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Artist Biographies

 

Claude Monet (1840 - 1926)

"Suddenly a veil was torn away...My destiny as a painter opened out to me."

 

Claude Monet was born in 1840, the eldest son of a Parisian shopkeeper. The family moved in 1845, and he spent his childhood in the port town of Le Havre. Monet took his early painting lessons there from the painter Eugen Boudin. Boudin, who specialized in scenes of people strolling on beaches, worked up sketches out-of-doors and encouraged Monet to do the same. Monet was soon converted. At the age of 19, Monet enrolled at the Academie Suisse (founded by Charles Suisse, a retired model of Jacques-Louis David).

In 1858, he spent some time in Paris, studied briefly with Gleyre and met and befriended Pissarro and Manet. He spent the two years between 1860 and 1862 in military service in Algeria, then returned to Paris. Once back in Paris, he studied full-time under Gleyre and became close friends with Renoir, Sisley and Bazille - also students of Gleyre.

The period from 1867 to 1870 was coloured by extreme financial hardship. The birth of his illegitimate son Jean in 1867 occurred under such dire financial circumstances that, during a particularly brutal siege of poverty and hunger in 1868, Monet attempted suicide. At this time, the friendship of comrades like Bazille (who bought Women in the Garden) and Renoir (who actually stole bread for the Monet family) were his sole consolation. The gulf between his most laboured paintings and official acceptance seemed unbridgeable.

In September of 1870, following France's declaration of war against Prussia, Monet took refuge with his friend Pissarro in London. It is during this time that he paints his views of Hyde Park, the Pool of London and the Thames at Westminster. While in England, Pissarro and Monet visited the museums. They were especially entranced with the works of Rossetti and Watts, and they also spent some time studying the works of Turner and Constable.

Monet had a lifelong love of water, and he once joked that he would like to be buried in a buoy. By 1871, Monet had settled in Argenteuil so he could paint along the banks of the Seine River. Once there, he fixed up a boat with an easel and painted his way up and down the Seine, searching for the means to capture his impressions of the interplay of light, water and atmosphere.

Discouraged by the lack of recognition by the Salon, the Impressionists banded together as the "Societe anonyme des artistes peintres, sculpteurs, graveurs" in 1874. They exhibited their work together just before the annual Salon that year, and it was there that the term 'Impressionist' was coined. Monet had exhibited his painting Impression: Sunrise`, and a derisive critic fumed that "The Impressionists apply paint like tongue lickings." The first exhibition was a financial failure, and none of the exhibitions were particularly successful, but they continued to exhibit together until 1886.

In 1883 Monet moved to Giverny. Caillebotte had communicated his love of gardening to Monet, and here Monet translated that enthusiasm into a remarkable garden. Painting the lilies in the pond of his garden hundreds of times between 1900 and 1926, they are the culmination of a lifetime in which the out-of-doors had become his studio. In 1916 he began the 'cyclorama' Nympheas, which he intended to donate to the French Nation (providing they displayed it suitably and bought his Women in the Garden. Arrangements were finally made and agreements signed for the twelve 13 foot long/6 foot tall panels to be displayed in the Orangerie. Monet continued to visit and work on the panels until his death at Giverny in 1926.

The Magpie 1868-1869 Claude Monet   Camille Monet and Her Son Jean (Woman with a Parasol) 1875 Claude Monet   Poppies at Argenteuil 1873 Claude Monet

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Vincent van Gogh  (1853 – 1890)

 

Vincent Willem van Gogh was a Dutch postimpressionist painter whose work represents the archetype of expressionism, the idea of emotional spontaneity in painting. 

Van Gogh was born March 30, 1853, in Groot-Zundert, son of a Dutch Protestant pastor. Early in life he displayed a moody, restless temperament that was to thwart his every pursuit. By the age of 27 he had been in turn a salesman in an art gallery, a French tutor, a theological student, and an evangelist among the miners at Wasmes in Belgium. His experiences as a preacher are reflected in his first paintings of peasants and potato diggers; of these early works, the best known is the rough, earthy Potato Eaters (1885, Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam). Dark and somber, sometimes crude, these early works evidence van Gogh's intense desire to express the misery and poverty of humanity as he saw it among the miners in Belgium.

In 1886 van Gogh went to Paris to live with his brother Théo van Gogh, an art dealer, and became familiar with the new art movements developing at the time. Influenced by the work of the impressionists and by the work of such Japanese printmakers as Hiroshige and Hokusai, van Gogh began to experiment with current techniques. Subsequently, he adopted the brilliant hues found in the paintings of the French artists Camille Pissarro and Georges Seurat.

