Skip to Content

France in the Nineteenth Century

As if situated low on a hillside, we seem to look up at a light-skinned woman and boy standing in tall grass against a sunny blue sky in this vertical painting. The woman stands at the center of the composition, and the moss green parasol she holds over her head almost brushes the top edge of the canvas. Her body faces our left but she turns her head to look at us. Her long dress is painted largely with strokes of pale blue and gray with a few touches of yellow, but we read it as being white. Her voluminous skirts swirl around her legs to our left. She holds the parasol with both hands and her brown hair is covered with a hat. Long strokes of white paint across her face suggest a veil fluttering in the breeze. The tall grass she stands in is dotted with buttercup yellow and deep mauve, and she casts a long diagonal shadow along the grass towards us. The young boy seems to stand on the other side of the hill, since the grass and flowers comes up to his waist. He wears a white jacket and pale yellow straw hat. His arms are by his sides and he seems to look off into the distance to our left. A sunny blue sky behind the figures is dotted with bright blue clouds. The painting is created with loose brushstrokes throughout, but especially choppy brushstrokes in the sky and clouds suggest wind and movement. The artist signed and dated the painting in royal blue letters at the lower right: “Claude Monet 75.”

Introduction

 

The story of the National Gallery’s rich holdings of 19th-century French paintings began in 1942 when a small but choice selection of impressionist works entered the collection among Joseph E. Widener’s bequest of more than 2,000 objects. Many people since have helped the Gallery acquire outstanding paintings in this area, notably Chester and Maud Dale, who assembled a sensational collection from the 1920s through the 1950s, and both children of the Gallery’s founder, Andrew W. Mellon – Paul Mellon and Ailsa Mellon Bruce. The latter bequeathed her impressive cache of French impressionist and post-impressionist paintings to the Gallery in 1969.

 

On January 29, 2012, the National Gallery of Art reopened 14 galleries devoted to 19th-century French paintings. During the nearly two years that these galleries were closed for renovation, many of the works were on loan to museums in Houston, Tokyo, and Kyoto. The reinstallation provides fresh interpretive insights in a newly conceived exhibition design. Thirteen of the paintings have been recently restored, allowing audiences to have a more accurate understanding of artists’ original intent. Gustave Courbet’s The Black Rocks at Trouville, a recent acquisition, also makes its debut.

 

The reinstallation uses thematic, monographic, and art historical groupings to organize the paintings. By avoiding strict chronology in laying out the design, the installation explores the idea that artistic production and creativity in the 19th century was influenced as much by contemporary artistic and social trends as by earlier painting traditions.

Claude Monet, Woman with a Parasol - Madame Monet and Her Son, 1875, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1983.1.29

1 of 41

A man sitting in a tall, upholstered armchair reads a newspaper in this vertical portrait painting. The man and the room in which he sits is loosely painted with bold, visible strokes throughout. He holds the paper close to his face and the top edge falls over so we can read the title, “L’EVENEMENT.” He has a light, olive-toned complexion and his white hair peeks from under a close-fitting black skullcap. He wears a high-necked white shirt under a chocolate brown jacket, steel gray trousers, white socks, and camel-brown shoes. The fabric on the chair seems to have a floral pattern on a white background suggested with broad brushstrokes. The man and chair are outlined in black. The man sits in the corner of a room with a closed door behind him to our right. Hanging on the wall over his head, and partially obscured by it, is small, possibly unframed still life painting with what could be kelly green fruit and a royal blue cup against a black background.

Paul Cézanne, The Artist's Father, Reading "L'Événement", 1866, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1970.5.1

2 of 41

null

Edouard Manet, The Old Musician, 1862, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.162

3 of 41

null

Edgar Degas, Four Dancers, c. 1899, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.122

4 of 41

null

Early Decades

 

The 19th century opened with new leadership and vision in France. Napoleon Bonaparte dramatically changed the political and social landscape, using art to promote his military and civic achievements (see The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries). Artists like Jacques-Louis David and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres embraced the neoclassical style promoted by the official French art academy, which groomed artists for the prestigious annual Salon exhibition. Rigorous academic practices were a source of contention throughout the century, striking many as restrictive and stifling. As the years went on, more and more artists defied convention in an effort to be original and inventive.

