Why oil paintings deteriorate, new study

This video is called Georgia O’Keeffe: By Myself. BBC documentary 2016.

By Jeremy Rehm, 9:00am, February 16, 2019:

Why some Georgia O’Keeffe paintings have ‘art acne’

A new imaging technique could help art curators track destructive bumps over time

WASHINGTON — Like pubescent children, the oil paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe have been breaking out with “acne” as they age, and now scientists know why.

Tiny blisters, which can cause paint to crack and flake off like dry skin, were first spotted forming on the artist’s paintings years ago. O’Keeffe, a key figure in the development of American modern art, herself had noticed these knobs, which at first were dismissed as sand grains kicked up from the artist’s New Mexico desert home and lodged in the oil paint.

Now researchers have identified the true culprit: metal soaps that result from chemical reactions in the paint. The team has also developed a 3-D image capturing computer program, described February 17 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to help art conservators detect and track these growing “ailments” using only a cell phone or tablet.

O’Keeffe’s works aren’t the first to develop such blisters. Metal soaps, which look a bit like white, microscopic insect eggs, form beneath the surfaces of around 70 percent of all oil paintings, including works by Rembrandt, Francisco de Goya and Vincent van Gogh. “It’s not an unusual phenomenon,” says Marc Walton, a materials scientist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Scientists in the late 1990s determined that these soaps form when oil paint’s negatively charged fats, which hold the paint’s colored pigments together, react with positively charged metal ions, such as zinc and lead, in the paint. This reaction creates liquid crystals that slowly aggregate beneath a painting’s surface, causing paint layers on the surface to gradually bulge, tear and eventually flake off.

How these crystals combine is unclear. “I wish we had an answer about why that’s occurring,” Walton says, “but it’s still an open research question.”

For Walton and his colleagues, though, the questions of greater interest are about what factors may lead to crystal formation in the first place, such as relative humidity, light levels or temperature. “To be able to answer those questions, we have to look at it from a macroscopic point of view, and we’ve chosen imaging as a way to get there,” Walton says.

Walton’s colleague at Northwestern, computer scientist Oliver Cossairt, designed a computer program that shines particular patterns of light from a cell phone or tablet’s screen onto a small section of a painting, and then collects the reflected light in the device’s camera.

The program then removes color information, which can camouflage small distortions in the painting’s surface. Using machine learning, the software then distinguishes the knobby structures from other textures such as brushstrokes, and creates a sort of medical report by determining the location, size and density of the blisters.

It’s a bit like Star Trek’s “tricorder”, which could diagnose a human illness simply from a scan, Cossairt says.

The team is currently using this imaging technology to observe test paintings exposed to one of several environmental factors, watching how light, humidity and temperature may affect blisters’ sizes and rates of development.

“You see paintings with this kind of knobby, bubbly surface, and you don’t know if that has happened in five years, 50 years or more,” says art conservation scientist Kenneth Sutherland of the Art Institute of Chicago, who was not part of the research. The new imaging technique “starts to give you a way of monitoring how quickly [the bubbles] are forming and, more specifically, answer questions about what factors are influencing it and how we can control or minimize it.”

Although the technique doesn’t solve the dilemma of soap formation, it provides information that can help in protecting iconic works of art. If new bubbles are forming, for example, an art conservator could perhaps change the environmental conditions where paintings are stored. “Maybe this [process] is just an intrinsic vice, and the real solution is to find the right environment to store them”, Walton says.


Painter Frans Hals exhibition in the USA

Frans Hals (Dutch, 1582/83–1666), Children of the Van Campen Family with a Goat-Cart (fragment), ca. 1623–25, oil on canvas. 152 x 107.5 cm. Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels, inv. 4732. ©Roya

This painting is by Frans Hals (Dutch, 1582/83–1666); Children of the Van Campen Family with a Goat-Cart (fragment), ca. 1623–25, oil on canvas. 152 x 107.5 cm. Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels, inv. 4732.

By David Walsh in the USA:

An exhibition of the great 17th century Dutch painter

Frans Hals Portraits: A Family Reunion at the Toledo Museum of Art

17 January 2019

The Toledo [Ohio] Museum of Art recently presented an exhibition featuring works by one of the leading Dutch painters of the 17th century—Frans Hals Portraits: A Family Reunion.

