for the copyright law of 1870, which required all copyright applicants to send to the Library two copies of their work.”

The library (Thomas Jefferson Building – exterior shot above) was rebuilt starting in 1886, due to the influx of books after the copyright law, and opened in 1897. “The unparalled current collection of more than 155 million items includes more than 35 million cataloged books and other print materials in 460 languages; more than 68 million manuscripts; the largest rare book collection in North America; and the world’s largest collection of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music and sound recordings.” The John Adams Building was the second construction of the Library of Congress and was opened in 1938, with the third ediface, the James Madison Memorial Building opening in 1980.

Main Reading Room, Thomas Jefferson Building – Library of Congress

Main Reading Room - Thomas Jefferson Building - LOC

There have been 13 Librarians of Congress since 1800, the current one, Dr. James Hadley Billington, starting in Sept 1987. For more information on him, check out his informational page. The Library of Congress sponsors several awards including the Poet Laureate of the US (my fav was Robert Pinsky, who did an excellent translation of Dante’s Inferno), the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, the National Book Festival Creative Achievement Award, and the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (the current one is author Walter Dean Myers, the past two being Jon Scieszka and Katherine Paterson).

This webpage features the Inscriptions and Quotations in the 3 building of the Library of Congress. For the Bicentennial celebrations in 2000, they had an exhibition on The Wizard of Oz: An American Fairy Tale. Two of the current exhibits going at the Library of Congress include this one on The Gibson Girls, and this one on Danny Kaye (one of my favorite actor/comedians) and his wife/manager/songwriter Sylvia Fine. I have never been in the reading rooms of the Library of Congress, though I have attended the viewing of a couple silent movies with orchestra, at one of the buildings, when I was in high school.

Today’s poem is taken from a mural (entitled Emerson’s Uriel) done in the Poetry Gallery, featured in lunettes done on the south gallery of the Jefferson Building.


by: Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

It fell in the ancient periods
Which the brooding soul surveys,
Or ever the wild Time coined itself
Into calendar months and days.
This was the lapse of Uriel,
Which in Paradise befell.
Once among the Pleiads walking,
Said overheard the young gods talking,
And the treason too long pent
To his ears was evident.
The young deities discussed
Laws of form and metre just,
Orb, quintessence, and sunbeams,
What subsisteth, and what seems.
One, with low tones that decide,
And doubt and reverend use defied,
With a look that solved the sphere,
And stirred the devils everywhere,
Gave his sentiment divine
Against the being of a line:
“Line in nature is not found,
Unit and universe are round;
In vain produced, all rays return,
Evil will bless, and ice will burn.”
As Uriel spoke with piercing eye,
A shudder ran around the sky;
The stern old war-gods shook their heads,
The seraphs frowned from myrtle-beds;
Seemed to the holy festival,
The rash word boded ill to all;
The balance-beam of Fate was bent;
The bonds of good and ill were rent;
Strong Hades could not keep his own,
But all slid to confusion.
A sad self-knowledge withering fell
On the beauty of Uriel.
In heaven once eminent, the god
Withdrew that hour into his cloud,
Whether doomed to long gyration
In the sea of generation,
Or by knowledge grown too bright
To hit the nerve of feebler sight.
Straightway a forgetting wind
Stole over the Celestial kind,
And their lips the secret kept,
If in ashes the fibre-seed slept.
But now and then truth-speaking things
Shamed the angels’ veiling wings,
And, shrilling from the solar course,
Or from fruit of chemic force,
Procession of a soul in matter,
Or the speeding change of water,
Or out of the good of evil born,
Came Uriel’s voice of cherub scorn;
And a blush tinged the upper sky,
And the gods shook, they knew not why.
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