 

Academic standards rewarded elevated historical, mythological, and biblical themes as subject matter. Now, however, many painters became motivated to depict the world around them. An artist’s own life was far more accessible than a historical battle or story from the Bible. Barbizon artists, such as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Jean-François Millet, began actively exploring landscapes they knew in the 1830s, like the forest of Fontainebleau. Their quest to capture the underlying beauty of a rustic woodland clearing or the humbling splendor of a natural vista prefigured the realist movement, which was driven by artists' observation of actual things, real places, and current events rather than imaginary or abstract scenes. Other painters, roused by the bold work of realist Gustave Courbet, enlivened their canvases with expressive and vigorous brushwork, imparting a tactile and physical quality to their pictures.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, A View near Volterra, 1838, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.111

5 of 41

A young woman reclines and reads a book near a stream that winds through a wooded landscape in this horizontal painting. Painted with rich evergreen and pine greens, trees tower along the riverbanks and fill most of the painting. The olive-colored water seems to have cut straight down over time, creating high banks painted with tones of caramel and honey browns. Steel and slate gray boulders are scattered in intervals near the river. Deep in the hazy blue distance, mountains line the horizon, which comes halfway up the composition. In the lower left corner of the painting, close to the river, the woman lays on her stomach as she props herself up on her elbows to read. She has pale white skin and her long, dark hair falls over her shoulders. Her white shirt hangs low over her shoulders, and her rose-pink skirt falls just short of her bare feet.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Forest of Fontainebleau, 1834, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.109

6 of 41

Dark, nickel-gray clouds encircle a spot of bright blue sky above a river and forest in this horizontal landscape painting. The tops of the clouds are creamy white in the sunlight and steel-gray beneath. The horizon comes about a third of the way up the painting, and on the land below, a tall, deep green, leafy tree nearly reaches the top edge of the painting to our right of center. More trees cluster around it on a spit of land that runs along an olive-green body of water. Along the shoreline, across from us, several wooden rowboats have pulled up to a low dock. One person holding a tall, thin rod sits in one of the boats. A woman and child walk towards the boat, away from another pair of people under the trees. The woman with the child looks over her shoulder towards the clouds. On our side of the water, a man, also with a tall rod, climbs onto a dock in the lower left corner. Flat meadows meet rolling hills in the deep distance, beneath streaks in the clouds above, perhaps falling rain far away. The artist signed and dated the painting with red in the lower left corner: “C. TROYON 1849.”

Constant Troyon, The Approaching Storm, 1849, oil on canvas on board, Chester Dale Fund, 1995.42.1

7 of 41

null

Horace Vernet, Hunting in the Pontine Marshes, 1833, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Fund, 1989.3.1

8 of 41

null

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Agostina, 1866, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.108

9 of 41

null

Painting Outdoors

 

By the middle of the century it had become common practice to work out-of-doors, or en plein air. New types of paint containers allowed greater mobility, so artists could set up easels outside and paint from direct observation of nature. Painters traveled to scenic towns and beaches, such as those on the Normandy coast or along the Seine, where they were captivated by skies and water. They painted sites in varying weather conditions and bathed in different types of light.

 

Eugène Boudin was particularly masterful in his maritime depictions at Deauville and Trouville, Normandy beach resorts. His vignettes, set beneath atmospheric and pulsating skies, influenced many artists, including Claude Monet, who worked with him on the Normandy coast in the summer of 1865. Courbet, too, saw these coastal scenes and undertook his own marine series, infusing his works with spontaneity and often painting with a brusqueness synchronized with irregular oceanic conditions. He had been a pioneering figure for his unapologetic portrayals of common people and places on a grandiose scale, as well as his daring painterly style, and his focus on the mercurial atmosphere of the coast was another testament of his commitment to realism.

