It’s not a secret that Paris ranks arguably at the top of everyone’s must-see cultural highlights bucket list. If you are even remotely interested in art and culture, you will not be disappointed in a visit to Paris. Between the majestic museums, the cultural history and the simply incomparable atmosphere of one of my favourite cities there is not only something for everyone’s taste, but something for everyone to discover that they love.
I took art history in University as a requisite filler course to meet my arts requirements to graduate and surprisingly found myself intrigued by the rich history that existed well beyond the canvas. I was most intrigued by the buildings and the architecture, but I was reassured by a helpful teacher that when you found a piece of art that spoke to you, you would know. I figured I just wasn’t an art person until I found myself in Paris, at the Louvre, and I quite literally stumbled onto the very first painting that ever spoke to me, an (admittedly morbid) painting called La Jeune Martyre by Paul Delaroche.
This painting is a great example of the very first rule of refined art appreciation: it spoke to me. The 1855 Romantic style painting is described as: “… representing both Delaroche’s emphasis on historical accuracy and flair for drama and emotionality in painting as The Young Martyr depicts the historical martyrdom of a Christian, while, at the same time, an otherworldly halo, emanating above the Martyr’s forehead, emphasizes the painting’s dramatic, emotional effect.” And emotional effect it does have.
I’ve been back to the Louvre twice to visit the painting over the last few years. While I admittedly only first discovered the painting because it is located right outside of the room where the swarms of tourists visiting the Mona Lisa were that I was trying to escape, I discovered that the second step in art appreciation is figuring out what you like about it and then being able to identify it in other things. While morbid, I like the colors and the depth that are reflected in the water. I like the drama of the halo above the girls’s head and the light that shines on her face. I love the water and the painting is reflected in it and again, while very morbid and horrid, I like the peace the girl is portraying in the water.
The next step is trying to better understand the artist himself and what he was trying to communicate through his work. Why did Delaroche paint this picture, which is often called the “Christian Ophelia”? Here is one description that spoke to me: “The painting, although undoubtedly beautiful is also disturbing. It is disturbing not only for its subject matter, but because there is something so life-like about the girl despite the obvious fact that she is dead. When looking at the painting, it feels as if she has only just died. The feeling evoked is so strong; one almost feels that if only one could have been present a few seconds previously one might have been able to prevent her death.” It seems that this painting may also have been a part of his emotional response in dealing with the death of his wife, Louise Vernet. She was known to have included as a figure in many of his paintings, including the one above, and is possibly represented in this portrait.
So if you know what you like about art and you know about the artist and the direction the artist chose to go and that artist’s tendencies… You know what you like and what kinds of artists to look for in expanding your art knowledge and education. It’s easy to search for artists similar to those you like and even then should be a quick gut check to see if you like something. Think of how refined you’ll be when you can clearly articulate why you like a portrait AND throw in a little tidbit about the artist themselves.
I’d love to hear about your favourite pieces and why they speak to you. Did you have a moment like me where you just wound up staring at a painting and couldn’t get it out of your head, or did you discover an artist through shows and collections? How do you select art for your home? There are so many things to discuss, and that is only part of the reason why art is such a personal thing – everyone is drawn to something different and has their own personal feelings about it.