Yes, they are famous paintings, but what is it that makes them so compelling? Like all great art, from Shakespeare to Leonardo da Vinci, their art works on different levels. Superficially, you can admire the skill and technique the artist has used to create the image, but there is much more to a famous painting than that.
To understand the stories great paintings tell, you need to know about the artist, the historical context and the story of its creation. Above all, you need to be able to read the symbolism. These art history videos will take you on a journey of discovery and greater appreciation. I hope you enjoy them.
A Sunday Afternoon on Le Grande Jatte – 1884/6
Georges Seurat, the French painter of A Sunday Afternoon on Le Grande Jatte died when only 31 years old. He was born in Paris, France in 1859. This video follows the story behind the creation of the painting from the initial sketches to Seurat’s imaginative use of geometry. It took Seurat 2 years to paint the picture in the style he called Divisionism, or Pointillism as we know it.
In 1886 the painting was exhibited at the Maison Doree and then at the Salon des Independents. It was sold to Frederic Clay Bartlett for $20,000 in 1924 and later donated to the Art Institute of Chicago.
The Grande Jatte is a small island in the middle of the river Seine to the west of Paris as it was in 1886. It was a very popular place for people to meet and indulge in boating and other activities.
American Gothic – 1930
Grant Wood’s painting ‘American Gothic’ was inspired by a visit to Eldon in Iowa, USA and was completed in 1930. Its style is heavily influenced by the Flemish Renaissance painters such as Jan Van Eyck. ‘American Gothic’ became the masterpiece of Regionalism a new style of painting associated with mid-west America in the 1930’s.
The two models for the painting are interesting. The man is Grant Wood’s dentist, 62-year-old, Byron McKeeby. The woman is his sister Nan who replaced his original choice, his mother Hattie, because he was concerned, she wouldn’t be able to cope with posing for long periods. Originally, Wood had referred to the people in the painting as husband and wife, but his sister objected to being married to an older man, even in a painting, so the couple became father and daughter. For more fascinating information check out the video.