The Dutch “Golden Age” produced a host of extraordinary artistic figures, including most prominently Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–69), Hals (c. 1582–1666) and Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675). Other brilliant painters, of everyday life, domestic and tavern scenes, of landscapes and seascapes, of still lifes and historical events, included Jan van Goyen (1596–1656), Salomon van Ruysdael (c. 1602–1670), Judith Leyster (c. 1609–1660), Adriaen van Ostade (1610–1685), Gerrit Dou (1613–1675), Gerard ter Borch (1617–1681), Jan Steen (c. 1626–1679), Jacob van Ruisdael (c. 1629–1682), Pieter de Hooch (1629–1684) and Nicolaes Maes (1634–1693).

The Hals exhibition will next run at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels from February 1 to May 19 and later at the Fondation Custodia, an art museum in Paris focusing on works by European old masters.

The exhibition was prompted by the Toledo museum’s acquisition in 2011 of Hals’s The Van Campen Family Portrait in a Landscape (c. 1623–25), along with the recent conservation work done on the Brussels museum’s Three Children of the Van Campen Family.

Remarkably, as the Toledo museum website explains, “These two works [by Hals] originally formed one composition, separated for unknown reasons likely in the late 18th century or early 19th century. The exhibition reunites the sections of the Toledo/Brussels painting along with a third fragment from a private collection.” In other words, this was the first time in some 200 years that three pieces of the original painting were present in the same location.

The curators also offered a proposed reconstruction of Hals’s complete painting as it might have looked when it was painted nearly four centuries ago.

Frans Hals (Dutch, 1582/83–1666), Family Group in a Landscape, ca. 1645–48, oil on canvas. 202 x 285 cm. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, inv. 1934.8. ©Museo Thyssen- Bornemisza, Madrid

Additional works by Hals were featured in Toledo, including Family Group in a Landscape (c. 1645–48) from the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Family Group in a Landscape (c. 1647–50 ) from the National Gallery in London; Marriage Portrait of Isaac Massa and Beatrix van der Laen (c. 1622) from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; and Portrait of a Dutch Family (mid-1630s) from the Cincinnati Art Museum. Also on display were Portrait of a Seated Man Holding a Hat and Portrait of a Seated Woman Holding a Fan (both c. 1650, from the Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio).

A good portion of the catalogue published to accompany the exhibition is devoted to explaining the facts of the Van Campen family painting and proving that the three pieces belong together (along with other still unknown ones). The case seems convincing, but that is a matter for art historians and experts to debate and determine.

The Toledo exhibition was not large, nine paintings by Hals (including the three separate fragments), but the work was all beautiful.

Frans Hals was born in 1582 or 1583 to Adriana and Franchoys Hals in Antwerp, then in the Spanish Netherlands. Starting in the 1560s, the “Seventeen Provinces,” including present-day Netherlands and Belgium, had risen in revolt against the rule of Philip II of Spain, the Habsburg monarch. The struggle lasted for some 80 years. The Dutch uprising was bound up with the transition from feudalism to capitalism.

Antwerp became the capital of the Dutch revolt. However, the Spanish forces counter-attacked and their troops, under the Duke of Parma, laid siege to Antwerp in July 1584. The city surrendered in August 1585 to the Spanish, who gave the Protestant population four years to settle their affairs before leaving.

Hals’s parents apparently fled during the siege, some 110 miles, to Haarlem in the new Dutch Republic to the north, where the artist lived for the rest of his life. Hals apprenticed as a painter starting in 1603. In 1610, he registered with the St. Lucas Guild, which, as the museum catalogue explains, “enabled him to establish his own workshop.”

Hals married twice. He had three children with his first wife, Anneke Harmendr, only one of whom survived early childhood. Anneke died in 1615, and two years later Hals married Lysbeth Reyniersdr, who bore 11 children (four of whom became painters).

The painter’s naturalistic work fell largely from favor in the 18th century, as a tendency even in Holland toward more aristocratic and classicistic academicism took shape, and was only “rediscovered” in the second half of the 19th.