Eugène Boudin, The Beach at Villerville, 1864, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.4

10 of 41

null

Eugène Boudin, Coast of Brittany, 1870, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1983.1.11

11 of 41

null

Claude Monet, Sainte-Adresse, 1867, oil on canvas, Gift of Catherine Gamble Curran and Family, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, 1990.59.1

12 of 41

We stand on a beach lined with black rocks and boulders looking out onto the water below a brick-red sky that dominates this nearly square landscape painting. The sky along the top edge of the canvas is turquoise but it quickly fades to rich, salmon pink and then to deep red along the horizon, which comes only a quarter of the way up the composition. The steely gray clouds ripple across the width of the painting. Two sailboats float in the water in the far distance. The water is painted the same turquoise of the sky with some reflections of the deep pink and red. Close to us, water breaks around the jagged black rocks beyond the a strip of mustard-yellow and tan sand that lines the lowest edge of the canvas. The artist signed the work in dark red paint in the lower left corner: “G. Courbet.”

Gustave Courbet, The Black Rocks at Trouville, 1865/1866, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Fund, 2011.51.1

13 of 41

null

Modern Paris

 

Many innovative styles emerged throughout the 1850s and 1860s, with the rougher techniques of realist painters blazing the way toward the informal compositions and loose brushwork that characterized much output from this period forward. Artists explored new methods of applying paint and color to generate vivid, compelling effects. Edouard Manet began capturing the public’s attention with his Spanish-themed works, influenced in part by frequent trips to the Louvre where he copied old masters like Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Goya. But critics soon began attacking his treatment of paint – calling it inartistic and unfinished – and his subject matter – deeming it inappropriate or inconsequential. Fazed, but determined, Manet developed his technique and painterly brio, distinguished by bold and spontaneous brushwork and paint that was not blended, but rather laid down in touches side by side. He became a leader of the avant-garde and a critical figure in the development of modern art in Paris.

 

Artists had new subject material close at hand: a fresh and revitalized Paris. In 1853, Napoleon III appointed a new city official, Georges-Eugène Haussmann, who initiated a renewal project that turned Paris into a modern urban center. From an essentially medieval city, Paris became, in a matter of years, a well-organized capital with wide boulevards, regulated architecture, new parks and standardized public areas, and extended railway lines. The transformation intrigued many artists, including Camille Pissarro and Auguste Renoir, who were inspired and dazzled by the crowded streets and metropolitan scene. Some, like Manet, were more ambivalent about the modernized city, noting a sense of anonymity and dislocation that came along with the transformation.

Edouard Manet, The Tragic Actor (Rouvière as Hamlet), 1866, oil on canvas, Gift of Edith Stuyvesant Gerry, 1959.3.1

14 of 41

null

Edouard Manet, The Dead Toreador, probably 1864, oil on canvas, Widener Collection, 1942.9.40

15 of 41

Holding a bunch of peonies in one hand, a woman with brown skin leans forwards towards us from behind a large basket holding dozens of flowers, in this horizontal painting. The basket holding the flowers spans the width of the canvas, and the woman is seen behind it from the chest up. She wears a cream-colored, long-sleeved blouse with scalloped trim around the high neck. She wears coral-colored earrings, and a plaid cloth in tones of coral, blue, pale purple, and black is tied tightly over her black hair, which is visible over her hears. Her brow is slightly furrowed and she looks at us with large, dark eyes. Her full mouth is closed, the corners faintly downturned. She reaches her right arm, on our left, toward us with a bouquet of three pink-and-white peonies and greenery. Her basket is filled with yellow and red tulips, pink roses, white and purple lilac, and other white, pink, yellow, and blue flowers, and it takes up the bottom third of the composition. The woman and basket are shown against a slate-gray background. The artist prominently signed and dated the work with red letters near the upper right corner, near the woman’s head: “F. Bazille. 1870.”

