Jan Toorop was a Dutch illustrator and painter in Symbolist and Art-Nouveau style, whose influnce can be seen in Gustav Klimt’s work. To a lesser extent than Alphonse Mucha, he worked in commercial advertisement. I first encountered his work in the album artwork of british punk/postpunk band UK Decay, and avidly searched his work ever since. Artist: Jan Toorop (1858 – 1928)
Medium: Black and yellow chalk, pencil and paint on brownish paper
Size: 60 x 75 cm
Location: Kröller-Müller Museum, Netherlands
This is a botanical woodcut, with contemporary colorization. It and many others first appeared in the 1562 Discorsi (“comments”, directed at Materia Medica of Dioscorides) by Pietro Andrea Mattioli, later reprinted in 1750s in Traité des Arbres et Arbustes qui se cultivent en France en Pleine Terre. The plant depicted is the Hawthorne Tree in the genus Crataegus. I often use their spikes in my artwork. While working on a new concept I discovered this image in my research, and added the file to my reference library.
Artist: Mattioli Botanical Prints c1750
Title: Crataegus, Hawthorne
Another favorite from Jean-Léon Gérôme. Pollice Verso is Latin for a gesture used during gladiatorial matches, given by the spectators when they wanted to indicate the victor should finish off his fallen opponent. The reverse signal would direct the gladiator to spare the victim instead. This painting shows the Emperor giving the gesture and the crowd follows his cue. The coliseum is reproduced from accurate drawings Gérôme studied from, and the armor based on findings at Pompeii, a popular archaeological find at the time, although it is not correctly assembled in this representation. Note the shafts of light that descend from the arena’s ceiling.
Artist: Jean-Léon Gérôme
Title: Pollice Verso
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Location: Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
The Death’s Head Moth, from a 19th century book on (found here courtesy of The Royal Society). A gardening and farming production handbook, as seen in Eleanor Ormerod’s ‘A Text-Book of Agricultural Entomology’ (2nd ed., 1892), p.127.
Another amazing painting, this is a Spanish historical painting depicting the execution of the liberal field marshal José María Torrijos (1791-1831) by absolutist troops. “…commissioned in 1886 directly by the liberal government of Praxedes Mateo Sagasta (1825-1903) during the regency of Queen María Cristina of Austria (1806-1878), as an example of the defense of freedom for future generations.”
The scene draws you in first by it’s seaside setting, but quickly alerts one to the danger by its grey atmosphere. The presence of blindfolds rules out the impression of shipwreck or disaster at sea. The padre administering last rights, the soldiers in the background, and the bound hands among the crowd deliver the message before the title finally imforms one of the grave scenario, despite its uplifting message and the martyrdom of freedom. These sensations and the overall color palette make this one of my favorite paintings.
More Info: Museo Nacional Del Prado
Artist: Gisbert Pérez, Antonio
Title: The Execution by Firing Squad of Torrijos and his Companions on the Beach at Málaga
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Location: Museo Del Prado, Madrid
Pinocchio stands out as one of the most influential characters I’ve encountered among my journeys. In 2007 while in Florence on a DJ gig, I had several days to explore the museums. In the Museo Uffizi, at that time was an exhibition of Pinocchio including many various adaptations, editions and illustrations as well as the FULL story and history of the character Carlo Collodi created in 1883. Much darker than the Disneyfied version most americans take for granted, Pinocchio’s death is played out and finalized, when demand for the story, initially published in serial via newspaper, prompted Collodi to continue the story with a happy ending that became the finished book. In this image, four black rabbits come to take away Pinocchio, who has been misbehaving and pretending to be sick, so that the blue haired fairy can continue to nurse him. Showing no signs of getting well, the rabbits bear a coffin and intend to carry out his funeral. Needless to say this shakes him out of bed and into a miraculous “recovery”. The original book was illustrated by Enrico Mazzanti in 1883. This version of the illustration is a later, large print edition from 1901 by Carlo Chiostri.
Artist: Carlo Chiostri
Format: Book Illustration
Title: The Adventures of Pinocchio
Sarah Bernhardt was best known for her groundbreaking roles in theatre during the late 19th Century in Paris and around the world. She earned a reputation as “the most famous actress ever known”.
In addition to acting she accomplished over 50 works of art in painting and sculpture. Here is her 1877 Le Fou et la Mort, based on Victor Hugo‘s ‘Le roi s’amuse’ of Triboulet holding the skull of his daughter.
Artist: Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923)
Title: Le Fou et la Mort (The fool and Death)
Current Location: Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon
Alphonse Mucha’s poster rendition of the play Lorenzaccio (by Alfred de Musset, 1836) for the 1896 production by Sara Bernhardt Company. The dragon coiled at the top of the frame represents the antagonist, tyrant Alessandro de’Medici, whom Lorenzaccio plots to assassinate in 16th c. Florence. He accomplishes this but only through his own disgrace, even then failing to achieve a republican revolt as hoped. No happy endings here.
The play was never staged in de Musset’s lifetime due to its complexity, but Sarah Bernhardt, eager to play the lead – and title – male role, personally saw to its production and release. This led to a tradition of Lorenzaccio portrayed be a female actress.
Mucha accomplished several posters for Bernhardt, in fact, his work for her was instrumental in his recognition worldwide. Elements of his design incorporated into the posters even made their way to the stage as props, such as the snake bracelet on his poster for Médée (1898).
Artist: Alphonse Mucha
Format: Color Lithograph
One of my favorite Picasso works, The Accordianist is an early cubist work that was in a recent exhibition featuring Picasso’s ‘black & white’ work. To me it recalls the Piaf song and a surge of atmosphere representitive of it’s time and place.
Title: The Accordianist
Artist: Pablo Picasso
Painting Collection: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Andromache, wife of Hector of Troy has just seen their son Astyanax thrown from the walls of their conquered city. The young men and boys were killed in just this way to prevent vendetta and future grudges, while the wives and daughters were enslaved and worse. The perpetrator of the deed is none other than the Greek Hero, Odysseus whose silhouette stands menacingly atop the dramatic diagonal plane this painting centers upon. Corpses, heads, flames and pools of blood exaggerate the scene, but just a taste of the carnage of war, as then as now and none too different in the times of Ancient Greece, represented by the bloody swastika painted on the base of the banister.
Artist: George’s Rochegrosse (1859 – 1938)
Painting Location: Rouen Musée des Beaux Arts