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The Genius of Harriet Backer

Blue Interior, 1883

Born on the 21 of January in 1845, Harriet Backer was a Norwegian painter known for her introspective interiors and vivid colors. Having studied in Europe with various artists and travelled with her sister Agathe, a noted pianist and composer of the time, Backer became an influential artist pioneering both an Impressionist and Natural Realism. Backer travelled extensively not only throughout Europe but studied in her native land, and in Munich and Paris. Her work is characterized by a genre style of daily life infused with light and color not often seen, especially in her often thick brushwork which is sometimes reminiscent of her Swedish contemporary Anders Zorn, born twenty years after her. Despite not painting portraits or nudes, Backer's allure is in being able to articulate simplicity in a way that draws the viewer in, always experimenting with her brushstrokes and tonality...a poet of the people.

In Blue Interior above, we can clearly see how Backer often…
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Nicolaes Berchem, Dutch Master of the Land

The Three Droves, 1656


Born October 1, 1620 in Haarlem, Netherlands, Nicolaes Berchem was a Dutch landscape painter. Berchem is known for his strong use of light, lush verdant landscapes and elegant figures yet sadly, is not given due attention for his incredible gifts. Berchem was an incredibly prolific painter and also produced many etchings and drawings during his lifetime in Haarlem and Amsterdam. Although not exactly a household name, Berchem was highly esteemed in his day. He taught some of the leading Dutch artists of the Golden Age, including Karel Dujardin, Pieter de Hooch, Jan van Huchtenburg, and Jacob Ochtervelt among others.

In The Three Droves above, Berchem's stunning light bathes this scene in romantic warmth. Judging by the greenish-yellow tone in the sky we see that Berchem glazed it in warm yellows, and the way that tree off to the right is silhouetted against that orange glow is breathtaking. He uses the warm tones as a motif throughout the painting, in some o…

Salvator Mundi Puts Leonardo in the Headlines

Leonardo's most cryptic and virtually unknown work, Salvator Mundi sold for a mind-boggling $450 million dollars at Christie's New York to break a world record, more than paying for the painstaking restoration by the incredibly skilled hands of Dianne Dwyer Modestini. Read more about her process in this CNN article. This article by Gary Meisner talks about Da Vinci's use of Golden Ration proportions within the painting.

Although this kind of selling price has outraged many art critics and skeptics alike all over the world—how dare an Old Master work outsell a Van Gogh or other modern work? I'll leave the art market talk to the experts. In this post I hope to examine the painting more fully and explore how much of it is the hand of Leonardo and the rest possibly the hand of others including Melzi, among others. Am I disputing its authorship? Not necessarily. I have profound respect for Professor Martin Kemp and I'm sure he's right when he says that standing bef…

The Literary Painter: Léon Augustin Lhermitte

La paye des moissonneurs, 1882


Born July 31, 1844 in northern France, Léon Augustin Lhermitte was a French Realist painter. His work is characterized by rural scenes of peasant farmers much like his contemporaries such as Jean-François Millet and Jules Breton. Lhermitte, in contrast to these great painters, is lesser known yet his approach is more Classical and he had a much greater understanding of anatomy and body language.


In the above painting, La paye des moissonneurs, translated as the pay of harvesters, peasant farmers are given a day's wages for hard work from their landowners. You can tell by the way the figures to the left are seated on a concrete bench how defeated and tired they are yet eager for their pay, a biting comment on labor that we can all understand today, even with our modern conveniences. The man on the left is seated with his giant scythe, staring into space while his wife breastfeeds their child as the owner pays them in coins. The younger bachelor off to…

Jean Restout II, Master Craftsman

Pentecost, 1732


Jean Restout II was born on March 26, 1692 in Rouen, France. He comes from a long line of painters and is distinguised from his father, Jean I Restout or Jean Restout the elder (1666-1702). Misattribution is common between them, even within wikipedia where both artists are sometimes shown as having painted the same work. Restout II studied with his uncle, the great Jean Jouvenet.

