Posts Tagged ‘Genre painting’

Keen on Jan Steen

In art on March 5, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Genre paintings depict scenes from life in a realistic way.

The ‘noble’ subjects idealised by eminent institutions like the Academie des Beaux Arts in France were left behind. Flemish art continued being misunderstood by Southern Europe for as long as the Academie’s influence survived.

The artists in Holland compensated with their skill. And it sold well. Jan Steen (1626-1679) in Leiden, found that his moralising portraits of real life sold well.

Steen owned a tavern, but was a devout catholic. This exposure to what to him was moral depravity must have inspired several important paintings.

I love the way he has depicted the breakdown of order in this family. I take the sleeping woman to be the mother, because of the key in her hand and the fur trim of her top. The grapes, and the empty wine vessel tipped sideways onto the floor make it clear what just happened.

It seems so mad!

The young woman is making the parrot drink, and the kids are feeding the cat with what looks like a pie for humans. There is a boar unnoticed in the centre of the proceedings. The child round the back of the sleeping mother is looking … cheeky. I bet he’s about to pull a prank on her.

What seems more sinister about the painting are the couple in the background. The woman seems young compared to his grey beard. This is also a warning about the effects of alcohol as well as some jolly times.

Could this be an early warning of beer goggles?

When realism emerged in the 19th century, the need for realistic representation was still felt, and observation was all important. However, when Impressionism developed, the need for precise detail was replaced with the need to quickly capture the atmosphere, a short moment of time.

This development came along with the development of photography, which could have removed the necessity to record details for memories sake. Painting took on a new role, to convey the artist’s personal feeling, or impression of what they are seeing.