Umbrellas in Art
I still remember standing in front of Renoir’s Umbrellas at the National Gallery in London, when I was about 9 years old. It was at that moment that I decided once and for all that art was the path that I would follow in life. The painting amazed me then and amazes me still. I find it beautiful how Renoir has bought so much light into the dark tones of the fabrics, lending the painting an uplifting feeling. Only the lady with the auburn hair and the little child look directly towards the viewer, somehow creating the feeling that we are being invited into their little world. The smooth, even, and structured nature of the umbrellas provides a wonderful contrast to the round faces and voluptuous figures of the women in the foreground. It is a great composition, and to me at least, the greatest umbrella painting.
The following three paintings are by the contemporary Chinese artist, Yihang Pan (b.1957). His paintings are lovely – perhaps lacking some sincerity – but still evocative, delicate, and nostalgic for a more elegant past.
This painting depicts the wicked Mughal ruler Aurangzeb (1618-1707) at his court. In order to ensure that he would become emperor, Aurangzeb had his three brothers killed, including the more enlightened intended successor to the throne, Dara Shikoh. Aurangzeb is said to have bought the latter’s head on a plate to their imprisoned father Shah Jahan. Despite the cruelty of this king, the painting above is exquisite. Aurangzeb is shown in profile to create distance between himself and his people. The halo suggests his supposed divine right to rule. The small parasol is a symbol of royalty. By the time of Aurangzeb’s rule, the zenith of Mughal miniature painting had already passed. The liveliness and dynamism present in paintings composed under his grandfather Jahangir, is not evident in this painting. Here the figures look too disconnected and upright, although this may also be a reflection of Aurangzeb’s severe nature.
NB: One of my friends wrote to me to suggest I reconsider the criticism I made of Aurangzeb. “About Aurangazeb; you shouldn’t necessarily call him wicked or cruel because that is a Hindu-centric view. I’m not saying he didn’t have his short comings but there is always a tendency to over glorify Akbar and demonize Aurangazeb in general discourse. Akbar and Jehangir were considered to be liberal rulers because of their art patronage but there are several examples of cruelty in their actions as well especially with Akbar.
This is a beautiful umbrella! Perhaps the women is standing outside waiting to meet her lover who is emerging through the trees.
This pastel drawing by the little known American artist, Mary Lane Mcmillan (1883 – 1976), captures the warmth of a summers day.
Monet, Lady with a Parasol, 1886
This painting reminds me of a scene from Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights; a lady standing alone on a hill, scarf blowing dramatically in the wind. Her facial features are blurred by the shadow caused by her parasol, making her seem a little enigmatic and mysterious.
John Singer Sargent’s painting depicts a glorious, lazy summers day with a slightly bohemian feel to it. I wish I was there!
This is an oil painting by the Belarusian artist, Leonid Afremov (b.1955). His works remind me of the Italian futurist painters. I like the way in which the rain has become like colourful confetti.
This lovely 1920s painting is by Brazilian artist, Cicero Dias (1907-2003). It is a curious composition. Why is this girl dressed from head to toe in flourid pink, standing with a sheep and an umbrella? Who knows?!
The painting below is by a contemporary Chinese artist, Zhang Xuanzheng. It is quite cartoon like, but somehow attractive nonetheless.