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MFA for Educators

Engage your students with the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to illustrate themes and concepts in any discipline.

Three Centuries of French Art: Classicism to Cubism

  • Discovery of Achilles on Skyros

    Slide Notes

    Knowing that her son was destined to die if he fought in the Trojan War, Achilles's mother disguised him as a woman and hid him on the island of Skyros among the daughters of King Lycomedes. Sent to find Achilles, the Greek chieftains Ulysses and Diomedes disguised themselves as merchants. As they hoped, Achilles gave himself away by snatching up a sword that they had concealed in their chests of jewelry and clothing. Poussin preferred psychological to physical drama; in this late work, a moment of revelation and recognition is presented by means of figures frozen into carefully structured, clearly legible poses.

    1. What emotions are the figures in this scene feeling? How do these emotions tell the story of the scene?

    2. Which figure(s) seem to be the main subject? Is there a central figure? Why?

    Read the story of Achilles on Skyros, in the PDF available under Related Resources.

    3. How did the artist choose to portray this scene? What scene from the story would you have chosen to show?

    4. Do you feel like your understanding of this piece would change without prior knowledge of the story and its characters?

    Details

    Discovery of Achilles on Skyros

    about 1649–50

    Nicolas Poussin, French (active in Rome), 1594–1665

    Dimensions

    97.5 x 131.1 cm (38 3/8 x 51 5/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    46.463

    Collections
    Europe
    On View
    Koch Gallery (Europ. Painting 1500-1700) - 250 More Info

    Description

    Multimedia

  • Luncheon Party in a Park

    Slide Notes

    This painting by Lancret, commissioned in 1735 by Louis XV, closely replicates an earlier work done by the artist. He captures a feeling of joi de vivre, or enjoyment of life, exemplified by courtly life at this time. Seven men sit at a lavish lunch, all toasting a woman sporting a man's wig, who is making the sign of a cuckold over a man's head. The well-manered servants make a sharp contrast to the revelers, whose movements are mimicked by dogs on the bottom of the piece.

    1. What is the setting of this painting? What type of people are included?

    2. What is the general mood of this scene? How can you tell?

    Vocabulary: fête galante - a French term referring to some of the celebrated pursuits of the idle, rich aristocrats in the 18th century. (literally translates to 'gallant party')

    3. Using the definition of the term fête galante, explain how the artist portrayed that idea in this work.

    4. How do the figures in the background contrast with the figures in the foreground?

    Details

    Luncheon Party in a Park

    about 1735

    Nicolas Lancret, French, 1690–1743

    Dimensions

    54.1 x 46 cm (21 5/16 x 18 1/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    65.2649

    Collections
    Europe
    On View
    Remis Gallery (European Art 1600-1800) - 244 More Info

    Description

    Multimedia

  • Young Shepherdess

    Slide Notes

    Jean-Françcois Millet was a painter known for his scenes of peasant farmers. Here, he depicts a young female shepherdess pausing from her work. Her face, shaded by a large sunhat, appears cool, calm, and distant as she gazes out beyond the viewer. The warm light and framing of the girl by the empty sky suggests something sacred in the everyday. The scene's subject matter is complemented by Miller's use of Naturalism and Realism.

    1. What can you guess about the girl in this painting? What is her social status? How old do you think she is?

    2. Do you think this image shows the girl as she actually appeared in real life, or was she idealized? Why?

    3. How do you think the girl feels in this place? Why?

    4. Millet was known for trying to represent the repetition and fatigue that would be a part of an average peasant's life. Do you think he expressed that here? Why?

    Details

    Young Shepherdess

    about 1870–73

    Jean-François Millet, French, 1814–1875

    Dimensions

    162 x 113 cm (63 3/4 x 44 1/2 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    77.249

    Collections
    Europe More Info

    Description

    Multimedia

  • Automedon with the Horses of...