Frédéric Bazille, Young Woman with Peonies, 1870, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1983.1.6

16 of 41

null

Auguste Renoir, Pont Neuf, Paris, 1872, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.58

17 of 41

To our left, a young woman sits facing us on a low stone wall at the base of vertical, black bars of an iron fence and a young girl stands facing away from us to our right in this horizontal painting. Both have pale white skin. The woman looks directly at us with dark eyes as she holds an open book, a closed red fan, and a sleeping brown and white puppy in her lap. Her long auburn hair falls down over her shoulders. Her navy-blue dress is accented with white piping on the skirt, collar, and sleeves, and has three large, white buttons down the front and her black hat is adorned with two red poppies and a daisy. The girl wears a sleeveless white, knee-length dress belted with a marine-blue sash tied in a large bow at her back. The girl’s tawny-blond hair is pulled up and tied with a black ribbon. She raises her left hand to grasp the bar of the fence she faces. A bunch of uneaten green grapes lies on the low wall to our right. A plume of steam fills much of the space beyond the black fence, which spans the width of the painting and extends off the top edge. A few details are discernable beyond the fence, including a stone-gray building with two wooden doors to our left and a bridge along the right edge.

Edouard Manet, The Railway, 1873, oil on canvas, Gift of Horace Havemeyer in memory of his mother, Louisine W. Havemeyer, 1956.10.1

18 of 41

We seem to look down, as if from a building, onto a wide, bustling, tree-lined avenue filled with buildings, people, and horse-drawn carriages in this horizontal painting. Muted, warm browns, sage green, slate blue, and brick red dominate the urban scene, which is loosely painted with short and long dotted brushstrokes so some details are difficult to make out. The street extends diagonally up from our lower left with wide gray sidewalks on either side, which are lined by slender trees sparsely dotted with brown leaves. Dozens of pedestrians meander individually, in pairs, and in small groups on the sidewalks in what appears to be heavy outerwear and hats. Opposite us, multi-storied buildings with store fronts at street-level stretch across the width of the canvas. Rows of windows line the facades. The buildings are densely spaced and sometimes connected to each other with the exception of some openings for what could be cross streets or pedestrian alleys. Horse-drawn carriages move in both directions on the street and two omnibuses have pulled to the curb closest to us, where passengers have lined up. Two brick-red, hexagonally shaped kiosks stand opposite each other on either side of the street about halfway along the boulevard. Sunlight filters onto the scene, creating a dappled effect in some areas, especially over to our right. The artist signed and dated the painting in dark green in the lower right corner: “C.Pissarro.97.”

Camille Pissarro, Boulevard des Italiens, Morning, Sunlight, 1897, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.198

19 of 41

We seem to stand near a woman and two men on a grassy riverbank looking out at the expanse of the river that nearly fills this horizontal landscape painting. A fourth person sits in a long, narrow canoe that angles from the riverbank near the lower left corner to our right, and it extends off the right edge of the canvas. All of the people have pale, peach skin. The man closest to us, to our right of the trio, wears a white hat and jacket and dark pants as he gazes across the river with his hands in his jacket pockets. The other man and woman, to our left, look towards us. The woman wears a royal blue hat pulled low over her eyes. Her dress has a blue skirt and her petal pink corseted bodice is trimmed with white. The third standing person, along the left edge of the painting, wears blue and brown, and a straw brown hat. The man in the boat wears a white long-sleeved shirt with a blue cravat at his neck, a crimson cummerbund at his waist, blue pants, and a straw hat. He turns to look over his right shoulder towards us and he holds the end of a long oar in his right hand. The surface of the water is painted with short touches of vibrant blue paint. A sailboat, barge, and two other sculls float on the river between us and the opposite bank, which creates the horizon line three-quarters of the way up the composition. A few white houses and outbuildings line the water amid tall grasses on the opposite bank on the right half of the painting. The blue sky is painted with long strokes in blue and white to suggest movement in the clouds. The brushstrokes are loose throughout, and evoke a silky, feathery texture.

