Wednesday, August 24, 2016

18th-century Europe in Easel Paintings

Johan Zoffany
Charles Towneley in his Sculpture Gallery, London
oil on canvas
Art Gallery and Museum, Burnley

"Many are disappointed at the nullity of art. Many try to pump life or space into the confusion that surrounds art. An incurable optimism like a mad dog rushes into the vacuum that the art suggests. A dread of voids and blanks brings on a horrible anticipation. Everybody wonders what art is, because there never seems to be any around. Many feel coldly repulsed by concrete unrealities, and demand some kind of proof or at least a few facts. Facts seem to ease the disappointment. But quickly those facts are exhausted and fall to the bottom of the mind. This mental relapse is incessant and tends to make our aesthetic view stale. Nothing is more faded than aesthetics. As a result, painting, sculpture and architecture are finished, but the art habit continues."

 from An Aesthetics of Disappointment, an essay by Robert Smithson, 1966

Jan van der Heyden
Corner of a Study
oil on canvas
Museo Thyssen-Bornemsiza, Madrid

Giovanni Battista Pittoni
Sacrifice of Polyxena
oil on canvas
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Andrea Locatelli
Landscape with Nymphs and Satyrs
oil on canvas
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Giuseppe Zocchi
Arno River at Santa Trinità Bridge, Florence
ca. 1741
oil on canvas
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Riva degli Schiavone, Venice
oil on canvas
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Claude-Joseph Vernet
Coastal view with rainbow
oil on canvas
private collection

"Direct your gaze at another sea, and you'll see serenity and the full complement of its charms; tranquil, smooth, smiling waters stretching into the distance, their transparency diminishing and their surface gloss increasing all imperceptibly as the eye moves out from the shore to the point at which the horizon meets the sky; the ships are immobile, sailors and passengers alike indulge in whatever diversions might outwit their impatience. If it's morning, what hazy vapors rise! How they refresh and revivify the objects of nature! It it's evening, how profoundly the mountain peaks sleep! How nuanced are the colors of the sky! How wonderfully the clouds move and advance, casting the hues with which they're colored into the water! Go into the countryside, direct your gaze towards the sky, note carefully the phenomena of that single instant, and you'll swear a patch of the great luminous canvas lit by the sun has been cut away and transferred to the artist's easel; or close your hand, make a tube of it through which you can see only a small segment of the large canvas, and you'll swear it's a picture by Vernet that's been taken from his easel and moved into the heavens. While of all our painters he's the most prolific, he's the one that makes me work the least."

 from the Salon of 1765 by Denis Diderot, translated by John Goodman

Pierre-Jacques Volaire
Eruption of Vesuvius by Moonlight
oil on canvas
private collection

Apollonio Domenichini
Piazza del Pantheon, Rome
ca. 1750
oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest
Giuseppe Cades
Meeting of Gautier, Count of Antwerp and his daughter, Violante
ca. 1787
oil on canvas
Art Institute of Chicago

Donato Creti
Perseus and Andromeda
oil on canvas
private collection

Jean François de Troy
Jason and Medea in the Temple of Jupiter
ca. 1745
oil on canvas
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Giacomo Ceruti
Group of Beggars
ca. 1737
oil on canvas
Museo Thyssen-Bronemisza, Madrid

Piat Joseph Sauvage
Bacchanalia of Children
ca. 1790
oil on canvas