Hals is now widely admired. Critics, historians and museumgoers alike are impressed, in the words of one commentator, by his “vigorous, slashing style.” The painter is always “amazing in fidelity, astounding in surety and vitality of draughtsmanship. Among the Dutch [Hals is] inferior in genius only to Rembrandt, [and] his influence was almost as far-reaching.” (Blake-More Godwin, Catalogue of European Paintings, The Toledo Museum of Art)

Another study argues that in Hals’s portraits, “the quick and decisive look of each stroke suggests spontaneity, the recording of one specific instant in the life of the sitter.” The complete picture “has the immediacy of a sketch. The impression of a race against time is, of course, deceptive. Hals spent hours, not minutes,” on his canvases, “but he maintains the illusion of having done it in the wink of an eye.” (A Basic History of Art, H. W. and Anthony F. Janson)

Frans Hals, Portrait of a Seated Woman Holding a Fan, c. 1650, Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio

Hals came to specialize in portraiture. The Toledo exhibition had several magnificent examples. Seated Man Holding a Hat and Seated Woman Holding a Fan (the subjects’ names are unknown) are assumed to be a newly married couple. Hals scholar Seymour Slive describes the pictures as among “Hals’s most sympathetic portraits of a husband and wife.” She in particular makes an impression, gazing at the viewer confidently.

The painter made a name for himself with his group portraits. Writing of the famed Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Civic Guard (1616, not in the exhibition), Lawrence W. Nichols, the Toledo museum’s senior curator of European and American painting and sculpture before 1900, notes that, in contrast “to the stiff formality typical of the genre, Hals’s poses, gestures, and animated countenances—many conveying engagement with one another, and others rendered as peering out at the beholder—all induce the sense of being a firsthand witness to the actual gathering.” A contemporary of Hals’s, the historian of Haarlem, wrote in 1648 that his “paintings are imbued with such force and vitality that… they seem to breathe and live.”

Frans Hals (Dutch, 1582/83–1666), The Van Campen Family in a Landscape (fragment), ca. 1623–25, oil on canvas. 151 x 163.6 cm. Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio, inv. 2011.80

In Hals’s first family group portrait, the work at the center of the Toledo-Brussels-Paris exhibitions, The Van Campen Family in a Landscape, the painter continued—Nichols asserts—“to visually communicate a sense of immediacy … Moreover, he confronted the pressing challenge incumbent on a painter of group portraits of any category: how to capture individuality as well as the collective dynamic of the group and each individual’s relationship to it.” Van Campen, a cloth merchant, his wife and seven children are represented in one of three fragments; a second, narrower picture shows four children; and a third includes the head and torso of a boy (apparently another Van Campen son).

Nichols writes: “Hals’s arrangement is nothing less than the visualization of a household jubilantly being together—their familial cohesion is rendered palpable and is the painting’s very subject. … Gijsbert Claesz [van Campen] gazes out at the viewer as if to proudly present his progeny. Only the two babies … also engage us directly; all the others are involved in or reacting to the spectacle the painter has contrived. … Hals’s vivacious and animated portrait, with its expressive poses, gesticulating hands, and exuberant countenances, was ground-breaking.”

One of the prominent features of the Family Group from the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid is the presence of a black child. The catalogue notes that black youths made their appearance as servants in Flemish and Dutch portraits from the 1630s, “not coincidentally after the Dutch West India Company was established in 1621 and took control of Dutch involvement in the Atlantic trade of enslaved Africans.” The individual “in the present work is as much a specific personality as the rest of the family. That Hals represented him with such dignity and humanity, in conjunction with his relatively substantial wardrobe … suggests that he may have been of high birth, perhaps someone from West Africa who came to Holland for his education or part of a trade delegation.”

Frans Hals (Dutch, 1582/83–1666), Marriage Portrait of Isaac Massa and Beatrix van der Laen, ca. 1622, oil on canvas. 140 x 166.5 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. SK-A-133. ©Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

A painting that deserves its own essay is Marriage Portrait of Isaac Massa and Beatrix van der Laen, described as “an unmitigated standout in the collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.” Mariët Westermann (A Worldly Art—The Dutch Republic 1585–1718) argues that there “are no direct Dutch precedents” for this double portrait.

Massa and Beatrix lean back against a tree or an embankment. He smiles at the viewer. “Beside him to the right,” as a 1910 catalogue of Hals’s works described it, “sits a woman, bending slightly forward, with her head turned three-quarters left. She smiles rather slyly at the spectator.”

Again, Hals is a pioneer in presenting human relationships in a flexible and informal manner. The famed Rijksmuseum observes that the “happy, smiling pair sits comfortably close to each other. Posing a couple together in this way was highly unusual at the time.”