Impressionism

 

The Salon continued to exert influence over artistic production by determining whose works were exhibited, thereby confering prestige and publicity. Frustration over refused submissions led a group including Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, and Alfred Sisley to organize the Société anonyme des artistes, peintres, sculpteurs, graveurs, etc., a cooperative for artists of all kinds to exhibit independently. Between 1874 and 1886 the group organized eight independent Salons, establishing a place for avant-garde art never before known in France.

 

These artists, dubbed impressionists, defied the Salon in various ways. For one, they disregarded the jury’s attachment to historical or religious subject matter. Instead, they studied objects and figures from modern life, using domestic interiors as well as landscape vistas as stimulation. Family members and friends were painted with heightened energy and dynamism. Sparkling scenes of enjoyment and leisure became backdrops for studies of sunlight and its resplendent effects on different surfaces. Painters sought to convey direct visual experiences and translate passing optical impressions into lasting aesthetic statements. The evenly painted surfaces historically praised by the Salon gave way to textured canvases, marked by dabs, wipes and smears. Monet’s sustained interest in conveying the magic of light led him later in his career to paint in series, catching objects and structures, such as the Rouen Cathedral and the Waterloo Bridge in London, at different times of day.

Auguste Renoir, Oarsmen at Chatou, 1879, oil on canvas, Gift of Sam A. Lewisohn, 1951.5.2

20 of 41

Seen from the lap up, a young woman with light skin, rosy cheeks, dark eyes, and upswept chestnut-brown hair sits in an upholstered chair angled to our left and she looks in that direction in this vertical portrait painting. Light falls directly on her oval shaped face with a pointed chin and a straight nose. Her dark eyebrows are arched and though her eyes initially look dark as well, closer inspection reveals a sliver of silvery blue iris around the eye closer to us. Her pink mouth is slightly parted, her full lower lip creating a flat O shape. She seems to wear a brown, perhaps fur, shawl behind her shoulders over her long black dress. A few touches of rust red on the sleeve closer to us suggests a floral pattern but details are mostly lost in this dark area. She seems to wear gloves and her left hand, closer to us, appears to be tucked into a pocket or into a fold of her skirt so only the ivory-colored wrist is visible. She cups her opposite hand, perhaps cradling a small object. The fabric of the chair is painted with touches of burnt orange and ivory. Canary yellow and white flowers dance around her head, presumably cascading from a vase on a table behind her. Most of the background, especially along the left edge, is painted with a field of stone blue but an area of loosely painted terracotta red above her head suggests a patterned wallpaper or more flowers.

Edgar Degas, Mademoiselle Malo, c. 1877, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.18

21 of 41

null

Mary Cassatt, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1983.1.18

22 of 41

null

Claude Monet, The Bridge at Argenteuil, 1874, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1983.1.24

23 of 41

null

Auguste Renoir, A Girl with a Watering Can, 1876, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.206

24 of 41

null

Claude Monet, Rouen Cathedral, West Façade, Sunlight, 1894, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.179

25 of 41

null

Post-Impressionism

 

In the 1880s, many artists, including Georges Seurat, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent van Gogh, wanted to move beyond painting what the eye perceived. No defined mission unified this group, but they were galvanized by the efforts of the radical impressionists before them and sought to extend their quest for meaningful self expression and innovation. Seurat used dots of color; Cézanne played with the underlying geometry of forms; and Gauguin painted large patches of unmediated color. All pursued artistic purity. They often abandoned narrative and naturalist impressions, emphasizing instead brilliant optical effects or emotional passion. Although they were figural artists, their work can also have an abstract quality.

