Tag Archives: artists

The Splendiferous Konstantin Somov

Konstantin Somov’s style was conceived during his study at the Academy of Arts.  His was a departure from the fashionable movements of the period, for he was an enthusiast of an earlier age.  As the child of the senior curator at The Hermitage and a musician mother, Somov was exposed to artistic living early on, and thus experienced a wealth of impressions without much external seeking on his part.  Hung on the walls of his St. Petersburg childhood home was a substantial private collection, attracting artists and admirers from all across Russia.  A nurturing environment, certainly, as Konstantin must have first seen the world through the eyes of imagination instead of stark realism. He was, after all, surrounded by it.

Unlike many of his fellow artists, Somov was an admirer of Rococo when it seemed fusty and irrelevant.  1896 marks the years when he started painting his 18th century works but he continued attending to them long into his career.  Over the span of his life, he would go on to complete portraits, still lifes, and landscapes from the 18th century and beyond, favoring watercolor mixed with whitewash, gouache, and bronze.  He also illustrated books, including the cheeky Book of Marquise, and had a flair for capturing women.  Whimsy and merrymaking pervade his earliest work, and his admiration of Watteau and Fragonard is manifest.   I would consider him their lovechild, displaced in the 20th century, and with a bit of childlike delight thrown in.

Tell me what you think.  Like, love, or maybe just ambivalence?

Somov’s Inspiration

Left: Blind Man’s Bluff by Jean-Honore Fragonard (1769-1770)
Right: Two Cousins by Antoine Watteau (1716)

      Somov’s Works – 1896 to 1930

Lady by the pool (1896)
Rest After a Walk (1896)
Evening Rides (1897)
Evening Rendezvous
Evening (1902)
Lady and Cavalier (1903)
Fireworks (1906)
Fireworks in the Park (1907)
The Laughed Kiss (1909)
In Love with a Harlequin (1912)
Young Woman Asleep on the Grass (1913)
Book of Marquise Illustrations
Lady and Harlequin (1921)
Design of Costume for Awnings T. Karsavina (to Dance to Music by Mozart) (1924)
Holiday near Venice (1930)

Rubens’ Majestic Marchesa

One can imagine the Marchesa Brigida Spinola Doria held a secret behind her lively expression.

Peter Paul Rubens painted her in 1606 when he, a keen student of the Italian masters, was 28.  She was 22, a pink-cheeked newlywed from a leading family in Genoa.  A year prior in July 1605, she had married her cousin Giacomo Massimiliano Doria after receiving a matrimonial dispensation from the pope.  This was a common exemption in canon law that allowed members of consanguineous aristocratic families to marry and proved especially useful where powers were centralized among the exalted few.

Although this portrait is considered one of Rubens’ finest, not much is known about the Marchesa.  We know that her first husband died and that she remarried, but there is no recorded date for her death.  If lengthy accounts of her life exist, they appear to be moldering in libraries somewhere.

Given the date of the portrait and her elaborate styling, she is believed to be wearing her wedding finery.  The original portrait was cut down to its current size between 1854 and 1886, possibly because of water damage, and showed an open landscape to the Marchesa’s right.

In full view, she would have stood on the terrace of a palace, a scene intended to arouse an impression of wealth and power.  The tight crop makes the detailing all the more exquisite, from her luminescent silk gown to the crimson drapery behind her.  Similar to Rubens’ portrait of Maria Serra Pallavicino, her Elizabethan ruff is among the most elaborate I’ve ever seen.  I half wonder how she managed to move her head, although perhaps this is apropos her fate.

A Spinola by birth, the Marchesa married into the Dorias.  By the 16th and 17th centuries, the Dorias–a feudal, soldiering lot–had become the richest family in Genoa.  Their principal spheres of influence resided in banking and the military, and as part of the “aristocratic republic”, they occupied seats in government as ambassadors and prelates.  Six Dorias rose to power as doges between 1528-1797, which ensured their place at the top of Genoan society.

The Spinolas had a similar pedigree.  Although having descended from their heights in the 13th and 14th centuries, they held prized roles in society, making a match between the two families an exceptional one.

The Marchesa’s portrait currently hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  It has had a long ownership history and is one of Rubens’ few surviving portraits from his Italian period of 1600-1608.  Influenced by Veronese, Tintoretto, and principally by Titian, Rubens’ style in painting the Marchesa would later make its mark on Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, two prominent 18th century painters.

This portrait of the Marchesa is one of my favorites.  She’s more than beautiful; she’s intriguing, and I’m not sure if it’s Rubens skill in enlivening his subjects or merely reflecting their depths that makes the portrait so compelling.  All I know is that canvassing the Italian aristocracy in his search for greatness works for him here.  He captures the Marchesa’s elegant intensity with such mastery that it’s hard to look away once she’s held you in her gaze.

