Grant Wood: Parson Weems’ Fable (1939)

Oil on canvas – Amon Carter Museum of American Art

American Gothic painter Grant Wood created this work in celebration of historian Parson Weems and first President George Washington.  Weems’ 1800 work Life of Washington first told the anecdote of the six-year-old future President hatcheting down his father’s favorite cherry tree and then owning up to it.  Weems reported the story “too valuable to be lost, and too true to be doubted,” was told to him by a relative of Washington, allegedly present when the event took place. Continue reading

William-Adolphe Bouguereau: The Youth of Bacchus (1884)

Oil on canvas – Private collection

French artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau painted in the academic style prevalent in the late 19th century.   He specialized in painting female nudes as present in The Youth of Bacchus.  The painting shows Bacchus (Greek Dionysus), the Roman God of wine, music, and dance, in a celebratory scene.  It captures Bacchus’s ability to free people from the restraints imposed by social norms and powerful institutions; much like the effect from the spirit of Saturnalia.  This painting may reflect how Ancient Romans observed Saturnalia.

Vincent van Gogh: Starry Night Over the Rhone (1888)

Oil on canvas – On display at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France.

Contemporary society typically associates Dutch post-impressionist Vincent van Gogh with his 1889 masterpiece The Starry Night.  However, Starry Night Over the Rhone is perhaps a better illustration of van Gogh’s mastery of light.  The reflections on the water of gas lamps along the shore of the Rhone in Arles, contrasts with the stars of the night sky.

Describing this particular painting, van Gogh wrote the following in a September 28, 1888 letter to his younger brother Theo:

[I]n short the starry sky painted by night, actually under a gas jet. The sky is aquamarine, the water is royal blue, the ground is mauve. The town is blue and purple. The gas is yellow and the reflections are russet gold descending down to green-bronze. On the aquamarine field of the sky the Great Bear is a sparkling green and pink, whose discreet paleness contrasts with the brutal gold of the gas. Two colorful figurines of lovers in the foreground.