 

These artists self-consciously pushed boundaries and questioned convention. Gauguin and Van Gogh in particular aimed to transform public awareness through their art, identifying societal ills and believing strongly in their ability to effect change. Many sources provided inspiration, including indigenous cultures and spirituality, non-western art, and intellectual contemplation.

 

Edgar Degas, older and more classically trained than either Gauguin or Van Gogh, was active with the impressionists early in his career, but later adopted more enigmatic qualities. His scenes of ballet dancers, laundresses, and bathers frequently exhibit techniques and compositions that are jarring or seemingly unfinished in their execution - and seem as modern as the work of any of his younger colleaugues.

Paul Gauguin, Breton Girls Dancing, Pont-Aven, 1888, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1983.1.19

26 of 41

null

Georges Seurat, Seascape at Port-en-Bessin, Normandy, 1888, oil on canvas, Gift of the W. Averell Harriman Foundation in memory of Marie N. Harriman, 1972.9.21

27 of 41

null

Paul Cézanne, Harlequin, 1888-1890, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1985.64.7

28 of 41

Two nude women with brown skin and long black hair stand with their backs to us at a riverbank in this stylized horizontal painting. The body of the woman to our left is angled to our left with her hands raised, presumably about to plunge into the teal-colored water. The woman to our right unwraps a cloth patterned with bright yellow flowers on a deep purple background from her waist. Between the women and farther away, a bare-chested man, also with brown skin, wears a tomato-red garment across his hips as he stands hip-deep in the water holding a long spear. The top of his head is cropped by the top edge of the painting. Along the left edge of the canvas, a gnarly tree is painted as a flat field of dark, charcoal gray and it rises off the side and top of the composition. An area of the same color, perhaps a thick root or the trunk growing nearly horizontally, spans the width of the painting, separating the women from us. The area around the trunk to our left and right is painted with fields of evergreen and cool mint. Closer to us, along the front of the root, a field of rosy pink swirls with grape purple to suggest sand. This area is dotted with harvest-yellow and pumpkin-orange vines and stylized flowers. A bunch of traffic-cone orange flowers with pine and spring green leaves sits on the root near the trunk, to our left. Most of the painting, especially the landscape, is painted with areas of mostly flat color. In the bottom left corner, the artist has written the title of the painting in blood red paint: “Fatata te Miki.” In the lower right corner, he signed and dated the work with periwinkle blue paint: “P. Gauguin 92.”

Paul Gauguin, Fatata te Miti (By the Sea), 1892, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.149

29 of 41

null

Edgar Degas, The Dance Lesson, c. 1879, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1995.47.6

30 of 41

This vertical portrait showing a man’s head, shoulders, and chest is dominated by the vibrant blue of his painter’s smock and the royal blue background. The green cast to the skin of his face and his reddish blond hair contrast sharply with the blue. His body is angled towards his right, our left, and he looks out at us. He has vivid blue eyes, a straight nose, and his lips are closed. He holds a palette and paintbrushes in his left hand, in the lower left corner of the canvas. The background is painted with long brushstrokes that follow the contours of his head and torso to create an aura-like effect. Parallel strokes were also used in painting his face and hair, and his clothing is painted with sinuous lines of various shades of blue.

Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait, 1889, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney, 1998.74.5

31 of 41

null

Exoticism and Symbolism

 

Many painters of the latter half of the 19th century exulted in pleasures of the senses and the mind. For the impressionists this meant saluting visual delight. They drew encouragement from the mid- and late-century fascination with exotic cultures and foreign places, which stimulated both artistic and literary originality. Eugène Delacroix was France’s foremost romantic painter in the first half of the century and spent time in North African French colonies, which inspired him to paint scenes of animal hunts, foreign soldiers, and brightly-adorned alluring women, often set in orientalist locales. Not only did his work reflect the era's attraction to the unfamiliar, but it also sparked the interest of later artists such as Auguste Renoir (see Odalisque) and Henri Matisse (see Odalisque Seated with Arms Raised, Green Striped Chair) who were drawn to the brilliant color and bodily sensitivity of that artistic manner. These pictures show off color, flesh, and painterly bravado.