In 1888 van Gogh left Paris for southern France, where, under the burning sun of Provence, he painted scenes of the fields, cypress trees, peasants, and rustic life characteristic of the region. During this period, living at Arles, he began to use the swirling brush strokes and intense yellows, greens, and blues associated with such typical works as Bedroom at Arles (1888, Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh), and Starry Night (1889, Museum of Modern Art, New York City). For van Gogh all visible phenomena, whether he painted or drew them, seemed to be endowed with a physical and spiritual vitality. In his enthusiasm he induced the painter Paul Gauguin, whom he had met earlier in Paris, to join him.

After less than two months they began to have violent disagreements, culminating in a quarrel in which van Gogh wildly threatened Gauguin with a razor; the same night, in deep remorse, van Gogh cut off part of his own ear. For a time he was in a hospital at Arles. He then spent a year in the nearby asylum of Saint-Rémy, working between repeated spells of madness. Under the care of a sympathetic doctor, whose portrait he painted (Dr. Gachet, 1890, Musée du Louvre, Paris), van Gogh spent three months at Auvers. Just after completing his ominous Crows in the Wheatfields (1890, Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh), he shot himself on July 27, 1890, and died two days later.

The more than 700 letters that van Gogh wrote to his brother Théo (published 1911, translated 1958) constitute a remarkably illuminating record of the life of an artist and a thorough documentation of his unusually fertile output—about 750 paintings and 1600 drawings. The French painter Chaim Soutine, and the German painters Oskar Kokoschka, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Emil Nolde, owe more to van Gogh than to any other single source. In 1973 the Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, containing over 1000 paintings, sketches, and letters, was opened in Amsterdam.

Starry night over St. Remy 1889 Vincent van Gogh  Twelve Sunflowers 1888 Vincent van Gogh  Irises 1889 Vincent van Gogh

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Pierre Renoir (1841-1919)

 

French impressionist painter, noted for his radiant, intimate paintings, particularly of the female nude. Recognized by critics as one of the greatest and most independent painters of his period, Renoir is noted for the harmony of his lines, the brilliance of his color, and the intimate charm of his wide variety of subjects. Unlike other impressionists he was as much interested in painting the single human figure or family group portraits as he was in landscapes; unlike them, too, he did not subordinate composition and plasticity of form to attempts at rendering the effect of light.

Renoir was born in Limoges on February 25, 1841.  As a child he worked in a porcelain factory in Paris, painting designs on china; at 17 he copied paintings on fans, lampshades, and blinds. He studied painting formally in 1862-63 at the academy of the Swiss painter Charles Gabriel Gleyre in Paris. Renoir's early work was influenced by two French artists, Claude Monet in his treatment of light and the romantic painter Eugène Delacroix in his treatment of color.

Renoir first exhibited his paintings in Paris in 1864, but he did not gain recognition until 1874, at the first exhibition of painters of the new impressionist school.  Renoir fully established his reputation with a solo exhibition held at the Durand-Ruel Gallery in Paris in 1883. In 1887 he completed a series of studies of a group of nude female figures known as the Bathers (Philadelphia Museum of Art). These reveal his extraordinary ability to depict the lustrous, pearly color and texture of skin and to impart lyrical feeling and plasticity to a subject; they are unsurpassed in the history of modern painting in their representation of feminine grace. Many of his later paintings also treat the same theme in an increasingly bold rhythmic style. During the last 20 years of his life Renoir was crippled by arthritis; unable to move his hands freely, he continued to paint, however, by using a brush strapped to his arm. Renoir died at Cagnes-sur-Mer, a village in the south of France, on December 3, 1919.

Luncheon of the Boating Party 1881 Pierre-Auguste Renoir        Boating on the Seine 1879-80 Pierre-Auguste Renoir       Les Grands Boulevards 1875 Pierre-Auguste Renoir

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Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)

Cézanne was born in the southern French town of Aix-en-Provence, January 19, 1839, the son of a wealthy banker. His boyhood companion was Émile Zola, who later gained fame as a novelist and man of letters. As did Zola, Cézanne developed artistic interests at an early age, much to the dismay of his father. In 1862, after a number of bitter family disputes, the aspiring artist was given a small allowance and sent to study art in Paris, where Zola had already gone. From the start he was drawn to the more radical elements of the Parisian art world. He especially admired the romantic painter Eugène Delacroix and, among the younger masters, Gustave Courbet and the notorious Édouard Manet, who exhibited realist paintings that were shocking in both style and subject matter to most of their contemporaries.

