Paul Zahl (of The Zahl File fame) recently sent me a postcard of the Tissot painting above, called “The Ball On Shipboard”.  It was done around 1874 and is now in the collection of The Tate Gallery in London.

It was, I believe, the first Tissot I ever saw, reproduced in a book.  It was certainly the first Tissot that took my breath away, with its intricate progression of spaces leading the eye deeper and deeper into the image, starting with the figure of the young lady seated in the foreground and seeming to look into the viewer's space, on this side of the picture frame.  Then groups of figures lead us back over the main deck and down to the dancing on the deck below and finally to the wide view of the harbor over the ship's rail.

We are left with a sense that we have moved through these spaces physically — that we have attended this ball rather than just seen a picture of it.


This painting by Bouguereau, from 1881, is owned by the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California, just over the hill from Hollywood.  In 2005 it went up to the Getty Museum in Santa Monica on an extended loan in return for restoration, which primarily involved removing a coat of varnish that had yellowed, muting the original colors.  The scan above records the restored work and comes by way of the always amazing Art Renewal Center.

I'm not sure whether or not the painting has gone back to Forest Lawn, but if you live in the Los Angeles area you're within striking distance of it, either way.  If I lived in the Los Angeles area, I go see it immediately.

It's said that you either worship Bouguereau or you despise him — folks on either end of the spectrum tend to be a bit dogmatic on the subject.  Anti-Modernists are inclined to place him in the Pantheon of the old masters, which seems extreme.  I think Bouguereau is a great painter of the second or third rank, assuming, for example, that Jan Van Eyck is a painter of the first rank.  Anti-Victorians are inclined to dismiss him out of hand as the embodiment of kitsch, which I think is even sillier.

The important thing is that his works are wonderful, in a very odd and original way.  You can enjoy them immensely without worshiping them and you can recognize their limitations without despising them.


“Taking the Count”, from 1896 — one of several very cool Eakins works depicting “the ring”.

Eakins had a decidedly non-Romantic attitude towards his subjects, which attracted a lot of criticism from the art establishment of his day.  As a teacher at the Pennsylvania Academy Of the Fine Arts he preferred to have his students draw from nude models rather than from plaster casts and was ultimately fired for removing the loincloth from a male model while female students were present.  This contrarian strain has given him a bona fides with modern critics — he's one of the few Victorian academic painters it is fashionable to admire.



Julius LeBlanc Stewart, whose work I discovered via Femme Femme Femme, was an American artist who studied and worked mostly in Europe.  He was a pupil of Jean-Léon Gérôme and Raimundo de Madrazo.  He absorbed Gérôme's technical skills, to a degree, but generally followed de Madrazo in his choice of subjects, contemporary interiors and portraits, mostly of women, that usually featured a sensual treatment of fabrics.  These portraits remind one strongly of John Singer Sargent's and are often very fine:

Stewart, like Sargent, was a late Victorian — he lived until 1919 — and like Sargent was attracted to the free brush-strokes of the Impressionists, always allied, however, with a rigorous academic draftsmanship and a concern for the evocation of space for dramatic effects.

Like many Victorian academic painters, Stewart sketched very freely, with an eye to the surface effects of paint on canvas, preserved in a limited way in the more finished work he exhibited.  Degas struck a different balance between sketch and “finish”, but the dynamic was exactly the same.  Below is a Stewart sketch:

He did a series of nudes in outdoor settings that evoked mythological subjects, but only
nominally.  They have the frankness and the contemporary feel of Anders Zorn's very similar scenes:

Like Tissot, Stewart loved the spatial dramatics of figures on ships, as with the painting at the head of this post.

The late Victorians influenced by Impressionism but still not seduced away from academic formalism constitute a fascinating group, though Sargent is the only one of them who has any kind of reputation today, alas.


One of the loveliest sites online is Femme Femme Femme — it's one I visit almost every day and which has been listed among my favorite links (to the right there) for a long time.  It's a mostly visual blog that celebrates the female form in art with exceptional good taste.

On Monday, when visiting the site, I had to pass through a “Content Warning” message put up by Google, which hosts the site.  Someone apparently complained that the site contained “objectionable” material.  The image above (by Julius LeBlanc Stewart, from 1900) is about as “objectionable” as the site ever gets, if you think that paintings of naked women are objectionable, and if you do you should probably be in therapy.

Google in China has been a lapdog for that nation's totalitarian censors, and while it hasn't censored Femme Femme Femme it has kowtowed to the totalitarian sensibility by forcing the site's viewers to read and acknowledge what I can only describe as an unhealthy “opinion” about images of women in art.

That's objectionable.

I urge everyone to visit the site and send messages of support to its author — and if anyone knows how to complain to Google about its shameful behavior, please pass the information along.


Une femme qui tolère votre sommeil fait plus que vous aimer, elle vous pardonne d'exister.

(A woman who tolerates your sleeping does more than love you — she pardons you for existing.)

                                                                              — Philippe Sollers

[With thanks to Femme Femme Femme for the quote — image by Cabanel, a Victorian painter famous for his historical and mythological works, which tended to be florid and a bit silly, but whose portraits could be very fine, indeed.]


Tristan, on his blog the emotional blackmailers handbook, recently posted the above painting by Winslow Homer, Summer Night, which I was happy to be reminded of.  There's something mysterious and wonderful about the image — two girls dancing together, by the sea, in the light of the moon.  It's not quite erotic, but there are tidal forces at work here which might easily lure a lost mariner to his doom, if he didn't have all his wits about him, crossing the bar.

