Rosa Bonheur

French painter Rosa Bonheur (1822-99) was "the most internationally renowned woman painter of the mid-nineteenth century."1

Bonheur was one of the most talented and successful painters in the 19th century, she began showing her work in the Paris Salon in 1841 and quickly made a name for herself as a painter of animals with a focus on the domesticated animals of France.  In the 19th century a greater number of women were pursuing art as a career and studying in the École des Beaux-Arts.  Yet it wasn't usually possible for women to draw and paint from the nude model where students would learn anatomy as it was considered morally corrupt. Due to this, female painters of the time often turned to subjects other than figurative history paintings. Mary Cassatt famously painted mothers and children, Cecilia Beaux painted portraits, Berthe Morisot painted scenes of modern Parisian life and Rosa Bonheur focused on painting animals.

While the move away from history painting put limitations on paintings and commissions for women artists, Rosa Bonheur was so skilled at painting animals that she attracted attention at an early age.  By age 26 she received an important commission from the French government to paint her work Plowing in the Nivernais.  Bonheur traveled to the Nivernais region so that she could paint the landscape and oxen accurately.  

Ploughing in Nivernais, Rosa Bonheur, 1849, Musee D'Orsay

The work shows a typical French rural farming theme of the fields being tilled in the autumn.  While her work is part of the Realist movement of Millet, Breton and Courbet, in a sense this rural scene is rather romanticized.  There is a nobility given to both the animals and cowherds.  When she was painting this the influences of the industrial revolution were spreading throughout France and Europe, and this scene pays homage to traditional methods of labor.  

Rosa Bonheur "based the work on a description of oxen in George Sand's celebrated pastoral novel of 1846, La Mare au Diable (The Devil's Pod), on her long study of animals in nature, and on the paintings of Paulus Potter, a Dutch seventeenth-century painter of cows whose work she admired."Below is an example of Potter's work; The Bull, Paulus Potter, 1647, The Hague.

Bonheur's painting was widely acclaimed and after it was shown in the 1849 Salon she received numerous other commissions.  She went on to have many well known and influential patrons such as Britain's Queen Victoria and the American millionaire and philanthropist Cornelius Vanderbilt.

The Horse Fair, Rosa Bonheur, 1852-55, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bonheur's most well known work may be her later painting, The Horse Fair, painted from 1852-55.  The painting is owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the museum website says of the painting The Horse Fair, "The artist drew inspiration from George Stubbs, Théodore Gericault, Eugène Delacroix, and ancient Greek sculpture: she referred to The Horse Fair as her own "Parthenon frieze."3

More than one version of The Horse Fair exists, after it was exhibited Bonheur painted another version and prior to the finished work she painted several smaller studies.  After exhibiting the work she traveled to England for a while where she enjoyed further success.  She was represented by gallery owner Ernest Gambart who had many of her popular paintings turned into lithographs and published.
Bonheur did much of her drawing and painting outdoors (rather than solely in her art studio) and preferred wearing pants to the elaborate dresses that were popular in the mid-19th century, at that time it was necessary to obtain a permit in order for a woman to wear pants in public.  Rosa Bonheur obtained one and was able to move about with ease painting her subjects in their natural setting while wearing pants to do so.  She was considered "radical in her personal life, but artistically and politically conservative, a confirmed monarchist and a realist."4

Rosa Bonheur, André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri, 1861-64, Getty Museum
Rosa Bonheur enjoyed a successful lifelong career, and lived to be 77.  Her work was popular among all classes in society and during her career she became the first woman officer in the Legion of Honor.  It would be no exaggeration to say that most artists painting animals in the 20th century would have been influenced by Bonheur's work.

1 Rosenblum, Robert and H.W. Janson. 19th Century Art. NY: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1984. p. 223.
2 Chadwick, Whitney. Women, Art, and Society. NY: Thames and Hudson Inc. 1990. p. 180.
3 Metropolitan Museum of Art website-
4 Chadwick. p. 180.


2015-16 Art History Lecture series at Gage

Beginning in Fall, 2015, Gage Academy of Art is proud to present a new series of lectures on art history.  Featuring Gage teaching artists as well as art historians from the Seattle art community, these lectures feature an intimate look inside the artists and movements that helped shape art from the Renaissance through the 20th Century. 

The Creation of Adam, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel Ceiling, 1511-12

I am giving the first lecture on one of my favorite subjects the Sistine Chapel Frescos.  This will include both Michelangelo's ceiling frescos as well as the earlier wall frescos painted by Perugino, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Signarelli. 

