Sunday, February 28, 2010


Oedipus (1867) by the French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904).

This histrionic painting was very popular and often reprinted. It shows Napoleon in front of the Sphinx. The hero of mankind facing destiny, trying to answer it’s questions.

This melodramatic face-to-face is furthermore intensified because Gérôme didn’t paint the pyramids which are behind the Sphinx. So it’s only man and destiny in the desert.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Great Melodrama

In 1547 the Spanish Duke of Gandia conveyed the corpse of the empress Isabel of Portugal to her burial-place in Granada. It is said that, when he saw the effect of death on the once so beautiful and charming empress, he decided to become a monk.

The Conversion of the Duke of Gandia (1884) is by the famous Spanish history painter José Moreno Carbonero (1858-1942). It’s a perfect constructed melodrama with the desolate duke in the center but concentrating with the light from the left on the casket with the dead body.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Storming Saragossa

Storming Saragossa (1845) by the Polish military painter January Suchodolski (1797-1875).

It’s interesting to compare this painting with with "The defense of Czestochowa" also by Suchodolski. Both are showing the heroic fighting on the walls with a similar dramatic illumination. A difference is that the walls of Saragossa are much more impressive. Probably this can be explained with the fact, that in Saragossa the Poles were storming – while they defended Czestochowa.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

(Too) Late History Painting

The Capture of the Pirate Blackbeard by the American painter Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863-1930).

How his name indicates Ferris was a great devotee of the French academic painter Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904). And that illustrates the problem. Ferris worked a whole generation later when history painting in the way of Gérôme and his contemporaries has long passed by.

Despite Ferris was a good artist he is missing the cool and clear composition of the neoclassic trained Gérôme. Ferris piled up a lot of nice historical details and came out as an illustrator but without reaching the high level of his great compatriots Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, or Frank Schoonover who discovered new methods for the interpretation of history.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ivan the Terrible

Ivan the Terrible and his Son (1885) Russian realistic painter Ilya Repin (1844-1930).

Repin depicts here how the tsar Ivan the Terrible in an attack of rage killed his only son causing the end of the old Rurik Dynasty. Ivan was already old then (1581) his foreign policy and a lot of his interior reforms had failed and he saw himself surrounded by traitors.

Repin didn’t focus here on the mighty ruler, he shows a mad man who felt victim to his uncontrolled tempers, a mad man holding his broken dreams.

Especially for patriotic Russians the death of Ivan’s son was a disaster because it marked the beginning of the Time of Troubles a long period when Russia was invaded by foreign armies and torn by civil wars.