Looking forward, looking back

Marianne at East of Málaga says:  take a photo of something (interesting), turn round, take a photo of what’s behind.  In the National Gallery of Victoria there’s a room where 96 nineteenth-century paintings hang as they would have in that century in the Paris Salon or London’s Royal Academy: covering the walls, tightly packed above and beside one another.  In the hierarchy of hanging, the curator’s preferences were hung at eye level;  the least favoured were hung right up the top where they’re very hard to see.  In this NGV display there were different priorities, with wide skies placed at the top and small detailed paintings low down and easier to study.  In centuries past, none of the paintings were labelled or attributed to any artist.  However, for the NGV’s visitors the information is available near the seats in the centre of the room, which is where you have to stand to see the top row of paintings.  As I stood trying to look at and enjoy every single piece, I took a general photo of one wall, turned round and took a photo of the opposite wall.

NGV 19th-century gallery 2

My favourite on this side of the room, at the bottom left of the photo, beneath the writing on the wall, is An Interesting Story by James Tissot.  The two women are not really listening to this man and his ‘interesting’ shipping tale.

'An Interesting Story', James Tissot c1872, courtesy National Gallery of Victoria
‘An Interesting Story’, James Tissot c1872, courtesy National Gallery of Victoria

On the opposite wall I was taken by the nude at the top right of the photo, La Cigale (The Cicada or The Grasshopper) by Jules Lefebvre.  It’s a representation of the cicada from La Fontaine’s poem, La cigale et la fourmi (The cicada and the ant), in which the cicada sings all summer while the ant busily stores up supplies for the winter. The subject in this painting is standing naked in the wind while autumn leaves blow about her.  When the painting was exhibited in the 1872 Paris Salon it was accompanied by a line from La Fontaine’s poem:  Quand la bise fut venue (When the cold north wind blew). I felt a kind of pity for this woman in her lack of foresight.

NGV 19th-century gallery 1

'La Cigale', Jule Lefebvre, 1872
‘La Cigale’, Jule Lefebvre, 1872

I found an amazing blog about James Tissot while I was reading up about my favourite works from this room:  Lucy Paquette on The Hammock.  There you’ll find a large number of Tissot’s paintings, all of them brilliant.  Check it out.

19 Replies to “Looking forward, looking back”

  1. OOOHHH Trish – I LOVE that room! My favourites in there are the one of the old-fashioned soldiers in the water exercising their horses, and the poor ewe in the corner with her dead lamb (called Anguish). I always spend as much time as I can in the NGV whenever I’m in Melbourne 🙂

    Thanks for the happy memories ….and the two links. I’ll HOP over to visit them right away 🙂

  2. I’m sorry Marianne, I only added one link, but it’s a good one. August Schenck’s ‘Anguish’ kept my attention for a long time, I returned to it a few times, finding it hard to believe that animals could look so human in their sadness and greed. In fact I added it to this post, then deleted it. It was too tragic.

  3. With the greatest respect, Trish, I think ‘La Cigale’ looks as if she is made of the same material as the store mannequins – rather plastic. 😉

  4. Hello, Trish! I found your beautiful blog after reading your lovely comments on mine this morning! I am delighted to “meet” you and am so glad you enjoy all the images of James Tissot’s paintings that I post! I loved your photograph of “An Interesting Story” in its place on the wall at the National Gallery of Victoria. Thanks so much.

    All the very best to you,
    Lucy Paquette

  5. It’s not bad now that the painting/artist info is available on boards in the room. It would have been overwhelming in the past when you had to judge a painting on its own merits, and from a great distance below, in some cases.

  6. It’s sometimes hard to add two links, or even one for that matter, to I’ve decided to take a pragmatic approach. Besides, there’s always next month …. or the month after – who knows what you’ll find to link to 🙂

    Yes, the Anguish painting is tragic …. poor thing 🙁

  7. If you ever have an ‘anguish’ theme, I’ll use this painting as my prompt. But I doubt that you’d be so dark…

  8. This morning when I read your word ‘hot’, I didn’t get it. But this afternoon, I think I’ve got it, as in ‘she’s hot’. I was confused by hot plastic.

  9. It’s my pleasure, Lucy. I once studied art history and discovered that Tissot’s paintings were magnetic. Whenever I flick through an art book, if there’s something by Tissot I’ll stop at that page. I hadn’t seen La Mystérieuse before, but it’s the sort of Tissot I would hang on my wall. It’s amazing that he could have been forgotten at all.

  10. If you’re ever in Melbourne you have to go to the National Gallery of Victoria. Thanks for your kind words.

  11. And I must say sorry, Lucy, for writing your photographer’s name on my blog instead of your name. I looked at the photo on your ‘about’ page and quickly grabbed the name written there. I’ve fixed my mistake.

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