The Last Supper, Tintoretto, San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, 1592-94

I plan to attend all of the others as I scheduled this new series and am very excited about it.  The artists and art historians who will be speaking are all very knowledgeable and engaging.  I have included links to their websites for many of the presenters.

Here is the schedule, if you live in the Seattle area maybe I will see you there!

Fall 2015

 Oct 21 - CAROL HENDRICKS: The Sistine Chapel Frescos

I will be talking on all three of the fresco cycles, the older wall frescos from the 1480's by painters such as Botticelli, Perugino and Ghirlandaio as well as Michelangelo's famous ceiling frescos and his later Last Judgment on the wall behind the altar.

 Oct 28 - HAMID ZAVAREEI: Venetian High Renaissance Painting: Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto & Veronese

Hamid has taught painting for years at Gage and he has been researching various historic pigments and techniques of the of the Renaissance.

 Nov 4 - GARY FAIGIN: Caravaggio & His Influence

Gage Artistic Director and Co-Founder Gary Faigin is an extremely knowledgeable art historian.  The Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio is one of his favorite topics.

 Nov 18 - REBECCA ALBIANI: Rembrandt: Portrait & Self-Portrait

Rebecca has been lecturing at the Frye Art Museum for years in a very popular sold out lecture series. She was a Graduate Lecturing Fellow at Washington’s National Gallery and a Fulbright Scholar in Venice. She received an MA from Stanford University and a BA from the University of California, Berkeley.

The Conversion of St. Paul, Caravaggio, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome, 1601

Winter 2015

 Feb 24 - MIKE MAGRATH: The Sculpture of Lorenzo Bartolini; the Rediscovery of Nature

Mike teaches a variety of sculpting classes at Gage, including the Sculpting Atelier.  He has an MFA from the University of WA and has been creating his own figurative sculptures for years.  I was unfamiliar with the artist Bartolini and after looking into his art I am very excited to personally attend this lecture.

 Mar 2 - RICHARD WEST: Fitz Hugh Lane & the Case for Luminism

Richard West is an expert on 19th Century American painting, he was a long time Gage Trustee and was the Director of the Frye Art Museum from 1994-2003.  Before that West was a scholar and former director of Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Maine; the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento; the Newport Art Museum, Rhode Island; and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

 Mar 16 - CHARLES EMERSON: Bonnard & Vuillard

Charles studied with Josef Albers and has been a popular painting instructor at Gage for years.  His lectures are not to be missed!


Kimberly earned her MFA in painting from the University of WA and launched her own Atelier at Gage this fall.  She is one of the most engaging and dynamic speakers.  She says of teaching-
“It is through my desire to communicate with others that I have developed a meaningful lexicon as an artist; recognizing the relationship between my creative and teaching practices has been profound for me in uncovering the role and importance of my audience.”
-Kimberly Trowbridge

Misia at the Piano. Oil on cardboard, Edouard Vuillard, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, 1895

Spring 2015

 April 13 - OLIVIA BEAUFAIT: Paul Klee

Olivia is a painter, instructor and arts administrator.  She received her MFA in painting from the University of WA and has shown her work in local art galleries.  She is very interested in modern, contemporary and abstract art and considers Paul Klee to be one of her favorite modern painters.

 April 20 - MICHAEL OTTERSEN: Apollo & Dionysus in the Abstract; comparison of two Dutch artists: Piet Mondrian & Willem de Kooning

Ottersen teaches Abstraction in both drawing and painting at Gage and he has taught at a variety of other schools.  In this talk he will compare and contrast two icons of modern art, both were Dutch but their styles were vastly different.

 April 27 - JULIA RICKETTS: Abstract Expressionism: Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner & Joan Mitchell 

Gage teaching artist Julia Ricketts both works in abstract and teaches classes in abstraction. She studied at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and has been in numerous exhibits.  This lecture is a departure from most on the Abstract Expressionist movement in that it focuses on the talented female artists of that group.

 May 4 - KATHLEEN MOORE: Georgia O’Keefe

Kathleen is a painter and educator who loves landscape painting.  Originally from Texas, Moore has lived in the Seattle area since 1990. She received her BA in art from West Texas A&M University, worked as an art conservation technician while in college and later studied painting atBruchion School in Los Angeles, CA and Gage Academy of Art in Seattle, WA. Georgia O'Keefe is a big influence on her work. 

Fish Magic. Oil and watercolor varnished. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1924

Register online for a single lecture, a quarterly series or the entire 2015-16 program, and delve into the techniques, ideologies and personalities that define art in our world!

Pianos in the Parks 2015

Pianos in the Parks 2015 is here!

