Let's go to Paris, France, to see Desirs & Volupte Victorian Masterpieces From the Perez Simon collection 13 September 2013-20 January 2014

Currently exhibiting right now at Jacquemart-Andre Museum, Paris, France, is an eight room exhibit broken-up into various themes wherein painting's from Masters such as: J.W. Waterhouse, Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, and underlings in magnificence such as: John Meluish Strudwick and John William Godward can be seen up close and personal! I wanted to bring the beauty to all of you...

Each of the eight rooms contains painting's representing various themes; some of which have not been displayed in decades. I will list all of the paintings here and focus on the main attractions and my favorites!  Here's what I mean...

In Room 1: Antiquity revisited:  A total of five paintings depicting scenes from Greek and Roman Antiquity with four paintings by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and one by Edwin Long. Specifically, these paintings...
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912), The Roses of Heliogabalus,  Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) , Agrippina with the Ashes of Germanicus, Edwin L. Long (1829-1891), Queen Esther, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) , An earthly paradise,  Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912), A question

Let's keep the focus on The Roses of Heliogabalus, shall we!
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912), The Roses of Heliogabalus, 1888, oil on canvas

This has always been one of my absolute favorite paintings. Heliogabulus was a 3rd century Roman emperor; now, whether this is a nod to him and a scene of one of his Spring feeling Bacchanals, we shall never know! The interpretation is left up to the viewer. However, experts say that this painting  does show the Roman emperor himself showering his guests with rose petals. There is also a poem Heliogabulus by Clark Ashton Smith but whether Alma-Tadema is also referencing this poem with the titles is up to the viewer, once again.  The poem does speak of the belief of sin in art! This could be viewed as a sinful scene, I suppose, if everyone is frolicking, drinking wine, etc, or it could be viewed as a celebration of some Greco-Roman event, we shall never know!  His remaining three paintings included in Room 1 have more of a Greek & Roman feel to them. It is believed that Alma-Tadema used his trip to Pompeii to influence these paintings. I'm sure he had a marvelous time. I've been to Pompeii and it is unforgettable. Good to know I've walked the same cobblestones he did!  

Room 2: Classical beauty:
Ah, now, here we have two paintings by the master when it comes to depicting female beauty during the nineteenth century: Lord Leighton. Also, two paintings: one by Albert J. Moore and one by Frederick Goodall.  Let's focus on the Leighton, shall we...

 Antigone by Frederick Lord Leighton, Private Collection, 1882

The model for Antigone was Ada Alice Pullman, better known as stage actress, Dorothy Dene. She was twenty when she met Leighton and started modelling for him around 1879. She made her London theatre debut around 1885; known for Cassandra, an adaptation of Aeschylus around May 1896.

Antigone was the heroine in one of seven surviving tragedies written by the Greek playwright Sophocles. The daughter of Oedipus and the niece of Creon, she disobeyed her uncle (the king of Thebes) and buried the body of her brother Polyneices, who was brutally killed while attacking the city. The punishment implemanted by the king was that the corpse was to remain unburied as an eternal curse to the soul. Antigone's love and loyalty to her brother forced her to disobey this command. Her punishment for this would be execution. Creon was persuaded by the prophet Teiresias to show pity for Antigone and pardon her ill act. Unfortunately, he was too late. She had taken her life while a captive in prison. As s sentence for Creon's denial of humanity's common obligations toward the dead, the Gods of Olympus altered fate causing the suicide of his wife and son.

Room 3: Muses and Models contains two paintings by one of my favorite Neds, Sir Edward Burne-Jones
Pygmalion The heart of desires and Fatima

Edward Burne-Jones in his Pygmalion series (1875-78), captures ideal love and human aspirations in four paintings; one of which is included in this exhibit.  The story of Pygmalion is about a man who cannot find love because he is searching for ideal beauty. No woman is beautiful enough for him to love. As a result, he decides to sculpt an ivory statue of his ideal woman. He falls in love with this statue and asks Aphrodite to send him the woman in the statue. Aphrodite brings his statue to life, naming her Galatea to which he then marries. 

