paul_sieffert_jeune_femme_denudee-1927

Paul Sieffert: Female Nude, 1927

Paul Sieffert (1874–1957) is among those artists who, in the later 19th and 20th century, specialized completely on female nudes, becoming the forerunners of magazines like Playboy. He rarely dated his works, this small (27 × 21.5 cm) oil-on-panel painting is an exception.

Mona Lisa, 1568

Leonardo undertook to execute, for Francesco del Giocondo, the portrait of Monna Lisa, his wife; and after toiling over it for four years, he left it unfinished; and the work is now in the collection of King Francis of France, at Fontainebleau. In this head, whoever wished to see how closely art could imitate nature, was able to comprehend it with ease; for in it were counterfeited all the minutenesses that with subtlety are able to be painted, seeing that the eyes had that lustre and watery sheen which are always seen in life, and around them were all those rosy and pearly tints, as well as the lashes, which cannot be represented without the greatest subtlety. The eyebrows, through his having shown the manner in which the hairs spring from the flesh, here more close and here more scanty, and curve according to the pores of the skin, could not be more natural. The nose, with its beautiful nostrils, rosy and tender, appeared to be alive. The mouth, with its opening, and with its ends united by the red of the lips to the flesh tints of the face, seemed, in truth, to be not colors but flesh. In the pit of the throat, if one gazed upon it intently, could be seen the beating of the pulse. And, indeed, it may be said that it was painted in such a manner as to make every valiant craftsman, be he who he may, tremble and lose heart. He made use, also, of this device: Monna Lisa being very beautiful, he always employed, while he was painting her portrait, persons to play or sing, and jesters, who might make her remain merry, in order to take away that melancholy which painters are often wont to give to the portraits that they paint. And in this work of Leonardo’s there was a smile so pleasing, that it was a thing more divine than human to behold; and it was held to be something marvellous, since the reality was not more alive.

Giorgio Vasari, Life of Leonardo da Vinci, 1568.

François Boucher: Boreas Abducting Oreithyia, 1769

François Boucher: Borée enlevant Orithye (1769)

This painting belongs to a series of six that Boucher painted for Jean-François Bergeret de Frouville’s hôtel in Paris. Four of them, including this one, are at the Kimbell Art Museum and the other two at the Getty Museum.

Auguste Renoir

Firmin Auguste Renoir was born at Limoges in 1841. In his early work he followed, with pronounced modern modifications, certain traditions of the French 18th-century school, more particularly of Boucher, of whom we are reminded by the decorative tendency, the pink and ivory flesh tints and the facile technique of Renoir. In the ‘seventies he threw himself into the impressionist movement and became one of its leaders. In some of his paintings he carried the new principle of the division of tones to its extreme, but in his best work, notably in some of his paintings of the nude, he retained much of the refined sense of beauty of colour of the 18th century.

Renoir has tried his skill almost in every genre—in portraiture, landscape, flower-painting, scenes of modern life and figure subject; and though he is perhaps the most unequal of the great impressionists, his finest works rank among the masterpieces of the modern French school. Among these are some of his nude “Bathers,” the “Rowers’ Luncheon,” the “Ball at the Moulin de la Galette,” “The Box,” “The Terrace,” and the portrait of “Jeanne Samary.” He is represented in the Caillebotte room at the Luxembourg, in the collection of M. Durand-Ruel, and in most of the collections of impressionist paintings in France and in the United States.

Comparatively few of his works have come to England, but the full range of his capacity was seen at the exhibition of impressionist art held at the Grafton Galleries in London in 1905. At the Viau sale in Paris in 1907, a garden scene by Renoir, “La Tonnelle,” realized 28,000 frs., and a little head, “Ingenue,” 25,100 frs.

From the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

Alexandre Cabanel, Nymphe et Satyre, 1860

Alexandre Cabanel: Nymphe et Satyre (1860)

The Indecent Waltz

We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the “waltz” was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last. This is a circumstance which ought not to be passed over in silence. National morals depend on national habits: and it is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressure on the bodies, in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced on the respectable classes of society by the evil examples of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion…We owe a due reverence to superiors in rank, but we owe a higher duty to morality. We know not how it has happened (probably by the recommendation of some worthless and ignorant French dancing master) that so indecent a dance has now been exhibited at the English Court; but the novelty is one deserving of severe reprobation, and we trust it will never again be tolerated in any moral English society.

The Times, July 1816 editorial.

Pelagio Palagi, Diana the Huntress, c. 1828-30

Pelagio Palagi: Diana the Huntress, c. 1828-30

The model was possibly the ballerina and mistress of Count Girolamo Malfatti Carlotta Chabert, whom Francesco Hayez portrayed as Venus around the same time.

Vienna Mores

I am extremely rejoiced, but not at all surprised, at the long, delightful letter, you have had the goodness to send me. I know that you can think of an absent friend even in the midst of a court, and you love to oblige, where you can have no view of a return; and I expect from you that you should love me, and think of me, when you don’t see me. I have compassion for the mortifications that you tell me befel our little old friend, and I pity her much more, since I know, that they are only owing to the barbarous customs of our country. Upon my word, if she were here, she would have no other fault but that of being something too young for the fashion, and she has nothing to do but to transplant herself hither about seven years hence, to be again a young and blooming beauty. I can assure you, that wrinkles, or a small stoop in the shoulders, nay, even gray-hairs, are no objection to the making new conquests. I know you cannot easily figure to yourself, a young fellow of five and twenty, ogling my lady S—ff—k with passion, or pressing to hand the countess of O——d from an opera. But such are the sights I see every day, and I don’t perceive any body surprized at them but myself. A woman, till five and thirty, is only looked upon as a raw girl, and can possibly make no noise in the world, till about forty. I don’t know what your ladyship may think of this matter; but ’tis a considerable comfort to me, to know there is upon earth such a paradise for old women; and I am content to be insignificant at present, in the design of returning when I am fit to appear no where else. I cannot help, lamenting, on this occasion, the pitiful case of too many English ladies, long since retired to prudery and ratafia, who, if their stars had luckily conducted hither, would shine in the first rank of beauties. Besides, that perplexing word reputation, has quite another meaning here than what you give it at London; and getting a lover is so far from losing, that ’tis properly getting reputation; ladies being much more respected in regard to the rank of their lovers, than that of their husbands.

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Théodore Chassériau: The Two Sisters, 1843

Théodore Chassériau: The Two Sisters, 1843

The picture shows the artist’s sisters, Adèle and Aline. Adèle was thirty-three at the time, Aline, who never married, twenty-one. Together with his first mistress, Clémence Monnerot, the two sisters were his main models for many years.

Alcaeus: Autumn

Behold! the tender Autumn flower
Is purpling on the hill,
The roses wither on the bower,
And vanished is the dill.
The morning air is keen and bright,
The afternoon is full of light,
And Hesper ushers in the night
With breezes damp and chill.

The purple harvest of the vine
Is bleeding in the press,
And Bacchus comes to taste the wine
And all our labours bless.
Then bring a golden bowl immense,
And mix enough to drown your sense,
And care not if you soon commence
Your secrets to confess.

For wine a mirror is, to show
The image that is fair,
The friend of lightsome mirth, the foe
Of shadow-haunting care.
So fill your Teian goblet up,
And scatter jewels from the cup,
And drink until the last hiccough
Shall drown your latest woe.

Translation by James S. Easby-Smith.

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