Pianos in the Parks is a collaborative project in Seattle and King County parks, it uses the power of art and music to get people out to discover parks, connect with people and have fun.  This is a community effort combining the talents of 22 artists and the vision and efforts of 16 different partner organizations.  This is the 2nd year for Pianos in the Parks and we hope that it will be able to continue.  Last year hundreds of people were inspired to sit in the parks and play the piano, the launching event for this was today and by tomorrow the pianos will all be placed in their temporary new homes in the park. 

The artists from Gage Academy of Art worked in a variety of creative ways to create beautiful and unique pianos.  It took each artist about two weeks to paint and decorate their pianos. I don't have room for photos of all 22 pianos, here are some examples, make sure to look at the rest- in person at each park if possible!
Marina Park Piano by Kate Rose Johnson
and Samuel Johnson

Bellevue Downtown Park
Eye-guy from Outer Space by Vikram Madan

Green Lake Piano
by Brittany Carchano
Monster Piano by Queenie Sunshine
at Luther Burbank Park

Riffing Music Pink & Blue- Homage to O'Keefe
by Kathleen Moor at the Sea-Tac International Airport

Sketchbook by George Jennings in Ballard Commons Park

My piano 'Starry, Starry Notes' located at Seacrest Park
I am happy to be a participating artist this year with my painted piano which is influenced by Van Gogh's painting The Starry Night.

My piano is in West Seattle at Seacrest park which is where the Elliot Bay Water Taxi stops.

I have always loved The Starry Night, and was excited to use that as my inspiration for this.  I wrote about Starry Night in an earlier blog post from August 2012, here is an excerpt-

"In the blue depths the stars were sparkling, greenish, yellow, white, pink, more brilliant, more sparklingly gemlike than at home - even in Paris."1

So wrote Vincent Van Gogh while he was in Saint-Rémy during the time when he painted his famous painting, The Starry Night.  Van Gogh created this, one of his most famous works of art and a favorite of mine, in June of 1889 about a month after he moved to the mental asylum in the small town of Saint-Rémy outside of Arles where he had been living.  While Van Gogh was there he painted constantly, taking his inspiration from the views out of his window and the countryside around him. 
The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889, 29 x 36 1/4" (73.7 x 92.1 cm)
Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York

Art Historian Robert Rosenblum wrote of Van Gogh:

"Of the many marvels that make up Van Gogh's genius, one is his uncanny capacity to project his total visual and emotional attention into anything he painted, animate or inanimate, so that a shoe, a sunflower, a chair, a book could carry as much weight as the image of a human being."2

This statement is also true of his landscapes.  Van Gogh's night sky does seem to vibrate and swirl with its own personality and the vivid hues of the stars, sky, moon and cypresses have a near anthropomorphic quality lacking in the landscapes of the French Impressionists whose work influenced his style.

In the town (which is imagined) the only building to rise above everything is the church with its steeple touching the sky.  That same form is echoed in the foreground with the shape of the cypress trees also touching the heavens. Van Gogh trained as a preacher and spent time working as a minister in Belgium before his artistic career. 
 The Starry Night, pen and ink drawing, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889, 18.5 x 24.5"
Museum of Architecture, Moscow

Van Gogh loved to draw also and frequently sketched out drawings first of works he would later paint in oils.  The pen and ink drawing Van Gogh did of this painting is strikingly similar, however he did make a few alterations in his final painted work. 

Yet he managed to create the same feeling of vibrant swirling movement in his drawing and creates a work of art which is far from the quiet and serene landscape one would imagine when picturing a starry night in a small rural town.

While Van Gogh's The Starry Night is a unique style of landscape painting, he included the night sky in a few of his other works.  Vincent Van Gogh was known to have painted outside with candles placed in his hat so that he could see to work at night.  In a letter to his sister during the same month that he painted this view of the Rhône at night, Vincent wrote:

"Often it seems to me night is even more richly coloured than day."3

Never does this statement seems to be more true then when viewing Van Gogh's nighttime landscape paintings. 

1 Feaver, William. Van Gogh, The Masterworks. New York: Portland House. (1990) p. 41. 
2 Rosenblum, Robert and H.W. Janson. 19th-Century Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (1984) p. 414.
3 Musée d'Orsay website, La nuit étoilée.

Gabrielle d'Estrées and One of Her Sisters

There have been at least four double portraits of Gabrielle d'Estrées with one of her sisters. Gabrielle was the longtime mistress of the French King Henry IV in the 1590's and they had four children together.  These intriguing double portraits has long fascinated art historians.  The exact painter or painters are unknown and they are referred as being part of the 'School of Fontainebleau' a 16th century French style which blended elements from both the Italian and Flemish schools of painting.  Gabrielle had two sisters, the Duchess de Villars and Madame de Balagny, it is not known for certain which of the two were in the double portraits with her.

