Sunday, March 18, 2012

Lost Drawings & Paintings Rediscovered

Since 1993, Martin Schongauer's 10" x 13" drawing of Peonies has been in the Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Too fragile for permanent display, it may be in the Getty's exhibition of Renaissance Drawings from Germany and Switzerland, 1470-1600, March 27-June 17, 2012.

A painting of peonies came up for auction in 1990 under the vague label of Northern Italian. However, a museum curator at the Albertina in Vienna recognized it as an important drawing from about 1472-73 by Martin Schongauer, an artist who lived in Alsace on the French-German border. The drawing, now in the Getty Museum, is a study for the flowers in Madonna of the Rosary, 1473, painted by Schongauer for a church in Colmar (now in France). Albrecht Durer traveled to Colmar to visit Schongauer in 1491, but the great Alsatian master had died by the time 21-year old Durer arrived. Martin's brothers met with him and gave him some of the master's drawings. This drawing may have been one of the drawings owned by Durer; the same Viennese curator recognized a flower similar to one of the peonies in a Durer painting of 1501.

In 2007, a pastel drawing came up on the auction market and it was labeled as 19th century German. An astute Canadian collector who bought it had other ideas and sought expert opinion. Most experts now attribute this drawing to Leonardo da Vinci, and it is called La Bella Principessa. The sitter may be the 13-year old daughter of the Duke of Milan, Bianca Sforza. Interestingly, a fingerprint on the paper matches a fingerprint in Leonardo's unfinished painting of St. Jerome. The technique is ink with black, white and red chalk on yellow vellum to give the flesh tones. Leonardo is said to have learned the pastel technique from a French artist.

The circled area of this pastel shows where a fingerprint is found.  It matches the fingerprint on a known painting by Leonardo da Vinci. Also, the left-handed hatching is a signature of Leonardo's style.

A badly damaged painting supposedly by a student of Leonardo sold for 45 British pounds in 1958. Only in the past year has it been cleaned and recognized as an authentic Leonardo da Vinci. Called the Salvator Mundi, it was recently part of an exhibition at the National Gallery in London. In the frontal image, Jesus holds a glass globe and stares directly at the viewer while using the blessed gesture. His calm face is full of compassion and kindness. The penetrating sense of life in this image is clearly palpable, as revealed after its cleaning. It has Leonardo's recognizable sfumato, the smoky quality which gives a dark softness to the shadows. It has the iconic and mysterious qualities reminiscent of as the Mona Lisa. Cleaning revealed this Salvator Mundi to be an authentic
Leonardo da Vinci dating to c. 1500
Martin Kemp, Leonardo expert in England, has identified the rock crystal orb to show the crystalline cosmos in Jesus's hand as something only Leonardo could have painted with accuracy. Leonardo was quite the geologist and Kemp compared the painted example to crystal orbs in the geology collection of the Ashmolean Museum. Therefore, the painting could not have been done by a follower. The last time a painting was discovered to be by Leonardo was 100 years ago.

Only the master Leonardo, who intimately studied nature,
could have portrayed this rock crystal so accurately

Even more remarkable is the fact that a lost painting by Leonardo's young rival, Michelangelo appeared in 2009. This Temptation of St. Anthony is now in the Kimbell Art Museum of Fort Worth. Michelangelo painted this oil and tempera when he was only about 13 years old. The first writer of art history in 1570, Giorgio Vasari described a painting that copied an engraving by Martin Schongauer.

The fact that the two greatest artistic prodigies born in Europe during the 1470s, Albrecht Durer and the divine Michelangelo, admired Martin Schongauer, speaks to that master's incredible reputation as an artist in the 15th century. He died young, but his contribution to later art cannot be overlooked. Although Schongauer's travels probably took him only to the center of Europe: Alsace, Burgundy, Flanders and the Rhineland, his prints gave him a reputation throughout Italy, France, Spain and even England. Italians called him Bel Martino. Perhaps he was born around 1448, a few years before another great observer of nature, Leonardo da Vinci. His drawings inspired the great drawings of nature by Durer, namely The Rabbit and Large Piece of Turf.

Michelangelo's newly discovered Temptation of St. Anthony, c. 1487, copies an engraving by Martin Schongauer

Thursday, March 8, 2012

French "Renaissance" Women of the Revolutionary and Romantic Eras

National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, is hosting a ground-breaking exhibition, From Royalists to Romantics: Woman artists from the Louvre, Versailles and other French National Collections. The exhibition celebrates the 25th anniversary of NMWA and will continue to be on view until July 29, 2012. It features 35 woman artists who worked between 1750 and 1850.