 

Instead of visual or sensual delight, some artists elected to focus less on contemporary subjects and surface appearance, instead meditating on interiority and emotion. Their contemplative pictures often privilege subjectivity over rational order, and their themes frequently address myth, the Bible, or another literary text. Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and Odilon Redon were two artists who sought to find and express symbolic meaning. Their work can be cryptic, but no less evocative, and its otherworldly quality often draws on viewers’ subjectivity and imagination.

Eugène Delacroix, Arabs Skirmishing in the Mountains, 1863, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Fund, 1966.12.1

32 of 41

This horizontal painting shows a daylit covered terrace or open-air room with light sandstone colored floor tiles, where two women with pale ivory skin, wearing long dresses, lounge and recline on a rich black, gold, and copper colored carpet thrown over a low wall or ledge. The women are being entertained by a male musician, who is seated just behind them to the left. He has dark, mahogany-colored skin and wears a white turban that drapes around his neck and a white shirt with wide pink cuffs. His head is bent over a stringed instrument with a light-yellow rounded body and a long dark wooden neck. Behind and framing the musician, a dark green drapery with gold edging cuts across the top left corner of the painting and is drawn back to reveal a bright sea view beyond. Seeming close to us, one woman wears an orange-red dress with gold embroidery and a low-cut transparent ivory blouse that shows her pale skin beneath. She lounges on her back, head just beneath the figure of the musician, and body splayed out toward our right. Her eyes are half-closed, and her head rests on a large gold pillow with green and pink embroidery over which her long, dark red hair cascades. Her left arm is bent and thrown back behind her head while her right arm hangs limply toward the floor. Her extended legs are bent, and feet with red and gold pointed slippers emerge from the bottom of the dress. Staggered behind her to the right side of the picture, the other woman reclines in a gold and ivory dress with a filmy top and gold bolero jacket. She rests her head in her hand, propped up by a crooked elbow resting on a carpeted ledge, while her body extends toward our right. She gazes directly at us. She has dark, wavy hair that flows behind her shoulders and wears a gold headband with round, coin-like links. Beyond the group of three, another man stands in the far-right background in a corner of the terrace patio next to a pillar. His appearance is similar to that of the first man with dark, mahogany skin, wearing a draped turban, loose white blouse under a yellow vest, and light blue-colored full, draped trousers. Beyond the figures, the terrace opens to a bright and sunny day, the light blue sky smudged with scattered white clouds above a vivid bright blue sea where three sailboats approach the port. A distant mountainous landform is bathed in light and appears pink, while we look down upon the white roofs of the port or village in the intermediate distance.

Jean Joseph Benjamin Constant, The Favorite of the Emir, c. 1879, oil on canvas, Courtesy of the United States Naval Academy Museum, 2010.95.1

33 of 41

null

Amedeo Modigliani, Nude on a Blue Cushion, 1917, oil on linen, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.46

34 of 41

null

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Rest, c. 1863 oil on canvas, Widener Collection, 1942.9.54

35 of 41

A pale-skinned young woman with copper-colored hair held under a gold headband, wearing a turquoise robe over a white, ankle-length skirt, stands in a pastel-colored landscape in this stylized, vertical painting. The woman fills most of the left half of the composition. She faces our right in profile with her head bowed as she looks down at the silver and brown box she holds in her right hand, closer to us. Her body angles away from us so we see her back. Behind her, rocky mountains in watery blue and pale lilac mountains span the horizon, which comes about three-quarters of the way up the painting, beneath a pale, rose-pink sky. An area of mottled parchment-white to our right of the person could be a field. Seeming closer to us, along the bottom edge of the canvas, rounded and organic shapes in scarlet-red, turquoise, lapis-blue, golden and lemon yellows, and pumpkin orange could be abstracted earth or flowers at the woman’s feet.