We know something about Massa, born into a wealthy silk merchant’s family and sent to Moscow at 15 to assist the family trade, including the fact that Hals painted him several times. Massa also served as a witness at the baptism of one of Hals’s daughters. They presumably were friends.

Frans Hals, Isaac Abrahamsz. Massa, 1626, Art Gallery of Ontario

Massa, an intriguing figure, belongs to the epoch when the bourgeoisie, in its ascendancy, played a revolutionary role. The Toledo museum catalogue describes him as a “polymath of sorts.” According to historian G. W. van der Meiden, Massa “played a prominent part in the beginnings of diplomatic contact between Russia and the Netherlands. He was a many-sided intellect … Thanks to his eye-witness report on the Time of Troubles he is well-known in Russian historiography.” (“Isaac Massa and the Beginnings of Dutch-Russian Relations”)

Massa authored a famed “Short Narrative” on the events of the “Time of Troubles” (1598–1613), a period of civil war in Russia, which ended with the establishment of the Romanov Dynasty. He also was an eye-witness to the terrible famine of 1601–03, which is estimated to have killed one third of the Russian population. Massa extensively describes the suffering. At one point in his “Narrative”, he writes that “Heaven inflicted on the whole country of Muscovy scarcity and famine of which history records no similar examples.”

Massa also published five maps of Russia, including an effort to render the Siberian coast. Van der Meiden writes that Massa “learnt Russian” and that, although “he had received very little formal education, his curiosity was insatiable.”

The same, of course, could be said about Hals himself.

In 1626, Hals painted a portrait of Massa leaning over the back of a chair toward the viewer in an astonishingly informal and intimate pose. The critic John Berger (“Hals and Bankruptcy” in About Looking ) asserted that Massa’s “expression is another one that Hals was the first to record. It is the look of a man who does not believe in the life he witnesses, yet can see no alternative. He has considered, quite impersonally, the possibility that life may be absurd. He is by no means desperate. He is interested. But his intelligence isolates him from the current purpose of men and the supposed purpose of God.” This appears generally legitimate considering what we know of Massa’s life and some of the terrible things he had seen. Berger, in the same essay, also claimed that no one “before Hals painted portraits of greater dignity and greater sympathy.”

Writing of the larger trend, art historian Arnold Hauser (in The Social History of Art, Volume II) observed that “Dutch art owes its middle-class character, above all, to the fact that it ceases to be tied to the Church. … Representations of real everyday life are the most popular of all: the picture of manners, the portrait, the landscape, the still life, interiors and architectural views.” Such motifs “acquire an autonomous value of their own; the artist no longer needs an excuse to portray them. … It is as if this reality were being discovered, taken possession of and settled down in for the first time.”

The bourgeois conditions of life did not make things easy for the Dutch painters, who were “free” of noble and Church patronage and thrown on the marketplace. The resulting state of artistic production, wrote Hauser, allowed “the boom on the art market to degenerate into a state of fierce competition, to which the most individual and most original talents fall victim. There were artists living in cramped circumstances in earlier times, but there were none in actual want.” The Dutch artists’ financial troubles “are a concomitant of that economic freedom and anarchy in the realm of art, which now comes on the scene for the first time and still controls the art market today. Here are the beginnings, too, of the social uprooting of the artist and the uncertainty of his existence.”

Hals went bankrupt in 1652. Rembrandt was effectively declared bankrupt in 1656. Vermeer left his wife in debt at the time of his early death in 1675. She wrote in a petition that during the “ruinous” Franco-Dutch War (1672–78), her husband “not only was unable to sell any of his art but also, to his great detriment, was left sitting with the paintings of other masters that he was dealing in.”

Every opportunity should be taken to see the work of Hals and the other Dutch painters.

The author also recommends:

Seventeenth-century Dutch paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston
[29 October 2015]

French painter Eugène Delacroix, New York exhibition

Collision of Arab Horsemen, 1833-34, Delacroix painting

By Clare Hurley in the USA:

French Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix at the Metropolitan Museum in New York

20 December 2018

Delacroix —an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

September 17, 2018–January 6, 2019

Organized by the Louvre Museum in Paris, where it attracted a record-breaking number of visitors earlier this year, and currently at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, this powerful exhibition of French Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863) is the first major survey of the artist’s work in half a century. It brings together 150 paintings, drawings, prints and manuscripts that have rarely been shown together, many of them never before displayed in the US at all.