    Slide Notes

    Regnault's painting illustrates a story from Homer's Iliad. Automedon, chariot driver for the Greek warrior Achilles, restrains the horses Xanthos (behind) and Balios, two beasts who could predict the future. As Regnault wrote, "the horses, aware that their master [Achilles] is taking them into combat, and that this combat will be the last and will cost him his life, struggle and wrest with the groom who has come to take them from their pasture. One of them, chestnut brown, rises like a great dark phantom, outlining himself against the sky. I wanted to give the picture a foretaste of disaster."

    1. What emotion(s) do you sense in this painting? How do the physical positions of the man and the horses serve to emphasize those emotions?

    2. How do the colors used affect this piece? Do you think a different palate would change it significantly?

    Vocabulary: Réalisme: the French term for Realism. The style of representing things as they actually are.

    3. Why is this painting considered to be done in the réaliste style? (Use the definition to answer this question.)

    4. Where are your eyes drawn to? How does the flow create a sense of space? Perspective?

    Details

    Automedon with the Horses of Achilles

    1868

    Henri Regnault, French, 1843–1871

    Dimensions

    315 x 329 cm (124 x 129 1/2 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    90.152

    Collections
    Europe
    On View
    Beal Gallery (Europ. Art 1800-1870) - 251 More Info

    Description

    Multimedia

  • Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer

    Slide Notes

    The model for this essentially realistic work is known to have been a student at the École de Danse in Paris. The statue was originally made in wax, and then cast in bronze. A tulle skirt was attached to the piece, as well as a bow from the dancer herself. Degas has fully expressed the fatigue and stress of the life of a dancer. Her face appears tired and strained, and perhaps as the model herself appeared.

    1. Look at the sculpture. Describe the girl depicted. How old is she? What is her profession? How can you tell?

    2. Does the figure seem to be idealized to you? What can you tell from the expression on her face?

    3. How does the use of natural fibers change this piece, as compared to it being entirely made out of bronze?

    Details

    Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer

    original model 1878–81, cast after 1921

    Edgar Degas, French, 1834–1917

    Dimensions

    Total height: 103.7 cm; Height of Figure: 98 cm; Height of base: 5.7 cm; width of base 45.5 cm; depth of base: 46.5 cm

    Medium

    Bronze, gauze and satin

    Classification

    Sculpture

    Accession Number

    38.1756

    Collections
    Europe
    On View
    Rabb Gallery (Europ. 1870-1900) - 255 More Info

    Description

    Bronze. Figure of a girl ballet dancer. Tulle skirt.

    Multimedia

  • Dance at Bougival

    Slide Notes

    The open-air cafés of suburban Bougival, on the Seine outside Paris, were popular recreation spots for city dwellers, including the Impressionist painters. Renoir, who was primarily a figure painter, uses intense color and lush brushwork to heighten the sense of pleasure conveyed by the whirling couple who dominate the composition. The woman's face, framed by her red bonnet, is the focus of attention, both ours and her companion's.

    1. Are the two dancers a couple? Why?

    2. What do you think the woman is thinking? The man? How do their body positions and faces reflect this?

    3. How does the artist use color to move your eyes around the painting?

    Read the following quote: Of all the impressionists, Renoir most consistently celebrated life's moments of pleasure and recreation. Although his own life was scarcely free of hardship, he did not dwell on sadness or loss; rather he projected a perennially optimistic outlook. - John Berger

    4. Considering the quote, do you believe that this is a wholly optimistic painting? Why or why not?

    5. What kind of atmosphere is this setting? What visual clues indicate this?

    Details

    Dance at Bougival

    1883

    Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French, 1841–1919

    Dimensions

    181.9 x 98.1 cm (71 5/8 x 38 5/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    37.375

    Collections
    Europe
    On View
    Rabb Gallery (Europ. 1870-1900) - 255 More Info

    Description

    Multimedia

  • Rouen Cathedral Façade and Tour d...

