Friday, January 29, 2010

A French Hero

Du Guesclin at the battle of Cocherel by the French painter Charles-Philippe Larivière (1798-1876).

That’s a scene from the Hundred Years War. The leader of the French forces Bertrand du Guesclin defeated at Cocherel in 1365 an Navarrese and Aquitaine army.

It’s a typical history painting of the late 19th century depicting a great event of national history. The weapons and clothes are historically very correct. Nevertheless the whole painting is pure but well done construction. There are the two adversaries staring at each other, the French triumphantly on his horse. The flying French banners and the damaged Navarrese and English ones.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Norse Mythology

The construction of a national identity is normally connected with a search for the own cultural roots. Especially in northern Europe and in Germany this led to a fascination for pre Christian Nordic mythology – Wagner is only the best known example.

In Norway Peter Nicolai Arbo (1831-1892) painted historical patriotic scenes and not least the recently rediscovered Nordic gods. Most famous he became for his big painting Åsgårdsreien (1872) which pretended to show Odin’s Wild Hunt.

Because of the barbarian subject and the obscure scenery it’s still very popular serving as a kind of pre-fantasy-painting. For example it was used as cover for the album Blood Fire Death by the Swedish band Bathory.

But at a little closer look there remains not much of that pretended reanimation of Nordic traditions. The whole composition and most of the figures derive from baroque ceiling paintings. There is nothing barbarian in it, there is nothing “Nordic”, there are the same Olympic gods hunting some naked puttis or nymphs.

The thing is even more obvious regarding Arbo’s painting Valkyrien (1865).

The cruel Nordic war spirit looks neither warlike nor awesome, it’s at last a rosy baroque angel or allegory. It’s ridiculous.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Doors of Hougomont

Hougomont 1815 (1903) by the Scottish painter Robert Gibb (1845-1932).

Gibb a popular military painter depicted here the hard fighting at the doors of the farm Hougomont in the battle of Waterloo. It’s one of the typical paintings which decorated British Officers' Clubs and country houses.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Classic Saladin

Saladin conquering Jerusalem (c.1830-50) by the French painter Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard (1780-1850).

Alexandre Fragonard was the son of the Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard and a student of Jacques-Louis David. Here he depicted how the famous Muslim leader Saladin conquered Jerusalem. To show a Muslim as a hero was not so unusually for an artist in the time of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

But really remarkable are the classical costumes. Fragonard depicted the Arabs as Greek warriors, the only concession is the strange turban of Saladin.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Hunnic Raiders

Hunnic raiders pillaging a Roman villa by the French painter Georges-Antoine Rochegrosse (1859-1938).

Despite being a good painter Rochegrosse earned probably the most money with the prints of his paintings which were very popular as illustrations in books and journals. Here he depicted with a lot of interesting details how a Hunnic raiding party pillaged a Roman villa probably in France. The strange scythe-like lances or the fur hats are pure invention but still nice.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Defeated Napoleon

Napoleon after Waterloo by the English battle painter Robert Alexander Hillingford (1825-1904).

Napoleon returns defeated from the battlefield. He knows that he has lost all: the battle, the crown, his supporters and his freedom.