Pretties in Pink

“Pinks” was originally the common name for the dianthus flower.  Regardless of hue’s popularity in fashion, the singular “Pink” didn’t gain its definition as rose colored until around 1733.  Even as late as 1769, when Jacob Christian Schäffer created his lovely baroque color table, what we now call pink was often considered a pale shade of red.


Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Color Table – Roth (or red in German)

The ladies loved their pink no matter what the color was called.  In Queen of Fashion, Caroline Weber recounts an amusing exchange between Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI regarding a color that remained à la mode into the 19th century:  “When the Queen asked her husand how he like the confection, which was made from tafetta of an odd pinkish-tan hue, he replied laconically: ‘It is the color of a flea [puce].’ ”  

The exact color of puce is damnably hard to pin down.  Sources tend to disagree whether puce is pinkish-tan or reddish-brown/reddish-purple and as I’m not inclined to examine fleas by age or anatomical part (both of which define puce, apparently), we are going to rely on source material.

As Baronne D’Oberkirch–also noted in Queen of Fashion–wrote in her Memoires“ . . . every lady at court wore a puce-colored gown, old puce, young puce, ventre de puce [flea’s belly], dos de puce [flea’s back], etc.  [And] as the new color did not soil easily, and was therefore less expensive than lighter tints, the fashion of puce gowns was adopted by the [Parisian] bourgeoisie.”


The Royal English Dictionary of 1775 defines pink as: “A small fragrant flower, of the gilliflower kind; anything supremely excellent; a reddish color, resembling that of a pink.”   I rather like the middle definition.  The ladies below are supremely excellent.

 Self-portrait with Farinelli and friends – Jacopo Amigoni (1750-52) Full Portrait

The Archduchess Marie-Antoinette, future Queen of France at 7 years of age –  Jean-Étienne Liotard (1762)

Portrait of Elizabeth Hervey, 4th Marchioness of Bristol – Anton von Maron

Duchess of Medinaceli – Anton Raphael Mengs

 Mrs-George-Watson-(Elizabeth-Oliver) – John Singleton Copley

More about color:

Peach and Persimmon

Craving fresh peaches this time of year is dangerous.  Fortunately, persimmons are available through the rest of February, but these peaches and persimmons (including one dapper duke with cheetah cuffs) are tasty all year long.

Baroness de Neubourg-Cromiere – Alexander Roslin  (1756)

 Portrait of Grand Duchess Maria Fiodorovna – Alexander Roslin  (1777)

Princess Anna Alexandrovna Galitzin – Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun  (1797)

Johann Joachim Winckelmann – Anton von Maron (1768)

 Varvara Ladomirsky – Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun

 Madame Bouret as Diana – Jean Marc Nattier (1745)

 Victor de Rochechouart, Duc de Mortemart – Jean-Marc Nattier (1756)

Portrait of a Woman, possibly Madame Claude Lambert de Thorigny – Nicolas de Largillierre (1696)

 Grand Prince Pavel Petrovich – Virgilius Erichsen

 Lady Hamilton as a Bacchante – George Romney (1784)

The Gorgeous Fairy Tale Illustrations of Anne Anderson

During the last decade of Victoria’s reign up until the end of the Edwardian era, women worked as illustrators in near equal number as men.  A number of these talented ladies were Scottish, including the notable Jessie M. King and today’s lady, Anne Anderson.  Although she is little known outside collectors, Anne was famous during her time.  A well-respected artist who etched, watercolored, and designed greeting cards, she worked on over 100 books and made a living off her illustrations.

Anne was born in Scotland in 1874, the eldest daughter of Scottish Lowlanders James and Grace Anderson.  Her father’s work had already taken the Anderson’s to South America before Anne’s birth and soon after, the family returned to Argentina where Anne would live until her teenage years.  She would later marry the illustrator Alan Wright, an Englishman, and make her home in Berkshire.  As they collaborated on many projects, their partnership was a private and public endeavor, and a profitable one at that.

Prior to their marriage in 1912, Wright had been an esteemed illustrator in his own right.  His work on the 1898 “How I was Buried Alive” by the self-styled Baron Corvo (otherwise known as Frederick Rolfe) changed all that.  In addition to the work being considered ridiculous (Corvo claimed he was buried alive while studying for the priesthood), Corvo was also unabashedly homosexual.  The book produced a scandal and Wright’s reputation went to dust.  Because of Wright’s ensuing lack of work, Anne  supported the family, although her work became almost indistinguishable from her husband’s.  He apparently drew the animals and she worked on the rest.