Cézanne was often called the father of modern art because of his ideal synthesis of naturalistic representation, personal expression, and abstract pictorial order.   He was the greatest single influence on both the French artist Henri Matisse, who admired his use of color, and the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, who developed Cézanne's planar compositional structure into the cubist style. During the greater part of his own lifetime, however, Cézanne was largely ignored, and he worked in isolation. He mistrusted critics, had few friends, and, until 1895, exhibited only occasionally. He was alienated even from his family, who found his behavior peculiar and failed to appreciate his revolutionary art.

Many of Cézanne's early works were painted in dark tones applied with heavy, fluid pigment, suggesting the moody, romantic expressionism of previous generations. Just as Zola pursued his interest in the realist novel, however, Cézanne also gradually developed a commitment to the representation of contemporary life, painting the world he observed without concern for thematic idealization or stylistic affectation. The most significant influence on the work of his early maturity proved to be Camille Pissarro, an older but as yet unrecognized painter who lived with his large family in a rural area outside Paris. Pissarro not only provided the moral encouragement that the insecure Cézanne required, but he also introduced him to the new impressionist technique for rendering outdoor light. Along with the painters Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, and a few others, Pissarro had developed a painting style that involved working outdoors (en plein air) rapidly and on a reduced scale, employing small touches of pure color, generally without the use of preparatory sketches or linear outlines. In such a manner Pissarro and the others hoped to capture the most transient natural effects as well as their own passing emotional states as the artists stood before nature. Under Pissarro's tutelage, and within a very short time during 1872-1873, Cézanne shifted from dark tones to bright hues and began to concentrate on scenes of farmland and rural villages.

Still Life with Apples and Oranges 1895-1900 Paul Cezanne     Trees in Park at Jas de Bouffan 1885-87 Paul Cezanne     Paul Cezanne

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Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)

 

Viennese painter, who was the founder of the Vienna Secession, the Austrian art nouveau movement. His early work, consisting principally of large murals for theaters, was painted in an unremarkable naturalistic style. After 1898, Klimt's work moved toward greater innovation and imagination, taking on a more decorative, symbolic aspect. He continued to paint murals, but the harsh public criticism of the three murals Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence (1900-1902, Vienna University; destroyed 1945) led him to concentrate on panel painting. Klimt's best-known works are his later portraits, such as Frau Fritsa Reidler (1906, Österreichische Galerie, Vienna), with their flat, unshadowed surfaces, translucent, mosaic colors and forms, and sinuous, curling background lines and patterns. Among his most admired works is the series of mosaic murals (1905-1909) in the Palais Stoclet, an opulent private mansion in Brussels designed by the architect Josef Hoffman, who was also a member of the Vienna Secession movement.

The Kiss 1907-08 Gustav Klimt     Tree of Life 1905-09 Gustav Klimt   The Baby 1917-1918 Gustav Klimt

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Pablo Picasso  (1881 – 1973)

 

Pablo Picasso was probably the most famous artist of the twentieth century. During his artistic career, which lasted more than 75 years, he created thousands of works, not only paintings but also sculptures, prints, and ceramics, using all kinds of materials. He almost single-handedly created modern art. He changed art more profoundly than any other artist of this century. First famous for his pioneering role in Cubism, Picasso continued to develop his art with a pace and vitality comparable to the accelerated technological and cultural changes of the twentieth century. Each change embodied a radical new idea, and it might be said that Picasso lived several artistic lifetimes.

Picasso was born on October 25, 1881, in Malaga, Spain, son of an artist, Jose Ruiz, and Maria Picasso. Rather than adopt the common name Ruiz, the young Picasso took the rarer name of his mother. An artistic prodigy, Picasso, at the age of 14, completed the one-month qualifying examination of the Academy of Fine Arts in Barcelona in one day. From there he went to the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid, returning in 1900 to Barcelona, where he frequented the city's famous cabaret of intellectuals and artists, Els Quatre Gats.

The years of 1901 to 1904, known as the "blue period" because of the blue tonality of Picasso's paintings was a time of frequent changes of residence between Barcelona and Paris. During this period, he would spend his days in Paris studying the masterworks at the Louvre and his nights enjoying the company of fellow artists at cabarets like the Lapin Agile.

1905 and 1906 marked a radical change in color and mood for Picasso. He became fascinated with the acrobats, clowns and wandering families of the circus world. He started to paint in subtle pinks and grays, often highlighted with brighter tones. This was known as his "rose period."

In 1907, Picasso painted "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," considered the watershed picture of the twentieth century, and met Georges Braque, the other leading figure of the Cubist movement. Cubism was equally the creation of Picasso and Braque and from 1911 to 1913, the two men were in frequent contact. In 1917, Picasso did the set and costume design for Serge Diaghilev's ballet "Parade."

