The “Malady” of Impressionism: How Claims of Disability Haunted the Modernist Movement

Monet: Le Pont d’Argenteuil, 1874, oil on canvas, 23¾ by 31½ inches.COURTESY MUSÉE D’ORSAY

In 1914, the Austrian actress Tilla Durieux was driven from Berlin to Paris some 15 times to sit for a portrait by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. In the resulting painting, Durieux looks serenely grave, fixing her gaze somewhere outside its shimmer of rose and honeyed tones. Writing years later, she described the severely arthritic artist. As he was wheeled into the room by a nurse, Durieux was “flabbergasted” by Renoir’s hands. His right, she noted, had been frozen by the arthritis in the gesture of holding a paintbrush; the left was contorted in such a way that it perfectly held a palette.

A contemporary photograph confirms her account. Seemingly small and hunched, Renoir sits in his wheelchair, tightly grasping a paint brush in a twisted, clenched fist. The artist’s friend Albert André revealed that visitors watching Renoir paint would insist that his brush was actually attached to his fingers.

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Rosa Bonheur Was One of the Most Influential Artists of Her Time. Two Centuries Later, Museums Are Giving Her Remarkable Animal Portraits New Life

Rosa Bonheur, Cheval de face avec son palefrenier (ca. 1892). Château de Rosa Bonheur. Photo © musée d’Orsay /Sophie Crépy.

It’s been 200 years since French artist Rosa Bonheur was born and people are still talking about what she was wearing when she painted live lions and tigers and cows. 

Bonheur was one of a handful of mid-19th century women issued a police permit allowing them to wear men’s clothes. Yes, it’s true: the accomplished Bonheur—who audaciously used the monumental scale typically reserved for history painting to depict livestock, and was likely the most commercially successful woman artist of her time—wore pants.

But fascination with Bonheur’s persona has detracted from a closer look at her work, which portrayed animals with psychological presence and meticulous anatomical detail. 

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Vintage Cameras Focus on the Surveillance of Modern Life in Jeff Bartels’s Uncanny Paintings

“Surveillance Electric Eye” (2021), oil on linen, 30 x 20 inches

“I’m not sure it’s possible to walk down a city street these days and not be caught on a camera somewhere, either by choice or not even knowing about it.” This idea grounds Surveillance, a series of uncanny paintings in oil by Canadian artist Jeff Bartels. Situated in urban settings with a distinctly retro flair, the works nestle vintage cameras among architecture and infrastructural elements. Oversized lenses, knobs, and levers echo the shapes of windows and doorways with branding imitating signs for shops and restaurants.

Sandwiching the devices between cafes and storefronts or subway stairs, Bartels explores the ubiquity of cameras and how they’re embedded into modern life.

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Artist Adds Exquisite Bird Paintings To Vintage Book Pages That Describe Them

Vintage book pages merge with realistic renditions of birds in the art of Craig Williams. The Australia-based painter sources these unconventional canvases to create intentional juxtapositions between his art and printed text. This thoughtful combination results in pairings that appear to have been made for each other.

Williams brings his background in zoology and experience working in museums and wildlife parks into his creative practice. Each of the bird portraits is done with faithful accuracy to the species. In many instances, the choice of bird relates to the book page that it is painted on.

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Fragmented Figures Connect Many Moments in Time Across a Single Canvas

Ontario-based artist Eric Pause creates acrylic paintings that connect several moments in time. He renders abstract figures with overlapping geometric shapes, synthesizing their movements into one composition.

Each of these striking pieces is inspired by a simple idea that’s usually connected to a specific feeling that Pause wants to express, such as love, anxiety, or boredom. This emotion is then captured by one or multiple figures that are intentionally fractured by planes of color, often within the same blue and orange palette that unites these diverse artworks. Paintings that feature one figure, for instance, depict the same body in various poses, which in turn help the viewer visualize the passage of time taking place—even across one canvas.

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Ever Noticed All the Maps in Vermeer’s Paintings? Here’s What They Mean

Johannes Vermeer, Woman with a Lute (ca. 1662-63). © The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

No other 17th-century Dutch painter devoted as much attention to the rendering of cartographic works as Vermeer. In six of his paintings, an identifiable map adorns the walls of a domestic space. Vermeer followed the maps’ contents and proportions scrupulously, depicting them with such care that their geography and cartouches, even the compass roses, vessels, and sea creatures, are recognizable. Some lettering is legible, and in the case of Young Woman with a Lute, the blank lines following the periods in the maps’ surrounding texts match what we know from the few surviving copies of the Map of Europe.

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Exquisite Pastel Portraits Capture the Colorful Beauty of Different Birds

Beautiful birds come to life in Sally Edmonds‘ pastel portraits. The Australia-based artist uses numerous pastels and colored pencils to capture the vibrant plumage of parrots, wrens, roosters, and other avian animals. Through meticulous blending and layering, she renders vivid profiles of birds that celebrate their individuality.

Originally from the UK, Edmonds emigrated to Australia with her husband where she eventually started working as a full-time artist. Her interest in birds as subjects was sparked when she began keeping them at home and learning about their unique personalities and mannerisms.

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Densely Painted Illustrations Are Bucolic Landscapes You’ll Want To Get Lost In

Estonian artist Laivi Põder creates portals to bucolic destinations in vibrant illustrations. She renders verdant fields and lush meadows with painterly brushstrokes and a vibrant color palette—capturing places that are fit for a postcard.

Each of Põder’s works is made with the app Procreate and an array of stamp brushes. In doing this, she packs her compositions with layers of flowers, leaves, and branches that give them a lush appearance. Similarly, the combination of different textures leads the viewer deeper into the scene, where there may be a hidden cottage, a trail, or even some animals.

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Artist Reimagines Topographical Maps With Detailed Hand-Drawn Portraits

UK-based artist Ed Fairburn commemorates the connection between people and places in his unconventional illustrations. Using hand-picked maps from his collection, he carefully adds hand-drawn portraits to the topography of cities and landscapes, merging human figures with the environment.

“At its core, my work is loosely about coexistence,” he tells My Modern Met. “That can mean commemorating the links an individual has with a particular location, but it can also represent something much wider, shining a light on the similarities between ourselves and this place we call home—celebrating the way in which we are a product of the landscape, and recognizing how the landscape is increasingly becoming a product of us, our actions, and the choices we all make.”

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Systems Evoking Roots and Veins Sprawl Across Raija Jokinen’s Organic Flax Figures

Image © Raija Jokinen

Finnish artist Raija Jokinen (previously) echoes the natural shapes of botanics and anatomy in her elaborately formed figures. The sculptural works are comprised of sprawling webs that appear like both root and vein systems, with flowers and more dense, fleshy patches emerging from an arm or torso. Each piece fuses the physical and mental, Jokinen says, sharing that her “approach is focused on everyday feelings, situations, and thoughts we all have.”

The mesh works are created from flax—Jokinen employs a technique similar to that used for handmade paper—that she dyes and molds into branches, twigs, and other organic forms.

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