Below is a very small collection of her work.  For a full listing, see her bibliography.

Beauty and the Beast


Briar Rose

Strong Hans

The Frog Prince

The Little Mermaid

The Swan Princes

Charitable Tagging for Art Appreciation

If you want to learn more about art and think tagging paintings for the public’s benefit might be a fun and charitable way to spend an hour or so, head on over to Your Paintings Tagger hosted by the Public Catalogue Foundation.

I signed up today and the experience is kind of like being an art sleuth.  It’s an exercise in image association, if you’re into that sort of thing.  Essentially, you focus on a painting and pick out four distinct categories to tag: things/ideas, people, places, and events.  It’s really as simple as looking at the following painting and typing in tags such as lady, white angora cat, mirrored globe, spaniel, pale yellow gown, etc.

Le Chat Angora by Fragonard 

Although it’s helpful, you don’t need to know anything about art to participate.  Your tags are run through an algorithm that determines appropriateness so need to worry about tagging incorrectly.  It, apparently, is smarter than you or me!

The Cupid Seller, 1763

Isn’t this cheeky?

The Cupid Seller by Joseph-Marie Vien, 1763

Not familiar with Joseph-Marie Vien’s work?  He replaced Fragonard’s paintings commissoned by Du Barry on the Progress of Love:  See Du Barry and the Louveciennes Panels.

Queen of the Blues: Elizabeth Montagu’s Bluestockings

It all began with a gentleman who liked blue tights and intellectual women.  That’s right, ladies and gentlemen.  The term “bluestockings” was used to categorize the elite female members of England’s smarty-pants club, and it was named after a pair of gams.

You see, once upon a time in the 1750s a lady named Elizabeth Montagu sought to make her home on Hill Street the intellectual capital of London.  She was to be England’s answer to the French salonnière, an aristocratic/upper bourgeosie hostess of late hour assemblies where men and women gathered on equal footing to discuss society’s fashionable arts.  From the written word to the painted embodiment, London’s distinguished came to discuss whatever was itching society at the present moment.  And unlike other club atmospheres of the day, it was a society undressed, the Georgian answer to casual attire and debate en famille.

For a club geared toward the intellectual expansion of women, its attendees were also prestigious.  On any given evening, one might encounter Samuel Johnson’s high-reaching troop including Oliver Goldsmith, Edward Gibbon, Sir Joseph Banks, David Garrick, Adam Smith, and many others.

Depiction of Samuel Johnson’s Literary Party – Joshua Reynolds, 1781

But there was only one man who wore blue stockings or so the legend says.  He was purportedly a philosopher who minded his economics over his fashion sense (ever an admirable trait among the enlightened).  Blue worsted stockings were cheap compared with bleached or black silk and he sported them on his frequent visits to Hill Street, flashing his legs at Montagu’s get-togethers whenever he was in the mood for a bit of high-minded chatting.

Michel Garnier – Elegant Lady at her Toilette (*modified)

As with many clubs, the bluestocking ladies were in constant transition, attending by the year and the inclination.  In the beginning they included Frances Boscawen, Elizabeth Carter, Catherine Talbot, Elizabeth Vesey, and of course, Elizabeth Montagu herself.

Although small in nature, the formation of the society was an achievement both applauded and criticized by society.  Horace Walpole called it “the first female club ever known,” and it probably was in the public sense.  Although feminine hunger for knowledge was admired and even encouraged in the highest circles of enlightened French society,  England still expected their women to uphold the traditional definition of “an accomplished lady.”  She would practice the delicate arts such as painting and playing the pianoforte, but she would not engage in criticism nor would she become a creator, much less of virtuoso.  That is not to say women failed to ascend to the heights of which many 18th century men considered the masculine landscape.  Richard Samuel’s 1779 painting, The Nine Great Living Muses of Great Britain, paid tribute to the torchbearers who led the weaker sex out of their darkened drawing rooms and into the public light.

From left to right: Elizabeth Carter, Anna Letitia Barbauld, Angelika Kauffmann, Elizabeth Linley, Catharine Macaulay, Elizabeth Montagu (our original bluestocking!), Elizabeth Griffith, Hannah More, and Charlotte Lennox.

Keep in mind the Bluestocking Society gathered some 40 years prior to Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women and Wollstonecraft was received as a radical, though for a variety of reasons, political, social, and personal.

Over time, particularly in the 19th century where the tightening of morals and social etiquette became the norm, the term “bluestocking” evolved in meaning.  As any romance novel reader knows, bluestockings were known to shake up the natural order.  They indulged in literature when society would rather relegate them to dancing or standing for gown fittings.  Instead of playing the shrinking violet or wallflower, they opined, debated, and asserted their intellectual independence over the common pitfalls of women: restrictive marriages, lack of economy and agency beyond household affairs.  Spinsterhood was uniquely suited to them, but many of the original bluestockings were married.  They were merely women who wanted an avenue of culture and contribution, women who espoused that the improvement of the female mind would benefit society at large.  They were bluestockings and yes readers, they were amazing.

