The Art of the Eclipse

Marketing and Communications Detail Summer Roshni Bhullar takes a look at Honoré Daumier’s lithograph about the eclipse in 1847.

Ancient cultures across time have often believed eclipses are a sign of destruction. They have been interpreted as negative, with the disappearance of the sun symbolizing the sun being swallowed up by darkness. But are they negative or is it fear which leads to this interpretation?

Honoré Daumier, Tout ce qu’on voudra: Vois-tu, c’est l’eclipse qui commence…, 1847, Lithograph, 13 1/2 x 10 1/2 in., The Phillips Collection, Gift of Jean Goriany, 1940

Honoré Daumier, born in France, was one of the most rebellious and revolutionary artists of the 18th century. He is well known for his realistic lithographic caricatures among other artistic mediums, created in his groundbreaking graphic style. He worked for a French humor magazine called Le Charivari for over 40 years, making almost 3,900 lithographs and wood engravings for them. He unabashedly expressed his views against society, which he perceived as corrupt and pretentious. He was like a visual reporter, and his art was an outcry for humanity. We can see that if we try to catch the soul of his intention and his satirical and rebellious ways.

The eclipse was the subject of one of his famous lithographic caricatures, Tout Ce Qu’on voudra: Vois-tu, c’est l’eclipse qui commence…’ The satirical image was made during the solar eclipse that occurred over Paris on October 9, 1847. In his signature defiant style, he weaves in current events—in this case the eclipse, which can also be interpreted as something being eclipsed or disappearing.

Daumier constantly rebelled against the government as well as the legal profession. Because he was forced to work in a law office, he strongly disliked anyone working for the law office which included the notary public. In the eclipse lithograph, he seems to be mocking the attention—especially from the media—being given to the eclipse and ties it to the legal profession, linking the disappearance of the notary and the sensationalism created in the minds of the public by the media about the eclipse. Daumier was fearless—which led him to spend some time in jail for speaking against society and the law—and is visually speaking against the herd mentality of the public, and the authorities telling them what to see and not to see.

We live in a world where fear plays a key role. The media, news, government, and society propagate it. Even with eclipses—along with excitement and interest, there is an element of fear which has always played a part. Since the oldest recorded eclipse in human history, which may have been on November 30, 3340 B.C., eclipses as celestial events have been big occurrences. Every culture has an interpretation of them. Some celebrate them, some fear them, some worship them.

What eclipses are—apart from being celestial and astrological events—are reset points. The moon symbolizes our emotions and feelings, and the sun symbolizes life, renewal, and growth. Eclipses happen every six months and energetically they are a time of deep change. Two of the celestial bodies which impact us so deeply, when their light is ‘turned off’ for a few brief moments—means it is time to realign, reset, and let go of the old and usher in the new. They generally happen in a pair—a lunar and a solar eclipse. It is like an emotional culmination and energetic renewal.

Daumier continuously rebelled against aspects of human psychology which led to more fear and lack of freedom. His art and rebellion were an attempt on his part to help the public see the truth through his art.

The Misunderstood Genius of Vincent Van Gogh

Marketing and Communication Detail Summer Roshni Bhullar reflects on her favorite artist in the collection.

I would like us to take a walk in Vincent van Gogh’s shoes and try to see the world through his eyes for a few brief moments. Imagine you are Van Gogh—the artist, son, brother, lover, genius, and so much more. Now picture being in a mental asylum, thought of by everybody—including yourself—as being mentally unstable. How would it make you feel?

Yellow is the most visible color of the spectrum. It is cheerful, alive, vibrant—it depicts light and, most importantly, our sun. The love of sunflowers is a desire to capture the warmth and light of the sun. As artist Wassily Kandinsky said, “Color is a power which directly influences the soul.” Yellow wakes up the brain and is associated with feelings deeper than happiness. So why would someone be obsessed with sunflowers? Yes, they are bright and beautiful, but there seems to be something deeper than the aesthetics of this flower that drew Van Gogh to paint them repeatedly.

