Visitors to Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum frequently express surprise at finding so many works on view by artists other than Van Gogh himself, some with seemingly little connexion to him. While paintings by Lautrec, Bernard and Gauguin - artists all known personally to Van Gogh - seem perfectly appropriate, it is perhaps perplexing to find an extraordinary Barye sculpture of 1831 (Fig.XII in the Supplement on pp.637-40 of this issue), a painting by Alma Tadema (Fig.VII), works by several European Symbolists (Fig.IV) ind a drawing by Dufy (Fig.IX). Displayed for the most part on the ground floor of the Museum, they make, for those coming to worship at the shrine of Vincent, an unexpected, even disconcerting prelude.
The works of Jean-Baptiste Greuze's early maturity, from his first Salon submissions of 1755 to the brilliant success of L'Accordee du village at the Salon of 1761, developed a new kind of modern subject, between genre and history painting, that set expressive goals for painters in the second half of the eighteenth century. A picture of this period recently acquired by the Art Institute of Chicago, A lady reading the letters of Heloise and Abelard (Fig.5),' seems not to have been exhibited at the Salon nor is it mentioned in the literature on Greuze; yet it belongs among those most ambitious of his works in which the sentiment of his day is distilled and transformed through the evocation of revered pictorial traditions.
Gustave Courbet's The meeting of 1854 (Fig. 10) has widely and justifiably been seen as an unequivocal statement on the position of the nineteenth-century artist in society. Representing himself in the company of the art collector Alfred Bruyas of Montpellier and Bruyas's servant, Courbet appears as an independent, sovereign figure in full command of his relationship with his patron. While it has been common to see the image as a flagrant challenge to the hierarchy between patrons and artists in nineteenth-century France, little has been said about how this picture actually functioned within Bruyas's art collection, for which it was originally produced.
When the Beheading of St John the Baptist by Puvis de Chavannes (Fig. 16) entered the National Gallery with the Lane Bequest in 1917, it was hailed as a major acquisition. Yet, in spite of its imposing size, the picture had not been exhibited during the artist's lifetime. It was the smaller version of this subject, now in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham (Fig. 18), that Puvis had shown at the Salon of 1870 and which became one of his most famous easel pictures. By contrast, the status of the National Gallery's painting has never been clear. Described in the early literature as an unfinished early work, it has sometimes been referred to as a study for the smaller, definitive picture in the Barber Institute, which is signed and dated 1869. Although most scholars have dated it to the same period as the Birmingham version, the London picture is very different in style and offers a rather different interpretation of the subject.'
The most frequently cited contemporary mention of Boucher's chinoiseries - which by the mid-1740s were appearing with a regularity bordering on mass-production - conveys a certain sense of alarm: 'Ceux qui s'interessent a lui,' wrote Charles Leoffrey de Saint- Yves in 1748, 'craignent donc que l'etude habituelle du gout Chinois, qui paroit etre la passion favorite de M. Boucher, n'altere enfin le grace de ses contours. Ils n'auroient plus la meme douceur, s'il continuoit a dessiner des figures de ce genre'.' The phrase 'etude habituelle' has piqued the curiosity of few art historians, most of whom have preferred to see Boucher's Chinese subjects as flights of fantasy, emblematic of his facility for invention within the rococo idiom - 'decorative, flippant, and deft: presenting a sort of Cloud-Cuckoo China, with palm trees, doll-like people, feathery hats, and a mass of properties such as fans, parasols, guitars - suggesting a generalised, amusing exoticism', as Michael Levey has evocatively described Boucher's tapestry-cartoons at Besancon.5 Despite the identification in 1960 of a seventeenth-century engraving as the compositional source for the Besancon Mariage (Figs.22 and 23),3 however, no significant reappraisal of Boucher's chinoiseries has been attempted.
Mozart was Delacroix's favourite composer. According to Chopin, he knew all the operas by heart.' He considered Mozart to be 'undoubtedly the creator ... of art carried to its highest point, beyond which no further perfection is possible',2 and at the same time found in his genius for combining comedy, melancholy and terror, qualities more generally associated with Romanticism. While conceding that Beethoven might reflect 'the modern trend of the arts more fully, inclining as he did to melancholy and to what they rightly or wrongly call romanticism', he insisted that Don Giovanni was nevertheless 'full of this feeling'.3 In February 1847, after attending a performance of the opera, Delacroix exclaimed: 'What a masterpiece of romanticism! And composed in 1785 [actually 1787]! ... The duel with the father, the entrance of the ghost will always stir a man of imagination.' And a few days later: 'What an admirable fusion of elegance, expression, buffoonery, terror, tenderness, irony, each in just measure.' He went on to praise and analyse the variety of characterisation, finding Don Giovanni 'in turn clownish, insolent, insinuating, even tender-hearted'.4