Big Sky

Today on Museum Bites we’re aiming high with a collection of art that features the sky. Join me as we feast our eyes on fiery eruptions, moody sunsets, and shimmering vistas. We’ll sprinkle in a dash of Star Wars too! But first, we begin with a blast…

The Eruption of Vesuvius (1771) by Jacques-Antoine Volaire, Art Institute of Chicago, Photo by cjverb (2019)-400px
The Eruption of Vesuvius (1771) by Pierre-Jacques Volaire, Art Institute of Chicago, Photo by cjverb (2019)

Fire & Ice:  Our first big sky exhibit, Eruption of Vesuvius (1771) by Pierre-Jacques Volaire (1729-1802), is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. A cool, moonlit sky serves as the backdrop to a full-throated eruption of the infamous volcano. The sharp contrast between the blazing red-orange plume and serene blue-gray night is stunning. You can almost feel the heat emanating from the lava flow.

The Eruption of Vesuvius (1771) by Jacques-Antoine Volaire, Art Institute of Chicago, Photo by cjverb (2019)-closeup figures-400px
The Eruption of Vesuvius (1771) by Pierre-Jacques Volaire, Art Institute of Chicago, Photo by cjverb (2019)

Don’t be fooled Star Wars fans by the figures in the foreground! They are not Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker in mid-battle. Instead, it is the artist (far left, seated on a rock) and his traveling companions. Volaire captured this explosive image while on holiday in southern Italy. If you’d like to learn more about the artist and his work—his specialty is moonlight—click on this Pierre-Jacques Volaire link courtesy of Google Arts & Culture.

Mount Vesuvius by Vincent Ramos, Wikimedia Commons
Mount Vesuvius Today by Vincent Ramos, Wikimedia Commons

Fussy French Fact #1:  In 1786, Volaire was officially denied recognition in France because he tried to sell one of his Mt. Vesuvius paintings to King Louis XVI. Apparently, the subject matter was considered too low brow for the king.

Frightening Fact: Mount Vesuvius most famously erupted on August 24, 79 AD. The pyroclastic blast hurled an avalanche of pumice and ash down the mountain at 70 mph. And on its heels…a 1300° F heat flash. Click on this Museum Bites: Pompeii What a Blast link to view artifacts and learn more about this ancient disaster.

The Two Majesties (1883) by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Milwaukee Art Museum, Photo by cjverb (2017)-400px
The Two Majesties (1883) by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Milwaukee Art Museum, Photo by cjverb (2017)

Moody & Majestic:  The Two Majesties (1883) by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) is a moody adaptation of our big sky. On display at the Milwaukee Art Museum, a male lion gazes across a desolate landscape toward a brilliant sun peeking through a purple haze of clouds. It is unclear if this is a sunrise or a sunset. Regardless, the lion is pensive and prideful. Is he planning his next kill or contemplating his fate? This painting has an uncanny resemblance to a classic Star Wars scene where Luke Skywalker watches the binary sunset on Tatooine. Click this Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope video clip and decide for yourself.

Jean-Léon Gérôme was a painter, sculptor, and teacher at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He is best known for his painstaking attention to detail, staunch defense of the academic style, and historical paintings that weren’t necessarily historically correct. Gérôme’s inspiration for The Two Majesties came from a trip he took to Northern Africa. Note, Tatooine scenes were filmed in Tunisia. In his later years, Gérôme turned to sculpture and was dubbed the Father of Polychromy for his work with painted statues. Click on this Jean-Léon Gérôme link to view more of his work, courtesy of The Art Story.

Jean-Léon Gérôme by Nadar, Wikimedia Commons
Jean-Léon Gérôme by Nadar, Wikimedia Commons

Fussy French Fact #2:  Jean-Léon Gérôme was outraged by the Impressionists (i.e., Monet, Degas, Renoir to name a few) and their unruly style of art. He even went so far as to petition the French government to reject 65 Impressionist works of art. Click on this Museum Bites: Painting Outside the Lines link to learn more about the Impressionists and their creative and clever solution to the fussy academics at the École des Beaux-Arts.

Shimmer & Glow:  Our final big sky display is Stained Glass Window by Agnes F. Northrop (1857-1953) and Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933). Framed by a colonnaded porch, an orange-gold sun rises above or sets behind purply-blue mountains. A serpentine grapevine and potted flowers add a splash of color in the foreground. Cast in Tiffany’s iridescent favrile glass, this lush scene shimmers and glows. Although the view beyond this window is everchanging, Northrop’s design provides a permanent and colorful view.

Louis Comfort Tiffany hired Agnes F. Northrop in the 1880s to work in his design studio. She was responsible for painting scenes and transforming them into glass. Talented and hardworking, Northrop quickly became one of Tiffany’s lead designers. Her specialty was landscapes and gardens, and this stained glass window on display at the Flint Institute of Arts is a stunning combination of the two. Click on this Agnes F. Northrop courtesy link courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, if you’d like to see more examples of her breathtaking work. Northrup worked up until the age of 94! To learn more about Louis Comfort Tiffany and view his work, click on this Museum Bites: Cutting Edge link.

That wraps up our look at big sky art. I’ll be back next week with more Museum Bites. Until then, have a fun week!

Big Sky by PublicCo, Pixabay-100px Cover photo by PublicCo courtesy of Pixabay.

Sources:

Art History of Chicago: Mount Vesuvius and the Dark Romance of Disaster

Art Institute of Chicago

Britannica: Jean-Léon Gérôme

Corning Museum of Glass: Breaking the Ceiling Women Working with Glass

Flint Institute of Arts

Flint Institute of Arts: Agnes F. Northrop & Louis Comfort Tiffany

Google Arts & Culture: Jean-Léon Gérôme

Google Arts & Culture: Pierre-Jacques Volaire

Paul Getty Museum: Pierre-Jacques Volaire

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Agnes F. Northrop

Milwaukee Art Museum

Museum Bites: Coloring Outside the Lines

Museum Bites: Cutting Edge

Museum Bites: Pompeii What a Blast

Pixabay

Smithsonian American Art Museum: Glass Gardens Agnes Northrop Designs for Louis C. Tiffany

The Art Story: Jean-Léon Gérôme

Wikimedia Commons

YouTube: Star Wars IV: A New Hope – Binary Sunset

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