Vincent van Gogh, The Road Menders, 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1949.

Vincent van Gogh, The Road Menders, 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1949.

Before he was born, his parents had a stillborn who was to be named Vincent. Hence, he started his journey feeling like a replacement, like a shadow of the eldest child that could have been. Before he became an artist, Van Gogh lived in many different cities and did many jobs. He decided to become an artist in the last decade of his life and his nomadic lifestyle continued. He had a Christian upbringing and also tried to become a preacher. His beliefs evolved throughout his life.

He was on a constant quest for something, in search of answers to his questions. He tried to answer his questions through religion, through his travels, through relationships, and through his art. But he always came up short. He left religion, relationships never worked, and art never gave him success. The one person he had the strongest and the closest bond with was his brother, Theo. Even though his brother loved him and was his biggest supporter and confidant, Vincent was still left wanting for more in life. Maybe his “more” was his unanswered questions, a cure for his loneliness, or success in his art. Or maybe his “more” was a desire to be understood.

Vincent Van Gogh, Sunflowers, 1889, Oil on canvas, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

When we look at his artistic career and all the art he has created, we can see his genius reflected in it. He wrote hundreds of letters during his life and was also good with words. Yet he felt something was missing. Throughout history many famous people have been posthumously understood and given recognition. What about those moments of painting and creativity, which they spend alone? What must go on in their heart and mind? Isn’t it human nature to want to share? Isn’t it human nature to want to be understood?

As the body needs food, the genius needs and wants to be understood. Throughout his life, we see a constant search for it and a constant lack of being fulfilled. Because of this—because his mind was not nourished with understanding—he started to doubt himself, to question his own sanity. Imagine someone born with a special genius ability trying to articulate their world. The first step would be acceptance of the genius from the person themselves and then others. As an artist who tries to articulate with words and colors, I feel that Vincent Van Gogh was a misunderstood genius labeled as mentally ill. His circumstances led him to break down.

His love for sunflowers showed his search for light within and without. He could not find what he was searching for, and eventually gave up his quest for light.

The Phillips Collects: Mose Tolliver and Joe Light

The Phillips Collection recently acquired paintings by Mose Tolliver and Joe Light. These two gifts from Gail B. Greenblatt were part of the collection of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the work of Black artists from the American South and supporting their communities by fostering economic empowerment and racial and social justice.

Mose Tolliver (b. 1925, Pike Road, AL; d. 2006, Montgomery, AL),  Snake, no date, Acrylic on plywood, 24 x 23 1/2 in., The Phillips Collection, Gift from Gail B. Greenblatt

Mose Tolliver is one of the earliest Black folk artists to receive popular acclaim, following his first solo show in 1980 at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. The son of tenant farmers, Tolliver first explored his creative talents as a landscape gardener. In the 1960s, when an accident left him unable to walk, Tolliver began to paint voraciously. His brightly colored works include images of animals, women, plants, and religious subjects. Snake is built up from wet-on-wet layers of lively rhythmic brushstrokes.

Joe Light ( b. 1934, Dyersburg, TN; d. 2005, Memphis, TN), Bird and Dog, no date, Acrylic on plywood, 23 x 11 1/4 in., The Phillips Collection, Gift from Gail B. Greenblatt

Joe Louis Light took up art after his discharge from the US Army in the 1950s and later release from prison for armed robbery. Finding salvation in religion, Light turned his attention to making signs, driftwood sculptures, and paintings that evoke his deeply personal spiritual and political views. In Bird and Dog, Light composed the scene in three horizontal bands that symbolically suggest a type of ascension from the material to the spiritual world.

“These two paintings will be the first by Joe Light and Mose Tolliver to enter the collection, and further the Phillips’s commitment to broadening the art historical canon. They provide compelling juxtapositions with a range of historical and contemporary artists in the collection, including Morris Graves, Grandma Moses, Horace Pippin, and Albert Pinkham Ryder, as well as the five Gee’s Bend quilts acquired in 2019.” Elsa Smithgall, Chief Curator