Further Reading:

Reconsidering the Bluestocking – ten essays that “explore the Bluestockings’ social, economic, and intellectual achievements, including the publication of fiction and criticism, their plans for a utopian community, their charitable enterprises, and the management of a large coal-mining concern.”

Brilliant Women: 18th century bluestockings

The Prettiest Circus Drawings Ever

These very glamorous drawings are part of the circus museum at the Ringling estate.  I wish I had written down the artists’ names, but I’m afraid I was visiting the museum with my husband and his 90 year old uncle and as I had already dragged them through a botanical print exhibit, I was starting to push my luck!  Enjoy!

On another note, the circus museum also boasts a miniature of the entire Big Top and grounds.  I was delighted to find a lady in full 18th century getup in the milieu.

Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress Plate 6

After a long journey entailing bawds, degenerates, and harlots, Moll has found her inevitable.  She’s 23.  As of September 2, 1731, she’s also dead.  A plate atop her coffin records this, but we can be assured that outside the minds of harlots nothing will remain of her memory.  After all, she is in a room with the soon-to-be dead–women marked by syphilis or the hangman’s noose.

(click to enlarge)

One woman in the plate stares out, making eye contact with us.  Her name: Elizabeth Adams.  Her execution date: 1737.  Her crime: theft.  She sits in perfect composure as a clergyman worms his hand up her skirt.  Indeed, she is the only composed person in the room, her expression one of sardonic resolution.  She knows her fate and yet she doesn’t resist it.  The clergyman, meanwhile, is tingling with pleasure, his flute spilling suggestively upon his lap.  The other mourners are similarly pursuing their own ends.

Moving counterclockwise we see Moll’s child, chief mourner of the ceremony.  He leans against his mother’s casket, spinning a top in his fingers.  He may as well be alone in the room for all he is disengaged.  The wretched procuress directly to the right is moaning, her heel kicked up as if in pain–probably from facing another lost source of income.  The bottle of Nantz (or brandy) beside her bears a grim, theatrical face.  Is this in reference to the tragicomedy of the scene?

The undertaker pursues a harlot whose outstretched hand points toward Moll as he adjusts her glove.  Although it is difficult to see, she is plucking from his pocket the harlot’s most coveted accessory: a pocketwatch.  Despite the properly observed mourning customs–the white handkerchiefs, the sprigs of rosemary (once thought to prevent contagion)–nothing is as it should be.  Nobody acts as one would assume.  The funereal atmosphere is tempered by conceit.

 A moon shines behind a window and a reflection hovers in a mirror.  The harlot inspecting her face has good reason for vanity; a spot appears and with it, anxiety.  The “progress” continues.

Among the remaining mourners, we have four unidentified harlots in pairs.  The pair nearest Moll appear to grieve, most likely for their own fate, but amidst this grieving one harlot complains of her finger pain.  The two garbed in black are in full mourning.  As one sips her drink, the other wrings her hands.  But there is something about them that looks conspiratorial.  Perhaps they were foes of Moll and regard her death with both defeat and triumph.  It could be my flawed modern sensibility, but with their dark cloaks, they look a little like witches, their heads arched together.  A witches hat and twigs did appear in plate 3 and I can’t help but wonder why Hogarth would distinguish them from the other harlots by putting them all in black.  They are also fairly centered on the plate, in view between the two figures sympathetic to Moll, and by contrast I’m not entirely convinced they are, in fact, maudlin.

To the left we see Moll’s maid again, no longer protective but still disapproving.  She’s disgusted by the clergyman’s sinning, and appears to be clearing a plate and flute from Moll’s casket lid.  But really, is there a better use for Moll’s casket than a bar?  The youngest harlot thinks so.  Hogarth placed her as the sole truly touching figure in the plate.  She stands just to the left of Moll’s country hat, hung up for the last time.  As she lifts aside the lid, her fingers poised as if in surprise, her face is gentle.  She’s curious, perhaps having recently crossed over to the opposite side of innocent, and we can almost hear her thoughts: “Is this going to happen to me?”

The answer, of course, is yes.  It is unlikely Moll’s diseased corpse dissuades the young harlot.  Moll herself could not be dissuaded and neither will the thousands who continue after her.  The clergymen can’t save them.  The men who quench their needs upon them won’t.  And so we continue.

Missed previous A Harlot’s Progress Plates?