Check out Tristan's site, which usually contains photographs of lovely, gracious things in and around London.  It's like a visit to a fine old pub, where you can knock back a pint of Guinness in a corner by yourself and mull over visions like the one above . . . at a safe distance.  In that corner, starting on your second pint, you might call to mind, if you've been wise enough to memorize it, this poem by Tennyson:

Sunset and evening star,

And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

Too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,

And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell,

When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place

The flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

When I have crossed the bar.


This wonderful portrait, Carmen Of Cordova,
is by Julio Romero de Torres, a Spanish painter of the late Victorian
and early modern eras.  His images are dark, earthy and
erotic, with a hint of the perverse.

He started out doing conventional Victorian narrative tableaux, like the one above — titled Look How Beautiful She Was! — but eventually developed a more eccentric vision.  Below, a twist on a famous paiting by Velasquez:

Like any respectable Spaniard he both loved and feared women . . .

. . . and also tended to see them in a mystical light:

His sensibility represents an odd blend of the carnal and the spiritual
— always in his work, however sensual, we can hear the Spanish saying
“Where the body goes, there goes death.”

Above, the artist in his studio with a model and a visitor. 
Romero de Torres was born and spent most of his life in Córdoba, taking
time out to serve as a pilot in WWI and to visit the Argentine, where
he got sick, returning to Córdoba to die at the age of 55.  There
are no books in English which collect his work, although twelve more
books about the mildly amusing advertising artist Andy Warhol were
published last week.

Something is terribly wrong with our civilization — but you knew that.

There is a museum in Córdoba which lovingly preserves his house and work, which you can visit virtually here.

Thanks, as so often, to Little Hokum Rag and Femme Femme Femme for pointing the way to this enchanting painter.


Once a poster boy for bourgeois bad taste, Bouguereau is starting to
look more and more radical — certainly more and more bizarre. 
The solidity of his angels here is uncanny.  The wings of angels
in art are often merely symbolic —
in this image they
seem like practical appendages, as necessary to flight as a bird's
wings.  They give these angels a monstrous quality, as though
they're the product of some unholy genetic experiment.  On the
other hand, it may be that the sight of real angels would produce the
same impression and that real angels, if photographed, would look exactly as
they do above.

For a lengthier meditation on the work of this extraordinary artist, go here:

Bouguereau and the Über-Photograph


Jules Bastien-Lepage died tragically young, in 1884, when he was in his late thirties.  He painted one masterpiece, Joan Listening To the Voices (above),
which now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 
It's impossible to describe the effect of this large canvas, with its
complex and convincing illusion of space, which Joan seems about to step out of,
prompted forward by her visions.  It's an example of a
photo-realistic technique enlisted in the service of mystical drama.

Bastien-Lepage groped about a bit in his short career, with stylized
works of grandiose ambition that seem clumsy and pretentious and
modest genre paintings that seem trite, but his über-photographic style
could occasionally produce miracles, like this extraordinary portrait of Sarah Bernhardt,
which has the quality of a bas-relief:

No other evocation of Bernhardt, in literature, art or photography,
brings us as close as Bastien-Lepage's portrait does to the charisma of
the great artist.  Nadar's photographs of the young actress
humanize her, touch the heart — Bastien-Lepage's portrait records the
determined audacity of her genius.  She seems powerful and
vulnerable at the same time, part of the alchemy of a star.

The American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens did a remarkable
bas-relief portrait of Bastien-Lepage in bronze, which makes a fine
pendant to Bastien-Lepage's portrait of Bernhardt — both have a
tactile grace that takes the breath away, both summon their subjects into
our immediate presence, obliterating time and mortality:


Guillaume Seignac
was a late Victorian painter (he died in 1924) who mostly turned out
undistinguished but sometimes amusing imitations of Bouguereau. 
His draftsmanship could be flabby and his images didn't have the
über-photographic authority of his master.

The image above is different, though.  It has an odd suggestive
power, almost perverse, that's rooted in theatrical gesture.  I
find it haunting, for reasons I can't quite put my finger on.


Victorian academic painters loved doing scenes set in antique Roman or
Oriental baths — it was a respectable way of showing lots of women in
various stages of undress.  The casual, languorous poses of these
women would have seemed shocking in a modern setting or unseemly in
mythological or allegorical images.  One of the things that was
radical about the Impressionists was their depiction of nudity in
naturalistic ways, in ordinary settings.  The academics had it both
ways — their settings could say, by implication, “Modern European
women don't look or act this way with their clothes off,” but everyone
knew (or suspected, or hoped) differently.  The hypocrisy added a little spice to the
proceedings — wink, wink . . . nudge, nudge.  It seems a bit
silly now, but a bit charming, too.


Tissot loved the Thames and its waterfronts — which offered him
endless opportunities for the sort of spatial drama that he reveled
in.  The example above is especially dynamic, with its small boat
moving forward into a space in front of the picture plane as the
taller ships lead our eye backward into the space of the painting, reinforcing the sense of
movement.  The result is a highly cinematic image.


Like Renoir, Anders Zorn seemed to be intoxicated by female flesh — the sensual surface of his canvases seems to be a sexual response to the female nude, whose aura radiates outward to affect her surroundings, which take on her sensual properties, as in the painting above.  The whole world seems made of flesh.  Renoir said, “I paint with my penis,” and the same can almost be said of Zorn.

Renoir’s world sometimes seems about to melt in the sexual delirium but Zorn kept a stricter control over his draftsmanship and his sense of modeling, of space — he was more academic in that sense.  The tension between the sensual surface and the precise rendering of forms makes Zorn’s work more interesting to me than the late Renoir nudes, which always seem to threaten to dissolve into goo (see above.)  They become more and more about Renoir’s mood and process, less and less about real women.