For Picasso the 1920's were years of rich artistic exploration and great productivity. Picasso continued to design theater sets and painted in Cubist, Classical and Surreal modes. From 1929 to 1931, he pioneered wrought iron sculpture with his old friend Julio Gonzalez. In the early 1930's, Picasso did a large quantity of graphic illustrations.

In late April of 1937, the world learned the shocking news of the saturation bombing of the civilian target of Guernica, Spain by the Nazi Luftwaffe. Picasso responded with his great anti-war painting, "Guernica."

During World War II, Picasso lived in Paris, where he turned his energy to the art of ceramics. From 1947 to 1950, he pursued new methods of lithography.  The l950's saw the beginning of a number of large retrospective exhibits of his works. During this time he began to paint a series of works conceived as free variations on old master paintings.

In the 1960's, he produced a monumental 50-foot sculpture for the Chicago Civic Center. In 1970, Picasso donated more than 800 of his works to the Berenguer de Aguilar Palace Museum in Barcelona.

Pablo Picasso died on April 8, 1973 in Mougins, France at the age of 91.  

 

Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)

Spanish painter, writer, and member of the surrealist movement. He was born in Figueras, Catalonia, and educated at the School of Fine Arts, Madrid. After 1929 he espoused surrealism, although the leaders of the movement later denounced Dalí as overly commercial. Dalí's paintings from this period depict dream imagery and everyday objects in unexpected forms, such as the famous limp watches in The Persistence of Memory (1931, Museum of Modern Art, New York City). Dalí moved to the United States in 1940, where he remained until 1948. His later paintings, often on religious themes, are more classical in style. They include Crucifixion (1954, Metropolitan Museum, New York City) and The Sacrament of the Last Supper (1955, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.).

Dalí's paintings are characterized by meticulous draftsmanship and realistic detail, with brilliant colors heightened by transparent glazes. Dalí designed and produced surrealist films, illustrated books, handcrafted jewelry, and created theatrical sets and costumes. Among his writings are ballet scenarios and several books, including The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí (1942) and Journal d'un génie (1964; Diary of a Genius, 1965).

 

Henri Émile Benoît Matisse (1869-1954)

French artist, leader of the fauve group, regarded as one of the great formative figures in 20th-century art, a master of the use of color and form to convey emotional expression.

Matisse was born in Le Cateau in northern France on December 31, 1869.   The son of a middle-class family, he studied and began to practice law. In 1890, however, while recovering slowly from an attack of appendicitis, he became intrigued by the practice of painting. In 1892, having given up his law career, he went to Paris to study art formally. His first teachers were academically trained and relatively conservative; Matisse's own early style was a conventional form of naturalism, and he made many copies after the old masters. He also studied more contemporary art, especially that of the impressionists, and he began to experiment, earning a reputation as a rebellious member of his studio classes.

Matisse's true artistic liberation, in terms of the use of color to render forms and organize spatial planes, came about first through the influence of the French painters Paul Gaugin and Paul Cezanne and the Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh, whose work he studied closely beginning about 1899. Then, in 1903 and 1904, Matisse encountered the pointillist painting of Henri Edmond Cross and Paul Signac. Cross and Signac were experimenting with juxtaposing small strokes (often dots or “points”) of pure pigment to create the strongest visual vibration of intense color. Matisse adopted their technique and modified it repeatedly, using broader strokes. By 1905 he had produced some of the boldest color images ever created, including a striking picture of his wife, Green Stripe (Madame Matisse) (1905, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen). The title refers to a broad stroke of brilliant green that defines Madame Matisse's brow and nose. In the same year Matisse exhibited this and similar paintings along with works by his artist companions, including Andre Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck.  Together, the group was dubbed les fauves (literally, “the wild beasts”) because of the extremes of emotionalism in which they seemed to have indulged, their use of vivid colors, and their distortion of shapes.

While he was regarded as a leader of radicalism in the arts, Matisse was beginning to gain the approval of a number of influential critics and collectors, including the American expatriate writer Gertrude Stein and her family. Among the many important commissions he received was that of a Russian collector who requested mural panels illustrating dance and music (both completed in 1911; now in the Hermitage, Saint Petersburg). Such broadly conceived themes ideally suited Matisse; they allowed him freedom of invention and play of form and expression. His images of dancers, and of human figures in general, convey expressive form first and the particular details of anatomy only secondarily. Matisse extended this principle into other fields; his bronze sculptures, like his drawings and works in several graphic media, reveal the same expressive contours seen in his paintings.

 

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