Saturday, June 07, 2014

The biggest questions I've ever written

BH163: Two Symptoms of Madness

(N.B. They are numbered because they are supposed to be part of a 1000-question supplementary quiz for the BIG email quizzes quiz book e-book I am editing. New material acting as bait for old albeit reinforced and spruced-up rope. 

Current word count? 113,005 words. 

Yep, that's six figures and I am the Grady Tripp of quiz question writers)

(N.B. II: It would be a mistake to consider these pieces of art criticism. Sentences written by other hands have been repeated verbatim. Opinions have been borrowed from the far better qualified then bastardised and further slashed with my own MIAOW-ey claw at Jean-Baptiste Greuze, who doth sucketh big icky balls. Rather, they are quiz Qs gone insane; utterly impractical in the real world of asking-and-answering in every format you can think of)

Number One

545. This genre painter's portraits of young girls, such as Le petit chaperon rouge / Little Red Riding Hood (1883), Strawberry Girl and Knitting Girl, initially draw similar, even accusatory comparisons to the sickly chocolate box cover pretty faces that were painted again and again by Greuze, and which now fill the Wallace Collection to detriment of the museum and views on the reputation of their purchaser, the 4th Marquess of Hertford's taste. 

Such charges are ultimately unfounded and horribly superficial: Daughter Louise, for instance, has an integrity and admiration for its upstanding,neatly-dressed subject uncommon in modern museums replete with “representative” 19th century art. Indeed, these bashful youth-drunk souls hardly ever engage with the viewer head on: always looking away, gazing down or too caught up in the salutary pastime they are devoting themselves to or plotting with siblings or playmates. 

Inspired by his 1864 marriage to Anna Rüfli and their resultant offspring (Louise, Marie, Maurce, Cecile), his paintings of progeny-filled family life and portraits of lone or paired children – Boy Sleeping in Hay, Sleeping Children on Stove, First Smile – were good enough to break out of their sentimentalised genre prison and fed his homeland's yearning for the ideal family life, as well his fellow countrymen's appetite for well-painted saleable compositions that were suitable and salutary viewing for all, especially when they portrayed everyday scenes with the family unit engaged in forthright and didactic activities (The Song) or children centred village life going about its daily business (Turnstunde in InsThe Crèche). 

His nation's most popular artist in his own lifetime, which painter (1831-1910) has been called Switzerland's “national painter” thanks to the timeless accessibility and enduring popularity of his portrayals of Swiss village life?

Number Two

835. Vermeer's oeuvre was rediscovered just prior to that of another artist. However, unlike his Dutch contemporary, this Brussels native has never captured the hearts of the public despite portraits, religious paintings and genre scenes that offer “a world that is immediate and yet strangely aloof, mysterious and yet rooted in reality [and] above all a world of silence”. 

His work The Artist's Studio was painted in Rome, his home from c.1646-c.1655, like many of his surviving 40 or so canvases, and features a youth pointing at a torso by the sculptor François Duquesnoy (1597-1643), who was also active in the Eternal City. Another painting, The Schoolroom (c.1650), depicts a beautiful young embroiderer, whose blue dress and white turban set her off against the artist's typical browns. His empathy is at its most intimate in a portrait of a young servant girl (c.1660) that he painted after returning to the north. Though singled out for similarities to Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring (c.1665), while the latter is enigmatic and tantalising and swathed in garments with an exotic shine, the former is shy, unsure and realistically presented as a 17th century working class girl wearing a plain dress made of coarse brown cloth. They hang near each other in the Mauritshuis. 

His monumental masterpiece Plague in an Ancient City (1652) is his greatest painting in terms of size and, some contend, in terms of technical achievement and historical-archaeological erudition as well. Other notable paintings include the Caravaggio-esque chiaroscuro and naked men of the Wrestling Match (1649) and the pious-prone series, The Seven Works of Mercy (c.1646-49): e.g. the Rijksmuseum's Clothing the Naked and Feeding the Hungry

Associated with the Rome-based genre painters of daily life, the Bamboccianti, he served the ruling papal family, the Pamphilj and, thanks to Cardinal Camillo Pamphilj, was given the title Cavaliere di Cristo by Pope Innocent X. A devout Christian who spent six months with the Paris Foreign Missions Society until his dismissal for unstable behaviour in May 1662, he even proselytised and painted as far a foreign field as Aleppo and beyond. 

Which Flemish painter's reputation collapsed soon after his death in Goa in 1664, and began its recovery during the early 20th century, rising slightly higher and higher ever since?