Unfortunately, due to the work’s size, Delacroix’s iconic image of triumphant revolution, Liberty Leading the People (1830), could not be transported to the Met. Its absence is sorely felt, in part because the exhibition, encompassing the scope and variety of Delacroix’s prodigious artwork, underscores the atypical character of Liberty. Never again would the painter address the events of his time so directly.

Liberty Leading the People, 1830

The first half of the nineteenth century in France was characterized by revolutions, counter-revolutions, coups and civil war through which rival factions of the bourgeoisie fought for predominance, even as a rising threat to the entire social order, the working class, arrived on the historical scene. The vast social struggles and economic changes of the first half of the nineteenth century in France found oblique and contradictory expression in the Romantic movement.

The figure of Liberty rallying the Parisian masses behind the tricolor of “liberté, égalité, fraternité” calls to mind the ideals and events of the French Revolution of 1789. A generation later, Delacroix’s painting tackled the subject in a manner that embodied the transition from the Neoclassicism of the Revolutionary period to a Romantic sensibility, reflecting the impact of subsequent developments on artistic moods and consciousness.

Eugène Delacroix by Félix Nadar

Romanticism was a diffuse movement particularly significant in European art between the end of the 18th century and 1840 or so. In part, it was a critical reaction to the Industrial Revolution and the apparent mechanization and urbanization of life. The Romantics often valued nature and emotional expressiveness in art, including extreme emotions. Great emphasis was placed on authenticity and sincerity, and on the “inner vision” of the solitary artistic genius, if necessary at the expense of rationalism and empirically accurate representation.

Originating in English poetry with the work of Lord Byron, William Wordsworth (who suggested that poetry should begin as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”), Samuel Coleridge, John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Romanticism encompassed the other arts as well: the music of Franz Schubert and Frédéric Chopin, for example. Delacroix was “the great Romantic painter” as his younger contemporary, the poet and critic Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) termed him.

However, Delacroix rejected this title in his lifetime, considering that his work carried on the ideals of the Enlightenment, even as he often created turbulent, expressive images more characteristic of Romanticism. He shared the Romantics’ dedication to art’s higher purpose to evoke the sublime and awe-inspiring and championed the power of the unfettered artistic imagination to create a “pure” art drawn from classical, literary or historical sources. In a 1822 letter, Delacroix insisted, “Painting is life itself. It is nature transmitted to the soul without an intermediary, without a veil, without rules or conventions. Music is vague. Poetry is vague. Sculpture requires a convention. But painting, particularly landscape painting, is the thing itself.”

Delacroix’s life and work contain various strands and impulses. He was connected to leaders of the French Revolution on his father’s side, and to artistic circles on his mother’s, as well as having a powerful patron in the consummate cynical politician Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, rumored to be his biological father. Orphaned at the age of sixteen, he demonstrated exceptional talent and trained in the Neoclassical tradition of Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825), the preeminent painter of the French Revolution. He was also influenced by early Romantic Théodore Géricault (1791–1824) with whom he studied, even posing as one of the doomed castaways in his mentor’s masterwork, The Raft of the Medusa (1818-9). He was in his early twenties when his painting The Barque of Dante was accepted into the Salon of 1822, inaugurating a long career of purchases and commissions by the French state, though one not without controversy and occasional rejections when his work diverged too far from the standard “recipes” of the Academy and middle class public opinion.

Madame Henri François Riesener, 1835

His mastery of academic skills is evidenced in the Met exhibition in the selection of his vivid portraits, such as the ones of his aunt and cousin Madame Henri François Riesener and Léon Riesener (both painted 1835), and his many sketches and oil studies of models. Some of these, Head of an Old Greek Woman (1824) for instance, are striking in their own right, though for Delacroix these always served primarily as means to an end. In this case, the woman’s anguished face appears in his Massacre at Chios (1824), also too large to be moved from the Louvre. However, Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi (1824) is in the exhibition.

Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi, 1826

Even though Delacroix’s paintings in support of the Greek struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire (1821-29) were purchased by the French government, which—along with Britain and Russia—was asserting economic interests in the Middle East through its intervention, they nevertheless came in for criticism for their emphasis on the conflict’s toll in human suffering instead of the supposedly heroic aspects of the cause.