Odilon Redon, Pandora, 1910/1912, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.56

36 of 41

null

Late Century

 

By the end of the 19th century, Paris had become the heart of avant-garde activity and experimentation. Created for the Exposition Universelle held in Paris and completed in 1889, the Eiffel Tower was a resounding symbol of ingenuity and technical advancement. Modernity reigned; fashion and entertainment illuminated Paris, and districts like Montmartre became particularly well-known for the dance halls and café-concerts that animated them. Depicting both the more disreputable side of social amusement and the showy side of celebrity, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s portrayals of cabarets and performers are pulsating illustrations of bohemian life in the 1890s.

 

Non-French artists, such as Amedeo Modigliani (Italian), Chaim Soutine (Russian), and Pablo Picasso (Spanish), came to Paris, joining French counterparts like Henri Rousseau, and invented new and modern forms of expression. Electrified by the creative energy and the public love of art, these painters prompted one another to achieve. A look at their work reveals both an engagement with earlier art forms and an indication of 20th-century modernism.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Quadrille at the Moulin Rouge, 1892, oil on cardboard, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.221

37 of 41

We seem to hover slightly above a stage, looking on as a woman dances at the center of this square painting. The pale white skin on her face is heightened noticeably with pink blush at the cheekbones. She wears crimson lipstick and dark brown eyebrows are peaked over blue eyes. Two flaring pink flowers, each about the size of the woman’s face, are pinned in the woman’s flame-red hair. The black bodice of her dress has puffed, elbow-length sleeves and a low-cut square neckline. The lime green skirt flares around her dancing feet to billow up and reveal layers of bubblegum pink underneath. Her body is angled to our left as she points her left black-stockinged foot and holds her arms by her sides. Behind her, thirteen people dressed in blue, green, and black costumes suggest a royal court, including a dark-haired man who wears a brick red bolero style suit. He stands near the woman to our right, watching her dance.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in "Chilpéric", 1895-1896, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney, 1990.127.1

38 of 41

A group of six white people—three men, two children, and one woman—gather in an empty, dusky rose landscape under a blue cloudy sky in this nearly square painting. The woman sits on the ground to our right, apart from the rest of the men and children. She wears a coral red skirt, a beige shawl, and straw hat, and she looks into the distance to our right. The others stand in a loose semi-circle on the left half of the composition. A man wearing a multicolored, diamond-patterned costume stands with his back to us to the left. He looks to our right in profile and holds the hand of a little girl who also stands with her back to us. She wears a pink dress and white stockings, and her right hand rests on the tall handle of a white basket. A portly man wearing a scarlet jester’s costume and pointed hat stands opposite this pair, facing us to our right. Next to him to our right a young man wears a flesh-colored leotard with a black bottom. He holds a barrel over his right shoulder and looks over to our right. The sixth person is a young boy wearing a baggy blue and red outfit, and he looks towards the woman. The eyes of all the figures are deeply shadowed.

Pablo Picasso, Family of Saltimbanques, 1905, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection © 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, 1963.10.190

39 of 41

null

Amedeo Modigliani, Chaim Soutine, 1917, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.47

40 of 41

Five monkeys rest and play amid a lush jungle landscape in this horizontal landscape painting. Painted with areas of flat color, thick vegetation fills most of the scene, with giant leaves overlapping in varying shades of green. At the bottom center, a large brown monkey sits upright on a rock, looking directly at us. To our left, two grey and black monkeys climb in trees, and also face us. To our right, two orange-tan monkeys swing in trees. The orange of their fur is echoed in spiky pumpkin-orange flowers to the right. Dark red leafy plants with spiky white flowers fill the lower left corner of the painting. A cloudless, pale blue sky stretches across the top of the composition. The artist signed and dated the painting with white letters in the lower right: “Henri Rousseau 1910.”

Henri Rousseau, Tropical Forest with Monkeys, 1910, oil on canvas, John Hay Whitney Collection, 1982.76.7

41 of 41