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FAH245H1 Lecture Notes - History Painting, Ottawa West, Court Painter

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Jordan Bear

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Modernism - October 12, 2011
Painting History, Past and Present
- papers will be returned one week from today
- most prestigious and prized (more than landscape) “History painting” (implies
- one of the very few ways to gain recognition especially in countries with strong catholic
- Rubens, Arrival of Marie de’ Medici at Marseilles, 1622-5
- spells out important features of history paintings
- specific moment of a nobel feature
- surrounded with allegorical nymphs and a figure of bearded allegorical figures
- typical of paintings that would have been encouraged
- directly below history painting in the hierarchy would be portraiture, then animal
paintings, then landscape, then still life. General ranking
- Benjamin West, Death of General Wolfe (1771) - Now at the National Gallery of
Canada, Ottawa
- West is unusual , he was a royal painter, by birth an american, abandons his
work in the US to go to London, UK
- Demise of James Wolfe, mortally wounded by French army now what is outside
of Quebec
- Not a story from the bible, not ancient history, not from literature either - this is
different from most historical paintings. Wearing contemporary clothes
(appropriate for 1771) Actions that are taking place are not allegorical, but they
are triggered by an event.
- recognizable figures, portraits
- not an allegory of heroism, or of civic responsibility,
- so radical that the king (benjamin was court painter). He refused to pay for the
painting. It was declared to be a total failure.
- ben west says “the same truth that guides the pen of the historian should
govern the pencil of the artist.” - retorting that his objective is to translate the
events that he has seen in a realistic manner.
- the position of the body of general wolfe is a recycled motif from religious
iconography - much like the lamentation.
- more interesting/radical is - he ignores the academy’s advice, ignores his
patron, in doing this he is creating a new function of history painting. rep of
important contemporary events, in their own pictorial terms.
- used the final painting as the base for a series of mass produced engravings -
20 to 30 thousand were made.
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West, Death of Nelson (1806)
- portrays contemporary death in battle of Nelson.
- a lot of compositional similarities, as the previous
John Singleton Copley, Death of the Earl of Chatham (1781)
- goes beyond the opportunities that are offered
- from Boston moved to London
- William Pitt collapses when he is making a speech in the house of lords.
- suffers a stroke
- Copley captures the dynamism that comes with the surprising event
- two figures who are standing almost climbing the walls to see what is going on
- figures attending the earl of chatham who looks very confused
- he doesn’t have a patron in advance
- doesn’t show it at the academy
- he rents a space and hangs/shows the painting for a profit
- history painting is now in the realm of consumable products
- it’s said that in the first month 20 thousand visitors went to see it
Copley, Death of Major Peirson (1784)
- peirson is shot after they won the battle, he was shot in back of head by french
- a warrior starts firing back to avenge the death of his leader
- the actions are great
- his death takes place and the battle continues,
Jacques-Louis David, Oath of the Horatii (1774)
Copley, Watson and the Shark (1778)
- surprisingly displayed in the Academy
- commissioned by a patron in london that displays a private even
- swimming in Cuba, swimming and shark bites of his right leg and foot
- boat comes over to try to save him, just at this time the shark comes back for a
second round
- so many endings! will the spear kill the shark? will the shark eat the man? will
the boat fall over?
- not a moment of great importance for a nation, an unfortunate event from the
past of an individual
- encourages you to get close to take in all of the detail
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