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Give a brief talk about an outstanding portrait painter. Choose one you really have a liking for.
You are an expert on an outstanding landscape painter. Note down about five pieces of factual information and five pieces of personal information. Your fellow-students will ask you questions to find out what you know about it.
Make a note of the title of the picture that is reasonably well known. Tell the others in the group about the picture. See if they can guess the title.
8. You are an expert on the Peredvizhniki/the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions. Your partner is a foreigner who is completely ignorant of this period in Russian history.
A painting can be studied on several levels and from a variety of perspectives. Here are a few examples of how pictures can be described, analyzed, interpreted and evaluated. Use the following texts for making imaginary dialogues about the pictures and act them out in class.
"Lady Elizabeth Delmé and Her Children" by Reynolds is a typical family group portrait in the Grand Style of English portrait painting. Lady Delmé was the wife of a Member of Parliament and belonged to the privileged class of the landed nobility. Here, with an air of apparently casual informality, she is shown on the terrace before her country-house, while behind stretch the broad acres of her family estate.
Reynolds has taken care that the gestures, facial expressions, and poses of his subjects are appropriate to their age, character, and social status. "The joy of a monarch," Dryden once wrote, "for the news of a victory must not be expressed like the ecstasy of a harlequin on the receipt of a letter from his mistress." So, in this portrait, Lady Delmé is dignified and gracious, secure in the knowledge of her beauty and wealth. Her son John, aged five, as if sensing the responsibilities of manhood, gazes sternly toward the distant horizon. Her other son, Emelias Henry, in unmasculine skirts as befits his three years, is coy and winsome. The fourth member of the group, the unkempt Skye terrier, is the embodiment of loyal affection. Note the simplicity of the pyramidal design and the low-keyed colour scheme. These features were for Reynolds symbols of dignity and good taste.
The "Mrs. Sarah Siddons" by Gainsborough has the distinction of being not only a remarkable work of art, but a unique interpretation of a unique personality. It is not only one of the artist's finest portraits, but also one of the best of the many likenesses of the great tragic actress, who sat to most of the celebrated masters of her day. It was painted in 1783 — 1785, when the queen of the tragic drama was in her twenty-ninth year and at the zenith of her fame.
An enthusiastic admirer who saw it in the Manchester exhibition of 1857 wrote as follows: "The great tragic actress, who interpreted the passions with such energy and such feeling, and who felt them so strongly herself, is better portrayed in this simple half-length in her day dress, than in allegorical portraits as the Tragic Muse or in character parts. This portrait is so original, so individual, as a poetic expression of character, as a deliberate selection of pose, as bold colour and free handling, which it is like the work of no other painter.
“Dedham Lock and Mill” (1820)
This is a brilliant example of Constable's view painting at its complete maturity. The salient features of the landscape are treated in sharp relief — even those not strictly necessary — yet they merge perfectly under a serene, perfect light. This painting contains, in synthesis, all the elements of landscape which Constable loved best: the river, the boats, the soaked logs, the river vegetation, the sun shining through the foliage of the tall trees, the scenes of rural life and, above all, Dedham Mill. The cultural origins of this work are apparent in the traditional composition, in the use of chiaroscuro, in the way the landscape fades into the distance, after the Dutch manner, and in the complex, laboured palette. The compact tree mass in the foreground is blocked in against a sky filled with movement, reflected in the calm and transparent waters over which plays a pallid sun, as we find in Ruisdael.
For Constable I have an affection that goes back to my earliest recollections. In the first years of my childhood, there hung in the halls of my father's house a large steel engraving of "The Cornfield". Often in the long hot summers of the Middle West, I used to lie on the floor, gazing for hours into this English landscape carried from the dry and burning world around me into a vista of blessed coolness, thick verdure, dampness and everlasting peace. I lived in that picture. To me it was more beautiful than a dream: the boy, flat on the ground drinking from a running brook; the sheep dog waiting patiently with turned head; the ambling flock; the old silent trees; the fat clouds reeking moisture...
Some years later, when I went to London to study pictures, I saw "The Cornfield" and many others by Constable, and my first impressions were confirmed. In his grasp of the stable, one might almost say formidable, repose that man feels in the presence of nature, and in communicating the spiritual contentment induced by companionships with nature. Constable is the master of the English school.
Mrs Sarah Siddons, 1783-1785
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