The women who worked as artists in France at this time went through difficult times of the Revolution and its aftermath, the governments of Napoleon and Napoleon III and uncertainties in
between. They reveal themselves as extraordinary talents, able to overcome so many odds. Many of those who painted and were the subject of portraits reveal themselves as the Renaissance woman of their days. The cover of the catalogue has an alluring portrait of Madame Juliette Récamier, by Eulalie Morin.

Madame Récamier, by Eulalie Morin, late 18th century, is on the cover of the NMWA ground-breaking exhibition. Morin's Mme Récamier wears a grecian dress and standing in front of an olive tree. Morin used an encaustic technique

Madame Récamier was an extraordinary woman known for holding salons in Paris, hosting notable literary and political figures. She was brilliant, beautiful, charming, witty and politically involved. In time, she was critical of Napoleon, and Madame Récamier went in exile to Italy, but returned to France later. Morin's portrait dates to the last quarter of the 18th century, before the more famous portraits of Madame Récamier by Jacques-Louis David and Francois Gérard. Morin captured the personality of this charming and clever figure and set her in front of a distant landscape. Her skin is soft and smooth, and the flesh tones contrast nicely with the bright white headband and grecian dress. She stands in front of an olive tree, another tribute to Greece and her interest in the ideals of the classical world. The composition is unified with curves of the face, arm, tree and headband to pull it together and focus on the face. Morin's Madame Récamier is intimate and alluring. Perhaps as a result of the NMWA exhibition, Morin's painting will become the iconic image of Madame Recamier, and Eulalie Morin will become better known. (A specific type of couch, a récamier, takes its name from David's portrait of her.)  It's interesting that Morin primarily painted miniatures, the tiny portraits which went out of vogue with the advent of photography.

Neoclassical style and the simplicity of white, grecian dress represented sympathy for Republican ideas. A self-portrait of Rose-Adélaïde Ducreux in NMWA's exhibition shows her bending over a painting, demonstrating her art. However, she shined not only as a painter, but as a musician and composer. Her style compares well next to the work of Jacques-Louis David, most revered painter of the age, especially when we see the texture and shine of an exquisite dresses she painted.

A self-portrait of Rose-Adélaïde Ducreux, left, from the Musée des Beaux Arts in Rouen, demonstrates her painting profession.
The current exhibition only features paintings from French museums, but there is a also a full-length self-portrait by Ducreux in the Metropolitan Museum, where she plays the harp. Ducruex was also a musician and composer; this painting, below, was accepted in the Salon of 1791.

Élisabeth Vigée-LeBrun was a prodigy who opened her own painting studio at age 15, supporting her mother and brother. She soon became a favorite of Queen Marie-Antoinette. Marriage and motherhood did not interfere with her career, and she is known for having painted several portraits of herself in affectionate, loving poses with Julie, her daughter.  

Vigée-LeBrun did not support the Revolution and left France, only to gain an international reputation as a portrait painter, particularly amongst the nobility of Austria, Russia and Poland. (A recent blog on her is found here.)

Anne Vallayer-Coster was a marvelous still life painter who was voted into Royal Academy in 1770. A favorite of Marie-Antoinette, she seems to have fallen out of favor after the Revolution. Vallayer-Coster, Vigée-LeBrun and Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, were elected into the exclusive French Academy and achieved fame in their day, but there were many other artists of extraordinary talent whom we now can see and recognize in a new light. Many are portrait painters and some are history painters, the latter considered the highest type of art in its time. A few of them painted genre scenes, still lives or landscapes.

The exhibition's 77 paintings, prints and sculpture mainly come before the invention of photography and do not show its influence. By 1850 the style of Realism had entered the art scene, but the exhibition does not cover this style in which new, younger artists such as Rosa Bonheur were painting. A Legion d'Honneur recipient, Bonheur completed in 1855 her famous The Horse Fair, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Before the French Revolution, Elisabeth Vigée-LeBrun painted this lively portrait of Joseph Vernet in 1778, primarily using a rich variety of grayish tones. 
Joseph Vernet was a well-known marine painter who frequently portrayed shipwrecks and other disasters.

These works are on loan from France until July 29, 2012, after which they will travel to Sweden.
Constance Mayer, The Dream of Happiness, from the Louvre, has a Romantic mood, popular in the early 19th century. The exact date is unknown