Eye Candy for Today: Burne-Jones’s Mirror of Venus

The Mirror of Venus, Edward Burne-Jones

The Mirror of Venus, Edward Burne-Jones

The Mirror of Venus, Edward Burne-Jones

Link is to Wikimedia Commons, original is in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon.

Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones, who went on to be a major figure in style known as Aestheticism, presents a tableau of female figures, some staring at their reflections in the mirror of a still pond, others looking at the striking figure in blue, whose gaze falls on the pool but not on her own reflection.

The artist has left it to us to interpret the different expressions of the women, perhaps suggesting that each is seeing something unique in the nature of her own reflection, or in the presence of the standing figure.

In a way not possible to viewers of the real painting, we can use the magic of Photoshop to view the reflections of the women in the pool, turned right-side up (image above, bottom) revealing that Burn-Jones has painted them with as much attention and skill as the primary figures.

Not only that, but faces with downcast eyes, in which we cannot see the pupils in the main figures, look different from the upward viewing angle of the reflected faces in the pool.

 
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Eye Candy for today: Ivan Shishkin graphite drawing

Trees by the Stream, Ivan Shishkin, pencil drawing

Trees by the Stream, Ivan Shishkin, pencil drawing

Trees by the Stream, Ivan Shishkin

Link is to the image page on The Athenaeum, direct link to the large image here. Original is in the Museum of the Russian Academy of Arts, St. Petersburg. The drawing is in graphite. I don’t have the dimensions.

Like many of the great landscape painters, 19th century Russian master Ivan Shishkin made lot of drawings of landscape subjects, some presumably just for study, and others in preparation for studio paintings.

I love how the main trees emerge from the background tone and the crisp delineation of the foreground rocks.

 
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Eye Candy for Today: Frencesco Novelli ink and wash drawing

Frencesco Novelli, Diana and Her Hounds, ink and wash drawing

Frencesco Novelli, Diana and Her Hounds, ink and wash drawing (details)

Diana and Her Hounds, Frencesco Novelli

Pen and black ink with brown wash; roughly 5 x 4″ (13 x 10 cm); in the collection of the Morgan Library and Museum.

I don’t know much about Francesco Novelli, who was active in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but I find this drawing interesting for several reasons.

First, it’s simply a beautifully realized drawing. The basic ink drawing, in black, is composed of broken lines, with spaces open at many points. The brown wash fills in the form and gives the figure dimension and solidity, but the overall effect is a drawing with a loose, open feeling.

Deft value relationships add to the composition and the sensation of grace and motion, particularly in the clothing and drapery. I love the way he has use the brush and brown wash like pen hatching along the curved surfaces of the figure’s arms and legs and the bodies of the dogs.

What I didn’t notice at first — likely because the drawing is so beautifully done — is that to my eye, the proportions of the arms, particularly the figure’s left arm, seem out of proportion to the figure. The arms also look more like they belong to a male figure.

It was not uncommon for artists to employ male models for female figures; it was easier and cheaper to use a male studio assistant as a model than to hire a female model. (I believe most of the female figures of the sibyls on Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling were studied from male models.)

Though it might have been intended as a finished piece, the drawing has the look of a preparatory drawing for a painting or print, but I can’t find much information on Novelli, let alone a specific work that might be sourced from this.

 
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Eye Candy for Today: Levitan’s Golden Autumn

Golden Autumn (Zolotaya Osen), Isaac Levitan

Golden Autumn (Zolotaya Osen), Isaac Levitan (details)
Golden Autumn (Zolotaya Osen), Isaac Levitan

Link is to page with access to high-resolution image file on Wikimedia Commons. Original is in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing the original, but the Tretyakov image seems a little over exposed to me, so I’m going with the Wikimedia version.

A justifiably famous painting by the 19th century Russian landscape master. Brilliant use of complementary blues and oranges. The greens are more subdued than they may appear at first glance — even when set against strategically placed spots of complementary red — allowing the yellow-oranges to dominate.

I love the variety of color and texture in the grasses.

 
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Eye Candy for Today: John Carlin watercolor portrait miniature

Portrait of a Lady, John Carlin; watercolor on ivory

Portrait of a Lady, John Carlin; watercolor on ivory (detail)

Portrait of a Lady, John Carlin

Watercolor on ivory, roughly 4 x 3 inches (9 x 7 cm); in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It’s possible that this is a grayscale image of a more colorful painting — the Met’s website pages doesn’t comment — but my guess is that it was painted monochromatically.

The portrait is obviously of a real and not idealized person, and sensitively painted in that wonderful drybrush/stipple watercolor technique that was prevalent in the mid to late 19th century.

At that time, it was commonplace to paint small portraits in watercolor on ivory, often in an oval as part of a broach. In this case, the painting is rectangular, but not much larger than an oval might have been.

I find it interesting that the artist has balanced with composition with the edge of a chair and the suggestion of a room corner behind the sitter.

 
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