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“Mrs. Pierre Bacot” and “A Lady Playing the Tanpura” Artworks Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 24th, 2022

Introduction

This essay analysis will focus on comparing two artworks Mrs. Pierre Bacot (Marianne Fleur Du Gue) ca. 1708-10 by Henrietta Johnson (ca. 1674-1729) and a lady playing the Tanpura ca. 1735 India (Rajasthan, Kishangarh) Ink, opaque and transparent watercolor, and gold on paper 18 ½ x 13 ¼ in. (47 x 33.7 cm) Fletcher Fund, 1996 (1996.100.1). Mrs. Pierre’s artwork is a medium-sized pastel and black and red chalk on toned laid paper with dimensions of 11 x 89/16 in. (27.9 x 21.7cm).

Thesis Statement

Even though these two artworks were painted over the same period and show visual images of the subjects, they originate from diverse regions and vary in their styles and composition. This is the main reason I have decided to contrast and compare them.

A brief history of the artworks

Artist Henrietta Johnson was born in northern France in around 1674. The family of Johnston fled to London in 1687 evading religious harassment (Metmuseum.org, “Mrs. Pierre Bacot (Marianne Fleur Du Gue)” 2021). It is at this time that Henrietta married the son of a Baronet and migrated to Ireland. During this period, Henrietta taught herself how to make pastel portraits. Her husband passed away in 1704, leaving her a widow with two young children (Metmuseum.org, “Mrs. Pierre Bacot (Marianne Fleur Du Gue)” 2021). Henrietta later remarried in the 1705 to Gideon Johnston who was a minister in the Anglican Church (Metmuseum.org, “Mrs. Pierre Bacot (Marianne Fleur Du Gue)” 2021). They had four children; however, they were financially unstable. Gideon Johnston then migrated to Charleston with his family, after accepting to serve under the Bishop in London.

Henrietta was the first female professional artist to be recorded in the colonies as well as the first colonial artist to use pastels. However, Henrietta experienced difficulties when getting the required materials for creating portraits forcing her to go back to London in 1711 (Metmuseum.org, “Mrs. Pierre Bacot (Marianne Fleur Du Gue)” 2021). During her return journey, she was attacked by pirates but fortunately, she survived. After the death of her second husband, Henrietta had to work hard to provider for her family (“Metmuseum.org” 2021). She became famous in around 1724 and then migrated to New York City where she created portraits for the city’s elite (Metmuseum.org, “Mrs. Pierre Bacot (Marianne Fleur Du Gue)” 2021). Even though Henrietta died in Charleston, dozens of her works still exist today.

About the Image

Mrs. Pierre Bacot (Marrianne Fluer Du Gue) ca. 1708-10 was one of the main portraits created by Henrietta Johnston while in South Carolina. The style used by Henrietta Johnston was soft compared to pastels that were created back then in Europe (Metmuseum.org, “Mrs. Pierre Bacot (Marianne Fleur Du Gue)” 2021). Moreover, the subject in her portrait is dressed in simple clothing. The historians of art suggest that the reason why Henrietta did this was because she wanted to conserve the usage of her pastels, which was being shipped from England (Metmuseum.org, “Mrs. Pierre Bacot (Marianne Fleur Du Gue)” 2021). Therefore, the artist also made the Bacots’ facial appearance with accuracy and mixed colors; mainly in the hair just the same as what she did in Ireland.

The Image of a Lady Playing the Tanpura

The Kishangarh atelier is famous for its artwork as well as its highly finished major paintings, such as a lady playing the tanpura. This painting was famous in Rajasthani at the begging of the eighteenth century as a partial development from the imperial Mughal standards (Metmuseum.org, “A Lady Playing the Tanpura” 2021). This painting portrays the entertainer appearing to have changed into a nayika, an idealized Indian heroine and representation of female beauty (Metmuseum.org, “A Lady Playing the Tanpura” 2021). The lady is decorated in courtly attires and jewels as she plucks her tanpura strings with her henna-dyed fingertips. This painting dates from before the 1750s, the period when a more exaggerated and stylized facial type was the fashion in Kishangarh.