Delacroix often turned to literary sources for subjects, particularly to works by Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott, as well as Shakespeare. Most striking in the exhibition is the series of 18 lithographs that Delacroix created in 1826-27 to illustrate the German poet and dramatist Goethe’s Faust. The set of prints not only superbly illustrate the wild, supernatural tale of the doctor who sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasure; they demonstrate Delacroix’s mastery of a relatively new technique in printmaking. They also include charming sketches of animals and other notations in the margins which would not have appeared in the large folio edition printed in 1828, a copy of which was also on display.

Faust Trying to Seduce Marguerite, 1826-27

Much of Delacroix’s work was on a grand scale commissioned for public buildings and churches, and as such could not be moved. But the exhibition does include The Battle of Nancy and the Death of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, January 5, 1477 (1831) and The Battle of Poitiers (1830), both of which celebrate the Bourbon monarchy. However much the painter sought to distance his art from the immediate political fray by choosing subjects from the distant past, he inevitably had to navigate the shifting political fortunes of his patrons. In the case of the latter painting, it had been commissioned by the Duchesse du Berry, daughter-in-law of the last Bourbon monarch, Charles X. Delacroix had to repossess the work, unpaid for, after Louis Philippe ousted the Bourbons in the 1830 July Revolution and the Duchesse fled.

The Battle of Poitiers, 1830

Whether it was to escape the social and political turmoil of Paris after the July Revolution or the desire for a change of scene, in 1832 Delacroix traveled to North Africa as part of a diplomatic mission to Morocco shortly after the French conquered Algeria. There he was entranced by the beauty of the landscape and the people in traditional dress, a scene so “exotic” that he had no need to resort to imagination.

A selection of his marvelous sketches of people in the streets of Tangiers are displayed at the Met exhibit. Although his observations were colored by his Romantic propensity to view the Arab shopkeepers in their white robes as modern-day incarnations of classical Greek or Roman figures, these sketches capture daily life with an immediacy not found in any of his other work.

Women of Algiers in their Apartment, 1834

Painted upon his return to Paris, Women of Algiers in their Apartment (1834) is certainly a work of imagination since Muslim law would have made it unlikely for him to have observed women in the intimacy of such a setting. Art historian Linda Nochlin in her essay “The Imaginary Orient” (1983) argues that such images of the Arab world served as the pretext for Western European men to indulge their erotic, and in the case of Delacroix’s earlier Death of Sardanapalus (1828), sadistic fantasies of power over their colonial conquests. Be that as it may, the sumptuous color—achieved by Delacroix’s juxtaposition of complementary tones—contributes to the seductive quality of the three women attended by a black servant in the cloistered atmosphere of the room.

Death of Sardanapalus, sketch, 1826-27

Wild Horse Felled by a Tiger, 1828

Delacroix’s studies and paintings of animals, particularly tigers which he observed at the Paris zoo, likewise served to explore the Romantic fascination with the exotic and awe-inspiring. More specifically, these images convey the intrinsic power of these wild beasts, dormant in their tamed or caged existence, but which might erupt into ferocious action at any time.

So too, the pitched battles of mounted horsemen—many of which were drawn from observing Moroccan military exercises like those pictured in Collision of Arab Horsemen (1833-34)—bore an obvious parallel, whether intentional or not, to the volatile class relations in the 1830s and 40s, which culminated in the Revolution of 1848.

The brilliant, dramatic dynamism of these works is further heightened by a fluid handling of form and atmospheric color that shows Delacroix’s affinity to the works of the English painters John Constable (1776–1837) and J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851), both of whom he had visited in 1825. The similarity, particularly to the latter, would become more pronounced in Delacroix’s later work and would be admired by the Impressionists and subsequent modern artists.

Finally, our understanding of Delacroix would not be complete without his journal, a selection from which was also included in the exhibit. As well-known in its own right as his paintings, the journal was written in 20 notebooks over two periods (1822–24 and 1849–63); unfortunately the notebook from 1848 seems to have been left in a cab.

The journal gives a vivid picture of the artist: as a young man he records his high artistic aspirations as well as notes on his friendships, trysts with models and scant financial resources. In his maturity, he emerges as a cultured man with a busy professional and social life in Parisian society and artistic circles that included Chopin and George Sand. In later years, as his strength and health declined, he was tender in his concern for his housekeeper and life-companion Jenny Le Guillou and sought to leave his work to posterity. His letters also make fascinating reading.

