Wooden model of servants preparing food
From Sedment, Egypt
6th Dynasty, around 2200 BC
Small wooden models of servants were often placed in tombs from the end of the Old Kingdom until the Twelfth Dynasty (that is, between about 2300 and 1800 BC). These represented the household attendants and other servants of the deceased, and were supposed to act as magical substitutes for the persons they represented. Most of the models depict activities connected with the production of food, drink and other basic necessities of life. With a group of these models in his tomb, the dead man was then assured of having everything he might need during the Afterlife.
The figures in this group include a man squatting to cook meat on a spit, while another seems to be pouring a libation (a liquid offering to a god) from a jar over a small offering table
Painted terracotta figurine of a woman
Halaf culture, about 5000 BC
From Chagar Bazar, north-east Syria
Figurines like this from the Halaf period (about 5300-4800 BC), either from terracotta or unbaked clay, were probably made for magical or religious purposes.
In this example there is a strong emphasis on the figure’s thighs and breasts. Her head is missing: in other figures of this type the face is pinched out to form a large nose or chin, but is otherwise featureless. The bands of black painted on the figure may represent bracelets and anklets as well as armlets, a necklace and a broad loincloth. Further decorations on the breasts may represent body paint or tattoos.
During the Halaf period northern Mesopotamia shared similar forms of pottery, architecture and technology, while some of the earliest farming and fishing communities were emerging in southern Mesopotamia
Naum Gabo (1890‑1977) Kinetic Construction (Standing Wave) (1919-20, replica 1985)
In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, when this work was made, materials were hard to come by. ‘It was the height of civil war, hunger and disorder in Russia. To find any part of machinery was next to impossible’, said Gabo. Originally made to demonstrate the principles of kinetics to his students, it reflects the artist’s belief in a sculpture in which space and time were active components. A strip of metal is made to oscillate so that a standing wave is set up. This movement in real time creates the illusion of volumetric space.
Paul Gauguin(1848‑1903) Faa Iheihe (1898)
‘Faa Iheihe’ was painted in Tahiti, where Gauguin spent his last years. It seems to represent an earthly paradise of men and women in harmony with nature. Indeed, it has sometimes been subtitled ‘Tahitian Pastoral’. Gauguin found great inspiration in Tahiti, and wrote in 1898, ‘Each day - my latest important paintings attest to this - I realise that I have not yet said all there is to say here in Tahiti … whereas in France, with all the disgust I feel there, my brain would probably be sterile; the cold freezes me both physically and mentally, and everything becomes ugly to my eyes.’ ‘Faa Iheihe’ may mean in Tahitian ‘to beautify’.
Vincent Van Gogh (1853‑1890) The Oise at Auvers (1890)
This was drawn during the final months of the artist’s life, after he moved to Auvers-sur-Oise in May 1890. It represents a view looking across the river Oise towards Méry and the Paris road. The view is taken from the top of a high and very steep embankment above a railway line. The old bridge of Auvers (since replaced by a modern structure) is on the right. The plumy forms in the bottom right-hand corner suggest the smoke of a passing train. It would appear that the trees along the riverbank are purely an imaginative addition by the artist. The work has been affected by fading and the colours are no longer as strong as they once were.
Amedee Ozenfant (1886‑1966) Glasses and Bottles (1922-6)
Ozenfant co-founded a style of painting known as purism, which applied the principles of classical proportion to products of the machine age. The fluting of the bottles in this painting recalls classical columns, and is echoed in the various neighbouring forms. These rhythmic relationships create a harmonious unity, which embodies Ozenfant’s belief that order gives rise to aesthetic experience. He wrote, ‘The highest delectation of the human mind is the perception of order, and the greatest human satisfaction is the feeling of collaboration or participation in this order’.
Paul Cezanne (1839‑1906) The Grounds of the Château Noir (1900-1906)
Cézanne aimed to portray his transitory sensations in response to landscape while communicating the underlying order in nature. This is one of several works executed around the Château Noir, about three miles from Aix-en-Provence, where he lived. By applying varied tones of colour in distinct but overlapping brushstrokes, he achieved a sense of depth, light and structure. Shortly before his death, he wrote: ‘I am becoming more lucid before nature, but with me the realising of sensations is always painful. I cannot attain the intensity that is unfolded before my senses.’
Robert Delaunay (1885–1941) Simultaneous Contrasts: Sun and Moon (1913)
Delaunay was fascinated by how the interaction of colors produces sensations of depth and movement, without reference to the natural world. In Simultaneous Contrasts that movement is the rhythm of the cosmos, for the painting’s circular frame is a sign for the universe, and its flux of reds and oranges, greens and blues, is attuned to the sun and the moon, the rotation of day and night. But the star and planet, refracted by light, go undescribed in any literal way. “The breaking up of form by light creates colored planes,” Delaunay said. “These colored planes are the structure of the picture, and nature is no longer a subject for description but a pretext.” Indeed, he had decided to abandon “images or reality that come to corrupt the order of color.”
Georges Seurat (1859-1891) A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-1886)
Georges Seurat spent over two years painting A Sunday Afternoon, focusing meticulously on the landscape of the park. He reworked the original as well as completed numerous preliminary drawings and oil sketches. He would go and sit in the park and make numerous sketches of the various figures in order to perfect their form. He concentrated on the issues of colour, light, and form. The painting is approximately 2 by 3 meters (6 ft 10 in x 10 ft 1 in) in size.
Motivated by study in optical and colour theory, Seurat contrasted miniature dots of colours that, through optical unification, form a single hue in the viewers eye. He believed that this form of painting, called divisionist the time but now known as pointilism, would make the colors more brilliant and powerful than standard brush strokes. The use of dots of almost uniform size came in the second year of his work on the painting, 1885-86. To make the experience of the painting even more vivid, he surrounded it with a frame of painted dots, which in turn he enclosed with a pure white, wooden frame, which is how the painting is exhibited today at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Henry Matisse (1869-1954) The Dessert: Harmony in Red (The Red Room) (1908)
The Dessert: Harmony in Red is a painting by French artist Henri Matisse, from 1908. It is considered by some critics to be Matisse’s masterpiece. This Fauvist painting follows the example set by Impressionism with the overall lack of a central focal point.
The painting was ordered as “Harmony in Blue,” but Matisse was dissatisfied with the result, and so he painted it over with his preferred red. It is in the permanent collection of the Hermitage Museum.