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Comparison and Contrast of Art History Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 23rd, 2022

Introduction

This paper is dedicated to the analysis and comparison of Mrs. Daniel Strobel, Jr. (Anna Church Strobel) and Her Son, George by John Vanderlyn, 1799, 20.8 x 15.9 cm, Conté crayon on off-white wove paper, currently held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the United States, and Midnight: Mother and Sleepy Child by Kitagawa Utamaro, 1790, 36.5 x 24.4cm, ink and color on paper, currently held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well.

Thesis Statement

Although both of these paintings were created at the same historical period, they reflect completely different cultures and considerably vary in style and techniques used. At the same time, both artists emphasize women’s beauty and the glory of motherhood – that is why it is interesting how these concepts are addressed in the art of different regions.

Artworks’ Brief History

John Vanderlyn (1776 – 1852) is a prominent American artist mainly responsible for the introduction of the Neoclassical style to the United States. (“John Vanderlyn,” n.d.). However, his talent was almost not recognized in America, in comparison with Europe, where he studied and created his best works. Vanderlyn was among the first American artists who studied in Paris in the post-Revolution years (Vandelyn, 1799). Being a student of the École des Beaux-Arts, a young painter made his living by drawing the portraits of the members of the American Community that existed in France during the Napoleonic period. Mrs. Daniel Strobel, Jr. (Anna Church Strobel) and Her Son, George is one from the pair of neoclassical portraits of the Strobel family – Daniel Strobel, the American Diplomat in France, and his wife, Anna Church, the daughter of the first American Minister to Portugal, with their toddler son (Vandelyn, 1799).

Kitagawa Utamaro (1753 – 1806) is a Japanese painter and printmaker and one of the most outstanding artists of the ukiyo-e movement (“Utamaro,” n.d.). Regarded in the present day as an “expert on women” and “a master of femininity,” Utamaro created thousands of works depicting predominantly women and masterfully composed paintings dedicated to female beauty and sensuality (Hongo, 2020). Midnight: Mother and Sleepy Child from the series named Fuzoku Bijin Tokei (Women’s Daily Customs) illustrates the author’s particular interest in quotidian subjects and images of women, especially mothers, in daily life (Utamaro, 1790). In the painting, a woman sleepily emerges at midnight to check her child.

Artworks’ Visual Analysis

Mrs. Daniel Strobel, Jr. depicts a mother sitting with her son, and their figures are the only subjects that matter in the painting. The color pallet is highly limited, though harmonious, with various shades of grey dominating and a considerable range of tones and hues. The background of the painting is much darker in comparison with light figures, and this principle was used to attract all attention to the woman and the child. In addition, Vanderlyn depicts clothes with magnificent accuracy creating the sense of their tangibility. Moreover, the artist used a sfumato technique and softened the transition between the dark colors of the background and figures’ light colors. In combination with the “featheriness” of clothes, this technique creates a glowing angelic image of the mother and her son.

In turn, the color pallet of Midnight is limited to warm shades of yellow and black for contrasting details. Although these colors are typical for a woodblock print, they create a warm and cozy atmosphere of the woman’s everyday life. Similar to the work of Vanderlyn, a woman and an infant are the main figures in the painting placed symmetrically and harmoniously. The author used sharp ink lines to precisely depict the smallest details, such as the mother’s hair or the folds of her clothes. In addition, due to these details, the painting does not look plane despite the almost complete absence of shades and color transitions,

Artworks’ Comparison

It goes without saying that the main similarity of these works of art is their theme as they both depict mothers with their children. In addition, in both paintings, they are the central figures, and regardless of supportive objects logically included in the composition, such as a chair and a mosquito net, nothing else distracts viewers’ attention from people. At the same time, although both works relate to the same historical period and address motherhood, they are considerably different in style being created in different regions.