All of the portraits are painted with the subjects sitting together nude in a bathtub with a red curtain behind them. A red curtain was often shown in Flemish and Dutch painting as surrounding a bed so the curtain likely represents the sphere of the bedroom while the bathtub allows the sisters to be shown nude.  The ‘Fontainebleau’ style can be seen in the Italianate modeling of their figures and in the Flemish attention to detail and stylized faces.These were likely painted for the king and meant to be hung in a place where King Henry IV would see them rather than somewhere the public would view the work.

Gabrielle d'Estrées and One of Her Sisters, School of Fontainebleau, Uffizi, c-1590's

While there are similarities between these, each of the three focus on a different theme.  In the first to be discussed there is no background other than the red curtain.  Gabrielle, the lighter haired sister on the right, gives her sister a ring.  Does the ring refer to a marriage? Or perhaps instead to the coronation ring of Henry?  While Gabrielle and Henry were never married to each other, as Henry was already married, it could also refer to a symbol of fidelity on the part of Gabrielle.  Or instead to an impending marriage of the sister. 

Perhaps the most famous shows one sister pinching the breast of the other, an oddly provocative gesture that is widely thought to be an allusion to Gabrielle being pregnant with the first of her children with the king.  Adding to that theory is the woman in the background sewing by the hearth who is probably making a blanket for the baby. There is also a hint of a painting within a painting in the red draped nude legs of a figure in the painting above the fireplace which seem to allude to love and romance.

The picture is dated based on the year of birth of César de Bourbon, the later Duke of Vendôme, the first son the couple had together in 1594.  In this painting both sisters have pearl earrings and are wearing no other jewelry, however Gabrielle again holds a ring.

Gabrielle d'Estrées and One of Her Sisters, School of Fontainebleau, Louvre, c-1594

The picture is dated based on the year of birth of César de Bourbon, the later Duke of Vendôme, the first son the couple had together in 1594.

The third and fourth painting are essentially the same style with two variations, one depicts the sisters nude and the other depicts them dressed in gauzy material.  The baby being nursed by a wet nurse in the background of both works is assumed to be César as an infant.

Gabrielle d'Estrées and One of Her Sisters
School of Fontainebleau, Chateau de Fontainebleau, c-1590's

 Portrait Presumed to be Gabrielle 
d’Estrées and the Duchess de Villars in the Bath, School of Fontainebleau
© Musée de la Société Archéologique, Montpellier

A Lady in Her Bath, François Clouet, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C, c--1571

A work painted twenty years earlier likely inspired the style and composition of all the Gabrielle d'Estrées portaits.  François Clouet painted the work of a woman in her bath in around 1570, twenty years earlier.  While there are varying thoughts on who the woman is, it is thought to also be a portrait of a king’s mistress.  The work was long attributed as a portrait of Diane de Poitiers, the famous mistress of King Henry II (which would date it to the 1550’s).

However it is now thought to be a portrait of Marie Touchet, the mistress of King Charles IX of France.  This work by François Clouet had an obvious stylistic influence upon the Gabrielle d'Estrées portraits. It also contains the red curtain framing the scene, the subject nude in a bathtub and two elements in the background reappear in the later works.  

The wet nurse is reproduced identically in the background of the two similar paintings and the large white hearth appears in the other.  The figure of the main subject is also similar in style and appearance.  Here as in the two versions of the painting with Gabrielle, the king's mistress wears a pearl necklace.  Pearls symbolized many things in the Renaissance including hidden wisdom, purity and patience.

The subject in the Lady in Her Bath looks more like a type of person than an actual portrait as her features are stylized rather than individualistic.  The type being an elegant female nude suitable as the mistress of a king.  The artist François Clouet was the son of a well known Flemish portrait painter, Jean Clouet.

All of these works share the graceful elegance of the Mannerist style of painting and sculpture from the 'School of Fontainebleau.'  Italian Mannerist painters of the early 16th century fled Italy after the 1526 sack of Rome and went to the French court, in addition to Paris the king spent much time at the Chateau of Fontainebleau.  A few years later when the Florentine Catherine de Medici married King Henry II there was an additional need for Italian Mannerist artists at the French court.  The style stayed popular through much of the 16thcentury.  Italian artists who worked in France at that time included Rosso Fiorentino and Benevenuto Cellini.

Today the style of the double portraits of Gabrielle d'Estrées continue to captivate the viewer.