At all ages, he was uncompromising in his criticism of pomposity, superficiality and pretensions whether in politics or cultural life, and indefatigable in his dedication to art. For all that he was a Romantic, he maintained a concept of artistic truth, rooted in the Enlightenment, that resembled a philosophically materialist one:

“The fact of the matter is,… art is not what the vulgar believe it to be, a vague inspiration coming from nowhere, moving at random, and portraying merely the picturesque, external side of things. [Art] is pure reason, embellished by genius, but following a set course and bound by higher laws.” (Journal, 7 April 1849)

Facebook censors painter Rubens, not nazism

This 21 July 2018 satiric video from Flanders in Belgium about ancient art says about itself:

Social media [in this case, Facebook] doesn’t want you to see Rubens’ paintings

Flanders – the perfect destination to enjoy the Flemish Masters in all their glory – is denouncing artistic censorship on social media platforms in a playful manner. At the Rubens House, ‘nudity viewers’ with a Facebook account were blocked from viewing nudity by a group of “social media police agents”.

So, 17th century painter Rubens is not welcome  on Facebook. Like later artists, including French 19th century painter Gustave Courbet. Like Facebook bans one of the world’s earliest works of art, the 30,000-year-old ‘Venus of Willendorf‘ sculpture.

What and who, then, is welcome on Facebook? Facebook boss Zuckerberg has said: Holocaust denying nazis. The Dutch neofascist party Nederlandse Volks-Unie (NVU) is welcome to spout their praise for Adolf Hitler, hatred of Jews and hatred of Dutch Moroccans on their Facebook account.

On the other hand, Facebook censors news sources without Big Business or Big Government support; favouring instead corporate media like the Rupert Murdoch empire (where anti-Semitism and other forms of racism happen). Nevertheless, Facebook claims corporate news is not fake news.

No censorship of Holocaust denial. Instead, censorship of an iconic photo of Vietnamese children attacked by United States napalm bombs; censorship even if the conservative prime minister of Norway posts that photo on Facebook. Instead, censorship of information on the bloody invasion of Syria by the Turkish Erdogan regime. The Erdogan regime, which Facebook also helps by censoring a Turkish Dutch politician. Instead, censorship of information on the genocide of Rohingya, thus helping the regime in Myanmar. Instead of censoring shoah denial, Facebook censors Arizona, USA teachers on strike against bad education policies. Like Facebook also censors British striking workers.

Instead of opposing Holocaust denial, they censor feminism. Instead, they censor information on women’s reproductive rights. Instead, Facebook censors a burn injuries survivor.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Flemish museums angry about Facebook‘s nudity ban

Flemish museums are sick of Facebook‘s strict anti-nudity policy. The social media platform also removes painted nudity by, for example, Flemish masters. In an open letter to Facebook boss Zuckerberg, a large number of museum directors demand he should be more liberal.

The cultural institutions use Facebook a lot to advertise their activities. They do this by placing pictures of paintings. But they are thwarted regularly by censorship.


Recently, Facebook removed a picture of the Venus of Willendorf, an iconic fertility statue of nearly 30,000 years old. The Crucifixion by Peter Paul Rubens was also rejected because Jesus has no more than a loincloth on.

Rubens, Christ crucified

“Although we are secretly laughing, your cultural censorship makes our lives quite difficult”, write the museum directors to Zuckerberg. They point out that art brings people together, just like social media.


The trade association Tourism Flanders adds a humorous video to the appeal to Zuckerberg. It shows how people are expelled by security agents from the Rubens House in Antwerp because they look at paintings with exposed body parts. Only people who do not have a Facebook account are allowed to look at them.

Facebook censors accounts against Charlottesville neonazis and against Trump’s anti-immigrant ICE: here.

Facebook’s ‘community standards’ are double-standards. The social media giant seems unable to enforce its own rules when it comes to far-right, white supremacist material, writes LUCY WOOD.

Tech companies promised to stop helping neo-Nazis raise money. They haven’t.

Unique Japanese painting discovered

This video from the Netherlands says about itself (translated):

July 4 2018

An unknown and completely unique masterpiece by the Japanese artist Kawahara Keiga (c.1786-c.1860) was recently discovered and purchased by the National Museum of World Cultures. Conservators found the human height folding screen (eight panels of almost 5 meters wide) of great artistic and historical significance in private possession. The work of art shows the bay of Nagasaki with the Dutch trading post on the island of Dejima in 1836. It will be a key piece in the Japan collection of Museum Volkenkunde [in Leiden, the Netherlands].

See also here.