Listen to part of a discussion in an art history class.
All right, let's continue our discussion of portrait artists and portraiture.
Who remembers any of the important points we made last time? Sandra?
Um, well, artists have done portraits of people for centuries, of famous people and regular people, and most portraits convey the artists' personal vision, like their feelings and insights about a person.
Great, that's a crucial point, and I'd like to explore that a little today.
A great example of that, that vision in portraiture, is Cecilia Beaux.
Cecilia Beaux was born in 1855, and after learning to paint and studying with several important artists of the time, Beaux became known as one of the best portrait painters in the United States.
She was very successful. She even had portraits of the wife and children of Theodore Roosevelt, while he was president.
Some did not get much more prestige than that.
Now, those portraits also reflect the kind of subjects that Beaux tended to use, which were mostly women and children.
For example, in her first major work, her subjects were ... the painting featured her sister and her nephew.
Yeah, it just seems interesting.
I was wondering if that was unusual to have a portrait artist who is a woman become so well-known and successful in the 19th century.
Great question. Yeah, she really stood out back in the 1800s.
And today, she is still considered one of the greatest portrait painters of her time, male or female.
In fact, she was the first full-time female instructor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
And she was a full member of the National Academy of Design.
These are pretty important institutions, so, yeah, she definitely made headway for women artists.
Ok, so let's look at one of her portraits now.
This painting is called The Dreamer. It is one of my favorites.
And I think it is especially characteristic of Beaux's work.
So what you see here is a portrait of a close friend of Cecilia Beaux.
So tell me what's the first thing that draws you to this painting? What catches your eye first.
Well, for me, it is her face and hands, I think they are really expressive.
And also, they make the woman seem very contemplative, seems like she is thinking pretty seriously about something.
Yeah, her eyes kind of draw you in.
But what strikes me is the contrasting colors, the white dress and the dark background.
It kind of reminds me of that painting we discussed a few weeks ago, by ...eh... John Singer Sargent.
I think it was called Madame X?
I agree, good point.
Yes, Beaux had high regard for Sargent's work.
And this is something, a technique that you will find in both of their work.
Ok, but the painting is called The Dreamer.
What do you see is dreamlike about it?
Well, the background behind the woman is pretty vague.
Like, maybe there is no real context, like no definite surroundings, expecially compared to the woman herself, since she is so clear and well-defined.
Yes, the unclear background definitely contributes to that dreaminess.
It is meant to show a sense of isolation I think.
With the woman is deep in a daydream and not really aware of anything else.
This painting shows how insightful Cecilia Beaux was as a portrait artist.
Besides her excellent technical skills, like her use of brush strokes and color to make an impression, both perspectives come through.
Her portraits reveal her own interpretation of her subject's state of mind.
This is what it is all about, not just likenesses.
Now, the undefined background also shows how Cecilia Beaux was influenced by the French Impressionists, who believed, like Beaux, in a personal rather than conventional approach to their subject matter.
Beaux used some impressionist techniques and share much of their philosophy, but her style, it was all her own.