The figure of a lady playing the Tanpura reveals the ideal beauty as conceptualized in Indian devotional poetry of that time. The lady plays the tanpura and is dressed in sheer textiles and elaborate jewelry (Metmuseum.org, “A Lady Playing the Tanpura” 2021). This places her as a member of the court. Similarly, there is a possibility that she is Radha, who is the divine consultant of Krisna (Metmuseum.org, “A Lady Playing the Tanpura” 2021). Krishna was very significant to these Kishangarh patrons.

Formal (visual) analysis of the works of art

A Lady Playing the Tanpura

Various visual analyses can be done from the artwork of a lady playing the tanpura. For instance, the texture of the artwork is rough because the appearance of the sheer textiles and jewelry creates a rough texture of the image. Additionally, there is balance on how space, texture, and color have been distributed in the image. The artist also uses repetition when painting jewels on the wrist and the neck.

When painting the Mrs. Pierre Bacot artwork, the artist uses the element of balance on various objects such as colors, space and texture distribution. The artist has also uses the element of emphasis where she uses dark colors around the edges of the portrait and bright colors around the subject’s chest and head to draw much attention to the viewer.

Comparing and Contrasting

As stated in the first paragraph of this paper, these two artistic works were created at the same time portraying two women from different locations with different styles. For instance, the two paintings are similar in that both artists chose to use women in their drawings (Datta et al., 2019). They are also similar in that both authors chose almost the same background color and the women’s paintings face almost the same direction. However, differences can be seen in both artistic paintings. Mrs. Pierre Bacot’s portrait portrays her dressed simply while a lady playing the tanpura is portrayed wearing expensive clothes and beautified (Datta et al., 2019). The two paintings differ in that one lady holds a tanpura while the other holds nothing in her arms. Finally, a lady playing the tanpura is seated while Mrs. Pierre Bicot appears as if she is standing.

The works of art and the context they were created

As mentioned earlier Mrs. Pierre Bacot (Marrianne Fluer Du Gue) ca. 1708-10 is among the paintings that Henrietta Johnston did while in South Carolina. The artist chose to use soft style in her painting and also made the subject in the portrait dress in simple attires (Metmuseum.org, “Mrs. Pierre Bacot (Marianne Fleur Du Gue)” 2021). This is because she was working to limit the usage of pastels which were limited supply (Metmuseum.org, “Mrs. Pierre Bacot (Marianne Fleur Du Gue)” 2021). The reason why the artist chose the colors she used when painting the face appearance of Bacot and her hair was influenced by her previous works in Ireland.

As mentioned previously, a lady playing the tanpura portraits was painted in 1735 in India (Rajasthan, Kishangarh). The artist chose to decorate the subject in the painting with jewels and courtly attires and dyed fingertips as a representation of the beauty of a woman (Metmuseum.org, “A Lady Playing the Tanpura” 2021). This is because the stylish fashion then was stylized facial type.

Why the works are significant and artistically appealing

The main reason why I decided to compare and contrast the two artistic paintings is that I needed to understand them. Personally, each of the two artworks has its beauty and conveys a different message. The artwork by Henrietta shows the subject clothed simply while a lady playing the tanpura is clothed beautifully, revealing the real beauty as perceived in Indian poetry. Therefore, by comparing and contrasting the two artworks, I have been able to learn that different people from diverse locations view beauty differently. Generally, every work represents the society where the artist came from. Moreover, it reveals what was important to the persona of that time, which is interesting to learn.

References

Datta, A. K., Sengupta, R., Banerjee, K., & Ghosh, D. (2019). C. Technology (Ed.) 37-50. Web.

Metmuseum.org. (2021). Web.

Metmuseum.org. (2021). Web.

Peri, D. (2020).(Doctoral dissertation, Virginia Tech). Web.

Women & the American Story. (2021). Web.

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