Thank you to Joy of Museums for this wonderful commentary on Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window.
“Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” by Johannes Vermeer depicts a young blonde girl standing in the light of an open window, reading a letter. A red drapery hangs over the top of the window, which has opened inward and which, in its lower right quadrant, reflects the girl’s mirror image. A tasselled ochre drapery in the foreground right, partially closed, covers part of the room in which she stands. Fruit in a tilted bowl, on the luxurious carpet that drapes table, and the peach which is cut in half, are all highlighted by the light from the window.
Scientific test and x-rays of the canvas have demonstrated that at one point Vermeer had featured a naked Cupid on the wall in this painting. For whatever reason, somebody the 18th century painted over the cupid image with the empty blank wall featured in this image of the painting. The museum has decided to restore Vermeer’s original and restorators have now removed the overpainted layer, and the original Cupid can now be seen in this painting at the museum. Vermeer had depicted a standing Cupid holding a raised bow with his right hand and lifting his left arm. The painting can now again be seen as it left the artist’s studio.
Art historians suggest that the fruit in a tilted bowl and the peach which is cut in half, revealing its pit, symbolise an extramarital relationship and that the letter is a love letter. Now that the cupid image has been revealed, is this theory confirmed? Or is she sad because the relationship has ended?
Art as a Casualty of War
“Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” was among the paintings rescued from destruction during the bombing of Dresden in World War II. When World War II was imminent in 1938, the museum was closed, and the painting was stored, with other works of art, in an underground tunnel in Saxony. Discovered by the Red Army in 1945 they were taken to Russia. After the death of Joseph Stalin, the Soviets in 1955 returned the surviving art to Germany.
Most of the essential paintings from the Old Masters Gallery survived this period, but the losses were significant. Over 200 pictures had been destroyed, and some 450 are still missing today.
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Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!
The French post-impressionist painter Henri Rousseau (May 21, 1844 – September 2, 1910) was largely self-taught and thought of by his contemporaries as primitive in style.
As a young student, he received mostly mediocre grades, but won prizes for drawing and music. He had a very brief legal services career, followed by four years in the army. After his father’s death, he moved back to Paris so he could help support his mother as a tax collector. He married, and he and his wife had six children, only one of whom survived infancy. Ten years after his first wife passed away, he married again.
Henri Rousseau, Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!)
In his early forties, he began painting seriously. By age 49, he retired from his day job and began painting full-time, supplementing his small pension with odd jobs and playing his violin in the street. (Click on the smaller images to enlarge and read the captions.)
Henri Rousseau, The Football Players
Henri Rousseau, Bouquet of Flowers
Henri Rousseau, View of the Bridge in Sevres and the Hills of Clamart, Saint-Cloud and Bellevue with biplane, balloon and dirigible
His paintings had a dream-like quality to them. He is best known for his exotic jungle scenes.
Henri Rousseau, The Equatorial Jungle
Henri Rousseau, Fight Between a Tiger and a Buffalo
Henri Rousseau, The Dream
In March of 1910, he developed an inflammation in his leg, which he neglected. By August, he had gangrene; a post-operative blood clot killed him.
Henri Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy
Henri Rousseau, Self Portrait
Herni Rousseau, 1907
Thank you to Joy of Museums for this commentary on the haunting Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse.
“The Lady of Shalott” by John William Waterhouse portrays the ending of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s 1832 poem of the same name. The scene shows the plight of a young woman from Arthurian legend, who yearned with unrequited love for the knight Sir Lancelot but was isolated under a curse in a tower near King Arthur’s Camelot.
The Lady of Shalott was forbidden to look directly at the outside world. She was doomed to view the world through a mirror and weave what she saw into a tapestry. Her despair intensified when she saw loving couples in the far distance. One day she saw Sir Lancelot passing on his way in the reflection of her mirror, and she was overcome with desire and dared to look out at Camelot, bringing about the curse. The lady decided to face her destiny and escaped by boat, to sail to Camelot and her inevitable death.
Her frozen body was found afterwards by the knights and ladies of Camelot.
“With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.”
“The Lady of Shalott” is one of Waterhouse’s most famous masterpieces, which features the style of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His artworks were notable for the depiction of women from ancient Greek mythology and Arthurian legend.
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