The Knitting Lesson

The knitting lesson
Jean-François Millet, French, 1814-1875
Oil on panel

In this domestic scene, a mother or older sister has paused in her mending to help a young girl with her knitting. Millet highlights the intimacy of rural family life as well as the importance of handing down traditional knowledge and skills. The tiled floor and leaded glass window are probably based on features of Millet’s home in the village of Barbizon, southeast of Paris, but they also echo details that appear in seventeenth-century Dutch paintings.

Bacchus and Ariadne

Bacchus and Ariadne
Jules Dalou, French, 1838-1902


Bacchus, the god of wine, found the princess Ariadne asleep on a beach, where she had been abandoned by the hero Theseus, and fell instantly in love with her. In Dalou’s sculpture, the god is shown waking Ariadne with a tender kiss. A faun mischievously tries to squeeze between them and steal attention by offering grapes. The theme derives from a classical myth, and the elements of the narrative reveal themselves as we walk around the sculpture.

The Undertow


Winslow Homer, American, 1836-1910


Oil on canvas


In 1883, Homer witnessed an event near Atlantic City, New Jersey, that allegedly inspired this dramatic painting. Rescuers try to haul ashore two women, weighed down by their waterlogged bathing dresses, in danger of being pulled beneath the waves by an undertow. The figures appear as three-dimensional and solid as the ancient Greek marble statues on which they were modeled. Yet despite their muscularity and apparent strength, their struggle suggests human frailty in the face of the sea’s awesome power.

The Burghers of Calais

The Burghers of Calais

Auguste Rodin, French, 1840-1917

Modeled 1884-95


(currently on loan)

The Burghers of Calais, commemorating an episode during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, is probably the best and certainly the most successful of Rodin’s public monuments. Rodin closely followed the account of the French chronicler Jean Froissart (1333 or 1337–after 1400) stating that six of the principal citizens of Calais were ordered to come out of their besieged city with head and feet bare, ropes around their necks, and the keys of the town and the caste in their hands. They were brought before the English king Edward III (1312–1377), who ordered their beheading. Rodin has portrayed them at the moment of departure from their city led by Eustache de Saint-Pierre. Their oversized feet are bare, many have ropes around their necks, and all are in various states of despair, expecting imminent death and unaware that their lives will ultimately be saved by the intercession of the English queen Philippa.

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How does working with a group help an aggressive situation?

How might it make things worse? Do you think the Burghers of Calais are heroic figures? What are some features that define a hero?

Might this be an example of when giving into another’s aggression is justified? Why or why not?

Jane Avril

Jane Avril

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French, 1864-1901


Oil on laminate cardboard, mounted on panel

Jane Avril, one of Toulouse-Lautrec’s favorite models, was a famous cabaret performer in Paris. This portrait, however, suggests very little about the energetic dancing style that earned her the nickname La Melenite (dynamite). She appears in street clothes, wearing a plum-colored cape and an extravagant hat, peering sideways through narrowed eyes. Only the unnatural colors of her hair, skin, and lips, set against the green and indigo background, suggest the heavy makeup and harsh lighting in which she appeared on stage.

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Do you think this portrait is flattering? Why would the artist portray Jane Avril in this way?

Jane Avril was a famous performer in Paris. Why might such a celebrity appear hostile to the public?

Are there certain responsibilities that come with being a celebrity in terms of how to treat people?

Comte Henri-Amédée-Mercure de Turenne-d'Aynac

Comte Henri-Amédée-Mercure de Turenne-d’Aynac

Jacques-Louis David, French, 1748-1825


Oil on Canvas

The Comte de Turenne is portrayed wearing a uniform and medals, which record his distinguished service in the French army. David added another military symbol, a sword, after most of the painting was complete; its hilt has since become slightly translucent. Both the sitter and the artist were closely associated with Napoleon, who had been defeated in Waterloo in 1815, a year before this portrait was painted. By 1816, both the count and David were living in exile in Brussels.

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Why would this man want his portrait painted in uniform?

What role does authority play in aggression? Is aggression more permissible if it is coming from a superior?

How would you want your portrait painted? What sort of expression would you want drawn, and why?

The Amorous Proposal

The Amorous Proposal

Francois Lemoyne, French, 1688-1737


Oil on Canvas

A young woman, cooling herself with a damp handkerchief, is surprised by an older man wearing heavy, fur-lined clothes. He seems to be asking her a question, sometimes interpreted as a proposal, but the painting’s precise subject remains unclear. Lemoyne set up distinct contrasts of texture, color, and light, which could be appreciated from a distance. The elongated shape and slight forward tilt of the figures suggest that the painting was intended to be viewed from below, perhaps originally installed over a door in a domestic interior.

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What might the man be proposing in this painting?

How does ambiguity play a role in human interactions? Is the element of surprise an act of aggression in itself?

Would this be an acceptable interaction in today’s society?

Going to Market on a Misty Morning

Going to Market on a Misty Morning

Constant Troyon, French, 1810-1865


Oil on Panel

A shepherdess emerges from the morning mist, leading a cow and a flock of unruly sheep down a country road. Behind her, a man on horseback, silhouetted against the light, is impeded in his progress. This scene of rural life became quite celebrated and Troyon made several versions of it, one of which drew admiration from a young Claude Monet when it was exhibited at the 1859 Paris Salon.

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How do you interpret the figure of the man in the shadows? Is his ambiguity ominous or innocent?

Look carefully on the right side of the painting. Do these bystanders make the scene safer with their presence?

Can aggression be alleviated when it is anticipated, like it is in this painting?

Slave Market

Slave Market

Jean-Leon Gerome, French, 1824-1904


Oil on Canvas


A young woman has been stripped by a slave trader and presented to a group of fully clothed men for examination. A prospective buyer probes her teeth. This disturbing scene is set in a courtyard market intended to suggest the Near East. The vague, distant location allowed nineteenth-century French viewers to censure the practice of slavery, which was outlawed in Europe, while enjoying a look at the female body.

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Compare the fully clothed buyer to the completely nude woman.

How would the painting change if the young woman was fully clothed?


Are the onlookers in the scene also guilty for not taking an active role against the sale of this woman?

Nymphs and Satyr

Nymphs and Satyr

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, French, 1825-1905


Oil on Canvas


Three nymphs playfully drag a Satyr into a woodland pond, while a fourth calls to her companions in the distance. Satyrs—half-man, half-goat—were reputedly unable to swim. Bouguereau exhibited this painting, accompanied by a verse from the Latin poem that inspired it, at the 1873 Paris Salon. Its vaguely classical subject provided an ideal opportunity to demonstrate his skill painting the female nude from multiple viewpoints. An American collector immediately bought the work, which eventually ended up on display in the bar of New York City’s Hoffman House, where Sterling Clark first encountered it.

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Is teasing considered a form of aggression?


How would the painting change if a woman was being dragged into the water by four men?


The nymphs are punishing the Satyr for spying on them. How is this scene of revenge different or similar to The Abduction of Polyxena?

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