Mrs. Daniel Strobel, Jr. is a portrait of a real person in a realistic technique. Thus, the author aimed to reflect the traits of Anna Church and her son and made them recognizable. In addition, it is obvious that they are depicted not in an everyday situation but spent time posing to the painter in a formal atmosphere. People’s features and their clothes are depicted so naturally that the sense of tangibility and the effect of being there are created. In turn, despite certain preciseness, the woman in Midnight is depicted more generally. In addition, it is unknown if the artist depicted a real person or simply an image of a beautiful woman – thus, there is no portrayal. Moreover, this work focuses on an episode of everyday life as the woman could be caught doing her routine duties. And it goes without saying that due to the differences of Western and Eastern cultures, the appearance of people in the painting is completely different, as well.

Connection of Artworks with Their Historical Periods

The early works of Vanderlyn created by him in Europe were definitely affected by neoclassicism that had gain popularity at this period of time. The second half and the end of the 18th century in Europe “saw the increasing influence of classical antiquity on artistic style and the development of taste” (Gontar, 2003, para. 1). The Renaissance’s achievements renewed interest in simplicity, harmony, and proportion. In addition, the rise of neoclassicism in Europe was determined by archeological discoveries of ancient ruins in Naples, Athens, Palmyra, Paestum, and Baalbek that attracted attention to lost civilizations’ culture (Gontar, 2003).

In painting, Neoclassical artists initially started to recreate themes from Greek mythology and subsequently defined their style with an emphasis on historical subject matter, formal composition, contemporary costumes and settings, solidity, rigidity, “and monumentality in the spirit of classical revival” (Gontar, 2003, para. 6). Thus, in Mrs. Daniel Strobel, Jr., Vanderlyn reflected almost all principles of Neoclassical painting – people’s appearance resembles ancient classical images, and the composition is characterized by simplicity, classical proportions, solidity, and harmony. In addition, as the Strobel family is depicted in two portraits, Vanderlyn aimed to contrast Daniel Strobel’s angularity, formality, and masculinity with Anna’s curvilinear forms and softness to praise the woman’s beauty, femininity, and motherhood.

In Japan, the Edo period was characterized by relative peace and stability provided by a conservative military government (Department of Asian Art, 2004). The society was segregated by the Tokugawa regime into four classes, including farmers, warriors, artisans, and merchants. In order to control people’s public behavior, walled areas in major cities were set aside for the establishment of teahouses, theaters, and brothels (Department of Asian Art, 2004). Thus, cities contained rich townspeople, predominantly artisans and merchants, who took economic advantages from commerce and cities’ dramatic expansion. In order to avoid social isolation, they started to seek pleasure in entertainment districts, and “celebrations of the exploits of the women, actors, and visitors of these districts” provided popularity of woodblock prints and ukiyo-e paintings (Department of Asian Art, 2004, para. 3). Artists focused on the depiction of human figures, especially women, enjoyable activities, shown close-up, fashions, and contemporary affairs. However, With the development of the ukiyo-e style, painters started to pay particular attention to indoor activities and daily life. This tendency may be traced in Midnight, where Utamaro addresses the informal scene of the mother who takes care of her infant.

Conclusion

It goes without saying that both paintings may be regarded as appealing works of art. First of all, they provide insight into how people of different cultures looked at the end of the 18th century through the prism of artists’ perception. In addition, these works help to compare how motherhood and femininity were addressed in different cultures – it is possible to conclude that mothers were depicted as glowing and light images that bring harmony, peace, and comfort. In addition, this analysis may play an essential role in the present day when mothers and their hard work are frequently underestimated and neglected in favor of self-indulgence.

References

Department of Asian Art. (2004). Art of the pleasure quarters and the ukiyo-e style. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Web.

Gontar, C. (2003). Neoclassicism. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Web.

Hongo, A. (2020). 11 facts about the ukiyo-e master Kitagawa Utamaro: Who is this mysterious bijinga master? Savvy Tokyo. Web.

John Vanderlyn. (n.d.). 2021, Web.

Utamaro, K. (1790). Midnight: Mother and sleepy child. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Web.

Utamaro. (n.d.). 2021, Web.

Vandelyn, J. (1799). Mrs. Daniel Strobel, Jr. (Anna Church Strobel) and her son, George. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Web.

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