In Pentecost above, Restout II depicts the 50th day after Easter, (sometimes called "White Sunday") where the Holy Spirit appears before the Apostles and Christians during the Jewish holiday known as the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. Out of the various renditions of this holy event by other artists, Restout II's is the most impressive visually, both compositionally and in scale: the painting measures 4,65 m in height by 7,78 m in length! In the top center the Virgin Mary stands tall while balls of fire shoot out and touch the Apostles symbolizing the gift of tongues to help them eva…

Eugène Galien-Laloue: The Urban Impressionist

La Place du Châtelet, ca. 1941





Born in Paris on December 11, 1854, Eugène Galien-Laloue was a French landscape and urban street painter. He worked under many aliases but is known mainly as Eugène Galien-Laloue. He painted mainly in gouache, taking advantage of the medium's quick drying time to produce more work while maintaining the painterly qualities that his astute Impressionism required. Although often imitated over the years by lesser artists, Galien-Laloue's work is strikingly clean and crisp...with careful lines in perspective, beautiful skies, and fashionable figures depicted in all seasons and all times of day.


In La Place du Châtelet above, Galien-Laloue's immediacy and freshness of the moment is so crisp and real you can almost smell the air. That contrast of hazy cool sky with the warm glow of the Théâtre du Châtelet's lights is captivating. Galien-Laloue paints the winter trees with very liquid brushstrokes while the figures have the exact sensation of mov…

Why the Renaissance and its Art Were More Controversial Than We Think

Madonna della Misericordia by Fra Bartolomeo, 1515


In this article, Bob Duggan discusses how Renaissance Art redefined culture by overturning dogma and challenging religious notions, sometimes vain but always intriguing. Based on the book The Controversy of Renaissance Art by Art History professor Alexander Nagel he explains how Humanism deeply influenced artists of the day yet were criticized for being superficial and distracting people from the intended message. The Art triumphs ultimately after the fall of Savonarola's radical puritanism and paves the way for artists to explore ideas and concepts within the scope of religion and Neo-Platonism that changed the world.

Pittoni's Venetian Flair

The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, ca.1726


Born June 6, 1687 in Venice, Giovanni Battista Pittoni was a late Baroque/early Rococo painter. Pittoni enjoyed a popular career throughout Europe both as an artist and restorer, and at the age of 71 he became the second president of the famous Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia whose alumni include not only Tiepolo but Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, Francesco Hayez, and Antonio Rotta among others. Pittoni's work is characterized by grand gesture, strong, dramatic figures and of course, being Venetian, a bold palette of beautiful colors.

Look at The Rest on the Flight into Egypt above and we immediately see two interesting things: a low viewpoint, where our eye level is right about at baby Christ's yet intersects the waistline of Joseph and just below the neckline of Mary, and second, dynamic figure placement that focuses on Mary and Joseph more than baby Jesus. I love how Joseph is portrayed in true Humanist style, sculptural and stron…

The Sensuality of Corrado Giaquinto

Allegory of Peace and Justice, 1754


Born on February 8, 1703 on the eastern coast of Italy, Corrado Giaquinto was a Rococo painter. His early training was under Neapolitan Master Francesco Solimena, then Giaquinto worked mainly in Rome, under another Neapolitan great, Sebastiano Conca. During this time he moved between Turin and Madrid where he received important commissions including Church frescos, alterpieces and a ceiling in Turin. Giaquinto marks a period in Italian Art where the elegance and sophistication of the Baroque leaned toward a more sensual liberty that would ultimately never quite return again. His work reflects the influence of his Neapolitan Masters yet also reveals a certain French sensibility in terms of colour, as he was sometimes referred to as an Italian François Boucher. Giaquinto however, has a drama that is particular in that his Baroque roots remain intact despite the grace he conveyed.

In Allegory of Peace and Justice above, he uses an incredible, vibrant p…