    Slide Notes

    Monet’s series paintings of the 1890s—multiple variations of a single motif conceived, executed, and exhibited as a group—are among his most inventive and remarkable works. In the winter of 1892 the artist spent several months studying and painting the façade of Rouen Cathedral in his native Normandy. From rooms facing the cathedral across a square, Monet concentrated on the analysis of light and its effects on the forms of the façade, changing from one canvas to another as the day progressed. Later he extensively reworked the thirty paintings of the cathedral series in his studio at Giverny. Their encrusted surfaces of dry, thickly layered paint evoke the rough texture of weathered stone, absorbing and reflecting light like the walls of the cathedral itself.

    1. What time of day do you think is being shown here? Why?

    2. Why do you think that the artist used a limited palate in this piece? Why blues and pinks specifically?

    3. What material do you think the building is made of? Why? What in the painting indicates that?

    4. Impressionism or Impressionisme, is characterized by a concern with depicting the visual impression of the moment, especially in terms of the shifting effect of light and color. Why is this a good representation of an Impressionist piece?

    Details

    Rouen Cathedral Façade and Tour d'Albane (Morning Effect)

    1894

    Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926

    Dimensions

    106.1 x 73.9 cm (41 3/4 x 29 1/8 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    24.6

    Collections
    Europe More Info

    Description

    Multimedia

  • Postman Joseph Roulin

    Slide Notes

    One of van Gogh's closest friends and favorite sitters in Arles was the local postman, Joseph Roulin. While painting this work, van Gogh wrote to his brother, "I am now at work with another model, a postman in blue uniform, trimmed with gold, a big bearded face, very like Socrates." Indeed, the modest postman has all the authority of an admiral. Van Gogh also painted several portraits of Madame Roulin, as well as images of their children, delighted, as he wrote, to depict "a whole family."

    1. Look closely at this portrait. Describe the man you see. What impression do you get from his clothing and his expression?

    2. How do the colors used in the picture effect how you see the man? Do you think that it would look the same if he had used a black background?

    3. Vincent van Gogh was less interested in Impressionist ideals like realism, and instead wanted to "paint the postman as I feel him." How does this painting make you feel? What qualities do you imagine this man to have?

    4. Compare this portrait to the painting by Millet of the young shepherdess. Which style do you prefer? Why?

    Details

    Postman Joseph Roulin

    1888

    Vincent van Gogh, Dutch (worked in France), 1853–1890

    Dimensions

    81.3 x 65.4 cm (32 x 25 3/4 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    35.1982

    Collections
    Europe
    On View
    Rabb Gallery (Europ. 1870-1900) - 255 More Info

    Description

    Multimedia

  • Where Do We Come From? What Are We...

    Slide Notes

    In 1891, Gauguin left France for Tahiti, seeking in the South Seas a society that was simpler and more elemental than that of his homeland. In Tahiti, he created paintings that express a highly personal mythology. He considered this work—created in 1897, at a time of great personal crisis—to be his masterpiece and the summation of his ideas. Gauguin's letters suggest that the fresco-like painting should be read from right to left, beginning with the sleeping infant. He describes the various figures as pondering the questions of human existence given in the title; the blue idol represents "the Beyond." The old woman at the far left, "close to death," accepts her fate with resignation.

    1. Look carefully at the figures in the painting. Can you find any similar traits about them? Do they appear to be in any kind of order? How so?

    2. Describe the setting and the use of color. Why do you think Gauguin chose these? How does it effect the mood of the piece?

    3. Consider the title of the painting. Do you think Gauguin's painting offers an answer? Can you answer these questions?

    4. Which parts of this painting are symmetrical? Which are asymmetrical?

    Details

    Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

    1897–98

    Paul Gauguin, French, 1848–1903

    Dimensions

    Image: 139.1 x 374.6 cm (54 3/4 x 147 1/2 in.) Framed: 171.5 x 406.4 x 8.9 cm (67 1/2 x 160 x 3 1/2 in.)

    Medium

    Oil on canvas

    Classification

    Paintings

    Accession Number

    36.270

    Collections
    Europe More Info

    Description

    Multimedia