So, meandering through to another gallery beyond all those wonder works from Monet, who should appear but Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa, the little man. My artist friend, Susan Fox, caught a breath as we entered that gallery and spied the work above. "My favorite!", she declared. We spent quite a bit of time enjoying all the details and nuances of this particular work, really relishing his mastery of the anatomy of the horse and the wonderful gestural movements of all the characters included. I really ate up the exaggerated pose of the guy with the whip and marveled at Lautrec's ability to capture in simple, straight forward, elegant line work the outline of his shape with little alteration. On the other hand, with closer inspection, as noted in the image below within the highlighted circle, we discovered a shift in Lautrec's position of the back left leg of the horse, just barely visible in outline, where he had repositioned the hoof and lower part of the leg, leaving the faintest of outlines which, in casual passing, one would have missed. Being artists, we crave finding little details like this and, even in a master work by one so well known for his brevity of line and concise rendering of anatomy, there is always room for adjustment, improvement and refinement.
On an adjacent wall, I zeroed in on this lovely little lithograph of Sarah Bernhardt, above, by Lautrec. I'd not ever seen this before and was again, quite taken with the simplicity of the line work and his ability to capture the essence of this little portrait in so few lines.
As I walked around the gallery within which Henri's works held attention, I spied through an opening into the next room, this little chap, all on his own, studying one of the iconic works by Van Gogh, his bedroom in Arles. Having only seen reproductions of this painting before, I was immediately taken with the vivid hues and bright character of the overall painting. It surely came across as much more joyful and optimistic in tone than any of the more moody-looking, darker images of this very piece that I'd seen in books or catalogs previous. A lesson in how color reproduction in printing can alter one's understanding of something to such a great extent and give a false sense of its truth.
On the other hand, across the room, on a small wall just beside the doorway into the next gallery, I came across another of Van Gogh's works, one which yet again I had not been familiar with previous to my visit to The Art Institute of Chicago. Small yet with strong impact, Peasant Woman Digging in Front of Her Cottage, grabbed me by the collar and jolted me to a full stop. A stunning little painting, so different in feel to the depiction of his little bedroom in Arles - moody and subtly painted in monochromatic tones - perhaps it spoke to me so emotionally because of its meager yet poignant story. Having been mesmerized earlier by such large and all encompassing works by Caillebotte and Seurat, I would rank this little master work right along side those larger canvases on my list of favorites. (And an aside here, I don't usually favor such grandiose and rather overwhelming frames but this one suited this work so perfectly, I would not object to it hanging exactly that way on my own wall at home!)
The final work in today's stroll through the galleries is one by Paul Gauguin which caught my eye as I moved into the next gallery. This one particularly struck me as it was more subdued and less vibrant in tone than most of the works I am familiar with that Gauguin painted while in the Pacific. I do love the vibrancy of those more energetically colored works, but this particular work really held my attention similarly to the same feeling that drew me to the little monochrome work that I had just paused in front of by Van Gogh. Even though it's tones and hues were much more bright and cheery than in Van Gogh's digging peasant woman, I felt there was a definite kinship there between those two paintings in my estimation and emotional attachment to both; the matter-of-fact, common posing of the women in each focusing in on the ordinary aspect of life in both situations and places, the overall calm established in each even though they both portray movement, and especially the well thought out compositional balance in each work.
More to come . . .