The painting, The Heart Desires, is the first painting in his series.  Burne-Jones depicts Pygmalion in surroundings that look like they could be a museum, where he is standing in contemplation almost lost in thought. The viewer cannot see the sculpture of this beautiful woman but you can see the three Graces in the background. There seems to be an illumination shining down on the sculpture but what it is reflecting we do not exactly know. 

 Burne-Jones Fatima was painted in watercolors, signed, inscribed, and dated ‘Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Autumn 1862, London’ inscribed ‘Lord Carlisle kindly allowed me to copy this picture. My copy is on a larger scale/Edward Clifford/25 April 1890.’ 

Fatima takes its name from Charles Perrault’s Tales of Mother Goose. She was Blue Beard’s unfortunate wife who was seen putting the key in the door of the forbidden closet where her husband’s former wives lie murdered! She paused at the closet door for a moment, calling to mind her husband’s prohibition and reflecting trouble that might befall her as a result of her disobedience. However, the temptation proved too strong and she could not resist! 

Lady Georgiana Burne-Jones, mentions the painting in a letter to Ruskin saying, ‘He has begun a watercolour of Bluebearad’s wife putting the key in the closet door. It is a tall, narrow picture, only containing Mrs. Bluebeard with a long passage behind her…Edward is sitting by, and has just looked up to charge me not to tell you about Bluebeard’s wife, because you will think that the skeletons are the principal features, I reply that his warning comes too late, for I have told you.’ 

Room Four: Femme fatale features two paintings:    John W. Waterhouse’s The Crystal Ball and Henry A. Payne, The Enchanted Sea

The subject of femme fatale here is used to mean a woman who enchants, the enchantress, mainly through magic or supernatural sources usually as a result of jealousy or to do harm to the woman of the man they loved and did not receive love in return.  Waterhouse’s Crystal Ball is just one painting of his to be featured in the gorgeous and sumptuous exhibit.  

The Crystal Ball was painted in 1902 and is pretty straight forward as to the nature of it. A sorceress, enchantress, stands in a red gown, gazing down into it as if she is in the midst of seeing something or someone of which she can cast a spell or curse upon.  

Room five: Romantic heroines consists of three paintings and this just might be my favorite room…John M. Strudwick, Elaine, Arthur Hughes’ Enid and Geraint, and Sir John E. Millais’ The crown of love

Think Middle Ages, Shakespearean plays, British 19th century literature, Pre-Raphaelite Art or just think TENNYSON… all depicting the maiden in distress looking for her true love but forced into a  marriage that is loveless and not of her choosing, unrequited love of the cruelest kind!

 The Crown of Love by Sir John Everett Millais was painted in 1875 and is based on the George Meredith poem. The girl being rescued is Alice Millais, John’s third daughter.  

 O, might I load my arms
   with thee,

Like that young lover of


Who loved and gain'd so


The fair Princess of France.

Because he dared to love so


He, bearing her dear weight,

   must speed

To where the mountain

   touch'd the sky.

So the proud king decreed

Unhalting he must bear her


Nor pause a space to gather


and on the height she would

   be won:

And she was won in death'

The two remaining paintings by Strudwick and Hughes are taken from characters in Alfred Tennyson’s works. Arthur Hughes painted a scene of love between Enid and Geraint based on Tennyson’s poem,  The Marriage of Geraint. Enid and Geraint is the story of a knight at the Court of King Arthur.  
 John Melhuish Strudwick chose to paint Elaine, Lily Maid of Astolat of Lancelot and Elaine from Idylls of the King by Alfred Tennyson.  Strudwick decides to paint the opening scene of the poem highlighting Elaine of Ascalot. She sits contemplating Lancelot as she stares at his shield because he gave it to her before a tournament. Unfortunately for Elaine, Lancelot has told her that he does not love her and he could never love her; perhaps, his shield is a souvenier or her curse.
Elaine the fair, Elaine the loveable,
Elaine, the lily maid of Astolat,
High in her chamber up a tower to the east
Guarded the sacred shield of Lancelot;
Which first she placed where morning's earliest ray
Might strike it, and awake her with the gleam;
Then fearing rust or soilure fashioned for it
A case of silk, and braided thereupon
All the devices blazoned on the shield
In their own tinct, and added, of her wit,
A border fantasy of branch and flower,
And yellow-throated nestling in the nest.
Nor rested thus content, but day by day,
Leaving her household and good father, climbed
That eastern tower, and entering barred her door,
Stript off the case, and read the naked shield,
Now guessed a hidden meaning in his arms,
Now made a pretty history to herself
Of every dint a sword had beaten in it,
And every scratch a lance had made upon it,
Conjecturing when and where: this cut is fresh;
That ten years back; this dealt him at Caerlyle;
That at Caerleon; this at Camelot:
And ah God's mercy, what a stroke was there!
And here a thrust that might have killed, but God
Broke the strong lance, and rolled his enemy down,
And saved him: so she lived in fantasy.

Room six Ideal harmony includes three Strudwick paintings: 
Passing Days, The Rampart's of God's House, and In Golden Days by John Melhuish Strudwick

Ideal harmony is depicted through allegoric figures in poetic compositions.  Interesting, that Strudwick is the painter chosen to capture harmony. Perhaps, the most notable and recognizable painting is the last one, Golden Days. Although, his other two works tackle such noteworthy subject matters and are masterpieces of supple gorgeousness!

Strudwick was preoccupied by the subject of passing time during a golden age. He chooses three beautiful female figures in a medieval chamber. On the left, sits a damsel clad in rose-colored robes playing a type of lute. Beside her, dressed in green is a second girl holding a song-book. The third girl dressed in a darker red robe, lifts a veil from her ear and stoops forward to listen to the music played by the other two. In the foreground, wild roses grow over a knight’s shield.  The title, again, taken from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, the part of the poem where Guinevere talks of her regret over her sins and desire to return to the idyllic time of her youth. 

Room Seven: The delights of the nude...Oh My...The paintings in this room consist of:  Sir Edward J. Poynter's Andromeda, Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Venus Verticordia, and Frederic Lord Leighton's Crenaia, the nymph of the dargle

 The nudes in this room are depicted in the classical tradition as say in an allegory or a scene from daily life in Italy. Oh yes, all Renaissance Italian women walked around naked, didn't they? In Rossetti's dreams, perhaps!

In the first nude, Poynter's Andromeda, she was found in Greek poetry as the daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. She was given in sacrifice to Cetus the sea monster but not before being rescued by Perseus wearing that loin cloth in that movie with Harry Hamlin...sorry my mind wandered...Andromeda was the first in a series of panels Poynter was asked to paint to be part of his friend's home.  

               Venus Verticordia 
   She hath it in her hand to give it thee,

    Also within her heart to hold it back;

    She muses, with her eyes upon the track

    Of some dazed moth or honey seeking bee—

    Haply, “He is as one of these”, saith she;

    ‘Now the sweet apple for his lips, alack!

    But brings the dart to turn his midday black,

    And The With wandering  for his feet perpetually!”

    A little space her glance is sad & coy;

    10 But if she give the fruit that works her spell,

    These Those eyes shall flame as for her Phrygian boy.

    Then shall her bird's strained throat the woe foretell,

    And her far seas moan as a single shell,

    And through her dark grove strike the light of Troy, 

Alas! the apple for his lips, the dart
    Which follows its brief sweetness to his heart,
    The wandering of his feet perpetually!”
    And bids his feet wander perpetually.

    And wandering for &c.

Verticordia means turner of hearts. Rossetti painted a series of female figures. This being one of them. In this painting, Venus is surrounded by roses, holding an apple and an arrow. The arrow is of Cupid wounding the heart; the thorns are sharp and the scented roses are sweet. With love you often  get the sharp and the sweet. Interesting, that Rossetti’s Venus Verticordia is added to an exhibit room where the main focus is on the female nude body when traditionally, Venus was considered a femme fatale. 

The final room, the eighth room: The cult of beauty does what it says. Through, paintings by Arthur Hughes, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, John W. Godward, and William C. Wontner, they have captured the classical idea of feminine beauty. Again, through the Greco-Roman influence. 
 To see this beauty for yourself,  MuseeJacquemart-Andre


Kevin Marsh said…
Fantastic paintings and lovely words.